While some of us at PTC Towers were only wee lads back in the 1990s, the decade's pedigree can't be denied its role in propelling console gaming to the heights it has reached today, spawning influential games left and right.
There’s a two-player co-op mode on offer, but only accessible locally, and you can also begin to feel like a bit of a spare part if you're a newbie and your co-pilot is a veteran. You can opt for a harder difficulty if you do find yourselves sailing through, which opens up two new characters to try out, but bizarrely only in solo play...
In typical arcade fashion, you're offered only one life and therefore a single try to get through the game without being taken down. If you decide to continue after dying you'll get going again from a fairly recent screen, but the game stops counting your time, and with no in-game scoring system to speak of there's now just pride to play for.
If a nostalgia hit is what you're looking for, The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors could scratch an itch. It’s a well-made if slightly one-note adventure that won't kill a huge amount of time.
It's a well-known fact that there simply aren't enough hamsters in games these days. Fortunately for the sake of humanity, Hamsterdam is here to put the world to rights. Self-styled as an arcade brawler in which you'll become a "Hamster-fu master" patrolling a charming iteration of (you guessed it) Amsterdam, the game seeks to overpower you with cuteness from the word go.
Mini-bosses and bosses shake up the gameplay with a more side-scrolling approach to action, featuring a few QTEs for good measure. This succeeds in effectively mixing things up, but robs you of some of the satisfaction of taking down the game's beefiest villains. As a result, the difficulty curve also feels a little spikey, since these sections require completely different timing and skills, but after a few determined attempts it’s possible to power through.
Fortunately, the experience remains on the entertaining side of challenging even at those sticky moments, and it's impossible not to fall in love with Pimm and her adorable, increasingly impractical outfit choices. At the price point (less than £10, whatever your platform of choice), Hamsterdam poses great value for money and is an absolute joy.
As the numbered entries in any series start hitting double digits, it can be difficult to still feel inspired by a new release – for both developers and fans. That’s not been the case for Mortal Kombat and the team at NetherRealm (Injustice 2), however, as 2015’s MKX was the biggest success for the fatal fighting franchise yet. Having to follow that means the pressure is on - so, does MK11 deliver?
Krushing Blows are a new feature which differ between characters, barring some more widespread triggers. These devastating variations on existing moves might be prompted by, for example, hitting the same maneuver twice consecutively or from a certain distance - everyone has access to multiple, which can individually be used just once per match in order to prevent spamming.
The final major change to MK11’s core gameplay is a split meter, now comprised of two chunks for defence and two for offence, all of which recharge automatically over time. The former can be used for things like breaking out of juggle combos, rolling out of range when floored, or utilising the environmental interactions available in most of the 20+ stages. The latter can be turned to modifying special moves and performing getup attacks (which also draw on defence), the idea being to enforce a more balanced play style by disallowing the use of meter in any exclusive fashion. It works.
All of the many, many interacting systems and their governing data are broken down and then layered on in a clear and digestible fashion.
Of course, the series' iconic Brutalities and Fatalities return untouched, allowing fights to reach excitingly over-the-top climaxes. They’re a celebration of humanity’s morbid love for the macabre, exquisitely illustrating the snap of bones and cutting of flesh alongside some gnarly audio that’ll squeeze equal amounts of wincing and disbelieving laughter from players.
Despite being a defining feature, these murderous moves can’t be busted out during the campaign for the sake of continuity. It’s easily forgiven, however, since story modes in NetherRealm fighters traditionally stand several severed heads and shoulders above the competition. The pulpy narrative follows directly on from MKX and revolves around the introduction of Kronica, a character with command (kommand?) over time and a distaste for the present, which conveniently slot together to form a time-bending celebration of Mortal Kombat’s past and present.
It’s unadulterated fanservice from a franchise that’s earned the distinction during more years in existence than the person writing this, but, having clambered abound at too early an age, things still got plenty nostalgic. Even if you don’t have any direct connection to old-school MK, everyone should at least recognise the classic costumes and character models which have long since been absorbed into the zeitgeist.
Throughout the story you’ll switch between multiple character perspectives, making it a great place to learn who you do and don’t click with. Outside of kombat, lavish cutscenes tell a fittingly outrageous eight-or-so hour tale which any lover of goofy, big-budget action flicks would jump at the opportunity to see on the silver screen. It’s easy to care about what’s happening, in spite of the unbelievable events and characters, plus a distractingly hammy performance from WWE and UFC star Ronda Rousey as Sonya Blade.
As with Fatalities and Brutalities, your custom character builds can’t be carried over to the campaign. MKX let players pick between preset character variations, massively diversifying its roster simply by fiddling with what was already there, and MK11 takes that ingenuity to the next logical step. Fighters still have a couple of presets each, but you can now build your own by equipping special moves across three slots (some of the more powerful abilities taking up two of them), whilst also switching out a slew of detailed cosmetics and, once you’ve won enough bouts with those cosmetics equipped to level them up, imbuing them with elemental augmentations. This essentially means that two players’ renditions of Scorpion, for example, can look and play very differently.
That being said, amassing the gear to fully deck out a specific character can be tough. Ignoring premium Time Krystals, along with the three premium consumables you can then buy with them, there are three in-game currencies which are paid out sparingly. Hearts are particularly bad, with most fights rewarding only one or two depending on whether you finished with a Fatality or a Brutality respectively. Most related purchases require 250...
What’s more, those purchases take the form of random loot chests, so it’s entirely possible that the ‘reward’ at the end of a long grind will be something useless to you. Delving the expanded and more involving Krypt to locate those chests at least proves engaging, since the gamified storefront is a mini metroidvania with puzzles and item gates all of its own.
Mortal Kombat 11 is a celebration of humanity’s morbid love for the macabre, exquisitely illustrating the snap of bones and cutting of flesh.
There’s no doubting the fact that an unreasonable time and/or money investment would be required of anyone looking to unlock everything, but we actually quite like the fact that we could dip in and out of MK11 in the years leading up to its inevitable sequel and have something new to show for each and every visit.
The ever-changing Towers of Time seek to ensure that you do keep coming back, presenting consecutive fights with devious gameplay modifiers to stack the odds against you. You can retry as many times as you like whilst incurring small incremental penalties to your score, plus equip ‘konsumables’ found in the Krypt to counter the disadvantages at hand, before eventually reaping the greatest rewards for time invested if you can overcome the challenge. Some seemingly insurmountable combinations are nothing short of infuriating though, ushering you towards buying premium Skip Fight Tokens since the alternative is to quit and lose your progress. Like the wider economy, this is being looked at.
There are plenty more ways to occupy yourself within MK11 in the meantime, like exhibition bouts in local co-op or against AI, which can be set to five difficulty levels. There are also Klassic Towers, minus any shenanigans, culminating in a boss encounter with Kronica followed by a trademark ending animatic tailored to your chosen character.
Online modes round out the offering, the most bizarre of which are asynchronous CPU-controlled battles, where you’ll choose three attacking combatants to face those assigned to defence by another user. You can enjoy the spectacle or fast forward, but we really have to wonder why it’s here at all, besides maybe offering a way to passively alleviate some of MK11’s grind. Characters can’t get injured or anything, so there’s no need to manage your roster, and, as far as tactics go, you could look to create custom variants to counter the most common character picks, at least on paper, but acquiring and levelling the gear to do so wouldn’t be worth the effort
Competitive modes encompass ranked first-to-three contests (no custom variations allowed) through ‘kasual’ single and King of the Hill matchups. Early netcode has been great, which is absolutely vital to any fighting game worth its salt, while the community is variable as ever, though there are tools in place to find players of a similar mindset and/or skill level. When you manage to do so, the deeper mechanics really start to shine and matches unfold like thoughtful games of chess, despite looking like mindless violence to onlookers.
There’s a hell of a lot to Mortal Kombat 11 then, as you can see, most of which is absolutely fantastic if you can overlook the current gouging. If you can’t, then maybe wait it out and see how things settle, but you shouldn’t allow peripheries such as currencies, cosmetics and just one of many modes stop you experiencing the immensely fun story and gratifyingly balanced kombat systems at the core of the game.
Like many people, I grew up a professional wrestling fanatic. WWE’s unique blend of sports and entertainment, presented with a grand flair for theatrics, had me well and truly hooked. Early licensed games successfully captured the magic, but, as the mainline series progressed, focus was shifted to a more grounded sports simulation in a presumed effort to match UFC’s more ‘legitimate’ output. This was widely regarded as a mistake, so now, better late than never, 2K have acted on fan feedback and embraced the outlandish elements that set WWE apart, making for a much more enjoyable game on the whole.
Showcase is back and MyCareer has seen an epic overhaul that takes it from boring to brilliant!
Where previous incarnations left players to their own devices, here there’s a real narrative focus, with developed storylines and voiced cutscenes on-par with WWE’s on-screen product. Some of the wrestlers phone their lines in, plus John Cena’s voiced by a truly dreadful impersonator (his fees probably aren’t cheap now that he’s made it in Hollywood), but it’s self aware and just silly enough to get away with it without devolving into ridiculous parody.
As an aside whilst we’re on the topic: commentary is still awful. Lines are often delivered deadpan and endlessly repeated, there are constant stilted cuts, plus moves can be announced despite never having happened. The audio mix could use some work on the whole, in fact, with theme music drowning out voices and echo-y recordings - where we’d assume the dev team struggled to secure touring WWE Superstars for a professional studio visit - lowering the overall level of quality. At least the licensed soundtrack is great.
Familiar audio issues may remain, but this iteration of MyCareer is what fans have been clamouring for. At its core it remains a lengthy pro wrestling roadmap, but it’s told with heart and knowing references that fans will love.
Established fan or not, everyone can appreciate the surprisingly deep RPG systems. Experience and currencies are awarded as you progress - in greater quantities if you engage in optional branching conversations and side matches - allowing for the acquisition of skills, abilities and a range of cosmetics. Even beyond MyCareer, striving to improve your custom wrestler (formally MyPlayer) should keep you coming back for exhibition events well into the future.
That being said, getting your footing and sticking with MyCareer up until that point could prove taxing for some, as the starting attributes aren’t fit for much. Grinding to overcome that starting hump can feel as though you’re being guided towards purchasing the premium KickStart DLC, which is also included in the Season Pass, but it’s perhaps a worthy trade-off if that explains the surprisingly non-monetised Loot Packs. Again, you could probably just drop the difficulty, but that comes with its own issues.
While Showcase and MyCareer have significant legs of their own, WWE 2K19 has plenty more to offer in the returning Universe mode (where you micromanage your own endless programming schedule) and the all-new 2K/MyPlayer Towers. No doubt inspired by Mortal Kombat, Towers task players with running a gauntlet of back-to-back matches, each with their own specific modifiers and stipulations. They’re updated frequently and you should be wary of which you choose to tackle - Towers can be brutally difficult and there’s no prize for failure, however long you might have devoted to climbing them beforehand.
If you’re feeling brave, you might want to attempt the insanely difficult 15-match tower in which you play as cover star (and gaming superfan) AJ Styles. If you manage to beat it, not only will you get an achievement, but you could be on track to face AJ in a WWE 2K19 match worth $1,000,000!
Varied match types - many of which have been tweaked for the better (Cage matches in particular) - help to keep each game mode fresh, as does the ability to play co-op and competitive multiplayer either locally or online. Network bouts suffer with latency, but stability is overall much improved and the Road to Glory online league - in which wins earn rewards for your MyPlayer and points towards qualifying for global online pay-per-view events - offers more specific motivation to test your mettle against human opposition.
There’s absolutely loads to do and it’s all held together by the solid simulation-style gameplay, only with increased scope for the sort of crazy maneuvers that made those old WWE games so appealing. Generally you’ll be performing a wide range of contextualised strikes and grapples, whilst attempting to tactically target limbs, manage stamina consumption and preserve reversal stocks. Advanced players can play to the crowd and taunt opponents to receive different buffs, or those just along for the ride can roam the backstage area and hurl themselves from atop a production truck with nary a care for the unforgiving concrete below.
Payback abilities are a new addition catered towards narrowing the skill gap between those player types, accommodating comebacks and, at their best, edge-of-your-seat contests with that ‘big match’ feel. You’ll choose a Major and a Minor skill, both of which are charged by taking damage, though some are markedly better than others - escaping certain defeat is preferable to delivering a low blow and risking disqualification, for example - so you may well find yourself rigidly sticking with the same loadout instead of switching to counter the opposition.
Former UFC star "Rowdy" Ronda Rousey is a pre-order DLC character, along with luchador Rey Mysterio.
Some will no doubt still pine for the simpler days of No Mercy on the N64, but while WWE 2K19 doesn’t fully re-adopt arcade-y gameplay, it has injected plenty of madcap fun back into the series. There’s a big head mode, 8-bit and cel-shaded screen filters, a zombie Triple H character, MyPlayer abilities that essentially amount to super powers, Wyatt Compound (wrestler Bray Wyatt’s creepy backwoods home) brawls, plus an insanely extensive creation suite that now allows for Minecraft-style block body types.
The creation tools, inclusive of even a video editor, provide everything you could possibly need to create your very own wrestling promotion from the ground up. It’s seriously bonkers and a boon for even the creatively barren, as shared Community Creations can be downloaded and enjoyed free of charge. You can already grab accurate renditions of just about any wrestling or pop culture figure, which makes it a bit of a bummer that you can’t use them for MyCareer, though that would admittedly break the context of the story and wider MyPlayer progression systems.
If you don’t have the means to download Community Creations for whatever reason, the 250+ roster (the series’ biggest yet) should keep you plenty busy anyway. It encompasses a vast majority of the current crop of male and female Superstars across all brands (RAW, SmackDown, NXT and 205 Live), as well as the best of the UK division and a slate of bygone Legends. There’s a character here for everyone, whether they’re a current fan, a lapsed fan, or a casual onlooker.
Having so many playable wrestlers means that character models vary wildly in terms of quality. The game looks middling for the most part, though can veer into striking or hideous territories at the drop of a hat, which is slightly disconcerting as an enhanced game being played on Xbox One X hardware. Presumably the extra horsepower is pumped into maintaining a steady technical performance, which it does, even in frenzied 8-person matches.
WWE 2K19 is easily the best offering since 2K replaced THQ at the helm back in 2014. Using this as an extensive blueprint, if 2K update the ageing game engine and fix a few distracting issues - like clipping, dodgy rope physics, HUD elements occasionally obscuring mini-game prompts, the aforementioned audio issues - they may well re-establish the franchise as the platinum-selling titan it once was.
After launching on PC and consoles in 2016 to critical acclaim, Furi recently made its way to Nintendo Switch, as publishers and developers alike continue to throw their weight behind Nintendo’s hybrid console and its ever-growing popularity.
From the outset, the game lets you know exactly what kind of punishment you’re in for. Though the words may be spoken by the cocksure introductory boss (whose bark is, in fact, much worse than his bite), the threat of an eternal cycle of annihilation rings true: you’re going to die in Furi. A lot.
That’s part of the learning process, as you may already have learned through exposure to a spate of super tough games inspired by the success of Dark Souls, and most of the time boss encounters in Furi, while imposing at first, are very beatable if approached in the right way. That said, a couple of encounters close to the end of the game do feel overpowered and almost cheap by comparison to earlier fights.
The opening Guardian serves as an introduction to Furi’s combat mechanics, which blend ranged twin-stick shooting elements with close-quarters swordplay. The former comes into effect when enemies are engaging the player in bullet hell-like sections, in which you must dodge a variety of incoming projectiles with the help of a boost ability.
Enemy attacks can become extremely hectic, coming together to form a spinning, colourful kaleidoscope of death as they chuck lasers, fast-moving homing attacks and great walls of energy that encompass entire arenas your way. You’ll need to avoid all of this while also dealing out damage, picking away at a Guardian’s health bit by bit with standard blaster fire, or risking a charged shot to inflict greater damage.
You’re going to die in Furi. A lot.
These ranged confrontations can become stretched across a whole level, with the camera zooming way out to encompass all of the action. It’s here where playing Furi via the Switch’s handheld mode gets a little tricky, as the already small characters become tiny dots lost amidst the chaos on the console’s six-inch screen. It’s not so much of a problem in the more confined melee sections, however, which narrow the action down to a blue ring housing you and your opponent.
This is where timing becomes key, and the game really shows its teeth, as players have to learn and quickly react to a Guardian’s mix of melee and area of effect attacks, each telegraphed by a sound and visual cue, in order to successfully block or avoid them. Blocking melee attacks not only mitigates incoming damage, but also recoups a small amount of health; if you’re lucky (or skilled) enough to pull off a perfect riposte it’ll also temporarily stun an enemy, presenting an opportunity to land a successive flurry of hits.
Both you and the Guardians you face enter an encounter with multiple lives that are incrementally lost when an energy bar has been depleted. You only ever have three lives per fight, while your opponents can sometimes have twice that. It isn’t as unbalanced as you might think, considering that every time you knock one off an enemy’s tally you gain back a lost life, allowing players the exciting opportunity to battle back from the brink of defeat.
With the game’s excellent soundtrack and unique, neon-drenched art style, relatively peaceful pauses between the action can be incredibly atmospheric moments.
Featuring designs by Takashi Okazaki, the man behind Afro Samurai, bosses in Furi have unique personalities and are memorable in many ways, not just for the significant challenge they pose. Some beg for you to turn back, offering an olive branch instead of cold steel, some will openly mock and scorn you, while others simply set to their task with a heavy heart, and it can actually be quite wrenching to see them cut down as a result.
It’s a shame that Furi isn’t one of the titles on Switch that allows you to capture gameplay clips, as, despite the potential heartbreak, emerging victorious from a particularly gruelling boss encounter is a rewarding moment you’ll likely want to relive and share with others.
Aside from this lacking feature and a couple of dropped frames in some of the more intense bullet hell sections, Furi runs more than adequately on Switch. It also comes bundled with all content and updates found on other platforms, including the One More Fight DLC which adds an extra boss.
Featuring combat that feels sharp, fast-paced and satisfying, as well as a ranking system and practice mode that lets you relive individual encounters and engage with those satisfying mechanics at your leisure, there’s plenty to enjoy here. Those looking to cut their teeth on an atmospheric and challenging title ahead of the recently announced Dark Souls remaster should look no further than Furi.
If Furi sounds like your thing, keep an eye out for next week’s giveaway, in which you could win the game on Steam.
A fighting game based on pitting DC’s biggest and best superheroes and villains against one another was never going to be a hard sell. We’ve all pondered age-old questions like whether Batman or Superman would win in a round of fisticuffs, and 2013’s Injustice: Gods Among Us provided a tool with which to play out these fantasies, seeing critical and commercial success as a direct result. Selling a sequel, however, can be a much harder prospect, but one that NetherRealm and Warner Bros. have managed to surmount by meaningfully building on the original’s strong foundation.
Whether you’re a DC fan and a genre novice, or a fighting game aficionado with no attachment to the roster, Injustice 2 caters to your niche.
If you elect to hoard your power and fill the Super Meter entirely, you can trade it all in for one devastating Super Move. These signature sequences are an over-the-top spectacle, equivalent to Mortal Kombat’s visceral x-ray attacks that, while far less graphic in their depiction, are, undoubtedly, no less deadly.
The tutorial does a sterling job of teaching the above mechanics and more, but integrating these skills against an opponent that actually fights back is a whole new kettle of fish. You’ll need to experiment extensively to figure out what combinations of attacks work, where and when they work, and against who. Though time consuming, it’s part and parcel of the rewarding learning process.
Story Mode is a good place to start out and familiarise yourself with a range of characters, as each chapter sees you take control of someone new to get a taste of the different combat styles on offer. What’s more, the narrative is genuinely engaging and presented with abundant production value, making it the premier attraction when it comes to solo play, as compared to the throwaway nature of the mode in so many other fighters.
Continuing where Gods Among Us left off, Injustice 2 challenges expectations by turning heroes rogue and villains good, though, with Earth’s future in peril at the hands of Brainiac, the sides strike a temporary alliance. The high-stakes tale is brimming with fan service and boasts a seamless, filmic presentation that culminates in an experience that, as cliché as it might sound, is akin to being a part of the latest summer blockbuster.
The lavish presentation really can’t be understated, with gorgeous character models animating fluidly against bustling stage backgrounds that help the visuals pop - especially if you have an Xbox One S and a supporting TV to play with HDR. Injustice 2 is equally enticing for audiophiles as well, with a seasoned and recognisable voice cast complementing the rousing and bombastic soundtrack.
Progress is rewarded with Gear, which can then be equipped to influence a relevant character’s appearance and stats - strength, defence, health and ability - provided they meet the level requirement to use it. You level fighters simply by taking them into battle, earning experience points proportional to your performance at the conclusion of each bout, win or lose. The wide range of character-specific Gear and Shaders available is somewhat staggering, allowing you to extensively adapt each combatant to make them truly your own in terms of both their look and play style. For purists that don’t like the sound of tinkering with the game’s balance, it can also be kept purely cosmetic (which is standard in ranked online play).
The wide range of character-specific customisation options are somewhat staggering, allowing you to extensively adapt each combatant to make them truly your own in terms of both their look and play style.
Gear fiends will definitely want to spend some time in Multiverse mode, as that’s where they’ll see the highest payouts. Multiverse, a universe-hopping staple of the DC comics, is a nice way of contextualising the transition of Mortal Kombat’s Living Towers, with new multiverses constantly cropping up for limited timeframes, each home to a string of encounters against new takes on existing heroes and villains under differing rulesets. Mother Boxes are rewarded for beating a multiverse and function in much the same way as Overwatch’s Loot Boxes, dishing out a random selection of items for a random set of characters when opened.
Mother Boxes can be bought with in-game credits, which you’ll earn a steady stream of and can sell unwanted Gear for, while items you’re fond of can be refreshed with Regen Tokens to bring them up to your current level. The rare Source Crystals, however, which serve to change an item’s appearance while maintaining its stats, are a more premium commodity, requiring you to part with some cash if you want to make frequent use of them. Thankfully, Gear is earned at a fair clip, so you should never be left wanting enough to feel pressured into it.
Joining a Guild is a direct route to more loot, with all members working towards specific objectives in order to share in the victory spoils. Guilds are also a good place to meet like-minded players with which to play online, as, unfortunately, both ranked and player bouts suffer imbalanced matchmaking and opposition that spam the same few attacks.
When you do find applicable human competition, the game takes on new life, with mind games that wouldn’t necessarily be utilised by or against the AI coming into play. Unpredictable use of cancels, delays and cross-ups keep everyone on their toes, making for some edge-of-your-seat encounters. While infrequent and only occurring at peak times, it’s just unfortunate that spotty netcode can occasionally throw a spanner in the works. As is the case with any precision-based fighter, anything other than flawless online performance renders the game near unplayable.
Despite that, Injustice 2 has dethroned the mighty Mortal Kombat X as king of our hill, in the process cementing NetherRealm’s place atop the genre. Sumptuous presentation, unrivalled storytelling, deep customisation systems, endless Multiverse possibilities, and a mostly solid online experience that can only improve with time make Injustice 2 the full package.
Developer Dan Fornace is the mind behind Super Smash Land, a fan-made Super Smash Bros. demake, who also served as Lead Developer on the excellent Killer Instinct reboot that launched alongside the Xbox One. Dan’s background is precisely why his new independent venture, Rivals of Aether, should grab your attention. It’s an amalgamation of the knowledge he’s accrued, as well as another passionate love letter to one of his favourite games.
Once you’re good and ready for competition, you’ll need to carefully select a stage to put your new skills to use on. There’s a mixture of symmetrical and asymmetrical layouts, as well as compositions that allow for more or less verticality, centred around both grounded and fantastical geography. Each possesses a fitting retro soundtrack that’ll really put the wind in your sails, as well as unique hazards and pick-ups that change the way you play. It’s worth noting that these modifiers can be turned off should you want an unimpeded fight experience, perhaps to settle a dispute with a level-playing-field grudge match.
A further glut of customisation options are available for the matches themselves, namely edits to the time limit and number of lives, number of participants, whether the battle is free-for-all or team-based, and each individual fighter’s competence. Everyone can find their sweet spot as a result.
Whatever settings you opt for, matches are enjoyably frenetic, especially if you opt for a full roster of four. The streamlined controls earn their stay here, not getting lost amongst the crazy cavalcade of busy visual effects as conventionally complex inputs likely would.
As you dish out beatings the recipient’s damage percentage increases, and the higher it gets the easier it is to knock them from the stage and deplete their stock of lives by one. Once they run out, they’re eliminated, and you win by being the last animorph standing. It’s incredibly Smash, but it’s regardless a raucous good time that brings the experience to an audience Smash largely doesn’t reach.
It’s incredibly Smash, but it’s regardless a raucous good time that brings the experience to an audience Smash largely doesn’t reach.
For an early access game, technical performance is mostly rock solid thanks to responsive controls and no hitching during even the most frenzied of encounters. When we ventured online, some issues did unfortunately apparate in the finicky invite system and occasional bout of lag.
The online multiplayer issues don’t quite end there, however, as the breadth of choice available to solo users gives way to quite a rigid structure. Whilst it’s understandable that ranked matches would disable stage modifiers and bots, there’s no reason to enforce the same strict ruling on friendly matches. To the same point, team-based battles should also be available. Rivals of Aether is predictably at its absolute best when shared with friends, but unless they’re available for local play, the options are disappointingly limiting.
Despite that, if you’ve been craving a nostalgic shot of Smash Bros. but have long since left Nintendo behind, were burned by PlayStation All-Stars, or are just looking to inject some variety into your repertoire of bog-standard fighters, Rivals of Aether is for you. Whether you choose to invest now or wait for the final release depends where your interests lie; whilst you’re (at least eventually) in for a treat either way, we’d advise erring on the side of caution and waiting to see if the online options are expanded upon first.
Pick it up in preview
Wait for final release
Avoid it either way
Note: To reiterate, Rivals of Aether is currently in preview phase and this review reflects the state of the game at the time of publishing. Things can and will change, likely only for the better.
A brief second opinion:
With that in mind, the preview build definitely offers a strong beginning that we can expect to reach its full potential as the game is updated to reach release state.
Despite having been around since 1994, having been available on a multitude of platforms, and having thirteen prior instalments, PS4 exclusive The King of Fighters XIV has been our introductory encounter with this franchise. Whilst we’ve discovered a sound technical fighter to add to our repertoire, we’ve also come to understand why it fell by the wayside for so long.
Don’t expect Netherrealm-style production values from the story mode. A sparse few cinematics convey a scant narrative.
Whilst the characters all have a firm technical foundation, their designs and diversity leave a little to be desired. We couldn’t identify most of them in a lineup, which might sound a petty grievance, but when the genre’s built upon the shoulders of iconic characters, it’s criminal. Thankfully they can’t all be tarred with the same brush, as select combatants - Choi Bounge and The King of Dinosaurs, for example - are bizarre enough to be memorable.
KOFXIV’s game modes are just as numerous with versus, survival, time attack, combo trials and story available on the singleplayer front. They’re all pretty self-explanatory, though don’t expect Netherrealm-style production values from the story mode. A sparse few cinematics convey a scant narrative that does little to distract from the fact it’s actually a tower battle mode.
Whilst disappointing, it’s far from damning for most, as online’s where extended longevity is eked out. There’s a lot to keep you busy between ranked play and free matches across team, single and party disciplines. It’s all for naught if poor netcode warps the otherwise responsive 60FPS control, but for the most part, performance is reliably steady. Whilst we have experienced infrequent pockets of latency, we couldn’t be picky about opponents pre-release, so expect better results when faced with a choice of matches in your region come launch day.
It’s easy to appreciate KOFXIV’s technical prowess, but it just doesn’t stand out from the crowd.
Whilst connections vary, you’re always guaranteed a sumptuous visual and aural presentation. A bevy of creative stages show off a carnival of crisp, 1080p colour, each accompanied by a unique and fitting track. Clean menus also house a hard-rocking main theme, which never fails to build hype for the impending fight.
It’s easy to appreciate The King of Fighters XIV’s technical prowess and no bells and whistles approach; they give it a nostalgic feel that harkens back to many a classic. Despite that, it just doesn’t stand out from the crowd, or excel enough in any one area to take mantle as the game of choice in that distinction. For a certain breed of hardcore gamer, the stark focus on fundamentals will be a huge positive, whereas for another - us included - it’ll lack inherent fun through neglecting established pillars of the genre, like bonkers mini-games and recognisable guest characters. Which camp you fall into dictates whether KOFXIV is worth your time.