Let’s Chat: Spyro’s Coming Back & We’re Very Excited

Time for Week 2 of this new feature, where Ashley Harrison and I talk over the big topic of the week. We’re rather excited this time, as a new Kotaku story claims that we will be getting a Spyro Trilogy (the PS1 games) remake for PlayStation 4 this year. We explain more specifics in the conversation, so, well, let’s get into it!


William Robinson: It’s Week 2 and we’ve already got one of the best stories I can think to talk about – according to Laura Kate Dale, reliable leaker over at Kotaku, a Spyro PS1 Trilogy remake is coming this year, in the vein of the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy! Those Spyro titles are some of my favourite childhood games, so I’m incredibly excited about this. Do you think we can believe this as a legit story, given the track record of both writer and publication?

Ashley Harrison: I think we can totally believe it as legit. It’s not like it’s a massive surprise to me, seeing how well Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy sold – it was only a matter of time before Activision commissioned the Spyro remaster, in my opinion.

WR: Yeah, I thought it would happen – I mean, they’re better games, so it makes sense – but I didn’t think it’d be this quick. Apparently we’ll have an announcement next month and a Q3 launch, which is a snappy turnaround. Are you thinking September, the 20th Anniversary of Spyro, is likely as a release month?

AH: I’m expecting it to be a September release, yeah. Going by Wikipedia, there isn’t a single game release slated to happen (yet) in September, so it’d be a perfect month to release it if it stays like that. I’m going to have to disagree with the Spyro games being better than the Crash games though, sorry.

WR: That’s fighting talk. I don’t see any dragons riding skateboards in Crash Bandicoot, so your argument is dismissed. For me, Spyro 2: Gateway to Glimmer (the subtitle was Ripto’s Rage in North America) is the best, with Spyro: Year of the Dragon (the third entry) close behind. The first game, Spyro the Dragon, is naturally a bit rougher around the edges; hopefully, we get some updates and refinements, like Crash did.

AH: Yeah, but we have rideable tigers and polar bears in the Crash series, so… I’m torn constantly between Spyro 2 and Year of the Dragon being my favourite Spyro game; you could ask me every day of the week and I’d give you a different answer each time. Spyro the Dragon definitely needs some improvements in the vein of the Crash remaster. The lack of simple things from the later 2 games in the original trilogy such as hovering need to be implemented if you ask me.

WR: Mainly, I’m just happy with those games being available on my PS4 with a new lick of paint, and, of course, those sweet, sweet Trophies. Are there any parts you’re particularly looking forward to playing again?

AH: For me, it’ll be seeing Glimmer in HD for the first time. Spyro 2 was the first game I played from the original trilogy, so Glimmer holds a special place in my heart. Other than that, Breeze Harbour is a personal favourite level of mine, so it’ll be great to see that again. What about you?

WR: There’s so many classic levels and hub worlds. I like how there were secrets in said hub worlds, an element of 3D platformers that seems to have been forgotten in the years since. Beyond that it’s seeing all those awesome characters again (see: Sgt. Byrd & Sheila the Kangaroo) and, of course, the skateboarding segments.

AH: Oh man, the skating is gonna be so hype. I spent WAY too much time trying to get as high a score as possible when I was younger, and I just know I’m gonna do the exact same for this. I hope they implement an online leaderboard or something for the minigames in all 3 games, so I can brag about just how much better I am at them than you.

WR: Woahhhh. I wasn’t called The Spyro Master for nothing as a kid (yes, that’s a true story, and yes, it’s incredibly dorky). But I did 100% those games, and I am very much looking forward to doing it again. On a tangent, have you played the Crash remake, and do you think they will they keep things like the Squid Skateboard cheat codes in a Spyro remake?

AH: I bought the Crash remake as soon as it was available to pre-order on Amazon, they’re 3 of my favourite games from my childhood so no way was I missing out on them. I do hope they keep all of the cheat codes in the games, not just squid skatebaording. Big Head mode + Pink Spyro was hilarious to me as a kid, so I hope I can do it again in the remake.

WR: Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here, but could these nostalgic remakes be leading to something more? Between these, Yooka-Laylee and the more 64/Sunshine-esque Super Mario Odyssey, the 3D platformer with a bespoke hub world may be coming back into fashion. At what point do we start getting new entries in these series? Do you expect a new Crash?

AH: I expect a new Crash game, given a recent report that mentioned a new one coming in 2019 as part of Activision’s 5 year plan for Crash. Whether I want it or not though is a different question. We’ve seen multiple developers make their own spin on Crash, but none of them lived up to the feel of the original trilogy. Whilst Vicarious Visions did a good job on the one part of N. Sane Trilogy they made themselves from scratch, I’m just not sure if it’d be possible to capture that Crash Bandicoot essence again. I don’t expect a new Spyro game at all though, sadly.

WR: You think this is more just a microcosm of people taking advantage of bringing back these beloved games, more than a change in terms of the genres we’re getting, then?

AH: Absolutely. It’s been proven time and time again in multiple industries, that if there’s one thing that sells, it’s nostalgia. And whilst that isn’t necessarily a bad thing in its own right, I just don’t see the 3D platformer making its way back into the mainstream, sadly.

WR: Hey, as long as it stops Spyro being turned into some horrific alternate reality version of himself in Skylanders, I’m fine with that. Any other series you can see getting this treatment? You may judge me, but honestly, Gex gets my vote.

AH: Jak and Daxter. Tell me you don’t want it.

WR: I’ve… never properly played them. *Hides*

AH: Dammit, Will. I believe that The Precursor Legacy has just been released on PS4 as a PS2 on PS4 Classic, so get on it. Anyway, going back to Spyro, if there’s one thing that I want them to keep in for this rumoured remake, it’s the glitches.

Spyro Image

AH: Vicarious Visions seemed fine to leave in some of the more well known Crash glitches, and add a certain… hilarity to them, shall we say? That makes me hopeful they’ll leave in some of the Spyro ones too. Being able to finish the whole of Spyro 2 only collecting one Talisman and beating all 3 bosses is super fun.

WR: I think I missed out on this stuff! My playthroughs tended to be pretty glitch-free, but this sounds like some interesting stuff – especially for those already familiar with the game, like myself. Glitches and, er, dodgy moments are part of the PS1 aesthetic, y’know?

AH: If you ever get the chance, watch a speedrun of the game [we’ve embedded one below -William], it’s so much fun. Insomniac left a ton of non-solid textures in the game, as well as the ability to “double-jump” by charging whilst at the top of a jump, which breaks the game so much.

WR: I may have to do that! Talking of aesthetics, I think the visual style of Spyro can translate really well. Even now, the bright colours and clean polygons have aged better than most games from that time, which only makes me more excited to be able to enjoy that world in HD. Honestly, there isn’t much gameplay wise they need to change for me – perhaps some camera refinement? What about you?

AH: I’m totally with you on the camera refinement there, it wasn’t the best whatsoever on PS1. I’d also like to see the first person aiming improved for this release, too. It was way too loose, so this is a great opportunity to fix that.

WR: I’m sure we could talk all day about the details of Spyro – and I’m sure we will in the future – but until we get more info it might be best to leave it there for now. Suffice to say, I’m incredibly excited – this is now my most anticipated game (at least until a Captain Toad Switch game gets announced). Any final thoughts on what you’d like from the return of Spyro?

AH: Bring on (supposedly) September!

WR: Well, Laura Kate Dale, you better not be playing us on this one, or we could look very silly. Either way, it’s good to dream. Until next week!


That’s the conversation for this week! If you have any feedback on the presentation of this new features, or even any topics you’d like us to cover, you can let us know in the comments. Alternatively, you can read the last Discussion, on Xbox Games Pass and the Netflix model.

Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds Review

Developed by: Guerrilla Games
Published by: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: Out Now


Horizon Zero Dawn‘s major DLC expansion delivers more of what made the action adventure so compelling to begin with – beautiful environments, visceral action, and an engaging story about woman and machine (you can read my review here). The Frozen Wilds also makes subtle but noticeable improvements on weaker areas of the base game, which bodes well for the inevitable sequel.


A Cut Above

The Frozen Wilds is set in The Cut, a brand new addition to the north of the map. As we know from popular culture, heading north often means cold, harsh conditions, and it is no different here. Horizon is set in a post-apocalyptic world, where sentient machines caused widespread devastation and led to the human race essentially hitting the reset button; The Frozen Wilds introduces a new handful of these imposing robot dinosaurs, and the linear path up to The Cut forces an encounter with one straight off the bat.

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This is the Scorcher, to be precise – a machine that is ferocious at close range and can produce devastating bursts of fire. Even the players who are experts with the the way combat works in Horizon will find a big challenge here, especially when multiple machines are attacking at once later on. Whilst the recommended level for entry was 35 (the previous cap was 50, which is raised to 60 in this DLC), even my lv50 Aloy struggled at times. Another introduction is a machine based on a polar bear, which can unleash consecutive melee attacks that leave Aloy reeling. The added challenge is welcome for those who had perhaps gotten too comfortable with the cycle of strategic combat.

A big draw of Horizon was not only the gameplay but the intriguing story that was interwoven in; the Banuk were a tribe that were involved at times, mainly though the enigmatic Sylens, who assists Aloy at crucial points. They remained mysterious, though – however, The Cut is the residence of the Banuk, and reveals a lot about them. The overarching plot does little to deviate massively from what Guerrilla presented in the main story, with dangerous machines populating the freezing mountain known as Thunder’s Drum due to a hostile AI.

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It’s what The Frozen Wilds gives you within that structure that supplements what came before. Aratak, the Banuk Chieftain, and Ourea, who discovers a friendlier AI, are the most developed side characters and provide the main emotional payoff, but the Banuk tribe is full of other perspectives and troubles that Aloy can help with. It’s like learning a different culture – one quest requires finding missing hunters that didn’t return from a survival ritual, and dealing with the morality of saving them when they think their failure makes their lives void. Other quests teach you about new materials and techniques, adding slight variety to gameplay whether it is spear modifications or a new flamethrower weapon. Horizon was already good at giving you side quests that weren’t just busywork, but felt unique and worthwhile, and The Frozen Wilds continues this.


Ice, Ice, Aloy

The mini-open-world addition that is The Cut is full of notable things to do. Some are changed-up versions of what came before, such as a Tallneck machine which needs putting back together. Others are new additions, like the Control Towers that repair nearby machines. The latter is one of the better introductions, as it makes you think about new approaches; if you sneak in and disable the tower first, the ensuing battle will be much easier. The Frozen Wilds is at its best at times like these, where it is ever-so-slightly changing up the the gameplay while sticking true to what made Horizon one of the gaming highlights of 2017.

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It’s the little things that you notice, as well. In my original review of Horizon, I noted the animation as sometimes looking a bit stiff in conversations. The Frozen Wilds features exchanges where characters look more natural – swaying, using hand motions, and pacing as they express emotion. It makes everything a little more believable, and is a good sign that Guerrilla know what to improve for the sequel that they are surely working hard on.

It’s just a shame that not everything can be magically fixed in DLC. The timing of Horizon Zero Dawn‘s release – so close to the groundbreaking Zelda: Breath of the Wild – emphasised the clunkiness of traversal when ascending more awkward, mountainous environments. The Frozen Wild‘s snowy world is full of these areas, awkwardly limiting where you can and can’t go. At one point, I got lost in The Hunting Grounds of The Cut just because a small wall was blocked for me; one issue with being given another chunk of the same game is that you have more time to examine the intricacies of how it works – flaws and all.

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Then again, it is saved to a degree by the stupendous beauty all around you. Even by Horizon‘s already-high standards, The Cut provides another level of technical achievement. You’re either journeying through tranquil, crisp white sheets of snow, or you’re being battered by relentless blizzards that block out everything further than a few feet in front of Aloy. In the spirit of Horizon, this is mixed in with the remnants of the old world, like the massive, frozen dam in the centre of The Cut; in both art direction and raw technical prowess, Horizon remains at the pinnacle of games as an art form.


Final Thoughts

The 8-ish hours it took me to get through the majority of The Frozen Wilds gave me a strong sense of closure. There is enough DNA from the base game to keep it feeling familiar, but also enough new ideas – and considerable challenge – to make playing through the entirety of the DLC both justifiable and enjoyable. Learning new bits and pieces of info about the events of Horizon act as a neat epilogue, but also set up what might come in the future; just like being reminded of some weak points raise the excitement for what an improved Horizon sequel could achieve.

9/10

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Gaming Photo Album: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

We start this trilogy of Uncharted Gaming Photo Album features with the one that started it all – Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. To clarify, these images are taken in The Nathan Drake Collection on the PlayStation 4; my first experience of the much-celebrated series came via this collection, and led me to understand much of the appeal of this series. Drake’s Fortune is unquestionably the weakest of the trilogy in my eyes, but as a proof of concept for the better games to come (Uncharted 3 is the best, judge me all you like) it is a worthwhile game to play through. Here are some of my favourite shots from my time with the adventure!


Nathan Drake

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Uncharted Territory

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Elena & Sully

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Explorer

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Let’s Chat: Xbox Game Pass, Cloverfield, & the Digital Future

Welcome to what is planned as a new weekly feature, where fellow gamer (and Chelsea fan, though we’ll let that slide) Ashley Harrison and I discuss the big topics of the week. For this inaugural article, we’ll be talking the future of how we consume our games, films, and other media. The bombshell drop of The Cloverfield Paradox on Netflix has brought up whether we’ll need anything other than our cosy bed and TV to watch the latest exciting releases in the days to come, and with Microsoft committing to first-party games coming on launch day to Xbox Game Pass, we could be moving that way. Keep reading for an in-depth discussion…


William Robinson: Hey, Ash! Thanks for joining me to talk (slightly) more professionally than we would normally. So, the whole Netflix strategy is on the mind of the mainstream right now. Microsoft impressed many by announcing first-party games will launch same day on Xbox Game Pass; and at the Superbowl, Netflix themselves shocked us all with a Cloverfield Paradox trailer that ended with it being available that same night. Let’s start with the latter – looking back after a few days, was it a good move?

Ashley Harrison: Yo Will, how’s it going? Looking back on it, I think in the case of both Xbox Game Pass and Netflix dropping The Cloverfield Paradox out of the blue, they’re incredible decisions for two completely different reasons.

WR: They’re different approaches, but to a same end goal; both are looking to push us to a streaming-dominant future. Can you see either of them making a major impact long-term?

AH: Xbox’s streaming service I can. Especially at the current price of £8 a month, I feel like that’s going to be an offer too good for most people to resist as we transition into a more digital than physical world. However, I’m not sure about Netflix. I feel like Cloverfield Paradox worked with this new model given it’s not exactly a huge name film, but for actual blockbuster films such as Star Wars, for example, a traditional release is the only thing I see Hollywood allowing; they earn WAY too much from box office sales to even consider allowing films to release on a streaming service.

WR: I think it would have been a bigger deal if Paradox was, to put it kindly, better than average. If that film had been at the quality level of 10 Cloverfield Lane, then it would have felt like getting a new cinema release at home. Instead, it ended up feeling like a B-movie that was being sold to us with clever marketing. On the Xbox topic, it seems like a good deal for players now; but if this works, we’re going to see publishers making their own services – look at EA Access! It’s already happening. The price is going to add up to have them all, just like with Netflix, Amazon, NOW TV and more competing with each other in the streaming space.

AH: Yeah, there’s that too. The clever marketing, mostly in thanks to the shock sudden release, helped to hide the fact that it just wasn’t that good of a film, and I feel this way it likely brought in a lot more viewers than it would if it had had a cinema release, as people more than likely watched it before reading any reviews that would’ve put them off. Every publisher having their own streaming service is my only fear to come out of this. I don’t know about you, but I actually rarely buy games brand new, unless I really want them, and each one seems to have a different publisher. The cost of having to pay for each service will add up to way more than the price of a game. However, there’s also the flip side that if you’re only interested in one publisher’s games, then I’m sure it’ll work out cheaper in the long run.

WR: We’ll be seeing more films try to copy the Paradox effect, I think, but Cloverfield was probably ideal for the treatment because of the whole mysterious marketing strategy that series uses. Personally, I get my games new and physical when I can. I am a big physical media fan, but I can see them going the way of magazines – less room for the general product, but a remaining market for those that embrace the beauty of a tactile, well designed publication (or, in this case, game package). We always talk about this being the “final generation of consoles” before the next gen proves us wrong, but whether it actually happens this time is yet to be proven.

AH: I don’t think there’ll ever not be a next generation of consoles, unless the game companies go the way of the PC, and just provide an upgradable box, although I doubt that will ever be the case. What I don’t doubt though is the way in which we interact with the consoles will change. I do think we’re not too far from an all digital future, where consoles will essentially just be boxes with a hard drive in, and we’ll be streaming or downloading games as the internet gets faster and faster for customers. I think Game Pass and EA Access are just the beginning of that step.

WR: Yeah, Steam Box went well, eh? In all seriousness, I’m not against the idea of being able to stream the majority of games – as long as there are still physical editions, at least for the bigger releases. One part that does worry me is how these monthly prices are unlikely to include those pesky DLC and microtransactions; the issues there will only be exacerbated as publishers look to them as the main source of income. What about you? Would you be on board with a streaming future?

AH: I’m not sure there would even be physical editions of bigger releases, as I’m sure a console with a focus on digital games would just ditch the disc drive altogether. As you said, the monthly prices probably wouldn’t include DLC or microtransactions either, and with the amount of games now launching with one or both of those, it could end up being even more expensive than anticipated. There’s nothing to stop companies increasing subscriptions prices, either, because if it’s a digital only future then you have no other choice. I’d personally never be happy with all digital. Whilst I appreciate the convenience of having the games all stored on your console without having to switch discs, or having thousands of movies on your phone, there’s something about the feel of holding a new game in your hands (and that iconic smell!) or going to a cinema to watch a newly released film that you just can’t quite beat.

WR: Definitely – I adore the event of going to the cinema, but we’re edging towards a future where we all just consume everything at home… To finish up, let’s bring it more short term. Xbox Game Pass in 2018 – would it convince you to think about playing Xbox One titles you wouldn’t have otherwise? The lead games aren’t huge names like Halo this year, so it could be viewed as a conservative way to test a risky strategy.

AH: For £8 for a month, I’m sure I’ll pick up a subscription at some point to try out games on the service, however I don’t think I’ll keep the subscription running; if I find anything I like I’ll just purchase it rather than rent it, as that’s just how I am. It’s a risky strategy to try it this year rather than say last from what we know at the minute, however I’m sure Microsoft are going to retrospectively add their games to the service, to make the price more worth it. Plus, we don’t know what anyone has up their sleeves for E3 yet, so Microsoft could easily be sitting on a huge game, just waiting for the right time to announce it and release the service.

WR: Maybe they could drop Halo 6: Paradox at E3, and say it’s out that same night? Might sound ridiculous, but we have to be working our way towards someone trying a big move like that.

AH: I’m 100% sure that one company could pull something like that, as if I remember rightly someone within Nintendo has already said they’d love to do it, but I don’t think we’ll see it happen any time within the next 5 years, for fear of repercussions from retailers for the big games.

WR: As ever, time will tell for all these things. I’m really excited – with trepidation – to see how this goes. Honestly, I just want another (good) Cloverfield film, so it makes me glad to hear that the fourth film is coming this year. Thanks for talking and doom mongering with me about the end of physical media, Ash!

AH: No worries, man.


You can let us know what you thought about the new feature style below – or perhaps your own thoughts on the future of media distribution. Also, you can read our pilot “A Discussion” about The Last of Us Part II over at Tanuki Bridge, or read my review of The Cloverfield Paradox here, if interested. Either way, thanks for taking the time to read this article right here!

Oxenfree Review

Developed and Published by: Night School Studios
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mobile
Release Date: Out Now


In the ever-expanding genre of the “walking simulator” (where the narrative of the game takes priority over gameplay), Oxenfree manages to carve its niche thanks to a quirky setting and aesthetic. While it can be niggly to control and leave you looking for more at times, the first game from Night School Studios is overall a narrative success that channels the same retro supernatural spirit that Stranger Things managed on TV.


Teenage Dream

The premise is pretty simple in Oxenfree. You play as Alex, joining 4 other friends on a trip to the empty Edwards Island, a regular resort for these troubled teens. There is a feeling of aftermath to proceedings as you discover the group dynamic – affected greatly by the passing of Alex’s brother Michael –  through early discussion. Environments are 2.5D, with set paths that shepherd you through the story but also allow a small feeling of freedom and choice. You can interact at a basic level with the environment by inspecting objects, but the most interesting segment of the game is controlling the flow of dialogue.

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You use directional inputs to decide on responses to the rest of the group in real-time, which adds a pace and natural feeling that is sometimes missing in walking-and-talking games (for example, the TellTale games). One of the best scenes of the entire game takes place early on, before anything supernatural kicks in, as the group gathers around a campfire to do what any teenagers do – pine over each other, bicker at each other, and generally provide gloriously entertaining teenage drama. Blue-haired Alex is a great protagonist, certainly flawed but also inherently likeable as your voice in all this. How you handle, say, the resent from the girlfriend of her late brother supplies plenty of player agency throughout. If you so choose, you can let the others talk without you, and just listen – it’s really seamless, and an approach other games in the genre would do well to look at.


Spook Station

Tonally, Oxenfree is a lot like Life is Strange, with teenage issues mixing with time manipulation to form a heightened yet believable story. After Alex inadvertently opens a rift inside a cave through the tuning of her radio, a frenetic island escape begins; puzzles are rarely challenging but often interesting, as an unknown entity starts playing with the minds of our main characters. Alex’s radio becomes your main way of supernatural interaction going forward – thought as a gameplay mechanic it falls a bit flat. All you have to do at major story beats is find fluctuations as you scroll through radio frequencies. As with many games of this ilk, if you are looking for much of a challenge, Oxenfree isn’t the game for you.

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The most affecting moments of Oxenfree come when it fully embraces the time travel aspect to allow greater insight into the relationship between Alex and her brother. Seeing the contrast to a brighter segment of her life is bittersweet, and serves the characters in the present. Oxenfree ends just as it is starting to experiment with more extreme uses of time, and it left a slightly unsatisfactory aftertaste. There is a New Game Plus mode waiting after the initial 4-5 hour playthrough, but it still isn’t quite enough – Oxenfree has amazing ideas, but lacks the full confidence to commit to them at the end.


Been Here Before

On this topic, it is worth noting that parts of Oxenfree can feel like padding. Alex and company have to backtrack across the island a couple of times towards the climax of the game, and it gets a bit tiring despite the continued conversation. Using an analogue stick (I played Oxenfree on Switch) to control your movement through the narrow pathways is often quite fiddly, too, making movement quite uneven at times simply because of the limited space in which to move. On the other hand, you do at least have some charming visuals to look at on the way.

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There’s an almost handmade aesthetic in Oxenfree, with rustic textures making up the creepy, mysterious look of the island. Character models are oh-so-slightly exaggerated, giving them extra expression but maintaining a relatively realistic appearance. In this department, the game truly shines once you’ve started opening rifts and encountering teenage possession; Oxenfree uses neon glitches and harsh static effects to show time loops and other dimensional manipulation, escalating fabulously as you play. The music by Andrew Rohrmann compliments the visuals, knowing when to be tranquil and when to be eery.


Final Thoughts

Oxenfree brings some neat ideas to the walk-and-talk genre, with seamless continuous dialogue being the highlight. It also skirts around some bigger implementations of time travel, not quite realising the narrative potential that is set up. Nevertheless, for fans of story-driven experiences it is worth playing through – especially if you love some teenage drama. Come on, admit it, you do – there’s no judgment here!

7/10

Rating: 7 out of 10.

6 Wii U Games We Need on Switch

Recently, we looked at how the 3DS still has plenty of great games to play in 2018. The same can’t be said of the Wii U, a console Nintendo cut their losses on some time ago. Yet, the Wii U is still giving Nintendo Switch players plenty of joy, as Nintendo brings over the software highlights that would otherwise be trapped on the quirky system. We’ve seen it done with much success already – look at Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, which has sold over 7 million copies – and more is on the way, as Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is scheduled for a Switch release in May. Despite these fantastic choices, there are plenty more Wii U games that would be easy wins and buy Nintendo development time on new entries in their beloved series. Let’s take a look at 6 of them, or rather, Captain Toad and 5 other games to bring over afterwards. Let’s just get Captain Toad on Switch, OK?


Captain Toad

Captain Toad 2

I regularly get urges to play Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, but I just know that the moment I play through it, a Switch edition will be confirmed. Sod’s law, y’know? This isn’t just my personal fanaticism talking, as Captain Toad would be a brilliant fit for the Switch. It was unexpectedly revealed at E3 2014 as a title that expanded upon the Captain Toad side puzzles in Super Mario 3D World, giving us a complete adventure starring the loveable Captain. He has no specific weapons and can’t even jump, but will find a way through hostile environments because he is just that great a guy. The bite-size nature of the levels makes them ideal for the handheld play Nintendo’s new hybrid allows; you could just imagine yourself loading up your Switch, playing a level, and then jumping out again. Come on Nintendo, get this game on Switch – and give Captain Toad a slot on the Smash Bros. roster, yeah?


Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE

Tokyo

An obscure game on an obscure console, but if what my Tanuki Bridge co-writer Demelza Ward had to say is to be believed, also a very good game. I am one of the large crowd that hasn’t played this game, but I believe a new audience would be interested in picking it up on Switch – an audience that has bought into a massive JRPG in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (which has sold over 1 million copies since launching in December). Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is a crossover between two much-loved franchises, Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem, creating a JRPG with many Persona-like elements. You can summon unique magical elements through each character, and the focus on relationships is very Persona-like, even if it comes from the Fire Emblem side of this crossover. We see a lot of talk of Persona 5 being a great fit for the Switch, but that is so heavily tied to PlayStation – Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE could be the game to fill that slot. I know I’d jump in.


Super Mario 3D World

Mario

I try to be understanding, I really do, but when 3D World is glossed over in the discussion  of greatest 3D Mario games it is hard to keep quiet. The 3D Mario of the Wii U is an utterly phenomenal continuation of the series, full of creativity and inspiration around every corner. It deserves a 2nd chance for appreciation – the huge fanbase of Super Mario Odyssey could snap this up and revel in how exceptional it is; while Odyssey exploited Cappy for numerous clever puzzles, 3D World just constantly throws amazing ideas at you. Take the Double Cherry power-up, which creates copies of Mario for eccentric results, or the signature Cat Mario, which gives the plumber a level of traversal ability unlike we’ve seen before (it’s almost like how Breath of the Wild gave Link climbing, but to a slightly lesser degree). A Switch version needs to happen, to educate gamers to this masterpiece.


Pikmin 3

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What a joyfully-realised game Pikmin 3 is. Growing on everything the first two titles did, and subtly using the Wii U GamePad to enhance the real-time strategy gameplay, Pikmin 3 was a dependably excellent game all the way through. The problem it had was how much rode on it at the time; Wii U struggled with a massive draught of major software releases in the first year, so when Pikmin 3 came along in July (more than half a year after the launch of the console) Nintendo fans were looking to it to be something special. It was certainly a fantastic game, but wasn’t ever going to save the Wii U; Pikmin 3 is the kind of game that would excel as a pleasant surprise hit between behemoth releases – which is exactly what it can be on Switch. Bundle all of the well-executed DLC in, and you’ve got a really worthwhile package for newcomers. Also, this has the best-looking fruit you’ll ever see in a video game. That is reason enough to play.


Super Smash Bros.

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Of all of the games on this list, surely this is the easiest win for Nintendo? Take Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS, merge the exclusive modes and stages of each into one package, include all of the DLC characters and stages, add Captain Toad too, and sell a gazillion units. There isn’t much else to say here! Nintendo is also launching their paid online service in September, so a major online-focused game such as Smash Bros. would be ideal to persuade audiences to sign up. Perhaps the only thing that could stop this happening is if Nintendo would prefer to commit to a fully new Smash Bros. game, but going by previous entries that would take years of development. Switch owners are already getting restless, you know…


Super Mario Maker

Maker

Super Mario Maker, like Super Smash Bros., seems a straightforward sell on Switch. However, the Wii U has a rare trump card over Switch for a game like this in the form of the GamePad. The ease of constructing levels using the stylus and touch functionality of the second screen is part of what rose Super Mario Maker to the top of the level-construction genre; the game was released on 3DS as well, which is again a dual-screen system. Nintendo would likely find a way to make it work on Switch, whether it is just flipping between menus on one screen or some other UI wizardry – either way, after the success of the Wii U and 3DS versions, we’re inevitably going to see Super Mario Maker appear again in some form. With more consoles sold than the Wii U already, an even bigger community could be created on Switch, and with it another feather in the online cap of Nintendo. They need reasons for people to pay for online, and this could be another one.


The Wii U didn’t light the world on fire, but it did get plenty of top-tier software releases, and it would be a great shame if the effort that went into them couldn’t reach the enormous audience that the Switch is tapping into. For the sake of gamers everywhere, let’s show them that the Wii U had a lot of highs amongst the lows, and give us even more great games to play on the Switch. We all win out of this scenario.

(Look, just work on getting Captain Toad over first Nintendo. The other 5 choices here are supplementary, and to make it look like I think of games other than Captain Toad.)

Injustice 2’s DLC Approach is Losing this DC Fan

Despite not really being a fan of fighting games – other than Super Smash Bros.Injustice 2 became one of my favourite games of 2017. A noticeable effort went into making it a game that appealed to people like me; there is an exceptional story picking up where the original Injustice: Gods Among Us left off, and the Multiverse supplies endless replayability for solo players who don’t want to get destroyed online. A lot of my gaming time went into that game last year, maxing out my favourite characters like Green Arrow and getting new gear for them. With the long tail of DLC characters coming, I could see myself playing Injustice 2 for a long, long time. Yet, the DLC strategy has sadly failed to retain my interest.

Let’s be clear here – I’m a huge fan of DC and their characters, which is another major draw of the Injustice series for me. Having that investment before even starting the game gives Injustice 2 a big advantage compared to the likes of Street Fighter or Tekken, which are very foreign worlds to me. Using Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, or even side characters like Robin give an extra level of enjoyment to my time with the game, especially as the history of the characters is used brilliantly in opening exchanges and mid-fight clashes.

Batgirl

The concept of DLC opened up more possibilities in my mind for characters they could introduce. Once we got to see the silhouettes of the hidden characters, that only added fuel to the fire (check out this Jeremy Jahns video to see I’m not the only one), with some characters being clear – only Black Manta has a head shaped quite like that – but others bring more ambiguous. I was quite hoping to see major DC personalities like Batgirl (DLC in the first Injustice) or Shazam return, after being noticeably cut in the transition from the first game. Also, with Injustice 2 already introducing many side characters that have rose to prominence in the CW TV “Arrowverse”, maybe Killer Frost or Arsenal would be sweet additions.

With my Deluxe Edition of the game, I got the first DLC Pack of 3 fighters included. This meant Red Hood, Sub-Zero, and the highlight, Starfire. Red Hood was ultimately quite a generic, ranged weapons-focused fighter, and sort of just another version of the Robin persona. Sub-Zero was a character from Mortal Kombat, and a reference to the origins of developers NeatherRealm. I had very little enthusiasm for him, but it was a one-off; it was fine, and some fan service for fans of that series. Starfire was the pick of the bunch, a reference to the beloved Titans (a group of younger superheroes, including Nightwing and Wally West). Her space-faring powers were something we hadn’t quite seen before, and she brought a colourful look with her to Injustice 2. Starfire was the only character I played with of these 3, despite having access to all of them – and that was the start of my interests waning.

DLC Pack 2 was another step down in my eyes. Again, I see the appeal to fans of having Hellboy in Injustice, I really do, and my personal happiness with the DLC choices doesn’t have to reduce the enjoyment other gamers have with the game. My point here is that Injustice 2 did such a good job to bring in new players with the accessible story, solo game modes, and perhaps most importantly, the DC affiliation. I feel the DLC forgot that. We got Black Manta – shock, eh? – and Raiden, who are two neat characters, but not top-tier names of DC in my eyes. Now DLC Pack 3 has also been confirmed, including Enchantress (recently seen as a belly-dancing Cara Delevigne in the film Suicide Squad), Atom, and… the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? What?

TMNT

Look, don’t shoot me, but I am indifferent to the Turtles – though I recognise their cultural significance and the massive fanbase around the property. But again, the DLC pack is being led by a non-DC character(s), when the DC property is a big reason why I came to love this game so much in the first place. It must be said that Atom is a great choice, being prominent in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow – though Enchantress is, like a Black Manta, more of a lesser-known character. I would be all for the more obscure choices if there weren’t gaps in the roster of big-hitters. No Shazam? No Nightwing?

I’ve been meaning to get back to Injustice 2 for a while. The Legendary Multiverse was a superb extension of the base Multiverse mode, giving you (frankly ridiculous) long-term tasks for each character. The reward for the commitment is extra special gear, and completing this with Green Arrow or Supergirl was appealing for me. I also have yet to 100% the Story Mode – but I’m just not finding myself booting up Injustice 2. The DLC should have been a sure-fire way to keep the attention of those who came for the DC characters, but the focus has instead moved to crossovers with other series. Knowing your audience is a crucial part of the success of any product, and Injustice 2 has lost its way a little bit for this small segment of that audience; I can confidently say that I am in the minority by saying that I’m not overjoyed that the Turtles took one of the 9 DLC slots. Come on, though, wouldn’t Batgirl have been cool?


You may have an urge to tell me I am wrong after reading this. If so, you can leave me a comment below!

5 Ideas for Awesome Nintendo Theme Park Attractions

We’ve known for a while that Nintendo is partnering with Universal Parks and Resorts. The video below dropped near the end of 2016, including Shigeru Miyamoto saying: “We are working very hard to create attractions that can be equally enjoyable to anybody regardless of age.” Have we truly comprehended how cool this could end up being?

I don’t think we have. It can’t be too long until we see the magical results, so maybe we could start imaging the amazing structures we that might pop up at Universal Theme Parks. With a wide catalogue of beloved franchises to choose from, there’s certainly a few ideas that come to mind. Let’s look at just five, for now:


Mario Kart Bumper Cars

This is almost too easy, this one. The idea of bumper cars on their own is fun, but they do always seem to look a bit… bland. Perhaps a lack of visual creativity is going on there? What better way to brighten it up than with the Mushroom Kingdom? Not only would iconic kart designs, like the B-Dasher, be a blast to drive around in, but you could add other aspects in – maybe a couple of the items, for example. No, not the Blue Shell or anything like that – it may be hard to replicate that – but, say, the Item Box to obstruct other karts or slippery patches where a Banana icon is. If you want to aim high, you could actually make a full-on go-kart course. Either way, Mario Kart is a must-have, especially with the popularity of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on Switch.


Boo Mansion

In my eyes, this is another must-have for any Nintendo theme park. The haunted mansion idea is getting a little bit stale now, so let’s get Mario to liven it up! Wait, no – this is Luigi’s time to shine. With a Luigi Death Stare at the door for everyone who enters, this could be the most unnerving haunted mansion you’ve ever faced. You could include ghosts that look away when you see them (get some light trickery going on here, drawing attention and then hiding the Boos), and even some Luigi wails in the background. Not only could this be a really fun take on the haunted mansion, but it could be one that you can take your children to, even if they aren’t usually too fond of this sort of thing.

Luigi's Mansion

To top it off, you could use the idea of fake doors and multiple exits from the Mario games to deceive the crowd. You could have a special winning exit for those who find it, as well as doors that lead to dead ends. As long as it doesn’t start getting to the cruelty level of some user-created Super Mario Maker levels. We don’t want people leaving with tears in their eyes.


Wave Race Water Ride

Let’s start getting away from the usual Mario-themed rides. This partnership with Universal Theme Parks opens the way for some classic franchises to sail again; Wave Race has been dried up (so many pun opportunities…) since the GameCube, but a Nintendo theme park is a prime opportunity to bring it back. Water rides are must-haves! An on-rails, undulating course which slaloms through posts could be utterly thrilling. Get some rollercoaster-style build-up to big drops and sharp turns, and a success may be on your hands. Also, it might help push along another sequel (how about that, Nintendo?), but let’s go one step at a time.


F-Zero/Star Fox Rollercoaster

Speaking of rollercoasters… Nintendo, you have two sci-fi, high-speed series that would fit the rollercoaster format fabulously. Come on, now, I’m giving you the big-money ideas here.

Star Fox

Both series speak for themselves, really. Star Fox is literally an on-rails game, which has you clinging on to your controller as you fly, flip, and do a barrel roll through the environments. That last point being particularly important – we need a barrel roll-ing rollercoaster. Meanwhile, F-Zero is about undiluted speed. This could be one of your top-end Nintendo attractions, with a rapid, yet smooth and fluid, ride that will give you a huge adrenaline rush. Just like Wave Race, this might be a way to get the word out about another series that could do with another entry.


Metroid Laser Tag

Look, we’ve got to do something for Samus. At a theme park, the atmospheric part of Metroid might have to take a back seat, but the series does have a lot of action credit too. Not everyone may have liked Metroid Prime: Federation Force (okay, that’s an understatement), but the multi-character style might fit a theme park really well.

You see, laser tag needs something to spice it up now, and Metroid could be the answer. Some arm cannon-style guns, Metroids as the targets, and just a little of that atmosphere I mentioned earlier in the dark corridors, and you’ve got yourself an inventive take. Maybe put a cake in the middle for Samus to find, too. She’s not gotten much attention recently – at least that is being fixed, with Samus Returns on 3DS in 2017 and the upcoming Metroid Prime 4!


The Alternate Answer: Nintendo Land

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There’s another way to approach all of this. Wii U launched with Nintendo Land, which is literally a game about a Nintendo theme park! Nintendo Land was full of attractions focused on different series. If you want to save time, just lift as much of that as possible into the theme park design, even if it MIGHT be impossible. Also, no, Ice Climber still isn’t included this time. Sorry.


There’s plenty more that could be done with Nintendo’s IP in a theme park setting. They are such iconic characters, with such varied and colourful worlds. That was just 5(ish) ideas for what could be done; if you have any ideas, you can let me know in the comments – I’d really like to read them!

Gaming Photo Album: Rise of the Tomb Raider

Rise of the Tomb Raider is a game I personally adore (you can read my review here), and think is largely under-appreciated. While it certainly has a lot of fans, RotTR didn’t get the widespread discussion a game like Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End did, largely due to the timed exclusivity with Xbox and PC. As a massive fan of the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot, I had to wait a year for the PS4 release; when it finally got into my hands, I spent many hours enamoured with the story of Lara Croft, the adventures she went on, and the overall beauty of the game. Arranged below are some of my favourite shots that I took whilst playing:


Lara Croft

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Explorer

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Adventurer

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Landscapes

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The Cloverfield Paradox Review

Director: Julius Onah
Writers: Doug Jung, Oren Uziel
Platform: Streaming – Netflix
Release Date: Out Now


Yeah, they totally got me. When the Super Bowl trailer for Netflix film The Cloverfield Paradox revealed it’d be coming that same night, it was a mind-blowing moment. Paradigm-shifting for the film industry, even, in terms of distribution – yet, the level of impact was always going to be determined by the quality of the film. On that front, Paradox stumbles a little. This is a firm step down from the brilliantly tense 10 Cloverfield Lane, but still keeps the intrigue of the anthology-esque Cloverfield series going.

Paradox starts in a very promising way, with a gripping plot set-up. The events of the film take place in 2028, 20 years after a monster was unleashed upon the Earth in the initial Cloverfield film. Almost all of Paradox is set in space, on Cloverfield Station, where a crew has been tasked with using an on-board particle accelerator to create a sustainable energy source for the Earth. Civilisation on our planet is close to a tipping point as resources dwindle, making this mission crucial – but around two years in, no success has occurred. With one of the final attempts possible, the collision is achieved, but overloads – with bad, bad repercussions.

Cloverfield 2

The most immediate issue is that the Earth has vanished from their sight. Have they moved, or has the planet? It’s a really neat story point that send shivers up the spine in a more layered way than your regular monster jump scares. Imagine feeling that lost in space, while also possibly carrying the responsibility for wiping out the Earth? Without their home in the windows, space seems much more empty. This is emphasised with striking shots of space at this point of the film, letting the vast gaps to any other stars soak in. Unlike the emptiness used in the cinematography of Alfonso Cuarón film Gravity, the distance to home is what gets the mind racing here.

It’s after this initial set-up that Paradox loses its way and goes a bit flat. The overload of the accelerator causes a bunch of wacky sci-fi horror side effects, such as a detached, animate arm, worms being displaced into a body, a human discovered mangled in the piping, and more. They’re all briefly entertaining but ultimately inconsequential, and the explanation for them is never developed beyond being a result of the accelerator accident. Similarly, the film never really commits to a story thread, hoping to distract with occasional shocks but never fully pulling us into the central journey back to Earth. Even with a bunch of side plots going on, it all just drifts suitably aimlessly towards the conclusion.

A big part of this is the characters, coming from various places of the Earth – they’re all serviceable, and the strong cast (including Daniel Brühl (Rush) and Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids)) do what they can with the material they are given, but they never form the chemistry you feel was intended. Hamilton, the lead woman played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beauty and the Beast), is the only one to get any sort of backstory and emotional investment, but it is is nothing compared to the time and care put into making the characters of 10 Cloverfield Lane stick in the memory.

Cloverfield 1

See, events in Paradox are very rarely surprising. Given that the film is set in the inherently unpredictable Cloverfield series, that is a major flaw. The crew generally have things happen to them rather than actively making things happen. Compare that to Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) in 10 Cloverfield Lane, an underrated female lead who shows her resourceful personality through the actions she takes. She also had scenes with other characters like Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) and even Howard (John Goodman) that really fleshed out and developed her character. No one gets that sort of growth in Paradox, or even very much beyond the very basic realisation that they screwed up. As a result, there isn’t an emotional centre to keep us invested in the moment-to-moment of the film.


Final Thoughts

Just like the first Cloverfield movie, the failings of Paradox are – at least slightly – saved by it being in this franchise; the most intriguing parts of the film are what we don’t see, or might see in future films. News reports and climactic revelations do at least give us more clues as to how the Cloverfield universe works, and it is enough to keep the series interesting. Looked at as a single film, The Cloverfield Paradox is pretty unspectacular science-fiction, and hard to recommend amongst all the quality films available nowadays. On the other hand, for fans – or prospective fans – of the Cloverfield films, it’s worth a watch just to learn a little bit more about this enigmatic series.

6.5/10

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.