Thursday, November 23, 2017

"Stick it to the Man" Switch Review

If you had a giant pink spaghetti arm sticking out of your brain, you'd naturally use it to vault you from one platform to the next, tear down pieces of paper hiding people who need you to get objects for them, find those objects, then deliver them back to the people in need.

That's the oddly logical concept behind "Stick it to the Man," which puts you in control of the hero, who is on the run from the Man, who's accusing him of a crime for which he was framed. With Adult Swim-style visuals, creatively designed levels and obtuse but engaging tasks, it provides an easygoing diversion from heavier fare.

The 2014 2D puzzle platformer re-emerges on the Switch in fine form. Like most indie games of its ilk, it seems to be an apt fit for Nintendo's handheld-home console combo. With bite-sized challenges and checkpoints that make it fitting for on-the-go gaming, the game is a whimsically welcome addition to the console's holiday lineup.

Adjustments made to the base game are minimal, but that's because the game already fit so well with the JoyCon setup. If you missed it upon its original release and have a Switch aching for a library-extending download, you could do much worse.
Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

"River City: Rival Showdown" Review

"River City Ransom" (1989) was a groundbreaking marvel of the NES era, adding RPG elements to a "Double Dragon"-style brawler to create a hybrid experience that developers still try to emulate today. Word that Arc System Works was crafting a spiritual sequel has tantalized fans of the original for years. Now after a stream of nagging false starts and delays, the end result is finally here. It doesn't disappoint.

The devs not only had to live up to the towering expectations of the original, they had to surpass the shadow of the legend to create a game that adhered to modern standards while nailing the feel and energy of the predecessor. They accomplish both tasks by nailing the basics -- this is a game with looks and sounds ripped straight out of the late 80s -- and constructing a deep, satisfying ecosystem around the archaic trappings.

Taking cues from "Groundhog Day" and "The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask," the setup takes you through three days on the gang-infested streets, allowing you to spend them any way you like. While forced to adhere to a day/night cycle with a set amount of time to seek out objectives, you are free to plow through the main storyline, chase off on side quests or just stay in one area braining the same group of thugs over and over again. Various characters have different things to say to you depending on the time of day you encounter them, and you need to follow routines and devise a plan of attack through trial and error to make headway.

With a deceptively complicated and satisfying battle system complete with throws, blocks, punches and kicks -- the latter two of which can be modified by jumps -- there are a host of ways to set out attack and defense strategies. With two difficulty modes to consider, you're probably best off starting on the easier mode to get your feet wet before taking on the game n its more cheap and punishing level. The fact that you'll keep on diving back in with a determined grin on your face says something about how replayable "River City: Rival Shodown" is.

Publisher provided review code.

"Lego Worlds" Switch Review

A "Minecraft"-style universe building game dressed up in Lego trappings is a no-brainer, and while the execution lags behind the game "Lego Worlds" imitates -- it lacks the depth of "Minecraft" and the charm of licensed Lego adaptations -- the bones are there for a rock-solid experience.

With both freeform creative modes -- complete with expansive online multiplayer -- and a quest-based campaign to test your building talents, there is enough to see and do to knock out dozens of hours of largely iterative gameplay.

The Switch is an excellent fit for the game because of its portability. It's therapeutic to craft a part of a village while stuck in a waiting room or airport terminal. And the campaign missions are short enough to be satisfying in quick sessions.

With the $40 physical version down to $20 on Black Friday -- that's cheaper than the $30 digital version -- now is a spectacularly good time to check it out.

Publisher provided review code.

"Coco" Review

For my written review, click here.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Book Report: "Seal Team Six"

Wasdin is an excellent storyteller and poor writer. If I have to choose one quality, I'd always go with storyteller. He either has a memory with an uncanny sense of detail or is skilled at inventing minute details he forgot. Either way, he excels at describing the tumult and grind that Navy SEALs go through as they hop the globe to perform video game-like ops.

His weakness is the humblebrag. Every single story he tells has the same moral: He is the strongest, smartest and most easygoing member of whatever group with which he was involved, and was the unsung hero of every activity in which he took part. Once you just accept that Wasdin is incapable of identifying any flaws within himself or questioning anything he did, you can enjoy his tales for their homespun campfire qualities.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

"Outcast: Second Contact" Review

A wholesale remake of the 1999 cult classic, "Outcast: Second Contact" hurls you into an open-world, sci-fi saga as hero Cutler Slade, who explores the deep-space world of Adelpha. In what was an innovative style at the time, you advance through adventure game-style mechanics, blending point-and-click sensibilities with an action combat motif.

Although the remake is spiritually faithful to the original, there are several enhancements to appreciate, such as the ability to crouch and roll during combat, as well as a streamlined, modern save system.

Legacy issues, including a slow-moving plot with copious comic book-inspired cut scenes, remain. The main challenge tends to be to stay interested despite the blocks the cumbersome story and mission structure foists in front of you.

What might have been a rush job -- the game was originally scheduled to drop in September -- instead is a polished, steady effort. Whether or not it reconnects with its old audience and manages to find new appreciators remains to be seen, but the work has been done to revitalize what many hail as a cult classic.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

"L.A. Noire" Switch Review

Rockstar's stunning 2011 period police procedural "L.A. Noire" has been blessed with a late-2017 renaissance, with a 4K upgrade on its PS4 Pro and Xbox One X debuts.

But leave it to the Switch release to steal the thunder from the better-looking counterparts.

With HD rumble, touchscreen controls and dual-screen play seamlessly adapting the dated title to Nintendo's new system, the developers managed to make the game feel as though it was designed from the ground up for the handheld/home console hybrid.

Set in the grim, dank 1940s Hollywoodland era, the game pits your mildly corrupt cop character -- a grizzled World War II vet -- against the Black Dahlia murderer. You scour crime scenes, hunt down clues and grill witnesses. At the end of an episodic scene, you decide which suspects to arrest. The choice-based gameplay adds replayability and ratchets up the intensity of choices you make.

Enough time had passed for me from my initial playthrough to make the missions seem new again. With only a vague recollection of where clues were hidden or what questions and responses I needed to ask to get the most out of witnesses I grilled, the story seemed fresh rather than like a rehash. The less familiar you are with the original release, the more you'll be able to enjoy the new version.

A hefty 14GB install file puts up a significant barrier to entry to players, pretty much requiring players to pony up for a massive SD card to expand the Switch's memory enough to take on the game.

"L.A. Noire" is such a resonant accomplishment that Switch owners shouldn't let the SD card requirement keep them from taking it on. Further rounding out the console's ever-expanding library, it's now the home of a true classic.

Publisher provided review code.

"Star Wars Battlefront II" Review

The initial "Star Wars Battlefront" current-gen relaunch slowly evolved into a solid multiplayer representation of the cinematic universe, but took a bunch of updates and expansions to get there. The sequel is a far more comprehensive experience, boasting not only expansive multiplayer with an impressive collection of modes and maps, but a solid campaign with canonical story that provides a peek inside the inner workings of the Empire.

Although multiplayer is still the main event, the campaign is far more than the throwaway extended tutorial that many online FPS efforts are stuck with. Excellent voice acting and strong writing make the campaign a resonant and borderline essential experience for hardcore "Star Wars" fans, which will make up pretty much the entirety of the player base here.

No review of "Star Wars Battlefront II" would be complete without mentioning the problematic loot crate system. While just about everything in the game that helps you stay competitive can be unlocked through gameplay rather than pay-to-win, the amount of time it takes to unlock high-end characters is cumbersome. In the game's pre-release version, it was said to take at least 40 hours to unlock characters such as Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker. While a flood of negative comments convinced EA to knock that time down to 10 hours, the commitment is still frustrating for the pickup-and-play crowd who would rather not plunk down hard-earned cash or put in so much time to unlock the icons.

Despite the obnoxious economy that makes the $60 game feel like a money-grubbing, freemium title, the content that's there for the taking without any paid or played unlockables is still impressive. With far more to offer out of the gate than its predecessor, "Star Wars Battlefront II" should manage to shake off initial hesistation from the fanbase to emerge as the dynamic fan service vehicle it is.
Publisher provided review code.

"Rocket League" Switch Review

No console has had a 2017 to match that of the Switch, and the release of "Rocket League" on the system only adds to the momentum. One of the most addictive sports games on the market manages to make significant strides on the handheld/home console hybrid. The game particularly excels in handheld mode, with the screen's proximity to your eyes making your connection to the gameplay.

A game that thrives on kinetic action and requires rapid reflexes to stay competitive requires pinpoint precision in controls, and the Switch comes through in that respect with relish.

Some Switch ports have suffered from weak online play, but "Rocket" League" has a large and engaged enough community to support yet another platform. While a lack of a cohesive chat system could be seen as a drawback, the fact that most of the gameplay is one-on-one minimizes the lack of ability to fluidly communicate.

Each of the modes doled out by the expansions makes the cut on switch, with the old standbys based on soccer and basketball continuing to make the most resonant impressions. Whether you're competing against bots or live opponents, the action is consistently thrilling and addictive. If the Switch has a weak sector so far, it's the sports genre, but "Rocket League" makes up much of that liability.
Publisher provided review code.

Friday, November 10, 2017

"The Sims 4 Deluxe Party Edition" Review

Three years after release on PC, "The Sims 4" finally makes it grand entrance onto consoles, and is all the better for the wait.

Buttressed with countless updates and add-ons since the initial release, the PS4/Xbox One edition coincides with the "Cats & Dogs" expansion, console players get a wealth of content to delve into.

You can customize the look, mannerisms and attitude of your feline or canine companions, dressing them up in costumes and dealing with unexpected quirks that pop up and keep things interesting. You can play with your pets, socialize them by setting them up on playdates with neighbors and friends, train them to take part in obstacle courses and bring in strays to give them siblings. The expansion also adds veterinarian as a career option, allowing you to set up your own clinic, conjuring antidotes to pet diseases and performing surgical procedures.

The game proper functions swimmingly on consoles, but never comes close to shaking the feel of being conceived for the mouse and keyboard setup. The PS4 touchpad helps streamline the pointing and clicking to an extent, but it still takes some getting used to in order to be accustomed to all the pointing and clicking required by manipulating the analog sticks and buttons. If you prefer to forego the customizations, you can auto-generate various setups, then work from there to tweak them to your liking.

Once you get into the flow, it's an effortless joy to manipulate the lives of your Sims, setting up their lives, playing virtual dollhouse and, if it's your thing, torturing them by confronting them with one ludicrous torment after another.

Live Mode is one of the most freeing additions, allowing you to hop between worlds, checking out various neighborhoods and social strata which to adapt.

An impressive achievement that successfully translates the enduring PC obsession to consoles, "The Sims 4" feels like a definitive experience. Whether it manages to keep pace with the continuous updates of its PC counterpart remains to be seen, but for now the console version is on par with the original, and is off to as impressive a start as any fan could hope.

Publisher provided review code.

"America's Greatest Game Shows: Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune" Review

"Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune" have been natural fits for video game adaptations since the NES games, with each generation nudging the adaptations closer to the genuine articles.

Far more than the quick and dirty adaptations they could have been, both games include loads of variety in questions, authentic sights and sounds from the game show and plenty of reasons to keep coming back for more.

Both games offer extensive online options, connectivity with Ubisoft Club and options for quick matches.

Excellent for get-togethers, family game nights or couples competition, "America's Greatest Game Shows" is a superb compilation that distills the best of the enduring game shows, translating them to gamedom. Here's hoping a steady flow of online updates keeps the question banks refreshed to maintain the replayability factor.

Publisher provided review code.

"Murder on the Orient Express" Review

For my full review, click here.