Video game review – Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens (TT Fusion, 2016)

TT Games had a surprise hit in 2005 with their video game based on the Star Wars prequel trilogy. It offered fun for all ages, with a blend of humour and in-joke references mixed with gameplay complicated enough to keep grown-ups and youngsters entertained for hours; the perfect gaming experience for parents playing through with their children. This was quickly followed by another based on the original trilogy, which was met with even more success. Then came an Indiana Jones version along with Batman in 2008. Then Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean,, Lord of the Rings, more Star Wars, more Batman, Marvel, Jurassic World… The list goes on. It has to be admitted that the games have gone down in quality since that original triumph, but never has the result been as poorly executed as The Force Awakens.

The problem isn’t just that it’s trying to make too much of a small amount of source material, nor the lack of humour in the script (they chose to use dialogue from the film, a departure from the norm).

BB-8!

No, the biggest crime here is the terrible glitches that blight the entire game. These can derail you at any point, but tended to occur late in the levels with something simply not working, usually meaning the entire level needs to be replayed. One example is on level eight, “Starkiller Base”, which requires Chewbacca to throw an explosive to open a particular set of doors. The only problem was that the bomb couldn’t be thrown, nothing could help the situation and 30 minutes of gameplay had to be redone to progress. Similarly, on the level titled The Finale, there was a glitch whereby Finn snapped to shooting mode too early and couldn’t complete essential actions to progress the main battle between Rey and Kylo Ren. Again, 30 minutes of gameplay wasted.

Elsewhere, there were simple audio glitches with music getting looped or the whole game falling silent. All this contributed to a feeling that any time a puzzle wasn’t easy to figure out (in hindsight one of the best parts of the game) there was an assumption that the game had glitched and a restart was needed.

The fault of this, presumably, lies squarely with the testing team at TT Fusion. Remarkably, the list of individuals involved with the testing, according to the end credits, was huge. This game should never have been signed off from QA testing, but even worse is the fact that no patches have been released to fix these issues despite the number of people complaining across the internet. Just search “Lego Force Awakens glitches” to see how many people are suffering.

Furthermore, having been fairly diligent with retrieving the collectibles in each level, I was met with a score of 27.1% on completion of the main story. This serves to underline the mis-balanced nature of the meaty content of the game and a ridiculous list of collectibles that are clearly there to falsely inflate the amount of gameplay on offer.

The sad thing is that there is a good game here, buried underneath all the complaints and issues. Perhaps TT Games should stop spreading themselves so thinly, because there is no chance that I will be picking any more Lego games in the future unless I know they are glitch-free.

The worst Xbox 360 achievements I earned

I’ve recently taken the decisive step to ditch my old Xbox 360 and purchase an Xbox One S, bringing me back into the light from a four year period of darkness on what the wider public refer to as “serious gaming”. [1]

Playing on an Xbox console is synonymous with the strangest of progress markers: the Achievement. I unlocked my first achievement for over a year on Monday night, “Cast Member”, essentially for starting to play a fun platformer called BattleBlock Theater. I had this sudden dread fall over me, which reminded me of a time when I had fallen out of love for video games and had instead got addicted to increasing my GamerScore, which for those of you who don’t have an Xbox console is their way of keeping track of your progress in a videogame in a way that displays your progress to everyone on your friends list. It’s a hollow existence, especially when you don’t know anyone on your friends list and you’re doing it anyway.

So to remind myself to not get involved in this silliness again, I thought it would be cathartic to list out the worst “achievements” I earned in my first run during the Xbox 360 era. Before I start I will answer the two questions that will spring to mind for you as you read: I was largely single and my job wasn’t very taxing.

1000 GS for “completing” Avatar: The Last Airbender

This is probably the most shameful on the list, and it’s one I can’t even believe I did. In the time where the internet existed but Netflix hadn’t taken off, there was a thing called Lovefilm in the UK that allowed people to rent DVDs, Blu-rays and games via post… Sorry, what? Oh… it still exists.

Anyway, I’d heard that there was a glitch in the training section of this children’s game that allowed you to unlock all the achievements in around five minutes. I rented it, I exploited the glitch, then put the game back in the post.

For what? I’ve no idea. I’ve spent the intervening time (almost a decade) hiding it from anyone I speak to.

80 GS for Treasure Hunter in Final Fantasy XIII

This started off as an innocuous attempt to complete my first Final Fantasy game since the seventh installment on the PlayStation. What ended up happening was a 60 hour end game that book-ended the conclusion of the game with misery and a huge detriment to my mental and physical health.

The game finishes after about 40 hours and there are a few standard completionist-type achievements for maximising all of your stats and getting five star ratings all Cie’th Stone missions, but this one took the biscuit.

Whilst collecting all the weapons and items might seem like a normal request, what was required was an unexpected and very slow slap in the face. The precise requirements were a heck of a lot of gill, some very precise catalyst items and (most importantly) six trapezohedrems. It was unrewarding and unforgiving and all I got was 80 measly GamerScore points. It’s almost worthy of a t-shirt, but for the fact that nobody would want to wear it and nobody else would understand it.

1650 GS for being a frustrated completionist by Family Game Night

Due to a rights issue, Yahtzee wasn’t available on Family Game Night in the UK (it isn’t owned by Hasbro outside the United States). So whilst I sat there playing Connect 4 for hours and hours with nothing to show for my efforts, I also wasn’t even able to 100% the achievements.

So what have we learned? I’m an idiot.

120 GS for 100 matches won in Pro Evolution Soccer 6

This is where the online community of website True Achievements comes into play. I managed to hook up with someone else with the same chronic completionist issues as myself and spent several long nights connecting and then immediately quitting online Pro Evolution Soccer 6 matches, taking it in turns to get default wins. The game was so awful we couldn’t even bring ourselves to keep playing it; even on the last game we decided we’d play an actual game and the lag was so bad we got kicked out. This all happened five years after its initial release and took about ten hours of our lives that we will never ever get back.

Please help me.

50 GS for Duo-Hedgeidecimal on FIFA 09

I’m still split on this one. I’m not sure if it was a complete embarrassment or a triumph of the wills.

This achievement required 20 players to play in the same match session at the same time, making a 10 v 10 game. It was a logistical nightmare that was co-ordinated by a group over on xboxachievements.com. That we got it over the line was something of a fantastic gaming moment.

But why? Why did we do it? I’ve got no idea. The match was actually played, but it was dreadful. No fun to be had here.

765 GS for some random achievements in Football Manager 2006

The sad thing about this was that I played this game for months and months in an honest manner when I first owned an Xbox 360. At the time I only had Football Manager 2006 and Top Spin 2 so I had to make do. Then, six years later, I booted it up and within a couple of weeks had boosted my GS for the game from 15 to 765, by exploiting glitches and collaborating online.

Nobody on my friends list owns this game and nobody I know in real life would be impressed by the so called achievements.

1000 GS for 100% completion of Truth or Lies

This took me just under four hours to complete on 20th January 2011. It’s probably the worst game I’ve ever played, involving a quiz where you ask your friends to be honest about the answers to questions. I sat there, alone, answering questions in particular tones of voices that exploited a glitch with the interface between the microphone and the software.

Just imagine that.

A hollow existence indeed.

[1] By this I mean I’ve been playing on my Wii U for four years, so even though I’ve enjoyed gaming moments like the stupidly challenging Champions Road on Super Mario 3D World, or the very much adult-themed Bayonetta 2, or the complex fighting mechanics of Super Smash Bros. U, all of these are on a Nintendo console so can’t be really serious games, right?

 

Film review – キングスグレイブ ファイナルファンタジーXV / Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV (Takeshi Nozue)

The latest Final Fantasy cinematic release, titled rather awkwardly Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, sits in the Fabula Nova Crystallis universe first explored in 2009’s Final Fantasy XIII. If that opening sentence doesn’t float your boat, I’m afraid things are about to get a lot worse.

The storyline concentrates on characters we’ve previously seen in animated web series Brotherhood, and who will be the main stars of the upcoming Final Fantasy XV games that will hit the shelves in just under a week from now. It is set on Eos, an earth-like planet divided into six regions based on their historical ownership of various crystals. Central to the plot is Nyx Ulric (Aaron Paul), the main protagonist in this film but only a bit-part in the upcoming game. He is a member of the Kingsglaive, an elite guard that channel the mythical powers bestowed on them by the ruler of Regis Lucis Caelum CXIII (Sean Bean), ruler of Lucis. The military-rich Niflheim are at war with Lucis but a treaty is offered that includes as part of the bargain the marriage of Regis’s daughter to Lunafreya Nox Fleuret (Lena Headey) to Noctis Lucis Caelum (Ray Chase), the main protagonist of the upcoming game but scantly featured here.

Huh?


Still with me? It sounds complex on paper but in reality the film’s pace and tendency towards action ensures it isn’t another fantasy bore fest. With a rich cast of individuals that do their best to pepper the script with flavour, it is actually a surprisingly enjoyable experience.

One aspect that is particularly impressive is the match up of the audio to the movement of the mouth, which is usually a huge problem with foreign films being dubbed into English. CGI motion capture is perhaps the only medium where this is possible and it makes for a much less distracting experience.

With all films like this, the market is very niche. A single screening in the East Midlands in a small screen and reduced price still didn’t lead to a sell-out, though this could be blamed on the fact it has been on available on Blu-ray for the last month or so.

If you get chance to see this before playing the upcoming game then it will definitely provide an engrossing way to get used to the background to the plot. If you’re not a fan of the series and don’t plan the 100-hour slog that will inevitably be demanded by the RPG, then it probably won’t give you much enjoyment. 

Top five Asia-only Wii U games Nintendo should release in the PAL region

The Wii U is drying up now. We all know that. Any games in development won’t ever see the light of day on this system, more likely just receiving an enhancement and being put out on the Nintendo Switch next year.

There’s Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which will launch in a shadow form of the Switch version next March. This is only really being put out to appease people who bought into the Wii U on release date and have been waiting for its full release ever since. There isn’t anything else left to shout about.

However, the following five games are available in Asia now and have never been released outside that area. If Nintendo could pull themselves together they could find themselves cashing in on some still-hungry Wii U gamers that have a good console and nothing to play on it.

ぷよぷよテトリス / Puyo Puyo Tetris

It may be the case that this game is unavailable in PAL and NTSU regions due to rights issues, but many have been able to import the Xbox One and PS4 versions of the game and thoroughly enjoyed them. These games are universally appealing. Everyone loves Tetris, Puyo Puyo gives the game life and it’s a huge shame that the game can’t simply be imported due to region locking of Wii Us.

太鼓の達人 特盛り! /  Taiko No Tatsujin: Tokumori!

If you’ve ever played any of the games in the Taiko No Tatsujin series will know how much fun can be had. It’s a simple musical rhythm game, and is possibly one of the most Japanese things you’ll ever see. It’s a wonderful thing to get involved with. Sadly, only Japan has been able to enjoy this or the other Wii U-exclusive release. It seems a no brainer to issue it on the Virtual Console. All it would need is some menu screen tranlations and an adaptation so we could use existing controllers to play it.

ドラゴンクエストX オールインワンパッケージ / Dragon Quest X

Okay, this is a pipe dream. The effort required to translate this for such a small audience would really not stand up to scrutiny under a business case. It’s a truly beautiful game that I just really want to play and will never be able to. Add to this the fact it would need serious take-up to justify releasing a MMORPG in a new region, and you begin to realise why it probably won’t ever happen. Here’s hoping though.

ARC STYLE: 野球!!SP / Arc Style: Baseball

Releasing this would be comparitavely easy. It’s already on the Japanese Wii U virtual console and would be easy to translate. It looks familiar to the old Wii Sports baseball game. Okay, it looks a bit terrible and didn’t get great reviews, but would still garner interest as a new title that is yet to be localised.

三國志12 / Romance of the Three Kingdoms 12

It’s a historical strategy game that would go down massively well with anyone with an interest in the Han Dynasty and Japanese and Chinese history. All it would need is a translation of the menus and some subtitles.

Nintendo announce new console

Nintendo have launched the first trailer for their upcoming console Switch. Previously known as the NX, on Thursday afternoon they announced the official name, provided a release date of March 2017 and gave a glimpse of several new games.

Here’s the console in action.


What games will be available?

The games we saw were as follows.

  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
  • Untitled Super Mario Title
  • Splatoon 2
  • Untitled Mario Kart Title
  • NBA 2K17
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

There were be precise confirmations on the dates of release of these, so I’m not assuming that they will be release day titles.

The inclusion of Skyrim is an interesting point. Whilst it’s a relatively ancient game – it will be over five years old by the time the Switch hits the shelves – there is a clear statement here that the console can handle much more advanced graphics than anything Nintendo has on the market right now.

When will it be released?

March 2017 is as much information as we are given at the moment.

Is it worth getting excited about?

Certainly for owners of the Wii U, it’s worth starting to get interested in now. It’s more powerful, it blends both the DS range and the home console market, and it basically realises the potential of the Wii U.

Unfortunately, the backdrop of the industry is based on powerful technology as Sony and Microsoft release updated versions of their consoles before Christmas. There is also the VR factor, with Sony putting out their PlayStation VR shortly and Facebook’s Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive already on the market.

There’s a risk that the Switch will get caught between mobile gaming – which around 100% of its potential userbase already own a platform for – and a hardcore gaming console. There is also an assumption that the Wii U owners will come back for more potential punishment after four years of negligence. This will only be solved with a decent list of launch titles and keeping to promises on releases, something that Nintendo has sought to combat by releasing a list of partnering developers, and it looks very positive indeed.

It clearly won’t be a cheap piece of kit either, but probably needs to drop in lower than both the Xbox One S (currently £239.99 for a basic model) and the PS4 (£249.99 for the basic model). The Switch needs to be in line with that.

Game review – Hotdog Hurdles (Tom Santoro, 2016)

I’ve just lost another hour of my life. This is becoming a huge problem. I lost two last night as well. I can’t help myself. Just. One. More. Go.

Addiction is a very serious thing, but it’s something that Hotdog Hurdles, the debut game by self-professed nerd Tom Santoro, is happy to embrace and encourage . As with many mobile apps, the beauty of the game is in its simplicity.

Initially, you play as a simply-drawn hotdog called Frank. The aim of the game is to not die as you jump over hurdles at a surprisingly well-attended athletics tournament. Every time you land a jump, you run faster and faster. You will fail, no question. It is a game of delaying the inevitable.

There is a strange hierarchy involved in the status of the fast food you can run as. Starting as Frank, you progress to Pops the Popcorn, Soda the Soft Drink, Angus the Hamburger and finally, the king of all fast foods, Don the Donut. A typical meal out then. These are earned by cashing in money earned on runs or through logging in on consecutive days.

Donuts are surprisingly good runners

Everyone watching on is a human, presumably salivating at the tasty food on offer whilst hoping that each item doesn’t burn too much fat through exercise (think about that for a few minutes…).

It is an infinite runner and some people won’t like that, but as they go this is potentially one of the best on the market. All you have to do is beat your own high score (mine stands at a terrible 21, the world record is 34) or the score of your friends through the Apple Game Centre (it is currently an Apple-exclusive).

You get nothing for your efforts, not even a thank you. You just get more failure. But yet you click the play button.

In a world where there’s quite a lot to think about and get sad or angry about, something like Hotdog Hurdles is just what we need.

Hotdog Hurdles is available to download now from the App Store.

Why Super Mario Run will be great for Nintendo

In case you missed it earlier this week, Nintendo legend Shigeru Miyamoto made a surprise appearance at the Apple Special Event at San Fransisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. He was there to announce the first Super Mario game to be playable on smart phones. Indeed, it will launch as an iPhone exclusive, coming to Android at a later date.

Watch the trailer here.

The game looks simple enough. Mario runs from left to right, jumping depending on when the player presses the screen. The jumps vary in height depending on how long the screen is pressed for. This gives you a free hand with which you can do whatever you fancy, including eating an apple! Well played Miyamoto…

A familiar sight for fans of Super Mario

The news has had mixed reactions across the Internet, with many happy that the gaming giant is branching out whilst others bemoan the devaluing of the IP.

With the Wii U writhing to its gruesome end within the next six months and a serious slowdown in sales of the DS and 3DS families of consoles in recent times, Nintendo had to do something to experiment with the market and this is the perfect time to do something.

The much-discussed Nintendo NX will arrive in Spring 2017 and there hasn’t been much to get excited about on the Nintendo front this year, outside of the Pokémon Go phenomenon that Nintendo barely had anything to do with. Releasing a simple game that reminds players of the fun that can be had with the character without really going into the deep gameplay seen on the more advanced console-based games seems like the perfect move.

The game looks to have six worlds with four levels in each. Anyone familiar with the recent New Super Mario Bros. games – the visuals on which this game is sourced – will know that there are undoubtedly rewards in the form of bonus stages awaiting those completists amongst us. Miyamoto also indicated in his talk that the game will have a one-off charge but won’t have in-app payments. This is music to the ears of players around the world, tiring of necessary additional charges to get the most out of the games they enjoy.

Super Mario Run can be accessed on the App Store, though all you can do right now is set a notification for its release (currently expected for December).