Author: Danlevan (page 1 of 3)

Sonic Playthrough: 1993

1993 was a huge year for Sonic. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was still high in the sales charts and breaking records, there were cartoons on TV and comics on both sides of the Atlantic (one of which I’ll be talking about shortly). There was merchandise, books, stuffed toys, t-shirts and pretty much anything else that you can think of. And, of course, there were a lot of games:

SegaSonic the Hedgehog

Sonic’s first full length arcade outing, SegaSonic the Hedgehog features Sonic and newcomers Ray and Mighty have to escape from seven stages of Eggman’s island full of traps. It’s a game I always wanted to play due to the great cartoon style graphics which still look pretty nice now.

It’s a kind of tricky game to play through emulation these due to the original game using a trackball controller and this input mismatch greatly increased the difficulty of the game – the inability to continue at the end certainly doesn’t help either. I’d love to try and track down the original hardware one day and give it another try, and hopefully it would be a little less frustrating that way.

Sonic CD

Released as a flagship title for the Mega Drive’s Mega CD expansion, Sonic CD will be instantly familiar to players of the Mega Drive titles, using the same art style and very similar sprites for Sonic. The big gimmick is the ability to time travel between the past, present and future of each act – early advertising for the game would tout ‘over 75 levels’ as a selling point which is fudging the numbers a little really as it counts each time frame of each act as a level.

While a good game in its own right that features a fantastic soundtrack, Sonic CD is mostly remembered for the introduction of Amy Rose and Metal Sonic. It would be a couple of years before Amy would be seen again, but Metal Sonic became a recurring villain almost immediately, and both now appear in the vast majority of new Sonic titles.

Sonic Chaos

The last ‘proper’ Sonic title of the year, Sonic Chaos was the only 8-bit title for 1993. In terms of structure and gameplay it’s very similar to the 8-bit Sonic 2, and consists of three act zones with the third act being a boss area.

I didn’t have a Master System or Game Gear in 1993 so I missed this at the time and hadn’t properly played it before, so most of the game was a complete mystery to me going in. Aside from a few new power-ups there were no major new features or characters introduced, but it still provides solid Sonic gameplay and was quite an enjoyable run. As a bit of an oddity, as I discovered on my playthrough, if you don’t find all of the Chaos Emeralds you don’t even get the end credits on completion.

Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball

Ordered as a last minute fill in for Sonic the Hedgehog 3 as it wasn’t going to be ready in time for the all important Christmas sales window, Sonic Spinball was apparently made within just a couple of months.

I definitely remember playing it over and over as a kid and finally being very impressed with myself once I completed it, but looking back it’s a very harsh and unforgiving game. There are no continues, and extra lives are very sparse. The slightest mistake in some areas can lead to death, and if you game over on the last level there isn’t even a password system so you have to start all over again. While that’s not entirely uncommon with older games, it’s not very player friendly by modern standards and I had to start this run several times just to be able to finish the game.

Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine

The first Sonic title not to feature Sonic himself (though not the last), Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is yet another oddity in the franchise. It wasn’t originally even a Sonic game, but it was decided at the time that Puyo Puyo wasn’t particularly marketable in Western regions so the characters were all scrapped and replaced with Robotnik and a number of his badniks from the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon.

The gameplay was completely unaltered from the original game, with you needing to create groups of at least 4 of the same colour beans. Chaining multiple strings of beans is the key to success, as bigger combos will cause solid beans to drop onto your opponents screen and give them trouble.

Sega Sonic Cosmo Fighter Galaxy Patrol

Much in the same vein as Waku Waku Sonic Patrol Car before it, Cosmo Fighter was a short game built into a childrens ride. This time around, Sonic flies a space fighter jet and uses it to shoot through a number of Eggman’s robots before finally confronting him while he’s piloting a dragon mech. With Eggman defeated, Sonic makes it to a space station filled with his friends and celebrates.

As I mention in the video, a ROM for this game was only discovered earlier this year making it quite fortunate that I’d not decided to do this earlier.

Sega Sonic Popcorn Shop

There’s not a whole lot that can be said about this one, as it’s barely even a game. A Sonic branded popcorn machine from Japanese arcades, it’s really more of an interactive animation that plays while the popcorn is being cooked. You mash a button to make Sonic run along a conveyor belt, and then spin a wheel to cook the popcorn, the end. It does feature some pretty nice animation at least, in particular Eggman’s fabulous running.

Sonic Playthrough: 1992

There were just two Sonic games released in 1992, but in no way was it a small year for the franchise.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (8-bit)

First up was the Master System version of Sonic 2. The most notable element of this of course is that it’s the very first appearance of Sonic’s best friend and sidekick, Miles ‘Tails’ Prower. Terrible pun name aside, Tails is a huge part of what makes the Sonic series what it is, and appears in almost every game from this point on. While Tails is generally characterised as a super smart inventor, here he’s just a plot device. Kidnapped by Dr. Robotnik in the intro sequence, he doesn’t appear at all until the end of the game aside from the title cards for each act.

As I mention in the video, the Game Gear version of the game was massively more difficult due to the smaller screen and this was particularly evident from the first boss – you can’t see the balls that are being thrown at you until they’re very close and while I only got ones that were going low they can also bounce higher so you got hardly any time to decide between jumping or going under. I honestly can’t remember if I ever beat it as a kid.

It’s also slightly odd in that the bosses are all mechanical animals, you don’t fight Robotnik himself at all until the very end – and even then that’s only if you get all of the Chaos Emeralds as otherwise you finish the game on the Scrambled Egg Zone after beating Mecha Sonic. Much like the 8-bit Sonic 1, the boss stages are all completely devoid of rings, adding to the difficulty quite substantially.

Much like the first Master System game the music is pretty solid all the way through, especially the Green Hills Zone which is presumably an early version of Sonic CD’s title track You Can Do Anything.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (16-bit)

As good as the 8-bit version was, November’s Mega Drive version was the main attraction. Released in a media blitz on ‘Sonic 2sday’ it was a huge success and is widely regarded as one of the very best games in the franchise. For me, it’s always been my favourite. I got it along with a Mega Drive 2, my first brand new games console I’d ever owned, for Christmas that year as it was a revelation. There were more stages that let you run fast and the special stages, particularly for the time, were fantastic looking.

While I somewhat intentionally didn’t get all of the Chaos Emeralds on this run (I’d usually play as Sonic by himself so Tails can’t lose any rings in the special stages, and I’d hunt out all the Star Posts in the first couple of stages to get them while rings are more plentiful) collecting them all gave us the first appearance of Super Sonic which absolutely blew me away as a kid but does make most of the game far too easy in retrospect.

Plus of course Tails is now fully playable, either by himself or along with Sonic with a second player in pad 2. Tails, and more specifically his ability to fly, brings additional exploration abilities to the game (which will in later games be added to with Knuckles’ climbing)

Sonic Playthrough: 1991

So, my big new project to take up all the free time that I already don’t have: I’m playing every Sonic the Hedgehog game ever released in (as close as I can to) the order they came out, and streaming them too.

After each year’s worth of games I’m then going to collect my streams and write a little about each game. For this first post, it’s of course the very earliest Sonic games.

Sonic the Hedgehog (16-bit)

July 1991 marked the release of the the first ever Sonic the Hedgehog game and he quickly became Sega’s new mascot, leaving poor Alex Kidd all but forgotten.

Gamers at the time were blown away by the faced paced gameplay, colourful graphics and catchy soundtrack. While I don’t quite feel the speed aspect is quite there yet, particularly after the Green Hill Zone, it still holds up really well and is an enjoyable play.

A lot of enduring elements of the series are set up right from this first installment including the Chaos Emeralds and of course Dr. Eggman (although at this point he was called Dr. Robotnik in the West) as well as the iconic rings that I’ve heard jingle several hundred million times over the years.

Sonic the Hedgehog (8-bit)

Seeing how massively popular Sonic was on the Mega Drive Sega was quick to make sure that he made it over to their previous console, the Master System. While Nintendo were the market leader in North America it was a different story elsewhere in the world such as Europe where Sega had a sizable lead. Naturally, they wanted to continue this and so a number of Sonic games were eventually developed for the console – lower sales in the States meant that this was the only Master System title released over there and the remaining 8-bit Sonic titles were Game Gear exclusive while we continued to get Master System versions.

Featuring a mixture of stages similar to the Mega Drive version as well as entirely new ones such as the Bridge and Jungle Zones, it’s a pretty faithful interpretation of the spirit and gameplay of the original game. Invincibility and barrier power-ups function in the same way, and Sonic himself has the same moves (though at this point really that’s just jump and roll so nothing too complicated) however some small differences like the inability to collect dropped rings and third acts that are entirely roads leading to the boss without any rings do stand out.

As you’ll hear me lament if you watch the video, the Master System has a rather irritating mechanic on the second act of the Jungle Zone where the screen is unable to scroll back down. This means that you die if you drop off the bottom of the screen, even if there was a ledge just below you that’s out of sight. The Game Gear version fixes this and makes the stage substantially easier as well as improving the colour palette and some additional animations, at the expense of a significantly reduced resolution.

Sonic Eraser

The Sonic series is littered with odd little entries, and this is just the first. Sonic Eraser was released only in Japan on Sega’s online service for the Mega Drive. It’s a rather simple puzzle game and almost certainly had Sonic added to it to make people more likely to play it – other than appearing in the middle of the screen in competitive games and occasionally if you pull off some impressive combos he’s barely in the game and there’s nothing other than his sprite to really link it to the series.

Like many Japanese exclusive games from the era, this was once thought lost until Sega re-released it on a Japan only download service in 2004 and it was subsequently ripped to a ROM.

Waku Waku Sonic Patrol Car

The last Sonic game to be released in 1991, Waku Waku Sonic Patrol Car was kind of a cross between a full size arcade cabinet and a kid’s ride that are fairly common in the west. It featured a plastic police car that kids could sit in as well as a screen and steering wheel to play the game. The game itself is very short, taking only a couple of minutes to finish which is about the amount of time most of the western equivalent rides last.

For reasons unknown Sonic drives a police car in this game (despite being quicker on foot) and drives up a road. Using the steering wheel you can avoid traffic, and move lanes but there’s no alternate paths to take. Eventually Dr. Eggman turns up, you fight him by jumping from your car to his while avoiding the bombs that he throws and when he’s beaten Sonic returns to the police station and the game is over.

While short and largely forgettable, Sonic Patrol Car is notable for being the first time Sonic (and also Dr. Eggman) have voices recorded for them.

Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow

Futurama is one of my all time favourite animated series – I’ve always felt that it’s far superior to The Simpsons and never understood why it’s the one that’s now been cancelled twice, perhaps outside of the fact that science fiction is generally a harder sell that a standard family comedy. So, I generally make time for any new Futurama related things that come along such as the new game Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow.

Despite Futurama being around for nearly 20 years now, Worlds of Tomorrow is only the second game based on the series (the last was the imaginatively titled Futurama: The Game waayy back in 2003) and again comes out after the cancellation of the current TV run of the show.

 

Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow follows the same basic structure as previous mobile games based on Fox animated properties, namely The Simpsons: Tapped Out! and Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff, both of which have you building a town of signature buildings from the show in question as well as collecting key characters. The characters can then be set on tasks and of varying lengths, as well as story quests which earn ingame currency to buy more buildings and unlock more characters and so on. Having played Tapped Out! several years ago this all felt very familiar, as it’s very similar to that game.

Worlds of Tomorrow opens with a fully animated introduction, featuring the voices of all of the main cast of the series, and features the universe once again in danger with only the Planet Express crew to save it. A rip in space and time cause The Hypnotoad to meet his equivalent from another universe and breaks the galaxy. Nibbler saves Fry from being caught up in it and, back in New New York, then has to start collecting Hypnotons to clear the city and get everything back to normal.

 

One major new feature that Worlds of Tomorrow has that Tapped Out! didn’t, unless it’s added something similar since I quit, are the space ship missions. You can use the Planet Express ship to fly to a number of planets and select from a variety of routes through the map which will take you up against different enemies. Completing all of the quests on each planet will unlock and artifact that opens up a new area of the city that has unique buildings and characters in it.

The main type of missions that you’ll face in space are turn based battles, where your crew of characters go up against a variety of different monster and enemy types from the show. Initially you can only have three characters on a space mission, but as you collect the artifacts and open up areas of New New York this will gradually increase first to four and then five. The combat is fairly straightforward, as your characters have only a single attack and a special that charges as you take and receive damage. As you attack each enemy, a white circle will appear around their feet which will quickly fill up, tapping the screen as soon as it is full causes your attack to cause extra damage, and you can do the same while being attacked to reduce the damage taken.

 

There are five different types of character class in the game. Delivery Boys, such as Fry and Kif, have a single enemy attack with their special being a higher powered version. Scientists like the Professor or Amy have an attack that can hit enemies on either side of the target, while the special attack hits every enemy on screen. The remaining classes all do buffs with the special, and a single attack as standard. Bender and other Robot class characters have a defense buff, Captains like Leela have an attack power buff and finally Influencers like the Planet Express janitor Scruffy heal all player characters.

There are also a number of missions that give multiple choice options on how you wish to proceed or talk to other characters, depending on the choices you make you can end up with either rewards or potentially taking damage. As you complete the space missions you’re given career chips that come in either generic or class specific varieties. These are used to level up the characters to give them additional abilities as well as increasing their health and attack power during battle missions.

 

The majority of the art in the game is very much in the style of the original show. While in New New York you can see all of the characters that you have unlocked and, if you zoom in, the level of detail is actually quite impressive. They’re well animated and look just like the show, and that level of detail carries over to each of the buildings too. I wouldn’t have minded the ability to place some of the travel tubes that you see all over the city in the cartoon around my buildings. Maybe in a future update..

In the turn based battles, the art style shifts to 16-bit pixel art. The characters all have slightly shrunken proportions but are all easily recognisable. I do prefer the clean art from the rest of the game, but it does still look rather cool. When performing a special attack the character picture fills the screen which lets you see them in more detail.

All of the main voice cast return to their characters for the game. Each will have a few sayings when clicking on them, and it’s nice to hear new work from all of the actors again. There’s so far been once celebrity guest character, George Takei, and he performs all the voice acting for his character. The music and sound effects are all also spot on Futurama, and it really does sound like the show. Several writers from the show also contribute to the script writing including showrunner David X. Cohen, so as well as sounding right all of the characters speak just like they should too.

I started playing just after the launch week which, annoyingly, means that I missed out on the chance to get the Nixon and Agnew character (Arrrooo!) but he was a premium character and only available through the game’s paid currency of pizza – as much as I love the character in the series I don’t think he’s worth the frankly ridiculous £15 of real money he would have cost, so it’s not the end of the world. It does highlight a problem with this game that I also had when I used to play Tapped Out!, that some content and characters are only available during specific events and may not be available at all again in future.

 

The situation is potentially even worse with the current ongoing event, Lrrr Strikes Back! This massive chunk of new story and content, running for a whole month and labelled as Episode 1, has Lrrr and the Omicronian fleet invade Earth (for the fifth time) and has a number of new missions and actions for characters to complete. The event will be finishing in a couple of days, and it has had nine characters and several costumes that are only available during the event. This is a huge proportion of the twenty six characters available in the game at the moment, and will leave any newcomers at a disadvantage compared to other players when it comes to producing resources through character actions. The game is of course still quite new, so it’s entirely possible that these episodes will be re-run in future allowing new players a chance to experience the story and earn the characters.

One of the game’s biggest issues is that it’s one of the least stable mobile games at least that I can remember playing. It fairly frequently just crashes out completely with no error messages, gives random errors on start up (though these don’t seem to have any effect) and perhaps worst of all fails to reconnect if it’s lost internet access – the screen with Scruffy as pictured below has never reconnected for me. It gets stuck in a loop of asking you to reconnect and then telling you to wait 10 seconds so that you can try again and every time I’ve seen this screen I’ve had to kill the app and launch it again. The stability has increased somewhat since it first launched, but it’s definitely something the developers should be working on as a priority.

While I don’t know if it’s something I’ll keep playing long term like I did with Tapped Out!, as I have a lot more ongoing games that I’m playing these days, I’m really enjoying Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow so far and I’ll definitely be sticking with it at least until I’ve unlocked all of New New York and finished the storyline. As a Futurama fan, having what amounts to another series of episodes is definitely something I can’t pass up.

Games Backlog – Ace Combat: Assault Horizon

Between big new releases and starting a new job a couple of months ago, I’ve not had a lot of time to continue working through my backlog of older games. Considering it’s now August and I’m writing about a game from ‘A’ still, it just goes to show how well I’m doing. I think I’ve already somewhat tired of just working down the list in alphabetical order though, so I think I’ll end up playing something that doesn’t begin with an A next. But that’s next time, today is Ace Combat: Assault Horizon.

While I’ve been aware of the series from a distance for quite some time, I’d never previously gotten around to playing an Ace Combat game. I’m not even sure why, really.. I enjoy arcade flight games in general and there aren’t all that many of them so I’d have expected to actually play one before now. Perhaps it was mostly down to them not being released on a platform I have while that was my dominant console, at least in the early days. I played almost exclusively on the Nintendo 64 and PC during the late 90s, and by the time I was playing on consoles concurrent with a game release it was already 4, 5 or 6 titles into the series and that always feels like something of a barrier to entry to me.

All this means that Assault Horizon is my first Ace Combat. Even before I started playing, I was aware that series purists weren’t exactly fans of this one so I went in with somewhat lowered expectations.

 

Most of the previous games in the Ace Combat series had been set in an alternate universe, known as Strangereal, on a version of Earth with different continents and countries but with (generally) real designs of fighter planes. Assault Horizon on the other hand, is set on what’s intended to be the real world so all of the missions are set in and featuring existing places and countries. I understand that, on release, many at the time felt that this was intended to be a reboot of the series (if that was the case, those plans are no more as next year’s Ace Combat 7 is back in Strangereal) into a more gritty realistic one which very likely will have contributed to the general dislike from the fandom.

None of this meant anything to me going in of course, and in a way I’m somewhat glad that it’s a break from previous games as it meant I wasn’t ever wondering if I was missing anything. Assault Horizon follows a joint NATO group of fighter squadrons led by Colonel William Bishop of Warwolf squadron. It’s honestly not all that memorable a story and mostly exists as a framework for making you go to different parts of the world – while playing it I felt very much that it was the Modern Warfare of flight sim games which I still feel is somewhat accurate. The plot isn’t really all that memorable to be honest, and has your these days standard Modern Warfare/Tom Clancy kind of thing with traitorous Russians and experimental superweapons and the like. It’s basically action movie level of plot engagement – I didn’t particularly care about the logic or details of what was going on, because the things going on let me fly shiny fighter planes and blow things up.

 

And what shiny planes they are. Assault Horizon features nearly 40 flyable aircraft, made up of mostly fighter planes but also a small selection of other types of craft such as helicopters and bombers. The majority of the craft are real world designs of planes past and present, as well as a few that are currently prototypes but there are also a couple of completely fictional aircraft from other games in the Ace Combat series. The vehicle models are incredibly detailed, and look exactly like you would expect them to with tons of moving parts like flaps and exhausts and so on. Each craft also has a number of selectable camouflage styles. These include a mixture of real life styles, ones based on previous games as well as promotional skins for other Namco games such as the very subtle Pac Man deco I flew a mission in that most definitely wouldn’t have made me an incredibly obvious target.

While the vehicle models look great, the characters that populate the cutscenes between missions don’t fare so well unfortunately. Even bearing in mind that Assault Horizon is an slightly older game, having been released in 2011, the characters are poorly animated and unrealistic and have this plastic look that was more common in the early Xbox 360 days circa 2005. I’ve seen far worse, but they’re astonishingly average. This isn’t a terrible problem, being as they’re only present in the cutscenes and never in any gameplay but it does feel a little jarring going from really pretty and detailed fighter planes to rubbish characters, and it probably didn’t help all that much with me paying attention to the story either.

 

Most of the game’s missions are based in fighter planes with you playing as Colonel Bishop. These missions are essentially the classic Ace Combat gameplay but with an extra feature that’s drawn most of the fire from some long time fans of the series, but I’ll get back to that in a moment. Despite the simulator level of detail on the planes, Ace Combat is an arcade style game so there isn’t excessive levels of detail to the controls. You accelerate with the right trigger and decelerate with the left, the bumpers roll the plane left or right and the face buttons are target selection and weapons. The controls are simple and easy to pick up, but really effective and I never found myself in any real difficulty maneuvering the plane around.

The controversial feature, at least as far as a lot of the fandom are concerned, is the Dog Fight Mode. When you’re attacking an enemy fighter and have it in a target lock at close range, a circle will appear around your targeting reticle. As you get closer this circle will shrink until it finally turns red and if you then press both the bumpers together you enter Dog Fight Mode. When you’re in DFM the camera shifts to the underside of the plane or to just over one of the wings and focuses on the weaponry there while giving a clear view of the target, as well as entering esssentially an auto pilot. You can move the reticle around on the screen to better target the enemy fighter and attack with greater accuracy to bring them down quicker. I personally quite liked DFM as it made some of the fights feel even more intense, but I can see how such as massive addition or change to a series’ established gameplay can draw some criticism.

The handful of missions where you’re not in a fighter have you playing as an airman from one of Warwolf’s various supporting squadrons. A couple of missions give you direct control over a helicopter which I found to be quite clunky, especially when compared to how well planes control, and instead use the triggers for attacks which felt somewhat counter-intuitive after hours of using the face buttons. There are also missions where you man the side guns on a helicopter gunship, fly a bomber to destroy some larger targets and finally the now-obligatory AC-130 gunner sequence that so many games in the post-Modern Warfare world have felt the need to include. None of these were particularly terrible, but they weren’t as fun as flying a fighter so in some ways feel somewhat pointless but I understand the logic of trying to give a bit of variety in gameplay.

 

I did feel that most of the missions were a little too long, many were paced into several acts or phases that I feel would have been better split into separate missions. Some later missions can take over half an hour to finish, and I think that’s too much for a single unbroken section of arcade gaming. The auto save in missions is quite generous though, and you can quit mid mission so on the odd occasion that I was playing during my break I didn’t have any real issues with just quitting and picking back up where I was.

One thing that stuck out to me almost immediately when I started the game up was the score, as it’s really really good. In particular the main theme that’s peppered through the score and comes up regularly during epic fights comes back to that feeling of being an action movie and really works well, but the rest of the tracks are almost as good and there’s tons of atmosphere from the music alone. The character voices, rather like the models themselves, are entirely unexceptional though at least are largely serviceable with the exception of a few dodgy accents. At least all the action noises such as the planes, weaponry, explosions and so on sound decent enough.

Despite the mission length, there aren’t all that many of them so it isn’t a terribly long game overall. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as it never wore out it’s welcome and the 11 hours or so that I spent on it felt to me like a decent length for the game. The missions can all be replayed once you’ve completed them should you wish to try out other planes, go for any missing side objectives or achievements and the like, which can extend your play time somewhat too.

 

All in all, I rather enjoyed my first Ace Combat experience. I’m now very much looking forward to the release of Ace Combat 7 on PC next year, and will certainly consider going back some of the previous games in the series before then – the confusingly titled Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy on the 3DS (which is actually a remake of Ace Combat 2 with no story links to Assault Horizon) will probably be my next Ace Combat before 7 comes out.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

Bioware’s original Mass Effect trilogy were some of my favourite games from the last generation of consoles. While each of the games had their own flaws – the first was somewhat lacking in terms of combat but amazing at world building but I felt the second scaled the RPG aspects back a bit too much and then the third had that ending – each were truly enjoyable games and built a fantastic sci-fi universe.

Expectations were high then, when Mass Effect: Andromeda was announced. Initially I was a little sceptical when the first information was released; that it was set in a different galaxy, centuries after the trilogy. It sounded like it was going to be completely removed from the great universe and lore that Bioware had spent three games building and we’d spent hundreds of hours playing.

Thankfully, I needn’t have been too worried in that regard. Mass Effect: Andromeda follows members of the Andromeda Initiative, a group of explorers who left the Milky Way galaxy at some point around the events of the second Mass Effect. As well as wisely removing the story from having to suffer the effects of the ill-considered ending to Mass Effect 3 (where, no matter what choice you make, it fundamentally breaks the universe) it does mean we still get familiar races and technology so it still feels like Mass Effect.

 

The Andromeda Initiative launched a number of colony ships towards the Andromeda galaxy with the intention of settling there, and the story opens as the human ark, the Hyperion, awakes it’s crew from over six hundred years of cryogenic sleep to an emergency. Unlike the original trilogy, where you always play as Commander Shepard and choose their gender, this time around you select one of the two Ryder twins, Scott or Sara, while the other remains an existing character. I played the trilogy with a male Shepard and, having also heard that femshep was the better choice, decided to go with Sara.

With your choice of sibling appropriately selected and customised, Ryder then awakens to trouble on the Hyperion. The ship has arrived at the intended human colony world, Habitat 7, however the surface of the planet isn’t as it had appeared on scans and the space around it is filled with a mysterious dark substance called the Scourge that causes massive damage to the Hyperion that results in the Ryder that you didn’t select being stuck in their stasis pod for a good chunk of the game. There’s a fairly lengthy prologue with exploration on Habitat 7 including the discovery of some advanced technology that can terraform the planet and the introduction of the primary antagonist of the game, the Archon. The Archon is the leader of the kett, a militaristic and hostile race,

 

After leaving Habitat 7 Ryder and the crew of the Hyperion travel to the Nexus, which is where things really kick off. The Nexus is basically the Andromeda equivalent of the Citadel from the original trilogy, and is crewed by more members of the Andromeda Initiative. The crew are made up of all of the major alien species, with the Nexus team having set off for the Andromeda galaxy a little while before the ark ships. Here Ryder is given the major quests that will drive the rest of the game, to track down and defeat the Archon as well as discovering the fate of the other species arks. On your travels you’ll encounter new alien species as well as another faction of enemies, the robotic Remnant – because every science fiction game franchise needs to have robots!

There’s more of a sense of exploration in Andromeda than in previous Mass Effect games, especially as they’re in a new galaxy where everything is unknown. While there were somewhat unexplored planets in the original trilogy, the exploration aspect was always somewhat lessened by the fact that the galaxy was already colonised by races that we knew by that point – sure, the asari homeworld is a new planet for us as the player to explore, but it’s filled with asari and we know them already. In Andromeda though, particularly early on, there’s a feeling that there could be anything on each of the new planets that you explore. As with past games, there are major planets that act as quest hubs as well as less important locations that you just scan from orbit to see if they contain any useful items. Most of the major questing planets let you use the Nomad, Andromeda’s replacement for the original games’ Mako, to travel between locations in a fairly standard open world game manner. Finally, Ryder also has a scanner that works much like detective mode in the Batman: Arkham games. Depending on how you play, you may only use the scanner every now and then for investigating quest items, but if you’re a completionist then you’ll find yourself scanning every new enemy and item you see and sweeping it around each area you enter to see if anything new comes up.

 

Andromeda was the last major game that I played before my big upgrade in May, and I was playing at significantly below recommendations with a three year old AMD APU and a 2 GB GTX 960. Thanks to the games scaling options however it meant I was able to play with a higher graphical quality than I’d expected, and all of my screenshots here were taken on that hardware. The simplest recommendation for increasing game performance is to lower the resolution, but this is something I’m generally loathe to do as it results in blurry text and interfaces. In Andromeda however, the scaling allows you to choose the main resolution that all of the interface is displayed in, and then a separate resolution for the more demanding 3D engine. With that set to 900p and around medium settings, I was able to sustain 45 fps on average, though that did take a bit of a hit on the rainy planet of Voeld but still generally stayed above 30 fps. After my upgrade, and on other hardware that did meet the requirements properly like my test bench at work, it’s almost entirely stable at 60 fps and subsequent patches by Bioware have also improved that.

I really liked a lot of the music in Andromeda, particularly the main theme which was reminiscent enough of classic Mass Effect while also being its own thing. The voice acting was a bit more hit and miss, however. Sara Ryder was pretty decent I thought (having not played as Scott I don’t know how good he would be over the course of the game) but the default team members Jacob and Cora both grated a little – to be fair though I don’t know how much of that was the voice acting performance or the script as Jacob’s lines in particular were pretty terrible. Their replacements in my squad however both had good performances and actually felt like they had chemistry in dialogue that featured them both, and they were the asari PeeBee and Jaal who is a member of the new friendly species in Andromeda, the aya. Sound effect wise, it’s all fairly standard gunshots and explosions that you expect to hear in a science fiction game – nothing either particularly stand out or noticeably bad really.

 

On the gameplay side, it’s possibly the most fluid of any game in the series. The cover and shooting mechanics are generally similar to how I remember Mass Effect 3 playing and the boost pack built into Ryder’s suit that basically acts as a power jump means that you can traverse the game like never before in a Mass Effect. Over the course of the original trilogy, you could see how it started with the focus on the RPG elements and the gameplay of the third person shooter elements feeling almost like an afterthought and as each subsequent game came out there was less RPG and more shooter. While a lot of work clearly went into the shooter side of things, Andromeda also puts a bit more emphasis on the stats of weapons and equipment through both items that you collect as well as a sizable selection of craftable gear.

The Nomad controls really well too, with some nice features like a toggle between fast and all terrain modes to be able to scale steep surfaces and both a boost and vertical jets. All of this makes the Nomad quite a versatile and fun to drive little vehicle, though I wouldn’t have minded some weaponry on it even if you had to stop to deploy it first.

 

Bioware games are also well known for the conversation options, and the classic dialogue wheel returns once more in Andromeda. The traditional good/evil (or in the case of Mass Effect case, Paragon/Renegade) system is no more however, with Ryder being a much more grey character. I tend to go good guy with most RPGs so I tried to make the decisions that I would consider closest to that but there were a handful of moments in the game where I genuinely had to stop and ponder the possible ramifications of either option. I’m not sure they had any real effect on the end of the game, mind, but I’d not be at all surprised if some of the choices were planned to pay off across the course of any possible future sequels like in the original trilogy.

The internet, as it’s known to do, massively over exaggerated problems with the game in my opinion. Yes, there were some bad animations (the worst of which Bioware have already fixed) and yes, there’s some fairly cringe worthy dialogue. Graphically it doesn’t quite match up to AAA titles of today, and feels more like something that would have been released a couple of years ago – it still in my opinion looks pretty good, but it lacks in some of the bells and whistles you’d expect from a top end title. Despite all this however, I didn’t really find any game breaking bugs or major performance issues. I think I might have had a single crash in my nearly 100 hours with the game, and there was one time that my Nomad fell through the world and I had to reload my last autosave but I then wasn’t able to replicate it again. There is an issue with the quest log where it and the ingame codex of information on new species, ships etc show there as being new items even if everything is read that even the ‘mark all as read’ button that was added a little while ago hasn’t fixed but that hardly impacts on gameplay other than being a slight irritant. I’ve had far worse issues with games that haven’t been as heavily panned for being buggy in the past.

 

Honestly, the biggest complaint I’d have against it is that there’s just a bit too much to it. Even after 100 hours, on a single save file, I’m only at about 97% completion with a bunch of small side missions that are both uninteresting and, in perhaps a greater sin in a game this large, not tracked on the galaxy map that I don’t think I’ll ever bother going back to unless they get proper tracking on the map like all the rest of the quests – I know the majority of these are meant to be exploration based objectives such as ‘find kett subjugation devices’ and so on, but at least a general area to search in would be helpful. There were a few times that I’d finish everything I had to do on a planet, go back to the Nexus and then be sent right back where I’d come from that weren’t exactly great either and shuffling these around somewhat to minimize the travelling back and forth would have been greatly appreciated. At least a skip button was added to the animations on travel within a solar system, as that took far too long when the game first came out.

Finally, one that did annoy me was one particular side quest. Since it’s Mass Effect, you have a number of romance options throughout the game. One of the side quests allows you a potential romance with an asari reporter on the Nexus, and as I hadn’t as yet decided who to go for I started the romance side of the conversation with her. By the time that finally got anywhere though, I’d then ended up in a relationship with a member of the crew. While all of the other romances, as far as I’m aware, give you the option of declining, when you meet the reporter back on the Nexus towards the end of the game there’s no option of turning her down – the quest simply continues to where you meet her in the bar and then back to her apartment. As it’s a roleplaying game, I feel like that’s not how my character would play it and would respectfully say ‘No, sorry, I’m in a relationship now’ and end it there leaving me with a decision to either stick to what I feel is the character and have an unfinished quest or just finish the quest and not be happy about it.

 

While I absolutely feel that more time should have been given to Bioware to continue testing and improving the game, given the stories of the game’s time in development it’s frankly astonishing that it all holds together as well as it does. I’d definitely agree with the general opinion that it’s not up to the overall quality, but to say that it’s an outright bad game is something that I’d argue against. Sadly, the general internet opinion seems to have been reflected in the games sales, and Bioware at present have put the series on hold. We still have a little more Mass Effect to come, with the Dark Horse comics and two more novels in an Andromeda trilogy due later this year (the first, Nexus Uprising, was released around the launch of Andromeda but I haven’t got round to reading it yet) but the future for the series generally is looking fairly bleak.

Me? I’d spend another 80+ hours with Sara Ryder and her crew without hesitation.

Breaking Radio Silence

It’s been a pretty hectic time over the last couple of weeks for me, between starting a new job and covering the night shift, a weekend back home and being away for my stag do in Italy I’ve spent a lot less time sat at my computer than I would have liked recently.

I have a few pieces in the works that I hope to finish off soon – next up will be the long delayed Mass Effect: Andromeda write up that I’ve been picking at for about 3 months. It won’t be current anymore, but I’ve put too much time into it now to scrap it.

In the meantime, here’s my cat Moss being restrained posing for a picture for his mum so she can see his latest battle scars because he can’t stop fighting. Stupid cat.

Transformers: Forged to Fight

After the disappointment that was Transformers: Earth Wars came close to giving a portable version of the characters but failed due to very limited control and utter repetitiveness, I’ve had a hankering for something new to fill that space in my life. I was of course very interested then when the first footage of Forged to Fight surfaced a few months ago.

Transformers: Forged to Fight is a fighting game starring, of course, the Transformers. Developed by Kabam and using similar gameplay to their previous title, Marvel Contest of Champions (which, despite loving Marvel comics I never got around to playing) you pit your ‘bot against another in Mortal Kombat.. Wait, wrong series.

While I haven’t played Contest of Champions, gameplay is broadly similar to NetherRealms’ portable Mortal Kombat and Injustice titles. You play with two hands, with your left thumb controlling movement while the right is combat. Swiping towards or away from the enemy moves you closer to or further from them, while swiping up and down sidesteps so that you can avoid ranged attacks. Holding down on the left blocks, to reduce bur not completely stop incoming damage. On the right, you can tap or swipe for light or heavy attacks respectively and tapping while at a distance uses your character’s range attack.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Transformers without alt modes and holding down on the right makes your robot transform into whatever it turns into and attacks in that form. Most of these are vehicle attacks ramming into the enemy but there are a few with ranged attacks as well. The combat is very responsive and, unless you get caught in an enemy combo you’ll always end up doing what you were wanting to so which is always a concern with fast paced mobile games.

As you fight, a special meter builds up at the bottom of the screen. Depending on the level and quality of the bot, it can have up to three levels of special attack, and you can use level 1 as soon as it charges or hold on for level 2 and so on. These attacks, particularly with high level bots, can be devastating and will often drastically turn the tide in a battle.

The most substantial mode of Forged to Fight is the story mode, following Optimus Prime and a group of Autobots who find themselves trapped on a strange planet. Quickly they find that universes are converging, and come up against different versions of themselves and other Transformers from the live action movie universe. Currently there are three acts to the story, the third having been recently added, with each act made up of a number of chapters themselves containing multiple stages. Every few stages you’ll get a short conversation between a few of the characters that (slowly) moves the plot along – I’ve not yet finished the story as the difficulty level ramps up a bit and I’ve not got my characters that high yet.

Aside from the story, you have arenas where you compete against other players teams to rise up the leaderboards to win select characters or other prizes; raids that pit you against player’s bases; tough alliance missions where you work together with other members of your alliance; the daily challenges for sparks to increase your characters in rank and then any special missions or events that might be running.

The characters in the game come in a number of rarity levels, 1-star to 4-star. Somewhat disappointingly, there’s no visual difference between the different star versions of the characters and aside from keeping some around for the lower PVP tiers there’s little incentive to want, keep or level them up. I’d expected a system more like Galaxy of Heroes where each character is unique and you improve them to increase their rarity so you don’t end up with multiples of the exact same character or at least cosmetic differences to justify keeping three Optimus Primes for example. The higher rarity versions of the characters allow you to take them to higher levels and have extra special attacks that do make them significantly more powerful, however.

As you build up your team you’ll inevitably end up with a handful of characters that you use all the time. I got fairly lucky to start off with and got 3-star versions of both the classic and movie Optimus Prime, so they’re regular members of my main team. With the left over characters, you can assign them to guard your base – it’s these assigned ‘bots that players will face when assaulting your base in raids.

The graphics while fighting are pretty great, possibly the best I’ve seen on a mobile game. While you don’t get a setting as such in mobile games, it appears to run at my phone’s native 2560×1440 resolution and there are no slowdown problems or lack of anti aliasing. The bot models are detailed and well animated, and they’re wonderfully blocky and colourful in all the right ways. The classic Generation 1 characters are all designed on their most recent toy (which for many is also the IDW comics version of the character) while the movie characters are faithful to those designs while also simplifying and streamlining them somewhat so that they go together aesthetically a little better.

There is, perhaps, a little too much going on. During a recent event, I must have played over two hours in a single day just to try and get somewhere in the rankings and that doesn’t include time spent using the energy for raids and story missions that recharge over time. While this is more down to personal preference, for a mobile game to me that seems a little excessive. Most mobile games I play (or have played) can typically have their daily missions or whatever done within half an hour or so each day, and such a huge time sink isn’t something that I think can really be sustained long term.

This ties into another issue – while you spend a long time playing the game, there’s not a massive variety of characters as yet and getting them is a chore. While I’m sure that the roster will fill out over time (and indeed, with The Last Knight out next week I’m sure there will be some to tie in) at the moment there are only around 20 playable characters and four of those are only available so far through arenas and events. Given the level of details on each ‘bot I do understand that these will take more work to create than the lower quality characters in Galaxy of Heroes, to come back to that for an example, so I know that they won’t be able to release as many characters as quickly as that game does now.

I’m also possibly still a little bitter about Ultra Magnus, my favourite Transformer, being an Apple exclusive for the first month or so and then being released into an event so that I still don’t have him. I even spent possibly too much money on crystals when Magnus was available there, and only got duplicates of characters I already have – I literally got nothing for my money which left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth and will definitely stop me from buying any crystals in future.

There’s a daily free crystal, but this gives a random selection of either a mod to power up the spaces on your base or a character but again in my experience it’s been heavily weighted towards mods and I don’t think I’ve had a character from it in over a week. Honestly, I was on the verge of dropping the game altogether, until today’s update. Coming in line with most other free to play games, a daily/monthly login calendar has been added, with rewards for each. Looking at the rewards for the next days and weeks, there will be a fairly steady supply of shards for character crystals so fingers crossed I might actually get some new ‘bots soon.

Forged to Fight, sadly, is a game that I feel goes too heavily into pay to win territory. It’s mostly my love of the Transformers that kept me playing as long as I have, and they’re not a franchise with as large a built in fanbase as Marvel – given that free to play games live and die by how many people are actively playing (and by extension, some section of that will be paying) I am somewhat worried for it’s long term future. The gameplay itself is fun, but it’s the business side of things that surround it really that is the problem. Today’s update is a step in the right direction, and as long as they keep making some degree of content (and in particular, characters) available to players without having to pay a fortune, I think I’ll keep playing.

Dark Souls: The Board Game

I was very excitedly contacted by my friend Carl the other day to let me know that his copy of the Dark Souls board game had shipped. I’d rather forgotten it even existed, with it having been backed on Kickstarter about 2 years ago, but it handily arrived just in time for our monthly games night so our usual evening of party games became an evening of getting rekt.

I’ve not really spent much time with the Dark Souls series, I have a couple of them from Humble Bundles and the like but I haven’t made it down to D yet. What little experience I do have has taught me that they’re punishingly difficult and that you die. A lot. We were rather curious how this would translate to a board game with multiple players. On first opening the box we got our first hint to what we would experience.

With that reassuring message, we began dismantling the many, many components of the game. Dark Souls can be played with up to 4 players, with each player choosing one of the starter characters. There are four at present, with more to be added Through ‘DLC’ later. Each character has a main board with many holes that need to be pushed out as well as a detailed miniature and a number of equipment cards. There are counters for health and stamina, a massive number of tokens and cards. The enemies in the game also have their own miniatures and cards, with the bosses also having loot cards and health dials.

After a good while spent assembling the various card decks, we were ready to start properly setting up. A lengthy manual accompanies the board game that details everything required for setup, and we were about 25 pages and an hour in before we began the game proper.

You first assemble the boards that make up the dungeon layout. There are tiles for the bonfire area, which is the starting point of the game, as well as two for the boss encounter which will all be used in each game. The rest of the dungeon is then assembled from any four of the remaining six tiles, with the other two put aside. This creates a different dungeon layout for each game. The bonfire tile contains the spark counter, which effectively counts the number of lives the party has. If a single party member dies during a fight, you all die and return to the bonfire and deduct one spark from the counter. When you run out of sparks, it’s game over.

Next, you prepare the loot deck ready for any enemy encounters and choose which bosses you want to fight. The enemies available are all from different Dark Souls game, I believe a mix of Dark Souls 1 and 3 with presumably Dark Souls 2 ones coming in an expansion down the line. We picked the Frost Knight for the miniboss, and the Dancer of the Boreal Valley for the final boss. The boss cards each list encounter difficulties at the bottom. These tell you how many cards to pick from each encounter deck which are used to populate each room with enemies. The encounters come in three tiers of difficulty, with the Frost Knight having two each from the tier 1 and tier 2 decks.

With the tiles laid out and a randomly selected card from our selection placed on each, we were ready to begin. Each tile contains a number of coloured nodes that represent movement within the tile. Yellow nodes are clear movement spaces, while purple ones indicate locations for obstructions and red ones enemy spawn points. The encounter cards tell you which enemies and items to place on the tile, and the enemies themselves then have cards that list their strength, attacks etc. You also choose at this point which player has instigated the attack as they will become the focal point of most enemy attacks.

Enemies set up, you then begin combat. The enemies go first – all of them. With their goes out of the way, assuming no-one died during the attack, the first player gets to take their turn. Much like the enemies, each player character has stats indicated on their card. You can move towards enemies up to your character’s maximum range but can push further at the expense of stamina should you need to reach a far off enemy. At the bottom of each player’s character board are a row of slots that you can fit small cubes into. The cubes come in two colours, red and black. Black represents stamina, and you count them in from the left each time you expend stamina. Red is health, and this counts back from the right depending on how much damage you’ve taken, and you can see I’ve taken quite a battering here. If the two meet and there are no empty slots left, you die. Each player begins the game with a flask that can be used to replenish your health – it can only be used on your turn however so if you’re taking a beating from enemies and have a couple of enemy rounds before your turn you can very easily die without getting a chance to use it if the other players can’t thin out the enemy on their turns. Characters each have standard attacks as well as a special move that is more effective the more sparks you have, meaning dying can actually weaken you.

Once the first player has had their turn then the enemy go again. All of them. The next player then goes and so on around the table until you either kill everything or die and go back to the bonfire. Should you survive the fight, all health and stamina is reset and you’re automatically fully healed for the next fight. Each room has a treasure chest, so on completion you get to share the loot between you to increase your power. Any items you can’t yet equip go to the bonfire tile and can be used later if you then meet the requirements. There’s no penalty for going to the bonfire, and it doesn’t cost you anything unless you choose to rest there and reset the dungeon.

Defeating enemies also gives the party souls, which again can be spent at the bonfire. Souls are used to increase player levels, which is primarily used to equip higher level gear.

Despite the gameplay area not looking all that physically large compared to some games, it takes quite a while to work through the various rooms of the dungeon (especially if you die and reset, or choose to rest and tackle the rooms again for the chance at some better loot) and as such it was nearing one in the morning by the time we reached the miniboss room – with no sparks remaining.

The boss characters have the largest models in the game and also some new gameplay mechanics. The base indicates directions, and unlike the smaller enemies in the game players attack from specific angles of the boss, and can even move around the base as if it was movement spaces on the tiles. The boss is controlled by the boss deck of cards that effectively acts as the enemy AI. When you start the encounter you shuffle the boss deck, and then turn over the top card for the boss’ move. This will say what kind of attack it does, how much it moves or turns etc. It will also indicate a weak side which is where the next player should attack it from. On the next boss turn you play the next card and so on, flipping the deck back over when you reach the last card so you can begin to predict the pattern the boss will attack in (as long as you haven’t drank too many beers by this point and can’t keep track!)

This all changes once you get the boss down to half health and it enrages. A new attack card is added into the deck and it gets shuffled, breaking the previous pattern and making the boss more unpredictable. The extra attack is also incredibly dangerous, of course.

Had we managed to beat the Frost Knight we would than have set the game up again from the bonfire, this time drawing enemy cards based on the Dancer of the Boreal Valley’s card and fight through the dungeon again, beat the Frost Knight again and then finally fight the Dancer. However..

Yes, Mike, yes we did.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Whew, two massive new RPGs coming out close together really become time consuming huh? As you can probably guess, a substantial portion of my time over the past months has been spent with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I actually finished Zelda a couple of weeks ago, but almost the next day went straight into Mass Effect: Andromeda (and a week in Birmingham) and I’ve struggled to find time that doesn’t immediately get swallowed by one of them to put some words together.

Originally slated for a release back in 2015, development stretched on longer than expected with the eventual release in March this year coinciding with the release of the Nintendo Switch. Thankfully, it was also released on the WiiU (in a move rather reminiscent of Twilight Princess’ dual launch on the Gamecube and Wii) meaning I didn’t have to spend hundreds on new hardware just to play Zelda.

The game opens with Link waking up in a mysterious chamber and finding a small tablet device which is quickly announced to be a Shiekah Slate – long time Zelda fans will likely recognise the name and the symbol on the Slate and elsewhere from the Shiekah clan who’ve appeared in a number of past games. This Link, it turns out, fought against Calamity Ganon (a silly name, and I’ll just be referring to him as Ganon from now on) a hundred years ago alongside Princess Zelda and lost. The Hylians had discovered an ancient mechanical army called the Guardians, which had fought against Ganon 10,000 years in the past alongside the mighty Divine Beasts Link was placed in the Shrine of Restoration to recover, while Zelda disappeared into Hyrule Castle to try and hold Ganon at bay and then their battle faded mostly into memory only to be known as the Calamity.

Link awakens to a changed Hyrule. Ganon still controls Hyrule Castle, which lurks on the horizon visible from most of the map and encased in a sickly slowing cloud of evil, and the ruins of the Guardians still litter the landscape in many places and there are even a number of them that are still functional. Classic Zelda monsters, such as Moblins and Lizalfos, are common with monsters having over-run much of Hyrule after the Calamity.

Without spoiling the plot, there are four major dungeons (though even these are quite slight compared to the epic dungeons of old) that all end with a boss battle. The remainder of the puzzles can be found in the Shiekah Shrines dotted around Hyrule, of which there are 120 in total. While some have a quest or some difficulty in getting into them the majority can simply be found by approaching them, with the Shiekah Slate notifying you when one is close. The shrines cover a number of different themes, from simply making your way through them to the exit, combat trials, and more complicated puzzles that test your skills, timing and use of the Shiekah Runes.

Breath of the Wild is quite an oddity when compared to other Zelda games, as so many of the series typical trappings have been stripped away. There’s little in the way of new gear to collect and use, aside from weapons but more on those in a moment, so there’s no more finding hookshots and hammers and the like to open new pathways. There are no heart pieces to collect, though you do add extra hearts to give Link more health as you progress. There’s little in the way of traditional dungeons, you can jump freely and climb up sheer cliffs and so on. You don’t even get a traditional Zelda title screen and choice of three save slots, and Link is explicitly named in text and dialogue, meaning you don’t get the choice to rename him when you create your save. And yet somehow it still feels enough like Zelda by keeping the most important parts and themes.

Most of the powers Link gets this time around are given basically right at the start. Before leaving the starting area, the Great Plateau (which may possibly be Hyrule Castle Town from Ocarina of Time) you go through a short quest chain the results in gaining most of the powers of the Shiekah Slate, called Runes. The Slate is able to create bombs, both round and square to stop them rolling away, freeze water to make platforms, magnetically move metal objects or to freeze movable objects in time – these frozen objects can then be hit and will react by moving relative to the force they’ve received while frozen once they’re released. The Slate can also take photos and, if activated, recognise compatible Amiibo figures.

The other main item Link gets given early on is the glider, which coupled with his climbing ability means you’re able to scale and move around tall structures fairly easily. Initially your range on doing this is limited as both actions use up stamina, but as you upgrade Link the distance you can travel this way increases substantially and there’s very little that can stop you exploring wherever you like. The amount of freedom this grants, compared to the rather restrained movement of past Zelda games, really changes the way it feels and plays more than anything else.

Weapons also play a huge role in exploring Hyrule. As with so many other elements of the game, the traditional progression from standard sword to Master Sword (with sometimes another one in the middle) is gone and instead Link must use whatever weapons he finds on his travels. These weapons have very limited durability, so you’ll often find yourself needing to replace anything you’re using after a couple of fights. This does get a little better later on in the game as the higher end weaponry you find will tend to have higher durability and, no real spoiler here since it’s on the cover of the game, you do eventually find the Master Sword which is indestructible – it does however hold limited energy and needs to recharge between fights.

Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule is absolutely enormous. I’ve managed to put over 90 hours and still have plenty of things left to find and explore, with huge chunks of the world barely even touched. Most towns will feature a number of side quests, as well as potentially some shrine quests and in yet another element new to the series these are all tracked in a quest log like you’d expect to find in any other large RPG. Larger towns will also typically contain several shops and an inn, allowing you to rest until specific times of day and heal as well as purchasing items and clothing.

There are also a ridiculous number of collectables, in the form of Korok seeds. Returning from Wind Waker, there are over 900 Koroks hidden around Hyrule to find. While that’s far far too many for me to spend the time finding them all, collecting a number of them is definitely worth while as you can redeem the seeds to expand your inventory space.

As you’ve likely noticed from any screenshots and promotional images, this Link doesn’t dress like his predecessors with his signature outfit being a blue shirt. There are many other outfits available, with some hidden away as loot in Shrines and others simply available for purchase. Some are just cosmetic items, but there are others that take the place of the traditional swimming and fire resistance gear. Through the Amiibo support you can also get outfits from the various Links that there are figures for, and I’m rather partial to running around in the Twilight Princess outfit – if nothing else, because he’s the only Link Amiibo I have and the prices of them have skyrocketed.

Unlike Twilight Princess (which was famously flipped horizontally to make Link right handed and included motion controls for the Wii release) the two versions of the game are basically identical. In fact, a number of features such as using the WiiU gamepads’ screen for more direct control over the map and inventory have been removed altogether to ensure parity with the Switch release, with the gamepad screen now functioning simply as a button to toggle between displaying on it or the TV which is a little disappointing but I understand that Nintendo wouldn’t want the previous generation version of the game to have more features than the one that’s supposed to be selling Switch units.

The art style is, as you can see, absolutely gorgeous. Nintendo are known for experimenting with the look of Zelda games, from the very cartoony cel shaded style of Wind Waker to the lovely painted art in Skyward Sword, and Breath of the Wild somewhat combines these to create something special. The characters, weapons, monsters – everything just looks great and one of the best examples of the final work staying true to the concept art to the point that playing the game feels like those images have come to life. And it’s not just the characters, so much attention has been spent on the world itself that I’ve often found myself just wandering around looking at it. Individual blades of grass and leaves on trees all blow and sway in the wind, water ripples and flows..

Considering the size of the game world and the internal spec of the WiiU it’s very impressive that Breath of the Wild runs as well as it does. I was very worried, especially in light of the complete lack of reporting on it pre-release, that the WiiU version of the game would be drastically cut down or suffer terrible performance but neither of these came to pass. Running at 720p and around 30fps compared to the Switch running at 900p when docked, there’s otherwise very little difference. Both versions of the game are known to have moments of slowdown. The worst I saw was in a forest at night during a thunderstorm, and there was an awful lot going on and moving then, but it never became unplayable and didn’t happen all the time.

Zelda games almost always have great music, and Breath of the Wild is no exception. The soundtrack is of course all available (with dubious legality) on YouTube and it’s been in my rotation over the last week or so. There are some spoilers for the story in the track titles so I’d probably avoid if you’re currently playing or planning to play any time soon so as not to ruin anything but in my opinion it’s possibly the best score that a Zelda game has had. Many classic pieces from past games are revisited in new versions, while the heavy use of piano makes it all sound rather different to any Zelda before it.

One thing that really surprised me was the use of voice acting. Several of the cutscenes throughout the game are fully voiced, something that we’ve only seen in the non-canon Hyrule Warriors. The English voice acting is.. not the best with Zelda in particular sounding a bit stiff (and older than her intended 17 years, too) but some of the other characters are fine. Link, thankfully does not speak and remains mute as always throughout.

The controls are generally tight and well thought out, with one exception being that the jump and drop buttons felt like they were the wrong way round – clearly someone at Nintendo thought this too, as there’s an option to swap them over. Playing on the WiiU gamepad or Pro pad gives the exact same experience as the layouts are the same, and this is also true for the Switch version which uses the same control scheme. One problem though is found in a few Shrines when playing on the Pro pad, as you have to switch to the gamepad to use the motion controls which can be a bit of a pain if you’re sat on the sofa say and the pad is over by the TV. The Switch version for the record doesn’t have this problem, as it’s Pro controller has motion controls built in.

Breath of the Wild is no doubt going to be remembered fondly as a game changer in the Zelda series – while I definitely would like some more traditional Zelda games in future, this is definitely a shot of new that the series really needed. It’s an incredibly well thought out and passionately designed game and, while there are a couple of slight niggles mostly due to the hardware it runs on, these don’t really hold it back (plus, if Nintendo hold to their current pattern, no doubt a ‘HD’ remaster will come out a console or two from now) and it was an absolute joy from beginning to end.

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