For better or worse, Dynasty Warriors is a franchise that is known for not changing. It will always tell the tale of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, with familiar faces like Lu Bu and Cao Cao returning in installment after installment to cut through thousands of mooks in ancient China. This makes Dynasty Warriors 9 all the more surprising, as Omega Force and Koei Tecmo have decided to dramatically shake up the series with one very big change: the addition of an open world. Unfortunately, while the concept is certainly interesting, it is poorly executed, with issues both big and small taking away from the core Dynasty Warriors experience.
At its core, Dynasty Warriors 9 plays just like its predecessors. You pick one of several dozen characters from Romance of the Three Kingdoms and charge into battle while taking part in the most famous events and battles of the Three Kingdoms period. The simple act of killing hundreds of thousands of enemies is still just as fulfilling, depending on your attitude towards these games.
While you can mindlessly hit the same button over and over again to carve a path through your enemies, Dynasty Warriors 9 adds a new attack system called Trigger Attacks that can alter the enemy’s state and can be used to chain new combos. For example, I can end a simple button mashing combo by launching the enemy into the air. The result is that there is some strategy to be found when going toe-to-toe with the more powerful named characters, especially when combined with the returning Musou attacks and new character-specific elemental attacks.
On the downside, there’s a lack of diversity when it comes to playing different characters. Every character can equip any weapon type, with the exception of their unique weapons, with similar animations popping up again and again in the most basic combos. Considering these will be your bread and butter for much of the game, it gets old rather quickly.
Similarly disappointing is the quality of the voice acting. With maybe a handful of exceptions, the voice acting in Dynasty Warriors 9 is bad throughout. It feels less like people are talking and more like the voice actors were reading the line off the page, making everything sound awkward to the ears. Outside of conversations and cutscenes, voice lines will repeat with extreme frequency and it becomes grating on the ears quickly. It is fortunate then that the soundtrack is as good as it is, otherwise I would have turned off the audio altogether to prevent the voices from burrowing into my head.
Characters aside, the mission design throughout the game is interesting and refreshing. The game is divided between the four major states that make up the Three Kingdoms period, which are further divided into chapters that feature anywhere from one to a handful of major objectives. While each main objective has a high starting difficulty in comparison to the level your character will likely be at, the difficulty can be lowered by completing smaller scale missions that tie into the big picture. For example, capturing a fort will lower the overall level of an enemy general whom you have to kill. This makes it worthwhile to go after the side missions, though some, like the large number of fetch quests, are best skipped due to being very tedious.
To be blunt, Dynasty Warriors 9’s map is absolutely massive and does a great job of representing both the scale and environments that the many battles of the Three Kingdoms were fought in. Armies will clash along roads and battlefronts across the map, with your forces winning and losing without you, though plot or mission-critical battles will only begin once you enter the area. It is also, by and large, very empty. Cities, towns and forts are scattered around the world that serve as hubs for shopkeepers, craftsmen and larger military forces, but most of the world is taken up by nature with little in the way of defining characteristics.
I spent a very long time travelling the map, particularly since fast travel points are only unlocked after you activate them, and unless you are willing to fight every single enemy roadblock that you encounter, you will be running around a world that is neither interesting to explore nor interesting to look at. Playing on a PC, I had to double check that I was running the game at the highest possible graphical settings, as the textures on the environment are pretty poor.
The size of the world also has the side effect of increasing the amount of time between battles or missions. If you like seeing the kill count climb up rapidly, it will do so at a slow pace thanks to the need to travel to each new battle site. The smaller scale battles that populate the map are uninteresting because they lack the scale and scope that Dynasty Warriors games are known for, and I skipped as much as I could on the way to the much more interesting sieges and city battles that are reminiscent of previous titles.
Ultimately, Dynasty Warriors 9 is a major change for a franchise that has long been content to stick to its roots. Yet in adding an open world, it fails to properly marry the new system with the variety and intensity of previous titles. There are some good ideas to be found here, and with the experience gained in making this game and some further iteration, I can see Omega Force coming back with a much-improved sequel in a few years. However, unless you are a die-hard Dynasty Warriors fan, you likely won’t have a good time here.
In the era of the Switch, I resent pretty much any video game that tethers me to my television. This includes Night in the Woods, which I wanted to revisit at the end of last year when its “director’s cut” Weird Autumn Edition launched. Carving out the time to replay the game in the midst of all my other responsibilities when it was on my PlayStation 4 proved a challenge, and I ultimately ended up not completing it or seeing the new content. However, Night in the Woods is now on the Switch, and given the game’s storybook style and focus on the mundane, it feels like a natural fit for the platform that lends itself to a less restrictive type of play.
Set in the small town of Possum Springs, Night in the Woods is an understated look at the life of the young adult in a small town. Mae, the protagonist but not quite the hero of this story, is a recent college dropout forced back into her childhood home with her parents. She forces her way back into the lives of her friends who are caught up in their own coming of age stories, like Gregg, a rehabilitated delinquent looking to leave Possum Springs forever with his boyfriend Angus and feeling trapped in the town as the only queer people there, and Bea, Mae’s childhood best friend who’s taken over her family’s story in the wake of her mother’s death. Mae’s resurgence throws a wrench in all of their lives, as they each have to come to terms with how the years apart have changed them and their priorities.
Night in the Woods isn’t a happy story for the group, as everyone is experiencing some kind of growing pain that forms a wedge between their friendships. There’s a sense of obligation to them at some points, as if they hang out with each other due to proximity. Possum Springs is a prison for them, and they know that if they aren’t there for each other that sense of entrapment will be the end of them. Night in the Woods is such an honest portrayal of living in a small town when your heart and mind are elsewhere that it feels bleak. There’s a hope of escape that runs through it, but it never forgets how suffocating the environment can be for people like Mae and Gregg. Gregg longs for a life with Angus free of judgement, and Mae stays because she has nowhere else to go. By the end, not everyone finds the answers to all the questions that haunt them, but Night in the Woods does cast a judgmental eye on how we can drag each other down into a hole of complacency, and it does so by casting the player in the role of the enabler.
Beyond these interpersonal relationships, Possum Springs is home to its own sets of problems. Jobs are in short supply, people are leaving the town at alarming rates, and meanwhile, those who are still there are trying to get by. Night in the Woods’ worldview is largely shaped by its cynicism of its setting, but it’s not without glimmers of hope that the people are worth the struggles of living within it. Mae’s parents specifically stand out, as they want more for their daughter than what this town has to offer.
Most of Night in the Woods is spent travelling around this town and talking with the townsfolk. Each of the citizens gets a minute amount of screen time compared to the main cast, but there are stories being told all throughout Possum Springs, each painting a picture of the good and the bad of the town. In between each new scene, there’s a solid variety of mini-games to break up the walking and talking. Band practice makes way for rhythm game sections, committing crimes with Gregg leads to some destruction of property, and Mae’s vivid dreaming creates environments for platforming. Some of this feels like fluff, but in Possum Springs you take fun where you can find it, and there’s enough variety in Mae’s antics to make each individual set piece feel fresh.
With the addition of the Weird Autumn content, there are new sides of these people to see. The update is available for all versions of the game for free, and comes pre-installed on the Switch edition. Those looking for a reason to revisit the game will find a lot to enjoy in this “director’s cut,” as well as supplementary side stories, such as the pre-release games Longest Night and Lost Constellation. These short games aren’t pertinent to Night in the Woods’ main story, but will give you some extra time with the excellent characters.
Night in the Woods is the kind of game I find new things in each time I replay it, and the Switch makes doing that practical in a way playing it on other platforms isn’t. It’s the definitive place to play this incredibly special game.
Ultimate Chicken Horse for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One is a new release, but the original version of the game made its debut for PC over a year and a half ago. For this reviewer, playing this game was my first interaction with the title, and my first time experiencing the frenetic gameplay therein.
First and foremost, this is a party game and is at its best when playing local multiplayer. When played on its own in a solo-player challenge mode the game loses much of its appeal. This is a game which is meant to be enjoyed with more than one player, and the more the merrier.
Players take on the role of a farm animal, and in party mode will work on constructing a path from one side of the map to the other, at the same time making the path as complicated and deadly as possible. Points are given for successfully making it to the other side, collecting coins, and for trapping and killing your opponents. The gameplay is often a little chaotic, and the controls could be a lot tighter and more precise. For a modern game platformer, the physics are at times a bit haphazard and hard to rely upon behaving in a predictable manner. The game could be a bit more helpful in setting up the rules and walking players through the scoring, and it can make the first few turns a bit frustrating. However, once you get a handle on it, it’s fairly easy to start messing with your opponents while also trying to ensure you can figure out a strategy to successfully complete the level. When playing for the purposes of this review, I found myself enjoying the balance of the game, as there are more than a few ways to get points, and it was easier than I expected to come from behind and win a round (much to my own chagrin, as suddenly my wife pulled ahead to take the win as a result of collecting as many coins as possible as her goal). The rounds are fast-paced, and the more players means more chaos, as the screen gets busier and busier, with many more obstacles blocking one’s path.
As much chaotic fun as the game might be for local multiplayer, it loses much of the fun when it comes to online multiplayer. The game plays the same, but it definitely loses some the whimsy when you’re not playing with friends and family. It drops an aspect of the personality of the game which at first made it seem so endearing. Matchmaking isn’t the simplest, either, and on numerous occasions, the gameplay didn’t seem to make a smooth transition to the online world.
If you were hoping for an enjoyable solo experience you’re not really going to find it here. The challenge mode is often more frustrating than enjoyable, as players load community-designed and uploaded levels. Some are seemingly built to be impossible, but for the most part there’s a decent array of levels. But when you’re just trying to complete levels that were put up in a series of speed runs, it takes away the more entertaining element that is evident in party mode. What makes the single-player mode feel even more lacking is that it doesn’t manage to give the player a way to play solo, but still enjoy the frantic level-building that is experienced in local multiplayer. Presumably it would be harder to program an AI to replicate such an experience, and instead the developers focused on the challenge mode instead of replicating the local multiplayer gameplay for the solo gameplay experience.
The game definitely encourages the player to try their hand at designing and playing their own levels, and uploading them for others to play. If this is your cup of tea, your overall enjoyment of Ultimate Chicken Horse will be substantially higher than this reviewer’s. If this scratches your gamer itch, it definitely makes this an easy game to recommend, and more worthwhile given the price.
The graphics are simplistic, with a stripped-down aesthetic that really works for the game. Ultimate Chicken Horse doesn’t need to have sophisticated and highly polished graphics, and it actually works better with a more simplistic style. When building levels frantically, the art design is appropriately simple. When starting levels, there’s little on the screen, but it just allows more room in which to cram all of the implements you need to provide your competition with difficult obstacles.
The music is subtle, and the sound effects are very on point and satisfying. When a trap is unleashed and kills your opponent, the sound effects accompanying the carnage definitely allow you to relish in the mayhem.
If you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive PS4 party game, Ultimate Chicken Horse is definitely worth trying out. If you can get it for a discount (which likely will come at some point) and you like level building I would heartily recommend it. However, If you’re not going to be able to make use of the local multiplayer, it definitely makes this a tougher game to recommend. As a game designed for local multiplayer, Ultimate Chicken Horse succeeds and then some. With the right gamer personality, it becomes a game of one-upsmanship, as differing playstyles start to clash in enjoyable ways.
Sometimes, it’s enough to just play a retro-tinted game or a plain old platformer that merely plays well. What do I mean by that? Well, I don’t really have a stringent requirement for an over-arching narrative that’s going to blow me away all the time. Recent 3D Mario games are proof of that, as Nintendo has made efforts to even downplay the existence of a tenuous plot device to string everything together. You’re going to get a strong base; lots of unique levels, and you will probably fight Bowser for whatever reason. I’m in. But with the rise of Indies in the past decade or so, an extra kick in the story department sure is a nice surprise.
Celeste, the latest project from the talented Matt Thorson, is one of those surprises. It’s a platformer set to the beat of climbing a mountain, but it quickly becomes so much more than that. Celeste—also the name of the mountain itself—is incredibly thematic, as our protagonist Madeline deals with various psychological challenges alongside of all of the physical hurdles required with scaling a giant crag. These are all conveyed through small breaks, with a light injection of real world humor and sensibilities that almost add a surreal element to the mix.
All of the aforementioned interludes are also spruced up by sharp cartoon art, allowing the characters to get a little more emotive than they would with the already keen sprite-work. The beautiful soundtrack that’s constantly pumping and the minimalist sound effects augment its theme.
Going along with the lack of heavy-handed, lengthy cut scenes, Celeste is really easy to get into at first. You have an invisible grab meter when holding onto walls, and a limited dash mechanic. Both are presented without meters clogging up the screen; instead you’ll get visual cues like huffing and puffing or colour changes to denote that you need to find another way.
It’s very intuitive, as the grab concept feels right, and the dash is directional like a bullet. Touching the ground or grabbing a special sparing cube power up will let you dash again, and that’s basically it. You need to marry the two together to scale every obstacle, which can be tough to reconcile until you start really getting into the swing of things. The lack of fluff-like, lengthy tutorials make it that much more fun to acclimatize.
Although it is difficult at times, the chapter-based segmentation and auto-saving is great for taking breaks. You’re also presented with myriad extra content to tackle—or not. You can collect strawberries for extra points, or not. There’s a ton of extra rooms to explore and conquer, sometimes hidden by cracks in the wall Metroid style, or not. You can also find collectibles that unlock extra stages or a retro mini game, or not. You get the picture! For those of you who aren’t all about anything but the critical path, there are no real set options outside of a speedrun timer, which is fine.
Outside of a few uneven rooms—mostly in the middle—my only real gripe with Celeste is the death restart delay. It’s not huge at all and isn’t even a big gripe, but with other games allowing for instant restarts it can sometimes get frustrating when tackling a particularly taxing room to have to wait a brief moment between deaths.
It’s really hard to think of anything fundamentally wrong with Celeste. It presents itself as a whimsical platformer, and ended up exceeding my expectations of it. If anything I wish there was a bit more when it came to the core set of levels—challenge room and mini game-esque extras are fine, but I really wanted to see more of these characters—but that’s a great problem to have.
I never would’ve imagined that at the tail end of a spectacular year for video games, Square Enix would think to themselves, “Nope—we can’t let Xenoblade Chronicles 2 be the only RPG ending in the number two to release this December. What’s that over there in the archive? An updated port of a twenty-five-year-old Super Famicom game? Sold!” Following its tepid mobile debut last year, Romancing SaGa 2 bursts back onto the scene as a new release for just about every console under the sun. Given that this is likely to be many Western players’ first exposure to the game (and even to the eccentric SaGa series in general, given its lengthy hibernation), Romancing SaGa 2 is all but certain to alienate those unaccustomed to its freeform weirdness.
Romancing SaGa 2 is the result of considerable innovation coupled with director Akitoshi Kawazu’s bold desire to break the RPG mould of the 16-bit era. Its threadbare story is not about any one person; instead, the central “character” is not a character at all. It’s an entire empire. Told over the course of generations, Romancing SaGa 2‘s story puts the player in control of an entire line of emperors and empresses whose only connection to one another is the combat training they pass on through “inheritance magic” when they die. By daring to widen its lens to encapsulate an entire world, the game succeeds in creating an experience like no other—at the time of its original release in 1995, that is.
To say that Romancing SaGa 2 has a minimalist approach to storytelling is putting it lightly. Rarely are more than one or two lines of dialogue given to describe any event; characters live and die at a breakneck pace, while years or even decades pass after every brief scenario. There’s no time to get attached to any one person or plot thread. Romancing SaGa 2 is less about being told a story than it is writing a story. The player is the one who decides where to go and when, not the game designers. Their only objective is to defeat the evil “Seven Heroes” and expand the Avalonian Empire to its fullest. This is incredibly freeing, but for players who appreciate a little more direction (like me), it can also be vexing. What’s the safest way to go? Which characters are best to recruit? How does one develop new facilities in town? Romancing SaGa 2 sure isn’t about to tell. “Figure it out yourself,” it says.
I realize that this may land me in hot water, but I truthfully think that Romancing SaGa 2 is best played with a guide. It’s esoteric and impenetrable, at least at first, but once I discovered what it wanted from me, I started having an easier time. That’s not to say that it’s ever easy—far from it, considering that enemies scale to match the player’s strength due to the omnidirectional nature of its progression. I often felt like I was playing the game “wrong,” when in reality, I simply had to train myself to look for inconspicuous signals throughout its world. I was stuck on one boss for ages until I remembered that I could explore and purchase superior equipment far, far away from my current objective. Romancing SaGa 2‘s adaptive structure is impressive considering its age, but it also makes the entire experience feel excessively lean.
The most obvious distinction between the Super Famicom version of Romancing SaGa 2 and this updated re-release is its polished visual presentation. Opting for a blend of smooth, high-definition backgrounds with pixelated character sprites, it retains a retro flavour that is uniquely SaGa. It certainly looks better than the muddy, washed-out sprites in the mobile ports of Final Fantasy Vand VI, though I would have preferred the developers to go all the way with the pixel aesthetic. SaGa soundtracks are known for their blood-pumping, orchestral battle themes—I’ve got plenty of arrangement albums in my own library that speak to their excellence—and Romancing SaGa 2 is no different. The “Seven Heroes” battle theme is particularly euphoric. The modern enhancements stop at audiovisuals, however; this new console version retains an ugly mobile interface, and it could do with some quality-of-life fixes, like being able to see how weapons and armour will affect a character’s stats before they buy them. There is also some fresh content in the form of a New Game+ mode, new dungeons, and a few other small additions. I don’t feel like these made much of a difference in my playthrough.
If complete freedom sounds exciting to you and not intimidating, Romancing SaGa 2 is likely to whet your appetite for a long-lost classic RPG. It sowed seeds of potential that would later be reaped by many similar games over subsequent years, including titles within the SaGa series itself. For me, SaGa Frontier still strikes the best balance between arcane and accessible, but it also came out four years after Romancing SaGa 2, so it’s not quite a fair comparison to make. I’d love to get my hands on SaGa Scarlet Grace to see how Akitoshi Kawazu’s fascinating development philosophy has evolved since his innovative work on the bundle of weirdness that is Romancing SaGa 2. I like it conceptually far more than I do in practice.
I really needed a good palate cleanser after my review of The Sims 4 on PS4, so it only makes sense that I would go from Will Wright’s second famous simulation game, to something like his first. I had a lot of friends recommend Cities: Skylines to me when it first released in 2015, and while it looked really interesting, my experience (or lack thereof) with SimCity made me hesitant.
However, being a longtime lover of sim games of any nature I was ready to dive right in and I’m glad I did; Cities: Skylines is an amazing love-letter to the glory days of SimCity, and it finds a welcome home on console.
This isn’t Cities: Skylines first outing on console, nor is this CGMagazine’s first outing in reviewing it, as my talented colleague Cody Orme reviewed the Xbox One version only a few short months ago. You build roads which have grids attached to them, you assign districts to those grids (residential, commercial, and industrial) and watch as your city begins to thrive. While it can be a bit overwhelming to jump into (I quit five minutes in and restarted at least a dozen times before making a city I liked), and there is a lot of nuance to effectively in managing taxes, policies, budgets, etc., it’s also easy enough to understand that even a newcomer can get into it quickly.
While Cody’s review covered pretty much all of it, I can’t help but disagree with him on the most crucial function of this port: its compatibility with the hardware, or at least the subjective nature of it. The game’s simplistic nature of crafting—i.e. building roads then selecting districts—lends itself very well to a controller. Cursor control is fluid and moves at a smooth pace so you always feel in control, coupled with a precise camera that allows you to really get a clear view of what you’re creating. Admin controls are delegated to the shoulder buttons (starting/stopping time, as well as cycling through building options) and everything feels convenient and easy to navigate.
And to be fair, while he does praise the controls, the line, “It’s hard to say if it’s better than the original controls” is what stands out to me because comparison is irrelevant—the controls work superbly on console and that’s what matters. Coming off of something like The Sims 4, it was genuinely refreshing to see how well this game has been adapted to console. You don’t feel like you’re struggling to navigate sidebar menus, or wrestling with an unwieldy cursor that thinks it’s still on mouse controls. You’re always in control, and as such, your creativity can thrive.
Much like its PC and Xbox One counterparts, Cities: Skylines looks amazing on the PS4 (granted it’s running in Unity so that’s not exactly a herculean task) with an impressive amount of detail despite some obvious graphical shortcuts. The game runs amazingly too, with absolutely no slowdown in even the most densely populated cities. At launch, Cities: Skylines came with two DLC add-ons: the “After Dark” addition which adds a day-to-night cycle and expanded options for nightlife building; and the “Snowfall” addition, which adds winter landscapes to build upon and the managing of a colder climate.
Cities: Skylines is an excellent game for anyone looking for a serious project, with an amazing zen-factor. Like Harvest Moon, or more recently Stardew Valley, there is nothing more satisfying than sowing the seeds of an idea and watching it grow into something prosperous.
A retail version of the game reviewed was provided by the publisher. You can find additional information about CGMagazine’s ethics and review policies and procedures here.
A lot of people haven’t opened up their hearts to survival games. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that a many of the games in that genre seem geared towards kids, but that hasn’t stopped me from playing plenty of cartoony titles enjoyed by people of all ages, from Skylanders and LEGO games to Minecraft. Portal Knights had that same allure, but after getting into it on the Switch, I found myself going back to other games that did it better.
Portals are literally the name of the game here, and the biggest gimmick. Your job as an adventurer—teeming with stereotypical items like health potions, swords, and pickaxes—is to defeat enemies, mine loot, and unlock more portals to find more worlds. It’s a cool little linear progression path locked away inside a non-linear sandbox conceit, and the idea is sound.
More of an emphasis is put on RPG progression rather than building, as you’re constantly encouraged to go see new lands and leave your old ones behind (to which you could return if you wanted). Quite simply, you’re at the mercy of RNG (random number generator). Some zones are less fun than others, and sometimes it’s a slog to gather up and craft all the portal stones you’ll need to proceed to the next area.
The random Gods do work out a favourable universe more often than not though, and the key to this are the diverse enemy attack styles. It’s fun to take on a bunch of different types of foes at once, especially after you’ve upgraded to a new fighting style yourself. Choosing an archetype at the start also cements the fact that your character is more than just a generic avatar. It’s not like combat is that deep, mind, it’s just more action-oriented with dodging and a 3D Zelda-esque lock-on feature.
Portal Knight‘s biggest sin is its bland style. I don’t mind so much that it looks uncharacteristic, if it did new and exciting things I can let that slide, but it’s tough to even distinguish items, terrain, and enemies from a gameplay standpoint. It doesn’t have the greatest controls, either. While it’s super easy to swap between items in Minecraft, the menus in Portal Knight feel bloated and sluggish in comparison. The soundtrack and generic sound effects are also just passing through.
There was the opportunity to provide players with a meaningful storyline here to build out their character, but it didn’t happen. While the narrative pops up every so often, it promptly disappears in turn, and as a result I feel even less connected to the world than I did at the start when I entered it all bright-eyed, attempting to save the populace from their fractured lives. The constant need to find and power portals breaks up the freedom of exploration a little too much.
If you do have a significant other, roommate, or child to play with, you’re probably going to get a little more mileage out of Portal Knights. Both online and local multiplayer options are available, and the former is great for connecting every so often to see how the RNG is treating someone. The exact same problems creep up though, and if one person grows tired of the sameness of it all, you’re probably just going to be taking a break.
Portal Knights has some great ideas, but they’re half-heartedly executed. Square Enix already came close to mastering the whole RPG plus creation genre with Dragon Quest Builders (the sequel is already confirmed for Nintendo Switch), and there are plenty of options available in either genre on the Switch already if you’re looking for something to play.
A retail version of the game reviewed was provided by the publisher. You can find additional information about CGMagazine’s ethics and review policies and procedures here.
The first and most important thing to know about Rocket League on the Switch is that it is ugly, and I am going to write UGLY in all capital letters to ensure that you know I am being serious about this. I know this will be considered sarcasm by some, but I am being completely literal when I say thatRocket League on the Nintendo Switch has the visual resolution of a poorly optimized smartphone game, and that’s upsetting to me. Most of what upsets me revolves around the fact that I am competitive when I play Rocket League and mushy graphics hamper my reaction time. Hampered reaction times leads you to be out of position, and being out of position often leads to losing. That said, I am also mad because I know that the Switch can do better than this.
Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey are both games with graphic levels that require prepositions to properly explain them. Specifically, the preposition for, as in Breath of the Wild and Odyssey looks pretty good for Nintendo Switch games. Zelda and Mario are not going to win any competition that focuses on graphics, but they both possess massive worlds, decent draw distances, and pretty graphics for a game you play on a small tablet computer. Alternatively, Rocket Leaguehappens in a series of small areas, and the graphics are so pixelated that it is hard to pick out the ball from across the stadium. In the face of the latest Zelda and Mario offerings, Rocket League’s cell phone graphics feel extremely out of place, even on the Switch.
Luckily, all versions of Rocket League highlight the ball with a white circle, so you can at least keep track of it that way; however, the fuzzy graphics completely obfuscate other players when they are on the opposite side of the field, so there was more then one time I wasn’t totally sure if someone had left before the game was over. To make matters worst, Rocket League on the Switch supports cross-platform play with the PC and Xbox One versions, so you are literally going up against people who have an advantage because they can see what is happening better than you can.
Beyond that issue, Rocket League on the Switch is exactly like all the other versions of the game I own. Anyone who has played Rocket League on the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One will feel right at home since the button layout are nearly identical. The menu, music, gameplay mechanics, car models—minus console specific vehicles—and HUD are identical to that of the Xbox One and PlayStation versions. The only real difference with the Switch version is that the Switch comes with a smaller set of thumb-sticks for portability reasons, so you will have to consider the difference with stick input when you play. There is also the fact that the Switch version comes with a pair of Nintendo themed cars that are full of sound effects from the franchises that they represent; however, I wouldn’t say that makes the Switch version different. The PlayStation 4 version comes with the Twisted Metal ice cream truck that Sweet Tooth drives, and the Xbox One version has a Halo Warthog in it.
Rocket League (Switch): gameplay image via Nintendo and Psyonix
Rocket League (Switch): gameplay image via Nintendo and Psyonix
In the end, this is not my favourite version of Rocket League, but it is one that you can enjoy. The gameplay is identical to the other versions in most ways, but the graphics of the Switch version are ugly. The resolution is so low that Rocket League on the Switch is my least favourite version. Especially since I found that the graphics did hamper my gameplay. That said, if you’re just looking to play a friendly game of Rocket League on the public transportation system, or if this is the only version you could buy, I would still suggest you play it. I would simply suggest that you play other versions first if given the chance.
I never really got into The Sims. I played the original way back in the day when it was released on the Gamecube, but I think I spent more time building a really cool house with the unlimited money cheat than actually playing the game. I thought MySims was kind of cute on the Wii, but other than that the series never really hooked me.
I just never saw the appeal of playing a game that tried to emulate the monotony of daily life, at least not without some kind of hook. Sure, Animal Crossing’s bread and butter is basically the monotony of everyday life, but at least that game lets you hang out with a talking cat in a Power Rangers helmet.
Going into The Sims 4, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. It’s been so long and there have been so many entries into The Sims franchise; who knew how much content could be packed into the 4th and most modern game? Unfortunately, what I got was a testament to tedium; I know The Sims has a pretty big fanbase, but playing this only made me question why.
From a gameplay perspective, The Sims 4 is about the same as I remember. You make a Sim, build a house, furnish it with the essentials and a few recreational items and then watch your Sim take part in the daily grind, repeatedly reminding it to eat, sleep, poop, and bathe. You get your Sim a job, help it to make friends, find love, all that fun stuff. And while I can see why theoretically that can be enjoyable to some people—and I’ll admit there is a certain addictiveness to it—what it boiled down to for me was a game about watching bars go down, and having to make sure they go back up.
That’s it. The Sims are the most needy creatures in video game history, and far beyond basic abilities such as eating when they need to, or going to the bathroom without your constant instruction. Managing one was beyond annoying, and got worse when my Sim had his girlfriend move in with him, and now I had to manage two of these complete buffoons. And beyond the basic necessity bars, the Sims have emotional quantifiers, so a hard day at work would make them stressed out and I would have to spend time I could’ve been using to better my Sim to calm him down with baths and venting to his girlfriend.
But the real problem with The Sims 4 on PS4 is how poorly optimized it is for console. It reeks of a game that takes the same interface as its PC counterpart and just slaps it on a controller. Icons are mapped to the corners of the screen, moving the joystick will cycle between them one by one like a badly designed NES password screen. Clicking the touchpad will shift you to “mouse mode” but the control of the mouse is pathetic, picking up a crazy amount of momentum at any prolonged hold and swinging wildly out of control. Menus and sub-menus are tedious to navigate—again, you can see how this would’ve worked had you had a mouse with proper control, but on a PS4 controller it’s an absolute chore.
And while this isn’t so bad while you’re playing the game proper, it’s beyond frustrating when trying to build anything in The Sims 4. Which is to say nothing of the pathetic camera controls while building; how walls and items swing out of place when turning the camera, the two camera angles you get that range from a slight 45 degree angle to Bird’s Eye View. How you need to click out of every menu if you want to undo or redo any action. My whole neighborhood consists of one single house, because I couldn’t fathom trying to build an entire community with these controls.
And The Sims 4 runs pretty pathetically too. It was particularly bad while in the “Build Mode; ”after building a pretty small house and putting, honestly only a few items into it, it began chugging at 10 frames per second and there were a few moments in the “Life Mode” where began to seize up. Shifting from the “Life Mode” to the “Build Mode” chugged so hard I honestly held my breath in anticipation of a crash. Sure the game looks fine, characters have a cartoonish style that removes them from reality and adds to the silliness of the whole Sims affair, and the music and sound quality isn’t bad, but that’s about it.
Oh and it’s definitely worth mentioning all the DLC that comes with The Sims 4, and by “comes with this game” I mean, EA allowing you the privilege to purchase DLC for a three-year-old game that is being re-released on consoles. This includes the $54 CDN “City Living Pack,” the $27 CDN “Vampire Pack”, and the $14 CDN “Vintage Glamor Pack.” One extra area, some costumes and “abilities” that you’re expected to buy again, to say nothing of the $80 CDN “Deluxe Party Edition” that doesn’t even come with any of these expansion packs.
Like I said, I know The Sims has its fans, and I could probably see why. Like Harvest Moonor Animal Crossing, there’s a certain amount of joy you get from creating something and watching it flourish. But I personally cannot understand the appeal. At the end of the day, it’s a game about watching bars deplete and then fill up with a half-decent house building minigame built in. Maybe I’d have enjoyed The Sims 4 more on PC, and maybe you would too. Skip this one.
Everything related to wrestling exists on a separate level of reality. There are two extremes: our real world and the fictional world that exists on WWE-produced television programming. But there’s also everything in between: social media posts, reality shows, media appearances, cameos by WWE wrestlers in other wrestling promotions, comic books, even spy novels! All of this detritus is of dubious continuity, but at least it’s all ancillary. You can just watch Monday Night Raw or SmackDown Live and feel like you had a relatively complete experience, you won’t miss anything if you don’t follow all the wrestlers on Twitter or whatever. That extra stuff only serves to fill the void between “real” and “fake”—the only two things that really matter in wrestling.
So where does WWE 2K18 fit? Does it take WWE canon as gospel? Is it a sports management-style game where you’re putting on a fictional show? WWE 2K18 is both and neither, fully embracing the identity crisis that has thus defined the 2K installments in the form of its MyCareer and WWE Universe modes…while doing little to fix the other problems inherent to the series thus far.
The WWE Universe mode is as close to an official Vince McMahon simulator as we’re ever going to get. It primarily operates in a reality close to our own. You can inherit the rosters & pay-per-view schedule from Raw, SmackDown, & NXT and let the AI run through whole years of feuds and championship matches if you want to follow the Prime Directive. Or you can really dig into the minutiae of the WWE; force certain wrestlers into rivalries with each other, set your own champions (and championships!) for each show, and even try and influence the outcome by choosing to actually play out some of the matches you’ve set up rather than let the AI fight it out.
Hell, you can even throw Raw and SmackDown out the window entirely and make your own shows, if you so desire! Why not stuff NXT full of create-a-wrestlers and let them fight it out? Make a show populated entirely with all the downloadable CM Punks that will surely clog the community creations for the next couple years. The only limits are your imagination! Your imagination andWWE 2K18 surprisingly limited customization options!
And yet, for all the options you potentially have as a player of WWE 2K18, WWE Universe is a trifle that got real old for me in record time. If you’re not playing each match, it’s just a never-ending stream of information bookended by loading screens. I have friends who swear by the mode, calling it a form of relaxation, and I get that! I really do, but since I kind of hate playing this game, I’ll have a better time just lying on a couch and fantasy booking in my head.
Ahh, I’ve tipped my hand with that “I hate playing this game” crack. The 2K WWE games have never really been my cup of tea, but WWE 2K18 might be the most player-unfriendly release this series has ever produced. The 2K games have never been “fun” to play, mostly because the wrestling centers around stamina & reversal meters, in order to approximate the pacing of a wrestling match you might see on television. All your moves pull from the stamina meter and all your counters pull from the reversal meter. In theory, this is so your opponent can get some offense in once your reversals are used up and vice versa. It’s another example of the game splitting the difference between “fake” and “real,” a mechanic that will theoretically replicate the necessary story beats in a match that is ostensibly presented as a legitimate athletic competition. In practice, it sucks. That foundation of trash remains intact for WWE 2K18, I’ve played 2K17 recently enough to remember how that game feels and I cannot name one positive change made in the intervening year.
All the little problems I had with the last game are back in WWE 2K18, like the wildly inconsistent targeting that almost ruins foreign objects (and completely ruins your standard moveset), the way you need to hit your opponents with at least three finishers before they’ll stay down, or the fiddly controls that require minute accuracy in order to execute the move you wanted to perform. At least Yuke’s decided to make things interesting by exacerbating a problem from last year: the awful reversal system! Yes, trying to predict when exactly the inconsistent counter prompt will appear is just as bad as last year—except now sometimes the prompt won’t appear at all, even if you have the timing down perfectly. I don’t know why this happens, nor do I know if this is an intentional change or a glitch. Lord, I hope it’s not the former. There’s a “game balancing” option in the main menu that can alter the AI routines to your exact specifications, but it shouldn’t be on the player to balance a game after it’s been released.
I can name some new things I don’t like, though! After all my whining about matches being limited to six wrestlers at a time from last year, the maximum wrestler count is up to eight in total in WWE 2K18! Conceptually, this is great. Two more wrestlers and we can start doing traditional Survivor Series 5-on-5 matches. Sadly, eight-person matches are unbelievably buggy. Eight-man tag matches drag on for a complete eternity, in part because the referees will often refuse to start counting, but also because every pinfall will be broken up by the other three chuckleheads on the opposing team. Don’t count on your teammates to help, though! They’ll just sit there and let your pinfall get broken up or leave you to get pinned—which, to be fair, is a problem with every tag match in this game. Also, don’t count on playing as the wrestler you chose to play as. When you make your first tag, control transfers to the person you just tagged in. This will only happen once, at the beginning of the match, and yet it managed to surprise me every time.
The Royal Rumble has also been changed from a merely uncomfortable experience to a torturous one. In this new Royal Rumble, winning is nearly impossible unless you enter after #25 or something. Every wrestler, no matter when they enter, no matter what else is happening in the ring, will make an immediate beeline towards you and start beating you senseless. If you have two people ganging up on you, then you won’t be able to counter their moves effectively because one of them will always be wailing on you while you’re similarly wailing on the reversal prompt. Your only hope is to wait for a grapple elimination, which is surprisingly easy to beat. If they put you against the ropes and start running towards you, good luck! You have a sliver of time to hit the reversal prompt, if you fail then you’re out.
The amount of sheer hatred I have for WWE 2K18’s Royal Rumble comes from the game’s MyCareer mode, where the game tasks you with A) winning the Rumble from the #1 spot and B) eliminating ten people. Here’s exactly how wild that objective is: nobody in the WWE has ever managed both feats in one rumble. 1997 Rumble winner Stone Cold Steve Austin came close, he did eliminate ten people and enter at the #5 spot, but he also cheated to win—he was technically eliminated himself.
Here’s how I beat it: I would wait for someone to enter, run towards them, knee them in the gut, pick them up, toss them over the rope onto the apron, interrupt their “get back in the ring” animation, punch them in the head repeatedly, they fall off and they’ve been eliminated. Rinse and repeat. If any of the first ten entrants managed to counter any of my punches, I had to restart. Managing the amount of people in the ring at any one time was the only way to win. I hope that sounds as mind-numbing as it was to play. There were many times where I would scrape all the way to #20, only to be knocked over the ropes in an instant.
This is really my only major complaint with the MyCareer mode, which is otherwise a massive improvement over last year. Yeah, the promos still suck, but overall the mode really works. I spent most of my time following the “Fan Favorite” (read: good guy) path, which put me in the good graces of people like Daniel Bryan and in the crosshairs of people like Triple H. There’s also a “Company Man” path, where you do whatever The Authority says in exchange for opportunities to move up the ladder.
Although the Company Man path straddles the line between “wrestling is real” and “wrestling is fake” in an entertaining way, I just couldn’t break away from my babyface roots. There were times when I wish I had, though. The Fan Favorite story is exactly what I was talking about earlier; it’s the WWE as gospel. MyCareer paints a picture of a shiny WWE where the magical interaction between Superstar and “the WWE Universe” (read: fans) can move mountains and get that beloved underdog their title shot and corresponding WrestleMania moment.
I’m being a little reductive here, so don’t let me dissuade you from the Fan Favorite story altogether. There’s some really neat story beats that I won’t exactly spoil, but all the flash and flavour is just recycled from other stories. There’s a little of everything in here: CM Punk vs. John Cena, The Rock vs. John Cena, Roman Reigns vs. Triple H, Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H, Drew McIntyre vs. Bobby Roode, Stone Cold vs. Vince McMahon, Seth Rollins vs. Kevin Owens/Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose/Roman Reigns, and I guess a little bit of Baron Corbin’s Unfortunate 2017 for good measure. If you recognize half the stories on that list, MyCareer will feel like a warm blanket—but if that was all nonsense, then MyCareer will feel like a fun underdog story.
MyCareer is a step in the right direction for sure, but I wish 2K’s WWE games could get a wild career mode like the 2K NBA games have enjoyed for years. I understand that WWE’s licensing requirements are likely pretty strict and you can’t exactly pull The Rock in to do a bunch of voices for your game, but these WWE games have to sell well enough, right? Put a little extra flair in your career mode! Move the camera around a little bit when the player isn’t wrestling! Have more structured rivalries, ideally with a little texture. Maybe if you & a rival keep using foreign objects, your next PPV match will be a no DQ match?
There are some cool story moments, but they all centre on “the Wrestling Things.” A first championship, a Money in the Bank win, a Royal Rumble victory, a WrestleMania moment—these are all expected from a wrestling story mode. They all hit the way they’re supposed to and it’s good that they’re in the game, but this series needs to start getting creative outside of those expected moments. The MyCareer mode is a misnomer; it’s not a career shaped by the player’s actions, it’s a story mode with two branching paths. Aesthetically, it’s a low-rent sports game mode that purports lots of freedom, but it has all the restraints of a structured campaign.
WWE 2K18 can look pretty nice under the right conditions, and the character models have really started to look like they were modeled rather than approximated in the game’s create-a-wrestler mode. The menus in particular look really striking, juxtaposed against moving freeze-frame dioramas of wrestlers in a ring performing their finishers. Improved menus are a good way to quickly communicate that you care about making a better game (yikes, remember the menus from 2K17?). This almost looks like a real $60 video game, but the amount of loading feels curious when you consider the extremely low-poly background characters and the relative lack of things to render when compared to other big-budget products. If the industry as a whole has decided that I have to dedicate a whole paragraph to how photorealistic things look, then I believe these expensive games with endless loading screens need to at least meet me halfway.
I have a lot of nitpicks about WWE 2K18, but there are so many of them that I feel they all add up to one full grievance. The menus look nice, but they’re poorly laid out. The hair still looks like garbage. The game needs to load faster, especially on a PS4 Pro, since there’s really not that much going on. I can never really get my create-a-wrestlers to where I want them to be, because it feels like they’re missing necessary face/head options. Batista and Rob Van Dam are DLC. There are four versions of Sting but one less version of Stone Cold. I had to manually give the NXT Women’s Championship to Niki Cross rather than WWE just giving her the belt like they already should’ve. The official KFC Colonel isn’t DLC, you have to download him from the crummy user created content service. The user created content service is still crummy.
And on and on, and so forth and so forth. I could complain about WWE 2K18 all day. And I will! MyCareer doesn’t have some kind of “unlock all” button so I can set the Acid Rainmaker as my finisher instantly rather than hoping to find it in a loot box. Old Goldberg isn’t in the game. Many performers, like Edge, Goldberg, and Daniel Bryan, don’t have full modern Titantrons, which is weird because those definitely exist thanks to appearances like Edge’s SmackDown 900 entrance or longer runs like Goldberg’s Universal title reign. Too many good wrestlers are locked behind DLC. Kevin Owens’ “The New Face of America” Titantron is already out of date and there’s not an option for his standard Titantron. The previous theme songs for Raw and SmackDown have been replaced with some new garbage, despite WWE owning the missing songs. You can’t change the visual filter in a one-off match, so if you want to play a match with the 8-bit filter you have to create your own show and arena and choose that arena in the match options. I think that’s it. I’ll get back to you if I’ve forgotten anything.
If you’ve got a lot of free time and some like-minded friends, there’s certainly value in WWE 2K18 as a comedy game. Hop into the creation suite, make some ridiculous create-a-wrestlers, and have them duke it out online with your friends’ creations. My create-a-wrestler version of The Bye Bye Man has never looked better, and I’m excited to see what my pals come up with.
I appreciate that there’s stuff to do in this year’s WWE installment, even if it’s not perfect. I appreciate MyCareer’s dedication to its own mythology, even if the overall story is a bit toothless. I appreciate the wealth of options WWE Universe provides you, even if its appeal wears off quickly. I appreciate the better lighting and texturing, even if most of the game still looks crappy.
But conversely, between the Rumble, the glitches, the loading screen, my nitpick manifesto, and the wrestling—which, need I remind you, is reportedly the cornerstone of this wrestling game—there’s very little to ultimately recommend about WWE 2K18. This is a better game, but just because it’s better doesn’t mean it’s good.