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Shovel Knight is defined by its likeness to games from the era of 8-bit consoles. It takes inspiration from games like Mega Man and Ducktales not only in its pixel- and pitch-perfect audiovisual aesthetic, but also in its mechanics–Shovel Knight is a resolutely unforgiving 2D platformer. Peril is almost always present on screen–be it a bottomless pit or a tough enemy that can quickly whittle down your health–making this a game that demands your undivided attention as much as it does your quick reflexes. Specter of Torment is the latest expansion to Shovel Knight, a prequel that’s available as a standalone campaign on Nintendo Switch or a free update to those who already own the main game, and it follows the titular Specter Knight as he sets out to gather an army for the series’ primary antagonist, The Enchantress.
Specter Knight’s default skillset is dramatically more varied than that of Shovel Knight, with a focus on the lightness and dexterity of his character, as opposed to Shovel Knight’s heavier, brute-force feel. Specter Knight has an innate ability to wall jump, mount ledges, and vertically scale walls for a short time. Most significantly, Specter has the ability to perform a mid-air scythe dash on enemies and certain environmental objects, an attack which sends him flying at an angle and is used for traversal as much as it is for offence.
The execution of these moves is simple, requiring nothing more than a timely press of the attack or jump buttons, and together they make Specter feel like a powerfully agile character who is a joy to control. But with these abilities come more difficult challenges in Specter of Torment’s new platforming levels. Unlike Shovel Knight, whose stages gradually grew in difficulty and were gated in an overworld map style reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 3, Specter of Torment presents you with the full selection of what I personally found to be equally-challenging stages and their accompanying boss fights, available to be tackled in any order in a structure more reminiscent of the Mega Man series.
Bottomless pits and other instant-death hazards feel more abundant in Specter of Torment, and proceeding forward almost always involves more than just careful jumping. Stages often require you to chain a series of movements together in order to keep Specter Knight airborne for extended periods of time over treacherous ground, and one fumbled execution could mean a complete do-over. You might climb the side of a wall to get you just enough height to wall-jump towards a series of swinging chandeliers, letting you scythe-dash into each one and eventually fling yourself across the room to mantle an opposing wall. Managing to reach a checkpoint after perfectly overcoming a series of obstacles without fumbles or fatalities is always a thrilling relief. The dexterous demands of performing these moves means that progress always feels satisfying and well-earned, even when it feels second-nature.
Each themed stage adds its own unique mechanical twists to the game’s platforming which need to be internalised too. There are some incredibly memorable ones such as scythe surfing, which sees Specter Knight ride his scythe like a skateboard and grind rails to move through stages at speed–but otherwise the majority will be familiar to those who have played the main Shovel Knight game, albeit with minor twists to better accommodate Specter’s abilities. This is unsurprising, given the game’s prequel nature and the appearance of many of the same characters and worlds, but the new level designs still feel more demanding.
Specter of Torment also features many of the same formidable level bosses as the original Shovel Knight, and although many of the battles with them seem a bit too similar to their previous appearances, some are altered significantly to make the most of Specter’s mobility, and can come as an enjoyable surprise to those familiar. The fight with Propeller Knight, for example, no longer takes place on a static platform, but in the midst of many tiny, cascading airships, requiring you to continually scramble upwards while dodging attacks.
The completion of each level allows you to purchase additional Curios, Specter of Torment’s unique version of Shovel Knight’s Relics, which allow for the use of special abilities at the cost of a consumable meter. Each Curio has its own distinct use to aid in the dispatching of enemies or to ease the burden of traversal. For example, the Hover Plume gives Specter Knight the ability to float in mid-air for a short duration, and Judgement Rush allows Specter to ignore pits and walls and teleport directly to an enemy. Each tool adds an interesting new facet to the way you can approach Specter of Torment’s levels, but the entirety of the game can be completed without using them. I found that relying on Curios diminished the sense of satisfaction that came from overcoming difficult obstacles using only Specter Knight’s base skillset, and tended to avoid them.
Much of what made the original Shovel Knight a success can also be found in Specter Knight. Level designs also cleverly act as intuitive tutorials, demonstrating the possibilities and limits of what you can and can’t do in particular stages without explicit explanation. Shovel Knight’s penchant for rewarding exploration is also still present. Secret paths and areas are strewn throughout the game’s stages and hub world. Some are obvious, but some can come as a small surprise to those who are willing to push the limits of the traversal abilities. The game’s checkpoint system–which allows you to actually destroy a checkpoint for monetary reward at the risk of having to re-traverse more of the level upon death–is still a clever mechanic. And Shovel Knight’s sense of humor and charm still manage to shine through, despite Specter of Torment’s more melancholic tone. Small moments like watching a reunited skeleton couple perform a waltz, playing with a cat, or simply enjoying the lighthearted dialog of NPCs provide nice moments of levity.
While it only took us a few hours in total to complete the game’s story mode, Specter of Torment felt well-paced and never unnecessarily short. The density of challenge contained within its individual stages meant that I was always entirely concentrated on the next obstacle, but Specter of Torment attempts to pace its demands on your mental state every few levels with short, interactive narrative interludes that serve as an enjoyable prequel to this prequel campaign. Specter of Torment also offers a new game plus option upon completion with a slightly more demanding health mechanic, and also offers a challenge mode which presents a variety of platforming and boss fight trials under strict restraints.
Specter of Torment is a finely-crafted 2D platformer that is satisfying in all respects. Simply controlling Specter Knight–flying through the air and slicing through enemies–is a joy in itself, and being able to push your ability to control these skills in overcoming the game’s cleverly-designed and challenging levels is always an exhilarating feeling. Specter of Torment is a focussed, polished, and satisfyingly challenging game that’s well worth experiencing whether or not you’ve had the pleasure of playing Shovel Knight.
Since both Nintendo and Sony seem intent on not continuing their line of revered hovercraft racers (F-Zero and WipeOut), it’s good to know other developers are happy to pick up the slack. Witness Fast RMX, a digital-only launch title for the Switch, that fills this niche nicely. Astute racings fans may recognize this as the semi-sequel to the excellent if boringly named Wii U racer, Fast Racing Neo (itself the sequel to the Wii game, Fast Racing).
Admittedly, it’s likely not many will recognize this series at all, but given the dearth of launch titles for the Switch, maybe the game will finally get its due. Fast RMX resembles WipeOut, but plays more like F-Zero with its looser, more casual steering and physics. It’s a solid middleground between the two games, with some outrageously designed tracks and a frantic sense of speed.
For those who did play Fast Racing Neo, it should be noted this is essentially an upgraded version. It contains the previous game’s 24 tracks (including the DLC content) and adds six new tracks. This new version sports the same vehicles, three speed-based leagues, and game modes with the except of time trials, which are due to be added later. In Lieu of any world building or story, your only options are to hit the track for a quick race or work your way up the ranks in championship mode. Pick your speed machine of choice and head out to a variety of exotic and futuristic locales to take on the best of the best.
Fast RMX tracks represent a varied array of themes. You can race through sharp and shiny chrome-filled urban sprawls, ice-covered landscapes, jungles, deserts, outer space, and more. Environmental effects ranging from storms to asteroid strikes add flair as well, and make your task slightly more difficult than usual. Tracks typically feature roller coaster-like designs, with looping roads and massive jumps. At times, the tracks seem designed more for effect than skill, however, with off-kilter obstacles like hard to avoid giant turbines and jumps that are too disjointed and easy to crash against, especially when racing in the game’s fastest leagues.
These races are brought to life with exceptionally good graphics–this is easily the best looking game on the Switch (at launch) next to Zelda. Vehicles are creatively designed and detailed, and the myriad of locations look terrific. The game also runs at 60 fps/1080p on your TV, even when playing split-screen multiplayer. The audio is more serviceable than exceptional, with an expected, if standard techno soundtrack.
The overall structure of the racing is a bit odd. The championship mode consists of three leagues (or speed classes), but all use the same 30 tracks. You only get one shot at placing in the top three on any given track within a championship, which makes the lack of a practice mode (or time trial) regrettable. Unlocking tracks in the championship mode also leads to the ‘Hero’ mode, where you have one life to race on a single track and must place first.
In Hero mode, your boost energy also powers your shield, so there’s an interesting dynamic between gaining more speed and preserving your ship. This all amounts to an intense alternative to the standard racing of the championship mode.
There are no weapons in Fast RMX, but absorbing energy from special pads on the track is vital. Energy comes in two flavors–blue and orange. You can phase shift your ship’s energy field at any time between the two colors and the idea is to hit a pad with the corresponding field activated. So, hitting a blue energy pad while your ship is blue, gives you a massive turbo boost. Crossing a blue pad while your ship is orange will result in a loss of speed. Fast RMX gets a lot of mileage out of forcing you alternate phases in rapid succession, and makes the already fast races feel slightly more energetic.
Multiplayer support includes both eight player online and four-player split screen support, in addition to local online (where each Switch owner needs their own copy of the game). The split-screen play is excellent and highly customizable to get exactly the type of race you want. Online play works smoothly, but just throws you into a random game. Aside from players voting on the next track, there are virtually no options. There’s not even an ability to find friends or choose leagues yet.
So, Fast RMX isn’t as polished as the games it’s trying hard to emulate, but certainly isn’t a wash. It’s fast, looks excellent, and offers a great variety of tracks. The racing is fun, even if some of the track design is less than stellar. If the online multiplayer gets patched with more customization options, this will also make an excellent addition to the Switch’s scarce multiplayer options.
From its mysterious opening to its action-packed conclusion, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a revolution for Nintendo’s revered series. It’s both a return to form and a leap into uncharted territory, and it exceeds expectations on both fronts. The game takes designs and mechanics perfected in other games and reworks them for its own purposes to create something wholly new, but also something that still feels quintessentially like a Zelda game. It’s a truly magical work of art that embodies Nintendo’s unique talents, and a game that everyone should play regardless of their affinity for the series’ past.
More than a typical Hyrule fantasy, Breath of the Wild is a daunting survival game that forces you to think in entirely new ways. You have to be cautious, creative, and resourceful in your efforts to battle the wilderness. Outside of armor, you have to source everything from the field. You earn new weapons by stealing from enemies and prepare restorative meals and elixirs by combining resources found in the environment. Death comes quickly, and whether it’s at the hand of a formidable enemy or because you charged unprepared down a treacherous path, you’re forced to reconsider almost everything you’ve learned from past Zelda games. There’s so much to see, to accomplish, and to learn that you never feel like you have control over the world. This is a great thing. Where so many games front-load excitement and wonder, Breath of the Wild sustains the thrill of unexpected discoveries throughout.
Amazement sets in immediately after emerging from a tomb-like cave where the familiar hero Link has spent the last 100 years in hibernation. When he trots to the edge of a cliff and the new, massive Hyrule comes into view, you’re faced with the striking scale of the world, which is by far the largest the series has ever seen. You will cross vast plains and towering mountains to achieve your goals, all the while contending with harsh weather and Link’s physical limitations. Despite a few instances of frame rate dips, Hyrule is consistently impressive to behold, triggering bliss and excitement in equal measure.
You begin your series-standard quest to defeat Ganon and rescue Princess Zelda with little more than a tree branch to defend yourself from roaming goblins. However, it doesn’t take long to build up a diverse arsenal. Nearly every enemy carries a weapon or a shield, and if you can beat them, their gear is yours for the taking. This is also a godsend given that every weapon has finite durability. You will blow through dozens if not hundreds of weapons during your adventure, which no doubt feels strange at first, especially since gear often defined your progress in previous Zelda games. It can feel crushing when a particularly cool weapon is destroyed mid-battle, but you learn to move on. There’s no shortage of new gear to discover, and though you aren’t able to utilize a consistent stable of familiar weapons, you learn to expect that for every one you’ve lost, there’s something better coming down the road.
In practice, the weapon you wield is important but not necessarily as important as how you control it. Enemies are intelligent and utilize wildly different tactics that force you to diligently study every aspect of their behavior. Basic enemies can be toppled through careful use of a shield, but there are harder enemies that will destroy this defense in a single hit. In these cases, it’s imperative that you parry or dodge an attack at just the right time, which will trigger a moment of slow-motion that allows you to unleash a flurry of attacks against your vulnerable foe. These moves are your last line of defense when the going gets tough, and they require precise timing to execute. Given the myriad enemies and weapons you’re up against, mastery feels almost unattainable even with substantial practice. However, that also means you are constantly learning in the face of unforeseen challenges.
There are innumerable unexpected events that can happen. The game never teaches you, for example, that holstering your shield after blocking enemy arrows will add them to your inventory. You’re never told that grazing an enemy’s wooden weapon with a fire arrow by accident will set it ablaze, thus making the fight harder for you in the long run. These occurrences fuel exciting stories between players, which feels like a rarity in a world where games go so far out of the way to ensure that you know how everything works. Even 50 hours in–and after you’re capable of bringing down Ganon–there are still intimidating enemies to be found and intricate rules to study. Your power and wisdom grow as you progress, but you never feel totally invincible, which allows even late-game exploration to be feel tense and rewarding.
Beyond weaponry, Link gains access to magical skills known as runes. These include the ability to move metallic objects with a magical tether, which can be useful for, among other tricks, dropping large iron boxes on unsuspecting enemies. Link can also freeze enemies and objects in place for a limited amount of time. When an object is frozen, it absorbs energy rather than reacting immediately to whatever force you lay into it. And when time unfreezes, all that collected force is exerted in an instant. This allows you to move objects that are otherwise too heavy for Link to control, and gives you a chance to strike a defenseless enemy multiple times without fear of reprisal. Runes prove to be a wonderful source of creativity and problem solving, both in combat and when managing puzzles.
The game’s four main dungeons are primarily puzzle focused, with only a few enemies sprinkled throughout. They are a bit unusual compared to dungeons in past Zelda games in that you aren’t focused on finding keys to open doors. Instead, the goal is to manipulate the dungeon itself, to literally change its form in order to access important areas. It’s a wonderful break from tradition, while you still get a challenging boss battle to look forward to at the end. Gone are the oddly charming bosses from Zelda’s past; they’ve been replaced with dark and twisted fiends that are powerful combatants. Like your fights against normal enemies, you have to move and act deliberately, or suffer for your cockiness.
Breath of the Wild’s big dungeons are important, but they are almost less of a draw than the smaller shrines that dot the world. There are reportedly 100 of these mini-dungeons strewn across the map, and the vast majority of them feature puzzles that test your understanding and mastery of Link’s rune abilities. Some can be completed in a few minutes, but there are plenty more containing extensive, multi-step processes. Compared to roughing it in nature, these brain teasers are an excellent respite, and make great use of Breath of the Wild’s impressive physics system. Figuring out what to do is only half the battle. The rest comes down to precise execution. Therefore, solving even simple puzzles can feel immensely rewarding.
When you look across Hyrule in search of your next destination, the faint orange glow of a new shrine is difficult to ignore. They are one of many distractions that cause you to veer off track. Seeking them out won’t help you complete the game any faster–not that you should rush through Breath of the Wild in the first place–but they are rewarding opportunities that expose you to the far corners of Hyrule, where you often catch whiffs of something new and mysterious laying in wait.
Somewhat surprisingly, exploration often proves far more challenging than combat or puzzle solving. Link travels primarily on foot, and he can sprint as long as his stamina meter allows before having to catch his breath. Link can also climb vertical surfaces like cliffs and walls now, but again, he’s at the mercy of his physical strength. Exploration may be a struggle at times due to Link’s limitations and harsh weather that hinders his capabilities, but to avoid long treks is to rob yourself of some of the best moments of discovery in Breath of the Wild, and the sense of satisfaction you feel for overcoming its most foreboding environments. Equipping metal weapons and armor will turn Link into a veritable lightning rod, and if you’re climbing a mountain when it starts to rain, you won’t be able to climb more than a few feet before losing your grip and sliding back down. Bring a wooden shield to the fiery slopes of Mount Eldin, and watch it set ablaze on your back while Link’s health slowly slips away.
Hyrule is a beautiful world to behold from the top of a mountain, but perching Link on high has other benefits. In addition to runes, Link obtains a paraglider early on in the game, which he then carries with him at all times. It’s useful when you fall off a tall building or cliff, but it’s also a source of levity after taxing fights and daunting hikes. Your reward for scaling a mountain or tower is the opportunity to soar through the sky and cross large tracts of land with your glider. And if you’re skillful, you can use your shield as a veritable snowboard to glide down grassy hills and frozen slopes. Granted, Link can surf down hills at any time as long as his shield can handle the wear and tear, but it’s especially gratifying to drop onto a slope after flying over a massive canyon or a dense forest and coast into a town in style.
The few towns that exist in the new Hyrule mimic the understated and rural qualities seen in Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke. Equally charming are the hikers you meet on trails. These lonely yet upbeat adventurers offer humorous quips, or perhaps a side quest with a quirky premise. You spend so much time fighting to survive, all while under the cloud of your impending fight with the dark and powerful Ganon. By contrast, your interactions with NPCs are opportunities to slow down and help out a friendly stranger in need. Though you have an overarching goal in mind, Breath of the Wild’s delightful distractions often prove to be its most memorable moments.
If you’ve ever hiked deep into the wilderness and found yourself awash in wonderment and perhaps guilt for living a life steeped in modern indulgences, Breath of the Wild’s reverence for the natural world will strike a chord. It’s the way the rising sun graces blades of grass as you climb a steep hill. It’s the flutter of a few well-timed piano notes that dance in your ear and harmonize with your internal childlike amazement. And it’s the unwavering delight and excitement that each new discovery brings. It can come when you reveal a new portion of the world map and find a curious landmark, but there’s an almost endless stream of smaller discoveries to make as you move about Hyrule.
No matter how gorgeous its environments are, how clever its enemies are, and how tricky its puzzles get, the fact that Breath of the Wild continues to surprise you with newfound rules and possibilities after dozens of hours is by far its most valuable quality. It’s a game that allows you to feel gradually more and more empowered yet simultaneously manages to retain a sense of challenge and mystery–which, together, creates a steady, consistent feeling of gratification throughout the entire experience. Breath of the Wild is a defining moment for The Legend of Zelda series, and the most impressive game Nintendo has ever created.
Update March 2: Additional information about the Switch version of the game has been added to the bottom of the review.
I’ve always thought of the Skylanders series as gateway titles for the next generation of gamers, with the series’ kid-friendly aesthetic and forgiving difficulty serving as gentle introductions to the wider world of games. Skylanders Imaginators is, in that sense, an obvious, almost inevitable next step. With Imaginators, the Skylanders go further along along the gaming evolutionary path, adding RPG-like staples such as full character customisation, loot drops, and a more complex stats system for your weapons/gear. It’s a welcome move for the franchise, as it adds a compelling twist to the tried-and-true Skylanders formula.
It’s an twist that’s ended up being the redeeming quality for for this latest instalment. Imaginators is, at its core, a pretty standard action platformer, and it comes up lacking when compared to the more varied and vividly imaginative recent games in the series (Superchargers and Trap Team). But that new level of customisation and the ability to constantly tinker with your character makes it feel like a different experience. This makes Imaginators the most interesting Skylanders to play in years, even if it’s not the most fun.
It all starts with characters, or in this case, the ability to create your own Skylander from scratch. To create a Skylander, you’re going to need a creation crystal, one of the new sets of physical toys that will debut with this year’s game. Like other Skylander toys, placing a creation crystal on the real-world Skylanders portal will bring whatever character is saved onto the crystal into your game. Each crystal has a specific element attached to it (such as life, earth, undead, and so on), and the first thing you’ll have to choose is what class you want your new Skylander to be. These classes fit gaming’s broad archetypes such as brawlers, ranged specialists, mages, and more, and are forever locked once you make your initial decision (you can, however, change your character’s looks at any time).
This is where the tricky topic of commerce in the Skylanders series enters the conversation. Choosing a character class is actually a pretty big decision in Imaginators, as the classes are distinct enough that your playstyle will be impacted by class. I played most of the game as a Bazooker class, which specialises in ranged explosives, and switching over to a more melee-focused Brawler class at certain points forced me to significantly alter my approach to combat situations. Of course, with your class locked to a creation crystal, you’ll need to buy more if you want to play as any of the others. Buying new toys to experience more of the game is a Skylanders tradition, and while there’s a huge amount of content here that can be accessed with just the basic starter packs, that commercial element of the franchise remains the same.
To its credit, the game doesn’t limit your ability to change how your character looks at any point. Imaginators doesn’t quite have the same level of customisation depth as say, something like a WWE 2K17 or a Skyrim, but what is there is pretty expansive. You can choose body parts from a wide selection of preset choices, tinker with the coloring of individual pieces, select the pitch and tone of your character’s voice, change their battle music, and more. All of this customisation makes for a system where you can create a Skylander that feels pretty unique, and that you can easily get attached to because of the level of care you can pour into its creation. My favorite piece of customisation was the ability to change catchphrases; it always brought a smile to my face every time Nuggets, my Bazooker character, screamed out “I’m crazy for my muscles” before heading into battle.
Your created characters can equip weapons and gear, and while gear isn’t anything new in a Skylanders game, the frequency of drops has significantly increased, making the loot experience here more akin to a less intense version of a Diablo or Destiny. Defeating bosses, completing objectives, or even just making it to certain areas all result in dropped chests that contain loot (ranked common, rare, epic, or ultimate), and this loot isn’t restricted to just gear. New body parts, catchphrases, and even sound effects will also drop, giving you the option to continually tinker with your character’s look if you feel the urge to do so.
My seven-year-old son–who I played a lot of the Imaginators campaign with–certainly did, and he would continually (or more accurately, annoyingly) stop to equip a new shoulder guard, or swap in a new tail for his character, or change the size and shape of said character completely. As for me, the tinkering became fairly infrequent as the game wore on. Outside of the novelty of a cool new body part, I found little reason to swap out gear and weapons (the only things that actually make a difference to your character’s stats) after the halfway point in the game, thanks to generous drops that bestowed several ultimate-level pieces of loot fairly early on. A better, more restrictive loot drop system would make Imaginators a more compelling experience for grown-up gamers, but from my focus group of one (ie, my son), the target audience seems to be in love with the constant stop-and-swap feel that this game provides.
It’s a pity, then, that all of this customisation is limited to your created characters, and not to the wider cast of both new and existing Skylanders. There’s no way to equip any of the dropped gear or weapons on any non-player created characters, so any old Skylander toys you may have don’t benefit from the most significant additions that Imaginators brings. The new range of figures released for this year’s game–called Senseis–do feature special ultimate moves that are both flashy and impactful, but compared to the cool new personalisation options you have with created characters, the Senseis and any plain old Skylanders come off as rather dull.
If it wasn’t for the customisation options and the constant allure of what the next loot drop will bring, Imaginators too would come off as a little dull. That’s not to say it’s boring; Imaginators’ lengthy campaign is a pleasing enough romp, but it’s one that leans a little heavily on tried and true action platformer tropes. Simple puzzles, basic platforming, and multi-stage boss fights abound, and there are only a few instances where Imaginators breaks out of this traditional mold. It’s not groundbreaking in any sense, and certainly feels like the most rote Skylanders experience in a while.
A better, more restrictive loot drop system would make Imaginators a more compelling experience for grown-up gamers.
But that new level of character personalisation elevates Imaginators from being decidedly average. The game also allows you to take your character into the real world, with a phone app that allows you take your console creation and order actual t-shirts, physical cards (that contains your character data and act like a Skylander toy when you place it on a portal), and even a 3D-printed toy (apparently in very limited quantities). It’s not something I’ve tried yet, but given the close bond I feel with my character Nuggets, it may be something I do soon. With Imaginators, the Skylanders series isn’t pushing any gaming boundaries, but at least it has character.
Update March 2: Skylanders Imaginators is being released as one of the Nintendo Switch’s launch titles, and in terms of features and content it’s similar to its other console platforms. What is different, though, is how you interact with the game’s physical toys. The Switch version of Imaginators has no physical portal, and instead you’ll use the Switch controllers’ built-in NFC reader to scan in your toys/characters. The characters will then be added to your roster, and can be accessed at any point during the game without having to rescan them in. The advantage, of course, is that it plays to the mobile nature of the Switch, allowing you to take Imaginators on the road without having to lug all your Skylander toys with you. The downside is the loss of that important, tactile feel of swapping your toys as your mood takes you. It slightly lessens that connection you have with the physical, toy side of the franchise, but doesn’t impact the overall quality of the game itself.
1-2-Switch, by its very nature, lacks depth. A collection of 28 minigames brings with it broad appeal in its variety–activities include shooting cowboys, strumming an air guitar, cradling a baby to sleep, and more–but little in the way of long-lasting fun or replay value. Wii Sports faced the same problem 10 years ago, and solved it by basing its party games on real-world activities that were enjoyable in themselves before distilling them to simple, satisfying mechanics that were approachable for anyone and everyone. In swinging for the same pitch, 1-2-Switch misses as often as it hits, but it is nevertheless huge fun in the right environment.
Like Wii Sports, 1-2-Switch exists to demonstrate the capability of the hardware it launches with. Many of its minigames, such as the Harry Potter-vs-Voldemort-inspired Wizard, the swing fest Sword Fight, or the catwalk simulator Runway, seek to show off the Joy-Cons’ impressive motion tracking by wrapping them in quirky and competitive activities, while also being easy to pick-up-and-play on the move.
While Wizard’s TV-based mirroring of your real-world duel means it works well, many of the other motion-based games–especially Table Tennis and Baseball–suffer due to the lack of a visual aid. Hitting a ball between two players is tricky when there’s no ball–physical or virtual–to hit. These games rely on timing and the ability to hear a fastball coming your way, but the timing often seems random, and in a party setting peace and quiet is rarely the most plentiful commodity–more than a slight problem for a party game. This lack of feedback leads to a frustrating loss or a hollow win. Either way, these minigames are the ones relegated to the bottom of the pile. Far better are those that use the Joy-Cons’ motion as a supplement to the controllers’ HD rumble capacity and the TV screen. Safe Crack and Joy-Con Rotation both use the tiny pads’ accelerometers and vibrations to great effect while simultaneously giving you helpful, and aesthetically attractive, cues on-screen.
1-2-Switch really shines, however, when it has you look away from the TV and into the eyes of your opponent. Quick Draw, which tests who owns the quicker trigger finger, and Samurai Training, in which one player must correctly predict the swing of and then catch their opponent’s sword, are both captivating and hilarious in equal measure. These can still suffer in a noisy environment, but the immediately more social and engaging prospect of staring into your friend’s (read: enemy’s) soul as you whack them on the head with a pretend sword is a joy. Locking eyes with an opponent, spaghetti western soundtrack blaring, hand hovering over your trusty Nintendo-branded ‘revolver,’ ears peeled for the “FIRE” command–you could cut the tension with a Joy-Con, and that makes it even funnier when you unintentionally hurl your controller across the room. Serves me right for ignoring the wrist straps, I guess.
1-2-Switch really shines when it has you look away from the TV and into the eyes of your opponent.
Eye contact is also key to a number of 1-2-Switch’s more suggestive games. In a somewhat surprising move for the usually resolutely family-focused company, Nintendo has produced a title whose high points are often centred around euphemisms of–shall we say–‘lewd acts.’ Milk sees you pull on the teats of a virtual cow, Eating Contest sees you hold a Joy-Con close to your face to eat a footlong sub, and Soda Shake has you shaking an imaginary bottle of pop until it bursts, showering its shakers. These minigames are all dressed up innocently enough, of course, but are quite clearly designed to cultivate thoughts of a rather more X-rated nature. Some may call it a vulgar attempt to please both knowing adults and unsuspecting kids with double entendres, but seeing your friends’ faces as they realize what hand gestures they’re making serves up some of the funniest moments 1-2-Switch has to offer.
Unfortunately, even these highlights wear thin all too soon when playing with the same people. 1-2-Switch’s considerable breadth (there are plenty of activities to try) but lack of depth (those activities are mostly shallow) is reflected in its lasting appeal. Every new person I introduced to the game enjoyed their time with it, and my buzz was vicariously renewed with every initiation. But playing any one minigame more than a handful of times with those same people leads to that buzz fading rapidly. The innuendo-laden games suffer most from this since they’re a one-note joke–a funny one, but one-note nonetheless. The only ones to survive the effect of diminishing returns are those that either have a layer of strategy–Samurai Training and Fake Draw (identical to Quick Draw but the announcer will fool you with red herrings like “FRUIT” or “FILE”)–or have a high score component. Even this is a wasted opportunity; no leaderboards or Wii Sports-style skill level trackers mean you only find out what the record for the quickest shot is when you break it, starving 1-2-Switch of any meaningful meta-competition element.
1-2-Switch, then, feels a little like a wasted opportunity. Many of its minigames are duds that are too limited to be fun on their first attempt, let alone their 100th, and the remainder mostly don’t have the depth to maintain a consistent enough high to warrant many playthroughs with the same crowd. There’s no doubt 1-2-Switch should have been packed in with the Nintendo Switch, and the decision to sell it separately goes against every fibre of its varied-but-shallow DNA. But 1-2-Switch, at its best, delivers some hilarious moments. Seeing an uninitiated friend milk a cow, looking into your dad’s eyes as you beat him to the trigger in Quick Draw, and making a fool of yourself strutting down Runway’s catwalk is all amazing fun, even if it is short-lived.
Does it live up to Wii Sports? Not a chance. But that doesn’t stop 1-2-Switch being an entertaining minigame collection–just make sure you’ve got enough willing friends to maintain your own fading high.
When it comes to ambition, it’s impossible to fault Ride 2. It seeks to combine the thrill of riding a motorbike–that sense of exhilarating exposure that comes from hurtling across tarmac without the insulation inherent to sitting in a car–with the form and depth of the likes of Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport.
It’s an admirable goal, an attempt to give bike lovers the same kind of exhaustive outing that car nuts have been spoilt with for years. And considering developer Milestone had the original Ride to gain experience and test the design philosophy, it’s more than reasonable to expect this sequel to offer something slick and highly tuned.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Ride 2 stutters at first gear and that awkward first spin off the line plagues the rest of the journey.
One of the great achievements of both Forza and Gran Turismo is that they instil a sense of aspiration among their players. We want to move through the ranks, to earn cash and unlock new vehicles. These games tempt us to learn new skills and put them to the test across new tracks and against more accomplished opponents, online and off. This aspirational drive provides the motivation for self-improvement and when we’re rewarded for achieving as much we feel good about ourselves. The cycle of effort, reward, and satisfaction is in place.
Ride 2 offers only the effort portion of this cycle thanks to a series of mishaps that consistently undermine your time spent with it. A uninteresting presentation results in muted enjoyment at every turn, the in-game financial model forces you to grind through your career in the most restrictive, stilted manner possible, and despite the huge number of available bikes it doesn’t take long for a sense of repetition to rise to the surface.
Individually, none of Ride 2’s problems are drastic enough to be game breakers. In unison, however, their collective impact is impossible to overlook.
The in-helmet camera is just one example of an admirable goal being poorly executed. Racing from this perspective is fine when you’re travelling in a straight line, but as soon as you make even the slightest attempt to turn your entire view is warped in such a way as to create an unwelcome and unforgivable disconnect between what your brain expects and what your eyes are telling it.
Your helmet stays static and straight, even as your bike–visible at the bottom of the screen–leans into and out of corners. This has the effect of making it feel as though you, as the rider, exist in a completely separate space to your bike and you soon develop a distrust of the visuals as a means to communicate whether you should be heavier or lighter on the analogue stick. Not ideal for a game with simulation ambitions.
World Tour is where most of the single player content is stored, its combination of events and challenges tied into a system of earning money in order to upgrade and purchase new bikes. It’s a straightforward affair of the kind that has been seen many times before, but it’s the way its finer points work (or don’t) that prevents it from satisfying.
Upon completing the game’s initial tutorial you’re asked to choose your first bike from a small selection of different kinds, from dirt to road bikes. From there you move on to choose which event you’re going to enter as the first of your career, but there’s no indication as to what your selected bike is eligible for until you’re deep into the multitude of menu layers.
Couple this with an excessive number of loading screens and you’re left with an initial user experience that does everything to convince you to stop playing before you’ve even started to compete. The dreadful voiceover that plays over the World Tour intro video offers little in the way of charm, either, as does the soulless shop housing new bikes.
Individually, none of Ride 2’s problems are drastic enough to be game breakers. In unison, however, their collective impact is impossible to overlook.
Acquiring new bikes is essential to progression and engaging in the potential for diversity that such a broad range of vehicles allows. The problem here is that new bikes are not cheap in comparison to earnings for winning races, and your initial hardware doesn’t keep up with the competition for long. As such, you soon find yourself racing like a menace in order to give yourself a chance at a podium finish and lining your bank account with enough coin to give yourself a sporting chance.
Simply, the fact that you can race so angrily and aggressively works to undermine the core structure of Ride 2 and its attempts at being the real riding simulator. Cutting off opponents to slow them down, purposefully hitting into them when entering corners and using them as a tool to improve braking all works once you’ve grasped the physics model. Of course, you don’t have to engage in any of this but its mere existence is enough to break your suspension of disbelief and cause you to question whether you’re playing an arcade game in simulator clothing.
When you’re out in front and given free track to race through things do feel energetic in a realistic, interesting way, and you’re motivated to improve your skills. As soon as you’re surrounded by competitors, though, the experience devolves into something closer to stock car racing.
You can earn greater financial rewards by increasing the difficulty, but ramping up the AI to its most challenging setting equates to only a five per cent boost in earnings. It’s tempting to simply compete against opponents on ‘Very Easy’ in order to quickly gain enough financial power to buy the kinds of equipment suitable for the tasks levelled at you. Thereafter you can stop worrying about money and race on the difficulty that’s right for you.
But this turns Ride 2 into an exercise of grinding through the easiest and least interesting of races until you reach that tipping point whereby you can begin to play as you always intended. The financial formulas underpinning World Tour need serious attention in order to work properly and allow for the kind of personalised approach that other games using this sort of career progression allow for.
Multiplayer is more engaging in that you can bypass those elements that force you to grind your way to a healthy bank account and lock you into a repetitive structure. Here Ride 2 shines slightly brighter, but proceedings only ever reach mediocre entertainment thanks to a physics engine that is not realistic enough to pass for a simulation and not filled with enough simple joy to be an arcade experience. As such you never feel totally convinced that you should dedicate yourself to racing as you would in reality or whether you should be pushing to achieve crazy, impossible feats. This lack of definition is not welcome in the competitive world of online racing.
Just as you try to focus yourself online to one playstyle or the other, you’re either thrown off your bike due to being knocked into during a corner turn or you finish last thanks to being too diligent and professional by making sure you avoid contact altogether. At every corner you’re reminded that this is a game that doesn’t really know how to refine the details of the avalanche of content it offers in the form of tracks and bikes.
Simply, Ride 2 doesn’t make a convincing case for more motorcycle games to be produced. Yes, it is a genre that is underrepresented in comparison to its car-based siblings, but the level of expected quality across racing games as a whole is so high that anything other than an outstanding release is impossible to recommend.
On paper, then, Ride 2 is an exciting proposition that bundles the promises of aspirational game design with the raw power and fun associated with motorbikes. Unfortunately, those promises are broken and the resulting game falls flat. Unless you’re so enamoured with two-wheeled machines that you simply can’t help but pick yourself up a copy, you should wait for a new contender to try its hand at delivering a biking game of this scope.
Considering it was a pretty direct follow-up to the last episode, it’s too bad there was several weeks between the airing of âTrial of the Darksaberâ and âLegacy of Mandalore.â Then again, âTrialâ was such a heavy, emotional episode perhaps it was for the best to give us a bit of a breather.
Ultimately, if viewed as a two-parter, âLegacyâ was the weaker installment, though to be fair, it’s being measured against one of the best episodes the series has ever done. But there was still a lot to enjoy here, as we delved into âmodernâ Mandalorian society (modern as measured against its portrayal in The Clone Wars) a bit more directly, having only seen certain warrior factions in previous installments.
Melee-focused action games have spent years enacting the fantasy of engaging in armed combat, fortunately sparing us the hours of rigorous training and resolve it takes to actually do so in real life. But For Honor, Ubisoft’s third-person weapon-based arena combat game, is different from other melee-focused action games, like Dark Souls or Dynasty Warriors. Its combat system is simple on the surface, but executing its more advanced tactics requires a patient mind, as well as an understanding of its deliberate pacing. There are not many games quite like For Honor; it’s an incredibly entertaining fighter that’s satisfying both in single and multiplayer, even despite the narrative flaws of its story mode.
Its fantasy medieval world is populated by three of history’s most iconic warrior classes: knights, vikings, and samurai. Regardless of which faction you choose to play as, For Honor challenges you to restrain yourself and uphold self-control in the face of strenuous conflict. The elegance of its combat is at times awe-inspiring, easily pulling you into the euphoric highs of a well-deserved victory, where your patience was maintained and your reflexes were on point.
For Honor focuses primarily on one-on-one duels, though fights against multiple foes are common. There are 12 heroes to choose from, each brandishing their own unique weapon and fighting style. While the game’s combat is simple enough to be accessible to beginners, its deep mechanics allow frequent fighters to noticeably develop their skills. It’s only then that each Hero’s strengths and weaknesses are fully revealed. For example, the spear-wielding Nobushi offers a wealth of slow, long-range poke attacks, which when put up against Orochi’s swift sword swipes, transform the battle into a calculated struggle of space management and precision striking. Every moment you spend in combat is rife with strategic possibilities: should you keep baiting an opponent with an attack or dodge? Should you get in close and knock them into a nearby pit? Or should you disorient them by being overtly offensive? For Honor’s combat encourages adaptive thinking, providing substantial depth and balance in its moment-to-moment action and myriad matchups.
At times, putting what you learn into practice is a test of patience, whether you’re playing against human opponents or AI. Fights are slow and measured, demanding you diligently carve out openings through subtle, calculated movements rather than through brute force or button mashing. As a result, you spend as much time–if not more–trying to read your opponent than attacking them. The pace of combat in its initial stages seems clunky and disorienting–especially if you’re used to faster-paced fighting games–but once you grow accustomed to its tempo, it’s For Honor’s most fulfilling and enjoyable quality. Its slow-pace is much like learning a dance; you aren’t adjusted to the choreography’s complexity and speed, but after repeated practice, it becomes a gratifying exercise of muscle memory.
Aside from a few informational videos and practice sessions, For Honor’s most useful training tool is its single-player story mode–at least for a time. It more or less functions as a long-form tutorial, putting you into various story-driven scenarios that teach you the fundamentals of combat. For example, some stages offer you insight on how certain characters are played and how their special abilities (called Feats) are used, while others familiarize you with some of the multiplayer modes.
Unfortunately, the narrative that links these scenarios together is a nonsensical mess. A warlord named Apollyon, whose intention is to ensure an eternal age of all-out war, instigates the conflict gripping its world. But her motivation is so unclear and muddled that she rarely makes for an entertaining presence. Meanwhile, the battle-hungry ensemble cast tasked with either standing up to or supporting her are marred by lackluster characterization. They provide little in the way of relatability, coming across more as tools to move the story forward than actual living, breathing people. It also doesn’t help that their character models are lifted straight from multiplayer, with recycled, faceless designs that make it difficult to distinguish them from the multitude of other characters.
While the story mode is content to act as a multiplayer tutorial, there are moments when it attempts to be more ambitious. For instance, you sometimes encounter set pieces, like a desperate siege against a heavily fortified Japanese castle or a fast-paced chase on horseback. But these moments end up more monotonous than exciting, as they typically consist of repetitive fights against dozens of AI opponents with the occasional objective involving interacting with an object in the environment. The attempt to string together For Honor’s unique take on melee combat with a narrative leaves much to be desired. Its roughly six-hour length effectively teaches you its base mechanics, but it overstays its welcome well before the first half with a haphazard narrative. And due to the simplistic AI of many of the foes you encounter, it’s easy to become more aggressive and complacent in duels, which is a bad habit to bring into multiplayer.
When you tackle For Honor’s multiplayer, there are plenty of modes to dive into. However, the most varied and entertaining of the bunch is Dominion, a 4v4 mode where you and your team cooperate to capture and hold three zones in a battlefield filled with AI minions. Rushing from point to point, defending a zone, or working with your teammates to obtain others is exhilarating. And in the midst of all this, there is always a multitude of emergent moments to experience, like heroically sprinting into the middle zone and slaughtering swarms of AI minions in order to capture a point and turn the tide of battle, or finding yourself cornered on a bridge alone, up against three members of the opposing team. Unfortunately, combat in this mode can become too chaotic when no respawns occur at the tail end of the match; this often causes you and your teammates to mindlessly button mash your way to victory against the last standing hero. Despite this, Dominion encapsulates the sensation of a large-scale medieval battle on a smaller scale, distilling the desperation of a relentless charge and the ruthless sword fights that ensue in its wake.
Elimination mode, meanwhile, emphasizes and amplifies the complexity of For Honor’s team-based duels. It’s uncomplicated in premise: a 4v4 face-off to the death with no respawns. Combat is thrilling and challenging in this mode, especially when it’s solely up to you and a teammate to secure a victory against a full enemy squad. You come to understand not only how to fight against multiple foes, but also how to judge when and where it’s appropriate to do so. Learning this is at times punishing or unfair, as poor environmental awareness in a battle against multiple foes often spells certain death. But when your reflexes and ability to manipulate these factors work in your favor, it’s difficult not to feel an overwhelming satisfaction in how the game makes it possible to win against all odds.
If Dominion demonstrates For Honor’s capacity to create varied and exciting moments, and Elimination embodies the thrill and depth of its team-based fights, then Duel showcases combat at its most tense and absolute. This strictly one-on-one battle mode removes your ability to use Feats, forcing you to rely on the strength of your Hero’s base moveset. The grace of its simplicity heightens the tension of combat, taking the base of its complexities and forming it into something more akin to a traditional fighting game. Duel’s stripped down nature showcases the brilliance of For Honor’s one-on-one combat, elevating its other modes in the process by how it condenses what a duel is into a raw and brief competitive instance.
It helps that many of For Honor’s various multiplayer modes are each entertaining in their own right, as playing through them feeds into a cross-platform territory acquisition system called Faction War. As you play matches, you earn War Assets based on your personal performance, which can be distributed to further your chosen faction’s influence. While it doesn’t seem like much, the sense of community and promise of rewards it provides gives you higher sense of purpose.
In terms of performance, For Honor runs smoothly on both PS4 and Xbox One versions with little issues in online stability. The PC version runs well too, even on low to mid range hardware setups. You’re given a slew of options to find the best balance between visual quality and frames per second. This is paramount since the game requires you to consistently run at a bare minimum of 30 fps in multiplayer.
After slaying countless foes, it’s clear the impact For Honor’s combat has had; its fundamental tenets of discipline and restraint are bestowed upon you permanently, forever changing the way you perceive a melee-combat encounter in a game. In its highest moments, For Honor is difficult to put down. Its slow combat pace and narrative shortcomings might turn off those unwilling to take the time to dive deep into what it has to offer. However, make no mistake–those who do will be rewarded with some of the most satisfying multiplayer melee fighting conceived in recent years.
There’s a difficult tonal tightrope being walked on at the heart of A United Kingdom, the new film from Amma Asante, based on the real life relationship between Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike). Beginning in London in 1947, we meet Khama while he’s studying law in Oxford, listening to jazz in classy social clubs and preparing to take over the throne of Bechuanaland from his uncle (Vusi Kunene), who’s been serving as regent over the kingdom in Seretse’s absence. Everything is going according to plan until he meets Ruth one night, connecting with her over their shared love of jazz and undeniable chemistry.
Falling in love is the last thing either of them need, but still they spend their nights walking through London into the hours of the early morning until Seretse finally proposes to Ruth, asking her to go back to Bechuanaland with him as his wife. She instantly agrees as the two begin making preparations for their wedding, but there’s only one problem: he’s black and she’s white. Both of their families disapprove, with Ruth’s father threatening to completely disown her at the news, and Seretse’s uncle trying to force him to abdicate the throne should he move forward with his marriage to Ruth.