Treyarch’s Zombies is the one that started it all, and the beloved mode has evolved a lot over the years and with different Call of Duty developers. For Black Ops 3, Zombies Chronicles offers eight remastered maps from World at War through Black Ops 2 with improved graphics, audio, and Black Ops 3’s Zombies features. It’s a greatest hits collection with enough variety to bring in new and veteran Zombies players alike, and it makes it worth revisiting Zombies at its roots.
Chronicles has a strong foundation in its map selection–it includes smaller, more manageable maps like World at War’s Nacht der Untoten alongside more complex, story-centric maps like Black Ops’ Ascension. If you’re new to Zombies, you can hone strategies on the simpler maps, and if you’ve been a fan of Treyarch’s Zombies for a while, at least one of your favorites is here. There’s also good variety in map structure and the strategies they each call for, from the more open Shi no Numa to the small, easily-overrun rooms of Verruckt.
These maps are now better than ever thanks to the fantastic technical improvements. Atmospheric enhancements, from eerie screeches to subtle lighting changes, supplement the more straightforward graphics upgrade, and they make the same gripping, stay-up-all-night zombies rounds you remember feel fresh and modern. The most noticeable change, especially in the heat of the moment, is the enhanced audio–the horrible death rattle of a gunned-down zombie and the unearthly howling of the Hellhounds are grating in the best way. The guttural snarls behind you feel more urgent, and that translates to greater tension even on maps you played to death the first time around.
Years-old strategies need a bit of tweaking thanks to the introduction of Black Ops 3’s Zombies features, and which further help in keeping the classic maps from feeling stale. Gobblegum and its various perks, for example, are optional, but depending on what you get, you might play a map differently compared to the way you remember. The change-up works well for groups that have a mix of new and returning players, too, since it gives newcomers an opportunity to be a bit more involved in the plan instead of just following someone who’s already routed the map.
The Black Ops 3 features also work for newer players on their own, particularly those who started with Treyarch’s most recent game. If you don’t have the nostalgia going into Chronicles, small things like Gobblegum help to modernize the older, less-involved maps without overshadowing what made them favorites to begin with.
Atmospheric enhancements make the same gripping, stay-up-all-night zombies rounds you remember feel fresh and modern.
Chronicles also includes Black Ops 3 weapons, but they make very little difference in how you strategize–they’re really just there to keep the collection in line with Treyarch’s latest. It is nice to pick up the Kuda early on if you spent any time at all with Black Ops 3’s multiplayer and want something a bit more familiar until you can get to the Mystery Box, but you’ll still end up crossing your fingers and hoping for the Ray Gun anyway. Of course, that Ray Gun is as satisfying to fire as ever–it’s just disappointing that the weapon additions are mostly fluff.
Zombies Chronicles takes a good combination of maps and upgrades them with great attention to detail. Newer Zombies features keep the collection modern, but its greatest strength is in the lighting and audio upgrades, which make the Zombies experience that many fans obsessed over before feel creepier, more tense, and more exhilarating than ever.
NBA Playgrounds attempts to fill the void left by beloved series like NBA Jam and NBA Street. And while it can be a fun, flashy arcade game, it quickly succumbs to its own repetitive gameplay and presentation–with frustrating results.
Playgrounds has only one game mode in both single-player and online multiplayer: two-on-two. Aside from an Exhibition mode used for practice, the bulk of your time in Playgrounds is spent competing in tournaments around the world on one of six courts, styled after real-world cities such as New York and Shanghai. You have to play through three-minute games before your team is able to compete in the five-minute championship, which unlocks new courts and player-card packs that grant you a new selection of the game’s 150-plus real players from the NBA’s 30 teams.
Playgrounds is quick and fun–in the short term. A lot of the game’s offense and defense comes down to timing. Once you get that down, it adds a fun sense of rhythm to the game–knowing when to release a shot, the best time to try for a steal, or when to attempt an alley-oop. But a lack of AI responsiveness disrupts that rhythm. Computer-controlled teammates won’t always react when you direct them to set a pick or initiate an alley-oop, which can lead to the shot clock expiring or an easy steal for your opponent. You eventually learn that you can only consistently rely on your AI teammate to shepherd the ball while you look for open space on the court.
Despite the fact that your partner is often unreliable, the moments when the AI behaves according to plan can lead to impressive displays of teamwork. You’re rewarded for flashy play during games by pulling off alley-oops, fancy dunks, and stealing the ball from opponents. These moves fill up your team’s special meter, which, when full, pays out a random “lottery pick.” One such lottery pick guarantees a player’s shot will go in from any distance after passing the half-court line, or even if it’s being blocked by the opposing team. Another one awards two extra points for dunks, helping to transform a close game into a four-point lead at the drop of a hat.
The hope of getting a lottery pick, as well as the fear of having one used against you, keeps games tense. You may find yourself pumping your fists in excitement one moment, then throwing your controller when an opponent gets a lucky opportunity the next. The give and take of this system’s rewards and punishments are immediately apparent and encourage improvement in your overall strategy.
There’s a definite feeling of accomplishment in the process of getting better at Playgrounds. Finding a break to make a three-pointer, disregarding traditional rules to shove an opponent away from the ball when they’re most vulnerable, or capitalizing on a fleeting opportunity for a flashy dunk all feel great, and smart plays are often rewarded with expressive, hype-inducing animations.
Despite the fact that each character has his own stats, they rarely feel distinct from each other during a game.
Special mention has to be given to Playgrounds’ dunks. They’re impressively choreographed–your player may do flips, spins, or even knock opponents down in midair, all before nearly ripping the rim from the backboard. Conversely, it’s maddening to watch your opponent do the same when your defensive lapses lead to a creative display of dominance on the court, but in a way that inspires you to consistently do better, rather than to quit.
One of Playgrounds’ main draws is no doubt its goofy aesthetic, which is a direct homage to NBA Jam. Unlocking new characters is enjoyable in that you’re treated to detailed-yet-stylized takes on real-world players. But despite the fact that each character has his own stats, they rarely feel distinct from each other during a game. You can easily get by using the initial roster, and once you settle on a pair of go-to players, subsequent recruits ultimately feel like trophies on a shelf–awarded for playing well, rather than new tools.
Variety ends with the game’s visuals, though. There isn’t much else to do other than playing through a tournament. In Exhibition, you have some added options, like the color of the ball or how long a game lasts, but in tournaments, you play the same four rounds over and over across the game’s six levels. Getting stuck on a particularly hard final round can be immensely frustrating, given the lack of an alternative mode or palate cleanser. This monotony is exacerbated by the game’s two announcers–Ian Eagle and EJ Johnson–who repeat the same corny jokes each game.
Playgrounds’ online offering is also plagued by this lack of content, also launching with only one game mode. But playing against an actual person does help alleviate some of the game’s repetition. Online games tend to be far goofier and more sporadic, with two players competing not just to win, but to do so in style. Reckless performances in the name of fun gives Playgrounds’ multiplayer games a level of slapstick enjoyment not found in single-player.
Even if Playgrounds’ single-player mode lacks the unbridled merriment that makes multiplayer so enjoyable, finally getting the upper hand in a tournament is rewarding and exciting in its own way. But even at its best, Playgrounds doesn’t offer enough variety to keep you engaged for long. Playing the same game type over and over, with only levels and opponent names changing, quickly gets old, no matter how good they feel in the moment. Even one additional game type at launch might’ve made the overall package more enjoyable, but as of right now, it might be best to wait for Saber to patch in some variety.
Super Rude Bear Resurrection is one of the hardest games I’ve ever played–but only at times. Certain games, Resident Evil 4 being a famous example, use a dynamic difficulty system, invisibly adjusting to keep the action challenging but not frustrating. Super Rude Bear Resurrection does something similar, only in a much more obvious, tangible way.
It’s a hardcore platformer in the mold of Super Meat Boy, but with a novel twist that gives meaning to the countless deaths you’ll suffer throughout. Corpses persist after death and can be used to create a safer path through levels (where one false step will send you back to the last checkpoint). In essence, almost every death serves to make the game slightly easier–though you can also clear levels without ever dying. It’s a delightful concept that further enhances a game that’s already strong thanks to its wealth of ideas and fantastic soundtrack.
At its most basic, Super Rude Bear Resurrection is a fairly straightforward platformer, tasking you with navigating stages filled with all manner of deadly spikes, arrows, swinging axes, more spikes, and creatures that toss snowballs at you harmlessly–until those snowballs just nudge you to your doom. You’ll maneuver through levels using simple jumps and wall jumps. You have no offensive capabilities, and the game doesn’t offer any special abilities to unlock or power-ups to find. You could, in theory, complete any level right from the get-go, although it’ll likely take dozens–or, more likely, hundreds–of deaths before you’re able to consistently overcome the trickiest obstacles.
The level design shows a tremendous amount of care on the part of developer Alex Rose Games. Stages are meticulously crafted to maximize difficulty without feeling unfair, but they’re also created in a way that allows for corpses to ease your path. A carcass might block incoming arrows or give you a safe spot in a row of spikes to jump on, and it can destroy certain traps when it comes into contact with them.
It’s easy for the corpses to pile up, particularly due to the way Super Rude Bear Resurrection’s levels toy with you. The game plays with your expectations and sets up hazards to punish you for relying on anticipation, rather than your reactions. Many deaths stem from hazards located immediately after checkpoints–these are seemingly placed for the explicit purpose of punishing your eagerness to immediately get back into the action after respawning. You can practically hear Alex Rose chuckling to himself every time you rush into an easily avoidable death. That might explain the mocking remarks of your floating companion, who also delivers the story (and jokes), allows you to destroy corpses in your path, and lets you scout out the areas ahead.
Super Rude Bear Resurrection isn’t an especially long game, although seeking out no-death runs, better leaderboard rankings, secret worlds, and dialogue (easy to miss the first time around) provides ample incentive for multiple playthroughs. The primary upside to not being long is also what’s most impressive about Super Rude Bear: it never runs out of steam. It feels fresh from beginning to end thanks to the way it consistently sprinkles in new types of challenges over the course of the entire game. Falling spikes, NPCs with hammers, arrow launchers, homing missiles, spinning lasers–you won’t play for long without encountering a new idea.
Some of these new ideas introduce interesting ways of interacting with corpses. Deaths caused by missiles and lasers freeze your body into an ice block. In the case of the missiles, ice blocks can provide stepping stones over a gap or block further missiles from being fired, while lasers pull the ice in, thereby preventing the lasers from reaching you on your next life.
“On the strength of its pacing and basic mechanics alone, Super Rude Bear Resurrection would make for an extremely engaging platformer. The addition of its corpse mechanic elevates it to something greater.”
Further adding to the variety are the boss fights littered throughout, each with its own unique gimmick that doesn’t feel at odds with the platforming framework of the game. One tasks you with avoiding spikes and the attacks of a breakdancing robot while standing on a rising platform. Another requires you to ride a moving platform through an otherwise standard level while avoiding a flying enemy that attempts to knock you off or crush you. The latter was particularly memorable, as being knocked down doesn’t guarantee death; provided you’re skilled enough, you can jump off of the boss itself and potentially recover. Whereas the bosses in Super Meat Boy have always felt to me more like obstacles that stand in the way of returning to the regular action, Super Rude Bear’s boss stages were among my favorites in the game.
Later levels ask a lot, requiring an almost-superhuman level of precision to complete without a death–an accomplishment I couldn’t even begin to sniff over the last quarter of the game. Yet, because of instant respawns and an excuse to continue listening to the stellar soundtrack, I never found myself frustrated, even when a particular section would cause me to die dozens of times. In fact, it was often hard not to laugh as I amassed an abundance of corpses (every one of which is dumped into a pile from the top of the screen at the conclusion of a level, just as a reminder). These attempts where I clearly wasn’t going to set a new time on the leaderboards often became fun experiments to see just how much I could screw with the design of the level.
In certain cases, the game actually becomes far too easy with even just a few deaths. Thankfully, if you find that to be the case, higher difficulty settings restrict the ability to destroy traps, leave behind corpses, and even use checkpoints. These options give you the flexibility to make the game as difficult as you want, which is great, since it’s most satisfying when played at the highest difficulty you can tolerate. The thrill of making it through a tough level with little help is matched by few other platformers I’ve ever played.
Not everything is quite so well executed, however. Visually, the game isn’t always clear about where you can safely stand or whether a corpse will protect you–spikes or blades sometimes extend beyond a body but won’t hurt you. The lack of an overworld is disappointing, if inessential, but the inability to access leaderboards anytime other than at the end of a level feels like an unfortunate oversight. A glitch when changing difficulties would cause the sound to drop out until I paused and unpaused the action. And certain level elements, such as falling icicles, are occasionally triggered before they should be after a respawn, which requires a quick death to reset. Because this only happened after a death, it never cost me a flawless run, but it was nonetheless a small source of frustration.
For all of these minor gripes, none of them stand in the way of enjoying nearly every second of playtime. On the strength of its pacing and basic mechanics alone, Super Rude Bear Resurrection would make for an extremely engaging platformer. The addition of its corpse mechanic elevates it to something greater, allowing it to simultaneously serve as an extreme challenge for the most diehard platforming fans as well as a game that can be enjoyed by the novice crowd. Super Rude Bear Resurrection demands a lot from you, but the satisfaction of success is immense in the end.
Capcom is big on cashing in on its extensive gaming history, so yet another blast-from-the-past package of 8-bit games from the company is no surprise. In this case, the theme is Disney–and a good reminder that, when Disney put its name on a game back in the day, it was a pretty sure bet you’d be in for a good time. Disney and Capcom had a great track record of solid NES titles based on beloved late-’80s/early-’90s cartoons, and now those 8-bit classics are available in one affordable package.
If you’re the kind of person who even just sees the word DuckTales and instantly hears “woo-ooo!” in your mind, Capcom’s gifting you a retro treat here. Six games are included in the Disney Afternoon Collection, and they are the kind of side-scrolling platformers so prevalent in the NES’ heyday.
You’ll find DuckTales and DuckTales 2, both Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers titles, Darkwing Duck, and the aerial shooter TaleSpin in the collection. These are largely straightforward ports of the original games made to fit your HDTV, but they’re otherwise untouched replications of the original NES versions. You can turn filtering on and off on the fly to smooth out the pixelated graphics and stretch the game to fit your screen (or leave the bordered version true to the original aspect ratio), but none of the graphics have been explicitly retouched.
Given the nature of this collection, the entire pack feels like an historical artifact. In their day, Capcom’s Disney-themed games had impressively high production values, solid level design, and otherwise stood out thanks to their recognizable cartoon cast. They also shared another defining feature–they were almost universally, uncompromisingly difficult (a trend that would continue well into the Super Nintendo years).
The Chip ‘n Dale games were cooperative platformers, which was distinctive for the time. DuckTales offered players the ability to take the large worlds in whatever order they wanted and offered replay value with the ability to revisit previously explored worlds, since the levels were full of secret gems. Darkwing Duck focused on side-scrolling shooting and a humorously noirish atmosphere that was countered by a controller-throwing level of potential frustration due to game mechanics and difficulty level. The odd duck out (so to speak), TaleSpin, starts off almost like a side-scrolling arcade shooter, where you can only shoot one slow bullet at a time, which can be upgraded over time. The pacing is such that every shot must be timed perfectly, or you’re doomed.
The games themselves are only part of the appeal here, though. Capcom has included a plethora of additional content as well. The Disney Museum lets you stroll down memory lane and provides some interesting perspective on each game and their characters. The goodies offered in the Museum include ads, concept art, and soundtracks. Given the historical nature of the games, this is a particularly nice touch that adds more weight to the idea that once, long ago, these were premium-priced, triple-A titles.
Each game also comes with two new modes: Boss Rush and Time Attack. Boss Rush distills the game down into a gauntlet run made up entirely of bosses, as the name suggests. Time Attack adds an interesting layer of social gaming to the mix–this mode lets you race through the levels against the clock but also links to online leaderboards to let you compete against the world for the fastest times.
The final addition to the Disney Afternoon Collection is the rewind button, which boosts the enjoyment of these challenging diversions. Pressing the left shoulder button instantly backs the action up so you can try again. It works throughout every game, and you can even use the feature to go back to the very beginning of a level. To say it’s a sanity saver for those not used to punishment of this magnitude is an understatement.
The Disney Afternoon Collection is a refined time capsule that covers a very specific chapter in gaming history. While these games might not be anything to get overly excited about individually, in a package that includes plenty of history and extras, this collection is a nostalgic curiosity with heart.
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.