Through the Driver’s Window — NASCAR Heat 4 announced for a September release

It’s the weekend after the 4th of July, which means it’s time to start gearing up for another annual edition of virtual stock cars. The folks at 704Games have announced NASCAR Heat 4, which is scheduled for a release sometime in September. Along with the news that veteran driver Kevin Harvick is gracing the game’s cover, the North Carolina-based publisher has revealed a hefty list of new features and pre-order bonuses.

Many NASCAR gamers like myself felt that last year’s version felt very rough around the edges, but the team promises to address Heat 3‘s mistakes and bring us a full pit race team of goodies. A common complaint was that the game had no track map, which is a necessity for realistic driving games. Thankfully, Heat 4 is guaranteed to give you a well-designed map that will no doubt assist you in finding opponents that you can’t see. And speaking of opponents, your ability to draft with the other drivers will be easier to capitalize on thanks to the devs’ goal of improving the aerodynamics model. Also, each track you race on will have multiple racing lines and affect your tires in many different ways, both of which indicate that the race will be quite different each time. And if you feel like the button configuration isn’t to your liking, Heat 4 allows to set the controls to whatever kind of setup you wish. Before moving to the next paragraph, I will mention that 704 is touting a massive improvement in graphics and sound, the former of which makes me think the game is moving to the Unreal Engine. I say that based on what the graphics looked like in the trailer, but I could very well be wrong. Whether it’s Unreal, an updated Unity, or any other kind of engine is yet to be found out.

These new on-track features sound really awesome, but the overall depth of this game is something I really hope delivers. Luckily, 704 has promised 38 tracks, more than 150 teams and drivers, unlockable paint schemes, and a deeper career mode. I should also point out that if you prefer the Gold Edition, you’ll get the 2019 Season Pass, Martinsville at night, three-day early access, a Jeff Gordon steelbook case, exclusive access to Gordon’s legendary 24 car, and you’ll even get spotter audio voiced by the four-time Monster Energy Cup Series champion. We may as well call this edition the Jeff Gordon Edition, wouldn’t you say? Also, the #24 legend car makes me wonder if we’ll get a lot of other legend cars in this year’s game, which would be pretty sweet since it’d bring back memories of EA Sports’ NASCAR series.

I’m not gonna bank on it, but I have a good amount of confidence that NASCAR Heat 4 can have the pit stop of a lifetime and be the best mass-market NASCAR game in a very long time. As long as the developers are truly committed and they don’t make any big mistakes, NASCAR gamers of any kind might be in for a real treat. If you’ve got a PS4, Xbox One, or powerful PC, get your engine fired up in time for Heat 4‘s proverbial green flag in September.

The Last of Us Part II Release Date and Editions Possibly Leaked

It’s long been rumored The Last of Us Part II will release February 2020 and a new leak further fuels that rumor and gives additional details on several editions of the game.

The news comes from gaming forum ResetERA where Senior Analyst at Niko Investors ZhugeEX confirmed the February 2020 release. ZhugeEX also mentions there will be four editions of the game coming out as well. The obvious standard, special and collector’s editions are pretty standard nowadays. The fourth is the Ellie Edition. There aren’t any details on what each edition includes though. I’d look to Days Gone and Death Stranding editions for an idea of what to expect.

What makes this seemingly random forum post newsworthy is it comes from the same leaker who gave us the Death Stranding release date and edition details before. But even though that leak was true take all of this with a grain of salt. Leakers have been wrong before and it is the internet. But until Sony and Naughty Dog give us any more info, it’s exciting to possibly have an idea of when to expect this highly anticipated sequel.

Review of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — Did you say “chocolate?”

Remember the 2005 film adaptation of the classic children’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? That movie was heavily hyped up before it came to theaters, and for good reason. Tim Burton was in the director’s chair, Johnny Depp portrayed the internationally-famous Willy Wonka, and it was the first time since 1971 that Roald Doahl’s masterpiece came to the big screen. The film itself was a dark and quirky remake, but I found it to be a well-made piece of cinema full of hilarious one-liners and catchy musical numbers. And as I saw in its heavily-replayed commercial, the folks at Take-Two Interactive and High Voltage Software were turning this into a videogame that combined puzzles with action-platforming. Not gonna lie, this game kinda became a guilty pleasure in my library, and it’s my job to tell you about all the interesting features in this game’s…Inventing room, so to speak. Television-Chocolate goggles at the ready!

Sideways, longways, slantways

The beginning of the story is not surprising if you’ve already seen the film, although the plot as a whole has been tweaked for the purposes of the game. Charlie Bucket dreams of visiting Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, and the notorious candy man ironically announces that he is allowing five children to do just that, as long as they are in possession of a golden ticket hidden in a random Wonka Bar. Quickly, four tickets have been found, meaning Charlie has only one slim chance to make his dream a reality. And then out of nowhere, a $10 bill flies in and leads the boy to the local candy store. By some miracle, Charlie finds the final golden ticket and rushes home to gear up for the journey that awaits him. He chooses his Grandpa Joe as his chaperone, as the latter used to work for Mr. Wonka before the factory closed down. The tour seems to start off swimmingly…But just like in the movie, four of the five children end up in danger and cause huge problems within the factory due to their self-indulgent behavior. It’s up to you and Charlie to travel through many prominent rooms, solve a variety of puzzles, and repair the giant factory from all the issues that are about to develop.

Each level tasks you with doing some action-platforming and puzzle-solving through the factory’s most important rooms. You won’t be able to handle all of the incoming tasks by yourself, and who better to help you than the miniature assistants known as Oompa-Loompas. They’re pretty much this game’s equivalent of Pikmin, and are able to perform tasks like picking up important items, knocking candy out of trees, fixing leaky pipes, and repairing electrical devices. As the adventure goes on, you’ll be given special candy that will help you reach high places and do combat with machines gone rogue.

Everybody give a cheer

The graphics don’t do anything mind-blowing, but as long as you have the Xbox version, the resolution will be high and you’ll hardly encounter slow framerates. Each room in the factory looks very well-made, as do the character models. The game’s camera might occasionally interfere with your ability to admire how breathtaking the factory is, but it’s not a broken camera by any means.

I’ve probably said this about the majority of games I’ve reviewed on this site, but I’m gonna say it again here — I absolutely adore the audio in this game. Nearly all of the actors and actresses from the film reprise their roles, and the script is nearly identical to that of the movie. One thing to note is that Johnny Depp was not available to reprise his role as Willy Wonka, but James Arnold Taylor does a very nice imitation. I feel this version of Mr. Wonka is wise rather than over-the-top, and I don’t mean that as a complaint…Just giving my honest point of view. But what I love more than the voice-acting is (You guessed it!) the music. If you’re expecting a Danny Elfman score filled with Oompa-Loompa dances, you’re not gonna be satisfied, but you still get a laundry list of incredible songs courtesy of the talented Winifred Philips. The melodies are either really cheerful or on the dark-and-moody side depending on the room you’re in and the task you’re faced with, and all of them fit perfectly considering how up-and-down the film is in terms of emotion.

With a golden ticket, it’s a golden day

It’s not one of the best movie tie-in games in existence, but Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is not without merit despite its short length and imitations of established franchises. Even if you weren’t fan of the big-screen remake upon which it’s based, it’s still a satisfactory and charming game if you like platforming and puzzles. Just don’t try playing this game while simultaneously dancing like an Oompa-Loompa…That would probably be as safe as testing out the three-course dinner chewing gum.

Review of Super Mario Maker 2 — Can we make it? Yes we can!

I know we’ve been saying this to absolute exhaustion, but I’m gonna say it again because it’s a good enough article to do so — The Wii U came as close as possible to ending Nintendo’s time as a first-party game company. Due to things like bad business decisions from Nintendo and a small amount of third-party support, the 2012 console didn’t exactly stand a chance against the PlayStation and Xbox consoles that came before and after it. Even the hilarious level-building game in Super Mario Maker couldn’t keep the Wii U alive for that much longer. But thankfully, the Nintendo Switch is doing a fantastic job correcting the Wii U’s mistakes and bringing along lots of ports and sequels. And after nearly four years, Super Mario Maker 2 has finally arrived, bringing with it a laundry list of new modes and tools.

Hassle in the Castle

Let’s get into the meat and potatoes, starting with the new story mode. Mario and a group of Toads and Toadettes have finished rebuilding Peach’s castle, which looks like it’s made of bricks (Correct me if I’m wrong). However, it quickly falls to pieces thanks to a dog stepping on the rocket that resets levels being worked on. How Mario can be talented in so many things but can’t get control of a dog, I have no idea. With no other alternative, it’s up to you and Mario to complete level after level (Jobs, in this case), save up your coins, and put the castle’s pieces back together.

If you build it, the plumber will come

The first Super Mario Maker was single-player only, but this sequel has a great dose of multiplayer action to enjoy, both individually and cooperatively. Four-player platforming is supported on one console, a LAN, or online. The only drawback is that you can’t set up lobbies for you and your friends, but Nintendo will add that in a future update. Even the beefed-up Course Maker mode has multiplayer, albeit for only two players. Despite that limitation, it’s tons of fun to team up with a friend and create some hilarious levels in an attempt to trigger both laughs and curse words from those who attempt to complete said courses.

When I say the Course Maker is beefed up, I’m not kidding. There are many new enemies, items, and props added to the toolbox, along with a new level theme based on Super Mario 3D World. I’m very pleased with these goodies from Nintendo, and I hope they add even more tools and themes in the future.

*insert DashieGames song here*

If you haven’t figured it out already, this is yet another title that proves Nintendo’s ambition to correct the mistakes they made with the Wii U. It certainly won’t be as revered as Odyssey, but Super Mario Maker 2 easily succeeds in providing a second-helping of fun level-editing combined with the Mario franchise’s platforming prowess.

First impressions of Monster Jam: Steel Titans — What the truck happened?

Like the other members of SSG, it’s my job to be fair when writing about the games that are on my mind. And I feel like I’ve been following that rule with ease in every article I’ve written so far. No matter how upset I seem when talking about a game’s flaws, I’m still able to detect its positives and complement them without any reluctance. The reason I say all of this is because I bought Monster Jam: Steel Titans on day 1 (June 25, 2019), and it’s been kind of a shaky launch week for THQ Nordic’s first stab at the Monster Jam license. So while we wait for the game’s first patch (I’m gonna wait until that drops before writing a full review), I’ll briefly discuss where Steel Titans nails its backflips and where its engine sputters.

I’ll start with the good — You’ve got officially licensed Monster Jam trucks, which is a big plus right off the bat (Even though you have to unlock them one by one). There is no difference between each truck in terms of how they drive, but the driving physics are easy to get the hang of and allow you to perform all the tricks these trucks are famous for. The team at Rainbow Studios has also been kind enough to provide you with a hefty number of stadiums, arenas, and cross-country tracks to tear up the dirt on. There’s no online multiplayer to share said tracks with, but you have the option to race against a friend via split-screen. Combine all that with several types of events to put on, and you have a meaty monster truck package under the hood.

I know it sounds like Steel Titans has already been a success in the short time that’s passed since its release, but now we get to the part where the game starts to bust a flat. Although the driving itself is solid, it can more often than not be hindered by the graphics. I don’t know whether or not this is just a case of bad console optimization, but this game (On my PS4 Pro, at least) has a a stressful amount of frame drops and pop-in. I know PC versions will almost always have the best textures, resolution, and framerate (I tested the PC version at PAX East 2019 and was very impressed), but the console versions still shouldn’t be this bad of a downgrade in comparison. Whether or not Rainbow Studios will re-optimize said graphics in patches remains to be seen. In terms of other issues, I can accept the AI being somewhat slow or robotic, but what really made me mad was that a few races started me in reverse gear for some strange reason. That’s not exactly gonna help you rake in the in-game credits, now will it?

What really blows my tires about all this is that this is yet another Rainbow Studios racing game that doesn’t quite live up to the hype. This developer has many years of racing experience with games/series like MX vs. ATV, Star Wars Racer: Revenge, Pixar’s Cars, and Splashdown, and yet they’re continuing to go downhill. How they didn’t learn their lesson from the unpolished-on-day-1 mess that was MX vs. ATV: All Out is a mystery I’ll probably never understand. It could be budget cuts, it could be laziness, it could be rushed development, or it could even be all of the above. It’s anyone’s guess at this point.

I understand that it sounds like I absolutely loathe this game, but I don’t. In fact, I want to highly enjoy it, but I’m not enjoying it at the moment. I’m really hoping the PC version is at least a little better than its console counterpart, and if it is, I can at least recommend it to adamant Monster Jam fans. If you’re not, just leave Steel Titans in the garage for now. Sorry Rainbow Studios, but you’ve got to go back to the drawing board and fix these problems quickly if you want this Monster Jam partnership to work.

Graveyard Keeper Digs Its Way To Switch, PS4 and Mobile

A new launch trailer for Graveyard Keeper announces the game’s release on Switch, PS4, and mobile.

The tinyBuild and Lazy Bear Games game has been on PC and Xbox One for a while but arrives on the new platforms today. It looks to be a more macabre Stardew Valley for those looking to bury bodies rather than seeds. The game promises the ability to manage a “historically inaccurate medieval cemetery” and the bodies entrusted to you. Ethical dilemmas, business alliances and witch-burning ceremonies are all ways to build yourself and your budding cemetery up.

I’ve never played the game myself and never had much of an interest in Stardew Valley, but as soon as I saw you could throw bodies in the river I was sold. I might just have to try my hand at graveyard keeping soon. In the meantime, check out our review of the PC version here.

Review of Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled — All Crash and no burn

Few gamers would disagree that Crash Bandicoot was a very important piece of the PlayStation One’s library. Our orange marsupial hero starred in terrific platformers that went toe-to-toe with big franchises like Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog. And let’s not forget about Crash Team Racing, Sony’s heavily-revered answer to the iconic Mario Kart 64. CTR offered wacky items, well-designed tracks, and a very enthralling adventure mode. Crash and co. got two more kart racers after that, but it seems like the first one from 1999 is the fan-favorite. And apparently, Activision has heard that loud and clear, because they have now taken the 20-year-old racer and given it an amazing coat of modern paint in the form of Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled.

Exercise your Cortex

For those of you who missed this game’s original version (We at SSG will not judge you, don’t worry), allow me to summarize the story — Crash, his allies, and his enemies have developed a kart-racing hobby, which soon catches the attention of an egomaniacal racer named Nitros Oxide. Due to his deranged fascination for showing off his racing prowess, he challenges Earth’s best driver to a one-on-one race for all the spoils. The drawback is that if Nitros wims, he’ll turn the world into a parking lot and force the inhabitants to be at his command. With the fate of the globe in question, you and the character of your choosing must rack up victories one after another, collect all the trophies and relics, and stop Nitros once and for all.

On the track, Nitro-Fueled has controls that are both tight and deep. While it’s mainly inspired by Mario Kart, its drifting mechanic feels very unique. You hold down one of two hop buttons to hop and initiate the drift, and it fills up the boost meter. When it gets to half-full or close to being completely full, you tap the other hop button to perform a speed boost. You can chain up to three, and your timing determines how fast your boosts are. It seems a bit challenging, but it’ll grow on you. All of the tracks (And even some new ones, including a PS4 exclusive), characters, and items from the original version are back, and you even get content that originates from Crash Nitro Kart and Crash Tag Team Racing. Combine all of the above with many ways to customize your character and kart, and you have more than enough depth to accompany you during your trip down memory lane.

A Wumpa Fruit a day keeps Cortex away

Though some may scoff at the game being locked to 30 FPS, you have to give it credit for having little to no slowdown, even when four players are racing on one screen. The team at Beenox has done a fantastic job giving the 1999 racer a 2019 makeover, with eye-popping colors and well-animated characters. The audio is also above average with hilarious one-liners and very catchy music. And speaking of music, you have the option of listening to the remade soundtrack or the original PS1 music, which is such a rad touch.

As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, up to four players can race or battle on one console in a laundry list of game types. But if for some reason you’re unable to invite friends into your home to play this nostalgia-filled racer, online play makes up for it with each lobby holding up to eight players. I wouldn’t say it’s the best online arcade racing out there, but Beenox has plenty of time to fix up the netcode. Whether it’s offline or online, the multiplayer does everything in its power to make you laugh out loud or utter every curse word imaginable.

No sugar, no caffeine, just Crash

As long as you’re not a Mario Kart elitist that turns the other cheek when seeing one of many clones of said series, I have a butt-ton of confidence that Crash and the gang will provide you with a hefty amount of racing hilarity. It’s fun and deep, but more importantly, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is a highly-successful unearthing of one of the kart-racing genre’s most prominent competitors.