Review of NHL ’20 — Once again rockin’ the rink

Ever since lacing up the skates back in 1991, EA Sports has been dominating the NHL videogame market.  Despite facing tough competition in the past, the publishing powerhouse has buried many slapshots with its laundry list of modes, accessible controls, and hard-hitting gameplay.  With that being said, what does NHL ’20, the 29th game in EA’s iconic hockey series, bring to the table (Or to the rink, rather)? No highly-drastic changes per se, but it has indeed done a noticeable amount of juggling to the lines.

Is it October yet?

With the help of RPM Tech, the skating is even tighter, and the shooting has been revamped for the purpose of recreating the shots you see from big names like Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, P.K. Subban, etc. But even if your player is highly adept at shooting, scoring is more difficult thanks to the heavily-improved goalie intelligence.  In terms of additions to the existing game modes, Ultimate Team now has Squad Battles, and the Ones mode is set up as an 81-player bracketed tournament (Which is basically the NHL version of your typical battle-royale shooter).

The graphics haven’t changed much except for the retooled broadcast package, which includes new scoreboards and a heavily-tweaked highlight reel system.  We also get a new commentary team in James Cybulski and Ray Ferraro, who are occasionally joined by celebrities such as Drake.  Music-wise, this isn’t one of my favorite NHL game soundtracks, but it does have popular artists like Silversun Pickups and Motionless in White.

I AM a hockey player

I definitely wouldn’t consider NHL ’20 to be a completely different game from its predecessor, but the longtime hockey fan in me is more than satisfied with the refinements that the folks at EA Sports have implemented.  Whether you’re a newcomer to the series or you’ve been along for the ride since the Genesis days, this game won’t disappoint you.  Ready to rock-y? Let’s play some hockey!

Advertisements

Review of Skate 3 — You wanna go skateboards?

When EA decided to start the Skate series and go head-to-head with Activision’s Tony Hawk franchise, that was a big deal.  The latter had long been the king of virtual skateboarding, but it was beginning to go downhill in the late 2000’s, and something else eventually had to drop into the halfpipe and issue a challenge.  Thanks to a more realistic resemblance of the sport and a unique “flick-it” control scheme, Skate was quickly lauded by critics and skaters around the globe, proving that you don’t need Tony Hawk on the cover in order for your skateboarding game to be popular.  With that being said, it’s been over nine years since the third installment in the series, so let’s hit the park and reminisce about the virtual skating masterpiece that is Skate 3.

Pretending I’m a superman

The story takes place in the fictional skate haven of Port Carverton.  After a stunt on live TV goes horribly wrong, your filmer convinces you to start your own board company.  From there, you recruit a team of rookie skaters and complete a wide variety of challenges, including things like trick competitions, races, following other skaters, filming/photoshoots, Hall of Meat, Domination, Own The Spot/Lot, 1-Up, and S-K-A-T-E.  Your ultimate goals are to impress the pros, earn as many fans as possible, and sell a million skateboards.  Best of all, your path to becoming Port Carverton’s top skater is entirely up to you.

The control scheme is business as usual if you’re familiar with the previous two games.  Your right stick is used for ollies, nollies, manuals, flip tricks, and tweaks.  The left stick is used for steering, spins, and reverts.  The left and right triggers are used for grabs, each corresponding to whichever hand you want to grab the board with, and also for frontflips and backflips.  The face buttons are used for pushing, getting off your board, briefly taking your feet off the board during a grab, and lying down on your back while your board is moving.  The right bumper is used for lip tricks and darkslides/dark catches.  When you get off your board, you can perform hilarious aerial stunts and bails, and also grab hold of different objects to use for your trick lines.  This game does everything in its power to be both easy to learn and challenging to master, just like a certain other skateboarding franchise.

‘Cause I’m TNT

If you’re tired of skating solo, you and up to five friends can team up to complete goals, go head-to-head, or just explore Port Carverton.  You can even share your photos and videos around the online service, as well as create your own skateparks for anyone to visit.  The sky’s the limit in terms of the amount of freedom you have in this virtual skateboarding experience.

Unless you’re playing this on the Xbox One X, the framerate won’t always be consistent and the graphics can have a case of pop-in somewhat often, but the team at Black Box did a fine job creating a massive skating playground with many places to roam around in.  I personally like the audio better than the visuals, as all of the pro skaters lent good voice-acting to their virtual counterparts.  You also get a decent soundtrack that features popular artists like Neil Diamond, Beastie Boys, Jeezy, Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., and Agent Orange.

I don’t think contrast is a sin

Like many other people on social media, I have long been begging EA to make a sequel to what I consider to be the best skateboarding game on the market.  But for the time being, Skate 3 will always be a very prominent title in my gaming repertoire.  Whether you’re a longtime skater or sports-game junkie, you’ll definitely want to tighten up your trucks and take this game for a spin.

The cage is lowering — 2K announces WWE 2K20

Some wrestling gamers like myself thought 2K was quietly future-endeavoring their WWE-licensed games, but it turns out we were wrong.  With two months before its scheduled release date, WWE 2K20 has appeared on the TitanTron, and 2K has informed us of some of the most notable additions to this year’s iteration.  One of the new features I’m really pumped up for is that we finally get to play as women in the MyCareer mode, which in turn brings back mixed-tag matches.  And speaking of women, this year’s 2K Showcase is based on the careers of the Four Horsewomen (Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, and Bayley).  This won’t be the only story in the Showcase mode, as 2K is working on a package of DLC entitled 2K Originals, which is full of unique worlds and themes.  Towers mode also returns, bringing with it a tower based on the career of Roman Reigns.  One last thing to note is that longtime developer Yuke’s has parted ways with the WWE license, leaving Visual Concepts as the sole developer.  The studio behind NBA 2K promises streamlined controls that will appeal to beginners and veterans alike.  With all that being said, is 2K20 going to emerge from the mid-card, or will it be placed in a squash match? The bell rings on Oct. 22.

Review of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order — Back in black

If you’re both a gamer and comic book collector, chances are you spent many hours playing the Marvel Ultimate Alliance series from Activision. And in turn, you might have been pleading for a third title in the ten years that have passed since Ultimate Alliance 2‘s release. Luckily, the folks at Nintendo and Team Ninja have finally granted your wish in the form of the Switch-exclusive Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order.

No roses, just stones

The story is very similar to the recent Avengers films. Thanos teams up with a group known as the Black Order, and they go on another hunt for the six Infinity Stones, which were inadvertently scattered by Guardians of the Galaxy leader Star-Lord. It’s up to you and up to three other players to put together a giant roster of heroes and anti-heroes, sharpen your beat-’em-up skills, and save the galaxy before Thanos’ team conquers it.

Hack-and-slash? More like hack-and-Hulk-Smash

Gameplay-wise, The Black Order is a team-based beat-’em-up. Your heroes have light and heavy attacks as well as special moves that can be used when standing next to your allies. There are no complex button combos to memorize, so every battle and puzzle is basically full of button-mashing. As your journey progresses and you keep taking out bad guys, you’ll be earning enough currency to upgrade your characters’ stats and give them some new moves. Your starting roster is comprised of Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, and Groot (With Rocket Raccoon on his shoulders), and many other popular Marvel characters will join you along the way. The overall roster is pretty big, and it will keep getting bigger thanks to free updates and a season pass.

Despite the limitations of the Switch’s hardware, the character designs look as if they’ve escaped from whatever comic pages you happen to be reading, and that’s a compliment. The graphics engine itself is also well-designed, and I have not run into any framerate issues whatsoever. The music definitely sounds like something out of a comic book show or film, and it’s accompanied by wonderfully-performed voice-acting from stars such as Laura Bailey, Phil LaMarr, James Arnold Taylor, Nolan North, and Yuri Lowenthal.

Talk about a MARVEL-ous adventure

As I mentioned, it had been a decade since Ultimate Alliance 2 hit the shelves, and the third chapter does an above-average job picking up where the folks at Activision left off. Whether you’re an avid fan of comic books or adept at co-op beat-’em-ups, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 will reward you and your friends with more action-game fun than you can shake a stack of Free Comic Day books at.

Review of Mischief Makers — Shake-shaking things up

If there was anything the Nintendo 64 was knee-deep in, it was platforming games. Not only was Super Mario 64 an absolute masterpiece in the genre, but there were a handful of second and third-party platform gems in the 64-bit console’s library. And no matter how obscure a game may be, you know it has a strong cult-following when lots of gamers request it to be re-released on a digital marketplace…Which brings us to a 1997 2.5D platformer called Mischief Makers, developed by the fine folks at Treasure.

Stop and shake it

To set the scene, the Planet Clancer is faced with the growing possibility of war, not to mention the Emperor is tricking the inhabitants, known simply as Clancers, into doing indisputably evil things. The brainwashed Clancers kidnap one of the planet’s visitors, that being the robotic mastermind Professor Theo. Luckily for him, the professor’s robotic assistant Marina Liteyears witnesses the capturing, and she sets off on a journey to not only bring her creator to safety, but also protect Planet Clancer from all of the threats that are about to unfold.

Every level puts your 2D platforming skills to the test. And thankfully, Marina has plenty up her…Robots have sleeves, right? Marina can perform both normal and long jumps, and the C buttons grant her special moves like rolling, sliding, and even boosting herself in any direction. However, these moves are afterthoughts compared to the game’s emphasis on grabbing and shaking the many objects and NPC’s you’ll come across. Grabbing things in mid-air and launching yourself towards platforms far away from you will become very vital as your journey progresses. Along with a truckload of platforming playgrounds, you’ll be faced with a handful of boss fights against rogue Clancers and other cold-hearted villains.

Shaking, not stirring

For a 1997 N64 game, Mischief Makers is full of good-looking level backgrounds, well-animated characters, and above-average cutscenes that some gamers may have thought the N64 just couldn’t pull off. In terms of sounds, you’re not gonna hear a lot of voice-acting (Although it was performed well) due to the console’s limitations, but you’ll still be treated with plenty of well-composed songs that are very fitting for each level and boss fight you go through.

In terms of replay value, Mischief Makers‘ length depends on how long you are willing to explore each level and whether or not you can succeed at the bonus tasks in the special events. If you’re good enough, you’ll be able to find all the gold crystals, one of which is found in each level. The amount of gold crystals you have at the end of the adventure determines how long the ending will be, so you’re gonna need a lot of patience and platforming prowess if you want the full experience.

No tomfoolery, no hijinx, just mischief

Just because a game falls under the radar due to its console’s heavyweight-filled catalog doesn’t mean it’s a meaningless game, and Mischief Makers strongly proves that. It doesn’t fit into the same league as heavily-revered platformers like Super Mario 64, but if you’re looking for an obscure platformer with an entertaining (And sometimes funny) plot and a deep pool of replay value, Mischief Makers will not disappoint you. Also, I don’t recommend taking a shot for every time Marina says “Shake, shake!” Alcohol and robotics don’t mix!

Talk about monkey business — Sega announces Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD

Remember this charming party-game series from Sega called Super Monkey Ball? The reason for that question is because from out of absolute nowhere, the Japanese former first-party company has announced they are unearthing the Wii game Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz and giving it an HD coat of paint. This remaster is set to release on October 29, 2019 for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, with a PC version coming this winter. For those who don’t know, Super Monkey Ball is a series in which you roll around in a ball, play a butt-ton of minigames, and try to collect as many bananas as you can. I’m personally very excited for this release, even though the closest I came to actually playing the series was via a McDonald’s Happy Meal LCD game. Yeah, that’s how old I am! Anyway, fast food toys aside, I’ve been meaning to play a full-fledged Super Monkey Ball title for some time now, and if you haven’t already delved into the series, this remaster sounds like a good place to begin. We’ve only got three months before Banana Blitz HD hits the market, so be sure to stock up on bananas…Or at least any kind of fruit!

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.