Review of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 — Oh no, there goes Tokyo

Everyone’s favorite plumber and hedgehog are once again going for the gold, as the Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games series has come to the Nintendo Switch for its sixth installment.  Sure, it may seem like nothing more than a simple cash-grab, but there are some enjoyable new features to be delved into.  So without further ado, let’s light the torch and get into the review itself.

Time-travel turmoil

We haven’t seen a story mode in this series since the 3DS version of the London 2012 installment, but it returns in this edition.  After an opening confrontation, the competitors are inadvertently sent back in time to the Tokyo 1964 games (The setting of which is presented in 2D), and getting back to the present is going to be way easier said than done.  In the meantime, our heroes and villains must venture around the retro venues and compete in old-school 2D events, and there are also 10 special minigames that you must unlock in this mode before you can play them elsewhere.

It shines like gold

Tokyo 2020 has a big list of events to play, and there are some new ones like skateboarding, surfing, sport climbing, and karate.  Whether you’re playing the 2020, 1964, or Dream Events, each minigame comes equipped with tight control schemes, and you can choose between motion controls and standard gamepad controls.  While the controls are fluid and responsive, you still might want to read the instructions for each event in case they seem a little complex at first.

For the first time in the series, online multiplayer is included.  However, I feel that it is, at the very least, half-baked.  The tournament format in events like table tennis and badminton is ditched (Thus making them feel way too short in length), and you are unable to play the 1964 events.  These aren’t dealbreakers, but they make me believe that the online in Tokyo 2020 just isn’t for me.  If inviting three friends over (And possibly ordering a bunch of Pepsi and Domino’s Pizza) is what I need to do in order to get the multiplayer experience I truly want from this game, so be it. But hey, maybe the developers will improve the online multiplayer in a future patch.

It’s the final countdown

It may knock a few hurdles to the ground, but this is a decent comeback for the Mario & Sonic series and a fine debut for it on the Switch.  If you can stomach the fact that this isn’t supposed to be in the same league as minigame compilations like the Mario Party series, this Tokyo 2020 installment is a great place for you to go on the hunt for gold medals.

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Review of Grid (2019) — I always race to win

I know I’ve said this at least several times before, but I’m gonna have to say it again  — Codemasters has a long resume when it comes to racing games. Whether it be rallying, Formula 1, or even over-the-top off-roading, the British publisher has done it all. But while Dirt and F1 have still been going strong, fans had been wondering if/when the Grid series would return to the track.  Well, after five years, we don’t have to wonder anymore.  This self-titled reboot is the series’ debut on current-gen hardware, and I’m here to give you the full synopsis on everything it brings to the table.  So with that out of the way, let’s drop the green flag and get this review started.

Turn the car into the wind

Like other established series such as Gran Turismo and Forza MotorsportGrid tasks you with making a name for yourself in a variety of racing disciplines.  You won’t find rally racing or modern Formula 1 in here, but you get to race sports cars, open-wheelers, touring cars, tuner cars, and stock cars from different eras of the sport.  During your career, you must not only place high in the standings, but also manage your race team properly.  It’s your job to collect prize money, buy (And paint) the cars you want, and hire teammates.  No virtual racing career would be complete without a diverse track roster, and this game delivers a hefty number of road-course, street-course, and oval configurations.  There are only 13 locations at the moment, but more will be added in free updates.

GRID-dle cakes

Of course, all of the above would be meaningless if the racing itself wasn’t solid, and the folks at Codemasters have once again delivered solid racing in spades.  While not an arcade racer like Need for Speed or BurnoutGrid tries to be a little more accessible than Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport.  Despite the car-setup functionality being quite simplified, the driving does have weight and realism on both gamepad and wheel.  Flags and pit stops are non-existent, but you still have to drive carefully to avoid crashing out or being penalized.  If you race an opponent too aggressively, they’ll become a Nemesis and try to give you a taste of your own medicine.  Like the previous game in the series, you have the ability to ask your teammate to charge through the pack or play defense, not that they’ll always be able/willing to do what you ask them to do.

Online multiplayer is a bit shallow in this game, as you only have quick-match and private-match options.  Without any search options for public lobbies, you basically jump into public races hoping that the events found are to your liking.  If you want an online race that can be run the way you want it, you have no other alternative but to invite 1-15 friends who have the game.  It’s not a dealbreaker, but I do hope this online-mode drawback can be sorted out.

Pedal to the floor, lap is runnin’ faster

After sitting in its garage for the last five years, the long-running Grid series has made a satisfactory comeback in the form of this reboot.  It may occasionally bust a flat or drop some horsepower, but it still belongs on the shelf of any type of racing-game junkie.  Checkered flag, here I come!

Review of NASCAR Heat 4 — I want you to build me a car

For what’s felt like a long time, the NASCAR gaming market has endured a bumpy ride.  There are plenty of really good racing games/sims out there that happen to include stock car racing, but games that are dedicated to NASCAR have been very rough around the edges lately.  And due to low budgets and game-engine difficulties, 704Games has had a very tough time giving the NASCAR Heat series the successful pit stop it’s been in need of.  However, after this year’s iteration was announced and its new features were slowly being revealed, longtime NASCAR gamers like myself had plenty of valid reasons to get revved up.  And now that NASCAR Heat 4 has taken the green flag, it’s time to find out if it lives up to the hype.  Let’s pull those belts tight and get into the meat and potatoes.

I’m droppin’ the hammer

The most noticeable changes in this year’s game are the changes to the racing itself.  The weight and aerodynamics of the cars have a more realistic feeling, the contact physics aren’t nearly as frustrating they’ve been in the past, and multi-groove racing has been successfully implemented.  It should also be noted that there are different tire compounds for different tracks, which in turn makes each track noticeably different in terms of tire wear.  Drafting has also been greatly emphasized with the concept of draft partners.  As the race progresses, your HUD will inform you if AI cars are lining up and asking to join forces with you.  Slipstreaming is highly important in stock car racing, and Heat 4 does an excellent job taking that importance into account.

The racing in this year’s game is absolutely awesome, and thankfully there’s plenty of deep modes to race in.  The career mode is mostly the same as its been in previous games, except that the interface has been polished up and you can choose which of the four leagues you’ll be starting your career in.  Also returning is the challenge mode, where you recreate/rewrite the finishes of recent real-life NASCAR races.  The incentive this time around is that you unlock “race-winning” paint schemes for each challenge you complete, which brings back memories of NASCAR games from EA Sports and Atari.  Speaking of EA Sports games, the championship mode now has special types of short seasons that you can take part in.  Sadly, the ability to make your own season hasn’t been granted yet, but never say never.  And if racing against AI isn’t enough for you, you’ll be pleased to know that the 40-player online mode has been given some polish.

Shake and bake

The graphics in this year’s game give a greater sense of speed, even though the framerate slows down from time to time when you’ve got heavy traffic near you.  You even get day-to-night transitions during races, but the catch is that you can only see them if you race with the multi-stage format.  While the visuals definitely won’t please everybody, the audio is absolutely stellar.  Thanks to the FMOD program, the sounds of the engines, crashes, and track surfaces are more realistic than ever.

I feel like I’m ready to roll

After a few blown tires, 704Games and Monster Games have finally given the NASCAR Heat series a true revival.  I personally find this to be the best dedicated NASCAR game I’ve played since NASCAR Racing 2003 Season.  And considering just how much I loved that final hurrah from Papyrus Racing Games, what I just said about Heat 4 is incredibly high praise and it’s not hyperbolic whatsoever.  If you’re a racing game fanatic of any sort, NASCAR Heat 4 is well-deserving of a spot in your gaming garage.  Boogity boogity boogity…Let’s go racin’, gamers!

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.

THQ Nordic acquires Milestone S.r.l.

If you like virtual two-wheel racing, chances are you’ll recognize the name Milestone S.r.l.  The Italian studio has years of experience with motorcycle games, and they currently have partnerships with MotoGP, MXGP. and Monster Energy Supercross.  However, they’ve been facing tough dirt-bike competition in the form of the MX vs. ATV series from THQ Nordic.  And it’s ironic that I mention said competition, because the Swedish videogame holding company has purchased Milestone, thus acquiring the rights to series like MotoGPMonster Energy Supercross, MXGP, and Ride.  In theory, this could be a big help to Milestone since they didn’t quite have the budget that racing game giants like Codemasters have.  It’s also an ironic acquisition since THQ Nordic used to have the MotoGP license themselves, so it feels like they’re delving into their past in some fashion.  On a personal note, I feel like one of the biggest reasons for this purchase is that THQ Nordic has been concerned about the possibility of Milestone’s dirt-bike games wiping the floor with the MX vs. ATV series.  Again, that’s just my personal opinion, and you’ll have to hear the real story from the horse’s mouth.  Regardless of reasons, I’m curious to see how Milestone performs now that a giant publisher has acquired them and thus helped them out financially.

Sunscreen at the ready — EA reveals Need for Speed: Heat

Despite its last game being filled with loot-box controversy, Need for Speed‘s engine is still revving loudly.  EA’s long-running, high-selling driving franchise returns this November in the form of Need for Speed: Heat.  The team at Ghost Games promised months prior that the series would once again return to its cops-and-racers roots, and the reveal trailer has proven that to be true.  Palm City is full of cops that get more and more aggressive as the sun goes down and the moon comes up.  You’ll be competing in the Speedhunters Showdown competition during the day, and partaking in illegal street races at night.  And in typical NFS fashion, every car in your garage will be customizable in numerous ways.  On November 8, Need for Speed: Heat busts out of the starting blocks.

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!