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!

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Review of NBA 2K20 — As cinematic and emotional as virtual basketball can be

There have been many competitors when it comes to basketball games, and NBA 2K has been on the top of the mountain since its opening tip-off in 1999.  For many years, it faced its toughest competition in EA’s NBA Live series, but the latter began throwing up very bad bricks as the eighth generation of consoles started.  The 2K series has been heavily lauded for its spectacular graphics, tight controls, and incredible depth, and this year’s iteration once again delivers all of the above in spades.  With that being said, let’s hit the paint and discuss all the three-pointers that NBA 2K20 effortlessly drains.

A virtual Mike Lupica novel

The most notable change in this year’s game is the overhauled MyCareer mode.  You still have the usual prelude games and exercises, as well as off-court interactions with NPC’s, but the storyline of your career is more cinematic and emotional than ever before.  It feels like 2K took notes from the story modes of FIFA and Madden NFL, and that’s not a bad thing.  The cutscenes look beautiful and the voice-acting drains its layups.  Did I mention the story was written by a team that includes LeBron James?

Other than a career mode with a new structure, the list of modes is business as usual.  You’ve got obligatory modes like exhibition games, MyTeam, MyGM, MyLeague, Blacktop, and online play.  Also, you can now play through a full WNBA season if you’re up for shooting hoops with the ladies.  The Neighborhood has new additions like a day/night cycle, seasonal changes, and even a disc golf course.  The sheer level of depth that NBA 2K is known for once again delivers.

Shot clock cheese

The graphical improvement is very subtle, but the visuals are still as crisp and beautiful as ever.  2K20 also has stellar audio, with the usual butt-ton of above-average commentary lines and a decent soundtrack that blares everything from Ariana Grande to Motley Crue.

I like the way they dribble up and down the court

Ever since ’99, it’s clear that the folks at Take-Two Interactive love basketball, and they’ve once again proven just how serious that love is.  Even if basketball isn’t your favorite sport, NBA 2K20 belongs on your shelf if you need a sports game that constantly delivers backboard-shattering dunks worthy of the highlight reel.

Review of Yu-Gi-Oh Legacy of the Duelist: Link Evolution — A virtual Duel Monsters museum

When I was seven years old, the kid next door and I frequently hung out on weekends and nerded out about anime things.  We’d watch the shows on a tube TV, and then we’d play a variety of tabletop games about them.  And thanks to him, I became a big fan of Yu-Gi-Oh.  I played the card game quite often, got hooked on the TV show about it, and even dressed up as Yugi Muto for Halloween when I was 10.  However, as I got ready to begin my teen years, I wasn’t keeping up with it as much due to my other interests and how busy my personal life got.  But with a little help from the folks at Konami and Other Ocean, Yu-Gi-Oh fans like myself can relive childhood memories and do a little catching up with Legacy of the Duelist: Link Evolution for the Nintendo Switch.

Card games with or without motorcycles

A Switch-exclusive enhanced port, Link Evolution contains over 9,000 cards that cover all eras of the Yu-Gi-Oh timeline, from the original series to the VRAINS series and everything in between.  The campaign mode has you reliving prominent duels from the manga and anime, and you must win said duels in order to earn currency and unlock booster packs that you can buy in the card shop.  There is no voice-acting to be heard, but the dialogue makes up for it since it’s a near-exact copy of the anime’s transcripts.  When you feel like you’ve made at least one powerful deck, you can enter multiplayer and play in either a custom or ranked lobby.  One gripe I have with it is that even in private lobbies, you can’t use your custom decks if they have “forbidden” cards.  It’s not a dealbreaker, but hopefully there will be a patch that allows you to disable this ruling when you make your own lobby.

Since this is just a simulation of a card game, you shouldn’t go into it expecting gorgeous graphics or a large jukebox.  However, the playing fields mimic those of the anime quite well, and the 2D characters look as if they just jumped right off the manga pages.  And although the music catalog is very thin, it’s still a fitting soundtrack.

That’s game

Konami has taken its ownership of the Yu-Gi-Oh Trading Card Game quite seriously, and they’ve once again proved it with this very addicting Duel Monsters simulation.  Whether you’re a longtime Yu-Gi-Oh supporter or you just like virtual card games, Link Evolution is a must-have for your Switch library.  Get your game on!

Review of Pokémon Snap — For those with the benefit of Pokémon photography

For those of you who don’t know me very well, something I really wanted when I was a child was my very own camera.  Not because I was jealous of those in my family who owned one, but because I developed a fascination with walking around and taking pictures of the beautiful pieces of nature that surrounded my home.  I know it sounds like I watched too much Discovery Kids when I was a lot younger, but this wish of mine was actually influenced by a very interesting spin-off in the heavily-revered Pokémon franchise.  Replace the turn-based strategy with on-rails photography, and you get Pokémon Snap for the Nintendo 64.

Gotta photograph ’em all

Released in the summer of 1999, Pokémon Snap tasks you with taking pictures of 63 Pokémon in their natural habitats.  You and your trusty ZERO-ONE vehicle travel through seven courses that make up Pokémon Island, and you must use your photography prowess and a handful of gadgets to make sure your pictures look as nice as possible.  Every time you complete a trip, you must choose which of your shots will be shown to Professor Oak, who gives your pictures ratings based on size, pose, and technique.  Even though the amount of courses seems small, the goals of timing your shots correctly and searching for all the included Pokémon will have you hooked.

This was the first game to have 3D Pokémon character models, and the team at HAL Laboratory did a fantastic job designing both those and the courses’ graphics.  There can be a little slowdown when things like smoke and fire cover a big portion of the screen, but it’s only temporary.  In terms of sound, the voice-acting for each character (Both human and Pokémon) is above average, and each course comes with very appropriate music.

Snap, crackle, Pika

This Pokémon game doesn’t have nearly as much replay value as the main series we know and love, but it’s a unique game within its franchise.  If for some reason you enjoy photography simulators, or if you simply enjoy on-rails games of any kind, Pokémon Snap will no doubt be a very charming addition to your N64 library.  It could definitely use a sequel on the Nintendo Switch, especially if it’d allow you to share your in-game photos directly to Facebook and Twitter.  If we can’t bring our cartridges to Blockbuster anymore to print out our photos, we may as well go the social media route.

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 Madden NFL ’20 — Leather or laces?

For the kids, August means it’s time to go back to school.  But for fans of sports games, August means it’s time for another game of virtual pigskin.  The 30th iteration of EA Sports’ iconic Madden NFL franchise has stepped onto the gridiron, bringing with it some obligatory tweaks and things that might remind you of features from older titles.  So without further ado, let’s take the field and discuss where Madden ’20 completes its passes and where it loses a few yards.

Commander in Kansas City Chiefs

This year, the folks at EA heavily hyped up how much more important each of the teams’ star players are in terms of their stats and statistics, meaning that the difference between them and lesser-known players is bigger than ever.  That might sound like a weird thing to advertise regarding sports games, but it’s not something to sneeze at.  On the field, the controls for things like catching and blocking are tighter than they were last year.  As for game modes, one has been added/brought back and one has been sacked.  The “Longshot” mode has been replaced by “Face of the Franchise: QB1.” After the College Football Playoff, you enter the NFL Draft and it’s on from there.  This mode is basically supposed to bring back memories of the “Superstar” mode that has been absent since Madden 25.  Also, this mode includes ten officially-licensed NCAA teams, which might be foreshadowing a future return of the NCAA Football series (I ain’t gonna bank on that, though).  Unfortunately, existing modes like Franchise and Ultimate Team haven’t had any highly-noticeable upgrades, but at least they’re not broken or unrefined.

The Colts of personality

Not much has changed within the graphics engine, but the animations and physics look a lot smoother than they did last year.  What stood out to more than the graphics was the much-improved chatter from all the players on the field.  Another change with the audio is that the soundtrack only contains songs specifically composed for the game by a variety of well-known artists.  It’s mainly full of rap, which isn’t my favorite genre, but you’ll be satisfied if that’s your cup of tea.

Don’t get mad, get Madden

It may hit the uprights here and there, but Madden ’20 is still a fun game of football that manages to complete the passes that matter.  Whether you’re an adamant sports gamer or a member of a family of football diehards, this year’s installment is another well-produced dose of gridiron goodness for both newbies and veterans of what is probably the most influential franchise in all of sports games.

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!