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!

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.

Nintendo Direct Recap

Today’s Nintendo Direct was chock full of announcements and new details about many upcoming games and had a few surprises as well.

The switch version of Overwatch that’s been rumored for a few days was the first thing Nintendo showed and is releasing on October 15. The trailer also showed of motion controls for some of the heroes as well.

Nintendo then jumped straight into Luigi’s Mansion 3 details showing off some new levels of the haunted hotel and a new multiplayer mode which pits a team of Luigi’s and Gooigi’s against each other.

The first surprise release was a free-to-play Kirby game called Super Kirby Clash which will be available today. Also releasing today is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s third fighter Banjo Kazooie which was detailed in a separate video after the Direct.

The fourth DLC character was announced during the Direct though. He is Terry Bogard from the series Fatal Fury and will release in November. Along with the Terry announcement Nintendo revealed there will be more paid DLC characters coming to Ultimate after the fighter pass finishes.

Pokemon developer Game Freak also has a new game coming to Switch called Little Town Hero which is coming out October 16. It’s available for pre-purchase today and seems to be a turn based fighting game that draws inspiration from Pokemon.

Speaking of Pokemon, the stream went over 4 new details for Sword and Shield. Character customization returns but now will have more depth and options allowing you to accessorize and even choose makeup. You can also set up a Pokemon camp in the wild and play with your Pokemon, experiment with curry recipes and visit other trainers’ camps. Two new Pokemon were detailed; Polteageist is a teapot shaped ghost type and Cramorant is a duck-looking water-flying type.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Nintendo announced a few new IP’s, revealed new remakes, detailed already announced ones, and introduced new SNES games coming to the online subscription. They also announced a smorgasbord of new ports including a classic Star Wars game, Doom 64 and an Assassin’s Creed collection including Rogue and Black Flag.

The final announcement was Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition, a remake of the Wii title coming in 2020. For more details on that as well as things like a Tetris 99 update, The Witcher 3 port, and Animal Crossing New Horizons, check out the video below.

Remedy Working on Technical Issues for Control

Control from Remedy Games released this past Tuesday to favorable reviews, but players should be aware of some technical issues that have surfaced.

Many are singing the praises of Control after having the week to play (our own review will be coming out soon) but a recent video is pointing out a frame rate issue on the console version.

Digital Foundry did a breakdown of what players are facing, and while PC has its issues, consoles are having the most trouble. Base PS4 and Xbox One have the worst of the frame rate issues but even PS4 Pro and Xbox One X aren’t immune to the slowdown. Click the link above or watch the video for a more in-depth explanation

That being said, Remedy did announce Friday they are working on it. The blog announcement, which you can read here, addresses several issues but also mentions “console optimization” in general improvements. The frame rate isn’t mentioned specifically but considering the frame rate is the biggest issue I’ve seen on console, I bet that’s part of it.

I personally haven’t finished the game yet (thus no review yet) but I will say I am enjoying the game so far, frame rate issues aside. It usually slows down during fights which is a shame considering how beautiful the game looks in motion. The physics engine is incredible and fights result in so much debris and damage to the environment sometimes it’s a miracle the room is still standing. But more on that in my review.

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.

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.