Review of Pokémon Sword & Shield — Galar Calling

Since its 1996 debut, the international phenomenon in Pokémon has always seemed to cater towards the handheld-gaming crowd.  While there had been plenty of spin-offs and remakes for home consoles ranging from the N64 to the Wii U, having a portable system was a requirement if you wanted a piece of the core Pokémon lineup.  But thanks to the Switch, that prerequisite has been axed.  After three years of development, Pokémon Sword & Shield have arrived as the first main-series Pokémon games for home consoles.  I know these games have been the butt of backlash for several reasons, but it’s a still good duo of games on their own merit.  Let’s whip out our Pokédexes and converse about it.

Jolly ol’ Galar

The eighth generation of this heavily-revered franchise is set in the Galar region, which is based on the United Kingdom.  The plot is mostly the same as previous gens — You receive your starter Pokémon, learn the ropes of being a Trainer, and go on a quest to become the regional Pokémon champion.  Gym Battles are part of your journey again, except the lineup of Gym Leaders you face depends on which of these two versions you decide to play.

With tea or biscuits

Although features like Mega Evolutions and Z-Moves have been tossed and the Pokédex has been trimmed, there are plenty of new things to do in your latest Pokémon adventure.  You can take part in raids similar to those in Pokémon Go, have your Pokémon partake in special tasks, and even spend some time socializing and cooking meals with your Pokémon.  It should also be pointed out that the world now has a dynamic weather system, and the powerful critters can temporarily become larger in appearance thanks to Dynamax and Gigantamax forms.  Lastly, if you have some Pokémon from previous adventures that you’d like to bring along with you for this ride, you’ll be able to transfer them via the upcoming Pokémon Home service.

No Game, No Watch, Just Galar-y

Despite seeming like a very polarizing duo of games in its franchise, Pokémon Sword & Shield do what they can to provide you with more of the great Pokémon fun that’s been had since its late-90’s launch.  The new formula may seem a bit too streamlined to your liking at first; But once your adventure in the Galar region commences, you’ll have nothing to develop gripes about.

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.

Review of Luigi’s Mansion 3 — Welcome to the Hotel Luigi

After a six-year hiatus, Mario’s younger bro Luigi has once again busted out his trusty vacuum and flashlight in his first titular adventure for the Nintendo Switch.  Even though I missed out on Dark Moon, I got pretty psyched when I heard that Luigi’s Mansion 3 was going to be a thing.  And now that I’ve gotten my hands on it, I can say that Nintendo and Next Level Games have done an admirable job with the third chapter of this spin-off series.  With that preamble out of the way, let’s chat about all the cool stuff that Luigi’s latest Ghostbusters-like adventure brings to the table.

Hotel hijinks

The Mario Bros., Princess Peach, and a group of Toads have received invitations to a luxurious hotel called the Last Resort, so they hop in their bus and hit the road without thinking of what could possibly go wrong.  After everyone gets checked in and hits the sack, Luigi and his Polterpup sidekick wake up in the middle of the night to find that his friends and bother are nowhere to be found and the hotel seems a little haunted.  After an encounter with the hotel’s corrupt staff, as well as King Boo, it turns out that Luigi’s allies (Prof. E. Gadd included) have been imprisoned in paintings.  With the help of his ghost-sucking prowess, it’s up to the green-clad plumber to restore order to the hotel and rescue his pals.

It sucks and blows…Literally

Luigi’s Mansion 3 runs on the same engine as its 3DS predecessor, with some obligatory refinements.  The mission-based structure of Dark Moon has been given the boot, and has been replaced by checkpoints that autosave your progress.  Luigi’s Poltergust has been given some new moves like shooting plungers, knocking enemies back with a jet of air, and throwing ghosts onto the floor or into each other.  You can even play as Gooigi from the 3DS port of the original Luigi’s Mansion, and he’ll be a big help if you need to navigate tight spaces or walk across spiked floors (Just don’t fall into water).

If you want the option to have friends explore the haunted hotel with you, your wish is granted.  The campaign supports two-player co-op, and you also get a plate of eight-player modes that task you and your friends with capturing ghosts, firing cannonballs at targets, or catching as many coins as you can.  It’s evident that replay value was high on Nintendo’s priority list when this game was in development.

Who ya gonna call?

The Luigi’s Mansion spin-off series is not intended to be in the same league as the heavyweight platformers the Mario franchise is heavily lauded for, but that doesn’t mean it can’t produce fun games.  With its high replay value and truckload of charm, Luigi’s Mansion 3 is, without a doubt, another must-have for Nintendo’s hybrid console.  We might not get a fourth installment anytime soon, but there’s plenty of  ghost-sucking fun to be had here.

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 FIFA ‘20 — Where the street is named VOLTA

The whistle has blown, and it’s once again time to lace up the cleats and jugar futbol.  EA Sports’ global juggernaut in FIFA has hit the pitch for the 27th time, and while it’s certainly not completely different from its predecessor, it does include a handful of obligatory refinements, not to mention a throwback to its spin-off series.  Do these new features make FIFA ’20 worth the $60 price of admission? Let’s dust off our vuvuzelas and find out.

You held the world in your arms

This iteration’s most hyped-up feature is a mode that replaces the Journey mode from the last three games.  Known as VOLTA Football, this mode is essentially a callback to the FIFA Street series.  The two teams have 3-5 players apiece, and you get to choose whether or not the match has goalies and walls.  The pitches are set in some of the world’s most famous cities, and they come with commentary spoken in the native languages.  If you prefer matches that emphasize showmanship over teamwork, this mode is tailor-made for you.

Don’t worry, the VOLTA mode isn’t the only addition to this year’s game.  The ball physics, penalty kicks, and free kicks have been given some tweaks, making the on-pitch action more fluid than ever.  The Mystery Ball and King of the Hill match types are now not only in single games, but in Ultimate Team as well.  The offline career mode has been updated quite heavily, featuring interactive press conferences and player convos, the ability to fully customize your created manager, and a very streamlined user interface.

I am just a copy of a…

Despite facing the usual tough competition from Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer, EA Sports’ globally-iconic FIFA series continues to nail its headers and volleys.  Whether you prefer team-based strategy or fancy footwork when it comes to how you play soccer games, this installment won’t disappoint you.

Review of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (2019) — I want this to be my awakening

It’s no secret that Nintendo has a knack for releasing updated ports of prominent games in their catalog, but it should also be noted that they haven’t released that many full-blown remakes.  For a long time, the big N seemed nearly completely hesitant when it came to completely redesigning classic games for new consoles.  However, as the 3DS’s life cycle winds down and the Switch continues to be highly successful, that hesitance is becoming a thing of the past.  And now that games from established franchises like Pokémon and Metroid have been given the remake treatment in the last two years, next in line is The Legend of Zelda.  But instead of the first Zelda remake being that of a heavy-hitter like A Link to the Past or Ocarina of Time, Nintendo and Grezzo have chosen to unearth the 1993 Game Boy gem in Link’s Awakening.

I can swing my sword, sword

If you’ve played the original version, you’ll know the story by heart.  Link is caught in a storm while sailing on his ship, and he ends up stranded on Koholint Island.  The skilled swordsman then spends time lying unconscious on the grains of sand, until a girl named Marin comes to the rescue.  After getting acquainted with this new location, Link must awaken the Wind Fish so that he can begin his trip back to his home kingdom of Hyrule.

We all know the gameplay structure when it comes to Zelda games, and this remake is no different.  There’s a sword to swing, dungeons to explore, sidequests to complete, and upgrades to buy.  The dungeons you complete can now be played in a time attack mode if you want to earn some goodies  You even get to create your own dungeons as your journey goes on.  From the dungeons to the minigames, this remake doesn’t disappoint in the upgrades department.

Despite a noticeable amount of framerate drops, the visual style is both charming and beautiful.  The dot-eyed character models are kind really cute, in my opinion.  Also, the soundtrack does an above-average job recapturing that of the original Game Boy version.

Gone with the Wind Fish

This remake of Link’s Awakening does have a few dents in its shield, but it’s definitely a must-have for your Switch library, even if you never played the 1993 classic it’s on based on.  Will the success of this one influence Nintendo to pump out additional Zelda remakes on the Switch? Time will tell, but I don’t see why not.

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!