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All posts by Jason Weight
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published Monday, Mar 02nd

Nerf N-Strike Review

People aren’t content with just buying a game nowadays. Some games come with a shiny metal box, or a t-shirt, and sometimes DRM install limits. Well NERF N-Strike comes with a foam dart pistol.

Upon opening the oversized game box, we find a NERF Switch-Shot EX-3 dart gun and three foam darts, earning the game a 10/10 score before we’ve even taken the plastic wrap off the case. After knocking a few things off the mantelpiece, we find the next amazing part – the pistol firing assembly comes undone, revealing a holster for a Wii controller, turning your NERF gun into a light gun. Things can only go downhill from here.

NERF N-Strike, by EA and Hasbro, is essentially a target-shooting game, in the same vein as the Point Blank series for the PS1, with various robot-shooting modes to fight through. You are set into the shoes of Shane, a video arcade whiz recruited for his light gun skills (how very Last Starfighter), and set up against a series of racially diverse opponents, not unlike Pokemon gym bosses, to test your skills with a wide array of different NERF guns.

The gameplay is solid enough. Generally you are shooting robots as they come at you, either in a rail-based arcade style or in a shooting gallery, or destroying blocks or spheres in one of the game’s gravity-based mini-games. The aim is to beat the high-score of your enemy, which isn’t particularly difficult, while they shout racially stereotyped slogans at you – one example being ‘Jackal’, the Latino challenger, who tells you, “Give up, I could use a siesta anyway”, followed by “You are awful! Maybe you need a siesta!”

The controls are a little awkward at first. The Wii controller makes the light gun top-heavy, meaning you have to steady the barrel with a second hand. Though your gun auto-reloads you’ll find yourself sometimes needing to reload manually, and this is made difficult by designating the A-button for the job, on top of the pistol. Having said that, it’s easy enough to aim two-handed, and the gun’s trigger taps the B-button just fine, so overall it’s not a bad light gun at all.

Visually, the game falls a little short. The fuzzily rendered robots in the arcade mode could have come straight out of a PS2 processor. Having said that, the two gravity-based mini-games look very much Wii-rendered, and this compensates. The way the darts fire on-screen means you have to compensate for the speed of the dart versus the time it takes to reach your target, and this adds some realism to the game, along with the way your darts bounce realistically off of walls when you miss your mark. Animated cut-scenes tell the story as you move through the missions, and these are illustrated in a frame-by-frame style, much like the stylised cut scenes in Mirror’s Edge.

Unlocking the 26 real and fictional NERF guns is a real reason to beat the missions, as earning the various sniper rifles, magnums, missile launchers and machine guns will spur on any kid that grew up in the nineties, where NERF, the indoor answer to the Super Soaker, was one of the coolest things you could show your friends. Having said this, beating the missions takes only a few hours, and with no difficulty setting to speak of the adult gamer is reminded of the game’s youthful target audience. Multiplayer extends the longevity of the game somewhat, though the lack of a second pistol means it’s only good for a quick head-to-head (a’la Wii Play) before it becomes frustrating for the second player.

In conclusion, Nerf N-Strike is a decent course of shooting mini-games, even if it is little easy and short-lived. The Switch-Shot pistol is a solid light gun, and makes the NERF experience that much more realistic. Parents will see that it’s easy and non-violent enough to buy it for their kids, and they’ll likely find themselves playing it alone, too. The real thing you’ll find yourself doing after completing the game is firing foam darts around your house. Unfortunately EA and Hasbro may have inadvertently juxtaposed their fairly good Wii game against the irresistible fun of pinging foam darts off the back of people’s heads. Luckily these pistols can be bought separately for half the price of the full game, avoiding the need to actually buy Nerf N-Strike.


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published Friday, Dec 12th

Facebreaker K.O. Party Review

Fans of Punch Out!! and Ready 2 Rumble Boxing have been squirming with fist-happy glee sinceFacebreaker was announced in January. Distinctive characters, cartoon violence, and a worthy challenger to the Punch Out!! throne were all promised. Two of these things have been achieved. Guess which one wasn’t.

Simply put, the controls are a tragedy. If you want to see two people in snazzy clothes slap wildly at each other, you could walk to your local bar at closing time. Facebreaker K.O. Party charges £20 for it. Jab as fast as you can, a’ la Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots, to interrupt your opponent’s blows. You can dodge the hundred-hand-slap, but it requires you to yank the Wiimote towards you, and it’s so finicky and unresponsive that you end up flailing about like an idiot. It’s almost as if they ported the game right across from the Xbox and PS3 versions, where you actually have buttons to bash.

To that you might say, ‘Big deal. So there are no tactics. Plenty of games have simple controls, to attract casual gamers.’ Wrong. The computer AI is so difficult, even at the easiest setting, that playing the single player mode is akin to fighting off a wolf with a feather duster. They may as well rename the game “AAGH! LET ME DODGE!” and be done with it. And to that you might say, ‘It’s called K.O Party. It’s multiplayer. So what if the solo mode is a pain?’ Well you’d be wrong; half of the characters and most of the stages need to be unlocked, and guess how you do it? Six championship belts, each more difficult than the last, totaling 18 matches, and if you decide to switch characters mid-way you have to start all over again.

So now let’s focus on the good. There are a few attractive aspects to this game. To start, we have the stylised and original characters. Each has a personality, a distinctive look and manner, and unique stats that alter the gameplay (though this comes down to either ‘punch slow’ or ‘punch fast’). Then we have the between-round break, where the characters show off their warped, bruised faces. Finding their jaw where their ear should be is, admittedly, entertaining – if only for the satisfaction of knowing your character has suffered like you have.

The game’s main attribute is the soundtrack. 24 tracks of licensed music, including material from the likes of The Hives, Gogol Bordello, the Dropkick Murphys and The Go! Team, as well as many electro and hip-hop songs, play as menu music and character theme songs. The inclusion of such high-calibre music really makes you want to like Facebreaker K.O. Party. But if anything, it causes this awful depthless game to stand juxtaposed against the soundtrack, like an old man doing the Charleston at a rave.

So, we’re back to the criticism.

Here are some features of boxing: wearing down your opponent, provocation, stances and footwork. And here are some features of not-boxing: kicks to the balls, glowing fists and charging up your Facebreaker-bar to instantly win the match with a special move.

So, as opposed to being a boxing game, it seems Facebreaker is an impaired beat-’em-up, with two kinds of block (one of which being too finicky to be valid), punching, and damageless throws. Each character has a different move-set, plus one special move. That’s five moves. Pitiful though it may be, this is some incentive to unlock more players. The game isn’t entirely unplayable, just entirely frustrating. Occasionally you’ll win a match, but then you’ll return to the character-select screen to find some nasal American singing emo-pop and tainting the only good aspect to the game.

In conclusion, Facebreaker is superficial, weak, and an apology of a game. If EA Freestyle put half the time and money into the gameplay as they did the soundtrack, it might have worked. But yet again, the studio formerly known as EA Sports Big – the once-great brand that gave us SSX Tricky – has shamed itself with another game of the lowest calibre.


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published Saturday, Nov 08th

Celebrity Sport Showdown Review

A quick look at the box confirms it – you’re in for the night of your life. Celebrities, sports mini-games, and Avril Lavigne making devil-horns on a 4-fingered cartoon hand. “The latest must-have party game!” Oh boy!

Starting single-player tournament mode, you’re offered 25 characters, 15 of which are generic stereotypes, including a goth guy, a wild girl, a fat guy, etc, and the other 10 are celebrated people, including LeAnn Rimes, Sugar Ray Leonard, Avril Lavigne, Fergie, and Nelly Furtado. These are the 5 recognizable names. The other 5 may as well be additional generic characters. Given that this is GameBrit, and not GameYank,  EA has not considered its audience. What European gamer, especially the early-teens age group this game is aimed at, could recognise an American football star, or a female American soccer player? On that note, we move onto the gameplay itself.

Avril Lavigne is arguably the main star of the game, so anticipate failure, it only seem fitting. After that you can select 3 rivals to compete against, in this case Fergie, avec digital lady-lumps; Nelly Furtado; and Paul Pierce, who looks like a basketballer of some sort.

Playing the first mini-game, volleyball, the first thing you’ll be aware of is the lack of sophistication in controls. Flick the remote up to knock the ball up, flick down to knock it down, and the A button has you jump four-times your own height, all while your character is moving independently of you. Understandably it’s meant to be easy, but not win-first-try easy, surely? A possible upside is that it’s so easy that you can play it with your older relatives, and you could lie and say that Paul Pierce is an SAS war hero, and that Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas is actually Sarah ‘Fergie’ Ferguson, Duchess of York. They’ll like that. Of course Avril may have been given the best stats as a character, being the top dog. Except that’s not the case, even chunky American footballer Reggie Bush, who’d you expect to be slower and stronger plays the same as does every character plays the same. The celebrities are just a gimmick. They don’t even say anything. Their names and smiling likenesses are the only evidence of character throughout.

The tournament mode takes ten rounds, and allows you to unlock further generic characters, including Elise from the SSX series. As these characters have no unique statistics, it isn’t really worth completing the tournament mode with every character in order to get them.  Multiplayer mode improves the game, but after trying each of the 12 mini-games you’d only want to play dodgeball. 1 out of 12 is not a great result, EA freestyle. One player, a seasoned gamer, called it “Pathetic”, and the other, a sports fan who doesn’t own a console, found it “Gimmicky and substandard.”

If you visit the EA Extras section from the main menu, expecting a Making Of, a music video or two, maybe footage of the celebrities posing so designers could record their likenesses, just to reward the gamer for their purchase you’d be disappointed. What you get is a Credits option, solitary in the entire section. It’s like calling a DVD’s Scene Selector an Easter egg. Nice.

Here’s the breakdown of the best and worst of the mini-games:

Downhill Skiing

My character’s wearing a snow hat with a bobble on top, presumably to compensate for the short skirt and tank top. Simple (steer, boost, jump), few obstacles, and if I come off a ramp and slightly lift my remote then Avril flips upside-down and spins her skis 1080 degrees like a helicopter. EA, you’re not even trying.

Joust Duel

Like Robin Hood and Little John, and to a lesser extent ITV’s Gladiators, stand on a beam and paste each other with a big stick. Could have feasibly been fun, even replayable, but controls as reactive as a geriatric’s libido make for a dissatisfying experience. I’ll stick to manikins and horse blood for future interactive celebrity-beating simulation. This is a frantic button-bashing farce.

Cliff Hangers
Free-climbing up a cliff face, avoiding obstacles, and throwing water balloons to stun each other. With a fiddly combo of the D-pad and an upward flicking-motion, it feels like trying to hold the handle and metal of a frying pan together whilst flipping pancakes, and is just as inconvenient. The upside is watching Avril fall down a cliff.

Curling

LeAnn Rimes is running on ice in heels, wielding a broom, clearing the path for a rock. How Freudian. This game is difficult to play, as the controls are now over responsive, with the slightest twitch of the wiimote sending your scrub-ice-with-broom meter to full. Takes some time to get used to, as you can alter the velocity and curl of your stone, so takes more skill than most other mini-games. As curling is like a game of bowls on ice, it may be of interest to Grandad, though I doubt he’ll take Paul Pierce the War Hero to victory.

Dodgeball

In a break from the cynicism, this is a fairly good mini-game. Roll, duck, dodge, hide behind walls, and catch balls in mid-air with good timing. Explosive and invincibility balls diversify the game, and only being aware of everything happening on-screen will protect you from the barrage. Multiplayer was a good laugh with this one. Plus you can paste Nelly Furtado in the face with a bomb.

Air Racers

And now for that ever-popular sport, flying armed fighter jets through hoops in a canyon. Brings back childhood memories. Awkward controls and narrow levels, combined with slowing to turtle-speed if you miss a hoop, cause this mini-game – though attractive in concept – to be very tedious. Despite this, it’s easy to win, because the computer AI is about as wily as a beached whale; running into walls and firing their missiles at the ground.

In conclusion, though Celebrity Sports Showdown Wii wasn’t ever going to be a hit with experienced gamers, it fails its British audience of Avril-loving teenagers with poor controls, unrecognisable American stars, and a lack of variety in contestants’ abilities. Stick to Wii Play and Wii Sports.