A free, once-weekly round-up of all the best Nintendo Switch links, articles and videos from the past seven days.
published Sunday, Jun 24th

Man U’s Old Trafford Recreated In Minecraft

The world of Minecraft is well known for being a haven of creativity and its recent release on the Xbox 360 has seemingly broadened its pool of designers if the video below is anything to go by.

Recreated in intricate detail is Manchester United’s home ground – Old Trafford, complete with VIP boxes, player tunnels as well as a full sized pitch. It’s an impressive feat to behold and one that likely took a lot of time to finish.

Celebration Pack by
published Wednesday, Apr 25th

Microsoft Announce Patriotic Xbox 360 Complete With Union Jack

Microsoft has announced  a special new Xbox 360 bundle specifically for the UK, set to arrive just weeks ahead of the London 2012 Olympics. The bundle includes a matte white 360, keeping the same 4GB of internal storage seen on the low-end model, along with a matching Kinect sensor, a controller, Kinect Sports and Kinect Adeventures!.

If the plain matte white console doesn’t grab you, or if you are feeling particularly patriotic, the bundle comes with Union Jack transfers for the console, Kinect sensor and controller.

published Tuesday, Mar 20th

Microsoft Launches BBC iPlayer Application On Xbox 360

The BBC’s own online video service, BBC iPlayer, has finally found its way onto the Xbox 360.

The application, which has been available to PlayStation 3 users since last year and to Wii owners since 2009, was launched by Microsoft on March 20th. The service is expected to be available to all UK users by midnight of the same day according to a Eurogamer report.

published Monday, Jun 20th

Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale Review

It has been seven years since the last Dungeons and Dragons game was released for consoles. This new downloadable offering from Bedlam Games and Wizards of the Coast returns us to the forgotten realms in search of gold, adventure and probably a few goblins to kill as well.

Swarm by
published Wednesday, Mar 30th

Swarm Review

In essence Swarm is a basic platformer where the aim is to navigate from one end of the level to the other, picking up collectable items to score points along the way. Of course standing in between the character and the end goal are the usual obstacles, pitfalls, puzzles and annoying enemies. Simple, right? Not quite.

Set in a fiery, rubble-strewn vision of hell, Swarm’s premise surrounds a multitude of little blue blob like creatures known as ‘swarmites’ who must help their mother grow. This is done by collecting purple gems which equal points and unlock levels. According to the game this is because she needs a new hat, a giant amorphous blue blob with a hat? Who’d have thought?

Unlike the majority of platform games it’s not just the level that makes the game challenging but also the swarmites, which despite their numbers move, jump and perform a variety of manoeuvres as one. Needless to say some will meet their doom and go to the great swarm in the sky. These can however these can be replaced at re-spawn points dotted around the level. Lose all of them and it’s back to the last checkpoint, although the more spectacular deaths earn the player a slightly pointless but nonetheless rewarding death medal.

It’s one particular movement, in which the swarmites separate out and come together using LT and RT respectively that provides the most unique challenge. Separate out and the blobs can collect more gems, however they’re more susceptible to the dangers of the level. Stay close together and you’re more protected but much slower and unable to collect gems as quickly. So it soon becomes obvious to alter in between the two in order to navigate the level in the quickest yet safest manner possible.

Swarm’s control scheme is an intriguing and fun addition to the typical platformer, however a major issue soon appears – the scoring system. The concept has been used previously; multiple gems in quick succession earn a multiplier alongside points. The more gems picked up, the higher the multiplier and the bigger the score. However the obscenely high score required to unlock each subsequent level and relatively steep difficulty curve sap any potential fun the unique gameplay might have had. Challenging levels are part of video gaming and are welcome, but to set the bar so high to the point where each level requires 20-30 plays is almost guaranteed to make even the most determined gamer switch off their console.

This is keenly demonstrated in the differences between the third and fourth levels. The third is a twist of flaming mazes, red-hot jumps, bottomless falls and almost inescapable enemies. An extremely difficult but not quite impossible level in which to rack up that multiplier and earn the points required. The fourth level is much the same, but in the dark, guaranteed to make any difficult situation even more difficult. It seems that the developers recognized the amount of plays the game required and introduced the aforementioned death medals to appease the player slightly. It doesn’t work.

Swarm has potential; it’s distinctive and somewhat charming characters in the blue blobs and the unique controller scheme used to manoeuvre make for a fun gaming experience. However, while nothing is more rewarding than at last reaching that point total and completing a level, the controller-smashing frustration of the numerous attempts it takes to do it really isn’t worth the effort. Set the bar lower or make the course easier, one or the other. Otherwise Swarm will scare people off in their droves.

published Wednesday, Aug 04th

Blacklight Tango Down Review (Xbox 360)

Blacklight Tango Down is a game that reads excellent on paper. A First Person Shooter, downloadable, with unlockables, co-op and a wealth of maps and game types to die for. But not every game that looks good on paper is the same in reality.

As previously mentioned, there is a good amount of content in the game for the money. Blacklight Tango Down takes place in a futuristic Eastern-European setting among 12 metropolitan maps. Although it never really plays into the game, the two factions that make the teams have some backstory. Blacklight is a “covert ops unit” that is pro-US, and they are provided with the latest technology to fight The Order, a rebel group comprised of anti-US, ex-special forces and militia.

The technology of this future warfare is based upon the advantages and weakness of a Hyper Reality Visor of which each soldier on both sides is equipped, and acts as the HUD for the player during the game. Objects such as health and ammo stockpiles, enemy players, turrets, and grenades are pointed out in this view, adding to smooth controls to complete a slick, fast paced style. Cleverly, grenades are specialised for combating the effects of the HUD; instead of flashes or smoke, there are EMP and Digi grenades that malfunction the helmet, outputting a blue screen full of script blocking vision and a pixelated cloud hiding enemy movement. This adds a spin on tactical elements that can’t be found in other titles of the same genre.

Other weapons include pistols, SMGs, assault and sniper rifles which can be unlocked and upgraded with progression in the game’s 70 level rank system. Experience can be gained in any of the games’ features, adding to a single profile. Black Ops is the co-operative game mode, whilst the bulk of content is a competitive team-based and solo multiplayer section.

Black Ops is a selection of four of the multiplayer maps, with a choice of three difficulties. The areas are completely linear, as the player is thrust forward; defeating AI controlled enemies and taking objectives and their simple copycat puzzles with ease. Being linear and having a terribly shallow AI, it isn’t particularly entertaining; in fact it is predictable and boring. There is nothing special in the multiplayer game modes despite looking different. They boil down to score-based and respawn-limited Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, single and multiple item Capture-the-Flag, and a score based control point battle – Domination.

It’s disappointing to add to this that from a gameplay and technical perspective, the game is broken. Should the game manage to scratch a lobby together with the minimum number of players, after a lengthy wait, and should it not drop the match completely, there is a severe player spawning issue. The problem is that both teams are spawned in the same area and in every single match one team will dominate over the other. There is evidence that this issue was evident in testing, as turrets are placed around a spawn area; however it does not stop players being boxed in.

On the receiving end of this, you would imagine that is extremely frustrating, but the game forces the teams to this sort of behaviour. The fixed areas, respawn times and small teams makes it so at the moment of a slight advantage, players are drawn to the specific locations, knocking down enemy players as soon as they stand and thus gaining experience. Other games have solved this problem by varying the locations at which teams come back to life; so why is this not the case with Blacklight Tango Down?

Blacklight Tango Down holds the premise for a great downloadable game. It looks great and there is plenty to sink your teeth into. That is true until you manage to get into a multiplayer match. The game has game-breaking problems, and with 5 minutes of fun comes potentially an hour of lost patience and frustration. Online play is very fragile; the game has a major problem migrating a host, which is quite often considering other problems. Its problems could be fixed by patch, but it isn’t looking likely since a sequel is currently being developed. If Zombie Studios welcomes feedback and makes changes, great, but right now bank your Microsoft Points for something with a lot more polish.

published Tuesday, Jul 20th

Green Day: Rock Band Review (Xbox 360)

There are plenty of band-specific Rock Band titles on the market, but until now, the only fully-fleshed game was the psychedelic sound of the 60’s with The Beatles. The latest addition to Harmonix’s franchise is Green Day centric, providing coverage from their rise to fame with Dookie to their cult following of 21st Century Breakdown.

Unlike other track-only band based games, Green Day: Rock Band is fully priced, with 47 songs from their last six albums. However, there are no bundled peripherals, just a disc and a code to add the tracks to the libraries of Rock Band, Rock Band 2, and eventually Rock Band 3.

The premise is pretty basic; as you would expect it is just Rock Band with a Green Day theme. Quick Play is exactly what it says on the tin; where all songs are unlocked and are available for any instrument at any difficulty. Career mode is split into three locations and dates that actually appeared on tour with the band: The Warehouse in 1994, Milton Keynes in 2005, and The Fox Theater Oakland 2009. Each can be played locally (multiplayer or not) with any arrangement of instruments, or online where the instrument selected is teamed with other players on Xbox Live. The atmosphere of these three specific gigs makes all the difference to the game.

The staging areas are the same for each set-list that are unlocked as you play, but the caricatures of the band members on stage may have different instruments and animated movements depending on the style of the song. For example, on the solo acoustic song Time of Your Life Billie Joe stands affront the stage with an acoustic guitar as there are no other parts; the feeling actually puts a smile on your face as you play the game.

There are only two ‘versions’ of the trio though, one colourful Dookie era outfits, and one of the deeply dark transformation of American Idiot. This awareness gives impressions to the player when watching the scrolling keys that are dropping down the screen, making strumming the guitar, singing down the microphone, or banging the drums a lot more engaging. It would have been nice to see some of the earlier performances, instead of just mixing the albums into each gig, if only because they contain the most memorable songs of the band in my youth, and also my absolute favourite songs in the career of the band.

As for actually playing the game, the same Rock Band application applies; from a No Fail mode brought in from Rock Band 2, through to Expert. Each difficulty increases the variety of coloured notes and the amount of them on screen at once. At the end of each track a score is given and an appropriate star rating is applied to your performance of the song. These are then equated to ‘Cred’ which unlock Awards. Challenges are also present and consist of completing a number of songs in a row or finishing set-lists with a certain amount of stars. Completing these will earn their own selected pieces of extra content including interviews and photos as part of the Awards feature.

Practice modes are included for guitar tutorials, practice for specific songs, and a drum trainer for a drum tutorial with freestyle play, and Tre’s Hits – where it will teach you Tre’s favourite drum beats at a selected speed.

Overall Green Day: Rock Band is a neat package. There is plenty on disc to keep hardcore fans entertained for hours, especially with the four different instruments to play through. With that in mind, there are over 180 different tracks, excluding difficulty changes. Do the maths and that is around 9 hours of content.

For those that don’t like the genre of music altogether, it is fair to say that there is nothing for you here. It isn’t flawed, but as with all Rock Band titles, if you don’t enjoy the music then you are not going to enjoy the music game. But, even for those who are not particularly crazy about Green Day, and might remember the songs from childhood, Rock Band keeps things fresh and interesting with the translated music on-screen, and creates a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

published Monday, Jun 14th

E3 2010: New Xbox 360 Arriving In The UK July 16th

New Xbox 360 HardwareMicrosoft revealed a new-look Xbox 360 console at their E3 media conference in Los Angeles this Monday.

In a move similar to Apple, Microsoft announced that their new hardware would be shipping to retailers today, with the slimmer console being available in stores before the end of the week. However, Microsoft’s Don Mattrick failed to mention that these welcome launch plans only apply to the United States.

For those here in the United Kingdom you will have to wait an extra four weeks before you can get your hands on the updated hardware. Graeme Boyd, Xbox Community Manager for Europe confirmed via Twitter that the refreshed Xbox 360 will launch in the UK, and across Europe, on Friday the 16th of July.

The updated Xbox 360, which came as no surprise due to an Italian leak, will include a range of refreshing changes. The updated model boasts a 250GB hard drive, built-in WiFi, 3 USB ports on the rear, an HDMI port and even a Kensington security lock. All this is expected to sell for the same retail price that the current Xbox 360 Elite costs: £199. According to Microsoft, the slimmer hardware is also said to run a lot quieter than older Xbox 360 models, due to a quieter on-board fan – something which is no doubt going to please many.


published Monday, Jun 07th

Alan Wake Review

Alan Wake was first announced five years ago at E3 2005. Since then the game seemingly kept to its own pace under Finnish developers Remedy, after the success of Max Payne. Due to the prolonged development period, it would need to be a major hit in order to make any sort of profit; does it ultimately impress?

With the game labelled “A Physiological Action Thriller”, the story briefly sets the scene where esteemed author Alan Wake attempts to re-kindle his creative writing with a trip to the Pacific North-West with his wife, Alice, specifically in and around the fictitious town of Bright Falls. After being introduced to a few key characters and setting up at a scenic lakeside cabin, trouble quickly arrives underfoot as Alice disappears, leaving Wake alone to tend with an unfolding nightmare scenario. Like a phantasm of the world around him, a darkness proceeds to bring much of the townsfolk, wildlife and ordinary objects on a path of destruction, directed at the lonely protagonist. With voices from bright lights, luminous writings and the misleading directions of other characters, the player is trudging through this as though stringed along by the notion that nothing is fact, especially the presence of a supernatural force. The game is entirely based upon Alan’s journey into finding out what on earth has happened to this once tranquil community setting, but more importantly, his wife, en-which she is always the foremost priority.

Rather than an open world or even a levelled structure to the game, Alan Wake is formatted much like a television series, including episodes preceded with a “Previously on Alan Wake…” and ending with a perfectly selected song every time. It might not be much, but the player will always know where they stand, receiving a recap at important plot changes, if not leaving excitement in time for the next episode. As an added mystery (and a unique survival guide) manuscript pages are left on Wake’s path as a collectable item, and also to present foreshadowing in the story. It may seem as though each of them features unnecessary spoilers for upcoming events, but it actually builds the tension and fear with the news of impending doom at the hand of a chainsaw wielding maniac or poltergeist bull-dozer. These and other items, such as coffee thermoses, watchable television programmes and radio shows keep the game fresh in the deepest, darkest moments, and add a certain amount of replay-ability.

Wake’s principal enemy is an unexplained ‘darkness’ that, as mentioned previously, takes multiple forms. Whether it is the personified Taken, clouds of Crow, animated objects, or the eventual Tornado, the only weapon against it is light. In turn, light also takes many forms which Wake must use to aid him on his path. A trusty torch is always the first port of call, but when in need for a more energetic source a search lamp or a pair of car head lights can be diverted to drive the darkness back, or a generator can be employed to create a “safe haven”, brandished with light and free of harm. The difference in these tools break up the action so that the player is not always so tightly wound with the onslaught; the bigger the light source, the more defensive ground Wake can cover and the quicker he can dispatch enemies.

Often left with a simple handheld torch, a sidearm is necessary to finish the job, as if each combatant has a layer of armour that needs removing before any real damage can be done. Flare guns and flashbangs are an ingenious inclusion to Wake’s repertoire, should he find them in the field, with them having a strikingly different effect than in other titles, as the light is just as effective as shrapnel would be in Modern Warfare 2. Shotguns, rifles, and a revolver supplement the torch, but a lack in ammunition leaves Wake scrambling from save point to save point, as he only receives help at a few, dispersed points in the game. Luckily, on the lower difficulty settings supplies are plentiful, with the upper limit of ammo being met time and time again. It is only on the aptly named Nightmare difficulty that the encounters really get heart racing as the effort needed to take down a single Taken is significantly boosted.

Alan Wake is, at times, a great looking game, with scenic landscape views of the North American wilderness across the board. However, being 5 years in the making, it is bound to have some outdated looks. Without exception, every single non-player character looks very unnatural in what should be a totally believable community. Environments is defiantly the game’s strong suit, with the focal point of the game being light, it is portrayed superbly; from the faint glow of the moon illuminating the path ahead, to the contrasting shadows on the ground masking an enemy ambush. One thing can be said of each location throughout the game though; they are extremely repetitive, with the excessive use of an eerie wood, back dropped with fog. Yes, there is obvious effort in creating something different for each episode, with a lumber mill, powerplant, and even the town of Bright Falls itself, but all-in-all it feels all too similar for the amount of time it takes to get from A to B on the linear path.

The six episodes require about one and a half to two hours of time each, depending on whether the player wants to see everything – venturing into every nook and cranny to find each collectable, of which there is a lot to keep track of. The ending of the story gives just enough satisfaction, but leaves enough for more to be answered in future instalments, of which there is at least one guaranteed sequel. There are plenty of unique scenes that will simply have jaws drop, and a music selection that will plant a grin from cheek to cheek. Guiding Wake through his holiday from hell is an edge of your seat, fun experience and something that is worth spending time diving into, if anything it will defiantly make you think twice before entering a dark room without switching on the light.

published Wednesday, Feb 17th

Mass Effect 2 Review

With a huge marketing push thanks to adverts almost everywhere, it was clear that no self-respecting gamer would miss out on the hype surrounding Mass Effect 2. The original 2007 sci-fi role-playing-game turned a lot of heads, but was ultimately disappointing due to the clear flaws in technicalities, such as texture loading and low frame rate. Fortunately, Mass Effect 2 is much improved on its predecessor in a number of areas.

The key of any role-playing title is the storyline progression. Mass Effect 2 starts almost straight after the original game with a powerful opening event which is critical in setting the stage for the entire game. Without revealing any spoilers, protagonist Shepard, willingly or not, joins a group named Cerberus, who’s leader, The Illusive Man, assures that you are the only hope for the human race, with colonies disappearing at the hand of a mysterious enemy. Without going into too much detail, the opening sequence allows for new players to customise their character to how they desire in gender, facial features and class.

For those that have played and finished Mass Effect, they will have the option to import their character and the decisions they made in the original game, to the new story. The effect of doing this contributes to the plot in surprising depth. The information taken into account includes what experience level the game ended at, whether Paragon or Renegade is more affiliated and more importantly, which characters had lived or passed through your actions. If imported, the Galaxy is shaped with very little input at the start of the game. On the other hand, once the plot begins to unravel subtle – but key – questions are asked of Shepard to determine what the player wants to have happen as a consequence of the events in Mass Effect. For both new players and those that want to tweak their world, this offers an accessible and sensible way for players to become familiar with what happens at the games opening.

What has been made clear in various trailers and the broad advertisements is that some portion of the game requires the collection of specialist personnel in order to tackle this threat to humanity. In fact this takes up most of the game, keeping the ‘suicide mission’ in secrecy until the time is right. There is a long list of various characters and personalities for the player to pick and choose from, the hard part being actually finding the individuals and persuading them to join the team.

There are three main areas which you can travel to on the world map, all with a vast city-like structure, including the space station Citadel. The populated areas are small, but suitable for what is required of them. These locations host the interactive non-player characters, shops with research upgrades to purchase for weapons, armour and your ship, and minor assignments or side missions. The large missions never take place within these locations, but are placed as a linear offset, with apt loading screens depicting direction of travel, rather than the famous elevator sequences. The ship is the main hub for the entire game. It holds all of the crew, teammates, and allied recruits that you have picked up from across the galaxy.

Since a large sum of the game is set finding key characters for the squad, each of them have been really fleshed out and have unique personalities. Should the recruitment process be successful loyalty missions are asked of Shepard, helping to resolve personal matters, looking into the history, and what has brought the characters to what they are. The quests are not necessarily combat based, some may not have any at all.

Conversation and problem resolution plays the other half of the Mass Effect experience. Paragon and Renegade are the two extremes of the approach that can be Shepard. In any talk, whether it is with a love interest or someone holding a gun to your head, there are plenty of options with everything in between the two persuasions. In Mass Effect 2 there are added interrupts that can totally change the direction. Assigned to the two triggers if an approach isn’t going as planned, a pop up appears should a Paragon or Renegade resolution appeal to the situation. The conversations arguably have the most significant effect on the game. Whether you hit the Batarian on the head with the wrench or not can have a massive outcome, and as the player it is both unpredictable and terribly exciting.

An armoury, wardrobe and research station are onboard for that important change in equipment. The wardrobe allows for Shepard to be outfitted in whatever the player think suits. Casual clothes and armour are available to buy from shops in market areas, or to download from the Cerberus Network; the feature which hosts downloadable content, requiring a code, and designed to encourage new game sales. Upgrades for armour and weapons are made possible by the collection of elements both on the surface and through the vehicle exploration of the galaxy.

The ship is available to roam the game world, orbiting planets, searching for ‘anomalies’ or distress calls (providing short side missions), and collecting 4 chemical elements necessary for the research. The surface transporter, Mako, has been scrapped and replaced by a drop-off shuttle, should there be somewhere to land. By scanning the planet and launching probes to collect any material that is found, quantities of Element Zero, Iridium, Palladium, and Platinum can be gathered and then used at a research station. Hours can be sucked into the quest for more and more of each item; a process that can become quite addictive. Experience is gained after each mission or assignment, no matter how small, and with each level points can be added to upgrade powers and abilities.

When each is fully upgraded there is a choice between two specialties, often just a choice between a stronger or more widespread attack. The armoury holds the weaponry of the game, split into expanded catagories such as machine pistol and heavy pistol. It is never made possible to buy weapons at any part of the game; instead there are just a small number of weapons available to collect out in the field, or to be given to you during the course of the game. Other loot can be found by hacking wall safes or bypassing doors, both introducing a new mini game – matching up nodes on a circuit board, and matching segments of code on a scrolling screen. These offer just the right of challenge to begin with, but lack of variation makes them a trivial task by the end stretches of the game, especially when most of them just offer credits.

The combat is much more action orientated, like a shooter, than in its predecessor. If the role playing elements have been reduced, then the encounters have been honed. Cover is more of a critical factor and there is much more of a tactical approach placed on powers and ammo types. As there is no direct control of teammates, the radial wheel comes into function for Shepard to command the use of available powers on selected enemies or (often explosive) objects. This is great as it also pauses the game for an overview of the situation and allows for the biotic powers, such as pull or push, to be quite precise. The directional pad can be used to direct the two squad members to take cover separately, a useful override if the AI isn’t doing exactly what you had planned. For Shepard, health is regained by sitting behind cover. The Mass Effect medi-gel can now only be used to revive the two teammates that are chosen to bring on the mission, should they fall in battle. The broader range of weapons no longer overheat, but instead they all use universal heat-sink ammo that needs to be ejected. All of this streamlines the combat, making it much simpler and action focused.

The majority of the enemies are from one of the three mercenary organisations, which seem to be a major player in the game from being non-existent in Mass Effect. Blue Suns, Blood Pack, and Eclipse have most of the races in their ranks, including an army of robot ‘mechs’ and provide most of the opposition when recruiting the team. Also present are the Collectors, notable from Mass Effect downloadable content, and the Geth also have a minor presence. The many different angles in the game can also have an effect on combat situations, such as re-programming mechs to work against the enemy, a quirky touch by the developers.

The scope of different characters in the game is what sets the Mass Effect universe apart from any other in the science fiction genre. Although Mass Effect 2 has less of an open world feel to it and more like a series of linked linear areas, it does not take away from the scope of the universe ahead. The end portion of the game is shrouded in mystery until the player decides to jump in, and provides a heart racing climax to the paced storyline. The statistic tracking and other role playing features might have been toned down for the sequel, but Bioware has definitely improved the depth in each of the characters and the game world. With just enough fiction and role-playing to satisfy the fan, and plenty of emphasis on tactical combat, there is plenty in this game to satisfy all parties.

Mass Effect 2 has made significant improvements in regards to presentation, with a wealthy bank of smooth animations for each of the characters and the game looking graphically superior than the original from the offset. Problems that haunted Mass Effect have almost been eradicated, with only one or two instances of sluggish frame rates and texture loading in the many hours spent exploring the galaxy. With that many options the game is as shallow or deep as the player wants to make it, with more than 35 hours of gameplay on offer for those wanting to see it.

Mass Effect 2 arguably could be the most improved video game sequel ever and if not, it is a seriously satisfying, engaging and most importantly, fun game in any case.