The State of Play – Is Zelda BotW Overrated?

I’ve been asking myself this question ever since I slayed Ganon and restored order to Hyrule in Nintendo’s latest instalment of its legendary franchise.

Peculiar perhaps, because I felt that I should have been more excited before waltzing off to Twitter to bestow wondrous platitudes on the game I’d just played. Instead, I was left slightly bemused. “Is that it?”, I thought, “is that what everybody was banging on about?”

Now, before I get dog turds thrown at me in the street, I must say that BotW is a great game. A visually stunning game.  Yet I was expecting perfection, and who can blame me after reading the reviews.

IGN gave BotW a 10 out of 10. A perfect score. Polygon again, gave it a perfect 10. By awarding a game a maximum score like this you are in effect saying that it cannot be improved upon, that it has excelled in every aspect of its construction. I’m here to say that whilst BotW is a fine game, it is far from perfect and therefore unworthy of being called a masterpiece.

The infamous weapon durability system divided gamers, but for me I found it annoying at best and a ridiculous gameplay decision at worst. Having to switch out weapons mid battle because the sword you were using has exploded into a dozen pieces ruins the flow of combat. This process applies to your shields and bows too. It’s a gaming mechanic that I found got old very quickly.

Many fans have said that this is the most “brutal” Zelda game ever made (with regards to difficulty) but there is nothing difficult about a lowly Bokoblin one-shotting you with a wooden club to the back – it’s just cheap.

Another huge mis-step which had me actually shaking my head in disbelief was not being able to continue playing post-Ganon. Being returned to the title screen where you’re greeted by your most recent auto-save before the final boss fight will have you wondering if the game has crashed or an error has occurred. But nope, that’s intentional. If you want to go and finish any side quests that you have active then you need to go back and do them from that save and then return to battle Ganon again. INSANE. I wanted to explore Hyrule Castle in all its glory, purified from Ganon’s filth. But no, it cannot be. Maybe they ran out of time in development to build it, who knows.

These are just 3 of the bigger issues I had with BotW but I did have others; crap side quests (the vast majority of which are just fetch quests for dire rewards), the stamina wheel, clumsy inventory and menus (why can’t I drop an item from the quick menu?), cooking, not being able to fast travel between towns, having to tediously remove weapons in a storm to avoid getting struck by lightening, CLIMBING IN THE RAIN, lack of depth with regards to story, lack of enemy variety, ropey/grating voice acting (especially Princess Zelda’s), lack of proper Zelda-style dungeons, the frame rate plummeting to depths I haven’t seen since Goldeneye 64, simple boss battles, large swathes of empty areas, the camera going dodgy when locking onto an enemy, steering rafts with a korok leaf and just the lack of explanation with regards to some of the games more important aspects – such as elixir making.

Now that there is a long old list of things I found incredibly annoying, yet I have to reiterate –  I really enjoyed this Zelda instalment. It’s not one of the best, for me it cannot be mentioned in the same breath (get it?) as A Link to the Past or Ocarina of Time, but it’s a standout game nonetheless and a fabulous introduction for a new generation of Nintendo fans to the long running series.

However my point remains: a game with this many problems cannot be called perfect.

I’m perplexed that the major gaming publications neglected to mention or expand on the issues I mentioned above. Surely we played the same game?

I can’t help but cringe when I read about outlets that I both respect and admire gush utter drivel about how it’s the “game of the year”, with some going as far as to call it one of the “greatest games ever made”.

Go sit in a dark room and calm down, for Christ’s sake.

 

The State of Play – The End of Nintendo?

I write this article with the realisation of a man who can no longer ignore the inevitable. Like a doomed passenger onboard a slowly sinking ship, I can do what only one can do in times like these: embrace the end, remember better times and try to fathom where it all went wrong.

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I, like many gamers, began my journey into video games with Nintendo. I’ll never forget unboxing my first console – the Super Nintendo Entertainment System – back on a Christmas morning at the beginning of the 90’s. My young mind could never comprehend the path my life would take as video games would become my favourite way to spend my free time. The console itself is my most treasured, and some of the games released on the platform I count amongst the greatest I have ever played. I have many things to say about the SNES and its accompanying sublime titles, but that is for another day.

Long before the powerhouses of Sony and Microsoft arrived on the console scene, the video game world was dominated by two console manufacturers – Nintendo and Sega. The legendary rivalry between these two titans of gaming needs no introduction, anybody growing up in the 90’s knows all too well the history of this classic feud. As a gamer you picked a side. And you stuck with them, to the end.

Last week details emerged about Nintendo’s newest offering into the console market – the Nintendo NX. News like this to my 90’s self would no doubt have sent me babbling to my parents and informing them that I know what I want to be on my Christmas list in a year’s time. But reading the news today I was left feeling a little empty and for the first time I felt sorry for Nintendo. The general feeling from the gaming press and fans alike is one of disappointment.

The news that the NX won’t be as powerful as this generation of consoles was the first nail in the coffin. Nintendo say that they won’t compete with Sony and Microsoft in the power department. Not since the N64 (for me, the Japanese company’s last great offering) has Nintendo lead in the power department – that was 20 years ago. The design of the system seems to be causing a certain amount of confusion too, much like it’s dog turd of a predecessor – the Wii U. The general consensus is that the system will be some kind of a vague “hybrid” between a home console which is can also be used as a portable. What this means for the 3DS is anyones’ guess. Seeing as the 3DS is Nintendo’s most lucrative product within the market, it would seem like suicide to take the focus away from it.

Then there is the release of the worldwide phenomenon that is Pokemon Go. Nintendo’s stock rose through the roof as opportunistic investors jumped onboard the Pokemon train. Stock prices shortly plummeted to a 20 year low as those same investors suddenly realised that Nintendo had actually very little to do with the record breaking app. A fact anybody who actually had played the game could have told you.

The sense of shameless opportunism hit a new low when I was perusing the Nintendo Store on my 3DS to see what “new” Virtual Console titles were available (telling that isn’t it? Searching for 20 year old games to play). There in the catalogue were all of Nintendo’s available Pokemon releases – on sale. The blatant cashing in on Niantic’s worldwide phenomenon caused me to cringe as I added Contra 3: Alien Wars to my download list.

So; a falling share price, an extremely tepid response to their new console and a general feeling of pity towards the once glorious console manufacturer. The question is: how can Nintendo be successful once again? For that, we have to turn to their oldest adversary. We have to talk about Sega.

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After the Mega Drive (Genesis), Sega decided to teach the new kid on the block – the Sony Playstation – a lesson, with the release of the Sega Saturn. Unfortunately for Sega, the Playstation was an astonishing success – selling over 100 million units and establishing Sony as the one to beat. The Saturn sold less than 10 million units and was widely regarded as a very expensive disaster for Sega. Meanwhile, Nintendo had decided to sidestep a 32bit disc based console altogether, opting for the aforementioned N64.

The bosses at Sega could see the writing on the wall and decided to go for broke with the release of the Sega Dreamcast before the turn of the millennium. The Dreamcast is the only Sega console I have ever owned and I can honestly say it was fantastic. The system itself sold just over 9 million units but ask any owner of a Dreamcast what they thought of it and they will regale you with mythical tales of VMU’s, Shenmue and ChuChu Rocket! whilst giving off a feeling that you “really had to own one” to know what was so special about it. Looking back you can clearly see it was well ahead of its time. It’s a cult classic of a console. It was also the last system released from Sega.

A decision was needed. Decisive action was to be taken in order to prevent this historic icon of gaming from heading into the abyss. Sega would no longer make consoles and would focus on producing and developing games. By doing this they could remain part of the industry as a whole, with their reputation in tact, and still contribute to making titles for old and new gamers alike.

This is what Nintendo need to do.

They have an arsenal of first party titles that they can focus on to bring in revenue whilst at the same time showcasing them on the most powerful consoles on the planet; Mario, Zelda, Metroid etc. all could be brought to a wider audience who would never touch a Nintendo console as it’s “for kids”.

It has to be done. I have a feeling that the Nintendo NX will be the final system Nintendo make. I just don’t want it to financially cripple them. I don’t want to live in a world where new gamers look at you with the mystified gaze of a time traveller when you mention the names Nintendo and Sega.

The next few years will be pivotal for Nintendo’s future, yet they have to look at their past and identify their strengths and focus on them in order to survive and become great again.

Over 20 years ago I picked my side and I’ve stuck with them ever since. And I will to the very end.

 

 

The State of Play – No Man’s Sky

NMS 2

In a month’s time Playstation 4 owners will be able to get their sweaty summer mitts on one of the most hyped games of this generation, Hello Games’ – “No Man’s Sky”. The excitement within the gaming community is palpable, but I’m wary.

“18 quintillion planets” are theoretically possible for you to visit according to the most recent trailer. I say theoretically, as somebody did the maths and it turned out it would take you billions of years to explore every single one of them. You may have gone slightly overboard there lads, 2 quintillion would have sufficed.

Since its first appearance, Hello Games have bamboozled gamers with incomprehensible facts and figures about the size of the explorable universe within No Man’s Sky. It gets to the point though where the eyes begin to glaze over as it all starts to become a little meaningless.

Gamers always want bigger and better worlds to explore, I think it’s a natural progression as we have journeyed through each generation of console. Yet it can get to the point where worlds are too big and too empty as to be interesting. This is the core of the problem with No Man’s Sky, I believe.

If there is nothing to fill the world then why does it need to be that big? Take Red Dead Redemption, for example. The game world is vast, and yet it is filled with amazing characters and details that you often stumble upon sometimes entirely by accident. The Witcher 3 is another prime example. These are massive worlds but filled to the brim with interesting NPC’s and quests.

It seems that there is none of that quality and gameplay in No Man’s Sky. Apparently there is little to no story and our aim is to explore, mine materials and catalogue what we find. There is little to no interaction between characters – as I don’t believe there are any. Have your socks been blown off yet?

And I swear that if I hear the term “procedurally generated” one more time then I’m going to put my head through my PS4 and send Sean Murray the bill. Most of No Man’s Sky *sigh* is generated procedurally; the planets, the life forms, the sound effects, the terrain etc. But how long is it going to be remain interesting to land on yet another planet which is slightly hillier than the last one and a slightly different shade of red? Or to see a tree with square branches rather than round? Or to “scan” and catalogue an animal with two dicks rather than one? You get the idea.

NMS 1

The very best worlds in video games are meticulously thought out and filled to the brim with lore and legend, with characters that ooze story and dripping with gorgeous dialogue that has been painstakingly crafted by a writer or writing team over countless hours.

We will be getting none of this with No Man’s Sky. Yet maybe that’s the point. Maybe the handful of people who have worked on this intend for the universe to be sparse – much like our own.

I really want to be wrong, I honestly do. I pray to the gaming Gods that in a few weeks I’ll be eating humble pie because I respect Hello Games and admire their ambition. But unfortunately, I have a feeling that the resounding lesson that Hello Games will take from No Man’s Sky is that sometimes, less is more.

 

The State of Play – Average Ubisoft?

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Do you know how much Ubisoft’s operating revenue for the last reported financial year (2014) was? I do – $1.5 billion.

That’s a lot of money. It’s the kind of money that rockets the French colossus into the top video game publishers on the planet. Top by income that is, not necessarily quality.

For all their power, vast resources and massive budgets I can’t help but feel that Ubisoft put out very average releases and tend to play it safe.

They have their hugely profitable franchises; Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry and the seemingly endless Tom Clancy releases to name a few. These titles are guaranteed, bankable games. They are Ubisoft’s bread and butter. Yet they lack substance and they whiff of recycled ideas and concepts.

I often enjoy talking to people about their favourite games of all time and not once has somebody named an Ubisoft title. As a company I believe they lack the balls, the ambition and drive of a From Software, say, or a Naughty Dog. The story telling in a game such as Assassin’s Creed feels convoluted and hokey compared to The Last of Us for example, with stiff dialogue that doesn’t ring true.

Playing an Ubisoft game is like eating a Chinese all-you-can-eat buffet; it’s tasty, quick and you believe yourself to be contented. A short while later however, you realise the contented feeling you have was actually trapped wind and once this has been remedied you are left feeling empty and hungry once again. The lingering smell of stale egg fried rice serving as the only memory of the entire experience.

I don’t intend to come across as bashing Ubisoft unashamedly without recognising some of their better efforts. The first Splinter Cell game I enjoyed very much. The stealth gameplay, lighting and level design was all fantastic. I played it to death on the XBox twice (the first time I encountered a game breaking bug later on and had to restart, which was nice). For me, it’s their best game I have ever played. The original Rayman was also not bad, for the time.

In recent years their releases have been met with average reviews where a simple “meh” will normally suffice in summing up. Take the upcoming Tom Clancy’s The Division or Far Cry Primal for example. On the surface they are highly glossy from a well established line of franchises and yet I would put a wager on neither of them being hailed as a masterpiece after release. They are destined to be awarded an “8 out of 10”, a “3 out of 5 stars”, “75 – 80%” – you get the idea.

Yet it doesn’t have to be like this. Nothing grinds my gears more than seeing video game companies playing it safe, not when they have such talent and resources at their disposal. Do we really need another Assassin’s Creed? Are we salivating for yet another generic Tom Clancy title?

Maybe the bean counters and share holders at Ubisoft think we do – they want to invite us back to the Chinese buffet – but not me thanks, I’ve had my fill.

Top 5 Video Games of 2015

Well here we are, 2015 is about to come to a close and with it we wave goodbye to what has been a fantastic year for gamers. I’ve played many games on my trusty Playstation 4 over the course of the last 365 days and I have decided to whittle them down to the 5 best and bang them into a lovely little list. Here we go.

5 – COD Black Ops 3

Black Ops 3

The Call of Duty juggernaut is renowned for being the reliable King of online first-person shooters, but this year’s instalment from Treyarch takes things to a whole new level. It is honestly one of the most addictive games I’ve played in years.

Intense battles that flow gracefully through well mapped-out levels and the addition of new “specialist” characters ensure that the game has it’s own distinctive feel. Wall running and underwater sections can at first seem strange, but soon become more fluid and pivotal to your playing style.

The campaign is decent – it’s not going to last long in the memory – but it’s not the campaign thousands of fans buy this game for. It’s the sublime, aforementioned, multiplayer.

Top it off with the return of the excellent “Zombies” mode and you have the best Call of Duty in years.

4 – Limbo

Limbo

I used to cast envious scowls at Xbox users when they would harp on about Xbox “exclusives” such as Super Meat Boy and Limbo. However, this year my patience was rewarded with the release of both these titles on Playstation 4. Super Meat Boy is fantastic in its own right, but it’s Limbo that made me realise that I can still be stunned by such an original idea even after all these years.

Limbo is a visually arresting piece of work. The blacks and greys that blanket the screen give you a deep sense of dread and foreboding. The story is deliberately ambiguous, a point that annoyed some critics upon its release. For me however, there were just enough scraps of suggestion here and there for me to fill in the gaps and hypothesise as to what I believe was going on. It feels like a nightmare that you are trying to recall in fleeting moments.

The puzzles are some of the most ingenious I have ever played, with the physics system as perfect as you could possibly dream. Blocks slide and glide along levels as you push buttons and pull pulleys to get them to where you want. It’s wonderfully, head-smashing-against-the-TV frustratingly superb.

The game ends as abruptly as it started, 6 hours later. I felt a pang of sadness at it being over. Limbo is one of the finest, most hauntingly original games I’ve ever played and I’m sure it will stay with me for years to come.

3 – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

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Nothing much more needs to be said about CD Projekt RED’s release earlier this year that hasn’t already been said. It is, without doubt, a masterpiece.

It is an absorbing, detailed, beautifully stunning RPG that can consider itself as one of the best ever made. It is arguably one of the standout games of this generation of consoles.

The Polish studio have created such a detailed world that it beggars belief. The story intertwines with local myths and legends whilst characters involve you in normal, human problems as you go about your quest and there are laugh out loud moments interspersed with fast moving, brutal combat that flows beautifully with every sword stroke.

The release of Fallout 4 has only cemented what a great piece of work this is. Fallout 4 looks bland and it’s world empty compared to The Witcher.

The game is so vast that even after days upon days of cumulative play, I didn’t even fully finish it.

CD Projekt RED are now focussing on their next title – Cyberpunk 2077. A futuristic RPG set in the future. The Witcher crossed with Blade Runner anyone?

I’m so excited I could cry.

2 – Shovel Knight

Shovel Knight

I play a lot of retro games. My SNES is played as much now as it was over 22 years ago when I first unwrapped it one Christmas morning. The games of that era sparked a life long passion for the medium that is evident as I type!

I think that’s why I love Shovel Knight so much.

Yacht Club Games’ release took me back to my childhood in an instant as wave upon wave of nostalgia slapped me across the face like a 90’s dance track.

Platforming rules and patterns that had been burned into my subconscious through hours upon hours of gaming in the early 90’s suddenly burst back into my mind like they had never been away.

I wrote an entire article on Shovel Knight which you can go check out for a more in-depth look at the game. I don’t need to say much more, other than not only is Shovel Knight one of the best indie releases in recent years, it is also one of the best platform games ever made in the history of video games.

1 – Bloodborne

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Without doubt the best game I have played all year (and quite possibly working its way into my top games of all time) is Bloodborne.

The gothic, blood soaked action/survival horror/RPG nightmare from Hidetaka Miyazaki is an original masterpiece that has to be played to be believed.

Very little explanation is given to what is going on with regards story – I know about as much now as I did when I first started playing many months ago – but it’s deliberate and refreshing so that the gameplay can take centre stage and the story can be patched together as you go along.

The city of Yharnam that you wander around is a gothic nightmare; dark cobbled streets, towering cathedrals and looming gargoyles cast their menacing gaze from above. A varied army of enemies patrol the city and wait to be dispensed in a shower of blood by you and your arsenal of weaponry. Combat is satisfying and fluid, the action intense and controlled.

It is also a brutally difficult game, the casual gamer might not be able to hack the challenge. But for those who dare take it on, they will be rewarded with a gaming experience like no other. It is absolutely fantastic.

So there we go, my top 5 games of 2015. Do you agree or disagree? What did I miss? Let me know below. Cheers

 

 

 

The State of Play – Is it a case of quantity over quality in Fallout 4?

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Is it me or does Fallout 4 look a bit shit?

Now, before I get inundated with virtual dog turds being sent to the comment section, I would just like to say that I think Fallout 4 is superb. I, like hundreds of gamers around the world, have being playing feverishly since yesterday’s release.

I’ve already invested many hours in making no meaningful progress whatsoever and instead spent the time trying to figure out how to get my generator to power my ceiling fan that I have in my new prefabricated house (I also spent a good hour trying to pick the right pictures to go alongside my dining table – but that’s a story for another day).

For Bethesda fans this is what it’s all about; the crafting, the upgrading, the exploration – it’s what makes these games addictive and has the effect of warping time so that when you look at your watch, hours have gone by in the blink of an eye. There is so much to see and do – the shear quantity of content is staggering and will keep gamers busy for many months.

Fallout 4 has delivered in every department, but one: visuals.

As soon as I exited Vault 111 and stepped out blinking into the blinding Sun, I was impressed by the draw distance and detailed horizon. However, it was on closer inspection of the immediate world around me that things got a bit disappointing. Copied and pasted textures are everywhere. In buildings there is a serious lack of lighting/shadow on objects/furniture and when you get up close to an NPC you realise that the character models are found lacking.

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I wouldn’t be sounding dramatic when I say that this could be considered a last generation release. The thing is, I don’t know why it looks this crap. Maybe we could turn a blind eye but this year we all played The Witcher 3, a game just as vast and consuming yet also one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played.

Bethesda is also a larger developer than CD Projekt RED and arguably wields more financial clout than the Polish outfit.

So why does it look so average? Laziness? Lack of focus? Naivety? I honestly don’t know. Bethesda has never made the most visually stunning games, and some would argue that the raw look and buggy nature all adds to their games’ appeal and is part of their character. I disagree, I think if you’re selling a product then it should be near perfect before it is released for retail. Visuals aside, bugs and programming flaws should be rare and should never be considered “part of a game’s character”.

I’m enjoying Fallout 4, it’s all I can think about when I’m doing other things. It’s involving, satisfying and rewarding all at the same time. I love it. It’s just disappointing that they could have made it absolutely perfect had it looked as good as it could have.

Bethesda are going to make a lot of money from Fallout 4, more money than most game developers will make in a lifetime of releases, and I want them to invest it. I want them to make their budget even bigger for their next big release and put more money aside for hiring better artists, QA testers and creating a better engine that can deliver better lighting and a more beautiful world.

There is no excuse for poor looking games anymore, not from developers with huge amounts of wealth and access to the best talent the gaming world has to offer.

Right, back to Fallout and I’ve decided. I’m going to go for the picture of a sailing ship for my dining room. Now I just need a nice rug for the bedroom……

The State of Play – Taboo Releases

Black Ops 3

Why do I feel dirty and slightly embarrassed about next week’s release of Black Ops 3? The thing is, I’m genuinely more excited about it than Fallout 4 which releases a few days later.

Treyarch’s latest behemoth in the COD franchise is surely going to be weighing down Santa’s sack this Christmas, yet why do I whisper its name in hushed tones to friends and work colleagues as if it’s taboo? I feel like a teenager quietly telling a friend about a porno mag he’s found in a bush.

Certain gamers and video game journalists have become sniffy at the series, many dismissing it as a money making machine and nothing more. Sure, the two most recent offerings of Ghosts and Advanced Warfare were nothing spectacular, but they were still great fun to play online and provided thousands of gamers with hours of head shot goodness. Most buy COD simply for the multiplayer, the campaign comes second. There is nothing wrong with this as multiplayer is where COD has it nailed. It’s become synonymous with online gaming – the image of a player in a darkened room, headset on, shouting obscenities at his TV as he’s blasted with a noob tube from across the map. Indeed, the decision to sell Black Ops 3 on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 as multiplayer only was met with mild outrage in the more snobbish corners of the gaming press, but the general gaming community as a whole simply muttered a “meh” and realised it wasn’t a big deal, no fewer copies will be sold. It’s the multiplayer people come for, and Activision know this.

For what it’s worth, Black Ops 3 looks like it’s going to be the best in the series for years, but that’s not the point. The point is that people are having fun in a series that is confident in what it is. Activision don’t want Treyarch reinventing the wheel, they are simply asking them to give the fans what they want.

For me, after a busy year that has seen me play some seriously heavy games; The Witcher, MGS V, Bloodborne etc. I can honestly say that the last thing I want to do right now is dive head first into Fallout 4.

I want something fast, dirty and satisfying. And Black Ops 3 looks just the ticket.

The State of Play – Bobbing Along

Donkey Kong

I sometimes sit and wonder about how amazing it would be to step into a time machine and head back to the early 90’s with my Playstation 4 and a copy of something like The Witcher 3 or The Last of Us. I’d love to see the wonder and amazement bestowed upon the gamers of that age – their minds would be blown to smithereens. They’d dribble in awe at the sight of Ellie and Joel exploring a deserted village after which they’d be mumbling incoherently at the lush vegetation passing them by as they ride Roach around Skellige, with Geralt’s white hair flapping in the wind.

Graphics and visuals beyond imagination; scale, voice acting and character movements unbelievable beyond words. Yet there would be one mechanic that would bring even them – the stone age of gamer – to despair. Underwater sections. Or more specifically, swimming.

Since the dawn of home gaming, in the adventure genre particularly, the “water stage” has been a staple of level design. Yet whilst every other factor of gaming has evolved for the better since then, swimming hasn’t.

Take The Witcher 3, for example. A game I have played a lot over the last 3 months and a game I consider to be one of the finest releases in years. Geralt can run around the lush lands with perfect agility but once he comes into contact with water he turns into what can only be described as a drunken vagrant that’s fallen into a canal. You watch in dismay as he randomly scrambles around underwater, with the player frantically smashing the X button to loot a chest and feeling like they are controlling an oil tanker. The problem is compounded when attacked by enemies. Poor Geralt is pinged around like he’s in a pinball machine.

Yet it has always been like this since games went 3D. Think back to Tomb Raider. Even now I can recall the wall pounding frustration at seeing Lara’s drowning animation for the tenth time whilst trying to pull a submerged lever. People cite Super Mario 64 as one of the greatest games ever made, but if you play it again (like I have recently) then you will realise that the swimming sections are utterly dire.

Even modern powerhouse developers like Rockstar can’t get it quite right. Swimming in GTA has that common feeling of sluggish clunkiness that other games of its generation have.

Naughty Dog seem to be the only developer who seem to be actively trying to improve the mechanic. The Last of Us underwater sections were fairly smooth and quite enjoyable. They were still far from perfect, but at least Naughty Dog are trying to improve this age old problem. Other developers seem to shoehorn in water levels with little thought or eye for improvement, as if it’s a necessary evil.

I believe that swimming underwater was at its best in 2D side scrollers. Think Donkey Kong Country, Super Mario World or even Ecco the Dolphin. These games were much more basic of course, but the tap-tap of a single button to control the forward and vertical movement of a character was a revelation. So simple, yet so effective. Some underwater levels from that 2D era are amongst my favourites. The change to 3D overcomplicated things.

Swimming in games is here to stay, but developers need to actively focus on improving it and making it more fluid or else the whole mechanic is in danger of becoming stagnant.

The State of Play – A Knight to remember

Shovel Knight

I’m currently dismantling various pieces of rubbish, selling items from my ever growing inventory and carefully selecting which sword/armour/gloves I wish to craft. After 20 minutes I’m happy. My girlfriend thinks I should have used the time to clean out the shed.

This is The Witcher 3, one of the finest games of recent times and certainly one of the stand out releases on this generation of consoles so far. It’s a vast, beautiful and awe inspiring title that has generated much acclaim and rightly so. It’s the only game I’ve played in the last month, until this morning.

I was perusing the Playstation Store on the lookout for any new titles that I may have missed when I came across Shovel Knight. I remember hearing great things about this title when it was released in 2014 but somehow missed the announcement that it was available on Playstation 4 (this could be due to CD Projekt RED putting me into a Witcher inspired coma for the last few months). £11.99 would be the price to play Yacht Club Games’ debut offering. And after a few hours, I can honestly say it’s probably the best £11.99 I have ever spent.

For those who do not know who or what Shovel Knight is then I shall do me best to sum it up in a sentence: It’s a 2D side scrolling retro platformer done in an 8-bit style where you play as a knight with a shovel for a main weapon.

Since the emergence of the Indie Game market there have been a lot of retro-styled throwback titles in recent years. Some more successful than others. I think that a lot of the titles released come down to the player relating and connecting with what they are playing to what they were playing all those decades ago.

That is why I believe Shovel Knight is such a success. Its gorgeous level design, gameplay, story and soundtrack not only remind me of the obvious classic games it pays homage to, it also encapsulates a whole generation of gaming from my childhood. Shovel Knight himself is Arthur from Super Ghouls and Ghosts reincarnated, and the first stage where you can see a castle in the back ground reminded me of a similar sight towards the end of Streets of Rage 2. Everything feels comfortably familiar, from the perfect control system to the classic hit detection “flash” when you strike a boss. You have all the mod cons of recent gaming such as auto saving without it ever losing its authentic feel. This game could have been released 25 years ago and it would have been a triumph then as it is is now.

The difficulty is perfect and the boss battles are wonderfully challenging. I was cursing at the TV after timing a jump wrong over and over but all with a smile on my face, purely for the reason that the frustration was part of the fun! I welcomed it like a long lost friend.

It’s just the perfect game to play after endless hours grinding away with Geralt of Rivia or any other mammoth gaming project one has on the go. If I were to use a food analogy (my favourite) then The Witcher would be an exquisite 3 course meal consisting of foie gras, followed by venison with a red wine jus and finishing with a lemon syllabub. An experience to take your time over and savour. Shovel Knight on the other hand would be a delicious gastro pub-style burger with beer battered onion rings, accompanied by an early 90’s soundtrack playing through your brand new iPhone.

So I had best go clean the shed out now, if I value my life, but when I come back in there will be one game I’ll be itching to play. And it involves a little blue knight with a shovel.

The State of Play – Do we still care about The Last Guardian?

The Last Guardian

E3 is just around the corner and this year’s show looks set to be a return to the glory days.

Gaming journalists and fans alike are working themselves into a giddy frenzy at some of the titles set to be shown this year; Fallout 4, No Man’s Sky and Doom are just a handful of the heavyweight titles tipped to be on display. But there is one title that pricked the ears of even the most sedate of gamers. If you listened hard enough you could just about hear the hushed whispers circling the Internet. Making sure not be be too loud, so as to not scare off this mythical title. Thousands of gamers the world over rubbed their eyes in disbelief and asked themselves, “The Last Guardian is to be shown at E3?”.

The story first appeared in an article on The Guardian’s website (the British newspaper – no relation to the game) this week. The short, sparse paragraph gave no solid evidence whatsoever as to the title’s re-emergence, it could have just been popped in to fill a few column inches. It doesn’t matter though, as gamers worldwide are talking about Team Ico’s title again. It got me thinking though, “Why do we care so much?’.

After reportedly being in development since 2007, the first time we saw the game was 2009. As expected from the people who brought us Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, the hype was real. Fumito Ueda had pulled up a throne alongside Hideo Kojima as Japanese game designer royalty. Gamers were chomping at the bit to get their sweaty mits on this Playstation 3 exclusive. Then, quite suddenly, everything went quiet.

As the years rolled by release dates came and went, as did key staff members associated with the project. Like Kojima, there were tales of mutiny and ridiculously lengthy delays due to “perfectionism” associated with the project.

Even though the premise of the game is beautifully original – a young boy and his huge feathered dog like creature completing puzzles – due to the game’s delay and what has happened in the proceeding years, it doesn’t feel as special as it once was.

In the 8 years it’s been in development (8 years!) we have seen some of the greatest games in a generation come and go; Red Dead Redemption, Skyrim, The Last of Us, Super Mario Galaxy and Bloodborne to name just a few. Not forgetting the emergence of indie game developers and titles such as; Journey, Braid, Limbo and Fez.

You can see the challenge facing Team Ico. The video game landscape has changed dramatically since 2007. What was once an original, intriguing title is in danger of becoming an overhyped throwback to a bygone generation. Don’t get me wrong, if The Last Guardian was to ever see the light of day I highly doubt it would be keeping company with Duke Nukem Forever as one of the most overhyped dog turds of all time. But I also doubt we will be talking about it in the same excited tones as we were back in the “noughties”.

Some would say that sometimes it’s better to just cut your losses, accept that the game had promise and move on. Others would say that it is a labour of love and the game must see the light of day, a reward to all the fans who have waited patiently for its release year after year.

It’s all speculation of course. The only reason we are talking about this game again is because of a vague reference in an article on the Internet somewhere.

Yet there is a part of me deep down that would love to see Team Ico and Ueda swagger out at E3 and show us that actually, good things do come to those who wait.