Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 Preview

The 2020 Summer Olympics are less than a year away which means it’s time for another Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games. The franchise eluded me for years. I didn’t fancy it on Nintendo’s previous consoles but with it coming to the Switch and the Games being hosted in Tokyo, I figured there’s no better time to give this franchise a look. 

I roped my fiancée into trying this game with me and were immediately impressed with how easy it was to pick and play. We appreciated the fact that most if not all the events were unlocked in the Quick Play menu.  

We went through half of the events in a single sitting, trading wins, and generally having fun with many of the events. Some were trickier than others. The triple jump gave us a bit of trouble   because we were both getting mixed up with button placements due to all the time spent on Xbox controllers. Make no mistake though — that wasn’t a slight against it. We both felt it was representative of the real sport. The triple jump isn’t easy.  

We were both fans of the 4 x 100 relay race. It was great to see the option play it on the same team and we appreciated that there was a bit of strategy and execution in this event. I think this mode would be a barn burner in a party setting.  

After we pulled off some great tricks on the wave and skate park, the fiancee took a break and I decided to check out the story mode. I had no idea what to expect but I didn’t quite anticipate an interactive brochure to Tokyo and the Olympic Games. Japanese and Olympic trivia enlightened and informed while Sonic and Mario characters populated the streets and locales of Tokyo.  

I’ve only scratched the surface but I firmly believe that if you bought tickets to an Olympic event, this game should be included. Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 has been a wonderful taster to both Tokyo and the upcoming games. I look forward to checking it out some more.

2016 Chevy Volt Impressions Pt. 2

posted in: Gadget Impressions 0

Here are an assortment of impressions after spending some more time with my new Volt.

ICE Time

This was a bit concerning. I used the internal combustion engine (ICE) for the first time and I experienced the effects of “engine burn off”. This is what I posted on the GM-Volt forum:

I’ve had my 2016 Volt about two weeks now and, outside of ERDTT, today was the first time I used the ICE as it was intended. I ran out of EV range and relied on the ICE to get me to work.

 

I exited the highway, pulled regen paddle, came to a stop at the light and noticed this burning smell. My buddy and I just chalked it up to the car in front of us or something else in the area. On the way back home, I noticed the same smell after exiting the highway again! It dissipates after a few minutes of driving but it’s still irksome and puzzling.

 

At first I thought it was regen braking related but I never had that issue before. After some searching on the forums, this sounded an awful lot like the issues in this “Smelly Volt after extended gas runs” thread.

 

So is this normal for first time use? If so, how long does it take before it goes away? Or is this something more serious and I should get in contact with my dealer ASAP?

 

Thanks!

Apparently the burning smell was normal and part of the burning off oils and chemicals used during manufacturing and assembly.  It was likely exacerbated by the fact that I was running the fan. I’ll keep an eye on it but I wish something I was warned about. I guess it’s a reason to drive more efficiently and keep off the ICE.

Automated Park Assist

After multiple botched attempts, I finally managed to get the automated perpendicular parking assist to work on Saturday evening. I tried it again on Sunday but it didn’t go as smoothly as I hoped. I think I may have been reversing too quickly but it’s not the feature I thought it would be.

I’ve been focusing on the automated perpendicular parking assist feature because parallel parking is uncommon in my travels.

I was hoping the system would just help park in an empty parking spot but unfortunately the system requires actual vehicles or physical objects as reference points. This explains why all my attempts have failed and the one success parked my car near a concrete pillar. The manual didn’t explicitly spell this out but it makes sense. I don’t know why I thought otherwise because my car doesn’t have a 360 degree camera system.

Built-in Navigation vs Apple Maps via Car Play

I don’t have a sizeable data plan (250 MB) on my iPhone. I never really needed a big data plan before but Apple Car Play is building a compelling argument for buying a sizeable data plan.

I bought the built-in navigation option for the Volt because I wanted to have a standalone GPS solution. Coming from a 2008 Garmin GPS unit, the Chevy solution is sleeker and more robust but it’s still pales in comparison to Apple Car Play.

Dictating the address to the built-in navigation is cumbersome. With Siri and Apple Maps, I can say “Take me to <store name>” and a list of store locations would appear on screen with the nearest one on top. The built-in navigation only recognizes addresses and I have to drill down to each address starting from the city and province level. It’s also very strict with naming and offers very few suggestions.

Suite of Sensors

I originally wanted to build my Volt with only “Driver Confidence Package I”. I thought the Side Blind Zone Alert with Lane Change Alert and Rear Cross Traffic alert features were the most beneficial but after the test drive, I decided to include both options because I appreciated the extra eyes the second “Driver Confidence Package” included:

  • Forward Collision Alert
  • Lane Keep Assist
  • Low-speed Front Automatic Braking

It’s excessive for careful drivers and anytime the alerts went off, I was well aware of what I was doing but I liked the reassurances. It’s like when I use the GPS even though I am somewhat familiar with the route.

The second “Driver Confidence Package” also included Following Distance Indicator and IntelliBeam headlamps but I haven’t used either.

Multimedia

I have a free trial to XM Radio but I don’t I have any desire explore the paid radio service. For music, it appears to be occupying a weird middle ground between AM/FM radio and music services like Spotify. I can see it being useful for talk or sports radio but none of that interests me. Nevertheless, it works albeit a bit cumbersome to explore; I wish there was a way to sort by genre or moods.

The AM/FM radio was fine and the Spotify experience through Apple Car Play was easy as pie to use. I have no complaints about the included Bose audio system but I haven’t put it through its paces. I would like to load up a small USB stick full of familiar music to give it a real test.

I also discovered I could watch videos on the entertainment screen which is a neat but useless feature for even the passenger because, for safety reasons, the video image will be hidden while the car is in drive.

Still Lots to Tinker With

I still have a lot to tinker with in the Volt including driving in Low drive mode which would technically give me the ability to drive with one pedal. I’m also looking forward to the warmer weather so I can give sport mode a more thorough work out.

Checkpoint: Beta Weekend 2016 Edition

It’s a weekend of betas so I thought I would chime in with some impressions.

Street Fighter V

The last Street Fighter V beta featured more characters, stages and a menu that teased what’s to come. It also reminded me that Street Fighter V won’t have a story mode at launch and that it will likely be filled with cutscenes like these and in-engine shots like this. I prefer the latter for consistency’s sake. I’m not holding my breath for Mortal Kombat 9 calibre story but I am expecting some genuine effort beyond the arcade mode. I would really enjoy a Street Fighter Alpha 3 style RPG-lite system though.

The matchmaking was a lot better from a skill perspective; I wasn’t being hammered by skilled players. I wasn’t pleased with the time it took to find my next opponent though. I wouldn’t mind the wait if it ensured a quality match but being paired with someone with a spotty connection after a long wait wasn’t ideal. When it worked, it was very enjoyable. I already have it pre-ordered on disc but I am considering giving up the disc for a digital copy.

The Division

The beta of the weekend was The Division. Back in 2013, I was very skeptical on The Division and believed Destiny was the game for me. Unfortunately Destiny initial outing wasn’t my cup of tea. It was a bad loot game filled with tedious grind and repetition. I fear for the same thing for The Division but that fear also extended to Diablo III.

What makes The Division so appealing for me is the Dark Zone — the lawless areas of New York City — where players can venture out to fight higher level enemies for the promise of better loot. The risky part of this equation are the other players out there who can attack and steal what my bro and I collected. I had two notable experiences in the Dark Zone.

The Positive

My brother and I were pursuing this group of NPCs from one end of a street. We easily flanked them because they were facing the other way and after they were dispatched we discovered they were distracted by another three players. We encountered friendly individuals before but we’ve never encountered a group. We were sub-level 8 so I presumed everyone was friendlier but out of nowhere one of them fired some shots. I rolled back into cover and they did the same. We hunkered there ready to fight. We waited for a long nervous minute before one of them approached the middle and raised his hands and began walking towards us. A misunderstanding? A ploy? We eventually walked passed each other with fingers on the triggers ready to retaliate. As soon as they passed us, they ran off.

Once we filled out backpacks with contaminated Dark Zone loot, we had to move to one of the extraction points and fire a flare out for extraction. This was a beacon for other agents to join in on the extraction or a signal for other predatory agents to come in for easy kills. Watching the clock countdown was tense. We didn’t know if people were going to come and get us or what.

Moments like these were interesting. Can you trust other humans not kill you? The game temporarily flagged people who attacked other players as rogue agents. I accidentally hit another player outside of our group with crossfire and was flagged as rogue for about 10 seconds. I suspect killing someone would mean I was rogue for longer and be seen by all on the map as rogue.

The Negative

Flagging rogue agents in the Dark Zone is smart. In theory, it helps out smaller groups to avoid treachery or indicate to others that there are assholes to take out. Unfortunately there was a bug in the beta where rogue agents were invisible and I would only appear after they’ve killed you. It was like being attacked by ghosts.

It’s also highly recommended to venture out into the Dark Zone with other players. I’m reading too many stories of lone agents being gunned down by packs of rogue agents.

A Solid Foundation?

I like what I’ve seen of The Division thus far. It runs well and is surprisingly customizable for a console game. I can tweak a number of UI elements to my liking. On a technical perspective, I can even tweak graphical effects like how aggressive the anti-aliasing work (sharpening) and whether or not to enable chromatic aberration.

On the gameplay front, there were plenty of appearance and weapon modifications to personalize as well giving players plenty of options to express themselves.

What worries me the most about The Division are the enemy encounters. Damage sponges like those found in Destiny are tedious but mopping the floor with brain dead enemies is not fun either. Playing the “Hospital” mission on Hard and going up agains the higher level enemies in level 8 Dark Zone instances felt like that right mix. I don’t expect the final game to feature smarter enemies but I hope for a better mix. What makes Diablo III’s combat work is the juggling and management of different enemy types. I began to see glimmers of that on the hard difficulty but it’s too early to say.

Cautious Optimism Continues

The Division looks like it’s the next shooter RPG loot hybrid that could grip players all over the world. It may even sink its fangs into me like Diablo III U.E did. I’m still holding onto my pre-order for now but it’s not a firm decision. There’s a lot to like about the Division (I didn’t even mention how I love all the details) but there’s also a lot to dislike (too much running around). I’m unable to make a definitive judgement call on it yet but there is something about it that’s piqued my interest.

Call of Duty: Black Ops PS4 Multiplayer Beta Impressions

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This was originally posted in a Call of Duty: Black Ops III beta impressions thread on NeoGAF but I decided to massage it into a post here:

I came away from the Call of Duty: Black Ops III PlayStation 4 multiplayer beta feeling positive and optimistic. The most glaring issue was the networking and matchmaking performance. It would be a damn shame if both of those areas do not improve in the final release. Dedicated servers would be greatly appreciated.

I thought the PS4 beta felt great. I liked the size of the maps and the pace of the game. I enjoyed the mobility options in Advanced Warfare but I felt the games were too frenetic at times and the “time to kill” felt too low for a game that’s trying to promote mobility.

I felt BLOPS3 nailed the blend of TTK and mobility. It reminded me a lot of BLOPS2 with a touch of mobility options. There were numerous occasions where I saw an enemy late, they shot at me, and I was still able to get into cover and retaliate. I didn’t feel like that was the case with AW or in any COD title since BLOPS2. Guns still felt lethal when targets were within the gun’s optimal range but the bullet damage drop off seems to be more drastic outside that range which could explain how I’m surviving more firefights.

The idea behind the AW suit powers was sound but the implementation was flawed because I felt it wasn’t worth the sacrifice of an attachment or a perk. Giving everyone an added ability via the Specialist class without occupying a crucial class slot was the right choice. They served like mini-scorestreak rewards which had the potential to turn around a player’s performance in a round.

For the first time in a long time since I felt the SMG class was a viable option for me in certain maps. I can’t recall a game after COD4 where I actually made an SMG class and used it regularly. I also noticed that silenced weapons were no longer a prevailing option for people. In the last few games, I felt like I was a huge disadvantage if I wasn’t using a silencer.

As for deaths by scorestreaks? I felt it was manageable. The root of much of Call of Duty’s scorestreak related issues stemmed from the ease in which players can obtain the UAV. I was pleased to see that UAV spam was surprisingly low. Even then the high end scorestreaks weren’t wreaking a ridiculous amount of havoc in the games that I participated in.

I liked the fact that maps actually had character and wasn’t just a maze of corridors. It reminded of COD4 and BLOPS2 where maps and battles flowed through a few select distinct alleys.

I know it’s a beta but I hope the final release addresses the texture draw in issues; especially around shrubbery. Finally, it may be too late to address this but I wish it was easier distinguish friend or foe outside of the obvious name tag. Everyone appeared too similarly.

The multiplayer beta showed great promise but there’s still a great deal that’s a mystery to the player base. Will there be a deadly/cheap combination lurking somewhere that will ruin the game for everyone else? We shall see.

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