Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle Review

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Mario and Rabbids together at last. In an XCOM styled game as well. What a pleasant and bizarre surprise announcement that was. I was immediately curious and seeing it was well received, I had every intention to pick it up. But since it was an Ubisoft game, I chose to bide my time and await a sale.

There were only four kingdoms in the Ubisoft strategy title but I was ready for the credits heading into the fire kingdom. I thoroughly enjoy the battles for their inventive situations, gimmicks, and boss battles. But everything else in-between said battles became a chore. 

It was initially charming to roam around these worlds checking out the random hijinx the other Rabbids were up to. I even enjoyed the simple puzzles and light exploration at first. All these innocuous activities wore out their welcome through repetition and lack of diversity. They could have made it worthwhile by including worthwhile treasures but instead I picked up a lot of artwork that will go untouched.

I felt Mario + Rabbids had a very solid gameplay foundation. The simplified take on turn-based strategy worked very well and it didn’t result in me uttering curses because a high percentage shot missed. Having 0%, 50%, and 100% be the only three shot percentages made for a quicker paced game. The combination play between the different characters was unique and sparked the desire for strategic thinking. I wasn’t particularly keen on the restrictions of a Rabbid party member at first but after spending some time with them, their silly personalities won me over. 

Without taking into account turn restrictions, Mario + Rabbids is an extremely easy game. However, adding turn limits into the equation gave this game a puzzle element. It became a game of ability examinations, build combos, and efficient movement. Unfortunately for me, I decided to go for the high marks and restarted the battle any time I took a misstep. I tried to run through every battle as efficiently as possible which resulted with me restarting battles over and over again. I focused on the high marks to a fault and willingly interrupted the flow of the game repeatedly.

To my pleasant surprise, the Rabbids were fun. Peach Rabbid and the rest of the Rabbid variants brought quirky fun to the classic Nintendo characters that we wouldn’t have ever seen from Nintendo proper. I was also pleasantly surprised by the the aesthetics. That Snowdrop Engine produced some very impressive visuals for the Nintendo Switch. I would have liked to see it run at 60FPS for the “running around” moments but seeing how simplistic those parts were, it wasn’t a deal breaker.

I was far more impressed with the musical score brought in by the the great Grant Kirkhope. It’s very him and it didn’t take me long to realize that he was bringing his iconic touch to this game. I distinctly recall thinking: “This music is far too good for your typical Ubisoft title. It reminds me of Donkey Kong Country.”

Whoever came up with the idea of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was a genius. But whoever managed to successfully pitch this idea to Nintendo was the true hero of Ubisoft because I cannot believe Nintendo green lit this unorthodox pairing. I guess all the Red Steels and ZombiUs of the last decade or so finally paid off. Some issues aside, I felt Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was a success and I look forward to the next iteration of this unlikely collaboration. 

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

 

Impressions of E3 2016 Press Conferences

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Electronic Arts

TitanFall 2 and Battlefield 1 were the big tentpole titles that bookended Electronic Art’s press conference. Between the two EA shooters and Activision’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, I am throwing my hat in the TitanFall 2 camp. The multiplayer looks looks like a hell of a time and the promise of free modes and maps seals the deal.

Battlefield 1 looks like a technical masterpiece but it didn’t register an excitement on my end. It looked like Battlefield + WW1 which was exactly what I expected and that’s why it was so disappointing to me. The shift to a more mobile and able player makes the grounded approach to Battlefield 1 look static to me. I guess what I wanted was a sequel Battlefield 2142 with mechs, wall running, jetpacks and other ridiculous possibilities and not the dirty grit of World War I.

They showed off Mass Effect: Andromeda but it’s so tough to muster any excitement for a game that we’ve seen so little of. I need to see a Bethesda style 20 minute blowout session of the game.

B-

Bethesda

Quake is back in hero shooter form and since I have no reverence for that series whatsoever, I came away indifferent. I’m more interested in the fact that Bethesda are doing their very best to revitalize id Software’s franchises. They teased a new Wolfenstein which is by far the most exciting reveal of the conference.

The highlight of the show was Dishonored 2 receiving same gameplay showcase that Fallout 4 received last year. It’s a great looking game and the fact that I haven’t played the first Dishonored is a crime. I’m going to pre-order it but I have no idea if I’m going to keep that pre-order or just wait for a Black Friday discount. It does look very impressive though.

If there’s one thing that Bethesda nailed for the past two years is the pace of the press conferences. Even when they’re talking about a game that I have no interest in, they make it entertaining and brisk.

B+

Microsoft

Microsoft’s entire press conference lineup leaked and I still came away entertained and informed.

That Xbox One S is beautiful. I don’t see myself picking one up but I am glad it exists. I just wish it didn’t start at $399 CAD because that’s the exact same price as the original which isn’t the case in the U.S where it starts $50 lower than the old Xbox One.

The two standout games for me — and not in a positive way — were ReCore and Scalebound. ReCore looked a little rough from a tech perspective and Scalebound just looks boring.

On the flip side, Gears of War 4 and We Happy Few impressed. I’m ready for a new Gears of War 4 and it’s good to see a disconcerting dystopian adventure game featuring clowns.

Project Scorpio’s confirmation for 2017 and its promise of 4K gaming and VR in a console was the showstopper and makes me wonder what Sony are going to do with their Neo. This upcoming Xbox will be more powerful than Sony’s Neo so how will they pitch it. They had the tech advantage with PlayStation 4 and if the rumored specs target are true, then Project Scorpio will have that talking point.

A-

Ubisoft

Ghost Recon: Wildlands? South Park? For Honor? None of those resonated — especially with their canned demos filled with unrealistic banter. The South Park demonstration went for far too long. Ghost Recon: Wildlands and Watch_Dogs 2 are Ubisoft open world games and For Honor doesn’t look like my cup of tea. There was even an entire Assassin’s Creed movie segment that I took a washroom break for because the entire conference up to that point was plodding along at a snail’s pace.

The highlight of the show for me were Aisha Tyler, the enthusiasm of LeVar Burton for Star Trek VR and the reveal of Grow Up. But outside of those handful of moments, the Ubisoft press conference was disappointing.

D+

Sony

Sony enjoys announcements and so do I which is why I was a fan of their press conference. They didn’t showcase as much PlayStation VR as I thought but that was perfectly fine by me. There’s a new God of War which appears to be a reboot of the franchise. Resident Evil VII looks interesting by being first person and more intimate. Kojima’s new game was weird and perfectly Kojima.

The most impressive demonstration was Horizon: Zero Dawn. They showed off everything they needed to show without overstaying its welcome. Sony’s Bend new game Days Gone was one of the less impressive titles shown but it was new and needed a person pitching it.

The Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was okay; I wasn’t sold on it. The Spider-man exclusive by Insomniac Games was a genuine surprise to me. Rumors were pegging Sucker Punch as the developer of the game so seeing Insomniac Games’ logo was quite the swerve. They made Sunset Overdrive so I’m optimistic that they can pull off an open world title but it’s been a LONG time since we’ve seen a decent Spider-man title.

Overall, this was the best conference of E3 2016. It was brisk with plenty of announcements and game demonstrations.

A

 

The Division PS4 Review

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The Division and Destiny share many of the same faults. They’re both repetitive in mission structure. They both feature damage sponges for enemies and both have too few enemy types. I recognize those faults in Ubisoft’s loot driven third person shooter but there were a few key decisions that made The Division stick with me and not repel like Destiny did.

Despite its limited selection of skill types, weaponry and character attributes, there was a surprisingly wide variety of customization options in clothing appearance. Even though New York City may appear drab and uninteresting from a distance, there were numerous bite sized moments and vignettes littered throughout. And despite how shallow each individual component of the gameplay loop was, Ubisoft rearranged these basic components into something amusing in a group setting.

I took to the idea behind the Division initiative. I love the idea of sleeper agents being called upon to do wet work in moments of extreme crisis. It’s the kind of farfetched idea that I’ve come to expect in a Tom Clancy title. It’s also a conceit that allowed players to look and dress like every day citizens augmented with high tech gear and military grade weaponry.

I will happily acknowledge the fact that this is one of the more fashionable third person shooters that I’ve ever played. Articles of clothing were treated as item drops and rewards in The Division. To my surprise, there were more variations in clothing than weapons and armor. I concede much of it were simply color variations of the same piece of clothing but they were different in appearance which was more noticeable than another MP5 that did 500 more damage. I was genuinely more excited to see that teal ray of light emanating from the ground than any other weapon or armor including those shining with yellow.
The Division’s story missions showcased the most spectacle and action in the game but the story itself left a lot to be desired. I felt like we’re at the cusp of a revelation and then we ran out of game to wrap it all up. I realize there’s probably a whole lot more that Ubisoft wishes to expand upon but at least give us one final boss to wrap up this story.

I teetered back and forth on whether or not The Division looked good on PlayStation 4. I’ve seen screenshots of the PC version and it’s a beautiful game through and through on that platform but on the consoles, it varies wildly. There were moments when the game ranked amongst the best lookers on the platform while other times, it looked like Ubisoft dialed back the quality settings to the PlayStation 3 era. In the end, I felt they made the right choices in trying to maintain framerate above visual fidelity. I would have loved to have played the game seeing all the piles of garbage and abandoned taxis in vivid detail but not at the cost of performance. I doubt I would have stayed with the game as long as I have if it suffered frequent framerate drops like those found in high action 4 player party scenarios.

As a Ubisoft title, I wasn’t surprised to find the map littered with collectibles. Most of them were tucked away in easy to find places but a handful had my brother and I scratching our heads a bit. “How do we get up there?” We would split up and decipher building layouts to eventually find that door, ladder or window that unraveled the whole thing. I found amusement in some of the collectible cell phone snippets but I was glad we tackled each district’s share as we progressed through the game because it would have been far too tedious otherwise. Most of the collectibles were a step above the Assassin’s Creed feathers but not by much. I would have preferred more Echo locations where we could investigate a holographic reconstructed scene of life during the early days of the outbreak but I can see Ubisoft running that idea into the ground with overexposure.

In a way, I was glad to have explored so much of the New York City through the collecting trinkets because I caught numerous gems ranging from neat minute details to horrible and unintentionally funny situations in the environment. I hadn’t seen a Dalmatian until 24 or so hours into the game and was genuinely surprised when I saw one. I was taken aback when a group of private military soldiers gunned down an innocent man walking towards them and hearing them call out “Area secured”. These little moments gave The Division’s version of New York a semblance of life. Things have spiralled out of control and it was fascinating to see the number of ways Ubisoft reinforced that idea.

Taken from a distance, without any form of scrutiny, the modern day hell scape that The Division painted was convincing. Scratch the surface and questions began to flow. How did they manage to organize such a large number of these people together? Are there really that many sanitation workers in New York? Why did all the rioters dress like hoodlum caricatures from the 90’s? Each and every faction required a conceit of some kind and I just had to convince myself to roll with it. If I can look past the idea of dumping 160+ bullets from an M60 into the face of a man without him toppling over, I can look past the logistical lapses in the narrative.

Engagements in the Division were divided into three groups: against tough A.I, against other humans and against the fluff. The A.I in the Division is basic at best; the challenge to anyone who’s even remotely decent at third person shooters can be found at higher difficulties where enemies are an actual threat and thinning their numbers quickly requires coordination. My brother and I found a lot of enjoyment in tackling the Challenging missions by ourselves. We found ourselves having to think and figure out ways to lure enemies into choke points and sometimes even outfitting our characters to better suit each encounter. These aren’t new ideas for compensating for lacklustre A.I but it’s still effective in a game such as this.

I kept my pre-order because of the intriguing nature of the Dark Zone. The threat of other players turning Rogue and attacking my party in an attempt to steal our loot was exciting. Every extraction moment was tense because we had no idea if or when A.I or other players were going to pounce on us. Most players were friendly and would apologize through emotes there was no way to know if they were sincere.

As soon as I reached the level 30 cap and entered the Dark Zone, the uncertainty being ambushed or overpowered turned into a guarantee. Rogue agents were more prevalent and we no longer could hold our own against the higher level enemies. We needed better equipment. The unpredictability of the Dark Zone made it exciting and I hope to return to it sooner rather than later. I’m just not keen on having to scavenge for better equipment to get back in there.

I can see myself checking in with the Division on a regular basis. I don’t know if I’m convinced to spend money on a season pass but I actually enjoy playing this game. It has many of the same issues that Destiny had in its early days but there’s nuance in every one of those problematic areas that I find myself enjoying. The loot wasn’t particularly interesting in a weapon or armor perspective but I love the dumb idea of giving an energy bar to an NPC civilian and getting a beanie as a reward. The city of New York wasn’t interesting in its layout but I was driven to explore each nook in hopes of witnessing an example of humanity’s worst. The Division isn’t a remarkable game if I dug deep into certain areas but if I mined others, I discovered a wealth of good times within.

Verdict:
I like it

Ratings Guide

Checkpoint: Console Hardware Revision Edition

posted in: Editorials & Features | 0

Sony are working on a PlayStation 4.5 according to Scoops. It will be a more powerful PlayStation 4 equipped with an upgraded GPU to handle 4K gaming.

Do I believe the rumors? Yes. I do not doubt Patrick Klepek’s reporting. But there’s a lot to unpack with this idea of a more powerful “mid-cycle” revision.

Improved GPU

How much of an improvement are we looking at with this hardware revision? 4K gaming is such an ambiguous term because very simple games can be rendered with the current PlayStation 4’s GPU. Are Sony aiming to render games like The Order 1886 in 4K? Or perhaps they’re simply including a hardware scaler that will upscale 1080p to 4K?

The PlayStation VR would be able to take advantage of more GPU power but what would that mean for PlayStation 4 owners who will be purchasing the VR headset this fall? Surely Sony don’t intend to divide a niche segment of their audience even further.

Gradual Obsolesce

I have no problems with introducing a more powerful hardware after 3 – 4 years. The PlayStation 4 is approaching its 3rd birthday later this year, and the Netbook class CPU and 2013 mid-range GPU will be exposed even further as newer and cheaper PC parts make their debut.

The worry for many people is that current PlayStation 4 owners will be left behind if developers target the new hardware. But will that make sense from a developer or publisher perspective? Are the most successful iOS developers only targeting the latest and greatest hardware? Of course not and that’s what I believe will happen if the console manufacturers turn to a more iterative pace with hardware.

I see the API maintaining backwards compatibility like iOS but eventually developers and Sony will choose not to support older revisions. I can see Sony maintaining support for two revisions at a time.

  1. PlayStation 4 (2013)
  2. PlayStation 4 (2017)
  3. PlayStation 4 (2021)
  4. PlayStation 4 (2025)

1 & 2 will be supported, then 2 & 3, then 3 & 4 and so on.

How would developers take advantage of new hardware? If the PlayStation 4 (2013) runs games at medium equivalent PC settings, I can see the PlayStation 4 (2017) running games on high equivalent settings. It’ll involve more testing and resources on the developers perspective but they have the option to make better looking games.

Why would developers do this though? Why would they invest resources on something extraneous? They don’t have to. If they wanted to target PlayStation 4 (2013) and optimize for that, they will have the widest possible audience available to them. But that will be the case for games launching near the second PlayStation 4 revision. Sony will stop selling PlayStation 4 (2013) and eventually PlayStation 4 (2017) will grow to a sizeable share and may even become the dominant segment of the market share. At that point, developers may want to push boundaries and move onto supporting the newer revision.

$399.99 Forever?

I have no problems buying a new hardware revision every 4 years for $399.99 USD. You don’t need to buy the new revision on day one, in fact I can see PlayStation 4 (2017) receive a price drop in 2019 like the PlayStation 4 did in 2015. But this will allow Sony to keep a higher priced game console forever. They can offer the older revisions for $299.99 but they need to make it clear that it may have a shorter life span ahead.

Interesting Times Ahead

This may end up being nothing more than a thought experiment by the hardware manufacturers but even if it amounts to nothing, I am glad they are considering this possible route. It’s been an interesting idea to dissect.

The Division. Fire Emblem. The Division. Fire Emblem. Repeat. I’m almost done with the latter and making progress with the former. I’ve been doing the side missions as they appear and not burning through the main content so as not to create an imbalance of boring content in the end.

 

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