Category: Reviews

Review: Full Throttle Remastered

This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of Full Throttle Remastered.

There was a brief, glorious moment a few years ago when Sony invested in a large slate of indie games & PC remasters. Among this group of revitalized games was Tim Schafer’s LucasArts titles, including the cult classic Full Throttle with a fully revamped set of graphics and audio that brought tough as nails biker Ben into the HD era.

Diving into the world of biker gangs, Corley Motors, the scheming Adrian Ripburger and the overall world of Full Throttle for the first time is a disjointed but oddly captivating way to experience the game. The modern day presentation is paired with classic adventure game navigation, requiring a deliberate approach of carefully scrolling and prodding level elements to progress (and unlock rare trophies). Taking on leadership of the Polecat motorcycle gang, tough as nails Ben’s journey from ambushed biker to fugitive on the run and eventually combating Ripburger for justice and the biker way is a fun ride! The dialogue trees are worth exploring for in-jokes and sly references to biker culture, the exaggerated characters are campy without becoming annoying and the protagonists have a distinctly 90’s mix of earnestness and brash confidence. It’s fun to look at, poke, open and interact with every element to fully explore the world.

Full Throttle Remastered has fully redrawn graphics in the same style and fidelity as the Day of the Tentacle remaster, rather than the inferior upscaling used for the Grim Fandango port to console. The clean lines, thin inks and flat shading feel tonally consistent with the original 1995 version; there’s a toggle between classic and remastered graphics that show the stark contrast after 22 years. I recommend switching between versions at quiet moments to fully appreciate the effort and care that Double Fine invested in the new edition.

It sounds great as well, each voice imbuing their character with a distinct tone that I can still hear clearly in my head. Double Fine used the original master recordings of Roy Conrad, Mark Hamill, Kath Soucie and the rest of the cast to retain the original dialogue flavour while the various punching, motor revving, explosion and other sound effects pop without the bass heavy, exaggerated volume style of many modern era games.

The game struggles with some pain point sequences, I found it frustrating to figure out the rock/paper/scissors type system to weapon swap through an extended Road Warrior bike battle and land stunt jumps at a climactic car battle. I may be spoiled by modern systems with obvious visual hints to problem solve; the grind of determining the sequences and nailing the precise timing to pass those sequences nearly derailed me from finishing the game (but grinding through them was ultimately worthwhile).

Full Throttle Remastered is a fresh, vibrant version of a classic game that everyone should experience. Whether it’s a return visit to a beloved favourite or a new introduction to the world of Tim Schafer, spending a few hours with Ben, Maureen, Ripburger and company is time well spent.

 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Review: Super Mario Run

This review is based on the iPhone version of Super Mario Run.

Super Mario Run is Nintendo’s first big foray into gaming on mobile phones, bringing their most iconic character to iPhones (and eventually Android) with an endless runner version of their classic 2D platform series. After focusing their portable efforts on the 3DS during the majority of the modern smartphone era, the game is under an incredible amount of pressure to deliver a huge install base, substantial revenue and critical acclaim to an audience used to a fire hose of free and very cheap games on the go.

 

At first glance, the game does quite a good job in capturing the look of the Wii U era Mario platformers with the bulbous spherical body of our protagonist, bevelled coin blocks, warbling enemies and upbeat sound effects mostly intact in the transition. Many of the classic level types such as the grassy field, spooky mansion and floating battleships made the transition and look vibrant on the retina displays of modern iPhones. For a moment, I thought it might turn out well!

That feeling does not last. Where Super Mario Run shows signs of trouble is a few seconds into the first level when it becomes apparent that Mario may look the part, but he doesn’t move or react with anywhere close to the level of precision that long time gamers are expecting. Jumps feel delayed when tapping the screen and more intricate sequences with multiple chained jumps or activating a sprint out of a pause block have enough latency to mess up the player on more challenging levels. The inconsistent controls are exacerbated by the baffling decision to pause Mario mid-air for a split second when he earns a coin collecting (not an invincibility) star, often at the worst possible moment when attempting a precision jump between platforms or timing an extended float while descending. Switching from Mario to Toad, Yoshi or the other unlockable characters is even worse, as latency coping mechanisms that get picked up with experience using Mario do not translate exactly to the others with their differences in movement behaviour. This should have been an easy win for Nintendo but it is deflating in its imprecision and inconsistency.

The game is available in a limited free version with access to the 1st world, with the rest unlocked through a one-time purchase that is substantially higher than comparable App Store games (price will vary by country). The free access includes the basic Goomba and green shelled turtles with the more exotic creatures such as Lakitu locked away behind the pay wall. There isn’t enough in the free version to stick with Super Mario Run for more than half an hour; grinding out a small selection of levels with varying difficulties of special collectible coins or making runs through Toad Rally is only entertaining for a few attempts each.

The aforementioned Rally is decent when it matches you up with equally skilled players to make its ghost challenge mode a fair contest, but it usually provides a list of significantly better or worse player profiles to race against. The controversial consumable ticket experience becomes a non-factor quickly when you have earned enough coins to deploy coin blocks in your overview world between the various collectibles, but it takes a lot of coin and toad grinding to buy those pieces.

Even designed for mobile first, Super Mario Run keeps Nintendo’s archaic friend system of generating codes to be passed around instead of requiring a Nintendo account login up front, leveraging Apple’s Game Center or another centralized system. Why does this legacy system still exist in 2017?

The series has always been about far more than running around to collect coins and take out enemies: the sense of wonder in discovering beautiful new worlds, precision timing to navigate intricately designed levels and nostalgic fun of encountering familiar Koopas are barely present in this game. It feels disappointing in the way that the direct to video Disney sequels in the 1990’s were to fans of the iconic originals, it pains me that Super Mario Run looks and feels like a stripped down Super Mario Bros. 3 on rails. The game is a decent runner but a serious disappointment as a Mario title, a series that deserves more respect and reverence than this provides.

 

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Review: Shadow Complex Remastered

This review is based on the Xbox One version of Shadow Complex Remastered.

Chair Entertainment is now best known for the massive Infinity Blade series, but their first hit game was the original Shadow Complex which spearheaded Xbox’s Summer of Arcade 2009. Mixing a blend of side scrolling platforming and an addictive combat style, it was a throwback to classics such as Super Metroid and inspired a revival of 2D platform games that continues to this day.

Nearly a decade later, Shadow Complex Remastered adds some minimal graphical tweaks but otherwise keeps the original game intact in its migration to the Xbox One. It’s still a ton of fun to walk and run (eventually at supersonic speed) around as Jason Fleming, bewildered backpacker on a date who eventually rises to heroism to save his captured girlfriend Claire. This unfolds after a blockbuster opening sequence blasting an assault helicopter with a fully enabled combat suit, another nod back to the Metroid ouevre before the plot by Peter David unfolds.

 

The game looks and sounds very similar to the original release as the remastering effort was not as extensive as the full recreations of other Xbox 360 classics such as Gears of War, but a new coat of paint is really all it needed. The textures are a little low resolution in some cases and the stock enemy troops can blend together, but overall Shadow Complex still looks visually interesting and the sound design still finds the sweet spot between realism and pop sensibility that the original had. The voice acting also deserves a separate shout out, especially Nolan North in one of his earlier star turns as the put upon but ultimately heroic protagonist.

Tearing through an underground fortress to uncover a vast conspiracy, acquiring combat upgrades and smashing through enemy Restoration troops is every bit as enjoyable as it was in 2009. The power suit rivals the best that Samus Aran has unveiled in her adventures: there’s nothing as fantastical as the screw attack or power ball in Shadow Complex Remastered, but Fleming has his own collection of jet augmented jumps and supersonic running speed to traverse levels with precision. The array of weapons stay within the established bullet and missile based types which works well with the impulse rumble of the Xbox One controller, initiating a pleasing buzz or kick when dealing damage to foes at all angles. That said, the real fun comes with punching, kicking and shoulder charging through enemies with a variety of context sensitive combat moves, especially when you can catch them unaware or send them flying off the map as they shriek in anguish…!

The boss fights can be repetitive and digging up the expansion tanks can be vexing when the upgrades are tucked into the far recesses of the map, but the vast majority of the game can be completed as quickly or leisurely as desired. Frequent enemy respawns and level progression provides an incentive to circle back and gain XP, apply new abilities to previously unreachable areas and generally bounce around the interconnected levels.

Shadow Complex is still one of the best games to build upon the side scrolling action platform genre established by the original Metroid series. The smart additions of a partial extra dimension with the 2.5D format to expand the playing field without going full 3D and the unwavering focus on fast and fun combat make the remastered edition a must have for both gamers new to the title and long time fans interested in a return to the Olympic Mountains and the secrets buried beneath.

 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars