Read Stuart’s column every week in The Scottish Sun, where he shares his reviews, news and podcasts with the 99.3% of the World’s population not fortunate enough to be able to buy a physical copy of the paper. The following appeared originally in The Scottish Sun on Sunday 23rd December 2018.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch, £49.99)
THINK Nintendo and fighting games and you WILL conjure up pictures of Super Smash Bros. You can’t beat those classic playground questions: if X is fighting Y, what would happen if A and B pile in? Super Smash Bros was the game that made those dreams come true. So an Ultimate version had to be a hit, right? This is the first outing for the series on the Switch and, as the name suggests, it takes things to a whole new level.
There are 74 fighters from Nintendo favourites to Sega, Capcom and Konami heroes and more brawlers are on the way. You can pitch Mario against Sonic with Streetfighters’ Ryu and Metal Gear Solid’s Snake in an epic arena throw down — and there are 108 stages across a number of games to play on. The new game keeps the balance between being fun for anyone but with the hidden depths that more seasoned players will want to master. That has always been the high point of the game and this one really shines. The fighters still don’t have a health bar — they get a percentage where the higher it goes, the more you are in trouble. It does take a while to get your head around it if you are new to the series but, overall, it is a good idea because you never feel like you can be beaten in just two seconds by any player. Each fighter has its own moves and attacks so there are hours of fun to be had as you pile through the challenges. Master the arts and it will put a smile on your face — whether it is a small, fast attack or the full-on Donkey Kong assault.
You have to unlock a lot of the fighters — you only get eight out of the 74 to start with, so it takes time to get the full cast. World Of Light is the single player option if you can’t get hold of any of your pals — and it is packed with unlocks called Sprites. There are 1,200 so, again, you have plenty to do. That said, it does get a bit heavy going during the 14-hour run time, but the start and end make up for that. Graphically, the game has an amazing, but typical, Nintendo polish. It is chock-a-block with charm and the incredible array of music adds to the fun.
Super Smash Bros Ultimate is a joy to play and a MUST for all Switch owners. The fighting is outstanding and there is a stunning level of detail . . . and that’s before you get into the online or couch versus side of things where the game’s legacy will be forged.
Just Cause 4 (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £49.99)
THE Just Cause series is like an 80s blockbuster — it’s all about making things go boom and looking uber cool while doing it. Avalanche Studios have stuck to the formula for the fourth instalment, but has ramping it all up to 11 worked? Series hero Rico Rodriguez is back — and the low-budget Antonio Banderas once again finds himself deep in trouble in a war zone. This time he is on Solis, a fictional South American country where an evil force called the Black Hand have taken control. A private army is run by Gabriela Morales — the woman who forced Rico’s dad to make a super weapon to . . . control the weather. Rico has to liberate the HUGE map piece by piece, help the locals and get close to Morales.
It is a fairly solid tale that hooks the gameplay together, but like other instalments expect heavy cheesiness and over-the-top action movie vibes over the 20 hours. Well, 20 hours if you mainline most of the missions. This game is like an out-of-control toddler — constantly pulling you to look at something or do something else. If you have a short attention span then brace yourself for going nowhere fast. Gameplay builds on the core series, but there are not many new ideas as you run, shoot and fly around the world. The key to Just Cause fun is that it gives you all the toys in the box at the same time then throws in the grapple system which lets you hook yourself and other objects to other things.
At its base level you can drag yourself across areas then open your parachute and fly around or switch to your wing suit and fall in style. OR. You can hook anything to anything — people to cars or buildings to fuel tanks. It opens up a whole new level of destruction which fans will love. What’s new is that you can customise your hook loadouts with the likes of a balloon or rocket. Cue hours of fun. The map has a mix of areas from jungle to urban to snow-topped mountains, but there are almost too many locations because there is enough fun at hand. It just feels a bit overwhelming at times. It looks good with a nice level of detail through the fires and explosions, but the characters in cut scenes occasionally have a weird blur effect. The soundtrack ticks all the boxes from the general background filler to the Latina-inspired radio stations and voice acting is good but cheesy.
It has been heavily pitched with an extreme weather programme and that is a big part of the game. You get to face off tornados and the like, but those fun episodes are just too far apart and the selection of mission types never really takes advantage of your skill set. If you’re a fan then this new outing will give you more of what you want. But it doesn’t really take the series to the next level. If you’re a newcomer then you’ll have a blast just charging around in this movie playground of things that go boom.
Fallout 76 (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £44.99)
GENERAL gaming rule No 3,271: Adding multiplayer to a game makes it instantly better for Versus battles and co-op adventures. Unless, of course, it doesn’t. Fans were desperate to bathe in multiplayer goodness in Fallout. The developers listened and delivered in Fallout 76 — and ended up splitting the fan base with the most Marmite game of 2018. We reckon the co-op has cost the game what made the series so great. It starts the same as most Fallout games — you wake up and leave a vault . . . but it is all a bit story-lite.
A big chunk of the game is built on interacting with the 20 or so real people on the good- size West Virginia map. Beyond them, there are no real characters which is a huge blow as they are normally a highlight of a Fallout game. So most of the time anything you see will try to kill or eat you. The most interesting hints at a story come from the environmental elements on your journey but, again frustratingly, they normally don’t lead anywhere. You get quests but they are dished out by robots or an AI programme so can be a bit one dimensional. Even worse, when you meet other players some may want to interact while others fancy a fight. But you need both sides to battle. Big GRRR. And the solo game really needs friends to get the most from missions.
The gameplay is like Fallout 4 but the V.A.T.S system has changed from freeze time to a more real-time auto aim. The light survival element — eating and drinking — is more of as pain than strategy, and the graphics are a mixed bag. It’s built on the same engine as Fallout 4 which is pretty old now and doesn’t look as good as the past title. There are a good few bugs on gameplay and the visuals but we expect a patch frenzy. We can see why fans are split over Fallout 76. The online survival is not deep enough to excite fans. It should be a smash. It has all the parts — a much-loved series, online co-op and a strong history — but it falls short on all fronts.
The Gardens Between (Xbox One, PC, PS4, Switch, £15.99)
NOT all great games need to be 30-hour epics — you can hit the heights on a short journey. The Gardens Between clocks in at about four hours and it is a little puzzler with bags of charm and character. Developed by Australian studio The Voxel Agents, the game sees you play as a pair of young friends sitting in their tree house between their homes. Then one stormy night everything changes as a ball of light appears and time stops and they are transported to a dream-like place.
They must work their way to the top of a number of islands based on key memories but each island has a different theme — like a game or TV show — so you never really know what to expect. Also, you never actually control the youngsters, it’s more how you interact with the world. It has a lovely soft tone that adds to the dream-like feel and the soundtrack has an almost Zen vibe. It is fresh, enjoyable and tells a compelling bitter-sweet tale.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…