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 21st July.
Samurai Shodown (Xbox One and PS4, £49.99)
SAMURAI Shodown may not be as famous as marquee fighting titles such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat despite releasing 17 different titles since 1993. But this SNK brawler is ready to emerge from the shadows again as it looks to bring its brand of 2D katana-fuelled mayhem back into the spotlight. Right off the bat, combo warriors are going to be in for a shock as Samurai Shodown strips its fighting system back to a few core ideas of timing, being able to read your enemies and knowing where to position yourself. So unlike so many current fighting games aimed at the eSports circuit hotshots, there no complex button combos that require lightning reactions and three extra fingers to pull off. This is ideal for newcomers. You only have a handful of buttons to get your head around for light attacks, medium attacks and heavy attacks. The key is learning when and how to use each as a heavy attack will deal lots of damage but it’s slow and if you are blocked you leave yourself open to being punished by your opponent. On top of the core buttons you also have a rage gauge. This lets you pull off your fighter’s supermove when maxed out. Neat.
If that’s the core, the second most-important part of a bawler has to be the characters. Samurai Shodown brings a healthy roster of 16 different fighters to the table, with three of them being brand new. Ranging from ninjas to samurai and everything in-between, you’ll get a bit of backstory on each, delivered in a retro and charming fashion. As for modes. All the standard fighter ones are there plus you can head online. One of the interesting modes is the dojo where you fight against other players’ ghosts. Graphically the game is lovely to look at and bursting with colour. Sound is good, from the soundtrack to the Japanese voiceovers. Samurai Shodown is an interesting brawler. It has one foot in the past but is bags of fun. Welcoming to newcomers but also with real depth for the more-seasoned player. It’s not a headliner but this undercard could be a contender.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £34.99)
IT’S no secret that crowdfunding a game is a minefield not only for fans but also developers. So when one makes it, it must be doing something right. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is developed by ArtPlay and is a Metroidvania game with more than a touch of Castlevania, and there is good reason for that. Koji Igarashi led the project and he was the producer on many of the past Castlevania games and, in many ways, Bloodstained is a spiritual successor to those classics. But it’s very much its own thing with a new world and cast of character. You play as Miriam, an orphan and shardbinder, who can take in and use the energy of demons. But one day an evil castle, ruled by the mysterious Gebel, appears and you have to find out why.
For the most part, the tale is well told and the gameplay is pure Metroidvania joy from start to finish. You’ll spend around 15 to 20 hours backtracking and exploring the castle to get the real ending, all the while becoming faster, stronger and more powerful. The vast array of powers can feel overwhelming at times but you can tool up Miriam to your own taste, from wielding guns to swords — and that’s before you get to the magic elements. And once you’ve dealt with skeleton horses and huge demon cats, the boss fights are epic duels and will take some time to overcome.
Graphically the game is packed with details and has a stunning 2.5D style. Sound-wise it has an epic soundtrack written by Michiru Yamane who also worked on the Castlevania series. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a true love letter to all things Castlevania — fans of the classic series will love this while newcomers will find an outstanding Metroidvania packed with content that simply needs to be played.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled (Xbox One, PS4 and Switch, £34.99)
OF all the tools in a publisher’s bag to hook in gamers, none is more powerful than nostalgia. Activision have already shown it can capture this lighting in a bottle — not once but twice with the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and Spyro Reignited Trilogy. So it was only really a question of when, and not if, we would see a remaster of Crash Team Racing. Step forward Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled which takes the 20-year-old kart racer that dared to stand up to Nintendo’s juggernaut Mario Kart. Complete with its own core mechanics to learn as well as all the wit and charm of the Crash Bandicoot universe.
Fans of the original will feel at home right away but will spot everything has had more than just a nip and tuck as the characters and 31 different tracks have all had a graphical overhaul and now pop with a true cartoon vibe. With the gameplay.. .well, it’s a lot harder than the younger me remembers. The art of victory lies in timing the perfect powerslide and knowing when to use your power-up to best effect.
On the kart and driver front, there is a great selection to pick from. The karts can be customised through unlocks whereas the driver roster features almost everyone you’d want from the Crash universe — a particular purple dragon is joining the race as DLC after launch too. The game has a host of racing modes, both on and offline, including a fully fleshed-out single-player campaign spread over five different hub worlds. It’s a great way to earn unlocks and get to grips with the boost system too.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is a real mixed bag. On one hand its bags of fun, stunning and a trip down memory lane. On the other it’s a slap to the face due to the overall skill level at entry. If you loved it first time around you’ll have a blast. If you’re a newcomer you’ll have to grit your teeth and put the time in. But if you do you’ll discover a slice of karting fun.
IT is often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Hiroaki Yura, the game director/ producer on Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble, makes no bones about how the Advance War series inspired him and his team at Area 35 during its development. He told me:
“Our inspiration came from the love of Advance Wars. We played so much of that game during our childhood and we wanted to see a comeback of the genre. We are also fans of all kinds of war games, even tabletop games like Warhammer and other video games. But, in particular, the Advance Wars series.”
When choosing the style, it was turn-based strategy or bust. He adds:
“Yes, this game was always going to be a turn-based strategy, as it gave enough time for the players to think, and the stylistic approach was almost perfect so we didn’t have to stray far. All we did was put several drops of our own originality into it.”
But there is more to the core of Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble than just the strategy as Yura feels its story is also key. He continues:
“The story dictates the mission in which the players take part so, yes, it plays a large role. Like with many traditional Japanese games, the game itself is very linear going from point A to point B. There are a few optional missions we sprinkled in for fun though. We wanted a Japanese-styled story and characters where we fulfilled a lot of JRPG character tropes. In terms of themes, we chose something that would introduce something a lot of Japanese people don’t experience these days — war. Since World War II, Japan’s pacifist constitution had kept us far away from war. I thought we’d bring what causes war and the effect it has on people to the game. Another theme we wanted to explore was Wolfram’s background. Although we’re going to be using the series to unfold her big picture, she reflects a lot of asylum seekers. She was inspired by the events of Syria in recent years, and wanted to give courage and independence to those that were displaced forcibly.”
It’s clear to see the love Yura, left, and his team have for Advance War. Although there are similarities there are some key differences. He says:
“Many of the visuals and unit controls are similar to Advance Wars, but the main difference is that we have facings. In Advance Wars, there was no facing, and no concept of attacking from the side or rear. In Tiny Metal, when you attack from the side or rear, you do more damage. Also, there are unique attack commands to our game like Focus Fire, where multiple units attack a target, and Assault, where you can push a unit from a specific tile. In Full Metal Rumble, due to popular user feedback, we’ve added Ammo and Fuel, an Armored Personnel Carrier called the Archelon, a bunch of new powered Mechs, several other units and a bunch of characters. And we’ve also improved on the UI and a complete overhaul of the Overworld.”
Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble (Switch and PC, £12.59)
ADVANCE War is one of the greatest turn-based tactics series in gaming. Nintendo has shelved it for just now so it’s no wonder we are seeing similar games based around the cult classic popping up. Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble — developed by Area 35 — is one of those. It’s a sequel to the well-received first Tiny Metal game, which took the Advance War essence and crafted an engaging tale of its own. Now Full Metal Rumble aims to give fans more of what they love. The game sees you taking to the battlefield with a select number of units. With each turn you earn more cash, which lets you bring in more-powerful units with the ultimate aim being to defeat the enemy on each level. There is a rock, paper, scissors mechanic at work here and knowing which units to send into battle is the key to victory. For example, when it comes to capturing buildings infantry are key whereas tanks will make short work of them but air units can make even shorter work of your tanks so it’s really all about planning things out.
It will take time to learn what each unit’s strengths and weaknesses are but that’s one thing you’ll have lots of — battles are long affairs to complete. Beyond having to manage your troops you also have to take into consideration ammo and fuel, which adds an extra layer of strategy to the overall game too. Though the gameplay is the real draw there is a beefy story that is told across each mission where The Kingdom of Artemisia is at war with the Dinoldans. You’ll take control of different commanders, and long-time fans will spot Nathan Gries returning to the front. You’ll also take control of Wolfram as well as the leader of the White Fangs mercenary group.
The campaign itself is made up from 39 missions, with another 77 skirmish maps to attack once you’re done. These can be unlocked via in-game currency and are shorter, briefer fights with some real challenges to be found. There is also a multiplayer versus mode if you’re looking to test your leadership skills against the best too. Graphically the game has a cartoon edge to it as you move around each of the grid-based maps while each unit has a nice level of detail, from your riflemen to tanks and choppers. Sound-wise things are OK with solid enough voice acting. Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble is the perfect game to scratch the Advance War itch or if you have always dreamed of being the ultimate armchair general. It takes time to learn but for those looking for a turn-based tactics hit, it’s worth a look.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…