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 2nd August 2020.
Mr. Driller DrillLand (Switch and PC, £15.99)
THERE are few gaming mascots more recognisable than Sonic and Mario. But there was a time, not so long ago, when these colourful icons were a dime a dozen. Almost everything was given the mascot treatment. Few had the staying power like the mustachioed plumber and the blue hedgehog, but Bandai Namco’s Mr Drill gave it a go. He has been the star of a number of titles over the years since 1999, although half of those never saw action outside of his native Japan. But the miner is back for another dig at gaming fortune with the long forgotten GameCube title Mr Driller Drill Land. It has been given a new lease of life on the Switch.
The 2002 Japanese exclusive is considered by many as one of the best offerings in the Mr Drill franchise, but the big question mark in 2020 is whether it stands the test of time. The short answer is a pretty big yes. This port shows no signs of its real age and that is an impressive feat because most remasters find it hard to hide all the elements of their past under the new shiny HD coat. This is a fast-paced and enjoyable puzzler where you control a drilling character and need to dig as deep as you can while grabbing bonuses and avoiding falling rocks and running out of air. Drill Land is actually a theme park that Susumu Hori, aka Mr Driller, and his deep core buddies are visiting. It is a neat way to shake up the gameplay by dishing up a number of takes on the core mode. You can be in space or be a ghostbuster — the RPG additions help to keep things fresh. This is a hidden gem that is worth digging up. It is colourful and charming with a rush of arcade fun.
WRC 9 Preview
KT RACING are gearing up for the release of WRC 9 and it promises to put rallying centre stage once again. The biggest headline is that there will be three new rallies. New Zealand is back after going missing for several years, while Kenya and Japan make their bow on the World Rally Championship calendar. Like F1 2020 there is a “what if” factor because the real-world WRC was decimated by the global Covid-19 pandemic. It’s a rare treat for gamers to battle it out before the real-world rally stars. The new stages add new elements to the game — the Japan rally is the only full Tarmac event in the game while the Safari Rally Kenya goes a bit wild. It will feature a number of different animal species that will add some unexpected spice and roar power to driving the stage.
We were lucky enough to get a preview of the next instalment of the long-running rally series — and it doesn’t disappoint. It features the 50 official teams taking part in WRC, WRC 2, WRC 3 and Junior WRC so there is plenty of talent to pick from. There are also 15 legendary cars — with the Lancia 037 and Ford Escort MkII 1973 returning. They are joined by additions such as the Audi Quattro A2 1984 and Ford Focus 2007. It is a stunning garage of hot metal but there are some top-shelf stars missing. Come on, KT Racing peeps, where are the Subaru’s or Mitsubishi’s? To be fair to the developers, they are looking to support the game long after the launch.
They have already shared details on updates that will add a co-driver mode. We reckon that is a fun-filled winner because one player is driving and the other reads the pace notes. A photo mode will also be added. Even more interesting is the news that the Finland and Portugal rallies will be re-worked totally and will be free to everyone. So, more stages, more fun. The clock is ticking on this one arriving.
Carrion (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £16.74)
WE all need a hero — whether it is an armour-clad super-soldier or a globe- trotting, wise-cracking adventurer. And, in gaming terms, it is a real buzz to save the world . . . or even the universe. However, Polish firm Phobia Game Studio seems to have been turned off by that hero vibe — Carrion is a true power fantasy tale but it sits firmly on the other side of the tracks. You’re a monster— a huge mass of teeth and death that eats first and doesn’t even know what a question is, let alone bother to ask them. Your alien creature is locked up inside a secret lab and its sole goal is to escape. That’s the story in a nutshell. There is no huge epic tale — it’s all about that bid for freedom. How you manage it is where the fun starts — you have to bash, crash, feed, upgrade and destroy. You start by breaking free from a containment pod then you’re off. But, beware, you are a fraction of the size you will become so you have to think smart.
You need to hide in vents and watch people moving around then choose when and who to fight. As you work your way through the vast facility you find other containment pods which give you an upgrade or a buff like extra health. The upgrades are key to where you can go as the game reveals a strong metroidvania heart. There are areas that you just can’t enter until you get the upgrade. That is fine, but there is no map system, so getting lost and forgetting where you found the locked areas happens a lot and will irk you. On the flip side, the upgrades open up the toolbox on how to dispatch the poor lab workers and security. You can break down doors and grab them with your tentacles for a snack. Oh, the satisfaction of a job well done. This game changes as you go — once you’ve grown up, there are three forms — small, medium and large. Each has its own skills that you’ll have to juggle. You need to solve some puzzles by depositing a part of your alien into a special pool, but that becomes a clue that the pool placement often gives you a hint of what is needed to solve the puzzle that will be nearby.
The developers have created a very detailed pixel style which fits the game well — it works as you rip bodies apart and leave a red trail behind you. You might think of Super Meat Boy although there is no prime cut sirloin here. The sound is used sparingly and mainly to build up the tension. The most frequent sound you will hear is a squiggly wet noise as you move around or the screams of a lab worker trying to flee. It is all well-thought-out, but it does feel like there is something missing. The people-munching is fun at first but it soon becomes nothing more than a means to an end. A little backstory would have really helped to flesh things out. That doesn’t stop this being a brutal and often disgusting adventure that is certainly not for younger gamers. If you like movies like Alien or The Thing then unleash this beast — being bad has never been so good.
Paper Mario: The Origami King (Switch, £49.99)
NINTENDO have already flexed their design muscles with Yoshi and Kirby getting the arts and crafts treatment — so it was only a matter of time before Mario joined the gang. Enter Paper Mario: The Origami King. It is developed by Japanese studio Intelligent Systems and is the latest chapter in the Paper Mario series. There have been six over the years and this is a sequel to the WiiU game, Paper Mario: Colour Splash. It’s worth pointing out that The Origami King isn’t a return to the series’ highest point — The Thousand-Year Door — when it was a role-player. This has gone down the action adventure route. But, like ALL Mario games, Princess Peach needs to be rescued and it is never going to be as simple as just going to get her. There are some items to collect but they have been blown to every corner of the kingdom. And there are a few new, and interesting, twists that add to the whole experience.
One of the neatest moves is a bigger role for the series bad boy, Bowser. His job has been taken over by King Olly which means Bowser has a deeper part to play in the proceedings. It all means this Mario game is more than just a chase — there is some real heart in the tale. You find yourself in a Mario land that is fully crafted from paper. It is stunning to behold — from rolling hills to ships at sea. Everything has been given the folded paper treatment, including our heroes. It’s a lovely and charming art style that really pops and is full of fun details. You get to explore a vast world full of sections and packed with secrets and puzzles to solve. It’s well worth taking the time to check it all out because you can find hundreds of hidden Toads all over the place. They can be in cactus plants, inside a stack of logs and everywhere inbetween. It’s great fun finding them. But that discovery trail will also help when you end up in battle. The Toads fill out the crowd in the arena which is a slick way of keeping track of how many you have found. You can also call on their support if a fight is not going so well — they will mob rush opponents or give you items to swing the battle.
Combat is another interesting move — unlike past games the experience or level system has gone. That could be a downer for some Mario fans, but the saving grace is that the core has been changed in such a way that it works now. You battle in a circular arena and you have to move outer rings from the centre to line up your enemies for an attack. It does take a bit of time and effort to make it work, and there is very little depth once you have it sorted, which is a shame. Fights go from easy to super easy very quickly but things are kept fresh once the origami enemies appear. They are a little more challenging and it helps to pave the way up to the boss battles that flip the circle system around. The boss is at the centre and Mario has to work out a path to get to an attack icon while grabbing bonuses along the way. These fights are the real standout moments — each boss dishes up a new and creative battle — like being made of elastic bands or a box of colouring pencils. The combat system has been refined to help you want to fight instead of dodging them. That said, you can skip weaker enemies which helps to streamline things. This really takes time to get going, the first few hours are very story-heavy and this isn’t helped by the skip text speed being painfully slow. This is a fresh take on a once much-loved series, but it faced a huge battle to match the heights of the past. It doesn’t quite pull it off, but it gets so, so close. It is a fun and enjoyable adventure full of “Nintendo” moments.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…