Scotch Corner – Is This The Real Life?

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 April.

 

Skyworld (PSVR, HTC Vine, Oculus Rift and Windows Mixed Reality, £24.99)

MORE often than not , you’re a forgettable grunt on a game’s frontline, single- handedly trying to save the day.  That’s fine — but sometimes it would be better being the one sending troops into battle instead of being the tip of the spear.  Skyworld, by Dutch developer Vertigo Games, makes you a master tactician with an interesting twist as it’s in VR so you really have a view over the battlefield.  It mixes different strategy game styles to produce a fun and challenging game.  You’ll find yourself at an ever-changing round table, tracking the battle, as you defend your castle while trying to enlarge your kingdom.

There are different missions which get new objectives added to them during play so you are always on your toes.  Keeping in mind where each unit can move is the key to success.  When not on mission you can retire to your throne room and really run your kingdom — set taxes and control the flow of food, which will impact on your kingdom as happy workers will be more willing to gather resources.  This is the life blood of your abilities so take time to get to grips with it and expand your kingdom by setting up new resource mines and control points which let you claim different areas.  This means you’ll face enemy generals, which sees the game flip to a deck-based combat affair where you have to build a deck from your resources.

The game board also flips from the overview of the land into a battlefield where you have to pick which card to play which sends in different units.  You’ll spend most of your time fighting the campaign which spans eight levels and takes about 10 hours to complete.  But after that you can take on the skirmish mode and online 1v1 battles.  Graphically the game has a lovely chunky graphic style and the soundtrack has a medieval vibe with outstanding voice acting.  Skyworld is a cracking RTS title — but the VR adds an extra layer that everyone can enjoy.

Score: 4/5

Space Junkies (PSVR, HTC Vine, Oculus Rift and Windows Mixed Reality, £34.99)

ARENA shooters aren’t new and some classics haven’t made their mark on the world of gaming.  But what is new are arena shooters in VR.  Ubisoft’s Space Junkies is just that so grab your headset and strap in for some out-of-this-world fun.  Shooters are a bit…well, hit and miss, when it comes to VR — from movement to the scale of things — and only a few titles really get the balance right.  So right out the traps, Space Junkies has a hill to climb.  The game is built around online battles so you and three mates can buddy up to take on other teams across Team Deathmatch to King mode.

You start each match in an airlock before heading into the void across a number of good-sized maps — six in total — based around a mix of space themes.  You’ll sneak around asteroids hunting down enemies as well as exploring what’s left of a space station.  There’s a good array of weapons, from pistols to mini-guns, and as well as being able to dual-wield a few, when you run out of ammo you just throw your weapon and it will explode like a grenade.  It adds a nice layer of strategy to face-offs and is a really nice touch.  Combat is a 1v1 affair on the PSVR as you can only really target one enemy at a time with the PS controller.  That’s a bit of a shame given you may have two weapons in play, but the movement and overall aiming and firing are good.  The game has such a strong online focus that the real test will be in six months to a year’s time to see if it’s still going strong beyond the no-doubt hardcore fanbase it will attract.  But it is cross-platform so PC and PSVR players are mixed, which is a smart move by Ubisoft.

Graphically, it’s very nice on the eye, from the overall height level of polishes to the levels of detail on show, from seeing your shadow below you to the spent shells of your gun floating into space.  Sound is light beyond the title song and, when in matches, the sounds of battle guide you to enemies.  The voice acting is OK, if a little over the top when you land a string of kills.  The biggest issue is the controls as they are linked to the controller on the PSVR, so no move controls and no aim control.  The PC crowd have a wider range of movement which may swing firefights in their favour.  Space Junkies is a slick and well-crafted VR that avoids a lot of the pitfalls from the past but it will take time to get your head around the controls.  For some it’ll be a deal breaker but if you can get to grips with it, it’s well worth having a look.

Score: 4.5/5

Nintendo Labo: VR Kit (Switch, £69.99)

NINTENDO don’t like to play by the rules and often shake things up in their own way — and the Labo series is a perfect example of this.  If you would have said to any gamer a year ago that you could build the likes of a fishing rod, piano or steering wheel out of cardboard and that it would actually WORK with a game you would have been laughed out of the room.  But Nintendo are true masters of wonder and all of the above has happened.  As other firms bring high-end VR headsets to the market that need super computers and other tech, Nintendo have said there is no need for all that.  All you need, in fact, is a few sheets of cardboard and a couple of elastic bands to enter a world of VR.  Enter Nintendo Labo VR kit, which sees the firm’s first return to VR since back in the days of the not-so-successful Virtual Boy.

The kit comes in a few flavours.  It’s a really clever move on Nintendo’s part as the past Labo sets have been around the £60 mark but you can get the VR googles build and blaster for £34.99 instead of the full kit.  Then, if you like what you see, buy add-ons that will build up to the full £69.99 kit.  If you grab the full kit straight off the bat, you’ll get a number of different models to build, each with a few games linked to them.  Although, like past Labo titles, they are a little bit like mini-games or tech demos but each of the five builds will open up a world of VR fun.  Like all Labo kits you are not going to jump right into the action as you’ll have to build the models, which will each take between an hour to three hours.  An overall build time for the full kit is around 10 hours but if you’re doing it with younger gamers, odds are some of the more complex ones will see them needing a hand along the way.  Another big part of Labo is the ability to rip up the rule book and build what you want, which would see coding and more technical elements being added.  And the Labo VR kit continues this with the Garage VR, where you can basically build your own games in both VR and non-VR.  This will be a feature that youngsters will love as it opens up the world of game design to them in a nice, clear and understandable way.

On the tech side, the Switch isn’t a super-powerful machine but Nintendo have cleverly used what some would call weakness to their advantage when designing the VR.  You don’t strap it to your head — instead, you hold it up to your eyes — while it is also designed to be played while sitting.  Also, each build is core to the goggles, so where you look, the game looks.  Add to that lots of nice touches, such as flapping wings and the wind pedal, and things come together really well.  On the downside, the old issue of everything being made of cardboard comes back to haunt — it’s not the strongest thing in world and does get marked with dirt easily.  This is hard to clean and with it being VR, sweat is an issue, as with all headsets.  The bigger issue, though, is the quality of games on show.  Don’t get me wrong, they are fun but they lack depth more often than not and some really feel like tech demos.  You get the feeling that instead of having six builds, three with solid games would have been a far better move for Nintendo.

It’s fair to say, as a whole, Labo is great to start with, but after the builds and a few hours with the game, it will lack the return factor for most.  That said, if you’re looking for something totally different from anything else out there just now, Labo VR is a must for gamers of all ages and is a great price to enter the world of VR.  OK, tech-wise it’s not on a par with other VR boys — but Nintendo have taken a box of cardboard, rubber bands and a set of lenses and built something pretty magical.

Score: 4/5

 

What Do You Get?

THE VR Goggles are the heart of the system and will be your first build in the set (it takes about an hour).  The nifty piece of kit can be used to play all 64 mini-games in the VR Plaza.  And is a great way to find your Labo VR feet.  Letting you play around in an area with a few interactive objects, the effect is immediately impressive.  You’ll also get to watch fun VR videos — for example where Mario plays tricks.  These are a pretty cool addition too.

THE Blaster is by far the most-complex to put together with a build time of around three hours.  But it’s worth the effort with some great features which will add to your enjoyment when playing.  The main game is an on-the-rails lightgun shooter where you wield the blaster, complete with reload and pump action, as you move through the streets blasting aliens and big crabs.  The other game is a multiplayer hoot (clearly inspired by Hungry Hungry Hippos), where you shoot fruit into hippos’ mouths.  A must-play.

THE camera is a short and easy build (just over an hour).  As one of the more basic kits, it is a fun model but lacks the wow factor.  Ocean Camera sees you dive down into the depths, taking snaps of various fish — and even a shark!  Or you could take pictures of the Tamagotchi-style monster that lives in the house from the first Labo.  But the real question is: why isn’t there a Pokemon Snap-style game?  That’s a real missed opportunity.

The Future?  For the system to really make its mark, the system will need support from other titles beyond the Labo family.  And it looks like Nintendo will do that with the news that two hits on the Switch — Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey — are going to get Labo VR modes.  With the headset not having a strap, how to play these traditional games is a mystery just now — but both will be getting updates.  Here’s hoping we’ll get a VR mode for Mario Kart and Smash Bros next.

BIZARRE? Yes. Complicated? Yes.  But the Elephant is one of the few bits of kit that has true one-to-one hand movement as you hold the trunk.  The Elephant games don’t actual have anything to do with, well, elephants.  The Marble Run — a lengthy and involved puzzle game — is one of the most complex.  Then there’s the 3D paint mode where you can craft your art using foam.  It’s great fun and shows how precise the controls really are.

EASILY the most impressive build, next to the blaster, as you craft a bird with flapping wings (it takes a good two-and-a-half hours).  On the game front it’s one of the most-interesting as you play a bird version of Nintendo classic Pilotwings, flying around picking up food to hatch eggs in a good-sized world.  Plus if you have extra Joy-Cons you can team it up with the Wind Pedal to add an extra layer of emigration.  Then there is the Bird Dash, which is point-to-point races around the world.

THIS will take about 90 minutes to build as it’s a bit more technical.  The Wind Pedal games are simplistic.  The main one sees you playing as a frog jumping on the spot, trying to avoid footballs, while all the time getting higher with each jump.  To be honest, the frog game feels like an add-on because the pedal is mainly there to get the most from the Bird games — if you have the Joy-cons.  If you do, then the pedal adds to the overall experience.  When you wear the goggles and the air hits you, it is an odd, but neat, feeling.

I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…

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Stuart Cullen

Scotland’s very own thorn in the side of the London gaming scene bringing all the hottest action straight from The Sun… well… The Scottish Sun at least, every week!

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