Scotch Corner – Speed, Skill and Style

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 20th September 2020.

 

Hotshot Racing (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £15.99)

THIS is a special day — it’s exactly 34 years since Sega’s iconic arcade racer Outrun was released.  And it is wearing far better than some of that age.  It spawned a number of titles that aped its style, but Sumo Digital have gone for it big-time.  This has the Outrun vibe as well as a taste of Virtua Racing and Daytona USA.  The guys and girls at Sumo have a real love for the genre.  They worked on the outstanding OutRun Coast 2 Coast in 2006, so it’s no surprise that Hotshot Racing is a tribute to speed and going sideways.  It’s all about getting boosts and finishing first — there is no career mode or team management.  It’s just you and a host of copyright-dodging cars and 16 over-the-top fantasy tracks.

Once you get to grips with its brand of fast-paced drifting you can attack a number of modes on and offline.  Cops And Robbers and Drive Or Explode are the standouts — the first is an infection-style mode while the other is inspired by the Keanu Reeves flick Speed, where you must stay above a set speed or your car goes boom.  It is just a ton of fun, simples — a welcome idea in a world ruled by racing sims that take themselves just a little too seriously at times.  You can feel the team’s love in the artwork.  It is very Virtua Racing, with a retro colourful and polygonal look.  This is a blast from the past wrapped in a modern coat of paint.  It is a speedfest of arcade thrills.

Score: 4.5/5

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £39.99)

SKATING games have made a comeback this year with the likes of Session, Skater XL and even a new Skate in the pipeline.  So it is a no-brainer for the king to try to take his half-pipe crown back.
And the legendary Birdman has smashed it because these are ground-up remakes of not just the best skating games ever but, arguably, the best titles of all time.  New York-based Vicarious Visions have taken the Activision classics and given them a nip and tuck that raises the bar to a whole new level.  Fans will be drooling because it has all been handled with total respect to the big man — the moves, levels and music are pretty much untouched.  It’s surprising how much you’ll remember — and that’s testament to the originals but also reflects the care given to the remasters.  The levels are now packed with details the PS1 classic just couldn’t handle.

This title is made up from two games merged together — you can pick which levels to attack as the two titles have their own playlists but your skater, skill points and customised touches are shared.  You can tweak away in hub menus which streamline everything.  There is a new universal list of challenges that bank you cash for unlocks and other goodies.  When on the board it all feels more like how Pro Skater 3 and 4 controlled than the first two, although diehards can switch back to the original’s more limited controls.  You can also jump into the editor and build your own course from scratch or try out the best the community has to offer.  Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 is a true love letter to a special time in gaming.  A must-buy.

Score: 5/5

NBA 2K21 (Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS4, PS5, Switch, Stadia and PC, £54.99)

IT is time to shoot some hoops  . . . again. 2K have done some good work with the NBA series, but they have also dropped the ball a couple of times.  The microtransactions move was a particularly poor result in what has otherwise been a a solid series.  And that is with the challenge of yearly updates.  There is a risk of fatigue, and that fans want more new content than is delivered.  Or there is a danger that they go too far and are accused of wrecking the experience.  NBA 2K21 has stuck to the formula, but added a few tweaks.  Things feel very similar to last year’s game, which isn’t a bad thing, but adding shot stick aiming helps to keep things fresh.  You actually have to aim your shots, not just time them.  That’s a totally new skill that takes time to get your head around and even longer to master.  It adds a layer to the on-court action.

However, there is a handful of little issues from previous games that should have been ironed out.  The AI goes from super-aggressive to plain dumb — so you appreciate the online battles more because your AI teammate actually plays well, using space and making openings.  Off-court things start to lose their shine.  The career mode tells a tale called The Long Shadow.  It actually tackles an interesting core idea of a young player trying to break out from under his dead NBA legend father’s shadow.  You go from high-school games to the NBA draft and beyond, but the tale lacks any real impact despite cameos from the likes of Damian Lillard and Zion Williamson.  Now for the BIG elephant in the room — those pesky microtransactions.  The game’s virtual brand of currency is used for everything and, if you won’t pay up, then be prepared for a real grind.  The look has a TV level of presentation and there are some really good player likenesses.  Even the counts have a real-world feel with some of sport’s racial equality messages.  The tweaks here are fine, but they are not enough to forgive the microtransaction madness.

Score: 3/5

Trance Stance Revolution

METRONOMIK wanted to make a statement with their debut game — so they went the extra mile to get No Straight Roads to hit all the right notes.  The firm’s co-founder and game director Wan Hazmer, below, admitted No Straight Roads was inspired by creative director Daim Dziauddin’s reluctance to throw some dance shapes.  He said:

“Daim and I met up at Ikebukuro every second Saturday when we were living in Tokyo, talking for many hours on game ideas.  I’m an avid rhythm gamer so I would go to the game arcades in Tokyo almost every day.  However, whenever Daim tags along, he just refuses to play, and just says ‘I’ll watch you play’.  It was baffling at first because I thought everyone loved music, then it dawned on me that the interface on the screen and the buttons on the device can be scary for some people.  Then I thought there are many rules to music, just like the variations of rules in game design.  So rather than just depending on rhythm and beats, playing with structure, memory and music-related cognitive psychology could also make an interesting game.  And what better way to package it for a non-rhythm gamer than to have it in an action game, where interaction is instant and direct.  So the enemies in No Straight Roads attack based on the music with little to no visual cues.  You can run, attack and avoid whenever you want.  Listening to the music will help you to recognise the enemy pattern, which will give you a huge advantage in combat.”

When it came to penning the tale Daim, above, explained how Haz’s first idea of an EDM versus rock battle was an instant win with the team.  He admitted:

“The moment you hear the premise, you totally get what the story is about.  Rock also has that rebellious attitude, so it was fitting to label that as the hero.  But we did not want to stop there.  We did not want the characters to be black and white.  We wanted each of them to have their own history and motivation, so it was my job to take that concept and flesh out the world and its cast.  In my teenage years I listened to a lot of rock — Queen, Franz Ferdinand and Radiohead to name a few.  But we do love our EDM.  If you are into video games, it is hard not to like the EDM genre.  We wouldn’t have our bosses attack in EDM if we hated it.  I’m a huge fan of The Prodigy, Krewella and Asian Dub Foundation.”

The game has a stunning art style and Daim puts that down to a love of classic Sega games.  He said:

“We have a fondness for the early Dreamcast era games such as Space Channel 5 and Jet Set Radio.  For Mayday and Zuke, I wanted to design them so they feel like regular people, not caricatures of rock stars.  What is important to me is that music can come from anyone, and not all of them wear torn jeans, skull T-shirts and heavy eye shadow.  Gorillaz was definitely a good reference too.  For Mayday, I had a strong influence from Genevieve from Company Of Thieves.  She has such high energy on-stage, but at the same time you see a hint of her softer side.”

Daim has ruled out a move to VR for the duo.  He said:

“The ideal answer is yes, but then you have to factor in time and cost.  NSR will always be our baby, and my biggest concern is giving the franchise to someone who will not capture the spirit of the game.”

The game was crafted in Malaysia and Haz feels the country is a hotbed for gaming talent.  He said:

“The industry is growing at a tremendous rate.  We now have government-funded programmes for school children to learn coding and develop games.  We’re still very young in terms of experience, but we always hope that we could leave a huge mark on the world map.”

No Straight Roads (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £34.99)

SOME games just draw you in from the first time you switch them on.  No Straight Roads is one of them — it’s a cartoon-type adventure with a dash of a boss rush, a slice of hack-and-slash and a good glug of rhythm gaming.  Malaysian firm Metronomik have blended it all with a wicked sense of humour.  You fill the high tops of over- the-top duo Mayday and Zuke as they try to unleash their music in a world ruled by a corrupt and evil firm.  It is set in a high- tech metropolis called Vinyl City — the music capital of the world.  It is governed by No Straight Roads, aka NSR, a corrupt electronic music label whose goal is to monopolise the industry and continue their hold on the city.

Vinyl City is powered by Qwasa, which is the by-product of turning music into energy, and NSR are always searching for talented artists who can provide a new source of energy for the city.  Enter Mayday and Zuke with their rock band Bunk Bed Junction.  However, NSR claim rock is dead and that EDM is the only acceptable music in Vinyl City.  Cue the duo’s attempt to bring down the ruling EDM artist as they venture across districts, all with their own bad guy.  It is a tale that is well-written and well-told.  Mayday and Zuke do feel like best mates as they bounce off each other.  There is a solid support cast and an even better gang of colourful bad guys.  You get to roam around the city when you’re not facing off against the bosses and their goons, but what you do can is fairly limited.  It’s just a few collectables.  The fights are more interesting because they bring the hack-and-slash action with a rhythm vibe.  Enemies attack to the beat, so you can use that to your advantage, but it takes time to get to grips with it.  You could just button mash if that’s your thing.

The thought dungeons have a platforming section that can be a pain due to the fixed camera blocking your view.  But this really shines in the boss battles.  Each delivers a unique fight that really mixes things up and is great fun.  They are long and sometimes tough to follow, especially in the later stages.  It is all built on a stunning blend of 2D and 3D animation that gives it a Netflix series look.  And, given that this is a music game, the soundtrack is an outstanding mix of genres.  The developers have gone for a new take and it is a success on many levels.  There are areas where they could improve — from checkpoints to the open world — but it is a treat for your eyes and ears.

Score: 4/5

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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