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 4th October 2020.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £34.99)
THERE is almost as big a story about the production of Kingdoms Of Amalur as there is in the game. It was created by a dream team that included R. A. Salvatore, Todd McFarlane and Grant Kirkhope. But, soon after the action RPG launched in 2012, developers 38 Studios had to file for bankruptcy with the owner — Major League Baseball pitcher Curt Schilling — trying everything to keep the studio afloat. His efforts included selling the now legendary blood-stained sock from his 2004 World Series game for a staggering $92,613. But the firm still ended up in the hands of the taxpayers of Rhode Island.
Fast forward eight years and there is light at the end of the tunnel as THQ Nordic have given this cult classic a kind of polish and sent it back out as Kingdoms Of Amalur: Re-Reckoning. The original had been designed as the gateway to a larger universe but it never really got the chance to make that happen. What you do get is a HUGE hit of high fantasy where you quest and side-quest your way through a world of magic and monsters. It is all backed up with a healthy, deep combat system that is full of options and built around three core classes that deliver a really satisfying game. You can also re-spec on the fly so you are never tied to the one class, plus there is a ton of lore if you prefer to get lost in its world. You can delve into the people, creatures and factions.
For the most part, the Re-Reckoning delivers the original game wholesale. The remastering is a light affair, and that seems like a missed opportunity to really put the fingerprints on the game. The look is OK but some of the textures let it down. The voice acting is solid but lip-syncing is off and loading from area to area remains far too lengthy. This new version is a strange affair — it feels like THQ Nordic have given it the bare minimum in effort. It delivers a virtually straight port. That’s a shame.
Going Under (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £15.99)
SOME of the best games are ones that throw the light on themselves — and Aggro Crab have taken a long, hard look at the tech industry with Going Under. This satirical dungeon crawler roguelite has you exploring the cursed ruins of failed tech start-ups in a bid to learn from their mistakes. You play as Jackie, an unpaid intern in the dystopian city of Neo-Cascadia. Your employer, drink start-up Fizzle, wants you to trawl through failed companies like dating sites and cryptocurrency firms to see what mistakes were made. You make friends with your co-workers when you’re not in a dungeon, but they help you unlock new skills as they set challenges to complete with them mentoring you.
The gameplay is fast and frantic as you have to clear a number of rooms to get to the boss, but they are all randomly generated so no two runs are the same. However, Jackie has a cool ability to lift anything up and use it as a weapon. Keyboard, chair, battleaxe . . . everything becomes a weapon. Then there is a strong skill list to collect on each run and the random edge helps keep things fresh. The game has a striking art style and a strong laidback soundtrack that kicks in just at the right minute when things escalate quickly. This is a very quirky and satirical roguelike that isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself or the industry. The result gives you plenty of food for thought.
Necromunda: Underhive Wars (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £32.99)
IT seems like every week there is a new Warhammer production to get your teeth into. Canadian studio Rogue Factor has come to the party with a trip into the seedy underbelly of the Imperium — where the only rule is gang rule. You control a rough and tough gang of girls who are a bit too punk and Mad Max for their own good. You need to fight other gangs to find Dark Age tech to turn a quick coin or just use it against the rival gangs. Just like a lot of the other tabletop-to-virtual-world jumps, this is a tactical role- player but it has the twist that the action is shown from a third-person perspective instead of the more standard top-down view. That serves to open up combat to let you take advantage of the environment but makes seeing what’s actually going on in the battle a little more tricky.
The strategic map shows you all the information you’d ever need, but you have to switch to it from the in-game view — and that quickly becomes a pain as you try to plan your moves. By the 46th time in one mission you are ready to cry. That said, when things kick off, the third-person view shows all the brutal action as you control your gang of up to five. Each one has its own classes, weapons and stats and you can spend hours tweaking them — and that’s before you customise their look and names. That’s a neat personal touch. Small word of warning — the combat is very much in the hands of the RNG gods. You can be at point-blank range with a flamethrower and still miss. The other major issue is the length of time the game takes. Slow-burner does not do it justice and you can’t skip enemy plays while the AI is not so smart. The latest dive into the Warhammer 40k universe is solid but slow and a little rough around the edges. It is ideal fodder for a second lockdown.
Super Mario 3D All-Stars (Switch, £49.99)
SUPER Mario is the gaming legend that just keeps giving. The moustachioed plumber has been a hit with gamers for decades. So Nintendo’s decision to put three of his, arguably, greatest 3D adventures into one game as part of his 35th birthday party, was always going to wow fans. Super Mario 3D All-Stars brings high-definition ports of Super Mario 64, Sunshine and Galaxy to the Switch. For some, it will be a retro feast. For others it will be an introduction to the cartoon magic. Yes, it revisits games that should always get 5/5 but, as a celebration, it is sadly lacking in bonus thrills.
Super Mario Galaxy (Wii, 2007)
IF you are excited by the idea of a full HD remaster job on a gaming legend, then walk on. Nothing to see here. If you were all tingly at the idea of tons of unlockable new content then prepare for disappointment. It ain’t happening. Nintendo went for a bare-bones port of the first three 3D Mario games. So, if that displeases you then we are sorry. Fans of the original will be bemused to find you only get each title’s soundtrack as extra. Another gripe — why wasn’t the opportunity taken to include Galaxy 2? This is an odd addition to a collection when you could have done so much more. Galaxy is also the game that has undergone the most work. The controllers on the original were heavily linked to the Wii’s motion controls and the Switch can’t mimic them. The solution is to use your joy-cons to play it in a simple way — but you’ll find you have to keep resynching them because they drift a lot. You could opt for the Pro controller, but you have to touch the screen in handheld which leaves you wide open to attacks. That said, playing an HD version of Galaxy is a joy. It is packed with character and full of colour regardless of whether you go docked or handheld. This really doesn’t feel like a 13-year-old game. It is easily the highlight of the collection and is a treat if you have never played it before.
Super Mario 64 (N64, 1996)
THE grand old daddy of the Mario empire is 24 years old — and it is a bit of a shock when you start it up. The movement is a sign of how far we have progressed in a short period of time. In an odd way it’s like playing through a history lesson — this is where 3D games, especially platforming, really started. But clear that hurdle and you will be genuinely surprised at how well the game holds up today. The collection does a great job in showing the way the industry has evolved in the years between 64 and Mario Galaxy. The game design is Nintendo at its finest and, again, it ages well. Just be careful with the camera — it is a pain in the backside to control. This is also the game that has had the most work done on the visual front. The pixel count is nine times higher than the original Nintendo 64 version, but it is the only non- widescreen game in the collection. It now has crisp, new overlays which are a welcome addition because fonts are more readable and jagged edges are smoothed off. Super Mario 64 may be the golden oldie and it does show its age at times, but this is a history lesson you’ll love.
Super Mario Sunshine (Gamecube, 2002)
THERE is a black sheep in every family — the child that just doesn’t fit in. The plumber’s family has Sunshine. This was the 3D game that just wasn’t in focus with the rest of the plan. Sunshine has to be the most Marmite of the Mario games in this collection. Those who like it will defend it to the hilt. Those who don’t like it REALLY don’t like it. This GameCube instalment tried something new. But, ultimately, it was just overly obscure and frustrating when it came to completing tasks, especially when compared to the other two games offered here. They are both very intuitive and natural. When you also consider the need for remapped controls because the Switch doesn’t have any analogue triggers like the original GameCube controller, then you can see areas of confusion on your pressure attacks and fiddly platforming sections. But take the time to master the controls or just make peace with them and you’ll find a real hidden gem that shines a little more brightly now than it did 18 years ago. It’s also the first time the game has been ported beyond its GameCube version so fans will be delighted with its return, especially after a few tweaks. It now runs in widescreen and has a few new textures. It’s also the only Mario title here to be fully voiced, for better or worse. It tells an interesting Mario tale . . . but it’s just not Galaxy.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…