Back again for our regular roundup of quick-fire reviews and impressions of everything under the spotlight at Retro Arcadia this week, old and new and a bit of both…
I don’t often pre-order games but after Resident Evil 4 Remake a month or so ago, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom on Switch makes it two in two! And like the last one, I’m hoping for a second game of the year contender with this too! As much as I’d like to do a full review like I did for RE4, it will take me months to see this one through to the point I can do it justice, so instead what I’ll do is a bit of an extended first impressions here, then occasional weekly check-ins to avoid becoming a bore, then final thoughts at some time in the future. Anyway, what we have is the usual perilous quest to find the missing princess and unravel the truth behind the latest cataclysm to hit Hyrule, with a load of mysterious floating islands and stuff below ground to spice up the formula a bit this time around. As well as question marks over the relatively creaking Switch hardware and whether that can do the game justice too!
To answer that point, so far it does, within its own limitations, but those are almost totally hidden behind a mesmerising, beautiful and unfathomably vast world that is totally comfortable in its own skin. Meaning it might not be Xbox Series or PS5 fodder but you’ll never once be thinking I wish I was playing it over there! The game is immediately intimidating and wonderful, and in no time you’re left to your own devices and wandering off to do your own thing… And then you’re really doing your own thing, in what seem to be places you really shouldn’t be – especially if you’ve spent a hundred hours in Breath of the Wild and everything feels vaguely familiar – but of course it’s also all the stuff you’re supposed to be doing otherwise it wouldn’t let you do it! The new abilities are simply genius so far (and I’ve played about eight hours) – intuitive but insanely deep and allowing for some really thrilling freeform solutions to problems and puzzles. There are some new systems I’m still not very confident in, and I think could do with a bit more handholding first time around, although once again, you somehow muddle your way through and maybe that’s what you’re supposed to do. And there’s plenty of time for getting good, as well as endless exploration and all the combat and bosses and new areas and shrines and dungeons and all the other Zelda stuff, and I can’t wait!
Sheer laziness is the only reason my latest Apple Arcade trial is still active halfway through the six months since I got my new iPad. This is trial number three, where the first was a wonderful, extensive journey of discovery close to launch, and the second a chance to catch up on a bunch of really interesting titles I’d missed out on in the intervening year or so. This one hasn’t been so interesting – a couple of throwaway new games I can’t even remember the names of and a ton of genuine mobile classics that mostly went free-to-play when that was all the rage, and have been repackaged again here with those scummy mechanics removed. I have quite enjoyed playing a few of those again, although the best of them have never left my phone since I originally bought them! One such example is Temple Run, which I’ve been playing the Apple Arcade “+” version of on my iPad this week and is still as great as ever! Third-person over.the.shoulder Indiana Jones-style auto-running that nailed touch-screen controls and addictive simplicity so early on in mobile gaming, and it still plays perfectly today, even if tilting an iPad isn’t ideal!
Given it’s also for a “+” I guess it’s been around for a while too, but I’d never played Grand Mountain + in any form before, and while I’ve really enjoyed my time with it this week up to a point, it’s a shame it gets so painfully close to mobile gaming greatness too! It’s almost the missing link between the Alto’s Odyssey and Lonely Mountain Downhill, with you dumped on a mountain, realistically laid out with ski lifts and runs on a map that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever visited similar alpine resorts, which you’re going to race, slalom, jump and trick your way down as you discover new challenges to tick off on your travels. Complete enough and you’ll be able to move to the next mountain. Skiing games can play great on mobile and this one really nails that all-important friction between ski and snow, and the drone-like perspective that you’re skiing into complements it just right. The courses are well designed and really fluid too, but unfortunately the navigation from one to another once you’re done with one really isn’t. It’s that real life pain of navigating lifts, skiing a bit to the next one and doing it all again until you get to where you want to be, which does get easier but is never intuitive. It all gets a bit repetitive in the end too. Recommend a go if you’re on the service though!
I did try the new Ninja Turtles game, TMNT Splintered Fate too but didn’t get past the first proper mission because a virtual joypad and too many touchscreen buttons all on top of each other do not a good beat ‘em up make! Which is also the case for free-to-play mechanics, whether they’ve been removed or not! In its defence, it’s very authentic and as polished as you’d expect from the license, and the drawn-out isometric perspective works well with its gritty cartoon vibrancy. There’s some cool roguelike elements too, with no two runs quite the same as power-ups and room layouts are randomised, but that doesn’t go far enough to compensate for the very dull, finger-twisting combat at the heart of the game unfortunately. All the same, nice to see Apple making an effort with an actual new game during my six months on Apple Arcade!
Back to the Switch again for something else that’s newish if not quite as high profile as the last one we looked on there, and that’s Picross S9. I’ve been lapping these crossword meets sudoku logic puzzles up since Mario’s Picross on the original Game Boy, and if there’s one thing its great-great-something-grandchild isn’t short of it’s more of them! As you can probably tell, this is the ninth in this series alone, and apart from a Rewind Board feature I’ll never use, it brings not much else of note that’s new to the party but does have almost five hundred puzzles, across classic and a bunch of other modes, and that’s exactly how I like it! They start out simple whatever the mode, with you trying to place blocks in the right place to create an image on small grids, directed by the numbers at side with tell you how many spaces and of which size are to be filled in each row or column. You just need to work out where! The real fun is when the grids get huge though, and you can totally zone out to these fiendish combinations! It’s more of the same of more of the same and that’s perfect!
I’m going to finish this week with Wave Race 64, care of the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pass, where it’s my first time playing any of this N64 stuff. This is, of course, jet ski racing from 1996, where you race as one of four unique characters, each with their own abilities and styles, across nine courses and varying difficulties. There’s ramps, mines, crazy turns and some crazy waves thanks to different weather conditions to contend with, on top of just ranking high enough to keep going, and as well as regular racing there’s a stunt mode too. Weirdly, I’ve owned Wave Race on the GameCube since the day it came out, and while I love how that looks and how the jet ski feels on the waves, it’s never quite clicked. A few races in and this older and jankier version really did though – possibly down to the player being older and jankier too! I’ve now played for several hours, really enjoying winning or defending or re-chasing the regular championship over again, and I’ve dabbled a bit on hard mode too but my mastery of the controls – and therefore the craft on the waves and vice versa – isn’t quite there yet. Which makes me wonder about the GameCube version… I’ll definitely go back to again but while it lacks that one’s next-gen polish, this looks and sounds fine enough for me – especially the gorgeous water effects – and plays like a dream even if I’m not 100% in tune yet!
I actually got three new Evercade cartridges for my birthday this week and apparently there’s still one to come, but we’ve gone long and I’ve only dabbled so far, so we can save those for next time. Maybe I’ll do a quick summary of one a week here for a while… Anyway, in the meantime, in case you missed it last Wednesday, do check out my look at some cool old arcade games specially adapted for the purpose in Namco Gallery Vol. 2 on Nintendo Game Boy. And next Wednesday we’re moving forwards a couple of generations as we discover the divisive but masterful Metroid Fusion on Game Boy Advance, so hopefully see you then!