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‘Lifespeed’ definitely has the speed, but forgets the life part

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“You folks happen to know what the main trouble with this country is? The main trouble is there are too many people who don’t know where they’re going and they want to get there too fast.” – The Bishop’s Wife, 1947

While the idea of slowing down might seem to contradict the very point of a racing game, developer Wee Man Studios might have benefited from a little more rose-smelling on the way to producing Lifespeed, a high-speed futuristic vehicular competition in the vein of F-Zero or Wipeout. Twists and turns come up fast in this genre, but disorientation is usually reserved solely for the course, not the entire experience. Without enough straightaways in which to savor the moment, Lifespeed‘s mostly-solid controls and sometimes-nifty visuals are heavily undermined by a confusing story campaign that zips by in the blink of an eye, some dubious track design, and odd flaws in the overall polish that keeps players guessing at even some of the basics, unable to truly get their bearings until it’s already over. The result is a life on the circuit that fades from memory as quickly as the finish line approaches.

Taking place in a distant future where galactic disputes over resources are settled by sweet, badass racing, Lifespeed‘s story starts off just ridiculous enough to warrant interest from the kind of C-movie fans that enjoy SyFy movies, but unfortunately that giggle-inducing potential is squandered fairly soon by incomprehensibility. Comic book-style art panels attempt to explain the plot and showcase the various heroes and villains, but the text is scatterbrained, never establishing a proper setting or even character intros. Instead, captions and dialogue bubbles haphazardly zig-zag from plot point to plot point, dishing out jargon that might sound cool if the context wasn’t so glossed over. It doesn’t help that the text is often riddled with grammatical errors, including misspelling of a few words. This makes it almost necessary to read each line twice if one is to decipher exactly what’s going on. Though the artwork is rather nice to look at and the presentation gives off a slick, conspiratorial vibe, by the end I really had no better understanding of what transpired than the initial synopsis gives. By attempting to cram to much into too little, the story comes across often simply as a “someone is racing against someone else because someone doesn’t want some other person to win or something” kind of plot – rushed and not very compelling.

It’s doubtful that many people boot up racing games for their stories, however, and thankfully Lifespeed comes up somewhat better in the gameplay department. Piloting the vehicles is reasonably intuitive, sticking to the fundamentals. Racers will use all the space given in the corridors, moving up and down as well as left and right, allowing for obstacles that force ships to weave in and around the screen. Naturally, the genre requires fast reflexes or course memorization if certain collapsing walls or missile-launching booby traps are to be avoided, so get used to seeing your ship tumbling around. After some practice, however, those various tight turns and tighter squeezes become much more doable, and when Lifespeed is firing on all cylinders, navigating the winding loops and blasting through a narrow tunnel feels great.

Still, a few quirks do meaningfully hold tracks back. The 3DS’ small screen (note that the game is only playable on the “New” model) certainly makes being an Anakin Skywalker a little tougher on its own, but some course layouts contain cheap traps that would be impossible to spot without knowing they were there in the first place, and even then can be tough to react to. Getting stuck on geometry is fairly common when missing the mark, and occasionally invisible forces that never make themselves clear will stop a fantastic run dead in its tracks. These aspects contribute to even more discombobulation, as at times they seem unavoidable.

The visuals themselves also contribute. Though there are some very pretty sights take advantage of the power of the hardware, like a cityscape filled with colorful advertisements and passing freight ships, the colors of tracks and backgrounds often blend together too much, with the resulting lack of distinction leading to disorientation and the kind of stupid crashes that destroy momentum. These sorts of annoyances don’t add up to much on the game’s easiest setting, but when competing on normal difficulty (or higher, if your a masochist), where ships are stronger and faster, frustration can quickly mount, and there is a sense that much of this could have been easily avoided.

That feeling is also reinforced by some odd design choices that affect the overall user-friendliness. Curiously, Lifespeed thrusts players into the battle for the fate of the galaxy (I think?) without explaining some of the basic powerups and abilities these ships have access to. Instead of a tutorial that slowly introduces what the multitude of colored rings do, how different weapons work, or even which button allows you to brake(!), these concepts are only doled out post-race, one at a time. However, to advance to that info screen, a ranking of third or higher must be achieved; anything less necessitates a complete restart. This means that for a player to understand all of the controls and items present in Lifespeed, they nearly have to beat the game. Mastering these skills may not be necessary in Rookie mode, but it’s still a little strange. I know the purple ring gives me power, but what exactly is that for again?

In addition to the short campaign, players can take on the game’s eight tracks individually or as a championship season that basically mirrors the story mode, but without the story. Different pilots and ships can be experimented with here, and online leaderboards display scores achieved in each setting. There’s not really much else to Lifespeed. Fans of the genre may enjoy tackling higher difficulty levels and racking up points, but the hour-long campaign will have most players seeing the checkered flag all too quickly, possibly not even sure how, and leaving not much else. Lifespeed never allows racers to settle in, and as such leaves no real impression of its own, just another hazy memory.

Patrick Murphy grew up in the hearty Midwest, where he spent many winter hours watching movies and playing video games while waiting for baseball season to start again. When not thinking of his next Nintendo post or writing screenplays to satisfy his film school training, he’s getting his cinema fix as the Editor of Sordid Cinema, Goomba Stomp's Film and TV section.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Ricky D

    February 7, 2017 at 1:01 am

    I was really looking forward to this game, hoping it would be as good as Fast Racing NEO. This is a shame.

  2. John

    February 7, 2017 at 10:50 am

    Dude a racing game isn’t supposed to be played in one go on the easiest difficulty setting. That’s just there to get you used to playing it.
    It sounds like you were just rubbish at playing it and gave up which for a reviewer is quite unprofessional.

    • Rebecca Owens

      February 7, 2017 at 2:03 pm

      Thank you! That’s what we thought. The easy mode is where you train to play!

    • Patrick

      February 8, 2017 at 12:04 am

      You know, you can be good at a game and still think it’s bad. Not sure where you’re getting the idea that I gave up, but maybe if you read the whole review you’ll be clearer on my problems with it.

      • John

        February 10, 2017 at 10:19 am

        “Fans of the genre may enjoy tackling higher difficulty levels and racking up points, but the hour-long campaign will have most players seeing the checkered flag all too quickly, possibly not even sure how, and leaving not much else. ”
        This line gives me the impression you never played beyond the story mode in Rookie mode. Maybe you did but that’s not how it comes across. It’s a hard game but some people prefer that and to play a hard racing game you need to learn the tracks and that’s impossible in one play though.

        • Patrick

          February 11, 2017 at 12:58 am

          Ah, I see how you took it. I suppose that should have read “die-hard fans,” as I think they may be the only ones who will get any enjoyment out of the harder difficulty levels; I had problems with the track design that I go into above. There are frustrating elements I felt could have been smoothed out to make skill the only real obstacle to progression, and on the tough modes these stand out even more, discouraging replay in my eyes.
          I definitely gave every mode extensive playtime though (for the record, I did beat the campaign on “normal” as well) – I just didn’t have a good time doing it. Thanks for clarifying though!

          • John

            February 11, 2017 at 7:33 pm

            Fair enough. Thanks for the clarification.

            Try staying in the middle of the track at all times and you will have less issue with the ridges. I guess it’s a little like playing a Formula 1 GP game when all the courses mimic the tight track of Monaco with wall on either side.

            Not to everyone’s tastes.

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Game Reviews

‘AVICII Invector Encore Edition’ Review: Rhythm and Melancholy

‘AVICII Invector: Encore Edition’ is a music and rhythm game perfect for newcomers and fans of the genre.

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AVICII Invector Encore Edition Review

Developer: Hello There Games | Publisher: Wired Productions | Genre:  Rhythm | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch


In terms of a pure adrenaline rush, nothing tops a well-designed rhythm game. Good rhythm games let players feel a euphoric sense of flow and even excitement. But the best the genre has to offer taps into the heart of music itself. AVICII Invector Encore Edition is a rhythm game perfect for newcomers to the genre but also works as a moving tribute.

I can’t tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start

Whether it’s tapping buttons in time with the beat, smashing feet on a dance pad, or moving an entire body in front of an IR camera, rhythm and music games have always been popular. AVICII Invector Encore Edition takes inspiration from music games that came before it but stands firmly on its own. It’s wonderfully accessible, truly a music game for anyone. From diehard fans of the rhythm game genre to people who are simply AVICII fans who also have a console, Invector checks a lot of boxes.

Levels across AVICII Invector play largely the same. The player picks a track and a difficulty level, and is off to the races. They control a slick spaceship moving forward along a track, and must tap or hold buttons as the ship passes over them. This “falling jewel” style has been popular from the Guitar Hero franchise and beyond, but Invector finds ways to make it feel unique. The art direction is breathtakingly stellar, taking players on far-out trips through cyberpunk-esque cities and crumbling pathways. There are even portions of each level where the player can steer their spaceship Star Fox-style through rings and around pillars to keep their point multiplier up.

Invector feels like it’s trying to affect as many sensory inputs as it can. Though Encore Edition is fully playable on handheld mode on Switch, Invector shines brightest on a big screen with a thumping sound system. The neighbors might get annoyed, but who would hear them complaining?

Tracks are divided up by worlds, with four to five tracks each. Worlds must be cleared sequentially, by scoring at least seventy-five percent on each level in that world. While this may sound initially restrictive, Encore Edition gives players access to two extra worlds with five tracks each right out of the gate, so players have plenty to play with at the start.

There are three difficulties available, and each mode offers a different experience. For players who just want to experience AVICII’s music in a low-stress way while enjoying amazing visuals and ambiance, Easy mode is the way to play. Anything above that amps the difficulty up significantly, with Hard mode escalating the required precision to an unbelievable degree. Building up a competitive high score can only be achieved by hitting multipliers and keeping a streak going. At higher difficulties, Invector feels challenging but exhilarating. Scoring above ninety percent on any difficulty mode above Easy feels extremely good, and the online leaderboards are the perfect place to boast about that achievement. During high level play, earning a high score feels transcendent.

Worlds and levels are strung together with brief, lightly-animated cutscenes. It’s a slim justification for a rhythm game, but they’re better than nothing and provide just enough context to keep things interesting. AVICII Invector is both visually and aurally pleasing, but even if the player isn’t a diehard fan of EDM or House music, there is plenty to love.

This world can seem cold and grey
But you and I are here today
And we won’t fade into darkness

AVICII Invector is a truly fantastic rhythm game. But it’s also more than that. It is impossible to play Invector and not feel a twinge of melancholy. The game is a tribute to a hard-working perfectionist, but the man behind the music had his demons. Though the visuals are enticing and the gameplay electric, it is difficult not to feel sad from the opening credits. It is to Invector‘s credit that all throughout, the game feels like a joyful celebration of Tim Bergling’s music. It is a worthy tribute to a man who revitalized and reinvigorated the EDM and House music scene.

At the end of the day, almost every aspect of AVICII Invector reflects a desire to connect. For players connected to the internet, global leaderboards are a great opportunity to share high scores. Invector is much more forgiving than Thumper or Rez or even anything in the Hatsune Miku catalog. Players can cruise through this game on Easy mode if they want, and they won’t be punished. The Encore Edition even includes a split-screen multiplayer, which is fantastically fun.

In his music, Bergling worked across genres to expand what pop music could look like. With Invector, music lovers and players of nearly any skill level can have a pleasing experience. In video games, that’s rare, and it should be celebrated.

According to publisher Wired Productions’ website, all music royalties from AVICII Invector Encore Edition will support suicide awareness through the Tim Bergling Foundation.

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Game Reviews

‘Tamarin’ Review: Monkey Trouble

Like Yooka-Laylee before it, Tamarin flounders in its attempts to recreate its source material for a more modern audience.

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Tamarin Game Review

Developer: Chameleon Games | Publisher: Chameleon Games | Genre: 3rd Person Shooter/Platformer| Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

You have to be of a certain age to recall a game like Jet Force Gemini. One of Rare’s one-off titles of the N64 era, like Blast Corps, Jet Force Gemini never earned itself a sequel but was a fun sci-fi adventure for its time. It’s this same energy that Tamarin, from Chameleon Games, attempts to channel.

Made up of former Rare staff, the folks at Chameleon Games are almost certainly the best team to make an attempt at rekindling such a long dead franchise with their spiritual successor. However, as can be the case with retro throwbacks, sometimes it’s better to ask whether you should bring back an older style of gaming, rather than if you could.

As we’ve seen with games like Yooka Laylee and Mighty No. 9, it often seems that the idea of an older game or franchise being resurrected for modern audiences is better to imagine than to actually play. While the occasional Bloodstained does come along to buck the trend, more often than not we get a game which is too faithful to its sources to make a mark or too different to rekindle that old love and nostalgia.

All of which is to say that Tamarin, while very faithful to its inspirations, never quite hits the mark that brings it to the next level. Part of this is the natural aging process, particularly of the first era of 3D platformers and adventure games which spawned on the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. While many of the games of that generation packed in endless hours of fun, so too have many of their mechanics aged terribly.

Tamarin Game Review

This accounts for Tamarin‘s weakest point, which is undoubtedly its combat. The shooting sections of the game, while channeling another Rare franchise that balanced cuteness with cartoonish violence, are just so mechanically terse that they drag the game down egregiously each time they crop up.

Like with Jet Force Gemini, players will spend much of Tamarin battling troubling insectoid enemies that threaten the peace of all of civilization. Also like the game which was such a clear inspiration for Chameleon, Tamarin brings back the clunky 3D aiming reticle. Not only is the shooting janky here, it feels downright unwieldy when you first get your hands on a firearm.

Though players can get the hang of it with a little effort and some reworking of how they see shooters, there seems to be little point in doing so. Tamarin‘s braindead AI and sparse few enemy types make combat feel like much of an afterthought to the experience, despite how central it is to progressing through the game.

To be fair, Tamarin does also bring some of the good from its spiritual forebear. The gradually growing arsenal of laser guns and rocket launchers does feel fun to play with, and the game is peppered with plenty of upgrades for the guns along the way. Sadly, then another of the Space Invaders style mini-games will pop up and derail things all over again.

Yes, there is a strange reference to yet another long gone gaming franchise here. Unlocking certain doors requires players to start from the center and aim the analog stick around firing at hovering, shifting rows of bugs. Again, it feels very unwieldy, and by the end most players will simply settle for spinning the analog stick wildly while firing with the machine gun for maximum ease.

Fortunately, more successful are the platforming sections. Making up the other side of Tamarin‘s coin, is a game more inspired by Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country 64 than anything else. As players travel through the outside world, gathering collectibles and gaining new abilities as they go, Tamarin shows much more variety than its combat sections.

With clear cues marked on the terrain to denote which areas require upgrades or new abilities to traverse, Tamarin is generally able to point you in the right direction across its world, though a map or minimap would help matters considerably. Though the game is split into many separate areas, they often look so similar that it can make the game hard to navigate and harder to remember where previous markers were for exploration. Even a rudimentary map feature would make this far less of an issue.

Alas, the exploration flounders on occasion as well. Jumping sometimes feels a bit too flighty and can even break the game at times, allowing players to jump off of surfaces they shouldn’t be able to normally. Further, the need to hold down a button and press another to grab certain collectibles is totally unintuitive and is another feature that seems to be more or less pointless.

As such, for all of it’s cute mascot spiritedness and lovingly attributed influences, Tamarin ultimately falls short in bringing back some of the best franchises of yesteryear. Though the effort is a valiant one, Tamarin, hampered by the flaws of the games it attempts to emulate, is just too clunky in its execution.

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Game Reviews

‘Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered’ Review: Some Games Age Like Milk

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.

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Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Developer: Square-Enix | Publisher: Square-Enix | Genre: Action-RPG| Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Mobile | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

There’s a bit of a storied history between Nintendo and Square. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is an important part of that history. Or rather, the original version, released in 2003, was.

While it might seem to younger gamers like Square-Enix and Sony have always been close, Square had a different best friend for much of the 80s and 90s: Nintendo. Though a rift developed between them when Square opted to focus on CD-roms rather than cartridges for Final Fantasy VII, that rift only lasted for about 6 years. The game that signalled the end it? Well that was a new release exclusively for the GameCube: Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

Though Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was released to relatively positive reviews 17 years ago, the game has not aged well. The quest of a caravan of crystal bearers to refill their crystal’s power and protect their homes from a deadly miasma, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

The first, and most considerable, problem with the game is that the quest at the heart of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is tedious and repetitive. Players ostensibly go from area to area on a world map, exploring uninteresting towns and beating lackluster dungeons. If this wasn’t enough, players are also forced to replay these levels over and over again in order to gain enough upgrades for later levels.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: all RPGs ask players to level up in order to succeed. You’re not wrong, it’s simply the structure of levelling up that makes this experience so trying. The only way to level up in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is to beat the entire level again. Players are not rewarded experience for killing enemies but instead can choose one stat to upgrade each time they complete a level. What this means is that every tiny upgrade to your character can take 10-15 minutes at a time to get.

This wouldn’t be as trying on your patience if simple, basic flaws in the game weren’t so egregious. Hit detection is incomprehensible at times because, even when your character seems to be standing right next to an enemy or boss, they often fail to connect their attacks. Even worse, rather than mapping different attacks to the face and shoulder buttons, players must cycle through them one at a time, with the attack button standing in for defense, magic, healing or food consumption.

Of course, much of this has to do with the format of the original game. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was meant to be played with link cables and Game Boy Advances connected to the GameCube. Each player would have a different bonus displayed on their GBA screens and, as such, players would work together in local multiplayer, aiding each other with their unique screen information as well as their combat skills.

Naturally the GBA had only two face buttons and two shoulder buttons, hence the layout. However, it’s been 17 years, and it’s pretty egregious that Square-Enix didn’t even think of giving players an option to rework the button layout. Doing so would make combat much more dynamic and help to fix the often clunky feeling of battling the game’s monsters.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Adding to the tedium are unskippable cutscenes all over the game. Every single time players challenge a boss, they are forced to sit through the same cutscene introducing the boss. Further, there are random events that occur on the world map which are also unskippable, even if they’re repeats of events that the player has already seen. Haplessly tapping the confirm button to skip through dialog that we’ve already heard should not be an issue in a game released in 2020.

These flaws were mostly a part of the original release as well but what’s the point of remastering a game if you haven’t fixed anything? Even the visuals in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered have failed to receive much polish. The game looks murky and fuzzy rather than sharp and clear. If Square-Enix could clean up Final Fantasy VIII for its gorgeous remaster, what stopped them here?

This is without even mentioning the loading times, which are frankly absurd for a game nearly two decades old. Again, it seems that getting this remaster out the door trumped quality control for Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, which does nothing to help the game’s case.

Though the game is markedly more fun when players join you to take on a level, even the online connectivity has serious issues. To make matters worse, if a player chooses to use the multiplayer, they’ll have to carry a chalice around themselves if no one joins them, picking it up and putting it down all through the level.

Since single player has an AI character who will carry it for you, this option could be easily added to multiplayer, disappearing when (or if) someone actually joins you. This would allow the structure of the game to remain static regardless of whether someone joins your game or not, instead of making the game harder if no one decides to pop in.

While game director Araki Ryoma has promised to address the issues with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, the game has aged so poorly that, even without the flaws of the remaster, it’s hard to recommend it to modern audiences. Sad as it is, some games are better left in the past. Such is the case with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

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