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Game Reviews

‘NBA 2K19’ – A Slam Dunk and a Vast Improvement on its Predecessor

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By now, you figure there wouldn’t be much to add to the conversation when reviewing the latest entry in the NBA 2K franchise. Not only is it one of the most critically acclaimed video game series of all time (not to mention a series that has had a strong hold on the video game basketball market for nearly two decades), but little has changed with the brand from one installment to the next. Year-in and year-out, the 2K games have almost always delivered a level of quality that no other sports series has come close to matching, and in this critic’s opinion, the NBA 2K series is the only viable option for fans seeking out a game that is well worth your hard-earned money (sorry NBA Live).

NBA 2K18 is a game we called great, but also incredibly frustrating. Put aside the atrocious myPlayer campaign and overall reliance on microtransactions, what really bothered me was the actual gameplay and the disappointing MyCareer mode that the game offered. That’s not to say that game isn’t good (read our review) but it was a step down from NBA2K 17, arguably the best entry in the series by far. Thankfully Visual Concepts was determined to correct some of the problems that befell last year’s edition. NBA 2K19 is not without its fair share of problems but it is hands down, the best basketball game on the market, a triumph of style and simulation, and a game loaded with plenty of content to keep you busy until next September.

NBA 2K19 Review2K19 features its strongest MyCareer mode yet with the aptly titled, The Way Back, a fascinating look at the culture behind college basketball recruiting. The story puts you in the shoes of a somewhat arrogant young baller nicknamed A.I. (not to be confused with Allen Iverson) who leaves college early for the NBA draft, only to have his dreams crushed when he’s left undrafted. Despite having enormous talent, A.I. still has a lot to learn before he will ever get a chance to play in the big leagues. With few options available to him, A.I. makes his way to China to play for the Shanghai Bears hoping his time there will catch the attention of an NBA scout.

A.I. sure knows how to dress great!

Written by Adam Hoelzel and directed by Christian Papierniak, The Way Back gives players plenty of reasons to remain invested with several unexpected plot twists and a journey that takes A.I. from the East to the West where he gets a spot playing for the Mad Ants, the popular NBA G League team located in Fort Wayne, Indiana. There’s plenty of colourful characters you meet along the way including Corey Harris played by Aldis Hodge (A.I.’s former college teammate), Zach Coleman played by Haley Joel Osment (a backstabbing social media guru) and Coach Stackhouse played by famous character actor, Michael Rapaport who steals the show despite only having a few scenes. The Way Back even features a love interest played by Meghan Lennox who doubles as a famous sports writer as well as a few villains – the most memorable being Marcus Young (Mo McRae), A.I.’s teammate who will do anything in his power to get what he wants. The Way Back is a well scripted, finely acted coming of age tale about a young man who starts out as a self-centered, incredibly selfish brat who over time must overcome his biggest obstacle – that being his overall attitude to both the game he loves and the game of life. The Way Back also doubles as a heady dose of the American dream and the American nightmare combined as it unfolds as a true-to-life investigation of how one turnover, one bad pass, or one missed basket can make all the difference in a player’s fortunes. And it isn’t just about the decisions A.I. makes on the court but also the decisions he makes in his everyday life. Featuring an RPG element that allows players to choose between certain actions and decisions, players are able to craft a personalized journey and shape the outcome of A.I.’s destiny. For example, at the end of the regular season playing with the Mad Ants, A.I. must decide if he should pass the ball as often as possible to his arch nemesis Marcus Young and win the game for his team, or, steal the spotlight and score all the baskets knowing full well the Mad Ants will not only lose, but Marcus would find a way to get his revenge.

Visual Concepts continues to set the benchmark for sports titles

Despite the short five hour running time, The Way Back is an incredible achievement that conveys the fabric of modern American life, aspirations and incidentally, sports, in close-up and at length. After several ups and downs, “The Prelude” culminates with A.I. negotiating a deal with a club of your choosing (of course I chose the Lakers). By the time A.I. has finally achieved his goal of playing in the NBA, he’s accomplished more than just a career – he’s become a better person getting there.

Mad Ants NBA 2K19

Marcus Young (left) and Ricky D (right)

MyCareer doesn’t just get by on the story, however; some quality changes and welcome new additions help make the story mode far more enjoyable than its predecessor. This time around, you’re able to skip the cutscenes (although I’m not sure why you’d want to) and the revamped Neighborhood is drastically improved thanks to the design, variety and more refined navigation. Included are easily achievable daily bonuses, flexible endorsement contracts, tons of minigames to participate in, and a layout that sidesteps the endless walking 2K18 forced you to do. The biggest highlight, however, comes during the “Prelude”, when A.I. and his college friend visit an arcade that just so happens to feature the original 2K game. Taking a page out of Uncharted 4, MyCareer then lets you play that original 2K game in a match between the 1999 Houston Rockets and the Boston Celtics. All in all, MyCarrer is of course only one piece of the overall experience but it is hands down the best addition to the game.

You can play the original NBA 2K game in MyCareer!

There’s so much to write about when reviewing NBA 2K19 – from the Blacktop mode (that includes half court street basketball) to the updated roster, to the classic NBA teams, to the colorful commentary (welcome Bill Simmons), to the incredible soundtrack, and even MyLeague, which allows you to build upon  an NBA franchise with a dazzling amount of customization. But of all the improvements and changes this time around, it is the new gameplay additions and tweaks that are by far it’s most impressive component. NBA 2K19 has a tougher learning curve when compared to all of the entries from the past, something which prevents you from easily pushing towards the hoop thanks to a much-needed improvement on defense. Even as a veteran of the series, I found myself getting destroyed by the CPU. It takes some time getting accustomed to the advanced controls but in the end, you’ll appreciate how the game forces users to be smart on the court.

NBA 2K19 has a tougher learning curve

Needless to say, 2K Games is pushing its affection for realism and I doubt you’ll find another sports game in which the A.I. behaves so realistically. Furthermore, the new “takeover” mechanic gives players the opportunity to raise their attributes within several distinct categories – something that makes you think more carefully about your choices on the court as your performance can hurt the number of attribute points you are rewarded after a match. For example, if you want to focus on boosting your passing skills, you’ll want to make sure you not only pass the ball often but avoid any turnovers. Once the game has ended you can trade in your “currency’ and raise your skill level as you see fit. My only major gripe is the speed of the transition game. After playing the aforementioned original 2K mini-game which features controls that are both fluid and smooth, it became clear just how sluggish the 2K gameplay has become. Apart from that, the character models and faces are somewhat awkward. Lebron James, for example, doesn’t look like James and the animation at times leaves much to be desired.

NBA 2k20

The Prelude allows you to play the original 2K game when you visit this arcade!

As the reviewer, I should state that I have no interest in dabbling with microtransactions nor do I care to play online. Over the years I’ve spent the majority of my time with the 2K series playing with my family and friends. That said, one of the biggest strengths of the game is that it offers something for everyone, even if that means you for some reason are a fan of its aggressive monetization tactics and choose to spend your hard earned cash and pay to win. Apart from that, NBA 2K19 is a must for any fan of the franchise. Visual Concepts continues to set the benchmark for sports titles leaving me wondering just what they can add next year.

– Ricky D

NBA 2k19 ReviewNBA 2k19NBA 2k19NBA 2k19 Review

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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Game Reviews

‘House of Golf’ is No Hole-In-One, But it is Below Par

‘House of Golf’ may feel appropriate for Switch, but a lack of variety and reused content make this course nearly reach above par.

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Perhaps adding the word “mini” to the title would have been far more appropriate regarding the in-game circumstances of Atomicom’s newest family arcade sports styled game House of Golf. In the slew of golf games currently available on the Nintendo Switch, House of Golf may feel the most appropriate for the console’s capabilities due to its key focus on simplicity, portability, and accessibility, but a lack of diversity in individual hole design and reused content nearly makes this humdrum course reaching above par.

Simplicity is a key focus within House of Golf’s core mechanics. Controls, menus, and even gameplay are as simple as video games can get. The left analog stick operates the camera and holding down the A button fires your ball with a distinct power meter located on the right-hand side of the screen. Your goal is to attempt to achieve a hole-in-one or stay below a par number that changes depending on course and difficulty- just like regular golf, mini-golf, or any form of golf you can imagine. It never gets more complicated than that.

House of Golf may claim that its selling point is that it contains over 130 different holes divided into 5 different environments- or rather rooms- and 3 difficulties, but variety becomes bland after less than an hour of playtime. Despite there being five different environments, after completing one course on either the medium or hard difficulty setting, you practically have experienced all there is to do. Courses always remain compact and easy to navigate, but the game never gets challenging or adds some sort of flair that allows each hole to stand out from one another. It is a shame considering that the fluid gameplay foundation the courses are built on might just be the most tightly controlled golf game available on Switch.

As the title of the game implies, every course is designed around the interior aesthetics of a house- a rather small one at that as the game chooses to focus on table-top scenarios- quite literally. Each hole is rapid-fire short and manages to achieve a miniature sense of scale. They are stylized well but the game often reuses assets for each room despite the settings being entirely different. The atmospheres themselves manage to create a comfy aesthetic for each hole that only adds more cheerful feelings to the laid-back easy-going gameplay on top of a soundtrack that is extremely mellow yet quaint, but when you are on a nine-hole course that never completely changes that atmosphere can become tiresome.

What initially seems like House of Golf’s greatest strength though is being able to choose any environment, hole, and difficulty directly from the get-go, but this feature quickly takes the game south rather unintentionally. As soon as you open up the game, players can accommodate to their own personal skill level leaving the vast majority of them to skip more than a third of the levels. With no learning curve or incentive to play the game on its lowest difficulties, House of Golf rapidly begins to dwindle in new content.

When it comes to the ranking system, it is designed exactly like a traditional mini-golf game where your goal is to achieve a set number of strokes that will keep you above par. Stars will be awarded to players based on performance- a hole-in-one obviously being the highest gold star rank a player can achieve and a triple-bogey being the lowest. These stars, however, only unlock one feature: golf ball designs.

Extra unlockable golf ball designs are the only in-game rewards to collect throughout the game- and it is nothing to look forward to or worthwhile to commit to. They are charming to gander at for more then a couple of seconds, but they serve no real purpose in the long run- not even when it comes to the multiplayer. Rather then these rewards being applied to each individual player’s ball, House of Golf does not allow players to choose what golf ball design they wish to use. For some ridiculous reason, whatever player one chooses is applied to every golf ball.

Speaking of, while the singleplayer can be rather tiresome, House of Golf’s one notable addition that might just keep you on the course for longer than a few hours is the inclusion of a local multiplayer ranging from two to six players. Multiplayer presents a higher-stakes challenge for each course, which makes gameplay not only far more satisfying to win at but overall entertaining to play. Due to the compact course designs, often you can mess with your friend’s positions and overthrow the score of each hole. Multiplayer was clearly the go-to way to play as it is the first option that appears on the main menu.

One thing that should be noted is that only one joy-con is required for everyone to play as there is no other option to use multiple controllers- a convenient addition that you have to wonder why more games do not have it on the Nintendo Switch. It is by far the game’s most redeeming quality that absolutely deserves mentioning. For a game where one player controls the field at a time, this streamlines a lot of issues outside even that of the game itself.

It is no hole-in-one to ride home about, but Atomicom has managed to create an arcade-style sports game that is a mix of both simplistically relaxing and mildly infuriating. In its final state, the lackluster courses can make this one turn into a quick bore, but adding a few friends to the multiplayer scene can turn House of Golf into a few delightful hours. At its retail price of ten dollars, any Switch owner planning on picking up House of Golf should wait for it to land in a sale target-hole. It is not bad by any means, but there are better places to look to fill your golf fix, especially those looking for a single-player experience. For a cheap alternative, however, it might just be worth it for the multiplayer alone.

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Game Reviews

‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

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Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

Riverbond grass

There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

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Game Reviews

‘Earthnight’ Review: Hit the Dragon Running

Between its lush visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, Earthnight never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

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Earthnight

In Earthnight, you do one thing: run. There’s not much more to do in this roguelike auto-runner but to dash across the backs of massive dragons to reach their heads and strike them down. This may be an extremely simple gameplay loop, but Earthnight pulls it off with such elegance and style. Between its lush comic book visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, it creates an experience that never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

Dragons have descended from space and are wreaking havoc upon humanity. No one is powerful enough to take them down – except for the two-player characters, Sydney and Stanley, of course. As the chosen ones to save the human race, they must board a spaceship and drop from the heavens while slaying as many dragons on your way down as they can. For every defeated creature, they’ll be rewarded with water – an extremely precious resource in the wake of the dragon apocalypse. This resource can be exchanged for upgrades that make the next run that much better.

This simple story forms the basis for a similarly basic, yet engaging gameplay loop. Each time you dive from your spaceship, you’ll see an assortment of dragons to land on. Once you make a landing, you’ll dash across its back and avoid the obstacles it throws at you before reaching its head, where you’ll strike the final blow. Earthnight is procedurally generated, so every time you leap down from your home base, there’s a different set of dragons to face, making each run feel unique. There are often special rewards for hunting specific breeds of dragon, so it’s always exciting to see the new set of creatures before you and hunt for the one you need at any given moment.

Earthnight is an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.”

Earthnight

Landing on the dragons is only the first step to slaying them. Entire hordes of monsters live on their backs, and in true auto-runner fashion, they’ll rush at you with reckless abandon from the very start. During the game’s first few runs, the onrush of enemies can feel overwhelming. Massive crowds of them will burst forth at once, and it can feel impossible to survive their onslaughts. However, this is where Earthnight begins to truly shine. The more dragons you slay, the more upgrade items become available, which are either given as rewards for slaying specific dragons or can be purchased with the water you’ve gained in each run. Many of these feel essentially vital for progression – some allow you to kill certain enemies just by touching them, whereas others can grant you an additional jump, both of which are much appreciated in the utter chaos of obstacles found on each dragon.

Procedural generation can often result in bland or repetitive level design, but it’s this item progression system that keeps Earthnight from ever feeling dry. It creates a constant sense of improvement: with more items in your arsenal after each new defeated dragon, you’ll be able to descend even further in the next run. This makes every level that much more exciting: with more power under your belt, there are greater possibilities for defeating enemies, stacking up combos, or climbing high above the dragons. It becomes an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.

Earthnight

At its very best, Earthnight feels like a rhythm game. With the perfect upgrades for each level, it becomes only natural to bounce off of enemies’ heads and soar through the heavens with an almost musical flow. The vibrant chiptune soundtrack certainly helps with this. Packed full of driving beats and memorable melodies with a mixture of chiptune and modern instrumentation, the music makes it easy to charge forward through whatever each level will throw your way.

That is not to say that Earthnight never feels too chaotic for its own good – rather, there are some points where its flood of enemies and obstacles can feel too random or overwhelming, to the point where it can be hard to keep track of your character or feel as if it’s impossible to avoid enemies. Sometimes the game can’t even keep up with itself, with the performance beginning to chug once enemies crowd the screen too much, at least in the Switch version. However, this is the exception, rather than the rule, and for the most part, simply making good use of its upgrades and reacting quickly to the challenges before you will serve you well in your dragon-slaying quest.

Earthnight

Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.”

It certainly helps that Earthnight is a visual treat as well. It adopts a striking comic book style, in which nearly every frame of animation is lovingly hand-drawn and loaded with detail. Sometimes these details feel a bit excessive – some characters are almost grotesquely detailed, with the faces of the bobble-headed protagonists sometimes seeming too elaborate for comfort. However, in general, it’s a gorgeous game, with its luscious backdrops of deep space and high sky, along with creative monsters and dragon designs that only get more outlandish and spectacular the farther down you soar.

Earthnight is a competent auto-runner that might not revolutionize its genre, but it makes up for this simplicity by elegantly executing its core gameplay loop so that it constantly changes yet remains endlessly addictive. Its excellent visual and audio presentation helps to make it all the more engrossing, while it strikes the perfect balance between randomized level design and permanent progression thanks to its items and upgrades system. At times it may get too chaotic for its own good, but all told, Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.

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