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.
2K19 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
‘Donkey Kong Country’ – Still As Difficult, Demanding And Amazing To This Day
Donkey Kong Country: 25 Years Later
Back in 1994, Nintendo was struggling with their 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System, which wasn’t selling as well as they’d hoped it would. With the release of the Saturn and Playstation on the horizon, the Super Nintendo needed a visually impressive and original title to reinforce its market dominance. After three years of intense competition and heated rivalries, Nintendo desperately needed a hit that could prove the Super NES could output graphics on the same level as the forthcoming 32-bit consoles. They teamed up with Rare to produce Donkey Kong Country, a Mario-style platformer, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Donkey Kong Country is a game held in high regard and with reason. Monumental! Monstrous! Magnificent! Use any term you want, there’s no denying how important this game was for Nintendo and Rare. The graphics for the time were above and beyond anything anyone would imagine possible for the 16-bit system. For a two-dimensional side-scroller, Donkey Kong Country conveys a three-dimensional sense of dept. The characters are fluidly animated and the rich tropical environments make use of every visual effect in the Super NES’s armory. Each stage has its own theme, forcing players to swim underwater, navigate through a misty swamp, swing from vines, or transport DK using a set of barrels (cannons) to advance. And let’s not forget the mine cart stages where you ride on rails and use your quick reflexes to successfully reach the end. Every level has little nooks and crannies too, hiding secret areas and passageways that lead to bonus games where you can earn bananas and balloons, which you can trade in for additional lives. And in Donkey Kong Country, you’re not alone; your simian sidekick Diddy tags along for the adventure. You control one character at a time, and each has his own unique strengths. Donkey Kong can dispatch larger enemies with his giant fists, while Diddy can jump a little higher than his bulky cousin. It isn’t the most original platforming feature, but it works. The two heroes can also rely on various animal friends to help guide them through their adventure. Predating Super Mario World: Yoshi’s Island, Diddy and DK can also ride on the backs of Rambi the Rhino, Winky the Frog, Enguarde the Swordfish and more!
What’s really impressive about Donkey Kong Country is how it has withstood the passage of time. In 1994, Donkey Kong Country’s visuals were spectacular with its rendered 3D models, lively character animations, detailed backgrounds, and a lush jungle setting, and while some would argue the game is dated, in my eyes it still looks great to this day. Kong has heart, and he’s willing to show it in a game made with wit, excitement and moments of visionary beauty. Meanwhile, the soundtrack by David Wise is guaranteed to win listener’s over. Practically every piece on the soundtrack exudes a certain lyricism that has become a staple of Rare’s games – from its upbeat tropical introduction to the unforgettable climax which secures its place as one of the Super Nintendo’s most memorable boss fights. The result is an apt accompaniment to the colorful characters, tropical landscape, and tomfoolery that proceeds.
What really stands out the most about Donkey Kong Country after all of these years is just how challenging this game is.
But what really stands out the most after all of these years is just how challenging this game is. Donkey Kong Country is a platformer you can only finish through persistence and with a lot of patience. Right from the start, you’re in for one hell of a ride. In fact, some of the hardest levels come early on. There are constant pitfalls and Donkey Kong can only take a single hit before he loses a life. If your companion Diddy is following you he will take over but then if he takes a single hit you lose a life and it’s back to the start of a level. Needless to say, the game is unforgiving and requires quick reflexes and precise pattern memorization to continue. This game requires so much fine precision that it will definitely appeal to hardcore platforming veterans looking for a challenge and those that do are in for one hundred eighty minutes of mesmerization, astonishment, thrills, chills, spills, kills and ills. The only real downfall of Donkey Kong Country is the boss battles. Yes, Donkey Kong Country gave us some memorable villains such as Dumb Drum (a giant Oil Drum that spawns enemies after it hits the floor), and The Kremling King (who is responsible for stealing Donkey Kong’s Banana Hoard), but these enemies have very basic attack patterns and far too easy to defeat.
It’s one of the rare, great works of art that stands up endlessly despite repeated playthroughs, each time revealing something new.
Along with its two SNES sequels, Donkey Kong Country is one of the defining platformers for the SNES. The game looks great and sounds great and the platforming, while incredibly difficult, is still very fun. Rare did the unexpected by recasting a classic Nintendo villain as the titular hero and it paid off in spades. It’s one of the rare, great works of art that stands up endlessly despite repeated playthroughs, each time revealing something new.
The beauty of the original is that there’s more to it than the oversized gorilla. Donkey Kong Country is truly amazing!
– Ricky D
‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming
Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.
In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.
It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.
Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.
And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.
It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.
No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more.
‘Woven’ Review: Comfortably Soft and Lumpy
Despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure.
With a sincere warmth and fuzziness that conjures up dreamy recollections of 3D games gone by, Alterego Games‘Woven mostly overcomes its blurry visuals and technical jankery to somehow create a pleasant, old-fashioned experience. Those excited by modern gaming probably won’t give this lovable hand-me-down a second look, and perhaps they shouldn’t; extremely simple actions and soothing narration support a fairy tale quality that’s probably best suited to younger players. However, anyone willing to look past the well-worn exterior in search of a relaxing break from stressful button pushing may squeeze more fun out of this familiar stuffed toy than they might originally expect.
Woven tasks players with taking control of a meandering patchwork elephant named Stuffy, and guiding him through a sparsely populated knitted world that seems to have met an untimely demise. Because Stuffy has cotton for brains, he is assisted on this journey by a much smarter metal firefly named Glitch (a reference to his role in this story?), who floats alongside the curious-but-clumsy plush toy and provides hints as to how he can use his various abilities. Together, this odd couple will traverse open plains blanketed with colorful yarn grass, maneuver around impassable felt trees and plants, and hopefully discover the secret of where Stuffy’s clueless kin have all gone.
Along the way, the duo will walk great distances (often without much event), solve the occasional environmental puzzle, and generally just keep on keepin’ on.Woven is mostly straightforward in its campaign, merely about getting from point A to B by whatever means the path requires. Most often this involves finding new blueprints that allow players to change Stuffy’s design from an elephant into a wide variety of other animal shapes, each with a set of abilities that come with a new set of arms, legs, and a head. For instance, while the stocky (and adorable) bear can push plush boulders and perform a mighty stomp, the goat and frog can both use their legs to hop, while the kitty cat is able to push buttons on rusted consoles that activate dormant machinery.
However, these abilities are usually only able to activate when context-sensitive prompts from Glitch appear, so don’t expect some sort of platforming freedom. Woven handles a bit clumsily in that regard and others; strolling is definitely the order of the day, as long as Stuffy doesn’t get hung up on the geometry.
But these actions do help provide variety; a tropical bird of some sort (toucan, maybe?) can sing certain notes, while a pelican-thing can fly (sort of) over land and shallow water with great speed. And so, it often becomes necessary in Woven to alter Stuffy’s look with a total reweave. These designs can be applied at various sewing machine-like stations scattered about, which go a step further than just swapping Stuffy the deer for Stuffy the ape. Each blueprint is comprised of five parts, allowing for players to create a Frankenstein Stuffy made up of all the best abilities the player has on hand (or cushioned paw). By mixing certain sets, Stuffy will soon be able to scale mountainside crags, cross piranha-filled rivers, and pick up industrial cogs without the need to make a pit stop and bust out new needle and thread.
Some truly hilarious (or horrifying, depending on your sensibilities) aberrations can be created; seeing Stuffy hobble on hooves as he flaps a wing on one side and swings a muscular gorilla arm on the other, all with the head of a squirrel, is freakishly entertaining. In addition, for those who like to wander off the beaten path, there are a plethora of knitting patterns to discover, tucked away in both obvious and devious locations (and denizens). These cosmetic enhancements can also be applied at the sewing stations, essentially giving players seemingly endless amounts of customization. And these aesthetic changes even get in on the puzzle act every once in a while, especially when a pesky cobra shows up.
But outside the odd ‘connect the power line’ or ‘raise and lower platforms’ objectives, Woven doesn’t throw much at players that even young children shouldn’t be able to handle — and that seems to be the aim. Stuffy’s adventure lives or dies on its wholesome and serene vibe, which players either buy into or they don’t. There’s no combat here, very little to actually do outside hunting down those patterns, illuminating some painted caves, and activating some of Glitch’s ‘memories’ contained by machines hidden in the soft folds. Ongoing narration is pleasant to the ears, often conveying old-fashioned morals and cutesy jokes, but there’s no more story than in a classic fable.
And make no mistake — though the world is certainly bright and cheerful, it’s also quite fuzzy around the edges. The tactile nature of the cloth textures is lessened greatly by the low definition (at least on the Switch version), eliciting memories of the Wii-era. An increased crispness would have really made the world of Woven pop off the screen, perhaps luring in a larger audience who have become accustomed to such. There is still plenty of charm, but it feels like a missed chance at that true magical feeling the game seems to be shooting for.
Other stumbles come when certain worlds try to open up a bit more, which might lead a younger audience to get frustrated by the lack of direction (especially when they keep getting hung up on that geometry!); Woven definitely works better when it’s casually guiding players along, letting gamers of all ages envelop themselves in the easygoing atmosphere instead of requiring tedious backtracking. There’s just something nice about sitting back and relaxing to hummable music, watching the roly-poly amble of a stuffed kangaroo.
Woven will not be for everyone; those who play for challenge or eye candy won’t find either here. And yet, despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure. Woven certainly has its share of lumpiness, but somehow remains cozy regardless.
‘Woven’ is available on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch (Reviewed on Switch).
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