Review: Never Alone | Nintendaily

Review: Never Alone

Never Alone has no right to work as well as it does. Between stodgy controls and sharp difficultly spikes lays an unashamedly educational experience – a school anthropology class through which the game welcomes you to learn about the Alaskan Iñupiaq culture. Through stunning sound design, immersive graphics and a surreal charm that fills you with genuine empathy for the game’s two main protagonists, Never Alone turns out to be one of the most poignant titles I’ve played all year.

On the face of it, Never Alone is a run-of-the-mill puzzle platformer – albeit an attractive one. In reality though the game represents a unique collaboration between veteran developers Upper One Games, an education group called E-Line Media, and actual natives from Alaska. What appears to be a simple story of a young Iñupiaq girl called Nuna reveals itself to be an interactive folktale, interwoven with Iñupiaq symbols and cultural relics that come together to paint a rich tapestry of this anicent civilisation.

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The game doesn’t leave you guessing at its wider cultural aspirations though. A series of interviews with native Alaskans are unlocked as you progress, fleshing out the background and inspiration to the enemies, items, environments and characters as you meet them in-game. I found the interviews fascinating, going into detail about everything from the use of the ‘Bola’ (a throwing weapon Nuna picks up early in the game) to native beliefs about the aurora spirits, who in the game swoop down to catch you.

Quite frankly it’s all highly-engaging stuff, and what I found most impressive is the way the interviews are weaved so organically into the game that it rarely took my out of the experience. At the end of each act I quickly fell into a rhythm of checking my video log so I could discover the inspiration behind the level I had just experienced. Thankfully, each interview is reasonably short and focused, meaning I was able to take onboard a good deal without ever feeling I was being lectured too, before diving back into the game.

So, as an interactive learning tool, we’re established Never Alone is highly effective. But what about the gameplay?

I think it’s fair to say Never Alone isn’t going to be giving Mario a run for it’s money. The game controls more in the vein of fellow puzzle platformer Limbo – namely slow, floaty and clumsy. I never really felt in full control of Nuna or her snow fox sidekick, who you can switch between controlling at any time. Death was a constant threat, and much of the time I never felt it was my fault. These unfair moments increase in frequency later on in the game, with platform-spawning spirits that seem to float away with little rhyme or reason, and a Metroid-style escape sequence that was so aggravating it took away any sense of tension.

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The puzzles do enough to make them adequately fun, but they rarely go beyond the usual block-pushing mechanics. Something that does spice things up is having to switch between the unique abilities of Nuna and the snow fox to reach your goals. The snow fox is able to wall jump and call spirit-platforms, while Nuna can push blocks and use the bola to destroy blocks of ice. It works okay, but the concept is never explored in any real depth.

But that’s fine, because Never Alone isn’t about the moment-to-moment gameplay. If anything, the puzzles and platforming sections are just an excuse to stay in this world and drink in the sumptuously realised atmosphere. The sound design is gorgeous, filled with delicate touches like the crunching of snow underfoot, splash of water against ice platforms, and ambient blizzard wind that all come together to form a harsh, yet living, breathing world. The other-worldly tranquillity of the sound track is also excellent, occasionally giving way to the nefarious horns of the ‘manslayer’s’ theme, that genuinely conveys a great sense of terror. The graphics, while being nothing special on a technical level, dovetail harmoniously with the score, presenting sparse landscapes and a graphical filter that gets ever-more hazy as Nuna penetrates further and further into this mystical world.

More than anything though, it’s the touching relationship between Nuna and the snow fox which impresses most. The two lonely figures are silent for the most part, with the only characterisation coming from the odd sparse cutscene of the snow fox scampering around in the snow. Progressing through the world though brings you closer and closer to your companion, and when a shocking event happens towards the game’s final quarter, you come to realise how strong the bond has become.

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Mechanically Never Alone is far from being perfect, and if it was judged purely on that basis there are other puzzle platformers I’d more highly recommend. Super Mario 3D World this is not. It’s the organic intertwining of gameplay, story and cultural exploration that really makes Never Alone unique, and there are few indie games I can think of which kept me so engaged, both on an emotional and intellectual level. While the educational element may put some of, I’d encourage you to take a punt on this highly individual title.

Reviewed On: WiiU
Developer: Upper One Games
Price: £12.99

Graceful Explosion Machine Review | Nintendaily

Graceful Explosion Machine Review

Evoking memories of games such as Galaga, Defender, Geometry Wars and Resogun; Graceful Explosion Machine is Vertex Pop’s welcome take on the side-scrolling arcade shooter.

You play at the controls of a cutesy spaceship, tasked with having to take down a variety of vivid extraterrestrial baddies — each with their own unique patterns and movements. To do this, you’re quickly given an arsenal of four unique weapons and set on your way.

Here’s what you’re given to dish out damage: a go-to basic blaster, a handy rotating energy beam, clunky lock-on missiles, and a powerful, broad sniper shot.

Beyond some quick manoeuvring abilities, you don’t get any extra tools or upgrades as you journey through the games 36 vibrant stages.

Due to this limited ability/weapon set, getting to grips with Graceful Explosion Machine is remarkably straightforward. Within the opening few minutes you’re introduced to all of the main mechanics that this bright and colourful 2D shooter has to offer.

This straightforwardness seems very deliberate. You can quickly get familiar with what’s required of you, and effortlessly jump into the action. After playing a few tutorial levels you’ll be plowing through levels with confidence, racking up points and dispatching enemies with finesse.

Levels are set across four worlds, each with their own minor, subtle differences. Each shiny level sees you take on three waves of numerous foes (most of which are easy-to-kill fodder). The majority of the stages are set on continuous loops that you’ll fly around until each wave of enemy is wiped out. Surviving each wave, and beating each level, ramps-up in difficulty at an enjoyable pace, as you work your way from one world to the next.

It’s here that the modest joy of Graceful Explosion Machine lies. The game is incredibly easy to pick up — offering quick, accessible arcade action that is somewhat satisfying in its simplicity. The curve of the challenge is middling, but not far off striking the right balance. It’s never overly frustrating, but never enragingly difficult either.

Although the simplicity on offer is clearly an asset for those quick on-the-go play sessions that the Switch allows for, it’s this same bare-bones gameplay that results in something that doesn’t leave any real lasting impression. Once you’ve beaten the games three dozen levels (which can be done in a few hours) you’re left with something that although enjoyable, won’t see you clamouring for much more of.

Graceful Explosion Machine Review Verdict

Graceful Explosion Machine currently fills a niche in the Switch’s early library of games. It’s fun, and fast-paced, with bright visuals — at $12.99 (£9.99) it’s priced right for what amounts to an enjoyable distraction.

The detonation offered by Graceful Explosion Machine is dazzling, but quickly fizzles.

Fast Racing Neo Review | Nintendaily

Fast Racing NEO Review

Is this futuristic racer light years ahead of the pack, of does it fall by the wayside? Find out with our Fast Racing Neo Review.

It’s impossible to write this Fast Racing Neo review without thinking about F-Zero. As I rocketed through futuristic neon cities at a speed that seared my eyeballs, everything from the electric colour palate to the pure, no-item racing recalls Nintendo’s classic racing series. Unfortunately, it isn’t always favourable comparison, as while Fast Racing Neo is a fantastic futuristic racer, its biggest impact on me was leaving me wishing for an F-Zero sequel.

Let’s start by accessing the game on its own merits. There’s no denying the game looks gorgeous, especially considering German developer Shin’en Multimedia is a small indie studio. Environments, which range from the aforementioned neon cities to tropical forests and unforgiving deserts, are impressively detailed for Nintendo’s modestly powered Wii U. Watching giant sandworms plow down into the earth beside my ship and narrowly avoiding asteroids in a turbulent space level is hugely exciting, and I found each stage of the game’s four cups (six if you include the DLC) to bristle with character.

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What’s most impressive though is the sensation of speed and weight. Your vehicle pelts down the track at a breath-taking pace, launching off jumps and crashing back down with a satisfying thud that feels meatier than any of the nimble ships F-Zero has to other. The vehicles are bigger than that title too, maneuvering around corners with considerable heft that could be construed as loose by some, but equally feels incredibly satisfying when executed to perfection.

Another point of difference comes to the racing mechanics themselves. Like F-Zero, Face Racing Neo Review doesn’t have any items to muddy the waters, however that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a trick or two up its sleeve. The game utilises a clever Ikagura-style colour switching system, that lets you boost over lanes of a corresponding colour. As you warm to the game you quickly slip into each track’s natural rhythm, almost hypnotically switching between orange and blue, and experiencing a mini-adrenaline rush as your vehicle lurches forward. the tracks are also littered with orbs, which when collected fill out a boost gauge, which can be activated at any time. It’s a clever system, and while it never truly replaces the risk/reward genius of F-Zero’s shared boost/life bar, it adds just enough nuance to keep the core racing engaging.

The game does hit a couple of bum notes though, many of which can probably be attributed to the game being made by a small, indie team. The biggest problem is that the track design never quite grabbed me the way F-Zero GX did. There’s a nice variety of locations, but there are few specific ‘wow’ moments I can recall, and after beating each cup on the highest difficulty I never felt compelled to return. It’s not never bad per say, but it generally lacks that polished refinement present in other racers. Also, while I felt the sound design was great, with hefty clangs when you bash into opponents and satisfying whooshes as you activate your boost, the background tracks lack any standout moments.

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The second issue I’d guess is one of budget. While the game doesn’t stink of compromise, there is a faint wisp of it in the game’s general lack of character, which is probably due to resources being spent on the game’s graphics and core gameplay. Not that that wasn’t a wise decision, but it’s just none of the game’s nine ships are particularly memorable, and despite handling differently none of them look that distinctive. It’s not a huge gripe, especially when you consider the game’s £11 price tag, but again when you compare it to the myriad of weird and wonderful ships and pilots in F-Zero, it comes out lacking.

One area the game isn’t lacking in though is its number modes. The core experience is the Grand Prix, featuring four cups that can be played through on three different difficulties, each one getting progressively faster. There’s a time trial mode, Hero mode (which basically turns your boost meter into your health bar, F-Zero-style), split screen multiplayer, and even an online mode. The frame rate does get a bit choppy in local multiplayer, but when you have such a complete package it’s hard to complain.

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Fast Racing Neo Review Verdict

If Fast Racing NEO didn’t come out against a backdrop of being compared to one of the greatest racers of all time, doubtless critics would have been kinder to it. Despite my gripes, this is a very impressive little package, which for the most part has all the polish and ingenuity of a triple A game. Fast Racing Neo hasn’t quite scratched my itch for a new F-Zero, but it will at least hold me over until Nintendo get their act together.

Super Mario 3D World Review | Nintendaily

Super Mario 3D World Review

Does Mario’s latest outing jump to new levels of purfection, or fall flatter that a squished Goomba? Find out with our Super Mario 3D World World Review.

I found playing Super Mario 3D World to be a polarizing experience. On the one hand it’s impossible not to adore the sumptuous graphics, polished production values and tight gameplay. On the other, coming off the back of the Mario Galaxy series, the game lacks the innovative edge and downright epic gameplay that made the Galaxy games so legendary.

But let’s start off on a positive: the graphics. Super Mario 3D World looks incredible. The polygon count may not exactly be PS4 standards, but it’s hard to imagine a more perfect realization of the Mario universe. Every character, power up and surface has a pristine shine like it’s been polished to a mirror finish. Animations are gorgeously fluid, and everything from globules of lava dripping off incoming fireballs to Mario’s haughty stride when he struts around the World Map in his cat suit simply oozes character and charm.

Textures, which range from snooker table green felt to shiny plastic panels and cookie dough platforms, benefit more than anything from Nintendo’s new found fondness for HD. It’s the small details that really impress though, from the determined little frowns of goombas as they try to mow Mario down inside a giant ice skate, to the fat droplets of rain that trickle down the screen in the game’s more dramatic moments. All of this combines with a silky-smooth frame rate to form a lush, vibrant world that dovetails perfectly with the kinetic gameplay.

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On a technical level, the gameplay is perfect. Mario controls as tightly as he has ever done, and the ability to play as Peach, Luigi and Toad just as in Super Mario Bros 2 adds good variety, even if Peach’s hover ability does make the game a tad too easy. The biggest problem though is that the game takes far too long to become challenging. I breezed through the first six Worlds barely losing a life, and while World 7 started to get a bit more interesting, it wasn’t until World 8 I found stages that I could really sink my teeth into. To be fair, there is a ton of content to play after the credits have rolled where things do get trickier, but it would have been great to see this in the main game.

For the most part, the game does a resolute job of keeping to Nintendo’s old mantra of using one new idea per level. Each level starts out introducing you to a new concept, which the game fully exploits with expert precision. The game invents and disposes of ideas with ruthless efficiency, lurching between top-down Zelda-esque dungeons, a ghost house based around a flashlight that lets you kill boos, and even Captain Toad puzzle sections where you can’t jump(!). The genre is stretched as far as it will go, toying with stealth, puzzle sections, and touch screen elements, while still remaining within the usual rhythm of play with the end of level flagpole and requisite three green star collectibles.

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Alas, while super Mario 3D World takes pains to stretch the genre, it doesn’t expand upon on or even break it like Super Mario Galaxy. The finest moments of Super Mario Galaxy – Super Mario Galaxy 2 in particular – where a bold reinvention of the genre, constantly subverting expectations and pushing 3D platforming to places it has never been before. While 3D World has plenty of new tricks, everything feels tame when compared to Super Mario Galaxy, which takes away from its potency.

Again, the closest the game gets to reaching its full protentional is with the post-credits content. A level I particularly enjoyed sees the camera go to a top-down perspective. I was given a boomerang power up, and enemies attacked me in line patterns – effectively turning the game into a Gradius-style top-down shooter. The level becomes increasingly more complex as you progress, and with a favourite Galaxy tune blaring out in the background the sheer ingenuity of the level kindled a warm glow inside me. I can’t help but wonder what the game could have been like if every level was prepared to break the rule book like this.

One thing that does inject some variety into proceedings are the power ups. Cat suit Mario is the newest, and although the power up does appear too frequently and is slightly too overpowered, I very much enjoyed swiping at enemies with my paws, and using my claws to climb up walls. The usual tanooki suit, boomerang bros and fire flower power ups make a welcome return, as do the aforementioned giant ice skates, which is basically the giant shoe power up from Mario Bros 3, adapted for the game’s snow levels. It’s a diverse collection of abilities that go far beyond Galaxy, and the game does a good job of exploiting the unique abilities of each one.

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Super Mario 3D World Review Summary

If it sounds like I’m being negative about Super Mario 3D World, it’s only because of how much I adored Super Mario Galaxy. In truth, this is one of the best looking, tightly designed, and downright joyful games in the Wii U’s library. It toys with the genre and expands the franchise in ways the New Super Mario Bros series (and even Super Mario 3D Land) never did. On a personal level however, I feel the game does represent a step back when compared to the Wii games, and I do miss the daring and even drama that had me coming back to Galaxy again and again.

Overall though Super Mario 3D is one of the most complete, content-rich Mario games there has even been. Whether you feel the game is regressive or not, it more than deserves a place in your video game library.

Terraria for WiiU Review | Nintendaily

Terraria WiiU Review

I was conflicted while playing Terraria on WiiU. As someone who isn’t familiar with Minecraft, I found myself intimidated by the game’s expansive crafting system and lack of goal. However once I stopped worrying about what to do and got on with creating tunnels, farming materials and crafting weapons, I discovered a complex and rewarding indie experience that I loved digging into.

Developed by Re-Logic, 2D Minecraft is probably the most accurate way to describe Terraria. You start the game with nothing but an axe and pickaxe, and a vague assertion that you are supposed to chop down trees and dig into the ground. With no knowledge of the game’s more interesting wrinkles and a poor tutorial, the first hour is where the game is at is weakest. Like Minecraft, everything in the world is destructible, and as I tentatively made my way underground I found my inventory filling up with all kinds of materials and trinkets that I didn’t know what to do with.

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But before long, once I managed to cope with a bewildering inventory screen that clearly isn’t designed for consoles, I gained  a sense of purpose. I built a workbench, which showed me the array of swords, pickaxes and fishing rods that were available, and what materials I would need to build them. In turn this pushed me ever-deeper underground, searching for deposits of rare materials that could bolster my inventory and ease my exploration. After a while the game fell into a rhythmic ebb and flow as I explored caves and caverns, before returning to above ground to cash in my hard work.

It’s hard to deny the visceral enjoyment of tunnelling. The game world is randomly generated, and although there are twisting labyrinths of pre-dug caves and tunnels for you explore, forging your own paths to connect caves or drain reservoirs of water (or indeed lava later on) is just plain satisfying. The combat, which often amounts to randomly failing a sword in front of your face, achieves a certain depth through the wide amount of weapons available, and there is a definite satisfaction to uncovering a new elemental boomerang, or forging a new kind of magical cane that mixes up the way you approach the flying eyeballs and fireball-spitting demons you’ll come across.

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It’s just a shame the inventory menu can’t keep up, and as you’re not able to pause the game, I often found myself mid-battle cycling through a myriad of ores and potions desperately searching for something that could do some damage. Death is never a huge inconvenience though, as you simply respawn above ground without losing your equipment.  Also, playing on WiiU eases things a tiny bit as you’re able to inventory manage via the touch screen. I also found the dual screen feature useful, with the TV offering a zoomed-out view of the world that helped me navigating the sprawling, interconnected array of tunnels, and the Gamepad featuring a zoomed-in view that allowed me to managed moment-to-moment combat.

Another aspect the Gamepad helps with is building. A big point of difference between Terraria and Minecraft is that in Terraria you can build safe houses. Once built, they not only afford protection from enemies (which can become particularly ferocious at night), but they also act as homes for NPCs, who once moved in can do everything from heal your health to sell you items. Building your house can be incredibly fiddly, with the walls needing to be certain dimensions, and the interior needing to be fully decorating with a table, chair and light source. Being able to tap away at the touch screen instead of fiddling with the cursor does helps immensely, although granted, it would be helpful if you were able to place items further away from your character.

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I do feel the graphics are an acquired taste. Despite being a fan of pixel art, I think the game falls on the more ugly side of the spectrum. And although the music is fun at first, I don’t feel there are enough tracks to support the extended play sessions the game obviously encourages. Its worth noting too that the game was also released on 3DS, which due to the inferior hardware suffered form some performance issues. Thankfully, the extra power of the WiiU means this port plays fine. Furthermore, despite both 3Ds and WiiU games being ported from an earlier PC game, the WiiU version is based on a later update of the original, meaning more content and refinements across the board.

Other features include a fun online multiplayer (if you’re able to find anyone to play with), and a local co-op.

Overall, I’d say I do prefer the Metroidvania-style adventure of Steam World, which slowly drip feeds substantial new abilities to the player. Terraria plays more like Steam World meets Fallout, where the items you mine reward you with buffs and perks, but few things that genuinely shake up the core gameplay. It’s a fun game for sure, but it isn’t intuitive, and you have to work for your enjoyment. If that’s your bag though Terraria is a deep and rewarding sandbox adventure, and if you can live without defined goals and end-of-level bosses, there’s plenty of fun here for you to unearth.

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Star Fox Zero Review | Nintendaily

Star Fox Zero Review

I’ve been tentative to play Star Fox Zero. Star Fox 64 is still one of my favourite games of all time, and the thought of that kinetic gameplay and twitch-perfect shooting being sullied by ‘innovative’ controls left me terrified this would be yet another dud in the Star Fox franchise.

How wrong I was.

Star Fox Zero isn’t perfect. Despite being beefier than in N64 counterpart, in 2016 it comes across as very slim on content. The game also seems to have no problem in wallowing in its own nostalgia, and the ending sequence resembles more a HD remake than sequel.

Star Fox Zero Review Image 1 | Nintendaily

But none of that takes away from just what an exhilarating, adrenaline-pumping thrill ride Star Fox Zero is. At its heights, it surpasses it’s N64 counterpart with its slick speed and finally tuned space combat. The much-lambasted controls are a non-issue as far as I’m concerned. Splatoon has already taught us gyro-sensors work incredibly well for precision-aiming. Implemented into Star Fox Zero, the game has an air of Sin and Punishment as you swivel your reticule independent of your character, dealing damage and avoiding laser fire simultaneously.

As you play, the screen on your Gamepad displays a cockpit view that allows you to fine tune your aiming even further.  Fans have been particularly vocal about this aspect, complaining that to be in full control of the game, both screens have to be watched simultaneously – the TV to move your vehicle and avoid damage, and the Gamepad to aim and shoot.

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While this may have some truth, honestly for 75% of the game, you won’t need to look at the Gamepad at all – particular during the on rail section. It’s during the bosses when the Gamepad really comes into play, with the game going from on rails to the free-roaming ‘all-range’ mode. During these moments, the game will lock onto your opponent and zoom out to give you an expanded view of the field of battle, forcing you to use the Gamepad to line up your attack. Granted, these moments were a little tricky to get my head around, but the controls acquit themselves well, and it soon becomes second nature. There is an ebb and flow to the game’s bosses, and you enter a zen-like state as you flee the enemy, barrel rolling through lasers on the TV, before switching to the Gamepad to retaliate.

The bosses itself are a mixed bag. Facing off against a giant, multiheaded bird above the clouds feels suitably epic, as do the numerous encounters with Star Wolf, backed by awesome remixes of the classic N64 score. Defeating a giant robot ape by landing on his back and hacking into a control panel though is considerably less fun, as is turning into the game’s signature Walker vehicle and awkwardly  strafing an enemy ship’s core.

Which neatly brings me onto my biggest bone of contention: the vehicles. Star Fox is at its best when your zipping through the sky, raining hot laser death on swathes of enemies in classic Platinum Game style. Slow, plodding stealth sections are not what I want from Star Fox, but that’s exactly what the Gyro Wing delivers. They are long, tedious, and just whiff of the kind of awkwardly-implemented novelty that I wouldn’t expect from Platinum.

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The aforementioned Walker is a relic of the bygone Star Fox 2, although maybe it’s just as well that game wasn’t released as these sections suffer from the same stodginess. It’s not too bad per say, but compared to the pristine sheen of the core gameplay, the controls just feel clumsy, with an awkward turning cycle that makes balancing on small platforms a chore. Thankfully the Land Master is just as much fun as it was in N64, traversing with a satisfying heft, and feeling even more versatile with its ability to transform into a ship for a short time.

As for the Star Fox Zero’s over-reliance on nostalgia, I’m willing to forgive it. Yes, names and environments are copiously, almost distractingly reused, and lines of dialogue are repeated with jarring regularity, but importantly none of the levels are recycled. Corneria is the only level that straddles the line between homage and reuse a little too closely, but other than that, the level design and set pieces are entirely original.

Overall while this Star Fox isn’t wrinkle-free, it soars high enough to be a successful revival for a series with a troubled history. True, on the surface there is an awkward dichotomy between being too nostalgic and over-engineered, but to me this is merely a gloss. Deep down this is an artfully crafted, tightly designed space shooter with buckets of charm and a soundtrack to match. It has its sloppy moments, but as a spring board for future games, this is a stellar entry into the Star Fox franchise.

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