Mario Kart 8 Deluxe review: Racing to the top

Ever since the Nintendo Switch was announced, there was one game I was most looking forward to playing. Surprisingly, it was not The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It was Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Don’t get me wrong, with so many people already crowning Breath of the Wild as Game of the Year in March I was very interested in trying it out myself, but the allure of Mario Kart will always have a firm grip on me.

Blanca got the first real crack at the game on our way to Vegas, as she spent a good amount of time on the raceways. After she made her first difficult decision of character selection, ultimately siding with the cosmic Princess Rosalina, the real fun began.

We were overwhelmed with the high level of vehicle customization. You can choose between different kart types, wheels and paragliders (first time I’ve ever seen these). An important aspect to constructing your kart, something that would have been great to know in a tutorial, was that each kart, wheel and paraglider has its own stat attribute increase and decrease. By clicking the “+” or “-” buttons, an attribute menu pops up where you can see the different categories being affected: speed, acceleration, weight, handling, and traction.

In addition to not knowing about the attributes, the game didn’t really explain Smart Steering, tilt turning and auto acceleration. While the turning and auto acceleration are self-explanatory, the Smart Steering was something that was brand new to us. Having the option on enables you to stick to the track without fear of falling off, however, it will not allow you to go anywhere but forward. If you spot a shortcut a second too late, you can’t turn around and go back.

Once Blanca and I learned most of the tracks, there’s a whopping 48 race course divided into 12 cups, we decided to turn off Smart Steering. The difference in racing with and without Smart Steering is tremendous; utilizing the break mechanic and knowing how to drift is detrimental to your success. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is not forgiving when playing on 200CC without Smart Steering, so only attempt this if you’re confident in your racing abilities or if you love flying off the sides of the courses. It’s a new dynamic that I haven’t experienced in a Mario Kart game, but it’s definitely something that brings me back to the game.

One of the more frustrating parts of the game is the lack of item distribution. Blanca and I have put in close to 20 hours into the game, and I think out of both of us we’ve only had a couple stars, one Bullet Bill and a handful of blue shells. It doesn’t make much sense to be in ninth-place and get a double fun box, only to be disappointed with a green shell and a bundle of bananas. I’m not entirely sure if the increased level of CC dictates item distribution, but it’s mind-numbing when the CPU is dropping lightnings and red shells while we’re left with the garbage.

Another minor feature in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe that I was unfamiliar with is unlocking the cosmetic items. During the race, drivers can collect Mario coins throughout the courses and finish with a max of ten. These coins are used toward an overhead-type wallet that unlocks different vehicle cosmetic parts for further customization.

When playing couch co-op, Blanca and I only used the Joy-Cons with the Switch propped up on a table. We’re still figuring out many of the Switch features and how to exactly connect the Pro Controller along with the Joy-Cons on the actual TV. While playing with one Joy-Con apiece on a 6.2 inch screen is fun, the possibility of playing with full controller functionality on a 40 inch screen is tantalizing.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a must-own title for any and all Switch users. The roller coaster of emotion from a race that sees you go from first-place to seventh-place and back again in the matter of seconds is an adrenaline rush you won’t find elsewhere. Mario Kart 64 will forever be my favorite iteration in the franchise, but the Switch version is making a serious run for the top spot. The desire to win gold in each of the cups, the remastered designs of past Mario Kart race courses and the seemingly never-ending quest to unlock all the cosmetic items will keep us coming back to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for a long time to come.

Final Score: 9.25/10

Blanca Garcia contributed to this review.

Nintendo Switch Review: Charming, but incomplete, piece of hardware

The Nintendo Switch is a fascinating piece of hardware. Being able to seamlessly transition from playing docked on your home TV to in your hand is one of the most amazing things I’ve come to witnessed in my gaming experience. While Nintendo’s newest console doesn’t go without its fair share of shortcomings, the overall experience that I’ve had with the Switch has been delightful.

Full disclosure: the last Nintendo system that I owned was the Game Boy Advance and the last home console was the N64. So, you could say that I’ve been a bit out of touch with what Nintendo has been doing nowadays. Once I saw a quality bundle, I pulled the trigger and purchased the neon Joy-Con Switch that came with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Arms.

Upon receiving the Switch and holding it in my hand, it felt strangely right. I was surprised by how comfortable it was to hold and maneuver the Joy-Cons. The only negative about the Joy-Cons is how terribly small they are if you play couch co-op. My girlfriend Blanca and I played Mario Kart 8 Deluxe together and holding a single Joy-Con made me realize how it would feel to be a giant. Other than the small Joy-Cons, the only other caveat to having the Switch in handheld mode is the battery life. On average, my Switch has about four hours of battery life un-docked. While that might not seem a lot, especially with the DS having nearly 10 hours of battery life and 19 hours if you turn off the back-light, having only four hours isn’t a deal breaker. The only instances where I would play the Switch for that long a period of time in handheld mode would be on a long car ride or flight.

After seeing how gorgeous the screen looked in handheld mode, I was eager to see how the Switch would look on my normal TV. Before I tested it out though, a co-worker informed me of the high possibility that my dock might be warped. He said many Nintendo Switches have been shipped containing a defective dock that slightly warps the screen. Luckily, my dock did not appear to be a faulty one, but how does a manufacturer release a product like that? With the long list of features missing from the Switch, including the highly-touted Virtual Console, it doesn’t help matters when there are multiple cases of defective pieces of hardware. Various reports have indicated though that Nintendo is making an attempt at repairing consoles that have had a warping issue.

It was important to me that my dock wasn’t warped, because I ordered a Pro Controller for my Zelda adventure. I’d read that the Pro Controller was actually pretty nice compared to Nintendo’s previous controller iterations; possibly, because the Pro Controller a standard gaming controller. Essentially a Xbox 360 controller with the Nintendo stamp on it, the Pro Controller felt really nice in my hands, comfortable and sturdy. I’m glad Nintendo released a more “normalized” controller, it’s a great option from the gimmicky Joy-Cons. But please, to whomever is in charge, can we talk about the button placement? We have three different console manufacturers in Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo all using very similar buttons but all placed differently; not like that’s confusing or anything. The big issue with Nintendo’s controller design is how they have the “confirm” button on the right and the “cancel” button on the bottom, while PlayStation and Xbox have their “confirm” buttons on the bottom and their “cancel” buttons on the right. The amount of times I’ve selected something to confirm but canceled and vice versa is a ridiculous amount. I know it won’t ever happen, but how nice would it be if these three companies came together to agree on a singular controller design? Oh well, a guy can dream.

Aside from the controller design, my biggest gripe with this console, the Nintendo Switch is a quality piece of equipment. I was skeptical to say the least when it was first announced, but given my time with it I’ve come to see how unique it is. My personal satisfaction with the Switch might be tailored differently, because I don’t plan on utilizing any online features with it. I’ll stick to my PS4 and Xbox One S for my online gaming experience, but the Switch does an excellent job filling in that premier solo/couch co-op vacancy in my heart. And that’s why the Nintendo Switch is both a perfect, but imperfect system. Put in the right situation, the Switch checks off all the boxes and excels as a high-quality, secondary console. It will not, however, be a primary option for gaming. Even with its killer software, Nintendo has far too many annoying little imperfections that restrict it from achieving true premium console status. If Nintendo embraces this newfound role in the gaming landscape, the Switch will continue on this torrid pace out of the gates and sustain an enjoyable life.

Final Score: 8/10

Destiny 2 beta: Welcome back, Guardians

Bungie’s anticipated follow-up to Destiny, Destiny 2, finished its open beta on July 25. Thousands of players logged in to get their first taste of what’s to come in early September. The beta featured the opening campaign mission, Homecoming, as well as a strike mission and limited Crucible action.

One of the glaring issues with Bungie’s first entry was the lack of a compelling campaign. Many players, including myself, were left disappointed and slightly confused as to the type of story that Destiny was trying to convey. It wasn’t until after Bungie released various downloadable content did the overall story begin to finally take shape. However by then, the Destiny community had already begun to fall off a bit. If the sequel’s campaign is even remotely like Homecoming, Bungie has answered many of its players’ prayers and will deliver on their initial promise of providing a hardcore first-person shooter with fantastic storytelling.

Homecoming opened up with the Tower being assaulted by the Cabal. Players may remember the Cabal as the main enemy you face on the red planet Mars from the first game. While the Cabal didn’t necessarily play a very important role in Destiny, it appears that they will be the main baddies in the sequel. The Cabal Red Legion, led by Dominus Ghaul, is hell-bent on stealing the Traveler from the humans, because they feel they should be the rightful owners of its power.

As you make your way through the burning rumble of what remains of The Last City, Earth, the Red Legion is seen off into the distance preparing to take the Traveler away. Once the mission completes, Ghaul appears and does the typical bad guy routine of having a monologue explaining his intentions, then promptly kicks you off the side of the Tower. The level of desperation and loss of hope right at the beginning is a shot to the gut, but firmly cements the tone for what the rest of the game is sure to bring. I’m extremely excited to see how the Guardians regroup after this preemptive strike on their home, and how they plan on regaining the Traveler and their stolen powers.

The Inverted Spire Strike was a nice addition to the beta. I didn’t participate in many strikes in the first game, but the beta’s strike is a good indication that I plan to change that. Guardians begin by battling against waves of Cabal and Vex as you make your way deeper into the planet. Possibly my favorite part of the entire beta came about halfway through the strike. Players come across a giant drill and you must make your way on the sides of a rocky mountain, trying to avoid the drill. Honestly, I died probably seven times to that damn drill, but they were the most enjoyable deaths I’ve experienced in a game. Not only are you trying to avoid the drill, but various enemies are also trying to kill you. Once you’ve survived the deadly machine, the strike boss appears as Protheon, Modular Mind. Protheon is a giant Vex that can be a handful, because it summons an army of Vex to accompany it in battle. After shooting off pieces of its body, the giant Vex will eventually die and you’ll receive a piece of armor and weapon.

The class system is essentially the same with some slight improvements. Players will still choose between three classes: Titan, Hunter and Warlock. Having played exclusively as a Titan in Destiny, I kicked off the beta as a Titan. The Titan is mainly a meat shield, as they possess increased defense over the other two classes, but deals out an adequate amount of damage. Players can choose to either have a bubble shield as their super attack, meant to protect yourself and fellow teammates from damage, or a Captain America-esque shield. Just like Marvel’s Hallmark hero, you can throw the shield at enemies from afar, or get in close to wreck havoc. Titans can also create a mini wall to crouch behind for added protection.

After completing Homecoming with a Titan, I went back and tried my hand with a Hunter. Hunters are the most agile of the trio, as they have a dodge move instead of the Titan wall to evade incoming projectiles. While I preferred being a Titan, and I plan on selecting the Titan class when Destiny 2 releases, I did like the exotic handgun for Hunters. It’s similar to the Boltok Pistol in Gears of War where it’s a one shot handgun and seems to deal out roughly the same amount of damage as the Gears of War counterpart. Instead of the jet pack that Titans and Warlocks have equipped, Hunters have a standard double jump to reach higher heights. Unfortunately, I was unable to use the fire pistol super attack, I did use the super attack that gives Hunters a long staff to deal solid melee damage.

Final time I went through the campaign mission was as a Warlock. Ultimately, I thought the Warlock class was the most inferior of the three. Warlocks have a jet pack, but it’s a weird suspension jet pack like you’re floating. Seems that makes you an easy target for enemies that can actually hit their shot unlike the Stormtroopers from Star Wars. One thing that was interesting was the Warlock’s ability to create either a healing circle or an empowerment circle to give extra damage to anyone that’s in it. The heavy weapon you use is a sniper rifle, and unless there are far bigger maps than this mission, which I fully expect, it was borderline useless in Homecoming.

My time in the Crucible was short-lived, but I still got the jist of it. The game mode was a defuse and set charges, similar to Demolition in Call of Duty. If you are attacking, there are specific points on the map that you must set a charge on to detonate, and the same goes for defense but to protect. The attacking team can outright win the round if they eliminate the opposing team without having set a charge. The Crucible rounds are now a four-on-four affair, as opposed to the previous six-on-six matches from Destiny 1. Other than the change in team size, Crucible seems to be a typical online experience that you would have in any first-person shooter.

Final thoughts

Bungie’s beta for Destiny 2 did everything that it set out to do. It presented a clear change for the better regarding the campaign, increased the customization of the three classes but still kept much from the first game and reinforced the value of completing strike missions. If Bungie is good at one thing, it’s listening to its fan base. The latter half of Destiny 1’s life showed a completely new experience that vanilla Destiny did not when it released, and it seems that has seeped over into the sequel. The developer is focused on providing players an amazing experience in Destiny 2 and if this beta is any indication of the future, I think everyone is in for a treat.

Destiny 2 releases on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on September 6, 2017, while the PC version will release on October 24, 2017.

E3 2017 recap: Nintendo

Nintendo’s Spotlight was much bigger than to simply lay down the groundwork for the rest of 2017; it was about laying the groundwork for the rest of the Switch’s life. The Switch got off to an unprecedented start with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but moving forward, Nintendo can’t rely on a once-in-a-lifetime Zelda game. What they can rely on, are the wide variety of franchises they possess in their library, a library that was on full display at E3.

Super Mario Odyssey — October 27, 2017

Arguably the most recognizable character in all of video games, Mario is back for his next big-time adventure. Originally announced on October 20, 2016, the extended gameplay trailer shown everyone’s favorite plumber traversing across various kingdoms outside of the Mushroom Kingdom. Mario commends a hat-shaped airship named the Odyssey. The only story details the trailer revealed pointed toward Mario and Peach being interrupted on their wedding day by Bowser. A new ability added to Mario’s arsenal on his journey to rescue his bride-to-be is the use of his hat. Mario can throw his hat to either collect coins, knock away enemies, use as an extra boost jump or what has just been recently revealed, the ability to possess other objects. The trailer shown Mario throwing his hat onto any object, a frog or car or even a Goomba, and that item grows a mustache and has Mario’s eyes. It seems morphing with things around you will be necessary to progress through certain worlds.

Rocket League — Holiday 2017

A minor surprise from Nintendo: they announced that Rocket League will be coming to the Nintendo Switch. That part isn’t the surprise; the surprise is that players can compete cross-platform with other players. This means players on the Switch can duke it out with Xbox and Windows players. In addition, the Switch version will feature a few Nintendo-based items, like Mario and Luigi styled vehicles.

Kirby (2018)

While given no specific title, seeing a certain tiny pink blob on screen absorbing insanely amounts of mass is a sight for sore eyes. The last Kirby game that appeared on a main Nintendo home console was Kirby and the Rainbow Curse on the Wii U in 2015. The trailer at the direct did not display any real story information, but rather, showed Kirby in action.

Yoshi (2018)

Also without a specific title, Mario’s green dinosaur friend returns in another solo act. The last game that featured Yoshi was 2015’s Yoshi’s Wooly World and 2017’s Poochy and Yoshi’s Wooly World. Just like the Kirby trailer before it, Yoshi did not give much indication of where the story was heading.

Metroid 4 (TBA)

Nintendo fans have waited a longtime for this franchise to see the light of day again. Finally, that patience has been rewarded: Nintendo announced not only the absolute unknown project known as Metroid 4 on Switch, but also Metroid Samus Returns for the DS. The DS title will hit the shelves on September 15.

Fire Emblem Warriors — (Fall 2017)

Originally showcased in January 2017, Fire Emblem Warriors made a return to the big stage. The trailer showed a typical Fire Emblem game, however with a more hack and slash approach to it. While there hasn’t been a set date hammered out yet, the franchise hopes to make its return sometime this fall on both Switch and DS.

Xenoblades Chronicles 2 — (Holiday 2017)

Following up on the events of Xenoblade Chronicles X that came out on the Wii U in 2015, the new Switch title shows early promise. The trailer showed two people’s journey to reach a floating utopia known as Elysium.

Pokémon (TBA)

Even though Nintendo announced a week ago all of GameFreak’s plans regarding Pokémon, it was revealed during the E3 Spotlight that the company is developing a core RPG Pokémon game for the Switch. No other information was divulged, other than the game will not be out for at least a year.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild DLC — (June 30, 2017/Holiday 2017)

The first piece of downloadable content for Nintendo’s likely Game of the Year is the Master Trials. Contained in this pack comes the Trial of The Sword; imagine Horde Mode from Gears of War where you must defeat waves of enemies in each level. In Breath of the Wild, Link must take down each wave of enemies in order to awaken the Master Sword’s true power and use it in a powered-up state always. Aside from the pseudo Horde Mode, the DLC comes with an increased difficulty known as Master Mode with harder enemies, and also various pieces of new armor. One piece of new armor is specifically interesting, because it shakes when in the immediate area of a Korok seed. The other piece of DLC that was announced is the Champions’ Ballad. The only piece of information regarding this latter DLC package are four new Amiibo that can be purchased.

Wrap-up

Nintendo was riding a wave of momentum coming into this year’s E3. They already released the likely Game of the Year in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild back in March that helped propel the Switch on launch, so following up with sustainable content was necessary. Their conference presented a deeper look into Mario’s next big adventure, which didn’t add any addition hype to the train with the gameplay, but rather the fact that it will release in October. Nintendo showed off other stable franchises in Yoshi, Kirby, Pokémon, Fire Emblem and Xenoblade Chronicles. Not to mention, Nintendo still possesses an assortment of Wii U games the company intends to port over to Switch, specifically Super Smash Bros. Deluxe. Nintendo can wait for the opportune time when there’s not much going on and just dropped a game. Nintendo is in a good spot right now, the only thing they need to worry about is getting the Virtual Console up and running and nail down the online services.

E3 2017 recap: Sony

Sony has reigned supreme for the majority of this generation of consoles. They’ve delivered a high amount of exclusive content that has helped push the sales of the PlayStation 4 to over 60 million units worldwide. Last year’s E3 conference showed more exclusive games that Sony is prepping for release: God of War, Spider-Man, The Last of Us Part II and Days Gone. Gamers were practically drooling after watching Sony’s 2016 showcase, chomping at the bits to play these titles. Coincidentally, this has created a problem for Sony: when are we actually going to play these games? Unfortunately, this year’s E3 did not clear up that cloud of uncertainty.

Spider-Man – 2018

The next big exclusive project from Insomniac, creators of Ratchet & Clank and Sunset Overdrive, is an original story about everyone’s favorite web-slinger. Sony presented an extended gameplay trailer on stage that showed our hero taking down a gang known as the “Demons”. The trailer showed Peter Parker, presumably the one under the mask, communicating with an imprisoned Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin, regarding the nature of the Demons and their mysterious leader. We got to see Spidey in action for the first time, and the combat looked absolutely flawless and fluid. His moves were precise and being able to incorporate his webbing during fights seemed natural. The trailer concluded with Parker entangled in a helicopter fight with the revealed leader of the Demons, Martin Li, otherwise known as Mister Negative. A special cameo at the end also revealed Miles Morales, Ultimate Spider-Man for you non-Spidey fans. *Special reminder: this game is in NO way tied to the upcoming Marvel movie that is scheduled to release on July 7.

God of War – 2018

Kratos is back and he’s still a badass. Sony presented an extended trailer that mixed gameplay with cinematic scenes for the next installment of the God of War franchise. Last seen in 2010 with the gods of Olympus dead at his feet, Kratos returns but he’s not alone. Kratos is instructing his son on the dangers of the world, and the trailer shows that the boy is not only there to listen. One scene showed Kratos climbing the side of a mountain and when a demon-type enemy emerged from a crevice, the young’un drove a knife through its skull. Another part of the preview revealed that the boy can jump on enemies, temporarily distracting them for Kratos to deliver the final blow. These combat dynamics remind me of how Joel and Ellie interacted with each other in Sony’s other big exclusive title The Last of Us. No additional plot details were revealed, but it appears that Kratos has new enemies to deal with, which shouldn’t be a real surprise to anyone.

Days Gone – TBA

Days Gone is Sony’s version of Microsoft’s State of Decay 2; an open-world infested with zombie-like enemies known as “Freakers”. Not to be confused with “Clickers” from The Last of Us, these baddies resemble more of their zombie brethren. The extended gameplay trailer showed our protagonist, Deacon St. John, riding his motorcycle through woods in the Pacific Northwest and encountering these Freakers. While hiding in some grass, Deacon takes note of how the Freakers are what appears to be tearing apart a corpse. It’s been reported that the weather and time of day will affect the game’s difficulty. The release window for Days Gone has not been announced.

Detroit: Become Human – TBA

Coming from Quantic Dream, the creators of Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, Detroit: Become Human has the potential to be a game-changer. Played from the third-person, this exclusive title revolves around multiple playable characters and the choices you make influence the story. Each character has the possibility of dying before the game concludes, but that only adds to the overall story; the death of a character will not ensue a “game over” status. Sony and Quantic Dreams look to push the envelope on in-game choices and how they affect a player’s experience. Detroit: Become Human has been in development since 2013, and there is no release window currently for the project.

Shadow of the Colossus – 2018

Other than conquering the exclusive landscape of games, Sony has done fairly well when it comes to releasing remastered versions of past titles. The next game on the docket, even if it’s the second HD remaster, will be Shadow of the Colossus. Originally a PlayStation 2 classic from 2005, this title was developed by the same team that delivered the previous Sony hit Ico. When I say this will be the second HD remaster, that’s because Shadow of the Colossus was released in 2011 on the PlayStation 3. It seems that Sony thinks quite highly of Shadow of the Colossus for it to receive three separate releases over the course of 13 years.

Monster Hunter World — 2018

Developed by Capcom, Monster Hunter World continues the action-RPG series that began on the PlayStation 2. The line of games eventually made their way over to the PSP, Nintendo Wii and 3DS. Now, the series returns to a main Sony home console for the first time since 2011. Monster Hunter World‘s core concept is quite simple: hunt monsters. Sony’s presentation showed the player hiding, stealthily making his way to a rather scary-looking dinosaur. Once in position, the battle ensued between man and beast. How this new iteration of the series performs on the PlayStation 4 might signify if it’s something Sony will continue to support, or let Nintendo firmly take the reins on this franchise. More information regarding Monster Hunter World should trickle out, as the game is scheduled to release in early 2018.

Destiny 2 — September 6, 2017

Developed by Bungie, Destiny 2 continues the convoluted story about flying dead things that guide you, a giant orb that grants power and quite frankly thinking that you know what’s going on but in reality it’s a great big mess. Luckily, it appears early on that the sequel’s story will actually make sense this time around. A really angry Cabal is jealous that the Traveller, the power granting giant orb, should’ve chosen their race and not the humans to bestow its power. This prompts him to lay siege on the Tower, steals the Traveller, and at the same time effectively destroying all of your gear, weapons and accessories from the previous adventure. Already this story feels like it has some meat n’ potatoes to it that Destiny didn’t seem to have, until maybe The Taken King expansion. And yes, Destiny 2 is not a Sony exclusive, but just like the first game, PlayStation 4 users will receive exclusive content. It was announced that Sony players will receive access to a strike called “Lake of Shadows”, a ship called “City Apex”, an exotic weapon known as “Weapon Borealis” and a PvP map called “Retribution”. Don’t fret Xbox and PC fans; unlike the first game, this content will be time-sensitive until Fall 2018.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy — August 22, 2017

The adventures of Nathan Drake are over (presumably), so Naughty Dog is shifting their focus on, not one, but two new heroes: Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross. Naughty Dog lists Uncharted: The Lost Legacy as single-player DLC for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, but the events take place after the fourth game and act as a standalone expansion. The entirety of the game runs for about ten hours.

Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds — Fall/Winter 2017

One of the early crown jewels for Sony this year, Guerilla Games’ epic Horizon Zero Dawn is set to receive its first dosage of DLC. Surprisingly, The Frozen Wilds will take place in a very, very cold part of the futuristic-primitive world which Aloy resides. It hasn’t been revealed whether the events of this downloadable content will take place during or after the events of the main story. No other information was released at the time of the announcement, but Sony states that the content will drop later this year.

PSVR

It’s almost the first birthday for the virtual reality component of Sony’s console. To celebrate, the company announced new PSVR titles: Star Child, Bravo Team, Moss, The Inpatient, Final Fantasy XV: Monsters of the Deep, and Skyrim.

Wrap-up

Overall, Sony played it very safe this year. They showed much of the same titles from 2016’s E3 conference, but with expanded trailers. The old saying “don’t fix what ain’t broke” definitely applies here, but at the same time it is a bit disheartening that Sony didn’t at least try to surprise us with anything new. Not only that, but none of their top games, Spider-Man, God of War, Days Gone and Detroit: Become Human, are not coming out this holiday season. Sony, nor gamers, want to have broken games released and have to deal with constant patches, but what exactly is Sony backing on for holiday revenue? Third-party support from Destiny 2, The Evil Within and Call of Duty: WWII? Again, it’s a very safe route to take, but not having any first-party exclusives releasing in the most crucial time of year is a risk, no matter what company you are. On the flip side, once Sony does start rolling out these exclusives…everyone better watch out.

E3 2017: Microsoft

Entering E3 this year, Microsoft needed to dominate its conference. The company was set to finally unveil the next iteration of the Xbox, Project Scorpio. Not only did they have to hammer home the idea that this will be the most powerful console ever made, Microsoft had to show a wide assortment of games, preferably exclusives to the Xbox community. At the end of the day Sunday, Microsoft delivered a quality showcase that presented strong AAA games, but failed to expand its exclusive library like Sony has to date.

Xbox One X — November 7, 2017

Microsoft drew back the curtains on Project Scorpio to reveal the next line in its home consoles: Xbox One X. Not to be confused with the current Xbox One S, this next console will be the most powerful console ever made and is set to release on November 7, 2017 for $499.

The company released the following specs for the machine, however I don’t really know what to make of them:

  • 6 teraflops GPU clocked at 1.172 Ghz
  • 12GBs of GDDR5 memory
  • 326 GB/s of memory bandwidth
  • 8 million plus pixels
  • HDR
  • Wide color gamut
  • Premium Dolby Atmos sound
  • 4K UHD Blu-ray playback
  • Liquid-cooled vapor chamber
  • Smallest console from Microsoft

While I’m quite glad the Xbox One X will have a sufficient amount of teraflops and a nice vapor chamber, it’s hard for me to defend the $499 price tag. Microsoft has expressed their defense of the price point, and will expectedly do so throughout this console’s lifespan, but I believe it’s a mistake. Yes, the Xbox One X is geared for the “hardcore gamer” and is a “premium product”. But in order to use this premium product, you need a 4K TV to truly take advantage of everything the Xbox One X has to offer. So not only are you going to spend $499 for the console, without tax, but an upgrade to your TV will put you back another $499 at least. So you’re sitting at around $1,000 and we haven’t even gotten to any games, accessories or online services. Ouch.

Games

Microsoft has painfully been in the rearview mirror during this console generation when it comes to games. The battle for exclusivity of games for the most part has resided in Sony’s corner, most recently with Horizon Zero Dawn, NieR: Automata and Nioh. It goes without saying that Microsoft is in a tough spot in securing exclusive titles not named Halo or Gears of War.

Crackdown 3 — November 7, 2017

Looking like Microsoft’s big holiday title, Crackdown 3 is slated to release on the same day as the Xbox One X November 7. Considering fans of the franchise have waited since 2010 and that it’s being released alongside their new console, I don’t expect this to get pushed back. Terry Crews starred in the most recent E3 trailer.

Forza Motorsport 7 – October 3, 2017

The company showcased their next high-end racing game, Forza Motorsport 7. I’m not a big racing fan, but Forza looks absolutely breathtaking on the X. The vehicles are sleek and the environments are virtually life-like. Microsoft said there will be more than 700 cars and the game will feature native 4K.

Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds — Late 2017

The battle royale simulation on PC has found an exclusive console home. Microsoft revealed that Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds will be coming to Xbox One later this year. Currently on Steam with over three million players, this is a good get by Microsoft in expanding their exclusive library.

Metro Exodus — 2018

Following the events of Metro: Last Light and Metro 2035, Metro Exodus is a first-person shooter with stealth and horror elements. It has been four years since the previous Metro game released, earning a wide spread of fame among critics and fans. Metro Exodus is scheduled to release in 2018.

Sea of Thieves — Early 2018

Microsoft showed off their exclusive pirate action-adventure game for the third E3 in a row. First announced in 2015, Sea of Thieves looks to be an integrated cooperative multiplayer adventure from the first-person perspective. Players will sail the open seas, search for booty and do all the various piracy activities. Sea of Thieves is scheduled to release in early 2018.

Cuphead — September 29, 2017

Originally announced at E3 2014, Cuphead has finally received a release date. Due to come out on September 29, 2017, this title from Studio MDHR looks like nothing you’ve experienced before. The art style is reminiscent of Disney animations from the 1930s. Cuphead is a platformer/shooter that appears to be a colossal hit for Microsoft.

Anthem — Fall 2018

Arguably the most intriguing of all the titles announced, Bioware’s upcoming shooter is catching tons of attention. Anthem looks to take inspiration from other spacey shooters, such as, Halo, Destiny and Titan Fall. Said to be an action role-playing game in a shared-world, Anthem will release sometime in 2018.

Xbox original backwards compatibility

Finally, the one announcement many hardcore Microsoft fans have been waiting for. The company announced that original Xbox games will be functional via backwards compatible on the Xbox One S and X. Albert Penello, lead of marketing for Xbox, tweeted that the original discs for Xbox classic games will work on the current systems.

Wrap-up

Overall, Microsoft had a very strong conference. The lack of exclusives was still evident, other than Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. The appeal of the Xbox One X did not sit with me, but it was a good response to Sony’s PS4 Pro (albeit the price). Microsoft clearly brought out the big guns by announcing release dates for Cuphead and Crackdown 3, and threw the longtime Xbox fan-base a bone with the news of Xbox original backwards compatibility. E3 2017 might be the turning point that Microsoft was looking for, let’s see if they can capitalize on this strong showing.

Persona 5 review: Ruin or Rehabilitation

Having never played a Persona game before, the only word that described my early experience in Persona 5 was “overwhelming”. I knew going in that time management was a key in maximizing your experience and a recurring element in the Persona series, but I was no way near prepared for activities in both real life and the Metaverse that you can spend your day. Once I got my bearings straight and after all the hand-holding in the beginning, Persona 5 sunk its hooks in me like no other game has before. Although it did feel at times nearing the endgame that it dragged on for just a bit, the overall story and pacing of the game was exceptional.

What held my attention throughout the 127 hours of my play through was the soundtrack and art style. Every song in each situation captured the moment perfectly; from running around the bustling city of Shibuya to fighting Shadows in the Metaverse, the music in the background helped establish the tone of the game and engage the gamer on another level. The game itself just looks cool. Persona 5 looks like it was painted on canvas, but brought to life with an anime style coating. The vibrant colors and sharp texts coupled with the soundtrack almost hypnotized you while playing the game. There were many instances where I thought I hadn’t played for very long, to only realize that I had been playing for nearly six hours.

Going into the game, I expected the typically “ragtag group of kids band together to take down a super-powered boss to save the world”; essentially the same reused model for most games. To a certain extent, that’s Persona 5 in a nutshell. However, once you start peeling back the exterior, you’ll find that Persona 5 has deep, deep layers to it.

Persona 5 begins just how you might expect it: in the future. Without any real context of what was happening, the main protagonist, the strong but silent type, gets caught and arrested after trying to escape from a casino. In the interrogation room, it’s slowly revealed that you’re being accused of partaking in metal breakdowns, which have caused hundreds of deaths across Japan. After the tough detectives finish beating you senseless, Sae Niijima, a public prosecutor of the Tokyo District Special Investigation Department, takes her crack at getting your side of the story. The protagonist (in this review, the main character will be referred to as “the protagonist”, because you can name him whatever you’d like) recalls the past events that led up to this moment and that’s where the game officially begins.

As a high school student in Japan, there are many things that can be done when you aren’t saving the world: studying, working at various jobs, taking on the Big Bang Burger challenge and even doing laundry. Persona 5 is essentially half a Japanese role-playing game and half a social simulator. While playing this game, you’ll need to learn how to differentiate between which activities require immediate attention and which can be held off for another day. Each activity, however, has its own benefits of completing that you want to maximize. The protagonist has five social skills: Charm, Guts, Knowledge, Kindness and Proficiency. Completing certain things throughout the city will apply skill points toward a specific social area, but the downside is that the game doesn’t tell you how many skill points are required to increase the social stat to the next level. By doing one of the countless activities makes time progress, so for example, if you decide to hit some balls at the batting cages after school then it’ll progress to the evening which other new options may become available with the new time of day.

Other than completing normal everyday errands, yes as a high school student you will absolutely need to do some studying, you will also spend time in the Metaverse. The Metaverse is where you engage with Personas and complete Palaces. Each of the bosses you encounter possess their own Palace, a distorted area of cognition that their true desires display. Once a Palace begins open to complete, the HUD will display a counter with how many days remain to finish the Palace. If a Palace is not completed by in the given timeframe, then it’s game over. It’s suggested to create multiple saves to explore a Palace and gauge what each enemy is weak to, and then reload an earlier save to take advantage of that knowledge. Besides each individual Palace, there is also Mementos. Mementos is the general public’s Metaverse, depicted as a subway station underneath Shibuya. For people who enjoy grinding, this is the place to be. Here, you’ll find many enemies to battle and treasures to claim. While you might be eager to jump in and start increasing your level, keep in mind that spending time with Confidants and raising your social skills are as important, if not more so, than your battle level. Accessing the Thieves Guild when you boot up the game allows you to compare yourself with other players. I finished the game at a substantially lower level than the average player according to the guild, so it’s not necessarily a pressing matter to make sure you’re at the average level.

As you progress through the game, aside from choosing among the various options of everyday activities there will also be friends for you to spend time with. Labeled as “Confidants” in Persona 5, spending time with them should be a high priority. Spending time with Confidants will raise your rank with them and they’ll teach you techniques, some which are extremely valuable. As with many JRPGs, you can romance a female Confidant. With how realistic Persona 5 felt, it was a bit disheartening that you couldn’t choose to have a homosexual relationship. There were countless times where it felt like Ryuji Sakamoto and Yuske Kitagawa were perfect romance options for your character, but it wouldn’t come to fruition. Each Confidant has a specific type to them, for example Ryuji is Chariot so if you possess any Persona with the Chariot type, that’ll help you raise his Confidant rank faster.

The third area of where you can spend time, but doesn’t progress time like other activities, is by visiting the Velvet Room. The mysterious Igor, the same Igor who makes a recurring appearance in each Persona game, and his twin wardens Caroline and Justine are in charge of the Velvet Room. Aside from Igor appearing in each game in the series, the overall story is completely different, a la Final Fantasy. Throughout the game, Igor will continue to remind you that you’re on a path of rehabilitation toward vanquishing ruin. This is the place where you can fuse Personas, combining them to create stronger Personas. While your combat level may not be as important to other JRPGs when it comes to defeating enemies, it does possess an important trait when it comes to controlling Personas. You are unable to control a Persona whose level is higher than your own, understandably, but you can control a higher-level Persona if it levels up past your level. So, just like how you can increase Confidant ranks faster with certain Persona types, the higher a Confidant’s level is the more experience points a fused Persona will get. If you fuse a Persona that’s the same level as you, but the Confidant’s rank is maxed out at 10 and it receives a huge bonus in experience points, then odds are that Persona will jump a few levels. You can still use said Persona, because it was originally the same level as you.

Speaking of Personas, they are the source of your power. Everyone holds only one Persona, but you have the special ability of controlling multiple Personas. The first one you possess is Arsene, but as you make your way through Palaces, or commonly known as dungeons, you’ll encounter other Persona monsters. Here, you can negotiate with the monsters for either money, items or the ability to join your team and fight for you. Every time you come across a Persona that you haven’t collected yet, do so. Think of it as Pokémon and you’re trying to “catch ’em all”.

When it comes to fighting in Persona 5, it’s a blast from the past. With nearly all JRPGs starting to adopt the complete open-world frenzy with open combat, Persona 5 keeps the traditional turn-based style combat alive. The turn-based style feels perfect, especially with the many different facets of combat that you should worry about. In previous JRPGs, I would never worry myself with certain abilities that would buff my team or debuff my enemies. Persona 5 makes you think of those attacks. It is absolutely essential to possess those abilities if you aren’t trying to grind for hours on end. In addition to the importance of those support moves, certain attacks will weaken enemies, causing them to fall to the ground dazed. This is when you can choose to negotiate with the monsters, or ensue an “all-out attack”. An all-out attack will cause catastrophic damage, most likely instant killing all the enemies.

The character development was a major eye-opener. In most games, the lives and ultimate fates of secondary characters never held a high amount of importance but Persona 5 defies that notion. As you get to know your Confidants, the background behind each character is truly fleshed out and makes you feel compelled to help each person through their own situations. Each situation, whether it’s a Palace or side Confidant, feels extremely life-like and very realistic. The only negative with some of the situations that each Palace presents are how the protagonist and the gang get thrown into them. Some instances when a new target presents itself and you have to dive into their Palace is a bit of a stretch considering what had to transpire to get there.

In a year that’s given us a new console from Nintendo, a new Zelda game and a new IP from Guerilla Games in Horizon Zero Dawn, it might be easy to overlook something like Persona 5; don’t. Atlus’ fifth installment of the Persona series is one of the best JRPGs, and overall games, that I’ve ever played. Granted, it is impossible to try and achieve everything the game has to offer in a single play through, but Persona 5 does a great job in setting you up well for a New Game+. While the game doesn’t offer homosexual relationships, a large dark spot on a title that does everything else right for a modern video game, and the feeling of slightly overstaying its welcome as you approach the endgame, the story is exceptional, the characters are properly fleshed out and the soundtrack and art style alone will keep you transfixed throughout. Persona 5 blows the door right off the hinges when it comes to quality JRPGS and currently holds the crown as the king of the genre.

Final score: 9.5/10