Celeste Review

Keep Climbing

Developer: Matt Makes Games

Publisher: Matt Makes Games

Reviewed for: Nintendo Switch

Played: Around 15 Hours

 

 

Celeste is a game about climbing a mountain, both figuratively and literally. It’s also a tough as nails hardcore platformer, the likes of which I have never encountered before. And while it can be tough, it`s mostly fair. I had more than a couple of deaths due to the precise timing required by the game, but I suppose that could be a failing of the hardware I was using (attached Joycons).

Developed and published by Matt Makes Games, based out of Canada and consisting mostly of the titular Matt Thorson and a small team of his friends, Matt Makes Games have delivered an impressive title in Celeste, and won widespread acclaim for its charming mix of retro visuals, hardcore platforming mechanics and heartfelt story.

At it`s core, Celeste nails its central conceit, which is trial and error. You as the player will die over and over again searching for the solution to the complex jumping puzzles that are presented in each of the games eight or so levels. Every level has its own set of rules or obstacles, be it a strong wind that constantly forces you backwards, or platforms that will collapse underneath you.

That may not sound revolutionary, but its the precision and timing that is required to progress that I found to be the most rewarding. Celeste doesn’t pull any punches, and while there is an assist mode that can help players that are struggling with some of the games more diabolical challenges, the adrenaline felt after completing a complex sequence is the games true reward.

And you will die. Constantly. Literally hundreds of times. My final death counter (helpfully, or maybe sadistically displayed after each level) was just shy of a thousand after my first run through the game. I don’t even know if that is a lot, as I felt like I played pretty well, and didn’t feel like I got bogged down too often. Thankfully you re-spawn instantly, which really helps with experimentation, as you rarely lose more than a few seconds progress.

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The world of Celeste is told through it’s charming art style and snappy dialogue. There aren’t a lot of cut scenes, per se, but I looked forward to dialogue between the central characters. But while the witty exchanges characters engage in was great, the story itselfactually fell a little flat for me, honestly. It beats you over the head with its central theme, over and over again and with little subtlety: Depression is like climbing a mountain, and you just have to keep climbing to get out!

Which is a shame, because Madeline is a likeable enough character, but you learn very little about her. Every cliche metaphor for learning to love the parts of yourself that you don’t like is relayed through her and thrown at you the player with very little unique commentary on mental illness. Supporting characters like the loveable hiker Theo were interesting if also a little underdeveloped. I haven’t unlocked the games true ending, which requires quite a bit of grinding, but I wouldn’t expect even the ending to make up for the games sloppy handling of what is admittedly a hard concept to nail down, let alone in a platformer.

In summation, Celeste is a spectacular platformer that is well worth any Switch owners time. Hell it’s worth any gamer’s time, as its available on a bunch of platforms. I wish it was a bit more in depth in regards to the narrative, but it’s mechanics are rock solid and addictive, and it’s art style and soundtrack really set the bar incredibly high for whatever Matt Makes Games decide to do next. I cant wait to see what they do next.

 

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Waterfield Designs Gaming Cases – Nintendo Switch and PlayStation Vita

I love gaming accessories, I really do. And for me one of the most crucial accessories a portable gamer can have is a carrying case, to keep those precious devices safe from any mishap that life might throw at you. But there are just so many to choose from, and we as gamer’s have different needs and expectations of a carrying case. There are the heavy duty, almost military supply cases that seem like they might be a little bit overkill. On the other end of the spectrum we have the more light weight cloth cases that seem like they aren’t doing enough. Then of course we have branded cases, like the awesome Breath of the Wild Shiekah Slate case.

But recently I came across a little company based out of San Francisco that go by the name of Waterfield Designs. They make bags, awesome backpacks and even wallets. And they also make GAMING CASES, and they might just be some of the highest quality gaming accessories I’ve ever had the pleasure to own. What sets them apart, aside from the high quality of their make, is that they are stylish. They look cool, which is of course hugely important. They feel adult, like I’m not embarrassed to take them out in public. And while they are a little pricey, I truly feel like these cases are a long term investment I have made that to me seems extremely worthwhile.

Lets take a look at them, shall we?

 

 Nintendo Switch CitySlicker Case

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Material:
– Full-grain cowhide leather flap
– Ballistic nylon body
– Rear power mesh pocket
– Soft liner

Weight & Dimensions:
Switch CitySlicker: 10.5″ Length x “1.5” Width x 5″ Height; 7.5 oz.

Hardware:
-Optional 1″ Heavy Duty Shoulder Strap extends to 54″
-Optional 3/8″ Leather Shoulder Strap made from full-grain leather
-Optional 3/8″ Leather Wrist Loop made from full-grain leather
-Optional Aluminum Carabiner
-Optional Brass Nickel-plated Carabiner
– YKK locking zippers

Features:

  • Protects the Switch Joy-Cons from nicks and bumps
  • Optional attachments for carrying at an additional fee: carabiner, strap, or wrist loop
  • Includes a Microsuede lining for cleaning the screen when inserted in the case
  • Pocket for screen cleaner
  • Can be inserted into bigger bags or backpacks

The Switch case is actually what brought me to Waterfield, after doing a bunch of Google sleuthing. This thing is beautiful, you can really feel the quality and it even smells great. It starts out at $79 USD, which is pretty steep, especially as I am Australian and had to pay a bunch extra to get it half way around the world.

 

 

PlayStation Vita CitySlicker Case

PS Vita Case

 

Material:
– Full-grain cowhide leather flap
– Ballistic nylon body
– Rear power mesh pocket
– Soft liner

Weight & Dimensions:
PS Vita: 8″ x 4″ x 1″; 4 oz.

Hardware:
– YKK locking zippers

Features:

  • Assorted leather flap colors
  • Rear power mesh pocket for larger items including charger

Couldn’t leave my trusty old sidekick naked while his brother got a fancy new house, could I? The Vita case is awesome too, although you can tell that this  case is an older design, its buttons need some slight pressure applied to them to seal the case, where as the Switch’s are magnetic and lock into place by themselves. At $59 USD its a little cheaper, and fantastic value IMO.

Important to note, I’m not affiliated with WF, just a very satisfied customer. Take care of your portables people, look after them and they will look after you!

K.

Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment Review

Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment is the latest expansion to the fantastic retro platformer – Shovel Knight. Much more than just a rehash of the base game, Specter of Torment stands on its own thanks to its twitchy new move-set and badass boss encounters. It is standalone, and can be played independently of the original campaign, and is provided for free by the wonderful folks over at Yacht Club Games.

Specter of Torment doesn’t reinvent the Shovel Knight wheel, and that’s a good thing. At first glance you might think that its more along the lines of Yacht Club’s first expansion, Plague of Shadows, which I personally bounced off of. Its not, and that’s largely because Specter of Torment features eight brand new levels, as opposed to Plague of Shadow’s remixed stages from the base game.

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But the real draw here is the protagonist of Specter of Torment, the enigmatic Specter Knight himself. In the original Shovel of Hope campaign, Spectre Knight was my favourite boss encounter, and its a real treat to play as him here. His move set is completely unique, and it makes navigating through these surprisingly difficult stages a delight. This is a hardcore platformer, and a major part of that is due to one of Specter Knights most important new techniques, the Dash Slash. Requiring precision timing, the Dash Slash manoeuvre is initiated in mid-air, and cause’s Specter Knight to fly through the air in a vicious diagonal arc, damaging enemies and allowing the player access to normally out of reach areas. It’s simple enough to begin with and is fun and fluid to use, but some of the later level’s demand a mastery of this technique that was surprising. I was constantly impressed with the way Specter of Torment kept this mechanic fresh and innovative throughout the 3-4 hours it took me to complete the campaign.

The music and art style are much the same as in the original, with the 8-bit tunes getting some remixes. Both are of fantastic quality, which isn’t really surprising considering the love and attention Yacht Club has evidently poured into the base game. The Shovel Knight games really are a love-letter to a genre of games they are almost single-handedly responsible for reinvigorating. The story line was nice enough, told through flashback sequences interspersed between the regular levels. Its a little bit darker than the original’s narrative, and actually sets up the events of the main game, but it isn’t quite as memorable. Shovel Knight and Shield Knights tale was surprisingly heartwarming, and while Specter of Torment tells a serviceable tale, it really isn’t the main draw here.

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Spectre Knight also receives a full complement of new abilities, or curios as they are known. There is a decent variety here, from various projectiles to the ability to fly and even summon a skeleton ally. Personally I found the healing ability to be essential, and maybe even a little overpowered, as I barely found the need to use the more offensive powers. Red skulls are scattered throughout the game that allow the purchase of these abilities, and collecting them all can be really challenging, and some are fiendishly well hidden. This all adds to the games replayability, along with a much appreciated new game plus mode.

Specter of Torment is a super fun way to experience the already awesome Shovel Knight universe. If you haven’t played the original, you really should do that first, as its the contrast with the original that makes Specter of Torment feel truly unique. And if you do own the original, then you really have no excuse not to jump back in here. The series trademark humour and heart are on full display, and here’s hoping it continues with the upcoming King Knight expansion!

K.

 

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Review

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is an absolute spectacle, in the best possible sense of the word. Truly a touchstone amongst gamers of all ages, many of us grew up with fond memories of earlier titles in the franchise. But this latest, and best, iteration of the series has it all with a truly monumental selection of characters and tracks that offers extremely impressive replay value. 

Even if you didn’t grow up as a Nintendo kid, there is just so much to recommend here. Visually, everything just pops right off the Switch screen, with a vibrancy and colour pallet that is never too distracting, but is certainly eye catching. And as you boost and drift your way around courses full of exploding turtle shells and rogue bananas, Mario Kart never drops below it’s 60fps, and handles like a dream.

In docked mode the game renders in full 1080p resolution, but for me personally handheld mode is where this game is at it’s best. And while you take a hit to resolution (720p in handheld mode), Nintendo didn’t sacrifice frame rate for portability. This is where the potential and longevity of the game really is, at least for me. I purchased the game digitally, and will never delete it from my Switch, simply for the ability to play a couple of rounds ANYWHERE. And if you happen to be able to connect to a WiFi network, say at your house or a local cafe, this stops being a game and becomes a platform.

Lets be honest here. The AI controlled bots you will spend your time racing against offline in single player are certainly competent, and are great to mess around with. But playing Mario Kart with friends or other players online is by now a time-honoured institution, something I take deadly seriously. There is nothing quite like wiping that smug grin off your best friends face with a well timed blue shell, or the feeling of dominating international players as a brightly coloured Shy Guy. Local co op is easy to use and feels great too, you and a friend can even play online together. I haven’t played with more than two players locally yet, but that requires your switch to be in docked mode.

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Don’t be the guy that has to play as Link. Nobody likes that guy.

I suppose I should address the elephant in the room, even if it personally doesn’t affect me. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a re-release, a game of the year edition if you will. It was originally released for the Wii U, and is virtually the same game aside from a bunch of new characters and a revamped Battle Mode (more on that later). If you already own the game than there really isn’t a whole lot new here to draw you back in, except for the aforementioned portability. For me personally, I’m choosing to treat this like its a brand new game, because for me it is. I never owned a Wii U, and this is my first time playing Mario Kart 8. I can certainly see why some might be hesitant to essentially buy this game twice, and that’s your prerogative. But if you missed out on MK8D the first time, or like me you skipped the Wii U, this is undoubtedly the definitive version, and alongside Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an essential part of any Switch owners collection.

Now, on to some of those extras. Personally, I prefer Grand Prix to Battle Mode, but the inclusion of several new modes such as Shine Thief, Renegade Roundup and Bob-omb Blast certainly doesn’t detract from that, and is a welcome change when you want to mix things up. The inclusion of these modes only adds to MK8D’s replayability, and I’m all for that. We also have new characters such as Link and the Inklings, which are nice. In what I can only describe as a master-stroke of marketing, though, Nintendo has also included some awesome Amiibo skins for your Mii character (with the purchase of the corresponding Amiibo, of course). I’ve never really been interested in Amiibo, until now that is. I play exclusively as my Mii, and I want all of them. ALL of them.

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I suppose my only real gripe with MK8D is the fact that everything is unlocked from the get go. This might seem like the most entitled, pedantic complaint ever, but here we are. I think this was Nintendo’s attempt at extending a virtual olive branch of sorts to those who had already bought Mario Kart on the Wii U, but it seems misguided. There is a sense of achievement to unlocking new courses and characters as you progress, and I would be willing to bet money that more people play MK8D on the Switch over it’s lifespan than ever did on the Wii U. Still, its a minor issue, and at least there are kart and bike upgrades to unlock. 

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is fantastic, and really showcases what Nintendo’s first party is capable of. Its gorgeous, plays like a dream and is very nearly infinitely replayable. Coupled with the ease of use of the Switch, this is a game that is just as perfect for a long flight or car trip as it is for a night in with friends. And while it’s a slightly harder sell for people that purchased the Wii U version, this is a must have title for anyone that owns a Switch.

K.

The Age-Old Question of What to Play Next

So I’m in something of a funk right now.  Currently I am in Asia, relaxing with my girlfriend. It’s been beautiful, I have no commitments and all the time in the world to play some god-damn video games….

But I cant decide what to play. It’s aggravating me beyond all reason, I’ll fire something up, and stare at the title screen for a couple of minutes. And that’s as far as it gets. I feel like the short-sighted guy in that old Twilight Zone episode.

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I have with me the following gaming-enabled devices:

  • 1x PlayStation Vita (Black, 1000 Series.) My faithful steed. Tried and true, packed full of games that have seen me through countless hours. Never leave home without it
  • 1x Nintendo Switch (Grey, because why would you not.) A new friend, stylish and slick. While there currently arent a lot of interesting games for the system, its fast on its way to winning my heart.
  • 1x Asus Republic of Gamers GL502VM gaming laptop, a beefy little machine that is used almost exclusively to play strategy games from the Total War series.

I suppose I’m hoping that by writing this post, inspiration will strike me and I can make some headway on my backlog. Keep in my mind, if I was home, with my PS4, this would not be a problem. Persona 5 would be destroying my life, it would be my everything. I’d also like to see what Mass Effect: Andromeda is really like, even with the recent facial animation hullabaloo and surrounding controversy. And last but certainly not least, Dark Souls 3 has quietly been putting out quality DLC, and I think I’m ready to revisit Lothric. But I’m on holiday for another month yet, so that will have to wait. In the meantime, our options are:

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Total War: Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai

Ok, so I’m a HUGE history dork, and the Total War series has always scratched that itch/fulfilled my fantasies of commanding thousands of soldiers locked in glorious combat from the comfort of my own home. And while I own every title in the series, Shogun 2 as a whole has always been something very special. I have a frankly embarrassing amount of hours logged in this game, and even joined the modding community for a brief stint, in one of the nerdiest periods of my life. Its the era, and Creative Assembly’s flawless vision for this game that keeps me coming back. Sure, the AI can make some careless mistakes, and it can be somewhat anachronistic, but this might be the perfect game for me.

But specifically, its the standalone Fall of the Samurai DLC that is calling to me lately. Ever since seeing Tom Cruise’s magnum opus, The Last Samurai, in my youth, this period of history has fascinated me (The Boshin War, leading up to the Meiji Restoration). The samurai tradition of Bushido, with all its millennia old legacy of honour and uniquely Japanese style, smashes headlong into the West’s industrial revolution, and its modern ways of war. There is just something so iconic, and tragic, about samurai with katana drawn, bravely charging into massed rifle and cannon fire. It’s the old against the new, East meets West. Its inevitable, bloody, and glorious. And its a fantastic video game.

And with all those hours I’ve sunk into this title, I’ve never completed a FotS campaign. I’ve been thinking about firing up a Satsuma campaign, and going for the Republic victory condition, where instead of fighting for the Shogun or the Emperor, you attempt to create your own government. Of course, this means all the other factions on the map turn against you, and is certainly not for the faint of heart. Still, that challenge might be just what I need.

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 The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Sweet, sweet Zelda, you have been so good to me. These past few weeks I’ve dumped nearly 70 hours into this incredible game. Like many folks out there, it was the reason I bought a Nintendo Switch. Really, what more needs to be said about this game? I had originally intended to review this game myself, but in the end I’m glad I didn’t. This was a pure, perfect gameplay experience that I don’t think I will ever forget. While I’m sure BotW will be remembered as a modern classic, it couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I was just finishing up at my last job, I had been there for a couple of years, and was finding it hard to put in a lot of effort. You know how it is, when you know you will be quitting shortly, you kind of start to phone it in. But coming home, putting on my headphones, and just getting lost in Hyrule, really got me through it.

But, after all that time, after defeating Ganon, freeing four Divine Beasts, 60 or so shrines and God knows how many Korok seeds, I still have the urge to go back. Maybe just for the shrines, or maybe just to roam around the fields on one of my many mounts (named after notable figures from the 1800’s), and enjoy that beautiful world. Part of me knows that I shouldn’t, though, as there is DLC coming, and a hard mode that is very intriguing to me. That will mean an inevitable second playthrough, so I really should just wait. And its not like Napoleon is going anywhere, right?

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Persona 4: Golden

And finally we come to my dirty secret. I have played through Persona 4 before (and at around 100 hours logged, I feel like I know it back to front), but I got the bad ending, and that has never sat well with me. Add that to the fact that I only need a couple more trophies for the platinum (even if one of them is Hardcore Risette Fan, fml) and the knowledge that once I get home its going to be P5 all day, every day, it feels like it’s now or never. Plus, its always hard to go back to older games like this after playing the newest iterations. I mean, I love P3, but P4 is just SO much more playable…

But its a commitment, you know? I love the grind, but this is a LONG game. Still, its been a couple of years, and I have nothing but time. Its probably worth it for the soundtrack alone, and of course, Dojima. I fucking love Dojima. Its not often that I feel like I really owe it to a game to see it thorough, like, to completion, 100%. Persona 4 is one of those games. If you have never played through it you really should, its something special.

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Well that’s where I’m at, a virtual crossroads of sorts. The beauty is, I can fire up all of these games at once, create a filthy den of gaming on the couch. Grind out Social Links in Persona in between Total War turns, while listening to Princess Zelda’s terrible voice acting like some kind of animal.

How about you guys, ever feel that gaming malaise? Or, do you have any suggestions for me? I’m open to ideas. Let me know below, and thanks for reading 🙂

K.