Review round-up: Doom, Skyrim, LA Noire, Rime, Kirby Battle Royale

It’s been longer than usual since my last review round-up so here’s a special bumper edition, packed to the chops with mini-reviews.

This week:

• Get your ass to Mars in Doom on Switch
• Take an arrow in the baws in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on Switch
• Speakeasy or forever hold your peace in LA Noire on Switch
• Getting outfoxed in Rime
• Bowing to the altar of the eternal loading screen in Moon Hunters
• Kicking it old-school in Lumo
• Point-and-click quirkiness in Violett
• Getting cheap but surprisingly non-nasty in Knight Terrors
• Speeding away from mobile roots in Gear Club Unlimited
• Having a good feline about Cat Quest
• Talking fascism and abortion (seriously) in Wheels Of Aurelia
• Passing GO with reckless abandon in Monopoly on Switch
• Smacking the hell out of a bunch of fighting bollocks in Kirby Battle Royale

As usual, each review (except for the last, due to a lack of capture equipment) is accompanied by a First Play video, in which I captured the first 15-30 minutes of each game as I played it for the first time.

This way you can see how I reacted to it at first, and then how the game eventually panned out in the review.


Doom

Bethesda / iD Software / Panic Button
Switch, Xbox One, PS4, PC (Switch version reviewed)

What is it? – A Switch port of last year’s Doom reboot, in which you rid Mars of a demonic invasion.

Is it any good? – The Switch is already home to a number of ports, but very few of these have been big-budget, current gen titles that were originally designed to run on more powerful hardware (aka Xbox One and PS4).

Doom is strong evidence that such games can indeed be ported to the system, as long as enough resources are put into scaling it down as needed.

Let’s make no bones about it: the Switch version of Doom clearly looks inferior to its older siblings. It runs at 30fps instead of 60 and the lower native resolution means there’s a sort of blur over the whole screen that can be initially distracting.

These are the sacrifices required to ensure it still plays a good game of Doom though, and in that respect it completely delivers. It’s a (literal) blast fighting your way through hordes of demons, blowing them to bits and performing gory executions on them.

The Switch version also benefits from the addition of an arcade mode, which unlocks all the stages, weapons and abilities and tasks you with completing a stage in the most stylish way possible to secure a place on the online leaderboard.

If the Switch is the only current-gen system you own, Doom is a no-brainer for anyone into R-rated action games. If you own a PS4 or Xbox One, it comes down to how often you use your Switch as a handheld device. Doom on the move is great and well worth it, but if you use your TV more then you should get it on Sony or Microsoft’s system instead.

But do at least get it on something.


The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Bethesda
Switch, Xbox One, PS4, PC, Xbox 360, PS3 (Switch version reviewed)

What is it? – A Switch port of one of the most popular open-world action RPGs ever made, in which players roam the province of Skyrim, talking to villagers with arrows in their knees and the like.

Is it any good? – While Doom is Bethesda’s attempt at showing just what the Switch is capable of, Skyrim is perhaps a better fit for the system.

It certainly handles the game with far less effort, offering a cracking port of Skyrim that sits somewhere in between the original Xbox 360 / PS3 versions and the recent Xbox One / PS4 remasters.

While it’s lacking some of the hi-res textures and lighting effects (not to mention the 4K support) of the other current-gen versions, it’s still more detailed and runs a lot smoother than the original 2011 releases.

That may not seem like great shakes given that we’re talking about a six-year-old game here, but the novelty of having an open-world this size running at a near-flawless 30fps on a handheld is still fantastic.

With that in mind, if you have other consoles, Skyrim is a much easier sell on Switch than Doom is. Even if you have a PS4 or Xbox One, there aren’t enough sacrifices in quality in the Switch version to negate the obvious extra selling point of being able to continue your epic quest on the move.

It may look a bit dated these days – especially on a system where the vast majority of players own Breath Of The Wild – but Skyrim still has the potential to take hundreds of hours from you.


LA Noire

Rockstar Games / Team Bondi / Virtuos
Switch, Xbox One, PS4, PC, Xbox 360, PS3 (Switch version reviewed)

What is it? – Yet another Switch port, this time of Rockstar’s cult 2011 detective game set in 1940s Los Angeles. It marks Rockstar’s first Nintendo game in eight years.

Is it any good? – LA Noire wasn’t without its problems when it first launched six years ago but I still had a great time with it, and I did the same playing it again on Switch.

It’s refreshing to play as a ‘hero’ who’s deeply flawed to the extent that you’re constantly struggling to figure out just how much of a good guy he actually is.

Driving around a period setting is constantly fascinating, and the incredible facial animations – which still look creepily uncanny to this day – make it look unlike any other game.

As with Skyrim, the Switch version of LA Noire looks better than the original Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, offering a higher rendering resolution and more detailed textures in some areas.

It also fixes some of the quibbles from the first releases, most notably the interrogation scenes’ “Truth, Doubt and Lie” options being replaced with more sensible “Good Cop, Bad Cop and Accuse”. It still isn’t a perfect system, but it’s better at least.

LA Noire is well worth a look if you didn’t play it the first time around. Like Skyrim, the Switch version isn’t so significantly visually inferior to the PS4 and Xbox One versions that you’d be buying a greatly inferior product if you opted for that: as ever, the ability to play on the move is one to bear in mind.


Rime

Grey Box / Tequila Works
Switch, Xbox One, PS4, PC (Switch version reviewed)

What is it? – An open-world puzzle adventure game. You play as a young lad who ends up on a large desert island. Accompanied by a magical fox, you have to figure out the secret of the island.

Is it any good? – I desperately want to recommend Rime more than I currently can.

When everything works like it’s supposed to, it looks absolutely gorgeous. The young boy is brilliantly animated and the island environment is intricately detailed with loads of wee nooks and crannies.

The puzzles are also quite well handled: despite the game having no written instructions it isn’t too difficult through exploration to figure out where you’re supposed to go next.

However, the game runs like complete anus on the Switch (and other systems, by all accounts), to the extent that – as you can see in my First Play video above – the frame rate gets so choppy that it starts to resemble a slideshow at times.

This can have a serious impact on the timing of jumps, and coupled with a camera that sometimes swings too far around you, it means controlling the hero can be a frustrating experience through no fault of your own.

There’s a great game in Rime that’s dying to get out, but a myriad of flaws mean you’re never too far from another immersion-shattering glitch or freeze.


Moon Hunters

KITFOX GAMES
Switch, Xbox One, PS4, STEAM (Switch version reviewed)

What is it? – A procedurally-generated action RPG in which up to four players set off to try and find out why the moon hasn’t risen.

Is it any good? – Moon Hunters is a roguelike game with an interesting gimmick: it can be beaten in around an hour.

The point is that, rather than taking part in one epic story, you instead play a series of mini adventures that take place over the course of three days.

Each has you picking a different hero at the start of the game, and then follows the same basic plot: an evil Sun Cult king who vows that in a just a few days’ time he’ll boot your arse.

While each playthrough is short, each gives you a series of moral decisions that ultimately decide your character’s legend and fate. The choices you make unlock different conversations later and the like.

Combat is passable, the music is great, it’s visually fine: chances are you’ve seen numerous retro-inspired roguelikes this before, albeit maybe not with this particular gimmick.

What lets Moon Hunters down, though, is that while it’s perfectly entertaining to play in short bursts, its loading times – sometimes as long as two minutes, as illustrated in my First Play video above – completely ruin the experience at times.


Lumo

RISING STAR GAMES / TRIPLE EH? LTD
Switch, Xbox One, PS4, Vita, PC (Switch version reviewed)

What is it? – A port of an isometric puzzle game released last year. Players must make their way through a maze of 400 or so rooms, solving puzzles in order to escape from a computerised world.

Is it any good? – I played through the PS4 version of Lumo when it was released last year and was more than happy to play through it again on Switch.

It’s a brilliant love letter to the days of early isometric puzzlers on the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64. Anyone familiar with the likes of Head Over Heels, Knight Lore and Alien 8 will instantly see where Lumo’s coming from.

For those for whom ‘80s gaming was perhaps a little before their time, there’s still a lot to enjoy here. Its viewpoint aside, what we have here is a sort of puzzle version of a Metroidvania game, in which you gain new abilities to gain access to previously unreachable areas.

It’s got cracking music, a load of subtle nods to the home computer days and has enough head-scratchers to keep you thinking without necessarily completely stumping you.


Violett

Forever Entertainment
Switch, PC, iOS, Android (Switch version reviewed)

What is it? – A point-and-click adventure about a little girl called Violett, who travels through a hole in her bedroom well and finds herself in a fantasy world.

Is it any good? – I’m a sucker for a good point-and-click, but Violett is only an average one. Which means I’m not a complete sucker for it. I’ll suck a wee bit of it. Hang on, let’s stop that analogy.

Each of Violett’s environments is beautifully designed: there are some brilliant abstract ideas floating around here and it’s safe to say there were some truly creative minds involved in making this game’s world. The character designs are less impressive, in my opinion.

What makes or breaks a point-and-click game is its puzzles, though, and they’re perhaps a bit too convoluted in Violett to be truly satisfying.

As you’ll see in my First Play video, sometimes it’s ‘clear’ what you have to do but the mechanic will be so hit-and-miss that you’ll think you’re doing the wrong thing and start trying something else, even though you were right.

There’s also a hint system which outright spells out what you have to do as a last resort, and while it’s undoubtedly useful it really shouldn’t have to be used as many times as I did.

Violett’s landscapes are a true work of art, but they’re the setting for a series of point-and-click puzzles that are too abstract to make the game a must-have.


Knight Terrors

Nicalis, FreakZone Games
Switch, STEAM (Switch version reviewed)

What is it? – The current cheapest game on the Switch. It’s an endless runner starring a knight who has to run, jump and fly as he slashes his way through enemies.

Is it any good? – My granny used to have a saying: “If you buy cheap, you get cheap”. She passed away roughly two decades ago, so it’s perhaps just as well she didn’t get to see Knight Terrors disprove her theory.

At a mere £2.69 / $2.99, it’s the cheapest Switch game at the time of writing (free demos aside, obviously), and yet I’ve been having an absolute blast with it.

It’s essentially a retro-style endless runner that plays like a less frustrating version of Flappy Bird if it had combat elements thrown into it.

Even better, when you reach certain score milestones you unlock new variations and power-ups that change the way the game’s played: never enough to make you feel like you’re playing something completely different, but enough to make it worth mixing things up from time to time.

If you’ve got a couple of quid lying around in your eShop account, you could do a hell of a lot worse than chucking it at Knight Terrors. As you’ll see in my video above, it’s got that elusive one-more-go factor that’ll have you playing it for longer than games twenty times its price.


Gear Club Unlimited

Microids / Eden Games
Nintendo Switch

What is it? – A Switch port of a critically acclaimed free-to-play mobile racing game. Promises to be the first ‘serious’ racer on the Switch.

Is it any good? – First things first, let’s ditch the ‘serious racing game’ promise Gear Club Unlimited claimed it would deliver on.

This is not ‘serious’ in the same way Forza Motorsport, Gran Turismo and Drive Club are: it feels more like an arcade racer than those.

To be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. There’s still a competent racer here, even if the handling takes some getting used to (and that’s after you turn off all the default steering and braking assists).

Its main issue is that, while the Unlimited moniker makes it clear that there’s none of the microtransaction nonsense here that you’d expect from its free-to-play ancestor, much of that game’s mobile structure is still hanging around like a fart in a lift.

There’s an awkward and fiddly garage section in which you have to ‘build’ each workshop as you level up, then drag your car around them on a map screen to upgrade, tune, paint and customise it.

This is something that could have been offered in a much more practical way with a standard menu screen, but it’s clear that its Theme Hospital style layout was designed with mobile timers in mind, and while these are no longer present it still results in unnecessary faff.

This also extends to the races themselves, which were obviously designed for five-minute mobile bursts and so are often far shorter than I’d like. For much of the game, just as you’re getting into each race you’ll find yourself on the final lap.

I like Gear Club Unlimited, but it’s carried over slightly too much of its mobile heritage to the Switch version. While it’s commendable that its microtransactions and timers are gone, its awkward menus and short races mean it still hasn’t entirely killed off what it used to be.


Cat Quest

The Gentlebros
Switch, Steam, iOS, Android (Switch version reviewed)

What is it? – Another port of a mobile game. This time it’s an action RPG in which a cat tries to rescue his sister from the evil Drakoth.

Is it any good? – Cat Quest’s website claims it combines “the overworld of Final Fantasy, the combat and exploration of Zelda and the open world of Skyrim all in one cat package”.

That’s a ball of hyperbole so big that if it was made of wool it’d keep a house full of kittens busy for weeks. But hey, nothing wrong with shooting high.

In fairness, I’m just being a dick: while Cat Quest clearly doesn’t hit the level of Square Enix, Nintendo or Bethesda’s offerings, it’s still a charming little action RPG I had a fun time with.

The dialogue is well-written (though there are perhaps too many cat puns for my liking), the characters and environments are beautifully drawn and the music is fantastic.

Combat is fine too, though after a few hours you’ll find the constant combination of magic, standard attacks and rolling out of the way eventually gets a wee bit repetitive.

Still, considering it only takes five hours or so to beat, it doesn’t overstay its welcome too much and as the credits roll you’ll be happy with the charming adventure you’ve just had.


Wheels Of Aurelia

MixedBag / Santa Ragione
Switch, Xbox One, PS4, PC, iOS (Switch version reviewed)

What is it? – A visual novel set in 1970s Italy, played out through a minimalist driving game.

Is it any good? – It takes a little while to figure out what Wheels Of Aurelia is actually supposed to be.

While at first glance you’d think it was a racing game, the actual action of driving your car is only really important in a handful of occasions (most notably winning races, picking up hitchhikers and deciding which route to take).

Instead, this is a visual novel in which your character Lella has a series of conversations with friends and strangers.

The dialogue you choose for Lella during these conversations affect the route the game takes, and while playing through the game takes only 20 minutes, there are actually 16 different endings depending on the actions you take.

It’s a very interesting game that deals with some deep topics – the likes of abortion and facism are discussed in certain story branches – and I appreciate the developer’s effort at trying something different.

At £8.99 / $9.99 it may be a tiny bit too steep for what it offers, so if you aren’t convinced or don’t like the idea of playing through a 20-minute game a number of times, you may want to wait for a price drop in the future.


Monopoly

Ubisoft / Engine Software
Switch, Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3 (Switch version reviewed)

What is it? – Well… I mean, it’s Monopoly. On the Switch. Actually, to be clear, it’s a port of Monopoly Plus, which launched in 2014.

Is it any good? – It would be easy to just say “it’s Monopoly” and let you decide for yourself whether that’s something you want on your Switch, but there are a few things to consider.

Firstly, playing the game on your own – something some would argue is against the point, granted – can be an infuriating affair as it takes your AI opponents an absolute age to roll the dice thanks to an unskippable “time to play” screen that appears before every turn.

Playing with friends is better, but not without its issues: a fully customisable set of rules would have been nice but instead you’re given a series of unique ‘house rules’ and can only choose one.

Want to make it so that rolling two ones gets you £1000, and that while you’re in jail you can’t collect rent? Tough, you can only have one or the other.

These aside, it plays a fairly decent game of Monopoly. The real question for fans of the board game will be whether you think £29.99 / $39.99 is a fair price for the Switch version, given that it’s only £11.99 on Xbox One and PS4 (and that’s when it isn’t in a sale, which it currently is).


Kirby Battle Royale

Nintendo / HAL Laboratory
Nintendo 3DS

What is it? – A four-player fighting game comprising of ten different mini-games and a single-player story mode (of sorts).

Is it any good? – Kirby Battle Royale was released on the 3DS in Europe with very little fanfare (it isn’t even out in the US or Japan yet), and to be fair it’s understandable why.

While there are ten different mini-games on offer here, they’re all variations on the same top-down four-player arena battle mechanic, one that works well enough.

Kirby is fun to control and there’s a decent range of abilities you can apply, adding some variety to the battle system.

The single-player story mode, The Cake Royale, is well-written and has some charm to it, but it only takes a few hours to beat and serves a little more than an elaborate tutorial for each of the mini-games, preparing you for the main event that is the local and online multiplayer.

I say “online”, but connecting to a match is a bit of a nightmare just now, presumably due to poor sales and the fact it’s only currently available in Europe. When you do get into a match, it’s fun enough but nothing revolutionary.

It does offer local multiplayer for up to four players with the option to do so via Download Play (in other words, you only need one copy of the game), and that’s where Kirby Battle Royale’s real strength lies. If playing with three other friends is something you can see happening regularly, you might want to consider it because it can be great fun.

Otherwise, the variations on arena battling here only capture your attention for so long before the whole thing starts feeling flat. Unless you regularly play as a quartet, this is sadly not one of Kirby’s finest offerings.


In order that I could write the above reviews, I received copies of the above games from their respective PRs. The content of my reviews and the opinions therein were in no way positively influenced by this.

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