Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD Review

Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz

2019 saw its fair share of retro game remakes. We got Final Fantasy VII, Spyro Reignited Edition, and Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled. They all aim to bring back that classic, purer gaming experience we all once enjoyed. Unfortunately, in the midst of all this there was a remaster that got somewhat overshadowed. The world forgot about Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD.

Originally released in 2006, Banana Blitz is widely considered to be a classic of the Nintendo Wii’s early library. Unfortunately, it was held back somewhat by the Wii’s hardware limitations and never got its true chance to shine. Almost fourteen years later and SEGA have finally ported their cult classic to PC, packaged as a shiny remaster. So how well has Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz stood the test of time?

Super Monkey Ball HD’s Reworked Content

As you would expect from any half-decent remaster, Banana Blitz HD has reworked much of the game’s existing content. Specifically, the core levels have been reworked to be more difficult to complete. This isn’t too surprising since the original Banana Blitz was dumbed down to accommodate for the Wii’s awkward motion controls. Let’s remember this was a launch title and many developers still had no idea how to use the technology properly. SEGA has also chosen to cut 80% of the 50 original minigames in order to improve the quality of the ten left in.

Super Monkey Ball HD’s Reworked Content

Both of these ideas are good in principle, but the execution is lackluster. Whilst I have no problem with the minigame cutback, since most of the original fifty were not very good anyway, the ten they’ve kept aren’t all that inspired either. Hurdle Race and Snowboard will have you falling asleep half-way through whilst Banana Blitz’s rendition of Monkey Target is completely void of any personality. I thought Space Monkey Attack and Dangerous Route were both okay but the other eight all heavily lack in something or another. They play more like a tech demo than an actual game.

As for the difficulty rework, it’s both a success and a failure. To their credit, some of the later stages are far more challenging, especially from World 7 onward. The problem is that everything before then is just too easy. Banana Blitz transforms from a casual platformer to a fast-paced, challenging physics game in mere seconds. The difficulty spikes out of nowhere which can be a little jarring.

Controls and Camera

Certainly, the transition away from motion controls has helped Banana Blitz HD a bunch. Gone is the painful flailing off your Wii mote, replaced by traditional dual analog controls. Well, mostly anyway. For some reason, SEGA has opted to not let players use the right analog stick for camera adjustments. This made sense in the original due to hardware limitations but feels like a considerable oversight in today’s age.

Controls and Camera

And oh my, does the gameplay suffer from it. Controlling the monkeys themselves isn’t hard but knowing where you’re going definitely is. Some levels involve technical navigation across thin platforms, but you can’t adjust the camera to see where you are. If these platforms are directly behind you or at a 90-degree angle, you just have to hope you guess right. I’d say easily at least half of my deaths were thanks to the automatic camera.


Despite its gameplay shortcomings, Banana Blitz HD still has plenty to offer. For one, its visually a really nice-looking game. You might think the 2006 art style would be dated but surprisingly not. It holds up nicely, is very colorful, and its generally just easy on the eyes. It’s a damn shame about the camera given how clean-cut the graphics themselves are.


The new theme song “NA In Love,” is a charming and cute addition to the title screen. Having a vocalized song in a Super Monkey Ball game feels odd at first but I found myself quickly growing fond. It’s a very catchy tune that captures the wholesome fun that Banana Blitz is all about.

Other than the main theme, I found both “Smooth Sherbet,” and “Cobalt Caverns,” the standout stage songs. Fun fact, when you play as Sonic, Banana Blitz HD’s new hidden character, there’s a remix of the Sonic Rush ending theme as well as the Sonic Mania character selection theme.

Aesthetic audio.

As for the voice acting, it’s as cute as it is annoying. Sure, all of the characters are very adorable and hearing them cheer “Yahoo!” in celebration is fun and all. But after you’ve heard the five hundredth “Yahoo,” you’ll really want it to stop. Keep in mind that every time you jump, go near an edge, finish a level, or go fast, your monkey pal will have something to say.

Final Verdict About Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz

Is Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD any good? Sort of. It’s a competent remake of a classic which mostly suffers from the same flaws as the original. SEGA has tidied up the visuals and tweaked the stages, but the core gameplay is practically identical. This might be what some people want from their remasters, but not me.

I think this was a great opportunity to bring Banana Blitz in line with its superior predecessors. However, by failing to do so SEGA has simply reminded fans how much more they’d like a Monkey Ball 1 and 2 remake instead. Still, even with its flaws Banana Blitz HD could be a decent pick up at 50% off in the future.

Could Cloud Streaming One Day Kill Off Dedicated Consoles?

The theoretic of cloud streaming’s potential is very exciting. Imagine an age where you could boot up a brand-new Battlefield game through your phone with hyper-realistic graphics and zero input delay. Furthermore, you would no longer need to buy pricy consoles as you could just hook up your phone to a monitor or TV.

It seems inevitable that cloud streaming will one day be the go-to method of gaming. However, what’s harder to tell is when we can expect this. Before we consider that, I think it’s important to understand where this idea originates. What was the first real attempt at Cloud gaming?

Cloud Streaming’s Early Years 

Cloud Streaming’s Early Years“OnLive is cloud gaming, but what is cloud gaming?” Anyone who explored YouTube during 2014 has likely heard this advert at some point. OnLive was a cloud streaming provider way before it was even a niche idea in the industry. The idea was that by purchasing an OnLIve membership, you could play high-end AAA games without the need for expensive hardware.

Instead, it would be your internet that got tested. Assuming you had fast enough internet to stream 1080p, 60 FPS games, anyone of your smart devices could play pretty much any PC game. Obviously, back then 4K wasn’t exactly the goal for most games. It was a legitimately brilliant idea. But it didn’t work. OnLive was discontinued in 2015 due to a lack of interest. They sold their patents to Sony and gave up on the idea of cloud streaming altogether.

Make no mistake, OnLive was on the right track. They were just ahead of their time. OnLive had some difficult bandwidth requirements for 2014’s standards but today a similar service could certainly function in some capacity. I’m not the only one who thinks that either. For instance, Google Stadia is basically the same concept with a few practicality tweaks here and there.

When Can We Expect Practical Cloud Gaming?

When Can We Expect Practical Cloud GamingIf one thing’s clear, it’s that major video game heads are not concerned about Stadia for the time being. Recently, Nintendo president Shuntaro Furukawa claimed it will be at least “10 years from now,” before cloud streaming will be relevant. In other words, both current gen and next-gen consoles have nothing to worry about. But is he right about this?

Japanese publisher Square Enix would certainly disagree. Their president, Yosuke Matsuda, has promised his studio will soon develop “gaming experiences only possible in the cloud.” It’s difficult to know exactly what he means by that, but it could refer to futuristic visuals.

Many developers down tone their games’ visual fidelity to be playable on various platforms. Even on PC, it’s rare developers will release titles will full access to their engine’s capabilities. An example of when this did happen is Project CARS 2 which could run at 12k resolutions with VR support. Of course, there aren’t many commercial monitors or GPUs that can display 12k at a good FPS, but it was left in to futureproof the game.

With cloud streaming its possible players could run games at ridiculous resolutions assuming their internet holds up. Those physical hardware constraints become less of an issue. If players only need to buy a high-res screen, the price of gaming drops in the long run.

So, when should you expect cloud streaming to catch on? As a niche, core gaming product, it’s already available. Major companies like Google and Amazon are already on board trying to sell you on it. However, internet constraints worldwide still hold back its potential. Given the rapid growth of internet speeds, I’d say the mid-late 2020s is a good guess on when cloud streaming will become mainstream. Until then, we’ll just have to wait patiently.

EA’s Most Slept-On Studio Is Getting An Epic Rebranding


When you think of EA, a lot of studios likely come to mind. From Bioware to Respawn, Electronic Arts are stacked when it comes to developer talent. However, it’s one of their smaller studios that deserves far more credit than it gets. Fortunately, Respawn Entertainment’s CEO, Vince Zampella, is giving them the chance to shine.

DICE LA is a smaller segment of DICE that has primarily acted as a support team for DICE Stockholm, the developers of Battlefield. Generally speaking, whilst the Stockholm team work on new titles, it’s DICE LA’s job to clean up their older games. A great example of their work was on Battlefield 4 which went from a buggy mess to a timeless FPS classic.

Back in 2015, legendary YouTube content creator Totalbiscuit awarded DICE LA his Developer of the Year award. Clearly, when such an acclaimed critic appreciates your work, something is being done right. Given the obvious success of their smaller projects, I had hoped DICE LA would get the green light from EA to do something bigger.

EA Has Finally Given the Thumbs Up

EA Has Finally Given the Thumbs UpIt was announced today that Zampella will take over DICE LA ahead of their plans of rebranding. Why rebrand? Because DICE LA is finally becoming a stand-alone developer that EA plans to put into action going forward. Long story short, in the next few years they should finally be able to release their first individual game.

Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, EA’s Chief Studios Officer, Laura Miele, is clearly excited about what the future holds:

“I think under Vince’s leadership the expectation is to have them work on and create a game on their own. (With this) They can go from a support team to a full stand-alone studio to create a new game offering.”

moh VRIn many ways, this rebrand makes a lot of sense. Respawn Entertainment is currently working on resurrecting EA’s Medal of Honor series after its unfortunate demise after Warfighter’s failure. Many of Danger Close Games’ staff, the former developers of Medal of Honor, moved on to work for DICE LA. Even if the upcoming Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond is still Respawn’s project, DICE LA could certainly play a part given their experience.

We don’t know for sure what the future holds for DICE LA, but the prospect of them developing their own game is exciting. Even though there are obvious risks involved, I have high hopes they’ll deliver a great game that can convince EA to give them another shot. The end of Danger Close Games didn’t sit right with me. Before, Electronic Arts didn’t give them a fair try. Hopefully this time things will work out for the better.

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What Made Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Such a Strong Entry?

A couple of days ago @charlieINTEL tweeted out asking fans what their favorite Call of Duty of the decade was. What was supposed to be a friendly tweet to encourage some community interaction ended up fueling the nostalgia train. It turns out fans are very fond of Black Ops 2, the 2012 iteration of Activision’s hit FPS. So much so that Black Ops 2 managed to trend worldwide.

So that got me thinking. It’s clear that Black Ops 2 is a beloved game. I myself would rank it as either the second or third best Call of Duty ever made. But why is that? What made Call of Duty Black Ops 2 so awesome?

Black Ops 2’s Rewarding Grind

Black Ops 2’s Rewarding GrindGrinding in video games can either make or break your experience. As someone who grew up with RuneScape, arguably the king of grind, I can get behind a well-designed grind. But what makes for a good grind? In my head, it comes down to three factors.

Firstly, It has to be rewarding relative to the time taken to complete. Secondly, it either has to not require much focus or not be overly repetitive. Not many players tend to enjoy a repetitive, long, and high effort grind. Finally, you need to be able to show off your achievement.

Black Ops 2 ticks off all three of these criteria with ease. Challenges are based on a unique set of requirements dependent on gun type. For example, shotguns and snipers required one shot kills whilst assault rifles required headshots. After you’ve completed so many you get access to the harder challenges. These were unique for each gun, but some examples include getting five kill streaks, getting double kills, and getting kills with no perks equipped.

These challenges weren’t repetitive as they differed greatly from gun to gun. Also, Call of Duty’s gameplay is inherently random and unpredictable. Depending on the map, your teammates, and your enemies a game can play out very differently. Last but not least, you can damn well bet you could show off your achievement.

Diamond guns were top tier cosmetics. Some players feel many of the exclusive camos throughout the years have been lackluster. For instance, Modern Warfare’s Damascus camo often finds itself under fire for just this. However, this wasn’t the case for diamond. Everyone thought diamond guns looked amazing. They provided a real reason to grind, so you could show off your efforts to the world.

Every Gun Was Viable

Every Gun Was ViableGun balance in Call of Duty is an interesting topic. Many of Call of Duty’s earlier titles often failed to balance weapons at all. Just think of the laser M16A4 from CoD 4 or the akimbo Model 1887’s from Modern Warfare 2. Equally, there have been some really bad weapons throughout the years. Consider Advanced Warfare’s EPM3 or the Uzi from Black Ops 1.

Fortunately, Black Ops 2 did a great job of neither having overly strong or weak weapons. Sure, the MP11, MSMC, and LSAT were all very good but not unbeatable. Other options such as the Remington shotgun, FAL, M8A1, and AN-94 were all extremely competitive choices. Even more niche weapons such as the Type 25, PDW, and MTAR had a defined purpose.

Check out any Black Ops 2 pro game from back in the day. It doesn’t matter what you choose. Now, look at the guns used throughout the various rounds. In this MLG Anaheim VoD I’m using I’ve seen the M8A1, MK-48, DSR, MSMC, MP7, and AN-94 on just the first map played. For comparison, any Advanced Warfare game would just be filled with ASM1s and BALs. Truly, it’s seriously impressive that so many guns were viable even at the highest level of play.

Create a Class: Pick Ten System

Create a Class: Pick Ten SystemThe Pick Ten System was introduced as a means of replacing CoD’s traditional class layout. Rather than just picking one thing in each slot, players could now choose to allocate their ten points however they wanted.

For example, they could spend several points kitting out their primary at the cost of either a secondary weapon or perks. Alternatively, they could go all in with six perks but only have a limited primary weapon at their disposal. Anyone who has played a newer Call of Duty, not you Modern Warfare, should be familiar with this system.

Well, it was Black Ops 2 that introduced this superior class layout. No longer were players tied to a limited selection based on what the developers wanted them to use. Above all, they could now pick almost any combination of options and create a class truly unique to them.


black ops 2 scorestrewaksSpeaking of things Modern Warfare ditched for no reason, scorestreaks were also a product of Treyarch’s innovation. Debuting in Black Ops 2, scorestreaks aimed to reward objective focused playstyles with various streaks. The idea was to encourage players to capture, defend, plant, and defuse objectives to earn powerful scorestreaks.

As we’ve seen with Modern Warfare, removing these makes everything campier. This is because if kills are the only measure of success, players aren’t going to run out and risk dying. Similarly, if you place a reward on playing the objective, players are obviously going to be more eager to do so.

Not only that, but Black Ops 2 also did a fantastic job of making the gameplay feel fast but not too fast. Personally, I love Advanced Warfare, but I know many felt it was just too much. Especially on console where fast, reactive aiming can be difficult. But this doesn’t mean a slower game like Ghosts or Modern Warfare is ideal either. There has to be a sweet spot somewhere in the middle.

I think Treyarch did a great job of promoting faster playstyles whilst maintaining that core Call of Duty feel. Certainly, newer games have failed to manage both of these simultaneously. They’re either too fast and don’t feel like Call of Duty or so slow that boring, low skill playstyles are overly rewarded.

Well that’s my thoughts on Black Ops 2. In brief, it’s great game that clearly gets the credit It deserves. What did you think of Black Ops 2? Do you agree that it’s a top-tier Call of Duty or were there too many flaws you couldn’t ignore? Be sure to let us know in the comments.

Battle Royale Map Viewable in Modern Warfare Thanks To Spectator Mode Glitch

It’s no secret that Modern Warfare is getting its own battle royale mode soon. With aims of building on Black Ops 4’s, Infinity Ward are expected to release MW’s battle royale early next year. However, thanks to a spectator mode oversight, you can see a portion of the Battle Royale Map right now.

How To View the Battle Royale Map

First of all, load up your copy of Modern Warfare and jump into a custom game. From here you need to set the map to Vacant. The game mode doesn’t necessarily matter but I chose Domination as it has no time limit. You want the most time possible to explore.

Once you’ve got the map and game mode selected, head over to ‘GAME RULES’. The last step is to click the ‘TEAM’ tab and enable free spectating. Now start the match.

Finally, simply pick a class and then immediately swap your team to spectator. Congratulations, the world is now yours to explore. Thanks to that free spectating we enabled, you can now roam around and look at various parts of what will be the battle royale map.

Notable Landmarks

Unsurprisingly, the battle royale map primarily consists of various ground war maps put together. For example, the surrounding area of Vacant is based on Port of Verdansk. Equally, you can clearly see a section of Krovnik Farmland below:

farmland in Battle Royale Map

Just for clarity, you’re not going mad. Yes, these areas are rendered at insanely low resolutions. On Vacant, they look ugly, but this is to be expected. It’s strange they feature at all given how small Vacant is. Needless to say, Infinity Ward did not feel the need to render these areas and risk hurting performance on Vacant itself.

Once again, this next area seems to be Tavorsk Distract although there are some stand out new landmarks. Most notably, a large stadium has been added in place of Tavork’s mighty skyscrapers.


stadiumThose familiar with Gunfight should know all too well about Gulag. It turns out the Gulag map is likely just a tiny section of a far larger arena. This Gulag section of the battle royale map will be used to revive fallen players, similar to Apex Legends.

gulag in Battle Royale Map

gulag alt in Battle Royale MapOne area I couldn’t account for is this strange, small town north-west of Vacant. It doesn’t seem to match up with any existing Ground War maps within Modern Warfare. Perhaps this could hint at a future map coming to the game?

small townI recommend you give it a try and take a look for yourself. I’ve only shown of a handful of interesting spots, there’s plenty more to explore. Also, be sure to let us know in the comments if you’re excited for Modern Warfare’s battle royale.

The 5 Mario Games That Got Badly Underappreciated

Mario Games

Mario is one of the biggest video game franchises ever created. In fact, the entire franchise has accumulated a staggering 675 million-unit sales. That’s over 300 million more than Pokemon and almost 400 million more than Call of Duty. However, not every game in the Mario series has gone down well. Several decent titles in the series ended up underappreciated and lost in history. It’s time to go back and give them the credit they deserve. We have listed 5 Mario Games that were underappreciated.

Super Paper Mario

Super Paper MarioSuper Paper Mario is a classic 2D platformer with a twist. You have the ability to flip the camera from a 2D view to a 3D view, yet the levels themselves remain 2D by design. This allows the player to come up with some creative answers to bypass areas that otherwise seem impassable.

Whilst it sits at a very fair 85 on Metacritic, many fans were not so pleased with it. Rather than an attack on the game itself, they didn’t like its affiliation with Paper Mario. Old school Paper Mario was supposed to be a turn-based RPG. Moving away from that formula was brave but still widely criticized by many. Super Paper Mario’s case probably wasn’t helped by being the direct successor to The Thousand-Year Door. You know, one of the best turn-based RPGs ever made.

Over the years I think many have come to appreciate Super Paper Mario. It has a very unique story that even sees Bowser teaming up with Mario’s crew. Like classic Mario platformers, you can choose to play as several characters and they all have various special abilities. The best part is that a regular playthrough can easily take in excess of 25 hours to complete. A solid amount of content to couple with its innovative platforming fun.

Mario Strikers Charged

Mario Strikers ChargedIt was only just doing some research on this game I realized I’ve known it by a different name for years. Apparently, only in Europe was it called Mario Strikers Charged Football. In North America they just dropped the football bit entirely. I get that it may have been confusing with the NFL and all but calling it Charged Soccer couldn’t have hurt, right? Either way, I guess North America wasn’t their primary audience for this game.

As the European name would suggest, Mario Strikers was Nintendo’s attempt at creating a football game. Mario has been golfing, played tennis, and now was his time to give the world’s biggest sport a crack. Like many Mario sports games, it suffered from its mediocre single player. However, it did have something not exactly typical of a Nintendo multiplayer experience.

It’s net code was sensational. Especially for 2007 Nintendo Wii’s standards. What this meant was that Strikers Charged Football had a weirdly strong competitive scene. Nothing like modern eSports of course, but you could get a legitimate tournament going if you looked in the right places.

Unfortunately, Nintendo hasn’t shown Strikers much love over the past decade. It did find its way onto the Wii U Virtual Console but never got an actual Wii U game. Similarly, we have yet to see a Switch entry either. It’s difficult to see this changing anytime soon.

Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time

Mario & Luigi: Partners in TimeLow-key, the Mario & Luigi games are some of the best in the entire franchise. Despite this, their recent sales have been pitiful. Did you know that the Bowser’s Inside Story remake on 3DS only sold 9,500 units in Japan in its first week? Its failure likely caused developers AlphaDream to file for bankruptcy just 10 months later.

Regardless, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad series. In fact, that very game that failed in itself was still a pretty good title. It’s just that Nintendo released it on a dead console and didn’t market it. Seriously, who is going to buy a 3DS game in 2019?

The pinnacle of the series for me was Partners in Time. Released in 2005 on the Nintendo DS, Partners in Time is the prequel/sequel to Superstar Saga. As the name would suggest, you travel back and through time to see the events that happen both before and after Superstar Saga.

It was a wacky game that focused on aliens and time travel. Most that have played it will agree it was something special. Another brilliant addition to Mario’s vast RPG collection for sure. But not many have played it since Nintendo, once again, didn’t market it properly and it was overshadowed by other more mainstream games. After all, this was the year of God of War, Shadow of the Colossus, and, perhaps worst of all, Animal Crossing: Wild World.

When put in the face of an Animal Crossing game, no one cared in the slightest for Partners in Time. It’s a tragedy, really. If there’s one game on this list I encourage you to give a try, its this one. It deserved so much better.

Super Mario Bros. 2

Super Mario Bros. 2Coming in as the oldest entry on the list, Super Mario Bros. 2 originally released in 1988 for the NES. However, it wasn’t actually a Mario game at all. The real Super Mario Bros. 2 was very similar to that of the original. Effectively, it was just a slightly harder version of the same game. Nintendo decided that the recently crashed American market wouldn’t buy into such a similar and difficult product.

Their plan then was to reskin another Japanese platformer called Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic. They slapped on some generic Mario visuals and sold Doki Doki Panic as Super Mario Bros. 2 in the western market.

When gamers later found out they had been robbed of the real version, they weren’t happy. Everyone could tell Mario Bros. 2 in the west didn’t quite feel like a Mario game. Despite all this, I’d argue it’s a far better game than people give it credit for.

The gameplay and platforming as a whole are both incredibly polished. Also, despite being a reskin, it did still feature several characters all with unique abilities. For example, Luigi jumps higher than the others, Princess Peach glides with her Parasol, and Toad can move quicker. Having unique playable characters back in 1988 is a bigger deal than it might sound.

Nintendo must have realized it had some potential since Super Mario Bros. 2 was later remastered on the SNES. Equally, the Japanese version was released as The Lost Levels in the west in 1993.

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic GamesUnlike the other four entries on this list, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games is not overly slept on. It tends to sell well and has functioned well as a fun party game across several Nintendo platforms. Instead, it’s here because I think a lot of people don’t realize how good it actually is.

Mario & Sonic is not just a good family game, it’s a great sports game. Over the years it has declined, likely due to AlphaDream’s financial issues, but the early titles were fantastic. They took a wildly abstract idea and pulled it off in the face of doubt.

Who would ever have expected to see these age-old video game rivals competing not over sales, but to win a 100m sprint? These games also use the Nintendo console’s various signature traits better than most other exclusives. From motion controls to the Wii U’s tablet, they’re all integrated one way or another.

Given AlphaDream’s closure, I’m not sure what to expect from this series going forward. If I had to guess, SEGA will probably take over again and assign one of their teams to the job. Perhaps Sumo Digital could be a good candidate given their excellent work on Sonic Racing.

The Game Awards 2019: Stand Out Category Winners

Game Awards 2019

Game Awards 2019

In case you missed it, the Game Awards 2019 took place in Los Angeles yesterday. As usual, there were plenty of awkward moments but that’s not what we’re going to focus on. Today, I’m going to go over the award winners that stood out to me. I’m not going to cover every award as there are over thirty different categories. Gamespot has a full livestream of the event on YouTube if you’re interested.

Best Art Direction

Best Art Direction as Game Awards 2019Best Art Direction is my favorite category every year. It celebrates the unique designs of video games rather than obsessing over realism and AAA culture. Year after year, we see the unsung indie heroes getting the credit they deserve in this category. This year was no different.

505 Games’ Control ended up winning the award. It shouldn’t be taken as too much of a surprise given how well it was received at launch. Control does a better job of making you feel like you wield psychic powers better than any other game I’ve played. The visuals play a big part in that. Control’s impressive digital FX gives items a feel of real velocity as they’re violently propelled towards enemies. Not to forget how epic both the explosions and the psychedelic aura surrounding Jesse’s powers look.

Personally, I would have liked to have seen Sayonara Wild Hearts win. Whilst limited in scope and relatively short, from a visual point I find it stands out from the other nominees. Mind you, I’m a sucker for bright colors so perhaps that’s why it appeals so much to me. Either way, a justified win for Control.

Best Audio Design

modern warfare season 1 as Best Audio DesignBy far the most controversial winner of The Game Awards, Call of Duty Modern Warfare managed to snag Best Audio Design. For those that have played the multiplayer, this was a strange choice. The footsteps in that game are heavily criticized for encouraging slower, less exciting play styles. If you run around too much, enemies will hear you coming from a mile away. It might suit a tactical shooter like Rainbow Six Siege but feels out of place in a casual shooter like Call of Duty.

I suspect the nomination was more focused on its surprisingly good single-player story. I’d consider Modern Warfare 2019’s single-player to be the best CoD campaign we’ve had in years. Equally, you can’t overlook how good the guns and various equipment sound in this year’s version. When a grenade goes off near you, it’s hard not to notice. For the first time in Call of Duty’s history, guns feel weighty. The brilliant sound design plays a large part in that.

There’s an argument for Modern Warfare but in my mind, Resident Evil 2 should have had this in the bag. As one of the best survival horror games we’ve ever seen, the audio design is most of the experience. You can’t have a world class horror game without world class audio design. Resident Evil 2 creates an unmatched feel of atmosphere.

Best VR/AR Game

beat saber as Best VR/AR GameUsually, The Game Awards’ best VR game is a pretty dead category. That’s because hardly any developers actually make good VR games. However, this year saw a winner more deserving than any other at the awards. Beat Saber developed by Beat Games.

Beat Saber is the standout VR game for anyone considering the investment. Not only is it the best VR game on the market, but it’s also arguably the best rhythm game currently available altogether. It’s one of the only VR games that manages to successfully implement both the arm movement and peripheral aspects of virtual reality. Even more, it happens to do the whole Wii exercise whilst playing games thing better than Nintendo ever did. Seriously, it can get pretty tiring on higher difficulties.

About the only other game worth considering is Tetris Effect. Technically, it released in November of last year, but the PC port only came out last July. Honestly, it’s just Tetris with more atmosphere and some gorgeous visuals. At the end of the day though, Tetris is Tetris. It was brilliant in 1984 and it’s still brilliant thirty-five years later.

Fresh Indie Game

disco elysium as Fresh Indie GameThis is The Game Awards tribute to the best debut indie game of the year. You can consider this to be the home of independent creativity and passion. Many iconic games that survive the test of time end up winning this category. In 2017, Cuphead swept away the competition thanks to its fantastically tight, yet challenging mechanics. In 2018, The Messenger won by showing just how good the Metroidvania genre can get. This year, it’s Disco Elysium’s turn to celebrate.

Disco Elysium is a narratively driven open world RPG. It pays tribute to both traditional tabletop RPGs as well as Infinity Engine’s RPGs of the 1990s. The most impressive aspect of Disco Elysium is how it doesn’t get distracted trying to deliver an action focused experience. Instead, it sticks to its roots and all gameplay is focused on skill checks and dialogue choices. This won’t appeal to everyone but there’s no doubt that those that fall within its target audience will have a great time. PCGamesN says it best: “An utterly original RPG that sets new genre standards for exploration and conversation systems.

There are way too many worthy mentions to cover here so I’ll just cover my big three. Untitled Goose Game was certainly the biggest cultural and most charming hit of 2019. Nomada Studio’s Gris managed to make every frame look wallpaper worthy whilst still delivering a quality platforming experience. Finally, Zachtronics’ Eliza reminded us of just how good visual novels can be when they are directed just right.

Game of the Year

sekiro as Game of the Year  in Game Awards 2019It has to be said, I’ve disagreed with the majority of The Game Awards’ Game of the Years. I think Crosscode was robbed in 2018 and Persona 5 slept on in 2017. Heck, Crosscode didn’t even get nominated for Best Indie Debut Game. Come on, are you guys serious? It’s the only 10/10 I’ve given in my writing career.

Anyway, I didn’t go into 2019 expecting much better. Frankly, I thought either The Outer Worlds or Control would walk it. That’s why it’s nice to see Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice take a somewhat surprising win. Obviously, it’s an incredible game but it’s not the sort of game to usually get mainstream award recognition. Certainly, Dark Souls never got this kind of appreciation from major award ceremonies.

Either way, I’m happy to see a deserving winner for once. Unlike the past five years’ worth of winners, I can smile knowing that FromSoftware took a well-deserved gold medal at The Game Awards 2019. After all, it was the standout action game of the year.

What do you guys think? Let us know in the comments if you disagree with any of the winners of Game Awards 2019. Can you think of any games that got completely left out despite deserving better? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Gambling Mechanics and The Modern AAA Publishers’ Thirst For Profit

gambling mechanics

Do you remember cheat codes? From gaming’s youngest years well up to the late 2000s, cheat codes were an essential for most games. And then one day, they just died out. Seemingly overnight something happened that changed the approach of most publishers. They realized they could charge for something that was previously free.

The commercial success of loot boxes and modern gambling mechanics in video games has reshaped the fundamentals of game development. The priority for many publishers is no longer just to ship as many $60 games as possible. Instead, they now see an opportunity to keep charging the same customer over and over.

At first, it seems a tad selfish, but it could be considered fair game. They’re just a company trying to maximize profits, right? The problem is how they choose to go about it. These modern AAA publishers exploit gambling mechanics popularized in casinos to trick players into paying up.

Gambling’s Near Miss Fallacy

Gambling’s Near Miss FallacyThe most important aspect of keeping a player hooked is cognitive manipulation. Under no circumstances does a casino want you to realize you aren’t going to win. Obviously, when that fact sinks in the spending naturally stops. But how are they going to convince someone to carry on when the odds are so stacked against the player in the first place. This is where R. L. Reid’s near-miss theory comes into play.

A near miss never suggests a player has lost. Instead, it is a special kind of failure where the player perceives themselves as almost winning. The outcome is the same as a loss, yet a player’s cognition will view it as being closer to a win. Casinos implement this strategy in several ways. For example, have you ever noticed that slot machines regularly land on two out of the three matched symbols? That’s no accident.

Modern video games are just as guilty of this practice. Games like DOTA 2 and CS: GO use scrolling visuals that showcase everything the player can win. By design, many of the common drops are placed next to rarer, more expensive items. With CS: GO, when a player opens a crate they see an indicator showing what they’ve won. If a player sees this indicator very narrowly miss out on that special knife worth $500, they’re likely to think they just missed out.

This is not the case. All loot boxes are scripted algorithms that determine what you win before any visuals are shown. The visual indicator means nothing. It is solely there to promote a near miss gambling mentality. By tricking less informed players into thinking they got close to a big drop, publishers know they are more likely to keep spending.

Loot Boxes Are Designed To Be Exciting

Kluivert in gambling mechanicsCasinos are exciting. That much is obvious. They use bright lights, flashing strobes, and loud noises to trigger all kinds of natural human reactions. When in a prime gambling mindset, the average person turns into an adrenaline-fueled junkie. They’re practically breathing endorphins.

Loot boxes implement the exact same design strategy. Many loot boxes feature overly dramatic opening sequences with flashing lights based on the rarity of received items. FIFA may be the most controversial example of this. FIFA’s packs have players go through a stadium tunnel. If they receive a bad card, they will only travel partially through it. There will also be very few lights or audio to accompany the reward. But what happens if you land something very valuable?

Firstly, you go through a huge, shiny door followed by the raining down of bright sparkling light. Next, the side of the tunnel lights up and the player’s home nation comes up in the center of the screen. You continue to move through the tunnel and see the player’s position as you approach the end. This position indicator has two bright lights illuminating it. As you leave the tunnel you see the player’s team and then, at last, their card. For so-called “Walkouts,” the player will run onto the pitch covered by confetti and begin dancing to a firework filled background.

This obnoxious design is there to excite players. If this was purely a gameplay decision, there would be no harm. However, it’s being implemented to get you hyped about the idea of buying more loot boxes. FIFA may be the most extreme example of this glorification of gambling, but most AAA games are guilty of it.

Removing that Feeling of Investment

COD POINTSCasinos do not use real money. Not directly, anyway. Instead, customers trade in real cash for chips or casino tokens. There are a couple of practical reasons for this. Chips are generally easier to count than actual cash. Also, chips are designed to be weighable to quickly calculate their monetary value on the go. However, these are more so convenient side effects of their actual purpose.

Mark D. Griffiths’ study on the use of chips states: “Participants gambled significantly more with chips than with real cash. It’s a simple concept that works scarily well. Remove the obvious value of real cash and replace it with abstract pieces of metal. By doing so, players don’t realize how much is actually at stake. We are trained throughout our lives to understand the value of cash, but casino tokens don’t come as naturally to us.

Many video games use this strategy for their own gains. To be fair, some games allow players to purchase content upfront, for cash. Popular mainstream titles like Overwatch allow players to purchase loot boxes with real money. However, it is far more common for publishers to lock them behind in-game currency. This currency is buyable for real money but has no inherent value. It is simply a means to unlock loot boxes.

A lot of games do this. Apex Legends, NBA 2K20, Call of Duty, Fortnite, Battlefront 2, and FIFA, just to name a few. By offering meaningless digital currency, it removes the victim’s ability to link spending with loot boxes. What is 4000 FIFA Points even worth? What does that mean to the average person? Publishers are relying on this abstract value to take advantage of gambling prone individuals.

Things Are Somewhat Improving

Apex Legends Battlepass in gambling mechanics2019 has seen a general decline in loot boxes.  Many publishers are realizing that the overwhelmingly negative PR that comes with them may not be worth it long-term. In their place, we’ve seen the rise of the battle pass. Battle passes are not guilt-free and still trigger some gambling linked behaviors, but they’re a far more pro-consumer approach. Instead of relying on RNG, you pay upfront and get rewards based primarily on playtime and skill.

It’s difficult to tell where the future of video game monetization lies. Today I’ve only discussed how key gambling mechanics are used to exploit gamers. Remember that mobile inspired microtransactions also exist and, arguably, can be even worse since they often directly affect the game’s progression model. Hopefully, recent developments and governments getting involved will prevent, or at least deter, publishers from persisting this any further. If not, I fear the future of gaming could be pretty bleak.

What do you think about gambling mechanics in the games industry? Has it gone too far or are publishers justified in trying to make more money? Have you or someone you know been affected by gambling mechanics in games? We’d love to know so be sure to drop your thoughts in the comments below.

New Fairy Tail RPG Could Be the Definitive Anime Video Game

Fairy Tail

Fairy Tail

Anime video games aren’t very good. I say that as a huge anime fan who has played just about any you could name. Most of them are generic fighting games, either 2D or 3D. Occasionally there’s a Dynasty Warriors rip off hack and slash game that gets totally outclassed by any serious competition. So, when I heard about the upcoming Fairy Tail RPG being a very different kind of game, it really caught my attention.

Fairy Tail 2020 is an upcoming turn-based RPG based on the hit magic anime and manga of the same name. It was originally announced back in September and KOEI Tecmo publishing it. Developer GUST Studios are best known for their work on Atelier and Ar Tonelico. In other words, they’re RPG specialists.

There’s Something Different About Fairy Tail

There’s Something Different About Fairy TailEvery anime game I have ever played has fallen prey to the same trap. They prioritize showing off their anime branding before being a good game. This is particularly true for the wide range of recycled anime fighters Bandai Namco has puked out. They’re not bad in their own right, but way too similar and lacking in personality. They’re functional but uninspired.

When I recently watched’s showcase of some gameplay, I couldn’t help but notice. There’s something different about Fairy Tail 2020 that other anime games don’t emulate. It looks like a regular JRPG. That is to say if you removed all the Fairy Tail licensing and replaced it with another fantasy overlay, it would still look a legitimate turn based JRPG.

This might not sound good at first but it’s actually a great thing. Early impressions seem to suggest Dust Studios has developed a solid RPG that happens to be a Fairy Tail game. This means that when we finally get our hands on it, we could be playing a potentially great game. Of course, I am judging this from a very limited sample of gameplay and trailers.

Anyone Could Enjoy It

LucyThis matters because it completely changes the mass appeal of the game. Most anime games are inherently niche. For example, I love the Neptunia series, but I would never recommend it to a friend. Why? It appeals to me on an artistic level but isn’t actually a good series of games. Many of the mainstream titles are flawed whilst the spin-offs are often just flat out bad.

This is an undesirable trait that many anime games possess. It’s difficult for the average player to get into a game when its solely focused on fan service and pleasing its dedicated yet niche audience. Take my word for it. I gave Jumpforce a go but decided it wasn’t for me well within an hour of play. The constant pandering and desperate need for collaboration between different series killed it. Well that and its laughable performance issues.

Fairy Tail 2020 has a serious opportunity to avoid this fate. I’m not saying to pretend it’s not a Fairy Tail game, but rather focus on delivering a quality JRPG firsthand. The way I see it, Fairy Tail fans are going to buy it anyway. It’s being released on PS4, Switch, and PC so for most people platform isn’t going to be an issue. The only barrier they have to overcome is convincing none-Fairy Tail fans to opt in.

Persona 5 has proven that when done right, modern turn-based RPGs still sell well. Players want an excuse to pick up a game where they can sink a hundred hours into New Game + and collecting everything in sight. Fairy Tail doesn’t even have to come close to Persona’s quality. Even approaching that would make this the best anime game of all time.

Let’s Hope They Don’t Let Me Down

kaguyaUnfortunately, I don’t have much to go on. I’ve probably seen less than an hour of unique gameplay and the trailer more or less just confirms it’s a Fairy Tail game. Fantastic. Given its March 2020 release, I’m expecting we’ll see a lot more in the near future. Maybe then we can revisit this and see I was being a little optimistic.

This might not be a good game. I don’t know, and I’m certainly not claiming this is an easy 10/10, game of the year candidate. But I have to say there’s a lot of signs that Dust is taking this seriously. The visuals are wonderfully stylized, its an open world game that encourages exploration, and all the core JRPG mechanics appear to be present. It even uses the native anime voice actors for every character.

Only time will tell if Fairy Tail 2020 manages to deliver. It could be a pleasant surprise for all or just another trashy anime game. If you want my opinion though, I’d say keep a close eye on this one. Come March time, the anime game to beat all anime games could see the light of day.

Top 5 Infinity Ward Maps That Modern Warfare Needs Most

Infinity Ward Maps

Just a few days ago, Infinity Ward announced Modern Warfare’s first seasonal content drop. With that announcement came a clear message to fans. They plan to bring back a range of classic Modern Warfare maps from years gone by. The already announced free additions of Vacant, Crash, and Shipment are nice, but there’s still plenty of options for later seasons. Here are my top five Infinity Ward maps that Modern Warfare needs most.

Call of Duty 4 – Crossfire

Call of Duty 4 – CrossfireContrary to many people’s thoughts, Call of Duty 4 didn’t have perfect maps. A lot of them were prone to spawn camping or overly easy flanking. However, it definitely still had some gems that Modern Warfare could benefit from. I think both Vacant and Crash were obvious choices but what’s next? In my opinion, Crossfire is a perfect fit.

One of Modern Warfare’s current problems is that maps aren’t well suited to multiple gun types. An open map like Piccadilly suits Rifles and Snipers whilst Hackney Yard heavily favours shotguns and SMGs. Many older Infinity Ward maps did a better job of accommodating multiple play styles and gun choices.

Crossfire is a great example of this. The open central lane is a powerhouse sightline for talented snipers. However, both edges of this narrow map give options for flankers to get behind the enemy team. Most buildings use multiple entry points making it difficult to camp them for extended periods of time. Not to forget that Crossfire’s bus is practically iconic at this point. You’d always find a pesky sniper or LMG user set up in there for some high-risk, high-reward plays.

Modern Warfare 3- Hardhat

Modern Warfare 3- Hardhat for Infinity Ward MapsFor me, Modern Warfare 3 is a pretty forgettable game. It played like a watered-down, inferior Modern Warfare 2. Despite this, it did still have a handful of notable maps that have survived the test of time. I initially considered Dome and Arkaden for this slot instead but eventually settled on Hardhat.

Hardhat is defined by its iconic map design encouraging fights for control over the center. This was Infinity Ward at their best. There are three primary entry routes including the legendary sniper’s tunnel. Players who fight hard to gain access to the middle are rewarded with great power positions. This meant strong sightlines coupled with the large quantity of nice cover, allowing good players to dominate.

Modern Warfare could benefit heavily from a map where the best positions are central rather than on the wings. Right now, many players camp the outer regions of maps in buildings with their claymores covering entrances. If you force players to fight over the middle of a map instead, gun mechanics and prediction become the defining factors of who gets to stay there.

Modern Warfare 2 – Highrise

Modern Warfare 2 – HighriseI put Hardhat on this list as I felt it was an underappreciated good fit. Highrise can be considered it’s opposite. Everyone loves Highrise. Frankly, rightly so too. This map was born in the prime age of when Infinity Ward developed to have fun. Rather than worrying about the competitive viability of a map, they designed it to be fun to play.

As the name would suggest, Highrise features some pretty impressive high ground options. You can scale the rooftops of one side of the map or climb the crane to hit some crazy trick shots. Highrise’s highlight feature was how many options it gave you. You could rush underground to try and catch the opposing team off guard. There were powerful lanes both right and left, both featuring varying levels to make engagements less predictable.

None of that is why I think Highrise would be a good fit for Modern Warfare though. Modern Warfare has a problem where many of its maps allow for teams to sit back and camp in spawn. This is because Infinity Ward insisted on making it newbie-friendly. Perhaps the worst offender for this is Piccadilly. There are too few methods to push the enemy team without being picked off. This is where Highrise steps in.

Thanks to the massive amount of options given to the player, it’s very difficult to camp in spawn. There are simply too many ways for them to create an angle on you. The best way to succeed on this map is aggressive, high paced gameplay. That’s the exact kind of encouragement

Call of Duty 4 – Pipeline

Call of Duty 4 – Pipeline for Infinity Ward MapsI’m not sure if Infinity Ward will add this many more Call of Duty 4 maps. If we assume Crossfire makes the cut, four maps from one game is probably enough already. In saying that, if they were to add a fifth I believe Pipeline would be a good candidate.

Pipeline is unusual by older Call of Duty game’s standards. Whilst technically still three-lane, it was far more focused on verticality and high ground control than any other map. I think in the past this was considered a negative but for Modern Warfare it’s a natural fit. Many existing maps such as Aniyah Palace, Tavorsk District, and Rammaza already opt for a similar, if not as extreme design.

Despite these similarities, Pipeline does something better than all of them. The high ground may have been strong, but it also left users vulnerable. Being too aggressive would result in an enemy picking you off from range. I feel Modern Warfare’s maps lack this potential of counter play. Currently, high ground control is way too strong. If someone sets up in a building with an M4, they can often feel unkillable.

If that’s not a big enough argument, consider how Pipeline has never had its chance to shine since its debut. Advanced Warfare featured a remake called Atlas Gorge, but it just didn’t work out. Unfortunately, that game’s insanely high pacing did not translate well to Pipeline’s long, punishing sightlines. Obviously, Modern Warfare’s far slower-paced gameplay would be a better

Modern Warfare 2 – Skidrow

Modern Warfare 2 – SkidrowLast but not least is Modern Warfare 2’s best multiplayer map. Rust is arguably Infinity Ward’s most iconic map ever, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. Sure, a tiny map like that will encourage more gunfights but we already have Shoot House and, the soon to be Shipment. Adding another tiny map seems unnecessary.

Skidrow’s best selling points happen to play the counterpart with Modern Warfare’s biggest flaw. This traditional three-lane map stands out from the crowd thanks to all the side rooms attached to each lane. It gets difficult to predict where enemies are going to be. Obviously, the downside to this is there are a fair few camping spots. However, consider that this also means it’s harder for campers to scout all possible flanking spots.

Honestly, how good a fit Skidrow is isn’t even my top priority. Instead, I just love the idea of bringing back a map with sightlines like this beauty. That central corridor is exactly the kind of thing Modern Warfare needs. It features both LMG and AR friendly long-range sightlines but also a plethora of flanking routes to cause problems. This is a great example of a map that was designed to make the community play smarter.

Right now, Modern Warfare is starved for this kind of map. Infinity Ward has effectively designed a game where slower-paced, low-skill playstyles are rewarded. By bringing back iconic, well-designed classics like Skidrow we might be able to shift back toward a faster-paced Call of Duty. At least that’s was I’m hoping for.

So, what do you think about these Infinity Ward Maps post? Please leave your comment in the comments box below.