PS Vita Game Review: Table Top Racing

Table Top Racing [PS Vita]

Table Top Racing 
System: PS Vita [reviewed], previously on iOS and Android
Genre: Arcade racing
Developer: Playrise Digital
Publisher: Ripstone
Price: $7.99
Release Date: August 5, 2014

The idea of bringing a free-to-play mobile game to the Playstation Vita is a risky one. Mobile ports have been done in the past with disastrous results — Dungeon Hunter Alliance and Asphalt Injection, to name a couple, were marked up considerably higher than their smartphone counterparts despite not bringing anything new to the table. Thankfully, that is not the case with Table Top Racing, the latest release from Ripstone.

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Video Game Review: Urban Trial Freestyle [PS Vita]

Urban Trial Freestyle [PS Vita]

Urban Trial Freestyle
System: PS Vita (also on PS3 and 3DS)
Genre: Platform/Racing
Publisher: Tate Multimedia
Developer: Tate Interactive
Price: $9.99 ($7.99 with PS+)
Release Date: February 19, 2013

When Urban Trial Freestyle was announced a few months ago, it was pretty clear that it was meant to be Sony’s answer to the Xbox-exclusive Trials series. The screenshots and later gameplay footage looked identical to Red Lynx’s popular downloadable games, and in case we weren’t sure, the word “Trial” was even included in its name. Now that it’s released, it’s official: Urban Trial Freestyle is essentially a poor man’s Trials HD/Evolution.

Urban Trial Freestyle [PS Vita]

The same core gameplay is in place — you take control of a nameless dude on a motorcycle, with the goal being to make it to the end of a course as fast as possible. There are 20 tracks in total, making for 40 levels since each is played twice. Aside from the standard “trials” where the clock keeps ticking even after you crash your bike, some levels throw in a handful of mini-games. These include hitting a jump as high as possible, riding fast through a speed zone, and aiming precisely for the target of a bullseye. The better you do, the more points you get.

These mini-games are noted in advance by large billboards that show the current record (either worldwide or your personal one, depending on your preference) as well as a picture of the record-holder. These billboards add a new dimension to the competitive nature of the game, as it’s fun to see just who exactly you’re up against. Since the game is still brand new, I was able to set records with relative ease in the later levels. If you see an orange cat, that’s me.

Urban Trial Freestyle [PS Vita]

In an interesting twist, each level also includes $5000 worth of money scattered around. Some money bags are near unmissable, but others require some backtracking and/or slick maneuvering to acquire. This in-game cash can be used to upgrade your bike (of which there is only one), or to customize your character (again, only one). Since it’s not hard to accrue cash, it’s possible to have your ride decked out pretty early.

And that’s pretty much it as far as gameplay differences go. The in-game physics are finely tuned, though the lack of analog gas/brake triggers doesn’t allow for the most precise of movement. Courses are generally well-designed, if mostly bland in appearance. The same could be said for the graphics and sound departments — perfectly acceptable, but not particularly memorable.

Urban Trial Freestyle [PS Vita]

Urban Trial Freestyle is not a bad game by any means, but it could have been so much more. The difficulty is marginal at best, and the campaign can be completed in just a few hours. It will take longer to go through and acquire five stars on every track, as well as gain all of the cash bags, but I suspect most won’t have the motivation to do so. This is in direct contrast to the Trials games, which featured some truly challenging (and well-made) tracks near the end, while also including an impressive array of community-created content. UTF could just really use *more* content.

Still, for $9.99 (or $7.99 with Playstation Plus), this isn’t a bad deal. The short levels (all of which last less than two minutes) are perfect for portable gaming, and overall this is a decent substitute for the Trials experience.

6.5/10

 
Note: Although this is also on PS3, this is not a cross-buy title. If you want to play both, it will cost roughly $25. The PS3 version is said to have improved graphics and more detailed levels.

Video Game Review: Dyad [PS3]

Dyad [PS3]

Dyad
System: Playstation 3 [PSN]
Genre: Racing, Puzzle, Shooter, Music
Publisher: ][
Developer: ][
Price: $14.99
Release Date: July 17, 2012

Every now and then a game comes around that defies classification. Such is the case with Dyad, an exciting new PSN downloadable title that blends together puzzle, racing, shooter and music elements while sprinkling a few drops of acid to the mix. For those infatuated with wild visuals and vibrant colors, this is pure psychedelic bliss.

It’s a bit difficult to actually describe Dyad, as it is one of those games that just needs to be played to understand. While perusing trailers and gameplay videos, I was more confused than anything. The flashing lights, frenetic racing and kaleidoscopic colors looked overwhelming, and I had no clue what was going on. From an outsider’s perspective, I suspect this is a common occurrence. However, as soon as I picked up the controller, everything just clicked.

Dyad has 27 levels, and the core gameplay has a similar theme throughout. Each stage takes place in a tunnel, and you control a squid-like character that can maneuver in the form of a circle. Various enemies and obstacles are presented off in the distance, and it is your job to manipulate these for your benefit as you frantically push forward. Each level has its own goal, and these help spice up the overall gameplay. Some early levels require “hooking” enemies together in order to boost speed, whereas others require the use of “lancing” in which foes are essentially consumed.

While the gameplay may sound confusing in text, the actual learning curve is quite simple. This is a textbook example of “easy to learn, difficult to master.” It’s possible to whip through the 27 levels in a matter of a couple hours, as all it takes to move onto the next is finishing a stage with a one star rating (out of a possible three). By getting the full three stars in a stage, a brand new challenge is unlocked in the form of trophy levels. In these, you are given a much more difficult goal to complete before time is up, with the reward being a trophy. In some of the later levels, it’s hard enough to get three stars, so completing many of these trophy levels can be an astonishing achievement in itself.

Since Dyad is a single player affair, any and all replay value comes in the form of beating these challenges while also trying to move up on the online leaderboards. Normally I don’t care about my online rankings, but I felt a tremendous sense of pride when I was able to finish a trophy level fast enough to be ranked sixth on the worldwide leaderboard. In that sense, it could easily get addictive to continually try to push your way to the top.

While the gameplay is impressively well-tuned, most people will be interested in Dyad because of its hallucinogenic properties. This is very much an audio/visual experience. While vivacious colors flash on screen, the game’s electronic music is perfectly synchronized with the action, creating something of a sensory overload. While screenshots give an idea of what the game looks like, the overall immersion from this is something that must be experienced. Many of the later levels move at breakneck speeds, creating a chaotic feel that certainly warrants the game’s preemptive epilepsy warning.

It is therein where Dyad’s biggest weakness can be found. Sometimes it can be difficult to keep up with the action on screen, especially as momentum builds faster and faster. There were a few instances where I resorted to button mashing until things slowed down a bit, and occasionally my character was moving so fast it was near impossible to play strategically. While a bit problematic for attempting to achieve high scores, these reckless segments are still thrilling, albeit not in the same manner as others.

Quite simply, I haven’t played anything like Dyad before. While it has throwbacks to other games such as Rez and Tempest, it is very much a fresh and unique experience. The frantic gameplay and polychromatic visuals aren’t for everyone, but for those willing to give it a chance, it won’t take much to get hooked. Dyad is one of the more intriguing titles to be released this year, and I am looking forward to seeing what designer Shawn McGrath comes up with next.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided for review.)

Video Game Review: Trials Evolution [XBLA]

Trials Evolution [XBLA]

Trials Evolution
System: Xbox Live Arcade
Genre: Platform, Racing
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: RedLynx
Release Date: April 18, 2012

Now THIS is how you make a sequel.

Trials Evolution takes everything that made its predecessor, Trials HD, so great but increases it tenfold. The same physics-based motorcycle platforming gameplay returns, but now it is sharper than ever with more refined controls and a larger variety in environments.

While Trials HD put you squarely in abandoned warehouses with little differences visually, Evolution gives you the great outdoors. The vast majority of the game’s levels take place outside, showing bright blue skies, vivid scenery and huge dirt hills (among other obstacles). The tracks are also much more spacious than before, as no longer do you feel contained to a single, tiny line. It’s quite the contrast from before, and the new environments really help give the game a brand new look. There are even levels where the camera rotates as you approach a twist in the track, something once unheard of. This doesn’t feel like a rehashed Trials HD; this feels like a brand new game.

Trials Evolution [XBLA]

A different campaign progression system is in place. This time around, tracks are unlocked after earning a certain amount of medals. Gold medals are worth three points, silver two, and bronze one. It takes 135 points to unlock the notoriously brutal ‘Extreme’ tracks, so perfecting some of the easier levels is a must. Technically, unlocking ‘Extreme’ is considered beating the game, but any Trials veteran knows this is hardly the case. This is a game that is infinitely replayable since there is always the ability to improve upon your race times, and also to attempt to beat your friends (or those on the leaderboard).

Brand new to Trials Evolution is the addition of a multiplayer mode. This adds even more replay value, as now you can race against others online, either visibly on the same track or against their “ghost” forms. Matchmaking is still a little rough at spots, but it is a blast when you get a good group of people playing. Just a heads up, though: there are A LOT of great players online, enough to potentially make you feel bad about your skills (even if you are really good as well).

Trials Evolution [XBLA]

Another killer improvement is the revamped user creation system. The level editor is loaded with features, and the sky is pretty much the limit when it comes to what you can do. Perhaps most welcome is the addition of a more useful sharing system. Now you don’t have to send created tracks from peer-to-peer — they can be downloaded via a main portal instead. It’s easier than ever to find/share new content.

The bottom line is that Trials Evolution is an improvement in every sense of the word, and it is one of the best sequels I have ever played. Fans of the original absolutely must play this, and anyone interested in racing, platforming and/or physics puzzlers should give this a shot. Don’t let the dirtbikes and godawful rap metal music throw you off — this is a very well-made game that is more than worth its $15 price tag.

9/10

 
 
For those curious about just how awesome the user community is for Trials Evolution, check out this amazing fanmade track with a kickass music theme:

Video Game Review: Rock of Ages [XBLA, 2011]

Rock of Ages [XBLA, 2011]

Rock of Ages
System: Xbox 360
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: ACE Team
Release Date: August 31, 2011

Take a little bit Marble Madness, throw in some tower defense gameplay and add a quirky sense of humor, and you have Rock of Ages, one of the more unique titles to come out this year.

In the game, you control a giant boulder with your goal being to race through a course and then smash through your enemy’s gateway at the end. Your opponent’s goal is the same. The catch here is that both you and your adversary also have the ability to build up defense mechanisms to slow each other down and/or destroy the boulder itself.

Rock of Ages [XBLA, 2011]

At the beginning of a match, you are given a decent amount of cash to spend on defensive units that range from catapults to towers to cattle/elephants. You can earn more money by obliterating your opponent’s buildings while you are racing through the course. It is important to do all of this as fast as possible since your enemy is doing the exact same thing on their end. The idea is to load up on defense in a way that will make it difficult for your opponent to get through. This is easier said than done.

In fact, most of the time these strategic placements do little more than create a small nuisance for each boulder. It takes some real maneuvering (or just plain luck) to trip up your opponent on most courses, so ultimately these contests become more like full-on races against the clock than anything. Still, it’s fun to throw a bunch of diversions at the enemy while hoping they slip up now and again.

Rock of Ages [XBLA, 2011]

The game’s single player campaign has a little over 20 missions with a few boss battles included to spice things up. There is enough variety in course themes and design to keep things fresh throughout. I loved nearly all of the courses, and there was a good blend of challenging platform areas and fun levels designed to allow the boulders to maneuver at a fast pace.

Just as much focus was placed in the game’s multiplayer features, which is where the replay value really lies. This can be played online or via local split-screen, and it includes a unique mode that is perhaps most enjoyable of all: SkeeBoulder. As the name would suggest, it plays out like everyone’s favorite arcade game, Skeeball, with the addition of point multipliers as well. It’s fun and quick, and perfect for multiplayer action.

Rock of Ages [XBLA, 2011]

Rock of Ages is light-hearted in tone, and all the better because of it. In the single player campaign, cutscenes are whimsical in nature and often parody various historical and fantasy figureheads. Two of my favorites happen early on, in the form of nods to Lord of the Rings and Castlevania. This is a game that doesn’t take itself seriously at all, frequently including random fart noises for the hell of it, but it somehow works for the game’s atmosphere.

This sense of humor translates into the game’s visuals as well. The paper cutouts of enemies and fellow soldiers are amusing, and each course’s time period is reflected in the scenery. The interpretation of such historical figures as Michelangelo’s David are something to behold. On the audio side, the game’s epic music selections and laugh-out-loud sound effects make for a gratifying hybrid.

Rock of Ages is a charming title with a lot going for it. There are some minor quibbles, such as loose defensive controls and surprisingly long load times (for an arcade title), but this is still a lot of fun rolled into a bargain $10 price tag. I can’t wait to see what developer ACE Team comes out with next.

7.5/10

Video Game Review: Wipeout HD [Playstation 3, 2008]

Wipeout HD [Playstation 3, 2008]

Wipeout HD
System: Playstation 3
Publisher: SCEE
Developer: SCE Studio Liverpool
Release Date: September 25, 2008

Slick visuals, a pounding techno soundtrack, fast-paced racing gameplay. Wipeout HD has everything I love in a racing title, and I am shocked that it took me this long to check it out. Kudos to Sony for making this a part of their Welcome Back package a couple months ago.

I have never played a Wipeout title before, so this is all new to me. Those who have played the PSP titles, Wipeout Pure and Wipeout Pulse, will feel right at home here, however, since eight of their combined tracks have been remade for HD. The lack of original content may irk series veterans, but it’s pure bliss for a newbie like me.

Wipeout HD [Playstation 3, 2008]

In Wipeout HD, you pilot an anti-gravity craft through a variety of different races. Some are simple — i.e. regular lap races and time trials — but others are unique, such as the trippy-as-fuck Zone mode. The Zone mode is unlike anything I have ever experienced in a racing game. In this, you are racing alone on a track that keeps pushing you forward faster and faster until you are at breakneck speeds. The kicker is that the environment’s colors frequently change into a vibrant array of neon imagery that make it feel as if you are racing through an out-of-control acid trip. Seriously, it’s insane.

The game’s campaign mode throws all of these different types of races at you via eight different “levels”. The races start off easy enough, but they get increasingly more difficult the deeper you go. Around the halfway mark, there is a noticeable raise in difficulty, and it can become a challenge to even earn a bronze model at that point. Still, the races are quick and very, very fun, so even those who are easily frustrated will keep pushing forward.

Not enough can be said about Wipeout HD’s presentation. The game’s 1080p and 60 frames-per-second visuals are absolutely stunning, and the in-game racing is as smooth as can be. Quite frankly, this is amazing for a downloadable title. The techno soundtrack fits the gameplay perfectly, complete with tracks from some of my personal favorites such as Booka Shade and Mason.

Wipeout HD [Playstation 3, 2008]

As if Wipeout HD wasn’t amazing enough in its own regard, Sony included the Fury add-on pack in the Welcome Back package. Fury adds eight new tracks, 13 new ship models and three new game modes, all of which essentially double the single player content. Incredible.

I am smitten with Wipeout HD. This is exactly the kind of arcade racer that I enjoy, and I haven’t played such a game that brings everything together the way this does. If you missed out on getting it for free, rest assured that the bundle is still a steal at its $24.99 price tag. Brace yourself for a wild ride.

9/10

Harms Way [Xbox 360, 2010]

Harms Way [Xbox 360, 2010]

Harms Way
System: Xbox 360
Developer: Bongfish
Release Date: December 8, 2010

Harms Way is a free Xbox Live Arcade game that was released last month as part of the Doritos “Unlock Xbox” challenge. As one of the two finalists of this contest (the other being Crash Course), Harms Way tackles the genre of action racing. The core racing is basically a budget version of Motorstorm, but there is also the added dynamic of being able to control a turret, and that sets it apart from similar titles.

Basically, you have the option to either drive or shoot. If you elect to drive, you choose one of four off-road vehicles and participate in a simple race with the options to obtain basic power-ups (nitro boosts, shields, etc). If you decide to shoot, you control the handful of turrets scattered around the course, and your job is to blow up the racers. Both concepts are simple enough, and it’s an easy pick-up-and-play type game. Single player mode gets old quick, but thankfully there is the ability to play with others (both splitscreen and online). The online community is pretty dead, so it is best to go to the local multiplayer route.

In a bit of a pleasant surprise, Harms Way is a good-looking game. The graphics could easily pass for a PS2/Xbox title, which is more than what can be said about other like-minded XBLA titles. Developer Bongfish really put a lot of effort into making this look better than it really should.

As a free game, Harms Way is more than adequate. Although light on content, its multiplayer options provide enough depth to bring gamers back for the casual game now and then. That’s all you can really ask for out of a free game. Hopefully Bongfish continues to create new games; it would be nice to see them develop a more fleshed-out title in the future.

6.5/10

– It should be noted that this game offers a ridiculously easy 200 gamerscore if you’re into that sort of thing.
Harms Way [Xbox 360, 2010]