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Review: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 – A Rock Solid Switch Port For A Pair Of Pros

If there’s ever been a pair of videogames that need little to no introduction, whose glowing reputations proceed them to the extent that everyone from tired old pros to fresh-faced newcomers has surely heard of them by this point, it’s the genre-defining Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and its sublime sequel. The first two entries in a franchise that successfully brought the gnarly world of skateboarding to the attention of the masses before hardflipping itself into mediocrity with a bunch of superfluous sequels, these are, without exaggeration, a couple of the greatest arcade sports games ever made, here remastered and remixed into something very close to absolute perfection by developer Vicarious Visions.

We all know they’re great then — Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 isn’t sat on a Metacritic rating of 98 for no reason, after all — and this revamped collection has been universally lauded on each and every platform it’s been released for thus far, so really the big question here is how does this pair of remakes perform on the Nintendo Switch? Is this port a feeble attempt or a triumphant airwalk?

Well, thankfully, Vicarious Visions has managed to pretty much nail the tricky transition from more powerful hardware with a pair of games that look crisp, clean and wonderfully detailed whilst managing to perform at a rock solid 30fps as you kickflip, nosegrind and tailslide your way around their meticulously reimagined levels.

From your humble beginnings learning the ropes in the first game’s tutorial arena to pulling off 360 Varial McTwists on the sunny streets of San Francisco, this Switch edition of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 plays a nigh-on flawless game, with nary a framerate stutter or bug encountered in all of our time spent grinding its rails and wall-planting its buildings.

On both a technical and aesthetic level this is a masterful remake of two games that you’d already have been hard pressed to find fault with in their original Neversoft-developed forms. Vicarious Visions has been oh-so clever in what it’s chosen to add, remove, touch up and tweak and the end result is an experience that’s been brought bang up to date for modern audiences whilst remaining absolutely faithful to its roots. The reworked levels here are a sight to behold, once barren arenas that let your imagination do most of the heavy lifting with regards to the finer aspects of their urban settings, they’re now dripping in wonderful little details that help bring them to life like never before.

Controls have been tightened up and refined, new music tracks have been carefully selected and added to the already excellent soundtrack and a handful of transformative moves from later entries in the series — reverts, spine transfers and wall plants — have been added into the mix, cleverly altering the gameplay for the better, allowing you to pull off much longer, higher-scoring combos as well as granting you the ability to transition seamlessly through multiple different grinds and trick types in order to put together evermore complex skating sequences on any given run. If you’re an old hand who isn’t interested in any of the new tweaks or refinements noted above you’ve got the option to revert back to classic controls and the more restrictive original move-sets, and newcomers also have a wealth of assists (and cheats) available should they find themselves struggling to get to grips with certain aspects of the game.

There’s been a laudable shift towards more diversity in representation with regards to the roster of skaters here, too. All of the old guard are still present and correct — and looking suitably middle-aged at this point in proceedings — but they’re now joined by a new crop of characters, including Nyjah Huston, Riley Hawk and Leo Baker, the series’ first ever trans, non-binary skateboarder. Any attempt to widen the scope of representation within gaming is something that should be vigorously applauded and it’s great to see such a beloved and long-running franchise planting its flag firmly here. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2, just like the real world sport on which it’s based is, as it should be, for everyone.

Of course amidst all of the additions and augmentations, the all-new challenges that net you XP to unlock items in the store, the central hub that unifies the two games and gives the whole thing a wonderfully cohesive sense of progression, the newly added skill points dotted around maps and so on, it’s really the underlying mechanics of the skating here that makes these games so very special. Refinements and additions aside, the core gameplay experience in these revamped classics is much the same as it was back in the day and putting together runs across each and every one of the excellent maps here (there really isn’t a full-on dud amongst them), focusing on nothing else for two minute bursts, or picking out routes and examining your surroundings for possibilities is as fiendishly addictive now as it’s ever been. The skating here is just so wonderfully responsive, so flexible in how it allows you to put together endless combinations of tricks and so clever in how it draws you in and slowly transforms you from bewildered beginner to swaggering skate champ.

Jumping into Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 for the very first time can be overwhelming for newcomers. Arenas are laden with shiny collectibles, littered with obstacles, dangerous ledges and enormous vert ramps, but everything here has been ever so carefully arranged to guide you, to help you master these gauntlets and begin to see your surroundings as opportunities to score big rather than places to break every bone in your body. As you slowly tick off the to-do lists of each area, gathering up golden S-K-A-T-E letters, busting open hydrants, breaking school bells, grabbing popcorn buckets and finding all of those hidden VHS tapes, you’ll get to know these spaces intimately and it’s then that the real possibilities, and the wonderfully freeform scope of these classics, make themselves clear.

In terms of modes, everything is present and correct on Switch, with the full suite of single player options including both skate tours, ranked and free skate and the wonderfully in-depth Create-A-Park adding potentially hundreds of hours to your estimated playtime. Multiplayer also makes the cut in its entirety with online leaderboards, jams, competitive mode and local split-screen offering chilled out free-skating with friends as well as trick attack, score challenge, combo mambo, horse, tag and more. There’s a robust character creation suite on offer too with an absolute ton of clothes, boards, wheels and customisable bits and bobs for you to get your hands on as you rise through the ranks.

If we did have any complaints here — if we really had to have a grumble — this Switch version, as expected, can’t quite match up to the visuals of other versions on more powerful hardware. Textures can be a little muddy here and there in and around levels. You’ll also often see them slowly deblur and come into focus on items and objects whilst browsing the in-game store. Loading times between levels can be a little on the long side, too (something which, to be fair, is also a niggling problem on other platforms). The in-game camera can also be a tad unruly from time to time, becoming a little bit of a pain in tight corners and small corridors.

Further to this, we can’t yet speak to how well online actually performs on Switch at this present time as servers weren’t available for us to try out the various multiplayer modes, so fingers crossed it all runs smoothly once it starts populating with eager skaters. These small niggles aside, however, this really is an excellent port, a rock solid Switch edition of a stellar remake that brings together two of the very best games we’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. This is a collection we highly recommend you grab a hold of at the earliest opportunity; an arcade sports experience that’s as much fun for avid skate fans as it is for casual gamers just looking for a well crafted and addictive timesink to disappear into.

Conclusion

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 on Nintendo Switch is a rock solid port of a pair of genuinely fantastic remakes. These really are two of the very best arcade sports titles of all time, revamped, reworked and re-imagined for modern audiences with all the graphical bells and whistles, collectibles and game modes we’ve come to expect in this day and age. With flawless performance in both docked and handheld modes and visuals that still look the part after a few necessary concessions here and there, this is one collection we highly recommend you kickflip right into as soon as possible.

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This post originally appeared on Nintendo Life | Reviews

Review: Mario Golf: Super Rush – A Solid Swing, But Par For The Course

Camelot is a studio that has, for many years, dutifully churned out mascot sports games for Nintendo. Players often go back to the retro days when pinpointing the company’s best efforts, though if you go by most recent form — Mario Tennis Aces — the studio is still doing good work. After serving up court-based action it’s now back to the golf course, though Mario Golf: Super Rush feels more like a spiritual successor to Aces than an actual sequel to Mario Golf: World Tour. That’s fine, but Super Rush leaves us with some mixed feelings.

When writing about any game in this series the first task is to assess the story mode, in this case ‘Golf Adventure’. This mode is the ideal starting point and also continues the recent mini-resurgence of Nintendo’s Miis, as you take your little avatar — in this writer’s case an unnaturally chilled out, healthier version of the real person — on a quest to become a pro golfer; there are three save slots, too. There’s actually a story of sorts here, albeit one that goes from being mundane to utterly goofy at the drop of a hat about two thirds of the way through. There’s a very sudden flipping of the script, which is more throwaway than clever. That said, we think young gamers in particular will enjoy the silliness, and we went with it and had fun.

Your Mii starts off in accommodation that’s run by Birdo, meeting up with a few ‘rival’ rookies all keen to be the next big thing. Though you’re typically limited to going from A to B to complete training tasks and challenges there’s a pleasant surprise in how charming the world is, and that this is a game that brings us back to ‘that Switch life’ of buttery smooth 60fps performance in a first-party game. This is achieved courtesy of relatively simplistic visuals, undoubtedly, but ‘chunky’ and ‘colourful’ is perfectly suitable for a Nintendo sports game. You get free movement to explore multiple hub areas / towns and each has its own distinct style. Just remember to visit the shop in each area — the game weirdly doesn’t give any prompts to do this and it’ll help with progress.

So begins a lot of golf, of varying styles, and you very rapidly start to level up. The upgrade system is solid, and occasionally upgrading one stat by two points will lower another by one, so there’s a light amount of balancing at play. Most skilled players will ultimately be able to build a rather impressive all-rounder, but it’s all well implemented; the fact there are ‘speed’ and ‘stamina’ gauges near the top is also a good clue of this mode’s priorities.

It’s simple but effective enough, and as you progress there are some specialised clothes and equipment to pick up that come into play on certain courses. The foundation blocks of adventure and character customisation are there and, though nothing special, it’s absolutely fine and suitable for players of pretty much any level.

The adventure becomes the ideal way to learn about different modes and strategies, with each area and its distinct courses throwing up new ideas or environments to overcome. We will say that the second area introduces ‘cross country’ golf that is downright bad; the idea is that you tackle holes in any order you want, but have to navigate steep changes in elevation and hazards. We can see what the intent was here, but it is not enjoyable, and presumably the development team had an inkling it was a weak point as you never see this style of golf again. So, grit your teeth, clear it, and pretend it didn’t happen.

The rest of the challenges are definitely better, though you won’t be playing much chilled out golf. Some of the progression gets repetitive as you ultimately end up playing timed or speed golf over and over again; this is where the ‘rush’ part of the game and the advertising kicks in.

The gimmick is that you run to the ball after each shot and you are constantly keeping an eye on a countdown. It’s not just about speed, though, as your end score in speed golf, for example, is your completion time plus 30 seconds per shot, so finding the balance between speed and accuracy is important. It’s enjoyable, though we did occasionally want to play a normal round in the story with those cinematic views of shots, as opposed to dashing around constantly.

For chunks of the experience the Adventure feels low on ideas, as you’re told to play 3 holes first, then another set, then a ‘qualifying’ round to upgrade your badge; it’s understandable as it teaches you courses and conditions, but lacks creativity. Then, as mentioned above, there’s a plot twist and you get to learn one of two slightly quirkier techniques and even have a few boss encounters. They’re pretty basic but it is silly fun, and by the time we wrapped up the story the overall impression was positive. This is very B-tier in terms of polish and quality — a topic we’ll revisit in a second — but it is endearing and is a great way to learn the mechanics. There are moments and aspects of the experience that raise a smile, which is mission accomplished.

Depending on ability level, we think the Adventure will take players anywhere from 6-10 hours. You then move onto general play, which is where you can experiment with the varied roster — for example to see what their Super moves do — or jump into multiplayer. After finishing the story we were at the point where our Mii was a stronger option than the actual characters, though you can earn ‘experience’ points to get them up to Star level and improve their clubs. The game falls a little flat here, however. The Solo Challenge area is where you go about levelling characters up, but this merely consists of stroke play or speed golf rounds of courses, and nothing else. There are no intriguing or clever challenges here to make things interesting, which makes levelling up feel like a true grind. The lack of smart challenges — a good feature of its 3DS predecessor — is a disappointment.

There are, however, good options if you want to jump into some customised solo rounds or local multiplayer. Six courses unlock as you play the Adventure or, alternatively, if you want to skip the story the next course will unlock after completing a full round of its predecessor. Standard and Speed golf are featured, and whether setting up a solo or multiplayer session you get good customisation options in terms of how many holes to play, where to start on the course, conditions and more.

Battle Golf is a quickfire new mode that also makes an appearance. This takes place across two arenas, and your goal is to complete three holes before anyone else. You can go for any pin you want, but once a player has completed that hole it disappears from the map, which makes it a rather amusing scramble. When you throw in each character’s star move shots and their impacts — for example knocking your ball away or even transforming it into something like an egg — there’s a nice element of chaotic wackiness to the battles. With only two courses and such short matches, however, it’s not going to hold attention for long.

Nevertheless, playing any of the modes in multiplayer works well, with Camelot covering most bases in terms of control options and deciding how long a round will last. Though the game defaults to (and is easiest to play with) standard button controls, there are also motion controls using the Joy-Con. They’re well implemented and quite intuitive, and the little controller is very accurate in detecting your swing and its power. It’s still far easier to do more complex stuff like applying spin and fade/draw with the buttons but as an alternative that gets you off the couch, the motion controls are accurate and enjoyable to use.

We also got to test the online multiplayer to a limited degree, albeit we had to join a pre-determined lobby and the servers were naturally not under any real strain in the pre-release review period. It was lag free, but that’s not particularly important in multiplayer golf, beyond messing each other up with super shots and limited environmental effects. The setup options are pretty much identical to local multiplayer, and lobbies can also be set for friends only and with or without passwords; you can even add up to two CPU players to fill out spots. If you want to play with family or friends remotely it’s a very competent option, though there’s no in-game communication — not even text messages — so you’ll have to do that through other means. If you still actually use the Nintendo Switch Online app, though, it’ll support voice chat for this title.

Lots of positives then, but there are some disappointing aspects around this title. Wrapping up our thoughts on the online feature-set, it lacks any incentive to compete — if you’re not just playing with friends, there’s not much point to jumping in. There’s no ranking system of any kind and it lacks the basic but enjoyable tournaments of Mario Tennis Aces, which itself was a step back from the excellent online Tournaments in World Tour on 3DS. Super Rush’s portable golfing predecessor setup regular events in which you’d register a score and get a placing (gold, silver, bronze) depending on scores from players around the globe. An equivalent here would have been very welcome.

There’s also an inescapable feeling that, despite a premium price-point, this is a mid/B-tier first-party release from Nintendo. There is a good level of content but it lacks spark, and of the six courses we think only two or three are particularly interesting. In the context of Mario Golf and on capable hardware there’s a lot of variety and environmental manipulation that could have been implemented, but the designs end up being rather safe and uninspired, even in the later unlocks that attempt a little wackiness.

This limited level of creativity is shown in the aforementioned disappointing Solo Challenges, and especially in the Adventure there’s a feeling of corners and budgets cut. There’s poorly used and repetitive voice sampling — the constant ‘Hey Hey’ of the coach irritated this player and others that happened to be in the room — along with basic storytelling. Limited animations of characters and a lack of visual flair for story segments all feel like they come from a discounted first-party effort. The music, also, is rather weak; the core theme is reasonable albeit nothing special, but some clips for between holes (as an example) sound more like royalty-free tracks than something you’d expect to hear in a Mario game.

None of this ruins the experience, not by a long way, and despite these complaints there is still a good amount of content, decent golf mechanics and just enough wackiness to justify having the Mushroom Kingdom cast on board. Those aforementioned irritations do strip away the sense that this is a premium first-party game, though. As enthusiasts, we may have come to expect this in recent Camelot titles, but for those expecting the same quality as other first-party efforts with a $ 60 price tag, they may feel underwhelmed by Super Rush.

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This post originally appeared on Nintendo Life | Reviews

Review Fighting EX Layer: A Solid Street Fighter EX Spin-Off For Connoisseurs

Two decades later, Arika — most recently known for partnering with Nintendo on Tetris 99, Super Mario Bros. 35 and Pac-Man 99 — returned to the fighting game arena with Fighting EX Layer, which now arrives on Switch as Fighting EX Layer: Another Dash. Curiously, it doesn’t have any characters from the original Fighting Layer, but it does feature the original characters that they had created for the Street Fighter EX series.

And they’re an interesting bunch, to say the least. While characters like Arabian dancer Pullum may have fit alongside Capcom’s classic characters, others like psychopathic mercenary Doctrine Dark and wacky sentai hero parody Skullomania didn’t quite fit, so it’s cool to see them given their own game where they can stand out. Some of the other more interesting fighters include rough-and-tumble bodyguard Cracker Jack, aristocratic brawler Blair, skull-faced armored warrior Garuda, American Shotokan fighter Allen Snyder, genius scientist girl Area, and gun wielder Sharon. Terry Bogard also makes a cameo appearance from Fatal Fury, probably to pay back Skullomania’s cameo in SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy. There are 18 characters, which obviously can’t compare to The King of Fighters or Street Fighter V, but it’s a decent enough selection to mess around.

Since Fighting EX Layer is basically a spin-off (a couple times removed) of Street Fighter II, it plays pretty similarly, using six buttons and taking place entirely on a 2D plane. It does feature a fairly lax combo system, allowing you to easily chain together combos using regular, special, and super attacks. The fighting engine is easily the strongest aspect of the game, since it’s approachable and familiar to anyone even remotely familiar with 2D fighters, but offering enough flexibility that veterans can have a lot of fun with it.

Arika has been keen to note that this Switch version, subtitled Another Dash, isn’t merely a port but rather a totally new version of the game. In its original release, Fighting EX Layer used the “Gougi” system, which were a set of powers activated based on accomplishing certain goals in the fight. Well, that system has been entirely removed from Another Dash, for some reason. It wasn’t always popular with hardcore fighting games, who compared to Street Fighter vs Tekken’s widely maligned gem system, but it was also the key system that differentiated Fighting EX Layer from Street Fighter V, and it’s weird that it’s missing.

To take its place are a few new EX abilities — activating dashing (EX Dash), homing jump (EX Arrow), and counterattack (EX Illusion) moves at the expense of some meter — all of which can be used to launch into combo chains. The overhead attack has also been changed to a guard break move, a hallmark of the Street Fighter EX games. Unfortunately, these come with the removal of the normal dashing and backstepping moves, probably to emphasize the EX Dash, resulting in a game that feels a little slower than before. Why these were mandatory changes and not just an alternate arranged mode is unclear.

Since the original Street Fighter EX games were created for the late PS1/early PS2 era, the characters received a substantial visual overhaul. Arika obviously doesn’t have the budget of Capcom, SNK, or Arc System Works, so the graphics aren’t comparable to these bigger names, with shiny, plastic-looking character models that don’t really do a good job of capturing their 2D portraits. The Switch version is even further compromised, removing shadow and lighting effects, as well as textures, and running at a lower resolution. It can be especially ugly when the characters are wearing their shiny alternate costumes, which look so poor that they probably should’ve been removed completely.

The practical upside to this is that the game runs very smoothly, hitting a constant 60 FPS pretty much all of the time. Considering that many of the big-name fighting games skipped the Switch entirely, and the ones that did see release suffer from assorted technical issues, it’s nice to see a game that was properly optimized for the platform, even if the end result doesn’t look pretty.

The original version of Fighting EX Layer used rollback netcode, making for an extremely smoothly playing online experience. Another Dash doesn’t presently, instead using “backstep interrupt” netcode, with the promise of a revised method using rollback at some point in the future. At the time of this review, the Japanese version has been available for two months and the North American/European version has been available for two weeks, yet during our sessions, we were only able to find one Casual match, and the population (and skill level) of Ranked matches fluctuated wildly. However, connections were always solid, even in portable mode over Wi-Fi, with only a few minor hiccups in the action.

Enjoyment of Fighting EX Layer is 100% dependent on online play, and of course Arika can’t control the game’s player population. But it is on their shoulders to offer some kind of alternative, and the single player experience is absolutely anemic. There’s just a standard Arcade mode with three difficulty levels, and endings consisting of a paragraph of text. There’s no tutorial either, just a bog standard training mode. When the game was brand new back in 2018 and Arika was slowly adding modes, this may have been acceptable, but having such barebones content three years after release is a poor showing.

The release strategy for this Switch port is a little less confusing than previous configurations, though. Another Dash has a free version which is basically a single player demo that includes four characters – Kaira, Shirase, Darun, and D. Dark. For $ 24.99 USD/ £16.49 UK / €19,99 EU, all of the rest of the content, including all modes, characters, and costumes, are unlocked. It’s reasonably priced considering it’s a late port of a three-year-old game, and makes it competitive against other more expensive titles.

Conclusion

Ultimately, Fighting EX Layer: Another Dash is a fighting game fan’s fighting game — its primary audiences are ‘refugees from Street Fighter V’ and ‘people who have nostalgia for Street Fighter EX’. Players in these two groups will find themselves very much at home with this game, especially since the fighting engine is so solid, and some of the characters are just offbeat enough to make it interesting. But considering it’s so dependent on online play, with barely existent single player content, it’s difficult to recommend to more casual players. It is, however, free to download, so you’ve got nothing to lose by giving it a try.

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This post originally appeared on Nintendo Life | Reviews