My Time At Portia Review – Crop Circles

My Time at Portia starts off predictably when you disembark into its expanse of rolling hills and curious ruins. Like the Marvelous Interactive titles it clearly draws inspiration from (namely Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons), it sets you up with the holy trinity of prologues: a father, a child, and a ripe plot of land. No time passes at all until you’re welcomed by a well-meaning public servant who tells you that your absent parent left a legacy of building and being a Home Depot whiz before disappearing like the evening tide. Now, fresh off the boat, you’re tasked with taking over for your old man and making yourself invaluable to the people whose lives he enriched, which suggests My Time at Portia will be a more fulfilling adventure than it actually ends up being.

Portia has a distinctly post-apocalyptic feel, which lends a sense of intrigue to what would otherwise have been a familiar traversal of yet another sleepy town to be spiced up by the voiceless city-slicker of a player-character. The game paints a tidy, watercolor-inspired picture that wouldn’t be out of place on a postcard; a “wish you were here” would fit nicely against the giant, scraped-out husks of metal that loom over lush fields and quaint cottages like relics from a bygone age. In fact, they are: Humanity in My Time at Portia is said to have gotten too ambitious in the past by exploiting technology and science to reach lofty heights that it was struck down for. Now, it’s back to the Agrarian Age for the foreseeable future, and you’re the closest they’ve got to Noah and the Ark.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

These monolithic reminders dot the various landscapes of My Time at Portia, and they’re an effective and unintrusive way to ensure you’re clued into the broader message around hubris leading to the apocalypse. It makes for an interesting plot device, which would be well-utilized if it went beyond making the world more visually interesting, or even beyond the inclusion of one faction of NPCs dedicated to keeping the town of Portia back in the comparative Dark Ages. But that’s about as far as it goes: aesthetic as opposed to substance. No storylines really pursue it, nor do the townsfolk seem to care. You’re not provided with the opportunity to engage meaningfully with the setpiece of the world’s past, which is a shame given how interesting it seems.

Instead, the majority of the experience remains relatively familiar and unbroken by a loop of crafting, fighting, and gathering missions. The crafting system is the game’s real treat, though. As the child of a master-builder, you’re given access very early on to plans created by your father. These plans function like crafting blueprints; they stay on your person as you romp around the world in search of materials, and you can easily refer to them and check exactly how much tin ore you need to convert into whatever arbitrary amount of bronze bars you need to prop a bridge up.

You’re also given the ability to use a crafting station back at your house which tells you exactly what you’re missing to build a particular item. There’s no need for guesswork, and you also get to visually appreciate the nitty-gritty of what you’re building as completing various parts of items sees them come to life before your eyes on the workbench. This wonderfully intuitive approach ties neatly into what you’re told is the protagonist’s innate skill as a crafter, which means that you spend less time wondering how many rocks you have to crack open and more time thinking about the next great creation taking shape in your backyard.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

Crafting is also the only aspect of the game that feels integral to actually getting anywhere with the story–everything is expensive, and the most effective way to make money is to grind out crafting items to sell. But while the reliance on grinding isn’t a surprise if you’re a genre fan, the combination of quick day-night cycles in the game, timed quests, and the time commitment needed to actually get anything crafted is a recipe for dissatisfaction. Time feels like it crawls by unless you’re occupying yourself with busywork, which unfortunately ends up detracting from the charm of the lively hustle and bustle of the town of Portia.

However, while the crafting is robust and an essential part of your experience with My Time at Portia, the other integrated systems–relationship management, dungeoneering, animal husbandry, and farming–aren’t as engaging, fleshed out, or vital by comparison. Being able to gift your way to a perfect marriage does a disservice to some of the unique personalities that you can court, and you feel discouraged from spending time on farming because of how time-consuming and expensive it is to acquire enough land to turn those parsnips into a profit. The main story forces you to invest heavily in crafting and once you’ve tried your hand at the carpentry trade, it can be hard to look elsewhere when the demands of time and money limit your ability to engage in the other systems.

Among the cacophony of mechanics, there’s a wistfulness for depth. An upgrade system has you picking various skills, ranging from increased experience gain to a higher chance of getting more items, each time you level up. But it’s hard to actually feel the effect of these perks, and there isn’t one clear build which gives you a significantly better performance over the rest. Min-maxing attributes is rarely the point of lifestyle sims, so it makes sense that rewards seem more like a little bit of gas in the tank rather than a whole new engine. But failing to actually use your skill points on anything is unlikely to disadvantage you at all, which cheapens the purpose behind giving you a mountain of options in the first place. Being a little bit more efficient at carrying out objectives in a game that’s all about repetitive grinding isn’t a bad thing, but you find yourself wishing that the improvements afforded to you were more significant for the time invested.

Your time at Portia is likely going to be an idyllic one, interspersed with chores and chatter and putting household items together for your neighbors. You’ll spend your time idly dangling your legs off the edge of the pier, participating in fishing tourneys, ushering in holidays with your partner, and fending off local wildlife. However, the ruins of a time long forgotten will always darken the horizon, and there’ll be a part of you that wonders what more there could have been before you find yourself shunted to the next life goal in a long series of life goals. That feeling is unfortunately hard to shake, and it’s a shame that there’s not as much to the world of Portia as first appears.

Powered by WPeMatico

Continue Reading

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice Review – The Power Of Empathy

In Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, the struggle of coming to terms with past trauma and guilt comes out in a number of surprising ways. Developer Ninja Theory channels its talents for narrative and presentation to tell a personal story that has more to say than it initially lets on, and will likely leave you wondering what’s real, and what is a part of an elaborate hallucination.

In a far-off land covered in mist and fog, a traumatized celtic warrior named Senua embarks on a spiritual vision quest to suppress her inner demons, and come to grips with the death of her family. Plagued with severe psychosis, Senua’s past trauma manifests itself through duelling inner voices and visual hallucinations that compromise her emotional and mental state. On this journey, she’ll face abstract and reality-defying puzzles, and battle a seemingly endless horde of adversaries that aim to put a stop to her quest.

Pulling from Nordic and Celtic lore, the fiction of Hellblade evokes a dire and somewhat bleak atmosphere, making it seem like the world had already ended, leaving Senua with only the company of her memories. Hellblade is an introspective experience, albeit with several combat and interactive story beats scattered throughout. While the story and world are presented through cutscenes and stone glyphs depicting the history of the land, Hellblade also makes clever use of live-action cutscenes. These cinematic moments are blended into in-game graphics, giving each occurrence a somewhat surreal feeling, as if you’re watching a live playback of an altered memory.

On her journey through the cursed lands, Senua will come into conflict with the Northmen, an army of berserkers that appear out of thin air. These moments are when the combat comes into play, and it offers some of the most intense and thrilling moments of the game. Despite her illness weighing on her, Senua is still quite adept at fighting and is able to take on a number of foes at once. With fast, heavy sword swings, as well as up-close hand-to-hand strikes, you can use some light combos to hack away at the Northmen, while using dodges and parrying their strikes to get the upper hand.

Though combat is one of the core pillars in Hellblade, the game doesn’t concern itself with offering numerous weapons or complex skill-trees to work through. Aside from some new combat abilities unlocked at key story milestones, Senua’s arsenal of skills and weapons is kept light till the end. The true challenge and satisfaction comes from mastering the base combat mechanics, which is responsive, and fluid–allowing you to bounce between multiple foes easily, with her inner voices warning you of incoming strikes based on the position they’re coming from.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

When it comes to portraying mental illness, Hellblade takes a sympathetic approach and isn’t at all interested in showing the differences between reality and imagination. It’s all about Senua’s perspective; with her visions and what’s truly real being presented as one in the same. One of the more oppressive aspects of her psychosis are the inner-voices, who quarrel with one another while commenting on the wandering warrior’s present state. Using binaural audio–which makes wearing headphones a must for the full effect–you’ll get to experience a taste of what it’s like to have several voices in your head.

In many ways, it feels like a subversive take on the common video game trope of the bodiless companion offering help via radio, making them a somewhat distressing presence you desperately wanted to keep at arm’s length. The effectiveness of the inner voices in making you uncomfortable is a testament to the stellar presentation of the game, which uses some rather inventive tricks to play with perspective and audio-sensory manipulation. It does well to make you feel on edge and in a state of confusion, while simultaneously getting you to focus on the more tangible and true elements of her surroundings–even if they are still hallucinations.

There are times where the voices become a boon to your survival–such as the rather tricky boss battles that force you change up your usual strategies–but the most useful instances come deeper in the game, when you’re able to clear through more than 20 foes consecutively, a far cry from the struggles of fighting only two to three foes. Many of these battles serve as the capper for narrative arcs in the story, making it feel like a cathartic emotional purge where you vanquish a construct of Senua’s past.

“It’s all about Senua’s perspective; with her visions and what’s truly real being presented as one in the same.”

While some characters from Senua’s past treated her mental state as a danger, she’s able to use it to her advantage to see the order in the chaos of her surroundings–finding patterns and solutions in ways that others wouldn’t have the presence of mind to see. Despite how terrifying and draining her psychosis can be, Senua is able navigate the various trials thanks to her unusually heightened perception, which comes out in a number of unique puzzle solving moments.

For the most part, puzzles revolve around unlocking doors by finding glyphs hidden in plain sight or in alternate perspectives that require manipulating Senua’s focus, illustrating her abstract attention to detail. While these puzzles can be clever, the same style occurs far too often, making some of the more drawn out sequences a chore. On the inverse, the moments where Senua is stripped of her senses and gear, forcing her to take a more subdued approach to avoid her enemies, felt far more engaging and interesting.

In one of the game’s best moments, the shadows themselves serve to be a real danger as Senua rushes from one light source to another in a dark cavern, all the while memories of her torment and anguish come flooding in–obscuring your vision while she’s making a dash to safety. These moments are a real highlight, channeling the same pulse-pounding sense of urgency found from set-piece moments in Resident Evil 4, making a seemingly simple objective into an unnerving experience–which in a way truly sums up what Hellblade is about. While these moments serve to be some of Hellblade’s most profound and affecting moments, it uses them sparingly to help break-up general puzzle solving and obstacles, which feel somewhat bland by comparison.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10
No Caption Provided

While Senua experiences many dangers, such as the horrific hallucinations of the dead, immolation by a mad fire god, and ravenous beasts that hide in the shadows–there is one threat that constantly looms over her that can result in dire consequences. Early on, Senua is infected with a corruption known as The Dark Rot, which continues to spread after she ‘dies’ or fails a set-piece event. She passes failure and death off as another hallucination, but with every failure the infection spreads, and after multiple deaths it reaches her head. The result of this is Senua succumbing to her illness, forcing you to restart from the beginning of her journey.

Despite the inclusion of a permadeath mechanic, Hellblade is still a largely fair game. Taking around eight hours to clear on the hardest difficulty, and experiencing only a handful of deaths–mostly on account of some overly vague and awkward objectives coming off as obtuse, breaking the flow of traversal–the game is largely balanced with its pacing and difficulty. It even goes as far as to offer an auto-scaling difficulty system that adjusts based on how you’re playing. Interestingly, there’s no tutorial whatsoever in Hellblade, prompting you to learn the system by doing and listening to prompts from your inner voices.

Over the course of its journey, Hellblade keeps its gameplay lean in order to not overstay its welcome. Despite the complexity of the narrative and its presentation, combat only happens when it needs to, and puzzle solving and set-piece moments often drive the story forward to reveal more about Senua’s motivations. Which in turn reveals the struggles that torment her, preventing her from moving on.

Hellblade’s most notable achievement is the handling of an incredibly sensitive subject matter within an engaging and well-crafted action/adventure game. At its heart, the story is about Senua’s struggle to come to terms with her illness. In the process, she learns to find the strength within herself to endure, and to make peace with her past. And in a profound and physical way, we go through those same struggles with her, and come away with a better understanding of a piece of something that many people in the world struggle with.

Editor’s note (April 15, 2019): Hellblade has now made its way to Nintendo Switch. While this port manages to reach the same emotional and spiritually resonant highs as other releases, it unfortunately features some inconsistent frame rate and subdued texture detail throughout, lessening the impact of some key moments. With that said, Hellblade is still largely intact on the more modest platform. In the Switch’s tablet form, it gives the impression you’re diving into an engrossing novel, making for a more intimate experience that can’t found in other versions of the game.

Powered by WPeMatico

Continue Reading

Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain Review – Infantry Does The Dying

Once again, there is an Earth Defense Force game out there. Once again, it is not good. And once again, I couldn’t stop playing it. Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain isn’t good in the same way eating an entire bag of Cheetos in one sitting isn’t good. There is very little your gaming life needs in this game. But some days, it might be the only thing you want.

Despite a new air of seriousness at the outset, it doesn’t take long to realize that Iron Rain is still Earth Defense Force, and not necessarily some reinvention for the series. Yes, the giant bugs are still invading Earth. Yes, you’re a hapless grunt who must kill the ugly bastards dead for hours upon hours with an ever-increasing arsenal of weaponry. Yes, the story is still told by the most questionable definition of voice acting this side of the very first Resident Evil.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7

Yet, for more than 20 hours, I kept coming back to it. Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain is in the business of immediate gratification; it gives you a weapon, lets you kill a whole slew of evil critters, generously showers you with rewards in the aftermath, and lets you progress. No questions asked, no sales pitch, few if any barriers between you and the main thing the game does extremely well, which is letting you kill a hell of a lot of bugs.

The game tells you, “Your name is Closer, an EDF soldier. You’ve been in a coma for seven years, Now you’re awake, and we need you to kill every bug you see.” It shoves a gun in your hand, an assault rifle to start with, then drops you in the middle of a grudging facsimile of San Francisco and tells you to go to work. And you do. Giant ants come out of the woodwork within a few seconds. And for what it’s worth, these suckers are smarter in Iron Rain than in previous EDF titles; they know how to flank, how to surround, and when to run to a place of safety. But you’ve got an assault rifle, infinite ammo (for most weapons, anyway), and a grudge. You blast away, sending giant insect thoraxes and the disgusting green guts inside flying everywhere until the city is more dead bugs than street.

That’s mostly a good thing, since Iron Rain’s cities and deserts and forests are depressingly threadbare and devoid of any signs of non-alien life, but they are much less hard on the eyes thanks to some decent texturing and new lighting effects. The improvements are noticeable, but Iron Rain, like every EDF game before it, still falls short of current standards in the looks department.

That’s par for the course in Iron Rain. Most of the new additions–character customization, a Horde mode called Mercenaries–are nice, but they don’t fundamentally change what the series has been since 2006. Mercenaries in particular feels like a watered down version of Destiny 2’s Gambit mode. It’s a fun way to pass time, but without concrete goals beyond collecting as many gems from fallen bugs as possible, it’s not something to pump serious effort into. One of the only two major game-changers is the fact that weapons are no longer exclusive for the series’ traditional classes–for example, Rangers can now wield swords and missile launchers if you so desire. If anything, the character customization is a nice cherry on top, allowing you the freedom to create the insect-slaughtering war machine of your choice.

The big new addition, however, is a brand new class of soldier tied to the Prowl Rider armor. With it, you not only get the ability to attach yourself to a surface and reel yourself in with a device similar to the omni gear from Attack on Titan, but the ability to summon your own giant bug to wreak havoc against its own kind. Once you get the gear about 15 missions in, it’s a literal game changer that splits the difference between the versatile-but-frail Jet Lifter (formerly Wing Diver) and the more hardy Trooper class. Verticality and speed are encouraged and not punished this time around. That’s to say nothing of the idea of strolling into battle riding on top of your giant scorpion friend.

No Caption Provided

That all sounds wonderful on paper–and it often is in practice–but there are moments where it can be clunky. The reel works, but it’s finicky about what surfaces you can swing to, there’s very little flexibility in how you can move while in the air, and you can’t fire or even use items while it’s in progress. Even with the new customization, Iron Rain plays pretty stiffly in many crucial ways, and getting soldiers to run while firing a weapon or swinging a sword is awkward. There’s a new Overdrive ability that helps in that it speeds your soldier up, makes reloading much faster, and regenerates health, but you only get one per stage, and you can only regenerate it during a fight using a rather expensive consumable item. It may work, but making the mechanics play the way they always should is rather disappointing when it’s implemented as your character’s ultimate ability. That’s all on top of the same problems the series has always had. Slowdown is excruciating when too many enemies or explosions are on-screen. There’s a ton of repetition after all the various enemy types have been introduced. Crucial plot points are presented during gameplay while under heavy fire. The lack of a checkpoint system means dying at the tail end of a 15-minute mission sends you all the way back to the start. Earth Defense Force is still a fundamentally janky game.

The game may slow down. You might take more than a couple of cheap hits. But that little jolt of endorphins when those six-legged freaks go legs up after pumping a few rounds into them is an awfully powerful motivator. A noise says you’re in the clear, you collect the energy gems scattered across the field, and congratulations, you’ve earned guns, healing items, clothing, and ample opportunity to try them out before taking them out on a mission. Come across a difficult enemy? You probably picked up a weapon in a previous stage better suited to the situation. Flying ships? There are homing lasers for that. Giant mechs? There are missile launchers for that. Giant hopping spiders? Run where they land and slice em in half. There are no penalties for experimenting, and Iron Rain is generous with the currencies needed to purchase just about anything in-game. Enemies just drop gems on the field, and you get an extra 30 seconds at the end of every stage to go collect as many as you can. Everything you need to buy new gear is right there for the taking instead of the buying, the grinding, or the waiting. Every weapon feels distinct and worth its while in actual combat.

Where Iron Rain fails as an overarching plot, it succeeds in creating a stronger and more engaging vibe than its predecessors.

Iron Rain’s plot is sorely lacking, a flaw highlighted by how much less tongue-in-cheek the game is compared to its predecessors. That said, your squadmates are affable, prone to gallows humor, and fill the ride home–and the game’s somewhat lengthy load times–with grim banter. A pop music radio show that plays during mid-mission menus is hosted by a peppy host named Olivia, whose endless cheer belies her obvious shell shock. There’s a human rebel faction you’ll occasionally have to fight with and/or against, and they add interesting twists on virtually every stage where they pop up. For the first time in the series, you feel less like a red-shirt in a 1950s alien invasion movie and more like a tired soldier fighting a tough war, trying to find the little moments of levity wherever you can. Where Iron Rain fails as an overarching plot, it succeeds in creating a stronger and more engaging vibe than its predecessors.

Even without narrative motivation, though–and in the latter portions of the game, there is much less of it–having an enormous loadout of weaponry and kinetic movement options means constant innovation is needed and possible. It’s engaging not because of the time sunk into it, but because it’s just so incredibly fun to do for its own sake. Iron Rain iterates instead of innovates; its version of advancement really just means removing a couple of shackles keeping you from making the bug-killing experience your own. There are expected current-gen niceties that would make EDF better, and yet it’s not hard to imagine the series losing something in the process.

Powered by WPeMatico

Continue Reading

Nintendo Labo VR Kit Review – Cardboard Magic

With all the high-end hardware requirements typical of VR gaming, you’d think of the Nintendo Switch as the least likely candidate to adopt it. But one of the many things Nintendo is unequivocally good at is making the most of its tech and working within its limitations. The new Labo VR Kit is yet another example. While it doesn’t always overcome its inherent shortcomings, Nintendo’s latest cardboard-based do-it-yourself package cleverly transforms the Switch into a light, inventive virtual reality gaming experience with the tools to go beyond the initial library.

First things first: You have to build. Thankfully, assembly is part of the fun. Like the previous Labo packages, the software contains detailed and digestible step-by-step instructions, which are animated to show you how to put everything together without a hitch–the encouraging communication also helps take the edge off the laborious, time-consuming aspect of it all. Construction is almost fool-proof since each cardboard sheet has precisely cut lines and slots for everything to be folded and snapped into place. There’s no denying the satisfaction of seeing little bits of cardboard gradually come together as an intricate device solidly held together by rubber bands, exact creases, and plastic grommets.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

So, how does the Switch become a VR headset? You first build the mount that contains the slot you slip the Switch into, which also holds the packaged goggles. The mount keeps everything in place nicely and the adhesive pads keep the Switch safe. Once you set the Labo software to VR mode, the screen transforms to a stereoscopic view for the lenses. Since there is no headstrap, you’ll need to hold the Switch up to your face throughout your time in VR mode. It’s worth noting that the Switch’s 720p screen resolution is well below that of any other VR platform, resulting in a distinct lack of visual clarity–luckily, this limitation doesn’t detract from the types of experiences Labo VR delivers.

With the headset ready to go, you can physically look up, down, left, and right by moving your head. But because the Switch isn’t able to do positional tracking, forward or backward movements aren’t recognized and could be nausea-inducing. Tracking relies entirely on the Switch’s built-in gyroscope and accelerometer, which results in a relatively smooth viewing experience. Looking in and around in VR works pretty well, and in combination with the Joy-Cons’ own gyroscope and accelerometer (and the right Joy-Con’s IR sensor), the cardboard devices become functional pieces of hardware.

By and large, the creative process is what drives the Labo VR Kit to become more than its packaged contents–but to see that, you should experience its roster of games, minigames, and proof-of-concept sandboxes. Once you’ve assembled a new cardboard toy (called Toy-Cons), Labo then walks you through a specific game made for it. The Toy-Con Camera transports you to the middle of an ocean where you can snap photos of marine life, or look upward to float to the surface and see a bigger world. Twisting the Toy-Con Camera lens works just like zooming in with an actual camera lens because of the Joy-Con placed inside recognizes those small movements. Despite the Toy-Con Elephant being the toughest one to work with, the Marble Run game it’s tied to is a series of smart physics-based puzzles for you manipulate platforms, gravity, and trampolines to get a marble through a goal.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

The novel applications don’t end there, either. The Toy-Con Bird delivers flight movements for its open-area collectathon and racing game because the Joy-Con, which is placed on the “bird”‘s beak rocks back and forth when you flap the cardboard wings. A personal favorite is the Toy-Con Blaster; it’s a pump gun for with tactile feedback that matches the launching of explosive balls for its on-rails shooter game. There’s impressive cleverness in how Nintendo makes use of the motion-tracking capabilities and cardboard components, and how they translate to sensible control schemes. These aren’t intended to be long-form experiences; rather, they’re bite-sized showcases of VR functionality for each of the cardboard devices you assemble.

The Labo VR Kit is much more than just VR gaming for the Switch; it’s educational, accessible, and imaginative, with a robust suite of programming tools. And that’s what makes it wholly unique from anything else on the VR market.

On paper, it may seem like a hassle to constantly hold the Switch headset to your face without a strap to hold it in place, but it’s not as bad as it sounds–each Labo VR device is designed with this in mind. Take the Toy-Con Blaster, for example; your view in its rail shooter game is essentially a persistent aim-down-sights, and the ergonomics of the Blaster itself make it a comfortable experience. With the Elephant, you get a handle beneath the cardboard face to hold it up as you extend the trunk to move your in-game hands. And of course, the physical act of holding up the Toy-Con Camera to your face coincides with the real-world action.

The content in VR Plaza distills it down even further by isolating certain aspects of each toy’s potential in 60+ minigames/sandboxes. They essentially act as the building blocks for the inventive Toy-Con Garage and this is where the Labo VR Kit lets your imagination run wild–it’s literally the toolset used to program the minigames contained in the VR Plaza section. It’s a part of previous kits as well, but this version adds tools to create VR experiences. Toy-Con Garage is extremely complex and much more than a level creator you may find in other games. It’s possible to teach yourself and eventually get to a point where you can wrap your head around the logic and programming for something and see it come to fruition, but it’ll take significant time and effort if you don’t have prior experience with programming. What’s neat is that you can edit every sandbox/minigame in VR Plaza using the Garage tools and basically use them as the foundation to create your own thing. By virtue of seeing the programming guts of each game, you can then start to unravel how they’re built. Things like Make An FPS Game and Make An Action Game in VR Plaza are specifically designed to let you use them as templates. And editing doesn’t have to be solely done in VR thanks to the ability to select a 2D editing mode.

Like the other kits, the Labo VR Kit does so many great things outside of its more standard game experiences, and it’s really about what you do with the technology.

In addition to the games and programming tools, Discovery Mode works as a laudable educational tool. Discovery offers a series of cheeky dialogue scenarios between a few Labo-based characters that effectively walk you through the Switch’s technology, asking you questions along the way to make sure you’re keeping up. Think of it as a crash course in physical science and electronics that explains everything from how the right Joy-Con’s IR sensor works to showing you why gyroscope drift happens. Not only does Discover further contextualize what the hardware is doing, but makes knowledge of complex tech accessible to a wider audience.

No Caption ProvidedNo Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

However, there are a few cases in which the Joy-Con tracking can be frustrating due to gyroscope drift. It’s fairly easy to constantly recalibrate the Joy-Con position in a free-hand experience like shooting hoops, hitting a ball with a paddle, or moving blocks in a 3D space. But it becomes an issue in something like the Doodle application or the Marble Run stage creator, where you have to use the Elephant to craft a 3D sculpture or build a course, respectively. Your plane will always drift off-center. You can recenter yourself by accessing the pause menu, but it’s frustrating to frequently wrestle with the motion-tracking in these cases. As a result, it’s difficult to keep your work consistent and gets in the way of certain parts of the creative process with VR mode.

The Labo VR Kit is much more than just VR gaming for the Switch; it’s educational, accessible, and imaginative, with a robust suite of programming tools. And that’s what makes it wholly unique from anything else on the VR market. Despite all its limitations and seemingly makeshift appearance, each contraption is an example of a creative vision in action, most of which works exceptionally well in bite-sized portions. In a broad sense, Labo VR is a smart, clever use of existing tech and expertly designed cardboard devices. The biggest factor in the lasting appeal of Labo VR (and the Labo lineup in general) lies in the Toy-Con Garage, because there’s no denying the barebones aspect of the packaged gaming content, which is more of a collection of proofs-of-concept for VR’s potential. Like the other kits, the Labo VR Kit does so many great things outside of its more standard game experiences, and it’s really about what you do with the technology.

Powered by WPeMatico

Continue Reading

Nintendo Labo: Toy-Con 04 VR Kit Review – Cardboard Magic

With all the high-end hardware requirements typical of VR gaming, you’d think of the Nintendo Switch as the least likely candidate to adopt it. But one of the many things Nintendo is unequivocally good at is making the most of its tech and working within its limitations. The new Labo VR Kit is yet another example. While it doesn’t always overcome its inherent shortcomings, Nintendo’s latest cardboard-based do-it-yourself package cleverly transforms the Switch into a light, inventive virtual reality gaming experience with the tools to go beyond the initial library.

First things first: You have to build. Thankfully, assembly is part of the fun. Like the previous Labo packages, the software contains detailed and digestible step-by-step instructions, which are animated to show you how to put everything together without a hitch–the encouraging communication also helps take the edge off the laborious, time-consuming aspect of it all. Construction is almost fool-proof since each cardboard sheet has precisely cut lines and slots for everything to be folded and snapped into place. There’s no denying the satisfaction of seeing little bits of cardboard gradually come together as an intricate device solidly held together by rubber bands, exact creases, and plastic grommets.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

So, how does the Switch become a VR headset? You first build the mount that contains the slot you slip the Switch into, which also holds the packaged goggles. The mount keeps everything in place nicely and the adhesive pads keep the Switch safe. Once you set the Labo software to VR mode, the screen transforms to a stereoscopic view for the lenses. Since there is no headstrap, you’ll need to hold the Switch up to your face throughout your time in VR mode. It’s worth noting that the Switch’s 720p screen resolution is well below that of any other VR platform, resulting in a distinct lack of visual clarity–luckily, this limitation doesn’t detract from the types of experiences Labo VR delivers.

With the headset ready to go, you can physically look up, down, left, and right by moving your head. But because the Switch isn’t able to do positional tracking, forward or backward movements aren’t recognized and could be nausea-inducing. Tracking relies entirely on the Switch’s built-in gyroscope and accelerometer, which results in a relatively smooth viewing experience. Looking in and around in VR works pretty well, and in combination with the Joy-Cons’ own gyroscope and accelerometer (and the right Joy-Con’s IR sensor), the cardboard devices become functional pieces of hardware.

By and large, the creative process is what drives the Labo VR Kit to become more than its packaged contents–but to see that, you should experience its roster of games, minigames, and proof-of-concept sandboxes. Once you’ve assembled a new cardboard toy (called Toy-Cons), Labo then walks you through a specific game made for it. The Toy-Con Camera transports you to the middle of an ocean where you can snap photos of marine life, or look upward to float to the surface and see a bigger world. Twisting the Toy-Con Camera lens works just like zooming in with an actual camera lens because of the Joy-Con placed inside recognizes those small movements. Despite the Toy-Con Elephant being the toughest one to work with, the Marble Run game it’s tied to is a series of smart physics-based puzzles for you manipulate platforms, gravity, and trampolines to get a marble through a goal.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

The novel applications don’t end there, either. The Toy-Con Bird delivers flight movements for its open-area collectathon and racing game because the Joy-Con, which is placed on the “bird”‘s beak rocks back and forth when you flap the cardboard wings. A personal favorite is the Toy-Con Blaster; it’s a pump gun for with tactile feedback that matches the launching of explosive balls for its on-rails shooter game. There’s impressive cleverness in how Nintendo makes use of the motion-tracking capabilities and cardboard components, and how they translate to sensible control schemes. These aren’t intended to be long-form experiences; rather, they’re bite-sized showcases of VR functionality for each of the cardboard devices you assemble.

The Labo VR Kit is much more than just VR gaming for the Switch; it’s educational, accessible, and imaginative, with a robust suite of programming tools. And that’s what makes it wholly unique from anything else on the VR market.

On paper, it may seem like a hassle to constantly hold the Switch headset to your face without a strap to hold it in place, but it’s not as bad as it sounds–each Labo VR device is designed with this in mind. Take the Toy-Con Blaster, for example; your view in its rail shooter game is essentially a persistent aim-down-sights, and the ergonomics of the Blaster itself make it a comfortable experience. With the Elephant, you get a handle beneath the cardboard face to hold it up as you extend the trunk to move your in-game hands. And of course, the physical act of holding up the Toy-Con Camera to your face coincides with the real-world action.

The content in VR Plaza distills it down even further by isolating certain aspects of each toy’s potential in 60+ minigames/sandboxes. They essentially act as the building blocks for the inventive Toy-Con Garage and this is where the Labo VR Kit lets your imagination run wild–it’s literally the toolset used to program the minigames contained in the VR Plaza section. It’s a part of previous kits as well, but this version adds tools to create VR experiences. Toy-Con Garage is extremely complex and much more than a level creator you may find in other games. It’s possible to teach yourself and eventually get to a point where you can wrap your head around the logic and programming for something and see it come to fruition, but it’ll take significant time and effort if you don’t have prior experience with programming. What’s neat is that you can edit every sandbox/minigame in VR Plaza using the Garage tools and basically use them as the foundation to create your own thing. By virtue of seeing the programming guts of each game, you can then start to unravel how they’re built. Things like Make An FPS Game and Make An Action Game in VR Plaza are specifically designed to let you use them as templates. And editing doesn’t have to be solely done in VR thanks to the ability to select a 2D editing mode.

Like the other kits, the Labo VR Kit does so many great things outside of its more standard game experiences, and it’s really about what you do with the technology.

In addition to the games and programming tools, Discovery Mode works as a laudable educational tool. Discovery offers a series of cheeky dialogue scenarios between a few Labo-based characters that effectively walk you through the Switch’s technology, asking you questions along the way to make sure you’re keeping up. Think of it as a crash course in physical science and electronics that explains everything from how the right Joy-Con’s IR sensor works to showing you why gyroscope drift happens. Not only does Discover further contextualize what the hardware is doing, but makes knowledge of complex tech accessible to a wider audience.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

However, there are a few cases in which the Joy-Con tracking can be frustrating due to gyroscope drift. It’s fairly easy to constantly recalibrate the Joy-Con position in a free-hand experience like shooting hoops, hitting a ball with a paddle, or moving blocks in a 3D space. But it becomes an issue in something like the Doodle application or the Marble Run stage creator, where you have to use the Elephant to craft a 3D sculpture or build a course, respectively. Your plane will always drift off-center. You can recenter yourself by accessing the pause menu, but it’s frustrating to frequently wrestle with the motion-tracking in these cases. As a result, it’s difficult to keep your work consistent and gets in the way of certain parts of the creative process with VR mode.

The Labo VR Kit is much more than just VR gaming for the Switch; it’s educational, accessible, and imaginative, with a robust suite of programming tools. And that’s what makes it wholly unique from anything else on the VR market. Despite all its limitations and seemingly makeshift appearance, each contraption is an example of a creative vision in action, most of which works exceptionally well in bite-sized portions. In a broad sense, Labo VR is a smart, clever use of existing tech and expertly designed cardboard devices. The biggest factor in the lasting appeal of Labo VR (and the Labo lineup in general) lies in the Toy-Con Garage, because there’s no denying the barebones aspect of the packaged gaming content, which is more of a collection of proofs-of-concept for VR’s potential. Like the other kits, the Labo VR Kit does so many great things outside of its more standard game experiences, and it’s really about what you do with the technology.

Powered by WPeMatico

Continue Reading

Get in touch

Nite inc

Talk to us

Offcanvas

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.