Opinions on… Game Dev Tycoon

When you first start Game Dev Tycoon, eager to create masterpieces of software design that blow anything in the actual real world out of the water, you’ll rapidly realise that there’s a big problem ticking away under the surface of the game’s mechanics. That problem is quite simply this; it’s impossible to actually truly gauge whether your decisions are leading towards any sort of positive outcome. Any addition of an untested design element in the creation of each of your games immediately throws everything into obscurity… There’s nothing discernible shown to you from one attempt to the next that lets you know if you are making the right decision in any regard – which, considering information is key to success, is pretty rubbish.

I suppose that’s how it works to an extent in the real world, but of course, that doesn’t really make it into a good mechanic to use here. It IS possible to learn what works and what doesn’t after the fact, but this feels a little pointless and hollow when you’ll potentially be haemorrhaging money by the time you learn your mistake. It’s also annoying when you take the time to read more on how the game works, and learn that there actually is a bunch of complicated and clever algorithms working away under the surface to determine your level of success. It’d be fun if these were presented to you, for you to then try and pick apart and make work to your advantage, but they’re all hidden away never to be seen.

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In a sense, this makes everything feel too simple for its own good. A situation rapidly occurs where there’s nothing in the game with any real depth for you to sink your teeth into; Even when you hit the endgame and start bigger projects such as developing your own consoles and research, I found the strategy for this doesn’t really evolve beyond ‘pump money into it’. In fact, that’s an approach that pretty much works across the board – last game didn’t make massive profits? Pump cash into a killer title next time. Need better staff? Pump more cash into your recruitment process and training.

This might all sound overtly cynical, but I don’t really mean it to be that way; in many ways you could see this basic nature as a blessing, rather than a curse. It’s a break away from the endless complexion and confusion that can stem from playing other simulation games – a no frills, easy way to whittle away time. As long as you go into it accepting that, or at least take my approach and enjoy it for what it is, it’s not really an issue – more just something you need to be aware of.

I also haven’t got around to highlighting Game Dev Tycoon’s main strength yet – it’s a master of non-stop, instant gratification. Start development, and bubbles showing your progress fly all over the screen at a relentless rate; all adding to a grand total highlighting your game’s quality that just keeps shooting up and up as you with each new title. Publish your game, and you’re immediately met with review scores, which (with luck) will shower you with praise that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Immediately after THAT, large chunks of cash from sales roll into your account, and by the time that starts to wane you’ve already started the whole cycle again. Nothing takes long to complete in the slightest, and you’re always moving. Think of it as the simulation genre’s version of fast food – you know there’s more complex and fulfilling meals out there, but sometimes you just want an instant hit of pure satisfaction.

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The developer’s love for games in general shines through as well. There’s a nice little (and hilariously copyright avoiding) trip through video game history that – while slightly biased towards certain formats at points – will raise a smile, and there’s a number of similarly themed easter eggs to be spotted both around your development office and elsewhere. I also feel the developer’s comments about piracy, and their approach to preventing it (which, hilariously, sees games made in pirated versions being pirated themselves) are worth noting; again showing a fondness for games in general that should be encouraged in a time where a lot of things feel like soulless attempts to suck as much money out of us as possible.

The key thing to remember with Game Dev Tycoon, then, is to know exactly what you’re getting. This isn’t a game of precise micromanagement and intricate challenges, and if you’re looking for that you’ll be best off going elsewhere. This is a piece of well executed and light-hearted fun, and there isn’t anything wrong with that at all.

Opinions on… Firewatch

Nearing the end of my time with Firewatch, something strange crept over me; the dawning realisation that instead of exploring it’s rendition of the great outdoors, I could actually… Well, go and explore the great outdoors. I was playing a form of escapism whereupon I could easily experience the real deal, if only I could bother to get up and make an effort to actually reach it. It was a weird little moment, to say the least.

There’s a good reason for sticking with Firewatch instead of heading out my own front door, however, with that being that it’s hard to draw yourself away from the striking world that’s on offer here. The art style is the first thing you notice, with its minimalist design style and simple colour palettes creating something that looks pretty unique. Yet then you also notice how good the map design is, taking in all the wonders of the American national parks that form the game’s setting – from shady forests and great lagoons, to narrow mountain valleys and wide open vistas. It’s a world that you want to keep exploring just to see what new sights might be around the next corner, and one where it’s hard not to keep yourself from tapping your screenshot key every few minutes.

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The way you explore and traverse the area is also interesting. There’s no arrow pointing your way, no big on-screen hints pointing out the right direction for you. Instead, you’ve literally got to whip out a map and compass, and carefully plot your route towards your next objective. Then, as you go, you have to keep checking and adjusting your direction, paying close attention to the distinct possibility you might wander off course and get hopelessly lost. It feels as if you are actually hiking, that every endeavour and successful journey is a result of your hard work. It’s an incredibly satisfying experience.

Firewatch’s world isn’t perfect, however. For one, it isn’t the biggest out there. From about the halfway point onward you’ll be stomping through a lot of old ground, the charm on exploring the unknown being lost, and your relatively slow travel speed making things feel a little bit of a chore. Additionally (and just like real life) getting lost isn’t exactly fun, and having to consult your map constantly to make tiny course adjustments in such situations can get tedious at points. Still, for the most part the game’s approach to navigation works, and praise has to be given for it being brave enough to actually try something new in the first place.

The world itself is only half of what’s on offer, however, with the other half coming in the form of the story itself. It’s one that grabs you from the very start – before things even begin proper you’re greeted with a text-based tale that tells the story of the main character’s life in miniature. It’s poignant, it’s well written, and it’s honestly one of the parts of the game that stick in the mind the most. Beyond that, things pans out in what is essentially a two-person plot – your character, and a woman whose only presence throughout comes in the form of a voice coming from the other end of a radio. As time passes, you slowly uncover mysterious going on, and struggle to get to the bottom of the mystery – with only that lone voice to help you on.

It’s an interesting premise, and it works, mainly because both characters are so well written and voiced they feel distinctly… Well, human. They bond slowly over time, learning more about each other, cracking jokes and telling stories about their lives. Then, when thrown into an intense situation, they panic – not always making the best decisions, freaking out over what might happen to them, and so on. It’s so expertly crafted, it’s hard not to become invested in what’s going on; you’ll want to keep on going just to find out what the eventual outcome will be.

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Shame, then, that the actual closure to the story falls so damn flat. This is incredibly frustrating on two counts; firstly, many of the plot points get written away with remarkable quickness and ease, negating a lot of the impact that they may have had previously. I’m obviously not going to spoil anything, but there’s a particular thread to the story that honestly feels like it’s a big part of everything that’s going on – and then it suddenly gets brushed away via a few throwaway lines. Secondly, the game does a remarkably good job of building up a lot of suspense and tension, only to whittle it away on a simple resolution that never even gets close to justifying all the gravitas that had gone on beforehand. The end result is that you’ll probably walk away from Firewatch feeling a little let down; a distinctly disappointing note to finish upon, especially after the rest of the game was crafting things so expertly.

On a final note, it’s also worth noting that Firewatch is a very short experience as well – it took me just over three hours to complete, and I don’t particularly think I was rushing through it. Yet don’t let this necessarily put you off, because there’s certainly enough done right here to at least mostly negate the game’s faults and short playtime; indeed, exploring the game’s world is almost worth the entrance fee alone. In the end, Firewatch is a unique little title that sticks in the memory – and one that makes hiding indoors on your computer infinitely more justifiable.

Opinions on… The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

It was only recently, as I stumbled late into work with a distinct lack of sleep that caused me to curse my own existence, that a single thought kept re-occurring in my head; This is all The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth’s fault. It had proven so addictive, and so compelling, that I’d completely lost sight of what time it was – realising too late the error of my ways. Never mind the fact I should have been a responsible adult and paid attention to my schedule, the truth shone through – this game was too damn good to be considered healthy.

TBOI: Rebirth is a rogue-like title where you play a child fleeing from his psychotic, murderous mother. During his escape he is forced to battle his many demons via firing his own tears at them, all the while picking up things which make him stronger but which mutate his body into grotesque forms. If that sounds pretty weird to you – well, you’d be right. Yet despite it being a bizarre tone for a game to take, it still works, with everything that occupies this strange world adding to its atmosphere in both bleak and darkly comedic ways.

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When it comes to actual gameplay, it’s very much in the same vein as most twin-stick shooters; make you way through room after room, avoiding traps and killing enemies, until you reach the boss. Kill that, descend to the next floor, rise and repeat. You’ll be grabbing keys and bombs to help you along the way, but it’s one of the many unique items that can be found on each floor that you really want to get your hands on. Some are boring but practical, such as merely providing health, while some are much more exciting… Blood lasers? Fear shots? The ability to produce an army of attack flies? They’re all here, and they’re all pretty crazy.

With rooms, enemies and items being randomly generated each time you play, it creates a situation where when I say each run is different, I sincerely mean it. The bulk of the enjoyment that comes from this comes from the fact that items can work with each other to create synergies that take things into really absurd territories. For instance; there’s an item that lets your tears bounce off walls, and another that lets them split into multiple shots once fired. Pick up both, and suddenly there’s a thousand different shots rapidly bouncing off the walls in every direction. That’s just the start of it as well; even after all my time with the game, I’m still finding combinations that make me laugh, or simply leave me in awe at the fact they’re so powerful I’m wiping out rooms in the blink of an eye. Your luck can easily swing the other way, however; not all item drop or combinations work in your favour, and if you’re unfortunate you can find yourself in a desperate fight to survive with what little damage you can dish out. Manage to pull a victory of what seems like a crushing defeat, however, and it just makes that victory that much sweeter. There’s never a dull moment.

One of the main key points that make TBOI:R so genius, however, is in the way that more items and features will unlock as you keep playing and defeat its many challenges. Wind your way down to any of the (multiple) final bosses and succeed in vanquishing it, for instance, and the unlock you receive as a result has the potential to pop up in any of your future runs. This means there’s more scope for diverse runs, more room for crazy item synergies, and more of a chance for you to end up with a big grin on your face. It’s a great mechanic, and one that makes you keep coming back in the hope and desire of unlocking even more stuff to play around with. With so many bosses to beat, and so many characters to beat them with… Well, trust me when I say it’s going to take a nigh-on herculean effort to unlock everything the game has to offer.

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That’s because this game is a pretty serious challenge. Everything’s out to kill you, and managing to keep your cool as a plethora of enemies and obstacles appear in the tiny room you’ve just wandered into is a key skill you have to learn pretty quickly if you want to stand a chance of getting anywhere fast. Sometimes this difficulty gets cranked up to even more brutal levels where you need to be really on the ball to even cope, and sometimes (and in one of my few criticisms I have) it just gets plain unfair. There are some scenarios where damage simply feels inevitable, and some enemies and bosses (You will hate the word “Bloat”, trust me) are notably harder to the point you feel the developers where just being mean-spirited. This runs even truer if you purchase the DLC, which provides challenges so incredibly frustrating you’ll wonder where the fun is meant to be at times. Most damage is fair, don’t get me wrong, but you will likely feel your rage levels rising at points.

The other issue that runs in sync with this is that things feel a little overtly reliant on luck at times. Luck always plays a role in rogue-likes, of course, but in most rogue-likes good play and a healthy dose of effort can pull you through in anything but the direst of situations. Here, if you keep getting items that basically serve little to no practical purpose (of which there are a few), you’re going to have to be some supreme guru of skill and patience to triumph. When the same situation reoccurs over multiple runs… Well, the fun levels drop a little. I admit I’m not the grandest player at the game, and that a lot of attempts I’ve failed may have succeeded in more capable hands. It doesn’t change the fact, however, that I think those runs could hardly be regarded as that “fun” in the first place.

Overall, though, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is one of the most compulsive games that I’ve played in a long time, and is one of a mere handful of games where its gameplay has grabbed on to me stupidly tight and simply refused to let go. Give it a shot. Just… Make sure you get a decent night’s sleep, ok?

Opinions on… Dying Light

Zombies, quite clearly, are monsters that get no shortage of love in the video game world. After all, take a brief glance through the Steam store, and you’ll find it only takes a matter of moments to find a title that pits you against the shambling undead in some way or another. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you consider the fact that there’s always some degree of satisfaction to be taken in turning a zombie’s brain into mush, but it does mean it’s hard to find something out there that keep things fresh and exciting. Enter Dying Light, and it’s rather novel solution to the problem; a healthy dose of… Parkour?

Yes, one of Dying Light’s main selling points comes in gracing you with the ability to jump and vault around its world like some sort of demented acrobat Dying Light’s main selling point is perhaps the ability to jump and vault around its map like a lunatic, using all the advantages that provides to swing the zombie apocalypse in your favour as you start to bash some skulls in. It’s a strange mix; the comparison that is always drawn is that’s it’s a hybrid of Dead Island’s violence and the free running from Mirror’s Edge, and in reality that’s pretty damn close to what you should expect.

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It actually creates an interesting hybrid of gameplay styles, and in an odd way the gameplay shifts and mutates the more time you put into playing it. In the beginning, you’re a pathetic weakling – the game only just stops short of blatantly telling you to stay away from zombie encounters, and even taking one or two on at this point can lead to a quick and untimely death. Instead, your focus moves to scrambling from roof to roof in a desperate bid to stay away from confrontation, any daring attempts at attack generally taking the form of desperate hit and runs.

Yet as you progress and grow stronger, levelling up your character’s strength and agility whilst finding stronger weapons and supplies, you’ll find yourself hitting the streets and tackling things head on more and more. From the cowardly kitten, you become a slicing and dicing killing machine, and it’s really satisfying to do so. Yet you’re not done; the gameplay shifts again once gun-toting mercenaries come into play, becoming a war of attrition as you slowly creep through buildings taking pot-shots at your foes in what can best be described as a really odd version of Rainbow Six. It’s another piece that gets thrown into the survival stew, and you’d better get good at it fast lest you starve to death.

The clever thing with all this, however, comes in the way that the game can manipulate you into having to switch your approach at a moment’s notice. You might be majestically soaring between rooftops, only for an impromptu missed jump or loud noise to suddenly have the zombies bring the fight to you. On the opposite side of the spectrum, you might be happily slaughtering away, only for night to rapidly fall and make the really nasty stuff crawl out from the woodwork, causing a hasty retreat to the skies. It’s a really good way of keeping things fresh and not letting you remain complacent; you always need to be on your toes, lest you die. Not knowing what’s coming next is the main catalyst that will keep you playing; you don’t know what’s coming around the next corner, but you certainly want to find out.

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Looking elsewhere, Dying Light’s story is a fairly cookie-cutter affair; you’re dropped in to recover a government file, but slowly and surely you find out the truth about what has occurred while battling fellow humans – the TRUE monsters, you see? It’s a story that comprises a sheer storm of clichés, and while the use of such clichés is executed reasonably well, this isn’t a narrative that’s going to stick in the memory for any extended period of time. It’s a healthily long campaign that’ll certainly keep you busy for many an hour, though. This is bolstered by many a side mission and challenge, and while many of them are a bit on the repetitive side (basically boiling down to glorified fetch quests), they all culminate into providing the game with a healthy lifespan.

Anything else? Well, the game looks pretty good graphically. I can’t say there’s much which astounded me visually, but it does manage to pull off some good looking vistas when it feels in the mood to do so. The default controls also felt a little cumbersome to me, but with the ability to remap things to your heart’s content (Or just grab a controller, which was my personal approach) it feels a bit unfair to moan about that. Finally, multiplayer is fun enough (if a little confusing at first), but I’d suggest turning the invasions off to begin with. Not doing so results in rival players having an irritating knack of appearing when you are in the middle of doing something important – cutting you off from your objective in the process.

Dying Light, therefore, is a commendable mash up of styles, which on paper perhaps looks like it shouldn’t work, but when put into practice provides a refreshing take on the zombie survival genre. The game’s ambition and scale manages to reach the lofty heights that you’ll often be climbing to, while its gameplay, just like the zombies, certainly has some bite to it.

Opinions on… Euro Truck Simulator 2

You know, it honestly feels like a joke at first. There’s thousands of games out there – some offer compelling storylines, others offer non-stop thrills, and pretty much all of them let us escape the dull monotony and grind of daily life… And then there’s Euro Truck Simulator 2. Which, unsurprisingly, is a simulation game where you drive trucks around a crude rendition of Europe. Okaaaay.

To emphasise the absurdity of things, you only need to look at the basic gameplay loop that’s taking place here; you pick a job from a list of options in your area. You go and hitch up your cargo. Then you slowly trundle towards your destination, taking into account every road law and speed limit, and spending the great majority of your time on vast highways and never-ending strips of asphalt. After dragging yourself to your destination for 20 to 30 real-time minutes, you drop off the cargo – and do the whole thing again.

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Suffice to say, then, that this isn’t for everyone; there’s a good chance a few of you have fell asleep merely reading the last paragraph. If you do actually get to the point where you boot up the game for the first time, it even does a lot to try and immediately frighten you off… You’re instantly met with a plethora of menus that are incredibly overwhelming, allowing you to do everything from create a profile to adjusting your X-axis sensitivity for… Well, something. The tutorial then doesn’t help matters, basically stemming down to telling you “Just drive the truck”, and then buggering off and leaving you to work out how exactly you do that in the first place.

Yet give it a chance to get things rolling and – amazingly and most crucially – it really works. There’s a bunch of reasons why this is the case, that go way beyond the primal satisfaction that comes with driving a hulking great big rig. For one, there’s an incredibly calming sense of slow progression constantly burning away in the background, with the sat-nav in the corner of your screen always slowly ticking down the miles left towards your destination. It’s surprisingly satisfying to watch the numbers keep dropping, and finally whittling a distance that seemed impossible to begin with down to nothing.

Secondly, there’s the option to turn on your own music while driving, or even tune in to actual radio stations across Europe. Set one of these up and hit the perfect moment, where the right song comes on as you watch the sun slowly rise and peep through the trees, and it all just feels… Right. Heck, take my word for it when I say that having AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” blasting out your speakers as you’re racing down the road at max speed is something that’s hard to beat. If you’re daring, you can even pop a video or TV show up in another window and zone out… But just like real life, the chances of you suddenly finding yourself wrapped round the nearest streetlight rapidly increase if you do this. Still, it’s fun to try. In the game, that is.

There’s also a healthy degree of strategy mixed in as well. Your truck needs fuel and your driver needs rest, and managing the two becomes a delicate balancing act of effective time management, where you are constantly checking out your route and seeing how far you can push yourself before you literally fall asleep at the wheel. While it takes way too long if you’re not wishing to put yourself in a position of extreme bank debt (so much so it actually gets a little frustrating), you can even make enough money to hire other truckers to your cause. Suddenly you’re busy plotting out an empire, trucks roaming across all of Europe, and your hard work being rewarded with a skyrocketing bank account. You can even make the core game more complicated, if you’re that way inclined. An automatic gearbox might be the obvious choice, but there’s nothing stopping you from having to switch through all the gears manually, or even hooking a wheel up and going totally crazy. The choice, as they say, is yours.

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It’s also worth pointing out all the mods that are available to enhance or change things up – from the big changes to the little tweaks, there’s a lot you can bolt on to the base experience. Whether it be branding the sides of trucks with famous logos, or subtly changing the map and the way your truck handles, there’s a lot you can tinker about with if things are starting to feel a little dry. Special shout out to the mod that lets you personalise the inside of your truck – because there’s something irresistible about decking out your cabin with a giant BB-8 and a bunch of other nerdy bits and bobs that fill up every empty space. While not offered in the game or mods themselves (and I can’t say I tried this myself), there’s also means out there to take things online, hitting the road with truckers all over the world. Chances are you’ll end up in a traffic jam trying to get a ferry to somewhere, but hey, whatever floats your boat.

In the end, whatever you choose to do and however seriously you take what’s on offer, Euro Truck Simulator 2 is perhaps the definite chilled out experience; with everything always just coming back down to you and the open road. It’s the perfect game to unwind after a stressful day, where the challenge or intensity of most other games simply doesn’t appeal, and that’s what makes it something so much more than something to laugh at.

Opinions on… Rock of Ages

Ever since its original release in 2011, Rock of Ages has managed to persist in my memory. This may not sound remarkable, but consider that this was six years ago now – and also the odd fact that I never actually owned the game until recently. You see, I remember seeing its many quirky trailers, and being intrigued by its gameplay; half rolling boulders down hills and smashing your opponent’s defences (in a way that recalls the classic arcade game Marble Madness), and half tower defence simulator where you struggle to stop your opponent doing the same to you. Wrap the whole thing up in an art style and sense of humour that’s very Monty Pythonesque in its nature, and perhaps you can begin to see how it avoided being a fleeting memory, even without me ever taking to the controls to play it myself.

Being memorable in that regard is one thing, however, but until I actually played it recently the question remained – is it fun to play? Well, get past the brief but initial phase where you painfully have to work out what the heck you’re meant to be doing, and it’s certainly fun for a while. Each battle sees you face off against a different figure from history, introduced in genuinely funny cutscenes which pack in half a ton of film and pop culture references to boot; a particular highlight is Leonardo Da Vinci taking part in a total rip off of The Matrix, for instance. What follows is the gameplay process of using a big rock to smash through their defences and eventually squish them to death, which is something that carries with it the innate sense of joy that you’d probably expect from what that sentence is describing. Indeed, for the first few levels you’ll perhaps think it’s the most genius thing that you’ve played in years – but then the cracks begin to show.

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For one, many of the maps you’ll be staging your attack on are just plain irritating – you’ve got some with high speed ramps and jumps that’s you’d perhaps be hoping for when it comes to seeking out high speed thrills, for sure. Yet they are accompanied by many others which are just twisty and confusing, or have architecture that saps the joy out of things. Think slowly jumping a large and clumsy boulder up a flight of stairs sound fun? If you do, you’re in for a treat – and should probably seek the help of a psychiatrist. There’s numerous occasions where you’ll most likely require more than one run through of a level just to get the sense of where you should be going, which just isn’t an optimal design choice in the slightest.

Worse, however, is the AI you face off against, which only ever maxes out at the level of borderline idiotic. For example, one battle I played saw the opponent’s boulder roll around the map aimlessly after encountering a tiny set of defences it simply couldn’t work out how to pass; another saw their boulder harmlessly rub against my defensive wall for the entire length of the match, no attempt to fix the problem ever attempted. Too often the simplest of strategies that is “build a wall of towers” actually pays off, and even when you have to get a tiny bit more strategic than that I never really encountered a level that felt difficult to any great degree. The only advantage the AI seems to have over you is the ability to build seemingly endless defences that go way beyond your spending limits – yet all this does is end up creating a strange situation where is feels like the the game’s being cheap and resorting to cheating, despite the fact it barely adds any real degree of difficulty.

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This, in turn, means the story mode of the game (which composes the vast bulk of what’s on offer) can be completed remarkably easy – I was done and dusted in about three hours maximum. The reality is the fun and novelty that comes from boulder bashing has lost its lustre by this point regardless, especially when all the irritations and issues above have been thrown into the mix. Think online battles will breathe a new lease of life into things and keep you playing forever? Ha! Good luck – all my attempts at searching for a battle ended fruitlessly. There’s simply no-one playing any more.

The question as to whether I’d recommend Rock of Ages to others, then, becomes a difficult one. None of the issues listed above destroy all your enjoyment by a long shot, but there’s no denying that they do detract from the whole experience a considerable amount. In the end, however, there’s a degree of uniqueness and a sense of joy surrounding what’s on offer here. They’re things which helped the game persist in my memory for so long, and the things which make it so it squeaks through in gaining my approval, even if it does so only by a small margin. Know what you’re getting into, or (perhaps even better) wait for a sale and pick this up on the cheap, and you’ll certainly get some fun out of it. It might not rock your world, but at points it certainly gets on a roll.

(Initial) Opinions on… The Nintendo Switch

So! It’s been a long time coming, but the Nintendo Switch has finally emerged from the shadows, finally revealing its secret after months of speculation. That secret, of course, is that it’s a weird hybrid of a home console and a portable device, with a joypad that you can split in two, and then take those pieces and slot them on to other things… And it’s only when it comes to writing it down now that I realise how weird that all sounds. Anyway, the initial reveal has left many a thought pinging around my head, some positive and some negative. It’s a long journey ahead, that’s for sure, but join me as I break down my thoughts, and try and work out whether this is something that can ‘switch’ Nintendo’s recent fortunes…

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