Back 2 Backlog: Blackwood Crossing, NBA 2K18, Super Mario Run

Back 2 Backlog is our new, irregular-in-several-senses feature where we put three mini-reviews on one page; reviews of games released over the last year or so that we didn’t cover at the time, but that we now have an urge to say something about.

  • Format: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbone, PC
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: PaperSeven
  • Developer: PaperSeven
  • Players: 1
  • Site: http://www.blackwoodcrossing.com/
  • Game purchased by reviewer

Not quite a ‘walking simulator’ and not quite a puzzle game, this is an interesting indie title that quickly grabs you and refuses to let go. It’s a first-person game that casts you as a teenager named Scarlett, on a train journey with her younger brother Finn. This journey constitutes the entire game, but the experience isn’t as limited as you might reasonably expect. Things get very strange very fast…

It’s surreal from start to finish. Scarlett takes the strangeness of everything in her stride, something that isn’t jarring yet is still explained at the end. Everybody in the game apart from the two siblings, for example, is wearing a paper mask; and virtually all of them are oblivious to Scarlett’s presence. Initially, progress is a simple matter of triggering NPC dialogue, and then sorting it into the correct order for coherent exchanges. Initially, Finn’s mischievous antics appear to be nothing more than those ordinary for a boisterous younger brother. Initially, Blackwood Crossing is happy to hide most of its secrets from you.

It soon becomes apparent that Scarlett’s quest to by turns catch, soothe, save, and simply play with her brother in this strange reality is a simple narrative papering over a much more complex and emotive one. There’s ample use of allegory and symbolism, but absolutely no sign of pretentiousness or arrogance. Most of the truth of the story becomes apparent long before it’s laid out in front of you but, then, we’re convinced that this is intentional. By the end of the game, almost everything is explained, with the perfect amount left open to interpretation.

Like so many indie games, Blackwood Crossing is over quite quickly (roughly three hours). It’s well worth playing nonetheless, because that will be memorable time well spent.

 

 

 

  • Format: Xbone (version reviewed), PS4, Switch PC
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: 2K Games
  • Developer: Visual Concepts
  • Players: 1-2
  • Site: https://www.2k.com/games/nba-2k18
  • Game code shared from freelance work

Few games this year have been patched with such ferocity as NBA 2K18. Although far from broken, it was clearly unfinished on release, with multiple updates addressing a combination of technical hitches and fan complaints. Now that the dust has settled, we’re left with a great basketball game. Well, greatish.

There’s full NBA licensing here, and boy does 2K want you to know it. Authentic razzle-dazzle is thrust in your face at every opportunity; though to be fair, this is often a good thing. Games include a pre-show, mascots, very impressive commentary, carefully replicated teams and players, replays, and looots of advertising. If you want an electronic game of NBA basketball that looks and sounds like the real thing, then it’s hard to imagine what more the developers could’ve done to make you happy.

The success of the most important bit – the gameplay – is mixed. Controls are responsive, dunks and breaks are suitably satisfying, and there’s an enormous depth on offer for anybody who wants to play manager as well as player. The main sticking point is the shooting; no matter what the stats say about the strengths and weaknesses of your current player, shooting from distance is always much, much more of a gamble than it ought to be. The odds in this respect seem heavily stacked against you, especially frustrating when playing against AI.

The story mode is full of unskippable cutscenes and, worse – if true to 2017’s form – just a little too reliant on microtransactions. You can certainly grind your way to decent stats for your custom character, but it’s a heck of a lot quicker and easier to blow a load of money to achieve the same thing. Online is busy, which is good; but overall, it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.

 

 

 

We don’t usually cover mobile games… but it’s Mario!

Nintendo’s first ‘proper’ foray into mobile gaming proved to be really rather good (and also exposed the whole “you won’t see Mario on your phone” thing as a shameless fib). Despite the questionable wisdom of quite specifically marketing it as a Mario game that you can play with one hand, everything in the game itself has been planned out with great care and wisdom. The basic premise is that Mario (or one of the other unlockable characters) continually runs forward on their own. You tap the phone to make them jump… and that’s about it. This description might tempt you to dismiss the game as Flappy Birdo, but that would be neither fair nor accurate.

It’s all about timing, and retains much of the feel of a traditional Mario game as well as the look. There are enemies to squish, spiky ones to avoid, bullets and koopas to bounce on, wall jumps to be made, coloured coins to collect, and even bosses to be defeated. It may be necessarily linear, and the number of stages is fairly small; but it’s still as close to a ‘proper’ Mario game on your mobile device as can be reasonably expected.

There are still concessions to the mobile market, mind you. Certainly not one for in-app purchases; some people argue that the game is too expensive (and there’s a case to be made), but once you’ve ponied up the money, you’ll never be asked to spend another penny. The coins that you collect while playing accumulate in the background, and are used to purchase decorations for the mini version of the Mushroom Kingdom that slowly expands as you progress. With ghost challenges for bragging rights too, there’s plenty to come back for.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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