This week, Tour De France 15 slips into some virtual Lycra on PS4, Ride revs up on Xbox One, and Harvest Moon unveils The Lost Valley on Nintendo 3DS.
Elsewhere, Transistor and Try Harder set a pair of monumental mobile challenges on iPhone and iPad.
Ross Wilkinson checks out this week’s hot tips:
Tour De France 15
A two-wheeled triumph
Slip your virtual Lycra on and get pedalling, as Tour De France 2015 challenges you to overcome the rigours of a professional rider competing in the most famous two-wheeled challenge of them all. But can you really turn cycling into a gaming addiction? Here, you get to choose your team, your cyclist, and throw yourself into the race. You manage your efforts during the stages in order to stay at the top of your form, work with your teammates, keep an eye on your reputation, and when necessary, build alliances with your opponents to win a stage or climb the overall leaderboard. All-action arcade stuff it isn’t, but it’s a great pick-up-and-play alternative to the hardcore PC Pro Cycling Manager equivalent, with enough tactical challenges to keep your sporting brain ticking. Big cycling fans will lap up the authentic experience on offer here, and with the team time trial making a welcome return, there’s pretty much everything you could ask for from a person-powered racer that shows minority sports can shine on the biggest console stage.
Xbox One, £36.99
Leather-laden racing that needs to be fully unleashed
Pop an engine under your legs and crank the Tour De France up to 20. Or so you’d hope in a high-octane racer with the strings of code, super-slick graphics and twisting city tracks we’ve come to expect from next-generation racers these days. Yes, you can ride more than 100 bikes, in 4 different categories – Superbikes, Supersports, Naked, and Historical Bikes – and hurtle at full throttle around the most historic circuits from the world of motorcycling. You can also enjoy pretty ludicrous levels of vehicle and rider customisation, offering a vast array of options that will keep fanatics fawning for a while. But when it comes to the crunch, the painfully pedestrian learning curve that refuses to let you unleash the biggest engine beasts until much later in the game may extinguish any enthusiasm you have for mastering the racing line on the most perilous of hairpin corners. If Ride had the ambition of becoming the two-wheeled equivalent of Gran Turismo, it’s probably fair to say that this iteration is close, but no cigar. Thankfully, there’s always next year, and the foundations are definitely there for a successful franchise.
Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley
Nintendo 3DS, £32.99
New Moon, new dawn?
Recent Harvest Moon releases have never quite hit the heights of the late noughties releases, and The Lost Valley seeks to pique players’ interest by offering up this intriguing role-playing farm simulation in a three-dimensional setting for the first time. With a fully customisable world it seems like the prospect of ploughing your unique field any way you see fit could offer limitless potential – from a field full of tulips like you might see in Holland, to a Venice-like valley filled with water. But the reality of the gameplay is a sandbox experience that requires a serious amount of repetitive activity. Unfortunately, this masks the charm and innovation that the new development team have clearly worked hard to establish. As Minecraft mimicry goes, this is Nintendo’s best effort to date, but it’s still not a patch on the premier 3D world-cultivator. The experimentation and innovation from previous releases does pay off in part, but we’ll have to hope that next year’s crop is the one that really bears fruit on the handheld system.
An action RPG that’s well worth tuning into
Transistor does a brilliant job of bringing a rich fantasy RPG to micro-sized mobile screens. The out-there environment populated by speaking swords and violent mechanical miscreants is beautifully realised on some of the most jaw-dropping app graphics to date. And it serves up wave after wave of combat encounters – controlled via tactical touchscreen taps that will move your character, Red, and then allow you to allocate a number of commands to execute once the game resumes in real-time. While the wandering through this world is not quite as expansive as one might hope, there are hidden secrets to uncover when you can stray off the linear beaten path. The key niggles here, though, are the unexpected hikes in difficulty. These can result in more tense taps on screen borne out of frustration than carefully constructed battle tactics. It’s a shame that this slightly sullies an otherwise excellent experience, and even though the price tag is high, Transistor is still an app well worth tuning into.
iPhone / iPad, Free (with in-app purchases)
There’s effort in this endless runner evolution
The endless runner genre is in need of some innovation, and Try Harder does try to inject that little something that lifts the prospect of perpetual side-scrolling sprinting and jumping to new heights. The killer twist here is that each time you die, your character’s corpse is left behind to help – or hinder – your progress on the next playthrough. The body can be used as a platform to boost your jumping prowess and generally proves to be a positive addition to the slick, minimalistic environment. A series of power-ups that can be collected during your run will permit super jumps, gliding and transformation into a near-immortal ball, plus there are chests of booty to bag as you fly along. The only in app purchase here will remove ads for the princely sum of £2.29, so it’s nice to know that if you can stomach them, the whole game experience is completely free. As a result, there’s nothing to lose in giving Try Harder a whirl. Sadly, it doesn’t reinvent the genre, but those little tweaks to the gameplay mechanics certainly deliver a fresh dose of run fun for those quick-fix mobile gaming moments.
What’s hot and what’s not?
The gaming world recently launched a search for inspirational heroes, and didn’t have to look too hard to find worthy inhabitants of the inaugural video game hall of fame. Pong, Doom, Tetris, Super Mario Bros, Pac-Man and World of Warcraft were chosen to feature in an exhibit of iconic games by The Strong – a US museum of play. They were whittled down from a long list of 15, which also included Angry Birds, Minecraft, Legend Of Zelda, Space Invaders and Pokemon. Those outraged by the final six need not worry. Nominations for 2016 are now being taken…
Meanwhile, in the charts this week, The Elder Scrolls Online shot straight to the top of the billing, closely followed by another new entry, LEGO Jurassic World. While The Witcher 3 slipped to three as a result, it managed to stave off the challenge of the final new entry to the top ten – Payday 2: Crimewave Edition – which debuted at four.
1. The Elder Scrolls Online
2. LEGO Jurassic World
3. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
4. Payday 2: Crimewave Edition
5. Grand Theft Auto V
6. FIFA 15
7. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
9. Battlefield Hardline
10. Farming Simulator 15
Leisure software charts compiled by Chart Track, (c) 2015 UKIE Ltd