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Acer Predator Triton 700 review

The Acer Predator Triton 700: a GTX 1080-equipped laptop, that’s less than 20mm thick and weighs under 2.5kg? It sounds too good to be true, but there’s a heavy price to pay, and some compromises.

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Acer Predator Triton 700 review

The Acer Predator Triton 700: a GTX 1080-equipped laptop, that’s less than 20mm thick and weighs under 2.5kg? It sounds too good to be true, but there’s a heavy price to pay, and some compromises.

1. Design

Acer Predator Triton 700 keyboard trackpad

The first thing you notice about the Acer Predator Triton 700 is that the keyboard is in the wrong place, and it doesn’t appear to have a trackpad.

Actually, I tell a lie. The first thing you notice about the Acer Predator Triton 700 is that it has the most obnoxious startup sequence imaginable. Remember the PC Specialist Defiance XS, with that cute little glowing die cut machine detailing on the lid, that softly hums into life like a bat signal when you start it up?

Yeah, it’s not quite so subtle an effect as that.

And when I say “not quite so subtle” that’s being generous. It’s downright irritating.

Imagine opening your laptop, hitting the power button, and it screaming at the top of its lungs, “Hey, everyone! Yes, everyone! I’m starting up! I don’t think people on the next street heard me so I’ll say it louder; I’m starting up!” for some reason.

The Predator Triton 700 annoys my wife, it wakes up my cats, and – if Windows 10 performs an update without telling you, as it is wont to do – this thing will just start making its horrible, murderer-bursting-into-the-room-wielding-a-knife-in-a-teen-slasher-movie sound effect, completely unexpected, and at what ever time it feels like it.

We haven’t been this spooked by an unexpected noise from a piece of electronics since a Furby, thought to be long-dormant, started chattering in a slow, drawling voice – caused by low batteries – in the middle of the night. “Peek-a-boo, I see you,” isn’t nearly as cute when taken out of context and whispered at you from the depths of a cupboard while you’re sleeping.

Then there’s the keyboard and trackpad.

The Acer Predator Triton 700 – which you’ll see from the full specs below – fits in an impressive calibre of hardware, including a proper mechanical keyboard, a desktop Intel Core i7 processor, and an Nvidia GTX 1080 with Max-Q design. Max-Q is, if you’ve forgotten, Nvidia’s name for the slightly pared-back versions of the full-fat desktop cards they’re based on, to reduce thermal, power and cooling constraints for use in thin chassis.

And at approximately 19mm, this laptop is very thin. It’s not as thin as a Razer Blade or Gigabyte Aero, or as the aforementioned Defiance XS which is kitted out with a GTX 1070 Max-Q GPU, but for the components found within, it’s remarkable.

Unfortunately, as a result of that component set, compromises have been made in the design.

As you can see from the pictures, the keyboard is located on the front edge of the laptop, where you would normally rest your wrists, and there doesn’t appear to be a trackpad. At all. That’s because the hot components need all the cooling help they can get, and having the keyboard – especially a mechanical one, with increased depth and travel – in its traditional position near the hinge would have encroached on chassis space for cooling, heat pipes, fans and the like.

So the keyboard is in the wrong place, but what of the trackpad? Well you see that piece of tinted glass between the keyboard and the display, which acts as a viewing area onto the RGB-lit fans of the laptop’s interior? That’s also the trackpad. Yes, above the keyboard.

To be fair to Acer, they’re not the only ones making compromises to fit a GTX 1080 Max-Q into a chassis less than 20mm thick. The Asus ROG Zephyrus also features a keyboard in the wrist rest position, but sacrifices the number pad to move the trackpad to the right of the keyboard. It’s at least in something slightly resembling a normal desk layout, so long as you’re right-handed. I don’t know which is worse – losing a numpad, or having the trackpad above the keyboard – but in both cases, I’ll plant my flag and say they’re truly terrible solutions to problems entirely of their own making.

Almost as if to acknowledge the issue, however, Acer has included a recessed USB port on the Triton 700, so you can leave a mouse dongle permanently attached without any danger of shearing it off. It’s a clever touch, but again, a neat solution to a problem that has already been over-engineered into the system.

Whether you should be expected to make any compromises in a laptop that will set you back the best part of £3,000? We’ll come to that later.

Elsewhere on the design front, the Predator Triton 700 looks like a gaming device. It’s angular, it’s angry, and it’s illuminated from every orifice; not the ugliest gaming laptop in the world by any stretch, but the overall design is saved by the slightly grown-up feel imposed by the slim, lightweight brief. And it is an incredible amount of power fit into a relatively svelte chassis, so you have to give Acer bonus points for their component Tetris skills.

2. Build quality

Acer Predator Triton 700

To say a word in the Predator Triton 700’s favour for a moment, it feels absolutely rock solid. Unlike a couple of other Acer review units we’ve had recently – with a spongy trackpad on a laptop, and a loose hinge on a VR headset – we haven’t found any fault with the device during our testing. And we know it’s been around plenty of other testers before us because someone looks like they’ve tried to feed the cardboard packing through a wood chipper, so it’s a positive sign that it’s holding up so well after what must be continuous abuse.

That being said, we only had the device in for a couple of weeks. Normally we try to road-test devices over longer periods of time – several months, if the PR folk will let us keep them that long – so keep that in mind when we’re saying that we didn’t observe any technical or mechanical faults with the Predator Triton 700.

The chassis feels tough, the hinge seems robust and on the stiff side (which is a good thing), and the mechanical keyboard has plenty of travel without ever feeling bouncy. It’s loud, as laptop keyboards go – like every noise this laptop makes, bordering on antisocial – but it has a satisfying clunk that suggests it will keep going for years.

There’s little comment to make on the mouse, especially, because it doesn’t have any buttons. Reviewers can’t complain of spongy buttons if there aren’t any buttons to become spongy over extended use.

It is worth pointing out that the Gorilla Glass surface on the trackpad feels very smooth and tough, but the tappable area seems inconsistent; sometimes you’ll wander over to the extreme edges of the glass and it’ll work fine, but on other occasions, it’ll seem like a dead spot. Multi-finger gestures seem a little less reliable than dedicated trackpads, and right-clicking – by tapping with two fingers together – can be hit or miss at times. Also, the trackpad surface does get rather hot, but we’ll touch on that later.

3. Specs

Here are the full specs for the Acer Predator Triton 700 they sent us through to review.

Acer Predator Triton 700 specs:

  • Operating System: Windows 10 Home
  • Processor: Intel Core i7-7700HQ 2.8GHz; Quad-core
  • Chipset: Intel HM175
  • Memory: 16GB DDR4 (32GB maximum)
  • Storage: 1TB SSD
  • Screen: 15.6″ Full HD (1920×1080) IPS panel (with ComfyView technology)
  • Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 8GB with Max-Q Technology (GTX 1060 also available)
  • Connectivity: Killer Wireless-AC 1535 wireless LAN, Bluetooth
  • Audio & Video: 1280×720 webcam, Two speakers
  • Ports & Connectors: 3x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0 (recessed), 1x USB 3.1 Type-C (Thunderbolt), Network (RJ-45), 1x HDMI, 1 x DisplayPort
  • Battery: 4-cell 4670 mAh Li-Polymer
  • Battery Life: (up to) 5 hours
  • Adaptor: 230 W external
  • Dimensions (W x D x H):  393 mm x 266 mm x 18.9 mm
  • Weight: 2.4 kg (approx.)

There is some variance available in the models of Predator Triton 700 out there, from a machine kitted out with a GTX 1060 and 16GB RAM down as “low” as £2,300, while the review model listed above will retail at a few pennies under three grand. It’s not cheap, however you slice it.

4. Power, cooling, noise

Acer Predator Triton 700

If you thought the startup noise of the Predator Triton 700 was obnoxious, then just wait until you start using the thing in anger. The Core i7 processor and GTX 1080 – even in the lighter, trimmer Max-Q variant – require a huge amount of power in laptop terms, 45 and 150 W respectively.

All of that heat has to go somewhere and – thanks to an advanced system of heat sinks, heat pipes and fans – is forced out of the rear of the laptop at high speed. But smaller, thinner devices mean smaller fans, and smaller fans need to operate at higher frequencies to shift the same volume of air as larger ones. The fans in the Triton 700 kick out a high-pitched whine, somewhere between an electric leaf blower and a small jet turbine.

This system actually does a remarkable job of keeping the Predator Triton 700 relatively cool. Even under the most extreme real-world load scenarios the highest we’ve seen the CPU temperature peak at is 84°C, while the GPU hasn’t been higher than 76°C.

The heat doesn’t all get evacuated out from the rear of the laptop, however. The glass panel, that allows a view into the spinning fans and also doubles as a trackpad, gets unbearably hot while the system is under load. If you’re going to be pushing this system to the limits gaming, you’re more than likely going to be using an external mouse and not even contemplating touching the trackpad, but when you’re benchmarking it’s easy to forget that it gets hot. And it hurts. If it wouldn’t have made a mess to try, we probably could’ve cooked an egg on there.

The Triton 700 also has rather nice speakers, situated on the top of the laptop – rather than underneath, which is the norm – which can produce some fairly convincing stereo surround effects. They’re powerful enough in their own right and great by laptop standards, but over the high-pitched whine of the fans, they’re difficult to hear without cranking them up to the max. You might get good results from them when watching movies or streaming TV, but when you’re gaming, it just makes the whole affair even noisier and, yes, more obnoxious.

Battery life is also not good. Not even a little bit. The stated battery life is up to five hours, according to the specs, but the most we managed – even with power saving turned on and just performing light productivity tasks and web browsing – was between two and three hours. If you’re running anything intensive, like gaming, you might not even trouble an hour.

That’s not unexpected with this combination of components, and probably wouldn’t upset most people in what they want this laptop for – gaming, on mains power – but it’s worth keeping in mind that, even though this is a relatively thin and light laptop for its spec, it won’t turn you into a road warrior.

5. Performance, usability

Acer Predator Triton 700

First up, some real-world gaming benchmarks. We don’t perform synthetic benchmarking – you can find that sort of stuff online very easily – but like to include real-world gaming figures because they’re useful at a glance and many of the games make familiar frames of reference.

1080p benchmark data:

  • Final Fantasy XV (standard/high preset) – 95 / 70 fps
  • Gears of War 4 (ultra preset) – 113 fps
  • PUBG (medium settings, ultra draw distance) – average 115 fps in quiet zones / 95 fps in busy zones
  • World of Tanks Encore (ultra preset) – 158 fps

This was all done as per our usual testing methodology. For the games with built-in benchmarking tools, we ran the tests five times and calculated the mean average. For PUBG, which is so variable it’s damn-near impossible to benchmark accurately, we played about 20 hours and worked out rough averages based on what we’ve seen during different play conditions in that time.

2160p (4K) benchmark data:

  • Final Fantasy XV (light/standard/high preset) – 39 /34 /29 fps
  • Gears of War 4 (low/med/high/ultra preset) – 60 / 55 / 49 / 44 fps
  • PUBG (medium settings, ultra draw distance) – average 55 fps in quiet zones / 45 fps in busy zones
  • World of Tanks Encore (medium/ultra preset) – 131 / 53 fps

There are, of course, some compromises to be made when running any device at 4K. If you want to be running at that resolution, at the highest settings, you’re going to need a desktop machine running something like a full-fat GTX 1080 Ti. But for a laptop to be able to reach 44 frames per second at the ultra preset on Gears of War 4, and bob along at around about 30 frames per second on the machine-melting Final Fantasy XV? That’s thoroughly impressive.

The laptop also comes with Acer’s Predator Sense software, which allows you to use built-in overclocking presets to push the GTX 1080 Max-Q to its absolute limit. Full disclosure: we were running on the maximum overclocking preset to achieve those 4K benchmarks on Final Fantasy XV and Gears of War 4. Oddly, however, with the benchmarking cranked up PUBG actually started hitching and stalling, even though the frame rates seemed higher. When we turned the overclocking back off it ran smoothly, and only a couple of frames per second lower than with the GPU overclocked. Your mileage may vary, is the key takeaway here.

At 1080p resolution, however – the laptop’s native display resolution – on its frankly brilliant IPS panel, with a 120Hz refresh rate and Nvidia’s G-Sync technology, the Triton 700 is an absolute beast. It will devour anything you put in front of it, and even notoriously stringent tests like Final Fantasy XV never dipped below 60 frames per second.

The Predator Triton 700 also effectively maxed out the Steam VR performance benchmarks, meaning it’s very capable as a virtual reality machine.

My issue with the Acer Predator Triton 700 has nothing to do with its performance, however. This absolute beast of a machine leaves most other laptops in its wake; certainly anything else in this sort of size and weight category. But I find myself wondering exactly who this laptop is for?

The awkward keyboard position, abysmal trackpad, and disappointing battery life mean it doesn’t really work as a portable device. I’ve put in some extended gaming sessions with the Triton 700 on my lap and ended up with some fairly extreme discomfort in my left wrist as a result. Trying to type for long periods of time is also noticeably uncomfortable, and there’s no way you can use it at all if you don’t have at least a foot spare on your dominant hand’s side to operate with a proper mouse.

You might argue, then, that the Triton 700 isn’t designed for use on your lap at all. If you set this laptop up on your desk, with a decent amount of space for your mouse and enough room to put the keyboard at a comfortable stretch away, then it all feels much better. But if you’re just looking for a desktop PC, you could put together a desktop PC this powerful – or buy something off the shelf – for around half the price.

If for some reason you can’t accommodate a full-sized desktop PC – you’re cable phobic, perhaps? – this might suit, but there are cheaper powerful desktop replacement workstations out there; especially if you’re not really planning to take it anywhere.

If, however, you’re in that sweet spot of people who need an extremely powerful device and need to take their laptop with them – but have a full desk setup at every destination, and don’t ever intend to use it on the move – then you might just be the target market for the Acer Predator Triton 700.

Acer Predator Triton 700
3

Summary

Manufacturer: Acer
Availability: Out now – Shop for the Acer Predator Triton 700 on Amazon (we may receive a commission for purchases made through third-party retail stores)


The Acer Predator Triton 700 is a bit like the insane Predator Z35P curved monitor we reviewed earlier in the year: it’s technically a brilliant device, and if you’ve got the money (and the use case) for it, then fill your boots. Its performance is astounding for its size. But for a device that costs three grand to have so many compromises – and the keyboard and mouse are, sadly, two I can’t forgive – is disappointing.

Enjoyed this article?

Found it interesting, entertaining, useful, or informative? Maybe it even saved you some money. That's great to hear! Sadly, independent publishing is struggling worse than ever, and Thumbsticks is no exception. So please, if you can afford to, consider supporting us via Patreon or buying us a coffee.

Tom is an itinerant freelance technology writer who found a home as an Editor with Thumbsticks. Powered by coffee, RPGs, and local co-op.

Reviews

Lost Ember – Nintendo Switch Review

Lost Ember brings a contemplative journey of discovery to the Nintendo Switch.

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Lost Ember - Nintendo Switch Review

Lost Ember brings a contemplative journey of discovery to the Nintendo Switch.

I need to have a quiet word with Mooneye Studios. I’m pretty sure someone there has some strange psychic link into my mind, specifically to my taste in video games.

Lost Ember is an exploration adventure that takes inspiration from – and pays homage to – a myriad of games, many of which are among my all-time favourites. I’ll take a deep breath and list them: Ico, Journey, Abzü. Breath of the Wild, Okami, Flower, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, plus a smidgen of Hob and a dash of Twilight Princess for good measure.

Far from being a criticism, this is absolutely a good thing, and it’s not just me that feels this way. You can also count the nearly 8000 backers who helped Kickstart the game in 2016. If you share similar tastes, Lost Ember – which was recently ported to the Nintendo Switch – should be on your radar.

Conceptually, I was on board with Lost Ember before I started playing. But it’s no small task to carry the weight of my expectations and also add something new to the sub-genre of semi-open world melancholic nature rambles I enjoy so much.

It starts well. The title screen is a mesmerising construct. A silhouette of a running fox framed by a dust pink setting sun, backed by an elegiac score promising an emotional adventure to come. It’s a promise the game comes tantalisingly close to keeping.

Lost Ember - Nintendo Switch Review

Lost Ember is a walking sim writ large. Really large. Really, really large. It’s a (mostly) linear journey told across  seven distinct chapters and a variety of soaring natural landscapes and environments. It’s a world of rolling hills, ancient ruins, tumbling rapids, dusty dunes, snowcapped peaks, and, in some of the game’s most exhilarating moments, wide-open skies.

For much of Lost Ember you control a wolf that – with a Navi-like guide as a companion – embarks on a quest to discover the fate of a fallen civilisation. Along the way you can also assume control over other species, possessing them Being John Malkovich-style to help you overcome different terrain or environmental obstacles. Each has unique abilities that help you continue forward. In one early example, possessing a mole lets you dig a path under a rock. Later, you can use the abilities of a flying fish to swim upstream, and become a mountain goat to negotiate a vertiginous cliff path.

Each animal is exquisitely animated, be it the adorable waddling of a mole or the majestic swoops of a parrot. One sequence, in which you possess a stampeding buffalo, is an exercise in pure cinematic spectacle. But there’s also the opportunity to become a duckling and lead your siblings around in circles like Benny Hill.

The attention to detail extends to the environments. This heightened take on the natural world is stylised but varied and constantly changing. For once, it’s a video game journey that actually feels like a journey. And although there are few traditional objectives, there is always something on the horizon to draw you forward, onward, and deeper.

The trade-off for this artistry is some occasional but significant performance issues. The pre-release version we played for review was subject to game-stopping stutters and frame-rate drops. The problem is particularly apparent when moving from one large area to another, and unfortunately ruinous to a couple of Lost Ember‘s more ambitious environmental transitions. It’s not enough of a problem to advise against buying the game, but it is distracting and something that we hope will be improved in a post-release patch. For the best performance and visual fidelity, handheld mode is the best option.

Lost Ember - Nintendo Switch Review

Threaded throughout the journey is an oblique narrative revealed through a combination of flashback cutscenes and ghostly in-game memories. Interestingly, before you begin your adventure, you are given the option of playing the game with or without dialogue from your guiding companion. I played it with the dialogue enabled, and although it’s well performed, it’s a little too expositional and explanatory. If you have the appetite to play Lost Ember more than once, I’d recommend taking your first trip without the commentary and drawing your own conclusions from the otherwise effectively-told story.

Lost Ember‘s pleasure also comes from traversing its world and seeing it from different perspectives. Each creature is distinct and satisfying to control, be it the gallop of a wolf, the Samus-like rolling of a mole, the majestic stride of an elephant, or the amusingly slow amble of a tortoise. Curious players will be rewarded with new vistas admire or non-essential world-building collectables to discover. The combination of exploration, animal possession, and narrative comes together to keep the game engaging throughout its six-hour length.

Ultimately, Lost Ember doesn’t exceed the titles I listed at the start of this review, but it’s a worthy addition to their ranks. It tells an interesting story in an expansive world that is blissfully free from mission icons and side quests. And despite its relative brevity, it’s not an adventure to rush. So take your time, breath in the air, and savour the sights.

Lost Ember - Nintendo Switch review
3.5

Summary


Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Mooneye Studios
Publisher: Mooneye Studios
Release Date: September 25, 2020


Lost Ember wears its influences proudly but it doesn’t surpass them. Nonetheless, it’s a personal tale told with style on a large and frequently beautiful canvas. Unfortunately, the Nintendo Switch version suffers from performance problems that are detrimental to the overall experience. If they can be fixed – and we’ll update this review if they are – you can happily add another half-point to our score.

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Reviews

Super Mario 3D All-Stars review

Super Mario 3D All-Stars on Switch rises above a host of small niggles to remind us that when it comes to gameplay, Nintendo’s Italian plumber is still king.

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Super Mario 3D All-Stars
Nintendo / Thumbsticks

Super Mario 3D All-Stars on Nintendo Switch rises above some small niggles to remind us that when it comes to gameplay, Super Mario is still king.

I’m not sure what it would take to satisfactorily celebrate the anniversary of an icon with Super Mario’s legacy and stature. It’s evident, however, that Super Mario 3D All-Stars has fallen short of what some fans hoped for. And although it’s easy to be disappointed by what this new Nintendo Switch collection doesn’t include, it’s thankfully easier to be entertained, enthralled, and exhilarated by what it does.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars features three titles plucked from the Nintendo 64, GameCube and Wii eras. Two of them are universally acknowledged as classics. The other is a divisive title, ripe for reappraisal. Each game runs in high-definition with a few modest enhancements such as improved HUD elements and some updated art assets. HD rumble is another welcome addition. Super Mario 64, in particular, benefits from the subtle pulses and purrs that now support Mario’s acrobatics.

This anniversary collection is completed by three soundtracks, and that’s it. If you’re a fan of Digital Eclipse’s work with the Mega Man franchise, for example, I expect you’ll be disappointed by what’s on offer here. Put simply, 3D All-Stars is a compilation of three classic games presented as close to their original format as is possible given the requirements of modern HD televisions. It is the bare minimum, then, although it’s worth noting that all three games look splendid nonetheless.

Mario 3D All-Stars artwork

Super Mario 64

Much of the disappointment surrounding this collection is directed at the presentation of Nintendo 64 classic, Super Mario 64. Unlike Activision’s Crash Bandicoot and Spyro trilogies, the All-Stars version of Super Mario 64 is not a remake, but it’s also not a full remaster. Instead, it’s the Japanese Shindō Pak Taiō version of the game presented in 4:3 ratio at 720p resolution. The frame-rate is locked tight at 30 fps, but the in-game camera is still the Lakitu-controlled experiment of incremental positioning it was in 1996. The one concession to modern gameplay expectations is a switcheroo of the horizontal camera axis, from inverted to normal.

All of this would be a problem were it not for the game still being absolutely brilliant. Those black borders on the side of the screen are disappointing, but then I tumble into a strange swirling pool of colour and land in a subterranean maze. I long jump across a ravine to escape a nasty bug. I weave through a path of tumbling boulders. I plunge into a pool of water and climb on to the back of a sea monster. I discover a small island topped by a ring of gleaming coins with a glowing star at its centre. I take the star, and I win. It’s an action movie refined into 84 blissful seconds.

Super Mario 64 - Super Mario 3D All-Stars

That’s the magic of Super Mario 64. The game’s age is almost its defining feature. Displayed in HD and released from the fuzz of a CRT screen, it looks dynamite, even at 720p. Sure, a full visual makeover would be an interesting exercise, but there’s also a chance it would shine a harsh light on the game’s limits and those hazy, out of reach borders. There is an innate beauty in the simplicity of its polygons simplicity. Unlike its successor, every shape and colour in Super Mario 64 feel deliberately positioned to create the ultimate digital playground. Whereas the muted, earthy tones The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time benefit from its Nintendo 3DS upgrade, Super Mario 64 looks and feels timeless.

For me, revisiting Super Mario 64 is an exercise in flexing 24 years of muscle memory. Newcomers might struggle with its camera or find some the trickier platforming sequences frustrating, but Mario can still turn on a dime, wall bounce with grace, and triple jump with a finesse that no other video game character can muster. Age can not diminish that, and it never will.

Super Mario Sunshine

Super Mario Sunshine has always been considered the black sheep of Mario’s 3D family. It was acknowledged as a minor classic in 2002, but over time it has been quietly pushed aside and forgotten, like a misguided holiday romance.

Super Mario Sunshine - Super Mario 3D All-Stars

On Nintendo Switch, Sunshine finds itself upscaled to 1080p and given much-needed room to breathe with a 16:9 aspect ratio. These welcome changes are offset by a stubborn refusal to allow the inverted aiming controls to be changed, despite a reversal of the horizontal camera. The F.L.U.D.D. mechanics have also been migrated from one pressure-sensitive GameCube trigger to two digital shoulder buttons on Switch.

It’s not an ideal compromise, especially when combined with the game’s wayward camera and looser approach to level design. All of this would be a problem were not for the game being such a uniquely singular Mario experience. Aiming F.L.U.D.D. is needlessly counter-intuitive, but then I swan-dive into a stream of water, and I forget all about it. I slide down a hill and launch into a jump. I bounce from a rope and hover in the air, held aloft by two jets of water. I climb a windmill to battle Petey Piranha in a mess of water, goo, and ground-pounds.

Super Mario Sunshine is a hodge-podge of the sublime and the ridiculous, a vacation of wild highs and hangover headaches. It’s a flawed, scruffy game by Nintendo’s standards, but I predict those expecting a disaster will be pleasantly surprised.

Super Mario Galaxy

Of the games in this collection, Super Mario Galaxy requires the least amount of polish from a visual perspective. Nintendo’s artistry looks wonderful in 1080p, and the game runs a silky smooth 60 fps without any hiccups. The implementation of the Wii version’s motion controls is more of a mixed bag, however.

In docked mode, you can play with a Pro Controller or two Joy-Cons. They work well enough, but the motion aiming is not as precise as Wii players will recall, and the absence of an infrared sensor means frequent recalibration.

In handheld mode, these actions are transferred to the Switch’s touchscreen. It’s an obvious solution, but in practice, some of the more intricate levels result in a spaghetti of fingers as your hand moves back and forth from the controller to the screen in quick succession. Thankfully, Mario’s spin-jump can now be performed with a simple tap of the Y button.

Super Mario Galaxy - Super Mario 3D All-Stars

All of this would be a problem were it not for the game remaining one of the purest distillations of platforming ever committed to silicon. The touchscreen controls can be fiddly in the heat of the moment, but when that moment is a journey across a galaxy featuring castle planets, physics-defying bridges, a glass space station with constantly flipping gravity, and a gauntlet of lava-filled boulders, those problems fade away. It’s simply a joy to watch this version of Mario in action, bending the rules of space and motion across a series of varied and outrageously imaginative environments.

It’s striking how significantly video games changed in the decade between Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy, and how little they have evolved since. Despite Super Mario Odyssey‘s obvious achievements, it sits firmly in Galaxy‘s shadow. It’s another outright classic from Nintendo and a masterpiece of video game construction.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars review
4.5

Summary


Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: September 18, 2020


Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a limited time release in both physical and digital formats. We can only guess at the reason but whatever misgivings you have about the nature of this collection – or its position as Nintendo’s big fall release – it’s still an essential purchase. All three games look better than ever and provide hours and hours of exquisitely designed and consistently inventive entertainment.

Enjoyed this article?

Found it interesting, entertaining, useful, or informative? Maybe it even saved you some money. That's great to hear! Sadly, independent publishing is struggling worse than ever, and Thumbsticks is no exception. So please, if you can afford to, consider supporting us via Patreon or buying us a coffee.

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Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 review

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 revitalizes the dormant skate series with a frontside 180 onto modern tech.

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Tony Hawks Pro Skater 1 + 2 review
Activision

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 revitalizes the dormant skate series with a frontside 180 onto modern tech.

My experience with Tony Hawk has, more often than not, been mediated by Vicarious Visions.

The prolific studio once put out 14 games in a year (12 in their still-ridiculous runner-up), porting just about every popular early aughts IP to Nintendo’s handhelds. If there’s a mascot platformer you loved on consoles, chances are Vicarious Visions broke it down to its barest essentials – which usually meant a switch to 2D – and put out a Game Boy Advance version.

The Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games got a similar treatment. Though Natsume’s Game Boy Color version of the original THPS is underwhelming, Vicarious Visions managed to capture much of the series charm in their subsequent GBA ports. I played a tonne of the studio’s isometric take on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 and dumped dozens of hours into the series’ blocky DS debut, American Sk8land. Meanwhile, I somehow never made it past the Hangar on my N64 copy of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2.

For much of its 30-year history, the Activision subsidiary has had the unenviable task of making worse versions of beloved games, dumbing down the graphics and simplifying the gameplay until they had something that would keep a seven-year-old kid happy enough on a long car ride. They did impressive work for unimpressive hardware.

Tony Hawks Pro Skater 1 + 2 review 02

In recent years, though, Vicarious Visions has finally had the opportunity to give games glow-ups. With 2017’s Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, the studio lovingly reimagined Naughty Dog’s decades-old original run for modern hardware, kickstarting a wave of remasters at Activision (Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled from Beenox, Spyro Reignited Trilogy from Toys for Bob) and clearing a path for a brand new Crash Bandicoot game, Crash 4: It’s About Time, set to release next month.

Now, Vicarious Visions has focused that same love and attention on remaking the series they spent the ‘00s de-making for handhelds. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 is a fantastic remake of the earliest games, and a wonderful return for a series that went out on the sour note of 2015’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5. It also proves that if Activision is interested in continuing to cash-in on nostalgia, Vicarious Visions is one of their most essential assets.

Pretending I’m (still) a Superman

Skating in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 feels effortlessly good – exactly how you probably remember these games feeling. Despite the fact that I hadn’t played a Tony Hawk game in almost 15 years, re-learning the controls was easy and fun. An optional, extensive tutorial with VO instructions from the Birdman himself is a nice touch.

Though getting a hang of the basics is easy, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 will push you to put it all together. The addition of the revert, which was added in THPS3, and the manual, which was originally only present in THPS2, makes pulling off long chains of combos seamless. That isn’t to say that it’s easy, though. You will almost certainly curse when you land wonky, allowing a 100,000+ combo to slip through your fingers. As a result, though, the most enjoyable part of these games is the sense of slowly learning a park’s layout until you can navigate it smartly enough to successfully rake in those massive points.

This is what I enjoy most about this game: the perfect interplay between tight level geometry and the player’s moveset. Learning level layouts is an essential part of getting good at this game. But, unlike the pattern recognition required to take down a Cuphead or Dark Souls boss, the memorization you do in Tony Hawk is creative. You are memorizing a routine, sure, but it’s a routine that you made up, that plays to your particular strengths. And while I don’t love the fact that the remake retains the originals’ old school “Complete 8 More Park Goals to Unlock [next level]” model of campaign progress, I do appreciate the way it forced me to learn the intricacies of each park; to figure out where the massive combo hotspots are hiding in parks as initially unintuitive as Burnside.

Tony Hawks Pro Skater 1 + 2 review 01

Vicarious Visions has done a fantastic job preserving that god-tier level design, while sprucing up the environmental art to make each level feel suitably distinct. Looking back on videos of the original games, there’s a sunny drabness to most of the levels. But, in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2, each level feels like its own unique place.

Burnside is dark, moody and rainy now in a way that borders on neo-noir. The Mall, which previously just looked empty, now feels almost apocalyptically abandoned. The School is bursting with newfound colour, and COVID-era messages about the “new normal.” All the while, the soundtrack – featuring plenty of the original tracks and some new ones that fit in perfectly – blasts a ripping array of punk, ska, metal and hip hop.

If you were a big fan of the early Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games, or if you just w11nt to see what all the fuss was about, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 is a fantastic return to form for the beloved series. Activision has a fantastic platform here and I only hope they continue to build on it. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 and 4 are right there!

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 review
4.5

Summary


Platform: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Xbox One
Developer: Vicarious Visions (original games: Neversoft)
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: September 04, 2020


Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 marks the triumphant return of a beloved franchise. With a vibrant updated look and remixed soundtrack, Vicarious Vision’s remaster brings Neversoft’s stellar originals shredding into 2020.

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RPG Maker MV – Nintendo Switch Review

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be an RPG maker.

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RPG Maker MV - Nintendo Switch review
Degica / Thumbsticks

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be an RPG maker.

The tides of time, life, and a career have put paid to those ambitions, unfortunately. Unless I win the lotto or retire, I doubt I’ll ever find the time to learn how to program and design a game from the ground-up.

One hope is access to an increasing number of game-making applications designed to do much of the heavy-lifting and offer a guiding hand to aspiring creators. The RPG Maker series – currently under the stewardship of Degica – is one such example.

Ostensibly a program for PC and Mac, RPG Maker debuted in the early 1990s. The series has also made occasional appearances on consoles with versions produced for the Super Famicom, the original PlayStation, and most recently, the Nintendo 3DS.

RPG Maker MV - Nintendo Switch 08

The series has continued to grow in popularity by offering a comprehensive suite of tools that let users create 2D role-playing games that echo Pokémon, Final Fantasy, and Dragon Quest favourites of the past. Some developers have also pushed the boundaries of the platform to make genuine classics. Kan Gao’s exquisite To The Moon and Future Cat’s sublime OneShot being prime examples.

The most recent version of the program – RPG Maker MZ – was released for PC and Mac last month. Now, NIS America is bringing a port of 2015’s RPG Maker MV to PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.

Unlike the Nintendo 3DS version – which was significantly reworked to suit to its dual-screen home – the console edition of RPG Maker MV is a seemingly straight port of the PC original. The decision to take this approach comes with its benefits and problems.

Let’s take the positive path to begin: It’s a seemingly straight port of the PC original, which is an excellent, full-featured game-creation platform with a mind-boggling array of configurable options. At a base level, anything you can create in the desktop version, you can also create here. That is a very big positive indeed.

For this review, I embarked on creating a small-scale RPG called A Short Adventure About Long Distance. Please be excited.

A Short Story About Long Distance

Development in RPG Maker MV is broken down into logical components. The map creation module lets you create overworlds, town maps, and interiors from a range of tilesets. The event editor is used apply conditions to almost every in-game object, creating reactions, triggers, and dependencies on a local or global scale. The battle system is similarly expansive, covering weapons, abilities, spells, items, and effects with every variable you can think of. You can also manage character classes and level progression with infinitesimal detail.

Keeping track of everything isn’t always easy, but development is underpinned by a well-structured database that organises everything from enemies and animations to weapons and party members. For the most part, if you can imagine it, you can make it.

If this, then everything.

The included selection of themed graphical assets is also impressive. At first glance, some of the in-game objects and building components look rather lacklustre, but they can be combined and used to create locations with variety and personality. One perk of the console version is the ability to recolour assets, increasing their usefulness a hundredfold.

There’s certainly an RPG Maker look that, despite your best efforts, you’ll never quite escape. Nonetheless, the tilesets are well designed and the results are often more impressive than you’d expect. The flexibility also extends to characters and NPCs. Mixing and matching character face parts is part Mii Maker, part anime fever dream.

On PC, RPG Maker MV is supported by a wealth of extra content that ranges from official DLC to plugins and user-created assets. RPG Maker MV on Nintendo Switch and PS4 has none of this. It’s reasonable to expect some official DLC packs in future but the absence of mods and plugins to enhance the experience is keenly felt.

And that’s the problem with RPG Maker MV on a console. The limits are just as evident as the possibilities. You can create a complex RPG, but only with the assets available. You can use character close-up images on dialogue boxes, but you can’t download the plugin to dynamically change them.

If this, then maybe that.

RPG Maker MV - Nintendo Switch 08

These niggles also extend to a user interface that is fundamentally unsuited a game controller. An action that would normally involve a quick mouse scroll and a right-click becomes a Monster Hunter-esque fumble of thumbsticks, triggers, and face buttons. The result? Simple. Tasks. Take. Much. More. Time.

It’s initially infuriating, although over time – mostly due to sheer repetition – navigation gradually becomes second nature.

Thankfully, RPG Maker MV on Switch supports a keyboard when docked, and in handheld mode. The touchscreen also is used for selected actions and is an absolute godsend when it comes to entering dialogue and text. However, such is the size of the Switch display you’ll need fingers the width of chopsticks to perform some of the more precise menu inputs.

Loading times are also an improvement on last year’s Japanese release, noticeably so when moving from the database to the map editor.

RPG Maker enemy editor

The other Lavos-sized compromise is the ability to export your lovingly-crafted creations for others to play. RPG Maker MV games on PC can be exported to a variety of formats and are playable on a range of platforms. Here, you’re restricted to sharing via the game’s native online library. Fortunately, the free RPG Maker MV Player app – available from the Nintendo eShop – lets your Switch buddies download and play your games at no cost.

As for the quality of games created in RPG Maker MV, well, that’s down to you. For this review, I decided to developer a slimline 15-30 minute RPG with light combat, town exploration, and a happy ending. Even a game this simple in scope takes a lot of time, but it’s a slow, pleasurable progression of inspiration, planning, testing, and execution. The process will definitely give you an appreciation for the complexities of video game development.

I was hoping to have A Short Adventure About Long Distance completed in time for this review. Alas, it’s mired in development hell while I untangle a spaghetti bowl of cause and effect. As soon as it’s complete, I’ll update this review. Please understand.

A Short Story About Long Distance

There are multiple products on console that aim to bridge the gap between a creative spark of inspiration and a video game. Across PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, you can choose from Dreams, Super Mario Maker, Little Big Planet, Wargroove, PlataGo, and FUZE4, to name just a few. RPG Maker MV sits at the semi-professional end of the game-creation spectrum, but it’s accessible to newcomers and also has the benefit of a strong support community.

RPG Maker MV is not a shortcut to creating an excellent RPG, but it serves as an illuminating introduction to the principals and mechanics of game development. If you can cope with the idiosyncrasies of the console port, it’s an intuitive and fun to use game creation platform that can bring your RPG ideas to life.

RPG Maker MV - Nintendo Switch
4

Summary


Platform: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4
Developer: NIS America
Publisher: Degica
Release Dates: NA: Sept. 8, 2020. EU: Sept. 11, 2020. AU & NZ: Sept. 18, 2020.


As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be an RPG maker, and now I am. Creating games in RPG Maker MV is more of a grind than I expected, but the platform makes levelling up game development skills an enjoyable experience. There are compromises on console, but it’s still recommended for aspiring game creators.

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Control: AWE DLC review

“Alan, wake up.”

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Control AWE review
Remedy Entertainment

“Alan, wake up.”

Coming hot on the heels of March’s The Foundation DLC, Control’s second helping of post-launch content easily offers the more interesting setup. Picking up on the numerous teasers and easter eggs found in the original campaign, it sets out with the goal of officially crossing over the Control and Alan Wake universes, and sees Jesse Faden investigate the eerie horrors that plagued Remedy’s beloved 2008 cult-classic.

It’s without question a tantalizing elevator pitch and seeing Remedy sow the seeds for its recently announced shared universe threequel is exciting. However, AWE can’t help but feel like more of a three-hour tease than a continuation of either story. It still has its moments, but it seems Remedy sees this new narrative as a vehicle to lay the groundwork for a sequel rather than a fully-fledged tale of its own.

The story of AWE begins with Jesse receiving a strange series of messages from Wake himself, who summons her to the Investigations Sector of the Oldest House. Much like the Foundation, Investigations is an expansive new area, with fresh mysteries to uncover, side missions to complete and enemies to face. That being said, it doesn’t do much to stylistically distance itself from the grey architecture and tunnels of interwoven pipework that were explorable in Control’s campaign.

Control AWE screenshot 1

The trade-off is that players get to face Control’s most overtly horrific antagonist yet, with a nightmarish, almost Cronenbergian monster stalking your movements throughout Investigations’ eerie hallways. Discovering exactly what this terrifying creature is makes up the majority of the DLC’s narrative, with Remedy proving once again that it excels when allowed to operate in spookier territory.

Few moments prove the studio’s aptitude for all things that go bump in the night than your frequent boss encounters with this horrifying creature, who will often force you into rooms with wide stretches of pitch-black darkness illuminated only by limited light sources, where it cannot reach you. Each of these battles act as intense, high-stakes puzzles, made all the more terrifying by the fact you can see the lumbering creature stalking you from beyond your well-lit haven.

For all the present Alan Wake fans, these light mechanics probably sound pretty familiar to you, and yes, AWE does frequently take inspiration from Wake’s flashlight focused combat-style. It pops up most frequently in the aforementioned boss encounters and sometimes in the occasional puzzle, but one of the biggest issues with the DLC is that it doesn’t do more with it. To be honest, although it does add a useful new gun form and the ability to hurl several objects at once, there is a sense that nothing AWE brings to the table is particularly fresh.

While The Foundation offered new ways to traverse and fight enemies with its crystal-based abilities, it feels like AWE needs something similar to match that big shift in playstyle. Whether that’s the ability to wield a flashlight to battle some new, darkness-based foes or maybe just a powerful new ability that achieves the same goal, it can’t help but feel like AWE misses a pretty wide opportunity to make something special.

Control AWE screenshot 2

The same goes for the overarching story, which feels like its building to a grandiose, jaw-dropping climax but is snuffed out with little fanfare. For one, while fans are likely paying the admission fee here to see Alan Wake – he is the feature attraction after all – there’s surprisingly little of him on show. Don’t get me wrong, this without a doubt begins to highlight what a Control and Alan Wake sequel could look like, but it always feels like more of a trailer for what’s to come rather than a fully-fledged continuation of that universe. Some fans even speculated AWE would offer answers to the puzzling conclusion of Alan Wake’s American Nightmare DLC, but don’t go into this thinking it’s going to spew out new revelations for that story.

Saying all this, it’s not that AWE is bad. It’s just safe. Everything you liked about Control is still here. The combat encounters are a hell of a lot of fun, the dark sci-fi humour returns in force and, while the additional side-missions focus more on fetch-quests, they offer an entertaining diversion from the main storyline. At the end of the day, I’m sure we’ll look back on this final adventure in The Oldest House as an essential bridge between Control and whatever comes next.

It’s just, for the time being, it feels like Remedy maybe could’ve been a little more ambitious with its first major crossover.

Control: AWE review
3

Summary


Platform: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Xbox One
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: 505 Games
Release Date: August 27, 2020


AWE offers an interesting first look at the future Remedy envisions for both the Alan Wake and Control franchises alongside featuring a terrifying main antagonist and some creepy boss encounters. That being said, it’s still somewhat underwhelming, acting as a teaser for the future with few crazy story beats or new features to get excited about.

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