Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4
Xbox 360 – 2010
Based on the first four films, TT Games brings you on a magical adventure full of Lego charm. The game mainly takes place on the grounds of Hogwarts, combined with story levels to progress the plot, and Diagon Alley, where you’ll buy you characters, red bricks and access the bonus levels. Like many of the earlier Lego games, it doesn’t have voice acting. Instead, the characters express their feelings through facial expression and props. For some, this adds to the charm of these early games. Lego Harry Potter also manages to strike a good balance between its hub world and the story missions. Each year has six mission attached to it but you’ll also be attending classes to gain new spells. The game, like many of the series, has a load of collectibles. These come in the form of Gold Bricks, Students in Peril, Character Tokens and Crest Pieces. They never feel overwhelming (unlike some of the later entries) but they can be frustrating if you miss any in Hogwarts, especially the Students in Peril as there is no tracker available. Hogwarts is a good size, allowing you explore areas from the films but never feeling like a trek to move from one area of the castle to another. The game-play is very basic. You smash items for coins, solve easy puzzles and revisit levels with new abilities to unlock more secrets. The music is very reminiscent of the films but some songs become annoying after a while. The game is fun to play with a friend and the dynamic split screen camera is a good idea but it can get a bit confusing. Also, when the dynamic camera isn’t available, players may need to stick together as the camera can restrict their movement. Overall, it’s one of the more enjoyable games in the Lego series than doesn’t feel like a chore to 100%.
PlayStation – 1998
This is one that probably slipped under a lot of people’s radars on this side of the pond. Based on the 1998 IndyCar series, it features 16 drivers and 12 tracks (10 in Championship mode and 1 unlockable track). It was developed by Studio 33, who would go on to make Formula One 99. The game has three different modes: Single Race, Challenge and Championship. It has four difficulty settings and the ability to adjust both steering assist and braking assist. You can turn on fuel, tyre wear, damage and flags for a more realistic race. Like the other Psygnosis’ published games, you can also adjust the race length, however certain tracks will have their own number of laps based off the length you’ve chosen. For example, Milwaukee Mile would have 10 laps vs Surfers Paradise’s 3 laps. Graphically, the game looks superb. It handles well and passing other cars is a joy (and a great feeling too!). The analogue sticks can be used but I found them a bit too sensitive. The sound effects are what you’d expect from a racing simulator (engine noises galore) and the commentary is a nice touch if repetitive. I spent my time in Championship mode and while I could go through Practice, Qualifying and the Race, having only 10 rounds made it feel a bit on the short side compared to Formula One 97’s 18 rounds. Overall, I’d recommend racing fans hunt this one down instead of Formula One 98.
Formula 1 97
PlayStation – 1997
The sequel to Bizarre Creations 1996 Formula One, this racing sim is based on the 1997 season. It features all 11 teams (MasterCard Lola is mentioned in the manual but doesn’t appear in game). Unlike the first game, it only has the 22 drivers that started the season so there’s no Wurz or Marques here. It also has the 17 tracks featured in the 1997 season, along with Estoril (this was originally the final race of the ’97 season). There are also four bonus tracks, including a 1950s Silverstone. The game is split between Arcade and Grand Prix, with Grand Prix being a more racing simulation. The graphics have improved, with the draw distance being much better although I did notice a bit more screen tear this time around. The Grand Prix mode has a lot more depth to it this time, with new features such as flags and tearaways being added. Car setup is also more in depth this time around, with the option to adjust several settings to get the most out of your car. The game does feature a range of difficulty settings and driver assist to help you tailor it to your style. You can have full rules on and carefully navigate the pack, or turn off flags and damage and drive like Schumacher at Jerez, it’s up to you. The AI sticks rigorously to the racing line, which can often lead to collisions, so be careful if you have damage or flags on. One thing I could not find was what the weather would be like before the race, so I couldn’t adjust my car accordingly. Speaking of weather, it does have a variable setting that can change during the race. The AI tends to be fine but you’d need to make it to the pits quickly or you’ll be sliding off the track! One last warning, be careful of steering assist. It will pull you towards the racing line at all times, even if the line touches the grass.
PlayStation – 1996
It can be difficult to look back on old sports games (especially on nearly 25 years old) and review them objectively, especially when there is a new one released every year. Well, here we go anyway. Based on the 1995 season, Formula One allows you to take choose from 35 drivers across 13 teams. The game also faithfully recreates the 17 tracks used by the FIA that season, starting at Interlagos and ending at Adelaide. It’s great to experience some of the long gone tracks from Formula One’s history. The game also has a host of customisable options, allowing you to tweak the difficulty to your liking. This is a welcome for both new and returning players to F1 games. You can even change the controller layout to have the accelerator and brake mapped to the shoulder button. Sadly, it does not support the analogue sticks. Despite having a wealth of options, flags are absent and damage is minimal. The Grand Prix mode also has some nice little touches, such as Simtek dropping out just before the halfway point in the season just like they did in 1995. The season length can also be adjusted just in case you don’t feel up to playing the full 17 races. My main criticism comes from the draw distance. Often, I found myself relying on memory to navigate the tracks as you can come upon corners incredibly quickly with little warning. This did present a problem on certain tracks I wasn’t familiar with (most notably Argentina) but it’s something you can overcome with practice as the game is incredibly forgiving, especially on the easier settings. I’d recommend this to any die hard racing fans just to get a taste of when the 3D F1 games were finding their feet.
Yakuza Kiwami 2
PlayStation 4 – 2017
The first thing you’ll notice between this and Yakuza Kiwami is the graphical overhaul. Kiwami 2 uses the Dragon game engine from Yakuza 6. Kamurocho returns as the setting for the majority of the game and it feels larger than ever before. You can now access more buildings without the need for loading screens, the city is more alive with the addition of traffic and the combat transitions are a more lot smoother. Sōtenbori also makes a welcome return. It is slightly smaller than its Yakuza 0 predecessor but this is made up for with more internal areas to explore. The combat is now more streamlined, with only one fighting style available. However, this can be upgraded through exp and side missions. Exp has also received an overhaul, with it being split out in to five different categories, with each one being used to unlock certain abilities. Heat moves have also received an upgrade. Although not as impactful as the previous two games, they do utilise the environment around you more. The story is probably the best so far. Not only is Kiryu fighting for the Tojo Clan survival, but also the whole of Kamurocho as well.
PlayStation 4 – 2016
Utilising the same game engine as Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami takes place in 2005. This time you only play as Kiryu in Kamurocho but the district is just as open as ever. Gone is the money level up system, replaced by experience points and Majima Everywhere. Majima Everywhere is an interesting concept that ties in well to the plot, even if it can feel a little bit over the top at times (Zombie Majima?) but that’s part of its charm. The Real Estate and Cabaret Club are also gone and there are a lot less side missions to take on. However, it has to be remembered that this is a remake of a 2005 PlayStation 2 game. I did find myself an over relying on two styles, Brawler and Rush, as Beast and Dragon were just too slow for my liking.