As we get close to the holidays, we want to highlight three more recent releases that may have escaped your attention but are certainly worthy of it. Join us as we take a look at the striking Raji – An Ancient Epic, the nostalgia-heavy beat ’em up Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues and arcade racer Speed 3: Grand Prix.
Raji – An Ancient Epic
Raji – An Ancient Epic actually came out about a month ago for all major consoles and PCs, but we still wanted to highlight it with a review as we walked away being very impressed once we finally got to play it. Developed by Nodding Heads Games from India, Raji was created with a heavy dose of inspiration from Indian history and mythology and provides us with an interactive and visually pleasing peek into a part of history most gamers (including myself) aren’t too familiar with.
As such, I was drawing parallels with the likes of God of War and Assassin’s Creed while I was playing Raji, and although the game doesn’t feature the same production values that come with those big budget releases, I did very much appreciate the historical influences that permeate the experience. As you follow the adventures of Raji, who starts out as a circus performer in ancient India when demons suddenly invade, abduct the children and slay everyone else. You’re left for dead, and are given a sacred mission by the goddess of war to retrieve the children, including your younger brother.
It’s a storyline fitting of a game that has “epic” right there in its title, and Nodding Heads have paired it with a very impressive audiovisual style, which features a dynamic mix of 2D and 3D platforming with changing camera angles and gorgeous scenery and lighting. Cutscenes are done with shadow puppet-like characters and a lot of Hindu mythology is laid out visually as well. Paired with a good soundtrack and ditto voice work, I was very impressed by what this unknown studio had created.
The actual gameplay feels like a stripped down version of the epic action adventures mentioned earlier, but despite the platforming, wall-running and combat feeling rather formulaic and in need of a little polish, I didn’t mind too much. The gameplay is functional and helps move the story along, and because the setting and narrative had already captured my imagination early on I was entertained throughout the entire (albeit short) runtime of story. The ending wasn’t great, but the journey leading up to that point was certainly fascinating and makes me hope we’ll see the developer explore these themes more in the future.
If it’s action adventure gameplay you’re after then there are better options out there, but if the historical elements of games like God of War and Assassin’s Creed appeal to you, then you’ll certainly want to give Raji – An Ancient Epic a try.
Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues
Cobra Kai, the Karate Kid reboot featuring some of the original actors from the iconic movie, was (at least to me) an unlikely candidate for success, but it pulled it off. That made me very curious about the videogame adaptation that came out a few weeks ago – especially during a year that already gave us excellent beat ’em ups like Streets of Rage 4, Battletoads and 9 Monkeys of Shaolin.
As with the movie tie-ins of the past, the Cobra Kai game had the potential to be a quick cash grab, but it’s actually a well-realized beat ’em up with a good amount of content and solid mechanics. For the latter, it helps that you can select fighters from a relatively wide roster of characters, especially for a game of this type. They all have a good selection of moves and attacks available to them as well, including the use of weapons as well as interactive objects in the background.
While the controls are similar for each character, there are subtle nuances that set them apart – with some characters using agility to quickly get out of a crowded situation while others charge forward on account of their superior strength. Once you get into a rhythm, you’ll be punching, kicking and throwing enemies around the screen, and you can mix things up with well-timed jumping and running attacks as well. As with any classic arcade brawler, you’ll also face the occasional boss fight, which is where your defensive tactics also come into play – even when you’re playing with a hard-hitting character.
There’s a bit of strategy involved in situations where you fight multiple enemies at once as well, because you will want to take some of them out first. Color coding helps you to determine who’s about to attack and who’s vulnerable, so if you react quickly enough you can do a lot of damage without having to take it. What’s also a blast is that, visually, this all takes places in locations that do a great job of conveying that Karate Kid/Cobra Kai vibe. It’s certainly not the best looking game and could have used a layer of two of visual polish and additional detail, but it does nail the feel of the series.
The combat itself could have had a tighter, more visceral feel to it though. Perhaps it’s the more realistic setting that inspired the game, but I like my brawlers with a bit more oomph in their attacks – Cobra Kai feels a bit floaty by comparison. The game does have accessible controls though, so out of all the recent brawlers this is the one that’s easiest to learn for newcomers to the genre. If you want some good old one-dimension brawling fun, this one has you covered. That’s especially true if you’re a fan of the show, because Cobra Kai also features voice work from the actual actors and a soundtrack that fit the general tone very well. It may not be the best (looking) brawler out there this year, but it’s certainly a lot of fun and a solid tie-in.
Speed 3: Grand Prix
After Dirt 5 and Need for Speed Hot Pursuit Remastered, there’s another title that can help you get your arcade racing fix this season. It’s easily the least known of the three, but Speed 3: Grand Prix sits somewhere in between the likes of F1 2020 and indie titles like Formula Retro Racing and Hotshot Racing. Developed by Lion Castle, the game is out on consoles, including the Nintendo Switch, and supports split screen racing for local multiplayer action.
What that mix that I described above comes down to is essentially an F1 type of racer, but a lot more extreme than what Codemasters offers us in terms of physics, collisions and explosions. The game features all of the usual modes, including single player tournaments and time trials as well as the aforementioned multiplayer options, but there isn’t too much beyond that – making it pale in comparison to the lush suite of gameplay options that Dirt 5 gave us recently.
Once you hit the track, you’ll quickly notice that this one is an indie racer that doesn’t take the usual indie route of going for a retro-styled look for its racing action. Sure, it doesn’t look as good as F1 2020, but there’s a good amount of detail here and with stands, trees and buildings to race past it also doesn’t have that “barebones racer” feel to it. On top of that, there’s a good sense of speed here, and the game controls pretty well.
It won’t take long before you run into (or at least see) your first crashes though, and this is where you start to notice a few technical issues with Speed 3 – textures can disappear or clip, and the frame rate can suffer when things get busy (less so on a PS4 Pro, but it shouldn’t happen either way). It’s a ton of fun to see tyres and car parts bouncing around as you speed past a crash towards a win though, so hopefully it doesn’t have to come at the expense of the game’s performance on a base PS4 if there’s ever a patch.
Speed 3: Grand Prix, in spite of its technical issues, is fun to play – though it’s too lacking in content and game modes to justify its asking price. It’s now a half price game, and would do much better in the $20/€20 category.