23 years on from its initial release, Donkey Kong Country remains one of the most influential games of all-time. Combining a unique approach to visual design and a pivotal reimagining of a classic Nintendo character, DKC was a landmark release. It was Rare's unique response to the move from 2D to 3D visuals in gaming, and - perhaps surprisingly - the platform holder's answer to the arrival of Aladdin on Mega Drive the previous year.
After months of anticipation, Yooka-Laylee has finally arrived on Switch and it feels right at home. Playtonic's debut is a sprawling platformer with a focus on exploration and the jump to modern hardware has enabled its designers to create worlds much larger and more complex than the games which inspired it. And that's precisely why there has been some trepidation leading up to its release on Nintendo's hybrid. After all, Yooka-Laylee is a large-scale Unity game on the Switch and while we've seen a lot of Unity titles on the system since its launch, the average performance level hasn't always been optimal, even in relatively simple games.
Switch ports of library titles? We're all for them if the game is right and the quality of the port holds up. Capcom's recently released Resident Evil Revelations collection is an interesting choice for conversion then, bringing together an improved port of Revelations 1 - which debuted on 3DS, remember - and its sequel, designed primarily with current-gen consoles in mind. So, the question is, do we get the definitive version of the original game? And does the Switch port of the sequel hold up alongside the existing releases?
It's been a remarkable year for Nintendo's Switch and Monolith Soft is ensuring a strong finish with Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Building on the technology that powered Xenoblade X on the Wii U, this new game expands upon its engine in numerous ways enabling cool new visual effects in the process, but this ambition is met with unexpected drawbacks that detract from its overall presentation, including the one of the lowest recorded rendering resolutions we've seen on record. Clearly, the developers have walked the tightrope here in terms of balancing new features with the hardware limits of the Nintendo hybrid and we're not entirely sure that it's fully paid off.
For decades now, console gaming has traditionally focused on delivering a specific experience for each platform, tailored by the developer. Sure, we've seen high frame-rate modes and occasional toggles between different presets but nothing like the kind of full suite of options found in a typical PC game... until now. That's exactly what developer Tri-Ace has delivered with its PlayStation 4 remaster of Star Ocean: The Last Hope. Every aspect of the game available for tweaking on PC is available to PlayStation owners, but is that actually a good thing?
Out of the many Xbox One X upgrades we tested during the preview period, Quantum Break was one of the most intriguing, featuring the choice between 1080p and '4K' modes - both a leap over the base Xbox One's 720p - along with enhanced detail. Visually, it offered a night and day improvement over the existing version of the game, moving more into line with the PC release running on mid to high-end hardware. There was just one problem - performance. The good news is that frame-rate problems are essentially a non-issue in the final release, but the bad news is that several distracting visual bugs have been introduced: distracting artefacts that weren't in the port when we first looked at it.
Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds is an expansion for one of the year's best games in just about every sense of the word. This isn't just more of the same - from a technological standpoint, it's a genuine effort to push on to even greater heights, and an impressive evolution of Guerrilla Games' peerless Decima Engine. Pushing beyond the forests and great plains of the original experience, The Frozen Wilds invites players to the northern-most region of the map to explore snow-covered fields and steep mountains. New features are added to Decima to emphasis the new environments and weather systems, but the core aspects of the technology are just as strong as they ever were: from the gorgeous lighting to the world class HDR implementation and smooth performance, there's little doubt that Horizon remains a beautiful game.
Hitman creator Io Interactive purchased itself from publisher Square-Enix earlier this year, retaining control over its signature stealth assassination series in the process. A new GOTY edition of the title is now available, complete with all original content and a new Patient Zero campaign variant. Meanwhile, the studio has revamped the look of Hitman and rolled out a highly impressive Xbox One X update.
Since its launch last year, Final Fantasy 15 has changed a lot and Square-Enix has continued to support the game with patches and changes designed to improve the experience for players while introducing features - but this hasn't always gone smoothly. The PS4 Pro has been supported since the game's release and its implementation has always been inconsistent at best. Features have come and gone but in the end, it never seemed to run as well as we would have hoped. Could the new Xbox One X upgrade finally deliver the Final Fantasy 15 experience we've been waiting for?
One of the most celebrated FPS franchise giants has finally returned to the House of Mario. Going back more than two decades, Nintendo hardware has always had a unique relationship with the series. Doom for the Super NES, sluggish though it may be, was a technical showpiece for Nintendo's 16-bit machine while the Game Boy Advance conversion felt like holding the future in your hands. There are echoes of this in Bethesda's Switch port of the Doom 2016 reboot. This is mobile technology pushed kicking and screaming to its absolute limits.
Step back for a moment to the year 2015. 343 Industries is releasing Halo 5: Guardians to eager fans the world over. While not completely escaping criticism, the game itself is well received and ultimately, it's a solid shooter with tight gameplay and gorgeous art direction - all delivered at a solid 60 frames per second frame-rate. However, that silky-smooth performance level came at a price: image quality. Xbox One just wasn't powerful enough to resolve everything the game had to offer, but with the release of Xbox One X, there's a strong argument that 343's vision is now fully delivered.
Earlier this year, Sonic Mania ushered Sega's flagship mascot back into the limelight with with a game every bit as good as the original 16-bit Mega Drive titles. It answered the question of whether Sonic's core 2D gameplay would stand up over time with a resounding 'yes!' and came as a breath of fresh air after decades of uneven 3D Sonic releases. Sure, there've been some great releases - like Sonic Generations, for example - but many fell flat. The new Sonic Forces though? Hopes were high, with initial footage suggesting we were looking at a full-on Generations sequel with a revised theme.
It's been a long time since the release of Super Mario Sunshine, but for those eagerly awaiting a return to the series' 3D exploratory theme, Super Mario Odyssey is a superb follow-up. It's packed with interesting concepts, tight gameplay and sheer character - this is Nintendo delivering its A-game, a brilliant combination of fresh, bright ideas and exceptional technology.
UPDATE 23RD OCTOBER:Following the announcement of the Super Nt last week, Analogue has announced that the console will include a semi-unreleased game - Super Turrican: Director's Cut. The original Super Turrican was most certainly released but, due to publisher restrictions, the 6 Mbit game was reduced to fit on a 4 Mbit cartridge instead. This may have saved on production costs, but it came at the expense of the game itself.
Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo: two franchise juggernauts that push the technical limits of their respective platforms. As console-orientated driving simulators, they share much in common - both hand in state-of-the-art visuals, a remarkable level of fidelity, and they both target a silky-smooth 60 frames per second. With plenty of matching content in terms of cars and tracks, there are many ready-made comparison points for analysing their respective technologies. But while both Forza Motorsport 7 and Gran Turismo Sport set out with very similar objectives, the end results are often very different, underscoring a profound difference in execution - and philosophy.
The original Evil Within was a divisive release, but most can agree that technically speaking, it was a bit of a mess. With a choppy frame-rate across both consoles, broken on-disc launch code and a lacklustre PC port that really didn't want to run at high frame-rates, it was clear that a lot of changes were necessary for the inevitable follow-up. That sequel arrived last week, helmed by a new director with promises of a massively overhauled engine.
Gran Turismo has rightfully earned a reputation across the years in pushing the limits of console technology, and after some unconvincing early betas, GT Sport looks like delivering another phenomenal technological masterclass. Earlier this week, Sony unleashed a massive demo version, allowing players to sample a wide variety of events and features. It's opportunity for an early glimpse at near-final code and it's especially impressive for users with high dynamic range displays. Many games benefit from HDR, but with GT Sport, the upgrade is so pronounced and so beautiful, you're clearly not getting the full experience without it.
Retro gameplay meets vintage aesthetics in what is, for our money, a dream combination. With a sense of style and flair that we've never really seen before, Cuphead manages to combine unique audio-visuals with classic gaming action in an exceptionally cool, cohesive package. Controversy surrounds aspects of its gameplay, but after a week of play, we're converted: in an age of me-too software, Cuphead stands apart from the pack. We've played the game on Xbox One and PC, and while the UWP Windows Store code has frustrating issues, the console and Steam releases come highly recommended.
It's been a year to remember for fans of Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic Mania blew the doors off, becoming one of the finest platform games ever made, while yesterday saw the conclusion of a fantastic online event - the Sonic Amateur Games Expo 2017. SAGE brings together creators and Sonic fans the world over to deliver brand new experiences based on Sega's blue hedgehog. It's this event that sparked the creation of Retro Sonic by Christian Whitehead which, after a long and winding path, ultimately led to the creation of Sonic Mania. SAGE is also the catalyst which resulted in excellent titles like Freedom Planet and Spark: The Electric Jester - two great action games well worth checking out.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a truly significant release - not just for Rockstar, but for the entire console generation. It's the first title designed from the ground up for PS4 and Xbox One, after all. Sure GTA5 received an impressive upgrade when it landed on these machines, but it was still very much rooted in last-gen technology. RDR2 goes much further, showcasing many key upgrades added to Rockstar's in-house RAGE engine.
The NES mini was a huge success, but very much a first effort from Nintendo ripe for improvement. Fine for more casual gamers, the experience for enthusiasts was let down by flaws including subpar video scaling, ultra-short controller cords, audio lag and a range of minor emulation issues. The good news is that Nintendo has improved the quality of its emulation, successfully simulated a range of custom, cart-specific hardware in the process and done it all using the same cheap mobile chipset as its predecessor. It's an ambitious effort for sure, but to what extent does it accurately match original hardware?
Curious about the hardware Nintendo is using to power the new SNES mini? Well, wonder no more. Nintendo has rather cunningly repurposed the exact same technology used in last year's NES mini. Crack open the cute SNES-styled outer layer and the mainboard within is almost a complete match for last year's model.
It's true, we've covered Rise of the Tomb Raider so many times over the past couple of years that we've even given it a YouTube playlist - but this is by no means a bad thing. It simply demonstrates the love and care developer Nixxes has poured into maintaining the game over the years. From supporting the ageing Xbox 360 to the PlayStation 4 Pro and PSVR all the way up to the Xbox One X, Nixxes has become the caretaker for Crystal Dynamics' most recent outing. At this point, the only thing missing is a Switch port. But right now, all eyes on are the upcoming Xbox One X port, demonstrating what looks like the best console version of the game yet.
Remedy's Quantum Break was announced for Xbox One X back at Gamescom and we managed to get a few minutes of time on the game, where first impressions were positive. The resolution upgrade was palpable and performance looked relatively solid. A couple of weeks on, and we managed to get a more extended hands-on with the X port of what is undoubtedly one of the generation's most technically challenging games. In some respects, the conversion is even more impressive than we thought, but in others, we hope to see some improvement before the title update releases alongside the console on November 7th.
One of the most popular and influential titles of all-time, id software's Doom played a key part in gaming's challenging 90s transition from two to three dimensions, and its legacy of technical innovation continues to this day. Last week, Nintendo and Bethesda announced a handheld version of the Doom 2016 reboot, seemingly a technological miracle in handheld form. However, back in 1993, full-fat Doom required a medium to high-end PC - and the race was on to accurately translate this incredible new experience to more affordable console hardware.
Before we go on, let's stress that Rayman Legends is and has always been a highly enjoyable platformer - one of the best of the last five years - and it's the same core game released today on Switch. As beautiful as ever, Legends is a great fit for Nintendo's console hybrid, but there's a problem: it's called the Definitive Edition when the reality is that the port has so many small niggles that the label just isn't accurate. Wii U, Xbox One, PS4 - all offer a tangibly improved experience. In some respects, the Switch version has more in common with the last-gen Xbox 360 and PS3 games. It's still Rayman Legends, it's still an excellent game - and yes, it offers up a 1080p presentation - but definitive? No.
Here at Digital Foundry, we're a little late to the party with Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, but we felt compelled to weigh in on this exceptional title. In addition to being a beautiful, brilliantly designed strategy game, it's also a technological showcase for Nintendo's handheld, designed using Massive Entertainment's Snowdrop Engine - the rendering foundation for Tom Clancy's The Division. It's surely one of gaming's most unlikely engine transitions but according to Ubisoft, a core tenet of its creation hinges on the concept of working smarter - doing things better, not bigger.
This year at Gamescom, I had a remarkable opportunity to sit down and discuss Shenmue 3 with Yu Suzuki himself. As a long-time Sega fan, it was difficult not to be excited by the proposition. After all, during his tenure at Sega, Suzuki and his team at AM2 crafted many of the greatest and most influential arcade games of all time. This was followed with the incredibly ambitious Shenmue - a game I enjoyed so much that it singlehandedly sparked the creation of the DF Retro series.
The original Knack was the very first game showcased on the pre-launch PlayStation 4, with game director Mark Cerny also taking point as the lead architect of the console itself. In interviews, Cerny himself described Knack as a smaller-scale project, though many expected it to be a technical showcase for the new hardware. However, the arrival of a sequel represents an interesting opportunity for Cerny and his Studio Japan team: without the pressure of a system launch to deal with, Knack 2 gives the developers the time to show us what kind of game they really want to deliver.
Way, way back in early February 2016, Digital Foundry ventured to the Japanese PlayStation Store and picked up a digital copy of Yakuza Kiwami. We hoped that Sega would consider bringing this excellent PS4 remake to the West and just over 18 months later, it's finally happened. To mark the occasion, we've decided to republish our original analysis. If you've enjoyed the Yakuza titles, or want to check out the series for the first time, we reckon it's well worth a look.