As a kid, I wanted all kinds of toys whenever we went to toy stores in the city. One of the very first toys I had an obsession over was Hot Wheels. From collecting cars to building tracks in the living room, it became the quintessential set of toys that got me into racing games all this time.
When Hot Wheels Unleashed was released, I instantly knew that this was a game I didn’t want to miss. As someone who plays a ton of racing games, this one felt right at home next to Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled. Unlike CTR:NF, the nostalgia I felt for this game was more on the side of “playing my toys on a virtual screen” type of thing.
However, if you’re looking for another game to help you pass the time, is this a game worth considering?
A racing game at its core
As with most games involving toy cars, Hot Wheels Unleashed feels right at home as a racing game. It even comes with some of the most standard game modes you can think of for any racing game, so you won’t necessarily miss out if you’re a racing game fan. Where this game sets itself apart is in its easy-to-grasp game mechanics.
Usually, all you have to do is drive around the course and win 1st Place by outspeeding and outsmarting (in some situations) your opponents. You still do that but with some key differences, particularly towards boosting. Honestly, I like the fact that boosts are activated by button pushes and accumulated by drifting. To me, it’s friendly even to new players getting into racing games.
The other thing I like is the fact that each Hot Wheels toy car comes with its own cart stats, and not just a general one all throughout. This also gives you an incentive to try and get every available model in the game and try them out for yourself. Furthermore, you can even upgrade these stats using Gears, and customize their Livery to however you like.
Creativity and originality in track design
Every racing game needs some interesting tracks to race around, especially with something like Hot Wheels. In Hot Wheels Unleashed, you have access to 5 main backdrops, each with about 8-9 different tracks that come with their own surprises. From high-arching loops to acid pits, each track will have you doing things a bit differently each time you race.
In fact, the first thing I noticed was that the elements in the tracks are quite similar to the actual models in those track builder sets. The designers did an incredible job with maximizing the entire backdrop to produce tracks with enough twists and turns along the way. Also, I would even argue that these tracks let you play around with the driving mechanics.
Now, I have some good news and bad news for you on these tracks. The bad news is that when you start the game, most of the tracks are locked as in-game transactions. If you wanted to unlock them the easy way, just pay a few bucks to get in-game currency and buy them.
However, the good news is you can unlock them by completing the Hot Wheels City Rumble mode. Although it will be an immense grind on your part, but I honestly think it’s worth it!
Wait, you can make your own tracks?!
Yes, you read that right: Hot Wheels Unleashed also allows you to create your own tracks to race on with your friends online. See, one unique mode to the game is the Track Builder, and I guess the name is self-explanatory. To be honest, this game mode was the best and it actually brings me back to my childhood.
Once you start the game mode, you basically have a blank canvas to work with, depending on the main backdrop you choose. After choosing your desired backdrop, you have a variety of track builder pieces to choose from and customize. Also, it even comes with your set of obstacles and boost pads to add some flavor to your tracks.
I absolutely enjoyed going on Track Builder as someone who collected Hot Wheels track sets before. Basically, you can create some of the most death-defying tracks that your younger self could not afford to before. Seriously, Hot Wheels track builder sets are expensive, and this game basically lets you experience this without spending a hefty amount.
Some low points
Much like most racing games, this one doesn’t come with its own set of shortcomings. To no one’s surprise, this game comes with a Hot Pass that allows you to earn more cars, tracks, and track builder sets. The good thing about it is, well, it’s more content at your disposal. At the time of writing, they’re currently running one with Batman vehicles as the main rewards,
The thing I don’t like about it is that you have to pay for it. I genuinely feel that this is something that would have been better off as a Battle Pass-type of package instead of paid DLC. I mean, it’s additional content that people also want to try out but with a rather hefty price tag. Maybe if they did it this way, people would continue to grind out the game.
Another thing that felt lacking in my eyes was the Basement, particularly the customization aspect.
I get it, it’s another main backdrop for your tracks and you can work with a ton of elements when creating your own. However, I didn’t like that the customization was limited to just the exterior design. Honestly, I was looking for more customization options like moving the furniture around.
A roaring good time
Hot Wheels Unleashed is a racing game that feels right at home with the best of them. From a vast selection of carts to creative and unique track design, it feels fresh to anybody trying to get into racing games. Also, if you grew up playing your Hot Wheels car collection, this takes you back to simpler times.
Again, it’s not perfect and hopefully with upcoming patches, the game does get better. However, they missed out on some opportunities to make it a worthwhile game to play for any occasion. Sure, if you had money to burn, this wouldn’t be an issue; for others, however, they want a lot more without spending too much.
Overall, this game will give you a roaring good time, especially when you just need some down time from all the stress. What made it even more special for me was that this game pretty much made one of my childhood dreams a reality!
ASUS ROG Zephyrus M16: Big power in a compact form factor
Exceptional specs, solidly built body
Whenever I see any device with the ROG branding, I automatically get the impression of how good the device may be even without actually knowing what its features are. I guess it’s true with others too as sending my friends a photo of the hefty ROG box containing this device, garnered excited reactions.
That’s because ROG devices actually live up to its reputation of being amazing gaming devices. A proof of that is in my recent visit to a PC store in Makati where I asked the salesperson which among their gaming laptops is their current best offering in their store and the response I got is a confident, ROG Zephyrus.
Get ready to be blown away as we take a closer look at the ASUS ROG Zephyrus M16.
What comes in the box
The whole package came in a large ROG box containing three main items.
First, we get the ROG Zephyrus backpack. Then, there’s a black box which contains the ROG Delta gaming headphones. Lastly, there’s the white Zephyrus box which contains the star of the show — the Zephyrus M16 along with the ROG Chakram Core gaming mouse, the 240W charger and the 100W USB-C charger.
Tough build with a small footprint
Going straight for the laptop, just as I laid my hands on the actual unit, I could already tell how solidly built this device is. The outer shell is made of aluminum with machine cut holes that looks elegant with just a slight hint of being a gaming laptop with its branding.
Some people might prefer laptops with a bit more flare, but I’m personally inclined towards this more serious look. This could easily pass n a corporate setting without getting too much attention for being a gaming laptop.
On their website, ASUS markets the Zephyrus M16 as a laptop with a 16-inch display fitted in a 15-inch chassis. And it’s true. It’s relatively compact with its length measuring only 13.98 inches. This would actually fit laptop bags designed for 15-inchers and placing it beside my old 15-inch Dell G3 made the latter look jurasically huge.
For the bottom half, you might want to get your cleaning cloths ready as the soft matte finish is an easy smudge magnet. While this design decision adds to the premium feel of the unit, it does require a bit of maintenance to keep it from looking like a nasty mess.
Good port selection but placement could do better
A vast amount of ports are also present here on the Zephyrus M16. On its right we can find the charging port, HDMI, RJ45, USB-A, two USB-C Thunderbolt 4 ports which doubles as a charging port and a 3.5mm combo audio jack. On the left is a microSD card reader and another USB-A port.
I do, however, have mixed feelings with the placement of these ports
None of the ports are placed at the rear portion of each side. The location of the charging port in the middle of the left side sets the wire of the charger to partially cover the exhaust vents of the device when plugged in.
If you then decide to use the 100W charger, you’ll have to bear with having to plug it on the USB-C port near the front of the device.
The USB-A port on the right would have also been nice if it were placed around the back as its current placement feels a bit intrusive when plugging an external mouse.
I understand that the designers might have had to give some room for ventilation or make use of that space around the rear part of the chassis, but the positioning could have been better for at least the essential ports for an obstruction-free experience.
Big, bright and vibrant display
The display is actually the first thing that wowed me on the M16. It’s a 16-inch 2560 X 1600 IPS panel with a 165Hz refresh rate and an aspect ratio of 16:10. It’s vibrant and punchy because it’s an IPS and while not as fast as a TN panel, it’s still relatively fast at 165Hz.
Plus, this being a WQXGA panel, we’re adding more screen real estate vertically and when we combine that with the 100% DCI-P3 color gamut and the Pantone validation, we’re seriously getting ourselves a productivity beast.
This also gets close to being bezel-less with this display as it’s bezels are really thin but still manages to house a 720p webcam.
Let’s also take time to appreciate the Ergo Lift hinge on the M16 that seamlessly hides the chin of the display panel as the bottom half of the device is raised upon opening the lid. Very clever.
A good keyboard, a massive trackpad and an external mouse
For its keyboard, we have an RGB lit keyboard which has a nice tactile feedback and it feels phenomenal. It doesn’t feel mushy, the key travel is a bit more pronounced than others and the typing angle brought by the Ergo Lift hinge makes it comfortable and satisfying to use.
We’re also getting a massive trackpad on the M16. I could say it does perform great as I never found myself reaching for the external mouse for tracking and touch gestures are easily executed without much errors.
However, I don’t know if this is caused by the size of the trackpad or just poor palm rejection but this is the first time I’ve ever experienced a trackpad that gets in the way of my typing. Because my palms often touch the trackpad when typing, this often results in accidental key presses.
We do get a toggle to disable the trackpad in one of the function keys so I guess that could also be a solution.
As an alternative, we have the bundled ROG Chakram Core which is a right-handed wired gaming mouse that features a programmable thumb joystick.
It’s a full sized mouse that fits comfortably in my medium sized hand. I think this would fit best for palm grip users but from the perspective of a claw grip user, I didn’t have any issues with this as well.
Onto the most exciting part, the Zephyrus M16 packs an 11th gen Intel Core i9 11900H processor paired with the RTX 3070 with 32GB of DDR4 RAM and 2TB SSD internal storage.
This is so far the beefiest specced laptop I’ve experienced.
As expected, games like Valorant won’t be a problem running on these specs and that’s exactly what we experienced. Very fluid movement and zero lags even without boosting the Armoury Crate to performance mode.
For a more challenging and graphically demanding game like Control though, the game ran well on its default settings, but maxing out everything including ray tracing and other effects at 1440p did show some stutter. So for this one, we’re still gonna hold back a bit on the settings and resolution for the smoothest experience.
Do note that Control is a very heavy game and most of its additional graphic settings don’t give much difference visually anyway, so keeping some settings on medium or high is still looks stunning on the M16.
On my Shadow of the Tomb Raider test, I ran the benchmark maxing out every setting and got a 64 FPS average at 1440p resolution which are pretty amazing results for a laptop. This would go even higher if we’re playing on 1080p so if more FPS is your thing, you can opt to go for that.
We also experienced pretty decent temperatures on this unit as according to the ROG Armoury Crate, we’re getting around 69 to 73 degrees Celcius in game and would only occasionally hit the 80 degree mark during intense scenes. That’s very respectable for an Intel Core i9 in a compact laptop but it did come at the expense of being noticeably loud.
Speakers and the ROG Delta Headphones
According to ROG, the Zephyrus M16 actually has a six speaker setup. I didn’t really hear the benefits of this but it does sound pretty decent and clean but that’s about it. It won’t be able to fill up a room as its volume just isn’t very loud.
It had to turn on subtitles for games I’m playing as I was having a hard time hearing the dialog audibly. So for a more immersive experience, the ROG Delta headphones is what you’ll want to use for your long gaming sessions.
It’s a USB-C powered pair of headphones that are stylish and solidly built. It sports an ROG logo with breathing RGB lighting, a digital volume rocker and a switch for the RGB light.
Sound-wise, I do believe this sounds close to neutral and does seem balanced which isn’t what I usually experience on a pair of gaming headphones but it’s actually what I prefer.
I was expecting it to be boosted on the bass as gaming headphones often have this characteristic but that isn’t the case on this one. In fact, I did feel that it was rolled off a bit on the low end which gives us more clarity and less rumble.
All in all, this pair does give a pleasurable experience for gaming as the closed back and its noise cancellation forces you to focus on tackling your adventure.
Battery life and charging
It’s pretty common for gaming laptops not to have very good battery life as we do have a lot of power hungry components running. With the Zephyrus M16, we’ve experienced pretty similar results with other gaming laptops at around six hours of normal use.
Gaming on battery only got us about 45 minutes on Shadow of the Tomb Raider before everything became unplayably laggy just as power saving mode kicked in at 20 percent of battery remaining.
As for its charging, considering that this is a 240W charger, the results aren’t very fast getting us from empty to full in 1 hour and 45 minutes. With the 100W charger, it took us from ten percent to full in 2 hours and 8 minutes which is acceptable especially if we consider its pocket friendly size.
Is the ASUS ROG Zephyrus M16 your GadgetMatch?
Despite some minor inconveniences, there’s nothing in particular that I could say we would really hate with the Zephyrus M16.
It’s definitely a laptop designed for gaming enthusiasts who’d really want to get the best experience in a compact package and I don’t think they would be disappointed with gaming on this one.
The price tag of PhP 159,995 may sound too steep for many of us but the exceptional specs, solidly built body, a beautiful 16-inch 16:10 display, great keyboard, huge trackpad and a superb bundle of accessories, are a mouthful to say but these in itself says we’re not getting ripped off.
But if you’re not willing to shell out that much, a slightly less powerful variant with an RTX 3060, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD is also available for PhP 139,990 while a variant with a Core i7, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD and an RTX 3060 is available for PhP 129,990.
So to sum it all up, at the level where it competes, the Zephyrus M16 is definitely a beast of a gaming laptop in a compact form factor that easily stands out as a great contender.
Nanoleaf Lines: World’s first customizable backlit light bars
Spice up your home lighting!
As gamers continue to be trendy and creative when it comes to their setups, Nanoleaf has successfully announced the launch of the world’s first customizable backlit light bars: the Nanoleaf Lines.
Nanoleaf Lines reinvents the idea of mood lighting with ultra-lightweight light bars to create sleek linear layouts, grand geometric shapes and even ceiling setups.
The lines come with 19 pre-set dynamic scenes, as well as seven rhythm scenes that sync with music to give one’s indoor space with mesmerizing lighting scenes to complement their gaming or entertainment experience.
Bringing games to life
Nanoleaf’s Screen Mirror feature syncs up on-screen colors and animations across the lighting setup, to bring one’s favorite game to life.
Connect Nanoleaf Lines with Razer Chroma-enabled devices to bring the entire gaming setup for an immersive RGB rainbow display, taking users beyond the screen.
Pricing and availability
Nanoleaf Lines is now available at both online and physical stores below. Smarter kits (9 Lines) retail at SG$ 339 and Expansion Packs (3 Lines) at SG$ 109.
Physical stores are Brex International (Oxley Bizhub), Synced by District (Plaza Singapura), HipVan Experience Store (Suntec), BHG (Bugis Junction – from 1 December 2021), Takashimaya Level 3, and Omnidesk Experience Studio.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: Not as clumsy as you think
The superior group of crazy individuals against a common threat
When SQUARE ENIX took a crack at producing video games about our favorite Marvel superheroes, I thought it was promising. In a time when Avengers: Endgame was at its peak in popularity, an Avengers-themed game seemed like the perfect fit. However, Marvel’s Avengers didn’t exactly live up to expectations, but I felt it was a good start.
Some time later, they decided to go a bit smaller in team size and focused on another famous group of heroes in the Guardians of the Galaxy. From the MCU, you would describe them as arguably the most chaotic set of individuals that had to coexist under one roof — and justifyingly so. Even with their obvious differences, they’re the galaxy’s answer to every possible disaster out there.
With this in mind, SQUARE ENIX hit a bit of a reset button and made a new game about the most unconventional band of misfits you can imagine. Does Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy warrant your attention as a standalone Marvel game?
The true Star of the show
The title alone already gives you an idea of who you’ll be playing throughout the entire game, except it’s a single-player game all throughout. See, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy dives deep into the adventures of five ragtag creatures across, well, the galaxy. If you’re not familiar with the team composition, members of the Guardians include Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, and Groot.
In this game, however, you will exclusively play Star-Lord, the leader of the group and the reason Thanos succeeded in the first “Snappening.” All gripes aside, this game allows you to take control of pretty intense situations both internally and externally as the leader. Also, you will engage in lots of quicktime events that affect your relationships with the rest of the team.
Honestly, I’m pretty okay with this if they were that interested in a more concrete way of providing leadership training to young Star-Lord. Although, I was hoping that there would be a little bit more Guardians integration, like playing as one of them in some scenarios. You’ll see later why I said this.
Travelling, scavenging, and avenging the whole galaxy
Now that you know the Guardians, time to meet the imminent threat they’re saving the galaxy from. In this game’s storyline, the Guardians of the Galaxy come face-to-face with an entity simply known as Grand Unifier Raker and the Universal Church of Truth. Of course, you’re practically doing all this while trying to pay a hefty fine to the government.
Storyline-wise, I thought that everything progressed well enough to keep up even for non-Marvel Comics fans. In my eyes, there weren’t too many unexpected twists and turns that you’ll have to do mental gymnastics for. Also, I actually like that little secret alternate ending that you unlock in the middle of the game if you make a crucial decision along the way. I won’t tell you what it is, it’s best to figure it out on your own.
Gameplay as a group, controlled by one
For the majority of my playthrough, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy likes to put you in group combat and exploration situations. Think of it like it’s a pseudo-open world as you scour the entire universe for components and secrets to unfold. Of course, every time you try to divert away from the group, they make it a point to call you out on it in sarcastic tones.
As for the combat mechanics, it’s honestly pretty straightforward to learn and master all the way through. Basically, every member of the Guardians comes with their set of weapons and abilities to lay waste to every enemy in sight. As Star-Lord, you get his patented double blasters that you can upgrade from all the components you find lying around.
During waves of combat with enemies, your approach depends on which other team member you wanna utilize. Honestly, I had a lot of fun using everyone in the team all at once to take down large groups of enemies. However, you only play Star-Lord and you don’t really get opportunities to swap to the different members at will.
“Guys, huddle up!”
When times get rough, or just when non-Chris Pratt Star-Lord wants to, one unique combat mechanic is Huddle Up, which is rather self-explanatory. To earn this, you just have to keep hitting enemies with sick combos or use your team’s abilities enough to charge the meter to full. Once full, with a press of a button, you call a timeout to get the team together.
What’s unique about this is that, well, it’s decision-based as your team basically shares their sentiments on the current situation. As the leader, you need to send a strong message to the team to keep their spirits high and motivated. If you choose correctly, the Guardians get an additional boost to attack power. If you don’t, they’ll just think it was a waste of time!
It’s fun how they managed to include something so trivial like this in the main combat mechanics. During gameplay, I honestly thought that it was funny that they’re having team meetings while the enemies are coming in from all sides. Honestly, it made the combat worthwhile to commit to.
Admiring the beauty and sounds of distant galaxies
Throughout my gameplay, I couldn’t help but just stop and take in the environment I was moving around in for a few minutes. Sure, the galaxy is about to be taken over by a cult of blind followers, but everything in it either looks bright or desolate when needed. Of course, if you want to play this on your PC, I suggest getting an RTX graphics card to fully enjoy the details.
I applaud Eidos Montreal and SQUARE ENIX in this regard, especially with the amount of material at their disposal. This even extends to just the little design things such as the collectible suits for each member. I mean, they even put in the costumes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a collectible, so you can imagine you’re playing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
Also, I just love the soundtrack — or at least the songs they selected to make up the soundtrack! True to Peter Quill’s character, the soundtrack has some classic hits from the 80s that tickles that nostalgia bone every time I play. To top it all off, the game even includes some original songs by the fictional band, Star-Lord. If you want the full experience, you can check out the game’s official soundtrack on Spotify!
A commendable second effort
In my eyes, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy was the kind of game I was hoping Marvel’s Avengers would be. In many ways, it doesn’t try too hard to bring an over-the-top Marvel experience and isn’t overwhelming you with too much stuff to look at. As a single player game, it allows you to focus on what’s in front of you and make decisions based on what you see.
Of course, I would have wanted an opportunity to play as each member individually instead of just Star-Lord. Think of it like side quests that you are incentivized to go through to boost the group’s morale or deepen your relationship with the other members. However, if they did that, the game would just drag on for hours so keeping it this short and simple was the way to go.
From the design to the gameplay, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy shaped up to be an exciting game for a lot of people to enjoy. It kept things simple, easy to follow, and fluid in approach, and put most of the decision-making on you. Sure, it’s about the most chaotic group of superheroes you can imagine, but the game is anything but.
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