Reviews Category RSS Feed | Reviews RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network Spider-Man Review: Amazing Mon, 17 Sep 2018 10:22:22 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

There's a well-worn cliche that shows up in most reviews of superhero video games: claiming that a certain game really "makes you feel like a superhero". It's a crutch, used to simplify the process of explaining how the physics, controls, camera angles, and atmosphere blend together to give the player a sense of power, speed, or control.

The issue is that nobody actually knows what it feels like to be Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, or any other superhero, so we as players don't have anything to compare that feeling to. Marvel's Spider-Man for the PS4 doesn't actually make you feel like Spider-Man. Here's a list of things that Spider-Man for the PS4 does feel like:

  • Jumping in an upward-bound elevator right as it's about to stop
  • The moment on a roller-coaster where you crest a hill and are weightless before hurtling downwards
  • Sledding
  • Watching a new Marvel movie
  • Trying not to wake your roommate up at 3 AM as you steal handfuls of shredded cheese they were saving for breakfast quesadillas
  • Playing a fighting game in practice mode
  • A really good high five


[Image via PlayStation]

The first question in a review of any Spider-Man game is whether or not The Swinging Feels Good. 

In Spider-Man for the PS4, the answer is a resounding YES. The designers at Insomniac Games did a great job not just with the physics of web-slinging, but with the design as well. The wind whips past your ears differently based on whether you're zipping along rooftops, hurtling towards the ground, or running up a wall. The visual effects change too, with the camera assuming a cinematic, high-action angle right behind Spidey's head during high-speed dives, complete with some of the best motion blur I've ever seen in a video game.

What this means is that even if the game had a sub-par story and combat, flying around Spider-Man's faithful depiction of New York City would be a joy in its own right. Since web-swinging is different based on the specific buildings and surfaces that you're swinging from, Manhattan becomes a playground, allowing you to breezily scale skyscrapers and skim across the lush landscape of Central Park without missing a beat. Each of the areas in the game offers distinct movement options, and it's all exhilarating. 

The combat takes a bit of getting used to, but once you get to grips with it, it's insanely satisfying. You're not likely to find a lot of challenge here if you just want to cheese your way through the game, but for the more creative-minded players, the feeling of uppercutting a baddie into mid-air, webbing them up, swing-kicking them into a wall so hard they stick there, and then hurricanrana-ing a second baddie into the pavement is more than worth the added difficulty spike that comes from refusing to just mash square and triangle.

So, yes, Spider-Man's combat isn't technically all that deep since there's no real reason to dig into it that much, but the game's combat mechanics stack in a way that bears mentioning. The game says "yes" to you at every turn with the combat. Want to stick a web trap to somebody, then lure another person over in order to stick them together before electrocuting them all? Go for it! Perhaps you're more comfortable sneaking around, hanging goons up light posts like horrifying pinatas? Why not? 

As you level up, you'll also unlock abilities that further encourage experimentation, from increasing the potency of your web shooters, to impact webs that hurl enemies back, to the ability to swing huge enemies around like a wrecking ball. Again, none of this is necessary, but you're really missing out on a lot of the fun of the game if you don't take advantage of these tools.

The only drawback here is that the side missions don't really take advantage of the game's flawless design. Race type missions aren't unlocked until you're most of the way through the game, and even then, they're not races so much as they are chases. Combat missions don't really reward you for getting creative with your fighting, either. It's a bit perplexing since it really seems like the game is working against itself. Maybe this problem will be fixed with some DLC down the line, but for now, it is what it is.

Another baffling gameplay choice is the fact that, for whatever reason, Insomniac Games really wanted half the story missions to be stealth-focused. When news broke that the player would step into the roles of Mary Jane Watson as an investigative reporter and Miles Morales before he got his powers, I doubt most people thought that their segments of the game would simply be dollar-store Metal Gear Solid knockoff lure-the-guard-away-and-run-forward missions.

It's really disappointing, especially since it would have been an absolute slam dunk had Insomniac broken up the rhythm of the game with a few L.A. Noire-styled investigative missions starring Mary Jane. It just seems like a huge missed opportunity, especially when you're giving these fan-favorite characters the spotlight.


[Image via PlayStation]

Spider-Man won't win any awards for its story, and you'll likely see all of the twists and turns coming a mile away. The bigger issue with the story, however, is that it seems somehow unstuck in time. The game tries to draw parallels between the New York Spider-Man calls home and our own, quipping about a "fascist" para-military force while at the same time spin-kicking drug dealers off of a building because the police tells him to. It's just a bit... dissonant to have a rebellious vigilante like Spider-Man pretty much acting like a cop the whole game. Kinda ruins the fantasy.

Other than that, you'll get pretty much everything you want to out of the story. The big bads don't show up until very late in the game, but that can be forgiven since the first 80% of time spent seems meticulously designed for you to kind of mess around in the city finding collectibles and completing challenges. This odd pacing may be a dealbreaker for some, but personally, I had so much fun blasting around Manhattan that I didn't mind.


The one aspect that brings everything together in Spider-Man is the visual and auditory design. If you've seen any of the Avengers movies, you'll be blown away by how reminiscent this game is of them, from the camera angles, to the gratuitous use of slow motion, to the orchestral score that swells and ebbs with the on-screen action. 

The game doesn't skimp on collectibles either. From backpacks that each carry easter eggs that will be familiar to fans of the comic books, to secret graffiti featuring Spider-Man characters, to literal pigeons you have to chase down, scouring the map for all of these little goodies is a whole lot of fun.

Oh, and speaking of graffiti, the street art in this game really does bear mentioning. There are hundreds of murals in Spider-Man's Manhattan, with varying art styles and subjects. It seems like such a small detail, but the fact that the street art is vibrant and not just a slapdash copy and paste job really makes the city feel so much more alive and lived in.

These are the factors that suck you into a game, that cause you to put down the controller, look at the clock, and realize that you were supposed to meet your best friend for dinner three hours ago... yesterday

All told, this game really is a masterpiece, one of the few games you'll want to complete 100% even if that's the kind of thing you hate doing. It's the best Spider-Man game ever made (yes, it's better than Spider-Man 2), and despite some head-scratching flaws, possibly the best superhero game ever made. Now if you'll excuse me, I have 3 more pigeons to catch, 4 more Taskmaster challenges to complete, 4 more landmarks to photograph, and 11 more backpacks to find. 

Bright, Button-Mashing FUN - ZONE OF THE ENDERS The 2nd Runner: MARS Review Mon, 17 Sep 2018 10:15:51 -0400 Stephanie Tang

Despite being a remaster of a remake of a mid-2000s Japanese console game, Konami’s ZONE OF THE ENDERS The 2nd Runner: M∀RS is no Final Fantasy VII - you can still rattle the entire name off and be met with a blank “huh?” from your oh-so-knowledgeable gamer crew.

From the first, the Hideo Kojima-created ZOE franchise has always been somewhat niche in North America in spite of fairly decent sale. Although in that niche, it has managed to grow into something of a cult classic, you'll be hard-pressed to find a ZOE fan just walking around. 

Even so, ZOE is more expansive than you might think. The franchise includes two titles originally released on the PlayStation 2, a Game Boy Advance side story that was released in between 1 & 2, an animated OVA prequel and 26-episode anime. A ZOE 3 has been in the works since 2008, but the only announcement since was in 2012 when Kojima confirmed that work on this title had finally begun.

Beautiful cel-shaded cinematics and in-game graphics, expansive environments, enormously satisfying giant robot combat (although perhaps not necessarily the 90s style over-the-top English dubbed anime cinematics) give this game a character that appeals to a number of die-hard fans that insist on its superiority as a mecha game over any and all Gundam titles that came before and after.

(Note: No alternate audio languages available, unfortunately, so you're stuck with the dub on this one. It's been one of the biggest complaints from most longtime fans.)

For those new to the series (and there are many), rest assured - if you haven’t touched these games before, you won’t need to start from the beginning in order to pick up on what’s going on.

While ZOE 2 expands on the universe of its predecessor and refers back to it now and again, ZOE 2 keeps the storyline centered on the doings of new pilot Dingo Egret (yes, really) in the original Orbital Frame JEHUTY from ZOE 1 against his nemesis Nohman who pilots sister model ANUBIS.

Set two years after the events of the original ZOE, protagonist Dingo is working as a miner on Callisto hunting for Metatron ore (used to power/create Orbital Frames) and stumbles upon the hidden JEHUTY. When the facility is attacked by the despotic BAHRAM military organization, he pits himself against their forces, infiltrating their battleship, but ultimately is defeated by Nohman, piloting the ANUBIS.

When Dingo refuses to join their cause, Nohman shoots him. Left for dead, he is rescued by an undercover agent who revives him and places him back inside the JEHUTY frame as both a life support system and a way of escape. In it, he stands as the last hope for the planets against BAHRAM's robotic takeover. 

The mechanics of the game are simpler than what came before in ZOE 1, concentrating on mecha battles pretty much exclusively. This includes facing off against a number of different enemy types which take different weapons and attacks to fight efficiently.

Spacing matters - and part of the gameplay's elegance comes from figuring out how to position yourself in cramped hallways or open space and how to distance yourself depending on the enemy, melee sword combat or laser guns.

There are a lot of weapons open to you as you pilot JEHUTY, and that number only grows as you progress and unlock new sub-weapons from boss kills, besides the environmental items that you can pick up and use as weapons as well. Some players found this complicated, but for the most part, the weapons are fairly straightforward - and switching between caused me fewer headaches than trying to do the same in, say, Monster Hunter: World.

(There have been some improvements made for weapon switching between the original game and this version, perhaps therein lies the difference.)


The original game in 2003 was re-released in a two-game set in 2012 as an HD Collection for the PS3 and Xbox 360 with updated graphics and art, better interfaces, new trophies/achievements, right analog stick and rumble support, and improved audio. The company toyed with the idea of releasing it on the PS Vita as well but soon scrapped that plan. It did okay.. mostly because there didn't seem like enough extra content to make the new collection worthwhile, and ran into frame rate issues on the new platforms that it never had on the original. These were fixed later on the PS3 but not on the Xbox 360.

You can see a similar upjump for 2018’s MARS: enhanced graphics and 4k resolution support, new sound design and surround sound support, and a few new features like Very Easy difficulty, training modules, and versus mode where you can 1v1 against other players or a bot (future-proofing this feature for the inevitability of a shrinking online player base in later years).

VR Mode

The shining star of this release, however, is the brand new VR content. Fully playable in first person VR (although all cinematics you experience in theater mode not quite in first person), this mode brings you front and center into all the action and in combat can make you feel like you're really piloting a giant death machine. 

(Note: I don't actually own a VR headset and this review was written while played in third person so it's been supplemented with a lot of YouTube/Twitch streams.)

ZOE 2 was originally made to be a third-person mecha fighter, however, and the switch to third person will close off a large portion of the surrounding environments as your visuals keep you squarely in the JEHUTY cockpit (you do get a 3D figure of the mecha in motion on your console to help gauge movement.)

I do recommend that you play at least some of the game without the VR headset to get the hang of the gameplay as it was initially meant to be played - it's a lot more difficult to figure out how to space yourself properly in battle when played in first-person VR.

It is however, such a large part of why this remake exists, that I also feel like you'd be missing out if you never strapped on a headset either.

Worth it?

ZONE OF THE ENDERS The 2nd Runner: MARS doesn't pretend to be anything more than it was - and the price tag reflects that at $39.99 CAD. The first person virtual reality support is really cool-looking and an excellent addition, but it doesn't promise to transform the game any more than the 4K resolution support.

It does provide an excellent way for old fans to revisit an old classic in a brand new way, with possibly just enough shiny new features to lure new fans in. The game isn't very long, and its runtime is pumped up with somewhat dated anime cutscenes that, for me at least, didn't add a great deal to my enjoyment of the game but did allow it to unfold as a real game rather than a blander sort of progression through different mecha fights.

If you play on the PC version, the game demonstrates the usual lack of care for keyboard/mouse control that many console ports do - namely that you're not allowed the luxury of key rebinds. Furthermore, only through tutorial help and trial and error do you actually get to really figure out how to work your controls (another reason I advise at least starting out without VR). Control-wise, it's a little wonky, so players may prefer to use a controller to play this comfortably. 

Otherwise, it's a fun button-mashing romp in space, with all the bright, splashy attack colors I could wish for. As a VR title, it's excellent (I've played my fair share of other titles in VR that bored me all too quickly once the novelty wore off), and made me seriously consider a VR headset for myself. It is perhaps the most generous and non-gimmicky VR experience I have seen a game offer to date.

15 years after the original was released, this may be exactly what this game needed to finally get its chance to shine. 

NHL 19 Review: Not Doing Much New Fri, 14 Sep 2018 09:00:01 -0400 Charles Blades

Last year, the Vegas Knights were a new hot shot team in the NHL. They took the momentum from a city that has long been one of the biggest markets without a major sports franchise and turned it into a playoff run that nearly ended in lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup. This year, the Knights are not only projected to return to the post season, but make another serious title run.

However, as with all shock-the-world runs, the Knights are liable to fall into the trap of the sophomore slump. Which is to take what was once a promising opportunity at greatness, and see that chance slip away.

This is the most telling analogy to describe my feelings on what I think EA’s NHL series is falling into, just a year out from one of its most challenging entries in the series to date.

While it’s not uncommon for a lot of sports titles to remain similar from year to year, the lack of innovation from last year’s installment in NHL 19 is astounding for a full-priced sequel.

The two biggest changes come in the form of the introduction of a new mode called the World of CHEL, as well as some minor on-ice gameplay changes. Both of these left me underwhelmed and feeling as though this edition of NHL is one of the most poorly updated installments in the franchise

To start, the World of CHEL is the premier mode of NHL 19, and it is being marketed as the progression of the fan-favorite mode EASHL. This mode essentially boils down to the subsets of various other online My Player Modes in other sports games -- except it's stripped back and put into a hockey rink.

The mode sees you progressing your player’s attributes through numerous modes, from offline Pro/Am tournaments to online matches. Game types such as 1v1v1 do break up the rather standard experience, although the online modes (which I was unable to really dive into pre-release) are where this mode is going to live and die.

What worries me about that fact is that a lot of the customization aspects of the mode are locked away behind loot boxes. This, of course, includes various cosmetic changes that provide a lot of the mode's depth. It also affects classes, traits, and specialties that all have real impact on the on-ice action.

As of now, an EA representative talking to Polygon said that it is, “only possible to earn World of CHEL gear by playing the mode.” However, it can’t help but feel like this is a slow erosion of one thing that that NHL series has had to hang its hat on over other sports franchises. The lack of predatory monetization efforts.

While it can be forgiven in a way, to lock cosmetics behind loot boxes as a way to fund active development of an online game as a service, putting player progression and real-game, impactful progression behind loot boxes is a mortal sin. This is the standard in various sports franchises, from NBA 2K to Sony’s The Show, and the rest of EA’s own sports titles.

This doesn’t really get talked about in the traditional gaming media the way it does for say, Star Wars Battlefront 2 or Shadow of War. So year after year, these manipulative practices fly pretty much under the radar while EA and other companies make boat loads selling loot boxes to teenagers.

However, just because sports games aren’t in the traditional “gamers” repertoire doesn’t mean that these exploitative practices should be given a pass.

In addition to this looming and problematic factor for NHL 19's flagship mode, the lack of a true story mode has gone from a small oversight in 2016 to a downright problem in today’s sports game landscape. With every sports title under the sun from Madden to FIFA containing some semblance of a story mode, the lack of its inclusion here is incredibly shortsighted.

In 2018, this is the sports game equivalent of not including a battle royale mode in a shooter. While EA Canada certainly sees the smallest return on its investment on the NHL series, with the sport being the least popular worldwide, it’s no excuse not to invest the extra resources it would take to even put in a passable story mode. This is especially true when EA is clearly setting up more monetization features into a game that, while it has had them in previous years, was one of the least exploitative in the sports game genre.


On to the at least something semi-positive, back from last year is the NHL Three’s mode. While not updated in any noticeable way from last year, it is still a blast in local co-op. The nonstop action of 3v3 hockey is undoubtedly fun and adds a level of play that people (maybe) unfamiliar with the intricacies of the game might still find fun and enjoy.

With mascots taking the ice as well as fire and ice pucks hurtling toward the net, it’s quiet a unique mode that I wish, in lieu of a story mode, EA had put more effort into. However, the almost NBA Street Vol. 2 campaign of clearing out different cities and unlocking new players is rewarding enough to want to want to play the mode outside of online matches.

The one area in which the simplicity of the game plays to its benefit is the game's Seasons mode. Like it sounds, this mode allows you to play through an NHL season with your favorite team. While on one hand this might seem like a simple thing to do, the fact that EA keeps this away from the franchise mode is a nice streamlined choice for those of us who don't want to deal with setting ticket prices before we go out on the ice.

On the other hand, if you are the type of player who prefers to decide just how much your team is going to spend in free agency this year, and micromanage every element of running an NHL franchise, this is going to be great for you. 

The addition of outdoor hockey rinks is a welcomed new aspect to the game, as well. With hockey struggling a bit for popularity in the modern sports world, the Winter Classic game is always one that brings out the best in NHL fandom. It’s a fantastic throwback to young kids skating on frozen ponds, and it brings a sense of youth and innocence into the game. While you can’t quite play in notable Winter Classic locations such as The Big House or Wrigley Field, the inclusion of the customization option is a welcomed advancement that is lacking in the department generally. 

All in all, NHL 19 isn’t an abhorrent game. All the modes work well enough that it feels like a hockey game that, while not too much improved from last year, is good enough to stand on its own feet. The increasing spotlight being put onto a mode that at any moment could be turned into an exploitative, micro-transaction filled machine worries me, but it’s not enough for me to strip away that passable grade that NHL 19 probably deserves.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of NHL 19 used for this review.]

Senran Kagura Reflexions Review: Senran-Lite Thu, 13 Sep 2018 13:28:24 -0400 Ashley Gill

Let's not pretend the Senran Kagura games are high art: you play the games for the boobs. I also play the games for the boobs. You know what you're getting into when you buy a Senran Kagura game, is what I'm saying.

The big draw to this series is the fanservice -- oppai here, oppai there, oppai everywhere! Somehow Senrans have found their way to several platforms over the past few years, from PlayStation 4 and Nintendo 3DS to PC and Nintendo Switch.

Senran Kagura Reflexions is not a game for a new wave of players, but it's more a toybox for already-acclimated fans who want to spend time with their favorite girls. Out of its digital box, Reflexions allows you to practice massage and spend time with series headliner Asuka.

Yeah, the above paragraph is kind of weird. This is a fanservice game, which can mean a few things within the anime community. Sometimes it means simply something for fans of a series to enjoy, and other times it means it's explicitly erotic without showing sex (or outright nudity; this definition is also called "ecchi").

In the case of Reflexions, "fanservice" retains both its definitions. It's pretty much only for fans of certain girls, and it's pretty much all ecchi content. This is not a game you buy for the gameplay.

Your time in Senran Kagura Reflexions is spent massaging Asuka in three phases. In the first, you massage her hands. In the second, you massage her body. In the third, you use one of a handful of tools for a deeper massage. Between each phase, she talks to you about the dream scenario you're in or her training a la' a visual novel.

There's not much to it. Her interactions with you adjust a bit between each phase based on how you just finished massaging her. In the Standard Reflexology ~Body~ phase, this is most easily directly affected as each action you perform can give one one of five feelings that will carry over into the next phase. It is very simple and easy to understand once you get to it.

When you finish the game -- which takes anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes -- you unlock new accessories to dress Asuka in and pose or freely massage. Dressing the girls up and posing them is a series past-time this entry couldn't afford to miss out on.

If this all sounds bad, it's time to check out from this review. If it sounds decent, it's time to get to the real meat of it.

Ecchi, at your service

The things I was excited for in Senran Kagura Reflexions were the supposedly unique controller vibrations the Nintendo Switch Joy Cons were supposed to have with this game. You're supposed to feel the jiggles. That's very tempting. Regrettably, I would not say I "felt the jiggles".

There's a lot of rumble in the jungle but don't let that push you into a buy if think it's going to feel like your holding your favorite Senran's hand. It's not going to. I'm sorry.

The last of the three phases is the most ecchi of them by a few miles.

The first one focuses on her hands, which (for me) is a big "whatever." The second is squeezing, caressing, or spraying water on her to affect her mood; this phase takes the longest, but is another "whatever." This one is best in Mini-Reflexology mode where she wears your chosen outfits.

The third is the one where it gets real weird. You can use one of a handful of massage tools -- from your hands to a brush or even an ultimate massager.

This is easily the most ecchi of the phases, but it's also the only one that actually has active gameplay. The motion controls are best for this phase but are significantly more cumbersome than just pressing the buttons. The motion controls are for dedicated fans only! At least, they're the only ones I can imagine using them the whole way through.

Among the 3D ecchi are a few visual novel-style CGs. These are few and far between, but I find them more satisfying than petting Asuka's arm with a brush.

Senran Kagura Reflexions is ultimately not much more than a toybox for fans of the series who want to get more up close and personal with a handful of Senrans. It's nothing more and it's nothing less -- the pool of girls and overall reflexology activities you can participate in are both very shallow.

As mentioned earlier, Reflexions only comes with Asuka to start. That's fair considering the $9.99 price tag, but there is no way to get out of buying Asuka (my second-least favorite girl).

Further characters to be added as DLC are Yumi, Murasaki, Ryouna, and Yomi. Each girl costs an additional $9.99 to practice reflexology with, with Yumi being the first available DLC today. Yomi, Murasaki, and Ryouna will be released in the coming weeks.

I can appreciate a good ecchi game but the lack of character and gameplay variety in Reflexions sticks out like a sore thumb to anyone not a massive fan of the five girls, and additional characters being $9.99 each only makes that sting a little more.

This is a discount game in price and content, and is by no means the high point of the SK series. If you want an ecchi game on console, go with a different Senran Kagura game like Estival Versus or Peach Beach Splash. There's even SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy out now, and that's a fanservice fighter.

If you're a superfan of one of the five girls mentioned, you'll probably want to pick Senran Kagura Reflexions up just to interact with them in a more direct manner than the series usually has available. I'll no doubt be buying Ryouna on release day, but only because she is of my particular tastes; otherwise this is an entirely forgettable entry to a series that is best known for it's big boobs and nutty scenarios. It's got the honkers, but they're not varied enough that i would recommend a purchase unless you really really want to get up close and personal with Asuka's thighs.

(Disclaimer: Writer was granted a copy of the game from the publisher for review purposes.)


Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strikers -- Shinobi Dreams and Jutsu Wishes Wed, 12 Sep 2018 14:03:07 -0400 Jeffrey Rousseau

The Naruto franchise is without question very popular. It has created a lore-rich world and introduced us to a multitude of compelling characters. Not only has the anime been highly successful, but so have the games based on it. With the latest, Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strikers, now available on major console and PC, that trend mostly continues. 

Shinobi Strikers is a MOBA of sorts that uses the entire history of the franchise as the backdrop. You play in the present timeline of an adult-village-leader Naruto and his son/the game's titular hero, Boruto. You are thrust into a worldwide competition among other ninjas where you'll compete online to get stronger and be the best shinobi. So this game a new Naruto game actually fun? Find out in our review below.

Entering The World Wide Web of Shinobi

If you've ever wondered what you'd look like in the world of Naruto, fret not. One of the game's more interesting aspects is its character creation mode. You'll be able to dial in your height, body type, starting village, and more, as well as choose your gender in what can be described as a pretty robust editor.

As a person of color myself, I really do appreciate games with a solid character reaction. Strikers has an assortment of skin tones you choose from. It's an extra touch of inclusion that makes you feel good.

You could spend a good amount of time creating yourself in-game, and a lot of players certainly will. For those who are big fans of customization, this mode lets them differentiate themselves in an already grossly established world -- not to mention show their swag when taking on other players. 

In the beginning, options are limited, but as you play, more and more options will become available. One of the main draws of Shinobi Strikers is content (more on that later), but here, you can unlock so many clothing options the more you play that things can get overwhelmed. Every accessory, tattoo, and piece of clothing you've ever seen in Naruto is unlockable, adding a sense of real uniqueness to Shinobi Strikers

Tailoring Your Ninja's Arsenal 

After creating your avatar, you can assign yourself a particular fighting style. Within those fighting styles, characters can use signature moves straight from the series. For example, I have a character that's literally a clone of Rock Lee. Essentially, he uses powerful hand-to-hand combat and fast movements. With time, you can eventually have a ninja that can fight exactly like Sasuke or Naruto himself.

Each of the game's missions (which we'll talk about below) rewards you and provides drops to increase your repertoire of techniques (jutsus). There's a lot jutsu available in the world to find and use, so you don't have to lock into anyone particular playstyle or fighting style if you don't want to, adding even more creative options to the game. 

Aside from techniques, players are also able to use a plethora of weapons in Shinobi Strikers. You can charge into battle with a giant broad sword, samurai blade, or a simple kunai. That's just the tip of the ostensible iceberg, with dozens and dozens of other options available. 

Clash with your Heart's Content

Battle (ranked, unranked matches) comes in the form of 4 on 4 battles. 8 players (2 randomly selected teams) fight it out within random chosen arenas of various sizes and designs. Now, consider the fact you can run anywhere on a map. Whether you're upside down a giant tree branch, or along side a mountain cliff, you can fight anywhere as well.

Like most brawlers, you can use light attacks and heavy attacks. Light attacks allow quick attacks that can interrupt actions. Heavy attacks, are slower but they can knock down enemies on impact. You can also defend, dodge and parry as well. You'll definitely need experience to become both defensively and offensively efficient. 

Fighting is definitely a visual treat. From your weapons, special moves, and fighting styles battles often look like a scene plucked from the anime -- but there is a minor downside to that.

When the eight of you are fighting close to one another and using a bunch of flashy moves, the game can experience a few frame rate drops here or there. It doesn't break the immersion but it's noticeable at times. 

As this is a MOBA, you and your team can communicate via in-game chat. This coordination can certainly help you win. I personally never used it and had no issues wining with a plethora of teams. You can actually communicate pretty well with in game gestures and expressions available to anyone. Objectives are made very clear by the game itself so  

Battle does varies from degree to degree with each match. Your team may encounter an easy series of wins over weaker teams. Or you could find yourself losing back to back from much stronger teams. The reason being is that matchmaking isn't so great, yet. Now when you do fight enemies closer to your rank and level, battle is a bit more fair. 

Fighting All of Ninja History 

When you start the game, you'll be introduced to a brief tutorial that helps you get familiarized with the game's hub area. After learning the ropes, you'll then be introduced to online matches, which are either ranked or random. 

You can spend hours trying to increase your rank to climb the leaderboards if that's your thing. However, you can also take part in ranked missions, of which the game has plenty.

These missions are separate from your battle rankings and leaderboards. These missions are for your solo career as a ninja but you can join players on a tone. With each rank you have a number of missions available to you. They are unlocked by fulfilling requests from NPCs and so forth.

From capture the flag, collectathons, and bouts against major characters, the choices are plentiful. Shinobi Strikers is built to be what I call a good weekend time-sink; whether you're able to play for one hour or 24, there's enough to indulge yourself in when you take its modes into consideration. To the game's credit, tackling missions requires little to no commitment, but it also knows that some of us like to grind levels, so it does a great job of bridging that gap. 

However, not all of the experiences of Shinobi Strikers are cherry blossoms. While there's plenty of content for the game, that content is mostly aesthetical. Overall, Shinobi Strikers doesn't leave a lasting impression after you've played it for a few hours. At its core, it feels like a game that you could easily put on the back burner -- especially if you're not into ranked play.  

Another hard-to-miss issue is the game's matching making. When you battle in ranked and random matches, you'll be placed in arenas with players who are many levels higher than you. This creates very-hard-to-win battles because the gap in skills and experience is often very high. It's often frustrating (at best), and you'll likely just opt to play online coop missions instead.

A Conclusion of Our Ninja Adventures

Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strikers is an interesting game for fans. It allows people to play a Naruto game they've been waiting for for ages, a game where you can insert yourself into the world and become your own ninja.

Shinobi Strikers is also a game that mostly respects your time. Being able to jump into the world and tackle missions at your own pace is welcomed in a world that is filled with long-winded games. The title encourages players to play whenever they can, and there are occasional bonuses and campaigns so players can gain more experience, rewards, and more.

To be frank, If you need an enjoyable MOBA or a Naruto game to invest in, I can't recommend Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strikers enough.

Fans of MOBA and Naruto can play Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strikers, now available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strikers used in this review.]

Marvel's Spider-Man Review: An Exhilarating Thrill-Ride Mon, 10 Sep 2018 11:29:14 -0400 Joseph Ocasio

The second I first started web-swinging in Marvel's Spider-Man, I said to myself, "God, it's been too long."

I've missed swinging around New York, and I've missed playing a good Spider-Man game. Sure the Arkham games have filled the void in open-world super hero action games, but bat-a-ranging foe's and gliding around Gotham as Batman never had the same appeal as playing as the ole' Webhead.

When Sony and Insomniac Games announced they were working on a Spider-Man title, all they could of done was just make an HD port of Spider-Man 2 and I think every Spider-Man fan would've been satisfied. But like with Rocksteady's Arkham games, Insomniac went the extra mile and made not only the best Spider-Man game, but one of the best super hero games in a long time.

After taking out a certain villain early in the game, a new gang calling themselves "The Demons" begin to appear around the Big Apple --  and it's up to Spider-Man to stop them.

While a lot of the game's plot twists are easy to see, especially if you're a big Spider-Man nut, it's still a great tale thanks to fantastic writing and good use of Spider-Man's rogues gallery. What I loved the most was how Insomniac really made this version of Spider-Man its own. Just like with Rocksteady, Insomniac has a firm grasp of what makes Spider-Man and his supporting characters great, and the company's not afraid to change well-established comics "guidelines". This shines through with the interactions Spider-Man has with his friends and family, especially Mary Jane. 

Right away, Spider-Man throws you into what he does best: swinging around the Big Apple. As Spider-Man leaps, runs, and swings his way across New York City, I instantly had Nostalgic flashbacks of playing Spider-Man 2 and Ultimate Spider-Man on the GameCube.

Controlling Spider-Man is just as exhilarating as it was before, but the additions of a parkour system and the ability to leap as I landed on the edge of a building or a street light created a sense of exhilaration that I never experienced before. Spider-Man just might have the absolute best traversal mechanic in any game -- and I could spend hours just swinging around.

As you explore a digital Manhattan, you'll come across various collectibles and side missions. While the collectibles are just there to help you unlock costumes, the side activities are a bit more varied. From simple combat challenges stopping crimes in progress, the game gives you a lot to do. I never felt like I was ever bogged down by these challenges, and there wasn't one that was bad or broken. A few of these could even be considered more fun to do than the main missions. 

Spider-Man's combat, meanwhile, is equally as astonishing as its web swinging, though it does take a bit of time to adjust to. At first glance, it looks and plays like Batman: Arkham Knight, but with Spider-Man re-skinned. However, controlling Spidy is vastly different than the Dark Knight. Spider-Man doesn't simply counter enemy attacks; he quickly dodges and jumps right behind them. Small things like this may take some time to get used to, but once you do, Spider-Man is a one-man army against the criminals horde he faces. 

Simple punches feel good and using your web to bring Spider-Man's fist to an enemies face never gets old. The upgrade system contains a vast amount of moves and rarely did I find a new skill that I didn't want to buy.

From pulling guns away from burglars to webbing up and throwing criminals, nearly every move felt useful. The same can be said with the various gadgets you acquire. From taser webs and trip web mines, the gadgets Spider-Man can use are crazy and a ton of fun, though it shouldn't be surprising to anyone who's played any of Insomniac's Ratchet and Clank or Resistance games. 

If I had any issues with the combat, my main grip would be that the camera could've been pulled back a little more, as I was hit on a few occasions by a foe I couldn't see. The fights, especially with certain enemies, can also become a little too chaotic, as I would be bombarded with various guns, energy blasts, and Spidy's own spider-sense icon.

It can be frustrating to be hit by so much and expect to know what to do in such a small camera space. 

Along with combat, there also a few stealth sections in the game. Most are optional, but there are few that will have you avoiding enemies at all cost. This is particularly true in the few sections where you get to play as a certain someone with the initials M.J. Thankfully, stealth is mostly forgiving, and I never felt like these sections were forced like so many other games.

You'll also get to do some light detective and puzzle work as both Peter and M.J. Most of these objectives are pretty easy to figure out and these sections do a good job of breaking up the action and give you a chance to breathe.

Graphically, Spider-Man has a nice balance of realism and MCU-ness. While I as a fellow New Yorker I can't say that the digital New York is 100% accurate to the real thing, it's still a pretty damn good recreation of it. With the various NPCs that inhabit it to the large buildings to swing from, Spider-Man's world is constantly brimming with personality and joy.

The various character models look equally great and never run into the uncanny valley. The only real issue with Spider-Man's presentation was the occasional texture pop-in.

The audio is also pleasing, with great web sound effects that help immerse you as you swing by or shoot a goon up with some webbing. The music is great to listen to, especially the theme that's used when you start web-swing. It's a tune that makes you feel both empowered and heroic, absorbing you more into what it feels like to be Spider-Man. The voice acting is great throughout, with a lot of the actors nailing each of there roles. 

The game even has dynamic dialogue that see Spidey's tone of voice change whether he's exerting himself or not. 

After Disney purchased Marvel, it seemed that video games were pretty low on there priority list. Since then, most of Marvel's heroes were stuck with lame movie tie-ins or dull free-to-play titles -- unless you're a LEGO fan, then you're covered.

However it finally seems that Disney has finally started listening to the gaming community: Spider-Man is easily one of the best games of the year. It's a wonderful title that not only works as an amazing video game, but one that also just happens to star your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

Here's hoping we see more of Spider-Man and the Avengers on home consoles... Just as long as they're not the umpteenth LEGO title.  

Shadow Of The Tomb Raider Review Mon, 10 Sep 2018 09:00:25 -0400 Ty Arthur

How did we manage to reach the end of a trilogy of Tomb Raider reboots already? It seems like just last year when we first had a revamped Lara Croft climbing her way up rocky inclines while avoiding deadly guards and picking up hordes of collectibles.

After the snowy sequel Rise Of The Tomb Raider, we're now headed into the South American jungle with Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Yet again, this entry is another third-person action adventure that doubles down on killing cult members, skinning animals, and horribly injuring a even more vulnerable Lara.

From plane crashes to jaguar attacks to being crushed while drowning, Square Enix just loves to see this iteration of the Croft heiress fall into painful situations. But this time around, in the climax of the new trilogy, we find her against the greatest stakes, so her trials and tribulations are understandably the most violent yet. 

With a title like Shadow Of The Tomb Raider and a marketing campaign full of of eclipse imagery, it would be easy to think this ultimate version of Tomb Raider was full of gimmicks. However, the imagery and name speak more to what we see in the game -- a changing world and a changing Lara in a dying world brought about by some bad decisions in an ancient tomb. 

A jaguar growls in Lara Croft's face in Shadow of the Tomb Raider

From Doom and Gloom to Polygonal Laras

If you just want to plunder old sarcophagi without giving any thought to who's buried there, this may not be the Tomb Raider for you. The narrative has strongly shifted here, and there's a big focus on Croft's privilege as an ultra-rich white woman tromping across the world taking whatever she wants.

This time around there are finally some consequences for her impulsive actions. In fact, the game starts with the world on the brink of utterly ending because Lara couldn't keep her hands off an artifact. In Rise, the pseudo-stakes felt more personal. Here, they're literally global. 

It's clear the developers went out of their way to make the cultures and people Lara comes across more of a central focus here, rather than something to be trampled through while she seeks out trinkets. This may be a fictional universe, but the game still wants you to think about how people in South American nations are treated by the wealthier nations to the north.

But if you don't care about heavy concepts or social commentary, there's plenty of amusingly silly options to lighten the game up a bit. Want to play through as the old school, 32-bit Lara from Tomb Raider 2 or Tomb Raider 3? Guess what? You can. And it's a hilariously fun nod to the players who have been following this franchise throughout the years.

Personally I couldn't play Shadow with the model for very long, because it felt too much like playing Dead Rising where Chuck has on some absurdly silly outfit. My second playthrough will be all old-school Lara though for maximum lulz, though. You can count on that. 

Lara dons a throwback PS1-era polygonal skin as she stands in front of plane wreckage

Familiar or Repetitive?

Silly Easter eggs to fans aside, the core of the game feels nearly identical to the previous two entries of the rebooted trilogy. Remember the first time you played a TellTale game and were blown away? Then five or six games later you were thought, "Are we still doing the same exact thing yet again?". That's what's going on here ... at first, anyway.

If Shadow feels too familiar from the get go, don't give up in the first few hours. Shadow comes into its own and sets itself apart around the 25% completion mark. When you hit a certain hub area, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider finds its stride.

It's so large you could get lost just exploring this one location. Talking to the locals and performing quests in this area is essentially a game all its own -- and that's without ever even hitting the surrounding tombs.

Traveling through populated areas and talking to characters adds something to the base experience, so the game isn't just completely adherent to remote jungle set pieces anymore. These characters feel more like people whose lives Lara is intruding on rather than silent NPCs that solely exist as quest givers.

Because of this, you also get to see behind the curtain and into what made Lara into the titular Tomb Raider. In one particularly memorable segment, we get to see a young Lara at Croft manor and learn why she's so hellbent on living the life of a professional assassin archaeologist. 

A young Lara Croft solves a puzzle at Croft Manor

Lara Croft: Ninja Assassin Archaeologist 

Some of Shadow's changes, like a bigger city to explore, are welcome. Others are less so -- and start to strain credulity. There's no question the first game in the reboot trilogy featured improbable actions like ridiculously expert rock climbing and god-tier bow skills, but it was still grounded in reality and aimed for a more restrained feeling.

However, we're officially starting to lose that here. Lara landing impossibly perfect pickaxe throws to somehow wedge it into a rockface while leaping insane distances is stretching it to say the least. That's not to mention she also carries an absurd amount of disposable rope, which is also all apparently invisible. 

Despite being a completely polished third installment in a trilogy, Shadow feels somewhat regressive. Some areas are in retrograde, particularly in the mechanics department. 

Invariably, there will be sections where it feels like you very clearly landed the jump or grabbed the crumbling wall section, but you fall to your death anyway. Many crypts and challenge tombs are more about battling controls than the puzzle -- and that's very frustrating for a game that revolves primarily around puzzles.

On top of that, the blue waypoint pillar no longer functions as well as it did in the previous two games, and sometimes it just doesn't function at all. You can literally be standing directly on top of a collectible you've set as the marker point and it won't appear. 

For the most part, the game's combat is satisfying, but the death animations deserve special mention. There are some truly weird body physics going on that rival the worst of Bethesda's ludicrous glitches. Dead guards often looking like they are either taking a very uncomfortable nap or keeled over in the middle of break dancing. That's not to mention some of Lara's death scenes are unnecessarily brutal. 

Lara Croft shoots an enemy with an assault rifle in ruins

Why Am I Pondering Morality?

While slaughtering your way through rank and file Trinity guards and seeking out a way to save the world, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider takes some time to make you think about your actions. We aren't quite in Spec Ops: The Line territory here, but the developers seem to be keenly aware that a more grounded, realistic Tomb Raider universe needs to have more consequences. 

It starts out with little things like a villager commenting, "Oh, I wish you were a tourist. Tourists bring money. Archaeologists just take things." Which, of course, is a somewhat subtle commentary on Lara's tendency to dabble in kleptomania from time to time. 

But the concept or morality expands rapidly from there, and by the end of the game's first quarter, you may start to wonder if maybe Lara is actually the villain and Trinity might be the saviors of the world.

I actually laughed out loud when Lara at point muses, "What are they so afraid of?" upon stumbling across some terrified Trinity guards. Gee, I don't know, maybe they are a tad bit worried about the psychotic ninja archaeologist literally stringing their friends up from trees?

Lara hangs an enemy from a tree in the jungle

Honestly, the only difference between Trinity and Lara's rag tag group is the size and scale of the operation. Both are well funded, both break shit and take what they want, and both firmly believe they are justified in doing so. Trinity just has more people at their disposal. 

The primary driving force of the story is directly caused by Lara in the opening segment. She just can't stop herself from snatching a magical ancient artifacts without thinking it through -- and being hyper focused on keeping it out of other peoples' hands.

In more than a nutshell, she's responsible for widespread death and devastation throughout the game, and then she doubles down on her bad decision. Her entire motivation in trying to stop Trinity from getting the totem she seeks is that she thinks no one else should be allowed to find what's rightfully hers.

If you look at this game from the viewpoint of anyone besides Lara Croft, the only conclusion you can really reach is that she's really a mega-maniacal villain. Oh sure, she's cute and likable, but she's also a mass murderer. Seriously, how many of those armed guards have even close to the kill count Laura has racked up in the last two games? 

I have absolutely no idea how much of this was intended by the develops to be inferred by the player, but there's something to be said for a game that makes you think a bit.

Lara Croft overlooks a city devastated by a tsunami in Shadow of the Tomb Raider

The Bottom Line

There's a solid mix of old Lara and new Lara here, along with the good and bad that come with those. You get a revamped skill tree to play with, and the camera mode is fun for taking snapshots of a dangling Lara defying gravity (and death). Stealth mechanics take more of a front seat this time, and there are now merchants to trade with and cities to explore, providing a bit of an RPG feel to the action-adventure formula.

Water also plays a much, much bigger role than before, with huge flooded areas to swim across while avoiding deadly piranha. There are also tons of places to explore while diving, and some of the game's tombs and crypts use water in unique ways. 

The game can appeal to any kind of player because of its difficulty settings. Instead of being static difficulty modifiers, you can turn on super blunt hints and just play through the story or crank it up to maximum and try for the classically hard Tomb Raider experience.

There are some frustrating downsides to battle against, however, like clunky mechanics that need an overhaul, specifically in traversing cliff faces and jumping from precipice to precipice.

Overall, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider is a worthwhile experience for fans of the previous two games, although I'm getting the feeling the series may be in need of another reboot soon.

Check out our pre-order guide here

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Shadow of the Tomb Raider used in this review.]

Two Point Hospital Review: More of the Same Is Good Thu, 06 Sep 2018 14:53:36 -0400 Ashley Gill

There are few games that have made me come back as often as Theme Hospital has over the years. Maybe it's the quirky treatments, the loose management style, or the snarky receptionist on the intercom. I've never been able to figure it out. I just know I've played Theme Hospital all the way through seven or eight times.

The announcement of Two Point Hospital and the ex-Bullfrog staff behind it had me excited but pensive. There are a lot of modern remakes, ports, and spiritual successors that just fall flat for me. Two Point Hospital isn't one of them.

In a market where spiritual successors and remakes decide to change up the original game's formula in some major way, Two Point Hospital doesn't do that. In fact, it is so similar to the game it's derivative of that my husband just calls it Theme Hospital 2. It's certainly close enough.

More of the same isn't a bad thing

Building and managing the hospital is done in very much the same way as its spiritual predecessor.

Working up and building the hospitals you're tasked with managing is straightforward. You need diagnostic rooms to determine what's wrong with patients and treatment rooms to deal with specific ailments. If planned and staffed properly, patients should be able to make their way through your hospital and get the right treatment. If you've planned poorly, don't worry -- the game is easy enough that small mistakes don't mean a closed hospital.

You spend most of your time building new rooms to deal with patients and trying to figure out why some are storming out unhappy or dying in the hospital corridors. Sometimes just plopping down some well-placed vending machines will do the trick to keep patients happy, sometimes it takes some hospital re-planning. Fortunately, this rarely leads to a loss.

Running a successful hospital often just comes down to fulfilling the star requirements. There are 15 hospitals to work with, and for each one, you can manage it up to one, two, or three stars. A one-star rating lets you move onto the next one, with the other two stars being for fun.

With the above in mind, I'm not even sure it's possible to fail at managing a hospital. I've made one very poor hospital on purpose and it's somehow chugging along. It's a bit like there are no real repercussions for poor planning, aside from a lack of cash flow. Who cares about that, really.

While the game is all very similar to the original Theme Hospital, the biggest changes lie in additional decorative items, the ability to assign employees specific jobs (so doctors trained as GPs will just sit around in GP's offices, as they should), and the new skill system.

While you could train doctors up in Theme Hospital, in Two Point Hospital, every employee -- from janitor to doctor -- is able to learn a number of skills to add to and improve their capabilities. This ties back into the whole GP thing, which is likely most players' biggest source of frustration: patients having to check back in with a GP after every diagnostic step. If you have low-skill doctors, they are going to be slow and inaccurate in a GP's office.

Training your staff is one factor in the whole equation that got a serious bump from 1998 to now. You had to train your doctors in surgery and psychiatry back in the day just so they were useful, but now you have to do it so your patients don't get stuck in endless queues until they die or leave.

Emergencies and epidemics have also made their way into Two Point Hospital, with epidemics coming into play later in the game. Emergencies require you have the rooms and staff to handle a quick burst of patients with a specific ailment, while epidemics must be hunted down and snuffed out via vaccines before afflicted patients leave the hospital.

Epidemics are probably the most difficult part of the game aside from wrestling with GP queues.

Patients and staff will show symptoms of a rare contagious disease and you must play at standard pace and look for people acting strangely. This gets complicated by staff also being afflicted -- I mean, it's not like your GPs and psychiatrists are moving around all that much. Sometimes it's best to just vaccinate them to be safe.

20 years waiting

There could be no better continuation of the spirit of Theme Hospital than what's found in Two Point Hospital. If you played the original and simply want more, you can find it here. If you never played it but want a simple but engaging management sim, you can find it here. If you're looking for your soulmate, you.. might be able to find it here? Nah.

The only thing that could knock Theme Hospital out of my top 10 games was another one, and Two Point Hospital is just that. This is the way I want to see older series come back: with the same bag of tricks in a fancy new binding.

For me, Two Point Hospital marks the end of a personal gaming era. It's something I've wanted for nearly 20 years, it's something I've whined about for ages. Suddenly that's over -- suddenly there is a new Theme Hospital, and it's even better than the original game, all without taking a million liberties to fit the new market.

You won't find particularly challenging gameplay here -- it's not a hard game. You will find an absolutely addictive hospital sim in a perfectly charming wrapping that won't be so easily removed by a Plaster Caster.

Two Point Hospital is the game I wanted more than any other and it's also the one that satisfied every want I could have had for it -- well, almost. The game could certainly do with a sandbox mode and maybe a higher difficulty mode, but I didn't expect those. They would be nice, but they're not necessary.

As it stands, this is a fantastic entry to a genre that pretty much just contains this game and its spiritual predecessor. Everything from the ailments and building to the radio hosts (!!) and annoyed receptionist voice comes together to make Two Point the definitive hospital sim in both fun and overall content. What a time to be alive!

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Two Point Hospital used in this review.]

The Messenger Review Wed, 05 Sep 2018 10:26:21 -0400 Zack Palm

There's a particular emotion you feel when you're reminded of a fond memory. There's the initial feeling of warmth, followed by the excitement of getting to relive something you may not have thought of for such a long time. When it comes to video games and nostalgia, sometimes its a hit or miss game that leaves many people wanting more than what they initially thought they were getting prior to their purchase.

Hands down, The Messenger, does not disappoint and while it leans on several elements from the 80s and 90s era of platforming games, it brings plenty of new things to the table to make it stand out from others and drips with tongue-in-cheek humor from start to finish.

The Set Up

The story takes place in a world where the entire human race is nearly extinct, save for a gathering of survivors in a small village. Civilization was attacked by a demon army intent on killing and enslaving them all, but they were driven away by the survivors. Legends say the demon army threatens to return -- but they have a hope. A hero from the west will appear with a scroll that, when the destined Messenger takes it to the top of the mountain on the island to give to three elders, everyone will be saved. As they await this hero from the west, the village trains for the day the demon army returns.

Our main protagonist finds himself wanting to skip these important lessons, feeling the dread of the day-in, day-out routine. On this fateful day, the demons return! And, just in the nick of time, the hero of the west arrives to give our hero his scroll, making him The Messenger from the legend. Now it's up to him to travel across the island, face the demon army, and give the scroll to the three elders at the top to bring peace to the world once more!

The story certainly feels cliche, but the humor that takes place in the dialogue between all of the characters you meet on your journey makes up for it immensely.

Good Ol' Nostalgia 

Before you're even in the game you can tell the developers spent a lot of time in their local arcades. They clearly missed the days they were asking their parents for their allowance in quarters so they could play their favorite pixel platformer -- but they absolutely nailed it.

You play a light tutorial before you're thrown into the fray of the game, and everything feels perfectly aligned. Our main character's jumping arc lands in an ideal way, making dodging, attacking, air-jumping, and strategically timed dives over spikes feel phenomenal. The platforming doesn't attempt to force you into too many creative moments until later on as the game gradually guides you throughout your time with it. The real challenges arrive after you've had some practice with the game, they don't happen early on to make the entire experience feel tougher than it actually is.

The combat was designed to feel straight forward. Your character's main weapon is a sword and the enemies usually die after one hit. There are a few stronger enemies, but most of them are strategically placed to feel like another game mechanic you need to avoid while traversing the game, weaving themselves in and out of the platforming challenges.

The same can be said about the bosses. One of the bosses took me about five tries, which was the most I died. The patterns become obvious pretty quickly, and you use skills you picked up during your time with the level to show how well you've mastered your time in the stage. Each boss comes with its own unique twist, making every fight stand out and feel like a fun experience. I never felt like I went against someone I had already faced.

The Pixel-Popping Art

The gameplay wasn't what made The Messenger feel like a 90s arcade game brought to PC, though -- it was the art. The wonderful, breath-taking art stood out during each stage, and every new stage in the game felt like an individual experience, something I would have loved to explore more of if it were an open-world game.

The island wasn't a single, massive jungle with different colored trees every time I went to a new area. There's a lava-filled mountain level, a snow level, a marsh level where the monsters themselves look different and reflect the environment they're stationed in. Unfortunately, a few enemies you see in the beginning pop up in the later stages. But they're not the only ones. Whenever you enter a new stage you can guarantee you'll find something new attempting to kill you and disrupt your journey to the top of the mountain.

On the topic of enemies, the amount of diversity really made the game feel alive. As your character grows in skill and you become more familiar with the game, the developers continue to throw new, creative horrors for you to face that challenge you in a new way. They were uniquely placed on a stage to make you think of a brand new way to get past them and proceed forward. The further you get in the game, the fewer punches they hold back and the foes look just as beautiful and retro as the landscape you're traveling through.

The On-Point Music

The music. I cannot, nor will I ever, get over the amazing music in The Messenger. This, along with the pixel art, made this game feel like the gorgeous throwback it desperately wants to be. The developers wanted to throw this game into an arcade machine and give it back to the 90s for their younger selves to enjoy.

During each stage, you'll subtly notice the background music changing ever so slightly to sway with the environment. There's no big differences or heavy things thrown in your face. Instead, you're gifted to this wonderful ambiance as you slice your way through the demon army to save the world. You couldn't ask for a better soundtrack.

Clever Dialogue and Writing

When I first fired up The Messenger, I assured myself I was in for a game where the developers were going to have tried too hard with being a note for note 90s game. I was dead wrong, and I'm happy about it.

The first indication of this change was when I arrived at the shopkeeper. I traveled into a mystical, starry realm surrounded by beautiful magic that I knew was beyond my character's comprehension. The shopkeeper knew this too and assured him that whatever he saw here, he had to go with it or never feel comfortable there again. I immediately liked the robed shopkeeper and wished he would accompany me on my journey.

He kind of did, as he was the helpful game mechanic to give me new tools to use as I progressed through the stages. These useful tools were designed to change up how I played the game and provided another level of depth for my platforming skills, which were steadily growing throughout my playthrough.

Though they weren't perfect, death was a welcome treat. Each time I died a small red, flying demon appeared to turn back time and return me to the nearest checkpoint I passed. His name was Quarble, and he's the death mechanic in The Messenger. The consequence of having him with you was to consume any of the currency you collected along the way for a short amount of time.

Having Quarble as a brief companion and as a game mechanic was great as it crafted a new, fun way to make death a thing in the game, without making it a daunting task. They could have easily had it where you were thrown straight back to the start of the stage, but they were kind to have a series of helpful, well-placed checkpoints throughout the stages. Plus, each time you died Quarble would provide a small, sassy quote about your death. These quotes do repeat after a time, but it does take awhile. Don't worry, I tried.

Putting It All Together

The developers wanted a game to throwback to the time when side-scrolling platformers had a specific art to them, back when they had style. They succeed in this along with great gameplay, an amazing soundtrack, wonderful art, and joyous writing I was looking forward to reading each time I died or stopped in to ask the shopkeeper about a new story they had.

While a little short, The Messenger was a fun time I'd happily play again in a heartbeat. 

Donut County Review Tue, 04 Sep 2018 10:43:10 -0400 Zee Sheridan

A six-year labor of love, the tale of Donut County is one assuredly inspirational to many in the games industry and beyond. It's one of a talented individual putting in endless hours and copious effort to create something magical. Given said magic game includes talking raccoons and destroying cities? It’s sure to be a crowd pleaser.

That unholy lovechild of Animal Crossing and Night in The Woods was released on August 28th, and – as countless people are no doubt finding out – it’s just as promising as the previews suggested.  

Let's take a look at what makes it so special -- and well worth your time. 


Right off the bat, the most instantly recognizable thing about Donut County is the charm. A game about an all-consuming hole in the ground could have easily turned gimmicky, and yet through the careful creation of the world you interact with (and destroy), it becomes so much more.

For those who owned a Wii from 2007 onward, the whole game has an element of Zack and Wiki to it -- that is, a vibrant and interesting story and environment, backed up by solid writing and clever puzzles. 

Puzzle games often suffer from their tone, as an overly serious or silly tone can put a damper on playing the actual game itself. This is the side benefit of the playful nature of the game, as it stays on a whimsical track that never feels like it’s taking itself too seriously. The friendship between the 'hero' BK and his BFF Mila is particularly wonderful, both in their entertaining conversations and capturing the essence of how close friends interact.

Combine that with the satisfying 'collect-'em-all' mechanic of games like Katamari Damacy, and you have an unusual, yet incredibly interesting treat on your hands.


There's something oddly calming about destroying environments piece by piece. While Donut County may not be a very difficult game, there's still enough challenge that you feel accomplished after finishing a level - along with the satisfaction of seeing the once cluttered landscape peacefully empty.

Bringing havoc to the various levels and landscapes really give you a feel of the game's universe and atmosphere - even though your main objective is to absorb said universe into the gaping void. The black-hole mechanics are quite clever too, gaining different abilities based on the things you collect. While some of these abilities are only temporary - based on the things around you on each level - finding new ways to affect your surroundings through fire, light and rabbit powers always make you feel at least a little bit clever. There are also permanent upgrades at plot-relevant parts of the story, allowing for both a sense of progression and different ways to use the hole, like being able to launch stuff out of it.

The limited use of upgrades and powers is a great choice, as they don't undermine the fun of using the black hole itself. Although somewhat 'bouncy', the physics of the game are incredibly well made, with each item having a certain sense of weight to it. As you start each level as a hole too small to get some of the items, you quickly learn how to use the physics of the game to your advantage - as some items will only fit if you absorb their smaller part first. It's a simple basis for a game, yet pulled off effectively enough to be endlessly entertaining.  

One of the most interesting things about Donut County is its ability to add mechanics that would normally clash with a puzzle game, without them ever seeming out of place. Having a boss fight, for example, is normally the kryptonite of the puzzle genre, as the things you want from a boss fight and the things you want from a puzzle game are usually complete opposites. However, the game manages to pull off a three-phase boss fight with relative ease, despite it being fairly different from the rest of the game.

In short, every part of Donut County's gameplay fits into it as perfectly as placing some garbage into a gaping black void -- or a house into a void. Or a town -- you get the point.        


Gameplay aside, the bread and butter of the game is its story. Not only does Donut County immediately reel you in by making you ask how the plot is taking place, but it keeps you planted in that interest through its characters. Adorable character design aside, the relaxed and funny dialogue adds a hilarious element to the game that makes it feel all the more relatable and human – or, as human as a talking raccoon can be considered, anyhow.

That said, the game doesn’t focus solely on our morally questionable protagonist, as time is taken to introduce you to the whole colorful cast of characters – each with their own personalized level. In a game that could have easily had minimal character interaction, it’s the icing on the cake (or doughnut) to also get a look into each character’s life and personality. It’s also a pretty smart way to make the levels feel different – as what the character does and is like has a fairly solid impact on the level itself.


The only real criticism of Donut County is that there’s not enough of it – with its current game time spanning two or so hours, depending on how quickly you blaze through the story of friendship, raccoon politics, and donuts. While it’s always better to have a short, purposeful game than a long, less impactful one, you can’t help but finish Donut County feeling like you could have played twice the game and not gotten bored.

That said, the plot is carried out in a way that feels engaging and not drawn out – something a longer play time likely would have jeopardized.



For those puzzle fanatics hoping that Donut County would fulfill their need for some fiendishly difficult puzzles, the game may fall short of expectations. This isn’t to call Donut County a failure, though – not wanting to be ‘the Dark Souls of puzzle games is pretty respectable in a time where making such a game could get you instant fame.

For folks wanting a quirky, lovable game that’s main focus is on the simple joy of having fun solving puzzles, Donut County is as sweet a treat as the name suggests -- and you don’t have to worry about having a gluten allergy.

Shenmue 1+2 Console Review Sat, 01 Sep 2018 12:00:01 -0400 Edgar Wulf

Shenmue received its first western release back in 2000, exclusively for the Dreamcast, and until now, It was never ported to any other platform. It successfully placed itself among the most expensive video game projects and its sequel -- Shenmue II -- was released a year later for the Dreamcast in Japan and ported to the original Xbox in 2002.

Neither of them enjoyed what we might think of as commercial success, but the series developed a devout following and since then has been relentlessly requested by fans for a potential re-release. Nearly two decades later, those requests came to fruition and Sega announced a compilation of Shenmue and Shenmue II for current-gen consoles and PC earlier this year.

Shenmue is officially back, but was it worth the long wait?

Shenmue Remastered?

First and foremost -- what's new about this particular compilation? It's excellent for anyone who's about to acquaint themselves with the series, but what's in store for those who intend to revisit the saga?

Both games run in HD and are displayed in a 16:9 aspect ratio -- though cutscenes still run in 4:3 -- and some minor options for graphical adjustments have been added. Some textures may seem dated, but seeing the game run at 1080p does make the picture slightly more appealing. Overall, it is worth noting that Shenmue and its sequel are nowhere near on par with modern graphical standards, but both have aged well and still look surprisingly good.

Another important aspect of the visual design -- the UI -- has been updated for current platforms; menus look and feel more streamlined and a form of fast-travel has been added to certain locations. 

Many may be pleased to find out that both English and Japanese voice over options are available, as well as corresponding subtitles; Corey Marshall is well regarded for voicing the game's main protagonist in the English version, but some of the lesser characters have been neglected, so it's a welcome thing to have an additional option.

Another improvement, which doesn't seem to be mentioned a lot is the improved loading time. No doubt due to the superior hardware, transitions between locations are almost instantaneous making the whole experience quite seamless. There are, of course, other minor additions and improvements, but I'll get to what's really important.

Shenmue 1+2

Shenmue's biggest strength is its story; it's why it has become timeless and even inspired series like Yakuza. Its plot revolves around a young martial artist by the name of Ryo, who finds himself on a destructive path of revenge after witnessing the murder of his father. In pursuit of the killer, Ryo will explore various locations across his hometown Yokosuka in Japan, Hong Kong and even a secluded village in southern China, all of which will lead him to uncover many mysteries pertaining to his family.

Ryo himself is an impulsive character; he's a young teenager and is, understandably so, blinded by vengeance. In Shenmue, he quickly develops into a more formidable fighter. However, in Shenmue 2, he meets a mentor of sorts, develops as a person and regains his composure as he takes his journey across the sea.

This development is greatly supplemented by the many diverse characters Ryo encounters along the way, the superb musical score adding the necessary tone to each event, and is what makes Shenmue rise above the status of a predictable revenge-tale.

In terms of gameplay, Shenmue is a third-person action-adventure game with a heavy emphasis on exploration. If you've played any of the Yakuza games, then you will find yourself right at home. A great deal of time is spent exploring the various environments, visiting shops, conversing, gathering information and accumulating it in Ryo's notebook.

The locations within the game feel genuine -- people go to work, stores have an opening and closing time and you can pretty much interact with any of them. Most objects can be closely examined revealing additional information, though some interactions may be easily missed since you need to view each object of potential interest in first person mode for a prompt to appear.

Shenmue's environments may feel limited compared to current open-world games -- restrictive even -- but it can be a good thing since it doesn't overwhelm the player with too many choices and doesn't feel like an endless slog. Shenmue 2 improves upon that, greatly increasing in terms of size and scope, up to the point where a map is mandatory.

Eventually, you will stumble upon a point which requires you to wait for the next event to trigger, likely due to a potential point of interest being inaccessible. Apart from sleeping, which is only available during certain hours, there is no option to skip time and this is where the many activities and pastimes Shenmue is known for, come into play.

There are arcades with classics by Sega, darts, slot machines, arm-wrestling and much, much more. Ryo will spend a great deal of time playing games and earning prizes, but often enough beating a Hi-Score won't suffice and he will also have to beat up people.

Combat also plays a pivotal role in Shenmue and there's more than enough of it throughout. Ryo will face everyone, starting from mere bullies and gang members to formidable martial artists, including some tough boss battles. The player has punches, kicks and certain throw moves at their disposal; new moves can be discovered in the environment, learned from other masters or purchased in stores, in the form of scrolls.

However, it's not enough to just purchase a move to instantly become Bruce Lee -- moves have to be learned first. This can be done by practicing various button combinations until a prompt of a successfully learned move appears on the screen. Furthermore, moves can be improved by sparring with a partner or during an actual battle.

Some progress, like learned moves and collected items, can be carried over into the sequel by using the completed save data from Shenmue and a neat little feature of taking snapshots anywhere in the game -- even during cutscenes -- is included in Shenmue 2.

The sheer variety of gameplay, the interactions between characters, the beautiful musical score, and the quality of each aspect -- including combat, exploration, mini-games, and story -- is what keeps the game from becoming monotonous, but does it mean everything is perfect?

Almost, but not quite. The controls often feel sluggish and the camera can be annoying sometimes, especially indoors and during combat. I also noticed that some sound effects -- when performing a move or opening a door, for instance -- would occasionally not play. Still, these are minor gripes and shouldn't hinder the otherwise impeccable experience.

It's hard not to recommend Shenmue 1+2 to anyone who appreciates exceptional storytelling and highly interactive environments and if you've ever felt the urge to experience the unique appeal of these classic titles by Yu Suzuki, then this compilation is the best way to go.

Shenmue 1+2 is available right now for PS4 and Xbox One via Amazon, and for PC via Steam at the price of $29.99.

Editor's Note: This is a community review of Shenmue 1+2 for consoles. You can find the official GameSkinny review for the PC version here

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GloGo Review: Send the Ball Home Thu, 30 Aug 2018 11:34:49 -0400 Allison M Reilly

Do you know the scene from Happy Gilmore, where Happy yells at the ball after he fails to sink the putt?

"Are you too good for your home? Answer me!"

GloGo by Accordion Games is the video game version of that scene.

Released in January 2018, GloGo is an arcade, puzzle game where the player sends the ball toward its hole (a.k.a home) at the end of the level as fast as possible. Players are the ball, using a keyboard or joystick to control it. Obstacles, such as holes, walls and moving blocks, add difficulty and ensure the "way home" isn't a straight line. The game is a neat concept, but at times so frustrating, you want to punch that guy too.

And GloGo knows it. Rage quitting is one of the Steam achievements.

The Environment Isn't the Problem

GloGo and Accordion Games nail the aesthetic. No frustration here.

The music is perfect for GloGo, reflecting the concept's simplicity while adding flair when the game's objective never changes. Each level has its own track, but the entire soundtrack is dubstep, so I don't recommend this game if you hate electronic music. However, the music doesn't get in the way of the gameplay. Players can easily spend 20 minutes on a level going for the fastest time possible, and the music doesn't distract or get stuck in your head.

The neon color scheme is also a great choice. The bright colors add pizzaz but also make it easy to see the obstacles. I also like that certain objects are always specific colors. The ramps are green, the moving blocks are blue, the ball is white. The neon colors also contrast well against the white ball and black floor. Everything in the game is easy to see and identify; there's no confusion about what obstacle is coming up.

The Platinum is a Lie

Ultimately, GloGo doesn't get a higher rating because it doesn't have a good balance between speed and precision. Level 11, for example, requires so much precision that players need to complete the level several times before thinking about how to do the level faster. Yet, Level 11 is full of jumps where the player won't clear the jump if they're not going fast enough. Ultimately, there isn't much room for players to learn and master levels at their own pace. This can make getting through some levels infuriating.

The platinum times are just about impossible to get. For each level, there are five awards: participation, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. Any time matching the participation time or slower earns a participation trophy. In the above photo, to earn bronze, the player needs a time of 20 or 21 seconds. Under 20 seconds earns silver, while a 22-second time will earn the participation trophy.

There are Steam achievements for platinum times that no player has achieved yet. Level 1 has a platinum time of 7 seconds, meaning to get the platinum award, players have to complete the level in under 7 seconds. Six seconds may seem easy but unlike Level 11, there's not much precision to Level 1. It has a straightforward solution, the ball also only goes so fast, and the levels do not provide speed boosts. GloGo consists of 16 levels, four sets of four. The difficulty progression is somewhat steep, but that's expected with only 16 levels. Each level, after the initial learning phase, takes between 10 to 60 seconds to complete. So, finding another second to cut out of seven is tough to do.

Something else GloGo is missing that would greatly improve the experience is an options menu. For example, I would love an options menu to turn off the tutorial messages that come up throughout the first few levels. The messages are helpful for my first playthrough, but break the immersion when I'm trying so very hard to hit platinum-level times.

The Final Putt

Overall, GloGo is a neat concept that invigorates the purest of tryhards and satisfies some casual gamers. For me, I don't want to quit GloGo because if I quit, the game wins. It's a one-player game meant and designed to be beaten. If I can't beat it, who can? But, completing a game so the game doesn't win isn't a very compelling reason to play. Knowing how unforgiving it is to learn each level, I don't look forward to it and I don't expect many other players to look forward to it either.

Divinity Original Sin 2 Definitive Edition Transfers The Classic RPG Experience To Console Wed, 29 Aug 2018 10:22:45 -0400 Ty Arthur

One of the best RPGs of 2017 is about to get even better with the launch of its Definitive Edition. Available as a free upgrade for existing PC players, the bigger news is that this modern-day CRPG classic is now up for grabs for the console crowd as well.

Yes, we're talking about the criminally good Divinity: Original Sin 2, which originally released last September and some of the best gameplay of any CRPG all year.  

Making the leap from computer to PS4 and Xbox One meant there were going to be some big changes, and those are what we're going to focus on here rather than re-reviewing the core gameplay and story.

If you haven't played the original version and want to know what's in store, you can read our full review here.

Square Peg In A Round Hole

First thing's first -- the Definitive Edition is still a glorious turn-based, tactical role-playing experience. It remains absurdly fun; turning enemies into chickens and teleporting enemies into broken-oil-barrel infernos is still a blast.

Much of the game's base experience remains the same (with some welcome tweaks noted below). The main differences you will notice immediately come in the form of UI and control scheme changes specifically made for the console edition.

I'm not going to sugar coat it -- this is a game that's meant to be played with a keyboard and mouse. Can you imagine trying to play Baldur's Gate or Icewind Dale on a controller? If you've ever tried, you know it can be dicey at best.

Here's the thing, though. Larian Studios made a truly valiant effort to get this game working without a mouse. It is beyond clear that a ton of thought went into transferring the core D:OS2 gameplay mechanics into an intuitive experience for a PS4 or Xbox One controller. 

Sadly, it ultimately falls short, and after having spent a good deal of time with the Definitive Edition, I can easily say I still prefer the keyboard and mouse.

The main menus are opened in a radial wheel in the vein of Dragon Age, with an inventory screen more along the lines of Oblivion. If you've played the PC version, you know that every area is littered with objects, from barrels to candles to flowers, that can all be opened, picked up, moved, lit on fire, etc.

While it works great in the PC version, all of that exploration doesn't work particularly well with a controller, and using the bumper keys to switch between very-close objects still isn't quite fine tuned enough to always hit what you want.

The developers obviously knew that would be an issue, so now you can initiate a search area in a specific radius around any character. Everything within that area that can be opened or picked up appears in list form, and you can easily move between each individual object.

My first thought was to wildly abuse this feature to get into objects I wasn't supposed to be able to reach. Sadly, the devs figured that out, too, and you still have to be able to reach an object in the search area to open it and begin looting (curses!).

On the other side of that coin, there are some advantages to this change. To properly sneak through areas or get single characters positioned for combat advantage, you've got to frequently break up your party. Switching between characters and chain-linking groups (or breaking them up) was easier than I expected with the controller.

In that regard, the radial menu actually works pretty well. Inventory and equipment management isn't as smooth as on PC, but party management isn't half bad. Overall, the radial menu is my one big complaint with the Definitive Edition, but it's one that some players may not find as intrusive as I did. 

Arena Mode

Now that we've got that unpleasantness out of the way, let's dive into a very welcome change -- Divinity's revamped arena mode!

On my first playthrough of the original PC version, I distinctly remember stumbling across the Arena Of The One beneath Fort Joy and thinking, "I need a full-game version of this." Well, we've got it now, and it is absolutely nuts.

You can play the arena against friends or A.I., and there are several different map layouts to choose from. The replay value here is huge if you love the tactical combat of Divinity: Original Sin 2 but don't want to replay the story mode again. Getting to play with fully upgraded characters that have all sorts of skills right off the bat is a ton of fun, and there is an absurd number of options available.

Having a full 16 heroes to choose from is just the beginning of the changes. Mutators are the major new element here -- and they increase the fun quotient about 10,000%. These wacky options change the flow of battle every turn (they can, alternatively, remain static if you want). Everyone on the battlefield might suddenly get functional wings to fly over terrain or all the barrels might automatically explode. The options are seemingly endless. 

If you thought battlefields could becoming crazy flaming, electrified, frozen hellscapes of tactical nonsense in the original version, you haven't seen anything yet.

Other Changes From The Base Game

The Definitive Edition kicks off with a brand-new tutorial area in the ship bound for Fort Joy, and that will be very welcome to console players who didn't already master the ins and outs of this complex system on PC.

Tutorials aside, the newly added story mode also widens the appeal of this otherwise hardcore game. Many battles -- even some very early ones -- can be overwhelming for new players not familiar with the mechanics. Even on normal difficulty, it is entirely possible to die in the very first fight with the viscous voidwoken, and beyond easy to get annihilated when trying to escape Fort Joy.

If you find the combat incomprehensible, pop on story mode and just enjoy experiencing the ride.

But what about changes for returning players who don't want the game to be easier? There are changes for you in the form of tweaks and additions to late-game content, so if you weren't satisfied with the ending, give it another go. Arx, in particular, was a major sticking point for a lot of players. The quality of that area just fell short of the earlier acts, both in the writing and in the area design. It was easy to get lost or have no clue where to find people to advance storylines.

Much of that has been retooled with the Definitive Edition, and with changes to the quest log, there's less frustration in this area. A lot of work went into changing this area, including entirely new dialog.

Finally, the dwarf battlemage Beast had some big upgrades on his origin quest as well, so if you never cared for bringing him along, he's worth exploring with now as well.

The Bottom Line

If you've already played Divinity: Original Sin 2, the late-game content changes make the Definitive Edition worth a re-install.

Watching companies like Larian develop games through crowdfunding and then give players what they want is a breath of fresh air in the gaming community. The changes made were all clearly culled from fan criticism over the past year, and overall, they make the game a better experience.

For PC players, this is easily a 9/10 game (or potentially even higher if you absolutely love turn-based tactical combat). On the console front however, the control scheme is wonky enough to knock the game's rating down a bit.

It's still fun, no doubt, and you are getting an improved version of an already great game. The gameplay here is still great. Sadly, after playing the PS4 version, though, I really just want to re-install the game through Steam and play with the Definitive Edition changes over there.

You can buy the console version of Divinity: Original Sin 2 Definitive Edition on Amazon for $59.99. 

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[Note: The developer provided the copy of Divinity: Original Sin 2 Definitive Edition used in this review.]

Guacamelee! 2 Review: Bright but Brutal Tue, 28 Aug 2018 14:09:33 -0400 Littoface

Seven years after the events of Guacamelee, the famous luchador fighter Juan Aguacate has… let himself go a bit, to put it mildly. Saddled with an intellectual wife and two boisterous kids, Juan's been living the easy life.

Until now.

Developed by DrinkBox Studios, Guacamelee 2 draws everyone's favorite legendary luchador out of retirement for a new adventure. Inspired heavily by Mexican folklore and history and pumping with an electro-Mexican soundtrack, the long-awaited sequel brings eccentric characters, a colorful palette and some serious fun to the screen.

Note: This reviewer has not played the first "Guacamelee" but is well-versed in Metroidvanias.

The Mexiverse Is in Danger

After a brief tutorial showing the final events of the last game, Juan is sent on his first real quest in seven years: to buy avocados for tacos so his dear wife Lupita can finish her dissertation.

But what starts as a simple enough task becomes a whole lot more serious when rips in time and space appear. Avocados forgotten, Juan is sucked once again into a whole different dimension. Juan is lauded as "the last Juan alive" and, once he gets his trademark luchador mask back, he's back to his old baddie-busting self.

And thus, Juan, along with his companion Tostada and some more familiar faces, are back in an adventure to save the Mexiverse. This time, his opponent is Salvador and his companions. Timelines are collapsing in on themselves as Salvador steals relics in search of the mystical eternal guacamole.

The story is not the big draw here, obviously, but the dialogues and writing are perfectly funny and tongue-in-cheek. Expect plenty of fourth wall breaking, references to the previous game, and general verbal shenanigans.

There are some weird and quirky characters, plenty of chickens, and pretty much all the silliness and character you'd expect from this game.

A Metroidvania Platformer with a Punch (Literally)

Guacamelee 2 calls itself a Metroidvania brawler -- and for good reason. The gameplay is a fairly balanced mix of fights, platforming, and backtracking for goodies as Juan recovers his powers.

All three are equally important, which means that if you're not very good at any aspect, you'll definitely have a hard time. Juan fights his way through areas, greeted at intervals by "lucha" instances that pit you against a group of stronger enemies one after the other.

On the other hand, platforming is an integral part of the game's progression, and special moves like smashing a fist upward and shifting into the form of a chicken are used both to fight and to get to where you want to be. There are even a few "jump quests" that require you to navigate around moving platforms, spikes, and other obstacles to get to some coveted treasure chests.

For the most part, the fighting and platforming are fluidly linked. For example, Juan can uppercut from one platform to another and take out an enemy in the process. You can also throw enemies at each other or at your companion fighters, creating strategic opportunities.

But the reliance on special moves means that playing this requires mastery of all your skills, which can lead to fumbling around. Sometimes this provides a welcome challenge but most of the time it's just frustrating, especially when you begin to use skills in rapid succession. Unless you are a button master, be prepared to fail. A lot.

Although Juan's special skills are pre-set, there is some variety offered in the form of character trees -- literally: certain characters you meet offer up different skills for you to purchase using gold and special pieces collected from chests.

Bring Some Friends

As soon as Juan gets his mark of power back, he can get help from some friends. The game supports drop-in co-op for up to 4 players. The action is kept on one main screen, which means all players have to be able to keep up.

Once someone moves on to a different screen, all other players are warped after him. But when you're traversing through an area, the screen doesn't stretch far. That means every player has to succeed in the platforming, or no one can move on. This is all fun and games if you're playing with someone on par with your own platforming prowess, but if your companion isn't very good, the game can get bogged down.

There are several characters to choose from, some of which start out locked. These are for aesthetic purposes only, and every player, regardless of their appearance, drops in with all of Juan's already-gathered special powers.

Full of Quirk and Color

While there are many frustrations to this game, "Guacamelee 2" has plenty of good points, too.

The artwork and characters are absolutely gorgeous, popping with color and shapes and drawing on traditional Mexican styles and mythology. The Mexican-themed music can get a bit repetitive, but for the most part, it adds a great ambiance to a game already bursting with personality.

The passage between timelines and its effect on the map is also a great mechanic, adding or removing platforms and other environmental elements in a way that's reminiscent of A Link to the Past.

As with any good Metroidvania, finding a new skill is cause for backtracking, and exploration is encouraged through plenty of hidden spots and useful collectibles.

Speaking of hidden goodies, Guacamelee 2 is absolutely packed with Easter eggs. There are the very obvious Chozo statues, the accidental trip into the "Baddest Timeline" which asks Juan if he is "a bad enough dude to save El Presidente", the amazing "Dankest Timeline" which we won't give away, and so many other goodies to find in every corner. 

All in all, Guacamelee 2 is definitely a great game -- it's colorful, funny, and so full of personality and chickens that it's sure to win anyone over.

Just be ready for a challenge: brawler-inspired controls and some tricky platform-hopping mean the first few hours have a steep learning curve. If you're a newcomer to either platformers or brawlers, you might want to cut your teeth elsewhere.

Fans of the first game certainly won't be disappointed, as this long-awaited sequel is even bigger and more luchalicious than ever. 

Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more "Guacamelee 2" news and guides.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Guacamelee 2 used for this review.]

Strange Brigade Review: Co-Op Fun With Traps And Shambling Zombies Mon, 27 Aug 2018 19:01:07 -0400 Ty Arthur

For a particular breed of gamer who loves overcoming challenges with a team, Strange Brigade couldn't land at a better time.

Did you spend way too much time trying to hit wave 50 in Gears Of War's horde mode? Was it a regular occurrence for you to co-op Left 4 Dead 2 or Resident Evil 5 with your drinking buddy until the wee hours of the morn? Do you consider it your solemn duty to discover every last nook and cranny of any given Call Of Duty zombie mode?

The tomb-exploring pulp adventure Strange Brigade combines all those mechanics into one full game and throws in a few other styles for good measure.

Genre Boundaries? Who Needs 'Em? 

There's a truly odd mashup of archetypes from across the gaming spectrum on display here -- starting with the third person perspective rather than the tried and true FPS viewpoint -- but it's an overall fun combination.

Dodge rolling away from attacks and stomping downed zombie enemies is pure Gears Of War. You might not be playing a genetically enhanced super-soldier always on the lookout for a cover point, but there will still be plenty of head squishing going on.

Oddly enough, the game's font combined with the safari locations and overly-excited narrator all strongly bring to mind Kinect Adventures from the Xbox 360, which obviously is a radically different genre.

Earning coins through kills to open doors or buy limited use super weapons definitely has a Call Of Duty zombie mode feel. Ditto on the overall atmosphere and character types, which exude that over-the-top '50s pulp atmosphere.

The base gameplay meanwhile pulls heavily from 4 player co-op monster shooters like Left 4 Dead or Warhammer: Vermintide.

Most of the elements you loved from those games are on full blast here, like choosing from four characters with different starting load outs, tackling waves of enemies, and so on.

Team members even revive in specific locations on the map if one of them dies (this time popping out of a sarcophagus instead of being found in a closet).

Unlike L4D or Vermintide, this isn't a game where you can wade into the hordes with a two handed axe or chainsaw and come out the other side. Instead, your arsenal revolves around a single main ranged weapon -- like a bolt action rifle or quick firing SMG -- with an unlimited ammo pistol as a backup.

Your build can be tweaked further by completing puzzles to open doors and acquire sigils. Whether you want to heal with each kill, set enemies on fire, or just flat out deal more damage, these are you main method of upgrading equipment.

Different play styles are accommodated by each of the four starting characters, but as you unlock new weapons and magic sigils, essentially any character can take any role.

Slow Motion Zombie Apocalypse

Strange Brigade isn't quite a 1 to 1 crossover from Left 4 Dead though, and there are lots of changes to tweak the gameplay -- some good, and some bad.

Both the campaign storyline and the horde mode heavily rely on luring enemies into traps to whittle down the throngs of undead. Carefully planning how to activate traps and navigate their cooldown times is a major component of your survival strategy.

Whirling blades pop out of the ground for chopping up those skittering giant scorpions, for instance. Blasts of flame and retractable floor spikes are better suited for shambling the undead, and so on.

Utilizing the environment to take out enemies is a fun twist, but it also reveals one of the game's major flaws. Strange Brigade just simply doesn't have nearly the speed or frantic nature of Left 4 Dead.

You won't often (if ever) have to restart a level in the campaign to try again. That sense of accomplishment is missing when your team finally figured out the best strategy for surviving a wave while taking out the giant boss monsters.

Much of the game is quite slow moving in fact, and it's not often you will ever feel like the hordes can truly overwhelm your defenses. Playing the campaign solo, its unlikely you'll die even once, let alone manage to do it 50 times to unlock an achievement!

Until you reach the higher waves on horde mode or get into the boss sections of the later campaign missions, there simply isn't a ton of challenge here. Whether you are co-oping or going solo, you won't often feel any legitimate sense of danger.

Going Solo Or With A Team

Sadly, there's no split-screen local co-op option, but that's just how games tend to go these days. Multiplayer on the couch with your best friend is a thing of the past, and instead, you've got to play with a disembodied voice over the Internet.

One element that sets Strange Brigade apart from the competition is that both the campaign and the horde mode are balanced for solo play. Yes, you can actually play the game from beginning to end on your own if you prefer.

Tracking down collectibles and overcoming puzzles to find more loot and upgrades for your weaponry adds a level of replayability for the solo player. If you prefer a group of grave robbers stomping into ancient Egyptian tombs as a team, however, then you get the classic 4 player co-op experience.

Every campaign level is jammed packed with puzzles to work out with your teammate. The campaign puzzles even change between solo and co-op modes, so there's reason to play both ways.

You may want to ditch the slower, easier campaign mode however and dive straight into the heart of the game. Horde mode is where gamers are probably going to spend most of their time and get the most replay. Although the slow-moving zombies remain easy to overcome, this mode offers much more challenge in later waves with the addition of boss creatures.

Avoiding a crowd of the walking dead is one thing, but doing it while leaping away from charging minotaurs, dodging blasts of magic from mummies, and avoiding the stinging tails of giant scorpions is another matter entirely.

What you get here is essentially a full game version of COD's Zombie mode, complete with buying your way through doors to increase the play area to spending money on weapon upgrades in-between waves.

Snipers, grenade-lobbers, or automatic weapons fire experts all have their place here with the wide range of weaponry. For me, the explosive tip crossbow and noisy blunderbuss -- which is effectively the game's take on a shotgun -- are easily the most satisfying options.

Strange Brigade does feature a twist on this style though, and it will be very welcome for most players. You can restart at any wave you've previously reached, so there's no need to kick off horde mode from wave 1 again every time.

The Bottom Line

Whether you're playing the campaign, horde, or the score attack mode, Strange Brigade is inundated with pulpy humor. There are plenty of dark and heavy games these days, so a little levity and a tongue-in-cheek style aren't unwelcome.

The narrator clearly seems to know he's in a video game and makes offhand remarks when you pause the game like "Oh, is someone at the door? I'll wait."

I legitimately laughed out loud at one point when hitting pause and heard a deadpanned "...two sugars for me, please." To give you an idea of what sort of humor is on display, there's actually an achievement for annoying the narrator, and he mentions you are unlocking it when it pops on the screen. 

So here's the thing -- if you don't like silly pulp action and need something as difficult as a Souls game, then Strange Brigade probably won't be for you.

On the other hand, if the idea of having a hilariously good time with a team while tromping through ancient Egyptian pottery sounds like a killer way to spend the weekend, you should grab this one as soon as possible.

Since we're in the doldrums now with no new Borderlands or Left 4 Dead in sight, and Gears 5 still about a year away, Strange Brigade stands in as the new de facto co-op experience for the foreseeable future.

Shikhondo - Soul Eater - When Shmups, Style, and Demons Collide Mon, 27 Aug 2018 14:16:03 -0400 Jeffrey Rousseau

Yes, you can consider me one of the bigger shmup players on GS. I find them fun, but I'm not very good at them. I enjoy them for the value they place on short time commitments for players. This feeling was no different with Shikhondo: Soul Eater, now available on the PlayStation 4. 

This is Korean developer DeerFarm's first foray onto the console market as well as their fifth studio title. So is this Korean mythology inspired shooter fun to play? Find out in our review.

The game's details are minimal but the story is easy to follow. Demons, ghosts, and bad things are threatening the land. A grim reaper and a teenage girl are tasked with saving the world and sending them back to limbo.


The Style

It would be easy to say that all arcade shooters are the same. However that's quite untrue. Sure, they share a lot in common design-wise. There are various modes such as arcade, boss rush, score keeping, and so on. Shikhondo, like a few games stands out because of it's unique blend of execution and design.

You'll traverse a number of stages shooting things that go bump in the night. You'll have to avoid waves of enemy fire as stages get increasingly more difficult. The title really stands because of its presentation. Everything within the title is very vibrant. Everyone from canon fodder foes, the heroines, and bosses fit the aesthetics beautifully. 

The Substance

The game isn't pulling any punches with its gameplay. Even if you're playing on easy, you'll probably die often. Bullet hell games teach you to observe the space around you, and this one's no different. If you try to keep track of an entire screen filled with energy blasts.. you'll lose fast. The game does a good job of teaching (or forcing) you to recognize enemy patterns. That is, of course, you aren't too stressed out just trying to live. 

Shikhondo does a good job of presenting it's dangers with little room to breathe. Often you'll be flying through a stage mowing down foe after foe. Then more challenging foes are introduced in between easier targets. Stages are short and the goal is to make it to each boss in one piece. If you can.

Speaking of bosses: they're probably my second favorite aspect of the game. The bosses have 2 phases. Their first forms are pretty "harmless" -- well, they won't put up much of a fight. Now, when they transform into their true forms? This is when you put your skills to the test.

The screen will be flooded (yes, flooded) with bullets and you'll need to stay alive while trying to shoot them. It's a tall order but it'll leave you satisfied when you win. DeerFarm really made a solid skill based game for players to enjoy their victories.

Ah Choices, Choices 

As I mentioned before, the game shares a lot of modern day designs. One feature that's hardly seen anywhere is local coop mode.

Yes that's right, you and a friend can clear the game as both heroines. In 2018, that's a great feature to have. Having a friend right there adds another layer of joy and camaraderie. Multiplayer in shmups isn't new but the option is always welcome.

Now this game features one more exciting feature, my favorite: customize mode. In this mode you can change the parameters of how the game plays.

I'll offer an example with the Soul Gauge. It's a meter that fills normally if you dodge enemy shots that come close by to you. When full, you can enter Soul Attack mode, where for a limited time your attack is a lot more powerful. In customize, you can change this where the gauge fills as you shoot enemies. So you can enter the mode faster and deal more damage as you go on.

In actual function, you can make the game easier. More importantly you can impose more handicaps on yourself to an already challenging experience. This not only extends it's replay value but it empowers players to be experts. These are options I have hardly seen in any game.

Current Call

Shikhonodo's only negative is that it's outshined by other titles. It's still a fun game and that isn't negative in any sense.

It was designed well to be a well timed experience and challenge. 

With every arcade shooter I play, I ask; how welcoming can they be for newcomers?

The best games within the genre can be daunting and off-putting. Shikhondo however doesn't have that problem. If someone clears easy mode, they certainly can move on to harder difficulties with more time invested. It offers a full campaign within a short time period, which offers a lot of chance to practice.

If you're a fan or looking to start shmups, you can't go wrong with Shikhondo. It's stylish, well executed, has number of features, and hold no punches. 

Fans of shmups and arcade game can play Shikhondo: Soul Eater today via the PlayStation Store.

(Review code was provided from the publisher.)

Madden 19 Review: Running Back(wards) Fri, 24 Aug 2018 09:27:57 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

For a lot of gamers out there, the Madden franchise (and by extension, most sports franchises with yearly entries) is simply an empty cash grab, a game preying on sports fans with iterations that don't amount to much more than roster updates.

Now, you all are smart enough to know that this isn't true. A ton of effort and money goes into making a game like Madden 19, even if it's not blatantly obvious when you look at the character models, or even when you watch the game being played. There's much more going on than meets the eye, which is why it's appreciated when a necessary gameplay tweak is made.

Sure, Madden plays basically the same way, but that's because it has to. You can't revamp the core tenants of football. 

All that is to say I'm generally a sports games stan. I'll defend iterative franchises on the grounds that most of the time, they add enough features and make enough quality of life changes to justify a yearly purchase. That said Madden 19 is a game that has taken most, if not all, of the elements that made the last few games in the franchise so great and tried to ruin them.

A Longshot

Let's get the good out of the way first. Longshot: Homecoming is an entertaining play. It won't take you long to play through -- about six hours -- and it's a continuation of Madden 18's Longshot mode.

For those new to the Longshot single player mode, it's Madden's version of a campaign, only it plays out more like a movie. If you're used to FIFA's single-player mode, this will come as somewhat of a shock. There are no menus to be found and no breaks in the action. If you want to quit, you'll have to pause in the middle of a cutscene or during gameplay and head to the main menu.

This might sound jarring, but it's actually pretty novel for something like this. Longshot: Homecoming wears its influences on its sleeve -- it's trying to be something like a cross between Friday Night Lights, Hard Knocks, and Nashville, so it makes sense that the designers pretty much turned the mode into a playable movie.

You'll step into the shoes of Devin Wade and Colt Cruise in key moments throughout their journeys (proving your worth in the preseason, a 7-on-7 game at a high school, etc.), but you're never really given any player choice. This means that there's no tacked-on morality mechanics, which have always seemed really odd in sports games to me, anyway. There's no ludo-narrative dissonance and -- crucially -- no lulls in the narrative arc since it's been crafted so carefully.

With all that said, the writing isn't great. It gets cringey at times (an early scene where Colt Cruise, a relatively young guy, has never heard of Tumblr springs to mind), but if you like cheesy sports movies, you'll find a lot to like in Longshot: Homecoming.

The actors do a pretty great job, and you'll find yourself sucked into the world pretty quickly. Now for the stuff you won't like.

Control Freak

One of Madden 19's big back-of-the-box claims is that its new one-cut mechanic makes running the ball more fun and explosive. This is true. The small turbo boost you get when you make your first cut is definitely a big quality of life improvement, and it makes the game feel more true-to-life.

What the back of the box fails to say is that one of the other changes to the running game makes carrying the ball insanely frustrating.

Madden 19 added the ability for ballcarriers to "push the pile", meaning that if you run into the back of a blocker, you can help him out by pushing forward for a few yards on a power run. This sounds great in theory, but in practice, ball carriers now gravitate to their blockers and slow down if they run too close to them, all because the game thinks you're trying to push the pile.

This makes runs up the middle insanely frustrating, and also makes running sweep routes really tough, since this will happen as you run past your blockers even though you're running sideways

In general, this makes running the ball just feel... off. Runners and receivers' momentum feels off, and the controls just feel chunky and imprecise whenever you get close to anyone else on your team. It makes controlling the ballcarrier not fun.

If that sounds damning, well, that's because it kind of is. Players that are used to the way Madden controls will find a steep learning curve here, and it's really frustrating to see your ballcarriers move in a different directions than you pointed them.

Game Modes

Of course, Madden Ultimate Team, the microtransaction-laden mode that attempts to bottle the same lightning FIFA Ultimate Team had, makes a return here in Madden 19. However, the mode still doesn't seem suited for a football-sized roster. For the most part, it still feels like a slog, and few of the changes  made to the mode alleviate that pain.

The only exception to this is new 3v3 MUT Squads mode, which sees one player helm the offense with their roster, one player helm the defense with their roster, and one player step into the head coaching role, managing the clock and using their stadium, scheme, and uniform cards. Again, it's still not as fun as FUT, since the increased roster size makes microtransactions feel necessary even though the game is relatively generous with MUT packs -- but MUT Squads gives a bit of hope for the future.

On top of that, there's Franchise mode, and that's largely untouched aside from two things.

First, there's the addition of coaching schemes that add player bonuses. Second, there's the fact that finally (thankfully) player progression has been overhauled. Instead of scrolling through menus and painstakingly picking stats to dump XP into, the game pretty much does all that for you, assigning stat boosts based on what type of player is being trained, and what their role in the scheme is. You'll sometimes be able to choose a stat to boost after a particularly good practice, but the process has been streamlined.

And for fans of the college game, Madden 19 has at long last added the ability to import custom draft classes -- something that fans of the franchise (and the long-dead NCAA Football franchise) have been clamoring for for years.

To EA Sports' credit, they have really streamlined the UI so that all the game modes are easy to find and jump right into, but does that really matter if playing the game isn't terribly fun?

What An Upset

At the end of the day, the reason people put up with iterative games is that there's a sort of social contract there. If you buy in and play the game every year, the developers will improve it, learn from what they've done before, and put out a more polished product next year. That's the deal.

Madden 19 is a strange case when looked at under this lens. It takes many steps back from previous installments in terms of improvements made to ballcarrier controls, while not fixing long-running issues with the game.

Offensive- and defensive-line play still isn't fixed, and the TE/HB angle route is still a guaranteed eight yards almost every time. Also, in my time playing a fully patched copy of the game, I ran into crashes multiple times, as well as a few glitches. On multiple occasions, the QB threw the ball directly to the other team with no receiver within reach -- I experienced this both on offense and defense, lest you think I'm just really bad at Madden.

In addition, the complete absence of Colin Kaepernick (and the redaction of his name from a song on the soundtrack) is absolutely not a good look. Sure, it doesn't affect the gameplay at all, but Madden is about making your own football fantasies real. Kaep is a free agent. The fact that he's not in the game is disappointing, though completely unsurprising.


While Madden 19 has some lamentable aspects, there's an insane amount of polish here. Longshot: Homecoming is meticulously produced. The commentary team is amazing. The new stadium and city models look impeccable. MUT Squads is an inspired addition, and the small tweaks to Franchise Mode really do help make the mode feel like it has taken very real steps forward. 

The central problem here is that the overall game has also taken a huge step back. If you can get used to the running mechanics and deal with waiting for EA Sports to patch up some of the bugs, Madden 19 really is worth your time. But if you're, say, a Steelers fan looking to rush for 3,500 yards per season with Le'Veon Bell? You might want to rent this one first.

You can buy Madden 19 for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC on Amazon for $59.99. 

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[Note: The developer provided the copy of Madden 19 used for this review.]

Little Dragons Cafe Review: As Relaxing as It Is Cute Thu, 23 Aug 2018 16:27:07 -0400 Ashley Gill

There's something to be said for the child-like innocence found in Little Dragons Cafe that has endeared me so heavily. Everything from the setting and dialogue to the environments and general gameplay is steeped in a sort of GameCube-era charm. That's probably why I like it so much.

You see articles across the internet about how this is the creator of Harvest Moon's latest project. Heck, even I wrote a short article mentioning Yasuhiro Wada and his connection to the game. Some may get a little huffy over it, citing he hasn't worked on the series for years, but he worked on my personal favorites within the Harvest Moon series: Back to Nature, Friends of Mineral Town, A Wonderful Life, and Magical Melody.

Whether Wada has worked on the modern series is irrelevant -- his works and overall style appeal to me, and I spent countless hours playing his games growing up and into young adulthood. That said, his development style may not appeal to you, and I would understand why.

Little Dragons Cafe is a game as simple as it appears. Each simple character model has a basic personality, each gameplay system is as low-fuss as possible, and each piece of progression is carefully controlled. It feels like a GameCube game -- I say that as a compliment.

Not every game needs a million mechanics that have complex effects on each other. Sometimes it's fun to just sit back, relax, and play around in a game with minimal oversight over the player and their choices.

Hanging out in LDC

The gameplay flow of Little Dragons Cafe ushers the player along to take care of the cafe and raise the dragon in your trust while helping temporary guests with their woes. These tasks entail cooking, waiting on customers in the cafe, feeding your dragon, and gathering ingredients out in the field.

Though you have much to do in a day, you have ample time to take care of what's important despite the constraints of a 24-hour day cycle. If you don't get everything done you needed to, don't worry. There are no deadlines, only peak business hours in your cafe.

Most of your time in-game is spent gathering ingredients and cooking. You end up spending far more time gathering than cooking, since you have to explore the connected islands to buff your pantry and find pieces of recipes to add to the cafe menu. Once you're ready to head back to your house, teleporting is a button press away and does not progress the clock.

Gathering itself is fairly simple. You shake trees, pick vegetables out of bushes, jump to knock birds out of the air, and snatch up larger egg-laying birds with the press of a button or two. The only difficulty in this aspect lies in trying to find new gathering nodes when you've progressed to a certain point story-wise.

Taking care of the cafe is similarly easy to handle. You are granted some moody employees to wait tables and a particularly flamboyant orc to act as a cook, neither party requiring much effort on your part to work with. There are neither wages nor other intricacies to working with them. Sometimes the cafe employees do slack off or get upset, but you can talk to them to calm them down and get them back to work.

Cooking and menu management is the one aspect of Little Dragons Cafe that takes some effort. You must clear a short rhythm minigame to cook a dish, with the quality of the dish varying based on your performance. The better you do, the better the dish and the more likely guests will be to order and enjoy it.

Guests themselves aren't too picky but they do have opinions on dishes that you have to pay attention to. You can view recent customer comments on dishes and see the overall score for each dish within the cooking menu. From there, you can decide whether you should work up a new recipe or leave the dish on the menu as-is. Swapping menu dishes out is no-fuss, and the food looks great.

This all may sound like a lot -- I didn't even mention taking care of the dragon yet -- but it boils down to a very simple flow of play. You wake up, gather until lunch, teleport back to the cafe to help with the lunch rush, go gather again until 7 p.m., then teleport back to help with the dinner rush. Then you either go out gathering one last time or hit the sack. Easy peasy.

No consequences

It's up to you how you approach this game as there are minimal consequences to your actions.

You don't have to be at the cafe for peak hours, your employees will probably handle it just fine. But if they don't (you get a notification if they are slacking off), you just take a hit to your reputation. No big deal.

You don't actually have to go to bed at a set time to get reasonable sleep, either. If you so choose, you can explore the islands and gather until nearly 6 a.m. and then go to bed rather than sleeping around 10 p.m. to midnight. There's just no need, and the only penalty you'll incur is sleeping in 10 or 20 minutes late. This is also not a big deal.

This lack of accountability or meaningful penalties carries over to taking care of your dragon. You can feed and pet the dragon, but there's not much more to its care than that. Your dragon is a valuable asset, however; it allows you to gather ingredients you wouldn't be able to otherwise and you even get to use it to fly and explore once you reach a certain point. That point is where the game opens up and you stop getting frustrated over jumping.

All ages accepted

Though I myself am a 30+ year old woman and have found a lot to love in Little Dragons Cafe, I have to admit this game seems better suited to a much younger age group. Though that hasn't been a detriment to my enjoyment.

There are a few things that really stick out while playing. The first is the lack of consequences as touched on above. It's quite noticeable.

The incredibly cutesy and basic, logic-defying characters and their dialogue are the biggest hint. Why keep Billy around for the first chunk of the game if he just keeps slacking? I don't know, but the player character seems to think it's a great idea.

Nonetheless, the character stories you must see through are endearing and engaging in their own way. You learn to like the characters more as you learn about them and they push trough life's hurdles right there with you.

Little Dragons Cafe makes no qualms about keeping things light, cute, and simple to its benefit. It's a straight-forward and light-hearted game from start to finish. Its simplicity is why I say it feels like a GameCube game. There's nothing particularly intricate here but that is part of what makes it an all-around enjoyable package.

The (beef bowl) rubdown

The game's music is particularly of note, and I don't mean the cooking rhythm game tracks. Most of the music found in Little Dragons Cafe is very well done and at times reaches classic Harvest Moon-levels of catchy. I really appreciated it paired with the unique drawing-esque visuals.

I have only one real glaring complaint with Little Dragons Cafe, and that is jumping. The rhythm minigame is the most difficult thing you're going to find here, but the stiff and sometimes unresponsive jumping can be a very real problem in a game where you're having to watch the clock.

It's too easy to miss jumps. I once got stuck trying to jump up a rock for nearly an hour in-game for some unknown reason. It just would not let me up. I've also repeatedly gotten stuck on ledges mid-jump, sometimes leading into my character skidding across the ledge and subsequently falling. It's weird, not fun, and made me thank my lucky stars once my dragon was old enough to fly.

Though by no means perfect, Little Dragons Cafe is a very enjoyable experience if you want a game that seems to relax just as much as you do when playing.

The pacing and overall feel of LDC are so similar to those older Harvest Moon titles that I enjoyed so much, that I have repeatedly sat down intending to play for only an hour or so only to find that hour spurt turn into a full four-hour spree.

I may be in love with Little Dragons Cafe, but one has to admit when their taste doesn't fall in line with most and this is one of those times. Despite its "Aww!" inducing charms and gameplay that can so easily pull the player in for hours, the lack of punishment for mistakes and the absolutely disastrous jumping are real detriments some players may not be able to overlook. I can, though -- and I would say that if you enjoyed Yasuhiro Wada' classic Harvest Moon games I mentioned at the start of this review or just want the friendliest game on the block, you may very well enjoy it, too.

You can get Little Dragons Cafe on either the Nintendo Switch or the PlayStation 4 as of August 24.

[Note: Writer was granted a copy of the game on the Nintendo Switch for review purposes from the publisher.]

Hypergun Review: Interesting But Not Inventive Thu, 23 Aug 2018 11:18:49 -0400 Zack Palm

When the fate of the world rests in your lap, you ponder all of the options in front of you to make sure you're going to make the best choice to ensure humanity's survival. Though, in Hypergun this is going to take you a couple of tries and you won't find the exact answer to save your world's population during your first simulation. You're going to take a few tries and you may discover several new iterations along the way!

In Hypergun you're the employee of a large corporation with the goal of attempting to find the best weapon to fight an imminent alien invasion. To find that gun, you must traverse through a randomly generated simulation to see what possibilities await, no matter how many times it feels like you're repeating the same process over and over again.

Why Are We Here?

There's an imminent alien invasion pressuring Earth right now, and its your goal right now to go through various simulations to find the perfect gun for Earth's defense forces to use against the alien forces. You enter a simulation world where you have to enter various rooms, forced to face whatever enemy army you're placed against, clear them, and then move on. Whenever you kill an enemy force you have to chance to gain a different item, such as a new weapon attachment, a bit to use in the simulation's store, a hypercoin, to use  outside of the simulation, or a useful piece of health or shield to protect yourself against the enemy forces.

There's six different simulation levels you have to go through to craft the perfect Hypergun. That's your goal! Each time you start a simulation you must go through it using the gun you start with, which varies on your start class, and gain random attachments along the way.

The attachments you acquire determine the different aspects of your gun. For example, you main gain a weapon attachment that increases your weapon's velocity, but decreases its damage for a certain amount, but in the next room on the first level you may find a new weapon attachment that increases its overall speed; all of these attachments stack on top of each as you progress through your simulation and they can only be restarted if die or start at the beginning.

How do the bit pieces vary from the hypercoins? You can earn them both during your simulation, however you can only turn in the bit pieces you discover for weapon attachments, health, shield, or additional pieces of ammo for your class. When you acquire a hypercoin, you have to use them outside of the simulation to upgrade your class or purchase a class you have yet to acquire from the three you can buy.

How The Gamplay Changes During Each Run

When you first enter the simulation you'll run into a variety of different enemies: melee opponents, large chargers attempting to bash you into the wall, snipers, and flying drones peppering you with small layers of fire. They're annoying, and take a bit of time adjusting to, but after the first handful of rooms you have to deal with them you'll quickly master them. Once you run through the entire procedurally generated floor you'll arrive to the boss, where you have to put your skills to the test against a formidable foe. 

Again, like when you were previously fighting difficult minions, the boss proves a hard foe until you figure how it attacks, moves, and how you damage it. Once this happens you'll quickly find yourself anticipating its moves and moving on to the next floor and making your Hypergun far more efficient than the previous model you were working on during your last run. Unlike a Dark Souls foe, the boss takes a far less time to figure out.

You're not worried about the boss as much as you're expected to when you're working up to them. This is a regrettable move as you're forced to start the boss all over again, because having played other rogue-like games, these bosses feel like repeatable levels and understandable motions. If anything, the levels themselves become more difficult because the random nature of what get attached to your gun determines your playstyle, determining how much faster or harder you shoot your opponents.

The most difficult part to face against is when you change classes. You have four to choose from: The Intern, Security, the Lawyer, and Human Resources. While the attachments affect the weapon you're making in the simulation, the class you start with determines the stats of the weapon, along with the abilities you can use during your encounters.

Each class comes with a different item ability they can use for a limited time, a different dash, a different activated ability, and a different passive. This determines their playstyle, though the augments they pick up, randomly, truly manufacture the unique weapon as they progress through the simulation.

The Unfortunate Simulation

 In Hypergun, that's the major unfortunate feature you're forced to endure with: the varying augmentations. During your progression through each level, you do determine what variety of gun your wielding as it depends on the class you choose. You can pick the SMG for the first class, the Intern, or the sniper rifle of the Human Resources class, or the shotgun of the Lawyer, but whatever attachments you add to them gets procedurally generated by the game and it feels like a weight on your game play as you continue forward towards the other levels.

All of the classes have something different about them and it does make them stand out, but the attachments, especially during the later levels, certainly determine your play style, and they feel like a weight. It's the forced nature of them that makes this possible. The only thing you're able to choose is your abilities and the type of gun you'd like to use during your simulation, and that's it. Once you're inside, whatever attachments you find you have to add to gun your gun and use during your play through until you perish or choose to back out.

While you're going forward you're constantly looking for new attachments to add to your gun by killing enemies or buying them in the shop, but they're all random you never know what you're going to do. You may start out as the Human Resources class and steadily lose weapon velocity on your sniper rifle to make your gun less efficient, but the power may increase, despite how much more your rely on your abilities. The procedural generation feels like a force weight you can't shake off, despite how much your proceed forward. It's painful, but you'll continue endure to see what the other levels have to offer.

What's The Story?

There's not too many story points going on in the background. You can discover a handful of log entries throughout the environment of the outside world, but the resources are limited and don't offer the best of information to motivate you during your progression. They hint at an alien invasion and how what you're doing is wrong, but there's never any consequences.

The only story you have to rely on is the fact you have to complete all six levels of the laboratory to achieve a proper Hypergun, and when you do, you will have saved humanity! But there's always another, better gun you could have made. Do you have what it takes to make another?

I ran into a handful of bugs during my playthroughs, such as accidentally dashing through the world or getting stuck behind an electric wall and getting killed by the minions. These bugs were minor, but they happened and ruined a run here and there; an annoying problem, but not something that I continually grappled with.


Hypergun is a great game to play with some fun gun control and varying weapon attachments to challenge you while you run through a horde of alien monsters. But after the first four or five runs, things start to feel repetitive, and no matter how good you get against the foes you're forcing you'll start to feel a little stuck, bored, and wanting to start on the last level you died at. The procedural weapon attachments don't help either because you have to rely entirely on random numbers to gift you a worthwhile combo to make an impact.

You're going to have fun, but there are other rogue-like games on the market you may think about while you work towards crafting the perfect Hypergun to face off against the alien race.

Review: Yakuza Kiwami 2 Thu, 23 Aug 2018 10:00:01 -0400 ElConquistadork


After a massive explosion has rocked the HQ of my yakuza family, I'm in a panic. Despite the fact that I've tried to make a legitimate life for myself after a life of crime, I know I have to return. I have to find out who did this. I have to find them, and make them pay.

But first, I need to get the last remaining stuffed cat from the UFO crane machine.

Such is the legacy of the often-strange, often-exciting open world of Sega's Yakuza: a series that has lasted for thirteen years, spawning countless games, spin-offs, and remasters in the process. It's a series that hops between the ultra-serious and the cartoonishly silly, with some of the most entertaining ludonarrative dissonance you can find in a game.

But where can one even begin? Unlike similar open world experiences like Grand Theft AutoYakuza tells an ever-expanding story with dozens of characters and a veritable labyrinth of twists, turns, and betrayals. 

Yakuza Kiwami to the rescue!

A remastered and retooled version of the first Yakuza game published in 2005, Yakuza Kiwami was the ideal situation for players who were interested in the series, but had no idea what was going on by the time they got to it. And its sequel, Yakuza Kiwami 2, continues that tradition with a fully remastered edition of Yakuza 2.

And it is glorious.

Not only is Yakuza Kiwami 2 another terrific step into the kaleidoscopic storylines and lore that have surrounded this franchises for years, it is recreated in a way that adds more of the details and minutia that have garnered it so much praise. 

You play as the stoic Kazuma Kiryu as he attempts (unsuccessfully) to normalize his life and leave his yakuza roots behind him. It isn't long until you're forced into conflict with a rival clan: an all-out war between East and West Japan looming on the horizon.

Set in two Japanese cities, Kiwami 2 feels a little small compared to what we've grown to recognize and understand an open world game to be. But where some open world games are known for a loneliness that comes along with their enormity, Kiwami 2 values quality over quantity. The venues may not have changed very often, but there was never a lack for something entertaining to do. Whether it's helping a street busker with his song-ruining cold, or teaching a group of creepy photographers about the value of consent, Kiryu is in a perpetual state of tidying up the communities that surround him in ways that are funny, heartfelt, and sometimes truly bizarre.

In addition to the people that find you, there are a number of diversions for you to find. From darts to Virtua Fighter to the aforementioned crane game, you can spend hours perfecting your golf swing when you ought to be defeating the Omi family.

If the side quests were my favorite aspect of Yakuza Kiwami 2 (and they were), then the combat has to be my next favorite. Even when you're not hunting down thugs and assassins personally, you will be constantly in a state of one scrap or another. A mere half minute on the streets of Kamurocho or Sotenbori will present you with plenty of thugs and street toughs who've all got something to prove. And I might have found that annoying if the combat system wasn't so satisfying.

Every punch or kick you throw at an enemy slams into them. Adding weapons to the mix is fun, but not always necessary, as the Heat meter and experience upgrade system are always adding plenty of ways for you to feel like a legend on the mean streets of Japan. Boss fights pose an extra challenge for you as you get to know their style throughout the fight, and eventually take them down with brilliantly-executed cinematic finishers. 

The newly-engineered visuals for Yakuza Kiwami 2 are beautiful, from the subtle face movements to the glittering lights of the cityscapes that surround you. This is particularly important during Kiwami's many cutscenes. It might sound obvious to say, but the difference between the graphical style of 2018's Yakuza Kiwami 2 and the original Yakuza 2 (released in the States a decade ago) is massive. The changes Sega has made are truly gorgeous.

If I had anything negative to say about Yakuza Kiwami 2, it would probably be centered around the main storyline. The ultra-serious story that is being told often clashes terribly with the funny, sometimes surprisingly cutesy side missions that I found myself perpetually on. Perhaps that's why so many of the main plot's cutscenes felt like they went on forever. Thankfully, if you're not interested in the warring relations between the Tojo and Omi clans, you can just skip through them and get back to working on your karaoke skills.

The yakuza series continues to impress, all these years later. Whether you're new to the series and want to learn more about the strange trials and tribulations of Kazuma Kiryu, or you just want another big world to explore and sink your teeth into, Yakuza Kiwami 2 has something that everyone can get behind.

You can buy Yakuza Kiwami 2 on Amazon for $49.99. 

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Yakuza Kiwami 2 used for this review.]

Death's Gambit Review: Flawed But Fun 2D Dark Fantasy Soulsvania Mon, 20 Aug 2018 12:42:02 -0400 Ty Arthur

Fans of 2D Metroidvanias are absolutely swimming in options right now as a flood of high-quality new releases has recently inundated the market. After La-Mulana 2 and Dead Cells offered insanely fun takes on the old-school Metroidvania style, we've now got the hyper stylish Death's Gambit as well.

So what sets this one apart?

Death's Gambit splits the difference between the SNES platformer style and the Souls-like phenomona. It pulls from both sides of the aisle and offers something in between that will appeal to a wider audience than either one alone. 

Two Halves Of A Grim Whole

Right from the start, there are areas of this game that will trigger fond memories of classics like Symphony Of The Night. From finding secret nooks and crannies to regularly conversing with Death himself, there's a definite Alucard feel to much of the game. The same goes for the game's streamlined stats and inventory management, which is less extensive than a full fledged RPG but a good fit for a 2D platformer with light RPG elements.

As you progress, you'll quickly notice there are a handful of attack combos to figure out, many of which use different weapons, keeping things fresh and interesting from the get go. There's also plenty of platforming built into the game's level design and puzzles. Sme of these are straightforward, while some, for example, use the landscape to help you avoid boss super attacks.

One area in the early part of the game in particular has a fun segment where a phoenix constantly rushes by and sets the area on fire (Dark Souls, anyone?). You have to use objects (or enemies) to your advantage to keep from getting cooked. It's not only a great gameplay example, but also a fantastic example of Death's Gambit expertly meshing the background art style into the gameplay.

However, it's not too long before Death's Gambit starts to move away from the classics. Here, you can essentially pick your own play style. Whether you go with scythe, greatsword, magic tome, or axe, weapons have their own abilities not directly tied to your talent load out. You can change your play style not just by trying different classes in a second playthrough, but simply by using a different weapon type and picking different skills.

There's also a big give and take between skill-point selection, picking the best class talent to gain soul power, and deciding whether you want to use feathers for a damage boost or keep them in your inventory for healing. For such a simplistic game, there's a surprising level of strategy and character-building options here. I had a ton of fun in many areas just trying out different ways to tackle the same challenges.

More than just numbers to boost health or damage, selecting the right stats when leveling up can also change the dynamic of the game. For instance, do you want more Stamina so you can dodge and roll away from long attack animations, or do you want more Finesse to utilize better equipment? The choices are seemingly endless. 

The Castlevania-style platformer/RPG mashup is just one half of Death's Gambit whole, though.The other half ramps up the difficulty while changing the focus of the game's combat mechanics. You can't just button mash and expect to make it through a screen, as that's a sure way to meet a grisly end.

Everything from menu design to the way you learn backstory through item descriptions all ooze a strong atmosphere from a certain game I don't even need to name. Stamina management? Check. Learning specific attack patterns for each enemy? Check. Dying a lot? Oh yeah, check. Going to a "bonfire" (in this case a statue) to spend "souls" (in this case shards)? Double check.

In this case, though, dying is built into the story a bit more cohesively, as Death himself is a character who doesn't want you to meet your final end just yet. Turns out, he needs you to help him, which is a good thing since you're being roasted alive when he appears and offers his contract. In fact, Death is also the means by which you learn backstory about the main character. Storytelling is handled through flashbacks appearing after certain numbers of deaths, so the game actually wants you to die from time to time. 

This little tidbit is worked into the game constantly, such as the very nice touch of coming across a pile of your dead, former incarnations in a corner. Apparently, they all had pretty back luck in that particular puzzle room.

Ready For A Real Challenge?

While the basic Souls-like elements are all there, the combat on your first playthrough isn't nearly as hard as with Dark Souls, Nioh, or The Surge.

That worked out well for me, as I was actually able to figure out the attack patterns and the puzzles without giving up in frustration early on. If insane difficulty is a feature and not a bug for you, though, there are a handful of twists here that can provide that extra level of challenge that masochistic players desire.

Gold chests filled with extra goodies only unlock if you didn't use a healing feather in that area. Sure, you might be good enough to beat a section, but can you beat it without ever getting hit and regaining any health?

You can turn on perma-death by cancelling death's contract... at any time. You want a serious rogue-like element added in to make your Souls-like even more absurd? That's the way to go about it.

Finally, there are heroic versions of bosses that appear after you beat them the first time. These are truly insane renditions of the basic boss fights that will strain your skills (and your sanity).

So, while the main game is quite short, taking on these extra challenges adds in some replayability and extends the time you can expect to spend exploring the world of Death's Gambit.

Deathly Aesthetics

Although it might feel like a cross between Castlevania and Dark Souls on the gameplay front, the story and world building are totally different beasts  with Death's Gambit.

A clear dark anime tone, along the lines of Berserk, pervades the game, with hardened soldiers getting horribly killed in huge numbers by monstrous beasts. This isn't a constant grimdark bummer, though, and there's even some humor here and there, like with a tiny lizard companion who likes to brew up some strange beer.

All of these characters and storylines are presented in a side-scrolling pixel format, and it fits the nostalgic tone. When a developer makes the choice to go old-school 2D in this day and age, they've got to absolutely nail it, and for the most part, that's what happened here.

The pixel graphics are very satisfying overall, although a few of the larger boss enemies like the Owlking and Soul Of The Phoenix look sort of wonky and don't perfectly mesh with the backgrounds. On top of that, the character design often made me think of Demon's Crest, with hybrid animal-creature NPCs and knights in huge armor. Death's Gambit is definitely striving to achieve a retro feel that doesn't skimp on the dark fantasy elements.

In terms of map layout, the areas aren't huge, but they are varied. Lava, deep forest, crumbling cities, and more will all feature prominently in your journey across the land. These varied landscapes make the overworld feel all the larger, even if it is only somewhat superficial to feel that way. 

On the audio side, Death's Gambit has an absolutely beautiful soundtrack. In may ways, it's like a more varied version of I Am Setsuna's music, just with additional instruments. Top-notch voice acting for many of the characters tops it all off, tying everything together into a nice cohesive whole.

As an old-school game, there are, of course, some oddities on the controls front you'll have to get used to, and some of these quirky controls feel like they need to be changed.

For instance, why do I have to hold the spacebar while moving on a ladder? That's pretty awkward on a keyboard. With how often you have to mash the shift key while moving to dodge roll, my computer also kept switching back to the desktop and asking me if I wanted to turn on Sticky Keys.

Strangely, there's also no ability to pause the game, and enemies will keep killing you while you pull up the item menu. Sure, that's a staple in the Souls-like genre, but it's something to note here. 

The Bottom Line

On your first playthorugh, Death's Gambit is fairly short, but bosses are plentiful and there are secrets galore to uncover.

Developer White Rabbit could certainly polish the controls a bit, and there are a handful of bugs that need to be quashed in an upcoming patch. In particular, my playthrough was marred by black lines flickering across the screen fairly often.

Although the game seems simple based off the art style and mechanics, there are actually loads of different elements to juggle, like upgrading items, carefully picking skills based on the number of shards harvested from enemies, deciding on a talent tree path, and so on.

The difficulty is satisfying, but not insane. Combat will get hectic in some areas with dodging falling spike platforms and rolling out of the way of scythe attacks, all while simultaneously jumping to avoid exploding bomb arrows.The tone and fantasy style of Dark Souls in a classic 2D Metroidvania layout? Yes please!

There's also clear incentive to keep playing and find new encounters, as the game doesn't hold your hand while puzzling out the story. The player has to piece things together as the game doesn't assume they know what the main character knows.

In short, Death's Gambit isn't perfect, but it is damn good, and it meshes together two different genres with a lot of style and charm.

Hopefully, some patching will arrive soon to smooth over the rougher parts and keep the player base hooked until Bloodstained Ritual Of The Night shows up later this year.

You can buy Death's Gambit on Steam for $19.99.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Death's Gambit used in this review.]

Shenmue 1+2 Remastered Collection Review Mon, 20 Aug 2018 10:00:01 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Many of us that fell in love with Shenmue when it released for the Dreamcast in 1999 had spent many hours of our formative years watching some of the best martial arts films of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Following in the footsteps of classics such as Shaolin Temple, Enter the Dragon, Kickboxer, and even Rumble in the Bronx, Shenmue’s narrative of revenge and intrigue used much of what we enjoyed about those films to craft a digital world as engrossing as it was stunning.

For its time, the game captured hearts and minds because of its unique twist on open-world gameplay. A mixture of lifesim and adventure game, RPG and martial arts brawler, Shenmue challenged the status quo by embracing its own pseudo-realism. It could be as mundane and exciting all at once. That’s what made it fun.

In 2001, SEGA and Yu Suzuki released a sequel, Shenmue 2. Although not as well received by fans at the time, this second effort garnered plaudits from critics and has since become a cult classic because It improved some of the more tedious elements of Shenmue by implementing additional quality of life improvements to the proven formula, such as minimap and wait mechanics. It also continued the engrossing story of the first game, while considerably increasing the size of the game world.

It’s a shame more players didn’t experience Shenmue 2 when it originally launched for the Dreamcast in Europe and Japan or after it was ported to the Xbox in North America a year later.

However, the time has come to rectify that tragedy with the Shenmue 1+2 remastered collection. Here, SEGA has created a remaster that faithfully captures Suzuki’s lightning in a bottle for a new generation of players.

Right off the bat, it’s easy to see that both games look leagues better than the original titles. Character models are refined and clear, while landscapes are crisper and more defined. Lens flare and water in Shenmue 2 appear as if they were taken from a last-gen title -- which is saying something for a game that’s old enough to graduate high school.

On the PC version of the collection, there’s quite a bit to tweak when it comes to graphics. From anti-aliasing, bloom, and contrast to aspect ratio and resolutions up to 4K, players can dial in some pretty hefty visual upgrades. Running on a high-end gaming PC, we maxed out Shenmue 1+2 and while it did show its graphical age with some inherent blockiness, the results were nonetheless enjoyable. On top of that, and as would be expected, both games ran at a smooth and constant 30fps (at which they’re locked), and we experienced no tearing or choppiness, with load times being nearly instantaneous.

When it comes to controlling Ryo, using a controller is best; this game just wasn’t built for mouse and keyboard, even if it is supported in the PC version of the collection. Despite the game now allowing you to use a control stick for movement, Shenmue retains its original tank-style movement, where Ryo moves in more robotic motions like a character from Resident Evil or Onimusha. Shenmue 2 refines that a bit, allowing for more nuanced movement, especially when turning while on the run, but you won’t find modern-day fluidity here (which is, understandably, expected).

Fighting also feels a tad dated, but not in an obtuse or restrictive way. The fighting mechanics for each game are based off of those found in the Virtua Fighter series. This mostly works in each game’s 3D environments, but considering the streets of Dobuita and Hong Kong aren’t necessarily built as square fighting arenas, camera angles can get tied up in the scenery from time to time, making dodging, punching, and kicking somewhat of a guessing game.

However, the fighting system is just as deep as it’s ever been. From throws to evasions to heavy punches and light kicks, brawling in both is mostly fluid and completely responsive once you learn its small quirks. Throwing can be a bit difficult since getting close to your opponent isn’t easy, but it does make sense since throwing is one of your most powerful attacks. Be sure to train, too, since many attacks require multiple inputs that can get a little overwhelming in battle if you haven’t spent the time understanding them and leveling them up.

On top of combat, both games have myriad minigames that you can play to pass the time. Similar to the Yakuza games, although not as prevalent or in-depth, you can easily get lost in any one of these minigames, whittling your hard-earned in-game money away at darts, slots, arm wrestling, punching machines, and even vintage SEGA classics like Space Harrier and Afterburner. That’s not to mention you can conversely spent eons working at the docks driving a forklift in Shenmue, amassing a small in-game fortune to waste away on everything from the aforementioned mingames to soda.

None of these minigames have any real bearing on the game’s overall story, but instead act simply as distractions to flesh out the vibrant world. I won’t talk much about the collection’s story because doing so might inadvertently spoil it. All you need to know about the story is that it’s a fantastic tale of revenge, mystery, and intrigue. If you’ve played these games before, you already know all of this. If you’re new to the series, just know that Shenmue and Shenmue 2 tell one of the 6th Generation’s most compelling narratives.

In this regard, it’s a bit of a shame that the voice acting isn’t a little better and the dialogue isn’t as stilted as it is. Shenmue 2 is more of what you’d expect from a game of such storied pedigree; even if some of the dialogue sounds a bit muffled or as if it’s coming from the other side of a thin wall, the overall mix for the game’s dialogue and cutscenes is more consistent and more aligned with what modern gamers expect.

However, Shenmue is a different story. There, most characters sound like they’re talking through a broken radio, complete with underlying static. I didn’t notice it as much as I got further into the game, but I’m not sure if that’s just because I got used to it or because it went away (and perhaps it’s something that will be fixed come launch day).


The bottom line is that if you liked these games when they originally released, this is a collection that should already be in your shopping cart. If you’re new to the series, you have to go in understanding these are remasters of 20-year-old games. They aren’t remakes. There are hurdles to get over, but it’s because of the era in which these games were made.

Under the hood, these games are just as good as they ever were.

In an ideal world, cutscenes would be borderless, the dialogue wouldn’t be so on the nose, and the voice acting wouldn’t be stilted and tinny (specifically in Shenmue). On top of that, Shenmue would at least have a wait feature and both games would have better fast travel systems. But honestly, those are small gripes about mechanics that arguably make the games more endearing in certain regards. Luckily, you can save anywhere you want in either, which makes things a tad more manageable in both. 

These are indeed relics of a bygone era, but they still hold up because of the work SEGA’s put into this collection. As it stands, this is the very best way to play these classics, and it's a collection that should be in your library if you’re a fan of Japanese role-playing or action games.

You can buy the Shenmue 1+2 Collection for PC on Steam for $29.99. It is also available on Amazon for the PS4 and Xbox One.

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[Note: The developer provided the copy of Shenmue 1+2 used for this review.]

2064: Read Only Memories Integral Review - Approaching Artificial Humanity Fri, 17 Aug 2018 12:14:59 -0400 Greyson Ditzler

2064: Read Only Memories Integral is an enhanced version of the original Read Only Memories that was released on various platforms back in 2015, with the new version including exclusive content for the Nintendo Switch in the form of the "Punks" side story.

Read Only Memories has been drifting between platforms through a series of incremental changes and updated editions and titles since it first released in 2015, but now it seems the game has finally reached its final form with all intended tweaks and content on the Switch. It's a narrative-focused cyberpunk adventure game very reminiscent of classic PC adventure games in the vein of Snatcher or the Gabriel Knight series. 

With the game seemingly finalizing its design with 2064: Read Only Memories Integral, has this quirky yet contemplative adventure game finally found its true home on the Switch? 

 Let's see if this game can pass the Turing Test.

What's So Integral About It?

Read Only Memories' story is a thriller mystery centered around the player character - a struggling part-time journalist in NEO-San Francisco who is suddenly visited in the night by a prototype sentient AI named Turing. Turing informs you that his creator, your friend Hayden, has suddenly been kidnapped by an unknown assailant. You vow to aid Turning in solving the mystery of Hayden's abduction, and in the process become embroiled in the underground world of hacking, sinister corporations, and the growing tensions between the population of hybrids and the so-called "human revolution" that threaten to overflow. 

The story is held up by a cast of diverse and interesting characters, who range from soft-spoken hackers from the deep south to catgirl civil rights attorneys - all of whom have well-defined personalities and plenty of memorable lines to help cement themselves in your mind. The story has a bit of a slow start compared to what comes after it, though it does do a good job of establishing the universe and the tone for the rest of the game. 

The scale of the world feels rather small through the eyes of your character, but you still manage to get a grip on how big the issues affecting the world are. All the characters feel like necessary components to the story rather than just incidental NPCs with no bearing on events.

This scene in particular really got to me.

Read Only Memories Or Just Read Only?

There's very little I can say about Read Only Memories without spoiling the mystery or any of the stronger character moments, but that may also be because there isn't much to talk about in terms of gameplay. 

Everything in the game involving presentation and writing is strong, so I cannot fault the game much for that. The pixelated graphics aren't the best I've seen, but they're still solid and represent the era of PC gaming that the game is replicating well, and they're as colorful and as expressive as they need to be for the world to feel alive and reactive.

The sound design is quirky and suits the often spontaneous tone of the game's writing well, and is used especially well when timed for comedic moments. The soundtrack is catchy as hell from the start, and the voice acting is genuinely fantastic, with every character delivering a strong performance.

The actual moment-to-moment gameplay, however, is where the game falters because there's just not much of it. Games like Ace Attorney, Gone Home, and VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action have stripped back or simplified gameplay in a game in order to promote a stronger emphasis on the story, but the gameplay segments are much more frequent.

The majority of the time I spent with ROM was spent listening to every single option in a veritable national park's worth of dialogue trees in order to progress, and more often than not all you're expected to do is continue listening.

This wouldn't be much of an issue if it weren't for the fact that a lot of the game's dialogue is rather heavy on explanation and exposition. Tech-talk and elaborate back-stories are expected in a cyberpunk setting, but the flow of the dialogue alternating between normal conversation and tech-jargon was rather clunky at times.

While this is a pretty cool way to explain the details of a dollar-store laser gun, text walls like this pop-up fairly often, and it can be a bit overwhelming.

At times it was difficult to pay attention to the story because my eyes would glaze over when the screen would fill up with components, people and places and it would just be too much to comfortably digest. It was by no means something that ruined the story for me at all, but it was a pace-breaker a lot of the time. The story was at its best when the characters were just talking like normal people (or ROMs), and whenever they would switch over to "important backstory" mode there was an occasional grinding of gears. 

Is it Worth $20.64? 

Overall, I enjoyed most of my time with 2064: Read Only Memories Integral, but I feel as though it could have done a bit more to actively engage me as a player rather than a viewer. The presentation is solid, and the voice acting and writing can both be pretty great, but my attention and interest in the story dipped more than once when it felt as though there wasn't much actively demanding my input.

The few mini-games included are nice little diversions - and the world does naturally unfold and expand into an interesting setting full of equally fascinating characters, but it just wasn't quite enough. The experience couldn't have been anything but improved by adding in more typical adventure game puzzles and interactions. 

Hunting around the screen to find this memory card wasn't super exciting, but it still engaged me in a different way than just sitting there listening.

If you're looking for a story based game that's more engaging than a visual novel, maybe look elsewhere. You get a complete campaign that'll last you around 9 hours on top of the "Punks" side-story and all the gallery materials for the cute entry fee of $20.64, so it's a safe investment if you're looking for value.

If you're mainly interested in the story or setting and don't care as much about the gameplay specifics, then, by all means, check it out. With some slight adjustments Read Only Memories could have been a great game, but as it stands, it's just good.

2064: Read Only Memories Integral is available now for Nintendo Switch.

[Note: The copy of 2064: Read Only Memories was provided by MidBoss for review.]

State of Mind Review Fri, 17 Aug 2018 10:18:32 -0400 Wizard of Warsaw

State of Mind is a narrative-driven cyberpunk thriller developed by Daedalic Entertainment, who are known for their narrative-driven games. Exploring a world on the brink of change, State of Mind’s dark tone delves into themes revolving around ethics and technology. 

Daedalic Entertainment may be best known for point-and-click adventure games, but State of Mind is a pleasant, if simple, divergence from that concept. Maintaining their focus on narrative, Daedalic created a world whose primary focus is allowing the player to explore as freely as possible. 


The game revolves around two men recovering from dangerous accidents,  Richard Nolan and Adam Newman. Richard is on a search for his wife and son who have mysteriously disappeared, but due to his accident, he can't remember where they went. In an attempt to piece together his memories, you explore various facets of advanced technologies to find them.

As Adam, you face the struggles of fatherhood. With his wife busy working on a large unknown project, Adam spends most of his time taking care of his son, John, all on his own.

Their two stories are related, so you’ll spend a fair bit of time early on swapping back and forth between the two characters. Both characters are able to explore their own homes, the nearby street, and their place of employment, as well as clubs and offices that each character uncovers during their journeys. There are similarities in the locations that both characters visit, but the vast difference in tone makes every location unique. 

As you play with each character, you begin to grasp at the straws of a larger and more sinister plan. Richard, chasing after his family, finds himself embroiled in the beginnings of a war. John, on the other hand, struggling to regain lost memories, uncovers information about a conspiratorial government plot.

Unfortunately, the game doesn't have a ton of replay value. Since there are very few choices that seem to have real weight, the game doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve missed out just because you didn’t make a certain choice.  


The gameplay follows the Heavy Rain formula, based largely on the exploration of your surroundings. The controls for the game boil down to movement, interaction, and examination. Walking through each area reveals a variety of objects with which you can interact, but oftentimes the interactions don’t hold much value, acting more as minor world building moments or the occasional foreshadowing. 

The exploration style gameplay is punctuated with a variety of interesting mini-games. These mini-games tend to follow the same simple control scheme as the rest of the game, though the variations help to provide an occasional break from exploration.

You’ll move from exploring as Richard or John, to hacking and controlling drones. While the mini-games tend to keep the game from becoming too monotonous, they also end up being very rarely repeated. Controlling a drone is a fun break from the standard gameplay, but since it only happens two or three times, it feels like a concept that wasn’t fully utilized.  

In comparison to other story driven games, State of Mind is a little lackluster. With no real choices to affect the outcome you feel more like a passenger as the story progresses. The ideas on trans-humanism and digital privacy are not new, but they still beg to be explored. In opposition to the physical exploration style of the game, the story leaves no room to explore the possibilities as it holds your hand on its way to the only ending.   


State of Mind does an excellent job of expressing a lot with very little. By using a low-poly art style, especially in this cyberpunk setting, the player is allowed to explore without getting bogged down in the myriad details of an unknown world. Since exploration is a common component of the gameplay, the art lends itself to keeping the player focused.

Interestingly, Richard and Adam seem to exist in entirely different worlds. Richard’s world is dark and cold, while Adam finds himself surrounded by warm light. This stark style difference seems to reflect each characters opinions on the world around them.


The gameplay for State of Mind is simple and effective, but the biggest draw is the story. State of Mind takes a fantastic look at ideas that have concerned humanity since science fiction’s beginnings. The concepts may not be unique, but they have the potential to be fun ideas for players to explore. 

Overall, State of Mind is a good game and while I may not be playing it again anytime soon, it was a fun time. 

[Note: The developer provided the copy of State of Mind used for this review.]

Yakuza 0 PC Review: It's as Good as Ever Thu, 09 Aug 2018 15:46:16 -0400 Ashley Gill

Both the Yakuza fanbase and sections of the PC community have been asking for Yakuza on PC for a long time. And for a long time it seemed impossible, a pipe dream for those interested in the series without a PlayStation-line console.

There are a few times in life when dreams do come true. In this instance that's thanks to Japanese publishers' increased focus on the PC market. The line between console exclusives and the PC space is little more than a blur today.

If you had asked me whether I thought the Yakuza series would be making its way to PC a few years ago, I'd probably have scoffed and taken offense due to the naivety of the question. Japanese publishers didn't port to PC, and when they did, it wasn't exactly done well. Plus, the chances of such a niche series making its way over here? Psh, yeah right.

It's 2018 now and Yakuza is on PC. Heck, a whole lot of other series I never thought would make it off console are now getting PC ports -- and not bad ports, either. These aren't coming out in the same states Deadly Premonition and Dark Souls got so carelessly released in. No. These are quality ports on par with their console versions -- or even better.

What a time to be alive.

Yakuza 0 is the first game in the series to make its way to PC, and what an appropriate choice on Sega's part. 0 is the place to start if you have never touched the series before.

There may be some confusion about the naming-slash-numbering of this series, so let's lay it out: Yakuza 0 is a prequel to Yakuza Kiwami, which is a remake of the original PlayStation 2 game. There are five additional games after Kiwami, with the latest being Yakuza 6 on the PlayStation 4.

For a first timer, 0 is the place to start. It gets all the pieces set, all the characters fleshed out, and prepares you for the never-ending trials and tribulations of just being Kazuma Kiryu, the Dragon of Dojima.

Part of what makes this series so unique and so beloved by fans is its unique hybrid of yakuza movie-style storytelling, relatively smooth beat'em up combat between entries, and absurd minigames and side content. Despite being a prequel, Yakuza 0 has all those things in spades.

Here, cutscenes are frequent, often long, and dramatic, with the story quality being on par with standard yakuza-theme feature film. Betrayal, revenge, and honor are all key parts in the genre and especially here in the Yakuza game series.

Combat is not an especially complex beast and, for most, will present little challenge. You spend a great deal of time in combat (you can't avoid chinpara forever) but outside of boss fights, it's a quick and dirty ordeal.

You can button mash your way to victory in combat, but you're better off making use of potential weapons in the environment or getting the hang of the wide range of Heat Actions available. It's significantly more fun if you get into combat's intricacies but if you're here for the side dish more than the main course, you don't have to stress much about beating people up.

Speaking of the side dish, it's always my personal main course. You can't have a Yakuza game without the silly side missions and mini games, which are ultimately what keep a number of fans returning to this series that seems so lost in time. Sure, the story is always great -- but there's so much more to do than watch cutscenes and rush through the story.

Though side missions are often humorous and one of the bigger draws to the game, the wealth of mini games found in the series is the real MVP for me.

Gacha machines to pluck up stuffed animals, classic Sega arcade games such as Out Run and Super Hang-On, fishing, miniature car racing, hostess dating, dancing, gambling at a Western or a Japanese-style casino -- this list is very small compared to the full list of mini games you can get yourself wrapped up in here in Yakuza 0.

The transition to PC from PlayStation 4 has been relatively smooth and it is a commendable effort by Sega to finally bring this sprawling and distinctly Japanese drama to a platform Japanese developers are just now taking seriously.

The game is capable of reaching 60fps at 4K, which is a first for the series provided your rig can handle it. As with just about every other recent PC release from Sega, it does come with Denuvo anti-tamper DRM. If that's a dealbreaker for you, well.. that's just how it is.

This series' debut on the PC seems to be a resounding success. One that past me would have punched present me for even suggesting, but a success nonetheless.

If you missed out on the Yakuza series thus far, for whatever reason, now is probably the best time to jump onto the bandwagon. Yakuza 0 is a little dramatic, a lot of weird, and a ton of fun. There is no better time to give it a shot than the present.

You can buy Yakuza 0 on Steam for $19.99.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Yakuza 0 used in this review.]

We Happy Few Release Review: A Stealth Survival Diamond In The Rough Thu, 09 Aug 2018 09:50:18 -0400 Ty Arthur

An entire book could probably be written on the winding road that was the development path for We Happy Few -- a game that at one point was hilariously on our list of most anticipated titles of 2016.

Now, finally seeing full release in the summer of 2018, the game's launch version is a drastically different experience from our early alpha impressions two years back -- and that's actually a very good thing.

With refined stealth mechanics, a bigger emphasis on story, and a huge, lush world to explore, We Happy Few offers a little bit of everything.

What Should You Expect?

We Happy Few began life as a crowdfunded and proudly indie title without any corporate overlords, and then suddenly, things shifted gears as Gearbox entered the picture as publisher late in the game's development cycle.

There have been price changes and DLC additions that saw fan outcry, along with major UI and game mechanic overhauls to smooth things over with that same playerbase. The game was banned in Australia and then re-approved in Australia. First it was horror-focused, then survival-focused, then story-focused, then a mixture of all three.

In short, it was anybody's guess as to what we would be getting with the end product. Those who took part in the Early Access betas have seen the game change radically from its earliest stages, and there are still more changes in store with the launch version.

What we're getting now is a game with an incredibly distinctive and unique art style, coupled with a world you won't find in any other title out there right now.

Here's the TL;DR on the story: bad batches of the happiness-inducing drug Joy have been shipped out, and anyone who takes the tainted pharmaceuticals can no longer experience the effects of normal Joy. They become Downers forever, no matter how much Joy they take, and this plague of sorrow is actively destroying a society that was already decaying from within.

The core of the game involves switching between stealth, combat, and problem solving as you seek out different ways to fit in or sneak around depending on what area you are exploring.

You can slum it with the dregs of society eking out a sad and hungry existence, or try to fit in with the "proper" folk in the city, who may actually have it worse.

Different core abilities distinguish the three main characters as they traverse this dystopian world. Arthur, for instance, is sarcastic and repressed -- like a proper Englishman -- but he's also very unassuming so no one notices him if he just sits down and reads the paper (which is quite helpful for escaping angry mobs).

A free roaming mode is slated to arrive not long after launch, so you'll have a reason to keep playing after finishing the story segments for each character.

Like in games such as Dishonored, you will frequently be tasked with finding different ways to approach an area, from disguising yourself to creating distractions, helping out local residents, or just simply busting in and swinging your deadly umbrella with wild abandon.

Wait... a deadly umbrella? You better believe it. The developers absolutely nailed the right atmosphere here, balancing British humor with horrifying dystopian ideals.

Much of the open world exploration feels like a new twist on Far Cry with a big dash of Fallout, from the decaying landscape to the item crafting. I have to wonder just how much the impending Fallout 76 is going to end up feeling like a re-tread of We Happy Few's survival mechanics, especially with this game arriving a few months ahead of time and having been in development for so long.

Some Rough Spots To Iron Out

Despite an extended development time and the addition of AAA publisher oversight, We Happy Few's original indie nature does stand out in some ways, like an extremely long load time to initially generate the open world.

As has become expected at this point with major new releases, the game's Steam achievements are also bugged all to hell, popping at random when you haven't actually unlocked them yet or failing to pop when they should.

Some of the animations could also use additional smoothing. Remember back in the Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4 days when the main character skinned an animal, but sometimes the knife and hands weren't quite lined up with the creature's stomach? That's how most of the animations end up here, from picking locks on the ground (where you somehow sink five feet into the dirt momentarily) to using a jimmy bar on open air five feet from your target and somehow the box still magically opens.

The Bottom Line

Those rough spots shouldn't deter you from We Happy Few, however, because this is frankly one of the most satisfying blends of game styles to arrive in a long time.

This was originally supposed to be a horror game, but that aspect didn't get as much press as all the survival elements were added in. I'm very pleased to report the darker elements have made a roaring return, and there are some incredibly creepy moments here in the finished product.

From suicides to mad doctors to a pervasive dread as you realize there are very few children anywhere, WHF doesn't skimp on the more messed up story content.

The exploration and survival elements easily take front and center, however. What you end up with is the open world exploration of something like Fallout or Far Cry, a simplified and refined version of the survival mechanics from Ark, and the creepy, distinctive style of a game like Alice: Madness Returns.

Simply put, We Happy Few is dreary, grim, darkly humorous -- and a hell of a good time.

Detached Review -- The Dangers Of Space Manifested In VR Tue, 07 Aug 2018 15:00:30 -0400 Ty Arthur

It seems like such an obvious combination in retrospect, but there aren't actually that many VR games set in space. The open nature of the night sky is tailor-made for a three-dimensional gaming experience.

On the PSVR in particular, your options are fairly limited to that Infinite Warfare space dog fighting mini-game.. and not much else. Detached aims to remedy that oversight by working within the limitations of the VR experience in a unique and extremely fun way.

You can officially add another game to the list of PSVR titles that make the hardware worth buying now that Detached has hit the PS Store.

In Space, Less Is More

At this point in time, developers are still gaining their footing in the VR realm. Each game has to deal with limitations of the hardware and puzzle out clever ways for movement to function properly with a player wearing a headset in a small space. 

Crisis Of The Planet Of The Apes VR for instance let you swing your arms and climb pipes like an ape, but was otherwise essentially an on-rails game as movement was limited to very specific paths.

Detached goes the exact opposite direction. Movement is full 360 degrees in absolutely any direction -- even up and down -- but your avatar is essentially stationary as you are in an immobile space suit with no ability to turn your head different directions.

 You are free to move in any direction, but actually reaching your destination will take careful planning!

If you want to see what's behind you, you can't just turn your head like in a normal VR game. Instead, a player needs to learn how to use the various air jets on the suit to re-orient in a new direction.

What seems like a major limitation at first is actually revealed to be one of the game's biggest strengths.

Learning to move in three dimensions isn't just the challenge of the game, it essentially is the entire game. You might end up approaching an objective upside down, or spinning the wrong direction, or propelling through space too fast. 

At first your movement will be slow and timid while getting the hang of things, but soon you'll be propelling yourself with the boost module through high-speed transport tubes across the vastness of space.

 ...and I'm upside down somehow.

You Have Died, Space Edition

There are concessions to typical game design -- needing to find fuel and air tanks before you run out of oxygen for instance, or utilizing shields and rockets to overcome challenges -- but that's really window dressing to the movement mechanics. 

Suffocating or running out of fuel is just the tip of the deadly iceberg, though. Much like in real life I suppose, it is amazingly easy to die in space.

The core of the gameplay is in figuring out the give and take between going fast enough to reach a destination before running out of oxygen, but not going so fast you won't crack your helmet and let in the cold void of space when colliding with an object.

 Extreme sub-zero temps, fast moving objects, and lack of breathable air all make space your enemy 

This is all easier said than done, and the game rewards you when you think strategically in three dimensions instead of just rushing headlong towards the most direct route.

My only complaint here is that the death sequence is just a cracking sound and then a return to the menu. Adding in something a bit more gruesome might give the player more incentive to avoid death in the future, although with the VR aspect that might hit too close to home for players to see themselves dying horribly in first person.

The Bottom Line

If you've ever had any nausea or disorientation with playing VR, then sadly Detached is not for you.

With all the three-dimensional spinning and sudden stop and start movement, this is a game that is guaranteed to get the motion sickness-sensitive players spewing their lunch all over their living rooms.

This isn't a bug though, it's a feature, as the developers make clear in the launch trailer that lists all the ways not to induce motion sickness in a VR player. Then showcases how they are breaking all those rules.

Think of it a bit like a roller coaster. If there wasn't any chance you'd scream and vomit, would you still ride it? The thrill and danger is part of the appeal.

Long story short, if you ever wanted to play through movies like Gravity or Interstellar, this is your chance. If you don't mind potential motion sickness and like the challenge of a new style of gameplay, then absolutely give Detached a shot.

(Writer was granted a review copy of the game from the publisher.)

WarioWare Gold Review: A Fine Example of Nintendo's Weirder Side Mon, 06 Aug 2018 12:13:28 -0400 Lee Forgione

Ever since Wario decided to jump into the microgame business back in 2003 with WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames! for the GBA, I've loved playing each new iteration as the series pushed forward. Every game introduced something fresh and new, whether it was using the gyrometer in WarioWare: Twisted!, the touchscreen in WarioWare: Touched!, or the unique and creative use of motion controls in WarioWare: Smooth Moves for the Wii.

Unfortunately, WarioWare Gold doesn't add anything new or creative in those ways. But that's OK. Instead, it acts as a greatest hits collection of microgames spanning the history of the series, one that's still as fun and addictive as it's ever been.

Right from the get go, you're greeted to a cut-scene featuring Wario speaking full dialogue for the first time ever(!). It's as disturbing as it is silly and reveals Wario's goal: making quick cash in order to buy more pizza. He does so by getting the usual cast of WarioWare characters together to make microgames for him. Classic characters like Mona, 9-Volt, and Dr. Crygor return as well as a couple new characters like 9-Volt's mother, 5-Volt, and Lulu.

The goal in the WarioWare series is to clear a set of microgames in succession. But you're only given a few seconds to figure out how to clear them. After a set number of microgames, you will be challenged to a boss stage, which takes a little more time to complete. Each stage features one of the aforementioned characters alongside a unique set of microgames, usually set to a theme.

Anyone familiar to the series will know the basic formula of progressing through the game: clear a few character stages and then play Jimmy T.'s stage, which remixes everything you just played. However, WarioWare Gold switches up this routine by featuring three different leagues to complete. There's the Mash League, which utilizes only the A button and the D-pad; the Twist League, which uses motion controls; and the Touch League, which, as you guessed it, uses the touch screen.

Each of these leagues features four different characters set to one of four themes. The Sports theme features microgames like hula hooping, synchronized swimming, and completing a snowboarders trail down a mountain. In That's Life, you complete a set of microgames revolving around everyday life, such as brushing your teeth, catching toast as it pops out of the toaster, and waiting for an open bathroom stall to dash towards. There's a Nintendo theme, which spans across Nintendo's history of games like Super Mario Kart, Animal Crossing, and even The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. And finally, there's the fantasy theme, which has everything from shaving the Earth to making puppies dizzy. 

The main story can be completed in as little as an hour. However, the main hook to the WarioWare games is repeatedly playing its stages to rack up a high score. Each stage will initially end after you've beaten the boss stage, but replaying stages puts you in an endless loop of microgames and bosses. The speed increases every few microgames and defeating a boss stage levels you up, making each microgame a little harder.

The increased speed, combined with the difficulty jump, makes this whole process an addictive thrill ride good for short play sessions. It's incredibly easy to get wrapped up in attempting to beat your high score, which gives WarioWare its lasting appeal. A handful of stages sees the modes changing on the fly and will prompt you when it is time to change.

Besides the main story mode, there's a myriad of little distractions to explore.

There's challenge mode, which has you completing microgames set to specific conditions. The Thrill Ride mode gives you only one life to get as far as possible, while the Super Hard mode makes you complete microgames at a ridiculously high speed.

One of the more interesting modes is Split Screen, featuring the ninja characters Kat and Ana. As one microgame ends on the bottom screen, a new one will immediately begin on the top screen, forcing you to stay on your feet, especially as the speed increases.

Sneaky Gamer was taken right out of Game & Wario for the Wii U. In this mode, 9-Volt tries to stay up late playing video games without getting caught by his mother. As you play through the microgames, you must pretend that you're asleep as 5-Volt pops in and out of the room. Getting caught ends the game. 

On top of that, there's the Toy Room, which is a collection of fun little activities and trinkets that can be unlocked by spending coins on a capsule machine. There's the Studio Session, which allows you to record your own voice over the game's different cut-scenes. There are mini-games, character cards, phones to play with, toys that do weird stuff when you interact with them, and even a Nintendo museum. In the latter, I discovered Nintendo products I never knew existed, like a Nintendo Love Tester and N&B Blocks. 


Overall, WarioWare Gold for the 3DS may not make waves in the way of new content, but the mash up of microgames from the entirety of the series makes it an ideal entry for fans both old and new. It has everlasting replayability and is a fine example of Nintendo's weirder side.

It's good to see that this unique series hasn't been forgotten and hopefully, the success of Gold will give way to future titles on the Switch and beyond. It's good to see Wario back in business, and I look forward to seeing what he cooks up next.

This Is The Police 2 Review Fri, 03 Aug 2018 17:15:18 -0400 Zack Palm

Managing a police station can lead to some outrageous circumstances, and This Is The Police 2 doesn't pull any punches. In this management sim, you'll find yourself patrolling a ridiculously dark and brutal main story, while also stumbling upon some light-heartened humor and painful choices.

Sharpwood PD rides the roller-coaster of emotion.

As the police chief of the titular station, you'll manage cops and deal with the criminal underworld wiggling beneath this small town. Though tough decisions help This Is The Police 2 stand out as a fun management sim, the story itself feels a little underwhelming as it quickly deflates into a mirror of the first game.

Breaker, Breaker, One-Nine

When you first start up This Is The Police 2, you'll be introduced to the most noticeable feature of the sequel, the game's XCOM-like combat swat missions (which we'll talk about in more detail later). But after that, the action quickly comes to a screeching halt as you're tossed into a long cutscene that feels like you've been thrown into a small movie you can't get out of.

Unfortunately, this is the trend throughout This Is The Police 2; each new day starts with a brief cutscene you can't possibly skip. If you're a fan of the first game, you're probably used to this and won't necessarily be bothered, but if you're someone who wants to get to the action quickly (and haven't played the first game), it's something to note. 

Following the protagonist from the first game, Jack Boyd, This Is The Police 2 delves into the seedy underworld of a more-or-less traditional cop flick. There's intrigue, there's suspicion, there's blackmail. Gangs and drug traffickers make things dicey, and people are wrongly(?) accused. There's murder, there's vice, there's corruption.

Although all the pieces for a gripping narrative are here -- as Jack finds that the only way to escape the dire circumstances around him is to reach out to those around him -- the game instead focuses on basically retelling what happened in the first gameIt's ultimately a lazy form of storytelling that makes the best parts of This Is The Police 2 less memorable. 

Managing The Worst Cops Ever

Once you finish the game's relatively long introduction, you'll get thrown into the real meat of the game: becoming Sharpwood's police chief. You're going to spend most of your time focused on these duties and responding to calls using your limited resources.

This is how it works: at the end of each day, you pick from a roster of officers who you'll assign to the next day's shift. Each officer has a portrait detailing six stats. These stats show how talented each officer is based on their traits of strength, intelligence, speed, stealth, shooting, and negotiation. 

As you would suspect, your officers use these skills in their day-to-day tasks, and their skills determine how likely it is the officers in question will succeed in stopping crime or serving the public. On top of that, some calls will require multiple officers with a certain score, adding an interesting wrinkle to your overall strategy. 

Under each portrait is a small line detailing the officer's energy levels. If this bar gets too low, the officer cannot perform any more tasks and takes the day off. Though, if you send an officer home with a low energy bar, it's likely they'll return to duty having gotten sloppy drunk the night before -- and it makes them angry and difficult to work with.

Of course, as it happens, that's just one line you'll get. You'll quickly discover there's a veritable smorgasbord of excuses just waiting to be gobbled up. 

When certain officers arrive to report, they'll showcase their expertise in coming up with lame, absolutely absurd excuses as to why they can't work that day. Some officers get too drunk at home or at happy hour or some other seemingly-illegitimate excuse, while others have the gumption to simply say they don't want to work today. 

Either way, it places a somewhat infuriating burden on the player when they've expect 10 cops show up to work one day and can only start the day with five. This happened a lot in the beginning of the game, and it made answering calls a nightmare before more officers were hired to the force.

Fighting Crime in Sharpwood

When you have your force ready to go, you arrive to a map of Sharpwood and spend the day answering calls. 

After officers arrive on the scene, you'll be faced with several choices, each of which gives you a unique way of handling the current situation. This is where the officer's skills come into play, since certain actions depend on certain skills. For example, you might need a cop to sneak up on an old man attempting to defecate on a banker's desk (yes, this occurred several times), and if he doesn't pass his sneak check, well ...  

Other times, you'll run into some officers saying they can't head out on call because they're taking a nap or they don't want to go on call with a woman -- the excuses never stop in Sharpwood and they only get worse. When this happened, it felt like another annoying, obstructing feature developed solely to give you an even more difficult situation.

Sure, there are lazy misogynists in the world, but having so many didn't necessarily feel organic to the game itself. 

After your shift, you'll receive the tops of aluminum soda cans -- or stay-tabs -- which act as the game's currency. Based on how well your team did during the day, you'll get a certain amount to add more officers to the force and provide more equipment to your team.

With enough balancing, you should add enough new faces to the force to endure those rougher (ahem, lazier) days and eventually gain loyalty with your officers, which becomes more useful as the main story unwinds.

SWAT Missions

The game's SWAT missions show up much like any other call does. You'll assign officers and when they arrive, your cops have the option to talk to three witnesses. They'll talk, but only if you give up one of the confiscated items Jack has in his office. Sometimes the intel's good, other times, it's useless.

After a bit of chatting, you'll get taken to the scene of the crime and observe the mission from an over-the-top perspective. Here, you'll manage your cops much like you would manage soldiers in an XCOM mission. Though, the XCOM soldiers were likely far better disciplined, and vastly more useful.

If you've assigned officers not loyal to Jack, or those who simply don't like him, they'll do whatever they want during the mission. This doesn't mean they're ignoring your commands every couple of turns. No, that'd be too easy. These rogue officers straight up have a bloodthirsty A.I. controlling them, having them shoot any perpetrator(s) they run into. 

This becomes a huge problem in the beginning of the game because you want to arrest these criminals, not kill them, because you receive less stay-tabs if they're dead.

Of course, that's likely the difficulty behind it. The game wants to prevent you from getting too many stay-tabs early, making it a tad bit harder to turn the Sharpwood PD around. But in some ways, it feels like frustrating design more than anything else. 

Lastly, based on the crime happening in the SWAT mission, the parameters for success change. Again, because half of your squad will likely not listen to you in the beginning, you'll probably be following the A.I. officers through the map as they unleash a devastating bloodbath on unsuspecting criminals.

I truly felt sorry for them -- and a bit frustrated. 

The Bottom Line

This Is The Police 2 focuses on a number of different features all at once. At the beginning, the game feels a little bit like it's out to get you. The game's unprofessional cops do nothing to help you gain a running start, and you can easily trip up from there as additional obtuse features call for your attention as the game progresses.

The first cutscene of the game took nearly half an hour to finish and each individual scene after dragged on too long. Though, this was the initial set up and every subsequent one became snappier as it transitioned into the game and gave you more control. Once you're managing your cops and handling situations, the story provides a great direction for what you need to do and leaves you having a great time in the management portion.

The two worst parts of the game are the SWAT missions and the cutscenes. While the cutscenes feel hefty, the voice actors do a great job delivering emotional moments and the added camera shakes raise the presentation as the tension thickens. The SWAT sections feel unnecessarily unfair as some police officers are controlled by an unwieldy and brazen A.I., leading to the feeling that you never really have control of supposedly the best units in the game. 

If you're looking for a tough management simulator with light role playing decisions, this game is certainly up your alley. It's not perfect, but for fans of the genre, it provides a good amount of fun if you can overlook some of its blemishes. 

You can buy This Is The Police 2 on Steam for $14.99. 

[Note: The publisher provided the copy of This Is The Police 2 used for this review.]

Teeny Titans 2 Tiny Review Wed, 01 Aug 2018 09:36:30 -0400 Steven Oz

It's not often that a mobile game catches my attention. When I do play, I usually play simple match-3 games or time-based city building games.

But then I discovered Teeny Titans 2. I knew about the first Teeny Titans from commercials airing on Cartoon Network, but I never had the chance to play it. However, based on what I knew about both the show and the first game, I jumped at the chance to play the sequel.  

I'm glad I did. 

A Tiny Story Goes a Long Way 

Teeny Titans 2, or as it's also known, Teen Titans Go! Figure, is a sequel to the mobile game Teeny Titans, and based on Teen Titans Go!. This new adventure is inspired by the Warner Bros. Animation film Teen Titans GO! to the Movies.

You play as one of the Teen Titans (Robin, Raven, Cyborg, Starfire, or Beast Boy) trying to uncover the mystery of who is trying to put the Teeny Titans Figure Company out of business. It is your job to battle various characters from the DC universe and discover the truth.

It's a simple-enough story that guides you along without burdening you with heavy story content, which is good for a mobile game because you'll most likely want to jump in a just play the game right away. 


For a mobile game, the gameplay in Teeny Titans 2 is done very well. It provides all the elegance of a turn-based game with an adventure that spans the scope of famous locations in the DC Universe.

The turn-based battles are a fun way to showcase the various Teeny Titans for sale in game. If you have never played the original game, there is a slight learning curve, but the game eases you into it with a simple tutorial section. Battling your Teeny Titans is a fun mix of beating your opponent to the attack and managing resources that pop on your screen. 

You can bring up to three figures in to your party from your total party of six. Each of these figures has their own power to choose from as the battle bar meter races forward. As you use your powers, it drains the meter and certain powers have to charge up before you can use them.

Some of your powers are also buffs for your characters, and these can raise your attack power, defense, or health. The cool thing about the game is your opponent is doing the same thing. So, you have to watch your opponent's battle bar to make sure they are not charging up to attack.

Each figure also can be modded with Mod Chips. These mods have varying abilities that can be added to your figures. Some offer health benefits and others can slow down the opponent's battle bar.

The adventure part of the game is fun but could be more refined. All you really do is tap and swipe to move your character around. As you venture into this world, it has night and day cycles, which bring up new challenges and shops.  There are numerous side quests that can give you new characters and mod chips. 

The only problem is a few of these quests don't show you where to go. You get lost in the each of the locations. While that can sometimes be good, most of the time, it can be quite boring just going to each character on the map trying to find out if they are the one you need. 


Overall, Teen Titans Go! Figure is an impressive game. It fleshes out the Teen Titans Go! universe while providing a silly story about collecting. While there are some minor problems with the adventure, it does not impeded the extremely well-done turn-based battles and great visuals. 

I was compelled to move forward and find out what happenstance was unfurled in this land.

You can download the game now for $3.99 on the services listed below on the Apple App StoreGoogle Play, or Amazon

[Note: A review code was provided by the publisher.]

La-Mulana 2 Review: Digging Up Buried Platforming Treasure Tue, 31 Jul 2018 13:45:07 -0400 Ty Arthur

The gaming community owes a huge debt to Kickstarter, with lovers of niche games in old school graphical styles getting their fill of new content thanks to the crowd funding revolution.

La-Mulana 2 is one of the latest classic gaming entries to arrive thanks to a successful crowd funding campaign, offering up that classic Metroidvania nostalgia in a unique setting.

You've got to already be fully in love with the style to get the most out of this platforming sequel, but for those still engaged in that torrid love affair with the Castlevania entries from decades past, La-Mulana 2 is about as good as it gets.

 If you got a little excited seeing the spikes and breakable walls, then this game is for you

Old School, New Setting

This time around you get to play an intrepid archaeologist with a whip who just happens to also be a master ninja and monster fighter. Girl's gotta have a wide skill set to survive these days, ya know?

With a little luck she might even make it through a few screens before dying horribly, but don't count on it, as the difficultly level here is wonderfully diabolic. Make no mistake about it, La-Mulana 2 is as old school as it gets, complete with wonky jumping controls and difficult combat.

 Can't say I've ever been murdered repeatedly by a giant squirrel god before

The game is entirely keyboard-driven on the PC version, but clearly setup to mimic the SNES controls of using the L and R buttons to navigate through menus with four main buttons for using items and jumping. Anyone who has used an emulator with a keyboard extensively will probably have an edge here on getting used to the controls.

It's not just the keyboard / controller layout that works hard to evoke the feel of the '80s and early '90s either, as there's a clear 8 bit presentation on the visual side, but with frequent nods to later game eras sprinkled in. You'll notice sounds and visual effects that will bring to mind Symphony Of The Night, for instance.

Getting Addicted To Pain

One of La-Mulana 2's greatest strengths is that game is mostly non-linear after the starter dungeon. Just go wherever you want and figure out what puzzles you can. If you get stumped, go somewhere else until you can come back and try again.

While puzzling out those solutions to various death traps you will quickly come to the realization that this game is devastatingly hard, and on purpose. If you threw your controller over Battletoads or similar games back in the day, you may just want to check out the Let's Plays for the nostalgia.

Instant death traps are frequent and save spots are found only sparsely across the ruins, so trial and error plays a big role, but eventually a player will develop a sixth sense to know which buttons not to press and which floor tiles to avoid.

The puzzles here are all generally possible to figure out if you pay attention to the surroundings and take the time to master the controls.

The skeleton on the floor tells me I probably shouldn't hit that switch 

Over time, you may find yourself getting addicted to the thrill of completing a puzzle or beating a giant monster boss and wanting to see if you can make it just a little bit further into the ruins.

Much like how many players gave up after that first demon boss in Dark Souls and decided the franchise wasn't worth the time, if you stick with it you find there's plenty of rewarding gameplay as you progress.

Ludicrously, there's actually a La-Mulana 2 hard mode available if you ignore three separate sets of warnings not to turn it on. I don't even want to contemplate what that experience must be like, since I'd prefer not to smash my keyboard into a million bits, but for the true masochists out there, the option is at least available.

The Bottom Line

Growing up on the NES and then cutting my teeth on the likes of Symphony Of The Night, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the platformer style, especially with the more offbeat or distinctive games like Demon's Crest.

La-Mulana 2 definitely falls into that category, and despite the simplicity, the game actually has an interesting story revolving around eight races of beings that have inhabited the earth over time, with humans only being the latest. 

Metroidvana fans will love the wide range of zones featuring different art styles and strategies, from icy pillars you have to move across quickly before sliding off to rapidly ascending platforms and some crazy jumping puzzles.

For an indie offering that tries to ignore any gameplay innovations past 1994, La-Mulana 2 is an incredibly good time if you don't mind an exceptionally high difficulty level.

The Banner Saga 3 Review: A Final Stand Against The Darkness Thu, 26 Jul 2018 09:15:02 -0400 Emily (Pokeflute)

Every day, the darkness grows closer to the walls of humanity's final stronghold. I have three days of supplies left. My units are hurt and tired, and they're starting to fight among themselves. A rebel leader is threatening to take over the city if we don't meet his demands. I'm given three choices: reason with him, imprison him, or try to kill him.

This is the world of The Banner Saga 3, where few things ever seem to go right.

In the first game of the series, a mysterious darkness emerged and began to swallow the world. Humanity was forced to continually retreat as the darkness warped and twisted everything in its path. Those heroes who set out to defeat it, alongside their band of allies, have been fleeing from this force for the span of two games, not knowing what caused the darkness or if there's anything they can do to stop it.

The Banner Saga 3 is the conclusion to the series' dramatic narrative and the denouement of the trilogy. And despite a few frustrations, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it.

Note: Minor spoilers for The Banner Saga 3 follow.

Painting a Beautiful Picture

When you first boot up the game, the game's beautiful art and engrossing animation are immediately apparent. The game's colors are striking and vibrant, and the environments are extremely detailed; when walking through the streets of Arberrang, you can see little stick-figure-versions of each of the game's different races, creating a unique look at a thriving, if endangered city. Add to that the game's entrancing animated sequences, and The Banner Saga 3 stands as one of the prettiest entries in the series.

Despite its beauty, the world of The Banner Saga 3 is undeniably dark, and all of the game's artistic aspects reinforce that vibe. Landscapes frequently dwarf the characters, making you feel small in comparison to everything that's happening.

And that's reinforced by the game's dynamic sound effects, which rise, fall, and change based on dialogue and the soundtrack; it makes the game feel very cohesive, especially when you consider the voice acting is also excellent. In short, the game's tone is fully realized: the dark mood is relentless and definitely puts you in the shoes of a doomed group travelers fighting for the salvation of the world.

However, while I enjoyed the sound effects, I wasn't so enthused with the game's music. While the orchestral suite can often feel grandiose, music is often recycled (particularly in battles), and obvious loop points get annoying after a while.

Music was a high point in the previous two games, and I wish that feeling carried over to The Banner Saga 3 -- but it just didn't strike me as much as other orchestral game soundtracks.

Telling a Story That Keeps You Invested

My favorite part of TBS3 would hands down be the story. The scope is huge and the characters are engaging and unique. The game's many dialogue choices and action options make the game feel as though you are truly directing this caravan of refugees on their journey. With plenty of twists and turns, it's heartening that the game's big plot twists aren't obvious. 

However, while the story keeps you entertained, it can be a little obtuse if you haven't played the first two games. Honestly, I wish it was a little more ingratiating and perhaps contained a glossary with important terms and histories that could easily help both the newcomer and the veteran catch up on before diving in. 

Without giving anything away, the amount of choice I had in the game's ending was much more than I thought it would be. Everything that happens makes you feel as though you are impacting the climax in a meaningful and demonstrable way. Not all of the game's choices are clear-cut, and although it sometimes feels unfair being penalized by a "bad" choice, your choices carry substantial weight, making things all the more interesting. 

The Banner Saga 3 is one of the few games that truly gives the impression that what happens at the end of its story is because of you, even if some of its story elements can feel a bit long-winded and in some places, generic. 

Moving Men (And Women)

Despite having such a strong story, The Banner Saga 3 struggles a little bit when it comes to its gameplay. The usual mix of RPG-style stats and upgrades and turn-based strategy gameplay is present here, and it's mostly unchanged from the previous two games. Small touches, like asking for confirmation when moving, acting, and ending a turn, are really helpful; they make the relatively difficult combat feel a little more forgiving. 

However, this game is clearly not meant for newcomers, and that shows in the combat. The tutorial is effective but not comprehensive, and there are few explanations as to how to use items and techniques effectively. In other words, unless you want to be a wee bit lost, you really need to play the first two games before playing this one.

One helpful aspect of The Banner Saga 3 dulls that throw-you-in-the-deep-end feeling: the game continues even if you lose a battle, which ensures that you never get bogged down or stuck. That doesn’t mean there aren’t repercussions for losing — your units are all injured and you don’t get as much renown — but as someone who gets frustrated easily when stuck in games, it’s a welcome feature.

The maps themselves are interesting, and many have unique layouts and situations, while environmental hazards add a strategic layer to battles and contribute to the dark atmosphere (it often felt as though the map itself was after my party). In the darkness chapters, environmental hazards can also help the enemy, adding yet another layer of challenge. 

The one big new addition is waves combat, which is a sort of quasi-endless battle mode. As the name implies, enemies come in waves and you choose whether you want to stay and fight another wave or flee with what you have. Fighting through all the waves earns you more renown (the game's currency) and a rare item. Waves combat really exemplifies the risk vs reward philosophy of the series, and I enjoyed deciding when to fight and when to flee.

Besides its endless mode, there aren’t a lot of totally new features in TBS3. There's little doubt focus was placed on making an effective conclusion to the trilogy and including fans’ favorite aspects of the series. 

Daunting Difficulty

Even playing on Normal, this game is tough. Though the AI sometimes ignores an obvious move (particularly during the Arberrang chapters). the combat is unforgiving. You have to use everything at your disposal to emerge with minimal losses. In many ways, the combat steers clear of hero or power fantasies. In fact, his is exactly the opposite, a simulation in a complete lack of power.

There’s a difficulty spike in the chapters that focus on the journey into the darkness, and it’s really apparent. I know it’s done to emphasize the difference between the game's two groups, but it feels a little unfair at times. I didn’t like feeling like I was set up to fail in a battle.

Because of this, the hopelessness of the story bleeds into the mechanics, which is both a positive and a negative. It makes the game's atmosphere feel very cohesive, but it also leads to frustration when you know the game is hard just to make you lose faith in your party.

The difficulty gets enhanced by the game's innate unit control, which can get a little shaky at times as some units get hidden behind others, making it difficult to accurately command them. I wish there was an option to rotate the battlefield or reduce the opacity of enemy units to enable easier movement. On top of that, I would have also like to see more quality of life changes, like the option to toggle an overlay with all enemies’ available move and action areas highlighted, similar to Fire Emblem.

Final Verdict

The Banner Saga 3 is a great game. I loved the game's art, sound effects, and story, all of which contributed to a beautiful package. The game is very effective as a dramatic conclusion to the trilogy, and any fan who loved the two previous games will find a lot to love here.

However, I wasn't impressed with the combat; it could have used a little bit of difficulty tweaking and polish. I also wish there was more to help newcomers, though I understand that they aren't the target audience of this game.

The Banner Saga 3 told a story that I won't soon forget, and I can't wait to see what Stoic does next.

The Banner Saga 3 is available for PC/Mac, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch, with a mobile version coming at a later date.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of The Banner Saga 3 used in this preview.]

Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion Review -- The Fun Will Stop and Start Mon, 23 Jul 2018 16:57:49 -0400 Greyson Ditzler

I love Adventure Time. It is a cartoon unparalleled in its creativity and style, unrivaled in its storytelling and quality. It's a bizarre, sometimes uneven mash-up of ideas with flaws, to be sure, but at the end of the day, it's a truly special work of art much unlike anything else. 

In that same vein, Adventure Time's wild fantasy characters and zany settings have lent the series well to expansion, especially in the realm of video games. Over the past eight years we've seen a swath of different Adventure Time games from all kinds of genres, ranging from platformer to dungeon-crawler.

For the most part, they've been pretty solid, enjoyable titles.

Now we have a turn-based RPG to add to the pile: Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion. In the hands of UK developer Climax Studios, who made some enticing promises leading up to the game's release, Pirates of the Enchiridion is perhaps Adventure Time's final hurrah in the realm of video games.

Early trailers and gameplay footage showed off the game's turn-based RPG combat, colorful graphics, and full voice acting, all of which looked very promising. But the question is this: has Climax Studios delivered a solid game for fans of the show? Will Pirates of the Enchiridion be the (potential) final installment the video game world deserves? 

We'll Go To Very Distant Lands...

Pirates of the Enchiridion starts with Finn and Jake waking up to discover that the Land of Ooo has been stricken by a massive flood. An overnight outbreak of piracy is plaguing it's residents, so they set off to discover how and why this disaster has occurred.

Being the major conceit of the game, I wouldn't fault you for feeling as it was a  major event. However, the actual explanation behind the mystery is, honestly, pretty underwhelming.

Without spoiling the specific details, nothing that happens during the game's runtime has any bearing on the show's plot. It doesn't add anything meaty or expansive to any character's personality or history.

Despite the weak plot, the writing is pretty solid throughout, containing plenty of self-referential gags and clever dialogue form the show's wide cast of characters. While the overall plot is really just a throwaway, the game really does feel like an episode of the show whenever all the pieces fall into place, especially during cutscenes.  

Candyland on the Surface, Dark Underneath

The rest of Pirates of the Enchiridion's presentation is a mixed bag. Much like the show it represents, the game's surface has a pleasant and charming appearance at first glance, but there's an seedy side and heavy melancholy that lurks beneath it all. In other words, it all seems great at first -- until it all begins to fall apart.

Pirates of the Enchiridion's gameplay is fairly standard as far as turn-based RPGs go. The majority of the gameplay revolves around fighting enemies you encounter in the overworld, and using standard and special attacks to take them out, taking into account specific enemy weaknesses and seeing that each character fulfills their optimal roles

Your (full) party consists of Finn, Jake, Marceline, and BMO, all of whom have different special attacks and strengths, just like you'd see in pretty much any other RPG. Between fights, you'll explore the overworld either on foot or in your boat, walking or sailing from location to location in the newly flooded Ooo.

For the most part, the game is functional, and it can be (some) fun when you get a chance to employ some degree of varied strategy, but most fights tend to play out the same way -- even against bosses. You run down your list of special attacks and their elemental types until you find a major weakness or don't, then your strategy either becomes about focus-firing on one stronger enemy or taking out a group of weaker ones as quickly as possible. 

There are a few interesting ideas implemented in the game's combat, such as Finn's special unlocks being relegated to magic swords found by exploring the world; being able to use one item per turn without using up an entire turn; and even linking stat upgrades to upgrades you can purchase based on your level. These things do help make the combat feel a bit engaging, and the desire for new moves and the constant need for money does encourage exploration, but that doesn't fully rectify things as even that can be tedious.

Sailing and exploration in Pirates of the Enchiridion feels like a commute, and there isn't a lot to find if you go off the beaten path. Most islands you visit are extremely similar in most regards, and usually the most you'll find on them is some money or quest/battle items. And these are behind the same enemies you've already fought a thousand times. 

The only element of gameplay that remained consistently entertaining for me were the few "Interrogation Time" segments that sparingly happened throughout the story. Every now and then, Finn and Jake will have to play Good Cop/Bad Cop in order to get important info out of a difficult perp, and the player has to pay attention to their dialogue in order to decide what approach to take.

It isn't a very complicated system, and the dialogue isn't too hard to follow, but it still requires some amount of logical deduction and critical thinking to complete. You even have to time an input on a spinning wheel in order to pick the response you want. When they showed up, these segments were a fun and unique break from the regular gameplay that I really appreciated.

And I only came to appreciate them more and more as the game went on, and the problems I had with just began to snowball bigger and bigger.    

It's Probably A Computal Gleetch... In Fact, It Definitely Is

The biggest problem with Pirates of the Enchiridion is that it legitimately feels unfinished.

I understand that licensed game development can be stressful, often with brief development cycles and smaller budgets, and that these facts often hold developers back. I am also well aware that Adventure Time is coming to an end in the not to distant future, so there must have been some pressure to get this game out before then, which is understandable. But even taking these things into account, I seriously can't think of anything to describe this game better than unfinished.

There are clearly layers of polish and technical balancing that haven't been applied to either the presentation or the standard gameplay, and whether it be due to time, money, or talent, some of these problems are just purely unacceptable. I've had basically every conceivable glitch cross my path, and the game as a whole feels like it's barely chugging along at times.

The game crashed on me twice, I've fallen through the floor into areas I wasn't supposed to access (skipping entire quests on accident), I've had to deal with the game freezing up, frequent graphical pop-in, and frame rate drops. And these are just the normal bugs I had the pleasure of tangling with.

At one point, I had to reload my save because I defeated all the enemies in a battle but the fight just didn't end. In another fight, Marceline's face never loaded in and she looked like a lifeless mannequin. And at one point, I jumped at the wrong angle on an NPCs head and fell down a bottomless pit that didn't exist. 

I've sat through rush-hour red lights shorter than some of these loading screens, and the sheer number of times that the game has to awkwardly freeze in place and spend tens of seconds waiting for things to load absolutely kills the game's pacing. Just to save the game and quit to the main menu on average took over a minute to do, and many times, I had to wait 20-30 seconds for a fight to actually start after encountering an enemy.

Even putting aside the bigger technical hiccups, there were just tons of little things I kept running into during my time with the game that just destroyed any immersion I might have had in the experience. These issues were so prevalent during my time with the game that they largely overshadow the gameplay. 

None of the NPC's that you can encounter throughout the game have dialogue or animation of any kind, which makes them feel like immovable objects plonked down carelessly around the world. The general lack of color or liveliness in most of the environments you explore just makes the imaginative world of the show feel very generic.

Finally, the number of enemies you can encounter is just laughably small, considering the game can last you over eight hours (which for an RPG isn't long, but man, there aren't any enemies). 

The Fun Will Stop and Start

I didn't enjoy my time with Pirates of the Enchiridion all that much. Sure, my first few hours were a simple, but enjoyable enough time as the mechanics slowly unfolded before me, and as a huge fan, I was very satisfied with how several key locations looked and how solid the writing was.

But it wasn't long before the few rough edges I was willing to forgive gave way to frequent technical issues that I just couldn't ignore. tTe game just didn't have enough variety or surprises up its sleeve to keep me invested.  

If the majority of these technical issues were fixed with patches and the game ran just fine, then I'd be willing to call it a decent game that fans might be able to enjoy. But in its current state, I cannot recommend this game -- whether you're a fan or not. I don't want to be too mean to Climax Studios, because it's clear they tried (and maybe they had a lot more planned for this game), but the end result can't help but feel disappointing to me as both a fan of Adventure Time and RPGs. 

If you'd like a cheaper but more refined AT game, I'd try out Hey Ice King! Why'd You Steal Our Garbage?!! or Secret of the Nameless Kingdom. If you'd like to try out a quite good turn-based RPG based on a Cartoon Network property, then try out Steven Universe: Save The Light. 

Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion is available now for PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. You can watch a trailer for the game below:

[Note: The copy of Pirates of the Enchiridion used in this review was provided by Outright Games.]

MOTHERGUNSHIP Review: Weapon Anarchy Mon, 23 Jul 2018 11:18:40 -0400 Anthony Merklinger

Earth is under siege by an alien armada. Your task: strafe, jump, shoot--and avoid dying, Recruit.

MOTHERGUNSHIP, a bullet-hell first-person shooter published by Grip Digital, introduces a muscle-tensing experience that combines the antiquity of button mashing with the zaniness of building the ultimate alien-killing machine. As you dodge hundreds of bullets, rockets, claws, and other deadly contraptions on your jaunt through uniquely generated environments (dungeons), you will find story substance is drowned under the weight of all that ammunition.

MOTHERGUNSHIP’s main campaign propels you into a series of missions to blast away at the alien armada--the Archivists--whose sole objective is to store information from the known universe. You join The Colonel’s eclectic band of Resistance rebels in a battle to save the planet from, naturally, the ultimate alien threat: Mothergunship.

The game succeeds in providing an enjoyable and fast-paced FPS experience that relies solely on the in-game crafting system. At the onset of each mission, you will have the opportunity to craft unique armaments from a combination of connectors, barrels, and caps to equip on each arm. Connectors serve as the weapon’s base that barrels (used loosely here) link to. Caps, or attachments, can be added to weapons to modify specific stats. The result? One serious BFG.

While the tone of MOTHERGUNSHIP may become exhaustive by the fifth or sixth mission (and compounded when undertaking side missions), I found myself launching each main quest with a new sense of excitement to see how well my weapon creations performed. Beyond that, the story is nothing more than a container for the mayhem to exist.

MOTHERGUNSHIP demands mobility, as even the slightest pause can result in some decent health lost. Strafing, jumping, and taking advantage of the environmental launch pads are surefire ways to complete each room, which builds in difficulty as you progress. A welcome feature was the in-mission shop zone that allowed me to upgrade weapons (especially if I launched with a severely underpowered gun) and recuperate some health via in-game currency.

The setting is wholly cohesive and complemented by a metal-based main theme, futuristic soundtrack, and digital sound effects. Most levels handled graphics smoothly; the only instance I encountered lag is when a large, main mission room seemed to bite off more than it could chew with respect to enemy population.

The pace is relatively consistent: clear a room, enter a holding tank with added voiceover for mission context, and proceed to the next round. After a few hours of playing, I thought I could anticipate the type of enemies I would be up against; however, I was pleasantly surprised these presumptions were often incorrect.

From massive missile installations and hovering laser balls to flying saws and robot dogs, MOTHERGUNSHIP does not lack enemy creativity. Fortunately, if you find yourself dying repeatedly, it is possible to upgrade your mech suit’s health reserve, speed, and jump power from the Resistance headquarters.

MOTHERGUNSHIP’s roster is subtly cliché, but nevertheless satisfying; character dialog hits its mark more often than not, and it is interesting to see how character dynamics fill the humor vacuum left by the intense gameplay. For example, Jasper, the Resistance’s second-class resident AI, houses a secret AI smuggler stowaway that conveniently supplies you with new connectors, barrels, and attachments--some rare.

In its present state, MOTHERGUNSHIP feels incomplete. The bullet mayhem offers a temporary amusement that simply cannot compensate for the story’s lack of depth--an issue that becomes more apparent with subsequent playthroughs. With new additions slated in the coming months, such as two-player co-op, the game’s full potential and replay value will take center stage. For now, weapon experimentation is king.

MOTHERGUNSHIP is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.


GameSkinny was provided a complimentary game code for the purposes of this review. Be sure to check back with GameSkinny for more on MOTHERGUNSHIP's bullet madness. 

Octopath Traveler Review: A Return to Form for Square Enix Fri, 20 Jul 2018 18:42:30 -0400 Ashley Gill

Though the turn-based JRPG genre is far from dead, you'll be hard-pressed to find someone who is able to give you list of ten stellar titles of the genre from the past decade. Doubly so if such a list would comprise of only larger non-indie releases.

Tastes change, and the market changes with them. As the market shifted to FPS games in the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era, the demand for turn-based titles seemed to be at an all-time low. For myself -- and many others at the time -- it seemed like JRPGs wouldn't be able to recuperate.

In the genre's heyday, Square Enix (then two separate companies: Squaresoft and Enix) ran amok with creative RPG titles. You had well-known series like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Chrono, and Mana; as well as some lesser-known but still relevant games like SaGa Frontier, Star Ocean: The Second Story, Grandia, and Valkyrie Profile.

The list of titles fans could pick up between the Super Nintendo and PlayStation 2/Game Boy Advance era is nearly as varied as it is extensive. The Final Fantasy series is best known for each game being as different as night and day outside of the battle and exploration elements, but it seemed every series was trying something new with each iteration at the time. And if they didn't, there was another great game with new bells and whistles sitting at your local game shop to pick up and play to keep things interesting.

I mention all of this now because Octopath Traveler seems a remnant from that time, rather than a product from the current market. Steps the genre took forward, for better or for worse, have been reversed in this time capsule of a game in ways that I thought Japanese developers had simply given up on in the quest to satisfy the almighty otaku and its endless spending budget.

Fans of the SaGa series, particularly SaGa Frontier for the PlayStation or Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song on the PlayStation 2, will find much to love in Octopath Traveler. Though this game was promoted as being similar to Final Fantasy VI and the like, Octopath takes several pages out of the SaGa series and binds them into its own book to make for a more approachable variation of virtues SaGa has clung so heavily to over the decades.

How a game like this can break out onto the market and make waves in 2018 is a wonder, but I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

The virtues of the Octopath

There's no reason to draw comparisons between SaGa and Octopath Traveler throughout this whole review. There is a need to go past the shining virtue they both share: freedom.

One of the first things you're going to realize after you finish your first story mission is that Octopath Traveler gives you virtually no guidance. You'll get some short tutorial screens covering most of the game's mechanics, and you can see where the other party members are located as well as your next story destination but the game doesn't tell you much more than that. It sets you loose and tells you to have fun. I have to tell you, as a 20-year SaGa fan, the freedom granted absolutely tickled me.

Being given no guidance on where smaller dungeons or objectives are is only one part of the openness the player can experience here.

Each character is able to perform Path Actions, which allow them to interact with NPCs in town. Path Actions are generally used to get items off of NPCs, move them out of the way, or find out more about them but they are not that cut-and-dry.

There are technically only four different types of Path Actions, with each type having two variations. For example, both Alfyn the apothecary and Cyrus the scholar are able to extract the same information from NPCs. The difference is Alfyn's Analyze will always succeed, while Cyrus's Scrutinize may fail and reduce your reputation in the town the NPC is located in.

This trend continues with the other characters. Both Olberic and H'aanit can fight NPCs in town, but Olberic fights alone via Duel and will not lose reputation on loss. H'aanit fights using only her captured animals via Provoke and, upon loss, will lose reputation in town if you lose.

This system allows for a couple of things, the first being the ability to essentially ransack a town, and the other being Octopath's side quest system.

Like the SaGa series (I'm sorry, I just can't help but compare), side quests are noted in your journal to keep track but the solution to these issues is almost never obvious. A fisherman's complaining about the lack of fish in the local river, what do you do? There seems to be a guy out in the field catching the fish the reach town, but telling the other NPC won't help. You have to beat the illicit fisherman up via Duel or Provoke to teach him a lesson about sharing.

This is about the amount of information you have when setting out on a new side quest.

These sorts of quests are found all throughout the game, from the first chapter all the way to the end. Much of your time chasing side quest objectives ends up boiling down to talking to NPCs in town, Analyzing or Scrutinizing them, and reading the text to get hints about what to do. Sometimes a side quest's relevant NPC is all the way on the other side of the world. Once you figure it out, it's up to you to take the time to complete the quest or not. It's easy to imagine non-completionists ignoring side quests that are particularly troublesome. There are several potential steps to finish any given side quest.

The ability to traverse and explore the world on your own terms is a rare one among Japanese RPGs, particularly today. Fortunately that's not the only throwback worth mentioning in Octopath Traveler's array of classic mechanics. The game also features a class system reminiscent of certain older RPGs to allow for party and gameplay flexibility, something that's fun in both function and thought. It also features a battle system that some older RPGs would have died for.

Turn-based goodness and random battles galore

You just can't talk about a game like this without bringing up the battle system, particularly since you end up spending so much time in battle.

There are two things to specifically note about the battle system here: much of combat boils down to weakness exploitation, and the default encounter rate is high.

You spend a great deal of your time in combat in Octopath Traveler due to both of those factors. You will rarely do heavy damage to enemies without breaking their guard, and the high encounter rate means you'll be running into them every few seconds when exploring.

This is something I have a hard time finding fault with, even if I want to try. I find myself thinking about skill usage regularly because the game demands you exploit their weaknesses to thrive, which makes frequent random battles fun more than frustrating -- though it would be disingenuous to say that sometimes the high encounter rate is not frustrating. Sometimes, when you're just trying to get a chest on a side path and want to keep moving, it truly is.

You can curb the high encounter rate using the Evasive Maneuvers special skill, which you'll get first on Cyrus. Evasive Maneuvers is great when exploring areas where the enemies are weaker than you are but can be a real detriment when you are exploring the unknown and need the EXP from battle. I recommend using it sparingly. 

Your party characters play very differently from each other in battle, which is a boon to the combat system. H'aanit can capture monsters and use them as skills in-battle, Tressa can hire mercenaries to swoop in and wail on your enemies with a strong attack, Alfyn can concoct restorative and elemental-exploitative skills in battle by consuming herbs; the list goes on.

The variety in gameplay options between each character keeps battles interesting. Though often the solution to easier battles is to let Cyrus or whoever you are using with the scholar subjob nuke enemies into dust, more often than not each battle will be a little different depending on what you have available and enemy weaknesses.

Along with all of the above is the use of BP, or Boost Points. Each character starts a battle with one BP and accumulates one more (up to a maximum of five) each turn. You can choose to consume up to three of a character's BP to increase the effectiveness of the skill they're using that turn. If you use it on a damage skill, it will increase the amount of damage it does. If you use it on a restorative skill, it will increase its effectiveness. If you use your BP on a regular attack, that character will attack multiple times within a turn.

There are a lot of good things to say about the battle system in Octopath Traveler, and the Boost Point system is probably one of the best aspects. It's great that each character has its own unique skills in combat, but the ability to break an enemy's guard and then just tear them to shreds with some BP-enhanced attacks is extremely satisfying at times and adds a whole other layer to combat as a whole. You have no choice but to learn to use your BP to your benefit.

Considering the amount of time you have to spend in battle, it rarely gets boring outside of those times when you really just don't want to fight anything. Though I do have to admit, I've made at least one comment about the encounter rate approaching Xenogears-levels of incessant.

The classic look done modern

I knocked the Final Fantasy VI comparison earlier in this review, but there is one way Octopath Traveler does resemble its classic predecessor. Character and enemy sprites do have the sort of detail one might expect from a modern 2D remake of the aforementioned Final Fantasy titan.

The main party character sprites are detailed and lively, and would not look out of place in a PlayStation-era RPG aside from their high-def pixels. The outfits that come with subjobs are the icing on top of a cake that's already plenty filling.

Enemy sprites are also highly detailed and would fit in right at home with enemy designs of yore, and some bosses... Well, let's just say you should see them for yourself.

Such attractive sprites would almost be wasted on any other graphical style as they mesh perfectly with the game's pseudo-3D environments. The game's environments almost look like pages out of a pixelated popup book. The effect is much more impressive when playing the game yourself than in screenshots or videos, especially if you turn off corner shadows in options.

It would be a disservice to the fine people behind the game and especially composer Yasunori Nishiki not to mention Octopath Traveler's fantastic soundtrack at this point. As with the visuals, the music is a creative fusion of old and new.

The game's music is more complex than the RPGs it takes inspiration from, but that doesn't make the battle themes less memorable nor the town themes less distinct. The soundtrack behind the game stands on its own and is an impressive effort from Nishiki. It would not be a surprise if we see him in the credits for more RPGs in the future. His compositions here are perfectly suitable.

All the praise.. so why a 9?

There are some games you play and you know you will be able to recommend them to everyone you know. I certainly would like to do that, but there's a caveat that comes with freedom in these sorts of games: an inability to figure out what to do.

This isn't something I had much trouble with in the game as a long-time SaGa player, but most people haven't played or even heard of SaGa for a reason. Trying to figure out where to go or what to do can be frustrating, and a lot of people don't have the patience for that.

Octopath Traveler is easily my favorite Square Enix RPG in years but the fact is these sorts of RPGs are not for everyone. Just because I enjoy stealing from and analyzing every interactive NPC I come across in the hopes of stealing something good or getting a hint about a quest doesn't mean the gaming populace as a whole will like it. I like messing around in menus, grinding, and getting lost in RPGs. It's likely you may not.

In addition, the game is not particularly story-focused. There is some party dialogue after story events after chapter 2 (provided you initiate it), but the plot is a big part of the experience for most RPG gamers. It is not an especially large factor in the overall Octopath journey. I found myself not caring about the plot in the least. I just wanted to progress my party and explore, which I did and am still doing with my Switch in sleep mode next to me.

If any combination of facets mentioned here sounds good, you may very well fall in love with Octopath Traveler much the same way I did. It has been so long since I've played a completely fresh Japanese RPG with such freedom, that in my case this game is a completely welcome but familiar experience from start to finish. I did not know games like this could still come out of Japan today sans the odd remake. In some ways Octopath Traveler feels like a return to form, and I am very thankful it's finally come.

[Writer was granted a free copy of the game for review purposes.]

Sonic Mania Plus Review: Simply the Best Tue, 17 Jul 2018 15:51:38 -0400 Ashley Gill

I'll be the first to admit I make some bad purchasing decisions when it comes to Sonic the Hedgehog games. Those decisions being buying them, then buying them again. And maybe again. I'm not really sure how many platforms I have Sonic 3 & Knuckles on, but it's more than five.

Last year's release of Sonic Mania brought back the feel and style of classic 2D Sonic that Sonic Team and Dimps struggled to recreate with the episodic Sonic 4, and it quickly became regarded as one of the best -- if not the best --Sonic games to date. There is something to be said for the Sonic fangame developers behind Mania and their understanding of what made the classic games memorable and fun.

Sonic Mania Plus brings the experience of the original Mania release back with a few tricks up its sleeve, some that may seem insignificant on paper but bring the whole game together into a complete package. It's a package that can satisfy both fans and newcomers with its signature '90s style.

What's in Plus?

The most obvious addition to Sonic Mania Plus is the characters Ray the squirrel and Mighty the armadillo, both of which have their roots in the arcade-only SegaSonic the Hedgehog. These two characters aren't just for show, either -- each has its own unique maneuvers for you to play with.

Ray, an enthusiastic and nimble squirrel, is able to glide mid-air much like Mario with his cape in Super Mario World. You tilt backward to catch some air and hover, tilt forward to take a dive. Unlike Knuckles and Tails, Ray can get some tremendous momentum when airborne provided you take the time to master his gliding ability.

Mighty, an armadillo in name and function, is immune to spike damage when jumping or spin dashing. Often you can jump onto spikes a single time and bounce right off. Mighty is also able to slam down into the ground with a double jump press, and he has a slightly higher jump than the rest of the cast. Ray is fun, but Mighty's slightly higher jump and mid-air spike immunity bring huge benefits.

These new characters and their brand-new abilities are perfectly suited to the new, remixed levels found in Sonic Mania Plus's new Encore mode.

Encore mode looks different at first glance, and it doesn't take long to figure out you're not in regular ol' Mania mode anymore. The levels in Encore mode have been tweaked to allow for Ray and Mighty to shine, with obstacles just for them, along with a wealth of new challenges spread throughout each zone.

Encore as a whole is the more difficult of the two modes, no contest. The new pinball-style special stages are more forgiving than the Sonic 3-style special stages in the original release, but the new Chaos Emerald stages (which are functionally the same as the original release) are brutal. I think I hate them, but practice makes perfect.

Along with the new obstacles found in Encore mode is the new character-swapping feature, which has you control two characters at once much like you would with Sonic and Tails normally. You can swap between them with a button press, but the characters you have will rotate frequently. Special boxes are scattered about to swap your characters, culminating to no two playthroughs ever being the same. You can also use the new characters for individual playthroughs in Mania mode.


The new Competitive mode is a throwback (pullback?) to the multiplayer modes of yore found in Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 & Knuckles, with little to no changes to how the mode worked in those games. This isn't a complaint -- I loved racing friends and family in those multiplayer modes -- but it is something to note.

In Competitive, you can change how many rounds you face off in, whether there's a time limit, and which item sets are available. You are also able to choose whether you want the screen to be stretched out like in the old days or squished to not look awful. I recommend the second choice, but purists will go for the first without question.

His face is about right for the old stretched screen view.

Something you may notice is that the game is advertised as having co-op. You expect that in a 2D Sonic game that lets you have both Sonic and Tails out at once, and I had hoped Encore mode would allow for two players as you have two characters out at a time. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Encore mode is entirely singleplayer, meaning the only co-op you'll find here lies in the Sonic and Tails combo in Mania mode. This is the only thing I have to complain about with this release, but even that is a small complaint. It doesn't matter in the face of all the good found here in Sonic Mania Plus.

The best around

It's rare an original game can take me back 25 years, gaming the hours away in front of the T.V. with my Sega Genesis and Nintendo. Sonic Mania did that last year and Plus does it even better with the addition of Ray, Mighty, and the remixed stages in Encore mode.

Exploring with Ray and Mighty's abilities in Mania mode and Encore mode make the game feel brand new. More than that, it makes me feel like a bright-eyed kid who just got the latest Sonic game and is discovering that it is just as awesome as the commercials claimed it would be. I almost want to buy some Bagel Bites and Capri Suns to complete the illusion.

Sonic Mania Plus did the impossible and made what was already the best new 2D Sonic since the Sega CD even better. There is only one word to describe Sonic Mania Plus and that is rad. I am not sure what Christian Whitehead and the others behind the game have in store for the future, but I hope it leads to more stellar '90s-style platformers like we see here with Mania Plus. The only thing keeping this baby from a 10 is the lack of multiplayer in Encore mode, but one can still call this the perfect Sonic game regardless.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of the game used in this review.]

Shining Resonance: Refrain Review -- Dragons be Chopin Sun, 15 Jul 2018 18:58:44 -0400 Autumn Fish

I'll be honest, JRPGs just don't grip me unless there's something truly unique about them. I've probably only played a handful in my life that I can say I've actually enjoyed. I'm not entirely sure what it is, considering I tend to enjoy many western RPGs, but that's just the way of things I suppose.

So when I say I found Shining Resonance: Refrain rather interesting, that's not a statement you should take especially lightly. It definitely came with its fair share of problems and features I wasn't quite fond of, but its theme resonated with me in a way that I can't say many other RPGs have.

Shining Resonance: Refrain -- A Sweet Melody or Dissonant Chords?

SR:R is a remake of a PS3 game that never made it out of Japan. It's the last game in a series with roots that stretch all the way back to 1991 on the Sega Genesis. It's about a boy, Yuma, who discovers he has the power of the strongest World Dragon inside of him, the Shining Dragon. It's a great and terrifying power that threatens to rend the world asunder if he ever loses control of it.

At the start of the game, he's saved from the dank cells of the Empire's prison by a Princess of a warring nation and a renown Dragoneer, wielding one of the seven legendary Armonics -- a powerful magical instrument that can commune with dragons and serves as a weapon in combat. And this is where the game hooked me.

Not only does this title promise you the rare opportunity to beat down your foes as a mighty dragon, but everything about it sings to the music geek inside of me. The strange and fascinating fixation on dragons and music was enough to keep me playing for dozens of hours. On the flip side, however, I regret to say that this concoction was most of what kept me going that whole time.

I didn't have a ton of expectations going into it, however, I did find myself pretty excited when I found out about the music aspect of the game. Additionally, I can't recall a time where I've ever played as a dragon in a video game before, especially not in a live action combat system, so I was pretty hyped to see how it would turn out.

So how did I feel once I finally got my hands on the game? Well...

Shining Resonance Refrain BAND performance

Where it Harmonizes

Shining Resonance: Refrain does a few things rather well. While I can't say the story ever left an impression on me, it wasn't bad. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say it's pretty good, but it's certainly nothing phenomenal. There aren't a lot of big mysteries, twists, or surprises, and things start to become fairly predictable after a fashion.

Rather than the story compelling me forward, though, I was rather hooked on the characters. A lot of them follow pretty traditional anime tropes, but their personalities still shine strong and a lot of them turn out to be pretty interesting. You'll even see a lot of character growth throughout the game, not just from the initially timid main character, but for the rest of the cast as well.

If you're looking to take a deeper dive into your party members, you can even utilize the game's romance system. Yuma, the main character, can date both the guys and the girls in the party, and he's not restricted to one partner, either. However, you'll ultimately only be able to see the relationship "ending" of one character in a save file.

As you build your relationships with your party members, they will gain traits that you can equip in the Bond Diagram. This diagram allows you to arrange characters next to each other in order to determine who's buffing or benefiting who in combat. It's a pretty unique, deep, and rather uncomplicated system if you're willing to spend the time fiddling with it.

In combat, there's a sweet B.A.N.D. system that you can utilize if you have at least two Armonic-wielding Dragoneers in your party. You build up your B.A.N.D. meter simply by attacking enemies. Once it's filled past its minimum threshold, you can play a song that has different buffs depending on who's at the center of the B.A.N.D. You'll even learn new songs to play as you progress in the main story.

Shining Resonance Refrain Dragon Roaring

And while we're talking about neat combat mechanics, I have to say that fighting as a dragon is pretty cool, and I honestly think that the whole mechanic is really well designed. When playing as Yuma, you can transform into a dragon at any time for a considerable power boost. However, it slowly drains his pool of MP over time. To add to it, if you try any action as a dragon while your MP is too low -- around half -- then you run the risk of going berserk and losing control of the dragon.

When the dragon goes berserk, it attacks anything and everything indiscriminately, and can do some serious damage to your party if you're not careful. The only way to soothe it or prevent it from going berserk entirely is to start a B.A.N.D. session in combat. Heck, having an active B.A.N.D. will even benefit the dragon and allow it to break the enemy's guard with its most basic attacks, so using the two special abilities in tandem tends to pan out well.

Not everything about combat is sunshine and rainbows, however.

The Grating Dissonance

Combat is something of a mixed bag. It has some good elements, but ultimately it ends up feeling off and like it doesn't bring a lot to the table. Swinging your weapons feels awkward and the system of casting spells -- or "Forces" -- isn't dissimilar to how it is in most JRPGs. The live action combat tricked me into a false security of the game being somewhat skill-based. Unfortunately, though, several enemy attacks aren't even telegraphed in time for you to get out of your own dreadfully long attack animations and react.

On top of that, if your party levels aren't up to snuff, you're going to be in for a world of hurt. It's amazing how big of a difference 3 measly levels actually make when it comes down to it, let alone trying to face off against main story bosses that have a solid 5-7 levels on you. This leads to a necessity of a bit of grinding, or at least the tenacity to kill every single enemy between you and your next objective. With the clunky combat, though, this can quickly turn into a chore.

Shining Resonance Refrain Combat

Let's take a turn to talk about the map and level design. I'm almost inclined to say, "What level design?" It's really not that great. Every map, including the singular hub town, feels so simplistic and bare bones that they're boring to run through from the start. And it doesn't help that you're forced to revisit maps a lot, rarely ever granting you the opportunity to see new places. There isn't really a fast travel system, either, except for an item you can buy to teleport you back to the hub.

There are of course some items spread about the maps -- a few materials and a couple of rare treasure chests -- that are supposed to add to your sense of exploration, and while it did compel me to check around every corner, the maps just felt ultimately boring and uninspired. This is something I see in a lot of JRPGs, unfortunately, and it puts me off every time. I don't need a great big open world game to be satisfied, but I would like areas with at least a bit of thought put into them.

I was originally willing to write off the poor level design and clunky combat as drawbacks of this being a port of a PS3 game, but then I remembered just how much could be accomplished on a PS3. I mean, games like Dark Souls and Skyrim were originally released on that console, and they definitely weren't lacking quite like this.

Finally, let's talk about side quests. This game is the shining example of how not to do side quests. It almost feels like I'm playing an MMO, the side quests are that monotonous. And some of them are endlessly repeatable, too. Which I suppose is nice if you're going for certain rewards from them, but I only ever even found a few of them worthwhile. There's game content locked behind a few of them, too, so it's unwise to pass them over, I just wish they were a little more compelling.

As a closing note, it'd be wrong to talk about a game that has so many musical elements without touching on the music itself. Unfortunately, it's not that great. There is a track or two that was catchy enough to get stuck in my head for awhile after putting the game down, and some music may even sound rather pleasant upon first hearing it, but every track quickly wore on me the more I heard them. It's unfortunate, really, because this is the one part of the game where I had relatively high expectations.

Shining Resonance Refrain Sonia Asking You on a Date

Verdict: Just a Bit Offbeat

Shining Resonance: Refrain has such a mesmerizing theme with its focus on dragons and music, and while I was able to stick with the game for several hours because of it, it ultimately wasn't enough to save it for me. While the game featured some unique mechanics and interesting characters, the clunky gameplay just killed the experience for me. Maybe most JRPGs just aren't for me.

If you're a fan of JRPGs and think the concept of playing as a dragon and beating up enemies with musical instruments is pretty rad, then you'll probably enjoy this game a lot. If you're interested in strong characters and potentially getting to know them on a romantic level, you may like this game too. Otherwise, I'm not really sure if I can personally recommend dropping the money on this.

It's got a great concept, I just wish it was executed a bit better.

Shining Resonance: Refrain is available now for $50 on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

[Writer was granted a review copy of the game from the publisher.]

Mario Tennis Aces Review: Ball, Meet Net Fri, 13 Jul 2018 13:41:33 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

As a journalist, it's my job to fairly review the games I'm assigned; to rate them on their merits and the amount of fun I have playing them while trying to limit external bias, or at least mention it up front. A video game review should inform somebody whether or not they'll enjoy the game in question, regardless of whether or not they share my views on what makes a game fun. This is what makes writing this Mario Tennis Aces review so hard.

As a game, I can find very little to fault it for, and yet the game left me wanting because it could have been and should have been so much better. So where does that leave us – you, the folks who want to know whether Mario Tennis Aces is worth your hard-earned money, and me, the guy that has to tell you? Well let's start the Mario Tennis Aces review like this:

Mario Tennis Aces is the best Mario Tennis game in over a decade. If you're jonesing for more Mario Tennis action, buy the game now and don't look back.

A Clean Stroke

Where Mario Tennis Aces really shines is in its core gameplay. Nintendo has stripped away a lot of the extra trimmings of previous iterations of the Mario Tennis series (items, in particular) to focus on retooling the way the game actually works.

To be successful in Mario Tennis Aces, you'll really have to be strategic. Sure, you have the five main shot types to play with – a topspin shot that speeds up after the first bounce, a powerful flat shot, a curving slice, and drop shots and lobs to catch out-of-position opponents. That's no surprise.

Mario Tennis Aces switches things up by adding what is essentially a super meter to the game. You can burn this meter to go into slow motion to return a shot, burn a third of it to unleash a super-powerful shot you can direct anywhere on the court, or burn a full meter to use a special shot that's even more powerful. Nintendo has also added in trick shots that allow characters to return shots even if they're way out of position.

When all of this comes together, what results is an incredibly engaging, heart-pounding experience where every single swing of the racket comes with risk and reward. Do you risk charging up a shot to build meter while knowing you might get caught out of position, or will you play it safe? Will you go for a trick shot with an empty meter, knowing that if you're late on the timing, you'll serve up a meatball for your opponent? The core push-and-pull on display in Mario Tennis Aces is exquisite, and goes a long way in covering up the game's, well, faults. Tennis pun intended.


I'm going to get this out of the way first since it's the thing that disappointed me the most about the game – the highly-touted adventure mode in Mario Tennis Aces won't take you more than 3 hours or so to complete, depending on how experienced you are. That wouldn't be an issue on its own, but in the lead-up to the game's release, Nintendo pitched this adventure mode as a sort of return to the sports RPG modes present in the Mario Tennis and Mario Golf games for the Game Boy Advance. This... isn't that.

To be fair, the adventure mode isn't just a tutorial – there is at least a bit of meat on these bones – and it does get challenging, especially if you're looking to get that coveted 100%. But the RPG mechanics here are tacked-on at best, and none of your equipped rackets feel different from any others. There aren't any real engaging tennis puzzles, or any encounters that shine with the kind of creativity Nintendo is known for. Maybe I've been spoiled by Golf Story, but I really was expecting more here.

While it might not be entirely fair to expect a full single-player campaign from an arcade sports game, what's much less forgivable is the fact that Mario Tennis Aces launched without a whole bunch of play options that seem necessary for an arcade sports title.

First of all, and perhaps most damningly, there are only two match lengths to choose from – a tiebreaker first-to-6-points format, and a best-of-3 game format that is laughably titled “extended play”. No options for a 3 set match, even though the adventure mode features them. You can't even pick the extended play option if you're playing online (unless you're with friends). It's Wimbledon season. There's no excuse for not having options for 3, 5, and 7 game sets, and 1, 3, and 5-set matches.

The problems get even worse when you're trying to play against your buddies. There are no options for creating a private online tournament for friends, or even any options for hosting a pass-and-play local tournament. There are countless minor oversights like this, and they really do add up.

Oh, and we'd be remiss if we didn't mention that as of the publication of this Mario Tennis Aces review, Bowser Jr. has rendered competitive play completely broken since he can charge shots at will and return pretty much anything that's thrown at him. This will likely continue to be the case unless Nintendo decides to issue balance patches for the game as they add new characters.

Service Ace

Speaking of adding new characters, that's something that Nintendo seems to have gotten right.

So far, Nintendo has announced 3 free characters to be added in August, September, and October, though you can unlock them a month early if you enter an online tournament before their release. If their recent games (or the size of the character select screen) is any indication, they're planning on adding even more through the fall and winter.

Nintendo didn't skimp on stages here either. Though at first blush it seems like there's only one competitive, hazard-free stage available for play out of a total of seven (not counting palette swaps), Mario Tennis Aces took a page out of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's book and added the ability for players to disable stage hazards, which is much appreciated. In addition, the main tennis court you'll play on looks incredible, and has variants for both clay, grass, and hard court surfaces. There really are a lot of options to customize your play, which makes it insanely frustrating that Nintendo didn't make them available across all the different play modes.

Match Point

Mario Tennis Aces is a frustrating type of game, and not just when you're trying to rally the ball with Kamek 400 times to beat that darn rally challenge. 95% of the time you're playing the game, you'll be having a pulse-pounding blast. The core concept behind the gameplay is incredibly satisfying. There's nothing like the feeling of baiting an opponent to play the net and then launching a lob shot right above them to win the point.

But every so often the game will get in its own way and one of those nagging issues will come up. You'll have friends over and want to set up a tournament so everyone can play together. You'll want to play an extended competitive match. You'll get matched up with a Bowser Jr. player online.

The good news is that most of these gripes seem like they could be easily fixed with a patch. But the fact remains that out of the box, this game fails to achieve its full potential – which is sad, because the game truly is, currently, the best arcade sports experience on the Switch. It's a shame that Nintendo felt they had to rush it out to capitalize on Wimbledon and key features are nowhere to be found. With just a little bit more development time, Mario Tennis Aces could have been an all-time classic in the series. It's a solid game but it falls short of becoming a classic.

Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection Review Fri, 13 Jul 2018 13:15:00 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Nostalgia can be a powerful seductress. It often colors our objective judgement, having us look back on our youth as halcyon and carefree. When something like the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection comes along, the adolescent world warrior in us looks upon it with gilded glasses, fawning over what we think we remember.

We see the gorgeous packaging, the high-octane trailers, and the clever marketing and remind ourselves that "those games were good -- great, even". We tell ourselves that everything was simpler when that iconic music wafted from our television's speakers and those indelible characters fluttered across our screens in rapturous martial arts glory.

We tell ourselves that these games were more challenging and most importantly, more fun than some of the games of today. That they "had" something. Given the perspective of 30 years, that simple definition of fun begins to grow terribly tenuous. 

All things being equal, the 12 games in the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection are classics that still hold up today. However, there's a little wrinkle here you may not have considered or known about. These entries are the arcade ROMs of these classic fighting games, not the console versions you fondly remember. 

Programmed to take all of your quarters, the games in this collection are utterly relentless in their mission to steal your sanity. Casuals beware: this game just ain't (that) fair -- no matter how you cut it. 

When Getting Gud's Not Enough

There's no doubt playing difficult games and overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds is one of the trademarks of gaming. It's something that bestows upon the player immense pride and gratification. However, it all becomes a different story when the odds are so overwhelmingly stacked against you that fun devolves into demoralization. 

I've played my fair share of Street Fighter games. Alpha 3, which is part of this collection, is still one of my favorite fighting games of all time. I practiced for hours to get the high score that would unlock Shin Akuma and still remember my numb thumbs forging ahead with determined purpose after each failed attempt until finally, victory. 

Sure, that was more than 15 years ago and sure, my sensibilities have changed in that time, but the Alpha 3 found in the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection is way, way, way harder than the Alpha 3 released on the original PlayStation. Even Street Fighter II Turbo, which I can handily beat on my dusty SNES, is nearly impossible to complete when you go up against the spammy likes of E. Honda, Vega, and M. Bison.  

I'm not trying to spiral into a whiny diatribe here, but I'm saying all of this to drill home the fact that these games are brutally, sometimes spitefully, difficult. A.I. opponents will do everything to win a match but outright cheat -- and sometimes I'm not sure the computer isn't cheating.

Animations are mostly fluid, but some do miss opponents for no reason at all. Sometimes they hit, sometimes they don't. Neither the rhyme nor the reason is clear, which can lead to increasingly frustrated play. Input lag appears non-existent -- or at least not a major contributing factor -- but precision is even more imperative when attacks don't like to connect like they should. That's not to mention that characters in some of the games, particularly Street Fighter II, have basically unblocakble attacks that almost instantly melt your entire life bar (I'm looking at you, E. Honda and Vega). 

You can beat these games (with the possible exception of the awfully janky and nigh unplayable Street Fighter), but your thumbs will bleed. I'd suggest investing in a fight stick if you want to go the distance with the 30th Anniversary Collection. You'll thank me in the end. 

What You Get and Don't Get

Despite my reservations about the collection's difficulty curve and overpowered A.I., the 30th Anniversary is one of the better ways to play these classic games on modern consoles. If you're not into emulating, don't have a subscription to PlayStation Now, or don't want to buy the games individually on Xbox Live (which can get pricey), this collection is currently your only choice.  

So what do you get for $39.99? For starters, you get a loosely labeled 12 Street Fighter games. I say "loosely" because five of them are one iteration or another of Street Fighter II, while three of them are one of the iterations of Street Fighter III. The remaining three are in the Alpha series. Here are the specifics: 

  • Street Fighter
  • Street Fighter II
  • Street Fighter II: Champion Edition
  • Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting
  • Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers
  • Super Street Fighter II: Turbo
  • Street Fighter Alpha
  • Street Fighter Alpha 2
  • Street Fighter Alpha 3
  • Street Fighter III
  • Street Fighter III: 2nd Impact Giant Attack
  • Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike

That's a great deal of content for the price point. The only downside with the games themselves is that again, these are the arcade ROMs. That means they won't have all the bells and whistles that are associated with their console counterparts. For example, Alpha 3 doesn't have World Tour Mode, while Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike doesn't have the online version's trial mode.  

That's a small(ish) price to pay for what you do get, but since I'm a tad salty about not having every, single thing in one package, it's worth noting again. 

A Series Retrospective

On the plus side of things, you'll find an extensive Museum Mode that is a veritable encyclopedia of Street Fighter knowledge. Having just read Undisputed Street Fighter: A 30th Anniversary Retrospective (which we'll have a review for soon and I highly recommend), it was great to see some of that book featured in the collection. 

When you enter the museum, you'll find four options: History, Characters, Music, and the Making of Street Fighter. The complete history comes as an easy-to-digest timeline. Most entries have micro-encyclopedic entries and all cards have fantastic artwork. It's a great way to see the progression of the series. 

The Characters option is even more in depth. Here you'll find dossiers on each character in the series up to 3rd Impact. If you've ever wanted to know Chun-Li's origins or Ken's likes and dislikes -- or what fighting style Blanka uses -- this is your one-stop shop and it is far prettier than any wiki page. 

The Music section is exactly what it sounds like. This is where you'll find all of the iconic music from every game in the collection. And these aren't just snippets: they're full music tracks -- and even now in the Internet Age, it's hard to find high-quality files of these songs, so this is a welcomed perk. 

Finally, we come to what many will see as the coup de gras: the Making of Street Fighter section. Here you'll find the original six-page Street Fighter pitch document, a 72-page making of Street Fighter II document, a 26-page Street Fighter Alpha development document, and an 89-page Street Fighter III development document. All of these pages have captions, original artwork, and even the original notes for the moves and controls. If you wanted one of the best behind-the-scenes looks at the series, this is one of your best bets. 

Online Multiplayer

I'll go ahead and say it: I'm terrible at Street Fighter online multiplayer. My reflexes just aren't quick enough, I suppose. Or, more likely, I'm just somehow more anxious than I am when facing off against an opponent in the flesh. I'm not bad in person, really. However, regardless of how good (or terrible) I am at SF online multiplayer, the 30th Anniversary Collection does an admirable job of giving players who are interested in the mode something to chew on.

Whether you stand victorious over your opponents or get utterly humiliated, you've got several option to choose from: online arcade, ranked matches, and casual matches. You can create lobbies for friends and join lobbies, of course, and there's a leaderboard to track all of your progress through the ranks. 

You can further tweak your experience by changing your lobby's skill level from novice through advanced, changing your lobby type from public to private, changing your input lag, and changing your connection strength. Most of that is pretty pedestrian stuff for online multiplayer, but changing your difficulty is a nice touch, letting you face opponents that are (theoretically) closer to your experience level.  

Overall, I had a somewhat "difficult" time finding matches. At the beginning, I found that I would often wait somewhere between one and three full minutes to find a match, but after resetting everything in the multiplayer menus to default, I found matches a lot more quickly. So although I didn't spend an exorbitant amount of time with the online multiplayer component, I feel it's safe to say that the more you tweak and hone your options, the harder it will be to quickly find a match. It's a shame because it shows that not as many players are duking it out as there should be.

Lastly, it's worth noting that while you can play all of the collection's 12 games in local multiplayer, you can only play four of them in online multiplayer: Super Street Fighter II TurboStreet Fighter II Turbo: Hyper FightingStreet Fighter Alpha 3, and Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. If you know anything about the competitive scenes for these games, you know that these are the only four games worth playing against other players in any real competitive sense. 


Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection isn't perfect. In fact, it's more likely to speak to series purists than the casual SF gamer. Those that grew up during the height of the Street Fighter arcade period will find an experience only rivaled by the actual arcade cabinets themselves. Those who grew up with these games on consoles may be a wee bit disappointed. 

However, even if you are bit jaded that these are "just" arcade ROMs, there's plenty here to be excited about. At $39.99, this collection is still hard to beat. Sure, you'll have to sharpen your street fighting skills, but this is the perfect game by which to do that. 

My only real reservations are that the game is overly difficult and frustrating at times, that it's hard to find tailored online matches, and that all of the console goodies aren't included. Tweak those three things (read: make this a console collection instead) and this would get a near perfect score. But since it's an arcade collection, nothing's going to change that, and console curmudgeons like me just need to get over it. 

You can buy the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection on Amazon for PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. You can purchase it for Windows on Steam

[Note: Capcom provided the copy of Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection used for this review.]

Forget Diplomacy, There Is Only War In Warhammer 40K: Gladius Mon, 09 Jul 2018 11:01:50 -0400 Ty Arthur

After getting to try out a limited alpha with just one faction, we've finally gotten our emperor-worshiping hands on the final release version of Warhammer 40,000: Gladius - Relics Of War.

In the darkness of the far future there is only war, and Gladius offers that up with grim abandon in an extremely satisfying turn-based format that simplifies the 4X style into a full-on combat game.

4X 40K 4Ever!

As a franchise known for RTS, FPS, and mobile titles, going 4X is a nice twist, and one that works better than you'd think. The eXplore and eXterminate sides are easily the most heavily showcased, but there's plenty of resource gathering, city building, and technology researching going on as well.

Somewhat like Dark Crusade and Soulstorm, this is a game that's more about the mechanics than the backing story, with tons of options in terms of map size and features to choose for a variety of matches.

Battles can balloon into huge engagements that get out of control very quickly, with death bots, heretic tech priests, guardsmen, Kroot hounds, enslavers, Orks, and Necron soldiers all annihilating one another in a small space.

Playing around with the map options here can result in some ludicrous (and kinda awesome) matchups, like adding 10 extra AI players into a small map. At one point I actually crashed the game by adding too many starting factions, so there's an instance of the indie nature of the game that needs to be addressed with a day 1 patch.

 This ended up being more "planetary genocide" than "war"

Conquering Gladius Prime

Although there are unique quests for each faction, the early game will be quite similar for all four as you start acquiring tiles, battling Kroot hounds, and avoiding those giant killer robots.

Where the game's main differences truly show up are in the playstyle between the factions and their research trees. A wide range of unit types and vehicles are available for each faction, with more combat stats and options than in your typical 4X game.

Space Marines for instance only have one main city with smaller hubs, while Necrons can build entnirely new cities on tombs to spread like a plague. Those metallic deathless warriors also have a huge advantage if you keep your resources up at all times -- the ability to institute Rapid Rise to get units out faster.

Orks expand and gain resources directly through fighting more than building, while the squishy Astra Militarum are large in number and have indiscriminate long range power but are much weaker on other fronts. That's the faction to pick if you want a challenge and need to try the game from a totally different view point.

 Necrons are all about efficiency and combat superiority

Got 99 Problems But A Jammed Bolter Ain't One

Gladius isn't a perfect game, and there are some downsides, noticeably with the graphics that are a little cartoonish and rough.

Models like the Kroot hounds seem particularly lo-res. For some this will be a bigger deal, but it actually reminds me a bit of the classic turn based 40K games from an earlier age of PC gaming and provided a bit of nostalgia.

As mentioned before, there's not much of a story going on, just basic objectives for each faction to try to take control of the planet, but that's essentially to be expected of 40K games at this point.

There are also limited factions for a strategy game, although it seems like Chaos must be coming down the line as an entry for the Lord Of Skulls DLC appears in the map options.

Finally, there's no diplomacy at all, but frankly it wouldn't make sense in the game universe. This is 4X stripped down to its combat, exploratory form, as it should be for a game set in the grim darkness of the 41st millennium. 

 The battlefield will become congested with combatants if you don't move strategically

Not Buying This Game Is Heresy

Of all the Games Workshop-licensed games that have arrived lately, this is the one that I could foresee actually playing the most despite the handful of flaws.

The game is fairly complex but without the massive learning curve of Total War, and much more consistently satisfying than the unpolished FPS experience that was Space Hulk: Deathwing.

Even if you have absolutely no experience with this genre, anyone who loved the earlier Dawn Of War games will feel at home here with a lot of the mechanics and terminology. For what is clearly an indie game, Gladius absolutely delivers, and all Warhammer fans should be picking this one up at the earliest possibility.

Logitech G560 RGB Gaming Speakers Review Thu, 05 Jul 2018 12:25:41 -0400 Jonathan Moore

It's been a long time since I had a legit speaker system for my computer -- probably somewhere around 15 years, I'd wager. Typically, I rely on the catalog of awesome gaming headsets at my disposal, many of them in the Logitech G line. Plus, living in an apartment kind of complicates having big, booming stereo systems. 

But now that I'm in a brick and mortar house in the Atlanta 'burbs, all bets are off. And because of the uber-powerful Logitech G560 I've got hooked up to my rig, it's very possible my neighbors still hate me, despite us not sharing walls. 

Honestly, though: I don't care. Outside of a few quirks I can begrudgingly get over, Logitech's G560 RGB gaming speakers rival some of the best speaker systems on offer from companies like Vizio and Samsung. If you're in the market for loud, surround sound speakers for your rig that support DTS:X Ultra and don't break the bank, you'll want to keep reading. 

Unboxing and Design

A wise Logitech G marketer once said, "Gaming is at its best when you can get lost in the experience of play." In my many hours using the G560 speaker system, I've found Logitech's setup does just that. 

The brainchild of Logitech's sound team and Logitech G's design team, the G560 looks fantastically sleek out of the box. Coming in a fine matte black, these speakers will instantly fit in with your desktop setup, which is one of the main angles Logitech is pushing with the unit's design and Lightsync technology. 

I don't say this often, but the box the speakers come in is finely made, too; it's something you'll want to keep if you ever need to transport the speaker system from one place to the other. On the top, inside panel, you'll also find the instructions for hooking everything up, although I imagine you'll be able to manage just fine without them since everything's easy peasy.

Inside the box you'll find a 12-pound, 15.9” (h) x 10” (w) x 8.1” (d) subwoofer and two 3.92-pound, 5.8” (h) x 6.5” (w) x 4.6” (d) satellite speakers. Additionally, you'll find a power cable and two decent-length cables for the satellites. 

The subwoofer is fairly standard fare and has two connections for the satellite speakers, one 3.5mm input jack, and a USB port. The satellite speakers are rounded and look fairly innocuous from the front; however, view them from the side or back and you'll notice that they're more cone-shaped than round.

You'll find the sync and volume up/volume down buttons on top of the right speaker, and on the back of the right speaker, you'll find the power button, the Bluetooth connection button, and the headphone jack. The setup's signature light portals can be found on the back of each speaker as well and are made of hard, opaque plastic that looks somewhat out of place with the rest of the unit, but honestly, I have no idea of how to do it better, so I'm fine with it.

Functionality and Performance

Now that you know what connections the G560 has and what you can expect out of the box, you need to know something else: it's stupid easy to connect your devices to the unit. You can connect up to four devices and easily switch between any of them on the fly. I was able to quickly sync my Google Pixel 2 to the unit's Bluetooth and hooking up a set of headphones to the right satellite speaker expertly reroutes everything without a hassle. 

But what's arguably more important than the unit's ubiquity and ease of use is sound and character. And the G560 has both in spades. 

DTS:X Ultra

If you're like most PC gamers, there's a good chance you'll set your speaker system up a lot like the one in the image at the top of this review: subwoofer under your desk and the two satellite speakers on either side of your monitor. With most speaker systems, that type of setup immediately nixes any chance of true, positional surround sound. 

But not with the G560. Using DTS:X Ultra technology alongside Logitech's gaming software, it's very possible to get a good surround sound experience without setting things up in an alternate configuration. Whether I was listening to music on Spotify, watching a Let's Play on YouTube, or playing a shooter like Battlefield 1, the sound coming out of the G560 was thick and immersive. I was even able to get some good directional audio in BF1 and other shooters, which isn't easy to do with headphones, much less without them. 

It felt like the wall behind my setup was one giant speaker. And because the sound was (is) so good, it also felt like I had several more satellite speakers sitting behind me even though I didn't. In essence, the G560 was able to re-create headphone quality sound in a room not built for acoustics. 

The G560's DTS:X Ultra supports both 5.1 and 7.1 multichannel surround sound, and using Logitech's gaming software, you're able to tweak the unit's sound levels, adjusting levels for the physical subwoofer, two physical satellite speakers, and four additional virtual "satellites". You can't dial in every single tone, but you can dial in a lot. 

Logitech Gaming Software -- Lights, Customization, and More

If you've used a Logitech gaming product within the past several years, there's a 100% chance you've at least dabbled with the company's gaming software. For the most part, it still works very well. 

You can change the color, intensity, and brightness of the satellite speakers, as well as choose from full spectrum RGB, create custom colors, and save custom colors to profiles. On top of that, the software also provides effects presets such as fixed, cycling, breathing, audio visualizer, and screen sampler. You can even choose the effect polling rate, put the lights completely to sleep or on a timer, set a per profile backlight, and sync settings for specific games, which can be very helpful for genres such as horror. 

However, two of the unit's more intriguing color customization possibilities come in the form of Lightsync and the screen sampler. The former allows you to sync your speakers with all of your other Logitech RGB peripherals, bringing your entire desktop together. The latter allows you to set color zones on your monitor that reflect the on-screen color to the left or right satellite speaker. 

In theory, screen sampling is an awesome idea, one that could have far-reaching visual effects for games in certain genres, especially horror. But in practice, the technology seemed hit or miss. It's not for everyday use, and I imagine players will find mostly niche uses for it. 


If you haven't guessed, Logitech's G560 speaker unit is a great piece of hardware you should have on your desk yesterday. At $199.99, the G560 positions itself in the low-end of the high-tier audio hierarchy. Couple 240 watts of pure sonic power with Logitech's fantastic gaming software, and the G560 is a gamer's delight. 

Honestly, there aren't too many negatives here -- and any I have are nitpicky at best. DTS:X isn't supported by Mac OS X, the posterior design of the satellite speakers is a little out of place, and there is a slightly noticeable volume jump from 12 to 13 (at least on the speakers I tested) that's not heard at any other intervals. 

But despite those small reservations, do yourself a favor and at least put these on your consideration list -- if not your must-buy list. You'll be surprised at not only how loud these speakers are, but how crisp and well-defined they make your music, movies, and games.  

You can buy the G560 RGB Gaming Speakers unit from Amazon for $199.99. 

[Note: Logitech provided the G560 unit used in this review.]

The Crew 2 Review: From 0 to "Meh" in 60 Seconds Sat, 30 Jun 2018 20:11:48 -0400 Ty Arthur

Its time for the next high-octane racing experience to smash into PC and consoles, this time with an ambitious open world experience in The Crew 2.

Somewhere between an expansion and a re-imagining of the original, this time around your nameless vehicle expert will be flying, driving, and power boating across America. 

This hodge podge of a sequel is all about extreme racing of every possible variety, and that's the game's biggest selling point. You get street racing, off-road rally / cross matches for getting muddy, power boat races on rivers and bays, and even aerial stunt plane racing all together in one game.

 Who needs to stay on the street?

Ubi In For A Familiar Experience

First up its worth noting The Crew 2 is an always-online game and requires a Ubisoft account, which seems like the wrong way to go, especially since the multiplayer options are fairly limited at launch (with PvP due to land later in an update).

If you don't care for the loot box grind, then you may want to pass on this one. There's a fair amount of grinding for the those specific components you want, or for enough cash to buy that one killer ride you need. Its an overall smooth system, but it gets pretty repetitive when you try to get new parts for each type of vehicle across each type of match.

Graphically speaking, The Crew 2 isn't an ugly game by any stretch of the imagination, but it definitely lacks the jaw-dropping "wow" factor of more focused titles like last year's Forza Motorsport 7. Overall the vehicle designs and environments are serviceable, if not exactly awe-inspiring.

 The human models frankly aren't that great

Transformers: Fast And Furious Edition

There do tend to be more interesting courses here, however, since the races are meant to be in non-traditional areas like city streets.

The open world aspects make for some pretty spectacular scenes as you leave the city behind and hit the open road. A series of skill locations are scattered across the big U.S. map for unlocking new equipment or earning fans, but honestly in most instances you will just select a specific race and fast travel straight to it instead of driving across the country and back.

Switching back and forth between sea, air, and street nearly instantly is an undeniably cool new addition, letting you fly your plane into a sprawling metropolis of skyscrapers and then drop down into your car to go into a street racing.

 On no, we've been Incepted!

Coming In Second Place

There aren't many long distance races to be found here, so a lot of the map is wasted space. Recreating a condensed version of America was an ambitious undertaking, but it doesn't feel like the game lives up to the potential there.

While the handling of each vehicle is satisfying, the biggest problem with The Crew 2's driving is easily the lack of any solid feeling when impacting objects in the environment.

It doesn't matter whether you are plowing through cacti, street lights, plastic signs, or anything else, they all barely even register a blip of sensation in the controller or on the screen. 

Even crashing directly into the side of a building barely feels like a collision at all. It's odd (and a major negative) that a series like Grand Theft Auto has better collision handling than an actual racing game.

You can literally ride the walls of the buildings at full speed with the Nitro enabled and actually beat players and AI who are playing properly and sticking to the racing line!

 What's the point in extreme jumps and tricks if it doesn't matter when you biff them?

The Bottom Line

A lack of focus clearly hurts the game overall. There is plenty to do to be sure, and a wide range of race types, but The Crew 2 seems like its trying to hard to be an unrealistic arcade racing entry, a hardcore street race simulation, or a loot-drop MMO, and the fun kind of gets lost in the mix.

If you want the ability to play five different types of racing game in one then The Crew 2 is obviously worth checking out, but if you demand a more authentic and fun experience, there are better racers out there now and more coming soon.

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit Review - Bursting with Energy, Life and Brutal Reality Fri, 29 Jun 2018 12:16:45 -0400 Miles T

When Dontnod released the sleeper hit Life is Strange back in 2015, few would have expected the incredibly emotional experience we were to be subjected to. Fewer still would have predicted a highly anticipated sequel being in the works given it’s sudden appearance and release.

Roll on 2018, and here we are eagerly anticipating the sequel series, with Dontnod providing a small palette taster with The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. Released for the grand total of absolutely nothing, it provides a creative, enthusiastic and charming couple of hours that are absolutely worth experiencing and paves the way beautifully for the coming series.

A Superpowered Hero, Without The Time Travel

We step into the shoes of the lively Captain Spirit, a young boy called Chris living with his father Charles in their snow-swept home as Christmas approaches. Chris is an eager protagonist, a far cry from the shy Max Caulfield or emotionally burdened Chloe Price; displaying the naivety of youth and the infectious enthusiasm of imagination.

Dontnod tap into childhood nostalgia almost at will - toy soldier fights, dastardly made up villains, the desire to impress his dad. While these may be typical tropes, it’s hard not to be drawn into Chris’ imagination and be swept up in the glee of his musings as you interact with his environment and learn about his early life. He’s a character with energy and zeal, giving the short episode a real feel good factor and enjoyment.

He’s not only a well thought out character however, he’s voiced expertly and with nuance for the moments when his excitement is brought into contrast with some of the world around him. If Chris is to be the protagonist of Life is Strange 2, he’ll make a fantastic change of pace to typical video game avatars.

Familiar Gameplay, With a New Twist

Of course, gone are the time-bending powers and the smack-talking interactions of the first season and Before the Storm. Instead, Dontnod have introduced a couple of mechanics built around Chris and his imagination. Some interactive objects are now infused with the possibility of being victims to Captain Spirit’s powers, like blowing up a snowman for example. This can lead to a couple of genuinely surprising and humorous moments, breaking up the standard observable or minimal use objects in the world.

It’ll be interesting to see how this mechanic is used in the coming season, and whether it can adequately replace the aforementioned skills of previous protagonists.

What isn’t surprising or new however, is the way Chris interacts with the world. Once again, the player is given a small space to explore, with various objects to view, thoughts to exclaim and minor puzzles to solve. It’s nothing spectacular or fresh, but the use of Chris’ character to embed these tasks into the environment is impressive -- you wouldn’t think much of doing the dishes or taking out recycled beer cans unless the character you’re playing as wouldn’t be expected to perform those tasks; and switching a boiler off has never been so daunting!

If you’ve not been a fan of the "walking simulator" genre, this is unlikely to change your mind. Choices also make their appearance too, but it’s unclear from this short snippet of the story how they’re going to impact on the narrative. Dontnod chose to keep this aspect relatively low-key and minor in the episode, so it’ll be interesting to see how that develops.

Charming Naivety, With Darker Undertones

It’s not all excitement and happiness in the world of Captain Spirit however, as it wouldn’t be a Life is Strange universe without some emotional turmoil. Wandering the household, you’ll discover the reason behind the glaring void of Chris’ mother, but most prominently the conflicted persona of his father, Charles. Dontnod do an excellent job of delivering a nuanced and clearly fractured father figure, a man who is both dearly loving towards his son while simultaneously offering a darker, less empathetic side.

In its short runtime, there’s moments of genuine tension, sadness and emotion as you piece together Chris’ world and discover the environment he both revels in and is subjected to. Particularly for people who have experienced similar childhood moments, it’s a narrative undercurrent that will resonate with some very strongly. Charles is never made to be a villain or a stereotypical asshole for example -- he can be humorous and understanding with Chris -- as the story fleshes out his backstory struggles in order to help allow us to empathise with his issues.

The atmosphere never becomes too foreboding or down-trodden luckily; and the heavy moments are treated with care so as to not suffocate the star of the show, but you’ll quickly notice a more intricate story building behind the scenes. If Dontnod can maintain this level of care and fantastic world building with darker themes, it could prove a powerful emotional concoction.

A Worthy Presentation

The world of Captain Spirit is built with the same art style as the previous seasons, with a different backdrop to what we may have been used to with Arcadia Bay. Chris’ room is full of life, colour exudes from his outfit and the attention to detail to craft a convincing universe is exceptional.

Graphically, the game may not be as show-stopping or jaw-dropping of regular AAA titles, with some textures lacking detail and audio cues at times slightly out of sync, but these are minor nitpicks that won’t detract from the overall experience or delivery. The Life is Strange series and Dontnod’s other works have never been graphical masterpieces; but they’ve always demonstrated a creative and personal touch with their art style which brings their worlds to life.

What is undoubtedly top of the quality department however, is the soundtrack. Both the first season and Before the Storm had impeccable music scores with a selection of wonderfully chosen tracks. This latest taster follows in the same expert mould, blending an emotive and stunning soundtrack within the backdrop of the game. Dontnod have nailed the use of music once again.

A Tantalizing Look At Things To Come

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit squeezes more emotion and genuine empathy into 2 hours of game that few can manage in 30 or 40. It establishes a believable and infectious protagonist who provides a fantastic parallel to the typical, broody lead characters we’ve become accustomed to and establishes a world full of intrigue and meaningful themes.

The gameplay formula has remained largely unchanged, with the main new mechanic yet to be seen in how it matches up to previous versions we’ve been given to work with. When you consider this as a free episode to prelude the upcoming season, it’s a fantastic experience that’s well worth your time, despite it’s short length and limited insight. A credit must also be given to the soundtrack, despite the creative but less-than-stellar presentation.

Donning your cape, painting your armour and equipping your superhero mask has never felt more playful or gleeful, and I’m excited to see what emotional adventures our young hero next gets himself into.

Sennheiser GSP 500 Headset Review Fri, 29 Jun 2018 12:06:08 -0400 Jonathan Moore

I've reviewed quite a few headsets over my nearly two years at GameSkinny. From Corsair to HyperX and what seems like a countless lot in between, I've sampled a little bit of everything that corner of the peripherals market has to offer.

After a while, things start to sound if not the same, similar. It gets harder to pick out the minute differences in drivers or mark the true disparities between this software or that. But in all that time, this is the first I've gotten my hands on a Sennheiser -- the grandpappy of all grandpappies. 

I'd always heard that Sennheiser sound was some of the best audio quality you could get -- if not the best. I'd always heard that no matter how much I liked my favorite headset right now, a Sennheiser would make me green with envy. And although I paraphrase that last part from the glut of conversations I've had with audiophiles over the years, there's an inalienable truth to it.

It's damn hard to go back to my other headsets after sampling Sennheiser's GSP 500 gaming headset. 

Design and Comfort

Out of the box, the GSP 500 feels like something engineered and manufactured by Germans. It's sturdy. It's durable. And it's ergonomic. 

One of the first things you'll notice is that the headset doesn't feel like it's going to break in your hands. Although it's mostly made of plastic, that plastic is both relatively lightweight and resilient -- the headset weighs around 358 grams. That's eight grams more than the arguably flimsy-feeling Logitech G533 but nearly 70 grams lighter than SteelSeries' Arctis Pro+

What that means to you is this (and I say this with the utmost respect for both of those fantastic headsets mentioned above): the GSP 500 feels neither economical nor heavy. It feels very well-made -- and like something that's going to last you a very, very long time.

On top of that, it also means the GSP 500 is super comfortable. If you've read any of my other headset reviews, you know I've said more than once I think SteelSeries' ski-band is one of the cushiest headbands on the planet. I love that headband more than I love a well-made spicy taco. But man, is the GSP's headband its blow-for-blow rival. 

The showcase here isn't exactly what the headband is made of but instead the ability to customize the headband's contact pressure. Open along the top, the headband features two sliders that can be placed together in the middle for centralized pressure, at opposite ends from each other, or anywhere in between. This means that if you've got a weirdly shaped dome like me, you can find a sweet spot that just right for you

Moving down the headset, we come to the ergonomic earcups. Made of a soft, breathable material, these earcups don't sweat. That's pretty standard these days when it comes to (most) headsets, but what isn't so standard is the way these earcups are shaped: they mirror the shape of the human ear, providing a more natural, comfortable fit than your average round or square earcups. 

Another thing that makes them comfortable is the metal hinges that attach the earcups to the headband. These tilt and turn to fit a variety of face types and help the earcups better conform to your cheekbones and upper jaw. And although it's unfortunate the earcups don't fully rotate and you can't lay them flat on your collarbone when not in use like those found on the Logitech G Pro, for example, they're so comfortable and flexible that I'll give them a pass this time around. 

What's more, you'll also find a dearth of controls on the GSP 500's earcups. Typically, many newer headsets have a handful of volume and chat controls, as well as inputs, on one or both earcups. Here, you'll find a simple volume wheel on the right earcup. I especially like that the volume control is elegantly integrated into the headset and doesn't look like a volume knob. It's contoured edges make it easy to pick out, even though I do think it's a tad hard to turn.

Lastly, the noise canceling microphone on the GSP 500 works like a charm. Positioned on the left earcup just above the headset's only I/O, the mic is flexible, but just barely. This is where the GSP 500 looks like a gaming headset; you can't remove the microphone, just simply raise or lower it. That's not to say such a design is a detriment to the headset, but it is something that might turn off some who want something more ubiquitous.


My biggest gripe about Sennheiser's GSP 500 is that it's just not very loud. And I admit: loud is relative. Some users will think the GSP 500 is plenty loud and read this part of my review with an incredulous glare. But for me, I don't like having to turn a headset's volume knob to maximum -- while also turning my YouTube volume and system volume to maximum -- to achieve skull-blasting 11. 

However, after spending hours with headset, I think that volume "discrepancy" might just be because the headset is so damned good at recreating authentic sound via an open-acoustic design. 

So, despite my curmudgeonly misgivings about the headset's volume control, you'll be hard-pressed to beat the sound on the GSP 500. As an arm-chair audiophile, I'm constantly blown away by what the GSP 500 can do. It lets me hear frequencies I never knew were there and rediscover movies, music, and games like few other headsets can.  

Listening to songs from Northlane, While She Sleeps, and Tesseract, there were (are) guitar, bass, and drum sections I'd never heard before -- now resoundingly clear. Toms thrummed out in thrilling sonic waves, bass undulated through synths, and harmonics pinged through trebles and mids without either losing strength or impeding other tones. 

For classical overtures such as Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 3 in C Major, it felt as if I were in the concert hall, standing right next to the piano. And although the GSP 500 isn't a surround sound headset out of the box, it's stereo offerings are robust enough to mimic that functionality, especially when reproducing well-recorded sound. 

In gaming, the GSP 500 gives new life to many of the games I've played for hours on end. It emphasizes Kratos' guttural tones in God of War. It brightens the whisps of zipping bullets in Battlefield 1. And it makes the irritating simul-banter of Far Cry 5 less grating and actually distinguishable. Since the headset isn't surround sound, you won't get 100% accurate directional sound, but what you will find here isn't too shabby. 

If you do want to get 7.1 surround on the GSP 500, though, you can -- all while keeping it in the Sennheiser family. The only real downside is that you'll have to pick up an external DAC and drop another $250 to get it, which is a pricey proposition considering the headset itself already costs $250 by itself. 


If you're looking for something that immerses you in sound, the GSP 500 isn't exactly it. Because of its open ear design, you'll be able to hear a lot of the conversation and commotion around you. If you're in a loud environment, that can be pretty distracting to some users -- and in fact, this is the primary reason I'm giving it a 9 and not a 10.

However, the open ear technology affords crisper, more realistic tones and gives those that need it the ability to listen to music or play games without alienating those around them. If you want a closed-ear design, check out the GSP 600.  

The GSP 500 comes with a two-year international warranty, and it works on PS4, PC, Mac, and mobile devices. It also works on Xbox One, but may require the Xbox One stereo headset adapter (we didn't test it, but Sennheiser does suggest it). 

At the end of the day, this headset is for the high-end gamer who also has audiophile tendencies. I don't imagine your average gamer is going to opt for these, not only because of price, but also because those average gamers aren't necessarily looking for the sound this headset provides.

In other words, the GSP 500 is one of the very best headsets you can buy but it's also a luxury item. If you have the disposable income for it, there's no question you should pick it up. If you want high-fidelity sound, there's no question you should pick it up. But if you just want something to get you through the next CoD MP match, apply elsewhere -- this headset will be lost on you. 

You can buy the Sennheiser GSP 500 on Amazon for $229.95.

[Note: Sennheiser provided the headset used in this review.]

Unravel Two Review: Can Two Yarnys Form a Close-Knit Camaraderie? Tue, 26 Jun 2018 10:34:22 -0400 Edgar Wulf

Unravel Two is a sequel to the platforming game of the same name (bar the "Two", of course), which is developed by Coldwood Interactive and published by Electronic Arts. This sequel follows the story of not one, but two Yarnys, both of whom can be controlled by either one or two players in local co-op.

The tale begins with the red Yarny from the first game being washed ashore on an island by a horrendous storm. There, the red Yarny immediately befriends a blue Yarny and their threads conjoin via a mysterious light, which will guide them throughout the rest of the game.

This connection is significant, as many of Unravel Two's puzzles revolve around clever use of the thread.

Thread Carefully

Unravel Two's first chapter, which acts as a tutorial, is likely the game's weakest segment, with hardly any puzzles and no real challenges to overcome. That is usually not a problem for most games -- an introduction to a game's mechanics is often welcome, especially if it's targeting a younger audience -- but I quickly grew bored with and had to push myself toward, what I hoped would be, much more engaging levels ahead.

Subsequent chapters can be accessed via the game's Lighthouse, which is unlocked after completing the tutorial and acts as a hub from there on. And what's more, after completing Chapter II, the first set of bonus levels is unlocked in the Lighthouse. These are short, increasingly challenging levels which revolve around saving other Yarnys from captivity. Successful completions of each bonus level reward players with additional options for customizing a Yarny: such as thier appearance and color.

The bonus levels, however, are completely optional and can be ignored entirely. 

A Yarn Good Time

Unravel Two begins to the shine the further you get into it by adding more complex puzzles to the platforming formula; thankfully, it gradually becomes satisfyingly difficult.

Puzzles are sufficiently challenging, requiring constant switching between Yarnys (which is seamless) during a solo run, as well as incorporating the use of a thread and surrounding objects. And although most puzzles usually don't take more than a few minutes to solve, there's a handy feature that provides helpful hints at the push of a button. I seldom used it and depending on your experience with platformer/puzzlers, you may never use it either. However, it's a great option to have for younger players -- and one that doesn't sully the experience for more seasoned players.

Likewise, there's also a feature that slows down time during platforming sequences. This mechanic is especially useful for attempting the game's time trials, as the amount by which time is slowed can be adjusted in the options menu.

And as you might have guessed, there is no combat in the game, but certain enemies are present, all of whom must be avoided. As ridiculous as it may sound, fleeing from a humongous turkey ready to peck your yarn out is no joke.

Weaving a "Story" Within Beautiful Locales

From the moment you start Unravel Two, it's obvious the game is pleasantly beautiful. Even though it's nothing that will blow you way, there's a serene atmosphere about the game, which is further accentuated by a captivating musical score.

Overall, chapters are diverse, with distinguishing locales, events, and puzzles unique to each particular stage. Like with many games in the genre, the scenery of Unravel Two consists of several layers -- some backdrops being gorgeous indeed -- and differentiating between objects in the foreground from those in the background is never an issue.

Story doesn't play a pivotal role in Unravel Two, but there is enough context provided to keep you and the Yarnys moving forward. 

Yarnys themselves seem to exist in a parallel universe -- indicated by the many human characters only appearing in phantom-like forms throughout the game. The mysterious light, on the other hand, acts as a mediator between the two worlds, capable of affecting the human world after certain puzzles are solved -- and saving the human children from a distress as a result.

There could be a deeper meaning to the game that I simply missed. Nonetheless, the ending leaves you with a positive sensation -- as if you've accomplished a good deed in the end.

The main story shouldn't take more than four to five hours to complete -- but it feels sufficient. More playtime can be added by attempting time trials, gathering collectables scattered across chapters, and completing bonus levels -- many of which are more challenging than those found in the main chapters.

Final Thoughts

Although I enjoyed Unravel Two, I found certain climbing sections awkward, lacking animation in comparison to the rest of the game. The tutorial also felt like a drag and the story wasn't overly engaging.

However, even without dialogue, I enjoyed the cute interactions between Yarnys, the relaxing atmosphere accompanied by a beautiful soundtrack, and coming up with solutions to the various conundrums in a magical world.

There is a lot to like about Unravel Two and the few shortcomings don't compromise the overall adventure.

If you've made up your mind, Unravel Two is available digitally on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, and for more reviews on latest releases stay tuned right here on GameSkinny.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Unravel Two used in this review.] 

Rainbow Skies Review: One Hot Mess After Another Tue, 26 Jun 2018 09:00:01 -0400 Autumn Fish

Rainbow Skies is the sequel to the large, turn-based RPG Rainbow Moon. The main characters are three unlikely companions who just happen to be accidentally bound to each other for all eternity, thanks to a little spell gone wrong.

Two of the three aforementioned characters are from a race of people that reside on a floating island in the sky, and they have to keep their identity a secret lest the denizens of the moon find out and crucify them. They must travel together with a spell caster from the surface to try and puzzle out a way back home. This journey takes them across several continents and through many terrifying lands that are home to many terrifying monsters.

This doesn't sound wholly dissimilar to most RPGs on the market, so what makes Rainbow Skies stand out from the rest? And is it worth spending your time on?

Rainbow Skies Is a Few Shades Off

Rainbow Skies is the type of game where the story takes a back seat to the gameplay. It's all about finding some way to undo the Spell of Binding so that your party can finally separate and so that the characters from the floating island can find their way back home.

It's nothing to write home about, but it gets the job done, I suppose. It's really just there to get you from one battle to the next. As you make your way further into the story, it gets to the point where it feels like there are a ton of battles just shoehorned into the game for the sake of battling. Which I guess is cool if you're into that.

However, despite my reservations here, I would like to take a second and say that the writing is actually pretty good. I'm not going to sing too many of its praises because it does some questionable stuff at times, such as forced flirting, a few odd instances of gaslighting, and an unfortunate knack for reusing the same jokes over and over again. All the same, though, I was pleasantly surprised that the dialogue was more jovial and entertaining to read than many RPGs. 

Rainbow Skies Overworld High Level Character

Combat and Gameplay

Let me say one thing right off the bat: the combat in Rainbow Skies is sort of draining. It's turn based, where the character's speed stats determine how often they can act. Your characters are arranged on a grid alongside enemies, and you have to get into the right positions in order to properly attack. I sort of enjoyed it at first, but it quickly became a slog.

Your skills barely do any more damage than a regular attack, which means they basically just bring a little bit of versatility and variety to the field. Your regular characters are just weak as heck unless you spend hours grinding -- even if you play on the easiest difficulty setting. And difficulty spikes are insane and seem oddly frequent.

There are several points in the game where it feels like you're hitting a wall. It's probably for the purpose of making sure you're strong enough to head into the next area, but these walls pop up so often that it barely feels like you're making any progress in the actual game.

Playing through any combat scenario is like trudging through a swampy mire. Some of the easier fights can take as long as 10 minutes while some of the harder ones could take you the better part of an hour -- and sometimes you'll spend all of that time struggling, wasting all of your hard-earned resources just to lose and be forced to start over from the beginning.

This wouldn't be so much of a problem if there were a speedup or animation skip feature. Every attack animation is slow and it just takes forever for the battle to actually be realized even after the commands have been made. Sometimes the game shows a shortcut for skipping an animation but I've tried pressing that button in every way I can think of and I've never managed to get it to work.

Rainbow Skies Battle Mage Casting Meteor Attack

On top of that, enemies that are around your level take so little damage, even if you're sure to always hit them with attacks that they're weak to. Every battle ends feeling like a battle of attrition, just trying to stay alive until you can finally whittle down the enemy's health.

This may be exciting to some players, but to me, it just made the game feel like it was dragging on. Hours would pass in the blink of an eye and it wasn't because I was having fun, but rather because the battles would take way longer than I ever expected them to.

Monster Taming

And then there's Monster Taming, Rainbow Skies' most anticipated new feature. I didn't even gain access to this feature until I was a solid eight or more hours into the game, despite the main characters teasing me with it the entire time. And when I finally unlocked it and experienced it for myself, I was so underwhelmed I was close to being infuriated.

In order to collect monsters, you need to find eggs, which only drop after you defeat that monster a certain number of times. Then, in order to hatch a monster egg, you need to leave it with a tamer and battle a certain number of times until it finally hatches. Then you can upgrade its abilities with Skill Stones and teach it skills as if it were a regular character -- and you can even make it the party leader so you can run around the overworld as the monster.

However, you can only have a small number of monsters at any given time, meaning you must release some if you collect too many. On top of that, you can only battle with an even smaller number of monsters, leaving you unable to really utilize many of them.

Rainbow Skies Battle with a lot of Tamed Monster companions

On top of that, Monsters come out of the egg so much stronger than the main characters, even if they're several levels below them, which really makes me scratch my head.

I was struggling with battles for so long, fairly certain I wasn't missing any important part of upgrading my characters, and then, when this thing finally comes along, many battles that I struggled with before turned into a cake walk. I couldn't believe it. The moment I saw my newbie monster deal over double the damage that my spellcaster could while it was half my spellcaster's level, my jaw hit the floor.

Upgrading and Resource Management

When I was introduced to the upgrade system, my first thought was that it was really unique. The more I played, however, the more I realized just how grindy it was. Every level, your characters and monsters earn new upgradable stats. You can spend Skill Stones that you find from battling monsters on these stats in order to buff your characters. It's possible to max all of these stats, and probably even necessary if you want to play on higher difficulty settings, but grinding for Skill Stones is such a chore that it would take forever to max out each stat every level.

You can read Skill Books to teach certain characters new skills, which we've already noted won't do much more damage than your regular attack. If you use these skills enough, you'll increase their power and eventually learn even more skills. There's nothing inherently wrong with this system, other than the fact that you don't get a heal spell until pretty late in the game.

Rainbow Skies Equipment Screen of Max Level Character

Then you can increase your stats by infusing materials you collect from enemies with your weapons and armor. There's not much to say about this, other than it doesn't really help your power much, especially when you can only slot a handful of materials in the earlier levels. Apparently, there's a system where you can reinforce weapons and armor to make them stronger in general, but I never even got far enough in the game to be introduced to it.

And finally, there's resource management, which has to be the biggest pain I've ever had the displeasure of experiencing. Bags such as your potion, miscellaneous, and food bags are limited to only five or six items a piece at the start. As you go through the game, you can buy or find bag upgrades out in the world to make it less of a pain, but you stumble across so many good potions and items that you'll want to keep along the way that you're so often left to make a decision on what's more important.

You could say it's a way to keep the player from cheesing the game and being too prepared for a fight, but that logic doesn't even hold up very well. The best potions I can even buy right now heal so little health that even if I use as many as I can in a turn, I'd still be losing health overall if even one monster my level was close enough to hit me. It's as if it doesn't even matter.

Verdict: A True Slog, Through and Through

All-in-all, Rainbow Skies feels like a lot of heart and soul went into it, but it comes across as poorly designed and downright convoluted at points. There's a ton of content here for people who are interested in delving into it, but I can't see this reaching beyond a niche audience or a cult following.

Rainbow Skies Powerful Magic Attack

There are better turn-based RPGs out there; I honestly recommend that you save your money. Go play Disgaea or something, I promise you'll get a lot more out of that game than this one. I just can't, in good conscience, recommend this game to anyone.

If you think you'd enjoy it based on my description, though, be my guest, please. And if you have a different opinion, I invite you to refute my review in the comments section below.

Rainbow Skies is available now for PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, and PlayStation 4.

Writer was granted a review copy by the publisher.

Review: Corsair K70 RGB Mk2 Mechanical Keyboard Mon, 25 Jun 2018 16:51:44 -0400 ElConquistadork

Corsair has been in the business of making amazing PC gaming peripherals for years now, and this month they released their latest in keyboard goodness with the K70 RGB Mk2 Mechanical Keyboard.

The first thing I noticed right out of the box is that this keyboard is solid. And that's not only referring to the full-sized, aluminum-based mounting of this thing (although, let's face it: that is a definite factor). There's a weight to this keyboard that let's you know just how much craftsmanship went into it.

Like many RGB peripherals before it, the K70 Mk2 boasts a fully programmable lighting system that can be tailored to your preferences and gaming rig (see GameSkinny's review of the HyperX Pulsefire Surge for another example of just how cool this can be).

Outside of the lighting features, the K70 Mk2 doesn't resemble many other popular gaming keyboards, and I saw that as a good thing. There's a certain gaudiness that you can see on display with other popular gaming devices (even ones that are otherwise well-crafted peripherals), and that absence of esports-inspired bombast is a welcome, if minute, detail in a gaming keyboards for those of us past the age of saying "GG" out loud to another human being.

Corsair's K70 RGB Mk2 is loaded with some outstanding tech, as well. The first thing I noticed were the were the Cherry MX Keyswitches, which make for some of the quietest keystrokes I've ever seen (or heard, as the case may be) in a mechanical keyboard. The keyboard is also equipped for full key rollover, which means that your actions are registered by the keys correctly, no matter how much lag you hit.

Corsair's iCUE software remains outstanding and user-friendly. Through it you'll be able to program your lighting system, macros, and save up to three profiles in an 8MB on-board memory system that keeps your choices within the hardware, wherever you happen to take it. It's that sort of "pick up and go" versatility that's going to make the K70 Mk2 very popular with the travelling gamer community.

There were tons of little details that went into how much I loved my time with the Corsair K70 RGB Mk2 Keyboard. Additions like an actual dial for volume control, a built-in USB port for mouse or headset connectivity, and the general comfort of the brushed keys themselves. There's a level of form and function that Corsair put into this keyboard that impressed me more for every hour I used it.

Overall, I'd say that Corsair has developed my new favorite gaming keyboard. And with a list price of $159.99 on Amazon, it's affordable for casual gamers and enthusiasts alike.

Minecraft: Bedrock Edition Review: A Clear Improvement! Mon, 25 Jun 2018 11:47:33 -0400 Autumn Fish

Minecraft: Bedrock Edition is finally out on the Nintendo Switch, allowing the portable system's owners to at long last connect and play with friends who own the Xbox One, Windows 10, and Mobile editions of the game.

Don't think that means you're getting the same experience as the original Java Edition of the game, however. This begs the question: what is the Bedrock Edition and how does it differ from the original?

Minecraft: Bedrock Edition Review

On the off chance that you have no idea what Minecraft even is in the first place, allow me to summarize. Everything in the game world is made out of blocks. You can collect the vast majority of these blocks through methods of mining, shoveling, punching, and so on. You can then place these blocks in the world or use them in a crafting grid to create new items. This is the basic cycle that's existed since the earliest stages of the game.

That doesn't even cover the monsters you have to defend yourself from or the different bosses you can fight for unique rewards. There are even potions you can brew and enchantments you can put on gear. There're villages out in the world populated with people that you can trade with, and there are even various ruins and structures to discover across a wide variety of biomes. There are even entirely different realms to explore, such as the Nether and the mysterious End.

The scope of of this title is out of control. There's so much to do and so many different ways to get stronger that you could spend dozens if not hundreds of hours just existing in the world. And before you know it, you'll be living in a bonafide fortress with automatic farms, an intricate system of travel, stables for your steeds and pets, and any luxury you can possibly think of.

Minecraft Bedrock Edition in a Mineshaft holding a ladder

But of course, this game has been on the market and growing for nine years now. It's the best selling game on PC and the second best selling game in the world behind Tetris. What makes the Bedrock Edition different enough that it warrants this review?

How Minecraft: Bedrock Edition Differs from the Java Edition

Put simply, some of the content is different. And I don't just mean that the Bedrock Edition is behind in version parity to the Java Edition. Bedrock actually has some content that the Java Edition doesn't have yet. It even performs better and fixes some bugs and minor annoyances present in the Java Edition.

Notably, the world's chunks load in much quicker on this version, so you're not really put in a situation where you have to wait for the world to catch up. This is especially nice when you're flying around the map at high speeds, as it makes the world feel a little bit more cohesive.

Redstone, Minecraft's wiring system, comes debugged in this version. This is sort of a double-edged sword, however, since a lot of complex redstone creations actually take advantage of the bugs to accomplish some incredible feats. This means a lot of tutorial's for redstone won't be applicable to the Bedrock Edition, but on the flip side, it should make the complex system a bit easier to pick up and learn for beginners. 

On top of all that, this version comes with content that the Java Edition simply doesn't have quite yet. The first pass for Update Aquatic is already out on Bedrock, while the full update is still in it's pre-release stages on Java.

Minecraft Bedrock Edition in the Jungle about to feed an Ocelot a Fish

However, this version doesn't quite have everything the Java Edition has, either. For example, it doesn't have shields or the new combat mechanics, but there is an offhand slot present. It's also missing things such as the informative F3 menu and the new Advancements system. Ultimately, it has most of the content that the present-day Java Edition has, but bits and pieces are missing.

Additionally, the interface of the Bedrock edition is completely mixed up. For starters, you log in with a Microsoft Account, no matter if you're on the Switch or the Xbox One. Resource Packs, Behavior Packs, Map Packs, and Skins are all purchased from a store that you spend real-world money on, though a few will come with your purchase of the game. If you're on Windows 10, you do still get access to some community made projects for free, but those are limited since people are more likely to make content for the Java version.

On top of that, Behavior Packs don't even work quite the same as a regular mod pack. Instead of adding things to the game, they replace existing items. However, they can do a few things that mods on the Java Edition can't do yet, such as creating in-game windows and selection boxes.

When you go to play the game, you can either create your own world, play with a friend on their world, or join one of the featured servers. When you're playing on your own world with multiplayer turned on, any of your friends can join the world at any time, and you can set permissions for them individually.

Minecraft Bedrock Edition in a house with a villager in front of an enchanting table surrounded by bookcases

When you're playing with multiplayer turned off, however, you'll find that you can't even properly pause the game. That's because it supports drop-in split-screen multiplayer on the fly, where up to 4 people can play together on the same TV. All you need to do is press the start button on your extra controllers and decide which profile to play with.

That about covers everything that sets the Bedrock Edition apart from the Java Edition. For more tiny details on the differences in this version, check out the Minecraft wiki.

Verdict - Better than vanilla!

In my opinion, the vanilla Minecraft: Bedrock Edition is better than the vanilla Java Edition. It just performs better, it has some cool unique features, it makes playing with your friends so much easier, and it features cross-play between so many different consoles. It nails the vanilla experience, and I can't wait to see the bits and pieces of missing content finally get added sometime down the line.

If you're somehow new to Minecraft, the Bedrock Edition is a brilliant starting point. If you play for the vanilla experience, I highly recommend picking up this version. If you want to play with friends that don't own it for PC, this is a no brainer.

If, however, you play for unique server experiences and the plethora of mods found in the Java Edition, you'll probably be disappointed. No matter how you frame it, the Bedrock Edition will always have an inferior amount of community created content when measured up to the Java Edition. There's just no way it will ever compete.

Minecraft Bedrock Edition in the Nether surrounded by fire and getting attacked by ghasts with a portal in sight

When it comes down to it, both versions of Minecraft are fantastic. I never felt like I was playing an inferior version during my time with the Bedrock Edition. In fact, there were times when I appreciated it more than the Java Edition. No matter what version you play, though, you can rest assured you've got a great game in your hands.

Minecraft: Bedrock Edition is available now for Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Windows 10, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Fire OS, Fire TV, Apple TV, and the Samsung Gear VR.

Writer was granted a review copy provided by the publisher.

Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion Review: Hyperfresh Fri, 22 Jun 2018 11:03:02 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

We get it. It's weird to give a $19.99 bit of single-player DLC for a multiplayer-focused game like Splatoon 2 a perfect review. Though the release of something like Octo Expansion seemed inevitable given the runaway success of Splatoon 2 (not to mention the Nintendo Switch as a whole), the game's single-player campaign wasn't ever its focus.

Framing an expansion around another campaign seems nonsensical. Why not focus on the multiplayer aspect and release a package with cosmetic items, maps, weapons, or more game modes? Who is this expansion even for?

Spoiler alert: if you liked Splatoon 2 even a little bit, it's for you.

Splatoon 2 Review

Flexing Your Mussels

The first thing you'll need to know when you enter the Deepsea Metro for the first time in Octo Expansion is that this game doesn't pull its punches. Splatoon 2 has been out for almost a year now, and this expansion is designed with that in mind. Whereas the single-player content in the base game helped you get to grips with the game's systems and weapons, Octo Expansion expects mastery from the start.

There isn't really a difficulty curve here past the first few levels. Clearing levels and unlocking more of the map allows you to challenge stages in any order you choose. One moment you might be breezing through a level that has you bouncing happily off of jump pads, and another moment you'll be smashing your head against the wall, unable to complete a particularly nefarious speedrun challenge.

Though all of Octo Expansion's stages offer a high and satisfying degree of challenge, most stages also allow the player to make things even harder for themselves by selecting a weapon that is particularly ill-suited for the level. Of course, overcoming this challenge gets the player a higher reward, even if it often seems like this reward should be higher than it actually is.

Pay to Play

Octo Expansion requires players use in-game currency to attempt a level. If you get stuck and have to restart too many times, you'll be forced to grind easier levels for more points.

While this seems like it could be insanely frustrating on the surface, in effect it adds some much-needed risk to challenging these stages. Will you risk your last 2000 points attempting a boss stage where the payout is almost double that amount, or will you proceed a different way through the map and try to find a safer route? Each decision carries more weight this way, and it makes things especially tense when a particular level only gives you one chance to make it through before you're forced to pay again to retry.

Even if you are forced to grind, there are plenty of stages that aren't as challenging, so there's little risk of actually hitting a progression wall. It's a new approach to difficulty in a game like this, and it's highly appreciated.


All this said, the real draw of Octo Expansion is in the way that it expands upon the original game's mechanics. Nintendo has always shown a flair for joyfully inverting and riffing on gameplay elements (see: Super Mario Galaxy 2, Super Mario Odyssey, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, countless others) and that skill is in full effect here.

You'll travel from stages where you play billiards with a sniper rifle to stages that operate like tower defense games to speedrun stages to stages that can only be described as sculpting challenges.

All of this culminates in a finale that is equal parts Metal Gear Solid and Portal as your character makes their way up to Inkopolis Square. I won't spoil anything, but the final 45 minutes of this expansion were chock-full of jaw-dropping moments that came one after the other.

A Story 20,000 Leagues Deep

Fans of the original single-player campaign won't be surprised to hear that the writing and story in Octo Expansion are top-notch. Cap'n Cuttlefish returns from the original Splatoon, as does Agent 3, the player character in that game. Pearl and Marina both heavily figure into the story as well -- the player can learn about how they met, became close, and totally definitely ABSOLUTELY fell deeply in love with each other through chat logs that are unlocked as you progress through the levels.

The lore of Splatoon has always been a wonderful, winking blend of dark apocalyptic fiction with a bubblegum veneer, and Octo Expansion leans into this hard. 

Through the chat logs, Cap'n Cuttlefish will tell you about the horrors of the war he fought in, and in the next moment, tell you how totally-not-racist-against-octopi he is. Oh, and in case arguably racist war vets aren't real enough for you, the extinction of humanity plays a very large role in the game's story as well. It's wonderful, and it's tailored to folks who want to learn more about this crazy post-apocalyptic world that Nintendo has created.

100% Fresh

One of the nicest things about Octo Expansion is that it rewards completion in a way that the main game doesn't. Clearing the campaign unlocks the Octoling for play in multiplayer matches, sure, but there are also very attractive awards for 100% completion as well.

Clearing groups of stages unlocks customization items that can be used in multiplayer matches as well, and there's a very special bonus for 100% completion too. It's much less tedious than going back and replaying every single mission in the main campaign with every single weapon type, especially given how unique and inventive the Octo Expansion stages are.

The Verdict

By any metric, the Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion is a massive success. The stages are fun and inventive, the story is engaging and full of fan service, the visual aesthetic is fresh, and there's so darn much of it.

Usually, at least when it comes to triple-A developers like Nintendo, a $20 add-on to an already-released game can feel sparse, or at the very least feel like an unnecessary add-on as was the case with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's expansions. 

Octo Expansion is neither, and in fact, I'd argue it's even better than the original game's single-player campaign. Through the 15-or-so hours it'll take you to complete the expansion 100%, you'll be led through a jungle gym full of rails to ride, targets to shoot, hazards to stunt over, and enemies to face down. And when you finally catch your breath after having reached the end, you won't be able to resist diving back in to see if you can finally complete that speedrun challenge with the carbon roller, damn it all.

Nintendo promised during E3 that they would continue updating Splatoon 2 at least until December, adding new stages and weapons. If Octo Expansion is any indication, it'd be a massive disappointment if Nintendo didn't have any plans to release another large paid expansion -- simply because this one was just so freaking great.

Have you checked out our review of Splatoon 2 yet? If you haven't, click here to see what we thought of the base game!

Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition Review -- The Biggest Zelda Mashup Yet Wed, 20 Jun 2018 16:31:45 -0400 Autumn Fish

Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition for the Nintendo Switch is the most complete Zelda Musou game on the market. It combines the features of the Wii U version and the 3DS version to make a game that's packed to the absolute brim with content.

Whether you're looking for a new game to fill out your Switch library or are simply a fan of the Wii U or 3DS version of the game and are looking for an upgrade, we hope to answer one question for you: Is it worth the $60 price tag?

Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition Hits the Right Notes

First and foremost, we need to acknowledge that this is a Musou game set in the Zelda universe. For the uninitiated, this means you'll be waging large-scale tactical battles with hack-and-slash-style gameplay while utilizing a huge cast of characters from The Legend of Zelda series.

Since Musou games don't require a whole lot of explanation, we'll be splitting this review into two major sections: gameplay and content. If you're familiar with previous versions of Hyrule Warriors or even other Musou games, feel free to skip straight to the content section to see if this title is really worth dipping into.

Musou Gameplay With a Zelda Twist

Musou game is essentially a hack-and-slash game where you mow down literally thousands of enemies that stand between you and your objective. Generally, the goal is to run around the battlefield and capture enemy Keeps in order to gain the upper hand while you complete missions. And the mission for each stage differs greatly, though it usually involves defeating an enemy commander to win.

The controls are rather basic as is expected with a Musou game. Every warrior has a light attack string that mows throw enemies. Tossing a heavy attack in between light attacks allows your warrior to perform a variety of different powerful moves, providing tons of utility to each character.

In addition to this, every warrior has a special attack gauge that fills when you attack enemies and can be used to unleash a devastating attack that covers a wide area and deals a ton of damage.

Hyrule Warriors Marin Fighting with a Bell

Each warrior also has access to a Magic Gauge, which fills when you collect magic jars that drop from pots, grass, and enemy captains. The Magic Gauge can be utilized in one of two different ways. You can choose to use the full gauge to enter Focus Spirit mode, which increases your strength, speed, and defense. It even doles out rewards such as EXP or items until the Magic Gauge is fully consumed. If you don't want to enter Focus Spirit mode, however, you could just use up a fraction of your Magic Gauge to unleash your companion Fairy's special attack.

In addition to all that, you'll even earn an array of iconic Zelda items such as Bombs and a Bow when you play through the main story mode. These items can be used at any time to reveal the weak points of select enemy captains and are all but required to take down the big bosses that wreak havoc on the battlefield.

Most stages even allow you to select not one but two to four warriors to bring with you on your missions. On those stages, you can switch between your playable warriors at any point, allowing you the map coverage you need in order to deal with frantic situations on the fly.

Hyrule Warriors does a stunning job of making the player feel powerful, showering you with the tools needed to unleash mass destruction on hoards of unsuspecting enemies. It won't often give you the satisfaction of a good fight -- in fact, if you find enemies on a stage too challenging, its level is likely too high for you. The challenge comes in the form of battlefield management and making sure your troops don't get overwhelmed by the enemy's clever countermeasures.

There's not a whole lot more to the gameplay, here, so let's explore the wealth of content found within the Definitive Edition.

Hyrule Warriors Legend Mode Tetra

All Hyrule Warriors Content Crammed in One Package

Let me start by saying that this game has a metric ton of content jammed into it. A glance at Legend Mode -- the story mode -- may make the game seem relatively short, but the bulk of the content is actually found in the game's other modes.

Adventure Mode is the star of the show, here. In this mode, you explore one of 10 different 8-bit style maps with new missions on every single tile. There are all sorts of different types of rewards found scattered about the tiles such as new characters, new weapons, upgraded weapons, heart containers, heart pieces, gold skulltulas, costumes, fairies, fairy clothes, fairy food, and so on.

Then there's Challenge Mode, where you can complete challenging missions and get high scores with different characters. It's also here where you can play as the two giant characters in the game: Beast Ganon and the Giant Cucco. These modes aren't particularly fun or memorable, but they do offer up a ton of great giant boss materials.

On top of that, there are a total of 28 playable Zelda characters in Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition, with 42 total weapons (read: playstyles) to choose from (44 if you count Beast Ganon and the Giant Cucco, which you can't play outside of Challenge Mode). Some of the playstyles are kinda' boring and feel unnatural to control, but the vast majority of them are extremely unique and incredibly satisfying.

Best of all, there are absolutely no clones. Each character and weapon is its own entity; the Master Sword is the only "clone" in sight, and even that plays slightly differently from Link's Hylian Sword.

Hyrule Warriors Character Select Screen

To add even more to the game, every weapon has five unlockable upgrade levels. Each character can be leveled up individually, up to a maximum level of 255. Each character must also collect their own heart pieces and heart containers to reach maximum health. You can even collect several different costumes for every character to really complete their look.

There are also Gold Skulltula's to collect that will eventually upgrade the Apothecary and open up map tiles on a Rewards Map.

Needless to say, this game just has a ton of things to collect, and you'll need to sink in at least a couple hundred hours in order to get everything.

But seriously, that's not all ... 

New from the 3DS version of the game is a system called My Fairy. In this system, there are special fairies scattered about each Adventure Mode map that can join your warriors on their missions and assist them with special Fairy Skills and Fairy Magic Attacks. You can outfit them with clothes to augment their stats and feed them food in order to carefully increase up their Skills until you get the Fairy you want. It's a deep system and adds a lot to the game if you care to dive into it -- but it can just as easily be overlooked, especially since it comes across as quite daunting.

All in all, there's a ton of content to be had here. Players of the Wii U version are finally able to play all of the content and DLC that they missed from Hyrule Warriors Legends on the 3DS while those who only played the 3DS version finally get to experience the Wii U's Challenge Mode, couch co-op, and the HD graphics of a home console experience.

Hyrule Warriors Giant Cucco Fighting King Dodongo

Verdict -- Repetitive but Satisfying, Especially for Zelda Fans

Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition for the Nintendo Switch is a really solid experience. It's the second Musou game to make it's way to the system -- the first being Fire Emblem Warriors -- and I dare say it's the best one available. The sheer amount of content and amazing variety in characters really sets this game on another level.

If you're a fan of Zelda and you think you'd like a tactical hack-and-slash game, don't even hesitate on picking this up. If you played the Wii U version, loved it, and want to experience what you missed on 3DS, this is the best way to experience it.

However, if you owned the 3DS version and all of the DLC, this is a bit of a tougher sell. It's essentially the same game, except it has a Challenge Mode, better graphics, a steady frame rate, and two player couch co-op.

If you're not into Zelda or think you'd find Mosou-style gameplay boring, just skip it. The game is highly repetitive and you simply won't be satisfied with your purchase if you're not into this style of action combat. If you're still curious, I suggest looking up a gameplay video or two and making an informed decision.

Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition is available now for $60 on the Nintendo Switch.

[Note: Nintendo provided the copy of the game used in this review.]

LEGO The Incredibles Review Wed, 20 Jun 2018 10:48:00 -0400 Littoface

Note: As I have limited experience with both LEGO games and The Incredibles, this review is largely based on the game's overall appeal for adults and kids, based on play sessions with my five-year-old.

The town is under attack by a crazy mining drill machine and only one family can save it: The Parr family, aka, The Incredibles! That's right, the newest installment of the LEGO universe is here, and this time it's stretching its long arms right into the Incredibles franchise. Brought to you by TT Games and Disney-Pixar, LEGO The Incredibles is a fun, family-friendly romp through cheesy puns and superhero trope bending galore.

An Old Story with a New Face

If you've watched The Incredibles 2, the opening line to this review may sound familiar. That's because the game starts the same way as the movie. In fact, the LEGO game closely follows the events of the second movie and then the first, covering the major events in both.

As soon as you defeat the dastardly villain The Underminer, you discover that Supers like the Parr family (that is, people with superpowers) are illegal. Rather than face prison for, well, saving the city, the Parr family is given another choice: to change the public perception of the Supers.

Thus begins an epic crime-stopping, back-bending superpower adventure. The game pokes fun at superhero tropes like ridiculous super villains while remaining true to the Incredibles universe with its characters and designs.

The game adapts the movies for a younger audience, though, (for instance, by removing mentions of death and some of the darker overtones of the movies) so you can safely hand the controller to the budding little gamers in your family for couch co-op and fight crime and corruption as a family.

Same Formula, Same Fun

The idea is familiar if you've played any other LEGO games: Players control members of the Incredibles franchise (including, of course, the titular family) as they work together to build LEGO creations, solve blocky puzzles, and destroy literally everything around them for that sweet, sweet gold.

Each character has their own special skill, with plenty of variety for any play style. Violet, for instance, is able to surround herself with a protective psionic orb, Elastigirl can stretch her way into tight spots or turn into a human pogo-stick, Dash can, well, dash, and so on. Various characters are called upon as you progress to get the team past a sticky situation using their special power.

One particularly fun aspect of this game, though, is how well it incorporates cooperation. For instance, Violet can take another character for a safe hamster-ball ride in her force orb, while Mr. Incredible can throw others to hard-to-reach places. Although this game can definitely be played alone, its strengths are absolutely amplified when playing with a partner (especially a young, easily-excitable partner).

The action is quick and epic and carries on the movies' silliness and good humor with less of the underlying darkness. Passerby comments are particularly amusing — "I have to go feed my chinchilla!" — with a sprinkling of higher-level humor that kids might not get (though nothing inappropriate, as far as we could tell) — like the girl who thought she had developed door-opening superpowers… until she realized she was just standing in front of an automatic door.

And the puns! Oh, the puns. They are so ridiculously cheesy that the little ones will find them giggle-worthy while the adults will groan. But they are definitely fun!

Fight, Explore, Collect

LEGO The Incredibles has a few special, story-related levels that mostly follow the LEGO format but sometimes throw in a bike chase sequence or another unique twist on things. These story levels can be a bit of a drag as it's not always clear what the game wants you to do. 

The real fun of the game, though, comes from the free exploration allowed most of the time. During these segments, you can either follow the markers to the next story mission, or you can ignore the next mission completely and instead explore new areas.

Every area has some crime that the Parr family has to put an end to, (like the ice-cream thief supervillain who tries to freeze the docks because… well, actually, I'm not entirely sure. Just go with it.). Once you clear the section of the crime that's afflicting it, the minimap reveals the locations of various collectibles and action points around it. 

And there are a lot of collectibles and points to explore/actions to complete. You can go around fixing things or breaking things, helping people, finding special blocks, and so much more. You can even go all Grand Theft Auto and steal a car for faster travel (just pluck the driver out and make yourself at home).

This free exploration is an incredibly freeing and fun experience, and often it's more fun to just lose yourself in the side stuff rather than move on to the next story point. 

During these exploration segments, you can also use any character you've unlocked — a feat you accomplish by finding or buying blind-bags. This means you can play the character whose skills you prefer, rather than just use the ones who came along to the mission (and your partner in crime-fighting can be "that girl with the brown hair and the stretchy arms").

As an added bonus, you're not limited to the Incredibles universe: some other Pixar names may make an appearance, providing fun Easter eggs for those of us who grew up on their movies. You also have the option to create your very own superheroes from parts you find or acquire through mystery bags. Between the creation and the 100+ characters available, there are plenty of choices to appeal to everyone!

Once you're ready to move on to the next point, just set a marker on the minimap and off you go!

Good, Silly Fun

The downside to the simplification of the story and action is that while this game is enormously fun to play with a kid or if you're a younger player, it's a bit too simple for an adult audience. Since it's clearly intended for a younger audience, this is not necessarily a flaw, but it's definitely something to consider if you like your games with more depth.

That said, it's so much fun to run around destroying things, and the humor is so slapstick and fun, that LEGO The Incredibles will charm whoever plays it — whether you're familiar with either franchise or not. 


I received a copy of this game for free in return for an honest review. All the opinions contained in this review are my own!

Vampyr Goes For The Jugular But Only Sinks Its Teeth Half Deep Mon, 18 Jun 2018 17:31:23 -0400 Steven Oz

Editor's Note: This is a community review for DONTNOD's Vampyr. 

London is entrenched in a macabre, ancient, and ghastly history. It is built upon countless battlefields, mass graves, and what seems like unending history. Maze-like alleyways and brooding buildings dot the city and hold the shadows of killers, royalty, and hidden societies.

It is a city creeping with character and therefore, it is no better location for DONTNOD’s latest action RPG, Vampyr.

While not as alluring as the dramatic locations found in a handful of other games, Vampyr’s nightmare-inducing locale is a persona unto itself with blood-soaked rooms and empty streets.


Vampyr is an action-adventure RPG set in 1918 London. The Spanish flu has spread around the world and struck at the heart of the city.

The star of Vampyr is Dr. Jonathan Reid, who is a brilliant doctor in his own right. His research into blood transfusions has led him around the world and to many dark places.

Following the Great War, he returns to England; and after a mysterious encounter, he is afflicted with the vampiric condition. His lust for blood contradicts his character, and he is convinced science can explain everything happening to him.

Thrust into a shadowy world of creatures like himself, he fights to survive.

Like DONTNOD’s past games Remember Me and Life Is Strange, Vampyr leans heavily on story and character, for better or worse. 

Dr. Jonathan Reid is the perfect foil for this land, but he seems a little bland as a protagonist. None of the game's dialogue options (anywhere in the game), seem to add any real definition to the character.

At times, Reid comes off as an arrogant cur, with only one option to choose from, but at other times, he is kind and considerate with multiple options. While the overall story affects the behavior of the NPCs you talk to, always seems to be a incongruous undercurrent to Vampyr's dialogue choices. Whatever dialog option you pick, be it kind or arrogant, it never changes the good doctor, making him feel rather stale at times. 

Another, slightly bothersome, issue is that he seems a little too perfect to be a vampire. A world expert in blood transfusions? Really? It's a coincidence that's a bit on the nose for me. 


Vampyr's central concept is one of dichotomy: Reid is both a healer and a killer. Taking the Hippocratic oath, he is a protector of life whose own true identity is a dark comedy, a life masquerading in the shadows.

Eventually, this dichotomy ensnares Vampyr's gameplay; social webs begin to form with those you have met -- those who may or may not be potential victims, those you must pardon and save, and those you must judge and execute. 
In Vampyr, it’s not “Do I kill?” but “Who do I kill?”. Each citizen offers a tempting source of power…but there will be consequences within the story.

Each NPC in London is a living, breathing thing. None are isolated but attached to a least one other citizen. This not only means that Reid must be careful in who he dispatches, but it also means that there are multitudinous opportunities for Reid to learn about each and every one of them by asking questions of others (or possessing the proper skills to extract information).  

And it doesn't just move the narrative forward. These conversations will allow NPCs Blood EXP to increase, giving Reid the option to suck them dry -- and by proxy, leveling up and gaining new abilities.

Deciding who lives and dies the Vampyr isn't an easy choice -- and not only from a narrative or "moral" perspective. Who you kill in Vampyr can affect the rest of the game. 

For example, killing a nurse might seem easy because she's blackmailing another character. But if you learn she's providing medical services in another part of the city -- and the blackmail helps her achieve her goal -- then it might be hard to kill her. And if you do decide to kill her, vendor prices might increase because of her absence. 

On top of that, the game difficulty is tied to how you play and approach these NPCs. The more lives you take, the easier the game becomes. While there are four ending to Vampyr, it's easy to botch one by killing the wrong person. And that's where Vampyr shines the brightest -- in situations that remind you the stakes are real, and that you have to live with consequences of your actions. 

When it actually comes to combat, things get relatively simple. You have either a weapon in each hand, such as a machete and a stake, or a two-handed weapon like a mace. You can also pick up guns and blast your enemies if that suits your fancy. 

As a vampire, you have powers, too. The most basic vampiric attack is powerful, allowing you to take loads of damage, as well as dodge around rooms and streets at supernatural speeds. Meanwhile, kill a few vampire hunters, and you’ll unlock your feral claws. These will let you charge up a big attack that thrashes enemies onto the floor so you can pounce on them and drink their blood. 

The problem is that that's about it for combat. You'll rinse and repeat over and over. And even though different enemy types are thrown at you throughout the game, such as vampire hunters, werewolves, and Skal (feral vampires), most fights will go something like this: dodge, hit, stab, charge health, claw, bite, dodge, hit, stab, charge health, claw, bite. Even boss the fights typically use this pattern, which gets repetitive after a while.

And even though I was thankful to come out of several vicious battles alive, it wasn't necessarily because of the game's inherent difficulty or the complexity of combat. Certain weapons stun, and this allows Reid to perform his important bit attack. However, the stun doesn't always work -- and it's even more difficult to figure out exactly how you're supposed to pull it off. 

Even the tutorial doesn't explain it well enough.


Vampyr is a game about decisions. It leans toward its story and narrative by giving players a lot of exposition early on. Notwithstanding some combat issues and systems gouged by a lack of difficulty, Vampyr is a slow burn.

While the game has some issues with combat and uses simplistic tropes for its main character, it is an excellent DONTNOD story. I was compelled to move forward and find out what grim happenstance was unfurled in this land. Yes, it is not a perfect game, but it serves as an engrossing drama for players to enjoy. 

This was a community review for DONTNOD's Vampyr. To see the Official GameSkinny review, click here

HyperX Fury S Pro Gaming Mousepad Review Thu, 14 Jun 2018 11:25:54 -0400 Jonathan Moore

There was a time not that long ago I would've scoffed at the notion of ever buying an "oversized" mousepad. Whenever I walked into a Mirco Center or a Fry's and saw those "oafish" extra-large pads dangling on the racks or lounging on the shelves, I chuckled at the "obvious" overkill of it all.

I had my regular-sized rinky-dink pad, and it worked just fine. I thought to myself, "Why would I need anything bigger?"

But that's the type of thinking you have when don't know any better. It's the type of thinking that gets you killed in competitive shooters, and it's the type of thinking that keeps you from knowing the true majesty of unfettered size.

Luckily for me, all that changed when I got my hands on the HyperX Fury S Pro Gaming XL.

Bigger than both the SteelSeries Qck XXL and Logitech G840, the Fury S Pro measures in at a whopping 35.4"x16.5". That means that no matter how exaggerated your movements, your mouse isn't likely to fall off the edges of this pad.

It comes in two variants: a standard, goes-with-everything black and the louder, yet still elegant, Speed Edition. The former keeps things understated with a muted black background, accented by the red and silver HyperX logo in the bottom right-hand corner. The latter features the same black background but this time embellished with a red, whispy flourish across most of the pad. A white HyperX logo pops in the lower right-hand corner, tying it all together.

The soft cloth of the pad is bound with a nicely woven anti-fray stitch. Not only does it extend the pad's shelf life, but it also provides a small tactile barrier to let you know you're getting close to the edges (if you ever reach them). On top of that, I haven't had a single issue with the pad folding or sliding because of its nicely textured rubber bottom.

Testing the mousepad in a plethora of different scenarios, ranging from elongated gaming sessions and every-day surfing to article editing and graphic design, the Fury S Pro proved to be an asset at both work and home. But if you're more the gamer, the pad's normal and Speed editions have a slight, yet important difference you'll want to be aware of.

HyperX says the normal pad has more friction than the Speed Edition and is built specifically for precision. The Speed Edition loses some of the friction found in the normal edition and helps increase player speed.

Although I wasn't able to confirm the Speed Edition is any faster than the normal edition, I was able to confirm that the normal edition's friction increased my precision in games like Battlefield 1 and Paladins -- and that's the primary reason it hasn't left my desk since I unboxed it. What's more, re-centering the mouse wasn't an issue because I didn't need to worry about sliding off the pad. The peace of mind provided by the size of Fury S Pro helped me keep my focus when it mattered most.

However, as good as the Fury S Pro is, its material may deter some gamers from picking it up. There's no doubt the pad is extremely comfortable, but those looking for a hard-plastic surface won't find what they're looking for here. Unfortunately, if you were looking to stay in the HyperX family, the company currently doesn't make hard-plastic pads, so you'll have to look to companies like SteelSeries and Logitech if that's what you're looking for.

But honestly, that's the only caveat I could find when deciding if I could recommend this fantastic pad. If you do want to go smaller, then HyperX has you covered (which makes getting a Fury S Pro even more of a no-brainer). Both the standard and Speed editions come in four different sizes: small, medium, large, and XL.

You can see them all here.

The extra large variant I tested retails for $29.99, a steal considering the quality and size of the pad. Even better, the smallest pad in the bunch, which is the size of a normal mousepad, will only set you back $9.99.

There's little reason this mousepad shouldn't be on your desk yesterday.

[Note: HyperX provided the Fury S Pro XL mousepad used for this review.]

Lust For Darkness Review: The Erotic Cthulhu Game You Didn't Know You Needed Tue, 12 Jun 2018 14:03:52 -0400 Ty Arthur

Cthulhu mythos fans have been majorly spoiled lately, with They Remain and The Endless hitting theaters and a trio of video games arriving shortly including the Call Of Cthulhu reboot, open world entry The Sinking City, and today the erotic horror adventure Lust For Darkness.

After that censorship debacle in Agony soured the experience for many horror fans, players seeking something boundary-pushing will unquestionably want to give Lust For Darkness a go.

Both games have their strengths and weaknesses, but Lust has a more polished feel at launch, and while there's less overt gore, the storytelling is easily on a higher level.

 Plus, there's a dildo pumping machine, and that's just undeniably a good time

At The Mansion Of Madness

Lust is more along the lines of the traditional walking simulator horror game than Agony was, focusing on exploring locations and opening an endless series of drawers while escaping detection.

The gameplay will make you think of Layers Of Fear or SOMA, but with more direct storytelling than the former. This isn't an abstract game where you have to wonder what's happening -- its a straightforward cosmic horror narrative, and that's something that's been missing from this style.

Its not all just walking and running from the monster though. Puzzles pop up every so often when you need to escape from Lusst'ghaa or make your way further into the mansion.

Some of those puzzles had me stumped for a few minutes while I tried to figure out the game's logic, but none of them are frustrating enough that you'll ever feel the need to turn it off and play something else.

To add another dimension of gameplay, you will occasionally have to use a spider-headed alien mask to detect hidden ways of progressing through areas... but if you leave it on too long you go insane. 

     I dunno where that portal goes, but I feel like its
probably warm and moist in there

Creating A Horror Feel

The atmosphere is ramped up properly in Lust, but the death sequences feel like they need to be expanded. Outlast for example had those truly ghoulish death scenes that made you want to avoid getting killed again, but here there's basically just a slicing motion and fade to black.

Although less relentlessly bloody than other recent horror titles, there is just as much grotesque horror on display with fully nude themes. There are unquestionably screenshots I can't include here because they push the envelope to a pornographic place.

Agony was all about the vagina-headed demons and pulsating vulva fruit, while Lust For Darkness instead has a hermaphroditic motif. Prepare yourself for a bevy of futanari creatures that have breasts and multiple penises... and probably want to impale you in unpleasant ways. 

 Well hello there!

Sex stuff aside, between the unsettling alien architecture and weird arcane machinery, there's a lot the developers get right about the Mythos.

In fact an early segment of the game taking place in an old timey mansion while sneaking to avoid guards will bring to mind Call Of Cthulhu: Dark Corners Of The Earth

The game splits itself between a plane of cosmic dread where death is a sexual release, and a giant sprawling estate where cultists are enacting a ritual. The latter segments are essentially the Eyes Wide Shut mansion, but with a stronger horror twist.

 Everybody's having an orgy and this dude just wants to be his own best friend

The Bottom Line

It should go without saying that Lust For Darkness is a super NSFW entry. There's dildo machines, lesbian orgies, futa statues... even the wine corks look like a golden butt plugs.

If you want a sexy horror experience, then Lust is the game for you. The voice acting and writing are easily better than Agony, although still on the indie side (a couple of minor spelling and grammar mistakes in the text will need to be updated with a patch).

There's also fabulous music to enhance the mood, and the mystery to the story will draw you in like any good thriller or detective movie.

Playing straight through, you'll probably finish the full game in a handful of hours, and other than going back to find side story objects you missed, there's not much for replay value. This is more a one and done story, but its a story that's well worth experiencing first hand, even if it is a little rough around the edges.

You can purchase the game on Steam for $14.99.

Jurassic World: Evolution Review Tue, 12 Jun 2018 10:43:21 -0400 Fox Doucette

With Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom coming to a theater near you on June 22, Universal Pictures decided, as you do, that a video game tie-in, Jurassic World: Evolution, should be part and parcel with the film's release.

Curiously, it's clear they made distinct two decisions. One, make it a tycoon game and farm it out to Frontier Developments, who made 2016's excellent Planet Coaster.

And two, base it mainly on the previous film in the franchise: 2015's Jurassic World.

That movie featured a theme park that had been operating fairly successfully since the events of the older Jurassic Park films where scientists, entertainment types, and paramilitary interests had their worlds collide, some dinosaurs got loose, and the studio made a billion on the worldwide gross.

This is ... actually pretty fertile ground for a video game. Trying to make a profit, keeping factions happy while playing their interests against each other, quickly responding when everything goes downhill in a hurry after a disaster? That's pretty much Tropico with dinosaurs, isn't it?


The "Wow" Factor

The primary positive of this game: The dinosaurs look pretty cool.

It's clear that the developer put a lot of love capturing the spirit of the movies, which were always ultimately about putting cool-looking dinosaurs on the silver screen.

The in-game models are very pretty, especially in the official footage, which is either pre-rendered or else captured by a top-end computer. But even on something relatively potato-like, the dinosaurs are well-modeled and have a definite gee-whiz factor to them.

Indeed, the cutscene you get when you finish cloning a dinosaur and release it into an enclosure is the single niftiest part of the game.

The rest, is... well, it just is.

Paint By Numbers Gameplay

There is simply not a lot of meat on the bones of this game.

Regardless of the circumstances, it's obvious this game was rushed out the door. Jurassic World: Evolution is seriously bare-bones -- even when compared to Frontier's other entry into this same genre.

There are precious few shop types, buildings, and other actual park things to unlock. Everything other than the dinosaurs is massively simplified to the point where even tycoon games from the 1990s had more depth to them (Rollercoaster Tycoon, looking at you.) It's all just window dressing.

Furthermore, the actual dinosaur research, fossil digs, upgrades, and other stuff that power actual player progress? Click on a location where the game tells you exactly what you will find, wait for a timer, then go to the fossil section, wait for a timer, go to the research building, choose a line of research, wait for a timer...

If I wanted to click on something and wait for a timer like a Skinner box, I'd play FarmVille. The most fascinating part of the entire Jurassic universe, the stuff that made Michael Crichton's original book such a great read and carried the exposition in the early movies? It's reduced to “click spot on screen, wait a couple of minutes, receive reward.”

At least give me a bit of dialogue or a short, skippable cutscene from Mr. DNA or something.

But the Mayhem is Fun, Right?

Settle in and prepare to be disappointed again.

Every dinosaur is governed by a set of meters that also govern whether it will live a long and healthy life or run amok.

Translation: you're constantly playing a way-too-easy balancing act with an instant get-out-of-jail free card whenever a dinosaur is unhappy. Just tranquilize and sell it. Problem solved. Or if a dinosaur is a plant-eater, clone a meat-eater and cull the herd ... in one of the most underwhelming displays of dinosaur combat it's possible to have in a game.

And when the meat-eater starts getting too many ideas about killing all the other dinosaurs? Tranquilize it, then either move it to its own carnivore enclosure or sell it.

And when dinosaurs bust through the fence, there is none of the tension from the movies. Remember the very first film, when the velociraptors were probing around in the visitor center, actually learning and doing (sci-fi) intelligent monster things?

There is none of that in the game. The dinosaur gets loose, it starts killing guests until you sound the alarm, it can't get into the emergency shelter, so you either tranquilize it or wait for it to wander back to its feeder in its pen then dispatch a repair crew behind it to fix the fence.

It's the least impressive jailbreak you can imagine.

The Game Has No Soul

In essence, they made a Jurassic Park game that has absolutely none of what made the movies so compelling. It's a barebones management game with minimal gameplay variety where the voice cast, playing characters from the movie, deliver canned lines that have none of the quality those same actors brought to their live-action roles. 

And except for the cool release-the-dino cutscene, which gets old after the second or third time, there's nothing to differentiate this from any generic game in the style of something like Zoo Tycoon.

The Verdict

Now, I'm not going to sink so far as to call this “shovelware.” Frontier Developments deserves better than that label.

But this game is a content-light, fulfill-the-license, a-movie-is-coming-out cash grab all the same. When I sat down to play the review copy I was sent by the publisher, it was Saturday afternoon. I had the whole day in front of me ... and I got bored, exited the game, and went out to dinner to clear my head knowing I'd have to play it more for a review and guide, spending an uninspired Sunday giving it the fairest shake that professionalism allows.

Total time elapsed on Saturday, according to Steam, before I got bored: 88 minutes. That's within the window for a refund, and if I'd paid the full $54.99 for the regular or $59.99 for the deluxe edition, that's exactly what I would have done.

I love building and management games. I have dozens to hundreds of hours in Rollercoaster Tycoon, the old SimCity games, Cities: Skylines, Railway Empire, Banished...

Jurassic World: Evolution couldn't even hold my interest. This isn't even a genre-fans or movie-fans only recommendation. The game is just ... underwhelming.

And that's unfortunate. 

Dark Souls Remastered Review: Praise the Sun Mon, 11 Jun 2018 16:37:29 -0400 Jonathan Moore

There are very few games like the original Dark Souls.

In the seven years since its release, Dark Souls and its immediate sequels have permeated the gaming zeitgeist to such an extent that Souls-borne is now a recognized subclass of RGP. Despite the games that have come after it, the release of Dark Souls remains an undisputed watershed moment for gaming. It's the game that made "git gud" a subculture and gave an entirely new meaning to the phrase "****ing hard."

It's good news, then, that the ethos of what made the original so timeless is at the core of Dark Souls: Remastered. Or in other words: praise the sun this remaster isn't a dud.

Making Dark Souls Great (Again)

OG Dark Souls players will find that almost everything in the remaster is exactly as they remember it: enemies are in the same locations, bosses are just as difficult, and exploration is just as important.

But the word "remaster" itself entails change -- and not every tiny detail of Lordran is the same. The most noticeable differences come on the graphical front, while others can be found in the game's PvP elements. Some, for better or worse, firmly fall into the neither-positive-nor-negative category of "meh."

If you were worried Dark Souls: Remastered wouldn't run at a buttery-smooth 60fps at 4K (or more technically, 1800p upscaled/60), you can put your concerns to a fecund bed. From the game's opening sequence to its end, it's obvious that Dark Souls: Remastered takes full advantage of current-gen power.

In my roughly 40 hours with the game, I still have yet to encounter any noticeable framerate drops. In fact, gameplay is so silky that I’ve not run into so much as a stutter. Less janky graphics don't remove some hit detection issues inherent in the game's design, but it does mean more confident ripostes and backstabs -- and better animation reads on pesky enemies like balder knights, painting guardians, and infested ghouls. 

Thankfully, it also means that notoriously intensive environments like Blighttown, The Depths, and other formerly sluggish hells finally have their shit together. Where the game once struggled to hit 30 frames (or where it clawed to reach even half that threshold), Dark Souls: Remastered doesn't miss a beat.

Some may say the improvements fundamentally change areas such as Blighttown, making them “easier” when compared to their original versions. But more appropriately, I think the increased frames make these areas a bit more fair and entertaining for both old and new players alike. 

Don’t be mistaken, the scaffolding leading to Blighttown is still mercilessly treacherous; the tight alleyways of the lower Undeadberg are still murderously tedious; and the cramped corridors mazing through The Depths are still ruthlessly insidious. It's just that now combat feels better balanced, with lag, tearing, and artifacts things of the distant past.

Another improvement that makes Dark Souls: Remastered a more enjoyable experience comes in the form of volumetric lighting.

Naturally, Dark Souls is, well, a dark game, one where both light and dark work in concert to develop the atmosphere of each distinctive area. And while the original was no slouch when it came to rendering light and particles, Dark Souls: Remastered enhances those effects to a great degree.

Bonfires burn with new intensity, souls glitter in brilliant blue-white light, and spells like Great Soul Arrow illuminate dark surroundings in dazzling eldritch lightshows. Most noticeable of all are the improvements to outdoor lighting, where sunlight scatters across environments more vibrantly than ever before, repainting familiar vistas into beautiful new tapestries.

But just as gorgeous as the environments of Dark Souls: Remastered can be, there's also a strange counterbalance at play: not everything looks better. Watch any comparison video, and you'll see that some of the game's renderings simply looked better on the PlayStation 3, a strange thing to say about any game -- let alone one in the Souls series.

And depending on your display, Remastered might look a bit (or a lot) over-saturated. Since 4K televisions typically default to high contrast settings, you'll find that areas of Blighttown are now drenched in a sickly green or that areas of Anor Londo are bathed in fiery red. In other areas, bonfires can look like they've been put through too many Instagram clarity filters, which ain't really a good look. 

Playing on a TCL 50" 4K HDR, it took about an hour or so for my eyes to fully adjust to the remaster without changing my default settings (which work fine with games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and God of War). Sure, you can easily tweak your display's contrast settings, but if you don't have multiple options for all your inputs, you'll find yourself doing one of two things: changing them back and forth every time you play or just getting used to it, neither of which are completely ideal scenarios.

Git Gud or Die

If you've never played a Souls game, then this might be a tricky place to start. This is a hard game, but not in a particularly nefarious way. You will die, and you will question the very basis of your sanity as you find new ways to give up your perpetually escaping humanity.

Exploration can be difficult. If you're used to a minimap (or any map at all), you'll quickly discover that memorization is not only key to getting around but also to surviving. You will backtrack. You will grind. And you will get frustrated. But the beautiful thing about Dark Souls is that it teaches you patience and perseverance in spades. Every death leads to better understanding.

Perhaps unlike any other game, Dark Souls will make you a better gamer.

If you're returning to Lordran, you'll not only notice the additions above, but also a few quality of life upgrades. Now you can change factions at covenants, use multiple items at once, and scale menus to see them better. All of these things bring Dark Souls: Remastered more in line with both Dark Souls 3 and other games in the current generation.

If you're a PvPer, you'll be glad to know that matchmaking is better than ever before. Dark Souls Remastered implements DS3's password system and tweaks to balancing make sure that OP players won't simply invade and wreck you because of their gear.

Dark Souls: Remastered might not completely hold up these days, with some areas and design choices showing their age when compared to Dark Souls 3 or Bloodborne. And it's a shame that the developers didn't take the time to revamp and/or finish some of the areas, such as the still-terrible-looking Lost Izalith. But whether you're new to the series or not, Dark Souls: Remastered's misery-soaked world is a testament to vision and execution. 

Dark Souls: Remastered is the best way to play a modern classic.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Dark Souls: Remastered used in this review.]

Prey: Mooncrash Review -- Countless Deaths Await In This Roguelite Re-Imagining Mon, 11 Jun 2018 16:01:38 -0400 Ty Arthur

E3 has just been the gift that keeps on giving this year. The stealth RPG smash hit Prey just received some big updates to the story mode, including a New Game+ addition, along with a large DLC surprise announced at the Bethesda conference and then released the same day!

Mooncrash is very much in the vein of the many big announcements so far at the world's biggest gaming expo, as developers try out different versions of the same IP.

Gears Of War is getting a turn based tactics title, Fallout is going online-only survival mode, and now Prey has a randomized rogue-like concoction with Mooncrash.

A Whole New Way To Play

Prey was easily among the best games of 2017, with its many different methods for tackling any given situation and the mind-bending story that brought to mind the best of the various 'Shocks.

Now we've got a whole new way to play Prey, with Mooncrash offering what is basically a randomized endless mode. This time around you take on the role of an operator playing through simulations of a disaster at the moon base.

In each run you get to unlock different character types, with the goal being to discover five different ways to escape the map and then (eventually) escape with all the characters in a single run.

 The first character is frail but has more psi aptitude for kinetic blasts

The base game gave you a multitude of options on how to play -- choosing between stealth, combat, psionics, using powers and goo guns to explore hard to reach places, etc. -- and Mooncrash is basically that same idea but in a sandbox instead of a major story mode.

There is a story with Mooncrash, both for the operator going through the simulations and the people he's learning about while the simulations occur, but the focus is undeniably more on the gameplay and interacting with the environment in different ways.

In essence, this is sort of a single player survival experience with roguelike features, and some new lore scattered across the way.

 Things didn't go well for these employees, and its your job to find out why

Of course there are new weapons, grenades, and enemy types to spice up the experience, and you can do some nifty things with the environment since you know you are in a simulation this time around.

The longer you stay alive, the higher the difficulty becomes. Eventually you will succumb to the challenges and have to reset the simulation. Players are expected to die fairly often, use up the Sim Points you earned on that playthrough to start with better gear and skills, and try again.

Sim Points are earned through normal gameplay by killing enemies in different ways, finding bodies, and so on, but there are bounties for extra points if you play the simulation in a specific way, so there's a ton of replayability here.

  Selecting better starting gear in a new simulation runthrough

The Bottom Line

Mooncrash provides a cool new mode that gives you a reason to return to Prey if you don't want to go through the main storyline again, and features an innovative way to tweak the base gameplay in a new direction.

The DLC is sort of at an odd price point, however. It's $19.99 if you already had the game, but effectively only $10 if you didn't previously buy the base game because it comes with the digital deluxe edition for $10 over the normal price. I get that game prices change as they age, but it sort of seems like they are punishing people who bought the game when it launched by charging extra.

That price point might be the only real downside here, as you'll probably get a max of 10 hours or so out of this before moving on, but if you love Prey its worth the investment.

Mooncrash is just the start of the Prey renaissance, as later this year we'll get Typon Hunter, an asymmetrical 1 vs 5 version of the game that will also support VR! Hopefully we'll have plenty of more Prey ahead, as Mooncrash shows there's still life in this game, and a full sequel would be well received by the fan base.

Cultist Simulator Review Wed, 06 Jun 2018 13:18:29 -0400 Zack Palm

When game developers tell you about how you're going to experiment in their game, you may imagine this means you'll be trying out multiple different weapons to fight your enemies or you're going to dabble in a variety of spells to find your favorite combination. In Cultist Simulator, you experiment with far more than simple weapons; instead, you discover what the gameplay mechanics mean and how to conjure a victory from a blank board through multiple attempts.

This brand-new game from Weather Factory places you behind the wheel of a maddeningly complex card game. You start out with a basic card, feed it into a single icon to earn a pool of resource cards, and attempt to survive, all while attempting to found and lead a cult.

Each time you play, you learn a new trick, granting you the opportunity to experiment with your cards and try something you haven't done before.

Listen to Your Cards

You start the game off with a simple card in the middle of the board and a large 'Work' icon on the left side of the screen. You begin by dragging the card, labeled 'Menial Employment', to the Work icon, and waiting for the cooldown. Upon completion of the task, you'll find you've developed a small pool of resources, along with a new icon you can interact with called 'Dream'.

Now you're playing Cultist Simulator.

Because you have to discover what's going on, it's important to pause the game whenever something happens. While paused, you need to click on every new icon and card you acquire and read the pop-up attached to it.

The pop-ups come with a small narrative description to add richness to the ever-changing world of Cultist Simulator. These descriptions may plainly detail what these cards do or only hint at the answer, forcing you to guess and hope for the best. 

At the bottom-right of each card and icon, you will see an array of 'Aspect' symbols. These detail what the icon wants or what the card does. For example, an icon may have a small, purple potion symbol called 'ingredient' in it. This means the icon requires an ingredient in order for something to happen; this ingredient may be forcefully taken from you or willingly given to produce a particular outcome.


During your game, you may want to feed a particular card to an icon, such as 'Work', to develop it further. The game does not point this out to you or send you a notification that this is happening. It simply happens. If you miss it, you suffer the consequences.While not placing a card in the icon may benefit you, ignoring it likely harms you, and you'll have to swiftly recover from the consequences. This is the developers at Weather Factory prompting you to not remain idle -- keep on your toes as much as possible, and read all of the Aspect symbols!

Resource Management

The first part of the game has you struggling to maintain the four main resources: Health, Passion, Reason, and Funds. Of the four, I've lost multiple times due to not having enough Health, or I've sometimes found myself struggling to acquire funds.

The game does not tell you how to obtain more. With some experimentation (and some quick deaths), I was able to discover how to do this.

I found out that when you place your resource cards in select icons, you can acquire new cards that remain on the board for a limited time. You use these limited-time cards to develop and grow your standard resources -- a welcome discovery that, even early on, gives you a sense of accomplishment and progress.

For example, one of the earliest things you learn is that you need to maintain a decent pool of Health. You can acquire more through using your Health resource cards on the 'Study' icon, gaining Vitality.

Vitality only lasts on the board for three minutes and then disappears. If you acquire two Vitality at the same time, you can place them back into the 'Study' icon and earn a new Health card, adding it to your total resource pool.

All of this takes time. And during this time, the board is steadily working against you, not waiting for you to feel ready or prepared.

You have to pay the 'Time Passes' icon a Fund card every minute to survive. This means you have to earn money faster than you're using it, and you may want a few Fund cards in your back pocket to purchase a piece of Occult Lore.

The game's random-number generator always feels set against you, too.

You may feel like every time you're about to use a Reason card to further develop your resource pool, the game demands you use your last one for your job or suffer the consequences.

Are the consequences worth it? Do you reserve that card to receive that instant gratification of a bigger resource pool, or do you stave off your angry boss?

You will constantly ask yourself these questions, wondering when you're going to get a break -- which you never do. This game does not hold your hand, and you should never expect it to. You must pay attention and learn from your past mistakes in order to succeed.

Steep Learning Curve

I finally discovered on my third or fourth game of Cultist Simulator how to earn more resource cards. When I learned this new skill, a new door in the game seemed to open up; I was rewarded for my efforts by being allowed to look deeper. 

Each time I sat down to play a new deck, I had more tools I could use to help me survive longer. The game keeps these mechanics in plain sight and rewards you if you're willing to work to understand. Cultist Simulator feels like a massive web where when you pull on one thread, eight more strands become available for you to pull.

However, this may push a good portion of the player base away from this game. These difficult mechanics take a good deal of time to learn, and if you're not careful, you'll find yourself dead and back at the start with little to show for it.

This is what Weather Factory expects to happen. The developers want you to try again. This way, the small victories you have, like discovering how to add more cards to your resource pool, feel meaningful.

Did you die from having too many Dread cards on the board? If these pop up enough times, you can spend a good portion of a new game learning how to earn a Contentment card, which counters Dread.

Did a noisy inspector learn too much about your cult and build a case against you? Spend time learning more about your followers and how to upgrade them. After a bit of digging, you can learn how to turn them into deadly assets any sane enemy would rightfully fear, and that inspector is no longer a problem.

Leading Your Cult

Once you're past the initial start of the game, you'll begin leading your cult. This means you start shepherding your cult's followers, keeping your notoriety in check, and discovering new Lore cards to use for your many arcane devices. 

As you steadily continue your nefarious activities to advance your cult's goals, reporters and detectives may start to grow curious about your actions. Thankfully, you are not alone.

Your followers come into play during the mid-to-late game. Their devotion to you remains absolute, and their skills are at your command. Should you feel a reporter asks too many questions, poisoning their tea or driving them mad can stifle any future problem. The same goes for completing a dangerous cult ritual -- who better to sacrifice than a willing follower whose only purpose is to expand your rightful doctrine?

Every play you make comes with two sides: a consequence and a reward. These consequences sting your hand and fill you with regret, but the rewards keep you going and drive you to see the light at the end of the tunnel -- even if the light is your death.

You adapt, you evolve. Because experience is the only thing you take with you between your games, you cling to it and establish it as your creed. As you learn more, you discover new possibilities available to you and untangle the massive web hidden behind Cultist Simulator to find the thread of victory.

At the End of the Day

Starting out in the game can feel like a chore. You stumble, fail, and continually feel like the game unfairly killed you for something you barely understood.

Once you get past the first few games and start learning how everything clicks together, you get sucked in. There's plenty going on in Cultist Simulator, and the game rewards you for every new detail you uncover and use.

Those with the willpower and skill set to find the right card combinations for a victory will reap the rewards.

Note: A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Vampyr Review - Sink Your Teeth Into an Intoxicating Vampire RPG Mon, 04 Jun 2018 18:15:01 -0400 Autumn Fish

Have you ever wanted to experience life as a vampire? Have you ever longed to fit into a human society that's impacted by your very presence as a vampire? Have you ever desired to get blood drunk and wreak havoc on your enemies with supernatural abilities?

Then let me tell you about a special single-player action RPG called Vampyr. It's a brand-new game from DONTNOD Entertainment, the creators of Life Is Strange.

This new game aims to provide players with an authentic vampire experience set alongside a gripping story centered around the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic in London. Is this a vampire game that's worth more than a blip on your radar? Let's find out!

Vampyr Review

You play as Dr. Jonathan Reid, a newly turned vampire. Upon returning to London from the warfront, he finds the Spanish Flu pandemic has ravaged the nation, alongside a mysterious uptick in the vampire population. As a doctor, it is his duty to help find a cure to save the city from the flu. As a vampire, he can use his supernatural abilities to get down to the bottom of whatever's plaguing London, if only he can suppress the thirst for blood.

There are two major aspects to this game. In many ways, it's a deep social RPG in that you have the ability to make a powerful impact on the citizens around you -- in more ways than one. However, it's also an action RPG that can prove quite challenging in its own right, depending on how you play your cards.

How Vampyr Functions as a Social RPG

The people of London feel alive, and the game is happy to treat them as if they are. If they get sick, they could die. If they die, the people connected to them may suffer in sometimes unpredictable ways. This isn't a game where you can expect to get away with being careless.

Vampyr Doctor Surgery

As a doctor, you thankfully have the power to craft and administer medicine to those who need it. And as a vampire, you even have the power to save citizens who find themselves in more imminent danger. Making sure the health of London's social circles is up to par is essential for keeping them from falling apart. After all, you're looking to save the city, aren't you?

If you're not, that's fine too. Ultimately, the decision is up to you. Just remember that all of your choices have consequences.

Each populated district in London has its own social circle. Each social circle has a pillar at the top who everybody knows or is connected to somehow. Then everybody else in the social circle is divided into clusters of people who are close to each other.

Everybody has their secrets, too. They even have secrets with other people. The more you learn about the citizens of London, the more you begin to realize how interconnected these social circles really are. You get a feel for how important these people are. You even get a taste of how much their blood is worth.

The story likes to set up intricate and delicate scenarios where you're left making difficult decisions. These choices often impact important people, which in turn affects those who were close to those people. The way they're impacted depends entirely on how you manage the situation. You have the power to save London, but you also have the power to destroy it.

Vampyr Bite

If you decide to just give up on London and your own humanity, you could just give into the thirst and start draining the citizens of their blood one by one. You'd even find yourself to be stronger for it. The more important someone is, the more you know about them, and the healthier they are, the more experience they're worth. However, that also means the amount of experience you earn for killing them is also essentially equivalent to the consequences you will incur, so bear this in mind before you pick your next victim.

The social RPG elements are undoubtedly deep, but how does the action hold up in comparison?

How Vampyr Works as an Action RPG

The action here draws slight parallels to The Witcher 3 in execution. You have a main-hand melee weapon as well as a secondary weapon, which can be a simple off-hand melee weapon or a gun. You can attack with your equipped weapons, dodge, sprint, and use an array of supernatural abilities to take down your opponent.

You have a Stamina Meter that depletes every time you dodge, sprint, or attack with melee weapons. If you run out of stamina, you're left unable to perform these actions, which can easily lead to death if you're not careful.

You also have a Blood Meter that fuels your supernatural abilities. This meter won't replenish over time and must instead be filled by either biting rats, biting enemies in combat, or using the perks of certain supernatural abilities.

Vampyr Supernatural Ability Blood

The enemies you face in this game aren't pushovers, either. You're going to need to become at least competent with the game's mechanics in order to succeed, even if you're at a decent level. It's not terribly hard, but you can't expect to just blunder into the fray with guns blazing and expect to succeed.

That being said, you might find that you're consistently far below the level of the enemies that the game's throwing at you. That's actually intentional. It's the game's way of giving you an incentive to feed on the citizens of London. It represents how much weaker you are when you don't feed while simultaneously offering you the opportunity to see just how powerful you would be if you gave in and engorged yourself. Of course, feeding comes with consequences, so remember to drink responsibly.

When you gain experience, you won't automatically benefit from it and level up. Instead, you must rest at a bed and spend experience on supernatural abilities in order to level up properly. You can even spend a bit of experience to reset your skill build and respec everything.

So all in all, the social and action aspects of this game mesh together brilliantly. This alone makes for a wonderful vampire RPG. Mix it all with a mystery and story that you want to get invested in, and you have a downright attractive vampire game.

Vampyr Talking to a Citizen

Verdict: An Intoxicating Vampire RPG

Vampyr gripped me from the outset. Its gameplay and overarching theme mesh so well together that it just feels right to play. I felt like a gritty, badass, newborn vampire struggling to find its way in the world and control the madness spreading across London. I just felt so cool playing it, and that's a feeling I don't get from many games anymore.

It's one of those games where I always wanted to see what was around the next corner. I would scrub every inch of text and dialogue because I found it wholeheartedly interesting. The mystery surrounding being a vampire and the story of the pandemic in London had me absolutely hooked.

If you're at all interested in this title, I highly recommend checking it out. Whether you're just a fan of vampires or you're looking for a good single-player RPG to sink your teeth into, this is a game you don't want to overlook.

Vampyr is available June 5 on Steam, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

Note: A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Editor's Note: To read the community review for DONTNOD's Vampyr, shamble here

Moonlighter Review -- A Dungeon-Crawling Adventure With a Twist Mon, 04 Jun 2018 15:28:40 -0400 Zack Palm

Think you're settling in for the same dungeon-crawling adventure you've played before? Think again.

Developers Digital Sun give you something different from the traditional dungeon-crawling experience with Moonlighter. Not only must you explore the various dungeons in the small commercial village of Rynoka, but you must act as the town's shopkeeper and sell the many treasures you find from the ruins you've explored.

The game introduces wonderfully woven-together mechanics throughout your entire experience to give you a genuinely enjoyable adventure. These enjoyable mechanics will easily drive you to complete all four of the unique dungeons, and to at last open the final and mysterious fifth dungeon.

Will's Adventure

You assume the role of Will, who dreams of becoming an adventurer, and the game begins when he makes his first attempt in the Golem dungeon. Things don't exactly go to plan, and he gets spit right back out to the entrance.

These dungeons rest outside of Rynoka. Previously, they were brimming to the rim with treasure, but after 70 years, they've become far too dangerous for common adventurers to risk exploring. As a result, Rynoka suffers, and many of the occupants have little hope of a revival.

That is, until Will returns to claim his family's shop, Moonlighter. The shop was once owned by Will's father, who died attempting to open up the final gate.

You start the game with a sword and shield, as well as a broom. The only way to earn more stuff and get further in the game is to charge into a dungeon, loot the enemies, and make it out alive -- this doesn't always happen.

There are two main objectives in this game: run your shop effectively to fund your dungeon adventures, and complete the dungeons to find better loot. Along the way, you're purchasing upgrades for the town and for your shop in order to return them to their former glory.

The two ideologies complement one another beautifully, and one side does not overshadow the other. The further you progress in the game, the harder the dungeons become. As the dungeons increase in difficulty, the more expensive items you can find as you continue to dive deeper into each one.

The Dungeons and Combat

All of the dungeons have three floors, with a final boss at the end. Each time you jump into a dungeon, all of the rooms get mixed around and the game's procedural engine crafts a new layout. The map should feel different every time you enter.

The developers, amusingly, worked this into the game's lore. One of the old adventurers, Crazy Pete, left behind numerous notes about his experiences. He points out that no matter how many adventurers enter a dungeon at the same time, they will never run into each other and they will never play through a similar map. While this was not a necessary detail, it provides a sense of fun and gives you an idea of the playful world of Moonlighter.

Once inside the dungeon, you must hack, slash, and dodge enemies in order to survive. The combat is straightforward. Dodging provides you with a small amount of invincibility, and all of the enemies come with a distinct pattern.

You can wield two different weapon sets, and switching between them requires a simple button press. You have five different weapons at your disposal: sword and shield, bow, two-handed sword, spear, and a pair of fighting gloves.

None of the weapons stand out as the obvious choice to always take with you, as I only ever used the fighting gloves; I thought of Will as being the scrappy adventurer that he was, and he remained light on his feet.

Will must don armor, too. There are three different flavors: one with less armor but more speed, one with no speed but medium armor, and one with the most armor but less speed. Much like the weapons, these play with your chosen style, and there's no correct answer to what you should wear. Will is not a mage, and there is no magic.

In order to prevent you from grinding and getting to the best gear, you must gather up ingredients only found in the latest dungeon to craft the weapons at the local blacksmith. If you want to proceed to the next gear level, you'll have to advance to the next dungeon, which is only done by defeating the final boss. 

This made advancement feel significant, and when I opened up a new dungeon, a new level of difficulty came with it. It was a good reminder of how far I had come and how delicate the gameplay was every time I opened up a new gate. 

The enemies in each dungeon come with a theme. The first dungeon, the Golem Dungeon, features a number of ancient mechanical beings; they're a blend of stone and unknown magic. Small ticks above your foe's health indicate how difficult they are. The more ticks they have, the more health they have and the harder they hit. 

Many may worry that these starting creatures become staples in the game and simply receive a color palette swap for every new dungeon you open up.

Subdue your fears. While a handful of enemies do exist in multiple dungeons, a majority of the foes you face remain exclusive to a specific area, and you'll only ever find them there. This makes combat in every new dungeon you unlock feel fresh and forces you to learn all their new move sets. You must adapt to these new foes every time as you work towards cutting them down for their highly sought-after valuables.

The Shop Life

When Will returns from his night of adventuring, he has to assume the role of shopkeeper and sell the many items he found during his nightly escapades to an array of customers. 


The items you find do not come with a price tag attached to them. Instead, you have to gauge your customer's reactions to find the appropriate price for the item, and you change the price based on their reaction. Sometimes you'll walk away with a great profit; at other times, a customer receives a steal for an item, and you'll have to hastily adjust how much it's worth to make sure you receive the right amount for it with the next customer.

If you're willing to pay enough attention, you can see in your shopkeeper's book when an item from your store becomes popular. When you see a popular item, you can raise its price in your shop and receive a higher profit.

An item's popularity may influence how your next dungeon run goes, based on how much you're hurting for money. The same goes for when you have too many of the same items in your shop -- the more you have on display, the more likely customers will think the price needs to drop. Supply and demand remains a cruel mistress.

This mechanic wasn't a critical one. You don't receive negatives for not intently paying attention, but you are rewarded. You may find you can bump up several items in your shop for more, especially when you need the money for that next shop upgrade or to purchase another vendor for your town. 

Every so often, a robber enters your shop in the hopes of snagging one of your items when you're not paying attention. You'll have to act fast as they race to the door with their prize. I've yet to find myself looted by one of these poachers, but I can imagine the heartbreak if they stole an item worth around 10,000 gold.

Other than the robberies, there's a casual approach to gameplay in the shop. There's no stress on your shoulders to consistently pay attention to every customer. 

This makes running the shop a far more enjoyable occasion than it could have been and something I looked forward to every time I returned from the dungeon; not only was I excited to see how much I made, but I always wondered how much more I could charge for an item before my customers got angry.

As you upgrade your shop, not only do you add more displays to show off more items, but you can also start taking specific orders for customers to locate certain items in a dungeon. Thankfully, this mechanic never forced me to have to return to previous areas and do any backtracking. Every customer wanted an item from the latest dungeon, and they paid a considerable amount more than the item was worth in the shop.

I took orders from every customer who walked up to my shop. 

Inventory Management Is a Mechanic

When many hear "inventory management," their spines may lock up, and they immediately wait to endure the inevitable fight they're about to have with the backpack in their game as they mix and match their belongings.

Digital Sun again blends this understanding and beautifully incorporates it into what things matter for an adventurer in Moonlighter.

You're not only picking up items from the enemies you fight; you're also looting chests found scattered throughout the dungeons. To shake up the mundane, many of the items in the chests come with a curse attached to them. This curse can potentially benefit you, or it can cause annoying problems when you return to town, such as destroying an adjacent item when you teleport back.

Will can only carry so much. You're given a limited space of a 4x5 inventory to look over, and should you die during your adventure, you only get to keep the loot at the top of the inventory. This forces you to choose what you prioritize the most during a particular run. You might have found a bunch of crafting materials you were eagerly seeking, or you found a precious item you know sells for a bunch in your shop.

I found myself spending a good minute or two at every chest rearranging my backpack to optimize my payload. You can always refer to your shopkeeper's book with the press of a button to reference the price of an item. This helped the decision-making process. Additionally, items I needed for crafting the next item were given a small star, which again made them far more alluring than some of the cheaper items I found during my adventures.

There's a delicate balance found in Moonlighter's inventory management that other, bigger games have failed to discover. Sure, you die and lose almost everything you have, but you also keep a fair amount as well. If you paid attention to your inventory, you still make it back out of the dungeon with the precious items you wanted. I never walked away from a death feeling like I was robbed or cheated. It only meant I had to try again, and just like Will, I was eager to.

At the End of the Day

Every mechanic in Moonlighter feels like it was laced over the others with heavy consideration. Nothing felt tacked on or as if it had been included because it was something other games had already done. Running the shop becomes just as important as having a good dungeon adventure, and the game progresses in a healthy fashion to where I never felt things were getting easy.

Moonlighter wants players to have a good time while they tend their shop and fight endless dungeons of foes, and both make for a fantastic adventure.

Note: Review copy provided by the publisher.

Antigraviator Review - A Fast Racing Game That Falls Short of Extraordinary Sat, 02 Jun 2018 23:55:20 -0400 Autumn Fish

Antigraviator, simply put, is a racing game. More particularly, it's a racing game that's really really fast. You're going to be racing across an array of unique, futuristic tracks at near-supersonic levels of speed.

There's obviously a market that craves fast racing games -- just look at how much demand there is for a new F-Zero game. But just because a racing game is adequately fast doesn't automatically mean it's good.

Just how well does Antigraviator measure up as a fast racing game? Let's find out.

The Racing Mechanics of Antigraviator

An important part of a good racing game is having a foundation of solid mechanics that keep the race going and allow the player to improve with some time and skill. The mechanics found here are interesting and abnormal, but I'd dare say they're fun once you get a handle on them.

There's steering and acceleration, just like in any other racing game. Then you have an Air Brake that you can use to drift and turn corners a bit more easily. On top of that, you can perform Barrel Rolls that are good for dodging Traps or ramming opponents into the side of the track.

Antigraviator Fast Racing

While racing across the track, you'll encounter Boostpads that dramatically increase your speed for a short time if you drive over them. You'll also come across glowing orange cells that you can pick up and use to give yourself an on-the-spot Boost or even activate Traps along the track.

The wonderful implementation of Boosting alone makes this a rather fun racing game. Since there's no speed limit, you eventually find yourself going mind-numbingly fast, which ends up being extremely satisfying if you manage to stay on the track.

But then there are Traps. The Trap mechanic is something that I'm still rather unsure about. On one hand, it's an interesting way to disrupt other players and give yourself the upper hand, much like items from Mario Kart. However, their use is somewhat limited.

There is no way to collect a Trap and hold onto it for later use. Instead, you can only use a very specific Trap when you pass a very specific waypoint on the track. That means that the Traps that are available to use at any given time depend entirely on the track you're racing on and your position in it.

On top of that, there can only be one instance of a Trap active on the track at any given time. This means that if any other racer decides to activate the trap before you, there's no possible way for you to activate it. Not activating the Trap yourself isn't the end of the world, but the Shield you get for triggering a Trap can be incredibly useful for navigating through the chaos.

Antigraviator Trap Warning

All-in-all, the racing mechanics are pretty solid. This game knows how to handle it's speed, and it handles it well. The Traps are a bit of an odd mechanic, but they don't necessarily detract from my enjoyment of the game either.

Now that we know that the mechanics measure up, though, how do the tracks fare?

Are the Futuristic Tracks of Antigraviator Worth Racing On?

There are a total of five different worlds with three tracks each, complete with a reverse version of each track. Right out of the gate, this is a pretty decent number of tracks for a new racing game. However quantity does not always mean quality.

Each track is incredibly beautiful. It goes without saying that the visual design of this game is a blessing. The different worlds are all a spectacle to behold, even if they're based off of sort of generic video game locales.

The tracks are well designed, too. They're not too crazy or too bland, the Boost Pads and cell pickups are well spaced out, and it's not too difficult to figure out your upcoming turns.

Antigraviator Race Track

If an important turn isn't specifically marked with arrows and road signs, then it's at least clearly visible for a stretch of the track. Sometimes it feels like you don't have a lot of time to react to turns, but that's just the risk you take racing at faster and faster speeds.

Overall, I think the tracks are relatively well designed. None of them really stood out to me as incredibly fun to play, though none really stood out as bad, either. It was simple pretty good all the way around.

So it's nice that the racing mechanics and the tracks are up to par, but what about the game modes and features?

Game Modes and Features in Antigraviator

To get on the race track, you can either take on the Campaign, set up a custom Quick Race to play splitscreen with your friends or practice courses, or go Online to play against your friends or face against the leaderboard in Ranked.

While the rest of the game modes are pretty self-explanatory, the Campaign begs to be expanded upon. After all, it is the bread and butter of your single-player experience with the game. And all-in-all, it's pretty standard fare.

Antigraviator Splitscreen Local Multiplayer

You compete against CPUs across four tracks to see who comes out on top. If you get 1st place overall, you earn a bunch of credits and unlock the next Campaign League. If you get 2nd or 3rd place, you still earn a decent amount of credits, but you get nothing else. If you end up in any place lower than that, you earn nothing and essentially forfeit the credits you paid to enter the League in the first place.

Those credits are important as they're used to buy new parts for your vehicle in the Hangar. There aren't a lot of different kinds of parts to pick from, but the way they change your vehicle's stats is pretty deliberate. In this case, I'd say less is more because too many options would probably just bog down vehicle customization. You're only looking at three main stats anyway, those being Acceleration, Handling, and Storage for the cells you pick up on the track.

In the Hangar you can also customize your vehicle's decal and colors in order to make it truly your own. Locked decals can be unlocked simply by playing the game; there are no microtransactions in sight.

Racing Modes

Once you actually find yourself on the race track, there are a few different racing modes you can be thrown into. The Single is the standard 3-lap race that we've all come to know and love. The Deathrace is a special mode where you have one life, and the goal is to survive as long as possible. The Countdown is a frantic mode where you race against the clock to reach the next checkpoint before the timer runs out.

Antigraviator Trap Explosion

All things considered, this game features a decent collection of content. But is it ultimately worth your money?

Verdict -- Good, but Not Great

Antigraviator succeeds at what it sets out to do, but it doesn't excel at it. For many people looking for a fast racing game, that's plenty good enough. While my time with the game wasn't particularly memorable, I still had fun playing it, and that's what counts in the end.

If a fast racing game is something you're in the market for, then this might just be what you're looking for. If you're looking to get into faster racing games, this one is even a pretty good place to start!

Antigraviator is available starting June 6 on Steam and will come to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 at a later date.

Note: Review copy provided by the publisher.

Dodge Club Pocket Review: A Throwdown in the Retro Underground Fri, 01 Jun 2018 13:22:33 -0400 Greyson Ditzler

Dodge Club Pocket on the 3DS is a game with a surprising bit of history behind it. It's technically the third installment in a series of games developed by James Montagna, a lone indie game developer and director who has spent a fair bit of time at WayForward, and who has, among other things, worked in some way on every Shantae title, Cat Girl Without Salad, and all of WayForward's Adventure Time games.

The original Dodge Club game was a highly simplistic game that was shown off at night clubs and festivals as it was toured across North America, and it tasked players with controlling a single giant pixel as it dodged around a fireball in an arena.The general gaming public wouldn't get a taste of what Dodge Club had to offer until a multiplayer-focused sequel titled Dodge Club Party was released for the Wii U.

Montagna continued to experiment with the series' formula of dodging hazards in a square arena, and eventually made a mobile Dodge Club game called Dodge Club Pocket, which he later tweaked and gussied up a bit before re-releasing it in its enhanced state on the 3DS eShop. It has been over two months since the game was released, and barely anyone seemed to notice or acknowledge the game's existence much at all, if the two individual user ratings for it on the eShop (at time of writing) are any indication.

Even after releasing to no major fanfare, and in the face of everything else coming out on the Nintendo Switch recently, is it worth busting out your 3DS and putting down $5 on this scrappy little underground fighter?

Let me tell you the story of the most popular underground sport of 20XX.

It's Time to Square Off -- Literally

Dodge Club Pocket is an extremely simple game to understand and play. You control a big, bulky square that represents one of the many inspired young women trying to make it to the top of the Dodge Club Leagues, and you must beat each level by knowing when to duck, dodge, hold still, speed up, and so on. The game has 64 levels, all of which have different conditions you must satisfy in order to complete them. The levels get progressively harder as you go on, though any level but the last one can be selected at any time. You can also play the original Dodge Club mode, but it's really just a tacked-on little bonus.

Most levels' objective will just be a standard variation of dodging the fireball that spawns in the center of the arena and the spark that hugs the walls, but soon after you grasp the basics, the game starts to get more and more creative with its win conditions. Some levels require you to take a certain number of "steps" before the timer runs out (while still dodging obstacles), some levels pay homage to other classic games like Pac-Man, and some multiply the number of obstacles on screen as time passes.

The game always has you guessing and rethinking your strategy, and should you ever get really frustrated with a particular level, then you can just select another one and come back to it later. It also helps that you can control the game using either the touch screen, D-pad, or control stick, so there's minor variations on the controls available for any occasion and any player.  


This right here? This is gameplay. It might not look like much, but when it gets going, this game can be genuinely intense.

It's a game that I found myself oddly invested in, and I kept finding myself coming back to it when I wanted something simple and fun to play that wasn't on my phone. With the challenges rarely ever taking longer than three minutes, the one-hit deaths, and the easy-to-understand objectives and controls, Dodge Club Pocket kept me effectively hooked with its simple gameplay.

It definitely helps that the presentation is very chipper and cute, due largely to the character art and illustrations provided by artist linzbot, which gives the game a very upbeat, laid-back attitude. Playing through the main game will also unlock things like new songs for the catchy soundtrack, new characters to play as (palette swaps for your square), little bits of real-life Dodge Club history, and even comics and bios detailing the backstory and plot of the Dodge Club world and its characters. James and linz really didn't need to add this level of personality to the game to make it work, but they did anyway, and it is all the more charming for it.

 If this bio for Speck doesn't make you smile, then I don't think you're playing the right game. Or that we can be friends.

It's Not All Cute Girls and Atari Graphics

I do have some issues with the game, and while they are mainly just nitpicks, in a game this small, a nitpick is something that could sever a limb from its fragile little body. First off, while the number of challenges is perfectly sizable and they don't repeat themselves too often to be samey, there really isn't much incentive to play the game again once you've completed it. Once you've seen everything the game has to offer and unlocked all the little songs, comics, and concept art, then you've got no real surprises or secrets to uncover; the game has been thoroughly beaten.

On top of that, the graphics are fine, and the art is very cute and stylish, as I mentioned, but the visuals lack a bit of flare. Porting the game from mobile might have been a good opportunity to make the visuals look a little more flashy in the menu and level select screens in order to possibly attract a new audience, but for the most part, the game looks about the same as it did before. It is nice that the bottom screen reminds you what the objective is and how to pause and exit, but that bit of design is about the biggest visual difference between the two versions of the game.

The biggest issue I have with the game is its lack of a basic pause or quick-restart option. In order to pause the game, you have to hit the 3DS' home button, which works, but it's still a slower way to pause and un-pause than just pressing the start button like in most games. Instead, here the pause button allows you to exit to menu, and only if you hold it down for a second or two. I understand that holding down the button was likely a precaution made to stop people from quitting out of a level on accident, but it's basically faster to just fail on purpose and get kicked back to the menu that way.

Every time you die, you're forced to watch a little animation and hear a little failure jingle before you can start again. With no way to skip it, no way to restart a challenge quickly, and frequent deaths as the difficulty mounts up, it can be very annoying after a while. These minor nitpicks are really my only major issues with the game worth mentioning, and for a game this small and simple, it really nails the rest of the basics, which is all you can ask for, I guess.  

I'd Say It's Worth Skipping Lunch One Day to Buy This

The obvious question now is why should you buy Dodge Club Pocket on the 3DS for actual money when the mobile version is free. It's a pretty simple answer really: The 3DS version is mostly the same but has slight advantages that make it better. The presentation has been smoothed out and expanded just a bit, there's a bit more content, and the controls employing both the touch screen and buttons are much better than the mobile version, with the added bonus of your finger not blocking your view of the screen.

Not to mention, at an asking price of $5 for several hours of fun and challenging gameplay, it doesn't seem like too difficult a thing to skip your caramel latte for the day and spend that money on supporting an aspiring indie game developer instead. So maybe try out the mobile version first if you'd like to get the general idea of what the game is like, and then go all-in on the 3DS version if you don't mind paying a bit for a better version of more or less the same game.

Overall, I enjoyed the couple of hours I managed to squeeze out of Dodge Club Pocket. Sure, it isn't revolutionary or terribly big, but that's really not what it's meant to be. It's a fun little game that you whip out to play for maybe five minutes to try and complete a challenge, only to look up soon after to realize you've been playing for half an hour.

It's a humble game with no pretense behind it that just seeks to challenge and entertain its audience, and I would say it succeeds. It's fun, challenging, charming, and easy to pick up and play no matter who you are.

Dodge Club Pocket is available now for $5 on 3DS and for free on mobile devices, though the 3DS version is just that little bit better.

(Assorted press images provided by James Montagna)

Logitech G513 Mechanical Keyboard Review Thu, 31 May 2018 17:22:36 -0400 Jonathan Moore

It's a real possibility Logitech has found the secret formula to repeatedly crafting fantastic peripherals. From the G613 Wireless to the G Pro and beyond, both fans and critics alike seem to agree that when it comes to keyboards, Logitech can do very little wrong. 

Most gamers -- and writers like myself -- keep coming back to Logitech for three reasons: quality, consistency, and useability. Bringing those three pillars together under one roof means there are a lot of Logitech boards on a lot of desks around the world. 

Add the sleek G513 to the list. 

Sporting two great RomerG options, a futuristic, gunmetal design, a comfortable wrist rest, and LightSync compatibility, the G513 is relatively light on frills but heavy on fancy. Since receiving it, the keyboard hasn't left my desk -- a testament to its design considering I have plenty of other options for both home and work. 

It's not perfect at $150, but it's an excellent piece of equipment worthy of your attention and consideration.  


From its size to the Logitech logo in the upper right-hand corner of the board, the G513 takes almost all of its cues from the Logitech G413.

Its sturdy gunmetal body, which comes in equally sleek black carbon and silver colors, measures 17.5 x 5.3 inches and has the same 104-key layout as the G413.

Furthermore, the board also uses similar USB pass-through technology to allow for device charging and data transfer. It's located in the upper right-hand corner of the board and works as advertised. 

However, there are a few key design differences that set the G513 apart from other boards. The most obvious is that this keyboard doesn't have dedicated media keys (mute, volume up/down, play, stop, fast-forward, and rewind) like many other mechanicals currently on the market. It's something I've grown accustomed to in offerings from Corsair, HyperX, and even Logitech, so it's a bit strange not having them here. I wouldn't say it's something that detracts from the useability of this board, but it's something to keep in mind for the price tag. 

The other differences are a bit more positive. 

Sticking with keys, the Logitech G513 moves away from the if not boring, then bland single-color backlighting of the G413. Here, you'll get per-key RGB backlighting across the entire color spectrum. Using Logitech's consistently cogent gaming software, you can easily set profiles, presets, effects, and much more. The addition of Lightsync to the Logitech suite of products also means you can have the same profiles, presets, and effects across multiple devices, too, such as mice and speakers. It's a nice touch that makes your desktop look that much more uniform and elegant.  

It's also welcome to see the G513 has a plush wrist rest that's more comfortable than you might first expect. When originally unboxing the board, I thought it was odd that the memory foam palm rest didn't connect directly to the board but instead floated separately from it. But the more I used it, the more I came to believe that this is how wrist rests are meant to be.


Romer-Gs FTW 

I'll admit it: I'm not a super fan of the traditional Romer-Gs. It's not because they aren't fantastic keys, and it's not because they aren't quieter and faster than more conventional mechanical keys. It's really because I'm not a huge fan of Cherry MX Browns -- and traditional Romers are very similar in make and function. 

However, the big draw here is the G513's key options: tactile and linear. 

I've personally come to appreciate the linear versions presented here because they provide a fluid and smooth keystroke when typing and playing games. They have the same 45g actuation force, 1.55mm actuation distance, and 3.2mm travel distance as the tactile switches, but there's no discernible bump between press and actuation as there is with the tactiles. 

Since I spend almost all of my working and free time in front of the computer, having a key that works well and feels "right" in each situation is a boon. In fact, the small familiarity curve I often have with new keyboards wasn't present when first using the G513, which is a huge deal for both gamers and professionals making the switch to Logitech -- or between primary and secondary boards. 

Based on what I've read, I'm not the only one who feels this way. 

I tested the keys against my typical workload, which sees me typing thousands of words a week on average, as well as a variety of games ranging from Paladins and Warhammer: Vermintide 2 to Cities: Skylines and Tyranny. Each set of keys -- both traditional and linear -- performed as advertised.

In my time reviewing the G513, there weren't any major variances in quality between the two sets of keys, and all are rated for 70 million clicks. 

An Almost Full Feature Set

Aside from the aforementioned USB pass-through and full RGB backlighting, the G513 has a few more features that are worth noting.

Via Logitech's Gaming Software, you'll be able to program macros and keystrokes to the G513, as well as enable Game Mode to disable the Windows key when playing games. However, you won't be able to reprogram each and every key as you can on some other boards. You also won't find dedicated macro keys or G keys on this variant, either. 

Like most keyboards, you'll also find the G513 provides anti-ghosting features, as well as key rollover. The anti-ghosting works well and assures you have reliable control when gaming, but you'll only get 26-key rollover here. It could be argued that having full N-key rollover is often overkill, but at $150, it would be nice to have the feature here, especially since several less expensive boards offer it.  


Overall, the G513 is an excellent keyboard. If you're looking for complete RGB or linear keys, this is the upgrade you're looking for. If you don't care about either one of those things, the 413 is a board you'll want to check out -- or stick with if you've already got it. 

At $150, the G513 is a relatively tougher sell considering it's more an upgrade than a true full-step iteration. That doesn't mean you should pass it up at all; it just means you'll need to consider your options before taking the plunge. 

You can buy the Logitech G513 mechanical from Amazon for $150. 

[Note: Logitech provided the G513 used in this review.]

Total War: Warhammer II "The Queen and the Crone" DLC Review Thu, 31 May 2018 13:33:51 -0400 Ty Arthur

Although there's a steep learning curve and plenty of quirks to wrap your head around, Total War: Warhammer II is easily one of the best representations of this tabletop franchise in PC form, and among the best RTS titles out there.

Between the base game, the combined Mortal Empires mega-campaign, and the previous "Tomb Kings" DLC, Warhammer II is already a massive game, and it just got a whole lot bigger.

"The Queen and the Crone" expands the experience out even further with new Lords, extra units, revamped gameplay mechanics, and individualized quests for both High Elves and Dark Elves. 

 Light or Dark - the choice is yours!

Shaking Up the Vortex Experience

New units and quests are all well and good, but the big draw here is how "The Queen and the Crone" offers potential changes to your play style. If you've already demolished every single playthrough with each of the other Legendary Lords, there's finally reason to boot the game back up again.

Adding another layer of strategy, the Widowmaker magic weapon is up for grabs for any faction now, and it can change the course of a game immediately with huge buffs. No matter what race or Lord you are playing, this hugely powerful sword must be dealt with in one way or another.

Each of the new Lords includes a unique mechanic to further alter the Vortex campaign so you have a reason to start over. Alith Anar (who is also available for free even if you don't grab the DLC), for instance, is all about stealth and ambushing.

For the Dark Elves, the Death Night mechanic added with Hellebron feels exactly like the sort of thing you'd expect from these debased worshipers of Chaos gods, abducting and murdering their own kin for big bonuses. If you let too long a time elapse between these murderous rampages, though, the bonuses melt away and become major hindrances instead.

Holding new Death Nights means giving up slaves, and you need those to keep your economy running, so it's a delicate balancing act. You need to keep conquering and grabbing new slaves to prevent everything from collapsing, so it's easy to overextend yourself.

Here's the thing, though: Hellebron is Hellabroken. It's not just a lame YouTube comment -- it's actually true. At this point, if you aren't using her and making a beeline for the Cursed Sword quest, you are just playing the game wrong.

She absolutely dominates with that particular weapon ability activated, and can even make up for a lack of skill or knowledge of the game's strategy. It remains to be seen if she will be nerfed down to a manageable level in a patch or will remain a powerhouse that has to be dealt with by crafty players.


A similar bonus/penalty mechanic is available for new High Elf Legendary Lord Alarielle, but is based instead on protecting her homeland and preventing High Elf territory from being conquered or invaded. You start out with enemies behind your lines with Alarielle the Radiant's campaign, making it more difficult in the early game to get ahead.

Besides those Legendary Lords, a host of unit types arrive to shake up the combat. Amazing archers like the Sisters of Avelorn, devastatingly powerful cavalry like the Firehorn, aerial harassers for the Dark Elves like the Feral Manticore and Raven Heralds, and many more are all up for grabs (check out the full list of new "Queen and Crone" units here.)

The Bottom Line

Hellebron's overpowered nature aside, there's a whole lot of challenge here for Total War: Warhammer II veterans, and a massive expansion on tactics and play styles for newbies to try out.

For $7.99, this is a lot of new content for Warhammer II, and well worth it if you love the base game but want some new options to try out for the Elves.

The additions don't stop there, though, as a bunch of new arrivals hit today beyond just this DLC, including the Norsca faction added to Mortal Empires. There's never been a better time to jump in on Total War: Warhammer II, so get to conquering your enemies and enacting that Vortex ritual already!

Corsair HS70 Headset Review Thu, 31 May 2018 09:00:01 -0400 Wizard of Warsaw

While the Corsair HS70 is similar in many regards to its previous incarnation, the Corsair HS50, the headset has made a few small steps forward that distinguish it from its predecessor.  

It retains its durability and comfort, easily keeping up with headsets that are much more expensive in that arena. But it falls behind in the sound department, making small strides forward with additions that should have been integrated far earlier. 

HS70 Design 

Keeping the simple aesthetics of previous versions, the HS70 refrains from an ostentatious or flashy style. It is available in simple colors, either all black or black with white accents. Really, the only thing to add any kind of flair is the Corsair logo on the earpieces. 

Speaking of the earpieces, they are equipped with a plush memory foam and their height can be adjusted to dial in comfort. In addition, controls for the headset can be found on both earpieces, with the right earpiece hosting the power button, and the left side having volume controls, a mic mute button, and a plugin for the detachable, unidirectional microphone that has pretty great noise canceling capabilities.  

There is also a charge port on the left earpiece to allow you to recharge the battery, which has an impressive, advertised lifespan of 16 hours. I didn't test it for quite that long in a single sitting, but it lasted through all of my longer gaming sessions over the past few weeks. 

Holding the set together is a remarkably sturdy headband that feels as durable as any headset that I've used, even those in the higher price ranges. The inner portion of the headband is covered in the same plush foam that covers the earpieces. 

The headset also comes with a USB plugin for the HS70's wireless capabilities. The wireless functionality is one of the more noticeable additions, and that is what gives the HS70 the biggest distinction from previous headsets in the series. Capable of providing a continuous, high-quality signal for up to 12 meters (40 feet), the HS70 doesn't have the longest range, but it's not that far behind more expensive sets such as Logitech's G533 in that department. 


Overall, the earpieces are roomy and well ventilated, providing a very comfortable fit around the ears. Even with glasses, I was able to wear the headset for roughly 3 to 4 hours before needing a serious break. The headband is equally well padded, providing a snug fit, without putting too much pressure anywhere.  

While the earcups do rotate a small amount to accommodate for varieties in ear shape and size, it isn't much. Unlike some of the more expensive headsets on the market, the earcups do not rotate enough for the HS70 to comfortably sit around the neck. This means that if you're not using the headset, you're better off setting it to the side until you need it again -- unless you're comfortable with a more traditional headset fit around the neck.  

In my time with the headset, I found that I prefer the lightweight design of the HS70 over some of the heftier headsets that I've used in the past. The lighter style allows for longer gaming sessions with fewer breaks, which is great because I never sit down intending to play for just a few minutes. 



For the most part, the sound quality is great for gaming or voice chat, but if you need access to both at the same, time you might hit some minor speedbumps. It is fairly common in higher-end headsets to have different audio channels for games and chat. Such additions give the player the ability to moderate their sounds and designate whichever they feel is most important.

Unfortunately, the Corsair HS70 lacks this ability and while that is not a deal breaker in most cases, it does require you to adjust your sound settings accordingly. That's especially true if you intend to use this headset for any game that requires teamwork and communication  

The default bass levels seem to have been pulled back a little when compared to the HS50, and while the bass is still powerful, it doesn't feel like it's drowning the rest of the sound during movies and music. This is mitigated even further by the fact that the HS70 utilizes the Corsair Utility Engine for control over equalizer settings.  

As with the previous models, the HS70 is compatible with the PS4 in wireless mode. Naturally, I gave it a shot, testing out God of War and Monster Hunter: World, and while the headset performed well, it didn't exceed any expectations on the sound front.  


Overall, the HS70 is a definite step up from its predecessor, the HS50. Its wireless capabilities and the addition of the equalizer settings take a good headset and give it a boost. Unfortunately, the $89.99 price tag is a pretty big leap up from the previous model, pulling it away from being a budget headset and putting in the low end of the high tier. 

If you're looking for a reliable wireless headset with decent battery life in the $90 price range, this isn't a bad choice. But when compared to other offerings from Hyper X -- and considering the Corsair's own Void Pro is only about $10 more for an arguably better experience -- the decision gets a tad bit murkier. 

[Note: Corsair provided the HS70 Wireless Headset used in this review.]

HyperX Pulsefire Surge RGB Gaming Mouse Review Wed, 30 May 2018 14:35:07 -0400 ElConquistadork

The difference that a solid gaming mouse can make in both its bells and whistles and ease of play can really make or break your gaming experience. You have to look out for the right weight, feel, and button location when choosing a mouse that will stick with you through hardcore and casual sessions alike.

My experience with the Pulsefire Surge RGB Gaming Mouse showed me that not only has HyperX created a comfortable, user-friendly piece of tech, but they've created one that won't strangle the wallet of gamers on a slimmer budget.

With its smooth, unassuming design, the Pulsefire Surge RGB doesn't immediately jump out as anything particularly special. Outside of its gorgeous RGB lighting (more on that later), the general design feels like many mice I've used in the past, and I expected as much from my experience. However, that assumption changed for me the moment I finally tested it out.

Right off the bat, it felt terrific in hand. The finish has a smooth, rubberized grip that allows for good adhesion without sacrificing your natural dexterity. The button placement is ergonomically designed, and each button had satisfying feedback with each click.

And based on the fact that the Pulsefire Surge RGB is equipped with 50 million click-rated Omron switches, it's my best guess that this mouse is going to feel just as fluid and comfortable this time next year (give or take a few hundred Overwatch sessions). 

I've read some complaints from other users that the Pulsefire Surge's main buttons are designed to fit too close to each other -- that they end up grinding together in the heat of the moment. However, I never experienced this issue. That's because HyperX took the community's feedback to heart and has already released a brand-new version of the mouse that fixes that issue.

The Pulsefire was quickly redesigned to provide more space between the two buttons, which, when compared to the first mouse we were sent, really provides a world of difference when clicking the Pulsefire's LMB and RMB in quick succession. 

HyperX's software remains incredibly user-friendly, with options to program and store different macros provided through straightforward, simple design. You even get the option to change the RGB lighting on the mouse, which, let's face it, was my favorite part. The butter-smooth lighting effects on this little piece of kit really take what is otherwise a plain look and turn it into something truly radiant. HyperX has always done a terrific job with their interface software, and the Pulsefire Surge RGB isn't an exception to that rule.


Overall, I would argue that the HyperX Pulsefire Surge RGB is one of the best new gaming mice on the market right now. Its precision, technical kit, and software options are brilliant and fluid like a kiddie-pool filled with grain alcohol.

Add to that the fact that it's sporting a modest $69.99 price tag, can hit 16,000 CPI, and that it works near flawlessly for both work and play, and you've got a solid mouse for both the casual and the hardcore.

The only "downside" is that it doesn't come with customizable weights. Some users may find the Pulsefire a bit light, even though it comes in at 100 grams. But overall, it felt great in hand, and it's not something that should get in the way of picking up this fantastic piece of gear. 

You can buy the Pulsefire Surge RGB from Best Buy for $69.99. 

[Note: HyperX provided the Pulsefire RGB mouse used for this review.]

Logitech G305 Mouse Review: Affordable, Reliable Wireless Gaming Has Arrived Wed, 30 May 2018 14:01:03 -0400 Ty Arthur

When trying to move up the rankings and compete with the pros -- whether your jam is Fortnite, CS:GO, or anything in-between -- a solid mouse is a must. Rapid response and uninterrupted tracking make a huge difference  -- a larger one than you may at first realize. 

Moving from the stock mouse that came with my PC to the Logitech G305 (one of Logitech's newest gaming-centric mice), I'm shocked by the clear and noticeable differences it provides over most of the mice I've used.

From a comfortable design to instant wireless response, the G305 delivers a light, portable option for the serious gamer.

G305 Design

A quick look at the G305 reveals a surprisingly restrained, simplistic design. No crazy angles and curves like the Proteus, no flared hips like the G300S, and no extended thumb support segment like the G602.

Instead, the G305 offers a smaller, lighter design that works well for either a claw grip or a relaxed hand grip. The mouse has a solid feel but is fairly lightweight for a serious gaming peripheral. I think it feels best with the extra 10g weight added, but if you don't want that weight dragging you down for twitchy FPS action, pulling it out is a snap.

The placement of the rubber feet makes the mouse absolutely smooth: it can glide across your desktop space with ease, and an extra foot at the bottom means overzealous players who slam their mouse buttons down aren't going to do any damage.

Logitech has managed to pack a whole lot into the smaller space of the G305, with the wireless receiver dongle cleverly hidden inside the mouse next to the battery. It's so small and effectively hidden that I didn't even see it the first time I opened the case and thought my mouse mistakenly hadn't included that critical piece.

G305 Features

Having two extra buttons on the side and one just below the scroll wheel significantly improved my Fortnite reflexes (and ranking!) since I didn't have to move my hand and tap F1 to bring up the build menu. The MMB is more pronounced than some of the other mice I've used as well, making it easy to find in frenetic combat situations. 

Another great feature is Logitech's state-of-the-art HERO sensor. Found in some of Logitech's other mice, the HERO sensor is supposed to provide enhanced power efficiency while still pushing exceptional accuracy and performance. And for the most part, it does just that. The sensor is accurate and responsive, shaving time (however small) off my movements. 

You can also automatically switch profiles between games like Fortnite or Overwatch, assigning different functions to the buttons that are game-specific. And these profiles can either be stored on the mouse or on your PC.

With the Logitech software installed, there's a crazy level of detailed usage data to be mined. Turning on the click analyzer lets you see what buttons you press most often, how hard you press them, and how long they remain depressed so you can plan your button profile strategy for any given game.

Best of all, the software lets you manually change sensitivity settings if they aren't to your liking, since some games benefit from flinging the mouse across the screen in an instant, while others need more precision. 

G305 Performance

What you get with the 305 is essentially the same basic functionality as the more expensive G703, but with a few key features culled to lower the price point. Most notably, there's no Powerplay option for automatic recharging on the mouse pad like with the other mice in this series.

Although Powerplay isn't an option here, the G305 will last a good long time on a single AA battery -- up to 250 hours if you keep it on low-power mode. No matter what your settings are or how many profiles you save on the mouse, the battery life is long enough that you really don't need to factor constant battery purchases into the price, so you are saving a good deal by not buying that awesome (but expensive) charging pad.

While the battery life is great, all that really matters for a wireless gaming mouse is its responsiveness -- and that's where the G305 outshines the competition. The sensitivity and response time are actually better here than with my standard wired mouse, which is something that seemed impossible just a few years ago.

Aside from the missing Powerplay feature, another potential issue is the lack of RGB lighting, which has become nearly standard with any gaming mouse currently on the market. While there are cheapo $10 mice out there that have more stylish and ostentatious aesthetics, they won't come close to the sleek, smooth function of the G305. 


The G305 is undeniably pricier than your bare bones stock mouse while having a similar aesthetic. Where it beats out the lower-end peripherals, however, is in wireless connectivity, incredible responsiveness, a solid-yet-lightweight feel, and the Logitech gaming software.

For performance over panache, you can't go wrong here. If you don't care about flashing lights or flared, curved designs and just want to dominate in a round of Fortnite, the G305 is enthusiastically recommended.

Rated for 10 million clicks, the Logitech G305 is a fantastic mouse for the price. You can check out the full specs on Logitech's website. 

You can buy the Logitech G305 gaming mouse on Amazon for $59.99.

[Note: Logitech provided the G305 gaming mouse used for this review.]

State of Decay 2 Review: A Community-Driven Zombie Apocalypse Mon, 28 May 2018 14:57:34 -0400 Zack Palm

The newest zombie management game, Undead Labs' State of Decay 2, gives you the opportunity to act as a community leader of a small group of survivors attempting to make it in the apocalypse.

You start your game by choosing one of three different town options, each roughly the size of that from the first game. When you set up your first base, you immediately learn about the blood plague zombies. These zombies are more aggressive than normal ones found in the first game, and if the zombies do enough damage to a community member, he or she can receive the blood plague.

A character with the blood plague needs a serum soon or else they turn. You need to get samples from blood plague zombies to cure them, but you’ll find this an easy enough task. I never felt any pressure when a character contracted the blood plague as the cure was never out of reach.

The primary goal of your community is to rid your entire town of the blood plague zombie’s nest, plague hearts. Like the first game, there's no overarching story line; instead, you move from town to town destroying these plague hearts and attempting to survive. You'll find that small events happen throughout the game, but nothing substantial really opens outside of side quests.

Same Ol' Zombies

Other than the blood plague zombies, no new enemies get added to the experience. You have all the special zombies from the first game: your agile feral, your lumbering juggernauts, the loud screamers, and your poisonous bloaters. Naturally, the entire map is covered in rank-and-file zombies you cut down left and right -- however, they remain a force to fear in great number.

Because of how easy it was to handle the blood plague, it felt like the only new addition to the zombie roster was a bust.

Inventory Management

You’ll spend most of your time in the game away from your base, searching abandoned structures for crucial resources. You’re on the hunt for five different supplies: food, medicine, ammo, building materials, and fuel. Your community drains these supplies every day, and if one of these resources gets too low, your community members start to feel the pressure, and your group’s overall morale declines.

Random events crop up at your base all the time while you’re away. These events vary from someone clumsily spilling over a gas can to a zombie siege. The events don’t force you to run home to see what you can do; instead, they’re an additional drain on your ever-dwindling resources.

Though these events were an attempt to make your group feel authentic and real, they leaned closer to being bothersome. These events were structured to serve as the developer’s invisible hand, moving in on you to press down on all of your panic buttons and force supplies even further than they already were. 

Vehicle Sickness

Much like in the first State of Decay, you need a vehicle to drive around, and you definitely need the additional trunk space. Having six to eight more slots to use for inventory made vehicles feel like a vital resource to take with you whenever you went out on a supply run.

However, the vehicles in State of Decay 2 became a frustrating mechanic I found myself constantly annoyed with. The cars have a fuel gauge you have to watch, and this meter drops fast.

I found myself with nearly a full tank at the start of a run and lost almost all of it when I traveled to another part of the map. I cannot count how many times I got stranded on one side of the map with a tired, nearly dead community member, who I then had to use to loot any surrounding buildings to locate a container of gas. Walking that distance is not an option.

On top of that, the vehicles were full of glitches. There were times I would bash the front of the car up against a railing or a fence and it would get stuck on the environment, or I would go flying in the opposite direction. I’ve nearly lost a handful of community members, and all of their supplies, to my vehicle getting destroyed because it glitched out.

Despite these troublesome glitches, vehicles were still better than in the first game. In the first one, you could kill about two dozen zombies with your bumper before the hood would start smoking. I had run over so many zombies with my vehicle in this one I thought they were indestructible. This turned any vehicle I drove into the ideal zombie-killing weapon.

Community Survival

Though your main goal is to rid the town of these plague hearts, your main, consistent objective is to survive with your community. And you’ll find this no easy task as you get to know your community members and learn about their preferences. 

The survivors that make up your small community turn out to be the stars of the game. The first State of Decay had a small trait list with random facts about the characters, like they were a tour guide or they’re really good at television trivia. State of Decay 2 doubles down on this but openly breaks down how these traits affect the community as a whole and what passives they provide the community member.

These traits also provide incentives for you to decide what you should build in your base to improve your community. I found myself constantly referring to the community page to see what sorts of skills and passives my group had.

When I saw one of my community members had the "gardener" trait, I got to work quickly to give them a tiny plot in which to work their magic. Not only did the garden plot give my group an overall morale boost, but the community member, Chili, was able to optimize this location and provide more food than the addition already gave. One less supply to worry about on my travels.

Early on, I decided I wanted to streamline a particular community member to act as my leader. Her name was Tweak, an energetic chemistry major who played paintball in her free time, and I felt she was going to be a positive driving force for our community to look to for support. Turns out this plucky chemistry major was a dictator in training because she had the Warlord legacy personality.

Each community member comes with their own legacy personality, either the Warlord, Sheriff, Builder, or Trader. The personality trait provides the member with a moral compass on how they prefer to have their community run. Additionally, when you move over to the next map, this personality trait adds a starting bonus to your starting home.

Tweak turned into a little tyrant and ruled our town with an iron fist. She enjoyed the power she rightfully won.

A Thriving Environment

As you explore the game, you’ll run into a number of NPC communities also trying to survive. Periodically these groups make calls for help over the radio, asking you to help them with a zombie infestation near their base or asking if you can help them locate a specific supply they’re running low on.

You can handle these NPC communities however you like. If they become friendly enough towards you, you can receive discounts on trading with them and stock up on any supplies you’re lacking. If they like you enough, you can ask if members want to join up with you.

Unlike the first game, State of Decay 2 gives them a lot more depth and personality. I felt more willing to go out of my way to help them out and give them assistance, if I could.

When I missed opportunities, I felt bad; however, this system weighed me down. While I was getting yelled at by the NPCs, I was meeting my group's needs and helping them out. I was conflicted about how this system worked, but in the end, it was a good addition. If anything, this system provided me with more tasks to do rather than raiding abandoned homes or clearing out zombies.

While you normally start out neutral to these parties, Tweak wasn’t too keen on letting them move in for free. If she found out about a group, she wanted them out of her town or to have them join up with her survivors -- there was no middle ground.

Anyone who was against this idea didn’t last long.


This installment also introduced the concept of multiplayer. A host could invite up to three other friends to their game to help them survive. The mode feels more helpful for the host as any supplies gathered during these sessions went to them, and the guests only received a small portion of what they grabbed.

However, I can't talk too much about this new mode as any session I attempted to play ended in failure. My friends could never connect to me, nor could I connect to them. We never got to experience this portion of the game.

This may have been a favor to us as many players have reported a number of bugs and problems, from guests being unable to access a host's base facilities to being unable to open up a passenger door while driving around.

Plagued With Bugs

Throughout my journey I ran into a number of different glitches and problems with the gameplay. Sometimes my character would get stuck on a rock, or I’d look behind me to see how my follower was doing, and they’d be invisible. Unlike other players, I hadn't run into any game-breaking bugs or infinite loading screens that many have reported dealing with.

Until the last hour of my game.

I had corralled a juggernaut into my camp to take him out with all of my community members. The thing would not die.

The battle between my community and the juggernaut lasted 10 minutes. I had used up all of my ammo, half of my melee weapons, and let it kill two of community members before I relaunched my game. When I loaded back in, the juggernaut was gone, but the damage was done and the end of my playthrough was soured, knowing how far back the invincible zombie had sent my group. My positive morale was in the trash, along with a great number of my resources.

At the End of the Day

For anyone searching for a repetitive base-management game, State of Decay 2 scratches that itch by forcing you to constantly take care of your group and see to all of their problems and needs. For some, the repetition will grow stale. When you beat one of the three available maps, you’re forced to move to one of the other areas, where you have to start all over again, repeating the same process there. You’ll face all the same problems: low resources, NPC communities to see to, and all-new plague hearts to destroy.

Other than the new quality-of-life mechanics and new descriptions added to make it easier to know what to do, it feels like a lot of the same.

Detroit: Become Human Review - An Android Revolution Brought to Life Mon, 28 May 2018 11:46:36 -0400 Miles T

Detroit: Become Human is the game David Cage has been threatening to deliver for years.

His previous work with Fahrenheit, Heavy Rain, and Beyond: Two Souls had established a strong fanbase, with some high praise but plenty of criticism, not least for the their gameplay limitations and use of unnecessary plot devices. Detroit, however, feels like the experience he’s always wanted to produce, the final result of years of experience and trials of experimentation with the medium.

Not only is Detroit a technical wonder; it boasts a powerful narrative, empathetic characters, and tackles complex themes in meaningful ways. The gameplay has largely remained intact from its predecessors -- so those who found Cage’s earlier works unsatisfying as actual video games will likely remain unconvinced by this newest outing -- but for those who have enjoyed the interactive cinema and decision-oriented focus, this could potentially be the pinnacle of video games and movies merging into a compelling whole.

Set in 2038 Detroit, where autonomous androids live parallel with their human masters, the story tasks itself with tackling themes of the meaning of life, oppression of minorities, acceptance of slavery, the dangers and fears of ever-advancing technology, fostering community, and social acceptance. Though this has not been something the gaming industry has particularly excelled at in recent years, developer Quantic Dream attempts to do just that with aplomb, allowing players freedom of choice to shape their own interpretation of these while holding a core narrative that offers the foundation for players to truly question their own sense of morality.

Detroit is definitely not perfect, and it won’t appeal to everyone, especially those who prefer their games to be less thinking- and more action-oriented, but it provides another incredible addition to Sony’s exclusive roster, and offers a real contemplation of real-life issues tied within a fantastic interactive framework.

The Eye for Detail

Throughout your entire experience of Detroit, from the first moment you take on the roles of the protagonists, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone that would disagree with the game being a technical marvel. Facial animations are incredibly lifelike: eyes portray emotions before words are spoken, lighting effects shimmer across faces and character models, voice-acting and motion capture is top-notch (for the most part), and overall it provides the kind of production values that we always hoped we would see from this console generation. The graphical prowess creates a phenomenal feeling of immersion and connection with the world’s characters, allowing ease of empathy and helping to establish the beings of this world with a true aura of actually being -- ironic given the nature of its themes. Seriously, the difference between an android’s facial work and animation in comparison to human flesh is astounding. It develops a living and breathing world that's easy to buy into.

Speaking of the world, 2038 Detroit is gorgeous. Quantic Dream has poured plenty of love and attention to detail into their environments, creating stunning vistas. In a world where humanity is in the process of integrating androids into normal life, the cues surrounding the characters are even more important than just the personalities you control. Humans will shun your character, shops will be closed off to you, you’ll witness androids being subjected to all manner of abuses and humiliations. The city feels organically alive, a hive of activity and a genuine peek into a potential future as technology imbues itself within our daily lives. The impact you have on the world around you is also felt later, as opportunities to leave your legacy upon the space around you open up. The use of readable magazines littered throughout the environment also do a great job at fleshing out the type of world you’re inhabiting, providing a sense of this being almost an alternative timeline of our current real-world events.

The overall presentation of the game is unparalleled, exemplifying stunning design and craft, which, minus a couple of clipping issues -- my character appearing to merge with another when I moved too quickly through a section being a highlight -- barely dented the almost perfect aesthetic delivery.

What Is It to Be Alive?

Once you’re done marveling at the technical beauty, you’ll notice there’s a story pulling you along through the experience too. Slipping into the roles of androids Markus, Kara, and Connor, you’ll switch between three distinct perspectives and witness the full spectrum of hope, crushing defeat, tension, and small victories. Their stories eventually intertwine, and the buildup through the acts feels distinct. The initial opening sequences have each performing relatively routine activities as you get to understand their contexts, but they quickly develop as personalities and offer distinct narrative perspectives. By the end of the game, I felt gripped, unable to tear myself away as the final third ratcheted up the ante. A couple of places can feel a little slow, but compared to Quantic Dream’s previous outings, the pacing is much better-handled and keeps things moving at a good clip -- rapid when it needs to be, slower when you need a moment to catch your breath.

No spoilers at all here, as every person’s first experience will be completely different. However, this is a Cage experience, which means choice and decision-making are at the fore. Do you choose to be pacifistic or confrontational? Do you challenge your existing programming or obey it blindly? Detroit offers a staggering amount of genuine choice and autonomy of your experience. Unlike in some choice-driven games, even (apparently) minor decisions, mistakes, or rash assumptions will have serious repercussions. Trust me, the feeling of choice-remorse is powerful. It feels like living on a knife edge in the best possible way -- each dilemma is impactful. As always, though, there are some choices that feel as if they should have had a more dynamic effect on the overall story, while some others seemed so inconsequential it was baffling when they came back to haunt or unexpectedly benefit me. Getting the balancing of this particular aspect must be incredibly difficult, and some of the forced decisions mean ending a segment when it feasibly should have been possible to see both branching trees, which was somewhat frustrating.

It’s the heartfelt moments that will have you moving forward, though, with Kara’s story truly hitting those serious emotional strings. I was surprised at how much the story managed to move me in places, which is fantastic when many interactive stories fail to build a real connection with the player.

More Than Just a Walking Simulator

The story is the core of Detroit, propelling the whole experience forward, and while gameplay has been a much-criticized part of games like Beyond: Two Souls for feeling too on-rails, inconsequential, and, at worst, pointless, it’s enhanced and improved in this latest showing. Yes, small areas with multiple interact-able objects return. Yes, there are still a lot of QTEs to simulate fights and battles. Yes, there are still invisible barriers everywhere, and yes, you will still spend some of your time jankily walking around some areas with little to do between points A and B, lamenting your character turning with the speed of an unconscious elephant. There are some small additions, such as Markus' ability to preconstruct parkouring sequences, or Connor's opportunities to scan out crime scenes, but many of the mechanics remain consistent. 

What’s improved this time around is that there are fewer of the slower, enclosed sections, and there’s more of the fast-paced, action-oriented pieces. You’ll experience the typical tropes: on-foot chases, dodging cars on highways, engaging with NPCs, quickfire button inputs, etc. But, there’s also much more of the investigative sections (which, if failed, will have consequences later on), more of the multi-decision scenarios with branching outcomes, more of the putting together and executing of well thought-out schemes. There’s a more satisfying feedback loop of completing a section the “ideal” way, as there’s multiple avenues for failure or missing something important. The frequent use of time-constraint fuels this to fantastic effect. Three minutes to find a deviant (renegade android), ten minutes to find all the clues you can, ten seconds to decide your next action against the person pointing a gun to your head. Using restricted time fosters a palpable sense of tension, it creates rash decision-making, and it gives Detroit a sense of urgency that keeps the momentum of the game moving at a rapid pace.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have its bland moments. Clearing trash and setting the table are no more interesting this time around than they were in Heavy Rain or Beyond, even if they do serve a narrative purpose. Some outcomes also seem unmissable unless you truly try to screw up the QTE sections, so getting to the “best” outcome can appear somewhat obvious in places. There’s a definite feeling of familiarity in the gameplay, so if you’ve hated this form of interacting with a game world before, it’s certainly not going to change your mind now; it’s just more spruced-up and injected with some much-needed urgency.

Sending a Message

Whatever you think of the game itself, it’s commendable just how brilliant a job Quantic Dream has done in injecting powerful themes throughout the experience: racism, privacy, advertising, abuse, the nature of autonomy, segregation, prejudice. Detroit is brimming and practically overflowing with opportunities to witness and challenge your beliefs. Rather than just presenting it, however, you’re provided with the means to shape how these themes play out, becoming somewhat of a testing ground to see how your particular values will interject within the woven narrative.

Ultimately, this is where your enjoyment or value of the game will be derived from -- how willing you are to absorb the world and its story, and then stamp your own moral framework upon it given the opportunities it offers up. There’s a serious amount of replayability potential here, with the end of each chapter displaying a flowchart documenting your choices, alternative potential paths, and statistics of how many followed the same routes you did. It makes for a fascinating opportunity to reflect on your own progression and tempts you to jump back in immediately after finishing to see just how different the scenarios can play out. I’ve rarely felt compelled to replay story-driven, choice-focused games in the past; this is one I can envisage replaying a number of times before moving on, which is the greatest compliment I can provide it.

Special mention must also go to the soundtrack, which is phenomenal throughout and punctuates the scenes with incredible emotion. The tracks complement the themes or scenarios and reflect the world in a way that elevates them from being simply tense to being somber, optimistic, fearful, and pulsating all at once. It truly is a remarkable collection of music, and it’s already entrenched some of the more epic or emotional scenes into my memory. The fact that you can listen to it on its own is testament to just how fantastic it is.

An Unmissable Experience

“Not just a story, this is our future.” The opening statement of Detroit sets the stage for an enthralling tale. Not just content to be a presentation of societal issues, it challenges you to notice and choose your response towards them. Not willing to settle for modest production values, it creates characters and a world that equally inspire and unsettle you. Not happy to be just another walking simulator, it attempts to inject some much-needed tension and urgency to a traditionally slow genre.

Detroit is a game that knows what it wants to be and what it wants to do -- provide a compelling story with AAA production values and give its players a chance to examine their own ethical codes. Boasting spectacular visuals, a stellar soundtrack, complex themes, and a core of interesting characters driving forward a genuinely engaging plot, Detroit offers an experience like no other on the current generation. Despite its minor flaws and gameplay limitations, it creates emotionally charged moments that will resonate with a number of its audience. This is a game where the biggest enemy you’ll face is your own indecision or rash judgment, it crafts an experience that exerts a level of tension and responsibility on its audience we rarely see.

Not at all decisions are created equally, but they’ll all hit hard just the same.

Agony Review: Hell Awaits... With Bugs & Frame Rate Drops Sat, 26 May 2018 12:00:01 -0400 Ty Arthur

Easily among the most anticipated horror games of 2018, Agony is a game that subverts typical horror tropes with a radical change in setting. Rather than escaping painful death at the hands of zombies, serial killers, or wendigo, the Agony's main character is already dead and has suffered unimaginable torment for an unknown amount of time in the bowels of Hell.

Much like Scorn, the game's primary idea revolves heavily around creating a disturbing atmosphere that you won't see in any other game. Sadly, the actual Agony gameplay experience beyond that atmosphere is quite hit or miss. 

Agony's take on stealth horror truly redefines what NSFW really means, and as a bonus, there's more gameplay elements than what's found in "walking simulator"-style horror games (which seem to have dominated in recent years). For all that promise, though, the game does fall flat in several areas.

  Not a pleasant way to spend eternity
(and just wait until you notice he twitches and moans!)

A Trip Into Hell... And Beyond

Agony combines different elements from across the horror genre for something slightly familiar but still different enough to be worth playing if you can overlook the performance issues.

The hiding and running mechanics from games like Outlast collides with a survival horror aesthetic peppered with Dante's Inferno. An H.R. Giger take on Hell melds with some of the trippier elements from last year's Observer, and it's all rounded out with a dash of Clive Barker.

In all that mashing of styles, there's a whole lot that Agony does right. With headphones on and the lights off in the dead of night, you are in for a blood-curdling vision of hell.

Gameplay sets itself apart by balancing terror with curiosity: you want to see your surroundings in great detail but illuminating them draws horrific terrors bent on torturing you in horrific ways. Hell is disorienting on purpose (there's no mini-map in the abyss) and you can't beat the atmosphere on display while hiding under gore piles, wading through lakes of blood, and so much more we won't spoil here.

The procedurally generated Agony Mode will also significantly increase the game's replay value after you finish the story.

 There's a really effective use of light and shadow in the level design

Horror Battles Annoyance

Genre fans can rejoice: jump scares are few and far between here. Multiple levels of horror are present beyond the obvious gore as the player starts to realize what's really going on and gets an inkling of where the game's raw body material came (comes) from.

Hell is composed of surprisingly varied environments beyond just the blood and bones from the trailers, and the developers have come up with plenty of unique and interesting ways to open up new areas or create easier paths through Agony's maze-like environments.

There's an impressive amount of area to explore in Hell. It might just be creative usage of the landscape to trick the player, but these areas feel larger and more twisty than in games like Outlast. The levels are also fairly freeform, and two different players might take two radically different approaches to reaching th eend.

Notably, there's also far more gameplay elements than many other titles of this style, from hidden collectibles to grab, a mix of combat and stealth, memorizing sigils and tracing them to access new areas, and more. 

 Using the environment and objects to your advantage to avoid killer succubi makes for memorable gameplay

Flying around as a disembodied astral spirit and then possessing other martyrs (or even other demons!) is a major part of the experience. Unfortunately, that's where some of the problems start to become apparent. In one playthrough, my astral body was trapped in the ground and couldn't fly anywhere, so I had to hard restart.

The limited timer on possession and staying in a demonic form also kills a good deal of the fun. That's just the beginning of the technical issues, though. While exploring the corridors and tunnels and orifices of Hell, a major source of unintended agony will be the constant stutters and frame rate drops.

Agony is most definitely an indie experience, and there are some areas where this shows more strongly than others. The level of writing in the various notes and journals found across the underworld leaves something to be desired, and the voice acting is truly hellish (and not in a good way).

On the other hand, the ambient noises are truly chilling. Whoever they got to voice those screams, howls of agony, and moans of pain are all in desperate need of a hug and maybe a visit from the FBI, because I feel like they'e gone through some serious terror.

Hell Is A Lot Sexier Than I Remembered

If you couldn't tell from the game's logo, the vaginal motifs are cranked up to 11+ and are an ever-present theme in Agony. Honestly, I can't even show you the image of the fruit from the tree of knowledge because it is so obviously a moist, pulsating vulva.

There's seriously porn out there that shows fewer scenes of full on frontal female nudity. Agony will soon see some competition there, though, and we'll have to wait and see if this or the upcoming Lust For Darkness outdoes the other on the sexual horror front.

 This is among the most tame images you will see in Agony

Amazingly, some of the content has somehow still been censored slightly on the Steam edition, and I'm having trouble understanding just how much further the game could go beyond what's currently available.

A manual installation patch was planned to get the full monty (which in this case is most assuredly not a metaphor), but axed at the last minute. If you really want to see what was culled though, the developers plan to release a video with all the missing content.

While the aesthetics and hellish sexual motifs are absolutely spot on, the overall graphical display isn't much to write home about. The presentation does tend to be better than other crowd-funded indie excursions, but there are noticeable areas that could use improvement.

Backdrops like the giant fingers holding open flesh walls look amazing, but others are quite lackluster, such as the body parts flying out of the soul mirrors -- which are entirely unconvincing.

 So many grasping fingers... and none of them
want to do anything benevolent, that's for sure

The Bottom Line

Agony is pushing boundaries -- there's no doubt about that -- and I've got to give the developers props on that front. They aren't pulling many punches here. There's the gross-out factor and disturbing elements akin to Clive Barker's Jericho but taken to the next level with very little thought twoards toning things down for the easily-offended crowd.

With walls made out of crushed babies, regularly getting consumed by toothy vaginas, and a whole lot of blasphemy towards any given major world religion, it's clear that a large number of people should just go ahead and stay away from the game. 

I'm not one of those people, though, and in general, I find the aesthetic, locations, and general ideas all top-notch. This is the sort of game that I desperately want to love, although the execution makes it seem like the game needed a few more months (or longer) in the oven. 

The atmosphere is top notch, but I'll still have to present a major warning about the bugs and dodgy gameplay elements that may ruin the enjoyment of your trip into the madness of Hell.

Omensight Review -- New Revelations Lead to Recurring Events Fri, 25 May 2018 15:16:04 -0400 Erroll Maas

In Spearhead Games' Omensight, a murder-mystery action adventure game, you play as the Harbinger, a silent being meant to prevent the destruction of the anthropomorphic world of Urallia.

As the Harbinger, you must use your time-traveling ability to interact with several important characters, revealing new information along the way. At first, you can only travel down a single path with each companion character, but as more secrets are revealed, you gain the ability to open special locks that will lead you down several new paths as you slowly figure out the details of past events.

A Versatile Warrior

The Harbinger uses its sword, quick speed, and magic to deal with enemies, with standard light and heavy attacks, ranged attacks, time-slowing spells, and more. A well-timed dodge can also slow down time for a brief moment, allowing for a swift counter-attack -- although this can only be done three times in a row before requiring a cooldown. As you defeat enemies and finish and repeat levels, you gain experience that will level you up once enough has been accumulated, which in turn grants new abilities. Amber you collect from each level can be used to purchase additional abilities, upgrade existing ones, and reduce the cooldown time of companion abilities.

Cooperative Companions

The companions who join you on your quest help you open doors, access hard-to-reach platforms, and fight enemies. Most companions have their own special abilities that you can command them to use when needed, which is useful when you feel overwhelmed by enemies. Companions are also useful when managing your health during earlier boss fights, as they will be focusing on only one enemy and do a decent amount of damage just by themselves, even if it does take more time.

Although the companions themselves each have distinct personalities, and you learn more about them in each playthrough, you don't sympathize with them much due to the short time frame of events. Since you can travel back in time, character deaths only matter when you can gain new information from them; otherwise, they're just a small detail on certain paths even if they do still affect the outcome in the end.

Stuck in a Time Loop

As previously mentioned, each time you finish a level and go down a new path, you will be given new information to help you solve the mystery. Sometimes, certain events will give you visions of the past, and using your power of Omensight on each character will allow you to share your visions with them. After Omensight is used, it will alter events and put the characters in different situations and locations, allowing for the unlocking of new areas.

The main concept of using the power of Omensight to change the course of events and attempt to prevent the end of the world is interesting, but it comes with some drawbacks. Although levels are expected to be repeated, they become too repetitive, with character dialogue and other elements only changing further on in each level.

When repeating a level, sometimes you have the ability to skip to the critical moment at which an important choice must be made, and depending on what information you already have, each choice can reveal more details about what you want to know. A problem with this is that skipping to the critical moment doesn't skip directly to it, instead making you face a few groups of the same enemies once again before reaching it. Additionally, Omensight does not allow you to fully skip cut-scenes, with dialogue being able to be skipped only line by line, and with some not even skippable. For a game about time travel and repeating events, one would think that there would be a better fast-forward option.

Looking for Clues

Like other story-based games, without certain paths unlocked or details revealed, you'll get one of the bad endings in which either some or all characters will die, and you ultimately will not have prevented the end of the world. This is where the mystery solving aspect comes in, because to make up for those missing details, you'll have to piece together all the clues from the information you've already accumulated, using the investigation board to your advantage. The selected difficulty level can also change the difficulty of your investigation, from giving you plenty of hints to having you solve the entire mystery yourself to everything in between. This adds an engaging layer but unfortunately doesn't help cover Omensight's flaws.

Gorgeous Art & Mediocre Music

The art style of Omensight is heavily stylized and allows for some gorgeous scenery, but seeing the same areas over and over again becomes stale. New paths might unlock as you progress, but that doesn't change the overall look of the level. The music is well-done, and while it suffers from the same repetition problem as the rest of the game, it's nice that each piece of music has some different variations.

Something is Missing

Omensight is a single-player-only experience but could benefit from a co-op mode. It could have one player as the Harbinger and the other as whichever companion was chosen, with the second player switching to other companions after one dies or heads to a different area for story reasons. Another option might be to make both players the Harbinger, and although it wouldn't make sense given the story as written, they could be treated by the companions as if they were still just one character.

Omensight has some interesting concepts with changing story events, but its unvaried, repetitive nature holds back a more entertaining experience. With a few tweaks, Omensight could provide a more enjoyable adventure, but the land of Urallia can only be traveled through so many times before meeting its demise.

Omensight is available on PC via Steam, GOG, and Humble, as well as on PlayStation 4.

Note: A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Cities: Skylines Parklife DLC Review Wed, 23 May 2018 18:15:02 -0400 Fox Doucette

Cities: Skylines, arguably 2015's Game of the Year, continues to get new DLC three years after its launch, and "Parklife," the latest, seeks to blend the resurgent amusement park genre of games like Rollercoaster Tycoon and Parkitect into the classic SimCity formula that Skylines has otherwise been following since launch.

The question becomes whether this is a clever fusion of genres or whether you're essentially being asked to pay 15 bucks for content that's either superfluous, poorly integrated, or both.

And the answer to that? Well, it's the same answer as every DLC to come out for Skylines so far, and for every DLC to come out for publisher Paradox's other games that use this model, like Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV.

Repeat after me: “It depends on your playstyle.”

I loaded up a city that was fairly bog standard and still very much a work in progress (pop. 3,500 or so and just starting to expand across the freeway for the first time) and used the game's districting tool, repurposed to “create a park area,” to carve out some land like Walt Disney looking out at bare ground in Anaheim in the 1950s.

And here ... is where things got a little underwhelming.

A Place With All the Zip of Nuka-Cola

You get four broad templates to work from: City Park, Zoo, Nature Reserve, and Amusement Park.

Each has its own flavor, and Colossal Order clearly had broad city types from its previous DLCs and the basegame in mind. The Zoo and Nature Reserve in particular are supposed to appeal to the same people who got the most out of the Green Cities DLC, while the City and Amusement parks reminded me, respectively, of New York's Central Park and Disneyland.

Parks start off at the first of five levels; you build an entryway connected to the main road, then use park paths to direct people on foot through your park, building attractions, places to eat, and places to use the bathroom.

Broadly, this is the same no matter what park type you choose. The parks level up pretty much by themselves as their visitor counts and entertainment ratings increase, allowing you to charge higher gate fees (or use the parks as loss leaders to beautify and enhance the neighborhoods they're in).

They're also very pretty for screenshots, especially on higher-end computers taking advantage of the game's prettier graphics features; this effect is going to be lessened on potato-mode PCs.

At the top level, you get a cool attraction to draw more tourism into town, and the coveted “Castle of Lord Chirpwick” is Mad King Ludwig meets Skylines' not-at-all-angry bird.

The Player Style Problem

There's just one little-bitty thing wrong with all this fun:

Min-maxers and efficiency fans will hate it.

Calling up the land-value overlay shows that just plunking down a residential zone with a Japanese Garden or a basketball court will do more for your tax base and your city's ongoing maintenance costs than the DLC offers.

What's more, by the time your city is big enough to sustain the visitor traffic required to make the park into an actual revenue source, you might not want to redesign your infrastructure around a big park when you're already balancing it against a stadium or some monuments or whatever else you've already got in place from the game's leisure and land value choices.

Which leaves you with a choice: Either design your city around being a tourist haven, or stick to conventional park-building tools from the basegame. Which you'd rather do is the final arbiter of whether you'll get anything out of this DLC.

The Verdict

"Parklife" is also $14.99 US, which is full price for a game like Stardew Valley.

If you really want to dive into city beautification and quality-of-life and tourism and all that, wait for a sale and pick this up at half price. Otherwise, you can safely give it a miss.

Disclaimer: The reviewer was provided with a Steam key by the publisher.

MachiaVillain Review Wed, 16 May 2018 16:43:27 -0400 Ashley Gill

Is it a management sim? Is it a builder? Is it a survival game?

I've always had trouble with pinpointing the exact genre of games like Dungeon Keeper, Oxygen Not Included, Prison Architect, and Rimworld. I've played all these games and more of the same genre to death -- but I still have trouble putting my finger on what exactly to call it in conversation. Wikipedia often says it's "construction and management simulation", but I'd rather refer to it as "my favorite".

It doesn't feel right to strictly compare a game like MachiaVillain to other games within the same genre just because there are always some similarities that hold them together, like worker management and building to your needs and tastes; but each game always has a different focus. Each one has different priorities you need to focus on -- and different ways to approach the whole problem of staying afloat.

Nonetheless, I do have to compare these because MachiaVillain has taken some obvious cues from other recent popular entries in the genre. That in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. Despite its similarities to the aforementioned games, MachiaVillain does stand on its own as a competent construction and management simulation game. Though it is not without its own set of problems.

The Day to Day Life of a Murderous Villain

You have two primary tasks as you push through the game: To increase your rank in the League of Villains and to make sure your minions are well-fed and happy.

To carry out these tasks, you need a mansion as diabolical as you are. You need a spooky home office, a disgusting kitchen, a diabolical laboratory, a well-planned kill room, and... organized stockpiles? Yeah, a lot of those.

Being the boss in MachiaVillain is hard work. You must plan your mansion's layout, make sure your minions have efficient job priorities, and manage crafting tasks to make sure everything is running smoothly.

All of your hard work pays off when it comes time to wrangle and slay some victims, which you can handle the old fashioned way with the good ol' gnashing teeth of your zombies or go the clever route and lure them into traps and kill rooms to get the work done with none of the fuss.

Much of what you come across in MachiaVillain is an homage to classic horror movie tropes or characters. Heck, even the League of Villains follows the horror movie code and requests you kill victims alone, kill the virgin last, and don't slay victims' dogs. Whether you follow that code is up to you.

This tongue-in-cheek humor that invades the very bones of the game's progression is present throughout. For example, minions have some pretty interesting descriptions.

It's a fun, light-hearted take on something that really isn't light-hearted at all. You are here to leave a trail of bodies in your wake, after all.

With this all said, the controls leave a lot to be desired. The Escape key doesn't open the settings menu, keybindings have to be set via the launcher (and the defaults aren't great), and using minions' skills is troublesome. Though that in itself is something we'll get into in a bit.

Killing in the Name of [Brains]

The real meat here lies in the delicious blood and guts stew you inevitably make when you kill victims.

As you progress and lure increasingly large numbers of victims to your home, you have to get creative with the killing. Well-placed distractions and trap doors to rooms filled with lethal traps are must-haves, and their placement is key to your success.

Should you somehow scare victims off before they even come into the house or they slip through your onslaught and out the front door, suspicion about what's going on in your mansion will rise. At critical levels, this can bring heroes to your doorstep who are hellbent on wiping you and your minions out. 

Planning and building a good set of kill rooms is my favorite part of the game, and likely will be for most players because it's MachiaVillain's big, unique feature. Draw them in and kill them. Do it up. It's crazy fun to watch your traps work as intended, and you get the bonus of more food for your minions. It's a win-win.

What makes building in this game special is how easy it is to dismantle and build things again. Dismantling a wall or an object is a simple two-click process, and you don't lose any resources you used when you initially built the object.

Though actually building something takes some time, the quick dismantling and retainment of resources makes it so you can easily expand, remodel, and change up the layout of your mansion without much fuss. It gives you plenty of opportunity for trial and error, which is especially helpful when building your first kill rooms.

The big detractor from all of this is that, at the time of writing, there are not all that many things you can build. There are only a few room types with a handful of furniture/devices you can install in your mansion. You can get creative but you can only do so much.

There are Some Bones Crunching, All Right

For all its good, MachiaVillain is not a perfect game. As mentioned above, the controls leave a lot to be desired and there are not a ton of things to build in your mansion.

I can accept that there aren't a lot of things to build; developer Wild Factor seems keen on adding more content to the game and I am personally looking forward to seeing where the game is going to go content-wise. It's fun as it stands and can only get more so.

But I can't accept the controls being as cumbersome as they are in their current state. Having to click twice (once for the object, once for the deconstruct icon) to dismantle furniture and structures is tiresome. Not being able to press the Escape key to open the settings menu and save is annoying. There are a number of other instances where the lack of hotkeys is just the opposite of ideal.

Please give a dedicated tool or hotkey for this!

These two issues can be fixed and, with luck, they will be with further patches. I've also run into a few bugs, though none have been huge interference to my gameplay.

These aren't things I would say to actively avoid the game over, but these are two facets of the game in its current state you should know about to make an informed purchase. In some ways this feels more like a beta than a full release.

MachiaVillain brings its own favors to the construction and management sim party, and those favors are a little less enticing -- maybe a little stinkier with all those brains laying around -- than those the big boys brought, but it certainly can party with the rest of them, even if it's not for as long.

As it stands, MachiaVillain is a decent game within my favorite genre. It could be a really great game within my favorite genre, and it could still get there.

Fans of construction and management sims will feel right at home with all it has to offer, but may not be too keen with its lack of relative depth when compared with titans like Prison Architect and Oxygen Not Included. Not me, though. I had and am still having a hard time putting MachiaVillain down. There's something to be said about the combination of blood and guts mixed with management that's keeping me going.

You can purchase Machiavillain on Steam for $19.99. 

(Note: The developer provided a copy of Machiavillain for review.)

Destiny 2 : Warmind Expansion Review Tue, 15 May 2018 15:39:28 -0400 Joe Garcia

In Bungie's latest DLC expansion to Destiny 2, "Warmind," Guardians have a lot to grind for. This is a good thing, as the lack of endgame content has driven many players away from Destiny 2, but "Warmind" is still lacking that oh-so-special thing that Destiny -- and even vanilla Destiny 2 -- had. That being said, let's jump right into our exploration of the newest expansion.


With "Warmind" comes a new campaign to experience, and it is a great improvement from the short and lackluster campaign of Destiny 2's first DLC expansion, "Curse of Osiris." The main campaign of "Warmind" is around 2 1/2 hours long, 2 if you fly through it with a Fireteam. Despite being shorter than I would have liked, this story is full of lore and very unique characters (Rasputin being a personal favorite). We join the famous and refreshing Hunter Ana Bray, who comes from a family that had created many facilities on Mars during the Golden Age.

This campaign is what Destiny 2 needed. It feels like a campaign from Destiny 1, with the long and strung-along missions, boss fights, and new mechanics -- and that is what the community was asking for. The last mission has players going up against a Worm God that rules over the Hive, and this brings a nostalgic feel as this is similar to when the Guardians slayed the Heart of the Black Garden back in Destiny 1. This is what we need Bungie, just give us more than a taste. 

With every new expansion, we are given new enemies to fight. This time, it's a new variation of the Hive: the Frozen Hive. Destiny has often suffered from a lack of adding brand-new enemy types, but the Frozen Hive are a fresh take on a race that is all about death and dark rituals. These new types of Hive are updated and improved versions of the common types of Hive we have fought in the past, such as knights with swords and shields, new sniper Acolytes, and cursed Thrall that freeze you when they explode. 


It comes as no surprise that along with new DLC, we get new Strikes. This time around, it's only three Strikes being added, but in all honesty, it's really only one new strike that's exclusively for PlayStation 4 players: "Insight Terminus." The other two strikes, "Will of the Thousands" and "Strange Terrain," are story missions that have been tweaked slightly to become Strikes. 

This was an issue for players in the previous expansion, and it seems Bungie has done it again. This is seemingly lazy, but it can also be viewed as incorporating the Strikes directly into the story. There is a better way of doing this, as we have seen in Destiny 1, where this was done in a more seamless manner. This has also soured some players to the expansion as PC and Xbox players are locked out of the only new Strike.

The Strikes are not only recycled but have been made harder, with loot that drops lower than its light level. Heroic Strikes require you to be at light level 350 but only drop gear at 340. This is a turn-off for players since it is not easy to get to light level 350 without grinding for days. 

Grinding & Endgame

Grinding seems to have gotten much harder -- and not in the good way. Yes, Destiny 2 lacked proper endgame content, but the new endgame is difficult to access because getting to the proper light level isn't easy at all to achieve.

Normally, grinding Strikes and doing milestones weekly and daily would help those who are under-leveled get up to the right level, but that isn't the case anymore. As stated earlier, Heroic Strikes require 350 light level but will drop only 340 gear, and that is a major turn-off as that is the only way to grind to get gear. 

Doing your milestones helps, but when you're done for the week, you can do much after that outside of the raid. Speaking of the raid, we have received two new pieces of endgame content: the raid lair "Spire of Stars" and a new hoard mode activity called "Escalation Protocol," which is a 7-level hoard type of encounter that has many different mechanics and will reward players at levels 3, 5 and 7. It is a 9-player encounter and gets harder and harder with each level beat. This is undoubtedly the hardest endgame content Destiny 2 has to offer, but it's very rewarding and represents just what we wanted. Still, it causes a sour taste in the community's mouth since you must be a certain light level to even start these activities. 


The Crucible has been changed drastically as there are now ways to level up your ranking that are similar to how you can Prestige in Call of Duty. With "Valor" taking the place of quick-play matches and "Glory" taking over competitive matches, players can rank up to unlock new gear and bragging rights.


This is a great change, as increasing your rank in "Glory" requires you to win to gain points, but the kicker is that you lose points if you lose games. This makes the competitive scene much more intense and fun. With "Valor," losing doesn't take points away, so it caters more to those who are casual PVP players. This is a great addition to the Crucible to shake things up. 

New Loot

Of course, the most important part of any expansion is the inclusion of new loot to grind for. Not only did players receive new exotics, such as the Huckleberry submachine gun and Worldline Zero exotic sword (the only exotic sword in Destiny 2), old exotics make a return. It's no surprise that the insanely OP fusion rifle Sleeper Simulant makes a comeback, but fan favorite auto rifle Suros Regime does, too. There is a slew of new exotic armor sets and weapons, but the biggest change is the addition of exotic Masterworks.

Some exotic weapons get new Masterwork versions that involve finding their specific Catalysts to then grind out their specific objectives to create the Masterwork. One example is getting kills with Tractor Cannon to turn it into a Masterwork Tractor Cannon. Not only do they become Masterwork versions that can make orbs of light like the rest, but they also get unique extra perks, such as increased range, increased magazine size, etc. 

Along with new loot, there are new quests to go on to get exotic and legendary gear. Quests were always a fun part of the grind, and the addition of new ones really helps give players another incentive to grind and unlock loot in hopes of finally getting the one piece of gear or weapon they were searching for.

Final Verdict

Although Destiny 2 "Warmind" is a fun and much-needed improvement to the overall game, it is still not enough to keep players satisfied until the fall, when the next major release drops. The expansion hits some points that needed to be hit, but it lacks in story length; fresh and original Strikes; ways to grind and reach higher light levels; loot drops from existing activities; and lore expansion surrounding the world Bungie has created. 


What are your thoughts on "Warmind"? Sound off in the comments below, and for more on all things Destiny 2, stay tuned to GameSkinny!

Strange Journey Redux Review: Shin Megami Tensei Repackaged Fun Tue, 15 May 2018 10:15:01 -0400 TMSingle

The call to save mankind has never come at a greater cost.

Originally released in Japan in 2009 on the Nintendo DS, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey joined the sci-fi, post-apocalyptic RPG series Shin Megami Tensei with its own unique storyline. While not as popular as some series, the Shin Megami Tensei series possesses a strong following nonetheless. Like its predecessors, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey is recognized for its imaginative animation, masterful gameplay, and heart-pounding music score. Atlus didn’t skimp on any aspects of the game, and it made for a memorable voyage of good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, and man vs. demon.

Perhaps that’s why, nearly a decade later, Atlus made the decision to port the notable adventure to another system. Through the 3DS, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux is born, bringing the best parts of its original game and even more adventure. 

Strange Journey Redux: Travel to Schwarzwelt

When a dimension full of demons appears in Antarctica, the United Nations moves swiftly to find answers. As this spatial anomaly, called the Schwarzwelt, threatens to engulf Earth and put an end to mankind, a special team is put together to go in and investigate.

As the pressure to save humankind and the world is often the fundamental motivation for the main character of any RPG game, you play as a courageous United Nations soldier who agrees to join the team established to uncover the mystery. Aboard the Red Sprite, one of the three ships venturing into the unknown land, you answer directly to Commander Gore, the overall commander of the Schwarzwelt Investigation Team. As a member of the Strike Team, your role will, of course, be the game changer.

Along with meeting Commander Gore, you will meet Zelenin, a hopeful Russian scientist and first lieutenant of the Monitor Team, whose sole responsibility is to study the Schwarzwelt. She, along with other scientists, is on the third ship, the Elve. You’ll find Zelenin’s role may change as the game progresses into more dangerous territory.

Another key character you'll meet is Jimenez, who serves on the second ship, the Blue Jet, and is also a member of the Strike Team. Many characters in the game do not see eye to eye with Jimenez because of his cynical and somewhat insensitive regard of the overall mission. However, as the situation changes, Jimenez mostly stays the same, but he offers refreshing speech nevertheless.

With on-board AI Arthur, the commanding unit of the Red Sprite, and other commanding units operating to get the ships into Schwarzwelt with ease, the mission cannot help but be successful … except everything goes wrong from the very beginning. Underestimating the anomaly, the ships end up crashing before they can even begin.

When the dust settles, the crew of the Red Sprite find themselves in a ship without power. But if the ship has no power, how can the door of the deck open? The startling answer to this question becomes clear almost immediately, as supernatural beings, known as demons, begin to wreak havoc on the crew. Through much effort and the use of the Demonica (DEMOuntable Next Integrated Capability Armor), a suit specifically made to function in the Schwarzwelt, the crew manages to fend off the attacking demons and even regain power.

Sadly for the Red Sprite, their troubles are only beginning. Trapped in Schwarzwelt, the crew must battle demons as they make their way to different areas of the Schwarzwelt, with no real surety that home will be their final destination. As if the stress of fighting demons and the uncertainty of never returning to Earth aren’t enough, the protagonist has to deal with the sudden appearance of an angel-like being who claims to be a messenger from God, and a mysterious girl by the name of Alex, who tears through the protagonist during their first meeting as if she were picking lint off a sweater.

Strange Journey Redux: Key Points

While the game is essentially an adventure RPG, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux sticks to classic movement. It is not seen through the third-person, and there is no free-range movement. You never see your character, and movement is stiff and mechanical. This forces you to make sure you take your time whenever you’re trying to change your direction; otherwise, when you’re trying to move backward, you might find yourself facing and moving forward, so beware.

This tactical single-player RPG is essentially about demon collecting. When the time comes to venture off the ship and into the demon-infested world, you will be approached by a demon who wants to join you. From this demon, you will learn how to get other demons to join your party and fight alongside you. As there are 350 fusable demons available, you’re not limited to just the demons you can convince, for a fee, to join your party.

When interacting with other characters, as well as demons, it’s important to pay attention. At random, you may be faced with a choice or question. This helps form characters’ opinion of you and ultimately helps in shaping the fate of the world. Not to mention, if you thoughtlessly answer a demon who you are trying to convince to join you, you may find yourself missing much-needed HP and MP because of a sudden fight sequence.

Is the Game Worth It?

With new demons and new dungeons, even if you played Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey once upon a time, you won't be bored or disappointed with this updated version of the adventure.

Even if you’re unfamiliar with the Shin Megami Tensei series, this game is definitely worth checking out. It has all of the elements that make an RPG extraordinary, such as seamless gameplay, unique leveling features, an interactive plot, unforgettable characters, and emotional scenes. Sure, the mechanical movement is a little off-putting at first, but it's easy to adapt to once you get into the game. 

Who knows, this game might be the gateway into the whole series for you. It’s worth the time! Get out there and save the Earth!

[Note: A review copy of the game was provided by the publisher.]

Forgotton Anne Review – A Real Puzzle Adventure Fri, 11 May 2018 16:44:41 -0400 TMSingle

The Square Enix Collective has released some truly inspiring and interesting indie games since it started providing smaller devs a (greater) voice in 2016. From Goetia to The Turing Test and beyond, some truly fantastic experiences have come from the Collective. 

Enter Forgotton Anne

A 2D cinematic adventure game developed by ThroughLine Games and published by Square Enix, Forgotton Anne takes players on a journey through The Forgotten Lands, which is an enchanted world populated by Forgotlings — creatures made up of mislaid objects, such as clothing or other items, who are longing to be remembered again. With an art style reminiscent of Studio Ghibli, Forgotton Anne is masterfully crafted.

It is more a puzzle-mystery than an action-adventure with its mild puzzle-platforming elements, but the storyline is no less compelling. The story draws you in for a thrilling adventure and leaves you wondering, constantly, where it'll take you next! 

The Story is Yours to Make

You play the titular Anne, who is known in the Forgotten Lands as the Enforcer. She has the job of keeping order and policing anyone not following the rules. Through the Arca device, Anne is able to wield and control Anima, the Forgotten Lands' power source. With her instructions from Master Bonku on how to proceed, Anne begins her journey.

During the game, you get the sense that Anne is both feared and respected (except by Strut, who seems to fear and respect no one) because of her appointed role. Anne and Master Bonku, who are seemingly the only humans here, are preparing to return to their world, but they are waylayed by an explosion.

Now you have more questions than answers -- and danger is on the prowl. And that’s what makes Forgotton Anne intriguing, these instances that draw you into the story.

Your Decisions Matter

As Anne sets out to find the rebels that caused the explosion -- and figure out what is actually afoot -- she runs into a mutineer, who is in the form of a scarf. The scarf arms himself with a shovel, and suddenly, Anne is presented with a choice.

She has the chance to stop the scarf then and there by draining him of the Anima that keeps him alive (known as distilling) or letting him escape. Whichever path you choose, the game will tell you how the outcome could have been different, giving weight to your decisions.

The game requires you question everything you think you know in any given moment. You cannot change your answer after you’ve picked it. The interactions are set based on your responses. Thus, it’s important to pay attention to the storyline.

You get a sense for everyone you talk to, but you never truly know who is working with the rebels and who is innocent — and you do not want the guilt of distilling an innocent Forgotling on your conscious, or do you?

Let’s take a moment of silence for all the innocents you’ll probably inadvertently attack.

Unlocking the Puzzle

There’s no set game level or skill leveling present. Instead, the gameplay is performed in a puzzle format. The earlier areas will be easiest, or course; however, as more options become available, the time spent figuring out how to move on will exponentially increase — unless you’re a puzzle master and can typically see the bigger picture right off the bat.

With the puzzle format, you are called to figure out where your Anima is best suited. Throughout the game, as you travel to different sections of the Forgotten Land, you'll find you need to use your Anima to progress. Using Anne, you must figure out where your Anima goes and how long it needs to stay there.

Sometimes, there will be empty Anima cylinders or devices that need Anima to help you unlock the next section, and other times, there will be empty Anima cylinders or Forgotlings who do not need to be reanimated. It is important to figure out where your Anima is best served, because you might find the Anima you need to open the door is being used to power the light in a room you'll likely never return to in the game. 

In this way, Forgotton Anne works like a strategy title, causing you to think before you act -- and save resources for their most optimal uses. 

MacGyver the Platform

Unless you are a serious PC gamer, reconsider the idea of playing Forgotton Anne on your PC. At first, things run smoothly as you’re given instruction on how to use Anne. You learn the usual things, such as how to walk from front to back or side to side, how to interact, how to leave a room, etc., in the beginning of the game.

Nothing too difficult, really, but if you happen to be new to PC gaming and forget some things, like how to jump, you can easily find the instructions again in the How to Play section.

However, movement, at least on PC, was sluggish. Anne wasn't able to perform precise movements as well as she should have -- so you might find maneuvering a little difficult at times, especially for the range of movement the game requires.

You’ll also find some areas harder than others to move through. For example, at times, you may not know if you need to jump, long-jump, or use Anne's wings. And of course, when you do, stiff movements don't help things. 

It’s not too problematic overall, but it can be a bit tedious and the process only grows when you gain the use of Anne’s wings.

The Power of Anima

Anima isn’t only used to distill Forgotlings. As the explosion from earlier in the game affected much of the power, Anne will need to use Anima to restore power to random areas for the sake of collecting momentous, and specific areas, so she can move forward in her mission to stop the rebels. To restore power, you must find empty Anima cylinders.

Using Anima isn’t too difficult. The first time you have to use it in the game, you’re given clear instructions on how, but you receive a refresher in the How to Play section.

When using Anima to restore power, you must use the Arca and enter Animavision. Be precise with the directional keys. While nothing bad happens if you sometimes overshoot where you need to be, it’s still time-consuming — especially once you need to figure out the flow of Anima.

Restoring power to certain cylinders won’t be enough after a while. Once you restore power to some areas, you must then change the direction of the flow of Anima. This may allow you to open a door that you previously couldn’t open, operate a crane or lift, or just turn the lights on. Either way, you might find yourself having to redirect the flow of Anima several times in one single area.

The main issue with Anima is once you’ve charged something, the Arca loses the energy to charge anything else. You have to find other full Anima cylinders or take back the Anima you just used.

Now, that might not seem like a problem, but as the puzzles get harder, so does the decision on where to use Anima. While you thought restoring power to a random test dummy might have been your best option, now you don’t have power to open the next door -- so strategy is important.  

Final Verdict

From time to time in Forgotton Anne, you may find yourself winging it since you receive no real direction in which to go. A few times, you might get lucky and Anne says to herself, “I shouldn’t go that way,” but for the most part, you run around a bit aimlessly until you trigger a new cutscene.

And with the exasperating task of controlling Anne, you might wonder if the game is worth it — especially when you find Anne trapped in a small room with no way out and you’re able to reach it after your 100th attempt.

However, Forgotton Anne is a beautifully-drawn, musically-pleasing RPG puzzle-adventure game. It has a captivating storyline littered with mystery and suspense. After every difficult puzzle, you receive another glimpse into the curious situation happening in the Forgotten Lands.

So, stretch your fingers, expand your brain muscles, and give it a go.   

Forgotton Anne is available digitally on Steam, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on May 15.

[Note: A review copy of the game was provided by the publisher.]

Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze (Nintendo Switch) Review Thu, 10 May 2018 12:44:14 -0400 Joseph Ocasio

With his birthday ruined and his home being invaded by evil penguins and other denizens of the Arctic, Donkey Kong and friends must put a stop to them by jumping and stomping their way through dozens of levels.

If that sounds familiar, then you were one of the few people who played the 2015 platforming hit, Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze on the Nintendo Wii U. The excellent 2.5D platformer joins the likes of Bayonetta 2 and Mario Kart 8 in being brought over to the Switch. Just like those titles, the Switch version of Tropical Freeze includes some minor additions, and it's still a great game that's worth being played and added to your Switch collection. 

If you've played any 2D platformer, you know what to expect with Tropical Freeze. The jumping and climbing is all here, as well as some other staples of the Donkey Kong Country games, like controlling a rhino and riding in a mine cart. The excellent level design the series is know for is at the forefront. The first world does a good job of easing you in to the mechanics of Tropical Freeze, while each level continually expands upon the various gimmicks that have been shown off in new and exciting ways. You'll be visiting places like beaches, underwater worlds, snowy mountains, and more throughout your adventure, and you'll constantly be surprised by what the game has in store for you. You might think this would all be overwhelming, but the tight controls are the glue that holds everything together, so you don't have anyone but yourself to blame if you miss a jump.

Speaking of missing jumps, be prepared for a lot of challenge in Tropical Freeze. Despite the family-friendly look, the game will have you on the edge of your seat one moment, relaxing another, and even pulling your hair out -- sometimes in that order. Luckily, the levels and sense of pacing never feel unfair or cheap, save for a few small instances where the game could have done a better job of explaining how to get past a certain section (and some late-game rocket levels).

DK also has his pals Diddy, Trixie, and Cranky by his side to aid him. Diddy and Trixie can allow DK to reach further spaces, while Cranky can use his cane like a pogo stick, similar to Scrooge McDuck in Duck Tales. The switch between Diddy/Trixie and Cranky can be jarring, seeing as how differently they play, but you'll get used to it.

In terms of new content, the biggest new feature is a mode called Funky Mode, in which you can choose to take control of Donkey Kong's pal Funky Kong. He can jump further and hover for a bit, making him much easier to control, as well as take more damage. Along with the newest Kong, Funky Mode allows DK and pals to take an extra hit each, and hearts and lives are handed out more frequently to take some of the pressure off during some of the game's more challenging sections (similar to what was done in the 3DS version of Donkey Kong Country Returns). It can be a little too forgiving in some sections (particularly in boss battles), but that doesn't mean it takes away all of the game's difficulty; it just makes things more bearable.

Other than the new mode, the big upgrade is the jump from 720p to 1080p when playing in docked mode (handheld is still 720p). It's a much cleaner-looking game, but you probably won't notice it unless you're doing a side-by-side comparison. It's still a great-looking game, with the same great environmental art design (especially in levels that are shrouded by darkness) and texture shading, running at a silky-smooth 60fps. The music is equally pleasing, with series composer David Wise returning to score the game, with mixes of old, classic tunes and new songs that will probably become classics.

It's easy to recommend Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze if you missed out on it the first time around. It's a challenging game that rarely feels unfair, and it features the same wonderful level design and variety that's made the series so iconic. The new Funky Mode is a great addition that makes an already accessible game even more so, without sacrificing much of the challenge. There's not that much for returning players, but it's still the same great game that's worth going ape over.

Assassin's Creed Rogue Remastered Review: A Worthy Upgrade or Cheap Templar Trick? Wed, 09 May 2018 12:00:58 -0400 Miles T

Assassin's Creed Rogue Remastered is the latest in a long line of current-gen updates hoping to grasp one last hurrah from players before being left behind forever. With an improved frame rate, updated visuals, and added content, it's a package that should have inspired genuine delight, building on a solid gameplay style and an intriguing story, hoping to draw in those that missed the experience the first time around. Unfortunately, the remaster is held back by the original game's faults, and its technical additions ultimately fail to justify this re-release in a meaningful way.

Having played every Assassin's Creed main entry up to this day, the only ones I'd so far missed had been Assassin's Creed Rogue and the Chronicles series. Coming out at the same time as the (then) next-gen Unity, the original Rogue lived up to its name in the real as well as the virtual world -- left behind for the shiny new graphics and updated systems. Indeed, Rogue is a strange and bewildering conundrum, overshadowed by the potentially inferior Unity, but not meeting the same high standards of its predecessor in Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, a game whose template it follows almost to the point of outright replication.

Many people, myself included, passed on Rogue the first time around. Ubisoft clearly noted this and decided to try and address it by releasing a remastered version. So the question now is, with the jump to current-gen hardware, is it worth going back to experience this remnant of Creed's past, or should it have been left as the outcast it appeared to be?

A Familiar Tale but a New Perspective

Assassin's Creed Rogue focuses on the character of Shay Patrick Cormack, a man of Irish descent who starts the journey as a faithful, youthful, and petulant assassin but quickly trades the life of the Creed for that of their age-old enemies, the Templars. This premise starts off intriguing and exciting, uncovering the motivations and events that drive Shay's betrayal of his likable band of brothers and sisters for the control and power-hungry Templar order. Unfortunately, this switch happens exceptionally early and quickly within the story, with little real exposition to become engrossed in.

In many ways, we can empathize with Shay's reasons for leaving his loyalty behind, and it creates a vastly different perspective from which seasoned Creed players can now perceive the Assassins. However, the game fails to adequately build upon this great foundation, glossing over Shay's actual development. In the space of two in-game sequences and a handful of short missions, Shay turns from loyal assassin to complete nemesis, with little regret or meaningful remorse. He never truly struggles with his breakaway, so we never see an emotional depth that could have served the story some real connection or dilemmas for the player to ponder. After sequence three, the game skips forward by one year, effectively telling the player Shay is now a seasoned Templar, and that's just how it is. One of the most important sections narratively is glossed over, creating a real missed opportunity for us to experience the real change in the central narrative arc.

The rest of the story is fairly standard, as you are tasked with retrieving an artifact (which you acquire and lose for both sides) to unlock a powerful precursor sight. Shay is ordered with hunting down and defeating his previous comrades one-by-one as the sequences pass by. But once again, while Shay has the odd line devoted to showing some sense of moral conflict, he very rarely shows anything other than determination to do what he thinks is right. Overall, the story segments in the game are short, limited, and generally forgettable, which is a shame for a game with so much promise behind its central themes of loyalty and betrayal.

A Great Formula, a Stale Repeat

Sadly, the central gameplay loop of Rogue is regurgitated from its predecessor almost identically. You'll spend time doing all the same things you did in Black Flag, with a couple of new additions -- capturing forts, stabbing grunts, infiltrating supply camps, suppressing Assassin HQs, engaging in sea warfare, sneaking past outposts, and generally causing as much havoc to the Assassin order as your Irish legs can muster. The addition of supply camps and Assassin HQs are minor at best, and superficial at worst. Rather than being meaningful changes or adding anything to the experience, they exist simply to repackage the same gameplay you've already experienced dozens of hours of.

The combat for both land and sea remain largely the same, with Shay's only notable acquisition being a rifle that now has an attached grenade launcher. Unfortunately, even this acts as a missed opportunity, as the grenades available are identical to the darts we'd been using for about two games prior -- berserk and sleep -- with the addition of traditional shrapnel grenades. It seemed this may have been a great opportunity to freshen up your stealth and action options, but instead it feels like a meaningless add-on which only serves to make the game easier. One of the few differences is the addition of stalkers, who will hide out in various secluded spots and try to slice you when you least expect it. They're an interesting concept, but they telegraph their attacks so brazenly you almost always detect them, leaving the process of countering them as more of a chore than an exciting challenge.

That's not to say there isn't any fun to be had in Rogue's moment-to-moment engagement. Successfully infiltrating an outpost or settlement without being detected, taking down a particularly strong enemy, or laying waste to multiple guards is still wickedly fun and fast-paced at times. Additionally, the naval combat is still epic in scope and exciting to execute; firing off cannons and mortars while avoiding fire from half a dozen ships is still just as invigorating as it has been before. It's just such a shame that it feels so abrasively familiar. Within 10 minutes of playing Rogue Remastered, it felt like I was right at home from my time with Black Flag or AC3, with little actual development of skill or ability, coupled with the same animation and design for things like legendary battles and harpoon activities.

The Problem With Filler

The main story missions do an admirable job of attempting to get you thinking on how to approach and dispatch your targets, with significantly fewer tailing missions being a massive improvement. These can sometimes feel weak or lacking in exciting design, however, with many of the stealthy or "better" options scripted blatantly with environmental cues and hints -- there's only so many times you can see a tree branch overhanging an essential enemy character before it becomes ridiculous.

What's also glaringly ridiculous is how Ubisoft has so obviously padded out Rogue, stuffing it with pointless collectibles. By the time I'd finished the main campaign story missions (which only took about 7 in-game hours), I'd only discovered about 1/4 of all the locations, forts, and HQs in the game, and that's with me purposely having visited most of the ones en route to missions! The rest of your 20-30 hour playtime will be collecting over 200(!) animus fragments, shanties, chests, and items to unlock new outfits or weapon sets. Generally, most of Rogue feels like filler content, with the meat of the package proving to be a rather limited dish.

The Thinnest Layer of Paint

It's not only the gameplay additions that feel somewhat superfluous, though. With this version being a remaster, it's important to assess the changes made for this upgrade. Once again, however, Rogue Remastered disappoints, with distinctly mild or almost non-existent improvements to its graphics capacity. Character models show their age, animations are comically stiff in comparison to the current standard, and don't even look at people's hair for fear of being put off completely. The game has been enhanced to promote the use of 4K and 1080p on a PS4 Pro, for example, but given the game's now-lacking visual fidelity, it wouldn't make much of a difference.

Moreover, the game technically still has problems, as I experienced two in-game crashes during my time playing. On one occasion, Shay became permanently locked into an attack animation pose so he couldn't move, and in another instance, I encountered a soldier body clipping through the floor of the game (with the essential key I needed to progress). All of these are relatively forgivable given the generous save system, but they were a pain nonetheless and shouldn't be occurring in the prime or enhanced edition of a game.

Finally, the two additional missions included from the original version again add little to Rogue's enjoyment factor, and the customization options are artificial and largely pointless. Much like the rest of the game, they feel tacked-on and lack any real value for the experience.

Should Have Remained a Rogue?

Assassin's Creed Rogue Remastered is something akin to an Easter egg with a tasty, exciting, and enjoyable exterior, but completely and utterly hollow within, lacking any form or real substance. There's the skeleton of a great game within its foundations, as we all discovered with Black Flag, so it's a shame it chooses to replicate, rather than evolve upon, the formula that gave it life. The changes made for this remaster are minor, adding little to the original experience or improving it in any significant way.

As a first-time player of Rogue, I enjoyed some of my time decimating the Assassin order, with a story and main campaign that had genuinely enthralling moments. What a shame then that the majority of the game lacks any form of depth or development. If you never played Rogue originally and had a fleeting interest, you may find it worth searching within this outcast. But for returning players or everyone else, you can avoid Shay's enhanced adventure without much fuss.

Pillars of Eternity II Deadfire Review: Fight the Gods, Sail the Seas, Save Your Soul Tue, 08 May 2018 13:00:01 -0400 Ty Arthur

Around the time that the Pentium II was the baddest microprocessor on the block, Baldur's Gate II showed up to blow the cRPG competition away by vastly expanding on everything that made the original game such a hallowed favorite.

Computers may be a whole lot faster nearly two decades later, but that classic brand of RPG nostalgia is still on full display for genre fans with Obsidian's own ambitious sequel, Pillars Of Eternity II: Deadfire.

Much like Black Isle's earlier take on the D&D universe, Obsidian absolutely nailed this expansion of the Infinity Engine style, making all of the tweaks that players asked for following the first game. From full voice acting to new class options, fans of the first Pillars won't be disappointed with Obsidian's sequel.

Deadfire features a much-needed change of location and tone, to something that sets the Pillars of Eternity series apart. It's not just background colors and character options that change the experience for returning players, though. The Archipelago is absolutely alive with history and culture with Deadfire's new open world setting.

On top of that, there's been a big cultural shift away from all the Celtic connotations in the first game. This time around, the game has moved toward native Pacific Islanders and invading expansionist Europeans in a golden age of piracy. It's a shift that's not only palpable but also game-changing. 

RPG fans who love dialog-heavy games will be thrilled by NPC speech peppered with colorful colloquial terms that draw them into the setting. In short, this is a game with a lot of character

     Better get used to blood-soaked decks -- you'll be seeing a lot of them!

Massive trading companies, ousted nobles turned pirates, religious missionaries, and locals looking to make coin off the lot of 'em collide for an incredibly rich setting that is everything a gamer could want from a high-seas RPG.

While the story of Deadfire is serious and revolves around the fate of souls across the world, there's still plenty of comic relief to be found between tense combat and philosophical story lines. And that comedy aspect is handled exceedingly well, with killer timing.

New companion Serafen's particular world view is always amusing, and there's plenty of opportunity for the Watcher to get herself into trouble by saying the wrong thing

Updated Game Mechanics and Map Travel

Besides a shift in setting and language, the game itself has evolved in several notable ways. The first and largest change will have fans of the original Pillars heaving a major sigh of relief. Obsidian thankfully (and very, very wisely) ditched all the backer soul dialogue, which was a major low point of the first game given the massive amount of text present throughout the adventure.

The Watcher still talks to souls and sees into other realms, just with better writing that is actually tied into the story. Beyond that much-needed change, Deadfire includes majorly-updated game mechanics, with multi-classing, a totally new reputation system, and ship-to-ship combat.

Between the extra class powers, new environmental combat effects, and a host of other battle tweaks, combat feels more tactical this time around.The oddly low level cap of 12 of the first game has also been bumped to 20, offering many new class build possibilities for players to explore.

 Exploration is a huge part of the game, and you even
get to name your own uncharted islands

Shifting focus from typical RPG railroading, the Watcher and her crew get a ship early on, meaning they can start exploring the utterly massive Archipelago without having to wait for hours on end. Furthermore, you can pretty much ignore the main quest to go explore most of Deadfire right away if that suits your fancy.

And much like with Baldur's Gate II, there are now more options to be an evil, reaving, murderous pirate from the get-go. Of course, there are any number of other ways to play the Watcher, but at least you get access to most of them fairly early. 

Lastly, there's also noticeably less combat this time around, which was a consistent complaint from the fan base about the first game. 

 There's still more than enough Real-Time-With-Pause combat
and loads of screen-shaking spell effects

Faith in Eora

This section contains MAJOR SPOILERS for the ending of the previous game, so if you haven't finished the first Pillars of Eternity yet, you may want to skip on down to the next section.

As would be expected from the confrontational atheism versus religious faith ending of PoE, when you discovered Thaos' devastating secret, religion continues to play a huge role in Deadfire

Now that the Watcher knows the gods are a sham, options for reacting to religious characters have grown significantly, and whether you keep placing your faith in the false gods or turn your back on them has major impacts on your party interactions. 

The Watcher even gets to deal directly with those powerful ancient Engwithans in a variety of dreamlike settings, and there's a definite rush to staring the goddess of death in the face and telling her exactly where she can go shove it.

 Having a pow-wow with mewling. whiny deities
who expect humans to do everything for them

How religious characters and organizations interact with each other is central to the storytelling in the continuation of the Watcher's saga. Player choice is a major factor in every conversation, so if you want total control over your character's actions and motivations, this is the RPG for you.

The strength of the writing and nuance in the world's religious background really shine through companion interactions. New character Xoti is one of the highlights of Deadifre, coming off at first as an adorably unrefined, sassy southern lass (you will be forgiven if you too think of Cameron's sister Pameron from Modern Family).

Whether you want to kindly indulge her superstitions or mercilessly mock her backwards beliefs is up to you, and those interactions become a test of character for both of you as the game's story progresses.

 There's a lot more to this naive southern belle than first meets the eye

Party Relationships In Pillars Of Eternity II

As with the first game, there's constant inter-party dialog and interactions to be had in Deadfire, making it a pleasure to travel around from place to place and see how the members of the group talk to each other

Beyond the options of "good" and "evil", every character has a host of personality traits that impact not just how they view the main character, but how they interact with each other.  The sheer scope of the possible party interactions is breathtaking, and there's plenty of personality types to choose from. 

If you were worried there wouldn't be a foul-mouthed git who likes to toss around insults just because Durance is absent from this sequel, you needn't be. Serafen is everything you ever wanted from an evil little sea pirate mogwai companion who has an endlessly dirty mind. He's also psychic, so get ready for a fun time.

 The band is back together!

The Bottom Line

The characters are fabulous, the combat is refined, the exploration elements have greatly (greatly) expanded, and the backer soul dialog is blessedly gone.

Are there little issues that could be nit picked about the game's combat, UI, or load times? Sure, absolutely. Some of those will get patched out, and some will probably stay forever. But honestly, none of them have even remotely detracted from the game's enjoyment factor so far.

Pillars Of Eternity II combines the best bits of the strategy and humor from Divinity Original Sin with the style and imagery of classic Infinity Engine games, throws in open world RPG exploration, and blends it all together with Obsidian's trademark solid character building.

In short, this is going to be the RPG of the year.

Light Fall Review: A Unique Platformer That Suffers From a Few Glaring Mishaps Tue, 01 May 2018 11:54:56 -0400 Autumn Fish

Light Fall is an innovative 2D platformer that shakes up the genre by placing control of the platforms in the player's hands. It's fast-paced and smooth to control, and is fairly challenging to boot.

But has Bishop Games pulled off this unique concept gracefully, or did they stumble on the execution?

Let's find out!

Light Fall Review

In this game, you play as a young boy who has control of a mysterious artifact called the Shadow Core. It's a cube that you can manipulate around the environment in order to help you accomplish your mission.

There is a story and a bit of lore to this game, but I feel like I struggled to grasp it. It caught my interest, but it was delivered in a way that was difficult to follow. The narrator would slowly add to the story by commenting on things mid-stage and between stages, but I felt like what was being said was a bit too fantastical and removed from reality to be able to be easily understood, especially while you're in the middle of gameplay.

On top of that, there was a short segment in the middle of the game where there was a stage with literally nothing but a string of cutscenes one after another. At that point I really felt like the story was being forced upon me. Despite my gripes, I feel like it would have been just fine if they stuck to the same narration style that the other levels had and made an actual stage out of it.

Light Fall Intro

A lot of the lore and backstory for the game is revealed to you through hidden collectibles. This is a concept I kind of enjoy, admittedly, but it has to be done right. Unfortunately, rather than these collectibles teasing you with pieces of a grander puzzle, they tell a chronological story of events as if you were flipping through the pages of a journal. Unless you're meticulous enough to find every hidden collectible, it feels like you're reading a journal with pages torn out, which is just disappointing at best. And don't even get me started on the slow automatic scroll speed for journal entries.

All in all, however, a platformer is not about the story. It's about the gameplay -- the movement abilities, the platforming, and whatever else might be thrown in.

Platforming With the Shadow Core

Movement is simple in Light Fall. You can jump, you can jump off of walls, and you can sprint. The controls feel tight and responsive, and I never felt like my deaths were anyone's fault but my own. However, it would have been nice if there was a sprint toggle. There's no reason not to be sprinting, and needing to hold it down all the time quickly grows tiresome.

On the topic of deaths, though, I can say that the game is fairly challenging. I might even go on to say that the difficulty curve was a little too steep for my tastes. I often experienced points in the game where the platforming started fairly simply and I could get through it without a hitch, but it would often hit a wall where you're expected to go through a long and dangerous gauntlet that you're really not prepared for. I'm not sure I'm entirely willing to write it off as the game's fault, however, as it could just be because I'm unfamiliar with the unique gameplay that comes about from having control over the Shadow Core.

Light Fall Jumping off Cube Owl Watching

The Shadow Core is pretty brilliant. It comes with four unique abilities. You can summon the cube beneath your feet in midair if you need a platform to land on. You can take control of the cube and put it in a specific location or use it to activate certain mechanisms throughout the game world. You can shoot the Shadow Core at enemies or bosses to defend yourself. And you can summon the cube to either side of you to act as a shield or even to reach greater heights by utilizing your wall jump.

The only limitation the Shadow Core sets upon the player is that it can only be used up to four times without touching the ground. With these four abilities, the player is able to use the box to accomplish feats never before seen in a platformer. It's an impressive and charming concept that works rather well for the game, and the level design does a pretty good job of accompanying it. What doesn't complement it, however, are the bosses.

A Battle of Attrition

The boss battles are a slog at best. You have an entire game built around speedrunning, but two boss battles built around RNG and waiting arbitrary amounts of time to have something to actually hit. You don't put a boss with timers on weakpoints in a game built for speed running. I can't stress enough how jarring this felt.

Light Fall Lasers

One moment I'm gliding across the map on my Shadow Core, the next I'm dodging projectiles in order to survive long enough to hit the boss again. Not to mention that these are the only two bosses even in the game. Luckily, since they're few and far between, you won't have to deal with them too much. When you do have to deal with them, however, it just feels like the freedom to go at your own pace is wrenched away from you and placed in the hands of the game. Suffice it to say, that just feels wrong.

Verdict - Light Fall Is a Smooth and Unique Platformer That Suffers from a Few Glaring Mishaps

Don't let any of my complaints misdirect you; Light Fall is a great game. In a time where 2D Platformers are a little oversaturated, it definitely succeeds at standing out and making a name for itself. If you're a fan of the genre and are looking for something refreshing, you'll probably like it a lot.

Personally? It may be a short game, but I only have so much time to play all of the games I want to get to. Quite frankly, I'd rather dedicate my time to getting further in Celeste than playing this -- but maybe that's an unfair comparison. If you're like me, though, and only have time to dedicate yourself to one 2D Platformer at a time, I'd definitely suggest taking a look at other options before circling back to this one.

The unique concept introduced here makes the game good, but without it, it's nothing special. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it needs to do a bit more to really climb to the top in today's market.

Light Fall Jumping off Cube Being Attacked by Monster

Light Fall is available now on Steam and Nintendo Switch.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

For the King Review: For Those Seeking the Hard Life Mon, 30 Apr 2018 13:13:46 -0400 Sergey_3847

For the King unites several gaming genres into one, which isn't a surprise these days at all. It's a roguelike, turn-based RPG with some neat mechanics, tabletop visual design, and a co-operative mode for three players.

The game isn't particularly strong in terms of story, but it does deliver when it comes to game mechanics and all sorts of side-quests with their own twists and turns. In addition, For the King spices things up with a decent dose of RNG, which makes an already hard game even harder.

You guessed it right, For the King is a difficult game, and it really doesn't matter even if you choose to play on the easiest difficulty. Soon you find yourself in a situation where you'll be thinking, "All right, and how do I beat this thing?" That pretty much sums up what you can expect.

Character Creation

party selection screen

For the King offers you three game modes: a story-driven campaign, a dungeon crawl, and the so-called Frost Adventure -- a whole new chapter that has been added since the game left Early Access.

All three modes are equally exciting to play, but one should always start with the campaign since this is where you learn all the game mechanics. Then, you are given the choice to select three heroes, regardless of whether you're playing in solo or in co-op mode.

When creating a character, you can choose the looks of the character and its class. These correspond to melee, ranged, magical, and tanks. This sort of variety makes the gameplay so much more fun since you get to create a well-balanced team that supports each other.

Some characters are highly important, such as the Hunter, whose high level of Awareness allows him to land extremely precise shots with his bow. But again, in For the King, everything is reliant on a chance percentage, so all the passive skills and traits of any character only increase but don't guarantee the probability of success.

Combat Mechanics

For the King's distinct polygonal visuals are exemplified in a screen shot from battle

As you move along the procedurally generated map with your heroes, you will get to fight a lot with random enemies. Sometimes you will encounter more than one, and sometimes you will have to escape the fight due to the overpowered nature of the enemies.

The turn-based combat is quite simple and is completely tied to the weapons you're using. The game checks your skill level for that specific weapon and decides how much damage you can deal depending on its stats. This means that you can't go beyond what the weapon offers, which makes combat a bit underwhelming at times.

When attacking with a weapon, the game involves RNG in the form of coin flips. It is also possible to use the Focus ability to assure that more coins will flip successfully. I'm not sure if this system is entirely correct, but it definitely makes up for some unexpected moments during combat.

quest completion screen

But weapons and their stats aren't the only elements influencing combat, although they are the most impactful ones. Other mechanics, such as status effects (dazed, bleed, poison, etc.) and all kinds of buffs -- including armor penetration, magic resistance, and many more -- influence the outcome of combat as well.

But probably the biggest challenge is to keep all three members of the party together. Only by doing so is it possible to beat a really strong enemy. The map is huge, with lots of cool places to visit, so grouping doesn't always seem to go well.

The last challenge is the ambushes. You can stumble upon a very strong opponent in a completely unexpected way, and this can throw all your efforts out the window. However, the game isn't over until all three characters die, so there's some chance left even in the most dire situations.

Level of Difficulty

a trio of statues serve as a victory screen

For the King is definitely a fun game, but there comes a point when you realize that the level of difficulty is probably too high. This happens when you remember that you set the difficulty to the easiest setting before starting the campaign. Oh well....

Now you understand why the game has a procedurally generated map -- that's because you will restart your campaign over and over again. If it had the same layout each time you loaded a new campaign, the game would get boring really quickly. So kudos to the developers for such a nifty solution.

However, it becomes harder not only in terms of combat, but other things as well. For example, the prices on healing items jump significantly at a certain point, and you're standing there guessing how you're supposed to fight OP enemies without heals.

But in the end, if you do have a good party and a bunch of witty friends playing together with you, then it is possible to finish the game. In solo mode, on the other hand, it is quite a frustrating experience.

Final Verdict

For the King has many upsides: It has a compelling polygonal visual style that makes everything look very appealing; it has a great variety of items, weapons, and gear; and the music and sound design are great as well. But it really loses in other departments -- namely, the RNG and overpowered enemies are at times insufferable.

You can find good weapons in the game that will deal with a bunch of nasty monsters, but most of those weapons are breakable, and the ones that aren't just don't hold up. This leads you to relying on RNG, which isn't the best partner either, as at some times it gives you a 90% hit chance, and at others, only 10%.

Despite all that, if you enjoy playing stylish RPGs in co-op mode with friends, and you genuinely enjoy challenging games, then For the King should fit your bill. Otherwise, if the high level of difficulty in combination with RNG brings nothing but boredom to your life, then maybe it's time to look somewhere else.

[Note: A copy of For the King was provided by IronOak Games for the purpose of this review.]

Korgan Review: Dungeons and Draggin' Mon, 30 Apr 2018 10:49:47 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

On paper, Korgan seems like a can't-miss idea. It's a dungeon crawler in the style of Diablo, but with a Gauntlet: Dark Legacy level-based and episodic sheen. 

It also introduces the concept of swapping characters on-the-fly to solve puzzles, unleash powerful combo attacks, and advance through challenging dungeons, which, again, is a great idea on paper. Unfortunately, all of these interesting concepts don't come together to create a wonderful melange. They come together to form a big pile of flavorless, beige nothing.

screen shot from Korgan revealing its shoddy graphics

When you boot the game up for the first time, you'll notice two things: 

  1. Codestalkers, the developers behind Korgan, did a great job on the music.
  2. The game is, sadly, very ugly.

The title screen gives you a way-too-close-up view of the character models you'll be playing as for the rest of the game, which is an interesting choice given that one of the advantages to developing an isometric dungeon crawler game is that the camera is always going to be far enough away from the character models that nobody will notice their weird, dead eyes.

Having said that, none of this matters if the gameplay is solid. After all, Gauntlet: Dark Legacy and Diablo II don't look great either, but they both still hold up even today given their crunchy, satisfying combat and exploration-focused gameplay.

Unfortunately, Korgan fails here too. 

The core gameplay concept in the game is the ability to swap between a tanky warrior, a spell-slinging mage, and a nimble hunter, on-the-fly, in order to vary your battle options. But the three characters simply aren't balanced in a way that makes swapping between them fun or helpful.

a character traversing over lava

The warrior, in particular, is almost useless early on as anything but a damage sponge, given the fact that he has a regenerating armor bar that nullifies any incoming hits. He just doesn't hit hard or fast enough to be useful, and he's also the only character of the three that doesn't have a long-range attack.

Korgan is the most frustrating type of game: a game that is built on a promising concept, but does not have the courage to fully lean into it.

Your other two characters, the mage and hunter, are both ranged characters, which sounds super helpful until you realize you can only fire in the direction you're facing. There's no auto aim or lock-on to help with this, and the projectiles you fire are just small enough that they'll often sail past an opponent you think you should hit.

This makes combat incredibly frustrating, and that's not even counting the fact that every model in the game moves around the dungeons like they're on ice, which can sometimes cause you to slide right into a trap or enemy. 

The best way to go about fighting enemies is to move right up to them with the hunter, unleash triple arrow shots one after the other, then take cover for a while to regain energy. Does this sound fun? It's not.

This all might be forgiven if Korgan's maps, objectives, and gameplay loops were satisfying. But so far in this episodic romp, they're not. More episodes will be released, but the first two are incredibly similar. Objectives cycle between collecting items and bashing enemies, and there really is no variety to be found other than that.

And that's the real nail in the coffin for Korgan. Dungeon crawlers need variety to shine. Diablo's loot management, Gauntlet: Dark Legacy's multiplayer gameplay full of hidden secrets -- both of these games offer variety to break up the monotony of romping through dungeons.

The ideas behind Korgan made me think that it could join these ranks. Unfortunately, Korgan is the most frustrating type of game: a game that is built on a promising concept, but does not have the courage to fully lean into it. As it stands now, the characters don't feel all that distinct, there's very little impetus to swap characters on-the-fly (with the exception of a combo move that you can learn early on), and the missions are all samey. Time will tell whether future episodes will mitigate some of these problems, but even if they do, does it make a difference if it's not fun to bash on baddies?


Having trouble traversing the traps in Korgan? We've put together a beginner's guide just for you! Be sure to stick with GameSkinny for more news, tips, and information.

All Our Asias: When Less Is More Fri, 27 Apr 2018 15:18:02 -0400 Jeffrey Rousseau

Developer and musician Sean Han Tani describes his game All Our Asias as a lo-fi adventure. This may not appear to be very descriptive at first, but in actuality, it tells us everything we need to know. Is this humble indie game worth playing? Is this unorthodox journey worth taking? Read on to find out.

All Our Asias is a game that tells the story of a man seeking a connection.  Yuito, a U.S.-born-and-raised Japanese-American, learns that his estranged father is on life support. With his father's last few days near, Yuito longs to understand him, so he decides to traverse his father's memories virtually via the Memory World. What he takes is a trip into the surreal.

Low Fidelity 

Lo-fi (Low Fidelity) is an artistic movement of music where sound quality is lowered or degraded purposefully. This particular crafting of music has been around for decades. The absence of sound is meant to create productions that normally can't be made, so instead of giving us a lot (as per the standard), there's a minimalism at play to convey a different sound.

More recently, "lo-fi" has become an adopted term among other forms of entertainment with the same goal. All Our Asias as a whole encompasses this ideal.

With this in mind, the entirety of the game exists within the Memory World. You have a ship to travel this strange plane of existence, visiting stages that become more different than the last. This world is unconventional but not difficult to traverse. 

Controls are bare-bones as well; all you can do is jump and interact, but not much is necessary gameplay-wise. After all, the goal is to help Yuito to locate memories of his father. As you travel, you'll meet the occasional NPC that will point you in the right direction, and you are able to easily progress on through the story and enjoy it fully -- something that's greatly appreciated.


Purposeful Plot

As the game starts, you are introduced to some important questions, one of which asks if you're Asian. The game then proceeds to ask something much more heavy: Are you sympathetic to Asian causes? This and other questions become a running theme throughout the journey.

Eventually, you'll witness memories of Yuito's dad at different points in his life. You realize he had faults and shortcomings like any other human being. This unfolds as Yuito travels to a new area, speaks to some individuals, and is given a serious question or subject to consider -- questions of race, identity, and nationality.

Developer Sean Han Tani, I believe, chose this "going through the motions" approach to convey a sense of normalcy where it's absent. Time in the Memory World runs parallel to his father's life as he pursued the "American Dream," which (I'm sure you can agree) can be very surreal in and of itself. You have difficulties of success, finding personal balance, and, hell, even recognizing whom you are. We get a healthy sample of this through Yuito's bizarre adventure. 

With the lo-fi aesthetics in mind, the story is also able to convey feelings of being lonely. The game uses text-only chat, conversations with faceless figures, and empty black space (among other things) to set the tone. When coupled with worlds that are expansive and effectively empty, you get the sense of isolation. Yuito's journey, although important, is quite melancholy. 


Do-It-Yourself Music

Lo-fi music can also be synonymous with "do-it-yourself" music. The production entails that this music was created personally, often within a bedroom. Here it's quite literal, as Sean Han Tani scored his own game. 

The music and audio of All Our Asias is arguably the most impressive aspect of the experience. As I mentioned before, worlds are really connected, and they are sporadic, really. To that end, the soundtrack helps drive that sense of displacement beautifully.

This displacement can be heard as you travel the white tunnel, an area where echoing, subtle tones almost envelop you. There's literally nothing but you and pulsating chimes within an empty land. Tani's proficiency with tonal changes are also evident as you make your way deeper into the game. One example arrives within a forest in which you'll hear a number of natural sounds accompanied by a somber electronic tune that introduces itself. Other times, you'll be treated to a slow piano melody, ripe with soft sound effects and bass as you visit a supposed ghost town.

Important scenes take place with tunes matching the mood. I don't believe the audio of All Our Asias would be as effective if Sean wasn't his own musician. I can only imagine the time devoted to this endeavor (let alone the game itself). His unique position as developer and musician allows for an intimacy felt on the soundtrack. 


As with all indie games, they will be scrutinized, unfortunately. Simply put, All Our Asias' design and execution will turn off some players. The game may be considered too weird. Also, it can only really be appreciated when it's played -- video and images do it no justice. Like the lo-fi aesthetics it invokes, it's an acquired taste that most don't always appreciate for what it is. None of these assumptions mean it's a bad title. It's just a game that isn't for everyone.

Last Loop

When All Our Asias came across my timeline, I was intrigued. It presented itself as a small adventure influenced by a particular design ideal. Sean Han Tani was able to create a game that captures this well. It's a game that represents artistic freedom.

It's this freedom that allows it to intersect a number of genres and thoughts. It's something of a platformer, it's visual novel-like, and it's also very much an adventure game. This intertwining of ideas allows for an overall experience that's profound and which can be enjoyed within a few hours. I strongly believe games like this are important in the video game landscape. They offer a different kind of experience that's enjoyably refreshing. I'd highly recommend it.

If you are a fan of indie games and/or adventure games, All Our Asias is available via Steam and

God of War Review: With Age Comes Wisdom Fri, 27 Apr 2018 14:34:05 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Every console generation has a handful of exclusives that come to define it. They are games players and journos like me will etch into the history books as watershed moments for the medium -- and absolutely must-play experiences for their respective consoles. And since its launch in 2014, the PlayStation 4 has seen its fair share of mesmerizing titles. 

But only perhaps Horizon: Zero Dawn compares to the tour de force that is Sony Santa Monica's God of War, an action title that defies its origins while all at once embracing them with the wisdom of age. This is not the God of War you remember, the rage-filled revengefest that spoke to so many of us in our jilted teen angst. Instead, like a fine Greek wine, it is a game indicative of the fact we've grown into something more balanced and sophisticated as we too have aged. 

More nuanced than ever before, God of War explores the urbane territory of adulthood and the emotive cobweb of parenthood. Patience and understanding lie at the core of its avant-garde design, eschewing rage for poise, hedonism for enlightenment. From its narrative to its combat, God of War does this to construct a perfect, circular whole that connects beginning with (perhaps) the end. 

In no small way has Sony Santa Monica etched God of War into the cultural zeitgeist as one of the greatest tales of all time, the denouement of a long, winding series. The ballad to the gods of our youth has become the epic saga of what we've become since Kratos began his journey all those years ago. 

An Ancient Yet Engrossing Narrative

God of War's tale is nearly as old as time itself: a distant father and lonely son embark on an epic adventure of both outward and inward discovery. They endeavor to know one another in a changing world, working past their own demons to understand the intricacies of familial bonds and what survival means in an unforgiving land. 

It's a narrative we've been told before, but a narrative needn't be novel to be powerful. Written and designed by a team that's obviously become wiser with age, God of War speaks to the paradoxes inherent to parenthood, mentorship, and perhaps even life itself. It's a bold claim about a series predicated on the mass murder of gods, goddesses, demigods, and those unfortunate enough to cross Kratos' path. But that nuanced dichotomy is what makes God of War so intensely relatable this time around. 

Replacing the temperate climate of Greece with the frigid climbs of what is undeniably somewhere-Northern Europe, we find Kratos a grizzled, guarded father mourning the death of his second wife. Somber and contemplative, Kratos shows few signs of the enraged god we've come to know -- even in a moment in which we'd expect it. 

On the surface, his stoicism and curtness could be interpreted as callousness, especially toward his son, Atreus, who desperately seeks his approval. However, take a closer look and it's obvious Kratos has (mostly) learned from his mistakes. In the place of indignation and wrath are control and equanimity. He is a man toeing the thin line between teaching his son how to be a man and keeping him from falling prey to his savage heritage. 

As for Atreus, he is the buoyant contrast to his father's nearly indomitable soberness. Inquisitive if a bit naive, Atreus acts as the linchpin to this new God of War narrative. Without him, Kratos' arc would be far less believable -- and our sympathies toward his plight would be far fewer in number. 

Across his arc, Atreus acts as the bridge between these two worlds. When Kratos spurns him, we feel the sting of rejection. When Kratos praises him, we well with confidence. And when Kratos finally laughs at his jokes, we recall the uneven path to acceptance -- and the happiness of reaching its end. In a world where I was never supposed to feel merriment in even the most remote definition of the word, Atreus made me laugh out loud dozens of times. His quips and observations lent realism and levity to God of War, something I never thought possible. 

As you continue your journey, you'll also meet a cast of immediately classic characters, all of which fill this story with the vibrant life the series has historically missed. Underpinned by some of the best voice work and dialog I'd argue the PS4 has ever seen, God of War is chock full of fantastic character design. 

The dwarven brothers Brok and Sindri might be my favorite dynamic, jocular duo. And "The Rememberer" Mimir, playing the part of wizened counselor, himself in a strange predicament I won't spoil if you don't already know, adds new, complex meaning to diegetic storytelling. 

Through these characters, we not only learn about the in-game world but also about real-world Norse mythology -- and in a way, that's far more entertaining than it should be. Pausing to listen to the tales told about the angry Aesir or the sagacious beasts of Midgard is one of the absolute best parts of the game. It's unobtrusive and natural. It's storytelling done the way it should be. 

It Feels Good to Be Strong

Forget the Blades of Chaos. The Leviathan Axe is the new hotness. Few weapons in the gaming pantheon have made me feel so utterly savage and strong as the Leviathan Axe. A survey of anyone who's so far played the game will most likely come back with similar results.

Despite everything I've said above about God of War's story, this game is still (at least, partially) about ferocious combat. From your first encounter in the Wildwoods, there's a metered violence imbued into the Leviathan Axe that comes across with every swing and every strike. Where the Chaos Blades lived up to their name with unfettered primality, the Leviathan Axe operates like a seasoned predator, methodically doling out judgment to the ill-fated guilty. It makes your Dualshock 4 feel meaty in your hands, heavy with purpose and refined with murderous intent. 

Switching between late-game weapons, throwing the Leviathan Axe to lop heads at a distance or solve God of War's puzzles, and quickly linking heavy and light runic attacks to devastate foes inundates almost every part of the game with that sense of strength. And in an interesting twist that adds another layer to the game's subtlety, Atreus isn't a useless tagalong. Instead, he's a maestro with the bow and arrow and a meticulously attentive student of close-quarters combat as the game progresses.

In short, Atreus is an extension of Kratos, a compatriot that can be called quickly into any skirmish -- and one who can almost always turn the tide in the player's favor. In fact, some late-game encounters would be nearly impossible without him (believe me, I tried and quickly learned my lesson).  

Then there's upgrading.

The Leviathan Axe, as well as other weapons you come across in your journey, can also be leveled and upgraded through an intricate skill tree and improvement system. The breadth of abilities at your disposal can at times be overwhelming, and each has its specific use for power players or those seeking the game's high-level armors. Couple that with this entry's light RPG elements, where stats such as strength, vitality, and luck are tied to the armors, talismans, and pommels you have equipped, and God of War's customization and upgrade systems are deep and rewarding.

But for the average gamer, God of War doesn't require you to know all of these skills and abilities to have fun or progress, especially on the game's default difficulty. This design choice truly opens the game to newcomers, while all at once keeping the game fresh and exciting for long-time fans. By creating lulls in combat where you simply explore and digest the beautiful world around you, God of War gives you time to absorb the lessons and skills it's taught you. And although a proper training area would have been a welcomed addition, closely listening to both Atreus and Mimir often tells you when and how to use attacks. 

And pro tip: Don't be afraid to go bare-knuckle brawler. In fact, Kratos' fists and shield are sometimes much more effective than his axe or other weapons. That's because pummeling enemies with your fists quickly fills their stun meters, meaning you can pull off devastating melee attacks that one-shot low- to mid-level enemies and severely harm higher-level baddies. 

Stunning a troll and then riding him while pummeling his comrades into dust is a damn good feeling you can't find anywhere else. 

Did You Want Collectibles? This Game Has Collectibles

Whereas it grew tiring to collect red orb after red orb in previous entries, God of War on the PS4 mostly keeps things fresh by stocking in-game chests (which are often well hidden or locked behind clever environmental puzzles) with tangible loot you actually want to collect. The same can be said of the game's tougher enemies, which drop resources and crafting items that often make you more powerful, appropriately rewarding now instead of later. 

On top of that, God of War has a veritable treasure trove of collectibles to find and horde. Some, like those found in the game's Nornir Chests, increase your health and rage meters. Others, like its shrines, deepen the game's lore, teaching you about the Aesir, as well as Atreus if you're paying close enough attention. 

Tack onto that Odin's Ravens and artifacts you can sell for hacksilver, and you can spend a lifetime just acquiring all of God of War's collectibles. 

However long a lifetime is, I never once felt daunted by the prospect of nabbing these collectibles. Instead, I often sought out collectibles because they were so closely entwined with the story. And even when it came to crafting items, I felt that the rewards were so immediately tangible I never once felt burdened by searching for them. It also helps that these collectibles and items are spread around many of the game's different areas, forcing you to explore interesting locales -- and happen upon interesting NPCs that only support the overall narrative even more.


At its conclusion, God of War's story is one about discovery, reconciliation, and the bonds of family. There are many threads I've not even touched on in this review to make sure I don't spoil anything for those who've yet to complete the journey. Deep with allegory, God of War shows what it means for video games to grow up. 

It's a game where everything feels necessary and nothing is tacked on "just because." Side quests are important pieces of the overarching puzzle, while every island and nook and cave and field has something within it to advance the plot and reconstruct the world you thought you knew into something surprisingly different.  

Even though I'm not a parent, God of War's commentary on fatherhood and mentorship spoke to me in ways I'd not anticipated. Seeing vestiges of my nephew in Atreus and myself in Kratos, I sympathized with our protagonist for the first time (possibly) ever. I was reminded of how difficult it is to build trust -- and how difficult it is to impart knowledge while ensuring your charge doesn't make your same mistakes. 

The few qualms I have about God of War are so minute and nitpicky that they almost aren't even worth mentioning. For example, some enemies can be unfathomably grating -- especially in numbers -- and all of the different combos can get a bit muddied without focused practice. But as you could surmise from both of those, they're highly subjective issues that don't mar the overall experience. 

In almost every way, God of War is the PS4's masterwork. It is a game that will survive through the ages as an example of how the medium's moved forward. It's an enormous understatement to say this is an experience no gamer can afford to miss. 

BattleTech Review -- Bringing FASA's Tabletop Glory to the PC Tue, 24 Apr 2018 06:00:01 -0400 Ty Arthur

For three long years we've been waiting for Harebrained Schemes -- those beautiful old-school necromancers who resurrected Shadowrun the way it was meant to be played -- to wrap up work on the crowdfunded mech combat simulator BattleTech.

I've had the good fortune to sink nearly 40 hours into the game pre-release so far, and other than a few minor issues here and there, I can confidently say that the core demographic of this game is going to be very pleased.

If you remember the old-school FASA box set fondly, it's a foregone conclusion you will end up fangirling pretty hard while noticing all the little details packed into every aspect of the game, from vehicle types to Inner Sphere history lessons.

box art from old Battletech tabletop game 
Long story short, if you had this box set, you are going to love this game.

BattleTech's Mech Combat

First and foremost, it needs to be said immediately that if you want a fast-paced mech game filled with eye candy and focused on the explosions over the tactics, then the upcoming Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries will be your best choice.

This rendition of BattleTech instead sticks to the franchise's RPG/wargaming roots and is a slower, turn-based entry on purpose. Both styles have their place, of course, and for fans of that earlier era of tabletop gaming, this is probably the best and most faithful PC interpretation of the series so far.

Granted, the graphics aren't fabulous, but they get the job done, and there are lots of little details to create immersion, like trees swaying as you fire weaponry through them or mechs moving backwards to gain the best firing arc.

Combat is highly tactical, with a gigantic range of options depending on your mech lance's makeup, the extreme level of customization for weapon loadouts on any given mech, the skills of your pilots, the terrain, the biome of the planet you are battling on, and so on.

There's extreme satisfaction in figuring out that perfect battleground position where you can hit every enemy at the proper ranges for all those weapons you've refitted onto your mech (which will have wildly different optimal ranges for hit percentages and damage).

two mechs approaching one another on the battlefield Well this is awkward ... how are we supposed to shake hands when we both blew off each other's right arms?

If you spent a whole lot of afternoons playing BattleTech: The Crescent Hawk's Revenge as a kid, there's a sense of wonder to seeing the tabletop game recreated in 3D glory, especially with that camera-shaking thud-thud-thud as the towering mechs sprint across the map.

Terrain plays just as important a role as weaponry in combat, as moving through geothermal areas can screw with your heat sink capability, and forests are extremely important in reducing long-range missile damage.

While cover isn't nearly as big a focus, there are some broad similarities to the rebooted X-COM series in that you'd generally rather avoid damage entirely than soak it up. Repairing mechs and putting pilots in the med bay absolutely chew through your timeline and tend to be incredibly expensive, so staying one step ahead of bankruptcy and an empty mech bay is a constant worry.

After the first few tutorial missions, the actual battles themselves become a test of your prowess in leading a group of hardened mercenaries with the best strategies you can devise. The tide of battle can shift in an instant, and you need to learn how to adapt, quickly.

One particular mission against a large lance of enemy mechs sticks out for me. I was doing amazing and effortlessly mopping up the opposition for most of the battle. I was keeping my evasion up, repositioning to hit the enemy from the sides and back, and managing to always have my units exactly where they needed to be to unload with their best long- and short-range weaponry. 

Out of nowhere a nearly dead enemy mech launches a desperate death-from-above attack and scores a critical, destroying the head of my most powerful undamaged mech and instantly killing the pilot.

In a single moment, that battle went from certain victory to hard-fought struggle (that was nearly a total loss), and it ended up costing more in repairs and hiring a new pilot than I actually earned from the mission!

mechs working out their angles of attack Positioning and proper use of weapon optimal ranges are key

BattleTech Story and Characters

Mech combat can't exist in a vacuum, and a tabletop game of this nature needs a backing story to keep you moving from battle to battle.

Here you take on the role of a mercenary company completing contracts for a variety of Inner Sphere houses and local planetary governments, with one particular noble house (invented by Harebrained to avoid story canon issues) repeatedly hiring you to wage their civil war.

During the story segments, you get to decide whether you play as a wide-eyed idealist, cautious realist, or hardened mercenary just in it for the c-bills. Unfortunately you don't get to know the other mech pilots since they can die in battle freely, so the members of the ship crew who handle the maintenance and repairs serve a similar role as your companions from the Shadowrun Returns series.

Asking them about their backstories reveals their personalities and some history of the BattleTech world, although sadly, none of them are quite as interesting as Harebrained's best characters, like Glory or Racter.

The engineer Dr. Farah Murad is probably the most entertaining to talk with, learning she doesn't want to "murder people with lasers" in a giant robot and that she even ended up briefly marrying the host of a kid's show she loved.

Dr. Farah Murad and some of her bio in a text box A wide range of characters will cross your path while waging war

The Life of a Merc in 3025

Although it wasn't apparent based off the original Kickstarter concept, BattleTech has a lot more going on than just a stream of tactical battles. Every element of a mercenary company's existence is recreated here. I wouldn't go so far as to say this is a 4X game, but there's definitely strategy, management, and simulation elements present that go well beyond simple combat.

Along the way you'll be juggling monthly expenses for the merc outfit with repairing and upgrading mechs, hiring new recruits, powering your ship's facilities, and paying for the cost of traveling from system to system.

How you negotiate the pay for a contract will determine if you have the salvage and the c-bills necessary to keep your mechs in tip-top shape, and higher pay now has to be weighed against gaining reputation bonuses for buying cheaper equipment later on.

Of course, as a mercenary company hired to deal with inconveniences for pirates and governments alike, the things your clients tell you aren't necessarily the truth. War is PR and perception as much as missiles and mech punches.

All kinds of random events will pop up to test your leadership skills while traveling through space, from dealing with a coffee shortage to the mech bays running out of room for spare parts to playing poker with your subordinates.

Different options taken will bestow bonuses or penalties on members of the crew (and these are often randomized, so you can't always learn the best outcomes ahead of time). Some options taken in these events cost money but can give big bonuses, and best of all, they take into account your background and choices you've made so far throughout the game, giving a sense of RPG continuity.

a financial report in battletech Financial reports? I thought I was just going to be blowing up giant robots!

Some Nagging BattleTech Issues

Although the combat overall is everything you'd want from a tabletop-to-PC conversion and the management elements are fairly elegant, there are times where the turn-based nature of the game can hamper the fun.

For instance, whenever there's an objective to get all your mechs to a specific area (thankfully few and far between in the mission objectives), the game just slows to a crawl. If there's no chance of the enemy catching up and taking you out on the way there, the mission becomes an endless turn-by-turn slog as you crawl across the terrain.

Visually, there are a few negatives here and there as well. The melee attacks for some of the mechs aren't particularly inspiring, and some of the camera angles are a little awkward when battling on different elevations in hilly areas.

Of course, as a newly released game, a few bugs are still in need of patching. Most noticeably, I found that sometimes mech repair jobs didn't take the number of days they were scheduled to take, and the evasion ability seems to work against melee attacks even though it isn't supposed to. I'd expect those to get resolved within a few weeks as player feedback rolls in.

 Oh hi, Mr. Tank, ready for me to step on you? It won't look that great, but you will explode, and that's always fun.

The Bottom Line: Should You Buy BattleTech?

If you love tactical, turn-based combat, then yes, you absolutely should buy BattleTech at launch, although there's a possible caveat here.

The game really throws you into the deep end on mech repair and upgrades without much in the way of a tutorial. If you are familiar with BattleTech, this will be less of an issue, but anyone new to the franchise is going to be lost for the first few hours in the bewildering array of options.

I played a fair share of FASA BattleTech as a kid, but there were still times in the opening missions where I found myself having no idea why this bar was a different color than that bar, or wondering how the hell does this mechanic work? 

That being said, longtime franchise fans are going to eat this up and beg for more, and once the newbies get over the learning curve, BattleTech's different elements come together for an amazing tactical strategy game that's just about everything we hoped Harebrained Schemes would deliver.

Frostpunk Review: Steampunk Aesthetics of the Modern Ice Age Mon, 23 Apr 2018 10:00:01 -0400 Sergey_3847

The authors of This War of Mine came back with another story, full of pain, human suffering, but not without a glimpse of hope. Frostpunk, a new project from 11 bit studios, is a very different game than This War of Mine, and yet it follows the same philosophy -- making complex decisions and living with their consequences.

Tragic events become the catalyst for character development and the deep base for an exciting story. If you previously played This War of Mine, there you could witness a small group of people who found themselves in a very difficult situation, and their lives depended on your decisions. But Frostpunk goes even further than that!

The Story and the Setting

Frostpunk reveals an alternative history of the 19th century. In the game's version of 1886, a terrible storm befell the whole world and covered every single inch of it with ice and snow. Millions of people moved south in search of salvation, but found only chaos and death. Great Britain decided to go the other way and organized several settlements inside the ice craters. The source of life was found in giant thermal generators capable of heating entire cities.

The next storm came from the south a little later and knocked out most of the world's population. Some people managed to escape, including a modest group of refugees who stumbled upon one of the abandoned generators. Thinking that this was the best chance to survive, they decided to stay and build a new home. This is where your role as a survival manager begins.

As you may have guessed already, Frostpunk is a survival strategy game that involves lots of building. The setting is quite unique and features frozen landscapes in combination with steampunk aesthetics. The gameplay is very much similar to Surviving Mars, a current indie Steam hit, and it looks like Frostpunk has everything necessary to be a worthy competitor.

The Survival Aspects of the Gameplay

It's no secret that the level of difficulty in Frostpunk is pretty high, which means that the player needs to put forth a lot of effort in order to survive. To begin with, you need to start the generator. It requires coal, so the first concern of the new mayor of the settlement is the extraction of resources. Wood and steel will come in handy very soon, so a few free hands should be sent to fetch them.

Your people will have a hard time working in the conditions of such merciless cold. Then, you need to make sure that your workers have a roof over their heads and food supplies, not to mention medical care. The game throws you into the thick of the problems from the get-go.

You start building small shacks so that your people don't freeze under the open sky. An emotional connection with the residents of the settlement really grows on you through smart visual design. You can even zoom in really close, just enough to examine each settler and see how much they tremble.

At that moment you realize the harsh truth about this game: all these characters must survive through your decisions, and there is actually a huge chance that you will fail. This thought strikes you so hard that it becomes a bit depressing, but then you really begin to think everything over.

This is the point where the freedom of choice within the gameplay leads you to certain decisions, such as turning off a generator for some time in order to save some coal. The workers will have to wait for more comfortable houses just to keep enough wood for the construction of a hunting hut, which is a necessity if you want to keep them fed, and so on and so forth....

The Book of Laws

Hard times require unpopular decisions, and you will have to make them regularly. As a new mayor you will have the power to sign laws, among other things. As a rule, you have to choose between two options: soft and inefficient, or tough but effective.

For example, you will have to decide how to deal with the deceased ones. You can build a cemetery to let people say goodbye to their loved ones, but the construction of the cemetery will draw a lot of resources, and all the posthumous ceremonies take up precious time. On the other hand, you can dump bodies in a corpse disposal, but be prepared for some bad reactions in this case.

Frostpunk sets these incredibly difficult goals: on one hand, you must survive, and on the other, you just can't let people fall into despair. It's incredibly easy to provoke a riot in these circumstances. When discontent grows, local people start to make certain demands, threatening with a strike.

Too many hungry workers begin requiring drastic measures. You can brush it off or promise to feed all those suffering in a couple of days. But if you don't follow through with your promises, it will turn into a real catastrophe!

Final Verdict

Both in technical execution and gameplay design, the game is practically flawless. You won't see such complex decision-making processes in any other strategy game that is on the market today.

In order to survive, you need to constantly develop and grow. The research of new technologies will increase the efficiency of mining resources and medicine, as well as provide other benefits for your little civilization. Every new day brings new choices. Over time you become accustomed to the constant struggle and sense of responsibility.

Frostpunk is not only an endless survival for the sake of survival. You will find out the reasons behind the new Ice Age as the story takes you further out into the world. Frostpunk is a hard but fair game. It's incredibly complex and may create an illusion of great moral pressure. But that's the beauty of it!

[Note: A copy of Frostpunk was provided by 11 bit studios for the purpose of this review.]

Dead in Vinland Review: A Saga Worthy of Fame & Fortune Thu, 19 Apr 2018 15:45:30 -0400 Jonathan Moore

From the Saga of Eric the Red, we know Vinland was a real place. It was a land rich with opportunity but also one full of danger, magic, and death. For those unlucky Norsemen (and women) who found themselves marooned upon its shores by chance or by Loki's mischief, Vinland proved to be both a blessing and a curse.   

That simple paradox is resolutely at the center of CCCP's survival management RPG Dead in Vinland. Exiled from their homeland, a Nordic family finds itself stranded in a strange place that promises both hope and unrelenting despair. It is immediately evident that a peaceful life can be had on Canada's eastern shores, but it's one these Vikings must fight for first. They must survive hunger, Mother Nature, and Vinland's barbaric denizens if they wish to call this land their home. 

Part Darkest Dungeon, part The Banner Saga, Dead in Vinland skillfully captures the mechanisms that make survival management games hum with dreadful delight. 

Characters huddle around the fire in a viking hut

Day to Day Life in Vinland

The crux of Dead in Vinland's gameplay is keeping your family alive. Starting with four characters, it's possible to recruit up to 10 more for a total of 14 party members. All of them have specific traits, skills, and idiosyncrasies you'll have to juggle to keep things from devolving into madness. However, the catch is that if any of your core family members die at any point in your journey, it's game over. No questions asked -- you're starting from the beginning. 

That means from act one, moment one, you're tasked with deftly managing nearly a dozen different stats -- such as fatigue, depression, hunger, and thirst -- for each and every party member, determining which of the ill-fated Vikings is best suited for the myriad tasks that need completing at any given moment. Some characters, such as patriarch Eirik, will be well-versed in hunting and in cutting wood, while others will be better at foraging, scavenging, cooking, or exploring. 

The wisest choice is to obviously put characters with specific interests and skill sets on tasks they're good at to maximize efficiency. However, there's so much to do in Dead in Vinland that you can never get by that easily. In the early game, you will most certainly have to sacrifice non-essential tasks for essential ones -- and force characters into situations they aren't necessarily comfortable with. 

Moira, Eirik, and Kari stand at various harvesting stations in the harvesting area

Gameplay is split into days consisting of three turns each (morning, afternoon, and night). Because of that, you'll have plenty of time to make decisions about who will do what. Since Dead in Vinland is turn-based, you won't be forced to make hasty decisions, either. Taking your time is the name of the game, and it's something I highly suggest if you're playing on the game's brutal default difficulty.

But having more time only means your decisions should (and certainly do) carry more weight and resonance. No matter what your characters are doing, each and every task they perform has a negative effect on at least one, if not more, of their primary stats. Consequently, decisions cannot be made lightly -- or people will die. You will have to decide whether having more wood is more important than ameliorating Eirik's incessant, nagging depression or if Kari's sickness can last another night because you prioritized building a sleeping area over forging a cooking pot. 

If you're studious and deliberate with who you choose to perform each task -- and how you decide to allocate your hard-earned resources -- growing your camp and keeping everyone alive becomes an enterprise of pride, one where each day is a milestone to your success. But forget to gather food or water or let the fire go out, and it's possible one of your kin will be knocking on the vaunted doors of Valhalla come sunrise.

None of that is to mention exploring Vinland, where you'll find locked chests full of wonderful treasure, new companions, and mysterious pathways to the gods. In all of these encounters, you'll be required to pass skill checks (much like in D&D) if you wish to succeed. These, of course, require you to have access to the right characters with the right stats at the right times. Fail to pass a charisma check, and a new warrior may fail to join your party. Fail a strength check when opening a chest, and you may miss out on a horde of treasure and supplies. 

Blodeuwedd's trait sheet

Fighting Brigands and Thieves

After a few days in Vinland, you'll find that not everyone in this new land is friendly. As is mandatory in any role-playing adventure, there are brutes and henchmen to be wary of, too. In this case, it's the lug-headed Bjorn Headcleaver. If his name isn't enough to tip you off to his intentions, I'll just say he's not a very nice lad. 

Bjorn isn't like all the other baddies in Vinland, though. He doesn't want to outright kill you. Instead, like any good, myopic Big Bad, he demands tribute for the privilege of living under his graces. One week, he'll want 10 Wood, the next week he'll want 30 Potable Water, and so on and so forth. Quickly, you'll find that not only are you managing stats and meters, but you're also rationing your supplies between party members and Bjorn, considerably upping the stakes and making you re-evaluate your strategies. 

But if you thought paying Bjorn tribute would keep his goons from attacking you while exploring Vinland, you'd be sorely mistaken. These random encounters play out in a turn-based JRPG format where you choose up to three party members for either 3v3 or 3v2 fights depending on the number of brigands you're facing. The key here is choosing good fighters who have strong initiative and diversified class skills so you're able to lord over the entire battlefield with ease. 

From arena aesthetics to how actions are displayed, Dead in Vinland's combat looks a whole lot like the combat in Darkest Dungeon. And in certain ways, specifically in Dead in Vinland's front and back lines, the game plays a lot like it, too. But unlike Darkest Dungeon, it's a tad easier because of ability points, meaning specific characters can attack more than once in a single turn.

It might not be as deep as Darkest Dungeon when it comes to customization and quest development (of which there's basically none), but Dead in Vinland's combat is a great accompaniment to its other mechanics. 

Moira, Blodeuwedd, and Kari fight Plunderer, slaver, and knives guy


For the faint of heart, all of this micromanagement can get a bit tedious and especially complicated as you add members to your party. I'll admit there were a few times where even I was a bit overwhelmed with it all. Add to that some "interesting" dialog choices that don't fit the tone and aesthetic of the game, as well as silly and uninspired adversary names like "Knife Guy" and "Plunderer", and Dead in Vinland isn't perfect. 

But for those who love the survival management genre, nearly all of these mechanics and trappings work in conjunction to make Dead in Vinland an engrossing, thoughtful experience. 

This is a game where you'll make tough decisions -- but ones that matter. This is a game where difficulty isn't a setting -- but a mindset. This is a game that surprised the hell out of me -- and it's one I can't wait to get back to.

You can buy Dead in Vinland on Steam for $19.99.

[Note: Dead in Vinland was provided by the developer for this review.]

Masters of Anima Review -- Golems & Guardians Thu, 12 Apr 2018 11:17:05 -0400 Erroll Maas

Masters of Anima, an adventure game from publisher Focus Home Interactive and developer Passtech Games, takes place in the magical world of Spark, where golems have been wreaking havoc for centuries. To combat these golems, some have been trained to become Shapers, those who have the ability to summon bright beings known as guardians with the help of a magical energy called anima. Otto, the main character, is an Apprentice Shaper engaged to the Supreme Shaper Ana, although they cannot be wed until Otto is promoted from his apprentice ranking. After Otto succeeds in his apprentice trial, chaos ensues, and a villain named Zahr steals Ana's essence and splits it in three. Otto then must embark on a journey and use his abilities to save his fiancee and perhaps even the world.

Although Otto himself can break objects and attack enemies with his staff, most combat involves summoning guardians and giving them various commands. This can range from just moving positions to attacking enemies and obstacles to executing special moves and switching between each type of guardian summoned. Summoning guardians and utilizing techniques all cost a certain amount of anima, which starts at a set amount but can be increased through progress. Anima can be refilled from finding it on the ground, breaking objects, having guardians destroyed by enemies, and siphoning it from enemies with certain types of guardians.

This would be reasonable if anima were more readily available during combat, but due to the lack of breakable objects when fighting, it can run out quickly, and the ability to summon guardians can be gone before you even realize it.  When this happens, all you can to is either run around the combat area helplessly, hoping that an orb of anima pops up, or just die and start the fight over again. Because anima doesn't recharge like mana or energy in other games, it can make even some earlier fights more of a hassle. 

Although the learning curve can feel somewhat steep, the strategy element of the game is well-done and requires players to use different types of guardians for different situations. The first guardians are Protectors, standard warriors with swords and shields used to destroy obstacles and enemies and move large objects to solve puzzles. Later guardians range from archers to siphoners and more, with each type having its own specific uses, strengths, weaknesses, and special abilities.

From Otto's skill tree, available guardian types can be strengthened as well, and skills can be reset if necessary, but all skill trees are only accessible between levels. If you find yourself having trouble in a particular fight later on in a level, you will have to go back to the level menu to reset your skills and then start that level all over again, when you likely won't feel like repeating all the previous enemy encounters you just went through.

 All enemies are different types of golems. Similar to guardians, golems have different strengths, weaknesses, and attacks, although one golem is much stronger than a single group of guardians. For some golems, all you need is a decent number of guardians to take them down, while for others, you need to use specific types of guardians or a mix to defeat it. These golems also all have a rage meter, which allows them to use more powerful attacks once it runs out, so it's suggested to destroy them beforehand. This is easier said than done, as golems have a hefty amount of health, and it isn't always clear what the best strategy is to take down different types or multiple sets of golems. Many battles involve multiple golems, and your guardians have to be split up to defeat them at the same time.  Defeating one and taking too long with the other will cause another golem to pop up in its place.

Between engaging in combat and solving puzzles, Otto can collect anima and complete various sidequests for additional experience. The sidequests themselves are relatively simple, consisting of collecting flowers or destroying corruption crystals, although due to enemies only being encountered at certain points, it creates rather empty areas between fights. Smaller, more commonly encountered enemies would have been a welcome addition and could have provided a way to help aggravated players level grind and adjust combat difficulty.  There's also the lack of any kind of map, which isn't too much of a drawback due to level size, but it would still be a helpful addition.

The music and graphics featured in Masters of Anima work well enough but don't do much to stand out from other games with comparable subject matter. Although they aren't terrible, they're more forgettable than anything else. One other small but notable flaw is that certain cut-scenes can't be skipped, particularly prior to boss fights. These cut-scenes aren't overly long, but they are a chore to get through when having to repeat them.

Masters of Anima is a well-made game, but its few notable flaws ultimately keep it from being the more memorable experience it could be. Despite this, those willing to give it a try and stick through until the end may still find themselves enjoying it.

Masters of Anima is available digitally on PC, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.

A review copy of the game was provided by the publisher.

Golem Gates Review: CCG/RTS Hybrid in a Technopunk Setting Thu, 12 Apr 2018 10:50:55 -0400 Sergey_3847

Mashing together different genres is now mostly a prerogative of indie developers, who try to find their own niche in the overwhelming gaming industry. Golem Gates is a perfect example of such a genre mashup.

It combines the elements of real-time strategy with collectible card game mechanics. You can build different units that will spawn on the battlefield just like in an RTS, but their abilities in combat are controlled with the help of cards that you choose to take onto the battlefield with you.

Golem Gates is definitely an interesting experiment, so if you want to know more about this unique game, then keep on reading our review below.

Gameplay Breakdown

starting screen showing glyphs in Golem Gates

The bread and butter of Golem Gates are the so-called Glyphs, typical digital cards that correspond to this or that unit with certain abilities. You start the game with a beginner's collection of cards, with a possibility to unlock more cards by completing the campaign missions.

Before the start of each match, you need to complete a loadout of Glyphs you want to use and then mulligan the glyphs you don't need. When the campaign starts, you can use the loadout menu on the bottom of the screen to choose units or abilities you want to use.

The game's main protagonist is The Harbinger, who controls the energy used to build units. This energy is similar to mana in CCGs, which can be replenished by capturing generators.

Victory screen from Golem Gates

In order to capture generators, a player needs to build units of soldiers or machines that can be used on the battlefield to fight enemy units. As soon as your units come across a generator, it must not only be captured but also protected for a certain time.

The more generators you have captured, the more energy you will have available to produce new units and cast powerful spells. All this is needed for the final battle against the enemy Harbinger. But before fighting the enemy Harbinger, you must first find one by using a Projection, a bird of sorts that reveals the hidden parts of the map.

The gameplay is quite simple and intuitive, so if you have prior experience with CCGs and RTS games, you will quickly adapt to the style of Golem Gates.

New Mechanics Overview

Shuffling waiting screen from Golem Gates

A potentially new genre requires innovative mechanics. Well, Golem Gates has something to offer in this department as well. For example, one of the most interesting new aspects of the gameplay is the Shuffling mechanic.

It means that during the fight, when you approach the point of having no cards in hand, instead of going into fatigue or simply losing the match-up, you get to shuffle your deck and get another round of cards. However, the process of Shuffling takes 15 seconds, during which you can't do anything with your cards, like building units or casting spells.

It may not sound like too long, but in Golem Gates, the battles are very swift, and 15 seconds can actually change a lot. But still, it's much better than losing on spot because you've used all of your abilities.

menu screen in Golem Gates

The other innovation is not as well-executed as the Shuffling mechanic. It concerns the crafting of new cards, or the so-called Forging. Instead of letting players craft any card from the entire collection, you are given five random, new cards on a daily basis from which you can craft what you need.

First of all, this limits the amount of cards you can craft, and secondly, it greatly diminishes the choice of the cards you want. It would be far better if the developers would just let players craft whatever and whenever they want.

It would greatly boost the online match-ups and really show the power level of what Golem Gates can offer. But other than that, the game is quite fascinating, and there's a huge potential in this unique mash-up of genres.

Graphics and Sound

top-down view of action in Golem Gates

Besides the gameplay aspects of the game, Golem Gates is extremely well-executed. The graphics and the map design are very reminiscent of the Starcraft series. It's a pleasure to look at, and nothing distracts you from the actual gameplay. The models of the units are very nicely detailed, and you can actually distinguish one unit from another.

The same goes for sound effects, which fit everything really well. The machinery sounds are awesome, as are those for the weaponry, such as lasers, swords, and AOE effects. When combined with gorgeous visual effects, the game turns into a truly immersive experience.

It gets rough only during massive battles when too many units clash together. You can't cast an AOE or it will damage your own units, you can't build anything outside due to shaded areas, and so on. So this needs some more testing and fixing.

Final Verdict

Golem Gates is undoubtedly an interesting product, albeit a bit rough around the edges. It has several cool game modes for players to try out, including multiplayer. It has great graphics and sound, as well as a few completely unique gameplay aspects.

But the card crafting system is deeply flawed and must be addressed as soon as possible. Also, there isn't much in terms of character customization for the Harbingers, which look all the same. But the units look cool, so at least we have that.

If you want to experience well-balanced gameplay with lots of decision-making, then Golem Gates is for you. If you can ignore all the above remarks, then you will definitely enjoy this game. It definitely has the right to live and even create its own little niche of CCG/RTS mash-ups.

[Note: A copy of Golem Gates was provided by Laser Guided Games for the purpose of this review.]

TCL P-Series 55-inch TV Review: 4K Gaming on a Budget Thu, 12 Apr 2018 10:38:34 -0400 Ethan S (Point Blank Gaming)

If you are at all in the market for a 4k television, you have heard the buzz around TCL's new P-series. With built-in Roku, High Dynamic Range (HDR), and Dolby Vision support, and its too-good-to-be-true $599 price point, TCL made a huge splash into the American television industry.

Sure, you can go to and pour over the minutia of this TV's specs, obsessing over the gray levels and peak brightness, but...

If you were looking for a real consumer and gamer's perspective on this TV's performance, not useless data and inconsistent user reviews, you have most certainly come to the right place. Without further ado...


A TCL's P-Series 55-ion TV sits on a TV stand and shows its main menu with red backgroundSource: CNET

TCL really made a slick piece of hardware with this set.  It's thin, attractive, and lightweight if you are looking to mount it. If you plan on using a table or stand, the legs it comes with screw on easily and are more than adequate.  The minimal bezel on the sides give the screen a nice 'frameless' look, especially when placed flat against a wall.

You should have no issues with input and output; Multiple HDMI 2.0 ports, a USB port, and even a headphone jack occupy the right side of the TV (if you are facing the screen). And, thankfully, there are some physical buttons on the back of the television.


The Roku logo

This TCL model comes built-in with Roku TV's smart software, and it is impressive to say the least. The tile-based user interface is snappy, customizable, and easy on the eyes. Roku provides a great platform for streaming, with both their own free channels and access to the usual suspects (Netflix and Amazon). 

The platform is surprisingly comprehensive in its offerings, including live sports content, and I have yet to use a console or laptop for streaming since getting this TV. Being able to rename and quickly switch between inputs has been a godsend for gaming, and the remote even has dedicated Netflix and Hulu buttons for your binge-worthy compulsions.  

With applications galore and plenty of cable TV alternatives, Roku's software should be able to cover almost every base for the typical consumer.  


Horizon Zero Dawn played on a TCL P-Series

It's the most important question and likely the reason your here, how does this set actually perform? First, a quick overview.

This model is only produced and sold with a 55-inch screen, so those looking a for a larger display are out of luck. Tech-wise, this panel touts a 10-bit wide color gamut for HDR content, 72 separate lighting zones for its "local-dimming" feature, and a bevy of picture settings to tinker around with. For convenience sake, we'll break the performance section down into a few categories...

HDR Gaming

Gaming is arguably the best reason to own a TCL P-series, and I wasted no time hooking mine up to a PlayStation 4 Pro console. I used the included HDMI cable, enabled a few options in the Playstation and TV settings, and was up and running at 4k/60Hz in no time.

First off, turning on the television's game mode lets you play with a rapid 13 millisecond response time, even in 4K with HDR enabled. Online multiplayer feels responsive enough for the most discerning gamer, and going back to a standard 1080p TV or playing at a friend's house will likely feel sluggish in comparison. 

Visually, HDR is stunning if not inconsistent. I may have disparaged the in-depth tech specifications on websites like Rtings, but it is fair to say that this TV is right on the threshold of being HDR capable. Its color gamut is just wide enough, its screen just bright enough, and so the quality of HDR being implemented is often left to the game's developers. 

Horizon: Zero Dawn and Assassin's Creed Origins look unbelievable in HDR, whereas FIFA 18 is dull and unimpressive. The result is a television that can display HDR as intended but cannot carry the load for sub-par implementation.

Every game somewhat suffers from strange light and color shifting due to the local dimming feature, but the individual zones work well enough to increase contrast across the entire screen. Do not get me wrong: your gaming experience with this television will be miles ahead of your current setup.  Games that are patched to run at a higher resolution look noticeably crisper than standard 1080p. But if you want the deepest blacks and brightest colors possible across the board, you will need to buy a more expensive set than this one.  

HDR Movies & TV

Breaking Bad played on a TCL P-Series shows Walter White and Jesse Pinkman wearing hazmat suits

While I maintain that gaming is the best reason to own this television, non-gaming 4K content is often more beautiful and consistently well-implemented.  Whether you are watching a disc or streaming on Amazon, the level of detail, realistic lighting, and possible shades of colors are certainly head and shoulders above your current television. Even older series like Breaking Bad look brand new in 4K resolution -- HDR or not. Despite the low price point, you should expect a cinema-like experience with this purchase, especially if you invested in a 4K Blu-ray player (unfortunately, the PS4 Pro does not play 4K Blu-rays).  

Glaring Issues

Although my thoughts on this TV are overwhelmingly positive, there are a few glaring issues that are worth talking about. 

Live sports do not look too good unless you are watching in 4K resolution.  The local-dimming feature seems to have trouble with the camera panning across a single-colored background, which football, soccer, hockey, and basketball all suffer from. 

In regards to screen brightness, this set does have some reflection issues in a well-lit room, as well as a narrow viewing angle. Ultimately, it's not the best choice for a big living room.

Lastly, you are going to want to avoid up-scaling content. 1080p Blu-rays look incredible off disc, but streaming regular HD content or playing off of a base PS4 will start to look blurry as your eyes adjust. You'll ultimately want to upgrade your hardware to get the most out of this television.

Source: Kevin the Tech Ninja


Overall, I would strongly recommend the TCL P-series as your first 4K television. You simply will not find a better or more capable set at this price point -- especially with the same impressive gaming features and true HDR support. It doesn't hurt that Roku TV is the best built-in software I've used on any smart television, completely eliminating the need for an external box. You really have to marvel at how much they crammed into this budget television.

And while it is easy to get carried away with the overall value of this purchase -- as I certainly have -- this TV is still not for everyone. Having 72 separate contrast zones ultimately works for HDR content, but there are still some issues with the "local-dimming" feature and how it shifts colors across the screen. Discerning viewers may consider this a deal-breaker, but the overwhelming majority of you should be happy with the results.

If you plan on buying this television for more traditional uses, like watching cable TV or sports broadcasts in a large room, you may want to look elsewhere. Not that the P-series isn't capable enough, there are just cheaper options better suited to that experience. Issues with viewing-angle and glare ultimately hurt the P-series in a living room setting.

However, if you are salivating at the chance to test your shiny new game console, if you are ready to binge all the 4K content on Netflix and Amazon, if you want real High Dynamic Range color and lighting to elevate your 4K experience, then you will look no further than the TCL-P series.

This is the cheapest way to make your 4K dream a reality.

You can buy the TCL P-Series 4K TV on Amazon for $649.99.

Extinction Review: The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall Tue, 10 Apr 2018 00:00:04 -0400 William Boyd

You know the drill: the world is under-threat by giant monsters, a mysterious device is needed to stop them, and it's up to you to do it. However, while the latest release by Killer Instinct developers Iron Galaxy certainly follows some basic video gaming tropes, it also attempts to forge its own path. How exactly? By combining some rather disparate gameplay elements into a single entity in hopes of creating something entirely different. But is it successful in its ambitious attempts?

Extinction follows the story of protagonists Avil and Xandra in their quest to bring peace back to their lands. In their way are monolithic ogres called Ravenii -- huge beasts that roam the plains destroying everything in sight. With the help of King Yarrow, the two powerful allies must overcome the odds and save the city of Dolorum using a mysterious device.

As for the player, you take control of Avil, one of the last remaining warriors in the Sentinel order -- a special forces-type group which possesses incredible ability. The main goals are to save the people, protect the cities, and wipe out the Ravenii once and for all. Unsurprisingly, the gameplay has you doing these very things -- but not much else.

That will hurt in the morning! Avil jumps off a Revnii after cutting off its wrist

All of the missions you undertake revolve around the same types of goals. Protect the watchtowers for said amount of time, don't allow a certain number of civilians to perish, and defeat a specified amount of Ravenii to proceed through the story. And that's it really (except for some other game modes we'll talk about a bit later). There's not much in the way of variety when it comes to the tasks you have to undertake which, ultimately, hurts Extinction in the long term.

Unsurprisingly, the highlight of the game comes when you go toe-to-toe with the massive Ravenii. While fighting the much smaller Jackals is certainly the hors d'oeuvres, battling it out with these titans is most definitely the main course. In fact, dissecting these foes is the most morbidly satisfying thing about Extinction. What's more, you'll take on different permutations of Ravenii as you progress through the game, meaning you'll have to rethink your strategy on the fly.

These moments are when Extinction shines brightest. Deftly zipping around the beast using your whip, smashing its pieces of armor with your Rune Strike, and dismembering it limb from limb like a sadist. It's nowhere near on the same scale as Shadow of the Colossus, but there's no denying the satisfaction that comes from defeating the Ravenii, especially when you come across tougher ones with impenetrable armor. 

Avil focuses in on the armor of a Ravenii in Extinction to find a weak point

Visually, Extinction is actually quite pleasant to look at. The colors pop from the screen with a vibrancy that gives the game a distinct look and feel. The stages themselves feature several buildings which are all completely destructible -- and they even manage to look pretty when they're been smashed into dust!

It may look cutesy from the outset, but this fast-paced title is just as gory as a Quentin Tarantino movie when the action gets underway. Blood sprays from foes with every swing of the sword, splattering onto those same cute looking surfaces you fawned over before. They say never judge a book by its cover -- Extinction is living proof of that sentiment.

Despite its over-the-top violence, Extinction actually displays a level of subtlety in its design, not least when it comes to the Ravenii. The monsters are all incredibly detailed, each sporting visceral appearances which change from beast to beast. From their weapons to their armor, the Ravenii certainly make for a striking image.

Avil fights a green goblin like creature in the dirt streets of Extinction

Unfortunately, though, this third-person action title does itself a disservice by not giving the player more incentive to continue playing. The objectives, mechanics, and structures that were in-place in Chapter One are virtually the same as the ones you'll encounter in Chapter Five -- a stagnation of ideas with regards to how missions play out.

This repetition is Extinction's main downfall. Rescue civilians. Take down Ravenii. Protect city. Repeat. There's just not enough ingenuity to keep things fresh going into the latter stages of the game. Even taking down the Ravenii can become a chore due to the sometimes problematic camera angles and inconsistent climbing mechanic. 

The game attempts to spice things up with some side-missions. However, I use that word lightly. These missions are pretty unimaginative it has to be said, and they don't really add much to the overall feeling of accomplishment apart from rewarding you with some SP (Skill Points) which can be used to upgrade Avil's abilities.

A success message appears on a side mission screen as a warrior stands proud in the corner

On the topic of upgrades, there are various ways in which Avil can be improved. Whether it's unlocking new combos or boosting a health meter, the skills menu is your go-to for all things upgradable. The aforementioned SP can be obtained by completing the various tasks that litter the game's chapters.

However, none of the upgrades will improve the combat in the game. Battles consist of just two buttons: square and circle. The former attacks while the latter dodges... and that's about the extent of it. Yes, no special attacks, no power-ups, just the basics. It's unfortunate, too, because some of the action is quite slick, yet, there's not enough variety -- inevitably leading to some encounters becoming dull and uneventful. 

Iron Galaxy have attempted to insert some variables into the missions with the randomly generated stages that occur later on in the game. These alter everything, from the environment and the enemies to the actual objectives themselves. This does give it a bit more of an air of unpredictability, but there aren't enough possible options to really give it that limitless feeling that proceduarlly generated maps do in most other games.

Exctinction's skills page

Randomly generated missions certainly make missions tougher, but to be honest, they were already tough to begin with. Yes, one of the first things you'll notice when booting up Extinction is that it doesn't suffer fools gladly. It's very much time-based, demanding severe focus from the start of the mission to the end. There's tougher games on the market, but not by much.

You see, there are a few conditions which have to be considered while you're skimming across trees slicing and dicing foes. In the top right-hand corner you'll see a percentage for the city. Should this reach 0%, you'll fail the objective and be forced to start from the very beginning again. Unsurprisingly, this can be frustrating after a few tries.

It can feel unfair at the start, but things begin to get easier once you've come to the realization that you need to make every second count. It's not so much the mighty Ravenii which are the main enemy, but rather, the clock. Nonetheless, it's a refreshing change of pace from the easy difficulty levels of some other games of its ilk. It's not for the faint of heart -- and it wants you to know that from the very first chapter.

Avil kneels ins square, readying himself to protect the watchtowers in Extinction

Despite all of this, one department where Extinction deserves praise is replay value. It wants to keep you around after the credits have rolled through its Extra Modes sub-menu. Here you will find some delicacies to indulge in after you've completed the story, such as the Extinction and Skirmish game modes.

Extinction tasks the player with killing as many enemies as possible with no respawns, while Skirmish is completely randomly generated -- also allowing the player to compare their scores with friends. There's even a Trials mode which becomes available after the third chapter, which has the player completing missions in the fastest possible time.

Throw in a Daily Challenge mode for good measure, and you've got a title which aims to sink its sharp claws into you for far longer than just one playthrough. There's a lot of longevity here even if the modes don't add a whole lot to the core experience. For those that like the story mode, they'll be glad to know that these bonus modes are pretty much more of the same.

Avil jumps down on top of a Ravenii in Extinction

Developers Iron Galaxy should be applauded for their ambitious vision here, and when the game hits its stride, it's very reminiscent of the best moments of its greatest inspirations in the genre. However, when it's not delivering the goods, Extinction can seem just like any other standard hack 'n' slash title.

Lengthy load times, a clunky camera system, and the odd technical glitch here and there doesn't help its cause. Yet, buried underneath the rubble is a rather fun little title. And with the likelihood of updates in the near future, there's every chance that it could be improved upon with time. 

Overall, Extinction is a solid enough effort that's unfortunately let down by uninspired mission design and repetitive gameplay mechanics. If you can see past these faults, though, you may find that it's more than serviceable with what it provides. Just don't go expecting a new God of War or Devil May Cry -- you may come away sorely disappointed.

(Note: Writer was granted a press copy of Extinction for the purposes of this review.)

AOC AG322QCX Curved, Freesync Gaming Monitor Review Thu, 05 Apr 2018 12:53:40 -0400 Jonathan Moore

The type of screen you game on matters. Whether you're playing alone in Far Cry 5 or against the world in Fortnite, things like refresh rate, response time, viewing angle, and pixel density can drastically alter your gaming experience -- and by proxy, immersion and success. With that in mind, AOC's Agon line of monitors looks to keep you competitive on and offline while giving you an elegant set piece to round out your desktop setup. 

Released late last year, the AG322QCX gaming monitor prioritizes AMD gamers, offering them an affordable panel that's got a lot going for it under the hood. Featuring FreeSync technology and a 1800R, 31.5" screen, the AG322 makes 144Hz sing and 2560x1440p res look great on a wide-angle panel. 

Melding elegance with practicality -- as well as a few interesting tricks -- there's little doubt the AG322 commands the consideration of any AMD gamer looking for a new screen. However, that doesn't mean it's a perfect solution, either. At $399, this AOC monitor may live in a mid-tier price bracket, but there are a few things to consider depending on your current and future needs. 


One of the things I appreciate about AOC's Agon line of gaming monitors is how sleek they look on any desktop. Eschewing the typically boring "black box" design found on many monitors, the AG322 continues AOC's penchant for elegance by deftly augmenting the monitor's mostly matte black finish with silver accents and LED lighting.

The thin, muted bezel of the sides and top nicely flows into the glossy, slightly wider portion running along the bottom. And on the back of the monitor, you'll find a silver plate attached to the middle portion that rises up almost like wings (it looks similar to the red chevron on the back of the AG271QG).

On both the bottom bezel and the silver back plate, you'll also find LED accents that can be either turned completely off or easily set to varying intensities of red, blue, or green. The LEDs along the bottom are housed within a clear plastic that runs from one side of the monitor to the other, stopping in the middle where the AG322's OSD button resides. And on the back, the LEDs are housed in an opaque plastic that keeps them from being too obtrusive. 

Around the back is where you'll also find the AG322's VESA mount and stand bracket. When you take the monitor out of the box for the first time, you'll have the option to either attach the included stand or another one you've got lying about. If you choose to go with the included stand, you'll find that it's crafted out of sturdy steel, and although its three pronged feet give the stand character, they do take up quite a bit of space due to their triangular configuration (which I found a tad disagreeable with my current setup). 

However, with the included stand, you'll be afforded quite a bit of movement once you've got it together. The fully adjustable support lets you raise, lower, pivot, and tilt the monitor at your leisure. With a VA screen this large, that's a great feature to have at your disposal -- and it really helps you get the best viewing angle for your space. 

As for inputs, although AOC's typical side-panel offerings aren't found on the AG322, the monitor does have I/Os in spades. If you look underneath the silver panel along the back of the monitor, directly underneath the VESA mount, you'll find the following ports: 2x HDMI 2.0, 2x Display 1.2, 1x VGA, 1x line in, 1x microphone out, 1x Quick Switch Keypad (which comes with the monitor for quick OSD support), and 1x power. Move to the left of that -- just under the left wing of the silver plate -- and you'll find ports for mic in and headphones, as well as 1x USB 3.0 downstream + fast-charging, 1x USB 3.0 downstream, and 1x USB 3.0 upstream. 



Thankfully, the AG322's OSD is much easier to access than the one found on the AG271QG. Here, everything's controlled by a single, central button found just beneath the AGON logo on the front of the monitor. You can press the center of the button to open the entire on-screen display -- or you can click any of the square's sides to open one of four quick menus that, for example, let you adjust the monitor's LED intensity or choose which input you'd like to use. 

The inside of the OSD itself is also (thankfully) easier to navigate than the one found on the AG271QG. One of my main gripes with that monitor was its OSD wasn't entirely intuitive and required too many clicks to get through. AOC's fixed that here, and while one menu option (Image Setup) was always grayed out during my review, all six other options were easy enough to navigate and tweak. 

It's worth noting that you'll have quite a few image presets to choose from with the AG322 -- some better than others. Depending on what option you choose, some of the OSD's options may be grayed out that previously were not. That means you won't get full customizability all the time, but honestly, that's something to be expected and not a big gripe on our end. 

To actually test the monitor's color, brightness, contrast, gamma settings, response times, and more, we made sure to use the Langom Display Test and Blur Busters to get a bit more granular. We also adjusted our OS and GTX 1080 color settings to reflect an unbiased setting. Note: Aside from any adjustments mentioned below, all of these measurements were captured with the AG322's settings turned to default. 


Although the specs on the AG322 say the monitor can achieve a 50M:1 dynamic contrast ratio, the average player is most likely going to mostly experience its 2,000:1 static contrast ratio. We won't get into the minutia of why that is (you can check this article out for that), but all in all, the contrast ratio on this screen is pretty durn good.

Its contrast scores well on the LDT. Nearly all bars from the left to the right are discernible from one another, with marked demarcations between each one. The only bar that's a bit murky is the darkest blue bar, meaning dark darks may be a bit hard to separate. 


Sharpness on the AG322 is a bit off out of the box. Using the LDT page for this measurement, the test boxes never fully integrated or blended in with the gray background -- no matter how hard I squinted my eyes.

They nearly became uniform during testing, but there were still rough edges and centers to each of them. Unfortunately, we were not able to adjust the default sharpness, which we believe is behind the locked "Image Setup" tab in the OSD, so we aren't able to definitively say the monitor gets better with a few tweaks in this department. However, we can say the test was worst at Gamma3, best at Gamma2.


Gamma is the brightness of intermediate tones of color, with the Langom Test using red, green, blue, and gray for examination. The AG322QCX has a native gamma setting of Gamma1, which can be changed to Gamma2 or Gamma3 -- for varying results.

However, working through all three gamma settings, the Langom Display Test showed that the monitor wasn't able to coalesce colors around the 2.2 thresholds on any of the settings. Tweaking contrast settings did not ameliorate the issue on either the 48%, 25%, or 10% luminance bars.

Instead, Gamma1 coalesced around 2.1, Gamma2 around 1.9, and Gamma3 around 2.3. 

In-game, we didn't notice any terrible deviations between light and dark colors across the spectrum, but we did notice some seepage -- as is common with VA monitors -- in later tests, such as viewing angles, as well as some washing in Gamma2. 

Black Level

Viewed from straight on, no matter the height, the first black square in this Langom Test is barely distinguishable. One can make out the top- and bottom-right corners -- just slightly.

Taking another angle, from straight on and with the monitor at its lowest point, neither the first nor second square can be seen using the default brightness of 50. Even at 100, the first two squares cannot be seen (I'm 5'8" sitting straight up, for reference). 

With the monitor at its highest point and tilted at its most extreme, the first three black squares are indistinguishable from the background. The same issue persists if viewed from its highest angle, straight down. Objectively, most users won't be using the monitor this way, but it does show that not every angle produces the truest blacks -- and that you can run into some issues playing games like Vermintide 2, which rely on stark contrasts and deep blacks. In fact, while playing that game in particular, I did notice some black mottling in the top right-hand corner of the screen specifically.  

Even though we'd like to see all of the blocks distinguishable, it's known that VA panels have issues in this regard, so that is par for the course with a screen such as this and not completely surprising. 

White Saturation

Using default brightness, contrast, and gamma settings (Gamma1), all of the blocks in this test were visible except those in areas of RGB 254. Those were indistinguishable from the white background. Adjusting the brightness, contrast, and gamma settings did not help to bring these out. Changing these settings only made the block in the bottom row, specifically in section RGB 253, worse or better. 

Gradient (Banding)

There was slight banding in the darkest portions of this test. However, the rest of the grayscale gradient was smooth and didn't express any perceivable dithering. The banding in the darkest dark can be noticeable from some angles when watching cutscenes in-game or in the Steam overlay in dark rooms, but it isn't terribly jarring unless the media in question uses stark deviations in this spectrum. 

Response Time

Using Blur Busters, tests show that the monitor's native response time is comparable to what AOC advertises, somewhere around 4ms gray to gray (GTG). Engaging the monitor's overdrive mode in the game settings section of the OSD can help improve ghosting and coronas at lower refresh rates (sub 100Hz), but the "strong" setting greatly increases overshoot, as seen in both the LDT response time model, as well as Blur Busters. 

Further ghosting tests with LDT reveal that the higher the refresh rate, the less ghosting appears on-screen. This means that the monitor is best used at 144Hz if you have a rig capable of hitting that number. You won't see major differences until right around 100Hz -- unless you're eagle-eyed. 

Viewing Angle 

At 1800R, the AG322QCX is supposed to make viewing angles more comfortable, especially when looking from the center of the screen to the periphery. In-game, we found the screen to be helpful in that regard, specifically in shooters like Battlefield 1 and CS:GO.

Taking a scientific look at what's going on behind the scenes -- and how the monitor actually performs compared to how it feels when playing -- it's evident that gamma is affected by viewing angle with the AG322QCX. From certain angles, the words on the Langom Test screen for this experiment blend into the grey background and retain a reddish hue. From other angles, specifically the sides, the words stand out in a darker, more vibrant red. While viewing from the top, for example, or a high angle, the words are dark red, yet the background takes on a greenish hue. 

Overall, it wasn't something we specifically ran into or that was entirely noticeable when using the monitor in real-world situations, but it does mean that the gamma in the monitor is somewhat dependent on viewing angle and curvature. 

When viewing the color saturation blocks of the test: 

  • The purple block remained vibrant in the middle when viewed from straight on, with the edges and corners darkening into a deeper hue. When viewed from above, the entire square took on somewhat of a pinkish hue. 

  • The red square appeared to be the most consistent of the four, with minimal color degradation along the sides and corners when viewed from straight on. Viewing it from above washed out the color a bit to a less saturated red. 

  • The green square also performed very well, without any discoloration or yellowing. When viewed from above, however, there was distinctive yellowing of the frame. 

  • The blue square was noticeably darker on the edges when viewed straight on. It deepened to a much darker hue when viewed from above.  


Overall, the AG322QCX stands out as a well-made monitor that gives you 2560x1140p resolution across 31.5" -- stretching those pixels out over such a large distance instead of changing the resolution altogether is something most monitors don't do. And surprisingly, those pixels don't look stretched in the slightest. 

Since it employs a VA panel, there are some issues with the AG322QCX that are endemic to that panel type. Dark shades can crush into one another -- especially at certain angles -- and the gamma could be a bit better. During tests, we also noticed quite a bit of ghosting below ~100Hz and a few color inconsistencies, but in-game, neither was terribly distracting (although it could affect some gamers differently). 

If you're in the market for a Freesync-enabled 32" monitor, the AG322QCX is a VA monitor that mostly outperforms other VA panels. In other words, if you're not going TN or IPS, this AOC monitor should be one of the first on your VA list. It's responsive with low-input lag, and it reproduces colors competently. It's a monitor we definitely recommend. 

You can see the monitor's full spec sheet here. You can buy the AG322QCX from Micro Center for $399.99. 

[Note: AOC provided the AG322QCX used for this review.]

Taco Party: The Tabletop Game That Eats Its Shells Wed, 04 Apr 2018 13:44:15 -0400 Ben Mattice

Have you ever wanted to build a sentient taco and then eat it one ingredient at a time? Sounds cruel, doesn't it? But you won't feel cruel as you're playing WildBird Games' Taco Party and competing to be the first to build and eat your taco.

It sounds like an odd premise for a tabletop card game, and I'll admit that when game designer Matt Bromley told me about his new game, I was skeptical. But after my first playthrough with a few friends, I was sold. Taco Party is a fun game that will appeal to both veteran tabletoppers and casual board gamers alike. 

But what makes Taco Party actually fun? Let's dig in, crunch down, and find out.

1. Nacho Typical Characters

The characters were probably the first thing I noticed when opening the box. The game comes with six character profile cards/rule reminder cards. And each one is a different "taco."

My favorite is probably the Chalupacabra with his fangs, amphibious-looking limbs, and purple, spiky hair. I played the Chalupacabra during the game, and maybe that was lucky because I won.


There's no particular advantage to choosing one character over another. The tacos just add flavor to the game (pun intended). 

One element of the game does tie into the character cards. You can take a "smelfie" (yes, puns abound in this game, beware) with your character in order to take a free ingredient for your taco-building endeavors. The rulebook encourages you to post your "smelfie" on Instagram or Facebook and tag WildBird Games. A clever marketing idea if you ask me.

2. Don't Actually Eat the Ingredients

At the end of the game, we surmised that using actual taco ingredients for the game might be a fun variant. But if you don't want to make a mess, the game pieces are perfectly fine.

There are no cheap plastic components to this game. The ingredients are color-dyed wooden markers, and the dice are solid and weighted correctly.

The cards are made of typical playing card cardboard. So if you're going to play with real ingredients, be sure to use sleeves on the cards. This isn't Gloom, with its velum cards made to resist blood.


The illustrations are intentionally cartoony and add an air of silliness to the game. But when it's crunch time and you're down to your last ingredient, you won't be feeling very silly. In fact, you may not even have the last laugh. The tables turn quickly.

3. Don't Play With Your Food

The rules are well-written and easy to pick up. The phases include your typical "perform an action," "draw a card," and "roll." 

Rolling the dice is the most reliable way to pick up ingredients for your taco. But each time you roll, someone has a chance to block your ingredient acquisition/ingestion by rolling a die of their own. 

Kinetic gameplay was a large component in this game. This included flicking dice, stacking dice with only one hand, performing a "carrot-e" chop to dislodge the top dice, and more. These challenges were trickier than they sound, and if I were playing to win, I might avoid them as much as possible. 

Only One Sad Taco

Every game will have at least one thing to nitpick. Taco Party has virtually none. I did have to clarify the "Out Crunch" rule with the game designer. It came down to whether your opponent could counter your "crunch" total more than once if they had the cards. The rules weren't clear on this.

Matt clarified and said that, yes, you can keep crunching until you run out of cards. 

Taco Party is a great gateway game to board games and tabletop. It's tightly designed, easy to play, packed with puns, and encourages enough strategic gameplay to satisfy most tabletop enthusiasts. 

The Kickstarter campaign for Taco Party begins on April 18th and will last a month. Stretch goals include more taco characters and other elements. Matt is already working on an expansion called "Nacho Business."

(Disclaimer: Author was given a free copy of Taco Party for review purposes.)

TERA PS4/Xbox One Review: A Faithful Transition from PC to Console Tue, 03 Apr 2018 15:22:17 -0400 Ashley Gill

TERA is one MMO I have spent a great deal of time with. I played the beta, got the Collector's Edition when it first came out and was pay to play, and played for two months before it went free to play and two months after.

The game has changed a lot over the years. BAMs (big-ass monsters) have been made smaller and easier time and time again, the leveling experience has been completely revamped to skyrocket players to endgame, and Lumbertown is no longer chill-and-kill central.

My opinions on TERA as it currently is are a little biased because I've been there for many of its largest milestones and its most content-lacking periods. I prefer slower leveling experiences, the adventure of leveling, and the struggle of survival. That is not what the current state of the game is, and that is something any potential TERA player needs to know before diving in.

En Masse was kind enough to grant us a review Founder's Pack on PS4, and I did what I seem to do best: grinded away the hours in TERA once again. This time it was different from the last, but I'm not sure if its current state is for me.

From PC to console

To be very, very clear, the PS4 and Xbox One ports of the game are as faithful as one can ask for in terms of an MMORPG console port.

Though the game has always been an "action combat MMORPG," it has always relied on hotbars and always will. I've no issue with hotbars; you probably don't either. You get a lot of skills and crucial consumables in TERA, and you need a bunch of bars to put that "hot" onto.

You can have up to four separate hotbars on console, which you access using a combination of standard button presses, L1/L2 plus other buttons, and a selection wheel for less urgent skills and items. It works well, and combat retains its fluidity from the PC version, though I will admit it takes some time to adjust once you have a healthy number of skills to work with.

TERA PS4 hotbars
Selection wheel not pictured. Don't put the wheel as L2+R2/LT+RT. It's terrible.

The UI for TERA on console is more bulky than its PC brethren, but it is fully functional and easy to learn to navigate. This is one aspect I initially hated but grew to like pretty quickly, if only because almost everything is just a few button presses away. It looks harder to use than it is, let's put it that way.

At the time of writing, the PS4 and Xbox One versions of TERA are a full year behind the PC version. This is notable because there are fewer classes to choose from to start, and Elite Status does not offer all the same benefits on console as it does on PC.

Currently, PC Elite Status grants 15 EMP (cash shop currency) per login day, 24 Complete Veteran's Crystalbinds, and a flying mount. These are absent in the console version but are likely to be added as it catches up to the current PC patch.

Even with the above in mind, TERA on PS4 and Xbox One is nearly identical to the PC version. That should relieve PC players considering migrating or newcomers considering jumping into the TERA pool for the first time with the console release.

One final thing to note about the transition is that the console release still has some heavy slowdown, no matter which console you're using. PS4 Pro? You're still going to get slowdown in Velika and in certain dungeons just like standard PS4 users. The game is optimized about the same as the PC version.

From old to new

There's a certain depressive element to seeing a game you used to love implement sweeping changes you're not too keen on. As with a number of other older Korean MMORPGs, TERA has taken the easy route in "modernizing" the leveling experience.

In this context, "modernizing" essentially equates to "gutting." The game has been retooled to push players through the leveling experience as quickly as possible, with minimal effort on the developers' part. There's this whole big world to play with, and it is all woefully neglected and empty.

This isn't something that can be blamed on En Masse and, depending on your point of view, may not be something to blame anyone for. TERA never had the most immersive or entertaining leveling treadmill.

TERA Founder's Pack mounts hanging outEvery hardcore TERA player knows the best way to play is to stand in populated areas and spam their mount sound until everyone in the vicinity goes deaf.

The problem here is that new players are barely given a chance to learn to play their class before they ding the big six-five. Hitting max level takes only a few days of even semi-casual play, and by then players are not ready for the grueling endgame dungeons and grind. Endgame content is going to be true pain on console.

Those who played TERA when it was pay to play or in its early free to play days will find the game offering minimal challenge until they hit endgame. Had I not played it back then, I doubt I'd be giving it a chance in its current state. Endgame dungeons and PvP are more fun and challenging than the leveling period lets on.

If you're willing to put the effort forth and push through the less-than-stellar leveling experience, TERA still stands as a solid action combat game once you reach 65. Yes, it's grindy. And yes, it will stomp your face in until you actually learn how to play. That's not all that much different from the older iterations of the game, in which you grinded to level cap and got your face stomped in at every turn instead.

TERA is not perfect in any form, but it's a game that has a place, and the console ports are spot-on. If you've been waiting until it launched on your console of choice, you don't have much to lose in giving it a shot. Its combat is still ace, even if leveling isn't great.

Healing in the first dungeonThe first dungeon, Bastion of Lok, complete with trophy. Hurrah!

PC players considering migrating may want to rethink that decision, as the console release is behind in comparison -- but if your primary goal in switching is to get away from the PC playerbase, it's a good option. You can use your keyboard to chat in-game, and it has voice chat functionality, but the less pleasant aspects of the PC community will inevitably be reduced here on console.

It's taken a long time for TERA to finally make its way to console, and those who enjoy the PC version in its current state will find few qualms with the console version outside of the patch differences. Those looking for a more traditional MMORPG experience may want to look elsewhere.

I am granting this game a 6 overall. Though the console developers did a great job porting from PC, the fact remains TERA's current state is far from what many would typically call an MMORPG. Much like NCSoft's Aion, it took the easiest route possible in updating for a broader audience, and it shows.

Endgame content is fun, but not everyone wants to spend the vast majority of their time in an MMO grinding enhancement materials to maybe get one extra +1 to their gear. There is something to be said for the journey of getting there that this game has regrettably forgotten. But, hey, at least slamming other 65s into the dirt will be easier than ever for a while.

(Disclosure: Writer was granted a review copy from the publisher for review.)

A Way Out Review: Escaping Prison With a Friend Has Never Been More Fun, or Consequence-Free Tue, 03 Apr 2018 14:09:38 -0400 Miles T

A Way Out is a completely different experience to anything that I have played in recent memory. A cooperative and multiplayer-only prison break romp, it leans heavily upon its narrative and story-driven experience. The game is a unique opportunity to enjoy some cleverly designed scenarios based on teamwork and communication. However, A Way Out can also feel slightly restricting and akin to an on-rails rollercoaster ride -- fun in its own right but with little actual agency to its overall experience as you’re locked in and taken along for the journey.

Like Prison Break, but with more sideburns

The first thing you’ll notice when starting up the game is that it cannot be played past the main menu solo; you’ll have to buddy up either with a friend or stranger locally or online. Both players then get to select from two distinct personalities, Leo, who’s the more hot-headed, impulsive, and reckless character of the two, and Vincent, who’s deemed the more rational, thoughtful, and calculating personality. The story of A Way Out focuses most of its time exploring these characters and their backstories, starting with both men having been imprisoned for differing crimes. The game then takes you through a series of short chapters, ranging from the aforementioned prison escape to evading the authorities and getting a good old tale of revenge on the ones that have wronged them.

There’s a real intrigue to the story and the protagonists, as they initially demonstrate the usual tropes of mistrust, and we see how their relationship and reliance on each other develops over the course of the story as they aid each other in increasingly danger-defying and adrenaline-fueled scenarios. Cutscenes are frequent and well done, while other dialogue and backstory is dished out appropriately throughout your time controlling the characters, though some transitions between story arcs could definitely have used slightly more development or plot tightening, with some glaring gaps that pop up in the narrative. The early and middle sections are the most interesting and engaging, as you discover the pair's motivations and how they came to the point of needing to bust out of jail. The mid to late game can suffer somewhat as it becomes bogged down in the usual and predictable revenge tale, but it recovers magnificently with its ending, which is gut-wrenching, emotional, and full of real strife within both of the players.

Mirroring teamwork and cohesion

This strife is also reflected in the gameplay, which mirrors the stages of the story incredibly well. Throughout your time playing, the game will provide each player with half, some, or none of the screen, depending on the importance of your interactions and current role; however, you can always see your buddy's screen as well, so you're never removed from the action and their important scenes. Communication and teamwork are essential throughout your entire time with the game, giving it the feel that it simply wouldn't have been the same without a co-op partner, which is impressively unique and rare to find in most large-budget games. Early on, your interactions are limited, confined to small areas to walk around in and interact with NPCs, with the occasional brawl or QTE-based fight scene playing out. Over time, though, the co-op mechanics become much more intricate and intense. Whether you’re having to watch your partner’s back as they’re unhinging their cell room toilet while guards patrol the hallway, climbing back-to-back up a steep shaft and syncing your button prompts for risk of falling, or taking separate roles in a car chase as one rollicks through the countryside and the other barrels off shots at the ensuing police, each interaction is unique, creating a bond both between Leo and Vincent but also between you and your fellow player.

One of my favorite moments during A Way Out was a section where our protagonists had to work in tandem to control a small rowing boat, flicking to each side and failing miserably at avoiding the rocks the game clearly wanted us to avoid. It proved to be inadvertently hilarious as I yelled and begged my co-op partner to stop rowing the wrong way or sending us careening into yet another obstacle. We reached the end of the hell ride, and my stomach was physically aching from the laughter, which is rare for so many serious and stony-faced video games nowadays.

Strapped in for the ride, ready or not

Unfortunately, this also starts to highlight some of the issues inherent in A Way Out’s design. There are extremely prominent and urgent points in the overall story which lose their urgency and importance when you can mess around with your co-op partner. For example, in one scene while supposedly on the run, we spent 20+ minutes playing horseshoes (I won, with a record score of 23!), and in another, we played 3 games of Connect 4 when the story was urging us onto an essential time-sensitive plot point. These distractions, while engrossing and enjoyable gameplay-wise, create a conflict in the game’s overall narrative and tone which can distract from your investment in the characters and the overall plot.

Moreover, as you start to hit the mid and late game, you begin to realize that many of the mini areas you can “explore” are completely linear, with limited or very little actual interaction you can engage with. One particular instance had me and my co-op partner actually skipping talking to some NPCs since the dialogue offered nothing to the experience and the activities we could engage with were simply artificial distractions, and while getting to explore an area can aid with world-building, it felt far too restricted and unnecessary, and we both found it reduced our up-to-then unfettered enjoyment of the game. Lastly, the later sections of the experience tend to descend into the mindless shooting gallery category of a generic third-person shooter, with clunky mechanics -- the dodge roll is hilariously bad to use -- and a lack of any real weight to the four weapons you can select from. We both found these chapters the least engaging or interesting, though the ones that precede and follow them more than make up for the lull.

A well-oiled, beautifully realized concept

Despite these minor flaws, though, it must be mentioned that A Way Out ran incredibly well throughout the entire journey we undertook with it. Both my co-op partner and I have serviceable internet connections, with neither of us experiencing even one instance of lag, despite playing the entirety of the content through online co-op. We didn’t suffer any technical issues or crashes, though at points the graphics, particularly on background NPCs or assets during dialogue, could be extremely low-resolution, more than enough to be noticeable, drawing our laughter and our awareness in equal measures. It definitely isn’t enough to break or hinder the experience, but it may pull you out of your immersion in its world. Graphically, A Way Out is largely excellent, with some lovely vistas and quiet moments punctuated with some brilliant lighting work. Don’t expect huge production quality or something up to the standard of a blockbuster triple-A title, though.

A co-op game like no other

A Way Out is a truly fantastic piece of entertainment that is easy to recommend to anyone who has even a fleeting interest in its story or setting, even more so if you have a friend or someone to share the experience with. We truly noticed a bond develop between Leo and Vincent as the game progressed, along with our own shared memories or favorite moments (hitting a home run in the baseball mini-game is always awesome!). While the fully co-op story and gameplay are absolutely one-of-a-kind, the actual gameplay loop and interaction are far from unique, and while the story and tone can sometimes conflict with its gameplay elements, A Way Out is an engaging tale that is worthy of your time. At 6-7 hours in length, it’s one of the best ways you can spend a Saturday afternoon, cracking up as you slam your boat into the river edge, or recoiling as they beat your dart score for the third time.

Logitech G Pro Headset Review: Built for Pros, Made for Every Player Mon, 02 Apr 2018 16:40:18 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Logitech's new G Pro gaming headset drops the frills and fancies found in other headsets to focus on what many gamers really want: great sound. Instead of RGB lighting and myriad software solutions, the G Pro is a plug-and-play, all-in-one answer for gamers that wanna get gaming right out of the box while encountering as few hurdles as possible. 

Last year, I tested the G Pro's predecessor, the G433 -- and I quite liked it. It had plug-and-play analog capabilities, but didn't do stereo sound the justice it deserves. And while that headset was comfortable and lightweight, my main gripe with it was that it didn't provide deep, crisp sound for the price -- even on the surround sound front. 

Perhaps it was kismet or that Logitech heard me through the collective conscious of the hardware world, but the G Pro headset comes much closer to the sound I wanted out of the G433. In reality, though, it was the pro gamers Logitech closely worked with to develop and design the G Pro that helped the company craft a headset that is built for pros and made for everyone. 

Coming in at $89, the G Pro is really what the G433s should have been from the start. For a hefty majority of average gamers, this headest will give them the pro-level gaming audio they've been looking for at a price they're mostly comfortable with. Sure, looking at the echelon in which it sits, the G Pro doesn't really stand out when compared to in-space competitors. But it stands toe to toe with them and rounds out Logitech's well-crafted headset line.

And if you're wondering what systems the analog G Pro works with, the answer is all of them. It'll work with your PS4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch, VR headsets, and mobile devices -- which is another big selling point. 

Logitech G PRO Gaming Headset  with all its connecting wires and removable earcup pads


Looking at the G Pro and the G433 side by side, it's almost impossible to distinguish the two based on appearances alone. From their lightweight polymer bodies to the adjustable steel headband and the left-earcup I/O ports for wires and mics, each is only truly distinctive by color and finish. Whereas the G433 comes in four different colors and wears a mesh finish from its earcups to its headband, the G Pro only comes in (sleek) black and a soft-touch, matte finish, the latter of which really accentuates the professional aesthetic Logitech is going for with these cans. 

Like its predecessor, the G Pro also features 100-degree rotatable earcups with detachable earpads. Here, the Logitech logo is more prominent and highlighted in silver on the outside of each earcup (another nice touch for the brand), while the word "Pro" is emblazoned in chic white just underneath the silver steel headband extenders on each side.

Overall, I'm glad to see that Logitech kept the design so similar between the models since the G433 was comfortable to wear and easy to carry from place to place. Weighing in at 259 grams (the same as the G433), the G Pro sits snugly across the head and can be worn for hours on end in relative comfort. It does feel a bit heavier than the previous model. And that's perhaps because of two things: it doesn't feel as flimsy from stem to stern as the G433, and the earcups fit more snugly along the sides of the face, causing a bit of discomfort over time. 

However, I'm also happy Logitech decided to keep the rotatable/tiltable earcups for this model. Not only can you lay these on your chest between matches or easily shove them in an overnight bag, you can also tilt the earcups up or down to quickly (and easily) hear any outside noise or conversation without removing the headset. It's a small design choice carried over from the G433, but one that's important for pro players that can't take their headsets off in between matches. 

Logitech G PRO Gaming Headset Side View with MicPerformance

If you're a pro or competitive gamer, you're playing games to win. Coming in second just isn't an option. That means you've got to hear your enemies before they hear you. It's something that the Logitech G533 does very well, as well as the SteelSeries Arctis Pro+. The problem is, those headsets either only work with PC or fall into the upper echelon of headset pricing (think $150-$250). 

And while those headsets are worth the pretty penny you'll pay for them, most gamers need something that affordably gives them good directional audio. The G433 didn't achieve that and ultimately felt too flat and thin overall during our tests. And when compared to the G Pro, which can clearly emit tones as low as 10hz and as high as 20Khz, that's even more evident. 

What's more, Logitech says that the Pro G provides "precise awareness of everything that's happening around you." And while I certainly don't agree that the awareness it provides is 100% precise, the G Pro does provide some of the better directional audio within the $90 price point. 

Tuned specifically for analog playback, the G Pro headset uses drivers that may be a bit bass-heavy, but work quite well at emitting clear sounds and ameliorating distortion. Testing the G Pros directly against the G433s showed that the Pros are more precise and consistent across the board. They do sacrifice a bit of volume for that sound consistency in comparison, but that's a worthy trade-off in our books. 

Playing Battlefield 1 and Far Cry 5, explosions felt appropriately large, and gunfire cracked with realism. Voices were warm and full, with dialog brimming with realism, easily parsed from music and diegetic effects. In all, sound felt fuller and richer than it did when wearing the G433s. 

The only real hiccup was that I wasn't able to dial in on pinpoint directional sound, meaning I could only tell from what general direction my adversaries were coming. Having directional capabilities at all is a step in the right direction considering you're able to get some semblance of 360 audio on console without dropping the big bucks, but it's also a bit of a carrot on a stick. If you want real directional audio, you're still going to have to shell out for it. 

When it comes to music, the G Pro provides meaty playback that's, again, heavy on the bass side of things. Listening to Leech and Rot by Northlane, kick drums and low-end chugs rise unmuddied through the mix. Mid-tone toms also come through nicely. Trebles tend to hang out in the background, although they aren't completely overshadowed. If you're used to a more treble-centric mix, you might not like that the Pros really focus on lower tones (although the headset does make those lows thick and powerful, like in Kendrick Lamar's DNA and Humble). 

Lastly, the G Pro claims to have up to 50% more passive noise isolation simply by proxy of the headset's premium earpads. And while I'd rather have active than passive noise cancellation, I think it works -- for the most part. At max volumes, it's hard to tell between the G Pros and the G433s -- immense volume tends to drown anything out simply by its overwhelming nature. But at around 55-60% volume, there is a discernible in-game difference in outside noise reduction with the G Pros. 

It's not perfect, and relying on passive devices always introduces variables into the equation, but I think it ultimately works as Logitech intends it to work: acting in tandem with the clear boom mic to better help pros hear the voices of their teammates in the din of the tournament stage. 

Logitech G PRO Gaming Headset tilted with mic and wireThe Verdict

With its Pro series, Logitech means to take existing designs and make them more approachable for professional gamers. They aren't out to redesign the wheel by any means -- and the G Pro gaming headset is testament to that. It takes the very best of the G433 and tweaks it to make something better. 

That something better doesn't necessarily mean "the best of the best," but what it does mean is the punchy G Pro is now firmly in the company of the best there is at $90. Inarguably, the G Pro is a step up from the G433, which doesn't look as appetizing as it once did -- especially when you compare sound profiles between the two headsets. 

And when compared to similar headsets on the market, such as the HyperX Cloud Flight and the Corsair Void Pro, the decision-making process can get a bit muddier, as those headsets take the G Pro head on. But we can say that the headset is much better than the SteelSeries Arctis 3, so keep that in mind when making your comparisons.

Ultimately, the G Pro is a well-made headset that performs very well either at home or on the tournament stage -- and whether you're listening to music or sniping sneaking players in team deathmatch. And for that, it gets our recommendation. 

Yakuza 6 Review: A Fitting End for the Dragon of Dojima Sat, 31 Mar 2018 22:06:27 -0400 Ashley Gill

There are few game series I hold in as high regard as Yakuza. Kazuma Kiryu and the red thread of fate that holds him to the Tojo Clan have compelled me to throw money at Sega since the original game released on the PlayStation 2. That same red thread has connected players to his story, too. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is where that thread is finally severed. This is the end for the Dragon of Dojima.

Yakuza 6 is two things. A first-run with the new Dragon Engine and Kazuma Kiryu's last time in the spotlight.

With those two things in mind, this is a very ambitious game. The graphics are better than they've ever been, slipping into side content is more organic (and accidental) than ever, it's filled to the brim with new minigames, and it packs a heavy punch in the Japanese celebrity department.

The Yakuza series finally picked up in popularity in North America last year with the release of Yakuza 0 and Kiwami. It's bittersweet to see Kiryu exit the stage just as the games shake off the old and busted "Japanese GTA" preconception so many once held about this series.

A person stands on a stage wearing an orange mascot head while singing karaokeDon't mind me.

Newer fans who just started with the Yakuza series last year and total newcomers can jump into the game without having to go through previous entries. As always, there are options to get caught up on the story. It's not the same, but it'll do.

Those who have struggled with Kiryu through all his trials and tribulations over the years won't be able to as comfortably slide into this entry as previous games due to the new Dragon Engine. It's sleeker, but it is different. Some old fogies such as myself may grumble as get used to the new Dragon Engine but it doesn't take long to adjust.

The new engine is going to get brought up a lot in this review because of the number of changes it brings and how it affected the final product. The differences between the previous engine and the one seen in Yakuza 6 are very obvious. They're not bad, but they certainly do make this return to Kamurocho a little different.

The Content's in the Sides

As with every previous entry in the series, Yakuza 6 is packed with main storyline and side quest content. Every inch of the game's explorable area is littered with tiny details that immerse you in the bustling Kamurocho and the sleepy Onomichi, and both areas have plenty for you to do.

Minigames are abound here, but longtime fans may feel underwhelmed. Along with the new (and obviously more flexible) Dragon Engine come new and more in-depth minigames -- however, at the cost of old staples. Shogi, bowling, and both casinos have been stripped from Kamurocho, much to my own personal dismay. Playing Koi-koi at the underground casino has always been my go-to.

The new minigames add some variety to the series, which has staunchly stuck to its own traditions. If that's for better or worse depends on whether you like the new minigames, but there is more than meets the eye (and far more than mentioned here).

Playing the livechat minigame in Yakuza 6, with the player talking to a woman in a bikiniProtip: Don't initiate the Live Chat minigame with people around. This was downright awkward with my husband in the room. 

The new baseball minigame, in which Kiryu manages a local baseball team, is easily one of my least favorite minigames in the series. It's boring, the menu for it is ugly, and the related side stories tend to be drawn out and on the less interesting side of the spectrum. I kept pushing through, but I did not enjoy it one bit.

The Clan Creator minigame is much akin to certain mobile games in which you wait for your resource to build up, then deploy your units to push through to the final objective. This is easily the most complex of the new minigames as you must collect characters to join your clan, manage their hierarchy,  manually deploy them, and manually trigger skills in battle. It's the most complex and even features online play, which is a definite plus if you find yourself getting really into this one.

My favorite new minigame, though, is pretty much a rail shooter... with fish. It's great! That's about all I'm saying about that one. It's great, I love it. I wish it were longer. (Sega, can we please get the new House of the Dead on PC or something? PLEASE?)

In addition, there is now the new "minigame" where you bond with bar patrons and make new friends. This is done via just talking to them most of the time, but sometimes you must actively participate in their conversations, sing karaoke, or play darts to get them to warm up to you. This is one I found particularly endearing, even if it wasn't the most exciting.

Playing the bar minigame in Yakuza 6

There are, of course, more minigames in Yakuza 6. Some absolutely unexpected, some par for the course. Usually, I do not highlight the minigames in my reviews for this series, but the removal of previous staples makes the new entries that much more important in this game. Yakuza isn't Yakuza without the side content. 6 has it in spades, but it's just different from before.

There are plenty of side stories here, but you'll find there are less than in previous games. That said, the game more fluidly segues into them. The side stories are as varied and bizarre as always, and this time around, they were probably my favorite part of the game.

Beat'em Up, Damnit!

Combat in Yakuza 6 is... well, it's simplified. Let's put it this way: I've been playing a lot of Dynasty Warriors lately, and moving onto Yakuza 6 wasn't all that different.

Basically, every combat improvement/aspect added with 0 and Kiwami has been removed this time around. There are not a ton of Heat Actions, there are no stances, and Kiryu has to rely on his Extreme Heat Mode to really get things done (like picking up motorcycles).

My entire time beating people into submission was constantly overshadowed by my wishes that the combat was more Kiwami and less Musou, if you get my drift. But this is one thing I am certain is caused by time constraints or the dev team learning to work with the new engine, and is not something I can legitimately complain about.

Combat in Yakuza 6 is more fluid than it's ever been and it shows a great framework for what combat in later Dragon Engine games, but it certainly does make everyone feel like a much bigger wimp than in Yakuza 5, 0, and Kiwami. It makes me miss the knuckle-busting boss fights from Kiwami for sure.

Dragon Engine Rises

Though it's certainly not perfect, Yakuza 6 fits in just fine with the rest of the series in terms of tone and content and is a fine entry for even new players to start with.

In some ways, it's fitting Kiryu takes his leave as Sega rings in their own new generation for the Yakuza series. And while some aspects of the series were lost in transition to the new Dragon Engine, they surely aren't to be gone for long. 

I do not think this one is going to make it to the top of many Yakuza game tier lists because of the clear growing pains as they've migrated to the new engine, but that by no means equates to the game being bad. It may even be one of the best in the series from a quality standpoint, but it needs that extra oomph to really go the distance.

This is easily the most gorgeous and seamless game in the series yet. A must-play for fans to see the evolution of the series and end of Kazuma Kiryu's journey. A "you should probably play this" for those unfamiliar, Yakuza 6 is a fantastic game that will stick with you for a long time. I am sad to see Kiryu go, but we'll at least get to see him again in Kiwami 2 later this year.

You can buy Yakuza 6 on Amazon when it releases on April 17.  

(Disclaimer: Writer was granted a press copy of the game from the publisher for this review.)

MLB The Show 18 Review: And the Crowd Goes Wild Thu, 29 Mar 2018 10:13:46 -0400 Joseph Rowe

It's spring, and that means it's the start of baseball. MLB The Show 18 is one of the most anticipated sports releases of the year, but does it knock it out of the park like Babe Ruth, or does it swing, miss, and disappoint its teammates like I did in so many little league games? 

a pitcher stands on the mound deciding between pitch types in MLB The Show 18

The Sound: The Crack of the Bat

MLB The Show 18 will fill your ears with the sounds of cheering fans, the crack of the bat, and announcers questioning your pitching choices. Everything sounds as realistic as can be and puts you on the field with the players. They also have a great list to choose from for names that the announcers can say so that more players than usual will be able to hear their own name echo throughout the stadium. The nostalgic throwback retro mode has charming, old school-sounding beeps and boops to match its visual style.

This year's soundtrack has a lot to offer. It's got a good mix of genres and artists to make sure everyone's got at least one song to keep them satisfied. I was particularly pleased to see Beck and Queens of the Stone Age. The coolest part of it all is the ability to customize an individual player's music as well as their chants and yells. As the soundtrack consists of fewer than 20 songs, you'll probably switch over to Spotify once you've heard MLB The Show 18's musical offerings a few times through. It'll be good while it lasts, though.

players stretching before the game in MLB The Show 18

The Graphics: Beards Upon Beards

Everything in the game is superbly designed in terms of graphics. All the players look realistic, there is a lot of detail put into the player's gear (with customization available), and the stadiums are faithful to their real-life counterparts. The instant replays and random shots of the players will immerse you in the big ballpark experience. The developers add in small scenes like the one above that show players stretching during a practice for flavor, and it adds a bit more character to an otherwise routine experience.

The sheer amount of customization you have available to you in the player editor puts EA Sport's releases this year to shame. Just like those games, you can pick your equipment from a wide variety of brands and makes, colors, and even web styles. However, you can also edit every aspect of your player's face. This game probably has the most beard hair customization I've ever seen, and as someone with a beard, I appreciate that. You can even create your own batting stance!

graphics reminiscent of old-school baseball games adorn MLB The Show 18's retro mode

The Gameplay: Knocked One Out of the Park

The core gameplay of the game is magnificent. It handles super well, with loads of options to choose from in terms of batting, pitching, etc., meaning everyone can find a gameplay style they'll like. The basics of the gameplay are super simple, with each pitcher having a few pitches to choose from and each batter having three swings and bunts to utilize. This simple system becomes increasingly complex as player stats are taken into account, different pitches are chosen from, and players learn how to properly use the leading and stealing mechanics for their runners. The simplicity gives new players like me something to hold onto, and the complexity, along with tons of available customization, keeps the veterans happy.

I can't get enough of the Road to the Show mode. You create a player and play only their position throughout the game. It lets the games go by much more quickly, something a casual sports gamer like me can appreciate. Not only was I able to create a character sporting my beard, but the announcers are also able to say my full name. This aided in immersing me in the story. It's not quite as complex as some of what EA has to offer, but it does give you dialogue options and enough fast-paced action to keep you satisfied.

One of the newer changes to MLB The Show 18 is how you improve in Road to the Show. In previous games, you were able to choose how your character progressed; in this year's edition, however, you pick an archetype at the start of your career, and your player grows based on your choices. For example, I played a pitcher, so I could either go for fast strikeouts, control, or gimmicky pitches. Some players are definitely going to be upset at this change, but I found it helped me focus on the gameplay without having to worry about screwing up my progression by customizing my character incorrectly.

I don't play sports games much nowadays, but I used to play them more as a kid, especially Triple Play 98 on the PSX. Retro mode is a game mode in MLB The Show 18 that lets you play with more old-school, simplified controls. While it is not as fun as the core gameplay over extended periods of time, it is still a nice bit of nostalgia and one of my favorite aspects of the game.

Franchise mode is a straightforward multi-season game mode without the added story element. This is the mode I was most comfortable with as a casual sports gamer, as I was able to speed the game up to the most interesting points. This allowed me to play a full game if it was a big one but to skip through the bulk of the games I didn't feel like playing. I found that this helped to hold my attention, but over time, I ended up getting so into the game that I just played through with full innings.

 screen showing purchase options for diamond dynasty in MLB The Show 18

MLB The Show 18's Diamond Dynasty, Diamond Downer

I don't know when it started happening, but sports games lately have had a terrible habit of including card game-style gimmicks to try and take as much cash as they can from fans who have already invested a sizable chunk of change to purchase the game in the first place. There is no reason to ask players to fork over $100 more for in-game collectibles, especially when the price is so high that you make players go to the PSN store just to see it. It's not even like the collectibles are new DLC items, either. You can still get the items by grinding, but it'll take much longer and put you at a disadvantage against someone who has the cash to outplay you.

Final Word

Overall, MLB The Show 18 is likely to draw in any baseball game fan because of its solid gameplay, engaging story mode, and customization options. The game's graphics are superb, the soundtrack is one of the best on offer from a sports game this year, and the gameplay is enough to entice any MLB fan, casual or pro. However, a big downside of the game is the Diamond Dynasty mode. You can make the argument that you can grind for whatever you want over time instead of spending the money, but these modes are something I refuse to get used to. All things considered, MLB The Show 18 is recommended if you're looking for a realistic baseball game. If you are not fond of the developers playing it safe this year in terms of new modes, you can wait this one out.

Apex Construct Review: Minnowing Away from Brilliance Tue, 27 Mar 2018 14:43:50 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Apex Construct is one of the few games currently on the Oculus Store that offers players a full experience that actually, well, feels like a full experience. In fact, it's one of the few single-player VR titles that serves up an interesting, well-paced story alongside compelling gameplay mechanics and fantastic sound design. It leverages some of VR’s best elements to create a fun, memorable experience. 

It's a shame, then, that however beautiful and fun the game is, it's marred by pesky bugs and uninspired mid- to late-game repetition. In some ways, Apex Construct still operates like an Early Access title; it doesn't feel as polished as it should despite its breadth and scope. For $29.99, I expect a little bit more refinement from a VR game like Construct. That tarnished feeling grows even more pronounced when you consider games like Robo Recall and Sairento VR command the same price and offer up what amount to more balanced experiences. 

I suppose the disappointment that grows out of Construct's imperfections is amplified by its potential. In so many ways it stands on the cusp of greatness -- Construct shows what a VR-focused action/adventure game can truly achieve when developers get things right. The game pulls back the curtain of VR’s optimistic future to show us something beautiful -- but it quickly drops the veil just as we’re taking everything in, cutting us off from the radiance within. 

Player pulls back shock arrow as they face robots on a cliff in Apex Construct

The world of Apex Construct is one of my favorite things about the game. Despite its post-apocalyptic trappings, it’s immediately inviting. No, it's not the most beautiful VR game I've played on the Oculus, but it does stand out as unique and wonderful. 

Running the game on a beefier rig powered by a GTX 1080 8GB, an i7-7700K 4.2GHz, and 32GB of RAM, Construct was never as crisp as games like Robo Recall at higher settings (although it looks absolutely gorgeous watching someone play it on an AOC AG322QCX). I often found there was a graininess to objects or that edges weren’t as refined as they ought to be while in the headset itself. 

But what's really worth spending time talking about is the feel of Construct’s world, not necessarily its look.

Apex Construct feels desolate and devoured. Robots run this world where the memory of man is but a shadow. Eerie and moody, it accentuates isolation and doubt not only through story but by virtue of contrasting level design. Wide-open areas funnel into tight, claustrophobic corridors, while bright, vibrant colors melt into dark, brooding pantones -- and back again -- reflecting the disunion of the human psyche in this upside down world. Construct is on the surface an inversion of Sarah Connor’s SkyNet prophecy. It’s painted as a colorful, cheery world, but dig under its prismatic facade and you’ll find a grungy evil lurking beneath, one that might be just as terrifying as any T-1000 could ever be. 

So even though Apex Construct isn’t a horror game, the elements of its world coalesce into a subtle, creeping dread as you learn more about why you’re here and who brought you into this world. As you’re slowly trapped between two sentient AI vying for control of everything around you, your interactions with them -- and in-world storytelling devices such as notes and data logs -- make you question everything you’re told. 

It’s not revolutionary storytelling by any means, but it’s a tick forward for storytelling in VR. 

Apex Construct the cybernetic head of Fathr floats in front of the player

If you've seen any of the trailers or press materials for Apex Construct, you probably already know combat revolves around the bow. In fact, it's the only real weapon in the game. You have access to grenades, but those are mostly ineffectual and cumbersome when robots attack, especially in the late game when shields get more involved. 

However, just because the bow is your only choice doesn't mean it's a bad one; there's a reason the recurve family continually shows up in VR games. When developers get the mechanics right, there's no better feeling than notching an arrow, pulling it back, and letting it fly. And for the most part, Apex Construct nails that. 

As you progress, you'll gain access to three different arrow types (standard, electric, and explosive) which all have specific uses against enemies and in the environment. Electric arrows are perfect for disabling shields or activating out-of-the-way panels. And explosive arrows work well for taking down enemies faster or breaking through fragile walls. It's worth noting that the recharge system for electric and explosive arrows can get a bit grating later in the game, especially when multitudinous shielded robots inundate the screen. But overall, I found not having infinite arrows across the board added strategy and consequence to each and every shot.  

However, as good as loosing arrows feels, it's a serious bummer when the core system doesn't work. At times, arrows will bounce off enemies for no reason at all. At other times, they'll fly right through foes, causing no damage at all. On top of that, I sometimes found that the on-bow shield didn't block every shot roaring toward my face -- and it wasn't always as quick to activate as I would have liked. 

But those are nitpicks compared to the most egregious and irritating issue I ran into: when arrows just wouldn't notch. While it did happen when standing in an open room, it was especially noticeable when taking cover against a wall or pylon. If arrows did notch in these situations, they wouldn't pull back, forcing me to move positions and potentially enter the line of fire.

The issues were so persistent in the mid-game that I thought my touch controllers were dying or that my sensors weren't correctly picking up my movements. But booting up Robo Recall and SUPERHOT VR proved otherwise. Couple that issue with Construct's rudimentary and sometimes frustrating experience system -- which sees you lose all level XP upon death -- and it's a safe bet you'll find yourself in quite a few frustrating situations. 

Aiming the bow and arrow at a robot inside Apex Construct's research facility

Ultimately, I want to rate Apex Construct higher. The game does a lot of things right and shows what a single-player VR experience should be in terms of narrative design and world building. Fathr and Mothr give System Shock's Shodan a run for her money. Couple that with a (mostly) beautiful world, refined voice acting, and well-paced writing, and you've got the formula for success. 

It's just that Apex Construct has a few issues that are hard to get over. Aside from the aforementioned arrow irritability, the game's equipment system isn't always responsive, meaning actually equipping arrows when you need them can be a chore under heavy fire. Mid- to late-game levels are simply rehashed early-game levels with new objectives. And there can even be issues with your inventory reflecting your in-game progression. From experience, I can say spending an hour looking for Level 2 keycards because your current Level 1 keycards don't update as they should isn't exactly fun. 

When Apex Construct plays nice, it's an invigorating experience. Despite my disdain for what it does wrong, I actually had a blast playing it -- and that's really what matters, I suppose. With a little more polish, this is a game that could have truly shined. But as it stands, it's a fun experience that wanes in brilliance once you're finished. 

You can buy Apex Construct on Steam for $29.99

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Apex Construct for review.] 

Part Time UFO Review: Crane Game Gig Economy Tue, 27 Mar 2018 14:30:50 -0400 Greyson Ditzler

Part Time UFO is a cute little mobile puzzle game recently released on Android and iOS devices, and is the first game released by HAL Egg, the new mobile game division of HAL Laboratory, the company most well known for the Kirby series.

HAL has a long history of game development, though their less mainstream efforts have often been overshadowed by their major Nintendo projects, despite a few smaller successes. In the NES era, they put out the commercially successful and fondly remembered Adventures of Lolo series, in the last few years, they released another hit puzzle game series on 3DS in the form of BoxBoy! and its sequels, and now this. 

It's always interesting to see what major developers who we usually see associated with larger companies like Nintendo do with their time when they're set free to experiment, such as what we've seen with Game Freak. In the case of Part Time UFO, we got a quirky, well-executed, and surprisingly replayable puzzle-type game to add to HAL's portfolio, and a strong foot forward for their first foray into mobile games.

cheerleaders in Part Time UFO

Whaddaya say we learn how the saucer people pay their bills? 

Gotta Get the Cash, Gotta Get the Dough

Part Time UFO has you playing as a tiny UFO that comes down from space, and once on Earth, happens to help a farmer load some fruit onto a truck. The farmer then pays the UFO for its troubles and gives it a catalog of part-time jobs to look over. The UFO then ends up back at a tiny apartment (presumably renting it out with what he was paid) and starts looking for work.

That's more or less the whole premise of Part Time UFO, and I for one find it refreshing. It's exactly the kind of simple, silly yet still reasonable setup that provides just enough context for the gameplay and world to make sense for a mobile game. It's not overly complicated, and it's not underexplained; you're just suddenly dropped into this quirky, little world and told to hop to it if you wanna afford some silly hats. But ultimately, the gameplay is what drives this game, and thankfully it's quite fun and easy to understand. 

Part Time UFO plays like the kind of skill-crane games you play for stuffed animals in arcades and pizza parlors, only significantly less cheap and rigged against you. Using nothing more than a digital control stick and one button (or less if you choose to play in one-handed mode), you must complete a series of different puzzles by moving, stacking, swinging, and carefully placing a series of different objects.

The game operates using only these mechanics and a simple but consistent and comprehensive physics engine, leaving it up to you as the player to toy around with the unique objects in each level like a chemistry set until you find the solution you're looking for. The gameplay stays this way from start to finish, and while that may sound a bit basic, HAL compensated for this by providing the player with a load of very creative and engaging levels with different challenges. 

The scenarios for levels range from loading cows into the back of a truck to catching as many fish as you can within a time limit to mixing a massive salad to stacking circus animals on top of a trapeze artist elephant on a unicycle -- and all of them are distinct and different without compromising the game's core mechanics. While the game does start reusing settings pretty quickly, this is compensated for by the challenges themselves feeling quite different and slowly becoming more difficult and minutely complex over time.

a trapeze elephant balancing other animals

Space Circus Police. Nothing to see here. Move along.

How Much Time Is "Part Time"?

Part Time UFO is by no means a big game, but it's about as big as it needs to be. There are over 25 stages, all with three challenges to complete and a healthy portion of costumes to unlock for your UFO. 

The costumes are all purchased with in-game currency, and there's no in-app purchases to be found, thankfully, so you can accessorize your UFO to your heart's content as a reward for all your hard work. While some costumes are just cosmetic, many others offer a slight change to the way the UFO controls and can provide helpful benefits to specific levels or even make the game harder, if you'd like to up the difficulty and challenge yourself.

purchasing items in Part Time UFO

This delightful gentleman with the lisp runs the local cosmic branch. See him for all your cosplay needs. Photo credit to AntDude.

As might be expected of the Kirby devs, the game isn't particularly hard, but it's far from mindless. The secrets hidden in certain levels, punching out before the often optional timer runs out, and grappling with the game's crane physics do lead to some challenge, but I rarely had to retry most stages more than two or three times, which didn't add up to much given the brevity of each stage. The main source of difficulty in this game will likely stem from learning and fighting with the game's swinging and momentum physics, which can give you a bit of trouble, but never came anywhere close to rage-inducing for me. 

A Breath of Fresh Art

In terms of aesthetics, I just love the way this game looks and sounds. In all honesty, Part Time UFO's presentation reminds me of a lot of games. The art-style and scattershot scenarios remind me of games like WarioWare and Rhythm Heaven, with just a splash of the Katamari series, and the soundtrack reminds me just the slightest bit of LocoRoco. But despite being reminiscent of so many other games, it still manages to feel unique on its own.

The graphics are presented in a very pleasant pixelated style that is reminiscent of early games on the Nintendo DS, with lots of expressive, cartoony characters and little details in each stage. Everything and everyone smiles, cries, wiggles, and behaves believably, and much like the Kirby games, the whole thing constantly feels genuinely charming and friendly, like the game's just happy to have you around.

a jumbled stack of yellow-ish pancakes in Part Time UFO

The game's presentation is about as soft and sweet as these pancakes.

The music is also quite good, if a bit repetitive. Every track in the game is a sort of remix or different take on the same song, using different chords and instruments, which provides a pleasant and consistent mood at the sacrifice of variety. It's a small complaint, and I must reiterate that I do like the music, but with the repeating settings on top of the repeating music, it smacks a bit of a game with a smaller budget. But overall, it's all very cute and attention-grabbing, and that's mostly what matters.

Is This a Position Worth Applying For?

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Part Time UFO. In the face of so many other derivative mobile games, big-budget Triple-A titles, and samey sequels and familiar feeling styles of gameplay, it's nice every now and then to sit down with something small and simple yet new and refreshing. It's a game that manages to bring the experimental charm of Nintendo's portfolio to mobile devices while simultaneously making the often-despised skill-tester crane game into something fun, fair, and friendly.

I can easily recommend this game to anybody looking for something fun and simple to play in small sessions, as well as people looking for new ideas and a moderate challenge, all at a bargain price. I was smiling nearly the whole way through. I'm hoping that we may see more from this game in the future, and I can't wait to see what HAL Egg does with mobile games in the future. 

Part Time UFO is available now on iOS and Android devices for the one-time cost of $4. You can watch a trailer for the game below: