Reviews Category RSS Feed | Reviews RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network Logitech G603 Review: A Functional, If Curious, Mouse Tue, 12 Dec 2017 11:39:50 -0500 Jonathan Moore

Logitech has a shining reputation for good -- if not amazing -- gaming mice. With their LightSpeed technology, they introduced a line of wireless mice that are elegant and highly responsive. The G603 is the third in that line and sports adept and reliable mechanisms underneath a sleek design. It also boasts one of the very best sensors on the market in its High Efficiency Rated Optical movement detector. Couple that with insane battery life, and the G603 is a viable option for many gamers. 

But it's also a curious mouse. Launching alongside the Logitech G703 earlier this year, it provides functionalities not found in that mouse but doesn't take advantage of the 703's PowerPlay wireless charging abilities. Sure, the G603 is a fantastic mouse that tackles myriad situations with sangfroid, but it's also a mouse I sometimes think could have been absorbed by the G703 -- especially given the quality and ubiquity of the 703.  

High-End Functionality on a Budget

Coming in at $69.99, the G603 puts itself in the higher echelon of mid-tier mice -- the wired G403 Prodigy is nearly $20 cheaper and offers a lot of the same core functionalities. But at that price, the 603 also brings quite a bit to the table, not the least of which are its battery life, wireless accuracy, and Bluetooth capabilities. 

Battery Life

Instead of a lithium-ion battery, the G603 uses two AA batteries for juice. Boasting advanced battery life by providing two performance modes via its HERO sensor, Logitech's newest mouse can stay powered for twice as long as a plethora of other mice. According to Logitech's press materials, you can get up to 500 hours of gaming out of the G603 when using it in HI mode, which delivers better in-game Lightspeed reporting of 1ms. Alternatively, you can set the mouse to LO mode, which greatly slows response times to 8ms but affords you up to 18 months of battery life on a single set of AAs. 

Of course, I didn't put in near enough time with the mouse to drain the batteries, but it didn't lose charge in my 50-some-odd hours with it. To put things in perspective, I had to charge the G703 twice in that same time when not using the PowerPlay charging mat, so that's something to consider. 


On the accuracy front, Logitech developed a brand new sensor for the 603. Dubbed HERO, the optical sensor is supposed to provide enhanced power efficiency while still pushing exceptional accuracy and performance. Whether at low or high DPIs, HERO doesn't use pixel rounding or smoothing to deliver information between the mouse and the computer -- keeping you ahead of the game.  

Thing is, I didn't really notice a monumental difference between HERO and the G703's PMW3366 when it came to sniping skulls in Battlefield 1 or controlling the point in Paladins. Both mice are entirely capable of delivering kill shots in BF2 and effectively moving units in Total War at both low and high DPIs. Consequently, the main draw of HERO appears to be its power efficiency when doing all of that. In a nutshell, it's power conscious and responsive, but not revolutionary. 

Bluetooth Capabilities

An interesting addition not often found in other gaming mice, the G603's Bluetooth functionality allows the mouse to be used across multiple devices at a single time. If you don't want to go the LightSpeed dongle route, you can connect the 603 to your computer via Bluetooth, as well as one other device. As of this writing, the functionality supports iOS and Android tablets, laptops, and computers. 

Giving it a whirl with a MacBook, I found the functionality competent, if a bit difficult to pair at times. And although Bluetooth makes the 603 a bit more productive for day-to-day office situations -- and keeps you from having to move the dongle from device to device or rely on per device inputs -- in a gaming capacity, I didn't find much use for the functionality outside of very niche use cases. 

The G603's Design Is Nothing to Write Home About

There's not much to say about how the G603 looks on the outside. In a nutshell, it's the G703 and/or G403 Prodigy with a slightly different color scheme and rougher, grainier finish. You'll find the same six programmable buttons here that you will on the 703 and 403: LMB, RMB, two lateral buttons on the left side, a mouse wheel button, and a nice, easily reachable DPI button beneath the wheel. On the bottom of the mouse, you'll find two feet at the front and back, the power/LO/HI mode switch, and a button for Bluetooth pairing. 

The mouse body is designed just like the 703 and 403, too. Made for right-handed players, it favors palm- or claw-grip styles and fits ergonomically in your palm, although some players with larger hands may find its apex sits a bit awkwardly in the crook of their hand. 

The main panel of the mouse body is detachable. This is where you'll find the batteries and a nicely designed notch in which to house the LightSpeed dongle when not in use. That latter attention to detail is something I truly enjoy about the mouse. Losing dongles is just the worst. All in all, the G603's design is unassuming. That fits with the ethos that this is a gaming mouse that won't stand out on your office desk.

On top of everything mentioned above, the G603 doesn't provide any RGB lighting functionalities. None whatsoever. So although you can take it to work and back without your colleagues wondering why you have a gaming mouse in the office, you won't be able to get those cool lighting effects at home, which kind of makes the G603 a bit boring against all of your other RGB gear. That's not to mention that you could just, you know, turn the 703's RGB lighting off when at the office. 


The Verdict  

At the end of the day, I'm torn about the G603. On one hand, I see where it fits into the Logitech line of products and how it provides great functionality on a mid-tier budget. What it sacrifices when compared to the 703 gets it into that $70 price range. Its Bluetooth functionality is a bit sluggish in-game, but for office work, it's nice to be able to switch between devices with a single input device. And even if its battery life doesn't entirely stand out against other office-centric mice, it's sustainable while providing great accuracy via HERO. 

But on the other hand, some of its functionalities really could have been incorporated into the G703. Not taking advantage of Logitech's new PowerPlay wireless charging capabilities is a bit head-scratching. And with all the R&D spent on a new sensor that makes the 603's battery life last longer -- and has no terribly discernible effects on accuracy when compared to the 703's PMW3366 -- it seems that the 603's other primary functionality, Bluetooth, could have made it into the 703's design. 

But as it stands, the G603 is a functional, reliable, and efficient mouse that offers some neat tricks and awesome accuracy for those not willing (or able) to afford the higher-priced 703 and its $100 PowerPlay charging pad sidekick. If you fall into that boat or want something that functions as both a gaming peripheral and an unassuming office point and clicker, it's definitely a mouse you'll want to check out.

However, if it were me, I'd opt to spend the extra $30 for wireless charging capabilities, an infinitely refillable battery, wired and wireless capabilities, full RGB lighting options, and near-identical performance. What's more, the switches on the G703 are rated for 50 million clicks, while the switches on the G603 are only rated at 20 million clicks. It's not a one-to-one ratio, of course, but even if you don't count all the extra functionality you get in the G703, you're still paying $30 more for 30 million more clicks -- and a mouse that will last you 2.5 times as long. 

The 603 is a fine choice for many gamers, but if you can afford to splurge on a truly sensational option, I'd go with the 703 instead.   

You can buy the G603 on Amazon

[Note: Logitech provided the G603 used for this review.]

SteelSeries M750 TKL Review: A Solid Addition to a Line of Growing Options Mon, 11 Dec 2017 16:00:09 -0500 Jonathan Moore

SteelSeries is one of the few peripherals companies that affords gamers a cornucopia of options for gaming mice, headsets, and keyboards. Over the past year or so, the company has worked to diversify its growing catalog to include options for almost every type of gamer -- and every type of gaming scenario. 

Earlier this year, SteelSeries released the M750 gaming keyboard, one that's responsive, reliable, and suited for both competitive and casual gamers alike. Now, they've released the same keyboard in a tenkeyless variant.

Coming in at $199.99 ($10 cheaper than the M750 tenkey), the M750 TKL is a compact option that delivers the same reliability and functionality of its predecessor. Sporting a sleek black finish, the TKL's aircraft-grade aluminum chassis is crazy resilient, and coming in at 13.5" x 6" (and only weighing about two pounds), the keyboard is small enough to fit into your backpack without worry. 

It still sports the odd rubber feet of its predecessor, a design choice that I found interesting yet cumbersome and ineffective. For a board geared toward eSports professionals, it's odd that the board's rubber feet don't seem to stay attached when you move it around. Simply pushing the board away from me and then pulling it back toward me continually dislodged the feet, which was frustrating at best. And not amending it here seems a bit of an oversight. 

However, the M750 TKL performs where it needs to. The board's QX2 switches are responsive, swift, and comfortable. Just like the switches found in its predecessor, these switches are sensitive enough to register light keystrokes but resilient enough to not launch accidental ults in your favorite MOBA. Sure, the QX2s are bit noisier than the Cherry Reds found in most other gaming keyboards, but they get the job done and are rated for 50 million clicks -- which means they're going to last a long time. 

On the customization front, you'll get your 16 million color RGB spectrum, fully programmable key rebindings, macros, and keystroke shortcuts with the SteelSeries Engine 3 software. 

All in all, the M750 TKL is simply a more compact, slightly cheaper version of the M750. You'll get the same robust functionality and, for better or worse, the same design minus the ten-key numpad. Coming in $10 below the full-sized M750, the main question you have to ask yourself is: "Do I really need a ten-key numpad?" If the answer is no, the M750 TKL might just be what you're looking for -- especially if you're a tournament player looking for something small, reliable, and built to last. 

Check out our M750 review for a more in-depth look at all the features and functions the M750 TKL has to offer.

You can buy the M750 TKL on Amazon

[Note: SteelSeries provided the keyboard used in this review.] 

Gran Turismo Sport Review: Competitive Racing Redefined Mon, 11 Dec 2017 14:54:13 -0500 Beckett Van Stralen

Drivers to your cars! Drivers to your cars! The wait for a new entry in the Gran Turismo franchise is finally over. Polyphony Digital has released their new love letter to cars, autosport, and racing culture in the form of the incredibly polished Gran Turismo Sport for the PlayStation 4 exclusively. There has been a lack of variety in simulation-oriented racing games available for the PlayStation 4, and GT Sport definitely helps to correct this problem. While it may not possess a large car roster or the level of customization offered by its direct competitors (or predecessors), its heart and guts remain intact because GT Sport is comfortable in its own shoes and what it has to offer -- an incredibly realistic driving simulation experience backed by a competitive online racing platform designed for the sport of racing, and racing alone.

To get your feet wet,
GT Sport offers a variety of different modes to conquer before jumping right into Sport Mode, its epicenter and main feature. The Arcade and Campaign modes can be tackled in single player, and there is a Lobby mode which allows you to create an online room where your friends and other players can race together casually. The campaign mode is quite extensive and serves as the perfect practice tool for familiarizing yourself with the required driving techniques to win races and drive the tracks themselves. Arcade Mode allows single-player racing or split-screen racing, and also includes the attractive yet limited VR mode, but more on that later. So far I’ve spent the majority of my time with GT Sport in Campaign mode when I’m not in Sport Mode -- each challenge completed nets you a gold, silver, or bronze award depending on what position or finish time was achieved. It didn’t take long for me to get into a habit of aiming for gold on each challenge, and constantly retrying when my ghost silhouette would leave me in the dust. Somehow I managed to get all gold, and it truly felt like a significant accomplishment.

Outside of the Driving School, the Mission and Circuit Challenges offer less of a trial and error experience (that’s only if you’re aiming for gold on all challenges) and throw you into the racing immediately. They allow you to get comfortable with track racing vs circuit racing, passing other racers on narrow tracks complete with sharp corners and more. It’s a sample buffet of all the skills you’ll need to master to be the best racer possible when in Sport Mode, and it’s highly encouraged to complete these challenges before attempting to race competitively.

Sport Mode is the meat and potatoes of 
GT Sport, and it’s the driving force of the game itself. Racers will enter online daily races and championships to bolster and increase their Sportsmanship Rating (SR) and Driver Rating (DR). SR is governed mainly by clean driving, from what I’ve experienced myself, and this is a skill that is highly encouraged and basically mandatory for racers to climb through the ranks. GT Sport even forces players to watch two videos on racing etiquette before entering any race whatsoever. After coming from racing games like Need for Speed 2015, where the path to winning races by most players is something similar to Battle Royale, this approach to curbing dirty driving and promoting clean races is incredibly refreshing and appreciated. Drive poorly enough, and you’ll find yourself racing alongside the bottom feeders with the same driving habits, who prefer smashing their way to victory instead of driving a clean race.


While Sport Mode does encourage clean driving, there is one significant drawback when it comes to the SR system -- sometimes a loss in SR will be applied when another driver impacts you, but not as a result of your own driving. This will assuredly frustrate some players, as it did for me, but what’s good is that if you persist with clean driving, the results will be noticeable, and the SR will balance out. If this happens, take note of the username of the erratic driver and avoid them like the plague. One or two bumps are not detrimental, and driving the rest of the race clean will still provide an overall increase to your SR.

Another point that needs to be addressed is the timed entry into competitive races. Instead of being able to start driving immediately, players will sometimes have to wait up to 15 minutes or longer until the event actually starts. Waiting between races can be spent minimizing your personal qualifying lap time, but once you’re happy with your lap time, there isn’t much else to do until the race begins. On one hand, I can understand Polyphony Digital’s desire to engineer the races this way -- it allows the player to decompress, get up and walk around, and refresh their brain. On the other hand, waiting can be bothersome, especially if the allotted time to play is already slim. Once the first race has been completed, if you enter the next race immediately, the wait time is roughly 4-12 minutes. However, since the championships have now commenced, it seems like the wait time is now longer, with the races refreshing every 15 minutes or so.

GT Sport
doesn’t possess a vehicle library as quantitatively broad as some of its direct competitors, but it has included the absolute cream of the crop when it comes to vehicles and their respective brands. Looking at these vehicles gives the impression that Polyphony Digital pored over every single square inch of each car, as they look jaw-droppingly gorgeous inside and out with breathtaking detail. While the total number of drivable cars is a little over 180, I feel that isn’t necessarily a drawback. Some of GT Sport’s competitors offer over 700 driveable vehicles -- is it possible that every single one will be driven in the duration of the single-player campaign? Likely not. GT Sport encourages you to work with the vehicles you accumulate. My main vehicle has now become the Gr. 4 Subaru WRX, and its miles counter has been steadily increasing. Polyphony Digital has also announced that by March 2018, 50 additional cars will be available.

PlayStation VR now has its killer driving app in the form of GT Sports rather limited VR Tour mode, but it is immensely more enjoyable than DriveClub VR. Comparing the two, DriveClub VR has loads more to offer in terms of playable content, but the feel of the VR driving is absolutely knocked out of the park in GT Sport. Playing DriveClub VR caused in me a sudden onset of motion sickness (and I was not alone in this regard) and required me to stop within 10 minutes of playing. It might be because GT Sport doesn’t emulate the natural head tilt when turning corners as noticeably as DriveClub VR, but this minor difference allowed me to race repeatedly for over an hour before I removed my headset. It’s unfortunate that GT Sport’s VR mode is so limited. You select your vehicle and track, and you’re racing against an AI opponent -- that’s it. I hope in future patch releases that Polyphony Digital will expand on its VR mode, because there is truly something amazing here.

One of the most divisive aspects of GT Sport is the fact that there is less to be enjoyed when the game is played offline -- players aren’t even able to make progress in their personal campaigns. This is now actually being remedied by Polyphony Digital in the form of allowing access to the Scapes, Campaign, and Livery Editor while in offline mode, as of November 27th in the newest patch being introduced (although to save any campaign progress, scapes, or liveries, you will still need to be connected to the internet). That’s not all, either -- in December, there will be a single player “GT League” that is exclusively played offline. While accessing all of GT Sport’s features is troublesome for those who aren’t constantly connected to the internet, I think that games in general are moving towards an online-only direction, and I believe the benefits outweigh the negatives. For example, GT Sport has an integrated social media platform where you can post pictures of your car in a race or from the amazing Scapes photo mode, and people can like, comment, and even share your photos. Other players can upload liveries online for people to peruse and download into their own libraries. Personally, I’ve already downloaded Overwatch and Resident Evil decals. Without its online platform, this service would likely have to exist outside of the game itself.

Gran Turismo Sport is the driving simulator that PlayStation owners have been waiting for since GT6 on PlayStation 3. This time, there are no “standard cars” -- all cars look jaw-droppingly gorgeous and meticulously rendered within GT Sport’s engine. While there are some aspects of the package that some may not look kindly upon, such as the number of drivable vehicles and the mandatory online connection to enjoy most of the game’s features, GT Sport performs exceptionally well and provides the distinct racing experience that fans of driving simulators are looking for.  

Images for this review were screen-captured from my PlayStation 4 Pro.

The Surge Gets Silly With A Walk In The Park Sat, 09 Dec 2017 13:24:29 -0500 Ty Arthur

It wasn't that long ago that Deck13 gave us a proper, devastatingly-hard Souls-style experience with a junkyard sci-fi twist in The Surgebut if you've been away for awhile, now there's plenty of reason to come back and take A Walk In The Park!

The amusement park theme here espouses visions of Nuka World dancing in my head (and all the promo shots of a theme park inhabited by killer robots didn't do anything to dissuade that image).

Over the course of this 3-4 hour DLC there's plenty of silly, tongue-in-cheek nonsense that's also gruesome in the extreme. My initial impression needed to be revised, as this is less Nuka World and more a nightmare Itchy And Scratchy Land. While there are robot enemies galore, many of the baddies are humans gone mad, and the blood spurts just as easy as the oil!

 The rest of the complex is filled with homicidal robots... might as well take time out to visit the amusement park

A Relaxing Vacation Where Everyone Dies

Before I could even get to all the theme park mayhem with The Surge's A Walk In The Park DLC, I was reminded of how ludicrously hard these types of games can become.

Just yesterday, I lost all my hard drive data after a Windows 10 update (thanks Microsoft), so I had to start Warren's story at the Creo corporation entirely over. Just getting to the second level to access the DLC was an hour long slog filled with more than a few four-letter words, but eventually, I got my footing back under me and figured out how to engage in the deadly dance of slow motion robotic combat. 

Honestly, that may be the best way to experience this expansion, going in fresh from the beginning so you aren't overpowered and don't breeze through while exploring different attractions like the Lumber Jack Show and Skybound Adventures.

After finally getting to Creo world, players used to the base game will be in for a shock witnessing the juxtaposition of a bubbly, brightly lit amusement park with shattered and bloody bodies everywhere.

There's almost a Dead Rising or Borderlands feel in the eye-popping silly factor and zany shenanigans going on. One of the first things you do after leaving the train is fight a giant animatronic donut.

Remember that campy '80s slasher Chopping Mall where the totally non-lethal mall guard bot suddenly goes kill happy after a surge of lightning, even though he had no weaponry of any kind a few seconds before? Oh boy, are we ever in that territory here -- and its kind of a blast.

 Some of these bots shoot frickin' laser beams from their eyes!

New Additions To The Surge

Some fun new gear is ready and waiting to be viciously hacked off your enemies, from a glowing light axe to something that looks oddly like a mashup of a parking toll meter and an electric razor.

Frankly, you will easily again be thinking of of Dead Rising when crafting the Head Of Donnie Donut helmet or picking up the candy cane power pole as a weapon.

While they are fun to look at, the new gear isn't particularly awesome at its base level without being upgraded, so as mentioned above this DLC works better on a first playthrough rather than in New Game+ mode. If you have all those powerful secret weapon drops from the bosses and have maxed everything out, your current gear will be an order of magnitude more powerful than anything found in Creo world.

While the gear may not be worth your time, the enemies are definitely more interesting and less drab than in the main campaign. Warren will battle everything from a giant partially eaten candy bar to a huge soda can (although sadly not in Saint's Row purple).

Cutting the equivalent of Freddy Fazbear in half with a pilfered hydraulic piston and then tearing apart his head for parts is a pretty good time. Besides the fun new enemies, the location itself offers something totally different from what fans of The Surge might expect.

The dual theme going on really hits home when the fake, plastic nature of the amusement park is jarringly set against a backdrop of a crashed roller coaster, with blood splattered across the concrete and a shattered body in pieces on the ground. In the latter half of the DLC, there is some truly odd, disturbing stuff going on.

 Not often in gaming can you get killed by an evil robot leprechaun whose main weapon is literally garbage

The Bottom Line

A Walk In The Park features more of the same on the gameplay front, with a player carefully balancing stamina for dodging, blocking, and getting in calculated strikes.

If you face too many enemies in one area then you're dead (sort of like in real life, you should be concerned if multiple people in mascot outfits have you cornered in an alley), and if you miscalculate your stamina for that return swing, well, you're dead. 

The big draw is in the totally new areas and the bonkers setting, offering something way outside the norm for this style of game. Since the DLC is set during the events of the campaign, A Walk In The Park is basically a big side quest to offer some levity (and a lot of blood).

If you liked The Surge and want more, do yourself a favor and pick up the expansion. Ready to get started? Check out our guide on getting into the new DLC park area over here!

Puzzle Fighter Review - It's Not "Super" for A Reason Sat, 09 Dec 2017 12:31:50 -0500 bazookajo94

Some games are just meant to be mobile. They should have tap functionality, the personability of a small screen close to a user's face, and repetitious gameplay that isn't as fun on a big screen, or with a joystick or d-pad.

While a few games make the transition from PC to mobile well enough, such as Five Nights at Freddy's or FTL, Puzzle Fighter does not.

The HD sequel to Capcom's Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, Puzzle Fighter combines Street Fighter hero battles with Tetris-like puzzles. Think Dr. Mario with less parasites (unless micro-transactions count) and more combo attacks. Players match their skills against others online, trying to upgrade their characters and enhance their skills in order to become the best puzzle fighter around.

Puzzle Fighter entered the Play Store on November 27, and long time fans of the original puzzle game are finding themselves disappointed. In the transition from beloved arcade game to mediocre mobile title, its blatant exploitation of micro-transactions and lack-lustre single-player mode has soured the release for many fans.

The Money Struggle

Puzzle Fighter's appeal is that it's free-to-play, so at least players won't have to spend any money if they don't want to. However, if a player ever wants to make a name for themselves and feel like they're accomplishing something, they'll have to partake in the bane of modern gaming -- micro-transactions.

Players can either grind their way to the top (which is rendered nearly impossible considering the limited single-player mode) or they can buy their way to the top. Using in-app purchases you can upgrade skills that no longer require actually playing the game to unlock, along with accessing characters that should be available to all players, as they were in past titles. 

And that's without mentioning the loot crates that are available, which are most easily accessible to players who choose to shell out some money. Suddenly, the similarities this game has with Star Wars Battlefront 2, which also withheld popular characters and attempted to push players towards spending money on loot crates, is strikingly apparent.

Characters and skills that should be reasonably acquirable through standard amounts of gameplay make enjoying this app a chore. What was wrong with unlocking characters through beating levels? Seems like a tried-and-true method that didn't need to be turned into an all too transparent cash grab.

The Game Mode Struggle

Perhaps the reason micro-transactions are necessary in this game is because of the limited single-player mode. Not everyone enjoys playing games by themselves, and the rush of annihilating an anonymous face of a stranger can be exhilarating. But for those that like to up their skills before throwing themselves to the wolves (read: online gamers), it's nice to play in a single-player mode.

But Puzzle Fighter doesn't give players that chance. They can complete the three missions available and then have to either wait half a day for the missions to refresh, or they can pay to have them refresh sooner.

The three missions have multiple difficulty levels, but how difficult are they if the AI doesn't use the dragging feature of the tiles? The AI's tiles gently float to the bottom of the screen, while players can quickly drag theirs to the bottom and easily defeat even Expert level missions.

If players decide that they'd rather not pay, they are left to play multiplayer -- an intimidating arena that can bring back flashbacks to the early days of Rocket League, when everyone was better than you and death was a constant.

True, the game pairs players with similar rankings, but if people decide to play the game without using money, they're going to spend a lot of time grinding through similar levels with the same three teammates over and over, until finally they start to think that maybe spending a few dollars couldn't hurt.

So really, players have four choices: 

  • Play single-player, wait, and be bad for a while
  • Play single-player, pay, and grind three levels over and over again
  • Play multiplayer, don't pay, and grind for a long time in order to advance
  • Play multiplayer, pay, and advance immediately without any work

At what point does Puzzle Fighter stop being a game and start being a transaction? 

The "Everything Else is Fine" Struggle

Despite it all, Puzzle Fighter has some good aspects. The concept is fun and reminiscent of arcade games, and it's easy to get addicted -- just one more level, one more shot, I'll do better this time, I'm on a roll!

The graphics are nice if viewers can look passed how the HD effects can make the paring of tiny bodies with big heads appear awkward. That being said, the animations have smooth transitions, with no awkward stances or noticeable oddities in the idle animations. 

The vibrant and popping colors work well as puzzle tiles but can sometimes be distracting in the menu screens, which caused me some confusion in the shop and upgrade menus. There always seems to be something going on, and the colors make it difficult to discern right away what that something is. 

The voice acting sounds professional and well done, but the lack of variation in scripted lines and the repetition of sounds during combat can become very annoying, very quickly. Especially if you're someone who hasn't spent money to get new characters, meaning you're stuck with the same characters for a long time.

Gameplay is easy to pick up, with a helpful tutorial and simple mechanics. Though not even a tutorial can teach strategy as effectively as losing a bunch of times can.


Puzzle Fighter and the mobile plaform seemed like a match made in heaven. The simple puzzle tactics paired with cutesy art and animation are a perfect fit for a hand-held title, with Dr. Mario-esque fun.

But Puzzle Fighter's shortcomings reveal themselves in the excessive dependence on micro-transactions for its players to succeed. This, along with the limited single-player mode, turned what could have been an addictively fun game into a mediocre caricature of its past self. Puzzle Fighter serves as yet another reminder that some publishers and developers don't care if people enjoy playing a game, as long as they're spending money. 

SpellForce 3 Review Fri, 08 Dec 2017 18:28:48 -0500 Ashley Gill

The SpellForce series has been kicking around since 2003, but there's a pretty high chance you may have never heard of it. With nary a full release or an expansion since 2014, some fans may have considered this niche strategy series dead.

SpellForce 3 is the first full-fledged release for the series since 2006, and a lot has changed since then. Is it for the better? It's hard to say -- I haven't played a SpellForce game in nearly a decade -- but it's definitely "different".

You'll explore vast lands as you try to seek out and cure the Bloodburn plague through a mix of classic CRPG-style and RTS gameplay in this odd hybrid RPG. Set a full 518 years before the events of the first game, the game takes place before the Convocation ritual that changed the world of Eo forever.

The setting and storytelling make this a good starting point for first-timers and prevents old fans from feeling left out, but a glimpse into Eo pre-Convocation wasn't enough to make me enjoy my time with SpellForce 3.

Getting Started with SpellForce 3

You are slapped right into the tutorial-slash-prologue as soon as you start the campaign. The prologue lets you learn the basics of the game's RPG and RTS systems with a pre-made story character party, after which you're tossed into character creation.

You have a few faces and hairstyles to choose from and can adjust your character's starting attributes and its ability trees in character creation. This process is fairly rudimentary.

Something to note for those who choose to make female characters: all the game's dialogue will still refer to you as "he" or bring up that you're the "son" of Isamo Tahar. This is a minor but extremely irksome oversight by Grimlore Games if you happen to roll a woman, and it happens often enough it's impossible to overlook.

Once you've pushed through the prologue and character customization, you're thrown straight into the story -- and also happens to be where my gripes with SpellForce 3 begin.

Eo -- Land of Ants

If you somehow don't really grasp how tiny the characters are in the prologue, you'll figure it out pretty quickly once you start wandering around.

The scale of the world in SpellForce 3 can be summed up in one word: massive. Everything is huge! That's great and all, but the people who actually reside in Eo are comparatively ants.

In each area of the game, there's a whole lot of space but not a whole lot of things going on. You're given this sense that the world is massive, but comparatively, it's very hard to tell where you are and there are not a lot of interesting details sprinkled about. You're small, your party members are small, your units in the RTS segments are small. With maps so big, it's easy to lose track of them.

This wouldn't be so much of an issue if it was easier to tell what was going on in fights or the minimap had more noticeable character markers, but as it stands, it can be a pain to keep track of where you are.

Your units' minimap indicators are the same color and
a close size to your buildings.

One might think the fact the player can rotate the camera would make this easier, but I'm of the opinion this game could have benefited from having a non-rotating camera.

You can rotate the camera a full 360 degrees, which you often have to do in both the RPG and RTS modes, but the camera is clearly not meant to be turned and panned in certain directions in particular areas. I repeatedly met with a jumping camera when trying to rotate the camera near exceedingly tall structures.

By rotating the camera in either mode, you can find chests and other lootables, but it eventually becomes cumbersome because you have to do it so often. Re-aligning your camera to stay oriented all the time is, well.. not fun.

It's a shame because SpellForce 3 is absolutely gorgeous and the developers clearly want you to see all the details they worked in, but it just left me feeling detached from my party and frustrated when it came time to deathball my way through enemy outposts in the RTS segments.

Let's Talk About Actually Playing the Game

This is an RPG, so surely I have to talk about the gameplay. Surely.

Classic CRPG fans will be familiar with the vast majority of features found in SpellForce 3's RPG mode, which is used most often in wandering around town or inside dungeons. Wandering around town and talking to people is not as interesting as it is in some other games, but taking your party through dungeons is.

You have to fight and puzzle your way through the game's many dungeons, which feature classic-style real time combat. A character can only have three skills on their bar at a time, though you can rotate between their skill and equipment loadouts based on the situation.

Dungeons and the sights (and fights) within are easily my favorite part of the game. Aside from having to rotate the camera all the time, it feels very much "at home" in dungeons.

The RTS segments of the game are less enjoyable, at least for me. Building new resource buildings, managing workers, and expanding to outposts is all right but not engaging.

Going against enemies in RTS mode is mostly working up to a deathball, then trying to defend from waves of enemies or rolling that ball over their outposts. You can use your heroes' skills in battle, but keeping track of them amidst all the other action is a nightmare. Giving them health bars of a different color from the generic units would definitely help here.

Control Issues

Something to note about both modes is how cumbersome the controls are.

The controls are the same between both RTS mode and RPG mode, with some differences. You can hotswap between the game's two control schemes at any time, but you're probably going to be fumbling around unless you dig into your control options and customize them.

Customizing your controls in either of SpellForce 3's control schemes is mandatory to enjoy it -- there is simply no getting around that. The game claims that one control scheme is more suited to new CRPG players while the other is for experienced, but I'd clump both together as "unnecessarily convoluted".

The player should not have to manually switch between two control schemes throughout the entirety of a 25+ hour campaign. Halfway through the game's story, I ended up going into my control options one final time and customizing nearly every keybinding because I was sick and tired of it.

The Sum of All Parts

Part RTS and part RPG, SpellForce 3 doesn't excel at either genre it tries to incorporate.

The RPG segments, while interesting, are marred by some truly terrible voice acting (Geralt's voice actor's the lone exception) and huge and hard to navigate areas. The game's RPG dungeons are its gameplay's crown jewel.

The game's RTS segments are fine for what they are, but ultimately do not serve up much of a strategic challenge and eventually turn into deathball matches.

SpellForce 3 excels in both its graphics and overall sound design, and its RTS segments will give most gaming rigs a real run for their money, but it's difficult for me to recommend this game as it stands. Grimlore Games tried hard here and it really shows in all the details, but the game needs some sizable quality of life changes to make it worth investing the money and time needed to play it.

[Note: The publisher provided the copy of SpellForce 3 used for this review.)

Hello Neighbor Review: Fancy Some Light B&E This Evening? Fri, 08 Dec 2017 18:19:43 -0500 Ty Arthur

While browsing through the toys at Gamestop last week in search of Christmas gifts, I couldn't help but notice a Hello Neighbor plushie prominently displayed on prime shelf real estate.

I think it's safe to say that Early Access and crowd funding have made a pretty serious dent in the industry if an indie game that wasn't even out at the time and had only been played in alpha somehow got its own merch in major retail stores.

More than a year and four alpha builds after first getting noticed, we're finally able to get our hands on the full, complete version of Hello Neighbor. The end result is a pleasure for those who have been following this eye-catching game since the early days, and I'm excited to report more of the horror elements have returned after going missing in recent builds.

 When a ball slowly rolls into frame in front of a menacing house,
you know it's about to go down for real

Another Day In Paradise

The art style and color palette may seem an odd choice for the game's horror concept at first, as Hello Neighbor is sort of like a brightly colored, '70s-drug fueled version of Tom Hanks classic The Burbs (which is about to be re-released on BluRay -- coincidence or dark providence?).

That nightmarish Dr. Seuess-on-acid house from the previous alpha build is gone in the full version (well, in Act 1 anyway), replaced by a warm, quiet neighborhood where nothing bad could ever... and oh god we've been kidnapped.

Long time alpha players will be very pleased with the story elements wrapping everything together now, and there's an excellent mashup of style and substance here, like seeing the game world from a little kid's short, slanted, and dyslexic point of view.

Now more than just random breaking and entering for fun and profit, there's a reason for everything going on, with plenty of twists and turns you won't expect. Get ready to jump, scream, and maybe even feel a little bad for the villain.

 Apparently, a bunch of kids have gone missing in the neighborhood...

Stealth And Puzzles

The bulk of the game is figuring out how to work your way past the observant neighbor to unlock new secrets in, around, under, and even above the main house.

There's quite a lot of content to explore in that one location, and plenty of clever puzzles to work out as you try to reach a closed off area, nab a key, access an object, and so on.

While the puzzles can be difficult, they aren't ever completely illogical or devoid of a clear solution. If you take the time to explore and think about how items in the game are connected, it won't be too frustrating to reach the next area.

The opening cinematic for instance actually shows you exactly what object you need to get and how to get there to work through Act 1, but if you aren't looking for the clues, you could easily miss what's right in front of your nose.

 How do we get past this guy?

Many of the same types of puzzles and objects from the alpha builds return, but they are arranged in different ways now so you can't just repeat what you've done before. There's still the magnet gun for instance, and having to use boxes to create ladders or break windows, but the layout is completely different.

Actually getting past the neighbor and unlocking the basement, which was previously the ultimate purpose of the alphas, is now just the beginning. There's much, much more to explore now as the game builds on previous concepts in each successive act.

Along the way new players will have to learn from trial and error how to draw the neighbor away from unexplored areas, using a combination of stealth and speed, and open new routes or close off old ones so he can't catch you as easily.

The whole experience is wrapped up in fabulous sound effects and a wonderfully odd visual style, like Wallace and Gromit collided with We Happy Few. Style is easily the game's strong suit, and it's used to stunning effect in several notable locations.

 A table missing its family, centered around a painting of a mustache with shelves for platforming... that's Hello Neighbor in a nutshell!

The Bottom Line

Having played the game in various early iterations and watched new players give the full build a go, I'm left wondering if those who devoured the alphas will get more out of Hello Neighbor than anyone just now jumping into the fray.

In particular, there's a major sense of satisfaction just in seeing a lot of the concept art come to life in scenes that weren't present in the previous builds. TinyBuild Games also utilizes a really clever use of player knowledge on gameplay mechanics to give you a sinking sense of despair when you reach the end of Act 1. You can practically hear Bender saying “well, we're boned” when you reach the end, and then there's an unexpected twist and satisfying opening to the second act.

Totally new players who didn't puzzle things out in alpha, on the other hand, will probably be more than a little lost. Sadly, there are still some game mechanics not explained well, like that you have to hold E to pick up objects, not just press it, or that the longer you hold right click the farther and harder an object is thrown. 

Some of the controls themselves are also still a bit wonky -- simply figuring out how to jump up objects without bouncing off takes some major effort.

 Your first time carrying boxes up to the roof will be an exercise in frustration

Despite all the alphas and feedback, there are still some bugs as well. For example, if you are noticed and start a chase, but then quickly manage to get in a spot where the neighbor can't reach you -- like up on a segment of roof – the game will crash as the neighbor tries to go somewhere he can't physically access over and over.

Furthermore, there's the issue of game length to keep in mind. Depending on how good you are at puzzle solving (or how often you are referencing guides), we're talking about 5 – 8 hours or so of content. While that's on par with any given shooter's campaign these days, keep in mind there aren't any other game modes.

Replay only involves mopping up remaining achievements you might have missed or trying to tackle the challenges in different orders. The AI does change up its tactics based on how you play, so there's different ways to be caught or successfully hide, but probably not enough to warrant playing through more than once or twice. 

There are plenty of differences between each act's layout and puzzles, though, so its not the exact same experience all the way through and has plenty of variation.

While the game is short and lacking in clear direction, it does excel on nearly every other front. The visual aesthetics are eye-popping, the story is intriguing, and the stealth/puzzle mechanics are satisfying. For an indie excursion that tries something unique, Hello Neighbor is mostly a success, and well worth checking out.

RF8 Flight Simulator Review: A High-Flying Ace Fri, 08 Dec 2017 16:36:12 -0500 Jonathan Moore

There was a time when flight simulators were all the rage, when the likes of Microsoft Flight Simulator, Falcon, and X Plane ruled the digital skies. Things have invariably changed since then, with flight simulators taking a backseat to many other genres and subgenres in the pop culture gaming sphere. However, that doesn't mean flight simulators don't still exist -- and it also doesn't mean there aren't some out there well worth your time, even if you aren't an enthusiast.

When I first received my review copy of Real Flight 8, one of the more popular franchises in the simulator subgenre, I wasn't sure I'd even remember how to get back in the pilot's seat. I hadn't played a flight simulator since Microsoft Flight Simulator 98. But once I installed everything and booted it up, I found that Knife Edge Software's newest offering made that a cinch. 

Even though it's predominantly an RC trainer and aerial simulator that revolves around hands-on training, RF8 made me feel like an ace -- and reminded me how much fun flying a digital airplane can be. 

Unboxing Real Flight 8

It's true: not many game reviews start out with an unboxing, but with Real Flight 8, there's quite a bit in the initial package worth going over if you opt for the $179 Interlink controller package. If you've already got a radio or controller and are only thinking about getting the game, you can skip ahead. 

Out of the box, you'll get the RF8 game disc, the Interlink-X controller, a JR/Hitec radio cable, and a micro plug adapter for square-port support on Futaba radios. Having such flexibility right off the bat is great, especially if you already have one of those compatible radios on hand -- or want to switch out for practice, familiarity, or comfortability. That's not to mention that offering two packages (one with a comfortable, hyper-realistic controller and another with just the game itself) is something you don't see every day. 

Sure, the price for the average gamer is a bit high, but considering what you get for the money, it's well worth the initial investment.

Taking RF8 to the Skies 

Thanks to the plug-n-play nature of the Interlink-X and the game's swift install time and easy-to-navigate startup menu, getting behind the controls in RF8 is faster than a MIG-29. It was a bit strange that the game immediately dumped me on the runway and sent my plane zipping off into the wild blue yonder right out of the gate, but that's because I'm so used to pressing "start" or "new game" in a menu overlay -- and I had the Interlink-X's throttle accidentally set to maximum, so that's my bad. 

But what I did absolutely love about it was that I was in the sky in mere seconds after crashing my first RC in that initial debacle. I didn't have to set anything up. I didn't have to download anything. I didn't have to choose my difficulty. I was simply in the game. 

Buzzing off the runway, I pirouetted into the vibrant blue sky, twirled around, and shot off into the distance. The controls, even though I've never flown an RC plane, immediately felt comfortable and responsive. The Interlink's layout is intuitive despite its many controls, and its sensitivity is tough yet rewarding, teaching you how to keep your aircraft aloft and on-track on the fly. 

For those who might be worried they don't have the chops to pilot one of RF8's 140 planes, helis, or drones -- or maybe need a refresher on radio controls before taking to the sky -- Real Flight has plenty of in-game training and tutorial videos you can watch at any time. Some cover basic flying mechanics such as pitch, yaw, and acceleration, while others cover advanced mechanics such as heli hovering, pitch cyclic, and roll cyclic. 

That's another aspect of RF8 that I really appreciate. Sure, it throws you on the runway right out of the gate, but it's got plenty of tutorials to slow things down and educate you along the way. Of course, most vets won't need these, but for us newbies, it's great to see a game built for experts and new players alike. Lowering the initial barrier to entry, RF8 does what a lot of other games try to do -- but ultimately fail at. 

Now, that doesn't mean I can pilot a damn helicopter very well, but that's another story ... 

Real Flight 8's Graphics and Sound Design

Running on a Powerspec G427 with an Intel i7-7700k at 4.2Ghz, 32GB of RAM, and a GTX 1080 graphics card, RF8 looks great in 4K. Of course, it wasn't necessarily built for that high-end resolution, so there are areas that take a graphical hit when upscaling. Aircraft and the immediate runway and surroundings are vibrant, lush, and gorgeous. RF8's water is nearly as pretty as Fallout 4's. 

Where things start to get a bit muddy, however, is when you look off into the distance: far away mountains and valleys, trees and fields, buildings and pirate ships -- all can look painted on at times. One desert map has a distant mesa climbing into the sky that's completely flat, looking as if it were simply smudged onto the horizon. This issue is most noticeable when using RF8's chase camera as you fly around the map, but if you're using fixed camera mode, these blemishes are less obtrusive. And since most players will stay focused on their aircraft while playing, it's not something that will inhibit many players from enjoying the game. 

Zipping over to the sound front, RF8 does a good job of recreating true-to-life RC and aircraft sounds, both on the runway and during flight. Engines rumble and propellers buzz as you'd expect, and the audio stays consistent throughout the game. 

Vast Customizability

It's not just the radio controller you can customize in Real Flight 8. Whether you want to tweak the game's physics from beginner to realistic, fly with limited fuel reserves, or change the direction and speed of the wind, you can almost fully customize your RF8 experience. 

What's more, you can even edit the game's individual aircraft and airports, aspects I found the most interesting and engrossing. Don't like where the fuel tank's located on the B-25 Mitchell? Move it (but at your own peril). Don't like the sky color on the Soccer Field map? Change it to pink, purple, or cyan. Don't like that the desert map doesn't have any water? Add a huge lake and grove of trees to change things up. 

You can add myriad components to any and every airfield in the game, change the sun's inclination, and set where your planes spawn. On top of that, you can change the length of the wings and tails on your aircraft, gear weights, and deflection parameters. 

At the end of the day, the customizability here really is amazing, dramatically adding to the game's replay and training value. 

The Verdict

Sure, RF8 is a bit on the pricey side for the average gamer -- but this robust flight simulator isn't really geared toward that audience. Although it has multiplayer features, combat simulations, and obstacle courses, Real Flight 8 is much more a training and educational tool for current and aspiring RC pilots. 

With hours of instructional videos, tons of free add-ons and expansions, robust, hyper-realistic mechanics, and hundreds of aircraft, RF8 is well worth the price. It delivers what it promises and is the perfect stepping stone between RF 7.5 and RFX.

You can buy RF8 on the company website. 

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Real Flight 8 for review. The game is VR compatible, and that functionality will be added to this review.]

NEXT JUMP: Shump Tactics Review: Jumping Into Strategy's New Frontier Fri, 08 Dec 2017 14:25:36 -0500 ThatGamersAsylum

NEXT JUMP: Shmup Tactics is an indie title that combines turn-based strategy and shmup/bullet hell games into a nice, roguelite package. While the game technically takes place in a sci-fi world filled with traditional high-fantasy races -- like orcs, elves, and dragons -- there really isn’t any story to talk of here outside of an intro cutscene that establishes a world that runs on alcohol. Alcohol that the dragons stole. Ultimately, it is this that serves as your call to action.

Riding The Dragon

The Basics

To actually catch a dragon, you must perform “jumps” across the galaxy in order to eventually catch and kill them. You accomplish this by choosing what path you want to take through the nebulas on the star chart. Doing this initiates combat, as the dragons send forth legions of drones to get in your path.

On these small, screen-sized battlefields, you have three turns to kill as many enemies and gather as much scrap (money) as you can while surviving. You take actions on a grid until you run out of energy -- aka the ability to take actions -- at which time your turn ends.

Three turns might not sound like a lot, and at the start of a playthrough it really isn’t. But once you start purchasing upgrades that increase your energy capacity and movement ability, then things really start to heat up. This is especially thanks to the fact that enemies drop energy orbs when they die, thus allowing you to string together multiple kills. And this works well; there is something extremely satisfying about starting a turn with a screen full of enemies, only to then end the turn with nothing left but a ton of scrap to pick up.

Semester Abroad (in Space [Chasing Dragons {for Alcohol}])

The intricacies of this game bear the markings of some of the best strategy titles: easy to learn, hard to master. While early on I understood how to play the game, it wasn’t until a few hours in that I really “got it.” And it was at that time that I really felt everything come together. Understanding how close you can cut by enemy bullets, the AoEs for certain attacks, or just the simple fact that sitting on the same tile as an enemy doesn’t hurt you were all learned experiences and slowly led to me employing sharper strategies over time. This might sound obvious, but many strategy games fail to force you to do that, or they neglect to provide you with the tools to make tighter strategies.

Ships Make the World Go Round

Even better is that all of the six ships -- two from release, two from a free DLC, and two you unlock -- truly feel unique from one another. The Ballista is a long-range ship whose basic attack actually recoils you backwards. The Hammer is a much larger, less nimble ship that charges forward into oncoming enemies with a shockwave that hits everything around it. The Shield can reflect enemy shots back, turning its main attack into both an offensive and defensive weapon. The Sword, my personal favorite, is actually a large energy “sword” that you can activate to slice through foes with ease. 

Welps and Warts

There were myriad small issues I faced with combat, which I detail below, but one of the larger ones comes in the form of enemies' energy drops. Since they are dropped right where they die, it is usually most advantageous to move on top of an enemy, then use your attack to ensure you instantly pick up the energy, which usually completely replenishes it. This means that direct, close-range strategies are usually the ones that are rewarded most; consequently, the Ballista is a lot harder to play. In short, it feels like the system was created to specifically incentivize close-range combat, which pigeonholes units into particular strategies at times.

The Morning After

A lot of the trouble this game gets into comes from its inability to display combat information properly. In the chaos of battle, you could easily have four or five overlapping sprites on one tile, so jumping somewhere you thought was safe can actually result in your death. Add certain enemy attacks -- but not all -- that will scroll from the top of the screen to the bottom without warning (or a logical basis), enemies that can teleport on top of you to cause damage from seemingly any range, harmful projectiles and energy pickups that look painfully (pun intended) similar, AoEs for explosives that are extremely vague at best, and hitboxes that are inconsistent, and you quickly realize that it is extremely easy to get damaged in myriad ways without even knowing it. In fact, twice I died in gigantic explosions and couldn’t figure out how or why it happened for the life of me. The literal life of me, mind you!

Roguelite Problems

Combine this with the game’s yearning to be a roguelite, and it can come across as quite draconian. For instance, your max HP is 4, but ships start with anywhere between 1-3 HP. Enemy attacks deal at least 1 damage if you get hit, but some, such as toxic attacks which deal residual damage, can easily one shot you. The real problem here is not that you have a small amount of HP and that it is easy to die, but rather that most of my deaths were caused by things that I could not even see. Roguelites are supposed to be challenging, broadly speaking, but when the majority of the challenge, and my deaths, came from things that were almost impossible to keep track of or just downright buggy mechanics, it could become frustrating fast.

I don’t want you to get the wrong impression: most of the stuff worked properly 95% of the time. But when you need borderline perfection to be able to get through a gauntlet of challenges, your personal margin of error shouldn’t be cut into so drastically thanks to the game’s own margin for error.

The Supporting Cast and Other Misc. Items

A lot of the game’s supporting systems are small in scale and scope. There are a handful of “environments” to fight in, including an asteroid field, nebula, solar winds, and storms. While these are interesting from the onset, they quickly grow stale.

Likewise, certain locations have SOS signals or unidentified signals, but there’s only a small handful of various dialogue options you can receive, so that too becomes mundane relatively quickly. Progression for your ship is also relatively straightforward. You buy upgrades for your battery (determines the number of actions you can take), engines (determines how far you can move per energy), hull (HP), and basic attack. There are also secondary weapons and accessories that you can buy, like mines, missiles, or teleporters. But after playing for a couple hours, you will have seen all the various items that you can possibly see. Only a couple of these actually left a lasting impact.

On one hand, this feels bad. I’d love to have more content to play through since the base gameplay is so fun and the setting is charming. On the other hand, I realize this is a small indie game that costs $5, and that small size is going to be apparent in some places.

The art direction and music direction aren’t anything particularly unique -- they’re just standard fare for an indie title -- but they get the job done. The game does have somewhat frequent typos, but nothing too egregious. There were also a couple glitches here or there, like being able to use certain menus when you shouldn’t be able to, but nothing that broke the game.


The real star of the show in Next Jump is its combat, both because it is the best, most developed part of the game and because it is how you will spend the vast majority of your time with this title. Everything else is generally serviceable, whether it be the upgrades, weapons, or overworld map. While there are a handful of frustrating problems mixed in, I feel the unique premise and successful execution of said premise really make the game come to life. If you’re a fan of strategy, shmup, or roguelite titles, then you should definitely give this game a chance.


A copy was provided for review by the developers. 

Logitech G703 PowerPlay Mouse Review: Reinventing Wireless Gaming Fri, 08 Dec 2017 12:00:14 -0500 Jonathan Moore

Logitech has been in the peripherals business for a long time -- since 1981, to be exact. And what put the company on the map was its attention to detail, its engineering prowess, and its damn good mice. In the 36 years since the company came onto the world's stage, Logitech has expanded its peripherals catalog to include gaming keyboards and top-of-the-line gaming headsets. But the mouse remains one of its biggest, most reliable products. 

The Logitech G403 Prodigy gaming mouse wasn't the company's first attempt at making a revolutionary gaming peripheral, but it was one that proved widely popular with fans of the brand. It's a wired mouse that provides immense accuracy and speed, and a mouse many pros and competitive players swear by. But the next logical step in iterating that mouse meant it should be wireless. 

Enter the Logitech G703 PowerPlay wireless mouse. At $99, it's a bit more expensive than the years-old Prodigy, even though it looks exactly like it on the outside. However, what's on the inside of the 703 is what sets it apart.  


Out of the Box

The G703 comes packaged in an unobtrusive box that keeps its various parts well organized -- and can double as a nifty carrying case if needed. Inside, you'll find the mouse itself, a charging-data cable, a wireless extension adapter, a lightspeed-enabled nano receiver, and a 10g weight. In the mouse itself, you'll find a lithium-ion battery and a PowerPlay charging cookie. 

The about 4.5-foot-long charging and data pass-through cable is braided and made of high-quality composite. It's flexible but sturdy enough to ensure you won't get any shorts in the wire itself over hours of use. Being that it's a tad on the thick side does means that it can sometimes catch on the edges of certain mousepads, such as the thick sides found on the SteelSeries Qck Prism, which can somewhat impede mouse movement depending on your setup. At any rate, you'll really only use the cable when charging the mouse if you're not using its PowerPlay functionality or want a wired alternative, so most players won't come up against this issue anyway. 

Looking toward the wireless front, and to what this mouse is really all about, you'll find in the box a wireless lightspeed nano receiver and a wireless extension adapter. The former is what provides the G703's game-changing wireless capabilities, while the latter allows you to bring the lightspeed receiver closer to the mouse, giving you a better, purer signal if need be. 

Finally, the 10g weight is for those who find the G703's 107 grams a bit too feathery. Inserting the weight into the bottom of the mouse is extremely easy and takes about five seconds to do. However, using it means you won't be able to take advantage of the mouse's PowerPlay charging features. Consequently, using the mouse's weight is really only an option for those not using the mouse's wireless charging functionality, which seems like a bit of an oversight by Logitech. 


G703 Design

There's no way around it: the G703 looks identical to the G403 Prodigy. From its ergonomically curved architecture to its six programmable buttons, the G703 doesn't do much to distinguish itself through its outer shell. The only real noticeable difference is that its body doesn't sport the complete black finish of the Prodigy. Instead, you can get the G703 in both a grey/black color scheme and a black/white color scheme, the latter of which pops when coupled with the mouse's elegant design. 

Made for palm- or claw-grip styles, the G703 feels great to hold for both long and short periods. I often found myself switching between styles for different games and different scenarios without a single hitch. I preferred the mouse's slicker matte finish to the grainier finishes of other mice, such as Logitech's own G603, a mouse that also imitates the 703 and Prodigy. And I loved the mouse's rubberized sides, which helped me better grip the mouse and keep it firmly in control. 

On top of that, the 703 has the same six fully programmable buttons as the Prodigy and G603: the right and left mouse buttons, two lateral buttons on the left side, one below the scroll wheel for DPI cycling, and one on the mouse wheel itself. The peripheral's LMB and RMB are clickable from the tip of the mouse to about halfway up the 703's body -- and they're rated for 50 million clicks. The DPI is nicely placed and easy to reach, and the mouse button itself provides a nice, meaty click when depressed. 

On the underside of the mouse, you'll find the switch to turn it on, the circular area for the weight and/or PowerPlay cookie, and two feet. Although I've seen some complaints that the feet provide a bit too much friction because of their placements at the front and back of the mouse, I never felt as if they impeded my use of the 703. 

G703 Performance and LightSpeed Technology 

Since the dawn of the digital age, man has dreamed of going truly wireless, while retaining the robust performance of the wired mouse. And for a long time, that was simply unachievable. But -- if I may be a tad bit melodramatic -- that day has finally come with Logitech's LightSpeed wireless technology. 

In my day to day, whether it be gaming or pounding out gear reviews and news, I exclusively use wired mice because of two reasons: One, that's mainly what we have lying around the office, and two, wired mice are so damn reliable. Historically, lag and latency have plagued wireless mice, keeping them from being the go to for a lot of gamers, especially those in eSports and the competitive scene. 

Using the G703 for more than a month playing games like Battlefield 1, Battlefront 2, Fallout 4, Endless Space 2, and Paladins, I can definitively say that G703 is as accurate -- if not more accurate -- than any of the wired mice I've reviewed this year. Click latency is virtually nonexistent, and using the PMW3366 optical gaming sensor in conjunction with Lightspeed means the G703's motion latency is top of the line. Getting headshots in BF2 with the 703 is a cinch, and commanding units in Endless Space 2 is effortless. 

Using zero smoothing and no pixel rounding, the G703 completes its responsive arsenal with technology that ensures accurate sensitivities even at high DPIs. As someone who typically plays with his DPI somewhere in the 800-1,000 range, toying with higher settings was a breeze with these functionalities, and I even found that I was more accurate scaling up my typical settings.  

PowerPlay Wireless Charging 

Even when gamers choose wireless mice over their wired brethren, those gamers still have to plug their mice in to charge them. It might be a bit pretentious, but plugging and unplugging cables can be a real pain in the keester -- and having dangling cords can pose other problems, too, the least of which is aesthetic. But Logitech has solved that with true wireless charging in the G703. 

Using the PowerPlay charging mat, which we reviewed extensively here, the G703 never (ever) has to be plugged in. Really. Never. 

The TL;DR of it is that the PowerPlay mat (which is sold separately for $100) uses electromagnetic resonance to create an energy field just above the surface of the mat, which is then converted into a charging current. All you have to do is insert the PowerPlay cookie (receiver) into the slot on the bottom of the G703, and you're ready to go. The mat even has a LightSpeed receiver built in (which sends the main wireless signal over a cable to the computer). 

Without the charging mat, you'll get about 24 to 32 hours of game time before having to recharge. With the charging mat, you essentially get unlimited charging power. In my time using the G703 and the PowerPlay charging mat, I never once had to plug the mouse in to charge -- and that's after playing 36 hours in Fallout 4, 25 hours of Battlefront 2, 12 hours of Endless Space 2, and 15 hours of Paladins

And for those of you who might think the electromagnetic charging field might interfere with the accuracy of the LightSpeed signal, you can rest easy: the mouse functions as optimally with the mat as it does without the mat in that regard. I did experience some stuttering when first powering on the mouse and moving to the extreme outside the widely defined signal area of the mat, but those instances were (very) few and far between and had more to do with the mat than the mouse itself. 

All in all, the G703 works with the PowerPlay mat exactly as advertised, ushering in a truly wireless gaming future. 

Customizability Using Logitech's Gaming Software

If you've owned a Logitech gaming mouse or peripheral before, you're already aware of the vast customizability options the Logitech Gaming Software offers gamers. From setting specific RGB lighting sequences and macros to creating per-game DPI profiles and keeping track of your battery life (if not using the PowerPlay mat), everything you could possibly ask for is at your fingertips. 

And if you're a competitive gamer or want to take the mouse with you to LANs, the G703 provides five on-board profiles that can hold your settings for quick recall. 

The Verdict

On the surface, the G703 looks a lot like the G403 Prodigy. It even has some of the same bells and whistles under the hood. But what really sets this mouse apart from the Prodigy, and essentially any other mouse on the market, is that it's truly wireless -- and ridiculously accurate while doing it. 

At $99, it's well worth the investment if you're looking for a wireless mouse that has all the functionality of its wired brethren. If you're willing to plunk down another $100, you'll have a wireless mouse with infinite battery life. I'm not one to lightly suggest anyone spend $200 -- that's a big chunk of change to drop on anything, let alone a mouse and mouse pad. But what you get for that investment is well (well) worth the price. 

I would have liked to have seen Logitech take the G703 as a chance to iterate a tad bit more on the Prodigy's design -- perhaps add an extra button or incorporate some of the features found in the G603 -- but all in all, the Logitech G703 is a fantastic wireless mouse that reinvents wireless gaming -- and aggressively challenges the status quo in the gaming peripherals space. 

You can buy the Logitech G703 on Amazon

[Note: Logitech provided the G703 mouse used in this review.]

Resident Evil Revelations 1 & 2: Survival Horror on the Go Thu, 07 Dec 2017 15:48:24 -0500 Joseph Ocasio

In January, Resident Evil 7 kicked the year off strong and brought the series back to its roots with a hardcore survival horror experience that ended up being one the best games of the year. Now, Nintendo Switch owners get to enjoy the complete side story of Revelations with Resident Evil Revelations 1 & 2, two titles praised for bringing the series back to basics after the polarizing Resident Evil 6. It's fitting the latest version of these 2 games makes its home on Nintendo's latest console, as the original Revelations started life on Nintendo's other handheld system, the 3DS, back in 2012. It also marks Revelations 2's debut on a Nintendo system, since Capcom decided to not port it to the Wii U. The end results are two solid ports of games that manage to find a perfect balance between old school RE goodness and the newer action focus.


Taking place between the events of Resident Evil 4 and 6, Revelations 1 & 2 has you playing as several different characters from the franchise. Revelations 1 has you primarily taking control of Jill Valentine as she and her new partner Parker Luciani are in search of Chris Redfield, who was last seen on an abandoned ship, the Queen Zenobia. Along the way, you'll have to deal with a new group of bio-terrorists who are out for world domination, and, of course, it's up to the soldiers of the BSAA to put a stop to them.

Revelations 2, meanwhile, has you playing as Clair Redfield (Chris's sister) as she and her young friend, Moira Burton, are kidnapped and forced to survive numerous Saw-inspired traps and trails on a deserted Island, while Moira's Dad, Barry Burton, tries to find them and simultaneously take care of the young girl he finds.

Both stories follow similar plot-lines and themes from past games, such as evil corporations attempting to use bio-tech for world domination and isolating protagonists from the outside world to add tension, but there's just enough new here that it doesn't feel like a complete retread. Both games seem to be aware of the convoluted timeline of the Resident Evil franchise and even have with it, with many corny one-liners and tongue-and-cheek dialogue. Despite a few references here and there, you can go into both games without playing past installments, though series fans will enjoy the various throwbacks  to past games. Just don't go in expecting the same kind of intensity as RE7.

Familiar Evil

Both Revelations titles follow a familiar structure to previous games. The big difference it that each game separates the dozen or so areas you visit into acts and episodes. Each has you exploring and trying to survive various areas to get to the exit and find the next one. Both games are linear affairs, but you'll do a good amount of backtracking through each area to look for keys and other items. Along the way, you'll be upgrading your weapons and solving simple puzzles to break up the action as well. Neither title is mold-breaking, but the formula is utilized well, so doesn't need much changing here.

Each game can be completed in about 6-8 hours, but there's a fair amount of replay value for each. From unlocking additional guns, costumes, and higher difficulty settings, each game has a decent amount reasons to got back and give them another shot. Along with the main campaigns, you'll get access to a fun, if basic, raid mode that you can play online that also unlocks new features for each of the campaigns. Both games also support coach co-op, though you still can't play either story mode online.

The New

One new feature exclusive to the Switch versions is motion controls. They're not quite on the same level as RE 4 on the Wii, but they're competent alternative control schemes, should you choose to play with them. The other new addition is Amiibo support that allows you to obtain various upgrades more quickly or gives you more points you can use to upgrade your skills. But that's about it. Don't worry about which Amiibo, as you can use any of them. The lack of any additional and meaningful features is a bit disappointing, and you'll probably find less of a reason to re-visit these games, if you've already completed them on other platforms.

Survival Action

Both Revelations games control as well as any other competent third-person action game that's been released over the past 10 years. Aiming is mostly solid, and the controls work well across both games. Ammo can be sparse at times, though more so in the sequel, so you'll have to use it wisely. But enemies don't make that easy. With their constant movements, it makes it difficult to get a good lock on them and makes those life saving head shots much harder. Despite this, enemy encounters never feel unfair, so the game is balanced well.

Revelations 1 introduces a scanner that allows you to search the environments for ammo and other items, as well as analyze enemies so they can be dispatched easier. That being said, it's far too easy to over-abuse the system and you'll be finding ammo and health at such frequent rate that the sense of tension and dread that the series is known for is practically non-existent. This puts the original Revelations a bit on the easy side, but it still holds up as a fun action game.

The only thing that that doesn't hold up is the awful dodge mechanic. You press up, just as an enemy is attacking, but the window to do so is so small that it's almost useless to pull off. It's awkward, to say the least, and feels more like an annoyance that anything else.

Revelations 2 is a bit more of what you expect from Resident Evil. The game is more scarce with its items, creating a more intense and challenging experience than with its predecessor. Enemies are most re-used throughout, though. From zombie dogs to the standard enemies you'll fight often, they all just come off as generic. Yet the encounters you have are still just as entertaining and tense, thanks to smart combat design, especially in the boss battles. These fights are, in general, much more creative and interesting, involving interesting creatures as well, like what you'd expect from past games. The inclusion of an ally (Moira) that has her own ability is a much better function than just using a scanner as well. Changing between characters adds another layer of strategy and tension to the mix, as you'll have to switch your tactics on the dime or suffer the consequences. Also, the dodge mechanic actually works!


While the graphics won't blow you away, both Revelations games hold up strong in the art department. The ship from the first game might grow a bit repetitive, but it does a nice job of keeping itself distinct from areas within the RE canon. The best survival horror games make the worlds you visit act as characters in themselves, and the Queen Zenobia does just that, as does the island in Revelations 2

In terms of performance, both run at 1080p docked and 720p in handheld. However, only Revelations 1 runs at 60FPS, where as the sequel now runs at an unlocked frame-rate. It's understandable, given that it's more technically demanding, but it would of been nice to cap it to 30, when jumping form game to game. There were some frame-rate slow downs in the second installment that weren't there in other versions, and you'll need to be prepared to face load times as long as a minute when loading up a level in Revelations 2. It's not too frequent, but it's definitely noticeable. While the music isn't anything to write home about, the sound effects pack a punch, and the voice acting matches the overall atmosphere and setting.


If you've already played both games, there isn't much here to recommend. Though they work a bit better for portable play, you wouldn't be missing much if you just bought both games for $20 at the bargain bin at any store. That being said, if you never played them, they're worth checking out. This sub-series of Resident Evil may not be perfect, but it still manages to do a good job in combining the old style of play with the new.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review: One of the Most Unique RPGs of the Year Thu, 07 Dec 2017 14:51:04 -0500 Autumn Fish

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is Monolith Soft's latest JRPG for the Nintendo Switch. It's the official sequel to the critically acclaimed Xenoblade Chronicles -- a game which I, unfortunately, haven't sunk my teeth into yet. However, it's not a sequel in the traditional sense, where the same old characters go on a new adventure. Rather, it's a brand-new adventure with all new characters set in the same universe.

You're still traveling around on the backs of Titans, like in the original, but you won't be fighting giant mechanical life forms with the mystical Monado. This game has a truly unique sense of identity that refrains from relying on the success of its predecessor without forgetting its roots. So how does it shape up on its own?

This is a massive game, and there's so much to talk about, so for your sanity and my own, I'm structuring this review with a more traditional format. First, we'll go over my thoughts on the story and plot without getting into spoilers. Next, I'll take a moment or two to gush about the gameplay. Then, we'll touch on the graphics and art style, music and audio, and overall performance. And finally, we'll talk a bit about the replay value before wrapping everything up.

The Story and Plot of Xenoblade 2 (Little to No Spoilers)

From the very moment you hit New Game, XC2 introduces the characters and the world absolutely beautifully. First, you get a glimpse of the main character, Rex, who you find salvaging under the water-like Cloud Sea. Upon snagging his haul, he emerges onto the back of a Titan ship, where he eventually spies another Titan dying and sinking into the Cloud Sea. This entire scene cleverly introduces the main character, the Cloud Sea of Alrest, and the grave state of the world in one fell swoop, and it only gets better from there.

Rex's personality is continually strengthed through the first Chapter as you're introduced to a colorful cast of characters, many with their own motives and desires. You're also introduced to Blades and their Drivers shortly before Rex actually becomes a Driver himself. These aforementioned Blades are essentially living weapons that have resonated with and fight alongside Drivers, lending them their power and their weapon.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review XC2 Story and Plot

On an expedition, Rex discovers a Legendary Blade called the Aegis and, in a twist of fate, resonates with her in exchange for promising to take her to Elysium, the World Tree. Now a Driver, Rex embarks on the journey to fulfill his promise in hopes that they might find something at Elysium to save the dying Titans.

The adventure spans the backs and insides of several Titans, each with its own environments and ecosystems. And of course, everywhere the party goes, people recognize the emerald core crystal of the Aegis, which causes countless problems as others seek to control her fate in one way or another. 

On the way to Elysium, the party accomplishes a lot. What's interesting, though, is that the more quests you complete, the more XC2 runs through cause-and-effect scenarios. The main story questline itself is brilliant about doling out consequences for the party's actions, but you'll even find plenty of nice surprises simply by completing side quests. It gives the feeling that they really put a lot of thought into the plot.

Rather in line with the nature of cause-and-effect writing, though, you'll find the story to be quite tragic. There were several moments where I couldn't help but cry, and even just thinking back on them now makes me teary-eyed.

That's really a testament to how great the characters are. They feel real to me. Their personalities are so strong that I feel like I know these characters after only a few interactions. And then they all somehow manage to get deeper and more layered the more time you have with them.

The humor here is really solid, too, in contrast to the cheesy humor found in previous entries. Some of the environments just lend themselves to hilarious interactions between characters that just seem natural. The heart-to-hearts are even a brilliant extension of that much of the time. However, the humor isn't always tasteful.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review XC2 Fanservice

If you're used to playing JRPGs or watching anime, then you're probably already used to this, but there is a bit of "fanservice" sprinkled throughout. Of course, by that, I mean scenes where a female character is awkwardly exposed or objectified in order to tap in on that sex appeal. While some of these scenes did bring characters closer together, I found them largely unnecessary. What's so jarring about the whole thing is that this kind of fanservice wasn't really present in previous entries. I'm just thankful that these scenes are few and far between because the story is otherwise phenomenal.

So yeah, much of the story is conveyed through cutscenes, and cutscenes may not have the best reputation these days, but these ones are stellar. XC2 may have you sitting through 10-20 minutes of cutscenes at a time, but they're so high quality that I feel like I'm watching a flashy anime. I never once felt like they were dragging on or wished they were over so I could get back to the action. It felt like a natural extension of the gameplay that had me thrilled to see what was next.

Additionally, while you don't need to play the first game to understand what's going on, a friend told me that if you have played it, the ending is a lot more enjoyable. I can't vouch for this since, like I stated above, I haven't gotten past the beginning stages of the first game. However, the story of Xenoblade 2 has me so engrossed that I feel driven to go back and give it a proper go.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Gameplay

Part of the reason I never got invested in the series before now is that the gameplay put me off. I didn't like the idea of scrolling across a hotbar on a controller in order to activate combat abilities. I was able to push through it for X because I wanted to fly in a Skell really bad, but I was never really all that fond of it.

On top of that, I never liked the idea of finding items randomly via non-descript crystals out in the wild or all the fetch quests that went with them. The cherry on top was, of course, the confusing mess of menus that I never bothered to delve into out of sheer intimidation.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review XC2 Gameplay and Combat

Thankfully, it seems XC2 fixes most of these issues. Instead of scrolling across a large hotbar full of abilities to activate anything, Arts are now assigned to the face buttons B, Y, and X, with A being used for Special Attacks. To make up for the reduced number of Arts, you can now switch between three Blades mid-combat and utilize their different Arts and Specials.

On top of that, the combat system has been totally revamped. It has a rhythm to it, and if you get really good at it, you have the potential to unleash attacks that deal enormous amounts of damage. If you want to read up on the details of the combat system, check out our combat guide. It's worth a read just to see how they've changed the combat in this iteration -- and I wouldn't want to take up another 1,800 words expanding upon it here.

The gameplay and combat are slow for the first few hours as the game builds up the story and takes its sweet time introducing you to its many systems so that you don't get confused. I followed along with its tutorials really well, but some things take a little bit of practice to get used to. I wish that they would have added an option to review past tutorials in case you forget or missed important details.

As you grow in level and actually start earning interesting combat abilities, the game slowly ramps up in difficulty. It wasn't long before I started to hit a wall with boss fights and couldn't rely on my knowledge of the combat system to win. I had to actually think about fights and use clever tactics in order to survive. Some bosses wiped my over-leveled party more than a dozen times before I finally managed to clear them.

There's plenty more to do than just beat up enemies, though. There are a bunch of pretty interesting sidequests, even if the tasks are generally similar to ones you'd expect from previous installments. I never felt like I was drowning in too many sidequests, either, and the ones that appeared in each area all seemed to take me to unique places. In a way, it felt like they aided in my exploration of the world rather than wasted my time with menial tasks. The improved Quest Log definitely helps with that.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review XC2 Sidequests and Towns

Of course, there are still collection quests, but at least trying to track down the items you need isn't anywhere near as annoying as in past installments. Those crystals are now Collection Points that drop multiple items when you interact with them, and they respawn whenever you make a lap around the map or Skip Travel. Each Collection Point drops specific types of items, and some of your Blades may have skills that allow you to collect more of them, so all in all, it's just plain better.

Speaking of quests, though, there's this compass thing on the top of the screen now that will track quests for you, but I have such a confusing love-hate relationship with it. It does help give me an idea of where I need to go, especially if the objective is far away, but it's extremely inaccurate at indicating just how far to the left or right the objective is from your position. I found it more or less mandatory to open the full-screen map to track objectives down once I got close enough. I appreciate that the compass is good about indicating distance and verticality, but I do find myself wishing it was just a bit more accurate.

On that note, some quests -- even some main story quests -- are bad about telling you how to get to where you need to go. It's led me to a few moments of wandering around without making much progress (but looking back on it, I'm proud of myself for figuring out where to go on my own). If that's not your thing, you may want to look at a walkthrough for those bits because I can definitely see some people being quite frustrated by them.

As you travel from Titan to Titan, you'll discover settlements and towns. These places are full of shops where you can upgrade your equipment and purchase temporary buffs. If you raise the Development Level of a Titan by talking to the citizens, doing side quests, buying stuff from the shops, and completing merc missions, then the shops found on that Titan will expand their inventory and lower their prices. The development of Titans is further incentivized by allowing you to buy Shop Deeds -- special key items that offer passive buffs and bonuses to your entire party -- once you've bought everything from a shop.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review XC2 Gameplay Town Management and Menus

Then there's the aforementioned Merc Missions, which are essentially expeditions that you can send Blades you're not using out on to earn special items, extra funds, and additional experience for your party to redeem at the Inn. It can be a bit of a pain to dive into the menu and micromanage them every 40 minutes or so, but the rewards were definitely worth the break from the gameplay.

Speaking of the menus, although they're still a hassle to navigate, they somehow managed to make them less intimidating. I found myself diving into and utilizing every menu quite frequently, which is a huge step up from how often I dove in on XCX, and my party was definitely in a better spot for it.

However, the frequency of my menu dives may be due to Blade Affinity Charts, which wouldn't update the skills or Trust levels earned through gameplay until viewed. I loved the way Blade Affinity Charts worked, but I wish they didn't make me open a menu every time I earned a new skill. Admittedly, though, this annoyance is far more pronounced in the beginning and becomes a less frequent problem the further you progress in the game.

Overall, the gameplay has a lot of nuances, and the game does a good job of spreading out the introduction of its mechanics in a digestible fashion. I found the gameplay far easier to get invested in than in previous entries, making XC2 the title that I would wholeheartedly recommend to series newcomers.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Graphics, Audio, and Performance

So we're not going to delve too much into the technical aspect of the game, but I do wanna touch on things like the aesthetics, music, voice acting, and performance.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review XC2 Graphics Art Style and Music


The art style has seen an interesting shift. While the series had previously teetered on the edge between anime and realism, the latest installment has doubled down on the former style. As such, some of the character designs have gotten a little wild.

A wide array of artists worked on character designs for this title, and it shows. While some of the character designs are cool and sleek, others are janky and flat-out embarrassing to witness when others are in the room. The word "fanservice" comes to mind, again. Heck, one of the Blades I got had weirdly engorged body proportions and was wearing basically nothing but fishnet made from snowflakes. I mean, I can choose not to use her in my party, sure, but should I really have to hide characters just to save myself from the embarrassment of onlookers catching a glimpse? I'd like to think not, but this is where the sticky topic of censorship comes in, and I'd rather not get into that conversation.

Characters aside, the rest of the game is stunning. The vistas I saw on the back of Titans took my breath away. Staring up at a hill and seeing it sway back and forth as the Titan wanders around the Cloud Sea is absolutely surreal. The design of many of the cities and towns is wonderful to behold. Even the clouds look gorgeous. It's overall a beautiful title if you can work past the misgivings of the character design.


I'm not going to be nitpicking over sound effects here so much as I want to point out the music and voice acting. Xenoblade is known for its amazing music, and XC2 is no different. Almost every track I heard was delightful and had me whistling and humming along. Ever since the game came out, I've had various tracks from its OST stuck in my head, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. There have only been a few tracks I've heard so far that I was even neutral about, let alone didn't care for. This is easily some of the best music I've ever heard in a video game, and I'm reveling in every second of it.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review XC2 Voice Acting and Gameplay Performance FPS

As for the voice acting, I think it's phenomenal. Both the English and Japanese casts are excellent. I personally prefer the English voices because I think they fit the characters a heck of a lot better, but I can't deny that the Japanese voice cast is strong and recognizable. The lipsync is pretty bad at times, but it never bothered me.


XC2 runs at 30 fps a majority of the time. General combat is pretty smooth for the most part, and traveling around the world is, too. However, there are some spots where the game tanks down to about 22 fps, and it can be pretty disorienting, especially when you're trying to keep the rhythm of combat going. It's kind of what you'd expect from an open-world game, so it doesn't really detract from the experience, but it's something to note nonetheless.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Replay Value

Is this the kind of game you'd want to replay after finishing it? Or better yet, is this the kind of game you'd continue playing after the credits roll? Well, yeah, probably. And it's in large part due to one specific system.

You acquire new Blades by resonating with Core Crystals. It's fashioned much like loot boxes are in other games, in the sense that which Blade you get is completely random, but thankfully there are no microtransactions involved with them.

There are well over 30 unique Rare Blades to collect, and aside from the 8 or so you find through the main story, the rest are all earned in this fashion. When you open a Core Crystal, you have a chance to get a Rare Blade. On Common Cores, that chance is rather low, but it's still possible. On Rare Cores, you're more likely to get a Rare Blade, but it's far from guaranteed.

What's more is that each of these Rare Blades has a unique personality, and some of them even have skills that are exclusive to them. While it's not required for the story to seek out all of the Rare Blades, they certainly make it worth your while.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review XC2 Replay Value Core Crystals and Blades

Aside from the Blade gachapon, though, each Blade also has its own Affinity Chart to max out for better combat and overworld abilities, and every Driver can upgrade Arts connected to any weapon type, leaving plenty of ways to further strengthen your party after the story has finished.

The rest of the post-game in XC2 is a rather standard affair for the series. There are extra side quests that open up and super-bosses available for you to fight, but there's not any more story to experience past the credits. At least not yet.

The Season Pass does plan on adding a few extra things to keep the adventure going well into the new year. Still to come are new quests in January, a new Rare Blade in spring, a new Challenge Mode over the summer, and finally, new story content arriving in autumn. We'll see how all that pans out when it comes out, though.

Verdict: A Deep RPG That Sets Itself Apart from Its Predecessor

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a fantastic RPG and a welcome addition to the Nintendo Switch library. You'll spend several dozen if not hundreds of hours exploring Alrest and all it has to offer, and it only gets better the more time you sink into it. It's shaping up to be my favorite game of the year, which is a tall feat considering how many great games got released this year.

So why only an 8 when I gave other games higher scores this year? Well, simply put, I don't think everyone's going to be okay with the so-called "fanservice" that they sprinkled into the game. It's far from overbearing, and it doesn't really get too in-your-face, but it's still present, and returning fans may be put off by the sudden direction.

Personally, I'm used to putting up with a little bit of fanservice if it means I get to experience an incredible game -- and some of you aren't going to mind at all. However, I felt like the English localization crew did a pretty good job of minimizing the negative impact that these fanservice-y moments could have on players without going so far as to censor it. I suspect that if I had even just played most of the game with the Japanese voices, this issue would have felt more pronounced.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review XC2 Verdict Deep Unique RPG

Fanservice aside, I really can't think of anything else totally wrong with the game. It's greatly improved upon the gameplay of the original all while managing a story worthy of the Xenoblade title. This game captivates me like no other has in a long time, and I'm still reeling from the wonder of it all.

If you're an RPG enthusiast, an anime connoisseur, or a fan of the series, and you own a Nintendo Switch, you need this game in your library. There's a ton of value to be found here, both in the number of hours you'll get out of this title and in the deep RPG mechanics buried within. You won't regret picking up this gem of a game.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is available now on the Nintendo Switch for $60 with a Season Pass that will set you back an extra $30.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get back to playing Xenoblade. Ciao!

Destiny 2: Curse of Osiris Review Thu, 07 Dec 2017 13:35:11 -0500 Joe Garcia

Destiny 2's first DLC, Curse of Osiris, has finally launched, and it's a breath of fresh air. New story missions, new Strikes, new adventures, and -- most importantly -- new loot await. Let's jump right in!


Curse of Osiris has added new story to deepen the lore behind the legend himself as well as introducing new characters and reintroducing old characters. One old face coming back is Brother Vance. He plays a meaningful role in the story as he tries to help your Guardian out by giving you a way to revive Sagira (Osiris' ghost). Ikora is the one who backs you all throughout the story, which is a nice change, as we get to see a side of her that wasn't shown before in any expansion. 

Not only do we battle the Vex from the past, present, and future, we also fight simulated versions of all of the previous enemies minus the Taken. These simulated versions are a bit stronger, but that's to make up for the increased level cap and Power level. The story is actually one of, if not the, coolest stories we have gotten in Destiny since The Taken King

The only gripe about the story is that it is very short. There are only a handful of story missions, and two of those missions are repurposed very slightly into the two new Strikes. The story really should have been twice as long, and the new Strike should have been brand-new yet still tied into the story. Hopefully Bungie can deliver a heftier story in the second DLC.

New Loot

With any expansion, we always get new amazing loot to chase after. With Curse of Osiris, we get seven returning exotics as well as eight new ones. We see the return of Helm of Saint-14, The Stag, Jade Rabbit, and Telesto to name a few. One exotic that had everyone going nuts was the new hand cannon version of Red Death from D1 called The Crimson. This hand cannon shoots in three-round bursts and has the same perk as its older brother (kills grant health regen), which is an awesome call back to D1

Eververse has a new, updated inventory with new ghost shells that look awesome; new armor that is Vex inspired and badass; and new exotic emotes, ships, and sparrows. The new stock is pretty awesome, and it shows that season two will not disappoint in the loot drops when it comes to the expansion. Did I mention that ornaments have made a return? Yeah, the ornament system is back, and to get them for your armor sets, you have to grind in either the Crucible or whatever activity is listed on the ornament. Nice touch.

Exclusive to the DLC, weapon forging has been added to give Guardians another incentive to grind in the endgame in order to create new weapons that are fused with Vex tech. This is brand-new and a slightly missed opportunity to not have weapons have random rolls that you can grind out to get god-rolls.


The endgame has been tweaked with the additions of the Heroic Strike playlist and Heroic adventures, but it's a bit disappointing that there are only three on Mercury. The new Raid content that has been added is the new Raid Lair in the Leviathan ship. The Lair is the first of two (that we know of) and will have new mechanics, puzzles, boss encounters, and its only specific loot table. So that is a much-needed addition to make the raid feel brand-new again. 

The Strikes haven't changed besides having a higher power level recommendation. As mentioned earlier, the two new strikes are story missions that have been slightly tweaked. That is just lazy and downright insulting. Being a video game programmer is not something that is easy at all, but making two Strikes that are tied to the story without being copied and pasted from the story is something that was 100% needed.

The Crucible has gotten two new maps on Titan that are a blast to play. This is basically the extent of what has been added to the Crucible outside of the new maps and armor ornaments. 


Overall, Curse of Osiris has added amazing moments, character development, and memorable characters to the ever-expanding universe of Destiny. The new loot table is impressive and satisfying as usual, and the longevity of the endgame was extended -- but not by enough to keep us all happy. There is still the Raid Lair set to be released at a later date, and that should keep the hardcore players going after they burn through all the content in a few days. 

Destiny 2: Curse of Osiris gets a solid 7/10. Good yet short story and amazing loot to earn. 

For more game reviews and news, stay tuned to GameSkinny!

Mass Effect: Andromeda . . . Now that the Dust Has Settled Wed, 06 Dec 2017 15:44:01 -0500 KhaosByDesign

Mass Effect: Andromeda is a divisive game to say the least. Many fans hate this latest addition to the franchise, citing it as "the death of Mass Effect," while others genuinely adore it, going as far as saying that it is their favorite entry so far. For me, the game is a mixed bag, with some bad and honestly plenty of good, so now that the community has died down a bit, I figured it was time for me to throw my opinions out there.

OK, let's start off with the bad:

The animations in this game are rough, and I definitely think more time should have gone into testing before release. This can also be seen in the amount of bugs and glitches the game has (we're talking Skyrim level here). 

As for other negative aspects: The story isn't spectacular, the lighthearted options for dialogue aren't that well written (but well delivered, to be fair to the voice actors), and the user interface has no logical design to it. It's honestly just an endless sea of menus and folders, and having to check your email on the Tempest is a pain (I know it was like this in the trilogy too, but now you have the forward stations on each map -- no reason we can't check there). 

Now that that's out of the way, on to what I like about Andromeda -- and there is a lot to like: 

The combat is easily the best the series has had so far. The jump jet adds so much here, allowing the combat to be faster and smoother than in previous installments. Also, the profiles system is fantastic, allowing you to switch out your powers/abilities on the fly, which adds much more variety to the combat than that of previous games. 

The vehicle sections are also the best the series has had so far (which admittedly isn't hard after the Mako & Hammerhead). Exploring these vast, open worlds is actually enjoyable thanks to the Nomad, and while I wouldn't mind having a weapon mounted, vehicle combat isn't really missed. The Nomad handles beautifully, and being able to mod it and customize the paint job was also a nice touch. 

Exploration in this game is great. The worlds of Andromeda are interesting and diverse, each with its own personality, story, and dangers. It's the first time in a Mass Effect game I've landed on a planet and thought, "Let's just pick a direction and see what's out there" and ended up in an unexpected situation. This kept me engaged enough to keep coming back. 

The crafting system here is fantastic, aside from the awful UI I mentioned earlier. With enough resources and research, you can build any weapon you want (I'm personally loving my sticky grenade-firing machine gun with infinite ammo), and it's the same with armor too -- augmentations can grant you a variety of perks to use in the field to boost shields, power cool downs, etc. 

As for characters, now, I know that Mass Effect has a huge roster of brilliant, irreplaceable characters from the first three games, and to some, no newcomer can ever live up to them. I understand this, but at the same time, I found myself getting attached to this new crew. Liam and Cora aren't that great, but Drack, Vetra, Jaal, and Peebee are all brilliant additions to the Mass Effect universe, and I had a blast exploring alongside them. This is helped by the welcome return of Mass Effect 2-style loyalty missions. 

The enemies in this game are also good. Whilst not as bone-chillingly ominous as the Reapers, the Kett serve as decent villains here; their story is interesting, and discovering their connection to the other Andromeda residents gives you plenty of reasons to want to shoot them some more. 

Finally, the ending (no spoilers) was one of the main things I was worried about going into this game. After Mass Effect 3, we needed to end this game on a high note, and it does deliver. The final mission is so satisfying, and whilst the final boss battle is fairly uninspired, the ending as a whole is a positive and a great foundation for future installments. 


So is this the best game ever? No. Does it have problems? Yes. But is it a good game? Definitely.

Whilst not quite living up to the hype following the original trilogy, Mass Effect Andromeda provides us with a solid foundation to relaunch the series away from Shepard and the Reapers. It feels very much like a spiritual successor to Mass Effect 1 rather than a sequel to Mass Effect 3, and I can understand why this isn't what some people were looking for. Personally, I think it's what the series needs to keep going.

I'm giving Mass Effect: Andromeda a 7/10.

Inmates Review: Horror That Doesn't Go the Distance Tue, 05 Dec 2017 15:54:58 -0500 Sarah Elliman

Horror has been an uncharacteristically popular genre in recent years because of massive hits like Five Night’s at Freddy’s. Gamers are constantly waiting for a new horror experience that sends shivers down their spine while innovating the genre. Sadly, Inmates is not that horror experience.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Inmates' music and ambiance were completely nailed. The music and the timing of sound effects create connections in your mind between the horror and your actions. Inmates'  opening sequence is a perfect example of this correlation. As you are climbing the spiral staircase up towards the hanging bell there is an eerie and unnerving atmosphere. Every time the bell tolls the world shakes and debris comes crashing down. It makes you feel as though you’re waiting for something bad to happen and fear envelops you with an iron grip.

Inmates also has silent, tense moments as well. For example, when you first talk to Ben the sound effects are toned down. Contrast this to the overwhelming whispering and clattering that you experience beforehand and it sets you on edge.

The timing and the use of the sound effects and music were what originally set me on edge and made me believe Inmates was going to be an effective horror experience.

More Than Just Dark Environments

Inmates' graphics and set pieces are other aspects that set it apart from its competition while being enjoyable. The environment of the prison was incredibly well done without being over the top. The environments were beautiful in a horrific way and honestly stunned me on multiple occasions.

Considering I was playing on the medium graphical settings for this game, it was stunning and awe-inspiring when looking at some of their set-pieces. The aforementioned belltower scene bell had some of the best lighting effects I have ever seen in an indie title. The god-rays that filtered in from the grates above and the illumination of the bell created a wonderful centerpiece.

In fact, the set pieces were the real stars in Inmates. There was one that I will remember for the rest of my life. At one point, you must walk across a plank of wood with several bodies hanging down. The lighting is dim, but what light does illuminate the scene is tinged red. Nothing moved for quite some time and there was no jump scares, but my heart was pounding and that should be the goal of psychological horror games.

In addition, many parts of the game just looked aesthetically pleasing. At one point you see a crash that is frozen in time. Whether it be the rain on the ground or the headlights produced by the car, everything looked phenomenal. 

A Rushed Story-Line

The story-line and progression of fear that should emanate from the player throughout this genre are what makes a frightening experience truly memorable. You want to believe there is an underlying sense of tension and complete isolation. Inmates doesn’t offer this.

Inmates biggest issue is that the story doesn’t kick in until the very end of the game. The fact that the game is so short (you can beat it in a couple hours time) means it's even more pressing that the story is present throughout. The first three-quarters of the game has you running around from one objective to another with the stakes never truly increasing. At times, it feels less like a psychological horror game and more like a tour around a prison.

Throughout this first portion, the only intel you receive is via notes or books left around the prison. This is a tried and true method that works well when done right, but sadly a lot of the notes added nothing to the narrative's progression. There were lots of bible quotes and philosophical debate, wherein Machiavelli and Descartes were mentioned, but the prominence of their works didn’t feed into the story. Inmates appears to have tried to set the stage but failed to follow through with the rest of the game.

The twist towards the end -- which I won't spoil-- was intriguing and it is a topic not many horror mediums have explored. It’s very Stephen King-esque, but without the flair and excellence of his writings. If Inmates had integrated this in the earlier portion of the game, they could have explored a topic that has been neglected by many other creators in this genre. Inmates had the idea and the tools to forge a fantastic tale, however, the nuances and the ability to carry the story consistently were not present. 

Never Fear! The Walking Mechanic is Here!

Inmates' mechanics and pacing were other frustrating aspects. You wander aimlessly from one area to the next with virtually no interruptions; even when there are you don’t feel any sense of danger to your life. One run-in with Roy was enough to show me that for all the ambiance the game tried to set, there was no danger here. You could say that a psychological horror game should thrive off of the atmosphere it creates to instill you with fear. But since the game doesn’t follow through, in this case, you learn to ignore the atmosphere.

Originally, I believed that the lack of the running mechanic meant I was going to have to be careful about what I did, to not get caught. A quarter of the way through and I realized you can't run because there is no threat present. At this point, the atmosphere was destroyed and I began meandering through areas as if I were at a family picnic. 

Inmates had potential. Psychological horror is a great genre to ensure scares without berating players with cheap jump scares, but only if the devs first create a believable atmosphere. Thankfully, Inmates created a wonderfully intriguing environment with ambient sound that projected the horror vibe, but these aspects were not realized to their full potential. The devs merely set the pins up and then utterly failed to ever knock them down.

Ultimately, the lack of a cohesive story throughout the game and the lack of danger (aka actual horror) let it down. Add in mechanics that were neither innovative nor well executed and you have a game that is destined to be lost in obscurity with oh so many other horror titles. 

Have you played Inmates? What were your thoughts on the game? Let us know in the comments below.

Game Review: Light Apprentice Mon, 04 Dec 2017 19:09:29 -0500 Brandon Janeway

I have had the pleasure of diving in to the captivating world of the Light Apprentice, and after hours of game time, I'm left craving more. What initially seemed like a child-like RPG quickly turned into a memorable and captivating experience that many big games can only hope to offer.

The story begins in the depths of a catacombs, where the mysterious Tlob wakes up Nate, the game's protagonist. Together, they must make their way out of the catacombs, where the player has the option of either fighting or escaping the monsters you encounter. 

As a fan of the genre, I was a little skeptical of the game at first, but this game offers more than a typical RPG experience -- and Light Apprentice even manages to outdo many similar games. 

A Living Comic Book

The entirety of the game is presented as a dynamic comic book, giving the world a light-hearted, stylish, and beautiful atmosphere. With every cinematic, you'll see the pages of the comic book turn, which instills a sense of excitement and fluidity in Light Apprentice's approach to storytelling.

The game switches from its 2D style to some slightly more traditional 3D visuals during combat and exploration -- however, even still the game manages to maintain its beautiful aesthetic. The colors and action give Light Apprentice the classic feel of a comic and brings characters to life in a way that many games don't. 

The story is not the most unique in the genre, but the characters and the setting are more than enough to keep you interested. A lot of the fun of the game comes from its story, so all I'll say is that Nate's role is more than meets the eye. The rest of the cast sport a variety of personalities, and their team dynamic is is reminiscent of some of the squads from you favorite childhood game.

The soundtrack does a good job of bringing the interactive comic book to life, with hints of mystery and intrigue that help solidify Light Apprentice's atmosphere. However, if you are expecting a groundbreaking soundtrack, you won't find one here -- this is very much your typical fantasy RPG music. 

Light Apprentice is only the first volume of what is planned to be a four-volume game, so there are still many questions to be answered and lots mysteries to be solved. The first volume only feels like a prologue to what is to come, but I am looking forward to what the sequels have to offer.

Thrust in to the Fight

At its core, Light Apprentice's combat follows fairly standard turn-based JRPG conventions, but it expands on it quite a bit. The game puts you into a pretty simply fights early on, but as the game progresses combat will change a lot -- and for the better. Each of the characters in your party has their own set of abilities that can be invested in, giving them their own unique flair in combat.

One unique combat feature is that you don't necessarily need to defeat enemies in order to win combat. In fact, you can play the game without having to defeat any enemies, instead stunning them and fleeing combat. The decision to destroy enemies or flee is up to you, but each will offer their own rewards and affect character interactions. 

You Get to Choose... Kinda

The biggest decision you will make while playing Light Apprentice will be if you choose to eliminate enemies or if you are going to go the pacifist route. This choice isn't important because of its narrative consequences, but because it will shape the way you conduct battle, forcing you to invest in certain abilities.

You can evolve your characters and invest in the characters you want to see grow. Part of the choice involved is how you want to evolve your characters and which abilities you invest in -- each run through can be different if you change the way you advance your characters.

Light Apprentice also allows you to make some narrative decisions over the course of the story, such as if you want to approach a creature or to attack it. It may allow you to find an item or skip a battle, but there isn't much payoff regardless of which you choose. In the long run, the consequences for your choices are minimal and does not have any effect on the events of the game.

The idea of choice in the game essentially allows the player to play how they want to and attempt to make each playthrough different -- however, no matter how you choose to play, you will still to get the same story out of it.

The Verdict

If you are looking for a brand new type of RPG, then this is not the game for you. If you are looking for a good RPG with a fun and unique setting that will keep you entertained for hours, then Light Apprentice is your game. It will provide a sense of adventure and excitement that many games miss.

My only complaint with the game is that it is too short. However, being the first of a four-part adventure means that more is to come and I look forward to playing the next few volumes.

Light Apprentice is available on Steam, in the Google Play Store, and in the iOS App Store.

SteelSeries Arctis 3 Bluetooth Headset Review: Versatility in a Reliable Product Line Mon, 04 Dec 2017 16:10:00 -0500 Jonathan Moore

As anyone who follows the gaming peripherals space knows, SteelSeries has a knack for iteration. Their catalog of quality gaming mice is evidence of that, with their Rival and Sensei lines being home to many popular -- and highly reliable -- products. And with the Arctis 3 Bluetooth, a lateral iteration on the original Arctis 3 gaming headset, they've mostly struck gold yet again -- this time on the audio front. 

The new headset doesn't address some of the key issues we had with its predecessor; it still doesn't provide the most robust sound when compared to its headset competitors, and it's still not as plug and play on the PC when compared to the Arctis 5 and Arctis 7. But it's got a neat trick up its sleeves that helps it stand out from the pack.


Simultaneous Bluetooth and Wired Audio

One of the things I absolutely love about the Arctis 3 Bluetooth headset is how utterly ubiquitous it is. Instead of strictly being a gaming headset, the Bluetooth version of the Arctis 3 works on myriad devices: your PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, mobile phone, and more. Unassuming and comfortable as always, this set of cans drops the pomp and circumstance of RGB and slick logos to focus on form and functionality. 

Having the option to seamlessly switch between wired audio and Bluetooth audio is something I didn't know I wanted until I tried it. Being a huge music fan, having the ability to sync the Arctis 3 Bluetooth to my iPhone 6S Plus meant I rarely had to take the headset off. Essentially, I could game for a few hours, unplug the headset from my console or PC, and walk out the door jamming some Intervals or Architects without skipping a single beat. 

It's all because the Arctis 3 Bluetooth not only has quality wireless functionality but also the functionality to listen to both wired audio and Bluetooth audio simultaneously -- if that's your thing. 

Doing so can be a bit overwhelming at times and takes some getting used to, but being able to hear in-game announcements and audio while taking a phone call without removing the Arctis 3 is an amazing experience. Couple that with the ability to listen to podcasts or music while playing Paladins, DOTA, or even Assassin's Creed Origins, and you can create your own unique soundscape for any gaming experience. 

Out of the box, you'll get all the cables you need to make it happen: a dual 3.5mm cable for wired PC audio, a standard 3.5mm attachment for connecting the headset to your mobile device or controller, and another hookup that acts as a middleman between those cables and the headset. You'll also get a USB charging cable to charge the headset's Bluetooth battery via a PC or console. 

It's a lot of cables, I know. Keeping up with them all is something I'm not terribly fond of and didn't necessarily like in the original Arctis 3. Although it's a small gripe, I wish SteelSeries had taken the opportunity with this iteration of the headset to consolidate some of the wires (at least into three instead of four). But as it stands, having specific cables for specific uses is something that increases the veracity of the headset in the long run. 

Platform 3.5mm Analog Wireless Bluetooth Surround Sound Engine 3 Support
Xbox One      
Nintendo Switch ✓ (w/ChatApp)    
Virtual Reality    
Mobile Devices    

Still Comfortable, Still Sleek

As intimated above, the Arctis 3 Bluetooth headset is stupid comfortable. Like its predecessor, this set of cans sports SteelSeries' wonderfully pleasant (and easily adjustable) ski goggle headband design. Weighing in at around 10 ounces, the Arctis 3 Bluetooth won't cause any discomfort across the top of the head and doesn't feel heavy in the slightest. 

Its earcups are once again snug and cozy. And the breathable fabric surrounding the 40mm Neodymium drivers doesn't get hot or sweaty across long gaming sessions. In a nutshell, it's still the most comfortable gaming headset I've ever worn. 

As for looks, the Bluetooth version of the Arctis 3 carries over the sleek, understated aesthetic of its predecessor, sporting an unassuming look that won't stand out in a crowd if you decide to wear it in public while listening to a few tunes. And even though its jet black finish is refined, it's a shame that other color options aren't available to complement modern gaming setups and their typical RGB flourish. 

As you move around the headset, the understated design continues on the left ear cup, where users will find the volume wheel and mute toggle, as well as the main cable jack and headphone share jack. It's interesting none of these controls and/or inputs were moved to the right ear cup. But nonetheless, the buttons never feel cramped, and the jacks are easy to locate without ever taking the headset off. 

Lastly, just like the original Arctis 3, the Bluetooth model is highly portable. Being able to rotate each of the headset's earcups and lay them flat means you'll be able to easily drop them into a backpack or overnight bag, which can be especially useful for competitive and eSports players. 

Same Clear Communication

Another area where SteelSeries doesn't iterate on the original Arctis 3 -- but most certainly doesn't have to -- is the Bluetooth's retractable microphone. Whether you're using the headset on your PC, console, or mobile device, communication is clear as a bell with this bidirectional, noise-canceling mic. 

And just like its progenitor, the mic in the Arctis 3 Bluetooth never once cracked or dipped in my time with it, providing crystal clear communication in both gaming and business scenarios. 


The Bluetooth version of the Arctis 3 headset is comfortable, functional, and reliable. It provides fantastic clarity via its microphone, offers insane versatility via its added wireless technology, and sports a 28-hour battery life that only improves its ubiquity.  

However, like the original, I can't recommend it without a few caveats, even if it does do what a lot of other headsets don't. Overall, it's still less plug and play out of the box than advertised, and if it's your first SteelSeries peripheral, downloading and setting up the Engine 3 software can be a pain in the proverbial butt. 

On the sound front, it doesn't provide the robust quality of its cousin, the Arctis 7 -- or of other similarly priced headsets such as the Logitech G533. Sometimes the sound was rich and full of vigor, while other times I could barely hear in-game dialogue or sound effects without pumping the volume to maximum. On top of that, there are no in-line controls for volume or chat, meaning you have to use the controls located on the left earpiece, which may be more or less convenient depending on your style. 

But my biggest concern about the headset is its $129.99 price tag. If you're a strict PC gamer, it's a hard price to justify -- especially with other, more audio-rich headsets in the HyperX Cloud Alpha and the Logitech G433 both coming in under $100 (and the G533 is only $30 more than the Arctis 3 Bluetooth but offers better all-around sound). If you're a console or hybrid gamer, even the other headsets in the Arctis line are more attractive, more affordable options. 

However, if you want the ability to multitask with your audio -- to listen to music and in-game audio at the same time, or to take a phone call while playing without having to take your headset off -- the Bluetooth model of the Arctis 3 is well worth checking out. 

You can buy the Arctis 3 Bluetooth on Amazon

[Note: SteelSeries provided the Arctis 3 Bluetooth headset used for this review.]

Game Review: Ayo: A Rain Tale Sun, 03 Dec 2017 12:15:25 -0500 Lauren Harris

I enjoy a good indie game every now and again. It's probably because I always seem to have a personal connection with the characters. They tend to feel more emotionally involved with their environment, which really resonates with me. Firewatch and Life Is Strange are but two examples of indie games that drag players through an emotional experience like the one I'm about to talk about. Ayo: A Rain Tale is a very interesting adventure-platformer developed by indie studio, Inkline Ltd.

Tragically True-To-Life

Ayo is about a young girl named, you guessed it -- Ayo. She has to fetch water for her family each and every day for them to survive. In order to achieve this, she has to endure dangerous creatures and the harsh sands of Sub-Saharan Africa. The story, although a tragic one, is very uplifting and makes the player understand the hardships that girls and women of Sub-Saharan Africa have to go through for water -- a precious resource that we often take for granted.

The inspirational words that keep Ayo going throughout her journey are one of my favorite aspects of this game. The faith she has in those words keep her going and kept me rooting for her. Using these messages to push Ayo forward really brings the story together in a strong way and goes perfectly with the struggles she has to endure through her long journey.

Visuals That Grab Your Attention

The art-style is bright and radiant, reflecting the warm climate of the African desert. The graphics also look great for a game developed by a small independent studio like Inkline. 

The color pallet has been beautifully chosen, expanding upon the surreal feeling of being alone in the harsh desert that Ayo herself feels. The graphics also work well with this game's atmosphere and gameplay. The game's music is also very impressive. There's an amazing melody that flows with you navigate the landscapes and the beautifully drawn desert. It sets a really nice tone for the story.

The hand-drawn art-style reminds me of Never Alone, which was also inspired by the struggles of a community of people. Never Alone followed the young girl, Nuna, who had to travel a great distance through the never-ending blizzard that threatened the lives of everyone in her village. This is a very similar theme to that of Ayo.

That's where the comparisons end however, as Never Alone taught me a lot about the Alaskan Native people. This is in stark contrast to Ayo, which never sheds any light on the history of Africa or the eternal struggles of her people. Because of this, I never really got the same emotional connection with Ayo that I had with Never Alone, which is a real shame.

I didn't encounter any bugs during my time with Ayo, which was a smooth experience from beginning to end. The gameplay was intuitive and straight-forward, with very few keys to remember.


Ayo: A Rain Tale has a strong story and even though it's a short one, I got a lot out of the hard journey that the titular character undertakes. A history of her people would have greatly benefited Ayo and would have lent weight to the struggles of the people depicted in the game. It's not the greatest game of all time, but it's a revealing look into the real lives of many women and children, who take that long, perilous journey for water every day of their lives.

You can find more information about the country's struggle with this basic human necessity on the UNICEF website.

Tanked: The Red Front Review Fri, 01 Dec 2017 15:43:35 -0500 Joshua Broadwell

Indie developer 10ft's The Red Front seeks to combine WWII enthusiasm with classic arcade shooter action to create something interesting and fun. The main draw here is the fact that you play as the Russian Army on the front often overlooked in popular histories and depictions of the war. The game itself provides a good amount of challenge, though focusing on either the war theme or arcade style would likely have resulted in a better game, as there are some difficult-to-ignore problems that keep it from standing out and succeeding in its mission.

The Basics

The Red Front is set in World War II-era Europe, in what the developers call an alternate timeline of events. You pilot a new, experimental Russian tank in a bid to push back the Nazi threat. The campaign is made up of eight missions, taking you from Moscow through Poland and eventually to Berlin itself. There's also a short training mission that acquaints you with basic controls, weapon upgrades, targeting, and other foundational concepts.

As you'd expect in a game styling itself as a classic arcade shooter, The Red Front emphasizes action and reflex over other mechanics. If you're thinking the campaign sounds awfully short, there's more to it than you might think. The training mission is deceptively simple, true, and takes less than five minutes to complete. However, the difficulty rapidly escalates. The goal in each campaign mission is to survive a set number of enemy waves, with each wave consisting of more enemies and enemy types than the previous, and each lasting about a minute and a half before the next wave arrives.

Your tank has an armor gauge and a health gauge, both of which begin at 100. As you take hits, the armor gauge depletes, and once it's down to 0, the health gauge begins to deplete. If you go without taking damage for a few seconds, though, both meters start to slowly refill. You get three chances to succeed, and there are no in-mission checkpoints. Once you lose (which you likely will at first) you must start the mission from the very beginning.


Most maps are fairly basic, with some burnt or bombed-out buildings and trees that get in the way more than anything else, and that's most of what you'll see over and over again. There are random weather effects, such as rain and snow, and you also get the choice to replay missions at night, which significantly increases the difficulty. At times, it's a chore picking out enemies on the screen, especially if it happens to be raining (dreary-grey and Nazi-grey tend to blend). But there's a useful radar in the lower-left corner of the screen that you'll probably rely on a good deal.

The first waves start out relatively easy, with decent-sized Nazi hordes assaulting your tank. You can choose to shoot them with your standard gun, obviously, or you can run them over, which can be a useful tactic when surrounded. Gradually, some soldiers wielding rocket launchers show up, and eventually, there are enemy vehicles of various types that speedily locate your position and attack relentlessly. You do get some support in the form of a handful of Russian soldiers. The AI is decent, and the support is very helpful, but in most cases, it's short-lived, since your comrades just can't compete in number and quickly get overwhelmed.

Throughout the course of each mission, enemies drop various upgrades and bonuses. These range from refilling your armor gauge or rockets to upgrading your standard gun. Most are useful, though the benefits of weapon upgrades are slightly dubious in form and function. For example, the first set of upgrades has you shoot out what looks to be chunks of ice, and after that, you shoot out beams of electricity.

There's no real reason for the changed appearance, since the weapon itself has no special effect on enemies—only some increased firepower. Moreover, some of the upgraded levels, like the electric beam, actually require you to pause for a moment before shooting again, offsetting the marginal increase in firepower and making one wonder whether upgrading from the snow-cone shooter is really worthwhile.

You'll earn rubles for completed missions and based on your score, which you can use to purchase permanent upgrades, like the tank's armor and so on, and these upgrades do make surviving missions a bit easier. Yet getting to the point where your tank can survive enemy onslaughts is a bit more frustrating than it should be. The first mission itself is quite difficult. I'm not one to complain at high difficulty levels in video games, but this is close to being imbalanced. It's satisfying to finally complete a level, but given the lack of checkpoints, if you don't have, say, 20 minutes to replay a mission until you win, it quickly becomes frustrating, an artificial way of providing length and something akin to greater substance.

The Technical Stuff

The Red Front supports keyboard-and-mouse control schemes and a gamepad, so there's a scheme to fit everyone. Keyboard controls are passable, though moving the tank can feel clunky, and it's easy to get the tank and turret positions mixed to where you find you're moving in the direction opposite the one you really want to go in. Gamepad controls would probably be the easiest for movement, though the precision of the mouse can't be beat. However, I never lost a mission because of moving the wrong way, so it's really a minor annoyance at most, and whatever control style you're most comfortable with should suit you just fine.

The music is non-intrusive but unremarkable, and the graphics are the same, relying on muddy textures and muted tones to set a mood. But neither is the game's main focus, so it doesn't necessarily take away from the experience.

Dodgy Decisions

What's more of a problem is the game's premise. 10ft Games bills this as taking place in an alternate timeline, where the Red Army takes the fight to Hitler himself. The concepts of the super tank, weapon upgrades, and enemy manipulation are based on occult research the Nazis undertook during the war as well. Now, there's not much reason to put story into an arcade shooter. But if a developer does, then it should at least make sense. The Red Army did, in fact, invade Berlin (before the other Allies); it was their presence in the city that prompted Hitler to commit suicide. And the Russian offensive did begin with efforts to expel the Nazis from Russia, before pushing onward to Germany. Other than the fact that Moscow is only optionally snowy in the period when it should have been snowbound, there's not much of an alternative timeline going on here and even less reason to try and include it to begin with.

"But," I hear you say, "what about the occult research? That's interesting, true, and really does play a role in the game!" Until you realize that the subjects the Nazis used for this research were the thousands upon thousands of victims at Auschwitz, Dachau, and the other killing centers in Eastern Europe, which means 10ft chose to try and capitalize (and badly, at that) on those experiences to promote their product. It's one of the major points they use to try and set this apart from other arcade shooters and probably the only historical element that actually makes a difference in gameplay, given how it underpins the concept of weapon upgrades and the ability to mutate enemy soldiers to increase difficulty. Text may not always be the easiest medium for interpreting tone or intent, but it certainly seems the developers treat the subject insensitively and irresponsibly, tossing this out glibly as a selling point without bothering to consider the reality behind the material.

The Verdict

Some are just looking for a good arcade shooter, though, and if that's the case, this one is a bit of a mixed bag. It has solid mechanics and offers good challenge, and for roughly seven bucks, it certainly looks appealing. In the end, though, there's nothing overwhelmingly unique or special about The Red Front, and the balance issues and pointless attempts at creating an atmosphere keep this from being an easy one to recommend, unless you're just using it as a filler.

Black Mirror 2017 Review: A Remake Worth Revisiting Fri, 01 Dec 2017 12:44:58 -0500 QuintLyn

For fans of point and click adventure games, KING Art's Black Mirror may seem like a familiar title. You'd be right. The game is both a retelling of the original Black Mirror Trilogy and a new game in its own right. While there are similarities -- such as the death of one William Gordon, there are plenty of differences. Yes, you go to the manor known as Black Mirror House to  investigate William's death. However, while in the first game you play as his grandson Samuel, in this remake you take on the role of a much closer relative -- his son David.

In both versions, the overlaying theme is the same. Something unknown killed William Gordon and that something appears to be tied to the occult; possibly a family curse. Either way, you're there to find answers but you won't find them easily. You won't be getting much help from the house's inhabitants either.

The Good

Story and Atmosphere

When it comes to world building, KING has done a great job. Particularly when you consider the fact that an adept player will be able to make it through the game in about four hours. During that time you'll meet few characters, but the ones you do are well written and fairly well developed -- considering they don't really want to share many of their secrets with you. That doesn't stop you, however. Before even arriving at the house, you have plenty of clues to get you started. 

The atmosphere is particularly great for a horror game. Admittedly, when I first booted Black Mirror up, I had some doubts. Considering that most "horror" games over the last few  years have been filled with jump scares, I was prepared for more of the same, expected to hate time spent playing the game.  Luckily, I was wrong. There is a bit of that element, but it's so deftly handled. On the few occasions one of them did pop up, it was in a way that left you more curious about what happened rather than wanting to throw your mouse at your computer screen and run out of the room.

The Puzzles

Being a shorter game, there aren't too many puzzles to tangle with. However, the ones that are there are fantastic. You will need to engage in things like mathematical problem solving, but for the most part, they rely on logic and the ability to be extremely observant. The first puzzle I came across stumped me for a few hours. I ended up writing it all down and carrying it into the living room with me to stare at it and wait for an ah-hah moment. It was both gratifying and infuriating to realize I'd simply missed the obvious.

The really interesting thing is that somehow the developers manage to reuse puzzle ideas and build upon them in a way that still makes them challenging to solve -- even though you've "been there before." But again, it's all about being observant and not thinking you already know just because you already did that one thing that one time.

The Not So Good

Challenging Pacing 

Because of the nature of the game -- and the need to at least do some things in a certain order -- you may find yourself wandering around in circles wondering what on earth you missed. At this point, the game can seem to drag out. This is compounded by the fact that you're walking in those circles in a fairly limited space. That said, this is often the nature of point and click adventure games. Sometimes it's just a pain figuring out what in the world you're missing.



Being a point and click adventure game, Black Mirror doesn't have a complex set of mechanics. It does however have a bit of a port problem.  When you first boot up the game on PC, head into the settings and look at the controls menu. You'll note that what you're shown is an Xbox control scheme. Not to worry, the controls are pretty basic: WASD to move, click to look at things, hit a few buttons for menu items such as "I" for the inventory. As new menu items are added, the game tells you what the commands are.

Movement in the game can be a bit iffy. The game's camera rotates on it's own, so you'll find you need to change the direction you're trying to move in order to continue along the same line when this happens. You'll also find it takes a little work to move around things or lining up with clickable points so that they're usable, and you'll often end up going out a door you didn't intend to. It can be a bit frustrating. But, as you get the layout of the rooms down, you'll learn how to work around it.

The effects of control issues aren't just felt in movement, however. As the game goes on, you will find yourself needing to manipulate items in your inventory. This can also be a bit frustrating as you fight to get things to line up in ways that make them usable.

The Loading Wait

The most vexing thing about this game is the loading times. Whether it's entering rooms, or inspecting items in those rooms you will be waiting. And you will be doing both of these things... a lot. When loading in and out of the rooms, you'll primarily be met with a black screen until the room loads. However, inspecting things or using your inventory will result into your character just having to stand there for a bit while the game decides it's ready to let you get going again.

Final Verdict

The above issues aside, Black Mirror is still a really solid game. If you're a fan of mysteries and puzzle solving, it's one you'll definitely want to give a go. 

As far as the value on this game, you'll have to be  the judge. Some people might find the short playtime reason enough to walk away. However, I'll personally note that I've spent a good deal more time playing than four hours. Sure, some of you will make it through in that time, but I'm going to guess most will get more than their money's worth out of it hour-wise.

Fun-wise, there's not question. The game is indeed a good bit of fun -- even if it can be frustrating.

Black Mirror is available on Steam and will generally run you $29.99 -- although at the moment there's a 10% discount available. 

Editor's Note: The game's developer provided GameSkinny with a review copy for this piece.

Enhance LED Mouse Pad Review: Colorful, Functional, Affordable Thu, 30 Nov 2017 11:34:19 -0500 Jonathan Moore

There's a lot that goes into choosing a good gaming mouse pad. From soft cloth to rigid plastic, surface area, and RGB lighting, there's no one-size-fits-all solution -- whether you're focused on performance, look, or both. And when buying a mousepad on a budget, there are tons of options to choose from. Some are better for sniping in games like Call of Duty and Battlefield 1, while others are better for granular unit movements in games like Endless Space 2 and Total War, providing more or less friction based on materials and in-game need 

Accessory Power's Enhance branded mouse pad falls strictly on the side of rigid plastic; it's a model designed for increased speed and low resistance. Like many pads out there, it doesn't reinvent the wheel. And while it may stumble in places, at $30, it does provide the functionality expected of a budget offering while still providing a few bells and whistles that other pads in its price range don't necessarily afford. 


Out of the box, the Enhance mouse pad measures a moderate 14x10 inches, making it a mid-range offering that eschews the typical square design of many other pads for a more rectangular one that promotes extended side-to-side movement. Its size means that it won't take up too much room on your desktop but will provide a relatively sizeable area for sweeping mouse movements when necessary.

Sporting a futuristic design, the slab's matte black surface is emblazoned with cyberpunk-inspired translucent decals on the right and left sides, as well as the transparent Enhance logo at the pad's bottom center. At the top, you'll find the USB socket for the pad's braided power cable and cycle switches for lighting options and presets, the latter of which are neatly tucked into the pad's ASB plastic body to avoid any bulges on the surface. 

Finally, the back of the pad sports a textured, rubberized surface that does a fantastic job of keeping it in place. When compared to my other go-to gaming pad, the SteelSeries Qck Prism, the Enhance takes the (slight) nod here. Not once did I experience any slippage or base movement in my time with it, which is perfect for long gaming sessions or intense competitive bouts. 

RGB Lighting

With RGB lighting all the rage these days, it's little surprise that the Enhance LED gaming mouse pad provides backlighting functionality (it's in the name, after all). Using the power and cycle switches at the top of the pad, you'll be able to choose between seven different static colors (Red, Blue, Purple, Green, Yellow, Teal, and White), as well as two lighting effects, Fade and Rainbow, which cycle through all of the pad's available color options. On top of that, you'll be able to cycle between three brightness options to help you better tune the pad to your liking -- or to match it to your other RGB peripherals. 

In a dark room, the light emanating from the Enhance's diaphanous edges and the translucent designs on its surface were vibrant, yet not too distracting even at the brightest setting. The fade and rainbow effects add a nice contrast to the pad's static offerings but aren't as smooth between transitions as other backlighting presets found in peripherals made by companies such as SteelSeries and Corsair (although at the price, that's somewhat expected). 

When put into a brightly lit room, the RGB lighting falters a bit more. Depending upon the angle at which you're sitting (or have the pad situated), the lighting can appear splotchy, with some sections along the edges producing vibrant light and others emitting no perceivable light at all. On top of that, some colors appear washed out along the sides and on the top of the pad depending on the lighting of the room. For example, the purple can sometimes appear white in areas, white can occasionally appear as a washed out cyan, and yellow can periodically appear the hue of lemon-lime Gatorade. 


As you'd expect, the rigid plastic surface of the Enhance lends itself to speed, agility, and low resistance. That means it's not entirely ideal for first-person and third-person shooters like Call of Duty, Paladins, or Battlefront 2 -- especially when using a gaming mouse at higher DPI settings. Instead, the Enhance is more suited to subtle mouse movements that might require rapidity to execute, such as flicking between units in StarCraft 2.

During my time with the pad, I tested it with the SteelSeries Rival 310 gaming mouse, as well as the Logitech G703. Playing BF2, Paladins, and Fallout 4, I didn't notice any perceivable mouse float at lower DPI settings, but at higher settings, the slickness of the pad's surface definitely impeded my accuracy, causing quite a few errant shots. In essence, I was able to move the reticule quickly toward a designated target, but it was difficult to stop the reticule precisely and deliver a killing blow. 

Using AimBooster and comparing the Enhance to another rigid-top pad in the Qck Prism -- which provides a bit more friction than the Enhance -- I was able to confirm my observations. Through more than 80 individual tests, I found that my average accuracy with each mouse was greater with the Qck, while my speed was increased with the Enhance. 

Note: In the table below, Avg. Speed denotes the average speed at which I was able to hit targets within a 60-second window using AimBooster. 

Mouse Mouse Pad DPI Avg. Speed Avg. Accuracy
Rival 310 Enhance LED 800 2.93s 91.70%
Rival 310 Enhance LED 1600 2.98s 92.71%
Rival 310 Qck Prism 800 2.84s 94.71%
Rival 310 Qck Prism 1600 2.91s 94.70%
Logitech G703 Enhance LED 800 2.93s  92.20% 
Logitech G703 Enhance LED 1600 2.96s  90.01%  
Logitech G703 Qck Prism 800 2.82s 95.12%
Logitech G703 Qck Prism 1600 2.86s 93.93%

As you can see, the Enhance surface allows for higher speeds in both the Rival 310 and the G703, but sacrifices accuracy to do so. The Qck's slightly "rougher" surface decreases average speeds but increases average accuracy across both mice. 


Overall, the Enhance LED mouse pad is a decent mid-range option, even if it stumbles in the RGB spectrum, but it isn't the most comfortable slab on the market, and it is easily dinged up.

However, if you're on a budget and looking for a slick, hump-free surface that promotes speed, the Enhance is an option to consider. Its surface performs as you'd expect from a rigid-top pad, and at the end of the day, that's what matters for hard-surface fans that need something better than their pockmarked desktop. 

[Note: Accessory Power provided the Enhance LED mouse pad used for this review.] 

Battle Chef Brigade Review: Seconds, Please Wed, 29 Nov 2017 15:02:29 -0500 Greyson Ditzler (PurplePocketPirate)

Battle Chef Brigade is a game that I have been following for years now. Ever since it first showed up playable at PAX three years ago, it has been casually sitting on the back burner in my head as one of the games I was looking forward to the most. Since my early days of trying out items as ingredients in Paper Mario and serving grilled orange and hamburger mush to Minnie in My Disney Kitchen, I've yearned for just this kind of experimental fantasy cooking game. 

Well, that wait is finally over, as Battle Chef Brigade has finally been released on both PC and Nintendo Switch as of last week. Battle Chef Brigade is the kind of cooking game I've always really wanted but wasn't sure I'd ever get. It's a game where cooking is central and has rules, but it encourages creativity and changing things up rather than forcing the player to stick to a strictly laid-out recipe.

But is Battle Chef Brigade as good as I hoped it would be? Have the four years that Trinket Studios spent on this title shown in the final product? Do we finally have that fantasy cooking game that people like me have always wanted?

Let's take it out of the oven and see if it's done.

Now We're Cooking with Thrash 

Battle Chef Brigade has a bit of a slow start. Nothing too major, but it takes a little while for the mechanics, characters, and setting to be established before you get to your first real Brigade Tournament cook-off. But after that, the story and gameplay move along at an equally competent pace, intermittently spicing things up with new twists and turns as well as new gameplay mechanics and a steadily increasing challenge, which I found to be very enjoyable. 

What this game really nails -- and it better have -- is the cooking. Trinket Studios has successfully combined action-RPG combat and customization with match-three puzzle games and pulled it off wonderfully. The cooking was something I found to be fun and engaging the entire time I was playing.

Trinket Studios set out to make a cooking game where the player is given more freedom to experiment and get creative than in other conventional cooking games, and they really succeeded. There are dozens of different ingredients to be collected from your fallen foes, and they can all be mixed together into dozens and dozens of different, delicious-looking foods. 

You purchase and equip your own selection of cookware and trinkets to customize your play style, drop yourself into the match of the day, and have to please the judges using your combat and puzzling skills. First you receive the theme ingredient from the head judge, learn the flavor preferences of the judges (don't worry, there's only three flavors), and go out into the field to reap your harvest. Then, while under the same time limit, you must play a match-three color-coordinated puzzle game in order to strengthen your dish and defeat your opponent.   

There are a lot of different tasks you have to manage at once, but the more you stay on top of things, the tastier the reward!

The combat feels simple to understand and satisfying, the time limit is just enough to make you feel like you're in a hurry but not too rushed, and over time, you really become familiar with the layout and unique mechanics associated with each arena. There are only three arenas, and towards the end of the game you can tell they're really squeezing all they can out of them, but at least that means they're not under-utilized or poorly thought out.

The various equipable items you garner throughout the course of the story slowly build you a bigger and bigger arsenal of cooking tools to work with, and many of them you receive by defeating certain chefs, some of whom can be taken on in different orders or missed entirely on certain playthroughs. This adds a great deal of strategy as well as replayability to the game as a whole, as there's always another way to approach pretty much any situation.

The gameplay is tons of fun -- engaging without being too challenging -- and it's backed up by strong presentation. Unfortunately, the presentation and story structure of Battle Chef Brigade are where a few cracks start to show, even if they aren't deal breakers. 

Waiter, There's a Fly in My Game Design

Honestly, most of my issues with this game are pretty minor, all things considered, but I still feel like they brought down my overall experience somewhat. Very few of my complaints have to do with the actual gameplay but rather with how the game was presented and laid out.

The first thing that bothered me -- oddly enough -- had to do with the game's graphics. Don't get me wrong, this game looks wonderful most of the time, with its lovingly drawn backgrounds, beautiful color choices, and top-tier character and monster design. The people at Trinket Studios were inspired by the games of Vanillaware, namely Odin Sphere, and it's not just the gameplay that reflects that. The art design is extremely stylized, detailed, warm, and just pleasant to soak in; it gives me vibes of a Winnie the Pooh cartoon co-animated by the crews of Kill La Kill and Steven Universe. 

At times when the various design elements of the game's art style come together, the results are stunning.

But all of these quality elements still didn't distract me from the animation. I'm not saying the game is poorly or lazily animated -- it's just not all that animated period. The game is surprisingly still at times, with most frames in dialogue-heavy cutscenes looking like screenshots, barring the occasional flickering torch in the background or falling rose petals layered over the screen. 

Without trying all that hard, I was able to count the number of frames of animation that most characters had when in motion, and some characters never even move at all. The dialogue in cutscenes being carried out with still-frame, visual novel-style conversations is fine, as there are many different and very expressive frames, and most of the voice acting is very solid and impressively natural sounding. But even in that case, some characters just flat out never move. More than one frequently appearing and plot-important character literally never budged at all, only ever speaking in one locked position without exception, which after not-too-long became very distracting.

I'd like to reiterate that these animation elements by no means make the game unappealing to look at, as the graphics are still very pretty, and I'm sure the devs worked hard on them. But the lack of movement often keeps the game from fully coming to life. Even just a few more details, like blades of grass blowing in the wind, and a a few more frames here and there would have made a big difference in the game's overall look and feel.


Take this cutscene for example. Every blue character is important and has a name. Wouldn't it make sense to color them in to make them pop out more? 

My second issue is with the writing and story. Again, it's not bad, really. In fact, it's usually quite good, with some plot surprises, distinct and likable characters, and solid world building to back it all up. But again, I'd love to have more of it.

I feel as though the character stories that we were exposed to here have only given us a glimpse of the scale and story of the world in which this all takes place, and I don't feel like I got enough of a chance to really get to know a lot of the really interesting characters in the cast.

Delicious Flavors, Small Portions

I suppose my biggest overall problem with Battle Chef Brigade is that in certain regards, I just don't think there's enough of it. The game isn't short by any means -- clocking in at around 13 or so hours for me, not including the time I spent on the challenges and daily cook-offs -- but for how solid the core gameplay is and how interesting the world is, I think there's a lot more that could be done.

That same sentiment can apply to my comments on the writing and animation as well; I'd just like more please. More areas to fully utilize the very fun and thought-out mechanics, more animation to make the world feel alive and show off the quality of the art, and more story so I can spend more time with the great characters and learn more about the interesting world they've created. 

Thankfully, Trinket Studios seems to be planning to expand the game in the future by adding in new playable characters with their own campaigns. At time of writing, I am unsure if these will be paid DLC or free content updates, how long they may take to make, or how many they may have planned (though if the Kickstarter goals are to be trusted, we've been promised at least two), but I am happy to hear it and excited regardless. 

To be fair, most of my concerns can be fixed with future updates, and the core of the game is still solid and pretty well-presented despite its flaws. I would be lying if I said I wasn't having fun the whole time that I was playing Battle Chef Brigade.

I may have spent a lot of time discussing its issues, but there's still a lot to like. It's fun, very technically balanced, creative, charming, and pretty. It's probably one of the most original games I've ever played, which gives it the benefit of no competition in its field. To quote Yahtzee Croshaw: "Despite its flaws, get it anyway, because you will never experience anything else like it." 

It's a flawed game, and its general scale may be smaller than some people hoped for, but it nonetheless delivers on its intentions of creating a fun and unique cooking game that encourages creativity. It's a game that I can absolutely recommend to anybody who wants something fun or truly unique, and it's a great game for short portable sessions on the Switch. At $20, it's a feast of an experience at a value meal price. 

Battle Chef Brigade is available now on Steam and Nintendo Switch. You can watch a trailer for the game down below: 

[Note: Adult Swim Games provided a copy of Battle Chef Brigade for this review.]

Where the Money Is Review Wed, 29 Nov 2017 13:40:22 -0500 Allison M Reilly

Where the Money Is is an action-strategy game developed by both Flaming Bat Studios and Bareware Studios. The project is the first from each and a fine start for both developers. Although I wouldn't normally choose to play Where the Money Is, the title was compelling enough to get me to complete it.

The Basic Concept

In Where the Money Is, players are bank robbers trying to get away with the money. To pass each puzzle, players must get all the bank robbers out of the building without getting caught by the guards. The robbers must escape with a minimum amount of money and within a certain number of moves. If a player exceeds the allotted number of moves, then the puzzle isn't over, but additional guards appear to make escaping that much harder. Players lose the puzzle when the robber is caught by a guard.

Challenging, Intriguing Puzzles

The puzzles in Where the Money Is are well designed, and the solutions are exact. There's little room for wasted steps, but some puzzles do have multiple solutions. The puzzles are batched in sets of eight, with a new type of robber introduced with each set of puzzles. Types of robbers vary from those who can blow open vaults to locksmiths who can open locked doors and allow the robber(s) to access other parts of the bank. These new robbers keep the game from getting repetitive.

The introduction of each set also comes with the the wonderful sound of dial-up Internet (if you know what I mean), announcing an incoming mechanics explanation in the bottom right-hand corner. The explanations are helpful, but the game controls are pretty simple: arrow keys to move, SPACE to use the robber's special power, and ENTER to exit the bank.

I'm not sure how much replay value Where the Money Is has. Players do get a high score at the end of the puzzle, but as far as I could find, the high scores aren't shown or stored anywhere. I know there are a few puzzles where I could score higher because I wasted steps figuring out what I needed to do. I wouldn't mind going back and doing those puzzles again, but I can't without trial and error and recording all the scores myself.

It Was the Little Things

Although I enjoyed the puzzles, I didn't enjoy the graphics and the sound effects as much. The choice to use 2D pixel graphics is a good one; the game itself doesn't need 3D or anything too fancy. However, there were some text and color choices that hindered the playing experience.

First of all, I thought the robbers could've been a brighter color so they were easier to spot on the map. There were a few puzzles where I didn't realize there was another robber I needed to control because they blended in a little too well with the rest of the game's color scheme. A bright green or yellow would've been a better choice while also keeping the game accessible to color blind players.

Second of all, the guards were sometimes hard to track. The guards always move one step and always move after the robber(s) move. If the guard is facing a wall or is impeded by a flower pot, then they spend the next move turning around. However, it was difficult to tell at times which way the guard was facing. Making that clearer would've prevented a lot of headaches. I'm not asking the game to be easier; however, the hard part should be in solving the puzzle, not in spending time deciphering what every person on the map is doing.

Third of all, I wasn't fond of the "Game Over" sound, which plays when you're captured by a guard. It could've either been softer or a different sound effect entirely. The loud clap of capture would make me jump out of my chair, especially if I unknowingly walked into a loss. The other sounds in the game are fine. The game's soundtrack was perfect, in fact. It was so much fun to move the robbers to the beat. But that "Game Over" sound was just too much.

Overall, Where the Money Is is a fine game. The puzzles are challenging enough to push most gamers to find the solution. It's great to play when you have 10 or 20 minutes to spare or in longer spurts, even if there were some aesthetic choices that did take away from the playing experience. Where the Money Is is available now on Steam for $3.99. 

Cat Quest Review: A Furry Good Time Mon, 27 Nov 2017 15:15:25 -0500 Joshua Broadwell

RPGs have become progressively more expansive over the years, with bigger maps, intricate subsystems, plots with more loose ends to tie up than a scarf your cat shredded, and enough quests to push the playtime well over 100 hours. That's great, but sometimes, it's a bit overwhelming, to say nothing of the entry barrier for RPG newcomers. That's where Cat Quest comes in. The furry indie brainchild of The Gentlebros is a return to what first drew many of us to RPGs in the first place, but with some modern touches thrown in. It's not purr-fect, but it is a well-crafted and solid adventure worth your time.

What's It All About?

Cat Quest centers around the nameless hero and his spunky spirit guide Spirry on their quest to rescue the hero's catnapped sister from the evil Drakoth, a cat who brings the power of dragons back to the world Felingard. You soon discover you're one of the Dragonblood, a cat with the ability to fight dragons and keep the world safe. The story contains some interesting twists and turns, but it remains a lighthearted tail—er, tale—throughout. It's not afraid to poke fun at genre tropes, either. For example, when Drakoth first reveals his motives for reviving the dragons, Spirry remarks how bland and generic he is for a villain. Along with that come several fourth-wall-breaking moments, including a Star Wars Episode III reference when venturing into one of the game's mini-dungeons. What are you supposed to do with the monsters in there? "Wipe them out…all of them."

If the basic setup sounds a lot like The Elder Scrolls, it's supposed to. The Gentlebros drew inspiration from a variety of open-world RPGs to craft their new outing, combining overworld map exploration with open-world adventuring, with a dose of Zelda-esque combat and, of course, plenty of cat charm. The idea was to create a streamlined RPG that offered the best of the genre without all the extra trappings to bog players down. And it succeeds remarkably well.


After the game's quick opening sequences, you can almost immediately wander the entire world, although it's a good idea to follow Spirry's advice and head to your next objective point. For most quests, an elaborate medieval-style white arrow serves as your map marker, pointing you in the right direction; some tracking-style missions have you following a red dotted line laid out for you thanks to Spirry's advanced sensory capabilities. In keeping with the developers' design philosophy, it doesn't ever take long to travel across large portions of the map either, making it fast and simple to arrive at your next objective.

Side Quests: Front and Center

But there's plenty to distract you from that objective. Like any good, modern RPG, Cat Quest features a bevy of side missions, although they aren't as peripheral as you might first think (more about that later). Most of these are exclusive to a certain village or city as well, which helps provide character to the otherwise very similar village designs, so it's worth a return visit or five to see what else might be available on the message board.

Side quests range from traveling to a certain point to find a lost item or clearing out monsters from a cave, to multiple-part quests covering a specific NPC story, such as one notable, four-part quest early in the game that sees you put the spirit of an ancient cat necromancer to rest. Like main story missions, you get map guidance to point you in the right direction, but it does replace the main story marker until you complete the quest. Completing quests nets you heaps of experience points, gold, or both, along with weapons and gear to help you on your journey.

Cat Fight

You'll need all the help you can get, too. Don't be fooled by the game's cutesy look: there's some challenge to be had here. The combat mechanics are fairly simple in and of themselves: one attack button, a roll action to help escape from impending enemy attacks, and then you eventually learn spells that can be assigned to the four shoulder buttons. The magic system is quite good, and it doesn't allow you to simply steamroll foes. Each spell uses mana points, some—like Healpaw—more than others, and you can only recover mana by using physical attacks against your opponents, similar to the TP system in Tales of games.

Each spell has its own unique range of effect, and some spells inflict various status ailments on opponents. For instance, Flamepurr burns enemies and steadily causes damage, while Freezepaw slows enemies down. Of course, your enemies use these attacks too. Fortunately, there are plenty of warnings to indicate what sort of attack they might use and where it will land, giving you time to roll out of harm's way. Every enemy has a different weakness, with some weak against physical attacks, some against lighting, and so on. Determining weaknesses is a case of trial and error, but once you attack with an enemy's weakness, the damage numbers show up in red.

Despite being easy to master, combat never becomes dull, and the main reason for that is the game's difficulty. Don't let the cutesy aesthetic fool you: this game gets pretty challenging not long after it starts. Enemies are always just a bit stronger than you are, and their level scales as you progress further in the story. So even if you encounter an enemy near Lake Felingard that looks the same as one from around, say, East Pawt, chances are, if you aren't leveled enough, it will kill you in one hit. There are also a few areas around the map set off with "do not enter" markers where the enemies are even stronger. This is why Cat Quest's side missions are more integral to completing the game than most side missions.

Not only do you need the experience points so you have half a chance against your opponents, but gold is scarce outside of side missions, and the best equipment from Kit the blacksmith can be pricey (think Dragon Quest). It's never frustrating, though. For example, if you happen to obtain a weapon or piece of armor that you already own, its level and stat bonuses increase; plus, it's just a matter of minutes to complete some side quests and level up where you need to be.


The game's art draws on the classic medieval themes of yesteryear's RPGs (and maps), imbuing them with a soft, cartoon-y charm in the process. It's a pleasant mix of 2D and 3D models, adding to the retro feel without sacrificing  the more polished, modern look. Most NPCs have no distinguishing features, but your hero's appearance changes with each piece of equipment chosen, which adds a nice element of customization (and it's just cute).

Many of the environments in the earlier portions of the game look fairly similar to each other, though that soon changes. The sprawling map encompasses frozen wastelands and spooky marshes in addition to various villages, caves, and ruins. So even though the game world is relatively small by some standards, you still get your usual cornucopia of locales to explore.


There are some drawbacks that keep Cat Quest from being all sunshine and catnip, though they aren't too damaging. As delightful as the art style is, the caves and dungeons all look pretty much the same, with very little difference in layout and appearance from the first you crawl through to the level 60 ones encountered later. The music doesn't change too often, either. More tunes, especially during major fights, would have been nice. But, in all fairness, it's difficult to cite this as a problem when it is so similar to the games it draws from, like Zelda, where you get one theme and that's about it.

Then there's the dialogue. For the most part, it's a substantial strength, with clever puns and general wittiness. But there are a couple of nagging issues. Almost every other cat is just "peasant," which seems like a wasted opportunity to carry the cat language further by means of naming. Some of the puns are slightly out of place too. Now, I'm not against a bit of judicious swearing when the situation calls for it, but things like "godcattit" (two guesses what that's supposed to mean) in a game like this just don't fit.

The Verdict

All in all, though, Cat Quest is a loveable romp, engaging—and challenging—enough to overshadow minor complaints. The mechanics make it suitable for both short bursts and long play sessions, which fits the Switch's functionality quite well. If you're looking for a lighthearted RPG you can pick up at any time that's deeper than it looks, look no further than Cat Quest.

Battle Chasers: Nightwar -- Post Modern RPG Sun, 26 Nov 2017 13:15:31 -0500 Jeffrey Rousseau

Published by THQ NordicBattle Chasers: Nightwar (BC:N) is based on the 1990's comic book series of the same name, created by Joe Madureira and Munier Sharrieff. BC:N is set in a fantasy world featuring your run of the mill monsters, magic, and some good old fashioned mayhem. The game stars the rag-tag team of Garrison -- the veteran, Gully -- the team's young hero, Calibretto -- a robotic monk, Knolan -- the group's resident wizard, Red Monika -- a bounty hunter, and Alumon -- a demon hunter.

As a fan of RPGs, I have to confess -- I find it hard to get excited for them any more. The more familiar they happen to be, the more been there, done that they're likely to feel.

So when I had the opportunity to play the Airship Syndicate developed Battle Chasers: Nightwar, I actually got really excited. But does this modern RPG do enough for the genre to warrant a playthrough? Read on to find out.

Flavor Text

Unlike many other RPGs, BC:N has the added benefit of drawing from its comic book origins, and serves as a continuation of the original run. It also helps that one of the comic book's creators penned the game. Even though the game treads familiar ground in it's fantasy setting, the plot feels very tight and focused, which can most likely be attributed to Maduriera's involvement as creative director. And whilst the story doesn't necessarily break any new ground, what does make it stand out is it's amazing cast of characters.

Battle Chasers: Nightwar is very much the tale of our heroes keeping the peace in a not so peaceful land. The narrative also delves into the heroes' motivations and weaves stories pertaining to each character throughout the game. One of the most important characters is Gully. She isn't even 10 years old, yet she's out bashing demons in the face. The characters often attempt to protect her, but due to her connection with her father's magical gauntlets, she sometimes comes across as a possible threat to them and even herself. So the discourse comes thick and fast as the group attempts to deal with this.

Of course, the rest of the gang have their own interesting stories as well. Garrison is attempting to follow a path towards redemption, Calibretto has to balance the fact he's a pacifist and a former death machine, and so on.

Rather than subject you to all of this in long winded cut-scenes, the game presents them in bite-sized intervals. This happens in the world map, dungeons, and at inns when you rest. This is a refreshing way to experience a story in contrast to the way most other games present theirs -- in a movie-like approach which gets old fast if not done well. I guess what I'm trying to say, is that I feel that Battle Chasers strikes a great balance between telling a story and letting a player experience it themselves.

Reclaiming My Time

From a gameplay perspective, Battle Chasers: Nightwar is built with the player's time in mind. In comparison to a lot of RPGs that tend to fall flat in this regard, BC:N allows you to play at a pace all your own. You can save anywhere and then continue whenever you want. They've effectively erased the biggest problem I have with RPGs -- having to set aside a lot of time. You can play this game for just 30 minutes or for hours if you'd like.

The game takes places in a seamless overworld. Here you can see enemies to fight, towns that you can head to, and dungeons you can traverse. Dungeons are fully 3D areas that provide players with a challenge. Before entering a dungeon, the game will ask you to choose between normal, hard, and very hard and you will be shown the prize for clearing each respective difficulty. This side steps the need to replay the game on a tougher settings later on. Just make sure you can handle the tougher difficulties.

Although you can go pretty much anywhere you want, you are provided with some basic direction in the form of map markers and quest objectives. You can take detours, sure, but thanks to the map markers and so on, you will never feel lost.

A Call To Arms

Combat is turn based but not in the traditional sense -- it's much more fast paced. There are plenty of strategies you can use with your party, which consists of three from a possible six heroes, so you can account for a range of situations. Although you could just ignore those more tactical decisions and stick with your favorites, that could make getting through the game a little harder than you'd like. You can also use character specific skills. For example, Calibretto can heal the group using some Mana and Garrison can dash for a short amount of time.

If you maximize your resources and plan accordingly, battles can be over pretty quickly. But's that's a two way street. If you find yourself fighting a much tougher foe and don't stay on your toes, you're dead.

Character customization gets rather deep, featuring a variety of armor, skills, and weapons. I won't bog you down with the finer details, but rest assured -- there's a lot to do. 

The Sounds of Battle and Maddening Art

The game looks and sounds excellent and the art design really stands out. Madureira and the development team were really able to make characters pop in and out of battle. The battle animations are also both lively and expressive.

The sounds accompanying the game are intricate and visceral. From the foot steps of your heroes to the clashing of steel, the sound design is implemented flawlessly. The soundtrack of the game is more than just a standard fantasy score -- it has subtle themes that play in different environments during your travels. This includes grandiose battle themes and exciting sequential themes. Lastly, the the voice work in the game is actually quite good too.

The Bad

My only complaint revolves around it's difficulty. You'll definitely need some familiarity with this type of turn-based RPG to do well. There are times where battles will be tough as nails and you need to keep your wits about you. It's far from impossible to beat, but if you don't pay attention you'll be regularly treated to a trip to the gameover screen.

Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a special game. It's built from the ground up with modern sensibilities and has as much charm and personality as a traditional RPG. Battle Chasers is a turn based RPG in itself but forgoes a lot of what they're known for to offer an exciting new experience. 


Fans of RPGs can find Battle Chasers: Nightwar on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, and MAC. So you really don't have any excuse not to play this game as it's on every modern console and PC.

Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon Review: It's Actually Challenging Again! Tue, 21 Nov 2017 13:02:57 -0500 Autumn Fish

Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are the first proper mid-generation remakes to release since Platinum arrived in 2008. It may be a matter of contention whether mid-generation remakes devalue their originals or not, but we're here to look at the new installments without all that extra fuss.

These titles are remakes of Sun and Moon -- which released just last year -- and as such, the games are largely similar. We're not going to rehash everything that was amazing about the originals; for that, you can read our Pokemon Sun and Moon Review. Instead, we shall be reviewing what's changed and what was added in these games to see if they manage to surpass their predecessors.

Are the remakes actually good enough to warrant double-dipping, or should you stick with the original version you picked up last year? Let's dive in!

Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon Review

Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon aren't trying to reinvent the wheel here. Rather, they amplify everything that's great about this generation and culminate in what may well be the most engaging Pokemon games I've ever had the privilege to experience.

There are a few contributing factors at play, the biggest of all being the subtle changes made to the main game and the new features that breathe renewed life into the experience.

What Changed?

A lot of things were tweaked since Sun and Moon, and even the most minute changes go a long way towards improving the games. For instance, the pacing has shifted, especially in the beginning. Not only do you receive your Starter Pokemon far earlier, but many story segments have also been given a new coat of paint.

The story itself is familiar, but ultimately not the same. There's a new organization of sorts in the mix called the Ultra Recon Squad, and a new threat to go with them. As such, there are a lot of changes to how things play out in the end. To keep this review spoiler-free, however, we won't get into them here.

Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon Review Changes

In addition to the story changes, the overarching tone has visibly shifted. While kids will see a friendly adventure on an admittedly epic scale, those of us with a better understanding of language will notice some surprisingly dark undertones sprinkled everywhere. For the first time in several years, I feel like Pokemon is actually taking itself seriously again.

Remember how creepy Lavender Town in Kanto was? It flew over my head when I was younger, but looking back on it now gives me the chills. The same feeling has overcome me on multiple occasions in my playthrough, filling me with a sense of emotion that Pokemon hasn't evoked in me in a long time.

On top of that, the different teams and organizations found in Alola often come across as morally ambiguous. Your perception of the "clear bad guy" shifts a few times as the story progresses towards its climax. All in all, it has the effect of making it feel like the plot unfolds strangely realistically, given the setting.

Don't go thinking that's all that has changed, though. The island challenge, while similar, has seen several tweaks. For instance, there were seven proper Trials before, but now there are eight to overcome. On top of that, half of the trials have completely different Totem Pokemon than before, which really threw me off guard and offered a surprising challenge.

Speaking of challenge, I found the entire adventure to be rather trying. I didn't have any troubles on the first island, but the moment I stepped onto the second island, many of the Trials and strong trainers gave me and my team a run for our money. I never bothered to turn the EXP share off, and I found that my Pokemon consistently fell within three levels or so of each Totem Pokemon I encountered.

My team hasn't wiped as of yet, but we've come close several times, saved only by buffed stat-boosting items like X Defense or even RotoBoost, which I'll expand upon below. A lot of people I've talked to online, however, have reported wiping around the time they stepped on the second island, so it's clear that the game's difficulty has been revamped to offer players a rewarding experience. I'll never forget the moment I triumphed over the second Trial by the skin of my teeth after watching the Totem Pokemon one-shot nearly every member of my team.

Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon Review Challenging Battles Better Pacing

A few other things have changed too, such as new Legendary and Ultra Beast locations, a revamped Rotom Dex, and the removal of Zygarde Cells. However, these changes are better explained by detailing the new features that affect them.

New Features

Alongside the expected handful of new Ultra Beasts and Pokemon Forms, there are a plethora of great new features absolutely packed into Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon.

Totem Stickers replace the Zygarde Cells that plague the original games. Collecting the Totem Stickers offers, in my opinion, a far better reward than the Zygard Cells do. Instead of gradually building up only one Pokemon to full power with Zygarde Cells, you earn up to six Totem Pokemon by reaching certain milestones in your Sticker collection.

Mantine Surf is a new minigame that allows you to surf between Alola's islands on the back of a Mantine. It's a neat new way to travel from island to island and even nets you BP for scoring well on tricks. For the uninitiated, BP is a currency normally only available from competing in endgame battle organizations that can be spent on things like Mega Stones or teaching your Pokemon new tricks with the help of various new Move Tutors. In other words, BP is super valuable, and it's nice to see that Game Freak added a way to earn it out of battle.

The Rotom Dex has also received a sizable upgrade. In the originals, Rotom Dex was nothing but a navigational tool for me that occasionally commented on events. Now, Rotom Dex is your friend -- no, literally! Throughout your adventure, Rotom Dex will ask you questions and break the ice so you get to know each other. If you show them attention back, they become friendlier and friendlier with you until you eventually unlock the RotoLoto.

The RotoLoto is a lottery that rewards you with various buffs for being friendly with your Rotom Dex. You could get a buff that boosts all of your Pokemon's stats or something that helps you gain experience faster from battles. You could even get buffs that increase the encounter rate of rare Pokemon and improve the capture rate. Some buffs will even help you hatch eggs or befriend Pokemon quicker. There are a ton of RotoLoto powers, and every single one of them is worth the effort.

Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon Review New Features Rotom Dex RotoLoto

Ultra Wormholes are a great new way to encounter and capture Legendaries and Ultra Beasts. Riding into Ultra Space will take you into many new dimensions, and a few of them even have interesting environments that add just a little more depth to the lore of the games. Even if you don't encounter Legendaries and Ultra Beasts beyond the Ultra Wormholes, you are bound to find something special out there.

The new installments are host to even more post-game content than the originals had. Appearing alongside the Battle Tree is the new Battle Agency -- a place where you fight trainers with rental Pokemon for BP. There's even a post-game segment where you fight off a new evil team threatening Alola. There's just so much to do before and after the credits roll that it honestly blows my mind.

Verdict: Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon Are Absolutely Worth Double-Dipping

As a fan who's played every main series installment to date, I can safely say that Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are the best Pokemon games I've ever experienced. The polished gameplay, exciting new story, darker tone, and challenging battles truly make this entry a must-play for all Pokemon fans.

If you've never played a Pokemon game before, this is a great place to start. If you're an old player thinking about returning for this generation, you won't regret making this mid-generation remake the first title you pick up. If you're a long-time fan on the fence about it since the originals came out only a year ago, trust me when I say that this installment is worth double-dipping for.

No matter which version you get, you're in for a seriously magical experience. Never has a Pokemon game sucked me in as hard or as quickly as these ones have.

Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are available now on the Nintendo 3DS family of systems for $40 each.

Punch, Punch, Smash! A LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 Review Sun, 19 Nov 2017 00:04:14 -0500 Stephanie Tang

To say that the original LEGO Marvel Super Heroes game was a success is like describing the sinking of the Titanic as "hitting a rough patch." And to say that fans have been looking forward to a second game would be operating at a similar degree of understatement. 

The first LMSH game came out at a time when the movieverse was really beginning to pick up speed. Phase One was just wrapping up, Joss Whedon's The Avengers had just come out the year before to rave reviews, and people were high on the idea of getting more. General Marvel goodwill aside, the movies gave game makers an unbelievably rich vein of character and storyline material from which to draw. As another upside, they created an entirely new audience upon which to unleash all the charm and whimsy of LEGO

It's not a coincidence that every time you have a success, something of equal caliber is slated to follow it every few years later -- in games as in Hollywood and popular fiction. The idea is that if it works, why break it? 

And that kind of philosophy does hold true ... for a while.

LEGO games have had a fairly similar format for more than 10 years (if you go by the release of smash-hit LEGO Star Wars back in 2005 for reference), with a charming mix of boldly colored worlds, fun characters, simple puzzles, and the gleeful destruction of everything in sight. 

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 may be finally stretching that formula almost to the point of mediocrity. 

The Characters: Who Am I? Why Am I here?

It's a bit of a double-edged sword to push out a game with an enormous cast -- which LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 does, boasting over 200 characters in the base game alone, with more promised to follow in upcoming expansion packs.

At once, it's a selling point stuffing as many characters as you can think of into this game, and at the same time, something of a responsibility. 

People have favorites. Bringing them into the party is an unbelievably cool draw, especially if they're not exactly the canonical headliners in their particular universes. But if their entire purpose for being there is simply to be there, then it begins to feel they're there just to fill in space in the box.

Take Gamora for an early-game example: she's as feisty as a LEGO as she is in Guardians, her skillset feels fresh and a little different from her appearance in the first game, and she's still just as unlikely to put up with any of Drax's ridiculousness. But as far as the gameplay and the puzzling goes, she could honestly have been missing entirely and you would have never noticed.

Admittedly, she's a little more fun when you throw her into close-action combat and pit her against your friends in Multiplayer Battle Arena, but for the most part, you'd really only pull her out during questing or wandering around the open world if you really like her and/or you've got a little one playing co-op with you who just wants to someone to smash up boxes with while you're busy completing puzzles. 

(Little LEGO Thor waving around his little Mjolnir to fly is terribly precious -- and he's got some pretty techy skills to boot!)

Thankfully, you still have lots of characters who transcend general cookie-cutterness. These get at least a few catchy one-liners, have loads of personality, and/or are the ones with the special skills uniquely fitted to puzzle-solving (or just running and flying really fast).

The Gameplay: Ain't Afraid to Die

LMSH2 brings a few new updates to the table -- namely, an overhauled character customizer that allows you to pick and choose essentially every part of the minifig and also the abilities it can use (provided you unlock each of the customizations available during gameplay). But the meat and potatoes of the gameplay remains the same -- punch, punch, smash.

You need to solve little puzzles to progress the story, usually by punch, punch, smashing something enough for you to build back up in a new and different way. But you will also need to swap around between characters in order to use different special abilities to progress. 

It can be a little awkward to swap to the character that you want. You're quite likely at some point to swap between two characters a few times before finally moving over to the one you really want, plus you've got more than one button that can initiate a swap. This isn't exactly a new problem, but it can be an annoyance while you're swapping between characters and the one you've lost control of happens to have wandered off the objective in the meantime. 

Controls for the characters themselves are pretty intuitive and straightforward. All of the characters that can fly (or swing around on webs) can be controlled vertically using the right joystick, whereas movement and actions require the left joystick and the right button pad. On-screen directions advise you quite admirably if you need to initiate a puzzle sequence step; however, you'll have to remember that a long press of the same button will just make your character do something else (e.g. throw a bomb, boogy down to some cassette tape music, etc.).

(Note: While these on-screen instructions are self-explanatory on console, the port to PC on Steam appears to have a few instances where the instructions weren't translated perfectly. For example, in cases where a character might have to swivel the joystick in a certain direction, the Steam game wants you to duplicate with your control keys in the same manner, or it will ask you to "press the X button." This has no bearing on the rating for this review, but it's definitely something to remember for players looking to play on PC.)

It can, however, be a little difficult to aim your attacks -- you will definitely find yourself punching and kicking your fellow teammates (occasionally to pieces!) by accident when you're aiming to lay the smackdown on a boss or a breakable. 

Not that there are any consequences for doing this. Your friends will come back. And if you die, so will you. 

In the grand tradition of LEGO game gameplay, dying doesn't have consequences. Sure, you might drop a few studs, but you respawn almost immediately after, poised to pick them all back up again (and how difficult are studs to find in this game, anyhow?). 

And that's okay! It's an integral, frustration-free part of playing a game that is as ideal for kids as it is for adults -- particularly if you're playing as a parent-child tag team.

It certainly helps to mitigate some of the other frustrations of figuring out the puzzles -- not so much because the puzzles are so difficult to complete ... they're not. There is almost always a clear-cut solution as to what will unlock this door or that device ... it's just not always clear right away when all the pieces are already in place. 

(For example, this looks like it should ricochet Cap's shield in exactly the right place, but it refuses to complete the bounce even though it looks like the path is clear. You have to go poking around at the blocks on the right to make sure that it really is.)

You're aware it's probably an incredibly simple answer to the problem -- you're just not seeing it. (I admit the above caused me quite a bit of grumbly button-mashing myself to see if I was just pressing the square button the wrong way.)


Still loads of fun and well worth playing! If you're a completionist at heart and looking to 100% this game, you'll find a good 200 hours or more of playtime buried in all the side quests, replays with various characters, and hunts for red bricks. If you're playing with a friend, even better! Many of the chase scenes and co-op fight scenes were designed with similar power sets in mind so that no one's left sitting around watching if you can help it. 

This game draws from hundreds of different stories and makes cheerful, light-hearted fun of them all. It's taken a newer, non-linear approach to questing (appropriate for a time-traveling, time-twisting game), and the charm of LEGO-ness hasn't quite worn off ... but the gameplay, after so many iterations without a great deal of variation, is beginning to wear. 

(Note: For transparency, a review copy of this game was provided on PS4 from WB.)

South Park: The Stick of Truth Review Thu, 16 Nov 2017 14:00:18 -0500 Joseph Ocasio

If you're a fan of South Park, you've most likely played 2014's The Stick of Truth. After years of mediocre South Park video game adaptations, this RPG was a breath of fresh air, with series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone having been heavily involved in its creation. Furthermore, Obsidian, the team behind the critically-acclaimed Fallout: New Vegas and Knights of the Old Republic 2 RPGs, was the lead developer for the title.

However, The Stick of Truth was released during the end of the 7th console generation lifespan, so some gamers may have missed out on it. Luckily, series fans who pick up the newest South Park RPG, The Fractured But Whole, will have a chance to play its prequel, as a free copy of The Stick of Truth is bundled with the new game.

The Stick of Truth: Then vs. Now

If you're expecting anything new from this version, you'll be disappointed -- outside of the DLC content and a few tweaks here and there, there's nothing really new in this version of The Stick of Truth. It's free game, though, so it's a little more excusable than most remasters that do just the bare minimum.

This version of the game is a little cleaner, now running in 1080p and with PS4 Pro support, but don't expect that much of an improvement. A lot of the frame rate drops that plagued the original have been ironed out, though you will still notice a couple hitches when there are a lot of enemies in battle.

Some minor changes have also been made to address some of the game's more difficult sections. One of the biggest changes includes a fix for the infamous anal probe scene.

It's nowhere near as difficult and frustrating to get past this section now, making the pacing of the game much smoother. That said, the other annoying section, a boss battle with Cartman, still requires too much button mashing. Yeah, I know it's part of the joke, but the joke loses steam when you're forced to partake in it, and it can last for what feels like forever.

Outside of these changes, The Stick of Truth still remains largely the same. 

However, if this will be your first foray into the game, you've got a lot to look forward to either as a fan of the series, as an RPG aficionado, or both.

What to Expect from The Stick of Truth

In The Stick of Truth, you control your own custom-created character and explore the town of South Park, interacting with the various characters from the show. Exploring the town is still a blast, as you watch the various NPCs go about their day, and you even get to befriend some of South Park's most iconic characters.

While a good amount of time is dedicated to exploring the world and solving simple puzzles, most of your time will be dedicated to combat, which takes a few inspirations from the Paper Mario series. Like in Paper Mario, you have the ability to block enemy attack and press buttons in conjunction to perform various special attacks. These mechanics keeps combat exciting, and you won't just be watching your characters standing around and waiting for their turns.

Each of the four class have there own unique skills, ranging from mage and Jew "magic", to special archer and warrior abilities. The only downside is that every weapon and piece of armor you gain isn't specific for each class, which does take away from each of the individuality of the classes. Why try a different class when you can still use a sword or staff?

Despite this, combat is still satisfying and fun. Each of the various villains you face have their own weaknesses, which will have you wanting to change out your party members to alter your tactics. The downside to this is that you can only have one other person in your party -- that's not say there aren't that a lot of them, with each having their own special abilities, but it would have been nice to have at least three characters rather than just two.


So, does The Stick of Truth hold up? Yeah, it's still a good game. The combat is funny, if on the easy side, it's funny as hell, and manages to tastefully recapture the look and feel of the show.

It's age will show, especially with the vastly superior Fractured But Whole having been released, and it still could've done with a few more fixes with some of the mechanics, but if I'm going down to South Park, I wanna have myself a time.

VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action Review -- A Hip Flask of the Human Condition Thu, 16 Nov 2017 13:55:14 -0500 Greyson Ditzler (PurplePocketPirate)

DISCLAIMER: This review will be SPOILER-FREE. Enter with confidence.

I'm so glad that I finally get a chance to talk about VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender ActionDeveloped by Venezuelan developer Sukeban Games and recently brought to PlayStation Vita thanks to publisher Wolfgame, VA-11 HALL-A is a visual novel/bartending simulator set in a fascinating Cyberpunk future world. 

VA-11 HALL-A is a narrative-driven game loaded with compelling human themes as well as radical cyberpunk storytelling. It's a game that prioritizes narrative and characters over gameplay, letting the writing take up most of the screentime, and allowing the minimal gameplay to simply function well and exist mainly to serve the story it's telling.

Originally released in 2016, the game was only recently ported to the PlayStation Vita, introducing  some slight differences, which gives people like me an excuse to talk about it again. So, is VA-11 HALL-A so good of a narrative game that it's worth playing again on a handheld? Is it a game that's worth your time at all if you aren't into this kind of "interactive story" sort of game?

Pull up a seat and we'll discuss it. There's a three-drink minimum.

What's in a game?

I'd like to start off this review by addressing the talking point people have brought up regarding whether or not VA-11 HALL-A is really a game or not. This sort of debate tends to come up with games like this (or Gone Home or The Stanley Parable), which emphasize storytelling over gameplay.

To me, in order to be a game, something must have a win condition and a lose condition, the exact definitions of which are up to interpretation. In the case of VA-11 HALL-A, while it's very hard to truly "lose" the game, it is possible to get what the creators call a "good ending" and a "bad ending," which, to me, constitutes both success and failure. So in my mind, VA-11 HALL-A is definitely a game.

Sex, Dogs, and Rock and Roll

VA-11 HALL-A is loaded with intriguing dialogues about a variety of topics, ranging from sensationalist media, racism, mental illness, human augmentation, drugs, family, love, fear of the future, sex (there's quite a lot about sex), and so on. 

If this dialogue makes you uncomfortable, then this might not be the game for you. This stuff isn't constant, but it's very prevalent.

You play as Jill, the bartender working at the BTC-certified chain bar VA-11 in Hall-A, commonly referred to as Valhalla, which is tucked away in a corner in one of the seedier parts of the dystopian cyberpunk setting of Glitch City. The game's story isn't about the city or the world but rather our main character Jill and the many clients she encounters over the course of most of a month during the Mega-Christmas season.

The writing is the most prominent and noteworthy aspect of this game -- which should be expected from a visual novel -- but the gameplay isn't bad either. Your main goal -- as well as the core gameplay -- is to mix drinks in accordance with orders you receive from customers, making sure to carefully read the instructions and get it right. Depending on the situation, you can decide to make a drink bigger or stronger, which can lead to different dialogues and even different story arcs, making every drink in some way matter in terms of overall plot progression.

Some people don't seem to like this game's writing, and a lot of those people say it's because they don't think the characters speak very realistically. To some extent, I can see the validity of their argument. While the characters in VA-11 HALL-A are definitely unique and well fleshed-out, most of the dialogue that comes out of them doesn't exactly sound like average, everyday conversation but rather more like well-composed arguments and anecdotes a lot of the time.

But for me, this isn't a big issue. While it's true that a great deal of VA-11 HALL-A's dialogue doesn't sound all that natural, a fair bit of it still does, and it's always cleverly written, cleverly delivered, and -- perhaps most importantly -- consistent in its quality. Every character in VA-11 HALL-A -- whether you like them or not -- is consistently written whenever they're on screen. You never see a writing discrepancy that makes you think, "That character wouldn't do that," which makes the cast feel alive and often sympathetic, even if they don't always talk like real people. 

What really helps the cast come to life is the wonderful presentation. VA-11 HALL-A is a game meant to visually emulate old PC-98 games, and it does so very well, using gorgeously drawn and emotive character sprites in addition to a color palette that's equal parts bright and colorful and cool and muted. The music is just as diverse, with a variety of original tracks (including a few remixes) that range in mood from calm to frantic, all of which the player can pick out and make a playlist of on the bar's jukebox before the start of every in-game shift. All of these elements help to make the whole experience feel more immersive, and it draws you in quickly and keeps a tight hold on you. 

It also helps that this game can be flat-out hilarious. I laughed constantly while playing through the game, even when doing it for a second time for this review, and I was smiling throughout most of my time with it. It covers all the comedy bases from sight-gags, to puns, to serious jokes and childish jokes, as well as a number of truly dark or perverted jokes (sometimes both) that will leave your mouth hanging open -- all done with expert timing and just the right amount of seriousness for each situation.

Rad Shiba is the best dog. I will fight you on this.

While it excels at comedy, VA-11 HALL-A as a whole isn't afraid to paint with the whole palette of the human experience. The game isn't afraid to be dark or serious when it needs to be, and it pulls this off really well, often creating a great deal of anxiety or tension as you worry for a character you haven't heard from for a while being alone out there in the big, cold world. 

Whether it's Dorothy pushing the boundaries of comfort and making you laugh with stories of her life as a robot sex-worker, hearing more rumors about the origin of your boss Dana Zane's robot arm, or speculating where your co-worker Gillian goes most nights, there's always something interesting going on and some story arc developing. The bartender angle is seriously a perfect approach to organic storytelling, as you're always hearing different news and opinions from regulars as well as one-timers, and you're slowly piecing together the world's story and your own.

The game does an amazing job of using little more than its writing and a variety of unique characters to paint a picture of a truly fleshed-out fictional world that feels alive, all with maybe a dozen different screens and less than half as many locations. VA-11 HALL-A's excellent writing allows it to create a world more real and expansive than the biggest outer space skyboxes that AAA money can buy.

Differences With The Vita Version

This is a review of the recently released PlayStation Vita version of VA-11 HALL-A, which is mostly the same as the PC original but with a few noteworthy differences that might be worth knowing about if you're unsure about which version you'd like you pick up. 

For the most part, Wolfgame has made what I consider to be an excellent port. The smaller screen on the Vita compared to an average PC monitor has been compensated for by cleaning up the user interface and reworking it slightly so that it fits in its new home, which I think was done neatly and efficiently.  

The touchscreen controls working in tandem with the buttons and sticks works very well, and in many ways feels smoother than the original ever did. The visuals also haven't suffered either, as despite being on a much smaller screen, the backgrounds and sprites are all still wonderfully drawn and lively. In all honesty, I would have basically no reservations about calling the Vita version of VA-11 HALL-A the definitive version were it not for just one small difference between it and the PC version.

In both versions of the game you can select your playlist for the jukebox both at the start of your shift and after your break, so that's all the same, but one thing I was actually a bit saddened to see absent from the Vita version was the ability to shuffle through your selected songs during regular gameplay. In the PC version, you could skip between your selected songs, put one specific song on repeat, or even put your whole playlist on shuffle, which was a really cool feature that is unfortunately absent from the Vita version. 

I reached out to the publisher of the Vita version, Wolfgame, in order to ask them about it. I asked if the live jukebox feature was present in the Vita version, and Wolfgame replied with "Not at this time." Their wording makes me think that maybe they're still trying to incorporate the feature into the Vita version (but that could also just be speculation), and if not, I won't hold them to it. It would nice to see it come in at a later date if possible, because with it included, the Vita version really might just be the definitive edition.

Taking a Break From All Your Worries Sure Would Help a Lot

At the end of the day, VA-11 HALL-A isn't a perfect game on either PC or the Vita. The writing has its occasional bumps, the basic gameplay may flat-out bore some people, and it could have done a better job in certain places of conveying information relevant to progression to the player. But despite all that, I'm willing to forgive most its flaws, simply by its virtue of being one of the best narrative-driven games I've ever played.

While I don't want to spoil anything too specific, I will say that after a brief adjustment period to get used to the game's unique style and pacing, I was in love with VA-11 HALL-A. Its diverse cast of characters is one of my favorite that I've seen in video games, the graphics and stylistic presentation are phenomenal at evoking the tone and setting, the music is jammin', and even at its slowest, its story is more engaging than most I've played. 

The gameplay may be basic, but it's just complex and variable enough to be engaging, opening up subtle options for the player in how they want the story to progress and how they want to interact with the fascinating world. I could go on about the game for a good while longer, but it really is just something you need to experience for yourself.

VA-11 HALL-A is a beautifully written, beautiful-looking, beautiful-sounding glimpse into an amazing world full of wonderful characters, and one that I can recommend to absolutely anyone who wants a game with a truly great story -- and even to people who aren't sure if it's for them. It's a world I'd love to live in, and one I know I'll be visiting again very soon. 

VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action is available now on Steam and PlayStation Vita. You can watch a trailer for the Vita version of the game below:


Note: [Review copy for PlayStation Vita provided by Wolfgame.]



Outcast - Second Contact Review: Familiar Story but With a New Look Thu, 16 Nov 2017 12:16:18 -0500 ESpalding

If you have been interested in gaming for as long as I have, you might be familiar with a game called Outcast. It was originally released in 1999 by Belgian developers Appeal. It was hugely popular and has since become a bit of a cult classic. The newly released Outcast - Second Contact is a remastered version of the game with updated graphics and gameplay to make it suitable for today's gaming tastes and console suitability.

The original game was a groundbreaker! It was innovative and was the first 3D open-world exploration game to be released. Upon release, it won hundreds of awards, including Adventure Game of the Year 1999 from GameSpot. There are a couple of sequels, but none lived up to the popularity of the first.

Anyway, you aren't here for a history lesson about the original game. You want to know what I think about the remake, right? Instead of playing it again on PC, I played it on the PS4 so that I could see how different it felt playing it on a modern console.

The Story Stays True

If you are already familiar with the game, then you're going to be familiar with the storyline. It hasn't changed (it is a remake, after all). If you're new to the game, however, you're going to find the storyline quite interesting.

Outcast - Second Contact is set in the near future and explores the possibilities of alternate universes. You play as a Navy SEAL called Cutter Slade, and along with a team of scientists, you are sent through a portal into a new world, Adelpha, to recover a probe previously sent through by the US government. As you explore your new surroundings, you come across the world's inhabitants and all manner of new flora and fauna.

You are the Ulukai, the foretold Messiah who the inhabitants think is going to save their world from war and persecution. In order to complete your own mission, you have to help the inhabitants of Adelpha with their problems. If they think you are helping them, they are more likely to help you.

A Total Facelift

It's clear that the main draw of this remaster is the work that has been done to improve the graphics. Everything now has so much more texture and depth than the original had. One of the main points of the game is to explore, and you really want to explore this new land. Close attention has been paid to giving everything a new life.

My only negative comments on the game's graphics are to do with the intro. While I can see that they're going for something a bit artistic -- and that is quite good -- I don't think it paid off. The characters are very still and very much like cardboard cutouts. It doesn't really gel with the original. I wanted to watch the whole introduction to get reacquainted with the story, but I wanted it to be over quite early on. Of course, this is personal taste, but given the rest of the game's graphics upgrades and the actual storyline, I think the introduction to it could have been a bit more ... substantial.

Playing on a Console Works

I didn't have any problems playing the game with a controller. The controls are crisp, and I had no problems moving around. There have been some movement features added to this new version, including the ability to sprint and crouch, which definitely make gameplay better. It's simple things like that which make the game more relevant to today's open-world fans, as they are features that one would expect from a game of this genre.

A Familiar Score

One of the more appealing features of the game is that the developers have used the same score as the original game. And when I say the "same score," I really mean it! It sounds like nothing has been done to it at all apart from making it a bit cleaner. But, you know what, that is OK. If it was reworked and new voices added, it wouldn't be the remaster fans would want.

Overall Verdict

I would say that this is what happens when remakes go right. For what the developers were hoping to do, it has been done extremely well. Sure, there are some things that are a bit rough around the edges or a couple of things which could have been done better, but it is a huge step up graphically from the original.

Will it please the die-hard fans of Outcast? Yes, I think it will. In this day and age, where the word "remake" has bad connotations, it is natural to have some reservations. But the developers have kept true to their previous work and have simply launched the franchise into modern gaming for an all-new generation of fans.

Outcast - Second Contact is out now on PS4, XBox One, and PC via Steam.

(A copy of Outcast - Second Contact was supplied for review purposes.)

L.A. Noire Remastered: Truth, Doubt, or Lie Thu, 16 Nov 2017 11:50:21 -0500 Joseph Ocasio

When L.A. Noire was first released, it was a breath of fresh air. The open-world genre wasn’t as saturated as it is today, so it was still unique to see such a story-heavy open-world game that was less about action and more about dialogue and choices. Despite the studio, Team Bondi, shutting down the year it was released, it seems that Rockstar Games still has some interest in the title and has decided to remaster the six-year-old game. Despite some minor hang ups, L.A. Noire still manages to capture the feeling of the classic 1940s detective films that inspired it.

You are Cole Phelps, a returning WW2 veteran who starts off as a standard cop and quickly moves up the ladder to a detective. There's a lot of corruption and murder happening in LA, and it's up to Cole to put a stop to it. Cole is a good cop; he's always trying to do the best to serve the law, has a strong sense of justice, and works to avoid becoming a crooked cop like some of his fellow LAPD coworkers. However, as the game progresses, Cole slowly learn that not everything is as black and white as he thinks it is. 

The writing in L.A. Noire is easily some of the best seen in any video game. Sure, you might see a character archetype or familiar plot line like something from an episode of Law and Order, but it's all told so well that they come off fresh. It's also an incredibly mature game, as it's not afraid to tackle themes of racism, sex, and morality that haven't been touched on in many games. It also does't back away from showing things such as frontal nudity of its dead victims. The game is bolstered by an impeccable cast of actors who can easily hold their own against any Emmy-nominated big-name players. Adding to the performances is the then-new facial-capture technology that was boasted of in numerous interviews and behind-the-scenes clips. It's still as impressive as it was then, even if some games have by this point surpassed it.

The gameplay of L.A. Noire is a mixture of action and mystery solving, with emphasis on the latter. 75% of your time will be spent looking for clues and interrogating witnesses and suspects, while the remaining 25% is spent partaking in gun fights and chases. The game is much more linear than other open-world games. You'll head to a crime scene, look around for any sort of evidence, and talk with primary sources. While the map is large, there's little to do aside from some random events that occur. The structure feels like something from a point-and-click adventure game, but the big thing that separates L.A. Noire from games of those cloth is its dialogue system.

During conversations, you'll have to see if someone is telling the truth or not. It's here where L.A. Noire is at its best. Thanks to the great facial-capture technology, it can be hard to really see if someone is telling the truth or lying. The better you are at judging them, the more likely the case will expand and become clearer. While you're never punished for guessing someone's motives incorrectly, you won't get to experience certain parts of the game. But even so, the game never feels like it's hiding away its tricks, and each case ends with a sense of accomplishment, which helps encourage you to go back and try it again on repeat playthroughs. 

Controlling Cole still feels a little sticky, and it would have been nice to play with a control scheme similar to that of GTA 5, but it still gets the job done. And while the gunplay isn't as frequent as in some of Rockstar's other games, it's still entertaining. Gun feedback is great, though you'll only get a standard pistol, and the only way to get new weapons is from off the ground, after you've downed an enemy. That being said, if combat is a bit cumbersome for you, there is an option that allows you to skip these sequences if you die enough times. Driving is also mixed bag. L.A. Noire has a more arcade-like feel than something like GTA 4 or 5, but the turning can feel too sluggish, especially in the high-action chase sequences. 

In terms of extras, L.A. Noire comes with the standard content expected from other remasters. You get all the game's DLC, including the various outfits and extra episodes, as well as a visual update. For the PS4 and Xbox One versions, the visuals have seen a substantial update. From improved texture details, new lighting, and support for 4K and HDR, LA Noire's updates are immediately noticeable. Colors have a much more vibrant look to them, and character models and animations have been slightly improved. While it's not the same level of GTA 5's update, it's still a great-looking game.

L.A. Noire is also available on the Nintendo Switch, though it's not as big of an update as compared to Sony's and Microsoft's outings. It's more of a cleaner version of the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, running at 1080p docked and 720p in portable mode. While L.A. Noire isn't the type of game to play on the go, with its focus more on story, it's still a nice option to play anywhere you go. The touchscreen controls are also a nice inclusion, as you can twist and turn each of the various clues and objects on the touch screen (this can also be done with the PS4 touch pad), and choosing your dialogue options via the touchscreen is also a nice option.

The motion controls ... are there, but you're better off just sticking with a controller. The Joy Cons or Pro Controller aren't quite as responsive as the PS4 or Xbox One controllers, with the ZL and ZR buttons not functioning as well as the triggers found on the the other two, which can make driving more of a pain on the Switch. Finally, there are far more sections in the Switch version that suffer from frame rate drops than in the other versions. They're incredibly noticeable and seem to happen randomly.

That being said, there are still some minor blushes regardless of which version you decide to get. Despite improvements to textures, you'll still get some blurry images when looking at things close up. You'll also notice short draw distances, with the game world constantly loading buildings as you get closer up on them, especially on the Switch version. And there are some anti-aliasing issues throughout.

The audio is especiallty pleasing, with music that constantly evokes feelings of nostalgia if you've listened to the film noir soundtracks of the 40's and 50's. The score, by composers Andrew and Simon Hales, is top-notch and is some of the more underrated music you'll hear in gaming. Along with this is the inclusion of dozens of licensed songs from the era that helps lend some more authenticity to the world. Bottom line, L.A. Noire may be old, but there's been enough TLC put into the remasters of the game to help make it feel more like a living place than it was on last-gen hardware.

L.A. Noire is still a one-of-a-kind experience that's still worth playing even six years on. While some more additions and changes would have been nice, there's still nothing quite like living out the dream of being a detective in the late 40s. For only $40 on PS4 and Xbox One ($10 extra on Switch), it's a nice deal. Hopefully some day (after Red Dead Redemption 2), we'll get to return to Rockstar's version of 1940's Los Angeles with a sequel for current-gen systems.

Star Wars Battlefront 2 Review: A Maligned Shooter Hiding Its Potential Wed, 15 Nov 2017 15:34:42 -0500 Jonathan Moore

Like the prequel trilogy before it, Battlefront 2 is already a divisive piece of Star Wars lore. There's no doubt it's a flawed experience, carrying with it glaring inadequacies and, at times, ham-fisted storytelling and convoluted mechanics. But despite its blemishes, Battlefront 2 is also a game that showcases the things that make Star Wars the epic space opera it is: wonder, redemption, and most of all, whimsical fun. 

As any Star Wars fan can attest, there's something magical about that galaxy far, far away. Whether you're visiting vibrant planets in the galaxy's remote reaches, piloting a Tie Fighter through the stunning vacuum of space, or sneaking around the white halls of a Rebel cruiser, Battlefront 2 drops you into the middle of George Lucas' meticulous vision like no other game in the Star Wars franchise. It makes that distant fantasy tangible, for better or worse. 

With all the controversy surrounding the game, Battlefront 2 nearly collapses under its own weight and several dubious design decisions. The places that do shine keep it afloat and worthy of notice by any die-hard Star Wars fan, but ultimately, it's a game that falls short of a brilliant concept and can't be recommended without serious considerations. 

I've Got a Bad Feeling About This

Battlefront 2's biggest draw is its expansive multiplayer experience. Participating in large-scale battles on planets like Endor, Naboo, and Takodana is the primary focus here. Whether you're playing the 40-player Galactic Assault, the smaller 16-player Strike, or the intense 24-player Starfighter Assault, going toe to toe with real-life opponents against the backdrop of Star Wars history is uniquely engrossing. 

And on the surface, it works. BF2's mechanics are solid. Piloting a Tie Fighter or X-Wing has never felt so good; firing an E-11 or an A280 blaster has never felt so natural; and swinging a lightsaber, double-bladed or not, has never felt so fluid. It's in these moments that Battlefront 2's multiplayer shines brightest -- when it lets you sink into the battles at hand and blast your opponents into stardust. 

But all of that starts to crumble the moment you begin to level and find yourself face to face with BF2's unrelenting bogeyman: its progression system. 

A Remnant of an Uncivilized Age

In theory, Battlefront 2's progression system works, I'll give it that. Like other games in the genre, you're able to increase your overall rank by performing well in combat. You're also able to increase the ferocity and effectiveness of your troopers, starfighters, and heroes through Star Card upgrades. These "perks" increase stats, provide buffs and debuffs, and augment class loadouts. Arguably, it's all stuff we've seen before in shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield 1.

The problem lies in this specific system's unnecessary complexity and imbalanced execution. 

At the end of each match, you're rewarded with experience points and credits. The former increases your overall player and class rankings, while the latter provides you with in-game currency with which to buy loot crates. Inside loot crates, you'll find new Star Cards that make your characters, vehicles, and classes stronger, give them new attacks, or upgrade their weaponry. 

It all sounds well and good, but this is where problems start to arise. First, multiplayer achievements, in-game challenges, and other milestones mostly award you with small amounts of credits. This means that it will take most players upwards of several hours just to open one of BF2's loot crates through natural progression. And when you consider the 2,200-credit Heroes and Villains loot crate is the cheapest, and the Trooper loot crate, which most players will need to open on a regular basis, costs 4,000 credits to open, you start to see why this system is less than ideal.  

The second issue is a more nefarious one: microtransactions. Because it takes so incredibly long to naturally procure credits for loot crates and hero and villain purchases, Battlefront 2 inherently incentivizes microtransactions. By purchasing Crystal, BF2's premium currency, players willing to shell out IRL money can open loot crates more quickly, get credits faster, and effectively increase their chances of getting high-level Star Cards at a faster rate than casual players.  

Sure, those paying players still have to tussle with Battlefront 2's stingy RNG system and aren't guaranteed to get rare Star Cards with every draw -- but they are more likely to get those Star Cards before any player progressing naturally. At the time of this writing, I've already run into a bevy of OP players in each of the game's multiplayer modes -- and I have a feeling not all of them got so powerful naturally.  

To make things more confusing -- and arguably more lopsided -- BF2's crafting system is gated, too. Completing challenges, finishing milestones, and opening loot crates also (sometimes, maybe) awards you with crafting parts. These can be used to upgrade Star Cards from tier to tier.

Certain enhancements require that specific class and player levels are met before those options are unlocked. That's expected. But what isn't expected is that if you don't already own particular Star Cards that keep you competitive in multiplayer battles, you'll have a hard time increasing those levels to get those unlocks.

This means you'll need to grind matches and challenges to get credits to open loot crates to get Star Cards to become more powerful to grind more matches to get more credits to open more loot crates to get more crafting parts to become more powerful to ... I think you get the point. 

Ultimately, the skinny is this: the entire system is an RNG revenant from the free-to-play world forced onto a $60, AAA release. And while the minutiae of that encroachment is beyond this review, it's disheartening to see it diluting a game it has no business haunting. 

There is Another

While Battlefront 2's foundational multiplayer principles make it a relatively fun mode overshadowed by an overly complex progression system, the game's campaign mode is a whimsical romp through the Star Wars universe that keeps enjoyment and entertainment front and center. 

You play as Iden Versio, commander of Inferno Squad, an Imperial special forces contingent that only takes on the most dangerous of missions. During the Galactic Civil War, Iden's spent most of her time sabotaging Rebel installations and assassinating high-level operatives. When the second Death Star explodes in the skies above Endor during the events of Return of the Jedi, Iden finds herself in a desperate situation -- and questioning her loyalties to the Empire. 

Spanning 12 missions, BF2's five- to seven-hour campaign showcases the narrative power of Star Wars storytelling. From joy and pain to redemption and corruption, all of the staples of a good Star Wars story are found here. Strong writing and even stronger performances from the game's cast (specifically Janina Gavankar as Iden) keep the story from too many pratfalls along the way -- and keep the more ham-fisted moments bearable.  

Strangely enough, there are times when the reference-heavy narrative wheels away from Iden's core story, bringing in classic franchise characters we know and love -- ones that sometimes wield lightsabers or have penchants for gambling. And as a Star Wars fan, these moments keep me engrossed by expanding the universe's current canon.

But objectively, these asides often feel forced into the narrative for fan service. Does Inferno Squad really need to go to an undeveloped, backwater planet just so that one character can make an appearance and find that special trinket? Do they really need that one swashbuckler to find that info? Sure, they're fun, but they're entirely unnecessary. 

The campaign is at its most fun in its early stages, when the stakes for Iden and her covert squad are the greatest. It's a pity that the story couldn't shake all of its tropes and stay more focused on the missions at hand, but at the end of the day, Battlefront 2's narrative is one of the best the series has seen in a long, long time -- perhaps since Tie Fighter.

That epic story is bolstered even further by the game's absolutely gorgeous backdrops and preternatural character models. Light gleams off Inferno Squad's helmets as they trudge through the dense forests of Endor; the skies over Pillio stretch into the distance behind regal (and uncannily realistic) waterfalls; and the wreckage of Star Destroyers burns brightly against hot desert sands of Jakku. Iden and her compatriots, Gideon Hask and Del Meeko, look as real as you and I -- down to every pore. 

To top things off, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention Battlefront 2's soaring score and impeccable sound design, both of which make the campaign even that much more pronounced. Just as with its predecessor, every blaster bolt, lightsaber swing, and starship flyby is full of pitch-perfect nuance and gravitas. Iconic sonic landscapes from the films, ranging from The Phantom Menace to The Force Awakens, make appearances throughout BF2, further bolstering the feeling that you're not just playing a game -- you're playing a movie. 

It's somewhat perplexing that the fidelity of sound intrinsic to the campaign isn't as strong in the multiplayer sections, where clearly hearing enemy boot steps and commands is arguably more imperative. In my experience, I often found it difficult to determine where enemies were coming from, and the more granular pieces of audio design from the campaign were lost in the utter cacophony of combat. 

The Verdict

For all the things Battlefront 2 does wrong on the multiplayer front, there's a plethora of things it does right everywhere else. It may seem overly dramatic, but Battlefront 2's single-player experience, terribly fun Arcade mode, and couch co-op features save the game from itself. It's in these modes and moments that we see under the hood, past the obtrusive microtransactions and needlessly complex progression systems, and discover a wildly fun and mechanically sound experience. 

Visiting that galaxy far, far away has never been more beautiful; battling on planets such as Takodana and flying in the skies above Kamino has never been more exhilarating; and blasting Rebels and Imperials alike has never felt so satisfying. To put the icing on the cake, you won't find better in-game cinematography in any of BF2's franchise cousins. 

It will be interesting to watch Battlefront 2's journey and see how long players will stick with the game. Playing more than 15 hours of BF2 so far, I get the feeling that some players will stay around for the upcoming canonical story DLCs that will expand the narrative into the moments before (and perhaps during) The Force Awakens. Others will stick around for the game's tight controls, well-rounded mechanics, and exciting gameplay. But others (and I'd argue more than you think) will find the game's frustratingly convoluted systems too vexing to get over. 

And that's unfortunate because Star Wars Battlefront 2 really is a fun game to play. You just have to search for it.

Sonic Forces: Speeding Things Too Thin Tue, 14 Nov 2017 13:58:18 -0500 Joseph Ocasio

Excluding his recent TV spin-off games, Sonic the Hedgehog's track record has been pretty decent for the past several years. Sonic Colors was a great step in the right direction, with Sonic Generations perfectly capitalizing on the foundation and recapturing the Blue Blur's glory days. And while Sonic: Lost World had its detractors, it was still a well-made product. Sadly, Sonic Forces never manages to capture what made those games good. 

While Sonic games have never been known for having strong plots, the last few entries at least knew how outlandish and convoluted the stories for these games could get and poked fun at the ridiculousness of it all. Sonic Forces mistakenly goes back to the earlier plots by actually trying to take itself seriously. This time, Dr. Eggman has recruited a powerful new ally called Infinite to defeat Sonic. They succeed, and Eggman manages to take over most of the world. Sonic and his remaining friends--including a new "create-your-own" character--form a resistance to stop Eggman and his new pal.

Like Generations before it, Sonic Forces splits its time between old and new. Modern Sonic will boost, speed, and homing attack his way through levels, while Classic Sonic jumps and spin-dashes through his portions. New to Forces is its character creation feature. There are tons of items you get to customize with once you beat a stage. Your character's gimmick is that it can use Wisps-based weapons that allow it to whip, burn, or otherwise destroy foes, as well as use each weapon's secondary ability.

It's the length of Sonic Forces where everything starts to fall apart. It'll take you about three to five hours to get through the game. It's not that Sonic Forces is a short game, it's that each of its 30 levels is over far too quickly; most can be completed in around a few minutes. That's it. Just when you're starting to get really into a level, it ends, and you never feel wholly satisfied. Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations were relatively short experiences, but they made up for it with levels that went on just long enough to not overstay their welcomes. Outside of the main story, there are some side missions that do little to change up the main structure. You can replay levels in order to up your score, but it's still not a good incentive to replay.

Despite a few instances, later on, of annoying trial and error that the series is known for, most levels in Sonic Forces are decently designed and feature an abundance of robots to destroy and loops to run around in. While Modern Sonic spends a bit too much time constantly bursting through levels, with little to do, it's still mostly enjoyable. You just wish you had more control in these sequences. The created character plays mostly like this, and though it's more combat-oriented, it still plays like Sonic. The abilities it uses are fun and do a decent job of mixing thing up. Outside of a few instances of top-down areas that suffer from bad controls, using this character is still a fun experience. There are even a few levels where you and Sonic get to team up.

Classic Sonic levels, meanwhile, are just okay. Nothing about them is bad, but they're just average. You jump, platform, and spin-dash, but nothing is really memorable about them, seeing how short they can be and especially coming off of Sonic Mania's excellent level design. It almost feels like these levels were made by an amateur using a Sonic version of Super Mario Maker. It's still 2D Sonic, meaning it's still enjoyable, but it's kind of just there.

In terms of presentation, Sonic Forces looks and sounds solid. From Green Hill and Chemical Plant to Metropolis, Sonic Forces does have decent visual variety to its levels. That being said, the worlds you inhabit start to blur together. Dark factories, evil bases, and ruined cities begin to stand out in the worst way when mixed with the colorful cities and worlds Sonic is known for. While the version I played was on the Switch, it should be noted that Sonic Forces does run at 1080p/60fps on PS4 and 720p/60fps on Xbox One. The Switch runs at 720p/30fps regardless of whether you play it docked or handheld. It's not as responsive and does look rougher, but it still gets the job done. The music is a pretty good mixture of Genesis-style music and the rock that Sonic is known for, and the voice acting is fine.

The bottom line is that Sonic Forces looks, sounds, and plays well enough, but its levels feel too automatic and short to feel satisfying like past games. Even at the price of $40, it's still asking too much for what's offered. After the excellent Sonic Mania, you'd think SEGA and Sonic Team would have stepped it up. While there was love and care put into Sonic Forces, and it doesn't feel like a rushed, broken cash-in like the worst Sonic games, it never manages to reach the quality of the franchise's heights. Sonic fans should at least give it a rental or wait for it to go on sale, but everyone else will be left in the dust. It feels like it's been said for a while, but maybe next time, Sonic Team will get it right. 

Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back Review: What Could Have Possibly Gone Wrong? Mon, 13 Nov 2017 14:38:40 -0500 Greyson Ditzler (PurplePocketPirate)

Life is strange, isn't it? It seems like only yesterday we were all gaping in absolute, dumbfounded shock at the announcement of a new Bubsy game in the form of Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back, and now the actual game is right here in reality for all of us to boo off stage and chuck tomatoes at. 

Most veteran gamers likely know the gist of Bubsy's history by now. The first game is largely remembered as a failed attempt to make a mascot platformer meant to rival the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog, with pretty average results and some mechanics that were at odds with each other. The sequels were essentially more of the same, with the exception of Bubsy 3D, an early 3D platformer famously awful for its limited controls, self-congratulatory comedy, awful camera, and overall cheap-feeling quality. 

Not many people wanted a new Bubsy game, and I think even fewer expected one, but here it is anyway. The question is: has developer Black Forest Games learned anything from the years of criticism and infamous reputation left behind by developer Accolade? Have they made a truly good game out of Bubsy?

The answer is no. No, they really haven't learned that much. 

The visuals, at least, aren't half bad.

Let's Start With the Positives

I think it's fair that when critiquing any game -- no matter how much you may hate it or think it doesn't need to exist -- to point out what it did well before you rip into it. I'd like to start off by saying that there are actually a few small things about The Woolies Strike Back that I liked and didn't just tolerate or flat out despise. 

For starters, in the options menu, you have the option of adjusting Bubsy's level of verbosity, meaning how often he'll make one of his characteristic one-liners. You can go from a minimum setting of "Silent Bobcat" all the way up to the maximum setting, which is just called "Bubsy." This addresses the most common complaint people had about Bubsy games in the past, how Bubsy constantly spouted inane quips and references. This option shows a certain degree of self-awareness and learning from the series' past failures.

The graphics can actually look kind of nice (at times), some of the music is chipper and fun (if not all that memorable), and to be completely honest, my first impressions weren't that bad. For the first two levels, I was actually having fun, taking in the decent scenery and collecting lots of colorful yarn with its satisfying little pop noises.

Very early on, I found myself having a little fun here and there.

The controls also aren't too bad. Bubsy can still jump and glide, as well as pounce, and aside from an annoyingly fiddly sense of movement when trying to move just slightly, the controls are fine. The glide provides a slight upward boost in midair, which can help you correct a jump, and you can even jump in midair when walking straight off of a ledge. These movement options open up some small opportunities in terms of platforming.

It wasn't much, but at the start, I could at least say the game was, at worst, below-average. Unfortunately, it didn't take long for me to notice the cracks in the game's structure, and it didn't take long after that for me to really see how frankly lazy and awful the whole thing was.

What Went Wrong

This game has some of the most basic and boring design for a platformer I've seen in quite a while. The level design is downright insipid. 

The biggest offense in the level design -- and possibly the game's entire design -- is the pointlessness of the collectibles. The main collectibles come in the form of balls of yarn, hundreds of which are scattered across each stage, which seem only to be relevant in increasing your score at the end of each level.

There are also five keys in most levels, all of which you need in order to unlock the level's Wooly Vault, which always houses a large amount of yarn. Lastly, there are T-shirts, which either give you an extra hit point or grant you an extra life if you grab one while already powered up.

But here's the big issue -- about 90% of the collectibles are pointless, and by extension, 90% of each level. Like I said before, the yarn only adds to your score, which is unconnected to anything else in the gameplay, meaning there isn't any reason to explore the levels. Every diversion from the main path is in service to pointless collecting, even when it's a shirt to get health or lives, because some of the shirts are on the main path anyway.

The level design can just be plain confusing sometimes.

While there are rare bits here and there where the platforming feels decently structured, they really are few and far between. The placement of everything from checkpoints to collectibles to walls and platforms feels borderline random. The level design doesn't have its own special Bubsy "feel" or anything; it just seems like they did the minimum that they had to in order to keep the game from feeling like an annoying walk down a long corridor. 

Everything in every level is at its best amateurish, and at its worst, useless or awful. Enemies have bizarre placements, the background shadows pop in at random times, the enemy and environment variety is laughably low, and the hitboxes are just cheap. Bubsy sometimes has trouble landing on a basic enemy due to his slender size, and all hazards and some basic objects have inaccurate and illogically large hitboxes and poor collision detection. 

The cherry on top is that the few boss fights in the game are all terrible. First off, all three of them are against the same UFO but with different attacks, which is more than just a little disappointing. Second, the difficulty curve for these fights is totally screwed up. The first fight is extremely easy -- possibly easier than an encounter with a normal enemy due to the enormous, obvious weak point -- the second one is harder than the final one, and the final one is underwhelming as a finale. And they all just take too long.

The first boss fight. The other two are a lot like this but with way more obnoxious screen-filling attacks. 

Lack of Purrsonality

In regards to Bubsy's one-liners -- as well as the writing in general -- they aren't that great. The jokes in this game range from either not that funny to not making any sense at all. To illustrate my point, I will quote Bubsy when he sings, "MC Bubster, the Pouncemaster, in the game, yeah!" Now I will quote my brother, who in response to this quip, said, "That sounds like the kind of joke you make on accident and then wish you could take back." 

There is a story, but it feels like nothing, even moreso than a lot of other retro or retro-inspired platformers. Bubsy's longtime enemies the Woolies (the enemies from the first Bubsy game) have come back to steal all of Earth's yarn, as well as Bubsy's prized possesion, the Golden Fleece, which is important or special for reasons we are never told. The Woolies aren't a threatening or cool enemy force, and their goal isn't even clear. Plus, Bubsy is so smug and nonchalant that it doesn't ever feel like there's any stakes or a real reason to care.

Maybe the story and writing could be forgiven for being so underwhelming if the game wasn't also so short. My playthrough of the game was just under two hours total, which to my understanding is longer than most people's, and that was only because I was stopping to collect things early on before I realized they were pointless. I've seen and heard about some people beating the game in just under ONE hour blind.

Look What the Out-of-Work Bobcat Dragged In 

This game is less than two hours long and costs $30. Even if this game were great, that price would still be too much considering how short is. Another recent indie platformer, A Hat in Timeis also $30, but that game is much longer, better designed, and more charming and original. To quote my brother again: "This game would be a ripoff at 99 cents."

I just can't wrap my head around this. What was the point of bringing back a character like Bubsy -- a character that most people didn't miss or really care about -- just to make such a basic and painfully mediocre game? Why invest time and money into a game that ultimately ends up feeling like a slightly longer HD version of the original SNES game?

I cannot recommend Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back to anyone, ironically or otherwise, and I don't think there is any reason to buy it, even if it were to get some sort of massive discount. There are hundreds of much better games, many of which cost less than half this game's price and have design that actually improved and changed with the times. The best thing I can say about it is that it's short enough that I was able to finish it and still get a refund on Steam.

Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back is available now on Steam and PS4 (but you really shouldn't buy it). You can watch a trailer for the game below: 

Last Stitch Goodnight Review -- A Game in Need of Stitching Fri, 10 Nov 2017 10:11:51 -0500 Erroll Maas

In Last Stitch Goodnight, a 2D action-adventure game developed and published by Well Bred Rhino, you play as an unnamed character who has been kidnapped by a mysterious doctor after he revives you from being nearly killed in an accident. This doctor has been performing unethical experiments on his unwilling test subjects for an unknown reason, and your goal is to escape the doctor's mansion by acquiring new weapons and abilities.

The first thing players may notice about Last Stitch Goodnight is its graphical style. Last Stitch Goodnight takes an animated approach toward its graphics similar to plenty of other low-budget indie titles, but it looks much too similar to a free game you would have played on your web browser back in 2004. Of course, just because the graphics of a game are sub par doesn't necessarily mean the rest of the game is. Last Stitch Goodnight is not one of those games.

After its visual style, the dialogue between characters as well as the game's quirky sense of humor will be what most players observe. While these elements are by far the best part of the entire experience, even then they feel more contrived when compared to other humor-filled indie titles. When each character talks via a speech bubble, they speak mumbled gibberish, which is silly at first but quickly becomes annoying.

The general gameplay of Last Stitch Goodnight is passable but has some notable flaws. There are several abilities you can gain from meeting certain characters trying to help you escape, including the ability to climb, dash, and freeze water. Aside from freezing water, climbing and dashing should be actions available either from the start or much earlier than they're obtained.

When running, the player's speed automatically slows down while going upstairs, which is rather unnecessary. The decrease in speed also makes it more difficult to gain momentum for longer jumps, making jumping from one platform to a higher one or to a climbable surface a harrowing and frustrating task. Dodging and climbing are both strange in that each action uses two buttons at once; as a result, the climbing is inaccurate, and you may find yourself dodging when the action isn't needed -- and most of the time, it doesn't feel needed at all. 

The weapons and tools players use range from a screwdriver to a lead pipe to other common and not-so-common objects. The weapons provide some variation in range but do nothing to make themselves feel unique. The process of hitting enemies one to three times in order to defeat them becomes tedious and boring by the time you get to the first save point, which is only around 10 to 15 minutes in.

While battling enemies can become tedious, some of the boss fights, while simple, are well designed and do require some thought about which tool is best to use in each situation. However, this feature isn't quite as consistent as it should be. If all bosses were designed well, it would help give players motivation to progress further through the game despite the frustrating and finicky platforming,

The story, while offering some thought-provoking concepts, becomes less engaging as the game goes on, making finishing the game and getting it over with feel like a much more important task than paying attention to the story or dialogue in any capacity. The story isn't terrible, especially when compared to some higher-budget titles, but the lackluster gameplay, annoying dialogue audio, and forced humor completely overshadow what could have been the game's key refining quality.

The music of Last Stitch Goodnight is appropriately eerie, although it's nothing special. The music is yet another similarity it has to the free, browser-based Flash games of the past, and you likely won't be remembering any of the tracks due to just how uninspired they are.

Last Stitch Goodnight is a typical indie Metroidvania-inspired platformer, but it doesn't do much to make itself stand out among the competition. It feels closer to a game in early access than a full release. Due to its severe mediocrity and lack of inspiration, it might be an acceptable recommendation for the most dedicated fans of indie Metroidvania-like games or for those who yearn for the browser-based Flash games of yesteryear, but otherwise, it's a game that might as well be skipped entirely. 

Last Stitch Goodnight is available on PC through Steam and PlayStation 4 through the PlayStation Store.

A review copy of the game was provided by the publisher.

Overgrowth Review: A Somber Tale About Ninja Bunnies Thu, 09 Nov 2017 11:59:01 -0500 LuckyJorael

When I was asked to review Overgrowth, it was pitched to me as a platformer and fighting game, with ninja bunnies. Awesome, I thought, a fun indie game where I can run around as a bunny and do ninja stuff. And while yes, I did run around as an awesome ninja bunny and do ninja stuff -- climbing all over the place, kicking other bunnies in the face, throwing daggers, and swinging swords -- what I didn't expect out of Wolfire Games' action-adventure was a heartfelt story about loss, revenge, and what a soldier comes home to after a horrendous war.

Before I begin in earnest, I highly recommend 1) you get this game, and 2) you play its predecessor, Lugaru's, campaign before the longer Overgrowth campaign. The Lugaru campaign is shorter, and admittedly slightly less polished, but it gives some great story beats and background on Turner, the main rabbit for both campaigns. I made the mistake of playing Lugaru second, and I feel the Overgrowth campaign would have been that much better with some background.

Overgrowth's story focuses on Turner, a rabbit who just wants to live his life after coming home from a terrible bunny war (don't laugh!) and losing his family. Being a fighter and one of the strongest rabbits in the world means that Turner will never find the peace he says he wants. One of the central questions in Overgrowth's campaign is whether or not Turner actually wants peace or if he's actually enjoying all the ninja ass-kicking he's doing throughout the story. Turner makes attempts to reason with people other animals, but talking never seems to work, and he has to resort to fists, weapons, and super-strong bunny legs to defeat his enemies.

The story is compelling enough that I kept playing through the missions despite myself, and the missions themselves are short enough that you don't notice the time slipping away. They're also short enough that even a gamer dad like me can slip in some ass-kicking before having to rush off to put out a fire (usually not literally). The downside to these small, bite-size missions is that they tend to become formulaic: go here, fight some rabbits or rats or dogs, and once you kill or knock out the last one, music plays, and the mission ends. You get a cutscene with dialogue, and the next mission loads. The fight sequences are broken up by fun, tough platforming missions, but even those get repetitive after a while.

Turner consistently feels like he's floating when trying to jump around, and while it feels pretty amazing to be able to jump as high as he does, the hang time he has while he's up there becomes a little ponderous when you're trying to reach a certain ledge for the fifth time. Collision detection is sometimes off, and I kept slipping off ledges I should have been able to stand on or mantle up to. Other than those two gripes, though, platforming was really fun -- moreso than in some other games in recent memory.

Combat in Overgrowth is pretty interesting. I can see where a more patient and adept player would excel at using the knives, swords, rapiers, and spears that Overgrowth has to offer, but I always seemed to lean back on Turner's jump + kick move that knocked enemies senseless and threw me out and away, ready to reset for another jump + kick until my opponent was down for good. This combo was so good, in fact, that I only had to switch up my tactics once, against a cat with a rapier who killed me a couple dozen times in a row. The only frustration (aside from that damn cat) that I had was that getting knocked down is very nearly a restart-worthy offense. If there was more than one opponent in the fight, getting knocked down in Overgrowth was like getting stunlocked in a fighting game.

Overgrowth also has a thriving Steam Workshop community, with players making all sorts of fun maps to play around in, from giant arenas to Mirror's Edge-style parkour cityscapes. If the story content doesn't sell you on the game, the Workshop content might.

Overall, Overgrowth was a fun experience, with fun platforming, dizzyingly high jumps, and pretty good combat. The story hooked me from the start, and the gameplay sold me the rest of the way.

Ghostory Review Wed, 08 Nov 2017 17:23:02 -0500 Joshua Broadwell

Ghostory, indie studio Rigid Core's first game, recently released on Steam, promising 29 levels of platformer puzzling and a retro, 2D pixel aesthetic. The game gets the core concept right for the most part, with a very well done central gimmick and some clever designs. Overall, though, it's not enough to make it easy to recommend the game, as there are some substantial flaws in pacing and delivery that make it more of a chore than it should be to play.


Ghostory doesn't take itself seriously, which is a good and bad thing (more about the bad later). It starts with you as a young man, with a considerable helping of 5 o'clock pixel shadow, running desperately through the woods as you try and outrace a pack of wolves. Eventually you get away and take a refreshing drink at a nearby lake, only to find that you've turned transparent upon drinking. Fortunately, there is a witch's home nearby, and she knows the cure. Unfortunately, she just used the last of her ingredients on a traveler who passed by a few minutes before. So, you're tasked with heading into the nearby cave to recover them for her, for without the potion, you'll die soon. (There's no time limit, though, so no worries there). Meanwhile, you can shift between human and ghost form at will, and you head off into the cave to try and save your life.


The core gameplay in Ghostory revolves around that ability to change form. By pressing Shift, you transform into a transparent form of yourself and can pass through obstacles, scope out a level, or get to a certain platform a lot faster than normal. If that sounds like it would make the game far too easy, it doesn't. You see, you have to make it to the end of each room with your backpack—else you can't pick up the required ingredients for the restorative potion, keys you need to unlock doors and cages, and so on. That's where the challenge comes in. In essence, the game is more about getting your backpack to the end of each room than it is moving the character around.

Switch It Up

The puzzles you encounter in the process are varying takes on a process sequence, where you complete certain actions first in order to proceed to the next step. All take the same basic form: flip switches, move boxes, hop on moving platforms, pick up a key, unlock a cage so you can flip another switch, find another key, open a door, repeat until you get to the end of the room. If it sounds repetitive, that's because it is after a while.

Don't get me wrong. Some of the puzzles are quite challenging, if not as cerebral as I would have liked, and most of them are well designed. It doesn't take long for the puzzles to become more difficult either. When you do get stuck, though, you can select the hints option from the menu, which takes you to an unlisted YouTube video posted by Rigid Core, showing you how to complete the level. However, in most cases, I sincerely wish the solutions had been a bit more involved, rather than "oh, I just move a bit faster to get to that platform" or "move this box first before I go to that switch."

Given the nature of the puzzles, the game is best played in short bursts. But it's not really designed for that. You only encounter save points after clearing every five rooms or so, and it's a bit of a chore to go back through and complete puzzles you've already finished just because you didn't reach the save point before life called. A related problem is  the length of some puzzles.

Even early on, there are those that take a good while to complete, requiring multiple steps to get to the end and, depending on the puzzle, going old-school and punishing you by making you start over if you happen to fall at the wrong time. The challenge would be appreciated if it didn't mean going through tedious steps just to get back to where you were and perform more tedious steps. Here is where variety would have helped make the game more enjoyable.

Some of the problems you'll encounter aren't really puzzle related either. For example, there are several timed switches, where you are given only so much time to get to a platform before it stops moving or disappears. The timing is a tad too short on some of these. I suspect that with a proper controller, it wouldn't be a big deal, but playing with the keyboard makes for clunky and imprecise controls, which runs counter to the sort of precision required in jumping and general movement.

What's In My Pocket?

There is one other problem connected to the puzzles themselves: the core concept. When your character is standing there with his hands in his sweatshirt pockets and is wearing jeans to boot, there seems little reason to place such heavy importance on moving a backpack around so you can pick up items. Hoping for logic in video games is an exercise in futility—as it should be—but a glaring flaw in the main mechanic like that is difficult to ignore.

Story Problems

What the game really needs is something to pull the player forward, providing a reason to look past these faults and push through the puzzles. The story remains pretty much the same as it starts—lighthearted, maybe a bit too flippant. It's not bad, but there isn't enough to give the player a reason to keep going, especially as the only story snippets you get are at the save points, when you communicate with the Witch or others via a rift in space.

The dialogue is competent, though not outstanding, with nothing to separate each character from the other. For example, the Witch, who's supposed to be an old lady, sounds like she just finished her sophomore year in high school (which is "uhm…like" a bit off-putting). There are Steam achievements, but they seem gratuitous—getting an achievement for improvising a puzzle solution when it was the only one, for instance.


In terms of sound and visuals, the game performs much better. The 2D pixel art is lovely to look at, and despite the fact that the backgrounds get a bit old before finally changing as you progress further, the color scheme is deep and rich. There isn't much in the way of sound, though the atmospheric undertones of the music add a nice feel to the game overall.

The Verdict

Ghostory has a very solid concept, and the developers clearly put a good amount of thought into the puzzles themselves. Some players may find the puzzles as reason enough to continue, and it might be just the thing to scratch that puzzler itch. However, the overall piece is bogged down by repetition and no real incentive to keep going. Hopefully, Rigid Core's next outing will provide players with a more well-rounded experience.

Swim Out Review: Attack of the Synchronized Swimmers Wed, 08 Nov 2017 16:07:07 -0500 Greyson Ditzler (PurplePocketPirate)

Swim Out is a tile-based puzzle game where you play as a woman attempting to navigate her way around the other occupants of a pool in order to get out at the ladder. The game is about as simple as the premise makes it sound, though it does manage to wring a lot of ideas out of this seemingly simple premise -- and execute them decently at that.

It's a Small Pool, but It Isn't Shallow

Swim Out has no story or anything like that, as it's all about the gameplay here, and such a thing is unimportant in a basic puzzle game like this. Despite this, there are occasional visuals when you beat a level that show you making your way back to a lounge chair, sometimes with a cup of coffee or a croissant. So I choose to believe that this is the story of a lady who was nagged into signing up for a synchronized swimming class by some pushy friends but isn't all that interested, and who is just trying to escape from the class in the middle of a routine so she can relax and take a nap in the sun. 

It may seem like an odd observation to make, coming up with my own story for something so simple, but that right there is the point. Swim Out really is a very simple game, and while there is some quality gameplay and puzzle design here, there isn't all that much I can say about the game's story. 

What I can say is that it's a rather well-made puzzle game. It has you occupying a single square as a swimmer, and every time you move to a new spot on the grid, everything else moves as well, in a sort of turn-based format. You have to plan your moves ahead of time in order to account for when and where certain objects or people will move, keep track of timing and numbers, and ensure that you aren't setting yourself up for failure, sometimes five moves in advance.

 This is a small level early on, but nonetheless, timing is still key here.

The gameplay is easy enough to grasp -- though it does get much harder as you progress -- and does a good job of pacing out its new mechanics piecemeal in order to keep the game fresh without overwhelming the player with new rules to learn too quickly.

Something I thought was especially neat about Swim Out was its complete lack of dialogue. All instructions are given to the player using imagery such as arrows and numbers rather than overt instructions, allowing the player to slowly come to grips with the mechanics themselves, which I feel suits the simple premise well. Plus, iconography-based interface design is just interesting. 

While I'm talking about the presentation, it would be remiss of me to not mention the aesthetics. The game has a very simple art style, with a cartoonish style and bright, beach resort colors splashed on top of realistic-looking locations and characters resembling those from a safety sign you'd see telling you not to run or dive off the shallow end.

The music is very tranquil and relaxing, sounding something like Japanese meditation music you might hear at a spa, with very soft and mellow tones. The mumbled background chatter reminiscent of an actual crowded pool playing in the background is a nice touch as well.

From Kiddie Pool to Adult Swim

My biggest issues with Swim Out have to do with its learning curve and some of the mechanics that it slowly introduces. Swim Out is a game that starts out easy and gains momentum with its difficulty rather quickly. It does take some time for the game to get really challenging, but after only a few introductory levels, the game really ups the ante.

While the addition of usable items and the ability to keep track of water currents that slow you add additional layers of strategy, other elements seem only to exist to hinder you for the sake of difficulty. Something like the kickboard, for example, doubles your size and frankly makes turning a drawn-out pain in the ass, and oftentimes levels are designed in ways that force you to use it.

This is only the first level of the second chapter, and it took me much longer than anything from the first chapter. Difficulty ramps up smoothly but quickly.

The overall problem with the difficulty is that it tends to drag levels out at times. Coming to grips with new mechanics and having to try levels over is par for the course, but given the relatively small size of the game, the jump from, say, one-star difficulty to two-star difficulty is a sudden and noticeable leap.The difficulty curve is, like I said, curved reasonably, but the small scale of the experience means these difficulty jumps occasionally hamper the pacing and, by extension, the overall experience. Going from something you're used to or find easy to something much more daunting can lead to frustration at times.

Due to this, the relaxed atmosphere and mellow visuals don't really fit with the amount of stress and critical thinking that go into some of the later, more difficult levels. I will admit that the strategic approach to the gameplay is a core strength of the game, and a consistent difficulty curve is something that all developers should strive for, but this game can get pretty challenging pretty quickly. 

In Conclusion

Swim Out is a surprisingly decent puzzle game with some neat ideas and an overall relaxed feeling. While it is well made and fun enough, it's held back by how simple it is at its core as well as a few frustrating moments brought on by the game's unique yet unfamiliar mechanics. I want to clarify that when I call this game a "basic puzzle game" or a "simple puzzle game," by no means is that meant to be an insult. It is a pretty basic and simple game, but it still does what it sets out to do fairly well, with enough unique ideas for it to feel like its own thing, even if it doesn't do any one thing exceptionally well.

Swim Out is available now on Steam and mobile devices. You can watch a trailer for the game below:


 Note: {Review copy provided by Lozange Lab}

Bomber Crew Review Wed, 08 Nov 2017 13:55:42 -0500 Joshua Broadwell

Runner Duck's World War II-era strategy game Bomber Crew offers a unique chance to take almost complete control of some fictitious British bombing operations, as you manage your crew and outfit your plane to ensure your success. The game provides a good challenge on its own, and the way the mechanics work overall mean you'll always want to try the next mission, no matter how badly the last one turned out. Yet it's not perfect, and the flaws in the game's individual components mean that you won't finish your campaign without a great deal of unnecessary frustration.


As you might have gathered from the title, Bomber Crew puts you in control of a Lancaster Bomber and its crew as you carry out various missions for the RAF during World War II. The missions vary from simple bombing runs, to rescuing stranded soldiers, and everything in between. On top of that, there are multiple side quests and the opportunity to take on bounty requests and destroy certain enemy Aces. You'll receive cash and intel points for successfully completing your missions and an additional reward for returning back to base in one piece (which is more of a challenge than it may sound), and you'll use those rewards to purchase upgrades for your crew and plane.

Getting to Know Your Crew and Plane

However, the heart of the game is in actually managing the crew and the plane. You'll start out by recruiting new members from a procedurally generated pool of rookies, male and female in all colors. It completely flies in the face of historical accuracy, but in doing so, it also is a subtle way to make the player think, "why shouldn't it have been like this anyway?" Each potential recruit has their own stat sets. In the beginning, you'll probably ignore everything except speed and armor, though survival capabilities and oxygen boosts become more important as the game progresses.

Each crew members starts at level 1, and they unlock important skills as they progress--things like using less fuel or pulling off more accurate attacks. You don't actually get to see what the skills are until they unlock, though. There are also fun little biographical details about each recruit's former occupation. They don't have any effect on the crew member's abilities, but it's a cute way to make for a more immersive experience by reminding you of the nature of Britain's military forces at the start of the war.

You can't do much at first as far as outfitting your crew or upgrading your plane, but after a few successful missions, the upgrades start pouring in. Some are purely aesthetic, like different colored jackets, but others—especially with the plane—significantly boost your chances for success and survival. You'll want to survive, too, since failure is brutal. Replacing dead crew members means starting back at level 1—until later in the game, at least—with no skills, and if your plane gets destroyed, you'll have to re-purchase your upgrades too. Everything is pretty expensive, but between rewards and side missions, money never ends up being a problem.

Mission (Almost) Impossible

During the mission you are responsible for almost every action the crew must take, including simple things like raising landing gear and opening bay doors, as well as outfitting everyone with parachutes and providing extra stores of ammo for your gunners. This is where the game is at its most enjoyable and most frustrating.

If crew are in their proper positions, they perform their duties as they should. If not, then they just stand around waiting to be told what to do, even if it means no one is at the wheel or the oxygen system malfunctioned and needs repairing. It's not always easy to select the right member and send them to the right place either. Given the closeness of everything inside the plane, you're as likely to send your engineer to one of the gun turrets as you are to have him or her fix the hydraulics system.

The other problem is with movement speed. Everything else, including your enemies, moves at a fairly reasonable pace. Yet your crew members take a good 40 seconds to pick up some ammo and take it to the tail gun. Equipment can negatively affect movement speed too, which is a bit silly. I don't know about you, but I can't recall the last time it took me an extra five seconds to get across the room just because I was wearing leather boots. No one expects video games to be entirely realistic, but the gap between the rest of the game's pace and your crew's slothful speed is jarring. It makes for a greater challenge, certainly, but it's an artificial challenge.

Fortunately, your reputation won't affect the abilities or willingness of your new recruits.

One of the most awkward mechanics, however, is the tagging system. You enter a first-person mode by pressing the spacebar and search for navigation points, mission targets, and enemy fighters. If the first two aren't tagged, you just keep flying towards the horizon. If you don't tag a fighter, your gunners just sit there and watch as your plane gets shot to bits. In some of the less hectic missions, it's fairly easy to keep up with tagging, although the cursor movement is far too sensitive to make it a smooth process. In missions where you must balance a variety of objectives at once, it becomes a bit too difficult to keep up with tagging enemies while still managing everything else.

That's part of the challenge, of course, and it gets easier as you get used to things, but the over-sensitivity of the cursor and the fact that it takes a good five seconds to tag an enemy fighter makes it more difficult than it needs to be. Then there is target tagging. I never quite figured out whether it was my own fault for re-tagging a target too soon after missing it or if the plane's unalterable automatic course is just wonky sometimes, but there are occasions when, despite having everything lined up the best you can, the bombing sites just don't line up with your target, especially if the target happens to be small.

And Yet...

This all likely makes the game sound dreadful. When it works, though, it works very well. And regardless of how tempted you are to quit after informing your computer in no uncertain terms that it wasn't your fault the plane crashed, there's always the drive to do better next time, to outfit your plane this way instead, or to make sure to take out all the fighters before going anywhere near those ground instalments (which you can't target). The game's individual parts might be lacking in several respects, but the whole is, overall, worth the trouble, not least due to the satisfaction received from successfully completing a mission and leveling up your crew. What it really needs is a training mode, where you can practice maneuvers and get used to the way things work before destroying your entire crew during a mission.

Audio and Visuals

Visually, the game is charming, if sometimes a bit too uniform. The graphics take a minimalist approach, overlooking textures and details and relying on smooth, somewhat blocky designs with bright colors to give it a unique and appealing aesthetic. The visuals aren't really the main focus, though, so even though one ammunition dump or recon spot looks exactly the same as every other one you'll see throughout the game, it doesn't take away too much from the enjoyment. An added bonus is the fact that you can set the graphics to the lowest setting possible if you need a smoother gameplay experience, and there aren't any drastically negative effects.

The sound does its job well. Your missions begin accompanied by a military drum beat, though in the heat of things, you'll only be hearing gunfire and the unintelligible chattering noise of your crew when they have to pass a message on. At base, it's a different story, where you're treated to some muffled and vague 1940s music as your background, except in the briefing room.

The Verdict

Bomber Crew is an interesting game. Its core mechanics mesh well together, but they can be incredibly frustrating to work with. The learning curve is very steep, making the absence of a training mode painfully noticeable. At the end of the day, though, the charming presentation and the desire to give it just one more go are enough to recommend the game, with the qualifier that you will get annoyed with it often at first.

If you do pick the game up, be sure to check out our guide to getting started in Bomber Crew as well!

Hand of Fate 2 Review -- A Tale of Revenge and Dark Fantasy Mon, 06 Nov 2017 10:57:14 -0500 Justin Michael

Two of the things I enjoyed the most about Hand of Fate was the game's story and its deck-building. Even though the combat was rather lackluster, those two things stood out like beacons in the night, reminders of those "make your own adventure" books I spent much of my youth playing. 

Crafting my own adventures and challenges was engrossing and satisfying, like I had a hand in my own fate. So when I had the chance to try Hand of Fate 2, the direct successor to that wonderful RPG card game, I couldn't help but dive back into that world. 

And so far, I have not been disappointed.

Hand of Fate 2 starts the player against a familiar antagonist -- The Dealer. Even though we've seen this enemy before, the game has changed, evolved into something different. One of the major evolutions from Hand of Fate to Hand of Fate 2 is the introduction of the map -- a playing field with 22 different and challenging meta-games. These tell the stories of what’s going on in the world and contain stories within themselves.

Combat has also somewhat evolved with a number of new weapons and combat styles. From wielding a mighty warhammer to a roguish set of dual-wielded daggers, there are new layers to combat other than the God of War-like single-button spamming of the original. A personal favorite of mine? The additions of critical strikes, artifacts, and companion characters, all things that really tease out some of the best aspects of Hand of Fate into something more tangible.

Every weapon has a something unique about it -- whether it has a particular enemy it’s more effective against or if it's imbued with special powers like The Cardinal Blade. Additionally, more powerful pieces of equipment have “fame” level requirements, such as certain legendary weapons that can’t be used unless you meet certain requirements by progressing through the challenges. This keeps players from “stacking the deck” so-to-speak and giving themselves access to overpowered weapons at the beginning of the mission.

Speaking of power, the addition of artifacts is something that is quite welcome to combat. I was playing the “The Lovers” challenge where I received a powerful artifact to help me combat the hordes of undead I was faced with -- and it was a boon for my strategy. Artifacts can be immensely powerful but come with drawbacks, too. In my case, I found that I only had three bombs total where I thought I’d have three per encounter. 

Another welcome addition is the companion characters -- quirky partners with their own fighting styles and abilities. Malaclypse -- the first companion you meet during the tutorial challenge -- is a roguish character that can help you negate damage and occasionally dole out splash damage to grouped enemies. There are a number of companions that you’ll come across during your challenges, some of them even tying into the story in their own interesting ways -- like the comedic relief/annoyance of Oswin, the potato farmer.

Other great additions to the meta-game include dice challenges, card roulettes, and even a pendulum timing challenge -- adding a bit more skill and luck to your adventures. It feels so satisfying to thin the tide of foes with a lucky dice roll or a perfectly timed pendulum game -- especially when you’re low on health and resources.

Visually, Hand of Fate 2 has been overhauled from the original. Gone are the lack-luster, but passable graphics from the first game. The characters look good, if still slightly cartoonish. The Dealer’s new den looks great with a number of subtle supporting environmental quirks that really bring it to life, and the battlegrounds are well styled and really feel whimsically fantastical. I personally really like the encounters from the High Priestess challenges -- snow-covered mountain passes and roided-out Viking-like Northmen.

The music is also very fitting, as are the sound effects. A lot of the time they're blended into the background so well that I hardly noticed them, and I like that -- they don’t overplay in the collective whole of the game. And once again the voice acting of Anthony Skordi -- the voice of The Dealer -- evokes a range of emotions.

The Skinny

If you liked the concept of the first Hand of Fate, then this is a game you should pick up. The new additions to “the game” are well integrated and feel fairly balanced. Combat has a few additions that add some more options and makes it slightly less “spam the attack button.” And the stories from the challenges have been fun and engaging.

If Hand of Fate 2  sounds like a game you'd enjoy playing, you can find it on Steam for the PC -- as well as the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One -- on November 7. No retail price has been announced at the time of this review.

[Note: A copy of the game was provided by the developer for this review].


Call Of Duty: WW2 Brings The Franchise Full Circle With A Classic Shooter Experience Fri, 03 Nov 2017 23:32:27 -0400 Ty Arthur

Another year, another Call Of Duty. But things are different this time around. Things are more familiar, yet things are altogether new again. This time, it's safe to say long-time fans are a bit more excited for a return to form for the franchise, to boots on the ground, to a band of soldiers trudging through war-torn Europe on the way to Germany. 

And in essence, that's what they'll get. 

Overall, this Call of Duty experience is quite similar to what you've come to expect from Call Of Duty year after year. But surprisingly, CoD: WW2 manages to distinguish itself from the series even more than Infinite Warfare did -- and without resorting to any spaceship dog fights!

There were plenty of assumptions about the game made by the keyboard warriors of the world ahead of time, with some that were right on the money... and some that were very, very wrong.

 The angry YouTube hordes insisted there would be no Swastikas in this game, and yet this is literally the first second of the campaign...

Call of Duty, Old And New

While movement and level design will feel familiar to anyone who has played the last six or seven CoD entries, there are some solid differences in how the guns handle this time around. The old-timey feel comes across really well in this iteration's arsenal -- especially in the single player campaign -- with far fewer of the crazy scopes and gadgets more recent iterations have seen.

Although you won't fly around in power armor or have grenades that scuttle off toward heat signatures, there's still plenty of weaponry to keep the FPS fan happy. And in particular, there's a meatiness to the weaponry that brings the world of CoD: WW2 to life. 

For example, there's a really satisfying sound and feel to the spray of bullets when you pull the trigger on the PPSh-41. And there's an extremely heavy, clunky feeling (and exceedingly long duration) while reloading the Iron Sights, one that's radically different from the high-tech weapons of recent games.

 Hitting an unsuspecting nest of Nazis from the side with this thing is glorious!

But not everything feels great, with a few gunplay hiccups here and there. While dismounting an MG15 and using it with the sight is a totally different experience and one of the best gun options in the campaign -- even if it takes up a huge portion of the screen -- the standard machine gun dismounted from a nest is wildly inaccurate and difficult to use, making it more useful if left stationary.

The divergent familiarity doesn't end there. 

Plenty of tried and true Call Of Duty tropes are on display throughout the campaign, but several of them are presented a bit differently. The close combat mini-games for instance get an overhaul in how you line up and press buttons to avoid getting shanked.

Instead of the snowmobile chase from Modern Warfare 2 or any of those "back of the vehicle" segments from other CoD games, this time around, there's a frantic sequence where two squads on unarmored Jeeps have to make it through enemy lines when tank support isn't available.

It's clear we're still in Call Of Duty territory, it's just been transported to an earlier stage in history.

And as an aside, sitting on the hand crank-operated, '40s style anti-aircraft gun is a real time trip and one of the more fun parts of the game. That behemoth of a gun is a beast to aim and hit, but when you take down those Stukas ripping into the Allied armor, there is an undeniable sense of satisfaction.

 Oh my god, I hit him!

Returning To War-Torn Europe

The game's environments match the feel of the setting really well, although they don't (in general) go too far outside preset Call Of Duty standards. Graphically, each area looks about as good as can be expected from this aging engine, with some nice little touches that draw you into the world.

I was surprised to realize the farm tools hanging up on a barnyard wall weren't just set pieces, but actual rendered objects, when they suddenly clattered to the ground as a grenade went off nearby.

It's not just the environments that create that '40s feel, though: it's also in how some of the gameplay has been tweaked. WW2 sees the return of health packs (called med kits this time around) and that was clearly done on purpose to further reinforce the classic, old-time feel.

While I'm not usually a fan of health packs in shooters, they are integrated into this system well, and are a critical part of the new squad abilities.

 Better patch yourself up and get back in the fight!

Band Of Brothers

Working alongside your squad is critical this time around -- especially since you aren't a super-powered robot god that can hack turrets or germinate evil digital bees like in the last few games.

The more kills you get and heroic actions you perform, the more you can utilize squad abilities, like having a comrade pass you some ammo or toss you a health pack.

The storyline does occasionally switch between different characters -- including a European resistance member fighting behind enemy lines -- but the focus is on one American squad doing their tour of duty. They start all doe eyed and lovable, but don't stay that way for long as the reality of the Allied invasion sets in.

WW2's campaign features a harrowing opening on D-Day, and it's as deadly as you'd think storming the beaches of Normandy would be. I can pretty much guarantee you're going to die a couple of times before crossing the beach and hitting the bunkers in the trenches.

 Well, that didn't go as planned

Overall, the storyline and character interactions are significantly more personal and close knit than is usual for a Call Of Duty game, and it's interesting to see the focus shift from "action-movie heroics" to "basically just trying not to die while following orders." 

Bring On The Zombies!

The single-player campaign is just one element of the game, though, with the real life of the party on the multiplayer side of things. Of course, Zombie Mode returns, with Ving Rhames and David Tennant on board this time, and as expected, it's an absolute blast.

If you loved the intricate maps and secrets to be found from Zombies In Spaceland, Attack Of The Radioactive Thing, or Shadows Of Evil, you will be right at home in the Final Reich map.

There are some cool new abilities to play with, like camouflaging yourself from zombies so they ignore you for a short time, but otherwise, everything you know and love from the Pack-A-Punch to the Easter Egg hunt returns in stellar form.

 Who's ready for the Easter Egg hunt?

The Bottom Line

So here's the thing you need to know -- Sledgehammer didn't totally reinvent the wheel here, but there's a solid mix of what you've come to expect with a few twists along the way to keep players happy.

The WWII setting is a welcome return to course, and clearly there a ton of similarities and parallels with epic movies like Saving Private Ryan, so if you are into that sort of flick, do yourself a favor and play the campaign.

I don't know if Red and Zussman are necessarily going to replace Soap and Price in our hearts, but they make a valiant effort and at least give us something a little different than what's been on display for characters in recent Call Of Duty entries.

While it won't be long before we're really going to need the CoD developers to do a full ground-up overhaul of the engine to keep the series alive, for now, this return to a classic style is pretty much anything you could ask for in the series. Boot up and get ready for war, soldier!

HyperX Alloy FPS Pro Review: A Bare-Bones Tenkeyless Tour de Force Thu, 02 Nov 2017 09:15:02 -0400 Jonathan Moore

For many gamers, HyperX is a name synonymous with quality. For a while now, the company has made some of the very best gaming headsets around, from the Cloud Stinger to the Cloud Revolver S. And around the GameSkinny office, HyperX is a big favorite.

But for all the innovation the company has brought to the headset space, HyperX has just relatively recently brought that ingenuity to the mechanical keyboard market. It shone brightly with the Alloy Elite, a gaming board we named one of the most well-rounded keyboards currently available. And it shines just as bright with the Alloy FPS Pro.

After spending some 20 hours with the board, the Alloy FPS Pro is a mechanical keyboard we can’t help but recommend. Priced at $79.99, it’s undeniably a steal if you’re in the market for a reliable and durable tenkeyless option that boasts an elegant design and fluid functionality.


One of the things I like most about HyperX is that they’re no-frills when it comes to their products. They don’t get caught up in RGB lighting or macro programming, and instead focus on functionality and design. And that’s reflected in what you get in the box.

Packaged in a red and black cardboard box that’s as sturdy as the keyboard itself, the FPS Pro comes with the keyboard, a detachable 6-foot braided cable, a keycap switcher, a set of textured W/A/S/D and Q/E/R/F keys, and a handy quick-start guide.

Since a lot of other keyboard manufacturers don’t seem to be including extra keycaps and switchers these days, I really appreciate that HyperX goes the extra mile to add a different type of customizability to their products -- especially since changing keycaps can be a royal pain in the keester without a switcher.

I also appreciate that there’s no fancy software to fumble with and install. And while that means you can’t reprogram the board or set a plethora of macros, it also means that you can get to gaming faster, using the keyboard in its optimal capacity right from the start. There’s nothing more frustrating than plugging in a keyboard and not being immediately sure if you like it -- that's unless you spend an hour reprogramming it only to find you still hate it. That’s a huge bummer you won’t find here.

With the FPS Pro, what you see is what you get.


The Alloy FPS Pro sports a black finish on a solid steel frame (which I’ll talk more about shortly), and the 87 smooth keycaps sit on either Cherry MX red, blue, or brown switches. If you choose to swap out the Pro’s factory keycaps with the red textured keycaps that come packaged with the board, you’ll find your primary gaming keys will have a bumpier feel to them, helping you better find them in a firefight or intense melee.

Across the top of the board you’ll also find your standard media keys (skip backward, skip forward, play, and pause), volume controls (volume up, volume down, and mute), and a Game Mode key that disables the Windows key to avoid accidental disruption during gaming.

Like other HyperX products, the lighting features on the FPS Pro are pretty slim. Instead of giving you control over 16 million colors, you’ll have the choice between red, red, and more red. But like its cousin in the Alloy Elite, the backlighting is crisp and vibrant and fully controllable via the board’s arrow keys, which allow you to cycle through six backlighting modes.

However, the biggest draw for the gamer on the go is the FPS Pro’s size and durability. Weighing just 1.8 pounds, the FPS Pro is nearly half the weight of Corsair's K63, making it even easier to stuff in a backpack or carry from home to office. To make matters even simpler, the FPS Pro’s braided cable is easily detachable and doesn’t tangle easily. The only thing that could have been better here is if HyperX provided a cord routing area on the board’s underside as an extra option, much like SteelSeries provides in some of its mechanicals.

But what really impressed me the most about the Alloy FPS Pro was its strength. It's durable as hell, something I found that out when I dropped it on solid concrete while transporting it from home to the office. After falling about three feet, there wasn’t a single scratch on the steel chassis -- it looked as good as the day I took it out of the box. Two of the keys popped off, but they were beyond easy to pop back on (and I haven’t had any problem with them since).


As you’ve probably already figured out, there isn’t a ton of secondary functionality in the FPS Pro -- but that doesn’t mean the functionality that is there isn’t worth spending a few paragraphs on.

You might remember that I mentioned there’s no software with the FPS Pro. For those that prefer a varied palette, that might be a hurdle. But for those that don’t mind so much, controlling the board’s backlighting is a sinch. You won’t have to sift through millions of color options or agonize over getting a pattern just right. Finding what you’re looking for is as simple as plugging the keyboard in and cycling through the options on the board itself. That means you won’t have to leave your SMITE match or the last round of Iron Banner to tweak your settings if room conditions change.

Unlike the Alloy Elite, there’s no sleek volume wheel for increasing or decreasing volume on the fly. Instead, you’re stuck using your headset’s volume controls or incrementally raising or lowering the volume one key-click at a time. It wasn’t a monumental issue for me while using the board, but then again, I don’t often use keyboard volume functions and instead rely on my headset volume controls to do the work they were meant to do.


The Alloy FPS Pro doesn’t skip a beat. In all my hours with it, each key and every switch responded with near lightning feedback. Of course, it’s a cardinal sin for modern mechanical keyboards if the switches and keys don’t respond or aren’t comfortable. But the FPS Pro does an exceedingly good job at what other boards do casually.

The Pro's Cherry switches perform as you’d expect them, rapidly registering each and every keystroke without losing input. But they do so underneath perfectly contoured and textured full-size keycaps. With a gradual dip, the keycaps provide the perfect resting places for your fingers -- whether you’re frantically inputting commands in games like Destiny 2  and Grim Dawn, or holding them down for hours on end in games like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and SOMA.

In a gaming capacity, I actually preferred that the Alloy FPS doesn’t have a numpad, leaving a comfortable amount of room between the keycaps. Sure, I missed the numpad and its ease of use for everyday editorial tasks, but for the games I frequently haunt, I never once felt empty handed without it.

My only true gripe is with the placement of the board’s F12 key. Both my colleague and I had issues with the key’s proximity to both the FPS Pro’s and the Alloy Elite’s backspace keys. In-game, the problem was negligible at best, but in everyday typing situations, it was a constant hobgoblin.


When compared to other boards in its price range, it’s hard to beat the HyperX Alloy FPS Pro tenkeyless. It’s responsive. It’s reliable. And it’s resilient.

With complete n-key rollover and 100% anti-ghosting, you’ll find that all of your inputs register exactly when you need them to and that everyday tasks are a breeze. And aside from a few very (very) minor hiccups, it’s extremely simple to use.

If you’re looking for fully programmable macros, full lighting customization, and dedicated keys, you might want to look at other boards, such as Corsair’s K63 tenkeyless. But if you’re looking for a mechanical keyboard you can count on, is highly portable, and doesn’t eschew functionality for cosmetics, then the FPS Pro is the keyboard for you.

You can purchase the Alloy FPS Pro on Amazon for $79.99. 

[Note: HyperX provided the Alloy FPS Pro used for this review.]

SteelSeries Arctis 5 Headset Review: Comfortability Sounds So Good Wed, 01 Nov 2017 09:44:09 -0400 Wizard of Warsaw

Steel Series' peripherals are known for being pretty great, and the Arctis 5 is a solid example of the company's consistency and emphasis on excellence. Part of the Arctis headset line, it's hardly surprising to learn that the Arctis 5 is designed to remain comfortable for hours on end while providing quality sound.   

The Arctis 5 sits comfortably as a mid-tier option between the other headsets in the Arctis line. And while it lacks some of the more impressive features of the Arctis 7, it still ends up being a decent upgrade from the Arctis 3. Coming in at $100, it provides most of the bells and whistles you'd expect of a headset in its range, but most importantly, it provides the comfort and sound to back it all up.


Similar to other Arctis headsets, the Arctis 5 uses an adjustable ski band that helps distribute its weight across the top of the head, helping you wear these cans for hours on end without any discomfort. Easily one of the most comfortable headsets I've ever worn, the Arctis 5 was able to stand up to all of the gaming marathons I've been running recently. 

The padded ear cups sit cozily without pinching my glasses, which is an impressive feat for a headset of any make or caliber. Even if you do run into problems with glasses, it's a simple matter to loosen the ski band a bit, readjusting to get things just right. In fact, the Arctis 5 is arguably one of the most easily adjustable headsets on the market. 


For the most part, I've never been one to get hung up on sound performance. I had a set of speakers that worked well for the longest times, even if other people said that it wasn't the best quality of sound. Knowing that I say this: the Arctis 5 might not be the best in the Arctis headset line when it comes to sound quality, but when I first put the headset on, it was like stepping into a new world of gaming. The fidelity of sound was infinitely better than what I was used to, and I will never again accept anything of lower quality. 

The upgrade in sound provided a new experience for some of my more-often played games. While playing League of Legends and SMITE, I found that I was able to hear certain champion abilities and ults being used nearby. But by and large, my favorite game to play with the Arctis 5 was Warframe. I was visited by the Shadow Stalker in a solo run and clearly hearing the unsettling whispers announcing his approach was a terrifying experience.

Like the other models in the SteelSeries' Arctis line, the Arctis 5 works pretty well if you decide to just go old-fashioned plug and play, but it really shines when equalized via the SteelSeries Engine 3 program. Through the software, you can change up myriad options to get the sound exactly where you want it. You can adjust treble, bass, mid. You can use either stereo or Dolby 7.1 surround sound. And you can use the headset's many presets for movies, games, and music if you don't want to get your hands dirty, making things a tad bit simpler. 

On top of that, you can make sound settings for almost every game in your library. Boasting 150 individual configurations, you won't find a setting you don't like, even if some sound a bit similar to each other. 



The Arctis 5's microphone was surprisingly effective and its bidirectional design actually comes with some pretty awesome capabilities. I tend to run into problems with microphones because I have a fan pointed right at me during almost all of my gaming sessions and consequently, mics always pick up that low drone. However, the Arctis 5 is different; impressively, it avoids those problems by using a microphone that ignores a lot of ambience coming in from the sides -- and I had a ton of people telling me that I wasn't allowed to use a different mic ever again. 

Easily my favorite thing about the Arctis 5's microphone was the ability to slide it back into the left earpiece. This feature isn't new to the Arctis line, but it's fantastically useful and always worth noting. It was nice not having to move the mic around to keep it out of my face whenever I wasn't using it. Plus, if you ever decide to use the headset to listen to music on the bus ride to work or on an afternoon walk, you won't look like you're wearing a gaming headset -- which is pretty neat. 

The Verdict

There aren't a lot of serious hang-ups for the Arctis 5. The sound quality is great and it's as comfortable as you could hope a headset would be. Honestly, the only problem I had was with the various cords getting tangled, which is just as much my fault for not doing a better job at keeping them tidy.

All in all, the Arctis 5 is a wonderful headset, especially at its price of $100. It's obviously outclassed by the Arctis 7, but if you can't shell out the $150 dollars for the top-tier model, then the Arctis 5 is a solid second option. 

[Note: SteelSeries provided the Arctis 5 headset used for this review.]

Review: Super Mario Odyssey is a Mind-Blowing Revival of the 3D Platformer Tue, 31 Oct 2017 13:46:54 -0400 Autumn Fish

Super Mario Odyssey is a 3D platformer in the same vein as the classic and genre-defining Super Mario 64. In this game, you travel the world in an airship with your partner, Cappy, in order to save Princess Peach and Cappy's sister, Tiara, from the notorious Koopa King, Bowser.

The gameplay is fairly reminiscent of 3D platformers of yore. There's a main collectible, called Power Moons, that serves to gradually unlock more and more of the game as you collect them by completing puzzles or challenges. Then, there are other types of collectibles to find, such as the regional purple coins used to buy outfits for Mario and decorations for your ship, the Odyssey.

Many longtime fans of 3D platformers are bound to recognize this basic yet satisfying gameplay loop. You play a level, explore around for a bit, collect a bunch of shiny things, and just when you're getting bored, a brand new level opens up for you to explore.

A couple of console generations ago, there were a ton of games like this. 3D platformers where all the rage back then, and so many amazing adaptations and projects emerged from it that you almost have to wonder where it all disappeared to so quickly. 

Super Mario Odyssey is the 3D Platformer We've Been Waiting Years For

I don't think anyone will deny that the 3D Platforming market became rather oversaturated a number of years ago. Like any trend that gets too popular for its own good, people slowly started getting bored of it and moved onto newer and better things. Because of that, developers moved on as well, and we started to see dramatically less 3D Platformers coming out each year.

In fact, we've been in a drought for so long that the industry at large more-or-less ignores the modern existence of the 3D Platformer, simply relegating it away as nostalgic memories of yesteryear that we only bring up to reminisce about the "good ol' days" of gaming. It got so freaking bad that the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy broke some serious sales records when it released earlier this year.

Super Mario Odyssey Review The 3D Platformer We've Been Waiting Years For

Enter Super Mario Odyssey. It goes without saying that the Mario games are renowned as some of the best, most solid 3D Platforming experiences available, but the latest entry in the series goes above and beyond expectations thanks to its innovations in level design and gameplay.

Not only does it fill the precarious void 3D Platformers have left in the gaming space, it's also an incredibly engaging and strangely immersive experience. Immersive is not a term you'd expect to see associated with a Mario game, but this one gripped my attention so intensely that I lost literal hours of time. It's been years since I've played a game that I actually had trouble putting down, and I definitely wasn't expecting it with this installment.

What Makes Super Mario Odyssey Special

When it comes down to it, Odyssey is an entirely different experience compared to the 3D Marios we're used to. Sure, there are definitely enough similarities. The levels are open and lend to exploration, much like Super Mario 64. The precision jumping is certainly familiar, and fit with sharper controls than ever. There are even homages to nearly any Mario game you could think of sprinkled all over the place. There's absolutely no question that you're playing a Mario game.

It's just hard to point a finger and compare it to any game that came before it. This is simultaneously a celebration of Mario's history and a brand new experience all on its own. There are a few things in particular that make it stand out, such as the new Cappy mechanics, striking level design, plentiful Power Moons, and much more.

Mario's new companion, Cappy, is, essentially, your hat. You can throw it and bounce off of it using a new mid-air move called the Dive. It can even home in on targets or be thrown up, down, and all around with the help of motion controls, and while they aren't strictly necessary, these moves are infinitely useful.

If you throw Cappy on a hat-less enemy, person, or object, he'll land on their head and capture them. When Cappy captures something, Mario takes control of it and can use it in a unique way to solve puzzles and complete challenges. This opens up a slew of possibilities for level design and it really shows.

Super Mario Odyssey Review What Makes it Special Capture Mechanic and Cappy

The various Kingdoms found here are breathtaking to behold. A lot of them are rather open and invite the player to explore at their leisure. The new fast travel system makes it easy to return to central areas to scrub it for any Moons you may have missed.

Each world has unique capturable enemies and objects which makes the simple act of getting around a true joy. Not only does each world have a fairly distinguishable theme, but they also have distinct level designs that really gives each Kingdom its own identity. For example, the Sand Kingdom is an expansive desert that hides many secrets in its sands, while the Wooded Kingdom is a forest that reaches into the sky with an insane sense of verticality.

Despite all this, Mario's new abilities and the brilliant level design would be little more than an amusing sandbox if it weren't for the careful and well thought-out placement of collectibles. Power Moons are hiding everywhere, and you can get them for doing all sorts of things. They are certainly more prevalent than Stars ever were, and while it may sometimes seem like it detracts from the sense of achievement, I found the opposite was true.

The frequency of Power Moons just made me want to keep searching for more. I got into a "just one more Moon" mentality and found it hard to talk myself into setting the game down, sometimes, because I knew there was always another important collectible waiting for me just around the corner, no matter where I decided to explore next.

And those collectibles aren't always Power Moons, of course. Sometimes they're purple coins, which are unique to each region, and allow you to buy special outfits for Mario to wear and souvenirs and stickers to liven up the Odyssey a little.  It's addicting to collect these coins for the shop since the outfits and decorations actually lend a lot to what makes this installment so immersive. Even the previously nigh-insignificant gold coins are worth going out of your way to collect, especially in the post game where outfits from the gold coin shop get incredibly expensive.

Super Mario Odyssey Review Every Collectible Matters

On top of collecting Power Moons, each Kingdom has a tiny story arc involving fixing the issues that have arisen in Bowser's wake. After defeating a boss or two, you'll return the land to normal and unlock even more Moons to collect. While some of the initial bosses you face are easy and kind of bland, there are other bosses later on that take the cake for some of the best in the series.

Oh and don't even get me started on the final boss. I won't spoil it, but everything leading up to it is breathtaking and the fight itself is full of delightful surprises. It's arguably the best final boss the series has ever had -- and that's not even all the game has to offer.

Mario with a post game?! Seriously, what kind of an alternate reality did we step into? So much opens up after you beat the final boss that it's almost intimidating. There are so many incentives to continue playing that its hard to keep track of and you just kind of get lost in everything. It led to a lot of aimless wandering, at first, but I never felt bored while doing so. I was always discovering something new even dozens of hours after the credits had rolled.

The Not So Great Bits

Of course, no game is perfect, and this one's no different. There are a few decisions that don't sit well with me, but none of them were bad enough to convince me to dock the score.

Super Mario Odyssey Review The Not So Great Bits

For starters, the motion controls were a questionable decision. On one hand, you can totally get by without them; there's no point in the game where you're absolutely definitely required to use them. On the other hand, they're incredibly useful and by not using them, you're ignoring an entire moveset that could save you loads of trouble in certain situations.

What makes this weird is that the game doesn't actually use a lot of buttons, so it's not like there wasn't room to just map these moves to the controller rather than using motion controls. However, the simple control layout makes the game incredibly easy for just about anyone to pick up and play, so I kind of understand Nintendo's decision to relegate these moves to motion controls.

Another weird decision they made was to include Power Moons in the gold coin shop. While you can only buy one per shop initially, the limit is removed when you beat the final boss, which means you can buy all the moons you need to see the secrets in the post game. I personally never decided to buy Moons from the shop, but it still left a bad taste in my mouth.

Other than a few stale bosses, there's literally nothing else that I take issue with in this game. It's just so brilliantly executed that it blows my mind.

Verdict - Super Mario Odyssey is a Mind-Blowing Revival of the 3D Platformer

Whenever I haven't been sleeping or otherwise writing guides, I have been practically glued to my Nintendo Switch ever since Super Mario Odyssey came out at midnight on Friday. This game is truly on another level compared to everything that came before it.

Not only does it innovate upon the classic 3D Platforming genre, is also finally brings it back into the spotlight after so many years of dormancy. The ideas that this title brings to the table are downright addictive and proves that 3D Platformers can still be made in creative new ways.

If you own a Nintendo Switch, it would be a mistake to pass up on this pivotal experience. Heck, I'd even consider buying a Switch for this game, if I didn't have one already -- it's that good! Whether you're a fan of 3D Platformers, immersive single-player experiences, or Mario in general, you're in for a real treat here.

Super Mario Odyssey Review a Mindblowing Revival of the 3D Platformer

Super Mario Odyssey is available now on the Nintendo Switch for $59.99.

Assassin's Creed Origins Review: Egyptian Setting Revives the Series Mon, 30 Oct 2017 12:34:00 -0400 Sergey_3847

If you've been following the development of the Assassin's Creed series of games, then you are surely aware of the fact that this is the only time since the first game in the history of the series that Ubisoft took not one but two whole years to develop its latest installation -- Assassin's Creed: Origins.

Fortunately for us, it was their best decision yet, which turned a series beloved by many onto its proper tracks. Although, Assassin's Creed: Origins has some problems that will be discussed in this review, most of the points presented here are positive. But let's start with a bit of history first, shall we?

The Setting of the Ancient Egypt

From the  point of view of world design, creating an ancient desert, the setting of  Assassin's Creed: Origins, should not be that much of a task. But we all know too well how seriously Ubisoft takes game designs, and the developers really try to bring as many details into their worlds as possible.

Ancient Egypt was far more picturesque back in the day than it is now with only a few tourist attractions left. In the ancient times, the agricultural system was highly developed and created a completely unique ecosystem that was unmatched at the time. That is why in AC:O you will see lush flowering thickets, sparkly rivers and lakes, and other incredible sights that create a fascinating contrast to the sandy deserts surrounding all of these locations.

But natural sights aren't the only places of interest in AC:O, as there are plenty of towns and villages to explore. These settlements are filled with NPCs and various dynamic events that may surprise you. 

The Gameplay and Combat Mechanics

The world of Egypt is undeniably beautiful, but we play games for the gameplay--which is vividly abundant in AC:O. Lots of small, random events take place that may seem insignificant at first, but they turn out to be tightly connected to the main story. This greatly enhances the gameplay experience of AC:O, and you naturally desire to learn as much as possible by following the chain of side quests and unlocking various secrets.

Humans aren't the only NPCs making impact on the gameplay -- animals are just as important. For example, you can tame the leader of the pack using the sleeping darts and animal taming ability. Later on, your pet pals will help you greatly in taking out dangerous foes and accomplishing missions.

The events of the game develop in a classical streamlined fashion, and will make you go through some intense revelations concerning the inception of the Assassins.

Now, let's talk about the restructured combat system that makes battles more dynamic and edgy. Many players complained on how boring the combat mechanics were in the past Assassin's Creed games -- well, the times of boring, slow combat is over. The fights in AC:O are fast and brutal, although a bit clunky at times.

Different players will have different perceptions of combat in AC:O, but it looks like Ubisoft took some inspiration from the Dark Souls series. The enemies attack all at once and doesn't provide a single moment for hesitation s they use all sorts of sneaky tricks. You can parry, dodge and block with shield -- remind you of anything yet?

Besides the melee combat, you now have the opportunity to use bow and arrows, which can be modified for more damage. Shooting with a bow is encouraged by the bonus XP system that grants you more points every time you kill enemies by shooting arrows through their heads. If you can do it without being detected, then you will get even more bonuses -- that's how the game rewards you for your skills.

The Story Elements and Main Characters

The main storyline revolves around a character named Bayek -- the Medjay, an elite desert scout and  protector of Pharaonic areas. He is involved in all sorts of political events and conspiracies, and becomes the very first Assassin, hence the title of the game.

Getting into more spoilers would be inappropriate, but you will get to meet the famous ancient characters of Egypt (Cleopatra and Ptolemy), Rome (Julius Caesar), and Greece (Aristotle). If these names alone don't make you excited, then you probably are not a big fan of history in general.

In any case, the events of the game develop in a classical streamlined fashion, and will make you go through some intense revelations concerning the inception of the Assassins. The developers have completely abandoned any ambitions regarding social commentary on racial issues, which to be honest, is a good thing and makes the gameplay so much more enjoyable.

Minor Flaws and Final Verdict

Perfect games don't exist, especially on the modern oversaturated market, where developers compete with each other by putting too many elements into their games.

Regarding the fast-paced combat in AC:O, you will notice that it becomes a bit of a hassle when too many enemies attack you at the same time. There has to be some sort of leg-up mechanic introduced, when you deal with 5-6 enemies at once. Otherwise, fighting them all becomes impossible, and you must scope things out just to deal with them in stealth mode.

Also, there is probably no need to mention the obvious technical issues and bugs that accompany each and every game, but there are some optimization problems in AC:O, of which you can read in our detailed guide.

Other than that, Assassin's Creed: Origins is a fantastic game that takes all the best elements of the action-RPG genre, (such as hunting, crafting, archery, etc.) and gives you total freedom to use it all in the grand and absolutely gorgeous world of Ancient Egypt.

Make America Nazi-Free Again With Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus Fri, 27 Oct 2017 17:26:45 -0400 Ty Arthur

Now that you've had time to get your fix of Destiny 2 and Quake Champions, it's time to shift gears to a hallowed American tradition: putting down the Nazis! 

Call Of Duty, of course, is about to switch from futuristic space battles to classic WWII gunplay next month, but first up we've got this utterly black-hearted (in a good way) alternate history with Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus.

In a world where the Third Reich built the atom bomb first, the U.S. is obviously a very different place in the 1960s. And that's where broken hero B.J. Blazkowicz comes in, ready to make America Nazi-free again, one hatchet throw and robotic body slam at a time.

 Or if that's not your thing, you could always dual wield grenade
launchers and human-melting laser guns!

A One Man Guerrilla War

As a single-player focused experience (more of those please, developers!), there's some really interesting world building going on that will make you think of the Homefront series. There's even a bit of something like 1984 in this tale of America gone horribly wrong.

Unfortunately, as a whole, the game doesn't have the openness of the latest Homefront, although it does break out of the typical corridor shooter fare with some unique level design. What sets the battle areas apart are the many ways to travel under, around, over, and through to flank your opponents (or more likely, be horribly flanked by dozens of Nazis). Learning these layouts is crucial to success -- using vents, side hallways, hidden staircases, and so on to stay alive. 

It's sort of a weird juxtaposition for a Nazi-killing guy with a giant laser gun in a suit of metallic power armor to be pulling a Dishonored and emulating Corvo, but stealth is actually a legitimate option in many places in Wolfenstein 2. Killing the commanding officers from stealth can be critical to staying alive -- and not getting swarmed by enemies. Plus, it's just satisfying to poke some SS officer on the shoulder, see the look on his shocked face, and then hatchet him to death.

Whether you go stealthy or loud, though, there's a high degree of difficulty in many of these levels, so get ready to git gud! Make sure to use the save feature, as the checkpoints aren't always forgiving and there are frustrating firefights you don't want to redo.

 Some of the levels will make you want to pick the pacifier difficulty

And Now For Something Completely Different

Those difficult levels where a one-man personal war is waged against the Nazi regime will frequently surprise you with their oddity and ingenuity. After taking a grenade blast and having half his intestines removed in an impromptu surgery, B.J. obviously isn't in tip-top shape, spending months in bed and starting the real action of the game in a wheelchair.

This reviewer was surprised and delighted to discover you actually play the first level fully in the wheelchair. MachineGames did a phenomenal job of making that feel organic and using clever level design to make that paradigm work (since obviously, you can't go up or down staircases). From using huge cogs to get across areas to a harrowing gun battle on a conveyor belt that keeps getting reversed, there is some ace level design on display in The New Colossus.

Having a sister-in-law with spina bifida, this was a nice touch that had me stoked to tell her all about Wolfenstein 2 -- where even people in wheelchairs can rack up an impressive Nazi kill count. Thanks, MachineGames, you made our day with that one!

Whether it was a deliberate attempt at inclusion on the developer's part or just a chance to show the stark contrast between the protagonists and the Nazis (despising the disabled who aren't part of the perfect race), either way, it was a welcome change of pace in a genre that often does know how to slow down, even for just a few minutes. 

 Wolfenstein is an equal-opportunity Nazi-killing simulator!

Things get even more unexpected and different from there, straddling the line between what's believable and what's just outright bonkers. Based on that description, you might think that this is something along the lines of Saint's Row or Borderlands, but that's not really the case. Wolfenstein II plays it straight most of the time and gets absurdly dark, with a few ludicrous jokes thrown in here and there. Even those jokes tend to be of the extremely morbid variety, however.

The story and characters don't pull any punches on the racism or gore fronts either. Not too many games make you relive your abusive childhood at the hands of a xenophobic father who blames all of his failures on anyone who isn't white.

Eventually, you have to decide whether or not to shoot your faithful childhood hound to avoid daddy's wrath. If you have the emotional fortitude, you can pull the trigger... or if you have a conscience, you can pull the gun to the side before firing and get a verbal beat down for your efforts. Sadly, you can't shoot the dad (I tried). 

But it all serves to show that B.J. is a broken man, and not just physically. It shows the psyche of a man on the edge, one that's out to take no prisoners. And the great thing is that it's all organic. There's actually a surprising level of storytelling going on here as he deals with the state of the world and his own family.

 An unhinged lady Nazi just hacked off my friend's head and is now making me kiss it. Anybody else ready to start shooting? 

The Bottom Line on Wolfenstein 2

The gameplay side Wolfenstein 2 is incredibly solid. There are plenty of enemy types, from SS soldiers to giant robot dogs and a whole lot in between, as well as a sense of progression as you can eventually unlock new abilities.

Besides just run-and-gunning, there are traps to utilize to microwave, burn, or electrify enemies, along with plenty of weapon types. Most of those are a pleasure to use, although unfortunately, the big, devastating guns slow you down and often aren't worth using with how quickly your health depletes.

Making up for that shortfall are spectacular levels that do very unexpected things, all offering up a cathartic experience for those who aren't super stoked about what's been going on in the news lately.

The Doom reboot sort of set the standard for frantic FPS action with insane weapons on modern consoles, and while Wolfenstein II doesn't quite hit that mark with its slower speed and harsher difficutly, it does some amazing things with the level of technology in the game's story. 

From the story to the game mechanics to collectibles and replay-ability, Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus really delivers. If you loved the first game in this "rebooted" franchise, you're going to get more of what you love -- and then some -- with this sequel. 

Guard me, Sherlock Review: Solving Crimes and Wooing Hearts Wed, 25 Oct 2017 17:02:56 -0400 Rena Pongchai [Kazurenai]

Guard Me, Sherlock! is one of the free-to-play otome (female orientated) dating apps from the Shall we Date? series which is in the stylings of a visual novel. The brand gained popularity over the years since it was one of the first to release dating sim apps on mobile - with Sherlock being one of their newest releases.

So you're probably feeling a gambit of emotions right now; possibly a little confused, maybe a bit skeptical, or even perhaps amused at the idea of a romantic visual novel based on Sherlock. Let me tell you that you are not alone.

Every time I saw it, I laughed mockingly before I decided -- just for fun! -- to see how bad it was. Oh, how wrong I was. 

The plot is focused around the protagonist, Jane Marple (default name), a passionate actress with a strong-willed personality who's most well known for her role as Irene Adler on the crime-drama show "Mid-Fall Murders".

The plot progression changes depending on the character route you choose. Currently, there are 5 routes: Sherlock Holmes, John H Watson, James Moriarty, Mycroft Holmes, and Mikah Hudson (a male version of Mrs. Hudson) - but for review purposes, let's briefly talk about the great Sherlock's route. 

In this route, Jane had just finished a rehearsal for a theatre performance when she's visited by three mysterious men in her dressing room - in which one gives her a bouquet of blue roses while proclaiming to be a big fan of hers. Deeming it unimportant, she sets off to town the next day for an appointment of sorts but gets lost on her way. She ends up meeting a variety of characters, such as Hercule Poirot, Jeremy Cassel, Mycroft Holmes, all of whom are related to her destination: 221B Baker Street. It is here that she meets the infamous Sherlock Holmes. 

She asks him for his help as she's been receiving death threats trying to pressure her into quitting the play. At first, he dismisses the heroine's case as it seems "boring", but later he gives her a chance, but only if she can correctly guess his cat's name. Ultimately, she figures out it's named 'Irene', in the process discovering that Sherlock does not only know of her but actually loves her character in the show.

While visiting her during rehearsals, he ends up saving her from being crushed by a falling stage light and realizes the case is bigger than it seems. As they spend more time together, Jane finds herself falling for Sherlock and vice-versa.

Unlike some romance stories that end at the characters getting together and having their happily ever after - this moves past that, as their relationship hits many obstacles along the way such as Sherlock being unable to understand his feelings, Watson's feelings for Jane, and the connection between the death threats and Moriarty's connection to it.  

My knowledge of Sherlock is largely based on BBC One's Sherlock -- an egocentric and analytical loner who has drug problems and difficulties in making friends -- and as far as that knowledge takes me, this depiction is accurate. THIS Sherlock is also an egocentric maniac with an obsession for Jaffa cakes and interesting cases.

Guard Me, Sherlock also does a surprisingly good job with world building whether through references to the city of London, which feels well researched, the Sherlock source material, or other crime detective fiction. For instance, in Moriarty's route, he owns a train called the Reinchenbach Express, which is a clever nod to the 'Reichenbach Falls' - the place where Sherlock and Moriarty have their final confrontation in the final chapter of the original Sherlock Holmes books. Hercule Poirot is also a famous detective of Agatha Christie's.

Watson is also quite accurately portrayed. 

Progressing through GMS is similar to most graphic novels. You choose a variety of options to improve the affection of your character in order to obtain the best ending. What really sets it apart is the inclusion quizzes and riddles, which you have to solve to get free items such as energy or bonus stories. Being forced to think instead of just absent-mindedly reading the story kept me engaged and made me feel like I had a reason to invest in the story line. Moreover, this felt like it belonged thematically since it is a game about Sherlock Holmes and company. 

The character routes all have a "First Season" and "Second Season" except Mikah, which means that the game is still ongoing with lots of stories to play through. In addition to that, the game also has other things that prolong the story you're currently playing through.

Hide & Kiss - A mini-game which helps you earn Sweetie points (in-game currency). It's basically a luck-based game where you can earn points, gold, and tokens to "kiss" your character of choice to earn bonus points. These points are used not only for checkpoints but also for events to redeem clothing, stories, and bonus CG.

Sweetie Checkpoint - These checkpoints are spread across the chapters and are based on your avatar - often requiring you to buy a specific clothing to equip onto your avatar or for you to have a certain amount of Sweetie points to continue the story - which you get by playing through the story, logging on, or playing the Hide & Kiss mini-game. 


Events - As with all free-to-play games, these special events give you the opportunity to earn special limited items and story lines you can't otherwise attain. There are 2 kinds of events: Ones that give special items where you just play the normal story and redeem sweetie points. The latter is a special story event where you can earn new CGs and items, although these are more costly and may require real money or "diamonds" to attain.

Need I say anything about the art? Aside from a few anatomy issues in rare images it's absolutely beautiful. The colours are bright while still embodying what you'd imagine a British/Sherlock game to be.

The game does offer bonus CGs for certain scenes that require diamonds/money to view, but these are completely optional and while they are adorable, you aren't missing much overall even if you don't get them. You can also replay the chapters and try to get them again if you miss out. 

Guard me, Sherlock! pleasantly surprised me and really taught me not to judge a book by its cover. Usually these kinds of female-orientated games - especially free-to-play ones - tend to be really shallow, poorly translated, or demos that allow you to try the game before you buy the full route for an expensive price. 

While this game was beautifully illustrated with a somewhat unique plot, what really surprised me was the quality writing, particularly concerning the characters themselves - especially Sherlock. While the interface and mini-games are very in-your-face cutesy, don't let it cloud your judgement of how well the stories are actually written. I've only managed to complete Sherlock's route (which was downright adorable) but I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how the others fare.


Guard Me, Sherlock! is free to download on both iOS and Android

The Walking Vegetables Review -- Not The Veggie Tales You Remember Wed, 25 Oct 2017 11:10:01 -0400 spacechaser

As you can probably tell by its name, The Walking Vegetables is a game where, instead of fighting zombies, you fight hoards of ravenous, evil veggies. Taking place in the 1980s, the game's narrative revolves around an alien race arriving on Earth to corrupt those at the bottom of the food chain, setting them loose on the general populace in a scenario right out of your nightmares. 

I don't consider myself a fan of bullet hell or roguelike games, but I found myself enjoying The Walking Vegetables from the start. The more you play The Walking Vegetables, the more you understand the mechanics of the game, and the easier it becomes, making it a great entry into both of the genres for newbies. However, it's also a relatively deep experience for long-time fans of those genres as well, bringing with it many of the key mechanics fans expect, such as unlockable, upgrade-able skills and frenetic gameplay.

Not only that, but the game is fun to look at, too. The VHS-esque flickering covering almost everything, coupled with the bright saturated pink and blue hues, gives the game a neat 80's, vaporwave aesthetic (think Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon or Hotline Miami). The music also adds to the retro feel of the game. The effect is that it makes The Walking Vegetables a much brighter and more cheerful twist on the usual games found in the survival-horror genre. 

One of the best features of the game is its local co-op. I found having a companion to help me make veggie puree broke up the monotony, and also made the game easier. Something I'd personally like to see is companion NPCs to help you through the single-player campaign. Adding a roster of recruitable characters placed randomly around the world would be a nice touch!

That being said, I do have a few complaints. My main beef with the game is that there is very little instruction on what to do or where to go. As someone who's not used to playing roguelikes, it was frustrating and confusing to learn the controls. Even looking through the "controls" menu, I didn't learn how to use certain items or abilities until I started hitting random keys on my keyboard.

The first few times I played through, I spent the time to look through all houses, clearing them out and attempting to find a way to move forward. While clearing the buildings is good for gathering loot, I didn't understand that my objective was to clear all the outside areas until I had came to the first mini boss fight. For someone more experienced with roguelikes, this kind of discrepancy might not be a problem, but as someone not familiar with that kind of gameplay, it was very confusing. 

Still, the satisfaction in getting through multiple waves of veggies, and finding good weapons with which to fight them, goes far in making me like the genre.

Overall, I found the game to be a silly and fun introduction to bullet hells. If you're afraid of jumping straight into an unforgiving roguelike game like The Binding of Isaac or Enter the Gungeon, maybe consider picking up The Walking Vegetables on Steam.

Nights of Azure 2 Review: A Unique Hack and Slash RPG Experience Tue, 24 Oct 2017 11:15:58 -0400 Synzer

Nights of Azure 2 is an interesting action RPG developed by Gust and published Koei Tecmo -- the people behind the Dynasty Warriors games. And if you're a fan of that franchise, you'll immediately notice the influence Warriors has had on Azure

The combat revolves around frenetic hack and slash gameplay against many opponents throughout the entire game. There's a real Kingdom Hearts meets Warriors vibe here -- and it's one that's at once endearing and unique. 

Nights of Azure 2's Story and Combat Shine Bright

As I booted up Azure 2 and got into the minutia of its narrative, I was surprised at how invested in the story I became, especially as someone who didn't play the first game. The characters were likable -- though stereotypical at times -- but the ways in which they were portrayed weren't unlike what I've come to expect from Japanese anime games. So it wasn't something that particularly got in the way of the overall experience.

For example, there is definitely a Yuri vibe going on in Nights of Azure 2 -- from the all-female cast to the many innuendos and character actions. However, the game isn't built around these tropes. Instead, they are ancillary to the story, letting the main narrative shine on its own. 

One of the biggest hurdles for me in Azure's early game was its combat and mechanics. Honestly, I wasn't a big fan of either during my early hours with the game, but as I progressed, I grew to enjoy it -- especially as I learned its idiosyncrasies and began unlocking more companions and Servan (creatures that help you during combat). 

You start Nights of Azure 2 only with your sword and a companion character -- but you unlock other companions and Servan as you progress through the game. This changes up the game's mechanics and playstyle, forcing you to constantly learn new strategies, keeping things fresh. Notably, some Servan even transform into new weapons for you to use for a limited time during combat, making battle tactics even more robust. 

nights of azure 2 combat

Another interesting mechanic in Nights of Azure 2 is the passage of time. Each time you choose and venture to a location to fight, there is a timer keeping track of your progress. Once the time runs out, you're transported back to your base and forced to sleep before venturing out into the world again. 

On top of that, the moon also acts as a timer in Azure 2. As you progress through the main story, the moon helps you keep track of the passage of time. Why is this important? It's because when the new moon comes, the game's over. It's an interesting mechanic that keeps you on your toes yet also forces you forward in the story. 

In fact, I actually enjoyed how it made me think about where I wanted to go and which quests I should focus on before I had to continue with the main quest.

Not Everything in Azure 2 is Gold

While the game system in Azure 2 as a whole is fun, it can be frustrating in certain aspects. For example, there is no easy way to test equipment because you cannot change anything once you are in the field. This can not only get annoying, but put you and your party in a tough spot if you forget to swap things out before a crucial battle. 

Another irritating (and associated) hurdle is the inability to switch out servan or companions. This was amplified by the fact that there were several times I had two or more companions with a quest in the same location, or I had to go back to the same location multiple times with the same character.

In a game where you can't afford to waste any days, this made it difficult to progress with some storylines.

nights of azure 2 moon phase mechanic

And although this is a minor and personal preference, I wish Azure 2's voiceovers were in English. I'm one of those people that likes to hear things in English, even if the Japanese voice acting is better. For me, having the option is crucial. And it doesn't help that there are also some battle lines spoken in Japanese but not subtitled -- so I don't have any idea what they're trying to say.

The Verdict

Nights of Azure 2 is a surprisingly fun game that held my attention because of its story and characters. The combat can get repetitive and there area few mechanical annoyances, but overall, it was a fun experience that RPG and hack and slash fans will enjoy.

[Note: A copy of Nights of Azure 2 was provided by the developer for the purpose of this review.]

Logitech G613 Wireless Keyboard: Office-Ready Ergonomics with Game-Ready Performance Fri, 20 Oct 2017 13:30:37 -0400 Auverin Morrow

When it comes to gaming peripherals, Logitech is one of my go-to brands for high-powered mice and mechanical keyboards. The company's G line of products usually makes up a considerable fraction of the tech you'll find on both my home and work desks. 

But Logitech's latest release is a stark departure from the hardware that already adorns my workspace, like the G Pro keyboard and the G903 wireless mouse. The G613 wireless keyboard -- and its desk companion the G603 mouse -- are part of a peripheral suite which offers wireless functionality in a package that looks like a business executive's setup, but performs like a gamer's go-to rig. 

The G613 might look like it came from a cubicle, but its mechanical switches and customization options make it worthy of the Logitech G name -- proving that you don't need fancy lights to be a reliable gaming keyboard. 

Designed for Executives, Specced for Gamers

Understated is a great word for the G613. When I first took it out of the box, I was surprised at its pseudo-corporate aesthetic and feel. Had I not known it was part of the company's gaming lineup, I would have assumed it came from its core set of office productivity peripherals rather than the G series. 

The G613 sports a charcoal chassis made from textured plastic, with some black accents on the keycaps and wrist rest. On the underside of its unibody is an inset for holding both the wireless dongle and the two AA batteries that are required to power the keyboard. It was a little strange to see a mechanical keyboard running on batteries rather than a charging system -- but given that those two AAs will provide you with around 18 months of use, that's hardly a demerit for the G613.

Topside, under the keycaps, you'll find Logitech's proprietary Romer-G mechanical switches that actuate at a distance of 1.5mm -- which is, according to Logitech, 25% shorter than its leading competitor. These switches are also rated for 70 million strokes, so your ult key won't get worn out anytime soon.

In the top right corner are your standard dedicated media keys (mute, volume control, play/pause, rewind, fast-forward) and a button to toggle Game Mode. Adjoining those keys are two buttons used for switching between your wireless connection and your Bluetooth connection -- a feature that I'll talk about more extensively later in this review. 

The G613's left side features a full row of six customizable G-keys that can be programmed to execute macros or other inputs of your choice using Logitech's utility software.

To RGB, or Not to RGB

It's important to note that neither the primary QWERTY keys nor the secondary media keys on the G613 feature any sort of RGB back-lighting.  Instead, they're the standard black-and-white caps that you'd find on any other board that isn't being marketed to gamers.

This is an intentional design choice that looks clean and ultimately serves the "office suite" feel of the G613/G603 combo, but I still find it a bit problematic. Forgoing RGB is understandable when manufacturing budget keyboard lines, but less so in the $100+ range of products.

There are plenty of boards at a similar price point that offer full-spectrum RGB customization (like the SteelSeries Apex 750 or Corsair K95), and many of those that don't still offer a more limited form of backlighting (like the red glow of the Cherry MX 6.0 or the HyperX Alloy Elite). So the fact that there's no backlighting options of any kind seems like a bit of an oversight with this keyboard, and it definitely made gaming in a darkened room significantly harder than I would have liked. 

Ergonomic Comfort Meets Professional Performance

Despite lacking RGB illumination, there's a lot to love about the overall feel of the G613 -- especially when it comes to ergonomics. 

Taking cues from its corporate aesthetic, this keyboard is designed much more ergonomically than other gaming keyboards I've used in the past. There are no awkwardly tall keys with sharp edges, no weird angles that are more for form than function. 

Instead, this board raises up to an angle that's far more comfortable than what most mechanical keyboards offer, and it boasts keys that are smooth and responsive enough to be comfortable whether you're holding down movement controls or typing at the speed of light. Using this board for long periods of time was painless and problem-free, even though it's lacking a truly supportive wrist rest. 

The keys themselves were as responsive as the marketing materials made them sound. Those Romer-G switches can easily hold their own when compared to the pervasive Cherry switch, and they're significantly easier to type on than other mechanical keys I've used. The response time with each stroke was lighting-fast, and I rarely had issues with missed inputs or wireless latency. 

However, the Romer-Gs did have a very unique sound to them. The G613's keys were quite loud, but not like the weighty thunks of most mechanical switches. Instead, each keypress was demarcated with a sort of echoing click that sounded vaguely cheap -- as though a mechanical switch had been planted inside a membrane board. This was especially apparent on the spacebar, and was noticeable enough that my co-worker commented on it a few times when my typing got particularly frenetic. 

The board's dedicated media keys suffered from a similar issue, as their feedback felt rather cheap and unsatisfying with each click.

If you're able to tune that out or it simply doesn't bother you, though, the G613 is as comfortable and responsive as any keyboard on the market right now -- wireless or otherwise. 

Multi-Host Wireless Capabilities & Peripheral Functionality

The design and performance of the G613 are solid, but secondary functionality is where this keyboard really shines -- and the multi-host wireless feature is by far the best thing about it. 

Logitech has designed the G613 to work as either a wireless keyboard or a Bluetooth keyboard, and allows you to switch back and forth between the two simply by clicking the dedicated buttons I mentioned above. To put it simply, this means that you can use this keyboard interchangeably and instantaneously with two different devices -- your PC and your phone, your gaming PC and your streaming PC, or so on. 

Because the unit I was using came with a nifty little stand for my phone, I connected it to my Google Pixel via Bluetooth and left the wireless dongle in my PC. Using the one-click switch, I was able to move between the two platforms with ease. It was fast and simple enough that anytime I got sniped in Paladins, I could switch over to my phone and answer a text or respond to a work email and be back on my PC before my death timer was up. 

Although there is a little bit of lag when switching between wireless and Bluetooth, overall, this multi-host wireless function works exactly as advertised and proved to be an incredible convenience. It's a feature I didn't know I wanted until I had it in my hands, and the G613 implements it beautifully.


Logitech's G613 keyboard is an interesting iteration in the G series of peripherals. It certainly offers the mechanical performance and input customization that you'd expect from a gaming keyboard, but in a package that seems to favor ergonomics and multi-functionality over eye-catching lights or an edgy design.

The keyboard's $149.99 price tag is a little hard to swallow given its feature set. If you're looking for a product that will check all the boxes of a traditional gaming keyboard (full-spectrum RGB, etc.) at the same price point, there are plenty of others out there for you to consider. But if you need a highly functional and enduringly comfortable keyboard that will let you type reports and gank casuals from your workspace, this wireless board is definitely worth your consideration. 

You can purchase the Logitech G613 here

[Note: Logitech provided the G613 keyboard used for this review.]

HyperX Cloud Alpha Review: Carrying on the Tradition of Comfort Fri, 20 Oct 2017 12:50:46 -0400 Auverin Morrow

After being branded on a full line of plush headsets, the HyperX name has become synonymous with comfort. The company's Cloud line has been widely acclaimed for its luxurious feel and excellent sound quality across a number of different models. The newest entry in this lineup, the Cloud Alpha, seeks to carry the torch of the Cloud and Cloud II while implementing a few changes to create and even cozier and more satisfying listening experience than ever before.

As a big fan of the Cloud II (my first real gaming headset), I was interested to see how HyperX would iterate on its design without moving too far away from what made it so great to use. And after spending myriad workdays using it for everything from conference calls to SMITE marathons, I'm really digging what the team has done with this new member of the HyperX headset family. It feels great, sounds even better, and carries on the tradition of the Cloud name. 


Sporting a body style that's nearly identical to the Cloud, the Cloud Alpha has plastic-bodied ear cups with plush memory foam ear pads and a leather-wrapped memory foam headband. The two are connected by an aluminum frame that (unlike the flat black of the previous Cloud) is colored bright HyperX red.

The extra red accents on this frame really compliment the red logo and stitching, and makes this set of cans feel more like a HyperX unit than any that came before it. As is par for the course with this brand of headset, there's no RGB lighting. But the Alpha looks so fly anyway that you won't really miss it. 

Alongside the headset itself comes a detachable mic with a flexible arm, and a detachable braided 3.5mm cable with inline controls for volume and mic mute. All this comes inside a soft cloth carrying case for easy towing. 


I went into using the Cloud Alpha with high expectations from my time with both the Cloud II and the Cloud Revolver S, and it definitely met the bar those two products had set.

What really distinguishes the Cloud Alpha from the Cloud II is the proprietary dual chamber drivers that HyperX designed and implemented to help reduce distortion and distinguish bass tones from mids and highs so that audio is cleaner and crisper. Here's a look at the new design and how it separates these sounds so they reverberate more clearly:

How did this function in our rigorous field tests? Well enough to make me consider retiring my Cloud II. The Cloud Alpha boasts an excellent range of sound, with distinct demarcations between bass, mids, and highs. Rather than all the tones blending together into a single tone, they seemed to echo of their own accord and create a multi-layered sound experience that's usually reserved for true surround sound headsets. 

When playing games like SMITE, this translated to a fantastic balance between background music, voice lines, and sound effects that packed a punch without overpowering any other element of the sound design. When listening to lo-fi jazz hop during the workday, it perfectly translated the ambiance of each piano and sax note without sacrificing the glitchy bass tones.  And in my go-to test for bass tones -- the pulsing house mixes of a dear DJ friend -- the Cloud Alpha reproduced full-bodied, resonant beats where other headsets (like the Corsair Void Pro) couldn't help but distort the sound. 

This isn't a surround sound headset, though, so there's not a lot going on here in terms of directional sound. Though the unique double-chamber design certainly provides some of the richness usually exclusive to surround sound cans, you'll have to pick up the wonderful Cloud Revolver S if you're really adamant about having a true 7.1 experience. But other than a few in-game moments where full directional sound would have been helpful, I didn't find myself missing it too much. 

There's also no EQ software, as the Cloud Alpha (like all HyperX products) is 100% plug and play. So if you're the type to dig in and get granular with your sound balancing, you'll probably be frustrated with the lack of control in that regard. Personally, though, I'm not a big fan of utility software to being with, and didn't think the sound needed enough tweaking to warrant that sort of functionality anyway. 


I'd be remiss in my duties if I didn't at least touch on the detachable mic that comes with this headset. Though I didn't use it for much outside of team chats and conference calls, it consistently put out high-quality sound that folks on the other end of the line had no problem understanding. I didn't get any complaints about distortion, cut-outs, or other issues. And being able to adjust the mic with the inline controls was a nice touch that I sorely missed on the Cloud II. 

The only point of improvement I can really highlight here is the lack of a reliable way to keep the microphone safe when it wasn't attached to the headset. Unless I'm actively using it, I like to have my microphone as out of the way as possible. Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of lost detachable mics if there's not some way to keep them conjoined to the headset without plugging them in. Such is the case with the Cloud Alpha. Though the carrying case is handy for travel, I would have liked to have a rubber attachment on the 3.5mm cable (like what you'll find on the Logitech G433) to hold the microphone when it's detached. 


Just like the Cloud II that came before it, the Cloud Alpha is incredibly comfortable for long wear -- thus continuing the Cloud tradition of being among the comfiest headsets on the market. 

Its ear pads are soft, and their reduced clamping force mean they fit snugly without being too tight. Though the leather can get sort of hot and is less breathable than other fabrics, I didn't really have any issues with sweating or discomfort because the headset is so lightweight. Similarly, the headband is airy enough that it sits securely on the head without leaving any indents or creating pressure points. 

To compliment its trademark leather luxury, HyperX has made some design changes to the Cloud Alpha's aluminum frame and added a fork design to not only make it more durable, but also help the headband accommodate larger domes. So if you had a little bit of trouble fitting into the first few Cloud models, this iteration may be the one for you. 

The only time this headset really got uncomfortable for me was when I took it off and wore it around my neck to chat with a coworker or answer the phone. Unlike other headsets with swiveling ear cups, the Cloud Alpha is a bit too big and inflexible to wear comfortably in this manner. But considering that this was only on occasion and isn't the way the headset is intended to be worn anyway, I'm hard-pressed to really call it a fault in the Alpha's design. 


Retailing for $99.99, the HyperX Cloud Alpha is an excellent headset at its price point. If you're familiar with the HyperX brand and like how they design their peripherals, you're definitely in for a treat with this set of cans. And if you're a Cloud II owner who loves the design and comfort of your current set but wants a better sound experience, the Alpha is made for you. 

It's not going to satisfy a 7.1-hungry gamer, and it's not quite able to match the impeccable sound experience of the Cloud Revolver S. But even so, the Cloud Alpha is a luxurious, well-designed headset in its own right that's made meaningful changes to its aural capabilities to create better soundscapes and an more satisfying listening experience. 

If you want to check it out for yourself, you can pick up the Cloud Alpha on Amazon. It's compatible with PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. 

[Note: HyperX provided the Cloud Alpha headset used for this review.]

Final Fantasy V By Chris Kohler Review -- How Influential A Game Can Be Thu, 19 Oct 2017 17:11:05 -0400 Erroll Maas

Final Fantasy is one of the most recognizable franchises in video game history. Ever since the first -- and at the time thought to be the only -- entry in the series, a plethora of Final Fantasy games have mystified players around the world for several decades. Perhaps one of the entries with the most compelling history is Final Fantasy V.

Chris Kohler, Features Editor at Kotaku, has written extensively on the subject -- and in his new book on the game, he closely examines the development and localization of Final Fantasy V, and the legacy it has created.

How FFV Brought New Features to the Table

Final Fantasy V was the first game in the series to have a more cinematic introduction, so the credits felt similar to watching a movie and instilled the player with the sense that they were about to go on an incredible journey. In his book, Kohler goes into even more detail about how the director and writers had to work with the programmers to make sure important scenes came alive in the best way possible so they were more impactful. Through the use of various interviews with the developers, Kohler craftily explores the way the story of the game was conceived.

Kohler also discusses how some of the gameplay of Final Fantasy V was heavily influenced by both Final Fantasy III and Dragon Quest III. Both of these games allowed players to switch character classes whenever they wanted, and Final Fantasy V built upon this element. It took this mechanic a step further by allowing abilities to be carried over when switching characters from one class to another, putting more freedom and more interesting combinations at the player's disposal. The additional information Kohler provides about the best class combinations and most useful skills offers helpful insight for any intrigued player.

Final Fantasy V Becomes a Best Seller in Japan

Although a more brief section in the book, Kohler talks about how Final Fantasy V became a top seller and the best-selling game in the series at the time shortly after its release in Japan. Kohler then continues to talk about the competition between Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy and how one series always seems to have an edge over the other depending on the region. Despite its brevity, this section helps illustrate how different the significance and popularity of a game can be throughout separate parts of the world.

Dedicated Fans Can Make All the Difference

Kohler himself was heavily involved in the story of how Final Fantasy V first reached North American fans. He takes us through how the original Super Nintendo version of Final Fantasy V never had an official release outside of Japan, how he and plenty of other Final Fantasy players modified their systems to play the Japanese version of the game -- despite lacking of basic understanding of the language --- how it led to the creation of an (international) online guide, and even an unofficial fan translation of the game still considered by many to be the best version. The story is an inspiring read for anyone seeking a career in video games,  showing how admirable achievements can be accomplished through enough dedication and effort.

A Monumental Legacy

Through plenty of later Final Fantasy games, to crossover games such as World of Final Fantasy and Dissiddia NT, the impact Final Fantasy V had on the series itself is clear. But the game's impact goes far beyond just the Final Fantasy series.

While previous games helped future JRPG creators get their start, Final Fantasy V was the first game people like Tetsuya Takahashi (the creator of Xenoblade) and Tetsuya Nomura (creator of the Kingdom Hearts video game series and The World Ends With You) really had a hand in creating. The impact of Final Fantasy V goes even further than leading to the creation of later JRPGs, as many of the people who imported and/or helped create the fan translation of Final Fantasy V (including the author) now work with video games in some way.

But the legacy of Final Fantasy V doesn't stop there. An annual charity event has also been created around Final Fantasy V known as the Final Fantasy V Four Job Fiesta, where four jobs are randomly selected for a player who then must complete the game using only those jobs. Kohler goes into detail about the event's creation, the different four job combinations, useful skills, and the benefits and drawbacks of having four characters with the same job, further encouraging curious players to try it out for themselves.

Final Fantasy V may not be as beloved in other countries as it is in Japan, but the development of the game and the overall impact it has had on video games is fascinating. Whether you're a fan of Final Fantasy,  are seeking a career in video games , or just like reading about video game development in general, then this book is highly recommended.

Final Fantasy V by Chris Kohler is available on Amazon and Boss Fight Books.

A digital eBook copy was provided by Boss Fight Books.

Logitech G903 Mouse & PowerPlay Charging Mat Review: Wireless Gaming Revolutionized Thu, 19 Oct 2017 15:50:08 -0400 Auverin Morrow

When it comes to innovation in the world of gaming peripherals, Logitech is often on the forefront. Whether it's high-accuracy sensors or typing-friendly mechanical switches, this tech giant has tons of proprietary hardware that's constantly pushing the market forward. And with its new PowerPlay system, Logitech is conquering an aspect of gaming peripherals that has been impeding developers since the market began -- hassle-free wireless performance. 

The PowerPlay system consists of two parts: Logitech's proprietary charging mat and a compatible wireless mouse (in this case, the newly released G903). It's intended to provide constant power to your wireless mouse and charge it as you use it so that you never have to plug it in.

It sounds like a PC gamer's pipe dream come true -- but does it actually work?After spending weeks using the G903 as part of the PowerPlay system, I can confidently say that it goes far beyond just being "functional". This totally wireless system really works, and it's easily the most significant innovation that gaming mice have seen in the last several years.

Design & Specs

G903 Mouse

When it comes to design, the G903 wireless mouse is nearly identical to its predecessor, the G900 Chaos Spectrum (which up until now, was my favorite gaming mouse on the market). The main body is made from a black, matte plastic body with grooved side grips, while the middle inset and mounted shoulder buttons are constructed from smooth, glossy plastic for some slight differentiation. 

The G903's ambidextrous design allows you to use the shoulder buttons on either the left or right side of the mouse, and you can switch between the two by simply removing the magnetic panel on either side and popping in the corresponding buttons. 

In addition to these interchangeable shoulder buttons, the mouse also features dedicated L/R buttons, DPI cycling buttons with an LED indicator, and a scroll wheel with a button to toggle between notched scrolling and free scrolling. 

For charging or wired play, the G903 has a long, braided USB cable that plugs into the front of the mouse. I would speak to the durability and function of this cable if I could -- but thanks to the wireless charging that I'll talk about below, I never even had to take the cable out of the box. 


PowerPlay Charging Mat

At around11"x13.5", the PowerPlay mat is slightly larger than a standard mousepad and offers plenty of space for you to play. The top surface of the mat is interchangeable, so you can choose whether you want to use soft cloth or hard plastic. I opted to use the cloth version, which has stayed smooth after constant use and shown almost no signs of wear. But the hard plastic top also seems very durable and feels rather similar to the SteelSeries QCK Prism mat. 

Attached to the top left corner of the mat is a hub cased in black plastic that serves as the power source and wireless receiver for the G903 (or any other compatible mouse). Though this hub is illuminated with an RGB Logitech G logo, its minimalist design is unobtrusive and fits in nicely with the overall aesthetic of the mat. 

The G903 Performs Like a Dream

When I first unboxed the G903 and added it to my work desk, it felt like I had just brought my G900 mouse from home -- and that's a great thing. I love the feel and performance of the G900, and it's nice to see all my favorite features from that mouse make a return in this new iteration. If you're a G900 user who's looking for a major upgrade in the G903, you're not going to find it. Instead, the G903 seems to be a near-clone of its predecessor, but with a few minor design tweaks and and added PowerPlay functionality. 

According to Logitech's press materials, this mouse utilizes proprietary Lightspeed wireless technology for optimal connectivity, boasting a 1 ms report rate and top-tier responsiveness so that you don't miss a single twitch-targeted shot in Overwatch. That's a tall order, and the G903 has definitely met those expectations in the time I've spent with it. Whether I was ganking mid-laners in SMITE or trying to mow down enemies in Paladins, this mouse kept up with my frantic movements and fired off commands as quickly as I could input them. 

On occasion, though, I did notice a little bit of stuttering or lag -- especially in the first few minutes after waking the mouse. However, I suspect this had more to do with the PowerPlay mat than the mouse itself, so I'll elaborate further on the issue later in this review. 

That aside, I did run into a minor hiccup with DPI settings. On occasion, the mouse would seemingly change the DPI without any input from me. Upon waking up or in the middle of using it, the DPI would suddenly increase or decrease, then stay that way until I cycled back to the proper setting. This was a rare occurrence that never really affected my performance in-game, but it did happen just consistently enough that it's worth mentioning. 


Just like the G900 before it, the G903 feels great to use. It's got nice click feedback on both the main L/R buttons and the shoulder buttons, and the dedicated DPI cycling buttons take the guesswork out of what DPI you've cycled to. The scroll wheel offers satisfying feedback in notched mode as well, and the ability to switch over to free-scrolling on the fly makes navigating long docs or web pages significantly easier. 

The G903 is also incredibly comfortable. Because it's so lightweight, no amount of sliding or picking up will tire out your hand. And its design is well-suited to a variety of grips. It's proven to be perfect for my particular style of palm-gripping, especially with the ideal placement of its shoulder buttons. Even through long Elder Scrolls Online marathons and the 9-5 editing grind, I never got cramps, sore spots, sweaty palms, or any other malady while using the G903.

PowerPlay: A High-Performing Wireless Ecosystem

Let's get down to brass tacks. I know the big question on your mind is whether or not the PowerPlay wireless charging and connectivity system actually works as advertised. It certainly sounds too good to be true -- but luckily for wireless gamers everywhere, Logitech delivers on every promise made by its promotional materials. 

I'm nowhere close to being a hardware engineer, so I'm not qualified to give you a full rundown of how this technology works. But here's the TL;DR. Using elecromagnetic resonance, the PowerPlay mat base generates an energy field at its surface that's large enough and powerful enough to allow charging while the mouse is in motion -- and it can do so without interfering with the performance of the mouse itself. This energy is turned into a charging current and delivered to the mouse via a special PowerCore module that attaches magnetically to an inset underneath the mouse.

According to the User Manual, the PowerPlay mat has a "usable surface" that takes up a fair portion of the mat, as outlined below: 

This area is designated as the sure-fire place where your mouse will function and charge optimally. I know some of you might be thinking that this is a catch with the setup, but it's actually not much of an issue. In practice, the whole mat seems to be a usable surface. Even when using it outside of the outlined area above, my G903 still appeared to play and charge exactly as it would inside those bounds. 

That said, there were a few rare occasions where I noticed some stuttering or missed input. While at first I was tempted to chalk this up to issues with the mouse sensor, I'm leaning more toward the conclusion that these minor hiccups had more to do with moving the mouse outside the usable surface. But in the context of the weeks upon weeks that I've used this mouse without any issue, the few times that this did happen were negligible at best. 

All in all, this wireless ecosystem works exactly as intended -- and nothing proves this quite like the fact that my charging cord for the G903 is still bound up in its original packaging. Some gamers may be disappointed that this wireless charging system won't work with their mouse of choice, but the G903 and G703 mice that it's compatible with are both excellent products. 


I've got to say... I'm incredibly impressed with what Logitech has accomplished here. The G903 is a top-tier mouse that takes all the quality performance of the G900 and adds PowerPlay functionality. And the PowerPlay charging mat provides a totally wireless experience that doesn't interfere with the mouse's performance and completely negates the need for a charging cable of any kind. 

I could throw any number of fancy, articulate statements at you about how functional this setup is. But that feels disingenuous. Instead, I'll just say that this is some seriously good sh*t. Being totally wire-free is incredible, and I don't think I'll ever go back to using traditional mice again. 

Both these products are available on Amazon. You can pick up the G903 mouse for $149.99, and the PowerPlay charging system for $99.99. The price tag might sound steep, but I can confidently say that it's worth every penny. 

Warbanners Review: A Collision of Unique Combat and Uninspired Design Thu, 19 Oct 2017 11:17:15 -0400 Skrain

Just this week, developer Crasleen Games released its debut game on Steam. Dubbed Warbanners, this turn-based game mixes tactical strategy with some mild RPG elements. I've been keeping an eye on this game throughout its development cycle and have been looking forward to its imminent release. But now that I've gotten my hands on it, I've never been so conflicted about how to score a game. 

Leading the Silver Griffins

Warbanners has you taking on the role of Roderick, and you'll loosely guide his direct actions in order to build up a mercenary company called the Silver Griffins. You begin your campaign with some standard swordsmen and archers, but the progression system will allow you to command bigger armies and unlock extra units for hire -- such as Knights, Mages, or Priestesses. 

You build up these units by seeing them through battle and reaping experience to level up stats like magical resistance, evasion, and strength. You can also reward your mercenary army with unique magical items to give them bonuses or special traits that will make them more effective in your campaign. 

The battles you fight with your army are based on a hexagonal grid map which features elements like foliage, structures, water, and obstacles. Vision and tactical strategy play an important part in combat for your units and adversaries, which means you want to use the map's landscape to your advantage however you can. So you can't just throw some units on the map and hope for the best -- Warbanners demands that you make careful decisions about placement and tactics if you want your units to make it out of battle alive. 

More Than Mere Brute Force

Although it is a war-focused game, Warbanners encourages players to utilize resources outside of their normal battle units. In addition to your fighting soldiers, the game includes non-combat assistants that are available for hire. These assistants offer extra advantages to your company throughout the campaign -- including constructing a catapult on the battle map, poisoning several enemies, or setting certain tile hexes on fire. When these boons are used intelligently, it can turn the tides of battle and ensure your army's survival. 

There are even potions to help you level the playing field. Liquid fire potinos can help you fight more effectively in the dark, while health/mana/stamina potions will keep your men in the fight longer. And if you want to take a more offensive approach, there are also potions that conjure poison-ridden stink bombs, and freeze bombs that reduce action points. Including these types of secondary resources adds variety to the game and the tactics at your disposal. 

A Series of Unfortunate Developments

Warbanners has a lot working in its favor, but it suffers from a mediocre, cliche storyline. Once upon a time, an evil undead force nearly killed all of humanity, but a hero saved everything and vanished. Now the undead are back, and orcs are besieging the kingdom. It's your job to go save the cities from them. 

I've seen this narrative so many times before, retold in so many different ways. But the game's take on it was generic and uninspired, so it failed utterly to engage or immerse me in the storytelling. I would have like to see Crasleen Games bring a fresh angle to this tired story -- or better yet, found a more interesting (and less downtrodden) narrative that would better serve its unique combat style and its mix of turn-based tactical play and RPG elements. 

 An Unfair Comparison

Crasleen Games sold itself short on the story front, but outright shot itself in the foot by making certain claims about the game before its release. The developer of Warbanners has often compared the game to Battle Brothers, the acclaimed turn-based tactical RPG from Overhype Studios. And although both games share the similar premise of commanding a mercenary company, their execution in terms of gameplay is vastly different. In fact, I believe comparing the two at all is extremely misleading -- and I bring this up because I've seen this comparison coming back to haunt Warbanners and I think it ultimately undercuts what players should really be expecting from the gameplay.

Battle Brothers is a sandbox style game that can be played in any fashion, while Warbanners forces you to follow along its (admittedly bland) story line. Additionally, Warbanners doesn't allow nearly as much variation when approaching most missions, because they're designed so that only some tactics will work and all others will fail. Though this isn't inherently a bad thing, it does limit the player's ability to play in a style they want to -- and when you're comparing that experience to something like the open-ended Battle Brothers, players are bound to feel disappointed by the lack of freedom. 

It's also worth noting that Warbanners and Battle Brothers have vastly different aesthetics. Warbanners features movement and combat animations, while Battle Brothers does not. This may be the one leg up that Warbanners has, as many players complained about Battle Brothers' lack thereof. Even so, the animations that Warbanners does have are extremely basic and don't add much visual interest -- which means that even in this regard, Battle Brothers made the better choice to forgo animations in service of a unique art style, while Warbanners included rudimentary, uninteresting animations that add no value to the experience. 

The Saving Grace 

In spite of its flaws, Warbanners has one excellent quality: the combat has a lot of variety thanks to the environment. You can freeze rivers, burn down trees, dig trenches, and construct barricades or fords to pass through water. There's so many options at your disposal to make combat more interesting -- and because the combat is challenging on its own without being overwhelmingly complex, it's easy to experiment with this kind of environmental warfare and further enhance your overall experience with the game. 

This mechanics really lent itself well to the multiple siege battles that you must endure over the course of the campaign. I wasn't sure if they would work well together, but I was surprised at how complimentary they proved to be. The siege battles were incredibly engaging and added some real scope to the game -- forcing you to think quickly and intelligently about how to defeat your adversaries.


Verdict: Enjoyable, But Flat

Warbanners is a fine game with some redeeming qualities -- but it also has its fair share of uninspired elements. It's certainly not a bad game, but it's no Battle Brothers either. Unless you're specifically looking for a game like this, I'm not sure that you'll enjoy it. And even if you are a fan of this genre, you might find yourself struggling to stay engaged because it simply doesn't offer a unique enough experience to hold your attention. 

Despite my conflicting feelings about this game, I do think it's worth giving a try just to check out the interesting combat system and the few interesting mechanics that has to offer. 

If you want to check out Warbanners for yourself, you can pick it up on Steam for $19.99.

[Note: A copy of Warbanners was provided to the writer for the purpose of this review.]

ELEX Review Wed, 18 Oct 2017 10:57:18 -0400 Kieran Desmond

Up until a week ago, I had never heard of ELEX, and I imagine the same goes for a lot of gamers out there. In a month where some truly huge titles have been dropping left and right, Piranha Bytes’ science-fantasy RPG will likely receive far less attention and appreciation than it deserves. Which is a shame considering how much fun I had during my time with it.

The World of Elex is Vast and Full of Wonder

ELEX is set in the post-apocalyptic world of Magalan. After being struck by a meteor, which devastated the planet, the rare element, Elex, was discovered. Having a diverse array of uses, Elex became highly sought after and divided the people of Magalan into different factions, who disagreed on how this precious new element should be used.

The main story is interesting if not somewhat predictable. You play as Jax, a former Alb Commander, betrayed by your people and left for dead. It’s a familiar tale of revenge, so nothing too special there. But because of your past identity, it makes exploring the rest of the world consistently suspenseful as you never know how people will react to your background. That’s if you choose to tell them, of course.

And as you go about your journey, ELEX's hand-crafted open-world is beautiful and fantastic. You get the sense that Piranha Bytes went over every inch of Magalan with a fine tooth-comb trying to jam pack locations with environmental stories akin to something that you'd see in a Fallout game. And with just a compass and no mini-map to rely on, the exploration feels real and intuitive.

The eponymous element is one of ELEX’s greatest strengths, as is the vast amount of quests that are practically dumped on you by every NPC you can bear to converse with. And as with any story centered around futuristic elements and sci-fi tropes, NPCs are unsurprisingly often pledged to specific factions, adding even more layers to the game. 

Of the four main factions, each represents completely different affiliations and ideals. The antagonistic faction, the Albs, consume Elex, making them stronger but emotionless and myopic. Addicted to the substance, Albs seek to conquer the world to claim all Elex for themselves.

The Beserkers seek to restore the world to its natural green, lush state and reject all technology. They live by a strict set of honor-based rules and represent the fantasy aspects of the game as they prefer to use swords, bows, and magic.

Then there’s the desert-dwelling Outlaws, who look like they've been ripped straight out of Mad Max, studded-leather outfits and all. With little respect for anyone (including each other) the Outlaws hold freedom to do whatever-the-hell-they-want above all else.

Finally, the Clerics are a faction that fully embraces technology, donning Mass Effect-esque suits of armor and wielding laser weapons. They silence all who speak against their god using the Power of Suggestion, which is basically a Jedi mind trick.

This mish-mash of genre tropes is what makes Elex such a compelling world to explore as there’s plenty of ideological conflicts to get involved with, drawing parallels with some hot-button issues in our real-world politics.

You’re only able to join one of the factions, however, which I felt was unnecessarily restrictive due to the handful of abilities locked to each faction. For example, my favorite faction was the Outlaws, but I was shooting myself in the foot by joining them as they have the weakest set of exclusive abilities by far -- no Power of Suggestion or big laser cannons like the Clerics, and no magic like the Beserkers. Sure, you can only modify weapons if you’re an Outlaw, but that pales in comparison to the other factions’ abilities.

It would have been infinitely more interesting if I could have joined one faction, learned some of their skills, and then defected to another. So you can imagine my frustration when I met a character in ELEX who had done just that -- she was raised a Beserker, defected to the Outlaws, and then finally decided to ally with the Clerics. If in the game’s lore it’s possible to switch between factions at least once, then the player should be given the same opportunity. This would give you a rounded set of skills and a chance to be involved with each faction, ultimately making for a more enjoyable experience.

ELEX Isn't an Easy Game, Combat is Difficult to Master, and ... Bugs

I think it’s important that you know how difficult this game is right from the get go. In classic Piranha Bytes fashion, the first few hours of ELEX are going to be rough. Even the weakest mutated rats will relentlessly destroy you (and your soul) if you give them the chance. And enemies with skull icons next to their health bars? Forget about it. Do yourself a favor and run.

The combat consists of heavy, light, and special attacks and is difficult to master due to its stamina based system similar to Dark Souls. Some hit detection issues, which see you taking damage even when it’s clear that the enemy made no contact with you, impact the flow of combat and cheapens some undeserved deaths.

The game also has several annoying bugs that, although will most likely be fixed via future patches, are worth mentioning. An unsheddable hobgoblin is the falling animation, which is very temperamental. Sometimes you'll be falling from a great height while Jax is just casually standing upright, which is frustrating if you don't know how far you're falling from. 

The companions that you can recruit to fight beside you, (who are incredibly useful most of the time) sometimes won’t defend you from attacking enemies. They just hang around like nothing’s happening until you attack an enemy, at which point they stop daydreaming and jump into action. Again, this is all small stuff compared to what ELEX does right, but it did affect my perception of the overall game. 


Overall, ELEX is a fun, engrossing experience. And like with almost any game, it has its issues -- some that keep it from being truly great. From voice acting that feels forced at times to the inability to change factions and a few wonky bugs, ELEX has a few blemishes. But those are blemishes that can be overlooked. 

The game world is engrossing and the combat is fun overall despite a few hiccups. And did I mention you get a jetpack? Adding verticality to the game, the jetpack makes exploring ELEX a blast -- and nailing awesome landings after jumping off tall mountain peaks never gets old. 

I was very impressed by ELEX and I'm glad I didn't take the game at face value. If you're willing to put in the few hours it takes to figure out why ELEX is so great, then you'll be rewarded with an awesome and memorable experience -- especially if you’re an RPG fan. You'd be doing yourself a huge disservice if you don’t at least give ELEX a chance -- purely because of the vast and hugely interesting world that the team behind Gothic and Risen have created.

You can purchase ELEX on Amazon

[Note: A copy of ELEX was provided by the developer for the purpose of this review.]

FAITH Review -- A Deceivingly Simple Horror Game Wed, 18 Oct 2017 09:24:05 -0400 spacechaser

When I first started playing FAITH, I couldn’t understand what it was that made the game so unsettling. The somber music and garbled text-to-speech voices were definitely part of it, but those, of course, are things I'd seen before in other horror games. So what was it that kept my eyes on the screen, unable to look away?

Well, a good many things.

In FAITH, you play as a priest who returns to the house where, a year earlier, an exorcism went terribly wrong. It’s up to you to restore the woods surrounding the house to its peaceful state -- and finish what you started. It's an unsettling experience that stays under your skin for hours after you've finished. 

At its core, FAITH is a pixel-art horror game produced by Airdorf Games, and it's terrifying despite its appearance. In a time where most horror games aim for realistic graphics that surprise you with jump-scares, FAITH's Atari-era inspired gameplay is a breath of fresh air.

Its limited gameplay mechanics add a feeling of helplessness to everything you do, something that’s difficult to recreate in modern horror games. There's no sprinting or running in this game, and there's no way to hide from the horrors chasing you. With a cross as your only weapon, you must navigate the map at a snail's pace, looking for clues to aid you in piecing the story together.

While wandering the woods on my hero's errand, I was continuously nervous, on the lookout for my dastardly pursuer, one that could appear at any moment, from any direction. And to ramp things up, the feeling got worse when I'd near the edge of the screen (just when I thought I'd made it out alive) because that's when the fiend would be at its worst. 

Things were made more stressful by the game's simple pixel style, which often resulted in an interesting -- and possibly frustrating? -- difficulty curve. I found myself walking up to anything that caught my eye and holding my cross up to it, hoping it would have some kind of effect, all with mixed results. Luckily, once you actually enter the house, items of note are highlighted in a different color, making them easy to distinguish from uninteresting scenery.

The developer breaks up the monotony with striking and disturbing rotoscoped cutscenes, which, after playing in a bright pixel landscape for an hour, are extremely jarring. This realism is different from the photorealism used in AAA titles nowadays: what makes it so striking is the contrast between it and the rest of the game's style, not the actual quality of the graphics themselves.

Overall, the entire FAITH experience is only two hours long, but it leaves a lasting impression. There are five possible endings, each spinning a new light on the situation at hand. Some make you question the main character's motivations and choices, some leave you with a bad taste in your mouth, but only one is the true ending. Each gives you more insight into the story, and the developer leaves it up to the player to decide for themselves what the truth is.

As someone who considers horror games to not really be their cup of tea, FAITH left me pleasantly surprised. If you’re looking for something to scratch that horror itch this Halloween season, FAITH is a must. Alfred Hitchcock once said, "There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it," a concept FAITH absolutely nails. Its genuinely creepy atmosphere and engaging plot will leave you wanting more.

You can purchase FAITH here!

Vive Le Roi Review - Maybe The King Isn't Worth Saving Tue, 17 Oct 2017 17:59:16 -0400 Wizard of Warsaw

In Vive le Roi, you are tasked with saving King Louis XVI. You do this by working your way through each level undetected in what would perhaps be best described as a stealth puzzle game. The game consists of 30 unique levels, each being its own puzzle, where everything in the foreground is merely a silhouette. It's got the quirky charm and unique premise that we've come to expect from indie titles, but sadly that's not enough to get it across the finish line.


Any puzzle game lives and dies based off of the quality of its puzzles, and Vive Le Roi is no exception. While there are a lot of good puzzles, especially early on, as the game progresses they tend to become frustrating because they require flawless timing. Since there is so little room for error and the game relies entirely on mouse clicks, which feels unresponsive, I found myself thinking I had the wrong solution to a puzzle rather than merely mistiming my movements. On multiple occasions, I was able to understand how a puzzle was meant to be solved, but I still ended up failing because I waited a second too long to start moving.

One of the game's strong suits is its variety of tools present in puzzles, from fireworks to barrels all of them provide new elements to utilize in the subsequent puzzles. Sadly, while the additional tools are interesting at first, the game never really progresses in terms of the puzzles' complexity. Instead, the game sticks firmly to the reliance on timing rather than interaction, which -- as I already mentioned -- this is not its strong suit. Additionally, the new items are sometimes hard to notice at first, since the minimalist silhouette-based art style doesn't draw much attention to interactable objects. 

None of this is assisted by a lack of replayability. In fact, the only reason to replay the game would be to earn a higher rating, which doesn't seem to have any real value other than completion. 

Art Style 

The art is one of the best parts of this game. The cartoonish silhouettes for the characters and environments give the game a comical feel. It's a nice use of minimal art that still provides most of the necessary information to play. The only major blunder in this department is that it was common to run into situations where I wasn't aware of how objects worked which caused me to restart a number of levels. 

Vive Le Roi is ultimately a mixed bag. I enjoyed my time with the title; the puzzles were generally satisfying and the game had a charming art style. But with it sitting at $3.99 on Steam ($2.99 on Android and iOS), while only offering 30 puzzles -- with many of the later being unnecessarily tedious -- and no replayability, I find it hard to recommend unless it's on sale. As a free flash game, it'd be a short yet enjoyable experience, but as an actual purchase, it's a little underwhelming.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole Review (Spoiler-free) Tue, 17 Oct 2017 12:06:10 -0400 Ashley Gill

To say South Park: The Stick of Truth surpassed almost all of my expectations is an understatement -- The Stick of Truth was one of my favorite games of 2014 thanks to its nearly- perfect TV-to-game transition and how closely its humor was tied to the show's apologetically crass early years.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole puts on the big shoes The Stick of Truth left behind and wears them pretty competently, but don't come into this game looking for the same experience. It's its own thing.

This time around, the game continues from where last week's episode left off, with the boys' superhero league, Coon and Friends, getting broken apart due to Cartman's uneven franchise plan. Because, you know, why become a superhero if you don't get to be a main part of the franchise? I highly recommend watching season 21 episode 4 on the official South Park website before diving into The Fractured But Whole.

Watching the above episode alone should fill you on the type of humor you're going to encounter here. The Fractured But Whole's satire and irreverence is closer to the show's more recent episodes -- albeit a little toned down -- than its predecessor. Despite this, much of the game should be fairly familiar to those who played The Stick of Truth. South Park itself hasn't changed all that much between the two games, so it makes sense that the humor in The Fractured But Whole wouldn't change extensively either. 

As the player takes the role of the new kid in town, you get a fresh start in Coon and Friends. This means you get to choose your own starting class from the three available options. Each plays very differently from the last, but don't stress about your choice at the outset: Cartman will allow you to change your class if you ask. Later in the game, you're given further class options, allowing you to mix and match your abilities to come up with a combination that suits your playstyle.

While flexible via class combinations and pseudo-equipment called Artifacts and DNA, the game is not very difficult. Most players will have an easy enough time directing the new kid along with Coon and Friends in combat.

Unlike the traditional turn-based combat in The Stick of Truth, combat in The Fractured But Whole is instead more akin to tactical RPGs. You have to navigate the battlefield to position your party (or your enemies) for success. In addition, each ability you use requires some Paper Mario-style inputs to make the most of them -- but thankfully, messing them up won't penalize you.

Certain boss fights break the mold of the rest of the game's combat, making players fight against a real-time clock in an otherwise turn-based battle system. These fights are frustrating and push the player to make hasty and rash decisions just to get a turn in before the boss interjects. I can certainly say it adds some much-needed tension to the encounters these bosses are featured in.

But one thing to note that many players will surely remember from Stick of Truth is the game's perhaps over-reliance on status effects. Stacking bleed and grossing enemies out was pretty much the best way to play the game, even more so on its hardest difficulty. This is not the case here in Fractured. Status effects are definitely more balanced, for better or for worse. Bleed spamming was pretty great...

The map is almost the same, combat is different, but what about everything else?

Exploration in South Park: The Fractured But Whole is almost identical to that of The Stick of Truth, though that's not necessarily a bad thing. Exploring the town of South Park and "helping" the townsfolk was one of the best things about the first game, and it continues to shine here. As before, you feel like you're inside the show.

There is far more side content here than in Stick of Truth, too. One second you're finding Jimbo's wallet to get him to take a selfie with you and the next you're trying to master pooping in the women's toilet in the police station for completion's sake.

As you progress in the story, you unlock both new places to explore and new abilities to make you an even better crime fighter -- you know, to make it into the franchise plan. But it does keep the gameplay fresh and interesting. 

Each inch of increased capability feels worth it and, despite most of what you take on being easy, feels earned. Even if you're just finding a powerful dildo artifact in a bathtub or are simply being pushed along by the story, everything has a sense of pride attached to it. In other words, you did it, new kid!

In addition to all of the above are minigames, which range from frustrating to pretty fun -- and each of them provides a wealth of customization options for your character, adding a sense of depth to the Fractured. Really, what more could you want from a South Park game?

The Verdict

Essentially, South Park: The Fractured But Whole is a worthy successor to 2014's The Stick of Truth, but it's not perfect.

The game's crafting system feels tacked on and ultimately unrewarding. Most of what you craft boils down to consumables and costume items, though the Artifacts are certainly welcome.

You get all these referential items while digging through people's drawers and trash, but they all culminate to be generic crafting items in action. You see the item name when you pick it up, then it's chucked into the stack of generic crafting items. The reference is fleeting and disappointing, sort of like the overall crafting system.

In addition to the above, something feels a bit off. While The Stick of Truth was completely in your face with every disgusting aspect of South Park, The Fractured But Whole feels a little safer.

This may be a reflection of how the show has changed over the years (with one of the big draws to the first game being its similarities to the show's earlier seasons) but answer me this: How does a South Park game have a pooping minigame where the poop is represented as blue instead of brown considering the overall content of the show? I think our answer lies in some sites dedicating such large portions of their reviews to how offensive The Fractured But Whole's humor is. Way to waste their time and the time of their readers by complaining about offensive jokes in a South Park game. High five, guys.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole does a fantastic job of filling the shoes of its predecessor. As with The Stick of Truth, you're tossed right into a scenario that fits perfectly within the South Park universe and it eases you into its intricacies like a sociopathic chunky kid with a complex franchise plan. It's not perfect, but if you enjoy the show you simply should play The Fractured But Whole. Just don't get too sad over the lack of bleed spam.

(Note: A review copy of the Fractured But Whole was provided by the developer for the purposes of this review.)

Holobunnies: Pause Cafe Review -- A Blase Set of Minigames Mon, 16 Oct 2017 14:14:06 -0400 Angelina Bonilla

It’s always interesting to see the development of a project prior to a game’s release, especially for a game like HoloBunnies: Pause Cafe. But this particular game has been in development for quite some time, being funded on Kickstarter just a few years ago. Honestly, I was starting to give up all hope that it was going to be released, figuring it was a game that had just fallen by the wayside like so many others.

However, Q-Bit Studios, the developers of HoloBunnies, went a different route than what was initially stated on their Kickstarter. Originally, the game had been a sort of metroidvania platformer, and while this game is still coming out, the developers decided that they’d release something to tide fans over in the interim -- a handful of minigames given the subtitle of Pause Cafe.

Is this game enough to satisfy the backers until the Kickstarter game's release in 2018?

Your mileage may vary on that.

We are given three different mini-games in Pause Cafe: an endless runner, a boss rush, and a brawler. All of these try to be distinctive while remaining familiar to those who play games in those genres. The pixel art graphics are cute and fun, while the music is cheerful as well as catchy. And yet... something about it feels like you’re waiting in an elevator that will never get to its destination. Sure it smells nice, has a mahogany wood finish and plays elegantly composed

Sure it smells nice, has a mahogany wood finish, and plays elegantly-composed waiting music, but is it worth being stuck in there knowing the real deal is just a floor away?  You start out in the titular cafe itself, where you can talk to the other Bunnies who seem to be tired from an unseen adventure. That's great and all, but wouldn’t you have rather actually gone on the adventure? If your answer is yes, me too.

You start out in the titular cafe itself, where you can talk to the other Bunnies who seem to be tired from an unseen adventure. That's great and all, but wouldn’t you have rather actually gone on the adventure? If your answer is yes, you're not alone.

In the endless runner mode, you play as this strange little creature that seemingly doesn’t have anything to do with the HoloBunnies. You need to time your jumps perfectly and occasionally save the creatures that pop up during your run cycle. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The Brawler mode is essentially an out-and-out melee with the other bunnies, each having their own distinctive abilities that are very unique and creative. Their attacks range from magical to musical, with each character feeling and playing different from the other, despite the fact that they’re all bunnies. The brawls can be fast paced and vicious or slow and methodical depending on the character you choose and your personal playstyle, which is nice. It shows the potential this game had as an action platformer.

Lastly, there’s the boss rush, which puts your skills to the test, making you learn each individual bunny's playstyle and test it against their natural match when it comes to the boss fights. Each bunny is paired with the bosses splendidly, and it gives us a chance to see their abilities in action. 

For example, Danielle’s healing counters the massive amounts of damage you take from the Shepherd of Fire and Mephisto’s dodging ability negates the onslaught of otherwise unavoidable icicles that rain down from the ceiling in Kurglabos’ boss fight. The characters and their respective bosses work organically to create exciting boss fights, making you itch for more, but all you can do is try to defeat the bosses in a shorter amount of time, rather than progressing to a new set of boss creatures or something of that nature. It’s a nice promise of things to come, but is limited for now.

Unfortunately, I find myself wanting more from these developers, and not in a good way. This delivery, while solid in many areas, is also lackluster in others. You can tell it was gutted from the original project in order to quell the masses who supported this game on Kickstarter, rather than bridging the gap between the two games. I could very well be acting too cynical here because I did have fun with the game, but it just doesn't feel like enough.

More mini games, more challenges, progressively harder difficulties, variations in boss tactics, and more could have been added. It’s like I went to the store to buy Oreo cookies and the only pack they had left was the one that’s been on the shelf since 2005. I know the developers are planning on adding more content, which is great given the current price tag, but in many ways, the game is a shell of what it could have been. And if there’s one thing that makes me sad is lost potential.

The Evil Within 2 Review: Bringing Back Classic Survival Horror Sun, 15 Oct 2017 14:51:03 -0400 Ty Arthur

It's been an odd, if mostly satisfying year for horror video games, with several franchises swapping styles entirely or just offering up unexpected changes.

Strangely, while Resident Evil 7 gave us a first-person horror experience in the vein of Outlast earlier this year, it's actually The Evil Within 2 that is taking the role of the archetypal Resident Evil survival horror game.

If you missed the RE of old or just want an all-around solid experience that makes you think of those glory days of console horror games, The Evil Within 2 doesn't disappoint, and it draws liberally from the best franchises out there.

 Nope, that's not creepy at all, not one bit.

Colliding Horror Styles

This game is just absolutely dripping with classic RE tropes, like resource management, zombies overrunning a small town, and healing items derived from herbs and green goo culled from monsters.

Unlike the first game, though, there is a serious dash of Silent Hill going on here. The similarities are just too huge to miss, with the main character a dad searching for his lost child in a small isolated town (where the highway has mysteriously broken off into a cliffside) and strange monsters roaming around. 

As with the first game, the genre and style mashups continue in multiple directions, showing clear nods to other horror games and movies. The character designs and some of the crafting aspects (oddly enough) bring to mind Dead Rising. Don't get me wrong: this isn't ludicrous horror comedy. But there is very much an overall Capcom-y feel to  the game -- even how some of the dialog comes off while a town is being covered by zombies.

 Where's Frank West when you need him?

After the first game's ending, the cat might be out of the bag at this point (spoiler). But even though the game's horrors are in a digitally created world rather than real life, that doesn't stop the terrifying events from being scary --especially when Sebastian heads back into the STEM.

That's because The Evil Within 2 makes excellent use of lighting, sound, unsettling environments, and monstrous creatures to bring the scares. My poor son was holding onto the bottom of the entertainment center when I started the game, getting closer and closer to the TV as I played, and he screamed and fell backwards when several moments of silence were shattered by a telephone ringing out of nowhere in the game. I would have laughed, but I was pretty creeped out too.

Besides the zombies with writhing tentacles in their heads, the big bads and bosses are pretty inspired, and you will legitimately want to run full speed away from them, rather than standing and trying to gun them down. Don't be a hero, because heroes die in Union!

 There are a trio of screaming little girl heads under all that hair, and all three of 'em really wanna slice me up with that giant saw arm

Stealth Meets Action Gameplay

The game is mostly stealth focused, with Sebastian trying to avoid monsters or angling to take them out from behind without being seen. This is a much more satisfying experience in the sequel than its predecessor because the environments tend to be more open and less constrained.

While the big bads frequently can't be killed right away, the random roaming zombies and other various unpleasant creatures can be taken down with weapons. In the beginning, this is sort of a last resort (since gunshots will just draw more of them than you can handle), but over time, it can be fun to shotgun your way through a mini-horde of creatures.

I had a rather hilarious first hour trying to master this system after having just come off a solid week of playing Shadow Of War non-stop. Still in stealthy Talion mode, I kept trying to sprint while sneaking and switch into the wraith world to see the enemies better. Needless to say, things didn't go well for me at first.

But once you get it down, the mashup of stealth and action is a pleasure to play, and doubly so because the levels are less restricted than the previous game, with fewer of those tight corridors where you have to find just the right path to escape unnoticed.

There's also more to do this time around, with side quests to undertake as you follow the ping of the communicator and explore the false world of Union.

 Can't say I share the sentiment...

A revamped upgrade and crafting system is now split between in-the-field crafting and using work benches in safe houses, and it works really well. The system add tension to the game as you have to avoid large groups of enemies to pick up components for needed ammo, health items, and upgrade parts.

The digital city of Union finds plenty of interesting ways to utilize game mechanics that feel like they belong there. For instance, you can heal Sebastian by drinking a pot of coffee at the safe house, but that doesn't make it a one-stop healing shop where you can behave dangerously and then run right back to get patched up. The coffee takes time to brew, so you can only heal every so often.

All the while, there will be hordes of zombified, insectoid, acid-spewing, tentacled things ready and waiting to tear you apart. 

 Yeah, we're gonna have to double tap these zombies.
The first shot to the head just pisses 'em off.

The Bottom Line

Although an improved experience over the first game, there are a few parts where the story or action drag during The Evil Within 2, and sometimes Sebastian's responses don't really seem to fit (why is he questioning anything or behaving like a clueless horror movie hero at this point, having already done this all once before?).

My only other real complaint is that the camera is a little wonky, and I actually have to stand farther away from the TV than normal while playing this game. I found that the way the camera swivels when Sebastian turns around, in particular, makes me feel nauseous if I'm not at least eight feet away or so,

Other than those issues, I really enjoyed The Evil Within 2 -- even more than the previous game, with needed additions and expansions thrown in to improve the experience.

Things get appropriately weird and horrific as Union breaks down and falls apart, and there is some truly messed up stuff going on in this game, which is a positive as far as I'm concerned. It was beyond time we got a true Resident Evil/Silent Hill successor, and The Evil Within 2 more than fits the bill.

Shadow Of War Review: Bigger Isn't Always Better Fri, 13 Oct 2017 17:08:30 -0400 Ty Arthur

Shadow Of Mordor is probably still the best all-around title to have been released on the Xbox One in the console's lifecycle so far. There's a reason why it nabbed so many "game of the year" nods and is still played by legions of fans to this day. With Shadow Of War, we return again to the boundary between Mordor and Gondor as Talion fights to repel the orc hordes from the world of men.

Hype was obviously high for the sequel, and that wait became unbearable when the summer release date was suddenly nixed and pushed back to October. I'm supposed to be playing horror games all month long, not lopping the heads off orcs while chasing the speech-impaired Gollum around!

But now that we're finally able to return to this version of Middle-Earth, fans of the previous entry will be right at home with the incredibly-similar gameplay. Of course the developers have again played it fast and loose with the Tolkien universe (even more so this time in fact), which will annoy the lore-purity nerds, but it's safe to say most won't care and are just going in for the gameplay.

It's a good thing we've got that solid base gameplay, too, because the story isn't quite as gripping this time around, and in some parts, it is actually sort of ridiculous. I was dismayed to discover I'd gone through the entire first game to (spoilers) finally forge a new ring of power... and then Talion immediately gives the ring to spidery seductress Shelob? I guess he's not a character renowned for his wise decision making, but come on, man. 

Don't worry about the story too much, though, because it's just window dressing for the real goods -- namely annihilating orcs and forging your own army to battle the Dark Lord's forces!

Seems like the sort of person I'd want to loan my magic ring to, obviously.

An Orc A Day Keeps The Dark Lord At Bay

On the gameplay front, there are a whole lot of familiar quest types on display, along with some new ones. Where Shadow Of War really shines is in its primary foe, however: the endless legions of orcs.

While the variety of orcs, captains, and war chiefs from the first game was awe-inspiring, here it's reached utterly insane levels. I don't think you could ever run out of unique new captains to square off against, all with updated strengths and weakness beyond what was seen in the first game -- in addition to whole new types of orcs to battle against.

Beyond just extra individual units, now there are entire new tribes of orcs with different foci, from the mechanical and fire-focused Machine tribe to hunters who will drop traps and use smoke bombs.

While you are killing somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 billion orcs, there's also loads more side missions to complete than before. Honestly, it might be too much, as the region maps get cluttered in an ever-expanding flood of new icons to check out.

You can open ancient Ithildin doors by finding ancient Elven words, locate memories to find out why Shelob became the way she currently is, try out online Vendetta missions to take out tough captains who killed other players, pit your orcs against each other in arena pit matches, and much, much more.

 Yep, that dude has an axe sticking out of his head. Cool hat bro!

Better... Or Just Bigger?

While playing through for the first few hours, I was struck by how much Shadow Of War suffers from Far Cry 4 syndrome. The glory of Far Cry 3 was progressing through all of those cool skills that let you kill enemies in new ways, unlocking new crafting options, slowly opening the map by climbing towers, and so on. When the follow-up game started you off with nearly everything from the beginning and just gave you a bigger map to play with, the main focus of the fun was lost.

That's very true here with Shadows Of War, which immediately throws you in the deep end in a sea of thousands of orcs while many of the abilities from the previous game are already available. It's bigger -- there's no question of that -- but in some aspects, it's not better.

The magic is lost a little when you don't really have to work for it at all. More of everything also means more repetition, and there does reach a point where all the endless orc slaughtering and identical quests wear out their collective welcome. The gigantic map can be smothering, rather than being something you want to eagerly explore.

On the opposite side of that, the war trolls, spiders, and drakes show that some of the bigger things, in fact, are better -- or at least bring in a different element to the game to keep the experience fresh.

 The bigger they are, the harder they fall!

Changing The Way You Wage War

Taking control of whole armies and the gigantic siege battles are where the biggest changes come into the series (along with the fact that you can now tame and fly fire-breathing drakes).

This is really the part where the sequel departs from its predecessor and actually takes things to the next level -- instead of just rehashing more of the same. You will experience nail-biting waves of this new siege warfare, between the main campaign and the insane back and forth siege grind that is Shadow of War's post-game. 

Beyond that welcome upgrade, some of the changes in Shadow Of War feel rather out of place, but thankfully, they are far less intrusive than the angry Reddit legions and outraged Facebook keyboard warriors would have you believe.

Of course, the loot chests have to be mentioned. They don't match the feel of a Middle-Earth game at all. I don't know how publishers keep convincing developers to implement these, but it is what it is and they probably aren't going away. Thankfully, they are completely avoidable. You could play the whole game and never need to buy a single loot chest. I know because I did.

From there, we've also got some ARPG elements added in this time around, like item upgrades and gems, along with random drop legendary sets that beef up as you gain more pieces from each set.

 Gotta keep those weapons upgraded!

The Bottom Line

Although I've focused on a lot of Shadow of War's negatives, that's mostly just because they stand out against how strong the game's positives remain. The large-scale one-versus-many combat is just as much of a pleasure now as it was before, and in fact, probably more so with some of the new Shadow Of War additions.

There are now even more options for destroying a horde or tackling a difficult captain, like poisoning, freezing, and lighting orcs on fire in completely different ways. Honestly, it's kind of annoying that the Shadow Of Mordor/Shadow of War Nemesis system didn't ever make it into other games, because this feels like it should (definitely) be utilized in other settings.

Although the story as a whole has ups and downs, I'm also glad they decided to provide a definitive conclusion to Talion's saga if you grind your way through to the secret true ending after 10 stages of increasingly-difficult battles. The book is pretty well closed on Talion and Celbrimbror, as the story goes full circle, dovetailing into the start of The Fellowship Of The Ring and then jumping through the end of Return Of The King. At least now we know that something different will have to happen if there's ever a third game.

While not as groundbreaking or genre-changing as its predecessor, Shadow Of War is still very much worth your time if you loved the previous game, or even if you are new to the franchise and just want to see what all the fuss is about.


Ready to find out how the Ranger and his wraith companion fully fit into the Lord Of The Rings mythology? Dive into our Shadow Of War guides here and have fun annihilating endless orc hordes!

Holy Potatoes! What the Hell?! Review: Sinner Chef Tycoon Fri, 13 Oct 2017 10:00:01 -0400 Greyson Ditzler (PurplePocketPirate)

Holy Potatoes! What the Hell?! is the third installment in the Holy Potatoes! series of simulation games developed by Daylight Studios. All the games made so far under the Holy Potatoes! name have been simulation games, but all are simulations of a different kind with unconnected plot-lines. The series only shares the simple and cutesy potato-aesthetic and a sense of humor loaded with pop-culture references and puns.

The first game, Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?!, was a business simulator that had players forging hundreds of different weapons in a fantasy setting. The second game, Holy Potatoes! We're in Space?!, was a space adventure roguelite where players had to manage a spaceship. And Holy Potatoes! What the Hell?! is a restaurant management game that happens to take place across the nine circles of Hell. 

You play as a team of chefs who have lost their memories upon entering the unsavory afterlife and must appease the gods with food made from legions of potato sinners in order to earn your freedom and gain entrance to Heaven.

But is Holy Potatoes! What the Hell?! as good (and quirky) as its premise promises? 

Gameplay Predicated By A Pun About Potatoes

Simulation games come in all shapes and sizes, from The Sims to Roller Coaster Tycoon and even Stardew Valley. But for the most part, they share one major element of core gameplay -- and that is the diligent balance of managing time and resources while slowly improving your tool set . Holy Potatoes! What the Hell?! is no different. The game has you using a series of specialized cooking stations that you slowly upgrade from stage-to-stage to process waves of potato sinners, all in the effort to turn them into various ingredients to use in a variety of starchy dishes. 

Every sinner has four stats: Malice, Pride, Greed, and Apathy. And you sort them each into one of your various cooking stations depending on which of their stats is the highest or what ingredient you need the most. You must use these ingredients in order to craft various dishes in accordance with the tastes and temperaments of the numerous gods who drop by at lunch and dinner.

The start of a new round of orders in the middle of the lunch rush.

Every day of gameplay is divided into different sections, and each day always starts with brief prep time (in order to make some ingredients to start with). You'll also have time to upgrade or replace your equipment before the rush begins if you happen to have enough favor from the gods lying around. 

While favor is what you use to buy upgrades in the levels themselves, between those levels you have the chance to spend the game's other currency, $tarch (yes, $tarch), at a shop screen where you can buy minor cosmetic elements, as well as one-time use performance-boosting items.

These items can range from toppings that increase the overall grade of a meal in a pinch to enhancements for your cooking stations that make them temporarily faster. These items are priced depending on their usefulness, with large price gaps between the basic and advanced versions of each power-up. This makes for good balance as you try your best to smartly work to not have to rely on the very expensive items if you can help it.

   This mysterious Ned-Flanders-looking spud's got the goods.

On occasion, you also have to deal with the odd random event involving an incoming sinner. You'll have to decide whether or not it would be smart or not to bring them into your kitchen as hired help rather than additional rations. Your choice matters, too. You'll also have the chance in these situations of gaining temporary bonus effects, negative effects, or nothing at all based on your judgment call.

These effects can be fairly unpredictable because sometimes a shady backstory can result in a quality employee and vice versa, which is interesting but also seems a smidgen imbalanced due to their lack of consistency. But seeing how the negative effects and the positive effects both only last a short time, and there's still a chance that nothing will happen at all, it all seems to even out.

So all in all, the gameplay for Holy Potatoes! What the Hell?! is solid, if unadventurous. You do slowly gain more mechanics as the levels go on, such as the ability to convert any dish into an alcoholic beverage (useful for keeping your patrons patient), as well as generating spices and seasonings on top of regular ingredients. But for the most part, the gameplay stays the same throughout the game. You're cooking using the same ingredients and the same skill-set that you start the game with from start to finish. 

This isn't really a bad thing, as the gameplay is competently designed and adds enough complexity with each stage to change things up and gradually increase difficulty. But if you aren't taken in by it after about an hour or so, then likely won't enjoy the rest of the experience.  

The overall pacing of the game is generally good -- barring the slow start. The game never really reached a fevered pitch like some other simulators, but when I had to keep track of multiple orders at once, keep all my machines up-to-date and functioning, and the sinners were coming in quickly with some good quips to match, it all came together and I was having a good time.

Holy Presentation! What's the Deal?!

The presentation of What the Hell?! is mixed. This is the first game in the Holy Potatoes! series to take place mostly in 3D, and although I think that the jump worked ok, it could have been smoother. The graphics look good for what they are, and the artstyle of the series adapted to 3D better than some have. But I kept getting distracted by how the basic shading and slightly lumpy 3D models looked, reminding me of CD-ROM games I used to pick up at Scholastic book fairs or from second-party GameCube and PS2 games.  

A typical between-chapter story segment cutscene.

The game runs perfectly fine, and I'm not trying to say it looks bad at all because I found the aesthetic fairly pleasant, but the simple and repetitive screen layouts from chapter-to-chapter, the occasionally lumpy models, and the simple textures are noticeable enough to mention. 

I can't say for certain, but the fact that the last game Holy Potatoes! We're in Space?! came out two years after the first game but within the same year as this one, and taking into mind the perfectly acceptable but still fairly basic presentation and gameplay, I get the impression that this game might not have spent too long in development. It doesn't feel slapped together or cheaply made, but I would say that it feels cost-effectively made; each new environment is more-or-less just a new background that doesn't affect the gameplay, and most of the models for the numerous sinners could have easily been randomly generated.  

As for the game's writing, the comedy here is heavily reliant on dark humor, wordplay, and pop-culture references above all else. I don't have anything against these things as staples of comedy, but it just never quite hit me here. The pop-culture references are mostly done for the sake of connecting the game to other works of media, though some are somewhat jovial, and the dark humor gets it's darkest at the start when you realize your processing and serving people to a bunch of gods at a popular underworld restaurant. The randomly generated dialogue for all the sinners is what managed to get the most laughs out of me. Some of my highlights include "I kidnapped a stranger! Because I wanted to be famous!" and "I spanked my husband! The voices in my head told me to!". 

Finally, the story has some light intrigue from the start and, as a framing device for such a fun premise, works pretty well. I wouldn't call the story deep or the characters particularly captivating, but all in all the narrative worked for the story it was trying to tell.

In Punclusion

I'd recommend Holy Potatoes! What the Hell?! to people looking for a decent simulation game -- but only as a casual recommendation. It starts slow and its repetitive core game design doesn't do full justice to the admittedly clever premise. It's a game that doesn't do anything particularly poorly, but it's also a game that doesn't do anything exceptionally well, either. In the end, it's mostly held up by its somewhat unique identity and competent gameplay.

But disregarding the few flaws that stick to it, Holy Potatoes! What the Hell?! is a slightly above-average simulation game with basic gameplay done well, a charming if unimpressive presentation, and a distinct style and personality to back it up. On a scale between stale tater tots to garlic mashed potatoes, I give it an au gratin.  

Holy Potatoes! What the Hell?! is available now on Steam, and there is a free demo available for download if you'd like to try it before you buy. You can watch a trailer for the game below:

[Note: Review copy provided by Daedalic Entertainment GmbH]

SiNKR Review: A Soothing, Minimalist Puzzle Experience Thu, 12 Oct 2017 13:32:58 -0400 Kat De Shields

I'm the kind of person who likes to end the day with a glass of wine and a good puzzle game before bed. Whether it's The Room series, Monument Valley, or Back to Bed, I enjoy puzzle games where I can move at my own pace and contains the pick-up-and-go quality needed to keep me coming back level after level. I knew I discovered a new, favorite nighttime puzzle game when I came across SiNKR at TERMINUS, Atlanta. 

Developed by Robert Wahler, SiNKR is a minimalist puzzle game where you use hooks, pucks, and other contraptions to clean up each level.  Accolades for the title include being voted Fan Favorite at SIEGE Con Atlanta, the Megashow Selection at Indie Mega Booth, and Indie Selection at Dreamhack, Atlanta. Though the game doesn't revolutionize the puzzle genre, it offers plenty of things to enjoy across its 60 levels. 

Hook, Line, and SiNKR

The core mechanics of the game are simple: guide pucks to their designated place using hooks and hexagons to gently drag them home. Apart from the title screen, there are no words or tutorials. Players have to jump in and start figuring things out on their own. 

As difficulty progresses, elements like hooks capable of changing orientation (and linking together), square pucks, teleporters, and launch pads are thrown into the mix. The learning curve is perfectly paced, and all levels are handcrafted. By the time you become comfortable navigating one mechanic, another is soon added for you to conquer. 

No lie -- later puzzles look overwhelming with all the contraptions and paths on the screen. Sequencing is critical, and it pays to take a moment to visualize paths before you start reeling those pucks to their designated slots. Trial and error is a large part of SiNKR. If you mess up, just tap the reset button in the lower, right-hand corner. No fuss, no worries. The satisfaction of completing a level and progressing forward is worth the effort. 

The grid on the screen definitely comes in handy.

Simple Sounds by Design 

There are a few things that stand out about SiNKR — the main point being just how relaxing it is. A large part of this is due to the game's ambient soundtrack — developed enough to be present but not so complex as to be distracting. It seamlessly follows you as you progress through the levels. Its repetitive nature may annoy some, but for puzzle fans where concentration is key, SiNKR offers a soothing track that encourages thinking and relaxation. 

As an added bonus, the soundtrack is also responsive. Your actions are accompanied by piano samples that further create a relaxing atmosphere for the game. With no scores, timers, or distractions, SiNKR is a game where you can zone out and lose yourself in puzzle solving.  

The Skinny on SiNKR

You'll love this game if:

  • You're a legit puzzle game fan;
  • You enjoy a minimalist approach to game design;
  • You like figuring things out on your own with no direction. 

You may not like this game if:

  • A repetitive soundtrack gets on your nerves;
  • You need a lot of action or variation on-screen to enjoy your gaming experience; 
  • Trial and error isn't your cup of tea. 

TL;DR: If you enjoy a good puzzle game to while away a few hours or to unwind with before bed, you'll have a hard time finding something more relaxing than SiNKR

SiNKR is now available on Steam for $0.99 (and is controller supported) with iOS and Android versions coming in the near future. 

[Note: The developer provided a copy of SiNKR for this review.] 

Oriental Empires Review: A Grand Construction of Ancient China Wed, 11 Oct 2017 15:05:54 -0400 Skrain

Shining Pixel Studios released its debut game, Oriental Empires, back in mid-September. Having played the game back when it first entered its Alpha stage about a year ago, I was really interested in seeing how it had evolved in the most recent phase of its development cycle. 

Now that I've spent a fair amount of time checking out what's new in this ancient Chinese 4X strategy game, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of depth it has to offer. But a few clunky features ultimately dampened my interest in exploring more of this civilization building experience.  

Become the Emperor of Ancient China

Set in ancient China, Oriental Empires spans nearly three thousand years of history from 1500 BCE to 1500 AD. Using this setting, Shining Pixel attempts to realistically depict China's progression throughout the ages. From a simple farming village or a set of tribes that rely on animal husbandry, you will attempt to advance through the centuries and bring true cultural progress to your civilization. 

There are a number of different Chinese cultures on display here -- including Han, Shang, Chu Shu, Wei, Qin, Wu, Xianbei, and many more. These cultures range from being distinctly Chinese to other cultures such as Mongolian, Tibetan, and even Siberian. These cultures sustain their populations via farming or herding animals, and the distinctions between them lead to markedly different gameplay depending on what your focus is.

In the northern cultures, for example, the game leans toward herding. Food production is based on the surrounding territory and its fertility or on farms that are earned from captured cities. These farms can then be expanded by using peasants to build on fertile ground, or in hilly rice terraces as your technology skills advance in-game. 

Building Toward Cultural Advancement

The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.


You begin each campaign with a single town, a settler, and a leader. Your ultimate goal is to build your kingdom and become Emperor -- but this won't be easy or quick to achieve. Typically, you'll begin by expanding your farm land, exploring neighboring regions you may want to expand into, claim resources like copper/rhinoceros/mulberry trees/game/horses, and use those resources to get a variety of bonuses for your settlements. 

The technologies that you can explore break down into 4 categories -- Power, Crafts, Thought, and Knowledge. Each of these categories is fairly distinct and demonstrates a lot of thought on the developer's part as to what factors play into the success of a civilization. Power-related technologies involve things like unit recruitment, settlement defense, and food production (because surplus food = power). Craft technologies include mining, pottery, bronze/steel production, and building improvements to mitigate damage from fire and other natural disasters. Thought technologies focus on increasing your faction's culture rating, authority, edicts, and adviser recruitment. Last but not least, knowledge handles technology involving bow craft, horsemanship, and the studies of astrology and health. 

By exploring some of these technologies, you'll eventually unlock edicts -- which act as powerful proclamations that echo throughout your empire. From simple tax edits to powerful general degrees, each edict has a cost to enact in terms of both material wealth and other factors.

And just like you'd expect in any civilization builder worth its salt, your subjects will react in various ways to the edicts that you put in place. For example, peasants won't take too kindly to raising taxes on farms. But the nobles will get rowdy when you demand that a general be appointed. When you make such changes, there may be public order penalities as a result -- and these may be temporary or last as long as the edict does depending on the intensity of your public's response to your choices. 

Combat & Warfare

Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors to go war first and then seek to win. 

-- Sun Tzu

Warfare is a large part of ancient China's history, and Oriental Empires reflects that with its unit variety. A mixture of levied peasant militia, professional warriors, and nobles trained for battle from birth are all available for recruitment. From tribal spearmen and dagger-axemen chariots to horse archers and gunpowder riflers, you'll never lack a variety of units to pick from when you have the technological and structural requirements.

Combat in Oriental Empires is rather unlike most 4X or turn-based strategy games. You aren't taken to a loading screen, or given direct command of your units. The strategy element of which units do what is determined by you. You can order a unit to form a main line and charge, act as a ranged support, skirmish with the enemy or stay in the back line and defend. The tactics are handled automatically, and once you've given the orders, your units will attempt to follow them to the best of their abilities.

Similar to how it's been proven to work in real life, your armies will also function better with your faction leader, heir, or generals commanding them.

Once your turn has ended and you've issued the orders you need to, you can watch the battle play out before you. The zoom level for this spectator mode can be changed dynamically at any time from a high strategic vantage point to a ground level view of the terrain. And in most instances, watching your army form up and clash with the enemy line is pretty satisfying. 


Constructing an Empire

It is not difficult to govern. All one has to do is not offend the noble families. 


Building an Empire takes time, infrastructure and a capacity to keep the peace. As such, authority is one of the most important values within Oriental Empires. It helps determine the unrest of Nobles and Commoners alike -- and it also determines the number of cities you can govern within your faction without massive unrest penalties. If you have more cities than authority, you risk a revolt in the best case scenario (and a rebellion in the worst). 

As your cities grow, it'll be important to connect them via roads or rivers so they may trade and quickly transport military units during war. Due to a limited number of structures that can be built in a city, you will have to specialize -- which forces you to think strategically about how you choose to expand. Perhaps a city near two other friendly cultures can work on promoting and crafting trade goods for income, while a city near a foreign foe on your border would better serve as a recruitment garrison. 

Less Than Heavenly Issues

Diplomacy is a large part of dealing with other factions and cultures, but unfortunately it's handled poorly in Oriental Empires. The AI seems incapable of conducting any intelligent business, and other empires that you try to engage in diplomacy with will commonly break their own self-proposed treaties of Fraternal Harmony just as often as they offer them. In my time playing, it's been far easier to placate the AI momentarily until you beat them into submission and vassalize them.

Combat also leaves fair amount to be desired in spite of what it does right. The lack of direct control means many mistakes can only be chalked up to how AI is designed to engage and respond to your orders. For example, the Support order seems especially flawed. Any unit I've ever given this order to has just stood there and allowed themselves to get attacked. This order is supposed to form a back row that engages only when enemies get close, but it translates to units basically standing there and doing nothing. 

It can be extremely frustrating to lose an entire army in a single turn simply because your units either didn't engage or let themselves get flanked while standing still. It's a shame, too, because the combat can be really enjoyable and engaging when it functions properly -- but it's got some issues that make it feel a lot clunkier than it should. 

What aggravates me most about Oriental Empires, though, is how clunky and overpopulated the UI seems as turns progress. This was one of my biggest issues with the Alpha build of the game, and unfortunately it still persists here. By the time you've entered the Warring States era, your map will likely be cluttered with so many unit indicators, event messages, battle reports, encounters, diplomatic messages, and building construction reports that it becomes a terribly eyesore. The game lacks any capability to sort through, compile, or filter these reports -- so it quickly becomes an issue when you're leading a faction of 20 cities.  

Verdict: A Little Rough, But Approachable

Despite Oriental Empires' flaws, it does achieve what it hopes to in creating a satisfying experience of growing and expanding a culture through various era of ancient China. For a 4X game, it's unique enough in its mechanics that you'll have to take some time to learn everything, which adds some romance to the early game. 

I would recommend Oriental Empires for people with a passion for slightly more advanced strategy games. It's not quite like Civilization meets Total War, but it could be loosely described as such. Overall it's a solid game, and I look forward to checking out any possible expansions or major content updates as the game moves toward a full release. 

If you want to check out Oriental Empires for yourself, you can do so on the official Steam Page for the game. 


[Note: A code for Oriental Empires was provided by the developer for this review.]

A Hat in Time Review: An Adorable Hat Trick Sun, 08 Oct 2017 10:52:45 -0400 Greyson Ditzler (PurplePocketPirate)

A Hat in Time has come a long way to get here. It was originally announced as a Kickstarter project by indie developer Gears for Breakfast, headed by Jonas Kaerlev, and smashed it's original funding goal of $30,000 by closing out at nearly 1000% funding at just over $296,000. 

It's a game that seeks to pay homage to the 3D platformers of yesteryear, as well as other beloved classics of the N64, GameCube, and PS2 era. Games like Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, and Psychonauts being cited specifically as major inspirations. The game also takes clear inspirations from series like The Legend of Zelda and Paper Mario.  

It's all a very nice sounding idea on paper, but as time has shown us again and again, even as recently as the divisive Yooka Laylee, capturing the magic of those old 3D platformers that inspired so many all those years ago can be very tricky, especially when trying to create something familiar yet fresh. So has A Hat in Time finally cracked the code for an inspired platformer that awakens the child in all of us, while also appealing to our adult standards of quality?   

Let's see if all the waiting has been worth it.

The "Cute as Heck" Presentation

Let's get the story out of the way real quick. You play as Hat Kid, a little girl traveling alone in space when she suddenly loses her fuel source, 40 magic hourglasses called time pieces, and must travel down to a nearby planet to retrieve as many as she can in order to make it home. It's a simple story, but with enough presence in the gameplay to give your quest some meaning, and enough twists and turns to really keep your attention.

While the graphics may not be that impressive for this day and age, with a lot of large mounds representing clusters of objects, a few slightly blocky or simple looking character models, and the occasional odd-looking texture, the game's aesthetics more than make up for most of this. The choices of color and overall art design is wonderful, with every area feeling stylistically and tonally distinct from one another while still feeling cohesive to the game's style as a whole. Even with some of these issues holding back the loots a tad, on the highest settings this game can still look fantastic.

It also helps that A Hat in Time has a ludicrously in-depth options menu that allows the player to tweak graphic and gameplay settings to their heart's content. You can adjust the quality of everything from character quality to shadows in case you're running the game on a weaker PC, raise the framerate to 175 FPS if you want, and there's even options for a speedrun timer and automatically skipping all skippable cutscenes. Gears For Breakfast clearly wanted as many people as possible to be able to play their game, and kindly went out of there way to make it as technically flexible as they could.

If there's one thing that A Hat in Time has in spades it's charm. I can't remember the last time I played a game that felt so friendly and welcoming. The characters and locations are all bright and colorful -- even locations meant to be dimmer or foreboding have vibrant color palettes -- and there was clearly a large amount of effort put into making the world feel alive. This is definitely a game with a personality -- and that personality is boisterous and more than happy to invite you to it's birthday party.  

The party's already started, and you're the guest of honor.

The game's protagonist Hat Kid is a particularly expressive for a mostly silent protagonist as well. She feels a lot like a real kid, playful and kind, but also sometimes angry and sassy. She shows emotion in a number of subtle different ways, whether she's stick her tongue out at a Mafia goon as she walks by him, or cowering under a table with a sad expression as she hides from danger. If the whole game is supposed to be "cute as heck", then that would make Hat Kid the president of Heck.

I also found the game's writing to be quite strong for a platformer. While A Hat in Time is not a story heavy game by any means, there are miniature plot-lines in each chapter, as well as a number of different characters fleshed out somewhat with cut-scenes and dialogue. The plot-lines had twists and turns that consistently surprised me, the few bits serious moments and accompanying dialogue were genuinely effective, and the game made me laugh very hard very often with all it's jokes and gags.

I was also pretty flabbergasted by some of the darker jokes that the game managed to sneak in. There were references to suicide, murder, making deals with the devil, organized crime, and all sorts of crazy things I was honestly amazed they got away with, all the while the game standing around wearing it's E10+ rating like a badge of honor. 

The game's narrative elements work their way into gameplay fairly often as well. Jokes are sometimes the solution to the problem, and narrative events can affect the outcome of a fight. There are also some levels with full mechanics that solely apply to that one level due to situational necessity. Overall, the writing did a fantastic job of adding weight to your adventure and tons of clever wit to the easy-going atmosphere the game has going.  

The sound design also deserves special mention. The jingles for collectibles were also distinct and catchy, with every random goody you pick up giving you that little boost of confidence that they should in a game like this, and the cue for the level transition in particular always got me excited for what was coming, alongside the gorgeous title cards that came with each mission.

Title card for the mission "Murder on the Owl Express".

The soundtrack has been stuck in my head the last few days, as right from the get go it hits you with track after track of catchy-as-all-get-out platforming tunes that you'll find yourself humming along to after only a few minutes. The soundtrack as a whole clocks in at a whopping five hours of original music across 78 tracks, and none of it feels low-effort or undercooked. From the spaceship hub theme guest composed by Grant Kirkhope that has you feeling calm and cozy, to the frantic theme to the "Train Rush" mission, to the various remixes of the main theme, the music had me invested in the on-screen action the whole way through.

Running, Jumping, Picking-Upping

While there is some light combat and a fair bit of collecting to be done, the main gameplay mechanic of A Hat in Time is the platforming. The controls and abilities that you start the game with give you a great sense of flow and precision. From the get-go you can easily run part-way up walls, jump off walls, double jump, dive in midair, and even chain most of these maneuvers together in order to cover a great distance and make it up tall platforms and across large gaps.

Most of the time I spent playing this game involved utilizing the platforming and movement mechanics to their full advantage in order to complete the stage or collect more goodies scattered across the usually wide-open maps. This brings me to the subject of collectibles, which in a collect-a-thon, are the bread and butter of the gameplay, which I am happy to say A Hat in Time understands very well.

While there are only 40 time pieces to collect, which does sound rather low compared to a number of other similar collect-a-thons, every level hides oodles of money and secrets to search for and collect, on top of the grand variety of mission objectives. What's important in games based mostly around collecting things is to make sure that every collectible has a purpose, which again, A Hat in Time understands very well. 

Money can be used for all sorts of useful things, such as unlocking certain levels, purchasing badges that allow you to upgrade yourself and customize your playstyle however you want, and even activate displays for special relics you find throughout the levels, which when done correctly gives you both a decoration for your hub as well as access to a bonus challenge level. Money is all over the place, and following it can lead to even more secrets. Just wandering any give level with little direction following the trail of pocket change feels like your making progress.

You can also find tokens in levels that give you access to a slot machine in the main hub where you can pick between one of three random prizes. These can be alternate colors for Hat Kid's outfit, to remixes of certain songs in the game, to alternate designs for your different hats. There's just a lot to find and a lot to do with what you find, which keeps the reward cycle constant. It also helps that the levels are all quite well-designed and visually appealing, which further encourages exploration and further mastering your abilities.

Explore enough and you'll be bouncing off a burger in no time.

Then there are the balls of yarn you can find. Throughout the levels you can find different kinds of yarn balls, and if you manage to both find the correct kind as well as enough of the stuff, you can knit yourself a new hat that acts similarly to new item in the Zelda series, and unlocks a new ability for progression you can use by equipping that particular hat. These things can range from a sprint function, to a ground pound that let's you travel across the map in special ways, to throwing handy explosives to blow up certain objects.  

Having brought up the Zelda series, let's talk a bit about references. I have seen plenty of games that take clear inspiration from others, as well as plenty that outright directly reference what they're inspired by, but it's been quite a while since I've seen one that did it quite as lovingly and blatantly as A Hat in Time.  

There were visual callbacks to Super Smash Bros.Super Mario GalaxySuper Mario SunshinePsychonuats -- the list goes on. On top of the badge system being very reminiscent of the Paper Mario series, there were also a few particular visual callbacks to that series that to me -- as a huge Paper Mario fan -- just screamed homage.

Like, the kind of references that are so specific and so non-memetic that you'd practically have to be somebody who grew up with these games and loved them like the developers did in order to catch them. If you don't believe me then just look at this:

What Could Have Potentially Been Better

I personally had few issues with A Hat in Time's design, but there were still a few things that I feel could have been a little better polished. 

Most of my big gripes with the game come in the form of technical issues. I unfortunately ran into multiple crashes, almost always after returning to the hub or loading a new level, and frame dips happened to me often in a number of areas even when there wasn't much going on.

Going back to the graphics for a moment, while the game still does look nice on the lowest settings, even on higher settings some textures just looked like stickers on top of models at times, and sometimes they would just fail to load, and this would cause some particle effects to be replaced by pattern tests or a series of specks trapped in a square.

Just for reference, I played this game on my laptop, which is not particularly suited for gaming, but could still run the game fairly well on lower settings nonetheless. I am fully aware that my weaker PC was likely the source of a number of these issues, but it still hampered my experience regardless, and I've heard of other people with stronger PC's running into issues with the framerate and textures as well.

Lastly, I honestly wish their had been a bit more combat and boss fights. Don't get me wrong, the core gameplay is still tons of fun with the combat as low-key as it is, but for a 3D platformer I thought the options available to you for battles was pretty impressive, and I wanted to see more out of it. Plus, I thought that every boss fight was just fantastic with their complicated patterns and lots of great banter with your opponents. I just wish there was more of that to appreciate. None of this seriously affected my overall experience -- expect for the crashes -- but they are things that I hope are addressed in the future free content updates that Gears for Breakfast has promised us.

Has Gears for Breakfast Succeeded? 

At time of writing, I have not 100% completed A Hat in Time, but I definitely plan to. For this review I decided to simply play to the end of the main story, but I still played at my own pace and took my time getting there. I finished the game after about 13 hours and I could easily see getting all the remaining collectibles taking another 3-4 hours on top of that, so I feel the game hits the sweet spot in terms of length, where it's long enough to be satisfying but not feel bloated.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't have an absolute blast while playing A Hat in Time. Some of the technical difficulties did hamper my experience a bit, and on one or minuscule occasions the game's design got on my nerves, but that didn't stop from playing for hours at a time with a huge smile on my face. I'd even say that I love this game -- but that comes with a qualifying statement.

My score doesn't go any higher than it is because the technical issues and relatively small-scale do hold it back just a bit, but I can easily see that being fixed. If some of the performance issues were updated with future patches, and depending how solid the local co-op update is, as well as how substantial the two planned free DLC chapters are, I could see my score going up further and this game being boosted into the status of a definitive 3D platformer classic.  

But regardless of all it's slight issues, I still think that Gears for Breakfast have succeeded. They've managed to create a game that serves as a spiritual successor to a beloved genre of games, as well as take great inspiration from the titles they love themselves, and make something well-designed and very personal that feels like a glimpse back in time and a step forward all at once. I heartily recommend A Hat in Time to anybody who loves 3D platformers, charming comedic games, or anybody just looking for something full of love and imagination.

A Hat in Time is available now for $30 on PC, and is expected to come out on PS4 and Xbox One later this Fall. You can watch a trailer for the game below:

[Note: Review copy provided by Humble Bundle]

SteelSeries Apex M750 Keyboard Review: Effective, But Not Revolutionary Fri, 06 Oct 2017 11:37:36 -0400 Jonathan Moore

If you’re a competitive gamer, you already know the importance of a reliable gaming keyboard. Often, you’re looking for something that’s accurate and flexible, while also being dependable and responsive. And with all the keyboards geared toward those requirements, it can be hard to find the exact keyboard that’s going to keep you moving up the ranks.

But with the Apex M750 mechanical gaming keyboard, SteelSeries has set out to engineer and manufacture the penultimate eSports gaming keyboard to meet those needs. Marketed as a revolution in eSports peripherals technology, the M750 aims high and gets a lot of things right -- like its durable design and granular macro customization. But it also gets a few things not so right.

Spending copious amounts of time using mechanical keyboards for work and leisure, it takes a lot for any particular board to arrest my attention and stand out from the crowd. In my more than 20 hours with the Apex 750, I can’t say that it did that -- but that also doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of your attention if you’re looking for a fully customizable board that (mostly) looks good alongside your other SteelSeries (or RGB-centric) gaming gear.

In other words, revolutionary and reliable aren’t synonymous.


The Apex 750 sports a sleek, somewhat understated design. Its jet-black chassis is made of aircraft-grade aluminum, which means it doesn’t bend or get smudged if you've got sweaty palms from an intense firefight or looming deadline. Measuring 17.5 x 6.0 inches and weighing in at just over 2 pounds, the 750 fits snugly between larger keyboards such as the Corsair K95 RGB and smaller ones like the Hyper X FPS.

During my time with the board, that was one thing I particularly liked about the M750: it didn’t feel so small that I’d break it moving from gaming station to gaming station or so bulky that I couldn’t shove it into a backpack or cradle it under my arm while transporting it. I also especially liked that it did this while accommodating a full numpad and 104 keys, something that’s not entirely easy to do when you’re shooting for compact.

However, there are two design choices that I certainly have misgivings about: the M750’s cable and its removable rubber feet.

The board comes with a 6.5-foot standard plastic cable (at this price point, I’d have expected a more durable braided cable) that functions as you’d expect it to, but it is a bit unwieldy to corral when moving the keyboard around. The cord has a SteelSeries emblazoned velcro strap you can use to bind the cable, but adding in a wire track underneath the board would have made things just a tad bit easier -- as it is in other SteelSeries boards, such as the M800.

But although my foibles about the M750’s cable are more nitpicky than concerning, the board’s rubber feet squarely fall into the latter category. Instead of the traditional hard-plastic feet that come standard on most mechanical gaming keyboards, the M750 eschews this tried and true “technology” for something more "innovative": two sets of detachable rubber feet.

It’s an interesting design choice that certainly sets the M750 apart from other boards in that regard. But in practice, they’re a bit cumbersome to install and use. When I first unpacked the board and set it on my desk, I found that the factory-installed rubber feet set the M750 a bit too low for my liking, so I set about changing them out -- which took me about five minutes to do.

The issue is that despite their notched design, the feet don’t easily slot into the board, and more importantly, they don’t stay attached if you move the board around your desktop. Simply pushing the board away from me and then pulling it back toward me continually dislodged the feet. In a relaxed, non-competitive environment it was frustrating enough, but in an eSports environment, one where peripheral placement is often paramount for each individual player, moving the board between matches could become (very) frustrating.


Although I used the SteelSeries M750 for both work and play, I can definitively say that this is a gaming-centric peripheral. Of course, that makes sense seeing as the design and engineering ethos behind it is predominantly focused on eSports and competitive gaming.

But with the ubiquity that defines many modern gaming keyboards, it’s worth noting that the M750 didn’t perform as well as I’d hoped in the office for daily writing and editorial tasks -- where my light typing style and the board’s feathery keys conflated to create myriad typos that I don’t typically make with Cherry or Romer G switches. 

Put it where it’s meant to be, however, and the M750 performs extremely well. In my go-to competitive shooter, Paladins, I was able to deftly pull off ults and easily maneuver about the map while racking up eliminations. And in the Destiny 2 PC beta, movement with W/A/S/D felt fluid and natural, while pulling off supers, melees, and more was adequately easy.

This is because each of the M750’s proprietary QX2 switches is responsive, swift, and comfortable in their natural gaming habitat. And what I particularly liked about each of them is that they were sensitive enough to register keystrokes without bottoming out but resilient enough to not randomly initiate ults or abilities by way of an errant finger here or there. It’s a fine line to dance -- but from what I can tell, SteelSeries pulled it off exceptionally well.

But of course, you already know I have a few caveats that I think are worth mentioning if you’re seriously looking into the M750. If you’re looking for a quiet board, the M750 is definitely not it. The M750’s QX2 switches aren’t the loudest switches I’ve ever used, but each switch and floating keycap sounds hollow and clanky. Compared to the meatier sounding Cherry MX Reds found on the Cherry MX Board 6.0 mechanical keyboard, the M750’s QX2s sound cut-rate in comparison.

Another concern that I have with the board is that even though each switch is rated for upwards of 50 million keystrokes, the shift key on the review model I received started creaking about five hours into use, before morphing into a full-on squeak about eight hours into use. I imagine that this is a one-off type of scenario (with an educated guess of something like 1 in 10,000 boards experiencing this issue). But nonetheless, it's something that played into my overall feeling of the board.


When it comes to RGB lighting, you’ll find that the M750 provides some interesting and unique lighting options. Using SteelSeries’ Engine 3 software, you’re able to choose from the normative 16 million color RGB spectrum and myriad lighting effects, from static and rainbow to pulse and radiate.

What really sets the M750 apart from other boards in its price range, though, is SteelSeries’ Prism Sync and Image Sync apps. With the former, you can sync your color presets across multiple SteelSeries peripherals (such as the QCK Prism mousepad and the Rival 310 gaming mouse) for a uniform look -- one that really adds character (if not much else) to your overall setup.

With Image Sync, you’re able to choose from a set of stock GIFs to give you even more unique lighting presets. At the time of this writing, there are only 10 GIF presets to choose from, but as the community grows and users see what "cool" lighting effects can be achieved by translating GIFs into lighting effects, more and more will surely become available. 

In the scheme of things, however, Image Sync's current iteration seems more like a gimmick than a true innovation. Most of the preset GIFs aren't entirely discernible or representative to the naked eye of their in-app monikers. For example, if I didn't know I'd chosen a fire-themed GIF as my lighting preset, I honestly would've had no clue that the lighting effect it produced was supposed to be fire. Sure, Image Sync is a work in progress and SteelSeries is sure to refine the functionality as time goes on. But as it currently stands, you probably won't be wowing your friends or colleagues with the feature. 


You can also use the Engine 3 software to fully customize your macros (despite the absence of dedicated macro keys), as well as fully reprogram each of the board’s keys to your liking. I found this to be an intuitive choice on the part of SteelSeries’ design and engineering teams because it not only gives you complete control of the M750’s layout, but it also allows you to change layouts from QWERTY to Dvorak to Coleman -- making the M750 one of the more accessible keyboards currently on the market.

Outside of that, you have your typical function keys that control overall key brightness, volume, and playback, as well as a SteelSeries key that brings the Engine 3 software up on the fly. It’s a little disappointing that there aren’t dedicated media keys on the M750 or that there’s no volume control to be found, forcing you to use your function key alternates to raise and lower the volume.

It’s also rather peculiar that in a board at this price point, there isn’t a dedicated lock key on the board that lets you turn off certain keystrokes (such as Ctrl + alt + del) or disable the windows key. Sure, you can manually disable these functions and keys in the Engine 3 software, but you’ll have to do so before jumping into a match or starting work -- unless you want to open the software mid-thought or mid ult.


Overall, the SteelSeries M750 mechanical gaming keyboard is a responsive, reliable bet if you’re any type of gamer -- competitive or not. Although I have several qualms with the board, from design to functionality, the M750 is board that stands alongside other competitors in its price bracket. In essence, SteelSeries hasn’t necessarily made a keyboard that’s going to revolutionize the gaming scene (much less the eSports niche it’s geared toward),  but it has made one that functions well and gets the job done.

A few caveats aside, from lack of dedicated macro keys, questionable rubber feet design, relatively loud keys, and some light bleed from the board’s floating keycaps, SteelSeries has the foundation upon which to build its next keyboard that very well could be the game-changer for the space. Until then, the M750 doesn’t stand head and shoulders above its contemporaries, although that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a look if you’re thinking of plunking down $130 for a gaming keyboard anytime soon.

[Note: SteelSeries provided the M750 review unit used for this review.]

Inversus Deluxe Review: Black and White and Outta Sight Thu, 05 Oct 2017 14:48:59 -0400 Greyson Ditzler (PurplePocketPirate)

Inversus Deluxe is a grid-based twin-stick shooter developed by Hypersect and recently released on the Nintendo Switch eShop. Though it may look simple and basic at first glance, but closer inspection will prove that this shooter has a surprising amount of depth and intensity built into it's gameplay.

But the real question is this. Is a game that's only 67 megabytes on the eShop worth it's $15 price tag, especially considering everything else that's come out on the Switch lately? Let's find out!


Like Playing Between Two Mirrors

This 2D shooter is equal parts capturing territory, mind-games, and intense shooting in four directions. What's most special about Inversus Deluxe is its mechanic of capturing territory with every shot. Using the default color palette, every tile on the map is either black or white (as are you), and you can only move freely through the tiles that are the opposite color to you. But you can also shoot through the same-colored tiles to make more room for yourself.

This effectively turns every competitive match into a hybrid turf-war-firefight. While you're focusing on mowing down your enemy, your enemy is trying to do the same. And while firing back at each other you're trying your best to box them in to shoot them easier -- while at the same time not becoming a fish-in-a-barrel yourself. As you both create and destroy each other's freedom of movement and create walls with every bullet, the tension only continues to grow.

The game's map design caters to these mechanics wonderfully, often having looping exits on opposite sides of the map that follow Pac-Man rules and allow the player to traverse from one side of the screen to the other. This can also lead to situations where the two exits/entrances overlap, resulting in a scenario where there are two of your avatar in play at the same time -- both of which can shoot in the same direction, but are twice as vulnerable out in the open when covering more ground. There are also dozens of maps to unlock and play in in versus mode, and the design of many of these is fantastic.

The white player firing from two places at once. 

While this game has a clear focus on multiplayer both local and online, there is a single player experience to be had here. In single player you have access to both Arcade mode as well as 1-on-1 versus mode with bots. The arcade mode has you facing off against both slowly moving docile enemies who overwhelm you with numbers and their explosive personalities, as well a much smaller number of actively aggressive bots trying to shoot and destroy you.

In order to unlock a new map in arcade mode, you need to get a certain high score thatwill earn you one of five stars -- a certain number of which you need to unlock the next map. Then the cycle repeats. Usually the first two or three stars are lower scores that still take some effort, while the higher scores and associated stars are much, much more difficult to obtain and will take a number of tries to get to.

Unlocking new maps in versus mode is much simpler, as you only have to beat an opponent (either man or machine) once per map in order to unlock the next one, and the odds are stacked against you fairly in either scenario. 

Playing against AI opponents in single player mode can never match playing against other humans, but in Inversus Deluxe it's honestly a pretty close second. You can adjust the skill level of the bots before you go up against them, but even on the lower difficulty settings they can be highly strategic and outright malicious.

Rest assured you can still play with your friends locally, and you can do so in two player arcade mode, as well team versus matches, all playable using all Switch configurations and controller types.

Online Options and Unlockables 

Something that surprised me quite a bit about Inversus Deluxe was how many options it had for online play. The fact that it had online at all was something I didn't expect to be fair right off the bat --  but not only does it have online, it has three online game modes as well as lobbies you can join with either friends or strangers. 

But what's unfortunate about the online experience -- at least in my case -- is that it almost always took anywhere between 5-10 minutes to actually get enough players into a lobby for a match of any kind to start.

While this connection process is pretty slow, there is a sliver lining to it, which essentially just merges the single player and multiplayer modes together. While waiting for a match to begin, you have the option to begin a local offline match while you wait. What's especially nice is that if you choose to play an arcade level while waiting and eventually do get connected to a match, then after that online match is done you have the option of either searching for another opponent or continuing your arcade match right where it left off. This helps keep the flow going even when you have to wait for fives of minutes at a time.

In terms of unlockables, there are the already mentioned arcade stages you gradually unlock with higher scores on previous stages, but then there are also cosmetics and light customization options to be unlocked. As you play through the games various modes, you will gradually gain experience and level up. And as you level up in different modes, you will be gradually gifted with new color palettes for your projectiles, the backgrounds of the games stages, and even your square avatars. You can also unlock various emojis and emotes to assign to different buttons and quote at the end of a versus round.


A Laser Maze You Can Play For Days

At the end of the day, it's fun to shoot your friends with lasers until they explode -- and Inversus Deluxe offers that with a unique spin on gameplay, plus a stark aesthetic and a respectable amount of content at a reasonable price. For a game made by one guy (head of Hypersect, Ryan Juckett) it's an impressively balanced and polished multiplayer experience that's easy to learn but hard to master.

I recommend this game to anybody looking for an intense multiplayer experience on the Switch at a cheaper price, as well as to anybody looking for a good pick-up-and-play arcade experience that offers a decent challenge. 

Inversus Deluxe is available now for Nintendo Switch and Steam for $14.99.

[Note: Review copy of Inversus Deluxe provided by Hypersect.]


Forza Motorsport 7 Speeds Past the Competition Thu, 05 Oct 2017 10:47:11 -0400 Ty Arthur

While patiently waiting for the hours to tick by as Forza 7 downloads I'm staring at the title screen and suddenly it dawns on me... is the Xbox One getting old? Wasn't Forza Motorsport 5 a launch title nearly four years ago?

We've come quite a way from those launch doldrums, with new iterations of Xbox classics like Gears Of War and even the new Shadow Of War nearly here. Among those new entries in hallowed series, Forza 7 sits triumphantly as the cream of the crop in the new AAA racing entries.

Now, you might have noticed I said "hours" of waiting for the download to finish. Make sure to clear some space out on your hard drive, and set aside a block of time, because the Xbox One version is an unbelievable 96 gigs! Luckily, though, there's a whole lot of both style and substance to be found in this hard drive-devouring game.

Life In The Fast Lane

Obviously the cutscenes look better than the campaign gameplay, but there's a phenomenal level of graphical polish to the actual races that makes the transition between the two nearly seamless.

It's not just the vehicles that look amazing (although they do) -- it's things like the dynamic weather effects and a load of small intricacies that really please on the eye candy front, from rattling car parts to drifting sand in Dubai.

Honestly, it all makes me wish I had pre-ordered an Xbox One X so I could see this thing in its full graphical glory next month. But alas, I'm just a poor game reviewer.

 Game screenshot, or work of art? You decide.

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of the game beyond the visuals, its worth mentioning that I was playing with a standard Xbox One controller, not a racing wheel -- so you might want to take that into account if you are a wheel-only sort of racer.

On a controller, Forza 7 handles incredibly smoothly, with each car feeling different, and there's room for beginners or returning vets alike by changing up the Assists and Drivatar difficulty systems.

So. Many. Options.

Once you get past the shiny new coat of paint, what you have here is essentially Forza 6, just with more options.. and I mean a LOT more options.

From racing semi trucks with drivers who aren't afraid to nudge you off the road to tense, high speed tracks slicked over with rain, every map has something completely different to offer.

At launch, there are a ludicrous 700 different vehicles to pick in different game modes, from sports cars to semi trucks to a stable of cars pulled from the Fate Of The Furious movie.

 Each of these has about a dozen races to choose from

It's not a car free-for-all right off the bat either, and there's a satisfying sense of progression here that offers a reason to keep playing. The Car Collection system controls what you can get next, so you have to unlock new tiers of vehicles by buying or winning a set number of other cars first.

Along the way of building up your roster of vehicles, duking it out in multiplayer, or playing one-off challenges, you aren't ever really going to run out of things to do.

Adding an extra layer of progression are the endless stream of randomized loot crates to pick up with in-game currency. You might get some minor change to a component on a vehicle, or you might get a big bonus to your next racing win, giving you enough credits to buy that next car.

This prize draw system might be a pro or a con depending on how you feel about randomized loot crates as a reward scheme.

If you like the thrill of picking up a series of totally unknown cards -- which could have an awesome new jumpsuit or a needed money Mod but is likely to have nothing of particular interest -- then this is a fun addition.

Personally, I went with the ugly-as-sin lime green jump suit at the beginning to motivate myself to earn more prize crates as fast as possible....

 Is there a less visually appealing color scheme than this?

The Bottom Line

Graphically, I'm not sure there's a better racing experience for console at the moment -- and if you dropped the cash on a new 1080 graphics card for your PC, you'll be sitting pretty as well.

While the visuals have reached an impressive level, the options are off the charts, and there are some tweaks to how things work here and there, overall we're sort of in a Far Cry scenario where there's not a ton of difference between the various Forza iterations.

If you loved the previous couple of games, it's a good bet you'll like this one. If you wanted something radically different, well, it's probably time to try out a different franchise instead.

For those ready to jump into the latest Motorsport and dominate on the race track, be sure to check out our Forza 7 beginner's driving tips here.

Bannerman Review: Sidescrolling Meditative Combat Wed, 04 Oct 2017 15:13:47 -0400 LuckyJorael

Lately, many games have come out that try to capitalize on the success of the Dark Souls franchise, and many outlets praise or condemn those games based on that description alone. When I've tried to explain exactly what Bannerman is to friends, I've leaned on the term "2D Dark Souls" -- but honestly, that's unfair to the game.

I could condense the game down to that phrase, but it feels hollow. Bannerman is a dark, brooding game, and it wants you to think about your actions, all while it demands you to continue onward -- parrying, blocking, and dodging attacks from its myriad enemies. Unlike Souls, you don't fight skeletons, undead, dragons, or the like. Your opponents are almost exclusively people, and the fights are rarely something other than 1-on-1 combat.

Combat is where Bannerman shines. The game teaches you how to change from high to low stance, how to use heavy or fast attacks, how to stun your opponent with a punch, and how to dodge quite early on. You'll need every option you have in the game to survive, because the enemies are even more brutal than you are. And trust me, you are pretty brutal; chopping up enemies with wide arcs of your two-hander sprays blood in a convincing -- and slightly disturbing -- way. In a realm where I've become mostly immune to the violence on display in video games, I couldn't help but feel bad splitting some hapless soldier in two, just because he was in my way.

Bannerman asks you to make some moral decisions on your way, including rescuing a deserter (or not), and pursuing other side objectives before heading screen right to your ultimate goal. The game does a great job offering these side objectives without telling you that you need to go find them. Where an open-world game would hold your hand with on-screen waypoints and a giant overhead map with detailed markers, Bannerman slaps your reaching hand away, telling you to "figure it out".

The game is slow, but in a good way. The hero's normal, almost plodding pace gives you ample opportunity to take in the beautiful visuals, and plenty of time to evaluate your next opponent. Combat is also a slow affair at first; you have the opportunity to size up your opponent, analyze their attacks, change stances, ready to parry or dodge, and set yourself up for a killing blow. I never felt the need to button mash, or that I had to have the reflexes of a mongoose on speed to keep up with the game.

Everything is about timing in Bannerman. Dodge at the right time to avoid that arrow, punch the archer right now to stagger him, and follow up with a heavy swing to take him out.

Combat is executed beautifully; it's the core of the game, and it's easy to tell the developers put lots of time and thought into it. As you go through the game, more options become available; secondary weapons like a one-handed sword, shield, and bow, different combat maneuvers, and choices to make that affect how you play. Do you go for more armor, or more stamina?

Bannerman could be called a 2D side-scrolling Dark Souls, but it achieves more than just a different take on the genre; it is no clone, and plays much differently. It is a difficult, deep, beautiful game that keeps you engaged with challenging combat and fluid visuals. Bannerman is available through Steam and the Bannerman website.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Bannerman for the purpose of this review.]

The Fight Wages on With Gundam Versus Wed, 04 Oct 2017 14:27:09 -0400 Steven Oz

Remember those times as a child when you would rush home from school and turn the television on? When I did that, Mobile Suit Gundam would be airing on Toonami. Giant mechs versus giant mechs. These were stories on a grand scale, where each person was affected.

But this isn't true for the video games. The Gundam games have always been a mixed bag. Each of them has its own flair, but most of them have been fighting games since the release of Mobile Suit Gundam: Federation vs. Zeon in 2001. Though each game in the series since has improved on its predecessor, none have been truly good games until now. 

The most recent iteration of mecha fighting, dubbed Gundam Versus, has hit shelves. And it seems that Bandai Namco has finally been able to take data and lessons from previous games and create a truly enjoyable Gundam video game experience.  


The objective of Gundam Versus is to work with your ally and deplete your opponent's life points while preserving your own. But the Gundams themselves factor into this equation, as players lose Cost Points whenever they respawn during a match.

You only have 100 Cost Points in a standard match, and the mobile suit you choose will range from 200 to 500 Cost Points. So while you may want to pilot that insane 500-Cost mecha, you'll end up losing the entire match if you die twice. But opting for that 200-Cost mecha will net you 5 deaths before you go down permanently. So picking suits isn't random at all -- you have to play a numbers game and consider how many risks you're willing to take. 

Gundam Versus also features a few different game modes, along with 1v1, 2v2, and 3v3 online matches. Ultimate Battle mode pits you against a neverending wave of enemies and boss battles. Trial Battle is a solo play mode that has you clear multiple missions along a route. Free mode lets you test out mobile suits with a variety of environments, music, etc. In all of these, you can earn XP that can be cashed out for Strikers and other vanity items.

With 94 total usable mechs, there are a variety of mobile suits to choose from -- each with its own unique power, weapons, and very creative armor. Every conceivable playstyle will have a mech to match it, which was great to see. 

I have to say, though, that I felt overwhelmed by the sheet number of mechs. All 94 of them are split into 3 main types -- various (melee+ranged weapons), fighting (swords and sais), and shooter (guns and cannons). And each of those subsets has a few subclasses. And in addition to that, you can equip a striker that gives you a limited power to call yet another suit to your aid. 

After trying around twenty mobile suits with little to no success, I finally found one that suited me -- Gundam Sandrock Custom. A custom Close Quarters Combat Mobile Suit with a submachine gun and two curved blades, this Gundam suit felt balanced to me. Offensively, you can slice and dice your enemies with the curved blades. Plus, the speed of the suit fits nicely with the offensive weapons.

There are so many mobile suits, I could not try them all before writing this review. That might appeal to players who like variety, but it might also be a problem for newcomers to the series. While giving me every single Gundam in every Mobile Suit Gundam series is fine, new players may be overwhelmed.


The game's controls are fairly simple, even though it was adapted from an arcade stick layout. I would say this gives you a distinct advantage when playing. You only have to memorize one button instead of a button combo. The neat thing here is you can switch between the control styles if you want, as well.

One thing I would criticize the game for is the mechanic that has you auto-locking on enemies. While this works well for playing with your partner, alone it hinders your goals. Oftentimes I would attack an auto-locked enemy, but another enemy will come at me and throw me off -- costing me damage in a crucial fight. I could change the auto targeting, of course, but it transfers me to the enemy closest to the target and not the enemy closest to me. So it would have been nice to be able to turn off auto-locking or even have a semi-locking system instead.

Art Style

I chose the one with the cool shoulder armor

Gundam Versus is a gorgeous game. Nostalgia washed over me every time I played it. Beautifully rendered opening visuals make it seem like you are watching a battle, just like you might see in the anime.

Every single mobile suit in the game is exquisitely designed and detailed -- comparable to the Gunpla models based on these mechs.  Classic characters with their original Japanese voice actors make the world feel alive, and each battlefield tells a story of what these battles are about. I would play the free mode to just to wander around and soak up the atmosphere.

Along with that, there are so many classic soundtracks within this game. While I was playing my first match, I noticed the original G Gundam music. All of these elements add up to a developer that knows what their fans expect and provides it to them.


All in all, Gundam Versus is a good game that reminds fans why giant robots are cool. If you're a fan of the Gundam series, you should feel right at home here -- though I would highly recommend that newcomers opt to play the tutorial. With so many suits to choose from and some messy UI design, some gamers might not enjoy it quite as much. But if you can look past those issues, this game is a truly enjoyable mech-fighting experience.

[Note: A copy of this game was provided by the developer for the purposes of this review.]

HyperX Alloy Elite Gaming Keyboard Review: The Devil's in the Details Wed, 04 Oct 2017 12:21:54 -0400 Auverin Morrow

I'm a real stickler when it comes to keyboards. Because I spend 8+ hours a day typing at warp speed (often with a sandwich in one hand), I need a keyboard that's fast, responsive, durable, and functional. Most keyboards that I've tried will check a few of those boxes, but not all of them. In a market that's increasingly ridden with "innovations" like hyper-granular RGB customization and sharp-edged, space-saving chassis, I was beginning to think that the mechanical keyboard of my dreams didn't actually exist. 

But then I got my hands on the HyperX Alloy Elite. This flagship entry in HyperX's relatively new keyboard lineup is nice to look at, and even nicer to play with. After running it through the ringer for weeks of furious typing and frustrated gameplay, this keyboard has proven to be a trooper. With a thoughtful, refined design and unmatched simplicity of use, the Alloy Elite has taken its rightful place as my favorite gaming keyboard on the market right now.  


Packaged in HyperX's iconic red-and-black fare, the Alloy Elite comes with the keyboard itself, a detachable wrist rest, a set of textured keycaps (silver for W/A/S/D and red for Q/E/R/F), and a handy keycap switcher to change out the stock keys with. 

While this is just about standard for most keyboard unboxings, I quite appreciated the inclusion of the keycap switcher -- almost as much as I appreciated the textured keycaps themselves. Anyone who has tried to remove keycaps for replacement or cleaning knows how aggravating it can be to do so by hand. So having this little tool was a huge boon in that regard, and something that I'd like to see more keyboard manufacturers do for all the money we throw at their products. 


The Alloy Elite sports a solid black aluminum body and a plastic detachable wrist rest that's partially textured on the left side. The keys themselves sit on your standard Cherry MX switches (blue, brown, or red), and include a 10-key numpad as opposed to its tenkeyless sibling, the Alloy FPS. If you choose to install the extra keycaps provided, your home gaming keys will have a slightly textured feel that sets them apart from the smooth caps on the rest of the board.

Like most HyperX products that feature any sort of lighting, the Alloy Elite eschews customizable RGB and offers only its brand-standard red for backlighting. This might be a turnoff for some gamers who are pickier about their color palates, but the coloration is both sleek and highly visible on full brightness. (And an RGB version of this keyboard is already in the works.)

In lieu of a full software suite, the key lighting can be controlled with two setting buttons on the board that let you cycle through a few different lighting schemes and brightness settings. 

In addition to the light controls and the standard game mode key, the top bar of this keyboard also features four media buttons (play/pause, rewind, fast-forward, and mute) and a nifty scroll wheel on the far right that lets you control your volume. On the underbelly of the board, you'll find two feet that let you prop up the keyboard for a different angle. And it's all connected to your computer via a highly durable braided cable. 

For all these features, there is no proprietary software to accompany the Alloy Elite. Keeping in line with HyperX's tradition across all its headsets and the Pulsefire FPS mouse, this keyboard is 100% plug-and-play. While some mod-happy gamers might find this a little archaic, it's one of my favorite things about this keyboard and nearly any other HyperX product. I'm not the type to dig deep into barely perceptible customizations (like you can on the Corsair K95), so being able to connect this board to my PC and never having to fiddle with it again was a huge plus. 

Performance & Comfort

Whether I was typing up articles or trying to hit killshots in SMITE, the Alloy Elite kept up with every keystroke I made. The Cherry switches have an excellent response time (as usual), and I could press as many keys as I wanted at once without losing any input.

That said, light-handed gamers will want to be careful with what switches they choose. These keys require a solid amount of pressure to register, and probably won't be great for typing if you have feather-light strokes. Fortunately for me, I slam on keys as though I'm trying to resuscitate them, so typing with the Alloy Elite was no problem (and felt nice to boot). 

Quality feedback aside, the textured keys were also a nice touch. Though they sometimes distracted me while typing, they were a huge boon in-game. With the raised ridges to anchor my fingers and indicate where my home keys were, I found myself misfiring abilities far less often than I would when blindly trying to reposition my hands. 

There are only a few areas in terms of overall comfort and performance where the Alloy Elite falls short. My biggest gripe was with the placement of the F12 key in relation to the backspace bar. Because of how narrow the space is between the function row and the top row of standard keys, I found myself hitting F12 a lot when I only wanted to hit backspace. While this was a negligible issue at first, constantly activating the F12 DevTools command in Chrome while trying to fix a spelling error did get really tedious. 

Other than that, my only complaints have to do with the body of the board and the volume of its key feedback. While I'm used to loud mechanical keys, the Alloy Elite seemed to have some that were especially loud. The spacebar was the biggest offender -- to the point that the poor editor who shares an office with me complained about it a few times.

Additionally, the wrist rest isn't very comfortable because of its plastic material and lack of padding. It also features a groove between its textured and smooth areas that seems to be good for nothing except catching crumbs. But I really only noticed discomfort if I typed and typed for extensive periods of time. Having a slightly higher angle at which the keyboard sat would have gone a long way here. 


The Alloy Elite is probably my favorite gaming keyboard of all time (just barely winning out over the Logitech G Pro), but it's definitely my favorite in terms of secondary functionality. The keys themselves perform exactly like you'd want them to, but peripheral functions across the rest of the board really put it a step ahead of its competitors. 

The backlighting looks nice, and being able to fully control its limited range of settings right from the keyboard was a big plus. There was no need to agonize over specific color schemes or optimal lighting patterns -- I could just cycle through until I found a scheme that worked, then move on. And having all the controls on deck made it a breeze to switch lighting setups without clicking away from my Paladins match. 

Aside from that, I suppose it's time I admit it: the volume wheel in the keyboard chassis is by far my favorite design feature on the Alloy Elite. The simplified lighting controls and textured keys were close contenders, but the volume wheel really did it for me. I've never seen another keyboard that implements volume controls in this way, and the scroll wheel was much easier to use than a keyboard macro, dedicated button, or headset control.

Volume control was literally right at my fingertips both in and out of game -- so I could give the wheel a quick swipe in either direction between auto-attacks to make sure I was hearing enemy ultimates or to tone down party chatter. It's a feature I never wanted until I had it, and I've had trouble using other keyboards since. 

My only issue with the peripheral design features of this keyboard was the placement of LED indicators for Caps Lock, Num Lock, and Game Mode. Because of the key height in relation to the chassis, these indicators were extremely difficult to see at most angles unless you craned your neck (though I'm barely 5'2', so maybe taller folks won't have the same issue). Some slightly different placement would have been nice to see, but overall I didn't find myself too concerned with this minor design hiccup.  


In spite of a few issues with long-term comfort and some questionable design choices, HyperX really got it right with the Alloy Elite keyboard. It's well-built, responsive, and offers unmatched simplicity of use in both its plug-and-play design and its peripheral features. 

If you're looking for a keyboard that gives you a full suite of customization options and all those other fancy features that drive up price tags for gaming keyboards, you'll probably want to look to Corsair or Logitech for your next board. (Or if RGB lighting is your only must-have, you can simply wait until the RGB version of the Alloy Elite releases at an undetermined time later this year.)

But if you're willing to let go of a few cosmetic enhancements for a well-rounded keyboard with a wealth of functionality and utilitarian details, the Alloy Elite will be right up your alley. When you're fixing volume and lighting schemes on the fly, you won't regret it. 

The HyperX Alloy Elite gaming keyboard is currently available on Amazon for $109.99. 

[Note: HyperX provided the Alloy Elite keyboard used for this review.]

Beat The Game Review: A Music Producer's Bizarre Adventure Tue, 03 Oct 2017 15:39:21 -0400 Jeffrey Rousseau

Imagine, if you will, that Tim Burton decided to make a music game. What exactly would that be like? Well Beat the Game by developer Worm Animation answers that question. The game is a surreal trip that captures the intricacies of music making. Does this title fall on a flat note or does it make beautiful music? -- Find out in our review.

In Beat The Game, players take control of Mistik. Our hero finds himself in another world after a bike crash. He's not your average protagonist; he's a music producer and a DJ. Throughout the game, you are on a journey to find new sounds. As you traverse the land you will eventually create the ultimate soundtrack. 

In essence, the game represents the journey a real world music producer takes when creating. Some say that crafting music is something like lucid dreaming: It involves searching, inspiration, interacting with the world, and ultimately bringing it together. In this title it presents this intimate process in abstract fashion. 

Life Directed By My 808

Upon taking control of Mistik, players will notice he doesn't have much...except for his device. This device, for those that don't know, is an 808. It's actually a nod to the 808 drum machine. The device was used by producers for electronic music during the early 1980s, and set a standard for music creation since then. So, it would make sense that our hero is lead by this iconic piece of music machinery.

Your task in this nameless world is to locate sounds. The device can detect sounds, and the louder the sound is the closer you are to them. Sound itself serves as your compass. This is something of a relief because you are given no directions. Instead of being intimidating, it's actually rather refreshing -- you can take your time.

Upon discovery of a new sound, the 808 will record it and add it to your collection. You'll find sounds from a variety of things: a wind pipe, an otherworldly creature, a lamp fixture, and much more. If you've ever read a producer describe their creative process they'll mention that a lot of the sounds they create and their inspiration come from unorthodox of sources. 

The goal of the Beat the Game is to find all the sounds in the world and perform for the people. Traversing the world and seeing the sights is certainly worthwhile and adds to that sense of wanderlust. You'll never know where you'll find the next sound.

Cassettes and Tape Deck Experiences

Another part of Beat's charm is discovering the places where you'll find these elusive sounds. It's a unique experience to watch how Mistik stumbles across this music.

For example, you find yourself watching another DJ perform. After the performance, you obtain the sound-- after all artists are normally inspired by other artists. Sometimes a new sound can be found at a random party upon hearing an awesome beat. The games make these "aha moments" of finding music really personal. If you remove the surrealism, these discoveries occur a lot like the do in real life.

Aside from the music, you can also collect other items. A floppy disk here, a drumstick there, and so forth. They are all seemingly first glance. One of your discoveries is a cassette tape. You move on and don't think much about it. Later on, you discover a lifeless robot with a cassette tape deck interface. Mistik brings the robot to life much to his surprise. It can then help you search the world for items you may have missed. 

I found this aspect and adventuring in a whacky world to be very fun part of Beat the Game. While in the end things made sense, there were times were they didn't. Making music is often like that--you wander around for awhile before it all comes together. 

The Thrill of Victory By The Turntable

Some DJs/producers would agree that success starts and stops at the turntable. The mark of your music's impact can only be measured if people enjoy it. In the case of Beat, this turntable and goal is made clear to you from the beginning. It's constantly on your mind too as you see nameless NPCs gather around your turntable as time passes.

You must use your arsenal of sounds to create a successful performance.

This is then where the game becomes something of a puzzle. You have to piece together the sounds to increase your success rate as the performance goes on. This isn't easy because it also requires you to add effects and control the volume. You have to warp and craft the music as you see fit. It's a question of what to do and when to do it.

Like a real life performance, there's pressure on the DJ. In this case, however, you have all the time in the world. It's exciting to see...I mean hear what sounds you'll create to move the crowd. Reaching this end goal is what makes Beat The Game so special. No music game really captures the production journey quite like this. 

Production Under The Hood

Beat The Game has an interesting production behind it. Characters are uniquely outlandish but not to an extreme. Mistik fits right into the dream universe. The dream landscape feels empty and at the same time doesn't. It's littered with machines, elaborate background monuments, giant sand, creatures and other wondrously odd things. This small world has a lot going, and it's not telling you all of its secrets. You have to take the time to notice them.

Ah, so what of the game's music? Glad you asked. All of the music within the game was scored by Marc Houle. As a veteran house and techno producer he was able to help create authentic sounds where players can create whatever their minds lead them to make.

Flat Notes

Beat the Game is a unique title for sure, but it's not without elements that people may considered to be flaws. People may feel that the game is small. The world is more like a sandbox compared to other games. This matter of scale may give off the impression that it's not complete. Another issue players may not enjoy is that the journey has no real direction. Some people enjoy games where they know where to go next. Some folks don't like two seconds of feeling lost, never mind a whole game. In addition, this title has no danger, no competition with others, and is very mellow. For some, these elements, or lack thereof, may be considered boring. 


To be honest, Beat The Game isn't for everyone. I would argue that everyone that enjoys music and gaming should play it. Personally, I've never been so enamored with a game as I was with this one. In my spare time I'm learning music production for the sake of learning it, so maybe the game resonates with me because of this. In my opinion, no music game has done what Beat the Game has done. The journey of creating music and how weird the process is was captured well by Worm Animation and is well-worth playing.

Beat The Game is available now on Steam.

Editor's Note: The developer provided a copy of this game for review purposes. 

Hob Review -- Weird Giraffes and Ancient Mechanical Marvels Tue, 03 Oct 2017 11:00:29 -0400 Erroll Maas

Hob is a new action adventure game by Runic Games, created in the vein of the Legend of Zelda series. In Hob, players take the role of a presumably unnamed protagonist who wakes up in a seemingly unknown environment. A mechanical golem then guides players through a tutorial until the protagonists hand becomes infected by a poison afflicting sections of the environment.

The protagonist later wakes up to find themselves back where they started, but now with a large mechanical replacement hand to aid them. They then go out to explore the world and go on a journey to supposedly save it from the source of its affliction. 

The world of Hob is its most notable aspect. Between the strange creatures, the ancient ruins of a rather advanced civilization which cover the world, and certain viewing spots with special music cues  for players to take it all in, the mere extent of the world rarely falls short. It's charming to be able to appreciate the strange world of the game without having to worry about a nearby threat moving closer, as enemies and dangerous obstacles are usually well-separated from viewing spots and other areas, or have already been defeated before the player arrives at a scenic overlook.

In true homage to its inspiration, all the staples of a Legend of Zelda type game are present -- a sword which increases in strength as you progress, the more unique mechanical arm which does the same, various puzzles to solve and enemies to defeat, save points, and fast travel between different areas of the world. New abilities and equipment can also be purchased at certain temples and made from any blueprints that are found throughout your journey.

All of these aspects function as they should, but they all leave something to be desired as well.

Despite an outlandishly gorgeous world and noteworthy overall presentation, Hob has a few significant flaws which keep it from reaching the same level of quality as other games in the genre. The game suffers from a severe lack of direction due to containing no dialogue, and it can be difficult to determine where to go next. Once the map is obtained and markers can be seen, it shows players where to go but gives no insight into how to get there, leaving it up to the player to figure it out (similar in some ways to the first Legend of Zelda game).

While some players enjoy the encouragement of exploration, the vagueness can leave others feeling frustrated, particularly when backtracking and re-exploring areas becomes rather tedious after the map tries to trick you into thinking the path to the next marker is easier than it actually is.

Although the gameplay is adequate from the tight combat with the sword and heavy mechanical arm to the familiar feeling of obtaining upgrades and armaments, it's also relatively standard and provides no new or interesting twists -- bringing nothing to the table that hasn't been seen before. And there are a few hindering mechanics that should have been left on the drawing board. When you're close to a climbable object, for example, the game will do an automatic grab and take you somewhere that you may not have wanted to go. 

Unfortunately, Hob seems to lack the innovative qualities of other previously released games in the same vein.


Players who appreciate unique, spectacular visuals and don't mind too-familiar gameplay and lack of direction will get the most enjoyment out of this game. It lacks the innovation seen in other, arguably better, games in the genre -- but Hob can still provide a satisfying experience for some.  

Hob is currently available on PC through GOG and on PlayStation 4 through the PlayStation Store. It costs $19.99 on all platforms. 

[Note: provided the copy of Hob used for this review.]

Road Redemption Review: Road Rash is Back! Tue, 03 Oct 2017 10:25:17 -0400 Sergey_3847

It's no secret that Kickstarter gave birth to many sequels of classic video games that would have never seen the light of the day otherwise -- such as Wasteland 2, Broken Sword 5, Shroud of the Avatar, and many others.

In the early 90s, Electronic Arts released a racing combat game titled "Road Rash," for SEGA Genesis. Road Rash turned out to be so popular that it spawned five more sequels in the following ten years.

Now, the developers from Pixel Dash Studios and EQ Games made the spiritual successor to Road Rash possible with the help of Kickstarter and Steam Early Access, titled Road Redemption. The new game has a release date of October 4, 2017 on PC, and 2018 for PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U.

If you were a fan of Road Rash in the past, or just like adrenaline-packed racing games, and would like to know more about Road Redemption, then read our review of this fantastic new game from Pixel Dash.

Competition, Fury, and Redemption

The concept of the game is really simple. First, you choose a bike and a rider that differ in terms of speed, acceleration, steering, and the types of weapons you can wield that will be used against other bikers on the highway.

Each rider has their own unique design and personality, including such seminal characters like Jack-o-Lantern and Shovel Knight. Their bikes can be upgraded with the the help of skill tree and purchasable perks from the in-game store.

After you've chosen your hero, the game immediately puts you on a highway across the desert, where you need to race against ten other opponents. The terrain on each map is randomized, so you won't see exactly the same rocks, trees, and other objects each time you race.

Some missions in Road Redemption will require you to finish in the top 3, while others will ask you to chase and kill a certain number of target opponents. In either case, you will have to overtake other bikers on the highway and fight them using melee weapons and firearms.

Melee weapons such as gas pipes, baseball bats, machetes, shovels, etc. are far more effective than things like automatic weapons. But if you unlock a shotgun, then you can do some serious damage from a distance -- especially if you can buy a corresponding weapon perk.

If you have no weapon in your hands, then you can just get close to your opponents, grab them with your hands, and pull them off their bikes. However, this is a dangerous trick, and if you're not careful, you yourself can get easily dragged out of the race.

Additionally, you get to throw some explosives and quickly get rid of the most annoying bikers on the road. So there's a ton of action going on in the span of just a few minutes before you arrive at the finish line.

Level of Difficulty and Multiplayer

Since Road Redemption follows the arcade style of the Road Rash series, you will only have one life for making it through the entire campaign. If you die in the process and can't afford to buy health gain perks, then you will have to start from the very beginning.

This puts Road Redemption into the category of the most difficult games in the genre. If you're used to saving a lot or making a lot of mistakes, then this game will make you scream in agony -- it is that unforgiving.

But there is a bright side to all this, because every time you die, you get to spend your hard-earned XP points on permanent upgrades that will be active during your next playthroughs. So in that regard, Road Redemption does become easier the more you play it.

Concerning multiplayer mode, RR offers a 4-player co-op mode with an option of a split-screen in case you and your friends decide to play on the same screen. Unfortunately, there is no full-fledged multiplayer mode implemented, where you could play with other people online. But that is something the developers are currently actively discussing with their community.

Apart from the online racing mode, there are a few other things that could be improved in Road Redemption.

Wishlist and Final Verdict

Optimization, of course, is a huge matter for any racing game, including RR. The smoothness of the gameplay is crucial for maintaining a stable progress throughout the campaign -- but when your frames are dropping like crazy, at times you just don't want to try anymore. This happens more and more rarely in RR, again due to constant updates, but it is still an open case.

As for the gameplay, RR definitely needs more tracks, weapons, bikes, and other cool things to make it even more fun. This is definitely improving already, let's just hope that developers won't drop the ball on Road Redemption after the realease and give us something really good.

Despite a few minor drawbacks, RR has an absolutely fantastic soundtrack and excellent physics. But the main advantage of the game is the action -- it is undoubtedly one of the most fun games you will ever play.

On the modern video game market there is no other game like Road Redemption, so there is a big chance that more gamers will pay attention to it, and this will inspire Pixel Dash and EQ to further invest ideas into this unique and extremely fun ride.

[Note: A copy of Road Redemption was provided by Pixel Dash Studios for the purpose of this review.]

Cuphead Review -- Old-School Cool Sat, 30 Sep 2017 10:17:06 -0400 Ashley Gill

Cuphead may have suffered a few delays over the years, but 2017 was the right year to let it out into the wild. This is a year that will be remembered within the gaming community for its plethora of fantastic platformers -- and Cuphead itself will sit right there among them, as it deserves.

There are two things that make this entry to the genre notable and will inevitably be its shining chariot into cult classic status: the signature '30s-era animation style, and its almost-total focus on challenging boss fights that are generally (not always) just as fair as they are busy.

Cuphead's focus on boss fights is one of its biggest draws, but for some, it may be its biggest detriment. Despite its mostly cute (and sometimes unsettling) visuals, the game is almost like a boss gauntlet. There's a world map, NPCs to talk to, run-and-gun stages, and a shop -- but the vast majority of anyone's time playing the game will be spent taking on the game's many bosses. If you're not up for a bunch of projectile-spewing bosses, the game very well may not be to your tastes even when lowering the difficulty.

The game boasts a fair amount of weapons, special attacks, and charms. These can be bought outside of stages and equipped to your liking. But if you were hoping you could buff yourself to make the game easier, you've got another thing coming. Despite the array of options, none of them stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of strength, but there are just enough to suit most playstyles. Weapons with wide spreads -- or the one that automatically targets enemies -- have weaker shots, while the one with the highest single-hit damage potential has to be charged.

Cuphead is balanced from top to bottom. But that doesn't mean it's easy. You've surely seen from, well.. just about anyone talking about it, that the game is hard. That's true: it is very hard. Those in the average-to-slightly-above-average skill brackets will have far more trouble with the game than hardcore platformer players -- what could be an 8-hour game for some may be a 3-hour one for others, even on their first playthrough. I can only imagine for some others it will take a few hours longer longer.

Ultimately, Cuphead is actually quite short but considering the animation techniques used, this is one of the few times I'll toss my ideal $1 = 10 hours of playtime equation to the side. It's short, sure. Nothing's perfect. This review didn't have a glowing "10" at the top, did it?

I have experienced two bugs in particular (so far) while playing Cuphead on PC. One with a less-than-ideal infinite mid-air twirl in the first run-and-gun stage, and the other simply a softlock when paused. The rest of my playtime has been bug-free. Bugs happen, and while these did stall (read: stop) my playing when they occurred, they certainly haven't put a damper on my enjoyment of the rest of the game.

Most who have been anticipating Cuphead have been looking forward to seeing the classic animation in action, and it does look fantastic and often incredibly surreal. The folks over at StudioMDHR got the look and feel of the Popeye and Betty Boop animators, Fleischer Studios, down just right for the modern audience. All of it fits the style, but some of what's portrayed may be far past what would have flown back then. That's A-OK, since the 1930s are long gone.

If I could point out all of the details in the background art, I would. The combination of the game's charming drawings and perfectly-fitting soundtrack does an amazing job of pulling the player into Cuphead and Mugman's self-made plight. Each boss stage is as unique as the last and a big part of the fun in Cuphead is actually seeing what the bosses themselves look like and do through each phase, not to mention all that snazzy music that is really hard to not want to listen to after you're done with the game.

So why a 9? Despite its great just-about-everything, Cuphead just isn't a game I can see many people outside of the hardcore gaming community coming back to. It's just too much like classic run and guns for most of the modern audience, and I'd be willing to bet the vast majority of players don't even make it halfway through the game. Hell, a sizable portion won't even be able to make it through the first world.

Compounded on the above is the fact I can't see anyone but the aforementioned hardcore community bothering to come back to the game once finished -- despite its short length. Pushing through Cuphead is a delightfully painful process, but most people do not have the stomach or time for that type of effort. In a way, its difficulty and short length may doom it to be one of many of this year's platformer lineup that will be consumed and forgotten in a matter of weeks.

Cuphead deserves a 9 out of 10 because it is probably the best example of the genre released in the past 15 years, and everything about it is oozing the love and time of its developers. The actual speedruns that will come out of this beast are going to be a sight to behold, but chances are this game is the opposite of most people's cup of tea -- despite what it looks like.

(Note: The developer provider a copy of Cuphead for the purposes of this review.)

Citadale: The Legends Trilogy Review - A Decent Castlevania Clone Fri, 29 Sep 2017 13:11:00 -0400 Craig Snyder

When you take one look at Citadale: The Legends Trilogy (as I suggest you do in the trailer above), you know what you're in for. By no means is this being pushed as some high-end title that's going to bring some breathtaking new gameplay experience to Castlevania fans. This game is as raw and nostalgic as it looks at first glance.

Citadale: The Legends Trilogy is an indie Castlevania clone made by Ezekial Rage. It's available on both the Wii U (£4.49) and Steam ($9.99). In Citadale: The Legends Trilogy, you play as Sonja Dorleac and wield a sword-like weapon called the Shadow Blade. You run and jump through this sidescroller killing off demons, zombies, bats, and all sorts of horrible-looking creatures. The "trilogy" in this title comes in the form of three in-game chapters which all play as slightly different games.

Chapter 1 is the original Wii U release, Gate of Souls. In Chapter 2, you play as Sonja's son, Gabriel. In Chapter 3, Sonja's grandson, Christopher, is given the Shadow Blade and you play his role . Like the game itself, the progression through chapters and the intertwining story is relatively simple.

A Shoddy First Impression

One thing worth noting right off the bat is that this trailer doesn't do the game much justice. The tracks that they chose are far from the best you're going to hear in Citadale: The Legends Trilogy, and I really wish they'd have picked better ones. I personally find the opening track of the trailer to be a bit hard on the ears, and that itself may be enough to turn people away. Try to hear past it.

Launching Citadale: The Legends Trilogy on Steam, you're met with what is probably the most simple starting screen I've seen in the last few years. You can start playing the game or check out its (extremely limited) settings and options, shown here:

There's no option to change your controls, which wouldn't be an issue in a game where the controls were intuitive or introduced to the player in some tutorial mode or starting stage. But you don't get that in Citadale: The Legends Trilogy. Through an hour of playing the game, I couldn't figure out how to use my pick-up items. I pressed every key on my keyboard and came up empty. I searched on Google and found nothing. Being that this is one of the key mechanics in the game, I experienced it on a whole different level for first few bosses.

It was frustrating to see an axe in my inventory but not have any way to use it. Then finally, I remembered how you'd do it in the old Konami classic: UpV/Alt. I feel really bad for anyone who doesn't have experience with Castlevania games of the past, because figuring that out would be nearly impossible for them.

The only two other controls (other than movement through A/D or Left/Right) are your jump (C/Ctrl) and taking a swing of your Shadow Blade (V/Alt). You can crouch with S/Down.

Part of me gets the control thing, though. Citadale: The Legends Trilogy wants to be as raw as possible. It lends to the nostalgic and difficult experience, right? While I do agree, the level of keyboard-pounding required to figure everything out doesn't exactly contribute to any sort of fun experience with the game.

Other than the lack of a way to change your controls, Old TV Mode is a neat option that adds a filter to your game to emulate those old TV scan lines.

Decent Visuals & Audio

Getting started with the game, you're met with a few paragraphs of story. It's very shallow and basic, but that's to be expected in a game like this. Sonja is set out one night after her husband's deceased father rises from his grave. Sonja's husband takes off to check out a nearby citadel with his eyes set on stopping the evil forces his father has released, and Sonja is left behind to protect the village.

The graphics and audio were immediately a relief. Again, what I heard in the trailer wasn't exactly pleasant to my ears. The track for the first stage of the game is much better and sounds exactly like something I'd expect from a Castlevania clone, so I have no complaints.

The sprites, both for Sonja and and enemies, are pretty fluid. I expected them to be more choppy and jerky than they are, so that was a nice touch to see.

One thing I will say is that, when looking through reviews of the game, I found two different occasions (here and here) where players made accusations of sprites and MIDIs being stolen and used for the game. In the second link, Ezekial Rage (the game developer) responds to say that he is aware of the strong similarities, although the report is representing something "not in this version of the game."

Speculation aside, I think this just lends more to the fact that Citadale: The Legends Trilogy is trying as hard as possible to be a very close experience to the original Castlevania titles.

The Gameplay I Expected

All the way up until the first boss, which I got to within a matter of minutes, the gameplay was exactly what I thought it'd be. You hack and slash enemies to pick up coins, food, soul gems, and items. It's nothing new, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

You're also met with checkpoints throughout, at which you'll respawn upon dying. This is extremely necessary because you can expect to die a lot. And that's unfortunate, because it doesn't tell you how to save your game anywhere -- except in a line on the Steam page's update notes that says F1 saves your state and F2 loads it.

You are only given one save state across the entirety of the game. If you close the game without pressing F1, when you launch the game again there is no option to continue. Your progress is lost. Before this update, players would need to beat through the entire game in one sitting. Talk about hardcore.

The first boss was a pretty cool experience. She (or at least I believe they were female) spawns in the center of the stage after you clear it on top of a rose. Periodically, she'll cause the vines that you've been slashing through up until this point to spawn. It basically requires you to quickly learn the pattern where they spawn, kill them, and rush to the center of the stage where you can deal damage to her.

The next boss, which couldn't have been more than five minutes away, was arguably even easier.

A dragon-like skeleton floats across the screen and you must jump and slash at him. When being hit, he'll drop skeleton enemies that you've been fighting along the way. You quickly put them down and then get back to jumping and swinging at the boss. You won't find yourself taking too much damage here.

From this point on though, you begin to experience a lot of new game mechanics. There comes a point where you'll (probably) walk across a platform that has a slight discoloration to it, which will result in you falling to your death. Luckily enough, this happens just seconds after reaching a checkpoint.  This is where the game begins to show a bit of cleverness and difficulty.

The next boss you'll reach, which is just steps away from these falling platforms, is exponentially harder than the first two. I won't spoil it for you, but you can expect to die many times before finally figuring it out.

The pick-up items that you'll come across as you kill through giant spiders, slugs, and hordes or hideous monsters are as follows:

  • Holy water, which burns enemies
  • Throwing axes, which can damage enemies above you
  • Throwing stars, which slice through multiple enemies in front of you
  • Potions, which replenish your health

Each require a soul gem to use. Having no soul gems means you won't be able to use your pick-up item. Think of the gems as mana. Players familiar with Castlevania should have no issue understanding this mechanic, nor will they experience the pains of figuring out what button combination allows you to use them (which, again, is UpV/Alt).

A Few Shortcomings

While I admit I stopped one boss short of finishing Chapter 1, because I just couldn't beat it after a good 30 tries, I can confidently state that one of Citadale: The Legends Trilogy's most glaring issues is the difficulty spike. I mentioned the boss from stage 3 being tenfold as difficult as the bosses from stages 1 and 2, and you'll find this happening all throughout the game. You'll cruise through a few stages and then just hit a wall. But this hardcore type of gameplay might be what some people are looking for.

Another issue I have with the game is that the hit detection is pretty mediocre, especially during some boss fights. Hits just don't register as you would expect them to, which is a part of these nostalgic titles that we'd all rather forget than relive.

The skill cap in Citadale: The Legends Trilogy comes mostly from having experience in early Castlevania titles and being able to learn monster and boss fight patterns. The mechanics of your weapon aren't very deep or difficult to learn. The only real quirk about it that you'll have to play with is the way you're able to jump, swing, and turn to hit in multiple directions at the same time with a single swing of the Shadow Blade. Other than that, don't expect to impress yourself.


All in all, I think the people who will want to purchase Citadale: The Legends Trilogy are going to get what they wanted and expected out of it: a nostalgic, difficult experience that's extremely similar to the old Castlevania games on NES. The story, sounds, visuals, and feel of the game are about as similar to the original Nintendo title as I've found.

Citadale: The Legends Trilogy boasts some replayability too. There are alternate endings for the first two chapters, and there's even a boss rush mode for the original game if you manage to get the "good" ending. I can't tell you how to achieve that, but it does add a little bit of hype to a game that has yet to receive Steam Achievements or things of that nature. I'm actually really curious to see what the boss rush game mode is all about and will probably work on it after this review.

If you're a Castlevania fan or someone who just loves raw and classic hack-and-slash titles, Citadale: The Legends Trilogy won't disappoint. For the majority of you though, you'll find this title hard to fall in love with.

[Note: A copy of this game was provided by the developer for the purposes of this review.] 

Project Cars 2 Review: A Racing Sim Done Well Fri, 29 Sep 2017 12:38:41 -0400 ESpalding

Project CARS 2, one the most anticipated racing games of the year has made its laps and finally crossed the finish line! The racing car simulator -- not arcade racer -- is the sequel to the vastly successful Project Cars which was released in May 2015 by London-based Slightly Mad Studios. 

Out of the box, Project CARS 2 boasts an impressive lineup of 180 cars from nine motorsport disciplines and 29 different racing series. You can start your career in Formula Rookie cars and work your way up to Rallycross, IndyCar, and higher, mimicking exactly how professional racing drivers work their way up through the career ranks. You have to learn each car and set it up with personal variables as work your way to the top.

It's all very involved -- as simulators should be. 

This is a Simulation -- Not a Sunday Drive

This game is full of management options from fuel usage, tire wear, and grip, to suspension, handling settings, and more. It really isn't for the faint-hearted or those who just want to be able to race and win straight off the grid -- which sometimes is not a good thing.

Don't get me wrong, I am a massive fan of simulators and I'm not new to racing sims, but even the level at which you need to understand all the various sliders in Project CARS 2 was beyond me. In a recent interview with Slightly Mad Studios, COO Rod Chong makes a point of saying that the game is accessible to newcomers to the genre -- but I'm not entirely convinced.

You really need to come at the game from a driver's point of view. Thing is, not everyone who likes these kinds of games actually drives on a pro level. I don't even drive a car. I ride a motorbike. And this immediately puts me at a disadvantage. I don't know exactly how a car would race and handle in certain circumstances or different weather conditions. 

I can see how this amount of granular tuning would be great for someone who has played games like this before or knows what they are doing in real life (or have gained a lot of that knowledge from watching races all their lives) but it isn't wholly accessible to non-drivers or first-time players.

There's a lot to tweak -- and the options can be overwhelming -- but new players are in for a bit of luck as the developers have included a handy feature called Race Engineer. It's somewhat hidden and a bit difficult to find, but once you do stumble across it, the feature helps you tune your car without you having to know the specific ins and outs of braking or drifting, for example. Essentially, you are asked a series of questions to ascertain what you need help with (such as if your car isn't accelerating faster enough or doesn't take turns sharp enough) and the game tunes your car accordingly. 

And although you won't have some of the customization options found in other racing games, such as adding nitrous to your speedster or turning one car class into another, you will be able to fine-tune your tires (which you have to make sure are the right type for a specific track's race conditions, such as rain or heat), gear ratios, and suspension, for example. 

The menu to tune these aspects of your car isn't immediately visible, but instead nestled inside a few other menus within the game. However, once you find it, you'll be glad you did -- whether you're a new or a veteran. 

Beautiful, Dynamic Tracks Create New Strategies

One thing the developers have definitely got right, however, is how the Project CARS 2 looks. The graphics are next level, and the attention to detail is impeccable. And it doesn't matter in what area of the world you're racing, either. The game has more than 140 different track layouts spread across over 60 locations, from the tarmac of Brands Hatch to the icy roads of Scandinavia, the locations are all stunning, rendered in gorgeous detail. 

Not only that, but each track is a "living track" with life-like weather conditions and seasons. You could be racing on a sunny day, but then it starts to rain. Not only is the track now wet, but there are puddles on the road -- meaning that you are at risk of sliding off course, making you handle your car differently as you take it through turns and down straightaways. On top of that, tracks also get hot and cold, which drastically affects how your tires grip the asphalt and how your car handles while blazing down the track. 

In the space of a lap, your driving strategy has to change to take into consideration the change in track dynamics. It's an interesting wrinkle and something that racing fanatics and enthusiasts are sure to enjoy. 

All in all, I have found that Project CARS 2 satisfies my need for a decent, in-depth racing game. While the settings may be a bit too much and the gameplay via a gamepad may be a bit off the mark (playing with a gamepad just doesn't feel like actual racing), Project CARS 2 does deliver a great racing experience. You can tell that a lot of time has been taken to make sure the cars, tracks, and environments are as realistic as possible. The dynamic weather feature really adds to the overall experience and keeps the game fresh.

Would I say that this is the best racing game I've ever played? Sadly, no. The game has a lot of accessibility issues and is heavily geared more toward car aficionados. 

[Note: A copy of Project CARS 2 was provided by Bandai Namco Entertainment for the purpose of this review.]

FIFA 18 Review: Where's My 3v3 Mode? Fri, 29 Sep 2017 11:47:20 -0400 Joseph Rowe

Put your virtual cleats on and get ready to dribble, because it's FIFA 18 time! Boasting changes to the Football Ultimate Team, a continuation of the Journey, an overhaul to the dribbling system, and more, this year's edition comes out strong.

That being said, many sports game players get sick of having to drop $60 a year on a new version of the same game. Does this year's offering give you enough new goodies to warrant a purchase? Read on to find out.

FIFA 18's Graphics

Like pretty much any other EA Sports game, FIFA 18 looks ridiculously good. Starting with 17, EA Sports switched to the Frostbite engine. A year later, it's still looking like a great choice on EA's part. The player's faces look pretty realistic, the gear looks nice, the stadiums look amazing, and the only thing that doesn't look A+ is the audience. But hey, they're not nearly as important as the players. Who cares if the crowd doesn't look perfect when you can individually count the sweat drops rolling down your player's face?

The menus have a sleek design with a nice mix of big, small, wide, thin, etc. icons. I'm normally not impressed enough by menus to make comments, but kudos to EA for getting this right.

In terms of character creation, you have loads of ways to customize your player to make them visually distinct -- like skin complexion, loads of different hairstyles, facial feature and gear customization, etc. Sadly and kind of confusingly, this game has a much more intricate facial customization system than NHL 18 does, but despite Women's League being in the game, you can't create a female player (while in EA's hockey game, you can). 

FIFA 18's Sound

The sound is just as spot-on as the graphics. The sounds of the audience cheering will get you insanely pumped to shoot some goals, and the sounds of your teammates chattering during scrimmages in the story mode adds a nice bit of ambiance that makes you feel like you're at an actual practice. Just be sure not to drink all of Dave's Gatorades again. 

I'm not familiar with the actual real life FIFA (what is an outside world anyway?) so I have no clue who the announcers are -- but the English speaking ones are funny and a little bit too honest at times. No need to call out my missed chip shot as embarrassing, eesh.

The soundtrack surprised me. It featured a decent amount of bands I actually knew, and I ended up liking some tracks that I normally wouldn't have. I wasn't as much of a fan of EA's other offering in NHL 18, but this game's got everything from Weezer to Danish pop-punk.

FIFA 18's Gameplay

Now what you've all been waiting for: gameplay. In our overview of the gameplay, let's start with how this game differs from 17: it really doesn't. 

EA has swapped out Football Ultimate Team's legends and put in Icons instead. This isn't that big of a change -- but if you're super into the greats of soccer/football, then this will excite you.

One of the more important, albeit minor, changes is the addition of new team styles and tactics. This will make your AI teammates play better and give you more variation when playing offline.

The only other addition of real note is the enhanced dribbling system. They've overhauled the previous system based on player complaints in hopes of solving balance issues, although it's too early in the game's release to say if that's improved the situation or not.

Other than that, there really hasn't been much change since 17 unless you're a really big German Liga fan. The lack of major changes is also a good thing in a way, because the core gameplay of FIFA 18 is stellar for the most part. You have an insane tool kit to work with that lets you make all sorts of intricate plays. You can perform a threaded through pass to a teammate who can simply rainbow into a goal-scoring kick, or you can do what I do and low kick the ball into the corner until the AI makes a mistake and you win by the skin of your teeth. There's ways for players of all skill levels to enjoy the game.

Speaking of terrible FIFA players, there are skill games for you to hone your individual skills (e.g.: lob passing, finesse shots, etc.) either with an actual player whom you're leveling or just for fun as matches load. Some of them are a bit of a chore, but most of them are actually a lot of fun. There's something slightly magical about getting into a serious rhythm with lob passes in that skill game.

The game controlled pretty well even before I spent my time practicing. The basics of the dribbling system are pretty intuitive. If you want something more in-depth, you're in luck! The different skill moves they offer, like the Sombrero Flick and the Roulette, give you complex and rewarding ways to keep the ball in your possession. Some of them are a bit clunky to pull off and there could've been more guidance in learning them in-game, but for the most part, they control well.

FIFA 18's Football Ultimate Team

I ranted about the NHL 18 version of this already, but since the feature is in this game as well, I'll rant about it here, too. EA Sport's Ultimate Team features in their sports games are unnecessary cash grabs.

EA Sports already has the biggest hold on the sports gaming market, so they're not desperate enough for money to justify charging real life cash for randomized virtual cards. As a whole, I can't stand most microtransactions in games (bring me back to pre-DLC times), but this kind of thing just feels like it's designed for wealthy players who don't want to put the time in to get good at the actual game while EA makes tons of cash off their gold and "premium" gold packs.

Maybe if you grind hard enough you can keep up with players who don't mind spending hundreds of dollars on premium currency, but I'd rather have this feature either with in-game currency or for it to not exist at all.

FIFA 18's Story Mode

FIFA 18 brings with it the continuation of Alex Hunter's English premiere league story. Have no fear if you missed the first installation of the series, as you get a recap at the start if you have no FIFA 17 save data. If you do, however, you'll continue with the same club you joined previously along with your traits and honors.

I didn't play 17, so this is my first experience with a story mode of any kind in a sports game -- and it was much better than I thought it would be. But I really wish they would have made 3v3 a playable mode like they did for NHL 18. The introductory 3v3 street game in the Hunter was a blast, and I'd love to see that added in with its own circuit like EA Sports's hockey series.


If you're a die hard FIFA fan but aren't sure if 18 offers enough new stuff to warrant the launch price tag even after reading this review, I'd pass. If you're excited with the Hunter storyline's second part, go for it -- because it's one of the best parts of the game. If you're looking for an in-depth soccer/football simulation, then FIFA 18 is the game for you. If you're looking for something that's easy and more fun than realistic, you'll probably want to get PES instead.

All in all, this year's FIFA has something to offer soccer/football fans of every type if you're not too disappointed by its lack of new features. While I can definitely understand the appeal for hardcore soccer simulationists and would likely score this higher if I was one, as a more casual player I give the game a 8. Its core is completely solid and it comes with an interesting storyline, but its lack of more arcade style gameplay like a 3v3 mode and its ridiculous Football Ultimate Team mode detract from its score for me.

Looking for more content for this game? Check out my FIFA 18 tips and tricks guide as well as my trophy guide!

[NoteEA Sports provided a copy of FIFA 18 for the purpose of this review.]

Total War: Warhammer 2 Brings Tabletop Combat to Life Thu, 28 Sep 2017 16:31:01 -0400 Ty Arthur

There are an absolutely stupid number of Games Workshop video games out there, including an unrelenting deluge of Warhammer 40,000 titles that have rained down on mobile devices, consoles, and PCs across the world in the past year or so.

Here's the thing, though: most of them are awful and exceedingly half-baked. Sort of the best you can hope for lately is, "Eh, it wasn't actively bad."

There's no question the space version of Warhammer gets more of the video game love than its fantasy counterpart, so I, for one, always welcome a new PC addition to the Old World. I've got very fond memories of playing Shadow Of The Horned Rat on the PS1 (which is so ugly to look at now as to be actively offensive).

But lo and behold, I don't have to stare at it because there's a new addition to that universe -- Total War: Warhammer 2, the second Total War iteration of Warhammer. It not only gives us the pretty visuals the franchise deserves, but also the satisfying -- if perhaps overly complex -- mix of turn-based and RTS gameplay it needs as well.

 Plus, there's lizard men who ride dinosaurs!

A New Way To Wage War

Many of the mobile Warhammer games that get ported to Steam are too simplistic for their own good, but here, with Total War: Warhammer 2, you need to get ready for the opposite.

To boil it down in terms of genre, Total War is to the RTS genre as Arma is to the FPS genre. It's difficult. It's complicated. It's learning curve is immense. And there are far more mechanics than there probably should or ought to be. But if you manage to actually come out the victor, you will feel like you actually accomplished something.

This isn't Heroes Of Might And Magic or even Starcraft. This is large scale strategy with relentlessly difficult combat. Not thinking ahead will surely see you and your compatriots annihilated. 

 Yeah... there's a lot going on here, and this is just the tutorial mission!

You will constantly be dealing with multiple elements at the same time, from panning the camera in multiple dimensions at once to watching morale, monitoring individual battle progress, tracking reinforcements, popping off your Leader's skills, re-positioning for advantage in combat, checking the treeline to make sure you aren't about to be ambushed, and much (much) more.

My first major battle had me positioning all my units just perfectly before the fighting broke out. We were more than adequately prepared for the barbaric chaos hordes. My cavalry was riding through the trees on the opposite side to flank the foolish Norse warriors and take out their Hellcannon artillery before they could annihilate my melee formations at range.

 It's not so tough when my mounted units sneak up from behind...

I outnumbered them, I was prepared, and I had my Slaan wizard ready to annihilate... then it all went to hell immediately.

Turns out those "foolish" barbarians had also gotten units past me on the treeline. Just as the battle was about to begin, a group of archers starts pelting my saurus warriors from behind. Their morale breaks and they go berserk, ignoring my commands to move forward and engage the enemy, chasing after archers they can't possibly catch. With my lines broken the barbarian hordes surround us, it was all over.

The card system helps keep all the unit info in one place, but for those who aren't familiar with Total War, it will still constantly feel like there's too much going on at once -- especially for the first 10 hours or so.

On the opposite side of that, the complexity means there's a ton to do and new elements to always master, and for the achievement whores out there, there's a staggering 106 separate achievements to unlock.

Despite all of those overly complex elements and the constantly desperate, surviving-by-the-seat-of-your pants feeling as you are overwhelmed and outmaneuvered, there's an undeniable sense fun tethered to figuring out how to prevail against all odds.

 Concealing forest lines are the kiss of death

Factions And Gameplay

Total War: Warhammer II has shifted focus on the factions from the previous game, and I personally really like that we aren't starting with humans from the Empire or Bretonia, since it seems odd to make a fantasy version of Total War and then just have human units. This time around the starting factions are High Elves, Dark Elves, Lizardmen, and The Skaven.

I've always been a fan of the lore of the mysterious Old Slann who started life before the gates exploded, releasing Chaos onto the Old World, so of course, I jumped on the lizardmen faction immediately.

Even if you haven't followed the series lore over the last 25 or so years, there's still something undeniably awesome about dinosaurs battling it out with rat people to stop demonic hordes from covering the land (or taking control of the portal and using the demons for your own vile purposes).

 Yup, that's me!

There's a strong balance between turn-based strategy and city management on the overland map to real-time combat in the battles themselves, which can become insanely massive as the campaign moves onward, with tons of neutral factions interacting between the four main playable races. It's also very much worth noting that in a major change, there are now two very different ways to approach the main campaign.

The split between total conquer and ritual enactment cuts out a lot of the typical Total War late game dread -- that part where it's just a slog to pick up the rest of the territory.

A Broken Hammer?

Besides the complexity, there are a few things potential players should be aware of ahead of launching Total War: Warhammer 2. First off, the load times are crazy. I'm hoping that gets resolved in a patch, because they are immense.

While Warhammer, of course, fits the Total War franchise like a glove, there are areas where the two franchises don't quite mesh as well as they could. Probably most notable is the camera, which just can't ever hit a satisfying sweet spot.

You are either too high up for the tactical view to survey your surroundings -- at which point the armies might as well be stationary painted figures on a table -- or you are too close to get a good look at the battle and you lose tactical advantage. 

There's no perfect middle ground to find, no matter how much you fiddle with the camera. I fully realize the point of the Total War series is to focus on the strategy of large-scale combat, but it comes at the expense of some of the RTS fun of actually seeing what's going on in this battle or that skirmish.

 Do you know what you're looking at? Because I have
no idea what I'm even looking at here.

The Bottom Line

Here's the thing -- for all my griping about the difficulty level and constantly tinkering with the camera angle, this is pretty much the purest form of Warhammer the PC crowd is ever going to get -- and it is a very satisfying experience for fans of the franchise.

Couple that with stellar cut scenes and a story rooted in old lore that's worthy of the Warhammer name, and you have yourself a game that's very much worth the asking price if you love the series and don't mind getting trounced for awhile as you figure everything out.

Four Horsemen Review: New Life Blooms From Chaos Wed, 27 Sep 2017 10:52:28 -0400 ThatGamersAsylum

Contrary to the title, the Four Horsemen really isn’t about the harbingers of the apocalypse. Rather, it is a visual novel/SLG (simulated life game) about a group of four immigrants/refugees growing up in a country that hates them and wishes they'd go back to where they came from. Since your country of origin is chosen at the start of the game, the game is more about the refugee experience and less about a particular people’s experience.

From Left to Right: War, Death, Famine, and Pestilence

The game starts with the four horsemen finding, claiming, and naming an abandoned WWII machine gun bunker, which, during the game, you slowly build up by having each character contribute to it in their own way. This is largely done by employing Death, a budding engineer, to craft new, ragtag inventions from items that characters find.

Everyone else feeds into this loop with the tasks they're able to perform during the day. Pestilence can pillage a junk heap, Famine can work at a local store, War purchases items from the store at which Famine works. It doesn’t really make sense, sure, but nevertheless, it makes the base your own personal living space, adding to the overall experience reinforced by the overarching narrative.

The characters also populate the scene, displaying their
own interactions. Sadly this is usually obstructed by UI. 

Four Horsemen's story largely plays out in this bunker. Centering on the refugee and immigrant experience, Four Horsemen tells a story that's compelling and empathetic without preaching or pandering. Placing you into situations that are inspired by real-life immigrant experiences makes it feel alive.

I felt the hatred of my classmates and teacher when they referred to me as "the enemy". I felt the implicit distrust that exuded from my boss and patrons at my after-school job. And any and every interaction with law enforcement became instantly tenuous.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the game is that it never makes you feel like you are being spoonfed simple answers. Every immigrant, whether it be one of the horsemen or one of their relatives, has their own ideas about how to handle their specific situation. When interacting with parents, you are usually offered solutions like,”Be quiet, don’t rock the boat,” or,”You say what you need to in order to survive.” These characters were jaded by what they'd experienced, both during wartime in their native land and now in their new "home". Their words and ideologies speak volumes about who they are (were) as people and that, in turn, speaks volumes about the quality of writing in Four Horsemen.

On the other hand, the four main characters are young and have more fight left in them. War wants to stand up and fight for their rights. Death feels pressured to make something of herself because she’s a talented engineer and her people need a beacon of hope. Famine feels conflicted about his position in society. (He is mixed race and can sort of fit in with the natives, but he also feels a strong bond with his immigrant roots.) And Pestilence feels somewhat indebted while also feeling abused -- he loves the country he has grown up in even though it hates him. The way these different perspectives work together and play off of one another is easily my favorite part of the game.

In turn, the believable characters lend credence to the situations in which they are placed; they even moor some of the more fantastical story beats. This creates a narrative loop where the characters are built up by the situations they endure and the situations are given life because you get to see the interactions of these characters -- which feel much more real than you might at first think.

The story is also adequately supported by the game's art and music. While there's nothing particularly fancy going on here, the anime-inspired character designs get the job done (Although I could do without Famine constantly staring into my soul with his dead eyes!) and the backgrounds adequately accommodate the limitations of the character sprites. I do wish I had a better feel for the layout of the bunker and its surroundings, however, as I would hear the characters mentioning digging a latrine or the bunker's isolated position and I'd never have a frame of reference.

The music can be off-putting at times, but it always felt like it supported the intended emotions of the scene. Whether it was a hard rock or acoustic song that played while you tried to talk your way out of being mugged while waiting for the bus or a somber piano piece as you reflected back on the moments leading to your escape from a war torn home, it always felt like it packed a punch. 

As mentioned earler, you choose which country you want your characters to originate from. Personally, this is a decision I am split on. The strength of this approach is that you can see the same situation play out no matter which country is in power. You realize this could happen anywhere; that at any given time you are just a war away from becoming a refugee yourself.

That being said, the whole thing could come off as coldly systematic. Changing your country only changes a few lines of dialogue, your skin tone and hair color, your particular curse words (vernacular) and pronouns for things like mom and dad, and culturally relevant items, like drugs and food. But I never noticed deeply held cultural beliefs, religions, holidays, etc. truly embraced as a part of each culture's unique heritage. This made it hard to feel grounded in any one particular culture.

Encountering versions of yourself from rival countries makes you realize that you might not be the good guy if you had power. 

However, sometimes the game contradicts itself. Behind closed doors, the horsemen lament that Famine can pass as one of the natives, but when you are actually playing as Famine -- particularly at his day job -- you are constantly treated like a dog. Moreover, the game alludes to certain things that never actually build up.

In the picture of the clubhouse from above, you can see War and Pestilence close together, obviously flirting. But I never saw any real mention of this within the core dialogue (maybe I missed something?). Moreover, Famine is accused of just trying to get into girls' pants -- including Death's -- on numerous occasions. While he never denies this, there wasn't any time that I saw him even so much as mention that a girl was hot. 

These sorts of moments could cause some dissonance in what was otherwise exceptional characterization and dialogue. 

The horsemen talk like real teenagers. I found this
very endearing, but some people won't.

Perhaps my biggest problem with this game, though, was its multiple endings. There are nine endings with four main storylines. However, the stories often run concurrent to one another and as such, you can be forced to restart the game once you have completed one storyline. Concurrent storylines also often mean that character growth is limited to the storyline in which it happened.

This also lends itself to a lot of other problems. The game’s core loop of finding/buying supplies and crafting things is intentionally slow because it represents how hard it is to actually get things when you are a teenager -- particularly a refugee teenager -- that no one wants to hire, much more pay well. But this means that subsequent playthroughs, where you have to repeat certain steps can become monotonous.

A great piece of music from the game. 

Oh! And you can get banned from the junkyard thanks to a random event, which can literally ruin a playthrough since some storylines are dependent upon you crafting items whose components can only be obtained at the junkyard! Or that you can only do one thing per day despite there being four independent characters.

Lastly, eight of the nine endings are really just binary choices. Get to the end of one storyline and you basically are forced to choose between a good and bad ending (sometimes it's a bad or worse ending). Once I realized this, I was severely disappointed to see that my decisions along a particular story path impacted things so little. 

Reading through the bullet points on Steam and the intended goals on the Kickstarter, I couldn’t exactly say that I agreed that the developers met all of their goals. The crafting system that they boast about isn’t exactly compelling. The multiple endings and starting countries were as much a pain in the ass as they were an actual rewarding aspect of the gameplay loop. And I can't say I was left with the impression that my decisions mattered. (It does, however, probably have the most advanced profanity system of any video game!)

On its surface, that sounds horrible. But bullet points on your storefront and design goals aren't the same. The devs, above all else, truly want you to empathize with the plight of refugees and immigrants. And after playing Four Horsemen, I can unequivocally say that the quality writing made that a reality for me; and I don't think I am the only person that will find this game emotionally resonant.


[Note: A copy of Four Horsemen was provided by the developer for this review.] 

SteamWorld Dig 2 Review: Just Keep Digging Sat, 23 Sep 2017 17:03:28 -0400 Steven Oz

If you are familiar with the anime Gurren Lagann then you know this quote: “If you're gonna dig, dig to the heavens. No matter what's in my way, I won't stop! Once I've dug through - it means that I've won!

This inspiring call to courage tells you to forge ahead for unknown depths just like SteamWorld Dig 2. The direct sequel to Image & Form Games' SteamWorld Dig, Steamworld Dig 2 follows in its predecessor's footsteps to create a Metroidvania-style game with outstanding visuals and an intriguing world.

You Don't Have to Dig Far for the Story

SteamWorld Dig 2 begins a few years after the events of the first game when our new main protagonist, Dorothy, a steambot with a heart of gold, takes up the quest to uncover the meaning behind the strange earthquakes plaguing the old mining town of El Machino as well as search for Rusty, the protagonist of SteamWorld Dig who mysteriously vanished after the previous game's final boss fight.

While the story is on par with other games in the SteamWorld universe, there is not much to it. The main thing you need to know is that there are earthquakes in the area and that the search for Rusty is still ongoing by your character. Though the game features two main antagonists to combat, only one has even some depth to their character. The other, Ronald, who leads a doom worshiping cult, felt like a simple throwaway character. Players only face his forces a handful of times, which felt a bit sparse and unnecessary. The ending similarly felt lackluster. Again, this is typical for the SteamWorld universe, but lackluster is still lackluster.

The world that this story takes place in, however, is brimming with character. Reminiscent of old western-style lore, El Machino and its population of humans, cult members, and steambots embody the legends of cowboys and cowgirls. Even the environment itself feels like a character, with each new mine you explore possessing a unique feel. One might be dusty, while another is fairy-like. The Temple of the Guardian in particular features traps reminiscent of an Indiana Jones movie. Enemies even behave differently in these different biomes, adding an additional layer of freshness to each area. 

Gameplay Is Dusty But Fresh.

An interesting take on the Metroidvania genre, SteamWorld Dig 2 takes that formula and flips it vertically. Simply put, you have to dig to get where you are going. Starting out with just a pickaxe, you dig your way through the ground to find gems needed to buy upgrades for your tools. Also within these deep mines are enhancement sites that grant you access to new tools, like the hookshot. 

The game manages to improve upon its predecessor to enhance the already-fun gameplay experience. In the previous game, for example, double-jumping and wall clinging were abilities that had to be bought and then upgraded. While the new game lacks a double-jump, players are now able to wall cling immediately, which is a great tool when trying to climb up long mine wells.

Likewise, you can now obtain a much-needed jetpack for those times where you end up in a deep open pit with no feasible way of escape. Even some simpler items like transport tubes, which act as a fast-travel system, make it much easier to frequently replenish you health and sell your wares. These simple additions help take out a lot of unnecessary hassle and allow players to spend more time just having fun.

What SteamWorld Dig 2 does retain, however, is the addicting resource gathering and exploration of the first game. Even as someone who does not 100% games, I could not put it down. The depth of the semi-open world is simply immense and I wanted to complete it all. The map is handcrafted to show off the depth of the game and enable full exploration, giving the player the option to systematically mine everything on the map. This makes the loop of digging, selling, and upgrading much more efficient. 

Digging further and further uncovers more secrets. Caves open up to different challenges that test your abilities, often with puzzles that require the use of one of your many tools. One such cave was a puzzle involving a finite number of mining carts. Completing these caves earn the player cogs, which are used for upgrading blueprints, and each cave also contains secret areas that hide artifacts which can be traded for more blueprints.

As you sell your various finds, you can use your hard-earned cash to buy upgrades to your core abilities. Each upgrade can be then be modified with the aforementioned blueprints. These blueprints can then be further enhanced with cogs for different purposes that fit your need. A fascinating part of this upgrade system is that cogs are not locked in, allowing you to mod and re-mod your abilities to better suit different activities. For instance, when facing the final boss, I changed my cogs to focus on health and attack to better tackle the challenge. By mixing and matching these enhancements, players are able to take better control of their own game experience.

All in all SteamWorld Dig 2 is a fantastic game that you don't want to miss. The story is sparse but fair for a world that seems to be alive. The gameplay improves on the last game to enhance players' experience, but still retains the addicting cycle of looting, selling, and upgrading. I hope Image & Form Games can keep on creating such fun games for years to come.

SteamWorld Dig 2 is available now on Nintendo Switch and PC and will be available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita on September 26.

[Note: A copy of this game was provided by the developer for the purposes of this review.] 

Factotum 90 Review: A Solid Idea Lacking Flair and Polish Fri, 22 Sep 2017 15:13:58 -0400 Greyson Ditzler (PurplePocketPirate)

Factotum 90 is a 3D puzzle game from one-man developer TACS Games, headed by Thomas Hopper, and published by Poppy Works. It began life as a Wii U exclusive, but has migrated to other consoles over time -- most recently the PS4 and PlayStation Vita.

The game involves swapping between two identical box-like maintenance robots in order to navigate through a series decks on a spaceship by solving puzzles. You are guided by a man on a screen who wants you to navigate your way through the ship in order to restore the main power after a massive collision.  

A basic premise for a basic concept, but more importantly, does Factotum 90 deliver an enjoyable game? The answer is both yes and no. 

Whip out your admin password and login to find out.

The Good, the Bad, & the User-Friendly

While the setup and core concept are pretty basic, Factotum 90 does have some pretty nice little design ideas. Quite a few steps have been taken in order to make this game as user-friendly as possible. For example, whenever you press a switch to raise a platform, the game very kindly connects the switch and platform(s) with a translucent white line so that you know what in the room has changed. You can even re-read any dialogue that has already happened in the level from the pause screen.

The game also provides both a respawn button on top of the level reset option in the pause menu. This causes the robot you are currently controlling to respawn at the start of the level without undoing any actions that you've already done. This can be useful when you've made a mistake and find yourself stuck, or when you aren't quite sure you're doing things right but still don't want to start over completely.

These lenient features make solving the puzzles feel very relaxed -- and it was helped a bit by the game's simple synth soundtrack, which is more atmospheric than anything else, but still gets the job done just fine. There is definitely a sense of satisfaction to be gleaned from completing the game's puzzles -- though they are similar to each other at times -- and the difficulty curves at a steady pace the whole way through, with only the occasional head-scratcher that takes you longer than average to figure out.  

The white line in action in a simple scenario.

However, while these are all nice features, they can only help so much to fight against the conflicting elements of the game's core design.

You Always Want What You Don't Have

The biggest problems that Factotum 90 has are all things that it doesn't have. For example, while the white line connecting the button you press to the thing it operates is a nice feature, it doesn't solve the problem completely. Several times I saw where the line went -- but due to other obstacles being in the way, I couldn't actually see where it ended. This is especially tricky when the switch affects several things in different locations or something far away.

On several occasions, this led me to attempt to move the other robot into close range to the first bot, then have them press the button, and essentially screen-peek using the other robot to try and verify where the line ended.

And that brings me to the camera.

While you have plenty of open space to move around in, and the camera functions perfectly fine and never really gets stuck on anything, the scope of what you can see is still fairly limited. It's difficult to get a bearing on your surroundings at times because there's just too much keeping you from seeing very far out, such as with my screen-peeking example above.

The game could have benefited from a simple map screen, or maybe an alternative overhead camera angle of some sort which allowed you to asses your surroundings more easily, similar to something like Pikmin 3

Additionally, most of the concepts for puzzles in the game, especially early on, are ones that you've more than likely seen before -- and I have definitely seen some of them before. Levels constantly have you weighing down switches with boxes, redirecting laser beams, opening doors from one side to let the other droid through, and so on. This is not to say that the puzzles are badly designed, because they aren't. The layout of each stage is completely different, but you can't help but shake the feeling that you've seen it all before.

An early level where the laser directing mechanic is introduced.

It would also have been nice to have a co-op mode. Considering the fact that you've always got the two robots to control and you always need to switch between them, this game would have benefited greatly from a co-op mode for two players. It's really well-suited for co-op, and having two people on hand would have helped a bit with the game's occasionally slow pace and sometimes confusing level design.

Lastly, I have a minor thing to note regarding the game's visuals that only seems to apply to the PlayStation Vita version. The graphics are perfectly fine for what they are on all versions, but it seems that the console versions have a slight advantage over the Vita in this regard. The PC and console versions of Factorum 90 feature a security-camera-style film filter over the screen, which I personally feel adds a bit of immersion and charm to the game's aesthetic.

For some reason, this filter is completely absent in the Vita version, and there's no option anywhere in game to turn it on if desired. If this omission was made because it just couldn't be done on the Vita, that's perfectly fine -- but if it can be there, I see little reason to not include it. Maybe Thomas Hopper thought that the filter would make visibility on the already small Vita screen more difficult, but the option at least would have been nice.

A Game About Robots That Could Use More Soul

I don't want to say that Factotum 90 is a bad game, because I did have some fun with it. But I will say that it could have been much better. The slower pace and repetition drag it down, as well as its general lack of new ideas -- though it does still have a few good ideas thrown in the mix. As a game designed and developed by just one person, it's still pretty impressive considering its budget price.

But when judging it by it's own merits, and comparing it to other budget titles and puzzle games on the market, it's just not that great. I do want to emphasize, though, that while I spent more time discussing the lesser aspects of Factotum 90, but there's still a lot of good stuff to be found here.

Maybe the budgeted charm, the low price point, and the respectable amount of content will be enough to grab you -- but for me it just wasn't quite enough. If you're looking for a cheap puzzle game it's not a bad time, you may find the baton-pass style gameplay more interesting than I did. So Factotum may still be worth checking out if you're a budget gamer or die-hard puzzle enthusiast. 

Factotum 90 is available now for $6.00 for PC, Wii U, Xbox One, PS4, and PlayStation Vita. You can watch a trailer for the console version of the game below:

[Note: Poppy Works provided the copy of Factorum 90 used for this review.]

SteelSeries Rival 310 and Sensei 310 Review: True 1:1 Tracking Delivered Fri, 22 Sep 2017 15:02:37 -0400 Jonathan Moore

SteelSeries has been here before. With the release of the Rival 700, the peripherals company said that its flagship mouse had achieved true 1:1 tracking. And if you were to go to their website right now, you’d see that every one of their mice offers 1:1 tracking -- from the newest to the oldest, the least expensive to the most expensive. But this time around, they say they’ve truly nailed it.

And I tend to agree.

SteelSeries’ latest mice, the Rival 310 and the Sensei 310, both offer what the company calls “true 1:1 tracking”, meaning that they’ve taken 1:1 tracking and accuracy to an entirely new level with their new Truemove 3 sensor. We’ll get more into the gritty details a little later on, but suffice it to say that these mice are accurate and reliable at the highest DPIs -- no matter how fast or slow you move them across your mousepad.

Specifically designed with eSports and competitive players around the world in mind, the Rival 310 and Sensei 310 offer players high-end quality at affordable price points. Neither mouse is perfect by any means, and there are other mice on the market that provide similar functionality (outside of true 1:1 tracking) at commensurate prices. But each of these mice is well worth a look if you're in the market for a mouse that's crazy precise and won't break the bank.

Overall Design

Both the Rival 310 and the Sensei 310 are nearly identical on the outside, combining their self-same feature sets with inauspicious designs that belie their functionalities. 

Each mouse sports an understated black matte finish that offers a two-for-one combo: it looks stylish and helps reduce slippage when your palms and fingers get sweaty. To complement these finishes, each mouse has what SteelSeries calls "next-gen, upgraded" silicone grips that do a wonderful job of keeping your thumb and ring fingers adhered to the sides of the mice whether you're playing in an eSports tournament or doing menial office work. And where I often found my palms and fingers slipping on the slick surface of the Rival 700, I never once experienced any sliding or unintended palm movement in all my hours with the Rival 310 or the Sensei 310.

However, these mice aren't made for palm-grippers. Instead, the right-handed Rival 310 is made for a claw or hybrid grip style, while the ambidextrous Sensei is optimized for a pinch grip. As a palm player, I did notice a considerable variance in my preferred gripping style and the Sensei's egalitarian design, where the right side of my palm sat uncomfortably on the Sensei's right half. 

This led me to pay more attention to how my hand was positioned in my early hours with the mouse -- and I missed quite a few Paladins and Battlefield 1 headshots in the process. I eventually got used to the design, but keep that in mind if you're considering the Sensei. 

However, the Rival 310's sloped, traditionally contoured design was easily accessible and much more comfortable out of the box. It better lent itself to a palm grip style -- but in my time with it, I almost exclusively used hybrid grip style, which better helped me maneuver the mouse's build, even though it was slightly uncomfortable for my specific liking.

Because of their inauspicious designs, neither the Rival or the Sensei are weighed down with copious buttons or toggles, with the Rival sporting six buttons to the Sensei’s eight. The primary left and right buttons on each mouse provide strong feedback, while the DPI switches are snugly positioned just above the illuminated mouse wheels and are easy to access.  

For the Rival, the two side buttons are fat and positioned well within thumb’s reach, giving off solid, satisfying clicks with each press. On the other hand, since the Sensei is ambidextrous and features a less contoured design than the 310, its left- and right-side buttons are smaller and skinnier, giving your thumb and ring fingers less real estate to play with. And while the left-side buttons are fairly easy to press, the right-side buttons are stubborn little cusses -- especially if you’re a right-handed player.

For office work, I always found myself inadvertently (and frustratingly) pressing them when I moved the mouse across my QCK Prism mousepad. But when I needed them most -- during play -- I couldn’t seem to get a bead on them without contorting my hand into an infinitely uncomfortable Cronenberg. It’s a strange problem to have on a mouse so meticulously engineered, and I'm sure it was a purposeful design choice considering it's an ambidextrous mouse. However, the bright side is that SteelSeries had the engineering foresight to let users disable the buttons through SteelSeries’ Engine 3 software, never to be worried about again if they get in the way.

Overall Performance

The split trigger design on both the Rival 310 and the Sensei 310 means that the OMRON switches (rated at 50 million clicks) are going to be both durable and deadly. The left and right mouse buttons on these mice are lightning fast, responsive, and a pleasure to press. But none of that matters if you can’t get a bead on your target. And if you’re an eSports player, accuracy and precision are two of the biggest factors in moving through the bracket or going home.

When speaking with SteelSeries about the mice, it was clear that four key factors guided the design and engineering of both the Rival 310 and the Sensei 310: they both had to have ultra-low latency, true 1:1 tracking, advanced jitter reduction, and the fastest response times of any mouse on the planet. All difficult things to accomplish given the relative parity in the space.

But I’d like to think they’ve achieved at least some of that with both of these mice.

The star of the show is unequivocally the TrueMove Sensor 3 with advanced jitter reduction technology, which helps both mice achieve true 1:1 tracking. Developed and manufactured in concert with Pixart, the Truemove 3 is a proprietary iteration on the popular Pixart 3369 optical sensor. And as of this writing, these proprietary sensors can only be found in the Rival 310 and Sensei 310.

I found the sensors to be adequate and precise at lower DPIs, and wasn't able to notice a monumental difference between some of my Logitech mice. But that considerably changed when cranking the DPIs above 3,500. Here, the amalgamated power of these allied forces truly showcased itself.

Even at the highest DPI settings, the Sensei didn’t jitter or vibrate in the slightest. The mouse cursor moved precisely where I wanted it to go, and abruptly stopped when I needed it to. And although the Rival 310 didn’t perform as well as the Sensei 310 -- slightly jittering and moving somewhat sporadically at the highest settings -- it still performed leagues better than the sensor found in the Rival 700 when dialed into the same settings.

When testing it on the battlefield, I noticed a considerable difference in performance against mice such as the Scimitar RGB in terms of lagless aiming. Once I got a handle on the design of the Sensei 310, there was nary a difference in overall performance when playing shooters like Paladins and strategy games like Cities: Skylines. In the former, I was able to easily pull off critical shots and switch between DPIs on the fly with both mice. And in the latter, I was able to deftly navigate the game’s myriad menus and easily scroll from one side of my cities to the other no matter if I used the Rival or the Sensei.

So although I had to tune the in-game settings to get the truest, most accurate sensitivity I was looking for, my success all started with the Truemove 3 sensor.

The Verdict

Whether you’re a serious eSports gamer or a casual that’s looking for a solid mouse at a solid price, you could do much worse than the Rival 310 and Sensei 310. In essence, SteelSeries has taken a lot of what makes the Rival 700 tick, tweaked it, improved it, and stuck it into packages that retail for $59.99. That’s a damn hard deal to pass up for such a fantastic value.

My only real gripes are with the Sensei 310 -- and those gripes are more personal preference than objective reporting. And I’m happy to see that SteelSeries had the foresight to allow players to disable buttons -- specifically the shoulder buttons -- on that particular mouse. (I was a little disappointed that the Rival 310 jittered more at maximum DPI than the Sensei, but unless you plan on cranking up the volume, you won't particularly notice.) 

With nearly zero input lag, low latency, anti-jitter technology, and (from what I can tell) true 1:1 tracking up to 12,000 DPI, both the Rival 310 and Sensei 310 are dealy mice that rival my favorite head-lopper: the Logitech G302 Daedalus. And while that mouse does some of what these two do at a lower price point, I’d venture to say that you’d be better off paying the extra $20 and trying one of these out instead. (And as a Logitech guy, that’s saying something.)

You can pick up both the Rival 310 and Sensei 310 from the SteelSeries website

[Note: SteelSeries provided the Rival 310 and Sensei 310 mice that were used in this review.]

Tooth and Tail Review: An Enjoyable Game with Mild Distemper Thu, 21 Sep 2017 11:19:43 -0400 Skrain

Pocketwatch Games -- the studio behind the cult hit Monaco -- recently launched its second game. Dubbed Tooth and Tail, it's a casual RTS with simplified features. 

In Tooth and Tail, four animal factions are fighting for control over an important decision that will determine who gets eaten. With a cute art style and a story that's simultaneously grim yet lighthearted, there's a lot to love about this fresh take on the strategy genre. But unfortunately, the game falls back on itself hard in terms of RTS management. 

Wheat is for Swine, Meat is for Animals

Tooth and Tail takes place in a world where civilized animals (excluding pigs) have decided that they would rather eat meat, and that all other foods are for Swine. These Swine are depicted mostly as unintelligent sources of meat -- and their only purpose is to survive until "harvest" and feed the other animals. 

However, Swine isn't the only meat that this animal society eats. During hard times, religious Civilized faction, lead by Archimedes, controls a lottery that determines who gets eaten when the Swine aren't enough to sustain everyone. Recently, this lottery claimed the life of Bellafide's son -- which sparked a revolutionary fire that leads him to found the Longcoats faction with the intent to fight back against the Civilized. 

Fighting alongside the Longcoats are the Commoners, lead by the beloved Hopper -- a hero to the everyanimal, who gave up her own arm so her people could eat. And fighting for the sake of ending the war are the KSR, led by a quartermaster who was pressed into the conflict. 

An Interesting "Lite" RTS

Tooth and Tail is described as a "popcorn" RTS where you control your commander directly, and indirectly give orders to your units as you play. In the single-player campaign, you often have anywhere between 2-6 units to build or utilize depending on the mission itself and the faction. You'll also need to control Gristmills, the primary source of meat. In these Gristmills, your swine will fatten themselves up for the harvest. As the single-player campaign progresses, you'll play through each faction in the continuing war for meat and dominance. 

An interesting feature in Tooth and Tail is that all maps, including the single-player story missions, are randomly generated. So playing through the campaign multiple times yields different maps with the same objectives.

Matches generally last 5-15 minutes, and your general strategy revolves around managing a single resource for meat while defending your own production buildings and attacking your opponents. You'll do this with a variety of units -- including drunken squirrels, self-exploding toads, medical pigeons, flamethrowing boars, and much more. 

Multiplayer matches are relatively straightforward, with standard 1v1, 2v1, and 2v2 matches. Each player picks a limited number of units that they can use throughout the match, and then it sets off and plays out accordingly. Like the single-player campaign, these maps are randomized for maximum replayability.


Fluffy Mechanics

One of Tooth and Tail's best qualities is undeniably its art style, from the vaguely retro in-game graphics to the charming artwork for the characters. The game was visually engaging, and the variety of environments because of the randomized maps went a long way in making sure things felt fresh most of the time. 

Being a "popcorn" RTS also has its benefits, because you don't have to worry as much about time constraints if you want to sit down and play for a while. With most strategy games, you have to take a moment and decide whether or not you can dump two hours into an online match. But with the average Tooth and Tail match time being between 5-15 minutes of non-stop action, it's a great game to pick up and play for short intervals. 

The meat of Tooth and Tail, however, is its simple control scheme and easy-to-learn mechanics. RTS games have a reputation for being hard to learn, and even harder to master (and rightfully so). But T&T doesn't suffer from this mechanical learning curve, so it allows newcomers to the genre to enjoy themselves just as much as veterans. 

Multiple people can also play from the same computer at the same time. That's right -- Tooth and Tail is one of the few PC games that supports split screen. So cute animals murdering each other can be made even better with up to four friends in split screen couch co-op. 

The Wrench in the Machine

Unfortunately Tooth and Tails' greatest feature is also its greatest drawback. Simplicity can be beneficial to a certain point, but has adverse effects when it's taken too far. And those familiar with the RTS genre might find that to be true for this game. 

The game removes many of the unit control features that make RTS games enjoyable -- like complex unit pathing, patrols, direct unit control for precise orders, inability to split units of a single type into multiple groups, and many others. So there's no way to handle your Tooth and Tail unit in a granular, strategic way. You're forced to group all units of all types together, or every unit of a single type together. There is no middle ground. And the only orders you can give to these overreaching groups are "attack," "follow," or "stay". 


The randomized maps are also a huge drawback when it comes to strategic development, in spite of the replay value they add. In the Steam description for Tooth and Tail, Pocketwatch Games describes these maps as follows:

"With procedurally generated maps and customizable factions, no two conflicts will be the same, forcing players to strategize rather than memorize."

While adaptability is definitely part of good strategizing, I believe that Tooth and Tail has taken it too far, while claiming it's something that it's not. In most cases, strategy has been outright replaced with adaptability in both single-player and multiplayer modes.

Eventually, you reach a point in the game where the difficulty of your encounters is not determined by your skill level or the AI's skill level, but by your randomly generated start position and your foes. There were multiple matches I played where the AI would get the high-ground advantage with hills that blocked my unit vision and gave them an angle to fire down on my units -- with no possibility of going around. In this case, "strategy" would have been using ranged units to overcome the obstacle, or simply moving to a new vantage point. However, the random maps don't lend themselves well to these actions in the single-player campaign. So instead, I had to slam dozens of units at an immovable wall.

This sort of gameplay doesn't encourage strategy or really even adaptability -- it just demands that you play into the few options that you have for approaching a situation, whether or not doing so makes any strategic sense. And of course, restarting a single-player match in hopes of getting a better randomized map isn't very strategic, either.

The procedural generation isn't as bad in multiplayer mode, since for the most part things seemed at least semi-symmetrical. However, I have had times where I've run into multiple choke points against enemy players with simply no way to overcome them due to how hills, bunkers, and line of sight works. These types of issues were further aggravated by my inability to issue complex orders to my units in order to compensate.

Verdict: A Little Flat, But Enjoyable

Despite it lacking in the strategic depth I'm used to (and fond of) in RTS games, I enjoyed my time with Tooth and Tail. The story was engaging, and the frantic pace the game sets right out of the game kept me immersed in its world. It's a solid game overall, in spite of a few minor misrepresentations in its marketing. 

In spite of a few hangups, Tooth and Tail is a good casual RTS game for those who want some strategy but don't want learning a game to be a second job. If you're interested in Tooth and Tail, you can head over to Steam and pick it up for $19.99.

[Note: A copy of the game was provided by Pocketwatch for this review.]

Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash: Wetter and Better Than Ever Thu, 21 Sep 2017 05:00:01 -0400 Joseph Rowe

After a long wait, Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash is making its way to the West. The newest addition to the SK series, this game changes the formula by being a water gun based shooter instead of a beat 'em up. However, this change in gameplay is welcome, as Marvelous lives up to its name by doing a marvelous job with this concept.

Long-time fans of the series will be delighted to see more of their favorite characters, and new fans will enjoy this game either for the copious amounts of fanservice or for its surprisingly enjoyable gameplay.

This Game is Not For Everyone

As you can tell by the screenshots, this game is full of over-the-top fan service, and it definitely deserves its M-rating. The shooter mechanics are incredibly fun -- but if you're not cool with being bombarded with scantily clad anime characters nonstop, you won't be able to enjoy it at all. It's completely understandable why a lot of people would object to this game.

That being said, if that sounds like more of a positive than a negative for you (or at least something you can look past), you'll have a blast with this game as it's one of the most original shooters I've played in a while.


The first thing anyone notices about the Senran Kagura series is its lack of restraint when it comes to delivering breast and buttock aplenty. Series creator Kenichiro Takaki has a pretty infamous quote that describes his philosophy behind his creations: "Tits are life, ass is hometown." While he's remained cryptic as to whether or not elbows are the bus depot of the body, the team behind SK lives by this, and they put a lot of effort into ensuring you get the most life and hometown possible in your game.

The characters themselves look great as usual. They're stylized and full of that "life" Takaki is so fond of. Each character has their own aesthetic with something about them that makes them visually unique from the rest of the cast. They even changed up some of the classic designs by redoing their hair.

Although the characters all start off in one of the two initial bikini types, you can, from the very start of the game, go into the dressing room and customize their outfits to your liking. You can keep them scantily clad or cover them from head-to-toe if you'd like your Senran Kagura experience to be a bit more wholesome.

There are a ton of cards with different pictures of the characters to collect. You can even collect pet cards that aid you in combat. The pets are pretty dang cute in an anime mascot kind of way. My favorite is a little bear that turns you invisible. Aw. Almost makes you forget how ludicrously lewd the rest of the game is.


Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash continues the tradition of having great voice acting, a fun soundtrack, and overall solid sound design. The voice actresses (some big names and some lesser known ones) in the game do a fantastic job of giving each girl her own unique personality. Ikaruga, the upper crust, ojousama type, is voiced by the same actress as Kurisu from Steins;Gate -- and Hikage, the emotionless snake girl, is done by Asuka from Tekken.

Peach Beach Splash has a great soundtrack. While I'm not a fan of the idol singing style opening, I love the rest of the OST. It's filled with lots of quirky, upbeat tunes. Some of them sound like they'd be right at home in Snowboard Kids for the Nintendo 64. It's the perfect background music for sliding around and shooting water in your friends' faces.

The rest of Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash's sound design is nice as well. The water guns splish and sploosh, the menu navigation sounds have satisfying beeps and boops, and overall it sounds like a video game should.


Most anime tiddy games are just that: all gams and no game. This series, however, stands out in this department as it's not just meaningless fan service; it's meaningless fan service and good gameplay wrapped up in one package. Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash is no exception. While it's neither the 2D-ish beat 'em up style of the 3DS titles or the Dynasty Warriors-esque 3D combat style of the other PlayStation titles, the water gun gameplay is incredibly solid -- especially as it's the first time this series has ventured into this genre.

This game is all about player choice. You get to choose your girl, your gun, your pets, and your special abilities. The cast in this game is huge with all four of the main schools represented -- the Mikagura sisters from Estival Versus, Naraku and Kagura from SK2 and EV, and some new additions from the New Wave mobile card game. Whether your type is the spunky, fight-to-improve squad leader, the MMO playing shut-in, the female Jotaro Kujo, or the mildly sadistic mad scientist, you'll find a favorite character in no time.

Unlike the main titles in the series, your character choice isn't the biggest determining factor of your gameplay style in the game. Instead, your playstyle is dictated by your gun choice. There are ten guns to choose from, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. You can choose 1-2 pistols, an assault rifle, a grenade launcher, a sniper rifle, a mini-gun, and a few others.

All guns give you the ability to slide around in exchange for some of your water tank. Some allow you to spend water to fly for a short while, whereas others just allow you to hop long distances. If you get hit enough, your Soaking Wet mode can be activated which allows your character to have an unlimited supply of water. This grants you incredible mobility as you can slide, fly, and jump all you want while spamming your attacks. Certain guns increase the rate at which this fills up and benefit from this mode more than others.

The pets and skill cards add another layer of strategy to the game. Pet cards offer you a choice of different pets, most pre-existing from established pets belonging to characters in the series (like Jasmine's elephant and Murasaki's Bebeby) that attack your enemies in a style similar to one of the water guns, heal you, provide you with a shield, turn you invisible, etc. The skill cards are similar -- they can buff your character or team, debuff the enemy team, heal you, provide you with a shield, or give you a special ninja attack to kill your enemies with.

The game plays incredibly well. The slides and jumps work really well, the guns give you lots of variety in playstyle, and the cards enhance that variety. You can play as a tanky, mini-gunner that uses a giant robot occasionally or a pistol-wielding, Soaking Wet mode fiend that is impossibly agile and never runs out of ammo.

Fan Service in Every Sense of the Word

Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash is full of fan service. Just like any other game in the SK series, the fan service is two-fold: lots and lots of skin as well as lots and lots of unlockables and customization.

The creators of Senran Kagura do their best to please their fans. They give you tons of different costumes, characters, voice packs, stickers, etc. to collect. There are more than 800 skill cards alone! It'll be a long time before you run out of things to collect.

One of my favorite aspects of this is that you can customize the shop keeper and your voice menu to the character of your choosing. It's a really minor detail, but it's something that very few games give you the choice of and I think more should. 

The only downside to this game is that they reuse a lot of the same assets from Senran Kagura: Estival Versus. Furthermore, the images on the cards are largely taken from the New Wave card game so if you play that, you'll see a lot of other recycled assets.


If the concept of this game doesn't bother you and you're looking for a fun shooter that's a bit reminiscent of Splatoon, this game is for you. If you're looking for something you and your weeaboo friends can laugh at and play a drinking game to, this game is for you. If you're a Senran Kagura series fan and are cool with it deviating from the beat 'em up style, this is perfect for you. If the fan service bothers you or you're looking for a game that's more like the 3DS titles, this game probably isn't for you.

Peach Beach Splash is an awesome game covered in about five tons of anime bosoms. It's filled with tons of single and multiplayer content, lots of customization and unlockables, and surprisingly solid gameplay. It's definitely not for everyone, but you'll have fun with it if you're into life and/or hometown. The only real drawbacks for me were the recycled assets. I give it a 9/10.

[Note: XSEED Games provided a copy of Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash for the purpose of this review.]

Planetoid Pioneers Preview Wed, 20 Sep 2017 21:37:10 -0400 Wizard of Warsaw

Planetoid Pioneers is a new physics-based game by developer Data Realms. Built in its own engine, the game has a lot of potential for a Steam Early Access title. It's a fun game even this early, but I hesitate to suggest purchasing it at this stage of development. There are some good things going on, but there are a few problems as well.  

The Positives

One of the biggest draws of the early access for Planetoid Pioneers is the Contributor Edition. So far, the game includes a few levels that feature a diverse collection of objects to help explore the various planetoids, but by purchasing the Contributor Version, you also get access to the Crush 2D engine. Contributors can use the Crush 2D engine to create their own content and share it with other players, and even the developers. 

The Game Only Edition still has some fun content on its own, with the primary planetoid having a large playable section. On top of the developer-made planetoids, there is a ton of Contributor content floating around the Steam Workshop that players can access. 


The Negatives

For the most part, there isn't anything too horrible about Planetoid Pioneers. Most of the negative stuff is pretty small and generally not game breaking. There are people who have run into bugs involving lost save data and game crashes, but I never experienced it myself. I'm not sure how bad the crashing actually is, but it's best to be prepared for it. 

The controls can sometimes feel unpolished, making it difficult to travel from place to place, but as frustrating as that was, it was never so terrible that it made me want to quit. The controls are primarily an issue in regards to vehicles or special gadgets, which seem to interact with the physics in an odd way by making them not move at all or just move incredibly slowly.

The most important thing to remember is that Planetoid Pioneers is still in early access. Anything and everything mentioned here is subject to change, and since Data Realms has been very responsive to player complaints I am optimistic that things this will turn into an excellent game.

Pokken Tournament DX Review: An Excellent Intro to Fighting Games Mon, 18 Sep 2017 14:15:50 -0400 Autumn Fish

Product provided by Nintendo.

Pokken Tournament DX is a Pokemon fighting game developed by Bandai Namco, the creators of Tekken. Originally released as an Arcade Cabinet in Japan, a port eventually landed on the Wii U early last year. And now, after watching the Arcade Cabinet receive frequent updates while its console port collected dust, an updated version is finally coming to the Nintendo Switch.

I loved the original version on the Wii U, but I gotta say it: I'm enjoying every minute of my Switch copy even more. Decidueye, one of the new Battle Pokemon, has quickly become a favorite of mine over the course of a few matches. The new features are fantastic and there are a lot of solid quality-of-life touch-ups that simply make the game that much better.

Let's dive in. 

Pokken Tournament DX Review

Have you every just wanted to take full control of your Pokemon to battle it out in real-time combat in a true test of skill? Well, Pokken is your chance to do just that. It features a roster of 21 Pokemon to choose from, alongside straightforward fighting controls, easy-to-grasp fundamentals, and a unique, perspective-altering feature called Phase Shift.

When a hit connects with an opponent, there's a chance that it will initiate a phase shift (a chance based on so many factors that I'm not even going to begin to get into it here). This shifts the perspective between a 3D Field Phase and a 2D Duel Phase.

Phase Shifting will slightly change up your move pool, but overall the controls stay fairly straightforward. Field Phase tends to focus more on Zoning and Homing attacks while Duel Phase switches it up to a more familiar Light and Heavy Attack combo.

Much like other fighting games out there, Pokken offers a far more apparent Rock, Paper, Scissors battle system dubbed the Attack Triangle. Essentially, Counter-Attacks beat Attacks, Attacks beat Grabs, and Grabs beat Counter-Attacks. Most of your available moves are attacks, though you can press a button combination for a stock Counter-Attack or Grab.

The best part is, this system isn't foolproof; it requires finesse to pull off accurately. Some early attack animations will only be tech grabs, for example, and there is a small window during Counters that you can actually punch through with an attack. The further you dive into the game, the more intricate it all becomes.

Pokken Tournament Review Offline Features

Whether you're a new or returning Pokken player, there's plenty to keep you occupied here. New players are looking forward to a thrilling fighter with robust Offline and Online modes, while returning players have a bunch of mouth-watering New Features to be hyped about.

Offline Features

There are a number of ways to play Pokken Tournament DX offline, including facing off against CPUs, sharpening your skills, and battling locally with your friends, which really helps keep bouts fresh and exciting. 

Single-Player Content

This isn't exactly a game you pick up for the story, but there is a pseudo "story mode" called the Ferrum League where you fight your way to the top in tournament-style matches. Each league you complete winds up unlocking a plethora of new Trainer Customization options, so it's worth it for the fashion-conscious.

The Ferrum League now has new Mission Panels that hide a bunch of cool rewards. Completing the objective on a Mission Panel uncovers it and often nets you new Titles or exclusive Trainer Customization options. Completing the entire board reveals the picture underneath and sometimes unlocks an entirely new Mission Panel to complete. I'm totally addicted to completing these as I make my way through the Ferrum League.

New to the Switch version is a Daily Challenge that you can attempt for the chance at free levels for your Battle Pokemon. The fighters and Support Sets are both pre-set, and you only get the free levels if you win, but it's a great way to steadily raise the level of everyone on the roster if you play a lot.

Finally, if you just wanna kick back and chill, you can duke it out against CPUs in custom Single Battle matches. You can choose between Basic Battles, rogue-like Extra Battles, and 3v3 elimination-like Team Battles. Considering most battle's you'll find yourself in are basic, it's actually nice to spice things up every now and again.

Local Multiplayer and Single Player Team Battles Pokken Tournament DX

Local Multiplayer

If you get the chance, duking it out in special battle modes in local multiplayer is great fun. Both the Local and Wireless modes feature the same battle options as Single-Player, so you can get up to all kinds of crazy fights with your friends.

Play against your friend on the same screen in Local Battle mode by connecting a second controller. There's a split-screen mode that lets you battle from both player's perspective, though there's also a full-screen mode positioned on Player 1, which leaves Player 2 to play from the other side of the screen. Neither solution is exactly elegant, but I'm just happy they found a way to bring it back without the Wii U Gamepad for DX.

If your friend has their own Switch and copy of Pokken, you can face off in Wireless Battle mode. If you use this mode, your matches are recorded and can be replayed and saved in My Town's Battle Records.

Finally, if you press L + R + Down + B simultaneously on the title screen, you'll enter Event Mode for LAN Battles. Here, you can choose whether or not to use your Pokken save data, and then you get to select the stage and number of rounds for the match. It's a pretty barebones battle mode, but it's wonderful for setting up tournaments.

Practice Mode

Of course, you'll need to sharpen your skills if you hope to do well in these tournaments. To this end, there's a Practice mode in the game complete with tutorials, action walkthroughs, example combos, and a free training lab.

The Tutorials found here are excellent and should all be completed immediately if you're a new player. They do a fantastic job of explaining the mechanics to you in a way that's approachable and easy to understand.

The Action Dojo runs through every move in a Pokemon's arsenal. Going through the Action Dojo every now and again is a perfect way to refresh yourself on the attacks at your disposal, which helps with your creativity and mix-ups in battle.

The Combo Dojo walks you through a series of six unique combos for every Pokemon. These combos aren't generally ideal by any means, but they're a great place to start while you work on developing your own.

Free Training is where you go when you need to practice specific scenarios against an opponent or lab your own combos and mix-ups. There are plenty of options that make the CPU opponent here dance the dance you need them to for training. Alternatively, you could plug in a second controller and train against another player in this mode, too.

Practice Mode Online Features Pokken Tournament DX Review

All of these Practice modes combine to make Pokken Tournament DX a rather accessible fighting game. The tutorials make it easy to learn the fundamentals while the Action and Combo Dojos are a great help while trying to learn how to play your main fighter.

Online Features

Once you have a feel for your chosen Battle Pokemon, you can pit your skills against other players by participating in Online Battles. There are a couple things you can do online, such as duking it out in a variety of match modes, checking out the Ranked Leaderboards, and viewing replays of other players' matches.

In Rank Match, you fight to earn your rank on the leaderboards. It's a fairly straightforward point-based ranking system with promotion requirements every rank-up. People who disconnect too many times in this mode even receive a warning symbol next to their name.

Friendly Match allows for more casual fights, either against random players or those who use the same VS Code. Group Match, on the other hand, allows you to create or join a group for more private battles. These groups have many interesting features, including the ability to turn on Ranking and set event start and end times.

While online, you can also view the Leaderboard and see Rankings filtered by Points, Wins, Trainers, and Pokemon. From here, you can select trainers and view their recent replays if they upload them. Alternatively, you could search for the replays you're looking for via the Replay Theater. These replays not only let you view the match from either perspective but they also let you pull up the button inputs and watch them unfold in real time.

Unfortunately, all Online Battles are the basic type of Pokken match. There's currently no way to play Extra or Team Battles online, and that's a crying shame. I really hope they update the game with this feature, at least for Groups. I was really looking forward to facing off against my friends in 3v3 Team Battles.

Online Mode Replay Theater Pokken Tournament DX Review

So while yes, the Online mode is a little lacking, it's still a far cry better than the one we had in the Wii U version. Group Match makes organizing online tournaments loads easier while the Replay Theater makes learning from the pros a far simpler affair. Speaking of new features, let's go over all of them real quick.

New Features in Pokken Tournament DX

  • Five New Battle Pokemon -- Decidueye, Croagunk, Empoleon, Scizor, and Darkrai join the fray, expanding the roster of playable Battle Pokemon to 21.
  • New Support Set -- Litten and Popplio make an appearance as their own Support Set.
  • New Stage -- There's a new tropical-themed Stage called Thalia Beach.
  • Team Battle -- 3v3 single battle elimination match.
  • Replays -- Study up on plays by watching replays of old matches.
  • Daily Challenge -- Face off against CPUs with a preset team for the chance to win free level-ups.
  • Wireless Battle -- Battle against nearby friends using the Switch's wireless connection.
  • Group Match -- Battle and rank against other players in the same Group.
  • Mission Panels -- Side objectives to complete for exclusive Titles and Trainer Customization options.
  • New Trainer Customization Options -- There are all new facial expressions, clothes, accessories, hairstyles, backgrounds, and titles to personalize your Trainer.
  • 2-Player Free Training -- Hook up a second controller and dive into Free Training with a friend.
  • No need to unlock Battle Pokemon, Support Sets, Stages, or Cheer Skills anymore.
  • No need to register your three favorite Support Sets anymore.

Pokken Tournament DX is an Excellent Intro to Fighting Games

Yes, Pokken Tournament DX is still a Pokemon fan's dream come true. After all, what fan wouldn't dream of a game where you could battle with Pokémon in real time combat? However, brushing it off as merely fan service is hugely underestimating what this game has to offer.

If you like fighting games but never felt like you could break into the competitive scene, this is honestly, a great place to start. The game presents itself in a way that makes it easy to pick up and learn the fundamentals, making it accessible to players of all skill levels -- and it does this without sacrificing any depth in the combat system.

New Features Pokken Tournament DX is an Excellent Intro to Fighting Games Review

This is by no means a dumbed-down fighting game. It may seem simple at a glance, but the longer you invest yourself in it, the more you'll get out of it. You may be surprised by what you discover.

All in all, fans of both Pokemon and fighting games alike will love Pokken on the Switch. Whether you're looking for a new competitive scene or just want a new multiplayer game to impress your friends, you really can't go wrong with this one.

Pick up Pokken Tournament DX on the Nintendo Switch this Friday, September 22, for $59.99.

NHL 18 Review: This Ice Feels So Nice Mon, 18 Sep 2017 10:53:26 -0400 Joseph Rowe

It's that time of year again: a new EA hockey game is hitting the ice. NHL 18 enters the rink with all the stuff you love from previous versions of the game while adding a new Threes mode, more in-depth deking, a training camp for mastering aforementioned dekes, a new NHL team, and more.

Casual fans of NHL games will enjoy the new Threes mode and veterans will have a successful run in franchise mode with all the new ways to keep the puck in their possession. And while many fans hold off on buying new additions of sports games because they don't feel like those games change enough from year to year, they may want to take another look at NHL 18 before passing on it so early in the season.

Although it's not perfect, NHL 18 is a fantastic addition to the series and really shows off what hockey games have to offer all sports fans. From solid gameplay to awesome modes, here's why NHL 18 shines. 

And the sloppiest pass of the game award goes to...

NHL 18's Graphics

NHL 18's graphics are as fantastic as they are most years. Whether it's the realistic details behind player faces or environmental effects like stadium lighting, the graphics are solid all around. 

While there could be more customization in terms of faces, skin tones, and more via a slider system or something similar in NHL 18, the rest of the player customization is graphically satisfying. You can pick from a wide variety of sticks, pads, helmets, and more, as well as customize their colors. You can even finally live out your childhood hockey fantasies with your favorite gear on your Be a Pro character.

There's also something simultaneously goofy and charming about seeing mascots skate around on the ice with actual players. If you ever feel like releasing some frustration, you can always body check your least favorite team's mascot.

NHL 18's Sound

The sound effects and announcer voices are fantastic. The hits are tough and the fights are rough. It feels like you're really in the stadium with how pumped you'll get when you hear sticks slap the puck or the crowd roar after you've scored a goal.

The only minor complaint I have in this department is the soundtrack, but that's not nearly as important as the rest of the sound design. Most of the songs weren't to my personal liking, though your mileage may vary in this regard. Even if I loved the soundtrack, most fans of sports games know how sick you can get of hearing the same 15 songs over and over again, so really, this is just par for the course.

Some tracks were actually enjoyable, like the Orwells' "They Put a Body in the Bayou", but after the 10th time, it can really grow old. Luckily, you learn to tune it out after a while and can focus on the beautiful sounds of body checking.

The greatest Faceoff since Cage vs. Travolta

NHL 18's Gameplay

The most important part of any game is the way it plays and luckily, NHL 18 knocks this out of the park (or rink, in this case). Whether you're going for a realistic simulation or wanting to play a more arcade style hockey game, there's something here to satisfy all player types.

If you're new or haven't played an EA NHL game in a while, there's an in-depth training mode to get you caught up on all the basics of the newly designed control scheme. Depending on your settings, this can be a simple two-button, old-school NHL 94 layout or an in-depth, stick-play heavy layout. There are numerous ways to deke with the full control scheme, allowing you to keep your opponent on their toes.

I'd like to take a moment to talk about Threes. I haven't had this much fun in any sports game in years. This is my absolute favorite mode. It's a 3 v 3 (not including goalies) mode that leads to some fast and exciting matches. If you play with Money Puck enabled, you can gain multiple points off one goal or take points away from your opponent with differing values depending on which money puck is active.

Not only is the mode itself fun, but NHL 18's new Threes Circuit mode has plenty of unlockables. If you're like me and are a sucker for meaningless unlocks, this will be enough to motivate you to get out on the virtual ice.

Of course, if you're looking for a more traditional hockey experience, fans of core game modes will be pleased as well. Exhibition play, Be a Pro mode, season and franchise modes, etc. are all present. These haven't changed much from previous iterations of the game, so if you had fun with them in the past, you'll have fun with them now -- especially with the newest NHL team: the Vegas Golden Knights. They're definitely better than the Reno Silver Knights.

Gotta love in-game transactions. Or not.

NHL 18's Hockey Ultimate Team

My only real beef with this NHL 18 is its HUT game mode. The Hockey Ultimate Team mode is incredibly interesting on the surface: earn players, coaches, bonuses, etc. by playing and spending in-game currency to open item packs and level your team. It sounds like a fun way to extend NHL 18's playability after players get bored of playing season modes, Be a Pro, and Threes.

The problem? You can also use real money to purchase packs in Hockey Ultimate Team. I am not a fan whatsoever of real currency transactions in most games, let alone in a game like this. Electronic Arts already has more than enough ways to earn money and this just seems a bit over the top -- especially since this is a full-priced game. 

However, you can still have fun without spending real world currency, so if you're okay with grinding for in-game money, this mode might still interest you.

Should You Buy NHL 18?

If you're a hockey fanatic, you already know the answer to this question: yes. However, if you're on the fence because you don't know whether it's different enough from previous versions of the game, I have one thing to say to you: NHL Threes. This is the kind of mode that you can get your non-hockey friends into.

If Threes doesn't sound interesting to you, I'd maybe hold off just a bit. If it does, though? Go for it. You'll enjoy the puck out of it. 


In closing, NHL 18 adds enough to keep the series fresh while retaining the core mechanics and game modes that fans of the series have come to love over the years. This is definitely a game I'll be playing for a while. Even though I have my (sometimes nitpicky) qualms about the game, overall, NHL 18 is nearly the perfect hockey game. 

Looking for more NHL 18 content? Check out our other NHL 18 guides by starting with our Tips and Tricks and Trophy Guide.

[NoteEA Sports provided a copy of NHL 18 for the purpose of this review.]

Dishonored: Death Of The Outsider Wraps the Series in Spectacular Fashion Sat, 16 Sep 2017 19:14:57 -0400 Ty Arthur

Horizon: Zero Dawn, Prey, Destiny 2, Nier: Automata, Resident Evil 7, Persona 5, Breath Of The Wild -- the year has been chock full of AAA successes already, and now Arkane Studios is pulling out its second major win of the year with its ending to the Dishonored storyline in Dishonored: Death of the Outsider

For this standalone entry that's more than an expansion but less than a full game, we're playing as dishonored assassin Billie, voiced by Rosario Dawson, who absolutely nails the tired-but-still-feisty vibe of the character. As the series comes to its conclusion, Billie is searching for her larcenous mentor and looking for redemption from her role in the previous Empress' assassination -- which of course, was pinned on Corvo in the first game.

From your barely-floating ship hideout, stashed in a quarantined area no one bothers to patrol anymore, there are five epic missions to stealth, slash, or magic your way through depending on your preferred play style.

This is why Death of the Outsider is a perfect bookend to the series. 

Home sweet... derelict hidden ship?

Exploring Karnaca

While seeking out her former tutor, Billie will square off against (or rob blind) new (and weird) groups of varying supernatural, religious, or larcenous tendencies, like the Eyeless or the Sisters of the Oracular Order.

After finding Daud, the duo decide on a new mark, and while its given away by the title, it may be a surprising choice for long-time fans of the series. Going one step past the unforgettable magical menace Granny Rags, this time, we're going to kill The Outsider himself, source of all arcane might, so he can't meddle in the world's empires and cause random chaos any longer.

This involves multiple heists and murders across the city, where, of course, rats play a significant role (yet again), although they aren't the plague bearers from Dunwall but rather providers of whispers that tell you about the surrounding areas. If you want to get creeped out by a little girl whispering awful things rats might think about, there's hours of voiceovers to listen through that will more than accomplish that goal.

 Your rat friends are indispensable sources of information about the level

Choose Your Own Adventure

As usual, there's the option to go through any area as a whirlwind of flying bullets and slashing blades or a clandestine and thoughtful rogue that doesn't kill a single soul (which is frequently harder).

Billie could bribe a guard to open a door and look the other way if she has enough coin on hand, listen to her rat friends to find out about a secret entrance up high on the roofs, sneak through the main route without being detected, or just kill anyone who might be a witness and rush straight ahead. All of this choice really helps Death of the Outsider feel like a choose your own adventure epic. 

The levels themselves are varied and satisfied, ranging from a steampunk bank heist to a rescue mission in an underground black magic fight club. During those missions Bilie can undertake Contracts, which are a slight tweak on the discoverable side missions from the previous games, offering extra coins for completing tasks. This system makes more sense for the down-on-her-luck main character, since she's a thief/assassin for hire willing to commit low-end deeds to make ends meet.

 Finding multiple routes to complete the mission

Refining The Dishonored Formula

Billie is less focused on the series' arcane powers, but she does have some Void abilities to employ that are heavily tweaked from the previous two games. You might end up teleporting inside someone and causing them to messily explode messily, or instead steal someone's face and pretend to be them in various situations, such as attending an auction.

If you prefer the supernatural powers from the first two main entries, then there's the Original Game+ mode, which sort of turns the New Game+ idea on its head and gives you abilities from earlier Dishonored titles to play with during the campaign.

Either way you play, there's blessedly no more mana potions, and instead supernatural powers recover naturally over time, putting some more strategy into how and when you employ powers.

Finally, there are no more runes to find and upgrade, and instead there are bone charms to equip. While all give bonuses, some are corrupted and include serious penalties as an offset.

 Equipping a nifty new bonecharm

The Bottom Line

On the technical specs front, I've got a semi-beefy rig (it's not bleeding edge, but it can run most anything on High to Ultra) and I didn't have any stutters, framerate drops, or crashes when running the game with all settings up to max. Exploring the game world with the highest visual settings is a pleasure.

Every last back alley, bedroom, or bar you sneak across in Karnaca is packed full of lore or little atmospheric details that make it clear the developers always have the specifics of the game world in mind. It all comes together to make for a very cohesive, compelling game.

Unfortunately, the experience is significantly shorter than the other games, and it has lots of overall similarities if you devoured the previous two titles. That shorter time does result in a more focused, tighter experience, though. Whether you're returning after not having played since the first game or are an uber fan who has devoured all things Dishonored over the years, Death Of The Outsider is well worth playing.

 The black humor and dark tone are on full display

Between this and Prey, its clear that Arkane is really refining the multiple-route, stealth or combat style to its best form.

Supposedly, this is the "final" Dishonored entry, which seems unlikely, and hopefully, isn't true because the developers have definitely nailed the gameplay.

Whether the style lives on in some other series or we get a sequel or prequel some years from now, the world needs more of this polished stealth assassin wonder and its unforgettable tech-meets-magic setting.

Last Day of June Review-- Sad For All The Wrong Reasons Sat, 16 Sep 2017 12:00:20 -0400 ThatGamersAsylum

Last Day of June is a story driven indie adventure game based on the works of Steven Wilson, of Porcupine Tree fame. In particular, it uses Drive Home and its accompanying music video as its influence. However, I don’t want to divulge more about the game’s premise up front since I feel it’s best to go into the experience blind. As such, I suggest not watching the music video until you've played the game.

A Cohesive Art Direction

This game shines artistically. The character designs feel like they could have been pulled out of a Tim Burton stop motion film. Characters also communicate without using spoken language, instead, using body language and small grunts, cheers, and other assorted noises. While at first, it might seem limiting, I quickly realized that their inflection revealed more than enough detail in most situations. The animations for all of the characters also felt appropriate. The Hunter cartoonishly gallivanted around, while the old man hobbled around with his cane in tow.

Some screenshots literally look like paintings. 

The overall aesthetic is strongly influenced by Vincent Van Gogh and the post-impressionist art movement; I even noticed a portrait of him hanging in their hallway. Interestingly, this makes sense in-game because June is a young artist. The further an object is away from you, the less detailed it is, seemingly using fewer strokes of the brush, while closer objects seem to be painted with greater detail. This takes advantage of the way games naturally work since far off objects usually have separate models with fewer polygons which are replaced with hi-polygon models as you get close. I have wanted to see something like this in a game for a long time and I cannot say I am disappointed; I hope other devs pay attention.

Much like the game itself, the soundtrack directly utilizes sections from various Steven Wilson songs. Personally, I was familiar with most of the songs used, but I never felt like this broke the immersion. In fact, I feel that a lot of Wilson's music is actually suitable for a video game soundtrack because of the emotional elements natively present in them.

All of this combined together into one of the most cohesive and satisfying artistic experiences I have seen in a game to date. The minimalistic communication combined with the use of various environmental storytelling techniques and post-impressionist art style made the game feel like all the artists were on the same page; they had a vision and they knew how to make it happen. Steven Wilson’s soundtrack only helped to make the game come to life.

I hope you didn't doubt that there was a chibi, eyeball-less Van Gogh portrait.

To some people, I feel like this extraordinary artistic execution alone will warrant a purchase. While I don’t have any spoilers in the following section, per se, I do discuss the game’s premise. With that warning out of the way, I continue with...

Gameplay & Story

The story centers around Carl trying to prevent the untimely crash that led to the death of his wife, June, and his disability, which limits him to a wheelchair. You accomplish this by playing as your various neighbors leading up to the events that caused the crash. For instance, originally the kid next door ran into the street for his ball causing you to swerve. By taking control of him, you were able to find another activity for him to get involved in which didn’t involve him running into the street. Eventually, this proves to not be enough so you must control more and more characters until you are manipulating the actions of all 4 neighbors leading up to the crash.

The music video for Drive Home, the source material for this game. 

This concept is interesting at first but falls flat on its face thanks to the fact that many of the pieces don’t fit together. The game is more strongly based on trial and error than any actual thought process, and this becomes destructive both to the story and towards its ability to be an interesting puzzle/adventure game. For instance, the solution to the second cause of death makes little sense based off of the rules set forth by the game while solving the first cause of death. 

This trial-and-error and lack of an established logic for the game world is exacerbated by long load times and the fact that replaying segments forces you to rewatch “end of day” cutscenes as well as the way that Carl and June end up crashing.

This fuels a cycle of confused frustration where it takes several minutes to try a different solution to a puzzle that doesn’t always have any logical rules in place to begin with. This also had another unintended effect: forcing me to see Carl and June’s crash desensitized me to it. While the first couple of times I was emotionally invested and felt Carl’s frustration as he sought to save his wife from a cacophony of unfortunate events that caused them to crash on that fateful evening, by about the dozenth time I literally found myself laughing as they careened off the road due to another morbidly comedic mishap.

Looking over his unmade, unused bed sunk my heart. 

But to me, this ignores the biggest problem: that playing the game as the 4 neighbors doesn’t feel tied to June. I mean, their actions very literally, although inadvertently, cause her death so you can see a correlation, but their motivations aren’t ever connected to June’s death. You never see them grieve for her and you don’t see significant interactions between most of these characters and June to understand the nature of their relationship and how her death would affect them.

I was left asking myself: how would the game fundamentally change if you removed these 4 neighbors? The answer is: it wouldn’t. Despite them feeding into the events, they emotionally and thematically contributed little to nothing in a story driven game. Saving June feels abstracted because of this.

Carl may be the motivator to all of this, but he is 2 steps removed from the process. And unlike the 4 neighbors, you don’t learn much about Carl outside of his relationship and subsequent descent. This may have been an intentional way to get you to feel like you are inhabiting him by leaving him a blank slate who is easy to project onto, but it felt empty to me. In a story where I don’t get to bond with June much and I play as characters that are abstracted from her by 2 degrees of separation, everything felt a little hollow.

Carl's relationship was built up early on, but that's asked to carry the game.

Allowing these characters to help flesh June out would have made me like her a lot more. As is, it felt like I was expected to care about her death because she was the protagonist’s love interest and that’s pretty weak.


This game’s art direction deserves to be noticed; I hope it wins awards for that aspect. But I really don’t want to people to conflate a great art direction with a great and memorable story. When I first accepted this game for review I looked up some previews and I quickly saw headlines and descriptions demanding that you prepare yourself with a box of tissues. Sadly, thanks to poor storytelling and frustratingly repetitive game design I was just left feeling angry at the end of the game; not sad.

Divinity: Original Sin 2 is the Complete Roleplaying Package Fri, 15 Sep 2017 20:43:50 -0400 Ty Arthur

The resurgence of classic cRPGs continues with Larian Studio's Divinity: Original Sin 2, one of our most-anticipated RPGs of the year. And I'm pleased to report the game lives up to the hype, and matches or surpasses its predecessor in every way.

This turn-based, tactical high-fantasy RPG kicks off from an excellent starting point, as Sourcerers of potentially world-shattering power are shackled, their abilities suppressed through collars akin to the Rada'Han from The Sword Of Truth series.  

You, of course, are one such unlucky Sourcerer, being shipped off to the erroneously named Fort Joy to live out your days as a prisoner until the taint of Sourcery can be exorcised from the world. Turns out the previous Sourcerer King wasn't exactly a great guy, and now the rest of the world isn't having any of it.

As you progress, a huge number of options will be presented to you along your journey from ship to shore, and that's really what this game is all about.

Will you chafe against your slavery and treat your captors with disdain, seeking escape at the first opportunity? Will you respond to your guards with goodwill -- they are just doing their jobs after all -- and recognize maybe this is all for the greater good? Will you steal everything you come across and just be a mass murderer?

All are valid options in Larian's triumph of an RPG.

 Devastatingly powerful spellcasters tend to not stay shackled for long...

Choices, Choices, Choices

The heart of Original Sin 2 revolves around an array of options letting you play how you want to play, and not being forced down any particular build or path. The options available are even more varied than in the first game, although there was plenty of rumbling discontent among the forums prior to launch regarding the core pre-generated characters.

There was a lot of speculation among fans that there wouldn't be any customization among companions, since the main origin stories you can pick at character creation all end up being companion characters that can join the party.

Turns out that was an unfounded speculation, as you can ignore (or even kill) those origin characters, but if they do join your party, you have total control over their starting classes and how they level up. So, a player can really make any kind of party they desire over time.

Beyond party customization, there are just an absurd number of ways to tackle any given situation (in or out of combat) and tons of viable builds. Damage reflecting sadomasochist necromancer? Check. High-ground taking fireball arrow-flinging ranger? Check. Tactician in total command of the battlefield through magic and sword? Check. That one cheesy guy who teleports, sneaks, and uses furniture to always be out of harm's way? Oh, double check indeed.

The sprawling game world is incredibly reactive and easily corrects course based on any ludicrous thing you decide to do at any given moment. Unlike most RPGs, your party can literally kill anyone. Doesn't matter who. The game will soldier onward even after you've massacred every child, quest giver, and skill-book vendor in the area. Sure, you might end up a little underpowered without all those extra skills, but you'll be laden with loot and experience, and other NPCs down the line will react differently to your band of butchers.

All the elements that were loved (or for some poor souls, loathed) from the first game return, like combat that revolves around a flaming, electrified, poisonous, slippery battlefield. But that's not it. That whole battle scheme has somehow been extended even further, and even refined a bit, so the battlefield effects are even more dynamic.

This takes a little trial and error to master -- I've lost track of how many times I accidentally set my own party on fire because I wasn't paying attention to the flammable liquid on the ground while deploying the Pyromancer -- but when you get it down, this is a very satisfying way to engage in battle.

 Plus, you can play as a face-stealing skeleton, and that's just awesome

Dialog, Characters, and Roleplaying

Conversation, whether just random chats with NPCs or quest-critical dialog, are expanded by Tags, some of which you choose at character creation and some of which are added based on how you play the game. These Tags bring up new dialog options depending on whether you were incredibly helpful, a mass murderer, a total asshat to everyone you met on your journey so far, and so on.

Honestly, I'm really impressed by how often the Tag system comes into play, especially compared to other classic RPG revivals like the Shadowrun Returns trilogy of games. The special dialog Etiquettes you could choose from in that series were utilized only sparingly, and some really weren't helpful at all. That is not the case with Divinity: Original Sin 2, where nearly every single conversation with any NPC will have multiple Tag options.

The constant Tag mechanics make it feel more like you are actually roleplaying and can develop a personality for your characters -- rather than just choosing the option you think will lead to the biggest reward or the best quest line.

Although the subject matter is grimmer this time around, there's still a whole lot of the Original Sin humor, too, which is actually one of the few negatives for me, as I'm not a fan of comic relief in fantasy. A character still turns into a shrub or hides under a barrel while sneaking, for instance, and there's plenty of fourth wall breaking quips. I rolled my eyes when Fane mentioned how he knew he could trust me because I didn't have a red outline like everyone else he'd fought in the past.

 Buckets also double as excellent starter helmets

However, the overall writing and cahracters are a step above the previous game. Each of the origin characters feels more interesting and unique, and if you like the oddity of the Pillars Of Eternity / Tyranny / Torment type characters, there's much more of that on display than in the previous game.

Elves, for instance, consume the flesh of dead people to gain their memories (making them rather disdainful of fleshless undead). As you can imagine, this makes some people uneasy, but also leads to awesome dialog and even free skills if you eat everyone you come across. Undead, on the other hand, can steal the faces of other people and pretend to be them, drastically complicating many scenarios. Lizard characters, meanwhile, think of themselves as superior beings and look down on the lesser races.

Normally, in any given classic RPG of this style, I'd put all my points in the dialog stats, but I wanted to cheese my way through combat with teleportation and sneaking on the first playthrough instead. To make up for my lack of charm, I had The Red Prince companion take the role of frontman, since he gets a bonus to Persusasion.

This was a hilariously bad idea that led to some of the best dialog I've seen in some time, as our lizard prince's conversation options usually revolve around treating people like less than dirt or assuming anyone he meets would love to volunteer to be his lifelong slave. 

But on top of great dialog choices and creative scenarios, each origin character has their own quest line, as they were all obviously in the process of doing things important to them before being captured and collared. I honestly can't wait to replay Original Sin 2 several times as each of the main origin characters to get more of their stories.

 There's a big, beautiful world with lots to discover

The Bottom Line

I've been trying to think of things I legitimately don't like about the game and can only come up with minor quibbles, like the fact that some of the standard key bindings don't quite make sense to me. Why does the G button bring up the crafting screen instead of the C button? Why does tab switch to combat instead of highlighting the stuff on the ground? 

Other than that, and my distaste for comic relief, there's really nothing about Divinity: Original Sin 2 that doesn't scream "RPG of the year!" It's got everything an RPG fanatic could want: crafting, 10 types of skill categories to choose from, different build foci, robust combat, interesting characters and quests, and plenty more. Basically, if you love anything cRPG related from the Infinity Engine forward, you need to buy this game.

Ready to dive in? Head over to our character creation guide here and get started!

Metroid: Samus Returns Review Fri, 15 Sep 2017 15:11:44 -0400 David Fisher

Metroid, much like Nintendo's other space series Star Fox, doesn't get much time in the sun. While it still gets a new release more frequently than other more forgotten IPs like Kid Icarus, Custom Robo, and Golden Sun, fans of Nintendo's space action-adventure series have been treated rather roughly with the last two titles. Many fans have claimed that -- despite Other M and Federation Force being released in 2010 and 2016 -- the series hasn't had a true new release in nearly a decade. As such, it comes to no surprise that fans of the series were more than excited to see Nintendo's announcement of not one, but two Metroid titles at E3 2017.

Metroid: Samus Returns is the first of these two games to be released. A remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus, the game aims to revitalize the title for newer audiences. But does Samus' return warrant celebration, or has this space heroine seen her glory days in decades long gone?

The Plot

Back in 1986, Nintendo released Metroid II: Return of Samus for the original Game Boy. In that title, a team of Galactic Federation scientists were sent to planet SR388 in an attempt to exterminate the metroid threat posed by Space Pirate experimentation on the creatures. The extermination motion proving unsuccessful due to lost contact with the initial team, the Galactic Federation instead sent Samus Aran -- a bounty hunter -- to finish their mission.

Samus Returns -- being the remake that it is -- has left this plotline virtually untouched. While the ending has been tweaked, an opening animation has been added, and multiple bosses thrown in, the game shares the same basic premise as its predecessor.

Nevertheless, Samus Returns manages to further flesh out exactly what I liked about the original title -- namely, the storytelling through environments and gameplay rather than dialogue or cutscenes. Samus is more in line with fan expectations thanks to her never-look-back attitude, while environmental storytelling such as the Chozo Ruins that were so deeply unexplained in Metroid II are still just as mysterious, but more clearly represented thanks to updated graphics. Meanwhile, the fluffless "just kill all the metroids" plotline still remains intact.

The Gameplay

The Good

While my initial impressions of Samus Returns made me think that this would just be a reskin of the original title with a few updated mechanics, the remake has been anything but. All complaints that I made in my Metroid II review have been addressed -- namely the lack of a map, lack of landscape diversity, and reliance on instruction booklets -- while new mechanics allow for a brand new experience.

One of these mechanic updates is the 360 degree aim. This is oddly enough the first game to feature 360 degree aiming in the 2D series of Metroid titles, primarily due to the fact that there hasn't been a true 2D Metroid since Zero Mission in 2004. Since that game still used pixel-sprites and the Game Boy Advance's D-Pad, it's not really that surprising.

While this feature sounds like it wouldn't add much to the game on paper, it does allow for the player to pick and choose their footing when in battle. Now, instead of madly leaping around the stage and getting uncomfortably close to enemies (particularly bosses), players can aim from afar if they want to avoid taking damage.

For those who like to take a more hands-on approach to fighting enemies, there is another means of taking out foes: the melee counter.

The melee counter is a feature possibly borrowed over from Other M, and is one of the gameplay features that I personally wanted to see return in a mainline Metroid title. With the simple press of the button and the right timing, Samus will knock enemies away before blasting them with a handful of arm cannon shots of your choosing.

This may seem overpowered from a viewer's perspective, but in reality it has been carefully balanced with enemy placement, very selective opportunities for activation, and the lack of invulnerability frames during use. As a result, melee countering an enemy that is sitting a little too close to another is more likely to bring about more harm than good.

Other neat additions include the new Aeion abilities (such as the lightning armor above), the ability to switch between Ice, Grapple, and standard beams, as well as a trove of new bosses.

While the latter additions are unarguably great, the Aeion abilities are questionable depending on the type of player you are. Aeion abilities such as the Scan Pulse can seemingly break the game, but no more so than the X-Ray Visor from Super Metroid thanks to the limitations of the Aeion gauge -- and as a result, the Aeion abilities feel more like tools akin to the missiles than the game-breaking abilities that they appeared to be in trailers.

That said, once the player unlocks more Aeion energy, the abilities can feel a bit unfair. Thankfully, none of the abilities need to be activated except in rare instances, so classic Metroid fans can avoid using them almost entirely depending on the goal at hand. There's also still plenty to explore this time around, so fans shouldn't be worried about any of these abilities getting in the way of their experience since very few locations are even remotely similar to that of the source material.

The Bad

Unfortunately, no game is without its flaws -- and Samus Returns is no exception. While a few new bosses have been added to the game, the majority of the game still centers around hunting the various metroids. As a result, these boss-like encounters can become extremely repetitive after the first few experiences of these grotesque enemies.

If the number of metroids had been reduced, maybe given a few extra forms, or even diversity in battle-room layouts, the experience could have been vastly different. Instead, most of these battles will consist of finding out what the weakness is, taking a few hits while trying to figure out what to do, and then repeating this every four to ten or so times. While I would love to say that this doesn't hurt the game that much, it did enough damage to harm my overall experience of the title.

Another personal gripe is that while some tutorials are necessary for learning new mechanics -- namely melee countering -- it feels as though it should have been added in the flavor text of a collectable powerup. Instead, the game provides a very basic tutorial during the first moments of gameplay to teach you everything from wall climbing to the melee counter. Thankfully, this gets out of the way rather quickly, but it honestly shouldn't have been there in the first place since the game isn't that much more complex than Super Metroid in terms of controls.

The Presentation

The presentation of Samus Returns is somewhat remarkable considering the hardware it was designed for. While the game could have undoubtedly benefited from releasing on the Nintendo Switch, the 3DS manages to bring the game to life with a wide range of dark, but colorful, visuals.

The game also sports a few remixed background themes from various titles across the series mixed among those from the source game. I can say with certainty that the remixes of Return of Samus's soundtrack settles my gripes with the original game's music since they are much more in line with the series as a whole, even if the Surface of SR388 does still have a bit of upbeatness to it. Thankfully, more guilty themes such as the Game Boy's awful Chozo Ruins theme have been overhauled with something much more fitting (below).

The Verdict

Without a doubt, Metroid: Samus Returns is a step in the right direction. With some consideration of the fact that this is a remake and not a stand alone game, I would even go so far as to say it is an amazing title. However, the drawback of this title being a remake is that it suffers from some flaws left over from its source material -- namely the repetitive nature of the pseudo-boss encounters.

Had the metroid encounters been a little more diverse -- or even a little less plentiful -- I could easily have given the game a 9 or even a 10. While Metroid: Samus Returns will be remembered possibly as the game that brought the series back to life, as well as the definitive edition of Metroid II: Return of Samus, Nintendo had better have much bigger plans for Metroid Prime 4 if they hope to have the same effect on fans as they did with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Only time will tell if Prime 4 will bring about a second coming for the series. But if you want to check out this remaster for yourself, you can pick it up for $39.99 over at Nintendo.

Planet of the Eyes (PS4) Review -- I Have One Eye But I Must Dance Thu, 14 Sep 2017 16:00:41 -0400 Erroll Maas

Planet of the Eyes by Cococucumber is an indie puzzle platformer created in the vein of Limbo.  It's still able to standout among the competition due to its science fiction premise and more vibrant world in contrast to games like Limbo and Inside, though it still isn't as well made or polished as those two games, and doesn't quite reach the same level of quality as its competition.

In Planet of the Eyes, you take the role of an unnamed service robot who has been stranded on the mysterious titular Planet of Eyes. Unlike Playdead's platformers mentioned above, there is some fully voiced dialogue which takes the form of audio logs you collect throughout your journey. These audio logs are all recordings of the late scientist who sent you to the planet, and explain your origins and reason for being there throughout your journey.

The first thing players may notice about the game is its vivid graphical style. The graphics of this game are gorgeous and really lend themselves to the strange world the developers have created. 

While they may not be the most impressive -- especially when compared to this year's other console releases -- it's easy to see that the developers made sure to put a lot of care and attention into the visuals. While the puzzles may not do much for some players, the visuals and intriguing story add an extra layer to appreciate.  For many the graphical style alone may be a good enough reason to give the game a try. 

The puzzles featured in this game are clever and can provide satisfaction for some, but others may find them to be too easy.  For example,  the puzzle shown above -- one of the last few -- is rather straightforward and involves matching pieces, although the solution might not be clear without playing or watching someone play the game. This is a prime example of the games lack of difficulty as it doesn't require much thought and doesn't leave room for more creative solutions. Being able to use the environment around you to your advantage when dealing with enemies is still an interesting way to create puzzles, even if we've already seen it in other games before. Each puzzle is just the right length and none of them seem overly long just to stretch the game out.

Perhaps one of the most unique features of the game is the dedicated dance button. It has no function other than making the robot boogie down, which is a fun and silly -- but also somewhat unnecessary -- touch. Music only plays at certain parts of the game. It's a pleasant surprise when you've been progressing through the game and it also provides a charming atmosphere with certain scenes--creating a sense of awe and wonder. It may have been neat for the game to have special occurrences if the player hit the dance button during sections where music played, but this seems to have been glossed over.

While the game is simple enough and easy to comprehend, it has a few flaws. Although the only important buttons besides moving left or right are for jumping and grabbing, the controls don't always feel accurate. The jump in particular goes further than it feels like it would, which can cause small yet repetitive and annoying errors in sections of the game that focus on quickly jumping from one platform to another.

While games in this genre are known to be rather short experiences,  Planet of the Eyes only clocks in at about 1.5 to 2 hours, which is only half the length of its more popular competitors. After completing the game once, there isn't any bonus content to unlock and there's no real incentive to replay the game other than to earn the other trophies/achievements.

What some may also find irritating is that in order to get the trophies or achievements they may have missed during their first playthrough, they have to restart the game from the beginning. This is a step beyond just simple backtracking. Some more bonus content like a concept art gallery or a music player to listen to the game's tacks would have been decent features to add.

If the Planet of the Eyes gets a sequel or spiritual successor in the future which doubled the length, raised the difficulty level a bit, and was an overall meatier experience, then maybe it would be on the same level as Playdead and worthy of their critical successes. For now, Planet of the Eyes remains a well made and enjoyable experience which falls short due to a basic few flaws.

Planet of the Eyes is currently available on Steam, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

A review copy of the game was provided by Cococucumber.

Blood Bowl 2 Legendary Edition Review: A Bone Headed Attempt Wed, 13 Sep 2017 12:18:29 -0400 Skrain

Recently, Cyanide Studios released the Official Expansion for its Warhammer Fantasy game, Blood Bowl 2. This expansion is available as a standalone add-on, or as part of the Blood Bowl 2 Legendary Edition that launched earlier this month. 

This game is a brutal mock parody of American football, where various teams made up of different races such as Humans, Orks, Goblins, and Dwarves collide in head-to-head matches and smash each other into bloody pulps. And after putting quite a few hours into this brutal game, I've found it to be an enjoyable experience that's undermined by a few glaring flaws and a disproportionate price tag. 

Note: This review is focused on the single player experience in Blood Bowl 2, and is not entirely reflective of the multiplayer aspect. Once I've spent more time in that mode, I'll update this article accordingly.  

New Blood for the Blood Bowl

The Official Expansion adds eight new races that can compete in the Blood Bowl -- the Elven Union, Ogres, Goblins, Vampires, Amazon, Underworld Denizens, and the Kislev Circus (plus their Tame Bears). Each of these new races has a solid set of strengths and weaknesses that differentiate them from each other and allow you to engage in a variety of match-ups. 

Bloody Balance Issues

In spite of the fresh experience they offer to players, the addition of these new races highlights a long-standing issue with Blood Bowl 2: its balance. Blood Bowl isn't really a balanced game -- but then again, it never claims to be. Some teams are simply better than others, and can beat other teams even when those teams are at their best. Halflings are a prime example -- they generally suck, but their one saving grace is that they're packed with cheap fodder you can send out to die. 

This might be a major turn-off for players who are expecting a "fair" challenge, but players who can look past that and take the imbalances in stride should still have a fun time playing around with these new teams. 

That said, some of these teams feel like an outright chore to play. The Halflings are once again a good example here, but so are the Ogres and the Kislev. The Ogres and their boneheads are a pain, and the Kislev have a constant need for re-rolls -- so these additions don't feel quite as fun to play as some of the previously released teams. 

Brand New Features on the Field

The Eternal League

The Eternal League is probably my favorite addition that the Official Expansion/Legendary Edition adds to Blood Bowl 2. It offers a dynamic single-player league that simulates seasons as they go by. Tournaments in the League generate rewards for the winning teams. 

I think many Blood Bowl fans have been waiting quite a while for a single-player experience like this, and it's been executed well. I particularly enjoy the fact that the AI develops as the League progresses, and will even suffer from the same effects of injury and death as the player team.  

This simulated, semi-dynamic, single-player League is certainly a welcomed addition, but it could use a little more polish. Cyanide could have added more to team management in this mode, which feels a little lackluster in some areas. 

Challenge Mode

Another new feature is the Challenge Mode, which offers a variety of challenging situations and predetermined scenarios that task you with finding the best way to solve them. The dice rolls are predetermined and visible to the player, forcing them to find the optimal way to use their dice rolls and complete the objective. So if you want a Blood Bowl experience that will make you think, this is where you'll find it. 

Currently, there are only ten challenges to choose from. This number is smaller than I would have liked and simply doesn't feel like enough content for players to really sink their teeth into. But I'm hoping that more will be added in the future.

Bugs Are Still a Big Problem

The bugs that have infested Blood Bowl 2 since its release are still rearing their ugly heads in this edition. Several times while playing, I ran into a bug where the AI would freeze and sometimes take up to three minutes to begin its turn. Additionally, turn timers would run down to zero without shifting the turn to the other team. These were just a few of the strange hiccups I ran into -- but they were present in nearly every match I played. 

The game also crashed on me twice in the most curious way possible. The AI froze and refused to finish its turn and the timer ran down to zero, but I could still select players, read pop-up tool tips, open the menu, and move the camera. I simply couldn't end the turn, and I couldn't concede or return to the menu. So I was forced to close Blood Bowl 2 through the Task Manager.

I've never had a game allow me to use in-game functionalities like that while stopping all other functions. And I actually laughed at it -- until I realize I'd just lost two hours in a match I was winning.


To put it bluntly: if you didn't like Blood Bowl 2 before this, you won't like it anymore. There are some nice additions for those who did enjoy it that will probably make it worthwhile if you pick it up. But you should do so with the understanding that many of the problems in the base game persist in this expansion rather than being fixed.

What this expansion adds is some pretty fun content, but I'm not exactly sure that it's worth the $24.99 price tag (or $44.99 for the Legendary Edition). Players might find some amusement in this perverse parody of football -- and I'll be the first to admit that it's a hell of a lot of fun to slaughter a field full of Halflings with a team of Orcs. But eventually the single-player experience and its rampant bugs do get tedious, just like the base Blood Bowl game did before the expansion. 

Overall, I'd say the Official Expansion and the Legendary Edition of Blood Bowl 2 is a pretty average addition to the base game. Long-standing fans will likely have a good time, but it's not going to entice new players to keep bloodying the field. 

If you want to pick it up for yourself, you can do so over on Steam

[Note: A copy of Blood Bowl 2 was provided by the developer for this review.]

Monster Hunter Stories Review: To Steal a Monster Egg Tue, 12 Sep 2017 11:10:42 -0400 Autumn Fish

When Monster Hunter Stories was announced in Japan, my regular hunting partner excitedly messaged me on Discord to share the trailer and their hopes for its localization. Watching the trailer, though, I was skeptical. "A turn-based Monster Hunter spin-off?" I thought. "There's no way that will work."

Only now, after getting the chance to play the Western release over a year later, do I realize just how wrong I was. MH Stories is a fun, monster-collecting RPG with a charmingly witty plot and a battle system that you can really sink your teeth into.

Rob a Nest, Befriend a Monster

If you've ever played a Pokemon game, then you'll likely feel right at home in Monster Hunter Stories. As a Rider, it's your duty to befriend monsters with the power of Kinship and fight alongside them to defend the world against an ancient Blight that taints the hearts of wild beasts.

Unlike Pokemon, however, a Rider cannot befriend a monster that's already grown into adulthood. Instead, they must sneak into one of many Monster Dens that crop up randomly across the overworld and steal eggs to hatch, since only newborns can form the bond of Kinship.

 Monster Hunter Stories Review Snatching Eggs

Befriended monsters -- otherwise called Monsties -- provide the party with certain benefits from the outset, such as field skills that let you find gathering spots, locate and scare away enemies, jump chasms, climb vines, and even fly. To this end, I found it pertinent to collect as many monsters as I could.

True to traditional Monster Hunter fashion, each species is unique and certainly not created equal. As you progress through the game and level up your Kinship Stone, you gain access to higher rarity monsters that are often straight stat upgrades to lower tier ones. While there's an argument to be had against throw-away monsters, as a fan of the series, I forgive it.

Of course, there are more familiar Monster Hunter flares littered throughout Stories. You gather and combine your own supplies, you collect and complete quests from the Quest Board and various NPCs, and you still have to contend with hazards such as swelteringly hot and frigidly cold environments. Even regular items have been repurposed to be more useful for this game -- such as Paintballs that can now be used to find fixed Monster Dens. You're certain to find plenty of parallels here.

Quite unlike the main series, however, the normally whimsical and charming cast of characters is actually accompanied by a thoughtful and compelling plot, for once. I never found myself mashing A to get through particularly long cutscenes, and I even agonized over my own foolishness when I did accidentally skip a bit. It's not especially deep, (from what I can tell at my point in the story) but it's interesting, which is more than a lot of Monster Hunter games can claim.

Monster Hunter Stories Review Story and Plot 

Battling Alongside Monsters

After arriving at my first battle against an Aptonoth, I instantly realized that Monster Hunter Stories is ultimately nothing like Pokemon. Instead of sending your Monstie out to battle at your behest, you fight alongside it and attempt to synergize with it as it fights of its own accord.

Together you'll synergize through an Attack Triangle that acts sort of like Rock, Paper, Scissors. Power attacks beat technical, technical beats speed, and speed beats power. You can't command a Monstie to use any of these attacks, though you can influence the tendency by swapping out to a different monster.

After winning enough Attack Triangle head-to-heads, your Kinship gauge will fill up and let your ride your monster. While atop your steed, you can command its regular attacks and build up more Kinship for a satisfying finisher move that does a lot of damage at the cost of knocking you off your Monstie.

The Attack Triangle always kept me on my toes while the Kinship gauge did an excellent job at keeping the longer battles engaging. On top of the unique turn-based system, enemies start to get really challenging later on in the game, which is rather refreshing for those burnt out by the ease of modern Pokemon games.

Monster Hunter Stories Review Battle System

All in all, Monster Hunter Stories is a brilliant spin-off that big fans of Monster Hunter will adore -- especially if they can befriend their favorite monster. At a glance, it's definitely rough around the edges, but underneath the cliches and corny first impressions, it is a wonderful and engaging RPG. I was always excited to see what was around the next corner and what the latest egg I snatched would hatch into.

If you like monster-collecting games like Pokemon, this title should definitely intrigue you. There's something about stealing eggs to raise the babies for fighting other monsters that's just strangely satisfying. It reminds me of the joy I feel skinning monsters and wearing their armor in the main series.

Monster Hunter Stories is available now on the Nintendo eShop for $39.99.

Reaching for Petals Review: A Lovely Walking Sim with a Few Thorns Mon, 11 Sep 2017 12:51:21 -0400 Wizard of Warsaw

Reaching for Petals is a graphically stunning, story-driven experience that focuses on the key events in the life of a man and a woman in love. Developed by Blue Entropy Studios, this game has you unravel the memories of your own life in semi-interactable environments. 

For the most part, this is a good game that does a marvelous job of conveying its methods. There are a few hang-ups, though, that keep it from being one of those great games that will be etched into the indie hall of fame. 

The Beautiful Petals: Story and Aesthetic

As you might have discerned from the description above, Reaching for Petals' story is primarily told through memories. As you play through each memory, you face choices revolving around the most important events of your life. These memories offer small choices throughout, giving you the chance to react to the story as it unfolds.

This is an interesting mechanic that helps keep the story immersive, but there was one aspect of it that didn't sit well. Though a lot of the choices you can make are drastically different from one another, they seem to have no major impact on the overarching plot -- so there could have been some better execution there. 

Outside of your memories, you must slowly explore a mysterious forest as well. While the trip through this forest, from one memory to the next, is often quite long, Reaching for Petals does an excellent job of filling the time. Beautiful landscapes, an engaging soundtrack, and the philosophical wonderings of the narrator use that interim time to impress upon you the importance of life and love. 

The story is well written, but the narration is what really stands out. Each walk through the forest is largely dominated by the soothing voice of Dave Pettitt, and his excellent narration did a lot to make the game as enjoyable as it was. 

The Wilting Petals: Length and Immersion

Unfortunately, Reaching for Petals did have a few problems -- the biggest of which is that it's far too short. After finishing the game in just under an hour, I found myself frustrated with the lack of content. I had fun seeing the story unfold, but it ended long before it should have. Adding an extra hour or two would have vastly improved the game by giving me more time to connect with everything. 

Apart from that, there were only a few minor issues that ruined my immersion in the game and its beautifully constructed world. Sometimes, the music would finish, making the walk between memories eerily quiet. Other times, I would be walking through the forest and listening intently to the narrator, only to run into some problem with movement such as getting caught on the terrain or missing a small jump. 

All in all, Reaching for Petals is an enjoyable experience, but there's nothing particularly groundbreaking about it. It fits solidly into the genre of "walking simulator" -- and if you're looking for a short game with a focus on poetic musings, then I would recommend it.  

You can pick up Reaching for Petals for $9.49 on Steam.

[Note: A copy of the game was provided by the developer for this review.]

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana Review - Living Up to The Legacy Fri, 08 Sep 2017 16:42:16 -0400 ThatGamersAsylum

I stood still, calm yet anxious, in the face of a pack of velociraptor-esque enemies. As one lunged forward, swinging both of its clawed arms with the intention to bleed me dry, I guarded. Blocking this attack gave me the opening I needed to lash out at my foes with a flurry of devastating moves. As swiftly as the opening came, it closed again as a tail swung toward my head. Deftly dodging it at the last minute seemed to cause everything to slow down, letting me finish off my foes with one final blow. My allies were wounded, but we’d survived. It was time to press on.

This sort of encounter is the standard fare in Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana -- the newest entry in a decades-old series that's finally back after an 8-year hiatus. This fast-paced, reflex-driven hack-n-slash game features a combat system that rewards aggressive assaults tempered by defensive reprieves, and follows what is ultimately an oddly paced, disjointed narrative.

Setting It Up...

You begin the game on a ship working as a temporary deckhand. But no sooner than the captain tells you of the cursed island you are about to pass by, you come under a Kraken siege that eventually leaves you stranded. From here you begin to piece together a rag-tag group of castaways in an effort to get off the island. In the process, you discover living dinosaurs -- and Adol, your avatar, begins to have dreams about a maiden named Dana who seemingly inhabited this island long ago.

Visions of Dana's past are accompanied by beautiful hand drawn pictures. 

Whose Story Is It Anyway?

As you might be able to tell from this description, Ys VIII's plot struggles to decide what it wants to be about. Is it a survival game about escaping an island? Or is it an odd time travel story centered around figuring out the past of Dana and the island? Had the game more closely followed the structure of something like the TV series Lost, then perhaps the narrative would have intertwined these plot points in a fascinating arc. But it doesn't, and instead it places all these forces at odds with one another.

The Stakes Couldn't Be Lower

The writers also failed to establish the stakes of your adventure, so the game really lacks a sense of gravity or urgency. While you start out trying to survive, it never falls on you to actually hunt or find a source of water. This isn’t supposed to be a survival game by any means -- but without any mechanics or story moments to back up the threat of having crashed on an island, it feels like there is no threat at all.

And this is only exacerbated by the fact that nothing bad really ever happens to you because of the island.

Okay, maybe SOME bad stuff happens... 

Characters complain about not having modern conventions like booze -- but aside from that, they always seem to conveniently have whatever they need whenever they need it. You find castaways all over the island in dead ends that are filled with powerful foes, without any clear food and water sources or refuge from enemies and the elements. And no one ever seems to actually perish because of this whole ordeal. Whether they're getting attacked by roving groups of dinosaurs, seeing the destruction of their ship, or getting separated from others for extended periods of time without survival skills, everyone seems to be okay. And that’s not okay.

What do you do in all of this? You explore the island until something happens to you.

From a storytelling perspective, it's rare that you're actively doing anything. Instead of taking action to make stuff happen that would give those actions meaning, you generally just wander into plot-relevant situations. You're a passive participant rather than an active player in this tale -- and that's a direct detriment to how satisfying the story is. 

Characters Save the Day

While the story is rather lackluster, I enjoyed most of the characters. Laxia, your first teammate, struggles with her rank and her adjustment to the less cultured life that comes with being stranded on an island. She's also got some daddy issues to work through. Her personal arc was fulfilling, and I was interested to see where this restless 19 year-old went with her life.

My favorite character, Ricotta, was a young feral tween who was masterfully characterized in even the smallest interactions. Whether it be the unique sense of fashion she created from clothes that had washed ashore over the years or her interest in learning to read to get a glimpse at the outside world, she was always a fascinating character to learn about.

Don't let his diminutive size fool you; Little Paro is a god of war. 

This concentration on characters also extended to the minor castaways -- who each felt like they had distinct personalities despite never getting much time in the limelight.

One of my favorite aspects of the game was how castaways became productive members of your village in ways that felt relevant to you. One is a doctor who  mixes medicine for you, another is a boy who becomes a farmer-in-training, and there's a trio of women that become your blacksmith, tailor, and merchant.

As a final touch, your captain rewards your exploration for every 10% increment of the map you uncover. This really helped encourage further excursions and developed a theme of interdependency in the group that the larger story usually failed to deliver.

I don't really mean to make the characters sound great -- the lack of stakes really stunts the potential for character growth -- but I found them enjoyable nonetheless.


This Island; My Island

Like I mentioned above, a significant amount of your time is spent exploring. While this didn't not always translate to good storytelling, the Metroidvania-inspired level design does provide interesting gameplay. Many places are inaccessible until you have obtained certain items that let you do things like climbing vines, walking on swamps, or move obstacles.

Moreover, verticality and some complex, intertwining level design make for many interesting areas to explore. It never approaches the same bar of excellence set by the Arkham games or the Metroid series, but it still does a good job keeping things interesting around every corner.

Despite underwhelming graphics, the vistas were still breathtaking. 

Quantity Isn't Always Bad

Another strength of the game is its varied gameplay. Interception missions see you defending Castaway Village, while Suppression missions see you attacking enemy hives to stop their proliferation. Night search missions let you explore certain areas a second time with harder enemies and new loot.

Crafting mechanics also add some variety to the mix as you create equipment, potions, and meals for your party. You can also stop and go fishing in any body of water. So when you get tired of the action, you can take a break to do some more mundane tasks instead.

There are also sections where you play as Dana in the past, wherein she has access to her own extended dungeon and unique abilities that involve some light puzzle-solving mechanics. While none of this is incredibly deep, it all helps keep things interesting for the majority of this 50-hour adventure.

I surprisingly enjoyed my time fishing a good deal, but not a great deal. 


Hacking And Whacking and Slashing

Putting all of that aside, the real meat of this game comes in the form of its action combat. On its surface, the game is rather simple. Offensively, you have an attack button that performs a basic combo when repeated, an assortment of special skills you can hotkey, and a super move. Defensively, you can jump, dodge roll, and block. All of this is rather straightforward, but it’s when you look at the nuances of these mechanics and how they fit together that combat becomes demanding and rewarding.

Skills use Skill Points (SP). There are two main ways to regain SP. First, if a skill finishes off an enemy, you get half of the SP it cost to cast it. Killing multiple enemies with one skill can even net you surplus SP. Second, not attacking for a couple seconds will charge your next primary attack. Landing this charged attack will deal double damage -- but more importantly, it restores a significant amount of SP. Thanks to you being able to easily restore SP through offensive maneuvers, you constantly have skills at your disposal.

There are also some wrinkles in the defensive half of this formula. Dodging an attack at the last minute results in time slowing down for a brief instance, similar to Bayonetta’s Witch Time. Moreover, blocking an attack allows you to have a period of invincibility, during which all of your attacks deal critical damage. You can even have both active simultaneously, which is incredibly powerful.

On harder difficulties, utilizing these becomes an essential part of any strategy. If you are not performing one or the other, then you will not be able to work at peak efficiency on offense, which will significantly slow down the pace of the game (because you’d keep dying).

Bosses were also a consistent highlight throughout the game. 

All of these elements combine to create a combat system that rewards both aggressively taking out enemies with decisive attacks and having the patience it takes to properly dodge and block your enemy’s advances. The fluidity of combat only serves to further punctuate this game’s finely tuned mechanics.

Perhaps most importantly, being skilled at combat felt like it was of paramount importance, even though the game is technically an RPG. While levels and stats matter, you can't merely raise those values in an effort to clumsily tank through battles. If you want to survive, you’ll need to be skilled -- and I respect that out of an ARPG.

There are some small problems I had with combat, however. While I enjoyed the challenge, it was annoying to fight nothing but large foes that take a ton of hits to defeat, can kill you in only a couple hits, and can’t be juggled -- thus nullifying half of the skills in the game. Enemy hitboxes could be wonky at times as well.

Additionally, the ultimate move is executed with R1 + L1 -- your blocking/hotkeys and dodging respectively -- so I accidentally activated my ultimate move way more often than I would have liked. And lastly, blocking doesn’t have an actual animation; it just causes an aura to appear around you for a second. This was hard to get used to and never felt 100% normal.


Small touches like knocking fruits out of trees really made the game shine. 

Ys VIII might never be considered pretty, but that doesn’t matter. The expansive island is varied and full of fleshed-out locales, offers fluid and challenging combat, has a plethora of gameplay hooks, and boasts fun characterizations that kept me invested in the adventure when the story didn’t.

It is thanks to these strengths that I can happily say that Ys VIII not only stands up to its contemporary competitors, but also beats many of them. I’d rather play this than Final Fantasy XV’s gorgeous, dragging combat and half-hearted open world design any day of the week. And in my book, that is no small feat.

[Note: A copy of this game was provided for this review by publisher Nihon Falcom.]

Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 1 Review -- A Thrilling Prologue Thu, 07 Sep 2017 11:36:15 -0400 Autumn Fish

Normally, I'm just as objective with writing game reviews as I am with piecing together guides. This is the game, this is what you can do in the game, and this is how impressed (or unimpressed) I am by it. However, Life is Strange: Before the Storm is a special kind of episodic game -- and it deserves something just a bit more personal.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm is what you remember from the previous game -- and it's not. Some things have changed and some things haven't. But like the BAFTA-winning original, it will pull on your heartstrings. Spoiler: I cried.

Spoiler: I cried.

What is Life is Strange: Before the Storm?

In this prologue to the original Life is Strange, you play as Chloe Price about five months after her best friend, Max, has moved away to Seattle. You're not socially awkward, you don't take photos, and you definitely don't have temporal powers.

Instead -- in a rather fitting twist for a badass punk like Chloe -- you can intimidate people, graffiti the heck out of everything, and finally meet the mysterious Rachel Amber. And just like the original, your choices impact the story here, too.

What is Life is Strange Before the Storm Review

There's a new dialogue interaction unique to Chloe in Life is Strange: Before the Storm called 'Backtalk Challenge'. When you initiate one of these challenges -- you'll know it from the '#!@' symbol on the screen -- your goal is to use what your opponent said and twist it in your favor. Succeed enough times, and you'll be able to shut them down and get what you want. This feature immediately makes Chloe stand apart from the socially anxious Max Caulfield -- and it was always hella' satisfying to pull off.

Then, rather than collecting photos like Max did, Chloe has a collectibles page for her graffiti. There are graffiti spots just waiting to be scribbled on all over Arcadia Bay, and some of them are even kind of tricky to find. They all give you a choice of what to draw or write, too, which really gives each playthrough a sense of personal flair, complete with Collector's Mode for those who want to grab the graffiti spots they may miss the first time around.

And of course, this wouldn't be a proper Life is Strange game without the good old-fashioned power of choice. The only difference between the original and this prologue is that you can't rewind time to rethink your decisions. What you decide is ultimately the choice you're stuck with -- and you bet your cat there'll be consequences.

The Player Experience of Life is Strange Before the Storm Review

The Player Experience of Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Note: Some spoilers for both Life is Strange and Before the Storm follow. 

I wasn't sure if I would be able to relate to Chloe at all going into Before the Storm. With Max, I in some ways felt as if I were watching her portray social insecurities and mores that largely mirror my own. It made the entire experience of Life is Strange very personal.

And yet, shortly after the opening sequence of Life is Strange: Before the Storm, I quickly found myself relating to Chloe far more closely than I had imagined. On the outside, she's a punk that does a lot of juvenile crap that, I admit, I had a hard time seeing through. However, past her hard, defensive shell, she's really just lonely in the aftermath of her father's death and her best friend moving away. And as if that wasn't bad enough, she's dealing with an abrasive new father-figure with whom she doesn't get along.

Being in Chloe's head for the first time hit close to home and influenced my decisions and feelings about the game. It got to the point where I felt as if I were the one experiencing Chloe's thoughts and feelings -- Deck Nine did an amazing job making her relatable despite her rigid outward personality.

Now, if you're wondering why we're playing the role of Chloe Price more than three years before the events of Life is Strange take place. That's because she's the connection between the two games. In Before the Storm, Chloe meets the mysterious Rachel Amber, an important, missing girl referenced all throughout the first game. This gripping prologue expands upon how they met and why Rachel is so important to Chloe.

And after meeting Rachel in Episode 1, I'm left with more questions about her than I had coming into this. The end of the episode gave me chills and left me begging to see more. I only hope that Episodes 2 and 3 live up to the high bar that Episode 1 has set for them.

Life is Strange Before the Storm Review

Overall, Life is Strange: Before the Storm is a masterfully executed episodic adventure game that retains all the emotional impact of the first game, even if it scrapped a few of the more novel ideas -- I'm looking at you, rewind powers. Whether you're a fan of the first game or just looking for a great new episodic title to sink your teeth into, you'll find great value here.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm is now available on Steam, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 for $16.99.

[Note: A copy of Life is Strange: Before the Storm was provided by the publisher for review.]

Cherry MX Board 6.0 Review: Heavy on Quality, Light on Features Tue, 05 Sep 2017 15:52:56 -0400 Jonathan Moore

For more than 40 years, Cherry has been designing and manufacturing some of the best keyboard switches in the world. It's a safe bet that almost every gaming or enthusiast keyboard you've ever owned has most likely been comprised of Cherry's keys, whether they be blue, brown, or red. Historically, these keys can take a veritable beating year after year, match after match -- and still absolutely blow other switches out of the water. 

But even though I've had the privilege of testing Cherry's switches for some time now, I haven't had the opportunity to test out one of their proprietary keyboards. Until now. 

Like the mechanical keys that have served us gamers well over the years, the Cherry MX Board 6.0 doesn't disappoint. It's a strong keyboard and a solid mechanical choice for office or design work. It's impeccably made and showcases some of the best that German keyboard engineering has to offer. Though this board does have its drawbacks and may not be the perfect choice if you're a gamer, it eschews bells and whistles for practical functionality -- at which it excels. 

Unboxing the Cherry MX Board 6.0 

After unboxing and reviewing so many keyboards, it's refreshing to see a company go a little above and not simply wrap their board in plastic inside a flimsy box. Instead, Cherry goes another route, wrapping the MX Board 6.0 in an urbane felt sleeve and sturdy thick-carboard box. It's definitely not a selling point by any means, but it does speak to the care and effort put into the rest of the board.

And that's about it -- you won't be overloaded with fluff. You get the keyboard and a generous 6.5-foot braided cord. Unlike other boards, such as the SteelSeries Apex, you won't get extra detachable parts that'll you'll just end up losing -- or have to dutifully keep up with if you want to change them out. 

The downside is that the Cherry MX Board 6.0 doesn't come with any extra keycaps or a keycap puller, which can make customization a bit more painful. But you can easily buy these via almost any third-party vendor for relatively cheap, so it's not a huge deal.  

Cherry MX Board 6.0 Design 

Remember what I said about no bells and whistles? The Cherry MX Board 6.0 doesn't bother itself with pomp and circumstance -- catering moreso to the serious typist and enthusiast than the hardcore gamer. 

You've got the standard number of keys here at 104, as well as the typical numpad. Above that are your extra keys: three of these are your standard playback buttons (rewind, play/pause, and fast-forward), while the fourth is the Cherry key that locks the board's Windows button, and other macros such as ctrl+alt+delete and alt+tab. Outside of that, you have several alternate modes mapped to the F, print screen, and pause keys -- such as volume and brightness, SysRQ, and Break, respectively. 

Since the Board 6.0 doesn't have any software to speak of, you won't be able to customize its lighting like you would with other backlit, RGB gaming keyboards. But that's okay, because each key is backlit by vibrant, red LEDs -- with the exception of five. The caps lock, scroll lock, Windows, num, and function keys have a switchable blue/red mode, where blue indicates that the button is active, red inactive. But regardless of the button's color, each key is luminous enough to see in a brightly lit room -- and the brightness function keys, which can adjust the board's overall brilliance up or down by 1% or 10% intervals, keep these LEDs from burning your eyes out in a dim room. 

Finally, all of that is housed in a brawny aluminum chassis. Where some other keyboard chassis feel a bit flimsy (even Corsair's flagship K95 RGB Platinum is guilty), the MX Board 6.0 most certainly doesn't. Coming in at a minimum thickness of 2.3 millimeters across the board -- and thicker in some places -- the chassis doesn't bend in the slightest. I even tried to bend and twist it, and not only did it resolutely hold its form, it didn't once creak. Although you (definitely) shouldn't try this, it feels like you could swing this board against a brick wall and it would come away without a single scratch. 

Cherry MX Board 6.0 Functionality

It's safe to say that a Cherry keyboard is going to use Cherry switches. That's a no-brainer -- and this board features the company's Cherry MX Reds. These keys are insanely accurate and register with the slightest pressure (45 centinewtons, to be exact). 

With complete N-Key rollover and 100% anti-ghosting, the gold crosspoint switches featured on this board are highly accurate and highly responsive. Registered for more than 50 million presses, these Reds feel crazy good to press. Each key is sturdy underneath your finger, lending a sense of power to each keystroke. 

And unlike some other boards that don't use precision keycaps, the switches on the Cherry MX Board 6.0 never once felt flimsy or cheap. Since I'm a rough player and tend to press keys pretty hard, I appreciate a weighty keycap that won't fly off the handle and a switch that doesn't creak after mild usage. 

Another thing I really appreciate about this board is it's great for twitch-firing in SMITE or Paladins matches, where you have to get an ult or ability off in a nanosecond. You won't have to worry about initiating full key presses on the Board 6.0, which better helps you keep your eyes and attention on-screen. And that's because the Cherry MX Board 6.0 uses an analog signal path, meaning that there's no digital scanning between switch points. Essentially, your keystroke is going to register faster -- in a millisecond instead of 20 milliseconds. 

Rounding it all out is the board's wrist rest. Using a magnet instead of the notch and groove design found in many other similar keyboards, the MX Board's wrist rest is made of hard plastic with a comfortable rubber padding gracing its surface. 

It would have been nice if the rest had been made of the same sturdy aluminum as the board's chassis -- the plastic is resilient, but does bend slightly under pressure. However, what I do like about the Board's wrist rest is that it's easily attachable/detachable. The magnet simply slides into an easy-to-find recess in the middle-front of the board and it's attached. This made carrying the board/rest combo to and from work a breeze. 


It is a bit of a bummer that the Cherry MX Board 6.0 doesn't have more customization options, macro functionality, or any dedicated programmable keys like some of Corsair's and Logitech's gaming keyboards. So if you're a MOBA, MMO, or competitive player that needs that functionality to survive, unfortunately you won't find it here. 

On the other hand, if you're a keyboard enthusiast, serious typist, or a casual gamer that's looking for a reliable keyboard that boasts some of the best switches on the market, N-key rollover, and fast response times, the Cherry MX Board 6.0 is a great choice.

At the end of the day, it's hard to justify the over $200 price tag for this keyboard when its competitors offer so much more -- such as RGB lighting, macro adjustments, and dedicated keys. And the Cherry MX Board 6.0 most likely won't find a large audience outside its niche because of that, which is truly a shame because it is one of the most comfortable and responsive keyboards I've used in a long time. 

[Note: Cherry provided the keyboard used for this review.]

Egglia: Legend Of The Redcap Review -- Great Mobile Experience with Old-School Charm Tue, 05 Sep 2017 13:49:00 -0400 Jeffrey Rousseau

If I could describe Egglia: Legend of the Redcap in one sentence, it would read as follows. This is a JRPG that was plucked from the 1990s and placed in our phones. That might sound like a bad thing, but trust me -- it speaks highly to what this game is and what it offers players.

Egglia looks and feels as though it was made during the Super Nintendo Era. But this isn't just a coincidence. In fact, the game as a whole bears a strong resemblance to the Secret of Mana series -- from its visuals right down to its music.

It's no surprise that this is the case, given that some of the minds behind the Mana games created this title as well -- including director & character designer Shinichi Kameoka, background artist Koji Tsuda, and composers Yoko Shimomura and Yoshitaka Hirota. These gaming industry veterans have collaborated before on the Mana series, and they've brought a lot of that inspiration to Egglia as well. 

Story Time

Egglia's story is charming fairy tale. A young girl tasked with saving the world and a redcap free of violence cross paths. Their destinies intertwine and their story plays out in much the same way that you'd expect from any RPG. Along the way, you'll meet a very colorful cast of characters -- and you'll also see a lot of different races from fantasy lore. It's kinda like Lord of The Rings, if you dipped it in sugar and rainbows.

I won't reveal any story details to ruin the experience -- but I will say that though the narrative isn't Oscar-worthy, it is entertaining. You'll explore new lands, meet wondrous characters, and smite evil here and there. But that said, the plot often feels stuck in a lighthearted tone, because nothing ever seems too serious. The game's dialogue is permeated with humor, and it seems to gloss over the whole fate of the world deal. This might be a deal-breaker if you need a high-stakes tale, but I didn't mind so much. Games tend to be too serious at times, anyway.

The Playground

Despite being a mobile game, the gameplay in Egglia is rather robust. You'll mostly be an explorer of new areas as they appear. Stage traversal also features some games of chance, as your number of movements/actions depends on dice roll.

During your exploration, you're expected to gather materials and battle foes. And you're expected to level up like any RPG -- but if you squeeze in a few minutes here and there to focus on doing so, this doesn't really get in the way of enjoying the game. 

As you progress in the story, you'll also be joined by companions to aid you. (Can't save the world without an entourage, right?) With each new area will come new NPCs that can add their services, resources, or talents to the town as it grows into a bustling hub. And the more you refine this town with new folks, the more it'll help you out as the game progresses in difficulty. 

With this being a mobile game, you'll also be encouraged to play everyday as well. Doing so will net you bonuses such as funds, building materials, and so forth. But that doesn't mean it's a grind to get through at all. 

If there's any particular portion of the game that is boring you, you can just focus on its other aspects. Tired of being a brawler? Stay busy building up your town or harvesting materials. You'll be hard-pressed to find this kind of choice in most games -- much less in a mobile title. So that's really nice to see. 

The Stage

Simply put, this game is very pretty. The scenery is so lovely and sweet that my teeth start to rot while I enjoy it. The bright color palette makes for some lovely vistas, and the characters stand out both in scenes and in battle. Because of this vibrancy, even the most mundane aspects of the game are easy to appreciate on an aesthetic level. 

The many fantasy races and strange monsters are animated very fluidly, and their special effects play well on screen. When you see the game in motion, a low budget app is the last thing you'll think of. It's a full fledged game -- right down the smallest of details.

The Acoustics

Given Egglia's candy-like design, the uplifting tone of its music is no surprise. Its songs range from adventurous to comical to happy. Yoko Shimomura and Yoshitaka Hirota are no rookies when it comes to the tunes, so very rarely will you find a song out of place. Even when you level up, the music is magical -- perfectly suited to the Disney-esque feel of the game.


Egglia is a really special game and an even more special mobile experience. Even if you've never been privy to the games that inspired it, playing it for just a few minutes will prove that it's not just another mobile game. This is one of those rare, full-fledged titles that just happens to be on a mobile device. 

And the beauty of it being a mobile game lies not only in its excellent execution, but in the fact that the game's progression is built with the mobile platform in mind. So you can make the smallest amount of progress whenever you have a few minutes, then pop out and save the rest for later. 

Fans of JPRGs will definitely be doing themselves a favor by picking this one up. Egglia: Legend of the Redcap is currently available on both Google Play and the App Store for $9.99.

[Note: A copy of Egglia was provided by the developer for the purpose of this review.]