Reviews Category RSS Feed | Reviews RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town Review — Good Ol' Reliable Wed, 08 Jul 2020 16:29:52 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town might be new on Nintendo Switch, but the foundation for the game has been around the block more than once by now — Harvest Moon 64 and Back to Nature created the base, while the original Friends of Mineral Town on the Game Boy Advance further refined the formula.

With the genre growing quite a bit since we first met the likes of Mayor Thomas and Popuri, is it still worth meeting the same folks and plowing the same ground again? Absolutely. The game and formula are timeless for a reason.

Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town Review — Good Ol' Reliable

If you’ve never played Friends of Mineral Town, you probably still know the basic idea behind it. Dear old grandad’s left us behind and left you his run-down farm in the boonies. Maybe that sounds like a less than ideal inheritance, but it’s where you spent some of your happiest hours as a child, and going back was always your dream.

Now your dream has come true! And it’s time to wake up and get to work because Mayor Thomas wasn’t joking when he called the farm run down.

The premise has probably been overused since it first appeared in Harvest Moon 64, yet that’s not really a problem. Friends of Mineral Town Switch sits on the border between remake and remaster, so it’s not really setting out to overhaul the game’s foundations.

The most obvious change is letting you woo eligible folk of either gender, regardless of your own. Gone is the pearl clutching of Harvest Moon Cute, where the game insisted that woman your female farmer lived with was just your “best friend.”

She is the manager.

Apart from being a long overdue change to the Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons formula, it means you get to see more character events. Heart events formerly locked behind gender are free to view as you pursue relationships of any kind, though they obviously become more romance-oriented as those friendships develop.

Friends of Mineral Town Switch introduces two new marriage candidates to shake up your love life: Jennifer the nature woman and Brandon the eccentric artist. Each fits into Mineral Town seamlessly, to the point where it’d be strange going back to an earlier version and not finding Brandon at the carpenter’s house or seeing Jennifer’s tent pitched at the bottom of Mother Hill.

Even better, it’s pretty easy to get to know them both. Unlike others in town, Jennifer and Brandon count basic things among their liked and loved items, things like flowers and eggs. So you don’t have to jump through hoops or break the bank just to get a friendship started with the newcomers.

Outside the hunt for marriage partners, Friends of Mineral Town has an engaging and eclectic cast of townsfolk to befriend as well. And they’re even better than Friends of Mineral Town veterans might remember thanks to Xseed breathing new life into their writing and your responses.

It’s not a huge departure from the original, but everyone speaks a lot more naturally in the Friends of Mineral Town remake. And of course, there’s the usual extra Xseed pizazz added in.

Whether you’ll find the townsfolk worth engaging with is entirely an individual matter of course, but to me, they and their stories definitely still hold up after all these years. No, you won’t find poignant, timely stories like soldiers dealing with PTSD like you do in Stardew Valley, but everyone’s got a story to tell.

Manna and Duke are stuck in a strained marriage, strained thanks to his constant drinking. Cliff has plenty of issues. Gray’s grandfather the blacksmith constantly berates him and seems incapable of showing affection (except to you when you give him presents). And Lillia suffers from an unspecified illness which her husband is away trying to cure.

I appreciate the small tragedies in games like A Wonderful Life and Stardew Valley, but I also recognize the strength of a mostly warmhearted story with a tinge of real-life sadness added in. That’s what you get with Friends of Mineral Town. As you grow closer with your chosen friends, or everyone if you can spare the time, you’ll see new events expanding on their relationships and antics that aren’t revolved entirely around you. 

You’ll learn their patterns and habits, and as you form your own, it gradually feels like you’re fitting into a close-knit, welcoming community — albeit where the residents still only have a few things to say every season outside their events.

More events definitely would have been welcome, and I think it’s past time for farm-sim games to move beyond the one-liners and too-few interactions. But there’s still no denying FoMT’s charm, no matter how well you know these characters.

Friends of Mineral Town pulls this off with the farmwork side of the game as well, which is really the game’s most impressive feat. I was hesitant in the first few, very familiar hours. Mineral Town is small, and your list of tasks is pretty limited compared to more recent games like Stardew Valley. That actually becomes a boon as you start establishing your own rhythm though. 

Time moves fast, and you rarely have a chance to do everything you’d like in a day. So you end up planning out small goals to focus on instead. First is obviously handling crops, then animals, then improving your tools to make farming easier. Then it’s working toward your house expansion so you can actually cook your raw crops, and so on. 

The more prosperous your farm becomes, with much help from the eager Nature Sprites, the more items you get access to, which means more ways to improve friendships with more people.

The number of systems in Friends of Mineral Town isn’t quite as impressive as Rune Factory 4 Special  — which is hardly a surprise given the length of time between both games — but it all meshes together into a compelling package just the same.

That said, you do feel the need for more to do at times, even with a handful of new animals and cows that make coffee milk (Don’t ask how. Just do). If you get the Nature Sprites on your side, they reduce burden of your farm chores significantly, and you’ll likely find yourself at a loose end as the afternoon wears along.

That’s really a gripe with the genre more than Friends of Mineral Town, since the same thing regularly happens in modern games like SDV as well. But at the end of the day, you just… end the day. There’s always something to work towards tomorrow.

Whether you’re jumping in for a few minutes to finish a task or sinking a few hours in while you work through a whole season, there’s something to be said for the strength of a simple framework executed well and the appeal of working towards small goals.

Finally, it’s definitely worth mentioning Friends of Mineral Town Switch’s graphical enhancements. Everyone gets snazzy new portrait art, someone stole Gray’s hat, and the rest of the environments sit comfortable near the Link’s Awakening remake toy-box diorama style, skewing a bit more towards the soft and fluffy.

The soundtrack received a slight overhaul too, making it fuller and more interesting all around. 

A few of the sound effects come across as a bit lacking, and a scant handful of the soundtrack changes are overbearing, like the summer event day music. However the good outweighs the bad in this area, easily.

Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town Review — The Bottom Line

  • Compelling gameplay systems that keep you wanting to do more
  • Strikes a great balance between these systems
  • Interesting and sympathetic supporting cast
  • Big improvements to relationship system
  • Improved translation and localization
  • Lovely graphics style
  • It's Friends of Mineral Town, but on Switch
  • It's Friends of Mineral Town, but on Switch. It's not reinventing the wheel, even where there's some room for improvement.

If Rune Factory is about fitting as many systems as possible together, Doraemon: Story of Seasons emphasizes character, and Stardew Valley is about beating Jojamart by being a one-farmer variation of the same thing, then Friends of Mineral Town is about balance. It’s about balancing your time, your relationships, and your chores while working for a brighter tomorrow.

Yes, that’s what Friends of Mineral Town was always about, but time hasn’t dented its appeal any. At the end of the day, even if there’s definitely room for more, that’s enough for me.

[Disclaimer: A copy of Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town was provided by XSEED for the purpose of this review.]

The Last of Us 2 Review: Emotional Scars Mon, 29 Jun 2020 13:44:32 -0400 Ethan Anderson

True to their marketing efforts, Naughty Dog has delivered a game focused on a tale of revenge above all else. At least, from the frame that it's what drives the characters for the majority of the plot. However, The Last of Us 2 turns into something far more complex and relatable by the end. It turns into a story about bonds.

We witness just how far characters are willing to go for the bonds they cherish so deeply, and we learn it's not always easy to forgive and forget. In fact, it can feel impossible sometimes.

The Last of Us 2 tackles that sentiment head-on. The journey to the end of its narrative is no doubt impactful in many areas, but some missteps along the way prevent those bright spots from connecting to each other as smoothly as they should.

Note: This is a non-spoiler review for The Last of Us 2.

The Last of Us 2 Review: Emotional Scars

The Last of Us 2 picks up about five years after The Last of Us. Joel and Ellie are now living in the thriving community of Jackson, Wyoming, along with Tommy and Maria.

The game's intro, set in a peaceful, thriving settlement, is full of wholesome moments that you wish could last forever. Joel visiting Ellie to share a dad joke and playing a Pearl Jam song for her are moments I didn't know I wanted to see, but immediately fell in love with. 

These interactions between the two are the ones that players will undoubtedly connect with the most, especially those who have played the first game. This is a sequel that contains plenty of wonderful interactions sprinkled throughout its 25- to 30-hour length, some as flashbacks showing life just after The Last of Us concludes. But as we all know, peace doesn't last in the post-apocalypse. That's just the way it goes.

Ellie's relationship with Joel is what drives her on her journey. It's the most fully-realized connection in The Last of Us 2, with many other characters tending to fall a bit flat by comparison.

It's hard to get emotionally attached to characters whose backstories are presented through journal entries or random bits of dialog. This is doubly true for Dina and Jesse, both of whom have known Ellie for years and whose backstories we don't get to see much of at all. 

A large chunk of The Last of Us 2 takes place over the course of three days in Seattle, Washington, during which Ellie goes to great lengths to achieve her main goal. Her mind is set on killing her enemies in the name of revenge, but at what cost?

The Last of Us 2 demands that you analyze your actions as both main and secondary characters die in visceral ways. There are repercussions for your actions, and they don’t simply happen in a gameplay sequence just to be forgotten about later. They're integral to the overall story. 

As expected, Ellie's actions sometimes end up harming her both physically and mentally. It's in those moments that the game truly shines. Seeing Ellie's internal and external struggles, and how they affect those around her, makes you contemplate whether or not this tale of revenge is worth it at all. 

In many ways, the theme of The Last of Us 2 is more than just "revenge is bad." The main characters are flawed people facing real problems by honoring their loved ones in the only ways that they know how. The game handles the concept in heartbreaking ways, continuously putting you into morally ambiguous situations where right and wrong collide. 

Because of the game's stunning framing and beautiful presentation, these moments of grey are gripping and hard to forget, made more commanding by the performances of Ashley Johnson, Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, Shannon Woodward, Stephen Chang, and Jeffrey Pierce.

In a brave move, The Last of Us 2 eventually shifts away from Ellie's tale of vengeance, providing another perspective on the game's narrative. While this decision creates an interesting new layer for the game's events, its implementation is questionable because of its placement within the overarching narrative.

The plot's momentum grinds to a halt a few times throughout The Last of Us 2, and the perspective switch is one such place. Though the shift is mostly enjoyable and contains some of the best gameplay moments in TLoU2, its poor timing and lengthy nature undermine its impact, disrupting the overall pacing and structure of the game.

Though you'll still find the post-apocalyptic standard shotguns, bows, handguns, and rifles  weapons you'd expect to use as you clear areas of either infected or other humans  The Last of Us 2 improves upon the gameplay found in the original.

Both humans and infected have better tactics this time around. Infected Stalkers regularly try to silently corner you, while attack dogs aid humans by sniffing out your position. Sometimes you're forced to move from cover to cover quickly to avoid getting caught, making combat more dynamic.

The well-designed environments facilitate this new style of gameplay. Lots of waist-high cover still exists, but it feels far less random because of how Seattle's environments are set up.

The Last of Us 2's Seattle is constantly rainy and sinking, with overgrown plant life and rubble around every corner. Avoiding enemy sightlines by slipping through cracks in walls, swimming through water, and crawling through tall grass never gets old. Using the terrain to quietly outsmart enemies is genuinely satisfying in almost every encounter.

Going loud means you'll often waste much-needed supplies that are hard to get back. It also means that confrontations are a lot more gruesome. The game's mix of realistic violence and high-quality graphics is not for the faint of heart. Screams literally echo through the game's meandering levels as limbs fly from bodies.

Stealth, on the other hand, allows you to figure out the best approaches for various situations — it feels good not being seen or heard at all. It also cuts down on the scavenging the game urges you to do at almost every turn.

Though scavenging makes sense within the world and the setting, searching for supplies outside of combat still feels like a chore because of how open and vast some of the locations are in The Last of Us 2.

It's not just one closed-off street you'll explore, but entire city blocks. Not only do these huge zones affect the pacing of the game, but the fear of missing out on new guns and useful upgrades will have you going building to building picking up supplies for far too long, most notably in the earlier sections of the game.

Issues with scavenging are made more prominent by generally uninteresting character upgrades, with skill trees full of Listening Mode improvements, health increases, and various crafting bonuses.

They're useful skills depending on your playstyle, but they're not practical enough to make scavenging feel worthwhile or rewarding. I can't help but feel there could have been a better way to implement skill trees outside of collecting random, hidden pills and pill bottles, especially since it's impossible to max out every skill tree in one playthrough. 

The Last of Us 2 Review — The Bottom Line

  • Beautiful character moments and arcs
  • Outstanding performances
  • Beyond impressive presentation
  • Great environments provide plenty of options in combat
  • Some new characters feel flat and uninteresting
  • Pacing issues grind the plot to a crawl at times
  • Tedious scavenging for mostly unexciting skill trees and upgrades

The Last of Us 2 does so many things right, from its engaging story beats to its eye-catching level design. But at the same time, there are more than a few things that Naughty Dog could've, and possibly should've, handled differently. 

The character interactions and moments of individual growth shown throughout the narrative are some of my favorites in recent memory. The bonds on display are so believably strong that, when they're severed, getting revenge is understandably the only option left.

That's what makes it so moving to see characters struggling to progress past devastating moments in order to ultimately find internal peace. It's just unfortunate that some poor implementation of intriguing ideas and slow pacing are often wedged between those spectacular moments.

[Note: The reviewer purchased the copy of The Last of Us 2 used in this review.]

Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia Review — Of Monsters and Muddles Thu, 25 Jun 2020 03:15:01 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

Happinet intends Brigandine: Legend of Runersia as a revival of the PS1-era tactics title Brigandine: Legend of Forsena. The latter had a few problems that held it back, so it seems like a worthy endeavor on the surface. 

While there aren't many other tactics games that do what Brigandine does, this version is held back by some frustrating production and balance problems. In the attempt to address Legend of Forsena’s biggest issues, Happinet sort of glossed over other important problems that still very much need fixing.

Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia Review — Of Monsters and Muddles

In Runersia, you're the leader of one of six nations. In typical fashion, you try to conquer the other five for one reason or another. No matter the nation you choose, you’re joined by a handful of allies, and you’ll gradually unlock extra story scenes either as the story itself progresses or you uncover lost Records that explain how the world works.

It’s mostly high-fantasy dressing for Runersia's gameplay, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.

The gorgeous 2D artwork accompanying each scene goes a long way to making the game feel unique, on top of each nation's own particular motivations and problems. Still, more scenes breaking up bouts of invasion would have been a very good thing.

Brigandine’s gameplay is basically Risk tactics. You have five years to unite Runersia, and these years are split into seasons. Each season is essentially a turn, and it’s divided into two phases — or three if you’re a stickler for categories. Organization and Attack are the two main phases, with Invasion sliding in as the back half of Attack, should you actually choose to attack anyone (more on that in a bit).

The Organization phase is the Risk element of Brigandine, and it’s definitely what makes it stand out among other tactics games. Initially, you have a number of bases to work from and defend, but you don’t have nearly enough Rune Knights to defend them all. It’s not a matter of just putting one Knight on each base either, since that’s just asking for trouble.

Consequently, part of your task is shuffling your forces around to cover potential enemy invasion points, push forward with your own invasion, or, if you’re like me, madly scramble to recover bases you lost because you didn’t balance the other two factors well enough.

Because your enemies are fairly dormant at first, it’s easy in the first five seasons or so to stretch your resources too thin — creating outposts against multiple enemies or trying to handle too many invasions at once. Planning at least one or two seasons ahead is essential from the get-go.

You’ll recruit more Rune Knights as the game unfolds either through quests or scripted events (the requirements for triggering in-game events are pretty much inscrutable, though).

Rune Knights are strong on their own, but you’ll need to summon monsters to create a squadron around them if you actually want to win battles. After leveling them up and, for Rune Knights, achieving a level of Proficiency with a job, you can reclass to learn new skills, too, so there’s a nice trade-off involved in training your troops.

But the Knights and monsters are where things get a bit sticky.

Each base has a pre-set pool of monsters you can summon from. That said, it seems random which base can spawn which monster. I could get a centaur from just one of 15 bases, and the same was true for goblin warriors. Dragons, wolves, and golems are a dime a dozen.

No problem, you might say. Except you need a Rune Knight on the base to attach the monster, which means taking them from wherever else they might have been stationed; and that’s one season. Then you’ll spend the next season moving them back where you need them. The Mana system adds a bit to this issue.

Normally, it’s a boon. Each monster has a Mana cost, and each Rune Knight has a Mana limit that grows as they level up. Basically, you can’t summon 100 dragons and stick them on one Knight; you have to design your squads carefully.

It necessitates planning ahead, but it also seems like an artificial and unnecessary layer of planning — more of an annoyance than an actual feature. That goes double when you consider terrain advantages. There are several kinds of terrain, each offering bonuses or penalties depending on your unit type. At first, depending on which nation you start with, you won’t really need to deal with terrain, but that changes as you push your invasions further. 

The execution is a bit heavy-handed. For instance, I get the Shinobi are forest dwellers, but their maps are absolutely full of forests. That puts every unit except flyers and plants at a disadvantage. Normally, I’d think this was a nice twist that really makes use of the monster system and some of its finer details as you optimize for combat. But it just ends up feeling tedious.

On the bright side, if you don’t stop to plan new monster squads, you’ll build your formations around the map’s other spots of terrain with your existing teams, though it does mean dealing with garbage hit rates.

Whether you’re constantly building new teams or just adding new critters in general, you’ll need to level these monsters up. If you lose a monster in battle, it’s gone for good. That’s an incentive to not suck at battle, obviously, but a loss or 10 is bound to happen eventually. New monsters come in at Level 1 and are mostly useless in battle unless you pull a Final Fantasy 2 and use them as damage sponges just to rack up experience.

Enter quests to fix this problem.

You can undertake quests at a base and send Rune Knights and squads on various quests that carry names (but no descriptions), as well as a likelihood of success or failure (with nothing indicating why it might go one way or the other). You’ll get items and experience points based on how successful each quest is — something out of your control — or you can send a squad off to training camp for some additional experience. 

The experience is handy for getting new monsters and some Rune Knights to at least Level 5, but it also doesn’t scale. A bonus of 200 experience points starts seeming paltry after that level. In turn, different levels of training would have made a big difference, and it could easily have been offset by taking, for example, two seasons to complete instead of just one. It's less of an issue as you progress, but it makes getting started a bit of a pain.

So all this is what you have to consider for your Organization phase, except quests, which fall under Attack. It’s a lot to deal with at first, and Brigandine’s lengthy tutorials don’t always hit every point you need to know. Expect to still be learning how the game works several hours in. 

The Invasion phase is, unsurprisingly, where battles unfold, and you can engage in as many invasions during the Attack phase as you feel you can handle. Battles play out on big-ish sized maps. Regardless of how many Rune Knights you have piled onto one base, you can only take three into battle. 

There’s an odd quirk at play here too. You’re encouraged to shore up your vulnerable bases so your Command Points — a number indicating the likelihood you’ll withstand or pull off an invasion — match or exceed a nearby opponent’s.  It's ultimately a bit pointless since you can’t actually use all these Knights in battle. 

It seems this might be a holdover from higher difficulties. On normal, enemy nations only invade empty bases or, as happened once, bases where every Knight is off on a quest. I haven’t tried hard yet, but I’m guessing enemies are more aggressive there.

Anyhow, once battle starts, you have 12 turns to either capture the enemy stronghold by placing a unit there for one full turn, defeating all enemy commanders, or forcing them to surrender. Or so the game tells you. I tried the capture option and it didn’t actually work.

The 12-turn limit is a carryover from the original Brigandine, and it brings the same problems with it. Because you don’t have time to plan out strategies for dividing the enemy’s army or approaching a town/palace from all sides, combat typically devolves into all six squadrons meeting somewhere in the middle and bashing each other until someone’s dead enough.

That’s not to say strategy isn’t involved. You’ll need to pay close attention to unit placement thanks to Brigandine’s unique hexagon system where you can’t pass through hexagons adjacent to a unit. This is something you can use to your advantage to block enemies from more vulnerable troops or to trigger a “chain” where you surround enemies and raise your critical hit rate.

It’s a neat idea that isn’t really necessary in most cases. Typically, the quagmire of Knights and monsters duking it out just makes the placement gimmick an obstacle more than anything. 

Even still, because most units’ special skills can’t be used after movement, creating some kind of formation and adapting it to enemy movements is something you’ll be doing a lot. Maybe that’s a good thing, since it’s how you’d expect a battle to play out. This isn’t Fire Emblem, where super-powered student assassins single-handedly infiltrate fortresses, so I’m a bit torn between the obvious limitations and the fact that they do sort of fit the situation.

But that doesn’t explain the game's balance problem. Levels don’t always determine battle strength. For example, a Level 1 Ghoul should absolutely not be able to survive three hits from a Level 10 Dragon or several spell blasts from a powerful enchanter. 

The biggest issue here is that it’s the same exact problem Legend of Forsena dealt with and was criticized for. Happinet responded to criticisms of animations being too long, and that’s greatly appreciated. But lack of map variety, slapdash use of terrain, weird balancing, and limiting the game’s own strengths with the in-battle turn limit ultimately drag it down and make for a weird disconnect between the planning involved with the Organization phase and the brawls battles usually turn into. 

There are a couple of badgering production values to point out as well. First is the audio. The sound effects for monsters and characters are… odd. One species makes a sound akin to a cartoon sound-byte of stepping in poo. The Dancer-class Rune Knight makes a sound similar to sleigh bells when she moves. I don’t know why, but it’s at odds with the high fantasy feel Brigandine’s aiming for and just feels cheap.

The localization needs some work too. It seems there’s probably two editors on the project or maybe an editor and a machine, because you’ll go from good fantasy writing to lines that don’t fit the context or completely break character, sometimes in the same set of dialogue.

Brigandine: Legend of Runersia Review — The Bottom Line

  • Tons of depth
  • Good high-fantasy story, even if there's not enough of it
  • Give and take gameplay, where every action comes at a cost
  • That satisfaction when your plans bear fruit
  • Some frustratingly unnecessary layers of planning
  • Retains many of the same problems of the original
  • Needs more polish
  • Some aspects, like quests and events, need more attention
  • Disconnect between the Organization phase's planning and the mosh pit fights Invasions invariably turn into

In the end, scoring Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia is tough. I love its depth, concepts, and style. And the laundry list of complaints is more noticeable when you're not actually playing it.

Still, there are definite issues that need addressing, especially those gameplay problems lingering from the '90s. Hopefully, we'll see another new Brigandine willing to take bigger steps to fix these issues.

[Note: A copy of Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia was provided by Happinet for the purpose of this review]

West of Dead Review: Pain and Agony in the Afterlife Mon, 22 Jun 2020 17:17:37 -0400 Jason D'Aprile

West of Dead is big on death, especially the player’s. For some, that will be a positive attribute. Those being the Dark Souls-loving contingent that doesn’t mind repetition and slow advancement through a brutally unforgiving landscape. The procedurally generated, roguelike levels that await every new run mean that players can never get too comfortable with West of Dead, even if it always starts in the saloon.

This strange purgatory our ghostly gunslinger finds himself doomed to travel is full of lost souls and the damned. Few you’ll meet are friendly. Most are waiting to plug you full of holes, blow you to bits with TNT, or chew you up. The Old West never came across as friendly, but the dead version of it is downright sinister.

West of Dead Review: Brutality and the Newly Resurrected Gunman

Voiced by the pitch-perfect gravelly-toned Ron Perlman, our gunslinging protagonist, William Mason, is a stoic fellow. He’s a mystery man, just passing through. Through what is another enigma entirely, but it’s not hard for a man who lived by the gun to figure out. Someone or something wants him alive (in the relative sense) to play with, like a mouse in a very deadly maze.

Combat in West of Dead is an almost methodical cover-based affair. Enter a room with bad things, roll to the nearest cover, and target any enemy in sight. Zombies and more await. Some are armed with rifles, others just shamble forward to snack on you, and plenty more throw explosives your way. There are enemies, like a grotesque, engorged butcher who can kill you with one blow and annoying dog things that will follow you, and even bosses with devastating ends if you're not careful. 

Oh, and that cover? It’s destructible, so when things get heated, you’ll need to move from cover to cover to survive.

Dodging is vital. A perfect dodge can save you from hot-leaded death, as you roll from cover to cover. Actual combat is handled in a familiar “twin-stick” manner. The left stick moves our gun-fighting friend, while the right aims. Shoulder buttons fire his guns and use his special weapons. 

The game tends to set you up with a basic rifle and pistol to start. Hold the rifle button down and you’ll aim more precisely, delivering a death-packed wallop to your target. West of Dead is big on murderous variety, so there are a lot of other guns and secondary weapons to acquire as you progress.

Shotguns, better rifles and pistols, flare guns, ice guns, TNT, throwing knives, axes, there’s a lot of selection here, but most of it is entirely random. The same gun can also come in higher levels for more effective killing, but you can only carry two firearms at a time.

There are two secondary weapon slots that recharge after use, one health potion that can be used once during a level, and a space for a magic item that can increase your chances of survival. There are even upgrade stations where you can level up one of three abilities and a wandering salesman who offers new gear for cold iron.

Every enemy killed gives you more sin, which sounds bad, but is actually good. Between levels, you can trade-in your sin to a very enterprising witch for new weapons, items, and abilities.

Enemies tend to broadcast their attacks, giving you a split-second to respond. They’re dogged in their pursuit, but none too smart. Some can follow you into the hallways but have a hell of time navigating things like walls and other obstacles. Monsters just walking mindlessly against a wall became a frequent sight.

Light is also a factor. Dim lamps hang in darkness and if you can light them, they’ll not just brighten the room and reveal hidden enemies, but stun any enemies within range.

There’s a lot of great stuff here. The gorgeous look, so reminiscent of a Mike Mignola comic, is instantly appealing. The Ghost Rider-like design of the lead, the rough Old West look of his enemies, even the dark halls and endless rooms all look like a comic book come to life. The score is terrific, moody and evocative, and Ron Perlman’s voice to narrate the whole thing is just icing on the cake.

Even the story, so desperate not to reveal itself, is fascinating, which is part of the problem. For a game clearly invested in its narrative, it makes it so damn hard to see most of it because of all the death.

Dying in West of Dead is of the perma-death variety. The only thing that carries forward from one run to the next is the witch’s sin-based inventory. So, if you were halfway through upgrading a new health potion flask, those points will still be there. 

Everything else, though? Gone. Given how easily death comes, especially for the first several hours, this system gets old really fast. There are a lot of little annoyances that make it more frustrating, like the way it gives you the same tutorial messages when you pick up the same starter guns for the umpteenth time. 

If you’re just a little too in a hurry, it’s easy to get stuck on walls or accidentally slide over cover or somehow be just a hair-width away from being against cover and not noticing until it’s too late.

While most of the weapons have a very satisfying kick to them, the shotguns are sadly disappointing. Their range is so limited, they’re only useful point-blank, which despite what video games insist on saying, is simply not realistic (or helpful).

The camera, uncontrollable by the player, and the way the game makes walls disappear and reappear can make it a nightmare to find an opening—especially if you’re doing a tactical retreat. Sometimes, you just can’t see where the doorway is. 

Since the game randomly creates a new map every time you restart, there are weird inconsistencies between layouts. Sometimes, the maps work in your favor with a smaller footprint, with easy-to-find upgrade stations and much better weapons to discover. Other times, you’re forced to trudge through room after room of bad things, your health getting whittled down, to find anything of use.

West of Dead Review—The Bottom Line 

  • Beautifully macabre, comic book-style art and a great soundtrack
  • Stylish, intelligent combat
  • Good for those in search of an uncompromising challenge
  • Perma-death with little progression saves is incredible frustrating
  • Enemy AI has remarkably sketchy pathfinding and little in the way of strategic behavior
  • Camera issues

As mentioned at the start, some players will dig this slow progression, watching their skills improve a bit each time. Others will hate the frustration of sudden death, loss of their load-out and upgrades, and the general overt repetition of it all.

West of Dead isn’t good at compromise. There are no options to soften it up so you aren’t stuck wandering through the same few rooms shooting the same enemies over and over and over. 

There’s a great game in here somewhere, complemented by a fascinating world, but roguelike and narrative-heavy seldom go well together. West of Dead might reward players who put the hours in, despite the achingly slow progress, restarts, and frustration, but the severe unforgiving nature and difficulty level of the game will likely be off-putting for many of us.

A mixed bag of a game, there’s plenty to like here wrapped around a repetitive and needlessly brutal shell. West of Dead is a game that makes players work to enjoy it. Yet when it all comes together, the gameplay works like a beautiful choreography of death.

[Note: A copy of West of Dead was provided by Raw Fury for the purpose of this review.]

SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated Review: Shallow F.U.N. Mon, 22 Jun 2020 17:16:02 -0400 JosephYaden

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It's the driving force behind many beloved franchises, especially in video games. The hype surrounding the return of a game or series you loved as a kid is unlike anything else. Though, a lot of times, our memories of these games can make them seem more enjoyable than they actually are. 

That brings us to SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated, a remake of 2003's SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom, as developed by Purple Lamp Studios and published by THQ NordicRehydrated keeps the gameplay, story, and themes of the original intact, but it improves the presentation for modern consoles.

Rehydrated doesn't deviate too far from the original, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on what you're looking for. Those wanting the same experience as the 2003 game but with a modern touch will likely enjoy Rehydrated. However, don't expect a total overhaul. In many ways, this isn't a bad thing, but Rehydrated still feels like a game from 17 years ago. 

SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated Review: Shallow F.U.N.

Developing a remake is probably quite difficult. Some fans might want an experience that feels exactly like they remember, while others might want something new and iterative. At the same time, many older games are severely outdated and in need of a contemporary touch-up. Unfortunately for SpongeBob fans, Rehydrated feels outdated, despite looking like a modern release. 

In Rehydrated, you play as SpongeBob and his gang of friends, intending to stop Plankton's army of robots from stealing the coveted Krabby Patty secret formula. It's a story that's been done before, but you probably aren't expecting a deeply emotional narrative from a SpongeBob game.

The gameplay revolves around collecting "Shiny Things" (which are basically coins from Mario), platforming, and taking out enemies with basic attacks. The game uses the classic 3D-platformer formula, and it has multiple stages to explore linearly. Most of Rehydrated's stages allow you to swap between SpongeBob and other characters, who each have their own abilities, some of which are required to advance through the game. 

The levels vary in theme and location, offering a breadth of things to do, like solving minor puzzles and partaking in combat challenges to progress. However, after six hours or so, the levels start to feel the same when it comes to gameplay, even if your goals from stage to stage are presented differently. 

That's Rehydrated's biggest problem: It feels trapped in 2003 in nearly every regard. Video games have evolved so much in the past 17 years, even when it comes to 3D platformers. So running around, collecting items, and using basic attacks to take out robots is cute — and maybe even fun at first  but it quickly gets old as the game goes on.

That isn't to say there's absolutely no change of pace or no fun to be had in Rehydrated. In fact, each stage has unique features that attempt to keep things fresh. One of the earliest stages, Jellyfish Fields, introduces you to Patrick, who plays differently than SpongeBob, along with a boss battle against a giant jellyfish. Another section, Downtown Bikini Bottom, adds Sandy as a playable character, who takes part in some fun platforming across the town's rooftops. 

Aside from its lackluster gameplay, Rehydrated's most significant issue is its bugs, especially the ones that halt your progression.

The most common problem I encountered in my time with Rehydrated was a black screen that could only be circumvented by quitting out to the main menu. This would only happen after getting to the very end of a checkpoint, usually after striking an enemy. It was as if the game was having trouble loading the next part.

Either way, having to restart an entire section because of a bug is unacceptable. And this happened around eight times throughout my playthrough for review. Let's hope Purple Lamp Studios rolls out a patch for this before the game launches. 

The other problem is Rehydrated's egregious load times. On average, it would take 25 seconds to respawn at the beginning of a checkpoint. That may not sound like a big deal, but since the game has long stretches without checkpoints, dying gets old fast.

It wouldn't be so bad if the game handled "death" differently. In some games, when you miss a jump, you're immediately put back where you fell, and the game deducts a small amount of health. Rehydrated sends you all the way back to the checkpoint. Implementing a different checkpoint system would help the game's pacing tremendously. 

Rehydrated also features a multiplayer mode, which sends you and a friend through a gauntlet of enemies as you try to defeat the evil robotic Squidward. Much like the main game, it's a shallow experience that you'll probably only enjoy for all of 10 minutes. If you're desperate for multiplayer, whether it be online or locally, there are far better options featured in other games. 

But Rehydrated isn't all bad. It does a lot of things right. It's easy to pick up and play. You don't need any backstory, and you don't have to keep track of complicated progression systems. It's a game that's easy to run through without having to think too hard. While many contemporary games often require a lot of your time and attention, Rehydrated can be a nice change of pace, letting you just kick back and play. 

It's also extremely funny, even if you aren't a huge SpongeBob fan. One of my favorite things is to sit through SpongeBob's idle animations, one of which features a callback to tHe MeMe ThAt LoOkS lIkE tHiS. You know the one. 

The visuals are also absolutely gorgeous, even running on an inferior platform like the Nintendo Switch. On other systems, 4K resolution is supported. Whichever version you play, Rehydrated looks and sounds just like the television show. The music, audio effects, and voice acting are all top-notch. 

Rehydrated also includes new content not featured in the previous release, like Patrick's dream level, which features one of the game's funniest jokes (we won't spoil it), and an additional phase to the SpongeBob SteelPants boss battle. 

SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated Review: The Bottom Line

  • Looks and sounds like a game made for modern consoles
  • Just as funny and full of personality as it was in 2003
  • Easy to pick up and play
  • Doesn't necessarily play like a game made for modern consoles
  • Extremely long load times
  • Technical issues

If you loved the original game, then Rehydrated might be right up your alley. It's a better game in almost every regard. But if you're looking for a fundamentally different experience that revolutionizes the way 3D platformers are done, you might be disappointed.

Rehydrated isn't bad, by any stretch. In fact, there's a lot it does right. Just know that even if you were a fan of this game when it came out in 2003, it might not hold up for you 17 years later.  

[Note: A copy of SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom — Rehydrated was provided by THQ Nordic for the purpose of this review.]

Pokemon Sword and Shield Isle of Armor Review: Whipped Dream on Top Thu, 18 Jun 2020 17:20:54 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

The Isle of Armor is the first-ever DLC for a Pokemon game, and it adds a significant new location to Sword and Shield, more Pokemon from previous games, and lots of extra stuff to do.

But is The Isle of Armor DLC worth it? That’s probably something you’ll ultimately need to decide for yourself, but I’d say yes — absolutely. The Isle of Armor is cracking good DLC for Pokemon, especially since there’s even more to come in the Expansion Pass with The Crown Tundra later this year.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Isle of Armor Review: Whipped Dream on Top

Getting started in The Isle of Armor is easy (check out our guide to see for yourself), and you can access it at basically any point in the game. That’s pretty handy overall, but what The Pokemon Company and early previews don’t tell you is that you’re sort of out of luck if you access the Isle of Armor before becoming Champion.

It doesn’t scale levels after all, so pre-Champion, you see everything ranging from Level 10 through Level 20 or so — even if your party is way above that. Post-Champion, you’ll see wild ‘mon and other trainers coming at you with Level 60 teams and up.

So my first adventure on the island was a bit of a disappointment then, compounded by the Fields of Hope being one of the most boring areas on the island. Well, at least at first.

You’ll be greeted by armies of Bunneary and Jigglypuff, with a few other Pokemon aside from that. It’s admittedly not the best introduction to something that’s supposed to be exotic and new.

But you’ll get glimpses of something better — islands out at sea, a massive Wailord hanging out in the ocean, lots and lots of Max Raids waiting in the distance, and the Master Dojo itself, just up ahead.

Sure it's a fair fight.

You can go in and start The Isle of Armor’s plot at once, or you can ignore it and go exploring, which is, naturally, what I did. And I’m glad I did. The rest of the Isle of Armor is pretty excellent, and it’s a whole lot bigger and more varied than you’d think. 

Better yet, the whole island is like the Wild Area in that you can fully rotate the camera, which is a much bigger touch than it might sound like. There are also Dens nearly everywhere.

Unlike the Wild Area, these Dens seem to be active more often as well. Where I’ll enter the Wild Area on a given day and see maybe four active Dens across the whole expanse, there’s sometimes that many in just one segment of the Isle of Armor.

The Pokemon variety is good throughout as well. Just when I’d think I was bored with the same three Pokemon showing up in an area, something new popped up — or there’d be a final evolved form of a Pokemon you normally can’t get without trading or special items. That’s when playing before beating the Champion comes in handy, so you can actually raise these fully evolved Pokemon from a low level.

Just uh... ignore the innuendo kids.

Having said that, I don’t know what to do with all these new ‘mon. There’s no room for them on my primary team, but using them in a new playthrough would be nice. The logical thing to do would be to buy a Pokemon Home subscription and funnel them back and forth as I please. Maybe that was Game Freak and The Pokemon Company’s nefarious goal all along, but seeing all these classic Pokemon as DLC is surprisingly lovely.

It keeps the main game from feeling overwhelming with so many monsters to catch, and it makes seeing them in a new location feel fresh and somewhat exciting again. That’s quite a feat when we’ve seen these same critters again and again for decades now.

In short, it’s precisely what DLC should be — an extra treat on top of the main course.

That works pretty well for describing the rest of The Isle of Armor as well. The story is short and revolves around training at the Master Dojo and raising Kubfu. There’s a post-game story too, also about raising Kubfu, but it’s really all a cover for battling and a handful of new features.

The Isle of Armor’s theme is “growth,” and that’s pretty apparent in playing. You’ll battle a lot. One of the features unlocked at the end is a kind of Battle Factory substitute, and you can grow your skills through managing new team combinations.

The Battle Factory substitute is called Restricted Training, where you choose a type of Pokemon to fight with while building a team around it from your roster. You usually battle against a stronger type, and it offers a decent challenge.

Outside of that, there are still some additional features to take advantage of. The Cram-o-Matic is an excellent excuse to offload crud you don’t want and get a rare item in return. There’s actually a recipe book if you want, though experimenting is a fun way to obtain some rarer Technical Records.

You can upgrade the Dojo’s Rotom machine too and turn it into a mini-Pokemon Center of sorts. You can challenge the Dojo Master to some battles. Or you can find more Max Mushrooms to turn “select” Pokemon into Gigantamax forms of themselves. 

One area The Isle of Armor improves on over the base Sword and Shield game is with its characters. They’re much more interesting on the island, and the stories around them are just quirky fun. The writing helps with that too. It’s a lot smoother and more varied than Pokemon usually is, with your island rival being a particular treat.

This kind of structure and focus on more episodic scenarios in a Pokemon adventure are what I'd like to see more of in the future. It's not shackled to the usual limitations of the Gym journey, so The Isle of Armor is free to create a goofball slice-of-life adventure set in a Pokemon world that still retains classic Pokemon elements.

Pokemon The Isle of Armor Review — The Bottom Line

  • Expansive new island to explore
  • Lots of Pokemon to catch
  • Makes it exciting to see these decades-old Pokemon again
  • Fun localization and quirky characters
  • Not all that much new content
  • Level scaling is bruh.gif

And that’s it, though it's important to remember this is just DLC and not a full game.

The Isle of Armor is very much just one part of the Expansion Pass, and I suspect The Crown Tundra will be the beefier addition. That means that by itself, The Isle or Armor would be a bit difficult to recommend for the price compared to the Fire Emblem: Three Houses expansion pass or Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s pass.

As one half of an even more expanded adventure, though, The Isle of Armor is a well-rounded and satisfying topping to the main games — assuming you like catching new Pokemon, battling, and exploring. And if you don’t, then you’re probably playing the wrong game anyway.

[Note: The reviewer purchased their own copy of The Isle of Armor used in this review.]

The Darius Cozmic Collections Review: Retro Love from Beyond Thu, 18 Jun 2020 15:19:15 -0400 Jason D'Aprile

Technically, this is a review of two different collections: the Darius Cozmic Collection Console and the Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade. They’re actually quite different takes on the same series of side-scrolling arcade shooters that show off the strengths and weaknesses of a surprising array of hardware at the time.

These collections give fans of old-school shmups a chance to experience a classic series in a fantastic variety of different flavors.

Taito’s Darius was always a bit more obscure than more popular shooters like Gradius, Raiden, and R-type. This is partially thanks to the specialized three-screen hardware the original Darius arcade cabinets used. Where most games were a single CRT and could have their mainboard swapped out if needed for a myriad of other games, Darius was expensive and much harder to find.

Like pretty much all shmups of the time, Darius was all about shooting bad things and not dying, and not dying, as usual for the genre, was diabolically hard. The series had a few key elements that set it apart, aside from the vibrant three-screen, widescreen hardware.

The marine-themed enemies were immediately distinctive. Mechanical sharks, starfish, assorted fish mixed with other more traditional tank and gun emplacements. Bosses included giant robotic angler fish, a sperm whale, swordfish, piranha, octopus, and many more.

The player’s ship included a basic forward blaster, bombs, both of which could be upgraded through power-ups. The blue power-up gave the ship a shield. The overall weapons system wasn't as diverse as Gradius or R-Type but evolved in minor ways through the different versions.

The Darius Cozmic Collections review: Through a Sea of Stars

What kept players coming back was the game's branching map. Twenty-eight connected levels enabled players to pick their own path through the game. Since the level before opened up a choice of two levels to advance to, it added an unheard-of sense of replay value.

When most games were straightforward linear romps meant to amass quarters with punishing difficulty levels and pixel-perfect timing and control, this branching level map was a big deal. So, it’s easy to understand why players were eager to have the game at home, despite obvious hardware limitations.

Every console version of Darius was a mix of the arcade versions that kept the themes and general mechanics, with redone levels and graphics catering to the unique properties of the individual platform. The console collection features nine ports (released between 1990 and 1993), including the same game from different regions.

Darius 2 (or SAGAIA in the West) was specific to Sega hardware — even the EU-only 8-bit Sega Master System version is included in this collection. On the Nintendo side were Darius Twin and Darius Force (Super Nova in the U.S.), each with a SNES and Super Famicom variant.

nally, Darius Alpha and Plus were really obscure versions of the original arcade game ported to the NEC PC Engine (the TurboGrafx-16 in the U.S.). One was never actually released, and the other was nearly impossible to find according to the collection’s historical facts.

Considering just how good these versions are today, it’s a shame they never saw wide release. While downgraded in size and scope, these ports are actually the closest to the arcade version and the most impressive as a result.

It’s just unfortunate the collection doesn’t include Super Darius, which was released more widely on CD for the PC Engine’s CD-ROM add-on. It was the closest to a true direct port of the arcade game, using the actual coin-op soundtrack with all 26 bosses (Determined fans can at least experience it as part of the incredibly beefy collection included on the TurboGrafx-16 Mini console).

The arcade collection contains seven titles — three main games with several variants of the first and second (much how Capcom created multiple variations of Street Fighter 2). Darius 2 is downgraded to just two-screens and includes two SAGAIA variants. Darius Gaiden is the final game in the series. It was a one-screen cabinet and added a superbomb option seen in so many other popular shooters.

Each game in the arcade collection keeps the same aspect ratio as its original version. The graphics are still gorgeous, and the controls still precise. You can continue as much as you’d like, making them easier to manage than the console versions. This collection also lets modern gamers hear the full arcade soundtrack. In the crowded overloaded atmosphere of an 80s arcade, it was easy to overlook the superb scores found here.

Both of these collections are relying heavily on the power of nostalgia to be a significant selling point. The main menu includes a digital manual and brief history for each game, and you can save your game at any time during play. There’s no rewind or specific new cheats or options to customize the experience, though.

The Darius Cozmic Collections Review — The Bottom Line


  • Beefy in scope
  • Chronicle the history of the series very well
  • Superb bosses, branching levels, and plenty of variation between different console versions
  • Still pretty damned impressive and well worth playing for anyone who enjoys classic shmups
  • Ability to pause and save at any time is a welcome addition 
  • Pricey
  • Not a lot of extras to pad the packages out
  • Console collection lacks Super Darius, which was the best home version of the arcade original of that era

The classic shooter has held on as a genre since Taito’s original Space Invaders, and these games are definitely worthwhile for gamers who still love the challenge and rhythm of a good bullet ballet. The major sticking point is simply the price. The console collection, at release, is a full-on $60, while the arcade collection is $45. Either way, if you just get one, the Arcade pack is the quintessential Darius experience.

Simply put, the original arcade sources were noticeably better in every way in comparison to the console ports (and would remain so until DARIUSBURST Chronicle Saviours on the PS4/Vita). The console versions have their own appeal and are fine shooters, but don’t compare with the size, scope, and presentation of the source material.

[Note: A copy of the Darius Cozmic Collection was provided by Taito for the purpose of this review.]

Summer in Mara Review: Summertime Sadness Mon, 15 Jun 2020 15:13:46 -0400 Mark Delaney

Launching a farm sim on Nintendo Switch in 2020 must be a daunting task. It's tough to follow the indomitable act that is Animal Crossing, but if you're going to try, it helps to do something your way. That's the promise of Summer in Mara.

It's a cutesy farm sim on the surface, but it does things decidedly different than its best-selling counterpart, such as focusing on a scripted story.

What makes the game unique is what could eventually make it worth playing, even for the most committed islanders of Animal Crossing. But in its current form, Summer in Mara doesn't justify the vacation time for several reasons.

Summer in Mara Review: Summertime Sadness

Summer in Mara may be categorized as a farming sim, but it's not as intensive as some others in the genre. You'll spend much more time running around on quests for other villagers than you will tilling soil and planting crops. Those are a part of Mara, but after the tutorial, they fade into the background. 

As Koa, players learn the staples of the genre. Things like crafting recipes, planting seeds, and mining ore are all on the to-do list, and though completing these tasks is straightforward, the UI is often clunky and unintuitive, leading to frequently faulty button presses. This takes some getting used to and may likely slow you down for a while, even when making something simple, like the early recipe for orange juice. 

Once Koa and the player have these mechanics down, the world opens up beyond her small starting island. Soon you'll meet many more fantasy characters, most of them appearing as alien-sea-creature hybrids who lend the game a sense of welcome unfamiliarity.

Sadly, these characters hardly elicit any feelings beyond the reaction to their outward design. It's strange too that characters never move from their spots. Everyone but Koa stands in place, waiting for you to talk to them. It's eerie, perpetuated by an overall lack of sound design that leaves Mara feeling ghostly.

The game squanders what could've been an atmospheric quality, instead making me feel alone, despite the characters otherwise trying to seem so friendly.

Some dialog simply doesn't compute, either. The lack of voice acting doesn't bother me, but the game's dialogue often seems off. Early on, your grandmother instructs you how their world is one of symbiosis. If Koa is to take from the land, she must give back. Cut down a tree, plant a new one. 

Now, that math doesn't really make the world a better place. It more so just fills a hole you've dug yourself, but I was on board with the eco-friendly attempt anyway. But within the next hour of the tutorial, I was instructed to defy that message regularly.

Before you can get off the beginning island, you'll need to chop down many trees, planting crops only to keep yourself fed. The game also never says anything about the fishing you do.

Of course, virtually all farm sims decline to inspect the inherent problems with fishing (like over-fishing, or simply stabbing animals in the face), but Summer in Mara told me it would be different, that it was going to care about that. But then it just... doesn't.

Even if I forgave it for the mixed messaging and lifeless world, the issues don't end there. One of Summer in Mara's best attributes appears right away. With full-motion Ghibli-like cutscenes, the world of Mara is hopeful and gorgeous, but when the cutscenes end, the world doesn't look nearly as lovely. As can often be the case with Switch games, some of what's missing in visual fidelity hides in portable mode, but even there, a haze leaves blemishes on its colorful world.

Questing is regularly annoying because there is no guide arrow. Many times, a quest directs you to visit a place you've never heard of or meet characters it doesn't lead you toward. This results in some frantic exploration until you find the small marker above the right person, or approach the proper landmark to finally find the interact option you need.

There's also a light survival system that feels almost randomly implemented. If Koa does not eat, she passes out and wakes up in her home with some stamina back — but not much. However, it's quite easy to stay fed, so there's really no reason for this mechanic at all. It just becomes a lifebar you must engage with every few minutes or her place in the world is briefly reset.

The more linear focus on story is a welcome side-step from the genre's typically loose structure, but Summer in Mara never capitalizes on any of it for these reasons. It's regularly a chore to advance the plot.

Sadly, even if it did deliver a story more enjoyably, it's hampered by bugs too. In my time with the game, I got stuck on geometry often, UI options failed to disappear, requiring me to restart the game. Though I thankfully avoided the same fate, I heard from another journalist that they had to get the studio to reset their entire saved game data.

This was because the game failed to let the player improvise how they tackled the quest log. Having done things in a slightly different order, they hit a game-breaking bug, and the game doesn't allow you to create a new save, apparently. That's the sort of thing that would be inexcusable with an otherwise great game, but Summer in Mara is far from great.

Summer in Mara Review — The Bottom Line

  • Ghibli-like cutscenes are beautiful
  • Music is soft and befitting of the island life
  • Bugs are quite common
  • Story is full of mixed messaging
  • Locales are lifeless due to a lack of sound design and NPCs that hardly move an inch
  • UI is clunky
  • Survival elements feel out of place

Some patchwork could resolve several of Summer in Mara's issues. Not just the bugs, but things like poor UI design could be addressed, too, making Summer in Mara a better, but still flawed game. I hope it receives that attention. Beyond the Studio Ghibli-style cutscenes and some peaceful music fitting of the genre, there are no redeeming qualities today.

This genre is the security blanket of video games. Fans return to it for their soothing progress bars, friendly neighbors, and accessible mechanics. It shouldn't be that a game like this causes frustration first and foremost, but that's how I spent my summer in Mara.

[Note: A copy of Summer in Mara was provided by Chibig for the purpose of this review.]

Desperados 3 Review: A High-Tension Hootenanny Fri, 12 Jun 2020 11:05:28 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

It's been many a moon since we saw a Desperados game. The second game in the real-time tactics series released in 2006, with the Helldorado spinoff coming out the next year. It's been all quiet on the western front until now.

This time, Mimimi Games is at the helm of Desperados 3, a great tactical title that carries on the legacy of the genre that included other greats like Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines.

Desperados 3 isn't perfect; it's still haunted by some of the same issues it had in its early build. However, it's a lovely little puzzle box that rewards creative thinking, eliciting more than a few "a-ha!" moments along the way, especially in particularly devious situations.

Desperados 3 Review: A High-Tension Hootenanny

If you've ever played a squad-based real-time tactics game, like other Desperados games, Commandos, or Mimimi's Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, you'll feel right at home in Desperados 3.

If you haven't, the gameplay style might need a little explaining. Each mission puts you in control of up to five characters. Each of those characters has special abilities at their disposal, and each mission consists of a series of objectives.

You must then utilize the characters at your disposal to achieve those goals, and there are usually dozens of enemies in your way. After analyzing patrol paths and learning the tendencies of nearby guards, you'll start picking off baddies one by one, opening up new paths while working your way through level toward the objectives.

When you first start out, things aren't terribly difficult; for example, luring an enemy into the jaws of a giant bear trap is pretty easy to figure out. As you start ramping up to greater difficulties in later missions, however, you'll have to combine several different abilities at once, each with a specific timing and a unique cooldown to make it through unscathed. It's tricky but oh-so-satisfying once you make it through a section that has been giving you fits.

Tactics and abilities start very simply. Protagonist John Cooper can flip a coin to draw an enemy's attention, and he has a couple of loud pistols that get instant kills but attract a big crowd. Later on, characters gain more complex abilities, and you can even press a specific key to queue up separate abilities from every character all at once.

One button press will unleash a symphony of destruction that requires distinct timing, and it's possible to mess up that timing on more than a few times in a playthrough. When it works, though, it's a sight to behold.

The Wild Bunch

Desperados 3 is a reasonably standard cowboy story, and its characters are relatively archetypal. There's a fun-loving giant, the brooding assassin, the rough-around-the-edges country gal, and so on. Rather than being put off by characters that have been done time and again, it's helpful for the tactical nature of the game.

There are limits and restrictions beyond just each characters' special abilities, but they won't surprise you. You'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect based on a particular character archetype.

Even though the characters themselves are pretty stereotypical, it is fun to watch how they banter and play-fight during missions. There's near-constant back and forth between them, and there's enough of it that it won't get too stale. It's a system that lends quite a bit of personality to the game that I wasn't expecting, and it helps make you care more about them than you might otherwise.

The game also gives you a surprising amount of choice beyond just, "How can I kill that enemy this time?" Desperados 3 allows you to play with little bits of the story, such as an early mission that has two characters competing for a bottle of whiskey by seeing who can take out the most enemies.

Though it doesn't change much in the grand scheme of things, it does let the player have more control over the story, and it also gives you a reason to play through Desperadoes 3 multiple times.

Fistful of Dollars

When you first scan through a new mission, it may seem nearly impossible. As you progress, you may think you have things figured out before noticing something you hadn't before, which then throws a wrench into your entire plan, forcing you to start from square one.

Perhaps nothing is more video gaming than a game encouraging you to save scum, but that's precisely what Desperados 3 does. Most missions reward you for limiting your use of or refraining entirely from quicksaving, but the very first mission informs you that "failing and trying again" is part of the game. Desperadoes 3 even warns you if you play for longer than a minute without a quick save.

This might turn some people off. However, it contributes to the feeling of triumph when finally get past a difficult section. This genre is also the king of making you realize that your approach is failing because it's the entirely wrong approach; sometimes shutting the game down, stepping away and coming back with a fresh set of eyes is the key to success.

Once Upon a Time

There is a lot to like about Desperados 3, but not everything is perfect out West. It isn't quite as noticeable as it was in the earlier build that we played, but the game just ain't that pretty. You can tell what's going on and who everyone is but, if you zoom in on the action, you'll see some terrible clipping and undetailed model work throughout.

It isn't a huge deal  you won't see most of the little hiccups in the game's standard view  — but it's a bummer seeing the butts of Cooper's guns clipping through his coat in every cutscene.

Desperados 3 is also an extremely finicky game, and it's prone to make all but the most patient players tilt on occasion. Sometimes, after killing an enemy and trying to grab their body to hide in a bush, my character would walk in circles around them until spotted by the patrolling guard.

If you haven't quicksaved, these little misses can be extremely frustrating, as Desperados 3 is a game that doesn't afford screwups when putting your plans into action.

By and large, this entire genre is built on patience. If you demand immediate results or "mastery" of a game means never dying, then you're probably looking in the wrong place. That dog won't hunt here.

Desperados 3 Review — The Bottom Line

  • Extremely satisfying puzzle box missions
  • Lots of ways to approach and succeed
  • Players can shape elements of the story
  • Good callbacks to original games
  • Can be overly frustrating
  • Graphics need some polishing

Neither Desperados 3 nor the real-time tactics genre are for everyone. Both can be frustrating and overly "video game-y." However, if this is your style of game, it's executed really well here. At the same time, the stereotypical cowboy setting is a lot of fun to play around in, even if it can be a bit overly familiar.

It's a welcome return for the series. Mimimi Games has proven once again that they know the genre, as both Desperados 3 and Shadow Tactics demonstrate. Lock and load your (quicksave) trigger finger  — somebody's poisoned the water hole!

[Note: A copy of Desperados 3 was provided by THQ Nordic for the purpose of this review.]

The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor Review — Moored In Nostalgia Wed, 10 Jun 2020 15:25:14 -0400 Gabriel Moss

"Hey you, you're finally awake!"

These are the first words you hear as the carriage driver harkens your arrival into the frozen wastelands of Western Skyrim.

Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor begins with a callback to the classic opening line that marks the start of the titular Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. However, while the 2011 open-world RPG takes place in the same province, a fragment of which also serves as the setting of Greymoor, there's just a bit more to this new Elder Scrolls Online chapter than fan service alone.

The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor Review — Moored In Nostalgia

It's easy to joke about how Todd Howard has gone and sold us Skyrim all over again, but Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor really isn't that. Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor centers its approximately 30 hours of content on a vastly fleshed-out version of the snowy wastes of Western Skyrim, which are meticulously designed, albeit graphically limited behind the old Hero engine tech.

However, this sprawling, snow-coated marshland faithfully depicts the iconic towns of Solitude and Morthal, both of which Skyrim fans will instantly recognize. Additionally, Blackreach is back and more realized than ever before, comprising four different biomes with their own look and personality. It's really great looking, which is why it sucks that it's one of the laggiest, most jittery zones I've seen in the entire game thus far, even though I'm rocking a 2080 Super and a Ryzen 3900x on 32GBs of 3600MHz RAM.

Other, more computer-friendly Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim locations are also faithfully recreated here, especially Solitude, the city built on top of a large rock that overlooks a harbor below. It looks gorgeous, and it holds up as one of the most interesting fantasy city designs I've seen in a game to date.

While the original Skyrim centered around dragons, Greymoor competently tells a brand new story about rogue Vampires, dangerous Harrowstorms, the evil Icereach Coven, and the mysterious new Gray Host brooding underneath the ominous Greymoor Keep.

It is fair to clarify again that Greymoor tells this story competently, giving you a fine enough reason to trek across the overland zones of Western Skyrim and a vastly overhauled version of the Blackreach Caverns.

The main story is packed with superfluous writing and generic or sometimes outright awkward acting, but a few of the side quests do prove to be interesting on their own merit — such as one quest that has you stealthily track a Vampire through a mine without getting caught by the ordinary miners who are just going about their day.

Aside from two massive zones and a brand new treasure-hunting system, the largest and most far-reaching addition in Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor, at least for me, is the overhauled Vampire skill line.

Having spent a year and a half playing as a Vampire in "vanilla" ESO before eventually getting the disease purged from my character's system via some priestly ritual, the changes between pre-Greymoor and post-Greymoor Vampires stand out as a major positive.

Previously, Vampires had only a small handful of useful skills and far too many debuffs to justify playing in most cases. To create a useful character as a Vampire, you practically needed to be a Magicka-wielder with a very specific character build. You also needed to deal with setbacks like a 75% weakness to fire damage, among others, if you really wanted to juice the most out of those limited special abilities.

This is no longer the case. The new Vampire skill line contains five very useful and unique active abilities, such as the super-handy Mist Form. This toggle-able skill allows you to turn into a cloud of red mist that negates all incoming damage for as long as you keep it toggled, and it feels awesome to use it in the heat of combat before an enemy unleashes a big spell or attack.

It's great that you can now choose when and how to become more monstrous as a Vampire by feeding on hapless NPCs, a move that can instantly kill with more style than any of those Dark Brotherhood goons. But it's still kind of a bummer that you can't easily make yourself less monstrous on command without seeking out special potions that do the trick for you. Even though you do lose Vampire "tiers" every few hours, this wait can be a hassle if you need to speak to an NPC merchant or banker who won't serve you because your overt Vampire-ness is a little too overwhelming for comfort.

It's great then that you have plenty of new options to pass the time with, given that the new Antiquities system adds new layers of depth to the already exploration-heavy gameplay style that Elder Scrolls Online does so well with.

As you move through the world, you can find "leads", which point you to special treasures buried all over. To turn these leads into actual treasure, you have to play the fun new Scrying and Excavation minigames. Scrying is like playing a heavily-modified game of Candy Crush, whereas Excavation is similar to Minesweeper.

These are satisfying little distractions that can point to some seriously interesting and unique loot, and both add new layers of depth to an already worthwhile exploration system.

Harrowstorms are a new public event that, while promising to shake things up with a bombastic visual that paints the entire sky red (Oblivion-style), they end up falling flat pretty quick.

They're significantly more challenging to beat than your run-of-the-mill Dolmens from the base game zones, but they don't offer all that much in the way of useful loot. Seeing as how it's still so easy to die while attempting one, even with what feels like an army of players fighting alongside you, Harrowstorms can feel arbitrarily punishing and are ultimately worth skipping entirely.

Finally, it's disappointing that Elder Scrolls Online continues to release expansion packs that don't fundamentally shake up the way zone structure works. Like its predecessors, Greymoor runs down the same checklist of delves, public dungeons, crafting stations, and so on. While it does introduce a new 12-person Trial, this is still functionally similar to other Trials in earlier expansion zones. This all leads to Greymoor having an unshakeable "cookie-cutter" feel to it.

The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor Review — The Bottom Line

  • Faithful recreation of Skyrim locales such as Solitude and Blackreach
  • Cool new Antiquities system
  • Useful Vampire skill overhaul
  • Harrowstorms light up the sky and look really cool
  • The Hero engine is seriously starting to feel old
  • Inconsistent and often boring or awkward storytelling
  • Nothing fundamentally different in zone structure
  • Harrowstorms promise to be more interesting and rewarding than they are in practice

Despite retreading an old and nostalgic part of the world, Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor does its best to steer clear of simply putting up a fan service-y rehash. As such, it offers up a new story, though not necessarily a more interesting one than what was given to us in the likes of Clockwork City or Summerset.

However, while it adds some great new improvements to gameplay in its overhauled Vampire skill line and new Antiquities system, it's still just another ESO expansion.

[Note: A copy of Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor was provided by  ZeniMax Media Inc for the purpose of this review.]

Disintegration Review: Genre Cyborgs from the Future Wed, 10 Jun 2020 11:31:20 -0400 Mark Delaney

In the years that followed Halo — the era which ensured Sony and Nintendo would have to contend with a new player on the field  various companies tried to find their "Halo Killer," that elusive new shooter that would outshine Bungie's sparkling new IP.

Many tried, most failed. Some, like a sci-fi shooter under Activision that was later folded into Call of Duty 4, never even saw the light of day. These days, the shooter space is so healthy no one is really seeking to kill Halo. They just live in peace alongside it.

We've seen several routes taken to this happy ending, in the form of battle royales, hero shooters, and other new spins on the genre. Led by the co-creator of Halo himself, Disintegration proves there's still room to innovate.

Disintegration Review in Progress: Genre Cyborgs from the Future

Disintegration is the debut game from V1 Interactive, the 30-person indie unit led by Marcus Lehto, who once helped birth one of the shooter genre's biggest franchises of all-time. Disintegration doesn't seem to have such lofty expectations, and that's probably for the best, as its hybrid blending of first-person shooter and real-time strategy mechanics isn't as inviting as the point-and-shoot project players are used to, but then that's what makes it so interesting.

Disintegration takes place in a future where humans have almost uniformly moved into mechanical bodies through a process called integration. Unlike some sci-fi stories where our consciousness is uploaded via some computer program, integration demands users literally move their brains into a metal compartment, jokingly called a "brain-can." 

Doing this solves human problems like disease and aging, but not everyone is along for the ride. Disintegration starts fast, where our hero, Romer Shoal, defies the leader of the anti-humanist robots that seek to wipe out the last Naturals (non-integrated humans) and their sympathizers. 

What follows is a sci-fi action story which, while enjoyable in a Marvel movie sort of way, never really touches on the fascinating backdrop it's set to. Disintegration is desperate for a tie-in comic at the very least, and though that wouldn't make the game directly any better, it would be more satisfying to someone like me. I was eager to see these concepts explored but instead, I was left to a ragtag group of robo-heroes who crack jokes and save the world like the Avengers.

It's not that they're unlikeable. Romer and his allies are physically and mentally diverse, and the game at least does a great job of reminding me that these are humans still, just more metallic in appearance these days. Often, I found myself going off-script and asking questions the game had no interest answering  things like the how-to behind integration  but also the philosophical questions like, "Do we remain intact as individuals if merely our brains are salvaged?"

These questions feel like the kind that got the world-builders at V1 Interactive excited, but they never become the focus of the game.

At least where the story falters, the gameplay shines. As Disintegration feels like it will live or die on its multiplayer merits, I wasn't sure if it was safe to expect a fully-fledged single-player campaign, but after eight hours of tactical shooting gameplay, it definitely delivers.

Disintegration is presented 10 meters above the ground in a "gravcycle," a flying, weaponized mech which seems to have once been used for sport, but it has now become the literal and figurative vehicle of the resistance. As Romer Shoal, players can engage in first-person shooting and real-time squad commands simultaneously. 

Cover is enjoyably destructible and enemies are varied enough that the game gets rewardingly tough often, and on higher difficulties, it feels like a true chess match. Even on easy, you'll need to know when to play like a shooter and when to approach Disintegration like the overseer you always are in your gravcycle. In all cases, it's most satisfying to be both anyway.

This hovering POV leaves enemies and allies looking ant-like at times, which is a style that won't excite players just here to shoot stuff, but anyone who enjoys both genres of this crossbreed is going to love Disintegration. A tactical approach is always needed and anyone who spams their squad abilities and hovers around like a drone operated by a five-year-old is going to hit the fail screen often.

In turn, it's exciting when you roll into a warzone with your unit and lead them to victory, not just by pointing where to go, but by taking on enemies yourself too. Managing cooldowns and knowing how to keep your allies out of the worst possible situations, or instead allowing them to shine with tactical efficiency, only gets more rewarding as enemies and situations get more challenging.

With 12 levels and dozens of challenges to chase throughout, the campaign has a great sense of variety. It often pushes you into particular gameplay styles by suiting you with different gravcycles. All the while, it moves through a variety of aesthetics, like forests, cities, and snowy mountains. At each stop, the juxtaposition of super-advanced human-robot hybrids and the starkly empty world humans once inhabited is hard to miss. 

The campaign's variety in gameplay style, squad loadouts, and setting are all meant to serve as introductions to the online multiplayer suite. In that, there are three game modes to play, and all of them will be somewhat familiar to fans of almost any PvP mode.

Collector is like Kill Confirmed, where deathmatch points only count if you pick up the enemies' brain-cans. Zone Control is Domination, where two teams fight over three regions across the map. Retrieval is the game's best mode, and it's the most unique. With shades of Capture the Flag meets Search and Destroy, players control their units and fend off enemy gravcycles and troops to deliver cores and outlast the opposition.

Each mode is fun, even as the maps feel somewhat lacking in variety at launch. However, Retrieval best highlights the unique playstyle of Disintegration. While the other two modes can devolve into typical shooters with an unskilled lobby, in Retrieval, RTS elements are forced upon players in a good way, demanding everyone use their troop units smartly or get beaten in a hurry. This is the game mode I first played at PAX, and it's no wonder why. It's the exemplar of Disintegration's promise. 

In most rounds, I saw too many players just looking to shoot at other gravcycles. That's not just a bad idea given the long time-to-kill; it's a boring strategy. Disintegration isn't an FPS, at least not solely, so whether you have teammates who know how to play the other modes or you're playing Retrieval, this hybrid strategy shooter is most enjoyable when you're pulling from both genres as intended. When that's not happening, it is only fun so long as you're on the team that knows what it's doing.

Teams can be comprised of several different squads, making each one like a hero in Overwatch. They have unique stats and cosmetics to unlock that let you customize teams of Sweet Tooth-like clowns, 1980's club-goers, and samurai robots among others. It's over the top in a way that even the Marvel-esque story doesn't approach, and it's better for it.

Again, your fun can depend on how well your team balances these playable squads, as just like in a hero shooter, you want to hide your team's weaknesses and maximize its strengths. If everyone runs in guns-blazing, it's likely you'll suffer swift defeat. At launch, too many aren't getting the message.

Disintegration Review — The Bottom Line

  • Core multiplayer tenets are promising
  • Campaign is visually diverse and fun in a Marvel-movie way
  • Hero elements in multiplayer make for rewarding playstyle nuances
  • Story never grapples with its interesting backdrop
  • Extremely reliant on an attuned multiplayer community

More than most games, Disintegration will live and die according to its community's ability to learn the ropes. It's not that either genre the game blends is a conundrum on its own, but the blending of the two may make fans of either favor one side over the other. This is especially disastrous for shooter fans that don't incorporate the game's RTS elements.

Thus, it's a weird task to score a game based on the behaviors of its community, but I feel it's unavoidable. The story is fun but never dives beneath the surface of its fascinating sci-fi concepts. The multiplayer is what you should want to buy Disintegration for, and I'm hoping its playerbase can filter out the people looking for a new Halo. This isn't Halo, and it's better for it. Disintegration has some errors in its code, but this is a robot with its values properly aligned.

[Note: A copy of Disintegration was provided by Private Division for the purpose of this review in progress.]

Shantae and the Seven Sirens Review: Half-Genie Magic Mon, 08 Jun 2020 11:27:06 -0400 Jason D'Aprile

Everyone’s favorite half-genie is back with a new adventure that keeps what fans loved about the last game and adds a few new magic tricks of its own.

Shantae’s back, and she's wiggling up more action in WayForward’s latest side-scrolling adventure, Shantae and the Seven Sirens. This time, the adorable half-genie is trapped on a tropical resort island after nefarious unknown forces kidnap a group of her half-genie friends.

It’s as good an excuse as any to get back to Shantae’s colorful and whimsical adventures, with enough changes since her last outing, Half-Genie Hero, to feel fresh.

As ever, Shantae uses both her hair and dance magic to dispatch enemies and solve puzzles. Half-Genie Hero uses a world map that offered a variety of specifically-themed worlds, each with their Metroidvania-style sub-maps, and Seven Sirens takes a more straightforward approach. There’s one central location here — the island — with one large map divided into specific areas.

Shantae and the Seven Sirens Review: Half-Genie Magic

In practice, the map is not a huge change from the previous game, but it does make it more convenient to get around. One immediately noticeable change from the rest of the series is the fully animated, musical opening. The game also has short animated intros for each of the Siren bosses, and it’s a nice touch. Beyond that, Seven Sirens doesn’t look noticeably different than Half-Genie Hero.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing (the graphics are still excellent), but some stylistic changes in the overall look would’ve helped give the sequel a more distinctive personality.

Seven Sirens adds a new element to Shantae’s usual animal-transformation magic. Called "fusion magic," she can acquire special powers from each half-genie she rescues. As with most games of this style, those powers are essentially gate keys to reach new, previously inaccessible areas. The first such power Shantae acquires, for instance, makes invisible objects and secrets appear. This includes platforms that let her climb to new heights.

Another power heals both Shantae and things around here, like dying plants. A third produces a surge of electricity that can power dead machinery (and hurt any enemies on screen). She even gains the ability to cause earthquakes that can move blocks and other objects.

To perform any of these feats, Shantae first starts her basic dance, followed by a quick tap on the appropriate button. Since a big part of all of Shantae’s adventures is finding all the hidden treasures, using every power on any given room can often result in several secrets revealing themselves.

In addition to her new fusion magic, Shantae also gets new, streamlined transformation powers. Where previously, she had to use her dance magic to transform, now Shantae can change form with the press of a button — even when moving. Her newt dash allows her to cling to walls rapidly, but it also lets her extend her jumping distance and damages any enemy in the way. Pressing down in water instantly invokes her sea frog form and also leads to some amusing retro-styled challenges.

Finally, Shantae can upgrade her hair whip and acquire different attacks by purchasing them at shops. Homing rockets, fireballs, bouncing balls of death, and spinning blades (along with a protective shield) can be switched on the fly and upgraded to even greater effect. So, while you’ll probably still spend most of your time whipping bad guys with Shantae’s hair, there’s still a surprisingly eclectic array of choice in Seven Sirens.

The island itself is quite large, with several different towns and a variety of different environments. Since the theme is tropical, there’s a heavy emphasis on beaches, tropical forests, caves, and the ocean. Shantae doesn't just stick to the surface of the island, though; she also goes deep below the water to discover who took her friends and uncover the secrets of an ancient, very steampunk lost city.

Seven Sirens also feels a lot more straightforward than Half-Genie Hero, which at times leaves players with few clues of where to go next. Seven Sirens is breezier and more forgiving than expected, right up to the final area. At that point, the difficulty level spikes thanks to a brutal sequence where Shantae must defeat room after room of spawning monsters with a painfully tight time limit. 

The load times for the Switch version are also noticeably long (and frequent), and, owing to its hardware, it also lacks the 4K graphics of more powerful platforms.

Shantae and the Seven Sirens review — The Bottom Line 

  • Large, secret-filled map
  • More streamlined magic system is fun and creative
  • Bright, colorful graphics
  • Excellent and fun platforming action
  • Most of the game feels a tad easy — until it isn’t
  • Noticeable loading times

There’s not much more to complain about here. Shantae and the Seven Sirens brings back a favorite side-scrolling character in fine form. It’s a bright, colorful, cheerfully silly adventure with hours of exploratory, hair whipping, jumping fun.

Shantae has been weaving her magic for nearly 20 years and still feels distinctive amidst the sea of other platformers. Her latest romp might not feel quite as fresh as Half-Genie Hero, but it’s still a worthwhile, highly entertaining adventure.

[Note: A copy of Shantae and the Seven Sirens was provided by WayForward for the purpose of this review.]

Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition Review: The Monado's True Power Fri, 05 Jun 2020 15:19:49 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

Shortly after Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition was announced, I wrote an article where I snarked, “But is it necessary if it doesn’t do anything new?”. Now I can answer myself and say: Yes, it’s absolutely necessary.

Despite Xenoblade Chronicles being a decade old, the Definitive Edition — warts and all — proves it’s still one of the top RPGs around and a must-have for the Nintendo Switch.

Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition Review: The Monado's True Power

We won’t go into too many story details in case you’ve never experienced Xenoblade Chronicles before, but here’s the gist. The world of Xenoblade Chronicles deals in binaries. You’ve got the organic Bionis and the mechanical Mechonis. Both are gods of literally astronomical proportions, and both were locked in combat eons ago until something made them stop. Now, people and machines live on their respective deities because they’re so big, even their kneecaps have gravity fields. 

And they fight with each other — a lot. The Mechon have a rather unpleasant tendency of eating Homs (what the people of Bionis are called), and naturally, the Homs don’t like that. Homs are good; Mechon are bad. It’s all a fight for survival — or so you’re led to believe.

Xenoblade Chronicles gets started a year after the last big bust-up, where it seemed like peace was won thanks to the Homs hero Dunban and the mysterious Monado sword. 

Of course, that’s not really the case, because it’s an RPG and a Xeno game at that. Someone’s home has to be brutally invaded, and when that happens, Shulk of Smash Bros. fame sets off with his friend Reyn on a journey of vengeance. 

What makes Xenoblade Chronicles’ version of the usual JRPG vengeance story unique is how it unfolds. As the story progresses and you learn more about the world and its different types of people, the binaries slowly unravel until you end with something much bigger and more intricate than you expected. The pacing and sense of urgency to continue forward are heaps better than Xenoblade Chronicles 2 as well.

Sure, you have some fairly predictable moments and there’s the usual hamfisted stuff about fate and so on. But it’s surprising how well the plot still holds up, even if you know all the ins and outs already like I did — and despite the characters having basically zero depth.

It’s very much a story-driven experience, but the pacing and focus on exploration mean the lack of real character development never becomes much of an issue. It helps too that in the 10 years since the original Xenoblade Chronicles released, there have perhaps been a handful of games (if even) that tried combining high fantasy with sci-fi and actually pulled it off. 

Characters might not develop much, but there’s no denying one of the biggest and best changes in Definitive Edition is the improved character models. Models in the original Xenoblade Chronicles, and especially the New 3DS port, were basically monsters, monsters trapped with one, maybe two permanent expressions and reactions. 

The characters of Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition are so much better realized and more expressive than the original. Little things like furrowed brows or changes in mouth shape go surprisingly far in adding tension or emotion to cutscenes, though characters still have their awkward walks — especially Melia, aka the duck-walk lady.

It’s a bit baffling why those weren’t smoothed out, but oh, well.

It’s equally disappointing the visuals other than character models are so blurry too. That shouldn’t be the case this far into the Switch’s life cycle, and while it’s hardly game breaking, it is annoying.

Speaking of exploring, you’ll be doing a lot of that. Fortunately, Xenoblade Chronicles is a joy to explore, blurry distances and all. A big part of that is down to the unique settings, ranging from winding caves to huge open fields on the Bionis’ thigh, deadly swamps, lush jungles — and that’s not even all. Xenoblade Chronicles’ maps feel bigger than its numbered sequel’s as well. However, that could just be a benefit of more open design and how you have a sense of progressing through these areas, instead of hopping around to new biomes every few hours.

That naturally raises the question of whether there’s anything to make exploring worthwhile, and the answer is a bit mixed there.

There’s no Witcher-style rewards like finding some obscure, meaningful side quest or stumbling on a much-needed item hoard. But apart from seeing the sights, you’ll run across items necessary either for fattening your wallet the next time you meet a merchant, bartering with locals, or using to craft gems that help you out in combat (more on that in a bit). 

A lot of these items and off-the-beaten-path locations play a role in Xenoblade Chronicles’ quests as well. That’s probably the game’s weakest point too, though it’d be a mistake to expect a remaster to change a fundamental part of the game’s structure. There’s an almost overwhelming number of side quests you can tackle if you choose to. And they’re almost all completely mundane: gathering items, fighting monsters, talking to character X, and the usual filler stuff. 

Where this would be a pretty big ding for another game, it’s surprisingly not a big drawback for Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition, especially if you go into it knowing what to expect. For starters, you’re completely in control over what quests you want to complete.

Don’t feel like gathering five hard-to-find items for meager rewards? That’s fine. There’s plenty of quests to complete without going too far out of your way, and even if they’re pretty far south of spectacular, completing some is still worthwhile for the extra experience, unique gear, and gems.

Better yet, Definitive Edition’s improvements to the map and quest system make completing quests painless. Gone is that godawful, damnable orange arrow from the original, swinging around like a demented and possessed compass. In its place is a better map, one that’s easier to decipher, has clearer quest markers, and uses an actual indicator showing you the best path to reach your goal. It’s hard to overstate how amazing this improvement is and how much more enjoyable the game is because of it.

Having said that, the next Xenoblade Chronicles game absolutely needs to fix the series' quest and NPC systems. Affinity charts and dynamic quest lines that change based on when you complete them or in what order are fine, but they lack significance without any meaning attached to them and the characters they revolve around.

Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition’s improvements go further than that too. The menus are completely overhauled, thankfully. Changing equipment is a breeze, although I can’t help but wish we had an option to equip gear as soon as it’s purchased.

Colors are brighter and clearer, text is easier to read, and there’s even a fashion option that lets you set how your character looks independent of what gear they’ve equipped. It’s a minor but much-appreciated touch that lets you decide what gear you think looks best or just go crazy and mix completely unrelated looks together.

Another big overhaul is the Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition soundtrack. The original wasn’t bad by any means, but the Definitive Edition version is so good. The remastered soundtrack is almost always superior, being fuller and more complex. Even tracks that sound weird out of context, like “Engage The Enemy” with its new opera inclusion, just plain work in the game itself.

Combat stays exactly the same though, but that's okay. If you’ve mastered Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s combat, you may find combat here a bit simple at first. But there’s actually more going on than you might think.

XC2’s combat ends up focusing on building huge combos as often as possible, and you can offset the time it takes to build Arts up by swapping between Blades. Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition makes you strategize a bit more, both with what Arts you equip on each character and how you use them

Each Art has a cooldown time. So if you spam them all at once during substantial battles, you’re not going to win very easily. Instead, you want to plan out how you use them, rely on buffs and debuffs, and pay more attention to positioning in battle so your Arts have better effect.

That also means it’s a good idea to switch your party up more often, since each character has unique attributes that could make the difference between winning and getting sent back to the last landmark. You'll want to keep on top of your gear too. Weapons and equipment often have slots that house stat-enhancing gems you can forge from all the ether crystals enemies drop or you mine from the environment.

Some fights need an evasion tank like Dunban, while others make you focus on supplementing your healers with support arts and using Chain Attacks to dish out damage and support the party. It’s just complex enough without being overwhelming or letting you just slide through, and yes, the constant call-outs during battle remain intact for better or worse.

Definitive Edition adds expert and casual modes if you need a harder or easier challenge as well, which is excellent for accessibility or if you just want to switch things up.

So in short, there’s a number of quality of life improvements with much better visuals and a superior soundtrack. It’s still the same game, but it’s also a generally excellent game to begin with. These enhancements make it even better.

Which brings us to the one absolutely new inclusion, Future Connected. It’s an epilogue set one year after the game’s main story concludes, but it’s not as meaty plot-wise as Torna: The Golden Country.

It’s also something of a mixed bag. The Bionis’ Shoulder is, as usual, just begging to be explored, but you feel the lack of meaningful rewards a bit more keenly here — especially if you just spent nearly 80-100 hours with the main game doing the same thing.

You’ll probably either love or hate the Nopon Rangers as well. While I’m not sure it works the best as a quest and battle gimmick, they do act as a nice way to break the tension, along with the many Quiet Time (read: new heart-to-heart) moments you’ll come across.

On the bright side, you’ve got a tweaked battle system to come to grips with thanks to that thing at the end of the main story. Hopefully, you learned how to play as Melia during the main game, because she’s pretty important in Future Connected. And she’s also the main plot focus, which is good considering her story has the biggest dangling threads of all at the end of Xenoblade Chronicles

Is it resolved in Future Connected? Not… really. But apart from this apparently serving as a lead-in to future Xenoblade Chronicles games (hence the name), it’s a testament to the world and themes Monolith created for the original game. The chance to see another episode unfold in this world and find out what happens as a consequence of the big victory is compelling in itself, and it’s definitely worth experiencing.

Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition Review — The Bottom Line

  • Still excellent story and world
  • Thoughtful combat
  • Much-needed quality of life improvements
  • Stellar soundtrack
  • The visuals don't burn your eyes anymore
  • Future Connected offers some good post-game plot development
  • Not everything gets a visual upgrade
  • Quests still meh
  • Future Connected is also a mixed bag outside of plot

Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition is among the Switch's top RPGs, and that's saying something. Even though the glow ups aren't evenly distributed, and the quest system is still lacking, the setting, unique combat, and overall package remain as strong now — stronger even — than they were 10 years ago.

[Note: Nintendo of America provided a digital copy of Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition for the purpose of this review.]

The Outer Worlds Switch Review: Spacer's Choice Thu, 04 Jun 2020 12:25:08 -0400 Mark Delaney

In the dystopian landscape of The Outer Worlds, the galaxy has been colonized by corporations that underpay workers in hazardous conditions and sell their otherworldly goods and services at marked-up prices to the starved populous.

Among the least reputable of these morally bankrupt companies is Spacer's Choice, famous for its blatantly inferior craftsmanship. In the real landscape of video game platforms, the Switch version of The Outer Worlds is the Spacer's Choice version of the game. It's immediately recognizable as the lesser version.

But if it's your only way to play the RPG, or if you want to make it portable, some technical deficiencies don't derail one of 2019's best games from being one of 2020's most exciting Switch ports.

The Outer Worlds Switch Review: Spacer's Choice

The Outer Worlds is a first-person RPG from Obsidian Entertainment, which immediately excites a certain number of people. It's new to Switch as of this week and brings a somewhat revised version of itself to the platform, but let's start with what's the same.

The Outer Worlds has an abundance to say, and it uses biting satire to tell a lot of it. Every poster is a takedown of an economy based on corporate greed, and most characters are either the players or being played. Despite that line in the sand, The Outer Worlds' greatest feat is how it builds real characters into its plot at every opportunity. 

There are NPCs with whom you cannot interact, but the number of characters who are quest givers with fleshed-out stories and opinions is remarkable. TOW was once billed as a Fallout Lite experience, but in few ways does it feel lacking compared to something like New Vegas, which the team at Obsidian made during the last generation.

In fact, it's often an improvement on the team's fan-favorite RPG. The Outer Worlds is brimming with reasons to stay in its world. Even your silent protagonist has a bevy of personalities to choose from, including a unique idiot mode where you can respond like a fool if your intelligence is low enough.

It's a constant joy to find new people to meet, learn their stories, and aid them in their quests. While some missions do use tropes of the genre, the major story beats are nuanced and praiseworthy. More than once, I put the controller down to weigh the pros and cons of a decision I was about to make.

You'd think a world where people are either the exploiters or the exploited would fall victim to a binary hero and villain system. Still, the story of The Outer Worlds unfurls with the understanding that life is rarely so black and white, even in a world where a mysterious plague wiping out a settlement is just malnourishment.

Among the many characters you meet are a half-dozen companion characters. In that way, The Outer Worlds moves closer to a Mass Effect system — it allows you to bring characters aboard your ship and take up to two of them with you on missions. You can mix and match pairings, stick with favorites, or even go solo, and the game smoothly adapts to your decisions in ways both big and small. These companions each feel unique and worth getting to know, and you do so by completing their loyalty missions (sounds familiar, yes?).

It's this wrinkle that keeps The Outer Worlds from being just another New Vegas, even as so much else, from skill trees to its sense of humor, feels much like Obsidian's previous mega-hit.

The story was also said to be briefer than games like it, but my first playthrough still took me 40 hours, and I didn't see everything there was to see. I don't mean simple collectibles, either. I missed entire questlines too.

TOW is not a bite-sized RPG, though, with the smart use of hub worlds, it doesn't feel bloated either. It's great to arrive on a planet, do everything you can there, meet tons of interesting characters, loot and shoot, and then depart for the next locale.

Some backtracking is involved, but the quest log is designed so intuitively that you won't have to do any extra work to streamline your progress. It breaks missions down in a variety of categories so you know what's major and minor and where everything can be completed. It's satisfying, and it makes the game markedly better.

Exploration is lacking a greater sense of discovery. While locations are varied and characters are interesting, it's rarer to stumble upon a story in The Outer Worlds that's understated. It feels as though every interesting thread you can pull comes with cutscenes or long dialog options. In a game like this, though, the stuff that sticks with you is often what's pieced together through seemingly unrelated text or audio logs.

I do not doubt that The Outer Worlds will receive sequels for years to come, and I should hope the next game improves this facet. 

Combat will feel familiar for Fallout veterans, meaning it's serviceable but not great. On Switch, The Outer Worlds seems to have been given a new aim assist feature that I did not find present upon revisiting my Xbox version. It's good that it's available for Switch too, as the smaller screen in handheld mode and poor control sticks make shooters less fun on the platform. Luckily, The Outer Worlds smartly compensates for these baked-in problems.

That's not the only thing different on Switch, but it's the last good thing that's unique to this version of the game. It's apparent early and often that this game would've had trouble on the platform if it weren't for several concessions. Chiefly, these consist of consistently inferior textures, lighting, and colors, as well as longer load times.

Stacking up my Xbox One S playthrough with my Switch playthrough, the latter's visuals are blatantly worse and, at times, even designed differently. Skyboxes are less colorful, and architecture is less intricate. Some trees and other environment pieces are absent, and locale transitions that take 25-30 seconds to load on Xbox regularly take more than 40 seconds on Switch.

Lighting effects sometimes appear to be painted across the distance in real-time, and textures pop in but never look great — even when you're right up next to them.

Here are some screenshots for comparison. 

Xbox One S


Xbox One S


Xbox One S


All of this is to say it's clear that The Outer Worlds on Switch was too ambitious in its original state, so the game was visually watered-down to get it to work on the system. 

Ironically, after infusing its latest RPG with much more color than the drab Fallout New VegasThe Outer Worlds on Switch ends up looking quite dreary itself, which isn't out of place in such a dystopia. Still, since the world is always presented with tongue firmly in cheek, the colors make more sense for the world and are thus disappointingly absent on Switch.

For what it's worth, though, I saw no slowdowns or frame rate drops, so if the visuals take a hit in favor of stability, I think that's a reasonable tradeoff.

The Outer Worlds Switch Review — The Bottom Line

  • Dynamic characters at every turn
  • Quests and choices that deliver awesome, memorable moments
  • Witty, satirical writing
  • Aim assist is added to aid Switch version
  • Smart quest log UI that all RPGs should follow
  • Clear visual downgrades on Switch
  • Longer load times on Switch
  • Lacking player-driven stories 

Some of The Outer Worlds' best and worst qualities on Switch are symptoms directly related to the platform. Making a major RPG portable is as cool here as it was with The Witcher 3, though the technical and visual downgrades are more apparent here than they are there.

Still, with extremely well-written characters, great quests that keep you busy for 40+ hours, and some smart adjustments for this platform specifically, The Outer Worlds remains a can't-miss experience. If you can play it elsewhere, you should, but if Switch is all you have or all you want, the pictures aren't as pretty, but everything else still shines.

The Outer Worlds is still one of the most binge-worthy RPGs of the generation.

[Note: A copy of The Outer Worlds on Nintendo Switch was provided by Private Division for the purpose of this review.] 

Those Who Remain Review: Ghost Flusters Wed, 03 Jun 2020 15:14:30 -0400 Mark Delaney

If you're like me, Halloween isn't just a day — it's an entire month. To get into the spirit of the season, my wife and I like to watch a horror movie just about every day of October.

Naturally, the quality is all over the place with such a dedicated approach. There are some films we remember forever and watch again the next year, while there are others we forget as soon as the credits roll. There are others still that, while they don't stay with us for long, do a good job filling in the schedule for any particular evening.

Those Who Remain is like the latter kind of horror movie. Its indie budget is apparent at every turn, and it makes some poor design decisions along the way. Still, thanks to some decent scares and a narrative that defies expectations, it serves well as a middling horror story wedged between some better and worse counterparts.

Those Who Remain Review: Ghost Flusters

Those Who Remain wears its influences on its sleeve — early and often. As a first-person, defenseless horror game with plenty of scripted scares, it's evident the team at Camel 101 played Layers of Fear somewhere along the way.

Sequences regularly lead players down a winding corridor, hit them with a dead end, and then morph the world behind them so they turn to witness a new and unsettling landscape. 

It's a camera trick that Bloober Team perfected, but I've not bored of it yet. Camel 101 employs it well too, so I don't mind the similarities. As a passerby in the eerie town of Dormont, players in Those Who Remain are put into a situation not unlike that of the lost souls of Silent Hill

As I entered the desolate town, I immediately likened the game's story to Konami's classic franchise. Only the fog of Silent Hill is replaced by everlasting darkness in Dormont. In the darkest corners sit shadowy figures, always watching, never moving unless you step out of the light. They're unnerving at first, but soon become little more than a puzzle mechanic. If you can see them, you know your path is not safe. Thus, your job is usually to find a light source to make them flee.

The more imposing threats are the several different monsters that give chase. Those Who Remain is a defenseless adventure-horror where puzzles and hide-and-seek rule the gameplay suite. The chases can be nerve-wracking, but usually only once. If you're caught, you'll notice that once you're spotted, there's seemingly no way to escape, and thus no reason to run away.

This unfortunate wrinkle turns the hide-and-seek element into nothing but a puzzle sequence of its own. It may have some spooky sound design to go along with it, but the auto-fail state of being spotted even briefly washes away a lot of the horror. Players need the possibility of escape to feel the threat. Without it, the chases don't work.

Having said that, there's still one recurring chasing enemy that reliably filled me with dread whenever I heard her coming. 

As for those puzzles, they're often a highlight of every level. They're of a familiar sort, where players backtrack through a small area while opening doors, finding items to create new paths to then find a key to open another door. You know the type.

Still, the puzzles are intuitive and use the otherworldly universe to essentially turn every locale into two different places. Yeah, it's like Silent Hill in that way too, but where its inspiration used a rusted-out hell, Those Who Remain traps players in a watery, drowning haze.

Though puzzles are good and scares are inconsistent, other aspects of Those Who Remain are regularly bad. The lighting is much too dark, causing me to turn my gamma settings up more than recommended, which lent a smokiness to the game I never wanted. Human character models are few and far between, which is a good sign that Camel 101 can work within its limitations, but when other people do appear, they look pretty bad. 

They sound worse too. The voice acting in Those Who Remain ranges from hardly passable, like that of the protagonist, to wildly ineffective, like that of a criminal you meet about a third of the way through the three- to four-hour story. I appreciate when an indie game can rise above a shallow budget and make do with what it's got. Those Who Remain is the result of that in some cases, but the story deserved to be structured around fewer speaking roles.

However, the best part about Those Who Remain is its story. In the first 30 minutes, I thought I had it figured out and grew frustrated as the narrative seemed to find itself so clever. But it turns out, it was.

With some player-driven choices allowing you to inject your morality into the mix, the story can end in one of three ways, and none of them unfold the way I expected early on. It was quite refreshing to see the story catch me off-guard like this. Whereas the game can often seem like an amalgam of other horror games' ideas, its story manages to reject the obvious conclusion in favor of something unexpected.

Those Who Remain Review — The Bottom Line

  • A twisty story led by player moral choices
  • A few good scares
  • Poor voice acting
  • Lighting is crucial but doesn't deliver
  • Chase sequences suffer from design flaws

As credits rolled in Those Who Remain, I felt I had enjoyed enough of it not to feel like I wasted my evening, unlike I have with so many October movie marathons. It's not a horror game I'll think of first when people come to me asking for recommendations, but for the biggest horror fans who keep up with the genre, one could do worse than the occult ghost story told in Those Who Remain.

[Note: A copy of Those Who Remain was provided by Camel 101 for the purpose of this review.]

Liberated Review: Black and White Stealth, Comic Book Style Mon, 01 Jun 2020 09:15:02 -0400 LloydCoombes

Cyberpunk, that nebulous way of describing humanity’s entwinement and dark fascination with technology, is all the rage these days. Liberated, a new indie sneaking its way onto the Switch and Steam, offers a unique take on the genre – it’s just a shame that its voice is lost in the dark.

Liberated puts players in the black cap of Barry Edwards, a man living a double life. By day he’s a (mostly) law-abiding citizen and IT professional, but by night, he’s decrypting data, hacking into domains that he shouldn’t be, and stashing stacks of currency in his apartment.

Liberated Review: Black and White Stealth, Comic Book Style

If this all sounds familiar, there’s no getting around it – the game undoubtedly takes heavy inspiration from the Wachowski’s first Matrix movie’s Neo when setting up Edwards, while eventually taking cues from the likes of V for Vendetta.

In the very near-future world of Liberated, citizens are monitored and awarded Credits through a seemingly impregnable algorithm. Something as simple as jaywalking can see the heavy-handed police knocking on the door, and the clamor for credits has driven the masses to constant fear and censorship, while others have been pushed into rebellion.

It’s Urban Dystopia 101, and it feels like that in trying to channel so many influences at once, it loses its own voice in the crowd, aside from some timely reminders that democracy and autocracy are just fractions away from each other.

Killing In The Frame Of

Where Liberated sets itself apart from the rank and file is in its presentation. Framed as a comic book series, it filters its sci-fi trappings via Frank Miller’s Sin City, all black and white and dripping with noir style. It feels like a continuation of earlier iOS and Android darling Framed, only with less color and more gameplay.

Each frame is wonderfully drawn, and subtitles are impressively legible even on the Switch. Dialogue options can see players skip over entire panels, while action sequences play out within the confines of the page, too.

For the most part, Liberated is a 2D stealth title. Barry can hide in shadows and initiate stealth kills; he can also wield a firearm capable of flashy but brutal headshots. We say "for the most part," because Liberated also offers frantic running sections and hacking minigames that range from simple puzzles to even simpler button mashing.

In between these sequences, quick-time events dictate much of the bigger set pieces. Car chases and action sequences devolve into timed button presses, and while it helps the story move at a decent pace, it feels a little too prevalent for our liking.

The actual stealth fundamentals start at a basic level, but they are masterfully ramped up over the course of the campaign. It’s not long until Barry is taking cover behind moving vehicles, or bobbing and weaving to avoid detection from drones, or swimming through underwater sections.

Liberated’s commitment to its aesthetic is absolute, with each of its chapters referred to as issues. Each comes with its own gorgeous cover art, and can be replayed to return to parts of the story you may have missed.

Ink Blot

That’s not to say there aren’t blemishes on its pages. The game’s use of black, white, and shades of grey means that the hallways and openings that Barry can take cover in are tougher to discern than you might think, leaving you standing in the open as an enemy turns around. There’s also occasional slowdown when flipping to the next in-game page.

There’s also a degree of ludonarrative dissonance in Barry’s actions. Early in the game, he has to race home in an effort to arrive before the police, with the boys in blue looking to accost him for, among other minor infractions, a lack of a valid train ticket. In his efforts to get there quickly, he has no qualms with choking out a guard. It feels a little ham-fisted in the early stages, albeit as essentially a tutorial.

For comic book fans looking to enjoy Liberated as a piece of literature, the game offers a story-only mode that strips away gameplay sequences. You’d have to be a true purist to play it in this fashion, especially given how much of the game’s interactive elements (outside of its core stealth action) feel as basic as pressing a button to select a dialogue option.

Liberated Review — The Bottom Line

  • Unique visual identity
  • Fun 2D stealth
  • Multiple paths
  • Full of cyberpunk and tech-noir genre tropes
  • Leans a little heavily on QTEs

Liberated leans a little too heavily on genre tropes for its story to feel anything other than derivative, but it more than makes up for it with a striking visual style that touches every aspect of gameplay.

Its reliance on quick-time events aside, it’s a fun, stealthy page-turner that’ll feel like nirvana for Alan Moore and Frank Miller fans. If you enjoyed the likes of Limbo or Inside, you’ll find a lot to love with Liberated.

[Note: A copy of Liberated was provided by Walkabout Games for the purpose of this review.]

Minecraft Dungeons Review: A Diabolical Battle of Blocks Wed, 27 May 2020 13:42:20 -0400 Jason D'Aprile

You know what Minecraft is. You’ve probably played it, because, well, it seems like everyone has at some point. So, after spending $2 billion on buying the whole IP, it’s no surprise that Microsoft is trying to expand the game into a franchise. Minecraft Dungeons is the first foray into totally new territory. It’s an instantly recognizable dungeon crawl that features as much Diablo as it does Minecraft.

In fact, it maybe mixes more of the classic dungeon crawler than it does its own namesake. Minecraft Dungeons is a straight-up hack and slasher, through and through. It looks like Minecraft, but certainly doesn’t play like it. For parental units, this game is probably going to be a gift from the gaming gods. It’s the fun of much more violent and bleak dungeon crawlers with a flair for the fun and absurd. 

The blocky character designs make the villains look mostly absurdly funny. There are various types of armed Illigers, spiders, witches, zombies, skeletons, ghosts, golems, and other mostly familiar monsters, along with farm animals that you can either ignore or just hack up too. Across over a dozen levels, you’ll trudge through swamps, deserts, towns, deep underground lairs, castles, and more.

Of course, the big appeal is four-player cooperative multiplay both on and offline. Microsoft is adamant there will also be cross-play added in the near future, but it’s not there just yet.

Minecraft Dungeons Review: A Diabolical Battle of Blocks

Admittedly, it took me a while to warm up to Dungeons. There are elements of it that, despite the overall fun of the game, still seem like lost opportunities. 

First is the character creation. You pick a skin from a fairly robust assortment, but there are no classes, no specialties, and no differences between them beyond looks. Any customization is done based on the armor, weapons, and items you equip, which makes it easy to miss the perks and personalities of Diablo’s very specific classes and characters. Here, characters are blank slates, mannequins to dress up and fight with.

Adding to this issue is the random nature of item collecting. Whether you get new items from treasure chests or the blacksmith and artifact-shilling shopkeeper, there’s no control over what they have for sale. You literally pay them gems for a random item. Sometimes, this lands you a truly magnificent weapon, like a spear that creates poison clouds or a mace that calls down lightning. Most of the time, especially later in the game, you’ll just get repeat items to salvage immediately.

Items can be upgraded with enchantment points that do a variety of things that range from adding more damage or protection to increasing the time certain effects last. There’s a huge amount of objects to discover and try out, and each item has a level that can be increased. So, there’s a constant loop to upgrade even favored weapons to better iterations.

It’s frustrating, however, to discover the wonder of the game’s sledgehammer, then not be able to simply upgrade its level yourself or find a better one on purpose. Thankfully, when you salvage an unwanted item, you get back any enchantment points you put into it.

Just the same, this is one major part of the game where more of the source material would have been welcome. It may have Minecraft in the title, but there’s no mining or crafting in Dungeons. There’s no destructible scenery beyond specific urns or the occasional mission-imperative items (like a particularly amusing bit where you literally kill all the big baddy’s cooks and destroy his buffet tables). 

Much like Diablo, there are also no camera controls. The right stick lets you dodge, but it does not move the camera. Unlike Diablo, however, the visual nature of Minecraft, frequently makes it hard to distinguish elevations, since textures frequently look so similar. Other foibles include no ability to save in-mission and, horrifyingly, no actual pause, which should be a criminal offense. 

While the overall level design is quite excellent and varied, the maps too frequently have a horde of dead ends, nooks, crannies, and side passages begging the completionists among us to explore them. While these diversions from the main objective are usually filled with more monsters and, therefore more fun bashing mobs, there’s a lack of actual treasure hidden around that becomes noticeable the more you play.

Probably the biggest peeve beyond the lack of a pause for those playing with younger kids or just more casual gamers is the complete inability to share equipment. Chests spew out items that only one specific character can pick up, even if they have no need for it. Not being able to share in a Minecraft game feels counter to the whole point of Minecraft. You also have a limited number of shared lives during a mission, which seems like a step back.

Yet for all that, Minecraft Dungeons is still a riot, whether playing alone, with kids, or just your buds. Some of the levels are huge, and exploring every corner of their maps can take an hour. Others are shorter and more direct, but the game never feels boring, and the action never dumbed down. Later in the game, the levels can get hectically crowded and nearly overwhelming due to the number of mobs it throws at you. 

It’s true that experienced players can certainly get through Dungeons in a day, but that takes away from the level of secrets the game holds. Just following the straight mission objective path means missing potential portals to secret levels, of which several have already been discovered and more are waiting to be. Plus, there are at least two DLC map packs on the way.

Then, there’s the camp. Camp is where players go between missions and seems like nothing more than a picturesque place to sort items, buy random things, and look at the world map. As the game progresses, however, the camp map begins to unlock more and more areas, and exploring it becomes an ongoing objective all on its own. 

Minecraft Dungeons Review — The Bottom Line

  • Great hacking and slashing, dungeon-crawling gameplay for everybody
  • Four-player support on and off-line
  • Large diverse levels and tons of items to discover
  • Affordably priced
  • Bland characters
  • No pause, in-mission saves, or item sharing
  • No camera controls
  • Not enough hidden treasures in maps

Minecraft Dungeons certainly has its fair share of flaws and even outright bugs, but the more time spent with it, the more enjoyable it becomes. It’s hard to deny that it should have had more of its namesake’s crafting and building gameplay, but overall, this is an entertaining action game for all ages.

That it’s surprisingly cheap (the base version is $20, and $30 gets you future DLC and special items) is also a huge bonus.

[Note: A copy of Minecraft Dungeons was provided by Microsoft for the purpose of this review.]

Mafia 2 Definitive Edition Review: Disorganized Crime Wed, 27 May 2020 12:31:00 -0400 Mark Delaney

In 2010, Mafia 2 bucked the growing trend of bloated open worlds and gave players a refined, more streamlined sandbox. In 2020's Definitive Edition remaster, that makes Mafia 2 stick out even more, but that's not my problem with it. Playing an open-world game not littered with map icons is actually refreshing, but Mafia 2 struggles in other areas that I can't justify.

Namely, if this really is the version by which we will define the crime drama, it will go down as something problematic for reasons old and new. Luckily, the best parts of Mafia 2 in 2010 remain great a decade later. Thus I'm left with mixed emotions after having played through the Definitive Edition.

Mafia 2 Definitive Edition Review: Disorganized Crime

Despite taking place in the fictional New York City analog of Empire Bay, Mafia 2 smartly begins in Italy, where anti-hero Vito Scaletta is fighting in World War II. The game uses military combat as a tutorial for the third-person cover-based shooting players will partake in across the game's 12-hour campaign. Still, in 2020, shooting is one of the least enjoyable parts of Mafia 2.

I can't recall how the mechanic felt upon its original release, but today, Mafia 2's gunplay is inaccurate and sometimes even unwieldy. In a way, I came to appreciate it a bit, as guns back then weren't the hyper-accurate instruments of murder they are today, and the game's physics are still morbidly delightful in the way enemies flop and drop when you've killed them. 

Overall, though, shooting is just not a highlight of the game given how it can sometimes let you down. It does this most annoyingly when in cover. Popping out to shoot can make the reticule land somewhere unpredictable, and sometimes, you'll get killed behind cover anyway, which is honestly probably realistic. But it feels rule-breaking in the language of video games.

Fortunately, unless you spend your off-mission time shooting up the city like it's GTA, you'll likely spend less time using guns in a game called Mafia 2 than you'd expect. Many of the missions ignore combat entirely — or for long stretches of time  and when they do involve violence, things are often settled with fistfights.

That attribute hints at one of Mafia 2's best features: its restraint. Though it takes place decades before the seminal television series, Mafia 2 imitates the Sopranos in how comfortably it lets scenes draw out. Things are left unsaid and meant to be inferred by the player, and the cast of organized criminals speak in their own lingo much of the time. The writers expect you to keep up just like the HBO series' writers always did, and the authenticity is exciting to watch unfold.

Vito is a complex main character, and I came away from this playthrough of the game with more thoughts on him than I did a decade ago. He's written ahead of his time. He's neither an agent of chaos nor a back-against-the-wall vigilante. He's a skull-cracking villain, but like Tony Soprano, you feel bad for liking him anyway.

Paired with his more lavish, kitschy best friend Joe Barbaro, Vito is a fascinating leading man who shines in every scene. I found myself role-playing him more than I do in most characters in most games. I would walk, not run, when the moment didn't call for sprinting. I wouldn't hijack a car in broad daylight, instead electing to head someplace on foot or break into a car tucked out of sight.

That's helped along by how the world of Mafia 2 reacts with a devoted realism. Cops will fine you for speeding, you need to fill up on gas when running low, and cars feel heavy and slow to accelerate. These commitments to the time and place acted as invites to fit in, and I enjoyed the game more when I did.

As Vito, I wasn't some unhinged psychopath. I was a Made Man looking to live a life of luxury.

Empire Bay is a miles-long stand-in for Vito too. It's understated and elegant, mysterious, but never cliche. In 2010, Mafia 2 was one of the absolute best period pieces ever put to the medium, up there with the painstakingly recreated LA Noire. In 2020, Mafia 2 remains an impressively detailed world to explore.

There's an undeniable authenticity in Empire Bay's atmosphere, and everything from the classic cars and the formal attire to the sexist radio ads helps transport players to its bygone era. In hindsight, I don't know if leaving out most of the open-world bloat was a conscious choice or a time constraint, but it makes me appreciate the open space even more.

Empire Bay wouldn't feel as fascinating if it was covered in blips on the mini-map. Instead, Mafia 2 lets players sell stolen cars, rob stores, or carry on with the main missions. This approach was already dated in 2010, but now I'm a bit nostalgic for a big world that doesn't take 50 hours to complete.

If only its visuals aged so well. Mafia 2 in its remastered state does not justify the moniker of "Definitive Edition." For one, the touch-ups it's received seem minimal. In cutscenes, the main characters can look pretty good, but this is a game that still suffers from some laughably low-res secondary characters.

Some of Vito's in-cutscene victims even look rather polygonal at times. Games have gotten better at hiding this over the years, but Mafia 2 wasn't cleaned up in a way that hides this legacy issue.

While textures have been given enhancements, the game's lighting still looks decidedly last-gen. It seems worst in the game's opening wintry sections, but even as the sun comes out later, Mafia 2 lacks the appearance of a late-gen remaster. I can forgive a mediocre remaster of a game I adore, but what's less forgivable are the game's bugs, including new ones brought on by the remaster itself, it seems.

Lighting issues and frame rate drops can recur regularly, including one alien invasion-like glitch that lit up the night sky with a purple glow and slowed my game to a halt. NPCs like pedestrians will sometimes behave strangely too, like characters that will leap over fences — and then over again — for no apparent reason.  

The point of a remaster should be to reintroduce the game to new players and allow established fans to revisit a favorite with some improvements. But other than the story, the only element I appreciated from Mafia 2: Definitive Edition is the chance to have another go with the achievement list.

It should be mentioned that the game also includes several story-based DLC chapters which put other characters into the playable role. While the chance to play as Joe is a fun one, his mission structure is more arcadey than the realistic mainline missions and doesn't merit the playtime. 

Mafia 2 is a complete, well-told story that only suffers from all the filling in of blanks the DLC tries to do. Less is more in this case, so the DLC is skippable here.

Mafia 2 Definitive Edition Review — The Bottom Line

  • An authentic, engrossing world
  • Confident storytelling with compelling characters
  • Gunplay has aged poorly
  • Bugs old and new present throughout

Mafia 2: Definitive Edition has problems. They're hard to ignore and sometimes unjustifiable, like brand new bugs introduced from the remastering or gunplay that doesn't hold up in 2020.

Despite those issues, I definitely enjoyed my time with the game. I'm still thinking about its story days later, even though I played it during its original launch too. What's left unsaid leaves the script confident, and that's a quality we need more of in games writing.

For fans who have played it before, you can safely skip a return trip to Empire Bay while we wait for the enticing remake of the original game coming in August. If you're new to the series, this is absolutely worth experiencing for its setting and story, but a lot of what surrounds the best parts of Mafia 2 make this remaster an offer you can refuse. 

[Note: A copy of Mafia 2: Definitive Edition was provided by 2K Games for the purpose of this review.]

Blood Rage: Digital Edition Review — Valhalla and Glory Await Wed, 27 May 2020 12:00:01 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

In the age of social distancing, tabletop gamers have to find creative ways to partake in their favorite hobby. That's why it's so nice to see digital releases of some of the best tabletop games around. Blood Rage: Digital Edition is the latest, and the source material is a big timer. Blood Rage is a highly-rated Kickstarter darling from designer Eric Lang and publishing company Cool Mini Or Not (CMON).

It's a Viking-themed strategy game with plenty of different mechanics, including drafting, area control, and hand management. The actual tabletop game's big draw is its eye-catching miniatures of Vikings, gods, and monsters. The big question here, though, is: does Blood Rage: Digital Edition replicate the feel of the tabletop version?

Grab your drinking horn and let's dive in. For Odin!

Blood Rage: Digital Edition Review — Valhalla and Glory Await

Let's start with the basics of how Blood Rage: Digital Edition goes down, as it's essentially a direct, digitized version of the tabletop game with some fancy visual effects.

A game of Blood Rage takes place over three rounds, called ages, and there are multiple steps to each. At the start of each age, two to five players draft their hands. The cards you take fall into a few different categories:

  • Combat tricks and strength boosts
  • Upgrades for your units or overall clan
  • Quests that grant you bonus points or powerful, recruitable monsters

The drafting phase will help you formulate your strategy moving forward.

Once every player has a hand of cards, the age begins. Each player can take as many actions as they have "rage," but you only take one action at a time before passing to the next player.

You can increase your rage as the game moves forward, granting you a major advantage in later ages as you'll be able to perform several actions in a row while other players run out (it's an amazing detail that your Viking army is only allowed to act as long as they are pissed off). Once you're out of rage, you have to wait until the next age to act.

Your actions might involve summoning units, playing cards, pillaging spaces on the board (which could instigate battle), and a few others. Thinking ahead about how best to combine your cards and most effectively utilize your limited actions is key to succeeding in Blood Rage: Digital Edition.

Sharpen the Axes

Combat is interesting in Blood Rage: Digital Edition. There are several different areas on the board, each with spaces for three to five total units. When a player tries to pillage an area  gaining a reward  other players have the option to move units in to contest it. Once every player has declared which units are part of the fight, they each select a card from their hand to add before comparing total strength.

Cards can be wildly different. Some cards are just massive strength bonuses. Some cards are extremely tricky, forcing opponents to destroy units or play a new card instead. Some cards actually reward you for losing the battle!

Once all cards have been revealed, the player with the most strength wins. Every other unit that participated in the battle is sent to Valhalla; they cannot be resummoned until the next age. If the final score strength is a tie, everybody loses. Classic Vikings: if they aren't the strongest, they'd rather be dead.

At the end of an age, one of the areas on the board is destroyed by Ragnarok, constricting how much space players have to work with and destroying all units inside that space. Players reveal their secret quest cards and gain points if they achieved the criteria on the cards, all dead units return to the supply, and the next age begins. At the end of three ages, the highest point total wins.

Board Game Battles

If all you want is to play the tabletop version of Blood Rage on your computer, then look no further. Blood Rage: Digital Edition is exactly that. The ability to play against AI players is nice  I've played dozens of games of tabletop Blood Rage — and the hardest AI players in the digital version are extremely difficult to beat. Obviously, you can take it online as well, where you can match up against friends and play ranked games to climb the leaderboards.

There's a tutorial mode that teaches you the basics of Blood Rage pretty darn well, too. You'll still probably feel the wrath of Thor a few times once you jump into the actual game, especially if you square off against someone who is familiar with the game already, but the tutorial is a great starting point. There's a lot of intricacy to Blood Rage: Digital Edition, despite the "big, loud berserker" look of it.

One thing that might be tough to newcomers is being able to figure out exactly what is what at a glance. Modern tabletop games, especially ones like Blood Rage that boast detailed, extravagant miniatures, try to be identifiable at a glance. Blood Rage: Digital Edition looks great (and faithful to the tabletop game) when you get up close. Zooming in to admire the detail makes it impossible to see the big picture of the board, however, so a lot of the visuals get muddled.

Blood Rage: Digital Edition Review — The Bottom Line

  • A faithful recreation of the popular game
  • Looks good up close
  • AI can be challenging, even for experienced players
  • New, exclusive monsters not found in the tabletop version available as DLC
  • Can be tough to gauge the big picture of the board at a glance
  • Not many bells and whistles
  • Can be tough to learn why things happen if you don't already know the game

Blood Rage: Digital Edition is a really strong port of a popular tabletop game. It's a great way to play Blood Rage with friends who you don't get to physically be around very often, or for people who want to play the game but have trouble getting a group of people together.

What you might have trouble with, however, is learning the game completely if you don't already have a grasp of the rules. The tutorial is fine, but figuring a board game out with friends is often the best way to learn the individual rules and strategies. Blood Rage: Digital Edition may also have trouble holding your interest if you aren't already a fan of the game, as the tactile aspect of tabletop gaming is one of its central draws.

Overall, Blood Rage: Digital Edition is a great way to try the game if the cost of the tabletop version scares you. It's significantly cheaper to buy it digitally. From there, you'll probably be able to determine whether you want to battle for Yggdrasil with the big boys.

[Note: A copy of Blood Rage: Digital Edition was provided by Asmodee Digital for the purposes of this review.]

Huntdown Review: A Blast From The Past Fri, 22 May 2020 17:10:21 -0400 diegoarguello

Action sequences in Huntdown usually go in a dozen different ways, but they are nothing short of spectacular. You can power slide on the floor to dodge a bullet, get close enough to an enemy to kick them off a cliff, and bounce a grenade back with the timed hit of a baseball bat in the span of a few seconds.

More often than not, your character will spit funny and often goofy lines of dialogue to accompany the mayhem. "I went down, down, down, and the flames went higher..." sings John Sawyer as he incinerates enemies with a flamethrower.

I didn't expect for a Johnny Cash song to get paraphrased in Huntdown, but it's only one of many throwback references present in the game. After all, it's a living homage not only to retro shooters but also to the movies and cultural movements that took place in that era.

Huntdown Review: A Blast From The Past

At this point, it's not surprising to stumble upon another indie title bent on capturing the simplistic and stylish essence of retro shoot 'em ups. Blazing Chrome proved it was possible to iterate just enough on the Contra formula to bring back some of the genre's former glory, and there are many other examples out there, each offering their own new ideas and quality of life changes.

I was expecting Huntdown to follow a similar approach, at least from trailers alone. It certainly checks all the right boxes: gorgeous pixel art, a deft mix of synth and '80s electric guitars that embellishes the soundtrack, and a whole lot of guns to shoot while running full blast in beautiful 2D environments.

It's not that action isn't the main focus, but it's rather a paced rhythm that pulses through the game itself. Trying to rush through enemy groups will often end in a quick death, and ignoring the use of cover will be punished time and time again. Yet, once you've learned the basics, such as the possibilities surrounding the dodge button that aren't just sideways, it all starts to click.

And that's when this take on the genre really begins to shine.

You immediately know what to expect from Huntdown's setting. It's a dystopian future where criminal gangs run the streets, and the police can't control them. But instead of an elite force mopping up the streets, bounty hunters are the ones on the front lines. Along with John Sawyer, Anna Conda and Mow Man are contracted to find and eliminate a long list of targets throughout 20 levels, each corresponding with four distinct factions.

All three characters can be selected at any time (though changing them during a level will force you to restart from the beginning), and there's even a local co-op mode for up to two players. Aside from dialogue and their base weapons (a starting gun that doesn't run out of ammo and a throwable weapon that takes a few seconds to recharge after use), they're basically the same. Still, it's in Huntdown's wide variety of actions and how enemies react to them that it makes the biggest difference.

That first sequence I mentioned at the beginning of this review is a common series of events that is ever-present, as the game demands these micro-decisions in order to survive. Taking cover is essential, but enemies are varied enough that this isn't the only way to tackle confrontations. Everything about Huntdown centers on destruction and shooting everything on site, but it rewards experimentation, too.

At first, you can blast through levels with ease, picking up shotguns and SMGs using them until they're empty. As part of the gameplay loop, these are supposed to be discarded for other options, and they play as chess pieces on a chessboard. Do I want a close-quarters weapon to try and rush through a roof and gain some aerial advantage? Or would a machine gun and some careful traversal make for a more efficient job, letting me take down enemies from afar?

However, this feeling of ease transitions into something more nuanced the more you play. Those seemingly effortless first levels feel like a quiet tutorial compared to what comes next.

Massive, heavily armed cars full of punks wearing clothes straight out of The Warriors show up frequently, while a giant mech awaits you at the end of the first district. After that, you can expect hockey aficionados coming in packs, samurais, drones, mysterious beings riding hoverboards, and many more that I don't want to spoil.

Boss fights, in particular, are some of the most inventive encounters I've experienced in a long time, iterating on one of Huntdown's primary principles: unique and diverse 2D spaces. Every environment in the game is used in a dozen interesting ways, putting you on the edge of your seat. 

You never feel limited by the game's perspective. Instead, you often benefit from it, making the most out of enemy and environmental designs.

The sheer variety of environments in Huntdown is striking, and they never cease to amaze me. There are ancient temples, decaying cities, and old factories, a massive stadium now turn into an arena and a dilapidated movie theater with iconic posters on the wall. Some areas are accented by cherry blossoms fluttering in the sunset or rain falling steadily in the night. But I love them the most when little surprises burst in from out of nowhere.

There's a moment in Huntdown where you're stuck in an empty subway station, and the exit doesn't unlock until you've fought several enemy waves that arrive on trains (making for the most stylish entry possible). But you also end up running and dodging projectiles in mid-air as a monster truck starts chasing after you. 

It doesn't always work as intended, sadly. It's never made clear what you can and cannot dodge, and you're expected to find out by simple trial and error. Increased enemy variety also comes with an increase in difficulty that feels at odds with itself towards the end of the game, at times pitting you against enemies with no means of defense beforehand.

And in local co-op, reviving your teammate is simply counterproductive. You need to crouch and press a button several times until you fill up a bar, but instead of resuming the action, there's yet another animation before you can bring them back to life. Those extra couple of seconds leave you ridiculously exposed, even after you have timed the attack patterns on a boss fight. 

Huntdown Review  The Bottom Line

  • Inventive and rewarding moment-to-moment gameplay
  • Carefully crafted scenarios
  • Interesting enemies and some of the best boss fights in the genre
  • Pays homage to several, but crafts its own interesting setting


  • The 2D perspective isn't flawless, and some design choices hold it back 
  • Some of the dialogue lines are a bit too childish

Huntdown understands the genre and its influences, and it carves its own path. It's short enough that you can play through it on a single sitting, taking four to six hours, depending on the difficulty you choose. You don't need to bother with experience points or procedurally generated elements here. It's all run, shoot, destruction. 

Everything is given to you from the beginning, and the game quickly becomes one of skill, timing, and dexterity. I laughed and punched the air many more times than I could count when playing Huntdown, especially when the game's environments rewarded my curiosity. 

Despite a few missteps, the game is a genre showcase, proving the genre still has room for iteration and uniqueness. When the vision is as stylish in presentation as it is in design, you end up with Huntdown.

[Note: A copy of Huntdown was provided by Coffee Stain Studios for the purpose of this review.]

Maneater Review: Sharky Soul Food Fri, 22 May 2020 09:00:02 -0400 Jonny Foster

Maneater is an open-world action RPG unlike any other. 

You take control of a bull shark from a humble pup right up to mighty megafauna across various fictional Gulf Coast towns that are teeming with ocean life for you to consume.

From harmless seals, turtles, and catfish to deadly hammerheads, orcas, and sperm whales, there are plenty of creatures for you to devour, though the bipedal species are the most exciting prey. 

Believe it or not, there is an actual storyline to Maneater, too; you aren’t just massacring wildlife and humans without rhyme or reason (though there is a lot of eating involved.) 

Instead, Maneater takes a reality TV show approach to its action, following you and a shark hunter named Scaly Pete, who, of course, has made you his nemesis, which may or may not have something to do with you eating his hand.

The commentary from Chris Parnell (of SNL and 30 Rock fame) is a particularly pleasant surprise, and while I couldn’t quite shake the thought that it was Jerry from Rick and Morty telling me about shark attacks and marine biology, his aptly sarcastic delivery really makes Maneater’s humor shine.

Maneater Review: Sharky Soul Food

Maneater doesn’t take itself too seriously, and there are pop culture references and dry comedy spread throughout, which is perfect for the “comfort food” action gameplay of a shark terrorizing coastal towns. 

However, combat is much deeper than you might expect. On top of the standard "press RT to bite" attack, you have a dodge that leaves rival predators open to counter attacks. The shining jewel of Maneater's combat is the Tailwhip ability, though. 

By holding prey in your mouth, you enter a brief window of time dilation to aim before flicking your prey at incredible speed towards a target using your mighty tail. 

Words don't do justice to how good this feels; you have to try it for yourself. Leaping from the depths with a turtle in your mouth, slowing down time, and torpedoing the tiny reptile at an unsuspecting human is the same brand of catharsis as tossing God of War's axe.

Maneater also does a good job of keeping its gameplay interesting by continually introducing you to new locales with different predators and new prey to snack on. 

From the endless depths of the ocean to the dingy bayou, every location is varied and visually stunning. 

Each location also has a more powerful Apex Predator lurking in its depths that you can lure out by dwindling its food supply, which is a clever mechanic that adds some believable flavor to a game about a rampaging killer shark. 

To top things off, Maneater features simple but engaging RPG mechanics with unlockable evolutions that can be swapped out and upgraded. These add an extra layer of customization to everything, especially with the bone and bio-electric sets, which completely change the look and playstyle of your shark.

Your evolutions are fed by the nutrients that you acquire whenever you eat anything in Maneater, which gives everything you do a feeling of purpose. 
Whether you're focusing on missions, aimlessly chomping wildlife, or hunting for collectibles, everything gives your nutrients to power up your shark. 

I will say, though, that the gameplay started to feel a bit repetitive by the time I was done with Maneater — after all, you are a shark, eating and killing is all you really know. 

There are numerous collectibles to elongate the game's playtime if you’re a collectionist, but you can power through the main storyline in about 6 to 10 hours. 

Maneater Review — The Bottom Line

  • Deep combat and evolution systems make Maneater surprisingly fun 
  • Exploring the variety of gorgeous underwater environments is a delight
  • Dry humor and commentary from Chris Parnell is the perfect accompaniment
  • A little short on content for its price, especially on PC without any achievements to shoot for

While I experienced a few minor bugs and glitches in my playthrough, they weren't severe enough to worry about. Overall, the experience was clean.

I would, though, recommend purchasing Maneater on console if you’re interested, rather than PC. The controls are obviously built for a controller, and the absence of achievements on the Epic Game Store leaves the content feeling a little thin.

In a time of global crisis, however, a game where you can turn your brain off and eat anything and everything in sight is just the kind of detachment we need. Even if it wasn’t on your radar at all, Maneater is a title that will gobble you up for a few hours of blissful escapism. 

[Note: A copy of Maneater was provided by Tripwire Interactive for the purpose of this review.]

Saints Row The Third Remastered Review: Ugly on the Inside Thu, 21 May 2020 10:15:01 -0400 Mark Delaney

In my years away from Saints Row series, I remembered Saints Row The Third as my favorite in the franchise.

While the first two games weren't yet free from their GTA-clone shackles and the fourth went overboard with some mechanics like superpowers, I thought the third game was the sweet spot for Volition's outlandish series. In 2011, it established its own personality and carried the series to new heights.

Replaying it with fresh eyes nine years later as Saints Row The Third Remastered has had an unexpected effect on me. It looks prettier than ever, but the series' always sophomoric writing has never been more skippable.

Saints Row The Third Remastered Review: Ugly on the Inside

In Saints Row The Third, the Third Street Saints gang has risen to remarkable fame and fortune. Not yet seated in the Oval Office as they will be in later games, 2011's Saints Row The Third still makes it clear that the titular anti-heroes are a household name. They even have their own energy drink.

Moving the series from Stilwater to Steelport was a wise choice nearly a decade ago, and with this remaster, it's never looked better. But that's not to say it looks great. Saints Row has never been a series chasing high fidelity and lifelike characters, and the new coat of paint Sperasoft puts on this years-old sandbox is well done, if in traditional remaster form. 

This isn't one of those remasters that borders on a remake. Instead, this is Saints Row The Third made prettier. That's not a high bar to clear in 2020. Most noticeable is the skybox, which benefits from one of this generation's greatest advancements: natural light. Gone are the overcast greys of the original game; now, evenings and mornings look marvelous as they soak the open city streets in gold.

Nighttime looks better too, with reflections coming off of puddles like a current-gen game should allow, but there's also a lack of contrast when the sun goes down which makes some of the darker scenes too dark at times. Textures have been improved across the board, but characters still look like rubbery Dreamworks rejects.

In the city of Steelport, there are plenty of activities to do and much of the first two acts are interspersed with mandatory missions that act as introductions to these repeatable side quests. Saints Row The Third offers the best bundle of side attractions in the series, with stuff like Professor Genki's mascot-beating obstacle course, Super Ethical Reality Climax, or the fan-favorite insurance fraud, which has players sprint into traffic to get run over and rack up money from the drivers you're scamming. 

Combined with this, there's a fun city takeover mechanic which will take place in the post-game for most players. This turf war plays out more like Monopoly: Gangland Edition, where you buy properties that give you control over districts and pay dividends as you go. This is a better post-credits mop-up directive than many sandbox games offer and works well in tandem with the game's many activities, giving players lots more to complete and unlock after the story is beaten.

As this is a remaster, you're right to assume all previous DLC is included. Like Saints Row 4, this causes some balancing issues by giving players some of the best vehicles early, like more than one type of hovercraft vehicle which immediately makes driving obsolete for any player who doesn't restrict themselves from using them.

It also unlocks three story chapters that do more absurd things with the Saints, like film their low budget sci-fi movie. There's nothing about these extra chapters that is especially different from the main game in mission variety or mechanics, so they're to be taken as more of what you already got, only now you can do them whenever you want as the missions start in your quest log right away.

It was interesting to see just how much of a foundation the third game provided for the fourth, which originally came two years later in 2013. Playing the games backward as I did over the last six weeks, I still came away from the pair believing Saints Row The Third is the better game mechanically as it governs itself just a bit, still allowing for ridiculousness at every turn, like dropkicking into hijacked cars.

But it never rises to the absurdity of the skyscraper-leaping, flying, and superpunching abilities you get in Saints Row 4. Yet, I couldn't shake the feeling like something was off with Saints Row The Third Remastered

Plenty of fans are likely on board for a modest makeover of a game they liked before, but I wonder how many will find they've outgrown this series over the years. To my surprise, this remaster's script left a sour taste in my mouth, and I say this as someone who found the story dumb in 2011.

The writing in this series has always been bad, the kind of bad that seems deliberate, like no fart joke would be shot down in the writers' room. But I now see that the series didn't just find its gameplay sweet spot in 2011, it delivered its most immature brand of humor ever.

In Saints Row 4, most of the "nutshots" and slaps with dildo bats are inflicted on silly-looking alien enemies that are meant to embody evil. There is no nuance to be seen, and though the story is a lowpoint in the series, at least you can rely on the understanding that your severely flawed delinquent of a protagonist is always punching up, literally and figuratively, to take on their alien overlords.

But in Saints Row The Third, you spend most of your days fighting gang turf wars with three other crews all joined by their apparent shared interest in pimping women.

Saints Row The Third has an especially ugly outlook on women. Other than two of your crew members (and maybe your created character), the game's countless woman characters nearly always serve one of two roles: sex workers and exotic dancers. What's worse, these nameless, naked redshirts are typically used as fodder in shootouts, literal human shields, or otherwise locked in cages, getting beaten, or being put down with dialogue that I didn't find funny in 2011.

Nine years later, it really stands out as puerile and out of touch. I struggled to find the joke when one character called a woman "a useless whore." 

Now, there can be games that depict violence against women in some poignant context. There can be games where a character is portrayed as the villainous cautionary tale for saying this sort of thing. Or there can even be games where the humor is regressive and irreverent but still clever. 

Saints Row The Third is none of these things. I expect the series' biggest fans and maybe even its writers would scoff, "You came to Saints Row expecting profundity?" But that's not it. I just think if you're going to depict women the way Saints Row does, you should either have a point to make, tell better jokes, or admit your sense of humor is more poorly tuned than a radio broadcasting only static.

I didn't anticipate this kind of big-picture concern over Saints Row The Third. I know not to expect smart writing, certainly not even humorous writing. But this time around, SR3 gave me a gross feeling. In my previous review for a game in this series, I hoped Volition would share more on the sequel they have planned. After revisiting Saints Row The Third, I'd rather see evidence of an improved writers' room first.

Saints Row The Third Remastered Review — The Bottom Line

  • The best side activities in the series
  • Remastered visuals make Steelport pretty for the first time
  • Mechanically, SR3 is the sweet spot for the series
  • Terribly written with jokes that would only land at a middle school lunch table
  • A remarkable distaste for women 
  • Feels late in an industry that is moving past remasters to fully blown remakes

Saints Row The Third is a conundrum. The things I like best about it feel like series highpoints. Things like the side missions and the absurd but slightly reined-in mechanics are vital and well done in SR3, but this project feels born too late in an industry that has largely moved past middling makeovers in favor of true, gorgeous remakes.

On top of that, Saints Row has never had writing that would impress even a high schooler, but in Saints Row The Third, it's downright ugly at times with its outlook on women in particular. I do expect I can continue to enjoy Saints Row in the future, provided the writers hit puberty first.

[Note: A copy of Saints Row The Third Remastered was provided by Deep Silver for the purpose of this review.]

Before We Leave Review: A Peaceful City Builder with a Big But Tue, 19 May 2020 14:47:03 -0400 RobertPIngram

When I last checked in on Before We Leave in February, the game was still in alpha, but it made a solid first impression that had me anticipating the full release. With the game's final version dropping, it's fair to say that the alpha build was a fair representation of the final product, for good and for bad.

Before We Leave is a real-time strategy and city-building game for players who wish those games had just a bit more in common with the Animal Crossings of the world. If you're in the market for a game to help you relax and kill surprisingly more time than you might first think, then it might just be the game you're looking for.

Before We Leave Review: A Peaceful City Builder with a Big But

Before We Leave is a post-apocalyptic game, but whatever image that description puts in your head is probably wrong.

The closest Before We Leave gets to the drab colors and devastated wastelands of most post-apocalyptic games is in the occasional tile containing some old technology  though even those spaces are represented by bright lights of red and green — and a few piles of old metal that make up a sliver of a fraction of a percent of the total spaces on each planet.

And there will be plenty of planets, provided you play long enough and well enough to get there.

As the game starts, your five colonists emerge from an underground bunker to find a total lack of any civilization, and they possess a near-total lack of knowledge on how to build one. Shy of a few basic structures like huts and potato patches, any developments in society will need to be researched, from the complexities of space flight to the idea of cooking food before eating it.

As your colonists, called peeps, first poke their heads above ground, they have just one island to explore. The game's tutorial mode is great for slowly leading you through the process of establishing life on the planet, building to the abilities you need to repair an old wooden boat found on one of the island's shores. Once your ship is up and running, it's time to hit the seas and search for new lands.

This is a good time to pause and talk about the look of Before We Leave. While the game primarily relies on bright, simple designs, the unique structure of its planets and the passing of time creates some breathtaking scenes. The sun rising on the horizon creates a lovely tableau, and with unexplored tiles staying absent, you get some truly wonderful moments as your ship begins circumnavigating the glove and filling it out in strips.

As you explore the open seas, you'll come across a variety of islands, as well as two ice-capped poles. Two of those islands will be large enough to merit colonies and will play a crucial role in the next phase — taking to space, with the help of an old rocket from the before-times.

It's at this point that the game is capable of both showing its best elements and its worst. The movement to other planets brings a new level of intrigue to the game, as well as a certain element I won't spoil here but will certainly appear in any one-sentence pitch you make if you recommend the game to friends. And the process of building the engine you need to repair the rocket can see you slip into a relaxing auto-pilot.

Unfortunately, this can also be where the game grinds to a halt. To repair the rocket, you need to significantly expand your production and acquire large quantities of various resources, some of which are themselves produced from other harvestable resources.

Even when it goes well, there can come a point where your engine is up and running, but the high totals mean you're left sitting and waiting for your peeps to finish the job for an annoyingly-long time — even with the passage of time at full speed.

When it goes worse, you run into my primary reservation about giving Before We Leave a full-throated recommendation. While the game takes a relaxed approach to gameplay  to the extent that the worst thing that can happen to your peeps is they become unwilling or unable to work  that doesn't mean your colonies can't grind to a halt.

Colonial structures in Before We Leave often feel like they hang on a razor's edge, and one small oversight in your priority list can quickly lead to a stagnated population, with the solution either hard to identify or frustrating to implement. When this occurs, your relaxing, de-stressing game suddenly becomes its own source of agitation.

Before We Leave Review — The Bottom Line

  • An excellent option for players looking to relax and unwind in a low-stress setting
  • The comprehensive tutorial guides players through the early stages before unfolding into the full game
  • Getting peeps to do what you want, even with the help of priority levels, can become an incomprehensible puzzle when the system breaks down
  • Not all players will enjoy the rote approach to establishing production on a new island

Before We Leave comes close to hitting a home run. While it was never going to be a game that would absolutely knock your socks off or have you on the edge of your seat with anticipation, it's a great way to relax and unwind. It would be a can't miss if it weren't for the risk of running into one of those irritating logjams.

I played through several campaigns in Before We Leave for this review, and I experienced such struggles a few times, scattered between my first playthrough and one of my last. Ultimately, if you're willing to look past a few hiccups, it's a wonderful way to spend an evening or long weekend. 

[Note: A copy of Before We Leave was provided by Balancing Monkey Games for the purpose of this review.]

The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners Review: Scared, Screwed, and Loving It Fri, 15 May 2020 15:22:47 -0400 Mark Delaney

Virtual reality has been on the market for years now, but it still can't seem to climb out of its middling rut. In time, we'll see whether Half-Life: Alyx is the revolution Valve and other VR evangelists hope it is, but we can't see that far in to the future from here.

I've long found myself a believer of the tech and I root for it to succeed, but I'm not blind to its faults. With that in mind, I think The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners captures my thoughts on VR as a whole pretty well.

It has some body-tracking issues which naysayers will rightfully find to be too familiar an issue with VR setups, but if you've already got a headset at home, The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is a can't-miss addition to the wild west of VR.

The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners Review: Scared, Screwed, and Loving It

Saints & Sinners puts players in the American deep south as a lone survivor in Robert Kirkman's undead landscape. The first-person game is a mixing pot of several genres, and each of them is awesomely implemented.

Every level exists as a large hub and offers at least one main location you'll want to hit, like an early-level mansion in the dilapidated streets, but there are always countless ways to approach it.

In this first example, I was able to climb through one of several windows, crawl through a crawlspace, search for an unlocked door  which revealed walkers on the other side  or find a key to enter. I could even climb the side of the house and crawl into the upstairs. This gives the game an unexpected immersive sim-like freedom, as though a bit of Deus Ex or Dishonored snuck into this zombie VR title, and it quickly makes it so much better than I expected.

There are RPG elements too. You head out on a skiff by day and scavenge all sorts of scraps while on your missions. Anything from bottles to shoes to broken guns can be thrown into your backpack and you'll need to manage inventory space as it's quite limited given all the scraps scattered about each level. With that in mind, you'll want to know what to bring back with you, and for that, your safe space at an old party bus in a cemetery acts as your crafting hub.

Anything from food and medicine to guns and shivs can be built here with a simple-to-use VR layout. Excitingly, some of the first weapons you can craft are Lucille and Rick's python. These are given different names  I suppose because they're not the real Lucille and python  but the nods are obvious and welcome. 

Each level contains at least one friendly human survivor too. You'll have to look for them as they're wisely not broadcasting their whereabouts to the hordes, but find them, and they'll offer trades and give you side quests. These always end with rewards you'll not want to miss. I made it a habit to first inspect a level for these survivors as the backpack space was always worth what they were offering, even if it sometimes meant I had to first get my hands dirty on their behalf.

Though it tells an original story in the ever-widening lore bible of The Walking Dead, it retains several important hallmarks that franchise fans will both expect and adore. Namely, the zombies aren't the only threat. As you get deeper into its lengthy 15-hour campaign, you'll have to contend with unfriendly surviving humans too.

No Walking Dead story is complete without a Big Bad either, and Saints & Sinners understands this. Told mostly through collectibles and cutscenes, the story is fun to chase, even as the diary entries often hamper the gameplay with voiceovers that can bury more important sounds, like incoming walkers.

Within each level, you'll have several objectives, optional and mandatory, but you decide how to explore and when you leave. If you only need a specific crafting resource, you can return to any level, grab that one item as soon as you find it, and take off. Conversely, you can stick around until your watch beeps and the church bells ring out through the bayou, inviting a horde to descend upon your location. 

It's in these moments where Saints & Sinners best captures the feeling of surviving in its harsh world. Before the church bells ring, a level will have dozens of walkers, but they're somewhat spread out. You'll often have to fight two at a time  three at a time is thankfully rare — but that's about it unless you choose to Pied Piper them around town (don't do that).

But once the bells go off, your survival odds dwindle to nearly nonexistent. Half a dozen or more walkers at any time can surround you, and if your shots are off or you miss a killing blow to the brain, you're screwed. 

This makes stealth actions, like crouching past the gaze of the undead, crucial, and even more important is managing your health and stamina. Cruelly, most of the game's healing items will either raise health or stamina, but lower the other, giving players a personal puzzle to work out: "when do I eat this energy bar to boost stamina knowing it will hurt my health at the same time?" I asked that question a lot, and for me, the answer was usually, "when I need to get the hell out of here." 

Saints & Sinners is exhilarating in these moments, like a mad dash to the skiff with a full backpack as the ominous bells ring out.

The game's PSVR controls are smartly mapped onto the mandatory wands, but tracking of movements is sometimes faulty, leading to some annoying game-over screens. As this is true Walking Dead, nothing short of a blow to the head will stop the zombies from eating you, and while guns and, to a lesser extent, two-handed weapons, are reliable and fun, one-handed melee weapons are more troubling.

In the loading screens, the game reminds players that penetrating the brain requires methodical movements, not swift ones, and though I got better at this motion over time, I still missed more often than what felt fair.

A whiffed killshot means the zombies grab you and you have to shake them off, taking some lost health in the process. With a horde of a few zombies, it is often the case that once one grabs you, you get stuck in a loop where you're shoving them all off one by one until you're dead. Thankfully, the penalty for death is minimal. You keep level progress and must retrieve your loot before dying again.

Cheap player death is supremely unsatisfying and reminds me how much further VR has to go. I don't know how long I'd last in a real zombie apocalypse, but I know I failed some killing blows in Saints & Sinners merely because of faulty movement tracking. A real zombie kill shouldn't seem easier than my virtual attempts, but it often feels that way.

Luckily, the rest of the controller layout is intuitive. It smartly combines the 45-degree turns seen in so many VR games with headset directing for an experience that never turned my stomach. Controls like holstering quick-equip weapons and pulling out a flashlight, journal, or backpack never failed me. Only some melee weapons did, but that's an important part of a game about stabbing zombies in the brain. These controls won't leave you nauseated, only aggravated.

Even when this did get annoying, it is sometimes easy to forgive a game that lets you smash a bottle against a car to make a last-ditch defensive item, or demands you really yank on the barbed wire bat to pull it out of the freshly killed walkers.

Other than those moments of poor tracking, Saints & Sinners delivers an immersive zombie survival VR experience. It has a sense of presence as only VR can provide, like the dread of a walker spotting me as I peer around the "corner" in my living room. 

Saints & Sinners has the gameplay loop of my all-time favorite zombie game, State of Decay: head into a dangerous world, take what you can to survive, and try to make it home to stash it all, slowly building up your arsenal to take on greater threats. That loop is made more exciting in VR, though I can't deny it's sometimes thwarted by the headset and wands too.

The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners Review — The Bottom Line

  • Open level design driving player choice
  • Well-implemented RPG elements like streamlined crafting and inventory management
  • True horror tension without crippling death penalties
  • Side quests and NPC interactions add replayability
  • The church bells!
  • Audio logs drown out more important sounds, like incoming walkers
  • Arm tracking issues result in cheap deaths

At the end of my time with The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners, I decided I wasn't actually done with it at all. I'll be playing it for a long time as I continue to max out my upgrades and finish all side quests. I've been playing VR for several years now, and I've seen my share of games that lift the medium up and remind me of what the future holds for this platform.

Suffice it to say Saints & Sinners definitely suffers from some modern-day VR problems, but it's still a great sign of the immersive and exciting things to come. After weighing it against all else I've played on PSVR to date, I've determined Saints & Sinners is my favorite VR game of the generation.

[Note: A copy of The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners was provided by Skydance Interactive for the purpose of this review.]

Super Mega Baseball 3 Review: Future Hall of Famer Tue, 12 May 2020 09:00:02 -0400 Mark Delaney

In a year without sports, a good sports sim is a valuable commodity, while a great sports sim is like striking gold. Super Mega Baseball 3 is pure gold.

While series veterans won't be surprised to read Metalhead Software's series shines for another year, the series has so far remained almost criminally under the radar.

Hopefully, 2020 is the year Super Mega Baseball becomes a household name because it's deserved it for so long. With SMB3, it's well on its way to another all-star campaign.

Super Mega Baseball 3 Review: Future Hall of Famer

If you're new to Super Mega Baseball, let me issue the same disclaimer I always do to newcomers: don't let the cartoonish style fool you. Though SMB has always carried with it a colorful version of baseball with oddly shaped athletes and the finish of a Pixar movie, its systems go so much deeper than the arcade game you may expect it to be.

This is a true baseball sim. Everything from pitching to batting to baserunning to fielding (okay, most of fielding, but I'll get to that) captures the sport's nuances.

Pitchers each have their own repertoires and they must manage them with smart pitch location while keeping baserunners in check and fending off fatigue. Batters have to find an eye for the strike zone and know when to make contact and when to swing for the fences. Baserunning is the best it's ever been thanks to a system that gives players direct control of when to get the jump on the pitch if they want to steal.

Collectively, the game carries a great sense of consequence. Leave a ball hanging over the plate and watch it soar over the stands, but perfect your locational pitching and you'll strike out the side. This same system of giving players control over their successes and failures elevates the game to its simulation status. This isn't a home run derby  this is nine-inning baseball.

Every strategy, from infield and outfield shifts to knowing how much to lead or when to intentionally walk  it all matters, and it's all made better with a mojo system that captures the moment, the potential clutch factor, of every pitch. In addition to that legacy system come new player roles that give your athletes more personality than their silly mustaches or absurd names. Now they have traits that can come and go based on performance, but help define who every player is.

Frustratingly, the series still doesn't allow for players to take total control of fly ball defense. Though higher difficulties will ask players to work in tandem with the AI, most players will see their fielders play fly balls totally on their own. This briefly takes control away, leaving players waiting for yet another game before they can maybe run the whole show.

Other than the fly ball annoyance, Super Mega Baseball 3 remains the best non-MLB baseball game on the market, and if you're a fan of customization, this may be your preferred diamond anyway. The suite is as impressively deep off the field as the real baseball know-how is on it. 

There are several custom teams when you start the game and they each have their own personalities like defensive studs or power hitters. You can take over any of those teams across a variety of modes, but I've always had more fun customizing my teams. Here you have control over a large number of options, including team name, mascot, and jerseys. You can even customize the players' names, numbers, appearance, and gear.

Few details are spared, and though you'll be limited to a number of always-silly head shapes, it keeps the game's charm intact. I would like to see more create-a-player options for the women athletes, as the game once again offers only about half as many hairstyles if you are customizing woman characters.

Additionally, with such a deep suite, it hurts that there's still no way to share and import custom rosters. I love remaking my Backyard Sports team from the early aughts  and thankfully it doesn't take too long  but for the many people who would want to convert the game's fictional league into the MLB, they all have to do it alone.

Super Mega Baseball 3 is strong in every facet, though the strides it makes in on-the-field gameplay aren't as vast as they were between the debut game and its first sequel. Games largely play out the same as before, save for some touches like the aforementioned baserunning improvements and pitcher pick-offs to counter them. But where SMB3 stands out most isn't on the field, it's in the front office.

Super Mega Baseball's new Franchise mode introduces all the classic elements sports sim fans want in a baseball game, making it a somewhat overdue mode, but quite simply, Metalhead Software gets it right, so there's no sense in dwelling on its previous absence. In SMB3, it shines as the premiere mode for long-term players who aren't as interested in going online. 

With Franchise, players can retire, improve, get worse, and acquire and lose traits all according to factors like their play and age. You'll have to contend with free agency and watch the waiver wire to ensure you've got the best possible roster every season.

Giving players plenty of ways to customize their season, league rules, and teams, Franchise is here for the Super Mega Baseball lifers, and it's glorious. If major sports games have passed you by as devs have uniformly set their sights on Ultimate Team modes, Franchise in SMB3 is the saving grace, the callback to a time when Franchise mode ruled the day.

If, instead, you're an online player, the returning Pennant Race PvP mode is now expanded with Custom Pennant Race, allowing players to customize how they play others online, like making games longer or shorter or allowing custom teams among other fun features.

On top of that, the full game will live alongside a free demo on all platforms that gives players a limited selection of teams to use in Pennant Race. This is used not only as a demo for potential buyers, but it's also designed to fill out the multiplayer lobbies for faster matchmaking. It's a smart move and possibly the first of its kind.

Super Mega Baseball 3 Review  The Bottom Line


  • Two words: franchise mode
  • Baserunning and stealing mechanics are improved with great effect
  • More teams, players, and stadia make the deep series even deeper
  • Serious sim gameplay juxtaposed with silly character models make for unending joy


  • Still lacking in some areas for women created characters
  • Still takes control from players for fielding fly balls

Reviewing this series has become a truly joyous task of mine over the years. I now expect greatness with each new game and Metalhead delivers every time. There's such a fun atmosphere to every game that can't be found in any other sports game today. The juxtaposition of cartoonish, bigheaded sluggers with diehard sim mechanics is a brilliant one, and it keeps getting better with every installment. 

With more stadia to play in, more teams to choose from, some subtle visual enhancements, and welcome touches across the board all serving as side dishes to the fantastic new Franchise mode, Super Mega Baseball 3 is the baseball game sports fans deserve.

Don't let a lack of MLB licensing turn you away. This is a serious baseball sim in every way except for the silly naming conventions of its athletes (right, Nacho Crisp?) Though there are still mountains for this studio to climb, I'm confident it will scale them. With several years and three games under its belt, Metalhead Software's batting average is now firmly in Hall of Fame territory.

[Note: A copy of Super Mega Baseball 3 was provided by Metalhead Software Inc. for the purpose of this review.]

Fort Triumph Review: Chaotic Very Good Thu, 07 May 2020 17:18:01 -0400 Jason Coles

You can learn a lot about a game from its tutorial. A good tutorial doesn't just mean learning game mechanics, it's also about the less obvious things like the subtlety of design and the intelligence which it assumes of a player. In that way, Fort Triumph is very good, and you know that from the start.

Essentially a fantasy X-COM where paladins and mages stride into battle to unleash death and destruction via magical abilities and mighty kicks. Fort Triumph is truly one of the strangest mix-ups I've played. But it blends the two together perfectly, and just like pineapple on pizza, it simply works. 

The main component of the game is combat. You take control of one of four different factions in either their individual campaigns or skirmishes and your aim is to conquer the map by taking out your enemies. 

You've got all of your standard attacks, like the paladin's melee attack, the archer's arrows, and the mage's spells, but it all becomes far more interesting than that thanks to the incredible physics systems in place. 

Fort Triumph Review: Chaotic Very Good

The primary pull of the fights is in utilizing the world against your foes. You've got standard genre abilities like overwatch to play with, but the best moments come from using the paladin to kick a spider into a rock, or using the mage to cast a tornado that knocks down a tree.

Each class has something to help them control not just the game's enemies, but also the battlefield, and it makes each fight so much better as a result. 

You're never just firing off attacks without thinking; a little bit of forethought allows for amazing strings of attacks that wipe out entire armies. 

The other side of Fort Triumph is in its management sections. In-between battles, you spend your time exploring an overworld and managing your eponymous fort. You have to collect currency in Beetcoins and magic from the overworld  or produce them in the fort itself — to be able to upgrade it. 

Upgrades allow you to bring extra units into battle, produce more resources in general, or bestow passive buffs onto your characters in battle. It's an interesting addition to the more aggressive side of the game, and it helps to keep the gameplay feeling varied. It also gives a little more character to the factions through unique buildings. 

Go on, go grow up

Individual people matter in this game, too. Permadeath is very much a thing, and sure, you can revive units at your fort, but it's costly, and it can often be the difference between becoming more powerful or skipping the upgrade you've been saving for. 

They all level up too, so each unit can become more powerful thanks to the skills they gain as they go. Sometimes these are brand-new skills, sometimes they're more powerful versions of the ones you've come to love. 

This all helps you grow attached to your little ragtag bunch of characters, even if they do lean a little too heavily on cliches when it comes to personality. 

The wonderful cast of cliches you'll control in battle are oversold in a winningly absurd way. Each of the classes is true to the tropes you'd expect them to represent, but the writing is good enough that it manages to be knowingly charming instead of crass and grating. 

There are also multiple factions to choose from, multiple campaigns to run through as a result, and even the option for skirmishes and local co-op. It's an excellent package for an excellent game. 

Fort Triumph Review — The Bottom Line

  • Entertaining physics
  • Funny writing
  • Great gameplay
  • Great tutorial
  • Occasional camera issues

If you're looking for a good strategy game, but one that does things just a little differently, then you'd be hard-pressed to do better than Fort Triumph. Aside from a couple of small camera issues during the combat, specifically critical hits, it rarely misses a beat in its strangely enticing interpretive dance.

Fort Triumph is just a lot of fun, and the charm oozes from every arrow wound, spell singe, and sword strike, making it a very easy recommendation indeed. 

[Note: A copy of Fort Triumph was provided by All In Games for the purpose of this review.] 

Daymare 1998 Review: An Ugly Blast from the Past Thu, 07 May 2020 15:51:05 -0400 Daniel Hollis

Daymare 1998 was originally intended to be a Resident Evil 2 remake. A love letter to the classic survival-horror game, Daymare 1998 set out to recreate the horror, tension, and thrills that came packed into it the Capcom classic.

Unsurprisingly, Capcom shut the game down as they were working on their own iteration of their classic game, the RE2 Remake. But that didn't stop developer Invader Studios from funneling their passion into the Daymare 1998 we have today.

Much like the zombies that threaten its world, the console version of Daymare 1998 is a sluggish and ugly take on the Resident Evil formula.

Daymare 1998 Review: An Ugly Blast from the Past

Daymare 1998 takes place from the perspectives of multiple protagonists after a lab incident infects a local town with a deadly virus. Of course, the virus causes the town's inhabitants to become vicious monsters. The game's three characters have their own motivations and goals for dealing with this crisis, some being better than others, although, all are plagued by poor writing and lackluster voice acting.

The first of these characters is Liev, a special agent first tasked to deal with this mess. Following Liev, Daymare 1998 starts off remarkably weak, presenting you with a protagonist who is unlikeable, brutal, and hard to relate to. Beginning with one of the game's lesser-written characters undoubtedly provides a roadblock to some of Daymare 1998's better moments lying past the opening level.

Then there's Raven, who somewhat holds the middle ground among the three characters. Though Revan is still difficult to relate to, his sections at least come later in the story, after the player has been able to invest more into the story. Revan's sections make for some of Daymare's better moments. 

However, Samuel, a forest ranger who is the most grounded of the protagonists and dethatched from the events in play, is perhaps the best.

One of the most striking parts of Samuel's personality is that he suffers from an illness that affects his mental state. Without his medication, Samuel is prone to hallucinations (diagnosed as "Daymare Syndrome".) This makes for some of the most intense and blood-curdling moments of the game, as you question what is fact or fiction.

Daymare 1998's plot gains momentum as the events accelerate towards their conclusion, and how these narratives intertwine is one of the game's charms. However, the script that plays as an homage to the cheesiness of Resident Evil without any self-awareness.

While the plot may do very little to captivate one's attention, the atmosphere will no doubt get under your skin. If there's one thing Invader Studios has achieved, it's the tone of the games Daymare riffs on. It lacks any real identity of its own, but the passion for horror games of old shines through the cracks. Adding to that are the scattered notes that further flesh out the world, as every corner lurks with unspeakable horror and ludicrous puzzles that must be solved to advance. 

The main problem with Daymare 1998 lies with a vision that far surpasses the budget in hand. The dark, grainy art style is worsened by character models that look like 1980s action figures. It's unfortunate that by its console release, two Resident Evil remakes have hit the market, which shows how much life the genre still has in its undead corpse. 

Compared to its PC counterpart, the console release of Daymare 1998 feels extremely rough and undernourished. The PC version is capable of 60 frames per second, while the console version is locked at 30. While a higher frame rate isn't necessary for one to enjoy a game, it helps to make games that lack the higher-fidelity graphics look less polished.

That's not to mention a higher framerate ensures combat is far more seamless.

There's also a wide array of technical bugs and glitches plaguing Daymare 1998, perhaps far more reaching than the virus itself. Hit detection on enemies can be guesswork as bullets can seemingly pass through them, the audio mix balance can fluctuate, and on more than one occasion, game-breaking glitches are prevalent.

One such glitch saw me glitch into an enemy spawn zone where I was greeted by a developer message. Obviously, that's not intended for players.

It would be easy to look past these issues which can be fixed with a patch or two if the general gameplay was engaging enough. The problem is that it is not. Combat in Daymare 1998 ranges from passable to downright terrible. Coming into contact with normal enemies causes for some of the tension the genre is known for, but throw in any advanced enemy types and the clunky feel of Daymare 1998 rears its ugly head.

Fairly early on, stronger enemy types are introduced which ruin all feeling of tension when they become mere bullet sponges. Instead, these hulking beasts become tedious and a means for all your precious ammo to be wasted. For a game that prides itself in embracing survival-horror roots and item management, having such powerful enemies fairly often ruins the momentum and brings you out of the horror in a mindless rage.

To make things worse, an incredibly irritating and unnecessary reloading system is in play. While some guns can be instantly reloaded, others first have to have their magazine reloaded before being reloaded into the gun itself. What this means is constant item management that is a perpetual nuisance. Instead of dialing up the horror, it just gets in the way. 

You can alternate between a slow or fast reload. Unsurprisingly, slow reload comes at reduced speed, but you keep your magazine. Utilizing fast reload will refill your gun, but you'll drop your magazine and have to pick it up again.

It's possible to reload guns directly from the inventory management menu, but you're always left wondering, "Why?". Incorporating this system into the game adds an unnecessary hurdle and creates multiple aggravating situations in which you'll have to fumble with the inventory system amidst a fight where you're getting attack from all corners.

It doesn't help that the inventory menu is slower to respond than other games of the genre. 

The level design of Daymare 1998 is a mixed bag, too, varying from linear affairs to more open-ended environments that are much more engaging. Early on, the story remains fairly linear, showcasing no regard for exploration. When you finally get to Samuel, you'll be greeted to a more open level design, completing multiple objectives across varying levels.

One thing Daymare 1998 absolutely nails, however, is its puzzles, perhaps more so than the Resident Evil remakes. Here the puzzles can be extremely challenging but rewarding. Some puzzles, such as the one involving Greek symbols, can be hard to solve, but perseverance and patience make for some of Daymare 1998's best moments.

Daymare 1998 Review — The Bottom Line


  • Hard but rewarding puzzles
  • Dreadfully heavy atmosphere throughout


  • Riddled with technical issues
  • Poor script and plot
  • Dated and undercooked visuals for a console release
  • Sluggish controls and poor item management

Daymare 1998 is a perfect example of great ideas executed poorly. Despite the constant missteps that hold it back multiple console generations, there's no doubt elements of charm here and there. By shifting between two gameplay styles, Daymare 1998 never conveys a consistent message with what it's trying to achieve. When it works, it's pure nightmare fuelled fun, but when it doesn't, it feels like a grossly missed opportunity.  

Strong puzzles and atmosphere aren't enough to salvage a game riddled with bugs, weak design choices, and sluggish controls. Much like the monsters you put down, Daymare 1998 is better left off dead when the original concept is still being so well-done with contemporary remakes. 

[Note: A copy of Daymare 1998 was provided by Invader Studios for the purpose of this review.]

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered PC Review — The Battalion is Oscar Mike Wed, 06 May 2020 18:27:38 -0400 John Schutt

Modern Warfare 2 was, in its day, one of the biggest, most-hyped experiences in gaming. Its single-player component — never the core focus of any Call of Duty title — still had to somehow match the level of excitement surrounding its multiplayer offering. 

Without question, though not without controversy, it succeeded. The set pieces were bigger than ever, the locations much closer to home, and the energy at a new fever pitch. Add in a soundtrack only Hans Zimmer could deliver and some of the best voice acting the series had seen before or since and Modern Warfare 2's campaign was a knockout.

Now it's 2020, and we're a full 11 years removed from what was once a landmark of single-player FPS campaigns. Modern Warfare 2 Remastered has the unenviable job of bringing the past back to life for a new audience with informed and expanded expectations.

With a few hiccups, this remastered campaign is about as good as we could have hoped for.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered Review — The Battalion is Oscar Mike


The Infinity Ward of 2009 knew exactly what they were doing with Modern Warfare 2, and they knew the monumental task ahead of them in following up Call of Duty 4. How could they top the gravity of controlling a soldier dying of radiation poisoning from a nearby nuclear detonation?

No Russian. 

It was an in-game mission like no other, and to this day, it is still one of the most disturbing bits of gameplay I've played. The coldness of it all, with the slow walking speed, the silence of the perpetrators, the desperation of the civilians. All of it is almost nauseating. 

Though they didn't have to do much, Beenox's remaster of that scene, and the rest of the game, is competently done. All the story beats are here, preserved, and shined up.

For all of that, not all of them are for the better. At several key moments in the campaign, there are animations and reactions new to the remaster, and none of them do the game any favors. The addition at the end of the "Loose Ends" mission is particularly jarring, as it adds an unneeded explanation for subtext the original game benefitted from. 

Other changes, explaining how characters got to certain places and how they do certain things aren't unwelcome, but they also aren't needed. Unlike Final Fantasy 7 Remake, where we knew to expect large changes and an expansion of the story, for Modern Warfare 2 Campaign Remastered, a bit of spit shine on an already gleaming experience was all that was needed.

I Swore We Ended This War Yesterday


In many ways, I consider Modern Warfare 2's use of politics and the ugly side of war far more effective than 2019's Modern Warfare. The latter is much more overt about its message — that war is hideous, and sometimes good people do horrible things in the name of some greater good.

The series reboot loves to show players that and shove it down their throats. The moment to moment writing is more hamfisted as well, and none of the characters make a convincing case that their way is the best way of handling a situation.

MW2, on the other hand, doesn't care to preach at the player about the awfulness of their actions. As General Shepherd says to Private Allen before the "No Russian" mission, "You will lose a piece of yourself." 

Then the game simply lets the scene play out, with Allen typically silent, and the player given the option to mow down civilians or watch as Makarov and his goons do so. 

That's not to say MW2 doesn't have an opinion that it wants to share, it's just that the story's told with more subtlety and care. Without explaining the campaign's story, know that the characters at the end of Modern Warfare 2 hadn't saved the world, or even put a piece of it back in working order. They were, save for a single, horrid act of insanity by Captain Price, cogs in a grander machine.

Yet there was always a clear goal, though not one that always confined itself to military orders. MW2 eventually became a revenge quest, not because of the world, but despite it. Soap and Price went after Shepherd knowing full well what it meant for their futures. They didn't care. They did it because it was right, even if no one else would ever believe them. 

Sounds Like We Need to be in Two Places at Once


Soap, Ghost, and all of TF141 are as relatable in the remaster as they were in the original. Beenox took on the herculean task of re-recording all the dialogue in the game, remastering almost every sound, upping the resolution of every texture and model. 

Because of their efforts, players will experience Modern Warfare 2 as only 2020's hardware can deliver. It doesn't look as good as the 2019 reboot, likely because developers were likely limited by the engine and their desire to maintain the core look and feel of the 2009 original. 

Which is why I'm confused, and a little annoyed, that they changed some of the animations that made the original so stylish. Among others, the UMP 45, Intervention, .44 Magun, and Desert Eagle all had their reload animations redone. 

I know that seems like a small complaint, but part of MW2's appeal was in the smoothness and badassery of everything the player did, down to the tiniest detail. Realism wasn't usually a factor. 

And there are more than a few smaller changes scattered throughout the remaster that do nothing but stand out like sore thumbs. On their own, not the worst things, but taken as a whole, they mar an otherwise well-constructed update.

What hasn't changed is Hans Zimmer's epic score. Itself remastered, some of Modern Warfare 2's most memorable moments wouldn't have the same impact without the soundtrack penned all those years ago.

The sound design is on point here as well, though it takes some of the same liberties as Call of Duty 4 Remastered. However, each moment of tension is still properly mixed, and thus the moments of silence, so carefully chosen by Infinity Ward, are all the more powerful.

Good Time to Take Inventory


One of the biggest problems Modern Warfare 2's PC release never overcame was its performance. Capped at 91fps and woefully unstable compared to CoD4, it couldn't even boast a robust set of PC-specific video and audio settings. In many ways, what you saw was what you got, with a few caveats.

Beenox spared (almost) no expense changing that for the remaster. You can take the framerate as high as your PC will allow, and everything you'd want in a video setting suite is here. FoV, render resolution, ambient occlusion, ultra-wide support, supersampling, fill video memory — you name it, there's a graphics setting for it here.

All the odder, then, that there's just one audio slider. No changing the mix here, just how loud you want the game to be. It's an oversight I see no excuse for, but when I went and looked, CoD4 Remastered was the same. Another minor complaint, I know, but if you're going to overhaul the graphics options, do the same for the audio. There are some great sounds in MW2; give us more chances to experience.

Movement and gunplay are as you'd expect: solid as a rock and as fun as they were 11 years ago.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered Review — The Bottom Line



  • Amazing music and sound remastered for a new generation
  • A faithful recreation of a modern classic
  • Looks and runs better than it ever has on PC
  • Some changes feel out of place
  • Lacks options without reason
  • Lack of replayability

Modern Warfare 2 Remastered might not shake the foundations of the gaming universe like the original did in 2009, but that was never its purpose. 

It is a functionally updated retelling of a story millions know and played in their formative years. The characters and politics are somehow as relevant today as they were back when the game first released, and it still sounds, plays, and looks better than most shooters on the market.

There are some problems and remaster-meddling that gets in the way, but when Modern Warfare 2 hits you, you'll know why it was the game that shaped a generation.

[Note: A copy of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered was provided by Activision for the purpose of this review.]

Trials of Mana Review: Nostalgia Revamped Tue, 05 May 2020 17:20:52 -0400 Jason D'Aprile

Square Enix frequently gets by on fan service, which is probably the best way to describe their 3D, Unreal-engine-powered remake of Trials of Mana.

Originally released only in Japan as Seiken Densetsu 3 on the Super Famicon in 1995, the game reached near-mythical status in the U.S. — largely because it was only available through importers. Twenty-five years later, even with the complete graphic overhaul present here, the game feels like a historical artifact. 

Whether it’s an essential artifact depends a lot on your love of the classic JRPG genre. The original Trials of Mana has several elements that make it distinctive from its contemporaries, but a lot has happened since then.

Trials of Mana Review: Nostalgia Revamped

Officially, Trials of Mana is about a grand adventure to revive and heal the Goddess of Mana, who is a sleeping tree. It seems after she defeated evil way back when and changed form to rest, evil eventually started seeping through the cracks. So, someone has to go defeat eight giant monsters, the benevodons, to collect eight magical stones, which in turn will enable the Goddess to recreate a giant magical weapon (the Sword of Mana) to heal the world.

That’s all well and good (if heaped with cliches), but what the game is really about is running through a fairly spacious open-world collecting shiny things people just drop everywhere, as well as killing absurdly cute woodland animals.

While Dragon Quest has its share of adorable blobs to murder, nearly every “monster” here seems to have escaped a Pixar movie only to find itself in a nightmarish murder simulation.

Why the game wants us to kill so many fluffy round bunnies, for instance, is a mystery. This is a JRPG, so their lives are mere fodder for the player’s constant need to grind and grind and grind!

Combat in Trials of Mana is real-time and very action-centered. Like the bulk of the game, it feels dated and somewhat simplistic. Each character has their main weapon, capable of light and heavy attacks, in addition to charging up for more powerful blows and AoEs. There are also items and spells to utilize during combat, and you can switch between characters anytime (whether in a fight or not), but fights seldom feel like much more than bash fests.

The AI of both monsters and companions is pretty suspect. In general, your partners are useful in combat, but not particularly bright or quick. It always feels like fights are entirely reliant on you. Monsters attack mechanically, so once you get a handle on their moves, they’re easy enough to defeat. 

The biggest problem with the Trials of Mana combat system is the incredibly awful targeting system, which seems to go out of its way to pick the least convenient enemy to focus on. Working in conjunction with the sketchy auto-camera, at times, the game acts like it’s trying to kill you through inconvenience.

The camera is usually freely controllable and tapping the targeting button flips to another enemy, but being forced to manually adjust them so often causes slight and annoying breaks in the flow of combat. 

The game's multi-class system enables you to configure characters in diverse ways and create powerhouse tanks that can plow through any enemy (even the giant Benevodon boss creatures). 

Once a character reaches Level 18 (and again at Level 38) and has fulfilled certain adventuring criteria, they can advance to a more powerful class. The new classes available for each character are more an evolution of their starting class, but they are divided between “light” and “dark” roles.

Hawkeye the thief, for instance, can advance to become a ranger (light) or a ninja (dark) at Level 18. At the third tier, there are four choices to choose from, each with specific tactics and powers. The class you pick affects not just a character's abilities and attack styles, but their physical appearance as well.

It’s also a permanent change. These choices don’t necessarily change the narrative of the game, but they do add a deeper layer of customization and are well-worth pursuing for the power advantage they provide.

The storyline is spread between the game's six characters as well, making multiple playthroughs with different character combinations worthwhile. You’ll have to play through several times to see all the possible storylines, as once you select your three party characters at the start, you’re stuck with them for the duration of the game.

You’ll encounter the other characters along the way, but even when it seems logical that one of them joins your party at least temporarily, they can’t. It’s an antiquated way to handle branching storylines but adds a distinct flair to the overall classic, trope-filled adventure.

Trials of Mana Review — The Bottom Line

  • Charmingly redone graphics
  • Multiple character storylines
  • Perfect for an old-school fix
  • Terrible targeting system
  • Sketchy camera
  • Might feel too old-school for some

If you want to play the original 16-bit version of Trials of Mana, it’s already out there as part of the Collection of Mana. The storyline, characters, locales, and most of the mechanics are largely the same.

This new version of Trials really is the classic game dressed up in sharp, if not amazing modern graphics. The game isn’t as graphically impressive as Dragon Quest 11 and suffers from noticeable framerate jitters at times, but the soundtrack is still delightful. 

Trials of Mana isn’t really competing with the slew of much more recent JRPGs, but it’s certainly solid enough to scratch that itch between other major releases. It’s a fun trip through a very familiar-feeling fantasy world, but unlikely to make anything close to the impact of its legendary predecessors.

For the retro purist, the Collection of Mana’s authentic port is probably a more favorable choice. For those just looking for a more pixel-free variation on a classic, however, Trials of Mana is worth a look. It's an entertaining if forgettable trip down memory lane dressed up in bright, colorful modern graphics. 

[Note: A copy of Trials of Man was provided by Square Enix, Ltd. for the purpose of this review.]

[The company, product, and system names shown here are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners. This content contains copyrighted material owned by Square Enix Co., Ltd.  Re-publishing or distribution is prohibited. © 1995, 2019, 2020 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved.]

Wintermoor Tactics Club Review: If Your Children's Book Had War Scenes Tue, 05 May 2020 13:58:46 -0400 Thomas Wilde

Wintermoor Tactics Club is like a turn-based strategy version of one of the paintball episodes of Community. It’s the story of a snowball fight tournament at an isolated boarding school which everyone involved treats like the Battle of the Bulge, and how the tiny group of nerds that make up the Tactics Club are able to turn their tabletop gaming knowledge into real-life battlefield savvy.

It’s got a lot of the “well, sometimes it just do be like that” energy you get out of weird children’s books, wrapped around a gentle difficulty curve and a genuinely charming script. WTC is a little too easy overall for fans of the genre, but newcomers and kids should appreciate its humor and ease of access.

Wintermoor Tactics Club Review: If Your Children's Book Had War Scenes

It’s 1981 at the isolated Wintermoor Academy boarding school. The student life at Wintermoor mostly revolves around its extracurricular activities, with every kid eventually joining one — and apparently only one — of its various clubs, whether it’s the Psychic Detectives, the Young Monarchists, or the Animal Identification Club. Alicia runs the smallest club at Wintermoor, the Tactics Club, which is based around playing tabletop strategy games with her friends Colin and Jacob.

One day, out of the blue, the principal at Wintermoor announces a school-wide snowball fight tournament, with rules that sound a bit like paintball, to be held in all the clubs on campus. Participation is mandatory, and a loss at any point means the losing club is permanently disbanded on the spot.

Feeling like their backs are to the wall from the start, Alicia, Colin, and Jacob resolve to make their tactical gaming knowledge translate directly into skill on the snowball battlefield, while also trying to figure out exactly what the principal’s deal is.

The “combat” in WTC plays out on small, tile-based maps, and each of your units is one of the main cast's tabletop character. Every fight is either one of the Tactics Club’s game sessions, based off of a store-bought module or an adventure by Alicia, or the Club imagining one of the bouts in the snowball tournament as if it was one of their tabletop fights.

Between matches in the tournament, Alicia can help other students with their problems, write side adventures for new players, or take on challenge maps to unlock new abilities for their player characters. You gradually unlock slight but significant upgrades for each character as you go, usually by receiving some item or another that gives Alicia an idea for her next adventure.

If you’ve ever played a turn-based strategy game before, you should be immediately comfortable with Wintermoor Tactics Club. It has a simple but immediately accessible system built around movement and attacking, and each of your characters has a handful of defining abilities rather than an evolving stat block. (Think Into the Breach, but with room to make mistakes.)

As you get into the mid-game and recruit more players, and thus more characters, to the Tactics Club, it opens up a lot of potential in how characters’ skills can potentially combine with one another, to land powerful area-of-effect attacks or complement one another’s strengths.

It is worth noting here that much of WTC is incredibly forgiving. Much of the game genuinely feels like Alicia is running it, and she's a young girl who doesn’t want to hurt anybody,so monsters just kind of fall over a lot of the time. Even the snowball fights, which are ostensibly against other people, aren’t appreciably harder than Alicia’s “Caverns & Catacombs” adventures.

The idea behind WTC’s difficulty seems to be that anyone with a pulse could blunder through the game by just clearing story maps as roughly as possible. The challenge comes from getting 8 stars on every map (a "Staggeringly Super Savvy" ranking), which requires you to clear each one under par, in limited turns, without taking too much damage. With some, you'll sleepwalk to SSS, but others require some quick thinking and a specific assortment of obscure skills. It's the sort of tactics puzzle that long-time strategy fans will enjoy.

The rest of the game, though, is happy just to let you through to the end if that’s all you want. I did feel limited by it fairly quickly, as my pool of characters grew while my party size stayed the same, and its emphasis on big, wide-ranging attacks means that characters like Colin’s poor paladin get left in the dirt fairly early on.

It’s fun just the same, thankfully. WTC is sort of like an above-average children's book wrapped around an easy but interesting tactics game. Wintermoor as a setting is full of harmless eccentrics and little genuine conflict, where even the two bullies in the school are too stupid to be genuinely threatening.

There’s a little germ of darkness in the game’s center, with Alicia’s frequent nightmares and this weird Satanic-panic ‘80s plot that sets in around a third of the way through, but it all feels so genuinely childish that it’s more endearing than anything else.

This is a game that is mostly about when you're at a certain age, even the trivial things feel like matters of life or death, and I had more than one little nostalgic moment as I played through it. As much as it felt like I was speed-running a children's game at times, WTC has enough wit and genuine heart that I was still having fun.

Wintermoor Tactics Club Review — The Bottom Line

  • A charming children’s book that also happens to be a reasonably deep turn-based strategy game, or maybe it’s the other way around
  • Consistently funny
  • The challenge maps genuinely live up to their name…
  • …but they’re the only actual challenge here; the game’s really easy
  • Feels limited by small maps and party sizes
  • The side quests are mostly just running back and forth across the school

Wintermoor Tactics Club is a hard game to dislike. It’s a little too easy to clear, but advanced players should get some replay value out of trying to maximize their scores and collect all the optional upgrades.

It's also surprisingly non-violent, since within its narrative, all of the combat is largely imaginary. It'd be a great pick for a kid or a complete newcomer to video games.

Really, the highest recommendation I can make for Wintermoor Tactics Club is that it’s a funny, weirdly true-feeling interactive children’s book, with just enough tactical action to keep you interested throughout.

[Note: A copy of Wintermoor Tactics Club was provided by Versus Evil for the purposes of this review.]

Get Packed Review: There's More Than One Way to Make Moving Fun Fri, 01 May 2020 13:57:31 -0400 Mark Delaney

The influence of Overcooked is far-reaching and ever-expanding, and recently, we saw that influence spread to not one, but two games sporting very similar concepts. 

The special brand of co-op popularized by the kitchen chaos arcade game has manifested in two different co-op games based on moving furniture. While we've already shared our glowing thoughts about one of those games, we thought it's only fair to cover all our bases.

It's a weird niche to serve twice in the same week, but in the end, Get Packed manages to stand proudly beside its release-day rival by doing things in its own hilarious way.

Get Packed Review: There's More Than One Way to Make Moving Fun

Get Packed is playable for up to four players in local or online play and across several modes, including a campaign, versus, and destruction. Whichever you choose, the colorful and bubbly characters and levels you've come to expect from games like this are back once more. The campaign, though shorter than I anticipated (with at least one more three-level chapter coming later), manages to propel Get Packed into its own deserved spotlight.

The rules are simple on the surface: move the items from the house into the moving truck. But unlike in Moving Out, where you're asked to collect a dozen or so very specific and often heavy and/or oblong items, in Get Packed, everything is pretty light. This gives the whole game a sense of silly speed, and it's amplified by the spaghetti-like arms that flail about for each of the four customizable characters. 

Get Packed also isn't discerning with what you throw into the moving truck. While chairs, bookshelves, and couches are all eligible, so too are fire hydrants, rocks, and even Black Friday shoppers or the SWAT team that shows up when you crack open a bank vault. It's a mad dash, and while its counterpart plays more like a puzzle, Get Packed is closer to a physics playground. 

I would be misguided to use this singular review to compare two similar games, but in playing both Moving Out and Get Packed this week, I really came to appreciate what the latter does differently. 

Moving Out, if you're keeping score, is more of the Overcooked heir apparent they both appeared to be. Get Packed instead dazzles as something closer to Gang Beasts or Human Fall Flat. It's unhinged, and it stands out because of that.

The ragdoll physics are all at once absurd, unwieldy, and laugh-out-loud funny. Flailing about and trying to latch onto whatever you can is a swift and exciting central mechanic, whether that's in a house or, in later levels of the surprisingly twisty story, in places such as construction yards, banks, and more. 

Rather than get progressively more challenging with each level, stages tend to introduce one weird new highlight. One level depicting a Silicon Valley office includes an indoor slide for its ethically confused staffers. In the construction yard, a wrecking ball swings back and forth. You can see how environmental hazards like these may heighten the absurdity of every outing. 

Challenges in each level help lengthen the game as well, and even as I'm not one to chase challenges as additional content in games too often, I found myself relishing the chance to get back to some of my favorite levels and check off more of the boxes. Stashing five cops in a moving truck is especially fun, considering you must first knock them all out with the wet noodles you call arms. 

As it usually goes with games of any kind, Get Packed is better with friends, and like other games of this sort, it's easier too. Some challenges, in particular, feel impossible without friends on your side, and while the lobbies are quiet right now just days after launch on a platform still finding its footing, it's nice to have the online option when games like it sometimes keep it local.

Where it differs most from games like it, Get Packed is sometimes better off, but not always. As mentioned, its campaign doesn't climb a hill of difficulty, but rather it keeps throwing a novel new mechanic in each level, so while some levels are harder than others, they likely won't be played in that order by anyone. In turn, this keeps the game less hair-pulling as stuff like Overcooked can get as they go deeper into the game. 

You'll still need to clear a minimum score threshold to advance the story and unlock the next level, but I never felt like I couldn't beat it alone or with at least one competent ally. I still drive my wife crazy with my paradoxical adoration and aversion of Overcooked because that game can get stressful. But Get Packed doesn't cross that line. Every level is fun, not frustrating, even as you'll still have those moments of yelling at your teammates through laughter, which is essential anyway.

Where the game struggles the most is in one particular mechanic that never gets to be as useful as it should. As the game happily lets you smash and dash items through virtually any exit you try, naturally, a lot of stuff breaks. It doesn't matter so much when you can rip literally anything out of a room short of the wallpaper and carpeting. Still, if you're really trying to keep things in one piece, you can use a power-up once every 15 seconds that lets you pack an item (ideally a large one) into a small box.

It helps you get it on the truck intact, but to do this, you must first grab the item with both hands, and that's the problem. The way your arms flail about like Woody from Toy Story makes this a difficult maneuver to land, and time is of the essence. In the end, this may slow you down too much as it did me, and you may elect not to use it much too.

Get Packed Review — The Bottom Line


  • Carves out its own hilarious co-op chaos in a growing genre
  • Level design consistently provides new silly mechanics and hazards
  • Challenge system feels worthwhile and often leads to secrets
  • A basic but surprisingly considered story leads players to unexpected locales
  • Campaign feels a bit short
  • The packing mechanic is unreliable

In the weeks leading up to April 28, I became obsessed with the strangeness of two games presenting the same niche idea launching on the same day. This isn't just Battlefield and Call of Duty of the last generation. Get Packed managed to arrive on the same exact day as another indie game about moving furniture onto a truck with friends. That's weird, right?

But then as I played it, I quickly came to see not just how Get Packed differs from its launch day counterpart, but how those differences are important, and sometimes leave Get Packed as the better game. I didn't know the video game industry was big enough for two colorful co-op titles about moving, but now I know it is, and if you like games of this nature, Get Packed is a smart move.

[Note: A copy of Get Packed was provided by Coatsink for the purpose of this review.]

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 Road To Boruto Review: An Aging Ninja Thu, 30 Apr 2020 17:34:05 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

With every passing day, it seems crystal clear that Nintendo has been listening to folks who, when the Switch launched, were hopeful that the console would also turn into a veritable port machine.

Over the past few years, the Switch has seen re-releases, remakes, and ports of most, if not all, of the best games to come out in the past decade  well, at least the ones not published by Sony, Valve, or Microsoft. And now, for fans of the Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm series, the franchise's crown jewel comes to the Nintendo Switch complete with all of its DLC, including a game mode based on the Boruto movie.

With three story modes and a staggering list of playable characters, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 Road To Boruto would be a perfect package for fans of the series if it didn't show its age in so many different, frustrating ways.

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 Road To Boruto Review: An Aging Ninja

The title of the game is a mouthful, sure, but the game does what it says on the cover. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 Road To Boruto packs in three story modes: one based on the events of Naruto Shippuden, one "adventure mode" focusing on the events afterward, and another based on Boruto: Naruto the Movie.

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 Road To Boruto's main story mode bears mentioning because if you haven't played the game before, you'll likely be pretty surprised at the way CyberConnect2 frames battles. At its best, the story mode can be reminiscent of Asura's Wrath, blending battles with dynamic voice acting, pre-rendered cutscenes, and flashy quick-time events that reward you with bonus scenes if your reflexes are up to snuff. 

It's a great way to unfold the story of the anime for the player and gives added weight to the emotional peaks and valleys of the show. 

Unfortunately, only about a third of the game's story mode progresses that way. The rest is force-fed to the player through a slideshow of low-resolution stills from the show that cycle as the show's audio plays. It's a real letdown to exit the crescendo of battle and be rewarded with a still of Sasuke with his mouth hanging open as the audio from the anime plays.

This problem is compounded by the fact that each and every battle is couched in these scenes, which range from three minutes to as long as 10 or more. It would have been amazing if the developers were able to render those cutscenes, or failing that, just use actual show footage instead.

Often, I found myself idly scrolling through my phone, just waiting for the next fight to start.

Thankfully, the other two story modes operate differently, eschewing this style for a sort of limited open-world experience complete with customization options, side quests, and (thankfully) rendered cutscenes. The only downside is that where the game's main story mode will likely take you around 10 hours to complete (assuming you don't skip cutscenes) adventure mode, and Boruto's Tale will only take you two or three each.

This is a port, sure, but it would have been a real treat for fans if the developers were able to smooth some of these bumps out between the game's initial release and now.

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 Road To Boruto is a 3D arena fighter like many of Bandai Namco's other anime offerings. That's because the first game in the series set the tone for pretty much every other anime fighting game Bandai Namco has ever made, from the one-button combo mechanic to the dynamic over-the-shoulder camera.

The face buttons unleash a basic attack, charge your chakra, jump, or throw a weak projectile, while your trigger buttons guard, evade, and call in support. Combinations of these buttons trigger throws, special moves, transformations, and super moves (called Secret Techniques) depending on the conditions of the battle.

Although many characters have at least a few special moves and supers to choose between, you'll only enter battle with one of each. This flattens battles, as these moves are the main things that differentiate how characters play. It's disappointing because this both limits the number of options you have in battle and makes every character feel relatively similar.

One exception is the "Awakening" mechanic that allows certain characters to undergo unique transformations after their health is lowered. These transformations are flashy and range from relatively mundane (Might Guy turning red and getting huge stat buffs) to downright game-changing (Naruto turning into his kaiju-sized nine-tailed form). These awakenings change basic and special moves, so there's at least a bit of variety there.

Like any good anime game, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 Road To Boruto features special scenes that play if you finish an opponent with a secret technique or if you unleash a linked secret technique with the right team members. These are all ripped straight from the series, and they are a nice treat for the fans.

Sadly, that's not enough to paint over some of the bigger issues with the game's combat.

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 Road To Boruto Review — The Bottom Line


  • Staggering character list
  • The story mode, when it succeeds, is amazing
  • Kaiju battles
  • The battle system hasn't aged well
  • Characters only have one (or two, in certain cases) special moves, making them feel flat and indistinct
  • The story mode slideshows are unappealing

I've made no attempt to hide the fact that there's a lot about Bandai Namco anime fighters that I think could be vastly improved. And, credit where it's due, they have taken a bunch of steps in the right direction with My Hero One's Justice 2

This makes it a lot harder to go back to a game the studio released four years ago, with none of the quality-of-life upgrades that have been added into their more recent releases.

Canceling combos into special moves is finicky as there's no way to do it organically. Player stagger is a huge problem, meaning that when you have expended your evasion gauge (a function that allows you to break out of combos early), you'll be trapped in stunlock for a really, really long time as your opponent mashes "A"  even longer if they string their combo into a finisher. 

Battles just feel clunky compared to Bandai Namco's newer titles, which is odd for a game that's about ninjas.

Bandai Namco is releasing this title hoping to trade on the goodwill of folks who played the game back in 2016 and now want to take it on the go. If that sounds like you, I'd highly encourage you to rent the game again first. You may find that the katana has lost a little bit of its luster.

[Note: A copy of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 Road To Boruto was provided by Bandai Namco for the purpose of this review.]

Predator: Hunting Grounds Review — If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It Wed, 29 Apr 2020 15:13:49 -0400 Daniel Hollis

One thing Predator: Hunting Grounds gets right from the offset is nostalgia. The agonizing wait for a match is reduced by the sweet orchestral sounds of Alan Silvestri's memorable score as it pulsates from the screen straight into your auditory cortex. It's a constant reminder of how adrenaline-fuelled the original film is, and how unfortunate it is to find that's all been lost in translation.

What developers Illfonic have created with Predator: Hunter Grounds is a facsimile of an asymmetrical multiplayer title, which pits a team of four player-controlled marines against one player-controlled Predator. 

With no single-player content, Predator: Hunting Grounds relies solely on its online functionality to craft a name for itself, doing so among a glut of other titles that dominate the market. It's not unheard of for a multiplayer-focused experience to garner a wide audience, with games such as Overwatch making their mark, but it's a tough feat to accomplish.

Unfortunately, Predator: Hunting Grounds doesn't have the legs for the chase.

Predator: Hunting Grounds Review — If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It

While Predator: Hunting Grounds does away with single-player content, it does attempt to base itself around some loosely connected narratives. A team of four marines is sent into the jungle to complete a variety of objectives, and unbeknownst to them, an alien from another world is hunting them for sport. 

The objectives in each mission range from finding intel to taking down AI targets that roam the map. None of the tasks are particularly interesting, and most will have you begging for the evac to arrive quicker than Arnie can say, "Get to the chopper!"

While mission structure and AI enemies offer more incentive to proceed than a simple 4v1 scenario, the objectives themselves are so bland and easy to accomplish that the game offers little incentive to push forward — other than reaching the end of a match more quickly.

Tackling the AI is an absolute slog, amounting to nothing more than an inconvenience in many situations. Enemies simply provide no challenge, nor are they particularly effective enough to pose any real threat. Additionally, the AI logic itself feels about as smart as the victims in an Alien vs Predator film, remaining consistently unaware of your position or simply oblivious to anything going on around them.

It's entirely possible to complete a match by taking down the Predator itself, which lends itself to some of Predator: Hunting Grounds' best moments. Venturing through the dense jungle only to hear the inhuman clicking of the Predator or the sound of his camouflage activating adds a degree of tension that's hard to find in other games in this genre. 

Traveling from area to area only to have a laser pointer suddenly aimed at your skull is one of Predator: Hunting Grounds' strongest elements. When the back and forth cat-and-mouse battles between marines and Predator break out, the true nature of Illfonic's vision is captured. 

Unfortunately, finding the best matches proves to be one of the hardest tasks to accomplish. With such a wide audience of players, all with different skill sets, finding the appropriately matched players can be like finding gold dust. 

Mirroring all this is playing as the Predator. Whereas finding a match as a marine might take less than a minute, finding a match as the Predator can often be a challenge. At launch, wait times regularly reach well beyond five minutes. 

Entering a match as the Predator often goes one of two ways: you can go down and self-destruct, killing some or all of the marines in the process, or you can go down and die.

As of release, the Predator feels extremely underpowered, with fireteams able to dispose of the grotesque creature in a matter of seconds. Any team that sticks together will find it's much easier to band as one and dispose of the beast quickly. Even the self-destruct sequence is easily stopped by anyone who knows what to do. 

In Predator, the team faced a ferocious beast, one that took out the majority of the team before good old Arnie was only able to defeat it by the skin of his teeth. Here, the opposite feels true as the Predator's health can quickly diminish, ending matches quicker than you found one. 

Despite the hunter's lack of power, playing as the Predator offers you all the toys seen in the films. You have the signature heat vision, which is useful for tracking the opposing team, alongside the ability to activate camouflage and blend into the background to avoid detection. As for your arsenal, you can use your blades to cut through enemies in a matter of seconds or use your shoulder turret to cause devastating damage from afar. 

Utilizing all of the Predator's skills is the key to survival as you mix a range of close-quarter attacks with the far-reaching blasts of your turret. As you level up, more tools are dished out to make things easier, such as a powerful bow and arrow. But getting there is a rocky road.

Predator: Hunting Grounds dishes out toys and abilities at a fairly steady pace, attempting to instill that "one more game" mentality into the game. Some are worthwhile, while others are simply for looks. Pushing through the levels in an attempt to reach "the good stuff," though, feels like an absolute chore. It doesn't help that there's very little content here.

As of launch, there's only one game mode segregated into several maps offering different objectives for each match. Complicating things are the technical missteps that Predator: Hunting Grounds takes. Its inconsistent frame rate, dated visuals, and poorly-constructed AI feel like a precursor of a past generation.

Predator: Hunting Grounds Review — The Bottom Line

  • Invokes a sense of nostalgia 
  • When matched with the right players, it can create some fun matches
  • Dated gameplay and visuals
  • Poor AI that becomes a hindrance 
  • Balancing issues
  • Lack of content

When Predator first hit screens, it became a classic in its own right; a wide audience fell in love with its brutal action and cheesy one-liners. By comparison, Predator: Hunting Grounds feels like a failed experiment with the license.

It clearly tries to feel relevant in a modern setting, but launching with such a severe lack of content — or content that isn't reasonably interesting in the first place — is a giant oversight. Underneath all the mess, there's definitely an interesting concept to be found, but the question is whether Illfonic will support Hunting Grounds long enough to ultimately create something to stand the test of time.

As it stands, Predator: Hunting Grounds is nothing more than a hollow representation of the much-beloved franchise. It's a game desperately trying to keep up with today's trends of intricate leveling systems and loot-box rewards, but its gameplay and visuals hold it back years.

[Note: A copy of Predator: Hunting Grounds was provided by Sony for the purpose of this review.]

Dread Nautical Review: Tactics and Terror at Sea Wed, 29 Apr 2020 12:09:50 -0400 Mark Delaney

At a time when the cruise industry is in the news about the horrible circumstances some recent passengers have found themselves in, you may have thought going on a cruise had reached its low point.

While that may be true in reality, in fiction, Dread Nautical contends for the title of worst vacation ever. The tactical RPG is full of interesting mechanics and more depth than you may expect, and it's all set to the backdrop of one nightmarish cruise trip.

In Zen Studios' foray into new territory, some elements are unquestionably lacking, but overall, Dread Nautical is a great opening act for the recent genre headliners.

Dread Nautical Review: Tactics and Terror at Sea

After a surprisingly unsettling and dark introductory cutscene, where a brooding voice taunts the passengers of a doomed cruise, Dread Nautical thrusts players into a more light-hearted world inhabited by some silly archetypal characters.

As a tactics game, Dread Nautical lets players choose their starting character based on the stats they may want to start with, but whomever you choose, you won't be stuck with them and their lowly beginner traits for long.

Dread Nautical is a time loop game, which has recently become a trend I very much welcome. Each level unfolds on a single floor of the 20-floor cruiseliner suddenly populated by ghouls of various shapes and sizes. Failure is just a part of the game, and you should get used to it early. With procedurally generated levels, your hero sometimes gets lucky and finds a level fit with several health items and great weapons. Other times, you may find things much more barren. 

Though there are always counters to the basic layout being disadvantageous, it can sometimes feel like a run is doomed, though you won't often know that until you've picked it clean and still come up mostly empty-handed.

The traditional "fog of war" mechanic often seen in games like this is represented here by closed doors. On each floor, you can choose where to head, even skipping some rooms entirely if you don't feel you need to scavenge through them. Some will have enemies and supplies, while others may have one or the other  or even none.

The objective of each level is to get to the mysterious foghorn and blow it, sending yourself back to the start of a new loop, but with a new floor unlocked.

The supernatural elements are fun and moody, even amid a pretty and vibrant game such as this. Deciphering a strange, almost Lovecraftian language from the enemies is a fun collectible meta-game that feels more worthwhile than finding gold statues or some of the other collectathon-tropes you often see in games. 

But at the heart of the game, its best attribute is its deep and rewarding upgrade system. Though you start as a solo survivor, you'll soon have the opportunity to recruit others to your lobby, otherwise known as your headquarters. This area is regularly expanded, letting you first recruit other survivors. But soon after, you can begin to upgrade your heroes, craft and repair weapons and items, let characters rest and heal, and more.

Each of these areas can then be upgraded several times over themselves, meaning pass or fail, survival or death, Dread Nautical is the right kind of tactical RPG: the kind that's hard to put down.

There are no shot percentages to worry about, though you will need to contend with action points and to maneuver the world and its enemies smartly. Just ramming your way through a level might work on the first level or two. After that, you're going to need to strategize. While all levels are randomly generated, keeping things fresh, some encounters appear to play like can't-miss boss battles, and they get tough.

But like the best games in the genre, there are as many right ways to play as there are wrong ones, and Dread Nautical lets players decide what kind of character builds are important to them.

It's not without issues, though. The biggest problem in the game is one that sadly can't be averted and regularly returns: menu navigation. Moving through its tabbed pages of weapons, equip screens, crafting, and the like, each time with button mapping that feels inconsistent and unintuitive makes one a bit seasick. I never did get used to it in my hours with the game.

You'll likely often press the wrong thing, and you'll want to double-check you've loaded out the way you intended. A few times, I entered a level without some of the items I thought I had because I fumbled through the menus at my base. Those runs don't feel satisfying like the game otherwise so often does.

A lesser but still persistent problem is the camera. The same button to zoom in and out is also the button that recenters on your hero. So while you may be trying to scan a room for the best point of attack, and decide to zoom in or out for a better look, you'll first get thrown back to your character, even if you wanted to peek several rooms away.

It's an annoyance at worst, but a constant one. It also doesn't help that the grid movement controls of the left stick and the camera movement controls of the right stick operate at two very different speeds. 

Dread Nautical Review — The Bottom Line

  • Deep and rewarding upgrade system
  • Interesting blend of colorful, fun characters and dark, moody story beats
  • Combat worthy of any genre fan's attention
  • Camera issues persist throughout
  • Menu navigation is unintuitive and sometimes betraying 

Dread Nautical is, overall, a strong effort from a studio that once only operated in the virtual pinball space. As one of the first ventures outside of that niche, Dread Nautical proves Zen Studios has potential beyond the flippers.

The game comes on the heels of two giants in the tactics genre, and while it may not be your first pick for some grid-based combat, it's certainly worth adding to your queue. With combat that will delight anyone who loves the genre, plus a great sense of progression, this alternatingly dark and silly story is worth the trip, even as you'll need more than gloves and a facemask to make it off this cruise. 

[Note: A copy of Dread Nautical was provided by Zen Studios for the purpose of this review.]

Streets of Rage 4 Review: Innovation Rather Than Imitation Wed, 29 Apr 2020 11:00:02 -0400 Thomas Wilde

I was expecting a lot less than I got with Streets of Rage 4.

It’s been 26 years and almost five full console generations since the last Streets of Rage game, and like most of Sega’s original IP these days, it seemed like SoR was going to stay in the dustbin. I figured the best we’d ever get was some half-hearted nostalgia cash-in, like how Konami tried to farm out most of its B-tier series to small indie studios back in the Xbox 360/PS3 days.

When I first heard of it, that’s exactly what Streets of Rage 4 sounded like. Sega wasn’t developing it; instead, they were letting a trio of French and Canadian developers – Lizardcube, Guard Crush, and Dotemu – do it for them. I played the sixth stage on the PAX West show floor last year, and while the gameplay felt like it was there, I still wasn’t sure what to expect from the full version.

As it turns out, Streets of Rage 4 is the best kind of revival. It absolutely revels in the franchise’s roots, but the designers have put a lot of thought into what does and does not work in the old arcade beat-‘em-up formula.

My biggest criticism of attempted genre revivals from the last few years, like Fight’N Rage and The Takeover, is that they tend to go so hard on replicating the Authentic Arcade Experience that they also include the drawbacks. Streets of Rage 4 actually tries to shift the model forward, by changing up how the combat system works.

I do have to ding it a bit for not explaining that system as well as it could, though. I get the feeling you’re going to see a lot of salt online about SoR4, and it’s mostly going to be down to its lack of an effective tutorial.

Streets of Rage 4 Review: Innovation Rather Than Imitation

It’s been 10 years since Axel and Blaze’s last city-wide vigilante spree. Their nemesis, Mr. X, is gone for good, but his twin children, who answer to Mr. and Ms. Y, have risen to take his place.

Axel and Blaze set out to track the Y twins down. They’re joined by Floyd, a cybernetically-enhanced brawler who is blatantly Jax Briggs from Mortal Kombat (although Jax never had the Proton Cannon, so that's something); Cherry, a guitar-wielding musician who’s the daughter of Adam Hunter from the original Streets of Rage; and Adam, who rejoins the playable roster after you clear a few chapters in Story Mode.

It’s an excuse plot, of course. The entire thing is a lengthy series of reasons why you have to beat the living hell out of several hundred assorted gangbangers, bent cops, bikers, and the occasional inexplicable cyberninja.

The city of Streets of Rage is still a decaying hellhole, where it’s 10 years after SoR3 but is inexplicably still 1992, somehow. Every stray door, manhole, alleyway, and rooftop is occupied by a dozen homicidal nerds who dress like backup dancers in the Funky Bunch. You can tell the level designers had a lot of fun depicting this kind of ‘80s-movie urban squalor.

The first stage of Streets of Rage 4 has training wheels on, so you can get used to the mechanics. It’s a lot fairer than a lot of throwback brawlers like this, with health pickups regularly showing up as you progress through each level. Your characters have a familiar assortment of basic attacks, including throws, slams, trusty jump kicks, and screen-clearing specials that the game calls “Star Moves.”

The big innovation, however, is the addition of an extra attack, which is mapped to the “special” button. When you press it by itself, it’s a defensive move, which clears some space and gives you i-frames. Press it while you’re pushing forward, and it’s instead an offensive move, which varies widely by character.

Blaze does a double palm strike that knocks enemies flying, Floyd grabs an enemy from a fair distance away, Cherry slams an enemy with her guitar, and Axel… well, Axel grew up and went the rest of the way towards being a scruffy-bearded Ken Masters, so he Dragon Punches guys.

Seriously. Axel’s “Star Move” super in SoR4 is the Shinryuken. (And Adam's is the Power Geyser.) It’s pretty blatant. The point behind the special button, though, is to give you invincibility frames on demand. 

There are a lot of attacks in Streets of Rage 4, even from standard enemies, that are difficult or impossible to simply dodge on reaction. Instead, you’re supposed to watch for the wind-up and muscle through it with a special move. If you’ve figured this out, the game suddenly opens right up; if not, you get stopped dead by the riot cops in Stage 2.

SoR4 actively punishes you for button-mashing. The special attacks cost a bit of life every time you use them, but the loss is temporary; you can replenish the lost life a bit at a time with every hit you land afterward. If you get hit before you’ve regained it, though, you take normal damage and lose the temporary health on top of it.

With Axel and Floyd in particular, both of whom have very spammable special attacks, it’s a risk vs. reward scenario; you can gamble an entire health bar on your next combo, but if you take a stray hit afterward, you’re dead.

It’s easy to overlook. There’s a quick and dirty tutorial in the main menu, labeled “Fighting Tips” and designed like it's an arcade cabinet moveslist, but it isn’t deliberately highlighted like most of SoR4’s other mechanics. It took me a couple of tries before I realized what I was “supposed” to be doing, and once I did, the game started to feel much fairer.

In retrospect, Streets of Rage 4 feels like a long response to the criticism that arcade-style brawlers like this are mostly about button-mashing. The game is set up specifically to punish you for being on autopilot, as many enemies have invincibility frames or fast-moving attacks of their own. If you know their patterns and can armor through them with your special, though, you turn the tide at once.

I like how it feels. I’ve played a lot of games lately that played like they were more interested in honoring their franchise’s history than actually doing their own thing – here I side-eye Doom Eternal – and I was really expecting that from Streets of Rage 4.

There is some nostalgia bait here, like being able to unlock Axel, Blaze, and Adam’s original pixel art from the first game as what are basically new playable characters. There’s just as much of the game, though, that feels like an extended love letter to fighting games and brawlers as a whole, ranging from Final Fight to Double Dragon to King of Fighters and beyond.

You can play it a few times in a row and spot what looks like a different shout-out or Easter egg every time, and while I’m not sure how much of it I’m imagining – like how the karate mini-bosses look a lot like KOF13-era Takuma Sakazaki – it’s clearly all coming out of how much the designers love the genre as a whole.

The soundtrack’s further proof of that. Yeah, Dotemu and friends got Yuzo Koshiro back as a composer, because you couldn’t call it Streets of Rage at all without him, but he came alongside a supergroup of Japanese chiptune composers.

Hideki Naganuma (Jet Set Radio), Yoko Shimomura (Final Fight, Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy 15) and Keiji Yamagishi (Ninja Gaiden, The Messenger) have all contributed to Streets of Rage 4’s soundtrack, and all of them are tapping straight into the weird dirty trance and electrofunk that got the SoR series at least some of its fan following.

The game does start wearing out its welcome by its end. Once it starts introducing mechanics like a wrecking ball that you can kick into enemies, it's running out of steam, and it all ends in a final boss that's too obnoxious by half. Still, 10 good stages out of 12 isn't bad.

Streets of Rage 4 Review — The Bottom Line

  • The soundtrack. That’s it
  • Once you get a handle on defensive moves, you start to feel like a badass
  • I beat a guy with another guy and it was fun
  • The European-comics art style is genuinely cool and tasteful
  • Crucial defensive moves could be explained a lot better in play
  • The last stage is kinda awful…
  • …mostly because of the last boss

I was pleasantly surprised by Streets of Rage 4 once I figured it out. It plays a bit of a trick on you if you’re a fan of this sort of game, where you fall into your old patterns almost immediately, but the game is built to smack you down if you do. Instead, it’s got a simple combat system with some real depth to it, and which only gets more fun as you add players in co-op.

Maybe as long as the Lizardcube/Dotemu/Guard Crush crew is at it, they can rescue a few more Sega franchises from the ash heap. I wouldn’t mind seeing what they could do with, say, Eternal Champions.

[Note: A copy of Streets of Rage 4 was provided by Dotemu for the purpose of this review.]

Remnant: From the Ashes Swamps of Corsus DLC Review — Surviving the Pit Tue, 28 Apr 2020 10:00:02 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

Remnant: From the Ashes was one of the surprise titles of 2019. It sold extremely well and got almost universally positive reviews (including from us). We were excited to hear that the game's first major DLC, Swamps of Corsus, was headed our way with a few new tricks up its sleeve.

We're loading up our rifles to go hunting through the DLC, and we'll tell you whether or not it warrants another adventure through the twisted world of Remnant. If you've never played the base game, you might want to check out our original review before diving in.

Remnant: From the Ashes Swamps of Corsus DLC Review — Surviving the Pit

If you aren't familiar, the most basic description of Remnant: From the Ashes is "Dark Souls with guns." Obviously, this is a reductive way to summarize the game, but it puts us all on the same page. You move through a dark, mysterious world, hunting monsters and incrementally leveling your character.

There are waypoints you can jump between, if you die and make it back to your corpse, you get your XP back, and you will do a lot of dodge rolling (particularly against the tough-as-nails bosses).

What we weren't particularly expecting from the original Remnant was how much the developers were able to add to that formula to make Remnant its own thing. The game's improved maneuverability, slight randomization of world layouts, extensive co-op options, and emphasis on New Game+ elements made it an enjoyable and fun ride through multiple playthroughs. It's a strong contender for "best surprise" of 2019.

The best part of this new DLC is that the elements that are added are neatly incorporated into every new world you start. You can tackle the new modes and start grabbing new equipment almost immediately, and the new zones are seamlessly incorporated into the existing content once you load a new world.

Considering how much replayability Remant: From the Ashes already has, it means this DLC is, at a base level, just more stuff to play with. If you've been away for a while and want to dive back in, you'll start seeing new content right off the bat. It also means that, if you're new to the game, it's just more stuff to optimize your character with.

New weapons, traits, enemies, and more will all appear in the Swamps of Corsus DLC, so you'll have to start rethinking some of your tried-and-true strategies to find what works best.

The Swamps are Calling

Swamps of Corsus beefs up the Corsus realm, which is already part of the base game. The DLC molds it into a full-fledged world complete with devious enemies and gigantic bosses. The new enemies have some really fun designs and attacks, and unlike some of the creatures that could seem like reskins in the original game, the new Swamps of Corsus enemies are very unique.

The bosses in Swamps of Corsus also deserve a special callout. Maybe it's just because I had practiced so much on the base game bosses and these were all brand-new, but the DLC bosses seem tougher than anything I had previously faced.

When you get past fearsome design, some of the original bosses have fairly easy exploits. Not here. The new bosses in Swamps of Corsus will put your dodging, aiming, and positioning to the ultimate test.

Survive, If You Can

All that aside, the big draw of Swamps of Corsus is the new Survival Mode. This mode is separate from the main game, but it completely transforms Remnant. When you load into Survival Mode, you are dropped into a hub with a bit of scrap to your name and some very basic equipment. You can purchase a few traits or weapons, but then it's time to set out.

You'll travel through corrupted worldstones, each loading up a random area full of enemies and pickups. A timer counts down and each time it hits zero, enemies will get a strength increase. Your goal is to continue picking up items and defeating bosses to make it as far as you can before you are overwhelmed.

Survival turns Remnant into a roguelike, which is a fantastic way to extend the life of the game if you played it into the ground when it first released.

Survival runs can go horribly wrong, too; I had multiple runs where none of the equipment I picked up gelled, and it was only a matter of time before enemies picked me off. As I started shaking off the rust, however, my skills started pushing me through until I could start figuring out a decent build, and all those good vibes started flooding back from my first time starting to master Remnant.

In short, Survival mode breathes new life into Remnant: From the Ashes; if you enjoyed it back on its initial release, you should probably have the Swamps of Corsus DLC on your radar.

Remnant: From the Ashes Swamps of Corsus Review The Bottom Line

  • New weapons, items, and bosses fit well and bring new life to Remnant
  • Much of the content is available right off the bat
  • Survival Mode is a whole new way to play, and it might be more enjoyable than the main game
  • If you got bored of Remnant's style, there isn't a lot here that will reignite your interest
  • If it was already too difficult, the new bosses are even worse

If you already have and enjoy Remnant: From the Ashes, this DLC is a no-brainer. It's only $10, and the Survival Mode on its own is like a whole new game. That, coupled with the new content, means this is providing a good bang for your buck.

If you're brand-new to Remnant: From the Ashes, there's no reason to not just tack the DLC on when you pick it up. Since everything is incorporated already, it'll just give you more options as you make your first journey through the gameworld.

Swamps of Corsus is a slam dunk. About the only big issue we could find is that only PC players have access at this point: console gamers will have to wait to venture into the swamp. But that will sort itself out in time, as the DLC is set to hit consoles sometime this year. 

[Note: A copy of Remnant: From the Ashes  Swamps of Corsus DLC was provided by Perfect World Games for the purpose of this review.]

Deliver Us the Moon Review: Unraveling the Mysteries of Space Mon, 27 Apr 2020 14:33:29 -0400 RobertPIngram

Stop me if you've heard this one before: Deliver Us the Moon is the story of a lonely astronaut trying to survive the cold dark of space and save the day without anybody by his side to help. With just a voice in his ear, and eventually a robot companion by his side, he alone can prevent apocalyptic-level disaster.

While the game may not break new ground in the big picture, it's a well-trod path because it's a compelling one, and Deliver Us the Moon is a well-executed effort that proves the genre can still find ways to provide a unique and enjoyable experience. 

Deliver Us the Moon may not do anything that completely knocks your space boots off, but it still provides a thoroughly enjoyable mix of plot and puzzle as you seek to fulfill the game's titular request.

Deliver Us the Moon Review: Unraveling the Mysteries of Space

The game's protagonist is tasked with a direct and vital mission: restoring functionality to an energy production facility on the moon's surface, but he is also asked to unravel a mystery along the way. Following the loss of production at the facility, all communication with the moon-dwellers has gone silent, and in order to save the day, you'll need to determine just what went down and why you're the only living soul on board in the first place.

This is where the game falls back on a mix of environmental storytelling and cutscenes. Throughout your exploration, you'll encounter written documents, physical objects, and even holographic projections, all of which begin to fill in the blanks.

Adding to the complexity of the narrative, the game actually covers three different plotlines. In addition to your exploration and the time up to and immediately following the blackout that ultimately led to your desperate mission, there is a third thread relating to a two-person probe carried out immediately following the blackout.

As you make your way throughout the different outposts and stations on the moon, you'll slowly begin to fill in your wrist-worn Astrotool and piece together just what happened leading up to the blackout, as well as the fate of the first attempt to contact the colonists following the events.

Now, it should be noted that I found the plot did require me to make some pretty large allowances where certain elements didn't quite seem to line-up up in my mind. With that said, I found the overall arc compelling enough that I had no trouble doing so. 

When I finished the final chapter and saw that I had six elements I missed in my scanner, I immediately felt compelled to return to those chapters to fill in my final gaps because I wanted to get the entire story.

A strong story is all well and good, but if the gameplay can't match-up, then it soon becomes a chore trying to progress to your next plot point. This is a definite strong-suit for Deliver Us the Moon.

While the game largely consists of your lone astronaut exploring different hubs and stations on the moon colony, it offers just enough tweaks throughout to keep things interesting.

You unlock a drone that flies by your side that can access new areas and a wrist-cutter that allows you to open up new routes through the facility. Enemy drones create areas ripe for stealthy sneaking, and a reduced battery function creates the opportunity for puzzles built around changing out what sections of the station are powered at a given time.

The game also features sections where the third-person perspective changes entirely. While the short moon-vehicle section is a light distraction, one entire chapter takes place with the main character floating in zero-G in first-person.

By mixing and matching the different elements at your disposal, the designers do an excellent job of keeping things fresh and, for the most part, avoiding the dreadful feeling of playing a game that feels like it has been padded just for the sake of adding time. In total, the game could likely be speed-run in under three hours, but the different puzzles and challenges make for a longer playthrough without feeling like you're being asked to complete a task just for the sake of adding another 10 minutes to the game.

One big caveat is that I found the game to be quite buggy in the middle chapters in frustrating ways. In one instance, a door that was supposed to be open remained blocked, while in another, I was unable to push an item where it needed to go. 

These glitches were not only frustrating in the moment, as I fruitlessly looked for what I must have been missing before realizing it was an error and needed a reload, it also then introduced that uncertainty at later snags. When you don't fully trust the game, you can't be sure if you're failing or if the game is.

Deliver Us the Moon  The Bottom Line

  • Varied puzzles keep each new section fresh and fun
  • Atmospheric storytelling elements create an interesting narrative
  • Level-breaking glitches require reloads to fix
  • Large allowances required for some of the overarching plot points

Picking up a game from such a long-established genre comes with good and bad. On the upside, it's easier to know if you're likely to enjoy it or not based on whether you've liked similar games. On the other hand, it's easy for the experience to feel like just more of the same and not worth your time.

The best compliment I can pay to Deliver Us the Moon is that it never felt familiar, even when draped in the essence of lost-in-space media.

If I had experienced the game without any performance problems, it would have made for an unequivocally raving review. Unfortunately, the periods where I was wrestling with solving a puzzle that turned out to have no answer, and resulting periods where I began to question if I was experiencing another glitch when actually I was merely overlooking an element of a puzzle, have to be factored in.

Despite those issues, however, I still whole-heartedly believe this game is worth a look. Just as the interesting minutiae of the plot are enough to overcome some of the issues I had with the macro-level concept, the overall experience was more than enough to make up for having one or two bouts of irritation.

[Note: A copy of Deliver Us the Moon was provided by KeokeN Interactive for the purpose of this review.]

Gears Tactics Review: Brutal, Thrilling, Tactical, Lonely Mon, 27 Apr 2020 09:00:01 -0400 Jason D'Aprile

With the next generation of consoles rapidly approaching, it’s not surprising that we’re not getting a new Gears of War for the soon-to-be-last-gen Xbox One. Instead, Microsoft has made the rather surprising move of creating a Gears game specifically for the PC, something the company’s game division hasn’t done in a long while.

The result is Gears Tactics and unlike their real-time strategy (RTS) Halo off-shoot, Halo Wars, these Gears play only on PC, for now. 

Microsoft did an excellent job giving Halo its strategic bent with Halo Wars, but Gears Tactics is another sort of animal entirely. This isn’t an RTS for one thing. It is definitively a tactical combat game and the parallels to the modern XCOM series are unavoidable.

The two games are in many ways remarkably similar. On the highest level, both are sci-fi-themed, four-member squad, turn-based combat games played out mostly on burned-out urban maps.

Gears Tactics Review: Brutal, Thrilling, Tactical, Lonely

They control similarly as well. You command each squad member in turn to move, attack, or interact with something, using a limited number of action points. Every action costs a specific amount of points and special attacks take several turns to recharge after use. Gears Tactics even has overwatch mode like XCOM, where a soldier stands ready to fire on any enemies entering their line of sight. 

Admittedly, XCOM is far from the only game to use these mechanics and there’s a fair bit of streamlining in Tactics to keep the action fluid. Full camera controls are a vital part of the control scheme for one thing. You can look over the battlefield from nearly any angle, zooming in, rotating, or just sliding the view around the map. Using the "WASD" and "QE" keys for camera controls and the mouse to click on the map and command troops, the user interface is excellent. 

The game can be controlled almost entirely with the mouse if desired, or even with a control pad (suggesting it could easily be ported to console, which Microsoft seems to have plans for).

Without a doubt, the game simply feels best using the mix of keyboard and mouse, right down to hitting the space bar to initiate an attack command. The only real problem I encountered with controls was when the mouse pointer was near the edge of the screen, resulting in the map camera flying in that direction.

Gears Tactics takes place 12 years before the original Gears of War. The Locust Horde is decimating the human population of the planet Sera and in a last-ditch attempt to kill their enemies, the humans fire the devastating Hammer of Dawn super-weapon on their own cities. Gabe Diaz is one of the surviving super soldiers. His goal is to recruit more soldiers and take the fight back to the horde and their mysterious new leader.

If you’re into the lore of Gears of War, Tactics is definitely an essential play. The characters are interesting if cliched, the plot effective, and very little of it gets in the way of the actual gameplay. As you progress, you’ll earn potential new recruits by either rescuing or encountering them through a mission, or just randomly generated between missions.

Characters run the gamut of classes. There are heavies with chain guns, snipers, medics, scouts, and all-rounders to choose from. The random joiners flip in and out quickly, enabling players to constantly have an influx of new bodies to try out, along with the main characters.

Surviving characters gain experience and skill points, and better equipment and supplies. There’s a surprisingly robust skills tree for every character, offering a wealth of variation. Some skills apply passive perks like damage or health bonuses, while others are active skills requiring action points to use. Weapons and armor are divided into parts, which can each be upgraded with better gear. 

Gears Tactics, being part of a AAA franchise, doesn’t skimp on the presentation. It presents a gorgeously polished view of the Locust apocalypse, with fantastic use of multi-level battlegrounds that greatly enhance potential tactical choices. Since it’s using the assets of the main Gears games, Tactics offers the chance to get a bird’s eye view of landscapes players have been shooting through for years. 

Over the course of a few acts (each divided into about 10 chapters), Tactics throws the player into a wide range of scenarios. There are straight-up bug hunts to just kill enemies, rescue missions, escape chases, missions to stand and defend ground and other things, and even gigantic boss battles. Missions can easily take 20-30 minutes to battle through and are consistently entertaining. 

Gears Tactics skillfully takes all the familiar gameplay of the action games and translates it into a turn-based affair with surprising skill. The gameplay succeeds because the combat manages to have nearly the same visceral excitement as the rest of the series. It’s still a cover-based shooter with brutal melee chainsaw attacks and executions (which, of course, gift you with bonuses). The action and pacing, simply put, feel right.  

This dedication to parity with the rest of the series, unfortunately, makes Gears Tactics’ biggest flaw stand out. While the series has always had excellent single-player campaigns, multiplayer is inherent to the secret of Gears overall success. Multiplayer is also an expected element of tactical strategy games at this point, yet there’s none here.

All Gears Tactics comes with is the (admittedly beefy) single-player campaign. There are no skirmish modes for random one-off battles, no co-op, or competitive play. This lack of extra content hurts the replay value and will likely make the game a hard sell, especially since 2K Games coincidentally dropped a new addition to XCOM so recently.

Gears Tactics Review — The Bottom Line

  • Superb, polished turn-based tactical gameplay
  • Great presentation
  • Complex, frequently multi-layered maps
  • Terrific transition of familiar Gears gameplay to a new genre 
  • No multiplayer
  • No skirmish modes

If the lack of extras and multiplayer isn’t a big issue, Gears Tactics is great fun. The tactical combat is violent and satisfying, the story is solid, and the presentation is excellent.

Thanks to intuitive controls, Gears Tactics is easy to get into even for players who have never played a turn-based tactical squad game before. It’s just a shame there’s not more here.

[Note: A copy of Gears Tactics was provided by Microsoft for the purpose of this review.]

Sakura Wars Review: A Triumphant (Re)Debut Mon, 27 Apr 2020 09:00:01 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

If I had to describe Sakura Wars in one word, it’d be cozy. Maybe that’s a strange thing to call a game about defending an alt-1940s Tokyo from slavering demonic hordes, but as you’ve probably heard by now, playing Sakura Wars is like watching an anime. A light, comfortably predictable interactive anime.

That's not a criticism. Sakura Wars is full of personality and, even with some dodgy combat getting in the way, it's a surprisingly absorbing game full of memorable characters and an even more memorable way to interact with them.

Sakura Wars Review: A Triumphant (Re) Debut

Most of the action in Sakura Wars gets confined to big chapter-ending segments. Even though it’s technically where the story is and what moves the game forward, the best parts of Sakura Wars are in the adventure portions. Fortunately, these also make up the bulk of each chapter.

Sakura Wars PS4 is a reboot for the long-running, eponymous series that only saw one other title localized for Western release. You need zero knowledge of previous Sakura Wars games to enjoy this one, but you’ll find a number of throwbacks and Easter eggs (like Flower Division commander Sumire Kanzaki).

Here, you take control of former Navy commander Seijuro Kamamiya. After a disaster occurred on his watch, Kamamiya was transferred to the Imperial Combat Revue in Tokyo. It’s a theatre company by day, but that’s just a front for the Revue’s real purpose. The world of Sakura Wars is full of Combat Revues in major cities dedicated to keeping the demonic threat at bay. 

There’s not much to the overarching ideas other than that: demons want to destroy humans, and you try to stop them. Sakura Wars doesn’t delve into the depths of human experience or wax eloquently on the nature of good and evil.

But this background and the story beats it makes possible are definitely one of the more unique in games and add a touch of distinction. The game’s gorgeous anime visuals and lovely, fully orchestrated soundtrack only help further that distinction.

This incarnation of the Flower Division is very much down on its luck, though — as in broke and essentially inept. Kamiyama is tasked with leading the Flower Division as captain, improving sales at the Grand Imperial Theater, and bolstering everyone’s theatrical and combat performance.

A business-sim component would probably be a fun addition, but the actual management of the Grand Imperial Theatre gets left to your imagination (and some excellent animated scenes). Instead, you’ll spend your days and nights getting to know the Flower Division members, learning about the obstacles they need to overcome, and discussing plans for improvement or competing in the Combat Revue Games, among other things.

All this pans out over a number of conversations with the Division and theatre staff, divided into episode-like chapters, and these conversations are where Sakura Wars really shines.

Each chapter contains required and optional “quests,” though events would probably be more accurate. They’re all marked on your high-tech steam-powered Telecom device map, meaning you won’t miss any events unless you just want to. And you shouldn’t. Even the silliest, optional dialogue events are worth taking the time to experience thanks to the LIPS dialogue system (Live & Interactive Picture System).

Pretty much every conversation in Sakura Wars throws up at least one dialogue juncture where you have to choose between three different choices or stay silent.

These run the gamut of situations. There's serious, like figuring out whether you should be brutally honest about the Flower Division’s lackluster performance, and just for fun, like deciding if you want to be a jerk and give Azami a nickname you know she’ll hate. You’ll know if you picked the right choice thanks to a happy little chime sound, while the opposite lets you know you done did bad.

That said, the Sakura Wars PS4 LIPS system doesn’t seem quite as complex as earlier entries in the series. For example, staying quiet is rarely the right choice, there are no branching dialogue paths, and a good many of the situations make it pretty easy to land on the right choice.

The new analog LIPS segment, where you tilt the stick to measure your reaction’s enthusiasm, is an interesting take on the regular system. However, it isn’t used much and never requires much guesswork (e.g. it’s bad to peep on friends while they change clothes, so keep that meter low).

Still, these aren't really things you notice in the moment. Whether it’s from LIPS’ time limit for each choice or what, it’s incredibly easy to get caught up in even the most minor scenes.

It helps too that just as I started getting complacent, thinking I knew how to handle the choices as they came up, Sakura Wars would throw a curveball with a set of intentionally ambiguous options. And it handles some of the seemingly easy ones in a clever way too. It'll frequently hold off with the chime cue until a few more lines of dialogue passed, keeping you guessing if you did the right thing or not as everyone’s reactions unfold.

Whether you pick the wrong answer every time or not, your choices won’t affect how the story progresses. It’s all about building trust (or not), which spills over into battle with morale boosts and potentially unlocks a special romance scene with your favorite Flower Division member towards the end of the game.

You can make Kamiyama a jerk and a perv if you want. But don’t expect your friendships to blossom, and do expect getting punched in the face more than once.

I can’t say I don’t want choices to have more impact on different areas of Sakura Wars, but again, it’s more of a secondary issue after the fact. It’s all about enjoying the moment, and enjoying the moment is much easier thanks to Sega’s excellent localization.

The Flower Division and the entire supporting cast do fall pretty obviously into standard tropes — innocent girl with dreams, bookworm, tough girl, and so on. But the script does an excellent job giving each a distinct voice and doing the most to still make those tropes interesting.

It’s also worth experimenting with different choices just to see what happens. You, lucky reader, will get the chance to do that with a day-one update that introduces manual saving and loading in place of the default autosave function.

Even though you can make Kamiyama a sleazeball, his default position is more kind and gentlemanly, and it’s an interesting part of Sakura Wars. It’d be pretty easy for it to slide into that stale and toxic “father knows best” style. Yet even when Kamiyama helps the Flower Division members overcome their weaknesses, it’s more a case of being the right person at the right time. These women can — and do — exist and thrive without Kamiyama. Wanna make a difference? Be a nice guy. Be respectful. It’s as simple as that.

Which makes the tete-a-tete scenes a bit of an anomaly from time to time. You’ll unlock these special, intimate scenes with the girls you build trust with, and it’s a chance to learn more about them while, obviously, getting closer. These lead you by the nose as far as making you choose a set number of topic or dialogue options before the scenes progress, and some of them are a tad uncomfortable.

For example, you can notice a number of things about Sakura’s appearance, including her hair, mouth, and skin. Then you have to choose several additional options to move the scene forward, like stroking her hair — even when Sakura specifically asks you not to. It’s tonally indifferent to the idea of choosing how you interact with everyone else and honestly just seems out of place.

Outside speaking with everyone, you’ll have a few, seemingly random side quests to complete and can purchase collectible photos called bromides from the theatre souvenir stall. The Koi-Koi Wars card game unlocks in chapter two, a card game as addictive as the characters say it is — if you can recognize the hanafuda card types. Otherwise, you will be beaten horribly (but it's still fun, surprisingly enough).

There’s not much else to do until the end portion of each chapter, when everyone leaps into their Spiricle Fighters and confronts the demon menace.

Sakura Wars’ combat takes a bit to warm up to. It swaps the series’ usual turn-based battles for musou-style action combat, for better and worse. You’ll face down swarms of demons, many of whom stand there staring at you before bopping you lightly on the head with their weapon and waiting for you to destroy them. And you’ll fight more of them. And more. And more. 

I'm not gonna lie: the first chapter’s combat section is pretty hard to get through. It’s Kamiyama and Sakura, both of whom control close to the same. Combined with the same-y environments — a huge contrast to the bright and richly detailed normal world — it’s actually pretty boring. 

As you progress in the game, you’ll pair up with that chapter’s focus character, though. They all have different proficiencies, which means you’ll need to swap between them to handle different threats. It’s a huge improvement from then on, though Sakura Wars’ combat does still stray into mindless button mashing territory from time to time. If you want a challenge, definitely play on hard mode.

And yet, like I said back at the beginning, it’s pretty easy to overlook combat’s shortcomings because it doesn’t happen that much. The really good stuff takes center stage.

Sakura Wars — The Bottom Line

  • Cozy, slice-of-life anime goodness
  • Fun characters
  • Great writing breathes life into tropes
  • LIPS system keeps you on your toes and makes each conversation interesting
  • Excellent graphics and soundtrack
  • Combat is bleh
  • LiPS could stand to be a bit more complex at times
  • A handful of uncomfortable, out of place interactions

It should be pretty plain by now, but Sakura Wars isn't an RPG for everyone. If you don't like dialogue, run away. Those who do like it or are willing to give it a try are in for a treat, however. 

Sure, it'd be great to have your choices affect the game more or to interact with the rich world in more ways. But Sakura Wars grows on you, pulling you in with its charming cast of characters, gorgeous aesthetic and soundtrack, and engaging dialogue system.

It's a strong reboot, and one I truly hope heralds an encore for the series. There's nothing else quite like Sakura Wars, and that's a compliment.

[Note: Sega of America provided a digital copy of Sakura Wars for the purpose of this review.]

ITTA Review: A Somber Stroll Through Bullet-Hell Fri, 24 Apr 2020 19:54:46 -0400 RobertPIngram

Any misunderstandings you might glean from ITTA's cutesy pixel-art style are quickly put to rest in the game's opening moments. While your time exploring may see you winding through a beautiful, almost idyllic world, it merely provides a contrast for the darkness lurking underneath.

Like many bullet-hell games, Itta is mostly about taking down a series of increasingly volatile villains while playing as the game's eponymous hero. These battles often culminate in brutal, if not-quite-gory deaths for the bosses in the times where they don't end in death for Itta.

However, death won't keep Itta down. Multiple lives aren't just a game mechanic in ITTA: they have an in-game purpose as well. After each death, Itta is brought back to life outside the den of any big bad that proves just a little too big and a little too bad.

But it's because Itta has a destiny woven into the game's narrative that death isn't the end. 

ITTA Review: A Somber Stroll Through Bullet-Hell

This binding to a tragic fate is not reserved for Itta, however. During her journey, she encounters others that are equally tied to a dour existence they can't seem to escape.

The reactions of these other denizens to Itta's activities range from gracious to openly hostile. The designers clearly set out to make you question if what you are doing is really in the name of good — even if I never felt that ambiguity ever hit home for me.

Perhaps this is what was aimed for all along, however. I never felt the need to dwell on the right or wrong of Itta's work because it was what I was there to do, which is largely the experience that Itta herself has.

On a gameplay level, ITTA is serviceable if a bit repetitive. There is admirable effort made to produce a unique set of bosses to take on, but with such basic controls, they all end up feeling quite similar. It doesn't help that Itta has only a few moves at her disposal.

In addition to an ultimate that charges with near misses, you can move, you can shoot, and you can dodge. The latter renders Itta invulnerable for the majority of the animation.

This does mean that when the bullets hit the fan, every fight can become a bit samey. Roll, roll, and roll some more. As long as you aren't finishing a roll directly on a projectile, you can enter into your next roll without taking any damage. If you hold your trigger, you'll even squeeze off a shot at the villain in that small moment.

As an admittedly mediocre bullet-hell gamer, it left me with only two options: Attempt to minimize rolling and relying on dodges and shot volume — setting myself up for failure against the game's later foes  or rely on the roll, which is, quite frankly, overpowered, and making short work of everyone.

For the development team, this may not even read as much of a problem; they clearly value the work put into the game's story. ITTA even includes the option to double your damage or go fully invincible if a boss is giving you trouble. It's a nice bit of accessibility if you just want to progress through the tale.

As to whether that story justifies its place as the central pillar of the game is another question entirely.

I enjoyed playing through the various levels and seeing Itta's interactions with its residents evolve, but I also wasn't blown away by the narrative. Had the game instead released as a pure bullet-hell sandbox of unique battles, I don't think it would have harmed my enjoyment of it all that much.

ITTA Review — The Bottom Line

  • Beautiful artwork
  • Frenetic play that makes it easy to play just one fight more
  • Latter boss fights can feel repetitive
  • Confusion can easily lead to wasted time

In coming to a final conclusion on ITTA, I find myself of two minds, caused by a properly frustrating experience I had that is also one that I do think will only happen for a minority of players. To avoid mild spoilers on solving a puzzle, skip the next paragraph.

In order to advance the story, a pillar needed to be pushed into position to block a waterfall. Although I tried this initially, I must have missed the precise location required and believed that wasn't the solution.

The game's simple aesthetic and hands-off approach to guidance really backfired for me here; I felt aimless, and it led to a significant period of wasted time attempting alternate solutions and searching the levels for signs of any missed items that could solve the problem.

While the snag didn't ruin my overall experience entirely, it demonstrated the risk of a game that commits so hard to being mysterious.

For such a short game, spending as much time as I did wandering around lost was a big dent. With that said, and noting that while most players will avoid that exact pitfall, there were other areas I could see similar confusion creeping up caused by the minimalist approach, I think it's likely most players will have a frustration-free jaunt through the gardens.  

[Note: A copy of ITTA was provided by Glass Revolver for the purpose of this review.]

Moving Out Review — So Many Ways To Move It, Move It Thu, 23 Apr 2020 14:44:07 -0400 Jonny Foster

Moving Out is the newest party game published by Team17, set to rival Overcooked for the mayhem-inducing physics-based local-multiplayer crown. While the charm and appeal of Moving Out certainly mirrors Overcooked, beneath the surface beats a different rhythm. 

Here, the name of the game is removals. You and up to three other players are tasked with moving fragile boxes, hefty furniture, and even livestock into a moving van before the timer runs out. 

As you might expect, things aren’t easy. There are all manner of traps, hazards, and trials for you to navigate around on your way to the moving van. 


Moving Out Review — So Many Ways To Move It, Move It

Sometimes ghosts will haunt the mansions you’re moving items from, chasing and stunning your movers, while smaller houses often have awkward twisting hallways that make moving a bed or sofa nearly impossible. 

In these situations, grabbing the furniture with a partner and throwing it out of a window is often the best course of action — not to mention such teamwork is gleefully destructive fun, too. In fact, Moving Out is littered with destructible knick-knacks that make the world feel more interesting and alive. 

Only specific items need to be packed during each level — though you can interact with pretty much everything you see — and hurling a chair at a nearby TV because it’s in the way of the table that you need is exactly the sort of bonkers nonsense that makes Moving Out so enjoyable. 

To change things up, there are also dynamic levels that take place on moving vehicles, on a river — with passing logs, a la Frogger — and more. The level variety is actually really impressive considering the fairly limited scope of a moving company being the game's conceit. 

Much like Overcooked, there are three tiers of rating for each level — gold, silver, and bronze medals — but there are bonus objectives this time, too. Each level has three additional objectives, such as “break all the windows” or “jump over the pond," which add a good level of replay value and competition. 

Completing these objectives also unlocks Arcade levels that will test every fiber of your resolve and patience to complete. 

Of course, not everyone will enjoy the level of challenge that Moving Out provides, and others still may struggle to compete under the standard ruleset. Thankfully, this is where the game's fantastic accessibility options shine. 

Moving Out features a wide array of accessibility options, from extending timers and level skips to single Joy-Con controls and less hazardous levels. Honestly, if I could only praise a single aspect of Moving Out, it would be the extensive lengths taken to improve accessibility. 

The humor is another strong area for Moving Out; whether it’s the fact that you’re labeled a “Furniture Arrangement & Relocation Technician” (F.A.R.T) or the 80’s-themed instructional videos, it’s hard to keep a straight face while playing. 

The catchy soundtrack is also wonderfully 80’s-inspired, with disco tracks that you’re sure to find yourself humming along to. 

Moving Out Review — The Bottom Line

  • Like Overcooked, gameplay is fast-paced, frantic, and fun
  • Wide range of accessibility options make Moving Out fun for everyone
  • Clean aesthetic with surprisingly deep character customization options
  • Controls, mechanics, and level-designs can get a little frustrating, making some levels more of a slog than they should be

Unfortunately, not everything about Moving Out is a resounding success. Here, cooperation is far more important than in Overcooked. Heavy items will be difficult to fit into the moving van if they aren’t packed first, some items can’t be moved or thrown at all without a second helper, and so on. 

Not being able to function efficiently in a conveyor belt fashion feels like a weakness in the game mechanics; Overcooked is equally insane and raucous, but any job can be undertaken by one person if the other chefs fall into lava or get distracted by a pack of thieving rats.

In Moving Out, however, there can be a lot of waiting around for other players to return if they get caught by a ghost or walk a little too close to a passing car. 

On the flip side, my partner found the increased emphasis on teamwork more engaging and this is now her preferred party game, so your mileage may vary.

Whatever your preference is, Moving Out certainly provides the same flavor of co-operative tension and burst-out-loud laughter as Overcooked. With 30+ levels in varied environments on top of tons of bonus objectives to strive for, there’s lots to enjoy in this entertaining party hit.

[Note: A copy of Moving Out Was provided by Team 17 for the purpose of this review.]

Bubble Bobble 4 Friends Review: Like a Bubbly Kiss from the 80s Fri, 17 Apr 2020 13:03:42 -0400 Jason D'Aprile

Taito might not be quite the household name it used to be, so younger gamers could be forgiven for not knowing their profound impact on gaming. They created Space Invaders and all through the 80s were giants of the arcade. Thanks to classics like Ninja Warriors, Darius, and possibly most of all, Bubble Bobble, Taito earned a place in the hearts of countless arcade dwellers.

Bubble Bobble charmed with its adorable art style and characters, not particularly violent bubble-popping gameplay, and general all-ages appeal. Aside from spawning multiple sequels over the decades, the characters proved popular enough to get a whole other related series, Bust-a-Move.

So, it’s no mystery why plenty of people were excited to hear Bub and Bob, beloved dinosaur heroes, were getting a new outing on the Switch with Bubble Bobble 4 Friends.

Bubble Bobble 4 Friends Review: Like a Bubbly Kiss from the 80s

Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is, for the most part, exactly what fans would have hoped for. It’s a modern classic that keeps all the charm we loved about the original 80s game. There’s a significant graphics improvement of course, but the gameplay itself is largely identical.

A one-screen endeavor, each level offers up new challenges as Bub and Bob (and friends) jump from platform to platform, ride bubbles, and avoid obstacles while trapping the bad things in bubbles. Once trapped, the little heroes must pop the enemy-filled bubble by hitting it with their head spike or slamming down on it from above. And really, that’s it.

There are giant boss fights the involve avoiding the boss’ pattern of attacks while striking them with bubbles, but the core of the game never waivers. Like so many of the best arcade games, Bubble Bobble works so perfectly because it’s simple.

Simple doesn’t mean easy, though. This latest version still has one-hit-kills for our poor dino protagonists and some of the levels are decidedly tricky mazes full of deadly hazards. 

Each enemy type has a distinct movement pattern. Some are completely stationary and just serve as blockers, while others bounce all over the screen or shoot projectiles. Through the levels of each of the five worlds, you’ll have the opportunity to pop letter bubbles to spell “EXTEND." This gives you special skills like bubbles that are timed to explode, travel farther, or shoot lightning, which adds a bit of variety to the old-school tactics. 

The biggest and most obvious new feature is the four-player mode. Bubble Bobble was always built to be played with another player (although it’s perfectly fun alone). While more players make things more chaotic, the co-op focused gameplay is hilariously fun with four. It’s remarkably easy to screw over other players with ill-timed bubbles or just by using them as a platform to jump from. 

The downside to Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is simply that it doesn’t do enough with this newfound ability to support a party. There are 100 levels, including boss battles, but they go pretty fast. The original two-player arcade game is also included and accessible from the start, which is fantastic as well. Unfortunately, that’s it.

In comparison, BurgerTime Party!, another classic and beloved arcade revamp that recently hit the Switch, includes an array of new co-op and competitive multiplayer for up to four players.

Bubble Bobble 4 also doesn’t allow for drop-in/drop-out multiplayer. All players must start the world together and the only way to change up to more or fewer players is to start the world over entirely. Finally, you can’t pick individual levels to play, only the world.

These oversights are certainly disappointing but countered a great deal by the fact that Bubble Bobble is just great fun to play. Between the new levels and the original arcade port, there’s a lot of bubble blasting to do here, and more players and power-ups means more dynamics to explore.

Maybe the cutesy graphics and simple gameplay don’t work for everyone, but Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is a perfect example of why certain games remain in our collective mindset. It’s polished, instantly accessible but still challenging, and the controls and mechanics still feel absolutely perfect.

Bubble Bobble 4 Friends — the Bottom Line

  • Simple, accessible, classic gameplay
  • Four-player multiplayer
  • Bright, colorful creative levels
  • Just a terrific time
  • A little pricey and short
  • No other game modes to take more advantage of four-way action
  • No drop-in/out player options

Bubble Bobble returns in fine form, showing off to a new generation why it’s earned such a following over the decades. This new version looks great, is full of nostalgic charm, and most importantly, tons of dinosaur bubble-filled charm.

[Note: A copy of Bubble Bobble 4 Friends was provided by Taito for the purpose of this review.]

A Fold Apart Review: Scoring Heart and Soul Fri, 17 Apr 2020 11:00:02 -0400 Jonathan Moore

There is perhaps no game that better captures the intricacies of being in a relationship than A Fold Apart. Focusing on the emotional pitfalls of distance and how communication colors our understanding of one another, it ultimately speaks to the higher sphere of connection between two people. 

Heartfelt and touching, A Fold Apart is a manifesto to the strength of love. 

It's difficult to put into words how I feel about A Fold Apart. The degree to which it so accurately captures the complexities of love is borderline baffling. To say it is merely a puzzle game is to misrepresent the elaborate rhythms pulsing beneath its wonderfully-realized veneer. 

A Fold Apart Review: Scoring Heart and Soul

Before you understand how A Fold Apart works, it's important to understand it is a game about long-distance relationships. Separated by an interminable distance, a couple wades through the ebb and flow of day-to-day communication, and the story plays out across two distinct worlds: the real world and the emotional world. 

In the real world, the couple communicates primarily through text messages. Though many of the messages are routine or even mundane, they accurately convey the reality of an average relationship. While that could be construed as a knock on A Fold Apart, it's precisely the opposite.

It is a reason the game excels. 

There are moments in A Fold Apart that could have been taken right out of my conversations with my wife, as if text messages were pulled straight from my phone. And there are other moments further along that I know will resonate with players in a similar way. It's these tiny anchor points that resonate so deeply throughout the narrative. 

The other portion of A Fold Apart takes place in the emotional world. As the couple shares stories and hopes for their life together, miscommunication inevitably sneaks in, becoming the germ for fear, doubt, and guilt. When these emotions derail a conversation, whichever of the characters you're controlling tumbles into the emotional world. 

That is where you complete the game's puzzles, the physical manifestations of emotion. 

While the real world is often vibrantly cheery, bright, and full of life, the emotional world is often represented as a twisted Tim-Burton-caricature of a Pixar film. Buildings cant and crack, and thunderheads loom ominously in the distance. Hues are distinctly depressive, and the music is often melancholic. 

As for the puzzles themselves, things begin easy enough, with the tutorial teaching you how to fold each postcard-sized frame horizontally, from both right and left. You then learn how to flip the frame and fold again to create new pathways toward your goal. You then learn how to unfold to create even more pathways, by which you fold, unfold, and flip once again. 

These core principles follow you through many of the game's early chapters and stages. Eventually, things become more complex, and you find yourself folding corners, folding vertically, using blocks, and turning puzzles completely upside down, throwing your character from one side of a puzzle to another. 

Thankfully, puzzles evolve with the narrative's growing complexity, requiring you employ all of the skills you've learned along the way. Yet, they're never insurmountable. 

If you really get stuck, the game has a nifty hint feature that you can use at your leisure. Get stuck, and you can pause the game to get a hint. If you need, the hint system can even solve the entire puzzle for you, slowly metering out pointers at the click of a button or the press of a key. 

I reviewed A Fold Apart on PC, so I can't speak to how it feels on mobile devices or the Nintendo Switch. I can say, however, that the game controls delightfully. Both mouse and keyboard and controller are supported on Steam, with each providing an entirely different yet agreeable feel. 

On controller, you use the left thumbstick to move your character across a 2D plane and the right thumbstick to fold the paper. "A" locks in the fold and "B" unfolds. The bumpers flip the postcard from one side to the other, while "Y" rotates the card. 

Movements and actions on a controller are incredibly fluid and intuitive. However, on mouse and keyboard, solving puzzles feels perfectly tactile. Specifically, it's the action of moving your mouse to an edge, clicking to grab it, pulling the mouse to fold it, and releasing the mouse button to confirm the fold. It's a small subtly but one worth exploring in a game all about feel.  

I used a controller across my first playthrough, but my entire outlook changed by using a mouse and keyboard on my second. In no small way did it feel like I was legitimately folding paper. 

A Fold Apart Review — The Bottom Line

  • Fantastically unique puzzles
  • Realistic, emotive writing
  • Moving soundtrack
  • Four couples to play as
  • Some hard-to-read 3D text
  • Puzzles often explore the same emotions
  • Some puzzles are very (very) short

There's so much more I could say about A Fold Apart, from its moving soundtrack to its wonderful and fitting artwork. I've said some of those things in my preview of the game, which is certainly worth a read if you want to know more. 

A Fold Apart is an indie gem. To be frank, I've rarely been captured by a game like this; historically, I fall off the wagon at some point near the beginning. But A Fold Apart charmingly weaves so tightly into your conscious that it's impossible to forget. 

Some of its puzzles are on the wrong side of short and rely too heavily on negative emotions, while some of the font takes more effort to read than it should. The text message boxes also stand out as somehow anachronistically simplistic, but perhaps that's a tick in my design brain being picky. 

However, the game is so incredibly charming and so accurately depicts the rigors and pleasures of being in love that I can't help but adore it. The first title from Lightning Rod Games isn't perfect by definition, but even with a few tiny blemishes, it's only a fold apart. 

[Note: A copy of A Fold Apart was provided by Lightning Rod Games for the purpose of this review.]

Final Fantasy 7 Remake Review: Modern Mythology Thu, 16 Apr 2020 15:36:59 -0400 Gabriel Moss

It’s been over 23 years since Final Fantasy 7 released, seizing the moment that video game characters transitioned from 16-bit sprites to (blocky) 3D-animated models, and blowing the minds of gamers worldwide with a one-of-a-kind story about a ragtag group of eco-warriors taking on a ruthless megacorporation.

It was heavy stuff back then, but it set the bar for the types of stories that games could tell, and thus it went largely unmatched in the years following its release.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake takes cues from some of the best games to release in the past two decades, all while maintaining the best parts of the original’s weirdness.

I was at first skeptical that Remake could balance these elements without losing anything that made the original great. However, after 50 hours spent adventuring as spiky-haired protagonist Cloud Strife, I'm comfortable calling Final Fantasy 7 Remake the best Final Fantasy game I've played in decades.

In fact, it could be the best Final Fantasy game I've ever played  period.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake Review: Modern Mythology

Welcome to the iconic city of Midgar, a steel-plated metropolis built atop the dreams and aspirations of those less fortunate souls living in the slums and shantytowns below. 

While the original Final Fantasy 7 only touches on this place, giving it no more than about five hours of attention, Remake digs deep, majestically reinventing Midgar and reintroducing its inhabitants as regular people who could truly live and thrive together.

Across its 35- to 45-hour campaign, Final Fantasy 7 Remake grabs your hand and throws you down the nearest alleyway, introducing you to an unexpected range of sights, sounds, and storylines, but there are stops along the way that let you breathe and take everything in.

For those unfamiliar, the Midgar of Final Fantasy 7 was a hostile, unfriendly, and hopeless place. While the same is true of Remake's Midgar, this version is rendered in gorgeous 3D, containing details that give this setting far more room to stretch than it ever has before.

The denizens of Remake's Midgar drink, dance, eat ice cream, and fall in love amidst the scrapyards and hodgepodge buildings lining the lower slums, and it somehow manages to feel like a real place as a result.

Humanity is the most visible element of Final Fantasy 7's world, and it grounds this place in such a way that it's truly hard to let go of when the credits roll. Never before has so much heart, wit, and character shone through each interaction you have in the world of Final Fantasy 7.

Side-quests that might be considered cheap filler in other games now serve to set things up for the broader plot, or at the very least anchor Cloud in the world around you. Many bring the slowest moments to life with humor and/or subtle details that foreshadow later story events or reflect Cloud's own development as a character. And they often reward you well for completing them, granting you access to brand-new weapons and other powerful items.

Midgar's urban and industrial sprawl now has a logical sense of place and purpose. No longer simply painting the picture of extreme urban decay, it now tells the richer and deeper story of how the fictional city has developed. Each familiar location makes a return, from Wall Market to the Sector 7 Slums.

These locales instantly trigger nostalgia for me as a 23-year Final Fantasy 7 veteran, and I'm deeply pleased by seeing them come to life in Remake. Even the mysterious Train Graveyard is now much more fleshed out. However, only a couple of brand-new locations are introduced in Remake, which focuses on density as opposed to breadth.

Environments in Remake look phenomenal and succeed in painting Midgar as not just a big city, but a leading character in the story. Unfinished construction projects pile on top of one another as nearby citizens work together to eke out a living. Granted, some textures are low-res or outright missing. The one key example being the door to Cloud's apartment in Chapters 3 and 4, which just looks like a solid block of color.

Meanwhile, many character animations are noticeably out-of-sync with the non-Japanese voice dubs. Hilarity ensues when a character's lips outright stop moving while the voice track continues playing, which is more often the case with minor characters in side quests.

However, these are small details when you look out into the horizon (in any direction) and see just how immense everything around you is. The visuals of Final Fantasy 7 Remake surpass just about everything else out there, pulling some truly baffling tricks to give a CGI-quality flair to every scene.

Giving even Half-Life: Alyx a run for its money, Final Fantasy 7 Remake offers some of the best uses of volumetric lighting I've ever seen in a game, such as when you first wander into Wall Market and see the contrasting beacons of neon light clashing against one another, or when you step into Shinra HQ and look out over the city below.

Playing on a fancy HDR-enabled television is an unmitigated spectacle, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

A major difference between Final Fantasy 7 and Remake is tone. While the slums of the original were an oppressed, repressed place, Remake spins this Midgar as a place of hope.

Minor characters like Wedge, Jessie, and Biggs are fleshed out and given tons of heart, making their stories not just relatable side-arcs, but ones central to the heart and soul of the main story itself. That's not to mention the new characters that have been added are instantly memorable, such as motorbike-flaring speed demon Roche and coin-flipping cowboy Chocobo Sam.

I'm disappointed that none of them were given the spotlight longer, but that just goes to show how much fun these characters are to be around.

Many of the weirder monster designs from the 1997 original not only make a return but have a sense of logical place within the world around you. The common Gorger feeds on metal scrap, while the oddly-shaped Smogger robot is purposefully used for transporting hazardous byproducts from giant 'mako' reactors and carpeting the Midgar slums with waste and smog.

Remake incorporates the incredible cinematic storytelling style of titles like God of War (2018) and Devil May Cry 5, which is to say that it keeps the drama onscreen as much as it possibly can. It does all of this while peppering each shot with dramatic camera angles and fantastic delivery of its many clever and heartfelt lines.

While fans of the original are long familiar with the protagonist, Cloud, a genetically-modified swordsman with the iconic Buster Sword at his back, Final Fantasy 7 Remake has taken his character apart and truly analyzed what makes him tick, a treat to watch as you follow his journey and gain insight into his troubled inner world.

Combat feels incredible in Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Granted, turn-based mode hasn’t made a real comeback, but the new action combat is some of the deepest and most addictive in the series.

As you cut, punch, and shoot your way through some of the most hectic and exciting battles and boss battles in a recent Final Fantasy title, the vastly reimagined new ATB (Active Time Battle) system courteously allows you to stop every few seconds to make tactical decisions in a paused combat window. This works amazingly well, imbuing action with a rich, deep, tactical element.

The menu itself is well-organized, giving you options to use Items, Magic, or Abilities. This works even better than the original, which never gave you too much time to hang about in a menu as enemies continued taking their turns while you were busy perusing your options. This is no longer the case, as combat slows down to a halt while you make the best possible choice.

This doesn't mean that every attack will land, however! There's a satisfying extra layer of challenge that comes from the possibility that even your strongest attacks, Limit Breaks, can be deflected, dodged, or outright interrupted if not lined up at the right moment.

One complaint about this new combat system is how easy it is to lose control of the camera, especially when fighting in a tight space with lots of objects that the camera needs to pan around. Since most fights tend to happen in corridors and small arenas, the camera will often clip through stuff while you're trying to focus. It's frustrating at first, but forgivable given that the camera can be configured in-game.

Materia is back, and it's better here than it ever was before. For those unfamiliar, the materia system allows you to put colored orbs into slots in your gear, giving you the powers that the 'materia' orb is imbued with. Each one still earns experience points and levels up individually, which is great, especially because it lets you quickly switch each character's loadout on the fly without losing any of your skill progress. 

It's an absolute delight to be able to mix and match these glowing magical orbs to quickly prepare yourself to take on certain boss encounters and battles, and the variety is surprisingly full. If you don't want to cast any spells, you can still deck your gear out with materia that boosts your stats or makes your ATB gauge fill up faster in combat.

It was already a great system in the original; now, it's downright addictive.

For the better part of 23 years, Final Fantasy 7 was one of my favorite video game soundtracks of all time. This might have been the one area I was most skeptical about when playing Remake, but it did not disappoint.

The soundtrack of Final Fantasy 7 Remake has such incredible variety in tone and range that I'd be shocked if it didn't receive a Grammy nomination. The seven or so hours of original music from the likes of Nobuo Uematsu and Masashi Hamauzu illustrate the exact feeling that Remake wants you to have at every moment.

It's a treat to hear different parts of the arrangement layer on top of one another as you progress through a scene or an encounter, something that Final Fantasy 7 Remake clearly borrowed from NieR: Automata, and which I'm profoundly grateful for.

Remake's musical arrangement is, dare I say, perfect, and I left the whole thing playing on repeat as I wrote this review.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake Review — The Bottom Line

  • Faithful recreation of an unforgettable and beloved story
  • Midgar is brought to life
  • Combat represents the perfect crossroads of new and old
  • A full cast of loveable characters
  • One of the best soundtracks in a game
  • Positively gorgeous visuals
  • Missing or low-fi textures in some areas
  • Messy camera before tweaks
  • Some poor character animations

Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a far more difficult game to review than I expected. I love almost everything about it, so much so that I struggle to find the words to do it the justice I believe it deserves.

While it still has minor technical issues, they never got in the way of Remake ramming its fingers into my nostrils and dragging me face-first through one of the deepest, most satisfying, and most downright engulfing Japanese RPG campaigns I've ever experienced.

[Note: A copy of Final Fantasy 7 Remake was provided by Square-Enix for the purpose of this review.]

Journey to the Savage Planet Hot Garbage DLC Review Thu, 16 Apr 2020 13:55:08 -0400 Mark Delaney

Journey to the Savage Planet was born from the principles of a studio seeking salvation from past overbearing publishers, where grayish grit and graphic violence have been the mandates for much too long.

In its colorful, slapstick rejection of so many norms, Typhoon Studios carved out a unique, retro-inspired metroidvania when its debut launched in January.

Fans will enjoy returning to the game with the new Hot Garbage DLC, as it clearly improves on the base game in at least one important way, though it seems strangely built for players who haven't yet finished the game.

Journey to the Savage Planet Hot Garbage DLC Review

Once purchased, Hot Garbage is worked seamlessly into the campaign. In fact, given its platforming and combat challenges inside the 2- to 4-hour DLC, I came away thinking I'd have enjoyed it more had I not yet beaten the main game.

If you head into it as post-credits DLC, it's likely your character will feel almost overpowered for the expansion. It doesn't do a great job at ramping up for experienced players who have seen the credits and climbed the skill tree.

Speaking of, its new skills fit a similar mold. Big boosts to health and stamina  unlimited in the latter's case  should be widely beloved, but for anyone who has already toppled the final boss, these new boons lose much of their impact. 

For all of these reasons, the DLC ends up feeling much more linear than its metroidvania predecessor. Despite opening up several new hubs as soon as you touch down on your new planet, if you're bringing a character that has things like quadruple-jump and lots of weapon upgrades, planet DL-C1 will be much breezier than you remember the main game being.

An apparent dearth of secrets scattered about is the biggest fault with the expansion. As I wrote in my original review, the post-credits clean-up had me chasing collectibles and resources in a manner that so few games do these days, but Hot Garbage doesn't provide the same thrill, save for 22 postcards to find.

Collectively, Hot Garbage feels more like a missing chapter than a post-game return.

The new locale, despite being a new planet with new flora and fauna, largely feels like the others, too, though in this case, it's more forgivable as the game's aesthetics remain so awesome. The constant blend of pinks, greens, and oranges still looks wonderful even in your new land of Boomerdale, a retirement community for the people who made CBS America's most-watched network.

One way in which the DLC does clearly improve on its foundation is its final boss. The main game's sludgy endgame villain unleashed a bombardment of attacks often too hectic to maneuver with any real sense of skill. The DLC's Big Bad, while about as fleshed out as a ghost, provides for a multi-stage showdown akin to so many of the games which clearly inspired Typhoon.

You'll know just what to do when you see it, satisfyingly leaving it up to your execution at that point.

Like other parts of the add-on, this battle uses the game's new traversal mechanic, which allows players to jetpack around the region so long as they coast checkpoint to checkpoint and refill their gauges properly. You'll only get a few seconds on a full gauge, so it becomes a wholly new and interesting platforming puzzle to get from A to B, even as the mechanic sometimes feels like you need a third hand due to some camera issues.

  • Features the best boss battle of the entire game
  • Lacking in reasons to stick around after a swift DLC campaign
  • Feels built primarily for players who haven't yet finished the main game

Hot Garbage manages to capture some of what made Journey to the Savage Planet interesting, like its vibrant world and a busy blend of combat and platforming, but it leaves some of the best bits, like secrets and unlockables, behind.

If you haven't yet played Savage Planet, I definitely recommend adding Hot Garbage to the game when you jump in, as its rewards seem designed to suit you better than the seasoned players who have already cataloged the entire alien world and all its colorful, farting birds.

[Note: A copy of Journey to the Savage Planet's Hot Garbage DLC was provided by 505 Games for the purpose of this review.]

Nioh 2 Review: Embrace Your Inner Demon Mon, 13 Apr 2020 13:25:31 -0400 John Schutt

Nioh 2 is, in many ways, precisely what fans of the original wanted. It's more complex with technically challenging combat and insane boss fights, weapons and skills are more varied, and there are plenty of new ways to build an overpowered character in the endgame. 

Team Ninja has imbued their follow-up to Nioh with new weapons and boss mechanics, an overhauled skill system designed to give players more control over where and how they massacre the game's hordes of demons, and a more robust and interesting story campaign, which leaves behind one of the most generic stories and main characters in modern memory.

There are a few gripes critics of the series are sure to latch onto, of course. The level design is still somewhat uninspired. Boss and enemy variety is lacking in a lot of places, and the need for constant inventory management hasn't gone anywhere.

But Nioh 2 improves on the original in every way that matters.

Nioh 2 Review: Embrace Your Inner Demon

In short, Souls games wish they had combat this good. 

Souls and Souls-like games that aren't Nioh have serviceable combat, sometimes even great combat. None of them come close to what Team Ninja's masterpieces have to offer.

The technical complexity of even one weapon group puts entire games to shame, and with impressive build variety to back it up, no one player will have the same experience as another.

Even if two people create the same character — a shuriken-centric ninjutsu build, for instance — their playstyle and how they approach their skills are likely to be entirely different.

That could be said of two straight sword users in Dark Souls 3, but only to a certain degree. The only differentiating factor to weaponry in a classic Souls game is the character's stats and upgrade level of the sword itself. In Nioh 2, no two weapons are even remotely alike, even within the same class. There are too many perks, abilities, and damage modifiers to count.

Moment to moment combat is also on an entirely different level. Thanks to three separate stances, each with their own movesets and active and passive skills keyed to those stances, players have the freedom to devise unique combo strings and playstyles. You'll spend time learning which weapon best suits how you want to approach the game, and which work best against which enemies.

The game also rewards mastery, both in the player and in the mechanics. The more familiar you grow with a certain weapon or pair of weapons, the more skills you unlock for it, and the more familiar you become with its moves and utility. Even the humble katana demands a lot from the player and incentivizes putting time into learning its ins and outs. 

On their own, the weapons and skills in Nioh 2 would be enough for almost any developer. For this sequel, Team Ninja went even farther, adding in a whole subset of abilities keyed to a mechanic known as "yokai shift." The main character is a half-demon, and as such, has access to demonic powers and skills that up the combat complexity even further.

At its simplest, yokai shift allows the player to parry what Nioh 2 calls a burst attack, a powerful move enemies use when wreathed in a red and black aura. There are three shift types available: Feral, Phantom, and Brute. The parry type is dependant on which type of yokai shift you have equipped, and there is some minor utility unique to each of them. 

The kicker is in the new "Soul Core" mechanic. Each yokai enemy can drop a soul core unique to them, and like the standard weapons, each soul core has unique buffs and benefits you won't find on others. Soul cores also enable players to use yokai abilities at the cost of anima, a new energy bar.

It's a lot, I know, and you'll need to master all of it if you want to make it out alive. Not that you will. 

Nioh 2 is even more unforgiving than its predecessor, and a single mistake will send you back to the shrine, the series's version of the bonfire. Luckily for you, even the safety of the shrine offers plenty to do, and most of it revolves around loot.

A Million and One Weapons

The Nioh series takes more than a few cues from Borderlands in its reward systems. There are (initially) four rarity levels, and the rarer an item, the more abilities and perks it will provide. 

Equipment is similarly subdivided between three separate types: weapons, armor, and accessories. Weapon abilities are primarily damage based, or at least provide benefits that enable you to deal more damage.

There are five armor slots — head, chest, arms, legs, feet — and each of them comes with their selection of possible abilities. Accessories usually come with more passive upgrades, usually geared toward survival or discovery.

You'll spend a good portion of your time out of combat sorting through the torrent of loot the game showers you with, and to be honest, most of it's worthless. 

That's where the Borderlands comparison comes in, for good and for ill. Nioh 2's pacing is usually pretty good, moving you from one arena to the next with just enough time in between to breathe.

If you find yourself inundated with garbage weapons and armor, though, there's a real incentive to get rid of most of it, if only for your sanity. You can do this either at a shrine or at the blacksmith for upgrade materials, experience, or money. The problem comes when you find a piece of gear you like, only to see it buried in a mound of useless trash. 

Nioh 2 is ostensibly a game about fast, satisfying combat. Spending hours managing a menu screen is the last thing you should have to worry about, but because of the loot system, it's an unfortunate necessity. 

Some players enjoy the number-crunchy parts of a game like this, as you can't make some of the most powerful builds without spending a lot of time farming and digging through your inventory. I've no doubt, however, that an equal number are turned off by it.

A Story to Kill For

Nioh wasn't really about the story, even though it uses Japan's Warring States period as a solid, compelling backdrop. The first game suffered greatly from its reliance on a bland main character who, for whatever reason, grew to be a demigod in the course of just a few years.

Nioh 2 puts William on the backburner and puts players in control of a silent protagonist native to the country. Their extraordinary abilities make more sense, too, because they're half-demon, and they have the potential to grow far more than a spirit-guided human. Time flows differently in the sequel as well, as events begin long before Willian ever sets foot on Japanese soil.

Nioh 2 is the story of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, their rise to power and eventual fall from grace. It's also a bit of historical revisionism, as there are plenty of shadowy characters working behind the scenes to influence historical events.

The story itself is relatively straightforward, though many players not familiar with Japanese history will likely be confused as to who is doing what, why, and for what reasons. The "proper noun" problem is present, as the game throws a lot of names, terms, and jargon at players and expects them to just follow along. Add to that a heavy reliance on written journal entries to fill in the gaps, and those attempting to dig into the lore of Nioh 2 will have a lot of reading to do. 

All that said, despite the silent protagonist, I found myself far more invested in the story this time around. The characters are much more nuanced, the events that shape them more understandable, and the situations they find themselves in more relatable.

The themes are easier to understand this time around, as well. Friendship, loyalty, death, and determination despite the odds are core to the storytelling in Nioh 2, as well as the ideas of sacrifice and pride. The question the game ultimately asks is, "What price are you willing to pay for your ideals?" and though it offers no concrete answer, it nonetheless puts players in a position to think about what that question means.

Nioh 2 Review — The Bottom Line


  • An evolution on an already impressive combat system
  • Greatly improved story
  • More build variety and ability to show off your skills as a player
  • Endless loot grind is no different from the first game
  • Enemy and location variety is lacking
  • Flat and uninteresting level design 

Nioh 2 is essentially more Nioh, but better. Fans of the series will find plenty to enjoy here, and newcomers won't feel like they had to play the first game to appreciate what it has to offer.

I was impressed by the improvements to the story and Team Ninja's commitment to maintaining what worked in the first game and building on what didn't. I should mention that the music is as good as it was in the first game, and I know I enjoyed the boss fights more as well, even if some did drive me up the wall.

Enemy and level reuse was a small problem, with inventory management and loot amount returning gremlins, but, for me at least, they weren't dealbreakers. Nioh 2's strength will always be in its combat and how each new encounter tests a player's skill. In that, at least, there is consistency.

[Note: This review is based on a retail copy of Nioh 2 that the reviewer purchased.]

Resident Evil 3 Review: A Mutant of a Remake Fri, 10 Apr 2020 15:03:56 -0400 Thomas Wilde

Resident Evil 3 is okay. It does the job. It could be longer, it’d be nice if it had a more open map design, and it feels rushed in a few different ways. However, it’s not bad. It’s a solid B or B-minus of a game, great for a weekend rental, endlessly replayable, and ideal for speed runs.

My biggest problem with it, frankly, is that I came out of last year’s Resident Evil 2 with a good idea of what I’d want out of a Resident Evil 3 remake, and it definitely wasn’t this. RE3 Remake is a decent horror-action game, and you'd probably like it if you're coming at it cold, but it's not as good as the original.

It’s not an unusual problem for the franchise. I argued, back in the day, that the biggest problem that Resident Evil 5 had – aside from, you know, all the racism – was that it was the follow-up to Resident Evil 4. It needed to have at least some of the same lunatic intensity that RE4 did, but instead, it was a muted, comparatively sober deep dive into series continuity. RE5 has aged well — and wasn't a terrible game  but it was a lousy follow-up to RE4.

The same is true here. If RE3 had come out last year, it’d feel like a solid attempt to recapture the fun wonkiness of late-‘90s survival horror, with some impressive storytelling and great character work. It's a short, occasionally intense action game with a couple of genuinely memorable sequences.

When compared to the original RE3 or last year’s RE2, however, it can't live up to the hype.

Resident Evil 3 Review: A Mutant of a Remake

Resident Evil 3 is set in September 1998, on the night before RE2 begins. For the last few days, Raccoon City has been consumed by rioting and street violence that, on the evening of September 28, makes its final descent into a full-blown zombie apocalypse.

Jill Valentine, who’s dealing with PTSD after the events of the original Resident Evil, has been laying low in a cheap apartment for the last month while she prepares to skip town. Unfortunately, now that Raccoon City has caught fire, the Umbrella Corporation takes the opportunity to send a new breed of bio-engineered assassin after her: an eight-foot-tall unstoppable killing machine code-named Nemesis. Jill barely escapes from it, and with the Nemesis in hot pursuit, she has to figure out a way to escape from the city.

I do need to mention here that I've cleared the original 1999 Resident Evil 3 more times than I care to admit, and that's coloring my opinion of its remake.

If I was coming into this from a completely fresh perspective, 2020's RE3 would likely strike me as decent. It's well-written, well-acted, and kept my attention all the way through. It's even got a broad assortment of interesting bonus material, which rewards a few replays. As a modern update to the later era of '90s-style survival horror, when the balance started to shift more towards pure action, it's a good time.

However, it also makes a lot of big changes from its source material, and much of them aren't improvements. The city park and Dead Factory from the original are just gone, the Raccoon City Clock Tower is limited to what amounts to a cameo appearance, and the remake actually adds a short sewer level.

Most of the broad strokes from the original RE3's storyline are still here, but the new level design doesn't feel like a natural update the way that RE2's environments did. Instead, it mostly comes off like it was done so the developers could reuse assets from RE2, particularly as you approach RE3's endgame.

Nemesis himself is a particular weak point. His presence in the original RE3 is arguably why that game has the reputation that it does, and the idea of a next-generation, RE Engine-fueled Nemesis seemed to be on everyone’s mind from the moment they saw how Mr. X worked in 2019’s RE2.

In the original RE3, Nemesis was a constant background threat from the moment he showed up. There was always a chance that any time you entered a new area, he would pop out of nowhere to cancel your Christmas. He has patterns, and you can clown on him if you know how, but he was a terrifying presence on your first run.

In 2020’s RE3, Nemesis only pursues you like he did in the original game for a short period of time near the start. After that, his appearances are limited to heavily scripted chase scenes and boss fights. While some of those sequences are certainly memorable – the bit shown in the trailer where he hunts you with a flamethrower might be the best single section of the game – they can’t help but feel like a letdown compared to the original RE3, or even to the constant menace of Mr. X in 2019’s RE2. In fact, looking at them side-by-side, Mr. X is a better modernization of Nemesis than Nemesis is, and that's weird.

If you’re as familiar with the 1999 RE3 as I am, the 2020 version feels particularly rushed. You meet Nemesis right away, run into Carlos shortly afterward, and spend the rest of the game running through it at a breakneck pace. Most of the areas in the game are extremely linear, with little need for exploration and all of two real puzzles. Even Nemesis feels like he’s on fast-forward, moving through his various mutations and incarnations so quickly that you can barely register each particular shift.

To be fair, though, RE3 is trying some new things. It's much more of a straightforward action game than RE2, keeping a lot of the trappings of survival horror while emphasizing RE4-style shoot-'em-up gameplay. You need to be a little careful with your resources, but the game is built to encourage you to blast through anything it puts in front of you.

Jill’s got more health than Leon or Claire did, and while she can’t use defensive items, she does get a useful dodge move. It takes some practice to use it well, but if you duck away from enemies’ attacks with perfect timing, you even get a short window of slow-motion in which to turn around and dump a magazine into the side of an unaware zombie’s head. The timing can be tricky, particularly on higher difficulties when it's all that's keeping you alive against some of the bosses, but it feels great when you pull it off.

RE3 does continue the knack for deft character work that Capcom picked up, seemingly out of nowhere, starting with Revelations 2 in 2015. Jill and Carlos make compelling, likable leads, with some surprisingly subtle characterization for both of them considering the sort of story they're in.

The voice acting is on point, the script is straightforward, the redesigned monsters are gross as hell, and while I have some real questions about the game’s timeline, there’s actually a lot to like here.

The game is short, even by comparison to 2019’s RE2, but RE3 is made with multiple runs in mind. Getting achievements and records in-game gradually earns points you can use to buy new options in an in-game Shop, such as new weapons and items which enhance your basic abilities. Many of those records, like RE2’s, require you to replay the entire game in dramatically different ways, and there are a couple of additional difficulty levels you can unlock that actually reshuffle things like enemy and item placement.

Resident Evil 3 Review — The Bottom Line

  • The shooting and dodging both feel good
  • Some truly memorable and scary scenes
  • The unlockable bonuses do a lot to change up and incentivize replays
  • Too many linear stages and chase sequences
  • Not really an improvement on the original
  • Nemesis is a series of wasted opportunities

Most of my problems with Resident Evil 3, then, aren’t with the game itself, although it could stand to be longer and less linear. There are good ideas here, along with great characters and interesting challenges.

It’s just not much of a remake. Instead, it feels like a 90-minute Hollywood adaptation, where it’s skipped out on a lot of the original work’s texture. It’s another example of the Resident Evil series suffering from an unfortunate sophomore slump.

[Note: A copy of Resident Evil 3 Remake was provided to the writer by GameSkinny for the purpose of this review.]

Resident Evil: Resistance Review — An Asymmetrical Mixed Bag Fri, 10 Apr 2020 12:27:14 -0400 David Jagneaux

Resident Evil: Resistance launched late last week as a multiplayer addendum to the Resident Evil 3 Remake. While technically existing as a separate game entirely, they're sold as a single $59.99 package.

In Resistance four survivor players are pitted against a Mastermind player that controls traps on the map, spawns enemies, and tries to stop the survivors from escaping — or at least slow them down. It's a lot like Dead By Daylight and Friday the 13th, but with some pretty major unique features.

I generally enjoyed what I played, but just like any game as a service, Resistance will live and die by its post-launch support.

Resident Evil: Resistance Review — An Asymmetrical Mixed Bag

There is a good assortment of maps in Resistance, ranging from industrial-style research facilities ripped out of the Resident Evil 3 campaign itself to bright and colorful casinos bustling with visual noise. Predictably, you don't get to pick the level; that's random as far as I can tell.

Instead, you pick from a list of survivors that all have different voice lines, personalities, and skills that make them unique. For example, Valerie is like the medic of the group and uses an AoE heal skill. She can also send out an AoE pulse that locates objectives more quickly, and other survivors have more defensive or offensive-minded skills. You can't have duplicates in a group, so picking the survivor you want in the lobby ASAP is important. 

Resistance is all about time management. Each game begins with five minutes on the clock and every positive thing you do (such as killing zombies and disabling traps) adds more time. Bad things (like getting attacked or triggering traps) deduct time. 

The levels are split into phases that have different objectives, like needing to find a keycard to power a door terminal or finding missing pieces of a map puzzle to solve. Once you finish whatever that area's objectives are, the next room opens, but you can't transition until the entire party is gathered at the door to move on.

This creates natural bottlenecks for the action and helps balance things since the Mastermind doesn't necessarily need to track down and kill each survivor to win like in other games such as Dead By Daylight

It's a good, dynamic system that encourages replayability and variety. Since the Mastermind has such a wide variety of abilities, it makes each game genuinely different from the last in terms of what happens from moment to moment. You could play the same map five times with five different Masterminds and the way they each approach things will be extremely different. 

As you progress through levels, you'll collect cash that can be used at buy stations to get new guns, purchase ammo, and gather healing items. It's all very Resident Evil with the way inventory management works, but Capcom has converted every gun to a universal "ammo" system, getting rid of different ammo types. Compared to its contemporaries, the survivors in Resistance are far more capable and able to fight back.

My main issue with Resistance is how floaty and clunky the controls feel. It doesn't have the snappy accuracy of the Resident Evil 2 or 3 Remakes, and it feels like Capcom tried to make it more of an action game than a survival horror game, feeling disjointed as a result. 

Becoming the Mastermind

For the most part, playing as a Survivor doesn't jive with me all that well in Resistance, although playing with a full team on voice chat helps a lot. The Mastermind, however, is very interesting. In games like Dead by Daylight and Friday the 13th, you're locked into playing as whatever killer you pick from the start. Instead of survivors fighting back much, they spend most of their time running away and hiding. Resistance is very different.

As the Mastermind behind the screens, you need to switch between various camera angles to keep an eye on things throughout a match. You'll spend your points on upgrades that let you turn cameras into machine guns, summon enemies like zombies and the fast-crawling lickers, and eventually, you can enter the game as a tyrant like the nearly unstoppable Mr. X from the Resident Evil 2 Remake.

Once these are deployed you can wreak absolute havoc on survivors, downing them and forcing respawns in just a few hits. You certainly feel powerful and dangerous.

The Mastermind is a really unique premise and is the main selling point that helps set Resistance apart. Playing as the Mastermind is, generally speaking, next to nothing like playing as the powerful killers and monsters in other asymmetrical multiplayer games.

But despite all of those options, you never feel like you're able to fully take advantage of them due to how linear Resistance's progression is and how restricted levels feel. There are only so many chokepoints and tricky spots in which to lay traps and spawn enemies, so you won't often catch survivors off guard. 

Other than the Mastermind, the one other aspect of Resistance that really stuck out to me as something special is the clever backstory and premise Capcom created here. It's not a generic killer-hunting-people story, but instead, it has some real grounded lore within the Resident Evil universe. All of the survivor characters are actually in a test chamber undergoing trials to test strains of the virus and the mutations it creates.

It's sort of like a Saw-style playground for Jigsaw, if you will, but mixed with the right flavors of Resident Evil instead.

Resident Evil: Resistance Review — The Bottom Line

  • Clever premise and setting within Resident Evil lore
  • Exciting time-limited matches build tension
  • Mastermind role is genuinely innovative
  • Not many maps at launch
  • Objective structure makes each map feel linear and restrictive
  • Survivor controls are floaty and imprecise

Resident Evil: Resistance is a surprisingly strong contender in the now-budding asymmetrical horror multiplayer market. Between Dead By Daylight, Last Year: The Nightmare, and Friday the 13th, along with Predator: Hunting Grounds on the horizon, Resistance finds itself entering a rather crowded market. By comparison, its launch debut is much stronger than its contemporaries, and it has a strong brand tying everything together.

As of now, it's a fun addition to the Resident Evil 3 package but isn't available separately. It's got a good foundation to work with and feels unique enough to stand out if it gets the support it needs.

[Note: This review is based on a retail copy of Resident Evil: Resistance that the reviewer purchased.]

Romance of the Three Kingdoms 14 Review: A Shallow Strategy Wed, 08 Apr 2020 16:28:46 -0400 Ashley Shankle

Despite its moderate ups and very deep downs, Romance of the Three Kingdoms has been a must-buy series for me for nearly 20 years. Unifying ancient China under one banner has always been one of my favorite strategy gaming experiences.

Like many fans, I've been clinging to the series since its PlayStation 2 days, hoping for something to reach the lofty heights of the games on that platform. Or heck, even before that on the PlayStation or Saturn.

Today, Romance of the Three Kingdoms 10 and Romance of the Three Kingdoms 11 on the PlayStation 2 stand as the two big comparison entries. The former being an individual character and RPG-style entry, with the latter being focused on leading a force.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms 12 never saw an English release and Romance of the Three Kingdoms 13 chugs so badly in battles on PlayStation 4 that it's nearly unplayable on the platform. It renders the whole RPG-style gameplay hook useless since you play as anything but a leader.

The whole experience ultimately leads you into slow motion battles and an inevitably frustration-induced swap to another game.

So, here we are. Four years after the release of the 13th entry in this long-running series, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms 14 is out with its aim set on being another force-oriented title. In this, it succeeds, but it fails to meet the standard Romance of the Three Kingdoms 11 set almost 15 years ago.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms 14 Review: A Shallow Strategy

In 14, you choose to either lead an already-established force or start your own using custom or established character. You set out to unify China via the means available: conquer territories, outsmart other rulers, intimidate them into joining your forces by your sheer numbers  — typical strategy game methods for world domination.

Those new to the series and Rot3K veterans should do the tutorial to learn the game before starting a full campaign. It's enough to get any player on their feet and ready to rule, whether you're a first-time unifier of China or a long-time full-fledged Wei fan.

The brand-new territory expansion system requires a city or base be conquered before the surrounding hexes can be manually touched, or before a governor can be installed to slowly take it over hex by hex. And, in essence, it's the biggest new piece of gameplay to this entry.

The hex-based map is similar to the one in Romance of the Three Kingdoms 11, as you can build strategic structures within your territories; however, it tosses many of the complexities of 11 to the wayside in favor of more approachable gameplay, bordering on mobile game-levels of simplicity.

No longer do your troops need goods to survive while marching, nor do you have any real control over how combat plays out. Officers will use their skills randomly or once certain conditions are met in-battle, leaving you with little freedom in that regard.

Duels are present in this entry, though they are also automatic and require no player input. The scholarly alternative, debates, are omitted completely in Romance of the Three Kingdoms 14. This essentially relegates your smarter officers to mere governors throughout the course of a campaign, with no outlet for them to truly shine.

Managing your kingdom in the Rot3K series has never been easier than it is in Rot3K 14, but that comes at a cost. Options for management have been severely cut down in favor of accessibility, and growth ends up relying too much on your governor's whims.

You can tell them to focus on increasing commerce, agriculture, or troops — but they're not going to do it unless they suggest it and you tell them to do it. The system completely negates the purpose of a governor as the series has always known them, making you wonder why you need them at all.

I struggle to say Romance of the Three Kingdoms 14 is an improvement over 13. While Romance of the Three Kingdoms 13 has some fundamental problems that do make it a struggle to play on the platform I have it on, I have to assume PC players don't run into those same troubles and instead have to wrestle with how unwieldy it is. As most games in this series are.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms 14 Review — The Bottom Line

  • Easy to learn for most strategy game players
  • A reasonable entry point for newcomers to Rot3K
  • Complexities from previous ruler-focused entries all but removed
  • Pants-on-head AI
  • Completely unfitting localization

Romance of the Three Kingdoms 14 tries and fails to recapture the essence of Romance of the Three Kingdoms 11 on the PlayStation 2, and in some ways feels like a half-hobbled clone.

The new hex-based map does not make up for the lack of control and flexibility in other regards. While this may be the fastest game to play in the series yet, it's certainly one of the least satisfying.

Rot3K 14 simply leaves me considering reconnecting my PS2 and playing 11, or hoping Koei Tecmo will release the English localization for 11 on Steam, even without the Power Up Kit.

[Note: A copy of Romancing the Three Kingdoms 14 was provided by Koei Tecmo for the purpose of this review.]

Corsair Dark Core RGB Pro Gaming Mouse Review – Not That Dark After All Wed, 08 Apr 2020 01:32:53 -0400 Thomas Wilde

I’ve had a good track record with Corsair products, so I was interested in seeing what the company could do with a new wireless gaming mouse. I generally don’t care to go wireless with mice, particularly not when I’m playing extremely twitchy games like shooters, but after a few levels of Doom Eternal, I realized I’d forgotten the Dark Core was running in wireless mode at all.

I suppose that’s as ringing an endorsement as you could hope for: it’s so responsive that you’ll forget it’s not wired. It feels like a backhanded compliment even to me, but I assure you, I mean it in all sincerity.

Corsair Dark Core RGB Pro Wireless Gaming Mouse Review – Not That Dark After All

The Corsair Dark Core RGB is designed for FPS or MOBA gameplay, with a magnetic interchangeable side grip (see above), on-board profile storage for macros and DPI settings, and nine different programmable buttons. It’s built wide, with a lot of real estate, and no real risk of accidental misclicks, with a high-speed connection that, try as I might, never lagged or missed any inputs.

The Dark Core features three connectivity options, allowing you to hook it up to a system via an included six-foot braided USB-C cable, a Bluetooth connection, or by connecting to its included USB wireless transceiver. Setting it up is trivial and amounts to flipping a small selector switch on the bottom of the mouse that determines how you’re planning to connect it to your system. I was up and running within a couple of minutes of opening the box.

I would throw in a casual warning here that the Dark Core’s USB transceiver is tiny. I’ve lost track of it twice over the course of writing this review. You need to be very careful about putting it away when it’s not in use, inside the small compartment located underneath the removable grip on the right side of the Core.

Like a lot of recent hardware, you do need to install the manufacturer’s custom dashboard to get the most out of the Dark Core. This used to be a buzzkill with earlier Corsair products, as its iCUE software is one of the less intuitive dashboards out there.

However, after a recent update, a lot of the problems I used to have with iCUE have been minimized or removed, like how it used to be pretty bad at tracking battery life in connected devices. It’s still got a handful of issues – it seems to be more focused on looking slick than being useful, which is an ongoing issue with a lot of hardware companies’ dashboard software – but it’s much better than it used to be.

It helps that the Dark Core is still reasonably useful without iCUE, but with it, you can tweak the DPI, change the lighting scheme, and most importantly, engage power-saver mode.

By default, you can comfortably expect 12 hours of battery life out of the mouse, although a lot of its power goes into supporting the typical Corsair rainbow-colored LEDs that line the unit while it’s in operation. Corsair really loves to make its products flash like a candy rave, and the lights on the Dark Core – come to think of it, why is the “Dark Core” this shiny? – are ridiculously bright for a feature that’s surplus to requirements.

In fact, if you turn off the lighting altogether by turning on power-saver mode or just turning the brightness down, the Dark Core’s battery life shoots up dramatically. With it in full disco-ball mode, I was lucky to get a day’s use out of it before it had to charge; with it running dark (core), one full charge lasted for well over a week of intensive use.

If you’re really on the cutting edge, the Dark Core also supports Qi wireless charging, so you can drop it on the same pad you’d use for an enabled smartphone. It’s a handy feature – you can just stick it on the pad at the end of the day the same way you’d drop off your phone – but the internal hardware does make the mouse a little longer and heavier than you might be used to. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s definitely built for people who prefer a palm grip.

What really impresses me about the Dark Core, however, is the price. At $79.99, it’s surprisingly inexpensive, particularly considering its battery life, wireless charging, and multiple connection options. A lot of comparable gaming mice, like the Logitech G903, cost considerably more for the same or similar features.

  • Weirdly cheap, all things considered.
  • Battery life for days if you turn down the lighting.
  • The option to switch between Bluetooth, wired, and wireless modes makes it portable and adaptable.
  • Easy to set up and customize.
  • The USB transmitter is small and easy to lose.
  • iCUE still isn't amazing; lots of options, badly sorted.
  • Not made for small hands.

Most of the issues I have with the Dark Core are really just nitpicks. The USB transceiver is comically small and easy to lose, it’s a little on the large side, and its default lighting pattern feels like a unicorn’s vomiting into my eyes (but there are other options).

You’ll note that none of those actually impact performance, however. Corsair’s made a durable, sensitive wireless mouse with a lot of useful options, and brought it in at a surprisingly affordable price. It’s a useful investment for both the home and office, whether you’re playing games or working.

[Note: A retail unit of the Dark Core RGB Pro was provided by Corsair for the purposes of this review.]

HyperParasite Review: Mullet Hell Tue, 07 Apr 2020 12:24:26 -0400 Gabriel Moss

Like many derivative works that borrow the same aesthetic of oversaturated neons and a Street Fighter-esque soundtrack, HyperParasite feels like it would be right at home at an arcade.

Squarely nailing the niche demand for stylish yet uber-hard top-down shmups, HyperParasite introduces a sweet new mechanic that allows you to jump into a new host's body upon death, giving you a chance to indefinitely prolong your life if you've done the groundwork to build up your arsenal.

HyperParasite Review: Mullet Hell

As an alien parasite capable of snatching bodies for your own survival, HyperParasite drops you into a city full of humans who won't go down without a fight. Cops, papergirls, and even the homeless are out for your blood.

While the deliberately-tough mechanics made me tap out plenty of times across the eight-or-so hours I spent with it, I can appreciate HyperParasite's dedication to its core gameplay loop. This is pretty standard rogue-lite stuff: You get stronger in-between each death, both by furthering your place in the progression system and by furthering your own player skill.

It does, however, have some problems that stopped me from digging as deep as I'd have liked.

While you're in control of a character, you get access to their abilities, stats, and health, but when you're in parasite form, it only takes one hit or one shot to kill you and reset the entire game, which is frustrating because when you begin playing HyperParasite, you're limited to a small variety of characters. This makes it harder to stay alive and use the battlefield to your advantage, at least until you unlock more of them.

To raise your chances of success, you'll need to grind and unlock new, more powerful hosts. There are two parts to this, and it does feel rewarding when you get what you need back to the shop and fully unlock the next character.

You first need to grab a brain from an elite version of the character you'd like to unlock, then you need to bring them back to the shop before you can even begin making progress. The issue with this is how easy it is to die before making it to the shop, potentially sending you back to the start of the chapter without retaining any of your coins or upgrades.

The second part involves collecting coins by beating enemies and breaking open barrels as you move through a zone, then redeeming those coins at the shop for permanent progress toward the characters whose brains you've collected. While it feels like a natural way to spend your hard-earned coins, it makes other expendable upgrades feel like a waste of time and money.

It's great that you can immediately make a dash for the final boss battle of each of HyperParasite's five acts if you want, but it's sort of pointless as you don't stand a chance without unlocking the full cast of characters that you're able to control. Adding insult to injury, your progress is essentially reset every time you enter a new chapter, starting you from ground zero as you grind out the full cast of characters.

There are five total chapters in HyperParasite, each of which has a different theme. It's too bad that they all overstay their welcome by the time you're done with them, part of which is due to the amount of time you'll find yourself grinding for coins, which you redeem at the shop for upgrades and progress toward unlocking the next character.

You'll never run across the exact same room twice, however, as HyperParasite procedurally generates its world each time you die and restart. In each of its five levels, you move through several procedurally-generated rooms and collect coins.

On the Nintendo Switch at least, the graphics run smoothly in terms of framerate, but they do look a bit grainy, even with the option for higher quality graphics toggled on. The sound effects are a bit cheesy and repetitive, but that's okay because HyperParasite already feels a lot like a parody. That is, at least in terms of the retro 80's style that it derives a lot of its ideas from.

HyperParasite Review  Bottom Line

  • Tons of great challenge
  • Five acts to play through
  • Funny take on retro 80's kitsch
  • As an actual parasite, I feel adequately represented here
  • Progression system feels a bit exploitative and grindy
  • Each act gets repetitive after a while
  • Cheap sounds and visuals

HyperParasite is the kind of game that will ultimately attract a cult audience of hardcore Gungeoneers and Souls-like aficionados. It offers tons of challenge, much of which is legitimately balanced to make you feel as rewarded as possible when you finally overcome a tough section.

However, some of that challenge feels artificial in practice, making it much less accessible to the type of (filthy) casuals who would probably be parasite fodder anyway, had they been born inside of the universe that HyperParasite takes place in. But still! While the players for whom HyperParasite was created will find plenty to love, this one isn't for the light-hearted.

[Note: A copy of HyperParasite was provided by Troglobytes Games for the purpose of this review.]

Cooking Mama: Cookstar Review — Just Like Mama Used to Make Fri, 03 Apr 2020 17:05:25 -0400 Greyson Ditzler

Cooking Mama: Cookstar is better than many of the other games in the series; it has more content and recipes, it has more unlockables, and it has solid gameplay with more than one control method. It even has co-op.

Though it more or less plays exactly how you would expect it to if you've played one of these games before, there's a lot more to love here than might initially be expected.

Cooking Mama: Cookstar Review — Just Like Mama Used to Make


Let's see what it takes to be the next Cookstar

Creating such a familiar feeling is an impressive feat seeing how the game was the first in the series to not be developed by the series' original studio, Office Create. Cookstar was handled by the folks at Planet Entertainment and 1st Playable Productions, who have done fairly well handling the beloved IP.

The gameplay is as simple as it's always been, what with the simple controls and helpful instructions from Mama, but it's all done in a competent and charming enough way that I wanted to keep playing and playing.

Breaking down the various steps of both complicated and simple recipes from all over the world into little WarioWare style minigames is still a winning formula, and it's one that Cookstar successfully continues to utilize. You'll be preparing lamb gyros and pork gyoza in no time, and completing recipes allows you to earn more recipes to work through, of which there are 80 in total. 

This is on top of the customization options for Mama as well, and tons of cosmetic stuff to unlock for free.

There's a newly added Vegetarian mode for those who abstain from the meat life, which was a long-requested addition to the series, so that's worth a golf clap, too. There's also a co-op mode called "Potluck" with its own set of mini-games, which, while not all that deep, are decent fun.

The eponymous Cookstar is itself a new theme and mode added to the game. You see, you're trying to become the next "Cookstar" by cooking awesome food and then sharing photos of it online, which you can also share on Twitter IRL through the use of social media integration on Nintendo Switch.

Don't let the internet-savvy angle throw you off, though: it's more or less just an added aesthetic that changes based on how well you cooked each dish, which you are still graded on with the traditional three-star system.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't have my fun applying little stickers and filters to my photos, and laughing at the idea of a rainbow grilled cheese sandwich being served in a fancy restaurant. 

 Don't forget, food can be art too.

The game was also apparently meant to incorporate blockchain technology for a number of reasons, such as varying character animations and helping to prevent piracy. This aspect of the game was handled by Planet Digital Partners, who seem to be another branch of Planet Entertainment. Luckily, it doesn't get in the way. 

Cooking Mama: Cookstar feels like a shiner, more content-rich version of the installments of the series made for the Nintendo Wii. It has the same 3D graphical style that is competent and appealing, but nothing amazing, and both feature motion controls.

The motion controls aren't the best I've seen for a Switch title. but they work just fine, and you'll find yourself doing a lot of different motions and actions in order to cook the perfect dish. You'll be tilting the controller to grease a pan with butter, copping vegetables like you would in real life, and even making softer, subtle motions in order to rip leaves off of a head of lettuce.

It can be quite fun if sometimes finicky.  

Unfortunately, the dual control modes come with a major disclaimer: You can only play the game with motion controls in TV mode and if you're playing in handheld mode, you must use the traditional non-motion controls. You can pair Joy-Cons to the game in handheld mode, but this doesn't really fix the problem.

It's a shame you can't use either whenever you like; being able to swap between the control methods whenever you like would have made the game both more accessible and more fun.

Cooking Mama: Cookstar Review — The Bottom Line

Apparently this game had an "Air Fryer Consultant". To be honest, it shows.

  • Fun and easy to pick up and play
  • Lots of content for single player
  • Decent Co-op
  • Vegetarian Friendly
  • Exciting control options are limited
  • Not much different from past titles
  • Music is fine but nothing special

Cooking Mama: Cookstar is a pretty fun if familiar addition to the series that was handled well. There just isn't much here that shakes up the formula. Even if it is decent fun and there's a little bit here for everyone, there's nothing that puts it a peg above the average game. 

More than anything else, I wish this game's release wasn't so shrouded in mystery so that people who want to play it could do so.

Cooking Mama Cookstar is available now physically for Nintendo Switch, with the digital release coming at an unspecified future date.

Panzer Dragoon: Remake Review — Railing into the Past Fri, 03 Apr 2020 16:35:44 -0400 Jason D'Aprile

Sega’s Panzer Dragoon has a fairly short but storied place in the annals of video game history. One of the few launch titles for Sega’s ill-fated Saturn system, it was a stunning look at the power of 3D graphics on a home console.

The Saturn is beloved by many gamers because it so expertly bridged the gap between the arcade and home. Rail-shooters (usually light-gun-based) were a mainstay in arcades, but here was one intentionally made to show off the power of the Saturn.

In 1995, limited hardware meant limited scope. The trick was to create the illusion of a large world without really rendering one. Panzer Dragoon, thanks to Sega’s internal studio, Team Andromeda, was technical wizardry. While most rail shooters moved from wave-to-wave and usually focused on being a human-sized character in close range combat where all you controlled was the gun, Panzer gave players control of a giant dragon and its rider.

Admittedly, it was limited control. The game still scrolled onward automatically, but at least you could move around to avoid obstacles and enemy fire while shooting. Panzer Dragoon felt like a radical evolution of Sega’s classic coin-op shooter, Space Harrier. Of course, 1995 was a while ago and the gaming landscape has changed as systems evolved. Rail shooters, including Panzer Dragoon: Remake, are a curiosity more than anything else now.  

Panzer Dragoon: Remake Review  Railing into the Past

Reliving Panzer Dragoon through the HD remake on the Switch is a curious trip in the way-back machine. The game is still very much in the unforgiving coin-op design mold. The new version still uses “credits” to continue when your dragon fails, which starts you back at the very beginning of the level. Run out of continue credits and you have to start the game over entirely.

There are no mid-points, no advanced save options, and only six levels to memorize and beat in classic arcade-style. There aren’t even weapon upgrades or power-ups. It’s just you, a health bar, and a gun with two distinct abilities. Rapidly pressing the fire button lets you send out normal weapon blasts, useful for destroying incoming enemy fire.

More importantly, holding the fire button down and passing your sights over enemies results in a missile lock-on. If you’re quick and steady enough, you can lock on to a score of weaker enemies and destroy them at once. Every level ends in a boss battle against larger, tougher opponents ranging from flying galleons and strange battleships to giant creatures.

The dragon is equipped with a radar sense as well, displayed in the upper right corner to let you know from what directions the enemies are coming. This is vital thanks to the game’s unique (at the time) ability to let you pivot your view in four directions (forward, left side, right side, and behind you).

Tapping the left and right shoulder buttons, flicks the view on the fly, although in the heat of battle, it’s extremely easy to accidentally over tap. In today’s dual-stick world, this method might seem a bit antiquated, but it works well enough.

The Remake does modernize the control scheme somewhat. The original had players moving the aiming reticle and the dragon followed. Now, you can opt for a dual-stick set-up where the right stick handles aiming and the left moves the dragon. It feels more natural now and makes the game easier to manage, but never feels like a radical change. Of course, purists can opt for the classic Saturn control scheme.

Panzer Dragoon’s gameplay isn’t especially deep or complex, but the real draw of the game was the presentation. The original Saturn version gave gamers a gorgeous fantasy world to fly through, full of amazing creatures and sights to behold. The soundtrack is stunning, with a frequently beautiful musical score to accompany the action and impressive ambient effects.

The HD remake is a surprising reminder just how beautiful the game remains. While the original couldn’t do smooth textures or particularly high poly counts, seeing those same levels re-rendered with modern visual flair is impressive. Panzer Dragoon might still be a glorified shooting gallery, but seldom has one been done with such style.

A remake of the sequel, Panzer Dragoon 2 Zwei, is already in development, but it’s likely that nostalgic gamers are hoping these do well enough for a port of the now-legendarily rare Panzer Dragoon Saga — an amazing, open-world-style J-RPG that barely managed to hit U.S. shores in 1998 before the Saturn finally fell into obscurity.

For a retro revamp, I would have liked more extras. There’s a new photo mode and beating the game on the hard difficulty unlocks a secret cheats menu and concept art, but that’s unlikely to be seen by most gamers. There’s no option to switch to the original graphics or extra levels. This isn’t a major caveat except, at release time, the $25 list price is just a bit high for a 25-year-old game

Either way, Panzer Dragoon: Remake is a lovely, challenging journey into the past. Rail shooters are a largely obsolete genre for good reason, but we’ll make an exception for Dragoon. If you’re up to the challenge, it’s a worthwhile though brief return to the 90s.

Panzer Dragoon: Remake Review — the Bottom Line

  • Revamped graphics and audio look great
  • Modern controls improve the targeting gameplay noticeably
  • A good fix for fans of old school arcade action
  • Excellent photo mode
  • Very short
  • Not much in the way of extras
  • A little pricey

A nostalgic trip into video gaming history, this Sega Saturn classic has been revamped to look more beautiful than ever without changing the fundamental rail-shooting gameplay. Panzer Dragoon remains firmly rooted in the arcade sensibilities of its era.

It’s short and intentionally unforgiving, but the superb presentation and dragon-focused gameplay give it surprising wings in the modern age. Sega’s intriguing and distinctive series has deserved another chance for years and we hope this is the start of a trend.

[Note: A copy of Panzer Dragoon Remake was provided by Forever Entertainment S.A. for the purpose of this review.]

Starport Delta Review: Hurry Up and Wait Fri, 03 Apr 2020 16:19:06 -0400 RobertPIngram

One thing that is clear when you spend some time with Starport Delta is that it's a game made with a lot of love. Built by a two-man studio, it looks great for the manpower available. Unfortunately, that small size is also all too telling in the final product, as it's a game that feels more like the start of a project than a ready-for-market release.

Starport Delta is a real-time strategy game that places you in the role of a starport commander, sent to a series of stations in the solar system to assist the commanders of those stations. The game features a pair of tutorials, an eight-mission campaign, sandbox modes, and rotating challenge scenarios.

While the game tries hard and has some decent ideas, it ultimately falls flat in too many ways. The most notable flaw is the blurred lines between those first two modes.

While the tutorial is ostensibly only two brief missions that teach you the basics of the game, in reality, it extends for most of the campaign. Each new mission simply introduces a new mechanic to your repertoire. While this is a structure that exists in many games, when you begin with so few missions, it means you spend more time learning to play the game than playing the game.

Starport Delta Review: Hurry Up and Wait

Speaking of time you spend playing the game, this is where Starport Delta struggles the most. Often, time seems to drag on interminably as you find yourself with a net-positive economy but insufficient funds to expand. You are largely left to wait for the days to pass. Others, when a series of catastrophes seem to arrive one after the other, it's a frantic dash to beat back destruction.

The game does include a mechanic to earn extra materials and cash in the form of security scans, but this too suffers from underdevelopment. New tasks only generate daily, and there's no guarantee they will offer the resource you need.

The scans themselves are also unsatisfying, with the minimal variety of types all resolving in the same manner. You click on the buildings possibly affected by the noted alert, find the icon that is different, then choose to rescue or airlock the culprit, not that those two options always make thematic sense. 

Representation Problems Abound

Plot in Starport Delta is light, provided in the form of short vignettes where the playable character is given his orders for the next mission and introduced to the commander they will be assisting. Often, it is the same failson screw-up who keeps erring his way up the command chain like any good nepotism beneficiary.

At its best, these segments are groan-inducing comedy sketches. At their worst, they're something more troubling. The representation of women and Asians is poorly managed to say the least.

The most notable issue is the voice acting choices made for two Asian characters introduced in these vignettes. Both speak with what can generously be described as a poor rendition of an Asian accent by a non-native speaker. Neither would seem out of place in a raunchy 80's comedy.

Women similarly struggle for fairness in the game's campaign. It is nearly the last mission in the campaign before a female commander is introduced, and only after running through a trio of missteps. From the Asian-stereotype second in command to the cookie-cutter floozie girlfriend character to the generic female AI, Starport Delta spends the majority of your playtime treating female characters with, at best, minimal regard.

Responsive Efforts Offer Some Hope

One upside to be found in Starport Delta is the eager responsive nature of its developers. They are active on their discord channel, and within a couple of days had already released a first patch that made some significant changes.

Unfortunately, even there it felt like putting a bandaid on a blaster wound. A major issue I had in my first playthrough of the game was difficulty making out the delineation of different buildings, particularly on some darker levels. While improved visuals were noted in the release notes and noticeable in gameplay, I still found that things could have been much clearer, particularly with larger stations where a pulled back view was required.

Perhaps the biggest indictment of Starport Delta is how arbitrary it all seems. Finances in the game show your overall net-spend, however, it is not all allocated at once at the start of a day. This means that even a station in the daily green can go in the red if you spend too close to zero at the wrong time.

Starport Delta Review — The Bottom Line

  • Strong character models and visuals
  • Responsive development promises potential improvement
  • Groan-worthy and sometimes offensive dialog
  • Slow tempo grinds the game to a halt
  • Lack of depth


In one mission, I bought a building I should not have. While I thought my buffer was alright, apparently, I was due for a big outlay before any new money and it caused me to go into the red. When this happens, a random building is sold. My sold building was crucial to the running of several other key buildings.

My entire economy imploded and an entire effort fell apart because I wanted to build one more residence just to speed up my progression to the required resident count. I'd completed all other mission objectives and was bored, and the punishment was death. 

In another stage, my goal was to survive a pirate onslaught. With many days to go, everything went to hell, and my entire station fell apart. You can see the dire state of things above.

With my defenses taken out and my economy shot, all that was left to do was wait for death from wave after wave of pirate attacks. Only it didn't come, because the three buildings left when I reached my target date, all disconnected from each other and useless, constituted a win. Hooray.

Nothing I did ever felt meaningful or worthwhile, and that is my big takeaway from Starport Delta.

[Note: A copy of Starport Delta was provided by Cloudfire Studios for the purpose of this review.]

One Step From Eden Review — One Giant Leap for Rogue-Kind Fri, 03 Apr 2020 13:26:13 -0400 Jonny Foster

Editor's note: As of 04/03, Patch 1.2 has made the early levels more user-friendly, and added more user interaction into the later world's. Though we feel this change ameliorates some of our initial concerns, it does not change our final score.

One Step From Eden is a deck-building, action/rogue-like that deserves far wider acclaim that it's currently receiving, but it could also do with some polishing of its rougher edges. 

I’ve been following the game since its Kickstarter and even interviewed the game's developer, Thomas Moon Kang, last year. His enthusiasm was infectious, and it’s great to see the finished product live up to the hype and receive backing from Humble Bundle.

There isn’t much of a story behind One Step From Eden, but when you consider this fantastic title was developed almost completely by one person, this is very easily forgiven. 

One Step From Eden Review — One Giant Leap for Rogue-Kind

In One Step From Eden, you're put into grid-based combat encounters that mimic Megaman Battle Network’s combat — an early 2000’s game that not many have played, but tactical RPG fans remember fondly. 

To simplify it as much as possible, you’ll fight enemies on symmetrical 4x4 grids while launching skillshots and avoiding wave after wave of incoming attacks. Skills are drawn from a deck of cards in a set pattern, though you can shuffle at any time to reset your hand if you don’t like the two spells available to you.

It’s chaotic, and it’s hectic, but boy, is it fun.

Thankfully, the progression structure is very familiar by comparison. It follows the tried-and-true routine that Slay the Spire and many other deck-building rogue-likes use; you select one of three paths towards a boss and fight enemies, find treasures, and stop to shop along the way. 

After each battle, you pick new cards for your deck, and you can find powerful Artifacts that provide additional combat buffs and effects. Pacts from the shopkeeper also offer a tantalizing risk-reward factor that will balance your run on a knife’s edge.

Another common feature of the genre that One Step From Eden employs is upgrading cards, but its spin on them is far more interesting. Here, you have to choose between three different versions of an upgraded card, all of which are randomized between runs, which are comprised of six to eight randomized worlds — depending on which routes you take — steadily increasing in difficulty and capped with momentous boss battles. 

These fights are intricate affairs that require not only a mastery of your own deck, but force you to learn the rhythm of the boss’ attacks in order to succeed — quite literally, in the case of the musically-themed Violette, whose attacks sync up with the background music. 

Bosses can also be spared once you’ve defeated them — rewarding the player with a chunk of health and an ally to assist in later battles — or mercilessly cut down to receive some powerful items.

Which option is best will often depend on your remaining health after the battle, but the option to choose adds an additional layer of autonomy to help each run feel unique and special. 

There’s also a universal leveling system, allowing you to unlock more spells and alternate costumes as your proficiency increases, though it’s a shame there are no permanent upgrades to ease the difficulty.

The game features local co-op, though you share your deck, available spells, and health pool with the second player, so you’d better hope your companion is up to the challenge that One Step From Eden provides. It would have been nice to see some customization options for the co-op so you can let younger players tag along, or craft synergistic decks to sweep your way through Eden, but that’s not to say the mode isn’t worth exploring with a friend. 

One Step From Eden’s blend of genres is unique and exciting, but it won’t suit everyone. 

Its frantic bullet-hell design makes it brutally difficult — especially in the later worlds — while the deck-building also requires strategic thought throughout. This combination may push some players away, but it’s bound to be the perfect addiction for others.

An Easy mode would go a long way towards broadening the accessibility of this fantastic rogue-like, so hopefully, we’ll see something in a future patch or mod.

One of the biggest issues with One Step From Eden is it’s lack of clarity, however. There are lots of secrets and unlockables that the game doesn’t explain to you, and though there is some enjoyment from the “trial and error” progression, a more robust tutorial system and glossary are sorely needed. 

What I will say for anyone on the fence, however, is that the game looks more intimidating than it actually is. The first 2-3 worlds soon become fairly routine, and you’ll learn and improve from there. 

You’ll definitely need to spend a good few hours with the game to get the most out of it, and probably look up some guides along the way, but when everything starts to click and you’re able to craft the perfect deck, One Step From Eden really shines.

One Step From Eden Review — The Bottom Line

  • Gameplay is fast, frantic, fun, and will test you to your limits
  • Tonnes of replay value between 9 playable characters and hundreds of spells
  • Pixel-art aesthetic and synth music compliment each other nicely
  • Difficulty ramps up extremely hard, with no Easy option to ease players in
  • Clarity improvements needed in some areas

Like most roguelites, One Step From Eden is brimming with replay value but can easily be played in short stints, too; each run takes 30-60 minutes to complete — or, more often, 5-10 minutes to lose. There are multiple “endings” as well, and achievements for special-tactics runs, so there’s plenty to keep you coming back. 

There’s still lots that I haven’t touched on such as the thumping synth soundtrack, a local PvP mode, and the cheeky pop culture references sprinkled throughout, but that’s just testament to how much content is packed into this $20 gem. 

Seriously, though, with card flavor text like “It’s free heal estate”, how can you not give One Step From Eden your attention?

Between nine playable characters, hundreds of spell cards and items, and Steam Workshop support, this is a title you don’t want to pass up.

[Note: A copy of One Step From Eden was provided by Humble Bundle for the purpose of this review.]

Half-Life: Alyx Review — New Horizons Thu, 02 Apr 2020 16:54:21 -0400 Gabriel Moss

Why does Half-Life: Alyx absolutely need to be played in VR? It's a tough question to answer with words alone. But if I had to stick to words, I'd rather describe Half-Life: Alyx with a short story.

It begins with me evading pursuit by an unkillable monster named Jeff.

Knowing that any amount of noise coming from my direction could lead to a quick death, I diligently tip-toe past a collection of loose bottles strewn across the floor, only stopping just before running face-first into a shelf.

I turn my head slightly, trying to get a glimpse of my surroundings. Guided only by a small circle of light shining from my left wrist, I reach through the dimly lit malaise for anything to use as a distraction. Haphazardly, my real-world arm knocks a half-dozen more virtual bottles to the ground. A guttural roar echoes from the hallway behind me, followed by thrashing footsteps.

Shrieks of broken glass now betraying my position in the dark, I desperately waggle my left hand for anything to latch onto. Alyx grabs hold of a trinket, nearly unidentifiable but solid nonetheless. Heart pounding, I swing around in a half-circle before underhandedly slinging the item through a nearby freezer door.

It crashes through a row of bottles, turning the creature's attention away from me — just long enough for me to clumsily latch the door shut, locking them inside.

It's at this moment that something occurs to me: Half-Life: Alyx is an incredible game. But it'd be so much less without those motion controls and the complete immersion afforded by a VR setup. It's wholly built around them, and that's what makes it so impressive.

Half-Life: Alyx Review  New Horizons

Set between the events of Half-Life and Half-Life 2, Half-Life: Alyx puts you in the shoes of gun-toting engineer Alyx Vance. The crowbar-wielding protagonist of past Half-Life titles, Gordon Freeman, is nowhere to be seen, but the change of perspective makes incredibly good sense for what Half-Life: Alyx accomplishes as a VR title.

Until now, every Half-Life game released has been built on fluid run' n' gun combat, nimble platforming, and intelligent physics puzzles tied together with cinematic storytelling in a rich and thoroughly detailed world.

Half-Life: Alyx is just a bit different. Being built from the ground-up for VR, it lacks the wide-open spaces and freedom of movement that justify the quicker pace and twitchier shooting of previous titles. As a result, Alyx feels far more vulnerable and relatable as a character, equal in ability to the real human donning the VR headset.

Most encounters, like the one described above, are so appropriately intense because they play off your ability to make things happen with your own two hands.

Whether you're reloading your pistol on time for a killing shot, gently sliding a wheel through a piece of rebar without making contact with metal (so as to avoid making noise), or delicately guiding an invaluable Resin pickup through a series of tripwire lasers and into your backpack, it seems like everything in Alyx is built to drown you in the tension of what would be another title's smallest moments.

This gameplay format is slow, deliberate, and sometimes limiting, but it's more exhilarating in practice than Half-Life has ever been.

Did I mention that it's also one of the best looking VR games around? Defying what one would think possible of VR — which eats up more system resources than a standard game and tends to look worse as a result — Valve managed to pack each of Alyx's scenes with such intricate lighting and detail that you're hard-pressed not to compare its graphical fidelity with something like Doom Eternal.

At least as far as art direction goes, Alyx is the clear winner.

Despite being linear, the makeup of City 17 is marvelously detailed and rich with secrets. Further, the 11-ish hours that it took me to complete all 11 of its memorable and unique chapters was such an unmitigated rollercoaster of emotions that, by the very end, I didn't want to leave. I could easily go back and play through Half-Life: Alyx a third or even a fourth time.

That is, of course, if you can handle the intensity of it.

Half-Life: Alyx is, after all, a VR title, which inherently makes it harder for some to play without doing so in roughly hour-long bursts. The comfort options in Half-Life: Alyx, while robust enough to even allow for seated play, still don't solve the core issue of motion sickness caused by artificial movement in VR.

One classic VR problem is almost completely solved in Alyx, however: Picking stuff up from far away is as easy as a flick of the wrist with your very own pair of Gravity Gloves. Instead of walking over to an item that you want to pick up, you just point at it with your hand and flick it over from afar. While not nearly as powerful or versatile as the Gravity Gun from previous Half-Life titles, it feels like an intuitive interaction that stops you from needing to move around quite as much.

The story here is sharply written and masterfully delivered, absolutely raising the bar for what fans would expect from a Half-Life title. First of all, switching to a voiced protagonist in Alyx feels appropriate for the slower, more deliberate pacing of everything else. Your buddy over the comms, Russell, adds another layer of personality too, keeping you company in moments that would otherwise be far lonelier and more harrowing than without him. 

Moral support and comic relief are delivered candidly and on time, and the chemistry between Russell and Alyx, while strong on its own, certainly establishes an added layer of contrast to the darker tone of the setting. Though, during the most gutwrenchingly creepy or challenging moments, his signal cuts out entirely, leaving you all alone to fend for yourself.

Without spoiling anything, Half-Life: Alyx is more of a flashback than a prequel, and it rewards you for having played each previous title in the series, including the two episodes, before starting.

The combat, or rather, the gunplay, is one of the rougher parts of Half-Life: Alyx. It's clear that, unlike its predecessors, this isn't a first-person shooter. Think of it more as a VR game that takes place in the Half-Life universe, continues the Half-Life canon, and happens to include guns.

If the pacing of classic Half-Life is that of a power fantasy where you sweep through entire zones with agility  like a more photorealistic Doom or Quake  then, by comparison, the pacing of Half-Life: Alyx is akin to the slow crawl through Resident Evil 2's Raccoon City or Dead Space's USG Ishimura.

Enemies are slower, more predictable, and less varied, yet they are far more fearsome under the visor than they've ever been. However, your limited assortment of weapons feels less like powerful toys and more like essential survival tools.

By contrast with the originals, Alyx only puts three guns and a couple of grenades into your arsenal. Melee combat is nixed entirely, making every bullet that much more invaluable.

Furthermore, instead of quickly accessing what you need with the press of a key, you must now manage your inventory by physically reaching over your back for fresh clips, or producing items from storage slots located on your real-world wrists. Each of these interactions is appropriately weighty, pounding in the fact that you're just as much a part of City 17 as the headcrab zombies now inhabiting its destitute tunnels and alleyways.

The shotgun, which still feels great, has extraordinarily limited ammo. Meanwhile, the pistol and SMG feel like pea shooters by comparison. Landing headshots, which is still useful for killing enemies quicker, doesn't give you quite the same advantage as it did in other titles, which is one of the few complaints that I actually have about Alyx.

The puzzle selection in Half-Life: Alyx consists of different exercises that have you manipulating hand-held objects, though the large-body object manipulation of Half-Life 2 is absent from Alyx. You're never moving crates around to build a counter-weight, which is something that would have been a waste of VR controls anyway, and it's great that Valve went the direction they did here.

While it's true there are plenty of generic puzzles that only make you manipulate a holographic sphere with one hand and connect some dots with the other, there are some standout puzzles in Half-Life: Alyx. The very best involve rewiring circuitry with your Multi-Tool.

There are entire segments of Half-Life: Alyx which have you standing in a tight space and running your hand across a virtual wall as you search for links in a nearby power circuit. This might sound boring at first; it totally would be if you were trying to solve it from behind a keyboard and mouse! But, in practice, it makes fantastic use of the all-encompassing nature of VR gameplay.

Opening cabinets, rummaging through drawers, removing paintings from walls, and sticking your head up next to weird alien shellfish are all a part of the experience, and Valve misses no opportunity to make you look closer at the highly detailed world that it's created.

Half-Life: Alyx Review — The Bottom Line

  • Incredible world-building and story
  • Exemplary use of VR controls and perspective
  • Decently lengthy (for a VR game) at 11 hours, but well worth replaying
  • Jeff
  • Limited combat
  • Some generic puzzle design
  • It's only 11 hours!
  • Jeff

The release of a VR game like Half-Life: Alyx is a momentous occasion. Not only is this one of the very first AAA VR games to break the bubble, but it's also a revival of one of the most beloved game franchises on the planet, following up on a nearly 13-year hiatus that left us all on a very inconvenient cliffhanger.

Half-Life: Alyx picks up the baton and carries it much further than anybody ever expected of a VR title, let alone a "spin-off" title that isn't technically Half-Life 3. In short, Half-Life: Alyx is here, and it's the real deal. And while I can see myself replaying it many times in the near future, the only question I have now is: "What's next?"

[Note: A copy of Half-Life: Alyx was provided by Valve for the purpose of this review.]

Saints Row 4: Re-Elected Nintendo Switch Review — Signing Thrills into Law Thu, 02 Apr 2020 14:07:18 -0400 Mark Delaney

It's hard to believe it's been seven years since Volition last released a new Saints Row game. Since then, the studio has put out a standalone expansion, some remasters, and one shared-universe offshoot in Agents of Mayhem, but for truly new installments, it's been a long time.

That gap is sometimes evident when playing Saints Row 4: Re-Elected on Nintendo Switch, where it recently landed on the eShop. Even in 2013, the series displayed the sense of humor of freshman boys, so it's fair to say those punchlines fall flatter today.

But in most other ways, Saints Row 4 holds up as an absurd sandbox loaded with toys.

Saints Row 4: Re-Elected Nintendo Switch Review — Signing Thrills into Law

During its inception, Saints Row existed as the latest in a long line of Grand Theft Auto clones trying to cut into Rockstar's market share on crime-laden open-world games. By the time the pitch-perfect Saints Row: The Third came around, Volition had stopped trying to emulate its big brother and grew comfortable in its own skin.

The identity it took on by then was one of irreverent humor, wacky weapons, and side missions that tended to be the best and funniest parts of the game. In Saints Row 4, those elements were all taken even further, though in 2013, it felt like the series had actually gotten too absurd. 

Seven years since I last touched a Saints Row game, it feels properly nostalgic now, removed from the shadow of its better predecessor  all of that despite the premise seeming so ridiculous.

In Saints Row 4, you are once again a member of the Third Street Saints gang, only now you're not fighting for turf with rival gangs, you're fending off humanity's enslavement from hostile aliens. And they've locked you in a simulation. And you have superpowers. Oh yeah, and you're the president of the United States. 

I've seen more ridiculous things happen in the political arena in recent years, but it's all still a bit silly.

To its credit, Saints Row uses your role as president in good fun, like the very first scene where you're signing bills into law and must choose to cure cancer or solve world hunger. That's before your next binary decision asks you to punch a rival politician in the face or the groin. These decisions have no impact on anything; they're merely there to (re)introduce you to the world of Saints Row, a place where violent aliens, intrusive mascots, and Republicans deserve equally high-impact nutshots.

Saints Row 4 loves being absurd like this, and though it's not my type of humor, it gives the game a certain style, even if it will seem so outdated for many players today.

It's a game where there are double-digit numbers of underwear options to choose from and your created character's "sex appeal" stat determines their breast size. Boyish and crude, it's like a modern-day Porky's now served to a modern-day audience that has likely already canceled Porky's. 

Should its writing survive scrutiny, the rest of the game is still tons of fun. The very first mission has you disabling a nuke by hand as it's zipping through the air to the tune of Aerosmith's I Don't Want to Miss a Thing, and neither in action nor in absurdity do they ever really relent from there.

Story missions have you working for your various allies taking down the Zin's simulated reality in a variety of one-off missions, and you'll even get to do loyalty missions for each of them to strengthen your alliance, but like in Saints Row: The Third, it's the side missions that are often the most fun. Stuff like UFO Mayhem, Mech Suit Mayhem, and different racing missions are repeatable side quests that help you chip away at your overlord's vice-grip on humanity.

Though Saints Row 4's suite of side missions is sometimes lacking compared to its predecessor's, what is here is still a lot of fun and defies the sandbox genre's pitfall of excessive, boring map-blip time-wasters. In Saints Row 4, everything is rigged to explode and dish out rewards of all sorts. It makes sight-seeing through its big city addictive.

I remember speaking with Volition before Saints Row 4 originally came out and they spoke about the game's design directive, asking: "is it fun?" That's never more clearly front and center than in the game's decision to bestow upon you many superpowers. It dishes the first few of these out very early in the game, so within minutes, you'll be scaling walls and sprinting like The Flash. A deep upgrade tree for everything you do only ensures your powers, guns, cars, and character get stronger and more fun from there too. 

While the humor has aged poorly because some players, and arguably the world, have grown up, its shooting mechanics similarly get left behind due to also feeling pretty dated. It's all a bit too floaty and imprecise to allow for stylish combat. More often than not, you'll run around spamming the necessary buttons until all the Zin have dropped, and on easy  and usually on normal  that's fine. It's not a strength of the game, despite the fun action and deep systems built around it. 

Luckily, with stuff like a Dubstep Gun, which forces anyone nearby to dance, and an Inflato-Ray, which quickly expands victims heads until they pop like balloons, the novelty and  I'll say it again  absurdity of its weapons cache makes up for Saints Row 4's otherwise troubled gunplay.

Driving can sometimes feel a bit too bouncy too, like when you crash into other cars and often send them flying like you flipped a pancake with a spatula. I think this effect is intentional given the overall intent of the game to never slow the player from going wild, but it ends up feeling like nothing in your way is ever really an obstacle. Then again, you so quickly earn super sprinting ability, cars are nearly obsolete in a hurry.

As this review focuses on the Switch version, it once seemed necessary to track any flaws this version had on Nintendo's relatively underpowered machine, but I'm happy to say it had no issues whatsoever, which is really how it should be for a game so old. I guess if the Switch can run The Witcher 3 like it doesSaints Row 4 shouldn't be an issue.

Saints Row 4: Re-Elected Nintendo Switch Review — The Bottom Line

  • Deep upgrade and skill trees, including superpowers, to chase
  • All mission varieties are enjoyable and worthwhile
  • Cohesively built around fun first
  • Its sense of humor only feels more juvenile seven years later
  • Driving and shooting, while serviceable, both have lingering issues

Saints Row 4 isn't the best game from the series, but it is the fastest, wackiest, and most willing to get out of the player's way to let them enjoy their time in Volition's playground.

Playing Saints Row 4 for the first time since launch, I realized how much I miss this goofy series, and even if I hardly laugh at its alternating bathroom and slapstick humor, Saints Row 4 remains a fun open world to explore  and explode.

[Note: A copy of Saints Row 4: Re-Elected for the Nintendo Switch was provided by Volition for the purpose of this review.]

In Other Waters Review: Swimming in the Deep End Tue, 31 Mar 2020 10:35:36 -0400 Mark Delaney

When a game is advertised as telling a story about aliens and artificial intelligence, you likely have a mental image of what it looks like. 

Maybe something really shooty, action-packed, and with lots of enemies to mow down. Maybe you're the last human survivor in a world overrun by extraterrestrials.

That's usually how it goes. But that's not at all what In Other Waters is.

Yes, it's heavily focused on aliens and AI, but it uses these common tropes to deliver a game the likes of which we've hardly seen. That's not always meant as a good thing, but for a particular kind of player, it's worth the dive.

In Other Waters Review: Swimming in the Deep End

These days, from games to movies to books and TV, it seems artificial intelligence is on everyone's minds as learned machines take more and more of our life out of our own hands, and that's evident once again with In Other Waters. 

The game is about you, an AI assistant, and xenobiologist Ellery Vas exploring the ocean depths of an alien planet. It was said the planet had no lifeforms on it in a future where we seem to know several others do, but that's quickly and clearly proven wrong once you start finding micro-organisms abound. Later on, all sorts of flora and fauna decorate your onboard encyclopedia.

An expansive set of tools at your disposal gives the game a feeling similar to No Code's 2019 thriller, Observation, in that it's unwaveringly committed to the act of treating you like an AI and every facet of the game constantly reminds you of that. 

Dialog options are limited to simple "yes/no" replies and every element of gameplay comes down to a user interface with which you manage a bevy of tools for your underwater expedition. Everything from plotting movement trajectories for underwater traversal and measuring the depths of your travels to scanning and cataloging sealife, the entire game is essentially a point-and-click adventure disguised as a robot.

That premise has its strengths and weaknesses.

The pacing is extremely slow. It's made to feel even slower, at least for a good while, by the atmospheric music that leaks out like a chorus of slow-motion whale songs. It's a fantastic soundscape and perfectly suited for the game, but overall, these details also mean it can require the sort of patience many simply won't find in themselves. This may be the slowest-moving game I've ever played.

It can get slower too, especially early on when you're trying to grasp the controls and the game's constantly shifting tasks. Move here, scan this object, swap to a second interface and use this tool, now swap to a third interface and catalog it, then swap yet again to place the organism with this bunch over there where it'll form a cluster to slow the ocean current and solve a puzzle.

Frankly, it can be exhausting, but it does get better.

The flipside of all those buttons and dials making you feel like a pilot in a B-grade sci-fi movie is once you get to grips with them, you start to instead feel like the AI machine you're meant to be. Swiftly and perfectly navigating through all of these menus later in the game stops being a chore and starts to come as second nature.

At times, I smirked as I caught myself on auto-pilot moving through the intricate systems doing precisely what Vas asked of me like I was programmed to do it years ago. The flow-like state it can bring you into can almost be unnerving. I nearly had to check the back of my neck for a battery compartment.

Games have always trained us to accept their control schemes as second-nature, but given the subject matter, In Other Waters joins rare company with games that turn control schemes into out-of-body experiences. 

I think that's intentional too — or maybe I just watch a lot of movies about robots  but even as the game regularly throws in new elements to slow your progress, which can frustrate with their sometimes unclear objectives, it's super satisfying when it all clicks and you're working your board like a hacker in a '90s movie. They're a testament to an unconventional game's approach to story.

In Other Waters uses its intricate systems to dwell on themes we've seen in games before, even stuff you could maybe predict by watching the trailer. Yes, it's sort of about the environment, as Vas is only scanning for resources elsewhere because we screwed up in-game Earth so badly. Yes, it's also about the nature of AI, like SOMA and others have done so well before.

I don't think that means In Other Waters can't join a growing library of stories to touch on these things, and as someone deeply invested in both of those subjects, I can recommend In Other Waters more highly to people like me as they'll get the most out of it. But no matter how much you enjoy reading about AI or concerning yourself with going green, you'll also need a planet's worth of patience to push through some roadblocks in this one.

In Other Waters Review — The Bottom Line

  • Intricate and satisfying AI role-playing
  • A timely story about some of our most pressing questions
  • Extremely slow pacing, even for people who like a slow story
  • Some progress-stopping puzzles that slow it all down even more

Though its systems are highly detailed and mastery of them gives way to tremendous satisfaction, I fear, for most players, the act of getting to its story ending won't be justified by the means of navigating a series of mostly blue and yellow menus. 

In Other Waters wants to tell a thoughtful story  and it does  but I wonder how many will feel compelled to experience it all. Even as all the subject matter feels custom-built for me and players like me, the snail's pace and some unclear puzzle sections can feel like drowning at times. But with great patience, you'll learn to swim in its waters and enjoy.

[Note: A copy of In Other Waters was provided by Fellow Traveller for the purpose of this review.]

One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 Review — I Would Punch 500 Guys Tue, 31 Mar 2020 09:40:46 -0400 Jason Coles

One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is a Musou game. We all know how Musou games go. You, as whichever flavor of badass you're playing as, run around a map beating the ever-living hell out of any and everything that your fist/sword/foot can make contact with. It's a simple but intensely fun formula that is always at it's best when there's a little bit of innovation. 

These innovations, at least recently, have best been implemented in crossover games like the Dynasty Warriors series, which I like an awful lot. I legitimately have a deep personal connection with it because it's one of the reasons me and the best man at my wedding met. However, Hyrule Warriors is probably the best entry in the series so far thanks to all of the innovations that the game brought with it.

Thankfully, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 does a lot of things right. 

One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 Review — I Would Punch 500 Guys

Hell, it might even be the new reigning champ of the Musou battle royale that I assume someone is keeping track of. It manages this thanks to an incredibly faithful retelling of the obscenely-long One Piece story and a few really cool mechanics. 

It is, for the most part, still the game series you know and love. You punch some dudes, you use some heavy attacks, you take over areas, and you kill bosses. On top of that, though, it has meaningful reasons to use your dodge move, special giant bosses that need specific tactics to beat, equippable special skills, awesome jumping air-attacks, and some incredibly long skill trees too.

The boss battles really show off a lot of these mechanics. They have super armor that you need to break through, but you can only do so as they're attacking, forcing you to time your dodges to take advantage of these openings before going all out and taking the enemies down. 

It squeezes a lot of tasty anime juice (not a phrase I will ever use again) out of the orange that represents the Musou genre, and it's an incredibly fun experience as a result. These games are always about being a giant power trip, and the Straw Hat Pirates all embody that to their core anyway, making them a fantastic fit. 

And I Would Punch 500 More

The story is told through a mix of narration, still images, and wonderfully animated cutscenes. It does an incredibly good job of condensing the 900 episode-strong series into around 14 hours of campaign, though it's worth making sure you've watched the series if you're worried about spoilers.

It's split into multiple missions, some of which force you to choose a single character and others that offer up a selection of characters. They're always relevant to the plot, though, and you'll have the chance to play as a lot of different heroes and villains as you make your way through the game. 

Even if you aren't a fan, though, the completely absurd action and story will pull you through and maybe even convert you to the cause. Beyond the campaign itself, you can always play through the Treasure Log Mode, which serves as extra missions apart from the story, or Free Play, which is the ability to replay the story missions with whatever character you want.

All of the modes allow for multiplayer, which is usually limited to just two people, but it occasionally allows for four-player online play, too, which is spectacularly good fun.

That is, good fun if you like the Warriors formula. For many people, the combat is dull and repetitive, and while the additions here help, you'll likely still have that complaint if the genre's never won you over before.

There are some technical issues, too: I found myself staring at the inside of a wall more often than I'd like thanks to the weird camera tracking, and the loading times on the Switch gave me (nearly) enough time to watch episodes of the anime while I waited. 

One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 Review — The Bottom Line

  • Huge cast of characters
  • Deep skill customization and unlock system 
  • Loads of content to play through
  • Occasionally dodgy camera 
  • Long loading times on the Nintendo Switch

When you throw in the ability to grind out your skill trees and chase ever more impressive kill counts, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is a game with an incredible level of replayability. It's sure to be exactly the kind of escape you need, and the sheer joy you feel when stomping through endless hordes of enemies while shouting "Gum-Gum Gatling Gun" at people is something that only this game can provide.

One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is a must-play for fans of both the game series and the show itself, and it might just be the best Musou game ever made. 

[Note: A copy of One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 was provided by Bandai Namco for the purpose of this review.] 

Control: The Foundation DLC Review — Further Down the Rabbit Hole Sat, 28 Mar 2020 15:48:29 -0400 Mark Delaney

Control was one of the most critically lauded games of 2019. We gave it an outstanding 9 out of 10 and much of the internet agreed, as it took home many Game of the Year awards from all over.

That makes its first expansion, The Foundationa highly anticipated event, especially among those who appreciate the game for its ultra weird world-building. 

The Foundation promised to go deeper into the history of The Oldest House, and among new paranatural abilities for Jesse Faden and a massive new space to explore, it's precisely the story, as it so often is with Remedy, that will have fans happy to serve another stint as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Control.

At the end of Control, as is tradition for a Remedy game, we were left with more questions than answers. The studio revels in its mystery and Control piled on the confusion more gleefully than anything before it to come out of the Finnish development house. It's for that reason that Control is so crucial and satisfying at once. Though a lingering mystery can be fun, The Foundation's best attribute is how it manages to provide lots of answers.

Specifically, the category of questions being answered in the first of two announced expansions relates to The Oldest House itself. Jesse is still in the seemingly ageless office working to clear out the Hiss when she tries to trace Agent Marshall's footsteps. Doing so leads her down to the titular, and previously unseen, region of The Oldest House: its very roots. 

There she must repair The Nail, which if you've seen LOST, is a lot like the Heart of the Island. The Hiss threaten to destroy The Oldest House and it's up to Jesse and her awesome powers, now expanded in the DLC, to thwart them.

The new region is mostly a system of caves, so secret that many who work for the Bureau didn't even know it existed. Exploring this area feels new and exciting from the first moment, as it contrasts the brutalist and analog offices of old with stalagmites, rocky tunnels, and red sand galore. 

It's in these tunnels where you'll unravel the earliest origins of The Oldest House in a story that teasingly drips out over roughly five hours. If before you found yourself pouring over every word in the game's audio or written diaries, The Foundation will have you inspecting every inch of the world once again. 

The revelations, while not without their own new set of questions, are substantial and well worth the time of anyone who enjoyed the game before. Episodic story DLC feels like it's a dying breed in an age of season passes and cosmetics, but Remedy's commitment to the process pays off. The Foundation feels essential in a way I don't remember feeling about DLC since the Mass Effect series.

It's not just lore that you can look forward to. There are some gameplay improvements, too.

With four Rituals to perform, the game's major quadrants mix in massive puzzle areas with plenty of combat. New tools are at Jesse's disposal, too, chiefly the Shape ability that enhances both combat and the already-perfect platforming the game had before. It allows Jesse to alter the terrain to give herself solid ground or drive some rocky spikes from below or behind enemies. It's super satisfying and makes the environmental combat more nuanced.

To counter that, new enemy types come in the form of Hiss Sharpened, which are, curiously enough, quite like Alan Wake enemies in that they melee you with sharp objects such as axes. Though the flow of combat is mostly the same even with these new enemies, one area in which the design has greatly improved is in the boss battles. 

Control was the first time Remedy ever got them right, but there were lots of frustrations to be had, too, including some bad checkpointing and unclear strategies players were meant to use. In The Foundation, boss battles are laid out more clearly, and even when they're tough, they seem much more manageable even on the first try.

Add to that some extra secrets that can be missed my favorite sequence being something that feels pulled right out of Sayonara Wild Hearts  and it's evident The Foundation is a complete package of what players should want and expect with paid DLC.

Minor annoyances are present as well, like one recurring puzzle type in particular that gets frustrating on its fourth and final iteration. The game also adds a new ability to call in backup at a few specific moments, but in my experience, these Deployed Rangers don't help all that much and just make one of the trophies/achievements hard to unlock.

But in the grand scheme of what The Foundation adds to the world of Control, these are pretty forgivable offenses. Lore hounds will have a field day with this one. 

  • Fantastic continuation of the lore and world-building
  • New abilities are fun and add layers to combat and platforming
  • Lots of optional secrets to discover
  • One particular puzzle gets frustrating in the late-game
  • The new Deployed Ranger assists don't work as intended

It feels a bit nostalgic to revisit a great single-player game with high-quality DLC like this. It's a dying trend, but Remedy has always taken pride in telling weird and wonderful tales, and The Foundation is the latest, but thankfully not the last, chapter of their newest brain-bender.

Anyone who enjoyed Control for its story should consider The Foundation essential playing.

[Note: A copy of The Foundation DLC was provided by Remedy for the purpose of this review.]

Animal Crossing: New Horizons Review — The Bell of the Ball Fri, 27 Mar 2020 14:32:30 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

How do you review a game that never ends? That's the question I found myself pondering when I fired up Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the first time. Not only is it impossible to see much what the game offers in the short time between acquiring it and reviewing it, but the development team is basically the only group who knows everything about how New Horizons works.

Fortunately, it doesn't matter. A few days into New Horizons, and you know what you're in for. A week or so in, and you realize you'll be playing this continuously for the next few years.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is easily the best in the Animal Crossing series and a good contender for one of the best simulation games around right now.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons Review — The Bell of the Ball

Whether you're a newcomer or you still have active towns in every Animal Crossing game, the opening chunk of New Horizons will throw you for a loop. Tom Nook tells you everyone's going to a deserted island, and he means it.

You have no stores at first. No museum. No infrastructure or easy ways to get around. Shoot, there's not even an easy way to get all your tools at first. You're absolutely roughing it for a long time on your new island home, but it's probably one of the best things Nintendo could have done for Animal Crossing.

You'll be crafting everything you have at first, including your essentials. It's an intuitive way of introducing mini-goals to an otherwise completely open experience, and it works surprisingly well pretty much all the time.

Admittedly, waiting to get things like the shovel or pole vault is a bit ho-hum, just because there's not so much to do while you wait. But from then on, the ebb and flow of tasks — mandated and self-imposed — creates a new kind of gameplay flow for Animal Crossing.

Usually, in previous games, I'd drop in for a bit, chat with folks, maybe go fishing and check the stores, and that'd be it for a day or two. After you got into a rhythm, Animal Crossing was a pleasant routine, but it was easy to just let it stay that way.

In New Horizons, I find there's always a to-do list of some kind that keeps me coming back if not multiple times per day, then at least for one extended session every day. Big projects are part of that. I absolutely must raise my island development ranking, for example, and all those hapless incomers Nook lured in need some sort of furnishings when they arrive.

Right now, I'm in a lull as far as big goals go. Yet while I wait for more folks to move in, I still have plenty to do: gathering materials for furniture or tools, completing Nook Miles tasks (more on that in a bit), clearing out all those pesky weeds, or seeing what washed up on shore.

Crafting is almost always at the center of this, either finding a new recipe or making something to decorate the town with (and getting the materials to do it). That's another new feature with much more draw than I expected. Your island is huge, and there's just so much potential in what you can do with it. Any furniture item can go outside, you get access to fencing after a while, and then much later, you can change the very earth beneath your feet.

Decorating the town isn't quite as streamlined as the interior decorating process, unfortunately. It's actually a bit clunky. But the payoff and endless range of possibilities make it worthwhile. The process of crafting can be a bit tedious since you can only select one thing at a time — no mass production here. It's not a huge deal, but it stands out the most when you need multiple small projects to finish one bigger one.

Almost every task is also wrapped around the Nook Miles system. You'll get Nook Miles for your NookPhone for planting a certain number of flowers, gathering materials, making stuff, or even just chatting with neighbors. You can exchange these for a number of things, including necessities and expansions for your NookPhone. There's a ton of different Nook Miles tasks to aim for, and then Nook Miles+ adds smaller, daily tasks to the list a few days into the game.

I wouldn't say Nook Miles revolutionizes Animal Crossing and makes it exponentially more compelling. New Horizons does that with basically everything else it offers. But it does provide a loose framework to help guide you if you're in a slump or aren't sure what to do. Plus you get a series of random islands to visit and gather materials from.

For all that, most of what you do in New Horizons is still pretty similar to previous games. You'll catch bugs and fish, expand your museum's collection, and take on tasks from villagers. More importantly, you'll rack up those Bells (currency) to pay your house debt off so you can get a bigger house — and bigger debt.

Town beautification still plays a big role in New Horizons, so plant those trees and flowers everywhere you can. I can't comment on events yet because, obviously, none of them have happened, but they'll be here, too.

So basically, the core Animal Crossing experience is still the same. It's just more rewarding this time and gives you more to do — more to work towards, more to gather, more to create.

But the real reward comes from seeing everything fall into place while you're doing these things.

Even when you were the mayor of your New Leaf town, Animal Crossing communities never fully felt like your own. They were pre-designed, existed long before you arrived, and you weren't necessarily instrumental in making big changes. New Horizons does the exact opposite.

Instead of being the mayor, you're the Resident Representative. That means you get the final say in what goes where and how the island ends up being shaped, literally and figuratively. It's not just a simple ego stroke either. There's a distinct sense of building something for everyone here.

For example, at first, everyone starts with a humble tent (and though we suspect Tom Nook has something grander for himself, we can't prove it). You move out of your tent first, but your two fellow islanders stay stuck in tents. They eventually upgrade to charming little cottages as well, which feels like a win-win situation for everyone. You're all progressing together and working towards something better.

That goes double for attracting newcomers. You have to craft and provide furniture for their homes before they'll even consider moving in.

It's not just a one-way street, though. Your villagers help out when you're working on major projects, donating materials to help build it and expressing excitement over what's to come.

Even small advances, like building Nook's Cranny, feel like big achievements thanks to starting with nothing. Expanding Nook's store is usually cause for celebration in Animal Crossing. I don't know when Nook's Cranny will expand in New Horizons, or if it ever will. But I suspect the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction won't compare to that initial construction project.

There is some concern over what happens when everything's finished — once the island is full and finally tamed. Will it still be satisfying to play, or will it gradually sink back into a nice way to spend an hour every now and again?

Obviously, I can't say for sure. However, I think the chances of the latter happening aren't too high. On top of the town, home, and expanded character customization options, the entire island just feels alive. New Horizons is stuffed full of detail and charm that add meaning to even the most mundane actions.

Tom Nook reads a book in Resident Services sometimes, and he's got a can of something other times. He'll wave when you leave, but Blathers at the Museum — in keeping with his more aloof personality — doesn't put his book away when you come in or wave when you leave.

Villagers do yoga. Sometimes they catch bugs or sing along to their favorite radio tunes. The wind gets stronger when it's about to rain, and you can see the rain change direction during a storm. Tree wood has a visible grain, the ocean sounds real, and the lighting is just... divine.

For all of the new and improved things Animal Crossing: New Horizons includes, it's the little things like this that really stand out the most. It helps that New Horizons has some of the best writing in the series, too.

So you'd expect a more robust soundtrack for all this. So far, it's the same tune, though, day and night. I've heard it changes at a certain point, but I haven't gotten there yet. I'm not sure how much of an issue this is either. On the one hand, Animal Crossing is famous for its quirky, cute tunes that change every hour. On the other, New Horizons' supremely chilled-out track sort of blends into everything else and just adds to the experience. I'd like more, but I'm also happy with this.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons Review — The Bottom Line

  • Starting from scratch makes everything feel rewarding
  • You're actually building your very own community this time
  • More of everything to do, see, and collect
  • Most compelling gameplay loop of the series
  • Heaps and heaps of customization options
  • Absolutely fantastic presentation and attention to detail
  • Oozing with personality
  • Clunky outdoor decorating
  • Crafting can feel a bit too slow at times

New Horizons is bursting with personality and charm, with opportunities to create something new and completely you. It's compelling and also one of the most chilled out games you'll ever play. In short, there's nothing quite like Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

It might not be for everyone, true. It's slow at times, and it ultimately doesn't have any clear goals other than the ones you set. But this is thing: Animal Crossing New Horizons is the best Animal Crossing game yet.

[Note: A copy of Animal Crossing: New Horizons was provided by Nintendo for the purpose of this review.]

Iron Danger Review: Rewound Tactics Mon, 23 Mar 2020 12:32:11 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

You will die in Iron Danger. Often. Enemies hit extremely hard and do little to telegraph their moves. Traps pop out of nowhere and take huge chunks off your life bar. Some deplete it entirely. Your defensive moves, like blocking and dodging, have a cooldown that can sometimes last longer than the flurry of attacks coming your way.

This is all by design, though, because Iron Danger equips you with the ultimate defensive and tactical move: the ability to rewind time. If your character is ambushed and killed by enemies hiding in tall grass, just jump back a bit and change your movement pattern so you aren't surrounded. Better yet, stop short of the field and light it on fire; you don't even have to risk taking small damage if you already know where your foes are.

This mechanic is central to Iron Danger.

Iron Danger Review: Rewound Tactics

Speaking with an NPC in a forest in Iron Danger.

At its core, Iron Danger is a turn-based combat game disguised as an action RPG. It's set against a unique-but-familiar backdrop, with steampunk elements and nods toward Scandinavian mythology.

At the beginning of the game, you are given control of a soldier named Topi and a young girl named Kipuna. Shortly after the game begins, Kipuna is imbued with magical abilities: She is the reason you can rewind time and wield fire. Topi typically draws attacks and blocks, while Kipuna rains fire from above.

You'll meet other characters throughout your journey, but these two are definitely the story's central elements. They are both familiar characters and gaming roles, but with enough wrinkles to keep things interesting.

The story is similar in nature as well. It's a concise little yarn that you'll want to see through until the end because it's just-different-enough, but the focus is more on the tactics and gameplay.

Iron Danger's time mechanic has to do most of the heavy lifting. Luckily, it's mostly up to the task.

When you enter combat, you switch from real-time to the game's turn-based "Trance" mode. Small lines appear at the bottom of the screen, coinciding with each character. Each of these lines is broken into half-second increments, called "Heartbeats." Using these meters, you'll set up orders and try to defeat your enemies.

Each move takes a set number of heartbeats to complete, and you'll respond to enemy attacks and traps through these orders. You can also use the mouse wheel to rewind or fast forward time. If an enemy attacks quickly, you can rewind a bit to block just before they strike. This will leave them wide open for a counterattack.

If too many enemies appear all at once, you can rewind a few seconds to get out of your precarious situation. 

Combat in Iron Danger is a mix of real-time and turn-based tactics.

On top of all that, each character has unlockable abilities that you'll access as you move through the story. Some of those abilities can be combined: Topi, for example, has a powerful Earthquake skill where he strikes the ground and knocks over all enemies in a radius around him. If Kipuna enchants his weapon with fire magic before he does this, he'll also light all those enemies on fire.

Figuring out your favorite strategies and most powerful combinations (and manipulating time to make sure you're in the situation to use them) is key to success in Iron Danger.

These tactical jumps form the core of pretty much the entirety of Iron Danger. You'll be rewinding, switching between characters, reassigning orders, and doing everything you can to keep your team out of danger. This means "replaying" several skirmishes to find the right combination to mitigate (or avoid as much as possible) the damage your characters take.

There are a few issues that crop up in Iron Danger that aren't really the game's fault. Developer Action Squad Studios went all out to make this game the biggest it could be. It's fully voiced, and lots of little graphical details stand out. However, not everything is quite as polished as it should be.

The main characters' voices are... fine. They aren't distracting, but they aren't special. Some of the minor or one-shot characters definitely sound like filler.

The graphics are in a similar boat. It can sometimes be tough to make out exactly what's on the screen, and movement can sometimes be a bit janky. This issue can also be frustrating because it will often seem like there are more interactable elements onscreen than there actually are.

Missions in Iron Danger seem open-ended, but there aren't really secrets or loot pickups to discover off the beaten path. You'll often find that following off-road paths leads to dead-ends.

Iron Danger Review  — The Bottom Line

Tense combat at wharf in the snow in Iron Danger.

  • Interesting central mechanic
  • Familiar but interesting story
  • Tactics can be adapted to your style
  • Long enough without overstaying its welcome
  • The game's smaller scale is apparent on occasion
  • Central mechanic is the only real draw
  • Camera controls need some work

Iron Danger is a fascinating game to try and assign a score to.

It is really based around one core concept, and however far that concept takes you is how much mileage you'll get out of it. Jumping back and forth through time using mechanics reminiscent of audio or video editing software can be a unique tactical puzzle. 

That said, Iron Danger lacks the polish or depth to appeal much beyond that interesting concept. A lot of people will have fun with Iron Danger, but I could also see it being a game that many load up and ultimately bounce off of.

[Note: A copy of Iron Danger was provided by Daedalic Entertainment for the purpose of this review.]

My Hero One's Justice 2 Review: Go Beyond? Fri, 20 Mar 2020 14:56:59 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

How do you judge whether a sequel is successful? Do you strip all context away from the game, judging it on its own merits and while resisting to compare it to its predecessors? Or do you take a more circumspect view, judging from the position that, to be successful, a sequel must go above and beyond what came before?

This is not a rhetorical question, this is something you should think about right now, because your answer to that question will greatly affect what you think of My Hero One's Justice 2.

My Hero One's Justice 2 Review: Go Beyond?

My Hero One's Justice 2 is about as direct of a sequel as you're ever bound to see. All of the characters from the original game return, along with a handful of new fighters including fan favorites like Mina Ashido and Nejire Hado. There are also some unexpected-but-welcome additions in Kendo Rappa and Twice.

The story follows the anime, picking up right where My Hero One's Justice left off. This means that if you're looking to pick up this game as an entry point into the world of My Hero Academia, you should look elsewhere. This game works best, and makes the most sense, if you view it as more of a companion piece to the anime and manga.

If you jump right into My Hero One's Justice 2 without getting caught up on the series, you'll have a lot of moments spoiled for you  and worse yet, they'll be spoiled for you in ways that lack the emotional weight that the anime and manga carry.

Having said that, if you're all caught up, there's no need to play My Hero One's Justice 1 unless you're a huge fan of early-season My Hero Academia storylines. You're not really missing anything.

New Quirks

If you've played the original, the story mode in My Hero One's Justice 2 will be very familiar to you. You'll play through the story of the show, first from the hero perspective and then from the villain perspective, recreating iconic battles and moments, while also satisfying additional requirements thqt unlock customization items you can slap on your favorite heroes and villains. Nothing much new there.

Arcade mode is also baked into the actual game this time around, whereas it was added in a Day One update in the original.

The only truly fresh game mode here is the mission mode, which is an oddly engaging blend of management simulator, survival mode, and board game. You'll pay in-game currency to recruit heroes and villains, and then use them to battle your way across a game board on one health bar, collecting recovery items and leveling your characters up as you go.

The conceit of the mission mode is that you're running your own hero agency, and at its best, it actually kind of feels that way. I would have loved, however, for the mission mode to be more fleshed out, to have more of a story-based throughline than just picking a board to clear out, especially since it's one of the only truly new things about the title. 


For better or worse, depending on how you feel, there's not a lot here that differentiates My Hero 2 from the original in terms of gameplay and mechanics. Most of the changes will go unnoticed, even by folks who played the original.

Now, in my view, that's for the best in a lot of ways. 

My Hero One's Justice was a fun game, but it lacked a few key quality-of-life mechanics that are necessary for 3D arena fighters. Notably, My Hero One's Justice 2 adds a function that allows for dashing out of guard, making projectile spam a whole lot easier to deal with. It also has a block meter.

Guarding and movement also seem a whole lot more responsive and less slippery. They're the kind of things that seem so second-nature that I almost forgot they weren't in the original game. The effects of these tiny changes are far-reaching, however, in the way they dictate battles. Fights are more dynamic and quicker now, with fewer opportunities for characters to get stuck in guard lock.

The game also addressed one of my biggest issues with My Hero One's Justice by giving more weight to quirks. New visual effects help differentiate characters, and many characters now have unique gimmicks based on their quirks, like Sir Nighteye's foresight that lets you see what your opponent will do before they do it, and Mina Ashido's breakdancing-and-acid-spraying-attacks doing corrosive damage over time.

A big part of the show's appeal is in seeing these characters use their own unique abilities to find creative solutions to problems, and My Hero One's Justice 2 captures some of that spark.

My Hero One's Justice 2 Review  The Bottom Line

  • Thanks to guard meters and guard cancels, battles are more dynamic
  • Quirks are more quirky
  • The expanded character roster mixes expected additions with more obscure fan favorites
  • Mina Ashido is in this one
  • Very, very similar to My Hero One's Justice 1
  • Small, incremental changes aren't sexy
  • The mission mode begs to be expanded with some sort of overarching narrative

The enjoyment you'll get out of this game is directly tied to how much you enjoy the series it's based on. Will you be happy with a fighting game that's marginally better than the still-pretty-good fighting game launched back in 2018? Or will the fact that the game didn't take enough chances, enough big steps forward frustrate you?

Make no mistake, My Hero One's Justice 2 is a good, fun arena brawler on its own merits. Taken on its own, the game really does provide an amazing adaptation of the My Hero Academia franchise. The look is spot on, the expanded character roster is a treat, and the incremental changes the developers made really do make a difference, even if they're hard to see sometimes.

[Note: A copy of My Hero One's Justice 2 was provided by Bandai Namco for the purpose of this review.]

Castlevania Season 3 Review – World-Building or Filler Arc? Thu, 19 Mar 2020 14:48:24 -0400 Thomas Wilde

Since I saw it, I’ve been joking that Season 3 of Netflix’s Castlevania is, in its way, a truly ballsy move by its producers. Netflix is notorious for canceling shows after their third season, so naturally, Castlevania spends all 10 of its newest episodes building up to what promises to be an amazing Season 4. The final episode ought to be entitled “Try Shutting Us Down Now, Boys.”

In general, then, how you feel about this season of Castlevania will depend on one thing above all else: When you watch serial entertainment, do you prefer the journey or the destination?

Are you happy just spending time with characters you like  and would be okay if the whole show was just watching them bust on each other while they eat soup  or do you prefer a show that has a real sense of forward momentum towards its climax?

If you like the former, then Castlevania Season 3 is absolutely your jam. If you enjoy the latter, and I mostly fall into that camp, this season feels like a lot of setup for a payoff that’s not coming anytime soon.

The last couple of seasons of Castlevania, to be fair, have been mostly about the journey. I enjoyed the second season, but the single most apt criticism you can make of it is that a good two-thirds of its running time are chiefly about Trevor, Sypha, and Alucard snarking at each other in the Belmont library. It’s a long, winding road towards the final episodes, but when they arrive, they hit.

The big draw of the Dracula fight isn’t just the visuals, but the multiple layers of catharsis that go into it: In the end, it feels less like the heroes beat Dracula and more that they finally shocked him into committing suicide-by-Belmont. The action is undeniably amazing, but it wouldn’t be as satisfying without that emotional gut-punch, and that’s why you needed a lot of the build-up.

With Dracula dead, Castlevania’s third season ends up in uncharted waters. The series picks up a month after Dracula’s demise, and takes this opportunity to do a little character- and world-building, with four season-long arcs that never actually intersect.

Trevor and Sypha are now a couple, roaming the countryside as freelance monster hunters, while Alucard has withdrawn from the world, living an uncomfortable hermit’s life in the ruins of Dracula’s castle. Hector has been enslaved by Carmilla, the last of Dracula’s generals, and dragged back to her home in Styria; and Isaac is slowly making his way back across the world, gathering an army of monsters on a mission of revenge against Hector for Dracula’s death.

Each of the four arcs does build towards a sort of climax, but three of the four primarily feel like setup chapters for a greater story to be told later. The fourth, Alucard’s, is the clear loser here, as it feels like a textbook “filler arc,” which only serves to kill time and check in with our old vampire buddy.

Granted, filler arcs in other shows usually aren’t this harrowing – there’s a sequence near the end of the season in Alucard’s storyline that had me holding my breath in suspense – but it doesn’t end so much as it stops.

This is, to be fair, a problem I’ve had with a fair amount of Warren Ellis’ work. Ellis, who has a list of British and American comics work as long as your arm, is back as the solo writer on Castlevania’s third season, and his name on the credits is half of why I checked out the series to begin with.

While much of his script is as barbed and clever as the rest of the series has been, there’s a certain thematic bleakness to the third season of Castlevania in particular that, speaking as a fan of Ellis’ from way back, embraces some of his worst qualities as a writer.

Particularly in the last couple of episodes of Season 3, the series seems to relish in a sort of inescapable darkness that wasn’t there in the first two seasons. If the fight against Dracula was about saving the world, then Season 3 asks the question  throughout all four of its central arcs  of whether the world was worth saving to begin with, and it’s making a pretty strong argument that the answer is “no.”

Again, to be fair, this was also how the first season worked. It was all set up for the second season, which in turn, was all set up for its last couple of episodes. If Castlevania does get a fourth season, to pay off on the narrative threads that Ellis is carefully laying down, then it has every chance of being excellent… or at least, for being entertaining for eight or nine episodes before turning every dial to eleven for its climax.

For now, though, I can’t help but be a little annoyed by an entire season that’s effectively spinning its wheels. Very little of Trevor and Sypha’s story feels like it’s going to pay off later, and Alucard’s could be omitted entirely without an issue. Hector is mostly a non-entity, there to watch on the audience’s behalf as the script establishes a new, dynamic council of villains for next season, and you can probably see where his arc is going from very early on.

Isaac, on the other hand, is easily the star of the show. Buoyed by a standout performance by Adetokumboh M'Cormack, who does a great job with conveying complicated reactions with relatively subtle vocal cues, Isaac’s arc is by turns challenging, fascinating, and revelatory. If there’s a single must-see scene this season, it’s Isaac’s campfire conversation in Episode 6, which is easily in the top three single creepiest things in the entirety of the series to date.

I will say that the series is at least trying new things here. The joke going around is that thanks to some unexpected sex scenes in the last episodes, this is the horniest the Castlevania franchise has ever been, which is a pretty fair statement; I’d also go so far as to say that this is the horniest thing that Warren Ellis has written in years. (I’m not even sure what the next work in line would be. Maybe Vivek's sex montage in Injection?)

By the same token, the whole season feels like it’s a deliberate attempt to lay down some groundwork for the future. It expands the series' explored world, going as far away as Japan, and teases a few interesting details about the particular type of vampires that inhabit this universe.

It even brings up a couple of potential justifications for the strange anachronisms  finding modern instant noodles in 18th-century Europe, or wielding a Gatling gun in 1479  that have become a series trademark. As is Ellis' style, both of the explanations he offers are rich enough concepts that you could end up building a show just around them.

At the end of the day, though, Season 3 of Castlevania left me feeling unsatisfied. It’s the first half of something that could end up being good, but thanks to animation scheduling, the payoff isn’t coming for at least a year. I also found the season's ending too depressing by half, particularly given a couple of sudden swerves in the last couple of episodes.

It's not a waste of time, and I know a fair number of people who really enjoyed Castlevania's newest season. I get the feeling that if and when I see a Season 4, it'll make me appreciate Season 3 a little more for what it's building here. For right now, though, I'm lukewarm on it.

To frame it another way, it's a tough feeling to put into numbers. If you're really feeling persnickety, I'd probably rate Alucard's arc as a 5, Trevor and Sypha's as 8s, Isaac's as a 9, and Hector's Big Vampire Adventure as a 7.

I'd just as soon scribble out the entire rating scale with a black marker and write, "It's Complicated," in the margin.

RBI Baseball 20 Review: Strike Seven, You're Out Tue, 17 Mar 2020 13:51:14 -0400 Mark Delaney

It's a unique and extremely strange predicament the sports world finds itself in at the current moment. Basketball and hockey have been halted, baseball has been postponed before it could even begin, and when so much of the world has gone haywire, we can't even look to sports to keep us sane in these trying times. 

With live sports out of the picture indefinitely, you'd be right to look to video game simulations to quench your sports thirst. However, you'd be wrong to look to RBI Baseball 20.

On PS4, it simply can't carry the bat bag of a game like The Show 20, and even on other baseball-starved platforms, there are just too many unforced errors seen in inning after inning to merit much playtime from virtually anyone.

RBI Baseball 20 Review: Strike Seven, You're Out

For what it's worth, this is my first time playing the series. Though its reputation preceded it, I wanted to see for myself, especially as we are now just a year out from Sony Santa Monica's series going multiplatform. Maybe the competition would light a fire under the RBI Baseball series.

Or maybe not. The same issues I've heard of hurting the series since its revitalization in 2014 have come back for a startling seventh consecutive year, it seems.

Animations are broken, and they often depict a ball that magically appears in a fielder's glove after looking like it's bounced over or past them. Players sometimes make plays on grounders without ever looking at the ball or moving their arms. Pitches approach the plate with such little depth perception that you'll likely find it difficult if not impossible to ever make good contact on the ball. 

Trying to finely tune your pop fly positioning results in an awkward A-pose dance to the center of the catch circle. Players clip through one another like the MLB is made entirely of major league ghosts. By no means does RBI Baseball 20 fix these legacy issues which I've been reading about for years, but now I've experienced them first hand and it's not been fun. 

The presentation is lacking, too. There seems to be one home run cinematic that will repeat every time there's a ball hit out of the park. A decent mix of songs pumps into each stadium for walk-ups, but players all behave like one another when they get there.

Pitching movements can look different, but it doesn't seem like players were modeled after their real-world counterparts. Rather there seem to be a few throwing motions the game shuffles through and deals out to all the pitchers, over and over again.

RBI Baseball holds the distinction of being the only MLB-licensed game on most major platforms, but it doesn't bother doing much with it, and few games I've played have ever felt so cynical in their design. It feels as though this series is trotted out to capitalize on The Show being nothing but a dream for some fans, and given how next spring makes that multiplatform dream a reality, one has to wonder if RBI Baseball even returns for another season. 

A fair mix of expected modes decorates the main menu, like Home Run Derby, Franchise, and online play, but there are cripplingly few reasons to participate in any of them. Games are exceedingly boring, inning after inning, due to there being little fanfare and plenty of bugs and ugly moments. 

Despite it all, the series does make some strides as evidenced by a total overhaul of both batting and pitching. The camera angle is more akin to other baseball games and pitching looks like you're watching a game. No longer do you float your batter around the box pre-pitch.

Now you step up to the plate and have to perfect your timing on power hits or swing away for contact. Because the game allowed me to try out both the "Classic" and "Modern" gameplay styles, I definitely noticed that these areas are better than they've ever been, but that distinction just serves as a reminder that better doesn't necessarily mean good. 

RBI Baseball 20 Review — The Bottom Line


  • New pitching and batting mechanics, though still flawed, are the best they've been
  • Player models look really good with a newfound commitment to detail
  • Broken, buggy animations make every moment totally unpredictable and inconsistent
  • Virtually no element of presentation
  • No depth perception when batting means lots of strikeouts and fouls
  • Feels rushed to prey on MLB fans lacking licensed games outside of PlayStation

The best aspect of the game is its new pitching mini-game, which features the real-life repertoires of pitchers around the league and takes into account confidence and ability, which change as fatigue grows more impactful. This is unlike in previous years where you released a pitch and then cartoonishly spun it toward the plate with the control stick.

Along with player models that try to look more lifelike than past years' somewhat featureless players, these changes are building blocks for the series moving forward, but I wonder if this may just be the end of the line for RBI Baseball. It may be too little, too late. 

For the seventh consecutive year, RBI Baseball has put forth a buggy, messy game for sale, and I genuinely feel bad for most everyone involved. I worry about the sports gaming fans that pick this up because they love baseball and don't know any better. I feel sorry for the developers who probably wish to be working on a different series. I feel some self-pity for taking the assignment, but I guess I was going to be stuck inside anyway. 

While the series makes some overdue strides for the better, there's still a lot of work to be done, and this time next year, the choice will be much clearer for MLB fans. This may be the last of RBI Baseball, and if so, it will finish with an on-base percentage of 0.00. 

[Note: A copy of RBI Baseball 20 was provided by MLB for the purpose of this review.]

Doom Eternal Review: Ripping and Tearing Never Felt So Good Tue, 17 Mar 2020 10:00:01 -0400 David Jagneaux

Doom Eternal is the perfect example of a game that firmly delivers on its promises and exceeds expectations in all the best ways. When you see a trailer or screenshot for Doom Eternal, it's usually dripping with blood, covered in gore, and full of brutality. That's exactly what you get when you play Doom Eternal for yourself.

It seems like all too often developers add monotony, backtracking, and tedious moments to pad out a game's length or entice microtransactions, so it's refreshing to sit down with a beefy and satisfying single-player shooter that's nothing more than a non-stop thrill-ride of death and violence. 

We need more games like Doom Eternal.

Doom Eternal Review: Ripping And Tearing Has Never Felt So Good

From the opening moments in Doom Eternal, you're made to feel like a complete and total badass. During the intro cutscene, the narrating voice explains that only one thing has been sent to quell the forces of Hell and push back the tide of the apocalypse: You.

It's a powerful moment as the Doom Slayer turns towards the camera, begins to walk away, and pumps his shotgun with one hand in perfect rhythm with the heavy metal soundtrack. It's just campy enough to be cool and not cringey. Thankfully, that tone remains throughout the entire game.

In Doom Eternal you spend a lot of time blasting demons, obviously. You're given a shotgun at the very start, but soon after that you get the assault rifle and various other weapons as well. 

To this day my favorite weapon in Doom Eternal is still the Super Shotgun. The very same shotgun I gushed about for four paragraphs in my E3 2019 preview? Yeah, that one. You get it around three hours into Doom Eternal, and it was my favorite gun until the very end.

You see, what makes the Super Shotgun so special isn't just that it's a better and more powerful version of your Shotgun (which it is), but it's also got a grappling hook attached to the front. This means you can use it to not only pull yourself towards enemies to finish them off with a blast but also to pull yourself towards platforms during jumping and platforming segments.

It's incredibly liberating and dramatically expands the possibilities in both exploration and combat. 

But even if your arsenal doesn't keep you from dying, Doom Eternal does something interesting, and it's one of my favorite bits of the game. If you play online, the game tracks your death, along with everyone else's. When something kills you, there is a chance that creature is now more powerful in another person's game, which they're notified about.

It's a great communal system that rewards playing well by marking more challenging enemies.

The whole game is just a damn good time. Every single explosion of blood, punch, flamethrower belch, and grenade blast feels engineered to send a jolt of dopamine straight to your brain.

Nailing Progression

And the secret to why those jolts of dopamine don't progressively wear off as you play is how expertly the progression mechanics are mixed with almost perfect pacing.

For starters, each weapon can have different mods applied to it that add new functionality, such as turning your assault rifle into a scoped sniper or giving your shotgun grenades. After that, you can upgrade the mods and augments to make them even more powerful. On top of that, you've got suit upgrades for permanent stat boosts and there are also other tokens to redeem for new bonuses and upgrades.

There are lots of paths to improvement. It feels never-ending. 

Just as you start to gel with a new weapon or new ability, you'll find something fresh to tinker with. Hats off to the QA team and whoever worked on game balance and pacing, because it feels almost perfect.

Some of the work done here breaks down a bit with how linear long stretches of the game end up feeling, not to mention some difficulty spikes that can really slam you hard in some fights. It's not uncommon to get bogged down in a big arena fight, needing to die and retry the same fight a dozen or so times.

It's a bit of a double-edged sword. One of my main gripes with Doom (2016) is that many of the levels just feel too large and are unnecessarily laid out as multi-floor mazes. DOOM Eternal fixes that by focusing on mostly linear levels with short environmental puzzle breaks sprinkled in to space things out.

But the result is that sometimes it feels like all you're doing is fighting waves of enemies through mostly straight-forward levels. It wasn't often, but every now and then, I had to step back and take a break because it would start to feel a bit repetitive.

Doom Eternal Review  The Bottom Line

  • Gory and satisfying guns
  • Fantastic progression systems
  • Well-designed battle scenarios
  • Amazing visuals
  • Satisfying world-building to further establish the Doom Slayer
  • Can feel overly linear at times
  • Some difficulty spikes

Reviewing a game like Doom Eternal is sometimes a tricky proposition. I had already played about an hour of it back at E3 2019 and then another three hours of it at a press event last month. I had a very clear idea of what I'd be getting before even sitting down to officially play it for review.

Sometimes that results in a feeling of having already seen the best bits and forcing myself to sludge through it again before hitting something new. Not this time. Doom Eternal is the kind of game that you start to play and a few minutes later, you realize you're smiling from ear to ear. Maybe it's all of the gratuitous violence or bloody imagery of demons getting their skulls bashed in, but Bethesda and id have a truly special understanding of what makes a game feel good to play. 

From the moment you kill your first enemy with the starting shotgun to when you revel in the explosion of blood from your final enemy, Doom Eternal is a nearly non-stop thrill ride that exceeds almost every expectation. It's easily one of the very best single-player shooter campaigns I've ever had the pleasure of playing. 

It's going to potentially come off as reductive and simplistic, but Doom Eternal is just really, really good. If you enjoy shooters, want to see demons explode while gushing blood, and can handle yourself in a fast-paced firefight, there should be zero hesitation in your mind about picking up Doom Eternal.

[Note: A copy of Doom Eternal was provided by Bethesda for the purpose of this review. The multiplayer offering was not available prior to launch to test for this review.]

Persona 5 Royal Review: Hail the Returning Monarch Tue, 17 Mar 2020 09:00:01 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

Our time is valuable, there's no doubt about that. We naturally want to spend it as wisely as possible, in ways we know will ultimately make us happy or bring some kind of benefit. Investing dozens upon dozens of hours into a video game remake might not be top on the list of "best ways to spend time." That often goes double when the game isn't very old to begin with.

So, with that in mind, it might seem like a big ask from Atlus to embrace Persona 5 Royal with open arms. After all, the original Persona 5 was out barely three years ago.

Happily, those reservations don't really come into play. Yes, it's essentially a remake of the already excellent Persona 5, with all the same content mostly intact. But Persona 5 Royal adds so many new features, plot elements, and quality-of-life improvements the original that it is very much a brand-new game in its own right. And it's a top-notch one at that.

Persona 5 Royal Review: Hail the Returning Monarch

If you don’t know much or anything about Persona 5’s story already, I won’t spoil it for you here, and you should do yourself a favor and not spoil it either. It’s very good, and Persona 5 Royal adds to and streamlines the entire experience.

Persona 5 Royal is many things, but most of all, it’s much more immersive than the original Persona 5 and also a lot more coherent in its narrative, themes, and systems. What’s most impressive is how this is done mostly through simple changes and alterations that have a substantial impact.

The biggest example of these story improvements is also what I can’t talk about yet: the third semester. Though specific info about that is still under embargo, suffice to say it cements Persona 5 Royal not just as a worthwhile revision of Persona 5, but as the best in the Persona series. 

Fortunately, I can talk about the other new story additions, namely the two new characters Kasumi Yoshizawa and Takuto Maruki, both of whom play a much bigger role than Persona 4 Golden's Marie.

You’ll get the chance to forge Confidant relationships with both newcomers, and those bring all manner of benefits to P5 Royal’s gameplay. More importantly, though, they both offer much-needed new perspectives on the game’s narrative. 

The original Persona 5’s story does a lot of things right. But there’s also no denying it leaves a few important themes unexplored and sometimes oversimplifies the ideas of justice and retribution. Royal fixes that in a very satisfying way, and it’s something I hope future games in the series include as well.

It’s also refreshing to see an adult character involved in the storyline for once. Previous games included plenty of adult characters, of course, but they were usually either out-and-out villains or confined to tangential Social Links. Maruki’s scenes in particular act as an important window into the party’s personalities and mental processes as they deal with crucial events, sides to them you wouldn’t get to see otherwise. 

These are separate from his Confidant scenes, and it makes a surprisingly big difference. Base Persona 5 has a bit of a disconnect between the Phantom Thieves’ personalities and actions before and after they deal with key story moments, and these short scenes built into the main narrative help make that transition much smoother.

It’s actually something you don’t see in earlier Persona games, which tend to tie character development to Social Link events without letting you see it much in the main narrative until later.

Then there’s the benefit of these perspectives adding a new angle on the “kids vs. shitty adults” line the original kind of overdid at times. All this is presented through re-worked localization that does away with a good majority of the more awkward moments — both in writing and substance — from the original (e.g. the Shadows move into intercept mode in your first encounter and aren't serious to kill you anymore).

The only trouble is that you won’t even get a taste of these new story additions until around the second Palace. Not loading the front end with new material is understandable from a storytelling perspective. But I can see how it might seem a bit same-y for longtime fans until they reach that point.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of other new additions to help keep everything else feeling fresh. Key among these is that Persona 5 Royal doesn’t actually “take your time” like the original game does. On all except a handful of nights, you can still work on advancing your personal stats — even after exploring Mementos, even after clearing a Palace. Some of them even unlock trophies.

It works wonders for the overall experience. While Persona games are fun, the games’ length has always made it rather off-putting when you realize certain events are gated behind playing every day with a guide or New Game+. Access to more stat-raising opportunities doesn’t mean Royal makes a perfect playthrough simple; even with the activity suggestion feature, you’ll still need to plan carefully and make smart choices. 

What it does mean is you aren’t just getting shunted from story event to story event, with only a few spaces in between. Plus it just makes Royal more engaging, with multiple minor objectives to work towards that let you feel like your actions are making a difference. 

In short, it’s a lot more fulfilling. 

The value of these improvements becomes ever more apparent the more you progress in Royal. There’s a huge number of new places to visit and activities to participate in, from a jazz lounge and darts bar to chances to bring Caroline and Justine out of the Velvet Room (which you definitely should do).

And you can do these, knowing there’s ample additional time to increase your knowledge stat before the next exam or whatever else it is that might need attention. These life-sim components make up half of modern Persona games anyway, so the big surprise is how long it took to give players more control over that aspect.

Combat, the other major component in Persona 5, also benefits from some streamlining and new bits and pieces. Baton Pass is built into the combat system and isn’t tied to Confidant links anymore. I didn’t use it that often in the original P5, I’ll admit, but it’s actually pretty important to succeed in some of the revamped boss fights and new mini-bosses you’ll find in Royal.

I won’t spoil those either, but Royal’s new boss fight patterns are yet another instance of small tweaks usually creating completely new (better) experiences and definitely keep you on your toes.

Royal introduces some new Personas, while others get an Arcana shift thanks to the two new Arcanas added, and the enemy rosters in each Palace get shuffled up some, too. It’s nothing huge, but it means you’ll have to adapt your strategies as you go along, even if you’ve experienced each Palace countless times before.

It shakes up how you approach Persona fusion as well. There’s obviously new fodder for fusions, which means new skills you can mix and match. But the Velvet Room adds a number of new multi-fusions, like Persona 4: Golden did, creating even more options to give your team an extra-powerful boost. 

One brand-new addition is the Electric Chair, a feature that, after a slightly disturbing scene, lets you transform your chosen Personas into high-level items. It’s not always essential, but the Electric Chair is super handy — especially if you’re strapped for cash. Some of the gear is much more powerful than you can get in the shop. It’s not a guessing game, either, since you can see what item you’ll get from which Persona and what it does (and, again, it gives you Trophies).

By far the best change Persona 5 Royal brings to Personas themselves, though, is the Trait system. For the first time, each Persona — including the ones tied to your party members — has a unique trait that augments its abilities or provides some other benefit in battle. You can pass your Persona’s traits on through fusion as well, opening up a whole new layer of strategy to the fusion process and countless opportunities to diversify your team. 

Much as menu lovers like me will probably appreciate this new feature, it’s equally satisfying to know that you don’t absolutely have to do this if it’s not your playstyle. You can take advantage and plan two or three fusions ahead to get the best Traits or you can just coast along and make do with the ones you get. 

Of course, with all these improvements, it’s much easier to break Persona 5 Royal if you want to. If you don’t, these changes don’t actually make Royal too easy either. If anything, it’s just better balanced than the base game was.

The last big change worth covering is how dungeon exploration changes, but that’s not as significant a difference as the others. By and large, every Palace is almost identical to how they are in the original, with a few alterations. Some get a handful of new puzzles, while others have new side paths to take that reward you with items.

Even without a host of big changes to Palace layout and design, just knowing a few new areas and challenges exist was enough to make the whole thing feel fresh again anyway, outside the new Palaces added later in the game.

The grappling hook opens up new paths as advertised and does alter how you explore certain areas, but I didn’t find it was a massive new addition. That said, it’s incredibly slick and freaking awesome to use when you can. 

And you’ll typically use it to find one of the other big new features in Palaces: Will Seeds. Each Palace has three Will Seeds you can collect, and once you do, they turn into a highly useful new accessory item. That can be refined further by visiting another new character, one who explores Mementos: Jose.

Jose is a cute little kid who definitely isn’t a kid, and he’s trying to research humans by collecting flowers in Mementos. No, we don’t know why either.

Now, admittedly, Jose is a bit of a disappointing addition compared to Kasumi and Maruki, but he does make exploring Mementos a heck of a lot more interesting. On top of collecting flowers to trade for recovery items, you’ll look for podiums where you can get stamps as well. These stamps earn you points, which you can invest with Jose to alter Mementos, giving more money or more experience for instance.

We can’t talk about Persona 5 Royal without mentioning just how darn good it looks. Royal uses character models from the Persona 5 dancing game, so they’re much more detailed and clear than the original game’s models. Environments are crisper and cleaner, too, and major characters get excellent new dialogue portraits as well.

It’s actually a bit surprising how a few minor changes in illustrations help add more emotion and interest to dialogue scenes already witnessed a number of times from the original, so kudos to the design team there.

Persona 5 Royal Review: The Verdict

  • Expanded and improved storyline that ties previously dangling themes together
  • New characters that add meaning and impact to events
  • Tons of excellent quality-of-life improvements
  • Tweaks to the battle, fusion, and exploration systems that keep things fresh
  • Polished, higher quality localization
  • Better visuals and new character portraits
  • Takes a little while to get into the new story material
  • Palaces could have been revamped more
  • Jose is there because... ?

2,000+ words later, and that still doesn’t cover all the Persona 5 Royal differences. There are big ones, like new Confidant follow-up events and the fantastic new soundtrack. There’s also lots and lots of small ones: no DVD rental fees, special battles in the Velvet Room, new Mementos requests, exploding Disaster Shadows that completely alter the battle situation when they appear.

Is it enough to justify playing Persona 5 again, though? I'd say yes, and that's coming from someone who just finished a playthrough of the original a month or so ago.

The new story content is admittedly a bit sparse until things really get moving. But when it does get moving, it moves in a big way. Even if you've played Persona 5 countless times already, there's still enough difference in how things play out and how you can control your experience that it's definitely worth playing at least once.

If you haven't played Persona 5 countless times, you're in for a real treat. Persona 5 Royal is easily the best Persona game yet and one of the best RPGs available right now.

[Note: A copy of Persona 5 Royal was provided by Sega/Atlus U.S.A for the purpose of this review.] 

MLB The Show 20 Review: A Triple to Left-Center Fri, 13 Mar 2020 00:15:02 -0400 Jonny Foster

Baseball has always been a keen interest of mine, but baseball games never really appealed to me. 

That was, until MLB The Show 19

Six months ago, I wrote about MLB The Show 19's brilliant depth and diversity of modes, and how it gave me a near-endless variety of gameplay to dip into without feeling like I was completely out of my depth. 

This year, MLB The Show 20 has expanded its presentation, modes, and more, and while none of the changes feel earth-shatteringly impactful, this is still the most extensive, feature-rich baseball title available. 

MLB The Show 20 Review: A Triple to Left-Center

Let's start with new modes featured this year. One of the big-ticket additions is Showdown. 

Doubling down on the extreme popularity of the acclaimed Battle Royale mode, MLB The Show 20 introduces another draft mode to Diamond Dynasty in the form of Showdown. 

Showdown lets you draft players and perks before completing challenges to advance towards the Final Showdown against a legendary pitcher. The playable moments are all against the AI, which is a nice change, but it also appeared to be batting only. 

Batting is by far the weakest portion of my game, so this was a little upsetting — especially after drafting ace pitcher Justin Verlander, only to find out it was a complete waste of a draft pick.

Showdown is still a great addition, though, as draft modes are a lot of fun and the rewards pour forth in droves.

You can also now set up Custom Leagues to square up against your friends online. While I didn't test this mode myself, I can see this being a big hit with friends and families that are states or countries apart but still want to regularly take to the mound to prove who's best.

There's a host of additions to singleplayer modes, too.

Franchise mode now has a customization suite for you to design your own team, complete with custom logo, kits, and colors, while March to October has been tweaked to provide more variety and improved pacing.

Road to the Show is the main draw for me, though — and many others, I'm sure — which I'm pleased to say has also received a fresh set of improvements.

Dynamic challenges and on-the-field moments now immediately display your stat changes with little bubbles above player's heads. They also affect player relationships now, which speeds up your progression through the perk tree, a significant improvement over the slower pace of last year's mode.

Seeing the first baseman's relationship with you improve in real-time, or watching your rivalry with a batter increase when you strike them out, helps captivate you in the spectacle of the game. You feel closer to your pro, more involved in their antics both on and off the field. 

Those new popups can be hard to see from a distance, however — I actually had to move closer to my screen to make them out, but they were noticeable enough from 3 to 5 feet. 

Finally, let's talk general gameplay changes. 

The gameplay tweaks in MLB The Show 20 largely favor precision, so that those perfect swings or flawlessly-timed throws feel more effective. 

There's a new Perfect/Perfect hitting tier for when your timing and alignment are at peak precision, and a new sliver on the throwing indicator to let you make those game-saving throws to home plate. 

Now, I've already admitted my batting could use some improvement, so the new tier only ever triggered a few times during my time reviewing the game, but it definitely felt more rewarding whenever it did, enticing me to improve so I can perfectly nail more pitches in the future.

SIE San Diego has also added a new Extreme Catch Indicator whenever a line drive is dropping just short of a player; elite fielders will be able to layout and catch the ball with the perfect dive if you time it right, which is always a great spectacle.

Overall these changes aren't massive, and the game looks almost identical to MLB The Show 19  with the exception of a few menu updates  but that doesn't detract from the sheer enjoyment of pitching a no-hitter or smashing one into the bleachers.

MLB The Show 20 Review — The Bottom Line

  • Top-notch gameplay has only been improved by new indicators and precision timing methods
  • New life has been given to existing modes, while new modes add extra flavor to keep things interesting
  • Changes are fairly minor compared to last year's title 

MLB The Show 20 still feels like the most complete baseball title available — comfortably so, in fact. But it doesn't feel like a significant evolution over last year's entry in the series. 

But that's to be expected, right?

After all, MLB The Show 21 should be releasing on the PlayStation 5 next year, so hopefully, we'll see some game-changing improvements and additions for the next release. 

Until then, MLB The Show 20 is definitely worth picking up for returning fans looking for their yearly fix, or for those that have missed the last few entries and want to jump back in.

Nothing feels broken, and the new additions — though relatively minor — all feel like steps forward for this grand slam franchise.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon DX Review: All Too Familiar Thu, 12 Mar 2020 15:27:07 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is almost a 1-to-1 remake of the original Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Red and Blue Rescue Teams from the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS era. It's classic Pokemon Mystery Dungeon gameplay and mechanics, with a few bells and whistles thrown in to shake things up.

For the most part, it works pretty well, especially if you've got a soft spot for the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series already. But the same flaws that dogged the originals still persist, with dungeon crawling that remains too simple and only a smattering of enhancements that don't really justify the DX part of the title.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon DX Review: All Too Familiar

If you tried the demo a few months back, you've already got the gist of the introductory story. The Pokemon world is plagued with a series of natural disasters. They're inexplicable, and they're causing powerful Pokemon to freak out. It's admittedly a bit of a bland setup, but it creates problems for the player to solve and works well enough.

The real story is much more interesting.

You're a human who's been turned into a Pokemon, and you don't know why. So you do what you'd naturally do in that situation and band up with fellow Pokemon to help others in need by forming a Rescue Team.

It's one of the game's biggest strengths: being a Pokemon. It's like watching one of those Pikachu shorts before the main Pokemon film.

Mystery Dungeon DX gives you a different perspective on the Pokemon world, one that's (usually) cheerful, optimistic, and utterly adorable, and there's really nothing quite like building a team of Poke-friends to go out and do good for others in need. On the whole, it's a level of interaction and charm that's noticeably missing from mainline Pokemon games.

Sadly, as in real life, you ruffle some feathers just by existing. You get on the wrong side of an evil rescue team that naturally wants to dominate the world, because about 50% of the Poke-World's population apparently suffers from megalomania.

From there, the story turns into one of rumors, true friendship, and what it's like to be ostracized from a group. It's surprisingly poignant and relevant, much more so than Pokemon usually is. Combined with that all-important sense of immersion, you've got a fairly compelling story on whole.

If it sounds like a "but" is coming, that's because it is.

The plot delivery is uneven and infrequent. The main scenario ends about halfway through the total playtime. Even though the back half is loaded with content and challenge, there's practically no narrative at all, certainly nothing like the cozy charm from earlier.

It was odd enough the first time around, but it's especially strange the DX remake did pretty much nothing to fix this issue. 

So that means gameplay has to carry Mystery Dungeon DX, and it sort of does, but it sort of doesn't. In most cases, Mystery Dungeon DX's gameplay is copied and pasted from Red and Blue Rescue Team.

After getting through the opening segments and choosing your partner Pokemon (one that, ideally, covers your Pokemon's type weaknesses), you settle into the gameplay loop. Receive job requests, explore dungeon, finish jobs, spend loot, repeat.

Only after a while, it's more like "repeat ad nauseum."

Mystery Dungeon DX is at its best when you're exploring new dungeons, dealing with new challenges, and trying to piece together strong teams built around new Pokemon recruits. In between those points, though, you're repeating the same motions — a lot.

You'd expect repetition to an extent. It's a Mystery Dungeon game and RPG after all; there's going to be grinding. But Mystery Dungeon DX's repetition comes really close to being mindless.

Requests take the form of find Pokemon, rescue Pokemon, find item, deliver item. They differ in rank, but the higher ranks are still the same jobs. You just have to make it to a different floor in a harder dungeon most of the time. Re-visiting these dungeons is a good opportunity to recruit new Pokemon to your team, but that's about it.

The only thing you ever need to keep an eye on in the dungeons is your hunger meter. Traps are few and far between, and even though you might get hit with status effects or need to ration your powerful moves, restoration items abound to help overcome these minor barriers.

DX does add a new feature called Mystery Houses, places that randomly pop up in dungeons and give you a chance at rare 'mon and high-level items.

However, "random" is definitely the key here. I encountered one throughout my time in Mystery Dungeon DX, which is probably okay since the Inviting Orb you need to enter is only available randomly.

The designs don't make the bland dungeon issue any better either. There's very little in the way of visual interest in Mystery Dungeon DX's dungeons. The storybook aesthetic that works so well in making Pokemon Square feel special is wasted here. You get rocks, more rocks, darker rocks, blue rocks — oh, sorry "water" — some more rocks, and you get the idea.

Dungeons in these types of games tend to be sparse anyway, but entries like Etrian Mystery Dungeon and even Chocobo's Mystery Dungeon make up for it with engaging character progression and equipment systems. These give you something to work towards and reward you for learning how they work and even for breaking them.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon... doesn't.

Movesets are improved, though as usual, new moves are learned through TMs or leveling up. You do get Rare Qualities that offer exploration benefits, but these are only obtained randomly through using Rare Gummies at Pokemon Camps.

While making Pokemon as challenging as something like Shiren the Wanderer would probably turn too many people away, there's a distinct need for more systems and more involvement in Mystery Dungeon DX. There's just nothing to do and nothing to keep your interest outside that first time in a dungeon when you probably aren't leveled up enough and wild Pokemon encounters pose a threat.

All this is especially noticeable after the credits roll. When there's no narrative backdrop behind your quest to collect as many Legendary Pokemon as possible, Mystery Dungeon DX's appeal fades quickly. It's a small wonder the game offers and encourages auto exploration, since your brain basically slips into autopilot after a while anyway.

All this probably makes it seem like Pokemon Mystery Dungeon DX isn't worth it. It's not quite as simple as that, though.

For short periods, Mystery Dungeon DX isn't bad. Jumping in and adventuring with Pokemon friends, knocking out some quests, and recruiting new 'mon isn't a horrible way to pass an hour or so. But after that hour is when the gameplay's shortcomings are harder to ignore, and it becomes annoying more than enjoyable.

The worst part is none of this is new. These are the exact same shortcomings Red and Blue Rescue Team suffered from, and Mystery Dungeon DX takes no steps to try and improve any of them. It feels like a missed opportunity in a big way. Unless you're a diehard series fan or know a dedicated Poke-fan, you'll probably want to wait until this one goes on sale.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon DX  The Bottom Line

  • Emotional and engaging story while it lasts
  • You get to be a Pokemon!
  • Lovely storybook aesthetic
  • Gameplay is simple and easy to pick up
  • Lack of engaging gameplay mechanics — once you learn the gameplay, that's it
  • Dungeon design is lacking
  • No real system of progression
  • Repetitive quest structure with no real rewards
  • Too simple for its own good
  • Stuffs tons of content in the postgame with no reason to play any of it

When Pokemon Mystery Dungeon DX was first announced, I wondered why it was being remade to begin with, but I hoped there'd be enough changes to justify revisiting the formula after all these years.

Unfortunately, my initial concerns were justified. Mystery Dungeon DX looks charming and offers some fun in short bursts, but it's ultimately a missed opportunity to tap into the spinoff's strengths and make it something special.

[Note: A copy of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon DX was provided by Nintendo for the purpose of this review.]

Ori and the Will of the Wisps Review: Discovering Destiny Wed, 11 Mar 2020 10:16:38 -0400 John Schutt

Ori and the Will of the Wisps builds on everything that made its predecessor a beautiful, challenging Metroidvania.

The game has what you've come to expect from Moon Studios: amazing visuals and a moving, technical masterpiece of a soundtrack. It has the movement and tight controls you'll need to conquer its new world, too, and there are welcome surprises, as well: a combat overhaul, mechanically challenging boss fights, and plenty of new abilities and environments to test your skills.

Will of the Wisps is, in short, better than the original in almost every way. Its story remains somewhat rote, and much of the game creates an illusion of choice rather than offering real choice to the player. Don't worry, though; these minor scuffs do not dampen the game's shine much at all.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a gem, and it's one you won't regret adding to your collection.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps Review: Discovering Destiny

This game is too beautiful for words, but I'll try. 

The first thing you'll see when you boot up Ori and the Will of the Wisps is the peerless artistic style Moon Studios is now famous for. A dusky sky overlooks a vast forest, a great tree stands tall, shining lifegiving light onto all who can see it. 

The game then wastes no time showing off how much it's grown since Blind Forest. The color palette in Will of the Wisps is much broader than the one found in its predecessor, and as such, it opens up opportunities for new environments, new systems, and enough eye candy to put anyone in a permanent sugar coma.

Will of the Wisps takes place across every zone type you can imagine: water, snow, desert, swamp, forest, ashen wasteland — you name it, it probably has some representation here. The developers spared no expense in making sure each one of them is in stark contrast to all the others. No matter where you are or what you're doing, you and everything around you will look great doing it.

That's not to say there aren't some genuinely gloomy and depressing locations scattered throughout the world. The ashen graveyard is a reminder of how much the world's lost, and what might be at stake should you fail in your quest. In its desolation, there is perspective.

Gareth Coker, the composer for the Ori franchise, worked hard to ensure you'll hear the desolation, too. Even the main menu screen sounds somber and distant. Then there are the levels where hope lives, and their sound is airy, bright, and filled with a lingering sense that even at the worst of times, there is something to cherish.

The game's water level, in particular, strikes me as something Coker and his orchestra enjoyed creating immensely. The upbeat melodies jive perfectly with the blue waters and bright skies. The innumerable thorns are only a mild irritation in the face of a soundtrack this good.

It's a nice problem to have, actually. There are parts of Will of the Wisps that are horrendously difficult, requiring precise timing and control to complete without dying. They can be frustrating to fail over and over again.

There were several points during my playthrough that would have ended my session in any other game. 

Not in Ori. The music is good enough that I powered through the tough parts just to hear the strings swell or the horns take over. I'd even go so far as to say that the music in these games is a gameplay mechanic all its own.

In a Dark Souls game, all you have is the memory of your failure to keep you company as you make your way back to your bloodstain. In Ori, you have a lovingly crafted orchestration pushing you forward and celebrating with you when you succeed. 

Suffice to say, Ori music good. Listen more.

Going to War

There are many great things about Ori and the Blind Forest. Combat, however, is not one of them. Engagements boil down to spamming a button over and over again when you're somewhere close to an enemy, maybe using an ability or two to spice things up. 

Enemies aren't challenging once you know their attacks, and avoiding them is even easier than fighting them. There is little incentive to master any particular skill beyond maximizing your damage and your ability to maneuver-dodge telegraphed attacks. 

In Will of the Wisps, that all changes.

Your first ability is a fast-striking melee attack that does decent damage in a four-hit combo that has knockback. It's possible to fight through the entire game with just this one ability, not that you will. 

Other abilities augment this core skill, provide additional opportunities for damage, affect the environment, or even change how you move around the level. 

You'll need every advantage, too, because enemies in Will of the Wisps are more mobile, deal more damage, and can take more punishment than you might expect.

Standard enemy fare has nothing on this game's boss fights, however. All of them require you to use the key zone ability in new and inventive ways to survive, all while dealing damage and avoiding it yourself. Fights are often riddled with hazards, and the bosses each have significant health pools. Taking a cue from Souls-likes, you won't be beating these bosses your first go around. 

You'll need to learn their phases first. Each boss has at least two, and as you progress through the game, you'll be using more and more of your kit to work through them. 

Satisfying Traversal

The same is true for how you move about the levels. Each zone has a key ability you'll use more than any other, but by game's end, you'll be asked to use everything in your arsenal to navigate. 

Thankfully, each movement upgrade is as satisfying to use as the last. And their effectiveness stacks across zones. Act 2 of Will of the Wisps is a more open affair than its first, and what you learn in one of the required zones will carry you farther in the ones you've not yet visited. 

Don't think all this tech is just for the various platforming challenges, either. The escape sections from Blind Forest make a return in Will of the Wisps, and they're as treacherous as you might remember from the first game. That is, no checkpoints, no saves. It's just you, a horrible monster, and about a minute of high-intensity platforming, give or take. 

The whole affair is a stress-fest, but thanks to the music and tight controls, you can and will eventually flee, and you'll feel incredible for having done so.

A Few Cracks

Sadly, Ori's blemishes stand out as much as its beauties. They don't ruin the experience. Far from it. It's just that everything else is so well done that you can't help but to see where the game falters.

First, let's talk narrative.

In Blind Forest, we spent the first seven or so minutes with some of the most heart-wrenching storytelling of the time. The conceit was simple: the loss of a parent in lean times forces a weak child from the nest. Yet it was this simplicity that allowed for the scene's nearly flawless execution, followed so poorly by a standard Metroidvania experience. 

Moon Studios heard the complaints and made their best attempt to act on the criticism. Instead of forcing emotions down our throats at the get-go, in Will of the Wisps, the story spans the whole game, told through in-engine cutscenes and gameplay sections.

An admirable effort, but sadly hampered by the somewhat mediocre storytelling. You can predict the "twists" from at least 10 miles away, and all the talk of light and hope quickly grows tiresome.

The characters don't offer any surprises either, nor do the big narrative beats. Everything happens how you think it will, and choice isn't the player's prerogative. 

My only other big complaint about Will of the Wisps is its sheer reliance on platforming challenges to fill content. The combat systems are so good, but beyond grinding for currency or collectibles, they're only good for boss fights. You would almost be better served ignoring enemies entirely and focusing on the platforming if they weren't always getting in the way.

I'm also sad that the first act is as linear as it is. We've seen a lot of great Metroidvania titles since Blind Forest, and many of them offer the player a lot of control over where they go and when. The first third of Will of the Wisps learned nothing, instead keeping the player to a reasonably clear critical path.

The second act isn't nearly so linear, but the feeling of being led by the nose is never a good one.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps Review — The Bottom Line

  • Gorgeous world, music, and animations
  • Satisfying mechanics that reward skill and clever play
  • Expansion and improvement of just about everything from the first game
  • Endless platforming puzzles and challenges
  • Rote story and lacking characters

If you want to play a beautiful, often difficult Metroidvania with some of the most satisfying combat and traversal mechanics the genre has to offer, Ori and the Will of the Wisps will give you plenty to be excited about.

It has its flaws, but none of them get in the way of this being one of the better games to come out in an already-packed 2020.

[Note: A copy of Ori and the Will of the Wisps was provided by Microsoft for the purpose of this review.] 

One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows Review — Meh Wed, 11 Mar 2020 09:53:25 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows was never going to be a balanced tournament fighter like Dragonball FighterZ or Street Fighter. It would be a disservice to its source material to place cosmic horrors on a level playing field with a hero whose superpower boils down to "owns a bike."

No disrespect to Mumen Rider  he's doing his best  but that's just the way it is.

In many ways, One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows is pleasantly faithful to its source material, with a story that involves rising up through the ranks of the Hero Association. It's a shame, then, that the overall experience will leave you as bored, hollow, and disappointed as Saitama after a battle.

One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows Review  Meh

Much like Dragonball Xenoverse, One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows is constructed around an all-encompassing story mode. This means that as soon as you start the game, you'll create your own custom character and be dropped into the game's tutorial missions. 

It's smart for the developers to frame the game this way; instead of playing as a hyper-powerful Saitama or a relatively-powerless Mumen Rider, you create your own hero who can rise through the ranks, getting more and more powerful as you level up.

This, in turn, means that as you progress, you'll be teaming up with, completing missions for, and facing off against well-known characters from the series as you claw your way towards the next grade in the Hero Association.

Character creation is satisfying if a bit spartan at first. Your initial character will kind of look like a (relatively) normal person, but character customization options unlock fast and furious as you progress through the game, allowing you to create some truly hilarious monstrosities. 

Progression is similar for your character's moveset. Though you begin with a relatively basic slate of moves, you'll be able to customize your fighting style and your slate of special moves as you level up and complete missions.

Being stuck with a dearth of options at the beginning of the game is a bit frustrating, but at the same time, it doesn't take very long to increase those starting options.

Plus, even in the early stages of the story, you're not just fighting as your customized character. Heroes from the series (as well as custom-created heroes from other online players) will often join the fight and help you out, giving the story mode a bit of variety, even if it's a bit shallow.

Your narrative runs parallel to the story of the anime and manga, with plenty of side-quests to take part in. It's interesting to see the story of One Punch Man told from a perspective that's not Saitama's, but the gameplay loop does get stale after a while because all of the story missions start to feel samey.

It's really hard to create an engaging, multi-hour story mode out of a fighting game, and One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows stumbles in that regard. 

Engine Problems

Unfortunately, that's not where the disappointments end. 

I've reviewed a lot of Bandai Namco fighting games based on anime over the years, and it has, unfortunately, become clear that they're phoning it in. 

Though it's a very different series than, say, One Piece or My Hero Academia, the controls here are almost identical to any of those. That isn't a good thing. All of these games feature a control system that is somehow both simplistic and unsatisfying.

You have five buttons to work with: a light attack button, a heavy attack button, a guard button, a jump button, and a button that allows you to select your special moves and form changes. You can also throw enemies by pressing two buttons at once.

The issue is that each character only has a few special moves, and you can't really chain them into combos the same way you can satisfyingly chain, say, a Hadouken into a Shoryuken in Street Fighter.

No matter what character you're using (with the exception of Saitama, who, as promised, knocks everyone out in one punch), battles proceed the same way. You'll mash the light attack button to start a combo, hold it down for a guard break if your opponent is guarding, and then finish the combo with a heavy attack. This will repeat until you build up enough meter to unleash a special move. 

There are a few saving graces, however.

The game looks spot-on, and characters and locations are lovingly recreated in a way that fans of the show will appreciate. And the reinforcements mechanic, a method by which other characters take real, in-game time to show up and aid the player (or their enemy!), adds a layer of tension that is appreciated.

Can you hold out long enough for a hyper-powerful ally to show up? Can you defeat an enemy before their beefier friend joins the fray? It's a system I'd love to see other games incorporate.

But at the end of the day, the fighting is just too simplistic. Movement is clunky, jumps are floaty, and everything just feels heavy and slow. From things as obvious as characters taking between two and three full seconds to stand up after getting knocked down, to less notable things like the fact that you can't cancel moves into other moves, everything just feels unresponsive and unsatisfying.

One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows Review — The Bottom Line


  • Looks the part and admirably recreates One Punch Man's visual style
  • Legitimately fun to create your own superhero
  • Flashy special moves
  • Takes at least an hour to unlock versus mode
  • Fighting feels slow, sticky, and frustrating
  • Can't chain combos

If you really, really enjoy the fighting engine used in My Hero One's Justice, you'll probably have a great time with One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows. It's hard to be fully objective with things like this, especially since it's pretty clear that this is the way the game was designed.

But it's hard to get past the clunky fighting, especially when the story mode leans so hard on it. It makes the game's other issues stand out more starkly. It becomes difficult to overlook the fact that quest-giving NPCs are sometimes completely absent from the map, or the fact that sometimes, map notifications don't clear the way they should.

When the fighting isn't much fun, I'm less inclined to cut the game slack elsewhere because I'm already kind of bored.

Bandai Namco used to make these sweeping odes to anime fandom, but it seems clear that they have stalled out, and it makes me worry about upcoming games like the upcoming My Hero One's Justice 2 and even the sports title Captain Tsubasa, two games I was previously really looking forward to.

Bandai Namco will have to shift their priorities in a pretty significant way, or their next games will be forgotten the same way this one will likely be.

[Note: A copy of One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows was provided by Bandai Namco for the purpose of this review.]

Murder by Numbers Review — A Blast in the Past! Mon, 09 Mar 2020 17:09:16 -0400 Jonny Foster

Murder by Numbers had me hooked from the moment I laid eyes on it.

A detective-themed visual novel with Picross puzzles featuring legendary composer Masakazu Sugimori — best known for the Phoenix Wright series and Viewtiful Joe — is a combination that a nerd like me could only dream of. But boot up the game and you're met with an outstanding anime intro that will blow you away.

I'll give you a few seconds to recover. 

Whereas Murder by Numbers could have buckled under its own weight, thankfully, everything holds up to the quality and caliber that I was expecting. Murder by Numbers is something truly special — and I say that as someone that bought my copy as soon as it was available.

Murder by Numbers Review — A Blast in the Past!

The comparisons to the Phoenix Wright series are instantly evident. Not only do the visuals share the same motif of hand-drawn 2D sprites, speech boxes, and thick lines, but the gameplay is very similar, too. 

You'll hunt for clues, solve puzzles, question witnesses, and present evidence to unravel each mystery. Murder by Numbers has a more grounded narrative and cast, though, which often plays to its advantage.

There are enjoyable pop-culture references throughout that establish the mid-90's setting. Everything from Miss Marple to MC Hammer gets a mention, while the game's clothes, cars, and other titbits scream reinforce that aesthetic. A younger audience may have less appreciation for these nuances, but the art-style representing them is lush, vibrant, and drop-dead gorgeous. 

With good reason, too; Murder by Numbers' characters have been designed by Hato Mao, the star behind Mediatonic's previous endeavor: Hatoful Boyfriend

The characters may be drawn brilliantly, but the writing is where Murder by Numbers really shines. SCOUT, the lovable AI side-kick to our protagonist, starts off as a simple robot who doesn't understand that humans aren't always literal. SCOUT soon learns, though, to recognize — and execute — the nuances of lying and much, much more.

In fact, the cast almost universally finds personal growth throughout the game's four cases, but it would be a disservice to Murder by Numbers to spoil those.

What I will highlight is that Ryan is a scarily accurate portrayal of an abusive, gaslighting ex, and K.C.'s tender charm and quippy flamboyance paint a wonderfully well-rounded picture.  

Some characters definitely grate at times, but there always seems to be another side to them that develops along the way and explains their behavior. It shows that humans are complex, multi-faceted beings with much more going on than we can immediately understand — a powerful lesson we can all learn from. 

The writing is often so good that you often find yourself playing long after your puzzle-solving capabilities have abandoned you and your brain has turned to mush. 

As much as that is a compliment of the writing, it is also a small shortcoming of the gameplay. Picross puzzles are certainly enjoyable for a while, but I would have preferred more puzzle variety than the smattering that Murder by Numbers occasionally provides.

There is an Easy mode and various hints if you're not feeling like the Riddler, however, and the game provides bonus puzzles for hardcore geeks that want to find and solve everything (like me!) 

This keeps Murder by Numbers accessible and interesting to a much wider audience than it might otherwise, which is no small feat for a puzzle game. Less than $15 for 10-15 hours of enjoyment is a pretty sweet deal, too! 

Finally, let's talk audio. I've written entire articles before on Masakazu Sugimori's superlative command of music, and their talent is as evident here as it's ever been. 

The soundtrack is lively, bouncy, and upbeat. It's inspirational and uplifting when the moment is happy, it's imposing and harsh when the pressure is on, and it's cold and gloomy when the protagonist doubts themselves. 

I could go on and on but to save us all a few hours: the soundtrack is fantastic. Pump it directly into your veins and it will grant you immortality... probably.

Murder by Numbers Review — The Bottom Line

  • Top-class writing that's constantly evolving to keep you entertained and enthralled
  • Gorgeous graphics and audio; some of the best in any visual novel to date
  • Simple puzzling fun that's accessible to all players
  • Character sprites and music don't always match the situation 


There are a couple of instances where Murder by Numbers stumbles, such as when a lively tune takes over in spite of the threatening circumstances that proceed a puzzle. But this seems to be a small oversight as most occasions retain the imposing tracks that played before starting the puzzle. 

Another minor issue I ran into was with the character's expressions; they're limited by the number of sprites drawn for each cast member, and they could all use at least one more sprite to capture a wider range of emotion, often more. And though Mediatonic has mostly matched the expressions to dialog, there are a few notable occasions where someone's face just doesn't quite match their dialogue.

These small gripes might keep it just out of reach of a perfect score, but Murder by Numbers is an exceptional title that joins the list of games I'll be recommending to anyone that will listen for years to come. 

It's just that good. 

Vitamin Connection Review — Take Your Medicine Fri, 06 Mar 2020 16:47:17 -0500 Greyson Ditzler

Vitamin Connection is the kind of game that deserves to succeed. It's easy to pick up, exhaustively fun, and vibrantly creative. It's loaded with charm, replay value, and oodles of original ideas. It's the kind of game that every Switch owner should have in their collection one way or another.

Recently-released in digital form on the eShop, Vitamin Connection comes from indie giant WayForward Technologies, the same studio responsible for games such as Shantae and the Pirate's Curse and River City Girls. 

It very well might be one of the best games on the Nintendo Switch. 

Vitamin Connection Review — Take Your Medicine

Open wide y'all, it's time for the pill.

In Vitamin Connection you play as Vita-Boy and Mina-Girl, two miniature beings who pilot a tiny capsule-sized spaceship. They are mailed to the residence of the Sable family, all of whom are afflicted by some sickness or malady. The two tiny teammates use their ship to tackle everything from tickling tonsils to tuning troubled televisions. 

Every sprawling level sees Vita-Boy and Mina-Girl moving on rails through the colorful, bacteria-ridden insides of each family member. Branching paths mean that some backtracking is required, but re-treading areas isn’t the slog it might seem. Not including the game’s nicely varied level design, new hazards present themselves to shake things up. Add to that a wide-ranging catalog of enemies and the more Metroidvania sections of Vitamin Connection are easier to digest. 

Luckily, each level has a full map that fills out as you go so it's hard to get lost, and there's often a collectible hidden down the path less-traveled, compelling you to move forward. 

To get through it all, you'll need to twist and turn your controller, aim and fire your weapon, and control the movement of your ship all at once. In single-player, you do this by yourself using either two Joy-Cons or a Pro controller. In co-op, you can split the controls between two people. 

It can be a little frightening at first; every scenario involves quick thinking and fast reflexes popping as you swap between traditional controls and several types of motion controls. Luckily, it doesn't take too long to adjust to things. Any failure ends up being a light smack, especially with the game's relatively lenient checkpoint system.

In lieu of boss fights, each level subjects you to several mini-games, each of which use the Joy-Con motion controls in a different way. One minute you may be playing a rhythm section with two sets of instructions, the next you'll be guiding a hoop around a wire. In others, you'll be playing air hockey against a computer opponent. 

These sections build off of each other without compromising the game’s light combat focus or its relaxed tone. Consequently, they nicely crescendo into the actual boss fight at the very end of the game. 

It's showing various symptoms of "Early 2000's-itis"

Vitamin Connection reminds me of the early 2000s, a time when Japanese imports flooded the U.S., stunning us with starry-eyed wonder. Vitamin Connection could have easily been a forgotten classic of that era; it carries so much of the same style and energy.

Vitamin Connection’s presentation really is something special. The game’s signature panache comes from Lindsey Collins (also known as 'linzb0t”), who was also the lead artist on the bright and stylish Cat Girl Without Salad: Amuse-Bouche. Her signature round and cutesy style shines through while still looking wholly unique.

Made up almost entirely of simple shapes with bright, primary colors, Vitamin Connection lacks sharp edges and angles (unless when necessary), instead opting for rounded, inviting shapes. This works in tandem with the game’s cartoonish but earnest writing, and its equally heartfelt dialogue. Every cutscene and exchange is fully animated and voice-acted; the production value is quite high considering this is an independent production. 

Director James Montagna has mentioned that both Katamari Damacy and Jet Set Radio were major inspirations for Vitamin Connection’s visuals and music, and it shows. Vitamin Connection has such an amazingly robust and highly-produced soundtrack that most of its songs could have easily been Billboard Top 40 songs from 15 years ago. 

The game is jam-packed with original music from a variety of different artists. The soundtrack spans many different genres, though J-pop certainly dominates. Cheerful lyrics in both English and Japanese are belted out with accompaniment from a variety of both synthesizers and real instruments, creating a happy, high-energy atmosphere that never lets up.

Even when the music drastically switches style, the soundtrack always feels appropriate for each level, whether it be in the form of a rap song or a gothy ballad.

The sound design, in general, is excellent, creating a consistently cartoonish and thematically appropriate soundscape. There are songs unique to each level, and songs play on a shuffled playlist every time you start a level, cutting down repetition significantly, which isn't much a problem anyway because every song is catchy.

The developers even went so far as to have an extra layer of music play whenever the Vitamin Beam is firing and made most songs have their own unique layer. That's just awesome.

There honestly isn't much I can find wrong with Vitamin Connection. Sure, it's a little hard to figure out at first, but the game teaches you all the basics, and doesn't punish you too hard for struggling at the start. Not everyone will dig the style and music, but speaking as someone who enjoys this sort of thing, the whole team executed it perfectly.

Vitamin Connection Review — The Bottom Line

  • Very fun and creative
  • Totally unique gameplay and controls
  • Good by yourself or with a friend
  • Lots of content and replay value for $20
  • Great soundtrack and graphics
  • Somewhat steep learning curve for controls, especially in co-op
  • No 2-Player VS. mode for the various unlockable mini-games
  • Minor backtracking may bothersome

To bring this love-letter in disguise to a close: Vitamin Connection is a game that everybody should play. Not just because it's a great game for families and kids, but because it's just a great game. Creativity and charm like this should not just be celebrated but rewarded. 

The only things I wish Vitamin Connection had that it doesn’t is some sort of 2-Player VS. mode and a longer campaign. But it's also important to remember that when your worst complaint about a game is, "I wish there was more of it", you've still got a great game on your hands. 

Vitamin Connection is available now exclusively on Nintendo Switch. 

Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet Review: Syrupy Sweet Thu, 05 Mar 2020 18:38:58 -0500 Greyson Ditzler

Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet is a visual novel that recently made the jump to consoles from PC thanks to the efforts of artist NomNomNami and Ratalaika Games. It's the story of a cynical scientist named Syrup who runs a candy shop where the candy is made by conventional means in a world full of magic.

It's full of cute character designs and pleasant music. It's the kind of game that most people will look past while browsing the tidal wave of new releases at any given time, especially in a month as packed with major releases as March. But it's one they shouldn't.

While I wouldn't call it amazing, I would absolutely call Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet a pleasant surprise.   

Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet Review: Syrupy Sweet

Break out the oven mitts, this one's still warm.

Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet is a very simple game and could easily be enjoyed by anyone, as long as you don't mind a solid read and not much else.

It's a particularly uncomplicated visual novel where there really isn't any gameplay; you're merely permitted to select different dialogue options at set parts of the story that change the course of the plot.

You read through the story soaking in all the soft colors and cheery music, and every now and then, you get to make Syrup react in the way you feel would be appropriate to the situation, whether that be in accepting help from a character we might have reason to distrust, or in making a snap decision that could decide the fate of the candy shop.

For those unfamiliar with the genre, this is essentially a "choose your own adventure book" style of game, but it's scaled down to only about three or four chapters.

Incidentally, "she can deal" is one of the best prompts
I've ever seen in a game, so thanks for that Nami.

I managed to start and finish a play-through of the game in just about 30 minutes, while also achieving what might have been the best possible ending on my first try.

This isn't quite the downside that it might sound like, as the game has both fairly decent pacing despite its brevity  which allows the whole experience to feel complete and enjoyable  as well several different endings.

The different endings are the result of specific strings of actions you can take in the story, and the major branches occur throughout the story, which means every choice has fairly major consequences to what ending you might end up with.

This might all sound like fairly standard stuff for a budgeted visual novel title, but what really surprised me about Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet was just how effectively the game managed to charm me and draw me in.

Assemble Your Ingredients

Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet is a game about characters more than anything else. Though there are only five main characters in the game, they are so likable it doesn't matter that the cast is so small. It helps that their motivations are understandable and relatable. 

Butterscotch breaking down in particular really made me feel things. 

Syrup is a somewhat jaded and cynical person who has trouble letting others into her life. Gumdrop is learning what it means to be human and approaches everything with a joyful curiosity. Butterscotch is a shy witch and rival candy-maker who lacks confidence.

Pastille just wants the best for Syrup but doesn't want to be too pushy about it. Toffee is a laid-back alley-cat-type who tries to act cool but cares for his master Butterscotch. Everybody has something going on.

Since the game lacks any form of voice acting, the writing and art have to work overtime to effectively convey character, and it really pulls it off.  

The writing is pretty good on its own, but the cute and expressive art and character designs manage to work with writing to turn simple archetypes into much more relatable humans. All things being equal, I'm surprised I grew to be so fond of the game's characters, and I'd be happy to see them again in another adventure. 

  • Cute and expressive art
  • Solid if simple writing 
  • Branching story with multiple endings
  • Only costs $5
  • The best ending is quite easy to get, giving little reason to replay
  • A single play-through is very short
  • No voice acting or even really any sound effects 

Playing Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet is a lot like trying a new candy bar. It might not be your new favorite, but you end up liking it a lot anyway, and maybe you'd end up buying another if you see it on the shelf again. 

Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet is available now for PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4, and PlayStation Vita. 

If cute art and charming writing is worth the $5 entry fee, then I can easily recommend Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet. If you're anything like me, you might be surprised just how fast you're done with it, but you'll still have enjoyed your time with it, and you may feel a warm, cozy feeling inside.

Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders Review — A Tactical Blunder Mon, 02 Mar 2020 17:49:06 -0500 Jordan Baranowski

These days, it's tough to have a surprise release, but developer Blueside seems to have done it with a PC port of the 2004 cult-classic Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders. Releasing 16 years after its initial Xbox drop certainly qualifies as a surprise.

The Crusaders is a game that I was aware of but never played on its original release, and I was excited to dive in and see what this port was all about.

However, don't expect some massive remaster here with all sorts of newfangled options. Besides a few quality of life upgrades (like supporting modern resolutions), this release of Kingdom Under Fire is the exact same game you would have played almost two decades ago.

Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders Review — A Tactical Blunder

Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders is a combination of two different genres: hack-and-slash action and real-time tactics. Initially, the game might seem rather shallow, with the tutorial missions lulling you into a false sense of security. But there is a lot to think about as you lead your armies into battle.

Once you encounter a foe on the battlefield, the action zooms in, allowing you to take control of the leader of your forces, slicing your way through the opposing army in third-person action.

The hack-and-slash sections will be familiar to anyone who played games from this original time period as it was an extremely popular genre in the early 2000s. You have a few different attack buttons, a block button, and a few specialty attacks. You can chain together some combos and seek out elite foes to turn the tide of battle, but these sections are relatively mindless and get boring fairly quickly.

The tactical sections are pretty ambitious considering Kingdom Under Fire is originally a console game (and it still very much plays like one). You adjust your army's formation on the fly, counter enemy troops, utilize flanking maneuvers and sneak attacks, and even use weather patterns to your advantage. You can also upgrade your troops between missions; upgrades that are certainly necessary but don't generally make enough impact to be all that exciting.

All of this is done with an Xbox controller. There is an option to use a mouse and keyboard, including a near-constant reminder about what key to press to pull up an overlay, but after a few goes at it, I gave up. This is a game made for consoles, and even the voiceover tutorials reference which Xbox button to press.

Death Metal

All of this action is set against the backdrop of an extremely generic fantasy setting with extremely generic characters. Early on, your army consists of Generic Goodman, Sexy Sword Lady, and Beefy Dumb-Dumb. They lead a troop of identical-looking soldiers against other groups of identical-looking soldiers. The first army you fight is a bunch of ladies in thong armor, because of course, it is. And many enemies spout one-liners and say they're "surprised" without sounding like it.

Production values for video games were very different in 2004, but there are a lot of issues with Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders that remind you exactly when this game was made, and why things have changed since. 

When zoomed out, characters look fine. When zoomed in, well, dear lord. Anytime characters speak, their mouths move in bizarre slow motion no matter what they are saying. Their eyes are black pits. Characters clip in and out of one another with abandon.

It's hard to criticize a game from almost 20 years ago by saying, "It looks bad." But it just does.

If you just scrolled down to the comments to write, "Because the soundtrack is badass, dummy," then I must admit that you are correct. Kingdom Under Fire has a very awesome heavy metal soundtrack that plays almost constantly. Credits, battles, cutscenes, it doesn't matter: this is a game that sounds like how the cover of a Dungeons & Dragons sourcebook looks. 

Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders Review — The Bottom Line

  • Awesome soundtrack
  • Surprisingly deep tactics
  • Was (probably) technologically impressive in its time?
  • Hack-and-slash gameplay gets bland
  • Generic stories and characters
  • Has been surpassed by many other games
  • Straight port leaves a lot to be desired

It feels like the PC port of Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders could have benefited greatly from a bit more remastering. It seems like a game that had some fine ideas back in the day, but both genres it tackles have moved on to bigger and better things in the time it has been away.

The hack-and-slash sections lack the variety to stay interesting, and the tactical sections are impressive for a console game but feel clunky and hamstrung on PC.

2004 me probably would have loved sitting down at a friends house and cracking some skulls in Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders. If this is a game that you fondly remember playing, the PC port will undoubtedly hit some nostalgia buttons. For everyone else, I just don't think you'll get too much out of it.

Check out the soundtrack though: it's bangin'.

[Note: A copy of Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders was provided by Blueside for the purpose of this review.]

Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection Review — What a Title Fri, 28 Feb 2020 16:29:43 -0500 Jason Coles

Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection is just the latest in a string of rather wonderful little bits of history/game collections that have seen the light of day. It's important to preserve the history of gaming, and it's becoming increasingly hard to do so thanks to the degradation of the hardware that much of it was originally released on. 

Collections like this are important just in terms of their cultural importance, and the often included features like art galleries, soundtracks, and even the odd bit of behind the scenes stuff is essential to keeping this little part of our culture alive. Preservation is important, but it's also hard, and despite digital hypothetically being easier to preserve, there are always complications. 

On this front, Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection is a raging success. The galleries are filled with stunning artwork and concept art, and the music player is filled to the brim with amazing pieces of old-school video game music. That, of course, is probably not why you're likely to buy this collection though. 

Nothing's Cool Like The Old School

The main attraction here is the games in the collection. You get Mega Man Zero 1, 2, 3, 4, Mega Man ZX, and Mega Man ZX Advent. That's an awful lot of games at once, and each one will last you a fair chunk of time too.

On top of that, you also get the brand-new Z-Chaser mode, which basically plops you in a portion of one of the games and asks you to get through it as fast as you can. That then gives you the chance to compete against the world at large, or just for bragging rights with your friends. 

The other new additions come in the form of two little difficulty buffers. While many fans will ignore these and feel no need to gatekeep or complain about their hobby becoming too easy, others will be happy to see that the games can be made easier if desired. Those are the only two outcomes; nothing negative can come of this. 

Easy Come, Easy Go

The first of these two features is the Casual Scenario mode. This boosts the damage you can deal and also reduces the damage you'll receive, which should make a lot of the games a fair bit easier.

There's also the Save Assist option, which adds new checkpoints into the levels before the trickier parts to make failing less frustrating. You can choose to use one or the other or both, so it adds a nice layer to the difficulty settings already present in the game. It also means that there will be a whole new wave of fans who can possibly play the games, so that's nice too. 

This isn't related to difficulty, but it is quite cool. There are a few different filters you can choose from to change how the games look. You can do things like smoothing out the graphics to make them look more modern, for example. These are a good way to get a feel true to the original hardware. Plus, with the ZX games being handheld originally, you can move around the second screen at will, which makes for a much more personalized experience. 

So, that's all the new stuff, but how are the games? 

The Megaist of Men

I mean, they're Mega Man games, so they're really good. While not every aspect of these games holds up nowadays, you can't deny the brilliance of design in both the platforming and combat. Every level is still sure to test you to your absolute limit, and the bosses are certain to kill you off too. 

While the Mega Man Zero games are more traditional in their approach to gameplay, which is to say they're primarily platformers with some punishing combat thrown in here and there, the Mega Man ZX games are closer to being Metroidvanias. Basically, if you like Mega Man, then you're going to love this collection. 

  • Excellent value for money
  • Great selection of games
  • Very welcome new options for difficulty settings
  • Graphics don't look all that great on a PC screen
  • There have been reports of bugs, crashes, and saving issues, though I've not experienced them

Overall, you'd be hard-pressed to beat the Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection. All of the games are enjoyable, the new features make them far easier to consume for modern players, and the love to the series spills out of every frame. It's just a very good collection of very good games, even if the title is utterly absurd. 

Metro Redux Switch Review: Metro Anywhere Fri, 28 Feb 2020 13:48:01 -0500 Gabriel Moss

Metro Redux initially released mid-autumn 2014, during one of those things we old-timers would call a "dry period". It's hard to believe now, but there was a lapse in great new games that existed roughly between the release window of Grand Theft Auto V in 2013, and everything that came after The Witcher 3 in 2015.

If you picked up Metro Redux around launch, it was at first by some divine coincidence (or you found it on sale, probably on Steam) and you may have slowly, accidentally fallen in love with its intense gunfights and giant mutants.

More importantly, it's got two whole games to beat. If you didn't know before, now you know that Metro Redux is actually a collection that includes both Metro 2033 Redux and Metro Last Light Redux, as well as all relevant DLCs.

Unfortunately for past me, today is the day you can finally get Metro Redux on Switch and play it anywhere you want, even on a real metro tunnel underneath Moscow. What's the big deal? Is it worth a grab, or is it best to play it on another system? Read on to find out.

Metro Redux Switch Review: Metro Anywhere

I beat Metro 2033 three times, and Metro Last Light four whole times, which is apparently on the low side. I'm a true fan regardless. I still hold the Library in high esteem for top scariest video game levels of all time. I can never un-imagine Artyom shoveling pig feces out of a mobile toilet as described in Metro 2033, the novel by Dmitry Glukhovsky.

For years, I've recommended Metro Redux to any gaming fan with a semblance of interest in speculative post-apocalyptic fiction, such as Fallout. However, I played it on a really nice PC with all the fixins'.

Metro Redux on Switch feels like one of those rare Switch games that shouldn't exist. I mean that in a very, very good way. I also mean it in the sense that, thematically and technically, it doesn't seem like it would be a great natural fit for Nintendo's portable gaming console.

That's where I was wrong. By all accounts, this is exactly what I remember playing and enjoying so many times in my early 20s, but it also appears every bit as fleshed out and gorgeous when viewed through the 720p screen aboard my Nintendo Switch Lite.

Action sequences that push you through the bleak underground metro tunnels are just as crisp and tense as they are above the surface, and just as they were in the 2014 release. Characters and monsters retain their animations, sound design, voice acting, and overall polish as well.

Just as long as you don't look too hard at the differences, or think too hard about the capped framerates and rigid controls, the Nintendo Switch might be the definitive way to play Metro Redux.

Like, the whole thing.

Now that it's on the Switch, Metro Redux is finally sitting right there for you to pick up and play whenever you want, and it even features 5.1 surround sound, making it the perfect game with which to plug your high-end headphones in and get lost while laying underneath some blankets or sitting aboard a noisy airplane.

Though I only got the chance to test the former, and regrettably not the latter, I could totally see myself playing Metro 2033 to the very end a fourth time, and Metro Last Light a sixth time through, under this arrangement. Regardless of whether I find the time, I'm here for it.

I play exclusively on a Switch Lite, and I don't have an OG Switch to test on for reference, but the graphics look fantastic in Metro Redux. Granted, I did need some time to readjust to lower framerates than the ones my gaming PC and PS4 Pro have spoiled me with throughout the years. 

Of course, delivering a fast-paced, visually detailed and physics-heavy action game at consistent 30 frames per second is much harder than it first sounds, and it's worth giving credit where credit is due.

I commend 4AGames for going through the painstaking effort of making this port happen in the first place, and it seems like a modern miracle considering how many technical, CPU-sucking bells and whistles they left in.

  • The entire Metro Redux experience in your hands
  • Consistent 30 frames per second at sharp and clean 720p
  • Sounds great
  • Joycon-style controllers not nearly as fun to play with
  • Frames capped at 30 per second
  • No new secrets or surprises for longtime fans

Metro Redux on the Nintendo Switch doesn't bring anything totally new to these much-loved titles, but it's surprisingly entertaining to play Metro 2033 and Last Light out and about.

[Metro Redux was granted to the writer by the publisher for review purposes.]

Wasteland Remastered Review: A Classic Experience for Modern Gamers Fri, 28 Feb 2020 10:59:02 -0500 Ty Arthur

A whopping 32 years after originally hitting the Apple II and Commodore 64, Wasteland finally sees the updated version it deserves for modern devices.

After InXile released upgraded editions of the original Bard's Tale dungeon crawlers last year, giving the same treatment to the very first graphical post-apocalyptic role-playing game made a lot of sense.

Many of these classic titles like Wasteland and Bard's Tale hold a special place of nostalgia in the hearts of Millennial and Gen-X fans, but frankly, the old gameplay mechanics and extremely limited user interfaces just don't hold up anymore.

The remastered edition handles those issues nicely while still maintaining the old school feel. The end result is a new version of Wasteland absolutely worth returning to just to see where the genre started 10 years before the original Fallout was even a twinkle in Interplay's eye.

Wasteland Remastered Review: A Classic Experience for Modern Gamers

Fans of the original experience aren't left in the cold here the story, locations, and characters all remain exactly the same. Hell Razor, Angela Deth, Snake Vargas, and Thrasher are still roaming the wasteland to solve problems. They still travel to places like the High Point, the Rail Nomad Camp, and so on before finally confronting the genocidal robots in Base Cochise.

That being said, this is really more of a full remake than a simple remaster, although it keeps many of the same keyboard-based UI mechanics for nostalgia purposes. 

For starters, you don't need to reference a physical book to read the dialog and descriptions like with the original Wasteland! That's a huge plus, as the Wasteland re-release a few years back stuck with the old style and had players switching to separate text document.

Other big changes in the base gameplay can be found from beginning to end. Although it's not exactly canon (Snake Vargas and Angela Deth fighting at Base Cochise is critical to the story in the sequel), you now have the ability to make your own ranger crew from scratch.

With updated mechanics also come achievements to unlock, and the InXile crew has a firm eye here on pleasing long time fans. The utterly useless Combat Shooting skill returns for instance, and like with the original it does absolutely nothing in-game, but it does come with an achievement this time around, masterfully titled It Finally Does Something.

Going from 1988 gameplay to 2020 gameplay, of course, Wasteland is now much more graphical-focused than in years past. Updated biting and shooting animations have been added during battles for a bit excitement, which is a luxury the original Wasteland developers probably never dreamed of having.

You'll also be treated to brief animated cut scenes when entering new areas or meeting new characters, as well as voice-overs for many of the text descriptions now. In short, the world feels much more alive and immersive than before.

The area backgrounds, overland map, and player icon have been completely redesigned for a 3D aesthetic, but the enemy imagery is very closely based on the original sprites. That faithfulness leads to a few odd choices on what didn't get changed in the remaster and probably should have been.

Wait, Why Didn't THIS Get An Upgrade?

    Apparently this is a bunny...?

Considering how many elements of Wasteland were overhauled, it's strange that corners were cut on the enemy graphics in particular. The same base sprite is used for a whole bunch of different encounters, and it's really noticeable.

If you're going to take the time to remake the game for more modern audiences, this major graphical area seems like a pretty obvious place to put a little effort in, right?

Graphics aside, Wasteland is still an old school game through and through with a high level of difficulty and absolutely no hand-holding. Although there's more explanation this time around if you dig through the menus, there's still a good deal of trial and error to figure out how the skills work and when you should use them. You can expect to die, repeatedly, while first exploring anything.

     ...and also a prairie dog?

Although vastly improved overall, some of the UI remains oddly clunky. Pressing Space or Enter takes you to the main menu screen for instance, even if you are engaged in a combat encounter. That's incredibly annoying since the icon on the "Continue" section of the combat text looks like the space bar.

To move along to the next section of combat you need to use the number keys or click the mouse instead, which isn't very intuitive since most of the gameplay isn't handled with the mouse pointer at all.

        A rat! OK, now I at least see the resemblance! 

Fans of the original will be pleased to see you still have to take note of keywords to type in during dialog, although most of that is much more clearly highlighted with the in-game journal.

All of that text is still broken down into the original paragraphs, so it won't be hard to get back into Wasteland in this new graphics-focused version if you played it way back in '88.

New players, on the other hand, are going to be in for a bad time if they don't know to expect these very old school mechanics. You will absolutely want to read the getting started welcome post from InXile if you never played the original, or you will be totally lost.

Wasteland Remastered Review — The Bottom Line

  • The granddaddy of all post-apocalyptic video games returns in a much  more playable version
  • Graphical upgrades galore
  • You don't need to print out a novel to play anymore
  • While more accessible than the original version, this can still be a major pain to get into if you didn't grow up with Wasteland
  • A few bugs still need to be patched
  • Extremely unforgiving difficulty

Wasteland Remastered does suffer from a handful of bugs at launch, like weapons not showing up as equipped when you swap them out unless you close and re-open the game. There's already a patch on the way to deal with these relatively minor problems, though.

Honestly, it's hard to be too critical of the experience considering how clunky Wasteland was originally back in the '80s — and that you can basically play it for free if you have Game Pass.

Whether you love the original or have never tried it before, this is easily the best way to experience the original Wasteland, so long as you don't mind dealing with some un-intuitive old school mechanics.

Since InXile is known for picking up classic franchises and rebooting them, there's another 80s dungeon crawler that could use their attention - I'd love to see Dragon Wars get the same treatment someday!

Of course, after the development team was scooped up by Microsoft, many are wondering if that will continue to be the case in the future. For now, we can look forward to switching from the irradiated Arizona deserts to a snowy Colorado landscape when Wasteland 3 releases on May 19, 2020.

Whether the Microsoft buyout bodes good or ill in the long term, at the very least there's some good news in the near future — Wasteland 2 took 26 years to arrive after the original, but thankfully the wait for the next sequel won't be measured in decades.

Bloodroots Review: Frenetic, Fatal, and Fun Thu, 27 Feb 2020 09:00:01 -0500 RobertPIngram

A good game can be really fun when things are going well and you feel skilled and empowered. A great game remains fun when you feel like a useless idiot who can't do anything right.

Bloodroots is a great game.

As a mile-high view, Bloodroots puts you in control of Mr. Wolf, a man on a revenge mission to take out his old gang, led by Mr. Black Wolf, after they attempt to murder you. Along the way, you'll have to take out the gang's underlings, as well as thousands of others who get between where you are and who you want to kill.

Gameplay is a frantic, don't-think bash 'em up with the majority of enemies weak to a single blow, but all of them are capable of killing you just as easily.

You will die frequently.

Bloodroots Review: Frenetic, Fatal, and Fun

The star of Bloodroots is undoubtedly the arsenal at your disposal, though it doesn't appear in the form of a complex inventory system or as powerful upgrading mechanics. Instead, the appeal of Bloodroots is that virtually everything can be a weapon, frequently with entirely new and unique attack types that will have you picking up something fresh just to see what it can do.

From pirouetting around the battlefield spinning a deadly ladder over your head to slapping a giant fish's mouth over an enemy's head, if you can see it, there's a good chance you can kill somebody in a spectacular and possibly-stupid way with it.

The many different weapons on the battlefield aren't just for fun (but, oh geez, are they ever fun). The different mechanics frequently play a crucial role in progressing.

The game is broken into three acts, each with multiple stages to complete before a boss level. Within each stage, however, there are a series of arenas that must be cleared to move on to the next one. Often, the difference between a chain of deaths (theirs) and a chain of deaths (yours) comes down to finding the right sequence of weapons to use.

Every weapon has limited uses, often just one and rarely more than three, so finding the best way to make use of what's around is essential in order to wipe out everything in front of you.

Trial & Error & Error & Error & Error

One game I was surprised to discover Bloodroots reminded me of was the time-stopping triumph Superhot. While the two may not seem similar at first blush, with Bloodroots requiring madcap slaughter and Superhot demanding patience to get full use of your special powers, they come closer together as you reach more complex arenas.

Just as Superhot places you in control of a (less literal) glass cannon hero who has to learn from each death to avoid threats, Bloodroots is all about learning and adapting.

Most attacks have a period of cooldown where you are exposed, and that varies by weapon. As you move through an arena and die at the hands of an enemy you didn't realize was a threat, you'll soon begin to develop paths through the arena, adjusting as needed until you flawlessly cut through the opposition like a chicken-laden rotisserie skewer through a soldier protected by a giant inner tube that deflects projectiles.

Wait, What Game Am I Playing?

While I quickly adjusted to the idea that anything and everything I encountered just might be the useful weapon I need to clear the next group of enemies, what surprised me the most about Bloodroots was how often the game managed to subvert expectations with new takes on the levels, and not just for the boss fights.

On the one hand, you have simply the addition of new methods of accessing sections on maps that change the way you get around and operate.

What's more, however, there are also sections that seem to completely change the game you're playing. At one point, I found myself trying to navigate through a cave full of dangers with the help of a firework to provide short upward bursts. It was Flappy Bird with more carnage.

A few levels later finds Mr. Wolf forced to take out a series of enemies while running atop a series of large balls with controls akin to playing Marble Madness.

While it would be easy for all of this "more, more, more" approach to game design to go off the rails, it all just works.

Bloodroots Review — The Bottom Line

  • Weapon variety provides many moments of hilarity during discovery, and fun in further use
  • Clever design always compels you to give it just one more go
  • Gameplay is fast and engaging
  • Some specialized levels may put off some gamers
  • Long runs of deaths can occur on challenging arenas

The biggest case I can make for Bloodroots revolves around something that, despite nearly 30 years of gaming under my belt, remains true about me: I'm not great at videogames. For a game like Bloodroots this means a lot of times where I fell into death loops I felt I would never escape.

But never once did I reach frustration that made me want to quit. Even when I accidentally offed myself down a pit for the twentieth time, or bounced faced first into a bullet, all I wanted to do was dive back in and give it another go.

When trying the same thing for the same twenty-second time feel just as engaging as the first, you've done something right.

Bloodroots is not an easy game. It is challenging but manages to be so while remaining fun the entire time. 

[Note: A copy of Bloodroots was provided by Paper Cult for the purpose of this review.]

Corruption 2029 Review: The Thin Red Line Between Tactical and Tedious Wed, 26 Feb 2020 17:49:53 -0500 RobertPIngram

There's no talking about Corruption 2029 without talking about its unavoidable comparisons to two games. The first and most obvious comparison is to The Bearded Ladies prior release, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. There's not much need for an in-depth comparison between the two as, on a mechanical level, the two are so similar you can likely determine the chances you'll enjoy Corruption 2029 by how much you liked MYZ.

Where the comparisons become dicier is when it comes to comparing Corruption to the genre gold-standard, XCOM. While the game's mechanics align more with Mutant Year Zero, the theme and feel harken back to XCOM, with cyborg-shell soldiers that seem to be coming straight off an Advent dropship.

While Corruption 2029 is an enjoyable enough game, the latter provides a comparison that is not flattering.

Corruption 2029 Review: The Thin Red Line Between Tactical and Tedious

Combat in Corruption 2029 is a mixed bag. As with Mutant Year Zero, the game does not adhere to an all turn-based approach, instead utilizing a mix of free movement and combat turns, allowing you to move about in stealth cover and set up tactical ambushes for opposing forces before initiating combat.

This is a fun addition in the genre, and when it goes off well, it can be really enjoyable. Moving through a map and carefully picking off all the one-shot-ready enemies with your sniper before beginning your proper assault is great fun, and the game allows for clearing out stragglers without alerting other troops when handled efficiently.

Unfortunately, things don't always go perfectly, and even when they do, as you progress through levels the ability to effectively one-round each encounter is not always there. Once you find yourself locked down in a firefight, the game begins to drag.

Enemies in Corruption 2029 are good at using cover and moving in it without exposing themselves to too much risk. While this makes the tactical challenge greater, it comes with drawbacks.

AI enemies will commonly adopt an approach common among human players. They will move behind cover with one action then throw on overwatch to spray bullets at anyone who tries to flank them. While this is no-doubt a tactically sound approach, often, it does not make for enthralling gameplay.

Weapons in Corruption 2029 feel weak, requiring multiple critical hits to take out even common enemies in later stages, and with minimal range, this often combines with the AI tactics to result in long, drawn-out potshot battles where the first one to move into a more-effective attacking position loses. 

The Problem With Cyborgs: No Meat on the Bones

The biggest frustration I came away with playing Corruption 2029 is how promising of a start the game could be, were it the first look at project still in development. The mix of stealth and tactical gameplay is fun and well-executed, and the slightly-open world approach that allows players to choose their current mission objective and drop in wherever they see fit, should they wish to scavenge from a prior map section, is a nice touch.

Unfortunately, there just isn't enough variety to sustain the game as you move forward. As you find yourself carrying out multi-map missions that see you taking on the same map as a previous encounter with only barely-tweaked enemy layouts, it all begins to run into itself.

Similarly, your characters and their load-outs are also borderline static. While new tools are earned for victories and silenced versions of weapon types can be found, there's not enough variety to sustain extended play. With only three in your squad, your ability to set up complex attack formations is also severely hindered.

Were the campaign to be built out, with more maps and more variety, the game would offer a far more compelling case. 

Corruption 2029 Review — The Bottom Line

  • Leveled sniper makes for the most satisfying tactical sniper role I've played
  • Competent, if unspectacular, execution still results in fun
  • Streamlined approach to content leaves the game feeling incomplete
  • Doesn't standout from the myriad other genre titles

I found my time with Corruption 2029 to be a mixed bag as a fan of the genre. While there's nothing glaringly off about the game to make playing unenjoyable, it also lacks the little special touches that make other games great.

While the decision to make your three units interchangeable, distinguished only by the upgrades you give them, may make sense within the theme, it also lessens the effectiveness of the story element.

I'm somebody who plays XCOM with characters named after real friends and family to give them added import on the battlefield, so controlling a trio of nondescript cyborgs lessened the impact of decisions.

With a reasonable price point of $19.99, Corruption 2029 isn't asking much of you, which is good, because justifying any more would be difficult. As it is, for players who aren't desperately itching for some new tactical fun, you're probably better off waiting for any news of an expansion, or for a sale price in the future.

SteelSeries Rival 3 Review: A Mouse Worth Buying Wed, 26 Feb 2020 13:39:36 -0500 Kenneth Seward Jr.

When it comes to PC gaming, I tend to lean on certain peripherals. My headset has to be comfortable, and my keyboard needs to be responsive. The only piece of hardware I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about is my mouse.

That's because it doesn’t take much, in terms of bells and whistles, to make a good mouse, especially nowadays. Aside from the small, general gap in accuracy between optical- and laser-based mice, there isn’t much to worry about when picking up a new mouse. 

That’s not to say there isn’t a "best option" for you.

Considering most gaming mice have a lot of the same features, there are a few notable differences that will make someone pick one mouse over the other. Durability, customization options, cost – all of these factors can steer someone toward or away from a mouse.

For me, the biggest thing is comfort. Spending a ton of time in front of PCs has made me more prone to issues like carpal tunnel syndrome; not being able to rest my right hand comfortably while gaming exacerbates things.

Meaning, mice that are needlessly bulky are out. Smaller, more ergonomically designed mice, like SteelSeries’ Rival 3, are in.

SteelSeries Rival 3 Review: A Mouse Worth Buying

Rivaled Design

Created using lightweight materials, this slim-shaped mouse didn’t put extra strain on my hand or wrist during testing. Its back end fit my palm nicely. There were no raised areas that forced me to bend my wrist.

Instead, I could use a fingertip grip and rest my wrist on my mouse pad during play, something attributable to the position of the side buttons. Overall, the Rival 3 felt great to use.

Even after hours of play over several days, I didn’t experience much discomfort. The Rival 3 wasn’t just comfortable to use, though. It was also durable during my testing.

Featuring high-grade polymer and 60-million-click switches, this mouse is here to stay. At least, that’s the idea. I couldn’t very well test that number clicks in a few weeks, but I did drop the Rival 3 a few times while swapping components. It still looks and feels brand-new.

That's good because the Rival 3 is sleek. There aren’t any parts that jut out or bend in awkward ways. And the 3-zone RGB lighting (located on the back and bottom of the mouse) is attention-grabbing.   


Beyond comfort and durability comes accuracy. The Rival 3 is an optical mouse, which is great for gaming. SteelSeries took things a step further, though, by designing a lightweight sensor specifically for the Rival 3.

Called the TrueMove Core Sensor, Rival 3’s sensor offers true 1-to-1 tracking. This was done by properly balancing the mouse’s CPI (counts per inch), IPS (inches per second), and acceleration. It's an iteration on sensors used by other SteelSeries mice, but that doesn't make its inclusion here any less important.

The Rival 3 starts with a base CPI of 800. This means that a one-inch movement of the mouse moves the cursor 800 pixels. The Rival 3’s base IPS is 300, allowing it to reliably track a speed of 25ft per second. It also has varying acceleration speeds that depend on these settings.

What this all means is that the mouse can be moved quickly to cover a large area without losing its ability to track. There’s no jittering or skipping around because the mouse’s sensor doesn’t get confused by quick movements.

Engine 3

Spinning around to blast a foe or lining up a headshot on a moving target in your favorite shooter is made easier with The Rival 3. Things can get a little tricky out of game, though. This was due to the mouse’s base CPI and acceleration settings. When I set it the Rival 3 to 800 CPI, it took multiple moves of the mouse to get from one side of my screen to the other. It took even more to get to my second monitor.

When I upped the speed – by clicking the CPI button located right below the mouse wheel – things moved too fast. The higher setting of 1600 CPI sent my cursor flying at the slightest touch. This wasn’t the case when playing a fast-paced game. Being contained within a full screen with fewer things to click on helped mitigate the speed, but trying to swap between apps across multiple monitors was a pain.

Thankfully, the SteelSeries Engine 3 software allows for further tweaks. Once downloaded, players can change the mouse's keybinds, save polling rates, customize the 3-zone RGB lighting effects, and more. You can even set up different settings for apps. For instance, it’s possible to display custom effects that are tied to Discord notifications.

Engine 3 can also change the Rival 3’s CPI options. Ranging from 200 to an insane 8500 CPI, there’s a lot of room to experiment. Throw in the ability to change the mouse’s acceleration and deceleration rates, and the only thing keeping you from optimizing the Rival 3 is the software’s slight learning curve. It isn’t as easy to use as say, HyperX’s NGENUITY.

  • A sleek design
  • Made with durable materials
  • TrueMove Core optical sensor
  • Customizable features
  • Cost
  • Can be a bit unwieldy right out of the box
  • Engine 3 has a slight learning curve 

The Rival 3 is a solid gaming mouse. It sports a lightweight, ergonomic design, provides true 1-to-1 movement, and is customizable.

I couldn’t ask for much more out a gaming mouse, really, especially at the low cost of $29.99. The Rival 3 has a lot going for it that's typically relegated to higher price points. 

Rival 3 Specs

Sensor  TrueMove Core
Sensor Type Optical
CPI 100-8,500 in
100 CPI increments
IPS 300
Acceleration 35G
Polling Rate 1,000Hz 1ms

[Note: A Rival 3 review unit was provided by SteelSeries for the purpose of this review.]

Samurai Shodown Switch Review: Portable Swords Wed, 26 Feb 2020 11:14:32 -0500 Thomas Wilde

Samurai Shodown has arrived on the Switch, and it’s made the trip more or less intact. While the graphics have been downscaled for Nintendo's platform, it’s not as stark a difference as you might expect — unless you play in portable mode. As far as the rest goes, it’s still as fast, fluid, and unforgiving as it was last year on the PS4 and Xbox One.

If you already played and made up your mind about SamSho, the Switch version won’t change your mind. If you’re strictly a Switch player looking for something new to do with your fightstick, however, SamSho is a hallmark of the genre for several very good reasons.

Samurai Shodown Switch Review: Portable Swords

Ukyo fights Yashamaru in Samurai Shodown on the Nintendo Switch.

Specifically, it’s a very educational sort of game. The 2019 Samurai Shodown – technically the seventh mainline game in the series, but intended as a franchise reboot – is a high-risk, high-reward fighting game, where every character is no more than one or two big hits away from losing a round.

While this isn’t necessarily uncommon in fighting games, particularly at high levels of play, SamSho takes it to extremes. A single heavy slash can shave off a quarter to a third of a character’s life bar, projectiles do almost no real damage, and most of the attacks in the game leave you wide open for a crucial second if they’re blocked.

As such, SamSho places a heavy emphasis on a lot of the genre’s intangible elements, such as mind games, matchup knowledge, and tactical approaches. None of the characters have more than a handful of special moves, either, so there’s a relatively low execution requirement. Victory in SamSho is mostly about landing one or two big hits at the right time, rather than learning elaborate combo attacks.

You can definitely argue that it’s not particularly casual-friendly, but SamSho is still a really good “gateway game;" it’s a cutthroat, high-impact way to learn fundamentals that you’ll use in almost every other fighting game.

Samurai Shodown graphics on the PS4.

Samurai Shodown graphics on the Switch.Top screen: PlayStation 4; bottom: Nintendo Switch

The Switch port is a little uglier than its PS4 or Xbox One versions, but not distractingly so. I put SamSho on Switch through its paces for a couple of days, then took it online for a few ranked matches, and didn’t run into any problems with framerate drops or slowdown. It didn't quite feel like playing in my living room, but it was a perfectly acceptable online experience.

The Switch port is admittedly a little blurrier around the edges than other versions are, especially if you try to play it in portable mode, but you don’t lose any speed or frames for it.

Most of the flaws the game has are the same as the other versions. While its early problems with character balance (read: Genjuro being head and shoulders above everyone else) have been patched out at this point, the boss at the end of arcade mode is the same kind of frustrating brick wall that SNK loves to put at the end of all its arcade modes.

The Switch version also lacks cross-play with other platforms, which feels borderline ridiculous in 2020, and four out of the five season-one DLC characters still have to be bought off the eShop.

Samurai Shodown Switch Review — The Bottom Line

Haohmaru fights Genjuro in Samurai Showdown Switch.

  • Best stop for getting serious about fighting games in 2020
  • Excellent port of one of last year’s solid releases
  • Low execution barrier
  • Four out of the five Season One characters still have to be purchased separately
  • It’s been 41 years and SNK is still making “SNK Bosses”
  • The load times are still pretty bad, especially since the animated icons love to stop working

Samurai Shodown has managed to make the trip to the Switch without sacrificing more than a little bit of graphical fidelity. If you pick it up, you’ll end up with a game that feels strangely foundational for 2D fighting as a whole, where every round is a tense game of rocket tag even if you have what you think is an insurmountable lead. If you’re looking for something flashy and crazy to play on the couch, it really doesn’t fill that particular bill, but as a fighting game, it’s got a lot of what keeps the genre relevant.

[Note: SNK’s PR department provided a Switch download code for the purpose of this review.]

Sayonara Wild Hearts Review: Walking on a Dream Wed, 26 Feb 2020 10:53:45 -0500 Mark Delaney

How long must a game be for it to justify your time and money? Five hours? 20? 100? How about just 60 minutes? Is that too brief?

Such a short runtime is often reserved for indies cheaply referred to as "walking sims," and though I love those games, I understand when others don't. How you spend your time and money is up to you, I can merely recommend you do it one way or another.

For similar reasons, I'd understand your reservations about Sayonara Wild Hearts if all you knew about it was its brief runtime. 

But this review is dedicated to proving that brevity does not define a game, and it can even be an asset when used as smartly as Simogo's stylish arcade game does. At almost exactly one hour in length, SWH won't keep you for long, but it will stay with you forever.

Sayonara Wild Hearts Review: Walking on a Dream

Sayonara Wild Hearts is a lot of different things; it's hard to nail it to one genre. Much of the time, SWH is mostly akin to an auto-runner, but never completely. Your character, The Fool, moves dazzlingly down ceaseless streams made of streets and stars and neon-lit fantasy to the tune of an original hypnotic dream-pop soundtrack.

All the while, it's her (see: your) job to move through the world without colliding into its transformative obstacles. Sometimes she's on a dreamy motorcycle dodging rival fireballs, other times she's hitched a ride on a majestic, ghostly deer leaping across steep valleys. Other levels abandon this format entirely, too. When The Fool navigates through the world well enough, she'll set high scores and achieve medals in bronze, silver, or gold.

The game's 25 levels are unpredictable, and even writing this out, I understand how it may be hard to understand. The game doesn't have any familiar analogs, making a frame of reference difficult.

Suffice it to say the arcadey scorekeeping is there for one type of fan, but the game never cares too much about how you're doing. If you want to chase high scores for each level, you're welcome to go for them and the game provides a strong challenge for score-chasers.

The better aspect of the game, however, is how SWH so forgivingly dismisses your struggles. Failing a section repeatedly? You can skip the level. Miss qualifying for a bronze medal? It doesn't matter. You still get to advance to the next level. 

This accessible, worry-free design is emblematic of the game's overarching, though somewhat muddled, message: feeling comfortable in your own skin.

Through each colorful, swiftly-moving level, players live out The Fool's romantic entanglements, reimagined as trendy biker gangs, polygonal wolves, cunning twins that can bend reality, and other larger-than-life actors. They make up a past mired by heartbreak and failed attempts to be something she's (you're) not for someday else's sake.

Or at least, that's my interpretation. 

The game leaves it open for you to decide, and a lot of its messaging is hidden in its lyrics, so it's easy to overlook or actively disengage from. Sayonara doesn't even necessarily lose anything for it, because it's just so good in every facet.

If you want to play SWH as a score-attack game, it's challenging and precise. If you need it to be a fiendishly stylish accessibility buffet, it works perfectly for that, too. 

To those who have already played Sayonara, it may seem like I've buried the lede, but really I've wanted to save the best for last: the music. The game's original soundtrack is unforgettable, cheery, and truly uplifting. This goes even further because each level puts the music to gameplay. It becomes a rhythm-action game, but never demanding more than you can give it and always happy to lift you up when you're down.

From pulse-pounding tracks like "Inside" and "Dead of Night" to instant-love-anthem "Begin Again" or the rare respite of "The World We Knew," every level is a single track. Collectively, it forms a playable pop album. It's some of the smartest, most cohesive design choices I've ever seen, and I was stunned to learn it was made by just two people.

No frame is wasted, no moment is glossed over. More than a music video come to life, it's more like being in the audience for a live show. The power of live music is unlike anything else, and through its interactivity, Sayonara Wild Hearts manages to get your blood flowing with the same euphoria. 

Sayonara Wild Hearts Review — The Bottom Line

  • Unforgettable music
  • Unpredictable, engaging level design
  • Accessibility options galore
  • A fun challenge for high score-seekers
  • Relentlessly stunning visuals
  • By nature of the genre, its gameplay will leave some players wanting

It's telling that for a game that takes just an hour to play, I have over seven hours of time in the world of Sayonara Wild Hearts between iOS and Switch. This weekend, I'll play it again on Xbox, too. It's infinitely replayable, whether you want to go for a gold medal, hear your favorite song, or solve some of the game's hidden riddles.

Most of all, I find myself returning to it when I just want to feel good about myself, about the world, or about The Fool. I've never played anything like Sayonara Wild Hearts.

Understanding that its gameplay doesn't reveal some industry-altering new mechanics, I still find Sayonara Wild Hearts to be one of the best games of the generation and the kind of game I will keep close to my heart forever. 

Sayonara Wild Hearts is more than a game for me. It's a catharsis vessel. It's a story of self-love. It's a reminder that some things break but that doesn't make us broken. It was once a dream and now forever a memory. It's transcendent and undying, but, of course, it is. Wild Hearts Never Die. 

Rune Factory 4 Special Review: The Prize Crop Tue, 25 Feb 2020 12:54:00 -0500 Joshua Broadwell

The Rune Factory series is a long-running spinoff of Harvest Moon, opting for a more traditional RPG setup alongside the usual farming and romancing the series is known for. Rune Factory 4 released seven years ago on the Nintendo 3DS to some acclaim, and now it's back on the Nintendo Switch ahead of the next installment's release sometime later this year.

How does RF4 stack up after all these years, and is it really that "special" this time around? Absolutely.

Rune Factory 4 Special Review: The Prize Crop

Deceptively, Rune Factory 4 Special starts out predictably and trope-y. After selecting your avatar, you embark on a mission, only to be stormed by bandits, chucked off your airship, and mistaken for royalty in the town of Selphia. What’s more, you’ve even lost your memory — gasp and surprise!

It borrows a lot not just from a pool of RPG storytelling in general, but even from other Rune Factory games.

However, things start to quickly change after your third dungeon. Though I won’t spoil it for you here, I can say it develops into something reminiscent of an SNES-era RPG classic, mixing standard fare like saving the world with more compelling, emotional motivations and story arcs. It’s still a bit easy to guess some of the major points, but I think that’s actually by design because it has an interesting effect on how you view events while they unfold.

In between, Rune Factory 4’s story still has plenty of unexpected twists to keep things interesting, even if you think you know what’s coming. It’s easily the best Rune Factory story and a strong RPG tale in its own right, thanks in large part to the fantastic cast of characters and how certain ones are integrated into the narrative.

The cast is also why you likely won’t find it difficult to make it through the very  slow first two weeks or so of Spring, when quests are limited and story isn't really there yet. Selphia is full of fun and colorful characters. Some are easy to categorize as just archetypes, yet they still manage to charm and engage with ease. And it helps that they’re mixed alongside some genuinely stand-out personalities as well. 

There’s the usual tough girl with a soft spot for sweets and the hotshot with a dark past. But there’s also the compassionate and hilariously flamboyant chef Porcoline who eats most of the dishes his restaurant patrons order, the mysterious girl Amber who likes to eat flowers, the bath-house owner’s daughter Xiao Pai who lives in a special world of her own — and that’s just the beginning.

Dig beneath the seemingly predictable surface, and you’ll find an endearing cast of characters to bond with. No, they never get too deep, but like the Atelier series, deep characterization isn’t really meant to be at the forefront here.

XSeed’s characteristically witty and snappy localization shines through once again as well, bringing a natural vibrancy to the script that breathes life into Selphia. It alternates between tongue-in-cheek humor, slapstick, and laugh-out-loud quirkiness, yet it seamlessly switches to sincere and touching when appropriate.

Granted, the game itself sometimes undermines the emotional elements by nature of how its systems work — letting certain points languish while you farm and level up — but the moments definitely work when they need to.

One system Rune Factory implements that does work especially well, though, is its dialogue, especially how it changes. Most farm-sim games have a very small dialogue pool for each character that changes on festival days and then each season. In Rune Factory 4, however, you’ll get a much wider range of dialogue from most characters depending on where the story is, what time of year it is, whether it’s someone’s birthday, and things like that.

It still repeats at times, but it’s good encouragement to chat with folks when you see them (which is nice, because it raises their affection) and ultimately helps Selphia feel even more alive.

Speaking of systems, Rune Factory 4 has a lot of them. There are systems for farming. There are systems for every kind of crafting and cooking. There are systems for bathing (??). And there are systems for basically everything else.

Fortunately, they all seamlessly work together to create one of the more compelling gameplay loops in the genre, despite a few bumps here and there.

You probably know already, but Rune Factory 4 — and Rune Factory in general — isn’t your usual farming game. Your farm is the backbone of almost everything you do, but on top of that, you’ve got multiple crafting and equipment systems you can work with, dungeons to explore, tons of items to gather, and monsters to fight and tame. That's all on top of a quest system that helps you earn new items and develop Selphia’s shops.

Each of these blends smoothly into the other, regardless of what you’re doing at the time, combining traditional farm-sim elements with much-appreciated improvements.

You’ll gather crops and either ship them, cook them, or give them away per usual. But you’ll get far more from each seed packet than you get from seed packets in Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley, which means you also get more money for your pains.

Before starting the growth cycle again, though, you’ll check out Eliza the talking quest box (complete with her own backstory) to see what quests you’ve got available that day. Maybe someone’s requesting you ship a certain crop or grow X number of flowers. Apart from giving these daily activities more meaning, these quests also reward you with a number of important things.

There are items, of course, but you unlock wider varieties of seeds and implements at stores in town, too (things otherwise very limited at first), which lets you earn more money and take on new quests. Completing quests and shipping items, especially higher quality items, also earns you Prince/Princess points.

These are arguably more important than Gold because you’ll use them to unlock a range of vital features, from new festivals to new shops, expansions to your farm, and licenses.

Licenses let you do things like create gear and weapons, cook, and synthesize medicine. After getting licensed, you’ll still need to buy the necessary furniture for each activity, so it’s a good thing money isn’t super hard to come by in Rune Factory 4.

Choosing what to spend your PP on adds some quality customization to the experience and makes it feel like your choices matter. From there, your options open up even more. You’ll need to keep cooking, crafting, and farming to raise your respective skill levels, but whether you choose to use all your new stuff as gifts, as money to put back into the machine, or as exploration items to help you survive in the dungeons (highly recommended) is completely up to you.

Whatever you choose to do, Rune Factory 4 always makes you feel like you’re making progress somehow, even if it’s just expanding the seed varieties on offer or taming a Buffamoo to get milk for your cooking enterprises. 

Granted, you won’t really know what some of these skills actually do. The Bathing and Sleeping skills are pretty vague, as is “Water.” Does it raise your ability to water crops, or is it about your water-based magic abilities? Unfortunately, Rune Factory 4 is content to let you wonder, because the open-ended nature extends to a lack of tutorials beyond the most basic ones.

There’s no kind of indication when a character event is available either, which can affect how your relationships progress and even whether you move the plot forward. If you hate tutorials and so-called hand-holding, hooray. If you like knowing everything about what you’re doing, eh… not so great.

Fortunately, it’s also completely up to you how you progress. As far as I can tell, there’s no kind of time limit for any activity you undertake, even when it comes to exploring the dungeons. It takes a lot of pressure off dungeon crawling and planning your daily routine, which is very good considering it takes a number of days to clear each dungeon after the third one.

There’s a substantial difficulty spike after that point where you’re expected to have a decent grasp of equipment making (assuming you weren’t lucky and found good stuff lying about) and slightly more advanced cooking skills under your belt.

That’s all down to Rune Points and, of course, your health. Special actions, including magic skills and anything beyond basic attacks, take up Rune Points, which are basically your stamina. It’s nothing huge at first, but when your survival starts depending on smart use of skills and spells, you’ll need some of those RP restoratives pretty fast, to say nothing of medicines that remove crippling status effects.

Combat itself is another throwback to the SNES era. It’s a lot like Secret of Mana and the Game Boy Advance remake Sword of Mana (not SNES, I know). You’ll get access to a number of weapon types that each handle in vastly different ways, and using them regularly enhances your skill and unlocks new attacks.

Like Secret of Mana, the hitboxes are a bit wonky at times. Aside from that, combat in Rune Factory 4 is quite satisfying and challenging, much better than the button-mashing it first seems like it’ll be. Should it ever be too challenging or not hard enough, you can head to the basement near your room and adjust the difficulty at any point.

Continuing with the retro theme, Rune Factory 4 looks and sounds like an old-fashioned RPG as well. The graphics have been upgraded from the grainy 3DS originals and look slick and smooth on the Switch — handheld and docked mode — with just a few minor exceptions. It’s not a graphical powerhouse, and it’s not trying to be. 

As for the other Switch enhancements that make this Special edition special, well… I can’t comment very much on those. Only one of the “Another Episode” segments is available until the game launches, and while I hope Clorica will remain awake long enough for my avatar to confess his feelings for her, I’ve yet to get married in the game.

If you’ve already put hundreds of hours into RF4, these additions will probably be worth picking it up again, especially with the visual enhancements. Anyone else who hasn’t played it yet, it’s not one to sleep on.

Rune Factory 4 Special  The Bottom Line

  • Charming and fun cast
  • Interesting story that plays with RPG tropes
  • Smooth integration of gameplay elements
  • Enhanced graphics are a treat
  • Customizable experience, from how you farm to challenge difficulty
  • So much to do!
  • Some systems need more initial explanation
  • No event markers
  • Very slow first two weeks

Nintendo Switch isn't starving for RPGs or even farm-sim games — quite the opposite. While Rune Factory 4 might not reach the epic heights of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 or Dragon Quest 11 S, and as a simulator, it might get overlooked for Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

However, Rune Factory 4 manages to be something else entirely and manages it very well. With its endearing cast, staggering amount of content, interlocking systems, and ability to let you tailor the experience how you want it, Rune Factory 4 Special is certainly an RPG worthy of your consideration.

[Note: A copy of Rune Factory 4: Special was provided by XSEED for the purpose of this review.]

Broken Lines Review: Squad-Based Stalemate Mon, 24 Feb 2020 13:26:57 -0500 Jordan Baranowski

Broken Lines is a fascinating strategy game. On one hand, it features demanding, high-stakes tactical combat. It makes you care about your characters, who are prewritten and not randomized like other roguelites. And it even forces you to make decisions that shape them as you progress. 

On the other hand, Broken Lines has some serious issues, many of which could have been ironed out with further polish and optimization. Its gameplay, too, has an odd habit of slowing to a slog more often than it should, shining a light on its most glaring flaws.

Though this strategy game can still be worth your time, it's wise to tread lightly.

Broken Lines Review: Squad-Based Stalemate

A soldier remarks on the

For better or worse, not much of Broken Lines has changed since we got our hands on an Early Access build back in December. But here are the basics of how it handles.

It may look like XCOM at first glance, but Broken Lines actually plays much closer to Frozen Synapse or Door Kickers. Instead of assigning individual units orders one at a time, you'll assign every unit orders during an eight-second round, and all actions play out simultaneously. This includes your enemies.

After the eight-second round is up, the game will pause, and you'll have another opportunity to order your units and (hopefully) fix whatever terrible mistake you made in the previous round.

Shooting is not an action. Your soldiers automatically shoot as they move. You'll want to move them behind cover, set up ambushes and pincer movements, and utilize their special abilities and equipment to take out enemies as quickly as possible. But shooting is not up to you. 

In theory, that's ... OK, but in practice, the AI doesn't always work as you intend it to work. 

For example, let's say you have three soldiers in your squad. You may tell the one with the machine gun to lay down suppressing fire for your shotgun-wielding grunt. A quick blast from the shotty knocks one foe down, and enemies scramble to avoid the high-damage, close-range foe. Luckily, you placed a sniper on a ridge not far behind, who quickly makes short work of the routed enemies.

At least, that's how it works in your head. More likely, your shotgun trooper will cross the visibility of the suppressing trooper, causing her to stop laying down cover. The enemies then open fire on your completely exposed soldier. Your sniper keeps missing, and you have to start the mission over because everyone is dead.

Getting Attached

A squad moves down a road to complete an objective in Broken Lines.

The main course of Broken Lines is its tactical gameplay, but it also has some light RPG aspects that act as a tasty side dish.

As you progress through the game, your soldiers will level up, and you'll gain access to new equipment and perks. You'll also occasionally encounter optional missions or unique choices that permanently change a trooper. These sometimes come as conversations where characters reveal their past, or as choices you make during other conversations that will add a trait to a character.

It's a small wrinkle, but it does add a bit to the game's story, which involves a steam-punky spooky yarn with a Russian-accented narrator spewing pulpy goodness. These little traits don't change characters too much  it's doubtful you'll create a supersoldier that can overcome poor tactics — but it is a nice touch nonetheless.

Uneven Terrain

A party of soldiers gathers around a campfire at the end of a turn.

Although it's likely to keep you invested, the story is the first indication that Broken Lines lacks the polish you might expect from this type of game. While the story itself is dark, carrying hints of otherworldly horror alongside the very real horror of the Second World War, its presentation has a knack for goofiness.

Character portraits are big, silly caricatures with over-the-top expressions. The dialog comes as text on the screen, but each new line is accompanied by an odd noise or bark from the character that's speaking. 

It doesn't help that the cartoonish look hides an insidiously tough game. If you don't pay attention to the mechanics early, you're going to die a lot. If you don't utilize every ability in your playbook, you're going to die a lot. And, unfortunately, if you don't take your time moving forward in missions, you're going to die a lot.

Aside from the strange juxtaposition of its setting and dialog, that was the toughest part of Broken Lines to stomach. Tactical games are all about tactics. The eight-second rounds work great when you're locked in a frenetic firefight, issuing new orders, seeking cover, and trying to flush out entrenched enemies.

When out of combat, you need to carefully move forward, and the eight-second rounds lead to a lot of wasted time as you scout ahead and figure out the best strategy. Ideally, I would have preferred real-time movement between encounters. 

Broken Lines Review — The Bottom Line

Soldiers climb through plane wreckage at night in Broken Lines.

  • Interesting story
  • Tactical gameplay will keep you on your toes
  • Light RPG elements make you invest in characters a bit more
  • Presentation is at odds with story and gameplay
  • Lots of wasted time

Broken Lines has a lot of good going for it, especially if you like alternate history World War 2. Everything about this game is... almost there.

Unfrotunately, the lack of polish and a few strange design choices keep it from getting a wholehearted recommendation. It also feels like Broken Lines could do with an optimization update. It might not be the case for everyone, but the game pushed my system far more than it should have — even if it is visually amazing. Hopefully, this will get fixed in a later update.

Tactics fans would do well to check it out, but those who don't play a ton of different genre games or are looking for "the best" of the genre should look elsewhere first.

[Note: A copy of Broken Lines was provided by PortaPlay for the purpose of this review.]

Dreams Review: Pandora's Toybox Mon, 24 Feb 2020 10:56:19 -0500 Gabriel Moss

Coming hot off the LittleBigPlanet series, which was already notorious for its rich creation tools and its wide variety of player-made activities, developer Media Molecule evidently decided to go all-in on "gamified" game design.

The result is Dreams for the PS4, a title that is single-mindedly focused on fostering a community full of people who like to make and share games.

On par with something along the lines of an RPG Maker title, I struggle to classify Dreams as a game in and of itself. Yet, despite packaging and arsenal of tools and toys that resemble what pro developers make games with, it isn't exactly a professional application.

You can create anything short of an MMO, but you can't actually make money from your Dreams creations.

Dreams Review: Pandora's Toybox

Ridiculously realistic hotdog, fries, and soft drink in Dreams.

Luckily, Dreams knows exactly where its sweet spot is. It's a place where creators and users can explore and experience one another's unbridled creativity. It's where ideas can be quickly and intuitively drafted and communicated in real-time, and where unfinished creations can live on and continue to grow as others come along and 'remix' them.

Dreams is a social media platform. A great one, at that.

There's a lot to say about Dreams because there's a lot to Dreams. It wants to be everything for everyone, and it often amazes how competently it achieves its goal.

For starters, Dreams is split between its creative toolbox, called DreamShaping, and the creations themselves. But this split isn't as opaque as it first appears.

Everything you experience in Dreams is made inside of the toolkit. Art's Dream, the main story campaign (er, dream), is so well written and such an audiovisual treat that you can easily forget that it was put together with the same exact tools that everybody else has access to.

It's a movie-length musical, a platformer, and a branching dialogue narrative adventure. It's supposed to represent only a speck of what's possible.

Players can even recreate the wasteland of the Fallout games in Dreams.

Dreams' AutoSurf mode makes it exceptionally easy to jump between games, films, and anything else you might find. At any given moment, you might be doing something completely different and unexpected from the previous moment, and surfing through content in Dreams is as buttery smooth as flipping channels on your TV, or clicking through YouTube.

Though, that isn't always a good thing. With so much content immediately at your fingers, it's as easy to land on unfinished demos as it is to skip great content entirely.

Each time you do anything across the Dreamiverse, the progression system tracks where you've been. By playing, curating, or making anything, Dreams rewards you with XP and helps you complete Imp Quests, which unlock new prefabs and customizable little buddies.

Color platformers and indies crop up a lot in Dreams.

You also have an aura that displays what you like to do on your profile page, and your activity is tallied whenever you play Dreams. However, this functionality is limited to decoration. 

There's no value to having a certain aura aside from signaling what you like to do, and it doesn't seem like there's much of a point to reaching a higher level right now.

The creative tools are robust and deep. I've dabbled in Unity before, and I've even made a few small "games." Even then, the DreamShaping toolkit in Dreams was still reasonably complex at first. I think the confusion mainly came from the control scheme, which is automatically set to use motion controls to drag your cursor across the screen.

Creating something in Dreams takes some getting used to with the controls.

I struggled with this motion-based control scheme for a solid week, trying both DualShock 4 and Move controllers, and even turning it off altogether (which felt worse).

I ultimately chose DualShock 4 because of the analog sticks and D-pad, but using the DS4 for precision tasks on-screen never fit quite right with me.

I desperately want mouse and keyboard support for precision tasks and for the sake of overhead, but it seems like these shoddy motion controls will have to do.

That said, actually getting into the flow of making things in Dreams is a treat. Before trying a few tutorials in the art department, I didn't fancy myself as an artist. Lo and behold, Dreams had me putting art pieces together and publishing them out to the world in less than a day.

Though they were primitive, I loved the fact that I could just push them out as they were, regardless of quality, knowing that somebody else could just remix and complete them if they wanted to.

Dreams Review — The Bottom Line

Art's Dream is a great example of what's capable in Dreams.


  • Wide variety of user-made content
  • Fantastic main campaign
  • Robust creative tools
  • Creative mode is easy to learn, hard to master
  • Social networking at its finest


  • Lack of big, lengthy games
  • Finicky motion controls

Dreams is the best platform for anybody who loves playing tons of indie games, or who would like to make one themselves, or even just those who'd like to network into a game development community.

I might not ever feel like making a game, but Dreams tells me that if I want to make a level, a character, or a sound effect, that's perfectly good enough. Whether you're playing, judging, or making something, there's never a dull moment in Dreams.

Snack World: The Dungeon Crawl Gold Review — Fluffy Filler Fri, 21 Feb 2020 18:27:59 -0500 Joshua Broadwell

Nintendo Switch has plenty of games, though the looter/dungeon crawler genre is surprisingly under-represented on the hybrid platform. Enter Level-5's Snack World: The Dungeon Crawl Gold, the developer's latest title to find its way west.

It's a Switch remake of a Nintendo 3DS title, and it combines RPG customization with looter and dungeon crawling mechanics, all wrapped in a quirky anime-type setting.

There's a ton of content, with crafting and weapon systems that go much deeper than you'd think. However, Snack World's structure ultimately works against these systems, turning it into a good filler game that's ultimately going to stay at the back of the pantry in favor of juicier offerings.

Snack World: The Dungeon Crawl Gold Review — Fluffy Filler

Snack World's story is bare-bones, but that's on purpose. Relying on generic RPG tropes and formats lets it poke fun at them on a regular basis, which is roughly half of Snack World's raison d'etre.

You create your hero and then get dropped into the Tutti-Frutti Kingdom, complete with amnesia and a thirst for adventure. There's a (very) loose plot involved, but most of your time is spent on errands for the fickle Princess Melonia.

It's ample fodder for breaking the fourth wall, from mentions of tutorials and fetch quests to gratitude over linearity making life easier for hard-pressed adventurers. When it's not indulging in fourth-wall-breaking, Snack World dials up the clever food puns to 15, putting them in names, gear, items, and even how your recruitable allies look.

Sometimes, though, it's a bit too satirical, and there's often not enough breathing space between jokes. Clever RPG puns are fine, but it's boring after five instances in 10 minutes.

The opening segments and quests are the worst offenders in this regard, though there's still a tendency to linger on what's supposed to come across as funny throughout the story. Since there's not much in the way of character development otherwise, all this sort of sets the tone for the game.

Less is definitely more in this case, but that's also just personal taste. Your mileage will vary depending on how you like your humor.

In between story beats, though, you do get a refreshing reprieve from this kind of chatter. The dialogue associated with quests is usually handled much better, with smirk-inducing titles like "Just Timber In Lake?" to dealing with upstart penguins who tried taking over a boss lair.

There is one other element of Snack World's writing and story that stands out as a bit out of place. It's absolutely stuffed full of sex jokes and innuendo. Finding a rare item triggers a still scene with an NPC message that usually relates to orgasms ("a hard one is about to pop," for example, spoken by the sex-mad bondage genies), while Chup wants his hands all over Princess Melonia's skin and her "lovely melons." And that's just the start of it.

Sexual humor and innuendo are fine on their own, but Snack World's brand of it just seems gratuitous. Sure, seeing how many sex jokes you can squeeze in is an exercise in creativity. But it's almost like Level-5 wanted to stop being associated with so-called children's games and went about trying to be an adult... exactly like a child would.

Snack World's gameplay, fortunately, offers more incentive to keep playing than the hit-and-miss story and writing, but it's not without problems either.

Like any dungeon crawler, your time is split between the central hub area complete with shops and the various dungeons scattered throughout the land. Whilst in the dungeons, you'll do the usual — defeat monsters and gather up as much loot as possible. Then it's back to town to sell the worthless stuff, spend your — often meager — reward, and see what new gear you can get with your spoils.

Fabrication is Snack World's word for its crafting system. You'll take bits and bobs you find on your travels and synthesize it to make new equipment that lets you take on bigger challenges, assuming you have the recipe for the items, of course. The requirements vary depending on the piece; some need items you'll get as quest rewards, while others require items of a specific color or type

Expect getting all you need to take a while though. One of Snack World's biggest flaws is the random nature of its loot drops. There's all manner of opportunities to get items, from treasure chests and their surprises of apparently orgasmic proportions, to enemy item drops, quest rewards, and random crud you just find lying around.

"Random" is key here. There's no telling what you'll get in most cases. Maybe you need three yellow items to finish a gear upgrade? That's probably going to take at least three runs through the same environments, fighting the same enemies, until you hopefully get what you need.

Fabrication itself isn't quite as polished as it should be. Say you start fabricating one thing, then acquire enough materials for something better — only, you just need that cotton fluff from the first item to complete it. Too bad. You have to go find more, because you can't stop a fabrication once it's started.

Snack World's combat and visual design mean this isn't quite the frustrating slog it sounds, at least not all the time. Combat is fairly simple action-RPG fare. You get access to a wide variety of Jaras, the name for Snack World's weapons and shields. Each attack Jara has a specific type — sword, axe, staff, and so on — along with skills and special moves you can charge up. Each Jara in these types has its own strengths against specific enemy types, but if you overuse it, your Jara Points run out, and you can't attack with it again for a minute or so.

Switching between Jaras and balancing your attacks is where Snack World's combat really shines. It's fairly mindless on the whole, especially during protracted boss fights, but there's enough strategy and fun in the process to keep you hooked and make dungeon crawls fairly fun. Character and enemy designs are bright and completely ridiculous in all the right ways too.

You also get Snack partners that act as allies in battle, but Level-5 decided to make these random as well. Like Yo-Kai Watch and Ni No Kuni, it's completely random if you get the chance to befriend a monster or not.

That's a bit of a pain for some of the longer fights where you don't get NPCs as combat allies, because your starting Snack is fairly weak — adorable, but weak. I'm not sure why Level-5 insists on implementing mechanics suitable for a mobile or gacha game into console titles, but it really is a practice the company needs to wean itself away from.

One final issue is the audio. The tracks are fairly forgettable overall, unfortunately, but there's a huge problem with the voice bytes. They play all. the. time.

And it's incredibly annoying, in conversations and combat alike, though especially in conversations where you might hear the same clip play three or four times over a short span. They're lumped in with sound effects, so if you turn that off, then everything else becomes silent too.

Snack World: The Dungeon Crawl Gold Review — The Bottom Line

  • Lots of content and mission types
  • Deep crafting system
  • Engaging, if simple, combat
  • Flat story and characters
  • Stale humor
  • Frustrating randomness to central components
  • Context issues with writing

Even with its faults, I found myself wanting to take on another quest or two aside from the main story and see what I could hopefully craft after my exploits. It's not a bad way to pass some time, and random or not, there's a distinct feeling of satisfaction when you can finally assemble some new gear and take on those higher level quests. Whether I'd feel the same if I weren't reviewing the title and had other, meatier offerings to distract me, though, I can't say.

Still, if you're looking for some light fun, a decent if slightly frustrating crafting system, and plenty of missions to sink your teeth into, you could do worse than Snack World.

[Note: A copy of Snack World: The Dungeon Crawl Gold was provided by Nintendo of America for the purpose of this review.]

Wolcen Review: The Mayhem of Endless Bugs Thu, 20 Feb 2020 17:18:16 -0500 Ty Arthur

Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem, the self-titled ARPG from Wolcen Studios, has emerged from Early Access, and it's a mess. 

In the absence of Diablo 4, any new high-quality ARPG is a welcome addition to the collective Steam library. In a lot of ways, Wolcen fits that bill, drawing in thousands of players since February 13. Considering certain aspects of the game, Wolcen feels like the next big successor to the ARPG throne.

Unfortunately, there's just so much going against it. So, so much. 

A Promising Beginning

Attacking an enemy in Wolcen using electricity ability.

For those who felt that Chaosbane didn't quite get the ARPG style right, the gameplay in Lords Of Mayhem is more familiar to genre staples like Diablo and Grim Dawn, including map design, creature types, and skills.

In terms of graphics, Wolcen hits the sweet spot, melding Warhammer aesthetics with a dark take on ARPG world-building. If you don't care for the relentlessly dark color scheme, the ability to unlock new skins and dyes to modify your equipment on the fly adds another reason to amass as much loot as possible. I went with a brighter green motif on my sorceress, and she looks like an emerald whirlwind of death while raining down every elemental effect imaginable.

In terms of animations and graphical skill effects, bouncing and chaining skills are incredibly satisfying to watch, and classic ARPG abilities abound. You can freeze enemies around you for crowd control, call down shards from the sky in a specific radius, bounce lightning bolts between hordes of monsters, aim a necrotic ray, spin around in a whirlwind of blades, and so on.

All of those abilities mesh well with the environments for a high quality union of visuals that result in some serious eye candy while playing. There's more than just nice graphics here though, as the standard ARPG class system gets an interesting revamp.

To put it simply, any character can learn any skill. However, specific skills are tied to weapon types. If you want to cast fireballs and lightning bolts, you need to use a staff. If you want to use traps and ranged skills, you need a gun or bow.

In essence, you can swap classes just by changing your weapon and moving over your skills' keyboard hotkeys.

Here's where things get the most interesting: skills drop randomly like any other loot item, and a limited selection is up for grabs at the Palace store. To make that change work, the standard attributes have been re-tooled so that they're all helpful for any class. You won't just use wisdom as a mage, agility as a ranger, or toughness as a fighter.

Skills can also be modified and upgraded in a number of ways, and even duplicated to use multiple instances of a skill with different modifiers. There's a ton of choice involved when annihilating hordes of monsters.

Resource management also sees a tweak from what genre fans might be used to. Instead of consistently trying to bump up your mana every level to use abilities more often, skills either use energy or rage, and the two resources are always in balance. When one goes up the other goes down, which effectively limits the ability to constantly spam spells without having to use normal attacks in between. 

Wolcen's huge Gate of Fate skill tree system.Just let the number of possible paths there sink in for a minute

Since any character can take any playstyle by swapping weapons, classes are chosen in the Gate Of Fate.

Every level up provides a point, which you can spend on the node tree. There is a staggering number of possibilities to take too, from passive bonuses to new abilities. Rotating each rung on the circular tree connects future options with where you are already taking a path is an incredibly smart change to the typical skill trees you see in other ARPGs (like the devotion constellations in Grim Dawn).

While leveling up your character and dealing with the fallout of the prologue, your character uses Stormfall Palace as a base of operations. That area starts as a simple one-screen hub to sell loot, upgrade skills, and swap out gems in items with sockets.

It slowly expands over time so there's more of a city to explore, however, and a building upgrade mechanic is added into the end game to make the world feel more interactive.

All of this seems like I'm describing a great game and in many ways, I am except for some gigantic glaring problems that you can't avoid.

A Game That Released Too Early

The active skills modifier menu in Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem.

Wolcen's biggest problem is its bugs. They. Are. Everywhere. And they completely ruin an otherwise awesome ARPG experience. Start the game, close your eyes, and throw a dart in a random direction. You will hit a bug, guaranteed.

Skills either don't work as intended, or they flat out don't work at all. A few somehow do the opposite of what their text indicates and are actually detrimental to take! On the flip side, some skills are so overpowered you can kill bosses in two hits.

Online mode didn't even function at all for the first few days, and when it came back online, whole swathes of player data was lost. There's broken pathfinding, broken hitbox detection, and broken trigger points for exiting areas. 

You will be assaulted by constant audio bugs, where the music cuts out or voices repeatedly echo over each other. There's a massive gold exploit that is astonishingly easy to accidentally trigger  and which the developers are threatening action against players for utilizing.

The Steam forum and Wolcen sub-Reddit are a constant string of complaints about lost level, story, or map progression. That's all Day-One launch stuff that can be eventually forgiven, but there are more basic problems showing a lack of attention to detail that is frankly baffling.

For instance, many of the randomized item modifiers in loot drops frequently don't work together. Some items have the "+% HP for this item only" tag, except there's no base health stat to improve, so these items literally don't offer any bonuses at all.

If you somehow don't experience any bugs, you can look forward to bosses and end-game creatures that don't drop loot. That's about as simple and devastating a failure as an ARPG can commit. Loot is its lifeblood. Getting loot so dramatically wrong so early is the kiss of death.

We haven't even gotten to the worst bug, though. Yes, there's more.

The cream of the crop is a bug that can literally prevent you from playing at all. Even if you make an entirely new character, just simply using the transmutation forge will permanently lock you out of loading any Wolcen character at all.

Bugs can be patched of course, but there's a problem there, too. The developers revealed that because of the game's server setup, they will only release one patch a week. Unfortunately, there's no way all of these major issues are going to get fixed in anything resembling a timely fashion.

Wolcen Review — The Bottom Line

  • Great tweaks to the standard ARPG format to inject new life into the genre
  • Even with the tweaks, Wolcen still plays like a classic Diablo-style game
  • The
  • Constant
  • Unbelievable
  • Bugs
  • Destroy
  • Any
  • Hope
  • Of
  • Enjoying
  • This
  • Game

Wolcen's graphics and base gameplay are polished and ready for prime time. Unfortunately, everything else is a steaming pile of demon manure.

The most ludicrous part of this disastrous release is that the game already went through a Beta and Early Access period, yet this still can't possibly be considered a full launch. The subtitle, Lords Of Mayhem, somehow ended up describing the game's bugs, rather than its enemies or characters. 

If this had all been avoided and Wolcen had launched in a stable state, it probably would have been my favorite new ARPG. As it stands, I can't imagine it survives long enough to even be a blip on the radar.

Simply put, Wolcen isn't worth dropping $39.99 on right now (or any amount of money, really), but in a few months, if all the bugs are worked out, it absolutely will be an ARPG gem.

In the meantime, Grim Dawn is still the best action RPG around, and we've got the upcoming Torchlight 3 to look forward to in the near future.

Dragon Quest: Your Story Review — A Fresh Take on a Beloved Classic Tue, 18 Feb 2020 18:21:44 -0500 Joshua Broadwell

Dragon Quest: Your Story is a re-telling of Dragon Quest 5: Hand of the Heavenly Bride. Seeing a beloved classic turned into a film is an exciting prospect, but the only trouble is that it condenses a 40+ hour game into an hour and 40 minutes

While a lot of Dragon Quest 5's game time is spent fighting enemies — something that naturally doesn’t make for interesting film fare — it still means a good deal of the story gets pared down for the sake of pacing. DQ5 is widely regarded as one of the best games in the long-running franchise, so Your Story has a lot to live up to.

Despite some shortcomings, though, including the pacing, Dragon Quest: Your Story still captures the essence of Dragon Quest and throws in some food for thought besides.

Dragon Quest: Your Story Review — A Fresh Take on a Beloved Classic

Your Story cuts out a big chunk of the plot’s beginning, opting to tell it in snippets taken from the game’s original release, switching to Luca’s later childhood afterwards, right before disaster strikes. This unique approach to the opening segments is important for the later plot, but I can’t deny that taking some extra time to introduce Luca, Nera, and Bianca would have helped strengthen the film’s core even more later on.

It speeds past the slavery years and Harry’s return to Coburg, and pulls some later elements from the game, namely Bjorn the Behemoose, as a way to introduce the topic of Luca’s marriage. The film slows down a bit here, and it’s where the viewer more easily appreciates the Dragon Quest-ness of Your Story.

It’s true characters and locations don’t get nearly as much attention as they do in the game, but the film captures the tale’s essence and the heart of the core cast. That’s good, because it then speeds into the final segments where you need to actually care about the people involved for it to work well.

If you haven’t guessed already, this all means Dragon Quest: Your Story is mostly aimed at fans of the original game. Those who don’t know the plot will likely be slightly confused over the casual mentions of important lore (glossing over of facts like Luca’s royal heritage) and generally feel like they’re not quite getting the full story. If you’re interested, definitely check out a plot summary or the game’s Wiki page before watching. 

Those who are fans, though, will likely still find this quite a treat. The pacing and shortness mean Your Story can’t quite reach the source material’s emotional and narrative highs, but seeing these familiar moments and characters brought to life in a completely different way offers a sense of cozy nostalgia that’s hard to match — that’s intentional, as you find out later — and makes it even harder to complain about the shortcomings.

Despite that, one question looms: How can anything Dragon Quest be worthwhile without Akira Toriyama’s signature artwork? Getting used to the CGI design is actually surprisingly easy after the first few minutes. The animation is good quality, too, from the goo-dorable CGI Slime Gootrude to the creepy dark bishop Ladja and everything in between.

There are a few areas where the focal points stand out a bit much from the background, and the scenes where monsters are moving for long periods in the light are a bit rough, though it’s a small trade-off. The difference in visual styles is probably a good thing too, as it makes seeing Your Story as its own thing easier, which it most definitely is.

It’s no exaggeration to say the voice cast carries the production. Yuri Lowenthal absolutely nails Luca’s many moods and expressions, while Xanthe Huynh manages to make Nera a sympathetic character despite being on screen for too brief a time. Stephanie Sheh’s performance as Bianca is probably one of the best, capturing the character’s spunk and warmth perfectly.

What really stands out, though, is how every performance, even the shortest, is so full of life. There might not be enough time to showcase Dragon Quest’s characteristically quirky NPCs and distinct settings, but the voice cast really makes this feel like Dragon Quest nonetheless.

And that’s probably the film’s biggest strength. Yes, it’s too fast and short, and plenty of points don’t get developed like they should. At the same time, it’s still warm, familiar, fun, and engaging, just like Dragon Quest should be.

At least, it’s all these things until it stops being them. You may or may not have already read about the ending when the film released in Japan last year, but we won’t spoil it here.

Suffice to say there’s a big twist in how the ending unfolds that offers some surprising commentary on how we engage with games (and media in general, really) and the place they occupy in our lives. How it does this is really quite clever, pulling you in with the nostalgia and presenting a beloved story you’re bound to engage with, then using that as fuel for the real meaning behind this tale.

Granted, there’s a line at the very end I completely detest that comes close to turning the entire thing into a branding exercise with a bit too much self-affirmation. But overall, radical departure the ending sequences may be, it sets Your Story apart as one of the better adaptations out there for its deft handling of real-world themes and thoughtful commentary.

Dragon Quest: Your Story — The Bottom Line

Dragon Quest: Your Story could certainly stand to be stronger in how it develops its characters and themes. I still thoroughly enjoyed it, though, and wouldn't mind watching it a second time either. It's a fun romp with an enjoyable story and characters that hit all the right points for Dragon Quest fans — regardless of how fast it speeds through everything.

Yet it's the ending that really makes Your Story stick out. Even though it also isn't handled perfectly, it still does something at which most game adaptations fail: shattering the fourth wall and reminding us why we love these stories to begin with.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Cindered Shadows Review — Smouldered Glory Tue, 18 Feb 2020 16:11:05 -0500 Joshua Broadwell

Fire Emblem: Three Houses’ expansion pass is finally complete with the release of the side-story content, Cindered Shadows.

The DLC is definitely the meatiest portion of the expansion pass and promises a completely different take on monastery life and the game’s overall combat. But does it live up to its namesake

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Cindered Shadows Review — Smouldered Glory

Cindered Shadows is a separate story right from the start. You’ll pick your protagonist, gender, and name all over again, and support and ability levels are fixed throughout. It all begins sometime after Chapter 2 of the main game, once the Rite of Rebirth gets crashed.

Byleth (or whatever you call them) and the House leaders notice someone suspicious lurking around Garreg Mach and go to investigate after being joined by one student from each house: Linhardt from the Black Eagles, Hilda from the Golden Deer, and Ashe from the Blue Lions. This is your posse for the next eight hours or so.

It's not much of an army, but your group gets some big new additions after finishing the first battle. After that, you’ll make nice with the Ashen Wolves house in Abyss, consisting of just four students: Yuri, Constance, Balthus, and Hapi.

You might be a hotshot yourself and have three world-changers along with you, but these four are the heart of the Cindered Shadows story — except they also aren’t to an extent, but more on that later.

Like in Three Houses’ main campaign, Cindered Shadows’ main plot beats aren’t too hard to guess, and you’ll immediately figure out who these four subterranean dwellers are. The question then becomes why they’re here.

Despite being a side story, the narrative has a great deal of relevance to the main plot. I won’t spoil any of it further than saying Byleth and Rhea both get some very good, and very necessary, character development.

Also like Three Houses, the main fun comes from watching these events unfold and seeing how they fit with what you already know about the world from the main story and, more importantly, how the characters respond to them.

The four Ashen Wolves are, undoubtedly, some of the best characters in Three Houses, both in their combat usefulness and how they're written. It's true their stories are central to the experience, but for me, the unspoken star here is Abyss itself.

This is where all the rejects in society end up — sick people, poor people, rogues, undesirables of all sorts. It's also where those who simply got left behind call home. There are nobles here, but even they have no influence anymore, fallen from grace as they are.

The Church of Seiros tolerates Abyss because it thinks the people are necessary to keep the world balanced, but “tolerance” just means “lets them live without the light of day and might wipe them out eventually. It depends on the day.”

Though the story is brief, it’s a hugely refreshing spin on a world many of us have already spent hundreds of hours in. I mentioned in our original Three Houses review this is one of the most richly-realized Fire Emblem worlds. If anything, it’s just a bit disappointing the entire story was finished in Three Houses, because Cindered Shadows proves there’s a host of possibilities in exploring the various characters and perspectives the world has to offer.

Of course, Fire Emblem is a strategy game before it’s an RPG, and bad maps can bring the best stories down. 

Here, we get four new maps, one of which is the monastery's Cathedral (!!). Cindered Shadows doesn’t exactly break the mold of map creativity, even re-using one of the new maps, but it does use its assets in some excellent ways. 

Sometimes, you’ll have to suss out the best route in a large, open map; others, you’ll be stretched to your limit, beset on all sides by countless foes. I played on Hard, and it’s a lot like Maddening mode. Enemies are at least five or more levels stronger than you, Gambits are an absolute necessity — but need to be used wisely — and you’ll live or die by your clever use of Combat Arts.

The penultimate map and the final boss are actually some of the best Fire Emblem we’ve seen in years in terms of making you use each system to its fullest.

Fortunately, the same options for Normal or Hard, Casual or Classic, exist here, so someone wanting less of an ordeal can still find plenty of fun. Plus there’s an excellent new BGM track.

And then it ends.

It’s a satisfying ending, no doubt about it, but the integration with the main story leaves something to be desired. That’s because the Cindered Shadows scenario has a distinct ending with no relation to the main story, and then you re-load your main story file and recruit all four Ashen Wolves who don’t even know you now.

I can’t imagine the effort required to somehow link the two scenarios more smoothly, but it’s still a bit jarring.

Luckily, that sense of discombobulation doesn’t last. Completing the side story is just one part of the expansion, and the Abyss you unlock after completion has a lot going for it, even with the odd transition. 

The biggest thing is, of course, introducing four new classes: War Monk/Cleric, Dark Flier, Trickster, and Valkyrie. Just this small addition can completely change how you develop your students, and best of all, it fixes two big issues from the main campaign.

Brawling classes were once exclusive to men, which was a bit odd because Hilda and others were perfect for brawling. War Cleric fixes that. Mages in the main game are sadly limited in their class choices after Intermediate level.

Then you had the oddity of characters excelling in skills that would never do them any good; for example, it was pointless leveling up skills like Flayn’s lance skill because flying classes can’t use magic. Enter the Dark Flier, which requires those skills, and Valkyrie, which gives you even more options for your magic wielders.

To get these, you’ll need to develop the Abyss by spending your Renown and taking on some fundamental quests; this unlocks the option to trade Renown for items — like the Abyssian Exam Seal — at the Pagan Altar in Abyss. If you’re starved for Renown for whatever reason, don’t worry. You get 10,000 Renown just for finishing Cindered Shadows.

You can level up Abyss itself by spending Renown, bringing in new helpful characters like the stat evaluator, and generally making it more livable for the folks there on the whole.

The four Ashen Wolves get some very good support conversations as well, mostly with each other, but also with Byleth (in fact, Yuri can marry both Byleths) and a select few other students. You’ll want them on your team for sure.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Cindered Shadows — The Verdict

  • Great story and overall worldbuilding
  • Fantastic combat scenarios
  • Carries over into the main game for even more reason to keep playing
  • Jarring transition into the main game
  • New classes aren't available except through the expansion pass.

Barring some iffy integration and the fact that new classes are locked behind DLC, Cindered Shadows and the Three House expansion pass are completely worth it. Though short, the story is a chance to learn more about some vital players in the main game and get a new look at the world itself.

The combat is the best Fire Emblem combat in years, and you get some very good carryovers into the main game that make it worth going back yet again to re-shape the world.

[Note: A copy of Fire Emblem: Three Houses Cindered Shadows was provided for the purpose of this review.]

Elgato HD60S+ Review: Compelling Console Capture Mon, 17 Feb 2020 18:05:35 -0500 Jonathan Moore

Elgato is a name many streamers and content creators are familiar with. Without doubt, the company's capture cards are some of the easiest to use on the market, marrying intelligent design with painless setup. I've used an Elgato Game Capture HD on and off for a few years while capturing footage for various YouTube videos, and I wouldn't think of using anything else. 

Well, I thought so until I got my hands on the Elgato HD60S+. In short, it does everything the HD60S does, just better, and it blows the Game Capture HD out of the water. It's also more elegant than the GCHD capture card, and it's easier to transport, too. Always on the move and a stickler for design, the HD60S+ captured my attention well before I hooked it up to my PlayStation 4 Pro. 

For those familiar with Elgato products, the overall setup is essentially the same as it's always been. The HD60S+ works in-line between a PS4 or Xbox One and a PC or Mac. There's an HDMI-In port on one end and an HDMI-Out port, a USB port, and a 3.5mm port on the other. The former is USB-C to USB 3.0, and the latter is for attaching an audio device for commentary. A gaming headset works just fine.

One of my favorite things about the HD60S+ is its design and size. Sleek and slim, it fits in with all of your other devices. If your setup includes a console and PC side by side, it won't be marred by a clumsy and brutish product. As for size, the HD60S+ is no bigger than its predecessor, the HD60S+, allowing it to easily slot into your setup. 

To be a bit more precise, the HD60S+ is no bigger than a cell phone. For comparison, it's the same width as my Google Pixel 2 and about two-thirds as long. It's exact measurements are 112 x 75 x 19, and it weighs a paltry 115 grams. For those of us on the go or capturing footage while at events such as PAX and E3, being able to quickly shove the capture card in a pants pocket before moving on to another appointment is a boon.

Luckily, setting the card up is just as breezy. On a Windows 10 PC or laptop, the HD60S+ requires a 64-bit OS, 4th Gen Intel i5 equivalent CPU, a GTX 10 Series equivalent GPU, 4GB RAM, and a USB 3.0 port. Mac requires similar criteria, but must have Mac OS Sierra or higher. 

To get things going, download the required software from the Elgato website, connect your console to the HDMI-In port on the HD60S+, and connect the capture card to your computer via the provided USB 3.0 cable. To pass the signal through to a secondary monitor or television, just connect another HDMI cable from the HDMI-Out port to the desired device. 

Once you're ready to go, you'll find the Elgato capture software is immediately intuitive. Smartly, there aren't copious menus and submenus to juggle just to get started. If you want to go with the software's default capture settings, you can start recording within 10 seconds of opening the program. 

To stream, you can quickly connect your streaming account with Elgato's software from the launcher. It natively supports Twitch, YouTube, Ustream, Restream, and rtmp://. 

For live commentary (whether you're streaming or recording notes over your capture), you can choose between a discreet on-board device or an external source such as a mic or gaming headset. Adjusting audio levels is a cinch, and "advanced" settings include attenuation and threshold adjustment. The only downside is that there's really no way to properly edit audio in the software, so it's not really an alternative to something like Premier. 

You can tweak the HDMI color range to give a bit more vibrancy to colors via the software's expanded option, though results may vary based on patience and the signal being recorded. I found that there was a bit of a discrepancy between my television and the recorded product, and tweaking it was more a chore than anything else.   

The footage below was capture on my PS4 Pro and the colors are bit too saturated, but HDR tends to do that anyway. It can be tweaked, but this is an example of HDR capture at default settings. 

I did run into a few small issues with the HD60S+ that are worth mentioning as they seem like issues regular users may encounter. The most vexing, though it's not Elgato's fault at all, was that I couldn't initially get 4K HDR passthrough to work — at all. First, I discovered that my HDMI cable was not 2.0 and it did not support HDR (joke's on me there).

So I purchased a new one to fix that problem. Then, I discovered HDR on the PS4 Pro needs to be set at 2160p-YUV420 in the settings menu and video output submenu. Finally, my TCL HDMI port needed to be set to 2.0 mode to utilize HDMI 2.0 features. 

It's a small hurdle to clear if you know about it, and nothing to worry about if your setup is already configured correctly. But I can see it being a significant issue for some that want the card to "operate" right out of the box. 

I also noticed that the process of capturing video from my PS4 Pro through the Elgato software absolutely melted my MacBook battery. Sure, I have a circa 2013 MacBook and the battery is old. However, it's still something to be aware of if you're using an older laptop alongside the capture card. 

Lastly, there was a single instance where the audio coming through my laptop speakers was scrambled. In effect, it sounded 8-bit, though it did not record this way. I solved by just restarting the software. Again, it's another small hiccup, but something worth noting alongside an otherwise flawless product. 

The Elgato HD60S+ with HDMI cables and USB 3.0 cable attached

  • Sleek design with indicator lights
  • Easy-to-carry size and weight
  • Comes with HDMI 2.0 and USB 3.0 cables
  • Finally provides HDR passthrough for consoles
  • Doesn't come with good instructions clarifying potential issues
  • Software doesn't allow for more robust editing

The HD60S+ captures video at 1080p 30fps and 1080p 60fps. It also allows for near flawless and completely lagless HDR passthrough. It's sleek, fits in your hand, and weighs less the cables that come with it. 

While the box says the card captures in 2160p 30fps, I couldn't find the option to do so, at least on my Mac. That's not a fault of this unit, as I don't think that's its intention. Elgato does make a unit specifically for 4K capture after all. Whether it's a typo, an oversight, or a hidden feature I've overlooked, I don't count that "missing" functionality against the HD60S+. 

I don't count its other "missteps" against it either, and the only real negatives I can point to are a lack of clarity regarding potential user pitfalls and the inability to more extensively edit captures before exporting them. 

The HD60S+ easily connects to almost every major streaming platform (Mixer is oddly missing from the quick menu in the Elgato software), and it works with OBS, Streamlabs OBS, and XSplit. At $199.99, it replaces the $180 HD60S. Getting true HDR passthrough is worth the extra $20. 

[Note: An Elgato HD60S+ capture unit was provided by Corsair for the purpose of this review.]

Sonic the Hedgehog Review: Fast and Funny Fri, 14 Feb 2020 14:59:29 -0500 Ashley Shankle

I don't think anyone could have predicted that any studio would be working on a Sonic the Hedgehog movie before it was announced, considering the popularity of the character peaked nearly 30 years ago.

Oof, give me a second. I'm feeling a little old...

Anyway, Sonic's first motion picture foray isn't as bad as any reasonable person might expect out of an action buddy comedy starring a CGI hedgehog. That's in large part due to Jim Carrey's over-the-top performance as Sonic's traditional nemesis, Doctor Ivo Robotnik, and the charm of the Blue Blur himself.

If you're a fan of the games and have read the comics (maybe dug into some of the lore), you're going to find yourself starting fresh with this take on the Sonic universe.

After being forced to flee his planet at a young age using the movie-exclusive teleportation function of a ring, Sonic ends up spending years alone hiding and observing the residents of Green Hills, Montana.

The beginning of the movie shows us how lonely Sonic has become. Playing pranks on the town's residents, hanging out in his furnished cave, playing sports with himself on all positions... but none of it fills that hole in his heart where friendship and family should be.

Eventually, that loneliness brings disaster, and the government calls in Ivo Robotnik to sniff and snuff out the cause. Which is, of course, Sonic the Hedgehog.

There are three reasons to see this movie.

The first is expected: Jim Carrey's signature comedy style suits the diabolical Robotnik like a glove. The character's ego and eccentricity are on full display with Carrey in Ivo's 'stache. He absolutely steals the spotlight in every scene he's in, and for good reason.

The second couldn't have been possible if the internet didn't lose its mind over the original movie design for the character, which is just how cute Sonic is throughout most of his time on screen.

There is rarely a shot of Sonic seen where he isn't outright adorable. You've got baby Sonic, Sonic in a shirt and cowboy hat, puff-ball Sonic, happy Sonic, sad Sonic, hyper So you see where I'm going with this. There's a lot of Sonic, and he's cute enough to take home and keep on a shelf.

The third is the most surprising aspect of the film, though. It's that it "gets it". Tyson Hesse, of Sonic Mania development fame, played a part in taking Sonic the Hedgehog from atrocity to above-average kids action flick.

Hesse's influence on the movie shows how aware it is of what fans and kids alike would like to see out of a live-action movie featuring the hedgehog. Sonic's an adrenaline junkie, and that fact shines through at every opportunity. The nods to internet culture, such as referring to raccoons as "trash pandas" don't detract from the overall tone of the film, which stays in its lane throughout. Even a drawing of Sanic slipped through the cracks...

Sonic's tale of loneliness is relatable, and his adventure with Tom to find his rings is one that kids and adults alike can enjoy. Slow-paced scenes are brief, with the movie primarily focusing on Sonic experiencing the world around him alongside a friend for the first time. Robotnik's ruthless chasing of the duo using his ultra-high-tech robots is the icing on the cake.

Somehow all the facets of Sonic the Hedgehog just work.

Carrey's fantastic performance as Robotnik is one of his most interesting to watch roles, so much so I'm already clamoring for a sequel to see how he will perform as an even more extreme Eggman. I'd probably pay to see a whole movie of just Jim Carrey as Eggman if I'm being honest.

Ben Schwartz is another perfect casting decision for the fastest thing alive. I've thought of Jaleel White's renditions of Sonic in the old cartoons as the character's definitive English voice, but Ben Schwartz does such a perfect job of capturing the energy of the character that my opinion has shifted completely.

The movie's plot is squarely focused on what Sonic and Robotnik are going to do next, and there's nothing wrong with that at all. There's no extra romance sub-plot, there are no scenes that are out of place. Through and through, this is a kids popcorn flick.

As with most kids popcorn flicks, Sonic the Hedgehog is no work of art and doesn't house much most viewers would call memorable. In fact, aside from a few key scenes featuring Sonic and most of Jim Carrey's performance, most adults will probably not be able to remember most of the movie the next day.

However, I have little doubt Sonic the Hedgehog will tickle fans, enthrall kids of all ages, and give even parents who aren't familiar with the character a laugh or two. There's so much room for a sequel, I'm already eagerly hoping an announcement is on the horizon for our Blue Blur and his evil scientist foe.

Corsair iCUE LS100 Smart Lighting Kit Review: Lush Luminescence Mon, 10 Feb 2020 12:44:30 -0500 Jonathan Moore

RGB lighting is already everywhere: your mouse has it, your keyboard has it, and your headset has it. Hell, even your CPU fans probably have it. Unsurprisingly, monitor backlighting is also in fashion, and it has been for some time. It is, after all, a natural progression into the all-RGB future. 

Corsair isn't the first company to provide options for adding an aesthetic glow to the backside of your monitor. And it won't be the last. But with the iCUE LS100 Smart Lighting Kit, Corsair brings to its RGB catalog an arsenal of LEDs meant for emitting ambient light outside of your tower, on almost any surface you can think of. 

Corsair iCUE LS100 Smart Lighting Kit Review

The LS100 starter kit comes with a small controller switch, four flexible RGB strips, cord extenders, cable guides, mounting magnets, a power supply, and a USB cable. The two light strips come in two sets of different lengths. There are two 450mm light strips with 27 LEDs each and two 250mm light strips with 15 LEDs each. 

The manual that comes with the lights has a short tutorial on how to attach the lights to the back of your monitor (or two if you have a dual setup). For most, the starter kit will be enough for both single-monitor and dual-monitor setups.

If you need more length, Corsair also separately sells expansion kits for both the 450mm strips and the 250mm strips. Each expansion kit comes with two lighting strips (450mm x2 and 250mm x2, respectively), which can be connected in series by themselves or with the provided cord extenders for greater flexibility and reach.

Attaching the light strips to a monitor is relatively easy and only takes a few minutes. The adhesive magnets and cord guides provided by Corsair do the job, but the downside is that you'll have to attach the magnets to your monitor in the first place and they aren't easy to get off once they're on. 

That means you'll need to plot out your placement beforehand and make sure you put them in the right place the first time. 

The controller also connects to the monitor by way of two adhesive magnets. On the top, it has an on/off button. On the back, it has a power port and a USB port, and on the front, it has two ports for the LED light strips. Importantly, those two ports only power one set of four light strips each for a total of eight light strips. You cannot hook eight light strips to a single port. 

For single-monitor and dual-monitor setups, that shouldn't be a problem. But, if you're like me, and want to attach the light strips to the underside of your desk, it can pose some unique challenges. Though, I wouldn't say they are particularly daunting challenges as even a small amount of ingenuity gets things set up relatively quickly. 

iCUE LS100 Smart Lighting Kit Performance 

Admittedly, the LS100 is the first lighting kit I've ever reviewed. Consequently, I don't have experience with other kits from Razer, Daybetter, or Minger, for example, and I can't directly compare the luminance or brilliance of those kits to this one.

Having said that, I consider the LS100 light strips to be adequately bright out of the box; they get the job done. They provide a nice ambient glow to the room or wall without being a distraction (a small complaint I have with my Logitech G560 speakers). 

Using Corsair's iCUE software, you can pretty much do anything with the LS100 light strips you can do with any of Corsair's RGB mice, keyboards, or headsets. 

You can set up a single color and effect or several colors and effects across each set of strips per channel. iCUE has 20+ configurations, including staples such as static and colorwave, as well as audio lighting and text lighting. Audio, of course, provides ambient lighting based on the frequency of the sound source. Text provides the best white light brightness for reading text. 

The audio visualizer is probably the standout as it works with any speakers. Smartly, you don't have to have special speakers or have them plugged into the LS100 controller. A typical setup will allow them to work without a hitch. I simply turned the functionality on through iCUE and turned my speakers up. The lights responded to the sounds immediately.  

You can also select each individual LED on the strips for unique color patterns — if you have the patience. Having such granular control opens up possibilities, but I don't see the average user relying on it much.

Of course, you can also choose the speed, direction, and opacity of the effects and LEDs. You can choose the time interval for effects such as wave and ripple, and as expected, you have access to the entire 16-million color RGB spectrum. 

Corsair iCUE LS100 Smart Lighting Kit Review — The Bottom Line

  • Easy to install, with full kit of attachment accessories
  • Large amount of lighting effects through iCUE
  • Audio visualizer works with any sound source
  • Magnets must be attached to monitor, and they're not easy to get off
  • Controller power supply is a bit bulky and heavy
  • Lightstrip couplings can be hard to disconnect

Overall, Corsair's LS100 Smart Lighting Kit is a solid product. At $119.99, the starter kit isn't cheap, especially when compared to other light strips like the Razer Chroma and especially Daybetter. But you also get iCUE with the LS100s, including dozens of minute lighting options. The LS100 expansion kits are also competitively priced and offer several length options. 

It also comes down to style and aesthetic. Unlike some other lighting options, the LS100s resemble thin, tubular glow sticks than a strip of lights. Depending on how you use them, it's something to consider. 

It's also worth considering that the LS100 sync with other Corsair products, such as the K95 Platinum or the Harpoon gaming mouse, forming a cohesive ecosystem running through iCUE. 

If you're considering RGB lighting for your monitor or desk, it's worth putting the LS100s on your list of considered products. 

[Note: An LS100 starter kit and two LS100 expansion kits were provided by Corsair for the purpose of this review.]

KUNAI Review: A Modern Take on Old School Fun Thu, 06 Feb 2020 09:00:01 -0500 RobertPIngram

Will fictional future humans ever learn? From the looks of things, probably not. 

KUNAI, from Turtleblaze and The Arcade Crew, is set in a world where a powerful A.I. name Lemonkus has been developed by humans "trying... to make the world a better place."

As powerful A.I.s have a habit of doing, Lemonkus quickly determined that humans were a real drag on the functionality of earth. Consequently, it saw to the near-total eradication of those pesky living beings.

While robots now run the world, they aren't all on board with the A.I.'s plans, and with the help of a robot resistance, Tabby the tablet is restored and embued with the spirit of a martial arts warrior, tasked with taking down the evil artificial overlord and its robot army.

Armed with a sword that doubles as a battery charger that fills with each kill you make, you must explore the platform-friendly world to gather the tools and upgrades you need to save the day.

KUNAI Review: A Modern Take on Old School Fun

When you decide to name your game after a tool at players' disposal, you're laying a star on the game's walk of fame — for better or worse. Luckily, in this case, KUNAI is right on the money.

If you don't know what kunai are, you're not alone. Full disclosure, I did not know the game was named after the titular weapon until my character received them and I saw them named as such.

While kunai may not be widely known, if you've consumed any entertainment about ninja, or played games like Onimusha: Warlords or Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, you have probably seen kunai before.

They're the small blades with a loop at their hilt, which is often, including in KUNAI, attached to a rope to allow for throwing and retrieval.

In KUNAI, you receive two of the weapons, one to send off over your head in either direction. They aren't just for combat, though. You can dig into most walls and ceilings in order to whip yourself around the game's levels and reach otherwise inaccessible areas.

Often the kunai are required to platform across a room, but even when they're not, there's a good chance you'll still make use of them for one simple reason: they're really fun.

While the game's old-school style may not be able to deliver you the caliber of free-swinging found in something like Marvel's Spider-Man, it gets the absolute most out of its 2D setting. The fun only multiplies when you purchase the ability to use your kunai as bungees, pulling down and releasing to fly off through the air.

KUNAI may not be the first game of its type to give you a grappling-hook-style option, but it certainly does so with aplomb.

Respect Your Elders

One thing that's clear about KUNAI is that it was made by developers who have a love and appreciation for classic 2D platforming games. The fingerprints of prior generations are all over KUNAI from beginning to end.

Some of the elements are general, like the presence of ability-based gating made popular in Metroidvania-style games like Metroid and Castlevania. In others, it's a more direct sense of nostalgia, like when you finish off the first boss and find yourself platforming around an airship ala Super Mario Bros 3, complete with an auto-scrolling viewport that will do you in if you don't move fast enough.

Although there is nothing particularly groundbreaking waiting for you in KUNAI, that is not to say the end product is just a hodge-podge of mechanics past. By taking familiar elements and elegantly combining them, TurtleBlaze has created an excellent addition to the 2D-platforming catalog.

KUNAI Review — The Bottom Line

  • Once you master your kunai, flying around levels is incredibly fun
  • The controls are tight and responsive
  • The classic pixel-art style is beautifully rendered
  • Some of the backtracking required after reaching an objective is excessive
  • Boss quality is inconsistent, with some real standouts but others falling a bit flat

When you assess KUNAI on an element-by-element basis, two things are true. First, there is nothing you can point to that's executed flawlessly. Second, there is nothing you can point to that's executed poorly, either.

Metroidvania games remain a popular niche in the gaming community with good reason, and KUNAI is a worthwhile addition to the genre. It's easy to pick up and get going, but it provides enough escalation as you progress to keep you interested as you move from sector to sector, picking up new toys and perks along the way.

On occasion, rooms can blend together and navigation, particularly before you earn the ability to access your map, can be a bit confusing. Once you get the hang of whipping around from room to room, however, the game takes on a quick and enjoyable pace.

Whether you're a fan of Metroidvania style platformers or are just looking for a fun game that's easy to jump in and kill some time, KUNAI is an excellent option.

[Note: A copy of KUNAI was provided by The Arcade Crew for the purpose of this review.]

HyperX ChargePlay Clutch Review: Size Does Matter Tue, 04 Feb 2020 11:48:30 -0500 Kenneth Seward Jr.

The HyperX ChargePlay Clutch is a charging case for the Nintendo Switch. It provides players with a 6000mAh battery, a sizable kickstand, Joy-Con grips and other various features that promote mobile play.

Like the Alloy FPS keyboard and the Cloud Orbit S headset, HyperX has designed another solid peripheral. That said, it does have a few notable issues worth discussing. 

Charged Play

The HyperX ChargePlay Clutch is all about providing extended gaming sessions while out and about. Like a battery pack, it will power the Switch past its base 6.5 to 9hr threshold* once connected. Unlike a battery pack, though, the Clutch also charges the system.

As obvious as that seems, considering the device’s name, this is a significate difference. The Clutch’s 6000mAh adds about five hours of play to the Switch, though a little less at various brightness levels or if you’re playing certain games. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild drains the battery faster than say, Samurai Shodown (2019).

Let’s say that you’ve used four of your nine hours of play. By latching the Switch onto the Clutch, you’ll ideally get five hours back. That said, the Switch’s battery doesn’t take that long to recharge; the battery will read "full" before you’ve used up those extra hours. By the time you’ve depleted the Clutch’s battery, you’ll have played for 10hrs and still be holding a fully charged Switch.

Slightly Awkward Fit

I champion any device that keeps me in the game. As long as the peripheral has done its job without endangering other equipment (in this case, my Switch), then we’re good. When it comes to providing power, HyperX’s Clutch does as advertised.

What’s interesting about the Clutch, though, is that it has several jobs beyond powering the console. Featuring detachable grips and movable parts, the Clutch provides different avenues of play, with the preferred method being the Switch’s handheld mode.

Moving to handheld mode required me to first dock the Switch to the Clutch’s base. A securing latch snaps over the console, locking it in place. Then I magnetically connected the two textured grips to the Clutch. Providing a snug fit, the grips cradled the lower half of the Switch’s Joy-Cons.

At this point, I would typically be ready for some mobile gaming. Easy-peasy. Unfortunately, it took me a while to get used to holding my Switch in this setup, due to the extra surface area created by the grips.

Because the grips fit over the Joy-Cons, I had to extend my arms more than normal. And since removing the grips wasn’t an option – the Switch/Clutch felt heavier with them gone – I had to get used to the awkward feel. That is, until I tried playing my Switch in tabletop mode.  

Tabletop Play

The Clutch has a great kickstand. Taking up most of the unit’s backside, its large size, in conjunction with the Clutch’s heavy base, kept my Switch from tipping over. And this was the case wherever I placed it; as long as it was on a flat-ish surface, it took a reasonable amount of force to knock my Switch over.

Stability wasn’t the only plus. By snapping the grips together and inserting the Joy-Cons, you can make a “single” controller for solo play. It’s similar to the charging grip that comes with the Switch, only the Joy-Cons don’t connect to it via their slide rails.

In practice, they felt comfortable to hold. And thanks to a snug fit, the Joy-Cons didn’t move about or separate from the grips during play.

A Sizable Issue

Despite some early awkwardness, the Clutch performed as expected. Better even. So much so, that it wouldn’t be a spoiler to say that I recommend its purchase. That said, there are a few issues worth mentioning. One of which is the absence of an AC adapter.

The Clutch comes with a USB Type-C cable for charging. All you would need to do is connect it to the Switch’s dock like so many other peripherals. The thing is, a lot of third-party accessories offer AC adapters (I assume) to declutter the space surrounding your Switch. Trying to charge multiple devices, extra Joy-Cons, and the Clutch at the same time proved tricky.

This isn’t a deal-breaker of course. It is possible to charge through other means – I used my phone’s adapter a few times.

The Clutch’s size, however, does pose a serious issue for Switch Light owners. It wasn’t made with that version of the system in mind. Meaning that while the smaller console can be docked to the Clutch, the securing latch and grips can’t reach the top and sides of the system. You can charge a Switch Light, sure, but there’s no way safely utilize mobile play.

  • Provides hours of play while charging the Switch
  • Sturdy design
  • Detachable grips promote tabletop play
  • Great Kickstand
  • Slightly Awkward feel in handheld mode
  • No AC Adapter
  • Isn't compatible with Switch Light

The HyperX ChargePlay Clutch is a solid peripheral. For $59.99, it provides hours of play (while charging the Switch), an awesome kickstand, and removable grips.

The Clutch’s bulkiness can take some getting used to. And it isn’t suitable for the Switch Light. That said, for regular Switch owners, it might be one of the better battery-based accessories available in 2020.

ChargePlay Clutch Specifications
Battery Capacity 6,000mAh
Input 5V = 1.5AMax
Output 5V = 2.0AMax
Weight 400g
Dimensions Length: 273.9mm
Width: 40.2mm
Height: 114.1mm
Cable Type USB Type-C
Cable Length 1.8m


*These numbers depict the range between Switch models, with the higher number reflecting the new version’s total playtime.   

[Note: A HyperX ChargePlay Clutch review unit was provided by HyperX for the purpose of this review.]

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot Review — Sweet Spot For Hardcore Fans Mon, 03 Feb 2020 18:12:10 -0500 David Jagneaux

Dragon Ball Z has a complicated history with video games. Dating all the way back to the days of the NES and spanning to virtually every major video game console ever made, it has always been around for better and for worse.

DBZ Kakarot tries to be a bit different than the rest with varying degrees of success. Rather than just being a straight-up fighting game, there are large open areas to explore mixed with light RPG elements to break open the formula. It feels more like you're exploring the world of the anime rather than just punching faces.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot Review — Sweet Spot For Hardcore Fans

The majority of what makes Dragon Ball Z "cool" is the action, so naturally, most DBZ games are fighting games. It's an anime about super-powered space warriors saving the galaxy with their fists and energy blasts, so it translates pretty intuitively. But the anime is also full of exposition, entire episodes devoid of action, and a lot of lore and world-building that's often forgotten.

Most of the time you play as Goku, but not always. Important characters like Gohan, Piccolo, and more have entire sections of the game dedicated to them, so you'll get to mix things up here and there. All told, the main story alone lasts close to 30 hours, but you can easily spend upwards of 40 hours in this game completing side content and gathering collectibles.

Combat is pretty straight forward and doesn't require a whole lot of finesse, but it's just deep enough to not be boring. There's a melee button, ki blast button, dodge button, and energy charge button, as well as triggers for things like special attacks and calling in assist attacks from partner characters in fights.

It's not deep at all and every character plays the same other than their special attacks, but it's good enough to make it feel like you're emulating fights from the anime. It doesn't need to be balanced or intricate since there's no multiplayer at all, but a bit more nuance would have been nice. On the bright side, you're always getting new tricks or switching up enemies and settings so it feels fresher than it actually is.

DBZ Kakarot tries to split the difference by offering a healthy dose of all aspects of what makes the IP so popular. In the first two hours, I think I had maybe two fights, one of which was teaching me the controls. After that, things are mixed up quite often so I was never hungry for combat.

You'll experience the entire anime's story, from start to finish, across all sagas, major plot points, and even lots of side stories that games never usually touch on. It's a great nostalgia trip and does an excellent job of making you feel like an active part of events, at least until it plops you into the open environments where things can start to feel a little stiff and empty. There are side quests to do and activities to take part in, but most of them aren't worth the time.

Authentic in the Right Places

Visually, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is one of the best-looking anime adaption games I've ever seen. Bandai Namco has done a great job marrying the standard cel-shaded aesthetic with the flashiness of the show in a way that feels authentic but fresh at the same time.

The bright colors and flat textures of the environment end up feeling a bit bland in comparison to the creative character designs and impressive particle effects, but you don't spend too much time looking at the mountains anyway.

Perhaps what impressed me most about Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is just how far that authenticity goes. Most DBZ games relegate story beats to textboxes or poorly acted and poorly animated cutscenes. That's not the case here. Instead, cutscenes replicate iconic moments from the show, nearly shot for shot in some cases, that can feel like pure, unadulterated injections of intense nostalgia.

And for perhaps the first time ever, I'd say the story is actually told well enough that even if you haven't seen the anime or read the manga you could probably follow what's going on. However, I still don't think I'd recommend this game as an entry point to the fiction or something that can stand on its own. If you're not an existing fan, it's hard to appreciate the successes as much or overlook the shortcomings as easily. 

One of the biggest issues is that all of the dialogue that happens outside of dedicated cutscenes (note: that means most of it) just feels stiff. Character models stand there, motionless, and mouths move but don't often match the words they're saying. Voices lack emotion, faces are blank, and it just feels like an afterthought in the grand scheme of what the developers had time to focus on. 

Another major problem with DBZ games, and most anime-based games for that matter, is that the source material doesn't often contain enough variety and depth to entertain players for lengthy stories and once the narrative is told, you're out of original plots.

Would someone that hasn't seen the anime get chills when Goku goes Super Saiyan for the first time and sees the disbelief on Frieza's face? Probably not. Would the subtle references in side quests, silly moments of slapstick comedy that define Goku's whimsical side, or all of the signature attacks and dramatic cutscenes, carry as much weight? Zero chance. 

How do I know? I've experienced it: my wife literally fell asleep while watching me stream this back when it first came out.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot Review — The Bottom Line

  • Amazing and vibrant visuals
  • Large open areas to explore full of collectibles and side content
  • Faithfully recreated cutscenes
  • Plenty of attention paid to non-action moments from the anime
  • A lot of areas feel mostly empty
  • Dialogue and animations outside of cutscenes is often stiff
  • Combat lacks depth
  • Hard to recommend unless you're a big fan of the anime

For better and for worse, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot can be thoroughly categorized as unabashedly authentic and true to its source material. As a lifelong fan of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z, I had a blast replaying the story for the millionth time. With this game, everything felt different, and it delivered the action-adventure RPG with lavish cutscenes I've been yearning for since I was 10.

As much as I'd like to say this is the best DBZ game ever made or recommend it to anyone and everyone, I can't. But if you're a big fan of the show or manga and have always wanted to play something in this world that wasn't just a fighting game with lame dialogue boxes masquerading as "story" moments, then you've come to the right place.

For more on Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, make sure and check out our beginner's guide that's full of tips for combat and other parts of the game.

[Note: A copy of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot was provided by Bandai Namco for the purpose of this review.]

Kingdom Hearts 3: Re:Mind Review — One For the Fans Mon, 03 Feb 2020 16:04:16 -0500 Gabriel Moss

Square Enix released Kingdom Hearts 3 last year to some pretty mixed reactions. We gave it a 9/10 in our official Kingdom Hearts 3 review, but plenty others felt that it lacked cohesion throughout, and was sorely missing certain elements.

For a series that once prided itself on weaving Disney characters and Final Fantasy characters into the same story, it was odd that Final Fantasy characters were largely absent. In addition to that complaint, many longtime Kingdom Hearts fans also felt that a sense of challenge was missing.

Tetsuya Nomura and co. have attempted to address most of these complaints in the official post-release DLC for Kingdom Hearts 3, called Kingdom Hearts 3: Re:Mind. The execution here is competent, filling in some of the story gaps left at the end of the original game, but the meat of this new adventure may not be what many of the more casual Kingdom Hearts fans are looking for.

Kingdom Hearts 3: Re:Mind Review  One For the Fans

As a package, Re:Mind feels pretty split up. Once you've beaten the original Kingdom Hearts 3 campaign, you get access to the first episode that's offered in this DLC, called Re:Mind, which is essentially a director's cut of the handful of hours leading up to Kingdom Hearts 3's ending.

Once you've beaten that, you get access to a second episode, called Limit Cut, along with Data Greetings the best in-game photo mode I've ever gotten to play around with.

Without spoiling the original ending, it's safe to say that some of the things added and addressed in Re:Mind are worth seeing if you have any investment into the Kingdom Hearts story. Certain fan-favorite characters are finally available to play with, albeit for a limited time, and you finally get to spend some time in one of the series' most visually stunning zones. It's short on its own, but the ending of Kingdom Hearts 3 sits better after having played through this short extra episode.

Next comes Limit Cut. A handful of Final Fantasy characters that were ever-present throughout the Kingdom Hearts series (but were utterly absent in the main Kingdom Hearts 3 campaign) have arrived once again to help Sora and crew. It's unfortunate then that they barely have much screen time at all. Most of Limit Cut has you fighting a series of 13 "impossible" bosses without much dialogue or story movement in between. However, signs of what's to come for the series are supposedly hinted at for those who manage to make their way through each boss.

Let me say that my Level 45 Sora could barely handle even just one of these bosses, so I never managed to make it through Limit Cut. It's definitely aimed for those hardcore Kingdom Hearts players who want a reason to level Sora up to 99 and unlock Ultima in the base game, and it seems like it does a great job of reintroducing a significant challenge into the series, though the sudden spike in difficulty from Re:Mind is a bit unwarranted.

Data Greetings, on the other hand, is a fantastic addition to Kingdom Hearts 3. It feels like the best post-game reward for us casual players who just want to sit around and play with our favorite Kingdom Hearts characters like toys. You can set up any kind of camera position, lighting, or effect you want. And you can position characters in utterly hilarious ways if that suits your fancy.

It's great fun, and I'd much rather play with this photo mode than grind out a much higher-level Sora to tackle the rest of Limit Cut.

That said, it's not like Kingdom Hearts 3: Re:Mind doesn't give you that option. You can take your Limit Cut Sora back to the world map where you'll find that "battlegates" are freshly strewn throughout familiar locales. These battlegates are leveled combat arenas that allow you to face off against smaller bosses and groups of opponents. By entering them, you can grind away and earn loot more quickly than by running in circles for combat encounters.

It certainly isn't what I'd prefer to spend my time doing, but it's good that you're given a hand in working your way up to the Limit Cut bosses if you're severely under-leveled.

Kingdom Hearts 3: Re:Mind Review — The Bottom Line

  • One fantastic photo mode
  • Competent story conclusion for the original Kingdom Hearts 3 campaign
  • A truly challenging new endgame
  • Story additions are short
  • Content is broken up into several parts that don't feel directly related to one another
  • Seeing everything will cost hours and hours of grinding before you even reach the difficult bosses

Kingdom Hearts 3: Re:Mind fills in some story gaps, adds one of the best photo modes around, and introduces a gauntlet of challenging endgame bosses for hardcore Kingdom Hearts 3 fans.

But the latter half of this already short DLC is inaccessible to those who didn't spend hours leveling up and doing every sidequest beforehand.

[Note: A copy of Kingdom Hearts 3: Re:Mind was provided by Square Enix for the purpose of this review.]

Zombie Army 4: Dead War Review — Who Needs L4D? We Have Zombie Sharks! Mon, 03 Feb 2020 10:59:38 -0500 Ty Arthur

Remember that commercial from 2012 where Jason Brody punches a shark right in the face? That was the moment I absolutely knew beyond any doubt that I would playing Far Cry 3 into the ground.

History delightfully repeated itself when the trailer for Zombie Army 4: Dead War arrived, and it featured a Nazi. Zombie. Shark. It wouldn't have mattered if Dead War was absolute garbage destined for the "Steam Under $5 sales". No. I knew I would be playing this game, and probably loving it.

What more could a gamer ask for?

Thankfully, Zombie Army 4 isn't even close to garbage. In fact, it's one of the best L4D-style co-op shooters to arrive in quite some time.

Zombie Army 4: Dead War Review — Who Needs L4D? We Have Zombie Sharks!

Normally, graphics aren't a priority for me (I'm a big fan of old SNES pixel RPGs), but it's worth noting that Zombie Army 4 is flat out beautiful for a zombie-destroying third-person shooter.

Stylistic audio/visual touches keep the experience consistently entertaining. Those playing on the PS4 get a little extra something, as the DualShock 4 periodically emits demonic little girl zombie whispers begging you to come back and play. It can be really unnerving, and it's a nice touch not found in many other games.

The only real graphical downside is that the environments are quite dark most of the time, which may grate on some players' nerves, especially when combing each level for the game's many collectibles.

Low luminance aside, the sniper rifle kill cam is a straight-up thing of beauty, showcasing the trajectory of your shot as it's affected by gravity and the goopy decay of the zombie body. Did you go through the guts? Oh boy, you will see those bad bowels getting ripped apart. Land a perfect headshot? Prepare to see that skull blow apart in truly spectacular fashion.  

It's something fans of the series will find familiar. And those that have played the Sniper Elite series — from Sniper Elite V2 to the most recent Sniper Elite 4 — already understand its impact. But it's something that never grows old, especially when it means eviscerating Nazi zombies. 

There's a fun twist here, though. One bullet doesn't always equal one kill thanks to the dark sorcery of undead animation. If you don't get a headshot, or otherwise manage to thoroughly destroy a zombie body, they will get back up and need to be shot again or stomped on. Higher damage weapons with various attachments will eventually put them down for good if you get 'em in the heart or guts, though.

Liberating Europe One Nazi Zombie At A Time

        Shooting the beacon makes that shark chow down
on any other zombies in vicinity!

As a spin-off the Sniper Elite series, you may already have a basic idea of the kind of "walk 'n gun" gameplay going on in Zombie Army 4. Honestly, I was never a huge fan of the Sniper series. Though I don't actively dislike them by any means, the objectively tedious gameplay just isn't my cup of tea.

However, you get the total polar opposite with Dead War. The game's shooting mechanics, its level design, and its ranking system come together in a much more satisfying way. There's a tightrope balancing act between speed and precision, and it's pulled off so well that you'll have a good time whether you are playing the slow-moving sniper or the faster-moving grunt using a trench gun. 

Of course, there are options for single-player and up to 4-player co-op, so if you've played Vermintide or Left 4 Dead, you know what to expect on the multiplayer front.

Characters call out when reloading, automatically let the group know when ammo carts are found, and so on. Besides making it out alive and un-eaten between safe rooms, each level has some sort of primary objective that usually involves protecting an area from a horde or carrying heavy objects while dealing with throngs of zombies.

Aside from the L4D influence, Dead War has taken some of the best ideas from Call Of Duty Nazi Zombies and filtered them into a full game, like upgrading weapons and adding new attack types, as well as a Horde mode map that gets bigger as you play.

One of Dead War's strongest gameplay elements is the way the environment in each level is used to devastating effect. Your squad will need to set traps and carefully manage grenade or tripwire inventory to thin out the hordes.

Along with all that satisfying zombie destruction comes a progression system complete with challenges like "destroy 30 zombies using a shark." The better you perform in any given level, the faster you level, and the more perks can be unlocked to change your gameplay style.

Independent of the perk system is a weapon upgrade system, which requires finding components that add elemental damage types (such as shock, explosive, and divine), boost range, reduce reload speed, and so on. You can also use upgrade kits to get new, permanent perks for your base weapons and items. 

No matter how well you take on any given regiment of evil shambling Nazis, the horde will eventually get up close, and that's where one of several different special melee attacks come to bear. Each melee attack has three levels to upgrade by reaching new player ranks, and each has specific, devastating uses. The machete has a long reach, but the Divine Hammer does damage and heals allies. 

All of this smashing, stomping, shooting, and exploding takes place across nine varied levels from the waterlogged canals of Venice to lava-covered city streets. On top of that, each level has up to four chapters within it, making Dead War a relatively meaty, giblet-covered experience. 

More Than Just Run 'N Gun

Aside from the weapon upgrades and perk progression, there are other elements here that are missing from the classic Left 4 Dead and its sequel, Left 4 Dead 2. Special enemies are present, of course, but there's more to work with here since there's a supernatural element mixed with an alternate-history World War 2. 

Your crew will face off against armored Nazi zombies with flame throwers, teleporting wizard Nazi zombies with sniper rifles, and even sentient "living" Nazi zombie tanks and half-tracks! When you finally think you've got all the tactics down, shadow demons that move along the ground show up to temporarily remove a companion from the fight while draining their health.

The other big change to special creatures? You can melee kill these unit types if you find out the right way to stun or incapacitate them first. That means solid teamwork and a good strategy are more useful for special monsters than seeing who can unload the most bullets first.

Whether fighting magic demons or shuffling flesh-eaters, height and terrain are a bigger emphasis here than in other co-op shooters as well. Funneling enemies into kill corridors and having an escape route become critical, especially in single-player. Playing horde mode with a team is far different than the methodical planning of playing alone. 

There's also a pretty wide range of customization options available outside of the usual difficulty slider. If you're not great at these kinds of games, there are aim assist options for single-player so you can still enjoy the carnage, and you can manually adjust the number of zombies for different group sizes before the start of any campaign chapter or horde-mode map.

Finally, missions are a trove of Easter eggs and little secrets. Some are actual collectibles pertaining to trophies, while others are just for the fun of it. A certain string of Christmas lights in one level will sure make you think of Stranger Things, for instance. Others will creep you right out of your skin. 

Zombie Army 4: Dead War Review — The Bottom Line

       That blue doll definitely murdered that red doll.

  • Varied levels with jaw-dropping occult Nazi zombie designs
  • Solid mix of Sniper Elite- and Left-4-Dead-style gameplay
  • Plays great in either single-player or co-op
  • Progression systems for perks and weapon upgrades
  • There's a Nazi. Zombie. Shark. you guys. Do you need another reason to play?!?
  • Levels can be quite dark
  • Some of the "defend the generator" segments get nuts in single-player if you don't turn down the difficulty
  • If your mom doesn't let you play games with pentagrams and a Satanic Hitler wizard, you're going to have a bad time

If your primary reason to play Wolfenstein was the whole "I get to shoot Nazis" thing, then adding in an evil magic zombie element objectively makes this whole experience better. Whether you want a campaign story or just a horde mode to jump into and shoot the shambling dead, Zombie Army 4 has you covered for fast matches or long-term gameplay.

Plenty of AAA games these days feel unfinished because content gets parceled out as post-launch expansions. On the flip side of that, I'm glad to see a gem like Zombie Army 4 is getting post-launch DLC because I legitimately want to play more levels with people down the line.

After the nine main campaign missions (and the horde mode), the upcoming Season 1 content will include the Hell Cult mini-campaign with extra levels, as well as extra characters, weapons, skins, and horde maps.

When combined with the WW2 aesthetic and top-notch visuals, this can be an addicting style. While Valve is ludicrously not working on a third entry in the Left 4 Dead series, other developers are picking up the slack and putting their own twists on the genre.

While we've got Darksburg offering a fantasy take with an isometric style and GTFO handling the indie side, Zombie Army 4: Dead War is triumphantly carrying the AAA banner forward with a WW2 twist. Pick it up: you won't be disappointed!

For more on Rebellion's latest shooter, be sure to check out our complete collectibles guide, which includes locations for all of the game's documents, comic books, zombie hands, heroic actions, and upgrade kits. 

[Note: A copy of Zombie Army 4: Dead War was provided by Rebellion for the purpose of this review.]

Death Stranding Review: Patronizing and Dull Fri, 31 Jan 2020 16:04:27 -0500 Ashley Shankle

Hideo Kojima's reputation for creating titles that are as strange as they are unforgettable is well-known, even among those who have never touched one of his games. The twists, turns, and idiosyncrasies of the Metal Gear Solid series are the stuff of legend among the gaming community, and the Silent Hills P.T. demo on the PlayStation 3 continues to intrigue even today.

No one knew what Kojima was going to move onto when he and most of his team at Kojima Productions left Konami in 2015. Metal Gear Solid 5 had run its course, Silent Hills was officially canceled, and Kojima Productions moved to become an independent studio soon after they left Konami.

That new venture is Death Stranding.

Death Stranding Review: Patronizing and Dull

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed Hideo Kojima over the past decades that Death Stranding is an odd game. Kojima, ever the fan of films over games, seemed to approach designing Death Stranding as an art project rather than a masses-oriented video game. There's nothing wrong with that, and there's nothing wrong with art posing as a video game. We've seen it done time and time again, but we've never seen a full-blown Kojima project outside of Konami's confines. That is, of course, where things get weird.

I have never considered Hideo Kojima to be a great storyteller. The presentation in his games is always top-notch, but the stories he crafts aren't really all that far off from what one might see in any given year's top seinen (young adult male-oriented) manga.

If you've watched enough anime or read enough manga, you know what I'm talking about. There are always a handful of twists that are easy to predict, plenty of exposition to ensure the player gets perhaps far too much information at a given time, and convoluted and near-unbelievable scenarios handled by a generally cool-headed lead character.

This sort of storytelling shines in a series like Metal Gear Solid because of the array of interesting characters and their journeys throughout the series. Engaging gameplay certainly helps.

The storytelling method does not do Death Stranding any favors, though. Every single piece of information you could possibly want and then some is thrust into your face at every turn, and it's done in an eyeroll-inducing style that could only result from mashing together Japanese-style pop storytelling and big Hollywood actors.

It's very clear from the first time Sam enters Capital Knot City that Death Stranding is an allegory for the current political and social climate in the United States. This in itself is fine, but the game does not give the player the option of personal interpretation.

What little intrigue Death Stranding presents is squashed to the ground in favor of excessive and repeated exposition. You have this huge, barren country with a unique plot backdrop and every bit of dialog chips away at the mystery without care, as if the player is incapable of grasping the complex concepts within the game's story.

It's patronizing, but I'm not sure it intends to be. After all, hyper-exposition is a key point in mainstream Japanese media; and right now, so is the theme of 'connection'. It's the idea that people are separating from one another and the drive to reconnect by any means necessary, often by unorthodox methods.

The performances given by Death Stranding's slew of actors are naturally the best we've seen in any game to date. Norman Reedus, Tommie Earl Jenkins, Lea Seydoux, and the rest of the cast did fantastic jobs bringing their characters to life and making them truly believable. There are some scenes later in the game that are truly memorable because of how well they're acted, rather than how they're written.

The problem is the performances don't make Death Stranding any better. Much like a poor Hollywood script supported by an all-star cast to distract from how utterly cookie cutter and trite the movie itself is, Death Stranding uses its own star-studded cast to hide its subpar writing and convoluted but predictable storyline. Which is predictable because the game refuses to let you off its storytelling leash and interpret things on your own.

Rarely have video games been known for their writing. The original Mass Effect, The Last of Us, Divinity: Original Sin 2, and many others have great writing for the medium and pair it with gameplay that suits their narrative and themes. Death Stranding does this, too, by providing a dull and frustrating gameplay experience to pair with its heavy-handed nonsense.


Trudging up mountains, traversing plains, and crossing rivers all the while attempting to balance the many tools and packages you've likely burdened Sam with — turns into a slog. The gameplay loop in Death Stranding is simple. You get a particular cargo assignment to pick up and/or deliver, and you make your way to your destination the best way you can.

Sam is able to bring tools with him to make his journey easier. Ladders and other items can be attached to Sam before heading out and are best kept on-hand for emergencies. However, they're not weightless, and you have to consider his weight balance at all times. If his weight burden is uneven, he'll be more prone to tripping or will veer and eventually fall to the weighted side.

This is where the trigger buttons come in. You can use the triggers to either hold onto cargo that you otherwise cannot strap to Sam, or you can use them to steady his balance to keep him from toppling over. Falling or dropping cargo can damage it, and it is possible to damage cargo to a point where the recipient just won't take it.

It's an interesting dual-use of these buttons and it does make you think about whether you'd rather be a bit more balanced or grab that extra box for additional rewards on turn-in. As the game drags on, Sam gains access to vehicles and the terrain (and the perils it brings) become more dangerous.

The most engaging portions of gameplay are where Sam encounters BTs. While those segments are certainly cool to look at, they're not exactly a challenge to play and don't particularly feel rewarding to complete. But the same can be said of the entire game.

Even the social aspects, where players are tasked with placing permanent bridges, ladders, and what have you in order to help other players traverse more easily feels like a big "Who cares?". Getting a few Likes is nice, but it's not exactly a motivator. Seeing what other players have constructed and contributed is also nice, but it's not really a push to play.

Death Stranding is not a rewarding game to play, from either a gameplay or story perspective. Games are well-known for giving players frequent dopamine rushes to keep them going or to provide a sense of achievement. This game does not have that in any regard.

There is no harm in subverting not only a media genre but an entire form of media. Death Stranding does do that, but that is effectually all it does. It subverts video games; it basically shoves an endless movie down your throat while you struggle to enjoy hauling cargo across ... nothing.

Normally one is more inclined to be easy on a game that is clearly more geared toward its story than providing an interesting gameplay experience, but in the case of Death Stranding, there is absolutely nothing to keep a person playing who has some sort of standards for their storytelling.

Over the years, I've become increasingly jaded towards anime-style storytelling despite my hyper-weebdom and have come to despise the tired crutches so many Japanese pop storytellers rely on. I am also not particularly inclined towards narrative-oriented games I'm here for the gameplay, music, and not much else. Unfortunately, neither tickled my fancy here.

The hubbub around Death Stranding's story and the talk of someone either gets it or they don't drew me to the game. I was actually very excited to see a new Hideo Kojima project that wasn't Metal Gear Solid because he had been trying to get away from the series for so long.

Unfortunately for this game, I do read books. I am not a nonce who needs every little thing pointed out for me every 20 minutes lest I forget. 

Death Stranding's premise is an interesting mish-mash of social issues plaguing more than just the United States and Kojima's signature warping of those heavier topics into something outlandish and comfortable. However, that is all dashed by the game's incredibly amateurish writing that seems convinced that the player is an idiot unable to draw context.

For a while, I believed things might not be as obvious as they appeared, but they proved me wrong. Any hopes I had for this to be anyt