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  1. In another blast from the past revival, THQ Nordic has remastered the 2009 destruction-fest sandbox game from the Red Faction series—a series that hasn't seen a new release since 2011. Red Faction: Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered draws upon the sandbox game formula but focuses on one key action gameplay hook: blowing shit up. With sledgehammer, bombs, and rockets, you're able to wreak devastation across Mars, but the fun of seeing things fall down may not be enough to sustain an entire game. Alec Mason arrives on Mars looking for work as a mining engineer, but a family tragedy pushes him toward joining the Red Faction, a resistance organization trying to throw off the shackles of the Earth Defense Force's oppressive regime on Mars. Now that he's caught up in the fight he'll do anything to take down the EDF. For a game focused on the wanton destruction of buildings and vehicles, it's probably not too surprising that the plot is pretty bare-boned. None of the characters, either protagonists or EDF villains, are developed in any meaningful way, though you can at least read about some of the setting's lore in the pause menu. To be fair though, Guerrilla is the third game in the Red Faction series, so some background knowledge was perhaps expected of the player. First and foremost, Guerrilla is a game about destroying things, and to that end the game is immensely satisfying. Watching buildings crumble definitely taps into some kind of primal urge to break things, and the physics engine powering Guerrilla makes seeing the rubble fall down around you particularly satisfying. There's also just enough realism to make it particularly engaging without bogging down the gameplay with too much detail—i.e. you can target support beams and walls to let a building fall under its own weight, but you're still able to break through just about any surface with just a sledgehammer. There are some wonky physics at times as well—a building probably shouldn't still be standing if only one wall remains—but it's hard to quibble over those details when you're in the middle of the carnage. Unfortunately, the destruction physics is kind of all the game has going for it. The other aspects of the gameplay leave a lot to be desired, from the barren open world environment where targets are few and far between to the tediously dull third-person shooting mechanics. Granted, the game takes place on a Mars colony, but the minimal scenery to interact with quickly grows boring, and the driving mechanics can be as frustrating as they are fun. Vehicles will easily bounce through the air from any little bump in the road, which can be amusing but quickly grows obnoxious when you're just trying to get to the next mission objective. Controlling even basic vehicles is just a little too wild, not to mention the fact that even small bumps can drain the vehicle's health. The relentless onslaught of enemy forces can also be a drain on the gameplay. Sure, Mason and the resistance are fighting a much larger force, so it makes sense that you're always going to be outnumbered. But Mason can die so insanely quickly against never-ending reinforcements of EDF soldiers that they're more of a constant headache than engaging opponents. Aiming and shooting isn't as smooth or tight as it ought to be, though thankfully explosions (and even the sledgehammer) are pretty effective at taking out enemy forces. Combat tends to devolve into tedious hide and seek games as you run away to let your health regenerate, and you never get the same "one-man wrecking crew" feeling fighting soldiers as you do when blowing up buildings. The biggest issue with Guerrilla though is just the fact that you'll see pretty much everything the game has to offer in the first hour or so. Drive to a mission marker, drive further to the target, blow it up, escape—there really isn't much variety or depth to the gameplay here. Sure there are a few weapon options to let you tackle objectives in slightly different ways, but in the end too much of the game just feels like repeating the same concept over and over, and destroying things just isn't enough to build an entire game around. And on a technical level, Guerrilla has a few nagging problems. Every time you load the game, reload after dying, or fast travel, there's an incredibly long load screen (although to be fair the game is mostly seamless otherwise). You may also run into other technical hiccups, including crashes and mission objectives that don't trigger properly. They may not be wildly egregious bugs but they certainly don't help the sense of bland repetition. Although the single player campaign is fairly short (even with its repetitive structure), Guerrilla has a few other game modes to keep players busy, from score chasing in Wrecking Crew to battling other destruction pros in online competitive matches, though good luck finding other players. Ultimately though, even the multiplayer options can't shake the feeling of just doing more of the same repetitive gameplay as the campaign. For a decade-old game, Guerrilla looks pretty solid on the Switch. There's no mistaking the art design for being a bit dated, but the remastered visual features are pretty smooth. Though again, the barren landscape of Mars isn't a particularly interesting setting, either for gameplay mechanics or visuals. And occasionally you might run into some framerate stuttering when there's a lot happening on screen. The soundtrack isn't particularly impressive either, though it doesn't often get a chance to shine with all of the explosions happening left and right. And the voice cast does well for the most part, even if there is some hilariously repetitive ambient dialogue at times. Red Faction: Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered serves as a nice time capsule to ten years ago, but mostly because it highlights the sloppy video game industry trends of the time. A satisfying, flashy demolition game was clumsily molded into an open-world sandbox title, which really only served to emphasize how bland and repetitive the gameplay could be. Blowing stuff up is still pretty fun, but tying it to mediocre shooting mechanics, long and dull driving scenarios, and a bare-boned story doesn't do the physics-based chaos any favors. Rating: 6 out of 10 Factions
  2. Originally born out of a Seattle Game Jam, Gurgamoth, from developer Galvanic Games and publisher The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild, offers up a lightning fast party game of kill or be killed. In a vague eldritch horror setting where dark sorcerers compete to summon the elder god Gurgamoth, up to four players locally compete to be the last cultist standing. It's fast, frantic, and fun, though undeniably one note. Part of what makes Gurgamoth an effective party game is the simplicity of its controls and gameplay. You'll move around, smash into other players, dodge, or try to stun them with a risky stun maneuver. Your goal is to smack opponents into the stage's hazards, whether those are spikes, spinning saw blades, or rotating lasers. It only takes a minute to learn, though there's still a little depth that you'll uncover as you play more—specifically, baiting opponents into positioning themselves poorly, or mastering each stage's unique hazards. Perhaps most importantly, you only have a limited number of attacks before you have to wait for them to recharge (indicated by white dots above your character). This is where strategy becomes crucial, since you can monitor your opponents' remaining attacks to know when to strike, or horde your own attacks until just the right moment. Gurgamoth is fast-paced and chaotic, which makes it great for a raucous local multiplayer game night, plus the short length of most matches means the energy never flags. And although you can technically play solo against three AI controlled opponents, Gurgamoth is at its best when you've got friends sitting next to you. The only problem with Gurgamoth is that there really isn't much in the game. There are a handful of stages, each with unique hazards, so there's a bit of variety and replay value in swapping stages, but otherwise the game is woefully light on gameplay options. You can adjust how many points are needed to win, change the frequency that power-ups appear, but that's it. Other games might feel bogged down with too many side mode options, but in this case something like a challenge mode or story campaign would have done wonders to make the game feel more fleshed out. Gurgamoth is single-minded in its gameplay approach, which is admirable, but it does make the experience feel a bit bare overall. The game's colorful, cartoony look perhaps helps soften the fact that your goal in each match is to kill your opponents so you can summon an elder god. Regardless, the visuals are charming, even if there isn't a ton of variety to them. You've got a few characters to choose from and a handful of stages to battle on, but that's it, unfortunately. At least there's a decent upbeat soundtrack to match the fast-paced energy of each battle, though sadly there are only a handful of songs to enjoy here as well. Gurgamoth is great for a quick and chaotic party game, but the lack of game modes and features means it doesn't have quite the longevity of similar titles. And the game's simple, pick-up-and-play philosophy is a big part of its charm, but it's just not enough to sustain the game for too long. Give Gurgamoth a try if you're in the mood for a solid, fast-paced party game, but be aware that the longevity isn't quite there. Rating: 6 out of 10 Elder Gods Review copy provided by publisher Gurgamoth will be available on the Switch eShop on August 23rd for $9.99.
  3. Over four years since its wildly successful Kickstarter campaign was funded, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is finally available and carrying on the spirit of the Castlevania franchise, if not the name. A creepy castle full of monsters, RPG mechanics, Metroidvania progression—Ritual of the Night has all of the hallmarks that made games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night or Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia such beloved hits, but can it fully capture their charm? Ten years before the events of the game, magic researchers attempted to summon demons by using the power of Shardbinders, humans fused with the power of crystals that were charged with demonic power. The summoning attempt was, unsurprisingly, catastrophic for humanity, with only two Shardbinders surviving. One was Miriam, our protagonist, who avoided the entire ritual by falling into a deep, unnatural slumber for ten years. Now she's awake, and demons are once again wreaking havoc across the land, meaning it's up to Miriam to stop it. It's a decent backstory, if not terribly original, but unfortunately the game's few cutscenes and dialogue sequences do little to elevate the story. You'll encounter a handful of side characters along your journey but none of them feels particularly well developed, even accounting for a few twists and turns in the plot. It's a bit of a shame that this opportunity to branch out from Castlevania lore into original gothic-horror storytelling wasn't used to more interesting ends. Ritual of the Night is a Metroidvania game, meaning it generally takes place in a single location—in this case, a castle crawling with demons—and your progress is limited by power-ups gained from defeating bosses. You might wander through the castle and notice a health upgrade on a high ledge, but with Miriam's default jumping ability it's out of reach for the moment. Metroidvanias are all about exploration and making mental notes of where to return once you're better equipped (Ritual of the Night also lets you make handy marks on the in-game map to remind yourself to return later). It's an addictive gameplay formula that Bloodstained handles well. The environments are diverse, there's an exciting sense of discovery as you inch forward into each monster-filled room, and a satisfying tension when your health is running low and you're desperately searching for the next save room. Exploring and discovering what to do next is a blast, but Ritual of the Night may go a little too extreme with how difficult this can be at times. Specifically, there are a few instances where the game gives so little direction or hint while requiring a very specific solution that it is extremely difficult to solve organically. One of the worst moments involves an item that is randomly dropped from a specific enemy but is required to progress. At that point, progression is just a little too obscure, and ends up being a little obnoxious. Ritual of the Night is no stranger to challenge in general, though. Combat can be tough early on when you're still learning the ropes of the game, especially given how slow Miriam's movements and attacks feel, compared to similar side-scrolling action games. You can't swing wildly lest you leave yourself open to enemy attacks, and monsters generally take several hits to go down. The first couple hours can be extremely challenging, especially the boss fights, though gradually the difficulty mellows out, partially due to the wide range of combat options at your disposal. In addition to a variety of weapon types (swords, whips, spears, etc.), Miriam can equip shards collected from monsters which essentially act as spells. There are dozens of shards in the game, giving you free rein to customize your approach to combat—you can even save equipment set-ups to quickly switch from one to another, perhaps to best handle different types of enemies. It probably won't take you long to find a preferred fighting style and sticking with it for the rest of the game, but the opportunities for customization are still excellent and opens the door for plenty of replay value. The process for unlocking new equipment or shards can be a little tediously haphazard, though. Aside from getting random item drops from defeated demons, you can also craft weapons and armor at your base of operations. Crafting has the same issue of dealing with random drops since you're at the mercy of chance when it comes to whether or not you'll have the materials needed to craft items. It can be a tedious process if you're really trying to craft a specific item, but as with so many crafting systems it might be better to not sweat over it too much and simply play normally. The game's presentation is a real mixed bag of quality. The art style is decent enough, even if it seems to rely a little heavily on paths Castlevania already forged (though granted there are only so many permutations of 18th century gothic horror). There are some fun demon designs, and overall the colorful art style is charming. The technical quality of the graphics, though, leaves quite a lot to be desired. For one thing everything in Ritual of the Night is just kind of blurry—low resolution plagues not only the gameplay but character portraits during dialogue and cutscenes. The technical quality doesn't seem to be doing the art design justice at all. Secondly and more egregiously, the game runs pretty poorly on the Switch. You'll notice slowdown when there's a lot of movement on screen, significant loading times even when just moving from one room to another, and possibly even random crashing (which is especially problematic in a game with no autosave feature). Patches have been promised by the developer but as of writing this review the quality of the graphics is disappointing. The soundtrack, however, is pretty consistently excellent. There's no mistaking the Castlevania influence on the music, but when that style nails the mix of action-oriented gameplay and gothic-horror setting so well, it's hard to find any faults with it. The voice acting isn't bad either, but the soundtrack is far and away the highlight of the game's presentation. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a faithful recreation of the Metroidvania era of Castlevania games, even if some of its gameplay conventions feel a little too dated now. Still, Castlevania fans will be more than satisfied with the blend of combat and exploration that challenges the player to survive until the next save room. The game's presentation is an irrefutable issue with this Switch edition of the game though, one that may justifiably leave gamers wary of investing in this version, or at least warrant waiting for some thorough patches and updates to the game's visual stability. Rating: 7 out of 10 Rituals
  4. Thanks to a massively successful Kickstarter campaign, Castlevania fans get not one but two games that draw upon the classic action gameplay that the series is known for. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon was developed by Inti Creates as an homage to the early days of Castlevania, with particular emphasis on Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse. The end result is a satisfying blend of classic action-platformer mechanics with thankfully a few modern conveniences thrown in. You play as Zangetsu, a swordsman who was cursed by demons and has vowed to destroy any demons he can find—pretty standard set-up for a classic 80s action game. Despite that vow though Zangetsu allies himself with several demons over the course of the game, but what's most interesting is that you can reach different endings depending on how you interact with those demons (this is only accessible after your first playthrough). The story still isn't particularly deep but the different endings add a nice bit if replay value, making Curse of the Moon a decent introduction to the world of Bloodstained. The gameplay truly feels like it was lifted straight out of a NES title. In classic side-scrolling fashion your goal is to reach the end of the level and defeat the boss, but there are plenty of monsters blocking your path as well as some light platforming challenges. Curse of the Moon should feel instantly familiar to Castlevania fans—the game even retains some of the frustrations of old school gaming, such as getting knocked back when hit or the incredibly stiff controls that can make jumping feel frustratingly clumsy. The good news, though, is that Curse of the Moon features a Casual mode that eliminates the knockback and gives you infinite lives, which is useful even if you're an experienced player since it gives you chance to run through the game and acquaint yourself with the mechanics. But even on Veteran mode (the default mode that replicates classic Castlevania mechanics) the game never gets too frustrating. You'll definitely suffer through some cheap deaths, but it's not too hard to rack up a healthy supply of extra lives. Best of all though, you can change the difficulty setting any time you reload a save file to get just the right challenge balance for you. It helps that you eventually have four playable characters that you can swap among at any moment, and you won't lose a life until every character is dead (dying does send you back to the last checkpoint though, and there's no way to revive a character aside from completing the level or killing every character). Having four playable characters also does wonders for making the gameplay feel engaging. Each character has unique abilities that help make monster slaying a little more varied, plus you'll find alternate paths through each level thanks to each character's unique skills. For example, the first ally you encounter, Miriam, has a whip for longer reach and can slide through small areas. Once you have all four it's pretty satisfying to swap among them to deal with any given obstacle, or to challenge yourself by taking on enemies in different ways. Another feature that helps alleviate some of the "Nintendo Hard" feeling is permanent upgrades, such as expanding your maximum health, sub-weapon ammo, or even boosts to offense/defense. Finding these upgrades always requires a bit of exploration and using characters' unique skills, but they're always worth hunting down. Curse of the Moon is definitely not a long game—it's possible to finish the game in under two hours—but what it lacks in length it makes up for in replay value. There are the two difficulty settings to test your skills, the branching paths that reward exploration (and require keeping your characters alive), and there are multiple game modes that offer slight differences to the gameplay and story. All told, there's a decent amount of content to satisfy Castlevania fans. It wouldn't be a retro revival without recreating the classic look and sound of a NES game. The pixel art is fantastic (definitely more elaborate than your average NES title) and the music captures just the right sense of catchy, slightly repetitive chiptune audio. It may not be the smoothest pixel art or animation out there today, but Curse of the Moon is all about reviving a sense of 80s Castlevania games, and in that regard the presentation nails it. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a spot on recreation of familiar Castlevania mechanics, plus a few thankfully more forgiving features such as Casual mode. The level design and challenges aren't necessarily breaking any new ground in the action-platformer genre, but that was never really the intent with the game in the first place. This is a game for Castlevania fans, and those fans will love running through a new dark and spooky adventure and putting their old school skills to the test. Rating: 8 out of 10 Curses
  5. Ever since the release of Awakening and its surprise surge in popularity, the Fire Emblem series has gone from a dying, niche franchise for Nintendo to one of their biggest names (if Smash Bros. representation is anything to go by). As a huge Fire Emblem fan though I'm not complaining! With the latest release in the series, Nintendo had the challenge of maintaining that momentum by delivering the trademark strategy gameplay of the series, alongside fresh new features, in a format that would be just as engaging on-the-go as it is on a TV screen. Considering Fire Emblem hasn't had a home console release in over ten years, there were some high expectations here. But with its wealth of characters to love and updated gameplay mechanics, Fire Emblem: Three Houses makes the grade. The game gets its subtitle from the three school houses at the prestigious Officers Academy at Garreg Mach, a monastery where nobles and other warriors from the three main regions of the continent are trained in the art of war. As the game begins, our protagonist is a wandering mercenary who is somewhat pressed into becoming a professor at Garreg Mach after rescuing three students from bandits. The school setting might seem just a tiny bit silly compared to past Fire Emblem games that focus on epic wars, but as you might expect there are some nefarious goings-on at Garreg Mach and you'll eventually be steeped in a much more dramatic conflict. The real benefit of the school setting is immediately giving you a large roster of characters to get to know, each of which has their own charming quirks as well as much more depth than they may seem at first. It feels like support conversations have become increasingly a focus of Fire Emblem games, and Three Houses is no exception. Although the central conflicts of the game are really only based around a handful of characters, there's something addictive about uncovering each character's story through their support conversations. It's easy to get invested in these characters, even if it's initially somewhat overwhelming to interact with so many, and the mysterious aspects of the plot keep you well engaged, culminating in the second half of the game when the stakes are much higher. You're also given the choice of leading one of the three houses, which impacts the story via branching paths. The downside is that completing one path may not answer all of your questions about what is really going on at Garreg Mach, but in the end that's just a good excuse to replay the game and focus on a different path and different group of students. The gameplay of Three Houses is more or less divided into two halves. In one, you have the familiar strategy RPG battles that involve moving units around a grid-based battlefield. The other half of the game is being a professor at the monastery—you tutor your students individually to level up their weapon skills, chat with them between battles, and interact via various events such as sharing a meal together to boost their motivation in class. Early on, this monastery business can seem overwhelming. There's actually quite a lot you can do at the monastery, though your time to do it is limited at first (you'll gradually unlock more activity points), and most of all it is incredibly time consuming to walk around Garreg Mach, talking to students and just generally investing in their individual stories. The balance between battles and monastery business gets better as you progress—you'll also learn how best to spend your time, perhaps focusing only on specific students—but Three Houses still does feel a little bloated by content that is mostly secondary to the core strategy gameplay. Fire Emblem Fates had a somewhat similiar (though far simpler) version of this with My Castle, and between the two, Three Houses feels a bit overboard. The good news though is that if you're truly not enjoying your time at the monastery you can choose to skip through it pretty quickly. Obviously you'll miss out on features that do actually impact battles—not experience points but other bonuses like weapon proficiency—but sometimes it helps to just speed things along. Much of the combat system feels like a natural evolution of the Fire Emblem franchise's progression since Awakening. Not surprisingly there is once again a big focus on abilities which characters can learn to grant helpful boosts, though this time abilities don't feel quite as overwhelmingly powerful. That's a good thing, though—you won't feel as bad for skipping over certain abilities or just letting your characters grow naturally without fastidiously tracking their progress. Three Houses also introduces a few new combat tools in your arsenal. First are combat arts which were actually first seen in Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia and return as a more accessible option in battle. Instead of being tied to a specific weapon, characters learn arts as they increase proficiency with a weapon type (swords, lances, axes, bows, and gauntlets), and learned arts can be used in battle. Arts provide some sort of attack bonuses—increased damage, increased accuracy, increased damage against flying units, etc.—at the cost of wearing down your weapon's durability more quickly. Early on, combat arts are a valuable bonus, since even another point of damage can make a huge difference. They get somewhat less useful as the game progresses, since your characters eventually become strong enough with their standard attacks that combat arts can be less effective since you generally can't double attack with them. Still, they're another handy tool when plotting your next attack. Another significant addition is the battalion system, which allows you to assign a group of generic allies to each unit in your party. Battalions add passive stat boosts which can be huge, plus they allow units to use Gambits which, much like combat arts, are another attack option. Depending on which Gambit you're using they can be incredibly powerful, especially because many inflict special effects, such as stunning an enemy so it can't move, and Gambits never trigger a counter attack. Gambits are quite limited in use, and should your battalion fall in combat you'll have to replenish them between battles, but even so battalions are far too useful to ignore (and also quite obnoxious when enemies use them—no one likes to be denied a counter attack!). On the other hand, if battalions seem to be making the game too easy for you, you can always ignore them. In many ways Three Houses lets you customize the difficulty of the action by either using or ignoring certain features. And Fire Emblem veterans may want to take that advice to heart, since Three Houses is, overall, fairly easy for a strategy RPG. It's not just the new, powerful attacks at your disposal in the forms of combat arts and Gambits. Part of it may be due to the lack of a weapons triangle, the rock-paper-scissors system that has defined most titles in the Fire Emblem franchise. It's a shame to lose that element of strategy, since now it really doesn't matter too much if a unit only carries one type of weapon, nor do you have to be too worried about sending an axe user against a group of swordsmen (though some abilities will still affect your accuracy and chance to dodge depending on your weapon type). There's a layer of strategy lost without the weapons triangle, which makes it much easier to somewhat brute force your way through the game. On the other hand though, not worrying about weapon advantages does give you more freedom in how you build your characters and your army as a whole. You can truly use whichever characters you like regardless of the situation, which is convenient in its own way. And finally, Three Houses brings back Mila's Turnwheel from Shadows of Valentia—this time it's called Divine Pulse—which allows you to rewind time to correct mistakes in battle. Divine Pulse is, perhaps, a little too forgiving on the player, especially since you get so many uses per battle, but it does make the game much more accessible to inexperienced tacticians, and occasionally deaths in battle come down to truly bad luck rather than poor planning, and in those instances Divine Pulse is a godsend. Like most Fire Emblem games, Three Houses is by no means short. Playing through the game just once can last a good 45 hours or more, though potentially less if you really ignore monastery features. Most of all though the game truly is a time sink—in a good way. There are so many little things to fiddle with between battles: monitoring characters' study growths, monastery tasks, just chatting with students. 45 hours may seem like a lot but it really does fly by. And since there are three paths, there's inherently plenty of replay value, even for a Fire Emblem game. Three Houses also features a New Game Plus which allows you to carry over certain bonuses from one playthrough to the next, which can be hugely helpful for alleviating some of the early game grind at the monastery. Of course, even with the help of those bonuses, Three Houses is a lengthy, addictive experience. For its return to the TV screen, the developers have given this Fire Emblem game a cel-shaded art style, which is pretty snazzy when paired with the sort of anime character design that basically makes everyone pretty. Really though, there are a lot of charming character designs (and a few questionable ones), and besides, battles don't really need anything more than fairly basic graphics. It is a little disappointing that the framerate doesn't always seem up the task of keeping up with the game, but this never actually interferes with the gameplay, it's just a small visual annoyance. The soundtrack, meanwhile, has a lot of great, epic-sounding tracks, though overall there isn't as much variety as I'd like, and few songs truly stand out. The voice acting is particularly well done though, which is impressive given the huge amount of dialogue that has been recorded for the game. With so many conversations it's tempting to fast-forward through them as quickly as possible by simply reading the text on screen, but it'd be a shame to miss out on the personality of the voice work. With Fire Emblem: Three Houses, the franchise continues down a more character-driven story path, as well as a gameplay system that seems to get more and more lenient with each new release. Fire Emblem purists may sniff at the balance between monastery gameplay and actual battles, but once you're in the thick of things—teaching your students, bonding with them, raising their skills as well as your own, and of course actually battling—it's easy to become completely addicted to the cyclical nature of the game's structure. After taking so long to return to a home console instead of a handheld, Fire Emblem: Three Houses feels suitably massive, engaging, and charming. Rating: 9 out of 10 Students
  6. Marvel has been inescapable at the movie theater for the past several years, so it's a little surprising that it took this long for another entry in the co-op franchise Marvel Ultimate Alliance to grace our game systems. Though with the cinematic universe's story of Thanos and the Infinity Stones recently wrapped up, it may also be the perfect time to revisit the action-packed superhero collaboration of this series and highlight recent fan-favorites like the Guardians of the Galaxy. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order sees heroes teaming up to smash their way through hordes of enemies and iconic supervillains across the universe with an emphasis on co-op gameplay, whether locally or online. There are some undeniable rough edges to the experience, but superhero fans and action game fans will love the breadth of the roster. The story begins with the Guardians of the Galaxy who stumble upon a Kree warship that is hiding the six Infinity Stones from Thanos and his Black Order. After a short scuffle the Guardians are teleported to Earth and the stones are scattered, leading to a team-up with Earth's Mightiest Heroes in order to recover the stones before Thanos—or any other villain—collects them all. The overarching story is fairly basic and straight-forward (get the powerful artifacts before the bad guys can), but there's a lot of personality and charm in seeing all of these superheroes meet and work together, much like the recent Avengers movies. In fact it's really a shame there isn't more contextual dialogue depending on which characters you're using, since it would be hilarious to see how certain characters interact, but given the huge roster size it'd be a Herculean task to plan for every possible pairing. In the end the story is really just a chance to see a quick glimpse of the characters and locations we've come to know and love from the comics, films, and TV shows, and that might be enough for such a combat-focused game. Like the previous games in the series, The Black Order lets you craft a team of four superheroes to punch, kick, and zap your way through crowds of basic enemies and, more importantly, tackle powerful supervillains. You start with just the Guardians but soon enough you'll have your pick of iconic heroes with more added as you progress through the story. The game doesn't get too obscure with its hero selection so if you've generally kept up with the recent films and shows you should recognize almost everyone, plus the game never forces you to use certain characters so you're free to make whatever odd pairings you like. You'll get bonuses depending on what characters you use (e.g. using all X-Men characters grants a bonus, or using all characters that specialize in raw strength like Hulk, Thor, and Luke Cage), but while the bonuses help you don't need to feel beholden to them. Characters can also execute Synergy attacks by combining their special attacks into a more powerful strike, but again, unless you're focused on creating the most ideal team possible for the hardest challenges of the game, there's enough variety to Synergy attacks that you're free to simply use the characters you enjoy the most and not pore over the minutiae. The huge roster does end up feeling like a bit of a double-edged sword, though. You can swap characters at any checkpoint and early on it's tempting to do so, but the characters you use gain experience points and power-up while unused heroes gain nothing. This means that swapping too much might put you at a disadvantage, which becomes pretty severe at times—there are a couple of bosses that are serious and surprising difficulty spikes, and using underleveled characters only makes things harder. The good news of course is that you can always level up other characters by replaying stages or tackling optional challenges, but if your goal is to make progress through the story you're better off maintaining a few particularly powerful heroes. For all of its options in team composition, The Black Order suffers a bit from simple mindless repetition. Even with so many heroes, each with four special attacks, the beat-em-up action is undeniably repetitive—not to an unenjoyable degree, but after an hour or so of playing you'll know what's in store for the remaining 12 hours of the story, and for the countless hours that can be spent on optional challenges. It's fun to see the likes of Spider-Gwen, Black Panther, and Daredevil square off against Thanos, but there really aren't any gameplay surprises to enjoy throughout the game. Still, a bit of mindless action isn't all bad, especially if you can enjoy it with friends. The Black Order supports local co-op (on the same Switch or local communication between multiple systems) as well as online co-op. The online system isn't too bad but as you might expect the lack of convenient communication options is a bit of a downer. The game never calls for anything particularly elaborate as far as team coordination is concerned—Synergy attacks have a clear on-screen prompt—but planning what to do next in the lobby before hopping into the game would be hugely helpful. Local co-op has the benefit of personal communication but seems to suffer from some bizarre camera issues. There's no split-screen so players need to stay near each other which can be difficult when enemies are spread out, but you may also encounter some camera glitches where the view gets stuck in a corner, obscuring the action. In fact even when playing solo the game's camera controls leave something to be desired. Even when you're facing down dozens of Hand ninjas as superpowered energy blasts are going off left and right, the visuals run pretty well on the Switch. The tradeoff is perhaps slightly less detailed character models, but while you're in the thick of things the art style is fine. The only slight problem with the visuals is that it can be hard to keep track of where you are on the screen sometimes, whether it's because you're behind a particularly large boss or because Daredevil seems to wear the exact same shade of red as the aforementioned ninjas. The soundtrack and voice work, meanwhile, are solid, if not particularly notable. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order doesn't shake up any gameplay features we haven't seen in similar multiplayer-focused action games, nor is it telling a wholly original comic book story. Those aren't the reasons anyone is playing this game, though. They're playing it to assemble their favorite heroes to team up and beat down on iconic Marvel villains, and in the end the pure charm and love of these characters is enough to give the camera issues and repetition a pass, especially if you enjoy the challenge of leveling up every single hero. Give it a try with some friends and it's easy to burn an entire afternoon with Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Rating: 4 out of 6 Infinity Stones (or 7 out of 10 Heroes)
  7. The God Eater franchise officially debuts on a Nintendo system with God Eater 3, the latest entry in the flashy action series that pits you against monstrous creatures either solo or with friends. Short, fast-paced missions may make it a natural fit for the Switch's design philosophy that is built around quick pick-up-and-play sessions, but the core of God Eater 3 leaves something to be desired. In a world ravaged by monsters known as Aragami, only God Eaters have the abilities and weapons to fight back for the sake of humanity. An even smaller subset of warriors, called Adaptive God Eaters (AGEs), are able to withstand the devastating conditions of the Ashlands and battle the new, more ferocious Aragami that dwell within. However, AGEs are feared and exploited for their power, and so begins the story of God Eater 3 as a group of AGEs are kept essentially as slave labor to battle monsters. The game certainly establishes an interesting setting, but one can't help but feel like they're always playing catch-up with the story. For one thing this is the third game in the series (not including expansions and side games) but God Eater 3 makes no effort to familiarize the player with the universe, which Nintendo fans might not be aware of. Then there's the whole concept of AGEs and more powerful ash Aragami that is intriguing but never properly explored within the main story and often leaves the player with answered questions. Instead the plot focuses on the predictable story beats of young heroes banding together to fight monsters as well as human oppressors. It's a shame that the unique setting and premise aren't put to better use. The gameplay formula of the God Eater series should be instantly familiar to Monster Hunter fans: you have a wide selection of weapons to craft and upgrade by using materials collected by defeating Aragami during missions. Missions take place in enclosed locations and pit you against one or more deadly Aragami, though you have AI helpers in story mode (and can connect with players locally or online for multiplayer missions). You have a limited number of consumables (such as healing items) that you can bring along on a mission, so the focus is really in playing strategically and learning each Aragami's patterns and tells in order to avoid taking too much damage. What makes God Eater unique is the much faster paced combat, which includes flashier attacks, particularly Burst Arts which can be charged by "devouring" Aragami with a powerful bite attack. You still need to play thoughtfully, but rather than picking your moment to strike you have a lot more freedom to dive in, slash away, and smoothly dodge back when the Aragami starts attacking. Every weapon is also able to transform between a melee form and a ranged gun as well as a shield, so you're well equipped to handle basically anything an Aragami might throw at you. It's surprising, then, that the faster and flashier gameplay is somehow less engaging than Monster Hunter. Part of it is that, overall, God Eater 3 is a much easier experience. Aside from healing items there are also healing springs scattered throughout each level, and your AI companions are able to heal you as well. The faster attacks means you can quickly devolve into button mashing without many negative repercussions since you can quickly bring your health back up anyway. Sometimes it feels like button mashing is simply the way to go since the faster pace makes it much harder to keep track of what is happening in the battle—also the game's camera is woefully inadequate at times as it either gets stuck in a corner, locking you into one view, or simply doesn't track the fast movements of the Aragami smoothly enough. Using target lock-on is particularly frustrating since it just doesn't seem to keep up with the action, and it becomes way too easy to shift your lock-on to a different creature in the heat of battle. Mashing your way through these battles ends up being totally viable and more than a little boring in long play sessions. God Eater 3's gameplay loop of fighting Aragami, collecting resources, crafting gear, and doing it all again just doesn't have the same charm as similar games, possibly because elements of this loop are even more grindy than usual since you not only have to collect materials but blueprints for new weapons as well. The resulting gameplay loop feels particularly tedious and a bit mindless at times. Even if there is a ton of content to pursue in God Eater 3, not a lot of it is particularly rewarding. Part of what makes button mashing in God Eater 3 so tempting is just the complexity of the controls. With melee attacks, gun attacks, and different dodge/block/dash actions, there's simply a lot going on and there's quite a bit to learn when you first start. A lot of it just takes some practice but some of the button mapping could have used some fine tuning. If the gameplay does click for you you'll at least be treated to hours and hours of content in God Eater 3. Just rushing through the story missions should still last a good fifteen hours or so, and then there are optional missions, different weapons to craft and experiment with, and multiplayer. The bad news is that the online community is basically non-existent at the moment, so don't count on finding random players to team up with. Coordinate with friends or resign yourself to playing solo for now. The Aragami designs are a lot like the gameplay itself: flashy and seemingly stylish but in the end a little too repetitive. Many of the monsters have variants that you'll encounter over the course of the game, and by the end the designs just kind of blend together in your mind without much personality to make them memorable or exciting. The character design isn't much better—these are the kinds of anime characters we've seen thousands of times, and without interesting personalities in the writing to help flesh them out, they're totally forgettable. The voice work falls prey to the same issue—the acting is decent but the flat dialogue doesn't give any of the characters a chance to shine. God Eater 3 has a ton of content served up with fast-paced, flashy action gameplay, but the loop of fighting Aragami, collecting materials, and crafting new weapons never feels quite as satisfying as other games. Despite a variety of attacks and approaches the combat system isn't particularly rewarding, and devolves into repetitive action far too quickly for a game that is built upon replay value. The story is a missed opportunity, while the presentation fails to give these beasts the kinds of personalities that make battles memorable. God Eater 3 is a decent action game, but never manages to be more than that. Rating: 7 out of 10 Gods
  8. The OPUS Collection brings together indie developer SIGONO's two niche story-driven games, OPUS: The Day We Found Earth and OPUS: Rocket of Whispers. With an emphasis on emotional storytelling over gameplay, each game features different characters and gameplay mechanics to craft unique sci-fi adventures. Though charming in their own ways, this physical collection does seem a bit harsh on the wallet compared to downloading the games individually. In OPUS: The Day We Found Earth, you play as Emeth, a robot who is assisting two scientists aboard a remote space station. Set millions of years in the future, the game posits a space-faring society that has advanced so far beyond its earthly origins that it has literally forgotten where Earth is. With the aid of a powerful telescope, Emeth must scan the universe to find the forgotten planet. It's an intriguing set-up for a story, and although the writing isn't quite top quality there's certainly an emotional resonance in this short game about a loyal robot. The game doesn't necessarily make the most of its premise, but it does manage to tell a sweet, heartfelt story about humanity through literally inhuman characters. It's all too brief but The Day We Found Earth manages to tell an engaging little sci-fi story. Aside from the very short, basic exploration that you do inside the space station, the gameplay here is entirely focused around examining space to locate the forgotten planet. Thankfully you don't have to examine every single celestial body though. Early on you're given specific coordinates of where to look, and gradually the clues get more obscure—for example you might not know the exact coordinates, but you'll know the general sector of where to find the next planet for examination. It's a neat gameplay concept that sadly gets pretty dull extremely quickly. It really feels like something that would normally be a side mission in a larger game, so building an entire game around it is a bit of a tall order. It is perhaps appropriate that the game is so short then, so that the gameplay doesn't overstay its welcome any more than it already does. It takes barely two hours to finish the game, and although there are a handful of side quests you can take on—which involve identifying other objects in space aside from Earth, such as stars or supernovae—there simply isn't much content in The Day We Found Earth. The bright side though is that the game's digital price is more than fair at a low $5. The game's visuals are incredibly simple since there are only a couple of characters and the bulk of the game involves looking at the stars, but even with such a limited amount of art the developers have put some charming personality into Emeth and the station. And even though it isn't rendered in particularly elaborate, detailed models, staring into space is pretty cool. The music is much the same—there's nothing too elaborate here, but the light, somber soundtrack suits the gameplay just fine. OPUS: The Day We Found Earth may be a short game with pretty basic gameplay elements, but the story still manages to present a charming, emotional experience. It won't appeal to everyone, but players looking for something simple and light should appreciate stargazing with Emeth. Opus: Rocket of Whispers changes things up. Rather than being a direct sequel to The Day We Found Earth, it's more like the two games exist in the same universe. This time the story is confined to a single planet where the populace traditionally launches rockets into space to carry the spirits of the departed into the stars. But after a devastating plague nearly all of humanity has been wiped out, leaving behind John who is haunted by the restless ghosts of the dead. One day he's shocked to meet another survivor named Fei who claims to be a Witch (a religious figure) who was frozen in cryostasis before the plague. Now the two must work together to build a functional rocket and let the spirits of the dead rest in peace. Once again players are treated to a unique sci-fi story that offers up a bit of hope in an otherwise fairly bleak setting. And like the previous game the writing may not necessarily be of the highest caliber, but the emotional resonance is there, from the scattered remains of humanity that John sifts through while looking for rocket parts to Fei's sense of guilt and responsibility over the whole situation. The pair's rocky relationship isn't anything that hasn't been seen plenty of times before in similar odd couple pairings, but still, the game has a knack for pulling on your heartstrings by the end. The gameplay is also totally different in Rocket of Whispers. This time it's more of a pseudo-survivalist game—each day in the game John sets out to collect parts for the rocket, and in order to explore further you need to gradually find and craft equipment that will let you reach farther on this desolate, snowy planet. I say "pseudo-survivalist" though because you never have to actually collect food, you only need to build a weapon one time late in the game, and you can even fast-travel back to your base of operations when night falls, so surviving isn't really a challenge in Rocket of Whispers. In fact there are very few opportunities to even get hurt, and not only can you take several hits before going down, but resting at your base at the end of the day recovers you completely. Although you don't have to forage for food there are still a lot of optional items you can recover and craft at your base, all of which relate to the people that once lived here and their memories/remains. It's a nice way to pad out the game's length a little bit, especially because the main objectives are highly linear (you can't really discover key items by just exploring, there's usually a story related obstacle in your path) though having to return to base to craft is a little annoying when it's just a simple side quest like this. Many of these optional items aren't particularly interesting either—it's a shame these side stories aren't more engaging. Like its predecessor, Rocket of Whispers has a very cute, simple art style. This game enjoys a slightly more detailed environment at your base camp, but while exploring the graphics are notably less interesting. With an overhead perspective and a snowy, derelict environment the visuals grow old quickly with very little variety. The frame rate is also, oddly enough, a little choppy while exploring which is surprising given the relative simplicity of the graphics. The soundtrack is also just like the first game: somber and atmospheric, though a little repetitive as well. OPUS: Rocket of Whispers is something like a meeting point between a visual novel and a survival game—instead of rooting through debris to find items to help you keep going, you find mementos and memories of the dead, fleshing out the hopelessness of the situation. Once again it's an emotional journey for the player, and once again the gameplay feels perhaps a little too simple, though at least Rocket of Whispers is a longer experience at around four or five hours to finish. It is undeniably a unique gaming experience though, suited to fans of slow-paced, thoughtful games. Individually, the two OPUS games are charming, heartfelt stories about humanity framed in an intriguing sci-fi universe. The gameplay is perhaps too shallow to truly create lasting appeal, but as short pseudo-visual-novel experiences there's an emotional resonance to them. The physical bundle is undoubtedly overpriced though, even with the bonus addition of a soundtrack download, which is really just the unfortunate reality of releasing physical versions of games on the Switch. Players interested in a slow-paced, reflective game experience ought to give OPUS: The Day We Found Earth and OPUS: Rocket of Whispers a try, but the physical edition will only appeal to the most die-hard collectors. Ratings: OPUS: The Day We Found Earth: 6 out of 10 Planets OPUS: Rocket of Whispers: 7 out of 10 Rockets OPUS Collection: 5 out of 10 Stars
  9. Dodge the obstacles and complete the level as quickly as possible. It doesn't get much more classic than that in video game design, but developer PixelNAUTS Games has managed to give that premise a fresh spin with LOST ORBIT: Terminal Velocity. Set in the ominous solitude of space, one man's quest for survival turns into a fast-paced, score-chasing adventure, one where dodging hazards with split-second precision proves intense and engaging. You play as Harrison, an astronaut maintenance worker who becomes stranded in deep space when his ship is damaged. Using only the boosters on his suit, he has to careen past deadly asteroids and space debris to make it back to civilization with the help of an AI drone. The main game gets a little philosophical about the nature of humanity and perseverance (through the eyes of a mechanical drone) while the new content for Terminal Velocity takes a different track and is much more silly and comical. The sci-fi ponderings are a little more interesting while the comical stuff feels better suited to the game's action, but ultimately Terminal Velocity might be at its best when there's no dialogue at all and you're just focused on survival. The bottom line of the gameplay is perfectly simple: dodge whatever obstacles are in your path to reach the end of the level. Naturally Terminal Velocity has a lot more going for it than just that, though. For one thing the controls aren't perfectly precise—by design. You have to be extremely careful about adjusting your position slightly since it is extremely easy to overcorrect and end up hurtling off in the wrong direction. To keep things interesting throughout the adventure, even after you've mastered the controls, Terminal Velocity gives you rank on your performance in each level, based on the time you took, number of deaths, and whether you grabbed all of the collectible Obtainium in the level (more on that later). You have to play pretty perfectly to earn the highest platinum ranking by taking on risks to maintain speed, but it gives players a nice incentive to push their skills. You can finish the game by playing extremely carefully and slowly, but to really master the game you've got to keep your boosters at maximum from start to finish, narrowly dodging hazards left and right. There are also a good number of unique obstacles that keep the gameplay feeling fresh over the short length of the campaign. You're able to pass through small planets that might give you a speed boost or slow you down to adjust your positioning, or you might leap through wormholes to zip around the screen. There's enough variety that the gameplay stays engaging from one level to the next. You're also able to upgrade your abilities with the Obtainium you've collected, which makes for a nice sense of progression while also helping you perfect your skills with helpful bonuses. There aren't many upgrades to unlock and they aren't so varied that they truly change the way you play the game, but there's still something satisfying about continuously upgrading your boosters to breakneck speeds. A few aspects of the game can feel frustrating though. It's particularly hard to see and react to asteroids that come in from the sides of the screen, plus the game uses a wraparound screen (i.e. if you go off the left side of the screen you'll end up on the right side of the screen) which can be extremely disorienting. There is a small indicator of where you'll end up on the other side of the screen but this small flashing light looks so similar to the HUD that it really doesn't stand out well. Thankfully there are frequent checkpoints though so even if you do end up dying a lot in one area you won't lose too much progress. The Terminal Velocity edition of LOST ORBIT also adds entirely new levels in the epilogue which add a real game-changer: a drill that lets you break through asteroids in your path. It significantly alters the way you approach obstacles in the epilogue and serves as a perfect safety net that allows you to correct minor mistakes (though of course the epilogue also throws plenty of obstacles at you that can't be drilled through). The culmination of the epilogue levels is the most unique and at times frustrating level in the game, where you have to clear out all of the asteroids in your path by drilling through them. It's a clever inversion of the main gameplay mechanics though it really highlights how the controls are extremely unforgiving to small mistakes. The game's presentation isn't particularly flashy, but when it comes to speeding past obstacles where even one minor mistake will kill you, all you really need from the game is smooth clarity, which the game manages well. The epilogue adds some cartoonish character portraits to complement the more comical dialogue, but in both cases less probably would have been more. The game also features a pretty solid soundtrack, but there are two caveats here. For one, there aren't enough unique tracks—the songs that are in the game are great, but a little variety would have helped. Secondly, the drone's voice acted dialogue causes the background music to be turned down, which is a shame. The voice work is fine but the music is much more engaging, especially when you're just in the zone with the obstacle-dodging action. LOST ORBIT: Terminal Velocity offers a solid if brief take on the classic "avoid the obstacles" video game structure. Clever hazards, mechanics, and upgrade features help keep the fast-paced action engaging, though the real meat of the game comes from your interest in earning a perfect platinum medal on each level. Time trial fiends will love perfecting their techniques to get through the game's challenges unscathed, but anyone less invested in score-chasing might not gravitate toward Terminal Velocity. Rating: 7 out of 10 Asteroids Review code provided by publisher LOST ORBIT: Terminal Velocity is now available on the Switch eShop for $9.99.
  10. Some games, especially indie creations, suffer from having too broad of a scope and trying to do too many things at once. Streets of Rogue, from developer Matt Dabrowski and publisher tinyBuild Games, somehow manages to avoid those pitfalls while still packing an impressive amount of content into a fast-paced rogue-lite. Whether you're playing as a soldier and go in guns-blazing or try to play a more sneaky character class, Streets of Rogue offers up a ton of variety to make every playthrough engaging. In a city of rampant inequality (as well as a surprising number of supernatural hazards, including vampires, zombies, and werewolves), a group of freedom fighters band together as a resistance against the mayor's tyrannical rule. That sets the stage for Streets of Rogue, but storytelling isn't really a priority here—dropping the player into a procedurally generated sandbox to play in is the real focus of the game. It's a shame too since when you do get a bit of dialogue it's usually pretty funny, but players will just have to be content with the endless possibilities of destruction available in the gameplay. Your goal throughout the game is to reach the Mayor's Village by first starting out in the slums and working your way up through the city, which in gameplay terms means fifteen procedurally generated levels. Each level has one or more missions you need to complete to progress, plus optional side missions, plus an overarching bonus mission depending on your character (e.g. the soldier needs to destroy power generators on every level). And since the layout of the map is different every time you play, the challenge is more in learning how to master the fundamental gameplay structure rather than memorizing paths or patterns. Although there is a short tutorial, the game doesn't do any hand-holding—like most rogue-lites, trial and error is the key to progress in Streets of Rogue. It's pretty overwhelming on your first attempt or two, but it helps to stick with one character at first while you learn the basics (the soldier is particularly nice since he starts with strong weapons and has health regeneration). Like any good rogue-lite it's not just the randomly generated levels that keep things interesting, it's the item selection. There's a wide variety of items to find, purchase, or earn as a reward for completing missions, and they all help you interact with the game's world in unique ways. You may want to load up your character with guns and grenades in order to blast your way through missions, or you might stock up on lockpicks and window cutters to sneak into buildings covertly. Streets of Rogue finds a satisfying balance of letting players approach missions in different ways without completely overwhelming them. After a few playthroughs you'll have a good understanding of how best to use each item and whether or not they mesh with your current strategies, and at that point it becomes super addictive to try to make the most out of the items you find. And it's not just items that are going to make your playthroughs unique. Completing missions rewards you with experience points, and when you level up you're able to select a new trait which adds a passive effect or bonus, such as making it harder for people to see you when you're doing something illegal or increasing your melee damage. Even moreso than items these traits have a huge impact on how you progress, and like any rogue-lite there's a degree of luck involved—a powerful trait unlocked early in the game can make things significantly easier on you. There's a wide variety of traits that can be unlocked throughout the game and the good news is that you can toggle whether or not they show up in your current playthrough, which adds a helpful degree of customization and allows you to avoid traits that are less useful to your current character. What truly makes Streets of Rogue stand out and helps make it so replayable is the variety of approaches you can take, which is generally dictated by your character class. For example, the soldier may be adept at surviving gun fights, but a physically weak character like the hacker has to rely upon more crafty strategies. Then there are characters like the bartender who are not built for combat or espionage at all, but excel at winning over ally NPCs to help complete missions or occasionally do your dirty work for you. In a way these non-combat classes are the "expert mode" of Streets of Rogue, since you have to have a good understanding of how the game's AI interacts between characters to play them effectively, but they represent an entirely different approach to the game which is just as much fun to explore as blowing up hostile characters as the soldier. You can even create custom characters to create unique challenges for yourself (or to build a totally overpowered character and just wreak havoc). The depth and variety of options is truly impressive and makes the game a true sandbox that rewards player creativity. That said, the game does have its repetitive moments as well. For all of the various options in the game there are still aspects that end up feeling a bit repetitive, and it's generally the missions you're assigned. There really only seem to be a handful of mission types and even when you're putting your unique traits and items to use they can get a little tiresome. You'll also run into disaster scenarios on occasion which up the ante with special challenges, such as a zombie infestation, though these disasters can be just as frustrating as they are exciting. What does help break up some of the monotony, though, is multiplayer. Adding a friend (or three) either locally or online has a big impact on how you approach the game. For the most part it makes it much easier since you can watch each other's backs when things get rough, but the added chaos factor is a blast even if you just want to mess around a bit. The pixel art aesthetic is pretty charming as well, though it can't help but fall victim to some of the monotonous repetition that most procedurally generated games do. Even if you do end up seeing the same character designs over and over though, there is something satisfying about seeing these squat pixel characters racing around the screen. The music has a similar issue with being overly repetitive, but that's just the result of having a game based on replaying levels so much. Still, the techno soundtrack is infectiously upbeat, the perfect background music for causing a little mayhem. Streets of Rogue is an ambitious game, and the good news is that it delivers well on the promise of varied, addictive rogue-lite gameplay. It's the kind of game where completing it once only gives you a small glimpse of the game's potential, because with a different character, different traits, and different items, you'll be treated to a whole new experience, not just in terms of map layouts but in how you fundamentally approach challenges. Add in a friend for some co-op chaos and you've got a game perfect for players that enjoy figuring out every little possibility that a game has to offer. Rating: 8 out of 10 Traits Review copy provided by publisher Streets of Rogue is available now on the Switch eShop for $19.99.
  11. After the success of the first game on the Wii U it makes sense that Nintendo would put out a sequel to their Mario level creator, but the breadth and depth of new content in Super Mario Maker 2 is definitely a pleasant surprise. New items and themes, a longer Story Mode, multiplayer features—Nintendo pulled out all of the stops to ensure Super Mario Maker 2 would feel like a fresh new experience, and based on the kinds of levels already created by the community, it's safe to say they succeeded. The original Wii U game included a number of levels created by Nintendo that served as a decent but small selection of offline content, but SMM2 ups the ante a bit with a more in-depth story mode. Mario is helping Toadette and her team of construction Toads rebuild Peach's castle, and to raise funds for the project you have to complete a variety of courses. The story itself may not be all that exciting but Story Mode serves as a great introduction to the world of Super Mario Maker. The courses here are each themed around a central concept, such as the new 3D World theme that brings with it clear pipes, the Cat Suit, and other features that are completely unique from the other Mario game themes. If you're not familiar with 3D World, Story Mode provides a perfect way to both learn how to play in this theme and spark ideas for level design concepts. With so many possibilities in SMM2 it can be overwhelming to know where to start, so having a solid source of inspiration like Story Mode is a great addition to Mario Maker. Just like the first game the real heart of SMM2 is in user-generated content, whether you're designing levels yourself or hopping online to take on whatever insane challenges that players the world over have cooked up. The first game had the benefit of the Wii U's Gamepad as a perfect control system for dropping blocks into a level, and although neither a normal controller nor the Switch's touch screen is as perfectly suited to course creation as the Gamepad, they both still get the job done pretty well. With a bit of practice the controller is perfectly manageable, even if it's not as fast as a touch screen, and using the Switch's touch screen undocked sacrifices precision for speed. Ultimately neither is quite ideal but their quirks end up being minor issues when you're focused on creating levels. SMM2 also does away with the tedious unlocking process of the original Wii U game, so players can simply dive in and immediately start making insane challenges out of the wealth of options available. I won't bother touching upon each and every new item available in this game, but suffice it to say the possibilities are even more varied than the first game, including some truly inventive twists like nighttime levels. The game does little hand-holding when creating courses unless you specifically seek out the game's helpful tutorials (or take inspiration from Story Mode) so veterans of the original game should be happy to jump right into the action and simply play in this digital toy box. For many players the most important aspect of SMM2 isn't creating levels but playing other players' creations online. Players can once again enjoy a seemingly never ending stream of courses created by other players the world over, though granted there is quite a range in terms of quality. Still, the chance to see something entirely new every time you load up the game is absolutely wonderful, and although Nintendo's online features are still a bit archaic and stilted (for some reason you can't just see your friend list within SMM2, you'll have to exchange player ID or course ID codes outside of the game) it's still delightfully addictive to see what new courses you can find every day. One of the biggest additions to SMM2 is multiplayer, both locally and online—although to play multiplayer on the same screen you have to download a level (or create it yourself) to enter multiplayer mode. Co-operative multiplayer is as chaotic and goofy as you'd imagine, especially because most courses aren't designed with multiplayer in mind. It's a bit of a shame that there aren't co-op-specific levels available (or a way to make them easily searchable, like a unique tag) because the co-op level seen at the E3 Invitational was brilliantly inventive and specifically designed for two players, but perhaps we'll see a future update that caters to co-op. SMM2 also includes competitive multiplayer levels, and even though there is a unique versus tag it's still hard to find solid multiplayer levels just because we're still in the early days of the game's release. Regardless, competing with three other players to reach the goal first makes an already wacky game even more insane, in a fun and ridiculous way. The only problem is you may be faced with some truly atrocious lag depending on each player's internet connection, and trying to hit precise jumps with a stuttering screen is horrendous. Hopefully this can also be rectified in a future update because right now multiplayer versus is not at its full potential. With five different game themes as well as a wide variety of backgrounds there's quite a spectrum of visual and audio design on display in SMM2, and all of it is just delightful. Whether it's the nostalgic rush of seeing familiar sprite designs from Super Mario World or the surprise of seeing items/enemies rendered into anachronistic game themes, the presentation of SMM2 is a fun reminder of just how much personality and charm Mario's graphics and music have always had. Super Mario Maker 2 adds even more creative possibilities than the first game, and just a week after launch there are already plenty of brilliantly inventive levels available online. Story Mode, a significant expansion over the original game's offline game mode, is a perfect tutorial for not just playing Super Mario levels but creating them as well, and a great starting point for getting acclimated to the new features available. Multiplayer modes, though not as smooth as they ideally ought to be in terms of online connectivity or accessibility, flesh out the game's replay value even more and provide an entirely new way to consider level design. Even if you don't bother spending much time in creation mode, Super Mario Maker 2 is a must-have for Mario fans. Rating: 9 out of 10 ? Blocks
  12. First Team Sonic Racing in May and now Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled—it seems like the Switch just can't get enough wacky kart racers. But while Sonic's team-focused racing experience was entirely new, Nitro-Fueled is actually a remake of a 20-year-old PlayStation game, now with a new coat of paint and a few tune-ups to suit the online landscape of 2019. Fans of the original may love getting the chance to revisit familiar courses and characters, but new players might feel a bit burned by the steep learning curve. A racing game hardly needs to even bother setting up a storyline, but Nitro-Fueled opens with a planetary invasion from an alien named Nitros Oxide who claims to be the fastest racer in the galaxy. He challenges Earth's best driver to a one-on-one race with the fate of the planet in the balance, and so Crash steps up to prove his mettle against four boss races before taking on Oxide. Aside from brief intros and outros to each boss race there isn't much else to the story, but it's nice to have a reason to race—aside from the glory of a first-place trophy. As a kart racer, Nitro-Fueled has all the basics you'd expect from the genre: you'll race across a variety of elaborate tracks, picking up items to attack other racers in order to take first place in the end. There are some great track designs here (which actually draws from the original Crash Team Racing as well as its sequel, Crash Nitro Kart) which make good use of the game's drifting boost and aerial boost mechanics without bogging down the tracks in too much confusing fluff. There's also enough depth to most tracks that you'll want to replay them over and over to fully master the ideal path. Some courses do seem to drag on a bit with nothing more exciting than a few turns and jumps though, and those tracks probably could've been a little shorter. The game also has a decent number of playable characters, though there are only a few real "class variations" that impact a racer's speed, acceleration, and turning ability, but it's still enough variety that you can spend plenty of time figuring out your perfect fit in terms of both stats and looks. The item selection feels somewhat limited though, especially since half the items are rather similar to one another. But the game does spice things up with a unique item mechanic: if you collect ten Wumpa Fruits during a race (usually found inside crates, or scattered on the track) all items will take on slightly stronger properties. It's a good incentive to collect Wumpa Fruits, not to mention the fact that you'll go faster with more fruits in your pocket. Possibly the most defining aspect of Nitro-Fueled is the way drift boosting works here. Instead of just holding the drift button down or wiggling the control stick back and forth, you have to press either L or R then press the opposite (R or L) at the right time to activate the boost. If you time it perfectly you'll get a bigger boost, plus you can chain up to three boosts in one drift. The timing is based on a small gauge in the lower right corner of the screen, plus this remake makes things a little easier by making your tires glow when the time is just right to hit the boost button. Ideally you'll eventually just know the timing perfectly by heart, but these visual cues are invaluable to new players, because this drifting system is undoubtedly one of the more complicated ones you'll find in a kart racer, especially one that otherwise appears to be a very kid-friendly. In fact the complexity of this drift system can make the single-player adventure mode extremely challenging, even on normal difficulty, since you kind of have to master it to get over the AI racers' perfect performances. It's definitely frustrating for new players to try to jump into Nitro-Fueled, where the AI is relentless (and sometimes appears to be rubberbanding when even a speed boost item isn't enough to put significant distance between you and them) and you unfortunately can't change the difficulty level without restarting adventure mode entirely. Nitro-Fueled also has some more technical issues that weigh on the experience, such as some truly horrendous load times. It might be more tolerable if they were less frequent, but every time you start or finish a race you'll be treated to a good thirty or forty seconds of loading screen. That kind of constant annoyance is a real drag on the otherwise fast-paced action of the game. The system for unlockables is also a bit annoying. You'll unlock several characters, karts, and other customization options just by playing adventure mode, but many items must be bought with Wumpa Coins, which you earn from every completed race, whether you're playing solo, multiplayer, or online. The catch here is that you have to be connected to the internet to actually earn the coins—if you're, say, playing on the bus, you're not going to be accruing any coins. It's already a huge grind to earn enough Wumpa Coins to unlock items, so missing out on the chance to earn coins while not connected to the internet is disappointing. Regardless of whether or not you're raking in the coins, there's plenty to do in Nitro-Fueled. Adventure mode can be completed in just a few hours, but there's also a "true ending" that requires you to tackle additional challenges. And of course there's the endless potential of multiplayer to stretch out the game's length, including both local and online multiplayer. The online connection was fairly smooth for me—one or two minor lag issues but nothing out of the ordinary—and there's already a decent number of players to race online. There will also be planned online events that give players the opportunity to earn DLC items (via challenges or by spending Wumpa Coins) so Nitro-Fueled should see plenty of long-term support. With Crash Bandicoot in the lead role, you can expect some charmingly goofy and colorful graphics in Nitro-Fueled. The game's cartoony style is well preserved from its PS1 origins, now with higher quality. The Switch version does look a bit rougher compared to other consoles, but it's only really noticeable during the slower moments of the game—when you're in the middle of a race, the graphics look fine and run at a stable 30 frames per second. The soundtrack is also fun and cartoony in its own way, though it has fewer standout moments than the art design. Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled offers up yet another solid kart racer for the Switch, complete with colorful tracks and wacky item action. Despite that cartoony appearance though the gameplay requires a fairly significant investment of practice before a player is going to be able to race competently, largely thanks to the game's unique drift boost mechanic which is indispensable for winning, even against the AI. Long loading times also have a way of preventing the game from maintaining top speed, but anyone willing to overlook those faults should enjoy the frenetic kart-racer action. Rating: 7 out of 10 Wumpa Fruits
  13. There are plenty of farming sim games focused on growing crops, raising animals, and bringing new life into the world, but how many focus on the inevitable end result? In Graveyard Keeper, from developer Lazy Bear Games and publisher tinyBuild, your objective is to build up an immaculate, sparkling cemetery, and if along the way the interred bodies should lose a few organs or bones, well, the villagers will be none the wiser. It's a charmingly macabre take on the farming sim genre, though not taken to its fullest potential. The story actually begins in the present day where, while walking home one night, our protagonist is hit by a car and wakes up in a medieval village where everyone is calling him the new graveyard keeper. After quickly acclimating to his new surroundings (which includes a talking skull), the nameless keeper must figure out a way to return to his own reality by building up a successful cemetery and business. Along the way he meets a handful of villagers with their own goals and tragic backstories, which slowly converge into key quests throughout the game. It's a hilariously dark premise for a game and undeniably unique, but the problem is that Graveyard Keeper doesn't quite make the most of it. The story missions are fairly bland (and replete with typos), and the dark comedy/death-focused angle is ultimately rather light in terms of story impact. Certain plot points are brought up repeatedly but never get a satisfying conclusion (or any kind of conclusion for that matter) which just makes the game feel unfinished. Despite a unique hook the story and setting are used to their fullest and end up feeling totally routine. That's really a major issue throughout Graveyard Keeper: the unique premise is overshadowed by the farm sim aspects we've seen a thousand times in better games. Early in the game maintaining the cemetery is certainly the focus and it's delightfully dark to work on preparing bodies for burial, removing their organs, and decorating their graves with proper headstones, but that aspect of the game shortly falls to the wayside and you end up more concerned with basic farm sim tasks like planting and harvesting crops, chopping down trees, or fishing. The darker and morally questionable aspects of the adventure (such as selling human flesh to the tavern as a cheap meat source) soon feel like just another side pursuit in a game full of things to do, and worse yet the morally dark stuff doesn't have any significant impact on the story or progression of the gameplay. It's a shame that the game doesn't focus more on its most defining feature. Graveyard Keeper is also an unrelenting grind of a game. Farm sims, by their nature, are all about repetitive tasks, but whereas successful farm sims find the charm and joy in performing menial jobs and seeing the fruit of your labor, Graveyard Keeper just feels like a chore. Your stamina seems to drain incredibly quickly, and early on when your food options are limited this means you need to take naps constantly. Progress comes slowly, partly due to the game's skill tree system which requires you to collect experience points before unlocking more advanced features. The skill tree isn't a bad concept in and of itself, but the game gives you almost no direction as far as what are the most important aspects to upgrade first, which can make the early parts of the game feel like an unending grind as you slowly gather up experience points if you wasted them on a feature that isn't important yet. The game has a bad habit of being too directionless in just about every aspect. Talking to villagers might give you a quest to bring them a specific item, but there's no way of figuring out how to craft/find that item for them—crafting potions with alchemy in particular is ridiculous since there are seemingly hundreds of possible combinations of ingredients, most of which result in nothing. For some reason there's no codex in the game to keep track of recipes or blueprints, which means you might waste a ton of time walking back and forth to collect items you forgot you needed (pro tip: the Switch's screenshot feature is invaluable in this regard). The relatively small inventory space and slow walking speed only make this more tedious, especially when there's something particularly far away from your home base and the dozen item boxes you'll end up building to store everything scattered around your farm/cemetery. It's simply unrealistically difficult to organically uncover major aspects of the game, meaning you're best off playing with the game's wiki open on your laptop/phone at all times. You'll eventually also unlock a dungeon that you can explore, but fighting monsters is a pretty bland, tedious affair. The only weapon at your disposal is a sword and, although you can gradually craft stronger swords, combat mostly involves spamming the attack button as you walk up to enemies. The dungeon really feels indicative of perhaps Graveyard Keeper's biggest issue: the game spreads itself too thin, which results in a lot of shallow, half-hearted mechanics that are entirely too reminiscent of other games (specifically, other games that did it better). There's so much to do in this game and you're kind of just dropped right into the thick of it, but too much of it feels bland and grindy rather than satisfying and engaging. It's easy to burn through hours and hours of playtime with Graveyard Keeper, but when looking back on it, too much of the game ends up feeling like busywork. It's also disappointing to find that the game has a variety of small bugs and glitches. Nothing is gamebreaking thankfully, but sometimes you might be crafting something and, because your inventory is full, the item floats away to another part of the map. Or you might open up your inventory and the cursor gets stuck at the bottom of the screen for seemingly no reason. When you're constantly shuffling your inventory to make room for new items, these kinds of minor issues end up becoming major annoyances. There's also a tiny bit of choppiness to the game's framerate—not enough to really affect the game in any meaningful way, but enough to notice. The game's presentation puts a perhaps incongruously cute pixel art aesthetic on a game about running a cemetery, but regardless the game features some solid artwork and a light, chipper soundtrack. Both may end up feeling entirely too repetitive after a dozen hours of collecting materials, farming crops, and exploring the game's dungeon, but the visuals and audio have a simple charm to them. Graveyard Keeper offers up a decent farm sim experience, but never quite manages to shake the feeling that its merely imitating games that better managed the genre. The cemetery angle plants a great setting that doesn't quite grow to maturity due to the sheer variety of tasks that spreads the gameplay too thin, and even with a handful of bugs and glitches the most frustrating aspect of the game is simply the unending grind and slow, unrewarding sense of progression. Fans of sims may enjoy having a new and slightly darker twist on the familiar formula of gathering materials and slowly building a successful business, but Graveyard Keeper's more tedious aspects won't win over anyone that isn't already invested in the genre. Rating: 6 out of 10 Graves Review copy provided by publisher Graveyard Keeper is available now on the Switch eShop for $19.99.
  14. For years turn-based strategy fans have been lamenting the fact that the Advance Wars franchise has been seemingly abandoned, but thankfully indie developer Chucklefish took it upon themselves to create their own tactical wargame, complete with rich strategic gameplay and charming army factions. Wargroove picks up the mantle of Advance Wars in a beautiful way while still putting enough unique touches on the gameplay to feel like a fresh experience. The story follows young Queen Mercia who is forced to flee her homeland, the Kingdom of Cherrystone, when undead invaders attack. Now she must travel across the continent of Aurania to gather allies and fight to reclaim her homeland. Wargroove certainly isn't earning any points for originality with this storyline, but even if it feels far too familiar for this kind of war-strategy game, there's still plenty of charming personality to buoy the adventure, as well as interesting backstories when you take the time to read each character's codex. The handful of main characters and their quirks are fun to watch throughout the game's short cutscenes, and how many games feature a dog as not only a main character but as an army commander? Players familiar with any of the Nintendo Wars games will instantly recognize the core gameplay structure in Wargroove: 2D, turn-based strategy combat. Each mission pits you against an enemy force (usually better armed and entrenched) and you need to plan your attacks thoughtfully in order to advance across the map, seizing towns to earn money and barracks to deploy more troops. Wargroove perfectly scratches the itch that Advance Wars left behind. You've got a decent number of unit types at your disposal, meaning there are plenty of opportunities to pursue unique strategies in order to overcome the enemy army. When you're deep in a challenging mission, it's incredibly easy to lose track of time as you monitor your army's progress. And even when that victory screen comes up you'll want to dive right back in with another battle. Every unit has its own strengths and weaknesses, and in Wargroove this is further bolstered a semi rock-paper-scissors mechanic as well as a critical hit system. Certain units are more effective against other unit types, which means you have to be ready to effectively counter whatever units the enemy throws at you in order to defeat them efficiently. For example, pikemen are particularly effective against cavalry. It's totally possible to defeat a cavalry unit using basic swordsmen, but to defeat them quickly and with fewer losses on your own side it's best to keep in mind which units are particularly effective against any other given unit. Wargroove also features a critical hit system which can alter how you approach an encounter. Every unit type has a unique critical hit condition—going back to pikemen as an example, they'll deal a critical hit when standing next to other ally pikemen, so it behooves you to keep multiple pikemen around and move them forward as a unit (to help balance this, pikemen have the shortest movement range of any unit). Keeping critical hit conditions in mind has a huge impact on the way you play, adding a satisfying extra layer of strategy to the action and a helpful boost in your back pocket since a few key critical hits can drastically change the flow of battle. It's a bit frustrating that some critical hit conditions rely upon the enemy's placement rather than your own, but regardless, critical hits are a welcome wrinkle in the turn-based strategy mechanics. In Wargroove, your commander also exists on the field of battle as a playable unit, and a pretty powerful unit at that thanks to their ability to naturally regenerate health each turn. Commanders hit hard but you can't be too cavalier with them since, if your commander dies, it's game over. Commanders also have powerful Groove abilities that, once charged, can have devastating effects on the tide of battle. Mercia, for example, heals every ally unit in range for 50% health. Some of these Groove abilities feel a bit unbalanced, such as the vampire commander's deadly ability to instantly kill an enemy unit and heal herself, and since each commander has a unique ability it's a bit of a shame that you can't choose which commander to use during story missions. Still, having your commander on the field with the Groove mechanic opens up even more opportunities for strategic planning, and helps keep the gameplay varied. Another significant twist for Advance Wars alumni is the way healing works in Wargroove. You aren't able to combine two of the same unit when they're injured, but there are two ways to recover health aside from Mercia's Groove. Rather than positioning a unit on top of a friendly town to recover health, you can purchase reinforcements from the town, which also lowers the town's defenses (towns recover health naturally each turn). It's an interesting mechanic since you're actually weakening your defensive/money-making position in order to recover your offensive position. In a way it makes it seem like you shouldn't be relying on towns to recover health too much, but it definitely makes you think more critically about whether a unit on the frontlines is worth healing. Wargroove also features mage units that are able to heal nearby allies (for a small fee) which feels like a suitable replacement for maintaining your forward momentum without retreating to, and weakening, your towns. Wargroove features some great pixel art that perfectly references Advance Wars' colorful look while still feeling unique in its own way. The sprite-work on each unit is excellent as well, though perhaps there's too much variety and detail in their designs—sometimes you need to just see what types of units are on the field at a glance, and it might take you a while to recognize all of them. There's undeniable personality in every sprite though and the unlockable concept art is a lot of fun to sift through. The soundtrack is brimming with upbeat charm as well, even if there isn't a huge amount of variety in the tunes. Wargroove certainly isn't lacking when it comes to sheer amount of content. In addition to a decently lengthy campaign which includes a variety of challenging side missions, there's also an arcade mode which is more like a short gauntlet of missions and a puzzle mode which is an interesting twist for a strategy game. Each puzzle tasks you with clearing the map in a single turn, usually by means of defeating the enemy commander. These puzzles require you to master each unit's abilities, especially their critical hit requirements, in order to clear the map quickly, which is great practice for learning how to use each type of unit as efficiently as possible. And all of that covers just the offline, single-player content. There's also local and online multiplayer as well as a level editor to create, share, and download custom maps. Suffice it to say, when you get into the groove, there's no shortage of gameplay to enjoy. Wargroove wears its Advance Wars inspiration on its sleeve, but rather than feel like a simple imitation it comes off as a loving homage. The core mechanics are instantly familiar but there are enough unique quirks to let Wargroove stand tall as its own challenging and engaging strategy game. With plenty of depth to the gameplay and an incredible wealth of content, Wargroove is a must play for strategy fans and a decent place to start for new players thanks to its sliding difficulty options. Rating: 9 out of 10 Grooves
  15. It's pretty incredible that after so many years of mainline Final Fantasy games skipping over Nintendo systems, the Switch has played host to several titles that past Nintendo consoles have missed out on, including Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age. Originally released in 2006 for PS2, the game has gotten an HD makeover for this edition, as well as updates to the soundtrack and various gameplay adjustments such as a speed-up ability to make battles progress faster. Add in the Switch's portability and you've got arguably the definitive edition of a now classic RPG. The Zodiac Age takes place in Ivalice where the empires of Archadia and Rozarria are locked in an on-going war while the small kingdom of Dalmasca is caught between them. Like most Final Fantasy games you play as a ragtag group of heroes who band together purely from chance and yet must work together to stop the tyranny of the Archadian Empire. Unlike other titles in the series though there isn't much emphasis on your characters' personal journeys—the focus of the story in The Zodiac Age is more on the overarching political conflict. As such the storytelling feels a bit bare-boned. Without strong characters for the player to focus on it's hard to get fully invested in the conflict, and too often cutscenes feel rather boring as the characters simply go through the motions of finding a mystic power that can be used to stop the evil empire—pretty standard stuff in the realm of video games. It doesn't help that the writing seems to be made to mimic some sort of Shakespearean loftiness, but the execution falls well short of that mark. The writing is necessarily bad, but it never hits the highs that normally make RPG tales so engaging. Although The Zodiac Age retains all of the recognizable, trademark creatures and traits of the Final Fantasy series (chocobos, Moogles, character classes like white mage or black mage, etc.) there's a huge difference in how battles work here compared to previous entries in the franchise. For one thing, battles begin seamlessly—if you see an enemy in the field you can run up and attack it with no transition to a battle screen. You also only directly control one character at a time, though you're able to quickly swap characters (and even change characters in your active party in the middle of a battle). The key to the battle system here is the Gambit system, which allows you to essentially create auto-commands for your AI controlled party members to follow. For example, you might have your healer set to cast cure on an ally if their health drops below 50%, that way you don't have to manually enter that command any time it occurs during a fight. Every action, spell, or item can be set with the Gambit system, and you can purchase new commands to target a huge variety of enemy types to cover any situation. There's a degree to which the Gambit system makes it feel like the game is playing itself, but the benefits outweigh that minor annoyance. Standard battles fly by thanks to this feature, and given the real-time combat structure the alternative would be a tediously slow process of making sure each character is fighting intelligently. Plus you can always assume direct control over any character's actions anyway if you just need them to quickly do one thing, such as throw out a quick healing item. As is, the Gambit system feels like a happy medium—you have enough control over the AI that you won't feel stymied by their inability to adapt to changing circumstances during a battle, particularly a boss fight (and by the way, Gambits can be easily toggled on and off at any time as well) and at the same time you don't have to micromanage your party through every enemy encounter. This Final Fantasy game also has its own slight variation on character classes. You're able to choose a character's job (or license) right from the beginning—or at least, once you've unlocked it after a couple hours of playing—and from there you have access to a job board with various abilities that can be unlocked with license points. There are some similarities between boards but each class's most defining features are unique—for example, both white and black mages can unlock mystic armor to equip, but their respective white and black magic spells are unique to their job boards. You're able to select what to unlock or upgrade so there's a decent amount of freedom in choosing how your characters grow, though you're still limited by what equipment or spells you can buy in stores—unlocking the ability to cast Firaga early in the game is all well and good but useless until you've actually purchased the spell. There's something oddly addictive about opening up your job boards and poring over what to upgrade, though it's a shame that the physical classes have quite limited variety in terms of what they unlock. You're able to purchase non-magical techniques, but they're few in number and even more limited in use. It would've been nice to have more variety among the physical classes outside of weapon choice. A new feature for this edition of the game is the ability to swap licenses (in the original game you were stuck with whatever you initially chose). This is a great help in figuring out your ideal party structure, especially since each character can more or less excel in any job, and simply makes the game more convenient to play since you don't have to restart completely if you find a certain set-up just isn't to your liking. With the aforementioned speed-up ability as well, The Zodiac Age makes some valuable quality of life improvements that make the game more accessible. It wouldn't be a Final Fantasy game without a healthy dose of optional content, and The Zodiac Age features plenty of nooks and crannies to explore that are only safe to venture into once you've reached a decently high level. There's also the hunt system which tasks you with tracking down powerful monsters and defeating them. This process can be a bit tedious when the path to a monster is particularly obtuse, but hunts pose some good challenges that thorough players should enjoy tackling. This edition of the game also includes Trial Mode for an extra challenging gauntlet of fights that rewards you with rare items that can be transferred to your main game, perfect for players who want to put their skills to the test. The remastering of the game's visuals has done a great job of polishing the graphics. It is unmistakably a game that was originally released over a decade ago, and the art style has its ups and downs—from varied and imaginative creatures to some of the most ridiculous outfits, even by Final Fantasy standards—but the new coat of paint gives it a nice HD sheen, especially the full motion cutscenes. The voice acting, unfortunately, isn't quite able to shake off its clearly dated quality as several of the major characters sound rough, either from an acting perspective or just a sound quality perspective. This probably doesn't help with making the characters feel memorable and engaging. The soundtrack doesn't feel dated at all though and music fans can enjoy three versions of the soundtrack: original, orchestral, and OST. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age introduced some innovative game mechanics into the long-running RPG series which are just as fun to play around with today as they were thirteen years ago. Some of the game's unique features might feel passé today now that ally AI has become a little more sophisticated and commonplace in RPGs, and the storytelling doesn't quite hit the high marks of other prestigious RPG titles, but the Gambit-focused battle system and satisfaction of building up unique job combinations proves plenty engaging for hours upon end. Rating: 8 out of 10 Gambits
  16. There's no better feeling in an action game than when you're locked into the rhythm of the gameplay and are flying through a stage, perfectly defeating enemies and flying over obstacles. Katana Zero is built entirely around that satisfying feeling—with only a sword at your side, you cut your way through rooms full of gun-toting enemies by dodging or deflecting bullets, knowing even one hit means death. Add in some stylish visuals and a thumpin' soundtrack and you've got an impressive, modern take on side-scrolling action games. You play as a mysterious samurai assassin deployed to eliminate key targets—and whatever bodyguards they might have defending them—using your sword and a bizarre ability to rewind time, meaning death is never permanent for you. It's a bit cliché but our protagonist has amnesia, and relies upon a somewhat suspicious psychiatrist who administers drugs and dossiers for your next target. As you progress you'll gradually uncover the truth surrounding the samurai's murky past as well as just a little of the setting's bleak, neon dystopian society, including some sort of devastating war that concluded only a few years prior to the events of the game. The story's slow pace at unveiling one more piece of the puzzle keeps things interesting as you struggle to comprehend what is really going on, but ultimately the game leaves a lot of questions unanswered which is a little disappointing. It's still an engaging story but you're really only getting a small peek at what is clearly a larger and more elaborate world. Katana Zero is all about fast-paced and fluid action. Since your main weapon is a short-range sword—and most enemies are equipped with guns—you have to be thoughtful in how you close the distance to a target to strike him down. There are opportunities to get the drop of enemies by busting down doors or even breaking through the floor, but if you're not careful it's easy to get overwhelmed. Your sword strike also have to be precise since a missed attack can leave you open—there's no worse feeling than missing a valuable deflection. This isn't the kind of game where you can rush in wildly and hope to squeak through anyway, which makes the action feel even more intense. When you're playing well it's incredibly satisfying to zip from one target to the next, dodging through enemy attacks and even deflecting bullets back at attackers (you also have a slow-mo ability which is invaluable for timing these deflects). There are plenty of ways to approach each stage too so you never feel pigeon-holed into a specific strategy. When only one hit can kill you, the game can feel punishingly difficult at times. The good news though is that stages are generally fairly short, so dying really doesn't penalize you too much. The game is also super quick about dropping you right back into the action, which is always appreciated. Most importantly though, even a failed attempt can provide some invaluable information about how to approach the stage on your next attempt. Even after dying and retrying a few times, the action of Katana Zero never loses momentum. And although your sword is always your main weapon, it is possible to pick up throwable items—and even C4, which you can remotely detonate—which adds just enough variety to how you approach enemies to keep every stage feeling fresh and still challenging. There's also something hilarious about defeating an enemy by throwing a soda can at them from across the room. Unfortunately, all of the game's fast-paced action also seems to translate to a quick, short game length. Just four hours or so will see you through the whole game, which is a shame since the game's formula certainly doesn't grow old by then. If you can't get enough Katana Zero though there are some hidden bonuses, including additional levels and a secret boss, but the difficulty of figuring out how to reach them might be a little too much without a little help from an internet guide. The visuals in Katana Zero combine classic pixel art design with eye-popping neon colors, plus plenty of blood splashing across the scenery when you cut down guards. The smooth animation just makes all of the frenetic action all the more intense and satisfying, and the developers have put a ton of great detail into the pixel artwork. The visuals are complemented by a fantastic techno soundtrack, complete with synthwave tunes that fits perfectly with the setting's 80s retro-futuristic style. From the first stage to the last Katana Zero throws you into an intense and wholly engaging action experience whose focus on fluid kills and unrelenting action helps it stand out in a sea of indie games. The intriguing setting and story doesn't quite result in a satisfying payoff, but the addictive gameplay is more than enough to keep you glued to the game throughout its short length. Rating: 7 out of 10 Katanas
  17. Following the intense kart-shapeshifting mechanics of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, released back in 2012, developer Sumo Digital has changed tracks in order to focus on a team-based racing game. Team Sonic Racing, as the title implies, requires racers to work together by sharing items or boosting one another to win—or lose—as a team. But the novelty of this gameplay hook doesn't have quite the mileage that players might hope. When a mysterious tanuki named Dodon Pa invites Sonic and his friends to compete in team-based kart races, the blue blur and buddies saddle up in advanced cars to tear up the tracks. The quality of the writing is more or less what you'd expect from recent Sonic games, which is to say not great, with jokes that tend to fall flat more often than not, but the good news is the game lets you skip the introductory dialogue before each race—in fact it's kind of the default, since pressing A allows you to skip and pressing Y lets you listen. Regardless of the writing, the story mode is a valuable introduction to the mechanics of the game (even if the AI tends to rubberband no matter how well you're racing) and even includes a variety of alternate challenges such as collecting rings or passing through narrow checkpoints along the track. These bonus challenges can be frustratingly difficult since it seems there's no room for error at all to earn a high score, but for a racing game like this getting as much practice in as you can helps hone your skills. If there's one thing Team Sonic Racing has retained from its predecessors, it's elaborate, insane, and intense track designs. There are 21 courses in this game—divided into seven themed worlds of three tracks each—and each is pure chaos, in a good way. With everything from moving hazards to short cuts there are plenty of great courses to enjoy here, not to mention the mirrored version of each one to keep racers on their toes. There's also a decent selection of items to pick up while driving, each of which can have helpful effects for you or create nasty obstacles for your opponents. The only minor annoyance is that all items are Wisps which have a tendency to all look the same, especially when you're focused on racing and only glance at the item symbol in the corner of the screen, but it just takes practice to recognize them. The crux of Team Sonic Racing is, of course, racing as a team of up to three characters. These races are decided on a score system and the higher you place in the race the more points you get—you might place first and get 15 points, but if your two teammates are dead last your team might still lose overall. You don't have to simply hope that your teammates do well, though. You can help them in a couple of ways: for one, you can share items with teammates. A homing missile Wisp is pretty useless if you're already in the lead, but if you send it to a friend it might help them move up the ranks. What's odd is that you can't see what items your teammates have, even when they offer to share them (a prompt appears on screen to accept a teammate's shared item). You might not want what a teammate is offering, or it might be put to better use in the hands of your third teammate, but there's no way to know this in-game. Even so it's still helpful to share since certain items only appear with this sharing mechanic, but it's weird that there's a degree of mystery to it. The other key co-op feature of team racing is slingshot boosting. Whoever is currently the furthest ahead on your team automatically generates a yellow boost track behind them, and when teammates drive through these tracks they can charge up a boost. Any kind of speed boost in a racing game is hugely helpful, and it's nice that it's a sort of passive boost to your teammates, but it's a shame you can't do much more for them. If you're close to a teammate it's possible to repeatedly boost one another as one player gets ahead of the other, but if they're far behind all you can really do is keep driving and hope they're benefiting from your tracks. There's also a skim boost when you can perform by nudging a teammate who has just spun out (due to getting hit by an enemy or falling off the track, for example) which gives them a small boost to get back up to speed. Skim boosts can be pretty disorienting for the boostee though, and if you're on a curve or near a hazard they can be just as harmful as they are helpful. Finally there's the team ultimate boost, the biggest team effect and potentially a real game changer if you're lagging behind in a race. Every time you perform a team action (sharing items, sling/skim boosting) you'll charge your ultimate meter, and once full you can activate an extra powerful boost which also renders you temporarily invincible (it's like a Mario Kart super star times ten). Ultimate boosts are super helpful, though the fact that every team will probably charge up at least one use during a race means they also have to be used strategically. You also end up going so fast that these boosts can be harmful on sections of a course that require precision, which makes it a real problem if your teammates activate the ultimate when you're not ready. Ultimately these boosts can be just as frustrating to work with as they are useful. Although it won't take too long to power your way through the story mode there's plenty of replay value in Team Sonic Racing, whether that means trying different racers, playing locally with friends, or challenging other players online. Online races are pretty smooth, with only the occasional minor hiccup that one typically sees in an online match, but what's odd here is that there's no way to play with friends in a public match. You can create your own private lobby to race with friends, but there's no way to form a team of three and face random players online. In a team-based game that's a pretty silly oversight. On the presentation front Team Sonic Racing is a colorful, stylish racer with plenty of elaborate background scenery on each track. The fact that the courses are divided into seven worlds means there's a bit too much similarity between some tracks, but still, the art design is solid. The soundtrack has plenty of decent songs as well, though the voice acting sticks out a bit, in a negative way. Characters' quippy comments while racing get old fast, and while the voice work isn't all bad the sheer repetition and cheesy writing makes it pretty grating after only a couple races. Team Sonic Racing puts a uniquely co-operative spin on arcade-style kart racing, and the result is…fine. The team mechanics aren't quite as polished as I'd prefer to make it truly feel like a co-operative racing game, but the core gameplay hits enough of the familiar beats of a racer to keep the experience pretty enjoyable. The oversight on team-focused online features is bizarre though, and puts a bit of a shadow over the experience. It's far from the best racing game on the Switch, but for the budget price of $40 Team Sonic Racing is a decent enough for a quick spin. Rating: 7 out of 10 Karts
  18. It's been a while since Mortal Kombat graced a Nintendo system, but finally Nintendo fans can rejoin all of the bloody battles, bone-crunching hits, and gruesome fatalities that the series is known for. Mortal Kombat 11 adds a few new features to the franchise to keep the visceral action fresh and engaging, though the modern accoutrements unfortunately includes an emphasis on grinding in-game currency to unlock minor features in the game. The game features a full story mode that allows you to play as one or two characters in each chapter. The plot more or less picks up immediately after the events of Mortal Kombat 10 (though unfortunately the game doesn't feature any kind of recap of the story so far, which is especially a shame for players that only have a Switch). In short though, Raiden and the defenders of Earthrealm recently defeated Shinnok, the disgraced former Elder God of Death, but in doing so they've earned the hatred of Shinnok's mother, Kronika, the keeper of time. She uses her power to bring past and present versions of our heroes together in an attempt to create her own timeline, so now Raiden and company must unite to fight for their own reality. References to past games might sail right over Switch-owners' heads but regardless of your familiarity with these characters, the story mode features tons of crazy action cutscenes that are pretty fun to watch. The writing may not be much better than a soap opera at times (a soap opera featuring time travel and demonic beings, at least) but it's fun to indulge in some of the campiness and just enjoy the ride while it lasts. The gameplay in Mortal Kombat 11 is fundamentally unchanged since the franchise's origins and is extremely similar to the most recent entries: it's a 2.5D fighting game of 1v1 battles that emphasizes gruesome attacks and bloody fatalities—they're brutal but always satisfying to execute. Characters have a handful of combos and special attacks but there's tons of depth in learning all of the ins and outs of each character, enough to keep a player occupied with only one character for a long time. The flow of combat feels measured, not like the rapid chaos that can overwhelm match ups in Smash Bros., but the game is no less engaging for it. Precision over spamming feels like the name of the game here, and it helps acclimate new players to the action without reducing the intensity of each match. Mortal Kombat 11 introduces some new flashy moves such as Fatal Blows which are devastating cinematic combos that are only available to use once your health bar has dropped below 30%. These can also only be used once per match, so even when your health is low it's worth considering whether or not you're in an opportune time to use it. Fatal Blows represent not only Mortal Kombat's love of brutal attacks but also a great strategic element that can help the underdog in a match even things up. In addition to the story mode (which can be played on multiple difficulty levels) there are a couple of other single-player pursuits in Mortal Kombat 11. There are the Klassic Towers, essentially the familiar solo-play tournament progression of battling one enemy after another before facing off against Kronika, and the Towers of Time which introduces a random wacky effect to contend with such as increased enemy health or a barrage of projectiles to dodge. The chaos can be just as frustrating as it is entertaining but it does add a unique variability when you're tired of fighting the same AI battles over and over. There's also the Krypt, a third-person mode where you explore Shang Tsung's island to find treasure chests to unlock features like alternate costumes for characters and other customization items. Opening chests costs in-game currency, which is gradually amassed through normal gameplay. The rate can be excruciatingly slow based on how expensive the chests in the Krypt can be though, which makes the customization aspect of the game feel like an imbalanced grind. It wouldn't be a modern fighting game without an online mode as well, and Mortal Kombat 11 features a couple of options for battling online. There's a classic mode for jumping right into a match with another player, a ranked mode to put your skills to the test, and private rooms that you can set up just for playing with friends. For the most part the online matches are pretty smooth—not as fluid as offline but not so much that it significantly impacts the experience. The online community is decently populated as well so it's not too hard to find an opponent. But the downside to Mortal Kombat 11's online functionality doesn't even have to do with playing online, but rather trying to play offline. Due to the way the game continually registers your progress with unlocking items and earning currency online, you're locked out of certain solo modes if your Switch is not connected to the internet, e.g. when you're playing handheld on-the-go. Not being able to play solo modes while offline is obnoxious, especially given the Switch's handheld functionality. The game's visuals are an unfortunate reminder that this Switch edition simply isn't the most powerful and polished version of the game. The graphics can be gratingly low res at times, which is particularly noticeable during story mode as the game transitions from beautiful cutscenes to grainy in-game models. They're not terrible, but the muddier textures and grainy hair effects are undeniably noticeable. The game will even lag at times when there's a lot of effects on screen, such as during a Fatal Blow. On the brightside though the gameplay runs smoothly—during a match the lower resolution graphics never interfere with your attack inputs. It's still disappointing to see the lower quality visuals, but it's more important that the flow of gameplay is preserved. What's inexcusable though is the game's tendency to crash, whether playing a solo mode or online. Since it's a fighting game you thankfully rarely lose much progress but it's still an issue that pops up far too often. Mortal Kombat 11 is a great opportunity to jump back into the bloody action that has defined the series for decades, but this Switch version comes with some obvious issues, ranging from understandable lower-quality visuals to more frustrating problems like crashing or the necessity of an online connection to play solo modes. The base gameplay is still solid but the visuals are a constant, unfortunate remidner that you're playing an inferior version of the game. Rating: 7 out of 10 Fatalities
  19. There might not be a better recent example of unique, creative indie game creation than developer Gabe Cuzzillo's Ape Out. Where large studios might not be willing to take a risk on an original, unorthodox game, Cuzzillo and publisher Devolver Digital have taken the plunge on a stylish, jazzy action game that puts one ape against a seemingly endless supply of gun-toting captors. It's hard to spend time with Ape Out and not be completely mesmerized by its addictive gameplay and incredible sense of style. Storytelling isn't really a concern in Ape Out. It's clear that our ape protagonist is being held in some sort of research facility which has caused the deaths of other apes, but the game communicates all this without a line of dialogue or text. It's certainly never explained why there are so many armed guards surrounding the ape facility, nor why an ape would end up on the thirtieth floor of a skyscraper (King Kong notwithstanding). Regardless, it's not hard to empathize with the ape's pursuit of freedom, even if he does cut a bloody trail while finding the exit. The goal of each level is simple: wind your way through a randomly generated, labyrinthine level while dodging or defeating the armed guards in your path. Your tools are limited as there are really only two actions the ape can perform—grab or throw. Throwing an enemy into a wall (or into another enemy) results in a satisfyingly bloody explosion, or you can grab an enemy to use as a human shield before tossing into another group of enemies. That's all there is to know about Ape Out's controls—grab, throw, and never stop moving. The simplicity of its controls is key to Ape Out's addictive appeal, as is the rush of excitement in maintaining your momentum by bowling over one guard after another in a desperate bid for freedom. Every time you see an enemy a question pops up in your mind—do I try to rush him for a quick kill, or do I try to dodge and escape? It's a perfect distillation of the fight or flight instinct (appropriately exemplified in an animal protagonist) and helps keep every level feeling fresh and unique since you never know what you're going to encounter in the claustrophobic corridors and interconnected rooms. Thanks to the randomly-generated room structure and enemy placement each attempt is a new challenge, and rather than memorizing the layout of the game you're instead honing your instinctual reactions and ability to keep cool while staring down five armed guards. The top-down perspective does an amazing job of emphasizing this intense, slightly nerve-wracking feeling of not knowing what's up ahead, only knowing that you have to keep moving no matter what. Levels are quite short but surviving can be quite challenging—three gunshots and the ape goes down, and you gradually face more dangerous guards and even explosives which will instantly kill you. Dying near the end of a level can be frustrating but the game's quick, addictive nature means you'll likely just be energized for one more attempt, and of course it makes victory that much sweeter once you finally conquer a tricky area. Even when dying and retrying repeatedly (and you will) Ape Out isn't a very long game, which is a bit of a shame since the formula doesn't grow old at all by the time the end credits roll. The good news of course is that the game is nigh endlessly replayable thanks to its randomly-generated content, plus there's a hard mode for an extra challenge and a score-chasing arcade mode to truly put your skills to the test. Ape Out is short but the experience is magnetic and makes every second with the game count. The most immediately striking aspect of Ape Out is its visual style, which is both minimalist and mesmerizing. The colors are brilliantly vibrant, there's a beautiful textured, grainy quality to the art that makes it feel alive, and the narrow top-down perspective kicks up the intensity of the gameplay. For all of its simplicity, nothing is lost in terms of gameplay with this visual style—the ape is always a clear, bright figure on screen, enemies are immediately recognizable even once you have contend with various enemy types, and important hazards like doors that you have to pull open are clear. And bloody remains of a squished guard are pretty satisfying to see explode on the screen in a burst of red. The soundtrack is also not just a fantastically jazzy number, it's uniquely integrated into the game in a way rarely seen. Described as a reactive music system, the jazzy drum beat of the background music changes depending on how you play—e.g. smashing an enemy into a wall results in a satisfying cymbal crash, and if you take out multiple enemies in quick succession the tempo picks up to match the action. The improvisational nature of this soundtrack is a brilliant way to match the improvisational nature of playing the game. You aren't going to do the exact same thing every time you play through a level, and the music matches it. It's an almost obnoxiously clever way of integrating the soundtrack into the game, and best of all the jazzy drum beats are an absolute delight to listen to—and in a way you get to put your own personal touch on the music. Ape Out positively oozes style in its minimalist visuals and driving jazz drum soundtrack, and best of all pairs it with an addictive, fast-paced, intense gameplay structure. Though short, the challenge of escaping is absolutely mesmerizing and easily pulls players into its frenetic arcade-style action. With so many unique titles already on the Switch's eShop, Ape Out manages to stand out as a brilliantly creative experience. Rating: 8 out of 10 Apes Note: The game is currently on sale for 30% off, so it's the perfect time to give the game a try!
  20. From indie developer Rayark, creators of Deemo and VOEZ, comes a third rhythm game for the Nintendo Switch. And just like those games, Cytus α offers a wide selection of techno, electronic, and pop music from Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong, all of which offer catchy beats for you to tap along to on the Switch's touch screen or using a controller. Even if this type of music isn't your normal forte, you may find yourself a new fan of the style thanks to the game's relatively low barrier of entry and addictive gameplay. Like all rhythm games your objective here is to keep up with the rhythm of the song by hitting notes as they appear on screen. Notes can either be a single tap, an extended hold, or require you to drag your finger along the screen while following the path of the note—sometimes you even have to hit two notes at once, though I found myself wishing there were a better visual indication of this since it's an easy cue to miss on the particularly fast songs. Since notes can appear literally anywhere on the screen it can be daunting and chaotic at first, but there are some important rules to remember. There's a black bar that moves up and down on the screen, and when it passes through a note that's your cue to tap. Notes are also color coded, so you can see at a glance whether you need to hit a note as the bar is moving up the screen or moving down. And of course, above all you need to listen to the rhythm of the music. Even once you're in the groove with the game, earning a high score can be a serious challenge; some songs will have you tapping the Switch's touch screen in such a flurry that you can barely register what's happening with your eyes, you just have to give yourself over to the rhythm of the song. And when you tap into that rhythm, Cytus α is a blast. The best part of any rhythm game is getting into the flow of the music, and Cytus α has tons of great tunes to bob your head to. There's an incredible variety of songs, and the good news, if you just want to unlock them as quickly as possible, is that you don't have to complete every song in a chapter to unlock the next, so you can focus on the songs you like. Completing a song, even with a low score, isn't terribly difficult thanks to the game's leniency when it comes to your timing—you don't have to be perfectly precise in order to get a high score. There's a separate accuracy rating though, and that's where you'll measure your skill once you're good enough to earn a max score on any song. Though even getting to that point can be a gargantuan task. Cytus α features over 200 songs, including tracks from the game's original release on mobile devices as well as entirely original and exclusive tracks for this Switch release. Each song has an easy and a hard mode as well as a numerical rating to let you know how difficult it is (e.g. you might be willing to tackle a level 5 song on hard mode, but a level 8 song on easy would be even more challenging). Just playing every song once will last hours upon hours, and perfecting your skills on each gives the game a huge amount of replay value. Once you've developed your tapping skills you may want to tackle the online multiplayer mode and compete with up to two other players on the same song. The mode feels a little bare-boned though, and not just because it's difficult to find anyone to play with online. The matches are simply score battles, so you don't interact with your opponents—it kind of seems like an unnecessary mode, in fact, since Cytus α also features online leaderboards for every song. Still, multiplayer can be a fun way to compete with a friend and show off who has better rhythm. It also feels like a bit of a missed opportunity to not include any kind of music player mode to simply listen to the songs. There are tons of great tracks and it would've been nice to listen to them outside of the gameplay. I mentioned previously that Cytus α can be played on the Switch's touch screen or by using a controller, and while both are totally viable methods, it's safe to say the touch controls feel better overall. Somehow it's easier to get into the rhythm when your fingers are flying around the screen instead of simply pressing buttons on a controller—buttons just doesn't have the same satisfying tactile feedback. The downside to playing on the touch screen though is that your fingers might end up blocking the screen at times, and since notes can appear anywhere on screen it's a little too easy to trip yourself up this way. Although you might not expect it from a rhythm game, Cytus α does tell a story through unlockable data entries. It's not much—and doesn't quite tie into the gameplay precisely—but it's a neat little sci-fi story and worth taking the time to read through once you've unlocked them all. The writing itself leaves something to be desired but the sci-fi premise alone is worth reading. Cytus α offers a wealth of rhythm gameplay on the Switch, perfectly suited to the system's touch screen. The sheer amount and variety of songs means that anyone will find something to enjoy, and rhythm fans will love the challenge of perfecting every song on both easy and hard modes. Although the multiplayer mode is a bit lackluster and the $50 price tag might seem high for what was originally a mobile game, Cytus α is a treasure trove for rhythm fans. Rating: 8 out of 10 Taps
  21. Dragon Marked for Death sees developer Inti Creates leverage their experience with side-scrolling action games into a fresh genre for them: mutliplayer action-RPG. The transition is far from smooth though, and although Dragon Marked for Death retains elements of the fast-paced action that the developer is known for, the game as a whole is marred by some seriously tedious gameplay design. You play as a survivor of the Dragonblood Clan who, after their home is destroyed by the Kingdom of Melius, forges a pact with the Astral Dragon Atruum in an effort to reap revenge on the royal family. It's a set-up that's dripping with cliché and sadly never tries to be anything more than that. To be fair though, the gameplay is structured around replayable missions, so storytelling isn't a huge focus when the bulk of the game involves taking on contracts and beating up some monsters. It's a shame that even the world-building feels hollow, though, as the mission structure should at least allow for good opportunities to flesh out the game's lore and setting, but as it is players will most likely ignore the plot completely without missing anything of substance. As mentioned the gameplay in Dragon Marked for Death revolves around taking up contracts at the local bar and setting out on short quests—similar to something like Monster Hunter. At the beginning of the game you can choose your character class from four options, each of whom plays a little differently (i.e. the tanky warrior, agile ninja, delicate but powerful Witch) plus you're able to augment their abilities slightly based on choosing an element. Once you begin a quest you're transported to the relevant area of the world and cut your way through minor monsters and massive bosses while collecting experience points and loot. Rinse, repeat. And there's a lot of repetition. Dragon Marked for Death is unabashedly a grindy game, even by the standards of the genre, because the best (and frankly, only worthwhile) equipment has to be crafted from materials dropped by monsters or randomly found while on a mission, and in both cases the drop rate is frustratingly low. Games that require a lot of repetitive gameplay get by on solid fundamentals, but Dragon Marked for Death isn't quite up to par in that area. There are some flashy features to fighting monsters but the vast majority of it is mind-numbingly repetitive, not least because there are only a handful of different monsters found in the game. Each character really only has a handful of combos or techniques, but enemies tend to be massive damage sponges so you end up just hacking away at them over and over. Your movements can feel oddly stiff as well, and it doesn't help that there isn't any kind of basic dodge ability so getting cornered is all too easy. Bosses are at least more engaging but these battles end up swinging to the other extreme—they're seriously challenging, and the tedium of spending twenty minutes running through a level just to die against a boss is, needless to say, frustrating. There's an unfortunate degree of repetition in the level design as well since there are only a handful of locations that you'll revisit over and over. There are actually some solid dungeon designs in the game, such as a level that's a giant tower which requires you to find batteries in order to power its elevator, but doing it half a dozen times makes the charm wear thin. And levels are long, with no breaks or checkpoints, which honestly just makes them feel like work more often than not, with your reward being a slightly more engaging boss fight at the end. These flaws are all the more egregious while playing solo, because Dragon Marked for Death is clearly made for multiplayer—some of the clumsy design mechanics start to make a little more sense when you have a full team of four players backing each other up. For example, the witch's long, stationary cast time is hard to work around while solo, but if you have a friend drawing the attention of the enemy you'll be able to dish out massive magical damage. Multiplayer unquestionably makes the game more palatable, though it doesn't fix the inherent issues of tedious combat design and repetitive level structures. It's also a bit unfortunate that multiplayer is a little harder to execute than it ought to be—there's local LAN wireless play but no split-screen co-op, and the online community is so scarce that you'll have to plan meet-ups with friends through something like Discord. These can be problematic hurdles in a game that desperately relies upon multiplayer gameplay. And one note on the controls: it's straight up nonsensical that you have to repeatedly press the dash button in order to run. Environments are fairly big—and you'll occasionally want to backtrack for one reason or another—and there's no stamina meter that relates to combat, it's just that pressing the dash button only gives you a few seconds of running time. Why make a feature so pointlessly clumsy. Just finishing the game should take around 20 hours, but even that's being generous depending on how lucky you are getting valuable material drops for powerful weapons or how quick you are grinding experience points. Even after finishing you can of course replay the game with different characters with their different play styles, which can quadruple your play time. Dragon Marked for Death is simply designed to keep you playing over and over, even though the gameplay devolves into tedium fairly quickly. The weirdest aspect of the game's progression though is the fact that you won't unlock the final mission until you complete certain side quests—side quests that are completely hidden, which is just another awkward aspect of the game's design. Despite its issues with gameplay design, Dragon Marked for Death certainly looks stylish, once again relying on a pixel art style that Inti Creates has honed over the years. The visuals are colorful, the animation is fluid, and although the monster and environment designs feel overused by the end of the game they are undeniably well designed. The soundtrack isn't half bad either, though there are few songs that will stick with you after turning off the game. Dragon Marked for Death has some solid action-RPG elements but can't seem to bind them together in a cohesive game. Despite mimicking the loot grind formula of similar games, the shallow combat mechanics and tediously repetitive environments lack the kind of spark that keeps players coming back to these types of experiences. The focus on multiplayer is also at the complete expense of the single-player experience which feels woefully unbalanced in comparison, but the limited multiplayer options make teaming up with others just a bit too difficult, and the rewards too meager. Ultimately the game fails to inspire the kind of long-term community that it was clearly built for. Rating: 5 out of 10 Dragons
  22. There must be something special about 80s nostalgia since we're seeing so much of it lately in pop culture—or maybe it's just that those children of the 80s are old enough to make their own films, TV shows, and video games now. Regardless, the 80s has become synonymous with a certain style of pop culture nostalgia, that perfect balancing point where pop culture fandom was taking off but before the internet oversaturated it. Back when Saturday morning meant cartoons: ridiculously produced but still oddly magical cartoons. Saturday Morning RPG relies on all of those cartoon and pop culture references to produce a charmingly bizarre take on 80s teen life. But while the game nails the goofy nostalgia, the actual RPG mechanics leave a lot to be desired. You play as average high school kid Marty whose life gets turned upside down when he's given a magical notebook (which looks suspiciously like a Trapper Keeper) which gives him the power to use everyday objects as weapons to battle the villainous HOOD forces. The game is split up into five episodes and each offers a different heroic adventure—one is even a very special Christmas episode. The writing is as delightfully campy as you'd expect from a game based on 80s cartoons, and spotting all of the references is definitely a lot of fun. As amusing as it is to see all of the parodies at work the writing is mostly middling—emulating goofy writing doesn't give the developers much room to make the game's story particularly interesting—but as a comedic game it still lands most of its jokes, even if the nostalgia starts to feel uninspired after a while. Saturday Morning RPG puts its own spin on the genre with a quirky battle system that is kind of a mash-up of multiple combat types. Battles are turn-based and aside from your standard attack—which is quite weak and not worth using most of the time—you can bring up to five items to use as weapons, each with a limited use. For example, you can throw a CD three times per battle. Each item has its own power, accuracy, and speed rating because, after selecting an attack, it'll take a little time before Marty actually executes it. In addition most attacks feature some sort of quick time event to make the attack stronger (there's also a QTE for blocking). You also have a magic meter which is used to charge your attack multiplier to increase the damage of your next attack. And finally you can equip scratch and sniff stickers to boost your stats, but you need to scratch them before every battle by rotating the left control stick (or using the touch screen in handheld mode). All that might make battles sound more complicated than they really are. In reality they end up following a very basic pattern over and over. The battle begins and you frantically try to scratch your stickers, which feels like a silly mechanic almost immediately. You'll charge up your attack multiplier because your base damage is garbage otherwise, then you'll select one of the two or maybe three items that you use regularly because, despite having a wide variety of battle items available, most aren't very useful. All the while you'll be blocking a barrage of attacks because in the time it takes Marty to perform one attack the enemies will usually perform two or three. Saturday Morning RPG offers a unique battle system but the problem is it's incredibly monotonous and not that fun after a few battles. Combat feels unrewarding and incredibly shallow, which is a huge problem for an RPG. Since you only have one character your strategic options are fairly limited, and since you heal between battles there isn't even much incentive to perform well most of the time, outside of the letter grade you're given (which, granted, will earn you some bonus EXP). Much like the story the gameplay relies upon the humor of using these everyday items in battle, often involving some sort of reference to 80s pop culture, but that's a weak basis for the hundreds of battles you'll perform throughout the game. On the exploration side of things the game isn't a whole lot better. Each episode is self-contained so none of the environments are particularly large, though each has a handful of side quests to enjoy. Exploring to pick up new stickers or battle items can be helpful but the level design usually feels flat. There's not much depth to the exploration but again the most interesting part of the game might just be poring over the background details for more pop culture jokes. You have the option of replaying each episode to tackle every side quest or earn a higher score, plus the game has an Arena and an Endless mode if for some reason you want more of the battle system, but most players will probably be more than content with just a quick seven hour trip through the story once. The graphics try to capitalize on pixel art nostalgia and the result is…fine? Pixel graphics have become so commonplace that there needs to be something more interesting to make them stand out, and Saturday Morning RPG's visuals feel about as generic as you can get—unless that too is a reference to cookie cutter 80s cartoons. Even if the graphics fail to impress though there's something to be said for the soundtrack, which captures that 80s synth pop sound perfectly. Almost every track feels like it could've been taken straight out of an 80s movie. The downside is that there isn't a huge variety to the soundtrack so you end up hearing the same songs over and over, but it's not quite as repetitive as the battle system. Saturday Morning RPG coasts by on a healthy dose of nostalgia humor—and for fans of 80s cartoons, it really is fun to spot all of the references—but the bland, repetitive combat ultimately makes even this relatively short RPG a drag. The battle system gets points for originality but that charm quickly wears away and the player is left with a monotonous experience that, despite the variety of sticker stat boosts and combat item options, just isn't very interesting. Without a solid core gameplay system the flaws in the writing, visuals, and audio end up standing out as well, making Saturday Morning RPG much more fun in concept than in practice. Rating: 6 out of 10 Saturday Morning Cartoons
  23. In a Venetian-styled city overrun with political intrigue, factionalism, and classism, an elite investigator is called back from a five year exile to uncover the deadly threats lurking in the shadows. Masquerada: Songs and Shadows from developer Witching Hour Studios and publisher Ysbryd Games takes players on a colorful adventure with hand-drawn graphics and real-time tactical combat in order to explore the city's elaborate history that revolves around elemental magic. But gameplay elements take something of a backseat to Masquerada's entrancing storytelling. Masquerada takes place within the city of Ombre, a wealthy and powerful city thanks to the Mascherines found there—masks that grant the wearer power over one of the four elements. Though the origins of the Mascherines is something of a mystery, one thing is clear: their use has created distinct social boundary lines, causing an ever-growing tension between the ruling elite and the common public. The developers have done an incredible job of establishing a rich backstory to the lore and setting of the game. As you play you'll be positively bombarded with journal entries describing the city's districts, factions, and history, and although it might seem a bit overwhelming it's well worth taking the time to read them all. It also helps that the journal entries are written from the main character's perspective, which adds a layer of personality to the text. The fantasy setting is vivid, unique, and engaging, and the amount of detail poured into backstory elements is staggering considering the fact that some are only tangentially touched upon in the main plot. Masquerada's rich history will be an absolute delight to anyone that enjoys reading fantasy lore. And my praise for the writing isn't limited to the backstory. The main story and the development of the main characters is beautifully handled as well. Each has a potentially painful history that is thoughtfully and carefully unveiled as you progress, making it easy to care about each member of your party. And as the subtitle might suggest, there's an ever-present layer of intrigue and mystery that easily propels you through the narrative. Masquerada isn't afraid to delve into more serious topics either, and manages to do so with a delicate hand. Potentially cumbersome topics like social class issues are handled in such a way that the game never feels overbearing in its messaging. The writing is beautifully nuanced and engaging thanks to this blend of fantasy elements with real-world issues—in fact it's a shame that there aren't more games or stories written in this setting, as even by the end of the story there's plenty of interesting questions waiting to be explored. Coincidentally, exploration of dungeons, towns, or overworlds is not a major aspect of Masquerada. The game's progression is actually highly linear—you don't even earn experience points per se, but instead earn skill points at specific checkpoints—which might seem a bit odd for an RPG. However it's the storytelling that really drives the action in the game, not the combat or adventure mechanics. But that's not to say the battle system is without merits of its own. Masquerada is a real-time tactical RPG with up to three characters in your party (Cicero, the protagonist, is always one of them). You'll only control one character at a time but by using the tactical pause button you're able to take a moment to survey the battle and direct your two AI companions. Characters will auto-attack nearby enemies and the real heart of the gameplay is in managing your skills (each of which has a cooldown) in order to efficiently defeat enemies. Combining different skills can have powerful cumulative effects—for example, a fire skill might attach a fire tag to an opponent, and activating that tag with another skill will cause additional burning damage. Given the real-time flow of combat you need to be thoughtful in how you approach battles and quick to react to changes—it's easy to lose control of things if you're attacking haphazardly. Additionally, you'll need to consider the positioning of your characters, not just because each skill has a different area of effect (single target, straight line, circular, etc.) but because some characters are "tanks" with higher defenses while others need distance or excel at backstab damage. The combat system is a bit much to learn initially but after some practice there's a satisfying ebb and flow to combat. Battles may not be particularly flashy in Masquerada, but efficiently dealing with enemies is always rewarding, even if things can be chaotic at times. Plus there are plenty of boss fights that offer more challenge and require more thoughtful approaches, which helps the focus on managing skill cooldowns shine a bit better. Admittedly combat does get a bit repetitive by the end of the game, especially basic fights, but not so much that fighting ever becomes too boring. You're also limited to equipping up to four skills (they correspond to the ABXY buttons when you're controlling a character) so you have to decide which skills you want to upgrade and use in battle. Each character doesn't have a huge variety of skills but it's enough that two players can have significantly different approaches to combat. A few hours into the game you'll also be able to reset your skill points if you want to try something new, so experimenting is convenient. And perhaps most importantly, you'll select Cicero's element at the beginning of the game which determines his selection of skills, so there's a decent promise of replay value if you want to play around with different elements. A single playthrough can last a good 15 hours or so though, a lot of which is in cutscenes and dialogue, so replaying the game just for the combat can be a time-consuming endeavor. The game's rich storytelling is brought to life by an all-star cast of voice actors, including recognizable names like Matthew Mercer and Jennifer Hale. Every character is beautifully voiced—thankfully, since there is so much dialogue in Masquerada—and every actor does a fantastic job of giving depth and personality to characters that emote and grow over the course of the game. Rounding out the game's top notch audio is a brilliantly atmospheric soundtrack that perfectly evokes the shadowy mystique of a city defined by secrets as well as the elegance of a high society that prides itself on appearances. There's a suitably operatic tint to the music that makes it epic and impressive whether you're simply walking through town or battling a giant beast. The game's visuals are no less striking. Masquerada's presentation nails the sense of grand opulence that one would expect of an Italian city at the height of its power—the intricately detailed patterns in the scenery alone captures the beauty of a powerful and wealthy culture. The game also isn't afraid to flood the screen with brilliant, rich colors which adds just the right otherworldly quality to the environments. Cutscenes are presented as slightly animated comic book panels which are undeniably stylish, though at times the game's visuals seem to suffer from compression issues, or the artwork's resolution is simply too low, giving the images a smeared, blurry quality. The frame rate can also be a little choppy as well, most notably when walking through an area with a lot of NPCs and other background animation, which is especially disappointing given the not insignificant loading times that pop up regularly. Still, these technical issues do little to spoil the elaborate and colorful style of the art design. Even moreso than the typical RPG, the story is the star of the show in Masquerada: Songs and Shadows. The real-time tactical combat system is solid, even if it's mildly repetitive by the end of the game, and the linear game structure means that there's virtually no opportunity for exploring or finding side quests. The good news, though, is that Masquerada features some of the most interesting stories, engaging characters, and fascinating world-building that you'll find in a recent Switch release. The time you spend with the game may be tipped in favor of cutscenes and lore over actual combat sequences, but fans of rich fantasy storytelling won't find anything to complain about on that account. Rating: 8 out of 10 Mascherines Review copy provided by publisher Masquerada: Songs and Shadows will be available on the Switch eShop on May 9th for $19.99.
  24. Fans of pixel-graphic mayhem rejoice: Brian Provinciano's follow up to the smash hit Retro City Rampage is now available and promises just as much retro style action, this time with a 16-bit art style bump. Shakedown: Hawaii, from one-man developer Vblank Entertainment, retains many of its predecessor's best features, most notably the pure fun of just wreaking havoc whether on foot, in a car, or even in a speedboat. And Shakedown: Hawaii proves that formula just doesn't get old. Shakedown: Hawaii starts you off with a pretty unconventional protagonist. You play as an aging CEO who has lost touch with the modern world: your classic business ventures are losing ground in the face of online shopping, video streaming, and health food concerns. But with a little business ingenuity—which includes a massive supply of weapons and a willingness to shakedown every business on the island for protection money—you might be able to turn your fortunes around and take control of the entire island. It's a bit of a shame that this game shakes off the nonstop pop culture reference extravaganza that characterized Retro City Rampage, but Shakedown: Hawaii is chock full of humor all the same. The whole premise of the story allows for some scathing satire of modern business practices—everything from misleading marketing to loot boxes is made fun of by way of our protagonist's reckless pursuit of the almighty dollar. It's hilarious (and a bit depressing when you remember there are actually CEOs like this, albeit with fewer murderous crime sprees…probably) and allows for tons of story mission opportunities as you dip into various industries and business ventures. If anything the game might be a little too ambitious in its scope though, as the two other playable characters—the CEO's slacker son and a hired "fixer" that takes care of problems overseas—come off a bit half-baked, but that's a small concern when you're building your business empire one bullet at a time. Much like Retro City Rampage, Shakedown: Hawaii feels like the perfect distillation of the Grand Theft Auto formula, i.e. stealing cars, shooting passers-by, and generally being a huge menace to society. Letting loose with a little mayhem is always fun and Shakedown: Hawaii does a fantastic job of just letting you do it. Stealing cars is simple, driving is incredibly smooth thanks to hyper-responsive controls (no need to perfect your K-turn here, just tilt the control stick in the other direction and be on your way), just about everything is destructible so when you're driving around you don't have to worry about avoiding trees or fences—even escaping the cops is pretty easy. There is a solid selection of firearms to choose from (including a weaponized hair dryer) and aiming is easy with a dual-stick set-up. This game nails the sense of freedom that makes open world games so much fun and gives you a charming playground to mess with. Of course, as the CEO of a major corporation your day isn't just shoot this, drive that all the time. You're also in charge of acquiring property around the island and leveraging the modest capital your business currently has into a multi-million dollar empire. It may sound like a complete 180 compared to the chaotic run-and-gun side of the gameplay, but managing your real estate holdings is quite addictive in its own way. Just ask anyone that enjoys resource management or sim games: there's an incredibly satisfying loop of gradually building up your holdings and amassing more and more wealth (which is, again, perhaps the game getting a little too realistic with its portrayal of business moguls). Saving up your money to buy that valuable hotel which will in turn provide you even more money is an addictive process, and the cash in Shakedown: Hawaii adds up pretty quickly, so you won't be wallowing in a sub-million dollar company for long. The game also finds the perfect meeting point between the two halves of its gameplay (as well as the source for the game's title): by shaking down small business for protection money you'll be able to buy them outright, gradually expanding your control over the island's commerce. The allure of making money is ever-present in Shakedown: Hawaii and makes for a perfectly addictive crime spree experience. With an entire island to explore, including neighborhood variations like a commercial district, residential area, beachfront, etc., as well as over one hundred story missions, there's plenty to do in Shakedown: Hawaii. That being said the game also isn't too long—a good ten hours or so will see you through everything, including a handful of side quests and arcade-style high score challenges. Nothing about the game feels short while you're playing though, especially because the addictive nature of expanding your business means you'll always be on the prowl for a new hostile takeover. And even if some of the story missions end up feeling repetitive by the end (e.g. go to this location and shoot everyone there), every minute with Shakedown: Hawaii feels like time well spent. The presentation in Shakedown: Hawaii feels like the natural evolution of Retro City Rampage. There's still the delightfully retro pixel aesthetic to enjoy, but with the leap to 16-bit details the environments are even more vibrant and detailed (though character sprites are still adorably tiny) and developer Vblank makes the most of this distinctive style. The soundtrack by Matt Creamer deserves special mention too as the poppy, electronic tunes provide the perfect driving beat for the CEO's seemingly cocaine-fueled insane antics. The pop culture references may have been dropped from the game's writing but the audio still sounds deliciously 80s, which is perfect for the story of a CEO whose business ideas seem to have stalled in that decade. You might not expect a frenetic action game to blend so well with a business management sim, but Shakedown: Hawaii makes it work beautifully. The action is wild and satisfying thanks to sharp controls and an emphasis on chaotic fun over limiting realism, and the property management half of the game is shockingly addictive. Fans of Retro City Rampage will love stepping into this kind of pixelated world once again, while newcomers should appreciate the inventive blend of genres. Rating: 8 out of 10 Shakedowns Review copy provided by publisher Shakedown Hawaii is now available on the Switch eShop for $19.99.
  25. Originally released episodically starting in 2017, Bendy and the Ink Machine turns a classic animation studio (in the vein of classic Mickey Mouse cartoons) into a perfectly creepy setting in this first-person horror game. But although the game is oozing style, the gameplay and narrative leave something to be desired. You play as Henry Stein, a retired animator who is invited to visit his old animation studio by his old employer, Joey Drew. Once you get there though it's clear that something is terribly wrong, and your only choice is to delve further into the mystery in the hopes of finding a way out. It's not the first time we've seen a horror setting use something that is typically thought to be sweet and child-friendly (in this case, classic black and white cartoons), but Bendy and the Ink Machine does a great job of leveraging this backdrop into an unsettling setting. The emphasis on ink is also perfect for grotesque, creepy scenery—the whole game nails the atmosphere that something eerie is always happening just out of eyesight. The actual plot though fails to capitalize on the setting. There's just a little too much that is unexplained as you explore this mysteriously elaborate and derelict cartoon studio which makes it hard to feel invested by the end. It's unfortunately clear that the game was developed episodically without a strong narrative throughline to keep everything connected, resulting in an ending that falls flat. Bendy and the Ink Machine draws on the horror game blueprint that has become pretty standard over the past few years. You've got a first-person perspective to keep everything feeling close and dangerous, simple environmental puzzles to solve in order to progress, and a basic combat system (though there are also several scenes where your only option is to flee or hide from impervious monsters). If you've played any such horror games lately then this one is going to feel pretty by the numbers, i.e. find a valve handle to clear out some pipes blocking your way. The game wears its inspirations from other games on its sleeve, from audio log backstories to the mysterious side characters you meet while exploring. That doesn't necessarily mean the game is bad, but there's nothing particularly new or intriguing about the gameplay—even if you're in a constant state of tension while exploring, the gameplay feels pretty rote. The somewhat lackluster gameplay is also brought down by some mildly annoying quirks, such as the way puzzles have to be solved in a specific order—i.e., you might find a suspicious valve handle on the ground, but you won't be able to pick it up until you've found the pipe that is missing such a handle. It's understandable that the game would force you on these linear paths in order to make use of jumpscares and the like, but it feels silly at times when you can see a solution clearly but can't quite access it until you do things in the right order. The bigger issue with Bendy and the Ink Machine's gameplay is the combat. At times you're given melee weapons and are able to fight back against the inky blob monsters that pursue you, but hit detection and aiming leave much to be desired. This imprecision only becomes more frustrating against strong enemies that have a knack for hitting you and knocking you away before you can even get a swing in. Trying to fight back against these horrors just feels clumsy and awkward, like you're lumbering about. The good news is that the game autosaves frequently so even if you do succumb you won't lose much progress, but the flip side of that feature is the way it really lowers the stakes on surviving the game's traps—there's not a lot of tension while running from monsters if you'll conveniently respawn nearby with little progress lost. Bendy and the Ink Machine may not use the exact same classic animation of old cartoons but the inspiration is clear in the game's visual style. The developers have gotten a ton of personality out of the sepia toned graphics, painting a perfect backdrop for an eerie horror game, and the artwork nails the sense of "what if Disney were overrun by monsters?" The soundtrack is appropriately eerie as well, relying on tried and true creepy stringed instruments, and the voice work is good—though not necessarily great—at injecting some personality into the scattered audio logs you'll find while exploring. This is by no means a long game as, even when you're hunting for some item needed to progress, there isn't a ton of rooms to explore, so the game's progression is brisk and straight-forward. It only takes about four hours to finish the whole game, though there's a small incentive to replay the game with a bonus item to uncover some hidden secrets. Even so this is the kind of game that can easily by finished in one evening. Bendy and the Ink Machine establishes an intriguing horror setting that unfortunately runs out of steam by the end of the adventure. A mediocre story and lackluster gameplay fail to make the most out of the game's stylish blend of classic cartoons and horror, and the resulting game is not wholly bad but also nothing particularly remarkable either. Bendy and the Ink Machine is enough to supply a few frights for the evening but doesn't have the depth to make it memorable once the lights are back on. Rating: 6 out of 10 Cartoons