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  1. Once upon a time, Nippon Ichi Software created a side-scrolling puzzle-platformer that followed a princess and a prince on a storybook adventure through a dark forest. Playing the game isn't a complete fairy tale, though. Despite a charming story and a beautifully unique visual style, the gameplay in The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince leaves something to be desired. The plot of the game reads just like an old fairy tale: each night in a dark forest, a monstrous wolf sings a beautiful song, attracting the appreciation of a young prince. Separated by the darkness the two grow close, but when the prince tries to see the source of the beautiful voice, the wolf panics and accidentally blinds the prince. With the help of the old witch of the woods, the wolf transforms into a princess to try to help the prince regain his eyesight. The story is extremely cute, a little sad, and wholly charming from start to finish. It's not too often that you get to enjoy a modern fable with poignant reflections on self-identity and appearance that still captures the feel of a classic fairy tale—cutscenes in the game are even presented as a storybook. It's easy to be charmed by the fairy tale format of Liar Princess. The gameplay is a little harder to love, though. You play as the princess who is able to transform between a wolf form and human form. As a wolf, you can attack monsters with your claws and are mostly invulnerable to damage yourself. As the princess, you have to take the prince's hand and slowly walk him forward, avoiding obstacles and falls (you'll die from shockingly small heights as a human in this game). In essence, Liar Princess is one long escort mission, and I fully acknowledge the kind of baggage that comes with that term. Walking the prince around can be slow and plodding—though thankfully it's easy to leave him alone to take care of enemies or hazards yourself, so you're not constantly worried about his safety. Still, the gameplay can feel quite meandering at times. To spice things up a little, there are plenty of simple puzzles you'll have to solve using both the princess and the prince, i.e. pressure sensitive switches that require you to leave the prince behind while you find another route. For the most part these are quite simple puzzles though. Anyone that has played a decent number of platformers won't be surprised by the kinds of challenges Liar Princess cooks up and, given the slow nature of walking the prince around, the gameplay can feel particularly sluggish at times. To be fair there are few bad puzzles in the game, outside of one or two finnicky controls moments or a particularly obtuse riddle (which, to the game's credit, the game even warns you about and offers you a chance to skip it entirely). Instead the puzzles in Liar Princess are, by and large, just kind of there. Not terrible, but nothing particularly inspired either. The game is also quite short, and can easily be finished in just four or five hours. Combined with the somewhat basic level and puzzle design, it can't help but feel like Liar Princess is a rough draft that was never fully fleshed out. Still, it has a certain charm while it lasts, and each level has a handful of collectibles which unlock concept art and additional story lore, both of which are well worth checking out. The presentation, like the storytelling, is the saving grace of Liar Princess. The storybook / sketchbook style to the graphics is gorgeous and totally charming for the cute fairy tale plot that unfolds here. There aren't a ton of different elements at play here—you really only encounter a few different types of monsters—but the style is undeniably appealing. There are also adorable details like how the princess and prince smile while holding hands. The soundtrack is pretty great as well. There aren't that many tracks since there are only about twenty stages in the game, but the music hits the right balance of whimsical and eerie that feels perfect for this slightly dark fairy tale. The game's cutscenes are also voiced, but only in Japanese—somehow it doesn't feel too out of place, though. The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince offers up an adorable little fairy tale that will easily charm you with its endearing protagonists and simple story of bonding. The gameplay rarely manages to feel like more than a mostly by-the-numbers side-scrolling adventure though, and your progress isn't so much limited by challenging game design as it is by the prince's slow walking speed. Still, players interested in a beautifully designed and charming story should appreciate the brief journey of the princess and the prince. Rating: 7 out of 10 Fables
  2. Eliwood8

    Baba Is You Review

    What if you could rewrite the rules of a video game while playing it? That is essentially the premise of Baba Is You, created by developer Arvi Teikari, aka Hempuli. In this puzzle game the rules of each level are written on the screen, and by moving the words around you're able to turn an impassable wall into harmless scenery, or a simple rock into an invaluable key. Baba Is You leverages this inventive puzzle game premise into hundreds of mind-bending levels for a puzzle game that is consistently surprising, challenging, and delightful. Baba Is You takes a very literal approach to the idea of "rewriting the rules," as each level's rules are written as text in the level. For example, you'll generally see "Baba is You" somewhere on screen, indicating that you can move the odd little character Baba around. Another rule might say "Flag is Win," indicating the end goal of the level, but the rule "Wall is Stop" might prevent you from reaching the flag. However, rules are only in effect when written in a straight line (horizontally or vertically), so by simply pushing the word "Wall" up one space the rule is now broken and you can pass straight over the wall. Explaining this in text doesn't have the same effect as simply playing the game—it's a devilishly simple but ingenious puzzle gameplay system, one that any player can immediately pick up. This word manipulation system is so delightfully clever that I finished most levels while shaking my head in amazement at the puzzle design. Once you get past the introductory levels, solving these puzzles truly requires out-of-the-box thinking, but Baba Is You also makes it easy to experiment and slowly work through solutions at your own pace. There's even an undo button that allows you to rewind by one action at a time. This is especially important given that changing one rule can have a huge effect on the stage overall, plus it can be easy to accidentally work yourself into a corner (literally, since Baba can generally only push words and not pull them, so pushing a word into the side of the screen will leave it stuck there). Even so, Baba Is You doesn't pull any punches. The game isn't afraid to throw some seriously challenging puzzles your way, and given the nature of the game you may find yourself floundering for a bit. There aren't any in-game hints to nudge you in the right direction either, which can make some of the particularly difficult levels feel frustrating. Baba Is You simply isn't the kind of game you can rush through though. It's a game that rewards light experimentation as much as careful planning, and it's a game that will particularly appeal to players that enjoy mulling over a puzzle, examining it from all sides, and trying to find the key first step that puts everything on the right track. And thankfully, even though the game doesn't offer hints, the levels unlock in a mostly non-linear fashion—if you're truly stuck on a puzzle, simply skip it and tackle a new one instead. Sometimes the best way to solve a puzzle in Baba Is You is to leave it be for a while and come back when inspiration strikes. The game drops you straight into the action with no storytelling build-up, which is a bit of a shame, given the uniquely surreal visuals and setting in the game. The graphics are simple but undeniably striking in their own way and give the whole game a charming sense of style. There's also something impressive about the way the developer has given each world a personality using only a handful of different background elements. The music is sort of in the same boat—the soundtrack isn't overtly flashy but it adds a catchy, mellow vibe to the game, perfect for when you're staring at the screen trying to solve a particularly tricky puzzle. Puzzle games, naturally, rarely have much replay value, but the sheer amount of puzzles combined with the challenging design means you can rest easy with spending your money on Baba Is You. With over two hundred levels, it's easy to spend hours upon hours with the game. However, if you're just trying to "beat" each world and progress, you'll also be pleased to hear that many levels are optional, so if you get stuck you can move on to a new puzzle anyway. Baba Is You is a fiendishly clever puzzle game, one that does an excellent job of establishing a simple set of rules and then twisting them into all manner of challenges. The simple art style and catchy music add a welcome layer of charm—important, given how long you'll be staring at these screens trying to work out in your head what you actually need to do. But even if the puzzles can quickly feel overwhelming, their inventive design never fails to impress and the satisfaction of completing one is consistently tantalizing. Rating: 8 out of 10 Babas Review copy provided by developer Baba Is You is available now on the Switch eShop for $15.00.
  3. Eliwood8

    RICO Review

    Plenty of games try to capture the excitement of a buddy-cop action flick, but few do it by focusing solely on the door-kicking action and gun fights like this one. RICO from developer Ground Shatter and publisher Rising Star Games puts you in the shoes of a loose-cannon cop, either solo or with a friend, where procedurally generated buildings are packed with criminals in need of merciless justice. Quick, arcade-style action and local or online co-op don't do much to fix RICO's rough gameplay elements, though. In the town of San Amaro, crime runs rampant, especially due to the slow nature of prosecuting organized crime. That's where you come in: as a member of the RICO elite police task force, you have just 24 hours to take down a criminal empire, which means working your way through the lower ranks until you reach the kingpin himself. Unfortunately that's about all you can expect as far as storytelling is concerned, as there's no other cutscenes or story elements outside of the opening cutscene, but to be fair RICO is a fast-paced arcade-style FPS, and you've got no time to waste if you want to defeat the crime boss. Either solo or with a buddy (both local split-screen and online), your goal is to sweep through one criminal warehouse after another by kicking down doors and shooting anyone you see inside (when you've only got 24 hours to finish a case, due process takes a backseat). Essentially RICO focuses entirely on the satisfaction of breaching and entering rooms with tactical efficiency—you'll even be treated to a slow-down sequence when you first enter, giving you a chance to quickly pick off each enemy in the room before they can react. You'll also have to collect evidence and make a speedy escape before you're overwhelmed by reinforcements, and later missions will add further challenges such as taking out a high-ranking target, destroying criminal servers, and frantically defusing bombs before they explode. It's undeniably satisfying to sweep through rooms as either a one-man or two-man wrecking crew, but the problem with RICO is that it doesn't offer more than this one thrill over and over. Every level is procedurally generated to add variety and as you begin a case you'll be given a branching path to reach the boss, so you can plot your path to some degree, but the game is still mindlessly repetitive and some of the extra challenges make the game more frustrating than rewarding. Defusing bombs is easily the biggest problem, as you're given a short countdown to find every bomb in the area as soon as you find one. Given the randomly generated level design, this more often than not means you're given a nearly impossible challenge to break through enemy lines to reach the bombs (and why are so many criminals just standing in a room with a ticking time bomb anyway?). Roguelike mechanics sometimes mean you're simply dealt a bad hand, but in RICO the balance is too often tipped toward frustrating challenges rather than rewarding ones. The other basic elements of the game don't do much to make up for the tedium of each playthrough. The controls are flat out clumsy—even with a good bit of fiddling with the aiming sensitivity settings it's hard to find a happy balance between either wildly too loose or molasses slow. You basically have little choice but to rely upon spray 'n' pray shooting. The guns themselves aren't terribly inspired either thanks to a limited variety to purchase/upgrade and a lack of a satisfying sense of weight or snappy aiming. The fact that reinforcements can spawn from seemingly anywhere is discouraging, especially when you're frantically trying to find a bomb. The destructible environments—most of all the doors that you kick down—are novel at first but too often a flying bit of timber will obscure your view for a clean headshot. Even the game's UI is a little obnoxious given its black and white color scheme that makes it hard to see what item you're actually highlighting. It's unfortunate, then, that RICO is based entirely around replaying the same basic playthrough over and over when so many of its gameplay details feel lacking. If you're willing to put up with some repetitive, unpolished gameplay though, you have full cases with different difficulty levels, daily challenges, and of course the option of going solo, with a friend, or playing online. But RICO never quite finds the right addictive formula to keep you coming back for more. The presentation isn't much more polished than the rest of the game. The cel-shaded design is certainly stylish when you first start up the game, but the cracks soon appear. Environments are repetitive and lacking in interesting details, the criminals themselves are much the same with only a handful of different looks, and even details like headshots aren't given much visual flair, to the point that sometimes it's hard to tell if you've even landed a headshot. There's virtually no background music and the sound effects can be oddly balanced at times—too often you'll hear a thug screaming at you from three rooms away. Sadly the audio and visuals do nothing to buoy the repetitive game design. RICO focuses on one element of FPS gameplay—breaching and entering rooms full of bad guys—but unfortunately doesn't even manage to do that particularly well. It's all too easy for a procedurally generated Roguelike game to fall into tiring repetition unless the core action of the game is polished enough to be engaging and satisfying no matter how often you do it. That's just not the case with RICO. Kicking down doors and bursting into a room guns a-blazing is fun for a moment, but RICO's rough design isn't able to sustain the excitement for even one playthrough. Rating: 5 out of 10 Kicked Doors Review copy provided by publisher RICO will be available on the Switch eShop on March 14th for $19.99.
  4. Eliwood8

    Golf Story Review

    One part sports game, one part RPG, Golf Story revives the unfortunately all-too-rare genre of story-driven sports game, one that retains all of the key gameplay components of golf while offering a more engaging sense of progression than simply collecting tournament trophies. Although Golf Story isn't the first game to blend these two game genres together, it does so with an undeniable charm. You play as an average golfer with dreams of hitting the pro circuit after being inspired by his dad as a child. Though he starts out as a nobody in the golfing world who can't even seem to get a coach to give him a chance, a bit of tenacity helps him gradually make a name for himself as he conquers each of the themed golf courses in the game's suspiciously Australia-shaped island. The basic plot isn't terribly exciting, and even the protagonist is a bit bland, but that's only because he plays the straight man to the game's multitude of oddball characters. From rapping hoodlums to aged country club snobs, it seems like everyone in the world of Golf Story loves golf, and that means you'll meet all manner of fun and funny characters and strange scenarios—the country club's werewolf scare being a notable highlight of the game's writing and sense of humor. It's great to see a sports game that just has fun with its setting, and even the corniest jokes are a welcome break between playing a round of nine holes. No matter how the story or side content is presented, the core of Golf Story is still classic virtual golf gameplay—if you've ever played a golf video game you'll instantly be familiar with the key gameplay mechanics here. Golf Story really doesn't do much that's new on the basic aiming/swinging mechanics, though to be fair, why try to fix something that isn't broken? Selecting a club, lining up a shot, adjusting for wind, and locking in the power of your swing with a quick button press are all totally standard golf mechanics by now and they remain engaging, if somewhat repetitive. Golf Story isn't afraid to think a little out of the box when it comes to course design, though. The layouts and hazards may not be quite as wild as some Mario Golf entries, but there are far more tricky and inventive obstacles to deal with here than on any real life course. Even so, Golf Story is overall a fairly easy game. Sure you might have some trouble on certain holes, especially if you get too ambitious about skirting the main path in favor of riskier shortcuts, but the key moments required to progress the story aren't going to push you to ace every hole—oftentimes just hitting par is good enough. As such there may not be a ton of depth to Golf Story in terms of either mechanics or difficulty, but it's a breezy, enjoyable course all the same. The game is also advertised as having RPG mechanics, though these are admittedly relatively minor to the game. As you progress you'll earn experience points, and when you level up you can boost your stats, such as power, accuracy, handling, etc. Your main stat is power, but increasing power affects your other stats—i.e. increasing power will make your accuracy go down—so you'll want to keep your stats balanced by not increasing power without adjusting other stats as well. Hence, there's not much variety in terms of how you level up. If you wanted to give yourself an extra challenge you could try leaving your accuracy on the low end, but for most players divvying up these stat points will be fairly mindless. You can also equip different clubs, but there aren't a huge variety to find in the game. There really isn't much variety in terms of how you approach Golf Story. It is, perhaps, not too surprising that a golf game would fall into a fair bit of repetition. Even with eight different courses, each with its own quirks, you have to really enjoy golf to keep up the energy throughout the fifteen hours or so that it takes to finish Golf Story. It doesn't help that the game forces you into repeating courses occasionally as part of the story, which gets a little tiresome. If you do want some extra gameplay though there are numerous side quests and challenges you can take on to earn a little extra EXP and money. These can feel mindlessly repetitive at times as well but they're also a good way of sharpening your skills since they tend to focus on one aspect such as aiming, chipping, putting, etc. And if you want to play a round without jumping into the story there's also a quick play mode which can support local two-player versus matches, just in case you need to settle who the real golf pro is. A big part of the game's charm comes down to its simple yet fun pixel graphics. There's nothing flashy in Golf Story, and across the game's eight themed courses the environments never stray from anything that would typically be seen in a video game, and yet there's an undeniable sense of style in the sprite work, one that perfectly suits the story's droll sense of humor. The soundtrack isn't half bad either. The music has a ton of personality in it, perfect for the somewhat-grand adventure of becoming a golf pro, even if it's hard to pay attention to the music when you're focusing on lining up your swing. Golf Story is a charming little game and a great revival of the subgenre of sports games that emphasizes adventure and story progression in addition to sports simulation. Although not a huge step forward for the golf genre and slightly bogged down by repetition, the game's light-hearted humor will easily pull in any virtual golfing fan. Rating: 7 out of 10 Clubs
  5. Hot on the heels of 2017's remake of Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap comes a brand new entry in the Wonder Boy franchise: Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom. Cursed Kingdom retains the classic side-scrolling platforming of the series as well as the monster transformations of The Dragon's Trap, all with a beautifully hand-drawn art style and lovingly crafted soundtrack. As good as the presentation is though, Cursed Kingdom has some rough edges when it comes to the gameplay design. In Cursed Kingdom you play as Jin, a young boy thrown into a chaotic quest to save the world when his uncle—seemingly drunk on royal nectar—uses a magic wand to transform all the people of the Monster World Kingdom into anthropomorphic animals. To reverse the curse Jin has to collect five magic orbs—a classic adventure quest. The game doesn't try to do anything new other than rehash the old tropes we've seen hundreds of times, but as an homage to a classic 80s series, the cliché plot doesn't feel out of place. Cursed Kingdom nails the feeling of an old-school action-platformer—perhaps too well, in fact. Because while the game recreates the look and sound of 80s platformers, it does little to modernize the gameplay. There's a frustrating clunkiness to the action that means your movements and attacks never feel quite as smooth as they ought to. Unlike a lot of other action games, Cursed Kingdom never quite finds the right rhythm to give the player that satisfying sense of fluidity. Instead combat just feels choppy, even by the end of the game, often due to clumsy hitbox detection which means you'll stumble into attacks and hazards far more often than you'd think. The combat just never feels satisfying. The platforming side of the gameplay fares a little better, thanks to the variety of abilities that your monster transformations give you. As a snake you can climb mossy walls, as a frog you can swim freely underwater and use your tongue to grapple things, as a pig you can…cast magic for some reason. Regardless of the specifics, the monster transformations also transform the way you play and interact with the environment and offers up plenty of fun and clever puzzle-platformer scenarios that rely upon one form or another. The game's pacing on giving you these transformations feels a little off—obviously the last transformations will be the most powerful/useful, but the first couple are downright boring at times—but still, each new form offers more variety to the platforming gameplay. Cursed Kingdom is also a challenging game, surprisingly so in fact, and too often for frustrating reasons. There are old-fashioned annoyances like enemies that swoop in from off screen to attack you and bothersome quirks like how coins bounce away so you have to chase them down, but the most difficult aspect of the game might just be the fact that you consistently feel underpowered. You can equip different swords/armor to boost your defense a little, but these are mostly used for the special effects they offer, such as a frost sword that can create ice blocks in water. Even with the right equipment enemies hit hard, easily draining your energy in just a couple of hits, but the short range on most attacks means you have to get up close and personal. This is what makes combat so frustrating, since your range and movement don't feel up to the task. As such you'll likely die/retry a lot in this game, but the checkpoint system can be annoyingly limited at times. There are a number of checkpoints scattered throughout the game, granted, but their placements mean you'll be stuck replaying certain difficult portions of the game every time you die, and at that point Cursed Kingdom just feels tedious. Ultimately, the game doesn't balance its difficulty with rewarding gameplay and instead relies upon some dated mechanics. The one area of the game that is perfectly modernized though is the presentation. Cursed Kingdom retains the cartoony style of the previous games in the series but recreates it with beautiful hand-drawn graphics that are not only gorgeous but utterly charming as well. It's the details in the smooth animation that brings Cursed Kingdom to life and gives the game an adorable, playable-cartoon vibe. The music is also pretty incredible—it captures that childlike sense of heroics that defines classic cartoons and classic video games, but does it with modern sound design that's a joy to listen to. Even at its most difficult moments, Cursed Kingdom's presentation is wholly charming. At around fifteen hours Cursed Kingdom feels like the right length for its adventure. There are a number of locations to visit and a good variety of challenges that don't get too repetitive. In Metroidvania fashion there are also plenty of hidden power-ups and collectibles to find which often require retreading old areas with new abilities, and thankfully a warp system makes backtracking a little easier. Completionists can get a little more out of the game by finding everything, but even at that point Cursed Kingdom feels like a single playthrough kind of game. Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is clearly a loving tribute to a classic franchise, and maybe that's why the developers seem to have missed the fact that plenty of old-school challenges just aren't fun anymore, and certain gameplay elements are best left in the past. Still, if you're willing to look past the awkward combat mechanics and cheap deaths, Cursed Kingdom boasts incredible audio and visual design as well as a decent variety to the platformer side of its gameplay. Just be prepared for some frustrating elements along the way. Rating: 7 out of 10 Monsters
  6. Eliwood8

    Yooka-Laylee Review

    When former Rare employees took to the internet to announce a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, fans took notice, spurring one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of 2015. It's clear there was a lot of nostalgia love for a 3D platformer starring an anthropomorphic animal duo, down the visual style and nonsense squeaking noises during dialogue. The heyday of the genre was squarely in the late 90s though, and recreating that formula on a modern console leads to mixed results. It's a normal day for Yooka and Laylee (a chameleon and a bat, respectively) when an old book that Laylee found is suddenly spirited away through the air. The evil Capital B and his assistant Dr. Quack are gathering up every book they can to find a powerful magical tome, until Yooka and Laylee decide to put a stop to their evil machinations. The writing in Yooka-Laylee feels right at home with the likes of Banjo-Kazooie. It's goofy and cartoonish, full of meta gaming references, and even though some of the humor doesn't quite land perfectly (jokes in written form can be clumsy sometimes, especially with slow scrolling text speed), the game still has a light, kid-friendly charm to it. Anyone that has played one of Rare's classic collect-a-thon platformers from the 90s will feel immediately at home with Yooka-Laylee—starting up the game truly feels like stepping twenty years into the past, when 3D platformers were all the rage and full of colorful animal characters and hundreds of collectibles to grab. At its core, it feels like Yooka-Laylee could have been made just after Banjo-Tooie, as if this is some forgotten title that was dusted off, given a new coat of paint, and released on modern consoles. This game has all of the essentials: you start off in a hub world and enter different themed worlds, each of which is an open 3D environment full of items to collect—primarily Pagies, the torn pages of Laylee's magic book, but also currency for buying upgrades. Each world feels large and sprawling but not so large that you'll easily get lost—some kind of map for each area still would have been appreciated, though. Still, there's a decent variety of challenges within each world and as in so many games there's an addictive quality to picking up one collectible after another. The flip side of this coin is that Yooka-Laylee also retains many of the annoying quirks of 90s 3D platformers, and at times fails to innovate on the genre. For the most part they're little things, but they add up to put a damper on the fun, light-hearted atmosphere of the game. For one thing, hit boxes can be a little inconsistent, particularly with projectile or aerial attacks. Although the game includes a first-person aiming mode as well, this is usually too slow when you're in the middle of fighting minions. This sort of control quirk feels tied to the game's 90s roots, but certainly should have been updated for a modern game release. The game's meandering pace can be a little annoying at times as well, due to lack of direction, retreading previous worlds with new abilities, or occasionally retreading large parts of a world due to failing a challenge. The pacing isn't inherently bad but it adds a certain tedium that isn't alleviated by the wide open spaces and lackluster enemies in each world. The biggest issue that feels too beholden to the past is the controls. For the most part they're fine and give you a decent degree of control over Yooka and Laylee, but overall the controls just don't feel as sharp as they should be for a platformer. Your movements can feel stilted at times, and flying in particular is an awkward endeavor. The camera can also get a big hectic in tight spaces as it struggles to find a decent angle—thankfully at least you have the option of using a classic mode where the camera naturally centers behind you and a modern mode that gives you more control. The classic may be traditional for this kind of game but it feels too inconsistent and unwieldy, especially when modern controllers all have a second control stick anyway. Even modern mode has its issues though, and there are few things more annoying than failing a challenge simply because the camera won't cooperate. The game's presentation does a better job of bridging the N64-era inspired roots and modern aesthetics—mostly. Because while the character design is cute, most of the creatures don't have a ton of visual personality (the game mostly relies on its unending supply of puns to drum up some charisma) and the environment design is extremely hit or miss with some truly uninspired scenery at times. The soundtrack fares better overall, though it also has its ups and downs. Still, there are several great tunes, even if they are all too often restricted to smaller scenarios rather than a world's main background music track. Yooka-Laylee takes around 12 hours to finish, but that's an estimate for just the bare amount of completion. It's no surprise that as a collect-a-thon platformer there are plenty more optional challenges to tackle in order to 100% complete the game. The journey there can get a little tiresome at times but if you take the game's meandering pacing in stride it's easy to double the length of the game. For better and for worse, Yooka-Laylee faithfully recreates the 90s collect-a-thon platformer, with all of its charms and flaws. The developers have made some critical mistakes in not taking more care to modernize some of the core aspects of the game such as smooth camera movement or tighter controls, but the overall package is still a charming, nostalgic adventure that feels right at home next to the Banjo-Kazooie games. Yooka-Laylee may rely upon that nostalgia a bit too much at times, but for fans of this subgenre of platformers who haven't seen a game like this in years, the game's flaws and quirks are a small price to pay. Rating: 7 out of 10 Pagies
  7. Sometimes it's hard to believe how much the Switch has turned around the public perception and style of Nintendo. No one would have expected the Wii or Wii U to get games like Skyrim, Doom, or Diablo III, and yet all three now feel perfectly at home on Nintendo's hybrid console. Sure, Diablo III: Eternal Edition isn't exactly a brand new product as even the most recent DLC pack came out over a year ago on other platforms, but Nintendo-only players won't mind as they dive into this addictive, time-sucking action-RPG. With over twenty years of games/background lore behind it, new players might feel a little intimidated jumping into the series with Diablo III, but the core story here is easy enough to understand: the long-running war between heaven and hell is once again reignited when a falling star crashes into the cathedral where Deckard Cain and his adopted niece Leah are investigating an ominous prophecy. Your character arrives in the nearby town to help investigate and fight off the hordes of evil, leading to a series of battles that culminates with Diablo himself. The story's strength isn't so much on the character journeys as it is on worldbuilding. Diablo is classic dark fantasy that's fun to immerse yourself in as you play—the actual dialogue isn't terribly inspired, but at least you can quickly skip through it to get straight to the action. And oh what endless action Diablo III provides. Diablo is one of those games that relies upon a very simple core gameplay structure, but one that is potentially endlessly replayable with enough variety to keep it interesting hour after hour. You fight monsters, level up, find better equipment than the stuff you currently have on, then march out there to do it all again. A basic premise, and one that ends up being awfully addictive once you get into the swing of things, because every time you find better loot you get that little nudge to keep going. After all, you've got to try out this new equipment, and maybe if you play just a little further you'll get something even better. Diablo can be almost obsessively cyclical, but that's what keeps it engaging every time you load up the game. An important part of keeping a game like this interesting is in offering the player choices to customize the experience. First off, this edition of Diablo III includes all DLC so it has a total of seven character classes, each of which has a unique playstyle (melee fighters, magicians, etc.). Each class also has a variety of different abilities—for example, while I was playing a Demon Hunter character I favored rapid fire arrows and deployable turrets, but I could just have easily have focused on setting traps and using slower, more powerful attacks. The game is open enough that any strategy can work, so you never feel pigeon-holed into one path and are free to experiment as you please. And the combat feels engaging in just about every battle. Sure, fights aren't always difficult per se, especially once you've got some powerful equipment and abilities, but it's always satisfying to demolish groups of demons. The only downside here is that the game might trust players a little too much to figure things out on their own, and as a new player you might get a little lost on some details, but with time anyone will adapt to the nitty gritty aspects of the game. Diablo III also feels like a natural fit for the Switch since it's perfect for quick play sessions. It's so easy to load up the game, destroy demons for half an hour, then put the game back down, and being able to do it on the go is even more convenient. This Switch version also adds a few fun Nintendo references, including Ganondorf's armor set and a new amiibo, and while these aren't major additions to the game they're still fun to see. Of course, while fighting the lords of hell it's dangerous to go alone, so Diablo III lets up to four players team up locally or online. Fighting as a team can be a lot more fun than tediously defeating monster after monster yourself, and definitely helps break up some of the monotony of the game. And the multiplayer system works pretty well too—assuming you can find other players online it's easy to jump right into their game with no noticeable connection or network issues. The frustrating thing about playing with random players online though is the lack of communication options. With a game like Diablo sometimes you need to pause to adjust your equipment, pop back to town to drop off loot, or even just take a quick bathroom break. Diablo III on Switch doesn't give you any ability to tell other players what you're thinking/planning though, so outside of using a third-party communication like Discord you're kind of playing in a vacuum, even when there are three other players on screen. Nintendo's always been a little clunky with this kind of feature but it's particularly annoying here. The visuals in Diablo III aren't exactly all that impressive, but to be fair the game features a lot of things on screen at once when dozens of enemies are attacking, and the good news is that loading screens are short, sometimes nonexistent, with no performance dips or lag at all. And there's something to be said for the game's dark fantasy look which makes for cool, fantastical set pieces. So even if character models aren't incredibly detailed and high rez, the overall style of the game is still fun to see. The sound design is in the same boat: the background music isn't much to write home about, but it still captures that classic Western RPG vibe really well. One playthrough of Diablo III, even with the Reaper of Souls expansion, won't take too long to power through, maybe twelve to fifteen hours. However, this is a game built upon replay value, and nowhere is that more evident than the difficulty options menu which shows dozens of levels you can tackle once you've got solid gear and know the game well. Add in the different character classes, multiplayer, side modes and seasonal online events—if the cyclical nature of Diablo III clicks with you, you can easily spend hundreds of hours on this game. Diablo III: Eternal Collection is a surprising but welcome addition to the Switch's library. With nigh endless replay value and a satisfying loop of fighting monsters, collecting loot, and then doing it all again, there's a wealth of gameplay to enjoy here for anyone that hasn't gotten their fill of it on a different platform. Granted, the cycle of collecting gear after gear isn't going to click for everyone, but if it does you may end up playing Diablo III for an eternity. Rating: 8 out of 10 Demons
  8. As fun as Mario, Sonic, and other mainstream platformers are, sometimes you just need a game that puts all of your running and jumping skills to the absolute test, and keeps you white-knuckle gripping the controller. From developer Bony Yousuf and publisher The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild comes Almost There: The Platformer, a hardcore platformer complete with minimalist visuals, simple controls, and devilishly intense gameplay challenges. A game made for hardcore platformer fans, Almost There makes up for what it lacks in looks with sharp, satisfying game design. Almost There is strictly about precise platformer challenges, so there's no backstory to explain the setting—not that the game would need much since your character is just a cube! Instead the game is simply divided up into 155 levels spread across three worlds, each of which ramps up the difficulty with new hazards. Initially though the game starts off simple—perhaps deceptively so for the challenges you'll eventually face, but regardless it's a clear introduction that highlights the basic controls. There are really only two actions in the entire game, moving and jumping, but there's enough nuance to the controls to create a variety of engaging challenges with this set-up. The only complex part of the controls to master is wall jumping which doesn't even require a button press, instead you can simply alternate left and right on the control stick or D-pad to work up the momentum to move up walls. It feels a little tricky at first but it also gives you an incredibly precise control over how you move. With a bit of practice you can adjust your position on a wall down to just a few pixels in order to launch the perfect jump onto a nearby platform. With tons of vertical level design, wall jumping quickly becomes an integral part of Almost There, putting the player's dexterity—and thumb stamina—to the test in intense, rewarding ways. Like most hardcore platformers, Almost There is really all about tapping into the innate rhythm of each level in order to smoothly sail over obstacles. You don't have to play perfectly just to finish a stage, but in order to earn all three stars on a level you'll need to move as quickly as possible, wasting no time on hesitant jumps. This is where the real heart of the game is as well. Just finishing a level can be challenging, but completing it with the best time possible adds much more depth to the gameplay. Trying to find the perfect rhythm for a stage also helps the level design truly shine: it's easier to appreciate the precision of the level structure when you're trying to minimize wasted movement as much as possible. Almost There is pretty much founded upon the "just one more try" mentality that keeps players coming back for more, because if you just try to rush through every level once the game won't last too long. No level lasts longer than a minute, and even with 155 stages that makes for a short game. Of course, once the difficulty ramps up, you'll need to play levels over and over just to finish them, and earning three stars on every stage gives Almost There further long-lasting appeal. Even so, it would have been nice to have more incentive to earn stars, such as unlockables or new features—though presumably concept art for this game would be, at best, minimal. As you can see from these screenshots, Almost There isn't a game with many visual flourishes. Just like with the lack of storytelling, it's clear that gameplay comes first and foremost in this game. There's something appealing about the stark simplicity of the graphics, especially as it helps you focus strictly on timing your jumps—there's never any doubt as to whether you're lined up on the platform correctly or if there's a hazard in front of you—but even a bit more visual design would have been nice. The music, somewhat surprisingly, features some great tracks. It's the kind of music you can bob your head to without dwelling on it consciously, the perfect background audio while you're focused on the action. There are only three songs in the game—again that minimalist design rearing its head—but they're certainly good ones. Almost There: The Platformer scratches all the right itches for hardcore platformer fans. The gameplay is centered around tight, simple controls while the unforgiving nature of the spikes, lasers, and buzz saws means that even a slightly off movement can lead to a quick death. Mastering these levels and earning the coveted three star rank on every one is a daunting task, but it's the kind that should perfectly appeal to any gamer that appreciates the "just one more try" mentality. The minimalist style may be a bit disappointing to some, but the core audience will likely appreciate the focus on clear level design—just be sure to give your eyes and thumbs a break around attempt 30 or so. Rating: 7 out of 10 Platforms Review copy provided by publisher Almost There: The Platformer will be available on the Switch eShop on February 21st for $9.99.
  9. Eliwood8

    Moonlighter Review

    Out of all of the shopkeepers in video games that sell equipment to the chosen hero, how many must wish they could set out on a grand adventure of their own? In Moonlighter, such a shopkeep gets his chance, as the game blends simple shop management with dungeon-crawling action, with just a touch of Roguelike mechanics to keep players on their toes. The cycle of fighting monsters, gathering loot, then selling it in your shop proves to be a somewhat repetitious loop, but an enjoyable one all the same. Moonlighter takes place entirely within Rynoka village, a small hamlet that sprung up because of the nearby presence of a group of mysterious gates that transport adventurers into monster-filled dungeons. Will, the owner of the Moonlighter shop, dreams of entering the dungeons himself and exploring their vast riches. The game sets up a nice little world, complete with cryptic notes left by previous adventurers within the dungeons, but don't expect too much storytelling here. What little dialogue there is is fun but sadly rather light—the vast majority of the game is focused on the two halves of the gameplay: exploration and shop management. Each day in Moonlighter is divided into day and night (and don't worry, although there is a bed in your shop you don't have to worry about sleeping regularly or running out of stamina). During the day you can chat with villagers in town and open up your shop to sell items; during the night you can explore one of the four dungeons just outside of town. You can also dive into the dungeons during the day but the shop can only be opened during the day, so you do want to be a little careful how you manage your time. Regardless, Moonlighter is all about the constant cycle of procuring items from the dungeons—dropped from defeated enemies or found in treasure chests—and selling them in your shop, allowing you to buy better equipment and delve further into the dungeons. It's a simple but quite satisfying loop, one that can be quite addictive as you gradually manage to earn more and more money on each trip into the dungeons and try to maximize your profits on each run—who would've thought making money would be addictive? Moonlighter includes light Roguelike elements to keep the dungeon-crawling interesting. Every time you enter a dungeon the map will be randomly generated, though there are always three levels (plus a boss room) and every level has a healing pool. The monsters you find will be slightly randomized but each dungeon has its own selection of creatures and there isn't actually that much variety—instead you run into the typical power tier system, i.e. you might run into a level 1 golem on the first floor and then a level 3 golem on the third floor. You'll also occasionally stumble into hidden rooms, but again there isn't a huge variety here either, and it quickly becomes clear that the Roguelike elements ultimately help Moonlighter recycle gameplay features over and over. That's not to say the dungeon exploration isn't fun, but after a couple of hours you'll catch on to the typical tricks the game uses and then there won't be many surprises left in any later dungeon. The challenge of collecting as many valuable items as possible during your time in the dungeon is still there, but the game lacks exciting set piece moments. Combat also leaves something to be desired, as cutting down the same handful of enemy types over and over doesn't help spice up the gameplay either. You do have a small variety of weapons to choose from, though purchasing them can be prohibitively expensive (at least early in the game) which makes experimenting hard. Instead you'll probably end up just sticking to a couple of weapons you like straight through to the end of the game, upgrading them as you progress. And combat itself doesn't have much variety in combos or attack patterns, which can make it a little monotonous. Worse still, the healing pools on every floor, although a huge boon to the player, make combat less tense since you can always run back to the pool to heal up after every enemy encounter. Just like the exploration elements, the combat isn't bad but its simple repetitiveness reveals itself pretty quickly. Managing your shop may not be as deadly as dungeon exploration but it still requires a good deal of micromanagement. In order to sell things you have to both display them in your shop and set a fair price—too high and nobody will buy the item, but if you set the price too low you'll be missing out on profits. Shop management in Moonlighter is a bit like spinning plates as you need to keep on your toes to restock shelves, ring up customers, and chase down thieves. In somewhat opposite fashion to the dungeon-crawling half of the game, shop management has some complex details that ultimately feel kind of pointless. For example, when items are in high demand you can mark up the price a bit, but if you saturate the market and demand drops, customers won't put up with the higher price tag. It's an interesting concept but in practice it just seems to be more trouble than its worth, same with other details like hiring an assistant or fulfilling specific requests from townspeople. And yet, all that said, Moonlighter still proves to be fairly addictive. There might not be a ton of depth to the action, but there is something wonderfully engaging about escaping a dungeon with a backpack full of loot and turning a tidy profit in your shop, then doing it all again. The whole gameplay structure is brazenly cyclical, but players that enjoy the slow, steady progress of purchasing better equipment and exploring a little further bit by bit will surely enjoy Moonlighter. Micromanaging your limited inventory space within dungeons then managing shelf space in your shop is oddly satisfying, from your first dungeon run to your last. Pixel graphics in an indie game are anything but new at this point, but Moonlighter's graphics are undeniably charming all the same. There's not much in the visuals that particularly stands out at first but the design has a beautiful simplicity to it that's crisp and colorful, even when you're wandering through a dungeon for the tenth time. The music, meanwhile, is pretty great, with a lot of catchy songs that feel perfect for either exploration or keeping a watchful eye on your shop. Even if the gameplay starts to feel grindy after a while it's always fun to groove along to the music. Moonlighter mashes up two game genres into a charming little game that is undeniably repetitive and yet still manages to maintain a magnetic appeal from the first moment to the last. The micro rewards of finding valuable loot and earning a good bit of money makes for a perfect impetus to keep exploring the dungeons over and over, and the Roguelike elements help add a bit of variety without dragging down the experience into tediously difficult territory. Moonlighter may appeal to a niche audience—fans of both dungeon-crawlers and shop management sims—but the happy medium it finds between the two genres proves to be a uniquely engaging one. Rating: 7 out of 10 Dungeons
  10. What's caused the Tales games to have such inconsistent appearances on Nintendo systems? Despite originally premiering on the Super Famicom in 1995 with Tales of Phantasia, most Tales releases have skipped over Nintendo systems entirely and the last two games, Tales of the Abyss for 3DS and Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition for the Switch, have been ports. Still, Nintendo-RPG fans take their thrills where they can get them, and even if Vesperia is a 10-year old port, the franchise's signature action-RPG combat and colorful anime-inspired visuals make for a lengthy, engaging adventure. Vesperia's main protagonist is Yuri Lowell, a former imperial knight who is now something of a vigilante, standing up for the lower-quarter peasants against the uncaring nobility. Yuri is still a fairly classic take on the good-guy-protagonist trope, but his flippant attitude and determination to do what's right, even if it means doing something wrong along the way, makes him an interesting focal point for the story. The overall plot starts off extremely slow in Vesperia, though. Yuri's adventure begins with chasing down a thief, and the low stakes of his quest don't really rise until nearly halfway through the game (i.e. dozens of hours for an RPG like this). It makes the first half of the game feel a bit plodding, especially as the characters frequently, and quite needlessly, spend time discussing what each of them want to do next. The plot eventually develops some interesting twists (though still sticks to classic save-the-world tropes) but the pacing of the storytelling can make slow sections of the game feel even slower. Like all Tales games, Vesperia uses the Linear Motion Battle System, meaning battles are carried out in real-time and you have full control over one character to move freely around the battlefield and attack while the AI controls the rest of your party. This kind of action-oriented battle system can be a welcome change from traditional turn-based battles, since it makes battles a bit more engaging, almost like a fighting game as you chain together attacks and try to find the best time to block or dodge. Vesperia isn't an all-out fighting game though, and your actions feel somewhat slow and stiff—even if the gameplay is real-time you still have to think strategically about how you approach enemies. And to fight well you need to be particularly thoughtful about how you time your attacks and chain together standard strikes and special abilities called Artes. Like most RPGs it's the boss battles that truly shine and require the most strategic thought, and are hence both particularly challenging and more rewarding. The battle system also has its frustrating moments as well, though. For one thing, battling against groups of enemies is almost always a tedious endeavor since they can very easily stunlock you and deal massive damage. As you play you'll get better at avoiding such scenarios but especially in the early parts of the game it's downright frustrating. Additionally, you're always going to be wishing that your party's AI were a little smarter. You can set certain strategy plans to dictate how they act in battle (i.e. focus on healing, keep your distance from enemies, or even customize which Artes they can use), but even with these guidelines your party never feels like it's operating as efficiently as it could, especially when combos are a big part of the battle system—too often an ally's attack might knock an enemy out of your combo. On the bright side, you can have up to three friends join you in battle, and multiplayer combat tends to be much better coordinated—as long as your friends are pulling their weight. It's worth bringing a friend or two along though since another human brain in the mix has a large effect on how battles play out. Like many great RPGs, Vesperia has an almost overwhelming amount of content to sift through. In addition to learning Artes as you level up, you can also learn Skills by equipping different weapons. Skills can be as simple as increasing your strength or maximum health or have more specific benefits such as letting you chain together different Artes for longer combos. Even though you only gradually learn skills as you play they can still be somewhat overwhelming to deal with as they represent the more technical side of Vesperia's combat system. The game doesn't always do a great job of explaining the nitty gritty details of efficient Skill management, but it's also forgiving enough that the learning pains aren't too harsh. Speaking of not explaining things, Vesperia has a bad habit of hiding side quests and side content in obscure nooks and crannies throughout the game. Some of these can be as simple as an extra short cutscene, but it's still a bit annoying to miss out on things that require revisiting previous towns with no indication that there's anything new to see there. Still, even if you don't spend much time poking around for side quests, Vesperia will likely last you a good 50 hours, plenty of value for the cost of the game. This Definitive Edition also adds a few extra features, including two additional playable characters, so there's plenty of value in this little Switch cartridge. Be aware that the game has some minor instability problems, though. I experienced three crashes while playing, and one of them was far enough from a save point that I lost a good amount of progress. The cause of crashes doesn't seem to be consistent but with the threat out there it's more important than ever to save at every available opportunity. Vesperia's graphics are a good reminder of just how long 10 years actually is when it comes to video game design. That's not to say the visuals are bad, but there are few areas of the game that really push the environment graphics to be anything more than scenery, and the jagged edges of polygon models are readily apparent anytime there's a close-up. Still, the colorful anime-influence of the art design is charming and gives the characters a decent amount of personality, even if the animation can feels somewhat stiff at times. What's really disappointing is the inconsistent frame rate that can make some scenes look a little choppy—thankfully this is never an issue within battles though, and you can trust to perfectly smooth action while dishing up combos and devastating Artes. The music also has its ups and downs. There are a few standout tunes on the soundtrack but much of the music feels forgettable, and the voice work is equally inconsistent, mostly for the characters not in the main party. This Definitive Edition also includes the Japanese voices as an option every time you boot up the game though, so you can experiment with what sounds best for you. Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition offers up a ton of action-RPG enjoyment, whether you're slashing away at basic monsters or pulling out all the stops during intense boss fights in the real-time combat system. The game has a bad habit of slowing down engagement of the game with a somewhat plodding storyline and an overabundance of nitty gritty details with finding side quests or managing Skills, but RPG fans will certainly enjoy the wealth of gameplay here, particularly the new features that round out this Definitive Edition. Rating: 8 out of 10 Artes
  11. The Switch's collection of Wii U ports has officially worked its way backward all the way to the beginning of the Wii U's library with New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, a port of the Wii U launch game and its Luigi-centric add-on. Although the core 2D platforming remains as charming as it was in 2012, whether or not this game truly earns the "Deluxe" addition to its title is debatable. NSMBU was, like all of the New Super Mario Bros. games, a return to form for Mario: a side-scrolling platforming adventure that harkens back to Mario's glory days on the NES and SNES. There are themed worlds, Koopalings to contend with, and a princess in need of rescuing. The New Super Mario Bros. series as a whole has taken some flack over the years for being too cookie-cutter in its audio and visual design, and granted, the presentation in NSMBU feels overwhelmingly safe and catered to the broadest possible audience. But there's no denying that Nintendo still knows how to cook up solid platformer gameplay. No matter what the graphics and music are like there are still plenty of great platformer moments to enjoy here, and an excellent variety of level designs as well. Amidst the classic themed areas of deserts, underwater stages, and lava-filled levels there are inventive ways to use power-ups, Yoshis, and Baby Yoshis that ensure you're always tackling something a little different and honing your platforming skills all the while. Add in the four-player co-op element and things become absolutely chaotic—in the best way possible, of course, up until your friends start to intentionally mess with one another by tossing each other around. Regardless, multiplayer adds a nice bit of frantic energy to the game, but if you still want more single-player challenges there's the New Super Luigi U mode which remixes every level of the game into a fast-paced dash to the flag pole. Stages are redesigned to be fresh and a bit more challenging, plus you only have 100 seconds to reach the goal, so sharp reflexes are key. The Luigi mode is a fantastic "hard mode" for a Mario game, one that experienced players will surely appreciate. What about inexperienced players you ask? Well, that's where most of the Deluxe's additions come into play. Deluxe doesn't add anything like new stages or worlds—the major addition is actually a new playable character, Toadette. In her normal form she plays mostly like Mario, Luigi, and Toad, aside from slight differences in her movement and swimming that make her a little easier to control. What makes her truly unique is the new power-up, the Super Crown, which transforms her into Peachette—a Princess Peach doppelganger with the same floating abilities. The ability to slow your descent is a huge help in a platformer obviously, but even the original game had a similar power-up with the Super Acorn, giving players the Flying Squirrel form. What makes Peachette unique is that, if you fall into a pit, she will automatically spring up and save you—only once though. Peachette isn't a complete "get out of trouble free" card, since it's still easy to fall right back into that pit, but overall Peachette makes a nice easy mode for new players. Even if her abilities aren't overwhelmingly easy she is still a far more forgiving character to use than the classic plumbers and caters to players that aren't as adept with the kinds of platforming challenges Mario and Luigi handle on a daily basis. Of course, if you really do need an overwhelmingly easy option, there's Nabbit, the rabbit(?) thief that first appeared as an enemy in the original game then became a playable character in New Super Luigi U. In Deluxe he is now playable in both modes, and he truly is the "walkthrough mode" for a Mario game. Immune to all enemies, Nabbit's only real concern is falling into pits. Granted, Nabbit is clearly meant for the truly inexperienced players that are learning how to play, but removing most of the challenge from the game is kind of disheartening for anyone with a bit of platforming acumen. Thankfully players that don't want to use him can avoid him entirely. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is made for newcomers—both the players that missed out on the original games on the Wii U and players that are new to Mario or platformers in general. Peachette and Nabbit can make even the game's most challenging moments more palatable for novice players, even while playing solo, and by the time you get to the New Super Luigi U levels there are plenty of nail-biting platformer challenges to enjoy. There's not much reason to double dip on Deluxe if you've already played the Wii U games, but if you missed out the first time there's a whole lot of side-scrolling Mario gameplay to dive into on a single Switch cartridge. Rating: 8 out of 10 Super Crowns For posterity, below are my original reviews for New Super Mario Bros. U and New Super Luigi U from 2013—enjoy, and thanks for reading. New Super Mario Bros. U New Super Luigi U
  12. Eliwood8

    Flashback Review

    2018 marked 25 years since the release of Flashback on the SNES, and to commemorate the occasion the game has been brought to the Switch with a handful of modern touch-ups. The core experience remains the same though: Flashback is an old school adventure game that will thoroughly test your patience with clunky controls and obscure puzzle progression. This is one retro game that might have been best left in the past. Like a lot of older games, the in-game storytelling is somewhat obscure, despite promotional materials explaining much more of the backstory. As Flashback begins you're running from pursuers through a jungle, and then you're thrust right into the gameplay. It's a little disorienting, but by design—Flashback builds a sense of sci-fi intrigue as you encounter things like teleporters and hologram technology without any explicit explanation of where they come from. For the early 90s this might have been a novel approach to video game storytelling, but it feels a little dated now. Even by the halfway point of the game there's so much unexplained that it's hard to get invested in the game. It doesn't help that there's not much depth to the gameplay to latch onto either. Similar to games like Another World or Prince of Persia, Flashback finds a sort of awkward niche between point 'n' click adventure games and platformers. You've got some of the dexterity challenges of a platformer with running and gunning, but the pacing and presentation feels much more like a classic adventure game where you explore to gather items and unlock gates, flip switches, etc. The result is kind of a mess, unfortunately. Flashback has neither the depth of point 'n' click puzzles nor the fluidity of a platformer, which makes the gameplay clumsy and unsatisfying. The core of Flashback's problems lie with the controls. Every single action is incredibly stiff: jumping over a gap, climbing up a ledge, even drawing your gun is a slow action. The controls make the gameplay feel incredibly choppy, which wouldn't necessarily be a huge problem if not for the combat, which seems to demand much more dexterity than the game allows. Instead shootouts are stilted and awkward at best, and at worst completely frustrating. Facing more than one enemy at once is a mess since you can't move and shoot at the same time, and in fact even having your gun drawn means you walk in a slow shuffle. As a result two or more enemies can easily gang up on you, and the game frequently throws these scenarios at you—even worse, there are multiple times where you'll walk onto a new screen and immediately start getting shot at, before you even have time to draw your gun. More often than not it felt like I was fighting the controls rather than fighting the game's collection of guards and robots. Even outside of combat there's a strange stiffness to the controls, which also comes down to the awkward button mapping. The A button is awfully overworked as a means to run, jump, and interact with objects, requiring different D-pad inputs to change the action which are, naturally, incredibly easy to mix up. And because actions are so slow there's no fluidity to the platforming sections, which becomes a huge problem when you need to flee from a deadly hazard. Such issues are, I'm sure, a product of the game's early 90s development, but it just makes Flashback not fun at all in 2019. There are also some problems that come down to simple glitches, such as ZL not actually aiming the gun properly like the tutorials claim it should. Flashback's controls are a mess all around. The one saving grace of this 25th anniversary edition is the sole gameplay addition: the ability to rewind time to retry after dying. Dying is especially easy in Flashback, particularly thanks to insant-death traps or simply falling from too great a height, and the rewind mechanic is a true lifesaver—or time saver, since otherwise you'll be restarting at your last save point, which are relatively infrequent. On normal difficulty you only get a collective couple of minutes to rewind, but easy difficulty might be the way to go for new players since it gives an endless supply of the rewind ability. Flashback is still insanely tedious, clumsy, and unsatisfying, but at least with rewind it feels more playable. This version of the game also includes a handful of visual and audio upgrades, which are pretty underwhelming. Classic mode retains the pixel artwork and rotoscoped animation of the original, while modern mode throws on a few more modern visual effects and filters. The result is a look that is technically smoother and yet less visually interesting. It's possible to switch between the two at will though, as well as selectively choose to turn on the individual filters, so at least there's a bit of visual customization available. The game also offers the option of switching between the original 8-bit audio and a remastered version, but either way the soundtrack is so bland that there's little use dwelling on the decision. Some games remain classics by remaining unique and engaging decades after their original release, while others might have been original and exciting at the time but fail to hold together years later. Flashback is unfortunately the latter. Through the lens of modern gameplay, Flashback is just a mess of stiff, awkward controls and clumsy challenges, and even the new rewind mechanic can't quite salvage the tedium found in every moment of this game, from battling groups of enemies to just jumping up to a ledge. Fans who played the game 25 years ago may still appreciate Flashback's clunky old school charm, but without those rose tinted glasses modern gamers won't find much to enjoy here. Rating: 4 out of 10 Flashbacks
  13. It's been nine years since we last had the chance to roam the streets of Santa Destroy as the foul-mouthed otaku Travis Touchdown, cutting down fellow assassins in an over-the-top bloodbath of stylish action-gameplay. But punk game auteur Goichi Suda (Suda51) has finally returned to Travis's story, this time in the form of a small-scale, indie-game-inspired adventure inside of a video game console—that's right, this is a video game that takes place within a video game. Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes may not be quite the same insane action experience as the first two No More Heroes title, but Suda51's inimitable style is still on full display in this hilariously bizarre game. Seven years after the events of the last game, Travis is living an isolated life in a trailer somewhere in Texas, but that doesn't stop the assassin Badman from hunting him down for killing his daughter Bad Girl in the first NMH title. The two duel but are soon pulled into the Death Drive Mk-II, an experimental video game console that was never officially released. Now the two must battle through a series of games to hopefully gain the ability to fulfill any wish. Like all Suda51 games, the writing here is truly bizarre, in the best way possible. It may seem like just plain insanity at first but there's something beautifully poetic about the madness of Suda51, like a stream-of-consciousness style of writing that just lets all of his ideas pour out into the game, full of pop culture references and goofy, meta dialogue. It's a style unlike any other game developer, and it's the kind of writing that you just have to submerge yourself in, whether you fully comprehend or appreciate all of its bizarre nuance or not. Travis Strikes Again, moreso than the past two NMH games, doesn't quite stick the landing on tying all of its ideas together into a satisfying conclusion, but it's a wild, beautiful, entertaining ride while it lasts all the same. Travis Strikes Again re-imagines the NMH formula into a smaller indie-game setting. Travis still wields his beam katana to strike down hordes of foes, but in an overhead point of view. Combat is less flashy here, relying only on basic light and heavy attacks with little room for variation or combos, and there aren't any wrestling move finishers, unfortunately. It's a simple combat system and fairly repetitive, but to spice things up you can customize up to four special attacks by equipping skill chips. Each chip grants a different special attack, ranging from area of effect strikes to defensive abilities like healing or dodging, and all operate on a timed recharge system so you can't just spam these powerful attacks nonstop. There are dozens of skill chips to collect so there's a good amount of variety if you take the time to experiment, and although you'll most likely stick to a handful of favorites these skills chips really represent the meat of the combat system. Timing them efficiently, comboing them together, finding your favorites—skill chips add a much needed layer of depth to just hacking away at enemies. Of course, it wouldn't be a Suda51 game if things didn't get a little weird as well, and although the core gameplay of Travis Strikes Again is always the combat, each game within the Death Drive Mk-II is framed a little differently. For example, one game has a puzzle game element as you need to rotate panels to create paths, while another is inspired by survival-horror mansion exploration. There's always something a little different within each game (and Suda51 finds ways to insert some goofy humor and gaming references into plenty of them) which helps the combat from getting too repetitive. Even so, it might have been even better to push the idea further and make each game even more unique, as the mansion exploration ends up being fairly basic. Boss fights are undoubtedly the highlight of NMH games, as even the first two titles were more defined by their over-the-top boss battles than by their hack'n'slash combat and exploration. Travis Strikes Again is no exception here: each boss is delightfully unique with some sort of insane backstory and stylish visual design. However, the battles themselves don't hit the highs of the two previous titles. The boss battles don't have the same inventive variations as before, and combat can once again feel fairly repetitive. The fights are still fun, but in the end don't distinguish themselves too much from any other battle in the game. Unlike the two previous games, Travis Strikes Again introduces a co-op element—naturally, since both Travis and Badman are pulled into the Death Drive Mk-II. Two players can team up locally for some good ol' fashioned co-op combat, all with convenient drop-in, drop-out accessibility. The game doesn't change at all to accommodate the second player, but it's still nice to bring a friend along for the ride. Badman also has a handful of unique skill chips, so he can provide a slightly different playstyle (even while playing solo you can select Badman). The only minor downside to co-op is the effect it has on the controls, as they're built around allowing each player to use a single Joy-Con. For the most part this isn't a problem, but when using a Pro Controller or both Joy-Cons it would've been nice to have an option to remap the buttons to make them a little more convenient. The visuals and audio have all of the beautifully eccentric style that you'd expect from Suda51. In honor of its focus on video games there's a clear pastiche of 80s gaming design, from eye-popping neon colors to vector art graphics, along with plenty of references that can be fun to spot. As always boss designs are stunningly stylish and a highlight of the visuals, and although the basic enemy designs and environments are a bit more flat, there's still a lot to love about the game's aesthetic. Plus, in a loving nod to indie gaming culture, Travis can collect and wear dozens of T-shirts sporting logos from all corners of the indie gaming world, from the recent YIIK to fan favorites like Undertale. You only get to see logos in this game, but who knows, maybe you'll be inspired to try out some of the many indie references found in Travis's closet. And finally the soundtrack is, of course, a fantastic aural backdrop to the game, with plenty of catchy, eclectic tunes that you just want to groove to while playing. Travis Strikes Again isn't all that long of a game, beatable in eight or nine hours, which might make the $30 price tag sting a bit. However, that estimate doesn't take into account the time spent hunting down collectibles such as skill chips or Azteca coins (used to purchase select shirts), nor the multiple difficulties you can tackle. There might not be much variation when you replay levels but hunting down collectibles is still a fun pursuit. Travis Strikes Again sets out to replicate the NMH formula in a smaller, quirkier indie game style, and in that sense it perfectly succeeds. The game retains the off-kilter style and meta humor of the previous games, and condenses the hack'n'slash combat formula down to a satisfying if fairly repetitive adventure. It is by no means a mainline NMH experience, but Suda51's distinctive sense of vision is as entertaining as always. Even in this indie-styled format it's great to see Travis again, and hopefully this paves the way for another full-fledged title. Rating: 8 out of 10 Death Balls
  14. It's hard to imagine any video game recapturing the blissfully bizarre style of Earthbound, but YIIK: A Postmodern RPG from developer Ackk Studios and publisher Ysbryd Games comes far closer than most. With a mind-bending storyline full of metaphysical and philosophical twists and turns, engaging RPG battle mechanics, and a slightly otherworldly 1999 setting, YIIK invites players to take a chance on a wholly unusual experience. And despite a few rough spots along the way, the journey is well worth it. The year is 1999 and Alex, a recent college grad, has returned to his hometown when some odd things begin happening. He stumbles upon a strange girl in an abandoned factory who is soon whisked away by otherworldly beings, and it only gets more bizarre from there. It's a fun, surreal, not-quite-the-real-world setting, but the most impressive part of the game is how far the game pushes its metaphysical and philosophical ideas. YIIK isn't afraid to deliver some lengthy cutscenes that delve into ideas like astral projection or the nature of souls, and even though it can get a little hard to follow at times it is nevertheless a fascinating storyline, one where you genuinely don't know what to expect from moment to moment. It makes for a compelling mystery, and it's easy to get invested in the characters as well because YIIK also isn't afraid to paint its lead protagonist as kind of a dick sometimes. He's not the noble heroic lead of so many other games—instead, Alex is presented as human, with plenty of flaws and brutally honest truths about human behavior. It's refreshing to see a video game deal so directly with this kind of psychological development and show a character being introspective about his fears and doubts. YIIK's story and writing leads you on a mind-bending journey, but it's also absorbing and thought-provoking. Between cutscene expositions on supernatural realities, YIIK plays like a classic JRPG. There are towns to wander through, dungeons to explore, and, not surprisingly, an oddball cast of monsters to fight. Taking a page from Earthbound, you'll fight things like animated stop signs and violent traffic cones, all in a turn-based battle system that revolves around mini-game button presses to execute attacks—kind of like the Paper Mario games, but more involved. Alex, for example, uses a vinyl record to attack enemies, so in order to attack you'll play a short mini-game of hitting the colored sections of a spinning record. The better you do, the more damage you'll deal, and there's also defensive mini-games when enemies attack that can let you block or dodge damage completely. On one hand, the mini-games are a fantastic way of keeping battles engaging. You can't just mash "A" to attack enemies over and over, you have to pay attention to the battle. Each character has their own mini-game as well, so there's a bit of variety in what you have to do and you're always actively involved with the action on screen. On the other hand, all of these mini-games means battles tend to drag on at a slow pace. The worst offender is when an enemy uses an attack that hits everyone in your party, and you have to do the same mini-game four times in a row. Enemies also level up alongside your party so there's not much opportunity to power up so much that you can crush enemies quickly—battles will always take a while to complete, as a typical enemy will require several hits to go down. Although the mini-game system is fun, the pacing of battles can make it a little tedious at times. It doesn't help that the game, as a whole, can be slow-paced, down to little things like long loading screens to enter and exit battles, or the slight delay between walking up to an object you can interact with and the button prompt actually appearing. There are a handful of little issues like this in YIIK that would really benefit from a bit of polish, such as the item menu that requires you to scroll through everything slowly if you want to look at the new item you just picked up. These kinds of minor annoyances can wear on the experience after a while. And YIIK is a good sized RPG at about thirty hours, so you're already investing a good bit of time into it. Still, even if the slow details get to be a little grating, the game as a whole stays plenty engaging, especially when you're dealing with one wild new plot development after another. RPG fans should be pleased to hear that there are a variety of side quests scattered throughout the game as well, though for the most part YIIK is a fairly linear game. And if you can't get enough of the game after finishing it, there's a New Game+ option—which might be a good idea just to re-experience the story one more time. Aside from the intriguing storytelling, the other highlight of YIIK is its unique visual and aural aesthetic. The game uses sharp polygonal shapes, no textures, and bright, saturated colors for an incredibly striking look. The lack of textures makes the colors pop even more, and during the more surreal moments the color palette becomes incredibly vivid yet dreamlike. It's a beautifully original visual style that continues to surprise and delight throughout the length of the game. The animation also has an unusual slight choppiness to it that adds to the otherworldly nature of the setting—it stands out at first but as you play it feels oddly suited to the world of YIIK. The sound design in YIIK is just as eclectic and impressive as the visuals. The soundtrack seems to draw from a huge variety of influences—it makes sense that there are several guest composers on the soundtrack as well, adding ever more unique sounds to the game—and somehow the game manages to make the transitions from jazzy, funky numbers to dreamlike pop songs feel natural and seamless. Just like with the story, you never quite know what you're going to get with YIIK's soundtrack, but it's always exciting to see what comes next. And finally the voice work in the game does a fantastic job of bringing these characters to life, especially all of Alex's internal struggles, doubts, and fears. It's a story heavy game after all, so it's great to hear the characters put a voice to all of the crazy plot developments. The entirety of YIIK: A Postmodern RPG feels like some kind of intense dream, one that looks bizarre from the outside, but while you're in it everything feels natural and you're driven by a need to see what happens next. In addition to the bold, eclectic visuals and music, it's the game's intense otherworldly quality that makes it so compelling from start to finish, and despite some rough spots in the gameplay design, battles are stylish and engaging. Fans of thoughtful storytelling and classic RPG beats can't miss this surreal, one-of-a-kind game. Rating: 8 out of 10 Vinyls Review copy provided by publisher YIIK: A Postmodern RPG will be available in the Switch eShop on January 17th for $19.99.
  15. Eliwood8

    Double Cross Review

    13AM Games made a big splash in 2015 with their colorful party platformer Runbow, and now they're following it up with the single-player action-platformer Double Cross, co-published by Graffiti Games and Headup Games. Double Cross trades Runbow's short speed-based challenges and colorful design for classic 2D platformer gameplay and a fleshed out adventure story, but the developer's knack for addictive, charming platforming action is still on full display. In Double Cross you play as Zahra, an agent of RIFT—Regulators of Interdimensional Frontiers and Technology—an organization that is able to hop between different dimensions to keep the peace. An attack on RIFT headquarters itself sends Zahra on a multi-dimensional adventure to track down the culprit, the mysterious Suspect X, who may actually be a traitorous RIFT agent. It's a solid mystery story—though you don't actually have to piece together any of the clues yourself—and buoyed by an endearing cast of odd characters, from Dr. Sam Squatch who is a sasquatch to Agent Pineapple who is a…pineapple. In a story where literally anything can happen thanks to multi-dimensional shenanigans, Double Cross keeps things relatively simple, but as the plot develops you'll find it's more than just a good vs. evil story and actually speaks to some thought-provoking ideas about the duty of a regulatory force. Don't let that intimidate you though—at its heart, Double Cross is a fun, charming adventure with a whimsical cast of characters. The gameplay in Double Cross is classic 2D action-platforming, so much so that this feels like it could be a remake of a beloved NES or SNES title. There are all manner of platforming challenges to overcome here, and each region of the game puts a clever twist on the core gameplay mechanics with features like bouncy goo or zip lines. You're also able to tackle the game's levels in any order, which gives the game a nice sense of freedom and lets you prioritize certain levels if you find yourself stuck on another one. Zahra can also level up over the course of the adventure by collecting upgradium crystals in each level, unlocking both permanent upgrades and skills that can be equipped and swapped at any checkpoint. The skills don't completely alter how you play but they can be helpful boosts depending on the circumstances of each level and add a touch of customization to the gameplay. The key unique feature in Double Cross is the proton slinger, which allows Zahra to grapple onto specific targets and pull herself forward. It is essentially a grappling hook, but the game puts it to good use in a variety of challenging scenarios, and it's always fun to quickly zip through the air in any game. The developers have also found something of a balance between ease and complexity: when aiming the proton slinger everything around you slows down so you can aim precisely, and you're also able to adjust your momentum mid-air, but there are still plenty of tricky areas in the game that put your 2D platforming skills to the test. In that regard it's not hard to see the echoes of Runbow at play, when you have to tap into an almost rhythmic sense of fluidity to survive the game's challenges. It's wonderfully satisfying to beat these sections, and the frequent checkpoints means even your failed attempts aren't terribly discouraging. Naturally Double Cross isn't just about platforming, as there's a combat element as well. Zahra can use light and heavy punches to defeat enemies and tackle intimidating bosses, plus there are a couple of special attacks that require energy. The boss battles have a great mix of fighting and creative platforming/dodging, but the standard combat leaves something to be desired. With only punches at her disposal Zahra's attacks just aren't terribly satisfying, and although you can unlock new attacks as you level up, such as a slide kick or uppercut, the standard three-hit-combo is the most effective more often than not, so fighting can feel a bit repetitive. Most enemy attacks aren't at all challenging to dodge either, so it's kind of up to the player to find creative ways to spice up combat by playing around with the special attacks, even if they're slower. It's not a bad system but the combat could have been more fleshed out. Sharp 2D artwork gives Double Cross a stylish Saturday morning cartoon kind of look, which feels fitting as the dimension-hopping setting could easily translate to a weekly show. The environment design only offers the occasional visual thrill (although the Funderdome levels are certainly a highlight of the game), but the character design has plenty of personality and charm. Unfortunately the frame rate feels a little choppy at times, but thankfully it never interferes with the gameplay. The soundtrack is also something of a mixed bag, with several fun, catchy tunes but just as many that are less memorable. Still, the overall presentation in Double Cross has a delightfully light-hearted charm to it that easily pulls you into the game. Double Cross isn't a long game by any means—if you were to rush through the game you could easily finish it in a matter of hours. That would be a disservice to the game though, as there are plenty of engaging and challenging nooks and crannies to explore in order to find all of the upgradium crystals. More than just giving you a helpful edge with new abilities, hunting down upgradium helps flesh out the adventure and put all of Zahra's skills to the test. You can easily replay levels in order to retrace your steps and find crystals you initially missed, though there really ought to be an option to skip dialogue when you're replaying a mission to speed things along. Additionally, completionists can try tackling the various commendations (achievements) that can be earned, many of which offer a good incentive to replay levels once more. Double Cross finds a comfortable groove in the classic 2D platforming mechanics of yesteryear, spiced up with a fun grappling system and sharp HD graphics. It is, perhaps, less brazenly original than Runbow, but the smart platforming gameplay shines through just the same, and this time with an engaging narrative that is both charming and thoughtful. Fans of platformers won't want to miss the dimension-traveling action found here. Rating: 8 out of 10 Dimensions Review copy provided by publisher Double Cross is available today in the Switch eShop for a launch discount price of $14.99 (normal price $19.99).
  16. Eliwood8

    The Messenger Review

    There's no shortage of side-scrolling platformers from indie developers these days, but there's something to be said for capturing the essence of the genre so well. The Messenger draws inspiration from Ninja Gaiden to make a modern ninja action game that capitalizes on old-school appeal while infusing plenty of inventive new twists into the gameplay. And just like in Ninja Gaiden you can expect some unrelentingly difficult sections paired with satisfying platforming action. In the last bastion of humanity besieged by demon forces, a young ninja is chosen to carry an all-important scroll and deliver it to the top of a mountain, thus making him The Messenger. The initial premise seems classic enough for an 80s throwback game but the developers have a lot of fun with the clichés of the genre and mix in plenty of humor as well as some plot twists. The surprises are fun but it's the jokes and meta-humor that stand out in the writing, particularly the interactions between our hero and the enigmatic shopkeeper. It's not hard to see the Ninja Gaiden influence right off the bat: 8-bit graphics, side-scrolling levels, and you're mainly armed with a sword (as well as a limited number of shuriken). Although the game eases you into the gameplay with a pretty simple first level, it doesn't take long for the complex level design to shine through, offering up a lot of unique, challenging obstacles that take all of your skill as a ninja-acrobat. It takes a bit of time to get used to the flow of gameplay in The Messenger, but once it clicks you'll appreciate how inventive and satisfying the game is. It's quite challenging—frustratingly so at times, due to things like instant-death pits—but the smoothness of the controls gives you a great level of control over how you move, and chaining together multiple jumps through the air is incredibly satisfying. A big part of what makes the gameplay work is the small but invaluable selection of skills you pick up along the way, so again the early parts of the game can feel limited. Once you've got the full arsenal of abilities which let you glide through the air, grapple suspended hooks, and cling to walls, the fluidity of movement in The Messenger becomes a blast. There are also plenty of optional upgrades you can purchase to make things a little easier on yourself. Pro players (or masochists) might be willing to skip over these upgrades but for most they'll be invaluable in balancing out some of the more difficult and tedious sections of the game. One of the things that makes The Messenger so unique is the shift that comes approximately halfway through the game when the linear progression is opened up into a more Metroidvania experience, allowing you to return to previous areas to collect hidden items. Additionally, you are able to transition between the present and the future (represented by 8-bit and 16-bit graphics, respectively) though only at designated points throughout each level. It's a clever twist but in practice it is incredibly tedious to have to replay large portions of the game, mostly because the checkpoint/warp system isn't as helpful as it ought to be. The warp points are too limited and distant, so you'll inevitably be retreading the same ground over and over, and this is all made worse by the fact that you're meant to be searching for special items using only cryptic clues to guide you. Some of them aren't too hard to suss out but the most annoying issue is stumbling upon an area in the wrong "order," meaning you'll have to leave and come back later, retreading all of that ground once again. The Metroidvania half of the game may offer some great challenges but the pacing ends up needlessly dragging. That said, the game should last around twelve hours or so, but a big part of that will depend upon how good you are at this kind of no-nonsense action-platforming and how efficient you are in the second half of the game. There are also hidden collectibles scattered throughout the game that essentially act as challenge rooms, requiring all of the skills you've developed over the course of the adventure, and a recent update to the game added a New Game+ option for an extra challenge. The developers have also recently announced free DLC coming this year, and hints within the game point to more DLC, so there should be plenty more of The Messenger to enjoy. Like so many games released these days, The Messenger features a charming retro aesthetic, complete with chipper chiptune music and classic sprite artwork. The developers have done a fantastic job of bringing that old-school feel back while still making it unique and stylish—some of the environment backgrounds are gorgeous. And of course, there's the clever twist that time travel also changes the look and sound of the game. It's a fun way to reflect the time change and also lets players re-experience the whole game with another visual design which is just as meticulously crafted and stylish as the first. The game's unrelenting difficulty doesn't often give you room to pause and appreciate the scenery, but it's worth risking it anyway just to take in the graphics and energetic soundtrack. The Messenger does a fantastic job of blending both old-school mechanics with modern twists and 8-bit presentation with 16-bit. The result is one of the most clever retro-style games you'll play. Although the high learning curve can be punishing and the second half of the game is a little too repetitive, don't let that deter you from The Messenger. The fluid gameplay and inventive twists on a classic genre make this a must-play for fans of side-scrollers. Rating: 8 out of 10 Messages
  17. Twenty years after Pokémon Red and Blue launched in North America, sparking a wildfire of Pokémania in children across the US, Game Freak is ready to do it all over again with Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee! For many of us this will be a trip down memory lane as the games are enhanced remakes of Pokémon Yellow, but the game also represents a meeting point between traditional Pokémon trainers and Pokémon GO fans, as some of the mobile game's features are recreated here. No matter how the details change though, the core Pokémon adventure remains wonderfully charming and addictive. Let's Go, Pikachu! is essentially a retelling of Pokémon Yellow, so once again you have Pikachu as your main partner and Team Rocket's Jessie and James pop up as you explore Kanto and collect the eight gym badges needed to challenge the Pokémon League. While it would've been nice to have perhaps some of the story beats be a little different, there's something to be said for the charming simplicity of the writing here. After all, if this is meant to be an introductory game to the main series of Pokémon, perhaps it helps to keep things basic. Just like in every Pokémon game you capture wild monsters, train them to do your bidding, then pit them in battle against one another (but in a cute way). However, in this game you don't actually battle wild Pokémon, and don't have to weaken them in order to capture them. Instead, wild Pokémon are visible on the map, and when you touch them you're given a chance to simply catch them directly by placating them with berries and throwing Poké Balls at them—literally, thanks to the motion controls. This will feel more natural to Pokémon GO players but for veterans it's an adjustment, especially given how this new method can feel both finnicky and a little boring after a while, especially the way the game encourages you to capture duplicates as well. It's not entirely a bad change but it does reduce some of the game's challenge. And that's a theme throughout Let's Go, Pikachu! Small details have been adjusted to make the game friendlier to new players and erase some of the more technical video game-esque" elements. For example, you no longer have to use a PC to access your Pokémon Box—your entire collection is available to you at any given moment. There's no need to prepare a team of six to take on a certain route, cave, or gym because you can swap out your current six-Pokémon party between any battle. You also don't need to worry about using Hidden Machines (HMs) for the vital abilities that allow you to explore (such as cut, surf, or strength) because Pikachu will learn these abilities without wasting a slot on his four-ability move list. And for most gyms you can't even challenge the gym unless you have a Pokémon of an advantageous type or are at a certain level. Again, none of these are bad changes—they're all done to the benefit of the player—but they show how Let's Go, Pikachu! has been simplified for less experienced players. Pro trainers might scoff at some of these—and frankly the original games weren't so difficult that they really need all of these adjustments—but they're undeniably helpful and can mostly be avoided if you want to maintain a more classic sense of challenge. Possibly the biggest way that Let's Go, Pikachu! makes things easier is the fact that a second player can jump in to play along at just about any point in the game. Player Two can also throw Poké Balls at wild Pokémon and even join in battle using one of your six main party Pokémon. Such 2v1 battles can be overwhelmingly easy but still, this is a fun way to get another player involved without the need for an entire second Switch/game. It's a perfect way to help out inexperienced players or just pique someone else's curiosity about the game, and since you only need one Joy-Con to play you don't even need a second set of controllers. It's a great way for Pokémon to embrace a more accessible approach for any player. Speaking of controllers though, that might be the one area that Let's Go, Pikachu! went a little overboard on the new features. You only need one Joy-Con to play, which is pretty neat, but frankly not terribly comfortable to hold sometimes, and the game flat out doesn't support the Pro Controller. You also have to use motion controls when throwing Poké Balls at wild critters which is novel the first few times but quickly grows tiresome, especially since throwing isn't super accurate—you can aim left and right but it always felt pretty inconsistent to me. The only way to use more traditional controls is playing in handheld mode, though of course that means you don't get to enjoy Pokémon on the big screen; it really is a shame that even using the Pro Controller isn't an option in this game. The game's presentation might best be described as aggressively cute. This may not be the series' first foray into 3D models, but as the first HD home console title it's certainly a landmark entry, one that does a great job of capturing the charm of Pokémon in smooth HD without overdoing it on unnecessary frills. Instead it's the perfect translation of what we remember Kanto being like, even though we played it all those years ago in pixely monochrome. And being able to get up close and pet Pikachu is simply too cute. The soundtrack also does a great job of modernizing the classic tunes of the series, capturing the same fun, bubbly, exciting background music that we remember. The adventure is pretty much exactly the same as Pokémon Yellow, which means conquering the Elite Four of the Pokémon League takes about twenty hours or so. There are, of course, more things to do if you want to truly be a Pokémon master, including post-game challenges, collecting every Pokémon, and trading/battling online. The online interface could be a little more robust here—it seems like in an effort to keep things simple the developers went too far and made it a little more tedious than necessary to find the specific trade you want—but even so there's more than enough gameplay here to satisfy any Pokémon Trainer. Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! perfectly accomplishes what it set out to do: create a happy medium between Pokémon GO's more casual, capture-focused gameplay and the traditional main series Pokémon games. That means it's simplified some of the core aspects of the franchise's gameplay and includes a few features that make the whole journey much more forgiving, but these concessions don't spoil the enduring charm of capturing, training, trading, and battling pocket monsters. And for those of us that grew up on the original gen I games, Let's Go, Pikachu! also provides an adorably endearing trip down memory lane. Rating: 8 out of 10 Poké Balls
  18. Few Nintendo games excite the gaming community as much as Smash Bros., and given a bit of time with the series it's not hard to see why. Each previous title has impressively balanced fast, intense fighting game mechanics with a wealth of gaming references to many of Nintendo's beloved titles, as well as select third-party games. As a result each game has had a lot to live up to, and yet Nintendo still had the cheek to dub the latest entry Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. It really shouldn't surprise anyone that they've delivered on the promise of that title perfectly: this is the ultimate Smash Bros. experience, the ultimate multiplayer fighting game, and the ultimate collection of gaming references and nostalgia. The core gameplay feels as great as it ever has—Ultimate is fast, smooth, and there's no random tripping mechanics. Every Smash Bros. game does an amazing job of finding a happy balance of accessibility and depth, and that's certainly true here. You could put a controller in the hands of a brand new player explain the basics, and he'd be able to do okay. After hours of practice though, all of the depth of the gameplay opens up and the wealth of options shines through. Ultimate works as an intense 1v1 duel or as an insane 8-player mash-up; however you prefer to play, the gameplay manages to feel fresh and exciting every single time you start up a match. Ultimate also boasts a fantastic array of options for customizing your Smash Bros. experience, and a large part of that comes down to the sheer amount of content in this game. There are a whopping 76 characters to play as (with more on the way as DLC), and 103 stages to battle on (with, again, more on the way for a DLC fee). Just playing as every character once would take a significant amount of time, much less learning each one well enough to play at a high level. It's a little daunting perhaps, but the sheer variety this provides ensures there's always something new to try in Ultimate. The developers have also had a bit of fun at players' expense by making the starting roster a measly 8—the original 8 from the N64 game—and forcing players to unlock the rest. It may be a time consuming task but it's always exciting to see a new challenger appear, and giving players these characters piecemeal might actually help players acclimate to each character gradually instead of being overwhelmed from the start. Even without the insane size of the character roster, there are tons of little things to enjoy in Smash, including challenges and side modes. One of the highlights has to be the reworked Classic Mode. Now each character has their own themed journey based on their original game, and there are a handful of different final bosses which helps make each character's journey feel unique. It's just one of the many ways that Ultimate pays homage to the rich video game history represented here. And oh boy are there homages. The most unique new feature in Ultimate is Spirits, characters from other games who are not playable characters but are still represented by a uniquely themed fight. Chun-li from Street Fighter, for example, is represented by Zero Suit Samus with increased kicking power. There are some ingenious references in these Spirit battles, and they offer another fantastic way to pay tribute to the many amazing games that have graced Nintendo consoles over the years. You really can't help but shake your head at some of the clever twists the developers have cooked up here. When you win in one of these Spirit battles you're able to claim the Spirit as your own and use them to augment your power and abilities—just another interesting way to shake up the standard battle formula. Collecting every Spirit seems like a Herculean task but it's a fun single-player pursuit when you want a break from all of the multiplayer action. Solo play fans will also be excited to see Ultimate has a brand new, extensive single-player adventure mode called World of Light. In this mode you battle Spirits and possessed fighters to free them from the control of an angelic creature named Galeem. There's an extensive map to explore in World of Light and it really does get quite addictive as you gather more and more Spirits. It's also surprisingly long and offers plenty of challenges, even for experienced Smash Bros. players. It does get a little tiresome by the end but it's a great way to see the many unique Spirit battles that Ultimate offers. In addition to all of the different characters, stages, and rule sets, Ultimate also has you covered when it comes to finding your controller of choice. The game supports the same GameCube adapter that the Wii U used, so purists can dust off their GameCube controllers (admittedly, it doesn't really feel like Smash Bros. without a GameCube controller). The Pro controller also works well of course, and if you're a masochist you can try playing with a single Joy-Con—or maybe that's the best way to give your friend a disadvantage after she crushes you for the tenth time in a row. The one area that Ultimate disappoints is, not surprisingly, online play. Smash games have always had rocky online gameplay, but it's particularly frustrating now that Nintendo is charging an online subscription fee. First off, there's the ever present issue of button lag. It is, to be fair, the most understandable issue in a game like this where combat is so fast-paced, but it's still frustrating to have to deal with as it throws off the flow of gameplay so much. Although the much bigger culprit in that regard is connection lag. I'd consider my internet connection to be pretty decent—I've never had significant issues with any other online game I play—but just about every online match I've played has had some degree of lag. No matter what your connection is like though, there's no guarantee of smooth matches since, if your opponent's internet is slow, the whole match will be slow. At least it's easy to find a match—what can be trickier is finding the match you want, though. Ultimate has done away with the For Glory and For Fun modes of the previous Smash game and instead just has Quick Play which throws you into the first available match, and Battle Arenas where you're able to customize your preferences a bit more. Quick Play also allows you to set preferred rules so that the game will try to find the kinds of matches you want (1v1, items on, time matches, etc.) but Ultimate doesn't do a great job of adhering to your preferences. It'll find matches that are close, but you'll rarely get exactly the match up you want. That's where Battle Arena steps in, but even here there are some frustrating quirks. Arenas can hold up to eight players but can only have one match going at once, so up to four players are going to be spectating while they queue up. However, you can't change your character and retain your place in the queue—which is also a problem in Quick Play—so any time you want to make even a minor change you'll be booted to the back of the line. And of course, this being Nintendo, there's no way to notify friends in-game if you want to play—you'll have to use something outside of the game to message people to get a match going. Smash Bros. has always been at its best when you're in the same room with your friends battling it out, but it's still disappointing that even Ultimate, the culmination of the Smash series so far, leaves so much to be desired when it comes to online play. The presentation, however, is everything you'd want from Smash Bros. This game is gorgeous—you could easily spend a whole match just taking in the background details. Just like with all of the Spirit references, there's an insane amount of care put into all of the minor touches of the graphics and audio, such as Olimar's helmet cracking when he's knocked out. Naturally all of the amazing visuals are complemented by silky smooth animation that (at least offline) never suffers a single hiccup. And the final example of Ultimate's insane amount of content is the soundtrack, featuring over 850 songs, remixed and inspired by some of the most recognizable and catchiest tunes from games recent and old. Even if you wanted to just sit and listen to the music, you'd have hours and hours of content to enjoy, and every track sounds amazing. The numerous composers have done a truly incredible job of remixing and recreating all of the songs that will instantly spark nostalgia in your mind—there's no better soundtrack to battle to. With Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the franchise continues to be one of the most addictive and satisfying fighting games around. It can't be understated though just how incredible it is that the developers have packed in so many references, so much love for gaming's history, into Ultimate. This is an interactive museum of Nintendo history, one whose scope truly is awe-inspiring between the intense, engaging matches with an amazingly large and varied cast of characters. Rating: 9 out of 10 Spirits
  19. Eliwood8

    Gris Review

    It was only a few months ago that we got our first look at Nomada Studio's gorgeously animated game Gris, but for me that was enough to immediately put it at the top of my most-wanted games list. Everything about the game's aesthetic in that reveal trailer was completely mesmerizing, and I'm happy to say the full game lives up to that expectation fully. There's only one word appropriate to describe this game: enchanting. The game opens with a mysterious girl sitting in the palm of a giant stone statue, singing, when suddenly her voice goes quiet and the statue begins to fracture. Without any text or dialogue, Gris is an enigmatic game, but the atmosphere speaks worlds. This description is woefully overused when talking about indie games like this but it applies here perfectly: Gris is a work of art, one that emotes to the player and touches you with only visuals and music. The lack of a traditional narrative is in no way detrimental to the experience of exploring this beautiful, melancholy world with a young girl who has lost her voice. And this really cannot be overstated or exaggerated: Gris is a completely gorgeous game. In some games you'll get one or two moments where the camera pans back and gives you a beautiful, screenshot-worthy glimpse of the environment. Gris is literally filled with these moments. Every other minute of the game could be an absolutely beautiful poster. And it's the game's surreal, dreamlike aesthetic with its delicate, ruined buildings and serene environments that draws you into the game so fully. Each new level manages to top the previous one in terms of stunning environmental design. On top of all of this outstanding scenery is a striking watercolor effect that further gives the game a feeling of beautiful fragility. And finally, tying all of this together is the detailed fluidity of the animation. Rarely do you see a game where even just the movement animations are so mesmerizing, but in Gris you can spend minutes just watching how the girl's dress flows around her as her delicate, spindly limbs tap along the ground. The artwork of Gris is, in short, a masterpiece. I can't overlook how much the soundtrack adds to the emotion of the game as well. The visuals set the scene for Gris's surreal, melancholy world but it's the music that truly transports you there. From the airy, atmospheric melodies as you explore ruined structures to the more energetic songs during chases and boss encounters, the soundtrack offers one magical song after another. The group Berlinist supplied the music in Gris and it truly is every bit as emotional and moving as the art design. So now that I'm done gushing about the beautiful art and music of Gris, let's get down to the actual gameplay, which follows some pretty classic platforming elements. There are a handful of locations to explore in this two-dimensional world, most of which is pretty linear, and you'll need to progress by overcoming simple platformer puzzles and gaining new abilities that allow you to explore each area fully. There are plenty of good platforming challenges here, the basics of which will be pretty familiar to anyone that enjoys platformers, but Gris does them with an undeniable style. Occasionally you might get a little stymied by the game's lack of direction (again, no text or dialogue), but each level of the game is short enough that you won't feel lost, you'll just have to examine your surroundings a little more closely. There aren't many truly revelatory moments in the gameplay of Gris, but the experience remains engaging throughout. Gris is also a pretty short experience, lasting around four hours or so. To be fair though, the game does a great job of keeping every minute of the game engaging, through its stunning visuals if nothing else, so even at that length Gris doesn't feel too short. Completionists can also try to complete all of the achievements and find the hidden icons scattered throughout the game—plus, these would be great excuses to give the entire game a second playthrough just to take in the scenery one more time. Gris takes players on an unforgettably beautiful journey through one gorgeous, stunning scene after another. The puzzle platformer gameplay is solid, but its the emotive atmosphere that makes Gris such a unique, enthralling experience, one whose incomparable art design and music leaves a lasting impression. Don't miss out on one of the most exquisite games of the year. Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars
  20. Eliwood8

    Guacamelee! 2 Review

    The original Guacamelee! was one of the best indie games to come out in the last few years, combining classic Metroidvania progression with a tight, satisfying combat system. Guacamelee! 2 brings back everything that made the first game great, and ups the ante with new features that make Juan's adventure throughout different dimensions of the Mexiverse even more compelling. Tie up your boots and get your mask on, it's time for some luchador action. Seven years after Juan rescued Lupita in the first game, the two are happily married with two kids and living a quiet life on the agave farm. But Juan's old mentor Uay Chivo suddenly appears with dire news: the entire Mexiverse is in danger when a rogue luchador attempts to steal the Sacred Guacamole from the realm of El Otromundo. In case this premise isn't indication enough, Guacamelee! 2 is just as packed with humor as the first game, and there truly are a hilarious variety of jokes and pop culture references to enjoy here. This is a game that delights in being light-hearted, even as Juan traverses different dimensions and travels to hell, and it's an incredibly fun ride throughout. It's a game that features a buff luchador transforming himself into a chicken, after all. Besides, stealing guacamole is a serious offense that can't go unpunished. With Juan's mighty array of punches, kicks, and throws, you'll travel across an interconnected Metroidvania style map, picking up new abilities along the way which allow you to explore further. It's a classic gameplay formula and one that Drinkbox Studios has now executed perfectly not once but twice. Both Guacamelee! games capture that addictive thrill of exploring new areas and unlocking new abilities to gather more items and power-ups. It's a formula that just doesn't get old, especially when it's as well polished as it is in Guacamelee! 2. What really makes this game a joy to play is how perfectly it nails the two key aspects of a Metroidvania: combat and platforming. Every fight is engaging in Guacamelee! 2 because all of Juan's attacks are so satisfying to land, and combos flow smoothly. You can hit enemies with a rapid barrage of punches, launch them into the air, then slam them back down before grabbing them for a suplex. Guacamelee! 2 finds a delicate balance between giving you a lot of combat options without overwhelming you, so even by the end of the game when you have a variety of attacks to choose from, combat never feels overwhelming and Juan feels powerful but enemies are still threatening. There are also plenty of fantastic platforming sequences in Guacamelee! 2. The same principles from the combat system apply here: tight controls and smooth transitions between jumps, wall runs, and aerial acrobatics makes the platforming sections of the game a blast—platformers are at their best when even just moving and exploring is fun to play. The platforming here can also be quite difficult, particularly in the optional challenge areas, but even so it's never difficult for the wrong reasons. These sequences may demand perfect platforming from the player, but they never rely upon cheap deaths. That simply wouldn't be the honorable luchador way. Like the first game Guacamelee! 2 also supports multiplayer, but this time it's up to four players at once, which can make things hectic on screen but also makes things a little easier. Taking out a room full of skeletons isn't as much of a challenge when you've got allies keeping them busy while you handle the leader, after all. Couch co-op for a full game isn't all that common these days so it really is great to see it put to such good use here. From Guacamelee! to Severed to Guacamelee! 2, Drinkbox Studios has cultivated an absolutely gorgeous visual aesthetic. The rough shapes of characters and scenery is stylish, and the color palette is incredible—every single scene of the game pops with vivid colors and beautiful environment designs. It really can't be overstated how well this game captures both clear Mexican art influences and humor with one unforgettable look—just the way that chickens are animated is probably example enough of how charming this game is from start to finish. It shouldn't be any surprise then that the music is absolutely fantastic as well, with catchy, upbeat songs throughout the entire adventure and a lot of great Mariachi influence that makes for fantastic guitar and trumpet tunes. The game lasts about ten hours or so, which ends up feeling like the perfect length—there's a good variety of power-ups to collect and regions to explore without any of it ever getting tiresome. There are also plenty of optional challenges you can tackle if you want, including the aforementioned extra-difficult areas of the game which can feel relentless but are still satisfying to conquer. And if you just can't get enough luchador action there's a hard mode that opens up after finishing the game once—perfect for those platforming pros that are eager for more. Guacamelee! 2 is a worthy sequel. It captures all of the charm, humor, and challenge of the original while building upon the core gameplay to create yet more satisfying combat and platforming scenarios. Sure it may not be significantly different from the first game, but there's something to be said for honing a formula and executing it well, and Guacamelee! 2 handles the Metroidvania genre just about perfectly. Rating: 9 out of 10 Luchadores
  21. In the midst of a heated war between two countries, the death of a priestess heralds the resurrection of a world-destroying dark god, sealing the fates of both sides—but what if there was a way to stop it? Omensight: Definitive Edition, from developer Spearhead Games, takes players on a time-traveling murder mystery where you relive the last day before the destruction of the world from different perspectives, gathering clues to figure out what really happened, and how the calamity might be avoided. Although hampered by some technical issues, the process of unraveling the mystery will keep you captivated. You play as the Harbinger, a mythical warrior who only appears in times of crisis. With the power to relive the last day before the calamity, you're able to visit four key characters and, with their help, gather clues for what really happened to the Godless-Priestess and discover the cause of the spreading evil infecting the land. It's a great premise for a game and wonderfully told with interesting characters and the overarching mystery driving your every action. The characters you meet are on both sides of the war so you get to see things from every perspective and sometimes fight against both factions, which gives a satisfyingly well-rounded view of the game's world. And like any good mystery story, every clue you find only leads to more questions and pulls you into the narrative—Omensight is definitely a hard game to put down once you're invested in the overarching mystery and how these four characters relate to it. Additionally, this definitive edition includes the extra ending accessible in the post-game, which is a nice inclusion for anyone that might feel the normal ending is a touch bleak. Each time the day "resets," you choose whose day you want to follow, and from there the game plays out like an action-RPG: you fight enemies in real-time with a sword and engage in light 3D platforming as you explore and gather information. Sometimes you might reach the end of a day and find you're lacking a key piece of information to progress because that clue is actually found in a different character's day. You'll have no choice but to restart with another character, but one of the nice features in Omensight is that, once you do have the necessary clue, it's possible to jump straight to the important part of a character's day that you've already played, so you don't have to replay the whole thing. This can be a huge help because, even though there are little things different in each day for each character you visit, there's still a lot of repetition in Omensight and skipping over some of the tedious aspects reduces it a bit. Aside from gathering clues, the main focus of the gameplay is combat. The Harbinger is equipped with a sword and you can also rely upon the character you've selected to help in battle a bit. Combat in Omensight is a bit tricky to grasp, partially because of its slow, stylish nature. The Harbinger's attack combos tend to be flashy, with lots of jumping flourishes, which can make attacks feel choppy since there ends up being quite a delay between hitting the button and the actual action on screen. It takes some getting used to and can be extremely challenging in large group fights when you've got enemies on every side. Your attacks and combos are generally suited to one-on-one fights so anytime there are more than a few targets around you battles can get obnoxious as you try to bait out or focus on single targets. The game's fixed camera and auto-targeting system don't help here either—both can mean it's easy to attack a target you weren't intending to, oftentimes leaving yourself open to counterattacks. And finally there's the level up system which unlocks helpful new abilities, but actually using them can be a bit finnicky since some require holding down the attack button—sometimes you'll end up accidentally using one of these abilities, or it won't seem to trigger as you're pressing the button. The whole combat system in Omensight is serviceable but it would have been nice to see the same kind of unique thought put into it as is found in the story. Omensight also suffers from some persistent technical issues, generally surrounding loading screens. There's a major loading screen at the start of each day or while transitioning to a new location and the stuttering visuals on screen as the game loads are incredibly distracting. Furthermore, you'll also encounter short loading screens while moving between doors, which can also make the frame rate drop for a bit while the game struggles to load everything properly. Thankfully these issues never truly interfere with the game, as even when the frame rate stutters you're almost never in combat, but the clunkiness can still be hard on the eyes. And it's a shame since the game's gorgeous art style deserves a silky smooth frame rate. Bright, vivid colors make every environment pop—the outdoor locations are easily a highlight—while the character design makes these anthropomorphic animals feel stylish and unique. The aforementioned flashy combat system makes for some great animation as well—even if it feels like it interrupts the flow of battle, seeing the Harbinger flip around to stab an enemy on the ground is definitely cool. The downside to the graphics is, of course, simply the fact that there really aren't too many different locations since you're reliving the same day over and over, but the distinctive art style makes up for it. The music isn't half bad either, with grand, epic songs to accompany your time-traveling murder investigation, and there's plenty of great voice work to bring the characters to life. At about seven or eight hours, Omensight feels like just the right length. Given its cyclical structure any longer might have been overdoing it, but its current length is just enough to make the story intriguingly elaborate but also engaging from start to finish with no unnecessary fluff. Plus, if you do want a little more out of the game, you can try to collect all of the hidden lore that adds to each character's backstory. For a game so focused on narrative these are definitely worth pursuing. Omensight: Definitive Edition mashes together time travel storytelling with a murder mystery, and the result is a unique, engaging adventure that keeps you eager for each new revelatory clue in the investigation. Parts of the game unfortunately lack polish, from the choppy loading screens to the somewhat awkward combat system that isn't quite as fluid as it should be, but the overall package is one that feels stylish and compelling from start to finish, and is certainly a must-play for anyone that enjoys a good mystery story. Rating: 8 out of 10 Omens Review copy provided by the publisher Omensight: Definitive Edition is available now on the Switch eShop for $19.99.
  22. Eliwood8

    Dead Cells Review

    Play, die, repeat. Roguelikes have taken advantage of this simple gameplay loop since the original game that coined the term, Rogue, released in 1980. I'll be honest though, as a person that generally prefers narratives and a rewarding sense of progression, I don't often find a Roguelike that truly clicks with me. But Dead Cells, from developer Motion Twin, is one of those rare exceptions. By blending some Metroidvania mechanics into the extra challenging, procedurally generated game design of a Roguelike, Dead Cells is an experience unlike any other. Storytelling is not a priority in Dead Cells. You don't sit through long cutscenes, even when you first start up the game, and in fact your very reason for exploring the game's world isn't fully explained. In a way though, that kind of suits the game. Dead Cells is about exploring and trying new approaches, and the scant few details about the story and setting that you pick up while collecting loot and fighting monsters suits that approach perfectly. And even if you make it to the end of the game without fully understanding why you're there (or even what you are, exactly) the mysterious and derelict atmosphere of Dead Cells is undeniably compelling. As a Roguelike, every time you play the game the details are a little different. The stage layout, enemy placement, loot you can find—all of it is randomized. Roguelikes can be discouraging since, if you die, you have to start from the beginning without any of the awesome weapons and perks you've picked up along the way. Dead Cells is no exception to this and can be frustrating, but what keeps Dead Cells feeling fresh and engaging playthrough after playthrough is the fluid, satisfying combat system. The action in Dead Cells is fantastic and almost hypnotic when you get into a good groove, no matter what combination of weapons you're using. All of your attacks (and enemy attacks) are quick, and the potential for devastating combos makes every enemy encounter just plain fun. Even when you're discouraged by starting over there's a magnetic draw toward picking up your sword once more. Dead Cells also does a great job of balancing both breadth of content and easing the player into the core mechanics of the game. There are several different kinds of weapons you can use, shields, items, magic spells—enough that you can approach combat in a unique way in dozens of playthroughs. There's a lot of variability to enjoy as all of these weapons and items are useful, and the best part is that Dead Cells doesn't overwhelm you on your first few playthroughs. New weapons and items have to be unlocked as you play so your first runs will stick to more basic equipment while you learn best practices and suss out your own preferences. It makes the game inviting to new players but also include tons of depth for veterans. Additionally, although you have to chance upon specific weapons every time you play, you can earn permanent upgrades that help make the game a little easier—or at least give you more options as you try again. In a way, the game gets harder/more complex as you get better at playing it, which helps prevent the game from being too daunting at the start. Another unique aspect of Dead Cells is the way it incorporates elements of Metroidvania exploration into the game. In addition to randomly generating rooms and enemies, there are branching paths throughout the game that let you explore different environments—all with the possibility of different treasures to find. But again, Dead Cells eases players in by locking these branching routes off until you unlock certain permanent upgrades, so you won't just stumble into the harder regions of the game when you're just starting out. It's just another way that the game finds the right balance between randomized content and giving the player clear paths to follow that won't overwhelm. Dead Cells embodies careful and polished game design in every aspect. And that includes presentation, because the pixelated graphics are absolutely gorgeous. The background scenery is foreboding, the character/enemy designs are stylish, and most of all it's just impressive how well detailed everything looks while relying upon this pixely look. And all of that fast combat is displayed with gorgeous, fluid animation—including the occasional humorous touch for our mysterious protagonist. The art of Dead Cells never stops impressing, whether you're on your first playthrough or your hundredth. The music composition is sharp as well, even if the game more often relies upon a slightly muted background soundtrack. It would be hard to focus on the music anyway with all of the intense combat to enjoy. In perfect pick-up-and-play fashion, one run of Dead Cells only lasts an hour or so, which is just enough time to make the gameplay feel varied and engaging but not so long that it stings too much when you die and have to start over. That's an important balancing act for a Roguelike, where maintaining interest in trying again and again is vital, and Dead Cells handles it well. Dead Cells infuses enough Metroidvania exploration concepts into the Roguelike formula to make the gameplay feels fresh and engaging, even in a time where this genre swarms the indie landscape. More importantly though, the polished, satisfying combat, combined with the wealth of possibilities when it comes to weapons and items, makes every playthrough of Dead Cells wonderfully engaging and exciting. Roguelikes aren't for everyone, with their cyclical, ever-challenging gameplay, but this one might be enough to convince a few new players to give the genre a try. Rating: 8 out of 10 Cells
  23. Eliwood8

    Cat Quest Review

    Cat Quest from developer The Gentlebros captures the essential ingredients of an RPG adventure in a compact, adorable package. When the evil Drakoth kidnaps his sister, our feline fighter must unlock his potential as a Dragonblood cat and grow powerful enough to stop the mysterious figure. What follows is an enjoyable journey across a wide open continent rife with caves to explore and treasures to find—just don't expect too much depth from this lighthearted adventure. The developers have described Cat Quest as an effort to streamline the kind of open world experience found in games like The Legend of Zelda and Skyrim, and in that respect they've certainly succeeded. Cat Quest feels like every action-RPG you've ever played simplified down to its most basic roots: fighting monsters, exploring caves, and earning EXP. Your stats are kept to an easy to understand handful of numbers (HP, physical attack power, magical attack power), equipment management is streamlined so you aren't constantly juggling your inventory (for example, if you have a wizard's hat and pick up a second one it will simply improve the one you already have rather than giving you a duplicate), and the game world is large enough to encourage exploration but not so large that you're ever in danger of getting lost. Everything in Cat Quest has the feel of an epic RPG adventure but on a much smaller, more manageable scale, one that would be perfect for novice players. Of course, part of the appeal of open world games is their complexity, which allows two players to have significantly different experiences within the same game. By removing that depth, Cat Quest ends up feeling rather shallow. There is very little variety in the caves and dungeons you explore (all of them are short and simply require you to kill every enemy found within), your combat options are limited to choosing which spells you prefer to use which, despite some minor differences in their area of effect or status ailments, are all equally effective on any enemy, and equipping different weapons changes nothing about how you attack. There are also only a handful of enemy types in the whole game, and even then there's very little variety in their attack patterns or weaknesses. Occasionally you might see a jump in difficulty, but raising a few levels evens things out quickly. Cat Quest's gameplay formula is in no way bad but it'll likely leave some players wishing for more. If the game does click for you though you'll be treated to more cat puns than you can handle. Your main quest to rescue your sister leads you on numerous side quests as well, and it's clear the developers were having a blast thinking up every possible feline, fur, and purr related pun. It can make the dialogue feel incessantly goofy, but thankfully it's never obnoxious. Cat Quest stays squarely in charming, silly territory that will keep you smirking even if it doesn't make you laugh out loud. Perhaps it helps that the game isn't terribly long either. The main storyline only takes on a handful of quests, but you kind of have to spend time on side quests to level up enough to tackle the main challenges (oddly, side quests give you a recommended level but the main story never offers a similar helpful hint). But even working through the majority of side quests as well as the big baddie only takes six or seven hours, while the post-game side quests will extend the game's length a little further. One of the more valuable features in Cat Quest though is the Mew Game mode, available after completing the story once, which is essentially a challenge mode that lets you select difficulty mods like disabling EXP gains or limiting the number of times you can die/revive. More than most games these challenges add a decent incentive to replay the whole adventure, especially if you thought it was too easy the first time anyway. With bright, colorful, and cartoonish graphics Cat Quest only reinforces its appeal to the younger crowd. Anyone is likely to appreciate the overwhelmingly cute style of the game though—our hero's running animation is particularly adorable. As mentioned the game doesn't do much to make the different caves and environments feel unique but the game's look is undeniably fun. It shouldn't be any surprise that the music is much the same: not the most original score you'll hear in a video game, but it's bubbly and chipper and a nice aural backdrop for the experience. Cat Quest is a perfectly enjoyable little RPG adventure, whose only real fault is simply the fact that it doesn't try to be anything more than that. In an effort to streamline the open-world RPG formula, the developers might have gone a bit overboard, simplifying Cat Quest down to such a basic action-RPG that there's little depth to explore, outside of a repetitive cycle of taking on side quests and exploring identical caves. Still, even if the game lacks bite, the adorable feline world makes for a cute setting, purrfect for a young player's first action-RPG adventure or a relaxing, undemanding afternoon of gameplay. Rating: 7 out of 10 Cats
  24. It hasn't been easy being a Valkyria Chronicles fan. The first game released in 2008 on the PS3, but then the sequel jumped to PSP exclusivity. Even worse, VCIII was PSP only and was never officially released outside of Japan. That kind of tumultuous history normally wouldn't be a good sign for the future of a franchise, but thankfully Valkyria Chronicles 4 released worldwide this year, and on all major platforms at that. Just like the previous games VC4 features addictive tactical gameplay, beautiful sketchbook-style graphics, and a wealth of different challenges to face. Strategy fans take note: the franchise's formula is just as engaging now as it was ten years ago. Like the previous games, VC4 takes place in a world loosely based on reality during the Second Europan War (clearly based on WWII) between the Atlantic Federation in the west and the Imperial Alliance in the east. VC4 follows Squad E, soldiers chosen to spearhead a dangerous mission to push through enemy lines and attack their capital. Although there are plenty of likeable and entertaining characters (even if they're a bit tropey), the story really doesn't pick up until after the first third or so of the game. After that point things get to be a little more serious and engaging, and the game even flirts with some interesting thoughts regarding both warfare and sacrifice. Some of the characters' interactions are still a bit melodramatic, but even so it's easy to get invested in their journey. But one of the highlights of the writing is the Squad Stories missions—side missions that each focus on three different characters in Squad E, aside from the main protagonists. It's nice to see some other characters get a little time in the spotlight, all of whom have their own unique backstories, and oftentimes Squad Stories offer up the best comedic moments of the game as well. The Valkyria Chronicles games feature a unique blend of tactical gameplay and third-person shooting action. You begin a level by looking at the map and selecting a character to move—pretty standard stuff for a strategy game. However, at this point the view switches to a third-person view of that character and you're able to move freely about the map, limited by how many Action Points (AP) that character has (each class of soldier has a different max AP). Not only do you move like this but you shoot as well, so you have to have decent aim to play effectively. Don't worry though, it isn't as frantic as a typical shooter; while aiming, all enemy actions are paused so you can take your time lining up a shot. There are also plenty of opportunities to flank or fire from a distance so you don't have to get up close and personal, such as by using the new class of units, grenadiers. Another unique aspect of VC games is that you can move a single unit multiple times on your turn. However, each time you move them they'll have less AP to work with, and some units have limited ammo as well. Being able to move a single unit multiple times opens up a ton of strategy potential though and really allows you to adapt to the challenges in front of you or rely on certain favored tactics. There are also plenty of different characters to use, each with unique personal traits, including some that are helpful and some that are harmful. For the most part they're well balanced though, so it's easy to use whoever you like (and using lots of different characters helps unlock Squad Stories, so it's worth doing). The best part is that you don't have to level up individual characters. Instead you train all units of a specific class at once, so, for example, upgrading the sniper class boosts all of your snipers. This is a great way to let you experiment with characters and not feel tied to specific units like other strategy games. I may be throwing a lot of information at you here but it hardly takes any time at all to get used to this gameplay formula, and soon enough it proves incredibly engaging. It really blends the best of both worlds: the thoughtful tactics of a strategy game with the excitement of controlling the aim yourself. VC4 also finds a pretty accommodating balance of difficulty. Sure the game is going to punish you if you make mistakes (like leaving vulnerable units exposed) but there are helpful ways to bounce back, such as calling in reinforcements or even rescuing downed characters so they can return to battle. Possibly best of all is just the fact that the game allows you to save mid-level, so if you're ever unsure of a risky maneuver you can just save in advance (we've all done it while playing a strategy game). Plus, if you do want a bit more of a challenge, there are aspects of each battle that aren't necessarily side quests but are challenges you can impose on yourself, like taking out all enemy troops before capturing the enemy base. The game's ranking system is only based on the number of turns you take to complete a map—which is a bit strange since it means, in some instances, you can just rush the enemy base while ignoring a large portion of the enemy units—but taking the time to defeat all enemy commanders, ace units, tanks, etc. is a good way to push yourself. There is one aspect where the game's difficulty really doesn't feel as well balanced though, and that's any time you're fighting a boss enemy. Too often these battles are just overwhelming unless you use specific strategies, which feels antithetical to a strategy game. It's understandable that bosses would pose more a challenge, but it doesn't feel very rewarding or particularly well-balanced in VC4. Another mildly disappointing aspect of the game is the pacing, though that's not entirely unexpected when playing a strategy game like this, where one map can last over an hour. What's a little odd in VC4 though is the way that the cutscenes between missions are so broken up into little pieces so you have to click through each one constantly. Given how long these cutscenes can last though, maybe it's for the best. Just completing the main story will last a good amount of time, at least thirty to forty hours, and thanks to the RPG mechanics of leveling up units by class and buying new equipment it's worth taking the time to play some of the side content as well. In addition to the aforementioned Squad Stories there are skirmishes which are great when you just want to jump right into a battle. You can also replay missions if you want to try to perfect your rank or just try different tactics. On top of all of that there are paid DLC missions you can buy. Suffice it to say VC4 will keep you well occupied. The returning art style of the original VC game, a blend of sketchbook visuals in a 3D setting, remains a beautifully unique look that adds a colorful flair to a game that is actually about warfare. The setting doesn't really allow for much fancy detail in the environments—battlefields tend to all look alike—but the distinctive art style makes up for it and creates a truly visually interesting game. The soundtrack is somewhat less unique but still features some solid tracks that make for decent background noise while fighting a war. And finally the voice work is well done—particularly helpful for keeping the long stretches of cutscenes lively—but if you're a Japanese voice acting purist you can download the original voice work for free off of the eShop. Valkyria Chronicles 4 is just about everything fans of the franchise could hope for: a wealth of engaging, strategy-based gameplay with enough new content to keep every battle exciting. Aside from the unfortunate difficulty spikes around boss battles the gameplay in VC4 is wonderfully rich with possibilities, possibilities that let you adapt on the fly and move with the flow of battle. And despite that 4 in the title this isn't just a game for longtime fans. Any player could easily jump right into the action here and find an incredibly addictive treasure trove of tactical action. Rating: 9 out of 10 Soldiers
  25. Eliwood8

    Party Hard Review

    We've all been there. It's late, you just want to get to sleep, but your neighbors are partying long into the night and just won't stop making a racket. While some of us would probably just grumble in bed or maybe call the cops, the protagonist of Party Hard takes matters into his own hands—by viciously murdering everyone at the party. From developer Pinokl Games and publisher tinyBuild Games, this stealth-based action game offers up a hilariously dark (and darkly relatable) crime spree full of inventive ways to ultimately get some peace and quiet. But while the concept is great the actual execution leaves something to be desired. Our protagonist in Party Hard might take the cake when it comes to grumpy neighbors. Who could blame him though, when the party next door just won't quiet down? The entire premise of Party Hard is delightfully macabre, and even as the killer expands from just killing neighbors to taking on extravagant parties around the country it's certainly an entertaining ride. The story is framed with a police officer interrogating a detective about the crime spree, and even if the writing itself feels a bit on the bland side it's a good set up for watching the vicious gameplay unfold. At its core the goal of Party Hard is perfectly simple: kill everyone at the party. Actually carrying out your murder spree can be complicated though. Thankfully the party goers are pretty oblivious to a lot of things, but if you murder someone standing right next to them they'll notice, call the cops, and that'll be game over. You have to think carefully about where and when to strike, which is what gives the game its stealth/tactical aspects. And like a lot of stealth games it's so rewarding to see your efforts pay off as you're the last person left alive, dancing alone in the midst of the mayhem. The catch is that Party Hard can be hard. Really hard. Party goers can move in quite random patterns, and isolating one for a kill isn't easy. Plus, even if they don't see you actually doing the deed, if you're found alone in a room with a dead body you'll still have the cops sicced on you. The biggest challenge in Party Hard is often just the number of people you have to kill. Some parties can have over sixty guests, and picking them off one by one is a tedious prospect. Also your murderer just moves. So. Slowly. Granted, clearly the game is designed to be more of a stealthy, methodical kind of game rather than just running in knife-swingin', but your slow movement can really stymie the variety of actions you take. It's incredibly difficult to get off a quick kill and escape unnoticed, so you have to err on the side of caution and take things slowly and carefully. It's fine to have a game that encourages you to be tactical but it just gets boring in Party Hard when you have so many targets and such poor means of taking them out. Thankfully the game does give you a few other tools aside from your knife. Each stage is littered with traps you can set (sabotaging the DJ's speakers to explode, poisoning the drinks, pushing someone into an open fire pit, etc.) which are both more stylish ways to execute guests and oftentimes helpful ways to clear out multiple guests at once, especially while you're somewhere else, clear of suspicion. The traps are a blast to use and easily the highlight of the game, but it's a shame that there are relatively so few of them. Certain traps are repeated often in different levels, and generally there are only a handful of them per level, so even though you can take out multiple guests with one trap they still only cover a fraction of the guest list. It's also hard to build a consistent strategy when the traps and their placement is randomized every time you retry a level. It would have been great to see an even larger variety of traps to really make the game feel unique. Each level can be completed in a matter of minutes—if you know exactly what you're doing and are lucky. Your first playthrough will likely require plenty of trial and error, so the game should still last a four or five hours, plus there are bonus levels if you just can't get enough party crashing. Additionally there's plenty of variation to keep you coming back. In addition to the slightly randomized traps, you can unlock and play as different characters with unique abilities. The police officer, for example, is able to carry around bodies without raising suspicion. There's also a local co-op mode to get a friend in on the mayhem which can be a lot easier at times—just be sure not to trip each other's traps. Considering how gory the premise of Party Hard gets it's probably for the best that the graphics are squarely in the retro pixel art style. Regardless of how bloody things get though the visuals look great, and offer plenty of humorous little touches and pop culture references when you pay attention to the details. The soundtrack isn't bad either—as you'd expect each level has a thumping dance party background song, most of which also have a certain retro, 80s synth flair to them. The game also features voice acting for its between-level cutscenes which isn't particularly noteworthy but is a pleasant surprise for an indie game like this one. Despite the satisfying sense of accomplishment that accompanies most stealth games, Party Hard squanders a hilariously dark concept with mediocre execution. The high challenge of picking off party guests isn't inherently bad but the relatively few options that your knife and traps provide makes the game tedious and plodding, like a monotonous cycle of waiting for a guest to wander into an area alone so you can get a clean, stealthy kill. A version of the game focused more on inventive kills rather than slowly eliminating the huge guest list would have gone a long way toward making Party Hard more engaging and rewarding. Rating: 6 out of 10 Parties Review copy provided by publisher Party Hard is available now on the Switch eShop for $14.99.