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  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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.
  11. 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
  12. 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
  13. 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
  14. 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.
  15. Eliwood8

    Super Hydorah Review

    Throwback and retro games aren't anything new, but so many developers manage to get it wrong, failing to capture the charm of classic 80s games, particularly the delicate balance of simplicity and challenge that made arcade shoot 'em ups so wonderfully addictive. Super Hydorah, however, manages to get it just right. From developer Locomalito and publisher Abylight Studios, Super Hydorah is a clear love letter to shoot 'em ups, and recreates the classic look and feel of the genre with the perfect modern touch to make it feel fresh and exciting in 2018. An evil bio-mechanical alien force has invaded the galaxy, and it's up to you to stop it. The story feels right out of an arcade, capturing the retro throwback vibe even better than many other modern retro-style games. Sure that also means there's not a ton of depth to the story but what more plot do you need when waves of alien ships are firing on you? Super Hydorah is a game about strapping in for frantic side-scroller action, not fancy cutscenes. In the proud tradition of side-scrolling shoot 'em ups, Super Hydorah is a simple to understand but challenging to master kind of game. There's really only one button you need to focus on (you'll fire both your main and subweapon with one button), aside from your super weapon which requires ammo so you're not going to be using it as often. Generally you're just going to be holding down the fire button as you dodge incoming enemy attacks, building that delightfully hypnotic fixation that shoot 'em ups have—don't look away from the screen for even a second or your ship might get blown up! A causal observer might make the mistake of thinking this kind of game is easy to develop, but to make a game like this truly balanced and engaging requires a perfect understanding of the genre, and the developers have nailed it with Super Hydorah. The game has just the right blend of challenge without becoming tedious, style and spectacle without being overly flashy, and complexity without bogging the player down with options. Super Hydorah does an incredible job of making a modern retro game that doesn't feel weighed down by clunky old mechanics nor inundated with pointless additions. Throughout all this there are still plenty of features that make Super Hydorah unique. There's the branching map system that allows you to choose what stage to tackle next—you can even go back to previous stages that you haven't completed yet. The map isn't terribly complex and obviously still leads to the same final boss every time, but there's enough variation that you can try building your own speedruns/playthroughs. There's also a solid selection of weapons you can use, which are unlocked as you complete different stages. All of the classic weapon formats are represented here—lasers, homing missiles, scattershot—but the ability to choose what to use is another invaluable feature for adding variety to the game. And every weapon can be powered up by items you collect while playing; plus the nice thing about Super Hydorah is that you don't lose those power-ups entirely when you die. You'll lose a percentage—there's still a penalty for dying—but it's not totally discouraging. Maintaining a bit of your weapon power after respawning helps maintain the momentum and flow of the game as well. One playthrough of the game won't last too long (assuming you don't die and retry as often as I do) but like many great shoot 'em ups there's a ton of replay value to enjoy with Super Hydorah. For one, there's just the classic challenge of earning a high score, which is no easy feat here. Each stage also has some sort of hidden secret to uncover, so completionists have a good reason to learn the game inside and out. There's also taking different paths on the map and using different weapons of course, plus there are two difficulty modes so you can ease yourself into the game before tackling the more challenging normal mode. Last but certainly not least, the whole game supports local co-op, and having a buddy along for the frantic shoot 'em up ride is a lot of fun. Plus there's even a side mode mini-game to enjoy. Suffice it to say, even if playing through Super Hydorah once doesn't take long, there's plenty to keep you coming back for more. With its emphasis on classic gameplay design, it shouldn't be any surprise that the visuals and audio in Super Hydorah are a throwback to old school games as well. The pixel graphics art style looks fantastic here—there's even an option to turn on a CRT filter to mimic old TVs and monitors. Retro fans will love it and even young players will appreciate the slick, pixel perfect artwork. To match the graphics there's an equally great old school soundtrack from Gryzor87 that feels like it was lifted straight out of the 80s, from synth influences to classic rock riffs. For what is a relatively short game there's an impressive number of songs to enjoy, each one perfecting the retro appeal of Super Hydorah. Fans of the shoot 'em up genre take note: there are still excellent games being made in this style, with all of the charm of the 80s classics we grew up on, blended with enough modern conveniences that the experience still feels fresh and accessible. Super Hydorah is a lovingly made, highly polished ode to arcade shoot 'em ups, one that doesn't pull any punches but will still keep you coming back for one more try. This one is a must for fans of the genre, and will likely inspire new ones as well. Rating: 8 out of 10 Spaceships Review copy provided by publisher Super Hydorah is available now on the Switch eShop for $19.99.
  16. Eliwood8

    Mimpi Dreams Review

    Originally released for PC and mobile devices back in 2016, Mimpi Dreams from developer/publisher Dreadlocks Ltd makes its way to the Switch this week and brings with it a delightfully charming take on puzzle/platforming gameplay. It may not be the most complex game on the eShop, but its approachable, simple design makes it a fun, if brief, adventure. You play as Mimpi, a small dog who, when he sleeps, has big dreams of adventures. From forests and medieval castles to adventures on Mars, Mimpi's dreams always take him to places where nightmares need to be defeated and the locals need rescuing. Mimpi Dreams is ridiculously cute—Mimpi even dresses up in little themed outfits you can find in each stage—and the fact that its story points are all told visually makes it an ideal game for kids. You're not going to get much elaborate storytelling here, but Mimpi's charming heroics, reminiscent of classic platformer games, works well enough for this plot. The gameplay is a mix of puzzle/platformer: your goal is to reach the end of each level, but along the way you'll encounter all manner of obstacles that will hinder your progress. Sometimes it's a simple matter of knocking over a tree to make a bridge, while other times you need to solve something a little more involved to open the path forward. Mimpi Dreams does a solid job of throwing a variety of puzzles at the player, enough that it never feels like you're just doing the same things over and over. There are plenty of clever challenges as well, but generally the puzzles aren't too complicated. If you do need a helping hand though, there's a built-in hint system to help. There's a limit on how many hints you can use but it's possible to unlock more as you play, so even novice players can pretty comfortably progress through Mimpi Dreams. What makes the puzzle-solving a little more unique is that you're able to interact with a lot of the scenery in the environment. In addition to moving Mimpi you also have a cursor that can touch anything on screen, and this is typically your main way of solving a puzzle—oftentimes the biggest challenge is just figuring out what in the scenery you can actually interact with. With a traditional controller you move the cursor with the right stick and hit ZR to interact with things, which feels a little clumsy compared to the original touch controls on mobile or keyboard/mouse on PC. The good news is no puzzle requires such precise timing that you'll fumble it just because of the slow controls, so even though the controls don't quite feel ideal it won't inhibit the experience. Mimpi Dreams also supports motion control with the Joy-Cons, though trying to interact with puzzles this way has its own set of problems. The movement never quite feels as precise as you need it to be, and oftentimes will slow you down even more than trying to use the control stick. Of course, with the Switch you can also just go undocked and use the touch screen, which definitely feels more comfortable with certain puzzles. You'll have to keep your hands on the controls anyway to move and jump as Mimpi, but the trade off might be worth it at times. With a dog's mind as its setting Mimpi Dreams comes up with plenty of bizarre, surreal set pieces, and paired with the game's clean, crisp art style the visuals are a lot of fun. It's cute and cartoony, and the game's unique sense of style helps set it apart, even when Mimpi is traveling through more traditional video game locales like a forest or castle. And although the game can be a little light on background music at times, the main theme is catchy enough—and loops often enough—that it's sure to get stuck in your head. Just like the game's art the song is cute and charming, and helps lull you into the relaxed gameplay. There are only seven levels in the game but they get progressively longer and more complicated, culminating in an adventure on Mars that tests all of the skills the player has cultivated up until that point. Still, Mimpi Dreams isn't a long game, and the average player will most likely finish the whole thing in just a few hours. But completionists may enjoy finding all of the collectible bones in each level as well as tackling the challenge mode which tasks you with getting through as much of the game as you can with only one life. Even this isn't too hard with a little bit of caution, but it's still a decent way to challenge yourself. With engaging puzzles, a cute sense of style, and an adorable protagonist, Mimpi Dreams is an utterly endearing game, one that proves to be engaging even if not particularly complex. Despite minor control quirks Mimpi Dreams offers an adorable adventure for inexperienced players or anyone looking for a more relaxed game. Rating: 7 out of 10 Bones Review copy provided by the publisher Mimpi Dreams is available now on the Switch eShop for $9.99.
  17. The Yo-kai Watch franchise must be hitting the big leagues if they're putting out not just sequels but spin-offs as well. Unlike the main games Yo-kai Watch Blasters does away with the human protagonists and focuses just on the ghostly creatures as they band together in Blaster teams to keep the peace in the spirit world. Just like Yo-kai Watch 2, Blasters comes in two flavors, Red Cat Corps and White Dog Squad (for this review I played the former). The change in gameplay focus helps alleviate some of the nagging little problems found in the previous two mainline games, but it's not enough to completely cover the sense of repetition that weighs down the experience. Yo-kai Watch Blasters may not be a dungeon-crawler but it still feels extremely similar to the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games, mostly because you don't play as a human character controlling and collecting Yo-kai but as the Yo-kai themselves. In this game Yo-kai band together to form Blaster teams who keep the peace by battling unruly ghosts. Just like the main games there's a distinct Saturday morning cartoon vibe to the storytelling—the game is even divided into chapters that play out like individual episodes. As such the writing isn't exactly hardhitting or even that original but it's cute and charming enough for what it is. Besides, as you'll quickly discover while playing, Yo-kai Watch Blasters is more concerned with gameplay grind than storytelling. Rather than control a human character collecting Yo-kai, you play as a Yo-kai yourself and can engage in battles in real time while running around the city. This actually isn't the first time players have seen this style of gameplay as Blasters was a side mode in Yo-kai Watch 2. The formula has been refined a bit but the basic idea is the same, with strategy being somewhat less of a concern as your team of four Yo-kai battle enemies. Just like the main game there are hundreds of Yo-kai to collect and use in battle (you still befriend Yo-kai through a semi-random system after defeating them in battle) plus every ghost is given one of four classes: fighter, tank, healer, or ranger. A good Blasters team will balance out all four classes, though it's entirely up to you how to assemble and use your team. The battle system itself is decently fun—for a little while. Even with so many Yo-kai there really isn't much variety to combat and the game quickly turns into a game of repetition. Even fighting against different Yo-kai doesn't feel unique, though boss ghosts at least pose a more unique challenge. What quickly becomes apparent is that the entire game is built to be a grind. You can use whatever Yo-kai you want since it's easy to use Oni orbs to level them up, but collecting the necessary amount of orbs to build up more than four Yo-kai requires a lot of grinding. Oni orbs are also used for various other game mechanics (purchasing equipment, evolving Yo-kai, etc.) so the game really is made for grinding. It wouldn't be so bad if the gameplay itself was a little more exciting, but even when battles get tougher the combat system of Yo-kai Watch Blasters just isn't that interesting, and it seems almost endless when you look at the amount of Oni orbs necessary to level up each Yo-kai, or the random chance of getting unique upgrade materials from bosses. One way the game tries to liven things up is the multiplayer system that allows four players to team up on missions. Much like the Monster Hunter games the monotony of grinding should be more fun with other players, right? Well, not quite. Playing with friends doesn't really change the fact that every battle feels like it plays out exactly the same as the last one, and there are few opportunities to really coordinate on team attacks. And although Blasters supports both local and online multiplayer, the online community isn't exactly bustling so you're better off grouping up with friends to get a multiplayer game going. The controls in the game are pretty straightforward at least, and the bottom screen serves as a handy map that you can even zoom in/out to get a better idea of where you need to go next. The one minor problem is that there are also icons on the touch screen that you need to tap to use items or activate your Soultimate move, but the placement/size of these buttons could have been a little more convenient. Just like Yo-kai Watch 2, Blasters recycles a ton of material from the original Yo-kai game. The environments are largely the same cities seen in the main games, and obviously the Yo-kai themselves are largely the same. The art design in these games is certainly charming but three games of it is pretty boring—the series could definitely use a fresh look. The soundtrack meanwhile isn't bad. It's fast-paced and fun, with plenty of clever inspirations from other familiar tunes, but still manages to feel unique to Yo-kai Watch. There's nothing that stands out once you're finished playing but it's a solid background soundtrack nonetheless. As mentioned the core of Blasters is grinding, so if you really want to see everything the game has to offer you'll be putting in a lot of hours into the game. The story is relatively direct and only lasts around ten hours or so (assuming you don't spend too much time grinding to level up other Yo-kai), but the post-game content that opens up afterward can last for hundreds of hours—if you're willing to sit through the grind of it all. Yo-kai Watch Blasters offers a decent spin-off to the Yo-kai Watch formula, one that isn't too different but still feels unique enough to work as its own game. For better or for worse Blasters retains all of the same humor and style of the main games, one that feels right at home in the kids' cartoon universe that Level-5 has built. But it's the seemingly endless grind of Blasters that just highlights how shallow the gameplay actually is, and will leave you questioning whether putting hours and hours of playtime into leveling up Yo-kai is actually worth it, even if you're spending those hours in multiplayer. Yo-kai Watch Blasters is fine in a short amount, but it lacks the spark to keep you coming back for hours on end. Rating: 6 out of 10 Yo-kai
  18. Eliwood8

    WarioWare Gold Review

    Wario is back in another get-rich-quick scheme, this time taking advantage of the lucrative world of video game development. WarioWare Gold collects some of the best microgames from the franchise's history as well as brand new ones that take advantage of the varied control inputs of the 3DS. For fans of the series, this is a great trip down memory lane with a fresh look at some of the favorite microgames of the past, and for new players this is a perfect introduction to the fast-paced microgame action of WarioWare. The game opens with Wario stealing a golden pot from a neighboring city and returning home only to realize he's out of cash. In order to make a little money he organizes a video game tournament, wrangling all of the familiar WarioWare faces into making games for the competition while he reaps the benefits. It may not be very complex but what more could we want from a WarioWare story? There's plenty of humor to enjoy as each character has their own skit to introduce them, and as a first for the series the story scenes are all voice acted which is a nice touch. A bit of comedy and some solid voice work is about the best one could expect from WarioWare, and it's plenty charming here. For those that may not know, WarioWare games are compilations of microgames, which are super short mini-games that generally challenge you to react quickly to a simple command, like catching a ball or avoiding a hazard. You only have a few seconds to register what you need to do and then accomplish it, and you never know what the next microgame will be. These microgames are simple reflex tests, but when they're thrown at you in rapid succession there's an addictive challenge in passing as many as you can without failing. In story mode you'll game over if you fail four times, and there are additional challenge modes that have even stricter parameters—players will enjoy coming back for more again and again to earn an even better score. Gold features over 300 microgames, some of which are brand new and many of which are taken from previous games in the franchise, which also means that this game takes advantage of all of the 3DS's control inputs. Some games require the D-pad and A button, some use gyroscopic motion, some the touch screen, and there are even a few that use the microphone. There's a great sense of variety to the microgame selection in Gold, especially if you're playing one of the game modes that mixes it up and throws all different control types at you randomly. Much like pretty much every WarioWare game there are a handful of microgames that are just a little too obtuse and confusing in the few seconds you have to understand them, but it's really only a problem the first time you see the microgame. After that you can always practice in the index so you won't be caught unawares again. Just playing the story mode won't make for a long game, especially since you probably won't even see every microgame by just playing the story once. WarioWare games are built upon replay value, and it definitely is addictive to replay these microgames over and over to challenge your own high scores. Additionally there are tons of knickknacks to collect including soundtrack samples, character descriptions, and even bonus mini-games. You'll unlock these randomly by using the game's gacha/capsule machine, so there's more incentive to play as much as possible to improve your odds of getting interesting items. Even if you aren't meticulously collecting these items, Gold has a great variety of content that makes it easy to keep playing long past the brief story mode. And if you have a friend with their own copy of the game you can play a little local head-to-head challenge, last player standing wins. It's a bit of a shame that this multiplayer mode is limited to local play and requires two copies of the game but if you can make it happen Gold is a fun game to challenge a friend for some quick competitive play. WarioWare's charmingly bizarre art style is still on full display in Gold, plus you get to enjoy the characters in a cute variety of cutscenes during their introductions in story mode. Otherwise there isn't much to be said for the graphics, but then again that's not the point of a WarioWare game—a lot of the visuals are quirky and weird and that suits Wario just fine. On the music side of things though there's plenty to enjoy. The song selection has just about as much variety as the microgame list, and sometimes it's fun to just listen to these bubbly tunes if you've unlocked them from the capsule machine. WarioWare Gold may not wow you with a wildly new take on the series, but as a "greatest hits" or "ultimate edition" of WarioWare it offers a fantastic collection of the kind of quirky, challenging, and surprisingly addictive microgames that define the franchise. The story mode offers a great selection of charming, oddball humor without detracting from the core gameplay, and the variety of microgames, challenge modes, and bonus collectibles make the game perfect for a quick play session every so often. Old fans and new will enjoy the challenge of perfecting high scores in WarioWare Gold. Rating: 8 out of 10 Mini-games
  19. After letting Mario lead the way for each new console's release, Nintendo raised some eyebrows when the GameCube's launch Mario game wasn't a Mario game at all. This time it was the plumber in green's time to shine, though to be fair his story still revolves around finding a missing Mario. Still, Luigi's Mansion was a breath of fresh air and an utterly charming GameCube game to boot. The game became not only a cult classic but helped shape Luigi's personality in future titles. Seventeen years later, players have a chance to enjoy the entire adventure all over again on the 3DS with a few new bells and whistles, but mostly the same enjoyable ghost-catching gameplay. It's Luigi's lucky day when he wins a mansion in a contest, despite never having entered one in the first place. Still, not one to look a gift house in the mouth, Luigi travels to the mansion to check it out, planning to meet up with Mario there. But Mario is nowhere to be found, and the mysterious mansion is haunted by hundreds of terrifying—though mostly adorable—ghosts. With the help of Professor E. Gadd, Luigi braves the mansion with the Poltergust 3000 to round up the ghosts and find his brother. It may not be the deepest story but it's still a lot of fun to see Luigi shine in the spotlight, diving into danger despite his fears. Aside from simply exploring the mansion the crux of the gameplay lies with the Poltergust 3000. This modified vacuum allows Luigi to capture ghosts, but it can also be used to solve simple puzzles (or even dust off the mansion a bit). The process of capturing ghosts is fairly simple—for normal ghosts you need to shine your flashlight on them to temporarily freeze them, then wrangle them with the Poltergust while they struggle to escape. It's simple but still incredibly satisfying to capture ghosts—it helps that each one enters the Poltergust with a satisfying pop. By clearing a room of ghosts you'll open the way to a new one somewhere in the mansion, and the journey continues in a somewhat repetitive but still entertaining fashion. Occasionally the capture process becomes a little more involved. Some ghosts require using an elemental attack to weaken them first, and some are Portrait Ghosts that are more like mini-boss fights. These ghosts usually require solving a simple puzzle to make them vulnerable to the Poltergust, and if you need a hint Luigi has a Game Boy Horror to scan ghosts and dispense tips. Then there are the actual boss fights that are much more involved. Both Portrait Ghosts and bosses add a nice break from the normal pace of the game, plus they add a good bit of challenge. The game still errs on the easy side for the most part, but that doesn't mean you can drop your guard entirely, especially if you want to earn a high score. The hardest part of the game is actually just keeping a handle on the controls. The game has a fixed camera angle but Luigi is able to move in any direction and aim the Poltergust up or down to capture ghosts high and low. The result is a control scheme that never quite feels right. It's hard to keep your bearings, and sometimes you'll think you're aiming straight at a ghost but in reality your aim is a little off and it slips away. It's a bit frustrating, especially with some of the more agile ghosts, and this 3DS remake doesn't really fix the issue. New 3DS owners can use the C-stick nub to aim but it still comes off clumsy, while other 3DS players have to use motion controls which opens other a whole other can of control worms for a game like this. The clumsy controls aren't insurmountable but it's a shame more couldn't be done for this remake. Speaking of which, the remake adds a handful of new features, though nothing that significantly changes the game. Aside from the control differences there's also a 2-player mode where another player controls a gooey green doppelganger of Luigi called Gooigi. It's fun to have a friend along for the ride, and even if you only have one copy of the game you can play the more limited challenges with a friend, though the game is still built for only one player so adding another generally only further trivializes the game's challenges. Additionally you can use amiibo if you need a boost, and you can now use the Strobulb, a flashlight originally seen in Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon which emits a powerful blast of light after charging up for a few seconds. Again the game doesn't have any new ghosts that require this feature but it can make a fun change of pace all the same. After seventeen years it is, perhaps, easy to forget what the original GameCube game looked like originally, and while this 3DS version obviously doesn't have the latest HD quality graphics it's still a marked improvement over the original. At the same time the game retains all of the charm found in the little touches of the GameCube game as well, from Luigi's nervous shuffling to the cartoony ghosts that are more quirky than spooky and give the entire game a fun, light-hearted feeling. And although it has become a surprisingly rare feature for 3DS games, Luigi's Mansion includes stereoscopic 3D which does look pretty cool—though unfortunately still isn't that helpful with aiming. And naturally the game features a spooky, cartoonish soundtrack as well with a main theme that is just as catchy today as it was in 2001. For those of us that haven't played the game in over a decade it may be easy to forget that it's actually quite a short adventure. Only six hours or so will see you through the entire adventure, assuming you don't get too lost while rounding up the hidden Boos needed to reach the final boss. Like the original there is a second quest of sorts called The Hidden Mansion that is available after finishing the game once, plus you can challenge yourself with earning a high score by taking down Portrait Ghosts as efficiently as possible. Even if the breadth of content is relatively light, there's enough replay value to keep you entertained. On the 3DS, Luigi's Mansion remains a delightfully charming Nintendo-take on the horror genre, where more dramatic scares are traded for theme park-esque thrills. This remake may only add superficial features and retains many of the small annoyances of the original, but the adventure is still well worth replaying, especially with a friend. The fun of exploring a creepy mansion will keep you hooked for the game's short length and will no doubt whet your appetite for the upcoming Luigi's Mansion for Switch. Rating: 8 out of 10 Ghosts
  20. Eliwood8

    Pinstripe Review

    What better time of year than October to take a quick trip through Hell? Pinstripe, created by Thomas Brush with developer Atmos Games and publisher Serenity Forge, takes players on a surreal adventure through the underworld, one that is haunting and eerie rather than filled with brimstone and fire. It's that atmosphere that makes Pinstripe special though, even if the gameplay challenges are light. In Pinstripe you play as Teddy, an ex-minister who, as the game begins, is traveling on a train with his three-year old daughter Bo. After meeting the perfectly creepy Mr. Pinstripe, Bo is kidnapped and whisked away to Hell, leaving Teddy to chase after them through eerie landscapes populated by despondent souls in the thrall of Pinstripe. If there's one thing this game does perfectly it's atmosphere. The entire adventure has an emotional, melancholy tone, and not just for the fact that a father is rescuing his daughter. In addition there's a bit of a mystery element to the game since nothing is explicitly explained to you, and the bizarre setting has a variety of strange quirks in it. It's enough to keep you completely enraptured by the game, and even if the game's themes of loss and despair end up feeling a little light by the end it's easy to be invested in the journey. The gameplay itself is something of a mix of adventure exploration and puzzle-solving, i.e. you may need a specific item to progress, but to find it you'll go through a variety of puzzles. It's a solid gameplay basis though tends to err on the easy side—this isn't the kind of game where you'll get stumped on a puzzle or lost for a good amount of time, everything is laid out before you pretty clearly. There are still a lot of fun little puzzles to enjoy in Pinstripe but ultimately it feels like the gameplay is just something to keep you busy while you're drinking in the atmosphere and story rather than the core of the game. The game also includes light combat, though generally enemy attacks are only a minor nuisance and you can easily dispatch them with your weapons. Aiming can feel a little clumsy at first, perhaps because the game was built for PC so dual-stick aiming feels a little off, but you never really have to aim and fire quickly so it's not much of a problem. The only other notable issue with Pinstripe is the loading times which are a little too long when you're moving between regions (within regions there's no loading). This can be particularly tiresome since you have to backtrack a few times throughout the game, and the loading screens spoil some of the game's momentum. Even if the puzzles and exploration are a bit light Pinstripe has an undeniably beautiful sense of style. The best description of it is simply atmospheric—the visual design does an incredible job of reinforcing the sense of loss and isolation that Teddy is going through, and also provides some beautifully eerie scenes. It's the kind of visual design that makes you pause to appreciate the small touches on every screen. All of this is matched with an equally fantastic soundtrack, one that perfectly captures the haunting atmosphere but also has a number of quirky and catchy tunes as well. It's eclectic, and yet somehow suits the somewhat surreal world of Pinstripe. If there's one other major complaint about Pinstripe it's simply that the game is so short. Especially with its simple puzzle design it's easy to run through the game in just a couple of hours—and that's not the say the game isn't enjoyable during that time, but both the environments and gameplay design feel like they could have been put toward an even longer game. There's also a new game+ option which allows you to explore a few more areas. These don't hold anything of crucial importance to the game's story or gameplay but it can be nice to replay the game and take in all of the little details it offers—it'd only take you a couple of hours after all. Pinstripe offers beautiful and haunting trip through a surreal Hell, where psychological abuse seems to weigh more heavily on its denizens than physical torture. All of that incredible atmosphere unfortunately isn't matched by the gameplay, which proves somewhat shallow, but even if the challenges are small there are still some fun puzzles to enjoy. Players looking for a thoughtful, emotional adventure would do well to give Pinstripe a try. Rating: 7 out of 10 Stripes Review copy provided by the publisher Pinstripe will be available on the Switch eShop on October 25th for $14.99. Pre-purchase the game now for a 20% discount.
  21. For a while there it looked like we weren't going to get this game in the West (originally called Monster Hunter XX in Japan), but Switch owners can rejoice: while other systems are playing Monster Hunter World we've got Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate, the most jam-packed Monster Hunter game to date. This is an expansion of the 3DS game originally released in the West in 2016 so the basic premise will be familiar to many players (in fact, I'm reposting my review of that game below since it covers so much of this game as well), but a little similarity to previous entries has never stopped a true Monster Hunter fan. For those of us that are helplessly addicted to the hunt, Generations Ultimate is…well, the ultimate experience. First off, one of the nicest features in this game is simply the fact that you're able to transfer your progress from Generations on the 3DS to this Switch game. It's a quick, simple process and incredibly valuable for saving a lot of time building up an inventory of basic resources. Tackling every hunt can be a lot of fun in Monster Hunter but transferring data like this helps veteran hunters jump right to the new content. It's hard to know what to say about Generations Ultimate since it's basically an expansion of Generations for the 3DS. The core elements are the same but this game adds more monsters, more hunting styles, more maps—more everything! Generations Ultimate may not have a fancy new gameplay gimmick or monster type but the game doubles down on Generations' premise as a collection of Monster Hunter greatest hits. With even more monsters and maps from the franchise's history represented here, this truly is an almost all-encompassing representation of the series's rich hunting history. For fans of Monster Hunter it doesn't get much better than this—Generations Ultimate is everything you love, all packed into one Switch cartridge. And on the other hand, Generations Ultimate may not necessarily win over new players. Monster Hunter games have grown increasingly more accessible with each generation but there are still plenty of little aspects that players might find tedious, like collecting resources or the seemingly endless grind to earn rare item drops from monsters. If the game clicks for you you'll be hooked for literally hundreds of hours of playtime, but if not the gameplay might seem repetitive. Aside from just plain more monsters to fight, one of the more significant additions to Generations Ultimate is two new hunter styles, Valor and Alchemy. Valor isn't that dissimilar from the existing Adept style as both rely upon reading the monster perfectly to time your dodges, but Valor also gives the benefit of building up a Valor State that allows you to perform new attacks, depending upon what weapon you're using. It can be a risky style to use but also a fun change of pace for pros that want a little something new. Alchemy lets you craft items in the middle of a battle, some of which affect the whole hunting party, so it's useful for players that like playing support. It's also pretty complicated to learn since you basically have to learn all of the alchemy recipes and then remember which ones you want to use in battle, but with a bit of practice it's a nice addition to multiplayer hunts. Of course, possibly the best reason to get Generations Ultimate even if you played the 3DS game to death is the addition of G-rank, the highest difficulty rank in a Monster Hunter game where enemies hit even harder and add new attack patterns. One of the best things about Monster Hunter is the satisfaction of defeating a particularly troublesome beast, so adding another layer of difficulty to the game is perfect for players that enjoy a challenge. G-rank is a true test of skill, and rising to the challenge either alone or with friends is a blast. It's been a while since we've gotten to enjoy a Monster Hunter game on an HD system (well, an HD Nintendo system at any rate) and seeing all of the game's 93 monsters on the big screen is a real treat. Granted, Generations Ultimate still has its roots in the 3DS so the visuals are upscaled and still retain a certain grainy simplicity, notably in menus, but the graphics are still good—they're just not as great as they might have been if the game was built from the ground up for the Switch. The music isn't half bad either and helps give each hunt an epic tone—there's no better song to pump you up for hunting than the series's main theme. That "Ultimate" addition to the title isn't much of an exaggeration: Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate takes a game that was already made to be a compilation of the greatest hits from the franchise and packs in even more content with a quest list to make even the most seasoned hunter's head spin. The new features may be pretty minimal in the grand scheme but fans of the series won't mind. This isn't a game made to revolutionize the way Monster Hunter is played—it's a game for hardcore hunting fans that can't get enough of battling gigantic monsters, crafting weapons and armor, and doing it all again and again. Rating: 9 out of 10 Monsters Original review for Monster Hunter Generations (3DS):
  22. Eliwood8

    Mega Man 11 Review

    It's almost hard to believe we were once seeing new Mega Man games just about every year, but then waited over a decade between Mega Man 8 and 9, and now eight years between 10 and 11. Even though Capcom likes to keep its fans in constant suspense over the future of its franchises they've produced some outstanding titles recently, including Mega Man 11. With a perfect blend of old school difficulty with new visuals and gameplay features, Mega Man 11 finds a fantastic balance between retro charm and modern flair. This may shock longtime Mega Man fans, but the plot of this game involves Dr. Wily using eight robot masters to try to take over the world. Shocking, I know. Even though Wily is up to his same old tricks he's got a new gadget to get the job done: the Double Gear, a piece of technology he created in his younger days to make robots stronger and faster. To defeat him this time Mega Man makes use of the same tech. Mega Man 11 isn't about to win any writing awards but the game does add a little to the backstories of Wily and Dr. Light, and the use of voice actors helps make the intro and ending cutscenes a little more fun the watch. Despite the facelift to 2.5D graphics, the gameplay here is classic Mega Man. You have eight robot masters to defeat, each with a themed level and a weapon you'll receive upon beating them, and Mega Man has his standard arsenal of tools: Mega Buster, charged shot, sliding, Rush Coil and Jet, etc. Mega Man 11 is everything players love about the franchise and feels right at home alongside the other main numbered entries. The robot masters don't have the same charm as past bosses, nor quite the same challenges, but the formula of defeating one to use its weapon against another remains an engaging one. The one egregious missing element, though, is the fact that Mega Man does not freeze when jumping through boss room doors. How dare Capcom overlook the most important aspect of the Blue Bomber. Mega Man 11 also has a classic sense of difficulty. It's not quite as completely cutthroat as the original NES games but it gets pretty close at times, from spike traps to tricky jumps where wind is pushing you in one direction or the other. As usual there are checkpoints throughout each stage but losing all of your lives sends you back to the beginning. Fans of the series know that some of this repetition is just par for the course though, and the challenge of perfecting your skills throughout the early portions of each stage is far more satisfying than it is stifling. Plus Mega Man 11 makes things easier on the player with a generous items system that allows you to buy extra lives, energy tanks, and permanent upgrades that can be invaluable if you're struggling. This game captures that classic sense of difficulty without the same sense of frustration thanks to these concessions to the player. In addition to all of the classic elements of Mega Man that have returned there is an important new feature: the double gear. This ability lets you temporarily increase your speed or power, perfect for getting around a tricky enemy or taking down a robot master quickly. The double gear feels right at home in the series: it's a valuable tool but doesn't feel like an uncomfortably different play style from classic Mega Man since it only enhances his abilities rather than create new features to learn (although I often forgot to use it, being used to classic Mega Man gameplay as is). Since you can only use it for a limited time before it overheats and reduces Mega Man's power it's also nicely balanced—it'll help you get through some tricky moments but you can't just rely on it constantly, you still need to hone your platforming skills. Mega Man 11 clocks in at a respectable five hours or so—it feels like the right length for a Mega Man game, though admittedly a significant chunk of that time is spent on the first few levels, dying and retrying before you have enough bolts to purchase extra lives and upgrades. If you can't get enough of the Blue Bomber though there are different difficulty levels you can tackle plus a variety of challenges that give you specific goals, from simple time trials to finishing a level while jumping as little as possible. The game's power up system also makes it easy to set your own challenges—playing the game without power ups or purchasing extra lives is a lot more difficult but some players might appreciate the classic feel it offers. Unlike the classic pixel art of the original NES games or even the more detailed pixel art of some of the later entries, Mega Man 11 features 2.5D graphics which gives a pseudo-3D effect while still retaining basic side-scrolling gameplay. The effect is great and feels like an appropriate modernization of Mega Man. You get some beautiful background artwork and a few flashy visuals without betraying the familiar, somewhat cartoonish design of classic enemies and of course Mega Man himself. The soundtrack also does a fine job of capturing the nostalgic charm of past music tracks while still feeling fresh and new. Not all of the songs quite live up to the franchise's history but to be fair those are some big shoes to fill. Just like Mega Men 9 and 10, Mega Man 11 is a love letter to the Blue Bomber, recreating all of the best—and some of the more challenging—elements of the franchise. Unlike the other games though, this one also does a fantastic job of establishing new gameplay elements that feel fresh and valuable without betraying any of the classic difficulty or game design of the series. Longtime fans will love having another Mega Man adventure to play through, and new players will enjoy the fact that, while still challenging, Mega Man 11's item system makes the adventure much more manageable. Rating: 8 out of 10 Robot Masters
  23. It may not have the star power of Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest but the Ys series been around just about as long as those two RPG franchises, and continues to put out new content with Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, originally released in Japan in 2016 and recently ported to the Switch. Don't worry if you haven't been keeping up though; Ys VIII acts as a standalone title that anyone can jump straight into, and RPG fans will want to give the game a look for its fast-paced combat and large, engaging environments to explore. Each game in the Ys series follows the same protagonist, Adol Christin, adventurer extraordinaire, who seems to have a knack for stumbling into the right place at the right time. As the game begins Adol and his pal Dogi have found work aboard a passenger ship, but when a ferocious sea monster attacks Adol wakes up shipwrecked on the deserted island of Seiren. Strange rumors surround the island though, and it's up to Adol to get to the bottom of them while also rescuing other castaways and finding a way off the island. Ys VIII does a fine job of keeping the player engaged as you gradually find more survivors and uncover more strange happenings on the island. There are, however, some cliché plot points and one subplot in particular that feels completely out of left-field and oddly melodramatic—some parts of the writing definitely could have been tightened up. Also, despite a patch to address the more egregious typos and text errors, there are still a handful of noticeable typos throughout the game. But there's still a lot of charm in the writing thanks to a large and likeable cast of characters, as well as the mystery at the heart of the story. One of the defining traits of the Ys series is its action-based combat. Rather than turn-based or even combat-mode battles of similar JRPGs, Ys VIII lets you run right up to an enemy and smack it with Adol's sword. Monsters are scattered everywhere on the island and thanks to the seamless fluidity of attacking or fleeing from them Ys VIII has a great sense of fast-paced combat. You're free to move about while attacking and you have both dodging and blocking mechanics that give battles a satisfying intensity. Plus the game finds an excellent balance of difficulty. There may be an emphasis on dodging to avoid attacks but you're not going to be overwhelmed if you're not the type of player with perfect timing. This isn't a full-on action game where you need to pick your moments precisely—there's enough freedom that you can just go all out on an enemy, you'll just do a little better for dodging and blocking effectively. It makes the combat feel vibrant without bogging the player down in learning every monster's attack pattern. There are also a couple of other important aspects of combat. Most monsters have an attack-type weakness (slash, pierce, or strike) and each member of your party uses a different attack-type, so to play most effectively you'll want to switch between your three active party members (naturally, as an action-RPG, you can only control one at a time). Additionally, every character has unique skills for dealing more damage, and the party shares one SP meter. With these other elements in mind, combat in Ys VIII has a satisfying blend of both strategy and fast-paced action—there's something incredibly rewarding about demolishing a monster by using the right attack-type to break its defenses then using flashy special attacks to defeat it. And again, Ys VIII never bogs the player down with little details. You don't have to worry much about managing your SP meter since it recovers pretty quickly as you attack. The members you're not actively controlling still attack for a small amount of damage, but on the plus side they'll take little damage as well so you don't have to babysit them. The only minor annoyance here is that status effects can be hard to notice sometimes, but you can pause the battle at any moment to use a recovery item, so once again Ys VIII makes it easy to just enjoy the combat without punishing the player for not playing perfectly. The other core aspect of the game is exploration. It's only one island but Seiren is a big environment to explore, although it's mostly linear thanks to specific checkpoints that require special items or plot progression. Also each area is divided up into smaller regions, so the island isn't quite seamless (and even with these subdivisions distant objects sometimes pop into view with a jittering low framerate). Still, exploring is pretty fun in Ys VIII, partially thanks to the item collection/crafting system that encourages you to explore every nook and cranny. The materials you find or pick up from defeated monsters can be used to upgrade weapons or craft new armor and items, so it behooves you to pick up everything you can. This kind of item collection can be tedious in other games but Ys VIII makes it pretty simple, especially because you can also trade materials for others, so if you're missing just one piece of ore to upgrade your sword you don't have to run around fighting monsters until you find it. The only problem with exploration is the odd use of adventuring gear. These are items you need to progress further, such as gloves that let you climb vines. What's odd is that the game forces you to equip these in special adventure gear slots, which feels like a pointless restriction when these are simple necessities for exploration. It's not hard to swap out these items on the fly but it still feels like an unnecessary quirk of the game. Control-wise Ys VIII isn't too hard to pick up, but if you do have any trouble with them the game features full button customization. For example I swapped L for ZL and R for ZR which felt more comfortable for dodging and blocking. The game makes it easy to find the right fit for you. The visuals in Ys VIII feel like somewhat of a mixed bag. The graphics are by no means bad—characters have a charming anime look that is bright and colorful, and the animation is nice and smooth—but overall the art style never truly impresses. The environments are fine for what they are but there aren't any scenes that feel particularly stunning or stylish, plus there's a grainy, low-res look to some of the textures. As mentioned the draw distance can get a little funky at times as distant enemies stutter through low framerate movements. None of these are problems that will spoil the experience at all, but it does feel like the graphics are the one area of Ys VIII that truly lacks polish. On the other hand, the game does boast a pretty excellent soundtrack, one that is just as fun and catchy when it's playing for a momentous boss battle scene as when it's just adding ambiance to exploration. There are plenty of great songs to enjoy throughout the adventure. With it's large island teeming with monsters and treasures, Ys VIII clocks in at a pretty respectable 40 hours or so, assuming you don't waste too much time just exploring. But the game also features a number of side quests, courtesy of the other castaways you rescue. You're able to help them and raise their affinity which aids in another side adventure, fortifying your base of operations from monster attacks. Plus there are also optional areas to explore, and if you decide the gameplay isn't challenging enough you can up the difficulty. And finally once you finish the game you can start again with new game+ and carry over certain features. For RPG fans there's plenty to enjoy here. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana feels like it has a good chance of completely flying under the radar thanks to other high profile recent RPG releases on the Switch, but RPG fans would be doing themselves a disservice by overlooking this one. With its appealing story, fast-paced combat system, satisfying exploration, and stellar soundtrack, Ys VIII offers a lengthy, engrossing adventure. A few rough edges in the plot and visuals shouldn't deter anyone looking for an engaging action-RPG on the Switch. Rating: 8 out of 10 Castaways
  24. Eliwood8

    Flinthook Review

    In a galaxy full of scoundrels, one small pirate is ready to rise up and steal his share of the treasure. Flinthook is a roguelike action/platformer built around a handful of simple actions that are put to the test through a variety of randomly generated challenges, pushing the player to perfect the core mechanics of the game to prepare for anything the game can throw at them. Although the gameplay is solid, the roguelike elements prove to be more draining than entertaining. The storytelling in Flinthook is pretty minimal, especially since the main story is told without any text or dialogue, but an opening cutscene reveals a space pirate heist and you, as Flinthook, set off to stop the pirates and collect a little treasure for yourself. That's mostly all you get for plot in this game since the focus is on replaying runs over and over, but you can also find bits of lore hidden in pirate ships which flesh out the game's world a little more. It's a shame since the space pirate concept seems like a fun idea to build on, but the light story ultimately doesn't detract too much from the gameplay. Armed with a pistol, a grappling hook, and the ability to slow down time, Flinthook takes on all manner of challenges as he boards one pirate ship after another, leading up to a climactic boss fight at the end of each run. At its core the gameplay in Flinthook is a blast: swinging around on the grappling hook feels great and although you don't have a lot of variety in your attacks (aside from your gun you can hold one subweapon, such as a bomb) it's still satisfying to hone your skills to dodge and shoot your way through each ship. Flinthook does a great job of focusing on a couple of interesting game mechanics and building out fun challenges around them. The only problem I have with the game is just the fact that it's a roguelike, meaning that the game expects you to try, fail, and retry constantly while stumbling through procedurally generated levels. When you die you lose all progress in that run, and having that sword hanging over your head the entire time can be pretty discouraging, especially when the randomly generated levels start tossing out frustrating and sometimes even downright unfair rooms—more than once I entered a room and immediately took damage from a trap, which is pretty obnoxious, needless to say. The limits on healing may make the game more challenging but it mars the fun freedom of using the grappling hook as you end up often playing super defensively which feels at odds with the fluidity of the grapple movements. On the brightside Flinthook does allow you to purchase permanent upgrades and equip perks to boost your skills, so even failed runs can yield some degree of progress. The game doesn't make earning these upgrades easy though, and you essentially have to grind for quite a bit of time to earn enough currency to purchase them, which brings the gameplay right back to the repetitive trial and error formula that makes roguelikes great for replay value but also incredibly tedious and downright disheartening at times. Like any other roguelike you have to approach Flinthook with an abundance of patience and the understanding that progress comes slow. As for controls Flinthook feels pretty intuitive from the moment you pick it up, with just a couple of small issues. One, aiming with the left stick—the same stick you're using to move around—makes for a pretty challenging experience since it's hard to be precise with your aim or dodge away while still firing. Using your slow-motion ability alleviates a lot of that awkwardness though, plus the game has other control options that might feel more comfortable. Two, some enemies have a bubble shield that you need to pop with your grappling hook before you can damage them. If a bubbled enemy is next to a hook though it can be hard to hit them as the grappling hook might automatically attach to the hook—especially problematic if you're dodging incoming attacks at the same time. Although Flinthook's controls are overall pretty satisfying to use, there are these occasional instances that can frustrate, which is only amplified by the high stakes of each run. The pixel art aesthetic sure is common in indie games but it almost always manages to look great, and Flinthook is no exception. The game gives off a classic SNES era vibe with beautiful backgrounds and charming character/enemy designs. The downside is that the scenery occasionally feels a bit too busy while you're trying to focus on dodging attacks, but overall the style still looks beautiful. The soundtrack also has a nice classic feel to it. The music can feel a little repetitive at times, mostly because you're constantly exploring one pirate ship after another with similar tunes guiding you along, but there's still a great fun sense of energy to the audio that helps propel you along the adventure. Flinthook's charming aesthetics and focus on simple but satisfying 2D action/platforming mechanics makes for a great side-scrolling adventure, as long as you're prepared to handle the repetitive nature of a roguelike title, including the occasionally clumsy or unfair challenges that arise from randomly generated levels. It would have been great to see the same mechanics used in a more structured game, but as it is the roguelike gameplay at least guarantees plenty of unique challenges as you shoot and grapple your way across the galaxy. Rating: 7 out of 10 Hooks
  25. Eliwood8

    Hollow Knight Review

    In an subterranean world of insects, a kingdom lies in ruins with only a handful of residents still eking out a living in the derelict halls. Hollow Knight paints a grand setting for a game that is essentially about a community of bugs, but regardless it probably isn't the story that will pull you in initially with this game. It's the elaborate Metroidvania gameplay, challenging combat, and wealth of subtle options that makes Hollow Knight a uniquely compelling adventure. Hollow Knight doesn't spoon-feed anything to the player, and unfortunately that includes the story. If you're playing normally you'll likely be confused about what the exact details of the plot are, especially since you have so much freedom in exploration that there isn't a linear path of story beats/checkpoints to follow. It's kind of a shame because there's a lot of interesting backstory here—the developers have done a fine job of building this little world of insects and establishing both the rise and fall of its society, but for the most part the player only sees this through scattered bits of lore. It's still easy to immerse yourself in the underground world of Hollow Knight but just a little more clarity—for example, a journal to keep track of plot elements that you find—would have been invaluable. In true Metroidvania fashion you'll explore a vast, inter-connected environment that gradually opens up to you as you gain more abilities and can explore further. The game's map feels huge (and not just because you play as a bug) and a bit daunting but compelling as it's easy to just wander around discovering new little bits of the game. Hollow Knight doesn't make this easy though, as you'll have to find a map maker in each region and purchase a map before you can actually keep track of where you are which can be a bit frustrating at first. Backtracking isn't easy either, even when you do open up stations that act as warp points, and if you're playing without any kind of guide you're probably going to be wandering and backtracking a lot. The game is full of little touches like this, features that make the game a little more challenging but also frankly rather annoying as well. Combat, in particular, skirts a fine line between fun and frustrating. First off I'll say that your actual attacks feel great—the Knight has a fairly short range weapon but there's a satisfying weight to it when you strike, and you gradually pick up useful dodging options like dashing and double jumping. It's easy to pick up as you fight normal enemies but once you get to the bosses that's where things get challenging. Boss fights are really about pattern recognition and you generally want to play defensively as your healing options are limited—you can use a spell that costs mana to use, but it also needs to be charged, leaving you vulnerable. As such these fights can be incredibly demanding. They're not necessarily unfair, but they can be rather tedious especially because, when you die, you're bumped back to your last save point and also lose whatever currency you have (but you can recover it by returning to the spot you died and defeating a shade version of yourself). In that regard Hollow Knight is a pretty punishing game, one that is already built upon combat mechanics that require careful consideration of enemy attacks and sharp dexterity. To help alleviate a bit of the difficulty the game includes a charms system where you can equip a wide variety of charms that give beneficial effects. For example, one might increase the range of your attacks, or another might make it easier to collect mana for your healing and offensive spells. There's a huge amount of customization available here so you can tailor your approach however you like. There's a limit on how many charms you can equip though, and like most things in this game there's no direction given on how to expand your charm slots to equip more, but if you keep exploring you'll eventually find ways to increase your strength. Additionally you can also power-up your weapon and learn new combat skills, though even with a well equipped arsenal of charms and abilities the game's difficulty never lets up. The base game of Hollow Knight is already a pretty formidable adventure, one that can last a good twenty hours at least, which doesn't even necessarily include finding and collecting all of the game's many secrets (and optional bosses). This Switch edition also includes all of the additional content that has been released, offering even greater challenges. All told, there is a ton of content to enjoy in Hollow Knight, even if too much of the game's playtime ends up being dedicated to retrying and backtracking over and over. With its hand-drawn art and traditionally animated 2D graphics, Hollow Knight is simply gorgeous. There's also a brilliant balance between the cartoony art style of the characters and the sinister, creepy atmosphere of the game, which only adds to the somewhat mournful tone of the ruined kingdom. The environments are great as well, though at times it feels like the game leans too heavily on the shadow and darkness motif. Granted it suits the game both as a subterranean world and as a city in disrepair, but oftentimes I just wanted to take in the visuals more clearly. The music is fantastic as well, perfect for the epic yet sorrowful tone of the adventure. Beautifully animated and scored, Hollow Knight takes players on a gripping adventure through tunnels and ruined structures in a hauntingly atmospheric setting. However, the game's staunch difficulty and refusal to make things clear for the player, including not just where to go next but basic plot points, can make the experience feel overly demanding. The excitement of tackling challenging bosses is tempered somewhat by the game's tedious backtracking elements that almost seem to discourage the frequent try-and-retry structure that the game is built around. Still, for players up to the challenge, Hollow Knight offers satisfying Metroidvania exploration and sharp combat features that reward patience and perseverance. Rating: 8 out of 10 Knights