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Fight Crab Review - Claws Out

Sun, 08/02/2020 - 17:00

Fight Crab, a game about crustaceans fighting other crustaceans, begins innocently enough. You start as a plucky young snow crab, defending his rock pool from other, invading crabs. The next thing you know, that same snow crab is now kaiju-sized, fighting in city streets against a similarly kaiju-sized lobster wielding a giant knife and revolver pistol. Things, incredibly, only escalate from there.

What if crabs had weapons? That's the ridiculous notion that Fight Crab bases itself on, and it commits to it wholeheartedly with an involved combat system and a variety of scenarios that grow increasingly bizarre. The game often exceeds your expectations of what you might anticipate from a game that pits these hard-shelled creatures against one another. At times the joke can start to wear thin, but it's hard to forget the delightful, laugh-out-loud surprises it continues to throw at you.

A third-person, physics-based fighting game, Fight Crab is reliant on your ability to flip your shelled opponents onto their backs and make sure they don't get up. Damage dealt by striking with your claws, environmental objects, or weapons is tracked by a percentage meter, and higher percentages make it harder for crabs to regain their upright posture--a system that draws from Super Smash Bros., and one that allows for the occasional, unbelievable near-death comeback and matches that come down to the wire.

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Grounded Early Access Review - Little Acorns

Sat, 08/01/2020 - 03:00

Editor's note: This review evaluates Grounded based on its early access state. We plan on reviewing Grounded again once it gets a full release.

Think about your favourite survival games. Think back to how they launched. Think of their initial public showing. If your favourites are like mine, you'll notice a trend: None of them were very good when they first launched to the general public.

Subnautica had me on the edge of my seat at launch, but it ran terribly. Four years later and its 1.0 build was one of my favourite games in a year that included God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2. The Forest, similarly, launched a mere shadow of the terrifying adventure it would eventually become. No Man's Sky was near-universally criticised at launch, but it eventually reached its potential and went beyond. Grounded, from Obsidian Entertainment, is currently in the early part of the aforementioned Early Access phase, and is lacking in many respects. But, like the games mentioned above, it has what feels like the potential to grow into something much, much greater.

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Panzer Paladin Review - Mech It So

Wed, 07/29/2020 - 23:19

Retro throwbacks that take inspiration from classics of a bygone gaming era can be found all over the various download storefronts that exist in today's console landscape. Taking inspiration from past masterpieces is one thing, but doing it well--and making a game that feels fresh and fun in the process--is another. Panzer Paladin borrows ideas and aesthetics from a variety of NES classics ranging from Blaster Master to Zelda II, but it mixes them all (with a dash of mech anime styling for flavor) into a curious new concoction. The result is a fun and engaging adventure that 2D action fans old and new would do well to check out.

Panzer Paladin's premise and visual style feel lifted straight out of a cult-classic retro game from the early '90s. As spunky, jump-suited android lady Flame, you are tasked with piloting your giant sentient mech exosuit buddy Grit in an effort to fight off a massive race of bloodthirsty, war-hungry interstellar monstrosities called the Ravenous. You trek through seventeen stages, some on Earth and some in the Ravenous's stronghold, filled to bursting with enemies, hazards, hidden treasures, and lots of weapons from the aliens' corrupted forge.

And by lots of weapons, I really do mean lots of weapons. Hammers, knives, lances, daggers, swords, staves, hockey sticks, giant bones, ultra-hard frozen ice pops--every level in Panzer Paladin is rich with a variety of implements to cut, poke, and smash with. While Grit's fists pack a mighty punch, weapons are the way to go for any serious combat, adding range and power to the mech's strikes. However, the intensity of battle wears weapons down, and all of them will eventually break--but that's okay, because there are always plenty of new and unique armaments to be found from defeated enemies and hidden away in walls and crevices that you can stockpile.

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Maid Of Sker Review - Inn For A Frustrating Time

Tue, 07/28/2020 - 14:00

Maid of Sker begins in earnest as you walk under a burgundy banner advertising the Sker Hotel's grand reopening. The ivy-covered building looks more castle than inn, with gray stone walls and a central spire flanked by turrets. It's an imposing piece of architecture, starkly distinct from the sun-bleached wilderness that surrounds it. Passing under that banner and into the dark and secluded inn is the playable version of that moment in a horror flick when things in idyllic suburbia go sideways, or when a shark shows up to wreck a perfectly nice day at the beach. The banner is the dividing line between Maid of Sker's "before" and "after." Unfortunately, much of the evocative promise of the before disappears the moment you enter the after.

We move through this story as Thomas Evans, a composer who has traveled to Sker Point, a rocky peninsula on the southern coast of Wales, to rescue his lover Elisabeth. She grew up here, the daughter of renowned singer Prudence Williams--the titular Maid of Sker. Her father, owner of the reopening hotel on the Point, intends for Elisabeth to take up the mantle now that her famous mother has passed and to become the star attraction, drawing visitors to the isolated land. She tells Thomas that she has refused and that, as a result, her father has locked her up until she acquiesces.

But as Thomas arrives at Sker's abandoned train station, it becomes clear that Sker Point has descended into supernatural chaos. Elisabeth has sent Thomas her mother's locket and asked him to compose a song that serves as a musical counterpart to the melody within. This will, in some way that remains unclear for much of the game, help defeat the "darkness gathering here." In his quest, Thomas needs to explore the hotel and surrounding grounds to collect four brass cylinders scattered throughout, then plug them into her father's harmonium, a massive pipe organ that dominates the hotel's central hall.

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Destroy All Humans Review - A Close Encounter Of The Fun Kind

Mon, 07/27/2020 - 16:00

I love two types of sci-fi stories: the ones that are very dark and heavy with themes about humanity's failures, and the ones that are corny and feel like the product of someone who thinks space is a playground for fun. Destroy All Humans is firmly in the second category, embracing its cheesy story and dialogue, creating an entertaining sandbox for destruction that's still satisfying 15 years after its first release, even if it's bogged down by poor audio quality and shallow stealth mechanics.

The story plays out as a B-grade sci-fi movie set in the late '50s/early '60s. Over the six hours of campaign missions you'll laugh (or groan) at the majority of jokes and bad one-liners, making for an overall enjoyable experience. The premise of two aliens completely taking over America because humans are wildly incompetent is too ridiculous to take seriously, and the game embraces the absurdity well.

The voice work from the original release helps up the camp level, but the reused dialogue raises a few issues. The audio quality is flat-out bad by modern standards; its low-fidelity really sticks out when paired with the updated graphics. The characters don't have very many lines, either, resulting in annoying repetition very early on. Be prepared to hear about communists hundreds of times before you're done.

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Carrion Review - My Wayward Son

Sat, 07/25/2020 - 00:11

As you're slinking around air ducts and planning a surprise attack on a helpless scientist, it's difficult not to feel empowered by Carrion's approach to horror. Here you aren't the one slowly peeking around each corner to make sure you're safe--you're the one doing the hunting, leaving a gory trail of devastation as you pick apart an underground laboratory one department at a time. When Carrion gives you the tools to be the best betentacled killing machine you can be, it's a satisfying monster simulator with engaging puzzles and clever combat, but it falters in moments where you don't feel as in control as you should be.

Carrion's star is undoubtedly the gooey red monster you play as. Simply moving around is immensely satisfying. It feels as though you're constantly floating, with extending appendages latching onto surfaces around you to feed into the illusion of chaotic but calculated traversal. By making movement effortless, Carrion lets you appreciate how good it looks in motion, from squeezing your red mass into a narrow air duct to transforming into a school of parasitic worms to swim through grates. There are a handful of instances where your size makes orienting yourself slightly challenging, but they're small teething issues as you learn to navigate around.

When you consume humans, you gain life and grow, while the reverse happens when you take damage. As you progress through each level, you unlock new abilities which are directly tied to your current size. When you're at your largest, you can cause devastating damage by sending a flurry of tentacles forward and viciously pulling anything in their way towards you. At a medium size, you can encase yourself in spikes and roll around a room dealing damage in all directions, while your smallest sizes offer more utility-style abilities like stealth and a handy stun attack. Tying abilities to your size makes combat dynamic, where you're constantly watching the damage you take and adjusting your strategy as you go. It takes a bit to get comfortable with the sudden ability shifts in the heat of the moment, but getting access to movesets that let you dominate or flee a fight when you need them feels great.

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Rock Of Ages 3: Make Or Break Review

Fri, 07/24/2020 - 08:00

Rock of Ages 3: Make or Break is a carefree hop, skip, and jump through world history, art, and absurdist meme culture. One moment it's 800 BC and the set is dressed in the myths of ancient Greece, the next it's 1500 AD and the sun god gazes down on Tenochtitlan, then a bit later it's the very beginning of time and everything is spaghetti and meatballs. It never dwells, never stops to make sense of it all. Historical figures pop their cartoonish heads into view for a brief visual gag before disappearing, bit players tossed aside in a bygone round of whack-a-mole.

Fittingly, Rock of Ages 3 is best enjoyed with the same restless approach in mind. Structured as a series of discrete challenges, each hectic bout of arcade action lasting no more than a couple of frantic minutes, it feels designed to be experienced in short, sharp bursts. Don't linger. Dip in and, when you feel the frustration levels rising, dip out, move on to a new challenge, or simply come back later.

The core conceit revolves around the idea that all war, throughout all history, is essentially fought by lobbing rocks at each other. The Rock of Ages series has so far focused on one very specific interpretation of this idea: You have to roll a rock through a trap-laden obstacle course to attack the enemy castle at the end. Controlling the roll takes some adjustment. The initial temptation is to embrace the top speed of your chosen boulder and should be resisted. Move too fast and you won't have the handling to steer through the crowded tracks, let alone slow down in time to make the next corner. Rocks don't have brakes as such, and it took me some time to get used to easing off the accelerator when required and knowing when my built-up momentum was optimal to negotiate what lay ahead.

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Rocket Arena Review - Up In The Air

Tue, 07/21/2020 - 22:33

The rocket launcher is one of the most recognizable weapons in multiplayer shooters. From Quake to Team Fortress, its function as a weapon morphed into an alternative means of traversal, with the risk of a self-inflicted death and the reward of superior map positioning enticing players to become proficient at rocket jumping. In Rocket Arena, both the rocket launcher and rocket jumping are core to the action. But without suitably satisfying shooting and the mitigation of all the rewards associated with its core mechanic, Rocket Arena lacks a compelling and lasting appeal.

Rocket Arena features a roster of 10 playable characters, each equipped with their own version of a rocket launcher and some auxiliary abilities. The variations go from basic, such as Jayto's straight-shooting launcher and multi-missile secondary attack, to complicated, like Kayi's ability to speed up friendly rockets and slow down enemy ones. Whether you settle on the lobbed rockets of space pirate Blastbeard or the trickster abilities of mage Mysteen, Rocket Arena's characters all feature enough mechanical variety to make them stand out from each other despite all featuring the same type of main weapon. Their cartoonish designs and bursting costume colors look great, but their uninteresting backstories and few voice-lines limit the extent of their personalities.

These weapon and ability differences feed into the 3v3 team play in each of Rocket Arena's competitive modes. A team cannot feature duplicates of a character, so you're encouraged to work around the selections of your teammates. Although the very brief and basic tutorial doesn't teach you about it, attacks can be combined between characters to form more powerful combos. Ability effects can be transferred onto rockets fired by teammates, for example, but attempting to coordinate both the timing and positioning for such a move is often not worth the payoff.

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Necrobarista Review - Pour One Out

Tue, 07/21/2020 - 15:00

Death positivity--a movement that encourages people to openly acknowledge and normalize the traditionally taboo topics of dying and grief--is a relatively new subject for video game narratives, though it has been popularized through indie titles like A Mortician's Tale and What Remains of Edith Finch. Necrobarista joins that conversation but with a more hands-off approach, telling the player a story that revolves around the themes of death as opposed to letting players be a part of the narrative. Ultimately, this is to the game's detriment, but Necrobarista still manages to deliver a genuinely moving character-driven narrative about coming to terms with death, whether it's that of a loved one or our own.

As it's a visual novel, there's not much in terms of gameplay when it comes to Necrobarista. Your primary means of understanding its world is by reading its story, which is told in a slice-of-life format that provides a quick snippet of the daily goings-on inside a Melbourne-based cafe called Terminal over the course of several days. Terminal exists on an in-between plane (it's technically a part of the living world but it exists as a potential stopping point before the afterlife), allowing both the living and the dead to wander through its doors. The dead are only permitted to stay 24 hours before Terminal staff must encourage them to move on to the afterlife--whether that's heaven, hell, or something else entirely is unknown as no one has ever come back from it. The dead who stay longer than 24 hours begin upsetting the balance of the universe, which runs up a tab that the cafe has to then pay off. At the start of Necrobarista, the cafe has recently been passed down from immortal necromancer Chay to his protege, Maddy, along with several centuries' worth of debt.

An assertive, sarcastic, and loud-mouthed necromancer with no patience for customers who want extravagant coffee orders, Maddy is the immediate star of Necrobarista's story. Necrobarista ditches the traditional 2D-style of most visual novels for a 3D cinematic presentation with clear anime aesthetics, allowing the visual novel to instill a great deal of nuance into each character's movements and facial expressions. Even without any spoken dialogue, you get a good sense of who a person is and how they would sound within seconds of meeting them, and Maddy is the best example--she pulls off a variety of expressions that convey a mixture of snark, disdain, and coy playfulness. This is clearly a young woman who's very intelligent and driven and doesn't enjoy suffering some of the idiots she's forced to serve.

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Beyond A Steel Sky Review - The Sky Is Falling

Mon, 07/20/2020 - 17:00

In the 26 years since Revolution Software released Beneath A Steel Sky, the adventure game has come full circle. After the genre struggled to adapt into 3D and was briefly declared dead by pundits, the genre's resurgence occurred on two main fronts--the simplified, story-driven 3D games of Telltale, which focused on choice and consequence over puzzles, and retro-styled 2D games released like Unavowed, Kathy Rain, and Broken Age, which included a lot of the esoteric puzzle-solving the genre used to be known for. Beyond A Steel Sky, the long-awaited sequel to the 1994 original, is an attempt to bridge the gap between those two styles--but unfortunately, it ends up feeling like some of the messier 3D adventure games from 20 years ago rather than another classic like its predecessor.

Beyond A Steel Sky brings back Robert Foster, the protagonist of the first game, and picks up 10 years after his escape from Union City and LINC, the half-mechanical, half-organic being that runs it. Robert has returned to the "gaplands" surrounding the city, where he lives a happy, earnest life within a small society. However, he's soon forced to return to Union City after a young friend, Milo, is kidnapped by a huge robot and taken somewhere in the sprawling metropolis. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic Australia, but references to the country are unfortunately fleeting, despite the game's aesthetic invocation of the British colonization of the country--the gaplanders are largely people of colour, and Union City is predominantly white.

At first, it's great to be back in the world of Steel Sky. The nods to the first game start flowing in from the first moments--like the original game, the opening is made up of comic panels drawn by Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons, whose most famous work receives a few fun nods and Easter eggs throughout the game. Joey, Robert's robotic sidekick, also returns, and seeing these two characters reunited is one of the game's highlights. The city, which is rendered in glorious 3D is lovely, too--the skyline stretches far into the background, and the cel-shaded aesthetic suits it.

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Ooblets Early Access Review - They're Breakdance Fighting

Fri, 07/17/2020 - 23:51

Editor's note: This review evaluates Ooblets based on its early access state. We plan on reviewing Ooblets again once it gets a full release.

Ooblets is a charming little game, which is immediately apparent upon booting it up. You're greeted with a loading screen that lets you know the game is taking the time to "delete negative reviews" and "make you wait" before getting blasted with an onslaught of bright colors and an adorable soundtrack that you can really groove to. I've seen firsthand what this game can do to people: My roommate sashays to the beat whenever he walks by my door while I'm playing. I'd make fun of him for it if I didn't catch myself doing the exact same thing.

Ooblets maintains its cutesy tongue-in-cheek humor and visuals all throughout. The catchy soundtrack never lets up either, firmly establishing Ooblets as another one of those relaxing life simulator games that will assuredly take an embarrassing amount of hours from my life by the time it's done with me. It's not locked up inside during quarantine with me; I'm very much locked up inside with it. Which isn't to say the game doesn't have its problems--I've run into more than a few throughout my 15 hours with it--but there's definitely an enjoyable gameplay loop here.

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Bloodstained: Curse Of The Moon 2 Review - Twice In A Blue Moon

Thu, 07/16/2020 - 19:56

The first thing you should know about Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 is that it features a playable corgi named Hachi who pilots an enchanted mecha-tank. The second thing you should know is that the classic Castlevania homage is in every way a marked improvement over the first Curse of the Moon. In fact, silly and meme-able as it is, the corgi represents a more playful spirit in this sequel that makes the whole experience richer.

The first Curse of the Moon was a short and sweet diversion, a little treat for Bloodstained backers and a neat idea to contextualize the new franchise venture from Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi. It essentially presented an alternative history, where Bloodstained was a known retro franchise and the then-upcoming Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night was a bold reinvention a la Symphony of the Night.

For all its charms, though, Curse of the Moon played it pretty straight with its influences. The tone was moody and gothic and the heroes were stoic slabs of granite. Then Ritual of the Night came out and mixed its macabre and demonic imagery with elements that were self-consciously goofy, like giant kitten heads peeking through the castle windows. In that context, Hachi the corgi feels like developer Inti Creates embracing the cheeky oddball quality of the Bloodstained universe, now that it has been more well-defined. If you happen to die as Hachi--and how dare you, you monster--the game is sure to show a blink-and-you'll-miss-it animation of the little dog bailing out just before his mech explodes.

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Superliminal Review - We Live Inside A Dream

Thu, 07/16/2020 - 03:35

In 2020, it's been harder than ever to have a truly good night's sleep. With the world in disarray as a pandemic threatens our safety and wellbeing, I know that I am not alone in seeing a heavy uptick in nightmares, including dreams about death, disease, and general distress. Superliminal is about dreams and dream-logic, and represents a sort of nightmare itself, but it's a different kind from the ones I've experienced. For all its confusing geometry, strange logic, and growing unease, it's ultimately an optimistic and satisfying experience. Superliminal offers a short, enjoyable run through a subconscious in crisis, and it's a consistently clever and pleasantly challenging game with a lot on its virtual mind.

You play as a patient of Dr. Glenn Pierce, one who is undergoing the Somnasculpta sleep therapy program. The whole game is set within your medically induced dream as the program probes your subconscious, asking you to complete a series of challenges to find peace of mind and overcome feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Things go wrong fast, though; you take a wrong turn and stumble deeper into a dream state than was intended, and the deeper you go, the further your surroundings shift from a recognizable reality. It's like Portal's puzzle chambers crossed with the dream spaces of Inception (and a hint of Alice in Wonderland too), but despite those clear influences Superliminal feels like its own thing.

To get through the game, you're told to view things from a different perspective--although it might be more accurate to say that the game is about taking your existing perspectives and reconceptualizing them. The puzzles in Superliminal all revolve around your first-person viewpoint, and you have to figure out what elements of each environment you can manipulate. A lot of this involves resizing objects through an extremely satisfying mechanic--if you hold up a small square block in a hallway and position the reticule so that the block looks like it's far in the distance, you can drop it… and it'll now be much larger and located down at the other end of the hall. Similarly, if you grab something large in the distance and then look straight down, you can drop what is now a tiny object on the ground in front of you.

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Paper Mario: The Origami King Review - Exploring New Dimensions

Wed, 07/15/2020 - 14:00

The Paper Mario series thrives on a clever irreverence that can be hard to maintain. Its outlandish scenarios mash the absurdist, dreamlike world of the Mushroom Kingdom and the mundanity of the real world. It takes jabs at the very concepts that inspire it, nodding knowingly at the audience and whispering, "This whole thing's kind of weird, right?" It's a fun take on the usually-earnest Mario games, but that kind of slyness turns grating when the bits--or, in the case of a game, systems--that are supposed to prop it up don't work, which is where the last couple of Paper Mario games have struggled. But in surprising course-correction, Paper Mario: The Origami King's most clever trick is how its overhauled combat complements its sharp wit, turning the series' Achilles' heel into one of its biggest strengths.

Paper Mario: The Origami King's conceptual gimmick is how its titular origami king, Olly, transforms the flat cutouts of the Paper Mario universe, folding them into subservient, 3D origami figures, and kidnaps Princess Peach along with her entire castle, wrapping both up in a wall of colorful streamers. So now Mario, along with Olly's repentant sister Olivia, need to flatten everything out again. The origami premise adds a nice visual flair to the already-gorgeous papercraft look of the series, and you get to see yet another take on Goombas, Shy Guys, and Koopas, even if this time they're imbued with a slightly creepy energy.

Like other Paper Mario games, The Origami King is less about plot and more about throwing a joke at you at every turn, whether it's a smart turn of phrase, one-off bits that reward you for exploring its environments with a gag or item, or extended setpieces that deliver killer moments. Not every joke or bit lands, but they hit far more than they falter: a theater play that quickly takes a turn for the weird, a guessing game that has you desperately looking at a Snifit's face for any sign of emotion, an extended sequences that riffs, of all things, on The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. The Origami King is consistently sharp, using both Mario characters and its interactivity to tell some great jokes.

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Superhot: Mind Control Delete Review - Hack 'N Slash

Tue, 07/14/2020 - 20:38

You gotta respect a game that tells you exactly what it is upfront. Within minutes of starting Superhot: Mind Control Delete, you're told, in those now infamous subliminal text cards that pop up from time to time in the previous games, that yes, this game will give you more. No story. No closure. No long-winded explanation of what happened in the last two games. Just more senseless shooting, and then it'll be over. And to Superhot Team's credit, they deliver on their promises. This is, definitely, a lot more Superhot. But it's also a few other things that aren't nearly as welcome.

Mind Control Delete is still fundamentally following the same mantra as the other two games: Time Moves When You Do. It's still a first-person shooter that places you in sparse, stark white, and self-contained little killzones, against a small group of keen-to-kill goons made out of, seemingly, fragile red glass. Your job is to John Wick your way out of whatever wild scenario you've been placed in, using objects in your environment to your advantage. There are guns, but with very limited ammo. So, when you don't have a gun, grab a sword. If you don't have a sword, grab a knife. If you don't have a knife, grab a book, a pen, or a teacup. Even with a relatively limited moveset, the time mechanics at play turn what would be a breathless massacre at full speed into a sort of kinetic chess game, allowing you the ability to plot every maneuver down to the millisecond. While gunplay is certainly your bread and butter in Superhot, there's a maniacal glee that comes with taking out a guy wielding a katana by throwing a typewriter at him in Superhot that makes it truly special. That winning formula is still very much in full effect here in Mind Control Delete, but a few new ingredients have been added to the concoction: rogue-lite elements. And while the formula hasn't been ruined in the least, the effectiveness has been lessened a tiny bit.

For starters, the game's levels, which were once all unique, impeccably staged setpieces, are now relegated to around a dozen or so themed rooms--such as lab, disco, prison, or casino--with enemy/item placement and your own start point randomized each time. There's more variety to be had than one might think in that randomization. The environments are elaborate and full of tiny, devilish design elements for you to mount for a better vantage, mail slot-sized holes to shoot through, or daredevil jumps to make out of windows to stomp an enemy from above. Even despite the minimalist aesthetic, these are still impeccably designed, functional places that still evoke the tense feeling of getting into a shootout in a place clearly meant for public use. The environments follow real world placements for everyday objects, which means using them to your advantage--using an open car door to evade a bullet, grabbing the handle off a slot machine to use as a weapon, or getting behind a DJ booth to take cover behind a speaker. Suspension of disbelief in the sparseness of it all tends to vanish in the moment. There are vast, glorious opportunities for you to surprise your enemies, or vice versa, and it takes hours to get to a point where things start to wear thin.

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Ghost Of Tsushima Review - Chaos In The Windy City

Tue, 07/14/2020 - 15:00

If a youthful obsession with Japanese samurai cinema and an audiobook version of Musashi have taught me anything, it's that if you want to be a great swordfighter, having a connection to nature is important. Skill with a weapon isn't purely driven by physical strength and technique, but also by the acuity that comes from observing trees, mountains, and rivers. Something like that.

While I can only make guesses as to how inspirational the rural areas of feudal Japan would have been, the scenic island portrayed in Ghost of Tsushima, an open-world 13th-century samurai epic, is one that often stirs something inside me. Beyond being a game centred around flashy sword fights and the journey of Jin Sakai to becoming a proto-ninja, Ghost of Tsushima invites you to lose yourself deeply in its grasslands, forests, and mountains. And though the tasks you're given often aren't as brilliant as the colour of the leaves, there's certainly something wonderfully humbling about just riding your horse through this beautiful environment and taking it all in.

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Desperados 3 - The Quick-load And The Dead

Fri, 07/10/2020 - 17:00

Imagine being able to take back every mistake you make, instantly, reliving each moment over and over until it plays out as you hoped. In less astute hands, it could feel like an exercise in trial and error. In Desperados 3, however, it unfolds in masterful fashion, providing ample scope for you to dream up a multitude of creative plans alongside the ability to reset the board in a flash should the plan fail. It's a rapidfire process of forming an hypothesis, testing it and tossing it aside. By encouraging experimentation at every turn, Desperados 3 proves a stealth tactics game where invention thrives.

Stealth games can often degenerate into a loop of quick-saving and quick-loading. Desperados 3 is built around that loop, an aspect reinforced by a tutorial which instructs you on how to quick-save and quick-load before it tells you how to deal with an enemy. It's hammered home by regular pop-up notifications informing you of the time since you last quick-saved. You can customise this reminder--tweaking the delay or disabling it entirely--but the fact the default setting is to nudge you every 60 seconds ought to stress the importance of quick-saving.

Archetypal gunslinger John Cooper and his friends are rather fragile, even on the normal difficulty setting, while the cadres of thugs, gunwomen and assorted rifle-toting outlaws they find themselves up against are very much of the "shoot first, ask questions later" mindset. So when a plan heads south--as even the most meticulously observed ones are wont to do, usually when one of the gang gets spotted or occasionally a carelessly discarded body is found--it's very much a case of the quick-load and the dead.

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CrossCode Review - A Lot Of Ambition

Thu, 07/09/2020 - 21:30

It's been a long, long road for CrossCode to finally hit consoles. The 16-bit throwback RPG started life as a widely praised 2012 tech demo, enjoyed a super-funded 2015 Indiegogo campaign, and then arrived on Steam in 2018. Two years later, it's hard not to feel that all this runway has caused CrossCode to be overly ambitious and complicated--even for veteran genre players. As I was sailing into my 20th hour and still trying to not second-guess my shaky strategy for the vast amount of stats that can be customized and stacked, the game was still unspooling tutorials and rolling out new wrinkles. CrossCode is a lot of game to wrap your head around, and one whose expansive menu screens and tutorials double as a mechanically overbearing strategy guide that cannot be skimmed to even start to get your bearings. Playing CrossCode can be a bit like going on a road trip without GPS: Every few miles, you have to pull over and unfold an unwieldy road atlas.

CrossCode, at its heart, is not a retro-styled hollow homage to Super Nintendo titles like 1993's Secret of Mana and 1995's Chrono Trigger. Instead, it's something more like a full-throated continuation of their tradition of exploring massive worlds full of side quests, puzzles, colorful characters, and gear to collect--while also building on their thornier, more tactical contemporaries. CrossCode's fondness for this era of action role-playing games is clear out of the gate: Both the opening menu screen and introductory sequences set the tone with plaintive piano, chiming bells, and an oozing chiptune soundtrack that wouldn't be out of place on one of those "lofi beats to relax/study to" YouTube playlists that lean more heavily into nostalgia. The pixel art style doubles down on all this.

The above is in sharp contrast to the game taking place in a fictional, modern MMORPG called CrossWorlds. That is, CrossCode is a single-player game taking place in an in-game MMO where other characters speak and behave either as other players or NPCs. It's a world filled with guilds, griefers, and other player characters running through, too busy questing and level-grinding to hold still and talk with you. And just like in a real MMO, the other players you make your way on with will chat and open up about their lives--and give you due notice when they feel they've been playing way too long and need to log out and take a break.

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Slay The Spire Review - Trend Setter

Thu, 07/09/2020 - 18:44

Deck-building can prove intimidating. Trying to determine synergies and strategies when starting out is a tall task, and pairing that with a roguelike--where failure in battle will send you back to the start of another randomized dungeon--might seem downright overwhelming. Yet thanks to a setup that encourages experimentation and is rewarding to play even when you're failing, Slay the Spire marries roguelikes and deckbuilders beautifully--and it's easy to see why it's helped to popularize this burgeoning mix of genres.

Slay the Spire sees you take part in a series of battles, amassing a collection of cards that dictate your every action in combat: There are cards that launch attacks, allow you to defend yourself, buff you, or nerf enemies. Most cards in and of themselves are relatively simple, consisting of a straightforward action and an associated cost. Battles see you ascend the titular spire and acquire new cards, relics, and single-use potions, and you'll need to weigh the various routes as you go, opting in or out of mini-bosses that promise great rewards but threaten to bring your run to a halt. Whether you make it to the end or not, you'll then start all over again, only to face another randomized set of encounters with a fresh loadout.

Slay the Spire on Nintendo Switch

The structure is familiar, and it's easy to assume that your early runs (which can last up to two hours or so) show you all that Slay the Spire has to offer. Making progress permanently unlocks additional, more complex cards that you can encounter and integrate into your deck during future runs, which expands your range of choices, but it's in the relics system that the game reveals its true depth.

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Story Of Seasons: Friends Of Mineral Town Review - When The Seasons Change

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 14:00

Harvest Moon, and now Story of Seasons, have thrived on their personality above all else. With each entry in the series offering fresh story and minimal improvements to gameplay, replaying one of the older titles is asking for disappointment, even if it has a new coat of paint. Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town brings the 2003 Game Boy Advance title into 2020 with enjoyable cutesy graphics and personality, but does little to add depth to the already outdated gameplay..

After choosing from an extremely limited set of character customization options, you set out to take over a farm left to you by your late grandfather, where you once spent the summer 20 years ago. It's unclear why your character left whatever life they had behind, but you are quickly thrust into the day-to-day work of maintaining a farm, starting with crops.

Growing crops is one of the main methods of making money, but progression is slow. You can't improve your crop yields in any meaningful way until the option to buy better farm soil becomes available in the second year, which is 25 to 30 hours into the game. Upgrading the watering can allows you to tend to more crops at once, but the increased stamina usage makes for minimal improvement to your crop yield.

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