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Little Nightmares 2 Review

Thu, 02/18/2021 - 21:04

About an hour into Little Nightmares II, I found a toy duck resting on a hardwood floor. It was the kind of carved, wooden plaything that kids drag around on a piece of twine, with wheels where the real waterfowl's webbed feet would be. A dim spotlight from somewhere above shone on its reflective wings. Behind it, there was an oaky barrier, formed from leaning one table against another--too tall for my character, a tiny child named Mono, to climb. When I approached, the floorboard the duck was sitting on sunk into the floor. I turned to run just as a metal light fixture swung down from the ceiling, smashing me into the barrier and killing me.

Once the checkpoint reset, I tried again, attempting to quickly run away from the floorboard before the pendulum fell. No dice. Again, it smashed me against the wall.

"I wonder if I can..." I thought, eyeing the nearby toy, ""

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Categories: Games

Destruction AllStars Review

Wed, 02/10/2021 - 22:21

With its bright energy, colorful characters, and wacky-powered cars, Destruction AllStars takes many of the aesthetic and mechanical trends from the last five years of multiplayer-focused live games and applies them to the long-dormant car combat genre. Speeding around beautifully detailed and cartoonishly articulated demolition derby courses, looking for your chance to rev your engine and hit another player so hard their ride explodes. When your own car inevitably gets busted up beyond recognition, you can hop out of your car and climb into another: A novel idea, but one that keeps you out of the action. Despite its striking visuals and solid driving fundamentals, Destruction AllStars' demolition derby-style car smashing is inconsistent and unpredictable. Every multiplayer game has highs and lows, but Destruction AllStars' best bits are few and fleeting.

You have one job to do in Destruction AllStars: Get into a car and crash it into other players. At the start of each match, 16 players start out on foot and race to grab one of a handful of empty cars, which come in many recognizable shapes like slick sports cars, burly SUVs, and tough trucks. Unlike in most car games, though, you are not tied to your car forever. You can eject from a vehicle at any time to trade for a new model or because the car's health is low and you don't want to wipe out.

Whether you crash or get crashed into, at least you're going to look good doing it. Destruction AllStars' large arenas are incredibly well-detailed and drenched in bright, colorful lights are a visual feast. The characters, from Fuego the masked-metal head to Ratu, a teal-haired boxer in an orange jumpsuit, are all drawn in a familiar Overwatch-esque style but have very specific looks that pop and draw you to them all the same. Even the little flourishes, like how a character jumps into an empty white car which instantaneously takes on their color scheme, look cool every time.

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Categories: Games

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury Review

Wed, 02/10/2021 - 14:00

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury is a candy confection of fine-tuned platforming that marries some of the best elements of 2D and 3D Mario in two very different ways. The package is mostly a re-release of a Wii U game, but this version upgrades the original with a faster pace and online play, and then adds the experimental and gloriously strange Bowser's Fury on top of it.

The two experiences are bifurcated to the point where you need to quit out of one completely to start the other. This makes sense--the two share some superficial traits but are otherwise very different design philosophies and platforming approaches. Because of this very split design, though, it only makes sense to examine them as separate games.

Super Mario 3D World

It's easier to see Super Mario 3D World's place in Mario canon with the benefit of hindsight. It's a successor to Mario Galaxy, not in direct mechanics but in a broader design philosophy. The stages are relatively small, self-contained bouts of creative platforming, often with their own theme or mechanics at the forefront. Each stage is presented as a diorama slice and usually include a limited degree of Z-axis depth, but the core idea between them is the same: Get in, see a clever application of Mario mechanics, then get out before the concept overstays its welcome.

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Categories: Games

Persona 5 Strikers Review - The Hands That Thieve

Tue, 02/09/2021 - 15:00

It's always nice to see your friends again, even if your time together doesn't always live up to the highest highs you've experienced in the past. Persona 5 Strikers is a lot like that--it comes with some special moments that foster a deeper appreciation for what Persona 5 is and what it represents. From the wild action-RPG combat to the summer road-trip premise, characters we know and love get to show off how much they've grown and prove they can still kick ass in style. Strikers does trip over a few clumsy tropes along the way, and sometimes tries a little too hard to recapture Persona 5's magic, but when it's all said and done, I'm glad this reunion happened to begin with.

It's the summer after the events of the original game, and the Phantom Thieves have a little free time. With Joker being back in town, why not enjoy the break? Before they can even make plans, they're caught in another round of beating down the metaphysical evils of the Metaverse and changing hearts. This time, the phenomenon is happening all across Japan. Although you follow similar patterns established in Persona 5--fighting through surreal dungeons and living life in the real world--the context is quite different both narratively and gameplay-wise.

What's Worth Fighting For

Your first few targets have been manipulating people's desires in order to feed their ambitions for fame and fortune, but there's a bigger mystery as to how and why there's strange behavior en masse. You begin to unveil that tragic pasts have led them down a dark path of exploiting the Metaverse. The broader message isn't to excuse behavior or to say that trauma will surely corrupt its victims--rather, that our circumstances and the people around us (or lack thereof) have significant influence over how we internalize and process pain, and eventually who we become.

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Categories: Games

Nuts Review

Thu, 02/04/2021 - 00:41

Nuts makes a strong start. Its quirky concept and bold art direction are enticing, while its novel yet easily understood core mechanics and hints of mystery offer further encouragement. Unfortunately, Nuts doesn't deliver on its early promise as it struggles to develop its best ideas. Despite a lean playing time, repetition sets in. Nuts opens brightly, but fades all too quickly.

Much of your time in Nuts is spent looking for a squirrel and, once found, predicting its next move. The Melmoth Basin Wildlife Reserve is your hunting ground, though as a field researcher you're here only to observe the squirrels, record their movements and file your report. Equipped with a GPS, each day you venture out into the forest to place a few cameras in strategic positions before returning to your tiny caravan to play back the recorded footage and hopefully catch a glimpse of a squirrel or two.

It's a delightful premise and the squirrels themselves are adorable, bounding down gullies, clambering up trees, or just perched on a rock, noshing on a nut. Getting footage of these antics is a matter of method and patience rather than any kind of ingenuity. Your handler will first direct you to a specific spot to set up the first camera. When you play back the recording, you need to make a mental note of where the squirrel entered or exited the frame, and then on the next day you return to reposition the cameras and track the preceding or subsequent stage of the squirrel's journey.

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Categories: Games

Cyber Shadow Review

Wed, 02/03/2021 - 19:56

What do you associate with the term "ninja game"? Perhaps you think of speedy action and superhuman agility, crazy character maneuvers, intense swordplay, or sneaky stealth. Odds are, however, that you also associate video game ninjas with games that are really, really hard. You wouldn't be wrong; in the long history of ninja-themed games, a lot of the standout titles are known for the formidable challenges they present. Knowing that, you'd likely expect a retro-throwback 2D platformer starring a cyborg ninja to be a tough test of your skills. Enter Cyber Shadow, a game that delivers everything above, especially the difficulty.

Cyber Shadow puts you in the role of the titular Shadow, a cyborg ninja awakened from stasis in the ruins of a massive city. A mad scientist is on the rampage, having fashioned an army of robotic supersoldiers in a crazed quest to revive the dead, and it's up to you to foil his ambitions. It's a simple premise, but Cyber Shadow's story has a complexity that reveals itself as you progress. As you find the souls of your fallen comrades and discover records of the city's destruction and the lunatic doctor's experiments, you learn of a backstory far more interesting and tragic than a simple “mad scientist gone rogue” yarn.

Shadow starts the game quite weak, having simple jumping, slashing, and running capabilities. Thankfully, the first level is a merciful introduction, with plentiful health drops, relatively weak enemies, and lots of checkpoints. But it's not long before things start to ramp up considerably, with early bosses and their bullet-spewing, fast-moving patterns giving you a taste of what's to come very soon. By the second area, you start to feel the pressure--quite literally, as crushing factory debris and instant-kill compactors make it clear that your mission is not going to be a walk in the park.

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Categories: Games

Immortals Fenyx Rising: A New God Review

Fri, 01/29/2021 - 21:34

Immortals Fenyx Rising's first major DLC, A New God, feels like it's calling a bluff. Ubisoft's open-world template has gotten flack over the years for turning its sprawling worlds into a sea of icons that push you to beeline it to the next objective. If that's gotten stale, why not cut out the "open world" part? That's more or less what A New God does: It abandons any pretense about these games being about discovery and traversal in favor of a set checklist of challenges. The idea works in concept; the self-contained puzzles were some of my favorite parts of Immortals, so this DLC is in some ways exactly what I wanted. It, unfortunately, doesn't work as well in practice. Although it introduces some clever ideas to tease your brain, the way these ideas are implemented are extremely hit-or-miss, as agonizingly inconsistent and frustrating as it is clever.

A New God doesn't spend much time getting you up to speed with its story or gameplay, so you should probably finish the base game before you jump in. After the events of Immortals, Fenyx is ready to ascend into the pantheon of gods they'd helped free from Typhon--as soon as they prove themselves worthy by completing a number of puzzle and combat trials designed by said gods in Olympos.

I'm surprised by how little I miss the parts of Immortals that A New God trims. You don't explore Olympos much, since it's more of a hub than a world. Immortals' eye-rolling humor (which still can't land a punchline most of the time) is also thankfully easier to ignore than it is in the base game, as it's delivered almost entirely through quips from the gods trying to amuse you or impart advice as you play.

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Categories: Games

Olija Review

Thu, 01/28/2021 - 14:00

Like all great short stories, Olija manages to do more with less. Its characters are roughly drawn and very pixelated, but they build strong bonds that resonate and create real stakes. The caves, ruins, and dark corners of the world exude an ominous, foreboding mood that permeates every turn. And the action, a mix of quick-moving combat and light puzzle-platforming, steadily and consistently finds new ways to keep you on your toes. Olija takes exactly as much time as it needs to tell its story and show you everything in its bag of tricks.

Olija follows Faraday, a shipwrecked lord trapped on a hostile chain of islands called Terraphage. Facing all sorts of magic, dark oozing blobs, and people who want him dead, the lost lord seems doomed, but he quickly finds a weapon to turn his fortune: a legendary magic harpoon that he can throw and either teleport to its location or summon back to him. To get home and, optionally, save his crew, Faraday explores the islands of Terraphage, defeats a hidden evil, saves a queen--you know, hero stuff.

Though it boils down to a clichéd hero's quest at the most essential level, Olija teases a lot of narrative out of a small amount of exposition. Faraday has a small retinue of recurring companions and acquaintances he meets on his journey, including a ferryman who brings him from island to island and shipwrecked sailors of Oaktide, a floating shantytown. While Faraday is silent, his companions speak to him, and you can sense the bond that forms between them. Their spoken tone softens and they grow more familiar as Faraday integrates into their lives. Those connections anchor Faraday's journey with a human connection that resonates beyond the plot, and gives you a reason to see things through.

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Categories: Games

The Medium Review

Wed, 01/27/2021 - 14:00

The world of The Medium begs to be closely examined, to be parsed for small details that begin to paint monsters as something not too dissimilar to humans. Recognizing these similarities, at times, can be even more terrifying than facing an actual grotesque creature. There's something disturbing about being forced to confront the evils that humans can inflict on one another, and recognize how horrific acts of sexual abuse, ethnoreligious discrimination, and physical violence rarely, if ever, result in a singular trauma. The aftereffects of such actions can fester in the heart and mind of victims for years, an unsettling truth that is often glossed over. It's here that The Medium finds the basis for its story, one that leaves a lasting impression

In The Medium, you play as Marianne (voiced by Kelly Burke, who does a fabulous job), a powerful clairvoyant who travels to the Niwa Resort. She goes there in search of Thomas, a man who leaves her a strange message telling her to find and help him, promising that he'll give her the answers she seeks about her past in return. As a medium, Marianne is able to commune with spirits and help them pass on to the afterlife, a skill she's developed working in her foster father's funeral home. To that end, The Medium plays out on two planes of existence: the normal world and the spirit world, the latter of which acts as a twisted reflection of the former.

The spirit world--inspired by the surreal dystopia portrayed in the paintings of Zdzisław Beksiński--is a nightmarish hellscape, one where the doors are made of human skin that you have to slowly carve open with a rusty knife, and the inhabitants are either monstrous creatures or creepy mask-wearing spirits. Even Marianne takes on a new appearance when navigating the spirit world, the sleeve of her kickass jacket (she's so stylishly put together, I'm jealous as hell) and pant leg becoming frayed, as if this version of her is an incomplete, less-human being. But these two depictions of the world are not black and white opposites. Instead, the game posits that they exist as mirrors of one another--one manifesting literally what the other only hints at figuratively. And via this shared window into both perspectives, The Medium is able to explore the trauma of its characters through puzzle-solving and riddles.

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Categories: Games

Hitman 3 Review — Perfect Execution

Tue, 01/19/2021 - 13:00

Since it rebooted its Hitman franchise in 2016, IO Interactive has been putting on a level design masterclass. Each of the missions the developer rolled out in what it calls its World of Assassination series has contained a huge, intricate collection of scripted and free-form systems that create harrowing moments, presented elaborate puzzles to solve, and allowed the player to orchestrate ludicrous and often hilarious situations. Levels are designed to be played over and over so you can explore, understand, and eventually master all their moving parts, and it's impossible to see everything one has to offer in a single playthrough (or in most cases, even two or three).

At first blush, Hitman 3 appears to be more of the same. It makes no drastic changes to the underlying formula, instead adding a few graphical upgrades and quality-of-life improvements to the existing Hitman framework. But Hitman 3 improves on the World of Assassination through consistently excellent level design--which is saying something, given how strong all the previous missions are. Hitman 3 is full of fun and fascinating ideas, many of which play with the concepts underpinning the last four years of Hitman levels.

Presumably knowing that players have spent all sorts of time mastering its many settings and systems, IO throws in some brilliant curve balls that require you to use your assassin skills and knowledge in clever, challenging new ways.

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Categories: Games

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game - Complete Edition Review

Fri, 01/15/2021 - 19:03

When people think of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, they'll likely gravitate to either the comics from Bryan Lee O'Malley or the live-action film from Edgar Wright. However, one of the lesser-known strands of the Scott Pilgrim brand was the film's licensed game tie-in. Like the film, it was not only a faithful adaptation of the comics' tribute to geek culture and retro games, but it also happened to be a fun co-op brawler in its own right. After a sudden delisting from digital video game stores in 2014, the once-lost licensed game has scored a second life with the Complete Edition, and it hasn't lost its exuberant style. The game's passion for a bygone era can often be a bit overwhelming, yet it still offers a satisfying time brawling through the streets with friends.

Like its comic and film counterpart, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game sticks with the same video game-inspired conceit, but interprets it into an actual video game. After the titular character meets the girl of his dreams in Ramona Flowers, Scott and his bandmates Kim and Stephen, along with Ramona, have to fight a rogue's gallery of evil exes seeking to disrupt the relationship. In the vein of a classic arcade brawler, the game keeps its story light to put all its energy into showing off the stunning 2D visuals of its side-scrolling beat-'em-up gameplay, which leans heavily into the splendor of the retro era.

The original game wore its inspirations--classic games like River City Ransom, Final Fight, and Final Fantasy--on its sleeve, and the Complete Edition keeps its aesthetic and core gameplay intact. What you get in this enhanced package is the full game, the four bonus modes involving zombies and dodgeball, and the extra DLC characters--which include Wallace Wells, Knives Chau, and hidden character Nega-Scott. The Complete Edition also comes with Network Mode for online play, which was a late addition in the final DLC for the original game.

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Categories: Games

Super Meat Boy Forever Review -- Can't Stop, Won't Stop

Wed, 01/06/2021 - 19:04

Every aspect of Super Meat Boy Forever is frustrating in some way or another. It's a runner, so you have to time your jumps and don't have the liberty of setting yourself up perfectly before taking on a puzzle. And despite putting you on a treadmill, its levels demand incredible nuance and precision, which you'll hone through failure after failure after failure. Super Meat Boy Forever will kick you in the teeth and expect you to stand back up, flash a bloody grin, and go after it again. And that's exactly what happens. Though the jumps may be challenging, Forever's incredibly precise controls give you all the tools you need to stick the landing. The runner format is different, but it opens the door for new and interesting types of complex puzzles that spawn new, captivating varieties of spectacular yell-and-throw-your-controller platforming.

Like in the real world, time has passed in the Meat Boy universe. Meat Boy and Bandage Girl, whom he saved in the original, have settled down and had a baby, Nugget. In Forever, Nugget is kidnapped, so Meat Boy and Bandage Girl go after her. (You can play as either one from the very beginning.) The story has no material effect on your gameplay, but the short cartoon cutscenes find ways to grab your attention all the same with a webtoony out-of-left-field story chock-full of references to video game canon, adorable woodland creatures, cuddly animals, and the adorable little Nugget, who often proves too adorable for even her captor to ignore.

Super Meat Boy Forever captured on PC

The cutscenes are thus an entertaining reward for hard-earned progress. Following in the original Super Meat Boy's footsteps, Forever lays out levels sprinkled with bottomless pits and buzzsaws that require quick thinking and quicker reflexes to escape. At the same time, it's a very different game. Meat Boy or Bandage Girl constantly runs forward, and you simply control when they jump, slide, or punch. By necessity, the levels take on longer, more horizontally oriented shapes to accommodate the new system. Despite those changes, Forever still retains the essence of Super Meat Boy. Though automated movement theoretically seems like it would make the platforming less satisfying, since you aren't in complete control, Forever's challenge is just as captivating.

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Categories: Games