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Updated: 26 min 42 sec ago

Disco Elysium: The Final Cut Review - Pure Dynamite

Fri, 04/16/2021 - 08:38

This review has been updated to include the experience of playing DIsco Elysium: The Final Cut. The additional review text that addresses the new version of the game is included at the bottom of the review as its own section.

Memories can be painful. Recalling them can result in feelings of regret, anger, shame, embarrassment, and worse. Much, much worse. In Disco Elysium, a mesmerising, hilarious and at times harrowing narrative-heavy RPG, recollecting a memory can prove fatal. For an amnesiac, alcoholic cop struggling with a new murder case with elusive details, and the world's worst hangover, remembering the person he was offers a path to redemption for the person he might become. After all, memories that don't kill you make you stronger.

Disco Elysium presents as an RPG in the mold of Baldur's Gate or Divinity: Original Sin. Indeed, it opens with a nod to Planescape Torment with a semi-naked figure lying on a cold, hard slab before slowly rising to his feet--only the slab isn't in a mortuary, it's in a cheap motel room, and the figure wasn't recently dead, he's just still drunk. Very, very drunk. It proceeds with the traditional top-down view of the world, your party members traversing beautiful, hand-painted 2D environments, pausing to inspect objects and talk to people. There are quests to initiate, experience to gain, levels to up, dialogue trees to climb, and skill checks to fail. Yet in all kinds of other ways--thematically and mechanically--Disco Elysium is very unlike other RPGs.

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Oddworld: Soulstorm Review

Thu, 04/15/2021 - 03:55

Oddworld: Soulstorm has been a long time coming. A direct sequel to Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty, Soulstorm is a loosely drawn reimagining of the second Oddworld game, Abe's Exoddus. Soulstorm looks shiny and PS5-new, with beautifully detailed characters and vast sweeping landscapes in its backgrounds, but it has an old soul. Soulstorm's stealthy platforming feels like a throwback: It's unlike any game I've played in a long time, and that's refreshing. But with old-school gameplay, Soulstorm retains some archaic design choices that feel outdated in 2021. The pain from those choices is accentuated by the game's many serious technical issues, which can blow even the most carefully played sequences at the drop of a hat. Soulstorm has a lot of heart, but its poor tuning makes it a bit of a slog.

Like its predecessors, Soulstorm puts you in control of Abe, a now free slave with the ability to take control of his former captors using a special chant. Each level strings together a gauntlet of side-scrolling stealth-platforming puzzles. As Abe, you'll sneak across each stage, jumping across platforms to dodge traps while avoiding conflict as much as possible. All the while, you're searching for your fellow Mudokons, Abe's species of lanky green Oddworlders, most of whom are still slaves in factories and mines. Staying out of harm's way requires careful planning and timing. Like many stealth games, you're carefully monitoring guard movements and vision cones to find the perfect moment to move from one hiding spot to the next, or to dispatch a guard. There's a tense, nail-biting thrill to maneuvering your way into and out of danger.

Though stealth factors into most areas, there are also a fair number of pure platforming sequences. Dodging flamethrowers, buzzsaws, spikes, and other dangers is also often a matter of getting the timing right. Soulstorm's best platforming sequences feel more puzzle-like than a reflex test, balancing time pressure and a need to methodically feel your way through whatever lethal obstacles it throws your way.

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Star Wars: Republic Commando Remastered Review

Sat, 04/10/2021 - 04:25

First released in 2005, Star Wars: Republic Commando acted as many a young Star Wars fan's initial introduction to the concept that the clone troopers of the prequel trilogy are human beings--creating unique identities for the seemingly identical soldiers. Republic Commando has a strong legacy among Star Wars fans--despite the game's removal from the official canon, it remains a key part of the Star Wars universe, especially when it comes to video game entries.

Handled by Aspyr Media, Star Wars: Republic Commando Remastered brings the original 2005 Xbox and PC game to PS4 and Switch with enhanced HD graphics and modernized controls, though the multiplayer is absent. Otherwise, it's the same game. And though the flaws in its gameplay are only more noticeable now 16 years later, this remaster manages to still deliver a compelling story of four specialized commandos engaging in a variety of combat missions across the Clone Wars.

Squad Up

In Republic Commando, you play as RC-1138 aka "Boss," commanding sergeant of a specialized commando unit trained to take on missions that require a greater level of skill and cognitive ability than standard clone troopers possess. Your unit, Delta Squad, is also composed of sarcastic demolitions expert RC-1262 aka "Scorch," by-the-books hacker and technical analyst RC-1140 aka "Fixer," and morbidly grim sniper RC-1207 aka "Sev." The game takes place over several locations, beginning with an assignment on Geonosis at the end of Attack of the Clones and concluding on Kashyyyk just prior to the events of Revenge of the Sith.

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Balan Wonderworld Review - Costume Drama

Wed, 04/07/2021 - 09:27

In the center of Balan Wonderworld's hub area lies the construction site of a clock tower. Complete the 12 worlds--the entry points to which are arranged at random around the tower like dial markings on a jumbled clock face--and the clock tower rises further into the sky; an elaborate contraption that stands as a monument to your hours played. Despite a thematic preoccupation with telling the time, Balan Wonderworld feels like something of an anachronism, a throwback 3D platformer whose occasional charms arrive too late.

Balan Wonderworld makes a terrible first impression. It's a 3D platformer where the primary act of running around the levels feels sloppy. Swapping character costumes to employ new abilities is the key novelty, but the initial batch of costumes fail to inspire, and instead add the sorts of abilities you'd take for granted in any other platformer. Completing the early game doldrums, you're dropped into levels without context nor any attempt to explain your goals.

The clumsy controls and character movement are the most persistent problem. There's a weird dissonance in the way it feels like you're moving too slowly while the choppiness of the simplistic animation gives the illusion of moving too quickly. Your character will float slightly above the ground even when standing on a flat surface. Jumping and judging distance feels sloppy and imprecise, mostly thanks to a stickiness of movement but also because, from time to time, the useful ground shadows cast by yourself and other objects will simply disappear. To put it kindly, mistiming or failing to land a jump doesn't always feel like it's your own fault.

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Outriders Review In Progress

Fri, 04/02/2021 - 11:41

Outriders is a game that isn't defined by big new ideas, but rather a variety of familiar elements mixed together in experimental ways. It's a role-playing game with loot-shooter elements; it's a serious, dark sci-fi outing with a big dose of goofiness and humor; it's a cover shooter that demands you rush out and smash enemies with your ludicrously lethal magic powers. Whether this mixture works for you will determine how much you'll enjoy exploring the war-torn planet of Enoch and the last desperate vestige of humanity clinging to life there.

Outriders blends well-known video game elements into something new and challenging, and while it takes itself seriously, it isn't self-serious. The world of Enoch seems huge and strange, and while the game is literally about the last gasp of the human race that has ripped itself apart, its heavy themes are always lightened up by a general blockbuster goofiness and characters defined by their gallows humor. Your place within it is as an accidental superbeing with space magic powers, and you're mostly just annoyed that irritating people are wasting your time with their gopher chores. It's a fun, self-aware fit.

Though Outriders looks like a live game of the loot-shooter persuasion, it's actually much more Mass Effect 3 than Destiny 2--like Mass Effect, RPG progression and cover-shooting are more the engine of the game than chasing the next new gun. Outriders is, in fact, a cover-shooter RPG with a hearty dose of gear progression, leaning heavily into an epic story told with tons of dialogue, cutscenes, character interactions, and collectible lore.

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Evil Genius 2: World Domination Review

Tue, 03/30/2021 - 02:00

Building a criminal empire isn't all fun and games, you know. In Evil Genius 2, the sequel/reboot of the 2004 cult classic strategy game, running a casino and super-secret volcano lair with a doomsday device takes vision… and the ability to manage an army of minions. It's a management sim that requires careful planning and timing; you need to build a base that runs like a well-oiled machine that can mint the resources you'll need to conquer the globe. To succeed where every Bond villain has failed, the base needs to double as a labyrinth of wild traps like shark pits and laser walls that can keep nosy secret agents from bringing too much heat down on you. Though aspects of the game can feel like they're at cross-purposes from time to time, Evil Genius 2's goofy, lighthearted vision perfectly captures a cartoony retro spy vibe that lets you revel in pretending you're the ultimate evil boss.

Taking advantage of nearly 20 years of technological advances since the original, Evil Genius 2 makes good on the promise of making a Bond Villain simulator. The art, music, and style channel the cartoon camp of ‘60s and ‘70s spy movies and TV. In cutscenes, the Genius banters with rival villains and super spies or berates his minions, who maintain a sheepish, aww-shucks attitude. All of this paints the Genius' rise to power as a fun, free-wheeling romp. The swanky lounge soundtrack, punctuated by dramatic musical cues likewise feels like it's pulled out of the early-era Bond that permeates every pore of the game.

The '60s and '70s spy-movie vibe permeates every aspect of Evil Genius 2 to great effect.

You can feel it most acutely in the characters. Though you are the mastermind, there are actually many Evil Geniuses. At the start of the game you can choose one of four to be your avatar. From the gold-obsessed Maximilian to the metal-armed Russian General Red Ivan, the geniuses all have the larger-than-life international crime syndicate boss look and feel. You can also recruit "henchmen," unique lieutenants with similar powers and Bond villain personas. Lastly, each region of the world has a singular Super Agent who can disrupt your base pretty handily and deliver some of that crucial hero-villain banter.

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Loop Hero Review

Sat, 03/27/2021 - 06:27

For all its automated systems, Loop Hero can be incredibly stressful. Battles play out without any input from you, navigation loops over a predetermined path, and resources are collected for you, but that doesn't mean you can take your eyes off the battlefield for even a second. This captivating mix of familiar genres demands constant attention, testing your ability to think well into the future when making your moves. It's a riveting balance of risk and reward wrapped in a deviously challenging roguelite that will tempt you into pushing forward for just one more round.

Loop Hero is a distinct mish-mash of multiple genre ideas, none of which influence gameplay enough to easily classify the overall gameplay experience. Loop Hero is primarily a run-based role-playing game in which you indirectly control a hero through procedurally generated loops. Instead of controlling the hero's movements, you mainly control what they encounter by placing objects on the loop that create the world--things like cemeteries that can spawn skeletons, villages that can heal you, or swamps that generate nasty mosquitos. These are provided by cards that you draw from a limited deck which you can edit between runs, letting you curate each one to a degree. And while your hero automatically navigates in circles and resolves fights with enemies without any inputs, you also manage their inventory carefully to deal with the increasing challenges that each new round trip brings.

Instead of controlling the hero's movements in Loop Hero, you control what they encounter on the loop.

Ultimately, Loop Hero challenges you to balance risk and reward by keenly considering all the options your current cards give you to make your next loop challenging, but not deadly. Each run is an opportunity to gather resources you use to expand your camp in the hub world, unlocking new cards, classes, and abilities to use on subsequent runs. Enemies drop specific resources that you'll need to further progress outside of each expedition, giving you incentives to place multiple groves for wild, mutated dogs or dimly lit houses that can spawn bloodthirsty vampires on tiles around them. With each new addition to the loop, you're also extending the time it takes to make a trip around it, which directly affects spawn rates of enemies that are tied to a persistent day-night cycle. While a tile might seem harmless when it's only adding one enemy to the loop every day, it can become dangerous when the route is stuffed to the point where an entire group might be waiting the next time you make it around again.

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It Takes Two Review

Thu, 03/25/2021 - 10:10

In It Takes Two, you fight the kind of common, red toolbox that might be sitting in your garage, or your parents' garage. It's one of the best boss battles I've ever played.

In the level leading up to this, co-op protagonists Cody and May learn to chuck nails and wield a hammer head, respectively. Cody can shoot nails into wooden surfaces; May can use the hammer to swing on those nails. Cody can nail moving platforms in place; May can hop onto those platforms, or wall jump between vertical surfaces that Cody can position via strategic nail shots. Eventually, he gets three nails to throw instead of one, leading to some excitingly frantic platforming.

The boss fight that closes this level uses those abilities in concert. Cody and May stand on a plywood platform, facing off against the toolbox. It can swing at them with bolted on plywood arms, which the duo needs to dodge. To deal any damage, Cody has to pin its long, wooden limb to a wall with his three nails, allowing May to swing over and smack its tinny body. As the fight proceeds, the toolbox shoots nails into the air which hurtle down at the plywood platform, a platform which gradually shrinks as the toolbox uses a handsaw to whittle it down to a nub with strategic cuts.

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Immortals Fenyx Rising: Myths Of The Eastern Realm DLC Review

Wed, 03/24/2021 - 22:00

We don't see enough Chinese legends and folklore explored in Western games, which is what makes the pitch for Immortals Fenyx Rising's second expansion, Myths of the Eastern Realm, so exciting. Developed by Ubisoft Chengdu, the DLC moves Immortals' open-world structure from Greek to Chinese mythology. But while its open-world fundamentals are still solid, the Chinese mythology that defines its aesthetic is more of a coat of paint than an imaginative look at a new realm.

Myths of the Eastern Realm wastes no time getting you up to speed. After a brief explanation of how chaos threatens to upset the balance of Heaven and Earth and how a mysterious force has wiped out most of the world's gods, new hero Ku wakes up inside a cave filled with his compatriots, who've been turned to stone. The legendary Bu Zhou mountain has erupted and caused the emergence of the Scar, a powerful primordial force reverting the world back into chaos. The premise is almost identical to the base game's, and that ends up being true of the rest of the expansion: The two new islands that make up the DLC's Mortal Lands are hard to distinguish from the Golden Isles from the original game, even if the buildings and foliage are pulled from Chinese history.

Immortals Fenyx Rising: Myths of the Eastern Realm DLC captured on PC

Immortals' main loop, in which you search for a nearby mountaintop, tag a bunch of icons so they appear on your map, then hunt them down until you decide to progress the story, is identical. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since it was a good loop the first time around. But solving a new round of puzzles and checking icons off on a map lost its allure much more quickly in this DLC--Myths of the Eastern Realm just doesn't have much to keep that loop interesting. Unlocking my glide ability, clearing out vaults (now called gateways), and grappling enemies isn't as fun because Ku plays exactly like Fenyx, and I'm disappointed he doesn't have any new abilities that change how you explore or interact with the world a second time through. The fact that your skills are now called the Blades of Huang Di and Pangu's Strength instead of Ares' Wrath and Herakles' Strength does little to hide that.

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Doom Eternal: The Ancient Gods Part 2 Review

Wed, 03/24/2021 - 09:08

Doom Eternal: The Ancient Gods Part 2 is a workout for your hands.

That isn't a result of inaccessible controls; with this DLC, id Software has added the option to fully remap console controls. Even with that flexibility, after a few hours with the new DLC expansion to the 2020 shooter, my palms and knuckles begin to ache. I'm playing on PS5, and the DualSense is a beefy controller. The Ancient Gods Part 2 pushes you to use every square inch of it. There are a lot of demons to kill here and with Ancient Gods Part 2, id Software has given us the Doom Slayer's most expansive arsenal of weapons to do so yet. Far from being just a set of three new levels, Doom Eternal: The Ancient Gods Part 2 introduces multiple new enemies, a new traversal mechanic and a new weapon, all of which alter the flow of battle for the better.

I had my frustrations with The Ancient Gods Part 1, most stemming from the introduction of new enemies (like the Blood Maykr and the Turret) that required pinpoint accuracy to eradicate, which had a tendency to slow fights to a crawl. But The Ancient Gods Part 2 thankfully leans back in the other direction. One new addition to the bestiary, the Cursed Prowler, can (as the name suggests) curse you if it manages to land a hit with its projectile attack. To break the curse, you need to kill the Cursed Prowler. Simple enough. But this durable creature can only be killed with a Blood Punch. And, if you don't have a Blood Punch ready, you'll need to Glory Kill other monsters to build your meter up. So, instead of rooting you in one spot with your eye to the scope, the Cursed Prowler encourages you to dive into the fray. It can be frustrating to get hit with a curse and begin losing health in the middle of a tough battle, but it's a change for the better: one toward frenetic movement and away from the occasional aim-down-sights inertia of the first DLC.

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Monster Hunter Rise Review In Progress

Wed, 03/24/2021 - 02:00

Editor's note: At the time of publishing, we still need to play more of Monster Hunter Rise's multiplayer. This review will remain in progress until we're able to do that at launch. Stay tuned for the final review in the coming days.

The locations you explore in Monster Hunter Rise have already felt the delicate touch of humanity's hand. Traditional Japanese torii can be found weaving through mountainside paths, leading to sacred shrines, while decaying temples have been reclaimed by nature as local plant life envelops the aging architecture. Signs of human life can even be found at the base of a raging volcano and in the midst of a flooded forest, where a Mesoamerican-style pyramid dominates the landscape.

If 2018's Monster Hunter World was all about unearthing a new continent as an intrepid frontiersman, then Rise is a triumphant return to the Old World with valuable lessons learned. An enhanced port of the 3DS title Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate may have already graced the Nintendo Switch, but Rise is the first game in the series built from the ground up for Nintendo's latest console. As such, Rise closely follows in the footsteps of World while reneging on some of its changes and introducing plenty of new impactful ideas that excellently shift the focus towards the series' heart-pumping action.

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Fights In Tight Spaces Early Access Review

Fri, 03/19/2021 - 13:05

If the fights in John Wick were choreographed by the plays you made with a deck of cards, you'd get Fights in Tight Spaces. The roguelite deck-builder puts you in increasingly cramped and intricate spaces, challenging you with figuring out an efficient and safe way to punch, kick, and outsmart every enemy stuffed in there with you. It's a fascinating mix of recognizable genres that produces something distinct and satisfyingly complex, even in its Early Access state.

Fights in Tight Spaces currently features the core loop of the game spread out across five stages, each their own unique enemies, rewards, and final boss fights. You have four styles of play to choose from, with decks of moves focused on counter-attacking, all-out assault, or combinations of the two. Each run is unique, too, shaped by the small decisions you make regarding what routes to take in each stage. These influence what rewards you might get out of each fight, what vendors you'll have access to, and what random events you can happen upon. Die, however, and everything resets, without any persistence between runs to make the next one any easier.

Each themed stage is littered with levels you need to complete, with the namesake of the game coming to fruition in their design. Each level plays out across a tile-based grid, with enemies randomly placed throughout. You use cards to initiate actions--moving to adjacent tiles, attacking enemies, or more complex combinations of the two--with action points restricting how many cards you can play per turn. These are densely-packed grids, sometimes as small as 4x6 battle arenas that make just avoiding attacks a delicate dance. Like other tactical games like Into the Breach, you have to use every tile to your advantage. Enemies prepare attacks should you come within range at any point during your turn, and will execute them regardless of whether you leave that space by the end. This means turns aren't solely about using your limited action points to dole out damage, but also trying to position other foes in the line of fire of their comrades.

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Mundaun Review: Dark Secrets And The People Who Find Them

Fri, 03/19/2021 - 06:47

The journey, rather than the destination, is the focus of Mundaun--the reasons you take it and the travel required to reach its conclusion. In this way, it feels like a spiritual successor to Half-Life 2's Highway 17, a mid-game chapter that finds crowbar-toting protagonist Gordon Freeman traveling by buggy along the lonely coast. It's a lengthy, melancholy section of the 2004 shooter where the driving is occasionally interrupted by combat, puzzles, and on-foot exploration. Mundaun is like Highway 17 expanded to a full 10-hour experience. In your journey to the mountaintop, you sit passively in a bus, drive a hay-baling truck along bumpy terrain, and ride a sled across quiet alpine slopes. You're guided through a series of dark, labyrinthine tunnels by a trolley car the size of a toaster. You ride a chair lift. The inclusion of vehicles might not sound noteworthy on its own, but traversing the mountain in all these different ways--on foot, by sled, by truck--has the effect of making the mountain feel like a real place; a peak that must be considered to be conquered. You don't cover dozens of virtual miles in your quest, but Mundaun feels like a journey nonetheless--personal and physical--as a result of this fixation on the vehicles we use to make our pilgrimages.

This horror adventure game's distinct point of view is obvious the moment you see it in action. Each first-person frame looks like hand-drawn pencil art, and the entire game is presented in black and white. Developer Hidden Fields uses this to terrific, eerie effect. The mountain lake where those beekeepers are doing their work is beautifully alien, a rocky landscape that's empty except for these strange beings in their protective suits accompanied by an unnerving buzzing. Night on the mountain's snowy slopes feels eerie in a different way--dark, save for the light of the moon, and quiet, save for the sound of your snowshoes or sled on the powder. With winning art and sound design, Hidden Fields brilliantly brings home the feeling that you are alone, and that this lonely journey is one you must take on your own.

Mundaun's art style is distinctive and impactful.

As that journey begins, protagonist Curdin sits on a bus winding its way up narrow mountain roads to the sleepy alpine town where he often visited his grandfather growing up. The young man is returning to the village to attend his grandfather's funeral after receiving news that the old man died when his barn caught fire. But something's wrong. Despite the village priest's claims that his grandfather was already buried, Curdin finds a charred corpse in the barn. When he goes to see the priest, the chapel is locked. He goes to the graveyard--grandfather's grave is empty. As Curdin attempts to get to the bottom of these mysterious events, he begins a trek to the top of the mountain, whose towering pincer-like twin peaks can be seen from almost anywhere in the game.

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Apex Legends Nintendo Switch Review

Sat, 03/13/2021 - 08:00

In a sense, Apex Legends is not the same game that we reviewed back in February 2019--the roster of playable characters has doubled to 16, three full maps are in rotation, and several different modes (including ranked) are included. There's also a story that's delivered weekly via map changes and comics that have built the game's lore. Additional features have been implemented, like clubs for players to join, cross-play support, and limited-time events. On top of all that, seasonal content introduces substantial meta changes, daily/weekly challenges, and rewarding battle passes, transforming Apex Legends into something greater.

And yet, despite these adjustments, the core of Apex Legends remains intact. It's still a squad-based battle royale that encourages teamwork with an excellent ping system, where you begin each match picking from a roster of hero characters that possess unique abilities in order to fulfill different roles in battle. The core principles that made Apex Legends work so well back when it first launched haven't changed over two years later.

All of which is to say, Apex Legends is still really fun and worth jumping into if you haven't yet. And now you're able to do so on Nintendo Switch. But just because you can play Apex Legends on Switch does not mean you should. This port works, but only in the loosest sense of the term; this is the worst way to play Apex Legends.

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Gnosia Review

Fri, 03/12/2021 - 10:56

Adrift in space, a ship faces a terrifying crisis: Some of its members are no longer human, and plan to take over the vessel to offer it to an otherworldly being known only as the Gnos. To succeed, these beings--the Gnosia--must kill the other crew members, one by one, and deceive the others into thinking that innocent crew are the enemy. Trapped in a terrifying time loop that only you and another crew member are aware of, you must protect the ship from the threat of the Gnosia--or, as fate might dictate, eagerly destroy everything for your sinister overlord.

If you're thinking that this concept sounds a lot like a certain multiplayer game that's become extremely popular over the last year, you're not wrong--the similarities in concept between Gnosia and Among Us are undeniable. But Gnosia, which released a few years back on the PS Vita and only recently came to Switch in English, takes that concept and puts a very different spin on it. By utilizing a visual novel-like presentation, RPG-like mechanics, a great cast of characters, and a multi-layered story, Gnosia presents you with a very different take on the social deduction game--one that, despite some stumbles, succeeds quite admirably.

When you begin Gnosia, you meet Setsu, an unassuming green-haired crewmember who briefs you on what's going on. Besides yourself, Setsu is the only other person on board who is fully aware of what's happening: that everyone on the ship is trapped in a horrifying time loop where one or more of the crew--including you--have been infected by the Gnosia. Unfortunately, Gnosia infection can't be determined visually, so each day, the crew votes on someone to send to cold sleep until all Gnosia are eliminated. With each loop, things change dramatically: the crew members on board, the amount of Gnosia, and what roles everyone plays. And sometimes, completely unexpected things happen beyond the control of even the humans or the Gnosia. With Setsu as your aide--and sometimes Gnosia-infected enemy--you must figure out a way to escape from this eternal hell by looping as many times as it takes to solve the mystery.

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Bravely Default 2 Review

Fri, 02/26/2021 - 00:00

The Bravely series has always excelled at evoking the feeling of playing classic Final Fantasy-style RPGs, while sanding off some of the rough edges that may make those classic games less approachable to modern audiences. Bravely Default II, confusingly enough the third game in the franchise, maintains much of its predecessors' retro charm--but it actually removes some of the quality-of-life features that made the first two such breezy nostalgic throwbacks. Instead of simply reminding you of the satisfaction of playing a classic RPG, Bravely Default II demands that you relive the entire experience, faults and all.

For the uninitiated, Bravely Default gets its namesake from its innovative risk-reward combat system. Along with your typical health and magic meters, you have Brave Points (BP). And rather than a standard Defend command, you can choose to Default, which both defends and banks BP for later use. You can spend up to four actions using Brave command, but if you don't have enough BP banked you go into debt and skip future turns undefended.

This has always been key to Bravely Default's battle system, and it remains essentially untouched here. The approach is a little less novel the third time around, but it still creates a unique wrinkle of strategic RPG battle planning. Do you go into debt to unleash a flurry of attacks or do some emergency healing? Do you bank first and take the damage for a few turns? Bravely veterans will fall right back into the habit, but nothing about it feels too complex that it should give newcomers trouble. And newcomers will be able to jump in here because, like Final Fantasy, Bravely Default II's story is disconnected from any continuity. Four strangers come together as the selfless Heroes of Light to stave off certain doom--you know the drill.

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30XX Early Access Review

Thu, 02/25/2021 - 07:41

When you die in 30XX, thus bringing your run to a premature and perhaps permanent end, there's a good chance you will receive a message from the Bureau of Encouragement. In a roguelike platformer where death can feel like a crushing setback or at best wasted time, you would be forgiven for expecting to find comfort in such a message. A consoling pat on the back, some inspiring words, or at least a sliver of hope. You would be wrong. "Ooooh! So close…" says the Bureau of Encouragement. "Just kidding. That was terrible!"

I received a lot of messages from the Bureau of Encouragement because I died a lot in 30XX. But the Bureau was not the only regulatory agency to contact me in the aftermath of my demise. The Failure Board and the Department of Aggravation also got in touch to register their contempt at my performance. "Remember, you can stop whenever you have given up hope," they laughed.

Despite their derision, I pressed on. Much like the classic action platformers from which it draws heavy inspiration, 30XX is a game in which defeat is never an ending but rather an opportunity to start over and try again. A roguelike structure is a smart complement to this life-death cycle and positions 30XX--even in its Early Access state--as an accomplished title, worthy of comparison to its 8- and 16-bit forerunners.

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Ghosts 'n Goblins Resurrection Review

Wed, 02/24/2021 - 02:00

Capcom's Ghost 'n Goblins franchise has a very specific reputation. Whether you played the Arcade or NES version of Ghosts 'n Goblins, Ghouls 'n Ghosts on the Genesis, or Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts on the SNES, working through these games felt like pushing a boulder up a mountain or pulling teeth. A little over 35 years later, Ghosts 'n Goblins Resurrection remixes and revives those games into a platformer that looks new but, perhaps unsurprisingly, embodies that same boulder-pushing, teeth-pulling gameplay. Its modern flourishes soften the blow a bit from time to time, but Resurrection is still defined by punishing, borderline cruel tactics that game designers have long-since outgrown.

Ghosts 'n Goblins Resurrection is a new game, but it functionally retells the Ghosts 'n Goblins story. The basic mechanical structure of the series remains intact, too: You run and jump from left to right, throwing javelins, knives, flaming potions, and other weapons at a seemingly endless onslaught of zombies, scythe-wielding skeletons, and winged demons. Famously, you begin the level clad in armor but lose some of it every time you take a hit until you're inevitably hopping around in heart-adorned boxers.

Resurrection derives large chunks--level themes, sequences, and bosses--from previous games, most notably Ghouls 'n Ghosts. Some of the series' distinctive bosses and sequences are reimagined in Resurrection's pencil-style art, which smartly breathes a lot more color and whimsy into a series that's always felt more cheeky than spooky. Not every reference to the old games is pulled literally from an older game; some, like the now-towering gray cyclops from Ghosts 'n Goblins, are more liberal reinterpretations. Even the enemies and sequences you can trace back to a specific point in a previous game are not identical to their predecessors, and it doesn't feel like replaying a portion of another game, but it's a potent dose of nostalgia.

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Blue Fire Review

Sat, 02/20/2021 - 06:09

It's easy to identify many of Blue Fire's potential inspirations. Its platforming, combat, and overall structure harken back to the sprawling maps and challenges of Hollow Knight, its handful of dungeons could pass for shorter versions of those in most Legend of Zelda titles, and its progression mixes many elements synonymous with From Software's Souls series. But developer ROBI Studios struggles to bring all of these elements together in a cohesive fashion, and the addition of the studio's own ideas to the mix weighs down Blue Fire's otherwise exceptional platforming.

Blue Fire's most prominent focus is its platforming, which permeates every action you take across its 12-hour adventure. You start with just a jump and a dash, and Blue Fire immediately makes great use of these limited mechanics by giving you a satisfying amount of control over your movements. The length of each jump or dash is tied to the length of a respective button press, which means you can easily cancel either action in mid-air and have greater control over your aerial movements. This in and of itself isn't unique to Blue Fire, but the fine-tuned feel of movement makes leaping around each varied biome in its world a treat.

Blue Fire captured on PC

These basic movements are coupled with a growing repertoire of moves that you acquire as you progress, including movement speed boosts, wall-running, and double jumps. Blue Fire introduces these new mechanics gracefully; you have plenty of time to get to grips with one before being tasked to learn another. Eventually, stringing them all together feels like you're conducting an elegant ballet in mid-air, accurately timing and weighing each button press with care to make sure you're making pin-point jumps around areas designed to challenge these skills.

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Little Nightmares 2 Review

Fri, 02/19/2021 - 08:04

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, "...duck."

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