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Desta: The Memories Between Review – Dodging Confrontation

18 hours 3 min ago

In Desta: The Memories Between, you play as Desta, who takes on the unenviable, but relatable task of overthinking future conversations that you don't want to have. This anxiety manifests itself as a tactical dodgeball game in your dreams where you think through the worst possible conversation scenarios with old friends and family while visiting home for the first time in years. To turn that familiar human experience into a grid-based dodgeball game sounds strange on paper, but in practice, it works and delivers alongside it a solid tactics game that uses the mobile platform well.

Interpreting this rehearsal of future conversations as tactical dream dodgeball works well because it feels about as normal as the average anxiety dream. It only really makes sense while it's happening and only falls apart when you try and explain it later. In this way, Desta nails the feeling of a dream, which is difficult to do in any entertainment medium.

As a video game, it also works well as a fun tactics game. Every person in your life that you're dreading a confrontation with appears to you in your dreams (alongside some nobodies to serve as cannon fodder) on a layout of squares with randomized barriers. Old friends introduce themselves by berating you for the thing you're anxious about, manifesting your worst-case scenario. You take turns moving positions, picking up dodgeballs, and tossing the ball at them to inflict damage and whittle down their health while making sure you're in a position to not receive the same punishment. The core idea is familiar to anyone who has played a comparable strategy game, but the dodgeball adds an element of action and finesse that works well on a touchscreen.

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Grounded Review - Mountains Out Of Molehills

Mon, 09/26/2022 - 23:00

The survival-crafting genre is famous for a few things: steep learning curves, a bit of jank in its systems, and a sense of seriousness that, to be fair, is to be expected in an experience that starts you off hungry, thirsty, cold, and defenseless. Obsidian's Grounded, launching into its 1.0 state after two years in Xbox Game Preview, delightfully rejects these tropes, by and large. Instead, it takes the best bits of these games, polishes them, and offers a childlike spin, giving it all a charming sense of place and a unique point of view.

The premise of the game's setup is simple: You take on the role of one of four kids inexplicably shrunken down to the size of an ant and must fend for yourself (and up to three co-op partners) in The Backyard, a typical residential space that would be less than notable if not for your sudden change in stature.

In The Backyard, dinner is a tadpole cooked over campfire, or perhaps some gooey "gnatchos," and your biggest concerns are no longer homework and bedtimes, but wolf spiders and bees. It's the sort of thought experiment no one leaves childhood without having dwelled on--what if I was really small?--and as such, the game filters every weapon, potion, safe haven, and more through the eyes of its kids.

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Hyper Demon Review - Slayer

Sat, 09/24/2022 - 07:30

Doom might be the most renowned shooter that launched in 2016, but the year also played host to another exceptional one: Devil Daggers. With a focus on the most basic attributes of a shooter, Devil Daggers shone with its extreme difficulty and exceptionally high skill ceiling, inviting run after run for hours on end. In many ways, Hyper Demon, the next game from developer Sorath, is the logical next step of that formula. It's every bit as grueling and engrossing, with even more mechanics to wrap your head around during its intense but short runs. It's also far more approachable than Devil Daggers ever was, making its compelling action more inviting.

While Devil Daggers was focused solely on survival, Hyper Demon is all about aggression. Each round starts with a timer at 10 seconds, which immediately begins to tick down. Each enemy kill increases the timer by three seconds, encouraging you to string together kills in an elegant way to keep the action flowing. The game doesn't end when the timer reaches zero; instead, your score is determined by the amount of time on the clock when you die (or manage to reach the game's ending). Passive play, though technically a lot safer, won't improve your standings on the leaderboard, so much so that some of your shorter, more unhinged runs might yield better scores than ones that lasted twice as long.

An expanded repertoire of mechanics, when compared to Devil Daggers, helps increase the pace of the action to match the new objective, too. Each round still plays out across limited floor space that you can easily fall off of, but you're able to move around it much faster thanks to air dashes and chained bunny hops, the latter of which can be done indefinitely if timed right. Being able to get close to enemies to blow them away is half of the challenge, while the other is determining how best to take them out quickly. Like Devil Daggers, you can hold down the shoot button for a steady barrage of bullets or tap it for a deadlier, close-range shotgun blast. These are enhanced with a laser attack that you can fire off if you stop shooting long enough to manually absorb crystals that enemies drop on death, offering a precise, long-range option for your trouble.

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Shovel Knight Dig Review - Ace Of Spades

Fri, 09/23/2022 - 03:07

Shovel Knight Dig is very unlike the retro action game that catapulted the character into indie royalty. But in a strange way, it feels like a natural extension of that game's mechanics and concepts. If the original Shovel Knight evoked the feeling of a lost platformer from the NES era, Shovel Knight Dig feels like a disruptive follow-up that boldly charts new ground for the series, instead of hewing closely to the source material. This isn't actually Shovel Knight 2, but it could have been.

The distinction is interesting because this game is another developer riffing on the Shovel Knight concept, but under the watchful eye of the original studio, Yacht Club Games. Nitrome has liberally borrowed some key elements from Shovel Knight, but this isn't a spin-off in the same way that last year's Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon was. It doesn't feel like the character is being transplanted into an entirely new genre; instead, it's reimagining what can be done within a similar framework and with the same level of mechanical precision.

Put simply, Shovel Knight Dig is a vertical roguelike, having you dig your way down into the depths of the underground to confront the nefarious Drill Knight, who has stolen something valuable from our hero. The story is slight and simple, and although Drill Knight's gang of "Hexcavators" is no match for the sheer wordplay bliss of The Order of No Quarter in terms of naming conventions, it works well enough.

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The Diofield Chronicle Review - Forever War

Thu, 09/22/2022 - 08:52

Essentially a protracted series of tactical battles, Diofield Chronicle's design falls into an early routine from which it is reluctant to deviate, while its fantasy world apes the war-room politicking of Game of Thrones with a focus on moving the chess pieces at the expense of credible character development. Flashes of progress are seen in its combat, and the occasional voice dares to question a realm ruled by divine authority, but both efforts are ultimately futile, crushed by an exhausting and relentless war machine.

As the name suggests, Diofield itself is a holy land--God's country--where the hereditary monarchy is assured by each new ruler sporting the Mark of the Blessed, a birthmark of sorts that appears to resemble a vein of precious gems. Yet a frail king and the murder of his heir has caused a succession crisis, with factions forming around several candidates while neighboring empires eye an opportunity to expand their borders. Armies march across a map straight out of the Game of Thrones opening credits while those in command conduct sober debate about their next power play. These are serious people making serious decisions, it seems to imply. Everyone involved speaks as if through clenched-jaw, and with curiously little emotion, a vocal performance that is perhaps meant to indicate the gravity of the situation but instead tends to suggest everyone is a bit bored.

Your perspective on events is through the eyes of Andrias Rhondarson, who is the boyhood friend and servant of the murdered heir, now grown-up and leading a band of mercenaries in the employ of the crown. Andrias makes for a dull lead, as he's disinclined to divulge his inner thoughts, while the ponderous, often humorless conversations he has with the rest of the cast do little to warm you to his plight, or anyone elses for that matter. In fairly typical JPRG style, few of the core cast look a day older than 18 yet carry themselves, whether debating strategy around the table or reflecting on the last mission, with the world-weariness of a pragmatic veteran general. It's laborious stuff and serves mostly to highlight the need for a quicker method of skipping through each scene.

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Return To Monkey Island Review - Happiness Is A Warm Manatee

Tue, 09/20/2022 - 05:26

A palpable fondness for the first two Monkey Island games emanates throughout every three-headed monkey gag and bout of insult swordfighting in Return to Monkey Island. It's the kind of love that trickles down from the top, as Guybrush Threepwood's latest adventure sees series creator Ron Gilbert welcomed back into the fold for the first time since 1991's Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge. The self-described grumpy gamer helmed development on this unexpected sequel alongside veteran designer and writer Dave Grossman and the talented team at developer Terrible Toybox. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that Return to Monkey Island is tinged with nostalgia and leans into this wistfulness with obvious joy. It's also a thrilling sequel in its own right; one that sees the beloved series return in swashbuckling fashion by incorporating ideas both old and new.

Much like the earliest games in the series, Return to Monkey Island is a traditional 2D point-and-click adventure game built on storytelling and puzzle-solving. Hapless protagonist Guybrush Threepwood is back--older and only slightly wiser this time around. The intrepid pirate is also joined by plenty of returning characters, including his usual cohort Elaine Marley and zombie archnemesis, LeChuck. However, the most intriguing aspect of Return to Monkey Island is that it picks up right where LeChuck's Revenge left off.

In returning to the series, Gilbert and Grossman wanted to use this opportunity to finally shed some light on that game's cliffhanger ending, yet Return to Monkey Island isn't exactly a direct sequel, either. For one, it still takes into account the events of each Monkey Island game released after 1991, with characters like Murray the demonic talking skull making an appearance. How it does this and the way it structures its narrative framework is fascinating, but delving into specifics would encroach on major spoiler territory. Instead, I'll just say this unique approach adds a mysterious wrinkle to an otherwise simple tale, and the ending is no less provocative than the conclusion to LeChuck's Revenge.

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Tinykin Review - A Charming Collectathon Callback

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 03:53

As we grow up, we not only forget how it feels to be small, but also forget how it feels to exist in a world that's unfathomably big. For many of us, it's hard to retain our inherent sense of childlike wonder and our ability to see the extraordinary in the mundane. For this reason, I'll always harbor a special affinity for the things in life that do--the things that remind us of just what it's like to feel small, yet boundless. Splashteam's Tinykin is one such thing.

While at first glance Tinykin seems like a Pikmin clone, it'd be a disservice to write it off as such. Sure, the puzzle-platformer does share some elements in common with the Nintendo series (chiefly the helpful little creatures that give each game its namesake), but above all else, Tinykin is a collectathon that will charm anyone who put countless hours into Banjo-Kazooie, Spyro, and other '90s platformers. And this isn't the only quality that inspires a return to childhood--it also is set in a '90s style home that seems positively massive in the eyes of our pint-sized protagonist Milodane. With larger-than-life environments brimming with detail, life, and wonder, simple-yet-fun mechanics, and satisfyingly rhythmic gameplay, Tinykin is an original and exuberant experience.

Milo surfing across a silk web high above a lush level.

Tinykin's story begins when Milo crash-lands on planet Earth. Unfortunately for Milo, this derails his current mission, and starts him on a new one to build a new ship so he can once again return to orbit. Fortunately, however, this 90s suburban home is filled with lots of friendly faces and happy helpers in the form of bugs and "tinykin." Tinykin, as the name suggests, are adorable little creatures that are always eager to be of help--which is particularly useful, considering the science-minded Milo's sole abilities are using his glider to traverse short distances, and sliding around on levels on his "soap-board."

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NBA 2K23 Review: Like Mike

Wed, 09/14/2022 - 05:39

I've never envied the development cycle that comes with working on an annual sports game series. When you consider how much time and money goes into any other big-budget project, asking a studio to constantly churn out a game that is both functional and consistent but also fresh and exciting every single year seems unfair. NBA 2K23 is incredibly impressive regardless, but even moreso in light of this tight dev cycle. With a deep suite of fun game modes, improved on-court gameplay, and a deeper social experience, it feels like the team at Visual Concepts managed to freeze time and spend longer than the typical cycle on this exceptional NBA sim.

It's hard to know where to begin with NBA 2K23 because, in ways both big and small, there's a lot of new stuff to see. For me, though, it starts with The Jordan Challenge. For the first time since NBA 2K11, you can relive highlights from the career of the greatest player in NBA history. More than just a rehash of a mode absent for over a decade, this renewed Jordan Challenge is like a modern remake of that original concept.

Beginning in his college career at North Carolina, you'll play through 15 of Jordan's biggest games and work to recreate statlines and other outcomes like a time traveler seeking to not disrupt the proper timeline. Where Jordan dropped 63 on the Celtics and set a playoff scoring record, now so can you. Where he won his sixth and final NBA title, you too can perform his last dance. These and other forever-on-replay basketball moments are yours to relive.

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Metal: Hellsinger Review - Walk With Me In Hell

Tue, 09/13/2022 - 05:00

Metal music ought to be synonymous with first-person shooters, considering the original Doom is perhaps the most influential FPS of all time. That game's frenetic demon-slaying was accompanied by the iconic sounds of 32-bit heavy metal riffs and high-tempo drums, but the marriage between the two never really caught on outside of shooters like Quake, Killing Floor 2, and Mick Gordon's phenomenal work on the most recent Doom games. Metal: Hellsinger isn't likely to buck that trend, but this rhythm-based FPS from Swedish developer The Outsiders puts metal front and center as the most crucial aspect of its high-octane gameplay.

At first glance, Metal: Hellsinger may look like little more than an imitation of 2016's Doom, from the general demon-killing and Hell-inspired aesthetic right down to the searing pace of its action. Doom is an obvious inspiration and apt comparison, but Metal: Hellsinger adds an extra layer of depth to its shooting by structuring all of its moving parts around music. You play as a demon who's fighting through Hell on a revenge mission, and you deal more damage by shooting enemies to the beat of a song. The more precise you are about keeping rhythm, the more your Fury multiplier will grow and the more your overall score and damage output will increase. To help you achieve this, there are pulsating icons on either side of the crosshairs that match up with the rhythm of the song. If you're on beat, you'll be graded with either a "Good" or "Perfect" attack, with the latter dealing the most damage and adding more to both your Fury and score.

Beyond the nitty-gritty of its mechanics, however, killing demons in time to a song's rhythm is just incredibly satisfying. There's an added oomph to the sound of your weapons when you're on beat, and increasing your Fury has a direct impact on the music, too. As the multiplier escalates from 1x up to 16x, the music builds until eventually reaching a rip-roaring crescendo as the vocals kick in and the song's full arrangement is unleashed, battering your eardrums with the kind of guttural vocals that perfectly fit the game's demonic aesthetic.

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Kirby's Dream Buffet Review - Good Food, Tiny Portions

Fri, 09/09/2022 - 06:28

If there's one thing Kirby is known for--apart from being "friend-shaped" and adorable--it's the little guy's insatiable appetite. Kirby's Dream Buffet hones in on this aspect, creating a game all about chowing down on tasty treats as fast as you can. While the title seemingly draws inspiration from a variety of games, most notably Fall Guys, Beautiful Katamari, and Mario Party, it succeeds in differentiating itself from the rest and feeling quintessentially Kirby with its lighthearted, food-centric, and fun tone. However, for all of its charms, Kirby's Dream Buffet suffers from quite a few issues--most notably, a serious lack of content and incentives to keep playing. While rolling around as Kirby is enjoyable, the experience feels more like a light snack than a well-balanced meal.

Kirby's Dream Buffet begins atop a table adorned by pastel-colored pastries and sweet treats. After rolling off your plate and onto the gingham-patterned tablecloth, you can browse through a variety of supplemental features or roll straight on into one of the game's three play modes: Battle mode, Online mode, or Local Play mode.

The start of a race in Kirby's Dream Buffet

In Battle mode, you and up to one other player can take on CPUs for the chance to take the cake--literally. Online mode, on the other hand, pits you against players all over the world through either random matches or password-protected private games. However, if you and your buds are all in the same room, you can also do Local Play, which allows up to four separate consoles to play the game together.

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Steelrising Review - Like Clockwork

Thu, 09/08/2022 - 01:23

Dead humans and livestock litter the muddy cobblestone streets of Paris, their corpses left discarded in rotting piles or with muskets in hand where they took a final stand. Scattered fires burn bright across the city, each one sending suffocating black smoke billowing into the night sky. The only living residents are hunkered down in barricaded houses and shops, cowering from the clockwork automatons now prowling the ruins of the French capital. It's 1789, and in Steelrising's alternative history, the tyrannical King Louis XVI has suppressed the French Revolution by unleashing a mechanical army that massacres the populace, reinforcing his rule with literal iron fists.

This unique dark fantasy setting helps Steelrising stand apart from its many contemporaries. 2022 has already seen a slew of Souls-likes, with games such as Tunic, Salt and Sacrifice, and Thymesia each offering a different perspective on the genre. The latest game from French developer Spiders--a studio known for creating action-RPGs such as Greedfall--is derivative in its design, featuring all of the familiar elements we've come to expect of the genre. But Steelrising impresses with the way it's able to combine so many disparate elements together and make them all work.

You play as Aegis, a mechanical masterpiece and bodyguard to Queen Marie Antoinette. Unlike the mindless automatons roaming the streets, Aegis has a conscience and a form of free will, so you're sent into the heart of Paris to find your creator and fight fire with fire to put an end to the king's despotic bloodshed. From the outset, you choose from one of three classes that dictate your starting weapon and attributes, opting to be a powerful bodyguard, a quick and lethal dancer, or an alchemist who shoots enemies from afar. Aegis is malleable enough that it's fairly easy to switch playstyles after this initial choice, although it's difficult to experiment with different weapons, particularly once you're a few hours in, because upgrade resources are so pricey and base-level weapons aren't feasible later in the game. This is a shame, since it's the variety of weapons at your disposal that have the most significant impact on combat.

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Splatoon 3 Review-In-Progress

Thu, 09/08/2022 - 00:00

A kid-friendly competitive multiplayer shooter was a strange concept when Nintendo introduced the very first Splatoon. The unique zone-control mechanics made combat important but somewhat incidental to the chief goal of covering everything in sticky goop. Painting the battlefield gave an immediate and intuitive visual sense of who's winning and losing without the need for a clunky scoreboard. That elegant design was the kind of delightful surprise that Nintendo has become known for. After two games and a major expansion, Splatoon 3 serves as a refinement and compilation of everything that came before it. It's less novel this time around, but it's still a delight and all comes together as the most robust Splatoon game yet.

Splatoon 3 assumes that you don't know all of this, of course, starting you off with a short tutorial that teaches you the basics of splatting before dumping you into the main hub area, a new city called Splatsville, in the heart of the desert Splatlands. From there you're encouraged to explore to learn more about all of the gameplay options and sites to visit, which is a little overwhelming at first. The city isn't terribly large--it is mostly a hub area for other game modes--but it feels dense with activity and nooks to explore. You can jump into the single-player campaign, co-op Salmon Run, or competitive multiplayer as you please.

The single-player serves as the best starting point for new players, since it gives you more opportunity to hone your splatting skills than the brief pre-Splatsville introduction. It's much more than a glorified tutorial, though; the campaign is lengthy and makes excellent use of mechanics to iterate and present new types of challenges.

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The Last Of Us Part I Review - Desolation Row

Thu, 09/01/2022 - 01:00

Joel looks different in The Last of Us Part I. It took me a while to notice, but once I did, it was hard to unsee. There's a pain in his eyes. His clothes and features are the same, but there's a quiet, unmistakable torment imprinted on his face. I've played The Last of Us nearly a dozen times across PS3 and PS4, and I had never seen it worn so plainly. I know Joel has a troubled past because The Last of Us Part I goes out of its way to show you a traumatic death in the opening scene, but that pain was never etched into his facial features this clearly.

There's an argument to be made that The Last of Us Part I is too similar to the PS3 and PS4 versions to be considered a remake, and part of me agrees with that sentiment. The story is identical, the level design is exactly the same, and the gameplay--apart from some quality-of-life improvements--is unchanged. On paper, if you've played The Last of Us and remember it well, there's little reason to return to it on PS5.

But The Last of Us Part I is more than the sum of its parts. It's an unrelenting tour de force that strategically leverages the power of the PlayStation 5 to push its story and themes a little further. Slight though many of them may be, all its enhancements serve the story, and the story is just as good as it was nine years ago.

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Immortality Review - A Most Unusual Camera

Tue, 08/30/2022 - 18:00

There's a moment in movies where a restless, investigative protagonist falls down a proverbial rabbit hole and unveils a startling truth, reframing everything they thought they knew. The allure of Immortality, much like other games from Sam Barlow and Half Mermaid, is that it casts the player in this exciting role and builds to its ultimate unveiling. It's borderline impenetrable at times, as both the basic A to B plot and its greater themes are much more opaque than the team's prior puzzles. And yet, it's not really worse off for it. Despite--and sometimes because of--the dizzying effect of falling down the rabbit hole, Immortality becomes another standout narrative. It's similar to its predecessors, Telling Lies and Her Story, in some key ways, but more thought-provoking, too, and certainly more unnerving than you'll be prepared for.

Writing this review has proven difficult because virtually all of the game feels like a spoiler. I can allude to things, such as the game being scarier than I would've guessed, but I can't really tell you why. I can vaguely mention the story's dramatic turns, but given the scattered timeline, you may not see certain moments yourself until long after I did. I can at least explain how this game works, because if it's the first time you’re experiencing a game from this small team, it's going to feel completely alien.

In the early hours, Immortality's plot will likely feel elusive.

Playing Immortality is like operating an old-fashioned Moviola machine, once used by editors in filmmaking but now repurposed to let you scrub through hours and hours of vintage live-action movies in an attempt to solve a mystery: What happened to Marissa Marcel? As a fictional 17-year-old actor making her movie debut in late '60s Hollywood, Marissa was primed to be the Next Big Thing, but over the next 31 years, she would only be cast in three movies, and none of them ever saw release.

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Jetpack Joyride 2 Review – Running Up That Hall

Thu, 08/25/2022 - 05:24

The original Jetpack Joyride released during an early apex of the mobile market. Small but quality games were successful, and the platform was not yet overrun with free-to-play gacha games. Jetpack Joyride represented a nice middle-ground, offering a fun core mechanic great for high score competition without overbearing microtransactions. In the 10 years since it was released, the market has changed. Premium games now struggle on mobile and while the most successful titles may ask for less money, they do it more often. Jetpack Joyride 2 could have pivoted to fit this new, profit-focused model, but instead developer Halfbrick opted to bring the game to Apple's Arcade subscription service. This means it won't ask you for a dime and it is also, surprisingly, no longer an endless runner. The new structure, with the familiar jetpack gameplay, is a fantastic choice that absolutely makes a better game, but it unfortunately is not yet complete, leading to a sudden and disappointing non-ending.

The core mechanic of Jetpack Joyride 2 is the same as the first. You, as Barry Steakfries (or the alternate reality female version, Betty Beefpies), sprint down a long hallway using a jetpack to move up and down and avoid obstacles. All these years later, narrowly dodging electric traps and missiles while the spray from your jetpack knocks over the scientists with the bad luck to get in your way is still an immediate blast. The change, however, is the sequel has levels, bosses, some light RPG mechanics, and even a shallow story. An endless mode is promised at some point in the future, but right now Jetpack Joyride 2 is a game with a campaign. The change is surprising considering the success of the first game (which still receives updates), but I like it. Beating levels is more frequently rewarding than having a series of bad runs before you finally have a good one, and the bosses are a fun additional challenge to cap off every few stages. Different levels also means stages look different as you progress, so you no longer have to stare at the same background while jetpacking.

Bosses, and levels to a degree, are overcome with Jetpack Joyride 2's other surprising new mechanic: Guns. About half your time is spent dodging obstacles, while the other half is spent shooting. This new mechanic fits in well and feels natural. This is partially because Barry and Betty shoot automatically, meaning you just have to line up your shot. It makes the shooting a basic extension of what you're already doing, and blowing up a robot with bullets as you drop below a passing missile feels great. The shooting action is even more fun against bosses as you both speed down the hallway exchanging fire.

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Madden NFL 23 Review - High Upside

Tue, 08/23/2022 - 05:31

Every August, a new Madden launches with some major marketing buzzword attached. It makes for easy back-of-the-box material and quickly answers the question: "What's new in Madden this year?" These named features often fail to live up to their proper noun naming conventions, but in Madden NFL 23, that's not the case. This year's buzzword-y feature, Fieldsense, emcompasses several other features under its wide umbrella, with all of them relating to how it feels to actually play and move around on the field. In that regard, Madden 23 is a clear step up. But several other aspects of the game, including both returning issues and new problems, keep the game from achieving its full potential at launch.

Fieldsense is not one feature but the name for a collection of on-field improvements. Among them, the biggest and most enjoyable leap forward is the new Skill-Based Passing system. This is meant to remove some of Madden's attribute-driven outcomes and transfer decisiveness to the player. On the field, this is done by giving players a new throwing meter and shadowed target area that appears as the ball is being thrown. It allows players to pinpoint directly where they want the ball to go like never before--a bit like fielding in MLB The Show. Excitingly, this feature lives up to its promise, allowing skilled players to skewer defenses and hit gaps in coverage like never before in Madden history.

A wonky tutorial does this feature no good, making practice best done in a live setting. After a few quarters or games with Skill-Based Passing enabled, it becomes blatantly obvious that going back to the old system, while an option in Madden 23, is never a good idea. It allows the QB to keep a pass in front of the cornerback on a crossing route, hit back-shoulder fades in the end zone, and sneak into the space between two defenders' zones in ways that, in years past, almost always resulted in turnovers. I'd go so far as to say Madden 23 is worth playing for this feature alone, because throwing the football, something you'll do 15-40 times per game, has never felt so good.

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Saints Row Review - Open-World Nostalgia

Tue, 08/23/2022 - 00:00

It's been nine years since Saints Row IV was released, pitting the 3rd Street Saints against an alien invasion that featured superpowers, time-travel, Matrix-style simulations, and the complete destruction of Earth. Where do you go after a game so ridiculous and outlandish? After a period of absence, rebooting the series sounds like a logical next step, and that's exactly what developer Deep Silver Volition has done with this new, stripped-back Saints Row.

It's still not "realistic" by any stretch of the imagination, but it is slightly more grounded. However, you still shouldn't envisage finding many of the modern trappings of open-world games. For as much as Saints Row differentiates itself from the bombast of its past few entries, it still closely resembles a game from the same era, leading to an experience that often feels stale and dated.

For the most part, this isn't something you could level at Saints Row IV's approach to freedom around character identity and gender, and this has carried over into the rebooted Saints Row. The character creator lets you design pretty much any person you want. There's a broad range of prosthetic options, various types of vitiligo, a number of sliders for body options that do away with binary gender selection, a choice of six distinct voices, and the ability to make an asymmetrical face, to name just a few of the available options. You can also hop back into the character creator at any point and change your entire look. This sounds like an insignificant feature, but it isn't always a given and speaks to Saints Row's focus on inclusivity.

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Midnight Fight Express Review - Streets of Rage

Fri, 08/19/2022 - 02:00

Two of the characters in Midnight Fight Express are called Kyler Turden, a riff on the antagonist of Fight Club, and Chef Favreau, a nod to Iron Man and Chef director Jon Favreau. Its first act opens with a quote directly from the 1865 novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. If you're wondering why a game that's supposedly influenced by '80s action cinema includes references to things that are definitely not that, you're not alone. This does provide a good barometer for the game's tone, though--which is all over the place and never takes itself too seriously.

Midnight Fight Express's period-specific action roots are only really reflected in some fantastically violent gameplay, pitting a one-man army against a neverending slew of bozos, cronies, and crooked cops. There's very little to the game beyond its combat; Midnight Fight Express is essentially a modern beat-'em-up, ditching the usual side-scrolling 2D sprites for 3D fisticuffs and an isometric perspective. Its action is fast-paced and kinetic, only letting up when the story gets in the way, and the sheer breadth of motion-captured animations is both impressive and surprising for a game developed by a studio as small as Humble Games.

In fact, Midnight Fight Express was mostly created by one man: Jacob Dzwinel. Yet it's his collaboration with renowned stuntmen Eric Jacobus (God of War, The Last of Us: Part II) and Fernando Jay Huerto (Destiny 2) that really brings the game's wince-inducing combat to life.

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Soul Hackers 2 Review - Amateurs Hack Systems, Professionals Hack People

Fri, 08/19/2022 - 00:00

From the very beginning, Soul Hackers 2 makes it clear that it's not interested in wasting time. Within the first two hours of starting up Atlus's latest JRPG, you'll have all of your main party members, know the focal points of the story, and have a grasp on almost all of the primary gameplay mechanics. It's a refreshing and stark contrast to the "slow-burn" kind of gameplay JRPGs are known for, and a very different approach than fans of the larger Shin Megami Tensei series might be used to. It's clear, then, that the goal of Soul Hackers 2 is to forge a new SMT subseries with a distinct approach to gameplay--a goal which it largely succeeds at.

In the future, mankind is stuck in a rut: Technological and social progress has stalled, and the human race faces a sort of global ennui. Beneath the outer fabric of society, however, groups of gifted humans who can communicate with the supernatural world work underground as "Devil Summoners." Some, like the Yatagarasu organization, aim to use their powers to protect humanity, while the nefarious Phantom Society aims for global destruction. In the middle of this conflict, Aion--a sentient AI born from the collective of networked digital knowledge--gives form to two physical "agents," Ringo and Fugue, sending them on a mission to rescue the world from certain destruction.

Soul Hackers 2, despite its name and numbering, bears only a few elements in common with the original Shin Megami Tensei: Soul Hackers, namely a cyberpunk-influenced worldview, a villainous group called the Phantom Society, a character belonging to the Kuzunoha family, and the concept of interacting with the souls of the dead through "hacking." Ringo and Fugue are dismayed to immediately discover that most of the folks Aion has tasked them with protecting are recently deceased, and so Ringo re-imbues them with life through the "Soul Hack." This intertwines their souls with her digital lifeforce and bonds her to them for the course of the game, both story- and gameplay-wise.

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Cursed To Golf Review - An Ace In The Hole

Thu, 08/18/2022 - 22:00

I'm standing on the tee of a familiar hole. A booming drive will fly over ponds, bunkers, and spikes before colliding with a golden idol to add four shots to par. But now that I have a variety of Ace Cards, I can follow a wildly different path. There's a column of TNT directly behind me that I blow up with a card before equipping another one that lets me change the direction of the shot in mid-air. I take out my wedge and pitch the ball into the newly created opening behind me. Before it drops into the water below, I redirect the ball through a narrow passage and into a small nook filled with spikes and a handy ricochet bumper. Then, I fling it backwards at the bumper, which allows me to redirect the ball for a third time. The ball soars through the small opening, bounces twice on the island green, and falls into the cup with the help of a bit of spin I added. A hole-in-one--my first in Cursed to Golf. The first two times I played this hole, it took me around five minutes and more than a dozen shots.

The magic of Cursed to Golf comes from the moments when you figure out entirely new ways to finish levels more efficiently and in mechanically interesting ways. Even though Cursed to Golf allows you to send your golf ball through portals, turn it into ice and thunder, or even transform it into a rocket, it captures the beauty of actual golf in a way that very few golf games have in the past--even "realistic" ones. Like real golf, each and every shot feels different, and, most importantly, the only limitation you have is your creativity and ingenuity. The freedom you're given to experiment throughout each level makes subsequent runs through the very same layout feel entirely fresh.

During the final round of a tournament, you're killed by a lightning strike and sent to Golf Purgatory, an underworld with a diabolical golf course operated by the Greenskeeper. To escape, you have to finish all of the 18 side-scrolling holes in a row without running out of shots. A roguelike structure sends you back to the beginning of the course if you fail during any of the levels. Gameplay is the focus here, but Cursed to Golf has witty dialogue, a rather heartwarming story, and a lighthearted tone despite the fact you're essentially trapped in hell.

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