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We Are OFK Review - Acoustic Resonance

Thu, 08/18/2022 - 02:00

Episodic visual novel We Are OFK has a really cool premise. This five-part adventure mixes in notes of a biopic to detail the origin of a real band known as OFK, a group entirely composed of virtual members. It's a fictional story about a real band made of fictional people who make real music because they're tired of working for fictional companies. It's like if there was a game about Hatsune Miku or K/DA that detailed their lives prior to their rise to fame. All told, it's a great story, and though I do wish that the dialogue choices had been more impactful, We Are OFK is an emotionally rewarding tale that explores the fraught and oftentimes cutthroat nature of Los Angeles' music industry through the lens of easily digestible themes and relatable characters.

We Are OFK follows pianist Itsumi Saitō, singer/songwriter Luca Le Fae, audiovisual artist Carter Flores, and producer Jey Zhang, and depicts how their lives come to intersect. The point A to point B throughline of the story culminates in Itsumi, Luca, Carter, and Jey forming a band. You know going in that this is the outcome you'll see. But on the way to that destination, the story takes regular detours into Itsumi's love life, Luca's writer's block, Carter's existential crisis, and Jey's familial pressures. It's in these other storylines that We Are OFK adopts a more slice-of-life style of storytelling, concluding with most of these issues left partially unresolved.

You'll do a lot of texting in We Are OFK.

If anything, that only makes the conclusion to We Are OFK all the more satisfyingly believable and wonderful to reach. There are no typical bad guys here for the group to overcome and get their happily-ever-after ending. This is a story of what it means to grow, both as a person and as a group, and how that can come in many different forms and also occur at a different pace person-to-person. Carter's arc is notably exceptional in its execution and probably my favorite storyline of the four. The arc sees them grappling with grief and coming to terms with what it means to leave a mark on the world while working within an industry where your work can be quickly forgotten. Itsumi has a similarly strong narrative path from the first episode to the last, which largely digs into her feelings of inadequacy and fear of being alone. Both characters resonated with me in a way that Luca and Jey did not--both do have strong storylines, but they don't feel as compelling as Itsumi or Carter.

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Rollerdrome Review: Skate Or Die

Tue, 08/16/2022 - 23:00

When I was losing hours to Roll7's latest side-scrolling skateboard platformer, OlliOlli World, I never said to myself, "I wonder what this would be like if my skater had a gun." Roll7 obviously did, though, and the result is Rollerdrome. Though it makes departures from the skating games that Roll7 is known for, Rollerdrome nails what's most important about them: it's an easy game to play that makes you feel awesome while you're playing it.

Rollerdrome is similar to Roll7's other titles in that it's a single-player skating game that emphasizes performing tricks, but this isn't just an OlliOlli game with guns. Rollerdrome eschews the side-scrolling nature of Roll7's famous platformer series for fully 3D skate park-like arenas; as you skate through a single area, you must utilize walls and ramps to loop yourself around and to perform tricks. Populating this arena are enemies that spawn in various locations, meaning that while you're doing manuals and flips, you also have to take down the bat-wielding melee fighters and distant snipers who want you dead.

Also differentiating Rollerdrome from OlliOlli is the fact that the former is not a skateboarding game, but rather, a rollerskating game, set in the future as imagined through the lens of the 1970s. Rollerdrome draws heavily from the sport of roller derby, while also taking inspiration from the 1975 James Caan movie Roller Ball, which was about a near-future bloodsport run by a corporation with nefarious intentions. That's pretty much what's going on in Rollerdrome, too.

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Thymesia Review - Hunter Homage

Tue, 08/16/2022 - 22:00

A lot of games have drawn inspiration from the works of From Software, with varying degrees of success. While many developers look to emulate that high degree of challenge that comes from the likes of Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro, they often miss the fact that it's From's thoughtful, tight gameplay and deliberate encounter design that makes these games fun, not just a punishing difficulty. Thymesia, a 3D action game that draws heavy influence from some specific From titles, manages to strike that balance successfully, creating a Souls-like that taps into the same rewarding moments provided by its biggest inspirations.

Thymesia draws most obviously from two of From Software's games: the aggressive, horror-inspired Bloodborne, and the fast-paced, duel-focused Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. And to be sure, developer Overborder Studio owes a lot to its inspirations. Like Bloodborne, Thymesia is about a lone warrior wandering into a plague-stricken world where everyone infected has turned into a maddened, bloodthirsty killer. It has a similar atmosphere to Bloodborne and even its protagonist, Corvus, looks a bit like a Yarnham Hunter--more accurately, Hunter of Hunters Eileen the Crow.

Like most Souls games, Thymesia drops you into the middle of a weird situation without much explanation and leaves you to figure out what you're facing as you explore its world and kill the people you find there. It all takes place in a kingdom called Hermes, which is apparently located in the canopy of an enormous tree. The world has been beset by a plague that infects people and animals, mutating them and turning them into monsters. Until now, Hermes managed to deal with the plague through the study and use of alchemy, but something has gone wrong, Hermes has succumbed, and nobody knows what to do.

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Digimon Survive Review - Digital Devolution

Tue, 08/16/2022 - 03:45

Digimon has never been shy to delve into storylines and topics that society too often wishes to ignore--the first episode of the 1999 anime literally begins with the main character monologuing about climate change and how it's destroying the planet. Most of the stories in the series explore these topics within the scope of being trapped within a fantasy world inhabited by cute monsters. It's here where the characters must come to terms with the irresponsibility of finding solace in the black-and-white morality of their new reality--an alluring alternative to the nuanced wants and needs of the real world. Pushing on this notion a bit further to dip its toes into the horrifying realities of physical and verbal abuse, terminal illness, psychotic breaks, and weaponizing relationships, Digimon Survive tells one of the darkest tales that the franchise has ever covered. All told, it amounts to a deeply compelling visual novel that's driven by likable characters and an intriguing mystery but that aspect of it is too often interrupted by boring tactical combat.

In Digimon Survive, you play as middle-schooler Takuma, who is attending a camp over spring break alongside friends Minoru and Aoi and acquaintances Saki, Ryo, and Shuuji. Upon learning that the camp is close to a temple famous for its legend about a festival in which human children were sacrificed to beast gods, the six investigate, and they're soon joined by local brother and sister duo Kaito and Mio. The misadventure ultimately results in the kids becoming lost in a world inhabited by the so-called beast gods known as Digimon.

If you're not careful, your choices will result in your friends' deaths.

It's a familiar setup for a Digimon story (or any isekai story, really), and Digimon Survive spends way too long laying the groundwork with meandering dialogue and unnecessary character backstory. The game dangles the foreshadowing that these kids are about to be trapped in another world, but then spends hours getting there, and then leaves the group confused as to what's happened to them for a while after. It's frustrating to see three separate people theorizing that maybe the group is now no longer on Earth when you as the player arrived at that conclusion hours prior and just want the actual adventure to kick off.

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Cult of the Lamb Review - A Cult Classic

Thu, 08/11/2022 - 01:00

Nine times out of 10, being a lamb led to the slaughter is not the best position to find yourself in. That tenth time, however, is while playing Massive Monster's Cult of the Lamb, a delightfully demented roguelike that combines fast-paced dungeoneering, bold art, dark topics, and real-time simulation elements to create a one-of-a-kind experience. It couples two popular genres and smartly avoids their potential pitfalls while showcasing the best things they bring to the table. Take all this and add a simple but engaging narrative, and you've got a cult classic game well-worth playing.

Cult of the Lamb begins at our poor, titular lamb's end. After walking down a narrow stone corridor, you are greeted by robed cultists and The Old Gods: four monstrous beings to whom the inhabitants of this strange land are (mostly) loyal. As it turns out, this little lamb is the last of its kind, having managed to evade death while the rest of its fluffy friends were culled. The Old Gods reveal this was due to a prophecy that a lamb would be the one who would lead to their undoing, destroying the Old Faith and unleashing the one thing they fear most: The One Who Waits. The Gods instruct their followers to dispatch you quickly, but little do they know this is precisely what the prophecy demands.

Upon being killed, you meet with The One Who Waits, an all-powerful god who we learn was betrayed and imprisoned by the other four. After your meeting, he makes you an offer: start a cult in his name, and he will both bring you back to life and gift unto you his former powers via the Red Crown. After you accept, you are sent back to the world of the living, where you meet with The One Who Waits' former cult leader, Ratau, who leads you to the site of your up-and-coming commune. From this point, the game divides into two main sections: exploring dungeons and managing your cult, both of which are closely tied to one another.

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Hard West 2 Review - Bouncing Back

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 02:13

Hard West 2 is aptly named. Its default difficulty setting is called Hard, too, and with good reason. Enemies are punishing and your squad's capacity to battle against overwhelming odds is tested relentlessly over the course of several dozen hours of turn-based tactical combat. It's a game about choosing the exact right moments to use their unique skills and working them in tandem to tee up devastating chain reaction combos. It's tough, sure, but this demonic rendition of the American Frontier, where grotesque locomotives warp to alternate dimensions and blood rituals summon the walking dead, supplies you with the necessary creative tools to stand your ground, and rising to the challenge proves immensely satisfying.

There's more to Hard West 2 than turn-based tactical combat, but not much more. The primary focus is a series of missions, usually with some choices about which mission to tackle next. In these, you command a posse of four gunslingers, taking turns to shoot, use supernatural skills, and advance from cover to cover. Along the way, as you traverse the overworld map on horseback, you'll meet characters and accept quests from them to hunt down wanted criminals, investigate murders, recover livestock, fight waves of outlaws and demons, rob a bank, and most importantly, track down the man who stole your souls in a rigged game of poker aboard his steam train from Hell.

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Outside of combat, Hard West 2 is essentially a bare-bones RPG. Conversations are minimal and straight to the point. Towns have shops where you can buy new weapons and replenish consumable healing items, buffs, and explosives. Quests rarely involve much more than sending you off to investigate a location and returning once the job is done. Narrative choices are limited to supporting which of your companions has the right idea for dealing with the current problem, and you can make camp to rest and chat with your companions to learn more of their backstories. These chats are linked one-to-one to the narrative choices you've made in a way that rather unflatteringly exposes the bald mechanics: support a companion often enough and you'll level up your relationship to unlock the next tier of their backstory. It's all quite basic and dry. But at least the RPG portion of the game is out of the way pretty quickly and doesn't waste too much of your time getting to the good part: the combat.

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Two Point Campus Review - Old School

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 00:00

There's a familiarity and comfort to Two Point Campus' early hours, from the whimsical claymation style of its characters to its distinctly British humor and jaunty music. It might trade doctors and patients for teachers and students, but if you played Two Point Hospital, you'll feel right at home in Two Point Studios' latest business management sim.

As the hours roll by and you graduate to different college campuses, however, Two Point Campus begins to carve out an identity that's all its own. Two Point Hospital was a relatively safe spiritual successor to Theme Hospital, essentially recreating the '90s classic with modern technology and amenities. Two Point Campus maintains that same reverence for its roots, but it also embraces its fresh new setting in a way that captures more of the magic that made Theme Hospital so beloved.

You take on the role of a campus administrator, charged with building and maintaining various schools throughout Two Point County. This means you'll be managing both the micro and macro aspects of your college empire, whether you're designing the internal and external layout of each building, hiring staff, or researching new technologies to improve various facets of your school. All of this is in service of keeping your students happy and ensuring they're given the tools they need to not only graduate with good grades, but also enjoy themselves and learn a few lessons about life along the way.

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MultiVersus Review: A Super Smash Hit

Thu, 08/04/2022 - 05:14

MultiVersus frames itself as the ultimate crossover fighter, a sort of "dream come true" scenario where anyone can face off against anyone else. It's a bold proclamation challenging the reign of Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, a game that features an unmatched all-star cast of video game characters duking it out. Many pretenders to that throne have come and gone but, surprisingly, MultiVersus makes a compelling claim. The game, which is in open public beta, has strong fundamentals, charm, and attention to detail that Smash clones that came before sorely lacked, making it one of the best platform fighting games ever made.

MultiVersus follows the basic Smash Bros format: up to four players meet on a single battlefield and fight it out, with the goal of increasing damage enough to knock their opponents out of bounds. The first team to score four knockouts in a match--or the first fighter to score two knockouts in a 1v1 match--wins. So far, so Smash. However, MultiVersus puts far more emphasis on the 2v2 format, quickly establishing its own identity in the process.

Mechanically, every fighter on the roster has moves that negatively affect opponents, while simultaneously having positive effects on teammates. For example, whenever Shaggy charges to full power--a brilliant use of the Ultra Instinct Shaggy meme--his partner also receives a power bump for their next attack. One of Wonder Woman's special attacks gives her a layer of special armor for added defense, and if she's close enough to her partner, she'll immediately jump to them and give them the buff too. This idea of teamwork and synergy being baked into the fundamentals of MultiVersus is a fresh and welcome change to the format, with no two matches ever feeling the same. The partner dynamic also strengthens the 2v2 mode, making it feel like the core format developers intend people to play.

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River City Saga: Three Kingdoms Review – Dynasty Brawlers

Fri, 07/29/2022 - 05:02

River City Saga: Three Kingdoms takes the familiar characters and art style from the Kunio series--best known for River City Ransom and Super Dodgeball in the West--and applies it to a unique new setting: the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history. It's an unexpected mash-up, with familiar characters like Kunio, Riki, and Misako playing dress-up as historical figures, and blending the classical story of warring kingdoms with modern-day smack-talk. Similarly, the gameplay is a mixture of eras, blending some modern-day brawler conventions into a game that is decidedly old-school.

The visual style reflects this mixture, with chunky 8-bit-style sprites set against 3D backgrounds and shading techniques. The setting itself makes a very endearing mixture, albeit not the ideal way to learn Chinese history. I went into the game with only a passing familiarity with the Three Kingdoms saga, and while I'm sure I picked up a few broad strokes and overall ideas, it was sometimes hard to discern what was true to the original story and what was the Kunio series riffing with its own personality and jokes. The major characters are mostly lovable, muscley doofs, true to the Kunio series but perhaps less so to Chinese history.

Like River City Ransom, the bulk of the game consists of beating up street punks, or in this case, bandits or opposing factions of warriors. Since you're in a war, you're usually accompanied by one or two allies who fight on their own as well. But River City Ransom was always a loose and goofy brawler. Even in its day, it wasn't as precise as Final Fight, which came out in the very same year. River City Saga fashions itself much more after the River City Ransom style of game, where movement and attacks feel a little more slippery and you're prone to being tossed around by enemy attacks.

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Bear And Breakfast Review - Four Star Stay

Fri, 07/29/2022 - 00:00

You're getting pretty much exactly what you sign up for with Bear and Breakfast: You're playing as a bear named Hank who opens up several bed and breakfasts to host humans looking for a place to stay. Developer Gummy Cat does sprinkle in a bit of an adventure game in this management sim to act as a narrative backdrop, but Bear and Breakfast's story is simple window dressing for the far more wonderful cycle of building up a lodge, hosting some guests, and then using your hard-earned cash to afford grander renovations. The loop has a satisfying rhythm to it and a challenging complexity as the days roll on and your responsibilities grow, and Bear and Breakfast rewards creative solutions with fulfilling results.

Despite that complexity, you don't need to jump into this game with a degree in design. Bear and Breakfast eases you in, with Hank and his friends simply trying to make a quick buck by transforming a rundown shed into a vacation spot. Making a room to house a guest isn't all that hard, as even the small shed is spacious enough for both a room and your front desk. As you progress, you'll unlock additional locations--like a restaurant off the freeway and two cabins up in the mountains--which are larger and afford you even more space.

With the increase in size comes an increase in considerations, though. Humans are selfish creatures, with wants and needs that you'll need to account for--failing to do so will mean negative reviews, which will tank your business. Some guests require bathrooms attached to their rooms, while others want free on-site food, a nearby campsite, a fully decked-out movie theater, or heating. These services take up additional space on your property, forcing you to put those Tetris skills to the test and find a means of getting everything to fit and still look nice.

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PowerWash Simulator Review – Filthy Rich

Tue, 07/26/2022 - 23:11

At one point while playing PowerWash Simulator, I referred to it as "time-consuming." I meant this in the context of planning my time to write this review, but it occurred to me that in this case it's also a statement of identity. PowerWash Simulator consumes time--that's just what it does, and what it's meant to do. Like many chore-core games, it exists to be a satisfying activity, not a challenge. That can make it feel tedious and repetitive at times, but taken in small doses, it's a pleasant, low-impact, and very satisfying approximation of cleaning.

As the name suggests, PowerWash Simulator puts you into the rubber galoshes of a burgeoning power-washing business owner in the absolutely disgusting town of Muckingham. Just about everything is covered with a thick layer of grime, and you're just the person to clean up this town. You start with some basic equipment and a dirt-caked business van--your very first job and then a prop at every job site thereafter--and get called to increasingly complex jobs as you develop a loyal clientele.

That may make the story sound more expansive than it actually is. While Muckingham has a good sense of personality thanks to a motley cast of weirdos, we never actually see any of them face to face. All of their dialogue is delivered through messages requisitioning you for jobs or text messages they send while you're in the middle of a job. These are often funny and add a little personality, as they detail everything from interpersonal rivalries to corrupt local politics to conspiracy theories. No one really seems to notice or comment on why the entire town is so absurdly filthy, but the texts sometimes toy with those expectations, seeming to tease some larger or even supernatural force at play and then pulling back toward the mundanity of an especially dirty suburb.

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Xenoblade Chronicles 3 Review - Masters of War

Tue, 07/26/2022 - 23:00

The premise of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a bit unusual, but it sets the stage for a 100-hour epic through a fascinating world with strong characters and rewarding combat. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 may stumble from time to time, particularly in its dialogue, but its ambitious premise pays off with a heartfelt conclusion. It takes place in the world of Aionios, where two warring nations--Keves and Agnus--are locked in an endless struggle for resources. These resources are quite literally a matter of life and death. When a soldier is killed on the battlefield, their life force powers the opposing faction's Ferronis, a giant mech that doubles as a base of operations. The life force of fallen soldiers is imperative for one side to succeed over the other.

The population of Aionios is bred to fight, and that's it. From an early age, they are subjected to rigorous combat training and expected to fight for a 10-year term. If they survive their life term, they are whisked away by the all-powerful queen in motes of light. However, most soldiers don't last 10 years. This is where the protagonist, Noah, comes in. Noah is an Off-Seer, a flutist tasked with sending off fallen soldiers through music.

The world of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 doesn't follow the same rules as the previous entries in the series, and it's better for it. The unusual setting gives players a fresh perspective to explore familiar themes. A major one of these is sacrifice, and how it can radically affect the trajectory of someone else's life. While Xenoblade doesn't always tackle these deeper themes with finesse, it's hard not to get swept up in the drama of it all once the story gets rolling.

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Forza Horizon 5: Hot Wheels Review - Paradise City

Tue, 07/26/2022 - 02:21

The Forza Horizon series has already crossed over with numerous franchises, from the building blocks of Lego to the family in Fast and The Furious, but it's the one with Hot Wheels and Forza Horizon 3 that sticks out the most when looking back. The combination of Horizon's blisteringly fast cars and the creativity of Hot Wheels twisty tracks was an unsurprising hit, making its return in Forza Horizon 5 an anticipated one. It's an expansion that manages to deliver the same thrill as before, with new track types and a much larger map, but also a structure to progression hampers the pacing.

The orange highways of this new expansion are strewn across the sky over Mexico, creating a racing paradise nestled in the clouds just waiting to be torn through. The map is larger than the one previously offered in Forza Horizon 3, featuring three biomes that introduce different weather conditions depending on where you are. They're also a big reason why this new playground is immediately engrossing--the introduction into the map has you speeding through each part of it while taking in its best sights, from dropping down almost vertically into an active volcano inside a snowy mountain, to sliding down water-laden chutes in a thick jungle. The recognizable Hot Wheels track pieces that let you navigate these areas are beautifully contrasted against the natural beauty around them, making the entire space feel like a daydream come to life.

The plastic pieces of the raceway are also more varied this time around, which does accentuate the playful nature of the entire expansion. Magnetic strips suck you down onto the track, letting you complete parts of a race upside-down or creating intricate loops where maintaining speed is paramount. Others are laden with thick layers of ice, making navigating even some of the widest corners a satisfying challenge as you struggle to maintain grip. The most exhilarating are stretches of road with giant overhead fans, each of which boost your speed to new heights not possible to reach in the main portion of Forza Horizon 5. It's a thrill to be flung around corners at these ridiculous speeds, feeling like you're barely hanging on when braving them with some of the fastest cars in the game.

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Live A Live Review - Live, Laugh, Love Live A Live

Fri, 07/22/2022 - 00:00

One of the most recognizable characteristics of a JRPG is the party: a ragtag group of adventurers from different walks of life who unite their strengths for a common cause, almost always under the leadership of a designated main character. While the rest of the cast may wind up getting sidequests and story arcs, the majority of the game revolves around a specific character. It's a trope that's as common as they come. But all the way back in 1994, Square (now Square-Enix) released Live A Live in Japan, turning the genre on its head by asking "What if a JRPG had several main characters? And they all had a fully realized plotline, different worlds, and distinct gameplay gimmicks?"

Live A Live was a unique game, well ahead of its time, but sadly one confined to Japan for decades, with no official English release. That changes with this modern remake and, amazingly, Live A Live not only holds up well, but manages to feel unique, compelling, and excitingly original even when compared to its modern contemporaries.

Live A Live's protagonists come from many different places across space and time, ranging from the cartoony prehistoric world of caveman Pogo, to the modern-day championship struggles of mixed martial arts fighter Masaru, all the way to a far-flung future where tiny robot Cube awakens on a mysterious cargo transport ship. These seven divergent chapters can be completed in any order, and you can stop one chapter to pick up another as you please. Finishing these chapters unlocks an eighth story, which leads into a final chapter where all the paths converge into one last epic struggle.

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Air Twister Review - Repetitious Fantasy

Thu, 07/21/2022 - 03:32

Yu Suzuki has been making games longer than most of us have been playing them. Today he is best known as the creator of Shenmue, but he has a long history of innovating in arcades with titles like 1985's Space Harrier and the Virtua Fighter series. Air Twister on Apple Arcade represents a return to his arcade origins while also taking some lore and story lessons learned from Shenmue. But overall, the experience ends up feeling repetitive without being particularly rewarding.

Air Twister begins strong with playable protagonist Princess Arch responding to an alien invasion threat on her home planet. She soars through the air alongside gigantic swans flying past massive mushrooms to a soundtrack from dutch composer Valensia that truly sounds like nothing I've heard in a video game. The visuals and music are a joy to take in, but the repetition stagnates the experience quickly as every playthrough (and there are a lot of playthroughs) is identical.

Combating the alien invasion takes the form of an on-rails shooter that feels like a cross between Panzer Dragoon and Star Fox. As you fly forward you tap the screen to fire at enemies, or swipe across them to lock on to a handful and launch a collection of homing attacks. I found using a controller to be much more manageable, as it made moving Princess Arch out of the way of attacks while still locking onto enemies easier. I never found this style of play to be particularly compelling and during the last few levels I found success by just tapping the fire button repeatedly and moving Princess Arch constantly in random directions to dodge attacks, which wasn't strategic or interesting.

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Stray Review - Nine Lives

Tue, 07/19/2022 - 02:00

It's rare for a game to offer a new perspective to experience a familiar setting, and rarer still for one to so confidently have all of its mechanics designed around this. Stray, an adventure puzzle game where you play as a cat, manages not only to delight in its presentation but also in the many ways it eschews common puzzle mechanics to focus on the abilities and limitations of its protagonist. It's a consistently satisfying adventure with a charming story about companionship that rarely misses a beat across its well-paced runtime.

You play as a stray cat that is quickly thrust into an entirely new world underneath your own after a mishap that occurs in the opening minutes of the story. Alone in a new, neon-soaked city underneath a giant, unmoving dome, you quickly befriend a small drone that becomes a trusted companion throughout your adventure, and vital translator for all the other sentient robots that inhabit the handful of regions you'll visit. This drone, called B-12, also gives you more options to interact with the world around you, such as being able to hack doors to open them, kill dangerous flesh-eating aliens with a beam of purple light, or illuminate dark and dreary avenues as you explore them.

Outside of the assistance from B-12, however, Stray fully embodies the abilities that being a cat would afford you in this situation. You've got a lot of mobility to get around, with contextual button presses on reachable surfaces letting you effortlessly jump up, down, and around pretty much anywhere you'd like. This approach allows each leap to look incredibly good, too, with detailed animation work making your movements look as natural and ballet-like as most cats do when navigating their environment.

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As Dusk Falls Review - Family Matters

Mon, 07/18/2022 - 23:00

A dusty motel in the middle of nowhere doesn't sound like a typical video game setting, but debut studio Interior Night, composed of industry veterans, uses this peculiar place to create a game unlike anything else you'll play this year. As Dusk Falls deftly explores themes of inherited hardship through the lens of two families who cross paths on one pivotal night. By way of incredible voice acting, a compelling and expertly written script, and a bounty of pause-worthy choices along the game's elaborate branching paths, it establishes itself as an instant classic in the narrative adventure genre.

Playing As Dusk Falls reminded me of something I think about a lot: how each of us is just the end result of every moment we've experienced before today. We often like to make up reasons for why we do something--drive recklessly, win the spelling bee, get a divorce, give an unhoused person some money--but ultimately, our behavior is more determined by our pasts than what feels like our split-second choices in the moment. Rationalization comes after the act, whatever it may be, as a way to make sense of ourselves. Enough bad experiences, especially at an early age, can create fundamentally flawed people who routinely make poor choices, while a rosier upbringing can birth inspiring role models. To some extent, we're fated for success or failure before we even know we're on the playing field. As Dusk Falls swims in these complicated waters.

The game opens in 1998, when two families collide--literally--on a desert road in Arizona. The Walkers are moving cross-country to reset their lives after the patriarch of the family, Vince, was let go from his job as an airplane mechanic due to a controversy that might end in litigation. The Holts, meanwhile, are infamous locals that have been making noise in the otherwise quiet town of Two Rock for decades. Side-swiped by the Holts, who flee the scene, the Walkers seek salvation at the Desert Dream Motel, the closest sign of life on the desolate road. Before long, the Holts end up there themselves following a robbery that goes south, and in their desperation, the Holts take the Walkers and others as hostages.

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Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak Review - Sunrise Over The Kingdom

Fri, 07/15/2022 - 10:59

Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak sees your intrepid hunter leave Kamura Village behind to venture across the sea to the outpost of Elgado. It functions almost like a brand new game, introducing a new HUB and cast of characters, locales to explore, monsters to fight, and weapons and armor to craft from their parts. Yet there's very little about Sunbreak that feels truly new or surprising. More Monster Hunter is never a bad thing, and Sunbreak is an excellent expansion with some smart additions that reinforce just how good Rise already is, but it's difficult not to feel a little disappointed by its formulaic nature.

For starters, the story is typically boilerplate, revolving around a brand-new threat that's making all of the monsters overly aggressive. It's as predictable and easy to ignore as any previous Monster Hunter tale, although the new cast of characters are at least more defined and interesting than those found in Rise, partly because you spend a lot more time with them.

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New Follower Quests give you a chance to embark on hunts in the company of various non-player characters, allowing their personalities to surface more than the series usually allows. These are single-player-only quests, but the intricacy of your allies' artificial intelligence makes them almost indistinguishable from multiplayer hunts. Your companions fight like other players, using lifepowder at opportune times, laying down traps, drawing the monster's attention for prolonged periods, and sometimes disappearing before emerging on the back of another reluctant beast. You'll notice them when they're actively helping you, and they're smart enough not to frustrate you by doing something boneheaded. These quests might be optional, but each one rewards you with unique items, and they make it much more enjoyable to grind for monster parts on your own.

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Escape Academy Review - I'm An A+ Student

Thu, 07/14/2022 - 01:00

I love escape rooms, so the idea of a video game designed by escape room creators is right up my alley. To its credit, Escape Academy does a damn good job of capturing the feeling of completing an escape room, with the added spice of dangerous consequences that a fictional story set in a virtual space allows. Escape Academy is, however, oftentimes too accurate to the experience of an escape room for its own good. Still, there's a delightful puzzle game here that makes for a rewarding afternoon with a friend nonetheless.

Escape Academy sees you step into the shoes of the newest student to attend a school that trains would-be spies, hackers, and thieves. To prove you're the best in your class you must earn 10 badges throughout the year, which are awarded for proving your worth in a series of planned tests, pop quizzes, unforeseen traps, and faculty assignments--all of which are constructed as escape rooms.

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These escape rooms are structured much like real-world ones, requiring you to observe the 3D space you're trapped in from a first-person perspective while using point-and-click adventure game mechanics to find patterns, clues, and objects that could aid you in escape. Sometimes that means figuring out how the number of objects in a room can clue you into the necessary digits for opening a combination lock, other times that means noticing that empty cans of glow-in-the-dark paint suggest there may be a painted message somewhere that can only be seen by turning off the lights.

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OlliOlli World: Void Riders Review - Extra Dimensions

Sat, 07/09/2022 - 05:00

OlliOlli World is a delightful skateboarding game, an excellent culmination of what developer Roll7 established across two previous games of its super-fast, trick-infused side-scrolling platforming series. With its first DLC expansion, Void Riders, Roll7 provides what is mostly more of the same--more cleverly built tracks, more high-level challenges, and more goofy characters. Void Riders offers a few new elements to the overall formula, but it doesn't break the OlliOlli World mold. While it would have been exciting to see how Roll7 could push its own envelope, Void Riders provides more OlliOlli World to play through and master, and that's great, too.

The base OlliOlli World has players traveling the world of Radlandia, skating through cities, forests, industrial sites, and theme parks, hoping to reach a state of skateboard zen that will allow them to become a "skate wizard." Void Riders is something of a side story to that endeavor, dropped into the middle of the game and having little to do with the main characters. It builds on the desert portion of the game, Burntrock, where aliens seem to be hanging out in the background, abducting cows and teasing conspiracy theorists. In Void Riders, you meet the aliens and help them abduct the cows, along with a couple of other cryptids hiding out in Radlandia's biomes.

As with the full game, Void Riders' story isn't too dense a tale, but it does provide a cute bookend to your skating levels as you talk to an alien trio working for a spooky purple boss blob named Nebulord. You follow those aliens around the world, listening to them give their interpretations about humanity--all of which are gleaned from listening to podcasts from conspiracy theorist Mike, one of OlliOlli World's main characters--and impressing them as you skate different courses. The DLC takes you through new areas of three of OlliOlli World's biomes as the aliens try to capture native Earth life to take back to space with them, and you eventually accompany them to "the Void" to show off your skills to Nebulord as you skate some extraterrestrial locations.

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