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Video Game Movies And TV Shows Finally Got Good In 2023

Fri, 12/29/2023 - 01:00

While 2023 was certainly a great year for movies and TV shows as a whole (unless you're the Marvel Cinematic Universe), it was an especially great year for adaptations of our favorite video game franchises. As a prime example, Nintendo and Illumination Studios' The Super Mario Bros. Movie hit theaters in April. It was hard to know if the movie was going to work, as even the casting of Chris Pratt stirred disdain among fans. Would they be willing to watch Super Mario on the big screen?

It turns out, they absolutely would. The Super Mario Bros. Movie would earn more than $1.3 billion at the box office, becoming the third-biggest animated feature ever--behind Disney's Lion King remake and Frozen II. It's also the highest-grossing video game movie of all time, and the second-biggest movie of 2023, domestically and worldwide. That's a pretty dramatic change, compared to previous years.

"I think that part of the problem with translating games to movies is that the structure of what makes a good game is very different from the structure of what makes a good movie," Super Mario and Legend of Zelda creator and all-around video game icon Shigeru Miyamoto said back in 2007, after years of bad adaptations that included 1993's Super Mario Bros.

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Best Of 2023: Alan Wake 2's Musical Moment Is The Best Surprise In Gaming In Years

Fri, 12/29/2023 - 00:00

Alan Wake 2 surprised us in many ways--how much it differed from its predecessor, how much Saga Anderson added to Alan Wake's story, the way Alan Wake 2 continued to really tie together all of Remedy's games. But the biggest surprise of all begins with two words taking up almost all of the screen:

WE SING.

WARNING: This is your chance to get out of here before I spoil one of the silliest, weirdest, and best gaming moments in Alan Wake 2.

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Best Of 2023: Cyberpunk 2077: Breaking The Cycle In Phantom Liberty's Ending

Thu, 12/28/2023 - 10:00

(spoilers within for Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty; TW: discussion of suicide)

Two fugitives are riding a monorail. They've escaped capture. They're home free. Both of them are tired, bloody, bruised, but hopeful. The monorail is about to take them to freedom, to a place where none of their immeasurable crimes matter, where life can have value again, where they can both start anew.

Except, no, they can't. One of them is a liar. The lie means only one of them gets to be free. They both deserve it, have experienced immense amounts of pain to get it. But only one. The liar has fallen unconscious. The other has a choice to make.

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PlayStation Plus Free Games For January 2024 Revealed

Thu, 12/28/2023 - 03:30

Sony has announced the free PlayStation Plus Essential games for January 2024, bringing you the opportunity to play with some friendly rats, wreak havoc in a supernatural Old West, and change your shape in the new year. A Plague Tale: Requiem leads the first slate of free games of 2024, followed by Evil West and Nobody Saves the World. All three games will be available to download on Tuesday, January 2, for Essential, Extra, and Premium tier PlayStation Plus subscribers.

A Plague Tale: Requiem is the follow-up to the surprisingly affecting and often disgusting A Plague Tale: Innocence, which follows a girl named Amica and her younger brother Hugo as they flee soldiers through the French countryside in the 1300s. The kids quickly find that they also need to avoid the thousands of plague rats seething through the nation, although the rats can be handy tools if you can open opportunities for them to chow down on your hapless pursuers.

Requiem picks up the story six months after the conclusion of Innocence, extending Amica and Hugo's terror as they get embroiled in more medieval and supernatural intrigue. And it has even more rats--where the first game could show about 5,000 rats on screen at a time, the sequel brings that number up to 300,000. "There's a lot to love in Requiem, even if frustration is an all-too-common bedfellow when it comes to gameplay," Richard Wakeling wrote in GameSpot's review of Requiem. "There are better stealth games out there, but its unique setting, poignant storytelling, and rat-infested dread make 14th-century France worth returning to."

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Best Of 2023: Cocoon's Culmination Of Spheres Was One Of This Year's Most Enchanting Moments

Thu, 12/28/2023 - 00:00

Cocoon can be a difficult game to describe without seeing it in action. The delightful puzzle adventure comes from one of the minds behind other puzzle classics, such as Limbo and Inside, which makes its high-level of ingenuity somewhat unsurprising. Despite that, it's a game that delicately layers its difficulty and naturally leads you to solutions, never being too explicit about guiding you while also providing just enough of a push in the right direction to make each solution feel earned and rewarding. The core conceit of Cocoon lies in its use of various orbs, each of which contains a unique world, that you can enter and exit at will. When inside, you're tasked with exploring a completely new area with its own set of themed puzzles. However, upon exiting a world, you can carry its respective orb you were just exploring on your back, and use its inherent ability to navigate the larger world outside. It's a simple gameplay loop to wrap your head around when you're juggling two distinct worlds, but becomes far more complex when that number gets gradually increased over time.

Each of Coccon's world's has its own theme, but also its own ability that you unlock after beat its respective boss. The first orange-tinged world, for example, features puzzles centered around invisible platforms that can only be traversed when observed with a particular power. Soon after beating the world's boss, this power transfers outside of the world it previously existed in, letting you now traverse previously invisible pathways while carrying this particular world around on your back. Later on, another world grants you the ability to alter the state of water-based columns around you, transforming them from opaque blocks into liquid, traversable ones that can propel you vertically to new areas.

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2023's Best Games Broke Down Cultural Barriers. 2024 Seems Poised to Continue.

Wed, 12/27/2023 - 00:00

I knew that I would love Thirsty Suitors from the moment it was first unveiled. If I had to pick a moment where it clicked into place, it'd have to be when the protagonist, Jala, summoned her mother in battle. Early in the game, you encounter Sergio, Jala's third-grade ex, who has been working deceptively hard in her absence to ingratiate himself in her family and life. As you battle in a diner, Sergio becomes invulnerable to your "thirsty" skills, backing Jala into a corner. With no moves left, she conjures the one thing that can tear a person down in an instant: her own mother. A projection of her mother towers over the arena before slamming Sergio with a chappal. The psychic damage is done, he is emotionally scarred and vulnerable enough to be defeated in battle.

Venba, an entirely different genre of game, manages to cut even deeper at times. Between the preparation of traditional Tamil meals, the titular character Venba struggles to connect with her child, Kavin, in an entirely different culture. As he grows up, he begins to take on attitudes distinct from her own, challenging her and ultimately growing distant, especially as he goes off to college as a young man. Upon coming back to his childhood home, Kavin finds that he struggles to read the instructions of a recipe that Venba left behind--a recipe she prepared for him as a child--and begins feeling that distance on an entirely different level. What follows is confusion about how to proceed with the recipes, how to carry on as a person of two different worlds, about his own responsibility to his parents, and so on. It's a heartbreaking sequence that paves the way for an ending that's hopeful about the reconciliatory journey Kavin begins embarking on.

The brightest games of the year aren't necessarily the ones you've seen all over the place. Those games--behemoth titles whose productions and releases are a whole thing unto themselves--are no less an achievement than the ones I'm choosing to spotlight. But whereas those games refine and expand in ways familiar to gaming audiences, Thirsty Suitors, Venba and other titles like them break down cultural barriers that have long existed in gaming culture.

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Best Of 2023: Disney Dreamlight Valley's Simple Gameplay Hides A Complex Storyline

Wed, 12/27/2023 - 00:00

Disney Dreamlight Valley entered early access at the end of 2022, and the Animal Crossing-meets-Mickey Mouse gameplay immediately caught on in my house. The light and easy gameplay paired with soft music and the presence of some of the world's most family-friendly characters made for low-stakes gaming sessions that served as a nice break from whatever review was on my slate.

I honestly didn't expect much from the game; Animal Crossing never leaned heavily into its story so I didn't expect Disney Dreamlight Valley to do more than roughly as much as Nintendo's hit franchise. However, throughout the past year, the writers at Gameloft not only exceeded that expectation, they did so with a real and raw look at childhood, adulthood, and the transition between the two. It was a bold choice--and definitely one that flies in the face of "life simulator starring Mickey Mouse and friends"--but it's a tale I've routinely thought about since completing it.

What is going on with that treehouse, anyway?

SPOILERS for Disney Dreamlight Valley's first year of content is below, proceed with caution.

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Best Of 2023: These Three Games Used Their Platform To Educate And Entertain

Tue, 12/26/2023 - 00:00

At first glance, the trio of MLB The Show 23, Marvel's Spider-Man 2, and Assassin's Creed Mirage share very little in common. Sure, all three games launched in 2023, and both Spider-Man 2 and Assassin's Creed Mirage feature dense open worlds, but other than what you might call broad similarities, they're almost entirely disparate from one another. That is, except for one surprising commonality: They all taught me something new about the past.

From a packed ballpark in 1920s Kansas to the comic-book streets of New York City and a bustling ninth-century Baghdad, each game adopts a different approach toward educating its players on specific people, moments, and places from human history. When I look back on 2023--a year stacked with exceptional video games--this unlikely trio of AAA games stands out because of the various ways in which they use the art form to shine a light on underrepresented cultures and the pivotal impact they had on our history--doing so in a way only an interactive medium like video games can.

In MLB The Show 23, this takes the shape of a new mode called Storylines. Many sports games have ventured into the past before, but none have done so in such a lovingly crafted way as San Diego Studio's ode to the Negro Leagues. Storylines is essentially a series of playable documentaries, with each one combining archival footage, eye-catching hand-drawn art, and the spellbinding narration of Bob Kendrick--president of the Negro League Baseball Museum--to explore the lives and careers of eight legendary baseball players from an era before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. It's impossible to be a fan of baseball without knowing the story of Robinson and his iconic 42, but MLB The Show 23 taught me about other incredible players I knew next to nothing about, including Satchel Page, Hilton Smith, and Hank Thompson.

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The State Of PC Gaming Handhelds Shows A Bright Future

Mon, 12/25/2023 - 00:00

Last year, Valve irreversibly changed PC gaming with the launch of the Steam Deck. The portable PC platform was certainly not the first attempt of its kind, but with the experience of Valve's engineering and the tight integration with Steam, it quickly became the de facto device to recommend for a powerful and reliable gaming experience on the go. The timing couldn't have been better, too, with the Nintendo Switch only seeing an OLED upgrade the year prior and its heavily rumored specification bump reduced to another lengthy wait for a successor. As a result, the Steam Deck satiated the desire for more demanding gaming in a portable frame, so much so that we suggested it was an inflection point for the market as a whole. But it probably came as a surprise still at how quickly competitors reacted, with 2023 offering a glimpse into a future laden with compelling PC gaming handhelds, each experimenting in eye-catching ways.

With increasingly expensive components being pushed out the door by both AMD and Nvidia, it's no surprise that the market share for PC gaming had been waning over the years. The Steam Deck might not have rectified this entirely, but it's plain to see more positive sentiment around PC gaming since its launch, so much so that most releases nowadays include some nod to Steam Deck-specific settings and verification through Valve's own certification program. But the simplest way to see its effect on the industry is just how quickly it's spawned fierce competition. Asus and Lenovo have both launched their own Steam Deck competitors in 2023, competing not only in terms of performance but also, surprisingly, price, giving consumers a lot to ponder when choosing the best form for taking PC games on the go. There are other players in the game, specifically Ayaneo with its various devices, but its prices are high enough to take it mostly out of the conversation when comparing these core three. Either way, it shows a willingness for manufacturers to take a risk on an entirely new device, with the market clearly hungry for even more options to choose from.

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Best Of 2023: A Constant Feeling Of Discovery Made Remnant 2 My Favorite Game Of The Year

Sun, 12/24/2023 - 10:00

There were a lot of moments that made me stop and say, "Wow, that was awesome," in Remnant 2, but the one that shoved it to the top of my list of favorites for the year came during one of its many excellent boss fights.

I'd worked through one of the three strange locations that make up Remnant 2's campaign. This one was a wrecked derelict spaceship the size of a moon that had once been inhabited by an advanced race on a quest to find, more or less, god. That plan didn't really pan out, and their ship's interior had changed over eons from a contained facsimile of their planet into a desolate, post-apocalyptic waste. Through the course of exploring, I'd cleared one of Remnant 2's dungeons and found what was essentially a weird alien USB drive. Now I was carrying it around, waiting to figure out what to do with it.

We eventually reached the final boss of the area, a huge blue alien named Sha'Hala with a ton of eyes and enormous hands. We'd dealt with this guy before in a friend's playthrough, fighting through by the skin of our teeth to defeat him. But when I reached the console to activate the fight with Sha'Hala, I noticed another interactable spot on the bottom we hadn't seen before: a second control point, out of the way and easy to miss. I hit the interact button and was offered the opportunity to use a quest item from my inventory.

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