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Nintendo Nintendo Switch Reviews

Review: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Stands Proud as the Greatest Celebration of the Gaming Medium

A forthcoming major installment of a heralded Nintendo game franchise like Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, or Pokémon is enough to drive their respective fanbases into an absolute tizzy. These new games, often boasting a lavish premise with plenty of promise, building on the solid foundations of its predecessors, lead us to high and often met expectations, with each landmark title continuing to surprise and amaze.

Super Smash Bros., on the other hand, isn’t your average gaming franchise.

No, a series like Smash Bros. sits in a hallowed position as the beloved and increasingly ambitious crossover helmed by the revered producer Masahiro Sakurai, bringing in all of Nintendo’s major players and honored guests under one unbelievably packed roof for an all-star battle royale like none other. Rumors alone of a new entry on the horizon are enough to stir a massive frenzy of discussion and speculation, and we were no stranger to the hype here at Gamnesia. When that familiar insignia blazed anew at the end of the March 2018 Direct, the collective Internet jumped out of its chair and screamed in total euphoria, as the long-awaited marriage of Smash and Switch has finally happened, later sporting the appropriately weighty title of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.


Since its inception, Super Smash Bros. sported its own distinct gameplay style that sets itself apart as a hybrid platformer-fighter-party game. It foregoes flat planes and health bars that the traditional fighting game genre has established since the days of Street Fighter, in favor of platform-based stages and damage percentage buildup. The higher a fighter’s percentage, the further they are sent flying off the map, and once beyond the stage’s borders, they are KO’d.

The biggest draw of Smash Bros. is, of course, its mind-boggling cast of playable characters. Each new entry over the years presented a bigger and more impressive roster than the last, although there were some fighters from a previous title not making the cut in a subsequent installment due to time constraints, rights negotiations, or technical difficulties—but not this time.

Living up to its name, and the lofty slogan “Everyone is Here!!,” Super Smash Bros. Ultimate goes above and beyond in bringing back each and every single fighter from across the franchise’s 20-year-long history. These include the return of one-off characters like Solid Snake and Young Link, and further cement the presence of the downloadable characters following the release of Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and for Wii U, like Corrin and Bayonetta.

Prioritizing the return of every fighter for Ultimate did lead to a lower number of brand new fighters being developed for the game next to previous entries, but these new contenders are excellent additions that make up for the comparative lack all the same. Metroid‘s own “larger than life” Ridley and King K. Rool of Donkey Kong Country fame make triumphant debuts under the spotlight as highly requested legacy characters from Nintendo’s rogues gallery, with fresh faces like Inkling from Splatoon and the chipper Animal Crossing secretary Isabelle joining the fray. To top it all off, there are the special third party appearances by two of Castlevania‘s famed vampire slayers—Simon and Richter Belmont—adding to the already insane guest character lineup including Mega Man, Pac-Man, and Cloud.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate‘s roster aimed for both quantity and quality from the outset, and succeeded in both fronts in spades. Every fighter, old and new, plays smoothly with a variety of bonkers movesets at the heightened pace of combat this game presents compared to its predecessor, inching it closer but nonetheless comfortably distant from Super Smash Bros. Melee when it comes to gameplay speed. The additional control mechanics like a streamlined short-hop attack and the return of directional air dodges have also been welcome additions that help spice up ways in which you can approach your opponent.

The stages also mostly comprise of returning maps, bringing in over one hundred stages for up to eight players to go toe-to-toe in. Returning favorites include Fountain of Dreams, Arena Ferox, and Jungle Japes, all with an HD facelift that make them look better than ever—as well as new additions based off of Nintendo’s recent hits like Moray Towers and New Donk City. For competitive players, not only does each map include a Final Destination variant like in for 3DS and for Wii U (this time bearing a consistent floating island layout), but a Battlefield off-shoot as well, let alone a dedicated Tournament mode and the team-oriented Squad Strike.

Throw in the brand new Stage Morph option to switch arenas mid-match, a Stage Hazard toggle to do away with hindrances and left-field surprises, and an incredibly thorough ruleset for players to mess with, and you’re all set for hours of fun fisticuffs with friends.

When you’ve had your fill of the multiplayer portion of Ultimate, the game has a few dedicated single player offerings as well. The ever-familiar Classic Mode takes on a new form this time around by having each fighter tackle a specific set of approaching challengers in their own specially themed campaigns, typically culminating towards a boss battle. Kirby, for example, faces off against fellow fighters known for their voracious appetites, leading towards a superstar-studded showdown versus Marx, and poor Luigi is thrust into his worst nightmares by clashing with the scarier fighters before confronting the dreaded Count Dracula Vlad Ţepeş. Most of these tongue-in-cheek references and thematic Classic routes are subtle slices of fan service that only endeared me further towards the labor of love and attention to detail Sakurai and company have put into each campaign.

The only real knocks against Classic Mode, personally, were how most of the campaigns simply end in a battle against Master Hand (occasionally featuring Crazy Hand) when certain other bosses would’ve been a better fit for certain fighters—say Badnik-busting expert Sonic the Hedgehog going up against the robotic tank Galleom—and the lack of dedicated Mii Fighter campaigns.

The other two single player game modes are Training Mode and Mob Smash, the latter being an umbrella category for Century Smash (100 Man Melee), Cruel Smash, and All-Star Smash. While Training Mode further expanded on the concept with a dedicated Training map with graphs and launch distance measurements, and Mob Smash provides some fun distractions, it does make one miss some of the more banal mini-games like Homerun Contest and Break the Targets.

All of that aside, the big crux of the game’s single player content revolves around Spirits Mode, and I have to say, the phrase “attention to detail” does not do this feature justice. Gone are Trophies, instead replaced with Spirits embodying a wide litany of characters from the collaborating franchises under Ultimate and then some. You earn Spirits primarily in battles via the Spirit Board, this game’s equivalent to Event Matches from previous titles, where you’re set up against computer players with a specific set of rules, enemy behaviors, and victory conditions. It put a big smile on my face to go up against a Shantae-possessed Zero Suit Samus favoring her whip, or Rayman possessing the ever agile Sonic with a helping hand from the limbless Sukapon Assist Trophy. A bit of a shame that the Spirits aren’t accompanied with a descriptive blurb on the character or item it represents, sadly.

It is also in Spirits Mode where Smash Bros. once again bears a fully-fledged Adventure Mode, this time going by the name “World of Light,” but those seeking something akin to the Subspace Emissary will be disappointed. There are no cutscenes featuring character interactions beyond the opening cinematic, let alone any substantial scenes aside from the finale and halfway point as WoL is mostly gameplay-driven, with Spirit Battles galore and no platforming segments like its predecessor. That is not to say the mode is devoid of any enjoyment, as you explore world maps and specially themed submaps in your quest to liberate Spirits and your fellow fighters, battle against Galeem and a litany of bosses, and train your Spirits to become stronger. It is, however, a bit of a grind to complete that could take a couple dozen hours, but the true final boss is a hell of a spectacle, including a certain surprise that will delight longtime fans, that helped validate the long road to reach it.

Tallying the Primary, Support, Master, and Fighter Spirits, the base game totals 1297 Spirit for you to catalog, and that’s only the final count that came up at launch. With a ton of Spirits to collect and several methods to obtain them, Spirits Mode will certainly keep you busy!

l was also pleased to see Smash Bros. Ultimate run at a consistent 60fps for the most part on my Switch in either Docked or Handheld mode, with the graphical fidelity hardly taking a hit when playing portably, perfecting the dream of on-the-go Smashings that for 3DS first realized four years ago. The game’s soundtrack, much like the fighters and stages, mostly comprise of returning favorites, but the new remixes for Ultimate are absolutely phenomenal, both in the creative approach of letting artists choose what they would like to cover and their subsequent execution. For example, hearing ACE—famous for composing many fantastic tracks from Xenoblade Chronicles and its sequel—tackle David Wise’s “Gangplank Galleon” from DKC was one of the best experiences I’ve had listening to an arrangement ever. The fact that the game even has a soundtrack totalling over 800 music tracks is so very surreal, but it’s all the more believable given it’s Smash Bros.—of course they had to go over the top!

Finally, that leaves one remaining portion that I feel is Ultimate‘s weakest pillar across its otherwise stellar foundation, and that is the online mode.

Pros first, the Battle Arenas have been improved considerably since for Wii U, as players can now host private lobbies with friends and invited guests for up to 8 participants, compared to the limit of 4 players among friends only the last time around. Only up to four at a time can throw down at once, but the remaining players can either queue themselves up to go up next or simply spectate each round as they come. Additionally, the Background Matchmaking feature helps immeasurably for those not willing to put up with waiting in a training lobby between brawls, as I found myself squeezing in some offline gameplay while waiting for the next match I’d be paired into.

The real down points with the online portion, however, come first with Quickplay. There are no “For Fun” and “For Glory” distinctions like last time, with players now choosing preferred rules before being paired up with others. This often leads to going into battle without the rules you wanted for yourself as the matchmaking system seems to choose one players’ rules at random rather than matching you with someone with rules more closely reflecting your own. While I can swing either casually with items or competitively without, I found it to be a bit of a drag going up against my opponents without the playing field I initially envisioned.

And my last point against the online is less a bad grade for Ultimate alone and more a scathing indictment of Nintendo Switch Online, but the lack of dedicated servers do hurt the appeal of fighting against your friends via the Internet. You can minimize lag for yourself with a decent service plan and investing in a USB-based LAN adapter, but if your opponent has a bad connection in this head-scratching Peer-to-Peer environment, so will you and everyone else. It’s a shame that Nintendo has not fully invested in an online infrastructure what with a paid subscription for a service that was freely available for a year and a half after the Switch’s launch, especially for a game as massive as Ultimate. It doesn’t exactly paint a pretty picture as Nintendo got caught fibbing on the matter when the North America Open livestream openly displayed said lag during one of the matches.

There is also a feature to share recorded match videos via the Smash World service on the Nintendo Switch Online app, but this has not yet been made available at the time of writing this review. It is also a shame that the Nintendo Switch’s video capture feature is disabled, as there are several moments in Classic Mode and Spirit Battles among others that I wish I could’ve saved, seeing as you can only record your multiplayer battles.

Online woes aside, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate stands proud as the most ambitious crossover in video game history, bringing together an impossible collection of fighters made reality thanks to the good faith Nintendo and Sakurai have accrued for the franchise since its humble beginnings on the Nintendo 64 twenty years ago. There’s plenty of replay value in store with the timeless frantic multiplayer and limitless combinations of dream fighter matchups, familiar gameplay modes that have been refined in most ways, and a long list of Spirits to collect and familiarize oneself with, so trust me when I say you’re in for a smashing great time.

Those looking for even more Smash for their buck will surely come back for rotating events on the Spirit Board, at times updating with new Spirits to collect, and keep an eye out for even more fighters on top of the insane number of 71 already present in the base game. Piranha Plant was one newcomer I could never expect, but its design and moveset make this timeless bitey, planty Mario baddie a welcome and hilarious addition to the roster, and with the surprise reveal I never saw coming with Joker from Persona 5 on the horizon, I can hardly wrap my head around how much further Nintendo can press the envelope with the four other mystery guests yet to be unveiled. Who else is there left who could possibly join? I can hardly wait!

All that and more is to say the thrill ride that is Ultimate has no end in sight just yet, and I am more than excited to be a part of it all.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is available now for the Nintendo Switch.


A digital copy of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was provided to Gamnesia by Nintendo of America for the purpose of this review.

No
9
Our Verdict
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Every fighter from previous Smash Bros. games returning for the craziest and biggest roster of playable characters in Nintendo history. Long-awaited newcomers that fit well into the mould. Gameplay tweaks compared to “for Wii U” that speeds up pacing. A wide variety of gameplay modes in both single player and multiplayer to keep one busy. Fan service galore with hundreds of Spirits to collect. Gorgeous graphics and absolutely phenomenal soundtrack.
Lack of familiar mini-games such as Homerun Contest and Break the Targets. World of Light’s paper-thin story. Lackluster online service, in part due to Nintendo’s own subscription-based online platform. Inability to record every moment of gameplay aside from multiplayer battles.
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Nintendo Switch Reviews

YIIK: A Postmodern RPG Review

The year is 1999, and times are changing. Boy bands and RPGs are sweeping across the nation, the internet is connecting people around the world like never before, and rumors of an impending tech-fueled apocalypse have caused a spike in paranoia across the collective consciousness of humanity. Welcome to the world of YIIK: A Postmodern RPG.

Disclosure: I interviewed Andrew Allanson, one of YIIK‘s main developers, years ago, and we’ve kept in contact since. During this game’s development, I played a few early builds and offered feedback. Gamnesia was provided with a review copy of the finished product on Nintendo Switch by publisher Ysbryd Games. All that said, I approached this review the same as I would any other. Let’s dig in!

The first thing you’ll notice about YIIK: A Postmodern RPG is its distinctive look. As the first 3D project from a small team, YIIK opts for a low-poly art style that gives the world something like a papercraft vibe. The camera is often fixed somewhere between an over the should or top-down look, but at times it will zoom in, zoom out, or change angles depending on your environment.

In other words, it feels quite a bit like a more polished version of RPGs from the year of its setting. It’s an efficient use of limited resources that stands out and suits the game’s narrative and tone well. However, every now and then the camera can get just a bit too ’90s, as things that are meant to be just off-screen will pop into view or a wall or ceiling will become partially see-through up close. Throughout my playthrough, I ran into a small handful of bugs and graphical glitches, but most of them should be taken care of with a day one patch that’s ready for launch.

The story opens with primary protagonist Alex Eggleston returning home after finishing college and attempting to settle back into life in Frankton. While wandering through an abandoned factory outside of town, Alex stumbles into an other-worldly dimension and witnesses a young woman being abducted by ethereal beings. This challenges all his perceptions about the universe and sets him off on a journey in pursuit of truth. Alex’s travels connect him with a motley crew of young conspiracy theorists interested in the paranormal and the supernatural, and they join the quest as playable characters.

YIIK features the type of zoomed out overworld that you’d see in classic RPGs like Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger, but this one has a millennial America setting. In addition to the handful of towns spread across the map, you’ll also encounter a gas station, a bowling alley, a mall, a university, and numerous monster dens and dungeons of varying difficulty. At first, you’ll traverse the overworld on foot (using bus stops for fast travel), but as the game opens up you’ll eventually get access to a car.

If you ever start to lose track of what you’re doing or where you’re headed, simply bring up the pause menu and select the “Hint” option for a reminder. There’s also plenty to see and do outside of the main quest, and you can keep your finger on the pulse of it all by browsing ONISM:1999. This in-game website is, for better or worse, an accurate representation of early internet message boards. That means posts full of crazy conspiracies, childish bickering, and foul language, but it’s also a valuable source of information and world-building. Upon further investigation, some of those bizarre rumors are sidequests waiting to be discovered. Internet cafes scattered across the map ensure that you can always log on to see if there’s any suspicious activity in your area.

Alex and the gang skip the traditional fantasy RPG dress and weaponry in favor of an arsenal more fitting of the millennium. That means arming yourself with cameras, hula hoops, and keytars for battle and equipping a lucky rabbit’s foot or a defense-boosting graphic T-shirt to give yourself an edge. If you’re low on health, you can stop by a nearby pizza parlor or burger joint to heal up and stock your inventory for the future.

Managing your inventory can become a bit of a chore later in the game. You’ll collect tons of items, weapons, and equipment, but there’s few options for organizing it, and scrolling through your collection is a slow process. There’s also no way to compare weapons and armor being sold in shops to your currently equipped items without backing out of the transaction and clicking through the menu. Once you’re all set with the proper gear, head to the nearest telephone to save your game. You can also use phones to enter your “Mind Dungeon” where you can cash in EXP for stat boosts and new techniques. You’ll need to, because it can be a dangerous world out there!

Enemies range from sewer rats to stop signs to alien invaders and everything in between. In explorable areas like towns, you’ll see potential threats wandering around, and battles won’t start until you bump into them. Things are more dangerous on the overworld, as enemy encounters will trigger at random while you move around. This can be a bit tedious when you’re trying to make a beeline to a specific location without fighting, as battles often take around 10 to 15 seconds to load on the Switch version. From what I’ve seen of livestreamed footage, battles load much faster on other platforms. It’s still a relatively minor nuisance on Switch (that’s partially negated by the game’s bus stop system), and that’s from the viewpoint of someone who has never been a fan of random encounters in the first place.

YIIK keeps its turn-based combat system fun and engaging by making every attack an interactive challenge. For Alex, that means timing button presses to the needle on a spinning record to build up a big combo attack. Some attacks even change up the perspective. Vella’s Bass Drop temporarily shifts the action to a 2D mini-game where you chuck your amp at an 8-bit representation of your enemy.

There’s never a dull moment in battles, as defensive turns are interactive as well. Stay alert, and with the right timing and button presses, you can defend or completely dodge enemy attacks. Eventually, you’ll also unlock the ability to slow down time in battle, making those timed button presses easier. This power requires the use of energy that drains as you hold down a button and replenishes as your team takes damage. You’ll have to use it wisely if you want to make the most of your opportunities. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll find the battle music so catchy that you keep tapping the triggers on your controller in time to the beat, accidentally wasting your time energy in the process. Whoops. If all else fails and things are getting too tough, you can attempt to flee the battle. This triggers a 2D sequence in which the enemy chases you down while you jump over obstacles. Outrun them for long enough, and you’re free!

Outside of battle, you’ll be aided in exploration by collectible tools. Boulders blocking the way? Clear ’em out with an exploding amp. Need a switch weighed down? Try setting a panda on it! Giant candle blocking your way? Sure, that’s normal. Just melt it with your trusty flame thrower! Eventually, you’ll even be able to speed around the world in style on a skateboard. All of these tools (and more) are also used to solve puzzles, making YIIK‘s world and dungeons more interactive than your typical RPG. It gives it a bit of an action/adventure flavor on top of the RPG formula.

As you unravel the story, the characters really start to come to life. Alex often acts as narrator, giving you a deep look at his inner thought processes at each new discovery. If you’re like me, you’ll probably hate him at first, as he’s a bit of an entitled brat. But his personal growth is a key part of the story. 

YIIK has a surprising number of cutscenes, and most of them feature a significant amount of voice acting. The party members’ personalities, motivations, and worldviews really come to light through a myriad of conversations peppered throughout the story. These talks range from somber topics like nihilism, growing up, and losing loved ones to pseudo-scientific theories about spirituality and the supernatural to light-hearted debates about shoujo anime. YIIK invests heavily in its cast, and it pays off, thanks in part to solid performances from a voice acting ensemble that includes Chris Niosi (Mob Psycho 100‘s Reigen Arataka) and Clifford Chapin (My Hero Academia‘s Bakugo).

The story of YIIK is bizarre, complicated, confusing, and intriguing. It can all be a bit overwhelming early on, as you’re constantly hit with new concepts and twists faster that you can wrap your mind around the last few. It’s easy to feel a bit lost in all that’s happening, but it helps the game maintain a sense of unease and mystery throughout. You’ll share those feelings in common with your party of paranormal enthusiasts.

Eventually, more pieces will fall into place and the big picture will become a little clearer, but you’ll probably still find yourself with a lot of unanswered questions when it’s all said and done. There’s a lot to unpack. My first playthrough took a little over 30 hours (with quite a bit of side questing included), and after the credits rolled I was ready to jump back in for more. A New Game Plus mode (where you keep your EXP from the previous run) makes it easier to experience the game again with a better understanding of what’s going on. If you make the right choices, you might just see an alternate ending.

You’re going to see a lot of people referring to YIIK as “a game for EarthBound fans” in the coming weeks. Shigesato Itoi’s cult classic Mother franchise definitely served as an inspiration for some of its elements, and so did Lufia 2, Wild Arms, Persona 4, and more. But the truth is that YIIK is its own beast. It’s a unique experience that will make you think and feel, surprise you, challenge you, and leave you with a lot of questions. It’s a strange adventure that can be a bit rough around the edges, but it’s one of the most compelling games I’ve played on the Switch and a great way to kick off 2019. If you’re a fan of RPGs (EarthBound or otherwise), the paranormal, and ’90s nostalgia, you won’t want to pass it up.

YIIK: A Postmodern RPG launches January 17th, 2019 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Steam.

No
8
Our Verdict
YIIK: A Postmodern RPG
Compelling story, fleshed out characters, solid voice acting, plenty of humor, addictive combat, catchy music, interesting world
Occasional technical hiccups, tedious inventory management, some early pacing issues
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Articles Nintendo Nintendo Switch Reviews

Pokémon: Let’s Go is Perfect for Adults With Busy Lives

You may not know this, but I’m a busy man. In fact, I’m so busy, I’ve been inexplicably absent from Gamnesia for over a month. So I don’t really play games 100% to completion anymore, especially when it comes to RPGs. As a young adult that finds himself working most of the time, I needed a Pokémon game that’s easier to digest. Thankfully, I think Let’s Go has given me exactly what I asked for.

I’m picky about my RPGs in general. If I feel like the game has a lot of unnecessary padding, I usually drop it. Because of this, I’ve quit several critically-acclaimed games only about a quarter of the way in just this year, such as Ni no Kuni II and Octopath Traveler. I have nothing against these games; they just feel like a waste of time.

I also felt this way about Pokémon Sun and Moon. These games have an incredibly dull opening that dissatisfied many fans of the series, and the overall main story tends to drag on and never really gets to the point. These games brought a lot of changes to the series that I thought were fantastic, but I just couldn’t commit the time to get through it all.

I was hoping Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon would help fix my issues with the originals, but it only left a worse taste in my mouth. The game was left largely intact, and most of the new content just padded the game out further. I was ready to give up and call the seventh generation of Pokémon a fluke. I hoped Game Freak could redeem themselves with the next set of games. But then they announced Let’s Go.

I had mixed feelings when these games were announced. I had lost interest in Pokémon GO just a few months after it came out, but I was eager to get back into the world of Pokémon and try to enjoy myself again—I just didn’t know if Let’s Go would be the game to pull me back in.

So I tempered my expectations and remained mostly neutral about these new titles. Some of you may have listened to the episode of Switched On! where I talked with Ben and Steven about the game. At the time, it still hadn’t won me over. I liked some of the ideas Game Freak was going for, but nothing really stood out to me overall.

November 16th rolled around, and something happened that I wasn’t quite expecting: Pokémon fever. Everybody on my Twitter feed was posting about Let’s Go in some way. Most were talking about how fun it was as they showed off their Pokédex and shiny Pokémon.

I couldn’t believe it. Was I really missing out? I had every intention to wait for the game to go on sale in a bargain bin later on. But if the game wasn’t going to be a critical flop, maybe it was best to go ahead and give it a try.

So I caved. In fact, I bought two copies: Let’s Go, Pikachu! for me, and Let’s Go, Eevee! for my wife. As I explored the world of Kanto again, I realized the spinoff I had been so unsure of was what I had been looking for in a Pokémon game all this time.

Pokémon had just become too stale and tedious for my busier lifestyle. So it really did take removing some of the slower elements of the game to spark my interest again.

For example, random encounters no longer involve actually battling Pokémon (for the most part). Instead, you catch them all much like you would in Pokémon GO, where you spot them in the wild and then throw Pokéballs at them. This speeds up the game tremendously and lets you decide very quickly whether you want to spend time trying to catch a specific Pokémon.

This mechanic is not without its flaws. The motion controls are often flawed, and wild Pokémon can run away from you after a few unsuccessful attempts at catching it. But all of its wonkiness aside, the new catching system speeds things up and kept me engaged for much longer play sessions than I ever had with any of the previous titles.

But the feature that really makes this system work for me is being able to see Pokémon roam around on the overworld. I might speak for a small portion of RPG fans, but I think random encounters are outdated and shouldn’t be used anymore. Being able to choose when you want to fight is the best thing any RPG can do for you—and being able to choose what you catch is the best thing a Pokémon game can do for you.

This feature is so important to all players, even the ones who crave a more “hardcore” Pokémon experience. I remember EV training my team when I was in middle school. You run around in the grass for a bit, and if you don’t find the Pokémon with the right effort values, you run around in the grass some more until you do. Even though EV training is nonexistent in Let’s Go, it is so nice that you can actually see the Pokémon before entering the battle. This shaves off so much time and it really helps you know if going to a certain patch of grass is even worth it.

These are the two most important features of Let’s Go to me. I know Game Freak will probably go back to the classic battling system in future games, and that’s okay. But they would be committing an absolute crime if they didn’t keep Pokémon on the overworld before you fight them.

Outside of the catching mechanics, though, Let’s Go doesn’t beat around the bush. Within minutes, you’re on a new adventure and filling up your Pokédex. This is likely because the games follow similar story beats to Red, Blue, and Yellow, but I would like to think that Game Freak is listening to fans and is starting to realize that three-hour tutorial sections just don’t cut it.

One criticism Let’s Go has faced is its simplicity. Some people find the games to be too easy. I’ll raise a counterpoint: Pokémon has always been easy; it’s just less tedious now. I think future Pokémon games can stand to learn a thing or two from the Let’s Go titles. Grinding is less of a chore, dungeons are much simpler to get through without random encounters every five seconds, and you always have a Pokémon box with you for fast and easy changes to your team.

I haven’t had this much fun with Pokémon in years, and I have high hopes for the next game in 2019. Pokémon: Let’s Go is a breath of fresh air for anyone who hasn’t been happy with the series for quite some time. It shaves off a lot of the extra padding Pokémon has become notorious for, and it’s a perfect game for a busy lifestyle.

Interviews Nintendo Nintendo Switch Reviews

Super Mario Party is the Game to Gather ‘Round This Thanksgiving

While the
Mario Party series has been defining the party game genre for over two decades, even the most famous games can lose themselves to sequelitis. It’s probably for this reason that Nintendo decided to shed the previous numbered installments and rebrand the series as Super Mario Party on Nintendo Switch. And boy does it deliver.

A traditional Mario Party pits one to four players against each other in a digital board game, rolling a single die to move around the board collecting stars, coins, and new in
Super Mario Party, ally characters. If you land on an Ally Space, a character is chosen at random from the playable roster, lends you their unique character die to use at any time, and supplements your die roll with rolls of their own. These specialized dice are one of Super Mario Party’s greatest new features; players can weigh the risks and rewards of rolling a standard six-sided die, in addition to their own and their allies’ dice, each of which come with distinct advantages and disadvantages, like the risk of losing coins for the reward of higher rolls.

Every turn of the board game is ended with one of eighty minigames chosen at random, where players compete for coins and bragging rights. It’s what makes
Mario Party so much fun, and it’s where the friendly (and not-so-friendly) competition come alive. Players might punch each other in front for the camera, shake gems out of a jar, and pilot planes through an obstacle course.

It’s here that
Super Mario Party not only insures itself as intuitive fun for everyone, but locks in Nintendo Switch is a must-own for gamers and casual players alike. Every minigame uses the Switch’s detachable Joy-Con controllers, either in a horizontal position for traditional buttons, or veritcal for Wii-like motion control minigames. No matter the use case, it just works—usually easy enough for Grandma to join in.

Super Mario Party does include a single-player mode called Challenge Road, though it only unlocks after you’ve unlocked every minigame in the multiplayer modes. Besides a fun run through the minigames with a sparse few extra challenges thrown in the mix, it’s little else.

Super Mario Party features perhaps the series’ widest variety of alternate modes. The aforementioned Classic Mode is supplemented by a co-op called Partner Party, where players team up for a two-on-two competition. Both players on each team roll a die, which are then combined into a shared total dice roll. Players are then free to move around the board as an open grid, rather than sticking to Classic Mode’s preset paths. It’s a really great way to play without ruining all your friendships,

If two-player cooperation isn’t enough, everyone can team up in River Survival, a new mode that sends four players careening down a river in an inflatable raft. Players move the controllers to control your oars, working together to steer the boat into balloons that activate unique team-based minigames. While it’s true that most modes are better with human players (and optional drinking game rules), it’s especially apparent in River Survival. WIth friends you can communicate and work together, but when you play with CPUs, it’s easy to feel like you’re carrying the team.

Mariothon pits players against each other in a tournament-style marathon of back-to-back minigames at home or online. Unfortunately its fun is short-lived, as the tournament only lasts five games. This is unfortunately the only mode available to play online.

Other modes include Square-Off, another minigame-based game; Sound Stage, a delightful mode of rhythm-based minigames; and Toad’s Rec Room, a collection of toys and games showing off technical elements of the Switch. The most impressive game you’ll find here use two Nintendo Switches in conjuction with each other to play games that spread across one Switch’s touchscreen to the other’s. They’re fun diversions and great tech demonstrations for concepts to use in future party games, but not much else.

While
Super Mario Party’s sheer variety makes it undoubtedly the series’ best in a decade, longtime fans may find each of these modes just a little undercooked. Sound Stage, Toad’s Rec Room, and River Survival only have three, five, and fifteen minigames respectively. Mariothon and the two board game modes share a much larger pool of eighty minigames, but Super Mario Party only has four boards to choose from. They’re all good, reliable fun, but none of them quite satisfied the creative itch of the series’ most memorable locales.

Super Mario Party sheds the series’ last few rounds of sequelitis to deliver a game well worth of the Mario Party name. Whether you’re buying for your kids, throwing a college kickback, or gathering the parents and grandparents around the living room for the Holidays, Super Mario Party is a game you won’t want to forget.

No
8
Our Verdict
Super Mario Party
Great minigames, intuitive fun for everyone, and more gameplay variety than ever.
Most game modes could be fleshed out a little further
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Reviews

Call of Cthulhu Review: Does It Answer the Call?

Since the announcement of this game back in 2017, Lovecraft fans around the world have waited for Call of Cthulhu to arrive on PC, PlayStation 4, and the Xbox One. But now that it’s arrived, the one question that plagues everyone’s mind is: does it actually live it up to being Lovecraftian? Did Cyanide Studio manage to capture the Lovecraftian spirit with the game where so many others before them have tried and failed? Let’s take a dive into the depths of madness.

We’ll be keeping this a very minimalist review because this game keeps you second guessing yourself every chapter – just when you think you solved a piece of the puzzle, it throws you another loop.

Story and Background

The game is based on HP Lovecraft’s short story Call of Cthulhu and also takes elements from the Dungeon and Dragons-style RPG of the same name. In this point-and-click horror game, you play as Edward Pierce, a war veteran turned private investigator. After falling on hard times, complete with clear alcoholism and nightmares, you are visited by Steven Webster, the father of the deceased Sarah Hawkins. The death of the Hawkins family is well known, but the father believes there’s more to the death of his daughter and wants Pierce to restore her name. Agreeing to do so, Pierce heads off to Darkwater Island to investigate the residents and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the dark island.

Controls and Graphics

In the first bit of Call of Cthulhu you’re introduced to the basic game mechanics: walking, looking at items, and interacting with the characters using A or B on your gamepad. I swapped back and forth between PC keyboard and an Xbox controller. I found a lot of the time my keyboard wouldn’t work, as there are situations where you have to be quick on your feet. Having my keyboard glitch out made things difficult, but after switching to the Xbox controller I didn’t have any problems going forward.

The game’s visuals are dark and gritty. Numerous green shines scattered about, though, remind you that Darkwater isn’t your typical Island. Although the environments were pretty, the people and things that moved through them looked out of place. When I streamed the game last Tuesday, sailors were “drunkenly” swaying about awkwardly. Shadows and textures struggled to load properly, resulting in a visual mess at times. Lip syncing was terribly done, and there are even misspelled and missing words in the subtitles. And it can be hard to focus on what’s happening when someone blinks and you see their whole eyeball.

Character Points

Then you’re introduced to Character Points, used to upgrade your character skills. There’s Eloquence to talk your way out of things; Spot/Hidden to see things that are out of the way; Psychology with the ability to people’s physical state. You also have Investigation, which is rather self-explanatory, along with Medicine and Occultism. You’re given 8 CPs at the start, which can max out two of the character skills presented to you if you wish. Every time you interact with an important character or finish a chapter, you’re rewarded with a Character Point.

For those wondering, I tried my hardest to max out Occultism, which turned out to be super difficult. Medicine and Occultism were challenging to max out because you need to find certain items that allow you to get those Character Points. Whether it’s books on medicine or something about the occult, I found that these were the hardest to gather.

During your first encounter at the Stranded Whale, you are given the option to act tough and show off your fighting skills or talk your way through the situation. Depending on how you’ve spent your CPs, you can approach situations like these in different ways. You may choose to solve problems with your fists, but investing Eloquence gives you the chance for a more diplomatic solution. During my first play through, I didn’t bother maxing out Eloquence, which led me to earn the reputation of “trouble maker” and stopped me from being served a drink.

One thing to keep in mind is that every time you put CPs in, you’re set on a different path with different end results. Choose carefully how you spend them!

In this game, your actions, even the small ones, will have consequences. If you have a drink of whiskey or a bite to eat, if you choose to look at something, if you speak a certain way to another person… all these things have consequences that will impact the game. These choices are also meant to affect your sanity, which alters gameplay. That said, I did a lot of things that were supposed to impact my sanity, and I was never completely sure if it really did or not.

Investigation and Scene Creation

Investigation is the core gameplay mechanic, as you’re searching for clues about the events leading up to the death in the Hawkins Family. Some clues are left in the open, but others leave you looking around a room or area for hours. They can be either in your face or hidden to the point that of frustration. I often found myself wandering around looking for clues that should’ve been more obvious.

You also have the recreation scenes, triggered when you encounter something that just doesn’t add up. These interactive scenes have you piecing past events together, but they’re already laid out for you. You don’t have to put them in any specific order. Going through each scene and uncovering the past would have been more rewarding if I was actually doing my own detective work. These scenes were interesting, but they could have been more immersive, and I would have liked to have seen more of them.

Suspense and Horror

In Lovecraft, one of the key ingredients is that towns are supposed to be rather mundane at first, and the story unravels as you talk to people and get information out of them. If you’re familiar with Lovecraft’s short story The Shadow Over Innsmouth, you know it starts out rather slow, but thing start getting weird after speaking to a drunk guy. In Call of Cthulhu, however, you’re thrust right into the weird and the macabre. Because of that, it takes the suspense a while to build. It won’t be until the later chapters that you’ll find yourself being creeped out and checking if there is something moving behind you. Or, you know, that you’re not going to be hit with a random jump scare.

The darkness in the game can be super unsettling in the early chapters. You’re constantly worried, looking over your shoulder, and using your lantern to make sure there’s nothing hiding in the corners. Be careful with using your lantern, though. I’m not gonna say if there’s something that will jump out at you from the darkness… But you know never! I wouldn’t want to spoil anything for you…

The Lore of Lovecraft

As a Lovecraft fan, this game left me wanting more, but I think the question on everyone’s mind is: did it manage to use the source material in a correct manner and expand on Lovecraft’s world? The game captures the lore of Lovecraft, expanding on it further and adding more than just Cthulhu himself. Without spoiling too much (you’ll want to discover these things on your own), Darkwater was like Innsmouth (The Shadow Over Innsmouth) but turned up to 11.

Overall, it was a wonderful trip into Lovecraft’s world. It has its flaws, as most games do, but as the first Lovecraft game by Cyanide Studio, it was a brave attempt. I honestly wish to see more from them, and I want them to tackle more Lovecraft games in the future.

No
7
Our Verdict
Call of Cthulhu
Dark atmosphere makes you feel unsettled and vulnerable; story has that “Lovecraft” feel
Ending feels rushed; spelling errors and missing words are common; technical issues
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Features Mobile Platforms PC Retro Reviews

Old School RuneScape is Exactly What Your Phone Needs

RuneScape was one hell of a game back in the day. Not only does it hold the Guinness World Record as the most popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game of all time, but its expansiveness is almost unheard of, from its massive game map to the quests and skills that rack up thousands of hours of gameplay. Unfortunately, the game was forgotten in time after a bout of updates that, to most, ruined the game. This included the removal of Wilderness PVP, restrictions on trading between players, and, years later, a complete revamp to the combat system that made the game more like a knockoff World of Warcraft than the browser MMO we grew up with.

This killed off most of the game’s loyal player base, but luckily, the team at Jagex gave us a revival in 2013 with the release of Old School RuneScape, a complete backup of the game’s beloved circa-2007 servers. Ever since, the nearly double-decade-old MMO has spiked in popularity, vastly overtaking the player base for the original game with nearly 100,000 concurrent users every day. It’s now one of the most popular games on Twitch, thanks to new hardcore game modes and esports-sized tournaments! They’ve ensured it’s what the fans want, too, thanks to a polling system that doesn’t simply update the game but also asks players their opinions before adding any new content updates or balancing. One of these polls has led us to a mobile version of the game on both iOS and Android, including cross-platform play with PC users, and boy oh boy, does it ever work smoothly!

If you’re like me, you aren’t the typical MMO player, but you stumbled across RuneScape as a child. It was one of the only games that could be played on any computer, and you’d spend countless hours playing during computer class or a trip to the library. I know I put more time into messing around with the community than I ever spent leveling my character and completing quests. But coming back to the game, I realized the depth and quality of this game still exceeds that of your average video game.

That said, if you’re really like me, then you’re skeptical about playing games on your phone due to the platform’s history of poor ports and cash grabs. Maybe you have a gachapon game, one of Nintendo’s mobile titles, or the battle royale flavor of the month installed—but never a game you’d invest time into like this. Thankfully, Old School RuneScape feels right at home with idle games when it comes to leveling up skills, and the combat aspect of the game plays out perfectly on mobile. Well, unless you’re a higher level and you require click intensive methods to get the job done efficiently.

For the uninitiated, Old School RuneScape isn’t your typical MMO. It is a full-fledged, ever-expanding world with 23 skills to learn, over 200 quests to complete, hundreds of music tracks to unlock, dozens of tasks to complete in Achievement Diaries in each city, and countless mighty foes to face off against—all of this with varying levels of skill requirements. You may train combat skills such as Attack, Strength, Defense, Ranged, and Magic, but you can also test your endurance with non-combat skills like Mining, Fishing, Cooking, and many more.

The leveling curve is one of the biggest appeals: it takes 13 million experience points to reach the level cap of 99, half of which you earn on your journey to level 91. It all pays off, though, when you reach level 99 and unlock a special cape for your achievement that not only offers stat boosts but acts as a status symbol in the game’s community. It can take hundreds of hours to get your first 99, but as you unlock more and start to earn more in-game currency, you’ll find the game opens up for nearly limitless opportunity, challenge, and satisfying rewards. If you’re a fan of grinding your brain to mush, or you’re a completionist, this is the game for you.

When it comes to quests, the difficulty level varies in the same way as skills do. Quests work a lot differently in RuneScape than in most games, too. As opposed to the watered down missions we see in video games today that force you down a path of monotony, this game’s quests actually feel like adventures. You’ll meet hilarious NPCs who send you on journeys that stretch all over the land. You’ll complete tasks that seem impossible, and you’ll find yourself in a lore so deep that any player would need a wiki. The rewards for some of the higher level quests are huge, including massive XP boosts, untradeable items, and abilities that make training your skills a more fruitful endeavor. These quests can take anywhere between a couple of minutes to a couple of weeks, and the payoff is almost always worth it.

However, the amount of content in this game can be hard to keep track of, and sometimes you just don’t want to go into a quest without research. Thankfully, Jagex offers its own community-run Old School RuneScape Wiki, which shows you the best training methods, walkthroughs for all of the quests, and details on every last aspect of the game. If you’re more of a watcher than a reader, you’ll notice that RuneScape has had a huge YouTube community since the video platform’s inception, with users like SeerzTheoatrix, and FlippingOldSchool hosting tons of guides on their channels. There are also a number of streamers with huge fanbases. The community as a whole is super helpful as well, with players and Jagex both heavily involved in the r/2007scape subreddit, hundreds of different player-owned clans to join, and all of the random people you’ll meet in-game who will typically answer any questions you may have while playing.

The in-game economy is also quite unique. In Varrock, a free-to-play city, you can find the Grand Exchange, a game-wide network that allows you to trade items with other players in a Wall Street fashion, with prices fluctuating due to supply and demand exactly like in the real world. You can find out which items are rising and falling in price on the game’s official website. This places value on the in-game currency in a special way, as this makes training your skills and flipping items for profit a worthwhile but dynamic endeavor.

Keep in mind, though, that since this game is populated with other players, there are some sneaky people out there who will offer to double your coins, give your armor a gold trim, or use other devious falsehoods to manipulate you and the game’s economy to their favor. It would be impossible for Jagex to keep track of every scam, but you can report anything suspicious to them with the press of a button. Always use common sense, and discuss with other players whether a deal is too good to be true. Two tips for newer players would be to avoid the wilderness until you understand it, as some other players may try to lure you there in an attempt to kill you and take your items, and to not enter Varrock from the south, as there are Dark Wizards lurking that can kill a starting player in just a single hit.

With all of this content though, there’s gotta be a catch, right? Well, if you want to experience the majority of what Old School RuneScape has to offer, you’ll have to pay about $10 USD for a monthly membership. There are no microtransactions or loot boxes; this game is all about your experience as a player. If you have the means to pay your membership dues with in-game currency, you can buy a membership bond for roughly 4 million GP, which earns you 14 days of membership at no physical cost. But what if you don’t have the money to start off your membership? What if you just want to try the game out? The free-to-play version offers the most popular areas in the game, 15 skills to level up using free-to-play methods, and 20 quests to complete before you make the decision to move forward or not.

If I’ve already sold you on the game, but you don’t want to play on mobile, third-party developers have created applets for PC, such as RuneLite that allow you to play the game with added interfaces that improve your experience even further. I heavily recommend this app, as it makes additions to the gameplay that don’t simply give you an advantage but actually offer up extra features such as item prices and skill levels that you don’t want to keep switching windows to check up on. If you don’t want any hand-holding at all, Jagex or third-party alike, play the game without the applet, and if you’re a fan of hardcore gameplay, try one of the game’s Ironman modes, which provide barebones abilities and limited trading that ensure everything you do is a fruit of your efforts. I’m here to talk about the game’s port to mobile, though, so without further ado, let’s get into what makes the game work in handheld mode.

Since Old School offers huge rewards at the cost of heavy effort, mastering the game has led a lot of people to believe in a system of “zero XP waste,” meaning that devoted players will stop at nothing to earn experience in-game. Thanks to mobile, this has never been easier, and RuneScape players are finally able to leave the house. After weeks of deliberation, I caved and purchased a membership for the first time in years to access the members-only mobile beta. In the past two months, I’ve managed to increase my total skill level from a meager 700 to a mid-sized 1150. I leveled up wherever I could find a decent Wi-Fi connection, from playing at work to waiting in line at the grocery store, and it was the same, if not better than simply playing on PC when I was training non-intensive skills such as Fletching.

However, I found minor difficulties in using higher-end combat methods that require a lot of precise clicking. Using game-tick based methods when skilling can be daunting on mobile, too, as it’s no secret how difficult precision can be on a mobile device. A Bluetooth mouse would likely alleviate these issues. I’m not keen on carrying one everywhere I go, but if you’re more dedicated to the game than me, you might not have an issue with it. Keep in mind, the customer-first approach might make certain gameplay elements easier for mobile users in the future, but as it stands on launch, you won’t have many problems unless you’re a higher level player. They have already improved magic training, enlarging the icons in your spellbook to show exactly what you can cast (rather than a big dashboard of tiny icons you might accidentally press). You can also zoom in with your fingers, and a button on the top left of the sidebar is re-programmable for a couple of different uses, including an option to drop inventory items simply by tapping on them. This can make training inventory-heavy skills just as efficient as the PC version.

When it comes to the audio and visual portions of the mobile port, you can choose to hear the iconic tunes and sound effects, even using the game as a sort of iPod for the game’s beloved soundtrack, or you can mute it all and open an app like Spotify in the background to listen to your favorite music. This kind of all-in-one entertainment on a small device is quite a marvel, and now that your computer screen has more space, playing at home now means you can play other video games, watch movies, or whatever else you want to do while logging hours in RuneScape. Graphically, the game looks like it’s a Java game from 2007, and that’s because it is. The simplistic graphics and animations have molded the game into its own wonderful, enticing atmosphere that many have failed to replicate.

During my mobile play, I’ve noticed some aliasing problems when devoting time to my Agility skill, as rooftop textures can flicker as you move and other tiny visual goofs may occur. I can chalk this up to a very old game being completely rebuilt for a different platform, and I hope these issues are fixed in the future. As it stands, though, you won’t notice these problems that often, and for most, it doesn’t even matter to the game as a whole. You should not come into this game expecting to be blown away by the graphics, but you definitely will be by every other aspect of it.

Old School RuneScape holds a special place in many gamers’ hearts, as one of the oldest MMOs still running, and it continues to be one of the biggest names in the online community through its player count, its massive following on Twitch and YouTube, and its countless memes. For seasoned players, the move to mobile might be enough to go back, and for new players, this is the perfect time to start. The love Jagex shares with its community isn’t simply heartwarming, but it stands as a fully realized pillar of the video game industry’s vision of gamers and developers working together to create a truly unforgettable experience. This game isn’t going anywhere, and I’m sure you’ll find the mobile version to be everything you’re expecting and more. Starting the game is free of charge, so don’t hesitate to try it! This is the ultimate mobile port.

No
9
Our Verdict
Old School RuneScape: Mobile
The closest relationship you’ll find between developer and player, thousands of hours of gameplay, and a fitting mobile port that feels right.
A few non-mobile friendly button placements, and a few graphical issues, but expect these kinks to be worked out in the future.
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Mega Man 11 Kicks the Classic Franchise Into High Gear (Review)

It’s been 8 years since
Mega Man fans have received a game in the franchise’s mainline series. Since Capcom’s reveal of Mega Man 11 late last year, many of the Blue Bomber’s fans have been anxiously awaiting launch day, and thankfully, the wait is over. Capcom is trying to kick things into overdrive by introducing a brand-new mechanic to the game, but the biggest question still remains. Does Mega Man 11 have what it takes to make up for the long drought?

Mega Man 11 starts off by introducing a younger Dr. Light and Dr. Wily. Wily has developed a new tool, dubbed the Double Gear system, which kicks robots into overdrive, allowing them to surpass the limits of their programming to do incredible things. With this tool, Wily claims that any robot can be a hero! However, there were major concerns with this research, which led to the cancellation of Wily’s research and consequently, the continuation of Dr. Light’s. Of course, Wily vows revenge. Many years later, he captures eight robot masters and installs his Double Gear technology in them, causing them to turn evil. It then falls on Mega Man to save the day. However, he must also make use of the Double Gear to stand even a remote chance.

The Double Gear system allows Mega Man to overclock either his strength or speed at will. Enabling the Power Gear allows Mega Man to fire more powerful shots, both charged and with his special weapons. The Speed Gear, on the other hand, slows down time around Mega Man, allowing him to better navigate a storm of bullets or stage hazards. I initially had many doubts as to this new mechanic, but these fears were soon put to rest. The Double Gear abilities are completely optional, though I grew to love the complexity this feature added as I progressed through the levels and bosses.

The Double Gear system places a lot of stress on Mega Man, however, and he can only use these abilities for a limited amount of time. They can be switched on and off at will, but having them active builds a shared meter which overheats upon filling completely, preventing their use entirely until it cools down. This system introduces a new gear item (found in both a large and small variety), which acts as an instant partial cooldown.

Generally, you can only use one Gear at a time, and swapping between them cancels the effects of the currently enabled one. At low health, however, Mega Man can enact his Double Gear technique, allowing both the Power and Speed Gears to be used simultaneously. This is more of a last-ditch effort, though, as once activated, it cannot be turned off. After overheating, it also causes Mega Man’s buster to fire weakened shots until the cooldown is finished.

While these abilities can be useful in completing the stages, I found them to be significantly more useful during bosses. Each boss has a desperation move that activates once it hits a certain health threshold. This attack activates either the Power or Speed Gear of that robot master, adding an extra layer of challenge to their boss fights. I won’t spoil anything, but there was a nice boss surprise waiting late in the game which caught me off guard for a variety of reasons, one of which was the addition of this desperation mechanic. Using the matching Gear was beneficial in limiting the efficiency of the bosses’ extra abilities, so much so that there was at least one fight I couldn’t beat without it.

In one sense, this Mega Man feels a bit more challenging than others. Most of the stages feel longer than traditional stages and have multiple checkpoints, as opposed to only at the midway point. This allows Capcom to throw more enemies and more stage hazards at you, thus increasing the danger contained within each level. Despite this length increase, the stages are quite fair, introducing stage mechanics at a basic level before ramping up to more difficult scenarios. I definitely had my fair share of moments where I was completely stuck on a level, but with perseverance (and some help from Auto’s shop), I emerged victorious.

In another sense,
Mega Man 11 feels like it’s a bit easier than some of the earlier titles. The main reason for this is the return of Auto’s shop. Collecting bolts throughout the stages allows Mega Man to buy various items and weapons. All of the traditional items make a comeback, as well as a large selection of upgrades. These upgrades range from automatically charging your buster, to increasing the drop rate of bolts, to eliminating ice physics. Mega Man 11 throws a lot of bolts at you, so much so that I never had a problem making sure I had enough to keep a full stock of energy tanks on me at all times, as well as being able to afford most every upgrade by the end of the game. You can also access the shop from the game over screen, which is a nice shortcut to having to exit the level, then re-entering it.

I also appreciated the addition of tutorials whenever you gain a new ability. Though
Mega Man 11 still plays a short video demonstration showing how new weapons are utilized, Capcom threw in an optional tutorial where you can play around with the weapon so you can get a feel for it (and its powered up version) without having to waste valuable weapon energy in the subsequent stages. It’s nothing too major, but I felt I understood the weapons a lot better after actually trying them as opposed to just watching how they’re used.

One last quality of life addition to Mega Man 11 is the ability to quickly swap weapons. Though this has been featured in earlier games, Mega Man 11 adds onto that creating a weapon wheel of sorts. You can now switch directly to any weapon in the game from any weapon without having to pause. While you can still scroll through weapons as before, this change will allow for easier swapping and some really cool speed tech for htose who like to go fast.

From a design and aesthetic perspective, the game looks and sounds absolutely beautiful. I’m sure some people will balk at the shift into 2.5D, due to the inevitable comparisons to Mighty No. 9. Rest assured though, Capcom has worked hard to make sure that Mega Man 11 features vibrant, detailed stages and enemies. One detail I appreciate a lot is that Mega Man’s design changes slightly depending on his equipped weapon. It’s not just a color change anymore—Mega Man’s helmet and buster arm change completely!

Each of the stages features different hazards and enemy types, which went a long way in giving them a unique identity. It wouldn’t be a
Mega Man game without a great soundtrack, and though I think there have definitely been better tracks, there have certainly been a lot worse. The only real complaint I have here is that the voice acting feels a little cheesy at times. It’s still a step up over the previous entries in the franchise, however, so I can’t complain too much.

After you beat the main game, Mega Man 11 features a number of extras in which you can partake. The big draw is the inclusion of some additional modes. Some of these are your more standard time attack and boss rush modes. Some of the more fun ones, though, challenge you to beat the stages while limiting how often you jump, a balloon popping trial, and a gauntlet of tough Mega Man scenarios. All of these challenges have leaderboards associated with them, so you can strive to be the very best and claim the number one spot! My favorite post-game feature is the ability to purchase items that allow for unlimited gear and unlimited weapon usage. These abilities will come in handy for anyone looking to gather some easy achievements.

Capcom really kicked the classic
Mega Man franchise into high gear with Mega Man 11. The title is everything I wanted out of a classic Mega Man game, and though I was initially skeptical about the Double Gear system, I love what its addition brings in terms of strategy and execution to the game. This is a game that should not be passed over lightly. I’m not sure what Capcom has in store for Mega Man‘s future, but if it is of the quality of Mega Man 11, I’m not worried in the slightest.

A copy of Mega Man 11 was provided by Capcom for the purposes of this review.

No
9
Our Verdict
Mega Man 11
Challenging stages; Double Gear mechanic is a nice addition to franchise; Great artistic design; Fun side challenges
Some stages feel too long at times; Story is a little lacking
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Reviews

Capcom Mixes New Challenge With Old Fun in the Mega Man X Legacy Collections

I’ll be the first to admit that I never really gave the Mega Man X games a chance until a few years ago, so my experience with them has been pretty limited. That’s why when Capcom released the Mega Man X Legacy Collections, I jumped at the chance to play them. The collections were a great idea, after all—bring back a franchise onto modern systems to introduce new players to the games, add in some new features for longtime fans of the series, and you should have a good combination.

When it comes to the actual games, there isn’t much to discuss. Mega Man X Legacy Collection contains the first four Mega Man X titles, while Mega Man X Legacy Collection 2 contains everything from Mega Man X5 through Mega Man X8. Though I would have preferred to have everything in one package if possible, the division is ultimately fine. You can even change to the Japanese versions with the click of a button!

The games are presented in their original form, but they include an additional save feature and a “Rookie Hunter” mode. Capcom also made the decision to rename the Mega Man X5 bosses to remove references to Guns N’ Roses and bring the names more in line with the traditional naming scheme. The save feature runs alongside the password system common to Mega Man games, allowing you to load your game from where you left off without having to enter a password. Unlike the previous collections, though, this feature can only be activated between stages, not in the middle of one.

Rookie Hunter mode acts mostly as an easy mode of sorts. While it doesn’t make the game itself easier, it cuts the amount of damage you take in half, allowing you to hopefully progress further. In addition, if you’re playing any of the games from Mega Man X4 through Mega Man X8, Rookie Hunter mode also prevents instant deaths by spikes and bottomless pits. However, it’s a little strange that this ability is absent from the first three titles.

The games hold up to everything I’ve heard, both good and bad. I really appreciate the changes to the formula. The armor upgrades, though optional, provide a feeling of progression. The health upgrades and sub-tanks definitely help in the later stages of the games—I’m not sure I would’ve beaten them otherwise! The second collection is where things get weird, though, containing some of the worst games in the franchise. I’ll definitely go through and finish up these titles in time, but only after I’ve had my fill of the first four games.

New to both of these collections is a boss rush mode, known as “X Challenge.” X Challenge consists of nine stages of three fights each. Each fight has you fighting against two bosses from across the franchise at the same time, as, from a story perspective, the Mavericks are out for revenge. The story here is pretty bare bones and feels like it was thrown in as a justification for these fights taking place. I think more definitely could’ve been done with it, but that’s a fairly minor gripe in the grand scheme of things.

You don’t have to go into these fights without help, of course (though you do have that option). You’re allowed to select three special weapons from a specified list that you can use across each stage. You’ll have to be wise with these choices, however, as you aren’t allowed to change weapons between fights. You get three lives per stage, and if you lose all of them, you have to start from the first of the fights in that stage.

X Challenge comes in three different difficulties, though you only have Easy and Normal to start with. Beating either of these modes unlocks Hard mode. Easy difficulty allows you to take less damage than normal, as well as completely refilling your health and weapon energy between each fight. As an additional bonus, the first boss that you defeat within each pair drops a large health refill.

With all of these assists, beating Easy mode isn’t too much of a task. Normal is where the challenge really starts picking up, as your health and weapon energy don’t refill between fights. If you die, you restart the fight with your weapons in exactly the same state as you started it the first time, so you can’t death abuse to get more energy.

One of the most interesting aspects of this mode to me is that you play as X from later in the series. This means that you have the ability to dash, hover, and use the Z-Saber. It makes fights from early in the franchise a bit strange since some of these abilities aren’t present in those games. It can also be a little jarring the first time you see a boss from Mega Man X and Mega Man X6 in the same fight due to the different art styles, but this fades pretty quickly.

Overall, this mode is pretty fun, at least for the first few tries. Easy was good for getting a feel for the mode, but the enjoyment definitely comes from the challenge of intelligently picking your weapons and the skill required to make it through three straight fights that can be found on Normal and Hard. I haven’t tried Hard yet, but I’ve heard it’s ridiculously hard. There’s also an extra secret in this mode that unlocks once you beat Hard mode. I won’t spoil what it is, but it’s a pretty cool Easter egg. I don’t agree with some aspects of its implementation, but it is what it is.

These games wouldn’t be a celebration of Mega Man X history without a museum feature, and the Mega Man X Legacy Collections pull through here. Each game features a music player featuring the soundtracks of each game within the respective collection, in addition to a soundtrack of the collection itself.

There’s also an art gallery featuring images and information about the bosses from each respective game and from the collections as a whole. Both collections have the “The Day of Sigma” anime short from Maverick Hunter X and a gallery of some cool Mega Man X merchandise from across the years. But these are the same on both collections, which is a bit disappointing for those who own both collections.

Now, one complaint I have about these titles is the ability to remap buttons. The collections limit you to changing your control scheme from the main menu of each game. You can’t change mappings from inside the game, which makes it awkward to do so since you can’t test your setup without having to constantly enter and exit the game. I’ve also heard reports that on the PC versions, you are limited as to what buttons you’re actually allowed to use. I was using a controller when I played, so I can’t confirm this firsthand, but it is certainly worth noting.

I also would’ve liked to have some additional content in the form of gameplay. The Mega Man Legacy Collections included a challenge mode, allowing you to race through boss fights and stages in a time trial setting. It would’ve been cool to bring this feature back for these collections, just as an extra thing to do for when X Challenge loses its luster. Another idea would’ve been to include Vile’s campaign from Maverick Hunter X as a bonus. Vile’s campaign takes you through the events of Mega Man X from Vile’s perspective and does some really cool stuff regarding loadout customization that would’ve been fun to go through again.

All in all, the release of these games on modern platforms, as well as the added accessibility features, will help expose new players like myself to them. As someone who never really gave the Mega Man X franchise a fair chance when that was younger, I can certainly say that was a mistake, and I’d hope that other newcomers could say the same. The collections are also pretty solid for old fans since the games are present in their original forms.

The new X Challenge mode is fun and challenging and will be something I’ll be working on for a while to come, at least until I beat it. I do wish the extra features within the collections were more varied, however. It makes sense if someone only gets one of the two packages, but for those who have both, it’s very redundant and I feel that something else might’ve better served its place. You certainly won’t be in a bad place by getting both collections, as both have a good bit going for them. But if you could only get one, I’d go with Mega Man X Legacy Collection, just on the basis of having better games overall.

Copies of Mega Man X Legacy Collection and Mega Man X Legacy Collection 2 were provided by Capcom for the purposes of this review.

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8
Our Verdict
Mega Man X Legacy Collection/Mega Man X Legacy Collection 2
X Challenge mode is fun and challenging; Games presented in original forms
Repeated gallery extras for people who own both collections; Limited control remapping options
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Features Indie Nintendo Switch PC Reviews

Runner3 Blends Whimsy and Silliness With No-Nonsense Tests of Rhythm

It’s been five years since Gaijin Games, now Choice Provisions, released the fantastic Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, breaking the addictive gameplay of BIT.TRIP Runner out of the confines of 2D space to a 3D world exploding with style and color. Come PAX West last year, I was delighted to find out that a new Runner game was on the horizon and enjoyed my brief stint with the demo on the show floor. Now that I’ve had the chance to play the game in full, how does Runner3 stack up to expectations?

Before I got to the actual title screen, I was immediately greeted by Charles “Voice of Mario” Martinet reprising his role as the Narrator, presenting the game brought to me in part by a random in-game sponsor like “Johnny Mahoney’s Phoney Baloney (This Time, It’s “Real!”)“. Each comically written sponsor is joined by a stylistically old-fashioned advert as though it was ripped right out from an old magazine, with a different one presented every time I started up the game and never failing to put a silly grin on my face. After the introductory cutscene plays out with puns and alliterations aplenty (I swear Runner3‘s writing was made to my tastes), the stage is set for CommanderVideo and CommandGirlVideo’s uphill battle against the returning Timbletot threatening the multiverse.

Throughout the first of the three worlds, Foodland eases you into Runner3‘s control scheme, from simple jumping and sliding to combining complex maneuvers like kicking, dropping, and double-jumping. The game handles like previous entries, where your every move is precisely timed to the stage’s hazards and the zany soundtrack—the levels are your sheet music, CommanderVideo is your orchestra, and you are the conductor guiding the Commander to the end of each piece. This game is not for the rhythmically challenged as it demands nothing short of perfection: mistime a single action and Bonk into an obstacle, and you have to start all over or from the midway checkpoint.

Each level will have you collect 100 Gold Bars in a standard run, which can then be used to open up Impossibly Hard stages that live up to their name but aren’t impossible. Subsequent runs will then see to the collection of 25 Gems in an alternate route that is initially closed off, which you can then spend in the shop for alternate costumes, capes, and accessories to customize your character’s appearance. Collecting Gold Bars and Gems in tandem with breaking down walls and dodging obstacles will up your score, with boomboxes spread out on the course to Mode Up your run to increase score multipliers. Mode Ups also change up the music, as while the main melody remains the same, the instrumentation and tone switch around and shift the BGM accordingly, smoothly transitioning from ambient to groovy to maddeningly chaotic.

Compared to Runner2‘s 100+ levels, Runner3 presents surprisingly fewer stages for you to run through. Each world only presents nine main stages to run through, with three unlockable Impossibly Hard ones, and caps off with a boss fight. To make up for the lower amount, each level is considerably longer than those of its predecessor and will have you revisit them a few times for collectibles, namely Puppets for additional cutscenes, Hero Quests items and the oddball-designed characters who assign them, and hidden VHS tapes.

Repeat playthroughs do get a bit exhausting as most of these are found off the beaten path from your perfect Gold Bar and Gem runs, and your only saving grace in these longer, harder stages are a single checkpoint. In other words, once you collect the requested Hero Quest items, you have to return to the respective level and survive the trek to the NPC with all the enemies, pits, and vehicles to encounter all over again. You do get additional playable characters this way, including special guests like Shovel Knight, Eddie Riggs of Brütal Legend fame, and Charles Martinet himself, and thankfully, once you collect the item in question, you can just quit mid-stage to save time if you had already perfected runs beforehand.

While the game plays out like your standard Runner game as you autorun, each VHS tape also unlocks Retro levels that play out like traditional platformers with a cartoony art style. Clearing them with five Gildans in tow allows you to spend them with Gems on even more items in the shop.

As for the game’s visual presentation, the jagged edges from its lower resolution and minor framerate dips in certain areas are a little bit off-putting at times, but thankfully they don’t detract from the overall experience, be it in TV mode or Handheld mode on the Switch. While moments to enjoy the scenery outside the intense gameplay are few and brief, the goofy, whimsical style of the environment is purely delightful to look at, be it the food-laden, hunger-inducing hillsides of Foodland, Spookyland’s varying takes on “ominous and creepy,” or the many sweltering factories peppered across the industrial Machineland.

All in all, if you’re itching for a fun but unforgiving rhythm platformer with dang good music and you have hours to grind, Runner3 might be the game for you.

Runner3 launches today for Nintendo Switch, macOS, and Windows, with Xbox One and PlayStation 4 releases pending. Be sure to also check out the game’s soundtracks, by Matthew Harwood and Stemage, right here.


Runner3 was reviewed for the Nintendo Switch using a digital eShop copy provided by Choice Provisions.

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ChannelImages
8
Our Verdict
Runner3
Addictive gameplay timed to the rhythm of catchy tunes. Tons of collectibles to keep you busy. You can play as Charles Martinet.
A little on the repetitive side when shooting for 100% completion in the base game. Minor technical naggles. Not for the rhythmically challenged.
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Features Reviews Virtual Reality

Ready Player One is Nothing Like the Book, But That’s Mostly a Good Thing

When the first trailer for Ready Player One dropped, I was incredibly intrigued by this dystopian world where most people spent their time in a utopian virtual world. I had never read or even heard of the novel by Ernest Cline at that point, but the concept alone was interesting enough to make me pick up a copy.

After reading the book earlier this year, I concluded that Ready Player One is an incredibly entertaining and engaging story, but the characters are a little underdeveloped, the namedropping of 80s culture gets a little old at times, and the lesson learned by the main character is a glossed over and put aside by the end. Fortunately, the film adaptation from Steven Spielberg fixes a lot of the gripes I had with the novel, though it also loses some of the charm from the original.

The OASIS is Stunningly Beautiful

Before I touch on the story, I have to give this film credit as a visual masterpiece. Most of Ready Player One takes place in a virtual world called the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation). In this world, anything is possible. The only limits are the imaginations of its users, and you see this unfold immediately.

One of the very first scenes in the OASIS involves a high speed car race, which you can see glimpses of in the trailers. The attention to detail is outstanding, as players zip around each other and crash into obstacles and other cars along the way. Explosions and flying debris are extremely detailed, and you feel like you’re part of the race.

The OASIS is a dreamland of visual effects such as this. Another scene involves a night club where players dance in zero gravity. The lighting in this area is gorgeous, and the beauty of the club makes you wish you had an OASIS to go to yourself.

If you haven’t read the book, seeing the OASIS will be a delight. If you are familiar with the novel, seeing the OASIS will be like a dream come true.

The Story is Fantastic, But it’s Not What You Remember

The story of Ready Player One is going to cause controversy between fans of the book and fans of the movie. However, the film’s story still holds up on its own. In some ways, it streamlines the series of events better than the novel.

In the year 2045, the creator of the OASIS, trillionaire James Halliday, has just passed away and left his final will, revealing to everyone that he has hidden an “Easter egg” in the OASIS. The first player to find this egg will inherit his fortune and control of the OASIS itself.

This is a big deal, since most people in the world use the program on a daily basis to escape the real world. Citizens have actual jobs, go on dates, shop, and everything else you would normally do in the outside world. So being in control of the OASIS is almost like being in control of the world to some people.

Our hero, Wade Watts, is a high school student who lives in The Stacks, a collective of mobile homes stacked on top of each other for those who live in poverty. Going by the online name Parzival, he’s joined by fellow players Aech, Art3mis, Daito, and Sho in a quest to find Halliday’s Easer egg.

We’re also introduced to our main antagonists, the corporation known as IOI (Innovative Online Industries). This company will stop at nothing to seize control of the OASIS, and it is always on the tails of our main heroes. At the head of IOI is a man named Nolan Sorrento, who often plays dirty to push the contest in his favor.

This is where we see Ready Player One make some changes from the novel. Nolan Sorrento is almost like a cartoon villain in the film, whereas he posed a much bigger threat in the book. On the big screen, Sorrento shows time and time again that he is incompetent and too easily duped. This is sort of true to his character, but some of his mess-ups feel kind of goofy in the movie, rather than just being a corporate villain that knows next to nothing about the program he wants control over.

But this is a minor gripe, and one that didn’t damper the experience as a whole. Sorrento still does a lot of messed up things, but he isn’t a very threatening villain most of the time.

One thing that is better in the movie is the eventual relationship between Art3mis and Wade. In the novel, most of their interactions were awkward, felt a little unreal, and sometimes they were downright cringey. I understand the point behind this. They’re both antisocial people that don’t know how to connect properly with each other. But the Wade in the book never really treats Art3mis like somebody he loves outside of the obligatory “I love you.”

The Wade and Art3mis relationship in the film is still awkward, but it’s cuter and less painful. It feels like two socially inept people are actually getting together because they care about each other, rather than having a love interest just because there has to be one.

Perhaps the biggest change to Ready Player One‘s story is the challenges to get to Halliday’s egg. In the novel, the OASIS users had to be incredibly knowledgeable about 80s pop culture to find answers to the clues or challenges that would lead them in the right direction. I always considered this a flaw of the book, which I feel relied too much on the reader’s nostalgia to make the book feel bigger than it was.

However, in the film, the clues to find the challenges are related more to Halliday’s personal life instead of the films or games he liked. Delving into this man’s past makes the characters more aware of what’s at stake and also helps them grow as people. The contest becomes less about themselves, and more about what the world as a whole needs when the winner is finally declared.

Without going into spoilers, the contest makes so much more sense in the context of the film. The characters actually learn a lesson and the fate of the OASIS is one that I think a lot of people can get behind.

On top of all of this, there are many more changes to the overall plot of Ready Player One that would touch too much into spoiler territory. With that in mind, you should watch this film as a separate story instead of expecting to see your favorite book on the big screen.

A Video Game Thrill Ride Everyone Can Enjoy

Ready Player One is an absolute joy ride and a glimmer of hope for the future of video games in film. Some of the characters are a little weak and there are a ton of changes from the novel, but this is an enjoyable experience for anybody that appreciates video games, science fiction, or the original Ready Player One. It’s worth the wait, worth the hype, and most importantly, worth your time.

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ChannelImages
9
Our Verdict
Ready Player One
This film has wonderful characters, an improved story from the original novel, and spectacular visuals that will keep you entertained the whole time.
The villains are a little weak. It doesn’t damper the experience as a whole, but it does make you a little less invested in the fate of the OASIS.
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Reviews

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is an Intense, Gorgeous Conclusion to SEGA’s Best Story

You may not be aware of it, but the SEGA dream lives on today. It may not be through the middling success of
Sonic the Hedgehog (it’ll bounce back from Sonic Forces, right?), but through the excellence shown in their very own Yakuza franchise, a series that has always been more popular in Japan than in North America up until the globally successful release of Yakuza 0 last year. A blend of over-the-top beat-em-up action and RPG elements, the Yakuza series stands as SEGA’s competitor to Grand Theft Auto. The series offers a solemn, serious story not dissimilar in tone to the Metal Gear Solid franchise, with hours of minigames and distracting sidequests. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is not only an excellent conclusion to this high-quality action series, but it refines its best traits to the point of greatness.

As with the rest of the series, the latest installment tells the story of Kazuma Kiryu, a fearsome gangster known as “The Dragon of Dojima,” an ultimately bighearted and caring man who has never taken a life but would easily risk his own for those he cares for. One of these people is Haruka Sawamura, who he raised and cared for since the beginning of the series. In the previous two main entries, we have seen several playable characters whose fates interweave with Kiryu. In Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, we see the dramatic finale of Kiryu’s story, with the focus shifted entirely on him. Being such a memorable and iconic character to the series, he definitely gets the send-off he deserves.

Set three years after the events of
Yakuza 5, Haruka’s days as an idol have come to an end, and Kiryu is left believing he is to blame after being accidentally ousted by her in an emotional retirement speech. Serving four years in prison for his past crimes in an act of appeasement, he returns to his orphanage and discovers that Haruka had disappeared nearly three years ago, so he sets out to find her. Instead, he learns that she was struck by a car in a gang related incident, taking most of the damage to protect her one year old son, Haruto, and leaving her in critical condition.

Angered, Kiryu flip flops between Kamurucho, Tokyo and Onomichi, Hiroshima, looking for the child’s father and trying to find answers. Along the way, he meets and befriends the Hirose Family, a local Yakuza gang raised by a lovable patriarch, who do everything they can to help him. But, as it turns out, the answers Kiryu seeks about his foster-grandson go far deeper than anybody would believe, and with rising tensions between two major Yakuza factions, his former Tojo Clan and the Omi Alliance, the Korean Jingweon Mafia, Chinese Triads, who recently expanded into Japan, he needs to fight harder than ever to come out alive.

The story of Yakuza 6 follows the trend with other games in the series: highly cinematic, incredibly stylish cinematography, and ultimately satisfying to watch. The lengths Kiryu goes through to help others go far past that of a simple yakuza code of honor. He’s an intimidating figure in an outdated leisure suit, but if he sees a stranger having a bad day, he’s the first to do whatever he can to help. He’s a stand-up guy, and his good nature is always complimented by those he surrounds himself with, be it the reckless, young yakuza members he teaches manners to or good-natured detectives who help him out on his adventures.

The new characters and setting of Onomichi left an interesting and refreshing take on the series, showcasing a more rural, laidback lifestyle than the intense, fast paced way of life in Kamurucho. The newly created Dragon engine allows for the most emotive story visualization I’ve ever seen in a video game, with every last line in the game having full voice acting. The acting and the overall story is at the top of its class, but, as with every game since
Yakuza 2, there is no English voicing option, meaning you’re going to be doing a lot of reading. That could be a negative to some, but not to me, as I feel it adds to the tone and realism.

While the emotional, soap-opera-esque main story may not be what you’re looking for if you aren’t a fan of cinematic cutscenes (and this game has a LOT of them), you can still skip through them and get right to the gameplay, which is where the Yakuza party really kicks off. First off, the combat in this game is incredible. As you roam the streets of Kamuchuro and Hiroshima, you’re going to encounter thugs, Yakuza, triads, and more—all of whom will attack you when they spot you. And the fun really begins when they do. Using fighting game-styled combos, you punch, kick, and block your way through a crowd of yakuza, gaining enough energy to enter Extreme Heat Mode, which allows you to pull off some crazy, hyperviolent actions.

Aside from that, during fights you can find a plethora of items laying around, waiting for you to pick them up and bash some heads. There is nothing more pleasing than picking up a motorcycle and devastating your foes by swinging it around. In addition, Yakuza 6 ditches the skill tree of past games for a menu that allows you to upgrade your stats, battle moves, and other miscellaneous things that make you more proficient in other aspects of the game. These unlockables keep the game incredibly refreshing, transforming the gameplay towards the end.

One issue I found with the gameplay in Yakuza 6 in contrast to earlier games is that there are fewer crazy Heat Actions that you can perform. It’s still fun, but not as vibrant or wacky as past Yakuza games. The controls have been heavily simplified from previous games in the series and allow you to get more creative in your fights. This can be a negative if you’re a fan of the several movesets and fighting styles of Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami, but it’s a positive for a newcomer to the series to jump in and enjoy.

There are also a ton of sidequests and minigames that never fail to entertain. On your journey, you’re going to meet up with a ton of strange characters who make up for some great comic relief, with lines and quests that are written just as well as the core story. There’s also a social media app called “Troublr,” which allows Kiryu to pick up requests and help people out in different ways, from defusing a bomb to bringing napkins to somebody trapped in a toilet. There are so many small details in the game, such as the revamp of in-game vending machines, where you can buy beverages and drink them as you walk around, offering temporary stat boosts. You can eat at restaurants when you’re hungry, and earn experience points from just about anything you do.

When it comes to minigames, there are so many things to do it’ll make your head spin. In the middle of the game’s missions, you can take a break and go to batting cages, sing karaoke, go to hostess clubs, get involved in online chatrooms, compete in Pocket Circuit tournaments, play a trading card game that features anime women as insects, start a fitness regiment, or play darts and mahjong. You can even purchase and manage a goddamned cat cafe, where you find and befriend stray cats to take into your cafe for people to appreciate.

In addition, the Club Sega arcades that are a mainstay in downtown Tokyo have returned in this installment with more games than ever. You can play full arcade versions of games like Puyo Puyo, Space Harrier, OutRun, Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown, and Super Hang-On. If you have any friends to play with, Puyo Puyo and Virtua Fighter 5 are available to play in couch multiplayer. The inclusion of these games within Yakuza 6 is ultimately one of the most wonderful things I’ve seen in an open world game.

Aside from the fun things to do in town, there’s also a Clan Creator mode that flips the game’s format upside down with strategy RPG gameplay. You can build up your own gang, recruit new members, and grow in size to the point of taking down JUSTIS, a new gang in Japan with incredible size that causes trouble on the streets. The mechanics work perfectly, and it’s a refreshing break from the adrenaline filled, face-to-face fighting. Clan Creator mode is by far the most expansive minigame in the entire Yakuza series, with an online multiplayer component, an ARG hosted by SEGA, and several hours of content.

While the open world of Yakuza 6 may not even be a fraction of the size of a game like Grand Theft Auto V or Far Cry 5, the true charm of the game lies within the world’s absolutely perfect design. Kamurucho and Onomichi are fully realized, dense, breathing towns that take less than five minutes to run a circle around, but simultaneously can leave you distracted for hundreds of hours. While other games with massive, sprawling maps that might take hours to explore, the small areas of Yakuza 6 are completely packed with people, bars, restaurants, and tons of entertainment centers. Every building is different, every sidequest is brimming with originality and fun.

In my opinion, this is the most immersive game ever made. In every way, the game finds a way to put you in Kiryu’s shoes, from making friends at a bar to becoming a miniature car racing champion. I didn’t even know the game had a first person mode until much later, but you don’t even need it to feel like you’re connected to his world.

Visually, the game is stunning. You can see each individual pore in the characters’ faces, right down to visually accurate sweat and tear drops. The scenery is incredible looking and there is a true attention to detail in just about everything that you see with a wild amount of clarity. I personally would have preferred some more PlayStation 4 Pro options; the option to choose a higher framerate over a higher resolution would be nice. With some very minor issues with pop-in and aliasing aside, Yakuza 6 stands as one of the most visually impressive games I’ve ever played. I have no complaints about the music either; it adds to the intensity of any situation and impacts emotional scenes in the way it should.

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is a great entry to the series, and it’s easily the most accessible. While it is the final entry in the series to feature Kiryu, you really don’t need to play previous entries to understand and enjoy it. While some gameplay elements have been streamlined and a few features were stripped from the decade old franchise, it doesn’t take away from the fun. Its new engine completely transforms the series into such a beautiful sight. The story is captivating to no end, with characters you can come to love, and the absolute roller-coaster of the final five chapters. You can beat the main story in twenty hours, or you could spend over one hundred getting distracted by the game’s well illustrated, complete, and vivid open world. If you’re a fan of crazy action games, exploring a world, or you just love a good cinematic experience in a video game, I cannot recommend this game enough to you.

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ChannelImages
9
Our Verdict
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
Blood pumping action, gorgeous graphics, entrancing story, and an unbelievable amount of side-quests and minigames.
Less Heat Actions than previous games in the series and fewer side-quests.
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Features Reviews

Tomb Raider is Far From Perfect, But It Still Delivers an Entertaining Experience

Video game movies aren’t exactly known for their quality. One look at recent forays into the genre such as Warcraft or Assassin’s Creed provides all the evidence we need to back that up. Despite this, we’re still seeing attempt after attempt to capitalize on these franchises, with the most recent being Square Enix’s Tomb Raider. The publisher has been quite successful with the franchise reboot in game form, but how does the transition to the big screen hold up?

Tomb Raider is a theatrical version of Crystal Dynamics’ 2013 reboot of the franchise and as such is the theatrical reboot of the Angelina Jolie-era movies. Alicia Vikander stars as a young, down on her luck Lara Croft who finds herself wrapped up a journey to find her father. Despite his position as head of a vast business empire, Lord Richard Croft had a secret life saving the world from an evil organization known as Trinity. Seven years prior to the events of the movie, Richard Croft suddenly vanished due to this work, leaving his legacy to Lara who wants nothing to do with it. Only upon accepting that her father isn’t coming back does Lara discover this secret life and set out on a journey to find him.

Lara’s journey takes her to the island of Yamatai, where she meets Mathias Vogel, a Trinity employee searching for the tomb of the Death Queen, Himiko. If all of these names sound familiar, that’s because they’re lifted straight out of the game. But that’s about the extent of the similarity to the game. While the game focuses on the Solarii Brotherhood, a cult of survivors searching for a successor to inherit Himiko’s soul, the movie ignores them completely in favor of Trinity. Himiko is said to bring death to those around her, and Trinity sees an opportunity to use her as a weapon to control the world.

While this motivates the antagonist’s actions, Lara is motivated by survival and the desire to find out what happened to her father. Tomb Raider decides to focus on this relationship and tells its story from this perspective. I can’t say I agree with this choice, mostly because we’re given no reason to really care all that much. All we’re presented with about Richard Croft is that he was never really around for Lara’s childhood, always running off on “business trips.” It’s hard to buy into the idea that he is an important figure in Lara’s life when all we have to go off of are flashbacks of him leaving. This emphasis also ruins what could’ve been an extremely important characterization moment for Lara midway through the movie, which I still haven’t been able to forgive.

Vikander is without question the star of the show. She takes on the role of Lara quite nicely, transforming her from a softer, young woman to the badass heroine we know and love. I’m more torn on Walton Goggins’ performance as Mathias, though I feel this may be due to the writing rather than Goggins himself. Despite being the film’s main antagonist, there’s nothing that makes him very memorable. Mathias is nothing more than a pawn in Trinity’s schemes, making it hard to see him as an actual threat at times. However, there are some rare circumstances where Mathias’ actions make him come across as borderline insane, and it is in these moments where he shines.

Nothing
Tomb Raider does is revolutionary; in fact, it’s quite the opposite, reminding me heavily of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Everything I saw in the film is already a staple of the genre. Gorgeous set pieces? Check. Trap-filled dungeon? You betcha. Fun action sequences? Of course. Despite all these cliches, or perhaps because of them, I found real enjoyment in watching Tomb Raider. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, but if you can get past its flaws, there’s some real fun to be had.

Tomb Raider is out now in theaters nationwide.

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ChannelImages
6
Our Verdict
Tomb Raider
Alicia Vikander steals the show as Lara Croft; Gorgeous set pieces; Genre cliches feel right at home; Lots of references to the previous franchise entries, both game and film
Largely forgettable villain; Weak plot motivation; Key moments of characterization ruined by bad design choices
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Features PC Reviews

Ragtag Adventurers Has Potential, But Its Technical Problems Are Holding it Back

UPDATE: Ragtag Adventurers is out of Early Access now.

Who doesn’t love a good boss fight? I know I do. I’m drawn to the grandeur of the battles. The epic soundtracks, the intricate character designs, the combination of strategy and execution—there’s nothing quite like these challenges. Perhaps that’s why boss rush-style games like Cuphead or Furi have become so popular in recent years. As a fan of the genre, I recently sat down with a Steam Early Access game entitled Ragtag Adventurers to see if it holds up.

As the genre implies, the core of Ragtag Adventurers is the sequence of four boss fights you must take on. These fights are long and demanding to start out with, but become even more hectic as the fight continues. As each boss takes damage, it throws attacks at you more rapidly. Not only are these attacks coming at you faster, they often are harder to dodge. Projectiles that once split into 4 parts now split into 8 or 12. Fire that cracks through the ground now erupts multiple times, causing smaller and smaller safe zones. Couple this increasing difficulty with fights that last over ten minutes and you have a recipe for a stamina-draining marathon.

There are four heroes to choose from, based on standard gaming archetypes—a tank, a healer, a fighter, and a mage. Each has a unique fighting style and complementary abilities. When starting the game, you can pick one of these characters as your brawler, though this really only matters if you aren’t playing by yourself. If tackling the game’s solo mode, you are free to swap between characters at will, giving you full range to all the heroes’ powers. If you choose team mode, you can either play with friends locally or have the AI control the other characters. I didn’t have anyone to test out the local co-op with, but the AI seems to be fairly useful, always laying down a heal, shield, or revive when needed. Online multiplayer will also be present in the final version, adding yet another way to play.

Not everything is so grand, however. There are times when I would separate from my group to regenerate mana, but the camera would stay where the action was happening. As such, I would be left with no indication of where I was, a devastating disadvantage when trying to dodge bullets that seemed to kill me in one hit. I would also experience seemingly random one hit kills on the dragon boss, a major annoyance when I was already on my last life.

My main source of frustration though comes from the game freezing on me upon a game over. Basically every time I get a game over, Ragtag Adventurers just freezes, forcing me to close out of the game and restart it. I can’t imagine that this problem will persist in the final version, but as it stands now, it’s a major interest killer.

In small bursts, Ragtag Adventurers is a fun, challenging boss rush, despite its problems. But in longer stretches, I found myself losing interest rather quickly. It is fairly satisfying to defeat a foe after a ten minute fight. But on the other hand, it’s incredibly demoralizing to be that far into a fight, only to lose because of something I didn’t see. Furthering this frustration, having to close and re-open the game every time I lose pushes me away from longer sessions. Since it is still in Early Access, I’ll be interested to see how Prime Time Studio polishes what’s already present to produce the final version.

A copy of Ragtag Adventurers was provided by Prime Time Studio for purposes of this review. In addition, one member of the development team is a former staff member of Gamnesia.

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Our Verdict
Ragtag Adventurers
Challenging boss fights; Variety in boss battle designs
Fights are borderline too long; Few camera problems; Reliable freezing upon game over
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Features Nintendo Switch PC PlayStation 4 Reviews Xbox One

Celeste Dashes to the Peak of the Challenging Platformer Genre

When it comes to tight, difficult platformers, Super Meat Boy may be the most prominent example, but there are others just as worthy of the descriptor. One such game is Celeste, a full-fledged adventure from Matt Thorson (of Towerfall fame) and Noel Berry. You may be familiar with an earlier PICO-8 game of the same name, also by Thorson and Berry, and it is this version that serves as the foundation on which Celeste is built.

One common metaphor for facing life’s obstacles is that of climbing a mountain. You start out at the bottom, looking up at the peak. As you begin climbing, the series of choices you make shapes the path you climb, whether good or bad. You may slip here and there, but with enough perseverance, you finally reach the peak. In this sense, everybody can relate to Celeste‘s main character, Madeline. Except, in Madeline’s case, she’s facing a literal mountain.

Celeste‘s story may at face value be just that—a story about mountain climbing. But just as the mountain metaphor works in real life, it also works in Celeste. The developers have craftily utilized this scenario as a tool to tell a story about overcoming obstacles and going on a journey to find yourself. This allows us, as the player, to project ourselves easily onto Madeline, whatever our problem may be. It’s a very real, very human experience that gets expressed in a way the likes of which I haven’t felt from a game in a very long time.

As far as the gameplay is concerned, Celeste feels very precise, as it’s clearly designed to be. Throughout the game, you’ll travel through over 600 screens filled with spikes, enemies, moving platforms, and much more. Each screen is in itself a small puzzle as you figure out how to effectively navigate the traps within, utilizing only a few moves throughout the entire game to do so. Much like with Super Meat Boy, you will die a lot. But each death is a learning opportunity. Making the most of these chances is essential not only to progress throughout the game, but it reinforces the main theme of overcoming your obstacles.

You can always stick to the main path, but if you’re the adventurous sort, there are all kinds of secrets and collectibles. Each chapter has a number of strawberries you can pick up, though these are often placed along harder paths throughout the screens. To make these even harder to get, touching one doesn’t automatically collect it. You have to get back to safety in order for the collection to register. For those who like harder levels, each chapter also contains a cassette which unlocks the “B-Side” chapter when you get it. The B-Side levels are much harder, to the point that it took me over an hour to complete just one set of them. I also found a few other secrets within, including my favorite—an in-game version of the original
Celeste!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the phenomenal aesthetic details that make up Celeste. The art style is a crisp throwback to the retro games of yore, perfectly updating the 8-bit style with a bit of color and flair. Outside of the actual gameplay, the menus are more modern, providing a slick juxtaposition with the retro style within the game proper.

As beautiful as
Celeste looks, however, what really stands out to me is how it sounds. The soundtrack is top-notch throughout, blending orchestral melodies with pulsing chiptune mixes. My favorite tracks are those from the B-Side levels, specifically the song from Chapter 3. This soundtrack is certainly going towards the top of my collection so I have easy access to listen to it as much as I want.

Celeste perfectly embodies the mountain metaphor, both in story and gameplay. The difficulty of the levels seems daunting at first (except the B-Sides—those are still daunting), but as you learn and progress, you realize it wasn’t as hard as you expected. There’s a great satisfaction looking back on the challenging sections, realizing that despite all the hardships you went through, you were successful in making progress. It is a bit of a completionist’s nightmare however, as there’s a ton of extra content, some of which is absolutely brutal. Really though, the only ways you can go wrong with Celeste are to underestimate it or to avoid it completely.

Celeste is now available on PC, Switch, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.

A copy of Celeste was provided by Matt Makes Games Inc. for the purposes of this review.

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Our Verdict
Celeste
Challenging stages; Lots of replay value for completionists; Phenomenal soundtrack; Relatable, metaphorical story
Fairly short if not going for the additional content
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Features Nintendo Nintendo Switch Reviews

Super Meat Boy Faithfully Recreates Both Its Fun and Frustration on Switch

When one thinks of tough video games, there are a few that likely come to mind. Many gamers would jump immediately to Dark Souls, or in more recent times, Cuphead, for instance. While that’s certainly accurate, my mind often jumps to a different genre entirely: platformers, specifically Team Meat’s Super Meat Boy. To me, Super Meat Boy is one the best indie games on the market. It is a bit dated, having first come out in 2010, but it’s also seen quite a few re-releases on many different platforms. Now, by popular demand, Team Meat has brought the magic of Super Meat Boy to Switch.

For the uninitiated, Super Meat Boy is a notoriously tough platformer in which you have to navigate a maze of rockets, saws, and pits to reach a goal. The game features hundreds of levels across seven worlds, ranging from easy to frustratingly difficult. Though most stages can be beaten in a handful of seconds once you know how to do it, it’s the process of figuring out what works and what doesn’t that makes up the meat of the game. You will die. A lot. But each death is a learning experience. When to jump, when to dash, when to stay still—all of these are key aspects that successful Super Meat Boy players will have to learn.

As far as the base game is concerned, not much is different from the original releases. Each level still has a par time to beat if you want an extra challenge. Collectables and hidden levels are sprinkled throughout the worlds for those who want (or are crazy enough) to truly complete the game, but none of these are ever required to progress. The only real difference in this release is the soundtrack. The original
Super Meat Boy soundtrack ranks among my all-time favorites. The pounding drive of the soundtrack kept me going even when I was at my most frustrated. However, due to licensing issues, the Switch version makes use of the newer, PlayStation 4 soundtrack. It’s still good, but it will never replace the old one in my heart.

Of course, since this is the Switch version, you can take Super Meat Boy on the road in handheld mode. For me, this is one of the biggest draws of this edition. I can’t count how many times I’ve been on the road dying to play Super Meat Boy, forced to give up my desires upon the realization that I can’t bring my Xbox with me.

Luckily, Team Meat didn’t disappoint with this port. The game runs incredibly smoothly in handheld mode. The visuals look nice, and the music blasts through the speakers with gusto. It’s almost everything I could’ve hoped for. The one downside is that due to the size of the Switch screen, the game can be a little hard to make out at times. It can be hard to see certain obstacles because they blend into the background too easily or because they’re too small. However, these are relatively minor complaints in the grand scheme of things.

The other feature offered in the Switch version is the new race mode. This is a local, two-player battle to see who can reach the end of a set of levels first. You can either run a specific chapter or a random selection of your completed levels. Surprisingly, there is a little bit of strategy to these races, since warp zones and bandages appear in the levels as well. Warp zones can be used to increase your lead by jumping ahead a few levels, but you have to be careful because they can also warp you backwards. Likewise, bandages can be used to skip levels, at the cost of two bandages per level. You can even skip the final level if you have enough bandages to do so, allowing you to secure your victory even quicker.

It is worth noting that this mode is split-screen. While playing it in handheld mode is possible, your screen will be even smaller than normal. Overall, it’s a very nice addition to the game, though. I just wish that they had extended this mode to single-player or even added online multiplayer. It would’ve been a lot of fun to run a gauntlet of random levels either by myself or to see how I stack up against players from around the world.

All in all, Super Meat Boy on Switch is an almost perfectly faithful port of the original release. There are a few differences between releases, but not all that many. As such, if you’ve played it once already, you might not be too quick to pick this one up unless you’re itching to take it with you on the go.

For first timers, I can’t recommend
Super Meat Boy highly enough, but do be warned that it will be frustratingly difficult at times. If that isn’t your kind of game, stay away. But for those who can stand the heat, you’ll find nothing short of a tight, satisfying experience that will keep you coming back for more. Take it from me—I’ve almost completed the game 100% on one console and I fully expect that I’ll be doing the same here.

Super Meat Boy is now available on the Nintendo eShop for $14.99.

A copy of Super Meat Boy was provided by Team Meat for the purposes of this review.

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Our Verdict
Super Meat Boy
Racing is a fun, new addition to the game; tight controls; fun, challenging, and satisfying levels
Can be hard to see in handheld mode; no online racing
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Features PC PlayStation 4 Reviews Xbox One

A Hat in Time is a Fantastic Game That Lets 3D Platformers Shine in the Limelight Again

There was a point in time when 3D platformers dominated the video game market. However, gaming trends have evolved, and now most games seem to feature a more open world experience. With these larger worlds, 3D platforming games have become scarce, mostly coming from Nintendo and SEGA. But with the rise of indie game developers, this genre is being revitalized with a passion we’ve never seen before. A Hat in Time is one of several 3D platformers to release this year, and it represents everything you could possibly want in a modern day title from this genre.

Story

Like most 3D platformers, A Hat in Time has a simplistic story. An adventurous young girl named Hat Kid is traveling through space and enjoying life when a resident of the nearby world Mafia Town knocks on her door and demands a toll for passing by. Hat Kid responds to this by shutting the door in the mafia member’s face, thinking the problem is dealt with. However, he comes crashing through the glass door, which immediately causes outer space to suck out many of Hat Kid’s precious belongings, as well as Hat Kid herself. Most importantly, Hat Kid loses the time pieces that run her spaceship.

After this unfortunate property damage occurs, Hat Kid crashes into Mafia Town, where she meets a mustached girl named…Mustache Girl. The two quickly become friends and Mustache Girl vows to help Hat Kid find all of the missing time pieces in Mafia Town.

A Hat in Time isn’t heavy with its story, but it is simple and cute enough to keep players invested. While this synopsis only covers the beginning of the game, each world has its own unique story. One world will have you helping two different directors make an award-winning film while another will put you through a mysterious haunted house to uncover its dark secrets. But no matter what world you’re visiting, the end goal stays the same for Hat Kid: collect all the time pieces so she can make her way home.

Gameplay

By this point, you understand where the game is going. You’ll be playing through several different worlds to collect as many time pieces as you can. It’s a formula that’s similar to games like Super Mario Odyssey or Banjo-Kazooie. However, A Hat in Time takes this formula a step further by giving the player different powers they can utilize along their journey.

As Hat Kid, you can collect several different types of yarn to stitch together various hats. Each hat has its own unique abilities. For example, the default hat shows you where your next objective is located, and a different hat lets you run really fast. These hats can also be upgraded with gems you’ll be collecting. In the case of the sprinting hat, you can get an upgrade that instead lets you ride a scooter that travels much faster.

These power ups will help you get to places you couldn’t reach before, but they’re also just fun to use outside of their intended functions. No hat is more important than the other, so you’ll want to collect as much yarn as possible to get them all. Hat Kid also has an umbrella she can wack baddies with, a homing attack she can use to bop enemies on the head, a dive move similar to the one in
Super Mario Sunshine, and a double jump to get to harder-to-reach platforms.

However, because Hat Kid has so many utilities at her disposal, the game can become pretty easy. The platforming segments are never super challenging. When you do die, the game is rather forgiving about where your last checkpoint was. When I sat down with A Hat in Time, I had collected all the time pieces in just one weekend.

The game becomes a lot more challenging when fighting bosses. You won’t be shaking your controller in rage by any means, but it will take a couple of tries to figure out each boss’s unique patterns. It feels super satisfying to defeat each boss in this game, and the final level is one of the coolest battles I’ve seen in any platforming game.

A Hat in Time plays like a dream. It hits all the marks a 3D platformer should and even goes beyond those expectations.

Sound Design and Visuals

The sound design for A Hat in Time is phenomenal. Every noise in this game is meant to make you feel great. Even though it’s something simple, the crescendo of notes that are made when collecting gems in succession is satisfying enough to make me want to collect multiple gems at once every time. The cries of enemies and the effect noises for all the power ups make everything feel much more special.

But all of this would mean nothing if the game didn’t have a good soundtrack. Thankfully,
A Hat in Time features music I would gladly listen to any time outside of the game. Each song fits the mood of each stage, and each boss battle has a theme that stands out from the rest of the adventure.

This wonderful sound experience mixes very well with the game’s beautiful art direction. All of the characters are colorful and cartoony. This stylized look and the expressive characters reminded me a lot of
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. But A Hat in Time has its own personalized feeling to this art style. The environments in this game are so stunning that you’ll forget it isn’t even running on the latest version of Unreal Engine.

Verdict

A Hat in Time is one of the best 3D platformers I’ve ever played. It has a wonderful blend of everything that makes the genre great: a simple story, likeable characters, a beautiful art design, and one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard. The game is a little short and easy, but the developers are currently working on DLC for it, some of which will be free. For the price tag of $29.99, A Hat in Time is a must-buy for anybody that has ever enjoyed a 3D platforming game in their life. I can easily see myself playing this one over and over again for years to come.

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Our Verdict
A Hat in Time
A Hat in Time provides a wonderful 3D platforming experience with beautiful visuals, awesome abilities, incredible boss fights, and a soundtrack you’ll want to take with you everywhere. The game is super addicting and you’ll never want to put it down.
The game is pretty short and easy. You won’t have to spend more than a few hours to complete this game.
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Features PlayStation 4 Reviews

Star Wars Battlefront II Shines the Brightest in its Compelling Single-Player Campaign

Yes, there is actually a game behind all the controversy surrounding the microtransactions the world cannot stop speaking about. As a disclaimer, this review will focus solely on the microtransactions-free single player campaign of Star Wars Battlefront II. The multiplayer seems to be an addicting setup for Star Wars fans who have self-control enough to not spend their hard-earned cash on elements (with some time) unlocked otherwise through playtime, but for nerds like me, the single-player game is a refreshing break from the hectic, wily realm of multiplayer for a canon tale worthy of the famous brand.

Single-Player Campaign

Star Wars Battlefront II has the player take control of Iden Versio, leader of the Imperial Inferno Squad, for the majority of its several hour-long campaign. The premise: Iden and her men become disillusioned with the Empire after the destruction of the second Death Star (as seen in Return of the Jedi) and other traumatic events, leading to a riveting yet easy-to-follow plot of wavering allegiances and a changing galaxy leading to the currently-running sequel trilogy.

As such, there are surprises aplenty for the average Star Wars fan, and for the most hardcore of enthusiasts, Battlefront II offers Easter eggs and other intricacies that tie into the current Star Wars canon more seamlessly than the Legends brand of Star Wars ever did. Controlling characters such as Luke Skywalker and Han Solo in interludes dispersed throughout Iden’s story feels natural and progresses the narrative in a complex way beyond just the perspective of special ops Imperial soldiers.

The story is solid enough, and so is the gameplay for the most part. The core structure of the original EA Battlefront is refined here, featuring equippable items for trigger buttons that can distract and harm enemy units in multiple ways. Stealth-inclined players may want to use smoke to their advantage; for example the dense shroud of trees on the forest moon of Endor could provide additional cover to allow for stealth takedowns with the press of a stick. Trigger-happy players may opt for thermal detonators that recharge instead of being restrained to an ammo counter. Blasters can overheat as well, but when they do, a brief minigame appears onscreen, and after the correctly timed press of a button, overheated blasters can actually turn into an advantage. This risk-reward style of fighting keeps things moving and provides a variety of different strategies for different kinds of players.

Movement can be a little clunky unfortunately. Iden cannot roll in the campaign, which stuck out as a sore point early on. However, things pick up again in the assorted Rogue Squadron-esque flight missions featuring iconic spacecraft: X-Wings, TIE fighters, and the Millennium Falcon. It’s not conducive for those yearning for arcade-style flight like in Star Fox, but after some getting used to (and customatization featuring inverted flight controls and 360-degree movement), turning around and upside down, shooting proton torpedoes, and taking down other fighters feels very satisfying.

Lightsaber combat comes into play too and leaves a little to be desired. Using triggers to zoom and shoot a blaster makes perfect sense, but slashing in predetermined moves with the right trigger is not as exciting. Some Force attributes such as freezing and pushing opponents with the Force with face buttons makes up for lackluster Lightsaber options, but I still prefer shooting up troops in Battlefront II any day.

This campaign is not incredibly long, featuring a dozen variety-filled missions with various characters, planets, and control types getting the spotlight. Like with most shooters with a campaign, the single-player venture in this game really is a great insight into what the more fully fleshed out multiplayer of Battlefront II has to offer. Thankfully, beautifully rendered and acted cutscenes help make the experience more rewarding. Some may be surprised by the narrative turns, but for me, that surprise was welcomed and worthwhile for a Star Wars fan.

The Verdict

Star Wars Battlefront II has a movie’s level of quality put into the campaign, making it the most exciting cinematic experience in a Star Wars video game in many years. For fans of the entire franchise, the fact that Iden’s quest is canon to the current chronology of Star Wars makes it all the sweeter. The galaxy feels lived in, as it always does, and being able to interact in some of the most famous battles post-Return of the Jedi is a lot of fun. This is a must-have for all Star Wars fans. For all others, Battlefront II is still a fun romp and average third-person shooter on the PlayStation 4. Just don’t waste your real-life money on the microtransactions, and be happy that more DLC for both the campaign and multiplayer are coming for free in the coming months!

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Our Verdict
Star Wars Battlefront II (Single-Player Campaign)
Riveting campaign with original characters in events after Return of the Jedi and before The Force Awakens; satisfying combat mechanics for both soldiers and hero/villain characters; more maps and solid modes than the original EA Battlefront.
Steep unlock requirements for those who do not plan to give their lives to this game; nonsensical structural rules for online matches such as stacking teams through random assortment and hardly penalizing players for quitting mid-match; lightsaber combat feels like it should be more in-depth than pressing the right trigger.
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Features Nintendo Switch PC PlayStation 4 Reviews Xbox One

Sonic Forces Fulfills a Longtime Fan’s Childhood Dreams, But Doesn’t Live Up to Its Promises

For fans of Sonic the Hedgehog, the Blue Blur’s 25th anniversary closed on a pretty good note with Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice in 2016, but not without teasing two major return-to-form titles in the coming year. Blue believers who grew up with a SEGA Genesis in their youth—or a Mega Collection of sorts in later years like myself—were promised a brand new 2D game developed by community all-stars who would embrace nostalgia and reimagine the classic Sonic experience. On the other hand, those who enjoyed Sonic’s more recent adventures were teased with Sonic Team’s very own “Project Sonic 2017,” bringing Modern Sonic not only back to Boost-style gameplay last seen in Sonic Generations, but also to darker and more serious storytelling of the pre-Colors games.

In August, the phenomenal game Sonic Mania finally launched to widespread acclaim, showing the world that Classic Sonic was truly back and better than ever, and it was only a few short months until Sonic’s next big adventure would finally hit store shelves. I had plenty of reasons to be excited for the upcoming game to, such as: how Mania‘s ending would tie in to its story, how I could create my own playable Avatar, how familiar villains would return alongside a deliciously edgy newcomer, and how I enjoyed my time with the PAX West demo.

So with all of that in mind, how does Sonic Forces live up to my expectations? Did it deliver the high quality supersonic thrills I’ve long been waiting for, or does it force itself too hard, spread itself too thin, and trip up on its own hype? Let’s find out!

Plot

Sonic Forces opens to a day in the life of Sonic gone wrong. His beloved Green Hill Zone is overrun by sandy desert. Doctor Robotnik has launched a full-scale attack on the world to expand his Eggman Empire. And worse still, the Blue Blur falls at the hands of Infinite, his longtime nemesis’ unstoppable new creation, after getting tossed around like a ragdoll by the likes of Shadow, Zavok, Metal Sonic, and Chaos. Six months pass, and Eggman has at last succeeded in conquering the globe, but a ragtag Resistance made up of Sonic’s friends is still holding out. With help from the Rookie (that’s you!) during a prison break and Classic Sonic chasing the Phantom Ruby into the modern world, Sonic must join forces with his allies to take back the planet from Eggman’s clutches before the doctor enacts his final plan.

The story of Forces held a promising premise, but it shows one of its weaknesses right out of the gate: its storytelling. A good chunk of the actual progression ultimately relies on a series of codec calls between Resistance members between and during stages, leaning less on showing and more on telling as it leads you towards your next objective. I still enjoyed the return to a darker story for a Sonic game, and while the dialogue is expectedly “Saturday morning” corny à la writing styles of Pontac and Graff (who are thankfully relegated to localization and not lead writing), what really detracted from the plot was how its massive buildup doesn’t really deliver.

For all the excitement behind the returning baddies (in order of most to least contributive): Zavok actively interacts with Sonic before engaging in a boss battle and Shadow gets his day in the limelight with his own sidestory (more on that later), so these two villains had plenty of focus already, and Metal Sonic at least gets a boss fight, but “God of Destruction” Chaos gets one-offed during a cutscene early on.

Additionally, with how high the stakes were raised over the Phantom Ruby in Sonic Mania, all Classic Sonic’s appearance amounted to is him just tagging alongside Tails as he doesn’t seem all that invested in hunting down the gem that came from his time—or dimension, rather. Additional questions I’ve had about Forces and its story, such as “at what point did Silver show up?” or “how did Infinite and Eggman first meet?” are all answered in promotional material comics outside of the actual game, and while I doubt this would annoy a social media savvy Sonic fan, not every gamer tends to follow the Sonic Social channels. It all comes across as lazy.

At the very least, there are still some highlights peppered throughout. The Phantom Ruby acts as an interesting foil to the oddly absent Chaos Emeralds as we learn more about its reality warping capabilities, the latter turning “thoughts into power” while the former turns thoughts into reality (which raises some interesting questions about the world of Sonic Mania), and the prideful-to-a-fault Infinite gets several moments to shine as you confront him several times along the story. Plus, there’s a special kind of self-indulgent, teary eye-inducing joy in seeing your own customizable Hero interact with the actual Sonic cast, lead the charge, and team up with Sonic himself.

(Alright, so I may not have had a lot of friends when I was a kid.)

Presentation

If there’s one thing a Sonic game almost always gets right, it’s the presentation.

The dubbed “Hedgehog Engine 2” does a wonderful job as a graphics engine; oftentimes I’m tempted to come to a full stop and admire the glorious scenery and lighting effects. The familiar Green Hills are blindingly bright and sunny as you would come to expect, and the dark, snowy clouds looming over Chemical Plant does make it feel brand new, while the destroyed City area (area names are not this game’s strongest suit) looks as rightfully tragic and desolate as it is beautiful in the sunset’s glow. The one downside is that most of the stages rely more on the industrial area trope, which isn’t surprising given the Eggman-centric premise of the game, but those mechanical levels still look fantastic. That said, I am starting to feel tired of seeing older Zones yet again and am left wanting newer level ideas.

While the game is undeniably at its visual best on higher definition platforms, the Nintendo Switch version is no slouch in the looks department either. Sonic Forces was ported to Nintendo’s hybrid system late in its development cycle, and while some concerns were raised over its technical performance based on preview builds, the final product thankfully runs at a smooth 30fps in 720p in both Docked and Handheld modes with no noticeable hiccups in my experience. Yes, some visual sacrifices had to be made, but the benefits of playing Sonic Forces on the go—and the exact same version of the game instead of an entirely different product like previous Sonic titles on handheld Nintendo platforms—can’t be so easily ignored.

To reflect the three different styles of play, like Sonic Generations before, the Tomoya Ohtani-led soundtrack of Forces is split into three separate genres. Modern Sonic’s gameplay is accompanied by appropriately intense and faster-paced music with rock-leaning instrumentation, my personal standouts being “Sunset Heights” and “Egg Gate.” The Avatar’s songs are a mix of drum & bass and hiphop with delightfully Sonic R levels of corny vocals that I found myself memorizing and singing along to before long. The music backing Classic Sonic, while similar to the Avatar’s sans lyrics in the past with Generations, differentiates itself by emulating the Genesis sound font, starting off strong with “Ghost Town.” Overall, the sound direction is pretty solid, as one would come to expect from the series, and is home to several memorable songs. Infinite’s theme in particular already goes down in edgy infamy for its Shadow the Hedgehog-inspired composition.

Gameplay

…oh boy. Where to begin?

Just like its story, Sonic Forces talks a big game and shows a lot of promise from the outset. Unfortunately, the game does very little to tap into its full potential, and in some cases it actually takes some design steps back compared to previous entries. There are plenty of stages to play through, sure, but the game feels like it went for quantity rather than quality.

Starting off with Modern Sonic, the Blue Blur we know today returns to the Boost formula from the Unleashed era. I enjoyed the Parkour mechanic from Lost World to an extent, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to go back to high speed twists and turns through intricately designed stages and plowing right through enemies. Unleashed did an amazing job with the mechanic and Generations refined it, but the execution in Forces is heavily railroaded. Modern Sonic’s levels are much more linear and shorter than ever before, and enemies act as nothing other than Boost fodder throughout the entire game and rarely strike back. His controls also feel heavy in the air, and his acceleration feels more artificial than in Generations—either you walk or go fast on a dime—which makes precision 2D platforming tedious and prone to frequent deaths.

Gone are wall-jumps and Drifting that allowed for zanier Zone design, as even sharp turns are automatic more often than not. The few instances that aren’t will catch you by surprise and have you veer off into a pit and will make returning players think “Hey, what happened to the Drift?” This takes away agency from the player who could control Sonic during these sections in the past, as this does nothing to actively challenge them.

Worse yet is that Modern Sonic’s platforming is only ever expanded upon in predominantly 2D areas, when 3D areas offer few alternate paths and are just meant to steer you from one part to the next. By the time levels finally feel like they start opening up to the player, they come to an unceremonious end. It isn’t until you’re closer to the end of the game where stages are finally expanded on.

The Avatar is the star of the show in Sonic Forces, but while the experience here is marred by similar control woes, they thankfully don’t suffer from shorter stages for the most part. The amount of customization and unlockable clothing options provides a ton of variety in creating a Sonic character of your very own; you could easily recreate your self-insert imaginary character from your childhood, make a brand new friend that fits right in with the main cast, or throw good taste out the window and create something wonderfully horrid or goofy like Coldsteel the Hedgehog or Plurmp Dankenstein McFlurten the Cat, Esquire. While you’re locked to one species and their allocated ability for the duration of the game, clearing the main campaign allows you to create multiple Avatars of any kind, or you could switch out with an online “Rental Hero” Avatar mid-stage.

The Avatar’s abilities come second to the Wispons they wield, each with their own special attacks and assigned Wisps you can collect in each area. The concept on paper sounds excellent, but its execution comes off as shoddy. Some Wispons work better for certain stages and bosses (with no prior indication to the player), but the Avatar’s stages (both solo and Tag Team with Modern Sonic) are pretty stop-and-go, while there is more tangible platforming in 2D.

Now… Classic Sonic.

Given how closely the two games were released from one another, and seeing how Christian Whitehead’s team got the classic formula absolutely right, it is impossible for me not to compare Sonic Forces to Sonic Mania and say that Sonic Team lost their touch here ages ago. The addition of the Drop Dash is a nice addition, sure, albeit at the exchange of the one-button Spin Dash implemented in Generations (yet another step back). Classic Sonic’s physics feel wonky and weightier than ever, and the lack of actual momentum physics when you’re not rolling makes itself painfully obvious when you reach Chemical Plant. This all goes without mentioning the overabundance of Dash Panels Forces has come to rely on for an actual sense of speed, which reminds me all the more of Sonic 4 in all the wrong ways.

What’s even more jarring is how few level designers were on board for a game as ambitious as Forces. This isn’t necessarily unusual for a Sonic game, but when the lead designer only worked on the critically mixed Sonic Lost World and their two understudies are new blood, it feels as though level and gameplay design was more of an afterthought to Sonic Team instead of the main priority. The bosses thankfully stand out at first, but the endgame battles come off as uninspiring; the final battle against Infinite plays near-identically to the Metal Sonic fight, and the last boss… well, mechanically speaking, you fought it before. Twice.

DLC

As someone who first got into the franchise with Sonic Adventure 2: Battle all those years ago, there was one thing about Sonic Forces I very much looked forward to ever since I bore witness to it behind-the-scenes at PAX West: the long-awaited return of Shadow.

Sonic Forces: Episode Shadow is exactly the kind of fan service I can get behind. The free add-on launched with the game and put the spotlight back on Team Dark for the first time in over a decade, setting the stage for a prequel story detailing Shadow the Hedgehog’s meeting with Infinite. Three stages unique to Shadow are available, each providing a decent amount of challenge and a number of musical callbacks to both his Dreamcast debut and his solo adventure in 2005, all on top of Shadow being interchangeable with Modern Sonic in the main campaign for a number of the other hedgehog’s levels. SEGA mentioned that should additional, similarly-themed Episodes be released in the future, these too will be free, so hopefully we might see the return of other playable characters.

In addition, new downloadable costume pieces for the Avatar only add to the amount of fan service SEGA has lined up on the sides. Whether you aim for the stylish look of the Phantom Thieves in the Persona 5-themed Joker costume, bring out your inner rebel to the beat of Jet Set Radio, or just want to slap on a Sanic T-shirt and call it fashion, I can only hope more free content like this will come down the pipeline.

The Final Verdict: Forces Doesn’t Measure Up to the Greatest Hits

With the caption “From the team that brought you Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations,” Sonic Team’s two most critically acclaimed titles in recent years, Sonic Forces had a lot to live up to from the very second its teaser trailer premiered back during the 25th Anniversary party at the House of Blues. With it being released just months after the highly revered Sonic Mania, the expectations were even higher for the bigger budget game coming right from the home of the Blue Blur himself.

Let me make one thing clear: Sonic Forces is nowhere near the level of unfinished or broken like the ill-fated Sonic ’06 or Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric. God no. It still provides some good, mindless fun at the end of the day, and if you’re just looking for more Sonic goodness, you can’t go wrong with Forces. For me, sadly, it’s an ultimately average experience that does little to advance the series or build upon the successes of its predecessors. I love Sonic as a franchise and have been a big fan for most of my life now, so please know that I take no pleasure in writing my final verdict.

It’s disheartening to me that all of my excitement amounted to an underwhelming at worst, moderate at best game because I know Sonic Team has done better in the past. Sonic Team can do better, but they really have to step up their game and concentrate on their strengths, rather than try to cater to fans on both Modern and Classic sides and wind up coming up short.

I said this before in my Mania review, but hopefully now Sonic Team will let Classic Sonic—no, 2D Sonic as a whole—rest while the retro iteration of this gaming icon is in more than capable hands with a certain team of indie developers. SEGA, please trust Whitehead, Headcannon, and PagodaWest with Classic Sonic from this point on while Sonic Team tries to make 3D Sonic work again. Do keep Avatar character customization though—that can be a mainstay.

Who knows, maybe returning to the Adventure glory days of exclusively 3D platforming and Chao Gardens will do more good than bad at this point.

SEGA and Sonic Team’s Sonic Forces is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch.


Sonic Forces was reviewed with a copy for the Nintendo Switch purchased at retail by the author.

Additional feature image artwork was drawn for the author by Andy @Stingybee365. Commission her or support her work on Patreon!

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Our Verdict
Sonic Forces
Creating your own OC in a Sonic game with a ton of customizable options, a feature I honestly hope is brought back in later projects. Stellar graphical presentation and a fun soundtrack to spend hours listening to. A return to stories with darker themes, albeit with cheesy delivery. Sonic’s wider cast of friends returning for the first time in years, including playable Shadow.
A ton of missed potential Sonic Team fails to properly tap into. “Tell, don’t show” storytelling through codec conversations. Shorter and more linear level designs heavily reliant on automation and 2D sections, much more so than previous entries. A poorer Classic Sonic experience compared to Sonic Mania.
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Features Nintendo Nintendo Switch Reviews Videos

Super Mario Odyssey Captures the Series’ Charm and Jumps into Uncharted Territory for the Franchise

Super Mario games pretty much always have polish. As such, the former plumber’s games are usually great platforming adventures with some whimsical designs and tight controls. That being said, it’s difficult to say the series has retained its unique sense of charm in the past decade. Super Mario Galaxy was the last time the core series of games really reinvented itself. Ever since, the linear New Super Mario Bros. and 3D games have been making slight improvements with several games but with none that broke any innovative new ground for Super Mario. I guess it is extremely fitting, then, that the brand new sandbox 3D game in the franchise feels like the freshest adventure Mario has had in more than ten years.

Finally, Nintendo fans and gamers have received the first exploration-based 3D Mario game in fifteen years; not since 2002’s Super Mario Sunshine have players been able to experience a Mario adventure in this vein of discovery-fueled, platforming adrenaline. And really—as you’ll likely deduce as well by reading further on in this review—Super Mario Odyssey is most like Super Mario 64 in terms of giving players the freedom to explore and figure things out for themselves.

Other reviewers have definitely applauded this return to form, as well as the further innovations Nintendo’s developers have implemented. Does this mean it’s truly time to celebrate Mario at his finest? Odyssey feels like it has a much more impactful soul than many of this decade’s Mario titles. It is the first ever Mario game to make a conscious effort to not waste the player’s time, bringing them straight to the superb level of fun this game has to offer.

First off, the themes of surprise and collection are kept in the forefront consistently. Small changes like not having to teleport back to a main hub after every Power Moon found (as was not the case in previous 3D installments with Power Stars and Shine Sprites) and being able to skip the cutscenes that pad loading times in between kingdoms both make it obvious that Nintendo’s main priority this time around was making sure this game was non-stop fun based on player freedom. With no possible way of getting a game over and having lives connected to the game’s gold coin currency, less time is wasted worrying about (or ignoring) the lives system. Instead, deaths are usually a fun learning experience related to how many gold morsels one has for the stores in the game, which offer Animal Crossing-like ways to customize Mario and the Odyssey airship akin to Link in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Secondly, the epic scale of Odyssey‘s story also somehow accommodates the player’s desires. After a brief introductory cutscene featuring Bowser literally beating the cap off of Mario’s head, players are thrust into the first expansive level of Odyssey‘s impressively long and robust lineup of kingdoms to play in. The story objectives are always made clear if players would like to get the minimum amount of Power Moons required to move on, and on the other hand, players can also explore to their hearts’ content in each level before moving on with the main story. Players can also go back and discover everything they have missed after beating any amount of other kingdoms and even after the entire story if they so choose.

Super Mario Odyssey employs a refreshing mix of linearity to the procession of sandbox environments Mario can explore. This means that while the individual kingdoms themselves have a variety of objectives, pathways, pals, and platforms to have fun with, each one is tackled by its lonesome until enough Power Moons are required to advance. The number is never very large, which encourages some level of trailblazing from beginners, and once the benchmarks are met by the player, the game then opens up (especially post-game) into the Super Mario 64 style of travel options in which Mario can go to any level at any time to get any number of Power Moons missed.

However, this semi-fluid structure of keeping things fresh yet calculated means little if the gameplay in each kingdom is not fun on its own merits. Thankfully, Super Mario Odyssey delivers on its mechanics better than anything else (and there aren’t many flaws in the other areas of the game to begin with). The capture ability Mario’s new friend Cappy bestows him is the single most creative and brilliantly unique way of adding dozens of diverse playable characters into one game that I have ever experienced. Each new capture target—including Goombas, Hammer Bros., a T-Rex dinosaur, Chain Chomps, Bullet Bills, Uproots, etc.—is fun to handle. When they are not, it is for the sake of comedy; I doubt anyone honestly expected Manhole Cover Mario to control all that excitingly.

Characters in-game can completely turn
Odyssey upside down. Capturing Sherm the tank turns the game into an adrenaline-charged first person shooter. Capturing Tropical Wigglers in the Lost Kingdom takes the jumping out of platforming. Still other creatures can cause joy in this Mario game whereas they would have caused pain otherwise. Bullet Bills, Fire Bros, Chargin’ Chucks, and many more all used to be nuisances in the 2D and 3D platformers of the past, but now, their power is just as much the player’s as it is theirs.

The capture ability is even faster than Kirby’s copy ability is in execution. All it takes is a flick of the wrist or press of the Y button to use Cappy to capture something in the environment. The same can be said for how snappy the 2D sections of the game feel. Upon entering certain warp pipes, Mario can revert back to his 8-bit self and enjoy a quick session of old-school platforming. Odyssey took a page from The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds‘ book here, added a bucket load more nostalgia, and made leaving the mechanic as simple as jumping back into three dimensions.

The gameplay is always fun and fast. Unorthodox as it may seem, the story of
Odyssey is also brief yet exciting. The plot starts in media res, much like Homer’s original Odyssey, and shows that Bowser can actually kick Mario’s butt, and he does so often throughout the game. Mario doesn’t usually feels like the underdog, but he absolutely is in this game. With clever moments aplenty—Pauline’s Metro Kingdom concert, races pitting bouncing ball-shaped Shiverians, and many satisfying, surprising boss fights come to mind—implemented throughout the main story, Odyssey feels like a much fresher take on the series’ usually stale plot and story beats.

Orchestrated music (along with fitting 8-bit remixes for pixelated sections) and astounding animation complement the funny, witty tone of the actions and emotions of Mario. Music comes in at the right time, leaving silence to sometimes permeate an area just like it did in Breath of the Wild. Once tracks kick in at just the right moments, players’ ears are treated with one of the best original soundtracks in the franchise’s legacy. Whether an electric guitar is shredding the nighttime visits of New Donk City or a breezy theme is serenading the Steam Gardens, the music feels appropriate and worth multiple visits, just like the kingdoms themselves.

Mario himself seems to be more expressive than ever. Added idle animations of being chilly or too hot are a nice touch, and so are the physics of his bulbous nose in cutscenes. There are some truly impressive and shocking moments that display how amazing the Nintendo Switch can perform graphically, and it leaves at least some not wanting anything more from the system. Sights also delight with the in-depth screenshot mode that can soak up even more hours of the player’s time with toying with the Nintendo Switch capture button (which can now also record video, as seen below). With art design that brings to life a civilization of forks living amongst polygonal food stock and crystal clear waters across the world’s kingdoms, it is no wonder that some prefer Nintendo’s new games over others in terms of visual appeal.

Super Mario Odyssey can run just fine in handheld mode, making everything I’ve already detailed even more impressive to behold. There is a caveat here however. If you plan on using motion controls heavily (as I would suggest because moving the Joy-Con can unlock purely optional, yet fun moves for Cappy), I would refrain from playing this particular game in handheld mode as much as possible. That might not be too difficult since the game’s true home definitely feels like the television screen, but it is definitely worth noting that playing with the Joy-Con detached is the way to go on this odyssey.

The Verdict

Finally, a
Mario game can legitimately surprise us again. It can delight the inner child who has wanted another Super Mario 64, Sunshine, or Galaxy in their lives. In fact, I would go so far as to say Super Mario Odyssey is better than all of those. This game more than any other (counting all video games, not just Mario games) is whimsical, charming, surprising, and full of variety in every way from start to finish. There are dozens of hours of non-stop fun to be had here. Playing Odyssey sometimes feels like experiencing the mascot’s greatest hits combined with all the newest, wackiest ideas Nintendo had been waiting to implement. From laugh-out-loud interactions with nonplayable characters to enemy encounters experienced while also playing as an enemy yourself, the creativity and joy in design are noticeably off the scales. This is an unquestionable must-have title for all Nintendo Switch owners and Super Mario fans.

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10
Our Verdict
Super Mario Odyssey
Extremely fun movement options; tons of collectibiles and variety; charming audiovisual style; unexpected story beats and customization options for a Mario game; satisfying rewards and post-game content; one of the most unique modern game mechanics in the capture ability.
For those who are not fans of platformers, this might not be the game for them. For completionists, there is some repetition in finding all the game’s Power Moons. The satisfying motion controls mean playing in handheld mode is a downgrade.


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Features Nintendo Retro Reviews

Star Fox 2 Provides a Unique Experience on the SNES Classic

Star Fox 2 is not fun at first. That most likely would have been the case for most players in 1996 as much as it is now in 2017. Belated release on the SNES Classic aside, however, this sci-fi sequel is still a worthy follow-up to the original Star Fox and is a lot of fun once you learn the quirks of the game.

If you have played
Star Fox, Star Fox 64, or Star Fox Zero, you likely think of this series exclusively as an on-rails shooter, but Star Fox 2 takes things in a completely different direction. This title is all about real-time strategy. At the start of the game, the player will choose two members of Team Star Fox to send out into the Lylat system. These wingmen will then have to balance time and other resources, including health and special weapons, in order to most effectively take on Andross’s forces. Failure to do so results in Andross’s forces reaching the planet of Corneria, and if they inflict enough damage on that planet, it’s game over for you.

The main bulk of the campaign sees Team Star Fox attempting to take on battle carriers, overrun planets, and all matter of free-roaming enemies, including missiles, drones, viruses, and the pilots of Star Wolf. Each enemy serves different functions, and all must be wiped out before Andross himself can be challenged. That being said, there is hardly any danger of the bad guys overwhelming planet Corneria on normal difficulty. In order to experience the challenge of the game, playing on hard or expert (once unlocked) is recommended.

This strategy-style game design is one of the most crucial elements of
Star Fox 2, and it would later go on to inspire a large chunk of Star Fox Command. It’s not the only effect this never-before-released title had on other games of the series, though, as another major gimmick went on to inspire a big aspect of Star Fox Zero: the walker transformation for Team Star Fox’s Arwings.

Assaults on battle carriers and planets in the Lylat System are where you’ll see the most use of an Arwing’s walker transformation. Controlling it is somewhat similar to how it was moved in
Zero; strafing with the directional pad and aiming with the triggers is a must. Honestly, not much else can be done with the walker other than press switches down over and over. At least shooting and bombing one’s way through enemies is satisfying, but once the replays stack up and Star Fox liberates the same planets or destroys near-identical freighters repeatedly, the game’s fatigue begins to show.

Tracking down fast-moving missiles and viruses that can turn a defense satellite against you picks up the game’s pacing and usually provides a needed sense of urgency to the game. Star Wolf, on the other hand, really does not. Even though dogfights with the pilots are among some of the highlights from Star Fox 64 and Zero, I guess it makes sense that the game that technically preceded those installments could not get the encounters done right. They consist of little more than turning around every time the oncoming fighter passes the Arwing and hoping you can land a charged shot on each new pass, because normal blaster fire does very little damage.

In frustrating scenarios like this,
Star Fox 2‘s lack of polish shows. Aiming with the reticle is not seamless with the graphical capabilities of Super FX technology, and annoying, repetitive dialogue boxes from your wingman pop up occasionally only to give the same generic advice and block nearly half of the screen. In fact, there is less personality in the Star Fox characters than ever before in this title; Fox, Falco, Slippy, Peppy, Miyu, and Fay only ever talk to spout tutorials at you and almost nothing more. As someone who plays Star Fox games in part to see these lovable furry characters, that comes as quite the disappointment.

Visually, this game cannot be judged by modern standards. If this game would have released in the ’90s, it would have been a marvel in its time before the launch of the Nintendo 64. Star Fox 2 is ambitious in many ways, and it shows. Even so, I only ever experienced slight drops in the frame rate, even when taking on giant bosses and reactors spewing fire at me.

One last thing to praise is the music in this title. Since it is easy to breeze through some levels in a matter of seconds or a couple minutes, the songs can be easily overlooked. That being said, the title music, staff roll, and themes to each planet are all a joy to listen to if you crave the same kind of techno-inspired beats the original game delivered. Do yourself a favor and at least check out
Eladard, Meteor, and Macbeth.

The Verdict

For me personally,
Star Fox 2 is my least favorite Star Fox game. The strategy provides an interesting dynamic (although I appreciate the more calculated, diverse levels available in Command), but when the stages interspersed through the real-time map are so repetitive and thin, it is hard for each play session of Star Fox 2 to feel different even though it technically probably is. Back in the day, this title would have blown some minds to be sure. But even today, it is still a fun enough extra for gamers to finally experience on the SNES Classic. Star Fox 2 retains its pick-up-and-play accessibility; shooting down fighters as Team Star Fox is still fun no matter the era.

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7
Our Verdict
Star Fox 2
Addicting strategy gameplay on higher difficulties; six playable characters with different abilities; killer music reminiscent of the original Star Fox; retro aesthetic.
Repetitive encounters; lack of moves in dogfights; somewhat shaky polygonal visuals.
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