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  2. Have you ever wanted to experience the thrill of moving without actually having to do it in real life? Now you can with Team17's and SMG Studio's upcoming, zany, co-op focused game, Moving Out, which is set to release on April 28. Moving Out recalls the same fast and frantic vibes from games such as Overcooked, except, instead of cooking, you'll coordinate with one or more players as Furniture Arrangement & Relocation Technicians (or F.A.R.T.s for short) to help relocate different furnishings from different (and sometimes bizarre) locations. Simply find and determine the quickest route to get something like, say, a fridge to the bottom of a five-story building without breaking it. You can even smash through things like glass or throw things over railings if you can coordinate the receiving end well enough. And if that all sounds too difficult, developers SMG Studio and DevM Games have included a host of assist mode options that let you determine the difficulty or even let you skip levels altogether. Also, you'll have a slew of accessibility options, such as Dyslexia-friendly text, scalable user interface, remappable controls, and much more. Moving Out will be available on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. As of this article's publication, a price has not been made public yet. Source: Press Release
  3. barrel

    Review: Katana Zero

    Developer: Askiisoft Publisher: Devolver Digital Platform: Switch and PC Release Date: April 18, 2019 ESRB: M for Mature One of the most iconic titles in the indie space during recent memory is in no doubt Hotline Miami. From its psychedelic pixelated visuals, catchy soundtrack, to the quick and ruthless gameplay it is little surprise that it garnered such a cult following. So inspiring was it that developer Askiisoft took nearly six years to realize their own take on some of its spiritual tenants in the form of Katana Zero. With so many clear influences from another title does Katana Zero cleave its own worthy impression? While the obvious inspiration intent was never hidden even prior to its completion it really can not be overstated just how much that Katana Zero is dripping with an intense Hotline Miami vibe. Despite a distinctly different choice in primary weaponry as well as a sidescrolling camera perspective Katana Zero is an audio/visual sensory assault right away. Be it the pixelated aesthetic with VHS-esque motifs permeating both menus to mid-level flourishes, the pulsating electronic musical score, or the quick-witted ruthless violence it most certainly nails the presentation. Conversely, any comparison to the recent Sekiro would be tenuous at best beyond, well, dude with sword and challenging gameplay. But a particularly memorable quote from that game, that being "hesitation is defeat", could not be more applicable to the moment to moment gameplay of Katana Zero. Even a split second of hesitation during a sword swing or dodge roll can easily spell the difference between a clean level run to an unceremonious death. And to be quite honest, death is a very common occurrence. Thankfully, Katana Zero often avoids much inherent frustration by its snappy re-spawns upon death and often bite-sized level portions with some generous checkpoints appearing even mid-boss at times. Where the title begins to falter is its inherent gameplay simplicity. While initially a strength due to responsive controls that encourages quick mastery of sword swing timing to dismember foes or even deflect bullets it rarely evolves beyond that. If anything, the game sort of just constantly reminds players to do the same thing over and over, with the occasional crutch use of the slow motion mechanic, but simply in more difficult circumstances. This rarely deviates aside from one or two unique instances like a certain motorcycle segment that directly transfers the player's skillset. Which, for as cool as certain setpiece moments may be, like intense boss fights and intriguing story sequences, it really feels like most of the game could've perhaps used either one more new compelling system mechanic or just simply more moment to moment gameplay variety. Weirdly enough, both the most compelling and disappointing aspect of Katana Zero comes from a place one likely would not expect from a title that evokes simple mindless violence at a quick glance. This surprising strength being actually its main storytelling. At first it starts off with the main character being a contract assassin who visits a sort of questionable psychiatric figure between missions. But, where the daily murderous routine vary are through the various dialogue choices with character interactions that change how certain scenes play out. This also includes a creatively implemented interrupt dialogue option that is used to great effect, to even go as far as to unlock a certain crazy unlockable optional boss fight, and it often creates a strong illusion of choice. And honesty, most of the storytelling is surprisingly engaging from both a writing and visual flourish perspective. Such as the humorous situation of trying to explain the blood on your clothing by perhaps saying you are a cosplayer of some obscure anime to some really dark moments that effectively convey just how menacing the enemies the player is up against. Most of this is likely the lead driving force for the player in contrast to the simplistic gameplay until, well, it ends on an odd cliffhanger that leaves many important story elements and characters (several being prime material for cool fights) clearly unresolved. With no word on a potential sequel, or story chapter dlc, it unfortunately puts a damper ending note for an otherwise brief experience that, while generally enjoyable, felt often underutilized. Katana Zero struggles to find a satisfying balance between snappy almost speedrun-like gameplay and its dark story beats. While often enjoyable in the moment, particularly from a presentational standpoint with catchy tracks and slick pixelated flourishes, it leaves the player with the distinct longing due to a clearly incomplete experience. With not quite enough gameplay variety to stand on its own, and literally not enough story to be resolved in its oddly timed cliffhanger despite being fairly intriguing otherwise, it hinders a title that often looks and feels like it is on the cusp of genuine greatness but by the end swings just short of following through. Pros + Swift, electrifying combat that makes it is easy to jump right back in despite many unceremonious deaths + Intriguing storytelling that also creatively leans into its distorted pixelated visuals and VHS motif + Poppin' soundtrack Cons - Outside of some slick boss fights the general simplistic gameplay doesn't really evolve all that much from start to finish - Ends on an odd cliffhanger with several clearly unresolved story elements (hopefully upcoming free dlc or maybe even a sequel will remedy that?) Overall Score: 7.0 (out of 10) Good While usually enjoyable in the heat of the moment Katana Zero falls just short of capitalizing on either its snappy gameplay or surprisingly intriguing storytelling to be confidently recommended on either front Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Switch code provided by the publisher.
  4. Jason Clement

    Game of the Year 2019: Jason's Picks

    It’s a common belief among many gamers that 2018 was a better year than 2019, but honestly, I don’t buy into it. While there wasn’t one title that was unanimously proclaimed the best game of the year (ala 2018’s God of War), I believe there was a better breadth of quality games in 2019. Nintendo in particular had a pretty strong year, with a crazy release schedule from April to November, and some huge first-party titles in the mix (hello Mario Maker 2, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Link’s Awakening, Luigi’s Mansion 3, and Pokemon Sword/Shield!). Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to play a bunch of quality games that undoubtedly may have made my list. These include games like Outer Wilds, Knights & Bikes, Cadence of Hyrule, and Dragon Quest Builders 2. Additionally, huge shoutout to Gato Robato, a great little Metroidvania game with a ton of personality, and Automachef, which would have been #11 on this list and deserves major props for its eclectic soundtrack and original puzzle/sim gameplay and premise; if you love simulations and/or games about logistics, give it a go! That said, here are my top 10 games of 2019. 10. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 The combat might be a bit repetitive and not as complex as I initially hoped (the original game had more variance with number of moves and specials you could pull off), but I really can’t complain too much after the series’ nearly decade-long absence. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 has style and presentation in spades, and it’s great to see most of Marvel’s big heroes altogether on one screen once again. There’s just something so cool about watching your entire team take out a mob of villains/ninjas/what-have-you in the middle of places like Shadowland, Xavier’s mansion, and Avengers Tower. Huge props to Team Ninja for making the boss battles unique and interesting as well; this entry may very well be the best in that regard, specifically. 9. Mechstermination Force This title combines two of my favorite things – Shadow of the Colossus and robots/Kaiju (maybe three things, I guess?). Mechstermination Force takes from the former’s game design and adds to it by putting you in interesting, unique scenarios with each giant robot. Not only do you have to scale and find/destroy each robot mech’s weak points; you also have to adopt to their different fighting stances and forms throughout each level, making for one of the most creative 2D shooters I’ve ever played. 8. Wargroove So… I’ve never played any of the Advance Wars games before. And now I can see what I’ve missed out on for so long because Wargroove plays like Advance Wars mixed with Fire Emblem’s more medieval/fantasy-like setting (but more like the former purely in terms of gameplay). Giving players the option to build and decide what units they want to use while in the midst of a battle really gives you the option to approach most levels a number of different ways, giving the game a much more unique feel than Fire Emblem’s offense-centric approach. The campaign throws a variety of different map scenarios each with their own unique terrain and challenges at you as well, so it never feels like you’re simply replaying the same battle over and over with slightly different units. 7. SteamWorld Quest (check out GP's full review of the game here) Image & Form has made two great Metroidvania titles and one brilliant tactics title in the SteamWorld series so far, so it only makes sense that they would continue to break new ground with a new genre – that being an RPG. Or rather: card-based battling RPG. ...has one of the most memorable, compelling battle systems in an RPG this side of Octopath Traveler. SteamWorld Quest could have been a big miss if Image & Form weren’t careful; thankfully, it has one of the most memorable, compelling battle systems in an RPG this side of Octopath Traveler. Combine that with a great script with both plenty of heart and humor and some great music and visuals, and you’ve got another SteamWorld success. 6. Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair Despite it being highly anticipated before its release, the first Yooka-Laylee game landed with a bit of a thud. It turns out people weren’t quite as big on 3D collectathons as they initially thought, but Playtonic quickly and correctly shifted course with their next attempt at the series by making the game into a 2D platformer this time around. ...might even rival Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze; high praise indeed. And wouldn’t you know it – that old Rare magic began to shine through once again. Fortunately, they didn’t completely give up on the 3D platforming aspect either. Instead, they combined it with the overworld map for a truly unique spin on the game while making the levels in 2D. The resulting interaction between the two play types makes for an experience that might even rival Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze; high praise indeed. 5. Kingdom Hearts 3 After so many years of waiting, it’s difficult to believe that Kingdom Hearts 3 isn’t 100% the game everyone wanted. Some of this has to do with disappointments on the gameplay side (the Frozen world; nuff said), but a lot of it stems from creator Tetsuya Nomura not paying off certain story arcs and narrative choices that had been previously set up for the finale. Axel/Lea and Kairi get sidelined for most of the game when the ending of DDD had set up that they’d play a more critical role (not to mention missing a huge opportunity to make both or even just Kairi playable at a certain point), and it becomes apparent by the end that Kairi is never truly given any agency in the games and is merely used as a damsel in distress for the sake of the plot. Never has the battle system been bigger, better, bolder, and even flashier, with some of the best and most vibrant visuals of this generation. Yet, despite these disappointments, Kingdom Hearts 3 still sticks the landing for the most part. Never has the battle system been bigger, better, bolder, and even flashier, with some of the best and most vibrant visuals of this generation. Most of the Disney worlds chosen make up the best selection of any of the Kingdom Hearts games, and the graphics have finally caught up to Pixar’s and Disney’s advances in animation, replicating a near-identical look to many of their 3D animated movie counterparts. Also, the game ties up Xehanort’s story arc with an epic finish in the game’s final 4-5 hours, with one of the most impressive final boss fights in the series to date. I only hope that we don’t have to wait another 13 years before the next game arrives. 4. Shovel Knight: King of Cards I loved the original Shovel Knight campaign (now known as “Shovel of Hope”) in 2014, and despite giving Plague Knight’s campaign a try, it never quite caught on with me. Because of this, I also skipped Specter Knight’s campaign two years after that. But something about the fourth campaign being centered on King Knight really made me want to give it a try. ...the best Shovel Knight campaign to date. And I’m glad I did, because you could make a real case for King of Cards being the best Shovel Knight campaign to date. The platforming is top notch, focusing on traversing the terrain with Wario Land-esque shoulder-bashing and a Ducktales-inspired pogo jump to spin off of enemies and objects. But the real star of the game is the brand new card-based minigame, Joustus. It’s smart, addictive, and has enough depth to rival long-established thinking-games like chess. Oh, and the script is hilarious to boot; Yacht Club has never felt more comfortable in their own shoes than they have been when they were writing this game. 3. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening The announcement reveal of the Switch remake of Link’s Awakening at the beginning of 2019 was, in a word, surreal. I never ruled out a remake of the game as something that could happen, but no one could have predicted that it would be remade with so much charm and originality. Yes, I’m someone who thinks the plastic/toy-like look to the visuals makes for an amazing aesthetic. It’s the second-bravest thing Nintendo has done to the Zelda series since they decided on the Ghibli-esque cel-shaded approach to The Wind Waker in 2003. Along with a new arrangement of the classic soundtrack, new life has been given to a classic in what is undoubtedly the definitive version of the game now. ...still holds up and has, in fact, made many aware that it is a better 2D Zelda game than even A Link to the Past. Link’s Awakening’s gameplay still holds up and has, in fact, made many aware that it is a better 2D Zelda game than even A Link to the Past. Yes, I did go there. But seriously, this game is magical. Go play it. 2. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order There are so many ways Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order could have been a disaster. Or merely an extension of the okay-to-decent Star Wars games we’ve been getting for a decade now. But Respawn did it. Holy cow… they did it. They made the first great single-player Star Wars game since… what, The Force Unleashed? Maybe even Knights of the Old Republic 2? To be fair, Fallen Order could be a much tighter experience. It’s janky, likely due to EA launching the game a good half year before it was ready to come out of the oven. But it’s absolutely playable despite the occasional technical hiccup. And really, how impressive is it that the game came out as good as it did despite launching in less-than-ideal circumstances? This is a game that undoubtedly feels like you’re watching a Star Wars movie as you play. In any case, Fallen Order crafts an original tale that ties into the wider Star Wars mythos in a fairly meaningful way. Cal Kestis isn’t initially a great protagonist but the game does a great job making you care about him by gradually diving into his Jedi upbringing in the past. Cinematics are pretty fabulous as well; this is a game that undoubtedly feels like you’re watching a Star Wars movie as you play. Its story would feel right at home alongside other Star Wars side stories such as Solo, Rogue One, and The Mandalorian. But really, all I want to do is gush about how this game gives us the best lightsaber combat of any Star Wars game to date. Two of the lightsaber fights in the game made me feel like I was in a Star Wars movie; a far cry from the wild, aimless lightsaber swinging experienced in the Jedi Knight games from the early aughts. Fallen Order is the complete package: great storytelling, great gameplay, great world, great atmosphere. Where does Respawn go from here? I hope to know sooner versus later. 1. Fire Emblem: Three Houses You know what’s weird? I wasn’t initially super hyped for Three Houses despite the series being one of my all-time favorites. I didn’t know what to make of the inclusion of an academy, the MC being a professor teaching students, and participating in things like tea time with your students. It all sounded like the furthest thing I wanted from my Fire Emblem experience. Little did I know that it would be one of the best and most compelling things they ever did to the franchise. The ability to select what each of your students can learn, right down to stat bonuses, weapon proficiency, and skills is the most control Intelligent Systems has ever given you over your own units. It’s utterly gratifying to see your students progress from inefficient greenhorns to masters of their craft, dominating enemy units in battle. ...one of, if not the deepest Fire Emblem stories to date. The academy itself lends players a unique opportunity to see the larger plot through the eyes of your students in your coversations with them and also develop relationships with them by doing different activities together, making them come alive as characters. And even though the plot is a bit thicker and juicier in the first half of the game, it throws enough twists and surprises into the mix to make this one of, if not the deepest Fire Emblem stories to date. There are a lot of fascinating themes and concepts that are tackled as well, both through support conversations and the main plot. I haven’t even mentioned the actual tactical gameplay, which is as sharp as ever and gave me a real run for my money with many battles (I played on Hard). Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the real deal, and likely the best game in the series. If Intelligent Systems can continue to build on what they created with this game, Fire Emblem’s future is going to be bright indeed.
  5. 2019 was a rather strange year in the gaming space. With the inevitable release of new consoles in the near future it also feels like many developers have been hesitant to put their best gaming foot forward as if bracing themselves for the new generation of systems instead. It is also clear that the enthusiasm for the current consoles is finally dying down in regards to big-budget releases in particular. Thankfully, I have odd taste in video games, so I never personally faced a shortage in releases I wanted to play in 2019 and instead combated with the existential dread that comes from not having nearly enough time to play them instead. Either way, while I definitely did not get get anywhere close to playing everything I wanted to for the year (...with some titles still in shrink wrap like AI: The Somnium Files and Persona Q2), I did at least play enough impressive games to find an excuse to awkwardly organize a personal top ten Game of the Year list of 2019. 10) Luigi's Mansion 3 Nintendo's iconic green mascot and I have a checkered history. By that I mean I have always thought Luigi was the Scrappy Doo of the Nintendo world in which I legitimately could not find any nice words to say about most of his video game appearances, let alone his own personalized video game spin-offs. ...it has more than enough attention to detail and clever level design to have me finally accept that not all Luigi games are bad, just most of them. However, that multiple decade resentment finally started to dissipate with the charming title that is Luigi's Mansion 3. While by no means a flawless title, it has more than enough attention to detail and clever level design to have me finally accept that not all Luigi games are bad, just most of them. 9) Judgment Judgment straddles the line between being among the most impressive games that the Ryu Ga Gotoku studio has developed and also one of the most clumsy. One moment I would find myself fighting with some questionable-at-best mandatory mini-games and glacial gameplay pacing, and in the next instance witness a main narrative as well as heartwarming side quest stories that more than rivals the best moments in mainline Yakuza games. So, while I am still conflicted about the title as a whole, there is no doubt in my mind that the high points in Judgment alone make it a worthy addition to my 2019 list. 8 ) Astral Chain Of all the my favorite games of this year, Astral Chain took the longest to finally "click" with me gameplay-wise. I kept trying to approach it like Bayonetta in particular and Astral Chain very much does not want to be played like a traditional character action game. With a heavy emphasis on an action-RPG-like character progression, copious side quests, and, if played well, the level of micromanaging with the player-shackled" legion" that it almost starts to resemble complex fighting game "puppet" characters which helps make Astral Chain one of Platinum's most unique in terms of action gameplay. Astral Chain is a very promising debut that seems absolutely primed for a potentially excellent sequel. And with its successful launch sales (and an obvious campaign cliffhanger ending) a sequel only seems like a matter of time. 7) Resident Evil 2 My appreciation for Resident Evil is remarkably different than that of most people. Despite having played most of the mainline games, prior to even the various remakes, I would still say the strongest affinity I have for the series actually comes from the least scary and most action-y titles in its repertoire such as Resident 4 & 5 (5 being the most outright fun co-op experience I have had in any game). Resident Evil 2 it does a wonderful job or marrying both old and new for a series that thought to have lost its horror game roots... However, with the recent remake of Resident Evil 2 it does a wonderful job or marrying both old and new for a series that thought to have lost its horror game roots, while also, uh, having a gameplay control scheme and camera angles that are intended for humans. And players will more than need that sense of control when dealing with the ingenious implementation of Mr.X that will immediately terrify most upon hearing a familiar set of loud footsteps headed their way. 6) The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III I usually attempt to avoid adding games that I have not beaten to any game of the year list. Buuuut, I want to make an exception purely because the main reason I have not played more of Trails of Cold Steel III, aside from obvious finite time constraints and it being a massive RPG, is so I can have the portable convenience of the recently announced Switch release instead in the very near future. Still, in the time I have played has been delightful in spite of my lizard brain apprehension of playing a Cold Steel game on PS4. With a surprisingly likable new cast of characters, plenty of fascinating world-building, tuned up turn-based combat mechanics, and addictive social elements, Trails of Cold Steel III will almost certainly be my favorite 2019 game... that I will finally finish in 2020 (and desperately hope for its sequel localization afterwards). 5) Fire Emblem: Three Houses It took a really long time but finally, FINALLY someone did it. Somebody that is not Atlus (or Falcom) has at last made a good Persona game! ...Wait. Three Houses is the newest mainline Fire Emblem? Who are you are attempting to trick? You are trying to tell me that a game in which you spend like fifty percent of the time roaming around a school campus, constantly raising one's relationship with various students/teachers and indirectly raising combat prowess through school activities ISN'T a Persona game? Fine, I'll humor you. But in all seriousness, I am pretty easy to please with turn-based tactical-RPGs. Make a good one and it will probably sneak onto a GOTY list of mine. Ironically, I do sort of wish Three Houses had a bigger emphasis on the actual combat portions like most traditional entries, but I would be lying if I did not say the title had an absolute dominate grip on my free time regardless upon release. So much so that I have been actually afraid of doing another playthrough, but... who am I kidding? When the rest of the upcoming DLC finally gets released I plan to graduate from staring into Claude's dreamy eyes into eventually watching Dimitri lose one of his. 4) Sekiro Sekiro is odd in that it has nearly the complete opposite appeal of most of its spiritual predecessors before it. Whereas most Souls games primary strength rely on their robust RPG-like character building options within an intriguing, yet incredibly vague world-building. Sekiro has like, uh, none of that. Sure, the borderline masochistic level of difficulty is there (if not more so), but its main appeal is almost singularly focused on tight gameplay design that seamlessly blends Tenchu-esque stealth assassination elements and also highly offensive close-combat as well. ...I still get giddy thinking about the final boss of Sekiro which is a both figurative, and somewhat literal, culmination of everything the player has learned throughout its very challenging adventure. More important than any of that for me personally, though, is that Sekiro has an extremely satisfying perfect-timed parry mechanic that I loved trying to master throughout the game. So much so that while I could not tell you much about its incredibly forgettable storytelling and characters, I can tell you how I still get giddy thinking about the final boss of Sekiro which is a both figurative, and somewhat literal, culmination of everything the player has learned throughout its very challenging adventure. 3) Devil May Cry 5 Capcom has been absolutely killing it in what seems like most big-budget console games the last couple years (...that are not fighting games). I was pretty sure Platinum Games would more or less be the sole source for my deep character action game fix in a modern context. But, sure enough, after a decade long hiatus, old Dante is back and I would argue this is the best the series has ever been. Devil May Cry 5 is simply a blast to play, be it the incredibly stylish action or highly robust character moveset that has an extremely high skill ceiling when it comes to mastery. But, really, who cares about any of that, because it also blessed us with the most catchy song of 2019 Devil Trigger: "GOTTA LET IT OUT! GOTTA LET IT OUT!" 2) The House in Fata Morgana I honestly still feel guilty that I waited so long to play The House in Fata Morgana. In spite of a strong recommendation I received several years ago, and even going as far as buying a PC copy, I still waited until I re-bought the title on PS4 in 2019 to finally play it and I could not be more than glad that I finally did. This will almost certainly sound like hyperbole, but I will mean every word of it. To be blunt, I think The House in Fata Morgana is the most brilliantly written story I have ever seen in a video game -- and I absolutely do not say that lightly. Whether it be its master-class approach to foreshadowing, or the incredibly tragic yet deeply-human tales the narrative weaves it is in a league of its own for not only visual novels but video game storytelling in general. The House in Fata Morgana is the most brilliantly written story I have ever seen in a video game -- and I absolutely do not say that lightly. Now, I could easily ramble about why the narrative is so powerful, and how it does not shy away from delving into deeply unsettling subject matter to tell it, buuuut it is an easy game to spoil narrative details. So, I will just save everyone time and say if you have any sort of appreciation for visual novels, heck, amazing storytelling in general, then The House in Fata Morgana comes highly recommended and I still am pacing back and forth in my mind on whether or not I should just make it my actual GOTY. 1) Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers Over the years, and little by little, Final Fantasy XIV is a game that not only got better over time but also wormed its way into my all-time favorite mainline Final Fantasy titles. As of 2019, however, there is zero doubt in my mind that Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers is easily my favorite mainline title to bear the series namesake. Now, weirdly enough, Shadowbringers does not necessarily have the best intrinsic gameplay I have witnessed in 2019 nor is it even the best story (as stated by the game just before this). But saying that would greatly belittle at how excellent it is at both. As of 2019, however, there is zero doubt in my mind that Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers is easily my favorite mainline title to bear the series namesake. Shadowbringers does a ton to freshen up the already beloved MMO, be it the gripping main campaign that stands far above even most Final Fantasy games to the immensely enjoyable boss fights, dungeons, and exciting new playable classes such as Dancer and Gunbreaker (or might as well be new like Machinist). Shadowbringers is not only my favorite game of 2019 it is also the one I find myself itching the most to go back to at any time. ...That said, I am still bitter about the Astrologian class changes compared to other healers. So maybe I will just put The House in Fata Morgana in this slot until Yoshi P makes me love the class again.
  6. WildCardCorsair

    Game of the Year 2019: Wildcard's Picks

    It’s always a pleasure to contribute to Game Podunk’s Game of the Year list and this year is no exception. While my picks may not be as wild as usual, they all have one thing in common: They aren’t Dragon Quest! Sorry, Barrel. With that out of the way I am pleased to introduce the seven games that made the cut. Each one has impressed me in some way, be it their graphics, originality, humor, innovation, or just how plain addictive they are, because in a year like 2019 what I really needed was some good old fashioned fun. I suppose that means I lied back there. They all have another thing in common. They were all a blast! 7. Pokémon Sword and Shield Imagine a world where you can fight weird animals against other weird animals in televised matches for the adoring masses from sold-out arenas. No, this isn’t Michael Vick’s dream come true, it’s a new Pokémon game! If we’re being completely honest I almost didn’t buy this game but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t pleasantly surprised at how it injected new life into the franchise. ...there are few things more fun than a 50-foot cake beating the snot out of a large fiery tapeworm! The “Gym Challenge” is a fun and fresh new take on gyms and Dynamax battles bring an electricity that Z-moves and Mega Evolutions never had. Raids are great too, when they work, and I can see this game having a lot of shelf life because of them. So yeah, the game is not perfect, but I’m glad I caved because there are few things more fun a 50-foot cake beating the snot out of a large fiery tapeworm! 6. Final Fantasy VIII Remastered I feel about Final Fantasy VIII the way most people feel about VII. Not because it was my first Final Fantasy game, not even because of how much I love GFs and junctioning, but because I love how weird it is. Bulbous blue aliens? Check. Humanoid cat people? Check. Hot dog envy? Check. Flinging an actual dog at your enemies? Check. How can you not love this game? Pair that with gorgeously updated character renders and a handful of quality of life improvements, I’m glad that I (and many others) have the ability to once again experience the majesty of this vastly underrated game! Suck it, @Barrel! 5. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order If I’m being honest, I’m pretty sick of Avengers and Spider-Man games. We’ve got, what, like a million of them? Our Marvel and Disney overlords have a knack for cross promotion, so it’s no wonder that the last several Marvel games have focused almost entirely on Marvel’s most lucrative film franchises. But where does that leave fans of the X-Men? Or Blade and Elsa Bloodstone? Or the Fantastic Four? Or the Inhumans (wait, the Inhumans still have fans? Ha, kidding. Mostly.)? Granted, you have to pay a little extra for some of those characters but leave it to an Ultimate Alliance game to finally bring a majority of fan-favorite yet oft-unused characters to the Nintendo Switch. Though the gameplay itself hasn’t changed much, the 10-year gap between games makes it seem like less of an issue, especially when it looks as good as it does. 4. SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech (check out GP's full review of the game here) Ever wonder what you get when you throw a bunch of steampunk cosplayers into a ren fair? Well I imagine it’d be something like Image & Form’s latest SteamWorld game: SteamWorld Quest. Mixing the hilarity of their world populated by crazy robots with the antiquity of a turn-based RPG, The Hand of Gilgamech does something I never thought could ever be done: make punch cards cool! Yessiree, those shoeboxes full of hole-punched index cards in your great grand-pappy’s attic just became useful again. Well, not really, but in spirit they are. ...way more fun than that time I made my roomba joust my google home mini. Using these randomly dealt punch cards to initiate attacks and other classic RPG actions, all while guiding a bunch of wise cracking robots through an epic quest? Well let’s just say it’s way more fun than that time I made my roomba joust my google home mini. 3. AI: The Somnium Files Remember the Zero Escape guy? The one who discussed the canonical length of Sigma Klim’s package? Well he’s back, with a game about A.I. (Artificial intelligence), ai (love in Japanese), eyes (duh), and idols? Yup, only Kentaro Ukioshi could cram this many double entendres, bad puns, and fairly inappropriate characters into a game with horrific serial murders. This time around though, the puzzle rooms give you a bit of a break as they are slimmed down to focus more on character interactions and investigations instead of obscure puzzle solving and testing the player’s math skills. Thank God too, because I suck at math. 2. Astral Chain Apparently I’m downright stupid for Platinum action games, but don’t let my borderline annoying fandom underscore how great this game is. Astral Chain has all the sexiness of Platinum’s Bayonetta games (seriously, how is every Neuron division police officer stupidly hot?), along with all the action Platinum Games is known for. All of this alone would be worth the price of admission but Astral Chain does something different. Now you get to collect cans, rescue cats, and clean up a bunch of broken red jolly ranchers! Seriously though, the side quests were such a great addition in my opinion since spreading out the highly stylized combat missions with short investigation segments not only gives you a better sense of the overall world, but makes the action bits even more intense. Kinda like orgasm denial! 1. Fire Emblem: Three Houses If you took everything that made the Persona games successful, but found a better balance between daily life and battles, sprinkled in some green hair and highly inappropriate teacher outfits, you’d have Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Not yet sold? Well this game basically takes everything the series has been known for in recent times and dials it up to eleven. You even get to take better control over unit progression. Battles feature diverse elements too, making each battle feel different from the last. But things aren’t all about fighting at Gerreg Mach Monastery. You can also pick one of three houses to represent, fish, cook, participate in dance contests, sing beautiful songs of worship, and murder your friends! What’s not to love?
  7. Hailinel

    Game of the Year 2019: Justin's Picks

    Holy moly. From start to finish, 2019 was an absolute deluge of intriguing, entertaining, high-quality games across the whole board. In compiling my top ten for the year, I honestly had to go back and double-check my memory, because I could have sworn that some of this year’s notable releases were released last year. (And in fact, a couple of games on my list this year are several years old.) It was just that packed. Of course, that also means that there’s a lot of recent games that I haven’t gotten to yet, or games that I started that I just haven’t put the time into to judge. It’s been busy, in other words. But it’s the sort of busy that’s easy to get behind, because no matter what sort of game you’re a fan of, chances are there’s a game that scratched that itch. Maybe you liked one of these ten games as much as I did! 10. Kingdom Hearts III Kingdom Hearts III is, in many ways, the game I expected. The result of a development that was stymied and delayed for years by internal issues at Square Enix stemming from the disastrous 1.0 launch of Final Fantasy XIV, the game was tasked with tying up a long-running story arc that had only become bloated with more and more characters, lore, and history as more and more spin-offs, prequels, and interlude chapters were created to keep the series alive in the years since Kingdom Hearts II. As a result, the game has a number of pacing issues, and some of the story payoffs aren’t as impactful as they could have been. There’s even a moment, breathtaking and dramatic as it is, that will mean little to players that haven’t played or have no familiarity the mobile game Union Cross. And then there’s the Disney factor, without which this series wouldn’t exist. Disney isn’t the same company it was when Kingdom Hearts II released. In recent years, it's ballooned and bloated, acquiring the rights and studios behind Star Wars and Marvel Comics, and even the entire library of 20th Century Fox. What should have been a highlight of Kingdom Hearts III, the world of Arendelle and the cast of Frozen, is perhaps the worst world and worst crossover in the entire history of the series. In addition to being a grossly overlong, awful slog, it made a friend of mine, the friend that introduced me to Kingdom Hearts no less, too motion-sick to finish the game. ...after waiting for it for years, I can safely say that I did enjoy it, even if it did leave me wanting. There are simply a lot of knocks against it. And yet, Kingdom Hearts III is still loaded with high points. Where Arendelle and Frozen fall flat on their face, the Pixar worlds based on Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story are without question the highlights. And while the race to conclude the long, long story arc that’s defined the series since the beginning stumbles here and there in notable and obvious ways, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have fun. (At least in any part that wasn’t Arendelle.) Kingdom Hearts III could have been a much better game, but after waiting for it for years, I can safely say that I did enjoy it, even if it did leave me wanting. 9. Daemon X Machina For the first time in a long time, there aren’t any new Musou titles on my list, but Daemon X Machina, a mech combat game of all things, fills that void in an odd way for me. The premise is straight to the point, with an apocalyptic event leaving what’s left of the world in need of skilled mech pilots to jump in their mechs to fight strange, alien enemies, and occasionally other mech pilots. The storytelling is light, but the mech combat feels smooth and is fun to control, and there are a great variety of missions. One aspect that I’ve really grown to love is the level of customization, not just in the mechs, with their frames, weapon loadouts, and aesthetics, but the player character as well. While the player starts off as a fully human custom avatar, unlocking nodes on the skill tree will literally leave their mark, resulting in new cybernetic limbs and implants that can dramatically change the visual feel of the character you play. It’s a small thing, and in a game where most of the time is spent on the field of battle, flying around in giant robots, it doesn’t even matter that much from a visual perspective, but I appreciate these details. Also, the home base has an ice cream parlor with the most hilariously jarring, upbeat music in the game, and it makes me scream for ice cream. Daemon X Machina may not be the most notable release of the year, but it’s one that I’ll be popping in playing every now and then, just to get my mecha-and-ice-cream fix. 8. Tetris 99 In the years since the Battle Royale multiplayer genre exploded on the scene with games like Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite, it’s been easy to make jokes about the whole premise. What else could you drop onto an island, a hundred at a time, and demand they battle to the death? Marvel superheroes? Super Smash Battle Royale? How about everyone’s favorite action game, Tetris? One hundred tetrominoes drop onto an island… Tetris 99 is amazing, and the entire world is better at it than I am. Except the madmen at Japanese developer Arika, also known for turning a goofy April Fool’s joke into the legitimate fighting game Fighting EX Layer seemingly for their own amusement, made an actual Tetris Battle Royale in Tetris 99. Tetris has been around for decades, and so has competitive multiplayer Tetris. But Tetris 99 pits literally ninety-nine players against each other in battles of absolute carnage. Tetris masters that quietly honed their skills for all these years in the privacy of their own homes finally have an outlet for their destructive energy like a cloistered Shaolin monk unleashed into a deadly martial arts tournament. And as the year has gone on, the game has only gotten better and more robust, with new modes, new challenges and bonuses, and even new themes. But one fact remains. Tetris 99 is amazing, and the entire world is better at it than I am. 7. The House in Fata Morgana The House in Fata Morgana is a visual novel that’s several years old at this point, but I didn’t start playing it until this year. And let me state up front right now that the only thing preventing me from placing it higher on my list is the fact that I haven’t finished it. ...an intense, emotional rollercoaster illustrated with beautiful art and populated with incredibly written, tragically flawed characters. The House in Fata Morgana is an intense, emotional rollercoaster illustrated with beautiful art and populated with incredibly written, tragically flawed characters. At the beginning of the game, the player awakens in an old mansion, unaware of their own identity, or even if they’re alive or dead. As they follow a mysterious maid from one room to the next, learning the mansion’s history, pieces start falling into place, and even at the game’s halfway point, where so much has been revealed, there is still so much left unknown. To really speak of the story in any sense of detail beyond this is perhaps spoiling too much, except to say that the game treads into some very dark, morbid themes, and that may be too much for some people. But The House in Fata Morgana is a ride I wish to see to its end. 6. Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the Necrodancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda The premise of the original Crypt of the Necrodancer, with its mix of roguelike and rhythm gameplay, is a concept that will drive some fans of either one genre or the other up the wall. But the game, while difficult, has a strong following, and it eventually made its way to the Nintendo Switch. Brace Yourself Games then had the idea, “Hey, why not ask Nintendo for permission to make a Legend of Zelda DLC pack for it?” And Nintendo replied, “Hey, why not make a whole new game instead?” Thus, Cadence of Hyrule was born! A rare instance of Nintendo letting an independent developer have fun with one of its most storied franchises, the game follows the original Necrodancer protagonist Cadence as she literally falls into Hyrule before turning the stage over to Link and Zelda in an adventure that remarkably mixes both the exploration elements of a traditional Legend of Zelda with the rhythm-based action of Crypt of the Necrodancer. Demonstrating their experience, the team behind Cadence of Hyrule made a game that’s simultaneously less punishing and more accessible than Cadence’s original adventure. A rare instance of Nintendo letting an independent developer have fun with one of its most storied franchises... And the music, composed by Danny Baranowsky, is a long list of excellent remixes of Zelda classics and a key element that makes the whole experience work. As long as he’s dropping excellent beats, I’d love to see what crazy world Cadence drops into next. 5. Untitled Goose Game HONK 4. VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action Made by a small independent team in Venezuela, VA-11 Hall-A is a perfectly blended cocktail. A visual novel/cyberpunk bartending simulator, the game follows bartender Jill Stingray on her daily shifts at an unassuming little bar in a futuristic dystopian hellscape of a city. VA-11 Hall-A, the bar in question, is a respite from the outside world, and Jill interacts will an eclectic cast of customers ranging from an overbearing and foul-mouthed newspaper editor, to an enthusiastic gynoid sexworker, to a sleep-deprived 24/7 livestreamer, and beyond. The fun in the experience is hearing their stories, serving them drinks to help them relax and get their problems off their chests, and then seeing them on their way. And as the story picks up and the narrative focuses more on Jill’s personal life and history, the experience doesn’t lose steam. VA-11 Hall-A is a perfectly blended cocktail. The graphics and music perfectly fit the aesthetic and themes the game is going for. The perspective from behind the bar feels comfortable, even when it seems like all hell is breaking lose in the world outside. VA-11 Hall-A is a special place with no shortage of colorful characters, not all of whom we’re really intended or expected to like, but even when the jerks show up, I’m happy to see them. Originally released in 2016, I didn’t play VA-11 Hall-A until it arrived on the Switch this year, but the platform is a perfect way to experience it. I also had the opportunity to try the demo for the game’s upcoming sequel N1RV Ann-A at PAX West earlier this year, and it appears to be shaping up into something special, as well. 3. Judgment Sega’s Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio concluded the story of Yakuza series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu with Yakuza 6, but Kamurocho never sleeps. While a new installment in the series is due out next year (with some significant core gameplay changes), this year treated us to the spin-off Judgment. Now, instead of playing as a former member of the yakuza, the spotlight is on a private detective, and as such the viewpoint of Kamurocho has changed quite dramatically. Gone are old familiar old haunts like Serena, and familiar faces like Goro Majima. While the adventure of Takayuki Yagami takes place in the franchise’s most familiar district and features members of the Tojo Clan, the story is completely distinct in character, tone, and feeling from everything that has come before. It’s a murder mystery told with the same narrative style as the more recent Yakuza games, but with a protagonist who’s naturally more outgoing and personable, and by the nature of his profession is in the public eye far more often. The franchise’s sense of humor is of course back, with plenty of absurd bystanders for Yagami to help, and the minigames this time around include a Kamurocho-based parody of Sega’s House of the Dead. The main story even manages to turn the franchise’s hostess minigame on its head with a level of self-awareness that let’s the player know that, like in real life, it’s not just fun and games. While Judgment’s core gameplay and much of its flow are like the games that preceded it, it manages to carve an identity all its own. I’d love to see a Judgment 2 and the further adventures of Yagami, even as the main series veers into a new era with Yakuza: Like a Dragon. 2. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Full disclosure: I was a backer of Bloodstained on Kickstarter, when the campaign was in full swing and the fever to see a new Castlevania in all but name was at a fever pitch. This was an era when Kickstarted projects from big name producers and developers weren’t uncommon, and the results that came from them were, to be polite and without naming names, mixed. Bloodstained went through its own set of delays, and had its own long list of stretch goals from its Kickstarter that the team led by creator Koji Igarashi felt obliged to meet. Among these goals was a Wii U version. The Wii U, of course, is a dead console now, and so the team chose to cancel that version and offer a Switch version instead. The Switch version is the version I collected as my backer reward, and the version I played from the moment I received it in the mail. It’s perhaps the most technically flawed version, and the one that the dev team has put by far the most effort into patching since release. All I wanted was a game like the Castlevania titles that Igarashi spent so many years making, and he delivered. With all that being said, I love Bloodstained, technical warts and all. All I wanted was a game like the Castlevania titles that Igarashi spent so many years making, and he delivered. He and his team delivered big time, and they fulfilled basically every desire I had, from its music, to the size and scope of the castle, to the characters and story, even with their close parallels to Symphony of the Night. The technical shortcomings of the Switch version didn’t bother me at all. I love it, I want to play it again, I want to play a sequel. Though the game that shipped was less than perfect in a technical sense, Bloodstained is an example a Kickstarter project done right. And with how often similar campaigns resulted in little more than “better than nothing,” that’s no small feat. 1. Fire Emblem: Three Houses Fire Emblem has had one hell of a turbulent decade. A little less than ten years ago, the second DS entry, New Mystery of the Emblem, wasn’t even localized because its predecessor, Shadow Dragon, tanked in sales. Nintendo had considered mothballing the franchise if the 3DS entry Fire Emblem Awakening didn’t sell at least 250,000 units, and there was a lot of concern from western fans that Awakening wouldn’t even be localized. But it was. And then the franchise exploded into a new international level of popularity that it had never seen before, and that neither Nintendo nor Intelligent Systems likely ever saw coming. Two more 3DS entries followed. Fire Emblem Fates, coming off the heels of Awakening, unfortunately became a lightning rod and whipping post for series fans for a variety of reasons. The story, split into three separate games meant for different audiences, was written and rewritten into a narrative mess, and the game doubled down hard on the relationship aspects that Awakening fans enjoyed, complete with characters meant to appeal to that aspect of the game that some felt went overboard. Since its release, Fire Emblem communities and threads were mostly a firestorm of hatred for Fates and little else. This attitude persisted even when Fates was followed by a modern remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden a couple of years later. And of course, there were Tokyo Mirage Sessions, Fire Emblem Heroes, and Fire Emblem Warriors, which led to their own fan dramas. It became a joke that no one hates Fire Emblem more than Fire Emblem fans. It would require a special game to unify all of the squabbling factions. And when Fire Emblem: Three Houses was first revealed, that Fates angst was back in force. Some fans convinced themselves from the very start that it would become Fates 2, even though nothing hinted that it would be the case. And you know what? Those fans were dead wrong. ...the game’s cast of characters features some of the deepest, most fully realized protagonists and antagonists that the series has ever seen. Fire Emblem: Three Houses is easily the best Fire Emblem game in many years. It’s also one of the most experimental, with the game’s development team at Koei Tecmo adding a whole new gameplay phase involving exploring a monastery home base, teaching at an academy, getting to know the protagonist Byleth’s students over meals and during tea parties, and in general putting a much stronger emphasis on the social and relationship elements than any prior game before it. Three Houses is most explicitly like Fates in one way. The game’s campaign branches based on the academy house Byleth chooses to teach. But while the campaigns in Fates were designed such that one was for newcomers, one was for series veterans, and a third met somewhere in between (and all three had to be purchased separately), the branches of Three Houses offer experiences meant for all players, and each offers its own sense of wonder, mystery, triumph, and heartache. The uniqueness of each branch particularly as the game’s calendar shifts, and the stakes rise. Three Houses isn’t the prettiest game to look at from a technical perspective, but the artistic sense of its world and characters, and the way it makes effective use of its excellent soundtrack, stands clear above other entries in the franchise. And the game’s cast of characters features some of the deepest, most fully realized protagonists and antagonists that the series has ever seen. It lets go of the past in some ways, ignoring many of the oldest Fire Emblem character tropes, but embraces and reflects on others in new and interesting ways. It takes hints and cues from entries like Genealogy of the Holy War, which producers have specifically cited as an inspiration. In some ways, Three Houses feels like it could be a dress rehearsal for a Genealogy remake. But to call it a dress rehearsal of anything is selling the game far, far too short. Simply put, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is my favorite game of 2019, and at this point, ranks high as possibly my favorite Fire Emblem game ever.
  8. Jonathan Higgins

    Game of the Year 2019: Jonathan's Picks

    All that glitters is gold. And after this year, I’ve no choice but to believe that all my gaming wishes come true. No, seriously — I wanted Kirby’s animal friends to come back; they did. I wanted Phantasy Star Online 2 to be localized, and now I owe Barrel a kingdom. STREETS OF RAGE 4 is gonna be a thing next year and Adam Hunter’s finally playable again. I didn’t even know how badly I wanted Sonic Mania or Super Mario Odyssey until the moment I saw them. But nothing will ever hold a candle to how viscerally I reacted during the last few minutes of the February 13th Nintendo Direct this year. Anyone who I consider a friend knows how this Game of the Year list is going to end. But hey, it’s more about the journey than the destination, right? Here are ten-ish... gaming-related things released in North America this year that I enjoyed the most. That sweeping statement ought to cover my bases and let me get away with a technicality or two, huh? 10) Kingdom Hearts III This pick echoes how I feel about Persona 5. So much style, I’m tempted to use the phrase “practically peerless” yet again. It was enjoyable to actually play, barring a few rough edges. The soundtrack is the real mark of mastery. Gosh, though—the writing leaves a lot to be desired. This isn’t your generic, “Lol, the plot of Kingdom Hearts is labyrinthine and hard to understand,” take — I understood everything pretty darn well. It’s just... the script constantly does wrong by the women of the series. The localization changed meaningful dialogue between characters in unsatisfactory ways, too. Nomura and friends scored use of a major IP in Frozen, but Sora, Donald and Goofy absolutely do not belong when they wander around in Arendelle. You get to see the iconic “Let It Go” song being sung by Elsa’s proper voice actress — and the Kingdom Hearts characters are just kind of standing off to the side like, “Oooh, pretty.” I’ve been able to suspend my disbelief with “Square-Enix’s take on Disney worlds” over the years. So much style, I’m tempted to use the phrase “practically peerless” yet again. But III was the first time where the properties used were so big that Nomura probably wasn’t given a whole lot of wiggle room to make his prized original characters feel like they actually belonged in the stories they were pushing forward. Kingdom Hearts III is truly “AAA” in terms of budget and Disney’s involvement... and the writing suffers for it. Everything else, though, is so ridiculously cool and over-the-top that it managed to squeeze onto my list... despite me feeling more bitter than sweet. If I had a list of personal criticisms regarding mechanics in past Kingdom Hearts titles, III addresses every single one of them. It has more than just nostalgia going for it — the team has learned a lot since around 2001 when all this stuff started. I have such a love/hate relationship here. But it still deserves this spot as one of the more memorable parts of my gaming year. 9) Trials of Mana Seiken Densetsu 3 may have come out in 1995, but it didn't make its way to North America until this past summer. What we now know as Trials of Mana isn’t just a stellar SNES title — it’s the Mana series at its finest hour. Final Fantasy Adventure is lovely, and Secret of Mana will always have a nostalgic place in my heart. But I’d pay $40 for Trials of Mana all by itself, much less the full Collection of Mana package. The mechanics that help make Secret of Mana a timeless classic to many have been refined here. Hit detection is much better overall, and you don’t have to level up a character’s magic spell or preferred weapon by using them hundreds of times. Rather than sticking with a small cast like the previous two Mana titles, there are six characters the player can mix and match to form a party of three. The story, final boss, and endings will vary depending upon who leads your crew and who joins them, adding a degree of replay value. ...Trials of Mana isn’t just a stellar SNES title — it’s the Mana series at its finest hour. That said, nothing really holds a candle to Trials of Mana’s character class customization. I’ve genuinely never needed a dedicated healer (as is oft a trope of Japanese action RPGs). My most recent team of Hawkeye, Riesz, and Angela were powerful enough to steamroll entire groups of enemies & bosses while only needing to rely on consumable items to get the job done. Very few action-RPGs of its day can claim to be as balanced as Trials of Mana. It was a blast to play the fan translation on my PC multiple decades back...but it is a privilege to finally be able to pay for it and play it on the big screen. Truly, no entry in the Mana series has matched its overall quality, before or since. 8. Cadence of Hyrule Rogue-likes — the genre that houses some of my favorites like Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon & Azure Dreams — are a guilty pleasure of mine. Crypt of the Necrodancer takes those mechanics and combines them with elements of a rhythm game. Every enemy, piece & part of the environment only moves when you move — but you have to move in sync with the beat of the song playing, or you’re penalized. Cadence of Hyrule is this exact same premise, but with all the trappings of your typical top-down Zelda (spoilers, but you’ll see the best example of that elsewhere on this list). You can play as either Link or Zelda (finally!) & freely explore a randomly generated Hyrule, moving to the beat of the music… ...or not! Holy Toledo, the Fixed-Beat Mode baked into Cadence of Hyrule turned it from something I’d have to regrettably pass on (I am not the biggest fan of rhythm-based mechanics — there are valid reasons I’ll never “git gud” enough to keep up) into one of my favorites this year. Utilizing this mode turns the whole experience into “Zelda Mystery Dungeon” & nothing more... which I am absolutely, positively here for. Brace Yourself Games has shown everyone that these unique indie collaborations should be a new standard for Nintendo. I’m so happy Nintendo essentially licensed out The Legend of Zelda to a small group of talented fans. The custom art feels like a natural evolution of The Minish Cap. From a design standpoint, these folks took weapons & other mechanics from all the great top-down Zeldas and blended them into a short, sweet, infinitely replayable (due to almost every aspect being randomly generated) package. Brace Yourself Games has shown everyone that these unique indie collaborations should be a new standard for Nintendo. I hope it’s the first of many, to be frank. The old dogs at Tokyo EAD could absolutely learn some new tricks by allowing these one-of-a-kind spin-offs to elevate their most popular franchises. 7) Knights & Bikes EarthBound, The Goonies, Moonrise Kingdom — a handful of titles across multiple forms of media come to mind when I think of adventures starring children that genuinely capture the whimsy of being a kid. Knights & Bikes is another example I can happily add to this list, headed up by the Lead Creator of Tearaway, and one of the programmers of titles like LittleBigPlanet and Ratchet & Clank. Two little ladies (Demelza & Nessa) and their pet goose (an endearing fellow named Captain Honkers, the true Best Goose of 2019) explore the coasts of Penfurzy island on their bikes, looking for treasure & adventure. If you’re looking for fun without giant swords and guns, their weapons of choice to take down baddies are things like frisbees, water-balloons, something pretty heavily inspired by the Power Glove for the NES, and a boom-box. Their tale is the kind of coming-of-age story that’s spun literal children’s books. Themes can get fairly glum, and tensions can run fairly high towards the end — but this is truly an experience meant for the whole family. It’s inclusive... genuinely fun to explore, and an absolute visual treat. You can pretty much immediately tell this is from some of the minds who melded Tearaway and other Media Molecule-headed romps. It’s inclusive — to the point where you can pick whether or not Nessa’s a vegetarian & have Demelza alter a story she’s telling to reflect that choice — genuinely fun to explore, and an absolute visual treat. Knights & Bikes is a short, sweet adventure that left me hoping this single Kickstarted game gives way to an entire new transmedia franchise that brings new books, console entrees, and shows alike. 6) The Sega Genesis Mini Y’all, this is the finest “nostalgic tiny console with a compilation of games” ever released. 42 games ported over by M2, the legendary developers behind the SEGA Ages titles, that turn everything they touch into the definitive versions of each game. While the SEGA Mini doesn’t quite elevate examples like Monster World IV or Sonic Spinball into the modern era with exclusive features that’d be present if they were all SEGA Ages titles — they are flawless ports. And the library features stuff you thought you’d never see released digitally again, like Mega Man: The Wily Wars, Dynamite Headdy, Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, and a good 10 other truly “deep cuts” from SEGA’s legacy. ...the finest “nostalgic tiny console with a compilation of games” ever released. Rounding out my bottom five game-things of 2019 with something I can only spend a paragraph explaining (without going into each and every title offered, anyway) feels kind of odd. But while my SNES Mini will wind up collecting dust now that Yoshi’s Island is a part of Nintendo Switch Online, I feel like the SEGA Mini will take up one of my HDMI ports for many years to come. 5) Luigi’s Mansion 3 I’ve always been a bigger fan of Mario’s eternal understudy. Luigi is the closest thing you’d find resembling me in the Mushroom Kingdom — he’s a giant dork, way more timid & afraid than heroic, but ultimately motivated to do what’s right by his friends. Luigi’s Mansion 3 releasing on Halloween was poetry. This series is really my only comfort food within the “horror” genre, because it’s more about comic relief & fun than actual jump-scares or grim gore. The first one was a fun, exploratory adventure that was honestly over too soon. The second rectified the former’s length problem, but was hindered by its attempts to break apart exploration into chunks with its “mission”-based structure that constantly sent you back to a sort of hub world just when things were getting interesting. ...it’s got a whimsy that outclasses even Super Mario Odyssey. Exploring each floor of The Last Resort hotel felt more like I was playing a Mario-style take on Disney’s Castle of Illusion than the usual horror-inspired romp. This hotel has... a whole freaking pyramid inside it, a coliseum inspired by the Middle Ages, a dinosaur museum... let’s just say it puts Las Vegas getaways to shame. Every new floor had me wondering what kind of wacky place I’d be thrown into next. You’re not constantly interrupted by “Mission Complete” screens, and gathering up every hidden gem & Boo to be found took me a little over fifteen hours— not less than five, like the first. The things that put Luigi’s Mansion 3 over the top for me personally concern Luigi himself, though. There are so many cute moments—his scaredy-cat nature is purposefully as exaggerated as it can possibly be, the bosses bring out the best parts of his personality... you can even pet the dog! It’s just good, clean fun. The line “it feels like a wholesome Saturday morning cartoon,” is the most overused cliche in the industry, but I’m using it here because it’s got a whimsy that outclasses even Super Mario Odyssey. 4) Gato Roboto First think of Metroid. No, not “Metroid-like” or “Metroidvania” — actual Metroid on the NES. Now, make Samus a tiny cat that’s not capable of much except jumping, climbing, and being really gosh darn cute...until she gets in her giant robot mech. This is the recipe for Gato Roboto, my favorite take on Me(ow)troid since Axiom Verge. While heading through space, a man and his cat end up marooned on an alien planet. Trapped, the man who would otherwise end up the hero of this story has no choice but to send his cat to explore in his stead. The good kitty winds up unfurling a devious plot of world domination at the hands of... a mouse that can talk?? ...my favorite take on Me(ow)troid since Axiom Verge. This is a romp that can be over as quickly as the original Metroid, but it’s also one of my most replayed games this year. Rather than evoke horror or a sense of unease like the series that inspired it, Gato Roboto chooses comedy and cute vibes. Level design has you piloting the mech most of the time, but often leaves kitty to its own devices. The robot armor can take its fair share of hits, but kitty can only be hit once before being kicked back to the last (very generous) checkpoint. There are plenty of ways developer Doinksoft chooses to mix things up mechanically — the robot armor isn’t the only thing the cat ends up piloting, for example. I’m hard-pressed to come up with a few hundred more words to explain why, but gosh this was some of the most fun I’ve had in the genre in years. It’s definitely priced like an NES title should be, too — I genuinely feel you can’t go wrong picking it up, if you’re a fan of the genre. 3) Pokémon Shield Half the reason why Pokémon Shield gripped me so hard was in how it was marketed. See, by the time the previous brand new entries, Sun & Moon, were out... over 80 of their brand new Pokémon were revealed publicly through trailers and other means. We knew what the starters were going to turn into, about most of the new “regional variants” — just a few Ultra Beasts and Mythical Pokémon were kept hidden. By contrast, before November 15th, Sword & Shield had officially revealed only 23. They went through pretty painstaking efforts to share as little information as possible before release. The intent behind the two generations is markedly different — this one wanted to surprise me. And boy howdy, it did. Give or take 70 Pokémon, including Galarian forms and evolutions, were brand new to me & revealed solely during my adventure. I haven’t been this won over by the ole clever marketing machine since I first played Pokémon back when I was single digits in the late 90s. I can genuinely say it may stay “my favorite Pokémon game of the last ten years.” The Wild Area helps the Galar region to feel more “connected” than any region before it. From a spot on Route 5, you can see the city of Hammerlocke—that you’ll arrive in much later on—waaay off in the distance. Early on in my adventure, because it happened to be raining where I was exploring there, I was able to take down a Lv30 Onix with my Drizzile while I was over ten levels lower than it. Max Raid Battles, despite some flawed aspects, are genuinely the most addicting multiplayer feature to hit the series in multiple decades. Both the new Dynamaxing feature & more limited Pokédex should do a lot to refresh competitive play. Without getting too far into spoiler territory, I’ll just say the story does a lot with a little. The Pokémon Company addresses a criticism of Sun & Moon being “too talky” by making characters say less, but hiding bits of character-specific backstory in their League Cards, which players collect as the story develops & can read at their own leisure. It has what amounts to my favorite endgame (the final few hours before the credits, and a bit after) since Black & White’s N sieges the Pokémon League. Overall, I feel more positively towards Pokémon Shield than any previous entry since 2009, when HeartGold pulled my nostalgia strings hard. There are definitely community-related aspects that need to be updated in a patch, but if they keep nurturing the experience rather than abandoning it, I can genuinely say it may stay “my favorite Pokémon game of the last ten years.” 2) Baba Is You Plenty of video games turn “breaking” them into a fun side thing you can do — like old debug mode cheats in Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Very few — and only one I can think of in the puzzle genre — make breaking & redefining rules it puts in place the whole point. “You” is the player. And if the “Baba is You” text is on the screen, the player controls Baba. Other rules in place may be “Flag in Win” and “Wall is Stop” — where a wall in front of you would literally stop Baba from reaching the flag. If the word “Wall” can be moved, though, you might be able to push the Wall text down to replace “Baba”, making “Wall is You” and then literally reaching the flag as the wall that was formerly thwarting you in order to win. Here’s a trailer. Here’s an early example. Here’s an absolutely insane trick I pulled whose end result permanently turned a numbered level I cleared on the world map into a key — and into Baba (at which point I could freely move around the entire map, for funsies.) If I were reviewing it, I’d fight pretty hard for a 10/10. It’s quite simply the new paradigm in the puzzle genre. The amount of work it must’ve taken to create an engine that allows players to willingly break levels’ rules wide open, to the point where it has long-term effects on one’s save file, without everything falling apart is just staggering to think about. The brain-power it takes to solve Baba is You’s logic puzzles must pale in comparison to what it took to actually design them. I have no additional gushing regarding narrative, visuals, or the soundtrack, this time. The engine & entirely breakable mechanics truly speak for themselves. Baba is You Is Win — Arvi Teikari’s peers will be trying to emulate its cunning for a very, very long time. If I were reviewing it, I’d fight pretty hard for a 10/10. It’s quite simply the new paradigm in the puzzle genre. You don’t just follow the rules to win — you literally rewrite them. 1) Link’s Awakening I’ve played Link’s Awakening almost once a year, every year since 1993. It remains “the shining example that taught me how freaking amazing this medium could be”, the first one to make me cry, the one I’ve absolutely muscle-memorized. It is, quite simply, my favorite video game of all time. It’s hard to overstate just how badly I’ve wanted this exact thing to dream itself into existence. A Link Between Worlds was a phenomenal modernization of A Link to the Past (don’t tell anyone, but I find the original pretty middling at best) in the form of a sequel. This re-imagining of Koholint from the folks at Grezzo isn’t a sequel. It doesn’t really break any new ground — or change much of anything, from a narrative or level-design perspective. At the end of the day, admittedly, I prefer it this way. It reminds me a lot of how they handled Ocarina of Time 3D & Majora’s Mask 3D many moons ago: the Switch breathed new life into Link’s Awakening’s presentation — formerly stuck on the Game Boy — and allowed some mechanics (like being stuck with just two buttons for weapons) that age poorly about the original to be brought forward. Of course, while “uprezzed ports” could describe the 3D entries, Link’s Awakening on Switch dreams bigger. The whimsical, almost “storybook” art style & lack of a sweeping, orchestral soundtrack are polarizing to a few. But I recognize what both are trying to do, and I absolutely adore them for it. It's an elevated version of my favorite video game ever made. The new models for characters, monsters, and locales are an ideal way to keep the original’s proportions intact, and the new Koholint uses the colors from Link’s Awakening DX faithfully. The arrangements from Ryo Nagamatsu are definitely more subdued compared to A Link Between Worlds’ more “epic” feel — but the way he seamlessly blends the original’s chiptunes into his new takes are wonderful. Angler’s Tunnel was one of the tracks from GB Link’s Awakening that kind of struggled a bit—at the end of the day, it was just a sped up version of the “Cave Theme” from elsewhere in the adventure. Angler’s Tunnel on the Switch kicks off with slow harps at first, bringing in a new melody that feels more “underwater”. A few seconds later, the original GB melody plays in the background on top of it. That stuff right there happens a few times throughout the new old journey. Nagamatsu doesn’t reinvent the original soundtrack — he just does his due diligence to elevate it. That’s what Link’s Awakening is on Nintendo Switch. It’s an elevated version of my favorite video game ever made. Now, I just don’t know what else to wish for. Maybe, just maybe, Camelot will hear my plea.
  9. Jason Clement

    What have you seen recently and what did you think?

    I've been watching Star Trek Voyager on Amazon Prime. Surprisingly, it's my first time ever watching through the series! xD
  10. I watched The Aeronauts on Amazon Prime it was a really good movie starring Eddie Redmayne from the new Harry Potter movie series. It a true story about a scientist that went up in a hot air balloon to learn how to predict the weather. Very well done story and great acting.
  11. Jonathan Higgins

    Jonathan's Review/Editorial Images

    All the images from anything I review/write about in one place!
  12. I started playing some Boneworks VR. Got it the second it hit the steam store. It's a very cool and advanced game but really needs a save game option.
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  16. Zelda-like games are a dime dozen these days but Sparklite (from indie developer Merge Games and publisher Red Blue Games) looks to be a cut above the rest with a few things that make it stand out. Part Zelda-like adventure, part rogue-like, and part... crafting-like (?), Sparklite is set in a world where its natural resource (or life force) goes by the same name. Its story focuses on a young heroine named Ada, whose quest is to save the world from an antagonistic, self-named 'Baron' that is seeking to exploit the resource in order to further his own nefarious goals. To do so, you'll explore five procedurally-generated biomes, invent different gadgets and weapons to solve puzzles and defeat enemies, battle giant bosses, and help the local population rebuild The Refuge. Last but not least, all of this will be set to a soundtrack composed by Dale North (of Wizard of Legend fame). If mixing Zelda gameplay, crafting, and a procedurally-generated world sound right up your alley, you can check out Sparklite on the Nintendo Switch eShop, Playstation Store on PlayStation 4, Xbox Games Store on Xbox One, and Steam starting today. The game is also on sale for 15% off on each platform until November 20. Check out the game's launch trailer below! Source: Press Release
  17. Jason Clement

    Review: A Knight's Quest

    Developer: Sky 9 Games Publisher: Curve Digital Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC (via Epic Games Store) Release Date: October 10, 2019 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game It’s always a bit surprising to me that we don’t see more games use 3D Zelda titles as a base, given the series’ immense popularity. Sky 9 Games' A Knight’s Quest is one of the first indie titles I’ve seen recently that attempts this and actually gets much closer to replicating the experience (especially the adventure aspect) than most other games have. Unfortunately, there are also a number of aspects that hinder it from living up to its potential. In A Knight’s Quest, you play as Rusty – a clumsy adventurer who unwittingly unleashes an unknown, presumably malevolent force that has been sealed away. In order to fight this evil, Rusty is tasked with seeking out four spirit heroes and their powers, which in turn means going on a journey to find each one in their own dungeon. The story isn’t necessarily the most original ever, but it works for setting the game in motion. Likewise, the dialogue often aims for funny and nonsensical, but is hit and miss. This is mostly due to just about every character being written with a combination of snarky/sarcastic wit and internet meme culture; kind of like that awkward friend who tries to be funny by repeating outdated internet memes and jokes. In the end, the character dialogue comes off as more of a first draft and could use a bit more refinement. The game takes a good half hour to really get going, but once it does, its world shows off impressive potential. Though it isn’t the open-ended, interconnected wilderness featured in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it’s apparent the developers took a lot of inspiration from it. There are many large, detailed areas for you to explore with treasure chests and other loot off the beaten path, skeletons at campfires, different enemies littering the landscape, and sidequests you can undertake from certain characters you come across in your travels. In fact, the design of the world and its various areas is perhaps the most impressive and compelling aspect of the game. Not only is it appealing from a visual standpoint, many of the areas are massive in size and can take 20+ minutes or more to traverse for first-time players, adding to the feeling that you’re on a long journey. There is also an oddly satisfying ‘Zelda meets Mario’ aspect to the gameplay, where it incorporates a lot of 3D platforming and vertical exploration in certain areas, giving the game a bit more of a unique flavor in contrast to typical adventure games. Likewise, the soundtrack composed by Will Bedford is excellent and evokes a real sense of adventure and wonder. The overworld theme has a heroic melody reminiscent of the Hyrule Field theme from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and the Desert Proving Grounds theme is a real symphonic highlight, featuring an eclectic mix of strings, horns, flutes, and different kinds of unique percussion (such as bells). Unfortunately, that’s just about where the games’ good qualities stop. While the world is expansive and looks great, the actual characters look rather bland and mediocre. The enemy design is much more miss than hit, consisting of such things as generic, one-eyed snake creatures, generic skeletons with swords, scorpions, and other creatures that just aren’t that original or interesting. Making matters even worse is that they all use the same two or three sound effects, making them even more irritating. Perhaps the biggest issue of all is the combat and controls. For the most part, combat works just enough that you can get through the game, but it’s uneven and loose at best. Where it gets a bit dicey is when you face multiple enemies at once. There’s at least one major instance in the story where you’ll be faced with this scenario; however, you’ll realize that the battle system is largely designed around you fighting one enemy at a time. So while you’re attacking one, the rest are still doing (sometimes major) damage to you, and it’s impossible to dodge every attack. There are certain items (such as bombs) designed to attack large groups, but they’re not terribly effective, and the few multi-enemy attacks you have are not super viable because of how long they take to perform (you must wait and charge a few seconds before unleashing them). The flow of battle also simply isn’t fast enough for you to fight large groups of enemies evenly, leading Rusty to slowly fight one enemy and clumsily move to the next. Beyond that, a number of standard quality of life features that are generally present in games like this are either simply missing in this one, or not implemented as effectively as they should be. One major issue is there are no maps of each area beyond a simple, illustrated overworld map in your sub-menu. There’s a compass at the top of the screen that will show you which direction your objective is in, but it’s not 100% foolproof and can sometimes misguide you. Also, fast travel is something that’s implemented fairly early on in many games, yet you don’t even get access to it in the first half of this game even though you pass by many fast-travel stations (that you can't yet access) in your travels, forcing you to sometimes retrace your steps through long, winding areas. There’s also no way to sell off any loot you acquire early on, as well as no meaningful way to buy items (especially health-recovering ones) until the second major area you get to. This leads to another issue in that you simply don’t have enough inventory storage slots in the beginning, and thus no way to store some of the more valuable items you come across when you run out of room. And last but not least, there were a number of clipping issues I faced. In one area, my character simply stopped responding to any control input and I had to restart the game entirely to continue, and in yet other areas I would clip through the wall or floor and die instantly. Despite the negatives, I still had fun throughout the game, and there’s a lot to admire about A Knight’s Quest. Its world is one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen created by an indie team. The soundtrack is also exceptional and could easily be mistaken for a AAA title's score. Even much of the gameplay (especially dungeons) and main quest itself is pretty fun and compelling. There’s arguably a good game beneath a rough exterior here; if the game had another half a year or more of polish, I might’ve been able to call this a pretty good game. As it currently is, the negative aspects drag a good experience down to just a decent one at best. Pros + Large, impressive world with lots of sidequests and ripe for exploration + Soundtrack is great + Dungeons are surprisingly fun and capture a bit of the Zelda magic Cons - Issues with the fluidity of combat; fighting large groups is incredibly difficult and not really fair for players - Lack of standard quality of life features (especially early on) that would make the game much better and a lot more pleasant to play - Character and enemy models are a bit bland in design - Infrequent clipping issues at various points Overall Score: 6.5 (out of 10) Decent An impressive world (both visually and in design) and epic musical score are undermined by a number of issues plaguing gameplay as well as a lack of standard quality of life features, causing this Zelda-like title to be just a decent adventure at best for those brave enough to overcome its problems. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Switch code provided by the publisher.
  18. If you thought you were done with Wargroove after playing through its campaign, think again. Chucklefish announced today that its upcoming DLC, titled Wargroove: Double Trouble, is coming soon and will bring a heap of new features along with it, including a new campaign, all for the low, low price of absolutely free. The new story campaign focuses on the Outlaws faction and introduces new commanders such as the mighty Wulfar; two troublesome twins known as Errol and Orla; and the whip-wielding Vesper -- all of whom will participate in a heist after an unexpected kidnapping and some severe ransom demands. Other things in the new DLC include: 2 new units: Thieves and Riflemen New Arcade missions Competitive online Quick Play maps Public and Private Multiplayer Lobbies – you can now also play custom campaigns online! New Volcano map theme and more updates to the custom Editor tools Outlaw music tracks, composed by Phonetic Hero Editor tool updates Check out Wargroove's website to see updates on the latest balance changes and what the editor tool updates entail. Last but not least, Wargroove: Deluxe Edition (for Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Xbox One) will be heading physically to stores on October 29. It will include a physical disc/cart of the game, a downloadable copy of the OST, a commander sprite sticker sheet, a poster map of Aurania (Outlaw version), a mini strategy guide with tips and stats on all in-game units, and a reversible cover sheet. As for the Wargroove: Double Trouble DLC, no release date has been announced yet but Chucklefish says it will be coming soon. Source: Chucklefish
  19. Dragon Quest fans are about to get another dose of the franchise soon as Square Enix announced today that the first three Dragon Quest titles will be making its way to Nintendo Switch later this month. These include Dragon Quest, Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line, and Dragon Quest III: The Seeds of Salvation -- all three of which make up what is known as the Erdrick Trilogy. Dragon Quest III in particular is largely considered to be one of the best in the series, so be sure to put that one on your radar if you haven't played any of these previously. The three Dragon Quest titles will cost $4.99, $6.49, and $12.49, respectively, and will be available to buy digitally on Nintendo Switch on September 27. Not coincidentally, Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age also releases that day; it's a good time to be a Dragon Quest fan! Source: Press Release
  20. Jason Clement

    Steam Summer Sale 2017

    Pretty sure that's a bot you're responding to, DC. It's hard keeping up with all of the new ones that keep popping up here nowadays. But on the flipside, it's cool that you're still keeping an eye on this place! How've you been? Feels like forever since we've last talked. xD
  21. Charlespip

    Game Podunk Suggestion Thread

    Sign-up thread for another game, lets see if the villagers can redeem themselves I think Ste said the optimum number of people for a game was 27 so well cap it at that for now. Outline of the rules again:
  22. DarkCobra86

    Steam Summer Sale 2017

    I think you should be able to.
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  24. Developer: Spike Chunsoft/Lancarse Publisher: Spike Chunsoft Platform: PS4 and PC Release Date: April 9, 2019 ESRB: M for Mature After the many memorable twists and turns of the iconic Danganronpa series one would guess that the next project by many of its former key staff would strike at a similar gaming vein. And yet, that sort of assumption could not have been further off the mark. Spike Chunsoft's newest title, Zanki Zero: Last Beginning, explores and experiments with much more uncharted territory by combining first-person dungeon crawling gameplay, survival systems, and the perpetual death and rebirth of its lead cast. To say it is a departure from their previous visual novel work would honestly be putting it lightly. As cliche as this turn of phrase likely winds up being it is still more than tempting to say there is not really anything quite like Zanki Zero: Last Beginning as a game. Or, at the very least, it is the most unique first-person dungeon crawler in recent memory within a world where it is all too easy to compare to the highly-acclaimed Etrian Odyssey series, for better or for worse. The most immediate way Zanki Zero establishes its distinct take on the subgenre is through its inherent story/premise. Despite its initial Danganronpa-esque setup, in which several adults find themselves with trapped on an abandoned island (with clear gaps in the memory in how they got there), the title quickly veers into much stranger territory. After the prologue sequence the lead cast of characters not only learns that they can be revived after even the goriest of deaths via an arcade-like "extend machine" to a literal child-like state once more, but also that they are all clones that age an accelerated rate to the point where they will die of old age in roughly two weeks time. This odd narrative pretense is creatively implemented into nearly every facet of the game. Story scenes vary based on each character's current physical age, down to appearance and voice pitch, leading to many odd interactions throughout between the cast throughout as they try and figure out their current bizarre predicament. On a gameplay front, however, the aging mechanic becomes very much a variable to take into account as it directly affects combat prowess such as how quickly characters can attack to the ever-present worry of when one of them may simply die of old age while exploring. Perhaps more morbid than frequently dying of old age as a gameplay mechanic (if one can even live that long) is that dying in different ways, known in-game as "Shigabane", is highly encouraged as it is the primary means of strengthening your characters. For example, dying while being poisoned permanently increases one's resistance to toxin, and kicking the bucket as an old geezer permanently slows down the aging process entirely, and biting the dust while over encumbered permanently increases how much a character can carry at any one time. It is an intriguing system but admittedly becomes somewhat annoying on higher difficulties because so many enemies and environmental obstacles can more or less one-hit KO characters if one does not deliberately grind for different Shigabane in advance, despite being negligible on the lowest difficulties otherwise. While a good majority of Zanki Zero's gameplay mechanics are in its addictive dungeon expeditions (and some creative environmental puzzles) in each story chapter, there are a few noteworthy systems outside of it. For instance, in the main island, hub players can build new facilities such as crafting benches for equipable gear, housing (which has a whole affinity system if certain characters share rooms enough), or even a creating working toilet. Still, it is a shame that, either due to wildly varying drop rates between the different difficulties or item information being obfuscated altogether at times (how was I supposed to know that "monkey adhesive" does not actually drop from the monkey enemies?), a lot of it is unlikely to be underutilized by the end. Regardless, the most disappointing aspects of the entire game are simply the gameplay or story elements that get underdeveloped in spite of the often engaging dungeon crawling. Like, players eventually get access to parasitic implants called "Cilione" that give characters unique skills for healing, attacking, or the ability to open new parts of the terrain, but are never really encouraged to be used that much due to the harsh penalty they inflict on overuse. It is a similar deal with a lot of other gameplay mechanics such as targeting/breaking enemy limbs or keeping up with aspects like the hunger/bladder meters as the necessity of either are nearly entirely decided upon if one is playing on the highest difficulties or not (which thankfully can be toggled between mid-playthrough). Yet, the storytelling itself has even more unrealized potential. Despite having some intriguing character-focused vignettes each chapter that delve into some rather dark subject matter, the main story itself almost serves to contrast by unfortunately meandering a lot. Every other story chapter forces some shallow attempt at shock value and play upon the seven deadly sins motif, but is easily undermined by the fact the characters are, well, clones that can be revived upon death. Plus, it really does not help that even the interesting flashbacks are setup by some truly awful mascot characters that put showcase's the games writing at its absolute worst with juvenile and tone deaf potty humor that thinks it is amusing. It is a shame that, regardless of the developer's Danganronpa pedigree, the storytelling of Zanki Zero is barely a noteworthy footnote in stark contrast to the much more engaging dungeon crawling. Zanki Zero: Last Beginning frequently bounces between both refreshingly unique to incredibly flawed all in the same breath. It plays with a lot of different gameplay systems going from surprisingly addictive dungeon crawling and level puzzles to survival mechanics that do not quite stand out as much as the game wants them to be. If anything, the title should be played more so due to its zany take on dungeon crawling RPGs than going in with preconceived notions of expecting something similar at all story-wise to the developer's prior work in Danganronpa, and that is perfectly fine. Pros + Genuinely unique take on the DRPG mold that is a welcome contrast from the developer's previous work + Varied level motifs and puzzles prevent it from getting tedious like many in the subgenre + Aging mechanic helps present both cutscenes as well as the dungeon crawling in an intriguing light + Quirky overall personality and characters that have twisted backstories Cons - Those expecting it to be particularly similar to Danganronpa, or only care about the main storytelling, are likely to be disappointed - Frequent inventory management or attempting to get different "Shigabane" can get tedious on higher difficulties - Really juvenile writing at times that is especially annoying when the two mascot characters are on-screen (which is too often) - Some underutilized gameplay systems like the base building or Cilione abilities Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Zanki Zero: Last Beginning is a refreshingly unique take on dungeon crawlers that is only really held back by it not going quite far enough with certain gameplay systems or, more disappointing, its underutilized storytelling Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  25. Knights and Bikes, London-based Foam Sword Games' first game, has officially gone gold and is coming to a PlayStation 4 or PC near you soon. Dubbed a "Goonies-inspired adventure," Knights and Bikes is a co-op, story-based adventure game that centers on two girls who are searching for the legendary cursed treasure of Penfurzy Island. Across the course of six days you'll explore the island, solve puzzles, talk to different people, and fight off the ancient curse that protects the treasure using such items as frisbees, water balloons, toilet plungers, a game gauntlet, and more. Also central to the gameplay are bikes, which you'll need to upgrade in order to visit certain areas of the island. If the game's painterly, cartoon-like aesthetic seems familiar to you, there's good reason for it: the game's central creators, Rex Crowle and Moo Yu, previously worked at Media Molecule on award-winning games such as LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway. Further bolstering the pedigree on the title is Kenny Young, another Media Molecule alum who also most recently worked on 2018's breakout VR hit Astro Bot Rescue Mission; and Daniel Pemberton, who composed much of the music for LittleBigPlanet 1 and 2, and was the composer for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Originally launching as a successful Kickstarter project in 2016, it's been a long ride for Knights and Bikes through its 3+ year development but you'll finally be able to play this whimsical adventure when it comes digitally to PlayStation 4 and PC on August 7. Check out the game's E3 2018 trailer below. Source: Foam Sword Games
  26. Hello Games has been gradually teasing No Man Sky's next update, Beyond, over the last year, but today they've finally announced when you can expect to play through the upcoming content: August 14. Beyond is described as 'three updates in one, and like prior updates, this one will also be free. Chief among the new inclusions is the inclusion of a 'radically new multiplayer and social experience' as well as support for VR, letting you become more immersed in the vastness of space and alien planets as you experience it first-hand. It's still a bit vague as to what the update entails in full but Hello Games will be trickling out information leading up to Beyond's release in a few weeks. Source: Hello Games
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