Reviews

October 14, 2018

Tricky Towers Review

By Roger Reichardt


Tetris clones are easy to come by and some are just a direct clone and add nothing new or no value to the “Tetris genre”. However, when a company can take a basic concept of stacking blocks and turn it into a party game, then you have something special.  That’s exactly what you have with Tricky Towers.

The Tip and The Top

The game’s concept is simple: you stack bricks that have the basic shapes that are in Tetris.  Tricky Towers though adds some flare. The game offers two different ways to play, either solo offline or online competitive modes.


The game breaks things down into three different categories.  Racing – where you are building your tower as fast as you can to cross the finish line.  Puzzle – where you build your tower with the allotted bricks and build it in a way that will fit in a certain area, so it does not cross a line (if your pieces do cross the line, you fail).  Finally, there is the Survival mode – where you have three hearts and you try to build your tower with the bricks given to you without the bricks falling – if they fall, you lose one of your hearts.  You lose all three hearts and you fail.


You compete against other magic builders – in the case of solo play, you play against the AI, and online you play against other players.  Not only do you race against time and try to defy gravity, but your opponent can cast spells on your bricks to cause havoc to your perfectly planned tower.

The solo game offers 50 different levels and each level increases the difficulty.  You may find yourself in solo mode to hone your skills to compete in multiplayer mode…

Multiplayer is where this game is at its best.  You can compete between 2-4 different players, either local couch play or online play.  The developers know that this is where most people will spend most of their time in the game; in fact, you can go to their website and download templates for creating your own local tournaments, printable crowns to wear, and even download the template for a 3D trophy! Yeah, they know how to market to their strengths.


In the online mode, you can either play in a single battle or compete in a trophy tournament.
Whether you play online or solo, the games are short. The games go by so quickly that, even when you fail, you do not feel like it will be a hassle to try again.  

The Flip and The Flop

While this game’s strength lies in the multiplayer and online competitive modes, there is no way for you to set up a match with just your friends. You are pitted against random players (per chance you may run into your friends) but there is no way for one friend to host the game while the others can join in.  This is a real shame. Other than that, the online matchmaking works perfectly well.

You do cast spells in this game that either help you and your efforts to build your tower or cast a spell that will hurt your opponents. This is a really cool aspect of the game, however, there is nothing in the game that tells you what the spells are and what they do.  This information is found on Tricky Towers website, but it would have been nice to have a reference guide built into the game.


Final Thoughts

This is a must buy for those of you that are looking for a fun party game that provides a twist on the Tetris genre.  The quick play of each match certainly makes a loss much easier to swallow. If you are a fan of Tetris, puzzle games, or competitive local couch games, this game is definitely for you.

Bombing Busters Review

By Roger Reichardt

Sanuk Games aims to capture the nostalgia fever that has taken grip in the game landscape in their latest entry on the Switch, Bombing Busters.  In the game you take on the persona of Bombing Bastard, a robot designed by Dr. Wallow.  Your purpose is to destroy all the critters so that Dr. Wallow can rule the galaxy.

The Tip and The Top

The game play is very similar to the early Bomberman games.  You start in a squared arena and you set bombs to take out your enemies.  In the story mode, you play through five different worlds, and each world has 6 different boards. 

Similar to Bomberman, Bombing Busters offers a wide range of power ups you can pick up after you blow up blocks with your bombs.  As you progress through the maze of each, you will find different power ups that will help you in your quest to beat each board.

At the end of each world there is a boss battle.  The boss battles are unique and challenging, however, the game does allow you to skip a boss and move on to the next world, if you have too much trouble with the boss.

The other mode available is the multiplayer mode, where up to four players can play against each other.  You also have the ability to add in AI robots and set the difficulty level for each AI robot.  You can select a board from any of the five different worlds; the ability to be able to play from any of the worlds without having to unlock the board in the single player mode is nice for players that are looking for a fun party game with their friends that do not want to spend time in the story mode. 

The Flip and The Flop

The game doesn’t do anything wrong, but outside of the boss battles, it just doesn’t offer anything new or fresh to the original Bomberman formula.  The enemies in each world are pretty much the same in each world.  In the multiplayer mode, all the robots look the same, except for the fact that you can pick different colors for each robot.  The colors do not provide enough contrast in the fast paced multiplayer game and you may find yourself lost, not knowing which character is yours before it’s too late.  It would have been a nice touch if players could do more customization of the robots in the multiplayer game to add enough contrast to distinguish each player’s robot.

Final Thoughts

Bombing Busters doesn’t do anything wrong, it just doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself from the original Bomberman. For those of you that absolutely love the original Bomberman, this won’t be a problem; the original Bomberman is hard to find these days and this offers players an affordable alternative to Bomberman. 

 

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Jettomero: Hero of the Universe Review

By Roger Reichardt

The journey through life is to understand one’s own purpose in the universe and what role we play in the whole scheme of history.  In Jettomero: Hero of the Universe, you take control of Jettomero, an indestructible robot that has just awoken from a deep sleep, looking to understand what happened in the past and discover their role in the universe. Will the journey be worth your time, or will you find yourself lost in space?

The Tip and The Top

As you explore the cosmos with Jettomero, you will notice the artistic splendor of this game.  Each planet is beautifully procedurally generated; the colors used look and feel like a graphic novel.  You’ll find yourself taking a lot of screenshots as you fly through space as Jettomero. The game has a built in photo mode.  This is a nice touch you can add filters and take pictures from different perspectives however, if you play this game on the Switch, you may find yourself using the Switch screen capture functionality more often.

The animation throughout Jettomero is superbly done.  Jettomero lumbers around like a child just learning to walk, as you try your best to avoid the buildings that surround Jettomero. The humans you are set out to protect do not take kindly to your presence. Jettomero is constantly pelted with a barrage of missiles, lasers, and ropes designed to pull him down.  These are fruitless efforts by the humans; after all, you are an indestructible robot. This certainly adds fun to the game and the controls responds to being beaten up or being pulled and dragged by the humans.

As you explore each planet, you start to learn Jettomero’s purpose.  In each solar system, there is a monster that you fight. The fights are not difficult.  This is a tug of war type of battle, as you shoot your lasers at the monsters and the monster shoots their lasers at you, with the laser beams meeting in the middle.  

To defeat the monsters, it will require you to input a series of buttons (A,B,X,Y, or the arrows buttons). With each correct sequence, you will gain ground, and your laser will get closer to the opponent.  Fail and the monster’s laser get closer to you. After a series of button inputs, you will overtake the monster as your laser will hit the final blow.

After each battle, you will be taken to a jumbled word puzzle where you turn the analog sticks until you unscramble the phrase.  Once the puzzle is deciphered, you are taken to a series of comic panels, which displays the phrases that you just descrambled with comic strip art.  Each comic will get you closer to understanding Jettomero’s past and ultimately, his future.

After each boss, you travel through a wormhole to another solar system that you explore.

For those of you that like to collect items in games, there are quite a few different robot parts that you can find throughout the game. This allows you to stylize Jettomero as you see fit; the different outfit pieces that you find throughout the game don’t change any of Jettomero’s abilities, but it is a fun touch to be able to customize Jettomero.

The Flip and The Flop

This game isn’t very long and that’s unfortunate. The game is a nice way to relax and unwind after a long day, and it would be nice to have more that you could do in this game.  The game isn’t very much of a challenge to beat. Once you have beaten one boss, the next boss isn’t much different.

Final Thoughts

This game is best described as a comic book brought to life.  The intention of this game is to offer a relaxed and chill experience while you explore the beautifully crafted universe, unravel the story of Jettomero, and experience something different than a lot of the games out there today. As stated before, the game doesn’t provide a whole lot of challenge.  

That is not necessarily a bad thing, but something that you should consider and know exactly the experience you are in for when you play this game. If you know what the intention of this game is and go into the game with this knowledge, you will enjoy the game for what it offers.

For those of you that enjoy comic books and old school sci-fi stories, you definitely want this game as part of your collection.

 

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The Gardens Between Review

By Roger Reichardt

What makes a work of art great is the ability to make you reflect on the work and think about how it applies to your own life and the world in which you live.  Each person may have a different perspective on that piece of art.  The piece conjures up an emotion in the person that consumes the art.  Great art drives discussion among your peers about what you experienced and what that art meant to you.

The Gardens Between does just that.  This game sucks you in – the music, artwork, and story - leave a strong impression on you long after the ending credits have finished.  This is not a game; this is a work of art.

The Tip and The Top

The very first thing you’ll notice about The Gardens Between is how beautiful the game looks.  The artwork and colors, the scenery where each puzzle takes place, and the animation of the characters, every detail is so beautifully done. 

The musical score in this game is absolutely brilliant and pairs nicely with the art.  The music sets the tone for the whole story, once this game starts up, you know something magical is about to occur.

And what is brilliant about this game is how the story is told –the story is told through the interaction of the two characters in the game with absolutely no dialog throughout the entire game.  You see the friendship build over time throughout each stage.

The two characters that you play do have names (Arina and Frendt), however, their story and their journey quickly becomes your own – the ability to play on strong emotions and be relatable to the player is so powerful, and this is why this game is a masterpiece of art.

The game starts with the two characters in a tree house; a lightning storm occurs and pauses time, also creating a ball of light, which both characters touch. The characters are then taken to a dreamlike world with larger than life objects from their childhood.  As the player, you control the characters to solve a puzzle in each level – and you use time bending mechanics (going forward, pausing, or reversing time) to solve the puzzles. Moving the joy-con stick left and right will either advance time or reverse time. Each character interacts differently with the environment.  Arian carries a lantern, which captures and carries a ball of light.  Frendt interacts with switches that will bend time and controls objects in the environment by bending time either forwards or backwards.  The goal of each puzzle is to take the ball of light to the top of a mountain. The puzzles are not too difficult, but they do require creativity. 

The genius behind each puzzle is how you are taught how to solve each one.  You are shown some simple mechanic around how the time bending works or how to interact with objects in the environment, and that lesson then is used in more complicated puzzles.  It is such a brilliant way to build upon your knowledge and without the game beating you over the head on how to play the game and solve each puzzle. 

After each stage, you are shown short vignette of a time in the characters’ lives, and this vignette turns into a constellation in the sky, portraying that these events are important in their lives – a shared memory that seems bigger than they are, but yet so far away from them, just out of reach for them to hold on to.

As each stage progresses, you see their story unfold and the events that lead you to the final stage.  The final moments will move you.

The Flip and The Flop

There is very little, if anything, to criticize about this game; the only thing you will want is more. However, the length of the story is perfectly timed and the ending is bittersweet. 

Final Thoughts

Very few games are known to elicit emotions from the player like The Gardens Between.  The story is beautifully told, the music sets the scene so perfectly, and the game mechanics are creative and fun to explore as you solve each puzzle.  This game is a breath of fresh air, unique in the way the story is told and the way the game mechanics are taught to the player.  After you finish this game, you will want to talk about your experience with others – and that is a sign of a true masterpiece.

 

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Super Dungeon Tactics Review

By Roger Reichardt

Nintendo handheld systems are home to a plethora of RPGs, and the Nintendo eShop for the Switch is no different.  At the time of this article, there are 150 different RPG titles on the Switch eShop.  So when a new RPG appears on the Switch, it has to do a lot to garner attention and stand out among the other games in the genre.  Super Dungeon Tactics rolls the 20 sided die and enters into the foray that is the RPG landscape on the Switch.  But will they cast a 20 or roll a 1? 

The Tip and The Top

Ok, so you don’t roll a 20 sided die in this game, but you do roll a ton of dice in this game.  And this mechanic is what makes Super Dungeon Tactics so unique amongst its competitors.  Unlike traditional RPGs (or even other Stragety/Tactical RPGs) your characters will not gain levels via experience points.  Instead, you’ll acquire different equipment, and said equipment will give you different die modifications and/or different bonuses based on the dice you roll.

When you go into battle, each round starts off with a roll of a set of dice.  The number of dice that is rolled is dependent on the number of heroes (and in some cases villains) in play.  You then assign the dice to each player to give them a boost in their stats or give a bonus based on their abilities for that character.  The dice are shared among the heroes and the high level enemies, so you’ll need to choose carefully which die you assign to each character.  This mechanic of dice rolls adds a bit of chance into each encounter, which made each round feel fresh, dynamic, and epic (if you got the right roll)!

This is a strategy RPG, and movement around the board is similar any other strategy RPG.  Once you get a feel for each character, you’ll know which ones to bring into battle.  Don’t rely on the same heroes in every battle, as this is not always the best strategy. This is a strategy game through and through, and each decision you make is important to the success of the mission.

Not to be overlooked is the story. This game does a great job setting up a world, immersed in mythology, and the characters you play feel like they are part of something bigger. The cast of heroes are unique, quirky, and engaging.  It is a nice touch that you get to name most of the heroes that you will be playing in this game.  The humor will make you chuckle and the wonderful artwork adds so much to the charm of this game. 

This is a deep RPG, with plenty to do between doing the main story quests, sides quests, and training scenarios as well.  As mentioned earlier, you won’t grind for experience points, instead you will be granted drops that will help level your character up.  This is such a unique way to handle the grind of leveling up your characters.

The Flip and The Flop

This is a strategy game and while you will want to set out to develop your own strategy to beat a scenario, there are some scenarios where there truly is only one way to win.  And you may not realize that you messed up until late (sometime very late) into the battle.  These battles can be frustrating and for new comers to the strategy RPG genre, this could be a turn off.  For more seasoned strategy fans, it can be a real treat when you figure out the strategy and finally beat these more difficult scenarios.

Some of mechanics of party building, equipping gear, and selecting a mission were not very intuitive, but once you figure out how it all worked, the subsequent times were not an issue.

Final Thoughts

This game plays a lot like a Dungeon and Dragons session, and for fans of strategy RPGs, this game is a real gem.  The massive amount of gear drops, the amount of different playable colorful heroes (both in art style and character) and the many different missions will certainly keep you engaged in the game.  The element of chance makes the game fun and adds a fresh new spin on the strategy RPG genre.  Anyone that is a fan of strategy RPGs (or a fan of chess) will love this game. Those that are new to the strategy RGP genre might struggle at first, but those that stay with the game will find reward when you finally figure out the strategy of the scenario.  It would be a shame to see this game get buried in the gluttony of RPGs on the Switch – it is a fresh take on the strategy games and should certainly garner a purchase from those of you that enjoy a respectable and stimulating tactical RPG.

 

STAY Review

by Christian Kobza

The prospect of a story-based video game is replete with possibilities. Video games afford numerous story telling opportunities that aren't available to films, TV shows, or other visual mediums. Games like Bioshock put the player in a dystopian utopia that depicts philosophical ideologies being taken to their extremes while simultaneously weaving a metanarrative that comments on how players interact with the games they play. Games like Firewatch put players directly in the shoes of a protagonist to make them feel more emotionally connected to the present circumstances. Games like Telltale’s utilize a more traditional storytelling approach but, by taking advantage of the longer runtime and interactivity of games, tell a story with ample time for the player to get invested in the characters while offerring choices that influence future events. STAY is a story-focused experience, but it doesn’t fit into any one of these categories. It has a deeply thematic story to tell, but those themes become muddled over the course of the narrative. It has a character that it wants you to feel invested in, but you’re merely interacting with him rather than playing as him. It's attempting to tell a more traditional story while allowing the choice to influence future events, but there are distinctly incorrect choices that result in a game over. STAY is a puzzling experience that has some great ideas but requires significant suspension of disbelief and a high tolerance for its melancholic main character. What it lacks in plausibility it tries to make up for in mystery and intrigue, but most are going to finish STAY dissatisfied and lacking the drive to go back to see what they might have missed.

STAY Logo
STAY is a narrative-driven choose your own adventure that consists of solving puzzles and interacting with the main character, Quinn, through a computer. Our protagonist finds himself stranded in a dark corridor, seemingly kidnapped, with said computer sitting on a desk in front of him. You play as the individual on the other end of this computer. You'll be instant messaging Quinn and guiding him through his current situation while making suggestions for what he should do next. It’s a legitimately intriguing set up for what has the potential to be a morose tale of depression, isolation, and addiction steeped in metatextual themes, but all that build up is quickly diffused as soon as you begin to interact with Quinn. His remarks are full of personal divulgences right off the bat which cause him to come off as a fourteen-year-old who finally found someone willing to listen to his problems rather than a trapped therapist trying to seek asylum from his current situation. The conversations continue to have this blatant disconnect throughout the entirety of the game’s events which is frustrating. This is a game that lives or dies based on its writing, especially that of the main character. You’re going to find yourself not caring so much about Quinn and only sticking around to find out what caused the present circumstances.

STAY Conversation
STAY relies a bit too heavily on a gimmick that, while original, isn’t integrated well. Whenever you’re away from the game, a timer keeps track of the total time you spend away from Quinn. On paper, this idea seems great. They could have Quinn figure things out on his own and become increasingly independent the longer you left him alone. They could have used your time away to comment on our current society’s state of perpetual connectivity yet inevitable loneliness. There was a lot of potential to apply such a mechanic to a variety of different purposes. Instead, you’ll pick up immediately where you left off and he’ll either ignore the fact you left or scold you after being gone for a certain amount of time, and you restart at the nearest checkpoint. Instead of using the away timer to flesh out Quinn’s character or to make a thematic statement, they merely use it to punish the player for being away an arbitrary amount of time. Your total “away” time undoubtedly plays into the ending you’ll end up getting, but there’s no way of knowing how or why without a ridiculous amount of trial and error experimentation. The entire game is named after the mechanic, but it ends up feeling like a tacked-on addition rather than an integral element.

STAY Time
Another way in which STAY wastes potential is in how it handles your relationship with Quinn. As you choose a response, you’ll see bulbs of liquid filling and a flash to indicate how your relationship with him was impacted. The four bulbs of liquid represent Quinn’s status based on the four humors of Hippocrates. While using these four humors makes sense given the game’s obsession with the mythical, it isn't immediately useful to us modern day humans who think of such things in terms of emotions. I spent a long while looking at a good number of web pages trying to dredge up any leftover knowledge I might have had about these four humors from high school. Those attempts were unsuccessful. You can completely ignore the four humor indicators as understanding what they mean won't help you anyway. In addition, there is a separate screen that tracks your current relationship with Quinn, but it feels similarly unimportant. You only have a maximum of three choices in any dialogue exchange, so the ramifications of your choice feel more like an unavoidable side-effect than they do a tangible consequence for your actions.

STAY Relationship Status
What STAY does have going for it is its awesome aesthetic. The great sound design, swelling soundtrack, and striking visuals create an atmosphere that feels satisfyingly moody. The crisp click-clacking of a keyboard echoing through empty halls is an incredibly effective way of evoking an emotional response. The ambient soundtrack fits nearly every situation and never seems out of place. It's not something you'll want to listen to in your free time, but it puts you in an uneasy but inquisitive mood which seems to be exactly what the developers intended. The lo-fi visuals straight out of an 80's DOS game are surprisingly pleasant to look at. The high-quality animations and the occasional highly detailed full screen depiction allow for a beautiful visual experience when you're not just sitting and staring at the chat window. It's strikingly unique and almost makes the experience worth it. Unfortunately, you do spend most of your time staring at that chat window.

STAY Typing Away
The puzzles sprinkled throughout STAY's chapters offer a welcome sense of variety to the overall experience. There are no tutorials for these puzzles, so you have to use your intuition to discern the rules of the puzzle in front of you before you can begin to try and solve it. The visual design for these puzzles is very effective and draws your attention to the relevant pieces of information. Each one is drastically different from the last, and wanting to see what's going to happen next will keep you sufficiently motivated to complete each one. They keep you there just long enough to feel satisfied on completion, but not so long that you become frustrated. Each puzzle is a welcome change of pace. It's just a shame that immediately afterwards you're stuck talking to Quinn again.

STAY Puzzle
STAY is a game that could have been drastically improved with a simple change of protagonist. A different main character wouldn't have addressed other issues like the lackluster away timer mechanic or the superficial relationship system, but it would go a long way in making STAY a much more enjoyable experience. Most of your time is spent reading Quinn's messages, and he's just not all that interesting to interact with. His obscure movie references and insistence on telling you his problems will leave you shaking your head. Having to talk with Quinn can often feel insufferable. Despite the lackluster main character, there are still things to like about STAY. It looks great, it sounds great, and the puzzles are quite entertaining. There's a lot of potential in what STAY has in its current state, but the fact that you'll be spending most of your time interacting with a character that's largely uninteresting means that few will feel compelled to stay for the entire five hour runtime just to get to a conclusion that's ultimately unsatisfying.

STAY Quinn

 

 

Time Carnage (Nintendo Switch Review)

by Roger Reichardt

Time Carnage on the Nintendo Switch is a survival shooter, with wave after wave of enemies swarming you.  Your only defense are the weapons that you choose to use to defend yourself from the onslaught of enemies.

This game takes inspiration from arcade rail shooters and the game play and graphics are very similar to those arcade games.  The scenery is pretty, the enemies look good, and the music evokes the arcade feeling that one gets when you heard the sounds blaring out of the arcades in the malls.

The first thing to do when after firing up the game is to go into the setting and change the sensitivity and motion controls to your liking.  It will take a bit to find the best settings to meet your game play style, but once you do, the game play is so much better.  This is one step you really don’t want to skip.  You can change the game play under the options category in the game.

Once that is complete, it is time to get into the game.  There are several different modes in the game, and this is one the really great thing about this game, there is plenty of options to choose from. 

First, start with the campaign mode.  This is the base of the game – when you first log into the campaign, you’ll notice that most of the options for level selection are locked – and so are most of the weapons.  Each timeline consists of four different stages, and in each stage consists of five waves of enemies and each wave gets a bit more difficult than the last.

Once you beat a stage, the next stage opens up, along with weapons that unlock as well.  And there are a ton of weapons in this game! Some weapons will provide more fire power while others provide more rounds of ammunition.  You get to choose four weapons to take along with you on your journey, so choose wisely.  The more powerful weapons may pack a good punch, but lack rounds of ammunition.  There is a bit of testing going on here to determine which weapons load out best suits your needs, but ideally you’ll want to have two powerful weapons (one on the right and one on the left) and two weapons that provide plenty of ammunition.  You’ll see why in a minute.

 You’ll be swapping out your weapons to reload them, it’s a smooth transition and easy enough to swap weapons in the heat of the moment.  Some weapons take longer to reload, so the strategy here is to have enough firepower to keep the enemy at bay while you wait for your more powerful weapons to reload. 

There are four timelines in this game – the 4th Millennium, the Mesozoic Era, the 6th Millennium, and the 4th Century BC.  You’ll start in the 4th Millennium, taking on waves of zombies.  The game play is pretty simple – you stand your ground as the waves of enemies approach you take them out with your weapons.  You do have a shield that does provide some protection, but once that shield is down, the enemies will have a clear shot at hitting you.  You let your life bar fall to nothing, and it’s game over.   

Not only do new weapons unlock as you go through the campaign, so do new challenges and new stages that can be played in the arcade mode.  The challenge mode puts you into different situations, and some of them you don’t get to choose what weapons you take along with you.  After you beat the campaign it’s nice to have something else to challenge yourself to do and provides additional value to the game.

The other mode is arcade mode.  Here you can select which level you want to play and what enemies you want to have attack you – if you want dinosaurs in the future, that’s a possibility!  The other fun thing about arcade mode is the ability to add perks to your game play (these perks are unlocked during the campaign mode).  This is a great mode for those of you that are looking for a weekend game night and challenge your friends to the best high score.

Time Carnage is a throwback to the classic arcade shooters.  Once you get the setting established to your liking, this game is a lot of fun.  The campaign mode won’t take you too long to beat, a few hours tops, but playing through the campaign mode will unlock different weapons, different challenges, and different arcade levels and different perks to add to your arcade experience.  The game also supports couch co-op which adds to the arcade style fun.  This game isn’t going to be for everyone, but those of us that look back at the days of arcade games fondly, this game will scratch that itch.

Time Carnage is available on the Nintendo eShop.  Thank you to Wales Interactive for the review code!

 

 

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Marvel's Spider-Man Review

by Christian Kobza

If you ever hear people talking about the best movie licensed video game, Spider-Man 2 is almost guaranteed to come up. If it doesn’t, odds are they didn’t play it. Spider-Man 2 was a wonderful amalgamation of momentum-based web swinging, a vast open world New York City, and a story that went above and beyond what was included in the film. It was lightning in a bottle that even the same developers failed to replicate when making its sequel. In the fourteen years since we’ve seen plenty more Spider-Man games, but few if any have managed to recreate what Spider-Man 2 did so well. This most recent entry, Marvel’s Spider-Man, borrows heavily from Spider-Man 2 and the Batman Arkham series to provide a quintessentially Spider-Man experience that isn’t drastically different from what has come before, but it is the first to simultaneously nail open world web slinging and acrobatic combat. The result is the best Spider-Man game yet despite its many flaws.

Spider-Man Pose
In any open world game, it’s imperative that time spent traveling doesn’t become boring or monotonous. As an open world title, Marvel’s Spider-Man does a good job of keeping you entertained during your many commutes. You spend a good chunk of your time swinging through, wall running along, and slingshotting across the buildings of a bustling Manhattan metropolis. Thankfully, the web swinging traversal is very enjoyable. The controls can take a while to wrap your head around, but when you do you’ll be rewarded with the ability to quickly and precisely reach your destinations. Unfortunately, the traversal can get boring if you try and optimize your speed. You’ll eventually unlock web swinging abilities that allow you to move faster and further while using your slingshot technique. Exclusively using this technique to speed up your commutes means that you’re grappling from point to point on the roofs of buildings rather than swinging. It’ll quickly wear out its welcome as its repetitive nature can cause the tedium of typical open world traversal to set in. However, there’s nothing stopping you from just swinging which always feels fluid and fun despite being slower. Regardless, you’ll occasionally have the absolute pleasure of hearing J. Jonah Jameson’s podcast which will keep you amused and chuckling while traveling.

Spider-Man Swinging
Marvel’s Spider-Man doesn’t escape many of the typical open world video game trappings, as there are plenty of optional bits that are competing for your attention and vary wildly in quality and execution. On the collectible side of things, there are landmarks to take pictures of, backpacks from Peter’s high school days to track down, pigeons to capture, and the list goes on. The fact that there are so many side activities in addition to all these collectibles means that your map is going to quickly fill up with icons as you progress through the main story. The backpacks are the most substantial collectibles since they contain objects that flesh out the backstory of this Spider-Man whose origins take place five years prior to the events of this game. They also make up the bulk of the total collectibles as there are a whopping fifty-five of them strewn about downtown New York City. Even though many of these backpack items do help establish what Peter Parker has been up to in his five years as Spider-Man, there are just as many that lack any deeper purpose or substance. The other collectibles have the same issue. While many of the landmarks you take pictures of point toward a larger Marvel universe existing in the background, most of them are just uninteresting buildings. The quality of the collectibles is frustratingly inconsistent.

Spider-Man Photo Mode Swinging
The side activities you can choose to pursue in Marvel’s Spider-Man are similarly inconsistent. The game drowns you in random crimes to address, side missions to complete, enemy outposts to liberate, and other optional activities and challenges that reveal themselves in waves over the course of the story. There is a lot to do here, but only some of it is worth partaking in. The enemy outposts provide an excuse to get your fill of the great combat system, the drone challenges require you to use your entire arsenal of web slinging abilities, and some of the side missions provide situations that amuse and entertain. But, other than that, the optional material is mostly fluff. There are two types of puzzle mini-games that they love throwing your way, and they quickly overstay their welcome. They devolve into trial and error efforts that begin to feel like a mundane way of impeding your progress and wasting your time. There are side activities that try to maintain variety by introducing new one-off gameplay mechanics, but they’re unable to remain interesting for the entirety of each mission. There are plenty of suits to unlock, abilities to acquire, and gadgets to upgrade, so your efforts won’t be entirely fruitless. You’ll be getting XP and upgrade tokens with nearly every task you complete, but that doesn’t keep the lackluster missions from feeling like chores. We’ve begun to see open world games integrate more story into their side content thanks to The Witcher 3, but Insomniac didn’t go in that direction. As a result, the optional content feels noticeably lacking when compared to other contemporary open world titles.

Spider-Man Pipe Mini-game
Another point of weakness for Marvel's Spider-Man is its insistence on putting you in the shoes of other characters during story missions. The change in perspective could have been used to great effect by giving the player a more grounded perspective or by further fleshing out the story from other points of view. While that is the case in a couple of these sections, it isn't for the handful of others. They come off as tedious and frustratingly slow-paced endeavors that usually don't warrant their own inclusion. It feels like they had a good idea for one or two of these sequences, and then they just put in a few more for the sake of variety. They could have been used much more effectively.

Spider-Man Peter Parker Lab Coat
Marvel’s Spider-Man’s story is its most glaring weakness. While the opening moments are incredibly strong, and the characters are usually handled well, things quickly fall apart at the seams. The story takes its time getting to where it wants to go, but it doesn't go anywhere interesting or compelling. Some character interactions and small moments are incredibly cool to witness, but you have to make it through what feels like pointless plot complications to get there. Having a stronger lead villain would have helped. They don’t do much with the main villains, and none of the interesting ancillary villains are given any time to breathe. All the big bads here were completely squandered. Some of the recent villain-centric stories in Marvel movies like Spider-Man: Homecoming and Avengers: Infinity War make this game's bad case of antagonist mismanagement stand out even more. It feels like the story is trying to build towards a series of revelations, but they're all so easily predicted after playing for a couple hours. It's baffling how they dwell on these reveals as if they're earth-shattering and groundbreaking. They're not. The story has the characters it needs as a Spider-Man game, and the character interactions will please many, but there isn't any thrust to the story here and it can be difficult to invest yourself in the proceedings.

Spider-Man On Phone
On a more positive note, the general moment-to-moment gameplay in Marvel’s Spider-Man is superb. Combat and stealth are both handled very well. You have a good variety of moves at your disposal. You'll gradually unlock gadgets which are primarily used in combat to more effectively take out the thugs that stand in your way. New enemy types are also thrown into the mix to ensure you don’t rest on your laurels during the many combat sequences. There can be a lot going on at any one time with dozens of enemies filling the screen, so a carefully timed dodge could be the difference between life and death. It’s thrilling knowing that any slip up could lead to your swift demise, especially on the higher difficulties. You feel very much like a glass cannon that’s darting across the battlefield and dealing with enemies in whatever way you see fit. The stealth is also a lot of fun and makes encounters feel more like puzzles to be solved rather than a slower alternative to hand-to-hand combat. Most of the time you’ll be shooting your web to cause quick distractions that allow you to take out an isolated foe while remaining incognito, but you’ll also be rewarded for creatively utilizing the many gadgets at your disposal. It’s all a lot of fun, and listening to Spider-Man’s plucky quips while it’s all happening only makes things better. Dealing with enemies in Marvel’s Spider-Man is almost always a treat.

Spider-Man Combat
Another one of Marvel’s Spider-Man’s strong suits is how good it looks and sounds. The great visuals and impeccable animation work make even the most mundane moments look cool. The little acrobatic flourish Spider-Man performs while reaching the peak of his ascent after a web swing is truly marvelous. There is a lot of attention to detail, and image quality looks great regardless of whether you’re playing on a vanilla PS4 or a Pro. The Manhattan cityscape looks suitably beautiful whether your admiring its vistas in the daylight or at dusk. The fact that there is no seamless day-night cycle is probably a side-effect of how great everything looks, but it’s an easy concession to make. The original score crafted for this game means that things sound great too. There is an underlying main theme that feels straight out of a Marvel film, and the overall score makes the big moments feel weighty and important, even when they aren’t.

Spider-Man Sunset
Marvel’s Spider-Man is a game with many faults, but it’s still easy to enjoy. If you’re committed to doing everything, you’re probably going to burn out. So much of the side content strings you along with rote gameplay, and the story alone isn’t going to be enough to get you through the entire runtime. But, if you’re just looking for a fun Spider-Man power trip, then simply doing the story missions and skimming the surface of the optional content will be a fantastically fun time. The combat, traversal, and general gameplay are all fantastic, and I’ll be looking forward to the future DLC as an opportunity to play with new combat scenarios. A sequel is all but confirmed at this point, and there is a lot of potential here for an incredibly strong follow-up. Marvel’s Spider-Man may not have an interesting story to tell, but its great combat and swinging mechanics make the wait for an inevitable sequel more than bearable.

Spider-Man Cityscape

 

 

Moonfall Ultimate Review

by Christian Kobza

Playing Moonfall Ultimate feels like stepping into a time portal, back into the days where many a middle-schooler would scour the internet looking for the next flash-based browser RPG to play. I used to be one of those middle schoolers, rifling through the RPG section of several sites, yearning to progress and level up a character in a game that I hadn’t yet played. It saddens me to say that Moonfall Ultimate can barely stand toe-to-toe with the free browser RPG’s of over a decade ago, let alone with other indie titles in an increasingly competitive market.

Moonfall Ultimate Logo
Moonfall Ultimate is a 2D side-scrolling action RPG in the most technical of ways. Its art (which is the best part about the game) is hand-drawn and in 2D. You move left and right, so it’s a side-scroller. You get XP to level your character, which I suppose means it’s an RPG. Many may look at the genre description and consider purchasing it for a deep and engaging action RPG they can take on the go courtesy of its release on Switch. Unfortunately, Moonfall isn’t engaging or deep. Moonfall Ultimate falters on an even more fundamental level by failing to apply any of its concepts in ways that are fun or even interesting.

Moonfall Ultimate Raft
The combat mechanics in Moonfall feel like they are barely functioning. You walk up to an enemy, hammer on the attack button, maybe use a skill or two, and hope that you have enough HP to outlast the enemies you’re facing. There’s no dodging, no skill-based movement, and no heavy or light attacks. You can block enemy attacks with your shield, but it’s useless. When you press the block button there is a second-long pause before your character raises his shield. This means that by the time your character goes to block an attack, you were already hit, and the enemy is winding up to hit you again. The lack of a useful block means you are unable to use skillful timing to avoid damage while still hitting the enemies you’re pitted against. You’re either blocking or you’re attacking. You might as well just keep hammering on the attack button and forget there even is a block so that the fights can be done with as soon as possible.

Moonfall Ultimate Combat
There are class-specific abilities you can utilize in combat, but they are equally uninteresting. Each of the three classes the player can choose from has their own unique ability bar that charges differently and buffs certain attacks, but those buffs are so insignificant that they have no noticeable impact on the combat and can also be ignored. Each class gets its own ability tree, but they’re all limited and lack anything new or interesting. Odds are you’ve used a slam to stun enemies in front of you, shot a fireball, or used a stab to inflict bleeding damage in some other game. That’s all you do here, but it feels way less satisfying.

Moonfall Ultimate First Boss
Everything you do in Moonfall lacks any satisfying polish, weight, or feedback. Your hits feel like they phase through enemies, abilities lack the punch that they should have, and the animations are frustratingly robotic and repetitive. There are two attack animations: one for any regular swing and another for a critical hit. That’s it. Chaining attacks together doesn’t make any difference in animation let alone damage potential. It’s just as mind-numbing to watch as it is to play. You’re standing in place and slamming on the attack button while watching the same animation play over and over. It wears out its welcome extremely quickly.

Moonfall Ultimate Night Torch
The boss fights that are sprinkled throughout Moonfall Ultimate only further emphasize the combat’s weaknesses. The bosses are essentially just bigger enemies with bigger health bars. Their larger health pool means you can’t just plant yourself in front of them and spam attack until they’re defeated (unless you have a weapon with life steal in which case that’s exactly what you do.) That must mean you have to get creative with how you approach these big and tough bosses then, right? Nope. You plant yourself in front of the boss, attack until your health is low, then play “keep-away” while your health recharges so you can rinse and repeat. Each boss fight is an excruciating exercise in patience and AI manipulation rather than skill. Also, pro tip, don’t forget to turn off your controllers’ vibration if you’re going to be facing any of the bosses unless you want people thinking you’re playing on an oversized 90s-era cell phone that’s ringing off the hook.

Moonfall Ultimate Second Boss
Moonfall Ultimate has a gameplay loop that’s just as mind numbingly repetitive as the combat. You begin in a hub area, accept the single quest from the one quest-giver, use the single exit to embark on your quest, kill things, then do it all again. Moonfall doesn’t even afford the player the satisfaction of killing optional enemies to become significantly more powerful that the story quests’ opposition. There are no persistent areas and, therefore, there’s no way to grind. The only enemies you encounter are in combat areas which are only accessible through main quest line. Weapons drop at an agonizingly slow pace, and leveling up takes even longer, so there’s no satisfying progression curve to speak of. Even the standard features of the action RPG genre are pared back to give the player even fewer options.

Moonfall Ultimate Power Core
Moonfall Ultimate is abhorrently average as an action RPG. The hand-drawn art is by far the best thing about it, but the lack of smooth animation means that the game only looks good in still screenshots. Repetition runs rife through Moonfall whether you’re engaging in the simplistic combat during longwinded sequences, taking in the lore that’s as deep and as interesting as a puddle, or playing the survival mode which is just a series of even more uninteresting combat encounters. You might be able to find some fun in the co-op, as a friend can make even the most excruciating of experiences seem more entertaining, but it’s hard to find more than one redeeming quality in Moonfall Ultimate otherwise. There are far worse things to spend a dozen dollars and as many hours on, but that won’t keep Moonfall from sinking into the ocean of other Nintendo Switch e-shop releases.

 

 

The Messenger Review

by Christian Kobza

Independently developed games that draw from Nintendo’s earlier libraries are becoming increasingly common and with good reason. The 2D assets don’t take as long to develop, and the developers can impose limitations to make the game look and feel of the era while simultaneously cutting back on development time and effort. Not to mention that demand for such games is high as the individuals that grew up with an NES or SNES are getting older. As someone who is not in that camp and never grew up with an 8 or 16-bit console, there’s still something extremely satisfying and fun about slinging across stages and facing a challenging but patterned boss at the end. The Messenger, in many ways, feels like a spiritual successor to Shovel Knight in that respect. For most of the game, you run, jump, and slash your way through linear levels while collecting currency in what is a love letter to the 8 and 16-bit games of three decades ago. Its tight mechanics, skillful level design, and clever writing make The Messenger an experience that’s absolutely worth having, at least for the first ten hours.

The Messenger Title Screen
The Messenger’s gameplay is tight, fluid, and varied. Your journey begins with a jump and a cloudstep at your disposal. This cloudstep is a slash-jump that allows you to jump again in mid-air as long as you’ve attacked something while airborne. These cloudsteps can also be chained together indefinitely, so you can stay off the ground as long as you can continue to find things to slash in the air. It’s a strikingly original traversal mechanic, but, as such, it takes a while to get the hang of. It’s not as intuitive as your standard double-jump or downward bounce attack, but it allows for fun and creative navigation when used properly. You might want to keep a few enemies alive, for example, in order to use their projectiles to more easily reach a distant platform. Your arsenal quickly expands to include things like gliding, wall-climbing, and many more. While it’s a lot to keep track of, everything that isn’t the slash-jump is pretty standard and doesn’t require the same level of practice. The Messenger really shines when it gives you levels with multiple routes to your destination. Having a variety of options to get from A to B makes each stage feel like a playground for your abilities.

The Messenger Level
The Messenger looks and sounds just as good as it plays. The art direction is excellent with incredibly detailed sprite work that can be dazzling to look at. The many backgrounds look incredible and lighting is used to great effect to adequately convey mood and tone. The chiptune soundtrack is similarly superb. While the soundtrack draws heavily from the sounds of the best NES and SNES tracks (very similar to Shovel Knight,) many of its songs also utilize the more industrial-sounding Sega Genesis sound palette which is what makes The Messenger’s soundtrack really stand out. Very few video game soundtracks draw from the sounds of the Genesis, but The Messenger proves that it can be done and that game soundtracks could be even better if they did. Overall, there is a refreshing amount of variety on display. Each level has its own distinct look complete with a new color palette, new or modified sprites, and a new song. Every stage seems to look and sound even better than the last.

The Messenger Opening Sunrise
The Messenger also has a distinct personality that shines through thanks to the great writing. There are a small handful of serious moments, but the majority of the game has fun with itself. Characters are quippy, the shopkeeper is full of jokes and life lessons, and you meet a cast of fun and interesting characters during your journey. Fourth wall breaks and eye-winking references abound. If that’s your style of humor, you’re going to love the interactions that The Messenger has in store.

The Messenger Death Joke
The Messenger contains two seismic shifts during its runtime that make it feel like three entirely different games. While the first shift makes for an amazing moment, my favorite of any game released this year, the second shift feels like a misguided decision on behalf of the developers. Specifics will not be mentioned here, as many will prefer to witness these shifts take place themselves, but the third act of The Messenger feels like not enough butter spread across too much toast. Things quickly become numbingly repetitive and frustratingly cryptic. It’s a portion that overstays its welcome long before you reach the end of it. The initial shift into the second act, however, is a true marvel to witness. The herculean effort that must have been required to pull such a thing off in a game like this is admirable, and absolutely worth experiencing yourself. Try your best to avoid promotional materials or videos, because you do not want to be robbed of a truly spectacular moment.

The Messenger Collectible Get!
The Messenger is a retro gaming inspired rollercoaster ride. You never quite know what turn it’s going to make next. It’s a shame that one of those turns is not very enjoyable and even leads to a worsening of the general gameplay. It picks things back up once you get into the final sequence, but it can be excruciating to get through the latter third of the game to get there. On the other hand, the first two-thirds of The Messenger is an absolute blast that stands a cut above many of the classic titles that inspired it. Despite the fact that it may not be worth experiencing in its entirety, the majority of The Messenger is an incredibly entertaining and joyous experience. It combines retro and contemporary design philosophies in spectacular fashion which makes it easy to recommend to anyone with any appreciation for the side-scrolling action platformers of days past.

The Messenger Big Boss

 

 

The VideoKid Review

by Roger Reichardt

Retro style games are extremely popular right now.  A throw back to when high scores were all the rage and people would plug in quarter after quarter into machines to hold the title as king of the game.  Not all games can capture that nostalgia, but The VideoKid is certainly up to the challenge.  And did they ever succeed!

Inspired by the game Paperboy, your job is to deliver pirated copies of vhs tapes to your customers, and make it to the end of the level to meet up with your girlfriend.  The game plays much better than Paperboy, in fact perhaps too much, as the controls felt very sensitive compared to Paperboy. 

Along the way, you’ll run into different characters from the 80s, and this is what really makes the game charming. As you travel along the streets, you might see Alvin and the Chipmunks, see Lucy from the Peanuts selling lemonade, dodge Ecto One, or see Superman racing to action.  This game is jammed packed with 80s references.  As you travel along the road, you’ll find yourself mesmerized by all the different characters, which plays into the challenge of the game.  Trying to concentrate on the game while some of your favorite characters from the 80s appear on the screen is very difficult.

The game is challenging.  Each run is different, as you’ll see different characters during each run.  But the “puzzles” are usually in the same place.  It might sound strange calling this game a puzzle game, but once you figure out how to make it through a certain sequence of events, you are more likely to be able to do that again on the next run.

There is only one level in the game; the fact that each run is different will attract players to keep coming back to experience something different.  You do have the ability to unlock different character skins and tricks, with money that you earn with each run.  The different character skins (again reference to the 80s) add charm, but the playability doesn’t change with the different skins, but they certainly will be something that completionist will want to go after.  The different tricks you can unlock are fun and can help with your overall score.

 

Once you beat the game, you will be prompted to post your high score on facebook (in the Switch version, the PC version gives you a code to email to the developers).  While this is a neat way of promoting the game and sharing your high scores with other via social media, the one thing this game misses is a leaderboard – considering high score chasers are a thing from the 80s, it would have been nice to include a leaderboard in this game.

Overall this game is a blast.  The references sprinkled in this game will certainly make people smile.  The game is challenging and with each run being a bit different and the unlockables available, this will certainly get people to continue to play the game again and again.  Expect to fully understand the game “puzzles” in about 2-3 hours (after a few runs).  For those that are looking for a good challenge and a fun experience, this is certainly a game for you!

The game is available on Nintendo Switch eShop, Xbox One, and PC. 

 

Yakuza 0 Review

by Christian Kobza

I rarely show emotion or move anything but my fingers while I’m playing a video game. I usually sit nearly motionless, staring at the flashing lights in front of me in what appears to be a trance-like state. I’ve never thrown a controller out of frustration, I rarely crack a smile after a victory, and unless it’s to adjust myself, I won’t get out of my seat to stand when things get heated. That was not the case with Yakuza 0. I found myself wincing as punches rippled through skin and crunched the bones of shirtless men decorated with elaborate back tattoos. I pumped my fist in the air as a finishing blow was dealt that had drastic ramifications for the future of the protagonists and the power dynamics of the Yakuza families. I even found myself gasping and uttering an audible “oh no” as a single gunshot set the stage for a somber twist of events. As the credits rolled, I sat back and reflected on what I had just witnessed. While the forty-two hours I spent with the game wasn’t always enjoyable, I absolutely adored the story it told. The gameplay hiccups and speed-bumps I hit along the way all paled in comparison to the mesmerizing tale that unfolded before my eyes. I can say with confidence that Yakuza 0 has one of the best stories I’ve experienced in a video game, and I love it, in spite of its weaknesses, because of that fact.

Majima Back Tattoo

Let’s get the gameplay out of the way first. It’s a par for the course beat-em-up. You punch, kick, dodge, and block your way through whoever stands in your way. You’ll pick up items in your surroundings to slam into your opposition. You’ll build up your heat meter with uninterrupted combos to unleash special context-sensitive moves that’ll topple even the toughest enemies. Other than the fact that it takes place in a 3D space, the general combat isn’t all that different from something like Double Dragon or Streets of Rage. It’s numbingly repetitive. When you’re hitting random combat encounters every couple of minutes, it’s all too easy to find yourself using the same combo over and over because it’s the most effective. There’s an upgrade system that attempts to add meaningful progression to what’s an otherwise shallow combat system, but only a few of the upgrades that are offered feel they are even worth the investment. There are six different fighting styles, three for both characters you control throughout the course of the story, but that just means you’ll find a favorite and stick with it. The combat begins to shine when you’re fighting one of the dozen or so bosses. Their varied movesets, quick reactions, and reluctance to falling make them formidable foes that require perfectly timed dodges and precise movement to best. It’s a real shame that there aren’t more of them or at least more fights that require a similar level of precision and skill. Satisfying tactile feedback can’t keep the overall combat from quickly feeling stale.

Yakuza 0 Combat

All the other gameplay that you find yourself engaging in is immensely varied and surprisingly entertaining. You get to run around densely-packed districts of Japan at your leisure. Posters line walls, garbage litters the streets, and neon lights fill the night sky. It’s just as enjoyable to stroll around Kamarucho as it is to take part in the diversions within it. While all the city-faring side activities you participate in are almost entirely optional, their variety means there’s fun to be had around nearly every corner. There are two separate rhythm minigames, (one for dancing and one for karaoke, of course) UFO catchers to win prizes from, bowling to do, a batting cage to practice your swing in, a casino to press your luck at, and two entire metagames that involve running your own cabaret club and building a real estate empire that contain even more minigames and separate progression systems therein. That’s just scratching the surface. There is so much to do here that isn’t just the combat. It’s so easy to lose hours to just exploring and running into the whacky sidequests you encounter while commuting from A to B.

Yakuza 0 Cityscape

The sidequests in Yakuza 0 are universally excellent. While there aren’t voices for most of the side content (which are all in Japanese, no English dub by the way) there was still a lot of effort put into the little side stories that are peppered throughout the streets of Kamarucho. They all have fun stories to tell and tend to adopt a more lighthearted tone which complements the more serious main plot extremely well. You’ll be impersonating a film producer while learning commercial vocabulary or helping a punk band learn to be more abrasive so that their fans don't find out they're posers. They're all bite-sized stories that take no more than 20 or so minutes to complete and the vast majority of the 100 sidestories you can partake in are definitely worth your time.

Yakuza 0 Sidestory

What elevates Yakuza 0 to an entirely new level is its story. The first few hours aren’t representative of where the game is going to be taking you. The plot takes its time to build. The game makes sure it introduces you to some of its characters and keeps slamming you with tutorials which can feel like they're never going to end. But, when you make it through to the other side, you’ll be excited to see what the next cutscene has in store. I always found myself smiling in expectant excitement whenever the game switched from in-engine to pre-rendered because I knew that something cool was about to happen. So many cool things happen. The cool-factor on display here is only further elevated by how well Yakuza 0 crafts its characters. The two player-controlled protagonists Kiryu and Majima are incredibly likable right out of the gate. As an underdog trying to do right by his imprisoned father figure, Kiryu is a steadfast albeit incredibly green member of the Yakuza who ends up becoming an insignificant piece in a complex Yakuza plot. We also follow the eyepatch and shiny-toed boot wearing cabaret club manager Majima. He's incredibly successful as a manager but continues to feel empty as he was banished from the Yakuza family that gave him fulfillment. While their stories don’t intersect until the latter half of the game, they are both equally strong and engaging. And, when their stories do intersect, it’s in spectacular and satisfying fashion. Although this game is a prequel, by setting its events over a decade prior to the first game in the series, it feels like anything but. This is a perfect jumping-in point for newcomers to the franchise. While some of these characters undoubtedly appear in future entries, the story never gets bogged down in setup for what’s yet to come in the franchise’s chronology.

Yakuza 0 Story

There is also a staggering number of antagonists and side-characters that all feel like distinct individuals and go a long way in ensuring the player remains invested in the story’s proceedings. While it may seem overwhelming on the outset, the ridiculously high-detailed, lifelike, and distinct faces that these characters have make them feel like real and separately-motivated human beings. When you get past the fact that all the other insignificant NPC’s look like clay faces in comparison, it’s easy to find yourself invested in characters that aren’t just the protagonists. Yakuza 0 is a testament to how much a single punch or tension-filled confrontation can entertain and tantalize when the characters involved feel like human beings.

Yakuza 0 Lieutenants

Yakuza 0 is a long game filled with amazing moments. The last few chapters of its 17-chapter story are worth experiencing and I wouldn’t trade them for anything, not even the 35 hours it took me to get to that point. Not everyone will be able or willing to make it that far. While it’s a ton of fun to take part in activities around Kamarucho, there can be a lot of mind-numbing combat in between. That repetition will fight you along the way, but the investment will pay dividends. Those last chapters have my favorite moments in any video game ever. It’s a shame that many will likely fall off Yakuza 0 before experiencing some of the greatest narrative moments that video games have to offer.

Yakuza 0 Majima Pose

 

 

The Padre Review

by Christian Kobza

With the bevy of horror video games that have released over the past few years, I have often heard the phrase “they just don’t make them like they used to” uttered with aplomb. There seems to be an overwhelming sentiment that what has come before was just better. While some games like PT and the first Five Nights at Freddy’s managed to escape such criticism thanks to their originality, creativity, and innovation in the space; that hasn’t kept many from yearning for the Resident Evils and Silent Hills of yore. The Padre would seem to agree with this sentiment as it draws heavily from Alone in the Dark (1992) and other survival horror titles from the late 20th century. While The Padre does not reach the heights of the games it pays homage to, it remains a charming and short adventure that’s simultaneously enjoyable but frustrating.

The Padre Opening
The Padre can best be described as a “survival horror” game, but it really isn’t one. You’ll find yourself slowly lumbering through corridors, chipping away at dangerous enemies, and trapped in rooms trying to find your way out; but it never strikes a consistent horror tone. Sequences in which you are locked in a room while footprints appear around you stand in stark contrast with the whacky characters you meet, the tongue-in-cheek references you encounter, and the main character whose gruff smugness is only matched by Duke Nukem and action movie heroes. The Padre isn’t very scary. It has some cool creepy moments, but they’re usually undercut by a joke. Unfortunately, only a few of those jokes land. A few references add to the charm, but many of its references are painfully poor. There’s a crowbar you obtain that has a description containing the name “Gordon” because…well…Half-Life I guess. However, the general charm of the game is pleasant. You’ll give a mysterious stranger a light for his cigarettes upon which he’ll thank you accordingly, or you’ll see a banging trap door on the floor only to discover it’s just an item you can pick up. There’s a good chance The Padre is going to make you smile.

The Padre Crowbar
The gameplay of The Padre is akin to a point-and-click adventure game. You click where you want to move, collect items, and use those items to progress. The purpose behind each item usually becomes quite clear and doesn’t bog itself down in the cryptic nature of the point-and-clicks of the 90s. Outside of a sequence or two, I never found myself really stumped or struggling to figure out what to do next. The steady pace of progression keeps things moving at a satisfying pace which prevents frustrating pixel-hunting and last-ditch efforts in which you use every item in your inventory on everything. There are a few puzzles thrown in which do add a bit of variety, but also detract from the game’s steady pace. Some may find the puzzles frustrating to solve and it feels like they take a bit longer than they should. While The Padre recently added hints to the puzzles with patches since the game is currently in Early Access, the puzzles can still gate your progress for a frustratingly long time.

The Padre Carpet Puzzle
The Padre is an experience that is undoubtedly not for everyone. While the detailed and blocky voxel-based visuals are pleasant to look at, it feels like the game has a bit of an identity crisis. Most of the eye-winking charm works while most of the horror and referential elements don’t. The Padre could shape up to be something special if it solidifies its identity as a charming love letter to the games and movies that it’s drawing from; but the hackneyed story, sputtering pace, and lack of any resolution mean that only a select few will really enjoy what The Padre has to offer in its current state.

The Padre Death