Dead Space (PlayStation 5)
Also available on Xbox Series and Windows
The original Dead Space is one of my favorite horror games. I remember playing on the PlayStation 3 not long after I first got my PS3, and it scared the absolute dog shit out of me. With how good Capcom's remakes of Resident Evil, Resident Evil 2, and Resident Evil 3 were, I was super excited when EA announced a Dead Space remake...and prayed to whatever god may or may not exist that they didn't screw it up with microtransactions in typical EA fashion. I am pleased to report that they absolutely did not screw it up in any way, shape, or form.
The basic story of Dead Space is that the USG Ishimura, a massive planet-cracker mining ship, has gone dark, and you're on a small ship sent to investigate the loss of contact and repair whatever happened (everyone is operating under the assumption that it's just a mechanical failure of some kind). When you and your handful of crewmates get to the Ishimura, however, you find that something is horribly wrong. Mainly that the crew of a thousand people are dead. To make things worse, they're specifically undead abominations. You play as an engineer named Isaac Clarke, and while he's terrified of the creatures that have taken over the Ishimura, his girlfriend, Nicole, was assigned to the Ishimura as a doctor, and he's hoping desperately that he can find her alive on the infested ship.
Having played the original Dead Space on PS3 and the remake of Dead Space on PS5, I am blown away by how GOOD this game looks and sounds. The sound design was always super impressive in the original games, but it's extraordinary in the remake. Everything just SOUNDS terrifying. You never really realize how important sound is to the atmosphere of a horror game until you play a game that absolutely nails the sound design. Visuals, as well, are top notch here. The original release always looked good for the time, in my opinion, but the improvements, the texture detail, and the resolution - a jump from 720p to 2160p - of the remake give the horror an entirely new dimension (as one would hope being two generations and nearly twenty years later).
There are a few side quests that you can complete to unlock some bonuses and extra goodies along the way, and it's a good risk-vs-reward type of situation. The side quests require a little more exploring, so you'll have to contend with some enemies you might otherwise have been able to avoid. On the other hand, you'll get the opportunity to gain some extra lore and extra items. I, personally, completed all of the side quests, and I'd say it's worth it, but it definitely threw some extra enemies in my way. If you complete the game once and want to go through it again on a harder difficulty, you do get the option of New Game Plus which gives you some bonuses to take into your new playthrough. If you're a completionist on upgrades, that's the way to go since it's virtually - if not literally - impossible to upgrade everything fully in one playthrough.
The original Dead Space was the pinnacle of horror video games in my opinion when it came out in 2006, and I think the 2023 remake is today's pinnacle of horror. It's tough but fair, it's got some fantastic lore, the controls are great and fluid, and it's absolutely terrifying. The only complaint I have is that it does get a little repetitive and last a little longer than I might want. I spent about 18 hours with the game between dying and losing progress and my fervent exploration, and I realistically could have gotten through the game in 9 or 10 hours probably, but by the time I cleared chapter 10 (there's a total of 12), I was honestly ready for the game to be over. Still, though, the game's ending is extremely satisfying, and it ends on a rather open-ended note that leaves the player wondering what happened. If you have a PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S or X, or gaming PC, I absolutely recommend giving Dead Space a go.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Vs. Super Mario Bros (Switch)
Also available in arcades
Vs Super Mario Bros is a weird little piece of Mario history. It was essentially a ROM hack of the original Super Mario Bros made specifically for American arcades with some new levels, some items shuffled around, and an overall higher difficulty. It's technically the second Super Mario Bros game (I guess third if you count the original arcade Mario Bros as the first) as it released in America one month before Super Mario Bros 2 (what we Westerners call The Lost Levels) released in Japan.
I call Vs Super Mario Bros more of an official ROM hack rather than a truly new game because most of the game is the same as Super Mario Bros as far as levels go. There are six new levels in the game, but all of them were reused in The Lost Levels. The other differences are relatively minor and serve to make the game harder, not original; fewer warp zones, fewer items, and more enemies are the biggest difficulty boosters, in my opinion. Still, though, that does give the game a reason to be played since the average Super Mario Bros enjoyer probably finds The Lost Levels to be a bit too difficult but the original Super Mario Bros to be too easy; this is a really good middle ground between the two. It's definitely tough, but it's not quite as brutal as The Lost Levels. If you play via the Arcade Archives version on Switch like I did, then you can endlessly credit feed to make it a little more doable. That still doesn't make it easy, per se, since you start back at the start of the world if you lose all of your lives, but it's definitely not as brutal as the original quarter-munching arcade cabinet would have been.
Other than that and some minor tweaks to levels throughout the game, this is basically just the original Super Mario Bros but on hard mode. If you're a casual Mario fan, this probably isn't worth going out of your way for, but if you, like me, are a big fan of the 8-bit Mario platformers, then this is definitely a must for your Switch SD card for the novelty of it if nothing else. Why this was never brought to the Wii or 3DS Virtual Consoles, I'll never know, but it's on Switch now, so give it a try if you think the original game is too easy.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Silver Falls: Galaxy Bound Curse takes you back to the 1990s both stylistically and in setting. It's a Game Boy Color game made as a free distribution game by Silver Falls developer Jerrel Dulay that can be downloaded at a .gb file at no cost on the Silver Falls website. I've tried it out on a variety of systems and can confirm that it works flawlessly with PC emulators, on an actual Game Boy system via a flash cartridge (I used my GBA Everdrive to play it on my Game Boy Advance SP), as a 3DS Virtual Console file when made into a .cia file and injected into a hacked 3DS, and via the mGBA emulator on a hacked Switch. Jerrel has confirmed that, if you have the necessary cartridge, it will work on an old school DMG-01 Game Boy.
The game stars Fred, the sheriff of Silver Falls, and a host of other townsfolk you can recruit on a manhunt for Eli Goodwin, a well-known scoundrel in town who has kidnapped a young boy for some nefarious purpose. While there are a large number of playable characters - some with fairly obscure recruitment methods - you can only use two at a time, one "Lead" character and one "Partner" character controlled by AI. Each character has their own primary weapon - for example, Fred has a handgun while Wirriam has a hammer - but you can also equip a secondary weapon. These can bring some balance to your chosen character by giving a ranged character a melee secondary weapon, for example, but they can also be used to solve puzzles, like using an axe to remove a log blocking your path.
While you know who kidnapped the child, you don't know where Eli has taken him. Fortunately, Dodger's tracking dog, Samba, can help you out, but for Samba to get the kid's scent, you have to find seven of his toys scattered in and around Silver Falls. Complicating your toy hunt is the fact that there are vicious animals and strange creatures roaming in the wilderness around town, so stay alert, and be ready for a fight. The game is still in beta, and with his focus naturally being on commercial titles more than a free title, Jerrel has had little time to improve Galaxy Bound Curse, so player feedback is super important; my playthrough helped him identify and fix major glitches in the late-game and get the game to its current actually beatable state; if you play the game and see any bugs, definitely let him know via Twitter, Facebook, or Discord so he can continue to improve the game!
The sprite work is great, and the music is absolutely fantastic. It's obviously fairly simple music being a literal Game Boy game, but it's wonderfully nostalgic, and when playing on a color-capable system, the sprites look great, and the various environments use great color variety. Like a lot of Game Boy adventures, the game isn't too long if you know what you're doing and where you need to go, but you'll probably spend five or six hours on your first playthrough. There's definitely some replay incentive, though, because each character has unique dialogue when confronting Eli, and some of the dialogue in the game - all parts, not just at the end - are directly referenced in later Silver Falls games, building a story continuity that I absolutely adore.
Silver Falls: Galaxy Bound Curse is, hands down, the most impressive GB Studio-made game I've personally seen, and while it is a little rough in places due to being a public beta and pushing the limits of what a Game Boy ROM can realistically hold, it's a fantastic experience. There is a full HD remake, Galaxy Bound Curse DX, in the works for Switch, but that's probably between six and twelve months away, and while it's supposed to be a faithful remake, it won't have the same nostalgic feel that an authentic Game Boy game does. If you've been wanting to see what the storytelling in Silver Falls is like but don't want to commit money yet (or don't have a 3DS or Wii U), then Galaxy Bound Curse is a great place to start and see what the world is all about. I definitely recommend this to any indie game enthusiasts or Game Boy fans, no doubt.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Silver Falls Gaiden: Deathly Delusion Destroyers is the latest entry in the Silver Falls series and the last one to release on 3DS before the closure of its eShop. Envisioned as a swan song for the system, this game was designed specifically to maximize the uniqueness of the 3DS systems and, as such, wouldn't really work well on any other system. That reason alone makes it a perfect system finale in my opinion as well as being enough by itself to justify giving a game a purchase. It's also technically a 2-in-1 deal; not only do you get Silver Falls Gaiden: Deathly Delusion Destroyers, but you also get Silver Falls: Ruby River. I'm not going to say how since it spoils one of the cool narrative reveals in the game, but the games directly connect to one another not only in narrative but also in mechanics. All screenshots are courtesy of Sungrand Studios.
Deathly Delusion Destroyers tells the story of Gus, a long-time Silver Falls resident, who is looking for someone very important to him who went camping in the woods but hasn't been seen or heard from since This takes place around two weeks after the events of Silver Falls: 3 Down Stars, so Gus is naturally worried about the mutated and highly aggressive animals that people had reported seeing in the woods around Silver Falls. Gus is aided in his search by his friend, Dodger, but he's not comfortable asking other townsfolk for help. Over the course of the game, though, more and more people show up to the campsite to help search, and Gus has to confront some of the misconceptions about the people in town that he had. The storytelling and character development is really superb here, and it's really the highlight of the game. My only gripe with the story is that it doesn't conclude definitively; the game intentionally leaves whether the rescue is successful or not up to player interpretation. There's a lot of artistic merit to that, but for me personally, I just want to know how it ends.
As good as the characters and story are, though, the gameplay for Deathly Delusion Destroys is what makes the game stand out, though. You hold the 3DS sideways like a book; think BrainAge if you ever played those games. The gameplay consists of battles between story events. Your characters - there are three dozen playable characters, but you can only use up to four at once - are on the right side of the bottom/right screen, and enemies make their way towards you steadily from the left side of the top/left screen. Each character has a specific type of weapon that they use, and each weapon type has its own range. Some weapons, like the rifle and shotgun, can shoot in a narrow line but have incredible range; some weapons, like the bow, have moderate range but can hit enemies in a wide angle; some weapons, like heavy melee, have almost no range but hit hard and stagger enemies. Combining the right characters in the right place is the key to victory so that you can hit multiple enemies at once. You can choose how difficult a battle you want to do from the super-easy-you'll-never-lose Casual missions all the way up to the giga hard I'll-literally-never-beat-one Titan and Multiboss battles. Regardless of difficulty, you get a new story scene afterwards until you've seen them all at which point you can just play infinitely for fun.
Ruby River is a very different sort of game from Deathly Delusion Destroyers. Whereas DDD is heavily story focused, there's almost no story in Ruby River. You're alone along the bank of Ruby River with just a few items in your inventory. The only real story that you get are the text boxes that appear from repeatedly interacting with those items. Other than that, it's pretty much a survival game. Using the real time clock, the game changes depending on the time. During the day, enemies are fairly infrequent, not nearly as strong, and mainly consist of mutated animals. This is when you'll want to gather resources and build a shelter. At night, enemies are much more frequent and are significantly stronger. They're also grotesque creatures like you'd see in Ghoul Busters. You'll not want to play much at night until you're sure you're ready.
The cool part about this 2-in-1 is that you can send resources from Ruby River to Deathly Delusion Destroyers to help you improve your weapons in armor in that game, and then you can send weapons and armor from Deathly Delusion Destroyers to Ruby River to help you survive the horrors at night in Ruby River. I'm not a big fan of builder survival games, personally, but I absolutely love the integration between the two and can definitely see myself playing Ruby River just to farm resources for Deathly Delusion Destroyers.
Silver Falls Gaiden: Deathly Delusion Destroyers is a pretty unique game, and it provides something that gaming often lacks - well written gay characters that don't just pander to folks for the sake of having a gay character. I love Gus, but Gus isn't the only great character here; Slim gets a ton of great development, and a handful of other Silver Falls denizens get some development to build up their characters. The gameplay in DDD and the connectivity with Ruby River are great, but honestly, it's the character development that made this game amazing for me. Add to that the fact that it's an amazing swan song for the 3DS, and I really can't recommend downloading this game highly enough. Don't miss out on this game.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Hentai World (Switch)
I have played a lot of bad games in my life. I have played a lot of shameless cash grab games in my life. This may not be the worst game I've ever played, but it is the worst cash grab I've ever played. I'll go ahead and give you a tl;dr right now - this game sucks and should not be bought for any price above $0.00.
You remember those sliding square keychain puzzles from when millennials like me were kids? The ones where you slide the squares around to restore the image? That's what this game is. That's literally all this game is. A sliding square puzzle with generic anime girls who progressively take off more clothes as you solve more puzzles. Ooo, uncensored boobies. How scandalous! That's literally the only reason this game exists, which is baffling since porn not only has more than just top nudity but also is both free and more accessible than this game.
I genuinely cannot fathom why Nintendo allowed this game to release, and I don't even mean the uncensored tits. I paid $1.99 for this, and I genuinely feel that I paid $2 too much. It doesn't matter how cheap this game is, absolutely do not buy it. If you really want to see low-effort anime boobs in a crappy Switch game, play Hentai vs. Evil. At least that game lets you shoot orcs and zombies.
My Rating - 1 Nep
Red Colony (Switch)
Also available on Windows
Red Colony is the first in a trilogy of ecchi horror games that plays like half Resident Evil and half Sakura Swim Club with a pinch of Senran Kagura for good measure. Well, for measure, at least; the game certainly isn't what I would describe as good, but it's not awful, either. It's solidly "meh."
The game takes place on the Martian Red Colony, a communist colony bordering Mars's capitalist colony, Blue Colony. You play as Maria, the CEO of a major research company on Red Colony and wife of the colony's mayor, during a zombie virus outbreak that has ravaged the colony. The game is 2D, so you'll make your way through the game in a generally left-to-right manner with the occasional backtracking. The zombies are a pain to fight, but they're not hard, per se; if you have a good feel for controls, you can kill them all with the knife and never draw your gun or take any damage (although if you take damage, your clothes tear like in Senran Kagura, so who wants to avoid damage?). This is good because ammo is in frustratingly short supply. You can craft ammo, but the crafting materials are frustratingly scarce. The scarcity is done in a way that, thanks to the knife, the game isn't hard, it's just irritating.
The story is actually pretty decent even if totally and utterly cliché. You can zip from start to finish in under an hour if you want, but if you take the time to explore and dig through the various lore drops, it's a fairly entertaining albeit unoriginal narrative. I'm hoping the two sequels improve the story because while it wasn't boring by any means, it also wasn't exciting. It was a resounding okay.
Unfortunately, that also describes the entirety of Red Colony - "okay." The game is inoffensively bland and safely uninspired. If you like Resident Evil style stories and 2D games with big titty anime girls, then you might enjoy this. If that sounds as contrived and worn out as it does to me, then maybe skip this one. It's not a bad game, but you'll certainly not miss anything by not playing it.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Silver Falls: Frontier Fighters Mini is a small free-to-play browser game made in RPG Maker 2003 that serves as a sort of demo for the series. It's not a full release but more a short taste of what the series has to offer. It revisits a few key moments from the first Silver Falls release, Silver Falls: 3 Down Stars on 3DS, but aside from giving you a brief taste of the narrative in 3 Down Stars, it mostly gives you an idea of what the series' Frontier game modes offers - massive content value with a large set of missions to complete. All screenshots and images are courtesy of Sungrand.
After completing the few story events from 3 Down Stars to introduce you to Holt, Analise, Moss, and Soldier (the best boy), you find yourself in a camp where the real "meat" of the game is. You assemble your team of four, customize your equipment, and embark on combat missions where you defeat enemies, gain experience, and acquire new gear. It's a very simple game to play, but there's a surprising amount of content for a free game made in RPG Maker 2003. There is some story and character elements to see in this game, but it's like a food sample at Costco; it'll whet your palate, but it definitely won't satisfy you. And that's the point - convince you to buy the other Silver Falls games. If I hadn't already been an established fan of the series, this definitely would have baited me into buying 3 Down Stars.
The easiest way to play Frontier Fighters Mini is through the game's page on the Silver Falls website. It can be played right your computer's web browser, and it works extremely well on mobile phone browsers as well. You can also install it and play it on a homebrew-enabled console through EasyRPG. I, for example, have played it on my homebrew-enabled 2DS and my custom firmware Switch. Given that it's free to play and gives you a great taste of Silver Falls, I absolutely recommend spending an hour or two playing around with the game and seeing what this neat little demo game has to offer. It's a little bare-bones as you would expect, but it's a wonderful starting point for new fans.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Silver Falls: Guardians and Metal Exterminators had a troubled history on the eShop. Due to a clerical error in the eShop filing (it was listed as working on all models of 3DS whereas it actually only works on New 3DS), it got pulled from the eShop very shortly after launch and took a couple months to get restored. Despite that difficulty, though, it was worth the wait because this is a truly excellent 3DS game. I was fortunate enough to snag it before it was initially delisted, so while the version I've spent the most time playing has some glitches and bugs that were fixed in the updated version that was re-listed on the eShop, I still had an absolute blast with the game. All screenshots are courtesy of Sungrand.
Guardians and Metal Exterminators is a bit of an odd duck in that the "main" game modes only make up like 5% of the content in the game. Game A and Game B are designed to emulate the old Tiger Electronics handheld LCD games. They're simple score chasers with shallow but addicting gameplay. Unless you're a serious score chaser, they're unlikely to hold your interest for more than five or ten minutes here or there. That said, that's part of the purpose of Guardians and Metal Exterminators; it's meant to be a game you can pick up and play for a few minutes when you have down time without needing to invest a lot of time in a long story mode or keep up with a lengthy narrative.
That said, Frontier Guardians, the game's ostensibly-extra content, is actually where the vast majority of the gameplay is. It's a mission-based RPG mode where you start off with two playable characters, Oxa and Gold, and play through set missions. Don't let the mission objectives fool you; the way you earn moose tokens to buy items and xp to upgrade your character is through killing enemies, not completing objectives. Completing the objective just gets you 100% of your earned rewards instead of the 50% you get from failing the mission; if you manage to complete the mission's optional objective, you get 125% of the earned rewards. The missions involve your chosen character running around in an overhead view, killing enemies, and completing your objectives. As you progress through the game, you'll unlock a couple other characters, and there are even more characters you can unlock by using the Code Linker functions and connecting with other Silver Falls titles. You can also play as the Metal Exterminators, too, but whereas every Guardian character has at least a few story scenes, none of the enemy characters do. Bummer. The way you see these story scenes is by upgrading your character, and you can see the story completion % on the character select menu, so you'll easily be able to tell what characters are complete and who still has unviewed story scenes.
For me, Frontier Guardians and the story scenes were the draw. I get bored of old LCD games quickly, so that didn't really grasp me as anything more than a novelty, but Frontier Guardians is a lot of fun and provides a lot of Silver Falls lore if you go through the story scenes with every character. The missions don't take long - on average five to ten minutes - and I've completed some in under a minute. The objectives are randomly generated each time, so if you get a super hard one, no worries; you can either switch to a better character or just fail the mission, and the game will roll you a new mission. It's a ton of fun and a great way to kill some time or unwind. I definitely recommend this one highly.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Silver Falls: White Inside Its Umbra is Sungrand's fond farewell to the beloved Wii U console. Although it launched alongside the Wii U port of Silver Falls: Undertakers, White Inside Its Umbra is really Sungrand's true love letter to the Wii U. It was built specifically for the Wii U, and because of how it uses the Wii U's key features, it will probably always stay exclusive to Wii U as it's not really a game that could work on other consoles without totally changing the design and feel of the experience. With three difficulty settings - no enemies, normal enemies, and World 8 Mario enemies - this game has a very approachable story mode for players of all skill and patience levels. All screenshots are courtesy of Sungrand.
The story mode of White Inside Its Umbra is survival horror with a touch of walking sim. You play as Bjorna, a young woman whose cousin, Ken, has been lost in the woods around Silver Falls for two weeks. Together with a search party from town, you search the woods at night for your missing cousin. As is often the case in Silver Falls, mysterious and dangerous creatures stalk the woods, though, so cougars and bears are the least of your worries in the woods this night. As you trek through the woods, you'll have to contend with a multitude of enemies, twisting paths and dead ends, and a depleting smartphone and flashlight battery. Even when you have a charge, your light and the sounds from your smartphone can alert enemies to your presence; hope you've got some ammo. You control the flashlight and your weapon with the Wiimote and move with either the D pad on the Wiimote or with a Nunchuck depending on what you choose. The smartphone is controlled by the gamepad, and it's at the heart of the experience. There are invisible enemies that can only be seen with the camera app, strong enemies that can only be hurt after being weakened with a special phone app, a UV blaster app that can drive off enemies, a metal detector app, a GPS app to help you orient and navigate, and minigames including Pony Petter which featured in Sungrand's first weekly competition (a competition I placed 2nd in, by the way, and won Maverick D. Moose as an exclusive playable character in another game mode).
In addition to the story mode, you've got the "Zero Chapter" and Frontier Hunters. Zero Chapter is straight walking sim and entirely to help you get a feel for the world in the daylight with no enemies as well as to give some lore and character information as you meet folks walking through the woods. In Zero Chapter, you play not as Bjorna but as a random out-of-towner visiting to hike; "you" in Silver Falls, if you will. The super cool thing about Zero Chapter is that it supports the balance board for movement. You can use the same two control scheme options from story mode to move if you want, but if you have a balance board, you can use it to move; leaning forward moves forward, leaning left moves left, etc. This was supposed to be included as a control scheme in story mode, too, so that you could use the balance board, gamepad, and Wiimote all at once, but Sungrand had to remove it from the story mode for safety concerns, apparently feeling it was a risk of folks' getting startled and falling and injuring themselves or something along those lines. Hella lame, I know. Maybe someone will find a way to trick the game into letting you use the balance board in story mode? Unity on 3DS and Wii U are notoriously buggy and unpredictable, after all...
The last game mode, Frontier Hunters, is probably my favorite. It's what gives the game the real value for play hours, and it's also the multiplayer mode. Frontier Hunters is a mission-based rail shooter lightgun-style multiplayer mode. Between one and four players (but trust me, you need more than one) can use Wiimotes to blast monsters as you are moved through a level. Think House of the Dead or Area 51. Each playable character has their own weapon proficiencies and unique Skill Wheels, and thanks to my finishing Sungrand's first competition in the top five, I get to use the eldritch moose god, Maverick D. Moose. He's actually just the town's mascot, but I unilaterally decided in the Silver Falls Discord server that he's actually an ancient eldritch god who protects the town from the worst of the supernatural horrors lurking in the woods. Find some friends, grab some Wiimotes, and get to monster blasting.
White Inside Its Umbra can feel a little pricey for a digital Wii U title at $25.99 if you're just looking at the story mode, but the game is so much more than that. Just like how Guardians and Metal Exterminators's "main" game modes are a tiny fraction of the content and Frontier Guardians is the real draw, Frontier Hunters is the real meat of White Inside Its Umbra. There are nods to other games in the Silver Falls series that longtime fans will notice and appreciate, but if this is your starting point, it's a great one. There's a lot of content here with Frontier Hunters, and there's more coming in a future update. It's unfortunately only available on the North American Wii U eShop, but if you have an NTSC-U Wii U, make sure you pick this up before the eShop closes in a month.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Silver Falls: Undertakers (Wii U)
Also available on 3DS
Silver Falls is a series that I gush about a lot. I'm a huge fan of both the games themselves and of the series' development ethos of providing games with a variety of gameplay styles so that there's something for everyone while developing a rich and interconnected world with deep lore and character backstories. Silver Falls: Undertakers was originally a 3DS exclusive that just got ported to Wii U as one of the two Silver Falls games released on the Wii U eShop to give the console a good send-off. An homage to the Atari 2600 and the 1970s, this is - so far - the earliest point in the Silver Falls universe. Images below are courtesy of Sungrand.
The game follows Bull Brandish as a child in the 1970s on a camping adventure with his friend in woods owned by his grandfather, Bill Brandish, the famous creator of hit television suspense series, The Midnight Realm. When Bull goes to his grandfather's cabin to get more firewood for their campfire, he hears strange noises in the woods. After some investigation, Bull discovers massive black monsters in the woods that have been snatching children. Bull must now survive a monster-infested forest as he investigates the missing children. Will he survive this ordeal? Will the sheriff and other adults in town even believe his tale of monsters and strange encounters?
The original 3DS game had two primary modes - Game A and Game B - but this Wii U port adds a third mode, SurviVS. Game A is the story mode of the game where you play as Bull and explore the forest filled with lurking Undertakers. Game B is a high score game mode where you have to survive as long as possible while taking out as many Undertakers as possible to increase your score. Shoot the Undertakers that make it to the surface on your TV screen while tapping the giant Undertakers on the gamepad touch screen to prevent them from surfacing as these are much harder to kill. Game A and Game B both have blocky pixel graphics that would look right at home on the Atari 2600 while benefiting from the sharpness that HDMI output and 1080p resolution bring. The new mode, SurviVS, is an asymmetrical multiplayer mode using more modern visuals. One player uses the gamepad to place the Undertakers on the map, and between one and four players use Wiimotes and Nunchuks to fight off the monsters that the gamepad player spawns. If you've played the ZombiU multiplayer mode, think of that but up to five players instead of only two.
The story and world-building in Undertakers is really the star of the show in my opinion. I've played at least part of all but one of the Silver Falls games, and this game has the darkest and most intense horror atmosphere in my opinion. The violence depicted in the game is BRUTAL, but because it uses 2600-esque graphics, it's deceptive about it. It looks tame and cute, and even the gore depicted doesn't look exceptionally grotesque because of the simple graphics, but the descriptive text prompts when you interact with things reveals the truly horrific things that young Bull encounters.
I honestly wasn't sure how deep Undertakers was going to be with its 2600 aesthetic, but I absolutely adored the game. It's short enough to be played in a single sitting - it took me about an hour and a half - and that is by design; it was intended to emulate the kind of experience and relationship you'd have with 2600 games back in the day, so there are no save points, and your play time is dictated entirely by how well you know the game and what you're doing. The high score mode in Game B give it a lot of replay value, and the SurviVS mode make it an awesome party game, too. You've only got a few weeks before the eShops shut down on 3DS and Wii U, so make sure you go snag this one. Ideally, get the Wii U version, but at the very least, definitely download the 3DS version.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Xbox One, Switch, and Windows
Dragon Quest Builders 2 answers the question "What if Minecraft had a purpose?" I loved the first Dragon Quest Builders, and the sequel just takes what made the first one great and expands that. It's got the block-based building that folks expect from Minecraft-esque creative games, but it marries that with the typical good-vs-evil Dragon Quest storyline.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 has you start as a prisoner aboard a prison ship run by monsters serving the Children of Hargon, a cult dedicated to destroying anything and everything and the sworn enemies of builders. Eventually, the ship is caught in a storm, and you end up shipwrecked along with two other survivors on the Isle of Awakening, your "hub world" for the game. You meet a hammerhood spirit who gives you ownership of the island and guides you as through your journey to restore building to the island. After a brief stint on the island, you start the first of the four "main" sections of the game. For each of the main sections, you're sent to another storyline island. One is a formerly lush island focused on farming and wood items, one is a desert island focused on mining and metal items, one is a snowy island focused on stone construction, and one is a spoiler. Between each of these island chapters, you have tasks to complete on the Isle of Awakening as you build up your own island.
The main "quest" of the storyline is to travel to these islands and recruit people to come back to your island with you to help build and populate. Wherever you go, however, you're hounded by the Children of Hargon. The cult is determined to prevent the return of building to the islands they rule, and they're consistently attacking you and the settlements you're trying to build back up. That's where the combat comes in; you'll have NPCs helping you in battle, but you'll definitely want to make sure that you're keeping your equipment upgraded when possible and gain as much experience as possible so that you have the HP to survive increasingly powerful enemies' attacks. The combat isn't difficult, but you'll definitely need to get a feel for healing, knowing when to fall back, and knowing the timing of your enemies' attacks so that you can dodge and avoid damage.
As with Minecraft, the most addicting part of the game is building up your own island. I have spent dozens and dozens of hours working on completely non-story related things, just building up my island. You'll end up with three main settlement areas on your island - one green and grassy, one desert, and one snowy and desolate. They pretty clearly mirror the first three story islands. In the grassy area, for example, I meticulously flattened land to build sprawling fields for my farms (gotta keep the peasants busy) and a huge six story wooden apartment building to house my peasants. In the desert, I built individual rooms in a large building and a separate bar building with a restaurant on top of that and a makeshift brothel above the restaurant. Because sex work is real work, and the island dutchy of Ehrenfest is a place of equality, and the ruling Archduchess Rozemyne is a stalwart proponent of feminism. My crowning achievement of my island, in my opinion, is the massive castle I constructed (complete with dungeon where all bards are immediately incarcerated) and the massive rail system connecting the dock, builder's temple, and all three settlements together.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 is addicting to say the least. It's kind of like Civilization except instead of "Just one more turn..." it's "Just one more structure..." Every time you unlock a new recipe, you'll have some idea of "Oh, that would make a cool room..." The only thing I genuinely hate about the game is that you're limited to 100 recognized rooms on your island; I wanted to build sprawling towns with multi-room houses for reach of my residents and a wide variety of recreational buildings. Still, though, 100 rooms was enough for me to do most of what I really wanted to do, and you can always demolish a building to rebuild or remodel a room. It can get a little janky when trying to get exact placement of blocks and items, but all in all, it's a pretty easy to use system. I guarantee that however much time you think you'll spend with this game, you'll end up spending more.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Fire Emblem: Engage (Switch)
Fire Emblem is my absolute favorite Nintendo IP, and as such a huge Fire Emblem fan, I'm pretty easy to please. I even like Fire Emblem Heroes, and I'm notoriously prejudiced against mobile gaming (it's for peasants). As such, I absolutely adored Fire Emblem: Three Houses even though a lot of my friends either outright disliked it or were at least disappointed that leaned so heavily into the social sim aspects and put such an emphasis on the monastery as a hub world. Fire Emblem: Engage, however, I didn't enjoy just because it was Fire Emblem (and had an axe-wielding anti-religion cutie) like I did with Three Houses; unlike the previous mainline entry, Engage brings back a lot of the classic Fire Emblem feel that Three Houses lacked while still also feeling modern and fresh.
The basic premise of the game feels very similar if you've played previously Fire Emblem games (or any JRPG, for that matter). You play as Alear (whom I renamed Rozemyne because my current hyperfixation is Ascendance of a Bookworm and whom the Internet nicknamed Toothpaste-chan since her hair looks like Colgate), the child of the Divine Dragon Lumera and thus a Divine Dragon herself (or himself if you're a loser and play as a male). You awaken a thousand years after a cataclysmic war with the Fell Dragon, but just as you're awakening (with amnesia, as is tradition for everything made in Japan), oh no, the zombie-esque Corrupted soldiers are appearing again! What could this mean? Surely the Fell Dragon hasn't returned (not-really-a-spoiler alert - the Fell Dragon has returned). So the story isn't original, but hardly anything in anime or Japanese RPGs are; what matters is the execution, and the execution is fantastic here.
You still have a hub world called the Somniel where you can interact and bond with characters, shop, use your amiibo for some extra cooking ingredients, etc, but unlike Three Houses, the Somniel is like 95% optional. There are a couple of story segments that require you to interact with something there, but for the vast majority of the game, you can choose to go straight from the post-battle area to the world map and immediately to the next battle. This helps to keep the game's pace moving swiftly if you're not interested in the social sim aspects while also giving a relatively robust social sim element if, like me, you actually enjoy that. As for the core gameplay - the battle maps - it's exactly what you would expect from Fire Emblem. It's a well-designed and robust strategy RPG with balanced battle mechanics that invite - and eventually require - the player to develop strategies that go far beyond "send your single overpowered unit in as a tank." There are the usual mechanics that you're used to - the familiar weapons triangle and the weapons that are better against certain traits like mounted or armored - but there's also a new one, and that's Break. If you have the advantage in a weapon match up - swords against axes, for example - there's a chance that you can break the enemy's weapon, making them unable to counter attack during their next battle that turn. It only works during your turn - you can't keep them from attacking on theirs - and it only works once, so you can't just bum rush them with half a dozen units and have them all safe, but it's a great mechanic that opens up a lot of new strategies.
As Fire Emblem games since the 3DS era have, Engage gives you a variety of difficulty options. First and foremost, you'll choose between Casual and Classic. Casual is how I always play on the first playthrough and removes the permadeath for which Fire Emblem is traditionally known. That way, if your character falls in battle, they're not gone forever; they can be redeployed in the next battle. Classic, on the other hand, keeps permadeath intact; if a stupid mistake leads to a character death in a random grinding battle, that character is dead forever unless you go back and redo it. After you choose which mode to play, you choose your difficulty. These two choices let you craft the game to be as easy or as a infuriatingly difficult as you want it to be.
There is a pseudo-multiplayer aspect with the Relay Battles, but frankly, I have zero interest in those battles, so I did one token battle and then never touched it again. Still, though, it's a nice inclusion that's reminiscent of Awakening on 3DS. Something else that harkens back to the 3DS games (and all of the games before that) is your main gameplay gimmick, the emblems. Each of the 12 emblems represents one of the previous 12 Fire Emblem games (excluding Mystery of the Emblem, Shadow Dragon, New Mystery of the Emblem, and Echoes since they're remakes). There are also two DLC emblems if you bought the season pass. I know better than to pin my hopes on Nintendo's decision making, but I'm hoping against hope that this is an indication that they're preparing to either remaster or re-release some of the older Fire Emblem games because this is bound to get newer players (3DS and later) interested in the protagonists from the older (Wii and earlier) games.
Fire Emblem: Engage definitely feels the much more like a "classic" Fire Emblem game than Three Houses did. I personally loved Three Houses, but Engage surpasses it in pretty much every way except maybe character design; I love Toothpaste-chan, but even my anime standards, her hair is kind of out there. It reminds me a lot of Path of Radiance as well as Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, and I mean that in the best way possible. This is, in my opinion, the best Fire Emblem game since Awakening. If you love Fire Emblem, you need to play this; if you love the Switch, you need to play this; if you love SRPGs, you need to play this. It's not perfect, but it's pretty damn close in my book, and I'm extremely eager to see what story content the upcoming DLC adds.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Modern Combat: Blackout (Switch)
Also available on Android, iOS, and Windows
There's a reason I'm deeply prejudiced against mobile games; most of the are rubbish. There are some genuinely good mobile games, for sure, but the overwhelming majority are garbage or, at best, mediocre. Modern Combat: Blackout is a mobile game that got ported to Switch, and even with a port to a home console - even an underpowered and aging one - only got it up to "mediocre," although with a generic search engine bait name like "Modern Combat," I can't say that I'm terribly surprised.
The premise of the game is that your character works as a mercenary for a private military company (which is just a modern euphemism for band of mercenaries to avoid issues with international law) but finds out that the PMC is up to some shady and unethical shit. You know, like literally every PMC that's ever existed. So now you and your handful of allies get to play hero and try to expose the plot or whatever. Honestly, the story is paper thin; it makes Steven Segal movies look like well-constructed narrative events. This game is obviously a creative legacy of the Xbox 360 era where every game involved modern combat, a barely sensical plot, and various shades of brown and occasionally green (although, to its credit, this game does use a couple other colors, too).
The game is your run of the mill first person shooter. When you're looking around or firing from the hip, you use the right analog stick to aim; when you're aiming down the sights, you can use gyroscopic controls. Since the stick aiming is jerky as hell, you're basically going to be using gyroscopic aiming 99% of the time if you ever want to hit anything. The game awkwardly has auto sprint enabled by default, so if you want to move while crouching - and you will - you'll need to disable that. Mechanically, the game runs fine. It only crashed once on me. It looks okay I guess, although it's painfully obvious that it's a cell phone game that got ported. The biggest problem is that it's just not that exciting. Some of the missions are fun, but the game as a whole is just extremely okay. The explosives suck, too. Honest to god, they feel like they have no more power than a slightly larger-than-normal firecracker.
I got this game on the eShop on sale for $1.99, and truthfully, that's all it's worth. For seven hours of something to do - I'm not going to go as far as to call it truly entertainment - $2 is fair, and the online matchmaking will at least put AI bots in to fill gaps in the team rosters from the lack of real humans who actually want to play this game, but there's just no reason to go out and download this game unless you just desperately want a bad dollar store rip-off of Call of Duty 4 on your Switch. Given how cheap it is when it's on sale, I'm not going to say "omg avoid this game," but I'm most certainly not going to suggest that anyone go download it.
My Rating - 2 Neps
The Pathless (PlayStation 5)
Also available on PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, iOS, Mac, and Windows
I first heard about The Pathless when I was doing a Secret Santa with my Twitter DM for the 2021 holiday season. My person had the game on her wishlist, and I saw that it was a fairly affordable PS5 game, so I ordered it for her. I thought it looked cute and wanted to give it a go, but I never got around to pulling the trigger on it myself; it's one of those games that I wanted to play but that always had something else get bumped above it on my priority list. Well, about a week ago, my buddy Danny gives me his copy out of the blue. He'd beaten it and knew that I was a big game collector, so he let me have his copy. What an awesome dude. Almost made me feel bad for having relentlessly shot him with paintballs earlier in the day. Almost.
The Pathless is a super artistic puzzle adventure with some light platforming elements. You play as a hunter who is on a quest to defeat the Godslayer and save the world from his evil plan. Along the way, you have to lift the curse on the four Tall Ones, huge god-like spiritual beasts. To do this, you have to restore the light at three obelisks. To do THAT, you have to collect two glowing token things that you get by solving small puzzles that feel a bit like the shrines in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The plot is honestly just wrapping paper on the game to give some context to what you're doing; there are some very nice cinematic events voiced in some language - dunno if it's real or fictional, but it definitely isn't English - but the story itself is very shallow. You do get some neat little bits of lore from floating spirit orbs around the map, though, so that's a nice plus.
Each of the four Tall Ones is in its own section of the map, so there is a lot to explore with some decent environment diversity. That said, exploration is more tedious than exciting as there's no map of any kind, so you're kind of just wandering around half aimlessly with only a red glow visible while using your magic spirit vision to guide you. It's certainly not difficult to find your way around, but it's definitely tedious. The game itself isn't terribly difficult, either; there's no health bar, so you can't die but instead just get knocked back if you're hit during boss fights, and while the puzzles definitely get tougher as the game progresses, I was able to solve every puzzle I came across within ten minutes of discovery. The puzzles are fun and definitely the highlight of the game in my opinion, but traversal just isn't as fun as it looks.
I do have to applaud the graphic options, though. As is often the case with PS5 games, you can choose between Performance and Graphics presets. If you choose Graphics, the game will run at 2160p and 30 frames per second. If you choose Performance, the game will use a variable frame rate between around 1440p and 2160p to keep a solid 60 frames per second. As I always do, I chose Performance, and while the game itself may have been so-so, the gorgeous art style mixed with the buttery smooth 60 FPS definitely made for a sublime looking experience. I honestly didn't notice a big difference visually between Performance and Graphics whereas the frame rate difference was extremely noticeable, so I highly suggest current gen players stick to Performance.
The Pathless is a cute and competent but ultimately mediocre game. Don't misconstrue that to mean that it's not good; it's definitely an enjoyable experience. It's just not one that will sink its teeth into you and have you itching to get home from work and play. If you're looking for a chill game to spend a Saturday playing, this would be a good choice as it only took me between five and six hours to clear. I'd spend an hour or two per night playing after work and finished it in three days. As a game so short with no post-game content, I definitely wouldn't pay more than $15 for it, but if you can find it for that price or less, it's definitely worth a pick up.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Silver Falls: Episode Prelude from Sungrand Studios is a bite-sized budget game that marks the Silver Falls series's first foray into HD graphics. For the most part, if you've played 3 Down Stars, you know what to expect as far as mechanics and controls because this is largely the same type of game but on Switch (and only a tenth as long). It's very much a prelude in that it's a first chapter, not a full contained story, but it's a great look at what the future of Silver Falls could be.
You play as Rominic, a young man about to start college who works doing construction for Million Dollarbuck (Silver Falls has the absolute best character names) and also works part-time doing delivery for Chunky Chicken. As he's making a delivery to a house in the area just outside of Silver Falls, he has two things on his mind - Mr. Dollarbuck's downward spiral via text message and the mystery surrounding the house to which he's supposed to deliver chicken. He's delivered here numerous times before, but for some reason, the property seems totally abandoned. Spoopy. To unravel the mystery of Mr. Dollarbuck's melancholy and the empty property fully (or as fully as you can in a prelude), you'll need to invest around an hour to an hour and a half replying to Million's texts and exploring the property for clues...and a way to defend yourself.
While the story mode is very short - you could clear it in less than half an hour easily if you know what you're doing and ignore Dollarbuck's texts, or you could spend nearly two hours exploring everything - it's captivating. It might because I'm already invested in the characters having played other games in the series, but I was totally sucked in to the story and the locales. It also ends on a cliffhanger fit for a 90s TV drama's cold open which is tantamount to torture considering that the game has been out for over a year and still hasn't received a sequel (Jerrel assures me that he does have one planned; he just hasn't made it yet since he was focusing on Wii U and 3DS at the end of their digital lifespans). The environments are DARK, and while that can make exploration a bit frustrating, it also does a lot to add to the suspense and the tension, so it's a worthwhile trade off in my opinion.
Once you finish with the story, that doesn't mean that you've seen all the game has to offer; there's also battle mode. This offers a chance to fight waves of enemies with different characters, each of whom have their own traits, in different locations. It's not as fleshed out as Frontier Fighters in 3 Down Stars, but it definitely adds enough content to justify the price of admission. With how much better the game controls than 3 Down Stars with the dual analog sticks rather than unholy C nub on the 3DS, I honestly prefer playing battle mode in Episode Prelude over Frontier Fighters in 3 Down Stars despite how much less content there is. It's just fun.
Silver Falls: Episode Prelude is a very short but pretty good story. Think of it like reading 1408 vs reading Salem's Lot; it's really short, and that can be a bummer to folks who are used to long novels, but it's supposed to be short, and what's there is thoroughly enjoyable. Some folks have complained that $8 is too steep a price for a game that short, and if it were just the story mode, I'd agree, but the battle mode adds enough gameplay to justify that price in my opinion. It's not a full featured 12 hour horror experience; it's a bite. A morsel. An appetizer. It hooks you with just enough to make you say, "Huh, that was cool. I'd love to see more Silver Falls on Switch." I think it does that quite well. I absolutely wish the game were longer, but I'm also one of those folks used to long novels. I eagerly await the next Silver Falls game on Switch that continues this story, and I definitely recommend you check out Episode Prelude in the meantime.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Banner of the Maid (Switch)
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows
Banner of the Maid is like a game tailor made for me. It's a strategy RPG like Fire Emblem, but it takes place in France during the French Revolution....but if the French army was full of waifus. It's literally the most perfect game imaginable short of having Nazis riding dinosaurs as the main enemy.
You play as Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon's sister, as she follows in her brother's footsteps as a French general. What's cool is that Pauline Bonaparte was actually a real person, but Napoleon's sister obviously didn't actually lead French troops into battle, and if she did, it certainly wouldn't have been in a skirt. Still, though, while it's most certainly not a historically accurate game, the fact that it's (technically) historical fiction is basically my favorite thing. I absolutely love it when a game's setting is based in history even if an ABSURD number of artistic liberties are taken.
Gameplay is actually pretty much just like Fire Emblem for the most part. Instead of a weapon triangle, you have a unit quadrangle; line infantry beats heavy cavalry, heavy cavalry beats light cavalry, light cavalry beats light infantry, and light infantry beats line infantry. Why didn't call it light infantry vs heavy infantry instead of line infantry vs light infantry, I'll never understand, but it is what it is. The whole game is awkwardly machine translated from Mandarin to English, so frankly, that's the least weird thing about the text in the game. That's not to say that the translation is nonsensical, but there are a handful of lines in the game that definitely just don't flow right in English.
The game has three difficulty settings. General mode is the hardest and offers a seriously brutal challenge. Officer mode is "normal" and is a good challenge but not unreasonable. Then you have Story mode, which is my beloved Bitch Mode. I played on Officer mode, but I love accessibility and not that not everyone has the patience for the trial and error of strategy RPGs, so I always love seeing low difficulty modes. There are a couple of free DLCs that add some side quests and a bonus character - a cool Asian pirate chick - but for the most part, the campaign is the whole game. It does, however, offer a New Game+ to give some replay value, and you'll end up with more units than you can use at once, so you can always do a playthrough using different characters if you want to experience the game again.
The game differs from Fire Emblem in two key ways. First and foremost - and this is something that modern Fire Emblem does with Casual mode - your characters aren't gone forever if they die. If you lose a character in a mission, they'll retreat for the rest of that missions, but they're there ready to go in the next mission. Depending on your difficulty, you may suffer a penalty to your rewards at the end of the mission, but that's it. Second - and this is the biggest difference from Fire Emblem - is that weapon durability resets every mission. You'll find some special weapons that have attributes making them super strong in certain situations but that only have a durability of 4; you can only use it four times in a mission, but it goes back to a full 4 out of 4 once you finish the mission and start the next. Any Fire Emblem veteran can tell you stories of saving a strong weapon throughout the whole game in case you need like it's a magnum in Resident Evil.
Banner of the Maid definitely isn't a perfect game with awkward machine translation and a couple of difficulty jumps, but it's a very good game. The story is good with some cool fantasy elements woven in with the historical setting, the characters are interesting and likable, and the gameplay is fun and addicting. The art is fantastic, too, and that's always a plus for games that are slower paced like an SRPG. All in all, it's a pretty standard entry for the genre, but the French Revolution setting definitely makes it stand out. If you like SRPGs, definitely give this one a play.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Silver Falls: 3 Down Stars (3DS)
I am a huge fan of the Silver Falls series. It's the flagship series of Sungrand Studios, a one-man indie developer based on Australia, and over the past year, I've become pretty good friends with Jerrel, the man behind the games. Last year, I reviewed Silver Falls: Ghoul Busters for 3DS shortly after it launched on the eShop, but I recently went back and played the first game in the series to be released, 2021's Silver Falls: 3 Down Stars, now that it has its v1.69 update that fixed a ton of performance issues and dramatically improved the game's visual fidelity. Some of my feelings on the game are a bit mixed, but overall, I had a fantastic time with this game. All screenshots are courtesy of Sungrand Studios, and the screenshots are from before the v1.69 update, so the game looks better now than these screenshots suggest. If Sungrand provides updated screenshots (since I have no ability to capture screenshots from my 3DS), I'll update the review.
The game focuses around three playable characters - Holt, a college student returning to his hometown for a fishing trip; Analise, a young Silver Falls resident taking care of her ailing father; and Moss, the sheriff of the town. I've played other games in the series, so Moss was already my favorite character of the three going into this, and the game didn't change that, but I really did come to love Holt as a character. That's the game's biggest strength in my opinion - the characters. The story is cool and has a Resident Evil meets Silent Hill meets Twilight Zone vibe, but it's the characters that really drive the game, and a lot of that is with non-playable characters you meet along the way and slowly get to know as story scenes unfold.
The game is your standard third person horror suspense game, so it plays a lot like Resident Evil 4. You can equip a projectile weapon as your primary weapon, a melee weapon as your sub weapon, and another melee weapon as your emergency weapon. The difference is that sub weapons are used at-will and as much as you want whereas emergency weapons are only used by button prompt if you're pinned by an enemy and do enormous damage but break upon use. You'll want to keep one of each equipped with your stronger weapon as your sub weapon. The combat feels very reminiscent of Resident Evil 2 except that the New 3DS's C nub completely undermines it. That nub is utterly useless and the single worst design choice Nintendo ever made (and that includes the unreliable Joycons in the early days of the Switch). It makes gunplay a chore instead of fun. Fortunately, there are tutorials on melee combat in the Extras menu that can teach you be proficient enough with melee that guns are really only needed for the bosses, but still, it's a shame that the 3DS's design ruined part of an otherwise fantastic game.
What most other reviews really hammer this game for have largely been fixed by various patches, but I do need to address those complaints because they're not totally gone. The visuals are criticized a lot in reviews I've read, and I can't speak for the game at launch, but as it is now, I don't think that's a particularly valid criticism. The game was made by one guy and is, especially for an indie game, a pretty big 3D world. For what it is and the hardware it's on, I think the game looks pretty good. The characters have a distinct style that is immediately recognizable as Silver Falls and that not everyone may like, but the game's visual fidelity is fine for a 3DS game. The performance, however, does hurt the game. Performance and stability have been dramatically improved with updates, but depending on where you are, the game will run between roughly 20 and 30 frames per second. This can be jarring and was, admittedly, something that took some time for me to get used to. The game also crashes a lot. The auto saves VERY frequently and keeps your most recent manual save and your most recent auto save separately selectable, so it's only an inconvenience rather than a game breaker, but it is worth noting that it's pretty frequent. It took me just under 20 hours to finish the story, and I probably had between 10 and 15 crashes. Unfortunately, that's just not really something that can be totally fixed; despite the New 3DS technically supporting Unity, it is apparently really unstable on 3DS and just will not ever produce a totally stable build in a game as big and complex as 3 Down Stars. Still, though, even with all the crashes, I never once had my fun broken.
If you finish the main story and want more, there's a Frontier Fighters mode that has a total of 100 combat missions of varying difficulty for you to complete. Jerrel has put a lot of effort into maximizing play value in this mode, and it offers an enormous amount of options to power up weapons and characters so that you can customize your playstyle however you like. I haven't messed around a whole lot with this since I didn't really care for the combat thanks to the camera control, but there's definitely a lot of content here if that's your thing.
Silver Falls: 3 Down Stars was the first game in the Silver Falls series, and you can definitely tell playing it and then playing the series's newer entries that Jerrel has learned a lot since he made 3 Down Stars. Still, though, the world and characters that he creates in 3 Down Stars is really great, and I loved every minute of the game. The puzzles that you have to solve to progress feel very Resident Evil, the game's overall vibe feels very Silent Hill, and the story feels very Twilight Zone. If that doesn't convince you to at least give the game a shot, then I don't know what will. It's a little pricier than most 3DS eShop games at $25, but with a thoroughly enjoyable 15-20 hour story mode and all the content in Frontier Fighters, it's definitely a fair asking price in my opinion. I've bought countless games made by a hell of a lot more than one person with way less content that cost me way more than this game. A full Switch remaster is in the works, but that's probably a year or so away, and while it will likely look, perform, and control better on Switch, it won't have that 3DS charm. I strongly recommend picking this one up on the eShop before it closes in March.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows
Irreverent humor is my favorite type of humor. It got me nearly four solid months in Facebook jail, but damn if it's not funny. As the name suggests, BDSM: Big Drunk Satanic Massacre is exactly that type of humor. The basic premise is that Lucifer (who now goes by Lou) got overthrown as ruler of Hell when McDonald's (or the copyright-safe version of it) found a portal to hell in a toilet and expanded into Hell, quickly taking over entirely. Lucifer then becomes an alcoholic in a dive bar until he develops a murderous grudge against knock-off McDonald's and goes on a killing spree through Hell.
BDSM is neither a particularly long nor a particularly complex game. It's a twin stick shooter that has you navigate through various levels as you make your way through Hell and to the McDonald's headquarters. You start with just a revolver, but as you progress through the game, you'll unlock other weapons like a shotgun, an AK-47, a giant penis-shaped laser, etc. You also get a solid for a one-time-use magic ability pick-up like a shield or minion summoning. I wouldn't say that it's a particularly strategic game, but you definitely have options on how to tackle any given challenge, and the bosses - especially the final boss (and the secret boss) - do occasionally need to be addressed smartly.
Visually, I was actually fairly impressed with the game. It's definitely not a big budget game, but for an indie twin stick shooter, the environments were really interestingly designed. The humor, as well, was just fantastic. You'll come across various succubus women (plus a Nazi pony and "Not-Hitler") that you can trigger a lewd mini-game with, and that was just the icing on the cake for me as far as humor goes. I'll never understand why a fandom for a show totally built on "love and tolerance" like My Little Pony is SO infested with Nazis, but there's a TON of them, and this game pokes fun at that.
BDSM: Big Drunk Satanic Massacre is a relatively simple game, but it's a great way to spend a few hours if you're not easily offended by irreverent humor. I wouldn't pay more than $10 for it, and I'm not sure what the regular price is, but if you can find it for $10 or less on your platform of choice, I would absolutely recommend picking it up and giving it a play.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet (Switch)
Pokemon has had a bit of a troubled go lately as far as game quality has been concerned. Sun and Moon, which I felt were objectively the best of the series, failed to really “do it” for a lot of long-time fans, myself included. Let’s Go was an absolute treat as a laid back Pokemon adventure, but most fans hated how easy it was. Sword and Shield was absolutely perfect for online players, but it was a dumpster fire for single-player content. Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl were great remakes, but they were technical disasters at launch without a HUGE patch and made the controversial decision to go back to a 2.5D perspective. Legends Arceus was an absolute masterpiece, and there will be no mercy for its detractors when the revolution comes (although the lack of breeding and online battle was a point of contention for some). Then comes Scarlet and Violet. Will these games redeem Game Freak as a developer and finally satisfy Pokemon’s notoriously bitchy adult fanbase? Lmao of course not, but I think they’re great.
So let’s address the elephant in the room first - the game is, to put it nicely, a technical clusterfuck. While the character and Pokemon models look great, the environments look terrible, the textures are genuinely god-awful, and the frame rate makes Doom on SNES look smooth and stable. To be fair, a patch that came out a couple of weeks after launch dramatically improved the frame rate, but it’s still pretty bad. I’d say it’s overall on par with being in the middle of Sword’s and Shield’s Wild Area with wifi on. Except it’s the entire game, and that’s your best-case scenario. There is one particular part of the game - a windmill - that, when viewed from a distance, literally moves at two frames per second. Most of the game targets 30 FPS. It rarely hits that. Get about three feet away from an NPC, and that frame rate is halved. Get about three or four feet farther away, and it’s halved again. It’s so bad that you’ve got NPCs running at like 15 FPS in cutscenes. I’d understand it if this were a visual showcase game like Breath of the Wild, Bayonetta 3, or Xenoblade Chronicles 3, but it looks nowhere near as good as any of those games, and it runs significantly worse.
Now that I’ve addressed the unforgivable technical disaster that fanboys will never stop talking about, let me tell you why this might be the best game in the whole series. First off, your rival. Nemona is bae. She’s a perfect yandere goddess, and I love her. She manages to do what Hop, Wally, and Hau all tried and miserably failed to do - be a friendly rival that deserves to live. Every friendly rival before has been a terrible character flatter with less development than Port-au-Prince. Nemona is different. She seems flat at first, but as you progress through the game and get towards the end of her quest line (yes, there’s more than just “be the champion”), they actually flesh her out a decent bit and make her a relatable and sympathetic character. Then you’ve got the professor. Cryptic, interesting, and kind of a dick, the professor (there’s a different professor depending on your version) is hands down the most interesting to date. No matter whether you pick Professor Daddy or Professor MILF, this one has some genuine major plot significance. And let’s not forget the story in general - it’s the best Pokemon has ever had. Legends Arceus had a pretty interesting premise, but Scarlet and Violet manage to take a mundane and troped-to-death premise and turn it into a FANTASTIC adventure and story.
You’ve got three main quest lines to finish before you unlock the final end-game quest. There’s the obvious quest to beat all eight gyms and then take on the Elite Four and Top Champion to become a Champion-rank trainer. You’ve also got the Starfall quest line where you go around and attack five different Team Star bases, and despite how it sounds, this isn’t just a rehash of gyms. Lastly, you’ve got the Titan quest where you take on five massively powerful Titan Pokemon to steal their weed. I mean Herba Mystica. If you can count, you’ve probably figured that there are eighteen main objectives (plus the Pokmeon League). If you’ve played Pokemon, then you probably also know that there are eighteen Pokemon types. Each objective has a type represented, so no longer is it pick-and-choose which types get represented in the gyms; every type gets some love here (and four types give double love thanks to the Elite Four). When you do all of that, then and only then can you enter Area Zero, the mysterious forbidden zone in the very center of Paldea. Here you’ll find powerful and rare Pokemon as well as the game’s final quest. Beating the Elite Four doesn’t get you to the post-game here; it just gets you to the endgame, and it’s this endgame that really sets Scarlet and Violet apart.
While I’m sure everyone knows the big plot twist by now considering that the games have been out for a month, I’m not going to say anything about it because if you have - somehow - avoided spoilers and still haven’t played it, it’s worth discovering for yourself. While this may have been the worst-made Pokemon game to date, it’s definitely the best-designed Pokemon game to date. Game Freak proves here that, while they’re bad at making games, they’re absolutely fantastic at brainstorming them. The new Pokemon are almost universally awesome, some old favorites get fantastic new evolutions, and while there’s not a whole lot in the way of new forms, you do get some cool entirely new species that are based on convergent evolution; they look like they’re regional forms of old Pokemon but are actually completely unrelated. I, personally, would rather have just had regional forms, but I can’t deny that it’s a cool concept for new Pokemon. If you can look past the technical flaws and appreciate the game for what it DID do well, this is definitely a game with something every Pokemon fan can enjoy.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation Portable, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, and Windows
Trails from Zero is the fourth game in the “series,” although defining what is and isn’t part of the series is a bit easier said than done since it’s like a sub-series of a sub-series of a late 80s series. The series we’re concerned with here is the Trails series (or Kiseki if you want to be a pedantic weeb), and that’s what this is #4 in. Despite that, it’s the 8th game in that series to be released officially in English. Life is hard for Trails fans.
So the Trails series is currently broken into three arcs with a fourth on the way. The first three games are the Liberl arc, the three Trails in the Sky games. The sixth through ninth games - and the ones I’m willing to bet were, like mine, most English-speaking players’ first experience with the series - are the Erebonia arc, the four Trails of Cold Steel games. Games four and five are the Crossbell arc, Trails from Zero and the upcoming localization of Trails of Azure. So this is the fourth game in the series, the eighth game officially localized for the West, and the start of the second arc. Again, life is hard for Trails fans.
Despite releasing on Playstation 4 and Switch, this isn’t a 3D game with mind-blowing grayfex. This is a pretty humble-looking 2D game because it’s not new at all; it’s a remastered port of a PSP game from 2010. It is, however, new to the West. Coming on the heels of Trails of Cold Steel IV, a fully 3D JRPG, it’s understandable that some folks would be a bit taken aback by the 2D sprites in Trails from Zero, but don’t let that dissuade you; there’s an amazing game to be found here. It is not, however, the game I would suggest newcomers to the series play as their first introduction to Trails. Cold Steel 1 is a good starting point, but you really ought to start with the first Trails in the Sky (sadly only available on PSP and PC in English).
Picking up a few months after the events of the Trails in the Sky trilogy, Trails from Zero focuses on Lloyd Bannings, a rookie detective with the Crossbell Police Department, as he tries to make a difference in his hometown and slowly pull back the cover on the corruption festering in the city’s shadows. One thing to note about this game - and one of the reasons I say that this is a game for established Trails fans and not newcomers - is that it’s a very slow burn. You’ll be over halfway through the game before the drama really picks up. That’s not entirely unheard of in the Trails series, but while Trails in the Sky and Trails of Cold Steel both had slow build-ups, neither felt nearly as prolonged as Trails from Zero. That’s not to say that the build-up is pointless or bad, but be prepared to play 20 hours before it goes from an interesting police slice of life to claws-in-your-flesh drama that leaves you NEEDING to know what happens next.
That said, I do think this is the weakest of the three arcs. This is, admittedly, only the first half of it, and the game ends in typical Trails fashion - a HUGE cliffhanger that has you chomping at the bit to play the next installment. The characters, though, just aren’t as interesting to me as Skies or Cold Steel. That’s very much a personal taste issue, and I know folks who say that Zero has their favorite Trails characters, so take that particular statement with a grain of salt, but I didn’t find Lloyd to be nearly as interesting a protagonist as Estelle or Rean, and I didn’t find Crossbell to be nearly as interesting a setting as Liberl or Erebonia. Despite that, though, if you’ve played either of those arcs, you’ll definitely want to play this one no matter what. For most of us in the West, we probably got a brief and somewhat confusing introduction to these characters towards the end of the Cold Steel arcs with their Crossbell cameos (which is why I suggest people play the Liberl and Crossbell arcs before starting the Erebonia arc), and that taste of Lloyd, Rixia, and KeA definitely made me excited to play this game and get to know those characters in earnest.
Trails of Zero is a tough recommendation for me. For the record, I absolutely do recommend it, but that recommendation has a big asterisk next to it - play Trails in the Sky first. It’s totally playable without knowing anything about Trails in the Sky. Still, the context definitely makes the story more interesting and easier to understand, and I feel like it will be harder for players to stick with the admittedly very lengthy build-up the story has if they have some established interest in and knowledge of the world and universe. If you have that, though, while I found it the second weakest of the eight Trails games I’ve played (after Trails in the Sky 3rd), it was definitely a game well worth experiencing, and I’m super excited for Trails of Azure to come out in English next year.
My Rating - 4 Neps
BYE-BYE BOXBOY! (3DS)
Like BOXBOXBOY!, BYE-BYE BOXBOY! is extremely similar to BOXBOY! and, at least initially, is pretty much yet more of the same. It even removes the two-sets-of-boxes mechanic that the second game added. That said, once you get about a quarter of the way through the game, you start to see some of the new mechanics HAL added for this game, and they make the first two games look like a warm-up.
In the early stages of BYE-BYE BOXBOY, the game plays virtually exactly like the first game. You have one set of boxes with the size of each set varying from level to level. Progression is pretty much the same, and the puzzles are pretty simple. After a while, however, you start to go to different "planets," and the last world in each planet gives you a new mechanic - a special kind of box. The new mechanics are rocket boxes, bomb boxes, teleportation boxes, and remote control boxes. Each of these controls very uniquely and can take some getting used to, but they totally change the way levels play out and puzzles are presented. These mechanics make this hands down the best of the 3DS trilogy in my opinion. After the world in which they're introduced, these mechanics are not used again in the main game, and in my opinion, that's a good thing because it keeps them from feeling stale or overused.
As with the second game, costumes you unlocked in the first two games are brought over into this game so long as you have the save file with them unlocked on your 3DS. In addition to this, HAL included some Kirby costumes that are unlocked by using the correct amiibo - Kirby, Waddle Dee, Meta Knight, and DeeDeeDee. You can also unlock a Qucy costume and some color filters with the Japan-exclusive Quby amiibo, but that costume and the filters are also unlockable by having the previous games' save data on your 3DS. As far as I could tell, none of the costumes have special abilities here like a few did in the second game, but that honestly isn't a problem for me as it means I could try out a bunch of different costumes without feeling like I was missing out on fun game breaking.
BYE-BYE BOXBOY! is a great way to end the series's 3DS run, and I think it's definitely the best of the three games. The puzzles are immensely satisfying to complete, often more so than in the previous two games, and the bits of color added here or there really pop against the otherwise monochromatic game. I sincerely hope that these games are released as a physical collection on Switch or even as individual downloads because they're genuinely fun and relaxing, and they're about to become totally unobtainable once the 3DS eShop shuts down in a few months. Definitely make sure you download this game while you've got the chance.
My Rating - 4 Neps
BOXBOXBOY! is the sequel to BOXBOY! and the second of the three games in the series released on 3DS. It is, for the most part, more of the same, but with a key mechanic addition that sets it apart from its predecessor. It also has some bonuses if you played the first game and have a save file on your 3DS, and I personally love it when game series include save data bonuses for having played the previous games.
The major addition to BOXBOXBOY! is the ability to have to sets of boxes active at once. In the previous game, you could only have one set active, and if you tried to place more boxes, the previous set instantly vanished. Instead of being able to assemble a series of three boxes, for example, your limit is two sets of three boxes. This sounds really minor, but in practice, it drastically changes the puzzles with which you can be challenged and opens up new avenues for solving puzzles. As with the first game, the first few worlds are extremely easy, and even the first couple levels of a world where a new mechanic is introduced are easy, but by the end of the game, the challenge gets pretty legit. Having just played the original game, I had a feel for the game's physics and how HAL crafted the puzzles, so I didn't struggle with the last few worlds of this game the way I did with a few of the stages in the first game, but there were still numerous puzzles that I had to stop, look at for a minute, and work out in my head with some trial and error before progressing.
My favorite aspect of the game isn't actually the addition of a second set of boxes but rather the bonuses from having played BOXBOY! It's relatively minor stuff, but if you bought the costumes from the shop in the first game, they'll be available to you in this game. What's cooler is that some of the costumes have some extra function to give you a boost in the game, the two best being the bunny costume that lets you jump two boxes high instead of one and the wizard which adds a box to your limit per set. It might sound a little a broken, and most of the time, it is, but there were a few occasions where I had to quit a level and change costumes because I had been using the bunny costume and level required that I make a precision jump under a laser or spike or something, and I physically wasn't able to make a jump that low. Nine times out of ten, whatever outfit you use won't be a hinderance, but I did like that those occasional elements discouraged using the OP costumes all the time.
BOXBOXBOY! is definitely a step up from the first game. The game is still mostly monochromatic, the puzzles are still pretty simple overall, and the game is still short, but having two sets of boxes at your disposal makes for some more interesting puzzles than I saw in the first game, and even if it were literally just more of the same from the first game, that's more a fun, relaxing thing. The stages are the perfect length to play while killing time on a bus or subway or to unwind during a lunch break or bathroom break. Definitely check this out before the 3DS eShop closes.
My Rating - 3 Neps
BOYBOY! is a cute puzzle game from HAL Laboratory with a super simple monochromatic style. As the title suggests, you play as a box. A boy box, specifically, named Qbby. The puzzles start out stupid easy, but as the game progresses, you'll have to think harder and harder about how to get past each challenge. Once you get to the post-game, it's downright tough.
As you traverse the game's 17 worlds (22 including the post-game challenge worlds), each containing between five and seven stages, you'll have to master a variety of skills from arranging your boxes to timing your box placements to move past spike conveyor belts. You have to figure out how to cross gaps, ascend to higher ledges, depress multiple buttons at once, avoid lasers, etc. These challenges can take some thought and trial and error, but fortunately, you have infinite lives; checkpoints are frequently, and you respawn at a checkpoint as soon as you die. While it can get frustrating towards the end of the game, it's a great game to work your brain as it forces you think about how to tackle obstacles from different perspectives.
BOXBOY! isn't terribly long, and there's not a huge amount of variety in the game, but it's definitely worth playing. It's only available on 3DS, though, and only digitally (at least in North America; there's a physical collection with the three 3DS games in Japan), so you'd better hurry up and download it before March, 2023 if you're interested in it. It's not going to blow your mind, but it's a solid puzzle game and well worth the six or seven hours you're likely to spend with it.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Outbreak (PlayStation 4)
Also available on PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Switch, and Windows
Outbreak is a retro-style horror game from indie developer Drop Dead Studios. It is heavily inspired by Resident Evil, and while it is a little bit on the nose with that sometimes, it does enough different to keep it from being written off as a copy.
Outbreak bills itself as a co-op retro-style survival horror game. It has a top-down perspective that feels similar to Robotron, but it adopts tank controls similar to Resident Evil. It does have three variations on these tank controls to suit your desires, but given that every system's controllers have two analog sticks, the use of tank controls rather than dual stick controls just feels awkward and wholly unwelcome. That said, the controls do work just fine and don't take long to get used to even if they are far from ideal. I do have to give them credit for supporting not just co-op but local co-op, a feature disturbingly absent from many modern games and one that I always love seeing included.
The story is told over the course of four or five levels by finding journals and notes spread throughout the world. The game's levels take you through a hospital and its underground facilities as you try to make your escape following an outbreak of a zombie infection of some kind. Pretty generic totally-just-Resident-Evil-2 stuff except replace the police station with a hospital. Still, though, while it does nothing to reinvent the wheel, it does what it does pretty well. One major grip I have, though, is that the "full" story is locked behind difficulty. There are three difficulties - Normal, Hard, and Nightmare - and to get the full story, you have to play on the hardest difficulty. As the patron saint of Bitch Mode, I call shenanigans on this entire premise. Your inventory is also woefully small - you can only hold a maximum of four items - but that's pretty standard for survival horror, I guess.
The game is pretty short - probably around four hours for a full playthrough - but the fact that there's co-op makes it worth playing through more than once with friends. There are also some short self-contained story levels as well as endless horde levels to give the game some extra replay value. I, personally, didn't enjoy the combat enough to care about playing those horde levels solo, but I could see how it could be fun if you have a friend to play with.
Outbreak is a competent indie horror game, but it's definitely not going to fool you into thinking it's made by a big studio or with a big budget. It wears its limitations on its sleeve. Still, though, for what it is, it's an enjoyable zombie romp. I'm not sure I'd use the term "horror" as I didn't find it scary at all, but horror is also my favorite genre, so it takes a bit to scare me; folks who don't play a lot of horror games might disagree with me on that one. If you find it on sale for, say, $8 or less, I'd say it's worth it. At the usual price of $10-$12, depending on your platform, though, it's a harder sell unless you're big into couch co-op. Wait for a sale, but if you're into couch co-op, this is a solid choice for the season of spoop. I will say, though, the couch co-op is what cemented my rating at 3/5; I was really torn between placing it at a high 2 or a low 3 without the local co-op element.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Amnesia: Rebirth (Xbox Series X)
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Linux, and Windows
Amnesia: Rebirth is both a sequel and a reboot of sorts of the series. It's a sequel in that it directly follows The Dark Descent and A Machine for Pigs chronologically, and it directly references some of the characters and events mentioned in The Dark Descent; but it's also a reboot in that it requires no knowledge of the previous games to enjoy and understand, and looks and plays significantly more like a modern game. That makes sense considering it was released in 2020 whereas The Dark Descent was released in 2010.
It takes place a few decades after A Machine for Pigs and follows Tasi as she wakes up alone and confused in the Algerian desert following a plane crash. As she searches for her companions, she finds evidence of their having passed through but seems always to be a step behind them. As you make your way through the game, you'll uncover some of Tasi's memories as well as notes and journal entries left behind, both of which serve to uncover the truth of the game's story. Pay attention to these, too, as the characters and their development via these memories are a major part of what gives the game its dramatic impact.
Each of the Amnesia games seem to have a different focus. With The Dark Descent, the focus was very much on mood, ambiance, and an atmosphere of horror. With Justine, it was on moral choice. With A Machine for Pigs, it was on the overall narrative and the message of that narrative. With Rebirth, it seems to be on characters, although there's sort of a blend of the others, as well. Some parts of the game don't feel like a horror game at all, like wandering through the desert, but other parts feel just as scary as The Dark Descent if not more so. Like Justine, what determines your ending is a key moral choice in the game. Like A Machine for Pigs, the story - in this case, the characters specifically - are given supreme importance. As far as storytelling goes, I think Rebirth is hands down the best of the four. As far as horror goes, it still falls short of The Dark Descent, but it's a solid #2.
Amnesia: Rebirth is a solid follow-up to The Dark Descent and A Machine for Pigs, and it's definitely worth playing for fans of the series. I, personally, don't care for the desert setting for the most part, but some of the interior environments you explore - a French fort, for example - are EXCELLENT and supremely creepy. Enemies play a much larger role in the horror than they did in A Machine for Pigs, and I honestly think the use of enemies to enhance the horror experience is executed better in Rebirth than it was in The Dark Descent. Overall, the Dark Descent is a scarier game, but Rebirth is still a fantastic experience, and given that it's a decade newer, it looks and sounds significantly better, and those are both improvements and enhance the player's fear. The price point is fair considering that it's the longest game in the series, at least based on my playtime, and it's on Game Pass as of the time of writing, so definitely check it out there if you've got a horror itch that needs scratching.
My Rating - 4 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.