Fair warning, this contains spoilers for Muv-Luv Unlimited as this takes place immediately after, so keep that in mind.
February 23, 2004. That's The Day - the day that Alternative V was put into action. A migrant fleet with roughly 100,000 of humanity's most promising minds on board departs for Barnard's Star, abandoning the Earth under the pressure of the relentless BETA onslaught. After the departure of the migrant fleet, dozens of G-bombs - bombs with still-not-understood gravity-distorting effects made from exotic G-elements brought to Earth by the BETA - are dropped on BETA hives all over Eurasia in one last ditch effort to eradicate them from the face of the Earth. That was how the story of Muv-Luv Unlimited ended. This is the story of what followed.
The Day After is broken into four episodes - Episode 00, Episode 01, Episode 02, and Episode 03. Episode 00 serves as a sort of stand-alone introduction with Episodes 01-03 telling the actual main story. 00 opens to with a ship stranded in the shallows in what used to be the south Pacific somewhere between Australia and Hawaii - the USS John F. Kennedy, one of America's nuclear-powered TSF carriers. The story opens as surface pilots with the United States Marine Corps fly across the salt deserts to set up relay points. The two pilots hope desperately to pick up a distress call on the radio once the relay is up and running. Fortune smiles on them; another US Marine surface pilot survived.
Earth is in shambles; the G-bombs were used as a last resort against the BETA, but no one knew the devastating effects it would have on the planet. Megatsunamis hundreds of meters tall crashed across Eurasia, moving entire oceans from one part of the surface to another. Tectonic plates lurched across the mantle. Most of the southern hemisphere has been transformed into salt deserts with the salt that once formed the seabed. All of Eurasia is now underwater merging the Atlantic and Pacific into one giant ocean. Parts of the atmosphere have been stripped away leaving whole patches of the surface devoid of air pressure or breathable oxygen. Electromagnetic storms make long range communication impossible. Most citizens of the United States - once the nation safest from the BETA threat - are dead. Only four nations remain - the United States, Canada, France, and Japan. Japan and France, having lost their territory beneath the waves thanks to what has been dubbed the Great Ocean Collapse, exist as governments in exile harbored by the United States and Canada, respectively. If this was a victory against the BETA, it was history's most pyrrhic victory.
So there's your context. In a lot of ways, The Day After is legit more post-apocalyptic than Fallout. Radiation eventually dissipates. The effects of the G-bombs, though? That permanently deforms the planet. Oh, and insult to injury? There are still BETA on the planet. The hives may have been annihilated, but some of the crab bastards survived. Stranded and with no way to contact reinforcements in Hawaii, the crew of the JFK have to find a way to hold out against a renewed BETA threat. This is not the main story, though; instead this is simply the prologue to another bloody chapter in human history.
Episode 01 starts the story in earnest capitalizing on the world-building foundation set by Episode 00. The main story follows Tatsunami Hibiki and Sendou Yuzuka, two surface pilots from the Imperial Japanese Mainland Defense Force and veterans of Japan's expeditionary force to Europe. If you're hoping to find out what became of Yokohama base after the events of Unlimited and reconnect with your favorite characters, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but 95% of the characters in The Day After are new. That's not necessarily a bad thing as I really came to love these characters, but it's very much a sequel to the world and not the characters per se. I won't go into anymore detail about the story of the world so as not to spoil anything (everything I've said thus far is pretty much what you'd find on a store page), but while it's not nearly as "misery porn" as Alternative, it's still very much Muv-Luv.
The game is a kinetic visual novel, so it's a straight linear story with no choices or branching routes or endings. Some people would argue that this doesn't constitute a game. I would argue that those people are communist sympathizers, and I'll die on the "visuals novels are games" hill. Anyway, as a kinetic visual novel, it's a very narrative driven experience, and character development and interactions are the name of the game here. If you're familiar with Muv-Luv, you know that ages does character development extremely well. If you're not familiar with Muv-Luv, you probably wouldn't play this anyway. One of the things that must be noted is that they finally used a different engine for it. The older Muv-Luv games used the notoriously finnicky rUGP system (though, from what I've seen on Twitter and Reddit, the Steam releases are a bit more stable than the original Japanese PC releases), but this releases uses a more modern engine. This gives it a bit more stability. It also had some way better looking animations than Alternative, although I'm not sure if that's from dumping rUGP or that they just put more work into the animations in general here.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am obsessed with Muv-Luv. It's pretty much tied with Neptunia as my favorite series. With that said, I'm naturally a bit biased towards it. I will say, however, that I found this one a little less edge-of-your-seat engaging than Alternative. The tension just wasn't as high. As a follow-up to Unlimited's ending, though, it's fantastic. I'd recommend this one to any fan of visual novels (although not until after playing Muv-Luv Extra and Muv-Luv Unlimited first), but it's an absolute must-play for any fans of the Muv-Luv series. Remember, folks, this is the series that literally inspired Attack on Titan, so don't sleep on it. ;-)
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Switch and Windows
After four games averaging about 60 hours each - and more for me since I took my time talking to everyone - I've finally finished the Trails of Cold Steel tetralogy. Like the Trails in the Sky trilogy before it, this series consistently achieved greatness, but it never did quite reach perfection.
The game picks up a month or so after Cold Steel III ended, and just like the beginning of Cold Steel II, the tension starts off at max. Truthfully, the tension starts off higher in IV than it did in II, and that works to the games benefit. While IV is just as derivative compared to II as III was compared to I, the fact that the tension starts off almost as high at the start of IV that it was at the end of III helps to shove the player into the drama first thing with very little in the way of necessary build-up. While Rean ends up being the main character again partway through the game, IV starts off with Juna as the "main" main character as she, Kurt, and Altina - with some help from Randy - try to find and reunite with Ash, Musse, and Rean who were separated from the rest of the class at the end of the third game. All of this they're doing as the Empire marches rapidly towards the prospect of a truly apocalyptic war with the Calvard Republic that would undoubtedly engulf the entire continent of Zemuria.
One of the things that made Cold Steel IV really stand out to me even in the context of the Legend of Heroes series is that it really does tie up the entire IP. You've got three distinctive arcs in Zemuria up to this point - the Liberl trilogy (Trails in the Sky), the sadly untranslated Crossbell duology (Trails of Zero and Trails of Azure), and the Erebonia tetralogy (Trails of Cold Steel). Cold Steel IV brings all three of those strands together into one unified narrative rope by the second half of the game. Playing through III left me thinking, "Man, I really wish I had been able to play the Crossbell games," but having played through IV, I *really* wish I'd been able to play those two games because a lot of the backstory bits they drop and characters in the game would be a lot more meaningful to me if I had those two games' worth of context.
One thing I really have to mention that the other games lack is the inclusion of a regular ending and a true ending. If you don't meet the right criteria, you get the regular ending which is a fine ending and keeps the door open for more games in this universe (which is good as there are a couple that have yet to leave Japan), but the true ending is a significantly conclusion to the story and lets you face off against the true final boss. The regular ending is fine, but the resolution feels a bit rushed and ham-handed with that ending; the true ending is obviously the ending that the game's writers always intended and definitely needs to be the ending you experience even if you have to reference a walkthrough to make sure you don't miss it.
Mechanically, it's just more Cold Steel III, and as far as I'm concerned, that's great. It looks, sounds, plays, and feels pretty much the same. You get plenty of waifus to choose from, and the game even handles the inescapably creepy concept of choosing one of your students as your waifu as well as it can given that you're picking a student as your waifu given that Rean is their teacher. Considering that I'm a teacher, that's too much degeneracy even for me, so I restricted my waifu selection to old Class VII. Still, though, it's an option, so if you're a minor and not violently uncomfortable with the idea of a 16 year old waifu, go for it.
Trails of Cold Steel IV isn't quite perfect, but I'd definitely call it the best of the series, and for a series that has yet to miss in my opinion, that's pretty high praise. You get some minor bonuses for having save data from the first three Cold Steel games that you obviously can't get on Switch (unless they give the 1 and 2 ports a Western release), but the bonuses are minor enough that it's really not worth worrying about. I have to admit that I was ready for the game to be over about halfway through, but I think that's because I marathoned all three Liberl games and all four Erebonia games back to back to back; if I had just played the four Cold Steel games in a row, I doubt I would have been nearly as burnt out. I certainly didn't feel the same "oh my god, please be over" fatigue at the end of IV that I felt at the end of II. It's a solid game, and if you've played III, you'll probably play it no matter what I say just to see how that awful cliffhanger plays out.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Switch and Windows
Trails of Cold Steel III is the eagerly awaited follow-up to the incredible Trails of Cold Steel II taking place about a year later, and normally, I would have started up Cold Steel III as soon as I finished my replay of Cold Steel II, but a friend of mine said that some character from the Trails in the Sky games were in Cold Steel III and that I really needed to play those three games first to really appreciate their roles in this one. After powering through all three of the Trails in the Sky games, I finally started Cold Steel III, and pretty immediately, I saw what he meant; Tita Russel, the absolute best part of the Skies games, is a pretty significant NPC in Cold Steel III, so I'm definitely glad that I took his advice.
If you've played the first Cold Steel, you pretty much know what to expect from Cold Steel III as far as the basic structure of the game goes. Most of it takes place at Thors Military Academy although Cold Steel III takes place at the new branch campus in Leeves, a suburb on the opposite side of Heimdallr from Trista. Rather than being a student in Sara's class, Rean himself is now the instructor of the new Class VII. On free days, Rean does the same kinds of things that he did in the first game except from the perspective of a teacher helping his students rather than a student helping his teachers. The only major gameplay difference is the "brave" orders that can be used in battle for a variety of stat boosts for a few turns and the ability to set a sub-master quartz in addition to your master quartz (which, admittedly, was probably my favorite new gameplay mechanic). Like the field studies that Rean went on as a student, the branch campus goes on field exercises with each of the classes - Class VII: Special Operations, Class VIII: Combat Tactics, and Class IX - Military Finance - doing different kinds of exercises. Class VII's Special Operations activities look suspiciously similar to the Bracer-esque things that the old Class VII did on their field studies. -insert thinking emoji-
Over the course of their field exercises, Class VII confronts the social and political issues brought on by the fallout from the civil war, Ouroboros's continued schemes, and the Erebonian annexation of North Ambria and Crossbell. Along the way, they uncover a new insidious plot and see the effects of Erebonia's rapidly deteriorating relationship with the Republic of Calvard. In terms of the world-building the game does, it's phenomenal. The game's narrative framing is, however, very derivative. The narrative structure, progression, and whatnot in Cold Steel 3 are almost a carbon copy of Cold Steel 1 right down to the game ending with a super climactic and world-changing cliffhanger. That's not to say that it's bad - the formula they're copying is an excellent one - but it is a bit off-putting, or at least was to me, to have the third and presumably fourth game so exactly mirror the story dynamic of the first and second game. Thankfully the game's field exercises take all take place in areas that Rean didn't get to explore in the previous games, and there are plenty of new characters to get to know and interact with, so the game never feels stale, but the word "derivative" really is quite apt for the game's structure to a degree I haven't seen in any other series.
Visually, the game looks pretty similar to the PS4 remasters of the first two Cold Steel games. The details on the models and textures are definitely improved, but it's not as dramatic an improvement as one might expect going from a PS4 remaster of a PS3 game to a game that actually made for PS4. Still, though, the game looks good, and I only encountered one noteworthy bug (plus one hilarious bug) during my roughly five dozen hour playthrough. The music is a mix of tracks familiar from the previous games and new compositions, and while I personally prefer the music from the first two games, the soundtrack is still solid, something I've noticed is the case in all of the Trails games. Likewise, the voice acting is extremely well done for the main characters; it's a little more hit-or-miss for the minor side characters. My only complaint with the voice acting is that they changed Millium's voice actress. The new VA did a great job, but it was a pretty noticeable change for me; it was a bit lower pitched and didn't have quite as memorable a "cutesy" and aloof inflection as the original VA's performance did, and those are two of Millium's core character traits. It's by no means a bad performance, but I definitely preferred the original VA.
All things considered, Trails of Cold Steel III is another solid entry in an incredible JRPG franchise and an excellent follow-up to its predecessors. I didn't find myself quite as grasped by the characters or story in 3 as I did in 1, but that's entirely down to personal preference. If you were a fan of the other Cold Steel games, definitely play this one, but before you do, make sure you've played the three Trails in the Sky games. It doesn't matter what platform you play Cold Steel III on as there's no save data importing like there was in Cold Steel II, so if you played the first two on Vita, no worries. Likewise, if you played the first two on PS4 but want to play III on Switch, no worries there. No matter how you play it, though, make sure that you do; the Erebonian Empire's continuing trials make for a great story, and the characters from the first two Cold Steel games have matured and developed remarkably.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and PlayStation Vita
If you read my reviews of Trails in the Sky and Trails in the Sky SC, then most of what I have to say about Trails in the Sky 3rd is going to sound pretty familiar. Those three games all look, sound, and play virtually identically, so the only real distinction between the three games is the story, the characters, a handful of extremely minor tweaks to gameplay mechanics.
3rd takes place about six months or so after the events of SC and focuses around Father Kevin Graham and his squire, Sister Ries. While the focus may be on Kevin and Ries, all of the major characters from the previous two games return here; by the end of the game, you have a whopping sixteen playable characters. Your party is still limited to four characters, but you do have the option of setting a "support" character that can give passive buffs. What passive buffs you're given depends on the character you select as your support. As far as game mechanics go, that's really the only major change from SC other than a quick travel option. There are a couple minigames, but they're honestly super forgettable.
A friend of mine described Trails in the Sky 3rd as feeling like "post-game DLC for SC" before I started it; having finished 3rd, I can absolutely agree with that. It doesn't really expand on much of the overarching story from the two previous games so much as just add a little detail to a couple things here and there and flesh out the characters' backstories a bit. Some of these backstories are fantastic; the look at Estelle's and Joshua's lives right after Cassius adopted Joshua and the background for Kevin were super interesting. Seeing Renne's past filled out was a brilliant albeit sad and disturbing little side story. Some of them, though, were frankly kind of boring. Kloe had a pretty lengthy side story, and I was honestly so bored during it that I couldn't keep my focus. I ended up spending as much time scrolling through Facebook on my phone as I did actually doing the story. Most of them were at least moderately interesting, though.
Without giving away story spoilers, I'm honestly not sure what more I could say about it. Because of how the story is set up, it felt a lot harder to get mira than in the two previous games, although part of that impression could be because of how many playable characters I ended up needing to upgrade armor and weapons for. The game takes place in a sort of "pocket dimension" of sorts away from the normal world, so it felt a lot more empty and isolated given the lack of NPCs to populate the world. That's not a negative per se, but I personally thought it felt a bit lonely. Between the lack of NPCs, the lack of grandiose feeling with the story that the two previous games had, and the fact that the game is around 10 to 15 hours shorter than the two previous games, it overall just felt like a step down in quality to me.
Trails in the Sky 3rd is by no means a bad game. On the contrary, it's a very competent RPG with well written characters and an interesting scenario. The biggest problem the game has is honestly is pedigree; the game is good, but the two that came before it are just so much better. Judged own its own merits in a vacuum, it's a solid JRPG, but when played and considered in context to the first two parts of this trilogy, it comes out just feeling kind of okay. I absolutely recommend playing it if you've played the first two Trails in the Sky games, and if you're planning on playing Trails of Cold Steel, I definitely recommend playing through the whole Skies trilogy; having played the first two Cold Steel games, there are a lot of allusions and references made to the Skies games that I didn't notice during my playthroughs of Cold Steel 1 and 2 but really appreciate in hindsight. Just don't expect Skies 3rd to be as good as Skies or Skies SC. It's good, but it's definitely the bronze medalist of that trilogy.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and PlayStation Vita
Trails in the Sky (TitS, if you will) SC is the "second chapter" of the story (hence the name) that Trails in the Sky started, and it's...well, it's more Trails in the Sky. Sort of like how the transition of Trails of Cold Steel to Trails of Cold Steel II was, there is very little that distinguishes this game from the first game at a glance. There are, however, some differences that you start to notice as you progress through the game.
SC picks up exactly where the first game left off. I won't give any spoilers, but Sad Thing A happens at the end of the first game, so at the start of this one, Sad Character B decides to do Preparatory Thing C to get ready to accomplish Goal D. I think that should be vague enough not to spoil it while giving a (very, very, very) vague idea of the game's early plot. Then Sad Character B gets further wrapped up in trying to thwart Evil Conspiracy E and teams back up with most of the characters from the first game; suddenly a lot of seemingly unrelated plot threads start to come together into a single cohesive tapestry. The first two Cold Steel games are pretty similar in that regard. As such, SC isn't NEARLY as slow burning a game as the first one was. I got sucked into this one significantly faster than I did with the previous game.
Visually and aurally, SC is virtually identical to its predecessor. Even mechanically, they're almost identical. The biggest changes are the introduction of Combo Crafts which use CP (the craft points you gain by taking and dealing damage) to let two characters team up to perform a powerful attack and better orbment abilities. You get a wider variety of quartz options for your obment thus giving you more options for strategy and the potential for greater stat effects. It also seemed like the game was significantly more generous with experience points in SC but much stingier with sepith. That may have just been how it seemed since I played SC a bit differently than I did the first game given how much more used to the basic mechanics I was, but it definitely felt like I was leveling up significantly faster while also being perpetually out of sepith and unlocking orbment slots much more slowly.
It's not just the positives and neutrals from the first that were largely carried over into SC; the negatives also carried over for the most part. The pacing didn't feel as slow, and I didn't find myself getting bored quite as often in the early parts of the game, but they seemingly doubled down on the bugs related to Turbo; I had to reload my most recent save file on four separate occasions during my playthrough of SC whereas I only had to do that once in the first game, and I finished SC faster. It wasn't the end of the world since I learned my lesson about not saving frequently in the last game, but it was definitely an annoyance; if you're going to add a feature into the game, make sure it works. This is especially true for a game that's been out for over half a decade. The game released on PC worldwide in late 2015 (and in early 2006 in Japan); it's now early 2021. That's plenty of time for bug fixes. Fortunately, however, that was the only bug issue that I noticed during my playthrough. Everything else worked well and ran smoothly.
Trails in the Sky didn't blow me away given its extremely dated presentation and visual style, but it's definitely a fun game with a good story and a fantastic cast of characters. I definitely enjoyed my time with SC more than I did my time with the first Trails in the Sky, but that's not to say that it didn't have its slow points. Still, all things considered, I can readily recommend this to any JRPG fan with a PSP or PC (or a PS3 or PS Vita for those who speak and read Japanese). It doesn't look great by today's standards, and some of the gameplay elements feel a bit dated as well, but that doesn't detract from enjoyment in the slightest. It would be great to get a remaster or even full remake of this game and its predecessor, but until that happens (in the extremely unlikely event that it does), this game is a fantastic way to spend 50 hours.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation Portable, PlayStation Vita, and PlayStation 3
Despite being the first game in the "Trails" sub-series of Falcom's Legend of Heroes series (which itself started as a sub-series of their Dragon Slayer series), this was not my first exposure to the series. This is actually the third game in the series that I've played. I had started off doing a replay of Trails of Cold Steel and Trails of Cold Steel II since I just got Cold Steel III and Cold Steel IV, but a friend of mine was like "Dude, no, you need to play Trails in the Sky before you play Cold Steel III; you'll appreciate the characters more." So I was like okay, sure, I have time to play a trilogy of 40 hour RPGs in the middle of my tetralogy of 60 hour RPGs, no problem. Since I have no life, it's actually not a problem.
Trails in the Sky takes place in the Kingdom of Liberl in the southwestern corner of the continent of Zemuria with the Erebonian Empire to the north and the Calvard Republic to the east. The story revolves around Estelle and Joshua Bright, two up-and-coming junior members of the Bracer Guild and siblings (although Joshua was adopted five years ago at the age of 11, so they're not *really* siblings). Their father is the legendary hero of the Hundred Day War against Erebonia turned S-rank bracer, Cassius Bright. Cassius leaves on Bracer business right as Joshua and Estelle become Junior Bracers and begin their journey across the kingdom to become full-fledged Bracers. To do this, they'll have to do something worth getting a recommendation from each of the kingdom's five Bracer branches. Of course, as their journey progresses, international conspiracy and potentially civilization altering plot events occur.
Having been spoiled by Trails of Cold Steel, it took me a while to get into Trails in the Sky. The characters here are very well developed, but there's no voice acting in Trails in the Sky, and the characters are all 2D models rather than 3D sprites, both of which made it a bit harder for me to really connect with the characters. It's also a very slow burning game; the story doesn't really pick up speed and get really good until over halfway through. Once it does get some momentum and get going, though, the story gets extremely interesting. In that respect, it does feel a lot like a more primitive Trails of Cold Steel as that game also took a while to really get going but really sank its hooks in you once it got that momentum built up.
The combat is pretty standard JRPG fair. You begin combat by touching an enemy on the overworld. If you touch them from behind, you start the battle with the advantage and get a couple extra moves; if you hit them head-on or from the side, you start the battle without anyone having an advantage; if the enemy touches you from behind or one of the characters trailing behind your first character, the enemy gets the advantage, giving them a couple extra moves and having them surround you. This really makes your party members a huge liability on the overworld and makes me extremely glad that Cold Steel only has your first character on the overworld. Once you're in combat, it's standard turn based fighting with each character's turn order being based on their speed. You can use physical attacks or Arts (magic) depending on the quarts installed in your orbal device and your EP. If you lose, you can either retry the battle or go back to the main menu. There's also a turbo button you can hold to make the battles and overworld movement go faster - something I made frequent use of - but it's super buggy and can cause problems ranging from minor inconveniences like not registering that you passed the boundary to load the next map to major issues like outright crashing.
According to Steam, it took me 48 hours to get through this game; I probably could have done it in 40 hours (maybe a little less) if I'd been able to keep focused, but like I said, the beginning is REALLY slow, and my attention span isn't what it used to be. That's really my only major gripe with the game. The fact that the turbo mode is still so buggy even in 2021 is a pretty big bummer, but it's not really a deal breaker as long as you make sure not to use it during special S-Craft attacks (some of them will have their damage negated if you use turbo) and save often. I was kind of on the fence about whether to give this one a three or a four out of five, but the game finished so strongly and has me excited enough to start the sequel that I'll say it squeaked out a four. It hasn't aged particularly well when you directly compare it to Trails in the Sky, but it's still a very solid RPG especially if you like 2D games.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Switch, and Windows
This was a bit of an impulse buy for me from Play-Asia years ago. I honestly wasn't sure if I was ever actually going to play it - I usually like my 2D girls with a more distinctly unrealistic anime look - but on my second day of being stuck in a house with no electricity and my Vita among my only gaming devices left with a charged battery, my options for entertainment were becoming limited. I saw that this was a pretty short game and looked pretty easy to Platinum, so I figured that was the pick-me-up that my spirits needed as I froze in the aftermath of an ice storm.
The premise of the game is, frankly, pretty stupid; you're a university aged guy who's trying to find love. The way you find out about girls is by stealing their panties. Seriously. This is your window into their souls and personalities for you to determine your credibility. You set yourself up as a "jack of all trades" kind of handyman and get into their homes to fix their internet or fix their VCR at which point you find way to steal their panties without getting caught. The game is played a point and click (mis)adventure separated into four levels. There are over a dozen endings for the first three levels (one of which is the "true" ending for each) along with like half a dozen panties to steal for each and five endings for the last level. Honestly, none of it is all that fulfilling.
The games visuals are done in a very nice hand drawn artstyle that's very reminiscent of more realistic looking 90s anime, so it fits the setting well. The background music is nice, too, although the voice acting leaves a lot to be desired. The game's biggest problems, though, are that it's too short - it took me probably four or five hours to get every trophy - and that it's just not that interesting. That's absolutely a personal preference thing; I'm sure degenerates who are really fond of early 90s anime will adore the style, but I'm much more of a 2000s blue hair magical girl anime kind of degenerate, so this just didn't resonate with me the way the artstyle in Sunrider or Criminal Girls did.
So that's basically it. You go through four girls' homes (two of whom are sisters and live together, so three homes), navigate dialogue choices, creep through to steal their panties, get a bunch of different endings, and that's it. That's the whole game. It lacks the character depth of a visual novel like My Girlfriend is a Mermaid, it lacks the story and world depth of a visual novel like Muv-Luv, it lacks the puzzle depth of a game like Ace Attorney, and it lacks the length of a game like Sakura Wars. It's solidly and perhaps painfully okay. It's certainly a fun little collection piece of have on your shelf for the sheer horny absurdity, but the game honestly isn't all that compelling. I wouldn't bother unless this is specifically your thing.
My Rating - 2 Neps
Also available on PlayStation Vita and Windows
If you've ever wondered what Earth Defense Force would be like if it were clunky, stupid, and horny, then I have good news; I've found the answer. Gun Gun Pixies is a third person shooter where you play as a couple of tiny alien soldiers sent to Earth to study interpersonal relationships among Earthlings in a dorm setting so you can figure out how to save your home planet's society from collapsing under the weight of its own narcissistic introversion. It's a dumb story full of cute anime girls and far more upskirts than is necessary. In that aspect, it's your typical Idea Factory/Compile Heart game. What's not so typical is the egregious lack of quality control. Compile Heart games are usually mid-tier in terms of quality. This is solidly below that.
Visually, the game looks fine. You can tell that it was originally a Vita game that got bumped to Switch, but it looks totally fine. It runs decently well, too. You'll notice parts where the frame rate dips and other parts where it suddenly feels way smoother than before, but all in all, it stays acceptably near 30 fps. The problem is the controls. They're horrendous. The jumping feels horribly imprecise, and while that doesn't matter in most third person shooters, there's an infuriating amount of platforming that you need to do. They'd be no big deal if the jumping controls were even decent, but they're downright awful. The camera controls are just as bad, too. At the default sensitivity, they're jerky as hell, but if you lower it enough so that they're not frustratingly jerky, they suddenly start to feel like they're submerged in glue. There's no middle ground. Way overly sensitive, or not nearly sensitive enough. This game may not require Sniper Elite levels of precision, but you need to be able to hit specifics parts of your targets' bodies, so it requires enough precision that these controls make the game a lot more challenging than it would normally be.
The other glaring problem here is even less forgivable than the controls and jumping. Those are just bad technical design and coding. The more unforgiveable flaw in my opinion is the translation. It's as if literally no one proofread the translation a single time before shipping the game. It's not just translation errors although there were a few sentences so awkward that they couldn't possibly be anything but a translation error. No, the game's dialogue is RIDDLED with typos. Simple careless typos that any random person off the street would likely catch if they proofread it. The fact that this made it into the game and remains in the game nearly four full years after release is just astounding to me and shows utter negligence on the part of the allegedly existent QA team. Things like "one the topic of" instead of "on the topic of," "fan faction" instead of "fan fiction," "put you to the rest" instead of "put you to the test," "partnet" instead of "partner," and "I don't they'd suit me" instead of "I don't think they'd suit me;" and those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head. You'd think having Neptune, my goddess, and Noire, my Neptunia waifu, make cameos in chapter 4 would redeem the game in my eyes, but not even they can redeem this disaster of a game. If they weren't here, my rating would be even lower.
The game is also just needlessly horny. I mean, it's an ecchi bishojo game, so that's to be expected to a certain extent, but that's basically all the game is; the rest was built around that concept so the game could have an excuse to exist. At least Senran Kagura games have fun gameplay and at least halfway decent stories; Gun Gun Pixies has neither. I'm an ecchi lord of the highest caliber, and even I was like "Dude, why is this game so damn horny?" It honestly went from fun to kind of creepy about a third of the way through. I've certainly played worse games, and I don't regret having this on my shelf, but I'd be hard pressed to recommend this to anyone except ecchi lords who are even more of a degenerate than I am because this was just too much. It's funny at first, but it plays like a Dane Cook stand-up show; after a while, you realize it just does the same things other games do except worse.
My Rating - 2 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 3
As was the case with Muv-Luv photonflowers*, Muv-Luv photonmelodies♮ is a collection of side stories in the two Muv-Luv universes. There are only three stories in photonmelodies♮ as opposed the 12 in photonflowers*, so I'll give a brief overview of each of them. While there's only a quarter of the stories in this pack, each one is beefier with one of them actually being the official fourth main story in the series. All told, I spent over twice as long on photonmelodies♮ as I did on photonflowers*.
The first story in photonmelodies♮ is Muv-Luv Alternative Chronicles: Aspiration which follows Makabe Sejiyurou, a pilot cadet with the Japanese Imperial Royal Guard who is sent to England's Dover Base for a 10-day UN exchange program so that he can learn more about how the European Union forces fight and about their TSF design philosophy. I got EXTREMELY annoyed with Sejiyurou's melodramatic BS at first, but after a while, he started to loosen up a little bit, and I started to warm up to him a bit. He's placed with the 44th West German Army Tactical Armor Battalion "Cerberus," West Germany's most elite TSF squad comprised of some of the best pilots that the EU has to offer. They also all happen to be from German nobility. As such, Sejiyurou is not only hoping to learn more about being a surface pilot to serve the Empire on the front lines against the BETA but also about European knights' code of chivalry and how it compares to Japanese samurais' bushido. Between the cultural gulf between German and Japanese society, the truly wacky antics of some of the Cerberus pilots, and the stick firmly lodged deep inside Sejiyurou's colon, there is a plethora of entertaining and hilarious situations in which Sejiyurou finds himself despite being in England, the last shred of Europe not yet under BETA control. It got off to a bit of a rough start, but by the end of the story, I was actually sad to see Sejiyurou return to Japan. Hopefully we'll get more Muv-Luv centering around Cerberus and Sejiyurou in the future.
The second story in photonmelodies♮ is Muv-Luv Alternative Chronicles: Resurrection. Here we see some familiar faces, specifically Yuuko and Isumi's Valkyries from Alternative. Resurrection follows Silvio Orlandi, an intelligence agent for the EU who's been cybernetically augmented following a disastrous mission failure which killed his best friend and very nearly killed him with his legs and left arm being eaten by the BETA before he's miraculously rescued. Yokohama base, home of the Alternative IV project, is the only base in the world no intelligence agency has managed to infiltrate thanks to Yuuko's brilliant intuition and her "spy shield" remnant of the failed Alternative III project. That is, until Yuuko invites the UN big wigs to Yokohama for a presentation on Alternative IV's progress. She requests the EU send Orlandi as her body guard to protect against terrorist threats, the two biggest being the Christian Allegiance, a terrorist group that believes the BETA to be God's punishment for humanity's sins, and the supporters of Alternative V who want to see Alternative IV sabotaged. This gives Orlandi his ticket inside to gather intelligence, but over the course of his mission, he finds that not everything is quite as he's been led to believe. As far as the characters go, I had already grown to love the characters who returned from Alternative, but Orlandi annoyed me in the same kind of way that Sejiyurou did albeit not quite as badly. Like Sejiyurou, though, he grew on me over the course of the story. The plot, though, is far better than in Aspiration in general. Aspiration started fairly low for me in terms of my interest before spiking whereas Resurrection stayed fairly in the middle with a slight increase towards the end. Neither of the Alternative Chronicles stories really blew me away, but I did thoroughly enjoy both and would love to see more with those characters. You actually do get a VERY brief cameo of Orlandi at the end of the Total Eclipse anime, and the very end of Resurrection teases the events of Total Eclipse.
The last of the three stories in photonmelodies♮ is easily half of the length of the whole game, and it's definitely the main attraction here. Muv-Luv Altered Fable: A Shimmering Shard of Spacetime (which I'll simply call "Altered Fable" from here on) is the official sequel to Muv-Luv Alternative and picks up immediately where Alternative left off. Takeru wakes up once again in October but with no memories whatsoever of his struggles against the BETA or the unspeakable atrocities he witnessed and survived. It looks like everything has corrected itself and looped back to the beginning of Extra...except that Mitsurugi Meiya isn't the only new student to transfer into his senior class. As showing up is her twin sister, Mitsurigi Yuuhi, and the enigmatic girl genius from Russia who skipped multiple grades, Yashiro Kasumi. This is not completely as it seems, though; Kasumi bursts into tears upon seeing Sumika and Takeru. She remembers everything. She alone knows the horrific fate that befell them when the BETA invaded. Other characters from Alternative make appearances, too; Irinia Pyatkh shows up as an exchnage teacher from Poland as does Irma Thesleff from Finland, Albert Walken from the United States, and Paul Radhabinod from India. Later, the Valkyries show up - Isumi Michiru, Hayase Mitsuki, Suzumiya Haruka, Munakata Misae, and Kazama Touko. Four of the characters from Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse also get a super brief no-dialogue cameo in part of Altered Fable.
In a lot of ways, Altered Fable is a retelling of the core story of Extra - heck, the original release in Japan was called Extra Final - but it's also more than that. It's like the "true" version of Extra more than a simple retelling or enhanced version. Some of the events are the same - the cookoff, the Christmas party, the hot springs trip - but they're dramatically different because of the extra characters, and that's not even touching on the totally new events like the tropical island trip and the entire ending of the game. There's also much less of an emphasis on picking your Best Girl this time around despite having Yuuhi and Kasumi as potential waifus (the latter of which makes me uncomfortable since she's explicitly stated to be a minor; no "they're 18!" anime logic here). Fortunately(?) the Steam version is a port of the PS3 release with anything questionable removed. No matter who ends up being your "chosen" waifu, it plays zero role in the ending which kind of cheapens the dating sim aspect of it. I didn't mind that at all, though; I was there for the bits of intrigue and mystery they kept dropping. Speaking of that, I won't spoil anything in case anyone reading this wants to play it, but the ending sucked. It was a serious Mass Effect 3 situation; I loved almost all of the game until the last half hour. The ending just...no. There were still mysteries unresolved, I wanted to pick a final Best Girl, and way they resolved the big mystery was just dumb and unfulfilling. Don't get me wrong, the first 98% of the game is so good that it's absolutely worth playing, but the ending is definitely a let down.
Muv-Luv photonmelodies♮ is honestly what I wish photonflowers* had been; a few long stories rather than a lot of short ones. The stories in photonflowers* were great, but the length of the stories in photonmelodies♮ really lets you get to know the new characters and get a feel for that part of the universe. With the exception of the ending of Altered Fable, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with photonmelodies♮. I didn't enjoy it as much as I did Alternative, mind you, but it was still great to see what happened after the little teaser ending of Alternative and to see Kasumi's character get developed in a context that isn't constantly one breath away from a gruesome death. You also get to see three totally different places; Europe on the front lines of the war against BETA, a return to Japan on the front lines of the war against the BETA, and Japan in the peaceful BETA-free world. It's a fantastic little side story pack, and I can't recommend it highly enough even with Altered Fable's lackluster ending.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 3
I love Muv-Luv. I legitimately think it's the greatest visual novel series of all time. The original (which is actually two-thirds of the trilogy in one) and Muv-Luv Alternative are absolute masterpieces. When I heard about the two sets of side stories that had gotten English releases, I knew I had to try them out, and I figured I'd start with photonflowers* since it's the one I heard of first.
So a little backstory about the first game if you've not played it since photonflowers* is structured the same way. The first game includes Muv-Luv Extra and Muv-Luv Unlimited. Extra is your typical cutesy waifu-filled slice of life romantic comedy harem anime styled visual novel. You go through each day's antics, pick a Best Girl, and watch the cuteness and shenanigans ensue. Unlimited takes place after Extra; your main characters wakes up for school like usual but finds himself in a strange, blasted out wasteland. Turns out he's somehow awoken in an alternate world nearly 30 years into an alien invasion. Over half of the human race is dead, and the entire continents of Asia and Europe have fallen to the alien menace. There's still some cutesy pick your Best Girl shenanigans to be had here in the context of a UN military training facility, but it's all under the looming specter of extinction at the hands of the BETA (Beings of an Extra-Terrestrial origin and Adversaries of mankind; stupid acronym, I know).
The reason I gave all that explanation is because, as I said, photonflowers* is structured the same way. There are 12 stories in the game; seven of them take place in the "real" world of high school slice of life shenanigans while five take place in the dark apocalyptic world of the alien invasion. Of the seven in the regular Muv-Luv world, six are prequels that take place before the events of Extra, and one is a sequel that takes places afterwards. The sequel story also assumes that you picked Sumika as your Best Girl (she's the canon choice although by no means the only possible choice if you make the correct decision to open an eBay tab to buy and then play that game). As for the stories that take place in the world of Unlimited/Alternative, they take place all over the timeline. One takes place a decade before Unlimited, one takes place a few years before, I think two take place around the same time give or take a year or so, and one takes place two years after. Basically, you'll understand absolutely nothing of what's going on unless you play Extra, Unlimited, and Alternative first. And if you don't play those three, you're wrong. Just in general.
Most of the Extra stories are pretty feel good. The sequel story will put your heart through the wringer, but as with everything on the Extra side of things, it has a happy ending. The other six are mainly just exposition character building, giving you a deeper look at that character's perspective prior to the events of Extra. With the Unlimited/Alternative side of things, however, it's a lot more varied. Only two of those stories take place from perspectives you'd be familiar with as the others are all based on media that (as far as I'm aware) hasn't been translated to English. Still, though, the context of the world is more than enough to let those stories have their full impact. All five of those stories will put your heart through a blender. I'm a pretty empathic person, so well written stories and characters can affect me pretty well; all five of those stories had me ranging from misty eyed to tears trickling down my face. There's absolutely no drop in writing quality here from the main games.
Being part of Muv-Luv, it didn't surprise me that these remain among the best written visual novels I've ever read (which says a lot considering that they had to be expertly translated as well as being expertly written). What I wasn't sure about would be how high the quality level would stay with the sound design and the voice acting of the new characters. Fortunately, however, both are just as top notch as the writing. With the voice acting, the same voice actors return from the main games. Granted, I have absolutely no idea what they're saying since I'm a filthy monolingual American, but the emotion their performances convey kind of transcends language. As for the sound design, it's distrubingly well done. I don't mean that as in "It disturbs me that they did such a good job." I mean "Since they did such a good job, I'm disturbed because you can every rip, snap, and squelch as the BETA eat a TSF pilot alive." Maybe it's because I have over 100 hours invested in this series and its world and character, but the sound design - both sound effects as well as background music - just made it feel more real than words set to a drawn background should. The immersion is unreal.
If you're a fan of Muv-Luv, you'll love photonmelodies*. If you're not a fan of Muv-Luv, it's because you haven't played it; fix that. I'll wait. -montage of waiting for a week- Okay, now that you're a fan of Muv-Luv, you need to check out photonflowers*. When you finish Muv-Luv, you'll inevitably think, "Man, I wish there were more!" Well, photonflowers* is there to answer your plea. It's literally just more Muv-Luv. More of the characters you love, and more characters you'll soon love. More of the world in which you've become engrossed. It doesn't tread new water for the series - if you didn't shed a single tear during Alternative, you're a legitimate psychopath - but it doesn't need to. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, and Muv-Luv was perfect from the start.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on Wii, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Android, iOS, and Windows
I used to be a pretty big fan of Need for Speed: Underground back in the day, but I never played Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit when it came out in 2010. I always heard good things about it, and I remembered Underground hitting that nice middle ground between arcade racer and more realistic driving sim that I liked, but for whatever reason, I just never bothered with Hot Pursuit. When I saw that it was getting a remaster on Switch, I knew I had to check it out, so I threw it up on my Amazon wishlist. Fortunately, my mother loves me, because what arrived at my door on my birthday but a nice, new copy of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered on Switch.
I've always been a fan of driving games, but I've never been any good at the realistic ones like Project Cars, Forza, or Gran Turismo. I love kart racers like Mario Kart, and I like arcade style racers like Daytona USA, but they don't quite scratch the same itch that a realistic racer does. Need for Speed has always been that happy Goldilocks middle ground. Real cars and more realistic mechanics than Daytona USA but not as brutally realistic as Forza and Gran Turismo. The game is broken into two sections - six dozen or so racer missions and five dozen or so cop missions. In the racer missions, you play as a street racer either trying to beat a time trial, trying to beat your rivals, or trying to beat your rivals while also evading the police. In the cop missions, you either try to bust street racers or beat time trials. Pretty simple stuff, but it's enough variety to keep the game from getting stale.
Being a weaker system than the PS4 or Xbox One, I wasn't sure how the game would look on Switch. I knew that it would obviously look better than the PS3 and 360 original, but I've come not to trust a lot of developers - especially scum of the Earth developers like EA - to put the effort into a Switch port to make it look as good as it could. It was a pleasant surprise, then, when I discovered that it actually looks quite impressive. The pre-rendered bits before the races still looks pretty rough since I don't think they got any real remastering, but the gameplay itself looks fantastic. It runs really well, too. There are a few minor frame rate drops here and there, but for the most part, the game runs without issue.
Something I consider to be the hallmark of a good game is customization, and in racing games, that means choosing the color of your car. Fortunately, Hot Pursuit provides a ton of options in that regard; naturally, all of my cars were yellow. Probably my favorite feature, though, is the speedwall. If you have folks on your friends list who also play Hot Pursuit, it will show you their clear times for each mission so you can see how you stack up to them. My buddy, Avery (whose username is redacted to maintain his privacy), is the only friend I have who also plays on Switch, but lemme tell you, he is GOOD. It was always a huge accomplishment when I managed to beat his time on a level. I didn't usually bother replaying a level more than once or twice to beat his time, but it was really cool to see how I stacked up against him. There's also an online multiplayer component, but since I'm terrible at racing games on a good day, I decided that I didn't want to feel even worse about myself than usual, so I didn't try that out.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit may not have the arcade feel of Daytona USA, the silly fun of Mario Kart, or the hyper realistic sim elements of Forza, but it's definitely a racer well worth playing. It sort of sits right in the middle of those, to be frank. It's more realistic than Daytona, has some weapons like a kart racer but not as goofy, and features real world cars and realistic tracks like a driving sim. No matter what kind of racing game you're into, you'll probably find something in Hot Pursuit that piques your interest. It still shows its roots as a 7th gen game here and there, but the remaster treatment EA gave is top notch, and when you're actually playing the game, it looks right at home on 8th gen hardware. It may not be a new game, per se, but if you didn't play it on PS3 or 360, it's definitely worth picking up now.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Windows
This is the game I've dreamt of since I first played Epic Dumpster Bear on my Wii U years ago. I spent sleepless night wondering what became of Dumpster Bear after he destroyed the evil corporation's space station and put a halt to their nefarious plans. Finally, at long last, I have an answer...but will this answer my questions, or will it just raise more? -cue ominous music-
Let me be up front right here at the beginning; I know Epic Dumpster Bear is not a masterpiece of platforming perfection. It's an indie game made in Unity. It does, however, have something that a lot of bigger budget 2D platformers lack - soul. This game just oozes personality and style. It's message is a serious one - a warning about the dangers that unchecked and unrestrained capitalism poses to the environment and wildlife - but that message is delivered in a way that's both humorous and interesting. Not necessarily interesting in a compelling narrative with deep characters and philosophical undertones but rather interesting in that the writing is so clever that you can't help but be curious what the next bit of text dialogue is.
Visually, it's identical to the first game. Even the icon is the same except for the addition of fire behind the dumpster and the number 2 with the subtitle. The obviously low budget aesthetic is part of its charm, though, and I don't mean that ironically. It really does just ooze charm. You can tell that this was a dude's passion project, and that's one of the most endearing things about the game for me. The sound design is pretty much like the visuals - virtually identical to the first game. The enemies and level traps add a bit to the first game, but you'll still see fire jets and barrel gators return. God, I missed the barrel gators. So stupid but so awesome. You do get two cool new mechanics; a forward attack and some special hats. In the first game, you could only attack by landing on enemies a la Super Mario Bros. In this game, you get an attack kind of like Mario's Tanooki suit tail. Depending on the level, you may also get one of two hats. One hat lets you throw curling stone bombs that slide across the ground until they explode, and the other hat lets you throw more traditional looking bombs that explode on impact. You have be on a level that gives you these hats, but they add a super cool element both to enemy destruction as well as obstacle destruction.
The controls are mostly pretty good. Dumpster Bear's movement feels super slick almost as if he's sliding on ice whenever he moves, but it didn't take me long to get used to that. Jumping feels good, and aside from a few instance of spotty hit detection, the attacking feels solid and responsive. If this were a $10 or $15 game, I'd be complaining more about the controls, but between the game's charm and its low price point, it's really a solid package here. The controls aren't bad by any means; there's just a little bit of a learning curve to get used to the rather slick movement.
Epic Dumpster Bear 2 may not be a Sonic Mania or a New Super Mario Bros, but for its price, it's a solid game, and it's probably my favorite indie platformer simply for how charismatic the game is. It's normally $5 - a completely reasonable price in my opinion - but for PlayStation Plus subscribers, you can get it and the first game for just under $5. I'm not sure if that's a regular PS+ deal or a limited time sale, but that's what I paid, and it's MORE than worth that price of admission. If you're good at platformers, it'll probably only take you a couple hours to get through the game. If you're not so good at platformers (like me), it may take a few more hours, but even then, I played through the game start to finish in an afternoon. Whether you're playing on PS4 or Windows, I absolutely recommend both the first Epic Dumpster Bear (psssst...play it on Wii U) and Epic Dumpster Bear 2. I'm hoping for an eventual Switch release (fingers crossed).
My Rating -4 Neps
This is a game I honestly never thought I'd play. It's not that I never wanted to; I never thought I'd be able to. Apparently there isn't a whole lot of demand for old Java mobile phone games' being made playable on modern Androids and iPhones. Fortunately, after some Googling and Reddit scouring, I managed to find an Android-based Java emulator that mostly works along with a file of the game. It wasn't perfect - the controls weren't always the most responsive, and the right part of the screen got cut off - but it worked well enough for me to play through the game and experience it.
I went into this game with very low expectations. I usually scoff at mobile phone games in 2021 despite the fact that many are objectively excellent, so I was positive that I'd be disappointed if not downright disgusted with a mobile phone God of War game from 2007. I have to admit, though, I was wrong. It's obviously no masterpiece, but considering the limitations of the time and the platform, it's an extremely competent and impressive game, and it does a much better job of capturing the tone and gameplay feel of God of War than I had ever hoped.
Visually, I'd say it looks somewhere between an impressive Game Boy Color game and a so-so Game Boy Advance game, but what really impressed me was how the game felt to play. Despite being played on a solidly okay emulator with a touch screen, the game controlled really well. It didn't always register my button presses as well as I'd have wished, but even with that, it was remarkable how enjoyable I found the experience to be. The sound in the game, while obviously limited, was pretty good too. It won't be winning any awards for audio design, but it's not nearly the auditory train wreck I'd been expecting.
The game takes place between the events of God of War: Ghost of Sparta and God of War II. Kratos is waging a war for the sake of war, fighting this weird eye monster, Argos, whom Hera sent to stop Kratos. Then this assassin dude shows up and tries to kill Kratos. It doesn't work, and Kratos goes on this revenge-fueled rampage through Greece. It's simple, but it gets the job done. The game is pretty short - as one would expect from a mid-2000s mobile game - with ten levels each taking between ten and fifteen minutes to finish. It may be lacking in quantity, but the quality is there all things considered.
God of War: Betrayal is by no means a must-play even for hardcore fans of the series, but it is definitely a neat novelty, and if you do decide to go through the effort to getting it running on your phone or tablet, it's a fun little romp. I doubt anyone other than fans of God of War or obscure old game connoisseurs would get much enjoyment out of this, but it's definitely a cool game to experience if you feel so inclined. I definitely don't regret going through the effort of figuring out how to play it.
My Rating - 3 Neps
This is the thing I hate about reboots - the naming schemes. I love franchise reboots for breathing new life into a series or changing direction after it starts to get stale, but for Christ's sake, don't repeat names. There's already a game called Doom. There's already a game called Star Wars: Battlefront. And there's already a game called God of War. When Sony announced this new God of War that would focus on Norse mythology rather than Greek, I thought it was cool to see them branch into a new type of mythology even though I'd yet to play any of the games, but that damn name...However, asinine naming scheme aside, I was hesitant about the game's new direction; it plays VERY differently than the previous six games (seven if you include Betrayal, but all of like eight people played that, so whatever). I have to admit, though, that I was very quickly won over. I see why even my Xbox fanboy friends were singing this game's praises.
This 2018 game takes place an undetermined amount of time after the events of God of War III. Kratos, having slain the bulk of the Greek pantheon and seeing the devastation his vengeance brought, travels far to the cold north of Scandinavia and seeks to live as a man. There he meets a woman named Faye whom he marries and with whom he has a son named Atreus (although Kratos will have you thinking that his son's name is simply "Boy"). Though Faye knows that he is, in fact, a god, he keeps this from Atreus, not wanting to burden the boy with the "curse" of being a god. The game starts as Kratos and Atreus are laying Faye to rest. The game never reveals how she died, but her last wish to have her ashes scattered from the highest peak in all the realms. After burning her body, Kratos and Atreus head out on this journey. Cue father/son bonding trip.
The first six games were fixed camera hack and slash gore-fests with twin blades chained to your arms. This one, on the other hand, is a pseudo-open world adventure game with a big axe that you can throw and call back to you. There's still plenty of action to be had, but if you swapped out Kratos, I wouldn't have guessed it's a God of War game at first. Once the story starts to pick up and the lore with the Norse gods comes into play, it starts to feel more like God of War with its general antitheist tone, but it's a VERY different experience. Honestly, I think I liked God of War III more, but this one is definitely a close #2.
One of the biggest differences with the experience here aside from the obvious genre shift is the massive amount of side quests to do. You've got full blown side quests to do, you've got treasure maps to hunt down, you've got optional areas to explore, you've got collectibles to find, you've got optional bosses to slay; it's a massive game on top of an already pretty big game at least compared to its predecessors. The first six games in the series averaged around 8 hours each, I'd guess whereas this one would probably take between 15 and 20 just for the main story. It can be a bit overwhelming at first if you've butt chugged the entire series beforehand like I did, but it's definitely welcome as you'll not be left thirsting for more.
Visually, the game looks amazing. It's definitely one of the best looking games on the PS4 and really showcases the system's capabilities. You get two performance modes, a resolution mode that will run the game in 4K and target 30 fps and a performance mode that will run the game at 1080p and target 60 fps. I played on PS5, and while there's no visual boost from PS5, it does improve the performance mode's frame rate from around 45 fps to a solid 60 fps, so that's how I played. I tried resolution mode, but it suffers from the same atrocious and weird choppiness that Spider-Man's fidelity mode did. Even at 1080p rather than 4K, though, the game looks amazing on my 65" 4K TV.
The sound design was one area where I was really unsure specifically with the voice acting. They changed the voice actor for Kratos for this game, and I tend to get pretty attached to a specific voice for a character. Fortunately, however, the voice actor they chose was Christopher Judge; once I heard the strong and confident voice of Teal'c (I was a big Stargate SG-1 fan back in the day), I knew I wouldn't mind. Sure enough, while the voice was noticeably different, it fits very well for a Kratos who is much older, wiser, and haunted by his past. Atreus's voice acting was top notch, too, which was another concern of mine; getting solid voice acting for children characters isn't always easy. Fortunately, it's been confirmed that Sunny Suljic will be reprising his role as Atreus in the untitled God of War game supposedly releasing later this year. The only real problem I had with the sound design is that the soundtrack choices didn't always feel quite fitting. The whole soundtrack was good, but some of the songs felt a bit out of place for an ancient Norse world. I'm sure there are many who would disagree with me, but there were a few instances when I found myself thinking, "Huh...That's an interesting song choice."
Honestly, this is everything I wanted God of War to be from the beginning of the series. A deep story with top tier voice acting and brilliant cinematic design and direction, a beautiful world to explore, and rich characters to discover. I may have had a bit more fun with God of War III's balance of world building and gratuitous gore, but it can't be denied that the storytelling and world building in this entry surpasses the rest of the series combined. It's beautiful, it's compelling, and I finally understand why the reveal of the sequel last fall made such a splash online. I wasn't quite as smitten with the game as some of my friends, but it's definitely on the short list of "Absolute Must Play PS4 Games" for me. I can't wait to see where the series goes from here and how Atreus explores his newfound godhood in the upcoming game.
My Rating - 4 Neps
I'm gonna be upfront here; God of War: Ascension is the point where the series gets stale. After playing this, I understand why they changed the formula so much for God of War 2018. That's not to say that Ascension is bad by any means because it's not. It just feels very rote. I don't know what the actual budgets for each game were, but Ascension feels like a much lower budget game than 3 or even 2 when you take into account the different generations. It's not bad, but it does feel like they're following a blueprint rather than making art. God of War III was Sunkist, and Ascension is Omazing Orange. God of War III was the Wii, and Ascension is Kinect. God of War III is Sonic the Hedgehog, and Ascension is Awesome Possum. Okay, that last one might have been a bit harsh, but you get my point.
Despite being the second most recently released game, this feels like it should be the third game in the series, not the sixth. The combat is super repetitive in every game, but it *feels* more repetitive here than it has since the first game. Part of the issue, I think, is the weapons. Normally, you get at least a couple of different sub-weapons you can switch two, but here, they're "magic" enhancements. So you can fiery chain blades, or ice chain blades, or electric chain blades, but everything you unlock is a chain blade. You can pick up dropped weapons from enemies like a sword, or a shield, or a sledgehammer, etc., but those are items you pick up, and you can only hold one at a time. They can't be upgraded, they don't get special combos or magic attacks, they're temporary, and their use is frankly kind of limited.
The puzzles were fine. The level design was fine. The story was fine. But that's the problem; it was all fine. Nothing stood out as a major improvement. It was the first game in the storyline chronologically, so there weren't any huge plot twists or character revelations. The interactions between Kratos and Orkos were nice, and I legitimately enjoyed Orkos as a character - his role in the end scene was actually one of the best scenes in the Greek saga - but other than that, everything about it was painfully average. Ascension just didn't really stand out. Pretty much everyone told me going into this game not to expect anything amazing and I see why. The relics you find and their abilities were kind of cool, but as far as gameplay goes, that's about all that stood out, and even there, only two of the three were all that cool. One let you manipulate time to repair or decay parts of the environment, and one let you create a shadow clone. Those two played a huge role in puzzles, and that was a fun added element. The third one just dispelled magic barriers, and it honestly wasn't used a whole lot.
God of War: Ascension is fine. It really is. It's just not great. It's like Chibi-Robo: Zip Lash or Kirby: Planet Robobot; it's painfully okay. It's extraordinarily ordinary. It's stands out only in how little it stands out. It tells you how Kratos began his journey to defeat Ares, but other than that, it doesn't really add anything meaningful to the lore or the story. I can see why a few of my friends forgot this one existed when I mentioned playing the series; it really doesn't do anything memorable. You'll play it, you'll be entertained enough to justify the ten hours you'll probably spend on it, and then you'll put it on a shelf to collect dust and never give it a second thought. That's a shame, too, because even the two PS2 games in the series that failed to really impress me in a major way were at least memorable. This one just fails to make a meaningful impact in any way.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 3
God of War III is the peak of the series so far. Obviously playing the PS4 remaster makes the game prettier and smoother than its original PS3 iteration. Even with that, though, this game is pretty. More than that, though, it's smooth as silk. I don't know if it's the fact that it's on PS4 or just the progression of the series's mechanics, but everything about this game just felt better and more polished than any entry before it.
God of War III takes place right after God of War II. Kratos's war with the Olympian gods is in full swing with the Titans fighting alongside him as an ally. Then, out of nowhere, it turns out that the Titans were just using him to get their shot at a rematch with the Olympians. What, Greek gods were using Kratos as a pawn for their own purposes? Who could have EVER seen that coming? So Kratos basically says, "Screw it, every god dies." And he then proceeds to kill almost every god in the Greek pantheon. I gotta say, though, the story feels way more central to the experience this time. Part of that is definitely the better character animations although some of the faces definitely fall into the uncanny valley, but there seemed to be more emphasis on intercharacter dialogue and exposition than in previous games, and that's something I absolutely appreciated.
The game's visuals are fantastic. Like the HD remasters of the original games, you can tell from some of the character models that the base game wasn't designed for PS4, but the remaster work done here is impressive especially with lighting effects, frame rate, and overall clarity. Frame rate is SUPER important to me, and that's the main reason I played on PS4 rather than PS3, but I have to admit that I was impressed by just how much improvement there was to the game's visuals considering that this remaster was done relatively early in the PS4's life. It's definitely not going to be mistaken for a remake, but it's a nice polish, for sure. The sound design is also the best of the series so far. The soundtrack, while a little out of place feeling at times with the specific music choices, was really good, and the audio balance between background music, sound effects, and dialogue was finally adjustable.
The level design took it to the next level, too, but what especially stuck out to me about that was the puzzle design. There were a couple of puzzles that frustrated me as I'm exceptionally oblivious with puzzles, but a few of those puzzles were ridiculously fun to work out and solve, far more so than any puzzle in any of the previous games. This game came the closest to giving me (admittedly only very slight) Zelda vibes with its puzzle designs. The side weapon selection was my only major source of disappointment; three of your four weapon choices control extremely similarly, so it ends up feeling like you've only got two real choices. That's a relatively minor gripe, though, all things considered.
God of War III definitely took the series to a new peak, and while I played on PS4, even on PS3, this is a game well worth playing. I was a little more reserved in my praise for the previous games, and while Ghost of Sparta certainly impressed me, God of War III was an outright treat to play. It's certainly not a masterpiece, and there was room for improvement in many aspects of the game, but it's a rock solid game nonetheless and a key piece of any PS3 collection.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation Portable
Just as the second PS2 game did after the first, this second PSP God of War game took what made the first one on PSP good and improved that. God of War: Ghost of Sparta takes place between God of War and God of War II, after Kratos has killed Ares but before he took on Zeus. As with Chains of Olympus, it shows its roots as a PSP game in a few ways, but the PS3 HD remaster makes it look and feel like any other console release.
The core of the story is that Kratos is looking for his brother Deimos, whom Ares had kidnapped when they were children and whom he'd been led to believe was dead all these years. His journey takes him to the city of Atlantis and then into the depths of the realm of the dead ruled by Thanatos, a place neither god nor mortal dare to venture. In terms of mood building and setting up a solid sense of gravitas, Ghost of Sparta honestly does a better job than Chains of Olympus or either of the PS2 games in my opinion.
Ghost of Sparta is still shorter than its console brethren, but it's a couple hours longer than Chains of Olympus. Not only is the length an improvement over Chains of Olympus, but I found that the time I spent with the game was just overall more enjoyable. The storytelling felt smoother and more cohesive this time, and the level design was superb. We've seen Hades's underworld realm before, but Thanatos's realm of the dead unique. Darker. More hopeless. More cruel. With the mythological distinction between the god of the underworld and the god of death easy to conflate, it was great to see their realms look and feel distinct and truly separate. It was also great to get a glimpse at how things changed since Ares was slain and Kratos became the new god of war in the couple of levels that took place in Sparta.
If you'd waited until after I finished Ghost of Sparta to tell me this was originally a PSP game, I might not have believed you. The remaster on PS3 really does look phenomenal. Part of that is because the game looks really good for the platform on the PSP, so they had good base material to work with, but even with that, Kratos's character model and even most of the enemy models truly do look good. The only place you can really notice the low resolution roots of the game is with a few stretched out textures on floors, walls, and huge enemies like bosses, but even then, it's only a handful of instances where the textures look a bit off. One of my big complaints with the HD remaster of the first game was that the cutscenes looked like garbage. Either they put in the work to spruce up the cutscenes or they were just higher quality to start with, but they don't look bad at all in Ghost of Sparta. They certainly don't look as good as a cutscene in a game made specifically for the PS3, but they're certainly not the muddied mess that we got with the first game's HD remaster.
When I praised God of War: Chains of Olympus, a lot of that was because I was truly impressed at how true to the console originals the first handheld God of War game was. Ghost of Sparta definitely has that, but it's just a genuinely great game on its own. I honestly think it's the best of the four games I've played so far (the two PS2 titles and the two PSP titles). The environments, the mood of the game, the way the story is told, the interactions between Kratos and the gods; everything felt like the previous games but more refined and more polished. I enjoyed the other three, but Ghost of Sparta is definitely my favorite thus far.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation Portable
When I started this game, I expected a dramatically scaled down God of War experience. No matter how much remastering and upscaling they may have done, it's still a PSP game at the end of the day. What I did not expect was a full fledged even if relatively short God of War experience with all of the quality and gameplay features of the PS2 titles.
The first thing that struck me was just how good the game looked. Obviously being remastered in high definition will look better than the original in low definition. 270p to 1080p is a pretty huge jump. But with a jump that big, I figured it would look worse than the remasters of the PS2 games did considering that was just 480p to 1080p. For sure, some of the wall and ground textures looked a little bit rougher, but the character models and the environments as a whole looked just as good as the remastered PS2 games did. I gotta hand it to them, Read at Dawn did a superb job on these games. Even on the original PSP version, the game looks just fantastic considering the low resolution screen.
It's more than just the visuals though. Truthfully this felt like a true sequel for the series rather than just a handheld side story. It was great to see some of Kratos's story before he killed Ares and became the new god of war. Speaking of story elements and their delivery, this entry (FINALLY) added an option for subtitles during the cut scenes, eliminating my complaints about the wonky sound balancing. The game may have been shorter, but I felt like the storytelling was a bit more focused than the first game and about on part with the second game. The controls also didn't suffer in the slightest although part of that is likely utilizing the DualShock 3 for the PS3 HD conversion. Maybe it's just that I finally got in the swing of the series, but I found myself having more fun with Chains of Olympus than I did with the first two games.
God of War: Chains of Olympus is, in every way, just God of War to go. I mean, I played the not-to-go version, but you get my point. It may look nice on PS3, but the core experience that the original PSP release delivered is in no way inferior to the PS2 originals outside of visual resolution. The combat feels identical, the storytelling is just as acceptable but somewhat lacking, and the atmosphere and environments are as foreboding as ever. Rarely have I seen a series transition from console to handheld this flawlessly. If this were conceived as a third PS2 game, I'd say it was okay, a competent follow-up, but a bit too samey a third entry, but considering that it was conceived as a handheld game, you really have to give it some props here.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Vita
After my fairly lukewarm reception to the first God of War game, I was unsure how I'd feel about this one considering that it was from the same console generation and therefore likely to be very similar although I remained hopefully that it would improve on some of my complaints from the first game. While it's true that it is indeed extremely similar to the first game, there are some key changes that make this not only a very competent sequel but a much more enjoyable experience overall compared to the first game.
Some of my complaints about God of War still carried over into God of War II. Chief among those is the fixed camera. The platforming sections in this game didn't suffer from it quite as much as they did in the previous game in my opinion, but it was still a definite annoyance for me. There's one boss fight in particular in the Temple of the Fates that was made needlessly frustrating due to the lack of camera controls because of how hard it was to see if I'm close enough to and angled sufficiently towards the boss to grab her during the Circle prompt. Another element that gave me a ton of frustration during the final boss and one I think was present in the first game but didn't annoy me enough to stand out in my mind is the quick time event prompt locations. If it's a single button press QTE, the prompt is big in the middle of the screen; if it's a QTE where you have to hammer a button repeatedly, it's much smaller and in the bottom left of the screen. The final boss combines these in a single QTE chain which I found to be needlessly infuriating.
With all that said, though, I enjoyed God of War II much more than the first game. The storytelling still wasn't great, but it felt a lot more intentional and satisfying than the first game. That's pretty much how this game went; it had the same flaws as the first game, but they're better. It still used annoying timer-based puzzles, but they weren't as annoying, and the inclusion of a time-slowing mechanic gave them an added layer of depth that I appreciated. The level designs definitely had the most time and attention put into them here as they are far superior to what the first game offered. The game was a big more robust in terms of length, too. It still wasn't too long, clearly, since I managed to beat it start to finish in a day, but it definitely had a bit more meat to it than the first game even if only a little.
Like the first God of War, I played the PS3 HD remaster of this, and it was about the same as the first in terms of that HD treatment. The game itself looked fantastic although it was a little more noticeable here that some of the boss and world textures had less energy put into them than others. The cut scenes still look jarringly bad compared to the gameplay, but it didn't seem to be as stark a difference here as it was the first game. I'd say that the cut scenes here looked like a train wreck rather than a mid-air jetliner collision. Unfortunately, the sound design suffers from the same balance problems as the first game. Numerous cut scenes had music and background sounds at the same volume if not seemingly a bit louder than the dialogue, and for a game that doesn't allow for subtitles, that's just not acceptable. Fortunately, however, the number of scenes in which this is a major problem seemed fewer than the first game. It's always a problem, but it's more often a minor problem this time around.
All things considered, I still don't think God of War II is an amazing game, but it's definitely a good game, and I'd call it a must-play for PlayStation 2 owners. A friend of mine described the gameplay in the first few God of War games as "a western crack at devil may cry that doesn't really reach [its] heights," and I've got to agree. Solid hack and slash gameplay that falls short in the narrative and technical execution departments. To be compared to the original DMC games, though, puts you in good company. This is a true sequel even if not a revolutionary one; it doesn't change anything major from the first game, but it polishes everything that the first game did right and somewhat mitigates most of what the first game did wrong. It certainly didn't blow me away, but it was a good time.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Vita
Disclaimer first - I used the PS2 box art because it's part of HD collections on PS3, and I couldn't find a good PS3 box art that was just God of War. Anyway, God of War is a series that had been on my "hey, you need to play this" list since I first got my PS2 back in 2009 (late to the game, I know; I was a Nintendo fanboy). For whatever reason, though, I just kept putting it off. With the new God of War (I've seen the subtitle Ragnarök used a lot online, but as far as I can tell, Sony has yet to confirm a title officially) coming out this year, though, I figured it was a good time to marathon the whole series. That meant I could either dust off the PS3 or excavate the PS2 from its cocoon of dust. Given that the PS3 remasters have trophy support, and I'm a slut for meaningless dopamine rushes, I dusted off the PS3.
The premise of God of War is that you play as Kratos, a Spartan military commander who, facing defeat at the hands of barbarians from some unnamed land to the east of Greece, trades his soul to Ares in exchange for victory. Kratos snatches victory from the jaws of defeat and goes on to conquer for Sparta up until Ares tricks him in an attempt to remove the last of his weaknesses and make him the ultimate warrior. This earns Ares the undying rage of Kratos who then teams up with Athena to slay Ares as he lays siege to the city of Athens. I had always heard how cool the story in God of War is, and I have to admit that I was pretty underwhelmed by the first game. Friends assure me that the story becomes more of a focus in the later games, but outside of cutscenes which weren't particularly frequent, there didn't seem to be a big focus on the narrative, at least not compared to what I'd been expecting. I don't know if I'd say it was disappointing, per se, but I had definitely expected there to be more story focus.
At its core, this is a hack and slash game the type of which we saw a lot on the PS2 from Capcom with Onimusha and Devil May Cry. With the remaster's bump from 480i to 1080p on PS3, the game looks fantastic. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to have been any work done to the cutscenes which look absolutely dreadful. If the story underwhelmed me, the cutscenes outright shocked me. You go from this truly pretty game in 1080p to these god awful disgusting looking cutscenes that are clearly still being rendered at 480i. I don't know a lot about the inner workings of these HD remasters, but I've read that the cutscenes are basically stores as movie files, not something the game renders in real time, so to remaster those, they'd basically have to be remade, leading most studios doing these HD remasters to just...not. Good god, though, it looks terrible. The transition from gorgeous gameplay to grotesque cutscene is so jarring that it almost gives you a headache. The juxtaposition really does a number on the otherwise great presentation here, and it's a really a shame that they look so ugly considering that's where almost all of the storytelling takes place.
As for the sound design, it's solid. It's not amazing, but it's solid. The voice acting is alright and certainly better than the average for the time period, and the background music is very well done with a tone definitely reminiscent of Greece but not obtrusive and distracting from gameplay. Where the sound design suffers is balance. There's not option to enable subtitles, and the balance between music, sound effects, and dialogue isn't very well done, leading to a number of instances where the music and background sound effects kind of drown out some of the dialogue. At the very least, it requires a lot of focus to make out parts of the dialogue from the rest of the cacophony. Thankfully, most cut scenes are fine in this regard, but there's definitely some left to be desired in the sound balance on a few of those scenes.
All things considered, God of War is a good game, but it's not an amazing game. The gameplay and level design have not, in my opinion, aged particularly well. Imprecise platforming, no camera control whatsoever, and a bizarre reliance on timer-based obstacles throughout the game come together to create a game that can be as frustrating as it is fun. I absolutely still recommend giving it a playthrough especially for PlayStation fans as it's a core game in the brand's pedigree, but by 2005, I just can't understand why the developers opted to omit any way to shift the camera. Even Super Mario 64 which came out nine years and a console generation earlier had camera control options. For most of the game, it's not a big deal, but for the platforming sections, it quickly becomes a pretty big annoyance. I can definitely see why it was such a popular game back in the day, and it's definitely earned its spot of veneration in the Sony wheelhouse, but it's got a lot more flaws than I'd realized.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Windows
This right here, folks, is my game of the year. I don't mean that I think it's the best game I've played all year; it's certainly not. What I mean is that this is my favorite game release of 2020. What you all don't know is that I am OBSESSED with sharks. I have a shark onesie and a shark hat. I have two pairs of shark socks as well as a shark sticker on my car. I have two shark plushies including one designed by the amazing Tuesday Pope (check out her website and give her money). I have a Shark Week Bluray (a week which is far holier to me than the actual Holy Week), a plaster cast of a shark jaw in one of my bathrooms, and I even have an embalmed shark in a little jar that my ex gave me, and considering that she broke my heart not once but twice, the fact that I still have that tells you how much I love sharks. When I saw that there was a legit action RPG that lets you play as a shark, holy crap, count me in.
The premise of the game is that you play as a bull shark pup that was cut from its mother's stomach by a Cajun shark hunter named Scaly Pete. There's a shark fact for you - most sharks give live birth rather than laying eggs as is the norm for other fish. Anyway, the shark pup bites off Scaly Pete's hand but not before he manages to gives it some recognizable scars. From there, the game's story consists of growing your shark in preparation for your inevitable showdown with Scaly Pete. There are a number of other aquatic wildlife for you to consume from the tame and passive grouper and turtles to the aggressive alligator and mako shark. It also include a TON of awesome references and allusions. Also Jerry from Rick and Morty is the narrarator.
As you eat other creatures, you'll gather four resources - fat, protein, minerals, and mutagen. Each of these resources are used to upgrade certain traits you'll gain as you play through the game. You can customize your shark's jaws, head, body, fins, and tail as well as giving it up to three additional traits which the game calls "organ" evolution. Each component can be upgraded five times, and maxing out everything will take a LOT of resources. Fortunately, there's added incentive; not only do you need these resources to upgrade your shark, but that's also how you level up. The more resources you gather from a kill, the more experience you get. The level cap is 30, and that will take you from Pup to Teen to Adult to Elder to Mega, each stage up making your shark bigger and bulkier in a fight. Granted, being a shark fanatic, I played the HELL out of this game and was at max level at about the halfway point in the game. I was also doing literally EVERYTHING in a region before moving on to the next of the seven regions in the game, so if you actually just play through the game at a normal pace, you probably would end up hitting max level right around the end.
To give the game some padding, rather than just moving from main mission to main mission, there's a check list of things you have to do to unlock the next story mission. Hit a certain level, do a certain number of each type of side mission, get that region's completion level to a certain percent, get your Infamy to a certain rank, etc. Infamy is a mechanic that only comes into play when you eat humans. When you eat three or four people, shark hunters start to spawn. The more shark hunter boats you destroy, the higher your Infamy meter rises. When the meter is full, you hit the next Infamy level, and a boss spawns. Defeat that hunter boss, and you can start moving to the next Infamy rank. Obviously each rank is more difficult than the last - you go from having bayou rednecks in airboats chase you to having US Coast Guard command ships chase you - but each of the ten bosses you defeat unlocks a new evolution, so there's some incentive there. Eating people is also a great way to rack up protein.
Naturally, I have on the most rose tinted of glasses when it comes to this game and could sing its praises endlessly, but I do want to address some of the negatives here because this game is far from perfect. For starters, it's pretty buggy. Thankfully these are more Bethesda bugs with wonky AI movement and fish spawning inside the hull of a boat raised ten feet out of the water rather than Cyberpunk 2077 bugs where the game literally doesn't work in places. Not once did I ever experience a bug that forced me to reload a previous save, and the only time it crashed the system was when I was switching from Maneater to YouTube, so I suspect that's a PS5 issues more than a Maneater issue. The closest thing to a major bug I got was when an Infamy rank boss spawned in, and after the cut scene, my camera was bizarrely inside my shark's mouth and was totally unresponsive. I could still move around and attack, but the camera was always facing the same direction, and I could only see what was in from of me if I faced the right way and opened my shark's mouth. As soon as I died and respawned, everything was as it should be, and that was the only instance in nearly 20 hours' worth of gameplay that anything like that happened. That's really the only issue, though. Sure, it doesn't look super impressive even on PS5 (the devs claim that ray tracing support is coming in a future update), but the MSRP is only $40, and doesn't look bad by any means. The story isn't the most enthralling, but you play as a shark; there's only so much story that would really make sense, and I dig the "shark vs fishermen" vibe it's got going. The biggest downside is the controls. The controls are definitely not bad, but they do take some getting used to. Controlling the shark feels a bit stiff at first, and there's no function lock on mechanic to have your camera follow a selected enemy. You can click a control stick to have your camera snap to an aggressive foe, but it's just a snap-to function; it doesn't actually lock the camera on. That can make it pretty tough to keep track of your enemies, especially when you're facing multiple foes at once or a fast and nimble foe like a barracuda.
Maneater is a hard game for me to score. For me personally, it's an easy 10 out of 10, Game of the Century, pack your bags and go home because Tripwire Interactive won video games. Objectively, though, it's definitely a very good game, but it's not a masterpiece, and it's probably not going to knock anyone's socks off. Except for mine. I think my socks ended up in the next county over. It's got a lot of (thankfully all minor) bugs, the controls are a bit clunky and don't feel great, the story isn't going to win a Booker Prize. It is, however, an extremely creative game in which the developers clearly thought outside the box to provide an experience that breaks from the norm. It may not be a AAA Game of the Year contender, but I absolutely and whole heartedly recommend it to anyone with a current or last gen platform.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Xbox Series X and Windows
Hivebusters is a short story-based DLC for Gears 5 that tells the story of Scorpio Squad, a secret squad with the also secret Hivebuster program. Their mission is to destroy a Swarm hive underneath a fairly remote island. Success could mean saving not only the people of the island but Sera itself.
Let's start with the bad parts of Hivebusters to get it out of the way because I really did enjoy this DLC, and I want to end the review on a positive note. First and foremost, it's too expensive. If you have Game Pass, you're good to go, and if you buy Gears 5 as the Game of the Year edition, it's included, so you're solid there. If you've had Gears 5 since well before this DLC, though, you've got to cough up $20 for it, and that brings me to my second complaint; it's too short. Hivebusters is AWESOME, but it's only about three hours long, and I can't help but feel like $20 is too steep for that little content. The characters you play as are fantastic, and a bit more content could have really fleshed out who they are and their motivations and their relationships with one another really well not to mention actually justifying the $20 cost of entry. Granted, Gears 5 itself isn't a terribly long game, but even so, you got a roughly twelve hour campaign plus a handful of different multiplayer modes for $60 vs a three hour campaign here for $20. It's just a bit steep.
With that said, while there isn't a lot of content in terms of how long the campaign lasts, what content the DLC does give you is truly fantastic. It may not feature Del or JD or Marcus, but it's definitely pure Gears of War, and the characters that do feature in the game are written and acted beautifully. I know it's very unlikely to happen for Gears 5, but I'd love to see more of them maybe in Gears 6 or as a Gears 6 DLC. Not only does Hivebusters star characters for you to get to know, but it also sheds some light on a little of the politics within the COG beyond Chairman Prescott and First Minister Jinn. For someone who loves not only the action that Gears of War provides but also the lore and world that the series has built, this was a major selling point for me.
Gears 5: Hivebusters is an absolute must play if you have Game Pass since it's included, and if you have or are planning to get the GOTY edition of Gears 5, then obviously, you need to play it when you finish the main Gears 5 story. If you have Gears 5 normally, though, and would need to buy the DLC separately like I did, it's a tougher sell. It's definitely a fun experience, and if you're a big Gears fan like I am, then it's definitely worth the money. If you're just an average fan of the series but not super into, though, that $20 asking price is definitely kind of high for how short it is. Maybe throw it on a wishlist and wait for it to go on sale. If you do end up playing it, though, it's a hell of a good time.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Blood and Bacon is another dumb Steam indie game, but unlike The Last of Waifus and Simp Slayer Simulator 2K20, this one is legitimately good. It's not amazing, but it's a solidly fun game. It's only a dollar, supports up to six players, and has over a hundred levels full of achievements and secrets to find. This is in a whole different tier from most of the Steam indie crap I play.
Blood and Bacon is extremely simple. You work a farmer who's pinned to a barn wall by a pitchfork yet never bleeds to death, and every day, you take side arm and a main weapon and slaughter the hordes of demon pigs infesting the far. Do this 101 times. Every level is a bit tougher than the last, every ten levels is a boss, and there are the occasional "revenge" levels where you have infinite ammo to slaughter tons of evil pigs. There are a few "explore the tunnels" levels where you can explore tunnels beneath the farms after killing the pigs and find some secrets. They've added some stuff over time since the release, so it's a surprisingly fleshed out and content-rich game for the price point.
The visuals don't look great, and the sound design is solidly so-so, but for a dollar, you can't reasonably expect too too much. You've got six main weapons and four side arms you can choose from. There are characters to unlock as well as some cheats that can be activated from the pause menu and secrets that can be activated from the main menu. I haven't had a chance to play it online with anyone, but with how much fun it is to play solo, I can only imagine this would be a blast to play online with some friends.
Blood and Bacon is a pretty shallow game with no real story, one character, and a huge helping of "wash, rinse, repeat" gameplay, but it also proves that those things don't necessarily make a game bad. When coupled with the absurd premise and literal Dollar Tree price tag, it's actually a pretty damn good game for what you get and what you pay. I've sunk about three hours into the game, and I feel like getting three hours of entertainment out of a dollar is more than getting my money's worth. Hell, I get less entertainment time for fifteen times that price if I go see a movie at a theater. Breath of the Wild gave me thirty times as many hours of entertainment but for sixty times the price. That may be a bit of an apples and oranges comparison (okay, not may be; it definitely is), but when you look at it that way, this game is fantastic for its $0.99 price tag. It may not be an amazing game, but it's definitely a good one, and for a dollar, that's really all you need.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows
Contra was one of the defining games on the NES, and most of the subsequent sequels were really good. Alien Wars, Hard Corps, and Rebirth were all solid games. Surely Contra on the Switch would be solid, too, right? Right, guys? You wouldn't let me down, would you, Konami? You wouldn't release a game so ugly and awkward to control that it would have been bad even by the Wii's standards, would you?
Spoiler alert - they would, and they did. Contra: Rogue Corps is terrible. It looks terrible, it plays terrible, and it doesn't even sound that good. It doesn't even have the "so bad it's good" factor going for it because it was almost great. There's a good game buried deep, deep beneath the muck of low resolution textures, awful controls, terrible writing, and more rough edges than a 2000s numetal concert. Nintendo has never been one to embrace anti-aliasing in their games, but even by those standards, the jagged edges in Rogue Corps are abysmal.
The most immediately noticeable thing about Rogue Corps is how god awful everything looks. I can't stress that enough; this game looks like rubbish. There are numerous Dreamcast games that look better than this, and that console came out more than 20 years before this game. The character models looks hideous, the environments look bland, and the whole game looks like it was rendered in 480p and upscaled using nothing more than a budget TV's built-in upscaler. If you first showed me this game and told me you were showing off a new N64 HDMI output option, I'd believe you. My *only* source of skepticism would be that I didn't recognize the game from the N64's library. It really does look that muddy and terrible, and this is for a game that came out in 2019.
The visuals are bad enough, but the controls aren't any better. It's a run-and-gun with twin stick controls. That should be pretty easy to get right. Somehow, though, they manage to make the controls so bad that it's more frustrating than fun to play. The aiming is so jerky and finicky that it's a headache to actually hit an enemy, and your weapons overhead in a few seconds. Bad aim and quickly overheating weapons are not a good combination. Thankfully, the ammo is unlimited, but when you have to wait for the weapon to cool back down as enemies swarm you, it quickly becomes an exercise in masochism. A game's being hard isn't a bad thing, but when the sole reason that a game is hard is because the controls are terrible, that IS a bad thing, and that's how Rogue Corps is.
The one and only redeeming thing this game has is the upgrade system. Well, and the character line-up, but those are hilariously designed characters with atrocious voice acting, so it's a toss-up. The game allows you not only to upgrade your main and sub weapons for each character by swapping out modifications and parts, but you can also utilize the surgical bay to have your characters' internal organs replaced to upgrade the characters themselves. It's an EXTREMELY interesting and deep upgrade mechanic; it's just a shame that it was wasted on such a terrible game. There are five characters in the game, four playable and one support NPC. The support NPC is a cute kid who flies your VTOL because her parents were killed in the Alien War. The other characters are a standard dudebro with a machine, a badass chick who has an alien parasite or something trying to take over her body that she keeps at bay by keeping a sword plunged into her gut, a giant murder panda with the brain of a human, and a mutated bug thing with the brain of a human scientist. The characters are actually super awesome in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way, but again, they're wasted on a terrible game.
Contra: Rogue Corps was never going to be an amazing game, but it was so close to being good. The characters are funny, the concept of a cursed city filled to the brim with monstrous alien hordes is perfect, and the upgrade system is fantastic. Unfortunately, none of that can redeem the truly craptastic graphics, the bad writing, and the downright unforgiveable controls. It offers side missions as well as local and online co-op in addition to the single player campaign, but when the core of your game is so rotted, it really doesn't matter what nice features and details you tack on the sides. This is just a bad game. It may look less bad on Playstation or Xbox, but it never looks good, and the controls are just inherently awful.
My Rating - 2 Neps
Also available on Xbox One and Windows
Gears Tactics is what I always wanted Gears of War to be - over the top violence against aliens in a turn based strategy format. Honestly, it's what I wish Halo Wars had been. I got this game with my Series X, and I couldn't wait to dig into it. At first I was afraid that this would feel like an afterthought spin-off, and in some ways, it does, but by an large, the production quality here is a lot better than I had expected.
Gears Tactics takes place during the Locust War, falling after Judgement but before the original game in the timeline. Despite that, it's still relevant to recent Gears games as one of the main characters is Gabe Diaz, so we get some backstory on Kait's father. The game follows him and Sid Redburn on a mission from Chairman Prescott to kill a Locust scientist named Ukkon. Along the way, you meet up with a band of civilian survivors led by Mikayla Dorn, the most badass character in the entire Gears universe (other than Cole, of course). You convince/conscript these folks to join you on your mission. Gears Tactics doesn't include a multiplayer mode, and while I think that's a bit of a missed opportunity, the campaign is so much fun and tells such a solid story with such good character development that it really isn't hindered by the lack of multiplayer.
Another aspect helping Tactics feel right at home in the Gears series is that the game's genre really isn't a huge departure despite initial appearances. The developers, Splash Damage, pointed out that there were already a lot of similarities between turn based tactics games and the third person squad based gameplay of the previous six Gears games. Both include squads of two to four characters, both are played from a third person perspective, and both involve controlling different characters at certain points in the game. According to the game's executive producer, they "just took existing Gears and just moved the camera up" and made it turn based. It's a total genre shift for sure, but it doesn't feel quite as radically different as, say, Halo 4 to Halo Wars 2 with the jump from a first person shooter to a real time strategy game (another fantastic game, by the way).
Gears Tactics makes a point of being extremely approachable by offering a variety of difficulty settings. A lot of big Gears fans I know do great with cover based shooters and first person shooters but flounder when it comes to tactics games; for those folks, the lower difficulty settings allow you to experience the story told in Gears Tactics, get some practice and hone your skills, and then up the difficulty when you feel ready. Likewise, if you're confident but find out that the game puts up a bit more of a fight than you expected halfway through, you can just lower the difficulty down a peg to have the game meet you at your skill level instead of wasting time trying to "git gud." After all, most of us are adults; we don't all have time to waste trying to hack away mindlessly at a level repeatedly trying to "git gud."
As I've mentioned, the character development here is rock solid, and a big part of that is the writing and the delivery of the dialogue lines. The sound design overall, really, is great. The chainsaw sounds as meaty as ever, and the explosion sound effects have the same impact to them that you'd expect from games in the series developed by Epic or The Coalition. The only aspect that I really found lacking was the visuals, and even that was only somewhat disappointing. The cutscenes look fantastic. The detail on the character models are every bit as good as I would expect from a game optimized for Series X (although I'll never stop being pissed about the lack of dedicated Series X releases in favor of this "Smart Delivery" garbage). What I feel could have looked better is the actual gameplay. The map details, the enemy designs, and the in-game character models all look good, but they don't really look a whole lot better than Halo Wars 2. Granted, part of that is going to be attributable to how zoomed out the game is when compared to other Gears titles, but even playing on Series X, it felt like I was looking at a game running Xbox One. There are some nice physics touches; when a character runs into a random crate on the map, for example, it goes flying and bouncing for a bit. It doesn't really feel "next gen" to me, though. That makes sense given that it's a last gen game that's just been polished, but with the emphasis they put on "Series X" for the console release, I was just a little bit let down.
Gears Tactics is a fantastic entry for the Gears series and a welcome foray into a new genre. Even on Series X, it doesn't feel all that "next gen" as it runs at the same resolution as One X, the only real difference being 2160p60 vs 2160p30, but the textures don't look any more detailed on Series X. Obviously the loading times are SIGNIFICANTLY improved on Series X thanks to the SSD, but that and the frame rate boost are really the only benefits over the One X; the games look identical. Regardless of platform, though, Gears Tactics is a fantastic game. It's not only a great strategy game, but it's a great Gears game. I strongly recommend fans of either of those things to give this one a shot; it may well be what turns a Gears fans into a tactics fan or what turns a tactics fan into a Gears fan. For folks like me who are already fans of both strategy games and Gears, it's basically a perfect concept, and while the execution may not be totally perfect, it's pretty damn close.
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.