Modern Combat: Blackout (Switch)
Also available on Android, iOS, and Windows
There's a reason I'm deeply prejudiced against mobile games; most of the are rubbish. There are some genuinely good mobile games, for sure, but the overwhelming majority are garbage or, at best, mediocre. Modern Combat: Blackout is a mobile game that got ported to Switch, and even with a port to a home console - even an underpowered and aging one - only got it up to "mediocre," although with a generic search engine bait name like "Modern Combat," I can't say that I'm terribly surprised.
The premise of the game is that your character works as a mercenary for a private military company (which is just a modern euphemism for band of mercenaries to avoid issues with international law) but finds out that the PMC is up to some shady and unethical shit. You know, like literally every PMC that's ever existed. So now you and your handful of allies get to play hero and try to expose the plot or whatever. Honestly, the story is paper thin; it makes Steven Segal movies look like well-constructed narrative events. This game is obviously a creative legacy of the Xbox 360 era where every game involved modern combat, a barely sensical plot, and various shades of brown and occasionally green (although, to its credit, this game does use a couple other colors, too).
The game is your run of the mill first person shooter. When you're looking around or firing from the hip, you use the right analog stick to aim; when you're aiming down the sights, you can use gyroscopic controls. Since the stick aiming is jerky as hell, you're basically going to be using gyroscopic aiming 99% of the time if you ever want to hit anything. The game awkwardly has auto sprint enabled by default, so if you want to move while crouching - and you will - you'll need to disable that. Mechanically, the game runs fine. It only crashed once on me. It looks okay I guess, although it's painfully obvious that it's a cell phone game that got ported. The biggest problem is that it's just not that exciting. Some of the missions are fun, but the game as a whole is just extremely okay. The explosives suck, too. Honest to god, they feel like they have no more power than a slightly larger-than-normal firecracker.
I got this game on the eShop on sale for $1.99, and truthfully, that's all it's worth. For seven hours of something to do - I'm not going to go as far as to call it truly entertainment - $2 is fair, and the online matchmaking will at least put AI bots in to fill gaps in the team rosters from the lack of real humans who actually want to play this game, but there's just no reason to go out and download this game unless you just desperately want a bad dollar store rip-off of Call of Duty 4 on your Switch. Given how cheap it is when it's on sale, I'm not going to say "omg avoid this game," but I'm most certainly not going to suggest that anyone go download it.
My Rating - 2 Neps
The Pathless (PlayStation 5)
Also available on PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, iOS, Mac, and Windows
I first heard about The Pathless when I was doing a Secret Santa with my Twitter DM for the 2021 holiday season. My person had the game on her wishlist, and I saw that it was a fairly affordable PS5 game, so I ordered it for her. I thought it looked cute and wanted to give it a go, but I never got around to pulling the trigger on it myself; it's one of those games that I wanted to play but that always had something else get bumped above it on my priority list. Well, about a week ago, my buddy Danny gives me his copy out of the blue. He'd beaten it and knew that I was a big game collector, so he let me have his copy. What an awesome dude. Almost made me feel bad for having relentlessly shot him with paintballs earlier in the day. Almost.
The Pathless is a super artistic puzzle adventure with some light platforming elements. You play as a hunter who is on a quest to defeat the Godslayer and save the world from his evil plan. Along the way, you have to lift the curse on the four Tall Ones, huge god-like spiritual beasts. To do this, you have to restore the light at three obelisks. To do THAT, you have to collect two glowing token things that you get by solving small puzzles that feel a bit like the shrines in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The plot is honestly just wrapping paper on the game to give some context to what you're doing; there are some very nice cinematic events voiced in some language - dunno if it's real or fictional, but it definitely isn't English - but the story itself is very shallow. You do get some neat little bits of lore from floating spirit orbs around the map, though, so that's a nice plus.
Each of the four Tall Ones is in its own section of the map, so there is a lot to explore with some decent environment diversity. That said, exploration is more tedious than exciting as there's no map of any kind, so you're kind of just wandering around half aimlessly with only a red glow visible while using your magic spirit vision to guide you. It's certainly not difficult to find your way around, but it's definitely tedious. The game itself isn't terribly difficult, either; there's no health bar, so you can't die but instead just get knocked back if you're hit during boss fights, and while the puzzles definitely get tougher as the game progresses, I was able to solve every puzzle I came across within ten minutes of discovery. The puzzles are fun and definitely the highlight of the game in my opinion, but traversal just isn't as fun as it looks.
I do have to applaud the graphic options, though. As is often the case with PS5 games, you can choose between Performance and Graphics presets. If you choose Graphics, the game will run at 2160p and 30 frames per second. If you choose Performance, the game will use a variable frame rate between around 1440p and 2160p to keep a solid 60 frames per second. As I always do, I chose Performance, and while the game itself may have been so-so, the gorgeous art style mixed with the buttery smooth 60 FPS definitely made for a sublime looking experience. I honestly didn't notice a big difference visually between Performance and Graphics whereas the frame rate difference was extremely noticeable, so I highly suggest current gen players stick to Performance.
The Pathless is a cute and competent but ultimately mediocre game. Don't misconstrue that to mean that it's not good; it's definitely an enjoyable experience. It's just not one that will sink its teeth into you and have you itching to get home from work and play. If you're looking for a chill game to spend a Saturday playing, this would be a good choice as it only took me between five and six hours to clear. I'd spend an hour or two per night playing after work and finished it in three days. As a game so short with no post-game content, I definitely wouldn't pay more than $15 for it, but if you can find it for that price or less, it's definitely worth a pick up.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Silver Falls: Episode Prelude from Sungrand Studios is a bite-sized budget game that marks the Silver Falls series's first foray into HD graphics. For the most part, if you've played 3 Down Stars, you know what to expect as far as mechanics and controls because this is largely the same type of game but on Switch (and only a tenth as long). It's very much a prelude in that it's a first chapter, not a full contained story, but it's a great look at what the future of Silver Falls could be.
You play as Rominic, a young man about to start college who works doing construction for Million Dollarbuck (Silver Falls has the absolute best character names) and also works part-time doing delivery for Chunky Chicken. As he's making a delivery to a house in the area just outside of Silver Falls, he has two things on his mind - Mr. Dollarbuck's downward spiral via text message and the mystery surrounding the house to which he's supposed to deliver chicken. He's delivered here numerous times before, but for some reason, the property seems totally abandoned. Spoopy. To unravel the mystery of Mr. Dollarbuck's melancholy and the empty property fully (or as fully as you can in a prelude), you'll need to invest around an hour to an hour and a half replying to Million's texts and exploring the property for clues...and a way to defend yourself.
While the story mode is very short - you could clear it in less than half an hour easily if you know what you're doing and ignore Dollarbuck's texts, or you could spend nearly two hours exploring everything - it's captivating. It might because I'm already invested in the characters having played other games in the series, but I was totally sucked in to the story and the locales. It also ends on a cliffhanger fit for a 90s TV drama's cold open which is tantamount to torture considering that the game has been out for over a year and still hasn't received a sequel (Jerrel assures me that he does have one planned; he just hasn't made it yet since he was focusing on Wii U and 3DS at the end of their digital lifespans). The environments are DARK, and while that can make exploration a bit frustrating, it also does a lot to add to the suspense and the tension, so it's a worthwhile trade off in my opinion.
Once you finish with the story, that doesn't mean that you've seen all the game has to offer; there's also battle mode. This offers a chance to fight waves of enemies with different characters, each of whom have their own traits, in different locations. It's not as fleshed out as Frontier Fighters in 3 Down Stars, but it definitely adds enough content to justify the price of admission. With how much better the game controls than 3 Down Stars with the dual analog sticks rather than unholy C nub on the 3DS, I honestly prefer playing battle mode in Episode Prelude over Frontier Fighters in 3 Down Stars despite how much less content there is. It's just fun.
Silver Falls: Episode Prelude is a very short but pretty good story. Think of it like reading 1408 vs reading Salem's Lot; it's really short, and that can be a bummer to folks who are used to long novels, but it's supposed to be short, and what's there is thoroughly enjoyable. Some folks have complained that $8 is too steep a price for a game that short, and if it were just the story mode, I'd agree, but the battle mode adds enough gameplay to justify that price in my opinion. It's not a full featured 12 hour horror experience; it's a bite. A morsel. An appetizer. It hooks you with just enough to make you say, "Huh, that was cool. I'd love to see more Silver Falls on Switch." I think it does that quite well. I absolutely wish the game were longer, but I'm also one of those folks used to long novels. I eagerly await the next Silver Falls game on Switch that continues this story, and I definitely recommend you check out Episode Prelude in the meantime.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Banner of the Maid (Switch)
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows
Banner of the Maid is like a game tailor made for me. It's a strategy RPG like Fire Emblem, but it takes place in France during the French Revolution....but if the French army was full of waifus. It's literally the most perfect game imaginable short of having Nazis riding dinosaurs as the main enemy.
You play as Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon's sister, as she follows in her brother's footsteps as a French general. What's cool is that Pauline Bonaparte was actually a real person, but Napoleon's sister obviously didn't actually lead French troops into battle, and if she did, it certainly wouldn't have been in a skirt. Still, though, while it's most certainly not a historically accurate game, the fact that it's (technically) historical fiction is basically my favorite thing. I absolutely love it when a game's setting is based in history even if an ABSURD number of artistic liberties are taken.
Gameplay is actually pretty much just like Fire Emblem for the most part. Instead of a weapon triangle, you have a unit quadrangle; line infantry beats heavy cavalry, heavy cavalry beats light cavalry, light cavalry beats light infantry, and light infantry beats line infantry. Why didn't call it light infantry vs heavy infantry instead of line infantry vs light infantry, I'll never understand, but it is what it is. The whole game is awkwardly machine translated from Mandarin to English, so frankly, that's the least weird thing about the text in the game. That's not to say that the translation is nonsensical, but there are a handful of lines in the game that definitely just don't flow right in English.
The game has three difficulty settings. General mode is the hardest and offers a seriously brutal challenge. Officer mode is "normal" and is a good challenge but not unreasonable. Then you have Story mode, which is my beloved Bitch Mode. I played on Officer mode, but I love accessibility and not that not everyone has the patience for the trial and error of strategy RPGs, so I always love seeing low difficulty modes. There are a couple of free DLCs that add some side quests and a bonus character - a cool Asian pirate chick - but for the most part, the campaign is the whole game. It does, however, offer a New Game+ to give some replay value, and you'll end up with more units than you can use at once, so you can always do a playthrough using different characters if you want to experience the game again.
The game differs from Fire Emblem in two key ways. First and foremost - and this is something that modern Fire Emblem does with Casual mode - your characters aren't gone forever if they die. If you lose a character in a mission, they'll retreat for the rest of that missions, but they're there ready to go in the next mission. Depending on your difficulty, you may suffer a penalty to your rewards at the end of the mission, but that's it. Second - and this is the biggest difference from Fire Emblem - is that weapon durability resets every mission. You'll find some special weapons that have attributes making them super strong in certain situations but that only have a durability of 4; you can only use it four times in a mission, but it goes back to a full 4 out of 4 once you finish the mission and start the next. Any Fire Emblem veteran can tell you stories of saving a strong weapon throughout the whole game in case you need like it's a magnum in Resident Evil.
Banner of the Maid definitely isn't a perfect game with awkward machine translation and a couple of difficulty jumps, but it's a very good game. The story is good with some cool fantasy elements woven in with the historical setting, the characters are interesting and likable, and the gameplay is fun and addicting. The art is fantastic, too, and that's always a plus for games that are slower paced like an SRPG. All in all, it's a pretty standard entry for the genre, but the French Revolution setting definitely makes it stand out. If you like SRPGs, definitely give this one a play.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Silver Falls: 3 Down Stars (3DS)
I am a huge fan of the Silver Falls series. It's the flagship series of Sungrand Studios, a one-man indie developer based on Australia, and over the past year, I've become pretty good friends with Jerrel, the man behind the games. Last year, I reviewed Silver Falls: Ghoul Busters for 3DS shortly after it launched on the eShop, but I recently went back and played the first game in the series to be released, 2021's Silver Falls: 3 Down Stars, now that it has its v1.69 update that fixed a ton of performance issues and dramatically improved the game's visual fidelity. Some of my feelings on the game are a bit mixed, but overall, I had a fantastic time with this game. All screenshots are courtesy of Sungrand Studios, and the screenshots are from before the v1.69 update, so the game looks better now than these screenshots suggest. If Sungrand provides updated screenshots (since I have no ability to capture screenshots from my 3DS), I'll update the review.
The game focuses around three playable characters - Holt, a college student returning to his hometown for a fishing trip; Analise, a young Silver Falls resident taking care of her ailing father; and Moss, the sheriff of the town. I've played other games in the series, so Moss was already my favorite character of the three going into this, and the game didn't change that, but I really did come to love Holt as a character. That's the game's biggest strength in my opinion - the characters. The story is cool and has a Resident Evil meets Silent Hill meets Twilight Zone vibe, but it's the characters that really drive the game, and a lot of that is with non-playable characters you meet along the way and slowly get to know as story scenes unfold.
The game is your standard third person horror suspense game, so it plays a lot like Resident Evil 4. You can equip a projectile weapon as your primary weapon, a melee weapon as your sub weapon, and another melee weapon as your emergency weapon. The difference is that sub weapons are used at-will and as much as you want whereas emergency weapons are only used by button prompt if you're pinned by an enemy and do enormous damage but break upon use. You'll want to keep one of each equipped with your stronger weapon as your sub weapon. The combat feels very reminiscent of Resident Evil 2 except that the New 3DS's C nub completely undermines it. That nub is utterly useless and the single worst design choice Nintendo ever made (and that includes the unreliable Joycons in the early days of the Switch). It makes gunplay a chore instead of fun. Fortunately, there are tutorials on melee combat in the Extras menu that can teach you be proficient enough with melee that guns are really only needed for the bosses, but still, it's a shame that the 3DS's design ruined part of an otherwise fantastic game.
What most other reviews really hammer this game for have largely been fixed by various patches, but I do need to address those complaints because they're not totally gone. The visuals are criticized a lot in reviews I've read, and I can't speak for the game at launch, but as it is now, I don't think that's a particularly valid criticism. The game was made by one guy and is, especially for an indie game, a pretty big 3D world. For what it is and the hardware it's on, I think the game looks pretty good. The characters have a distinct style that is immediately recognizable as Silver Falls and that not everyone may like, but the game's visual fidelity is fine for a 3DS game. The performance, however, does hurt the game. Performance and stability have been dramatically improved with updates, but depending on where you are, the game will run between roughly 20 and 30 frames per second. This can be jarring and was, admittedly, something that took some time for me to get used to. The game also crashes a lot. The auto saves VERY frequently and keeps your most recent manual save and your most recent auto save separately selectable, so it's only an inconvenience rather than a game breaker, but it is worth noting that it's pretty frequent. It took me just under 20 hours to finish the story, and I probably had between 10 and 15 crashes. Unfortunately, that's just not really something that can be totally fixed; despite the New 3DS technically supporting Unity, it is apparently really unstable on 3DS and just will not ever produce a totally stable build in a game as big and complex as 3 Down Stars. Still, though, even with all the crashes, I never once had my fun broken.
If you finish the main story and want more, there's a Frontier Fighters mode that has a total of 100 combat missions of varying difficulty for you to complete. Jerrel has put a lot of effort into maximizing play value in this mode, and it offers an enormous amount of options to power up weapons and characters so that you can customize your playstyle however you like. I haven't messed around a whole lot with this since I didn't really care for the combat thanks to the camera control, but there's definitely a lot of content here if that's your thing.
Silver Falls: 3 Down Stars was the first game in the Silver Falls series, and you can definitely tell playing it and then playing the series's newer entries that Jerrel has learned a lot since he made 3 Down Stars. Still, though, the world and characters that he creates in 3 Down Stars is really great, and I loved every minute of the game. The puzzles that you have to solve to progress feel very Resident Evil, the game's overall vibe feels very Silent Hill, and the story feels very Twilight Zone. If that doesn't convince you to at least give the game a shot, then I don't know what will. It's a little pricier than most 3DS eShop games at $25, but with a thoroughly enjoyable 15-20 hour story mode and all the content in Frontier Fighters, it's definitely a fair asking price in my opinion. I've bought countless games made by a hell of a lot more than one person with way less content that cost me way more than this game. A full Switch remaster is in the works, but that's probably a year or so away, and while it will likely look, perform, and control better on Switch, it won't have that 3DS charm. I strongly recommend picking this one up on the eShop before it closes in March.
My Rating - 4 Neps
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.