Sakura Angels (Switch)
Also available on Steam
When it comes to visual novels starring scantily clad and well-endowed anime women, I’m easy to please. Sakura Angels checks all of those requirements for me. As part of the long-running Sakura series (not to be confused with Sakura Wars), you pretty much know what to expect from Sakura Angels if you’ve played anything else in the series - big tiddy waifu characters, a short and fairly shallow story, and character tropes for days. For the sake of transparency, I’ll state up front that Gamuzumi sent me a Switch code for Sakura Angels for review. Thanks so much, Gamuzumi!
The premise of the game is pretty typical. A high school boy finds himself thrust into a bizarre magical-girl scenario where large-breasted magical girls end up enrolling in his school, get put in his class, and end up being his new BFFs to protect him from the mysterious evil forces that want him for some reason. It’s basically the plot of every other anime on Crunchyroll, so if you’re looking for an original or especially compelling story, look elsewhere; the story is just an excuse for the boobs here. The main characters are both straight up tropes; there’s a bubbly girl with brown hair with a seemingly-aloof-but-actually-commanding personality, and a tsundere girl with pink hair. Again, not deep or unique characters, but they’re not supposed to be. Tropes provide a comfortable context for characters, and this game is the epitome of comfort food for degenerate weebs like me.
The game is super short (although I prefer the phrase “bite sized”) with my play clocking in at about three hours. Like I said, it’s comfort food; if you have a bad day at work, you can come home and enjoy a mindless bite-sized lewd game on your Switch. For a lot of people, the length would be the biggest turn off, and for $10, I do think it’s a bit too short; I think $5 would be a more appropriate price for the game. Still, though, I enjoyed my brief time with it. It’s cute and entertaining enough that I would definitely recommend it for fans of the genre if you see it on sale for 50% or more off. I can’t recommend it at full price, though; it’s just not long, original, or compelling enough to justify a $10 price tag.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Metro 2033 (PlayStation 4)
Also available on Xbox 360, Xbox One, Switch, Stadia, Linux, OSX, and Windows
One of my favorite types of games is post-apocalypse, and that’s especially true when it’s a nuclear apocalypse that leans into the “horrific mutations” trope. It’s why Fallout is one of my favorite game series. Metro may not scratch that itch for me quite the way that Fallout does, but it does fit the bill nicely with an interestingly non-American setting. Granted, April 2022 is not exactly when I’m keen on having a Russian protagonist in my game, but Metro 2033 *does* allow me to kill Nazis, communists, and mutated creatures all in one game, so I’ll deal with playing as a Russian.
Metro 2033 is based on a book of the same title by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. The premise is that an isolated nuclear exchange in 2013 quickly expanded into a global nuclear holocaust; in Moscow, where the game takes places, only a few dozen thousand of the city’s several million residents managed to escape into the metro system that served as makeshift fallout shelters. 20 years after the bombs fell, the surface is still horribly toxic and irradiated; traversal is impossible without a gas mask, and radiation is a constant concern not to mention the monstrous mutants roaming the city ruins. As such, what human life remains is in micro-states at the metro’s various stations. You’ve got Hanza, a network of brutally capitalist trade stations, the Red Line (your obligatory Russian communists), the Reich (the also obligatory neo-Nazis), a handful of free stations, and Polis which is the headquarters of the Spartan Rangers. These Rangers are the sort of “white knights” of the metro (or as close as you get, anyway), trying to set up FOBs on the surface and reclaim what humanity once had but lost.
The game focuses around Artyom, a resident of the free station of Exhibition who finds himself on a quest to make it to Polis and deliver a message to the leader of the Rangers (which, in typical video game fashion, turns into a grander quest for Artyom). Along the way, Artyom must deal with raiders, Nazis, communists, and mutants galore. With the original releases on PS3 and 360, Metro 2033 played very much like a horror game with very scarce ammo, spongey enemies, and an emphasis on stealth. With the Metro Redux remasters on PS4, Xbox One, and Switch, however, you can swap between the horror-esque original format and the more action-oriented focus that the sequel, Metro Last Light, took. I’ve played it both ways, but I tend to prefer the heavier action for Metro. Both ways of playing are excellent, however, and you can’t go wrong either way.
Unfortunately, the remaster leaves a bit to be desired. On the plus side, the game does hit a native 1080p and a consistent 60 fps as opposed to the 720p and target 30 fps of the original release. On the other hand, using the PS5 to play it via backwards compatibility was a little underwhelming. I understand that not every game is going to have enhancements to take advantage of the power of the Series X and PS5, and that’s totally okay, but what isn’t okay is the pretty severe screen tearing that I saw in some of the cutscenes. Screen tearing is the most jarring performance issue you can have short of outright crashes in my opinion, and it really killed the experience in places. Fortunately, this is mainly an issue in cutscenes, but it did pop up here and there during the faster action scenes of gameplay.
As a whole, Metro 2033 is a fun game that’s definitely worth playing for fellow apocalypse junkies like me, but definitely play the remaster if you have the chance. It’s still not perfect with the screen tearing, but the performance and visuals are much better than the original release (plus is just a lot more accessible with the lack of the backwards compatibility that the current generation has with the older 7th generation consoles). It falls short of Fallout for nuclear apocalypse action as well as Resident Evil for survival horror, but I think it strikes a solid balance between the two that makes it worth playing as its own unique hybrid of action and horror.
My Rating - 3 Neps
I clearly remember when The Last of Us first came out on PlayStation 3. It was my junior year of college, and I remember going to Gamestop to pick up my copy as soon as my last class ended that day. I hadn’t seen much about the game, having only recently gotten my PS3, but my roommate, Nick, and our friend, John, had been hyping it up hugely, so I was thoroughly swayed. As soon as I got home with the game and got it installed, I had so many errors and problems just trying to get through the first 20 minutes of the game that I knew my hard drive was in the process of dying. I immediately ran across the street to Staples, bought the first 500 GB hard drive of the right type, and swapped it out that afternoon. I then spent the whole night playing because, from the very first scene of the game, I was hooked. For the past nine years, I’ve said that The Last of Us is one of the greatest masterpieces of the medium. I know that’s a controversial opinion with a lot of folks who think the game is overrated, but I’ve never been that sucked in by writing, voice acting, and top-notch motion capture. For whatever reason, though, I waited a long time before playing The Last of Us Part II, not getting to it until early 2022. It had some big shoes to fill, so maybe I put it off knowing that it wouldn’t be able to live up to my adoration for the first game.
The Last of Us Part II picks up a few years after the first game ended. Ellie and Joel, having completed their journey to the Fireflies, settle in the town of Jackson and live, for the post-apocalypse, pretty peaceful lives. However, Overarching Story Event happens (I’m not going to spoil it for in case - somehow - someone else hasn’t played it and miraculously managed to avoid online spoilers), and Ellie sets off with her girlfriend to hunt down the perpetrators of the aforementioned event. That’s the basic premise of the game. It’s a wholly less intriguing premise, in my opinion, than “kid is immune to the disease that destroyed humanity and sets out to find a doctor who can use her blood to make a vaccine,” but it’s a classic revenge story. The character interactions are once again the highlight of the game, but nothing quite matches up to seeing Joel’s prickly exterior soften towards Ellie in the first game.
The gameplay and combat is what you expect from Naughty Dog - fun and responsive but not stunning in any way. You get a number of skills you can level up by finding vitamin supplements throughout the world, and you can upgrade your guns at workbenches with parts that you find. Ammo is scarce as are the materials used to make bombs and health packs which gives the game a bit of a survival horror feel. While most of the game is more tension than horror, there are some parts like the hospital and some of the apartment buildings that are legitimately straight-up classic Resident Evil style horror. Those were my favorite parts of the game. My least favorite part, honestly, is the last third or so. The game’s perspective shifts about 2/3 of the way through and makes you spend a few hours playing as the antagonist. On the one hand, I have to applaud this choice as it definitely does make the player empathize at least a little bit with the antagonist. This works decently well from a narrative perspective, but it introduces characters that I just found myself wanting to explore more and being left unsatisfied, and it sets up a game-ending that I found completely unsatisfying. The ending isn’t bad, per se, but I absolutely hated it. It didn’t give me a sense of finality, but it also didn’t leave me wanting a third game. Underwhelming is the best word I can think of for that ending, and that’s a shame given how dramatically the game started and how amazing the first game was.
The Last of Us Part II was good. Taken as a whole, I’ll even go as far as to call it great, especially since my problems with the ending are largely my personal taste and not actual bad writing or execution. It’s a major letdown compared to the first game, though. I wholeheartedly reject the online complaints of “It’s too woke!” Yes, the protagonist is openly gay. Yes, there’s an explicitly transgender character in the game. Those aren’t bad things, and they aren’t “forcing diversity” because, like it or not, gay and trans people exist in the real world, so of course, they should exist in our games, too. I loved those aspects. It was the disappointment I felt at the ending and the overall lack of care I felt for some of the philosophical points the game tries to make that let me down. It tries to make the points of “Revenge doesn’t help anything” and “Violence only begets violence,” and I absolutely endorse both of those points, but while the game shows that, it doesn’t make me feel that. I sympathize with some of the antagonist’s friends and companions, but I never actually empathize with them. I kept thinking “Oh, I get why they did that. Now let me butcher them.” Maybe that was the point - that unlikable characters can still have understandable motivations - but it just didn’t do it for me. If you played the first game, I recommend playing this one, but you’re not missing a monumental masterpiece if you skip it, and there’s definitely no reason to play this if you haven’t played or didn’t like the first game.
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.