Ace Angler (Switch)
I absolutely love fishing games. It's a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine, honestly, but despite hating the actual act of fishing, I love fishing in video games. I especially love it when those fishing games are super arcade-y and have ridiculous or goofy fish to catch, and Ace Angler firmly checks both of those boxes.
Having its roots in the arcade, there are a couple of different game modes in Ace Angler, but the one I spent the most time with was obviously the adventure mode. The story is that you're a novice angler/treasure hunter setting out with the captain of a boat you chartered, someone from an oceanic research institute, and two only-barely-disguised kappa (mischievous water yokai said to bring good luck). You start off simple enough - catching regular fish near a reef. About a third of the way through the game, things get extreme. About halfway through the game, things get a bit ridiculous. By the end of the game, things are completely insane in a way that only the Japanese could manage in a fishing game. If any of that sounded like criticism, it wasn't; I loved every second.
Despite not being a AAA title, the game looks pretty good on the Switch. It definitely looks better handheld thanks to the smaller screen, but even blown up on a 65" 4K TV, the game looks quite good. The fish models all look nice, and the water effects when you're actually fishing look great. There are two ways to play - with the Joycons' motion control (which the game makes clear is how you're intended to play) casting with the left hand and reeling with the right or with button controls. Oddly, even with button controls as an option, the game does not allow use of the pro controller; despite this, putting the Joycons in the grip works just fine. Generally, I preferred playing with the motion controls as they were just more fun, but some of the boss battles (yes, this fishing game has legitimate boss battles) can get long and a bit tedious with motion controls, so I tended to use the button controls for those.
The game's sound design and soundtrack are great, but they're honestly pretty forgettable with everything else the game has going for it with the addicting gameplay and the gorgeous visuals. As you complete missions in each of the game's ten regions, you'll get rewarded with money and materials both of which are needed to craft and upgrade new rods with better stats. You've got three basic "types" of rods - red, blue, and green. Each fish has a color affinity, and a rod of that color will be most effective against that fish. You'll be alright using any rod against regular fish if you're not trying to get an S rating on each quest, but you'll definitely want to make sure you're using the right rod for the bosses as they can easily deplete your stamina and defeat you if you're not playing smart. The materials needed for upgrade bring me to my one main complaint with the game - you end up with WAY more money than you need but usually need a few key materials that can be obnoxious to go farm, so it would be nice if you had the option of buying materials at the shop. It would definitely take away some of the challenge, and I can absolutely understand why some might not like that, but when you're sitting on over a million yen you don't need and don't feel like farming for a great white tooth so you can upgrade your rod, it would be a nice feature to have.
Ace Angler may not have quite enough meat on its bones to be a game of the year contender for me, but it's absolutely a FANTASTIC game and just oozes wacky charm. It's a shame that this game never got released in the West (not even digitally), but fortunately the Asian physical release has full English menu and subtitle support. If you're into arcade games, fishing games, or just silly games in general and have $60 or $70 you don't need, check this one out. I wish Nintendo of America would at least release it digitally, but thankfully, the Switch is region free and easy to set up accounts able to access different regions eShops, so you've got options if this sounds like your cup of tea. I definitely recommend it.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Kaze and the Wild Masks (Switch)
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, and Windows
Kaze and the Wild Masks is a game that I added to my Amazon wishlist on a whim months ago and the promptly forgot about until I unwrapped it Christmas morning (thanks, mom). I wasn't exactly sure what kind of game Kaze was when I added it to that wishlist aside from "platformer," but having finished the game, I'm extremely glad I had that whim to add it.
Kaze is a love letter to Donkey Kong Country. The core gameplay is very similar; you run forward and platform your way through levels, taking out enemies along the way by either jumping on them or attacking into them. There are various collectables you can get in each level; two secret areas which each unlock one half of that level's green emblem, red jewels which unlock the level's red emblem if you collect at least 100, and four golden letters that spell out K-A-Z-E exactly like the K-O-N-G letters in Donkey Kong Country. This game makes absolutely no effort to hide the fact that it's half DKC clone, and it's all the better for it because the parts that are distinct from DKC help to highlight the parts that are similar. The DKC inspiration and elements that are distinct work hand-in-hand to create an experience that's colorful, enjoyable, and perfectly walks that tightrope line between copy and homage.
For those who aren't as good at or patient with platformers as some, there are two difficult settings. The lower setting has more frequent checkpoints in levels (although they can still be several minutes apart) and allows you to take an extra hit before dying from full health. There is also, as has become fairly common in platformers these days, a mercy option that eventually triggers. After a certain number of deaths in a row, the game offers to let you skip the level. You don't keep any of your collectables from that level, and it won't have the level marked as complete, but it will allow you to proceed to the next level (you can always go back and replay older levels). This way, if there's a part that just gets more frustrating than fun for you, you can still see the rest of the game's admittedly fairly shallow story (bad guy curses friend, you go on journey to beat bad guy and saves friend) without pulling your hair out.
The visuals in this game are absolutely stunning. It's bright, it's colorful, and it's all the things we love and miss about 16-bit and 32-bit 2D platformers with all of the quality of life improvements that we've come to expect from modern games. The controls are also buttery smooth, as well. If you die in this game, it's always your fault; I didn't find one single instance where the controls got me killed or a level was outright unfair. Some of the bosses are merciless and truly challenging, but they're never unfair. The music is also delightful, although it can feel a little bit generic sometimes. Still, while the music may not live up to the standard Rare set with Donkey Kong Country, everything else in the game does. The movement mimics DKC, the collectibles mimic DKC, and even the animal helpers from DKC are mimicked in mechanics with the different masks that give you the ability of whatever animal the mask depicts (hence the "wild masks").
Kaze and the Wild Masks is truly a fantastic platformer. What Freedom Planet was to classic Sonic the Hedgehog, Kaze and the Wild Masks is to classic Donkey Kong Country. With that said, if you loved Donkey Kong Country on the SNES, you owe it to yourself and your sense of nostalgia to try Kaze and the Wild Masks. It may not have the nostalgic charm that Donkey Kong Country does, but it's absolutely standing toe to toe with classic DKC for gameplay, and that's not an accolade to be given lightly. The game isn't quite perfect - I would have liked to see the developers try a little bit harder to make it a bit more distinct from Donkey Kong Country or flesh out the characters' personalities and the story a bit more as Freedom Planet did - but it's a DAMN fine platformer and well worth playing.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Medal of Honor: Airborne (Xbox 360)
Also available on PlayStation 3 and Windows
I am and always have been a huge Medal of Honor fan (at least while it stayed World War II; the modern set ones were crap), but the series definitely started to stumble once the HD era rolled in. Medal of Honor: Airborne is one of those HD games in the series, and while it's certainly not a bad game, it's clear from the start that this is no Rising Sun or Allied Assault.
You play as Boyd Travers, a fictional paratrooper in the US Army 82nd Airborne, ready to leap from a plane boldly into battle anywhere Nazis needed killing. Throughout the course of the game, you'll fight in Italy, France, and Germany as you help to push back the Nazi war machine. So basically the basic core plot of every Medal of Honor game worth mentioning. It's your standard first person shooter affair, although being from the mid 2000s, the controls are a bit awkward at first as the industry was still trying to settle on what "standard" was for the genre. The controls, while awkward by today's standards, aren't bad at all. Rather, they just take some getting used to. What's bad is the hit detection. You'd think I was hip firing a shotgun at range with how bad my accuracy was aiming down the signs with a Garand or a 1911. I'd have a guy square in my sights and miss four of my five shots. Meanwhile, if I so much as poke my head out from behind cover for a moment, it's being turned into Swiss cheese, and that's on the default difficulty. I ended up spending most of the game not even aiming, and while my accuracy was a little worse, it wasn't that much worse, and at least that, I didn't feel like the inaccuracy was BS.
Visually, the game looks fine for 2007. It's not as impressive as Call of Duty 4 was which released the same year, but it certainly doesn't look "bad." Aurally, it's about the same - good but not great. The voice acting is acceptable, although it's clear this cast isn't doing any work for Pixar. I quite liked the music, but it sounded like pretty standard World War II game music. The big letdown in the audio department is the weapon sound effects. They're certainly not the worst that I've ever heard, but they just sound weak and hollow compared to some more recent World War II shooters. They don't have as much "oomph" as I'd like. If you're not a gun enthusiast, then you'll probably be like me and think "That's disappointing. Oh well," but if you are into guns and know exactly how these guns should sound, it will probably be a bit more jarring.
Medal of Honor: Airborne is a good time if you just want an excuse to massacre Nazis (and really, who doesn't?), but it's a pretty mediocre game even by the standards of 2007. It is absolutely not a bad game once you figure out the wonky aiming, but it just doesn't stand out from the crowd. Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Call of Duty 2, and Call of Duty: World at War are all better choices if you just want a World War II shooter. Still, if you have Game Pass Ultimate, it's included thanks to EA Play, and while I haven't checked to confirm, I can't imagine it's all that expensive to buy used physically on Xbox 360, so it's worth giving a play.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Battlefield 2042 (Series X)
Also available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Windows
2021 has been a big year for AAA shooters. Call of Duty: Vanguard saw the series return to a narrative-driven World War II game (although I seem to have been the only person not disappointed by that one), Halo Infinite saw 343 finally figure out how to tell a decent story, and now Battlefield 2042 has come to remind everyone why Electronic Arts is the worst company in the entire industry. All jokes aside, though, Battlefield 2042 is a dumpster fire, but in fairness, it's a dumpster fire that I have been thoroughly enjoy despite the flaming refuse.
Before anything else, I have to extend a MASSIVE and heart-felt thank you to my best friend and husband (joking but only a little), Grant, because I wouldn't have this game if he hadn't been so desperate to play it with me that the lovable dumbass bought it and gifted it to me on Xbox because I was refusing to buy it, and that actually leads me into my first major and irreconcilable complaint with the game; I refused to buy it myself because there's no single player whatsoever. While you can have massive 128 player games filled entirely with bots, there's no actual single player campaign here. There's absolutely no story, and there's no way to play offline even with just bots. That right there is inexcusable in my book; the late 1990s and early 2000s proved that FPS games can be AMAZING experiences with bots, and if you could do it on a Nintendo 64, you can sure as hell do it offline on an Xbox Series X. While we're on the subject of massive content droughts, there's only like half a dozen or so maps, and they cut the amount of weapons by like 85% compared to Battlefield 4. Apparently, 2042 started life as yet another damn battle royale game before someone was like "Shit, maybe should do more than just that?" and you can tell that this didn't start life as a traditional Battlefield game based on how bare bones it is. There's no vaulting over objects, no diving, no explosion knockback, no rolling after a fall or jump, no melee weapons aside from "knife when pressing melee button," no boats, very minimal vehicle customization, no headshot bonus, and no assist bonus. Even for a multiplayer-only game, it's skimpy. There's no server browser, no traditional game types, no persistent lobbies, no traditional class system (although the operator system they have is kind of neat), no real customization options for your character, no stat tracker, no leaderboards, no clans, minimal faction variety, no kind of squad field upgrades, no infantry-focused maps, bad spawns, no real balance between infantry and vehicles, hardly anything destructible in the environment, and no spectator mode. The map selection is garbage, too; despite having every map added to the rotation, Grant and I played the same map four or five times in a row the other night. That just statistically should not happen.
Unfortunately, the complaints with this game don't stop with the PLETHORA of missing or truncated features; the game is also riddled with bugs. Even nearly a month after launch, there are still some pretty major bugs. One of the worst and most persistent is that the game will randomly not allow you to change anything about your loadout and force you to play with a crappy default loadout. Unfortunately, dying doesn't alleviate this; you have to leave the match completely. Another very common bug is being unable to revive downed teammates if they happened to die too close to a wall or box or something. Sometimes the game won't let you exit a vehicle that you spawn into. Sometimes it will say you self-destructed even if an enemy kills you. Sometimes you fall through the map and into the underworld. Sometimes your entire game just implodes for no reason. Sometimes your helicopter rotor gets stuck in a radio tower and your helicopter is stuck in a horrible sideways purgatory (although I blame Grant's infamous bad video game luck for that one). Fortunately, a lot of those bugs are fairly uncommon, but still, the fact that I've experienced all of those in less than a month with a moderate amount of play time is Ubisoft levels of unpolished.
Still, though, despite all of those problems, all of that failure, and all of those bugs, you'll recall that I said that I'm having a lot of fun with the game, and I absolutely am. The fact that you can play with just your friends and a hundred bots is fantastic, and I absolutely love the Portal. You can choose from stuff from Battlefield 2041, Battlefield 3, Battlefield Bad Company 2, and Battlefield 1942. Grant and I played a game where we were 1942 Germans fighting against 2042 Russians, and it's relatively balanced so that both sides have a fighting chance. The dynamic weather events are a lot of fun, too; we drove a German Tiger tank into a tornado in South Korea. While there aren't very many weapons in the game, you can swap out your scope or barrel attachment on the fly during a match without having to die or respawn or anything. While the game gets a lot more wrong than it gets right, I'd be remiss to omit mention of the fact that there are a few things that the game does in fact get very, very right. Don't get me wrong; this game is kind of a disaster. It's still a lot of fun, though, if you have a few friends to play with and can look past all of the missing content.
Battlefield 2042 is, from a content perspective, probably the weakest entry in the series. It's at least up there. There's just so much that's missing for absolutely no reason. Fortunately, the massive backlash against the game has sent prices plummeting - I've seen it sold on Amazon for less than $40 with no signs of selling out - so if you want to pick it up, it's not that expensive usually. It's also worth noting that I am absolutely having a fantastic time with it despite the fact that it's an objective train wreck of a release during this first month. I cannot, however, recommend that anyone buy it in good conscience as things currently stand. It's missing too many features and has far too many bugs for me to be able to recommend it. If you're a die hard Battlefield fan or just absolutely love objective-based online FPS, then maybe keep an eye out and see if you can find it for a price you think is reasonable, but I would absolutely never pay more than $40 max for this game as it is right now. It's a shame, too, because what little they got right is *really* good. Unfortunately, there's just so much that they screwed up than what they got right.
My Rating - 2 Neps
Halo Infinite (Series X)
Also available on Xbox One and Windows
I've been a pretty big Halo fan pretty much since it came out in 2001. Even in middle school at the peak of my Nintendo fanboy-ism and general hatred of all things Xbox, I'd make exceptions when I would hang out with friends who had an Xbox and Halo. It's because I'm such a big Halo fan that I've been so disappointed with the main series entries since 343 took over. Halo 4 was just bad, and Halo 5 was even worse. Halo Infinite, therefore, was kind of their last chance with me, and I went into it with a lot of trepidation.
Halo Infinite is sort of a double edged sword for me. On the one hand, I absolutely love everything about the gameplay. On the other had, I absolutely hate everything about how they've gone about the release. They started by released the multiplayer a few weeks before releasing the single player. That's fine, whatever. They called it a "beta," but it really wasn't as it was monetized out the ass day one with overpriced microtransactions, but that isn't really what bothered me as that's to be expected with free-to-play which is what Halo Infinite's multiplayer is; you don't need Game Pass or even Xbox Live Gold to play it. On December 8, they released the single player, and that's where my issues started. First off, there's not ability to replay missions or play co-op, two things that are pretty much staples of Halo. They're both "coming in the future." Okay, stop right there. Those two features have always been core to the Halo experience. I would have MUCH preferred they delay the game another six months - they had already delayed it a year - to have those features in at launch. I then found out that the physical release of the game contains no playable data on the disc. The disc installs part of the campaign, but you have to download the rest to actually play anything; I get that we're in a mostly digital age now, but that completely defeats the purpose of a disc all together. Just don't do a physical release at all if that's how you're going to do it. Because I'm so big on physical media and game preservation, that's a MAJOR faux pas to me, and it made me glad that I cancelled my pre-order to wait for a sale and just played via Game Pass.
Fortunately, most of the actual game itself is really solid aside from a couple of grips with multiplayer and the bizarre omission of mission replay and co-op. The gunplay has never felt as smooth to me, and the addition of a grappleshot and thruster to move around make it feel almost like Spider-man with guns. The vehicles feel a bit odd to control at first as 343 made some big changes to the handling of them, but it's just different rather than bad; once you play for a while, you get used to it pretty quickly, and that's a good thing as the open world is massive. Even flying in a wasp, it'll probably take you a solid ten minutes to fly from one end of the map to the other, and with all of the mountains and caves and whatnot littering the landscape, there's a ton to do on foot. That's honestly my favorite part - just driving around in a Razorback full of marines and finding a little Banished outpost to attack. As one would expect with an open world game, there are also a TON of collectibles to find. There are Spartan cores which let you upgrade abilities, Mjolnir armories that unlock multiplayer cosmetics, forward operating bases that let you fast travel and serve as UNSC bases, propaganda towers that award valor (the more valor you have, the more weapons and vehicles you can call in at FOBs), Banished outposts to attack, high value targets which unlock powerful weapon variants, and three different kinds of audio logs to find (UNSC, Spartan, and Banished) as well as the usual Halo skulls. Just running the main missions will probably take 10 to 15 hours; doing a 100% collectible run will probably take 40 or more.
Anyone who knows me knows that multiplayer isn't something I usually put a lot of time into, but I have to admit that Halo Infinite has some of the most fun multiplayer I've ever played even if it is pretty bare bones currently. You've got two main options - quick play and big team battle. Quick play is 4v4 and cycles between Slayer, Oddball, Stronghold, One Flag, and Capture the Flag. Unfortunately there's currently no Fiesta even though that was the first week long event, and there are no playlists although that function as well as a couple new game modes are coming in an update this month. Big team battle is 12v12 battles and cycles between Slayer, Oddball, Stronghold, Total Control, Capture the Flag, and Stockpile. Stockpile sucks. It sucks less when you have a team that actually plays the objective, but it still sucks. I absolutely love Halo Infinite's multiplayer, but it's not without its issues. The biggest issue is progression; initially, you only got battle pass experience from completing weekly challenges (things like "Kill 10 enemies with a battle rifle" or "Win 3 Stronghold matches"). You got no points for completing or even winning a game, no points for kills, no points for playing the objective. The outcry was immediate, so they changed it so that you go 50 xp for completing a match. Well, that still sucked because it meant you had to play 20 games to go up one level, and a match can take anywhere from five to thirty minutes. They've said more changes to progression are coming, but the current iteration of this is a scaling system where you get 300 xp for your first game, then 200 for a couple, then 100 for a few, and then 50 for each one after that. All of that is, of course, in addition to your weekly challenges, and those are actually my next complaint. Because of how the weekly challenges are set up and still the best way to get experience points, you have a ton of people who completely ignore the objectives in favor of focusing on those challenges. Got a stockpile match? Get ready to deal with people just killing the enemy players with a needler for a challenge and not even trying to bring power seeds back to the base. I'm sure that, within a few months, they'll have a better system worked out and implemented, but it really makes you wonder "Who the hell at 343 possibly could have thought this was actually a good system?" Despite all that, though, the gameplay itself is amazing and feels absolutely sublime. I can honestly say that I've never enjoyed PvP Halo multiplayer even close to as much as I do here. Now if we can just get a remake of the Blood Gulch map in Quick Play...
Now that I've outlined my likes and dislikes for the single player and the multiplayer, I'll take a minute and talk about some of my observations about the more technical side of things. I played on Series X, so I can't speak for One, One X, or Series S, so if you want a more side-by-side with those, you're better off going to Digital Foundry. On Series X, though, you're given a choice between a Performance mode and a Quality mode, and there's honestly no bad choice here. Performance gives you a frame rate of 120 fps and a usual resolution of 1440p whereas Quality gives you a frame rate of 60 fps and a resolution of 2160p. If you've got a TV that supports 120 hz, I'd say go for Performance to get that silky 120 fps, but the 60 fps of Quality is still fantastic, and the 4K resolution looks amazing. There does seem to be some awkward frame pacing, though, the facial animations just look a big janky in general. This was most noticeable to me during the fight with Escharum. It almost felt like his face was moving at 15 fps while the rest of the game moved at 120 fps. Most faces aren't as bad as that particular instance, but Echo-216's pilot has some odd looking facial animations. Fortunately, though, the Weapon's face looked fine to me. Still, though, for a game this otherwise impressive looking, it's jarring. I also can't help but wonder how amazing it would have looked it if it had been developed specifically with Series X hardware in mind and not made for Xbox One and just upgraded for Series X.
Overall, Halo Infinite is a great game. From a narrative perspective, I don't think it quite reaches the heights of the Covenant saga, but it's a HELL of a lot better than the garbage 343 gave us with the Forerunner arc. From a gameplay perspective, though, this is the best the series has ever been in my opinion. It's smooth, it's intuitive, and the control scheme is a lot less radically different than the "FPS standard," so it's less jarring to go from other FPS to Halo and back. As most have come to expect with Halo and Microsoft, it's a graphical showpiece on top of how much fun to play it is. The fact that it's on Game Pass (as one would expect from a first party Microsoft game) is fantastic, and add to that the fact that the multiplayer is totally free-to-play, and you've got a recipe for success here. Supposedly, this is going to be a sort of service-based game that gets continuous updates going forward, so I've got my fingers crossed from some solid story content in the future, but even if what we've currently got is all we get, it's a good time and well worth a playthrough.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Guardian Heroes (Saturn)
Also available on Xbox 360
I’ve had Guardian Heroes downloaded on my Xbox 360 for a while. I’d played a little bit of the original Saturn release in the past, and I just finished one playthrough on Xbox 360 with my friend Colin, so I’m going to be doing a bit of a comparison between the original release and the remaster here. It’s a rather unique game that often feels like it doesn’t know exactly what it wants to be, but somehow that plays into making an extremely enjoyable co-op experience.
So the game starts out with a group of mercenaries who have just found some ancient magic sword after being hired by a group rebelling against an evil kingdom. The kingdom immediately attacks, and as the mercenaries are trying to escape, the magic sword summons a giant golden skeleton warriors who, despite looking like a super hard boss, ends up being a commendable ally who saves the group. From there, there are a ton of branching paths that you can take that affect some of the details of the story and character interactions that you see. There are several different endings which gives the otherwise roughly one-hour game a ton of replayability. The fact that you can play this co-op (and online if you have it on Xbox) makes this a fantastic feature.
The gameplay is like a bizarre amalgamation of beat ‘em up, RPG, and arcade games. The core gameplay is that of an arcade beat ‘em up like Turtles in Time or The Simpsons Arcade complete with a credit system at the top (despite having never been released in arcades), but as you defeat enemies, your chosen character gains levels, and after each segment, you get skill points that you can distribute to various stats to power up your character. Most games that don’t feel like they know what they want to be end up doing nothing well and just being mediocre at best, but for some reason, it works extremely well for Guardian Heroes, and the end product is extremely enjoyable.
The game plays and looks great, but it’s not perfect. The dialogue is painfully 90s, for example, and has aged extremely poorly. It might have seemed funny in a juvenile 1990s way, but in the 2020s, it’s just bad. The visuals, however, are top notch, and the pseudo-3D movement style of the game with distinct horizontal planes between which you can hop has an extremely fluid feel once you get a feel for the controls.
As Colin said during our playthrough, this is the kind of game that’s only obscure because it was on the Saturn; if this had been a Playstation game, it would be remembered extremely fondly. It’s fun solo, but it’s a truly great experience co-op. With its availability on Xbox 360 and, via Xbox backwards compatibility emulation, Xbox One and Series X, everyone with any fondness whatsoever for 90s beat ‘em ups should give this game a shot.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Forza Horizon 5 (Xbox Series X)
Also available on Xbox One and Windows
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m not a car guy. I want cars that are small and get as many miles per gallon as possible (or, ideally, an all-electric car). Despite that, I’ve tried Forza Motorsport; I have 4 on Xbox 360 and 5 on Xbox One. I could never get into them, though, so I never paid much mind to the series after that, and I never paid much attention to the Horizon sub-series. All of my Forza-playing friends kept telling me that I needed to try Horizon. “It’s not as focused on realistic simulation as Motorsport it,” they’d say. “You can just drive in an open world,” they’d say. Okay, I thought, that’s cool, but I’m not paying $60 for a game that I’m still not convinced I won’t hate; after all, obnoxiously realistic car stuff is still going to be as obnoxious in an open world.as it is on a closed circuit. Thanks to the incredible value of Xbox Game Pass, though, I have access to over 100 high quality games all for one low monthly price, many of which are available on day one, and one of those high quality games available on release day was Forza Horizon 5. So I pulled up Game Pass, downloaded the game, and decided to see for myself if Horizon justified the hype. In short, it does.
Having only placed Horizon 5, I can’t say how this compares to other Forza Horizon games, but it definitely shows off the power of the Series X pretty nicely. The game looks absolutely stunning - especially the reflections and water effects - and it runs totally smoothly. I have yet to encounter a single instance of lag or stutter, and that’s with online connectivity enabled. It also loads extremely fast thanks to the Series X’s internal SSD. The game takes place in Mexico, and you’re a superstar driver - apparently the same driver who starred in at least Horizon 4 - who’s travelled to Mexico to participate in the Horizon events. As you progress through the game and earn accolade points, you unlock different Horizon events to progress through the main game as well as side stories and loads of races, challenges, and events. There are also a TON of cars in the game; I have nearly 80 cars unlocked so far, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.
My favorite part of the game is the massive amount of customization that it allows. My driver has blue hair, two blue prosthetic legs, two blue prosthetic arms, and everyone in the game calls me by my actual name; there’s a huge list of names and nicknames that you can choose from, and one of them is “Stephen” both spelled and pronounced correctly. That seems super minor, but it’s a VERY nice touch in my opinion. You also have an ENORMOUS - seemingly endless, really - amount of ways to customize your cars’ appearances thanks to the liveries. I have a Ferrari with Sunset Shimmer, my My Little Pony waifu, on it; a Porsche with Rikka from Love, Chunibyo, and Other Delusions; several cars with Hatsune Miku; several cars with various Pokemon; and, until I ran afoul of the game’s moderation and won myself a week in Forza jail, a boxy white Ford van that said “Cheap Candy” on the side (I knew “Free _____” was a ban, but I thought I was being cheeky and clever by saying “cheap” candy; I was just advertising discount confectionary! Allegedly).
The actual races can get monotonous after a while, but there’s such a variety that it’s not hard to switch up what you’re doing enough to keep things from feeling too stale. Some races are circuits that have you race in several laps whereas others are sprints that have you race from Point A to Point B. There are dirt races, outright off-road races, standard road races, street races (which are different from road races in that there’s other traffic to avoid), and a number of challenges that don’t involve racing against other people or AIs. Best of all for me, you can fully customize how realistic the game is. I turned off all of the simulation aspects and basically turned it into what almost felt like an arcade racer. You can also adjust the difficulty of the AI opponents to fit your preference. You get more credits from racing against harder opponents, but if you just want to relax and enjoy the driving like me, you can bump down the difficulty with no penalty aside from foregoing the credit bonus.
I’m pretty confident in my recommendation of Forza Horizon 5. I’m FAR from being a car guy, but it’s customizable enough that even I had a blast and easily sank probably 20 or 25 hours into the game. Even if all you ever do is just drive around and explore the game’s version of Mexico, it’s a blast to play, collect cars, and see how fast you can drive. You can switch between a first person driver’s seat view, a first person hood view, and a couple of different third person views; and there are loads of ramps both natural and man-made that you can jump your car off of. You can also invite Xbox Live friends to race against you which, admittedly, should be obvious for a racing game on Xbox, but I figured I’d mention it anyway. Given that it’s on Game Pass (which every Xbox gamer and, in my opinion, PC gamer needs), it’s definitely worth giving a try. With enough tweaking of the settings and difficulty, there’s something here for pretty much everyone.
My Rating - 4 Neps
I’m generally a huge fan of Pokemon, but Gen IV has a special place in my heart. I’ve been playing Pokemon since Red and Blue, but I skipped Gen III; that was when I went through my unfortunate “I’m too cool for Pokemon” phase in middle school. When I got over myself in my freshman year of high school, it was Pearl Version that got me back into Pokemon. When The Pokemon Company finally announced that Diamond and Pearl were getting remakes on Switch, I was pumped. Unfortunately, this is a somewhat flawed remake, but despite the bugs and issues, I’ve had a ton of fun with it.
One of the stylistic choices made for the game that’s been a point of contention with the Pokemon fandom is the shift back to a 2D perspective. Personally, I was somewhat disappointed that the developers opted for a 2D perspective rather than refining the 3D perspective from Sword and Shield, but just because I’m not personally fond of a stylistic choice doesn’t make it bad. Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl look fantastic. Personal preference doesn’t affect quality. It runs really well, too...for the most part. The ball decorations return allowing you add visual effects that trigger when you send your Pokemon out into battle. I managed to put enough smoke and flame effects on my Infernape’s PokeBall to make the frame rate plummet from an otherwise fairly stable 30 fps to a *maybe* 10 fps. Granted, I had to try intentionally to make the frame rate drop, but it’s worth mentioning. If you don’t try to crash the frame rate, it runs well; I didn’t notice any frame rate drops in normal gameplay, and I never had an instance of the game crashing.
It must be said, however, that this is, at least from my personal experience, the buggiest Pokemon game thus far. It must be noted first off that my experience is all after downloading and installing a 3 GB day one patch. Even after a patch this large, I encountered a lot of issues with randomly missing sound effects. Like, I’d be in the middle of a battle, and an attack would just be randomly silent; or I’d be in the Grand Underground, and all of my pickaxe swings would be randomly silent. It doesn’t ruin the gameplay or anything, but it’s definitely jarring and immersion-breaking, and it’s something that really shouldn’t have made it past QA. Most of it seems to have been fixed with a subsequent update, but I still encounter the occasional instance of it in the Underground. That’s the only major bug I’ve noticed in my gameplay, though, and I’ve put over 70 hours in thus far.
Some of the discontent I’ve seen in the community with the game is the lack of up-to-date national Pokedex. I can kind of see both sides. On the one hand, this is a remake of a Gen IV game, so of course it only goes up through Gen IV; on the other hand, the Gen I remakes on GBA, the Gen II remakes on DS, and the Gen III remakes on 3DS all had support for all Pokemon that had been released in games up to that date. The aspect of the game that I think is a legitimate criticism, however, isn’t about the Pokedex but about online features. The Global Trading Station - a major feature in the original release of Diamond and Pearl - isn’t going to be functional until a later date in 2022. Integration with Pokemon Home also isn’t coming until some undefined date in 2022, and that one especially big in my eyes since Home was touted as a central hub for your Pokemon across multiple games. The fact that they’re planning support but haven’t implemented that is just a pain for players who want to bring supported Pokemon over or fill in gaps in a living Pokedex. It’s not a game-breaker, but it’s definitely a massive disappointment. I would like to say that it’s because the Pokemon Company outsourced this remake (a mistake, in my opinion), but I know that it’s likely that there would have been a delay between the game’s release and the Home connectivity regardless.
There are a lot of People hating on Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, and while it certainly has its issues, I absolutely think these are worthwhile games for Pokemon fans and great remakes. Sure, the difficulty is a little low, but the gym leader and Elite Four rematches are legitimately difficult battles. The Underground is fantastic now with a ton of Pokemon that aren’t in the Sinnoh dex appearing after you unlock the national Pokedex. In the same vein, most of the non-Sinnoh legendaries up through Gen IV are available after you unlock the national dex. It’s not a perfect Pokemon game, but it should fully satisfy any fan of Diamond and Pearl, and it’s an excellent entry for Switch that honestly addresses a lot of the complaints that people had about Sword and Shield. Between the casual Let’s Go games, the 3D Gen VIII games, and the 2D Gen IV remakes, there’s now a Pokemon game for everyone on Switch.
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.