The “pack-in game” is a longstanding tradition in gaming for console launches that, depressing, seems to have lost popularity. The Wii U is the last console I can think of that had a pack-in game, and even that was only if you bought the more expensive 32 GB model. To the best of my knowledge, no pack-in game was included with the Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series S, or Xbox Series X (I’m not counting the subscription games). Sure, the PlayStation 4 had The Playroom, but I doubt anyone would seriously consider that a true “game” given that it was just a few shallow mini-games and how barebones they were. PlayStation 5, however, is a return to form in this regard with Astro’s Playroom. Not only is this a cute little game that comes pre-installed on every PlayStation 5 console, but like Wii Sports and NintendoLand did for the Wii and Wii U, respectively, it also serves as a brilliant tech demo to show customers just what their new console’s controller is capable of.
Astro’s Playroom is a 3D platformer reminiscent of the genre’s 5th generation glory days. There are four worlds - each themed on one of Sony’s previous home consoles - all connected by a hub world. Each world is broken into four levels for a total of sixteen, and within each level are puzzle pieces that go into completing a huge PlayStation mural in the hub world as well as hidden collectables - models of Sony’s previous console models and their accessories - that show up as decorations in the hub world. It gives the game the feel of an appetizer-sized collectathon platformer like Banjo-Kazooie. If you’re on the fence about whether or not to bother playing the game, let that push you onto the “Yes, Please” side.
As a platformer, controls are what will make or break Astro’s Playhouse for gamers, and the controls here are as tight and responsive as I would expect from a Mario title. Describing exactly what makes the controls for this game feel so good is hard to describe, though. You know how food reviews will often talk about “mouth feel” as a metric by which to judge food? It’s kind of like that, although I’m not sure what you’d call it. “Hand feel”? “Control feel”? Whatever you want to call it, it’s that thing you can’t quite put your finger on but that just feels right with a game, and Astro’s Playhouse has that in spades. The haptic feedback vibration, the adaptive triggers, the touchpad, the gyroscopes, and the overall more ergonomic design of the controller all come together to form one of the best “feeling” platformers I’ve played in a long time, and all of this is from a free pre-installed game. Even the controller’s built-in microphone plays a role in gameplay.
Astro’s Playhouse may not show off the new hardware’s visual power like Demon’s Souls or the frame rate stability like Call of Duty, but it’s no slouch, either. The characters models are bright, the worlds are colorful, and ray tracing adds a certain flair that I never even knew older games were missing. The crispness of the detail and shine of the lighting effects, even for a short pack-in game, drive home the point that this isn’t just a stronger and oversized PS4; this truly is a next generation machine that delivers a next-generation experience in every sense. While the sound design doesn’t really show off any neat hardware features or controller gimmicks, it is absolutely worth mentioning here as Astro’s Playhouse has one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard in a 3D platformer. It strikes that perfect balance of unobtrusive yet addicting. It’s not Mariah Carey in November and December, but every song on this soundtrack is an earworm all the same except these songs won’t have you bashing your skull against a cinderblock wall by the end of November.
What really sets Astro’s Playroom apart from “just another tech demo” is the underlying theme of the game - an homage to the PlayStation brand’s history. Every major first party accessory for all four previous consoles and both previous handhelds is represented and honored here through the puzzle piece mural and the collectables, and for lifelong PlayStation fans, that’s got to be something special to witness. Even for someone like me who grew up a Nintendo gamer and didn’t jump on the Sony bandwagon until the last year of the PS3’s generation, it hit me in the nostalgia. That’s the thing about video games especially for us Millennials; even if you didn’t have a system growing up or weren’t a fan of a brand, you probably had a friend who did have it and played it with them. I never had a PS1 until 2009, but I played it a lot at John’s house. I never had a PS2 until 2009, but I played the hell out of it at Thomas’s house. This game is a tribute to the legacy of the PlayStation brand as much as anything else. If you have a PlayStation 5, don’t let the “Oh, it’s just a dumb tech demo” mindset deter you; this is a game in its own right, and it deserves your attention.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Windows
Call of Duty is a franchise that we all know, some of us love, and most of us are getting tired of in one way or another. Some (read: most) people play it for the multiplayer or the zombies mode. Personally, I’m in that minority that plays for the story. That’s why I refuse to touch Black Ops 4 with a ten foot pole (also their insistence on stylizing it with Roman numerals but using the wrong numerals is unforgivable to an academic like me). I admit that I’ve never been one to get Call of Duty games at launch. In the past, the only ones I’d gotten at launch were Black Ops III and Advanced Warfare, and that was because of the actors cast in the game. When I saw the trailer for Black Ops: Cold War in the PS5 presentation a few months ago, though, I was very excited. Those who know me know that while I absolutely despise Ronald Reagan with every fiber of being, I also love Cold War thrillers with every fiber of my being. When I saw a game that involved Ronald Reagan telling me to go do war crimes against the Soviet Union, I turned to my roommate, Rome, and said, “Dude, this is a game I have to get day one.” Or something to that effect.
Cold War doesn’t take a lot of risks, and that’s a mixed bag, in my opinion. They took a risk a few years ago by returning to World War II, something that I personally thought “made Call of Duty great again,” to paraphrase the outgoing American president, but critics seemed to disagree with scores being a bit lower than previous entries. On the other hand, I would argue that the exclusion of a campaign mode entirely with Black Ops 4 was a risk that I hated but review scores seemed to forgive. With that said, it makes sense that they played it pretty safe with Cold War; you’ve got your fan favorite multiplayer and zombies, but you’ve also got the campaign for us misanthropes who want to enjoy our video games free from the shackles of human interaction. The odd thing, though, and something that is definitely a frustration for me, is that while multiplayer and zombies is included on disc, the campaign is not; it requires a separate three-part download totaling nearly 60 GB. I understand the necessity to leave something off the disc as even triple layer Blu-ray discs only have a capacity of around 100 GB whereas this game clocks in at 140 GB if memory serves, but what strikes me as odd is the fact that one game mode most likely to be played offline is the one game mode that they required a download for. You already have to be online for multiplayer unless you’re playing with bots, so why not make that the download? Most people play Zombies online, so that could be the download. I don’t know exactly what the size of each of the three game modes is, so it could be that it had to be the campaign that got left off, but I find it unlikely. I think they probably just said “Most people ignore the campaign anyway, so screw it.” And, in all fairness, that’s a reasonable decision. I’m just a little butthurt about the continued disrespect that single player story modes are so often shown by first person shooters, but at least they included one.
I’ve not managed to find a game in Zombies yet, although I admittedly haven’t tried since the day the game came out; I have, however, played the entire campaign and a good bit of multiplayer, and those are both rock solid game modes. The multiplayer doesn’t really do anything new, but it does the same old same old very well. 6v6 matches keep the action pretty constant and fun, and there are a ton of attachments to unlock on various weapons. The unlock tokens from WWII are gone (I didn’t play Black Ops 4 or the 2019 Modern Warfare, so I don’t know if they were in those games), so you unlock new weapons by just leveling up. Attachments are then unlocked by leveling up that weapon. The maps are all pretty solid and well crafted for a variety of game types. The campaign is where it’s at in my opinion, though. It’s not the best campaign in Call of Duty or even the best campaign in the Black Ops sub-series, but man, it’s fun as hell. Most of the missions are really well executed but not especially creative, although I do have to give props to three missions in particular. One of the early missions - the one featured in the aforementioned PS5 trailer - involves a super dramatic car chase slash gunfight on an airstrip, and that mission feels like it was pulled straight out of an 80s action movie. There are also two side missions that you don’t have to complete in the campaign. Both of those optional missions have puzzles that you can solve to get the “best” outcome for the mission. To solve those puzzles, you have to find hidden pieces of evidence in the campaign’s required missions and then use the clues in those pieces of evidence to solve the puzzles. They’re not difficult puzzles, but they do require some logical thinking, and I found that to be a very welcome addition to the normal Call of Duty campaign. In addition to optional side missions, you also have some optional objectives that you can choose whether or not to complete in each mission, and there are a few dialogue choices to choose between. I’m not sure how much if at all the dialogue choices change things, but either way, it’s a very nice break from the normal pure linear formula, so kudos to Treyarch for that.
With the game’s performance, I played on PlayStation 5, so my experience was nothing short of breathtaking. The character models looked so photorealistic that some scenes could be reasonably mistaken for a live action movie. The frame rate never seemed to drop enough for me to notice, and the ray tracing is just...wow. I never gave ray tracing any thought before, honestly, but there’s one specific mission where you in a helicopter flying over a river in Vietnam, and holy crap, it looked stunning. The sound design is impeccable, as usual, but what really stands out is the use of the DualSense controller’s features. The haptic feedback and adaptive triggers in the PS5’s new controller are used to fantastic effect here, giving every gun a truly unique feel. You can feel in your hand the moment a bullet leaves your gun in a way that was never possible with the DualShock 4 controller, and the adaptive triggers give each gun its own unique trigger resistance. Does that really matter much? No, of course not, but it’s little details like that that will deepen my immersion more than just about anything else. The only things that deepen my immersion more than the haptic feedback and adaptive triggers did would have virtual reality and motion controls, and honestly, I think it’d take the haptic feedback and adaptive triggers if made to choose.
Call of Duty: Black Ops - Cold War, despite having a mouthful of a title, is quite a solid entry in the series. The multiplayer is exactly what you’d expect, and while most of the campaign is just more of the same done well, the addition of side missions, optional objectives, and dialogue choices really do make it stand out from the rest of the series even if only a bit. Truthfully, on PC, PS4, Xbox One, or Xbox Series X/S, this is just a very good game. On PS5, though, with the DualSense controller’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers, it really does feel like a great game. Maybe not a masterpiece. Maybe not an amazing game. Maybe not a system seller. But it’s definitely a great game on PS5, and I’m extremely glad I made the last minute decision to move my pre-order from Xbox to PS5.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Xbox One and Windows
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is an iconic game not only for the Resident Evil franchise but for the survival horror genre as a whole. Even folks who haven't played it are usually familiar with the titular character's deep growl of "STARS!" With the smashing success of the previous remake of Resident Evil 2, it only makes sense that Capcom would have immediately begun work on remaking the third entry in the series especially considering that Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 take place at the same time in the same city.
I'm a huge fan of Resident Evil and the survival horror genre as a whole, so I'm a little biased, but this game really does feel like a nearly perfect package. The visuals are stunning, the voice acting it top notch, the motion capture is incredible, and the overall atmosphere of the game is nearly perfect. It's every bit Resident Evil 2's equal. At the game's beginning, you start in a first person perspective reminiscent of Resident Evil VII: Biohazard, and that's how they introduce Jill Valentine, badass supercop on the Raccoon City Police Department's Special Tactics and Rescue Service team and one of the few survivors of the Arklay mansion incident from the first game which took place two months earlier just outside of Raccoon City. In those two months, patients started showing up at the Raccoon City hospital with a mysterious illness that caused severe fever, rapid necrosis, and hyperphasia (or excessive hunger). At the same time, incidents of brutally violent murders were spiking. The city was facing an outbreak of the T-virus, a secret biological weapon developed by the multinational corporation, Umbrella. What's worse, though, is that a super bioweapon codenamed Nemesis has been dispatched by Umbrella to hunt down and permanently silence the few surviving members of S.T.A.R.S., the elite RCPD team that had investigated the Arklay mansion.
One thing that Resident Evil 3 gets perfect is the atmosphere that conjures a sense of foreboding from mere sight and sound. A lot of folks say that what makes a horror game scary is limited ammo and difficulty. That can certainly put you on edge and make you anxious. Others say that it's the jump scares that give a game its horror. That can certainly be an important element if executed properly. Resident Evil 3 nails true horror, though, beyond the shallow definitions of "difficulty" or "jump scares." I could be walking down a hallway in an abandoned apartment building with 30 rounds of ammunition and not a zombie in sight, and I still felt the fear. No zombie jumped out at me; Nemesis never burst through a wall to turn my skull into tomato paste, yet I still felt a linger terror deep inside my lizard brain. The darkness of the city. The fires still burning in the distance. The disheveled storefronts. The destroyed vehicles. The few odd zombies, slowly shambling through the street. The knowledge that at any moment, that perilous tranquility become a blood bath, and it wasn't a foregone conclusion whose blood would be bathed in and who would be doing the bathing. That's the atmosphere that can instill true horror in a game, and that's what Resident Evil 3 knocked out of the park.
True horror may be all about atmosphere and presentation, but it's absolutely true that other factors contribute or enhance that such as the aforementioned elements of ammo scarcity and jump scares. Resident Evil 3 has those, but what it also has going for it is incredible graphics. Playing Playstation 4 Pro, the game's presentation at 4K in HDR takes the realism of the presentation to a whole different level than its 32-bit original version; I can only imagine what the experience would be like on a high end gaming PC. I normally am the first person to dispute the game that good graphics equal a good game, but with how visceral Resident Evil's content is, the graphical fidelity is a massive enhancement. When you shoot a zombie, that damage is reflected on their body whether it's a chunk of meat blown out of the chest or a sheet of flesh ripped from the rotting face. The dismembered and disemboweled victims of the outbreak are on full display in the game's various locations, and unlike the original release, these are more than primitive polygons tinted red; these are detailed human beings, faces oftentimes visibly twisted in agony. That's not to say that the game's perfect - I vividly recall one instance of running through a donut shop to escape Nemesis and seeing him bug out and just walk through the wall of the shop as if he could phase shift - but it's damn near perfect, and Capcom's attention to detail with character models is truly impressive.
What will always make-or-break my immersion in a game is the voice acting, and Resident Evil's earlier entries are notorious for some of the worst voice acting of big budget games from the late 1990s; I'm sure everyone remembers (and cringes at the memory of) Barry's "Jill sandwich" line from the first game. As has been the case with most of the series after Resident Evil 4, that craptastic voice acting is gone. In its place is an incredible performance from a stellar cast of voice talent, and Jill's voice actor's line delivery as well as the quality of the motion capture - a critical element of game design often overlooked by gamers - kept me firmly immersed from start to finish. Beyond the voice acting, the sound design in general was extraordinarily well done. Most of the game is silent as far as background music goes. That not only enhances the feeling of dread and isolation that the game evokes, but it also heightens the anxiety players feel when there is music in the background as that only happens in high stress situations like being chased by Nemesis.
I spent a long time debating what score to give Resident Evil 3. On the one hand, it's one of the most effective games of the genre at making me feel terror, and the presentation is flawless. On the other hand, the game is really short - even with my backtracking, pausing to answer texts and walk the dogs, and being generally bad at video games, I finished in six hours - and there were a couple minor bugs I noticed. In the end, though, no game is ever going to be truly perfect, and this game definitely came close enough to perfection to earn a five out of five score. After all, as far as length goes, I prefer quality over quantity; the quantity of game here may be lacking for some folks, but the quality is undeniable. This is an S tier horror game. With the kind of name recognition and pedigree that an IP like Resident Evil has, I'm sure everyone reading this has either played the game already or firmly plans never to play it, but on the off chance that someone is still on the fence, don't be. Play the game. I can guarantee you won't be disappointed.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on Xbox One, Switch, and Windows
In my household, Obsidian is a name you treat with reverence. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, Fallout: New Vegas, South Park: The Stick of Truth - Obsidian was the studio behind these games, and I give that studio the respect it deserves. When I saw that they were working on a sci-fi RPG that was clearly a spiritual successor to their work on the Fallout series, I was immediately sold. Yes, please, sign me up. Then my bank statement said, "Son, put your pants back on; you're too broke for this." So I had to wait until I could get a copy off of someone used for relatively cheap. Being a grown-up sucks.
Having secured my used copy of the game, I couldn't wait to jump into the world of the Halcyon colony and stand up to the corrupt and wicked corporate overlords ruling the system. By that point, though, it was 2020, and we all know how this year has been going...so life and mental health got in the way, and it sat on my shelf for about six months. Finally, however, October rolled around, and the impenetrable miasma of depression dissipated into a much more manageable Silent Hill-esque fog with a whole four inches of visibility! Yes, now I can finally dive into Halcyon to be the savior that no one asked for and few wanted.
Now that I've turned this review into an internet recipe with an unnecessary story about my life, let's talk about the game. You play as a colonist who's been cryogenically frozen aboard the colony ship Hope in Halcyon for 70 years until a mad scientist wakes you up in a move of bold defiance against the plutocratic corporate government of the system (eat your heart out, Mussolini). You're then put into an escape pod and launched towards the nearby planet of Terra 2 to meet up with a freelance ship captain who is supposed to get you to the aforementioned mad scientist's secret lair. Unfortunately, the freelance ship captain was an idiot and stood directly on the pod's landing beacon causing you to crush him to death accidentally. Oops. Guidance system error in your favor. Collect one starship. You're the freelance captain now!
There are a few ways you can play this game as is par for the course with these Western RPGs. You could be the selfless savior who acts for the good of the colony in all things. You could be thuggishly chaotic neutral who does whatever is best for himself without regard for effects on others. If you're a filthy capitalist pig, you could even play the role of the corporate stooge who works for the Board and turns in the bounty on the mad scientist who saved you although that's rather rude and cuts the game short by a significant margin. I, being a good comrade, chose to side the workers in all things and oppose the Board in almost everything. I'll admit that it took an hour or two for the game to hook me, but once I was hooked, I was hooked just as hard as I'd been with New Vegas.
The game's sound design is absolutely superb. The voice acting is (for the most part) top notch. The only exceptions to that are some of the random unnamed NPCs in the towns and some of the screams in battle. Some of those screams are REALLY over the top. One of my characters took an admittedly pretty hard hit from a wild creature and screamed for literally like fifteen straight seconds. Just one long, agonized, unholy scream of terror and agony. After ten seconds of it, it went from being annoying to just unsettling. Those are my only audio complaints, though. The soundtrack is phenomenal with calmer scenes and loading screens having some terrific orchestral background music.
The game's visual presentation is spot on, too. I played on PS4 Pro, and the game just looks beautiful. Some of the textures can take a second to pop in after you load into the world, and that's jarring, and there are some issues with characters just popping in and out of existence in the world (though this seemed mostly isolated to the Peril on Gorgon DLC from my experience), but I'd give it a solid 8 out of 10 on the graphics front. I did encounter a good number of bugs, but the vast majority were extremely minor bugs that affected gameplay in no meaningful way. I only had to reload a save due to a bug once or twice. I mean, compared to Bethesda's RPGs, this game was downright polished. The phrase "It just works" would actually be truthful if applied to The Outer Worlds. Sorry, Todd, but it looks like Obsidian does better work without you than with you. It might because they were using the glorious Unreal Engine 4 for this game as opposed to that wretched Gamebryo engine.
Obvious comparisons with Fallout aside, The Outer Worlds is a truly outstanding game that takes all of the good parts of its Fallout heritage while still standing on its own two feet as a unique and enjoyable experience. I do hate Obsidian's choice to use the "point of no return" mechanic meaning I'll have to reload an older save to play the unreleased DLC, but that's a relatively minor complaint all things considered. The Outer Worlds isn't perfect - it's still somewhat buggy, there aren't as many side areas and planets to explore as I might have hoped, and the unique weapons rarely feel especially unique - but it's clear from the get-go that a lot of care and effort went into the development of this game. If you're a fan of Western RPGs like Mass Effect, Fallout, Knights of the Old Republic, so on and so forth, you absolutely must give The Outer Worlds a spin. I hate that I slept on this one as long as I did, but there's still some DLC that's been announced but hasn't been released yet, so it's never too late to jump in and stick it to the Board.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Windows
I'm an absolute slut for turn based tactics games. It doesn't matter if they're fantasy settings like Fire Emblem, modern settings like Breach and Clear, or sci-fi settings like XCOM. I absolutely adore turn based tactics. When I saw Phantom Doctrine for sale on the Switch eShop, I figured I'd take a look. What I saw looked like XCOM, and much to my delight, that's basically what Phantom Doctrine is - a dollar store XCOM clone.
Phantom Doctrine takes place towards the end of the Cold War in 1983. You can choose to play as either a former American CIA agent, a former Soviet KGB agent, or a former Israeli Mossad agent. Since this is an epic Cold War struggle, I'm obviously not going to pick Mossad (sorry, Israel, but you're not as iconic a Cold War combatant), and the Soviet Union is the ultimate video game adversary after the Nazis, so I clearly can't choose to play AS a Soviet, so I was left with the CIA. Fortunately, you play as a FORMER agent of the organization you choose, not an active agent, and your interests start to split pretty early on. You lead a secret organization known as the Cabal as you try to thwart the machinations of the cryptic and malign Beholder Initiative.
The actual gameplay is VERY reminiscent of XCOM. You have a main base from which you manage your resources, both capital and human. Money is used to expand your base, upgrade your facilities, purchase weapons and armor, and hire new agents. It's also used to send your agents into the field and in some random events. Sometimes you'll get a random prompt that one of your agents has been arrested, and you can choose to either let them rot in jail, leave them in jail but send a care package for $200 (it's a random amount I just made up; I don't remember what it actually was), or bail them out for $1000. Your choice will have effects on your relationship with the character and their abilities, so choose carefully; sometimes the choice that feels right ends up having the most disastrous consequences. Throughout the world, possible enemy activity will show up in random cities, so you have to send your agents. Sometimes it's nothing. Sometimes it's an informant who will help you. Sometimes it's a beholder plot that you have to stop lest your base's Danger rating increase. If your base's Danger rating gets too high, you'll have to pay to move your base, and that is NOT cheap. If you keep your base where it is with a high danger rating, then you run the risk of being attacked by Beholder agents.
As is normally the case with any game that lets me name my characters, I found myself getting really attached to characters really easily. That's why I had to be extra careful when I deployed my characters on a combat mission. The gameplay is almost exactly like XCOM if it were a low budget game with about a tenth of the polish and refinement. It's an incredibly fun game, but it's definitely rough around the edges, it has some pretty noticeable bugs and glitches here and there, and the budget title nature of the game shows through. The mission objectives vary. Sometimes you have to disarm a certain number of bombs, sometimes you have to kill all of the enemies, sometimes you have to kill or capture a Beholder agent (I always went for capture so I could torture them for information at my base), and sometimes you have to rescue a captured Cabal agent who will join your team after the mission. If your agent is eliminated in combat, you have a few turns to stabilize them so they don't bleed out which allows you to carry them with you back to the extraction point. If you do that, they survive. If they bleed out or aren't carried to the extraction point, they're either dead forever or captured by Beholder. In the latter case, there's a chance they'll be brainwashed and become Beholder agents in future missions although you can unlock a base facility that allows you to remove that brainwashing if you incapacitate and recapture them down the line.
The visuals are...okay. I mean, they're not terrible, but they definitely look like they'd be more at home on a seventh generation console like the PS3, not an eight generation console like the Switch. It certainly doesn't affect the gameplay, and I got used to it pretty quickly, but it is rather jarring to go from Mario Kart 8 and Breath of the Wild and Wolfenstein II to this. The sound design is fairly good overall. The music is pretty well done, but the voice acting is...bad. I mean, wow, the voice acting is definitely the low point of this game. It's definitely not at the Sega CD and PS1 FMV game levels of terrible acting, but these are clearly not A list actors. Hell, I don't think most of them are even C list actors. Your CIA contact sounds like he's having a stroke throughout most of his lines. Fortunately, the voice acting you'll hear most often are the random little lines of dialogue from your agents when you have them take an action on your turn, so they're pretty easy to block out and ignore.
Phantom Doctrine is a fun little game if you can find it cheap. Personally, I wouldn't pay more than $15 for it - maybe $20 - but definitely not the normal price of $40. If you can find it on sale, though, then I definitely recommend it as it absolutely is a fun game with an interesting albeit not groundbreaking story. If you do find yourself hooked by the game's story and world, though, there's a New Game+ of sorts where you replay the game and get some extra gameplay and extra insight into Beholder Initiative's schemes. Just don't go into this game expecting it to be XCOM because, as I said in the beginning, it's definitely a dollar store XCOM clone. If XCOM is a two liter bottle of Sunkist, Phantom Doctrine is a two liter bottle of Omazing Orange; it's still really good, but it doesn't hold a candle to real deal.
My Rating - 3 Neps
I've got some great friends. Whenever I'm feeling down - and lately that's been lower than US stock prices on October 29, 1929 - they're always there to have my back. Let me tell you a story. One of my friends, TC, knows that I've been going through a hell of a rough patch. He also knows that I'm a filthy degenerate who loves waifus. He gifted me the other night a couple of silly dumb looking indie games on Steam one of which was The Last of Waifus. I was so excited to play this game. I figured this was exactly the kind of nonsense I needed to find a moment of up in my current world of despair. I was not incorrect in this assessment.
Let's be upfront about this game's quality. It's garbage. I mean, this game is pure, unadulterated garbage. This is kind of Unity engine indie game that one dude probably made in his basement over the course of a weekend. Does that mean it's not fun? If you answered "Yes" to that question, you should probably move along because this is not the blog for you, and I am not the reviewer for you. I played this game until I had unlocked all 15 achievements, and I tell you what, it was the most fun half hour I've had in a hot minute. Okay, so it was actually more like 20 minutes, not half an hour, but you get my point; the game's short.
You play as a big titty anime girl in a camo bikini carrying an entire arsenal of weaponry from a knife and a bow to a rocket launcher and what I assume is supposed to be a .50 caliber sniper rifle. Once you go through the gate separating the safe area from the actual game, you have to survive waves of identical shirtless zombies all of whom clearly didn't miss a single day at the gym. That's it. That's the whole game. As far as I've been able to tell, there's only one map, and the waves never end. You just keep shooting identical zombies until you inevitably die. There is no story. There are no bosses. There is no enemy variety. You just shoot and eventually die. Then you respawn at the safe area and do it again. That's The Last of Waifus. And why is she holding that rifle by the magazine when there's a grip literally an inch in front of it? These are the questions that keep me up at night.
Now clearly this game's title is referencing The Last of Us, but other than the main menu very vaguely resembling it and the ruined block of town you play in looking kind of sort of like a city area from The Last of Us maybe if you squint real hard and turn your head sideways, there aren't any similarities. I don't actually even know if these are technically zombies. Are they? Are they aliens? Are they Weyland-Yutani androids? Are they reclaimed Borg drones with all of their implants removed? Are they vampires who've developed an immunity to sunlight? Are they emo kids on steroids? I don't know. All I know is that they want to kill my unnamed waifu, and it's mildly entertaining to shoot at them.
The Last of Waifus is a mindless time waster and nothing more. As a mindless time waster, though, it does a pretty fair job in my opinion. There's more depth in a sidewalk puddle, but if you just want to spend ten or fifteen minutes shooting things as a cute anime waifu, this is the game for you, bro. It's $2 on Steam, and I can say with absolute certainty that this game brought me significantly more satisfaction than an Egg McMuffin (and that actually costs more than this game). It's repetitive, and it's as bare bones as it gets, but it's cute. At the end of the day, isn't that what the world really needs in 2020? Cute waifus killing things? As a video game, though, if I'm being objective, it's pants.
My Rating - 1 Nep
Also available on PlayStation 4 and Windows
I normally am not one to jump on Star Wars games on release day - I'm a much bigger Star Trek fan than I am a Star Wars fan - but this is one that I knew from the first reveal that I couldn't sleep on. John Linneman said in Digital Foundry's review that Star Wars Squadrons was a "perfect console game," and I couldn't agree more. He was able to test it on Xbox One, Xbox One X, Playstation 4, Playstation 4 Pro, and Playstation VR whereas I've only been able to play on the Xbox One X, but between my personal experience with the One X and his detailed analysis of how it runs on the other hardware, I've got to tip my had to EA - this really is a perfect console game.
Let's start with the reason I play games - the single player campaign. The story takes place between the end of Return of the Jedi and the start of The Force Awakens as the Galactic Empire continues to struggle against the infant New Republic while dealing with the fallout of Emperor Palpatine's death. The game tells a split narrative in which you play as both a New Republic pilot and an Imperial pilot depending on the mission. The campaign revolves around the New Republic's secret project to build its new Starhawk class capital ship, either running missions as a Republic pilot to help make that construction a reality or as an Imperial pilot to sabotage the project. The story itself is great, but what really sold it for me is the motion capture and voice acting. A lot of the cut scenes really felt like I was watching a Star Wars movie. It's a hell of a cinematic game.
The gameplay itself is, at its core, your average first person space dogfighter but polished to perfection. The game features four classes of ship the exact class of which naturally varies depending on whether you're playing as the Republic or the Empire - Fighter (X-Wing or TIE Fighter), Interceptor (A-Wing or TIE Interceptor), Bomber (Y-Wing or TIE Bomber), and Support (U-Wing or TIE Reaper). Each ship handles totally differently and plays a different role, so there's plenty of gameplay variety to be had here. The handling of the fighters makes it feel more authentic than I can adequately describe. I can only imagine how fantastic playing this VR must be (note to self: double dip on Playstation 4). By gaining experience and leveling up in multiplayer, you can unlock additional ship components each of which have their own pros and cons. Some lasers do more damage than others but overheat faster. Some shields have a higher capacity but slower recharge. Some hulls have more hit points but cut your maneuverability. Some engines have better boost but lower top speed. You can equip various secondary items - repair droid, proton torpedoes, seeker missiles, etc. In that regard, your ship loadouts are every bit as customizable as loadouts in a first person shooter, and can add an enormous amount of variety to the gameplay.
Despite the fact that I'm primarily a story mode gamer, it was actually the multiplayer that drove my purchase decision here. Normally I'd have gotten a game like this on Playstation 4 due to the VR support, but I got this one on Xbox One to play with college friends, and I absolutely do not regret that decision because the multiplayer here is absolutely fantastic. You've got your standard PVP dogfight mode - Imperial team vs Republic team - but you've also got two version of a fleet battle mode. In this game mode, each team has a capital ship, two frigates, and a bunch of fighters. Your goal is to destroy enough enemy fighters to gain the momentum advantage, then destroy the two frigates, then finally destroy the capital ship to attain victory. If enough of your ships get destroyed to give the enemy the momentum advantage, you have to go on the defensive until you can retake that advantage. It's a brilliant game mode that in my opinion is far more rewarding than the standard dogfight. There are two versions of this mode - PVP and PVE. The difference is pretty obvious; both teams are human players in one version whereas one team is entirely AI in the other.
Star Wars Squadrons just gets everything right. It really is a perfect console experience. The single player is a ton of fun, the multiplayer is virtually perfect, and the game looks absolutely beautiful in 4K. The detail on the huge battleships is stunning, and the frame rate is damn locked at 60 fps on the One X. The cherry on top is that the game is only $40 on day one. This is peak Star Wars action, folks, and it's a perfect swan song for the Frostbite 3 engine since I'd be willing to be that this will probably be the last major AAA game we see released before EA unveils Frostbite 4. No matter if you're an Xbox gamer, a Playstation gamer, or a PC gamer, between how damn good this game his, how well it runs, and its relatively low price point, this is one flight combat sim you can't afford to sleep on especially with the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X haveing backwards compatibility.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 3 and Windows
I was super late to the game playing Battlefield 3. I've always been a fan of the Battlefield series in general ever since the glorious 1942. With Battlefield 3, though, I was always a little put off. This game came out in 2011 at the height of the gaming industry's inundation of brown, desaturated first person shooters featuring Americans killing brown people. After going through a bit of a mental health slump back in July, though, I found myself needing that very type of game - mindless nationalist violence. Like a faithful dog, Battlefield 3 was waiting on my shelf for me despite the years I'd spent neglecting it.
Considering the hardware and the fact that the game is nine years old, the visuals are outstanding. Sure, it's no Battlefield V, but it's running on hardware that's almost old enough to have a driver's license. DICE really did a phenomenal job of squeezing a tremendous amount of visual fidelity out of the Xbox 360. The Xbox 360 offers some optional texture packs that really show off the potential of the hardware and the Frostbite 2 engine. Battlefield games in general usually nail immersion, but the particle physics and lighting effects used here really double down on that strength.
The first thing I noticed about the core gameplay is that it's extremely similar to what I saw in the Bad Company games, and you know what? That's a good thing. Hell, that's a great thing. DICE pretty much perfected the feel and mechanics of infantry and vehicle combat in the Bad Company games, so all it really needed in Battlefield 3 were minor tweaks. Now I'm a single player oriented gamer, so that's how I primarily judge games, and unfortunately for Battlefield 3, single player isn't its main focus. The single player campaign is perfectly fine, but that's the thing - it's fine. It's not bad, but it's not outstanding or anything. It's fun while you're playing it, and there are definitely some likeable characters and awesome moments, but as an overall product, it's rather forgettable.
Where Battlefield 3 really shines is the multiplayer. Whether you're playing the traditional team based deathmatch or the conquest game mode, Battlefield 3 was clearly geared towards online multiplayer. When it released in 2011, Battlefield 3 had arguably the best online multiplayer on consoles. I fondly remember playing Battlefield 3 online with my full time BFF/part time secret husband, Grant, when we were in college. As great as Call of Duty is for online multiplayer, Battlefield 3 dethroned it for a while there in my book. Granted, that doesn't mean much in 2020 with multiple Battlefield games having released in the past nine years, but you can still find a game online every now and then.
Unfortunately for those of us who love revisiting games years (or decades) down the line, Battlefield 3's heyday has definitely come and gone. The multiplayer was always the focus for Battlefield, and unfortunately, given how old the game is, Battlefield 3's online community is pretty sparse these days. There's still a bit of a community on PC, but most console players have understandably moved on. I wish I could say that the campaign is a great experience, but while it's certainly not bad, it's nothing to write home about. It's a solidly competent and okay shooter, but it doesn't have the high octane energy of Doom or the emotional sucker punch of Spec Ops: The Line, but it's definitely worth playing through once if you're a fan of military shooters with modern settings.
My Rating - 3 Neps
For me personally, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is an exemplar of why game developers and publishers need to release free demos of their games for download. I had never touched a Pokemon Mystery Dungeon game before this one. I always thought they looked cute but never interesting enough to bother spending money on and playing. When I saw that the demo for this remake was free to try, though, I thought, "Why not? Can't beat free." Within about ten minutes, I was hooked. I still waited a couple months to buy the full game (I had one of my VERY rare moments of financial responsibility), but once that tax refund check hit, you better believe I used what little I got back to pick up a copy (along with Doom Eternal).
The basic premise is that you're a human turned into a Pokemon through plot device magic, and you team up with a BFF Pokemon (in my case, Jeff Dahmer the Charmander and Lil Homie the Squirtle, respectively) to form a rescue team to go help save Pokemon in danger from the natural disasters occurring all over the land. I named my team PokeBros. From there, you go through procedurally generated dungeons, battle random Pokemon, pick up items, and try to find the stairs to the next level of the dungeon as you search for whatever Pokemon it is you're tasked with saving. Sometimes when you defeat an enemy Pokemon, it can develop acute Stockholm Syndrome and feel some kinship with you after you beat the shit out of it. This Pokemon will then ask to join your party. For the rest of the dungeon, it will serve as an ally NPC. When you clear the dungeon (assuming it hasn't been defeated by an enemy), the ally NPC Pokemon will ask to join your rescue team. If you have a camp it can stay in (each camp only allows certain Pokemon, so build as many camps as you can as quickly as you can), you can invite it to join your rescue team. If you don't have a camp for it or decline to invite it, you'll get some money as a reward for giving it a great adventure (and beating the shit out of it). If you invite it join your team, it can fill one of the three playable slots in your rescue team. Keep in mind, though, that you can only have up to five ally NPC Pokemon with you at a time. This was disappointing to me as I found my sixth abused Sandshrew that asked to join but couldn't and forced me to abandon my dreams of building a grand Sandshrew army.
The game of which this is a remake was a 2D Game Boy Advance game, and while the remake keeps the 2D gameplay, the environments and characters themselves have been redone in a 3D style that has an EXTREMELY visually pleasing hand-drawn aesthetic. Honestly, the visuals are probably my favorite part of the game. The gameplay is great, the characters are cute, and I obviously love building as large a reserve of rescue team members as I can, but the graphics are just to beautiful and well-done that it's hard not to be stunned. It's reminiscent of Muramasa on Wii and Vita with the art direction. That's not to say that it necessarily looks exactly like Muramasa, but the obvious care and artistic flair with which the visual style was crafted definitely reminded me a lot of it. As far as game features, though, it's mostly a pretty standard dungeon crawler, but there is one that I want to mention specifically - the rescue system. Not rescuing NPCs - that's the whole point of the game - but when your team gets knocked out. If all three members of your team faint in a dungeon, you have two options - respawn and lose all of your money, progress, and items; or put in a rescue request. If you choose the latter option and have the ability to play online, you can put up a request (with a seven day expiration) and hope that another real player online will see your request, take the job, and rescue your team. From there, you can continue your journey through the dungeon where you were defeated without losing any items or money. If you don't have the ability to play online but do have more than three Pokemon that you've recruited, you can put together a second three-man team and go rescue yourself. This is definitely the faster way, but I personally preferred having someone rescue me and using my other Pokemon to rescue other people who've put up requests in the meantime. It's not efficient, but it was more fun to me personally. It was a really nice touch, and while it's not true multiplayer, it's a cool way to get player interactivity into the game.
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX may have been my first experience with the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon spin-off series, but I highly doubt it will be my last one. I had an absolute blast playing it, and I'll definitely be going back to do some of the post-game content. It's addicting and chill all at the same time, and it's just so damn CUTE. The art direction really steals the show, and while that in no way should diminish one's appreciation for the fantastic soundtrack in the game, it's not often that I see games as oozing with artistic style as this one. This is definitely a game to keep on your radar, folks. If nothing else, download the demo (it's free; what do you have to lose?) and see if it scratches that itch for you the way that it did for me.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Wii, Wii U, and 3DS via Virtual Console
Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War (sometimes referred to as Fire Emblem 4 as it was the fourth retail release) is one of the seven Fire Emblem games that never saw a release outside of Japan (eight if you count BS Fire Emblem), and that's a real shame because this game is incredible. With this game's completion, Thracia 776 is now the only game in the series that I haven't played as of the time of writing, and setting that one aside as I obviously can't judge it, Genealogy of the Holy War has solidly taken the #3 spot on my ranking of Fire Emblem games after Awakening and Three Houses, respectively.
What really sets Genealogy apart from the three games that came before it is that the story is split into two distinct parts with a distinct line-up of characters for each part that only has a couple instances of overlap. In the first half of the game, your protagonist is Sigurd, the young heir next in line to become lord of the Grannvale territory of Chalphy. The bulk of Grannvale's army - including Sigurd's lord father - is away fighting a war against the Kingdom of Issach in the northeastern corner of the continent of Jugdral. During this moment of vulnerability at home, the neighboring kingdom of Verdane in Jugdral's southwest corner launches an unprovoked invasion of Grannvale. Sigurd must take what few knights were left in Chalphy and protect the kingdom from these invaders. This leads into what ends up being a much longer military campaign than Sigurd expected, and along the way, he picks up new friends and allies. For the first six of the game's twelve chapters, you play as Sigurd and his army. Then, after some plot points I won't spoil, the game jumps forward fifteen years.
The last six chapters have Sigurd's son, Seliph, as the protagonist. In the time between the two generations, Grannvale has moved from being a relatively peaceful kingdom to being an autocratic empire ruling all of Jugdral with an iron fist. Seliph is thrust into the position of revolutionary as fate places him in command of an army of liberation that, starting in Isaach, begins a march throughout eastern Jugdral with the goal of freeing the continent from the Empire's grasp and restoring justice and freedom to Grannvale. With the exception of Finn, a knight from Leonster in Jugdral's southeastern Thracian peninsula, none of your combat troops from the first generation make a return in part two. One non-combat unit from part one becomes a combat unit in part two, and one combat unit from part one becomes a non-combat character in part two, but Finn is the only one who takes part in combat in both generations.
The "generation" mechanic, which wouldn't come back until my beloved Fire Emblem Awakening, it really what sets Genealogy of the Holy War apart. To put it briefly, each female in your army will, if my count was right, have two children if they're paired with a male lover by the end of Chapter 5. The son will inherit the items and skills of whomever the father was, and the daughter will inherit the items and skills of whomever the mother was. If there's a female unit who isn't paired up, some boring and much less powerful substitute unit will take the children's places. Protip - Ayra's children could single handedly win the second half of the game for you. I mean, not literally, but they're broken in the most glorious ways possible.
The character art is really good and, with the exception of some enemy units, makes each of your units feel unique and special. The enemies leave a little to be desired in that regard, though, as even named enemies tend to look the same. Almost all of the female mages look exactly the same with just different eye and hair colors, most of the male generals look the same, and most of the dark priests pretty much look the same. At least the player characters - the ones you see most of the time - each look solid and unique. The sprites, too, look really nice. The game's soundtrack, something that always stands out as special to me in Fire Emblem games, doesn't disappoint here, either, as all of the game's music is extremely well composed and fits the mood and tone of whatever's going on perfectly.
The game's general objective is pretty much the same as most Fire Emblem games - evil cult tries to resurrect evil dragon to take over the world, so good guys descended from legendary good guys have to team up, awaken some super good dragon, and beat the evil dragon to save the world. Most of the series follows the same basic script. It's the details and smaller story elements that make each game unique, and they really knock those out of the park with this game. As I said in the beginning, this game rocketed into my top three, and it's definitely my favorite pre-3DS Fire Emblem game. It gets everything right. There were one or two little translation quirks I noticed where the wording was just a little awkward - "I crave your forgiveness" being a line that stood out to me and probably could more accurately have been translated as "I beg your pardon" or simply "Please forgive me" - but I've seen officially licensed translations that people were paid to do that had more errors than this free fan translation, so you know what? A+ on this one, dude. If you had taken me in cold and told me that this was an official commercial localization, I'd have totally believed it without hesitation.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Animal Crossing is a series that I've heard a lot about from a lot of friends and always meant to get into but somehow never did. I even bought New Leaf on 3DS when I saw the Nintendo Selects release on sale for like $15, but I never actually got around to playing it. When New Horizons was announced for Switch, I knew that this game would be my entry point to the series, and wow, what an entry point that was!
I knew going into this game that it would either be a game of which I quickly grew bored or a game that quickly consumes my life. Unsurprisingly, it turned out to be the latter. As of the time of writing, the game has been out for just under three weeks, and I've put nearly 100 hours into it. The premise is simple; the ruthless venture capitalist, Tom Nook, designs this "island getaway" package where you can move to a deserted island and start a new life (a new life that immediately begins deeply in debt). It's basically just indentured servitude but with cute animals and fewer beatings. At first, you only owe Tom Nook for the moving expenses. If you want to upgrade from a tent to a house, though, that's another loan. From there, you can expand your house six times, each expansion requiring an increasingly large loan. When all's said and done, you end up owing Nook a total of 5,696,000 bells. That's a lot of money. You also have to pay him whenever you want to change the outside appearance of your house (although that becomes free once you pay off the last upgrade loan), whenever you want to move your house, whenever you want to build a bridge, or whenever you want to build a staircase. You also have to pay him if you want to add a new house to your island to get a new villager. Donald Trump wishes he had the business acumen of Tom Nook.
The most striking thing about the game for me was the visuals. They're bright, they're colorful, they're gorgeous, and they're CUTE AS HELL. There are a ton of different villagers you can recruit to your island, loads of clothes to wear, and an ENORMOUS selection of furniture and designs to use to decorate your house and your island as a whole. You can also make your own designs to use as wallpaper, flooring, canvas paintings, clothes, or wall art - something they should NOT have let me do. I spent my entire playthrough jumping from outrageously lewd outfits to fabulously effeminate outfits. Especially once that Bunny Day event hit. NOBODY can pull off that cute flowery yellow dress like I can. #swag
So as for the "goal" of the game, your main objective (other than do whatever the hell you want because it's Animal Crossing) is to get your island to a three star rating so the world renowned musician and all-around Good Boy K.K. Slider will come perform a concert on your island. To do that, you need to get villagers to move to your island, upgrade your resident services, and make your island generally appealing to folks. Build bridges, build stairs, clear away weeds, put up decorations, etc. Once you get K.K. Slider to perform on your island, the credits roll, and you unlock the terraforming ability, letting you add or remove waterways, cliffs, and paths from your island.
My favorite part of the game, though, is the connectivity. You can visit friends' islands. You can have them visit your island. You can send each other letters and gifts. It's just such a nice, relaxing, friendly game. Unless Flake visits your island and digs up all your flowers. >_> You can also build the museum where you can donate one of each bug, fish, or fossil you find to show off in exhibits, and being a TOTAL and unrepentant nerd, that was probably my favorite part. I liked discovering a new fossil or catching a new bug, but my absolute favorite thing was catching a new fish. Some bugs and fish only appear during certain hours and certain months of the year, so there's a lot of reason to keep coming back to the game now and then easily built in.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons may have been my first Animal Crossing game, but it certainly won't be my last. Honestly, I really can't think of much negative to say about it. The fishing can be annoying with the big fish sometimes fleeing within half a second of biting your lure, giving you almost no time to start reeling in, and it's annoying that you can't craft in bulk, but those are such minor complaints in the grand scheme of the game. It's such a perfect little relaxation game. "What do you do?" is a question I see online a lot, and legit, you just do whatever you want. You just vibe, man. Fish. Hunt bugs. Landscape. Whatever. Animal Crossing is what you make of it, and that's exactly what we need during the biggest pandemic in over a century.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Age of Empires is a game that always has had and always will have a special place in my heart. It was my first introduction to the real time strategy genre, and it was my first non-shareware or freeware PC game. I first played the original Age of Empires back in elementary school - I think in the second grade - when my friend, Thomas, had it on his computer (probably a whim-of-the-moment purchase of his dad's). I vividly remember playing it on his dad's laptop on the counter in their kitchen sitting on barstools and being completely enthralled by the ability to build a city, raise an army, and destroy our enemies. That game set me on the path of RTS obsession that has lasted into the present day. Not that I've ever gotten any good at the games, but whatever, they're fun.
Age of Empires II, a sequel that was far superior by pretty much every metric, was definitely more popular and went on to receive both an HD remaster with new content as well as a later UHD remaster with even more new content. When a UHD remaster of the original game was finally announced (sadly without any cool new expansion like AoE2 got), I was obviously ecstatic. I did, however, make myself wait until it went on sale in one of my VERY rare moments of good financial sense. After all, I downloaded the HD remaster of Age of Empires II on day one (in one of my VERY common moments of bad financial sense), so other than nostalgia, there was no pressing need to download the remaster of the original game. That sale finally came (at least the one I noticed) during this COVID-19 pandemic - 50% off on Steam, marked down to $10 from $20. Normally $5 and below is my threshold for buying digital games I probably don't need, but whatever, I'll bite at $10 for the sake of nostalgia.
So this Definitive Edition includes both the five campaigns from the original Age of Empires as well as the five campaigns from the Rise of Rome expansion pack. Visually, they didn't rework the models for everything to the point where it looks like Starcraft II or Halo Wars, but the visuals definitely got a very nice overhaul, and there are three specific parts of the visuals that do deserve extra praise for looking especially outstanding - the water animations, the fire animations, and the destroy building models and animations. They really went above and beyond on those three things specifically, so much so that it almost looks out of place with the rest of the game just how good those look.
It's been so long since I've played the almost-quarter-century old release, so I can't be sure if the audio was actually good then, or if it's nostalgia coloring my memory, but everything sounds as crisp in the remaster as I remember it sounding in the original. Your villagers still say the classic "Rogan?" when you select them, and the priests still chant the famous and heavily memed "Wololo!" when converting an enemy unit. Honestly, "Wololo" and my fond memories of that are half the reason I took the 20+ hours to replay all ten campaigns. Another thing gloriously retained from the original release are the cheat codes. It's worth noting that the cheats do NOT disable achievements (although the achievements are all really easy to get without cheats except for the one that requires winning a ranked match online), but who cares about achievements - I can spawn babies riding tricycles with shotguns or stormtroopers with nuclear-armed rocket launchers at my Town Center! Also worth noting is that Microsoft has integrated Age of Empires's achievements with the Xbox achievement system, so your achievements give you points for your Xbox Live Gamerscore.
The campaigns themselves have always been a bit of an annoyance for me in their pacing. They jump around chronologically. You'll do a campaign taking place in the 300s CE and then the very next campaign is in the 200s BCE. As a history teacher, I know full well that you don't always teach history in a strictly chronological order, but when all of your campaigns (in the second half, anyway) deal with the Roman Empire, I feel like chronology is a good thing to maintain there. At least the campaigns themselves are pretty fun, and they do a good job of talking about the events they're depicting in the instruction section before you start each mission. I also need to give the devs a shout-out for using CE and BCE as opposed to the archaic and inherently sectarian AD and BC. For those who don't know, AD is "Anno Domini" which is Latin for "In the year of the Lord," and BC is "Before Christ." Those are, for reasons that should be obvious, not fit for a secular academic context. Instead, academics use CE for Common Era and BCE for Before Common Era.
All things considered, Age of Empires Definitive Edition is an exemplar of what a remaster should be in my opinion. They don't add much, but they don't take away, either; they give you a game you remember fondly from childhood (or adolescence) but make it prettier and smoother to fit with modern standards. The scenario and campaign creators are kept fully intact, the campaigns are kept intact, and the cheats are kept functional. They've also increased the number of units you can select at one time and the number you can have assigned to a specific hotkey (up to 36 from an original of 8 or 16 if memory serves). It's Age of Empires that you don't need Windows 95 to run well, and it looks great on modern displays. What more could an old school RTS fan ask for?
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Switch (release date TBD as of writing), and Windows
Doom 2016 is, in my opinion, the best game in the entire Doom series, so when the follow-up, Doom Eternal, got announced, I was more than a little excited. The fast paced goregasm balls-to-the-wall action that the 2016 reboot offered with the promise of more lore and 4K visuals (okay, technically 1800p on Xbox One X, but close enough for console) had me positively salivating. When Doom Eternal finally dropped, what we got made some changes that has the fanbase kind of divided over which game is better, 2016 or Eternal, but is nonetheless an absolute masterpiece.
The timeline can be more than a little confusing for Doom, but given how much world-building Doom Eternal does, something that the 2016 game started putting some real emphasis on, it's worth mentioning. For the most part, the games' releases are the order in which the timeline takes place minus Doom 3 which is almost certainly a parallel timeline. There's some debate over whether 2016 (and, thus, Doom Eternal) are another separate timeline or connected to the original timeline just 100 years in the future. Given how Doom 64 ends and how Doom 2016 starts, I say that 2016 takes place 100 years after 64, and that's backed up by some of the lore elements explored in Doom eternal. Or you could just disregard the story and massacre demons. Normally story is a core part of the experience in my opinion, but with Doom, I tend to make an exception for folks given how damn satisfying the combat is.
I've seen a lot of folks including close friends of mine say that Doom Eternal is the absolute peak of the series if not the best FPS game ever made. While I don't quite heap that much praise on it, it is an absolutely phenomenal game. The visuals, obviously, are unbelievable on Xbox One X, so I can only imagine how impressive they'd be on max PC settings. The combat, as I've mentioned, is also extraordinarily fun and addicting. It's very different from your standard FPS, though, and that can take some getting used to. There's no aiming down the sights, there's no reloading, there's no crouch, there's no stealth, there's no cover system. You rush forward, guns blazing, chainsaw roaring, and zip from enemy to enemy to finish them off with a glory kills so brutal that some could put Mortal Kombat to shame. That actually brings my only major complaint with the game - the Marauders.
These are new enemies introduced in Eternal. The Marauders definitely introduce some serious challenge to the game, but it's an addition that acts as a detriment to the game in my opinion. Unlike most enemies where the basic strategy is "throw an enormous amount of firepower while avoiding attacks," the Marauder is an extremely defensive enemy. If you're too close, he blasts you with a shotgun. If you're too far, he throws red energy blades at you. If you're at a perfect Goldilocks distance, his eyes will glow green just before he rushes at you for a melee attack. When his eyes are glowing green is the only time you can deal damage (preferably with the Super Shotgun); attacking him any other time will cause him to automatically raise a red energy shield, blocking all damage. Throughout all this, he repeatedly spawns a glowing orange ethereal wolf to attack you. The wolf only takes a couple shots to disperse, but the Marauder will keep respawning it throughout your fight. If it's just you and the Marauder, it's really annoying but doable; if it's you, the Marauder, and other demons, you're in for a fight tougher than most boss battles depending on what demons are there and how many. The biggest problem that I have with the Marauders is that they just break the flow of the gameplay. 95% of the game is frantic, intense, fast paced action, but the Marauder completely negates that, requiring you instead to take a slow and methodical approach of just waiting for an opening before getting off a shot or two. I loved almost all of Doom Eternal, but those Marauders were, in my opinion, distinctly NOT fun at all.
One of the things I love about Doom Eternal is the upgrades and collectibles (including secret unlockable cheat codes that you can activate when replaying a previously cleared mission). Each weapon except the Super Shotgun and BFG-9000 has to weapon mods that can be unlocked, and each of these mods have two or three upgrades that can be unlocked. If you unlock every upgrade for a mod, you can complete a challenge to unlock a "master upgrade" for that mod. Likewise, your suit has five categories each with a handful of upgrades to unlock. Some of these suit upgrades are directly combat related, like faster grenade cooldown or freezing enemies longer with ice grenades, whereas some are more passive upgrades, like a wider area of auto-map fill-in or faster ledge grabbing. There are also upgrades you can get with Sentinel crystals which will let you upgrade your max health, max armor, or max ammo a few times as well as giving a few other bonuses depending on what specific upgrades you choose. Lastly, there are runes to unlock that can change your gameplay experience. You can have three runes active at a time, and they provide upgrades like doing a glory kill from farther away, having a chance to survive a death blow once, etc. All of these various upgrades and options really allow you to mold the game to suit your preferred playstyle in a way that a lot of games don't allow.
Doom Eternal may not technically be perfect in my book, but it's pretty damn close. Take out the Marauders, and it would pretty much be a perfect shooter in my opinion. It's also hard as balls; as a long-time champion of playing games on Bitch Mode because I'm a busy adult with too many other games I want to play, I feel only minimal shame in admitting that I played this game on the lowest difficulty and still got my ass handed to me a few times. Granted, a huge part of that is because I suck at video games (despite how many I play), but this game's overall challenge is legitimately a lot higher than Doom 2016. That's not a bad thing, mind you, but man, it really drives home the hectic insanity of the combat. If you like Doom, shooters in general, or just gore for the sake of gore, you owe it to yourself to play this game. Play it on PC if you're a graphics whore. Play on PS4 or Xbox One if you're a regular gamer. Play it on Switch once it comes out if you're a cool kid like me. Whatever you do, though, play it. It's fantastic.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on Super Nintendo, Jaguar, 3DO, Mac OS, Acorn Archimedes, Apple IIGS, Game Boy Advance, Xbox, Linux, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, iOS, and Android
Having recently played through the entire Doom series, I had the itch revisit id's FPS breakout success from 1992, the legendary Wolfenstein 3D. I had played some of the console ports of Wolfenstein 3D - mainly the horribly censored SNES port and the glorious Jaguar port - but I'd never played through all six episodes start to finish. After a friend of mine heard this and took serious offense at the prospect of my playing a console port, I had an e-mail to redeem a gift copy of Wolfenstein 3D on Steam. The next eight hours were filled with Nazi killing and my own screams of frustration at the massive two-dimensional mazes that make up the game.
Because I had played Wolfenstein 3D before I played Doom back as a kid, it never struck me just how different these games play. Doom had always just been "a better Wolfenstein with demons instead of Nazis," but going back as an adult and playing Wolfenstein 3D after recently playing both Doom and Doom II, the differences are FAR more stark than I realized as a child. Despite being "3D," Wolfenstein is an entirely 2D game, just from a first person perspective. There are no stairs, no elevators, no ramps, no higher or lower levels. Unlike Doom, each level is just a large maze on a single plane. Somehow this aspect of the game had faded from my memory, and that aspect leads to a VERY different gameplay experience than Doom.
The other thing that struck me about Wolfenstein 3D is how primitive the game is compared to Doom. The visuals obviously are much more primitive, but the game itself just feels and plays a lot more primitive. You've got four weapons - a knife, a pistol, a submachine gun, and a chaingun - but you've really only got two weapons - knife and gun. That gun has three different firing rates depending on what you choose, but they all use a common pool of ammo, and there's not really any point in using anything below the fastest firing because they all do the same damage per shot from what I could tell. The game just doesn't feel quite as smooth or fluid, either. Maybe that's because the version I played was the original DOS release running in Steam via DOSBOX whereas I played a Switch port of Doom that probably had some smoothing under the hood, but it felt like a more radically different experience than I was expecting. Not bad, per se, but definitely different.
In my Doom review, I said that the gameplay was still just as satisfying as ever even if the graphics hadn't aged well. I'm not sure I can say the same about Wolfenstein 3D. To be clear, I still had a blast playing Wolfenstein for the most part (Episode 5 Floor 7 can die in a fire, though), but as a whole product, it definitely hasn't retained all of the playability that Doom has. It's ABSOLUTELY still worth experiencing and playing, especially if you love to kill Nazis (and if you don't, get the hell off my blog), but it's clear that id learned a lot and improved a lot in the year between Wolfenstein 3D and Doom.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Aleck 64
Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth is one of the later entries in the Star Soldier series of shmups, and this is a series that I'm quite a fan of. The NES port of Star Soldier was one of the first games I had growing up as a kid, so the series definitely has a special place in my heart. It's unfortunate, then, that this N64 entry proved to be such a major disappointment for me.
Being developed by Hudson, you'd be forgiven for going into Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth as I did with pretty lofty expectations. I mean, Hudson is no small time developer especially back in the 90s. They alone were reason enough to own a TurboGrafx-16 with games like Ys, Star Parodier, and Lords of Thunder to name a few. It's kind of like playing Super Mario 64, Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past, and Super Metroid before going to Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival. How could such an objectively talented and accomplished studio produce such a depressingly disappointing game?
While story is rarely a big driving force in arcade shmups, even by those standards, Vanishing Earth is okay at best. Some aliens launched an overwhelming attack on the Earth, and a small group of defenders has to fight them off. That's it. That's the story. I mean, yeah, that's the basic story of like 75% of the shmups out there, and I'm probably a little overly cynical because of how meh the whole game is, but there's legit nothing that sets it apart from the crowd. The audio is similarly forgettable. The music's okay, and the robot voicing when the bosses approach is interesting, but again, this is the studio that gave us Lords of Thunder. My expectations were higher. The gameplay is slow and cumbersome. Your ship feels like it's swimming through jelly, not flying through space. Your lasers do autofire if you hold the A button, but there's a delay between when you press the button and when they start autofiring. Because of that, I seriously played through the first three of the game's seven levels smashing the A button repeatedly before I realized that I just had to hold it down for a couple seconds to get it to start shooting more than once.
Pretty much the only aspect of the game that wasn't a massive disappointment for me was the visuals. It didn't blow my mind, but it does look pretty good for the Nintendo 64. The ships are all well modeled and animated, and the enemy attacks are usually pretty clear to see with the exception of a few awkwardly animated boss attacks. Unfortunately, impressive visuals aren't enough to redeem its dime-a-dozen story, mediocre sound design, sluggish controls, and so-so presentation.
Unfortunately, almost all of Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth is a massive disappointment. The game looks quite nice, but that's about as far as the compliments go. It's a shame, too, because the Star Soldier series deserved better, and Hudson was capable of so much better. Every studio has its duds, and this was one hell of a dud for Hudson. If you have a Nintendo 64 emulator on your PC or an Everdrive 64 cartridge, it might be worth checking out if you're a fan of Star Soldier like I am just to say that you experienced it, but don't get your hopes up, and definitely don't spend any money on this. It's just not worth the let down.
My Rating - 2 Neps
Also available on Nintendo 64, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows
Doom 64 saw Doom make the jump from psuedo 3D to actual 3D. It still resembled Doom and Doom II, giving it a fairly rudimentary 3D look in a lot of ways, but that also served to help keep it feeling like a true Doom sequel instead of a slightly awkward departure. -cough cough- Doom 3 -cough cough- Oh, and it's an absolute damn masterpiece.
The bulk of the monsters and weapons you've come to know in Doom and Doom II make a return in Doom 64. While some look pretty much the same, like the zombiemen and the Hell Knights, some look radically different, like the Pain Elemental (screw that thing). As far as the guns go, the biggest appearance difference is with the chainsaw. The jump to the Nintendo 64 saw Doom's chainsaw gain a second blade, making it not only infinitely cooler in general but probably the most badass melee weapon in any video game ever.
The game is pretty much what you'd expect from Doom; you spend the first third or so killing demons that have invaded human installations and settlements, and then you spend the last half to two thirds of the game killing demons through Hell and reminding them why it's a bad idea to go through those portals. Overall, I'd say the rigor of the puzzles is about on par with Doom and Doom II although that does vary from level to level. Some levels are no puzzles at all, straight murder. Some levels - like the VERY aptly named damn Unholy Temple - not only balls deep the puzzle aspect but do so in the most god awful annoying way possible. Seriously, that's the single most frustrating level in the entire Doom series (excluding maybe Doom Eternal which I've still not played at the time of writing because I'm poor).
Other than the general immense satisfaction that massacring the legions of Hell gives in Doom 64, my favorite part of this game is probably the final boss. It's BALLS hard, but it's a true honest to God (no pun intended) final boss experience. Doom had the Spiderdemon, and Doom II had the awkward living wall thing with the constantly spawning hordes, but Doom 64 basically has those two in one. The first phase is an absolute gauntlet where you have to fight through three or four massive waves of almost every type of enemy in the game. If you manage to survive that, you then fight the Mother of all Demons, and she is NOT to be underestimated. She makes the Spiderdemon and Cyberdemon look like punk tutorial foes. The game does give you pretty much full health, armor, and ammo for all weapons before the battle starts, but even with that, it took me a solid five attempts to clear the boss. Few final boss experiences have left me feeling quite that satisfied.
Because it's a port of a game from three console generations back, it obviously runs smooth as butter on modern platforms, but even playing on the original Nintendo 64 is one of the most satisfying goregasm experiences that the platform has to offer. Whether you're dusting off an old N64 cartridge or using one of those newfangled downloads on a PC or modern console, Doom 64 is about as good as it gets with demon massacring. There aren't many games that leave me feelingly completely and totally satisfied, but this is one of those few.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Nvidia Shield, Linux, OSX, and Windows
Back in 2004, seven years after the release of Doom 64 and eight years after the release of Doom II, id decided that it was time to try to reboot the Doom series. As the original Doom used some pretty advanced visuals (for 1993, anyway), Doom 3 was similarly cutting edge visually for the time. The graphics definitely look dated 16 years later, but it was an impressive game for the time, and this is a pretty solid port of it. To have Doom 3 on the handheld is definitely exciting.
Doom 3 marked a pretty big shift for the series as it took a step away from the pedal-to-the-metal badass action and a shift towards a distinct horror vibe. I, personally, dig the horror vibe as I'm a huge fan of horror games in general, but it's unfortunately not implemented here as well as I had hoped. The basic premise is that you're a marine escorting some government bigwig on some inspection of a UAC research facility on Mars when someone screws up and unleashes the forces of Hell on the planet. Instead of kicking ass and taking names like you did in Doom and Doom II, though, you're almost constantly outgunned, and instead of leaping out from every corner with guns blazing, you'll find yourself creeping around each corner and trying to conserve your ammo for the inevitable next demon you don't *quite* have the firepower to tackle confidently.
My first disappointment with the game was the implementation of the horror theme. Don't get me wrong; the game is definitely creepy, and it keeps you on your toes, but it's not a Resident Evil or a Silent Hill tier horror experience. My second and bigger disappointment was the feel of the gunplay in the game. The shotgun feels inaccurate at all ranges (as opposed to killing whatever is in its general direction at close range), the assault rifle feels like a rubber band gun, and the rocket launcher just doesn't have the oomph that you'd expect. The only weapon that feels better in Doom 3 than it did in Doom or Doom II is the chainsaw. The chainsaw was really disappointing in my opinion in the first two games, but it kicks ass in Doom 3. Unfortunately that improvement comes at the expense of every other weapon.
Doom 3 is pretty widely disliked (or at least liked less) among the Doom fanbase, and while I definitely enjoyed the game, it's not hard to see why. Doom did gore and action REALLY well; Doom 3 traded that for a mediocre horror experience. Had it been an incredible horror experience, it would have been a good trade, I think, but they traded greatness for mediocrity in my opinion. Releasing originally in 2004, too, and coming off the heels of Medal of Honor's and Halo's huge market successes, it feel a little bit like just another shooter. It's a lot more than that, but it definitely isn't nearly as unique or noteworthy as its predecessors were.
Doom 3 is a good horror game. It's a good supernatural shooter. It's not, however, a "great" anything. It's got a list price of $10 on the Switch eShop, and honestly, I think that's a bit steep. $7 would be good, I think, because it does include the Resurrection of Evil and Lost Missions expansions, but expansions for a "pretty good" game are still not going to add up to "great." If you see it on sale like I did (I got it for $3), then absolutely give it a download because it truly is a fun experience. It's just not an exceptional experience.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available for Game Boy Advance, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Android, iOS, MS-DOS, and Mac OS
Doom II picks up right after the end of the first game and, in a lot of ways, plays more like an expansion than a sequel. After defeating the demons on Mars, Doomguy arrives back home on Earth only to discover that the forces of Hell have invaded Earth. As the Earth's population evacuates the planet, Doomguy takes it upon himself to single handedly attempt to drive the demons off of Earth before venturing into Hell itself to destroy the demons at their source.
As far as gameplay is concerned, nothing really has changed since the first game. The only really noteworthy difference is the addition of the Super Shotgun. It uses the same ammo as the regular shotgun, but it expends two shells at once in exchange for vastly improved firepower. Naturally, being a shotgun whore, it was my weapon of choice throughout the game. Otherwise, it plays just like the first game. You run around in a primitive 3D environment blasting enemies while the game auto-aims along the Y axis. The levels are just as massive and mazelike as in the first game, sometimes more so. You're still hunting down various colored keys, switches, and hidden doors to progress through the level, and there are still par times that I'm almost always too shitty a player to meet.
For the most part, you'll face the same enemies as in the first game although there are a few new demons, most frustratingly the Pain Elemental and the Arch-Vile. The Pain Elemental looks a lot like the Cacodemon except that it constantly spawns Lost Souls, making it EXTREMELY annoying to first. The Arch-Vile looks a bit like a wendigo, reanimated killed enemies, has an absurd amount of HP, and deals a ton of damage. Basically it's a terrifying pain in the ass. The level designs and puzzles, while all resembling what the first game had to offer, feel a lot more polished and well planned in my opinion.
Overall, Doom II is more of the same from the original game, but the small additions here and there and the added polish make it feel like a wholly superior product all around. It doesn't change the formula so much as refine it. The Switch port that I played also has some officially supported add-ons that can be downloaded to add dozens of additional levels if you find yourself wanting more after finishing the campaign. There's also the addition of multiplayer that I wasn't able to try out. Hopefully I'll find someone who wants to play a video game old enough to be in the US House of Representatives with me and get to try this mode out at some point. Either way, though, Doom II is a cheap download on Switch that runs smoothly and is an absolute masterpiece of early 3D game design. If you're not turned off by early 90s visuals, definitely check this one out. The graphics haven't aged well at all, the gameplay is still as fun and addicting as ever.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Mac OS, and Windows
If you've played one Lego game, you've pretty much played them all. Likewise, if you've played one Lego game, you probably want to play them all because they're freaking awesome. Lego DC Super Villains is no exception; it has the same lovable Lego aesthetic and feel with the familiar gameplay but in a game where you play as some of the best villains from the DC comic universe.
The premise of DC Super Villains is that you're a super villain (obviously) working with Lex Luthor and Joker to cause chaos and take over the world or whatever cliche super villain scheme they have. That changes, however, when the Crime Syndicate from Earth-3 shows up and zaps the Justice League into purgatory or something. Suddenly being the lesser of the two evils, the Legion of Doom begins to recruit other super villains to oppose the Crime Syndicate and whatever it is they're planning besides the standard world domination trope. That was actually the source of my main disappointment with the game - I wanted to be a VILLAIN, not a normally-bad-guy-but-forced-to-be-good-ish-due-to-circumstances-guy. Don't get me wrong, the game is still super fun, but it wasn't quite what I'd been expecting.
Being a slut for customization options, my favorite aspect of the game was the character creator. You get to create a Lego supervillain as wacky or terrifying as your heart pleases. Naturally, being one who takes as little in life seriously as possible, I went for as wacky as possible. Behold...the universally feared and reviled Buhtseks Bandit! They thought their silly language filter would keep me from being pointlessly vulgar, but once again, my mental depravity proved superior. Your custom character's gimmick is that they can absorb and gain new superpowers, so your character starts off kinda meh but becomes more and more useful as the game progresses.
Visually and audibly, the game is fantastic. It looks great although the smooth plastic Lego aesthetic isn't exactly super intensive on system resources. Still, though, the game's colors really pop, and the Lego brick models do a great job of blending the unique Lego look while staying distinctly DC. The characters are all fully voiced with some serious industry heavy hitters reprising their usual characters. Mark Hamill, Michael Dorn, and Tara Strong all lend their voices to their usual characters just to name a few. The quality of the voice acting can really make or break a game especially when it uses characters that have a well known voice in other media. Keeping those voices for this work were a big part of my personal enjoyment here as I'm just a huge fan of Hamill, Dorn, and Strong in general.
While I wasn't able to test this myself because I have no friends to hang out with (cue sadness), there is two player local cooperative gameplay in Lego DC Super Villains. Since I wasn't able to test it personally, I can't speak to how well it works, but if it's like other Lego games, I imagine it's a great way to share the experience. In this increasingly online-obsessed age for gaming, the inclusion of local multiplayer of any kind in a game just tickles me pink.
I may have had my personal disappointment with not ACTUALLY being an evil supervillain in the context of the game's story, but Lego DC Super Villains was still a hella fun experience that definitely fits in with the other licensed Lego video game experiences. If you're a fan of Lego games, especially the other licensed comic book Lego games, then you definitely need to check this one out. There are over 150 playable characters in the game plus over half a dozen custom character slots plus all of the collectables hidden throughout the world that Lego games usually offer, so you can definitely play around with it for a long time to experience everything the game has to offer.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Switch and Windows
Gundam is a MASSIVE franchise in terms of games, movies, anime, and manga. A few years ago, I played through SD Gundam G Generation Genesis, a strategy RPG game that goes through the majority of Gundam's Universal Century timeline. Cross Rays is the companion game to Genesis; it keeps the same gameplay format, but rather than going through the Universal Century timeline, Cross Rays takes you through four of the Gundam alternate universes - Wing, Seed, 00, and Iron Blooded Orphans. As far as gameplay goes, if you liked Genesis, you'll like Cross Rays.
Despite having the same basic gameplay, I found myself enjoying Cross Rays significantly less than Genesis. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why. Are the levels longer? No, but there are more levels in Cross Rays. Maybe that was it? No, that can't be it; I was feeling the game fatigue before I was even halfway through the game. Maybe the dialogue was longer? Not that I could tell; the cutscenes and dialogue segments were pretty much as obscenely long as Genesis was. Then it finally occurred to me - it was the source material. I LOVE Universal Century. I'm heavily invested in that timeline, and each series you played through in Genesis took you farther in that same timeline. When you go through different segments of Cross Rays, you may have multiple series within the same timeline, but at the end of the day, the game has four separate timelines rather that one massive, unified timeline like Genesis. That's not to say that it's a good thing or a bad thing; I just found myself much less invested going through four different timelines especially given that Iron Blooded Orphans is the only timeline in Cross Rays that I'm particularly attached to.
For those who haven't played or read my review for G Generation Genesis, let's explore the gameplay. If you've played a game like Disgaea or Fire Emblem, then you know the core gameplay - you move your units around a grid map and fight the enemy force in a turn based strategy battleground. One of the big questions that comes up with every strategy game is "Are deaths permanent?" Well, yes and no. Yes, if your unit is destroyed, you lose that mobile suit forever. The pilot of that destroyed unit, however, is not killed. You keep that pilot; you just have to buy a new mobile suit for him or her. That's a pretty fair balance in my opinion. It takes away the mobile suit that you've been leveling up and improving, so it does discourage reckless gameplay; but you don't lose the pilots you've been leveling up and improving, so it is forgiving to a certain extent when you have an inevitably bad RNG roll or just make a bad move.
While the core gameplay mechanics are pretty much the same between Genesis and Cross Rays, that's not to say that it's identical. Cross Rays definitely did make some changes, and some of these are definitely changes for the better. Unit level-ups, for example, have been modified. In Genesis, when a unit leveled up, it was given a flat boost to all stats plus a couple of points that you could assign to whatever stat you wanted. Cross Rays took away that flat bonus and left it on the player to assign all stat points. This gives the player a little more agency to craft units to whatever role they want while also diminishing the massive disparity between early game and late game units. There's definitely a gap in power between those early and late game units, but it's not quite as drastic a difference as it was in Genesis.
The most significant addition is the Dispatch Missions. You can dispatch up to three of your four teams on missions that auto-complete in real time for capital, experience, and item rewards. The longer the mission, the better the rewards. Some of them complete in as little as two hours; some of the missions you unlock later on take 15 or 20 hours to complete. If you're a little short on cash, just take a break and do some dispatch missions. If your mobile suits are a little underleveled, take a break and do some dispatch missions. If you're just tired of the game but want a little nest egg to come back to, put your teams on some 12+ hour missions, and let your teams do the work for you. It's a pretty passive addition, but it's a fantastic addition.
SD Gundam G Generation Cross Rays is a MASSIVE strategy RPG that exposes you to four of the biggest alternate universes in the Gundam franchise. For me personally, it was an overall step down from SD Gundam G Generation Genesis, but it definitely made a lot of improvements, and a lot of folks will definitely see Cross Rays as a big step forward. Whether you see it as a little better, a little worse, about the same, or if it's your first exposure to the SD Gundam series, Cross Rays is a fantastic game. Play it on PC, play it on Switch, or play it on PS4, but if you like strategy gameplay and giant robot space battles, make sure that you play it.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on SNES, 32X, Jaguar, 3DO, PlayStation, Saturn, Acorn Archimedes, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Gameboy Advance, iOS, Android, and MS-DOS
Doom is one of those games that pretty much everyone has played. Part of that is because it’s just a damn amazing game, but it’s also largely because it’s been released on almost every system imaginable. Doom has been released, if I’m not mistaken, on fifteen different platforms since its original release 27 years ago. While most versions, especially the early versions, have their own inclusions and exclusions that make each somewhat distinct, this port to Switch has propelled itself to the position of my favorite Doom port without a doubt.
The story of Doom is pretty simple. You play as an unnamed space marine (usually referred to by fans as Doomguy) who was transferred to Mars after assaulting a superior officer who ordered his unit to fire on civilians. Doomguy acts as security for a company experimenting with a transporter to instantly move people between Mars’s two moons, Phobos and Deimos. Unfortunately, what they did was open a portal to Hell, and next thing you know you’ve got demons and possessed marines running around and killing. Time to kill.
Depending on the version of the game you play, the game is broken into either three or four parts; the Switch port that I played has the fourth chapter. The first three chapters, “Knee-Deep in the Dead,” “The Shores of Hell,” and "Inferno,” are the chapters that tell the story and the part of the game that I personally feel is most worth playing. The fourth chapter, “Thy Flesh Consumed,” wasn’t available until the release of Ultimate Doom and has very little in the way of story content. Between the lack of story elements in Thy Flesh Consumed and the bizarre difficulty curve (more on that later), I personally only found the first three parts to be truly worthwhile.
Doom definitely hasn’t aged well in the visuals department - after all, it was released before 3D technology was really a common thing - but man, the gameplay holds up just as well today as it did in the 90s, at least in my opinion. The fast and fluid gameplay, the simple point and shoot gameplay, and the hordes of demons and undead to slay make for an amazing experience even in 2020. The relatively short length of the levels makes it a perfect game to pick up and play a little at a time. Gotta take a poop? Kill some demons. Waiting in a doctor’s office waiting room? Slaughter some barons of Hell. Wife shopping for purses? Massacre some imps.
Knee-Deep in the Dead, The Shores of Hell, and Inferno all have a pretty standard, reasonable difficulty curve. Except for the boss level, Knee-Deep in the Dead is generally pretty easy once you get a feel for the controls. Shores of Hell definitely ratchets things up, and it gets a lot harder to start from just a pistol if you die and have to respawn, but with some effort and practice, it’s a challenge you can definitely overcome. Inferno, however, gets tough. Environmental hazards and hordes of increasingly powerful enemies make those levels a seriously tough endeavor. It always feels like a natural progression, though. Thy Flesh Consumed is another matter entirely. That episode feels like a pack of random levels thrown together haphazardly. Not only is it a huge difficulty spike, but it’s not an even difficulty curve at all. With the exception of the boss level, the first level was the hardest one, in my opinion, meanwhile, the third level felt like the easiest.
Whether you dust off the red SNES cartridge, rock the silent glory of the Atari Jaguar port, or kill on the go with last year’s Switch port, Doom is a damn good time. It’s violent as hell (pun intended) with gore for days, but it’s endlessly satisfying to play. It’s a definite challenge as you get on in the levels, but it’s a challenge worth tackling and feels so satisfying when you finish. I found myself getting HOPELESSLY lost in a lot of these levels and ended up with times easily 10x the par, but at no point did it stop being fun. Frustrating? Sure. But it was always fun.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4 and Windows
Star Wars: Jedi - Fallen Order is pretty much the first AAA purely single-player Star Wars game that we’ve gotten in quite a while thanks to EA’s “gamers don’t want single-player experiences” bullshit. Fortunately, their heads took a quick peek out of their asses and gave Star Wars fans what we’ve been clamoring for for years - an engaging Star Wars story with well-developed characters and the opportunity to murder things with a laser sword. Between the outcry about the lack of the single-player that the Battlefront reboot got and the exceptional sales of Fallen Order - more than 8 million copies sold in two months - I’m hoping that EA has finally started to realize that Star Wars fans want solid stories more than hollow online arenas. Or at least I do, and I’m always right.
Fallen Order takes place between the end of Revenge of the Sith and the start of A New Hope shortly after the Jedi Purge initiated by Order 66 as the Empire is first flexing its control over a war-weary galaxy. The game follows the Jedi Cal Kestis as he hides from the Imperial Inquisition (no one expects the Imperial Inquisition!). Throughout your journey, you travel to an explore five planets and face off against Sith-trained Jedi hunters and mafia bounty hunters like as you follow the clues left behind by Jedi Master Endo Cordova to find the key to rebuilding the Jedi Order.
With regards to gameplay, Fallen Order felt to me a lot like a cross between Batman: Arkham Asylum and Dark Souls. While it’s definitely a LOT more forgiving than Dark Souls even on the harder difficulties, I’ve taken to calling it Star Souls in jest because of how reminiscent the focus on timing blocks and parries is. The various difficulty levels make it a mercifully approachable game, but even so, even the lowest difficulty setting needs a bit more than simple brute force. I, naturally, played it on Bitch Mode because I generally play games - especially Star Wars game - for a God-complex power trip, not for personal challenge, but fighting Purge Troopers still required actual blocking and dodging. By no means is that a complaint, mind you, as the combat is EXTREMELY well-crafted in this game especially with the lightsaber combat options; you can fight with a regular single-bladed lightsaber, a double-bladed lightsaber like Darth Maul, or perform a special attack with your weapon broken into two single-bladed lightsabers.
As far as length goes, it’s a pretty average length for a single-player game. All things considered, I’d estimate it’s a roughly 15 to 20 hours experience for most folks depending on how much time you spend exploring each planet. There are a lot of outfits, ship paint jobs, and lightsaber customizations to find in the world and unlock, so there’s definitely incentive to explore for those who like a good collectathon. As is usually the case with me, I took the time to find about half of the world’s unlockables before I got bored and went to kill more things, but the lightsaber customization is definitely a nice touch.
Jedi: Fallen Order is a definite must-play for Star Wars fans, and I’d make it a strong recommendation for action game fans who don’t care for Star Wars. Attached IP aside, it’s an extremely entertaining and rewarding game. Tragically, it skipped Switch, but with support for the improvements offered by PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, it’s a gorgeous space-romp for folks with 4K set-ups. Whether you play on console or on PC, Fallen Order will definitely scratch your space-samurai itch.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, iOS, Android, Linux, OSX, and Windows
The Banner Saga 3 is the culmination of an epic fantasy trilogy that puts you in the position of leader of a caravan of refugees fleeing a Dredge invasion and a mysterious world-destroying “Darkness.” As was the case with the transition from The Banner Saga to The Banner Saga 2, the jump to The Banner Saga 3 sees almost nothing change. There are a couple of very minor quality of life tweaks that were made, but those are so minor that a lot of players might not even notice them. The only other big change is, as was the case with the second game, a bump to the level cap; the max level is now 15 instead of 10. Otherwise, it’s pretty much another continuation.
With the huge cliffhanger on which The Banner Saga 2 ended, there was a lot for The Banner Saga 3 to live up to. Personally, I found this third entry to be the weakest of the three, but that’s like saying that Fat Man was a weak bomb when you line it up against Castle Bravo and Czar Bomba; the weakest of three VERY strong entries is still pretty dang strong. By the time we get to this point in the narrative, the caravan has arrived in the last known free city in the world unswallowed by the ever-encroaching darkness, and it’s time to put up or shut up. The pressure is on as our heroes literally stare Armageddon in the face and try desperately to hold out against the slew of enemies pounding on the gates while a small team tries to venture into the Darkness and stop it from destroying all of creation.
The only minor problem I had with the fact that almost nothing has changed since the first game is that by the time you get to the third ten-hour game with almost no change to combat, the battles can feel a bit boring after a while. You know your basic strategy, you know your preferred combat line-up, and you know what enemies have what abilities for the most part; a lot of the fighting turns into a wash/rinse/repeat scenario, and that’s not going to hold everyone’s attention. I still found it personally enjoyable, but it was certainly less captivating at Hour 25 than it was at Hour 3.
Since this is a trilogy with no real visual or mechanic changes that flows pretty seamlessly in terms of narrative, it’s not a series you can really just jump into anywhere you like; to get a full appreciation for the trilogy and its story, you really have to start at the beginning. It’s fortunate, then, that the trilogy is available in a single package which is how I played it on Switch. The physical version of the trilogy, while coming on one game card, does require a download to start, so it’s not great in terms of preservation, but it is nice to have all three games in one bundle with one application to launch.
The Banner Saga 3 is the epic conclusion to a Nordic fantasy adventure that I honestly didn’t expect to love as much as I did. The characters are interesting and pretty deep, the storyline is compelling, the world is fascinating, the combat is fun, and the choices you have to make are difficult with often gut-wrenching consequences with which you have to learn to live. It was a remarkable trip that I wish I could experience for the first time all over again, and I consider the trilogy to be an absolute must-own for Switch players.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, iOS, Android, Linux, OSX, and Windows
The Banner Saga 2 picks up exactly where the first game left off, and not much has really changed. There’s no major gap in the story between the first game’s conclusion and the second game’s beginning, and the game’s mechanics and visuals are largely identical. The only change of note is that the max level for your characters has been increased from 5 to 10 which makes sense considering that they’re about to go through an entire second game’s worth of combat.
The main narrative point driving this second game is the approaching apocalyptic “Darkness” that threatens to destroy everything - human, Varl, and Dredge - and seems to be unstoppable. While the first game had an uneasy atmosphere, Banner Saga 2’s atmosphere is downright foreboding with the lurking specter of global annihilation coupled with the continued pressure and attacks from the Dredge. As the overall circumstances become more desperate, so too do the situations in which your caravan finds itself. As the leader of the caravan, it’s up to you to find resolutions to these situations, and as is often the case in real life, many situations leave you little but a choice between “bad” and “worse.” I think Polygon hit the nail on the head in their review when they said “The Banner Saga 2 is intense and unrelenting in its mission to make you feel like the worst leader alive” because of the choices you’re forced to make really do feel that way.
The combat is exactly the same as it was in the first game. It’s your standard SRPG affair with a team of six fighters chosen from your roster of probably WAY more characters than that. I usually ended up with three times as many fighters as I was allowed to field, and while I played on Bitch Mode (my term for Easy) keeping me from having any injuries kind of exacerbated how overstaffed my army was, the game is definitely generous with making sure you’re never lacking people to field in a fight. Partway through the game, a fourth race - the Centaur-looking Horseborn - is introduced, and this adds a new element to your combat strategy should you choose to employ your Horseborn character in combat.
All in all, The Banner Saga 2 is a perfect follow-up to the original game even considering how high the original game set the bar. The game’s story continues to impress, the characters continue to develop and entertain, and the choices the game forces you to make continue to twist your soul and make you live with the consequences of your often ill-considered decisions regardless of whether those consequences are positive or negative. It’s a fantastic ride from start to finish that will leave you almost literally salivating to see how the story wraps up in the third installment.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows
With Catherine getting an expanded and enhanced port for PS4 and Xbox One, I was sorely tempted to pick up this definitive edition and finally see what all the fuss is about with Atlus’s tower climbing puzzle adventure. Then I remembered that I’m poor and already have the original release on 360, so I figured I’d just play that version instead of spending more money I don’t have. From what I’ve read, the re-release has another character that adds some pretty major points to the story, but whatever; beggars can’t be choosers, and public teachers in North Carolina are definitely beggars.
You play as Vincent, a guy in his early 30s who’s, by all accounts, a pretty good dude but with a serious complacency problem. He’s in a long term relationship with Katerine, but while she clearly wants marriage, Vincent fits the stereotype of guy-who’s-terrified-of-commitment. Every night, Vincent meets up with his friends at the Stray Sheep bar, but one night he meets this young, flirtatious blonde named Catherine. Then, night after night, he starts having dreams about being trapped in his world full of talking sheep and being forced to climb a massive tower or die. What could this all mean? Who is Catherine? Why is everyone a sheep?
The underlying theme in Catherine is order vs chaos. Most games that introduce choice mechanics are on a good vs bad dichotomy, but Catherine’s choices aren’t so cut and dry. Sometimes the choice that seems “good” will swing you towards the chaos alignment, and the choices that swing you towards the order alignment sometimes seem kind of harsh. I don’t see this as a flaw so much as a commentary that life isn’t as easily discernible as black and white as a lot of us sometimes make it out to be.
For the first three quarters or so of the game, the story is fantastic. It’s got a solid romantic drama vibe going that really hooks the player and keeps them coming back to find out what happens next. The last part of the game, however, starts to weaken quickly. Once the secrets behind the game’s goings-on are revealed, it gets kind of disappointing. Not bad, per se, but much less intriguing and captivating than it had previously been.
The actual gameplay starts off pretty simple to ease you into the puzzle-solving, but after the first nights, it gets downright brutal. The bosses especially can be exceptionally challenging. What I have to note, however, is that the game never feels unfair. There are enough continues that it never feels insurmountable provided that you have the perseverance to keep trying until you figure it out. You’ll need quick reflexes to solve some of the later puzzles, but it’s totally doable.
Catherine was a frustrating experience at times, but it was an extremely rewarding experience. The puzzles really make you work your spatial reasoning skills, but they do so in a way that encourages you to keep trying rather than getting frustrated and giving up through checkpoints and retries. I can’t speak for the improvements and additions that were added in the PS4 and Xbox One remasters, but the original releases on PS3 and Xbox 360 are still totally worth playing in 2020, so I can only imagine that the polished and enhanced ports are even better.
My Rating - 3 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.