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
For more than 20 years, I’ve been a huge Pokemon fan. Since I was in the first grade playing Pokemon Red and Blue, I’ve been crazy about the series. One of the things that most excited me was always seeing all of the new Pokemon to catch and train and fitting them into my team. With that in mind, I was rather nervous about Pokemon Sword and Shield. There were a TON of features for which I was extremely excited, but likewise, there were some design choices that upset me and that I still question. Every sequel will have that to some extent, though - some design choices that I love and some that I loath. The real question, then, is do the good changes in Sword and Shield outweigh the bad for me?
Clearly, Pokemon Sword and Shield is popular - in its first weekend alone, it sold over 6 million units, making the best selling game in the series - but popular doesn’t always mean good, and I had some reservations. My biggest concern (and still my biggest complaint) is the lack of National Pokedex. That means that the only Pokemon in the game are the 400 in the Galarian Pokedex. Normally, during the main game, you’ll go through that region’s Pokedex and then have the ability to transfer Pokemon from previous games in the post-game after beating the main story. That’s not the case here, at least not fully. Sometime in early 2020, a companion app called Pokemon Home is supposed to launch and will give players the ability to transfer Pokemon from the 3DS Pokemon Bank and Let’s Go but only if those Pokemon are in the Galarian Pokedex. Sorry, Blastoise and Mewtwo lovers, but those Pokemon aren’t supported. On the one hand, I do understand - with fully animated 3D models, that would be an IMMENSE amount of work, and 400 Pokemon to catch is no small number as it is. Still, though, for a series whose tagline has been “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” for more than two decades, it’s odd not having the ability to catch them all.
While the lack of National Dex may be a major letdown for me and for players who play like me, it’s not all bad news with Sword and Shield. On the contrary, I found the additions to the game to outweigh the flaws by a mile. First and foremost, like Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee, the game is a fully 3D adventure for the first time with random encounters scrapped in favor of overworld encounters (for the most part, anyway). Sadly absent is the follower mechanic from Let’s Go, but GameFreak made up for it somewhat with the camp mechanic where you can pitch a tent and either play with or cook for your team. This is a great way to boost your friendship with your Pokemon, a somewhat cryptic mechanic needed to evolve certain species.
Sword and Shield also add the “Dynamax” mechanic, this game’s version of the Mega Evolutions from X and Y or the Z Moves from Sun and Moon. With Dynamaxing, under certain conditions and in certain arenas, your Pokemon can grow to enormous sizes and get a big stat boost for three turns. Likewise, your moves change based on type. A select few specimens from a small number of species can change their appearance while Dynamaxing and gain a special, unique attack; this is called Gigantimaxing. For most battles, Dynamaxing won’t really come into play, but they do for the gym battles and the championship battles, and they’re the main focus of my favorite addition to the game - raid battles.
There’s a special area of the map called the Wild Area, and this is where the game goes from good to great. The Wild Area is basically the Safari Zone perfected. It’s broken into different zones, and the Pokemon that appear differ from zone to zone, and even within a single zone, different Pokemon will appear based on the weather. Thunderstorm? Expect to see dragon and electric types. Mist? Expect to see fairy and psychic types. Throughout this Wild area, there are clusters of rocks called Pokemon Dens. When a beam of light is pouring from a den, you know a Dynamax Pokemon is there, and there’s a slight chance that there may even be a Gigantimax Pokemon in the den. If you activate the den, you can trigger a raid battle. These raids can be done solo with three utterly useless AI teammates, but the fun really begins when you connect to the internet and team up with people from all over the world to take out these massively powerful Pokemon. When you defeat a Dynamax (or Gigantimax) Pokemon, you have the opportunity to catch it, but even if you fail to catch it, you’ll still get some awesome rewards. You’ll usually get some berries, some treasures to sell, some Exp Candy to level up your pokemon, and some TRs (items that teach moves like TMs but that break after a single use like the old TMs). Online raids are, hands down, my absolute favorite post-game activity. When you find a five-star raid, it can get TOUGH, and you’ve really got to bring your A-game and have a solid team on your side.
Competitive battle is another post-game aspect of Pokemon that I used to be HARDCORE into in college with X and Y, but it can be an extremely intimidating thing to get into initially. Breeding egg moves, breeding natures, breeding perfect IVs, EV training, perfecting your moveset, balancing your types...it can be overwhelming. Fortunately Sword and Shield has made it a LOT easier to understand and get into. After you get to a certain rank in the post-game Battle Tower, you can unlock an IV checker to see at a glance how good your Pokemon’s IVs (or Individual Values) are for each stat. These are stats that the Pokemon is born with and never change. Or do they? If your Pokemon is level 100 and you have a bottle cap, you can go to a man in the Battle Tower and put your Pokemon through Hyper Training, artificially raising that IV to the maximum. That perfect IV can’t be passed down through breeding, but it can give your Pokemon an edge if they have imperfect IVs. The Battle Tower also offers an item that can change a Pokemon’s nature, something that affects the growth rates of certain stats. Like IVs, natures were something that couldn’t be changed prior to Sword and Shield. EVs (or Effort Values) are probably the least intimidating aspect of competitive battling, but even that has been simplified in Sword and Shield. In addition to the items that can boost EVs and the regular training you can do, there are PokeJobs that you can send Pokemon on for 24 hours that will raise their EVs for a certain stat. You can fully EV train a Pokemon without doing any actual training yourself in a week with the PokeJobs. Not everyone will like having it be easier to get competition-ready Pokemon, but it’s definitely nice for folks just getting into the competitive scene.
Pokemon Sword and Shield is definitely not going to please every long-time fan, and I still have my own complaints with the game, but it’s arguably the best point of entry for new fans save for maybe Let’s Go, and it’s definitely the most welcoming for newcomers as far as competition goes. The story is good, the visuals are great (even if lacking in anti-aliasing), the animations are awesome, and the new Pokemon are super cool for the most part. One thing I absolutely love is how few legendary Pokemon there are. Past games with NUTS with overloading legendaries into the game, but Sword and Shield only have three - the cover legendary for Sword, the cover legendary for Shield, and a third legendary central to the game’s story. That’s it. Well, you can get Mew, but that’s sort of a special case I won’t get into. Long story short, the game’s not perfect, but it’s DAMN close and a definite must-own for Switch owners.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on Xbox One and Windows
Resident Evil has always been one of my favorite horror series, and Resident Evil 2 was, for a long time, my favorite game in the series. While my "Top X Resident Evil games" list has changed over the years, Resident Evil 2 - preferably played on my Sega Dreamcast - has remained near and dear to my zombie loving heart. When I heard that Capcom was releasing a remake, I was ecstatic. Granted, I didn't buy it right at launch because North Carolina refuses to pay its teachers well, and I didn't play it immediately when I did get it because I wanted to wait to make it my Halloween 2019 game, but when I finally did start it, I immediately got sucked back into the zombie infested Raccoon City police station and was met with a horror that the original game's 240p visuals just couldn't convey as well as the remake's 2160p visuals can.
The overall layout of the police station and underground hallways are remarkable in how closely they match up to the original game. The puzzles themselves are largely identical, too, giving the game the feeling that it's as much an extremely impressive remaster as it is a full remake, and when I say that, I mean it as a HUGE accolade. One of my frequent pet peeves with remakes is changing things in the world, and Capcom kept faithful to the original game here. It's definitely not 100% identical, but it strikes a perfect balance of making quality of life improvements with keeping faithful to the world and design of the original game. In that respect, this is as as perfect a remake as the Switch's Link's Awakening.
As with all great horror games, the atmosphere is a bigger part of the "scary" factor in Resident Evil 2 than the actual events of the game, and this remake nails that atmosphere perfectly. The lighting effects, the sound effects, and the timing of enemy appearances and jump scares are all perfectly done to maximize that unsettling feeling without desensitizing players the way that a lot of recent horror games do. The enemy designs, benefiting from having more than 81 times the pixel count of the original release, are truly horrifying in a way that very few games' enemies manage to be. Mr. X, the prototype Tyrant that pursues you throughout the game (especially if you're playing as Leon), is especially terrifying this go around, far more so than he was in the original release. During my playthrough, I tweeted, "It will be a miracle if I get through this game without peeing myself," and I stand by that sentiment; Mr. X is scary as shit, dude.
For those who aren't familiar with the structure of the game from its original release, the game is divided into two campaigns that take place concurrently and largely in the same locations. In one - the story I played through first - you play as my all-time horror husbando, rookie RCPD cop Leon Kennedy, as he, like an idiot, travels to investigate the mysterious silence from Raccoon City in defiance of a "stay tf away" order. He meets up with a young woman named Claire Redfield, sister of the first game's Chris Redfield, who's traveling to Raccoon City to discover the whereabouts - or fate - of her brother. In Leon's campaign, your main foe is Mr. X, and you work with a cryptic woman named Ada Wong, allegedly with the FBI, as you seek to secure the G-virus and prevent the infection from spreading outside of Raccoon City. In Claire's campaign, your primary foe is a horrific monster mutated by the G-virus as you seek to take the young Sherry Birkin to safety outside of the zombie-infested city.
I have a few minor complaints with Resident Evil 2, but all things considered, this is a virtually perfect remake by most of my metrics. It stays faithful to the original world while making some much needed quality of life improvements, it adds difficulty levels for those who need an easier time as well as those who want a more intense challenge, there are some extra scenarios for you play after you finish the main game, and the overall horror atmosphere of the original game has been brilliantly enhanced thanks to the technological advances that the PS4 Pro offers over the original PS1 hardware. I can only imagine that the game looks and plays at least as well if not a little better on PC and Xbox One X as it does PS4 Pro, and I was thoroughly impressed here. If you're a fan of horror games, zombie games, or the Resident Evil series, you absolutely owe it to yourself to give this game a play. It's a damn shame that Capcom hasn't seen fit to port it to Switch, but if you've got a PS4, an XB1, or a gaming PC, make sure you check this one out.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Windows
Holy crap, my dudes. I thought I knew what the word "intense" meant. I mean, I played through the original Famicom Disk System Super Mario Bros 2. I've seen the effects of Operation British in Mobile Suit Gundam. I've read Stephen King's "IT." I've heard the heaviest songs that Cannibal Corpse has to offer. I've endured the psychological abuse to which Doki Doki Literature Club subjects its players. But this? The suspense and heart-wrenching events of the story in Muv-Luv Alternative give the word "intense" and all new meaning for me. I cheered. I screamed. I cried. I laughed. Okay, so there wasn't much laughing this time, but there was a solid chuckle or two. But DUDE. I wasn't prepared for how intense this game got. I know I keep reusing that word, but I truly can't think of a better way to describe the interaction between the fast and hard hitting events of the game and the emotional investment I had in this story, this world, and these characters.
Muv-Luv Alternative picks up immediately after the events of Muv-Luv Ultimate, the second of the two parts of the first Muv-Luv release. For the most part, the game works exactly the same way - it's a visual novel with the occasional choice here and there - but unlike Extra and Ultimate, Alternative really only has one real ending. The choices you make can have minor effects on a couple instances of character interactions in the story, but the main events of the story stay the same. In that respect, it gives much less agency than the previous game, but that's intentional because the tone and point are a little different here. There is no picking your best girl in Alternative. That's a luxury you can't afford with the BETA breathing down your neck. From start to finish, Alternative is a mad dash to pull humanity back from the brink of extinction and unravel the mysteries surrounding Takeru's ability to shift between worlds and timelines. This is not a happy feel-good story like Extra, and this is not an inspiring story of triumph in the face of adversity like Unlimited; this is a story of perseverance and duty in the face of unspeakable horror, hopelessness, and despair.
The first thing to keep in mind about Alternative is that it is MUCH longer than Extra or Unlimited. It's only 10 chapters, but each chapter takes several hours to get through. I didn't time myself or look up average playtimes to confirm this, but I'd hazard a guess that a single playthrough of Alternative will take longer than a playthrough of Extra and Unlimited combined. Granted, there isn't as much incentive for repeat gameplay in Alternative since you're not picking a best girl, but still, it's quite the hefty visual novel. It also answers a lot of the questions that I still had after Unlimited, and its focus on the world and the way the events of the story affect the characters rather than focusing largely on the effects of interactions between the individual characters serves to help you get really sucked into the world building and invested in the game's world and history.
The visuals are pretty much the same as in Extra and Unlimited, although there are some animated bits in Alternative and some sections where the text scrolls automatically regardless of your manual or auto settings to give the game a real sense of urgency and action. This is one of those few games where I really did find myself totally unable to put it down. Everything about the game perfectly accented the game's tone. The music was a perfect fit, the tonal inflections of the voice acting reinforced the emotions of the scenes, and the writing was exceptional. It may not be the best writing I've ever seen in a game, but it was absolutely top tier.
Muv-Luv - the entire trilogy - is one hell of a ride that I really can't oversell. It's incredible, and Alternative is an almost perfect conclusion. The tone and atmosphere are so dark and serious, and while it contrasts with the tone in Unlimited and especially Extra, it really reinforces the change in Takeru's mentality and personal goals. This definitely isn't a game you can play without playing the previous one first, but by the same token, I don't see how anyone can play the first game and not have an immediate NEED to play this one. My only complaint with Muv-Luv Alternative was that it had to end. I need more. There's an epilogue after the end chapter that leaves just enough questions to keep the door open for another true sequel down the line, so it's my fervent hope that âge sees fit to bless us with more Muv-Luv.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on iOS
When I heard that Nintendo was releasing a Mario Kart game for cell phones, I was skeptical. Just a touch screen? No buttons? How will that work? When I downloaded this Mario Kart game for cell phones, I was skeptical. When I was starting the first race in this Mario Kart game for cell phones, I was skeptical. When I finished that first race in this Mario Kart game for cell phones, I had been converted into a born-again believer in the Word of Mario Kart Tour.
First thing's first - the game's not perfect. The controls feel kinda awkward. The motion control works pretty well, and it does give you two basic control schemes - "basic" controls that lets you turn your kart normally and "drift" controls that offer more precision but are a bit tougher to get the hang of by making every turn into a drift - but neither scheme ever felt particularly "good" in my opinion. That said, however, it does work very well; it's just not ideal. Honestly, though, with just a touch screen and no actual buttons or control sticks, it works way better than I expected. There's no accelerating to worry about; that's done automatically. The game pretty much keeps you on the track and out of the grass or sand or whatnot for the most part. What you need to do is focus on collecting and using items, getting on jumps for the boost, and maneuvering your way around the tracks.
Visually, the game isn't as nice looking as some modern smartphone games I've seen, but keeping in mind that Nintendo has always focused largely on accessibility and likely wanted to keep the required specs fairly low so more folks could play, it looks pretty good. The sound design is fantastic and feels right at home with the Mario Kart series. Being a freemium game, it's naturally filled with microtransactions as well as a "Gold Pass" subscription that unlocks extra rewards, but I was able to play through every tour and have a FANTASTIC time with the game without spending a penny on it. As far as I can tell, almost everything can be unlocked for free in-game (although that would take a looooong time), and while not purely cosmetic, I wouldn't call the things that can be unlocked more easily via microtransactions pay-to-win, per se. Yeah, the ruby unlocks are pretty much just loot boxes, but it doesn't feel quite as scummy as Battlefront II's loot boxes. Maybe that's the Nintendo fanboy in me talking, but that's the impression I got from the game's unlock system.
Your opponents in the tours are AI controlled versions of other players' accounts, and while PvP is supposedly on the way, that won't be available until the future update. Still, though, with tracks being relatively short and only lasting two laps, this is a great game to play while pooping (or pretending to poop) at work, and it's undeniably enjoyable. The amount of characters and karts that can be unlocked is pretty expansive, too, but I'll always be loyal to my ol' faithful, Koopa Troopa. I'm not the biggest fan of mobile games, and given the portability of the Switch, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is still obviously a VASTLY superior portable Mario Kart experience, but if you either don't have the time for full fledged Mario Kart or don't have your Switch with you (because if you just plain don't have a Switch, shame on you), this is a good, solid stand-in. Especially with the low price tag of $0.00, I can't think of anyone to whom I wouldn't recommend this game.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Windows
I've played a lot of games that I had expected to be fantastic and ended up being garbage, but of all the games I've played in my life, this is probably the biggest disappointment. Like someone offering you a bowl of Skittles just to find out that they're full of M&Ms, I ordered this game from Play-Asia on impulse expecting it to be same kind of goofy hilarity that Gal*Gun: Double Peace provided only to discover that it's barren wasteland of sub-par gameplay, stupid story even in the context of pointless lewd games, and less content than a mobile game. I am the Warlord of Waifus, the Emperor of Ecchi, the Führer of Fap, and the Baron of Best Girl, but even I was unable to extract any enjoyment whatsoever from this game.
The story, as I previously mentioned, is just stupid. Not even ha-ha enjoyable stupid. It's painfully stupid. You play as Yurika, a high school girl who is what's called a "Warrior of Love," someone who (apparently) loves panties so much that she can see talking panties and turn into a panty. There's this evil panty called Panzi that's building a massive brainwashing machine to brainwash the entire human race and make them love all panties equally. If this comes to pass, Yurika will be forced to live as a panty forever, and since that idea does not appeal to her, she embarks on a quest to stop Panzi and destroy his brainwashing machine. That's it. That's the whole story. I mean, along the way you meet a couple other Warriors of Love and some other panty characters, but it never gets less stupid. The story is more haphazardly written than an elementary schooler's short story, the characters are more two dimensional than a loli's chest, and at no point do either become interesting or compelling in the slightest.
The game plays like a crappy Xbox 360 indie beat 'em up. You use the left stick to move, the right stick to control the camera, you click the left stick to dash, and you can use L and R to dash to the side to dodge. ZL can activate "Passion" mode when your Passion gauge is filled which gives you a buff to attack and defense as well possibly changing an attack depending on the panty you're playing as. B jumps, A is your special attack, Y is your melee attack, and X is your range attack. The controls feel awkward, none of the hits ever feel satisfying, and the combat itself is short lived and monotonous.
Visually, the game is okay at best. It doesn't even make the Switch break a sweat docked, but it's not going to impress anyone. Lackluster textures, an uninspired art style, an unimpressive resolution without any visual flairs. It's the epitome of average. With a visual detail this unimpressive, I figured they could have at least gotten a solid 60 fps out of the game, but it seems to be running at a standard old 30 fps. That's certainly not bad and is a totally acceptable frame rate, but my 2019, I feel like 60 should be the target for games that aren't pushing a system graphically. Especially when the game isn't even good. Have SOME aspect that stands out other than how disappointing it is.
The game's length is kind of a backhanded mercy. From first putting the game card in my Switch to having beaten the game with every playable panty unlocked, only two hours passed. That's it. Two hours start to 100% finished. On the one hand, that's a mercy because the game sucks, and I was kind of bored after just 45 minutes. On the other hand, this is literally one of the shortest games I've ever played without trying to speedrun, and it's definitely the shortest game to 100% complete that I've ever played. With the lackluster visuals, the blah music and voice acting, the stupid story, and the average performance, the game's length is just the icing on top of this moldy, festering cake.
Panty Party is without a doubt the biggest disappointing of my gaming life. I've played games that are worse, but I knew those games were going to be terrible going into it. I definitely never expected a game like Panty Party to be game of the year material or anything, but come on; I'm me! I should absolutely love a game like this. I'm SO easy to please when it comes to lewd anime games, but somehow, AnimuGame (in hindsight, I feel like the name of the developer should have been a red flag) found a way to disappoint me. My reviewing this game is like Hillary Clinton in the 2016; it should have been the easiest win imaginable, and yet it still somehow found a snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. This game sucks. Don't waste your money on it. I'd say not to waste your time on it, but there isn't enough game here to take up much of your time.
My Rating - 1 Nep
Also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Windows
Muv-Luv was a definitely surprise hit for me. I love me a good visual novel, especially when it's a cute slice of life/waifu visual novel, but this one was all that and more. After I heard about my friend David's GLOWING review of it, I knew it wasn't a game I could pass up, and even as high as my expectations were going in, every single one was smashed and surpassed.
Muv-Luv is actually broken into two stories. The first, Muv-Luv Extra, is what I expected to find here - a cute slice of life waifu story. Takeru, the protagonist, grows up next to his adorable girl-next-door childhood friend, Sumika, but then suddenly this hella rich big tiddy blue hair waifu named Meiya shows up randomly in his bed one morning, and WOAH commence typical harem romantic comedy story. There are, of course, more potential waifus than just those two. OBVIOUSLY Sumika is best girl because of the Childhood Friend Corollary to the Intergenre Waifu Conventions which clearly states:
While not automatically Best Girl, when the archetype is present and the option given, the Childhood Friend™ must be the chosen waifu for any anime-styled game. Possible exceptions to this requirement are cases of realistic hairstyles and/or colors, malicious personalities, and character gender depending on the personal romantic preference of the player.
The great thing about Muv-Luv is that there's not really a "bad" girl to pick as your Best Girl, but it's pretty clear that the two "canon" choices, so to speak, are Sumika or Meiya. It's a solid 30 or 40 hour experience through the game for one playthrough depending on your reading speed, but there are multiple endings depending on who you choose as your waifu, and it's pretty much guaranteed to hurt your feelings at some point because all of the girls are so cute, and you just want to make them all your beloved waifu. Of course, that's not an option either within the mechanics of the game or within the limitations of Waifu Law; after all, more than one waifu will wreck your laifu.
The second half of the game, Muv-Luv Unlimited, marks an abrupt shift in tone. It takes place shortly after the events of Muv-Luv Extra although your waifu choice does not appear to be taken into account, and Takeru is still the protagonist, but he wakes up to a world that just seems....off. Sumika is nowhere to be seen. Meiya is nowhere to be seen. The world outside his house has, somehow, become a barren wasteland, the only clue being a wrecked mobile suit of some kind crashed into where Sumika's house should be. Obviously, Takeru's immediate assumption is that he's dreaming. He walks through this would-be dreamscape carefree, wandering to the school only to find it guarded by armed United Nations soldiers. From there, reality begins to sink in for him that somehow he's not in the same world he was when we went to sleep.
The overall experience in Muv-Luv Unlimited is very similar to Muv-Luv Extra. It's still a visual novel, and it's still all about picking your waifu, but the tone is dramatically different. The world in which Takeru finds himself is much darker and more desperate than the world into which he was born, and the story's tone is appropriately darker and more serious than in Extra. Most the characters return from Extra; pretty much everyone is there except Sumika, who is depressingly absent; but in her place is a mysterious but adorable girl named Kasumi. Unlimited is definitely not a feel-good cutesy story like Extra was, but it's told so well that it's every bit as compelling. Most folks would actually probably find Unlimited to be the more compelling of the two, but since I'm a neckbeard weeb, but I love the cutesy waifu stuff.
I absolutely loved Muv-Luv. From the moment I read David's thoughts on it, I knew that this was a game that I NEEDED to play. Extra and Unlimited may be totally different in tone and mood, but they're connected so well that it feels both jarring and natural at the same time for one to follow the other immediately. Very few stories I've read or experienced can pull off that abrupt an atmosphere shift, but the fact that Muv-Luv does it so well is, in my view, a testament to the quality of its writing and character development. If you flat out dislike visual novels, there still may not be much here for you, but it's no exaggeration that this is one of the most excellently written and thoroughly enjoyable visuals novels I've ever played through. The story itself can take a little time to pick up, but the characters are likable enough to keep players hooked until the story really sinks its teeth in. No exaggeration, this is probably my all-time favorite visual novel. I understand folks who just don't like reading a game, so to speak, but if you're at all into or even curious about the genre, check out Muv-Luv. It's an immensely rewarding experience.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Link's Awakening is one of the games I see frequently mentioned in discussions of favorite Zelda games, but despite having the Game Boy Color re-release of the original, Link's Awakening DX, I never got around to playing it. I know it's one of the defining games of the original Game Boy's library, but I just never seemed to find the time. With such a beautiful and exciting remake being released on Switch, though, I decided it was high time that I experience this classic action adventure game for myself.
Link's Awakening's intro sees Link at sea during a storm. This storm ends up destroying his boat, causing him to wash ashore a mysterious island. He soon learns that the island is protected by a Wind Fish, and that in order for anyone to leave the island, the Wind Fish must be awakened. There's a prophecy, however, that if the Wind Fish is awakened, the island and all of its inhabitants will cease to exist. What is Link to do? Escape the island to return to Princess Zelda's side and risk ending the island and everyone who calls it home, or resign himself to staying on the monster infested island forever to protect the villagers living there? It's quite the moral quandary, and the only way to unravel the mystery of the island is to trudge along your quest and discover its secrets.
It seems pretty clear from the success of Breath of the Wild and the statements from Nintendo since that game's release that most if not all of the future Zelda games will be much more open ended than the traditional linear Zelda games, but Link's Awakening is an exception to that. This is a virtually perfectly faithful recreation of the original Game Boy game while still including modern quality of life improvements and upgrading the visuals from 8-bit pixel sprites to full HD models. The game itself, however, keeps a 2.5D perspective so as to stay more faithful to the original, and the effort to which the development team went to recreate the original Game Boy world perfectly is astounding. It's truly a testament both to the developer's dedication to the original game's legacy as well as to the importance that the original Link's Awakening had on the action-adventure genre as a whole.
In a lot of ways, this game is a major feather in the Switch's cap. As I mentioned, the world is perfectly recreated, and the visuals are absolutely beautiful. The glossy, plastic toy-like appearance of the world and character models fits perfectly, and the music really feels like what those 8-bit tunes would have been had they been created 25 years later. Not all is perfect, though, and while I found them to be only a minor inconvenience, there are some performance issues that have caused a lot to grief to some more perceptive players. The frame rate is the biggest issue. Normally, the game keeps a pretty solid 60 fps, but during area transitions, there's a consistent albeit very brief drop to 30 fps before jumping back to 60 fps. This didn't detract from the experience for me personally, but it was rather jarring especially at first. In addition, there are occasions with either a lot of enemies on screen or a lot of effects like fire or dust that will cause some minor slowdown. Again, it's nothing that I personally to be a major impact on the experience, but opinions online differ wildly, so it's definitely something worth noting.
There is one very important addition that was made to the game that I'd be remiss not to gush about a little, and that's the dungeon creator. There's a totally optional side feature that lets you create your own Zelda dungeons and run through them. Given the square room grid nature of Link's Awakening's dungeons, it's basically a matter of taking pre-created rooms and arranging them like puzzle pieces. With the various bosses, mini-bosses, chests, locked doors, etc, this opens up a lot of options for some really creative and challenging dungeons. It feels a lot like the kind of creative outlet that Super Mario Maker provided, and I REALLY hope that this is a testing-the-waters prelude to a full fledged Legend of Zelda Maker game because honestly, I had more fun with that than I did the actual game itself.
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening is an absolute marvel, and while it's certainly not perfect, it's an exceptionally good time and a fantastic experience that I consider to be a non-negotiable must-play for Switch owners. For those who loved the Game Boy original, it's an extremely faithful homage while still bringing modern QoL improvements to the game, and for those who, like me, never experienced the original Game Boy version of the game, it's a great way to experience one of the truly beloved Zelda adventures. Some folks I know have said that $60 is a steep asking price for a remake, and I can't entirely disagree with that, but it's my humble opinion that this is a remake impressive enough in both its accuracy to the original and in its improvements over the mechanical limitations of the original that it's a fair asking price all things considered. If you're a fan of the Legend of Zelda's traditional dungeon-based adventure formula, you'd seriously be doing yourself a disservice not to gives this one a go.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Windows
My first foray into modern Far Cry games was Far Cry Primal on PS4, and boy, that game was dope. So when I saw that Far Cry 4 was all modern and had a fabulously psychopathic dictator to topple, I was instantly interested. However, I was also poor, so I waited. I'm still poor, but now Far Cry 4 is hella cheap, so I'm FINALLY getting around to playing it, and WOW, good things truly do come to those who wait.
The premise of Far Cry 4 is that you're a native of the island nation of Kyrat raised in the United States who has returned to Kyrat to scatter his mother's ashes as per her dying wish. Then your bus gets attacked, your companions get shots, your tour guide gets tortured to death, and you get drugged and wake up at a dinner table with the merciless dictator of Kyrat, Pagan Min. From there, you could either sit and wait for like fifteen minutes, have him come back and kill you, and get the bad ending; OR you could actually play the game you paid for, help the resistance group that your dead dad started overthrow Pagan Min, and blow up everything in sight.
The game, as is standard for the series, is a first person shooter. You can craft storage upgrades from materials you hunt from animals to hold more ammo, more medical items, more explosives, etc. You can also purchase new weapons although some of these get unlocked for free as you progress through the game. Once you purchase a weapon, it can be reacquired for free at any shop, so that's a nice feature. With enough upgrades, you can equip up to four weapons - a sidearm and three main weapons. I usually ended up keeping a revolver, an assault rifle, a rocket launcher, and a sniper rifle with me. You also have four throwable weapons - molotovs, grenades, throwing knives, and bait meat that lures tigers and the like to eat your enemies. All in all, you get a lot of leeway to play how you want. You can be stealthy and sneak around using stealth takedowns, silenced weapons, and throwing knives. Alternatively, you can run in guns blazing with machine guns and shotguns and grenade launchers. The sky's the limit, and if that limit isn't filled with flying dismembered bodies, you're doing it wrong.
Visually, you can tell that the game was designed for last generation consoles and ported to Xbox One, but it still looks pretty nice. The soundtrack is extremely well done, providing solid atmosphere without distracting from the action on screen. The voice acting, as well, is extremely well done, especially Pagan Min's voice actor. 10/10 would listen to again. A well voiced antagonist can really make or break a game, and Pagan Min's voice actor definitely made this game. The highlight of the game, however, is the hunting. I don't mean sneaking around the hunting deer with a bow. GTFO with that redneck real-world garbage. Na, man, I mean a REAL MAN'S hunting. Far Cry 4 is like a Cabela's game if it were actually fun. I'm talking aobut hunting tigers by driving cars into them at 100 KPH, hunting elephants with a rocket launcher, or hunting rhinos from a helicopter with a semiautomatic grenade launcher.
My experience with the Far Cry series is still fairly limited, but from what I have played, Far Cry 4 is an exceptionally fun and well crafted entry. The story is interesting, the map is detailed and a blast to explore, the voice acting is exceptional, and the gameplay is addicting to say the least. AND THE HUNTING. I felt like the Terminator roughing it in the wilderness. Sure, rocket launchers tend to leave the animal's hide too damaged to use, but good GOD, it is fun. Far Cry 4 isn't perfect, and it still has its share of shortcomings with frame rate dips, glitches, and profoundly challenged AI at times, but as a whole package, it's an exceptionally fun experience, and with the price it goes for used these days, I high recommend it to fans of open world shooters.
My Rating - 4 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.