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Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Review ? A Raucous Clash Reunion

From its humble Nintendo 64 beginnings, Super Smash Bros. has been a delightful neutral zone for players looking for top-tier competition as well as friends who just want to kick back and watch Princess Peach knock the stuffing out of Bowser. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the culmination of everything that?s come before, offering a massive roster of classic characters and stages and subtle additions that make the game feel fresh. Whether you haven?t played Smash since your dorm-room days or you breathlessly await each new entry, Ultimate is not to be missed.

One reason why the Smash Bros. series has been so successful is that it?s one of those games where the old ?easy to learn, difficult to master? cliché applies. In that way, Ultimate maintains its reputation as being one of the best party games around. It?s a great equalizer, with characters that are recognizable and memorable, and above all else it's fun to play. Ultimate adds some new faces to the proceedings, like Animal Crossing?s Isabelle, Metroid?s Ridley, and the Inklings from Splatoon. I like seeing some new blood (even if it?s never spilled), but none of the new ones fully clicked with me. Isabelle comes closest, feeling like a fresh variation on Villager, but I kept getting drawn back to my old mainstays including returning favorite Pichu. 

Ultimate?s new World of Light solo mode wisely doesn?t try to shoehorn platforming elements or push too far beyond the core of what Smash does best. Instead, you navigate a large map and take on themed challenges. The gimmick ? and it?s a pretty good one ? is that you?re freeing the spirits of characters who have fallen to a mysterious force. The spirits represent a vast array of characters from the world of gaming, the majority of whom aren?t represented as playable heroes in the roster. For instance, one spot on the map might have you saving a goron chief from Ocarina of Time, aka a giant, tan-furred Donkey Kong. Or a battle against Snorlax might have newcomer King K. Rool taking on the role of the slumbering Pokémon. Basically, imagine the playable cast cosplaying a wide array of other gaming characters. I spent dozens of hours in the mode, and I was continuously surprised by how creative the developers got in finding doppelgangers for these matches. 

Once liberated, the spirits are added to your roster and provide buffs for your hero. Exploring the World of Light can be a little tough at the start, but by methodically battling across the map I slowly accrued gear that made me feel like I was gaming the system in the best possible way. Battles aren?t quite as scary when you have spirits that counteract the burning effects of a stage?s lava hazards and also give you a powerful weapon or regenerating health at the start of the match. You can train your spirits in dojos and send them on expeditions, too, leveling them up for more power and adding yet another fun twist.

 

Your collection of spirits can also migrate over to classic Smash modes, which further transforms the game. You want to use two final smashes with every activation? How does an extra jump sound? I?ve always enjoyed the barely contained chaos that Smash brings, so these extra enhancements are welcome. If the spirits seem like too much, plenty of other under-the-hood tweaks can customize the experience. The most noteworthy addition is creating and saving your own custom rule sets, which are then surfaced on the main Smash menu. As someone who only plays matches with stock lives, this fixes a small but longstanding issue. Now I can dive into matches at the press of a button instead of having to fiddle around with menus. Another cool new option is the ability to earn final smashes by filling a meter instead of breaking the smash ball. It changes the tenor of matches, since players can focus on their opponents as opposed to the floating object.

Single player is better than ever, but solely playing against the CPU is a sad existence. Unsurprisingly, Ultimate?s multiplayer component shines. Local co-op is great, with up to eight players fighting at once (or even more, though not simultaneously, with the return of tournament play). If you don?t have the controllers for that kind of gathering or your Smash crew has scattered over the years, online is a viable alternative. The four-way matches fill up quickly, though it falters where it actually matters. The framerate and overall stability is inconsistent, which is frustrating in a game that depends so heavily on reaction time. I had more than a few otherwise-preventable deaths after the game hiccupped as I was on my way back to terra firma. Ultimately, however, Smash is best played with your friends piled into the same space, where you can shout, cheer, and taunt with impunity at every close match.  

 

Once all the characters are unlocked, the character-select screen is a magnificent thing to behold, with every character from the previous games present. However, getting them to show up is another thing entirely. When you start, you?re given eight measly heroes to choose from. It?s a seemingly clever nod to the modest starting roster from the Nintendo 64 game that started it all. Once I was done chuckling at the familiar lineup, the realization that I was going to have to unlock more than 60 remaining characters set in. New faces pop in whether you?re playing regular matches with friends, classic battles against A.I., or in the World of Light mode, but it?s an unnecessarily tedious and antiquated process.

Ultimate is a tremendous package overall, including just about everything a Smash fan could want. Sure, there are a few omissions; the lack of a home-run challenge hurts, and I would have loved to see an updated take on the Poké Floats stage (or the ability to create my own). The biggest fault in this close-to-comprehensive collection is perhaps the flipside of one of its strengths: For all the new things it brings, it?s all very familiar. As fun as they are to play, the handful of new characters don?t have the same pop of novelty that past additions have delivered. It?s a solid lineup, just not one that?s especially surprising beyond its overall scale.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate isn?t dramatically reinventing the franchise, but that?s all right with me; it?s a refinement of what?s come before. Some of my favorite gaming moments have centered on Smash, and it?s great to have a solid new anchor for moments yet to come ? even if it means getting knocked into oblivion by a snoozing Jigglypuff every once in a while. 

Earth Defense Force 5 Review ? A Weakening Resistance

It may not be complex, but the core of Earth Defense Force 5 is accessible and entertaining. You are a soldier who (along with the optional assistance of co-op buddies) fights off an invading horde of giant bugs, frogs, UFOs, and more. You customize your loadout with weapons that range from awesome to awful. When your enemies are destroyed, they may drop new weapons for you to equip on future missions. Plowing through swarms of baddies while hoping for good loot is a pillar of countless games, and it retains its primal appeal here. However, Earth Defense Force 5 doesn?t build on that foundation, even when compared to previous games in this series.

With cheesy dialogue and simple point-and-shoot gunplay, Earth Defense Force 5?s presentation and mechanics take a back seat to pure arcade action. Jumping into the fray is easy, whether you?re firing off hilariously short-ranged explosives or unleashing a barrage of powerful homing missiles. Your otherworldly foes explode in satisfying spurts of fire and goo, often flailing wildly from the generous application of exaggerated physics. The resulting B-movie vibe serves this experience well, doling out laughs while removing barriers between you and the main attraction: shooting at a screen full of enormous creatures with weapons of escalating destructive force.

The mayhem is charming, but Earth Defense Force 5 hits the same basic notes as its predecessors, parading out familiar enemies (or their analogues) in a routine that doesn?t introduce many unique twists. The previous installment changed the dynamic by offering four classes with different specialties, and those same four options reappear this time around. You can technically use classes to strategize with your teammates online or in split-screen, like having the support-focused Air Raider help guide the Fencer?s heavy firepower. However, the action rarely demands (or even encourages) that level of coordination. The balanced offense of the Ranger and airborne mobility of the Wing Diver classes remain the most satisfying and versatile options, especially for solo play.

Most of my favorite improvements to the formula are quality-of-life changes, like earning health and weapons for all classes, not just the one you are currently playing. This means that you aren?t starting from scratch four times if you want to get a taste of what each playstyle offers. I also appreciate that picking up duplicates can increase the weapon?s stats instead of just feeling like wasted effort.

 

Though the experience is more user-friendly, these changes aren?t enough for Earth Defense Force 5 to gain any ground. It doesn?t feel substantially different from when I first played Earth Defense Force 2017 over a decade ago. I?m shooting ants with rockets and machine guns of wildly inconsistent utility. I?m cackling as buildings collapse. I?m crossing my fingers for a better version of my favorite gun. It?s fun, but it?s practically identical to the fun offered by its predecessors. If this is your first time playing an EDF title, this fatigue may not be an issue; the idea at the heart of the game is still a blast. At the same time, Earth Defense Force 5 barely feels like a step up from a game that was considered clunky and unpolished in 2007.

As video games evolve, developers continually set new standards by creating experiences with sophisticated storytelling, heightened immersion, and jaw-dropping technology. Earth Defense Force 5 has none of those things ? but that?s okay. This series has always had a single-minded commitment to one simple truth: It?s fun to use weird weapons to blast lots of aliens. That fact may never change, but in an industry that has been steadily raising the bar, Earth Defense Force 5 allows the series to fall further behind.

The Council Review ? The Wrong Side Of History

History is full of power struggles, great betrayals, and behind-the-scenes scheming. The ugly side of politics often rears its head as leaders engage in the cutthroat pursuit of protecting their citizens ? and themselves. The Council explores this concept, allowing you to align yourself with renowned historical figures to decide what?s best for the world. With a cool geopolitical backdrop, you?d think The Council would be engaging. While the scheming is full of good ideas, it never lives up to its potential. The adventure is disappointing and unsatisfying, with ridiculous plotlines, technical shortcomings, and annoying puzzles. 

The Council begins as a mystery of sorts. You arrive at a strange manor where your mother has gone missing. The reason for your visit? Your mother is part of a secret society that determines how to govern the world. It?s up to you to investigate this unique group, which includes famous individuals such as George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte. The plot starts off promising, referencing historical events and exploring how religion has influenced government, but as fictional elements grow more prominent, it goes even further off the rails. When a huge plot twist was revealed halfway through the five episode arc, I lost all enthusiasm for the story ? and further developments made me even more disappointed. To be blunt, the plot insults your intelligence with clichéd good-versus-evil comparisons. The tale unfolds through voice acting so bad it?s distracting, and watching the wooden character models interact is just as jarring. This hurts the immersion just as much as the horrendous twists; for a narrative-driven experience like The Council, these are all big problems.

At the very least, The Council has some interesting wrinkles in how it explores choice and progression. Every political mastermind has skills that make them successful, and this is put directly into the gameplay with light RPG elements. You pick from three classes ? diplomat, occult, or detective ? but you?re not cut off from gaining skills in different trees. As you play, you can apply points to increase your prowess in particular skills, like conviction, diversion, and psychology. Permanent bonuses called talents are unlocked depending on how you react and what you find in the manor. These can be anything from gaining additional experience to obtaining extra items. As someone who plays a lot of RPGs and loves building characters, I enjoyed this aspect. You?re always balancing what?s more important for you to focus on. Do you want to level up the manipulation skill to get people to act in your interest, or invest in the ability to pick locks to obtain beneficial items and information?

 

This all plays into your conversations. Depending on your aptitudes and the information you uncover, certain dialogue options open up. As in politics, relationships are important and fragile. A wrong move can cost you, but you can also make enemies into allies just as quickly with the right argument. The basic gameplay revolves around effort points, where some dialogue options have a cost, and that cost is lowered depending on your skills. You only get so many each quest to expend, so choosing wisely is essential. You want to invest optimally, whether it?s in an alliance or learning a secret that changes your perspective on a situation. The game has its share of alternative paths because of this, but that doesn?t matter when they all lead you down bad plotlines.

In addition to exploring the manor, building relationships, and making decisions, you encounter puzzles, which are more complex and logic-centric than we?ve seen in recent narrative games like Life is Strange and Telltale?s The Walking Dead.  While I enjoy solving riddles and brain teasers, The Council?s puzzles are tedious. For instance, one had me matching religious figures in paintings to their associated bible verse. If that required me to sort through a book or two, it wouldn?t be so boring but this is a drawn-out process that you do multiple times by trying to decipher clues for the verses that span across many different gospels and passages. I much preferred when deducing solutions based on the information you have, such as learning how to write messages in a secret code and matching historical dates and events to access a secret room. As you solve various puzzles, expect to backtrack to talk to people and gather requested items, which is exacerbated by long load times when you enter a new room. 

The Council?s bad graphics, voice acting, and load times didn?t bother me as much as its problematic narrative. What?s the point of having choice and consequence when you don?t care about the story you?re inhabiting? The Council seems promising with its good ideas, but then when you get further into it, it betrays you like a dishonest politician. 

Beat Saber Review ? Engrossing Musical Swordplay

When virtual reality became a real product we could have in our homes, the platform promised the potential of lush, engaging, and fully realized worlds. We?re still working toward that future, but while we?re waiting, Beat Saber offers one of virtual reality?s best experiences. It doesn?t create a new world to explore; instead Beat Saber focuses on placing you in a song and giving you the tools to participate in its rhythms in ways that traditional music games can?t.

In Beat Saber you use two light swords (one blue and one red), and you swing them using Move controllers. Red and blue blocks fly toward you, indicating which saber you should use to hit them. Along with being color coded, the blocks also have arrows dictating the direction of your chop. A blue block flying at you on your right with an arrow pointing north requires you to attack it from the bottom swiping upward. A red block coming from the left with an westward pointing arrow requires you to swipe through it from right to left. These blocks fly at you in time with the music booming in your ears, and when you find the rhythm and take down each block, you feel like you?re conducting a violent symphony. It?s beautiful.

A clinical description of how the gameplay works really doesn?t do it justice. Wielding lightsabers to destroy blocks as the music and light show fully envelops you lets you focus on the task at hand with extreme precision. The music and visuals fully take over your peripherals, engrossing you and making you feel the music. It wasn?t long before I was slashing blocks based purely on the rhythm, embracing the choreography of each song and focusing less on the arrows on the blocks. It makes the experience a fantastic showcase for the platform and genuinely feels like something that wouldn?t work outside of a headset.

With driving beats and dance-worthy intensity, every song is enjoyable and perfect for the style of gameplay Beat Saber offers. However, compared to other rhythm and music games, the diversity isn?t there. The original soundtrack (no licensed songs here) stays rooted in techno-centric beats, and there are only 16 so you end up playing the same songs a lot.

Despite the repeated songs, the gameplay doesn?t grow stale. Early on, you simply grasp for high scores, but you eventually encounter tasks like completing a song without making wide arm movements, or missing a specific number of blocks without failing. The campaign also offers a deep challenge, dipping into the extreme difficulties before showing you the finish line. Even if you?ve been playing Beat Saber for months in early access on Vive and Rift, the campaign offers a worthwhile and enjoyable challenge.

 

You have an assortment of options for tackling songs outside of the campaign. You can do no-fail mode (helpful for learning the more difficult songs), play without arrows on the blocks, or play with single-color blocks. You can also elect to turn on modifiers for score boosts, like playing a song at double speed or making the arrows disappear from the blocks right before you swipe through them. I liked all these modifiers and how they added gameplay variety, which is important considering the small track list.

Beat Saber is a must-play for anyone interested in virtual reality, but not for the reasons we typically associate with the platform. It won?t make you crane your neck to take in the majesty of your surroundings, but Beat Saber uses VR to place you into the music and taps into your carnal desire to hit things with swords. Years into its life, the gaming public is still unsure of this new way to play video games, but Beat Saber has the potential to convince skeptics to take another look.

Artifact Review - Analytical Adventure

Valve?s Artifact was announced to mixed reactions at the Dota 2 International tournament in 2017. Artifact apparently signaled Valve?s return to active game development, but it is different from the studio?s signature series like Half-Life and Portal. Instead, Artifact is a card game set in the world of Dota, and it is designed by Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic: The Gathering. While Artifact is different from Dota 2?s team-based gameplay, much of the flavor and mechanics translate well into the three-lane game. If there?s one big similarity between the two Valve titles, it?s that some time and dedication are required to learning, understanding, and enjoying the game.

 

The easiest way to explain Artifact is that you?re playing three different games simultaneously with a single hand, and you need to use those cards to win two out of the three games (or win one of the games twice). Success is all about management and position; you need to make hundreds of decisions in a single game on both micro and macro levels. It?s overwhelming at first, but after many hours of play and mastery of the systems at work, the satisfaction of executing a perfectly timed game-winning move is immense. On the surface, Artifact appears to be a tangled web of randomness with so many aspects being left to chance, but corralling those variables and subtly working with the tide of each game creates an atmosphere unlike any other digital card game.

 

Everything hinges on your heroes. Your deck must contain five heroes, and they come with associated cards (Dota fans will recognize flavorful skills and abilities, but no previous Dota experience is required). These cards play well with the hero's stats and passive or active skill. For instance, one of the most powerful heroes in the game, Axe, doesn?t even have a passive. Axe is just a big pile of stats. As a red hero, Axe loves to fight and is more than a match for other heroes and creeps, so this is exactly where you want him, pummeling enemies into submission in direct combat with superior size. The other three colors all have their own specialties as well. Black focuses on gold acquisition, mobility, and assassination. Green has huge monster creeps available, huge health pools, and helpful buffs. Blue has frail heroes, but extremely impactful magic spells. You?re free to mix and match heroes and colors, but you can only play cards of a color in a lane with a corresponding color hero, so getting too bold could result in difficulty playing cards where you want.

 

 

Not only are you laying down creatures to attack your opponent and heroes and push the lanes, but you also gather gold from killing enemies. You spend this gold in the shop at the end of each round to buy various equipment that roughly falls into three categories: weapons, armor, and consumables. Just like in Dota, you want to have plenty of potions and town portal scrolls to keep your heroes healthy and moving to where they need to be. Big items can change the course of the game, but saving enough money to get them can be a losing strategy, as your opponent can dominate the board while you save.

 

Once you?re past the basics, higher levels of play open games within games, where bluffing and taking full advantage of initiative (who plays first in a lane) create game-defining big plays that can feel as epic as an Earthshaker Echoslam in Dota 2. If you?re willing to put in the time and effort, you?re rewarded with tons of satisfying gameplay. When is the right time to abandon a lane? Should you go all in on one lane or try to win two lanes? Should you commit heroes to defending a dead lane, and if so how many? Should you pass your turn to attempt to grab initiative back so you can make sure you have the first action during the next round? You?re going to be making an absurd number of choices, and they won?t always be right. As a longtime card game enthusiast, being faced with situations where there isn?t a definitive correct play is highly entertaining.

 

Constructed play takes a backseat to draft with the initial launch set. The metagame is already well established, and while things could change, powerful ?best in every deck? heroes offer little flexibility in deckbuilding or room for creativity. Draft is another story, and is the best format available, allowing players to pick two cards out of packs until they create a full deck and take it into a string of battles. I hope the constructed format becomes more interesting as new heroes come into the game, but for now draft absolutely puts it to shame.

 

Players can play in free events with preconstructed Valve decks, free constructed/drafts with friends or random global players, and paid tournaments. Unlike many other digital card games, currently there are no progression systems or ways to earn cards outside of purchase.  All trades are made on the Steam market via buying and selling, so you can pick up exactly what you?re looking for, but you won?t be getting any free cards if you?re looking to build a collection. In this way Artifact feels like it?s hampered by an archaic physical card game model in the digital realm. While it?s not explicitly pay-to-win, it?s absolutely pay-to-compete and collect, and this feels restrictive ? especially since you?re already paying a fee to purchase the game initially. Much can be said about psychological hooks that other digital card games employ to keep people playing and ?grinding? but at least there?s an option to acquire cards slowly in those models. Here, you?re paying to engage in anything meaningful. Period. And it doesn?t feel good.

 

Artifact pulls a ton of flavor from Dota 2, but it?s not necessarily a game for Dota 2 players. Artifact is instead a highly cerebral card game of push and pull, with intense resource allocation and randomization management. Artifact is absolutely not for everyone, but it excels at creating a crazy strategy cocktail pulling from every bottle on the shelf. For card game fans, Artifact is not to be missed.

Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden Review ? A Strange Mutation

Turn-based strategy games have enjoyed a healthy amount of experimentation the past few years, including the enemy-stomping zaniness of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and the stealthy espionage angle of The Phantom Doctrine. With a focus on world-building and exploration, Mutant Year Zero also carves out its own niche in the genre, but a limited scope and bafflingly abrupt ending mar the experience.

Unlike most turn-based strategy games that jump between a menu-driven home base and an endless series of discrete maps for skirmishes, Mutant Year Zero?s unique post-apocalyptic world is comprised of hand-designed maps that are all linked together via branching exits. Players explore these zones with a band of mutated misfits via real-time movement, and are free to sneak by enemies they encounter in the environment or ambush them. Engaging the enemy initiates turn-based combat that will be instantly familiar to XCOM fans, encouraging players to use cover, high ground, and character abilities to their advantage.

The most unique and important aspect of Mutant Year Zero?s combat lies in when and how you choose to engage your foes. Maneuvering your squad members into position and stealthily picking off single enemies when they wander away from the pack is vital for evening out the odds, and figuring out an order to systematically dispatch a collection of enemies in smaller groups can be supremely rewarding. Mutant Year Zero?s stealth combat steals the show, and while large-scale battles are fun in their own right, nothing beats the thrill of chaining together a series of stuns and silent attacks to take down a hulking brute or giant mech without alerting their comrades.

The exploratory aspect of Mutant Year Zero doesn?t fare as well. While the zones are visually striking and offer a fair amount of world-building, the slow rate of movement and lack of a minimap make it a pain to thoroughly explore them ? but you basically need to do it anyway. Resources are finite in Mutant Year Zero, including the valuable items you find, the scrap and weapon parts you can use to buy and upgrade your gear, and the enemies you encounter. These limitations extend to your party as well ? you only recruit a handful of characters over the course of the game, and each one only has a few useful abilities. You also maintain and swap between an extremely small selection of weapons, which can get tedious when you want to change up your approach to multiple consecutive fights.

Exploration issues aside, the developer?s careful orchestration of resources and enemy encounters works reasonably well, but it doesn?t leave a lot of wiggle room. The condensed progression curve means your party members level up after almost every battle, which feels great. On the other hand, you can?t skip many encounters before you?re hopelessly under-leveled. If you are struggling, your only option is to travel back to earlier zones and search for enemies you passed over the first time around ? a necessary evil as some foes will simply be too strong when you first encounter them. Sometimes just finding a few pockets of enemies again can be a lengthy challenge in and of itself.

Despite these hiccups, I?m happy with the gameplay Mutant Year Zero offers during its 10-15 hour running time. However, I can?t offer the same praise for the narrative, which takes the biggest hit from the game?s limited scope. Mutant Year Zero?s post-apocalyptic world has been caused by a trifecta of calamities; nuclear warfare, global warming, and a deadly plague all brought humanity (and co-existing mutants)  to the brink of extinction, leaving only a handful of survivors living in a suspended city called the Ark. When the Ark?s main mechanic goes missing, you search for answers by leading an expedition into the wastes with a mix of super-powered humans and anthropomorphic animals known as stalkers.

The environments and characters do a good job building up an intriguing world and lore, but the story feels like it?s missing a third act. After you resolve the initial search, your focus shifts to investigating the titular Eden, laying out a number of larger and satisfying fights along the way. However, the ensuing discovery feels more a like a mid-game plot twist than an ending. As soon as the credits rolled, I went online to see if Mutant Year Zero was intended to be an episodic game. It?s not, and I?m still a bit baffled. Not even in Mutant Year Zero?s strange anthropomorphic world would this qualify as a satisfying conclusion.

From a gameplay perspective, Mutant Year Zero is a bold but brief experiment in the turn-based genre that largely pays off. Despite my complaints, I still enjoyed it, and I?d love to see more from the franchise. If you can stomach a huge letdown of an ending, the cleverly orchestrated combat and unique world are worth checking out.

Persona 3: Dancing In Moonlight Review - Remix My Dread

Returning to lengthy RPGs can be daunting, but just listening to the soundtrack can often bring back our favorite memories. Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight offers a more efficient way to relive those memories by dancing to the beat of remixes of composer Shoji Meguro?s great score. The nostalgia trip mostly works, even as it?s bogged down by a clunky interface and short setlist.

Dancing in Moonlight rewinds the clock on Persona 3, summoning the SEES team to the Velvet Room (remade into Club Velvet) on a random night before the end of the original storyline. Elizabeth, jealous that Margaret?s guest (the player character in Persona 4) managed to solve a mystery by dancing, engages with Caroline and Justine (the Velvet Room attendants from Persona 5), in a dance competition to see which cast comes out on top when it comes to busting out moves.

The dancing itself is straightforward as you tap or hold buttons in time with the music, though the interface can be too stylish for its own good. It prizes the J-Pop dance routines the Persona 3 cast performs in the background as much as the music itself, which means notes originate near the center and move toward the edges of the screen. The layout works well enough on lower difficulties, but as tougher songs introduce more intricate note patterns, it can be hard to discern what note to play as they drift apart. Notes that require you to tap multiple buttons at the same time are connected by a giant pink bar and clutter up the screen, and I even failed to notice a note completely in the chaos a few times. I got used to the interface and was able to have fun with it after a few hours, but it?s a case of form over function that emphasizes something I wasn?t paying much attention to most of the time.

You never have to play too seriously to progress, and a number of fun modifiers alleviate that frustration. Want to play any note using any button? Go for it. Think getting a ?Good? rating on a note shouldn?t break your streak? Done. Unlocking and using these modifiers makes for some neat twists on the normally pass-or-fail rhythm genre, and some even increase the challenge by making notes disappear as they near the edge of the screen or having them randomly speed up or slow down. The helpful ones ding your score, but I still enjoyed how much I could tune the gameplay to my liking.

 

Some fans may be disappointed by the emphasis on remixes over originals, but there are plenty of standouts on the soundtrack; the new renditions of ?Wiping All Out,? and ?Want To Be Close,? in particular are fantastic, and the good songs more than make up for some of the more boring covers. The overall setlist suffers from being a little short (just over two dozen songs) and focusing on the same songs a little too much (including three versions of ?Burn My Dread,? and two versions of ?Mass Destruction?), which is a shame when songs like ?Master of Tartarus? and ?Iwatodai Dorm? are ripe for remixing.

Replaying songs unlocks new social-link conversations with the SEES team, which comprise most of the narrative in lieu of a proper story mode. As you finish more songs and wear different outfits, you get to have lighthearted chats about dancing, life goals, and more. Elizabeth frequently butts her way in throughout, and her naiveté about the real world (and its turns of phrases) make her the standout character. The plot is fairly bland and pointless, but the little moments along the way make up for it.

Dancing in Moonlight mostly does right by Persona 3?s soundtrack, eliciting fond memories of the entry that started this series on its path to mainstream stardom. Being able to tailor the rhythm-based gameplay to your liking makes it easy to dive in and nod along to your favorite songs, even if the setlist is short and lacks a bit of variety. If you?re eager to catch up with the cast or music of Persona 3, Dancing in Moonlight is worth a few excursions into the Dark Hour.

Persona 5: Dancing In Starlight Review - Wake Up, Get Up, Dance Out There

As a rhythm-based spinoff, Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight?s premise for getting the Phantom Thieves back together to dance is a bit of stretch, even by the series? standards. But Joker and company are no strangers to absurd situations, and Persona 5?s soundtrack is strong enough that I don?t mind suspending disbelief to enjoy watching The Phantom Thieves dance to a slew of remixes, even if the rhythm-based gameplay at the heart of it all doesn?t quite hold up its end of the bargain. 

Dancing in Starlight takes place some time after the end of Persona 5. This time, the Phantom Thieves return to the Velvet Room to compete in a dance contest against the cast of Persona 3 to see which guest of the Velvet Room has the better moves. The first couple of scenes make it clear the events of this story won?t matter, however, as the contest takes place over the course of a single night everyone will be forced to forget as soon as it?s over.

The dancing itself is straightforward as you tap or hold buttons in time with the music, though the interface can be too stylish for its own good. It prizes the J-Pop dance routines the Persona 5 cast performs in the background as much as the music itself, which means notes originate near the center and move towards the edges of the screen. The layout works well enough on lower difficulties, but as tougher songs introduce more intricate note patterns, it can be hard to discern what note to play when as they drift apart. Notes that require you to tap multiple buttons at the same time are connected by a giant pink bar and clutter up the screen, and I even failed to notice a note completely in the chaos a few times. I got used to the interface and was able to have fun with it after a few hours, but it?s a case of form over function that emphasizes something I wasn?t paying much attention to most of the time.

You never have to play too seriously though to progress, though, and a number of fun modifiers alleviate that frustration. Want to play any note using any button? Go for it. Think getting a ?Good? rating on a note shouldn?t break your streak? Done. Unlocking and using these modifiers makes for some neat twists on the normally pass-or-fail rhythm genre, and some even up the challenge by making notes disappear as they near the edge of the screen or having them randomly speed up or slow down. The helpful ones ding your score, but I still enjoyed how much I could change the game to my liking.

 

Dancing in Starlight does a good job of increasing the BPMs of Persona 5?s soundtrack to make each song more fun to play, but I can?t help but nitpick at some of the choices made in the setlist. It feels limited with just over two dozen songs, and it doesn?t help when the same songs come up multiple times. ?Rivers in the Desert? is a fantastic song, but I don?t need the original, a remix, and a live version of it. What?s here is fairly strong, however, and aside from one or two clunkers, I was nodding my head along to every song.

The main reason for going back through these songs is to get the series? trademark social links going. By completing certain objectives, you unlock new conversations with each member of the Phantom Thieves. Getting to know Makoto, Ryuji, and Ann better, even knowing these conversations with them would have no consequences, kept me going even as the gameplay started getting stale. These conversations also unlock new outfits and accessories to wear on the dance floor, and some of them can get pretty silly (in a good way).

Persona 5?s soundtrack helped define its captivating sense of style when it released last year, and Dancing in Starlight is a good celebration of it. The clumsy dancing interface and short tracklist make it fall short as a rhythm game, but some great remixes and fun progression hooks make it a worthwhile way to revisit the look, feel, and sound of one this generation?s most stylish RPGs.

Darksiders III Review ? A Quality Experience From Another Age

The Darksiders series is a pastiche of beloved games and genres that came before it. The first two Darksiders entries wore their Zelda, God of War, Metroid, and Diablo inspirations proudly and generally found success, even if they never quite reached the heights of any of those singular games. Darksiders III is similar in that its main inspirations are still easy to spot, but Zelda no longer serves as the pillar on which the game is built. The focus has shifted away from puzzles and acquiring items, and toward combat and navigation upgrades that help you move through the larger world. The result is a game that feels familiar ? and dated ? but with gameplay and level design that sing, even when its story is awkwardly clearing its throat.

Darksiders III follows Fury, the angriest and most unpredictable member of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. She is on a mission from the Charred Council to track down the seven deadly sins who escaped imprisonment when the world went to hell. Unlike War and Death from the first two games, she is not concerned with what brought about the apocalypse, making her goals different ? at least initially.

Another big change for Darksiders III is the larger structure. The first two games were like Zelda titles, with puzzle-focused levels spread across a larger explorable world. Fury?s world is not broken apart in this way. In fact, I only solved a handful of puzzles across the entire experience. I personally loved those sequences in the previous games, but I did not miss them here. Moving through Darksiders III feels more like moving through a continuous series of interconnected areas with new movement abilities opening up more options for where Fury can go and what secrets she can uncover. The absence of a map is surprising, and I feared it would limit my ability to navigate, but the compass system does a good job directing you to your main objective, and secrets are broadcast well enough in the environment that they?re easy to spot. In these ways Darksiders III stands apart from the first two games and I appreciate the change. It makes it feel more like a well-executed, straight-on action experience.

Fury uses a chain-whip as her main attack, which gives her a wide attack range to take on surprisingly powerful foes. She also unlocks a boomerang-like weapon, as well as a handful of secondary blades. You switch between the secondary blades without entering a menu, and they each grant her specific navigation abilities. The icy swords allow her to walk on water, freezing it below her feet. Her fiery dual blades give her the ability to traipse through lava. Each has plenty of combos, but I had more fun relying on standard attacks and focusing on dodging out of the way to execute powerful, perfectly-timed counters. Fury doesn?t block (and sometimes yells at enemies derisively when they do), and it keeps the action brisk. She?s always on the offensive, which I appreciate as an impatient fighter.

Every enemy, and especially the bosses, pose a substantial threat. Even the early foes can fell Fury if she gets sloppy or overwhelmed. This makes exploration cautious and tense, which I like, but the checkpoints can sometimes be unnecessarily spaced out. A few bosses in particular are plagued by faraway checkpoints that led me to sprint past enemies for long stretches just to give my most recently discovered boss another shot.

 

Hunting the sins is the most compelling element of the story, as Fury?s goal is clear and the personifications of the sins each have interesting and unique designs. When the larger lore of the universe starts creeping in, however, things fall apart. Conspiracy theories run amok and important new characters are suddenly presented without a proper introduction. The final twists of the plot land with a thud, but I do like Fury and much of her dialogue. Among the heroes we have played so far in this series, she has the most personality and is my favorite.

In many ways, Darksiders III feels like a game from the previous console generation. Its art design is distinct, and feels like an old comic book with vibrant colors and villains that personify their names. But that?s an old trope today, and it lacks the graphical detail we have come to expect in modern games. Compared to its action game competitors, the production values are lacking and I did run into distracting graphical hiccups and one full crash that required a reset. With all that said, I was eager to see what was around every corner. The layout of the world, the way Fury explores it, the few puzzles, and the combat are all well-designed, elevating it above the elements that make it feel like a game from the past.

Fallout 76 Review ? Over Encumbered

The super mutants pressed their attack and my health worsened. As I weaved in and out of dilapidated buildings searching for a temporary safe zone to heal up and find a weapon that could handle this threat, the mutants? numbers grew. They closed in on my location; their machine-gun fire intensifying, and their grenade tosses becoming more accurate. I couldn?t win this fight, but I was determined to go down in a blaze of glory, hopefully picking off a few before I collapsed. I aimed my firearm at the door, but they didn?t enter. For a moment there was silence.

When the rattling of machine guns returned, I realized the bullets weren?t flying my way. I peeked outside of the door to see the mutants were now exchanging blows with an agitated Grafton Monster. I dashed up a set of stairs to a rooftop to watch the chaos unfold. From this vantage point I realized I wasn?t alone. Another player decked out in power armor arrived to clean up the mess. I assisted how I could, and when the last mutant body hit the ground, engaged in small talk with my savior. I handed him a rare sniper rifle as a thank you for the assist. We waved at each other and went our separate ways.

In this singular moment, Fallout 76 shows us why it can be great. The injection of other players into Fallout?s tried-and-true framework creates unpredictable cooperative scenarios and the chance to make new friends. My journey through West Virginia?s wasteland was filled with fascinating developments just like this one, but the greatest danger I faced wasn?t from an irradiated beast or the bloodlust of another player ? it was the stability of the game itself. From server dumps and hard crashes to bosses getting stuck in walls and enemies magically appearing out of thin air, Fallout 76 struggles to deliver an experience that players can trust. For an online game of this ilk, this can (and likely will) lead to disaster.

The excuse of ?all Bethesda Game Studios games launch buggy? is not a safety net or a get-out-of-jail-free card. Unlike Bethesda's single-player titles, players cannot load earlier saves to undo the potential harm that is inflicted when the game misfires. If something terrible happens, you have to live with it. Given how unstable the servers are and how frequently glitches occur, your playthrough can be upended within seconds.

In a fight against a level 50 scorch beast, my team brought out all of its heavy weaponry ? gear that was obtained over 60 hours of play. We saved these armaments for an encounter just like this one, unloading mini nukes, chain guns, and missiles against the difficult adversary. Its health fell to half, and we could almost taste victory, but then the beast disappeared into a wall, reappearing occasionally for a few seconds at a time. We laughed at the silliness of this buggy encounter, but knew we would be rewarded for our efforts soon. The beast then regained all of its health, and our laughter subsided. We wondered if this was another glitch. We again pressed on, thinking we could achieve victory. The server then crashed. Not only did we fail the fight, all of that time we spent building up an arsenal ended up going to waste because the game malfunctioned numerous times in different ways.

I went into Fallout 76 thinking that not having NPC humans to interact with would hurt the story and in turn affect the enjoyability of exploration. The solidarity of being one of the lone survivors in the wasteland is actually kind of cool, and although narrative content is delivered at a slower pace, is usually interesting. You basically take on the role of an archaeologist who studies the final moments in people?s lives. You learn what they were doing right before the bombs fell ? often hearing their voices on audio recordings. Being a detective in an irradiated graveyard is a different hook for Fallout, but it works well, and gives this entry a decidedly different feel. Yes, it is disappointing that player choice has been stripped from the equation, but the world-building is as deep as ever, even without crafted characters populating it.

As interesting as the victims? stories are, the missions don?t always follow suit, and are often massive time sinks that send players all over the wasteland to fetch items. Since fast travel comes with a sizable fee of Caps (the in-game currency), you sometimes find yourself walking great distances just to drop off an item or log into a computer. In one mission, the game does a great job of poking fun at the frustration of going to the DMV. You?re tasked to get an ID card, but the robot who is running this place isn?t satisfied with your paperwork and needs to you to fill out a different form, then get a birth certificate, then a marked envelope with your address, and so on and so forth. This mission is nicely crafted and hilarious, but ends up looking foolish, since some of the missions before it are just as tedious in design, sending the player back and forth between the same locations over and over again. The critical path campaign does a nice job of taking players to interesting locations in West Virginia, but the side content is where the best stories unfold.

While most missions pit players against Fallout?s familiar assortment of enemies, West Virginia?s folklore is used to bring some great new threats to life, such as the Mothman and Flatwoods Monster. Hunting these legends down is a fun side activity. I also enjoyed the optional events, which bring players together to take on waves of enemies or to solve specific problems in a set amount of time. While you can see other players on the map at any time, the events glow like beacons, and bring people together, often rewarding then well for victory; meaning there?s good incentive to do them. The game isn't shy about spitting out activities, and always rewards the player well for completing them.

If your intent is to stick to the critical path, prepare for some wild difficulty spikes and lengthy missions. A dungeon consisting of enemies at level 10 may conclude with a boss at level 32. The game doesn?t give any indication that the spike is coming, and you may find yourself in a no-win situation. Toward the end of the game, a nuke is dangled in front of you, but you seriously have to work to launch one. Crafting the best power armor also requires a ridiculous number of resources and rare Black Titanium. Nothing comes easy in this game. That's something I appreciate about this series.

While I enjoyed the quiet moments of exploring on my own and making interesting discoveries I would later share with friends, the game is better (and more forgiving) when played with a full team of four. Not only are you gaining benefits from a shared card in the excellently designed S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system, but you are better prepared for huge swings in difficulty. Sharing resources and camp spaces with friends makes a big difference, and it?s just a good time wandering the wilds with other people. Trying to read terminals or listen to holotapes when friends are talking in your headset is difficult, and some of those enjoyable side stories will likely be lost because of it, but my favorite moments in the game were the emergent stories created by my groups.

Don?t be surprised if your headset is filled with people complaining about hunger and thirst. Managing those meters is a constant pain that becomes slightly more manageable later when a fully furnished camp is pumping out clean water and crops. Camp construction works well and is almost identical in design to Fallout 4, with the addition of players being able to blueprint their creations and move them to different locations. The Cap cost to move camps is a bit high, but having that option is handy, especially if you want to drop off junk at your stashbox or change out supplies before taking on a mission.

Fallout 76 isn?t designed to be the next installment in the core Fallout series, but Bethesda wants it to feel like a direct extension of it. Combat, menu management, exploration, and all of the gameplay loops are just like Fallout 4?s, which is a good thing. These systems still hold up and deliver a great degree of fun. Yes, there?s a little bit of clunk and rust to combat, but it is reliable to a degree. Even VATS, which no longer freezes time, can be used to effectively pick off difficult foes. The problems that arise are often glitches, like enemies popping into existence, or the framerate chugging and letting a foe get on top of you.

Don?t think for a second that the gameplay mechanics will create enjoyable PvP encounters. Most of my battles against other players ended up looking like circus routines with groups of players bouncing around wildly. Outside of the PvP event zones, there?s no great benefit to player battles, either, other than being a jerk to other wanderers.

We have to wait to see if Bethesda creates a robust endgame for Fallout 76, but right now the goal is to launch a nuke, take down a difficult boss, and gain gear that will hopefully be used for something bigger at a future time. Yes, the nukes are a sight to behold.

Before we can even think of what might come next, Bethesda needs to make the core game more stable and fair. While I found it to be mostly enjoyable from an exploration standpoint, the frequency of server crashes, freezes, and technical issues is unacceptable. The foundation for another fun Fallout experience is in place, but you end up watching it crumble before your eyes as you play. The game just wasn?t ready for showtime.

Battlefield V Review ? Hedge Warfare

They say all is fair in love and war, but Battlefield fans disagree. The lead-up to the series' return to World War II was firebombed by controversies centered on the role of women in virtual warfare, the perceived lack of authenticity in the new soldier customization system, and confusion over what exactly would be in the game on launch day. Once the dust settled and we finally stormed into the battle ourselves, the resulting game is far from the charred husk of Battlefield?s remains many haters anticipated. In fact, Battlefield V is the safest, most calculated release in the franchise?s history. Like a seasoned general confident in his approach to battle, DICE doesn?t make any bold, redefining changes; instead, the studio equips the game with fan-requested improvements that solidify the series? tried-and-true cooperative, large-scale warfare formula. Battlefield V is more iterative than it is innovative, and when it does push the war efforts into new territory, the results are decidedly mixed. 

The series reputation for combat that emphasizes teamplay and large-scale warfare across land, air, and sea remains fully intact. Battlefield V urges players to squad up with others and cooperate to achieve success, demanding more from its audience than lone-wolf multiplayer games that encourage running and gunning with abandon. The diversity of play is still a compelling draw ? being able to command a tank one round, hop into a fighter plane in another, or put your machine gun to good use as one of four distinct classes is an experience not many other competitive shooters offer.

Small changes can make big differences, and the most noticeable and appreciated improvement in Battlefield V directly affects your primary action: shooting. DICE reworked its ballistics system to remove random bullet deviation and deliver more predictable spray patterns for all its weapons. Gone are the days of simply taming a weapon. Now you can learn each rifle?s nuances and master its use, knowing when to let off the trigger to land a kill. Along with other subtle tweaks to aiming, the time-to-kill feels much faster as a result, finding the sweet spot between the more spongy Battlefield games of yore and the frantic one-shot-kills of hardcore mode. 

Squad play is the heart of series, and Battlefield V reinforces cooperation with a few subtle and smart changes. Health no longer fully regenerates, so you have to apply a bandage yourself or request one from a nearby medic if you get nicked. Anyone can revive a fallen teammate (though medics can do it in half the time), and holding out hope for a revive doesn?t punish your respawn time in the redeployment screen anymore. Soldiers don?t spawn with an overabundance of ammo, either, which means smart teams always enlist a support player in their squad. The reworked spotting system only allows recon players to individually mark targets (others can merely point to general areas), making them more vital than ever to the team?s cause. The class balance between the four roles may be the best it?s been to date; my only major complaints thus far are related to weapons. The medics need more primary options than just SMGs, which prove ineffective on larger maps that encourage more long-range skirmishes. The bipods on support weapons don?t deploy correctly on cover or railings, either, limiting their effectiveness unless you are prone.

 

Playing together has always earned players more points in Battlefield, but this year?s Squad Reinforcements system further encourages collaboration. Each team action slowly nets the squad points, which the leader can use to call in resupplies, order vehicles, or if they save up enough points, unleash a devastating rocket onto enemies. I like the idea of rewarding teamplay, but the system doesn?t share the wealth. Only squad leaders get points for the V1 rocket kills, which should be divided among the entire squad. 

Teamplay gets another boost thanks to the new fortifications system, which allows soldiers to bolster defensive positions at predetermined places with sandbags, barbed wire, and even weapon emplacements. This addition feels long overdue and fits perfectly into the Battlefield motif, giving soldiers who aren?t as comfortable staring down their sights another way to contribute to the war efforts. DICE?s first implementation feels rigid ? there is no logic as to why fortifications are available for some spots in the base and not others ? but at least it gives defenders cover when buildings around a flag are largely devastated. That said, defense still isn?t incentivized enough; players are still more prone to chase flags in older modes like Conquest rather than hunker down and hold a position. 

No matter whether you are attacking or defending, you can count on a gorgeous backdrop. Battlefield V only has eight maps at launch (much more should come via the Tides of War service), but the settings include wintery mountains, dusty deserts, lush countryside, and bombed-out cities. The weather effects add to the sense of mood; as the wind picks up in the harsher climate, visibility becomes impaired and forces teams to adjust their tactics. My favorite new map is Arras, which has a small French village in the midst of yellow canola fields that provide ample cover for encroaching enemies. The destructibility is turned back up to impressive levels we haven?t seen since the Bad Company games; tanks can roll right through buildings, and most cover can be obliterated with a well-placed rocket.

Each map is compatible with the six game modes Battlefield V currently features (more are on the way). The lineup includes old favorites like Conquest, Frontlines, Domination, and Battlefield 1?s popular Operations (which is rebranded here as Breakthrough). Battlefield V?s signature mode is Grand Operations, which preserves the multi-map battle format of its predecessor but sprinkles in a variety of other modes along the way. This change isn?t for the better, as some modes kill the tension and focused objectives that made Operations such a thrill. When Grand Operations maps open up to include more than three objectives at once, the battles become scattered and lose their intensity. 

Intensity is also scarce in the War Stories, the single-player campaign formatted like short stories. I love the concept of telling seldom-heard tales about war heroes who rose to the occasion in impossible circumstances, and DICE created interesting characters who each educate us about lesser-known fights during World War II.  I also appreciated the somber, revering tone the developers adopt to bring these three tales to life. But presentation aside, the missions feel rote, rarely tap into the Battlefield magic of large-scale warfare, and fail to create memorable moments like the multiplayer does. 

Regardless of which multiplayer mode you are playing, your experience feeds into a complex progression system that allows you to unlock new weapons, specializations, gadgets, and cosmetics for each class. The fashion available is conservative and nothing like the immersion-shattering gear many expected after seeing neon face paint and retro-futuristic prosthetic arms in the promotional footage ? you?re mostly unlocking era-appropriate military gear in shades of green, gray, and tan. A currency system lets you buy more cosmetics, but the storefront feels like a conceptual test right now, with only 10 items to purchase. Most of the options available in the Armory are expensive, and it doesn?t populate the smaller cosmetics you can purchase buried deep within customization menus, so you never have the convenience of seeing all the available items in one place. 

Battlefield V?s new Company hub is your one-stop shop to customize your weapons, apparel, and vehicles, but doesn?t offer the flexibility longtime Battlefield fans expect. To reach its potential, we need to be able to save multiple configurations for each class so we can quickly swap between loadouts. For example, we should able to swap an Assault soldier armed with a long-range scope for one better suited for close-quarter battles on the fly.

Minor but persistent annoyances are also common on the warfront. While the new movement system looks good, soldiers have problems vaulting over small embankments and they sometimes clip through cover when prone or during revive animations. DICE?s stubborn approach to squad spawns means soldiers still appear out of nowhere in the middle of battle; this is especially annoying when you are engaged in a one-on-one firefight and suddenly you are vastly outnumbered. Occasionally, the explosives needed to destroy objectives fail to spawn, leaving attackers no chance to win the war, or the loading hangs in the middle of rounds, forcing you to restart the game altogether. DICE also removed the ability to switch teams, which some players abused in the past for a score advantage, but this means if your friend spawns in on the opposing team you have no immediate remedy at your disposal other than quitting and finding another match. Also, tanks are not fast or deadly enough; right now they are hulking machines that crawl across the battlefield at a snail?s pace, and panzerfausts carried by infantry are more dangerous to tanks than the hulking cannons of their counterparts.

Battlefield V is a hard game to critique at this stage. Many of the minor tweaks improve the overall gameplay, which is still fun. But the majority of the innovations have yet to arrive, and new systems like the Company and Armory still need to be fleshed out. This game?s legacy won?t stand on the content currently in the game. Ultimately, Battlefield V will be defined by the success or failure of the pending Combined Arms cooperative mode, Firestorm battle royale mode, and whether or not DICE can continually provide new and engaging content. On day one, the game feels a few reinforcements short to pull off the overwhelming victory we?ve come to expect given the series? strong lineage.

Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu & Eevee Review ? A Classic Evolved

After two decades on dedicated handheld platforms, the Pokémon franchise is finally relocating to the big screen. While we wait for the first full-fledged RPG to hit Switch, Pokémon: Let?s Go Pikachu and Let?s Go Eevee are remakes of the first generation of the series with modern graphics and updated gameplay. Exploring Kanto, building your team, fighting Team Rocket, and challenging gym leaders remains as thrilling as it was 20 years ago, but inconsistent motion controls ensure the transition to Switch isn?t seamless.

Let?s Go pulls you in with the same hooks as every other Pokémon game: You travel the region, collecting Pokémon, battling trainers in fun, turn-based combat, and earning your place in the Pokémon League in a lighthearted adventure. The series mantra of ?Gotta Catch ?Em All? holds true to this day, as finding a ton of unique monsters remains rewarding as you fill in your Pokédex and build your dream party.

Let?s Go remains faithful to the first-gen Pokémon games (specifically Yellow). I knew exactly where to go to complete optional quests, and still remembered the solutions to most puzzles. Despite being remakes, the Let?s Go games effectively move the Pokémon franchise forward with crisp visuals that recreate the familiar creatures and cities of the Kanto region. Seeing the battles play out how I originally pictured them in my head is a thrill. In addition to upgrading the visuals and sound, Let?s Go streamlines many of the more tedious elements of the original games.

Despite tasking you with exploring a faithfully recreated version of Kanto, a few surprises and tweaks keep the experience fresh. From riding Pokémon for faster travel to swapping your party on the fly without having to visit a Pokémon Center, myriad modern conveniences make these remakes feel right at home in 2018. Let?s Go isn?t challenging, but if you need an extra hand, a second player can shake a second Joy-Con to drop in and out of local cooperative multiplayer. This updated approach is further demonstrated in Let?s Go?s modern evolution of one of Pokémon?s oldest conventions: wild Pokémon encounters.

Not only are random encounters gone (now you see wild Pokémon roaming in the map), but you no longer must battle wild Pokémon to weaken them prior to catching (with a few exceptions). Instead, you simply flick your Joy-Con in their direction to land as accurate of a throw as possible ? no battling necessary. Some players may miss having to weaken wild Pokémon you intend to catch, but after the initial shock of the simplification, I appreciated how it kept the pace of the game up. Not only does this separation make wild encounters feel distinct from trainer battles, but it makes the few wild Pokémon you do need to battle first feel special.

However, the motion controls for catching Pokémon, whether you?re using a Joy-Con or the Poké Ball Plus peripheral, are unreliable. On multiple occasions, I flicked my controller directly at the screen, only to have the ball sail in the wrong direction. Playing in handheld mode tones down the motion controls; you just aim with the gyroscope, then press a button to throw a ball. This makes handheld mode the best way to play Let?s Go, effectively deflating the excitement of the series being on consoles for the first time.

While you can find rare Pokémon in places you couldn?t before, other avenues of collecting uncommon species have been removed. You can now use lures to draw out rare Pokémon, but I?m disappointed the Game Corner no longer lets you play for items and Pokémon. My personal favorite, Safari Zone, has been replaced by Go Park, which lets you connect your Let?s Go save file with your Pokémon Go account.

 

Using Go Park, you can transfer previously captured Gen 1 creatures from Pokémon Go into Let?s Go. I love being able to move Pokémon from the mobile title into the Switch game, allowing me to further fill in my collection. After that, you enter Go Park and encounter these Pokémon as you would normally a wild Pokémon ? you still need to toss a few balls at them to add them to your team in Let?s Go. While I enjoy this integration, I still miss the surprising nature of Safari Zone encounters, and I?m disappointed you can?t transfer Pokémon back to Pokémon Go once you?re finished. I hated losing my shiny Charizard in Pokémon Go so I could have him in Let?s Go. Also, if you?re hoping to start your playthrough with a full team of awesome monsters from Pokémon Go, you may be disappointed as you can?t use this functionality until you?re in Fuchsia City in the latter portion of the story.

Even if you?re not interested in the Pokémon Go integration, Let?s Go adds multiple reasons to keep playing after you finish the story. Throughout the adventure, you encounter coach trainers that put up a stiff challenge and reward you with move-teaching technical machines and stat-boosting items. Once you defeat the Elite Four at the end of the game, master trainers appear to put a specific Pokémon to the test. If you think your Charizard, for example, is better than the master trainer?s Charizard, they serve as an awesome challenge. While these special types of trainers are among the most difficult in the game and sometimes give you good rewards for beating them, the most meaningful reason to keep playing is to continue filling in the holes of your collection, with Mewtwo serving as the ultimate post-game addition to your collection.

Pokémon: Let?s Go, Pikachu & Eevee are strong remakes of the original games. The feeling of amassing a giant collection of monsters and customizing your team never gets old, and the timeless turn-based combat is still fun to this day. Shoddy motion controls aside, Let's Go is a great time whether you?re a die-hard fan or a newcomer to the series.

Overkill?s The Walking Dead Review ? A Camp Not Worth Defending

Sometimes a game just doesn?t work out. Despite lots of time, a strong property, and capable development talent, the experience fails to solidify. In the case of Overkill?s The Walking Dead, major technical problems and connection issues, baffling gameplay systems and controls, tedious combat and stealth, and poorly structured missions all contrive to halt the fun.  A deep and rewarding upgrade and progression path hides behind the mess, but you?re unlikely to enjoy it, as the game fails to offer meaningful engagement.

In this four-player, first-person survival shooter, players take on new characters in The Walking Dead universe, but face gruesome challenges similar to those seen in the comic and TV shows. Working as a team, you scavenge for supplies and face off against enemy survivor groups, then defend your camp from those that would take what you have. The story is too bare-bones to hold up to scrutiny, though I appreciate the effort to surprise, including at least one cool character twist.

While purporting to be balanced for solo players or teams of various sizes, most missions are profoundly disheartening with anything less than a full four-person team. That?s a big problem, because matchmaking is spotty, and it is often unable to find me a matching team. Load times are long, and failure in a mission means starting over from the beginning. This can result in losing 30 minutes or more of time, with paltry rewards to show for the effort. When the games does manage to find a match, I?m often thrown in halfway through with the team already most of the way to failure. I?ve also encountered many hard crashes, together amounting to hours of lost progress.

Enemies are a mix of mindless undead and nearly mindless enemy survivors. The human enemies lack any of the tactical complexity you?d expect from any FPS of the last 10 years, often standing together in groups as you gun them down, even as they fail to animate in response to a hail of submachine gun bullets.

Gunplay is stiff and unresponsive. More prominent and frequent are lengthy sections of unsatisfying melee engagements. Whether bashing with a baseball bat or slashing with a machete, the close-up battles lack variety or panache, and regularly devolve into long stretches of standing in a doorway and repeatedly smashing the left mouse button for minutes at a time. A lackluster stealth system may as well be absent; it lacks sufficient cues to help you be successful, and the level design and enemy placements provide too few opportunities to be sneaky. A punishing sound meter discourages the use of your more interesting weapons and abilities, since it means that the zombie horde will soon descend. Upon death, an infuriatingly long respawn timer gives you just enough time to fume about the futility and loss of your free time.

The relatively small number of environments are confusing to navigate, with procedurally placed elements that frustrate as often as not, as you scramble around attempting to find the necessary jumper cables or gasoline. You?re encouraged to spend increasingly boring stretches scouring for additional bullets and supplies, slowing down any momentum a mission might have had.

The lone standout success is a rewarding progression system, which offers a lot to explore and plenty of opportunities for experimentation. Classes have their own leveling trees to improve abilities, though I would have liked more flexibility to customize what weapon skills each character can improve. As it is, if you like a particular ability, like the Scout?s smoke grenade, you?re obligated to go with her crossbow and pickaxe. Additional supplies let you upgrade your camp in a variety of ways, but you must balance your expenditures against the ongoing upkeep needs of your survivors, which makes for a compelling tension. As you gather more survivors, you can alternately send them out on missions or set them to work in the camp for some handy bonuses. Finally, a wide variety of weapons can be modded and improved over time. I appreciate the feature, but it also means that you?re wielding especially clumsy weapons in the early hours. Nonetheless, the growth of your camp and characters provides a sense that your missions have meaning, and may be enough to push you back into another banal scavenging run.

Overkill?s The Walking Dead plans to dole out content in seasons, so the current batch of missions will soon expand. But dramatic reworking of most core combat and mission systems are necessary before the game could be worthy of a recommendation. The premise sounds promising for fans of cooperative play, zombie action, and the taut survival storylines implied by the license. The execution fails to meet the needs of any of those groups. You?re better off heeding the warning ? keep this menacing door closed, and leave the zombies to their gnawing hunger.

 

Spyro Reignited Trilogy Review ? Purple Reign

Although Skylanders was red hot, none of Spyro?s adventures hit the fever-pitch of popularity as his first game, 1998?s Spyro the Dragon. The sequels were also well received, but that first game made him a household name. If you missed out on this wild platformer when it first released, developer Toys for Bob is giving you another chance to see why it is such an important game. This singular adventure fueled Spyro?s fire for decades of games and stories, and after playing it again, I see why developers and publishers believe he remains relevant and is primed for another return.

Spyro Reignited Trilogy is a remaster that is faithful to the purple dragon?s original journeys, yet modernizes them to deliver breathtaking graphics and dynamic audio. Last year?s Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy received similar treatment, but given just how lightly detailed Spyro?s worlds were back in the day, Toys for Bob took more liberties with the visuals.

The result is three games that often look radically different from their sources. What was once a textureless brown blob is now a highly-detailed tree that appears to have a story of its own to tell. Flat green spaces which we assumed represented fields are now beautiful prairies consisting of flowers and individual blades of grass that can be affected by wind and fire. A dog that moved awkwardly now has a variety of beautifully realized animations that visually convey the second it becomes a threat to Spyro. All three games look stunning by today?s standards, but are near-perfect recreations of the originals. This means the level design and item placement are identical to Insomniac's work ? and that?s where this trilogy?s age begins to cut through the new coat of paint.

These games are still ridiculously fun to play, but the path through them can be a bit difficult to wrap your brain around at first. In the first game, you don?t really have any guidance to tell you what you should be doing other than reawakening dragons. Insomniac improves upon this formula in the second game, Ripto's Rage, and again in the trilogy?s final act, Year of the Dragon. These three games are a great study of iteration. You can see how Insomniac learned from its mistakes, become more ambitious, and figured out how to create a clear through line for players, while still delivering an adventure that pushes for player-driven discovery.

The main objectives in all three games can be completed quickly, but secrets are fairly hard to find, meaning you?ll likely explore every corner to find well-hidden gems, and experiment with jumps to find a glide point that can reach new areas. All too often you?ll find yourself stumped, clueless where the last gem could be hidden. You?ll need to unearth them all to reach 100 percent completion for stages.

Spyro was born in the wild west of game development when every developer was trying to figure out what three-dimensional gaming would be. From that drive, the Spyro trilogy has a unique charm, and it still holds up well today. Just the general design of Spyro as a character is a game changer. As a four-legged hero, his basic movements offer a different feel and flow than your traditional platformer stars. When Spyro hops along, he can turn easily, just like any other platforming character, but once he puts his horns down to sprint, he takes on the maneuverability of a race car, only capable of making wide turns. Rocketing across the world takes skill, but becomes incredibly satisfying once mastered.

Spyro's horns also deliver unique and satisfying wallops to adversaries, and generate exciting gameplay moments where, at a great speed, the player needs to line up a direct hit or look like an idiot who flies right past the target. Even though Spyro is a tiny dragon, his fire breath gives him a powerful position in the world, imbuing the player with an enjoyable attack that can immediately melt adversaries. As lethal as Spyro is, Insomniac never lets you forget he isn't a fully grown dragon. His foes often tower over him, delivering a great sense of scale that again gives this game a much different feel.

The core move set is the backbone of each game, but the sequels expand upon the gameplay scope. Spyro eventually learns how to flutter, swim, and climb. None of the new moves are as exciting as his base moves, but they add depth. Sure, there may be too much swimming in Ripto?s Rage, but it did shake things up. Insomniac even fell in love with the Tony Hawk games and puts our hero on skateboard for some challenges in Year of the Dragon. Other characters are also playable in this final act.

As memorable as these helper characters are, they may not appear that familiar in the remaster given how drastically Toys for Bob improves upon their character models. Hunter the Cheetah is still recognizable, but the same cannot be said for any of the elder dragons. Given how generic they were in the base games, Toys for Bob gave them all new identities, many themed to the specific regions of the world they occupy. They still say the same things, but are effectively new characters. Do they fit with the original look? I think so, but they showcase more detail than any other characters in the game.

Spyro?s personality is slightly changed form the originals. He has more of a bounce in his animations, and his voice is now consistent. I know that?s an odd thing to say, but he was originally voiced by Carlos Alazraqui, and was replaced by Tom Kenny for the sequels. Toys for Bob brought in Kenny to re-record all of the lines for the first game ? a nice touch that unifies the trilogy.

Given just how different the worlds look in remastered form, I found this trilogy to be more interesting and enjoyable to return to than Crash?s. These games don?t preserve history as well, but that?s okay. Having already lived through them, it?s fascinating to see how the worlds have been reimagined and differ from the vision I had in my head. If you?ve never played these games before, I can?t recommend them enough. From a historical standpoint, you can clearly see the foundation for Insomnaic?s Ratchet & Clank series in each level. As a game, Spyro is a blast to control, and collecting gems is an oddly satisfying thing to do. You?ll watch the credits roll on each game before you know what hit you.

Hitman 2 Review ? A Worthy Investment For Expert Executioners

With 2016?s episodic experiment firmly in the rearview mirror, Agent 47 is back with another full itinerary of places to go and people to execute. While Hitman 2?s globetrotting adventure suffers from the same shortcomings as its predecessor, the new locations and clever assassination opportunities remind me why I?ve remained a fan of the series all these years.

The Hitman games have always adhered to a simple formula, and Hitman 2 is no exception: After arriving in a new (and increasingly large) level, the bald and barcoded assassin must track down and execute his target. However, simply walking up and shooting them won?t net you many accolades. Instead, the magic and replayability of Hitman lies in exploring the environments, donning disguises, and devising stealthy and creative executions that leave no trace. Why garrote an enemy when you can cause their sports car to malfunction during a race, or give your target an extra-close shave while posing as their barber?

My one major criticism of Hitman 2 remains a holdover from the previous installment: Each map is now so massive that it demands a hefty time investment just to learn, and the organic discovery of a level?s set-piece executions has taken a backseat to in-game guides that hold your hand through each step in Agent 47?s elaborate schemes. Hitman?s signature assassinations have always been puzzles, and nowadays you can either have all the answers splayed out in front of you or blindly stumble through them via hours of frustrating trial-and-error. Thankfully, these scripted assassinations are far from the only way to dispatch your targets, and my options and enjoyment opened up once I pushed past the learning curve.

Though some problems come with Hitman 2?s levels being the biggest in the series, they are also among the most memorable, including an opulent billionaire?s high-tech headquarters and racetrack in Miami, and the sprawling slums of Mumbai. Some locations, like the village, coca fields, and cartel mansion of Santa Fortuna, feel like three full-fledged levels fused together, offering a welcome change of scenery and scenarios as you scratch off the targets on your hit list.

The signature executions this time around are worth the extra effort they require, and range from coaxing a carnivorous hippo into eating his owner to helping an incompetent assassin perform your hits for you. These moments, along with 47 giving the worst house tour ever while posing as a real-estate agent, kept me engaged and entertained during multiple playthroughs of each level, as did the wealth of challenges to pursue. I?m still not compelled to replay levels for as long as the game wants me to, but I had significantly more fun returning to locations than I did in the last game. Minor improvements like picture-in-picture alerts of important events and the ability to hide in foliage smooth out the gameplay, making it more enticing to dive back in.

IO tries to tell a more compelling story than the previous game, though the results are mixed. The developer smartly focuses on fleshing out 47?s past and his handler Diana Burnwood, and a mysterious new figure provides some extra intrigue. Unfortunately, the narrative is told through glorified storyboard sequences rather than actual cutscenes. Watching the camera pan across still images of characters as they converse just feels cheap and disappointing, especially given the previous quality of the series? cinematics ? and how good the in-game engine looks.

 

Players can also partake in a handful of peripheral modes, but they are largely forgettable. The shining exception is Sniper Assassin, which builds on the previous spin-offs and tasks players with sniping targets from a single location. Sniper Assassin provides a fun and exciting break from the slow and methodical pace of the main game ? but unfortunately the mode only offers a single level to shoot up. The Ghost multiplayer mode is also a frustrating disappointment, contorting the stealth-oriented action into a competitive race that the gameplay isn?t really suited for.

Like Agent 47 himself, Hitman 2 doesn?t take a lot of chances ? instead it continues honing its underlying formula to a deadly precision. A part of me still longs for the smaller and more digestible maps of the older games, but I can?t argue with IO?s execution here ? the levels, and memorable assassination opportunities they hold, are worth the investment.