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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.

Tetris Effect Review ? A Dazzling Reimagining

Whether on CRT monitors, HDTVs, or the Game Boy?s monochromatic display, Tetris has long been a reliable source of entertainment (and jaw-clenching stress) for puzzle-seeking players. Its elegant simplicity has made it an enduring success, but with Tetris Effect, Monstars Inc. and Resonair shows that it?s possible to wring a few surprises from the classic game while respecting its primordial core. Tapping into their mastery of melding flashy audiovisual presentations with interlinked gameplay, the team has created a breathtaking interpretation of Tetris that makes the game feel fresh.

In Tetris Effect?s showcase mode, Journey, you travel through a variety of vignettes while playing Tetris. The sound builds and morphs as you play, accompanied by dazzling visuals. A wintry theme might incorporate the rhythmic sounds of crunching snow as you set blocks in place, with jingling bells sounding with their rotations. You delve deeper into a space capsule while you clear lines, as snippets of transmissions play in sync with the thumping soundtrack and your positioning of the blocks. The tetronimos change with each level, too, though those are just cosmetic adjustments. Functionally, a block is a block, whether it?s made of shimmering bubbles or rotating cogs. 

It?s hypnotic and wonderful, and a fantastic partner to the ?in the zone? sensation that accompanies particularly good games of Tetris. I found myself instinctively rotating blocks in sync with the beat, and while it didn?t offer any benefits as far as scores went, it pulled me deeper into the game. The beats build and recedes like a great concert, culminating in a final level that is nothing short of magnificent. The visuals are amazing on traditional displays, but having your entire field of view enveloped by exploding particles and warping backdrops adds to the immersion ? something I never thought I?d be concerned with in TetrThe biggest tweak to the overall formula in Journey is the time-stopping Zone mechanic, which gives you precious time to fix a few blunders or to finesse your way to even higher scores. One of my favorite things about Tetris is how you can extricate yourself from seemingly impossible situations; effective use of Zone makes those moments even more frequent. You have to earn it first, however, by clearing lines the old-fashioned way. Still, it?s a good thing to have in your back pocket for when you need it. 

 

A variety of other options offer further twists on Tetris? core. In Sprint, you try to clear 40 lines as quickly as possible. Marathon mode challenges you to eliminate 150 lines, which is easier said than done. In Purify, you have to clear dark blocks from the field by clearing lines around them. Mystery mode is one of my favorites even though it made me want to punch walls; random effects like bombs, reversed controls, and other nuisances crop up as you play a marathon session. Even though you?re ultimately just clearing lines in all of these modes, they?re a fun and rewarding way to mix things up when you hit a wall. While I?d argue it would largely be missing the point, you can turn down the visual effects and music and just play a great game of Tetris, too, with a variety of customization options such as how many blocks appear in the preview panes and how rotation works once a tetronimo lands.

The fundamentals may be recognizable, but Tetris Effect feels like something new rather than another reskin of the same old game. The presentation is such a natural fit for the gameplay, and it adds an unexpected layer of emotion. Monstars Inc. and Resonair should be commended for taking a calculated risk and delivering its own unique take on a gaming standard.

The Quiet Man Review ? The Sound Of Failure

Not every game makes it as far as release. Even the biggest and most successful studios cancel projects when they aren?t shaping up. Those games may never see the light of day, but curious gamers can find footage of many abandoned titles online ? and The Quiet Man reminds me of those videos. With a mishmash of awful storytelling and mechanics, this narrative-infused brawler plays like a failed proof-of-concept prototype. Even though it has technically released, The Quiet Man doesn?t feel finished; the entire experience is a series of cascading embarrassments that make you wonder how it escaped cancellation.

You play as Dane, a deaf man who beats up a bunch of people while chasing after a woman who gets kidnapped by a masked man. She looks like his mom for some reason, and also Dane?s friend and a cop are involved. I apologize for the vagueness in that description, but despite The Quiet Man?s attempt to be a narrative experience, it does basically nothing to convey its story.

For your first playthrough (which takes about three hours), the mixture of live-action and in-game cutscenes have no dialogue or subtitles. You?re left to watch these low-budget exchanges and wonder who the characters are, what they are doing, and how they are related to each other. This leaves you completely disengaged from what is happening. Imagine queuing up a few supplementary webisodes for a TV show you?ve never watched, then turning the volume off; that?s what to expect from The Quiet Man in terms of storytelling quality and production values.

One might argue that the lack of dialogue helps simulate Dane?s own experience with the events. However, people talk to Dane and he clearly understands what is being said to him; he smiles, frowns, and otherwise reacts in most scenes. That means everyone knows what?s happening except you, so the silence only serves to deny players insight. A second playthrough (which was patched in a week after release) adds in the missing dialogue, but here?s the problem: The disjointed, dreamlike tale you weave in your head is probably better than the real story, which is saturated with awful writing and laughably strained attempts at coolness. The Quiet Man is not worth playing even one time, and understanding its terrible narrative better certainly doesn?t make it worth playing two times.

 

When you aren?t spacing out during wordless exchanges, you?re participating in simple hand-to-hand combat. However, even basic brawling is beyond The Quiet Man?s capabilities. You can kick, punch, grab, and use takedowns, but how you attack is largely inconsequential. Enemies are stupid and lack variety, so you can just pound them with little thought or fear of reprisal. Battles are also short and predictable, so you don?t get a sensation of building up momentum. You usually just beat up a few bad guys ? all of which are lazy stereotypes ? before triggering the next cutscene or briefly walking through the lifeless environments.

Even worse, fights always have something that isn?t working correctly. Enemies warp to their positions during animations, phase through objects, or stand there waiting to get hit. The controls are sluggish and unresponsive, and the camera seems determined to periodically hide your opponents. While this all frustrated me at first, I gradually became resigned to the repetitive encounters and barely functional combat, and it?s hard to be frustrated when you don?t care.

The Quiet Man?s gameplay package is sloppy and boring, and its story is so bad that it needs to be buried in a second playthrough because it?s more tolerable when you don?t understand it. I want to call The Quiet Man a farce, but farces are funny. This game is just a conceptual catastrophe that does everything wrong and nothing interesting.

Déraciné Review ? Stumbling Through A Dark Tale

From Software has made a name for itself with tough-as-nails games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne. For that reason, Déraciné feels a bit like an experimental diversion for the studio. It focuses on narrative moments spaced out between simple puzzles, and asks you to sympathize with orphans, not fight gigantic monsters using your favorite weapon. Sometimes it succeeds and is augmented by the virtual reality platform, but at other times it stumbles, held back by awkward controls and bland fetch puzzles.

Déraciné begins by introducing you, a magical faerie, to a group of orphans. They can?t see you, but they know you?re intervening in their lives at random intervals. You experience life as moments frozen in time; the world is essentially paused when you appear, resuming only occasionally so you can listen to a snippet of dialogue or watch something small happen, like see a pair of kids try to sneak into a window on a second floor. You can also see ghostly memories of the children wandering the halls who share bits of exposition as you piece together what is going on.

This ?frozen moments in time? setup is a smart conceit for why you warp from place to place, and it also serves to highlight a strength of the game, which is making you feel like an anonymous spectator. You can take your time to look at what is happening and casually inspect everything around you. Unfortunately, the paused nature of the experience also means characters don?t move much, giving it the feeling of a statue garden or museum. The things that are happening in the world are interesting, but it rarely feels active or alive.

 

Puzzles involve watching the children as they live and work in their home, moving assorted objects between them like a classic adventure game. The fetch-quest nature of these puzzles is rarely rewarding, but closer to the end of the game, when time travel becomes a bigger factor, it gets more interesting as you watch actions in the past affect the future. Those final few final puzzles aren?t enough to elevate the ones that came before it, but I appreciated the change.

In the way its story is told, Déraciné has more in common with Gone Home than it does Dark Souls, but From Software?s ambiguous grim tone is present. You soon realize that faeries aren?t necessarily a good thing. You bring a vague darkness with your presence, and the mortality of the children (and the larger world, surprisingly) is called into question. Bad things happened before your arrival, and since you have some limited time travel abilities, you might be able to fix it. The dialogue of the children and the few adults who take care of them serves only to move the story along in a perfunctory fashion, but the events they describe are engaging and its final puzzle wraps the story up in a novel way, giving your actions a legitimate role in the conclusion.

Déraciné approaches VR in the right way, letting the player soak in the environment at their leisure, but the teleportation movement is awkward and most of your engagement outside the narrative hinges on how much you enjoy picking up objects, looking at them, and putting them somewhere else. The world is interesting, and the narrative features a handful of fun, dark twists, but the ultimate experience is bland, even if it does have its charms.

Gwent: The Witcher Card Game Review - From Diversion To Main Attraction

A lot has changed about Gwent since its early days as a fun, imbalanced minigame in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The goal is still to win two out of three rounds by having the highest total card strength, but years of iteration in beta have changed the game drastically, molding it into something much more interesting and rewarding. Now officially out of its test period, Gwent proves itself a strong competitor in the card game field, offering lots options and strategies while also differentiating itself in exciting ways.

Gwent matches play out like fantasy poker, as you take turns playing a single card from your hand to gain the advantage that round, mimicking the feeling of anteing up. Making the choice to take a loss in one round to win the next can be brutal; do you play one powerful card then fold, potentially forcing your opponent to play two cards and giving you a leg up next round? Or will they immediately destroy it next turn and get an easy win? Few matches are a done deal until the last card is down, and I regularly felt my heart pounding as I waited to see what my opponent played, even when I had a strong lead.

One of Gwent?s biggest strengths is how you can curb the role of chance without making matches stale. Most decks are small, and you can see more than half your deck across three rounds. You also get a number of mulligans that let you optimize your hand every round. Though the right draw can still get you out of a pinch, bad luck rarely prevents you from playing to your deck?s strengths, which makes luck a fun variable rather than a crutch.

With its recent move out of beta, Gwent is more streamlined than it was at first (its three rows have been condensed to two), but still offers a lot variety in both decks and playstyles. Each of the five factions have various leaders who can drastically change how you play, like whether you use a monster-themed deck that sacrifices its own fighters to wreak havoc, or spam the battlefield with weak enemies you later boost into an unstoppable army. So far, only a couple of cards are indispensable across all decks.

Plenty of different deck types and strategies already abound online, though you may want to brush up on the more than basics before you wade into the more competitive side of things. Despite the sweeping changes and influx of new players for the full release, beta-seasoned players already have a firm grasp on deck synergies, though it?s easy (and recommended) for novices to look up strong decks online and use them as a base for making their own. If you?re looking for more casual play, unranked matches make it easier to test new decks, and an arena mode lets you improvise a deck by choosing one of four cards for several rounds, leading to wackier matches where you can?t take losses to heart.  

 

Taking inspiration from its roots in RPGs, Gwent also has a light progression system that ties into its microtransactions. Winning rounds, matches, and various achievements give you progress points, which you can spend in several faction-based trees to unlock small snippets of lore for each of the various faction leaders, as well as the various currencies needed to craft regular cards, their premium versions (which animate instead of displaying a picture), and card packs. Working my way through these trees, and being able to choose what rewards I?d get, made me more eager to keep playing. Most cards are cheap to craft, too, so while plenty of ads push you to spend money, I rarely felt like it would result in a significantly stronger deck. Unfortunately, the arena mode costs in-game currency (or real money) to play, which takes away from Gwent?s fun, casual feel.

 

After years of iteration as a minigame and in beta, Gwent has come into its own as a great card game. It emphasizes keen decision-making over chance, and a great back-and-forth buildup ratchets up the tension across multiple rounds. With a great variety of decks and strategies at its disposal, as well as strong incentives to play match after match, Gwent proves great ideas can come from small beginnings.

Call Of Cthulhu Review ? A True Test Of Sanity

Within just minutes of starting Call of Cthulhu, a grim picture is painted for both protagonist Edward Pierce and the player controlling him. For Pierce, that picture consists of tentacled demons, distortions in reality, and voices swimming through his dreams. For the player, the horror takes the form of gameplay ? all of it basking in an ugly haze, as none of the ideas appear to be fully realized. From the realization that most of your choices don?t matter to stealth sequences that are downright infuriating, Call of Cthulhu can be maddening to the bone.

The player is introduced to Pierce in a disturbing dream sequence that appears to depict his death at the hands (and tentacles) of a demonic priest. Pierce is startled awake, and we see he fell asleep in his detective?s office, which is littered with empty whiskey bottles and sleeping pill containers ? his way of dealing with PTSD from his service in the first World War. Pierce is hired to investigate the work of a painter who died in a house fire, and this journey eventually takes him to an old whaling part called Darkwater. This story setup is excellently crafted, as it sows doubt about Pierce?s mental stability. It also puts the player in an odd position when it comes to making choices, as many of Pierce?s thoughts are guided by depression and doubt.

The world that Pierce explores is overflowing with intrigue and is creepy in a way that gets under your skin. While there is some choice of movement at Darkwater, the player is mostly moving from one location to the next to click on objects that light up in the environment and talk to locals to piece together the crime. This is where Call of Cthulhu begins to unravel.

Although conversations give the player plenty of ways to interrogate people, most of the outcomes are the same, and the choices you make usually just produce a different line of dialogue. These results kill any hope of doing actual detective work, as there are no fail states. Almost every choice funnels to the same conclusion no matter how much you try to steer it in a different direction. The investigations also don't deliver much in terms of sleuthing, and simply push the player to interact with all of the glowing icons in environment to piece together the crime. You don?t feel like you?re accomplishing much during these investigations, other than clicking something to move the narrative forward one more step.

Trademark elements of H.P. Lovecraft?s Cthulhu mythos slither their way into the game, but most of the content is adapted from Chaosium?s pen-and-paper RPG series that began in 1981. The RPG elements make the lack of actual choice more confounding. As progress is made, the player earns attribute points that can level up Pierce?s investigative skills, allowing him to be more adept in areas like psychology, eloquence, and occultism. Being proficient in one of these categories opens up new conversation choices and may allow you to spot something else in the environment you normally wouldn't see. However, using these techniques doesn?t produce much more than a different line of dialogue or a seemingly meaningless clue. Even though the game sometimes tells you that your decisions will ?affect your destiny,? you end up feeling like you are on a guided path that is sometimes rocked by frustrating gameplay variations.

Whenever Pierce has to hide, trouble arises. The player is mostly tasked to duck behind objects, survey the A.I.?s patterns, and progress when the path is clear. These sections are dull, and slow down an already plodding experience. The player also has to engage in a stealth-driven boss battle that suffers from a lack of direction. I died over and over again, and only succeeded by exhausting all options through experimentation.

As taxing as the action can be at times, Call of Cthulhu impresses in its final act. It starts out slow and rough, but settles into a groove when Pierce really begins to lose his mind, and eventually hits a satisfying stride for its final act. While the gameplay itself fails to impress or entertain, the story remains strong throughout the entire experience, and keeps you on edge, wondering if a Great Old One is on the verge of reawakening or if everything we are seeing is just in Pierce?s mind. The potential of either path being the real one bounces in and out of focus, keeping you guessing right up until the awesome conclusion. In these final moments, player choice is actually realized, and produces a number of endings. Depending on how you play your cards in the last act, you may not even be presented with all of the potential endings.

Call of Cthulhu may not be fun to play, and often feels like an amusement ride that is just pulling you along, but succeeds in delivering a mind-bending story that lives up to the Lovecraftian breed of cosmic horror. In the end, I?m glad I played it, but for roughly five or six hours, I questioned why I was subjecting myself to it.

Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales Review - Tough Calls, Big Payoffs

Part of what makes Gwent so fun in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is how it is contextualized within the latter?s fictional world. Plotlines have you building your deck across multiple matches, and occasional dialogue branches let you settle disputes with cards instead of swords. Thronebreaker, a new Gwent-based campaign set in the world of The Witcher, takes this concept to its logical conclusion, telling a new tale using Gwent as its core. It works surprisingly well, as the story delivers strong political intrigue, character moments, and tough moral choices. These all hold Thronebreaker together as the standard card-slinging gradually falters across dozens of hours.

Gwent retains its back-and-forth gameplay (which has since spun off into its own free-to-player multiplayer game) in Thronebreaker, though it?s undergone several changes from its minigame iteration. Although the objective is still the same (build up an army one card at a time to win two out of three rounds), there are several more card interactions and abilities to consider, and spies are no longer the terror they used to be.

Thronebreaker uses these rules as its foundation, but alters cards to fit the campaign (and even lets you skip battles on the easiest difficulty). Many of the cards from the free-to-play multiplayer have completely different abilities, and several new cards offer some great new challenges. A fight against a griffin involves lopping off its individual limbs (represented as different cards on the board); fending off a group of thieves has one of them invading your side of the board. These battles further cement the importance of certain story beats, it was great to see that facing an opponent the story long foreshadowed didn?t lead to a straightforward match. 

Several fun puzzles find more creative uses for Gwent?s rules ? or break them altogether. I love the way these they tie gameplay to story, like one that has you moving a character across the board to sneak past guards. I ended up liking the variety of these puzzle-oriented tasks more than the standard battles, since it?s easy to build unstoppable decks after a few hours. This makes your victory in traditional encounters a forgone conclusion, which gets dull as the campaign goes on.

Although you spend a lot time playing Gwent in Thronebreaker, the narrative does a great job of propelling you from battle to battle. You play as Meve, Queen of Lyria and Rivia, as she attempts to fend off an impending Nilfgaardian invasion. Meve is a fantastic lead, a defiant ruler who refuses to back down from the overwhelming obstacles she faces even as her subordinates cower before Nilfgaard. Between her steely resolve and her tense, harsh moments with her son Villem, I was captivated by her tale.

She?s joined by a strong cast of supporting characters, such as the conniving-but-lovable Gascon and Brouver Hoog, the strict king of the Dwarfs who forces Meve to play neutral with the Nilfgaardians within his realm. Although conversations play out in visual novel fashion, the animated comic-book style looks fantastic, and the performances and character animations are strong enough that I never felt like I was just reading text.

 

Choice also plays a large role in how your adventure plays out. As you explore a handful of large maps for resources that let you build up your deck, you come across plenty of moral quandaries. Some are simple, like deciding whether to spend money to bury a peasant to raise your troops? morale. Others can have major ramifications on how the story plays out, and even if certain party members (and the powerful cards they add to your deck) leave your side. These decisions can play out in various ways, and I was pleasantly surprised when some decisions I was adamant about came back to bite me.

Thronebreaker is a great alternative for fans of Gwent who?d rather not dive into the multiplayer arena. Although some unique twists can?t hold off some late-game tedium, it?s a diverse campaign that emphasizes the strong characters and tough decisions that define the Witcher series, and emphasizes clever twists over turning newcomers into solid Gwent players. Whether you just want to play more Gwent or are simply a fan of The Witcher, playing Thronebreaker is an easy choice.

Diablo III Eternal Collection Review ? Blizzard Puts The Devil In The Details

Diablo III emerged from the shadows more than six years ago, but it has continued to thrive thanks to a steady stream of updates and expansions. The Switch?s portable nature makes it a great home for this action/RPG, whether you?re tackling some of its bite-sized challenges or settling in for an evening of demon-slaying with friends. Best of all, it?s an uncompromising port that delivers all the chaotic action that makes Diablo III great.

The Eternal Collection includes everything that?s come to Diablo III so far, including the base game, its Reaper of Souls expansion, and last year?s Rise of the Necromancer expansion. The Switch version also adds some fun cosmetics, such as a cucco pet and Ganondorf-themed cosmetics set, and a way to summon powerful foes with Amiibos. Beyond these platform-specific additions, this is just the most recent version of Diablo III, but on the Switch.

 

The game runs beautifully on the hardware, whether portable or docked, and I didn?t experience any distracting slowdown or graphical hitches during my playtime. It remained rock solid in four-person local co-op, too, even as we filled the screen with my necromancer?s herd of skeletons, a witch doctor?s army, and a crusader?s barrage of spectral hammers. It really is a technical marvel. The only real graphical compromise that stood out was how some details washed out in the zoomed-in character screens. In the actual game, however, it looks great.

It plays well, too. I preferred using a Pro controller, but the default Joy-Cons do a serviceable job in a pinch. The text is small ? particularly if you?re looking at the Switch?s screen ? but I didn?t run into any problems with legibility. Inventory management can be a pain, especially when you?re trying to sort through and compare large quantities of gear, but those are legacy nitpicks that have been around since the game originally came to console.

One of the most welcome things about this port is that new players can dive right into the adventure mode without having to complete the campaign first. Adventure mode is where the ?real? game is, filled with challenges that are designed to be beaten and replayed, such as clearing out enemies in rifts or running through short bounty quests. I?d still recommend that new players roll through the story, since it introduces some of the basic systems in an easy-to-digest format, but if you?ve done it before there?s no reason to slay Diablo and his cronies yet again. It doesn?t completely alleviate the sting of having to start the game fresh (you can?t import progress or cross-play with other versions of the game), but it helps.

Even after all these years, I still find Diablo III?s loop of starting small and becoming a godlike force of destruction irresistible. Even without major new additions, the Switch?s portability makes it easier than ever to pop into Sanctuary, kill a few hundred monsters, and scoop up some sweet new loot. 

Red Dead Redemption II Review ? An Open-World Western For The Ages

The world of Red Dead Redemption II is defined by violence, both in its passive and active forms. Bandits roam the highways, pilfering from the wealthy and poor alike. Predators mercilessly hunt and kill their prey in the unforgiving wilderness. Men of industry don?t blink twice stepping over the bodies of the sick and the dead to realize their economic ambitions. In this primordial stew of fear and savagery, the outlaw Van der Linde gang feels right at home. 

Led by the charismatic and resourceful Dutch van der Linde, this gang doesn?t think of itself as part of the problem. They support each other, primarily rob from the greed-lined pockets of the rich, and share the pioneer goal of buying a remote piece of land and settling down together far from the freedom-crushing existence of society. But as power structures shift and the unrelenting progress of government and technology swallow the untamed West, their particular sort of violence is speeding toward extinction.

If you?ve played Red Dead Redemption, you already know how this tragic story ends. But watching the fabric that holds the gang together fray and unravel as the law chases them across the country over the course of Red Dead Redemption II is riveting nonetheless. Once-vibrant camp nights filled with campfire songs and revelry are slowly replaced by suffocating discontent. Rival factions develop among the gang, and watching Dutch van der Linde transition from a relatively principled leader to an unhinged psychopath is one of the most vivid and raw portraits of villainy I?ve seen. 

Standing in the center of this savage storm is Arthur Morgan, Dutch?s righthand man. His gruff exterior and icy stare paint the picture of the prototypical outlaw, but underneath this gunslinger veneer is a reflective man struggling with his own mortality and the wayward morality of the gang?s increasingly desperate actions. He still feels more at home among thieves, liars, and murderers than he does with honest civilians, but he increasingly contemplates the real cost of their heinous actions. Player actions determine which of four ways Morgan?s character arc ends, but regardless of your decisions, his intimate struggle with the life he chose serves as the questioning heart of this epic Western experience. 

Using the word ?epic? to describe Red Dead Redemption II feels understated. This is the biggest and most cohesive adventure Rockstar Games has ever created. A rare harmony exists between the narrative, gameplay systems, open world, and mission design. Their interdependent nature makes it tough to talk at any length about each individual element without venturing into spoiler territory; the fashion in which these elements mingle and coalesce over the course of the journey is interesting to witness.  

The story missions alone will likely take you 80-plus hours to complete. Surprisingly for a game of this length, Red Dead Redemption II only occasionally succumbs to repetition or boredom ? primarily due to restrictions with when and where you can fast travel. As the gang is chased across the land by law, rival gangs, and the Pinkerton agency, Rockstar crafts a healthy diversity of settings. By the time you hang up your spurs, you will have robbed small-town banks, hijacked trains, executed jailbreaks, clashed with organized crime outfits, and challenged titans of industry. Sometimes you ride with the entire gang, other times the action revolves around only a few key actors, giving Rockstar time to flesh out Morgan?s compatriots. This includes getting to know Red Dead Redemption protagonist John Marston even better. Each gang member brings something unique to the table and most are likable, which gives the inevitable dissolution of their alliances a tragic weight. 

Violence is the only currency that applies across all the regions Arthur Morgan and the Van der Linde gang traverse, so Red Dead Redemption II rarely leaves the comfort of wanton bloodshed, perhaps to a fault. That?s not to say the combat isn?t fun (it is), but it feels refreshing whenever Rockstar lets a mission play out without resorting to violent encounters, and I wish there were more quiet moments sprinkled throughout the story. The world is vibrant enough to sustain long sections where every mission doesn?t devolve into gunfights. 

 

Going back to other open-world games after playing Red Dead Redemption II won?t be easy; this is unequivocally the most well-crafted and fully realized open world in video games. The attention to detail Rockstar poured into creating this bloody interpretation of a historical period is remarkable. The wide expanses of wilderness feel alive thanks to an unrivaled dynamic weather system, ambient sound effects, and the most ambitious ecology of flora and fauna ever seen in games. You can spend hundreds of hours exploring the varied and gorgeous terrain, and Rockstar packs the game with side objectives to keep you busy. Hunting legendary animals, collecting plants for the crafting system, and exploring for dinosaur bones will keep you occupied on the frontier. Some of the best moments occur when you stumble onto a remote property and meet the colorful (and sometimes revolting) humans who call it home. 

When you head into town, Rockstar?s meticulous craftsmanship gets even more impressive. Each of the many towns and cities has its own character and personality, with the bustling New Orleans facsimile Saint Denis being the crown jewel. The cities are packed with things to do, from taking in a vaudeville show and getting your photo taken to meeting a memorable cast of strangers and perusing the intricately detailed shops. You can dive into a catalog at gun shops and general stores, or walk right up to the shelves and grab what you need. All the exteriors and interiors in the game look authentic to the time period and make you feel like you are visiting a place lost in time. Even the civilian population is remarkable ? you can interact with each person you come across, and I rarely heard a repeated line of dialogue outside of some random encounters outside the city. New strangers continually pop up offering interesting side missions as well. 

Rockstar Games has outdone itself again with Red Dead Redemption II. The up-close portrayal of the outlaw Van der Linde gang?s unraveling is a compelling companion story that blends seamlessly with the original game, and depth and breadth of the open world is a technical triumph that every gamer should experience.

Starlink: Battle For Atlas Review ? Introduction To Space Adventure

Expectations are best left at the door when entering into Starlink, Ubisoft?s late-to-the-party toys-to-life space adventure. Targeted to younger space explorers, it still maintains enough complexity to draw in experienced players. And while physical toys are a big selling point, the whole thing is playable without them (see sidebar below). Capitalizing on the joy of discovery and experimentation, Starlink may be simple, but it?s a lot of fun. It?s also a natural fit for its Switch platform-exclusive co-stars, the Star Fox team, and there?s no reason the entire thing can?t be played through with Fox McCloud in the cockpit.

As a squad of space explorers drawn to a distant solar system, you unravel the mystery of an alien teammate?s origin and get entangled in a war against a conquering legion of baddies. You pilot powerful ships across seven planets and the outer space region that seamlessly connects them; the game world feels large and filled with curated content. Your ship is equally at home in asteroid-strewn dogfights, or skimming along planetary surfaces. Destroy enemy fighters and mechs, build alliances with the locals, research animal species, and uncover lost relics left behind by an ancient civilization, all from behind the stick of your versatile vehicle.

Starlink?s narrative and gameplay tropes rarely surprise, but the narrative flow maintains momentum in the lead-up to the explosive conclusion. Progression is satisfying thanks to a procedural system of planetary control; I enjoyed slowly bending each planet to my alliance by completing missions, bringing down enemy towers, and finally assaulting dreadnoughts. Only in the later hours do some of these tasks become rote.

The big selling point is the moddable ships, pilots, and weapons, which represent an impressive array of customization. Hitting upon a cool damage combo and decimating the enemy is a blast, like transforming a bloom of void energy into a fire vortex by infusing it with a flamethrower. Pilots receive a cluster of power-ups and special abilities, earned by using different ships and weapons, but pilot switch-outs are unfortunately discouraged; the more you vary your squad, the more grinding is required to keep them all up to snuff. Your best bet is to choose a pilot you like early on, and stick with them as you scale the power ladder. That balance issue really slowed things down for me in the middle hours.

While the cartoony graphics aren?t going to blow your mind, the colorful art and weapon effects sell the alien nature of the landscapes, and I love zipping up through the atmosphere and into space in mere moments to keep the action moving. Planetary battles are exciting but elementary, characterized by lots of circle strafing and witless enemies that go down with ease if you equip the right weapons. Space combat fares slightly better, as the addition of three dimensions of movement introduces some challenge, and I wish it was a bigger focus of the missions.

These battles to control the Atlas system are at their best on the Switch; I?ve rarely encountered such a well-integrated system exclusive as the Star Fox content. Fox and his team are looped into many mission dialogues and cinematics, and their goofy anthropomorphic animal schtick feels perfectly at home here. Switch owners can also play a whole additional suite of missions about chasing down nemesis Wolf, and it all makes you wonder how this didn?t end up as an actual Star Fox game.

Accounting for its likely use by families, Starlink includes a solid couch co-op option, letting two players confront the adventure in split-screen. I like that you can trigger each other?s weapon combos, and coordinate on big capital ship assaults, but it can get a bit frustrating that the game won?t let you get far from your partner before teleporting you back into proximity.

I eventually abandoned the physical toys for the convenience of quick onscreen tweaks, and the road to victory had some bumps and dips with balance issues and some repetitive mission structures. Nonetheless, I found a lot to like in Starlink?s uncomplicated and wholesome sci-fi campaign. And I have no doubt that the 11-year-old version of me would be at least twice as thrilled.

This review pertains to the Switch version of Starlink: Battle For Atlas. The game is also available on PS4 and Xbox One, but does not include any Star Fox content.

 

Wandersong Review ? Adrift In The Land Of Whimsy

Wandersong?s hero is not a daring knight or sly rogue. He?s a bard and proud of it, constantly grinning and showering those around him with songs of mirth (even if they don?t want to listen). Thrust into the role of adventurer, he has to visit far off dimensions to learn a song to prevent the impending apocalypse. While the stakes are high, Wandersong?s proceedings are not grim. Like its goofy hero, this platformer/rhythm hybrid is dedicated to trying to make you grin.

The majority of Wandersong?s gameplay has you performing simple rhythm games, often during scenes where the bard needs to use music somehow, like putting on a concert with a group of talented misfits. You move the right thumbstick around a colorful music wheel, following a Simon Says routine to proceed. If you mess up, you have endless chances to redo the melody. As a result, the rhythm sections are rarely difficult, even in the later stages. But that also means they?re rarely interesting.

Platforming stages fare better, offering more challenge. You use the directional rhythm wheel to pilot platforms through obstacles, like singing high when you want to go high. These levels are at their best when they require you to use the bard?s voice to activate platforms and other traversal methods to progress. My favorite setup involved controlling the pathways of plant pods through a vertical maze. Wandersong occasionally veers into other gameplay elements to shake things up (like one section that has you trying to gather a band of people in a town where every citizen keeps to their automated schedule) but they don?t last too long. These tricks are amusing, but do little to hide the game?s biggest problem: Outside of the story and humor, Wandersong isn't much fun.

Gleefully colorful and simple, Wandersong doesn?t test your reaction-based mettle or prod your moral convictions with tough choices. The rhythm game feels the same every time and it grows stale quickly. The gameplay is light, but the colorful cast of characters, like a teenage witch with an attitude named Miriam and a caffeine-addicted pirate captain hopelessly in love with a mermaid, are charming enough to keep things engaging. There is also a surprising amount of melancholy beneath the happy-go lucky surface, particularly when it comes to the bard?s self-perception and the emotional struggles of several supporting characters. However, this is largely a lighthearted story about the power of friendship and perseverance.

The best moments occur when the bard?s cheerful outlook is thrown headlong against Miriam?s cynicism, leading to a number of engaging (sometimes funny, sometimes sad) conversations about life, duty, grief, and the struggle to do the right thing. Even when the tediousness of playing some of Wandersong?s weakest sections got to me, the promise of more scenes featuring these two was enough to keep me pushing through. The tweaking of fantasy trope characters is also fun, especially when it comes to the renowned hero of the land, Audrey, who constantly disrupts the bard?s plans with impulsive actions and a competitive streak.

Wandersong has more than its fair share of chuckles and even a few emotional beats that make the journey worth taking. Our hero is a lovable loser out to save the world, and the cast of vibrant personalities keeps things entertaining even when the platforming or rhythm feels tedious. Ridiculous gags involving our well-meaning hero experiencing caffeine for the first time or arguing with a bitter old granny to get her to teach him a song put a smile on my face. However, the gameplay distracts from these whimsical delights instead of complementing them. I walked away from my time with Wandersong having enjoyed the story beats and being charmed by both the world and its characters, but I wish I had more fun actually playing it.

 

Soulcalibur VI Review ? Burning Brighter Than Ever

On its surface, Soulcalibur VI is a reboot for the weapon-focused fighting series. It eschews the slew of new characters in Soulcalibur V for a retelling of the events of the original Soulcalibur, and brings back most of the iconic characters in classic attire. Within that nostalgic pitch, however, is a combat system that deftly builds on its predecessors, with several smart improvements that give players more ways to dig into a fighter that?s equal parts intricate and flashy.

Fighting is still rooted in simple 3D movements and vertical, horizontal, and kick attacks, which all feel intuitive. Although combos are more prominent than they have been in the past, most are simple; you benefit more from learning a wide array of attack strings to trick your opponent than optimizing how much damage you get when any of them land, which leads to diverse fights based on a great mix of reaction and memorization.

That said, a number of smart refinements make Soulcalibur VI?s combat more nuanced than its predecessors'. I was worried the new Reversal Edge attack would dumb down combat, but it actually adds an interesting new layer. Executing the move, which locks both players into a rock-paper-scissors showdown if landed, has some strategy behind it. You can charge it to parry attacks, or land it immediately if you catch someone off-guard.

A combination of new and refined defensive mechanics also make it easier to break out of an opponent?s pressure. Guard impacts now deflect any kind of attack and don?t use up your soul gauge, but still require clutch timing to pull off. The addition of the Soul Charge also gives you a way out of oppressive situations by knocking your opponent away and powering up your attacks for a short time.

With all these new options and the unique mechanics of individual characters, it helps that the onramp is smoother than ever. Not only does the tutorial get you up to speed on every universal mechanic, but the ?combat lessons? tab in the pause menu gives you a brief rundown of each character?s gameplan, as well as a few suggestions about which moves to use at different ranges. This gives you a great starting point to work with as you find new options and introduce your own twists on your favorite character.

The single-player options include the standard arcade and training modes, but also two story modes. Libra of Soul is ambitious, but held back by an over-reliance on text and scattered pacing. It?s an RPG-lite experience in which you create a character based on another character?s fighting style then plot your course through a large map in search of opponents, quests, and weapons as you level up. You also do quite a bit of reading, however, which is frustrating since the narrative isn?t exactly compelling. The story takes place throughout the early years of the Soulcalibur series, as your character goes in search of both the Soul Edge and Soulcalibur while fending off mysterious ?astral fissures? popping up around the world. Despite a few interesting questlines, most of the tales aren?t memorable.

 

Luckily, fights are frequent and varied enough that I was invested in the mode nonetheless. Matches might make the stage extra-slippery, certain attacks much stronger, or your opponent's attacks poisonous. I liked that I needed to zero in on different aspects of combat, managing my movements carefully or learning what the best approach with a particular attack button is. The A.I. is surprisingly nuanced, too; I remember specific enemies that were overeager about reflecting my attacks or relentlessly tried to push me off the edge.

The other story mode, Soul Chronicle, takes a more traditional approach, consisting of visual-novel-style stills telling the story of individual characters in the early years of Soulcalibur?s timeline between fights. These storylines intersect with Libra of Soul and feel more coherent, but it?s only mildly interesting in the face of Libra of Soul?s grander scope.

The online suite is more standard, with the usual ranked matches, casual lobbies, replays, and leaderboards we?ve come to expect, though it?s a little unfortunate you can?t snag replays of highly-ranked players. The matches I?ve played online thus far have been stable and do a decent job of obscuring poor connections, though one and two-bar connections still have hitches and slowdown.

Soulcalibur VI takes the opportunity to re-introduce the series after a hiatus and runs with it, making the series feel fresh while offering a deep fighter with lots for lone players to dig into. The single-player offering suffers from some bloat, but weaves combat into its narrative better than most other fighting games, and the fighting at the center of it all is better than ever. Whether you?re a newcomer or a dedicated fan, the latest retelling of the story of souls and swords is a captivating one.