YIIK: A Postmodern RPG Review - A Bit More Hipster

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 20:24

"Postmodern" is both an intriguing and an intimidating word. YIIK, pronounced "Y2K," comes with the subtitle, "A Postmodern RPG," but what does that mean? Is it a game centred around the tennis matches of Infinite Jest? Or around Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans? Regardless of the intention behind labeling the game as such, the postmodern tag initially seems a little peculiar.

However, when you boot up YIIK you're met with a stylish title screen that looks like it was ripped straight out of a retro arcade. The stunning visuals are accompanied by an electro-jazz bass-driven track that immediately asserts the game's homage to '90s pop culture. After a short exchange with a crow named Marlene, you're given control of Alex McHugh, college graduate and spoiled brat. You're also unemployed and spend your time wandering around your town aimlessly until you meet a cat with a Salvador Dali moustache. Shortly afterwards, an ethereal girl goes missing, triggering a chain of events that threaten the very fabric of reality itself.

YIIK plays as a turn-based RPG, but instead of a strength/weakness mechanic that's usually innate to most turn-based systems, YIIK uses a series of minigames to determine how much damage you deal and receive. Alex's basic attack sees him spin his favorite LP on a portable record player, which is lighthearted and amusing at first. However, as more characters and abilities are introduced to the game, the amount of minigames becomes increasingly more daunting.

Basic attacks become ineffective as the game progresses, leaving you to use special abilities that feature minigames spanning myriad genres. These special abilities are necessary to take down mid-game enemies, but because there are no instructions on how to play the minigames, the game's learning curve is both unfair and unsatisfying. Make a mistake and you'll deal no damage, so you'll likely need to die a few times before you get the hang of a new ability. There's a voice that narrates the battle dynamics when you dodge an attack or die that sounds like the aliens from The Simpsons, though, which is a small redeeming factor.

The defense mechanics aren't much better. Sometimes you can dodge if you nail a real-time prompt, whereas other times the most you can do is reduce the amount of damage you receive. One particular kind of attack, for example, targets your entire party of four and hits you like a truck unless you nail three timed prompts in quick succession, which is a lot more difficult to do than it might seem. Since this attack is used more frequently over time, it becomes a frustrating way to engage with combat. The battle pace is slow and the response to your inputs is clunky, making the battles themselves last for an unnecessarily long time. And the further you progress through the game, the more often you have to battle while traversing its many dungeons. Also, the real-time battle prompts are much better suited to a precise mouse-click than a button press, which is an issue on PS4.

The game's leveling system, meanwhile, is tied to the Mind Dungeon, which sounds a lot more intriguing than it actually is. Again, the Mind Dungeon gets maximum style points, quite literally being a dungeon located in the protagonist's head that's accessed by dialing a specific number. In the Mind Dungeon, the camera angle changes to a side-scrolling perspective. In order to level up, you need to select one of four doors on the current floor and choose one of six skills to increase. You then need to enter the room behind that door, which confirms the skill increase. All four doors can be used to increase a skill, meaning that you can increase four skills for every level. After all four doors have been used, you can speak to Marlene the crow at the staircase located on the opposite side to the side you entered on. After confirming the level up, you descend to the next floor, which has another four doors -- and so on.

The actual world of YIIK is stunning, though. Each map (apart from the dreary and awkwardly angled Wind Town) is designed with a gorgeous retro art style that screams '90s Nintendo, and the soundtrack is consistently killer. Hearing that Undertale developer Toby Fox helped with music production wasn't surprising at all, and the late-game vocal tracks in particular set the mood brilliantly. The art style and music set a ‘90s mood that's paired with a lighthearted tone, with the game being genuinely funny for the most part. One particular NPC unleashes a barrage of rubbish jokes, the last of which is, "Are you visiting from Seattle? Say hi to Nirvana for me." It's very silly, but it works in the game's favor.

However, YIIK's attempts at humor can also be very problematic. Characters call each other "spazoids," derived from the highly-insulting term "spastic," as a throwaway insult. At one point Alex even says, "That's our word" about the word "ginger." On another occasion, a character says, "You guys went into an epileptic fit," despite the fact that what actually happens doesn’t even remotely resemble that. These jokes don't land, instead creating an uncomfortable atmosphere. It's one thing to set your game in 1999 and use otherwise outdated terms in context, but it's another thing entirely to gratuitously use derogatory terms for comedic effect. The art style and characters already capture the era perfectly; drawing on the negative parts of the '90s for no reason doesn't add anything.

YIIK has a number of design and technical performance issues as well. The game doesn't perform very well on console for a range of reasons. For one thing, the movement mechanics are a real issue on console. With no invisible barriers, traversing narrow bridges from an isometric perspective with a PS4 controller's analog sticks usually results in falling off the side. Obviously pressing the D key on a keyboard will cause you to move right with precision, but the same can't be said of analog sticks unless you're willing to move at a snail's pace through a game that's already slow.I also encountered a game-breaking bug that could only be resolved by going back three hours to an old save file.

Although some aspects of the game can be called postmodern, YIIK tries a bit too hard to make itself smart, coming off as pretentious more often than not

In general, puzzles that are not complicated ended up being unnecessarily time-consuming. The puzzles in the early parts of the game are quick logic problems that are enjoyable and fit the style of the game like a glove. The later puzzles, however, are resolved with much more arbitrary solutions and, in my experience, are susceptible to bugs. For example, you are taught early in the game that one tool (Panda) is used to hold down pressure plates, while another tool (Dali) is used to activate inaccessible switches. Late in the game, you need to use Dali to activate a pressure plate while Panda is already in use elsewhere. However, you've been explicitly taught that each of the two has a role of its own--it's a bit cheap, really, and when I figured it out I felt dissatisfied, because it didn't fall in line with the logic that the game went out of its way to establish earlier. The solution was neither a clever implementation of the game's established rules nor a smart twist on those same rules.

Although some aspects of the game can be called postmodern--namely the character arcs and the writing--YIIK tries a bit too hard to make itself seem smart, and it instead comes off as pretentious. By self-consciously addressing itself as a game and including lines like, "How can an RPG be postmodern?", YIIK is postmodern in a basic sense, featuring nods to the critique of Enlightenment ideas of self-realization. However, it doesn't use this basis to communicate anything important later on. It never builds on its foundations. YIIK's reliance on the quirkiness of its content--such as Alex attacking enemies with a record player--means that it's not postmodern so much as it is a take on hipster culture.

YIIK opts for pointless "postmodern" jargon about the nature of objective reality and a person's soul over meaningful character development and ambitious experimentation with its form. On top of this, postmodern literary phrases are rattled off in contexts that are completely detached from their meaning, which can be perceived as postmodern in an edgy sense but definitely not an intriguing or challenging one.

YIIK's characters are intriguing at first, but they don't really develop until late in the story, so it's difficult to care about them. At the end of the game, Alex provides a summary of what has happened, and it's genuinely interesting. It's unfortunate that the game managed to kill that intrigue with its slow, tedious, and clunky gameplay. There are two endings, both of which are canon. The one I got is the one that most people will get on their first playthrough, and it's not good. The story doesn't resolve itself in any meaningful way and the last boss is designed as another arbitrary puzzle that's a bit much to be considered clever or fair. Also, the route to the end of the game involves a monotonous grind that feels like not enough butter scraped over too much bread.

Despite YIIK's stunning art direction, kicking soundtrack, and occasionally interesting plot point, it suffers as a result of its clunky combat, tedious grinding, and poor puzzle design. Postmodern texts aren't always enjoyable--Wallace's Infinite Jest features walls of text that list every chemical name for prescription drugs under the sun, spanning pages upon pages at a time. However, Infinite Jest has substance. For the most part, YIIK doesn't.

Categories: Games

How From Software Is Changing Its Approach To Storytelling For Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 20:00

Publisher: Activision Developer: From Software Release: March 22, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Set in the waning years of Sengoku-era Japan, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice features a brighter, more colorful world than we’ve seen out of From Software. This lets them create environments with a different air about them than either Bloodborne or Dark Souls, as the developer tries to both elicit and play with the beauty of Japan during the Warring States period. The change in locale has also prompted From Software to make some key changes to how it tells stories, but it’s not shying away from the key methods fans have come to love.

For starters, don’t let the brighter environments in Sekiro fool you into thinking this will be a cheerier tale. “Of course, this being a From title, there’s beauty and there’s death and decay to contrast that,” says From manager of marketing and communications Yasuhiro Kitao. When choosing a time period for Sekiro, From chose the earlier Sengoku era over the more modern Edo period as its setting specifically because it fit the studio’s style. “Edo is more like Japan coming back from the brink, and really kind of revitalizing itself, and everything’s a lot more early-modern [stuff],” Kitao says. “Sengoku is much like Dark Souls and such, more medieval Japan, and allows us to play with those medieval concepts and those more mystical concepts.”

The company has taken inspiration from history before (the company looked to Victorian London when making Bloodborne), and you can expect a similar approach to Japan in Sekiro. “We decided to take inspiration from the architecture and the vegetation, but there are no actual historical people or locations featured in the game,” Kitao says. “This is a From game we’re talking about. It’s a Miyazaki game we’re talking about. You can probably expect a lot of weirdness to occur and to begin to unravel as you progress through the game.”

With its move away from RPG builds and progression, From is also leaning into telling the story of a set character rather than letting players create their own. Previous From games told the story of their worlds moreso than any individual character, delving into the history of the locations you traversed and telling stories of characters whose footsteps you were following. While your character in those games set important events in motion, you were only one small part of a grander tale. “This time we have a fixed protagonist and we have a cast of characters who we’re trying to build that story around,” Kitao says. “We’re trying to tell more of a drama, if you will, of these characters.”

The story of Sekiro begins with the Young Lord, a child The Wolf is in charge of protecting. Early in the game, The Wolf and the Young Lord are assaulted by a group of enemies led by the Ashina Commander, who defeats The Wolf, chops off his arm, and kidnaps the Young Lord. After finding himself restored to health after the battle and wearing a prosthetic limb, The Wolf’s goal at the start of Shadows Die Twice is to find and retrieve the Young Lord – and exact revenge on his assailant.

“One nice thing about basing the story around these characters is we get to play with the relationship between these characters, between [The Wolf] and the Young Lord, and how their relationship kind of evolves throughout the game,” Kitao says. The Young Lord and The Wolf will meet up several times throughout the story, and the story will place a large emphasis on their relationship. “There is one point in the early game where he is by your side, but this is not a kind of escort mission in the typical sense, and it only happens the one time.”

The Wolf is also a more fleshed-out character than the player characters in other From games. Raised on the battlefield by a character named The Owl, The Wolf will speak to other characters as he encounters them, lending his own character to the story. “Having this key protagonist allows us to build a cast of characters around him, and his personality, and his history,” says director Hidetaka Miyazaki. “We feel like, you know, not the typical NPCs that you run into during the game, but these kind of central – these core characters that are central to his presence in the world, and his story ­– are going to be playing a lot of that role of the story in the gameplay. So, we feel like you’ll be able to experience both his past, in that sense, and the here-and-now of where the game takes place.”

The main area we played through, the Hirata Estates, was couched in the story as a flashback, in which The Wolf fights against Lady Butterfly, an acquaintance of The Owl. “He sort of plays a foster father role to the protagonist,” Miyazaki says. “This Owl character picked up Sekiro on the battlefield and raised him as a shinobi and one of his old acquaintances – or part of that shinobi system of allies – was this Lady Butterfly character. So, while Owl was training the protagonist and teaching him techniques, maybe he got to spar with this character or had some sort of menial relationship with her through the foster-father figure.” 

From isn’t going to lean too heavily on flashbacks to tell its story, however. “It’s mainly focused on the present,” Miyazaki says. “It’s not a game where you’re going back and forth from present to past to piece together the puzzle, but this is a one-off flash back, if you will, to a portion of his past and that allows you to piece a little more bits together of the story. So, you get some extra detail and you can flesh things out for yourself in that way.”

While this more character and narrative-centric approach is atypical for From, Kitao is confident with how the change in direction is taking shape. “It's actually a very 'From’ way of doing a protagonist, and the way he conducts himself and the way this character kind of evolves is very kind of From-esque," he says. Although he’ll have a central role in the story, don’t expect Sekiro to be a chatterbox. “He'll say a few things here and there, but yeah, he won't bore you to tears with constant monologues," Kitao says.

At first, this character-driven approach seems to clash with one of From’s signature storytelling techniques: foregoing a traditional narrative in favor of having players build their own narrative out of vague hints from characters and item descriptions. From is well aware of fans’ love of that technique, and wants to assure them what while the story they’re telling is angled differently, the methodology isn’t changing too much. “That is very much intact in Sekiro, we’re trying to maintain that,” Kitao says. "We don't want to rob the experience of that kind of fragmented storytelling. We want it to be a user-driven story, a play-driven experience rather than [something] directed by us. We don't want to feed the user every little bit of information. We don't want to tell them straight-up the answers, or how something is. We'd like them to experience and explore that for themselves."

We found plenty of items during our time with Sekiro, and of course the descriptions for these items were more than just functional. The description for the Fistful of Ash item, for example, states it can be thrown to distract enemies, but also mentions that doing exactly that was a hobby of boys growing up in Ashina, the locale in which The Wolf was raised. As we approached a particular area, we also saw a scene of the Young Lord chatting with Emma (one of the characters who helps you in Sekiro’s hub area) play out through ghostly figures in the environment itself, similar to how certain “flashbacks” in games like BioShock occur. However, Kitao says the number of cutscenes in Sekiro won’t be out of line with the company’s past work, and that they won’t have huge info dumps, either. “We want users to pick up on these subtle hints through the cutscenes, through the dialogue, as well."

That said, From is making some changes to this storytelling approach - namely, who’s doing the telling. Although Miyazaki is handling the overall story, he won’t be doing the bulk of the writing for the dialogue and item descriptions, delegating the job to other members of the staff to “create a fresh experience and something that we hope users have never seen before,” Kitao says. Miyazaki himself doesn’t want to fall back into his old writing tricks, either, something he feels fans wouldn’t be as excited about as they have been in the past.

While Miyazaki finds the change refreshing in some ways, it’s meant getting used to a change in the overall narrative workflow. “Previously, I could have just written some stuff down as part of the text or dialog at home,” Miyazaki says. “Nowadays, for Sekiro I have to communicate this to staff and be really quite forthcoming about it. That’s quite tough in itself. But then to see them reinterpret this into their idea of what that means or that implies, this is enlightening for me, and it allows me to see this different interpretation and then to have this collaborative story building together.” This, in turn, gives Miyazaki the ability to see the story From is building from a new perspective, and for the first time, get a read on how coherent it might be to an outside reader.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice makes a number of tweaks to how From Software tells stories, but from the time we’ve spent with it, it looks to stay true to the company’s mantra of letting players engage with their stories in various engaging ways, even as it aims to tell a more personal tale.

For more on Shadows Die Twice: check out our deep dive into a boss fight, how progression works, and more, and make sure to click on the hub below to follow our coverage all throughout the month.

Categories: Games

One Last Look At Metro Exodus Before Launch

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 14:59

Publisher: Deep Silver Developer: 4A Games Release: February 15, 2019 Rating: Mature Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

With the February 15 release date fast approaching, Metro Exodus has already gone gold and developer 4A Games is in the fine-tuning stage of development. Deep Silver recently swung past GI headquarters to give us one last look at the game before we begin our final evaluations. 

This latest build brings us to a dusty desert region we only saw glimpses of during our cover story visit to 4A Games’ Malta studio last year. Artyom and the Spartan Rangers accompanying him are far away from the Moscow subway tunnels they once called home, and from the looks of it, they are worse for the wear. 

I journeyed through this dangerous region for several hours, by far our most expansive hands-on time with the promising title thus far. Here’s what you need to know.

Click here to watch embedded video The Countryside Is As Unforgiving As The Metro

This mission starts with the Spartans in dire straits. The Aurora locomotive that serves as the group’s home and your hub has burned through all the coal, leaving them to burn any available fuel. To make matters worse, its water tank is also dangerously empty, and many passengers are suffering from hunger, dehydration, and sickness. 

This desert is no convalescence resort, so Artyom is assigned four critical tasks – find some water reservoirs, steal some gasoline, and look for the nearby communications bunker that may have maps the Spartans can use to find a hospitable area free from radioactive fallout. 

Just because the mission takes place outside, however, doesn’t mean Artyom now has an abundance of resources. Like the underground tunnels of the previous two games, attrition still plays a central role in Metro Exodus. With the new sandbox-style world design, you’re free to wander in any direction, and exploring can yield some nice attachment upgrades. But you’ll also probably burn through a lot more ammo defending yourself, which could put you in a disadvantageous position during the more focused firefights. Expect to desperately scavenge resources and constantly deconstruct ammo for guns you aren’t currently using so you can fill enough magazines to get you through your next armed encounter. Sometimes, it’s smarter to stick to the shadows and conserve those bullets. 

The Wide Open Areas Still Have Frightful Moments 

When 4A Games announced its plans to leave the underground and head into the open Russian countryside with Metro Exodus, I had concerns. Namely, could the studio still pull off pulse-quickening moments in wide open spaces? Thus far, this quality hasn’t been lost in translation. 

When I first set off on-foot in this desert region, I headed toward a set of ruins off the path from my next objective. Rounding a corner into the rubble left from a building, I was immediately taken aback when it looked like the wall started to move toward me. That was no wall. Apparently, the hunched “humanimals” roaming the irradiated wastelands have developed camouflage skills, because the ones in this region blend in perfectly with the tan backdrop. Fighting off one of these new beasts is easy enough, but they can call for backup. If you’re not careful, you can be quickly overwhelmed. 

Humanimals aren’t the only horrors haunting this region. Mutated snakes slither through the sands and can catch you off-guard in otherwise deserted areas. The winged demons hover above and occasionally swoop down to grab you (or beat the hell out of your vehicle) if you’re spotted. Occasionally, sandstorms whip through the region as well, dramatically diminishing visibility and making it much harder to identify threats from afar. 

The Interiors Are Suffocating And Dangerous 

Though these sandbox regions have lots of open space, 4A Games includes large, detailed underground areas as well where it can inject that classic claustrophobic Metro tension. Artyom journeys to this Caspian region to find an invaluable set of maps in a nearby bunker. Enlisting the help of a local lady who owes him a favor after repelling a bandit advance on the lighthouse she calls home, Artyom gains access to the abandoned facility. 

Down here, Artyom has to deal with a lot of familiar problems – radiation zones that require he equip his facemask, dimly lit corridors, packs of lurkers and spiderbugs roaming the area ready to swarm on first sight, and dilapidated rooms that give these mutant threats the ability to emerge and attack from all directions. The dread that hangs in this underground complex feels like classic Metro. After locating and packing up the maps, the sporadic firefights leave Artyom short on ammo. The mission ends in a dramatic sprint back to the elevator while being overwhelmed by enemies.

The Game Reacts Dynamically To Your Actions

With Metro Exodus allowing players to chart their own path through the sandbox spaces, 4A Games had to design a mission structure that accommodates this newfound freedom. I saw these systems on display during my playthrough. When I showed no intentions of going to the first objective, after I journeyed far enough in another direction eventually Artyom’s handlers call over the radio to suggest he head to another nearby place of interest. But in doing so, I missed a set-piece moment where a sandstorm engulfs a communication tower and Artyom gains access to his first vehicle. Going off the beaten path doesn’t punish the player, however. I eventually gain access to a vehicle by other means. 

After I successfully recouped the map, I could have continued to find the water and fuel supplies, but instead I headed back to the train to see what my compatriots were up to. After chatting with some of the people and crafting more bullets at the workbench, a dynamic firefight broke out right outside the train against a local faction threatened by our presence. 

The Sandboxes Have A Lot Of Diversity

Desert regions are rarely the standout setting in video games – they are frequently barren and uninteresting because by their very natures, the developers don’t have a lot to work with. That’s not the case in Metro Exodus. I journeyed to most of the corners of the map and found it to be surprisingly diverse thanks to its proximity to the former shores of the Caspian sea. While most of the map is arid, you still see the infrastructure of a docking region, with a lighthouse, large crane, and several beached shipping vessels where the regional power keeps its prisoners. A change in altitude along the western part of the map gives way to an interesting cave system, and on the other side of the map you can find some gear in the air tower and hangers-on an abandoned airfield. 

We felt the same way about the thawing river region and densely wooded territory we saw in previous game demonstrations, each of which had multiple alluring points of interest.

Click image thumbnails to view larger version


                                                                        Artyom’s Lack of Agility Can Hinder You

Maybe it’s because he’s spent most of his life in the tunnels of Moscow. Maybe it’s because he lugs a backpack of heavy gear with him everywhere he goes. Whatever the reason, Artyom is not a limber man. Throughout my playthrough, I was surprised by how slowly he vaulted and climbed and how difficult it was for him to maneuver through tight places. Don’t expect to be moving quickly between different vertical planes. This is important to remember during firefights, where you can leave yourself mortally exposed if you make your move at the wrong time. 

To learn more about Metro Exodus, check out all the details we discovered about the game in our cover story hub.

Categories: Games

Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes Review - Short On Heroics

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 14:00

Relentless absurdity and hyper-stylized action have been core tenets of the No More Heroes series. It never cared for making much sense and instead embraced its own ridiculousness with bold self-awareness, a staple of director Suda51. The slimmed-down hack-n-slash spinoff, Travis Strikes Again, hits many of the same notes, but not as hard and with varying degrees of success. Its combat is frenetic, but well worn toward the end. Its story and style is unique, but thin in crucial moments. Its humor lands in spots, but not quite with a punch. But despite a middling delivery of what past games have done, there's fun and charm packed into Travis Strikes Again, and if anything, it is a great example of local co-op action on Switch.

Seven years after the events of No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, Travis Touchdown has removed himself from the world of assassination. The series' too-cool-for-school protagonist now spends his days playing video games in a trailer nestled away in the backwoods of Texas. The father of past enemy Bad Girl, aptly named Bad Man, tracks him down for revenge, but he and Travis get sucked into an alternate dimension within Travis' possessed Death Drive Mk II video game console. They end up working together to uncover the true nature of the haunted console and its games, and that's how you get the co-op premise where you can play as either Travis or Bad Man in the six Death Drive games that serve as missions.

Charge attacks are satisfying to pull off, especially when Travis unleashes his inner tiger.

Travis Strikes Again primarily plays as a top-down hack-n-slash action game that pits you against hordes of enemies, referred to as "bugs," that look like they're from a digitized hellscape. Travis is still equipped with his trusty beam katana, but can now equip four unique abilities mapped to the face buttons, which can be activated when holding down the left bumper and operate on a cooldown. As you acquire more of these skills, called Chips, combat starts to open up and become more varied; finding what works for you and stringing together attacks with a preferred loadout is satisfying, especially when dealing with tougher enemies that require more than button-mashing to defeat. A personal favorite combo is a lightning strike to immobilize an enemy followed by a sticky bomb, then a "force push" to toss them into a crowd before the bomb goes off. Each of these abilities are also quite effective alone since they deal more damage and create openings. Along with heavy attacks that carry a nice, weighty feel and charge attacks that build up to bring out a literal tiger in Travis, you can't help getting hyped up when powerful enemies like a Sheepman spawn into combat.

Throughout the game, attempts to break up the pace of core combat are half-baked implementations of fun ideas.

There's more than enough to toy with in terms of combat skills, but basic level layouts that move you from one combat arena to another wear thin. The scenery changes and stronger enemies with different movesets show up, but the formula eventually stagnates. Aside from the tail end of the first mission, "Electric Thunder Tiger II," and a late mission we won't spoil, environments tend to be visually bare without much flair to match the over-the-top action. The "Coffee and Doughnuts" mission shifts to a side-scrolling view for a straightforward murder-mystery theme sprinkled with Twin Peaks references, but combat is limited in this perspective and rudimentary platforming doesn't make up for it.

Missions are occasionally broken up with either a minigame or puzzle, but this isn't enough to stave off the repetition perpetuated by the simplistic level design. The "Life Is Destroy" mission that tasks you with rotating pieces of a grid-based suburb to make a path forward adds a sweet puzzle element, but gets hampered by an enemy that chases you around and causes instant death on contact. A drag racing minigame in "Golden Dragon GP" brings along a novel twist, though it's short-lived. Throughout the game, attempts to break up the pace of core combat are half-baked implementations of fun ideas.

There's more than enough to toy with in terms of combat skills, but basic level layouts that move you from one combat arena to another wear thin. The scenery changes and stronger enemies with different movesets show up, but the formula eventually stagnates.

Battles get real spicy when the "Serious Moonlight" chapter rolls around (at the time of writing this review, we're not at liberty to divulge its contents), but even then, the combat arena formula begins to overstay its welcome. And the conclusory mission devolves into a series of tedious mazes and Gauntlet-like fights in empty rooms. In boss battles, it's enjoyable to recognize simple attack patterns and strike when the time's right. But again, they don't quite challenge you in interesting ways or make the impact you'd expect from a No More Heroes game.

Thankfully, the option for local cooperative play is streamlined and allows a second player to jump in at any time. Playing in co-op elevates the thrilling aspects in combat and makes the duller moments a bit more exciting, as you'll coordinate with your partner to pull off skills and efficiently tear down enemies. The already intuitive control scheme also translates effortlessly to a single Joy-Con. Travis and Bad Man don't differ much in combat capabilities, though there are a few Chips unique to each character, and while you'll have to decide who gets to use which of the shared Chips in the early game, there's enough to go around in later missions.

Progression is laid out neatly with each mission concluding in a boss fight followed by a narrative sequence about how Travis acquires the next game. He runs into a cast of quirky characters and bizarre situations in a monochrome screen-style visual novel, and it's surprisingly intriguing. Creative visual representations of characters and places in the green-black color palette are elevated by catchy MIDI-tuned music (including the original No More Heroes theme) and amusing dialogue. It's not without a bad joke or two, or a gag that doesn't land, but the exceptional execution of a seemingly secondary element goes a long way for tying the overarching plot together, as disparate as it may seem.

Here's to hoping we still see No More Heroes 3.

The overtly crude-but-not-clever humor has been toned down this time around, and it's for the better. Profanity-laced lines and toilet humor remain intact along with tongue-in-cheek jabs and references to gaming culture, and frequent fourth-wall breaking; even commentary on the struggles of being a game developer finds its way into dialogue. Travis' brash attitude works most of the time as every other character keeps him in check, including his sassy cat Jeane--who talks and has an anime-inspired portrait in the story chapters--and the game bosses Travis encounters who he expresses reverence for. However, dialogue is rarely spoken, as there's limited voice acting even in the game's scant cutscenes.

As expected, the game is packed with references, purposefully ham-fisted, to drive home the overall absurdity of No More Heroes. It works at times, such as the Chips being named after Gundam (Strike Freedom, F91, and Atlas, to name a few) and a story chapter that uses Suda's own The 25th Ward: The Silver Case as a narrative device. There's even a Jeff Minter stand-in character who's crucial to the plot of finding the original Death Drive developer. A late-game reveal proves to be the boldest of them all, especially for those fond of a particular past Suda51 game. And there's a slew of shirts you can equip with key art from other independent games (like Undertale, Hyper Light Drifter, and many more). As heavy-handed as some references may be, they're at least consistent with the game's personality, and if anything, liven up its tone.

This is not the return of No More Heroes you'd hoped for, but it at least shows signs of a series that still has life in it.

Once you've sifted through the references and callbacks, you have a competent action game with some great ideas that are only halfway there. Slashing through waves of deformed bugs and hardened brutes has its moments, highlighted by a seamless co-op system that makes jumping into the action a breeze, and the minimalist story presentation will draw you into the journey. However, Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes doesn't quite deliver on its potential, relying too heavily on repetitive encounters. This is not the return of No More Heroes you'd hoped for, but it at least shows signs of a series that still has life in it.

Categories: Games

Double Cross Review - Combat Woes

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 01/15/2019 - 21:35

There is no shortage of indie 2D platform games out there vying for your attention and money. In order to stand out from the crowd, these games have to try to make themselves unique through visuals, sound, and perhaps most importantly, gameplay. 13 A.M.'s Double Cross does this by mixing a physics platformer with a mild dash of beat-'em-up combat and even a mystery-sleuthing story element. It's an interesting concoction, but sadly, this mix doesn't go down quite as smoothly as you'd hope.

Double Cross has players assuming the role of Zahra, a spunky young lass who works for RIFT, an interdimensional police force. RIFT is in charge of keeping all the various alternate universes out there in check, and Zahra's one of their best up-and-coming agents. When RIFT HQ falls victim to a mysterious attacker, however, Zahra is tasked with combing through multiple dimensions and finding clues to the strange being's identity. This involves some hand-to-hand combat, a bit of evidence collection and investigation, and a lot of swinging about with Zahra's special Proton Slinger.

While the game's tutorial and Zahra's status as interdimensional law enforcement might have you thinking that Double Cross's priority is combat with monsters from different universes, it's actually slanted very heavily towards pure platforming. Zahra makes ample use of her grappling-hook-like Proton Slinger to latch onto objects and propel herself along the game's various environments, using the swings in tandem with a dodging skill to avoid hazards like spikes, fire pits, and security lasers. You'll often be tasked with doing multiple, very precise swings in a row, which can be quite challenging--but thankfully, time slows down when Zahra is aiming her Proton Slinger, making it much less of a pain to do the demanding multi-sling sequences. It feels really satisfying to hit a bunch of tricky sling targets all in a row, especially if you've managed to suss out a hidden path to collect Upgradium, the game's token ability-boosting collectible.

Elements like weird, clingy-bouncy goo walls and switch-activated platforms keep stage design interesting and engaging while providing simple puzzles to solve. It's a good thing most of the stages are fun to bounce around in, because there's not much to them visually--while Double Cross does offer a pleasant color palette and uses camera zoom wisely in areas where it's beneficial, the lack of detail and samey-ness in many of the game's backdrops don't inspire much excitement to explore. You're really playing to see what kind of fun platforming challenge will get thrown at you next. There are a few levels that are just plain bad--the arcade stage with numerous timer-based challenges is a real hair-puller--but they're rare.

However, sometimes those fun platforming challenges are interrupted by combat. While Double Cross tries to make its combat seem meaningful--even offering a nifty custom combat-enhancement loadout system with new skills players can earn and equip--in practice, combat is a boring, mash-heavy slog with little player skill involved. The impact from connecting hits feels weak, enemy variety is nonexistent, and what few enemies there are in each stage are pretty easy to beat: whack the small fries with quick attack chains, stunlock the bigger dudes with heavy attacks, and occasionally use the Proton Slinger to grab and toss a projectile back at a foe.

You can gather energy from felled foes to charge up special attacks like a burst and a projectile, but their use tends to be limited. I got through the game almost never using the burst, instead hoarding my fireballs for when I knew a big annoying enemy wave was coming. Combat-heavy boss encounters, such as the fight at the end of the Reptarria level set, highlight the most glaring flaws of Double Cross' combat: you're up against a huge damage sponge that often doesn't react to your arsenal of primarily short-range strikes in a way that indicates whether what you're doing is right or wrong. Other bosses, like the battle at the end of the Gootopia stages, focus more on clever gimmicks than combat and are far more fun for it.

Another element of Double Cross that disappoints is the game's mystery theming. Zahra's cross-dimensional adventure has her finding evidence related to the attack on RIFT headquarters, presenting it to her coworkers, and using their observations to build a case and go after various bad guys. This sounds like a pretty exciting gameplay element--I mean, who doesn't like the sound of Where In the Physics Platformer Multiverse is Carmen Sandiego?--but in practice, it's simply trial-and-error. You talk and show various items to the characters inhabiting RIFT HQ until one of them reacts. There's no setback for showing the wrong thing to the wrong person--the only thing an incorrect guess does is prevent you from reaching a boss stage until you do get it right. Much like the combat, the detective aspect feels unnecessary and unsatisfying.

Had Double Cross opted to focus more on its strength--fun physics platforming--and de-emphasized things like combat and the tedious mystery-solving element, the game would have been an easy recommendation. But the weak parts of the package drag down the whole, and Double Cross winds up feeling like it's a somewhat undercooked mash of ideas.

Categories: Games

Vane Review - In Vain

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 01/15/2019 - 14:00

Vane opens in a storm, as the small child you're controlling is buffeted by strong winds and must figure out the path forward. Invisible walls stop you from going the wrong way, a lot of the debris flying around is clearly floating up through the floor, and the ambiguities of the scene--you’re not told anything about your character or their situation--make it hard to get invested. Vane doesn’t make a strong first impression.

After this brief opening, you're thrown into a new sequence where you're playing as a bird. You take flight and soar through a huge environment, looking for the distant sparkles of windsocks that you need to find and land on so as to meet and unite other birds. This is all communicated wordlessly, and despite the enormity of the environment those sparkles signpost where you need to go and what you need to do. The controls take some getting used to, but it feels great to be let loose on a huge expanse after that earlier, restrained experience. This opening represents the duality of Vane, a game that occasionally feels epic and exciting but which is also burdened by moments of sluggishness, all manner of glitches, and a camera that refuses to behave.

The child you control can, for reasons unexplained, turn into a bird, morphing if you jump off a high ledge. If the bird comes close to the gold dust that appears in several places throughout the game world, it turns back into the kid. This mechanic is used to good effect early on as you fly around various environments switching between the two forms to progress. This is Vane at its best, as you come to grips with the strengths and weaknesses of both forms and figure out the way forward.

But in the game's back half, the bird form is largely put aside. You spend most of your time in human form, moving slower and exploring your environments on foot. Your ability to interact with the world is limited--you can jump, there's a seldom-used interact button, and you can use a "call" button to call to other birds or children as you encounter them.

There aren't really puzzles in Vane, per se--being observant and exploring the environment thoroughly is more important than critical thinking. You're not given much guidance on where to go next, or what your exact objective is, in most parts of the game--it's almost entirely devoid of instruction, beyond the very occasional button prompt. This means that figuring out the way forward usually means just reading your environment, but that's not always easy. The camera in Vane is uncooperative, frequently getting stuck in parts of the environment or not turning as you'd like it to. In bird form, flying close to the ground can make the camera clip through it, which can be very frustrating.

The kid you're playing as is rendered with little detail, as is much of the world. This is clearly an intentional style choice, and for the most part it works well, with the angular visuals and moody synth soundtrack doing a good job of conveying the inherent weirdness of the world. The simple style works in service of a later game mechanic that allows you to morph the world around you--in one section, for instance, you're pushing a giant orb through an environment, and the orb will change parts of the environment it gets close to. If there's a gap between two platforms, the orb might generate a bridge between them.

Unfortunately, this is also the section of the game where I was hit by the most frequent game-breaking glitches--I got stuck in the environment more than once, and at one point the orb disappeared, forcing me to restart at a checkpoint very far back. I was hit by another issue right near the game's end, encountering a glitch during the game's trippy finale that sent me on a maddening goose chase; without getting into specifics of how the game ends, a structure that was meant to grow in front of me simply did not, causing me to go in the wrong direction for several minutes until the game unceremoniously reset me to the beginning of the sequence.

These are issues that could be fixed with patches, of course (the first pre-launch patch made substantial improvements to the camera), but there are also fundamental design issues here. Vane is more committed to mood than storytelling, and by the end of the experience it's difficult to say what, exactly, just happened. There's room for analysis, of course, and the game conjures up what it's like to be a scared and lonely child in a few scenes, but it's all too vague to really feel meaningful. There's value in being mysterious, but Vane could use more payoff.

It's all over very soon, too. This is a short game that constantly feels like it's still gearing up towards something better, a way to tie together all its mechanics. The last sections of the game are quite lackadaisical, simplifying the game's systems right down while relying on an investment in the game's thin lore. It's not just that the game doesn't give you easy answers--it also gives you little incentive to come up with your own. There are moments where you can see what the game could have been--like when you soar through a valley in bird form, or morph the world around you--but Vane lacks a voice and a strong sense of purpose.

Categories: Games

Latest Catherine: Full Body Trailer Is A Music Video Featuring A Japanese Pop Band

Game Informer News Feed - Sat, 01/12/2019 - 20:07
Publisher: Atlus Developer: Atlus Release: 2019 Rating: Mature Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Although the latest trailer for Catherine: Full Body is entirely in Japanese, you won't need to know the language to enjoy it, since it also doubles as something of a music video.

Japanese pop-rock band Sekai No Owari ("End of the World") has partnered with Atlus to have their song, "Re:set" featured in the trailer. It's a good song.

Click here to watch embedded video

Catherine: Full Body is out in Japan February 14 for PlayStation 4 and Vita, and sometime in 2019 in other territories, but only on PlayStation 4. It's worth pointing out that the original, non-Full Body version was recently ported for Steam.

Categories: Games

Missiles Incoming

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 01/10/2019 - 15:39

Click here to watch embedded video

Publisher: Bandai Namco Developer: Bandai Namco Release: January 18, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Ace Combat 7 is on the runway for its January 18 launch (PS4, Xbox One. PC on January 31), but before it takes to the skies, publisher/developer Bandai Namco has dropped some intel about the game's multiplayer modes, which include 4v4 and 8-Player play.

The video above not only shows gameplay footage of furious dogfights from the game's 4v4 Team Death Match and 8-Player Battle Royal multiplayer modes, but also gives a sneak peek of the modes' pre- and post-match screens, where you can tweak your loadout and bask in the results.

Selectable aircraft parts include amenities like a machine-gun radar-lock system, the sharp-turn skill, and various pilot bonuses, and the post-match screen reveals that pilots can earn bonus MRP experience for various Performance Evaluation accolades like avoiding the most incoming missiles by using the clouds.

For our hands-on impressions of the game, including the VR side missions, check out Imran's preview.

Categories: Games

Bursting At The Seams

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 01/10/2019 - 15:00

Publisher: Bandai Namco Developer: Bandai Namco Release: February 8, 2019 Rating: Teen Platform: PlayStation 4, PC

For as long as they have been banging at the door of an uninterested western market, it still feels like hunting games are still fairly nascent outside of Japan. There have been stories for years about Japanese teenagers taking their PSPs on trains to get in hunts before school, but such anecdotes can feel alien on these shores. With Monster Hunter: World making a strong argument for hunting games in all parts of the world with its international success, it feels like there is room to look at other games in the genre, and God Eater 3 is eager to make an argument for its place on western shores.

While hunting fans have been championing the series for many years, God Eater has kind of flown under the radar compared to its more popular rival. The first game came to the PSP in America as Gods Eater Burst, then went missing until the Vita and PlayStation 4 versions started filtering over in the last few years. As a contrast to Monster Hunter’s extremely deliberate movement, God Eater positioned itself as a hybrid between character action games and the hunting genre. Characters moved and attacked with lightning speed and the only way to survive was to react equally quickly. God Eater 3 carries on that proud tradition at a higher fidelity than any previous game in the series.

The basics of God Eater don’t vary too much from what the genre is known for, pitting you and some friends against monsters with breakable parts and nearly-indomitable wills. Called the Aragami, the enemies in the game are just as aggressive and fast as the player. Your best defense is that the hunters in the game have the ability to "eat” energy from the Aragami, dubbing them God Eaters, that lets them power up during the fight using techniques called Bursts. Thus, battles become tense back-and-forth fights of dealing damage and stealing resources to deal even more damage.

The third game in the series is also the first game to be built primarily for next-generation consoles, no longer sharing DNA with handheld versions. While not an open world in the least, God Eater 3 is bigger than previous iterations of the series in scope, scale, and general topography of its maps. No longer are you fighting Aragami on flat ground and small closed-off circuits, your arenas are now composed of different elevations made up of craters and debris and lots of different places for the monsters to escape to and for you to give chase.

As a hunter, you have the ability to go in with melee attacks, hang back and shoot the monster, and guard at a moment’s notice. You can only shoot the Aragami for so long before needing to recharge your weapons by beating Aragami face in for a bit, which is one of several ways God Eater incentivizes you to actually go in and build some combos. Another is the Engage system, where two hunters fighting near each other can power each other up. Since God Eater often encourages you to take CPU companions, the game encourages players to throw caution to the wind and not play conservatively.

In the demo that Bandai Namco let us play, we got to take on a monster called Anubis in a multiplayer hunt. Unlike some other Aragami, Anubis also has the power to devour the energy of others, meaning that it picks up hunters and devours them to power up. When Anubis is in Burst form, it stands up on two legs and is surrounded by red lightning, meaning any momentum the God Eaters had going abruptly stops and everyone has to back off and pray they can dodge Anubis until it calms down again. Despite almost running out of lives and time, we barely managed to take Anubis down seconds before the demo’s timer expired.

For those who experienced Monster Hunter: World last year and are looking for more hunting action or were hoping for something that feels more Devil May Cry than Monster Hunter does will want to keep an eye on God Eater 3. The twitch gameplay will definitely appeal to a lot of players who are eager to test their skills on equally aggressive monsters and the larger scale should please God Eater fans that have been yearning for improvements. You can check out it out when it releases on PlayStation 4 and PC on February 8.

Categories: Games

The Eternal Castle Remastered Review: Vivid Flashbacks

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 01/10/2019 - 00:00

Memories are notoriously unreliable. We frequently forget things that have happened or embellish our experiences with new details that never actually occurred. The conceit of The Eternal Castle is that it's a remaster of a long-lost classic from the late 1980s. The developers claim, with a nod and a wink, that they wished to preserve the "feel" of the original and keep its memory alive. When I first heard about it there was a moment when I thought, "This looks vaguely familiar. I think maybe I played it on my old 286?"

I should have known better than to trust my memory. The Eternal Castle isn't a remaster at all. There was no game with that name released in 1987--nor, indeed, in any other year of the late '80s and early '90s. Instead, The Eternal Castle, as a brand new game in 2019, is a retro throwback that's at once deeply indebted to the likes of Flashback and Another World while at the same time recognizant of how much game design has evolved over the past 30 years. The result is a cinematic platformer that doesn't quite play as those games actually did but rather feels like our hazy, unreliable memory of them. Cinematic platformers have come a long way since the '80s, but the genre's core tenets of prioritizing animation over input (that is, when you commit to pressing the jump button you have to wait for the complete jump animation to play out before you input another action) and populating its levels with novel set-pieces can be seen running through games as otherwise diverse as the original Prince of Persia in 1989 right up to Limbo, Deadlight and Inside.

The Eternal Castle sees you play as the pilot of a crashlanded spacecraft, exploring a strange planet to recover the items required to fix your ship. The three levels that comprise the meat of the game--there's a fourth and final level unlocked later--transition through some remarkably varied scenarios. One moment you'll be sneaking past horrible creatures in a cemetery as flashes of lightning illuminate the night, the next you'll be climbing up and down the tattered framework of a bombed-out skyscraper. Each of the three levels has a broad theme linking one area to the next, but they don't rigidly adhere to any one setting. Indeed, one of the drawcards is the thrill of discovering what outlandish or perhaps utterly mundane (which I usually found even more memorable) situation you encounter next.

On a mechanical level, these stages are distinguished in terms of the type of experience they offer. One promises "low ammo" while another warns of "poor visibility," thus giving you some idea of what to expect and, crucially, what gear you might need to take with you. You can only carry two weapons at once, ammo is scarce, and clips can't be refilled. Deplete the six-bullet clip on your pistol and you'll have to swap it out for the next weapon you find, and if that's a shotgun with two shells then that's going to have to do the job. Every bullet counts.

This isn't a run-and-gun shooter, but in its weaker moments it can turn into a bit of a mash-heavy brawler. Some areas, and at least one boss fight, favor use of close-range melee weapons like the club, hand-axe or sword. Your moves are limited to a regular attack, block and charge and further constrained by a stamina meter, thus theoretically offering some sort of considered nuance to the combat. But in any instance where I was fighting more than one enemy I found it easiest to simply mash attack until everyone was dead.

However, there were the odd occasions where my progress was blocked by a particularly tricky section, always combat-related whether it was being outnumbered by a group of thugs in a nightclub or being mowed down by some persistent gunners as I attempted to charge across the no man's land of a battlefield. Here I took advantage of the game's structure and backed out of the level to return to the hub and try one of the other two levels. This is effective because throughout the three levels are permanent gear upgrades--a backpack, for example, that allows you to carry more ammo or a bandana that somehow increases your strength and ups melee damage--so you may well find the assistance you need is in another castle.

Indeed, the game's structure is a good example of how this is very much a modern cinematic platformer. Not only can you choose which level to play, thus reducing the likelihood of getting stuck, but your loadout carries over from level to level and any major items you collect stay with you regardless of how many times you die or restart. Of course, if you return to a previously visited level you do have to start from its beginning, but there are convenient checkpoints throughout and you'll rarely lose more than a couple of screens' progress when you die as long as you stay in the level. Similar games of the '80s and '90s could be extremely punitive, forcing you to replay entire levels over and over until you nailed the perfect run. All of that frustration is completely alleviated here, thankfully, and if you're after a stern challenge then the New Game+ mode will provide it in spades.

Part of the reason for my initial confusion over whether I had in fact played the "original" Eternal Castle is that this "remaster" apes the visual aesthetic of a late '80s PC game so well. Every scene is depicted in no more than four colors (black, white and just two others, typically a variation of blue and red) and each character or object within is composed of a collection of chunky pixels, mostly seen only in silhouette. It's not an exact match with the capabilities of CGA at the time--while plenty of games allowed you to boot up into one of the various four-colour modes I certainly don't recall any that switched palettes in-game and from scene-to-scene. And the quality of animation here is inarguably superior, in terms of the number of frames, than even something as revered as Prince of Persia. But the overall effect is uncanny. I felt like I had been transported back in time to a simpler, noticeably more cyan and magenta world.

The Eternal Castle is more than a mere nostalgia trip for aging gamers still hanging on to their 5.25-inch floppy drives. In many ways, it's just as modern as it is retro and more than capable of holding its own against its more illustrious contemporary peers. Luckily it's just my memory that isn't as good as it used to be.

Categories: Games

Here's What You Can Do In Sekiro's Hub Area

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 01/09/2019 - 16:59

Publisher: Activision Developer: From Software Release: March 22, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Although From Software is rethinking major aspects of its established action-RPG formula with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, it’s sticking to a few tried-and-true approaches when it comes to the game’s overall structure by including a hub area that gives players a few things to do when they’re not slaying monsters out in the world.

If you’re familiar with From’s previous output, Sekiro’s Dilapidated Temple should feel familiar. While you won’t have access to it from the start of the game, you’ll quickly gain access to it after a certain point in the story. After that, you can access the Dilapidated Temple from any of the sculptor’s idols (which act as Sekiro’s take on bonfires). You can also use limited-stock items to immediately teleport yourself to the temple from anywhere in the world (similar to how Dark Souls’ Homeward Bone item works).

At the Temple you can talk to and offer items to The Sculptor, who helps out with character progression. Next, you can talk to a character named Emma to use your Gourd Seeds, which increase the amount of uses your Healing Gourd offers when you replenish them at Sculptor’s Idols.

You can also talk to a character named The Immortal Soldier. The Immortal Soldier acts as a training dummy who can teach you how to put all of the items, moves, and combat arts you learn throughout the game to use by, well, beating him up. He’s got a few tips for you, too, such as how to avoid enemy attacks, how the parry system works, and how to deal with thrusting attacks. Don’t worry about going on easy on him, of course – he can’t die, and he frankly doesn’t sound too happy about it.

That’s just the start, however. “If you’re familiar with the Souls games, you know how you can find NPCs in the world,” says Yasuhiro Kitao, manager of marketing and communications at From. “Maybe they’re vendors, maybe they do something with you, maybe they head back to the hub, where you can speak to them and progress their quests.” This is the case in Shadows Die Twice, as well. 

You can access different areas directly from the Dilapidated Temple, though it’s not quite as expansive as the hubs from previous From games. “It doesn’t branch out in every direction right from the start,” Kitao says. “That said, it’s not a kind of linear progression from A to B to C. You do have points with branching paths, with forks in the road.”

How many forks there are along these particular roads is still up in the air, but director Hidetaka Miyazaki says it’ll be among From’s most open areas. “We feel like Sekiro’s probably on the higher end of the spectrum in terms of the freedom the player has to explore the world if we’re to compare it to our previous games,” he says. “Particularly from the mid-game onward, the world really opens up, and you have a great deal of choice and freedom about which order and way you choose to explore.”

For more on Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, read about why it doesn’t have an online mode, and be sure to check out our hub to see all of our coverage throughout the month.

Categories: Games

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe Review - It's-A-Me, Again!

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 01/09/2019 - 09:00

Of all the New Super Mario Bros. games, beginning with the 2006 DS title, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is probably the one least deserving of the "New" moniker. It is, after all, a Switch remaster of the Wii U launch title, and although some new features and the New Super Luigi U expansion are included in this capable repackaging of an already great game, it's getting tougher to justify calling this series New with each passing entry.

There's no doubt the formula works; the 2D Marios continue to boast the best platforming of any game series, with accessible controls and inventive obstacles complementing the best-feeling jump in video games. And as with the Wii U version, NSMBU is inventive from start to finish, with the mid-game Soda Jungle world being one of the best Mario environments ever. However, we've done all this before, haven't we? You start off with a grassy world, then a desert one, then a snowy one, then a water one, repeat ad infinitum.

Once upon a time I found this repetition comforting. But U Deluxe is a victim of its 3D cousins' success: It now exists on the same console as Super Mario Odyssey, which is possibly the finest 3D platformer ever made. By comparison, NSMBU Deluxe feels a little… ordinary. By the numbers. Safe. Where Odyssey confidently transported us to fresh worlds filled with moons and stars and dinosaurs an uncanny valley New York, NSMBU suffers from a lack of originality.

That's not to say it's boring--no, not by any stretch. Within the restraints of a New Super Mario Bros. game, Nintendo does a wonderful job of thinking up new enemies and hurdles for you to overcome, with each level offering a new electrifying critter, weight-limited transport or water-filled safety net. Latter worlds plateau at a satisfying level of difficulty that never becomes frustrating but still gives you a rush when you succeed, while star coins remain available to collect for those who want an extra challenge. Ghost houses can still absolutely get lost, though.

The Switch remaster also adds a new item, the super crown, which transforms Toadette into a version of Peach with special powers. She can double jump, for instance, as well as use her trademark dress to float downwards. Other characters, however, cannot use the super crown, which, as well as denying the internet the Bowsette it so dearly desires, is a strange exclusion. Toadette is denoted as "easy" in the main menu, where Mario, Luigi, and Toad are normal difficulty and Nabbit is "very easy." You can change characters outside of any level throughout the game, but it strikes me as an odd choice--why keep Peach's powers isolated to one difficulty level?

Once you inevitably defeat Bowser--spoilers!--a post-game opens up, offering super-hard levels only unlocked for those who collect every star coin throughout each of the game's eight worlds. From the start you can also access special challenges, such as dodging fireballs for a certain amount of time or triple-jumping to coin glory, as well as the aforementioned New Super Luigi U. The Luigi-led expansion remixes each level from the main game to be shorter but harder, and Luigi himself changes to have a higher jump but slower--and thus trickier--reaction times. NSLU is the most substantial mode outside of the main game, and it's thankfully unlocked from the start for those seeking a challenge.

Despite its aging formula, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is still a great entry in the series, with its typically tight platforming and both accessibility and depth to spare. While it can feel a bit stale for those who have been round the Mushroom Kingdom one too many times before, Deluxe is well worth playing, especially if you didn't get a chance to play NSMBU on Wii U.

Categories: Games

Yoshi's Crafted World Arriving End Of March, Kirby's Epic Yarn Hitting 3DS Early March

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 01/09/2019 - 01:25
Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Good Feel Release: March 8, 2019 Rating: Everyone Platform: 3DS

In an odd bit of late-day press releasing, Nintendo has given dates to Yoshi's Crafted World and the equally-crafted Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn.

The Switch Yoshi game, which was revealed at E3 2017, has had scattered showings since its initial announcement. It re-emerged after a recent Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Direct as Yoshi's Crafted World with Nintendo adjusting the release date to 2019. They have now confirmed that the game will be launching on Switch on March 28. You can check out the newest trailer for the game below.

Click here to watch embedded video

Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn is an enhanced port of the Wii game Kirby's Epic Yarn, a yarn-based co-op platformer released originally in 2010. The 3DS game was announced last year and adds Metaknight and King DeDeDe to the campaign. The title is releasing on March 8.

This makes Yoshi's Crafted World the first Nintendo-published Switch game to have a date after January, leaving February oddly open. The felt-textured Yoshi is also an alternate costume for the character in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

Categories: Games

Moscow Mule

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 01/09/2019 - 00:40
Publisher: Deep Silver Developer: 4A Games Release: February 22, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Metro Exodus is only a few weeks away, so players don't have to wait too long to venture out to the surface and feel the harsh winter on their cheeks, at least in-game. A new story trailer for the game shows you the odds you'll be up against, which aren't just environmental and monstrous, but fascistic, as well. 

Check out the Metro Exodus story trailer below.

Click here to watch embedded video

This isn't to say there aren't monsters to fight as well, as the trailer has no problem showing you some of the creeping and crawling grotesqueries ready to jump out from the darkness right in your face.  The year-long journey from Moscow is going to put the crew of the Aurora to the test.

Metro Exodus releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on February 15.

Categories: Games

Why Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Doesn't Have Online Multiplayer

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 01/08/2019 - 17:09

After the initial reveal of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, we quickly learned it would lack online multiplayer – a first for the developer’s major titles since Demon’s Souls. As part of our visit to the studio for our cover story, we asked them to elaborate on why that was the case.

Past From games have had an idiosyncratic take on online multiplayer. Players could leave each other notes throughout the world, warning each other of dangerous surprises or goading them into hazards. One player could summon another to help them with a difficult section, but risk being invaded and attacked by another.

From Software isn’t necessarily abandoning that part of its legacy, but it is taking a bit of a detour for now. “Of course, we at From, we love those online elements,” says Yasuhiro Kitao, manager of marketing and communications at From. “We love to create our own characters just as much as everyone else. We hope players are looking forward to something in the future where we might go back to that, but for now, Sekiro is very much its own thing.”

Not having an online component has its upsides, however. For one, players who’ve longed for an honest-to-goodness pause button (who first got a taste with the Switch version of Dark Souls) finally have that option. It also means players don’t have to worry about being invaded during tense encounters. And without co-op, bosses can be designed with a single player in mind. 

Finally, it frees From up to let loose their creativity when creating Sekiro’s map. “When creating these playspaces, we don’t have to take into consideration how players will operate with one another in these maps, or how they may exploit the playspace by cooperating or something like this,” Kitao says. “So it allows us, again, to hone in on the player experience, and really capitalize on that lack of restriction that comes with creating a multiplayer-based game, and let our imagination run wild in these places.”

For more on Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, check out our breakdown on how its progression works, or head over to our hub to see all of our coverage throughout the month.

Categories: Games

How Character Progression Works In Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 01/08/2019 - 17:02

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One of the ways Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice marks a departure for From Software is in how your character becomes stronger. In other From games, you tailor your character by pouring points into different stats like strength, dexterity, and intelligence, depending on whether you want to fight as a brute, archer, or wizard, respectively. Shadows Die Twice won’t have that breadth of customization, as your character, The Wolf, is a shinobi through and through. That doesn’t mean you can’t tailor him to fit your playstyle, though.

A major departure hardcore From fans may scoff at is the lack of corpse runs. Though you gain experience from defeating foes in Shadows Die Twice, that experience is now divorced from currency; gold now drops from enemies as well, and you won’t lose either when you die. If you’re afraid that change might upset the balance of tension and accomplishment that have come define From games, there’s hope: Director Hidetaka Miyazaki says death will have a detrimental effect, but wasn’t willing to tell us what that might be.

Instead, progression in Shadows Die Twice is slow but steady, as the experience points you gain from killing enemies fill a bar that eventually provides you with a skill point that, you guessed it, you can spend in a skill tree. But it wouldn’t be a From game if there wasn’t a catch: Before you can invest in a skill tree, you have to unlock it by finding a particular item as you explore the world.

Once you’ve unlocked a skill tree, you can invest skill points at Sculptor’s Idols (Shadows Die Twice’s take on bonfires). From showed us a few skill trees for The Wolf; one based on shinobi arts, one around samurai arts, and another based on building up the prosthetic arm. Along with passive buffs and improvements to your basic moveset, you can also unlock special moves called combat arts, activated by pressing both front shoulder buttons and which must be equipped separately. These moves are meant to be periodic rewards that let you invest in a particular playstyle “just to give you something to make you feel like you’re roleplaying in a certain way,” says Yasuhiro Kitao, manager of marketing and communications at From Software.

Each of these trees is catered to a different playstyle. The samurai skill tree, for example, resembles the common warrior archetype, which relies on overt, grounded aggression. The shinobi tree is more evasive and lets you control crowds, with skills like a spinning slice attack that deals damage in an area and the ability to step over enemy spears. Finally, the prosthetic tree offers multiple more ways to approach different encounters, with the option to upgrade your shuriken throw with a follow-up attack that closes the distance between you and your opponent, or to let you throw multiple shuriken.

What we saw of these trees was fairly simple, though they weren’t final. We saw about three or four pathways to take our skill tree, with the final tier of skills requiring four skill points. How long these skill points will take to earn is still up in the air, however. The goal is to allow you to be “more creative and find your preferred ninja style, so you’ll have to specialize and think [about] which path you want to take,” Kitao says.

While the skill tree lets you build out The Wolf in various ways, upgrading his other stats will require more attentive eyes. As you venture through Shadows Die Twice, slay enemies and bosses, and find hidden rooms, be on the lookout for prayer beads, four of which will increase your overall health and posture (The Legend of Zelda’s heart pieces come to mind). You might also find tools to upgrade your prosthetic arm with new abilities, such as a shuriken launcher, an axe, or a flame vent, granting you access to new abilities to take with you on the battlefield. There might even be ways to build on the resurrection mechanic, From tells us.

All of these options make for one well-equipped character instead of several kinds of specialized warriors. From says this style of progression, which streamlines options at the cost of variety compared to Dark Souls and even Bloodborne, lets them focus on offering more overall depth to individual encounters, as From can more easily tailor encounters around your character’s skillset. “This is actually using Miyazaki-san’s own words – You could think of the previous Souls games as more expanding laterally, and adding breadth to these various options and builds,” Kitao says. “While you are a fixed shinobi protagonist, you do feel like there’s a sense of progression, there’s a sense of building your own character and finding your own playstyle, and experimenting with this throughout the game.”

For more on Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, make sure to check Game Informer throughout the month, as we’ll have stories outlining various aspects of the game, like why it doesn't have online multiplayer, all this month. Click on the banner below to see all of our coverage.

Categories: Games

Bury Me, My Love Review: Trials And Text Message Tribulations

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 01/08/2019 - 12:46

Take a group of people and you'll find numerous differences between each and every one of them. The one undeniable truth is that they're all human, and yet this fact can be all-too-easily forgotten when that same group of people are refugees. Certain politicians, media outlets, and xenophobic hate groups like to wash that individuality away, painting refugees and migrants in monolithic terms as something to fear. It's a harmful and blatant lie, but this emphasis on fear has proven successful throughout history in shaping people's opinions. Bury Me, My Love, a text-based adventure game from French developer The Pixel Hunt, presents a much more honest and truthful look at the human beings involved in the migrant crisis, taking inspiration from actual refugee stories to tell an eye-opening tale that's equal parts heartbreaking, terrifying, and inspiring.

The entirety of Bury Me, My Love plays out on a WhatsApp-style messaging app, with your character, Majd, texting back and forth with his wife, Nour, as she makes the perilous journey from war-torn Syria to the relative safety of Europe. There's an immediate sense of familiarity in those texts that's emboldened by Bury Me, My Love's excellent writing. Both characters are wonderfully realised, and the banter between the two feels authentic from the get-go. They'll poke fun at each other, develop in-jokes over the course of the game, argue, lift each other up, and trade selfies. Harrowing moments of prejudice, traumatic nautical journeys, and tense border problems are often broken up by satisfying levity, as Nour excitedly discovers a KFC or teases Majd over his not-so-subtle habit of sneaking historical lessons into their conversations. You might only be witnessing Majd and Nour talk to each other a few words at a time, but their interactions are comfortable and believable, leaving you with no doubt as to the intimacy of their relationship.

While you mostly watch Majd and Nour's conversations unfold, you'll occasionally chime in by choosing between various dialogue options. Some of these might revolve around simply offering moral support by comforting Nour during a particularly difficult situation or encouraging her to push on. Other times she'll ask for advice on practical issues, like whether she should buy a flimsy lifejacket in a local market in case there aren't any available on the boat, or spend her ever-dwindling funds on a hotel room instead of spending the night in a migrant camp during a thunderstorm. However, just because you've offered her advice doesn't mean she's going to take it. You can try to dissuade her from a decision, but if she's already made up her mind there's not much you can do. Because of this, there's a tangible feeling that you're talking to a real person on the other side of this messaging app, and Majd and Nour are both so affable and charming that the constant, foreboding sense of danger is significantly heightened.

There's an immediate sense of familiarity in [text messages] that's emboldened by Bury Me, My Love's excellent writing

The end of Nour's journey is signified by a voice message that's usually haunting and heart-wrenching. There are 19 endings in total, with your dialogue choices shaping how Nour reaches each conclusion. As a result, there's a fair amount of replayability involved, compelling you to go back and explore how your decisions affected Nour's fate and diverged the story. The problem with this, however, is that there are no checkpoints in Bury Me, My Love. You have to start from the beginning each time you want to try alternative choices, and that means reading through the same lines of dialogue over and over again. Having the option to save at certain junctures would alleviate this problem, so it's disheartening that seeing more of the game is as tedious as it is.

The only other issue with the Switch version of Bury Me, My Love revolves around the Nintendo Switch not being a mobile phone. This might sound ludicrous and overly harsh, but the pseudo-real-time nature of the game on mobile adds a significant amount to the experience. On mobile devices, when Nour's being followed by a group of neo-Nazis, it's anxiety-inducing when she suddenly stops messaging for a few minutes and you're left worrying about what happened to her. On the Switch, the real-time delay isn't featured, so you just get the image of a clock rapidly advancing time before you're back in the conversation. Without push notifications and the physical act of using a messaging app on an actual phone, the Switch version loses some of the tension and immersion afforded to its mobile counterpart. You can still rotate the screen vertically in handheld mode and use touch controls to try and capture an ounce of that authenticity, but the touch controls are disappointingly erratic and rarely work.

Bury Me, My Love might share a similar structure to other mobile text-based adventure games like Lifeline and Mr. Robot:1.5.1exfiltrati0n.apk, but the story it tells and the themes it delves into are relatively unexplored within the medium. It shines a light on a situation people are all too eager to ignore and humanizes the stories of those most commonly relegated to ticker text on news reports, and for that reason alone it's an essential experience. That the story it tells is so engaging and believable, with wonderfully well-rounded characters, only elevates its exploration of the realities of war, and it manages to successfully elicit a genuine human connection. Switch might not be the ideal platform to play Bury Me, My Love on, but whatever your system options are, it's well worth following Nour on this all-too-real journey.

Categories: Games

Still Not Bitten

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 01/07/2019 - 19:05

The odd saga of The Walking Dead: The Final Season will soon see the first episode after the closure of Telltale Games released. The series has been in limbo since the narrative games company closed, leaving hundreds of employees in a lurch with no severance, though Skybound Games has put together most of The Walking Dead's team to finish the final two episodes.

You can check out a trailer for Episode 3, titled Broken Toys, below.

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The final season ends the story of Clementine, who players have been following since the release of the original Walking Dead season in 2012. While the "Still Not Bitten" developer group reassembled for the last two episodes of the final season, it is not known whether they will be working on more The Walking Dead or different games or merely disbanding after completion.

A few weeks ago, it was announced that Epic Games was responsible for getting the developer team back together. As such, new PC purchases of The Walking Dead: The Final Season will be exclusive to the Epic Games Store, while anyone who bought the season pass before will still get the remaining episodes on their PC store of choice. Console versions are unaffected by this.

The Walking Dead: The Final Season's third episode will release on January 15.

Categories: Games

Even Harder Corps

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 01/03/2019 - 22:50

Indie game studio JoyMasher has been working on their Contra-inspired sidescrolling shooter Blazing Chrome for a little while now and the game manages to impress at every new showing. There's something decidedly refreshing about how deliberately Blazing Chrome wears its inspirations on its sleeves, especially in this new video showing the first section of the fourth level.

Check out the video below.

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Unfortunately it cuts off right before a mid-boss battle, which I was eager to see, but it's clear to see that skill is important to not dying in the new game. Any damage kills your character, so most new players will probably get hit by everything. It's good to know that you can get good enough to just speed through and it looks pretty fair to do so.

Blazing Chrome is scheduled to release this year on PlayStation 4, Switch, and PC. 

Categories: Games