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NEO: The World Ends With You Review - Reap What You Sow

Fri, 07/30/2021 - 20:00

I admire NEO: The World Ends With You for its youthful attitude and wild characterizations through eccentric personalities, extravagant character designs, and cheesy irreverence. To play through NEO TWEWY is to feel young again, inviting me to relive that too-cool-for-school vibe I had all those years ago with its predecessor. But that's also because, while it's a sequel that can be enjoyed on its own, its adherence to the original story of The World Ends With You brought me back to another time, and that might leave you lost if it passed you by.

Still, NEO TWEWY has its share of attractions, like a standout action-RPG combat system that evolves into an exciting rush of flashy spells filling up the screen. And while you might roll your eyes at the cast of characters' quirks in the beginning, they'll grow on you like good friends who were annoying at first. The same can be said about its soundtrack--songs that are odd upon first listen become bops that get stuck in your head. This is also a story-heavy RPG with intriguing twists and turns. However, in its exploration, riddle-laden objectives, and narrative wheel-spinning, NEO TWEWY drags its feet for a bit too long and too often before reaching its payoff.

NEO TWEWY revolves around the Reapers' Game, the premise that drove the original game. In a parallel dimension of real-world Japan, called the Underground (or UG), characters trapped in the Reapers' Game have been posthumously invited to play a game of ambiguous rules and objectives for another chance at life. But rules are meant to be broken and parameters are meant to be manipulated, so much so that you eventually disregard its logic and just embrace the cool nonsense used to bend the fate of the characters and the setting of Shibuya itself.

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Categories: Games

The Ascent Review – Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy

Thu, 07/29/2021 - 14:00

If you've ever worked a job where your bosses are the worst people imaginable, and they ask you to fix a problem using broken tools and then blame you for the results like it's your fault, then you have a pretty good idea of what it's like to play The Ascent. That's not just a metaphor, either. It's literally the baked-in plot of the game. It's the far-off future, and in order to escape to Veles (an intergalactic project block for all the galaxy's huddled masses yearning to breathe free), you must sign away your freedom to become an indentured servant, or Indent, to one of the various corporate masters running the place. In the first area of gameplay, you're literally forced to clean Veles' toilets by fixing the sewage system. By the time the credits roll, even after hours of mowing down scumbags, watching your character become a metal monster, and running odd jobs for weirdos and strangers, it’s hard to feel like you’ve worked your way up from those starting sewers.

The small blessing is that the job involves fewer plungers, and more heavy sci-fi weaponry and cybernetic enhancements. The Ascent is a twin-stick shooter, with a slew of RPG elements thrown in for flavor. You'll find an impressive and unique assortment of pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, and rocket launchers along the way, each of which can attack enemy weaknesses for extra damage, and they all have very different practical feels in-game. Armor has a similarly expansive variety, with the added benefit of changing your character's look to an increasingly mechanical degree. It's not great that most of those armor pieces obscure your custom-made character--what's the point of creating a character whose face you immediately cover up?--but the designs are incredibly cool.


You'll also gain special abilities along the way, ranging from a hydraulic-powered melee attack that can vaporize your enemies to deadly drone companions who can fight by your side. My personal favorite is an army of explosive spider bots who run out and autonomously seek enemies to blow up. For the most part, though, you'll be spending most of your time running and gunning through what are essentially expansive, RPG-style, isometric dungeons, where both a well-thought out combination of armor and cyborg magic is just as important as having the right gun for the job. When your mission is done, you can head back to one of the game's bustling shopping districts to spend skill points on various character stats, as well as buy upgrades, new items, and new cybernetic toys to splice into yourself.

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Categories: Games

Pokemon Unite Review -- A Micro-Aggressive MOBA

Wed, 07/28/2021 - 23:23

For the Pokemon brand's first foray into a new genre, Pokemon Unite gets a lot of things right. The game certainly feels like a MOBA a la League of Legends or Dota 2, just in a much easier to understand presentation for those who've never played one before. Matches are short, snappy affairs with plenty of action and strategy. Learning each of the five classes is fun and rewarding. Each skirmish within a match ups the ante, increasing tension and excitement until it boils over in the final stretch. It's just a shame that the confusing in-game economy composed of multiple currencies and a loot box-style lottery system can sometimes get in the way of the game's fun.

For those unaware, Pokemon Unite is a "multiplayer online battle arena game" or "MOBA." Two teams of up to five players choose a Pokemon, then enter an arena where they defeat wild Pokemon in the environment to gather energy and experience. Experience levels up a Pokemon, increasing its stats and powering up its moves, while energy is used to score points and win the game. This is where Pokemon Unite separates itself from traditional MOBAs. Pokemon must take their stored energy to an opposing team's goal and "dunk" it through the hoop to score points equal to how much energy the Pokemon held. The dunking sequence itself is wonderful, with the Pokemon slamming the energy down through the hoop with force and excitement that will put a smile on your face. Dunks aren't the only scoring method though, as special wild Pokemon sometimes appear that give temporary buffs or extra points, but they are rare and sometimes one-time occurrences during a match. When time runs out--10 minutes in a standard match--whoever has the most points wins.

This goal-scoring approach is different from established MOBA games--League of Legends, for example, requires that a team enter the enemy's base and destroy the Nexus--but it's a fantastic choice in action. Most of the wild Pokemon lining the arena aren't difficult to defeat, so even novice players will be able to gather energy easily. Some goals can only have so many points scored on them before they break, meaning disabled goals force you to progress further into the opponent's side of the arena to find a new one. It's a fun spin on the core objective of a MOBA match, taking something like defeating towers in LoL in order to progress and making it unique. Also, since the goals don't fight back like LoL towers do, new MOBA players won't need to worry about extra threats when trying to score.

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Categories: Games

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles Review — No Objections Here

Tue, 07/27/2021 - 19:12

Like a great detective novel, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles gives us clues in its opening moments that won’t pay off until its final hours. That trick is even more impressive here as the adventure games collected, The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures and The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve, were originally published two years apart and together tell one continuous 80 hour story. Clues, character arcs, cases--all are revealed slowly over the course of the two visual novels, culminating in one satisfying conclusion that ties it all together.

Adventures, from 2015, and Resolve, from 2017, take players back roughly 100 years before Phoenix Wright ever entered the courtroom. Here, players take on the role of that famous ace attorney’s ancestor, Ryunosuke Naruhodo, at the dawn of the 20th century. The story begins in Meiji Period Japan before traveling to Victorian-era England, where the bulk of the action takes place. That action, as in Phoenix Wright, involves collecting evidence from crime scenes, waiting for the right moment to use it in court and then presenting it at the right time during a cross examination to make a witness’ testimony fall apart.

As The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures begins, Japan and Great Britain have just entered into a trade agreement. The ink on the agreement is barely dry--historically speaking, that is; a character later suggests that the agreement has been in place for a decade--so when Naruhodo is caught with a pistol in his hand at the scene of a visiting British professor’s murder, the resulting trial carries with it the weight of the fragile alliance between the two empires. With the case all but decided against him, Naruhodo must prove his innocence with the help of his best friend, Kazuma Asogi, a law student set to embark the next day for a study abroad program in England. The katana-wielding Kazuma is strong-willed, confident, and believes wholeheartedly that his friend is innocent, and that belief motivates Naruhodo’s own practice of law as the game progresses, with the young defense attorney understanding well the difference that his belief in his clients’ innocence can make.

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Categories: Games

Cris Tales Review

Tue, 07/20/2021 - 23:30

Though I enjoyed most of Cris Tales, one moment in particular really sold the game for me. I was in the midst of a boss battle that had already gone on for 25 minutes against a big robot--every time I destroyed one of the mechanical giant's arms, a drone would appear to fully repair it, so the only way to end the fight was to scrap the drone. But the drone would only appear when an arm was destroyed, dragging the fight out as I slowly chipped away at the arms' huge health pools over and over. Then I had an idea: What if I could use protagonist Crisbell's Regression spell on an enemy? I had only previously used it for its described purpose of regressing allies to a previous state in time, returning them to full health after taking damage or suffering a status effect. To my surprise, my idea worked. By using Regression on the robot's arms after the drone repaired them, it returned them to their destroyed state, causing the drone to reappear and giving me the opportunity to continuously whale on it. A few minutes later, victory was mine.

This gameplay mechanic speaks to Cris Tales' overall narrative, which is about the importance of examining the past, facing the challenges of the present, and changing the future for the better. It's a message that goes beyond trying to hurl the right magic spell at a murderous mining robot too, as Cris Tales is largely a story about humanity's impact on the world at large and how exploitation of the environment, racism, greed, and hoarding cures to deadly diseases are far more dangerous threats to humanity's future than an evil witch. It's a concept that doesn't neatly wrap itself up as well as I would have liked, but the journey to that point is an incredible RPG experience, one satisfyingly supported by the cool idea of being able to see the past, present, and future all at once.

In Cris Tales, you play as Crisbell, a young girl with no knowledge of her past who unexpectedly becomes a Time Mage. She meets a talking, time-travelling frog named Matias who explains that Crisbell can now perceive the past, present, and future of the world simultaneously, giving her the unique ability to glean knowledge from people's histories and alter their fates. Matias takes her to meet Willhelm, also a Time Mage, who tells Crisbell that she's key to stopping the Time Empress, an immensely powerful Time Mage set on taking over the world. With the help of young knight and mage Cristopher, the trio repel an attack led by two of the Time Empress' lackies, and the squad, now of four, set out to find a way to enhance Crisbell's powers so that she'll be strong enough to save the world, stopping to recruit additional allies and help the world's diverse assortment of kingdoms along the way.

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Categories: Games

Death's Door Review - A Murder Of Crows

Tue, 07/20/2021 - 14:00

After each of the challenging, climatic boss fights in Death's Door, you're forced to sit through a brief eulogy for the foe you've just slain. Sombre music plays as a gravedigger arrives to fulfill his duty, summerizing your enemy's actions--good and bad--while also throwing in a joke or two for levity. Death's Door doesn't take itself too seriously, but it always finds interesting ways to make a point about the unending cycle of life and death, the pursuit of a means to unbalance that cycle, and ultimately the consequences of those actions. It's a consistently entertaining action-adventure game with an eye-catching art style and engrossing combat, all which elevate its distinct setting into something special.

Playing as a fledgling of a commission of crows, you're duty-bound to reclaiming the souls of those that are meant to pass onto the next life. Aided by doors that can transport you to lands near and far, you can hop between locales rapidly as you reap souls. The catch is that every crow needs to complete its task in order to halt the flow of their own life, with incomplete missions forcing you to experience that natural flow of time. When one such assignment goes poorly and your target's soul is stolen, you'll need to aid an old crow into opening a large, ominous door to reclaim your lost soul and, in turn, continue to live indefinitely.

Death's Door starts strong with its introduction to the commissions, with its bleak black-and-white presentation fitting in with a strong noir theme. Colors stand out in these bureaucratic offices, with the warm glow of your weapons and the searing brightness of sparse neon signs creating a striking contrast. The rest of Death's Door's worlds are far more colorful but all distinct in their own ways--the dreary, muted colors of the game's opening cemetery transform into a lush, green forest with a damp and dark temple, while the snowy white peaks of the northern mountain regions offer another opportunity for piercing bright colors from your attacks to shine through. The isometric angle of the game's camera doesn't limit your ability to soak in the artistic beauty of Death's Door, which consistently had me stopping to take in the atmosphere of each new area.

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Categories: Games

The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD Review - Link To The Past

Wed, 07/14/2021 - 14:00

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is one of the most divisive entries in Nintendo's acclaimed series. As the first full-fledged Zelda game designed for the Wii, the title made extensive use of the Wii Remote, eschewing the series' traditional control scheme for controversial motion controls. A decade later, Nintendo has remastered Skyward Sword for the Switch, and while many of the game's original faults remain intact, a variety of welcome tweaks make it easier to appreciate now.

As with the Wii U remasters of The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, Nintendo has made numerous quality-of-life improvements to Skyward Sword. These tweaks are largely minor but have an appreciable effect on the game's playability. Some previously mandatory tutorials are now optional, for instance, and you can speed up dialogue and skip cutscenes, making the game's languid opening moments much breezier.

More substantial are the adjustments to Fi, the spirit who dwells within your sword. Like Navi and Midna in previous Zelda games, Fi serves as your companion for most of the adventure in Skyward Sword, frequently interjecting to relay story information and other hints. Her constant interruptions made her one of the most grating aspects of the original game, especially as the "insights" she offered were often glaringly obvious. That has largely been rectified here, and while she still speaks frequently in Skyward Sword HD, much of her dialogue is now optional, which makes her less bothersome and improves the game's overall pacing.

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Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings Of Ruin Review - Monstie Hunter

Fri, 07/09/2021 - 17:11

With 2016's Monster Hunter Stories for the 3DS, Capcom transformed its real-time monster hunting series into something dramatically different: a colorful turn-based monster-collecting RPG. Despite the stark change in tone and gameplay, Stories offered a new perspective on the Monster Hunter universe, making it an enjoyable alternative to the mainline series. Its follow-up, Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin, very much follows the template that the original 3DS game set, and despite some repetitive elements, it's another solid spin-off for the franchise.

Like its predecessor, Monster Hunter Stories 2 trades monster slaying for monster collecting. Rather than casting you in the role of a hunter, the game puts you in the boots of a fledgling rider--someone who is able to form bonds with monsters and fight alongside them. While you'll still need to hunt down plenty of monsters during your journey, you'll spend most of your time exploring dens and collecting new "monstie" companions that you can raise and take into battle. This makes Monster Hunter Stories 2 fundamentally closer to Pokemon than to a traditional Monster Hunter title, but the game plays out much differently than Nintendo's monster-catching series.

Foremost is the way you collect monsters. Rather than taming wild ones, you obtain new monsties by entering monster dens and gathering their eggs. These crop up randomly each time you set out into the overworld and primarily come in two varieties: standard dens, and golden "rare" dens that typically contain better eggs. Regardless of their type, the dens themselves are all fairly rudimentary in terms of their layouts; beyond some occasional branching pathways (which usually just lead to optional treasures), there are no real environmental puzzles to solve, so they're not particularly compelling to explore on their own. Despite this, the allure of discovering new kinds of eggs never grows old and makes trekking through dens ultimately worthwhile, especially as you progress through the story and begin encountering cooler monsters.

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Categories: Games

Chicory: A Colorful Tale Review - Masterful Strokes

Fri, 07/02/2021 - 16:50

There's a moment late into Chicory where the hero of its tale questions their role in its story. Was it pure chance that they inherited a powerful paintbrush capable of restoring color to a monochromatic world, or did they deserve the responsibility and legacy associated with it? It's not a surprise that this question comes up at all, but rather when it does. Near its climax, Chicory's hero isn't satisfied that all of their actions up to that point have assuaged their underlying insecurity. It's this moment, along with numerous others surrounding it, that makes Chicory: A Colorful Tale an exceptional story to watch unfold. And it's a tale made all the more compelling by captivating puzzles and a distinct visual style.

The world of Picnic is one that has become accustomed to expecting a lot from a singular Wielder. These skilled artists are chosen from many to maintain the color in the world using a magical brush, letting their own unique styles literally define the look of a society. It's a tradition that has continued for generations, but one that ends abruptly when the latest Wielder, Chicory, tosses aside the tool after a cataclysmic event strips the entire land and its inhabitants of their color. My hero, who I unwittingly named Pizza (every other character is fittingly named after food, too), jumps at the chance to take over the mantle and accept the responsibility because of a sheer admiration for those that came before, but soon begins understanding the burden that accompanies the title of Wielder.

With the magical paintbrush in hand, A Colorful Tale invites you to get creative with its world. It's essentially one big coloring book, letting you decorate it according to how you imagine it might have looked under Chicory's reign. It's a literal mechanic built around the Wielder's duty to the land of Picnic, while also letting you better understand how each Wielder before you might have struggled with the requests of its citizens. Characters will frequently ask you to return their household or favorite coffee shop to its original state, sometimes not coming away satisfied with the results. Other times they'll drown you in praise for creating the simplest possible logo for a t-shirt, or for a slap-dash recreation of a much better-looking piece of classic art. Both instances instill a sense of imposter syndrome--either you're not good enough to be the Wielder, or the citizens of Picnic are simply settling because they have no other alternative.

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Sea Of Thieves: A Pirate's Life Review - Dead Men Tell Five Tales, Actually

Mon, 06/28/2021 - 19:06

Sea of Thieves is often at its best when it devolves into chaos. After raiding a skeleton ship and loading up your brig with loot, suddenly, a player galleon appears from behind an island, turning its broadside cannons in your direction for a sneak attack. Returning fire, repairing your ship, and desperately turning your sails to make an escape--or firing a crewmate over to the enemy to lay waste to them and steal their stuff--are the moments that make Rare's pirate adventure live game so memorable.

But don't discount Rare's ability to make deep, brainy story content, either. Since its launch, Sea of Thieves has come to encompass Tall Tales, lengthy voyages centered on solving riddles and learning about non-player characters that make up the game's lore. It's in this more directed, narrative-driven realm that the game's latest expansion, A Pirate's Life, lies as well. Tying in with Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise, the expansion provides new stories to uncover that are both fairly delightful for fans of the films and the theme park attraction that spawned them, as well as big, involved new Sea of Thieves locations to explore.

A Pirate's Life adds a lot to Sea of Thieves, expanding on its sandbox with new enemies and a new weapon, while providing several hours of story content that's deep enough for experienced players to enjoy and approachable enough for newbies excited to sail the seas with Jack Sparrow. Though it's held back occasionally by bugs and relies on some of Sea of Thieves' weaker elements, like hitchy platforming, the expansion is a great excuse to man the helm of a pirate vessel.

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Categories: Games

Scarlet Nexus Review -- The Ties That Bind

Fri, 06/25/2021 - 01:26

Scarlet Nexus takes us to a world where humans have developed psionic powers and the ability to connect their minds to each other. This has dramatically transformed life as we know it, allowing for a new era of connected consciousness and advanced technology. However, things aren’t all sunshine and roses for humanity--the populace lives in fear of the Others, grotesque brain-consuming monsters that randomly emerge from a mysterious belt that surrounds the planet. Their destructive impulses have rendered many areas uninhabitable, forcing humans to congregate in cities under the protection of the Other Suppression Force--an army of elite psionics trained to handle Other attacks. Yuito and Kasane are two fresh-faced recruits to the OSF, and they find their skills quickly put to the test during attacks. When a mission goes awry, they will be forced to take sides and fight to expose disturbing truths lying under the surface.

The setting of Scarlet Nexus is an intriguing mix of cyberpunk imagery, dystopian society, and pure sci-fi that captures your attention immediately. You get the feeling from the get-go that something is off about everything that’s going on, which only increases when you first lay eyes on the Others--horrendous aberrations that mix familiar organic and inorganic objects into monsters that move like living creatures, but feel disconcertingly unnatural. Additionally, the cutscenes are primarily presented in the form of comic-style still panels, giving the game the distinct feel of a high-stakes, episodic manga. It’s slick and distinct, which gives Scarlet Nexus a lot of personality.

You begin the game by choosing either Yuito or Kasane as your primary playable character. Yuito is a fairly standard action-game swordsman, while Kasane is more of a technical fighter with her ranged daggers. Both characters have combo attacks, jumping strikes, dodges--the usual array of 3D combat maneuvers. However, they also have the ability to use psychokinetic powers, introducing an additional unique element to combat. By holding R2, they can grab a background object and slam it directly into a foe, potentially catching the enemy off-guard and opening them up for further combo attacks.

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Mario Golf: Super Rush Review - Leisurely Chaos

Thu, 06/24/2021 - 15:00

After hitting an approach shot that landed a few feet from the hole, I dashed down the fairway, hopped over the lip of the bunker and settled over my tap-in for birdie. I wound up making a double bogey. Chargin’ Chuck smacked a Bob-omb on the green, blasting my ball into the rough. Then Boo unleashed its special shot, sending my chip woefully right of its target. From there, I frantically missed my long bogey putt and finally tapped in for my lousy score. When Mario Golf: Super Rush is at its best, chaos is what makes it tick. These unpredictable moments are hilarious, adding a new dimension to Camelot’s long-running sports series. Zany courses designed to look more like 3D Super Mario levels and a pair of new fast-paced modes turn the typically leisurely sport of golf into an action game. But for all of the exciting moments and innovation Mario Golf: Super Rush offers, it still feels slim on content and lackluster at times.

Super Rush tries to add to its variety even in its pair of control schemes: the familiar three-click swing system and motion controls. The three-click swing is as good as ever, with only minor presentation differences from previous installments. Instead of the swing meter filling up then back down, it goes up twice--once for power, once for accuracy. This change is a bit jarring at first, but I quickly got used to it. Next to the meter are marks that funnel outward. Off the tee and in the fairway, the marks are confined to the top, but when you have a bad lie, they start much lower. These marks signal how difficult it will be to achieve the “nice shot” accuracy you’re looking for. Hitting a long iron out of the rough is obviously harder than playing it safe with a wedge, and this is reflected by warning you that it won’t be easy to hit a shot on target if you try to get too much distance out of it. Impeccable timing can be achieved regardless; it’s just not nearly as simple.

Like Mario Golf: World Tour for 3DS, you can also add sidespin and alter trajectory by moving the joystick left, right, up, or down during the follow through. Besides a new flop shot mechanic--which requires you to tap A when the on-screen circle turns blue--Super Rush’s accurate three-click swing system will be familiar to anyone who has played a Mario Golf title.

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Game Builder Garage Review - Building Blocks

Mon, 06/21/2021 - 13:14

Game Builder Garage isn't Nintendo's first foray into game creation software, but its previous efforts have all been narrowly focused. Super Mario Maker and its sequel gave you the tools and freedom to create your own Mario levels, while WarioWare DIY for the DS let you create and share brief microgames. Game Builder Garage, on the other hand, seems to have grander ambitions. Nintendo has billed it as a way to "learn to make games from the minds at Nintendo." While it doesn't quite live up to that sky's-the-limit pitch, it's nonetheless an impressively flexible toolkit and a charming introduction to the basics of game creation.

Fundamentally, Game Builder Garage is an expanded version of the Toy-Con Garage mode from Nintendo's Labo kits (as evidenced by the various Labo assets featured in the software). Just as in Toy-Con Garage, "programming" in Game Builder Garage is handled by stringing input and output nodes together; connecting a B button node to a character node, for instance, will "program" the character to jump when that button is pressed. The most noticeable difference between the two is their presentation. Whereas Toy-Con Garage featured a stark black background with minimal UI, Game Builder Garage is bright and cheerful, making the software feel much more inviting, particularly for younger users.

To further help ease players into the experience, the game cleverly personifies the different nodes as beings called Nodon. These creatures come in many varieties, each representing a different mechanism or element of the game; there are Nodon that conjure specific items like apples and boxes, and others that track time and control the camera. Each type of Nodon looks and sounds distinct, which helps make it easier to remember their different functions.

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Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade Intermission Review - Half-Measure

Fri, 06/11/2021 - 23:21

Final Fantasy VII Remake's tone often slides between light, funny moments and dark, tragic drama. But from the first moments of Intermission, the DLC mission added to the game with its Intergrade PlayStation 5 upgrade, it's clear this new episode is mostly a comedy. In jumps Yuffie, one of the original game's optional characters, and immediately her dangerous espionage mission to infiltrate the evil Shinra Corporation in Midgar is played like a kid goofing off. It's a vibe that really works for the DLC, trading on the fact that Remake continues to be great about establishing fun, eccentric characters.

Taking place in the middle of Remake's story, during the portion in which Cloud is separated from his compatriots, it follows Yuffie as she embarks on a mission to steal a secret Shinra weapon on behalf of her homeland, Wutai. Though the mission is dangerous, Yuffie approaches it with all the seriousness of a kid playing pretend--even though she's on her way to first meet with Midgar's Shinra resistance movement, Avalanche, and then sneak into the headquarters of a company that recently concluded a full-scale war with her home.

The trouble with Intermission is that this side story doesn't feel essential to anything going on. Sure, the DLC is providing context and backstory for a character that fans of the original Final Fantasy VII know will show up later in the story, but Yuffie's mission is largely about her wandering around areas we've already seen, floating past but barely interacting with Remake's cast, and taking part in minigames to waste some time. Yuffie's a fun character to spend time with, even if you don't have history with her from the first iteration of Final Fantasy VII, but it all comes off as a tease for something better down the road in FF7 Remake's next installment. And after the remarkably deep and excellently realized version of the story that is Remake, Intermission feels like exactly that: a half-measure to fill time while we wait for the real show.

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Guilty Gear Strive Review -- Burning Like A Roman Cancel

Fri, 06/11/2021 - 18:05

Guilty Gear Strive is, like so many of its predecessors, the pinnacle of a certain kind of fighting game. The series, known for its highly technical (read: complicated) set of systems, rewards players for investing time to master both its universal systems and the nuances of its individual characters in a way that few other series have. Strive maintains that tradition and throws in a couple new ideas that bolster its bold anime-inspired flash without making the game any harder to learn. While the core fighting experience has only improved, many of the game's less savory tendencies remain in place, including its non-playable story "mode" and yet another set of kludgy Arc System Works-style avatar-based matchmaking menus. As in most fighting games, those problems are secondary: Players, particularly veterans, who want to put in work will find Guilty Gear Strive to be a wild time.

If you're counting, Strive is the eighth primary entry in the Guilty Gear franchise, so its fighting style is something of a known quantity. Strive retains many of the nuances of recent entries in the series. There's the tension gauge, a special meter that increases when you attack or move towards your opponent and fills more slowly when you play defense. There's faultless defense, a strategic extra block that trades tension to prevent chip damage and help you get some distance from an opponent. For a newcomer or casual player, Strive will feel just like a Street Fighter-style fighting game. Most special moves feature quarter-circles and charge motions, and thus may feel familiar at a glance, but there are many, many small nuances for you to learn in order to get the most out of its particular mechanics.

There are two major changes that longtime players will need to adjust to. Strive removes the "Gatling system," a sort of hierarchy for canceling attacks to sustain combos, and changes the series' signature "Roman Cancel" system, which allows you to trade half of the tension meter to cut short the animation before or after an attack to more quickly recover. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not yet an expert on how to use these mechanics to great effect, but it seems that the combination of these two leads to more back-and-forth with shorter combos. I found that most of my fights, even against players way beyond my skill level, kept to a rapid tempo filled with short organic combos--flurries of light attacks anchored by a heavy or special. In theory, the Roman Cancel opens the door for high-level players to unlock longer strings with a precisely timed maneuver that keeps a combo from ending.

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Categories: Games

Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade Review - Materia Improvements

Wed, 06/09/2021 - 13:00

Editor's note: In June 2021, developer Square Enix released an upgraded version of Final Fantasy VII Remake for PlayStation 5, which included improved visuals and technical performance, as well as some new features, including a photo mode. Our impressions on how the improvements impact Final Fantasy VII Remake on PS5 are written by Phil Hornshaw. The original review of Final Fantasy VII Remake was first published in April 2020 and is written by Tamoor Hussain.

In the opening of Final Fantasy VII, Cloud Strife, a mercenary and former member of an elite private military group called SOLDIER, takes on a job with an eco-terrorist cell named Avalanche. Their mission is to blow up a reactor that siphons Mako, the lifeblood of the planet, and uses it to power the sprawling industrial metropolis Midgar. The group infiltrates, braves resistance from Shinra Electric Company's forces, and sets off an explosion that renders the reactor inoperable.

In the 1997 original, what followed was a hop, skip, and jump through a few sections of the city back to Sector 7, and the safety of Avalanche's hideout. In Final Fantasy VII Remake, having carried out the mission, you're asked to walk the streets in the aftermath and witness the harrowing consequences of your actions. The sector lies in ruin, fires rage, buildings are crumbling, and the heartbreaking human cost is laid bare.

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Categories: Games

Stonefly Review - Buzz Kill

Tue, 06/08/2021 - 16:53

When Stonefly promises a chill and tranquil adventure it's not telling the whole truth. Annika, a capable young pilot searching for her engineer father's stolen mech, finds herself under frequent attack from the bugs that protect the resources she so desperately needs. Much of Stonefly is spent propelling your insectoid mech through an arboreal maze, hopping from leaf to leaf and catching the breeze to higher layers of canopy. But the various minerals you must extract to craft mech upgrades are fiercely protected, and so the game's rhythm becomes one of sedate exploration punctuated by frantic skirmishes.

While Annika can modify her mech for combat, improving existing functions and installing new ones, the pattern remains the same throughout. While airborne, she can shoot at enemies directly below her; damage them sufficiently--basic enemies take only one hit while the toughest will require multiple strafings--and they flip over onto their backs. Once vulnerable, enemies can be blown off the edge of whatever leaf or branch constitutes the current battlefield, and thus eliminated.

It's a neat system in theory that echoes the typical shield and health combo of many shooters and other action games. You've first got to take out an enemy's shield by flipping it onto its back, then you can target its health by cannoning it out of the arena. Unfortunately, a few additional factors contribute to the flow of combat feeling overly chaotic and ultimately frustrating.

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Categories: Games

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart Review - A Riveting Adventure

Tue, 06/08/2021 - 15:00

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is a game about counterparts. In this strange new setting, everyone has a doppelganger who looks almost identical to the one we know, but their circumstances have changed them. Ratchet's new alternate dimensional counterpart, Rivet, may have had a harder life than him, and it's shaped her personality in surprising ways, but she's still the same heroic person at heart. The same can be said for Rift Apart. The new generation of hardware has made some dramatic changes for the better, but in a very welcome and comforting way, this is still the Ratchet & Clank you've come to know and love.

The title may be "Ratchet & Clank," but Rivet is the real star here. Ratchet and his robot buddy Clank are the template that helps inform what we learn about Rivet and her own journey, and the vast majority of Rift Apart takes place in her universe. She also seems to get slightly more playtime, even if the stages are split roughly evenly as the two heroes divide-and-conquer to enact their universe-saving plan.

Once the game begins in earnest, after a brief tutorial in Ratchet's Megalopolis, the bumbling but sinister Dr. Nefarious transports himself and the titular duo to another dimension. When Nefarious gets there, he finds that it's ruled by an Emperor Nefarious. The Emperor is conspicuously absent at the moment, so our Dr. Nefarious just helps himself to the throne, and no one, including the evil executive assistant, seems to notice that he's a pretender. Meanwhile Ratchet and Clank are separated, and Clank is picked up by the freedom fighter, Rivet.

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Categories: Games

Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown Review -- Time for a Combat Seminar

Fri, 06/04/2021 - 12:56

While Virtua Fighter has gotten attention in other games, such as guest characters in Dead or Alive 5 and as minigames in various Yakuza titles, the once-venerated 3D fighter seemed to be forgotten for a very long time. But with Virtua Fighter 5 once again revamped and re-released, does this star of the fighting game world still shine as brightly? Yes... but, speaking as a veteran Virtua Fighter fan, there are a few issues that keep Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown from claiming its crown as an all-time champion.

Considered the granddaddy of 3D fighting games, Virtua Fighter sparked revolutions in visuals and gameplay and, even now, it holds a great deal of respect among fighting game fans. Its simple three-button control scheme and comparatively small character roster hides an incredibly complex and rewarding game--provided you're willing to put in the time to learn and improve at it. Some games in the series--such as the excellent Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution--are known for amazing tutorials and learning tools, along with engaging and replayable single-player modes. Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown, however, eschews that to focus on competition, and more specifically, online competition.

Gameplay-wise, Ultimate Showdown will feel very familiar to veteran Virtua Fighter players. The base fighting engine is based around the earlier Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown, with all of the moves, characters, and stages carried over from that game. There are a few minuscule changes, such as different colors of hit flashes to indicate normal and counter hits, but the overwhelming majority of the gameplay is unchanged. And that's perfectly fine--VF5FS had some of the best fighting action you could find anywhere, with incredible depth of gameplay that has kept many playing for years on end. What is new, however, are the graphics and music, which have been completely redone in the Dragon Engine that Sega's RGG Studio has been using for its Yakuza series. Character models and stages have been rebuilt from the ground up, and it all shines with a visual polish that has Virtua Fighter looking better than ever.

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Categories: Games

World of Demons Review - A Cut Above

Sat, 05/29/2021 - 00:30

Developer Platinum Games' style is instantly recognizable--flashy, fast-paced action that oozes with personality and flair. World of Demons brings that signature style to Apple Arcade, giving you control of a samurai named Onimaru and thrusting you into, well, a world of demons. That successful Platinum formula translates well to iOS devices, with simple touch controls and quick action that looks and feels great on the smaller screen. There are some issues lying underneath--mostly in the camera system--but those problems aren't enough to derail this otherwise solid action experience.

World of Demons follows Onimaru, a lone samurai fighting against an army of vicious demons called yokai. Our hero is building an army of his own, however, as every enemy he defeats will join him in the fight against the game's main antagonist, the demon king Shuten Doji. Onimaru himself controls exactly like a Platinum Games protagonist, deftly running around stages while slashing with his massive katana. Consecutive presses on the attack button will result in stylish combos, with better rewards given for higher combos at the end of a skirmish. Holding down the button will slow attacks down, making strikes more powerful but making you vulnerable to enemy counterattacks.

The yokai Onimaru battle comes in all shapes and sizes, from small bean farmers to massive pink blobs, each with its own attack abilities. Each yokai is assigned a color (red, blue, or green), with each color having strengths and weaknesses over the other in a rock-paper-scissors system. Defeating a yokai adds it to your collection, and before each chapter you'll be able to equip two yokai for the following mission. Other yokai defeated during the chapter are added to a "deck" and disappear after one use.

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Categories: Games