Seeing Jusant to the end felt like returning from a brisk walk in the woods, your lungs full of fresh air, and your mind alert from a cool breeze – which is an astute achievement for a game with such deep connections to the natural environment, and the act of physical human movement. You come away feeling sated, satisfied, and refreshed, the sense of achievement and clarity of thought it offers clearing your headspace for whatever challenge comes next.
Even if tell you that I think Bluey: The Videogame deserved a bigger budget, more development time, and bigger emphasis on the narrative, if the target market keeps pestering me to hang out in it every day, can I really ignore that intrinsic enjoyment?
Throwing the cast of Persona 5 into a world of turn-based tactics works incredibly well, and the mechanical twists made to support it pay off in a very gratifying way. Outside of that, there are very few risks taken in the narrative – it’s a low-stakes plot that bubbles along, gives the game a stop-start feel, and ultimately feels like the peripheral side-story that it is. But when your favourite characters are tearing up the battlefield and wiping out whole armies of enemies in a big All-out Attack, Persona 5 Tactica feels like the best interpretation of the Phantom Thieves spirit.
As always, it’s those intimate and emotional human elements that make Like A Dragon Gaiden so gratifying. Whether or not we needed to see Kiryu be pulled back so heavily into the underworld against his will is another question entirely, but if we believe at this point that the end is truly nigh for Kiryu in Infinite Wealth, this one last go-around to spend a few more deeply personal moments with him is something to be cherished – as a bittersweet way to get ready to say goodbye (for whenever that time actually comes around).
Super Mario Bros. Wonder is built on an abundance of whimsical surprises, and the delight that each new one brings will keep you smiling from beginning to end. It’s a significant, impeccably refined creative leap that resoundingly demonstrates that there is still a lot that can be done to a near 40-year-old idea, and one that continues to spark a fulfilling sense of newfound joy through play.
Assassin’s Creed Mirage is a great stealth fantasy game, with a fantastic setting you want to just simmer in, and a pace that gently but consistently pulls you through interesting missions you find yourself eager to tackle. Its focused scope gives you the breathing room to invest more interest and care in the makeup and history of the world, along with the plights of its characters, and leaves you feeling content with the time you spent in it. This is how all Assassin’s Creed games should be.
Mortal Kombat 1 has proven itself to be continually compelling throughout its early access and launch period, a remarkably refined and confident instalment of a series that had already secured its identity long ago. The story campaign is an entertaining rollercoaster ride, its foundational fighting mechanics remain strong, and the game’s focus on wide-ranging approachability in service of broadening the fighting game community must be applauded.
It's the static and mechanical elements of Starfield that shine the brightest – the art, the environments, the combat systems. They make up the strong foundations of a playset with a very intriguing scenario. But you need to mentally meet Starfield partway to complete its vision of a vast, living universe. You need to stretch out the expanse and envision the journey. You need to look past the menus and form the fantasy. You need to help breathe life into its paper dolls. You need to add your own dash of wonder, and imagine your own unknowns. Truly, Starfield is a role-playing game, through and through.
Armored Core 6 is an unsympathetic and cold-blooded game. It's a cup of bitter, black coffee – and thankfully, that suits my palate perfectly. It's full of moments that make you feel very powerful – in both effortless and hard-fought ways – and moments that make you very, very small. In the face of it all, you're pushed to overcome the impossible. And you'll come out on the other end wearing an exhausted, wry smile.
What you want out of a blockbuster is a chance to go with the flow, let yourself get pushed to the edge of your seat for a few hours, and walk out with your blood pressure up a notch and a smile on your face. Immortals of Aveum does all that very well.
Pikmin 4 exhibits the most demanding and multifaceted use of the series mechanics yet, with several situations and game modes that push your ability to strategically think and plan ahead under pressure. Pikmin 4 deftly accomplishes several things: staying true to the challenge and identity of the Pikmin series while expanding its ideas, making its concepts and obstacles more approachable, and simply being a beautiful and charming realisation of the Pikmin world.
Viewfinder is a short and sharp exploration of a strong concept that builds an unimposing space to play with those ideas, and fosters a mild, continual hum of gratification as you go on that journey. A pleasant exercise in gently massaging your brain synapses, it’s like a brisk refreshment that leaves you feeling slightly more satisfied when you’re done.
Final Fantasy 16 largely shines as an epic-length action game, though the places where it attempts to find a comfortable compromise between action game and RPG feel largely unambitious, and certainly fade into the background against aspects that are approached with gusto. But it’s difficult not to get swept up by the earnest saga that Final Fantasy 16 eagerly lays out for you, and the egregious heights of spectacle it displays.
Street Fighter 6 is an exceedingly good fighting game. But more than that, it’s an excellent training tool. It’s a fulfilling adventure. It’s a lively community gathering place. It’s an endearingly idealistic and inspiring world of appreciation for martial arts and friendly competition, exceptionally executed in every respect.
It’s a puzzle game of strong design and concept, evident in how it stretches and bends your method of mental approach in a variety of different ways – sometimes to the point of frustration, often to the point of elation. Visually striking and aurally satisfying, at times it felt like I could watch the endless bodies flow through its levels forever.
Breath of the Wild reinvented The Legend of Zelda. Tears of the Kingdom reimagines it once more, as a somehow more ambitious, freeform and creative game, with even greater highs – literally and figuratively. It’s a staggeringly eye-opening game that expertly cultivates the joy of exploration, discovery and believing in your own abilities.