Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince is an exceptional return for one of Square Enix’s most under-appreciated properties. With Pokémon going through a rare period where it’s not meeting nearly universal acclaim, perhaps this is the big opportunity for this series to finally break through, some 25 years after it first launched on Game Boy Color.
Persona 5 Tactica is an excellent addition to the overall Persona 5 property. What at first looks like a cheerfully whimsical bonus spinoff ends up being something that adds to the core themes of the base game, and is impressive in the way it does that. It also backs up with some of the sharpest “fast tactics” play we’ve seen in the genre. I just wish the concept and theme were written better, and I honestly never thought I would say that of a Persona title.
Sadly, apart from being really, really ridiculously good-looking, Fashion Dreamer just hasn’t got much going for it. With no real reward mechanism to encourage you to think about fashion, and nothing stopping you from building up an extensive wardrobe of clothes simply by jumping online for a couple of minutes here and there, there’s so small of an incentive to actually play. Especially once you’ve found an outfit for your character that’s so cute that you don’t feel the need to mess around with it any further.
Thankfully we only have to wait three months for the next “proper” title in the series to land. While Like a Dragon Gaiden might have been disappointing against the astronomically high standards of this series, I have no doubt whatsoever that January 2024 will deliver another bold step forward for SEGA’s gritty urban epic.
There’s not much else to say in this review. The big feature in Football Manager 2024 is the inclusion of Japanese football. That alone makes this version of the game the definitive edition. Putting that aside the rest of the game is another decent refinement to the best sporting management game of all time, and while it sometimes feels like Sports Interactive rests on its laurels, as no one else is ever going to have the engine or data to compete in this particular niche, the reality is that when the base game is this good, tweaks from one year to the next are enough.
Nintendo’s had a bumper year, so I’ll forgive it for some filler (especially when there’s also the Super Mario RPG remake on the way yet). WarioWare: Move It! achieves what it sets out to by providing players with a bunch of microgames that use the Joy-Cons and motion control in an inventive and silly manner. You’ll enjoy the boundless creativity in coming up with so many microgame ideas. In addition, you’ll enjoy the colour and humour at first. And then, about an hour later, you’ll be done with it for good.
With that being said, the original Metal Gear Solid trilogy isn’t just a trio of great games that people have strong nostalgia for. They’re genuine masterpieces and deserve to be preserved into perpetuity. This collection is a perfectly adequate way of preserving them for this hardware cycle.
Crymachina asks probing questions about the nature of humanity through the lens of machines, and its conclusions are evocative, emotive and ultimately quite uplifting. It does sit in the shadow of a giant of a game that already canvassed exactly the same subject through exactly the same lens. However, there’s a greater warmth to Crymachina that makes it more relatable than the relatively academic NieR: Automata. Throw in some vividly memorable art direction and what we have here is a JRPG that might surprise people with just how memorable it proves to be.
Hellboy: Web of Wyrd looks the part. It’s a gorgeous game and I was really hoping that it would deliver the vision for the character and comic in the same way that it captured the aesthetics. Sadly, instead, we got a stodgy roguelike that largely misses the point of what either Hellboy or the roguelike should offer. Equally sadly, we continue to wait for a truly great Hellboy game.
Dementium is not even slightly entertaining and all the developer has achieved with this re-re-release is broadcast that their original game wasn’t ever anything more than a gimmicky novelty. What an incredible own goal when Dementium did actually have something of a legacy from people nostalgic for the DS.
I am quite sure that some people will absolutely love the intensity of the horror and dark fantasy that infuses Lords of the Fallen. As cartoonishly silly as it comes across by trying so hard, it is technically impressive. Similarly, the game is perfectly solid mechanically, and while it does have some issues with pacing and the design of some boss battles, it is, for the most part, very playable. I had more fun with this than I think it deserved, and while I’m not sure whether I was laughing with it or at it most of the time, I was definitely laughing and having fun with it. Who knows? Perhaps satirising the self-seriousness of dark fantasy was the entire creative point and if so, bravo developers, you nailed it.
Assassin’s Creed: Mirage is a return to form for the series. What had become a formula so bloated that it lost sight of what actually made the series good has been simplified to make it more engaging. What you get here is an efficient and clean historical action game. One that gives you the chance to explore a less-travelled part of history from a part of the world that people are usually too busy demonising to explore as a setting. Ubisoft would benefit from writers who understood how to convey narrative efficiently, but in every other way the more focused and streamlined experience that Mirage offers makes it the most cohesive entry in this series for a very long time.
I realise that Asterix & Obelix isn’t as commercially valuable as, say, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars or the Fate anime property. It’s never going to attract a major project from a top-flight developer. Nonetheless, there are small developers who have taken the iconic French comic and done something that shows respect; at least they have done their best. There is nothing like that in Asterix & Obelix: Heroes. It’s a cheap and tacky cash-in, and everyone involved in the comic over the years (the 40th book in the series comes out this year!) deserves better than this.
The next step for Big Ant would be to start capturing the nuances of the sport and convert excellent ball-to-ball action to give us the full match experience, when events that happened in the 10th over can impact on how bowlers, batters, and the crowd itself behave in the 40th. If Big Ant can get there, make it feel like tactics matter and results are less pre-determined and arbitrary, and then they will produce a cricket game that will finally move from the cusp to sit alongside EA, Sony and 2K’s sporting titles in offering something that truly understands and captures the spirit of the sport.
Gothic is getting a full remake, which will release in 2024. I actually expect that to be good, because the developers can use the modern tools they have to modernise and restore the original vision of the game. Unfortunately, though, that’s the final nail in the coffin for the original. Unless you have a very academic reason for wanting to play an artefact of B-tier game design from the early turn of the century, there’s just no reason to play this port.
I generally like the “filler” titles in the Dragon Quest franchise. Dragon Quest Treasures was a delight, as was Builders, as was the VR game that I played in an arcade in Japan. This is a versatile property and most of the developers that work on it clearly enjoy what they’re doing. But Strash is different. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth as it comes across as cynical, and derivative to everything but Dragon Quest. Most egregious of all is that somehow, despite being based on a well-regarded Dragon Quest anime, it genuinely seems like the developers failed to understand what makes Dragon Quest a uniquely special property. If they did understand it, they comprehensively failed to articulate it. I’m genuinely disappointed, but, on the plus side, I fully expect that the upcoming Dragon Quest Monsters game will completely right the ship. The great thing about this series is that even in its lowest moments, it never takes long to bounce back.
Fate/Samurai Remnant doesn’t require you to know the Fate series to play, but it will convert you to a fan by the end of it. It’s written well, gives you an interesting world to explore, and has a clean combat system that never wears out its welcome. Given that this does take place in an entirely new chapter for Fate, Type-Moon now has a bunch more characters to spin into mechanise for this money-spinning behemoth and, as much as I hate admitting this to myself, I’d be all in for all of that. Fate/Samurai Remnant has reinvigorated my love for the property all over again.
With some excellent new modes, fun collectibles and unlocks, and some of the most well-executed Bomberman gameplay we’ve seen in years, Super Bomberman R 2 is a genuine return to form for the classic franchise. The quality of the new modes is genuinely surprising, and it’s all designed according to the kind of multiplayer that is popular right now. In other words, this represents the best chance the 40-year-old venerable franchise has to find a new generation of fans yet.
Lies Of P is a decent Soulslike, but it does squander the main opportunity that it had to differentiate itself. The “dark Pinocchio” theme is intriguing and the developers went about it with the right spirit, but struggled to convert it into something as thought-provoking and deep as it should have been. Take that out of the equation and you’ve got a Soulslike that’s a little heavy-handed in how it makes players engage with it, in a world that looks more inspired in screenshots than it is to actually journey through. Ultimately, as enjoyable as it is, Lies Of P stands testament to just how difficult FromSoftware’s formula really is.
The expanded Utawarerumono franchise might never elevate beyond the most niche of niche properties, but it is a wonderful, positive contribution to video games, and Monochrome Mobius continues translates this from a blend of visual novel and tactics to a traditional JRPG with complete success. This is a beautiful, heartfelt and sweet little game that, at around 30-40 hours, doesn’t outstay its welcome. It also reminds you that sometimes a determination to tell a good story really is better than AAA-blockbuster production excesses and flashy and overly complex gameplay gimmicks alike.