I don't want to take anything away from Sackboy: A Big Adventure. Platformers are one of the genres I am least inclined towards, and were it not part of a (fairly limited) launch range on the PlayStation 5, I might not have been inclined to play Sackboy at all. I am glad that I did, though, because for pure whimsy and quality level design it's a real challenge to Nintendo at its best in this genre, and that's no mean feat. Just don't go in expecting the same qualities that made the LittleBigPlanet series itself so beloved.
Having written visual novels myself I know just how difficult it is to turn decisions and branching narratives into something cohesive and interesting, regardless of the direction that the player takes through the narrative. I shudder to think what a wall of sticky notes would look like to map out a game with 600,000 words and nearly 2,500 decisions. Choices That Matters is a game of breathtaking scope that takes place in the most modest kind of game possible; the humble text adventure. That it tells such an excellent page-turner of a story with all those words and branching paths is the icing on the top.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is a genuine cultural artefact. It never forgets the need to be entertaining and engaging, but every facet of the game is invested in communicating the Japanese cultural perspective on the world, from how we see the divine, to the respect that we should hold for the very staples that sustain us. This is a game that transcends the conventional expectations of video games, to deliver something much grander and more inherently valuable than passive entertainment to consume.
That being said, as far as the gameplay is concerned, this series is going nowhere interesting at this point there while there will be more, and I really implore Ubisoft to take a good, hard look at the bloat and consider whether a more streamlined approach that doesn't get in the way of the best feature (the history and narrative) would not be wiser next time around.
. If you're here and just looking for a summary of Xuan-Yuan Sword VII, though, I'll just say this: This game is excellent. It plays nicely, has solid cultural resonance, and actually respects the player's time, as it's only around 20 hours or so in length (while not compromising on the narrative quality). This is easily one of my favourite games of the year, which is why I wanted to do something a little special in reviewing it.
Who knows if this wild experiment will bear fruit and become its own series. Yakuza: Like a Dragon has everything it needs; an excellent crop of new characters, and even a new playground to base a series in, as we hadn't been to Yokohama previously. The future of the series would depend on how turn-based combat sells in comparison to action brawler combat, I would assume. Either way, though, Like a Dragon is a delight. It's a parody-homage to every turn-based JRPG trope you've ever known, set against brilliant character writing and the traditional urban playgrounds that have built this series into something beloved. I hope the development team is rewarded for the inherent risk that they took with this undertaking.
These two games are straight ports that have been thrown on the Switch to introduce newer players to the No More Heroes series, but they are worth revisiting because it's truly impressive how little they seem to age. Do we have faster-paced and more complex brawlers now thanks to the likes of Devil May Cry V? Sure. However No More Heroes is its own beast because it blends its punkish attitude and humour in with a surrealistic bent and some of the most memorable boss battles you'll ever play in video games. For these reasons, Suda's classics are every bit as entertaining and brash as ever, and it's great that they continue to be available to players on current consoles.
Jurassic World Evolution claims a victory of sorts in being the best "big-budget" simulator currently available on Nintendo Switch, though it cruised through there on the back of the port of Cities: Skylines being less than ideal. The fact that the game has a deep library of DLC built into the package certainly boosts its value, and when the only other options are the indies like Project Highrise or ports of the old Rollercoaster Tycoon titles, it's nice to have an option like Evolution for on-the-go play, though I am hoping that the port of Tropico 6 - a much more complex and detail-orientated simulator - proves to be the big one for the console. Jurassic World Evolution is enjoyable, but a little too simple to hit the peaks of the genre.
Clea has the foundation that it needs to become something really amazing. The aesthetics are spot-on, and the mood and themes are conceptualised beautifully. The developer has chosen a difficult genre to work with, however, and while Clea is perfectly playable and complete, I would want to see some significant strides with a sequel before it enters the upper echelons of the genre. Nonetheless, it does represent a very different kind of Aussie creativity, and it's very much worth supporting on that basis.