Escape Academy is a wholesome, family-friendly adventure film come to life. The bright colors and blocky shapes lend to the idea of Saturday morning cartoon fun. The puzzles are clever, often requiring the player to pause for a moment and take it in before spotting the solution. Some segments can be difficult for players, but Escape Academy offers a useful Help button to keep things moving. The game has an intriguing – if campy – narrative and cast of characters who make the experience a joy to play. The timer for each room is generous but applies the right amount of pressure to keep you moving. Escape Academy easily earns an A on the final.
PowerWash Simulator is a game for people who love a clean space. It’s a meditation for those who need a stress-free break. The gameplay is easy and straightforward, the controls handle beautifully, and the colors jump out with vibrance and life. I do feel like the game is hurt with such a soft delivery on its story and lack of soundtrack. The dirt highlighter could also benefit from multiple color options. I feel that the requirements on smaller objects and crevices could use some tweaking. I love booting this up for some relaxing gameplay. It’s easily one of my favorite games to play on Xbox.
The campaign for Worldslayer feels uncomfortably chaotic. It has the story beats of a great tale but doesn’t fully tell the story. If it was meant to deliver a sense of urgency there are aspects that could have been cut. I and many others who played see so much potential for it to have rivalled the narrative of the main game and it’s unfortunate that it is so short. Despite its shortcomings, all of the other new content and enhancements easily make up for it. This is Outriders the way it was meant to be. This is the power fantasy we want to feel in gaming.
With so much going on at any given time and imperfect means of interacting with the Pokémon – coupled with the ability to submit only one photo per outing per Pokémon at a time – New Pokémon Snap is asking you to complete dozens of perfect runs per stage to fill the Photodex. While the repetitive nature might be just fine for kids, this game may be better in short bursts for adults and perfectionists.
Returnal is so much more than a rogue-like bullet-hell game. It tells a captivating, mysterious, and oftentimes haunting narrative with gorgeous, unsettling visuals and compelling voice acting. It offers a wide variety of collectibles, health upgrades, and unique features to give you a fresh and varied experience with each cycle, and gives players shortcuts so they can continue to press on with the story rather than have to complete every single biome time and time again. It’s tough but fair, with RNG playing a minor role in how difficult the next room will be. You’re going to die. A lot. That is the nature of this genre and this game, but it blends that concept so beautifully into the narrative design that you’ll only feel a momentary twinge of frustration before you set out again to help Selene reach the signal.
The Outer Worlds: Murder on Eridanos gives us an interesting and inspired tale to jump into with that loveable band of misfits you call a crew. It pays great homage to classic sci-fi and vintage serials when it comes to the main quest, but it doesn’t feel like it leans enough into that aspect for the rest of the DLC to make it stand out from its predecessor. The writing is absolutely on point and a true delight every step of the way, but the technical issues with dropped textures and exhaustively long load times kill the atmosphere the main quest is trying to set. If this could have leaned harder into the narrative it would easily stand tall over Peril on Gorgon, but instead, we are getting more of the same. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as The Outer Worlds is a sleeper hit, but this should have been something greater.
Sea of Solitude does an incredible and masterful job of expressing what it means to suffer from depression, so much so that should you be interested in jumping in and have your own mental health issues I would suggest playing only in short bursts and when you are feeling quite strong. Many of these segments are far too relatable and quite vivid in their depictions of mental distress. The changes made to the Director’s Cut offers subtle enhancements to the game with new voice work that makes it hit home a little harder for American audiences and a photo mode that – while enticing – feels more likely to break the immersion. This is every bit as powerful as it was in 2019, and if you are looking for an emotional story to be fully enveloped in, I can’t imagine something being more passionately and beautifully put together than this game.
The Sinking City arriving on next-gen is a surprising yet greatly welcome arrival. With such a rich world and narrative, compelling investigative segments, and some truly horrifying features like experiencing hallucinations when your sanity meter drops, this was a title classic horror fans simply must try. The graphical upgrades are monumental in elevating the eerie, unsettling world which is already dripping with atmosphere into a new level, and the haptic triggers heighten the tension with every bullet. There are still some texture issues – particularly with the hair and teeth – that don’t fit in with the rest of the next-gen polish, and the strange NPC programming can definitely detract from the moment-to-moment situation. Beyond those minor gripes, this is still an exemplary outing into the world of H.P. Lovecraft and a beautiful horror experience well worth your time.
Rogue Heroes: Ruins of Tasos is an absolute hit. It’s classic aesthetic and simple gameplay is addictive and brimming with nostalgia. It offers a full RPG experience with rogue-like mechanics, yet never makes you feel like you are taking a step back.
Overall, Oneiros has proven to be a satisfying and enjoyable puzzle game to unwind with. The worlds are beautifully rendered, the puzzles are complex and challenging. It almost feels like a light-hearted digital escape room. The underlying narrative Liam is trying to unravel about events in the real world is compelling, driving the story forward as we try to understand what happened. We are teased just enough to keep wanting a little more, but Liam himself is the biggest force against immersion. Every other box from the environment, to the backstory, to the puzzles themselves, lean into the notion of something serious on the horizon, but Liam seems like he couldn’t care less. That and those minor graphical hiccups are the only thing that stand in the way of an otherwise delightful first-person puzzle game. It’s perfect for a rainy day or just relaxing after a nice dinner.
Sword of the Necromancer is a neat, engaging, and surprising rogue-like with some great ideas and a curiously deep narrative. The mechanic of reviving enemies to fight for you is a great concept, and general features like diverse weapons and effective combat maneuvers feel superb, however, this strange inventory design feels like a huge setback. The inclusion of the latest update which allows for a more customized experience is an improvement, but it did sour my enjoyment of the game just a little to not have it from launch. As it stands, you can’t really let yourself get attached to anything other than the titular sword which directly contradicts the key point of the narrative; that Tama has grown attached to Koko. If you are looking for a nice, light rogue-like to jump into that doesn’t feel mindless, this is the game for you.
Ven VR Adventure is an amusing, entertaining, and engaging platformer that is easy to get lost in Everything feels familiar enough to strike that nostalgic chord while being fresh and engaging in VR to keep you playing. The game borrows concepts from the likes of Crash Bandicoot, Moss VR, and the classic platformers of generations past, but gives us something just different enough to be enjoyable. I would have liked to see the character of Ven given more personality as this really is HIS tale, and the strangely close camera with no ability to backtrack even just a step or two is more annoying than it should be. As the first VR title put forward by Monologic Games, Ven VR Adventure is an incredibly enjoyable marvel. With a few minor tweaks, it could be a must-have VR experience.
Prison Boss is a delightful and surprisingly relaxing VR game, perfectly optimized for people who prefer seated VR (although you can also play it standing in which the cell grows to the size of your play space). The art style and cartoonish design is charming and despite not having much to see, it feels very immersive. I found the lack of tutorial on how the menu and objectives worked to be a bit of a letdown, but it isn’t a big enough issue to make it unplayable. I would definitely recommend this as a starter game for those just getting into VR as it isn’t overwhelming, but it highlights the functions of a VR game. Playing through a stage takes a comfortable amount of time and it really is just a blast to play. I hope to see those tutorial options added in but as it stands it is still a smooth and charming VR experience I’m happy to keep playing.
Chronos: Before the Ashes is a calming, serene, yet challenging game that is perfect for gamers who want to try skill-based combat but aren’t ready for classic entries to the genre, like the Souls games. It’s connections to Remnant: From the Ashes are abundant enough to make fans of the game see them with glee, but not so important to make it a necessity. The level design and art style is simple yet beautiful, and the controls are satisfying and tight.
While it seems strange at first, Phantom: Covert Ops has been one of my best experiences with VR to date. Despite playing the entire game from within a kayak and a formulaic narrative, the meat of the game comes from its impeccable mechanics and immersion.
The Outer Worlds: Peril on Gorgon is full of just as much wonderful space-western dialogue as the base game. It’s gritty, suspenseful, intense, and dark. New characters like Clarence Mostly and Minnie Ambrose are engaging, the kind of people we want to really dive further into. Gorgon itself is beautiful in its desolation and it really is an absolute joy to come back to the Halcyon system.