Scott Ellison II
Before We Leave has a surprising amount of depth and layers to it, that you’ll continually uncover as you play. This is a non-violent game, but it’s anything but safe. Some may balk at the minimal consequence to properly treating or taking care of your peeps, but the space whale and other ancient creatures will do their part to disrupt your rebuilt civilization in more meaningful ways. Before We Leave has left an indelible impression upon me, from the visuals to the unique gameplay, this is a planet builder that won’t be eclipsed anytime soon.
This is a game meant to be played in short sessions, and maybe that’s where its mobile roots show, but it’s far from shallow. Skate City is a low stakes game. Over time, the in-game challenges and goals it asks you to perform become more demanding, but that’s only part of it. There’s an overwhelming sense of chill as the lo-fi beats kick in and the quiet atmosphere goes rolling by. Like Stevie Williams said about skateboarding, Skate City is poetry of motion.
MotoGP 21 requires precision, and is not very welcoming to newcomers, even with tutorials and its easiest difficulty setting. There’s a commitment to learning the game’s systems to start to feel like you’re improving. Now, there’s some sharper textures, inclusion of HDR on PC, and other graphical improvements that look great; but nothing about the visuals or gameplay feels all that new, or next-generation. MotoGP 21 is a solid, competent, but ultimately stale racer that coasts with this year’s release.
Crash Dive 2 is not the most attractive game out there, but it does have its moments. What it lacks in visuals, is made-up with its depth in gameplay. While I enjoy most of the additions and improvements here, I personally prefer the first game — though I find them to be on-par with one another. Crash Dive 2‘s best feature is its approachability, blurring between arcade and simulation, streamlining the once dormant sub-genre in clever and interesting ways.
Even after finishing the game, I’m eagerly awaiting what else is coming from Spooky Doorway this season. It’s a laugh-a-minute with clever puzzles and rewarding gameplay. You’re encouraged to explore and read every piece of dialogue, or risk missing something crucial or funny. The Darkside Detective: A Fumble in the Dark is so sharp-witted, it’s easily one of the best adventure games to come along in years.
All of the systems around Aqua Kitty have been improved and expanded upon in meaningful ways to make Astro Aqua Kitty be so memorable. From simple things like earning experience to picking your next upgrade, there’s a progression that keeps you invested in your character. The quest system is handled elegantly, dynamically giving you tasks to complete and simply marking your map that keeps things from becoming unwieldy. There are a multitude of options for each playthrough at a dozen hours each time, and Astro Aqua Kitty is a game you’ll be coming back to again and again.
This is Rebellion at their best, a game that’s like coming home even though you haven’t been there for nearly 20 years. Sure, some things have changed, and you’re not sure how navigate it, but you feel good being there. Rebellion kept what worked in the last game, added a bunch of new things, and it all feels like Evil Genius still. If you’re new to the series, this is a great starting point for anyone. For returning players, this is a sequel in the truest sense, with more fun and replayability than before. Evil Genius 2: World Domination is easily my favorite game of the year, and it’s never felt so good to be bad.
This re-release of Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse does make me wish it was a remake like Destroy All Humans! got last year. However, it being exactly how I remember and so little changed is some great nostalgia. It’s a fun, silly, and stupid game that doesn’t last too long — kind of perfect for 2021. It’s a budget priced title that is clearly aiming to gauge interest in a potential sequel, and I’m all for it. I had a blast going back to experience being a love-stricken zombie all over again.
Stronghold: Warlords gets more right than it doesn’t. The unique East-Asian factions that this game provides is a much needed change from the medieval times we’re used to. It’s more RTS than fans of the series will bargain for, and the warlords system is interesting but has its fair share of issues. The game’s attractive pricing should sway anyone on the fence. Stronghold: Warlords is refreshing take on the Stronghold series, but doesn’t quite execute on its new ideas fully — it’s a bit outdated, but not antiquated.
It’s fair to say that RetroMania Wrestling achieves in making the sequel it wants to be by having the gameplay, pixel art, and sound that feels like it came from the SNES era for wrestling fans — albeit for those who follow more wrestling that isn’t WWE. The roster is shallow, and may not be what you want or expect, but it does have talent worthy of being here. The story mode is incomplete, and the flow of combat is often interrupted – these are the real problems. Yet, I can’t help but enjoy everything RetroMania Wrestling has to offer here, even though it doesn’t have staying power.