Fans of the developers previous work (Akiba's Trip) will find a lot to love in Akiba’s Beat, as this not quite pseudo-successor emulates much of its gameplay loop and even the barren cityscape of Akihabara itself. With a cast of your usual archetypical characters and a ton of mindless gameplay on offer there’s a lot of bang for your buck and you’ll easily spend up to a hundred hours chipping away for that elusive Platinum trophy. For everyone else though, the quirky character interaction whilst delving into a few dungeons may present a chuckle two, but it’ll only get you so far. You’ll quickly find there’s just not a whole lot to Akiba’s Beat, as it attempts to pad out its 20 hour or so content into an 80 hour package that misses out on delving into a truly intriguing story and a lack of cohesion in its mechanics for the overall themes presented.
For a first time, small studio, especially one tackling a role-playing title that is as ambitious as Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom aims to be, I felt Enigami did a fantastic job, but they’ve clearly bitten off a little more than they can chew in their persuit of role-playing stardom, opting to throw everything including the kitchen sink into a title that instead needed to be pruned and polished. With elements of an intriguing story under its surface, and a beautiful world - that impresses from sheer volume alone coming from an indie studio - Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom packs a lot into its role-playing package, but sadly that’s also its biggest flaw. With a lack of focus in its combat system and desire to seemingly include every role-playing trope and mechanic from the past decade, detracting from the overall experience. But if you’re in need of a meaty role-playing game - that even sometimes manages to harken back to those PlayStation 2 glory days - then Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom might be right up your alley.
Originally billed to backers as a successor to the now classic Banjo-Kazooie series, Yooka-Laylee from developer Playtonic Games delivers on that promise in spades and more, becoming in essence Banjo-Kazooie 3 in all but name; with a grand collectathon adventure awaiting you, complete with quirky characters, a rousing score and a British charm that all now iconic Rare games exude. It’s a feat in itself that the developers have managed to craft a title the size of Yooka-Laylee with the small team at hand, but that limitation does rear its head with some wonky mechanics and puzzles that were best left on the cutting room floor. But the true success story of Yooka-Laylee, will be in managing to capture that once thought lost Rare essence, and the real question now is whether there is still a wider market out there today beyond those who grew up with the Nintendo 64 classics wishing to revisit nostalgia. One thing is for certain though, if you’re looking for a fun, colourful adventure to suck up 30 hours of your life then Yooka-Laylee is your man, or bat, or lizard - or, ah whatever.
In a sea of retro-inspired titles, much like Shovel Knight before it, Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight stands out amongst the fray and becomes the perfect game for fans of the Castlevania or Mega Man series' of old. And I hope it doesn't get passed up by fans and critics alike. But beyond its quality retro surface offerings, Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight manages to inject a few new ideas into the mix too, creating a formula that's both nostalgic yet fresh and most of all fun. And whilst its length may be a problem for gamers seeking a far more meaty retro experience, it truly doesn't outstay its welcome and offers replay value for gamers who choose to unlock all of its hidden caveats.
Whilst suffering from a very shaky start, once you acquire a few powerups Forma.8 transforms into another great addition to the metroidvania genre, and whilst it doesn’t do anything entirely new or original - borrowing a lot from its contemporaries - it excels at thinking outside the box with boss fights, whilst showcasing an intriguing wordless story within its isolated yet beautiful world - oh and we can’t forget about the bountiful secrets hidden within either. If you’re a fan of the metroidvania genre, or more obtuse games in general then should definitely look at picking up Forma.8.
Whether it's the dual intertwining story, the litany of mini-games and the new additions or the visceral feeling of smashing street punks into walls whilst enjoying the quirky side quests, the team at SEGA have once again nailed with Yakuza 0 exactly what the series is known for with another great outing and for the first time on a new generation of consoles. But Yakuza 0 is also the perfect jumping on point for players new to the series, requiring no previous knowledge of its lore or characters and offering a game that can be partook either linearly with just the main story in mind, or truly delving into what makes these games so unique and racking up a hundred hours.
Fans of the anime will likely be disappointed with the story on offer within Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star, that whilst manages to heat up in its final arc, is more akin to a fighting game than an in-depth story and pales in comparison to the far superior anime counterpart. But playing as each and every Servant - those made famous through the show and those not - is a heck of a lot of fun, with gameplay that is both cathartic and successfully brings an element of strategy along for the ride. Whilst there are some minor niggles within the combat gameplay that stop it being a cornerstone of the genre, there’s nothing that truly dissuaded my enjoyment in the complete package developers Marvelous have managed to offer fans. Whether you are seeking it out as a Musou title - an area it excels at - or just looking for something to sink quite a few hours into - on console or on the ago - then Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star exudes that experience in spades.
Shu is a bit of a mixed-bag of a game, with its slow moving platforming elements - involving the collecting and uncovering of a myriad of secrets within each level - hampered by its haphazard camera. Conversely when the game is moving at speed, being able to stretch its wings as you speed run through its beautiful visuals, Shu fully comes alive with a rhythm brought about by games like the more recent Rayman Legends. If you’re a fan of the genre, and enjoy a beautiful platforming game with some challenge then Shu is definitely worth a look, but don’t go in expecting more than that.
Dead Synchronicity is a love letter to the genre from developers clearly influenced by those 90's adventure classics the genre grew up with. Spinning an engrossing post-apocalyptic narrative encased within a beautiful art style and simple animation, permeated with some smart game design choices allowing a smooth experience for console gamers, with the only seams being some spotty voice performances and an ending that leaves you wanting more. Point 'n click titles may have seen a short hiatus on console, but that changes now with Dead Synchronicity, a game that every fan of the genre should experience, to retread nostalgia once more.
Inside encapsulates everything right within the independent game genre, exuding a masterclass in game design with stellar animation and a muted colour palette that fit its macabre interior perfectly. Though some may be put off by its obtuseness, Inside is a unique title all gamers should eventually at least attempt to experience.
Valkyria Chronicles Remastered will draw you in with an interesting story then make you stay with a well crafted lore and some stellar strategy gameplay that still feels fresh today - a testament to its quality - even if it can feel a little old in some places.
The most baffling aspect about Until Dawn though is not within the game itself, but outside of it. Supermassive Games, a UK development team based in Surrey have seemingly struck gold from out of nowhere; a team who prior to this you likely have never heard of.
It's hard to pin down exactly where Bloodborne fits into the pantheon of the gaming world, and that's perfect. It truly stands on a pedestal of its own; From Software have moulded a masterclass of game design, and it's amazing to think of what dark and twisted place this all culminated from.