After years of development and a handful of delays, Koji Igarashi’s highly anticipated return to gaming is perfection personified, or close to it. It is one of the finest side-scrolling action-RPGs that you’ll play, with beautifully stylistic and colorful visuals that work wonderfully with the 2.5D presentation. The endgame grind may be too much of an investment, but I love every moment of it, especially considering how much I enjoy the hack-and-slash gameplay and being able to swap between my customized presets at any moment. It may feel quite familiar to his previous work but sets the bar for the series moving forward.
Judgment proves that Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio's gameplay approach works with a new set of realized and charismatic characters. While it was a shame to see Kiryu's journey came to an end last year, Yagami and his former Yakuza buddy Kaito may be my new favorite duo. The narrative is highly engaging, and whether you use the Japanese or the English voices, the performances are outstanding. There is so much to see and accomplish between main story missions, that it is hard to list even a small portion of what you can do.
Rise of Industry is such a delight and a much deeper experience than I was expecting. Almost every aspect of your budding empire can be maintained and tweaked to your personal preference, although you’ll have to give the customers what they want. Competition is fierce, and not only is the AI cutthroat, but you’ll have to properly build a transportation network to ensure traffic doesn’t slow down your profit margin. On top of that, pollution becomes a concern, and when you throw the random events and auctions into the mix, there is so much that you have to track to keep your business flourishing. While I may have built my empire on wool, nothing came between me and my desire to become the ultimate supplier of potato chips and berry pies. The game launched with Steam Workshop support, ensuring the game has a bright future due to the endless possibilities.
Fade to Silence does leave its mark on the survival genre, namely the terrific use of a dynamic weather system. However, everything else in the game is slightly cumbersome, from combat to item management. With player inventory being limited, your only option is to transfer items to your stash at the camp. However, the only options are to place items one at a time, or everything you happen to be carrying. There isn’t any way to transfer individual stacks of items. The game needs a better introduction to many of the game’s mechanics, especially when playing on the harder difficulty that can leave you with starting over with nothing, outside of the permanent unlocks.
Desert Child has its moments, but most of the experience feels shallow. The repetitiveness of wandering through the town after each race was more of a distraction than anything. The retro-inspired pixel art is enjoyable, and most of the game's music works within the racing setting, but I had to mute the game when walking through the town.
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is everything that you'll want in an official sequel to the Monster World franchise. Regardless of the late game frustrations and spike in difficulty, it is one of the best modern day platformers I have ever played.
The well-designed and vibrant post-apocalyptic world of Darksiders III is simply a joy to traverse. The narrative is well-written, and the boss encounters, including the interactions between characters, before, during, and after encounters are quite enjoyable. Although the game takes its inspiration from new titles and genres, it still feels like it belongs in the series I've been playing for the past eight years. On the technical front, the game suffers from occasional hitching and slowdown, even on an Xbox One X.
Speed Brawl has a lot more to offer than standard beat ‘em up titles. I certainly dig the unique and colorful stylized animated characters. The game features satisfying local and online multiplayer for the game's 50+ events. There weren't any joinable open online parties while testing, but I was able to invite a friend without issue. There are global leaderboards for each of the events if you are into that type of competition as well.
Steel Rats may be the surprise I've been looking for as we get into the busy (and crowded) holiday season. It combines a rather robust motorcycle combat system with a slick movement system. The developers even threw in massive boss encounters that utilize all of your abilities. It wasn't apparent at first that you can freely switch between biker members, but once realized, you can tackle any situation. Each biker has their own set of skills, but regardless of who you use, the game is simply fun and engaging. There are also unlocking bike and character skins for each of the four characters. Playing on a PlayStation 4 Pro, however, textures seem to take forever to pop-in, which is disappointing as the rest of the game is mostly impressive visually.
Without question, Call of Cthulhu captures the nightmarish Lovecraftian cosmic horror feel. Even if you haven't read any of the mythos or haven't experienced the tabletop game, it is still a satisfying investigation into madness. It's impossible to see everything the game has to offer in a single playthrough, but the stealth and equally awful boss encounters and gunplay (one section near the end of the game) may turn players off from returning. An option to autocomplete these sections may be a worthwhile addition, especially for those that want to experience the wonderfully dark storytelling and see all of the alternate choices.
GRIP: Combat Racing is a blast from the past, with intense racing and thrilling arena-based competition. The developers set out to make a modern Rollcage and have thoroughly succeeded. The inclusion of split-screen multiplayer, a rarity these days, is much appreciated, especially with the highly customizable online experience.
Drunkn Bar Fight on Halloween aims to provide those looking for a quick and easy VR experience to share with friends and family during Halloween. It is a very streamlined version of the game, featuring only the one level and populates it with hordes of the undead. The inclusion of firearms and new weapons is appreciated, but once you get your fill, there isn't much else to do. It's a decent addition to the full game, but the trimmed down stand-alone experience is lacking
Catch & Release is the epitome of a relaxing VR fishing experience. It feels so great to unwind on a lake in the middle of nowhere and fish for an afternoon, without worrying about mosquitoes. The single location in the game is large enough that I never grew tired. It's almost harkened back to the days where families would return year after year to their favorite vacation spot.
The Jackbox Party Pack 5 is going to be the go-to party game for family get-togethers for the rest of the year and beyond. The distinctive games are mostly charming, and each one should have legs to keep you from getting bored, except for Zeeple Dome. Jackbox Games is indeed not afraid to experiment with new gameplay mechanics and designs, and more often than not they tend to work out.
NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 feels like an evolution from the first game, providing a smoother gameplay experience and a deeper online offering. Anyone can jump into the game and perform a self alley-oop double front flip dunk with ease. It's as accessible as you would expect and demand of a traditional arcade game. However, the inclusion of microtransactions is disheartening. Sure, you can only purchase cosmetic packs, not actual player cards, but you can negate the entire grind in the game, by unlocking all players for a price. The Xbox One version of the game occasional hangs at least once a day, forcing a restart.
The Missing: J.J Macfield And The Island Of Memories is a heartfelt yet dark emotional tale, wrapped in a side-scrolling puzzle-platformer. It has macabre overtones, especially considering you are required to lose your limbs and at times throw them to dislodge objects to advance. There is a sense of poetry in The Missing, tying together emotions of death and rebirth. It's quite an intense emotional personal tale, but outside of collecting donuts, there isn't much reason to play through a second time.
Being the penultimate episode in The Council, Burning Bridges has set the stage for what should be a stunning conclusion. The newly added ability, which I won't spoil, combines both a new gameplay mechanic and helps fill in some missing gaps in the narrative. It also opens up all new questions and hopefully things can be solved in the final episode without feeling rushed. If it weren't for the continued technical failings, Burning Bridges would be scored higher. It was a shame that some of the most pivotal choices in the game don't alter how all the other guests react to you.