Hood: Outlaws & Legends is the best PvPvE game I've played in quite some time. Sure, it has its issues; the AI can sometimes feel braindead, class balancing needs to be tweaked, and animations can be a bit janky, but the adrenaline rush of the heist makes up for all of that. Not to mention, this is only a $30 game, and the developers have released a fully fleshed-out roadmap for ongoing support. Players can expect new characters, game modes, seasonal events, cosmetics, and more. And did I forget to mention that the game already has cross-play matchmaking at launch? Hopefully, the developers can expand the party system for cross-platform friends.
The Pathless is an open-world exploration title with unique puzzle-solving mechanics and one of the year's best soundtracks. The tense and enjoyable boss encounters were a delightful surprise. The free-form approach to the exploration and plethora of puzzles to solve, most being optional, give you the sensation of freedom while traversing. It's simply fun, aimlessly soaring through the air with my eagle, bouncing across rivers and down snow-covered mountaintops shooting at talismans. It's not a long experience, as I clocked my completion at roughly eight hours, but there are plenty of trophies to earn by collecting all of the relics, along with completing various other tasks.
Bright Memory can be completed in just over 30 minutes the first time through, but suffers from technical and control issues. It was designed as the first episode of many but came across as an unfinished product or proof of concept, with pieces that seem ripped from other game series. There are even bonfires that don't seemingly serve any purpose, complete with a "bonfire lit" message when activated. The narrative lacks substance and any reasoning about why the events have transpired, unless you read through the game's description page, which features all the information you'd expect to find in-game.
Galacide is an intriguing and unique take on the side-scrolling shooter genre. The addition of match-3 tile puzzle mechanics keeps you engaged and forces you to be mindful of your position onscreen. The expert difficulty proved too much while playing alone, but I had a blast with four of us frantically trying to survive amongst the chaos.
A demanding skill-based experience, Ghostrunner makes you feel like a cyberpunk ninja. Thanks to the quick restarts, and generous checkpoints, the game never feels overwhelming or unfair. The 17 levels took me close to twelve hours to complete but depending upon your skill level. If you search around for collectibles during the platforming sections, it could be a shorter/longer experience. The enemy variety and ever-changing visual aesthetic for each area of The Tower keeps the game from feeling like a chore. The synthwave cyberpunk soundtrack by Daniel Deluxe fits well with the impressively sharp visuals.
Pumpkin Jack isn’t a long experience (roughly four-five hours) but is full of nostalgia for classic 3D platformers. It is a fun romp that hits all the notes that I’d want from a Halloween release. It has colorful and detailed visuals, a fantastic soundtrack, throwback style gameplay, and a few laughs. There are plenty of collectibles to find if you wish to hunt for achievements. Surprisingly, Pumpkin Jack is arguably a more robust release than the recently released remake for MediEvil.
G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout serves up nostalgia for G.I. Joe fans, with a narrative that feels right at home for the series. The colorful and stylized cel-shaded visuals are perfect for the franchise, making you feel like you are playing inside a comic book. It's a real shame that the overall gameplay falls flat thanks to poor aiming mechanics. The AI that joins you when playing solo is utterly useless, and enemies can backtrack faster than you can advance towards them. There are optional side objectives to complete, and collectibles to find, which unlock alternative looks for characters, weapon skins, and comic cover art.
Monster Truck Championship is the best monster truck game to be released. The lackluster presentation and technical hiccups hold it from being great. The driving and stunt controls are solid, even if they take some practice. Short draw distance causes frequent pop-ups during races. There's no music during races, and the crowd is completely silent most of the time. It doesn't take that long to make your way through all 30 of the career events, and in the process, earn millions of dollars. Some appearance parts can cost a pretty penny, so you'll need to replay events to unlock everything.
Cake Bash is the feel-good frantic party game I needed to play this year. The sharp, beautifully rendered environments and comically delicious characters are a treat...literally. Local and online multiplayer worked like a charm (besides a single time where everyone was forced to restart). However, I do wish that the game instructions aren't skipped when playing online, especially when playing with someone new or experiencing a new event for the first time. Although the overall amount of events and mini-games is small, it may take a few rounds to see them all at least once.
Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: Grand Prix is the type of sequel that will make you smile, improving every aspect over its predecessor. The racing feels smoother, picking your kart components and crew is fun, and there is much more variety in terms of the intellectual properties used this time around. There are plenty of single-player additions, such as time trials and challenges to complete after beating the Slime Grand Prix cups, online multiplayer for up to eight players, and four-player local split-screen multiplayer. Sadly, the racers are again silent, which is such a missed opportunity to record new voice-overs or use samples from the shows. Considering the title's budget price point, it is hard to dwell on it too much but would have elevated the entire experience.
Projection: First Light is a charming tale of a little girl learning perspective and self-enlightenment through various cultures worldwide. The gameplay loop is continually changing as you move through areas, adding new elements such as swinging platforms, fire breathing dragon statues, spikes, massive boulders, and more. There are even a few boss encounters, although the final boss sequence (I won't give too much away) quickly becomes frustrating due to finicky precision controls during a chase scene.
The new team in charge of Tennis World Tour 2 has thankfully made enhancements to a series that badly needed a do-over. It puts it in a better position for the future by expanding the roster and making key gameplay improvements. Although animations have been doubled, characters still appear to be quite stiff at times and even slide into animations awkwardly. The courts are nicely rendered, and when playing exhibition matches, you can freely alter the surface type on non-licensed venues. I think the timing of strokes needs to be adjusted, especially when playing on an easier difficulty.
Hotshot Racing's retro-inspired high-adrenaline arcade racing is simply a joy to experience. The courses themselves are varied, colorful, charming, and full of personality, albeit slightly on the simplistic side in terms of the track designs. Yes, the AI rubber-banding is a relic of the past, but does help deliver tense racing moments. Cranking up the difficulty is similar to moving from 50cc to 150cc in Mario Kart; everything feels faster. The local and online multiplayer should give the game legs, especially considering how fun I found the additional game modes. Now excuse me, I need to live my life drifting through the jungle, avoiding dinosaurs, and trying not to explode.
The complicated issues and themes hinted at in The Suicide of Rachel Foster present a haunting tale of digging up the past based on one's perspective. The start of the game hammers home Nicole's father as the leading cause of the death of teenager Rachel Foster, but when you first reach the hotel, the game's narrative focuses on her survival. Slowly day after day, things unwind, as memories come flooding back. A few plot twists are sprinkled throughout, but nothing should feel like a surprise once they happen if you are paying attention.
Shing! delivers a unique approach to the stagnant brawler genre, but still has room for improvements. When a lot of yōkai are on-screen, I found myself wagging the right analog stick like a mad man, attempting to handle so many foes at once. The whole point of advancing the genre is to avoid having to "mash buttons" or, in this case, "waggle." The additional challenges provide added value, and through great voice acting and funny dialogue, I cared about the characters by the time I finished the game.
Fight Crab's goofy premise, and at times cumbersome controls are all part of the charm. The game puts over 20 types of delicious crabs in front of you, battling to the death with oversized zany weapons. I couldn't help but chuckle the first time I faced off against a crab dual-wielding shotguns. The added online and local versus multiplayer and online co-op is a treat, especially considering how well the online mode works on Nintendo Switch.