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.
Destiny 2: Forsaken cements itself as the savior that was desperately needed to reinvigorate a dwindling player count. It has been a long road, but Bungie has been committed to turning the development of the game back to the very loyal and adamant fan base. While some of the changes feel that they were done to appease the dedicated players and leaving everyone else on the outside looking in, there is indeed some great ideas that can be expanded upon. The inclusion of in-game triumphs tasks dozens of various tasks to be completed, some of which you'll already have done. Not to mention, all of the game's lore can be read and viewed from within the game. The collection section includes every weapon (all rarities) you have collected, as well as ghost shells, ships, and more. You could reacquire any item if you previous dismantled it for a reasonable cost.
NBA 2K19 is the absolute best NBA simulation experience, with numerous refinements and improvements over previous years. I think there was a missed opportunity of adding the tutorials for newcomers located in 2KU into the MyCareer game mode, which puts you into the action without explaining any of the intricacies of the mechanics. The Neighborhood online hub experience has been improved, yielding more chances to earn VC, as well as hosting numerous events. The servers are another story, however, as the game will frequently not connect or hang while trying to synchronize data without a proper error message. At some point, the heavy reliance (although toned down) on microtransactions needs to be removed from the game entirely.
Shadows: Awakening proves that loot-focused action-RPGs can feature a deep narrative with meaningful side quests. The unique party system works in unison with the combat mechanics, allowing you to put together a devastating combination of attacks. Featuring a lengthy narrative, and reason to play through multiple times, this unassuming title may be the sleeper hit you have been looking for.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 is the best entry in the series since the original game released over ten years ago. Regardless of the difficulty chosen (you can switch between easy and normal at any time), missions take quite some time to complete (you may be playing a single mission for close to an hour), which helps you feel rewarded for completing each one. Successful missions provide you with experience points to level up and further upgrade your squad's equipment.
Warhammer 40,000 Inquisitor Martyr nails the gothic and grim sci-fi 40K universe, but technical shortcomings and some poor design decisions hurt the overall experience. Online multiplayer, outside of playing with friends, is a nightmare to separate, especially since you'll be randomly dropped into a mission and thrown back to your local hub afterward. NeoCoreGames does have a fluid roadmap on the game's official website complete with seasonal events and content. There is also a season pass that will include new investigations, campaigns, loot emotes and even familiars (pets). Currently, there is a $3.99 servo-skull pet for purchase on the Xbox Store that doesn't appear in-game or crashes your game.
Strange Brigade is a robust online cooperative experience to play with friends and strangers alike. The presentation is hands-down one of the best experiences I've seen this year, from the visuals, level design to the game's music and sound effects. Also, I tip my hat off to the talented Glen McCready who continually narrates throughout the adventure. It's a shame that the character doesn't have additional outfits or customization outside of weapon loadout at launch, but with free and paid downloadable content in the future, Rebellion may be supporting this fun third-person shooter for quite some time.
Once again Sega has reinvented the Yakuza series, by overhauling every aspect of a beloved title, and simply making it that much better. The Dragon Engine is truly impressive, not only visually, but boasts some nifty animations that surpass Yakuza 6. Adding weapon loadouts, and some sweet new heat maneuvers certainly provide much more flexibility and creativity to the combat. Yakuza Kiwami 2 is without a doubt the definitive Yakuza experience.