Beyond the actual gameplay, Skate City has some serious merit as an introduction to the world of lo-fi hip hop. These tracks will haunt you in the kindest fashion possible, quiet and blissful beats that bounce around your subconsciousness for weeks afterwards. If you’re looking for a more soft-focus, laid-back skateboarding game, Skate City is not to be missed.
Battle Axe might be an excellent arcade game, but that’s a flaw as well as a feature. Extended play sessions, like those you find in Infinite Mode, can quickly wear out their welcome. You can only blow apart so many orcs before you start yearning for more. Maybe the gameplay loop doesn’t escape that cabinets and coins territory, but it doesn’t need to. The action that’s available is nothing short of exemplary. Fluid pixel art animation, tight controls, retro music and audio, and an intense challenge all elevate this game beyond ordinary nostalgia. If you’re looking for your next arcade game, you absolutely can’t miss Battle Axe.
Abe’s weird little world is a bit darker than I was expecting, but it works, after a fashion. The curious juxtaposition of the art design and the narrative makes a strange, yet compelling, impression on the player. The gameplay can trip you up if you’re not used to that stiffer 90s PC platforming style, but you eventually find those muscles. I ran into a few nasty roadblocks, but I never got impossibly stuck. More than the mechanical hurdles, my biggest hurdles were conceptual. Returning to this world, this flavor of frustration and satisfaction, won’t be for everybody. If you’re looking for a portal into an oft-forgotten slice of gaming history, Oddworld: Soulstorm will open that for you. This is an elevated, modernized window into puzzle platformers of the recent past. A little patience and a little perseverance will introduce you to a strange new world.
What we have here are two stories told with mixed results. The grim, gorgeous sci-fi saga fell flat for me. I couldn’t get invested in this last leg of the human race turning to tribalism and violence in the face of adversity. I’m pretty bored with ‘special soldier saves the day’ stories. But the loot cycle was a different matter. This tale of frustration, anticipation, determination, and joy was immediately compelling. I dug into the mechanical guts early and easily. The combat is varied, breathless, and brutal. The character progression is a decent mix of stats and skills, there’s a ton of customization to mess around with, and the difficulty scaling is perfectly fluid. I can tolerate a lot of nonsense in exchange for a good gameplay loop. But if you’re hoping for a package as good as the prize, you might be disappointed. So long as you’re prepared to dig a little for that glittering pearl, there’s a ton of fun to be had with Outriders.
Farm sims, at least the cute and casual ones like Story of Seasons, fall into a comfortable groove. You know what you’re getting into when you fire up one of these games. Pioneers of Olive Town is no exception. Yet, is that really so bad? If these kind of chop/craft/till/harvest/date cycles appeal to you, Olive Town will be just the dose you’re looking for. The game loop is well-crafted, the systems are polished to a glittering sheen, and the pace is downright swift. On the other hand, if you’re sick of the usual farm sim routine, this isn’t gonna win you over. We’re in well-trodden territory here. But of you’re anything like me, more adorable farming is exactly what the doctor ordered.
It all comes down to what sort of atmosphere you’re looking for. Do you want your eldritch horror to come down the pipe at a measured, careful pace? Or are you fiending for something more frantic, more relentless? I always assumed my appetite for horror was a hesitant one, but it turns out I can be eased into things too slowly. Who knew? If you don’t mind being patient, however, Mundaun might be right up your alley. The hand-drawn graphics are beautiful yet unsettling, the worldbuilding is baked into every surface, and the lonely horror atmosphere reaches some terrific high points. If you don’t mind some long walks through the mountains, there’s a compelling story here, just waiting to be told.
Maybe there’s no healthy way to insulate yourself from heartbreak, but there’s still beauty in the retrospective. Maquette casts a rosy lens on a love story softened by time’s eventual passage. It’s an important lesson, that the sorrow of love lost can be soothed and sanded down by the steady movement of the clock. The story’s frequent puzzle breaks mean that you’re eased into the worst of it. You’re given a long runway before the inevitable climax, which might be a blessing in itself. Even if a reflective journey through a complex relationship doesn’t appeal to you, the intricate world and it’s fascinating puzzles will surely have you hooked.
Like the visuals and the sound, my recommendation for PUSS! is a complex, chaotic beast. On the one hand, it’s a beautiful, brilliant game. I haven’t heard a game soundtrack this unique in literal years. The visuals will haunt your dreams for days after you’re done with this game. And yet, the challenge is either insurmountable or woefully insufficient. After a moment of weakness, I decided to look up some let’s plays on YouTube. It turns out I’m just not good at maze games? A man hands as shaky as these should have seen this coming, but still. My evaluation of the difficulty is tied to my skills in the genre overall. To that end, if you’re a maze gamer? This will be an absolute blast. Conversely, if you’ve got no patience for high precision movement and constant dodging, PUSS! might be a pretty bad time. Either way, you’re unlikely to see a game quite like this for a very long time.
Tough, beautiful retro games might seem like they’re everywhere these days. You might be losing track of them all in the midst of this recent deluge. I promise Cyber Shadow is one of the good ones. A delicate balance is struck between challenge and accessibility, leaving you bloodied and eager for more. The art and the music is among the best you’ll see all year long. Finally, the mechanical guts of this game are perfectly tuned. While some players will be rebuked by certain NES-era sensibilities (like the knockback effect), the overall experience is practically sublime. If you’re looking for a Ninja Gaiden send-up that’s been dragged into the 21st century, look no further than Cyber Shadow.