I was really hopeful in the lead up to Jump Force, because I love most of these characters, and the set dressing for the concept is often very cool. The visual style was even something I thought I was getting used to as the character reveals rolled in. But once the game was in my hands, reality struck me like a Detroit Smash and what I had before me was a mess. Jump Force is ugly, janky, confusing, and far too simple. It does what other games have already done before, but with far less confidence or success. It tries to hide its misgivings behind cool special moves and motion blur, but fails at that too. It's a total swing and miss, but hopefully just a bump in the road for Shonen Jump games in the long run.
God Eater 3 definitely has a tougher barrier of entry compared to last year's Monster Hunter: World. Most of that is due to complexity; God Eater 3 has tons of combat mechanics, a weird, jargon-filled narrative, and just generally a lot going on at once. However, it also doesn't have a lot of the same heavy preparation and survival vibe of Monster Hunter, so it's really more about mastering the action than micro-managing your inventory and outsmarting behemoths.
There is so much game here in Kingdom Hearts 3, and it’s all coming from the mind of an auteur with far too much power. But if you dare to take that plunge, as much of an investment as it is, there is a great adventure to be had here. So much adventure. Probably too much.
I've done a lot of gushing here, but Resident Evil 2 is the perfect sort of game for gushing. Much like the legendary REmake, this new version of a storied classic was lovingly crafted by people who not only have a collectively sharp eye for what makes an excellent video game today, but also possess a deep understanding of why the original Resident Evil 2 is worth revisiting and what made it a game celebrated to this day. This isn't just an old Resident Evil molded into the new Resident Evil formula. It's a new take on Resident Evil 2 that doesn't feel like it's trying to “modernize” or “fix” the original. It's more of an expensive, ludicrously polished tribute than a remake in the semantic sense, a project that has been in demand for years and quietly pursued for just as long. I'm glad it worked out so well.
YIIK: A Postmodern RPG is plenty ambitious, with designs to be both as quirky as the charm-filled RPGs of the 90s, and serious with substantive, heady sci-fi concepts. It calls itself “postmodern” after all, evoking the likes of Vonnegut, Pynchon, or Burroughs. While I was on board at the title screen, it didn't take long for the disappointment to set in. There's an unearned self-confidence in the writing that is hampered by stilted dialogue and shallow characters, and the exact opposite in the gameplay, where YIIK feels afraid to actually be a 90s-style RPG. It's obtuse and poorly balanced, making each encounter a frustrating exercise in attrition. YIIK has big ideas but they rest on top of a shoddy foundation, one that crumbles the more you try to stay on top of it. I'd rather just play EarthBound again.
There's only so much to say about Vane, an exploratory experience one can get through in a single sitting, without veering into spoiler territory. Vane is a game that feels like it wears its thematic elements on its sleeve, all without a single spoken or written word. Those themes include “instinct” and “exploration” at the ground level, and from there are likely up to how the individual player perceives the story as it develops. In its refusal to hold your hand or even guide you a little, Vane feels like it stands out among its peers as a vehicle to deliver narrative agency for players, not because they have a list of choices to sift through, but because they are presented with an environment and scenario that is so freely open to interpretation. With Vane, you get out what you put in, and while you may not come back to it multiple times, that first one is a doozy.
While its adventurous ambitions fall short of nailing it, there's a lot to love about Battle Princess Madelyn. It's a beautiful game in sight and sound, with a dead-on Ghouls ‘N Ghosts vibe but designed to be much less frustrating, an incredible soundtrack with both old and new-school arrangements options, and an adorable Story Mode that pays homage to a classic story in adorable fashion. It's a bedtime story based on a nightmare that somehow comes out on the more pleasant, earnest end of that old school madness, and while it's a pain in the butt to find your way around without a map, the gorgeous settings and pitch-perfect platforming action make it feel worth the struggle.
If you're the kind of person who, in the current year of your video game lord 2018 still likes to chuckle at “Engrish” memes and has at least one Sharknado flick in your collection on purpose, boy do I have the game for you. Nippon Marathon is all about the bit, building the gameplay experience, seemingly, all around a tongue in cheek version of Japanese culture. There is a wacky, multiplayer racing game in there, but it feels more like a side effect of a notepad full of gags than a gaming experience that can entertain a group of friends long enough to make them briefly forget about Super Smash Bros., nor does the single-player experience do much after you understand what's happening in front of you. Perhaps the subjectivity of humor is the pass/fail condition for Nippon Marathon, but in a space full of wacky, physics-based multiplayer games, this one feels like it's too confused about what it is and who it's for to stand out.
Ultimately, Override: Mech City Brawl has high aims, but feels a bit clumsy in its execution. It wants to be both a big arena fighter with giant robots and destructible buildings, but it also has designs for real competition. There's even a story mode in there with stat-building, customization, and bonuses like a goofy co-op mode. There's a lot going on in terms of foundation, but not enough polish and care in the core of it, which makes actually playing Override: Mech City Brawl feel bland and same-y no matter what you're doing. Frankly, many of the modes outside of 1v1 competition do more to expose problems, when you'd think they'd mask them. I appreciate that this game is making a callback to a genre that has been missing in action for a long time, but instead of embracing what that means, it tries to hard to make it fit inside a contemporary box. And that box is far too small for giant robots.
Earth Defense Force 5 is absolutely, thoroughly, another Earth Defense Force. If you know what that is, you know what you're in for. It's the first one built for modern hardware, which means more stuff happening on screen, but it's not an upheaval of the formula, nor is it a magical facelift.
As much as it tried my patience at times, I definitely enjoyed my time with Bendy and the Ink Machine. What seemed to start as a side project is on the way to becoming a full-blown franchise, and there's enough narrative juice here to sustain it for sure. A little more time in the oven for whatever comes next will go a long way, and with the backing of Rooster Teeth Games, perhaps that's exactly what will happen. There's a lot more here than cartoon demons popping out at you from behind corners to make you scream on your Twitch stream, and it's that ambition that makes Bendy a worthwhile game for horror junkies.
Déraciné is an intriguing PlayStation VR experience that definitely feels like a FromSoftware title. From its air of whimsical mystery to its hard reliance on theme rather than detail for its narrative delivery, well, I could make a Dark Souls joke here, but I figure that ship has sailed elsewhere. However, while Déraciné is worth playing and figuring out for yourself, it's hard to recommend with enthusiasm. While intriguing and mysterious, the storytelling does have fundamental issues that make the overall mystery feel unearned and the tension intangible. The player's “powers” are more scripted than play-oriented, and the play itself is bogged down in searching for objects and placing them where they need to go to move things forward. There are neat ideas here and plenty of VR-flavored awe to be had, but Déraciné won't be standing out like one may have hoped.
Death Mark is classic, Japanese, video game horror. It's essentially a collection of ghost stories, wrapped up in a mysterious package and enhanced with investigative gameplay and life or death moments that test your logic and ability to pay attention.
If I had to describe Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle in one word, that word would be, “fumbly.” There's a lot of fumbling, mostly with the controls, some with the menus and UI, and some with getting around the maps with their samey walls and lack of landmarks. Real-time, horror-tinted dungeon crawling is a neat idea, and with the customization, skills, and cool monsters, there is fun to be had here. Multiple difficulty levels and post-game content also gives plenty of challenge for the genre hardcores. But this is a game that leaves me wanting more from it, but in a way that means the promise from the concept doesn't match the experience in my hands.
Ultimately Home Sweet Home is an intriguing horror experience with some neat ideas, but it doesn't seem to have the muscle to make those ideas work as well as they could. It's a short, concise experience, but it's often interrupted by frustrating trial and error challenges that interrupt the flow with frequent checkpoint loading and rewatching cutscenes. VR mode also feels half-baked, is uncomfortable to play at times, and makes those challenging moments even more cumbersome to deal with. While its atmosphere and especially sound design are high quality and quite effective at creeping you out, I more often found myself ripped back out of the experience, disappointed in the moment, and wanting more.