Through those Joy-Con controls, the Switch version also offers a surprisingly refreshing and altogether more interesting mode of playing through the game: co-op. Instead of your partner being relegated to pin duty, a second player with a second Joy-Con can command them, using a small assortment of base pins to do different moves. This way of playing is not only intuitive and easy to pick up, but it adds a new layer to the game. Now, you have to coordinate your pin assaults with your roommate, significant other, or random stranger on the plane sitting next to you. Instead of splitting your brain in twain, you're now coordinating with someone else, only getting a good cross combo if you can figure out how to make your pin attacks work in unison. It's a fun way to replay The World Ends With You, and even feels a bit more thematic to the game's message.
When class trials get heated up and I'm staring at a screen, trying to piece together in my head how or why something could have happened, what could possibly disprove an airtight alibi, what deus ex machina allowed for this series of events to unfold, it feels like the Danganronpa I know and love. Danganronpa V3 still gives me those moments, if only a little less frequently than I would have liked.
Yakuza 0’s overarching faithfulness to its time and place in history provides fascinating insight into the time, and its over-the-top cutscenes and climactic fights quickly endeared me to the series. A hefty batch of side-games and engaging, well-paced combat roped me in and sold me on my first ever Yakuza experience, but the vibrancy of its semi-fictional Japan will be what I remember most. Yakuza 0 doubles-down on series’ signature combination of hyperbolic action and self-aware comedy, while providing an honest window into a major period in recent Japanese history, and does so flawlessly.
There is no doubt Final Fantasy XV will be divisive, but in not playing it safe, the game earns a bit of my heart back with each errant monster hunt or one-off gameplay section. It's messy, but earnestly so, like that high-school mirror selfie. Recalling all the good and bad, the moments that make you cringe and a warmth that makes you smile, you know not everything was perfect. You can only say you're glad you chose to make the journey.
Stealthy disguises lead into explosive moments of improvisation. Best-laid plans come to fruition through opportunities, and carefully timed, critical moments mean the difference between a master stroke and a quick death. The 2016 Hitman offers the best of its kind, with an episodic structure that clicks, sandbox playgrounds to pick apart and brilliant design and presentation on all levels.
Eventually you have to let go of that life, like a mother bird watching her chick leave the next, and find a new frontier to conquer. I mastered my domain, but my clockwork castle will continue without me. Where Minecraft leaves you as Ozymandias, a lonely king overlooking an empty empire, Dragon Quest Builders finds joy in the journey, and provides all the right nudges and motivations to keep you moving on, to build a legacy that will outlast your presence in it.
Shadow Warrior 2 is a fast, gorgeous shooter with smart loot components, trapped inside a world and age that lost its luster ages ago. Where the core gameplay still feels fantastic, the story, world and mission structure gradually drag it down short of being a successor to the grandeur of its predecessor. An excellent shooter that could have used 99 percent less Wang.
But comfort breeds complacency, and I hope that as The Coalition gains confidence in their take on the franchise, they continue to push. Gears of War 4 reinvents my favorite game type, plays cheeky at the best times and gives me a cast I can get behind immediately, rather than gradually. This isn’t a grand departure, but it’s a start; for now, that’s enough to keep me coming back game after game, wave after wave for more of what only Gears can do.
It feels the need to address real-world issues, but in a way that's fast and cursory and only pretends at depth while trying hard not to make anybody unhappy. Deus Ex cares enough to sit on the sidelines and play topical for show before moving on to the next attraction. It's become more 24 than Blade Runner, and while it still entertains, it's also lost much of the luster that set the series apart from the serialized masses.
Yet I’m met with the same response, from the many church-goers who don’t want that. They want the same thing they’ve heard before, slightly repackaged, but wholly recognizable and safe. It’s that hushed reverence that creates games like I Am Setsuna, and ultimately holds them back from being anything more than last week’s sermon.
This Is The Police is a challenging portrayal of law enforcement that falters when it comes to meaningful commentary. While it constructs a good form and addresses topical concerns, it fails to say anything definitive. Starting a conversation is worthwhile, but that only carries the game so far before its menial nature drags it down.
Inside is an incredible sophomore swing from Playdead, as the atmosphere, aesthetic and gameplay meld into one glorious experience that demands attention. Don’t read about it, don’t seek more, don’t ask questions — just clear your afternoon schedule and experience it.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is a mash-up made in JRPG heaven. While combat and gameplay will feel by-the-numbers for Persona fans, the style, soundtrack, characters and overall levity of this game is endearing, and makes for one of the most engaging, fun RPGs in recent memory.
Zero Time Dilemma takes some bold strides to tell the series’ final chapters, but even when it falters, it’s never slow to catch back up and deliver. Through well-designed escape rooms, brilliant writing and narrative decisions, and a more relatable cast than ever, Zero Time Dilemma puts the most deserving and exceptional final touches on this excellent trilogy.
Kirby: Planet Robobot isn’t too deep, but it doesn’t need to be. It captures the fun, jovial nature of its titular character, and breathes some life into an otherwise tepid formula. It’s brief and hardly earth-shatteringly unique, but it’s fun in the way a Kirby game ought to be.
Marrakesh is a much different beast, and while it lacks the nuanced complexity of Sapienza or the gaudy flash of Paris, it has a flavor all its own that highlights aspects of Hitman in challenging ways. Another solid entry in this series.