Stray is a serious vibe from start to finish, and it’s not interested in being a loud, in your face blockbuster type of game. It is paced exactly as you want it to be; it’s often quiet, sometimes contemplative, occasionally meandering (as in carefree, not distracted), but never dull. It’s an adventure, and there is purpose to it, but more than anything Stray wants you to just be there and experience what it has to offer. Frankly, this might be too laid back for some; there certainly isn’t high drama to be found, or even massive stakes to compel you forward, and while you can blitz through it quickly, in doing so you’d miss a lot. Stray offers something for curious at heart, an exploratory adventure with lots of joy to be had, and to get the most out of it you’ve really got to take it at a cat’s pace.
Small issues aside, Trek to Yomi is a lovingly crafted homage to the greats of Japanese cinema, taking the elements so loved by fans of the genre and stretching the limits of what was possible in it through the use of video games as a medium. It is one of the most visually striking games I have played in years, with a beautiful soundtrack and combat that becomes robust over time and is just challenging enough to stay fun and rewarding throughout. The feeling of realizing you’re capable of cutting your way through ten enemies on one screen when just an hour ago you were struggling against dealing with two-to-three at a time is both energizing and empowering, and the momentum from this propels you ever forward through to the game’s satisfying conclusion. Trek to Yomi is a great action game that weighs in at a near perfect length, and in my book it’s one of this year’s must plays.
A stunningly beautiful homage to the golden age of 16-bit gaming, featuring razor sharp mechanics, excellent world design, challenging combat, clever puzzles, and an incredible score. Dripping with charm, confidence, and polished to a mirror sheen, Tunic is an adventure that is not to be missed.
Windjammers 2 is a worthy successor to the original game that builds on its character and adds exciting new depth to its matches, all while paying respect to the source material without straying from its spirit and intent. There is a deep, challenging game here that is thrilling and exciting to play, and I think it’s got lots to offer for longtime fans and brand new ones alike. Windjammers 2 has a big legacy to live up to, and it does not disappoint in its delivery. Purists may disagree, but I think this is the best Windjammers has ever been, and in my book that’s reason enough to pick it up.
I have said for nearly a year now that Monster Hunter Rise is the Monster Hunter game to enter the series on. While that was previously true of World, World was still cumbersome for newcomers owing to a steep enough learning curve and some outdated systems that added unnecessary friction. Rise eschews all of that and the only friction left in the game’s design is the good stuff that adds challenge and depth to the experience. It’s an absolutely stellar game that is engaging, fun, and rewarding to play. If you have ever been wanting to get into Monster Hunter, this is easily the best way in, and it’s the best version of the game to boot.
Solar Ash is a fun, fresh adventure that’s perfect for players who love getting lost in strange new worlds and being rewarded for exploring their every nook and cranny. Its tale is engaging enough to keep you moving forward (and backward, and up and down and every which way), and the final reveal is both well earned and well executed. It might not be the best game you play this year, but diving into the Ultravoid to explore it’s vast impossibilities and unearth it’s deepest secrets is an experience that shouldn’t be missed.
What we’re left with in Into The Pit is a really great set of ingredients. The art direction and visuals are excellent, the music is perfect, and the core mechanics are really well designed. It is absolutely fun to play, no question about it. However, due to a lack of variety and challenge, the magic quickly fades, and I found myself wondering what this game could have been rather than being able to fully enjoy what’s on offer. In many ways it feels like not-quite-final draft that needs more fleshing out, and ironically what Into The Pit needs most is more depth. It’s a great set of ideas on paper, it’s a good romp for a few hours at least, and I like a lot of what’s going on with it, but Into The Pit leaves just a little bit too much on the table for me to feel completely satisfied.
Alan Wake is a game that’s easy to get caught up in, featuring an atmosphere that’s rich and enticing, writing that is equally campy, charming, and exciting, and characters who are interesting and memorable, even in cases where they may be a little too directly related to their sources of inspiration. It truly is a thrilling experience, and while the game certainly still shows its age at times, it’s absolutely delightful to play through and this is easily the definitive way to do so.
Lost Judgment has so much going on in it, it’s kind of hard to paint a complete picture of what’s available. This is a full-fat experience, building on the promise of the first game and feeling like a much more well-realized iteration of the concept’s vision. In most ways, I think Lost Judgment is successful in proving it’s capable of carrying itself, though it has the double-edged fortune of both standing on the shoulders of last year’s epic Yakuza: Like a Dragon while also trying to escape its shadow. It’s a worthy follow-up that feels like it’s building up to something great, and while the narrative doesn’t conclude with quite the same impact as its forbear, it’s still a well-told story with depth, heart, and insight. The fact that the rest of the game is so rich and that the characters are so well written make Lost Judgment an easy recommendation, and its an adventure you won’t soon forget.
Regardless, TOEM is a delightfully cute adventure and it’s a great way to spend a few hours getting lost in an idealized, zero risk adventure. It’s a perfect palette cleanser between games or at the end of a session of otherwise more action packed titles, or just a great way to chill out for an hour or two. I’d wager it also makes a great introduction to gaming for younger kids, and has the makings of something families can enjoy together, which definitely earns bonus points if you’ve got kids, family members, or partners who like to help find things or solve puzzles without being the one in control. Don’t let the simplicity of TOEM fool you, though; it’s a rich and entertaining experience that’s worth dipping into.
Minor shortcomings aside, Psychonauts 2 is the rare sequel that succeeds in living up to the hype and delivering on the promise set up by its predecessor and many years of anticipation. It is such a treat to spend more time in this world, and I will still staunchly argue that Psychonauts is the best stuff Doublefine has ever created. I love that this exists, I love that a whole new generation of gamers are getting the chance to experience this magnificent world for the first time, and it is so refreshing to see a game with so much creativity get the time, attention, and budget it deserves. Psychonauts 2 is a heartfelt, joyous adventure that ups the ante in every way, and I think it’s a must play experience for anybody who loves a good adventure.
I Am Dead takes pains to emphasize that death is not the end for anybody, so much as a transition into something else. It’s a comforting sentiment and a refreshing take on the grisly finality the death is normally viewed with in games. While it’s far from the first story-driven game to examine the concepts of our own mortality, I Am Dead‘s approach to exploring what it means to have lived and died is both quaint and uplifting, and it makes staring death in the face a surprisingly pleasant affair.
All told, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is a worthy successor to the original game, and the PC release feels well put together and worth the price of admission, perhaps even more so than the first. It’s not without its blemishes, but I’ve found the improved pacing and enhancements to the first game’s design to be meaningful enough gains to justify recommending the PC release as a great way to play and experience No More Heroes 2 for the first or fiftieth time.
If you’ve never had the chance to experience No More Heroes before, this is as good an opportunity as any to get in and see what it’s all about. It holds up well enough to still be enjoyable, and if nothing else is a great opportunity for the series to finally reach a wider audience, and hopefully win over a new swath of fans in the process.
Road 96 is a great deal of fun, and is incredibly charming. I came into it cautiously optimistic about the premise, and I have found myself delighted by its character, heart, and the way it depicts people and places with such love and attentiveness to detail. I don’t know whether it’s the next big thing in narrative games, but it delivers on most of its promises and offers an experience that truly feels unique among its peers. Plus, it’s a good old fashioned adventure of the kind that frankly I didn’t realize I’d been hankering for. It’s not a perfect game, but it’s a darn good one, and as with all good stories, the journey of playing Road 96 really is the best part.
Axiom Verge 2 is a thoroughly enjoyable game that hits most of its notes perfectly, and is easy to recommend. Where Axiom Verge 1 was a clear love letter to Metroid, Axiom Verge 2 establishes more of its own identity, both in how it fleshes out the shared universe of the series, and the ways it blends elements of its predecessors and its inspirations together to create something really unique. Like the first game, it feels both familiar and entirely new. The sense of mystery and wonder, combined with excellent mechanical execution, will keep you going on a breakneck pace from start to finish.
I want to love Stonefly. It has all of the right pieces to make something great. When those pieces come together, though, the fit isn’t quite right, and the resulting whole has its share of holes. This is a game that’s big on concept and playfulness, but translating those qualities into something that you interact with as a player fails to cleanly make the jump. Most specifically, the game play isn’t quite there; the mechanics are all fine, but the balance is off in some crucial ways that disrupt the experience and cause the game to get in the way of itself. Stonefly is at its best when its showing off its beautiful artwork and telling its story, and the parts in between where you fight lots of bugs and gather too many resources feel in opposition to that side of the experience rather than in service of it. I still enjoyed a lot of my time with Stonefly, but this feels like an experience that would have benefited from being shorter, and more focused on exploration and its narrative.