As it stands, Dome Keeper is still left wanting for more content to flesh out its addictive gameplay concept. At the ten-hour mark, many players will have seen the breadth of its unlocks and will then decide if simply pumping more time into it for the love or leaderboard placement is worth it; a special “prestige” mode is specifically geared towards a risk/reward competitive score style. It’s hard not to simply want more weapons, base mods, and artifacts, even if the gameplay otherwise remains the same. With enough sales, maybe the game will come even more into its own, but Dome Keeper’s unusual mix of combat, time management, and resource-drilling is a magical combo.
In the end, Shovel Knight Dig is more Shovel Knight. The basic gameplay and boss fights are the stars of the show, and they more than make up for the ways that the game struggles in its capacity as a roguelite. It’s got a healthy supply of that just-one-more-attempt magic, which should serve folks hankering for more shovel-swinging action just fine. The irony remains that Shovel Knight Dig is just not exceptionally deep.
As a hybrid game concept, both sides of the Sunday Gold experience don’t always feel fully fleshed out, and it’s better to look at the game as an experimental piece with a terrific aesthetic. Specific puzzles or moments absolutely stood out and felt like premium adventuring, with the turn-based combat pulling the shorter straw. For anyone waiting for a lovely point-and-click adventure that experiments with the genre and never wears out its welcome, Sunday Gold is absolutely worth a look.
Whether Gigabash proves enduringly sticky enough to weather the wax and wane of the console’s fighting game community seems up to chance, and its prickly price tag isn’t doing it any favors. It’s not a Smash Bros. killer but has its own eccentricities and charm, even while begging for that franchise’s array of match-changing items or epic single-player modes; just a tournament mode or randomized match queue would be welcome. As it stands, it’s still a smooth and quirky kaiju brawler packed with cities and buildings to crush to dust.
It's unfortunate that Loot River feels like an Early Access product in its current state. A scarcity of content and a thoroughly unfinished, unsatisfying feel to the combat, movement, and item discovery makes this title very hard to recommend. The best action-roguelites require rock-solid fundamentals to stand on their own, and a few game-breaking bugs combined with the limited equipment and incorrect item descriptors is cause for concern. Its scant bosses range from easily exploitable to insta-kills, and a deeply unsatisfying core gameplay loop essentially asks players to take on a series of failed runs, with repeat runs betraying how little the game's procedural generation affects these randomized maps. Loot River is a frustrating experience which clearly needed more development time, but hopefully the game finds its footing post-launch.
Anyone discouraged from those popular concerns of free-to-play MMOs will find that Lost Ark is gentle in its pay-to-win leanings. There are predictably seductive premium purchases to be had, but most of them revolve around time-savers and special mounts/skins, and hopefully there's some more free Lost Ark content to come. The architecture of the game seems geared towards dutiful endgamers with decent daily rewards that won’t require dozens of hours a week to maintain. Past that, the early stages of its arrival look promising and there’s considerable content to devour at launch, all for free. Lost Ark is easily worth the download and feels remarkably fully-formed, but it should really thrive with new world events and additional endgame content.
Earlier impressions on Sifu’s camera issues have not been resolved either, and getting cornered by enemies would be less punishing with a more sensibly directed viewable angle. For beat ’em up fans starved for new games to play, Sifu remains an obvious recommendation. Even those taken by its copious charms will want for more after they’ve seen it all, however.
It’s a comparison born of Dead Cells’ tradition of fond inclusions and references to other games in the past, all spun through its irreverence and charm. The persistent attention to detail seen through each of its iterative updates is present in The Queen and the Sea; for instance, eagle-eyed players may spot allusions to The Queen’s protectors in a late-stage level of the main game. The Lighthouse fight is absolutely the centerpiece of this DLC - and one of the most thrilling engagements in the wider game itself - but it all boils down to must-own material for longtime fans.
In its lesser moments, it comes off as a singular presentation looking for a more involved game underneath, better combat and better bosses which could more effectively serve these assets. It still remains a worthwhile quest to see through to the end, but games like Solar Ash are frustrating in that they could have been so much more.
There’s some merit in spending an hour or so dodging projectiles and dinging away at a half-dozen moving health bars, but Archvale would be immeasurably improved with more depth of content and character customization. A pure shoot ‘em up may not necessarily require those ingredients to flourish, but an action-heavy RPG definitely does, even one with such a pint-sized cute presentation. As it stands, Archvale poses some entertaining distractions for compulsive bullet-dodgers, but it could have been so much more.
This chase-and-reprieve dynamic makes for a well-paced campaign which should take most players 12 hours or so to complete. The Eternal Cylinder makes for a tricky game to conveniently classify, and the mix of survival, exploration, platforming, puzzle, and action elements does sometimes collide with its clumsy and slippery controls. Adjustable difficulty settings are welcoming, but even on default mode there’s a generosity of checkpointing and saves, and rarely is an attempt punished too harshly; plus, when the permanent mutation system is later unlocked, it feels practically game-breaking. Warts and all, The Eternal Cylinder remains an accessible oddball adventure of one-of-a-kind sights.
On top of all of that, Inscryption’s arrival in mid-October makes for a perfect Halloween game. What seems most vital for the game's success will be to casually get it to people who won’t know what to expect, like fans of deckbuilders just looking for another to add to their pile. Still, even if players go into Inscryption expecting the unexpected, there’s entertaining depth to its mechanics and narrative, a form of storytelling that could only exist in a video game.
When everything is flowing in The Good Life, it feels like a touch of Animal Crossing with alternatingly quaint and irreverent British pastoral television, all with a burgeoning murder mystery underneath. Unfortunately, some of its rougher edges seem possibly related to the Switch itself and, although loading times are usually on the shorter side, their frequent appearance interrupts the flow even more. The Rainy Woods residents are charming and strange and there’s a numbingly pleasant feel to smalltown life and chores, but stiff controls and muddled design make it hard to find a good rhythm in The Good Life.
That just scratches the surface - there’s also crafting, a chip slot equipment system, companions to help in battle, some simple item fishing a la Hades, unique weapons to divine, and many more secrets we haven’t even touched upon. For Brazilian developer Studio Pixel Punk, Unsighted is an accessible and content-rich debut with a compelling sci-fi drama at its core, and certainly in the argument for one of the best metroidvanias of the year.
Match all of the above with a mesmerizing soundtrack of hummable motifs, from cheerily playful ditties to dramatic dirges, and everything in between, and Eastward distinguishes itself handily within its heavily populated genre. While it's not without its shortcomings - in particular, a bit less variety in combat and puzzles than the genre often typifies - where it shines, it does so brightly. For RPG fans, Eastward is the real deal, and it’s an unmissable and impressive feat of indie design that deserves plenty of recognition amongst a sea of bigger releases in 2021.