Fans are in good hands with One Piece: Odyssey. In fact, more anime games should be following in strides made here. On offer is a wonderful adventure that feels like a theme park visit to the series lands, old and new. Characters shine and bounce off each other well both in and out of cutscenes as colourfully as they should. Some areas need better story pacing and quality of life improvements such as better checkpointing and save states, and going more all-in on different story timelines would've also gone a long way. And it's testing to see manga artist Eiichiro Oda's troublesome female character design. However, it's a blast of an RPG. Flaws are more than made up for in a thoroughly enjoyable anime affair along with an unexpected and very welcome spin on the known turn-based RPG formula. Smooth sailing lies ahead with One Piece: Odyssey.
Try as Mirror Forge might, it never reaches the ambition it establishes in the opening moments. Generic and stock-standard horror storytelling provides beats you've mostly seen before, leaving players going through the motions. Uninspired and funky-looking characters and monster designs rip away the mystique the game offers. There are some eerie environments, with pulsating fleshy walls amid harsh industrial complexes that feel incredibly Silent Hill. That should be praised as such. However, at the end of the day, Mirror Forge is an unfortunate case of missed potential and raising scope too high. Neither remarkable nor an offensive entry to the horror genre, you might as well let this one pass you by.
Melatonin is a great entry in the rhythm genre. A good mix of 20 high and low concept levels makes for a tight-knit experience that is short-lived but also doesn't outstay its welcome. The music is undeniably very catchy, with the beats still lingering in my brain following the completion of the game. A better tutorialisation of the custom level creator and easier level section method would've aided the experience just that little bit more but ultimately it doesn't matter. Melatonin is a well-presented rhythm game, featuring concise and gorgeous pastel art and smooth gameplay that will never tire or injure the player. Accessibility options only bolster this further. If subsequent rhythm games follow suit, then the rhythm genre remains in very good and very passionate hands.
Marvel's Midnight Suns is a fantastic tactical adventure that adds much-needed depth to the superhero genre. Taking advantage of deeper-cut characters and lore, a heartfelt and sweeping story is told, even finding a way to make an entirely new character fit into the fray. Accompanying that are engaging and curious mysteries to find around the Abbey grounds and a nice feeling of found family among friends. Losing track of time as I had talks with my favourite superhumans, doing whatever menial task at hand too was a particular highlight. Even in these moments of charming oddities, characterisation is stellar. Rounding it all off is another superb tactical experience from Firaxis Games, this time going all in on approachability and options to dominate the battlefield in your own personal ways. This is one of the best tactical games of the year. Marvel as a franchise still has some fight in it yet, and I can't wait to have more experiences like this from them in the future.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me is the best game in the series yet. Featuring a solid cast and dynamics to boot, I was well engaged in wanting to ensure everyone made it out of the horrific Murder Castle alive and was genuinely devastated when some didn't. More opportunities are provided to explore and pick apart the environment than ever, often unearthing genuinely intriguing readables. Technical shortcomings once again rear their head a bit, showing stiff character animations from time to time and varied visual fidelity in some character models. Some of the equipment you'll use to poke about the hell you've found yourself in is inconsequential but when they work they really work. At the end of the day, these flaws are forgivable. With obstructive shifting walls and deadly traps waiting around every corner so that you're never really sure when you're safe or not, The Devil in Me is a very alluring setting for horror fans.
Tactics Ogre: Reborn is a very good remaster of an absolute classic. So many lines in-game are raw and palpable and feel like utter poetry, leaving me perplexed at how they could be written by another human. Re-recorded tracks add to the grim but boisterous realities of the universe's war. Plenty of granular investment and min-maxing is on offer to create a timeless and incredibly realised tactical combat experience. However, I can't help but sometimes want more from its vague storytelling and opportunities for more quality-of-life improvements. Concessions absolutely could've been made for more difficulty and saving options, doing away with the feeling of hitting roadblocks. Still, this is a genre experience that's as true as they come. Tactics Ogre has once more cemented itself as one of the tactics giants, and a bloody momentous one at that.
Horse Tales: Emerald Valley Ranch is a sad tale for the much-needed resurgence of equestrian-focused video games. Littered with poor design choices and endless amounts of bugs, every attempt to seep some joy out of the game was hindered. This comes as a shame. The bones of a good game are in there from the exploration of an interconnected world to a good start in both horse gameplay and town management and restoration. Boiling down to more than just a game released too early, Horse Tales also is a game too ambitious for its own good and not what was expected or needed. Take this one out to the pasture, they're done.
Frog Detective 3: Corruption at Cowboy County is a sweet ending to the investigative series. Playable by all audiences, it’s a clever, humourous experience that plays with and parodies the adventure genre tropes incredibly well. Plenty of whimsical characters and interactions await thanks to the writing chops provided. This is further exemplified by true mood-setting in the colourful environments and masterful music work from Dan Golding. The final reveal may be a little predictable, but who cares? The series’ final chapter is closed ever so intricately and they even managed to add a ridable scooter. Farewell Frog Detective. I’ll miss you.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is probably the most approachable tactics game ever. Featuring new map navigation, dozens of abilities to tool around with and a diverse fantastical cast, it makes for an even more readable experience. The magic spark that I felt had been missing from some of Mario's more recent adventures is coincidentally back again, amongst Ubisoft's quirky mascots of all things. Yes, even when the Rabbids can be just that little bit annoying, they're as equally charming when meshed with the Nintendo cast. At times the overzealous amount of side content may also daunt the player, but never enough to take away from the clever and delightful journey. Sparks of Hope is the most exciting franchise affair we've had since Odyssey.
Three games down in quick succession, Voice of Cards: The Beasts of Burden manages to mostly avoid that infamous and known series fatigue. That's largely thanks to yet another compelling fantasy story and enchanting immersion of a tabletop campaign journey. It's in fact my favourite story of the trilogy, complete with a new and welcome mechanic that is monster collecting. It just is ever so slightly barred from being great due to more obvious padding and traipsing around until it reaches its wondrous conclusion. Regardless, we have another good entry in this weird little Square Enix series. That voice inviting you to play cards? Trust it. It's as enjoyable as ever.
As a franchise newcomer, I found my entry point with The Legend of Heroes: Trails From Zero utterly fascinating, tantalising, and enjoyable. Within are some of my favourite blending of mechanics and tidbits within turn-based combat I've seen yet. It's a comfy RPG that you can lose plenty of time to, sinking into the moving character narrative, all set within the colourful world of Crossbell. Character models will occasionally show their age and menus are a little funky. Still, it's easy to forgive and just hang out with Lloyd and friends, saving the better part of humanity. Team SSS forever.
At the end of the day, Foretales offers a broad and delightful journey all within a digital tabletop setting. Its card art and party are diverse. Clever and varied card mechanics, along with party members' abilities, make for a fun suite of solution tools to use against some tough and fantastical narrative-based obstacles. However, with a lack of checkpoints, players may at times feel like they have bitten off more than they can chew in a run. Still, this remains a funky, unique little indie worth checking out for ambition and coziness alone. Carry on.
A silky, suave graphic novel art-style and engaging Cyberpunk world can't save Sunday Gold. With every strength on offer comes some weird design choices or bugs that will ruin your fun at every turn. This game is an experimental risk, blending both the point-and-click genre with turn-based combat, peppering in RPG progression. That mixture shows promise at the start but ultimately ends up being an average net loss. A gamble that's not worth taking. Don't place your bets on this one. Go all in elsewhere.
Immortality is Sam Barlow's magnum opus and the best FMV game ever made. Manon Gage is a riotous force of an actor, accompanied by just as capable a cast, all capable of blowing up. Deep and rewarding investigation mechanics mean you too are rewarded by more of these very performances. Forty years ago at the genre's start, ideas this broad, sweeping and memorable were inconceivable. Now they've arrived, serving as the mastering of technology, writing and acting, all wrapped up in a momentous and moving package. Immortality is a game-changer, utterly needing to forever be immortalised in gaming and art history.
Undoubtedly set to be divisive, We Are OFK will garner fans in with its catchy pop tunes and emotional storytelling, but also lose just as many with narrative and character omissions, light gameplay and purposefully cheesy dialogue. Still, for better or worse, this is an experience not like many others. Captivating cinematography also paints a haunting if bittersweet L.A. narrative. Like a classic pop debut that its own self is based on, We Are OFK has heart and moments that'll reel you in while remaining plenty messy. If all else, isn't that how this road was always going to go?
Rollerdrome is an unbelievably fun single-player experience that hasn't quite reached its full potential. The explosive gunplay and rollerskating trickery are complemented by the picturesque yet bleak world all realised in a graphic novel art style. However, improvements can be made with some of the enemy types, bosses, and the inclusion of other competitors. Despite room for growth, this game is clearly being made by one hell of a talented team and Rollerdrome proves to be one hell of a shooter.
The Mortuary Assistant is a great game that can only be made better down the line with patches and quality of life fixes. Interruptive but brief bugs did not deter from the wondrous and horrific experience to be had. Deep, bone-chilling moments are aplenty, offering some of the biggest spooks I've experienced in a game ever. Narrative moments provide haunting and memorable imagery, making The Mortuary Assistant a must-play horror experience this year. So get dissecting, investigating, and hunting.
Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes shines bright in the long lineage of games in the Musou formula. Miles better than its predecessor, this is one of the smoothest Warriors-style games yet. Barring a rare example, its mission and gameplay loop holds up. The narrative does the best it can in a genre not particularly known for stellar stories, but will still remain a little oddly paced from time to time. Provided is a joyous occasion to revisit some treasured familiar faces and engage in riotous combat and a smooth experience not too barred down by menus. If the series continues on this trajectory, it’s all smooth sailing ahead. For Fódlan!
The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story is a great game hurt only by its length and occasionally convoluted mystery mechanics. I’ve been around the block and then some with the FMV genre. This particular experience has certainly climbed up there in the ranks for me. With ambition and potential reached avidly, this is frankly a type of foray I haven’t played before. Provided are mesmerising set and costume designs, along with excellent character working and acting. Topping it all off is an enticing mystery and gorgeous cinematography to immerse you further. This is one for the books and a case worth investigating indeed.