All that said, Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising largely achieves its central tasks. It lowers the barrier to entry for newcomers while also offering a well-designed roster with enough complexities to keep things exciting for seasoned hands. I found myself pulled into matches that balanced flashy techniques with the more deliberate pacing of old-school genre entries, creating compelling duels I’m eager to return to. Perhaps most notably, it addresses the core issue with the last game, adding rollback netcode that makes online play dramatically more stable. Although there are a few whiffs, such as the inability to filter opponents by connection speed and regressions in its story mode, it generally hits as hard as its colorful cast of combatants.
Although Ghostrunner 2’s attempts at expanding its setting fell flat, and I wish it ran better, its central action feels sharp thanks to its empowering movement abilities, extensive offensive tools, and pulverizing but generally well-designed enemy encounters. Most of these thrilling sequences require acrobatics that had me frantically switching between maneuvers as I narrowly avoided bullets and blades. While it has some weak stretches, and its cyberpunk narrative doesn’t offer much to the canon, its frenetic platforming was enough to keep me plugging back in.
Still, despite these problems, I’m glad I took the journey across Laika: Aged Through Blood’s barren hellscape. Despite its extreme violence and unapologetic bleakness, this space is defined by a surprising emotional range thanks to its compelling protagonist and her brutal quest to save those she loves. Motorcycle treks through the wastes are backed by a soundtrack that teases out pain only partially staunched by the thrills of motorcycle-backed duels. And perhaps most notably, it works as an underrepresented game about motherhood, detailing both the unfair expectations and triumphs that come from being a mom. It’s an experience capable of conjuring powerful feelings: disgust, despair, and a smoldering hope that our gunslinger’s actions can improve the lot of those closest to her.
If I have a major issue, it’s that just as this sensation is fully kicking in, this relatively brief journey comes to a close. The problem isn’t so much the game’s length but that it only reaches its full potential in this last hour or so as it bounds towards its climax. Also, while the ultimate conclusion doesn’t necessarily undermine what came before, it doesn’t quite elevate it either, as its fairly straightforward demonstration of what it’s all “about” is somewhat clumsy compared to what it more elegantly achieves through its mechanics. Still, even if it doesn’t entirely stick the landing, Cocoon’s mind-warping puzzles and well-realized setting make for an out-of-this-world experience.
But even as its second half failed to match what came earlier, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is a finely honed delight. Its action is precise and responsive, and learning the intricacies of each adversary is exceedingly fulfilling. While I wish its back stretch was either pared down or had a wider variety of foes, this is a rare title that induces trance-like focus and euphoric moments of victory. It may not quite reach the heights of the works that inspired it, but it’s not far off.
And despite some skepticism about how its historical period would be portrayed, the early turns of its story hooked me thanks to its marriage of murder-mystery, subterfuge, and deeply felt brotherly bonds. Unfortunately, these points of familiarity eventually proved incompatible with the kind of politically charged tale it was trying to tell. While most of my time with Ishin! was a delight, its closing hours are a mess due to its inability to reconcile the series' naivety and optimism with the complexities of history, resulting in a sanitized portrayal of the past that is both bewildering and somewhat troubling.
undefined.Taken as a whole, what you get out of this experience will vary dramatically based on how much its melancholy tone and setting make up for its sometimes unforgiving design elements. Although its boss fights are an annoyance, the haunting atmosphere, contemplative character writing, and well-realized space leave a far greater impression than its gameplay gaffes, repeatedly pulling me back into this world. There have been many cracks at this genre since Metroid's chiptune synths first accentuated its foreboding alien backdrop, but few emulate and transcend its ambiance as well as Ghost Song.
Resident Evil has existed in many forms, a shifting organism that's frequently morphed into unique renditions of horror. While Shadows of Rose had an uphill battle attempting to recreate any of these styles in such a shortened runtime, even judged by these adjusted standards, it largely fails at drawing on the series' history or charting a new path. It has one particularly terrifying stretch and a couple of nice additions for die-hard Village fans, but it is largely a disappointment.
Despite some gaffes, one of its biggest strengths is that it achieves exactly what many AA titles set out to do by delivering on a somewhat uncommon genre that has largely fallen out of favor. Soulstice may not reach the highest echelons of character-action bliss, but when its art direction, mechanics, and score are in harmony, it scratches an itch that only this brand of stylish spectacle can.
Shovel Knight: King of Cards is a successful union of its disparate halves, existing as both a platformer with consistently inventive level design and an engaging collectible card game. Joustus and the platforming offer a well-choreographed sequence of challenges that deliver constant variation.
However, even with these technical issues, I enjoyed my time with Children of Morta. The constant narration depicts the bonds of family with a kind-hearted pathos, which is a welcome palate cleanser between the bouts of monster slaying. Even failed runs are rewarded with new tidbits, tying us to the Bergsons’ struggle.
If you can ignore some of its questionable elements, Fight'N Rage delivers one of the most mechanically satisfying brawlers out there. It feels responsive and fast, opponents’ attacks are well telegraphed that make encounters fair, and the parry mechanic adds an additional layer of complexity.