Rebirth‘s world is gorgeous and fun and quirky, even if the delivery of its stories can feel a bit stilted and rote, and it turns the finale of Remake into the impetus to re envision a phenomenal cast in ways I adore. Along the way, it becomes big, perhaps even bigger than Final Fantasy VII ever needed to be, but that excess provides quite a bit to love.
Like I said, Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth is positively bursting with just about everything you could think to ask for in a game. It’s a more confident RPG, even adopting the kinds of stories fitting of the genre, but that transformation isn’t as seamless as it could be. Sure, it’s a long adventure with plenty of fun to be had and a lovely party of characters, but there’s also a disjointed feel to its disparate narratives and how they ultimately come together. Along the way, it even loses sight of some of its themes, threads,and characters. But that doesn’t mean Infinite Wealth doesn’t coalesce in some truly outstanding moments every now and then that make the journey worth the highs and the lows. I only wish it better understood that some restraint, as opposed to unlimited growth, can go a long way towards making a better game.
Like A Dragon Gaiden then is both cursed and blessed by familiarity. It’s so much like the games before it that it’s predictably fun, boisterous, funny, well-acted and directed. It is also a bit tame, especially by the standards of the series, rarely pushing in terms of narrative and character in the bold ways Like A Dragon has become well-renowned for, making for a welcome-if-unnecessary side chapter in Kiryu’s story before what appears to be a conclusion for everyone’s favorite ex-yakuza. But even if it falls short in some unfortunate places, this “budget-sized” installment in the series is just as wonderful and bountiful a place to jump into and fall in love with its inane brand of magic.
Besides that hitch, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is a largely commendable sequel, building on what’s come before it in smarter ways than I’d put past most AAA titles. It’s an impressively lean and refined take on the open world structure that gives me hope the future isn’t just endless growth. Its familiarity is both a crutch and a boon that Insomniac manages to spin in a mostly good light in order to tell a story we’ve seen before with some key changes that make it land more impactfully than I’ve seen it done in quite some time. Though it sometimes struggles to use the entirety of its cast to great effect, I think what it does accomplish is no small task and more than anything, sets up an exciting future for characters I’ve grown remarkably fond of and can’t wait to see more of. If you’re wondering whether or not this title delivered here and now though, rest easy knowing that yes, it absolutely did.
In spite of it all though, CD Projekt Red has struck it out of the park. Cyberpunk 2077 finally shines the way it was always meant to. I hate talking in anything that resembles platitudes, but Phantom Liberty is an honest-to-goodness triumph. It’s not just the narrative I hoped for out of the original game, it’s everything it ought to have been. It properly sands away the rough and occasionally raw elements and designs of the base game and sharpens its best parts into a weapon like little else. It doubles down and makes it clear this is a world worth telling stories in. It more prominently and earnestly wears its heart on its sleeve, all the while delivering characters and consequences that hopefully ripple outwards in brilliant and bold new ways. It’s everything I could’ve wanted Cyberpunk 2077 to be.
Gunbrella ultimately fizzles out, playing its strongest card upfront and stumbling as it attempts to follow it up with something meaningful. For what it’s worth, playing with the eponymous central mechanic is never anything but a joy, but the rest of the game around it, however, never flies quite as high as you do. While the world it builds is a compelling and stylish parallel to our own present and future anxieties, it does little else but reflect them. A great sense of style and killer accessory can’t carry all the ambitions of Gunbrella, a game that certainly wants to tackle a great deal of subject matter and design ideas, but should’ve probably settled for fewer than it did.
It’s unfortunate that Sea of Stars doesn’t entirely stick the landing considering everything else about it is riveting to see and be a part of. It wears its influences on its sleeves, but rarely feels burdened by those expectations or particularly shackled to them. In fact, it fights tooth and nail to stand apart and wonderfully accomplishes it. It’s beautiful to look at and a joy to listen to, and I could get lost in its warm and fun fantasy over and over. There are also places that Sea of Stars goes that I want to share just about as much as I want everyone to find for themselves. If you’re at all familiar with the studio’s oeuvre, you know the delightfully weird places Sabotage enjoys taking its games, and how smoothly it translates retro aesthetics and mechanics into the modern era. In short, Sea of Stars is a magical game well worth playing just for the thrilling and heartfelt adventure it delivers.
There’s nuance in these stories—look to the attempts, successes, and failures of just about any other fantasy RPG—but Arcadian Atlas either doesn’t know that or doesn’t want to admit it in favor of simplistic moralizing. The moment to moment writing falters too, meaning that no matter where you look for growth or substance in the game’s story and characters, you’re bound to smack into walls of derivative tropes and bland archetypes. As much as it wants to resemble the classics, Arcadian Atlas can’t help but feel pared down and simple; in a word, it’s modern, born from a philosophy that subtracts more than it adds before dressing it up to appear otherwise. Yet despite its weaknesses, Arcadian Atlas is easy to pick up and breeze through, ensuring that its brand of tactics-lite gameplay will almost definitely be someone’s gateway into an infinitely more complex and rewarding genre, even if it struggles to conjure those strengths for itself.
I've rarely played a game with a more satisfying and simple loop in an intriguing and dubious world I just wish I could've seen more of. Between the cults (yep, this game has got those too) and the sort of unexplained nature of Why This Stretch Of Sea Is Like This™, I think it's actually a world ripe for even more exploration. But even if nothing more should come out of it, Dredge is a wonderful experience in smooth sailing over choppy (maybe even supernaturally charged) waters.
Wild Hearts is a great success that takes the template laid out by its competition and strikes out on its own with the addition of an invaluable new tool in the form of the karakuri. That magical string not only holds the game together, but lets it stand tall at the end of the day. Sure, you can boil it down to Monster Hunter meets Fortnite, but also if you stop and think about that for a second, that idea kind of rules, and so does Wild Hearts. All the while, it makes smart tweaks and skews heavier into style rather than simulation, allowing Wild Hearts to step out of the shadow of giants and carve out a space for its own.
Level after level, Hi-Fi Rush introduces something new, whether it be a mechanic, scenario, character, or implementation of a song, that deepens my appreciation for it. It's relentless in its pursuit of being a phenomenal game and unendingly proves itself time and time again. At the end of every mission, I couldn't help but think of how games this expressive and big and bright seem a growing rarity, but if Hi-Fi Rush is any indication, they've got a bright and bold future ahead.
All these fragments of Forspoken collide in messy ways that reveal the lack of depth or even synergy across the whole thing. Forspoken is, if anything, a compelling enough first draft at something that I think can be greater. Maybe next time around the puzzle pieces will actually fit and I'll be able to see the game it could've been. But as it stands right now, a more explicit direction could've prevented the thorough roasting everyone seems keen to deliver.
In fact, in some ways, it could actually stand to hew more closely to them, especially when it comes to exploration and difficulty. Taken as it is though, Vengeful Guardian is an approachable, stylish retro platformer that I can see many falling for once they give it a chance, and I encourage anyone curious enough to do so. I think much like myself, you'll find a surprising amount to appreciate here, even if you'll be left wanting more.
Nonetheless, High On Life is a rock-solid shooter and a great way to idly spend a weekend's worth of time blasting aliens. More than anything, I see the mold of a game that could really break the surface if Squanch Games and company decided they want to revisit this world and series. Just please, less holes next time, y'all.
Though getting through it was occasionally bumpy, I only wish I'd been able to get more of it once it really got going. And had Somerville maintained its human element front and center, I think I would've loved the way the story ended more than I ultimately did. As it stands though, Somerville is a notable debut by Patti's new studio, it just has some of the wrinkles of one too.
Reinvention can just as easily be a prompt for a bold new swing, and while Saints Row feigns one or two, it could stand to commit more fully to them. This retooling/reboot/reenvisioning doubles down on the past in an intentional, if short-lived, nostalgia play, but there has to be more there, right? If we should see more of these Saints-and I earnestly do want to-I would hope it would be with something fresh to say or show. Until then, Saints Row still has some growing to do.
It drops all pretenses and weaves conquest and violence of various forms (spiritual, physical, and systemic) into its systems and simple story very satisfyingly. At the end of the day, your cult leader is little but an avatar for destruction masquerading as a hero. How much more of a videogame could you be at that point? And for that frankness alone, Cult of the Lamb is more than deserving of high marks.
I want to invest in a good TMNT show again, and I even tried to navigate the absolute nightmare that is the now Amazon-run Comixology app to get in on the latest comic series based on my favorite turtles. I've come away from this experience with a rekindled love for my half-shelled heroes and I never want to give them up again. Cowabunga forever, my dudes.