In a way, Bowser's Fury's restraint in world design and simplicity actually puts it more directly in line with 3D World than Odyssey, feeling like its true successor, but settling for this halfway step between them due to how it was released. Regardless of how both titles were delivered, I'm absolutely delighted with 3D World and fascinated at what a fuller title in the vein of Bowser's Fury might look like. Here's hoping we see more like both of these standout Mario titles sooner rather than later.
While it may seem unengaging because it effectively plays itself, it really is just prompting the player to look at gameplay from another angle, namely a more systems-driven one. For a person like me, who doesn't really craft "builds" in RPGs, it's made me realize why that is actually a rewarding aspect of those games. Now I spend half my time in Loop Hero making numbers go up and making optimizations I never would have, before embarking on another loop.
While I can nitpick about Deathloop's shortcomings, I'd rather just point you to a game that's a joy to play, confident in itself, touts two wonderful Black leads, looks wonderful, and rewards you for thinking outside the box. While it doesn' quite feel like an evolution of the formula, it's almost assuredly Arkane's most feature-complete and refined take on it. Like I said at the top of this review, Deathloop is countless things, and most of them are great.
With multiple endings to earn and only a few under my belt, I don't really want to come up either. Instead, I want to go back to the market, snipe an organ out from under WOOHOO CHARLIE, and work through Trading Simulator's absurd sense of humor, banger of a soundtrack, and mechanical twists on my journey to become the greatest organ-trading warlord in space.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It's inexpensive to boot and simple to keep up with, making it markedly less of a chore to log into, have fun with for an hour or two, and hop back out of unlike most service games. It's got a fun style and look to it that makes it all the more inviting, and solid enough mechanics to master that I feel satisfied coming back to practice. Straight up, it's also just fun as hell to play something that isn't so grim or serious, making Knockout City a success in my eyes.
Nobody is ambitious but not too in over its head, funny to boot and grounded in an idea that understands the joy of defining conventions. It may miss a bit of the formula that's made its influences as strong as they were, but it's got style and confidence and those are swings I'm glad connected. Most of all, it reminds me of the fun I used to have playing pretend, and even though I've stopped, games like this one help keep that sense of adventure alive.
It's all cozy but rote, which is a shame because the series has been bolder in the past. Walking away from it, I'm impressed at how much I cared for the cast, for example, and am also keenly aware of the fact that while I liked them, I will largely forget who they are because I've done this before and will likely do it again somewhere else in a few years. Life is Strange may sell itself on comfort, and True Colors may be the one most emblematic of this, but I wonder if the series itself has become too comfortable for its own good.
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.
A lack of a compelling story hurt the time I spent with the game's cast, even though I adore the game's art and how much every scene leaves me wanting more. More time with the mechanics and a greater emphasis on the place and people of 1700s France could've helped Card Shark a great deal in my eyes, but I still admire it for what it is. I just think that much like the game's countless tricks, the best possible execution of its ideas needed a bit more confidence.
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.
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.
Despite some steps forward, Survivor finally settles for falling back in line and humming an all-too familiar tune.
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.
But it didn't and despite my efforts, Sifu constantly met me with a passing disinterest in its subjects and a reckless deployment of imagery it didn't seem to entirely understand, all the while passing itself off as admiration. Its weak writing and poor characterization strips the game's characters and settings of tension and texture and the lens of the game's creators seems to forget the people and culture at the heart of the movies they love to invoke. I don't think I can square that away and I'm not sure anyone should have to.
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.