Granblue Fantasy: Relink is a triumph and one of the most mechanically deep and rewarding action-RPGs in recent memory. It’s easy to pick up, yet difficult to master combat feels great in motion, and it’s all in service of a world and cast of characters that are more than worthy of your time and attention. Between the substantial single-player portion and the incredibly generous multiplayer offering, there’s a wealth of content on offer for those wanting to really invest and dig into the game’s many progression systems. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering what the result would be if Tails of Arise and Monster Hunter had a baby, Granblue Fantasy: Relink is the answer, and it’s glorious.
While a fairly simplistic affair, Slaps & Beans 2 is an enjoyable slice of beat-’em-up action. Between the love for the source material that pours out of every pixel and the massively entertaining set pieces, Slaps & Beans 2 may not be the deepest offering the genre has to offer, but it’s clear it was never meant to be. Instead, what you get is a history lesson in Bud and Terence’s brand of slapstick comedy and a combat system that’s simple enough to provide hours of fun for the whole family. On that basis, Slaps & Beans 2 is an easy recommendation.
Engaging combat, brilliant boss fights, and top-notch level design that is amplified further by the creative dual-world mechanics introduced by Umbral, all coalesce into a version of Lords of the Fallen that not only leaves its predecessor in the dust but moves the genre forward in meaningful ways. That being said, it’s difficult to ignore the lackluster performance that significantly impacts upon the experience of the opening few hours, resulting in Lords of the Fallen not being the absolute recommendation that it should be, so here’s hoping Hexworks are hard at work on further optimization updates that brings performance to a level worthy of the rest of the package.
While not without issues—the worst offender still being the inadequate tutorials—The Fabulous Fear Machine is an incredibly refreshing spin on the real-time strategy genre. With unexpectedly detailed, if at times slightly questionable, narratives underpinning each of its three campaigns and an art style that looks and feels like nothing else in the genre, The Fabulous Fear Machine does the impossible and makes being evil a whole lot of fun through its fresh gameplay loops and devilishly delightful assortment of legends. If you’ve got a mean streak and have always wanted a safe environment in which to find out what it feels like to have people unquestionably devote themselves to you and your cause, well, firstly, you should be on a watch list somewhere, and secondly, you should absolutely check out The Fabulous Fear Machine.
If Ubisoft’s mission with Assassins Creed Mirage was clearly to create something that paid tribute to the series’ roots while acting as an entry point for new fans, and perhaps a re-entry point for lapsed ones, then that mission has been well and truly accomplished. The razor-sharp focus on throwback stealth gameplay, stripping back of RPG systems, and de-emphasizing of melee combat all come together to create the most focused entry in years. Melee combat may feel awful, and the wilderness regions woefully underutilized, but when the streets of Baghdad itself are as joyous to explore as they are, and the stealth combat represents not just a return to form, but a series high, it’s hard to see those flaws as anything other than minor blemishes. I have no doubt that the future of Assassins Creed largely lies in more sprawling RPGs, but Assassins Creed Mirage shows that the classic formula still holds value, so here’s hoping Ubisoft sees a world in which the new can exist with the old.
One Military Camp is a solid, if somewhat safe, base builder that makes crafting your own base and developing your own army a genuinely entertaining affair. There’s a real satisfaction to be had in finally landing on the perfect base and developing squads of soldiers that stand the best chance of surviving certain missions. It’s a shame, then, that an overreliance on manually managing your troops and base, and the lack of any interactive missions or battles, leaves it currently feeling like a bit of a missed opportunity, and somewhat half-baked. That being said, with such a solid foundation, there is definitely fun to be had for fans of the genre, and with a few more content updates that would hopefully address some of the quality-of-life issues while fleshing out some of the more passive elements, One Military Camp has the potential to be something special.
Phantom Liberty on its own would be a stellar expansion, but combined with the radical 2.0 update, it’s a game changer for Cyberpunk 2077. The road to redemption has been long, and yes, you could argue that it’s unacceptable that such a long road to redemption was even required, but it’s hard to argue that CD Projekt Red hasn’t paid its dues at this stage. Phantom Liberty almost feels like a celebration – CD Projekt Red bowing out on an amazing high, with fans finally able to play a version of Cyberpunk 2077 that feels closer to those original promises than it ever has. Whatever way you look at it, update 2.0 and Phantom Liberty combined are a fantastic capstone on the Cyberpunk 2077 journey, and one that everyone should experience.
Party Animals could easily have been a derivative Gang Beasts or Fall Guys clone, but its incredibly creative maps and modes, along with the wealth of content that will be available at launch, have resulted in a title that feels like it has a real shout at joining the regular rotation of party game fanatics with immediate effect. Minor gripes with match length and camera issues aside, this is an incredibly well-polished experience that I foresee giving me and my friends hours upon hours of fun for years to come. Typically with party games, I only bother with them when I have company around or my better half and I want something fun to play while we open a bottle of wine. Perhaps, then, the biggest compliment I can give Party Animals is that while it absolutely is going to be a great game that I enjoy with familiar company, it’s also an experience that I see myself dipping into while flying solo, making use of the game’s seemingly robust matchmaking. In fact, that’s enough from me – don’t tell PETA, but I’m about to dive back into Party Animals and whack a few animals around the head with an oversized frying pan.
It’s unfortunate that every positive I've mentioned comes undone at the hands of that dreaded localization. There were stretches of gameplay where I was just grinding, or exploring, and for a moment I’d forget what a mess the translation was, immersed in Xuan-Yuan Sword’s perfectly serviceable gameplay loops. But, this is an RPG, and to this player, world-building, deep characterization, and dense lore that I can immerse myself in is just as important to my enjoyment of an RPG as gameplay is. There will likely be a portion of players who will be able to look past this issue, simply content at being able to play a game that had been out of the reach of Western audiences for so long, and that’s perfectly fine. As I’ve indicated, there’s a solid RPG here somewhere and I have no doubt that this would be a fantastic experience had the port been shown the love and care it deserves. As it stands, though, Xuan-Yuan Sword: Mists Beyond the Mountains is such a compromised experience that it’s impossible to recommend in its current state.
All that being said, Trine 5 is still a fine old time for puzzle platformer fans, even if it does feel like a series that needs to evolve going forward. Its reliably refined puzzle platforming combination can still be a joy to get lost in, and that eureka moment when you finally stumble across a neat way in which to combine the abilities of its roster never fails to delight. Fans who just want more Trine will feel right at home with Trine 5, and if the goal of Frozenbyte was to continue to appease the core fanbase with another solid entry, then I think they’ve successfully achieved that.
Sure, it could be argued that in its opening hours, Sea of Stars doesn’t put its best foot forward, but when what follows an admittedly slow start is such a joyous experience, that’s nothing only a small blemish on an otherwise impeccable product that is easily forgiven. I’ve played a lot of retro-inspired RPGs over the past few years, and while I’ve enjoyed many, rarely have I come away with the opinion that they can hold a candle to their inspirations. Sea of Stars, on the other hand, not only manages to confidently stand shoulder to shoulder with the greats, but in many ways, improves on them to create an unmissable JRPG experience.
And, I think that word perhaps best sums up Nimbus Infinity as an overall experience. Unremarkable. There’s fun to be had for sure in the frantically paced and enemy-packed combat encounters, but when you take into consideration the fact that you never feel as though you’re piloting an almighty mech and the entirely forgettable nature of the art design and the narrative, it’s hard to make a case as to why Nimbus Infinity is worth spending time with. If you’re okay with playing through a short, breezy five-hour campaign that provides an evening’s worth of decent aerial combat, you might want to dive in, especially considering the budget price point. However, those who are seeking out a meaningful mech experience that succeeds in letting you live out one of the ultimate power fantasies may want to look elsewhere for their thrills.
While Friday the 13th will always hold a special place inside my heart, I think it’s time to stop mourning and move on, because Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a complete success. It’s a varied and surprisingly deep character roster, each character with their own niche to fill and progression paths to follow, coupled with excellent map design and variety, position Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a title that will absolutely become my new asymmetrical go-to. While I do have some concerns around balance, and the huge grinds that the progression systems represent may not be for me, those are relatively minor blemishes on what is an otherwise fantastic package at launch. It’s authentic, bloody, and terrifying – quite frankly, it’s everything that I wanted the Texas Chainsaw Massacre to be. Now, if you don’t mind me, I’m just about ready to get back to spilling some guts.
At the end of the day, though, that’s not the vision the developers had for Adore and that’s fine, as what they have produced is a damn fine spin on the monster taming genre all the same. Look past the repetition, and you’ll find that early simplicity was a complete red herring, as the complexities of team synergy, hidden passives, and the real-time combat suck you in. The core of what’s here is excellent, and while the narrow scope of the moment-to-moment gameplay loops may feel a little limiting, they allow the excellent core combat and surprising depth to shine through. If, like me, you were a little tired of the genre rehashing the same formula for what feels like forever, then Adore, while not without its flaws, will likely feel like a total breath of fresh air.
I have similar sentiments when looking at Sword and Fairy Inn 2 as a whole – inoffensive yet uninspired and, unfortunately, boring. From the sloppy localization to the almost complete lack of direct player input that players have come to expect in things such as farming and cooking, it feels a little soulless. There is some satisfaction to be found in watching your tiny business grow into something more substantial, but the fact that you never really do anything to facilitate that growth beyond clicking through menus makes it all feel a touch impersonal. What’s more, is that the Switch is a console already drowning in quality cozy games that already let you live out the virtual life of your dreams, and on that basis alone, Sword and Fairy Inn 2 is a difficult product to recommend.
And that’s perhaps the keyword I’d use to describe the package as a whole – fun. Evil Wizard, while not doing anything to reinvent the genre, is just a fun, damn time. Once the writing finds its feet after a shaky opening hour, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments to be had, and the combat, while not especially deep, is polished and engaging. In a year where we are absolutely drowning in big-budget affairs that allow us to live out our heroic fantasies in spectacular fashion, it was a joy to take a slight detour and spend a few hours in the company of vitriolic little Wizard who hates the world and everyone around him.
I intend on sticking with Exoprimal despite these gripes, though, because the core of what’s here works so well. We also know future seasons will bring more content to the game, which should hopefully mitigate some of my complaints. In terms of whether I recommend Exoprimal in its current state, however, that’s a different question. If you’re someone who doesn’t mind investing in a product on the promise of what it might become, then I say go for it, jump on in. The core gameplay is so well refined that I have no doubt that fans of shooters and team-based shooters will find merit in what Capcom has produced and be able to overlook its rougher edges in the way I have. Whether that enthusiasm lingers long after the launch period remains to be seen. As highlighted, Exoprimal has core issues that need resolving to ensure it doesn’t become another live service casualty.
Mundaun is a bit of a hidden gem that I hope get’s more eyes on it as a result of this upgraded Ps5 release. Despite frustrating and doing little to push the genre forward when it comes to moment-to-moment gameplay, Mundaun is an absolute delight in almost every other regard. Its folklore-infused narrative that manages to terrify without relying on genre staples such as excessive gore and jump scares, and the unique and haunting art style that is unlike anything else offered by the genre, both come together to create something truly special and unique. Irrespective of whether you’ve played it before or are jumping into Curdin’s descent into madness for the first time, Mundaun on PS5 is a must-have addition for horror fans.
Had Decarnation not fumbled with its gameplay, I’d probably be giving this a perfect score. Its disturbing, yet engaging narrative, and top-notch presentation all come together in a way that somehow managed to exceed my already lofty expectations that the preview build had left me with. It’s just a shame, then, that those gameplay issues are so very intrusive. All too often I had my immersion broken and found my interest in continuing through Gloria’s plight waning due to how often Decarnation forces the player into irritating mini-games, or fussy stealth segments. On the whole, though, Decarnation still ends up being more than the sum of its parts, and I can confidently say that it’s worth the time of any horror fan.
Bleak Sword DX is an absolute treat that takes the core pillars of the soulslike genre and distills them into a wonderfully moreish, action-packed adventure. The narrow focus, coupled with the unforgiving nature of the gameplay and progression loops, may put some off, but not every game has to be for everyone, and I commend the developers for sticking with the vision they clearly had. If, like me, you love soulslikes, but have found yourself feeling slightly alienated due to the scope that some of the genre’s heavy hitters bring, then I urge you to check out Bleak Sword DX and let it get its pixelated hooks into you.