Wielding nothing more than a deck of cards and a poker-themed twist on proceedings, developer LocalThunk has conjured something incredible and awe-inspiring with Balatro. What starts as a relatively-novel twist on the deckbuilding format quickly blossoms into an experience that's equal parts methodical, experimental, chaotic but satisfying all the same. A game that rewards clever thinking, mathematical meddling and having the courage to be just that bit braver in uncovering just how far one can push its systems at play. Wherein success and failure alike stand as equally memorable moments to build off. A paradigm for what roguelikes and deckbuilders should aspire towards, Balatro is addictive, expertly-crafted and the new front-runner for what is easily the best gaming experience of 2024.
As promising a foundation there may be here, Foamstars sadly finds itself buried beneath a malaise of lackluster content and an underdeveloped world alike. Occasionally enjoyable and suggestive of greater potential the foam-centric mechanics can be, as both an offensive and defensive tool alike, it's everything going on in and around the core gameplay, that ultimately makes the experience feel hollow and at worst, jarring to deal with. From its all-too-cheery presentation, to its laughably one-dimensional attempt at instilling personality into its world and characters. Right down to the horrid monetization practices at the very start of its life-cycle. A commitment to further updates and new content may stave off a small amount of concern, but it's hard to see where Foamstars' longevity will land. By no means the worst attempt at a multiplayer-centric experience by way of its handful of hopeful, admirable elements here and there, but still one that could've been far better given the promise.
A game that's celebratory not just of the characters and the world it's focused on, but too the fanbase that's helped build it up to this point. Even a terrible voice casting choice and handful of other small nitpicks aren't enough to hamper too much of the experience. Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth bets big -- in both gameplay and narrative alike -- and unsurprisingly, has won big once again.
Even without the niceties of a new mode or that significant an addition to the overarching plot, The Awakened King's exciting array of loot to acquire, an impressively-built setting to explore and fights to conquer serve as a promising start to Gunfire's post-launch support for Remnant II. That the team have proven once again they can offer even more means for players to further experiment and tinker with their set-up is a testament to just how impressive a delivery the sequel remains and how exciting future prospects may look in the coming months.
Treading the path well-traveled, Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name - far from the most radical of entries in the series - remains a delightful example of Ryu Ga Goktoku's knack for high drama, wild antics and all-round time thoroughly well spent.
Though an occasional lack of polish and size for size's sake approach doesn't always prove beneficial, a brilliant assortment of puzzles nestled amidst a thought-provoking but compelling narrative still grants The Talos Principle II status as a sequel well worth the near-decade wait.
A far more confident and competent iteration of the Souls template than what came before, Lords of the Fallen's all-round impressive design is marred by occasional technical issues and all-too-frequent questions on its very philosophy around challenge.
Despite its smaller and unfortunately limited pool of content, F-Zero 99 still stands not just as another terrific application of the 99-player Royale format, but one that goes as far as to redefine any and all prior knowledge people may have had of the original SNES debut.
Building on everything that was great about the original - from enemy variety to boss design to the means by which one can customize their play-style - Remnant II just about scrapes by with a follow-up that befits the mantle of "bigger, better, bolder" in numerous ways.
Some occasional frustration with mechanics and personal expectations not met aren't enough to prevent Viewfinder from winding up an all-round terrific debut from Sad Owl Studios. Crafting a game that is confident not only in the ideas it wants to explore, but in the execution that underpins it all.
A feature-rich (at times astonishingly so) package of content - major, minor and entirely optional alike - Nihon Falcom have proven once again with Trails into Reverie why they remain one of the best and most renowned RPG developers still going.