Slant Magazine's Reviews
Given that it can be comfortably completed within a few days, even with the heightened difficulty of later levels, Mario vs. Donkey Kong can’t help but feel like a featherweight experience. That, though, is consistent with my experience of the original Game Boy Advance version, a sturdy-for-its-time puzzle-platformer whose set of issues prevented it from approaching greatness. Playing the remake, it’s easy to rue that the developers missed the chance to enhance and expand upon the original. This, along with other glaring deficiencies like the lack of substantive new material outside of two new worlds, proves that the transition from handheld to home console has done Mario vs. Donkey Kong little to no favors.
Solium Infernum already has its fans, but more so than the original, it feels as if this remake, given its extremely specific brand of prolonged negotiations and conniving, will live and die by whether it grows that dedicated audience. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay Solium Infernum is that I very much hope it finds one so I can play more of it.
Throughout, Cloud and his motley troupe of friends are given the space and opportunity to be more than just heroes, even more than just friends, or potentially lovers, but human beings who are rightfully unsure of what power they have to stop the inevitable. These are still the familiar heroes on the same journey they were on in 1997, unsure of their roles as eco-terrorists turned fugitives on a nebulous quest against a force of unfathomable, alien evil, but more than just the size and scale of Rebirth as an RPG, there’s so much more catharsis in the telling.
Ultros respects its players enough to make them work hard for the best ending. Accordingly, it never feels like a waste of time to manually connect your save points to the overall network (so that you can fast travel between them) or to gather the right seeds, spray them into the proper orientation, and occasionally splice together parts into hybrid platforms. If anything, these deliberate actions serve to sow a deeper sense of purpose and understanding of conservation in players. In doing so, Hadoque’s marvelous creation stands leafs and branches above not only other puzzle platformers, but most other socially conscious games as well.
Though the length of Ghosts of New Eden’s campaign is useful in establishing the intimate relationship between Red and Antea, it makes the rest of the game feel padded, especially if you’re doing the enjoyable, story-rich sidequests. There just aren’t enough enemy types or Manifestation skills to keep combat feeling fresh, and what you learn within the game’s first 10 hours is more or less what you’ll be doing for the subsequent 20 to 30.
It’s fascinating to see all the ways in which time flows (or doesn’t) throughout the game’s varied regions, as in the frozen Raging Seas, a series of eternally fixed waves and ships locked in battle, some mid-explosion. These places not only serve narrative purposes, but also thematic ones, in that the astral clockwork calendars of the Upper City demonstrate the terrifying effects of broken time as much as the encounters that Sargon may have with alternate versions of himself, some of whom would stop at nothing—including “self”-harm—to break the city’s curse. Put simply, time isn’t merely an effect in The Lost Crown—it’s the consequential core of the game.
But as engaging as Bahnsen Knights’s atmosphere may be, the process of navigating it isn’t as consistently engrossing. The similarities to Choose Your Own Adventure-style storytelling work both in the game’s favor and against it. On one hand, there’s freedom to how you approach many situations, and there’s some excitement to knowing that the game holds more mysteries than you’ll uncover on first playthrough. On the other, there are quite a few fail states that feel arbitrary or unfair, and reloading a dialogue sequence several times in quick succession only serves to break the mood that the game otherwise works so hard to maintain.
Frontiers of Pandora is, in essence, just another Far Cry experience—one with breathtaking art direction and a thoughtful portrayal of an alien culture, but a Far Cry experience nonetheless. It’s a tired formula applied to a property that’s capable of showing us much more. This game’s Pandora is a beautiful place to visit, but living there makes for a boring existence.
Perhaps the greatest compliment that one can pay to A Highland Song is that—unlike any number of games that mark traversable areas in, say, white splotches or yellow paint—it doesn’t feel obviously designed. There are areas in the game that you’ll never reach on a single run, forcing you to make decisions if you want to make it to Uncle Hamish’s lighthouse on time. A Highland Song’s rendition of the Scottish Highlands scans more as a natural space than as a bespoke puzzle, a world instead of a playground. Here, the hills are alive.
It would be easy, and in some ways fair, to complain that this remake is a slightly disappointing half-measure—just a bit of new paint applied to a game that’s almost 30 years old. In many ways, though, the light touch taken with this updated version just serves to showcase how vibrant the original Super Mario RPG has always been. And in a year that brought no shortage of sprawling RPG behemoths, from Starfield to Baldur’s Gate 3 to Octopath Traveler II, this one’s spryness and wit stand in sharp, refreshing contrast.
It’s indicative of the game’s clear messaging that despite multiple car crashes, a delirious dream sequence, a high-stakes infiltration, and more, the moment that most stands out is a relatively quiet one: Trevor sitting at a piano, playing an original piece that he’s composed. For all the time spent controlling him up to that point, this is the first time where Angela, and by extension the player, can see him as an independent person, one capable of making his own decisions (in this case, his art). That glimpse of his humanity is a moving little flourish that attests to American Arcadia’s belief that we all deserve freedom from coercion and an unreal life.
That’s how so much of Thirsty Suitors feels to play: stylish to look at and perhaps pleasurable in the moment yet ultimately quite shallow. As a whole, it’s a bundle of middling mechanics carried by strong writing. The story may be about Jala coming to terms with her past while she figures herself out, but the game itself never settles on a cohesive vision of what it should be.
The aha-moment click of solving a puzzle is consistently satisfying, and on that level alone, The Talos Principle 2 delivers in spades. But where it soars is in the way that the discrete parts introduced throughout the game slowly begin to come together, revealing something akin to one massive, interlocking bit of machinery. If you buy into the game’s conceit, that humans are themselves machines, then these aha moments are more than just the thrill of accomplishment and more like a celebration of our inquisitive humanity and capacity for growth.
Move It! can only be played in an environment where players are able to move around freely, as there’s no portable option available. Since the Switch’s biggest technical innovation is its ability to inhabit both the handheld and home console sphere, one can’t help but feel like, by avoiding the alternative, Intelligent Systems is trying to take the easy way out here and simply build on what it’s done before. But the developer has only provided a slight variation of a better, more thought-out experience. Ultimately, Move It! ends up sharing far too many similarities with its overweight, zigzag-shaped mustachioed protagonist, as both are crude, frequently annoying, at times entertaining, and, above all, carbon copies of something else that’s far more polished.
Once we stop sharing in Yasna’s discoveries, the storytelling never quite clicks. Apart from a few stiff flashbacks, players simply don’t get to know enough about Yasna’s fellow researchers to get invested in how their fate drives her search for answers. Yasna’s quest feels detached rather than desperate, with all the game’s themes coldly laid out in dialogue choices. The Invincible does remain reasonably engrossing through to the end, but it never recaptures the interactive vigor of its first half, eventually becoming a bout of scientific calculus on autopilot.
Still, at the center of it all remains Kazuma Kiryu, a genuinely good man caught in the throes of a vicious career. Even with the series ready to move on without him as protagonist—no disrespect to everybody’s new favorite himbo, Ichiban Kasuga, who’s positioned to be our hero going forward—Gaiden makes a stronger than expected case for why and how he’s endured so much, and deserves a better ending than the old life has been willing to give him.
Though Jusant gets a bit fanciful in its last level, abandoning its natural elements for an astronomical excursion, the rapturous feeling of climbing the seemingly unclimbable continues to drive the game forward. This is where Jusant’s deliberate, precise mechanics are so vital, as the more responsive the controls, the more responsible players are for each outcome. Nothing is impossible, the game suggests. You just have to take it one step at a time.