Slant Magazine's Reviews
Somerville does at least stick the landing with a third act that largely pushes the puzzles to the side in favor of an alien mind game that plays with one’s perception of what came before, and some surprisingly effective emotional payoff in the multiple endings. These moments represent the game at its best: scary, strange, wondrous, and enthralling. Thankfully, there are just enough of those riveting moments to forgive the ones where Somerville feels more than a little rote.
The game’s eeriest moment is attuned to the politics of denial and unresolved emotions. The final boss, a manifestation of the existential crisis that faces the planet, is extremely hard. It’s far easier to accept The Knight Witch’s offer for Rayne to just walk away from this battle and enjoy the next few years, hoping that maybe one of her allies can stop the world from ending. But that leads to an unsatisfying ending, with Rayne haunted by the question: “Was there more that I could have done?” This narrative beat is a bleak and brutal reminder that if we all keep blithely enjoying our lives instead of fighting the toughest of battles, we may come to regret it.
It’s astonishing how a game as clearly unpolished as this could be allowed onto the market, especially once you consider that it’s representing a media franchise that’s made approximately 92 billion dollars to date. (The easy answer is that this is yet another example of a major release being rushed out to meet an approaching holiday deadline, where quality greatly suffers in the name of convenience, but that’s a story for another time.) If players choose to squint their eyes and push on through—and, hopefully, don’t clip into the ground or encounter any game-breaking glitches that will force them to restart their save file—then that old Pokémon charm might still be an adequate reason to give Pokémon Violet a pass. But before the franchise can ever truly hope to redefine itself in the future, Game Freak desperately needs to iron out the issues that are currently holding Pokémon back by at least two console generations.
Faith’s visual and mechanical variety, as well as its one-button simplicity, helps obscure whatever rules it operates by. Sometimes the “save” function briefly changes, and sometimes a pivotal moment takes place from the ordinary overhead camera view rather than in the elaborate rotoscoped cutscenes, just to keep you on your toes. Faith’s masterful sense of timing and mood create a truly rare feeling of persistent uncertainty where anything can happen. The game manages to be frightening because of its technical constraints rather than in spite of them.
While such digressions, to be fair, are optional, the game does encourage you to poke around every corner of its vibrantly rendered world to ensure that you’ve got the facts straight. In the end, though, Pentiment excels less as a mystery game and more as a portrait of a community. Because as a mystery to be solved and a mediation on how stories evolve over time, its focus wanders and ironically comes to fixate on elements like presentation and background lore that can all too easily overwhelm the basic tenets of telling an engaging story.
All that said, there’s still a solid-enough idea at the center of Sonic Frontiers that could possibly make for a great game in the future, which is more than could be said of infamous stinkers like Sonic Unleashed or Sonic Lost World. If a sequel could provide players with the same type of freedom that Sonic’s been afforded—and, perhaps, if it could stay in the incubation chamber a little longer until proper gestation—then Sega’s blue hedgehog might get to soar to new heights.
The only real objective problem this time around is that Queen Bay may be a little too much woman for the Switch. We’ve forgiven Nintendo’s little system that could for being underpowered compared to even the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One for years now, but Bayonetta 3 running into such frequent stretches of slowdown, visual muddiness, and low-fidelity textures feels like Platinum Games hitting the outer limits of how conceptually complex a game can be on the system without sacrificing something big. And make no mistake, this is a game where entire cities are ripped from the ground and twisted into metropolitan Twizzlers in the first three hours. Even with the stakes being what they are, this is still a massive game, brimming with spectacle, begging for the horsepower to run free that the Switch is incapable of providing.
Requiem is still a rough experience, especially for anyone who’s seen young loved ones fade away in the last few years, but it’s an allegorical experience that has value and power, especially in light of that. In the end, the eponymous requiem in question is a quite literal violent scream, giving way to sorrow, but ultimately acceptance and thanks for the time given.
It shouldn’t feel like a chore to be Batman, or his successor, and yet that’s precisely what winds up happening in Gotham Knights. Instead of cracking cases, players are stuck mopping up random crimes, and doing so with a combat system that feels more brutish and banal than that of the Arkham games. Considering how well the game understands Batman’s sometimes complicated lore, that’s a disappointing legacy for the World’s Greatest Detective.
This game never makes the leap from smaller-scale locales to more epic-sized ones, meaning that the notion of laying waste to a city block as Mr. Stay-Puft or some similarly silly, over-the-top paranormal leviathan against the Ghostbusters remains only a fantasy. Like the film that preceded it, Spirits Unleashed is stuck sending us down memory lane at the expense of stepping forward into new terrain. For many, this nostalgia will be enough, but even with updates it seems unlikely that Spirits Unleashed’s core gameplay will sustain it for long.
Sparks of Hope’s flaws are more accurately described as missed opportunities. The wardens of each realm are vibrant, funny characters who deserve better than having their backgrounds conveyed through static and lifeless murals. And given his thunderous personality, you’d think Bowser would speak up at least as often as newcomer rabbids Edge and Rosalina; it’s too easy to forget that he’s even in your party. But these things don’t matter in the heat of combat—does Bowser’s Bowzooka cannon really need a backstory?—nor do they apply to exploration (which is better off not explaining the physics of the Wiggler Express and its floral tracks, actually), but in a game overflowing with sparks of joy, it doesn’t seem unfair to hope for even more.
So far as the library of songs goes, it’s perfect for novices willing to play anything, but probably less so for experts who may be disappointed that the specific song they want to learn isn’t there. New songs are added regularly, as part of the base subscription fee, and there are enough genres there that you shouldn’t ever feel pressured to play a track from, say, the Wiggles or NSYNC (unless you want to), but you don’t need to be a math expert to know that even with over 5,000-plus tracks, there are bound to be some major omissions. Still, the game’s adaptive method ensures that on every track, whether it’s the Circle Jerks’s “Beverly Hills” or Boston’s “More Than a Feeling,” it’s still possible to learn something new and have a good time in the process.
But even that remains a step down from the obsessively fun vertical scrolling platform game you could play while waiting for a full game of eight players in the original Splatoon. It feels strange to complain about simply getting more of a good thing, but Splatoon is still a young and creatively fertile series that can do even more, and should. At present, Splatoon 3 is a good game that could very easily evolve into a great one. The single-player campaign is, largely, proof of that. But it’s far too soon for a series this unique to feel like it’s already in “ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mode. Splatoon is one of the coolest things to happen on Nintendo’s platforms in the 21st century. The least it could do is follow its own advice and try to stay fresh.
This could’ve been an easy high concept to get wrong. The gunplay could’ve been stale and repetitive, but the way you increase damage, points, and unlock perks during combat relies on hitting targets in streaks, choosing a loadout that plans for any and every type of threat and hitting them reliably on beat. The environments aren’t quite as varied as we’ve seen in recent FPSes, or even something like Devil May Cry, which plays around in a similar aesthetic sandbox. But they’re utilized well, and they’re designed to keep the player moving and dancing even with obstacles in their road, a harder conceptual ask than it seems, and one that certainly asks the player to shoulder their weight. Metal: Hellsinger isn’t an easy game by any stretch, but one that’s short enough and forgiving enough to encourage bashing your head against the wall multiple times to get it right or score higher, and smiling a bloody grin at even meager progress.
You’d think that the bigger an enemy is, the harder it would fall, but because the only determining factor of difficulty is the gap between your level and theirs, there’s no sense of scale to combat. The only tactic you need is that of attrition: The longer a battle drags on, the more meters you’ll fill, and the flashier the attacks that you’ll be able to unleash, like interlinking with allies to briefly enter a more powerful form, or executing a chain attack that laboriously unleashes a series of uninterruptible commands. Your sword-sponge enemies have millions of hit points not because it makes for interesting combat, but because it stretches things out long enough to make players feel as if they’re more than cogs in the system. These flashy combos are a good way to illustrate the importance of teamwork to the plot, but in terms of gameplay, they only continue to demonstrate how overly engineered every inch of the conflict is.
Of course, these late-game inconveniences also speak to something rare and refreshing: Immortality isn’t designed for convenient completion because it’s fully comfortable with the player not seeing everything. It’s confident enough to merely suggest certain details and concepts, giving us glimpses of certain prickly edges and troubling dynamics without falling back on an overt explanation, a tidy conclusion, or even a break from the verisimilitude of the “found footage” format. It’s an impressively layered work, filled with conflicted thoughts on the concept of the auteur, the collaborative process of art, and the prospect of going too deep in the service of expression. Rather than a clean moral or cautionary tale, Immortality opts for something messier, more complex, and far more likely to endure.
“I’ll hack the machine and you’ll destroy some stuff,” says B-12 at one point in the final act. With that line, the game unintentionally reveals what it thinks of its cat protagonist. Despite being flesh and blood, the cat never needs food, water, or sleep; never hisses in anger at having to undertake a task; never bristles at the sight of a Zurk horde, at least not outside of one cutscene; and, aside from a few seconds of slower-than-usual animation, never seems injured by any major falls. Which is to say that if Stray had made even more room for moments that were alive to what it’s like to be a cat but also feel as one, then it might not have left us with the nagging feeling that the critter at its center is a calculated means to an end.
That misstep is surprising considering how perfectly calibrated the rest of the game is. Though Neon White’s heavenly setting encourages perfection and players are required to earn a certain number of Gold medals to advance the plot, those are attainable even with the occasional mid-run mistake. (Ace medals, and a spot atop the global leaderboard, are reserved for pros.) It takes a bit of time to get used to playing at the game’s frenetic pace, but once you understand that each enemy and obstacle has been deliberately placed, it gets easier to read how the game wants you to move between them, and that’s a blissful experience.
Elden Ring is FromSoftware taming the monster they created, not by filing down its teeth and claws, but by giving players the weapons and armor to endure it. It’s the first of their games to not feel like a brick wall but a doorway, with allies in every direction all reaching out to help you tread carefully to the other side. The result is a paradigm shift, a seemingly once-in-a-generation recalibration of old ideas and taking them to the next level.