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It’s not often we see a Game of the Year contender so early in the year, but here we are. Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is an unforgettable follow-up to one of the finest remakes ever produced. Deftly building upon the rock-solid foundation of its predecessor, it evolves the combat and progression systems in subtle yet exciting ways while setting you loose in a massive world that you’ll want to explore to the fullest. With countless activities to keep you busy and a gripping story that will leave both Final Fantasy VII veterans and newcomers alike on the edge of their seats, Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is an unmissable adventure. If you only buy one RPG this year, make it this one.
While it could use more enemy variety and some areas that are more open, Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is a highly engaging action RPG featuring a love story I wanted to see through to its haunting conclusion. There are a lot of RPGs releasing in the first couple of months of this year, and with many of them being higher profile, it would be easy to overlook Banishers, but I hope players don’t do so. This is the exact sort of title we need studios to invest in more often.
More than anything, I feel amazing Metroidvanias need to strike a great balance between combat and exploration, where everything you accomplish is constantly bringing you one step closer to reaching the end of the game. I don’t feel that’s the case in Ultros. The rewind aspect of the game, combined with constantly losing platforming abilities and combat upgrades, makes the entire experience a painful slog. So even though I respect the ambition and creativity on display, ultimately, that’s not enough to elevate this game beyond its peers.
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.
Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is, in many ways, a new direction for this series, but there’s enough pulled from the past that it very much still feels like a Prince of Persia game. With excellent combat, some of the best platforming you’ll find in any Metroidvania, a fantastic world to explore, and a series of incredible powers to unlock, The Lost Crown keeps getting more interesting as you make your way through it. Fans of the series, the genre, or simply great games will want to check out Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown.
While Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name undoubtedly suffers due to its smaller scale and a heavy reliance on the Akame Network to pad out its 12-hour story, there’s no denying how good it feels to see the Dragon of Dojima back in action – especially with the grab bag of gadgets he has at his disposal. And while this spin-off’s story is over a bit too soon, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s penchant for spinning a compelling narrative shines through, showing Kiryu at his most vulnerable and setting the stage for what’s sure to be a momentous follow-up when Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth launches next January.
Overall, My Time At Sandrock is a great game. There’s tons to do, and it’s got plenty of depth. If I had played it on, say, PC or PS5, I’m sure it would have run fine (or at least serviceable). But I didn’t. I played it on the Switch. And the Nintendo Switch version of My Time At Sandrock is a crunchy, crusty, stuttering mess that I very much recommend that you stay away from.
More than just a cynical cash-in, RoboCop: Rogue City does an excellent job bucking the trend of mediocre movie tie-ins to give fans something spectacular. It’s a bloody and visceral love letter to 80s action herodom that leans hard into its source material and even builds upon themes only touched upon in the films. Add a satisfying amount of content in the form of a robust skill tree and a wealth of side missions, and you have a game that no RoboCop fan should miss.
LogiKing is a novel concept and a fun enough experience, but I can’t shake how barren it feels. In many ways, I think this game would have fared better as a technical demo than a full-fledged game you have to pay for. While I can respect the overall polish and strategy present in the game, ultimately, I was disappointed there wasn’t more to do.
Those are minor missteps, though, in an otherwise fantastic release. Super Mario Bros. Wonder is easily the most interesting a 2D Mario title has been since the 90s, and any fan of platformers absolutely needs to play this game. The Switch has had a fantastic year for first-party releases, but Super Mario Bros. Wonder stands alongside the very best of them.
In some ways Front Mission 2: Remake is an improvement on the first game’s remake. It looks better, and the gameplay has a bit more depth and complexity, even if it isn’t a significant upgrade. In the end, though, I actually had more fun with that original title, thanks to a more compelling story and far better localization. It’s nice that Front Mission 2 is finally officially available in English, but this is still much more a remaster than a remake.
The final echoes of the Viking horn resound with a mixture of satisfaction and a yearning for more. Land of the Vikings embarks on a voyage to encapsulate the Viking ethos within a city-building scaffold, achieving a serene yet engaging gameplay experience. However, the game’s reluctance to venture into the deeper waters of strategic complexity and narrative engagement leaves a trail of unexplored horizons. With a more polished narrative, enriched combat mechanics, and a more layered progression system, the game could transcend from being a calming voyage to an exhilarating exploration of Viking sagas entwined with the intricacies of city-building.
Gastro Force attempts to play to old-school gamers’ nostalgia with its lo-fi visuals and classic maze shooter gameplay. Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine even the biggest fans of retro FPSs will have the intestinal fortitude to stomach its mercilessly repetitive campaign, especially when there are so many better boomer shooters available.
Ion Fury: Aftershock‘s road to release was long and, at times, seemed uncertain. Now, after numerous delays, I’m happy to report that this expansion was well worth the wait. Developer Voidpoint and 3D Realms have succeeded in delivering fans an explosive, feature-rich update with tons of stages to explore, new enemies to butcher, and a sleek new ride to help them get around its cyberpunk world. Throw in a soul-crushing new difficulty setting and an arranged mode that breathes new life into the original release, and there’s never been a better time to step into Bombshell’s combat boots and gib some techno cultists.
A sequel’s primary objective should be to evolve its predecessor in every way that matters, and in most ways, Ghostrunner 2 accomplishes this to great effect. There’s a plethora of new and explosive special abilities, better interactions with characters and gameplay that’s as dynamic and viscerally satisfying as ever. It provides a tough but fair challenge that’s never too difficult and can be overcome with persistence and changing things up. Ghostrunner 2 is an example of a model sequel that improves on almost every facet of the first game. Yes, the dark, concrete arenas and rooftops grow stale, and there’s still more room to make the characters and story more substantial, but what’s here is refined and even more badass than what came before. If the first Ghostrunner put you off, you should give this one a slash.
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.
Though the Switch may not be as powerful as some of its counterparts, Gearbox Software still managed to do a phenomenal job taking so much content and condensing it into one neatly tied package without taking a major loss in performance. Still, this Switch port’s lack of some multiplayer options, along with a slight visual downgrade and lengthier loading times between stages when compared to other platforms, are a bit of a bummer. However, none of these minor flaws take away from the excitement that Borderlands 3: Ultimate Edition provides, whether at home or on the move.
If you were already a fan of the original release, you won’t be disappointed with the boatload of content Treachery In Beatdown City: Ultra Remix offers. From the updated arsenal of moves it puts at your fingertips, added areas to explore, and even more tongue-in-cheek storytelling that plays on current events and 90s video game nostalgia in equal measure, there’s a lot to like here. But fresh content and some witty writing can only carry a game so far. And while I love many of the ideas behind Treachery In Beatdown City, this update doesn’t do quite enough to keep its pixelated brand of pugilism from growing stale far too soon.