Degrees of Separation is a charming puzzle-platformer, though that charm occasionally gives way to devilishly challenging puzzles designed to prey on your expectations and force you to think outside the box. It’s easy to respect the amount of effort that went into the constantly varying puzzles and puzzle mechanics on display here, even if one or two gameplay twists end up being more trouble than they’re worth.
All of these elements coalesce into something unexpectedly coherent and interesting, and while there are some minor performance issues to contend with on the Switch, Airheart‘s gameplay loop and general oddness make it a good fit for the platform.
Arcade Spirits is a game about working in an arcade while striving to balance practicality with idealism, but more importantly, it's also a celebration of gaming and all of the distinct but nevertheless overlapping subsets of gamers it inspires, articulating all sorts of familiar little joys and fears and motivations that are bound to reverberate with many—if not most—of us. This isn't even as heavy-handed as one might expect; Arcade Spirits' preoccupation with bizarre humor provides enough distractions that you'll rarely see emotional moments coming, and they never outlast their welcome.
I managed to make it through my first playthrough with only relatively minor bugs posing a problem, but my second attempt was so fraught with technical issues and crashes that finishing it proved impossible. Robothorium is built around a single autosave, and certain configurations of levels crash 100% of the time, meaning you can find yourself saved into an unwinnable situation.
Thea: The Awakening is one of many games that ended up slipping through the cracks around here for one reason or another, meaning the Nintendo Switch release is my first real experience with it, but all of the talk I’d heard about how it incorporates a number of totally different genres without becoming defined by any of its disparate elements was 100% accurate. Chatter about Thea: The Awakening‘s PC version being superior to its console counterparts also ended up having some substance behind it.
That’s not to insinuate that Override: Mech City Brawl is perfect or anything, as the general combat is kind of floaty while the unwieldy camera makes responding quickly to your opponent more difficult than it probably should be, but that’s ultimately forgivable given its clear party-game aspirations. Put simply, this isn’t a game that’s trying to be an immaculately balanced fighting game experience for die-hards so much as it’s the kind of game that you end up playing after getting drunk with friends, only stopping once someone passes out or gets frustrated and throws a controller across the room.
As an unrepentant strategy-RPG snob with unrealistically high standards for the genre, though, I can definitively state that it’s 100% worth fighting through all of this early awkwardness because of how amazing things eventually become. While Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden‘s early fights feel like uninspired battles of attrition, the later gameplay weaves the destructible environments of Silent Storm with the overgrown and reset-world vibe of the original Fallout, all while giving you numerous tactical options that can see you doing things like aggroing hostile robots so that they’ll also turn against other enemies.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a game that tries to embrace its past while also taking a step into the future, and it fails spectacularly on both fronts. The story is incoherent, the characters are developed poorly, and the gameplay's constant gimmickry and penchant for not telling you the rules quickly becomes fatiguing. That's not even getting into the unskippable cutscenes and numerous technical shortcomings, either. The original Valkyria Chronicles is a classic, but it was clearly the beneficiary of beginner's luck that's depleted in the decade since.
TSIOQUE does a laudable job of creating a suitably magical atmosphere for the 2-3 hours it takes to reach the end, mostly because of how much personality the visuals and sound effects have. It's just difficult to recommend a game with such awkward puzzle design and annoying minigames.
Newbies with no real attachment to the Soulcalibur franchise will find that reversal edges only go so far and quickly become frustrated by the underlying complexity, while old-timers will quickly get sick of CPUs (and trolls online, no doubt) spamming reversal edges to slow down and drag out matches. At first glance, Soulcalibur VI looks to take the balance of Soulcalibur V and marry it with the better characters and story of the early games by returning to the events of the Dreamcast original and Soulcalibur II, but it falls all over itself in too many ways to recommend to fans or newcomers.
There are undeniably some issues that need to be ironed out, most entertainingly highlighted by NPCs gleefully ignoring murders in one stage so long as they’re performed with a forklift, but the underlying promise here really shines through when everything is working as expected. The biggest issue is that things don’t always work as expected; during one stage that begins by forcing you to kill four bikers with your “ultimate” attack, a randomly-wandering NPC was placed close enough that the police were chasing me seconds in through no fault of my own. You can forget about evading police in Party Hard 2, as well, with the pairs of officers that show up having a preternatural talent for knowing where you are and boxing you in.
There are little things that I adore such as the way your ship crew sings as you sail around (with the songs even changing to reflect the gender makeup of your crew), not to mention a small handful of quests that eschew the rigid, game-y formula plaguing most of Odyssey‘s content in favor of something more organic. The problem is that all of this accounts for between 5-10 hours of content of the 60 that’s pretty much a minimum because of the backwards leveling system and abundance of filler content. The weakest parts of the Assassin’s Creed series have also been retained, while the things that were unique have inexplicably been de-emphasized and complicated to make way for a mashup of features shamelessly borrowed from other series in the hopes of lightning striking twice. The end result of all of this is that Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is an overlong, uninspired mess that feels watered down to the point of meaninglessness.
As you’d expect, there’s a general sense of welcome levity to everything that happens, though I honestly can’t remember Warren uttering a single word, and that hints at an underlying truth here: while the more playful tone of this DLC is infinitely preferable to the crushing darkness of the base game, The Good, the Bad, and the Augmented exists mostly as a series of maps designed primarily for hardcore players to grind on for tech scrap and new equipment.
There’s a point in the Punch Line anime where main character Yuta Iridatsu says something about how the spirit world functions similarly to a video game, and there’s really no denying that time travel and abilities that become better as they’re used are the types of things that lend themselves perfectly to gaming. That makes it all the more surprising that the Punch Line game adaptation is a visual novel first and foremost, then, forgoing its gameplay in favor of its story.
I’m very much on the fence about this one, admittedly, as buying new equipment that allows you to effortlessly carve through waves upon waves of enemies can be incredibly rewarding, and a lot of the underlying ideas here are solid. The execution just trips up often enough that Ninjin: Clash of Carrots‘ attempts at variance start to feel like unfair gimmicks.
Shadows: Awakening inherits Vikings‘ repetitive and gimmicky boss fights, while its shifting rules and general inability to explain how certain things work can turn its frequent puzzles into a slog. Add a slow movement speed and too few teleport points on top of that, and you have a game that, while enjoyable overall, fails to live up to its potential.