The obvious comparison here genre-wise would be Untitled Goose Game, but whereas that game’s value was primarily derived from its meme potential and novelty, Rain on Your Parade also brings to the table a constant barrage of creativity and interesting new gameplay twists that make 99% of other games look lazy by way of comparison. This is the type of game that makes me wish that I did awards or something because it really is head and shoulders above the competition. Be sure not to sleep on this one—Rain on Your Parade is a special game.
It isn’t that the story is nihilistic or sad. It isn’t that the second and third playthroughs see the gameplay lean heavily into a hacking minigame that’s not interesting enough to justify its ubiquity. It’s the intersection of poor pacing, info dumps, pretentiousness, frustrating character development, and countless other issues that drags down Nier: Automata and drowns all of its potential in a lake. All for nothing—I don’t feel sad, or empty, or moved. If anything, I feel angry at having wasted 38 hours on a story that teases questions of existence but makes a hard left turn away from those interesting topics into forced angsty-teenager drama. Nier: Automata could have been a brilliant game on so many levels, and I truly loved it for 10-20 hours. Then I watched it eat crayons while basking in unearned self-indulgence and realized that it’s not the modern classic I thought.
At the end of the day, How to Win is an amazing journey of people making insane suggestions and developers allowing those suggestions to shape their game in major ways. The same chaotic internet energy that birthed Boaty McBoatface was given free rein, and the pun-filled craziness that resulted is simply amazing to witness.
If a great art style and self-indulgent vagueries are all you’re looking for, then Genesis Noir is the game for you. If, however, you’re one of those pesky gamers who expect things to happen for underlying reasons and stories to have characters rather than just a parade of hollow archetypes, there’s nothing here to recommend.
Even after a dedicated tutorial and several early missions that function as another tutorial, figuring out Spacebase Startopia often feels like playing an obtusely old-school game without the benefit of a manual. That underlying complexity is also its greatest strength, however, because it allows the game to have a sense of constant discovery. At one point, I screwed up my early construction and left no room for the teleporter you need to move your hardier security mechs between decks, which came back to bite me when some bug-like creatures on another deck attacked. Around the same time, however, religious extremists planted a bomb, so I grabbed it and dropped it next to the bugs. This wouldn’t have eliminated them in most games. It worked here.
Each successful playthrough unlocks a higher “resilience” level that hobbles you in some way, and by the time you reach the maximum resilience level of 5, it’s possible for some starting characters to lose the very first battle due to RNG. There’s also a lot of repetition; phobias always use the same attacks in the same order and are tiered to create a difficulty ramp, so you’ll fight a lot of the same fights over and over again while trying to build a deck that complements your character.
I still have a small handful of complaints such as the uselessness of the “valor” stat and the arguably questionable balance of stat shifts on the noble route in general, but I spent time exploring different outcomes related to the inquisitor path that I had initially ignored and it ended up being my favorite storyline. The underlying mechanics feel significantly better when you can plan around certain stats required for specific outcomes, too, and now that my blind fumbling isn’t handicapping me, I’ve reached several different endings and realized that there’s more reactivity here than I initially thought.
Viola: The Heroine’s Melody draws inspiration from Chrono Trigger, Mario 64, and Cowboy Bebop, meshing all of that together into a lighthearted, uplifting game with a story about music and self-acceptance. All of these disparate elements somehow work when paired together, and while Viola doesn’t have the combat depth or staying power of the games it borrows from, its gameplay is clearly designed to play second fiddle to its memorable cast of characters.