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Where the gameplay may be lacking, The Big Con makes up for with emotional stakes. I found Ali’s relationships to be engaging, funny, and heartfelt. She can call her mom and her best friend—who she’s currently on the outs with—from the road. She makes friends with recurring guests along the road, including a particularly funny Pawn Shop Broker (the game’s way of letting you sell random items for extra cash). She even has a delightful imaginary friend called Rad Ghost who serves as a helper—emotionally, and logistically with controls—throughout the game. Amid the nostalgia and time travel, there is a very tangible reflection on the transience of commercial fads as well as a love and concern for small businesses. Ali is a good kid, and getting to follow her journey, living vicariously through her as the cool ‘90s teen I never was, was worth even the most lackluster of pickpocketing opportunities.
Road 96 is flawed yet fascinating. It takes aim at U.S. politics in a way I’ve seen few games tackle, if any. While it’s far from subtle in its approach, the game is sure to generate some valuable conversations among players—and that deserves praise. The game also impresses with its novel storytelling structure, brisk pacing, and smart use of supporting characters. There are issues. The game’s procedural nature is undercut by a “look, don’t touch” design philosophy. Narrative drives the game forward, and gameplay almost always takes a backseat. The game offers little in the way of difficulty, and the voice acting is so bad, the game would have been better off without voiced lines at all. And yet, Road 96 is so much more than the sum of its parts. It’s not going to appease all kinds of players, and it certainly won’t win over those it looks to critique, but those who give it a chance will surely warm up to its charm. Road 96 is a worthy trip, potholes and all.
"12 Minutes is the car crash you wince at, but can’t help but crane your neck to stare at. The game’s premise was brilliant, the concept trailer was masterful, and the cast couldn’t have been better. But none of those components make up for what is, ultimately, a game founded on contrived mechanics and underwhelming storytelling."
"Boyfriend Dungeon innovates in the realm of story and character, rather than with its gameplay systems, and I think it’s to the game’s benefit. Not every action game needs to reinvent the wheel in terms of mechanics. The experience is straightforward, and allows the spotlight to be on the fun characters and energizing gameplay. [...] I hope you try it out, and when you do, tell me who your fave sword is, and I’ll tell you mine."
Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights caught me by complete surprise. 2021 has been a quiet year so far, yet it’s easy for smaller games like this to fall through the cracks. And that’d be a shame. If you’re starving for more info on Metroid Dread and Hollow Knight: Silksong, no need to go hungry. Ender Lilies is far more than an appetizer; it’s a whole meal, and one of the best Metroidvanias in recent memory. Don’t miss it.
Where the Heart Leads fills a void after the closure of Telltale, which famously popularized interactive, combat-less games that ask for decisions to be made and for conversations to be had. I could practically see an icon twirling in the upper right hand corner, saying, Sege will remember you said that. I hope Where the Heart Leads is a sign of more games in that space. If you’re looking for a game that is quiet without being boring, philosophical but not peaceful, and sweet without being trite, then Where the Heart Leads should be in consideration for your next indie binge.
Despite some story misgivings, Episode INTERmission makes for an exceptional piece of DLC. It adds thrilling combat, a fun new character in Sonon, and Final Fantasy VII Remake’s best mini-game to date. It also includes a few bonus scenes that—without giving anything away—fans of the base game will want to watch. At $20, Episode INTERmission isn’t the cheapest proposition, but it’s certainly a worthwhile one. If you’re lucky enough to have a PlayStation 5, do yourself a favor and give it a go. Yuffie fans, rejoice!
But therein lies the rub for The Wild at Heart: It just isn’t memorable. Despite its inoffensive story and well-meaning gameplay, the title never quite finds its groove. There’s no smoking gun I can point to, as nothing here is inherently “bad.” This is a rare case where a gaming experience is simply less than the sum of its parts.