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Chivalry II Review

Wow. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a game from Torn Banner Studios. Their first major release; Chivalry: Medieval Warfare was a fantastic, if buggy game that blended the Push mode gameplay of a Battlefield game with an innovative swinging mechanic unseen up to that point. And it had just enough janky animations to give us some unintentional comedy along with the depth of the combat.

PROS: Expanded mechanics. Cross-Platform play. Large scale maps. Upgraded visuals.

CONS: A bit light on launch content. Unlockable things involve a huge time sink. Bugs.

EPIC: Exclusivity will turn off a substantial amount of potential PC players.

Torn Banner followed that up with a fun expansion pack based off of the Deadliest Warrior TV show, which gave fans some combat tweaks, and deathmatches. Sadly, it didn’t have the Objective mode that made the base game famous. Most recently they tried their hands at making something newer with Mirage: Arcane Warfare. That game used Chivalry’s sword fighting combined with some light RPG elements and magic spells in a competitive team game. It was a really good game that didn’t sell well and was quickly abandoned. Something many buyers still haven’t forgotten. This, and the fact that the publisher of Chivalry II, Tripwire Interactive did a timed exclusivity deal with the Epic Games Store will undoubtedly mean some people will have some trepidation here.

Fortunately, Chivalry II seems like it has already done infinitely better so far than Torn Banner Studios’ last game. So it doesn’t look like it’s going to suffer the same fate. Be that as it may, there are still going to be a lot of people who may decide to wait for the game to show up on Steam or GOG in a year or get the game on their PlayStation or Xbox console of choice instead.

If you do decide to nab this one, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the gameplay though. Chivalry II is fantastic. Especially if you were a fan of the original release. For starters, almost everything you would have loved in the first game is here. You get the swing manipulation that made the original game famous. Chivalry II again has three primary attacks. A horizontal swing, a vertical overhead swing, and a stabbing motion. But unlike most games, you don’t simply end it at pressing an input. On PC, you’ll use the left button on the mouse to do a horizontal attack and the mouse wheel does the other two attacks. Rolling up stabs, and rolling down does your overhead. But it doesn’t end there. Immediately upon doing one of these attacks you’ll, be able to “steer” them by moving the mouse (or thumbstick on a controller). This opens up a ton of possibilities by letting you turn an overhead into a diagonal slash. Or a horizontal swing into someone’s leg. The right mouse button can be used to parry or block attacks. In the old game you needed to equip a shield to block. But in this new entry anyone can block by holding the button down. This makes handicap situations where it’s you up against 3 opponents a little bit easier though, you’ll still likely die until you get in a lot of experience.

Parries are done by pressing the right mouse button just as the enemy weapon is about to hit you, and you also have to “steer” the parries as if it were a weapon. If you do it, you’ll open up other combat options like ripostes where you can get a free hit, or a window for something evasive. Some other changes are to the class system. Now every character can do a dodge. In the original this was reserved for a Man-At-Arms class. This along with the blocking addition gives everyone more options and allow you to get within the side view or even behind an opponent if you’re good enough.

Both of these options use a lot of stamina though, so you’ll have to do so wisely. If you over do either of these you can expect people to easily figure out ways to make you exhaust yourself, and get yourself into a situation of helplessness. You can become disarmed both figuratively and literally. Another mechanic they’ve added is the inclusion of shield damage. In the original game, you could equip all sorts of shields and it was cool. You could use them to protect yourself from arrows, and incoming strikes. This is still true in Chivalry II. However, now shields can take damage which means you can’t completely hide behind them. Eventually, they will start to degrade, losing pieces as you continue to use them. That isn’t to say they’re like glassware or paper though. They can take a lot of punishment, and even in disrepair they can still be effective. But the days of crouching in a corner behind a tower shield barely taking damage are over. Eventually the shield will break to the point of uselessness.

But, the game has a few other mechanics that have been added or retooled. Two of the ones that jumped out at me were the charge ability and the throw ability. You can hold down the attack inputs to trade off a long windup with a more potent swing. That means that although you will be more vulnerable, the swing will do more damage. You’ll still need to play mind games though. If you ONLY go for these high powered swings you’ll be easily cut down as people can see it coming and either stab you before it comes out or evade it then attack you. The best of the best will parry you or interrupt you. Throwing weapons and other items is another cool new feature. You can throw your sword into an archer before they can line up a shot, or you can throw a disembodied head at opponents as a message.

And with so many objects you can pick up on the battlefield the possible projectiles become endless. Flaming chickens, branding irons, wagon wheels, cabbages, and more await your baseball arm. And in the case of foods you can eat them for health replenishment. Everyone also starts with a bandage too, so if you come out of a skirmish near death you can use it and replenish yourself faster than trying to find cover and wait. Another health update in the game is the inclusion of being downed. If you’re a big Fortnite fan, you’ll already know how it works. For the rest of you it’s a second chance mechanic. If you are defeated on the battlefield you won’t always die in the fight. Sometimes you’ll eat a hatchet and end up 99.7% damaged. In this state you can’t fight and have to crawl to a teammate to help you. In most cases you’re going to be finished off though. Unless you know you have 10 or more people directly behind you to pick you up, opponents will stab you as you try to escape. It’s not uncommon to see some players intentionally seek out those on their hands and knees to get some quick scavenger kills.

Beyond all of that, you’ll still be able to do feints, a quick cancelling of a move input at the beginning of its animation. This will fake out a lot of opponents who will try to counter or parry early and allow you a free hit. You can still combine moves together by swinging at just the right time during a previous movement. But sometimes you’re going to find opponents who know what you’re going for. So there are also now interrupt moves where you can get in a cheap punch to flinch them and allow you a minor chance at a comeback.

They’ve done a great job with all of this. And it continues into the game’s different modes. As of now the game has its classic Free-For-All Deathmatch and Team Deathmatches which are a nice way to practice the combat. And within that realm you can also find Duel servers, where you’re going to get into one on one fights. Again, another great way to get a handle on the melee combat. But the biggest reason to play this game is the returning Team Objective mode. This essentially works like it did in the original. It’s a Push mode where the attacking team tries to push back the defending team to different points on the map until they get to the final one and hopefully win the day. Unlike something like Battlefield or Call Of Duty though, players usually aren’t going to sit at a flashing letter for 60 seconds and then move to the next flashing letter. Each of the points is a tangible objective the attackers need to accomplish. Sometimes it involves razing a farm to the ground. Sometimes it involves stealing the Kingdom’s riches. Other times it involves using siege weaponry to gain passage into a castle. Things like towers, and battering rams. Often when attackers do push their way to the final point the game assigns a defender the role of a major character the attackers must assassinate and thus the defending team has to coalesce around them to wind down the remaining minutes for a last second win.

It’s really engaging stuff, and you’ll likely be really addicted to the gameplay on offer. Feeding into that is the revised class system. In the old game there were four: Archer, Knight, Man-At-Arms, and Vanguard. In Chivalry II there are four base classes, and then within each of those four are another three you’ll unlock over time as you play.

This is where some of the game’s shortcomings start to come into play. There’s a big focus on customization here, and so you’ll have to unlock things by playing. The grind to do so is pretty real though. You won’t take long to get the subclasses unlocked, but the weapons, and cosmetics are a much different story. You’ll have to put in an obscene amount of time to get a certain texture for your outfit unlocked. The weapons aren’t as bad in this regard. But it’s still a grind. Of course, like a lot of modern games there’s a pretend currency you can buy with real money to buy the cosmetic items early. But even if you do, you still have to be a certain level before you can equip it. So you probably won’t ever want to do this.

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To it’s credit, there are a fair amount of things you can alter here on your different characters. Multiple faces, costume accents, and other skins. And you can also tweak the look of your classes between your time spent on the Agatha Knights, as well as the rounds where you’re assigned to the Mason Order. Plus you can do a set of characters with no affiliation for the FFA rounds you find yourself in.

Going back to the classes a moment, one thing I also didn’t get to mention is that in combat each of these has a special move that they can use to help their team. Think of these like the ones in Nintendo’s Splatoon games. Over time, frags, and objectives you pull off you’ll fill a meter. When the meter is full you can perform the move. Some classes like the archer class can build braziers so your team can set projectiles on fire before shooting them. Others like the knights can blow a horn that heals the team. Or place a banner for an area of effect healing circle.

Created with GIMP

In addition to that, Chivalry II has a host of new abilities for each of the classes that add more depth to the combat. Some of them can do a shoulder tackle, causing an opponent to get knocked over and rolled around a second or two before being able to get up. The Vanguard’s charge attack returns, leading up to a powerful leaping strike. In the massive crowds of opponents these can be quite the spectacle. And while I personally find it more complicated, you can play this game in third-person by pressing P on the keyboard. Some of you may prefer it in third-person as you can see more of the combatants, and those prone to motion sickness may also prefer this viewpoint. For me, first-person just felt more natural.

Now, Chivalry II is going to draw some obvious comparison with a competing game: Mordhau. And some of you may be wondering which is better. But it isn’t a cut and dry, or open and shut case. Both games do similar things, but do them differently in ways that aren’t always a better or worse scenario. Some things in Chivalry II are better in my opinion. Chivalry II has better servers. And this is a BIG edge because it means you will have far better online matches. There are more of them, and they (as of this writing) seem to have far more stable connections. I’ve had more rubber banding, ghost swings, and slowly degraded performance experiences in Mordhau. Now that said, Triternion has recently upgraded their servers, and promised more updates to fix this. But as of this writing, Chivalry II has (in my experience) better performance.

In terms of content, Mordhau does have a few things Chivalry II either doesn’t have or has less of. Off the bat, Mordhau has horseback riding. And on the large scale battlefields in Chivalry II, horses would make things far easier to navigate. And while horses in Mordhau can feel a bit overpowering at times, their existence is something that is still welcome. Torn Banner Studios has talked about adding them in future updates. But as of now this is a point for Triternion. Triternion also gets a point for having far more customization options in its create-a-character feature. You can reshape faces, do a lot of individual part swapping in the costume designer, and overall it just does more.

But Chivalry II has generally better performance, and the animation seems smoother in my opinion. If you haven’t played either, this is instantly noticeable and will catch your eye far faster. Models are a little bit more detailed, and the overall look is just a little bit more refined. Chivalry II also has a lot of performance options throughout the menus. You have a multitude of different lighting effects, texture quality settings, supported resolutions and more. On my system (AMD Ryzen 3900X, 32GB RAM, RTX 2060 SUPER, Seagate FireCuda 1TB M2 and a T-Force 1TB SSD) I’m able to run the game maxed out around 1080p with a high frame rate. There are MANY settings you can tinker with though, and the game still looks good on the lower settings. If you haven’t been able to upgrade a CPU, RAM, or a graphics card (which is completely understandable at the time of this writing as chip shortages have driven prices through the roof.) the game should still be a fun time for you on the computer with lowered fidelity. Of course, if you’re near the minimum requirements ( Intel I3 4370, GeForce GTX 660, 8GB RAM) you may want to wait or go with the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One version. I didn’t have a machine that old to test the game on, but I suspect using a nearly 10 year old card will involve tweaking files beyond the scope of the in-game options. Your mileage may vary at that level.

But there’s nothing like the feeling you get when you survive a fight and throw someone’s disembodied head into an opponent’s face. Chivalry II also gets up to 64 players in a game at the same time! But when it comes to the gameplay, both games are fantastic at giving you a melee system that will take you plenty of time to master. Mordhau’s chambering system gives it a different feel than Chivalry II’s despite being similar on a surface level.

Both games have great dismemberment effects. Both games have situations where you’ll be able to fight on a few seconds longer upon losing an arm until you bleed out. Both games have great archery mechanics. In Mordhau, holding the bows back too long will make you sway wildly. In Chivalry II holding the bows back too long will drain your stamina and result in an almost recoil sort of effect. But in both cases finding that perfect blend of distance, and hold time results in a satisfying hit or kill on an opponent. In both games you need to lead opponents. Now some of you will find you like one more than the other, or one deeper than the other, but at the end of the day they’re both excellent in their own way.

Chivalry II is an absolute blast to play, and the only thing keeping it from perfection are some nagging issues that are going to annoy people. Most of these are the result of bugs. Chivalry II features other cool features I didn’t mention yet like cross-platform play. If you’re on a computer or a console, you’re going to run into players on either of the formats. Which is really cool. What isn’t cool is when you try to pair up with friends to find that the party system doesn’t place you on the same team! And while they’re FAR less common (at least in my experience) than they were in Chivalry 1, models still can be found jittering around after you die in rare collision bugs. There are also some occasions where your character doesn’t charge into battle with everyone else at the start of a match, and you have to choose your character again to get into the game. Things like this along with the microtransactions creating a grind hold back an otherwise fantastic game.

Chivalry II is a lot of fun, and it’s one I can highly recommend checking out. The objective based maps are some of the most fun I’ve had in a new multiplayer game in a while. The added lore here even benefits things as you can understand the motivations of both the Agatha Knights as well as the Mason Order in the game’s storyline. It’s told in some menu texts, as well as a couple of really well made videos. But then the game does a great job of referencing it throughout its environments and world building. And as in the first game, neither of the armies come out smelling entirely like roses. Both do some really nefarious things in the various missions, but for the sake of simplicity the Agatha Knights are sold to us as the Heroic Warriors and the Mason Order are the Evil Warriors.

The basic gist is that 20 years have passed since the original game and things are leading to an uprising. In the original Chivalry, the kingdom of Agatha was thrown into upheaval when King Argon led a crusade mission in which their mightiest warriors were defeated. With the King dead, his right hand General, Malric Terrorwin grew enraged as he believed they were put on a fool’s errand. After the defeat, Malric would form The Mason Order with those who agreed with his view. And before heading back to Agatha, would betray the remaining knights along with his group. But the Agathians had a fill in leader in interim King Feydrid Kearn. The events of that game led to a war for the crown between Malric Terrorwin’s Mason Order, and Feydrid Kearn’s remaining Agatha Knights.

By the events of Chivalry II, Malric has won that war, the Mason Order has become the de facto leadership, and Malric is now its despotic King. Killing people for questioning him as he sees his rule as absolute. However, Argon’s offspring Argon II emerges with a claim to his father’s throne. The Civil War between the Agatha Knights and Mason Order is reignited as the Agatha Knights hope to overthrow Malric and restore the kingdom to its former glory.

In the end, whether you end up fighting for the Agatha Knights or the Mason Order, you’re going to feel really invested in the world and its large scale 64 player battles. Torn Banner Studios did put out a roadmap which claims they’ll be supporting this game for years with fixes and content. Hopefully they can live up to those promises because Chivalry II is an excellent game. It’s just a shame it came out of the proverbial oven just a little bit too early. If you can look past the more egregious issues like the glitched party system, the microtransaction grind, and the limited number of maps at launch, you’ll find one of the most fun multiplayer games of recent years.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.

Blasphemous Review

It seems Metroid clones are almost a dime a dozen now. Every year it seems we get a bunch of them, which only goes to prove Nintendo had a winning formula back in 1986. What’s pretty surprising is just how many of these modern spins on the formula have proven to be major successes in their own right. One of the better ones I’ve played is today’s game Blasphemous.

PROS: Solid controls. Character design. Level design. World building. Audio.

CONS: Story can be a bit nebulous at times leading to confusion.

GUILT: A lot of the themes and visuals center around it.

In the fictional world of Cvstodia, you take the role of a silent Knight. The world around you is filled with all sorts of bizarre creatures and you’ll run into many people in the land who are in a constant state of torment. Being a Metroidvania you’ll spend many hours exploring the land and entering different areas. You’ll find a giant boss within the first few moments. Something that led a lot of people to comparing the game to Dark Souls when it came out initially.

It turns out your silent protagonist is part of of the Brotherhood of the Silent Sorrow, a religious sect that was taken out by Escribar, a Darth Palpatine-esque character who leads a different sect. A mysterious entity known only as The Miracle resurrected you, and has made many other sometimes seemingly arbitrary decisions. As you end up traversing the world and finding different characters you’re told of a mountain of ash and the presumable ascension from the status quo if you can reach the top of it. In order to do this you’ll need to suffer through the game’s three humiliations. Each of these is a massive boss battle.

Blasphemous has a ton of influence from early Christianity with a lot of its art direction clearly resembling things seen in early Catholic imagery. And a lot of things seem to really borrow from the theme of Purgatory as you’re going through all of it. The idea of suffering, and atonement for one’s transgressions before they can move forward is there. And while it’s very loud in the imagery and dialogue, it doesn’t beat you over the head with it. Nor does it go for a 1:1 parallel.

Still, there is enough of it that it isn’t going to appeal to everyone. Some of your upgrades come in the form of beads on a rosary-like rope. These are going to give you any number of beneficial results. Some let you take less damage from fire. Or let you go through poisonous gasses without dying. Or buff certain attacks you might have enabled. Or any number of things. There are also major characters that act in place of the power up shrines you might see in a Metroid title. One of them has you taking swords out of their body to power up your attacks. Another is a tortured soul that lets you put more beads on your rosary.

And a lot of the enemies you’ll eventually face also take the form of corrupted clergy, or mystics. There’s a lot of creativity with the character designs too as it goes beyond merely being influenced by Medieval and Renaissance church art. Some of the adversaries you’ll go up against are both unsettling and imposing. Along the way, you’ll also run into a few NPCs that ask you to go on side quests. If you do them successfully you’ll get a better ending.

But without giving anything away, all of the endings are pretty good. Overall, the storyline is a pretty intriguing one that will keep you invested. Helped along by all of the world building that was done here. That said, it can be pretty hard to follow sometimes, and some of the points, and explanations will be found outside the game. Because it doesn’t always detail everything very well.

Be that as it may, everything else in the game is pretty fantastic. It isn’t just a really great looking game, though I can’t stress enough just how good the pixel art in it really is. But the level design is very good too. Some of the blocked progression will have you spending hours on your initial run as it isn’t always obvious where you need to go. When you finally do figure it out, you’ll be amazed you didn’t think of it sooner. Then you’ll move on and get yourself lost again. But through it all you won’t mind so much. Also throughout that map you’ll find the aforementioned power up rooms and upgrade rooms. But you’ll also find your expected warp rooms, as well as rooms to fill the bile jars you’ll find around the game. As well as a character who can buff the amount of health your bile jars can give you. Think of these like your E Tanks in Metroid.

If all of those special rooms weren’t enough you will find a few other ones. One of them is a type of room where you can build a skill tree of sorts using the currency of tears you’ll get by killing enemies throughout the game. There is also a slew of body parts you’ll pick up throughout the game. There’s an underground chamber where you can drop them off inside different compartments.

Combat in the game reminded me less of Metroid or Castlevania though. Instead, it feels much more like Slain. Much of it is built around a counter system where you have to get the split-second timing down to do a parry. Parrying just before an attack hits you stuns the opponent, allowing you to deal more damage. You’re going to want to take full advantage of this too because a few of these bosses are super tough. Particularly late in the game where they become much more powerful as well as faster. You’re definitely going to want to find as many beads and flasks as possible as well as have them powered up. Especially as you near the end.

Blasphemous excels in its world building, and a lot of that is due to the excellent backgrounds and character art we’ve discussed. But the audio is another large part of that due to the ambient music that as in Nintendo’s Metroid, is tailor made for each of the many regions in the map. It can be nebulous, ambient and even unsettling at times. Fitting right in with the themes of the game. You never know how much something is going to hurt, or how long it will last. But you always know it’s probably going to be harder than it looks. And while I don’t know it’s the sort of soundtrack you’ll want to commute to work to, it is something that makes the game feel more immersive. The overall sound design does so too, with some terrific samples of cries, screams, and effects that make things a lot more believable. They’ve done a terrific job with all of this.

Really, if you haven’t experienced this game yet, you should. My only major complaint with it is that as good as the storytelling is, it doesn’t go quite far enough in giving you information you need to figure out what is going on. So in order for many players to understand everything, they’ll find they have to go outside of the game for certain details. Information about some of the stables of villains, or regions. Some of the details on the motivations of the Miracle. Sure, things are likely to be up to the player to hypothesize or discuss with other players. But those who still want a coherent, fleshed out storyline will probably need to do some internet sleuthing even if they 100% the game.

Still, even with those missing details, everything here is going to hold your interest until you get one of the endings. I didn’t have too many technical issues during my time with the game although there was one time when the game never took the Game Over screen away when I continued. So while I could hear my character moving around, swinging a sword I couldn’t see any of it due to the black screen and red text. So I was forced to reload my last save point and continue on. So be aware there are a couple of bugs that may crop up. To their credit, the developers are still supporting the game with updates and fixes so your experience may differ by the time you’ve read this.

Ultimately, Blasphemous is a terrific game fans of Metroid, Axiom Verge, Celeste, The Messenger, and other big exploration games may want to look into. But it isn’t going to be for everyone. Some people might be put off by some of the imagery or horror elements here. That said, it is a well-made game worth looking into. There’s a fair amount of challenge, as well as replay value. Particularly if you want to find every possible part of the map that you can explore.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa Of Dana Review

I’ve never been a massive Role Playing Game player. I can definitely appreciate a good one for what it is. But the complexity and math in many of the deepest ones have always drained me. I always preferred the twitch, hand-eye coordination focused experiences of platformers, shooters, fighting games, beat ’em ups, and other action genres. That isn’t to say early TSR versions of Dungeons & Dragons games on my Commodore 64 weren’t good or fun. But growing up, worrying about mapping and spreadsheets felt more like playing Excel than action games ever did. But as I got older, I began to understand why other people preferred a more cerebral experience. Ys (along with Ultima) is one RPG series that made the genre more palatable to action fans like me.

PROS: The deepest storyline in the series yet. Excellent combat. Massive world to explore.

CONS: The world still isn’t 100% open. Don’t expect Skyrim or Breath Of The Wild.

HOURS: One of the longer games in the series. I spent 53.7 hours on my play through.

Ys as a series has always had a great blend of action and JPRG mechanics. It’s still very much an RPG. You need to find items, talk to specific people at specific times to get specific information. You need to go explore large sections and dungeons for gear. You need to grind for experience to defeat later enemies and bosses. You need to visit shops for key items. At the same time, you don’t have to worry about spreadsheets and such. You simply delve into a menu, grab the thing you need and go. You don’t have to have long drawn out menus in equally drawn out turn-based battles either. Combat is as immediate as playing Golden Axe. Early Ys games used a “Bump” system where you ran into bad guys off center to do damage. But later games replaced attacks with button presses and flashy animations.

Most of the Ys games have the typical fantasy lore, and storyline you would expect a general JRPG to have. Adol (and sometimes his pal Dogi) end up washing ashore in unfamiliar territory and somehow end up having to solve the problems engulfing the land. Usually some evil sorcerer is behind it. Sometimes it’s more of a sympathetic villain comparable to Darth Vader. Sometimes it’s something else entirely. But now and again the series will shake things up with new ideas. Ys Origin took place centuries before the original game, and explored a lot of the back story, introducing three character arcs to boot. Ys 7 had a robust party system. So what does this game do that the other games didn’t?

The big thing here is the world. Ys VIII gives you a massive map. One you can see things in the distance and get to. It’s so big that it’s easy to go into it thinking you’re going to get a major dose of Western CRPG influence in a huge world you can go anywhere in. And while at later points in the game things open up, this is not going to be like an Elder Scrolls game. So don’t make the mistake of thinking it will play like Morrowind or Oblivion or Skyrim. While the map is quite vast there are yellow lines around every major section of the map. These lines presumably do two things. First, they hide some loading. You can tell this by the fact that it resets and respawns the same enemy sets specifically for each section. Second, it blocks you from going into a section before the game wants you to. This ties into the storyline because some of the sections pretty much require you to have seen a particular cutscene or complete a certain event leading to said cutscene before you can go there. So as expansive as the world is, it isn’t like a Western RPG where you’re crafting much of the story through exploration. The main story progression demands some parts go in a particular order.

Fortunately, you’re probably not going to mind being stonewalled once in a while, because this is one of the best storylines in the entire series. Like most of the Ys games you will end up shipwrecked. But that’s about the only similarity to the narrative of the other games. Things start Adol and Dogi off on a cruise ship headed to what can only be compared to Bermuda. Near the island is a section of ocean where ships disappear and the crews are never heard from again. When things open up though, you don’t just get a setup cut scene. You play through a fairly interactive ship, talking to the crew, meeting the other passengers, and even getting some foreshadowing that doesn’t reveal itself as such until much, much later. Things culminate with a surprise battle against a giant Octopus like boss. Defeating the boss sends you to the meat and potatoes of the game. The ship is destroyed in the chaos and Adol is once again washed ashore.

But this time it’s a massive island. Marooned, prepare for quite an arduous trial. Getting off of the island is going to be much, much more involved than you would imagine. You’ll have to not only find other survivors who expand your party, you’ll have to built a new settlement with them. This gives it a bit of a Tower Defense element. Once you have found enough of the passengers, your hideout becomes an RPG style village where you have item shops, a medical doctor’s office, food shop, and more. One of the people you can rescue will also be able to tailor costumes for playable characters. In addition to those you can also buy costumes as DLC for the game. But I never felt the need to do so. There’s already so much stuff under the hood here it felt rather pointless to me. The game also has an underlying mechanic where you can choose to help fellow survivors by doing side quests. Doing so builds your reputation with them, and they’re more prone to helping you out either with beefier items, or in terms of the game’s story. Ys VIII also has multiple endings, so getting the best of them often means doing what you need to do to help your village.

Another new feature this entry adds is a horde battle/defend the base mashup, which gives things a bit of a Dynasty Warriors meets Plants Vs. Zombies. You’ll have to put up barricades, bait traps, gongs, and other stuff to impede monsters from getting into your makeshift town. But then you have to go out and attack the invaders with some hack n’ slash action. Doing this also gives you certain benefits although if it’s not your sort of thing you can choose to ignore most of them. There are a handful that tie into the story, so you will be forced to play those.

Combat also has a few changes. You can change between different combat styles which effects certain enemies in different ways. It is possible to brute force your way through without paying attention to it. But that also means grinding for a lot of health options like potions, and finding food supplies. Speaking of food, this game does take one page from Nintendo’s Breath Of The Wild by implementing a cooking system. Although it isn’t as Deep as the Zelda game’s it does come into play with the food, medicine, and general crafting. You’ll have to find so many pumpkins, or plants, or enemy bones or what have you to make dishes. The higher tiered dishes will refill more of your health, and revive fallen party members in fights.

That’s right, party members. As in Ys 7, you can recruit many of the characters you meet into your system, and change characters on the fly. Some are ranged characters that use magic or guns, others are more up close and personal. On top of this, some of the people you rescue will have talents that turn into even more shops. Shops that let you create new costumes with perks or a blacksmith that can level up whichever weapons you’re characters presently have.

And if all of that isn’t enough for you, you’ll still need to spend hours exploring the world, finding entirely new items, clues that lead you to other characters, and even shortcuts and entrances to new areas once you’ve rescued enough people. You’re also going to need to play a lot of the Sega Bass Fishing inspired minigame they’ve thrown within the game. Getting some of the exotic fish leads to key items as well as needed treasure and food ingredients. And you’ll run into some other NPCs who can level up your attack’s effectiveness as well.

Frankly, if you’re the sort who wants to 100% your RPGs there is a lot of stuff to do in the side quests alone. Even if you don’t, you’ll still find yourself doing a fair amount of the side stuff so that you can get a leg up on some of the harder points in the game. And while the game may have those narrative driven walls I talked about, that doesn’t mean there’s a straight linear experience. You’ll still be backtracking to areas you already visited to find alternate routes. You can still discover some things far earlier than I’m sure many intended.

Once you get pretty far into the storyline, you’ll start seeing elements that might seem out of place. But the narrative does do a fantastic job of tying it all together. The island features many, many secrets, most of them are intrinsically tied to our heroes escaping the island. And over the time you spend uncovering them, you’ll learn more about each of the characters various lives and backgrounds. One of the things that really struck me with this particular entry is how important everyone feels. Even characters that on paper might not seem to add importance to the story, still add a lot to the world building. Most of the characters do grow over the course of the storyline and come out richer for the experience. Some learn lessons. Some don’t. But the change in setting really reinvigorates the overall mythos while doing something different. It’s a far cry from the typical “Evil wizard wants to take over the world” fare you might be used to. And things feel really cohesive too. The answers might not come when you would like them to, but they do wrap up the loose ends pretty nicely. There are several endings as well. So there is a bit of replay value for those who want to experience everything.

As the story unfolds you’ll discover that the island is actually populated by dinosaurs. But before you can say “Jeff Goldblum” you’ll be peppered with numerous monsters and mighty reptiles. Before long Adol begins having dreams of a bygone era. You’ll play through these typically upon finding settlements to rest in. At least initially. Later in the game you’ll have to go into the past to affect the present and vice versa. Sometimes it will be necessary in order to make an area accessible. Other times it will be necessary in order to fill in gaps of the story. One of another new things are campsites which in turn tie into the food system. As you can set up a campfire and cook meals. Before long, the dreams partially become reality as the past and present begin to affect one another. Without giving too much away for those who haven’t played it yet, you’ll begin to learn the secrets of the island, the lost civilizations that once thrived there and how all of it is tied to the characters’ current predicament.

Returning from previous games’ are the fast travel crystals that allow you to get between large areas without having to grind away for miles. It’s also handy when your village gets raided by enemies as you can choose to get back and do the tower defense horde mission if you want to. Also, as in most of the series you’ll find items you’ll have to constantly swap in and out of use. Some of these let you climb to seemingly impossible to reach areas. Others let you breathe under water so you can explore for new areas or treasure. Still others let you walk over water letting you get through some of the swampy areas a little more quickly.

And no Ys game is complete without a plethora of major bosses. Ys VIII features a metric ton of them. Many of them are even optional fights but all of them are worth fighting and defeating. Of course, you can still run into some of them when you’re too low on experience or you don’t have enough healing items. So be sure to save often. That is one nice thing here, in most cases you can save whenever you want. Although during the aforementioned boss fights you cannot, nor can you change your party roster during a battle. So you’ll need to make sure you do that before encountering a boss. There are also a couple of times when the game is going to make you think you’ve gotten the final encounter over with and you’re ready to see the credits roll. Only to surprise you with more story. More grinding. More questing. Ys VIII is a massive game.

Beyond all of that are going to be a bunch of other side quests, and optional goals I didn’t get to touch much on. Like the giant Gorilla you’ll meet who can level up your characters and give them some new skills. You fight him in mini boss battles to do this. Win and you get the new moves. Fail, and you get to scour the world for food so you can pay them to do it again. Every playable character can be powered up this way, so you may find yourself swapping party members to give all of them a fighting chance near the end of the game. And the end of the game leaves you with a variety of emotions. Elation, poignancy, contentment, and perhaps some regret. But after beating the game it was nice enough to tell me that there are multiple endings depending on your choices throughout the game. So it does lend itself to replay value. Especially since it does so in a vague way. So unless you’re going to look up how to definitively get the best canonical ending, you may find yourself coming back to this one a couple of times every few months to play a bit differently and see if you’ve altered your literary destiny.

As you can see, the game looks terrific. As mentioned, you can see way off into the distance, and for the most part if you can see it you can eventually get to it. It isn’t so much the technical aspect that makes it happen here. The game doesn’t really have a lot of geometry at work. It’s almost all being done with texture work and art. And it’s all fantastic. On the technical side though there are some impressive lighting effects at play, especially when you find yourself in dungeon sections, caves, and underwater where you can see it at work. Falcom has always managed to do so much with so little in the Ys games and this one is no exception. This game is also on a wide variety of platforms so even on the less powerful options you’re getting something tremendous.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the soundtrack. While this is another entry that experiments a bit more with different genres it still gives long time fans their hardcore, symphonic metal. Each area of the island seems to get its own score. Which is nice as it makes the games feel a bit more distinct. There are orchestral areas, rock areas, electronica areas and others that have more of a world music influence. Of course, encountering bosses introduces the majority of the crunchy guitar solo driven heavy metal the series is known for.

Anyway, Ys VIII could very well be the best game in the series. And while it might have launched with some well documented translation problems, I only recently got around to playing it. So for me the problems were nil. Though I suspect even with some inaccurate or broken dialogue one could have still gotten a rough approximation of what was going on. In any case, if you’ve been curious about this one for a while, check it out. And while there are other longer RPGs out there, this one never felt like it was wearing out its welcome to me. I never got bored or overly confused with menus or felt like I was doing anything pointless. Whether you’re a hardcore fan of the series, or a dabbler looking to try something new, Ys VIII is worth picking up. It’s got great mechanics, wonderful characters you’ll care about as well as loathe for the right reasons. It’s got a bunch of subtle and not so subtle influences. And the storyline will keep you interested over the entire 50 plus hours you’ll likely spend playing it. And the multiple endings might be something you want to go back to the game to in order to experience it all.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Serious Sam Collection Review

The Nintendo Switch has had a track record of being like my niece when she was a toddler. “I CAN DO IT MYSELF!” she would exclaim when she got interested in trying something. Like when she flew a kite for the first time. She’s a teenager now (Time flies)but she would never give up on anything at 4. Much like her, the Nintendo Switch has been running video game software most would not have thought possible. While visual concessions were there, we still saw Panic Button port DOOM (2016), we saw Shiver port Mortal Kombat 11 last year, CD Projeckt Red migrated The Witcher 3 with all of its DLC content onto the thing, and now Croteam has migrated Serious Sam Collection.

PROS: Customization options. Performance enhancement options. Bonus content.

CONS: Minor performance issues. No gyroscopic aiming. No physical editions as of now.

BONUS CONTENT: A Horde mode, and Split-Screen multiplayer added.

While this bundle is on all of the current generation platforms I’m focusing on the Switch version here since that’s the one I bought. But I can compare the games with the original PC releases as I explain how well the transition to Nintendo’s tablet system has gone. I imagine the PlayStation 4, and Xbox One versions will look a little bit better as they share some technology with the PC in components. But the content will be pretty much the same, so if you plan on looking into either of those versions this review may still help you.

It’s hard to believe but Serious Sam has been with us for almost twenty years already. I can still remember working at an OEM when I played a demo for the first time. I would get computer game magazines and read up on new releases and this was at a time when often times demos of new games would come on CDs bundled with magazines. PC Gamer had given away one such demo disc with the Serious Sam The First Encounter demo along with the free Seriously Warped Deathmatch mod for those who bought the full game. It was one of the demos that hit home (along with the poor performance of UT, and SIN on my current machine at the time) that I would need a new computer.

Fast forward over the years and Croteam would make The First Encounter, The Second Encounter with GODGames, then go to Take 2 Interactive (2k) where they would make Serious Sam II, leave Take 2, and go to Devolver Digital (Founded by ex GODGames members) where they would put out HD remasters of The First Encounter and The Second Encounter before giving us Serious Sam 3 BFE, and The Talos Principle. These all ran on updated versions of their Serious Engine. Serious Sam II on Serious Engine 2, the remasters on Serious Engine 3, and SS3 on Serious Engine 3.5.

Since this collection runs under Serious Engine 3.5 you won’t be seeing Serious Sam II. Previously, Croteam did put out a similar collection on the Xbox 360 that came with one of the indie spinoff games normally on digital stores like Steam. So if you don’t have a respectable computer these days, but you do have that 360 collection and one of the current consoles, do you need to get this collection? Well this collection gives you a DLC that collection did not. So you may want to indeed if you’re a big fan of the franchise. But there’s more to it than that.

Serious Sam Collection for Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 here includes Serious Sam HD The First Encounter, Serious Sam HD The Second Encounter with its Legend Of The Beast DLC, and Serious Sam 3: BFE with its Jewel Of The Nile DLC. It doesn’t include any of the indie spinoff games like the 360 collection did, but you do get the DLC for the second title here that that collection did not include. So this feels a bit more complete.

Of course on the PC, there is Serious Sam Complete Pack which also included Serious Sam Fusion which acts like a similar launcher hub as the one built into this collection. So in either case you can play these three games from one executable program. But the PC collection also does give you the indie spinoffs as well as Serious Sam II. If you just have to have every canon game in the series, that’s one edge to getting these games on Steam.

On the other hand, while a few of the games and spinoffs have been on previous video game systems many have never heard of these games or played them outside of Europe. This is despite their massive popularity on computers and those previous ports and iterations Stateside. So getting these again on consoles gives people who have played them in the past a convenient way to play them again in their living room. The fact that the Switch is a tablet means it’s also an easy way to enjoy yourself while terrorizing patrons with the sounds of headless kamikazes when you get your morning coffee. But more importantly, it potentially introduces these games to an entirely new audience preparing them for the eventual day when they play Serious Sam 4 or try to track down Serious Sam II out of curiosity.

So for those who have never played these games, what do you do? Serious Sam is a series inspired by the id Software and 3D Realms games of old. Games like DOOM, Quake, Wolfensten, Duke Nukem 3D, and Blood. However, many make the mistake of coming into these games and playing them like those games. Serious Sam may be inspired by those old shooters of yore, but it plays nothing like them. It plays more like a First-Person version of a 1980s or early 90s twin stick arcade shooter. Games Eugene Jarvis made for Midway, like Robotron 2084, Smash T.V., and Total Carnage.

In all of these games you’ll be placed in long, intricate levels that feature massively open rooms, fields and arenas. You’ll explore rooms and areas looking for secrets, killing a couple of enemies here and there before getting into one of these battlefields. You’ll immediately be swarmed from all sides with hundreds and hundreds of enemies. Survive these onslaughts, pick up some health, and ammunition and continue the cycle over 15 levels or so. But that’s just the barebones version. These games do a lot with so little. Just when you begin to get the hang of fighting low-level enemies, the games introduce new enemies. Each enemy type has to be dealt with a certain way. The Kleer Skeletons are best dealt with by using a shot gun at just the right moment as they pounce at you. But get more than five of them and you may want a minigun. But while you’re dealing with those, the game will quietly send in Harpies from the heavens that require different tactics to defeat. By the middle of these games you begin to very quickly juggle different weapons for different threats while fighting them all at the same time. It’s crazy, stressful, and a lot of fun. On the downside, some might find it too repetitive. But honestly, the combination of 80s arcade gaming and late 90s PC FPS action is a winning one. You’re always doing something. When you’re not killing monsters you’re resupplying. When you’re not resupplying you’re hunting for secrets. And despite the name of our hero, these games do not take themselves seriously at all. Even the grittier newer releases with their more realistic graphics are still about being over-the-top arcade action. With funny one liners that could be in a Dolph Lundgren vehicle, and plenty of hilarious Easter Eggs.

So that’s a summary of what you do in general. I’m not going to review each game individually here as I’m talking about a collection. Though I will talk a little about the differences in each before getting into how well these games have made the transition from computers to consoles. The two Serious Sam HD titles are remastered versions of the original games that came out in 2009, and 2010. While Serious Sam 3: BFE was originally released in 2011. The DLCs for the second HD Remaster and Serious Sam 3 came about in 2012.

The two HD remasters have a slightly less realistic look to them than the third game does, being older. But the general play style is the same. Here’s where the series began in a sense of releases. Sam is sent back to ancient Egypt to defeat Mental in the past so that in the future the alien race is unable to conquer the Earth. You’ll spend hours in each of them and it’s important to remember these are technically two halves of one game. The second half has a much wider variety of settings than the first half, and really perfects the formula set up in the First Encounter. Moving onto Serious Sam 3 you’ll learn you’re playing a prequel. the BFE stands for Before First Encounter. So in that game you’re playing the events just before the original game. There are a number of visual effects that the third game has over the remasters. But that does come at a price of performance.

Serious Sam Collection does give you a remarkable number of options for a console release. And while the number of options are not as deep as they are in the PC releases over the years, it’s impressive. Very few console games give you any customization. Many of the core game options have made their way over as you can tinker with your crosshair, turn gibs on or off, change the color of the blood from red to different colors or even use the hippie texture which changes the blood texture to flowers. You can also turn the blood off entirely. You can change the order of weapons when cycling them, and you can pick which character you want to use for multiplayer modes.

But it doesn’t end there, the game will also let you choose from a number of preset button mapping settings including some that will swap the thumb sticks’ roles to accommodate left handed players. You can also disable auto aim and you can tinker with the sensitivity of the thumb sticks for your aiming. Croteam also migrated the color scheme graphics options here. So like on PC, you can change the tone of the colors to be brighter, darker, richer, or softer with different presets and then tweak the individual brightness, contrast, saturation, and gamma of each. But probably the coolest thing here is the fact you can optimize the game for graphics settings or performance. When you go into the actual game it doesn’t seem to make a dramatic change in visuals either. But you do feel the difference while playing the games. This is especially true in Serious Sam 3.

On Nintendo Switch the games look comparable to a computer running with lower and medium settings enabled. Things like shadows and Antialiasing are obviously set lower as you can see jag lines along things like cables or palm trees. Performance with the graphics set to optimize graphics over performance seems pretty similar to setting it to optimize performance in the HD remasters. The frame rate seems to hover around 60 most of the time, though when things got hairy with hundreds, upon hundreds of enemies setting it for graphics could sometimes see a split second dip in framerate into the 20s where things would chop up a second before going back to normal. Setting it to performance made this even rarer, and it would come at the cost of some less defined shadows, AA, and draw distance. Not that big a deal. Serious Sam 3 however, almost requires you set it to performance as the bump in graphics requires more from the Switch’s Tegra. It never gets unplayable on Graphics, but it does kick way down to the 30s in frame rate.

And while you may not physically see it with your eyes, you can feel the difference in your hands. Things are much less responsive and the dips that are uncommon in the remasters are more common. The performance setting seems to uncap the frame rate (I’m not a coder, I can’t say for certain) but it feels much closer to what it does on a computer. It still dips once in awhile, but it feels much better. And visually, it doesn’t look that much different. You can really analyze it and then notice some of the things I mentioned when talking about these settings on the remasters. But it’s not a massive difference save for the rare occasion you might notice something in the far, far, distance sprinkling into view.

While there will no doubt be some who downplay having these games on the Switch due to the lower settings, they’re missing another marvel. Serious Sam Collection joins the likes of Mortal Kombat 11, The Witcher 3, DOOM (2016), and Wolfenstein: The New Order, as games that probably shouldn’t have been possible on the system, not only running on the system but running well. And while concessions in the graphics were made, these games still look pretty great. And tweaking the color options can actually compensate a bit for taste. I tinkered a bit by starting out with the “Vivid” setting, and then moved the contrast, brightness, gamma settings around a bit and found it really made some of the moments in the third game look a bit more lively. The settings get shared across all of the games though, which is a little disappointing when you consider that the earlier games are more colorful, and so what you do for the third game may not work out as well for one of the other games for you. Turning off the blood, and gibs can also help you slightly with performance as it’s a tiny bit less for your Switch to draw and animate during the massive battles. And so if it saves you a couple of frames per second here or there, those who want the best speed possible may just do that.

To this day, there are some video game players on the PC end that will run games on the lowest settings possible, even on a new system with bleeding edge parts because they do not want a sub 60 FPS experience under any circumstances. And while there’s certainly a point where you can become so obsessed with framerate it keeps you from enjoying a game, there’s something to be said for having a framerate that stays high so that when intensive things happen and it has to drop, it drops from really high to high. That way as a player you’re not seeing or feeling it the way you do when it goes from high to low. Even some of those who buy this for one of the other consoles may consider this. I didn’t notice enough of a change to warrant leaving it off for myself. But your mileage may vary.

When compared to the PC versions of these games, obviously the PC versions are going to come out ahead, as they’re more feature rich on the computer and unless your computer is well over a decade old, they’ll probably perform better there. But that said, it is interesting to see how close these get to the computer versions. In terms of content, everything is here. The same stages, the same number of enemies, the DLC is here in its entirety. Everything is here. And it looks and sounds terrific by the standards of the Nintendo Switch. As I said earlier, that they squeezed all of it onto the little tablet that could, and had it perform as well as it does and still looking nice really speaks to the talent at Croteam. The console versions all also add split-screen co-op campaigns, horde modes, and deathmatches to the mix. Which is fantastic for anybody who has friends, family, or roommates as you can play together without everyone having to buy the game and a console plus a subscription. But like the computer versions, it supports online play as well. So you can still go through the campaign, or play deathmatches, or horde games together that way.

Be that as it may, there is one sticking point with the multiplayer and that is draw distance of enemies. Whether you’re playing the game online with friends or strangers or you delve into split screen you can expect this issue to crop up. It seems that enemies will draw into view six feet in front of you at times. This can be an issue because when you play the game normally, you may have harpies coming from the distance, or a large herd of werebulls gunning for you. Not being able to see them until they get close increases the difficulty a lot. Even if you’re playing on a lower setting with less enemies, it’s something to be aware of. This is presumably to keep the game’s framerate from tanking as it has to draw everything multiple times. And while it doesn’t break the game, it does increase the challenge beyond what was intended. It’s still going to be fun, but you have to expect some unfair moments. Fortunately, you can spawn right where you died during a multiplayer match, and you have unlimited lives unless you set it otherwise. So co-operatively beating the campaign is doable.

And while this isn’t going to look nearly as good as a computer running everything maxed out in 1080p, 1440p, 4k or 8k, it does look the part. Again, compare it to a 7 year old machine with a midrange card of the era in it, running at medium or low. It’s following the trend of those other PC games, and Mortal Kombat 11 I mentioned before. If you’ve never played these games before and only have a console, you’re probably going to love them on your Switch or PS4 or XB1. They’re fun games on any platform really, and they’ve made the transition to consoles pretty well. I do however have one major issue with the Switch version. In spite of all of the customization that made its way over, and amenities made for consoles it would have been a slam dunk to have motion controls be the icing on the cake. Splatoon 2, DOOM, Wolfenstein, and even Overwatch have gyroscopic aiming. This is one edge the Switch has when it comes to shooter games. While some might deride motion controls, when it comes to shooters on controllers, it has always been far superior than using thumb sticks. Because it’s much closer to the movement of a mouse on PC. It would especially benefit these games considering just how many enemies are thrown to you at any given time.

Still, in spite of the lack of motion controls, and some technical workarounds stifling multiplayer a little, I still recommend Serious Sam Collection. If you’ve never played these beforehand this is a fantastic way to become introduced to the series. If you have played them, this gives you the perfect opportunity to replay them in the living room, and in the case of the Switch version you can conveniently play them on the go, which is great because you can play these for five hours or five minutes. The occasional performance dip is disappointing but these are still very playable versions that perform very well most of the time. The lack of motion aiming on the Switch is a missed opportunity, but the games are still so fun its worth dealing with their omission. Plus you get all of the DLC expansion packs and you’re getting the bonus of couch co-op. Sadly, as of now there are no physical versions, so video game collectors might feel a little disappointed by that. But these are nevertheless worth picking up even if they won’t be booted from a card, or Blu Ray. For some it will be a new experience, and for veterans it’ll be fun reliving them and comparing them. And who wouldn’t love hearing the loud chorus of “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!” emanating from your Nintendo Switch during your morning coffee run at Starbucks? If the coffee doesn’t wake you up, the explosions of headless kamikazes will.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Mystik Belle Review

These days it seems there are constantly new Metroid-like games. Many of which take Nintendo’s tried and true formula and then alter it with their own characters and setting. Many of them have been quite good. Another one you can put on that list is today’s game Mystik Belle. This game does something that really stands out by including elements of point and click adventure games in it.

PROS: Bright characters. Clever writing. Spot on controls.

CONS: A couple of obtuse puzzles.

ULTIONUS: Has a few nods to their previous game Ultionus: A Tale Of Petty Revenge

Mystik Belle tells the story of a little girl at a witching school who is blamed by the faculty when a mysterious witches brew goes missing. In order to keep herself from being expelled she reluctantly agrees to go find all of the ingredients so her teacher Ms. Willow can make another brew to replace it. She quickly gets more than she bargained for though when she finds out just how much she has to go through just to find a single ingredient.

Her pain becomes your pain, because Mystik Belle is tough. You’ll be exploring a fairly large map, fighting monsters and looking for items so that you can explore even further in areas previously inaccessible to you. Mystik Belle is also very much a point and click adventure game. Though it doesn’t give you the countless hours to search around every item of every background because there is danger at every turn. Especially when you’re just starting out.

You’re berated by the top three witches who run the school, you get barked at by an old monster, you’re given a hall pass and told to move your ass. Right from the beginning though you will love the writing. It’s cute demeanor may make you think it’s a family-friendly kids’ game. But it isn’t. The main character is rather sassy and the characters you run into sometimes drop some less than child-friendly dialogue. Make no mistake, it isn’t crass for the sake of being crass. You won’t be hearing a constant barrage of cuss words this side of a hard R action film. But when it does drop a swear you probably don’t want to have your four-year old around.

That said, the writing here is still very good. The characters have great personalities and charm about them. In many ways it feels like the best parts of the old Brat Pack teen comedy movies of the 1980s. It’s like if sword and sorcery movies were sent to the Breakfast Club detention hall. Would you like another? Yes! They’ve got you for two months.

Anyway, you’ll also be wowed by the bright, large, colorful sprites and multilayered backgrounds. Just like Ultionus, this one has a look very reminiscent of vintage Commodore Amiga games, though there aren’t the constant nods to it this time out. The level of details especially jumps out to me in this game. This is apparent in some of the animations of enemies as well as some of the powers you gain throughout the game.

The soundtrack is also something special. Each area has its own distinct theme that not only fits the mood of what you’re seeing but also throws nods to older games. One of the tracks in particular took me back to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. The chip tunes here are very good and I hope it’s one of the soundtracks that ends up on the Steam soundtrack store. Certainly something you’ll likely enjoy.

As you go through your quest to find the ingredients to the brew, the point and click elements begin to become very apparent. Because you’ll need to find that split second to check backgrounds when you see an exclamation point, and you’re going to need to talk to EVERY NPC you run into. This is the only way you’ll be able to find some of the items you need to progress. Sometimes you’ll have to travel between areas not only to find an item in the wild, but to talk to one person to figure out where the next person you need to talk to is. Other times they’ll give you cryptic hints as to where something might be. Other times you’ll see something you know you need, but will have no idea on how to get there or what you’ll need to access it. And of course, there will be times you need to combine several items to create another item in order to gain access to a new area or to give someone to get something else you need. So think like Metroid meets Maniac Mansion. Two things that don’t sound like they belong together, and yet Mystik Bell makes it work very, very well.

The entire experience controls excellently too. When you die, you’ll know it was your own fault. Interestingly there are no save stations, or save options in the menu. If you die it will let you start in the room you died in with the health you entered the room with. Or you can spawn back at the beginning of the game with your items in tow. Mystik Belle can be tough at times but the toughest part in the game are some of the obtuse puzzles that will take you forever to solve. It isn’t always noticeable where you need to scour for an item, and it isn’t always obvious where you need to place something or who you need to give it to. That’s probably the only major complaint I can levy, is that there are a couple of times where the game could be just a little bit more specific.

Despite that, it’s an excellent, quaint game that really stands out from the pack. It isn’t often a fast paced style of game melds with another slower paced genre the way it does here. But it does so very, very well. On top of that there are two endings depending on whether or not you find every last item and collectible in the game. If you’ve truly been looking for something different give Mystik Belle a shot.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Fall Guys Review

FallGuysTitle

These days it seems as everyone wants in on the Battle Royale shooter craze. The Culling kicked things off with blandness. PUBG refined the idea to critical acclaim. Fortnite polished it off, put on a Saturday morning veneer, threw in a F2P business model, and became the titleholder. Since then, we’ve seen many games taking the same core concept and trying to dethrone Epic’s wild success story with their own spin on it. But few games have tried to apply the high-player count-Last-Man-Standing-match idea to something other than a third-person shooter.

PROS: Bright colors. Cute characters. Tight controls. Wonderful course design.

CONS: Connection issues. Conflicting monetization schemes.

FRIENDSHIP ENDING: Joins the likes of Mario Party, and Warlords for ticking off pals.

Nintendo’s Tetris 99 is probably the only real breakout until now. Well, Devolver Digital and MediaTonic have brought us arguably the best example yet. Fall Guys has applied the idea to obstacle course challenge game shows. Double Dare, MXC, Wipeout, and others like them put contestants through crazy gauntlets. The latter of which couldn’t possibly fit on a studio set. Anyway, Fall Guys doesn’t quite get to 100 challengers as it taps out at 60. But the core concept is still intact. Be the last egg person standing and take the crown for yourself. In fact, they don’t even call the matches you take part in “Games.” They call them “Shows.”

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Of course, before I go on with the show, we have to talk about the elephant in the room. Fall Guys is glutted with microtransactions and DLC. Clicking on the shop tab is almost indistinguishable from Fortnite. There are a bunch of adverts for crazy costumes, skin patterns, and silly dance animations for the rare occasion you win and want to brag about it. All of the prices are in a funky purple coin currency. A currency you have to buy (or tediously grind for) in order to pay for the things I just mentioned. The game isn’t so egregious about it that it puts game-breaking, pay-to-win stuff in there. It’s all cosmetic items and emotes. But you already have to spend money to get the game. This isn’t a F2P title like COD Warzone or Fortnite.

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Fortunately, none of that stuff is going to get in the way of the fun. And that’s the thing, Fall Guys really is a lot of fun. The structure is composed of multiple rounds. Each round is a different physical challenge. Most of the time it’s everyone for themselves. Race through a crazy, over-the-top obstacle course to the end and hope to God you’re in the group allowed to move on. Every round has a qualifying number of placements. Early on the game will allow almost 40 of the 60 contestants to move onto round two. But by the final round, there are usually 10 contestants or less. Some of the courses aren’t races. One of them sees everyone on a platform where the goal is to stay on while giant foam-padded blocks attempt to push you off with only a small space to stand on for survival. Other times you’ll be told you need to be one of the few with a tail by the end of the round. So everyone is out for blood as they knock each other over trying to steal the tails from those who have them. Other times you’ll be placed in a tube with several floors made of blocks that disappear when you walk on them. So you need to constantly be moving in the hopes you don’t fall before anybody else.

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Other times the game will force temporary alliances by placing you in team games. Maybe you have to put eggs in your basket and keep the other teams from stealing them for their own. Or you may have a soccer game with a Rocket League-sized soccer ball. Or you’ll all have to work together to push a boulder-sized ball up a steep incline. These are just a handful of examples. By the last round though, you can fully expect things to go back to doing whatever it takes to win. And unlike Captain Crunch in a Family Guy cutaway, there’s no going to The Godfather to ensure that happens.

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Fall Guys much like Splatoon evokes a lighthearted atmosphere while invoking a cutthroat, hyper-competitive set of emotions. Obviously in a very different way as this is a game show. Few games that go for this dichotomy get it this right. Nintendo often does, but Mediatonic has gotten to their level here. You’ll constantly be thinking “One more game. I know I can do it this time!” And you probably won’t. But that’s okay. And that isn’t to say that Fall Guys is going to be as deep as a game geared toward e-sports grade mastery like a shooter or fighting game will often be. It isn’t. But it does hit that nerve friendship ending games like Mario Party, Dokapon Kingdom and Warlords do. Or even classic family board game night board games do. Because there’s always that one friend or relative who will be the one to throw even their closest pal under the bus by any means necessary. And that doesn’t change in Fall Guys.

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But don’t let that fact sour you on giving this one a go. It’s bright and colorful. It looks superb. Each of the contraptions you’re thrown into really does look like something you’d see on a given episode of Wipeout. Everything has that pastel-colored look of padded-foam covered steel bars, fan blades, and blocks as you’re trying to win races or collect eggs. The character designs are super cute as you waddle around as your egg person trying to race your way to victory. And a lot of the costumes you can grind away for hours unlocking or choosing to pony up for during a daily sale are very cool looking. Some of these are DLC only of course. So if you want to walk around like a box of french fries you’ll have to buy the cosmetic DLC.  The point is they do look really cool.

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The game has some rather nice sound effects, although the music is one of the lower points for me. It’s fine, but there’s nothing that really jumps out other than maybe the jangling little clip that plays during the stage introductions. Still, it suits the atmosphere fine I just wish something stood out a little bit more.

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Ultimately, I really enjoy Fall Guys. I can’t say I’m a big fan of the way the microtransactions are handled. I would have preferred a traditional storefront where people who do want to buy them could just get the costumes they wanted rather than having to log on at just the right time where they might nab it on a flash sale. Especially when the game already has two cosmetic DLC packs you can buy outside of the game on Steam or PSN. If the game has to have extra DLC that would be a more preferable way to do it for most people I would think.

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The game also seems to have some connection issues likely due to server overload. The developers have already said the game sold far more copies than they anticipated needing an infrastructure for and they’re already at work updating server capacity. It has gotten better as I’ve been writing this. But you can expect to still see some disconnections as of now. It does look like they’re improving it as promised though.

With its bright aesthetics, tight platforming, and a course design that would make GonGon blush, Fall Guys is something you have to play to believe. It’s so much fun, and with friends more so. Just remember to try not to tie your ego to victories here as the experience is the focal point. Though you really will want to celebrate if you do win. Sometimes you really feel like you’re having a blue shell moment. Play. Lose a ton. Laugh. Play again.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Streets Of Rage 4 Review

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Man, the past several days were an on and off again situation with getting electricity. With the recent tropical storm, there were issues plus I lost it for a day this past Sunday after hearing a loud hum, then seeing downed wires outside. And the power was shut off after that so the five trucks of linemen could redo the street.

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It got me thinking about the backdrop to Streets Of Rage 4. Mr. X is gone from the city and for a decade some normalcy returns. But suddenly the violent crime level skyrockets. The power of both electrical and local civic variety is transferred to a new criminal enterprise: The Y syndicate. Led by the evil Mr. X’s twin progeny. They’ve recruited a lot of the original enemies you remember from the Sega Genesis days, along with a number of new surprises.

PROS: Comic book visuals. Groovy soundtrack. Gameplay.

CONS: Some cheap A.I. May seem too short for some.

SEGA: Should have Lizardcube give Golden Axe and Comix Zone this treatment.

This new Streets Of Rage has a very nice comic book look to the whole affair. So much so, that I immediately began to wonder what a new Comix Zone might look like if helmed by Lizardcube, the studio that brought us this sequel. It’s bright, and colorful in a way that still fits the dystopian, chaotic remnants of a city now ruled by criminals B movie vibe it goes for. The artwork and animation here are fantastic. Streets Of Rage 4 also has a lot of cool galleries where you can see the concept art. And it goes a step further than some other games here because you get to see a lot of the work in progress rather than a handful of sketches or prerendered graphics.

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Unlike many comic books, they haven’t kept the game in the same narrow 20 year period of the character’s lives. Old stalwarts like Axel Stone are… well, old. Not elderly just yet, but you can tell he’s been out of action a while. It’s like they took a splash of The Expendables movies and sprinkled it on top. But much like River City Ransom: Underground’s mainstays, they haven’t let themselves go either. And there are a couple of newer characters introduced here. Cherry, Adam’s daughter makes her debut along with Floyd who is this really cool combination of Mortal Kombat’s Jax and Final Fight’s Mike Haggar. Of the roster I found him to be the most enjoyable to use.

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But everybody is viable and you’ll unlock other playable characters over the course of multiple playthroughs. You’ll also be enamored with the soundtrack here as you get renditions of classic chiptunes as well as some new jams that complement those nicely. It goes along well with the theme of bridging the classic trilogy of brawlers with some modern-day visual flair. But the game also has a number of unlockable retro characters seemingly right out of the Sega Genesis games. There are also some hidden boss encounters that take you back to the 16-bit console’s sprite style. Think almost like the retro stages employed in games like Shadow Warrior (reboot) or Rise Of The Triad (reboot).

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The game also has several difficulty settings. If you beat them they open up tougher versions for you to try your hand at. Including a No Death Run mode where you can attempt to beat the entire game on one life. Yes, many games have added this feature as well, but it does still give a devoted fan something of merit to shoot for. This game, in particular, is one of the toughest games to employ this. Even on the lower difficulties, it can be pretty easy to lose lives when you get sandwiched between mid-card enemies or go up against some of the cheaper bosses. So expect to have nerves of steel should you want to attempt a no death run on the highest of challenge levels.

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As for the gameplay, it’s classic Streets Of Rage. Lizardcube has gotten nearly 1:1 with the feel of the older games. It felt closest to SOR2 for me, though I’m certain any superfan who disagrees will tell me why I’m wrong. Be that as it may, it is a beat ’em up. On the surface level, it might seem like “Go right, and mash punch” is the only thing you do, but on further inspection, it really isn’t.  Streets Of Rage 4 has mostly pretty good hit detection, if you miss, you likely weren’t close enough or were too far above or below the enemy for it to land. This follows a lot of the classics. Attack diagonally, and try to get in grapple moves for big damage. Though every enemy in the game needs to be approached differently. One enemy type may deflect or reverse holds. So you’ll have to punch them a million times. Other enemies are blocking happy so you have to bait them into whiffing an attack. And yes, you can expect the A.I. to employ the classic brawler bull of sandwiching you between four bad guys that interrupt you when you’re beating up one of them. But figuring out ways around it are a staple of the genre.

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The thing is, with all of the tools and variety it doesn’t feel old or repetitious. The game also doesn’t wear out it’s welcome. It’s a relatively short game. One that honestly ends almost too abruptly for me. I would have liked to have seen some more stuff fleshed out. While this isn’t a game you’ll come into looking for a deep storyline, it does feel a bit too superficial. Outside of a little bit of exposition, we don’t get much about the new crime boss duo. We don’t see how or if Mr. X died. We don’t see how the kids come to power. It’s kind of like “Hey! Our dad is gone, but we’re taking over.” And the abrupt finish to it puts it a step below vintage brawlers in this regard. Again, B movie stuff, but even the old games in the series along with Final Fight, and Double Dragon did this a little better. Not by much. But enough that it’s noticeable.

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That said, at this level, I’m really nitpicking. Overall, I rather enjoyed Streets Of Rage 4. There’s enough here for the old-timer teens of the 90s to love, and for those who are newer to enjoy as well. It’s as silly and over the top as always while letting you feel like a badass the entire time. And it’s a cut above some of the other beat ’em ups that we’ve seen recently.  Whether you’re a long time fan who has waited for eons for this release, or you’re someone not experienced with Beat ’em ups looking for something new this is one worth picking up.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Bloodstained: Curse Of The Moon 2 Review

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Well, last time we looked at Wallachia, a Castlevania inspired game that plays nothing like a Castlevania game. And today we’re back with a sequel to a game that does. Bloodstained: Curse Of The Moon was a rather fantastic sendup of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. One that celebrated the use of multiple characters and branching paths. Unsurprisingly, a lot of fans wanted more. But surprisingly, out of nowhere a sequel dropped on all of the digital console storefronts and Steam.

PROS: More of what you loved from COTM. 2-player co-op.

CONS: 2-player co-op. Checkpoints could be better balanced.

OLD CREW: The characters you loved are nowhere to be seen. Or are they?

As in the previous game, this is another love-letter to Castlevania III. If you’ve played the previous game, you’ll know exactly what to expect here. Zangetsu returns to slay demons as a new threat begins to emerge. So you’ll be doing exactly that. Things kick into high gear right away as the NES style is markedly improved with even more detail in the sprite work. If you thought the last game had good use of the NES’ aesthetic, you’ll really like this one in terms of the style. The animations are brilliant too. When you get to the end of the very first stage, you can see some background details in the boss introduction the NES could never do. So you can expect some flashy things that weren’t common until the Super Nintendo or even Playstation, just done with this 8-bit era look.

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Anyway, within each of the game’s stages there are many branching paths. Most of which cannot be reached on your initial run of the stage. As in the original game, you’ll meet new characters in-between stages who will aid you on your quest. There are three of them. Dominique (Who comes from Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night. She was that game’s shopkeeper role.) who fights with a spear, has a higher jump, and can use healing items. Later on, you’ll meet Robert, the weakest of the group. He’s an ornery old man with a shotgun. He can also go prone, allowing you to reach some rooms the others cannot. And because he has a shotgun, he’s perfect for situations where enemies are blocking crucial jumps. Finally, there’s Hachi a Pembroke Welsh Corgi who pilots a Steampunk Gundam. Yes, really. He’s got the ability to hover for short distances and destroy some structures.

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Each of the stages goes on through three areas with a couple of checkpoints. And within those areas the branching paths I mentioned come into play. One path might require Robert to crawl through a crawlspace. Or Dominique to use her Scrooge McDuck pogo jump on. Or the dog to smash through a floor. Sometimes these paths are a more difficult route to take. Sometimes they’re easier. And sometimes, either way, they’re necessary. One of the few issues I had in my playthrough was the placement of checkpoints. Most of the time it’s fine and breaks up the action mostly pretty evenly. But there are other times when it doesn’t and losing your party means redoing a very long gauntlet again. Again, this is a minor complaint. But it’s something that will inconvenience you. Near the end of your run, there’s one placement that actually makes things maybe a little too convenient as it will start you right near a bunch of items that make it difficult to actually game over in spite of how difficult the section is.

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Throughout it all, though you’ll notice there were still a lot of routes you couldn’t take before even though you had all of the characters at your command. That’s because you didn’t. The little secret the game holds is that you cannot see everything on an initial run. So those of you out there who are completionist players will need to beat this game no less than three times to see it all. After you beat the game, you’ll be told you can play Episode Two, which is exactly like Episode One except now you start with Robert and Hachi already at your stead. You’ll now be able to take routes they could do that you couldn’t do before. The checkpoints and bosses are the same except now they’ve gotten a bit more difficult than before. Over time you’ll meet more characters who you can take other paths with. So Curse Of The Moon 2 does go out of its way to give you replay value.

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New to the series is a co-op mode where two people can play through the game together at the same time. It does work for the most part. You can strategize, find situations where one player uses one character, while the other switches to something different, and utilize strategies in tandem. The problem is that much like in the days of the Commodore 64 and NES if two players with a wide skill gap play together it’s going to lead to a lot of deaths. As both players really need to stay near the center of the action. Go too far ahead, and the other player will impede you by being too far behind. You can help a weaker player by playing the game on the casual setting which takes away the Castlevania style knock-back you suffer when hitting a bad guy. But that only goes so far. It’s a nice inclusion but if you tend to get really angry when a friend or sibling costs you a victory, you’ll probably just want to play it alone.

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I enjoyed Curse Of The Moon 2. It’s a very tough game, but mostly pretty fair. Nitpicking over the checkpoint distances aside. You don’t have to have played any of the previous games in the franchise to enjoy it, though it does help you understand a little bit more of the story, and helps as an addendum to Ritual Of The Night as the first Curse Of The Moon did.

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If you’re a big fan of Castlevaniaesque games or NES hard games of yesteryear, this is a release worth checking out. If you enjoyed the first one already it might not wow you as much. But it’s more of a good thing. Dedicated fans will want to play through it multiple times to see all that it has to offer. And if you’re slow to frustration this is something different to play with a friend these days than the genres you’re normally used to.

Final Score: 9 out of 10.

Mortal Komat 11 Aftermath DLC Review

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Every so often, video games will have a DLC set that isn’t just cosmetic options, or loot boxes. Sometimes they’ll have a DLC that resembles the PC game expansion packs of the early 1990s. Like when DOOM and Duke Nukem 3D had extra episodes. These days, such DLC experiences are less common but Nintendo gave Splatoon 2 a substantial expansion, and now Netherrealm has done something similar for Mortal Kombat 11.

PROS: A second storyline campaign. New Characters. New Stage Fatalities.

CONS: A far better bundle for those who haven’t bought MK11 already.

FRIENDSHIP: The free addition of a classic Mortal Kombat II feature is here.

Fighting games adding a bunch of stuff is nothing new mind you. Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Tekken, Blazblue, and even Super Smash Bros. have had seasons of characters they’ve added over time to their games. And it’s not uncommon to see a final version of some of them that just include everything released a year or two later. But usually, that’s the extent of the content. Characters, maybe a stage or two, and that’s about it.

For this Mortal Kombat 11 update though, they actually have delivered enough stuff to warrant consideration. The biggest one being a second story mode that adds onto the one included in the original version. After the defeat of Kronika, Shang Tsung shows up to tell Liu Kang he can’t fully fix things because of how things went down in the main storyline, and in order to continue, he has to let him go back in time to before the point where Kronika’s underlings breached his island.

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So reluctantly Liu Kang agrees, and so you’ll spend another 4 hours or so going through a continuation of the storyline. And you’ll be spending most of that time waiting to see when the game will swerve you. Because you’re a classic Mortal Kombat bad guy, and that’s what bad guys do. The storyline is mostly pretty good, as it tries to explain away some of the smaller things the base story overlooks. But really astute viewers will probably find a couple of new holes to nitpick. Nevertheless, it managed to hold my attention over a few hours as I played through to the end.

Still, the game gives you two endings, and as the first story mode, there are a couple of times where you’ll get to choose different characters to use. Some of the newer characters that have been added since launch show up here like Sheeva and Fujin. And of course, Robocop is included as well, although he isn’t part of the campaign. These are welcome moments as they give you a good reason to go back and play it a second or third time to see the minor and major changes to the story.

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When you’ve completed the campaign though you’ll find the other inclusions will take up a fair amount of your time. You’ll get the aforementioned Sheeva, Fujin, and Robocop. All of which are incredibly fun to use (although Fujin launched with an unintended infinite combo that some of the best players discovered. So expect that to be patched out eventually.) Every character has a lot of effective special moves, 2-in-1 moves, launchers, links, and combos. So enthusiasts will have plenty of things to experiment with. On top of that, there are new costume options, and as with the base game, you can create your own alternate set of moves. As well as put in new augments to tweak their effectiveness or defensiveness. If you’re a fighting game dabbler, you’ll still be impressed with the spectacle of everything even if you have no intention of mastering any of it.

Aftermath Kollection also comes with the earlier Kombat Pack that had the previous DLC characters and skins that had been released up to its release. So if you’re someone who hasn’t played Mortal Kombat 11 at all, this is the way to go as it has pretty much everything. For people who bought the base game last year but didn’t keep up with the extra characters and other DLC, Aftermath + Kombat Pack bundle is the way to go if you want to get everything conveniently. If you bought all of that already you can get Aftermath standalone which gets you the new story mode and three characters you don’t have yet.

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The good news is that the story mode is pretty entertaining, and the lines in it are well performed. Those who play fighting games alone, rarely venturing online may feel it’s worth getting just to have another few hours to play through the extra storyline mode this adds.

As far as the audiovisual stuff goes, MK11 Aftermath is fantastic. The presentation continues Netherrealm’s tradition of detailed player models, backgrounds, and impressive graphics. You can’t talk about Mortal Kombat without talking about Fatalities, Brutalities, and other gory bits. Long time fans will really love the finishers here. Most of them are as over-the-top as ever, balancing R Rated Hollywood blockbuster gore with elements of dark comedy nicely. As such, there aren’t too many things that come off as either so brutal they’re disturbing, or so silly things just seem stupid. This is even true of the Friendships Mortal Kombat 11 has reintroduced for the first time in over twenty years (God I’m old.)

The Friendships mostly do fit their characters’ personas very well, while being genuinely funny. Part of that is due to the lighthearted, bubbly, synthpop piece that accompanies them. One of my personal favorites is The Joker’s where the game makes you think he’s about to use a handgun to do a fatality only to have an off-screen Batman intervene forcing him to give the opponent balloons.

There are also new Stage Fatalities to learn as well, via a free update inclusion with the Friendships. These aren’t quite as memorable as some of the mainline finishers here or as memorable as some of the ones from older games, but they’re still pretty good. Then there are the Brutalities that the newer characters bring along, and most of those can even hang with their Fatalities. Robocop has some especially gristly ones.

The sound effects are as good as ever with everything approaching movie sound effects as bones break, the flesh is stripped from the bone, and the cold ambient soundtrack rides along with all of this. I will also give a lot of credit to Shiver again because I have the Nintendo Switch version of Mortal Kombat 11. As I said with the vanilla version, it’s astonishing how they were able to get this big-budget blockbuster running on old tablet tech. Again, to accomplish the brisk 60 frames per second performance sacrifices were made. It’s obvious background textures are set much lower. It’s obvious that AA was set to low or off. Lighting effects were reduced. The Switch version of Aftermath looks as if you were playing on a computer with everything set to low or medium because your 8-year-old video card can’t process everything on high. But that’s not a bad thing. The game still looks great and plays great retaining all of the features of its PC/PS4/XB1 siblings.

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Online matches were mostly pretty good for me, although definitely not perfect. Over the course of playing online on and off during the week, I found most of my matchups ran fairly well. I was able to be destroyed fairly, and win fairly. But there were also a number of times I got into matches ranging between mildly lag ridden and borderline unplayable. This is likely due to being paired with opponents on the other side of the world, but it could still use some work. Still, with Shiver and Netherrealm keeping up with the updates and patches this will hopefully make badly connected matches a little less commonplace.

Still, MK11 Aftermath is a lot of fun, and the additions are going to please a lot of the franchise fans with the bonus characters, finishers, and expanded storyline. If you’re someone who always wants a full roster you’ll probably want to pick this up as well. I only wish there was a much deeper discount in its release window for those who have bought all of the previous stuff this bundled in already. Normally I don’t talk about pricing since that can change wildly at any time. But since it is the elephant in the room in the launch window, some in that boat may want to wait for a sale. But if you haven’t picked up MK11 yet at all, the bundled Kollection version is well worth picking up. Physical collectors should know that the retail release of the Kollection version on Nintendo Switch is just going to be a download code. So unless you really have to have that empty plastic case, you’re better served to buy it on the e-shop.  Some baffling retail decisions aside, Aftermath is an entertaining DLC you might want to look into if you enjoy Mortal Kombat 11.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Blazing Chrome Review

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It seems everyone loves classic Konami games. Yes, there was a time when the company was lauded for putting out some great stuff. Rather than be reviled for putting out mediocre stuff and then nickel and diming you within that mediocre stuff. Super Cobra, Gyruss, Gradius, Frogger,  the list goes on. But arguably the two franchises everyone can get behind are Castlevania and Contra. It isn’t hard to see why. One series puts you in the boots of vampire slayers out to kick Dracula’s ass. The other puts you in the shoes of 80’s action heroes out to save the world from extraterrestrial armies, and supernatural forces.

Over the years others have tried to put their own spin on these to compete or else pay homage to them as they’ve been largely dormant. And in the case of Contra, Konami’s attempt last year was almost universally panned for pretty much not playing or looking like Contra at all whatsoever. Although it did have a death panda. So I suppose there was something. Anyway,  it was a scant short couple of months later today’s game was released. Blazing Chrome actually does play like a Contra game, being heavily influenced by Contra Hard Corps on the Sega Genesis. Is it worthy of the praise it has gotten over the course of nearly a year? Yes. Is it an absolutely flawless game? No. Does that really matter? To most of us probably not.

PROS: Breathtaking pixel art. Neo New Wave. Great character and level design.

CONS: Some *really* cheap enemies on your first few runs.

KRISTINE: Why had I never heard of them before beating this game?

Blazing Chrome isn’t the first Run ‘n Gun to pay tribute to Contra and it certainly won’t be the last. But it is one of the better ones in recent years. When I first started playing the game I was immediately reminded of Contra III: The Alien Wars as both start you out in a war-torn cityscape. Though the pacing of the game veers a bit more toward Contra Hard Corps. The storyline, of course, is very different. Instead of centering around an alien invasion angle, Blazing Chrome has more in common with the Terminator movies. It’s the distant future, and we have a ragtag band of heroes fighting off the robot armies bent on snuffing out humanity. They even reference the machines as “Toasters” a pejorative that I suspect would raise the eyes of robot sympathizers in this fiction.

Be that as it may, you can actually play as a “Toaster” since Doyle, is a robot who has betrayed the sentient robot overlord to serve the human resistance. Mavra is this world’s Sarah Connor, a badass who takes down the robots with extreme prejudice.  After a very detailed set of cinema screens, you will start the game and choose which of our two protagonists you want to use. (There are others but you have to unlock them by playing through the campaign.) Then you choose the overall difficulty setting you desire. There’s a brief tutorial after this, and you’re then thrust into an exciting picture of a tablet.

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The tablet has each of the stages laid out, and you can play them in the order you wish. It’s essentially taking a page from Taito’s POWER BLADE games on the NES, where you can go through these in the order you want before going onto the final stage. This, in turn, is an offshoot of the Stage Select set up in Capcom’s Mega Man games. So Blazing Chrome is a big fan of more than only Contra.

Each of the stages has a difficulty number on it going 1 (easiest) to 5 (hardest) the thing is it isn’t really an indicator of difficulty. Each of the stages has something fairly tough about it. In fact, that’s one of the things that will become very apparent. The game revels in some very cheap enemies resulting in some artificial bumps in the challenge. Even if you play on the easiest setting you’re going to have enemies that jump in the exact place you need to be jumping. Or coming from the side onto the platform you need to be on at that precise second. It’s as if the designers knew where you were going to go and placed a Nelson Munz “Ha Ha!” there.

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Now one could point out that’s exactly what the Contra games do. But this does it to the nth degree at a couple of places in the game. However, don’t lose heart and give up so easily. Because Blazing Chrome is a rather brilliant game. Once you die in a spot the first time, you’ll begin to think of alternative patterns you might use to jump instead. Or you may simply discover you have to be patient in a setting that on its surface seems to require impatience. You’ll find simply waiting a second before jumping means the enemy pulls the trigger on that jump (no pun intended) first allowing you to get off the shot you needed to get by.

And really that’s the only major crime the game commits. Relying too much on “A-HA!” deaths. Beyond that, everything else is more than fair. Attack patterns aren’t impossible to spot. You might have to attempt a certain section or boss several dozen times to figure it out, but you’ll eventually be able to do it. The game also has unlimited continues on the easiest and normal settings. So you won’t have to worry about starting the entire game over again after a few fail states

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Blazing Chrome also has a wide variety of scenery it’s worth noting here. You have the usual war-torn cityscapes and mechanical underworlds you might expect from a game like this. But there’s also a beautiful snowcapped nuclear winter stage replete with one of three shmup sections. Another is a rather long battle train stage which also involves a motorcycle section. At one point in the game, you’ll have a section that will take you back to the glory of Sega’s Space Harrier. And it’s also one of the more challenging legs of the game.

Visually, as I’ve said, the pixel art on display is amazing. Blazing Chrome is a beautiful game. Joymasher’s artists have clearly put in a lot of love and care into the characters, animation, and backgrounds to bring this world to life. And the soundtrack keeps pace with it’s thumping New Wave Post Punk chiptune goodness. And while it all has the art design of something that should have come out on the Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo, the game has a slew of visual effects that would probably not have been possible on either of those consoles. This is especially true when you get to the final act of the game where everything becomes a TRON reference. It’s really awesome stuff.

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Beating the game also nets you a number of things. First of all, you’ll get two new characters, a cyborg and a ninja who play more like Mega Man X than the soldiers of Contra. All four of the characters also have a melee attack a la Metal Slug, so keep that in mind when enemies really start swarming you. Beating the game on normal also unlocks a mirror mode where all of the stages are the same but the scenes move right to left instead of left to right. It’s a bit weird at first trying to remember what obstacle comes next as it can be disorienting. But once you readjust it’s a novel addition. You’ll also notice if you start the game on easy, then play on normal a bunch of new surprises are in store for you. There are new pitfalls. extra enemies. Even bosses will have extra attacks they don’t employ on the lowest setting.

BlazingChromeMirror

You can also unlock a boss rush mode where you fight every boss in the game in a row. Not a major addition, but something to do when you’ve done pretty much everything else. That is until you decide to go for the Hardest difficulty where the game throws even more bad guys at you, everything takes more damage to kill, and you only get three lives. Also, you only get three continues. And as daunting as that may sound, after having played a bunch of the game I can say it is doable. The question is whether or not you would want to. If you’re the sort of player who likes to squeeze every last piece of content out of your game it’s something worth going for. If you’re more the type to beat a game once or twice before putting it away for a while you might ignore it.

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Still, in spite of some initial frustration, some out there might have, stick with the game. Eventually, you’ll get to the end of the game and enjoy the terrific finale. While the final leg is a bit of a gauntlet, it’s an entertaining one that consistently does something new. Being able to play the stages in the order you wish is nice too as you can get the ones you like the least done first or dive into the ones you like right away. Fire up Blazing Chrome, win the day, and listen to that awesome Kristine song. Which immediately made me wonder why I hadn’t heard of them before. Turns out they’re pretty great.

As is Blazing Chrome.

Final Score: 9 out of 10