Whenever a sequel gets made for a popular yet seemingly standalone game, it's bound to become a topic of interest. Because while many games are released with the explicit understanding that it is (or will be) part of a series, some, like 2001's Luigi's Mansion, don't really give the indication that a follow-up should be expected. For 10 years, it was a unique, one-off title which was totally at home on the Gamecube, fitting in along with lots of other unique first party offerings. So it's fair to say that, when Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon was announced in 2011, it drew a fair degree of discussion. Not only was this an unlikely sequel, but it was released over a decade after the original. And while such a length of time would obviously indicate a new console, it was surely unexpected that LM2 would become a handheld game on the 3DS, let alone that development would be handed to frequent Nintendo collaborator Next Level Games. In a way, Dark Moon was everything that the original wasn't, and that statement isn't just limited to its development history.
It was clear that, with Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, Nintendo wanted to focus on building on the experience of its predecessor, and "building" is the operative word. In Dark Moon, the game is split up into multiple different mansions, each one offering a different theme and presentation. This certainly allows for a greater degree of variety in room structure, and exploring each room is just as satisfying as ever. The game is very light on even mild frights, and it doesn't quite have that same softly eerie personality as either its former or latter entry, but the level design is as good as ever. Exploration is once again at the top of the priority list for this game, and solving puzzles while working your way through each corridor is plenty of fun. And the game looks good, too. This is a handheld game, after all, and while Next Level Games have always been rather proficient animators, the fact that Dark Moon looks as good as it does as an early-era 3DS title is an achievement of itself. This game holds up surprisingly well as a handheld, and even though the game probably needs another analog stick, it is still impressive how smoothly Luigi's Mansion 2 handled the transition from home console to the 3DS.
Of course, while the transition was great on the aesthetic and mechanical side, it's entirely less impressive in regards to the actual gameplay. Presumably, as a handheld game, the focus was to shift Dark Moon from a semi-open ended, exploration based game to a mission based one. It's understandable in theory, as presenting a game in bite-sized pieces for on-the-go gaming has been a trend in handheld gaming for years, but for LM, it doesn't really work. One of the best things about the Luigi's Mansion series is the immersion and atmosphere, but in a game where you're constantly getting returned to the bunker to select a new mission, it's easy to get pulled out of the experience. Couple this with E. Gadd, who's constantly interrupting you to give you mostly unnecessary hints and dialogue, and it goes from a game with the option of being playable in short bursts, to feeling like the only way to play it is in short bursts. The mission structure, which is supposed to be quick and enjoyable, becomes tiring, and the joy of exploration is quickly dulled because you know that it's never too long before another mission briefing or unneeded interruption.
Time management is not something Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon does well, and that's evident in the game's nearly dozen hour playtime. It feels like 1/3 of this game could be cut without losing all too much. And while it's nice that you can skip past cutscenes and dialogue pieces, that doesn't fix the game's poor pacing. And this feeling is exacerbated by the occasional backtracking and lack of enemy variety. The mansions are designed well, and especially the final set of missions have a lot of great moments, but they aren't dense enough to be subjected to the amount of repetition the game puts them through.
With the release of Luigi's Mansion 3, it's likely that Dark Moon will become a bit of a black sheep in the franchise, and it's understandable why. Perhaps it was the concessions for a handheld title, but Luigi's Mansion is a series that focuses on open-ended exploration and atmosphere, and LM2 doesn't really provide either. It's impressive in a way, then, that this game is as close to being good as it is, given its structural limitations. Level design is great, and the base gameplay of Luigi's Mansion is always going to feel fun, but there's too many speed bumps here for the game to carry the momentum of those things to the end credits. Maybe, sometime in the future, a mission-based LM game will be released to outstanding acclaim, and be the game this one always wanted to be. Stranger things have happened, after all. But if that game is to work, it'll have a lot to learn from this game about what doesn't.

The Nintendo 64 was no stranger to the arcade-style racing game, and one of the biggest strengths of the console was that it had something in the genre for everyone. Mario Kart 64 had the lovable cast, Diddy Kong Racing the fantastic adventure mode, Wave Race 64 the impressive water physics. But what if you just wanted to go fast? And not, like, 150cc fast. Like, really fast. If that was what you were looking for, there was only one thing to cast your eyes towards; F-Zero. The series debuted on the SNES along with the console, and was impressive enough as a launch title in the 16-bit era, but it was clear that it, as with most racing series, would benefit from a fully 3D environment. That promise was realized in 1998, when F-Zero X released for the N64.
F-Zero X is a great racing game, and that's because it gets the fundamentals down while offering an experience no other game can quite match. This is a game that goes all in on its sense of speed and high-octane, high-adrenaline gameplay, and it delivers that feeling expertly. It's blisteringly fast, and every race is always teetering on the edge of glory and disaster. You almost feel the wind on your face as you navigate sharp turns, narrowly dodge other racers, and hit all the boost pads. And the 3D environment lets the tracks, which are admittedly still a bit generic and bland, be a bit more expressive and contain more unique elements that benefit from the added depth perception. The game never looks particularly good-these graphics were already aged by the time the game was released in 1998-but as a result, the game runs at a buttery smooth 60 fps, which is incredible for the time, but also instrumental into making this game feel great to play in the modern age, especially with all the moving parts. The roster of racers shot up dramatically from only 4 in the original to 30 in this version, and you race against all of them. That makes the beginning of races particularly chaotic, and creates more opportunities to both destroy your car, and also weave in and out of traffic seamlessly.
It's clear that the goal of the F-Zero series is to take racing and ramp it up to 11, and if the original did just that, F-Zero X pushes the dial up to 12. The soundtrack is clear evidence of this; the first thing you hear when you boot the game up is a heavy electric guitar. It won't be everyone's cup of tea for sure, but it's delightfully unapologetic and authentic. It also brings in a much needed feature which was absent from the debut title; split-screen multiplayer, and with 4 players, at that. This was a borderline necessity, and it's a bit of a shame that there isn't the extra carnage of 30 racers in multiplayer mode, but it's still a good choice for a burst of fun. That's basically F-Zero X's modus operandi, and it works for the game just about as often as it doesn't. The races are super fast, and only the homage to MK64's Rainbow Road and the final course Big Hand regularly clock in at over a minute and a half. This is good; it showcases the speed well and limits frustration in the event of a crash or game over. It's also a pretty quick game in general, and the lack of variety in courses makes the lack of variety in gameplay all the more apparent. It's very much an arcade game in a console game's shell, and that's absolutely not a bad thing, but the content doesn't diversify itself too much.
Of course, games were shorter around this time, and the game has more relevant flaws. F-Zero X actually has a decent learning curve, and its multifaceted way of increasing difficulty is interesting, but it might be a bit too steep at the higher levels. For each difficulty, you can expect to have one less car and harder opponents, and for the first 3 difficulties, this is a good sense of progression. The unlockable Master difficulty, though, takes things a bit too far with incredibly rapid rival opponents (which, barring their destruction, are basically guaranteed to get top spots) and very limited cars. It seems like, in some races, most of the racers are working not to win the race, but stop you from progressing, and this comes in the form of nearly unavoidable collisions. Sometimes cars will slow to a crawl when they're directly in front of you, and too often, you'll receive a light tap on the back of your car, sending you flying into the barricade. It's understandable that this would be a feature in a high-flying racing game, but it's a bit frustrating when it only seems to affect your car.
F-Zero X doesn't have the stylized pixel graphics of the SNES, nor does it have the enhanced, smoother polygons of the Gamecube, but looks do not belay gameplay, and if there's one this thing game has, it's entertaining gameplay. It's a little rough around the edges, as basically all N64 games were, but it remains a short burst of high-voltage experience that is bound to have players bobbing their head left and right as they fight for first place-or explode trying.

One of the most popular topics of video game discussion, online or otherwise, is the "dream sequel". Almost everyone involved in gaming knows that there are always people clamoring for a remaster, remake, or, for the most ambitious, full sequel to one of their favorite games. Naturally, a popular title mentioned in these discussions was Pokemon Snap, an N64 game which focused on on-rails photography. It was one of the most popular on the console, and its strong presence at game rental stores like Blockbuster (where you could even print out your best photos) naturally endured it to a generation of fledgling Pokemon fans. And in the 20 years following its release, particularly the last few years, calls for a sequel only intensified. To many it was a no-brainer, some even claiming the only reason to not make a sequel would be because Nintendo "doesn't like money". Alas, when all hope seemed lost, New Pokemon Snap was announced for the Nintendo Switch. Finally! Millions of fans would finally have the sequel they were waiting for. And...it sold almost a million less copies on the vastly more popular Switch than the original did two decades ago. This is why the fans aren't in charge of Nintendo.
Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh. New Pokemon Snap is a much welcome update to the Pokemon spinoff series, and in a way, it's just as monumental a title as the original was back in 1999. The original was the first time that Pokemon were rendered in 3D, while in New Pokemon Snap, it's the first time that Pokemon have actually looked good in 3D. These are the visuals every fan of the series hopes for; the environments are impressively detailed and diverse, and traversing a course for the first time is more about taking in the atmosphere than it is trying to get your best photo. That's not to say its perfect-there are still moments of slow downs or frame drops-but there isn't a mainline title in the series that can compete with NPS visually. Pokemon has always been at its best when its focused on exploration, and this game has that in spades. There's a significant wealth of content here, and discovering different Pokemon behavior, and what it takes to create it, is charming and satisfying. And for those that get confused, the newly added requests feature is useful is nudging players in the right direction.
It's also just got such a nice casual feel that makes it a breeze to play. The first few hours of New Pokemon Snap, while you're getting into the swing of picture composition, are great fun. It retains that old school feel of the original with just enough new features to retain its charm, while not deviating from the formula too much. If there was one complaint about Pokemon Snap, it was that it was too short; you won't be hearing the same about this title. For completionists, that leads to a lot of content, most of which is good. The method of unlocking it does get a little stale, though. Each route requires a certain amount of exp. to level up and see more Pokemon, and while the promise of more densely packed routes waiting to be unlocked is promising, progression really takes longer than it needs to, and as a result, the game's pacing starts to drag toward the latter half. Pokemon games are no stranger to mandated grinding, but its not something you'd expect (nor want) to see in what is supposed to be a lighthearted, casual spinoff.
This is compounded by the new photo rating system, which categorizes behavior captured in photos into 4 groups. This is where the game gets a lot of its bulk from, and while its not a fundamental issue, its implementation means that making progress in this game takes longer than it probably should. If you want to get the most experience, you'll need to photograph Pokemon acting 4 different ways, and since only one picture can be submitted per species per round, completing just a single Pokemon's profile will take at least 4 attempts. These are lovely courses no doubt, but they are basically the same thing every time, and aren't exciting or dense enough to hold up to repeat inspection. There's a speed up function given late in the game which definitely helps the tedium, but the fact you unlock it only a few stages prior to the end of the game means that most players won't get to fully utilize it. There's also, bizarrely, a story, which doesn't add much to the game other than dragging out the length even more.
Even if New Pokemon Snap didn't exactly have the sales that the pre-announcement hype would have led you to believe, it would be unfair to call it a failure. Indeed, NPS is a title that harkens back to the days of simpler games, and brings that charm back with it. Some of the uniqueness, like Pokemon evolutions, may have been removed, but on a whole it's an improvement on the original, even if it does get dry towards the end. New Pokemon Snap has enough addicting and relaxed fun for any fan of the franchise, and as a Switch title, one of the best on the console.

There comes a time in every fledgling video game enthusiast's life where they cast their eyes towards the past. It stands to reason that if you like video games, you'll want to play the best. And regardless of what you search or who you ask, a common response will begin to emerge; Chrono Trigger. Developed by a group of designers so prestigious they were referred to by Square as a "Dream Team", Chrono Trigger has been dominating top 10 lists and best-of charts ever since its SNES release. It's consistently referred to by many as the greatest game of all time. Playing it is considered almost a rite of passage into the 16-bit era. And yet, whenever a game is this celebrated, this universally praised, it's only natural to have some apprehension. After all, these best-of lists can turn into a sort of self-perpetuating cycle where everyone knows the game is supposed to be good, but might only be ranking it highly due to its prestige. It's important, then, to experience these games yourself, to find what has held up and what hasn't, and-in Chrono Trigger's case-to discover a true masterwork of RPG design.
By 1995, Square had practically mastered their Active Time Battle mode with Final Fantasy, and yet Chrono Trigger's combat system is still incredibly unique; each battle has predetermined layouts where your character positions matter, and timing is everything. Each character pairing also has specific tech moves that combine their turns into one powerful move, and it's fantastic to consider how each new tech affects what your party is capable of, and how you tackle further challenges down the road. Each battle forces you to think on your feet and ensures you're rarely doing the same thing twice, so adaptability is paramount. And while that sounds complicated, one of CT's most impressive features is its accessibility; it's a deceptively simple title that makes for an incredible introduction to the RPG genre. Your team always seems to be the right level, endgame weapons and techs are unlocked through normal play instead of tedious grinding, and the battle speed can be adjusted for those who prefer slower-paced combat.
In truth, the only negative in Chrono Trigger's design is that its combat tools are a little too generous, and as a result, there are some dungeons where combat can get a little redundant. But the reason this is even noticeable is because CT's pacing is, for the vast majority of the game, immaculate. This is a game famous for its multiple endings, optional side quests, and hidden details, and a full 100% playthrough, even if it's your first time, will clock in around the 20 hour mark. Even for RPGs in 1995 that was pretty brisk; now? Chrono Trigger represents tremendous value for time. No plot point feels tacked on-immensely impressive for a game about time travel-and every part of the game is the good part.
Chrono Trigger is, at its core, a game about confrontation of one's past, challenging one's own fate, and making improvements for the future. The party's quest is to defeat Lavos and stop the end of the world, sure, but the party's journey is one of self-reflectance and atonement. As such, Chrono Trigger is intent on making sure you know your actions matter, and it does this early on with a trial scene that is equal parts surprising and brilliant. The way CT teaches you things without explicitly saying them is tremendous, and from then on, you're trained to always consider how you can change the future-and the past-for the better. It's incredibly satisfying to see even the smallest action pay off, and subconsciously pushes you to explore the world more, searching throughout time for an ailment to every malady.
Each character (except perhaps Ayla) has their own journey of flaws and redemption as well, and are full of poignant or epic moments all while offering something unique. Frog's tale of revenge turned to acceptance is epic and inspiring, while Lucca & Robo's is a poignant story about what it means to be human. Each character is given their moment to shine, and the fact a game about time travelers fighting a mysterious force that threatens to destroy the world can balance these more grounded aspects so well without feeling bloated, and can fit it all into 20 hours without feeling rushed, is a tremendously impressive achievement.
As cliché as it is to say, Chrono Trigger truly is a timeless game. Its incredible pixel work and soundtrack ensure that it will never age poorly. Its wealth of genre-defining ideas-the ability to fight the final boss at any time, the multiple endings, the worlds in different times-ensure that it will be forever an inspiration for classics already made and classics yet to come. And its gameplay and themes ensure that when players discover it in the future, they won't be disappointed. And while Chrono Trigger's word-of-mouth reputation will ensure it is always relevant, it is its everlasting design that will ensure it is always brilliant; then, now, and forever.

It's an understatement to say that, by the start of the 2010s, Super Mario was fully back. Within the span of less than a year, Nintendo released New Super Mario Bros. Wii, the first 2D Mario game for a home console since 1990, (or 1995, depending on your opinion of Yoshi's Island) to tremendous success, and Super Mario Galaxy 2, a sequel to one of the most beloved games of all time and which garnered unanimous critical acclaim. From both of these games, though, it seemed like a core philosophy for Super Mario was emerging; the 2D games had 3D sprites and implemented moves typically found in 3D Mario, and the 3D games were becoming more linear and less sandboxy. So in retrospect, with the announcement of the Nintendo 3DS set for release in early 2011, a game like Super Mario 3D Land should have been an obvious next step. As the first original 3D Mario on a handheld console, it naturally wowed critics and fans alike, becoming one of the best selling games for the system. But a decade on, there are reasons its become one of the more forgotten titles in Mario's illustrious history.
Super Mario 3D Land was certainly a pretty unique concept; it takes all the typical features of 2D Mario and brings them into the 3D space. Flagpoles to finish levels, Bowser battles, quick bursts of platforming levels, fixed cameras. For many Mario fans in the 90s, this was basically their dream game. And the core gameplay holds up well. The game is as polished as any Mario game you would expect; controls are precise and intuitive, depth perception is handled surprisingly well, (especially for a handheld game) and it's a great game to pull out and play at any time to get a few levels in. As its name suggests, there's a good amount of reimagined content from the NES classic Super Mario Bros. 3, and it's a welcome return for old fans and new ones alike. The Tanooki suit (even if it's been nerfed slightly) is easily the best power-up in the game, and the White Tanooki variety adds some accessibility options for less seasoned players. There's also the return of the Airship levels, a staple from SMB3, and the 3D interpretations of the Bowser levels are actually quite impressive and unique.
Admittedly, the game seems short on content at first; there are only about 40 levels before Mario rescues Peach and saves the day. Then, suddenly, the world count doubles in size, and 8 new special worlds are unlocked for players to test their skills against (and rescue Luigi.) Now, take the phrase "test their skills" lightly here; Mario games have generally never been supremely difficult, but if there's a competition for easiest 3D titles in the series, it's hard to see how 3D Land doesn't win. Difficulty is, of course, not a measure of quality, and there's something to be said for a game where you can kind of turn off your brain and just enjoy the great level design, but 3D Land might be a bit too relenting. Especially with the Tanooki suit, your deaths are likely to be minimal, and your lives are almost certain to be well into the 100s. Again, this isn't intrinsically a problem, but it does coalesce with other features which overall makes the game feel a bit dull.
This is a Mario game, so of course the levels are well made. But they're also very forgettable, and forgettable leads into repetitive, and repetitive leads into tedious. Somehow, you're likely to find yourself simultaneously remembering hardly any of the levels, all the while feeling like you've played each one half a dozen times. And when you get to the special levels, that feeling is only exacerbated; many of them are remixes of previous levels with more hazards, enemies, harsher time limits, or an enemy that follows your movements. And what's worse, they're still not very challenging. No, if you want a true challenge, you'll need to look towards the game's final level. There's only one problem; the unlock requirements for it are beyond unenjoyable. Because not only do you need to beat every level, collect every star coin, and golden every flag (which are all pretty reasonable criteria), but you have to do all of that as both Mario and Luigi. This would be pushing it for a game with excellent, memorable levels; for 3D Land, it's an exercise in futility. And what's somehow worse? The mythical final level you spend all your time unlocking...isn't even very hard, either.
As a game in a long running series where excellence is expected, Super Mario 3D Land is a game in limbo. On one hand, it's a Mario game, so the fundamentals are great, the soundtrack is great, and the idea is engaging. On the other hand, it's a Mario game, and in that regard it fails to live up to the base expectations that its name carries. 3D Land is an intriguing concept-the great 3D World's improvement on it in basically every way is proof of that-and it was a massive boon to the 3DS library and assisted its success. But as a Mario game? It's not hard to find better.

Even those with a passing interest in grand strategy games are usually familiar with Paradox Games. The Swedish based developer has been synonymous with the genre ever since their development into a fully independent company in 2004, and have always had a large presence on the PC digital storefront Steam, which came about around the same time as Paradox's independence. One of their first titles at the time was Crusader Kings, a dynasty simulator set during the high & late middle ages, which focused on European, Middle Eastern, and Northern African history. The basic concept was that, as the leader of your dynasty, your goal is to develop your demesne (or domain, if you prefer) via conquest, political espionage, marriage pacts, etc., all in order to grow your dynasty's prestige. The game was received modestly, but more importantly, it set the precedent for what would become, arguably, their breakthrough title, as 8 years later, Paradox Games released Crusader Kings II.
Paradox Games had experienced some limited success with their previous titles, but with CK2, they well and truly entered the mainstream. The game sold over 1 million copies, making it the developer's most successful game at the time. In many ways it's clear to see why; CK2 is a massively detailed & complex grand strategy game that takes place at a time of incredible development in human history. The phrase "say goodbye to your free time" very much applies here; the game spans 387 years of human history (586 years with the one free DLC, 684 with paid DLC), and just one full playthrough can take anywhere from 50-100 hours. And because of the absolutely massive amount of variables, every game is destined to be a completely unique affair, and every dynasty will have their own story to tell. And that goes far beyond the player's influence; a Viking commander in Persia or a Catholic Mongol Russian Empire are just a few of the infinitely possible options that can happen during your playthrough, far from your kingdom, many even without your knowledge. Every game contains a thousand and one stories, and for the seasoned RPG fan, it's a delight to follow as many as you can, while also keeping up with your realm and your dynasty's fight for power.
One of the best things CK2 has going for it is its RPG elements, and it contains a surprisingly effective human side to it, which keeps what is the game-which is massive in scope-relatively grounded, even while your characters enact some truly inhumane behavior. This blends together with the strategy side of the game very well, and makes for an appealing experience to a wider audience than its contemporaries. You'll hear truly bizarre stories from players of this title, usually relating to incestuous relations or murderous rampages, but the truth is it really takes all kinds. Of course, as with many grand strategy games, there is the typical steep learning curve here (especially for "optimal" play) so it's hard to recommend Crusader Kings II to everyone, but in the scope of the genre, this would probably be considered one of the more accessible titles. There's even a fan-designated starting spot dubbed Tutorial Island (Ireland) for new players to find their footing.
Another barrier of entry, though, and one that's far less forgiving, is the whole nature of CK2's DLC situation. The content in the base game is impressive, sure, but to truly get the most out of the game, or to even experience a majority of the content, you'll need a good portion of DLC. More than half of the starting map is unplayable, your choice of religions and cultures is extremely limited, and most of the satisfying RPG elements are not present. Many games are improved by DLC; CK2 doesn't feel nearly as worthy without it. And when you factor in that most of the 15 DLC expansion packs-even a decade plus after the base game's release-are still priced at $15 each, it makes the concept of playing CK2 the way you want feel like a fragile concept at best. Back on the gameplay side, CK2 also loses a fair degree of luster past your initial character and a few of their descendants. It's at its best when it's able to tell a self-contained, self-fulfilling story within a small amount of time, but a few hundred years down the line, things can get a bit too ridiculous for it to retain that feeling.
With Crusader Kings III finally released, we can finally take a final, definitive look back at Crusader Kings II, and for the most part, appreciate its innovation and design. Even though the new iteration in the series has been out for years, CK2 is still one of Paradox's most popular titles, and it being free to play on Steam will keep it relevant for years to come. Is its modern popularity a result of many players spending hundreds of dollars on DLC, and not wanting to do that again? Almost undoubtedly. But it's a testament to CK2, a definitive grand strategy epic, that so many players can put hundreds of hours into it and still be eager for more.

Of all those surprised by the success of RollerCoaster Tycoon, it's likely that no one was surprised more than the lone developer of the series himself, Chris Sawyer. After the release of RCT1 in 1999, and the two expansions which were released over the next year, Sawyer planned on continuing work on his Transport Tycoon sequel. But RCT1 just wouldn't stop selling; it was the best selling PC game of the year in 1999, and it maintained an almost constant presence on top 10 weekly sales lists even two years post release in 2001. And when you factor in all the cereals, frozen pizzas, and other common household products that RCT1 got bundled in with, its market reach was truly extraordinary, especially at the time, when the internet was not nearly as universally used as today. After a while, the success was impossible to ignore, and Sawyer postponed work on his Transport Tycoon sequel to work on another sequel; RollerCoaster Tycoon 2. By the time RCT2 launched in late 2002, the debut had already sold an incredible 6 million units, and while the sequel never reached quite that high on the sales chart, it did something more important; produced one of the best ever games in the management sim genre, and inspired a hugely dedicated fanbase that is still pushing creative boundaries in the game, over 20 years later.
Now to be fair, RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 certainly had a lot of the hard parts figured out in its predecessor, and there's no doubt that some impressive groundwork was already laid 3 years prior. In fact, upon first inspection, the game looks practically the same as the first, minus a bit of graphical improvement here and there. But make no mistake, there's a lot going on here under the hood; and above it, too, for that matter. Coaster building, park creation, designing; these were all tenets of the original, and in RCT2, it's even more satisfying. New coaster elements such as block brakes and banked sloped turns allow for significantly more creativity and realism, and it's not an exaggeration to say that practically any real roller coaster could be accurately recreated in RCT2. There's more rides, more coaster types, much more shops & stalls, and just generally more of what made RCT1 a good game.
But the best sequels take the great things from previous titles, while still improving upon them where needed, and in that regard, RCT2 is a fantastic sequel. And where RCT1 needed improvement the most-in scenery and park design-RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 absolutely flourishes. There's more scenery sets, sure, but it's more important what you can do with them. The ability to make custom scenery, and then place it wherever you like, creates boundless opportunities for creativity, and just a quick visit to an RCT2 forum will show that the creative well is nowhere near in danger of running dry. And this innovative revolution doesn't just stop at the scenery, either; a scenario creator, custom roller coaster creation engine, and full sandbox mode are all available from the start, which means players are no longer limited to the (still impressive) scenarios on the disk. And even more importantly, the longevity of RCT2 is massively increased; you could spend dozens of hours fine tuning the details of just one park, let alone every scenario.
Even more than its predecessor, RCT2 is an incredibly detailed game, and while the past two paragraphs demonstrate the improvements these details made, the game goes a little too far in some places. Things like coaster stat penalties, guest weight, and ride price metrics are all incredibly detailed, and it's a miracle they exist at all. The problem is, the game never makes you aware of them, and unless you're going deep into the code or getting outside information, they'll never even occur to you. Some also might prefer the "unlock levels as you progress" system of the original. Here, everything is unlocked straight away, and while that's nice if you're selective about what parks you wish to complete, some players may not feel the same sense of progression. It's clear the game can't wait for you to dive in headfirst and explore it all, but it's sometimes content to skip over some details and suspense to do so, to a fault.
Regardless, when people think of the RCT series, there's a reason their thoughts default to RollerCoaster Tycoon 2. There's a reason why OpenRCT2-an open-source, fan-made mod that adds a heap of features and fixes-has that digit at the end. RCT2 is a truly exceptional management sim game, one of the best in the genre, and the launching off point for millions of players into a new type of game. It grabs you with both hands, from your very first park, and showers you with boundless potential. If RCT1 was the starting scenario, RCT2 is the finished park, come fit with incredible rides and dazzling scenery. This is a theme park you'll have a hard time leaving.

If you were to ask players how to define an indie game, their response would likely mention a small development team and budget. But when the term does get brought up, it's almost always in modern context; titles like Stardew Valley, Minecraft, and Hollow Knight are some of the more popular examples. But while they're more prevalent in the mainstream than ever, they've always sort of been there. And it would be wrong to discuss games with small development teams reaching astonishing worldwide success without mentioning one of the PC's most notable examples, RollerCoaster Tycoon. Developed almost single-handedly by legendary Scottish game developer Chris Sawyer, (in Assembly code, no less), it's one of the most popular early examples of a solo-developed game reaching a worldwide audience, selling over 4 million copies, and it-and its sequel-still maintain a highly-engaged and dedicated fanbase to this day.
RollerCoaster Tycoon was released in 1999 for PCs, and the timing was almost perfect. By this time, the PC was clearly being recognized as a viable gaming option separate from consoles, and around half of US households had a PC at the time-a far more lucrative market than even the best selling console. And after the success of Sawyer's first management sim Transport Tycoon, he began work on RCT, which would contain all the excellent groundwork from his previous title into a much more unique and interesting concept; theme park management. The basic concept of RCT is to load various scenarios, in which you'll have to attract a certain amount of guests to your park, make a certain amount of money, and so on, all while adhering to the rules of each park. If it feels limited, it's intentionally so; so much of the joy in RCT is taking the base scenarios and imparting your own vision on to them. Each scenario's park provides an excellent springboard-and sometimes, theme-with which to express your creativity. For a game released in the 90s, the customization available here is truly incredible, even more so because it was all developed by one person.
The star of the show is, of course, the roller coaster designer, which is thoroughly impressive and is great fun to play around with. The physics in this game are so impressive that they would be more than suitable for modern titles, and it makes crafting that perfect rollercoaster-enough momentum but not too fast, not too much g-force, just the right amount of airtime-an extremely satisfying venture. It's a canvas for nearly boundless potential, and it's backed by a pretty robust set of scenarios; although the 21 base scenarios are admittedly a bit plain, most versions of the game you can find today include the DLC, which provide some really inspiring landscapes for the player to work with. The scenery is nice, though there isn't quite enough variety in it to keep different parks from feeling a bit uniform, and its application feels pretty limited.
It shouldn't be too surprising that RollerCoaster Tycoon contains its fair share of limitations, though, given its uniqueness. Some of them came from the AI of the park guests, which wasn't capable of walking on wide paths without getting lost or using transport rides correctly. Some came from, as previously mentioned, the somewhat limited ride and scenery applications; for example, rides can only be placed on ground level, which makes maps with large amounts of water or uneven terrain a bit tedious. Many of the late-game scenarios are also locked behind completion of earlier ones, and while this does give a nice sense of progression for completionists, it also will force speculative players to play through many of the simple, more generic ones first, and some new players might get burned out before reaching the more challenging, interesting maps.
In spite of that, though, and regardless that RollerCoaster Tycoon is, in many ways, outshined by its sequel, there's no denying the importance and the impressiveness of this title. For many, this was their introduction to management sim games, and it's doubtless that there are many popular series in the genre today that would not have the same following were it not for RCT. Its impact was even clear at the time; it wasn't the first title to use the "Tycoon" naming scheme, but it's certainly the reason it became such a popular naming convention in the early 2000s. Back in the days of cereal boxes coming with a CD-ROM game, RollerCoaster Tycoon was the title to have, and it laid the groundwork for what is perhaps the most fondly remembered-and still thriving-series from the turn of the millennium.

It's fascinating to witness how game franchises can transform over time. Case in point, take the Might & Magic series, initially developed by New World Computing. It was one of the formative RPG experiences on PC in the 80's and early 90's, and by the time the company was acquired by 3DO in 1996, its combined titles had sold over 4 million units, and had already begun its now long-running spinoff series Heroes of Might & Magic. The 3DO contained HoMM2, the series's breakout title, and was generally viewed as a golden age for the PC-based franchise. But that stability would only last so long; The 3DO Company would go bankrupt only 5 years later, and Ubisoft would acquire the rights to the Might & Magic series in 2001. Since then, there's certainly been no shortage of mainline titles and spinoffs, even if many of them failed to capture the acclaim of the earlier games in the franchise. But every so often, an unlikely success would appear out of the mangled corpse of the once great franchise. And there might be no better such success than the Nintendo DS's Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes.
Now, to be fair, by the time Clash of Heroes released in 2009, the series was a long way away from its origins in 1986. So for fans of the earlier M&M games, it should be made clear that this game is part of the series in name only. The gameplay of M&M:COH is virtually unrecognizable from mainline entries. But where for many games that would be a mark against it, here it's not, because this game actually manages to be an impressively fun match-3 puzzle strategy game-which is about as far from the series roots as you could get. But any trepidation about the game's approach wears off incredibly swiftly, because at its core, it's an impressively addicting title. The main campaign takes you through 5 characters, each with their own units and special abilities, and as a result, a seemingly basic title turns into a surprisingly deep and intricate game. And it's a pretty unique concept, too-it merges ideas of strategy RPG with the styling of a modern arcade puzzle game, making it a game with both a low skill floor and an extremely high skill ceiling. It's fun to learn, hard to master, and as with many things, the best part is learning.
And on the original DS hardware, its visuals-as a modern take on an old SNES style-works perfectly, and its soundtrack feels pulled from that era as well. Aesthetically, from the game's pixel art to the hand drawn character portraits, the game is impressive. Less so from a story side, but to be fair, the character designs are nice enough, and some of the dialogue is actually quite impressively written. It's mainly a vehicle to deliver gameplay changes though, and in that regard it does a fine enough job. It's also good at delivering more unique gameplay challenges than just "defeat the enemy," and that variety prevents that game from getting too stale initially. It is a 25 hour game though, and that's a lot of time to devote to what is, for all its impressive feats, a match-3 puzzle game. You'll likely find yourself plowing through the first 1 or 2 chapters, only to feel it linger by the last one. It's probably not a coincidence that the last chapter, even out of context, is the game's worst by far, and feels very poorly fleshed out compared to previous ones. In fact, it feels completely disconnected to the philosophy of the game as a whole, and it's, unfortunately, tremendously unsatisfying. The game's difficulty can also be a bit all over the place, and lack of a consistent difficulty level curve doesn't help with it feeling more concise.
It also likely would have helped if the heroes you commanded felt more unique. They do get their own abilities and units, but differences are in most cases minor, and it seems only in limited preset battles are they able to be used to their biggest potential. In fact, more preset battles-where enemy units are defined each time, instead of random-would likely do this game more good than harm. As a puzzle game, it of course can become a bit of an RNG-fest, and the few preset battles in the game are when it feels M&M:COH is testing you the most, and as a result, feel most satisfying to succeed in.
It also has a relatively strong competitive scene, and with its port to mobile phones in 2013 & modern consoles (and Steam) in 2023, Might & Magic: Clash Of Heroes is a great title to pick up for some casual quick battles or online multiplayer. It introduces players to its combat mechanics smoothly enough for even the puzzle novice to appreciate, and yet it contains an unexpected amount of depth that can certainly keep you coming back. While the length of the title and the extremely poor final chapter will likely leave a bad taste in your mouth come its conclusion, that's nothing a few quick battles of this great and uniquely implemented battle puzzler can't fix.

In 2004, the Gran Turismo series-only 7 years past its debut-was already one of the biggest franchises in gaming history. Its first two titles pushed the limits of what was possible on the PS1, and were two of the system's three highest selling games of all time. And while the series debut had slightly higher sales, the second in the series was a distinctly better package, offering more tracks, more cars, and more racing modes. As it turns out, that trend would very much continue for Sony's second system, too. Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec was a graphical revolution for its time, and once again, was a top 3 seller for the PS2. And once again, Gran Turismo 4 offered everything in GT3, with the content dial turned up to 11-earning itself a spot right below its predecessor on the PS2 all time sales list. But for many, GT4 offers more than just an enhanced version of its prequel, and to many, it represents the peak of the Gran Turismo series.
For all the benefits the jump to the 6th generation gave, the biggest flaw in GT3's design was clear. There was simply not enough variety in the gameplay, the cars, or the tracks to make it justify its length. All of which, luckily, will likely never be said about Gran Turismo 4. The numbers speak for themselves in this regard; almost four times as many cars, almost two times as many tracks, and over twice as many events. So brimming with content is GT4 that it sometimes makes its predecessor feel like a demo. And even with the extra content, the game doesn't feel lacking in polish or passion. And through that passion, a game that might otherwise have held a players interest for a few hours can now keep them attached for dozens. There's still way too much content in this game for any reasonable person to be expected to complete, and of course, only diehard simulation racing fans will be able to stave off the repetitive feeling from the later parts of the game, but its impressive that GT4 works for as long as it does.
Ironically, perhaps the most fun parts of the game come from the License Tests, which offers a definitive marker to test your skills against. There's more tests than in previous events, and while the 1 lap challenges can be a bit frustrating, it serves as a good benchmark for your driving skills and mechanical understanding. The Driving Missions as well are a nice addition, even if some of them-such as the infamous Nürburgring Challenge #34-take way too much time to even prepare to attempt, let alone actually attempt. (In the previously mentioned example, each attempt demands your car sit idle for 123 seconds, and you have to wait in real time.) But a good challenge is, regrettably, something you don't get much of in the core racing mode. The computer AI is not particularly impressive, especially for a realistic racing sim. As a result, it's often difficult to make a clean overtake without competitors making some kind of contact, and not super difficult to do much of anything else, even with similar or slightly underpowered machinery. And in the game's new B-Spec mode, where you take on the role of strategist while AI controls your car, doesn't fare much better. It's a nice addition in theory, especially for the extremely long endurance races, but it's not something you can really rely on unless using a far superior car.
Of course, to a simulation racing aficionado, Gran Turismo 4 is an absolute blessing. It takes the great framework from GT3 and expands upon it without sacrificing quality. Even though its been far surpassed technically since its release, many fans of the series still view it as one of the best GT has to offer, and it's not hard to see why, even from the perspective of a racing novice. It's an extremely polished title that will no doubt deliver a lot of excitement and fun before it wears out its welcome on you, which could be anywhere from 20 hours to 200. Full of tools to push drivers to their absolute limit, it's no surprise Gran Turismo 4 is still fondly remembered as a great title, and one of the best in the business of simulation racing.

Think about how difficult it is to make a Zelda game. It's one of the most iconic series in all of gaming, and for nearly 40 years, it's been defining the action-adventure genre, inspiring developers and players alike with its groundbreaking design and eye for detail. Which means for every new entry in the series, greatness isn't a just goal, it's an expectation. Any Zelda less than a genre-defining classic is considered a failure. That alone would be enough of a burden for any developer-but for Tears of the Kingdom, that was just the beginning. Forget an iconic series; TOTK had the pressure of being a sequel to Breath of the Wild, a wildly revolutionary title in every way, and subject to near universal praise. If that wasn't enough, TOTK was also saddled with a 6 year development cycle, all while using the same engine and same general overworld. For a long time, people were skeptical of TOTK, and had good reason to be. (The phrase "$70 DLC" wasn't uncommon in discussion around the game.) But as more was revealed about BOTW's sequel, it became more and more clear that, once again, the Zelda series was cooking something special. And its release did far more than just quell fears.
One of the biggest concerns about Tears of the Kingdom was, due to its familiar locales, that it wouldn't provide that same wow factor its predecessor did. It doesn't take long for TOTK to prove that theory wrong. Whether it's the sun-swept sky islands, the pitch-black depths, or the renovated locations, there's plenty to be awed by; Link's first dive from the Great Sky Island is bound inspire awe. Somehow, Nintendo has taken what is essentially the same world map as BOTW and updated it, changed it, renovated it in such a way that, somehow, it's still infinitely explorable-maybe even more so than its predecessor. Only those with the strongest of wills will be able to carry out a plan in this game; there's more than ever in Hyrule that's worth going off the beaten path for. And that's just on the surface; combine the titanic addition of the depths with the enticing allure of the sky islands, and you have an open-world vastly worthy of exploring. Or, for many, re-exploring.
But as big as exploration was in Breath of the Wild, and as good as it is in Tears of the Kingdom, amazingly, that's not even its focal point. The abilities you're given in the game border on nonsensical, in the best of ways. Ascend revolutionizes both traversal and world design. Fuse provides nearly limitless combat applications. Recall is an incredible feat of game engineering, and its range is simply unbelievable. And Ultrahand, named after a Gunpei Yokoi toy of the 60s, is the crème de la crème of creativity and innovation in gaming. TOTK, beyond its story, provides a practically unlimited sandbox tool for players to create to their wildest dreams. In fact the player is given so much control at first that it's almost alienating, and getting accustomed to these new systems can take a little time. But it swiftly becomes second nature, and by then, the amount of freedom the player is unrivaled. Gone are the days of "one problem, one solution." TOTK is a gorgeous, awe-inspiring canvas, waiting for you to add in all your personal little details.
Now, players who weren't fans of its incumbent are likely to feel the same about Tears of the Kingdom. And that's a shame, because virtually everything that was a source of debate about BOTW is improved here. The story, while still subdued, is a significant improvement, and delivers impactful moments with a significantly more satisfying final boss fight and conclusion. Weapon durability, when combined with Fuse, is a non-factor; you'll never be wanting for weapons in this title. More traditional dungeons return with unique and well-designed bosses. Enemy variety is increased, and their drops are much more useful. The game looks fantastic, especially while running on what's effectively a modern smartphone, and loading time is reduced. If there was a popular complaint about BOTW, it was addressed in TOTK.
Many have speculated on where the Zelda series goes from here. As incredible as Tears of the Kingdom is, it would be risky (at best) to try to base a 3rd title in this version of Hyrule. But that can be speculated on in the future. Because with TOTK, Nintendo has done something truly exceptional-perhaps, even more surprising than BOTW. Concerns for the game's wellbeing seem foolish in retrospect. And while BOTW was no stranger to 3rd party knock off titles, it's hard to see how TOTK could even be imitated. To have this many new, groundbreaking ideas in a 36-year old series defies all sense of logic and reality, and yet, it feels like something only Zelda could provide. So if you worried the magic of BOTW would be irreproducible, that TOTK would struggle to have its own sense of identity, that it would fail to live up to the hype, worry no longer. They've done it again. What else is there to say?

Sucker Punch Productions is a video game developer that's practically synonymous with Sony and Playstation at this point. And while they were only formally acquired by Sony in 2011, their debut on Sony hardware came almost a decade earlier-and along with it, the debut of one of the Playstation 2's unofficial mascots. In fact, Sly Cooper & The Thievius Raccoonus was only Sucker Punch's 2nd overall game, which makes the game's success all the more impressive. And while Sly never reached the sales number highs of the other unofficial PS2 mascots (Jak & Daxter/Ratchet & Clank), it maintained a dedicated enough fanbase to warrant a trio of sequels, and is still a fondly remembered series to this day, and wishes for Sly 5 in any State of Play announcements are not uncommon.
As is befitting of a master thief, Sly Cooper mixes 3D platforming with stealth elements, which can involve sneaking around enemies, disabling traps, and cracking into safes. With its hand-drawn animated cutscenes, SC feels like something directly out of a Saturday morning cartoon, and the aesthetic is fantastic throughout. Levels are generally well designed, and the visuals are particularly impressive for a 20 year old game. Character design is fantastic too. From the main protagonist, to his partners in crime, to each of the bosses you'll encounter; the game is totally bursting with personality. It has just the right amount of over-the-top-ness to it where it comes off as charming and silly without taking itself too seriously, which is especially impressive for the time period, perhaps even more so than the impressive graphics. And befitting of his character, Sly is generally just as smooth to control, too, especially with the abilities you earn as you progress.
Sly Cooper's goal in this game is to steal back pages of his family's secret thieving manual, so it makes sense that for each boss he defeats, he gains a new technique with which to outfox his enemies. This is pretty standard for a 3D platformer, but where SC is unique is in its optional abilities, unlocked by finding collectables in each level. None of these optional abilities are required to beat the game, but it's a neat concept that allows for a surprising amount of variety in playstyle. Admittedly, while the levels are mostly well designed, they're also quite linear, so there isn't as much variety as there could be, and many of these collectable abilities are more style than substance. That's likely because the game, even with only mandatory abilities, is pretty easy to beat, and most enjoyment of it will come from its slick aesthetics and character, rather than its challenge.
Even then, it's a pretty short game, and even a 100% run will likely wrap up in less than 10 hours. This wouldn't be too much of a problem if all of its levels were utilized effectively, but as the game goes on, it leans more and more on mini-game type levels, which are at best generic, and at worst, just annoying. More importantly, though, they lack the feel and ambiance of the main levels, and generally just feel like filler. Especially frustrating is the final area, which, instead of being a test of everything you've learned so far, is essentially a mini game collection. The game loses a lot of momentum towards the end, and that's a shame, because while the final level is one of the best in the game, the overall end game experience is likely to feel a bit bittersweet. But to be fair, it's not only the final levels that fumble Sly Cooper's theme. It certainly portrays itself as a stealth-focused game, but there is rarely any consequence-or, indeed, incentive-to try to play stealthily. The levels that prioritize sneaking around enemies instead of defeating them are the better parts of the game, but it can feel a bit disjointed when the gameplay doesn't often match the game's stylistic theme.
Still, while Sly Cooper might not be the most immersive title, it certainly has enough charm and wit to entertain you for the majority of its short runtime. And when it really leans into that comic book vibe-the cutscenes, the hammy villains, the smooth talking protagonist-it's a blast to play. It's certainly easy to see why Sly became an icon of the early and mid 2000s, and even if there's a bit too much fluff and a bit too little meat in his debut, it's still worth experiencing in the modern day. Even if Sly Cooper's gameplay wasn't always able to live up to the style of its presentation, it provided enough fun to get players invested, and enough engagement for them to imagine themselves in the shoes of the thieving mammal for years to come.

If you're a fan of ATLUS games, 2017 was likely a great time for you. Not only was Persona 5-one of the most highly anticipated JPRGs ever made-getting its western release, but during the Nintendo Switch Presentation in January, it was also announced the highly-anticipated Shin Megami Tensei V was now in development. The SMT series (and ATLUS as a whole) had been well represented on the 3DS, so it made sense for it to continue its partnership with Nintendo. But that would be the last anyone would hear about SMTV for quite a while, especially with Persona 5 (and Royal, its enhanced version) basking in the spotlight. So by the time SMTV was announced for release in late 2021, it was guaranteed to draw comparisons to the former, even if the philosophy of the two series has never been more different. This can certainly be frustrating for SMT fans, as this game was never trying to be the next Persona, and it's not fair to criticize this game for that. It's also misleading, because for as many of its strengths, there's plenty of SMTV to criticize in its own right.
The Shin Megami Tensei series has been going since the Super Famicom days (and the broader Megami Tensei series since the original Famicom), so it's to be expected that by now, an SMT title should be able to-at the bare minimum-deliver great turn-based combat. And as expected, the fifth main entry to the franchise delivers. It's truly impressive how a game that takes roughly 40 hours to get through at a minimum can so effortlessly keep players engaged in its combat system. Demon designs are just as excellent as ever, and as always, demon negotiation and capturing is the star of the show. In fact, SMTV gives players more tools to build their demonic arsenal to staggering levels than ever before. Essences allow you to ensure certain moves or attributes carry over to your newly captured or fused demons, miracles provide a litany of benefits to your party, and the Magatsuhi system adds a bit more strategy to not just your current enemy encounter, but your overall battling plan. In truth, you can spend plenty of time just in the menus alone, optimizing each member of your party to obscene levels and creating an unstoppable force. It's a surprisingly satisfying mechanic that can make preparing for the fight just as grand as participating in it.
Of course, it does come with the minor drawback of removing a little too much of the challenge in some aspects. Shin Megami Tensei is a series that is somewhat known for its difficulty, but SMTV certainly leans towards the easier side of things. That's not necessarily a bad thing on its own, but for series veterans, it basically amounts to choosing whether to miss out on the great customization mechanic, or miss out on challenging battles. That means that while the game is more versatile and engaging on the surface, it's easy to see the flaws of such a system in motion. This is even more (literally) accurate for the game's visuals. SMTV is the first in the series to utilize an open world, 3D-interactive area, and in a snapshot, it's visually impressive, especially in the first area, and especially on the Switch's limited hardware. But when your character starts moving, when demons start appearing in the distance, its flaws are clear. This game is just not comfortable on the Switch, and the constant frame drops, slowdowns, and pop-in effects don't help with immersion at all. It's a bit puzzling, too, because most of the world design is relatively generic, and doesn't seem to be worth the huge performance investment that SMTV requires.
And if SMTV's graphical incapabilities aren't enough to disappoint you, its story and characters likely will. This is one of the weaker efforts ATLUS has put out story wise, and it's dragged further down by a cast of one-note, undeveloped characters. Pacing is off from the beginning-most of the key story beats don't come until dozens of hours in-and at no point does the fate of any of the characters feel particularly important. Even your own actions have no impact on the story-until one decision at the very end-and as a result, the narrative of SMTV feels extremely rigid and unapproachable. It almost feels unfinished, as if large chunks of context or development were missing from the final product.
Shin Megami Tensei V is a great combat experience and offers decent exploration, and if that is strictly all you're looking for in an SMT game, there's no doubt you'll find a lot to like here. But as mentioned earlier, this game is a relatively large undertaking, and trudging through the story to experience the (admittedly great) combat is bound to wear on you. There's a vision for a great game here, and many fans of the genre will no doubt enjoy it, but so much of what traditionally makes a good game great is cloudy and muddled here, that instead, it turns SMTV from a good game to a mediocre one, and a disappointing first step into the next generation from a legendary series.

When a video game developer releases one of the most iconic games of the generation, it's only natural that they try to capitalize on it as soon as possible. So it makes sense that Rare, who were responsible for the Nintendo 64's breakthrough FPS GoldenEye 007, began development on a sequel soon after its release. Its initial work focused on a true sequel-a game based on the film's sequel, Tomorrow Never Dies-but when Rare was outbid for the James Bond license by EA, their attention shifted towards a sci-fi, near future take instead. Utilizing some of the engine of GoldenEye, Rare released their spiritual successor, Perfect Dark for the N64, in mid-2000. And while it shared many of the same concepts and features of its predecessor, in many ways it was considered an improvement, garnering near universal acclaim, and was, in the hearts and minds of many, one of the greatest games of all time upon release. And while it's understandable that sentiment hasn't carried over into the modern day, it's also a bit unfair that Perfect Dark hasn't retained the same status its predecessor has in the gaming community. Because while GoldenEye has the nostalgia factor and the brand recognition, Perfect Dark is-in very many ways-the superior game.
Of course, it would make sense that the feel of GoldenEye were translated over to Perfect Dark, and in a way, it picks up right where GoldenEye left off, giving off the same spy-thriller vibe. All the best features return. Multiplayer is just as fun and chaotic, and the maps have been drastically improved. Single player difficulty-based missions are still here, and they still provide an incredibly unique way of varying difficulty without just increasing enemy health or buffing their damage. The weapons are even more over-the-top, featuring alien weaponry and a laptop gun. But more significant than what it brings back, it's Perfect Dark's improvements that are more notable. Enemy AI is improved, but more importantly, friendly AI is improved, and escort missions don't feel anywhere near as painful as they did in GoldenEye. N64 games are never going to have the best graphics, but for the time, PD is really impressive, and it's clear why it requires the expansion pak to function; you could probably count the number of visually superior N64 games on one hand, if any exist at all. Because of this extra processing power, missions were more immersive, levels were more detailed, and (surprisingly competent) voice acting made its debut.
These are nice additions, and certainly increase the playability of Perfect Dark, but its best and most significant change was in its game modes. In addition to typical single and multiplayer, PD introduced a Co-Op & Counter-Op mode. The former of which allowed for a two-player completion of the campaign, which is of course a great feature, but the latter was even more revolutionary; it allowed a player to take control of enemies in a mission, and attempt to stop the other from completing their objective. It's a fantastically innovative addition, and is still one of Perfect Dark's most unique aspects.
Of course, these improvements can only go so far while being limited by the technology of the time. Perfect Dark is, after all, still an N64 first person shooter, and that means having to contend with some mediocre-at-best controls. Especially on harder difficulties, later missions can get extremely frustrating if you aren't familiar with the controls. It also suffers from having some vague or confusing mission objectives, which was also a problem for GoldenEye, but due to PD's larger maps and sense of scale, those issues are exacerbated here. As mentioned previously, Perfect Dark's graphics are impressive, but a lot of times, it doesn't seem the N64 has the power to handle them; as a result, any amount of explosions or large numbers of enemies are enough to totally tank the frame rate for a good few seconds. All these flaws add up to an experience that is more difficult than likely intended, and since the difficulty comes from the game's flaws rather than by design, some missions end up feeling like a bit of a drag to complete.
It's rare for games to retain their status and prestige so long after release, and Perfect Dark is no exception, but just because it isn't any longer considered one of the best games ever made doesn't make it bad either. It, along with its predecessor, helped lay the groundwork for many FPS games on home consoles, and it's a fantastic time capsule to a definitive point in gaming. Moreover, it improved upon what was a monumental title, and produced what was certainly the finest FPS at time of release. Modern inspection reveals faults and cracks in the game, as it often does, but not enough to completely dull the sheen of what was an impressive title. Even decades later, after it's been bested by the passage of time, Perfect Dark remains a wholly unique experience, with plenty of gameplay options and a good amount of fun.

One game really can change everything. Japanese video game developer FromSoftware spent almost all of the Playstation and Playstation 2 era toiling in relative anonymity; they were most known for their King's Field and Armored Core series, both of which attained only a cult following at the time, and their other releases were inconsistent in both quality and tone. Then, in 2009, a then unknown game by the name of Demon's Souls-dubbed as a spiritual successor to the PS1's King's Field-was hesitantly released in North America. Marketing for the game was minimal, so much so that Atlus, the game's publisher, only prepared an initial 15,000 physical units for the games release. And while the game's reception was moderate in Japan, it was received far better in the west, becoming critically acclaimed and going on to sell more than a million copies.. But Demon's Souls influence goes far beyond what it achieved as a game. It represented a huge turning point for FromSoftware in terms of success and global recognition, of course, but it also gave birth to one of the most popular action subgenres of the past few decades; the soulsborne.
As the first in the Souls series, Demon's Souls was a pretty unique take on the action adventure genre, weaving in RPG elements and a core focus on difficulty and personal choice. The game works because it's quite flexible in how it can be approached, right from the beginning. Because while some playstyles undoubtedly have their advantage over others, none of them feel restrictive-there's an impressive amount of freedom in this game that makes it more enjoyable to come back to. It's also highly satisfying-due to its focus on difficulty, clearing a level or a difficult boss your own way is a great feeling, and it creates a really great gameplay loop. Each difficult encounter you survive is further motivation to keep playing, keep exploring, keep defeating enemies. Some combat and controls can feel a bit clunky, and it's clear FromSoft hadn't fully mastered the mechanics yet, but it's more often fun than frustrating.
And for a self-identified difficult game, Demon's Souls might actually be one of the more beginner friendly titles in the series, at least on the basis of its mechanics. It isn't so much hard as it is stubborn, forcing you to forget conventional approaches and beat it at its own game. The bosses, contrary to what most who haven't played it might believe, often represent the easier parts of the level, and many can even be defeated on their first encounter. In that aspect, Demon's Soul is a good introduction to the series, teaching the player to look for patterns and battle strategically.
Demon's Souls is at its best when its ambition in level design matches its combat, and areas like Tower of Latria and Boletaria Palace do just that. Others, though, feel a bit more generic, and sometimes fall into the trope of difficulty by tedium instead of by mechanics. For example, some levels have a semi-checkpoint system where you can open up shortcuts to the beginning every so often. This is a nice mechanic, as death is super punishing in Demon's Souls, forcing you to lose half your health bar and all your souls, which is the level up/weapon upgrade currency in this game. The shortcuts are a nice way of rewarding progression, but for levels without them, it can get really frustrating, really fast. This is why most bosses being simple is almost a requirement, and is what keeps this game enjoyable, because a force 5-10 minute walk back to a boss each and every time is a perfect example of tedious, artificial difficulty, and will especially be frustrating in the first few levels when new players are just learning mechanics.
And the artificial difficulty doesn't stop there, either. Weapon upgrades, for example, rely on so many different variations of RNG gathered materials that you'll be lucky to upgrade any of your weapons to their final form. This means that you'll likely be doing a lot more grinding than desired; either to strengthen your character to the point your weapon doesn't matter, or to farm materials for your weapon in the hope you get the items you need. So while Demon's Souls is exhilarating when you're defeating bosses and discovering new areas, it becomes exhausting when you inevitably feel gated from progression by your stats or your items.
As groundbreaking as Demon's Souls was for the action adventure genre, it's pretty clear today why it was Dark Souls, not its prequel, which really took off. It was an impressive first step into revitalizing a once out-of-favor style of game, and it can still provide plenty of satisfying moments for players, but there's quite a bit of rust on the edges which dull the sheen. Don't be mistaken, Demon's Souls is thoroughly a good game, and is a good starting point to introduce players to the soulsborne subgenre, but its janky implementations and occasional frustration mechanics keep it from being anything much more than that.