104 Reviews liked by TheYeti

Alright, let’s try this one more time.
Kao the Kangaroo is a reboot of the original mascot 3D platformer series that started in 2000 with its original trilogy. It never sold that well to my knowledge (and having played the original, I think I can more or less make out why), which is why in the wake of the era of the 3D platformer revival, I actually was quite surprised that this got greenlit and announced for release this year. I basically bought the reboot day 1 on Steam back in May, and gave it my best go, but the game was a buggy mess upon release; there were a ton of reports of some users (not all, but enough to where the outcry took up almost all of the Steam Community Forums for the game) suffering from save corruption, where after entering the second world, the game would refuse to save any further progress, meaning that those players would have to beat the game all in one day without any crashes. I called it quits at that time, and wasn’t sure when I’d pick it back up (no chance for a refund, having played more than 2 hours)… well, until today, when my crippling brain disease of wanting to 100% as many games as possible on Steam kicked in. So I ran through the whole thing in a single day, and how does it hold up now?
Honestly, you could take my description of the original game (“an aggressively mediocre mascot 3D platformer”) and put it in the context of the indie 3D platformers of new, and that’s basically this game. You play as the Kao the Kangaroo, hopping around to defeat this evil immortal spirit that has possessed once venerable martial arts masters and turned them into pawns of commercialization and resource exploitation, and find his sister who’s run away from home to find their father who disappeared and since everyone’s kind of incompetent, you’re the only hope that’s left. I’m not going into any further detail than that, as the story’s world building is rather banal and I don’t really think there’s anything memorable of note about any of the characters whatsoever; all you need to know is that you are a kangaroo that can punch things really hard and the big bad are possessing everyone so they can be rich and famous and take over the world and stuff.
You travel around four worlds of mostly linear levels, with a boss in each world as well that you have to beat up so they too can have their own moment where they hold their head in their hands sitting down slumped while going “what have I done????!!!?!!111?!” The original Kao was more or less described by some as a Crash Bandicoot clone, and that’s fortunately not really the case here; there are some divergent paths that will lead to the “KAO” letters as collectibles as well as Eternal Wells that are basically the Time Rifts from A Hat in Time but bad. That's because they’re all really dark and cramped and serve no purpose other than to get a few coins and some diamonds. It’s pretty by the books 3D platforming otherwise; you run down corridors, jump over some gaps and up some cliffs, punch a lot of enemies, run down more hallways, break a lot of crates and barrels for that sweet sweet coin, you get the idea. The two main wrinkles here are that you’ll eventually get elemental powerups for your gloves for environmental interactions (i.e. use the Fire powerup to melt ice and burn spiderwebs) and there are spirit crystals that you can punch to temporarily activate dark crystal platforms.
Now, onto the bad:
-Despite having fixed the save corruption glitch, the game is still very, very bugged and has some pretty poor programming at times; it’s hard to tell which is which. There are the silly glitches of course, like boxes and crates not breaking into pieces when you punch them and then suddenly disappearing, or audio glitches such as when the background music will just stop playing or when no sound effect plays upon picking up a KAO letter. But those are small potatoes compared to the more damaging glitches; for example, there’s still a notable bug in Frosty Canyon where if you use the trampolines at any time (whether to collect coins or to quickly travel to a previous area from a hidden path) the ground slam attack stops working, as in you can input the action and it won’t come out. This softlocks the level because you need the ground slam to freeze water to push blocks along the ice, so as a result this was a level reset for me and cost me about half an hour or so. Similarly, there’s a glitch in the second to last level where a platform was already activated via the fire powerup slam but was stuck in place for some reason, so I couldn’t progress further down the level and had to again reset. And of course, there were multiple instances where I got stuck between several unbreakable objects (or in one case, near the end of the second to last level, phased through the wall of an unbreakable crate in the last room and couldn’t get out) and had to again, reset my level progress. Looks like there’s still a lot of debugging to be done!
-The hitboxes and hurtboxes of objects and enemies is rather wonky; there are a ton of instances where I was standing right in front of a checkpoint pole and punching it for coins/health, where my first two hits would contact the checkpoint pole but the third hit would often completely miss for no apparently reason. This also happens a lot while using the aerial tail spin attack, which would often phase right through enemies despite seemingly contacting their models, or how while mashing the attack button, attacks would randomly miss to the left or right of the models while hits inbetween would land. Also, sometimes enemies fail to disappear on time when their health is fully depleted and will still hit you with lingering attacks/hitboxes despite being downed.
-Combat generally still feels good enough, even with the aforementioned bugs/poor programming, but it’s a bit too mindless. You can just mash the attack button to punch spam your way through, and then hit the slow-mo slam button (not to be confused with the manual aerial ground slam) when your meter has built up enough thanks to enough consecutive hits. Even while taking some hits, there are enough I-frames to where this mindless strategy will beat everything in your path, since the slow-mo slam will take out most enemies near you or stun them long enough to where they’re basically helpless to be punched until they disappear, and you’ll often get hearts from defeating enemies anyways to recover health.
-On that note, this game is pretty damn easy, and not in a good way; you’re incentivized to collect permanent health powerups (collect 4 and gain the ability to take another hit), and the game is constantly throwing extra life collectibles and heart drops in all the levels. You can also punch the checkpoint poles every time you get to a new one to get a heart drop. As a result, I was often at or near full health, and had over 24 extra lives by the end of the game, with maybe only 3 actual in game deaths and I didn’t even need to purchase any extra lives for 500 coins.
-Gems are supposedly the rarer collectible when compared to coins, given how you often need to throw yourself into more danger (i.e. over pits of lava, spike traps, etc) to collect them. But they don’t even do anything! I was never able to find any way to redeem them for rewards (whereas you can at least buy costumes/permanent health upgrades/extra lives with coins), so while there’s a counter tracking how many gems you’ve found per level, they just sit there and exist.
-The grappling hook momentum physics are the absolute worst. When holding onto a grappling hook, you’ll swing back and forth as expected, but sometimes when you let go of the grappling hook at the end of a swing, Kao turns 90 degrees to the left/right and launches in that direction or at times will even launch away from the apex of the swing. So I often had to grab onto the grappling hook again to correct my drift, and that isn’t a surefire solution either because Kao inconsistently turns or will not turn around on a regrab (you can’t rotate the way you’re facing or your direction of swing while hanging onto a grappling hook either) and sometimes may have been propelled far away enough to where a regrab is out of range. This is the only part of the game that I would consider “difficult” because I could not find a consistent way to get off of grappling hooks as I’d like, and would constantly propel into walls or depths; even when I’d say it was doable, I’d often have to correct against the inconsistent drift by tilting the joystick in the other direction, and would barely land on the platform.
-I’ve made fun of the story/worldbuilding/characters already, but the voice acting as part of this package is atrocious. I get not having the budget to hire a localization team to get dedicated voice actors for English or other languages, but the current voice actors sound very inexperienced at best and extremely forced/stilted at worst and will quip a generic NPC dialogue line every minute or so as you progress further through a level. The bland dialogue lines unfortunately made me care even less about what was going on to drive the plot forward.
-There are a bunch of other bugs that I haven’t even addressed which have been found by other users; I’m not sure if these have been fixed since then, but considering that the latest post hasn’t been addressed by the developers, I would suggest you err on the side of caution.
I dunno, I think the reboot is at least a better product and more fun to play than the original Kao the Kangaroo from 2000 (a very low bar, I’m aware), but after 100%ing it myself, I can’t actually think of any reason to recommend this over A Hat in Time or Psychonauts 2. The characters are all boring, the story feels rather inconsequential, the NPCs don’t even change their dialogue after beating the boss in each area or the final boss so your actions feel like they have no impact, I barely felt challenged or engaged despite being the target demographic, there are bugs galore yet not a single danger noodle to be found in the land down under… I could go on and on, but ultimately I think this is one of the 3D platformers of all time, and that is unfortunately the nicest thing I can say about it.

Where the Water Tastes like Wine is an indie narrative adventure game that fits right in with the other artsy adventure games of the last few years (KRZ, Disco) in tone, but diverges strongly in structure. You see, rather than following your own narrative really, you travel around the depression era USA and collect others’ narratives.
In particular, you’re trying to hear the stories of 16 particular people dotted around the country, and to do so you need to collect your own stories, watch them evolve, and impress/open up the people you’re seeking out. These stories don’t really have anything to do with each other besides the country they took place in, but when you mix them together you get a wonderful tapestry of experiences and emotions around the reconstruction, the depression, and the great war. My favorite was Jimmy, a black preacher who’d served in the war and seemed just, lost. There was no glory in it, and nobody saw him as anything more when he got home.
The game as a whole plays with the idea of story as both currency and power in itself, oftentimes the only thing keeping you going as you trudge from city to city. Which I guess I should talk about, as it’s easily the weak link here. In-between gorgeously rendered art of the characters and picking up random stories that could transform into any one of a number of classic folktales, you play as a skeleton walking on a giant, heavily stylized map of the United States. It really feels like something out of some illustration of a tall tale, and it’s gorgeous, if a little cheap looking sometimes. Unfortunately, I had loads of performance issues as I played, not much more than a stutter every couple minutes, but when you’re trudging slowly for minutes at a time, nothing else on your brain, it gets distracting.
Besides that though, my biggest issues with the map-walking are that it doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the game artistically, and that it’s just kinda thin. I would’ve much preferred an illustrated 2d map, but even then, something like that implies exploration, and you’re not really exploring so much as drifting, listening to stories. I’m not sure how to represent that with gameplay, but I don’t think this game does it well.
Still, the stories really are fantastic. They feel very true to life, and the voice acting and art accompanying them just elevates them to a wonderful level. The rest of it is passable enough, so if hearing cool, well-written stories about the 1930s sounds like your jam, you should definitely give this a shot. Plus it might run better on things that aren’t macs lmao.

I've always had a bit of a penchant for escape room puzzle games, from my early days of playing Flash games like Cube Escape and Samsara Room to more recent times where I'd pick up and run through installments of The Room in a day, so I'm not surprised that Escape Academy hit the right notes for me. The game plays out like a simplified Portal-like with an inventory; you can cycle through clickables pretty quickly, since the game conveniently highlights exactly what's considered "notable" and fluff objects that just provide a quick text description don't take long to read or unload the description. There's no note taking system built into the game; a little inconvenient, but I'm used to taking notes outside of the game as is, so it didn't detract too much from my system. For the most part, the puzzles aren't too complicated and boil down to simple visual recognition or basic math problems, and the hint system only needs to point you in the right direction of the necessary interactions to keep you moving forward. Fortunately, the game strikes a pretty solid balance between being just difficult enough to force you to pay attention and easy enough to tool out with just a pencil and paper, and the always visible timer keeps you on your toes but always provides enough leeway, and definitely adds to the satisfaction felt once you finally break through.
What really stood out to me in Escape Academy were the slight wrinkles added to the basic puzzle system + mechanics to shake things up. One level plays out almost like a session of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, where you act as an "active observer" and have to monitor the situation while figuring out crucial tidbits of information on your end, then relay instructions to your allies with your gleaned discoveries. Another level originally has a pretty short timer, but it's actually a segmented escape room where you have to stay ahead of a visibly rising water level, adding on additional time as you make your way up past the obstacles. And then there are the more open levels in Escape Academy, where instead of necessarily just opening doors to "escape," you're performing some timed task like trying to break into a fenced garden to leave your mark on history, or defusing a bomb in the Quad by breaking into trucks for keys and tools, or changing a simple task of opening a locked serving dish for a milkshake into a mad scramble to find ingredients for an antidote while your vision's tinted purple because someone's hijacked the milkshake. Experimenting with the timer and objectives in simple yet thought-out ways really kept me on my toes and helped to make each puzzle level stand out as more than just a contribution to the sum of a product.
There aren't really many glaring complaints here from me; it's more so that I think certain aspects were a bit generic and while inoffensive, could have been improved slightly for a more ambitious experience. There's not much variety to the soundtracks, and I think changing the soundtracks inbetween levels as you progress to reflect the change in moods or an increase in tension would have really intensified the thrill of it all. The story is admittingly a bit simple (you'll see the "twist" coming from a mile away) and there's not much development to the main characters or deep worldbuilding to be had; fortunately, I believe the devs do plan on making a chapter 2, so they've got time to build upon their foundation. And finally, the game's performance could be optimized a bit more; running the game turned my PC into an oven and I still encountered noticeable dips under 60 FPS in singleplayer. Regardless, this was a nice diversion from the more standout titles I've been playing recently, and while I do lament that I wasn't able to find anyone to play this with online, the singleplayer experience was fruitful enough to where I will be eagerly awaiting news regarding the sequel.

This is a tough one to review because on one hand they made some great improvements over the first GB game. On the other hand they added an extremely unnecessary difficulty spike. Enemies are almost unlimited spawning in some cases and with the bosses, the hit window is minuscule. I really enjoy the first one for what it was and ya they just went too far in trying to make it harder. These stars are for all the good things it did though

I think I could play Tinykin forever. If there were always more areas to explore, I would never get tired of this game. It's such a beautiful hybrid of 3D platforming and stress-free, enemyless Pikmin, a combination I never would have come up with myself. Playing Tinykin feels like putting vanilla extract in your lemonade for the first time. (I'm serious, it's delicious, BUT JUST A TINY BIT DON'T OVERDO IT) This new combination of things I already loved has blown me away.
Now, 100%ing the game was a bit of a drag at the end, but I did eventually find every single Tinykin and every bit of pollen in the house. If I could change one thing about the game, I would have included an unlockable radar for both Tinykin and Pollen. Since there are two exhibits in the hub area that you're meant to fill (the drinks and the artefacs), radar/detectors being rewards for completing each of these would have been perfect. There's no real reward for completion other than achievements, but the game was so delightful that I wanted to play every bit of it that I could.
The story is wack though, I rewatched the ending twice and still don't have a clue what really happened!

I remember reading a review once many years ago - I think it was for the original Infamous on the PlayStation 3 - that spoke about how open world games should be judged on their traversal. Whilst I don't think that strictly true the basic premise of that sentence stuck with me. These are huge games in which a lot of time is spent going from point A to point B is important, like tremendously so. To that end Insomniac's Spider-Man games have excelled perhaps beyond all others.
There is an absolute joy to swinging through New York, the rush of diving down toward the road to last minute swing through traffic and crowd before jumping into the sky and bouncing off rooftops. It's an endless thrill and the instant I started Miles Morales it brought that experience rushing back. These are the only open world games where using the fast travel feels like a waste, because it means I wouldn't be swinging through the city feeling that rush. I would go so far as to say the mechanics of Spider-Man as a character are the ultimate open world traversal, not for efficiency, that would probably be flying, but simply for the joy of the actions and great animations.
I suppose I should talk about the rest of the game at some point though, honestly it's excellent. I see it labeled here as an expansion and I can certainly see that with the story being maybe 5 hours and doing everything with side missions, challenges in about 20. This feels more like an intermission though (an interquel?) allowing Miles to catch up for Spider-Man 2. And catch up he does as the game introduces his bio-electric and stealth abilities not to mention his suit. This is set about a year after the first game with Miles still coming to terms with being Spider-Man. When Peter goes on a work vacation Miles is left on his own to look after the city so inevitably he uncovers a conspiracy in his neighborhood of Harlem. The story is actually very good and quite personal to Miles about family, where he lives and the people there. I really enjoyed the touching moments, more in the side quests than anything partially thanks to the great voice acting. Nadji Jeter especially does a fantastic as Miles coming across as an unconfident but caring teenager.
Voice acting isn't the only way this is shown though, even when swinging through New York Miles will sometimes flail his arms or swing awkwardly to show he doesn't quite have the experience that his mentor Peter does. The visuals are generally gorgeous despite being a cross gen title. I played on the PlayStation 5 but I've never cared for ray tracing much which is an option but I love performance and playing this at 60fps was a joy with the smoothness of how it plays and the detail and draw distance now available. Lastly on the subject of presentation, not normally the sort of music I like but the soundtrack absolutely kills at times.
Though short this is still a great game put together with passion in a time in which the BLM movement was starting to grow and I couldn't help but think about aspects of that as I played. In my nearly 1000 games played maybe four have had a POC as the pre-designed lead? It's still sad that is the case and I hope games like Miles Morales can help push to companies that there is a demand for diversity.
Be Greater, Be Yourself.
+ Traversal through the city is an absolute blast.
+ Great story and voice acting.
+ Gorgeous visuals and art design.
+ Great music.

"Heroes in a half shell, Turtle Power!"
When the opening animated scene starts playing the theme tune to the 1987 animated show I felt like I had been transported to my childhood again. Whilst Shredder's Revenge leans into that nostalgia bait with aplomb using cameos, some of the original voice cast and influence from Konami's original beat 'em up Turtles in Time, the thing is Shredder's Revenge is just a good game that respects the source material, but doesn't rely solely on it.
This game features 16 stages selected across a Super Mario World styled map you move the Turtle Van onto to select. There are 7 playable characters to play and though their basic move sets are identical in controls the attacks and animations are specific to each character based on their personality. Leonardo is very professional, Michelangelo does a dance yelling "party dude!" for his taunt, April smash's Foot clan in the face with camera equipment etc. There is a lot of love and care put into it. The actual combat is pretty simple with basic attacks, run attacks, a super various jump attacks and a dedicated dodge button. As you beat enemies of find collectables you gain experience and your character levels up gaining new moves or extra health. Though the game itself is fairly easy especially playing multiplayer (I've only tried two player with a friend so far but it goes up to six somehow) there are challenges for each level including some for not taking damage which offer a bit more of a skill based gameplay to aim for.
The thing I love most about this game though is how hard they nailed the aesthetic. The sprite work is wonderful, the art design is spot on and The Original Soundtrack Manages to sound both retro and modern at the same time done by Tee Lopes responsible for the sublime Sonic Mania OST.
This game is basically exactly what I wanted. Roll on the Cowabunga Collection.
+ Great references to the original animated show.
+ Fun game with a lot of heart.
+ Fantastic visual design.
+ Amazing modern/retro soundtrack.

Chicory is just a super wholesome game full of charm.
It's just full of heart with its fantastic characters and surprising themes about loneliness, pressure and failure all wrapped up in a surprisingly beautiful world.
The story moments to this game feel like almost personal experiences of the developers that created it and I found myself really relating to some of the personal moments of self doubt and depression that feature in some moments. Despite these though Chicory still feels like a game about hope and building a better future past these roadblocks I really liked, but wasn't expecting going in.
Gameplay wise, Chicory plays like the top down game boy Zelda adventure games but instead of enemies you refill the world with colour as you explore. You can be as slap dash or meticulous as you want and the game doesn't punish you for it. It's a surprisingly long adventure coming in at about 30 hours but I never got bored painting or exploring, unlocking new abilities, collectibles and areas.
The visuals are simple but perfect for the game in black and white 2D. I have seen some fantastic screens of areas people have painted resulting in gorgeous environments. Mine tend to be way more simple blobs but they often look nice anyway.
Overall, it's an easily overlooked gem. Please buy it, spread the word.
+ Interesting characters and themes.
+ Fun to explore and paint.
+ Great art design and music.
+ Just warm and charming experience.

When Mass Effect 3 originally came out I hated it. This was more than just because of the infamous ending but I had a lot of issues with it as a whole. I never went back to it when the extended version was released or when any of the DLC came out and I've been kind of bitter about it for years. I built it up in my head to be an unplayable mess and yet going back to it 10 years later with fresh eyes and a different temperament with age... I found myself having a really good time with it.
Oh sure, the problems I had with it are still there. The stripped back quest system is painfully stupid, the dialogue being cut back to almost simple good or bad answers with nothing in-between, the Reapers chasing you on the map, the playable cast feeling like a step back, not being able to put your gun away, Kai Leng's edgy '14 year old boy's idea of cool' existence etc. The game is plagued with little issues that seemingly come from pulling the game together at the last moment. Bioware themselves referred to this as the "Bioware Magic":
"BioWare former executive producer Mark Darrah has shared his thoughts on the so-called “BioWare magic.” The expression, which was used at the company, means getting stuck during the development process for an indefinite time and then finishing the project shortly before launch as if by magic."
And in my opinion Mass Effect 3 is the first game Bioware made where the cracks of this are plainly visible for players to see. (Well maybe Dragon age II...) The game doesn't feel quite finished in a lot of areas and it's a shame because despite much younger me being bitter about it for not reaching the hype I'd built in my head, there is actually a lot of good here.
The combat is excellent, the best in the series in my opinion. It's pretty fast paced, being able to map abilities, roll, direct team mates, launch cool abilities and combos etc. It takes all the best parts of Mass Effect 2 and builds on them. What really makes them good though are the combat arenas, tight well designed battle areas pushing you to use strategy and cover especially on harder difficulties. My issue with Andromeda's combat despite smoother animations and movement was just the areas you fight in were often so large, empty and bland. Mass Effect 3 has the right balance to make each fight feel intense and fun.
Some of the moment to moment dialogue and story beats are also great, bringing back all the cast and decisions into the game must have been extremely difficult and yet I think it's done well overall to link it all together. Mass Effect 3's biggest issue isn't even Mass Effect 3, it's Mass Effect 2. The ending of 2 as awesome as it was would have been better as the ending of 3 to finish the trilogy. As it is, 2 wrote Bioware into a corner due to the suicide mission. Having to account for the possibility of not every character being alive. (No one gets left behind on my watch) limits their appearances and who is playable and also accounts for a slightly weaker playable cast. Despite this though I feel they did a good job in the story beats with Mordin, Tali, Legion etc. Some are stronger than others but to take account for everything was accomplished better than I remember and I do feel Bioware deserve credit for this.
I genuinely had fun meeting the cast, seeing the huge set pieces as the galaxy overcomes it's differences. Most of my complaints that seemed big at the time I actually see as a lot smaller replaying it now. The DLC adds a lot to this with the inclusion of Javik as a playable character, playing the citadel to relink up with everyone was amazing and how Leviathan, such an important part of the game was pushed to DLC is beyond me as it does give more context to Mass Effect 3's initial awful ending.
Speaking of which, I had to address this at some point but the ending to this game even with additional DLC and content is still awful. I got the destroy ending with enough military force behind me for the best possible outcome and it's still insanely unsatisfying. There is a point where things were fine, it would have been a good place to stop. Lacked the adrenaline pounding moments of storming the citadel or the suicide mission, but it was fine. Then it goes a step further and that's where it crumbles. It's a real shame Bioware couldn't hold it all together in the end, even with that ending it's still one of the best trilogies in gaming but this is where Bioware's magic started to run out. I hope they can recapture their glory years going forward with the next Mass Effect game in development.
Mass Effect 3 isn't a bad game though, in fact completely revising my opinion, I think it's a good one, just a little flawed.
+ Combat encounters are fantastic.
+ Story beats linking to earlier games are generally well done.
+ Great visuals, music and voice acting.
- Quests are still awful.
- Ending is terrible even with additional content.
- Plethora of smaller issues.
- Kai Leng.

It's been over 10 years since I played this. Replaying it on the Mass Effect Legendary Edition has been an absolute joy and it's surprising how much it held up under the scrutiny of my rose tinted glasses.
Firstly I must say the main plot to Mass Effect 2 is engaging with some stunning moments, but it doesn't quite deliver the impact of the first game overall. The majority of Mass Effect 2 is in fact made up of recruitment quests to bulk up Shepard's squad before making the final attack. Those characters you recruit are the heart of Mass Effect 2 and are what really make the game memorable, their personalities keep the game engaging and very addictive.
At the start of the game you choose what class Shepard specializes in which varies from being a tech specialist, pure combat specialist, using telepathic biotic skills or a mixture of all three. No matter which choice you make there will be other characters available that can make up for what you can't do, and against certain enemies having certain skills is important so having a balanced party is key, especially on harder difficulties. (Engineer all the way, go my drone!)
In combat Mass Effect 2 is a mixture of third person shooter with RPG abilities. Though you always progress with a party of three characters Shepard is the only player controlled character, with the other two AI controlled. Bringing up the wheel menu they can be directed to a certain location or to use specific abilities, but for the most part they handle themselves fairly well bar the odd suicide run where the AI does something unexplainable. Like a lot of third person shooters of that generation Mass Effect 2 is cover based with plenty of low lying walls, crates and door ways to hide behind when the situation gets risky or to wait for Shepard's shield to recharge. The combat is fun but feels a bit wooden in places especially in controls and aiming and although the melee attack is a huge improvement in close quarters things still feel ridiculously clumsy.
When enemies are defeated or quests are finished you are awarded experience points, when enough are gained Shepard and crew will level up getting more health and ability points to put into skills. I am a little torn about Bioware's choice here, in the first Mass Effect there was a lot of option when distributing points in stats and skills, it felt like an RPG, Mass Effect 2 feels stripped down in comparison as there are only ever about 4-5 options which are all invested in attack based abilities rather then stats or more subtle things. That isn't to say it doesn't work, it does, and outside of the stat screen you would never know the difference, it's just it feels less like a full role playing game at first, though over time I have to admit it made things smoother.
This isn't the only area that has changed as there are no longer armor to collect and equip for your crew. Having amazing armor and a billion omni-gel from melting down gear didn't quite work in the original game so Bioware have instead implemented an upgrade system where your equipment never changes, it is merely upgraded. Spread throughout the universe are various upgrades not only to weapon stats but they sometimes give added effects, not to mention health boosts, shielding, some odd new weapons and even ship upgrades available and it works. Once a weapon is upgraded any of your crew proficient in that weapon can use that type with all upgrades.
While exploring Mass Effect 2 is simultaneously brilliant and disastrous. Those upgrades need raw materials of varying types like Platinum or Iridium to use. Some of these are found in lock boxes in dungeons and towns but the majority of it is found though scanning planets which is the most tedious side questing you can do in an RPG. Seriously it's insanely awful. When traveling from star system to star system or planet to planet you actually fly the Normandy, Shepard's ship, manually on a giant space map. When going into orbit around a planet you are giving info on it and sometimes will detect anomalies like distress signals allowing you to land and explore around. It's a fun way of exploring. When there aren't these anomalies though there is only the scanning where you control a cross-hair spinning around a planet measuring for large material deposits which isn't too bad a few times but you need a fair amount of material to fully upgrade everything and it gets seriously boring quickly. The amount of probes the Normandy can hold to pick it up is also limited meaning you have to travel back and forth to buy more. I had over a million Iridium by the end of the game as I never knew I wouldn't need it, terrible....
Visually Mass Effect 2 is a huge improvement over the original game (though hilariously actually is now a downgrade in the legendary edition) and more importantly just a great looking title generally. The game has a really smooth frame rate now, decent particle effects and great art to hold it all together. Except....except some of the characters. Samara's tit top, Jack's entire design and Miranda's weird one piece costume are just ugly and objectifying nonsense. I'd like to say it's a product of the times but some games are actively worse in this regard. The audio is on par with the visuals with an epic score (My favorite track in the game)matching the space opera theme. As mentioned before the voice acting still really stands up and excels in some areas, Garrus, Tali and Mordin especially sound so unique.
Mass Effect 2 is a good 30 - 40 hours long if not longer depending on the amount of exploring you do. (I finished NG+ without side quests or much planet scanning on Insanity in less than 10) There are a ton of side missions, and depending on what edition you have a lot of DLC content, and new characters.
Overall this game is still a fantastic ride that holds up really well over 10 years later. While there are flaws here and there, the amazing characters, compelling universe and overall style of Mass Effect 2 is hard to beat.
+ Fantastic characters.
+ Great lore and world building
+ Large variety of things to do.
+ Space map exploration is a nice addition.
- Combat still feels wooden in certain ways.
- Planet scanning is just a waste of life.
- Some of the character designs are...questionable.

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