Final Fantasy V was the forgotten 16-bit FF game that never came to the west but got a cult following over the years. I never got around to playing this game even though I had the FF anthology way back when, the pixel remasters felt like a good time to give it a go. What I found is a FF game that doesn’t have the level of storytelling found in FF6 but it does have some deep RPG systems and a rich world to explore.
FFVs claim to fame is the job system, often claimed to be the best FF RPG system. It does live up to the high praise, the amount of customization and freedom this system gives to the player is impressive. With the push of a button I can change my white mage into a beasttamer who can capture enemies and learn to control them. I can go from a ninja to a bard, all stats adjust instantly to fit that job. The genius part is how as you level up the jobs you learn new abilities not just for the job you are using but certain command abilities once learned can be added to an ability slot on any other job. Now you are mixing and matching abilities from multiple jobs while using the stats of the base job you want. It also for so much control over every single class and ability the game has to offer.
The flip side to this is that the game only has a party of four. I prefer large diverse parties in my FF games but these four party members are so mailable that can be every single class. I did specialize each of the four, so that they each would cover 3 or 4 different classes that would compliment each other. For instance my white mage was also the summoner so that she would have powerful spells I could use when no healing was needed. Certain classes weren’t all that useful as a base class but have one or two abilities well worth getting so I would make sure to use them until I gained the ability then switch back. There are over 15 jobs to learn, they are unlocked as the story goes so it doesn’t throw them all at you at once. It’s paced extremely well to open the layers of depth in a way that never overwhelms.
FFV tells the story of four characters that happen to meet as the world is having cataclysmic events. Bartz is the standard young man from a small town that discovers has a secret heritage and leads the group to save the world. There are princess and a former king that form the party, each are well fleshed out and have small character journeys but it’s not close to drama in 6 or any of the later FF games. The overall story is the standard evil dude wants to break some crystals to absorb the power and take over the world, the twist in this one is there are multiple dimensions of the world.
I love world maps in old FF games and this one is really cool. You will gain multiple ways to traverse the map, each allowing you to reach certain areas but not all. Towns and dungeons are uncovered at a great pace creating a great gameplay loop where it feels you are always growing and have something new to discover. At the mid point the world is shaken up and you enter a whole other dimension which is similar to the first world but all the inhabitants and locations have changed. FF games should feel big, epic journeys and this game captures that grand scale.
The narrative never really reaches the proper heights to really grip me. There are stand out moments, but ultimately I felt I was going through the motions by the end. A lot of RPGs face this issue, it has a reverse difficulty curve where it’s tougher at the start than the end. The first half or even two thirds I was enjoying all that experimentation. Boss battles tested each of my builds. Dungeons had enough tough enemies to keep me engaged in fights. As I got really powerful and found the optimal team setup most of the standard battles became trivial. If not for the creative boss battles that fill the game, the last part of the game would have been a total snooze fest. Usually the stories hold the game if the combat is getting stale but this one didn’t have that. So it doesn’t end as exciting as I’d hope, but the majority of the game was a blast.
The pixel remaster makes all the sprites and environments pop with beautiful colors. There seem to be a few quality of life enhancements with the world map, how sprinting works and balance adjustments. Musically you can use the original 16-bit soundtrack or an all new updated version which I used, another stellar FF soundtrack.
Final Fantasy V is another great entry in this legendary franchise. It’s more focused on the actual character build process than most, and easily the most customizable of the series. While the story is still fun with memorable characters and locations it doesn’t come close to the highs most of the games in this series reach. That and some difficulty balance issues toward the end hold it back from being a FF classic, but it’s still a great old school RPG.
Overall Score: 8.4

I played this game on and off for over a year now, forgot to write a review so this is not fresh in my mind but I made up my mind on this game a while back so here it is. I’m no racing enthusiast but I’ve been a GT fan since the first game, the realism, the way it’s a sort of car RPG where you level up cars and get to higher races was always addicting to me. For some strange reason I have only ever played the odd numbered GT games, GT3 being my favorite easily. GT5 felt kind of like the series was lost, spreading more online than focusing on the career mode. Grab Turismo 7 though is a great return to form with an involved meaty campaign and loads of modes to mess with, all tied together in the most slick presentation I have ever seen in a car game.
There are games where you can feel the love from the developers for the topic they are covering, it oozes out of every area of the game. GT7 is a car historian love letter to racing in general. The game itself feels like it was made with white gloves on, as if I am getting a personal history lesson from the most high end car museum. Nearly every car manufacturer represented in the game has their entire history told through a slide show with real photos of their first cars, their first racing wins, their factories, their models, their creators. It is a car enthusiast history lesson, I don’t care too much about racing history but the amount of love this game shows for it was addicting and it made me want to read up on it. Every car gets a detailed history with what year it came out, how much power it had for the time, how long it was in production, was it successful or not and so on. To top it off you can view every car in exquisite detail with the car model viewer, all interiors perfectly recreated. It’s one thing to see it in a tv, seeing it in VR, oh man, might as well be at a car show. I can’t think of a game where I enjoyed the menu information as much as this game, so before even playing a race this game is impressive.
So how is that racing, well it’s easily the best Gran Turismo has ever been. I cannot tell you how accurate the Mustang 67 feels. I can’t tell you if other games have better physics. I can only say as a casual racing player that the feel of the cars is the best I have ever played in a game. Every car feels different, the way each car responds on the tracks feel different. The weight of braking, the acceleration, the pull of turning, it all works so well. From my perspective it feels like I am driving different vehicles rather than arcade like video game cars. Then add things like how the weather and tire wear can affect the driving, it takes it to a whole different level. It’s an absolute joy to drive in this game.
Hell most of my favorite moments was just doing time trail missions against my own ghost, I didn’t even need a race, it’s just me against myself trying to master a turn on a track. That alone was hugely compelling and humbling. I cannot imagine the reflexes and pinpoint accuracy needed to achieve the best times consistently on a turn, it feels inhuman. I could get a good time once, try to replicate it and it’s almost impossible, it matters down to the split second when I brake, how hard I break, what angle I take the turn, it’s all those things and every tiny little bit has a massive impact on the time.
Every track has a time trial mission where it gives you a set car and times to beat for each section of the track, you can earn gold/silver/bronze depending on the time, one final full lap trial awaits the end. I loved these, it taught me how to navigate each track even though gold was usually out of reach for me. Each had a small video showing exactly how they got the best times but watching someone driving and trying it yourself are two different things. If anything this game gave me a new found respect to everyone that can master this game, and by extension awe for those who do this in real life.
GT7 forgoes the usual event tree campaign mode for a new more guided experience that uses “dinner” menus. So you get a menu of a certain kind of car and the races you need to compete with those cars to complete the menu, you then earn some cars as rewards and unlock the next menu. In classic GT fashion you begin with slow cars, the first menu being something like a 70s love van race. You go to the events page and the event for that is available. The events still have the usual cup races where you can enter any car of a certain class or horse power limit but there aren’t the variety of past GT games. It’s best to just follow the menu as it will have you complete the series cups as you play along.
This is where GT7 lost some people, it’s not as open and free as past games. There was a certain joy in starting with a Toyota Camry and slowly buying better cars and racing in better circuits and doing it your way. That’s still present in this game but now it’s done the games way, so everyone will take the same route, getting same cars, following a menu… I prefer the old way, I think most do as well but this method does allow way more cars to shine and get attention. Every manufacturer gets an event, you learn about a bunch of famous car models as you play. It’s part history lesson and part climbing a sort of car tower till you reach the end of the menu and you finally get a real racing car.
Once the menu is done you do get the ending credits but that’s kind of when the main races open up. A bunch of advanced racing cups become available and finally you can do some really long events with points and more traditional settings. The worst part of the menu wasn’t making you play with every car, it was that it really took away the multi race events away. Almost every race in the menu was one time race here, one there, another there. The series of races with points was saved for the “boss” at the end of each license level. So you could play this game for like 30 hours and almost do no real racing events.
Then there is the extremely weird obsession with rolling starts and having zero qualifying races. Basically every “race” is a chase, it’s not a race. You almost never start somewhere in the middle, it’s always starting at the back and it’s a rolling start and you have like 4 laps to catch the front car. This means your car needs to be much faster than the competition to win, so I just picked the fastest car or upgraded some parts to get more horse power and boom I always won the chase. The AI was also on a kind of script and when you replay the races you can see it’s kind of all already predetermined what would happen. So while the act of driving is the best in the series, the way this game handles its racing is kind of disappointing. It’s only till the end when you get the real racing events where your car is always evenly matched that your skills as a racer is the only way to win.
About a month after release there came an update with experimental AI, these were four races against these four AI racers. These races were so different from the standard ones. This AI felt like humans, they raced differently, each had their own temperament. They would react to you trying to overtake them. Like a human they would make mistakes and clearly were not following a script. It’s a damn shame the race options were so limited because that AI was a game changer. Still no word if it will ever be implemented into the game, I doubt it at this point.
The racing part was maybe the weakest but thankfully there are so many ways to play this game. There is a whole mission mode where you get a ton of different missions to complete with a wide variety of cars and situations. Some are as simple as executing a turn perfectly, to doing a certain track in extreme weather. Managing fuel while driving on a track with plenty of downhill driving for momentum was one of my favorites. You will also find the endurance races here but 24 hours of driving is not for me. Licenses are of course in the game and are a great way to learn the ins and outs of racing. The final license was pretty damn hard, there are optional gold medals to go for as well for rewards.
Every event you do or mission you compete earns you money or gift cars. There was a lot of talk about exploitative F2P style monetary systems in this game where they made it very annoying to earn enough money to buy the most exotic cars. Also there are all kinds of free to play staples in this game like roulette wheels (which are broken and always give a totally shit prize that is useless), daily log in bonuses, timers on cars being on sale and so on. Clearly they did this to push real life microtransactions to exploit the players who can’t help themselves. If you are a player that wants to buy every car then this game is impossible, it will take ages to earn enough and it will be infuriating that those with real money can cheat their way to it. But if you are like me and just want to buy whatever cars you like you will have more than enough money to fill the garage with a nice variety of great cars. It’s a shitty practice, it has no business in a GT game but it didn’t change how I played much.
Speaking of cars, as usual there are hundreds to buy and drive. There is an issue though, it feels like this game was made in 2012 or something cause basically all models are from before that. There are a handful of new cars but that’s it, almost everything is from years go. It probably has to do with model reusing of some kind, I’m just guessing. So anyone hoping to race in that new corvette or Ferrari, well you can race an older one.
There is also a complete online mode which is an entire game on its own. I dabbled a little in it but even the intro scared me as it has a video that teaches you to behave when you race, that you will be penalized for any bumping, bad sportsmanship, cutting corners, all kinds of stuff. So I did a few races and I was being penalized all the time, my car gets forced to slow down, everyone is better than me, it was not happening for me. Also a bunch of the races were on a timer, so you had to wait sometimes up to like 8 minutes for a race to start, I guess that’s if you are doing the official GT sport races. Online felt way too major league for me, I am not that serious into racing but for those that are i’m sure it’s good.
I played this game in two parts, I did most my play when it first came out, took a break and came back when PSVR2 hit. This game in VR is something else, it is absolutely incredible. That’s that I don’t have a racing wheel, even with a dumb controller in my hand, the feel of being in the car, being able to turn my head with to follow a turn or see other cars come up beside me is incredible. I can’t imagine going back to standard racing. This has some of the best VR implementation I have ever played and it’s definitely one of the very few reasons to get PSVR2.
This being Gran Turismo you know the game is a graphical showcase. The car models are the best around, especially in VR it’s wildly impressive. The race tracks look great but not exactly the next gen leap I was hoping for. On the music side I was very disappointed. GT games used to have great soundtracks and this game is mostly some unknown tracks in limited genres of music, I didn’t care for any of it.
Gran Turismo 7 was a nice return to form and feels like the best GT game since the PS2 games. Yeah the campaign is changed up for the worst at times but the act of driving is still unmatched. I loved doing the time trials, the missions, trying to beat friends times and so on. Hours and hours can go by as I try different cars on different race tracks. Above all the presentation is top notch, an absolute love letter to everything racing. There is a ton to love with GT7, especially if you have VR.
Overall Score 8.8

Kena was an indie sensation before its release because of its colorful cartoonish looks and its Zelda influences. It does look nice and there are a few Zelda mechanics but for the most part this game feels a lot more like a long lost action adventure game of the early 2000s like a Starfox Adventure or Beyond Good and evil. It takes a while to get going but once it does Kena hits a great balance between combat, exploring and environmental puzzles.
My first few hours with this game were a struggle because it felt so basic. For the first third of the game Kena’s abilities are limited to her staff which is her main weapon. For such a colorful kid friendly looking game it’s strange that the devs decided to take inspiration from Dark Souls for the combat. Luckily there is no soul dying mechanic, it’s more that fast and heavy attacks are on your R1 and R2 buttons and there is a heavy emphasis on blocking (a shield bubble you have that regenerates), parrying and roll dodging. Your move set early on is limited to really basic combos and very meager defenses. You do get a bow and arrow with a recharging 3 shot limit but it’s only good to hit enemies weak points or take down flying bugs. The combat was stiff, the timing to parry was difficult, and animations can never be canceled so many times you are stuck doing one action and pressing a button to do another does nothing. Combat felt sloppy and overly difficult, especially with the sub bosses.
The first few areas have Kena running around shooting switches with an arrow, or using your staff to uncover glowy hiding spots of the rot which are little pikmin like creatures that follow you around. At first they don’t do much, a lot of the game world is corrupted with red and grey plants that have to be destroyed to restore the land. Most of the time a bunch of enemies will come out, kill them and a big red plant will open up this seed and then you send the rot to make it glow then use an arrow or the staff power to blow it up. It all felt very standard action adventure stuff, nothing too interesting.
There were some optional loot to find, some is valuable like increasing the amount of rot, finding life bar extensions, and charms that give bonuses. But the majority of loot is maybe the worst possible prize I’ve seen in a game, hats for your rot… the little guys that follow you around get little hats to wear. No it doesn’t give them extra power it’s just a cosmetic item. They then double down on this hat thing by creating an entire secondary currency system that is used at a hat store to buy more hats for them. If you for some reason like this, congrats, but I think for most it’s a huge waste of time. The game at least does a good job of mixing good loot with the bad loot so I always was compelled to explore and find the hidden chests.
So after 1/3 of the game is done you go to the next major section of the world and also the main village hub starts to open up more including some optional challenge trials to do. A gained a new power; the bomb, wonder where they got that idea from. But it’s not a rock busting bomb, this thing is a magic bomb that activates certain rocks to float in air. All of a sudden the environment is filled with sort of rock floating puzzles where you need to throw a bomb, shoot it to active the rocks, use arrows to adjust the rocks into certain positions all while timed. This section was way more creative with its environmental challenges and its secrets.
Your rot also gain the ability to turn into this snake like creature you can control to destroy some of the red poisoned plants and access new areas. Exploration mattered in this area, there were secret paths and optional challenge chests all around. It started to hit that zone where the action, platforming, puzzles come together. Now I will say “puzzles” cause we aren’t talking anything close to Zelda level here, but at least you have to pay attention to what you are doing.
What really shocked me is the combat started to come alive, yeah it was still kind of stiff but once you start to unlock more powers I could finally feel like I have options. The bomb for instance can be thrown to stick to enemies and then ignite them with a shield blast or arrow. The enemy will either stagger or some will open up revealing a weak spot for the arrows. The bombs can be upgrade so when they explode smaller ones spread to multiple enemies. At the highest level it can even create a bubble where time is frozen inside of it. There is also a rot charge mechanic where if you parry or damage enemies you can gain energy to spend on a super powered rot attack, or spend it to send your rot to activate a healing power. Management of your rot skill, combined with the powers you gain opened up all kinds of strategies.
Enemies start to come in more shapes and sizes. Uses of specific items is key to defeating them and the bosses. There is a whole extra power later on that allows dashing which you need to use to materialize certain enemies. By the end it was a really fun Zelda like combat system that tested me in ways a souls game does. I went from dreading combat encounters to loving them. The bosses especially toward the end were highlights, the final areas have a great variety of them that really focus certain skills.
I do like how the village hub area unlocks as you find these spirit mail items out in the world. Sadly what you find is usually just a few simple chests with more hats but for a completionist I enjoyed taking a break from the main quest to mess around in the village. Spirit trials can be found in the village as well, these are challenges which could be brutal, especially to get all optional goals on them. There are combat challenges which can last 9 minutes of multiple waves, optional goals being don’t ever use a healing item for instance. Some are environmental challenges where you need to mix your bombs, arrows and dashing to get through an area as fast as possible. Bosses can be replayed now with specific time and health goals in mind. The prizes are some charms and costumes for Kena to wear, not the best but the fun is in completing the challenges.
Graphically like I stated before it’s a really great looking, colorful animation style. That said actual character movement feels very stiff, while playing I couldn’t help feel as if it was a fan project made in dreams. It looks good but in the way those unreal remakes of a classic game look good. The music is nice and fits the mood. Anyone looking for a deep story won’t find it here, I had trouble caring at all for what is happening with the story, definitely something they could work on.
Kena is a very good first effort, once it hits its stride after a few hours I was hooked. It has all the building blocks to really push this game into the next tier of quality. I would focus on more items, more puzzles, better rewards, do some focused dungeons… make more Zelda like lol. The combat could use tweaking so it’s more responsive and they could work on the difficulty balance a bit but I like what they have right now. This is a love letter to the action adventure games of the early 2000s, back when not everything was an open world, and games weren’t bloated for 50 hour play times. It’s nice to just play a fun 10-15 hour action adventure romp.
Score: 7.5

The flagship game for the PSVR2 might be a preview for the devices history as a whole. An amazing piece of tech that shows excellent potential but the game itself is shallow with no depth and no reason to ever play it again. It’s a damn shame cause the horizon world is so rich, and it has bows and arrows as its main weapon, that’s VR 101. Instead this is a climbing simulator in disguise, it feels like a first generation VR game, one that I have played plenty of times before.
Let’s do the good first, this is a technical showcase. It is jaw dropping with its beautiful environments, vistas and high quality models. When you come face to face… well more like face to foot to a thunderjaw every little bit of detail in the model is noticeable. The game runs perfectly too which is something many PCVR games have difficulty doing if it’s a high end game like this. Outside of HL Alyx there is no VR game that looks as good.
Part of that is playing to the strengths of the PSVR2 which after going back and forth between it and Quest 2 I think PSVR2 wins hands down as the best VR set on the market. Not only is the display so good, but the controls work so damn well. Call of the Mountain does a fantastic job of showcasing these controls with fun interactive items that have full physics. You can pick up any object and interact with them as you’d expect. Get a hammer and break a glass cup with it. You can get a sledgehammer and wack a gong. You can play on some bongos, grab a small mallet and play the xylophone. You can get a paintbrush and paint the walls of a cave. These were all things HL did as well except in that game they found actual gameplay uses for those things… in horizon it’s ALL POINTLESS. It’s just there to be there so you can go “ohhh I can rotate a bucket!”.
The actual game part of Horizon VR is climbing, so much climbing. You will see clearly marked hand holding spots on a wall and you will move your arms up and down simulating climbing a wall over and over and over and over and over again. Now they mix it up as you gain all kinds of gadgets to make your climb more varied like using pickaxes to climb on ice. Or having a grapple hook to latch onto far points and swing to the next thing to climb. None of these things really add much to the gameplay, at the very least it allows for some minimal variety but it’s never really used in an interesting way. I think maybe in one or two areas you might have an optional path that you don’t have the tool for and you can replay the chapter later with that tool to access it, this is the extent of using items cleverly.
In between the long stretches of just climbing there are combat encounters. This should be where the game shines, horizon was made for VR! Well it shines only if you liked being trapped in some imaginary ring where you can only move in a circular motion around a circular arena where your enemy will be. So let’s say you are fighting a thunderjaw, it’s in the center of this arena and you need to pelt it with arrows. Your defense is using the stick to auto strafe around the circle. In some areas around the circle will be some object like a wall you can get behind to avoid big area attacks. Some health items and powerful arrows are also scattered around this circle of movement. So the battle is just move side to side, shoot arrows and try to hit weak points.
You do have different arrow types, which to make them you have to physically put a few parts together, a wasteful VR a thing to do. You got shock, fire, tear and precision; they all do what they do in the game. The same way you can tear down pieces of the enemies works the same here, but you can’t pick up the parts that become weapons when detached. Oh you also get the slingshot which has fire and ice bombs which are very powerful and put enemies in stasis quick. The limited movement and weapon selection greatly reduces the options that made the fights in the main games so much fun. In here they turn into glorified shooting galleries where your main decision is just which stasis effect to use to get enough openings to damage the weakest parts.
No matter how small or big the enemies get the strategy is mostly always the same. The most creative fight in the game had these electrical lures you had to circle around to and pull a switch which in turn distracts the thunderjaw so you can ignite the fire canisters at the lure. That’s the extent of the combat variety you get in this game. They could do so much with VR combat and so much with the wide variety of robots horizon has and this is the best they come up with?!
As for the main quest it’s like 10 hours long which is a fine length for a VR game. The story is totally throw away, the main character is just a former shadow carja warrior who was imprisoned and now given a second chance to redeem himself and find his brother who is chasing a group who plans to attack the capital city. What I learned is I don’t care at all about the politics of the horizon world when it’s not Aloy trying to uncover the real events happening in the world. At least the story takes you to varied locations and it has some exciting moments where there are chases that break up the quiet moments where the main character is talking to himself nonstop. One of the best moments is the first thunderjaw meeting as it hunts you down as you navigate the inside of old human structures. He is bursting through walls, you can see and hear him stalking you through windows. It’s all scripted but that’s how you use VR effectively. There are too few of these moments, later on there was some great parts with a storm bird. I am so upset this wasn’t more the focus.
There are a few secrets to find, the main one being targets off in the distance, or hidden in odd spots of which you shoot with the arrow. There are multiple ones per stage; do they unlock anything… no but it’s just something to do outside the norm. Oh and there is what is probably the intriguing use of VR which is build a rock cairn, so stack rocks. This is where full hand control is needed, you pick up different sized and shaped rocks and try to stack them to a specified height. At least this made me think and actually use the physics in an interesting way. Do you get anything for doing this, again no, just another completionists mark to fill in.
Outside the main quest are two activities, one is a jungle cruise little experience which is a great VR showcase. This is like a river Disney ride through the horizon world and you will see every robo dino up close and personal. I actually really liked this , felt like a virtual tour and it was kind of excited, you don’t do anything but look, still there was Dino fighting and scary moments.
Then there is a challenge area which sadly is just two different challenges, one climbing and one target practice. Target practice is what you thing, shoot arrows at targets and go for a high score. There is just one game, one version… come on. The other is an obstacle course where depending on what items you have unlocked in the main game you can use to reach many alternate paths to get better score. If the main quest had some kind of scoring system or any decision making with multiple paths in climbing then climbing might be interesting. So it’s a cool little course but again it’s just one course. It’s the most minimal of extra content they could put out. Not even a combat arena where you can pick which robot you want to fight.
I’m actually really hard on this game because I’ve done this kind of VR already. This was the first VR kinds of games where just the act of interacting in a VR space was so impressive it could hide the pitiful gameplay. So if this is your first VR experience you will enjoy it way more than I did. There are moments of beauty and awe, moments where the scale is so impressive. But for me I’m already over all this; HL, RE, Walking dead and many more already showed you can translate full incredible games into VR and not limit them to boring mechanics. Horizon VR is a good showcase for the technical side of the PSVR2 but a poor game like so many early VR games.
Overall score: 4.5

I am really late to playing Pikmin 3, instead of paying for Pikmin 4 I decided I should play the game I paid for a decade earlier and never got around to playing. So I dusted off the old Wii U, got my wiimote and played Pikmin 3. Is it fun, of course, Pikmin like most Nintendo games follow a formula that just works. Fun gameplay that slowly evolves with new abilities that open up new areas to gain more abilities and so on. Sprinkle in some good boss battles and you got another solid Nintendo game. That said unlike most Nintendo games this one actually angered me because of control issues and weird design choices which were all addressed in the switch rerelease. So this is a review of the original Pikmin 3 before they fixed everything I will be complaining about.
I’m not going to explain pikmin much, but it’s basically the simple Nintendo strategy game where you manage troops. I played 2 and greatly enjoyed it, that game had no timer this one like the original (which I did not play) has a timer for each mission. So the game is split into days, you have about 15 minutes to explore, use pikmin to gather fruits, and grow them in number by delivering pikmin tokens or the dead bodies of the enemy bugs to your ship. If your pikmin are not back at the base when the timer is up the ones left out in the world are left behind and killed. Sometimes a little stress is exciting in game, when it works great to complement the gameplay, I don’t think it worked as much here.
These levels are a bit like spaghetti, lots of branching paths looping on top of one another and many one way dead ends until you find the necessary pikmin to advance. So exploring takes time, and that’s fun, I love finding things I can’t reach yet and later gaining an ability to open up more of the level. But when that timer is always on your back and you don’t want to get too far in the level or worse get roped into a boss at the worst time possible, that becomes stressful.
Then comes how the pikmin are used, I chose the wiimote control so I can move my character and launch pikmin with IR aiming at my target. This works pretty well except when the camera is being a pain which happens too often. There is just a lot to manage when say you are fighting enemies certain pikmin are in danger so you have to use a whistle to gather them up. That whistle automatically recalls all pikmin, so say some pikmin are attacking the boss and some are in danger of dying, if you whistle on that area yeah you save the dying pikmin but the ones attacking come back to you too. This happens for every activity and it has lead me to call pikmin I don’t want into areas that might kill them. This is all solved in the new version as pikmin doing an activity don’t get called by the whistle… that would have changed so much for me.
Then comes the team splitting aspect. Part of what makes pikmin 3 unique is you have three characters to control and each of them can take pikmin. You can stay together or split into teams and do things at the same time. Using the Wii U map you can direct teams to a part of the map and they will go on their own while you do something else, it’s multitasking for a game with limited time. If you can manage this I’m sure it’s great but I had issues when I had two teams, for one there was usually some danger that appears and now I have to change my attention. What if I don’t have the right pikmin in that group, I either need to run away to regroup or call another group. And then comes the way you split the team, many times you have to throw a character to reach a new spot and then you one by one throw pikmin to that character so they can have a squad, it’s just slow.
The main goal of the game is to collect fruit and find pieces needed to get your ship working. So pikmin have to go and grab things and take them to the ship, thats the core of pikmin. Normally it works right, you send pikmin to grab an object and they take it to the ship and they stay there, where they are safe. And then there are certain items like pieces of a bridge you have to build where for some stupid reason instead of the pikmin delivering the piece to the bridge and just waiting there they always no matter what come back to where the pieces were. Some of these are far away so what happens is I am going to the bridge that’s now complete but my pikmin are running from me, I have to chase them down. So many times when I’m managing multiple groups I don’t even know where these pikmin are cause they go different places on their own and there is no magical recall all pikmin button, you have to physically go find them. Again this was corrected in the new version.
So after all that complaining what you should take out of it is that I agree with Nintendo on what was annoying, cause clearly they addressed it all… but why was it there in the first place. Pikmin is a fun game, the formula works and it’s a shame these annoyances made for a game I didn’t care as much as the second one.
Now for what does work, it’s addicting, the mechanics are fun, exploring is fun, combat can be fun. The loop of running around and discovering ways to advance deeper and deeper in the map using the different pikmin abilities is great. You start with one pikmin group and add more as you go, this games new addition is the flying pikmin which allows you to reach new areas and battle flying enemies.
I enjoyed the planning and executing part of the strategy. Finding a huge monster blocking a path and trying to figure out which pikmin is best here, can I find bombs somewhere to help, is there an alternate path that lets me attack from two sides. And there is lots of cool environmental obstacles where multiple pikmin need to be used. When it’s all working the game is a blast.
Each level ends in a massive boss battle. Like I said before some of the control issues make these bosses more frustrating than they should be but ultimately they follow the tired and true formula that works for action adventure games. They have a pattern and a weakness, you have to discover that weakness then execute the attacks to defeat the boss. And of course there are phases to the battle. As much as some of these fights lead to be cursing at the screen because pikmin where being flung everywhere and dying in horrible ways, there is just something about the way Nintendo handles boss battles that are just so good.
It’s a good sized game too, about 11-14 hours long, with plenty of bonus stuff to do. This game is clearly designed with speed running in mind which I will not do but I can appreciate the design. Every mission counts as a day, so the first time you play you might do like 40 days to complete the game. But if you know what you are doing you can cut those days down significantly. I’m sure if a player can execute having three teams of pikmin all working efficiently they can beat this game in an absurdly low amount of days. More power to those players that master the game, I don’t want to but I can see the appeal.
There is also mission mode which I almost think is better than the main campaign. This distills the gameplay into very focused score based missions which highlights the best part of Pikmin. There are item hunts which is a smallish map with a certain amount of pikmin and a timer of 7 minutes, try to collect as much treasure as possible. All kinds of enemies and obstacles await but since it’s so focused I didn’t really have to worry about all that other nonsense that would irritate me. There is also enemy attack mode and boss rush. There are many missions to unlock and some are hidden in the main campaign as secrets.
Pikmin 3 looks really great for a Wii U game. There is something about the Pikmin art style that is stunning. These games have some of the best looking water ever. The locations look beautifully detailed, it’s a simple game but man it looks great even in sub HD.
Pikmin 3 has so much potential which I believe they tapped into with the switch remaster. The gameplay loop taps into what works for so many Nintendo games, just that fun interesting gameplay that is well designed and presented. Sadly a bunch of control and strange design choices didn’t sit well with me and made this experience more annoying than it had to be. I still had a ton of fun with it but I kind of wish I had played the switch version. Still Pikmin remains a fun quirky light strategy action adventure game that feels distinctly Nintendo.
Score: 7.1

If there is one word to describe what Final Fantasy means to me it would be spectacle. Like for many FF7 was my big intro into JRPGs and it was a mindblowing experience because games didn’t have that scale and wow factor. All throughout the PS1 and PS2 Final Fantasy games would feel a step up in terms of graphics and pure spectacle than other games. Of course they have great ever changing gameplay systems and intriguing stories but what made FF stand out from all the rest is that you would get the most wow factor. Holy shit is Final Fantasy XVI the ultimate expression of that definition. The gaming field has a lot of massive epic scale games now, it has become harder for FF to stand out from the rest of the pack. Well when FF16 is “on”there is almost nothing like it, it puts even the biggest action franchises to shame. But of course a giant RPG is not just huge cinematic set pieces and thus comes the dilemma of reviewing a game like this which feels uneven at times but also left me breathless.
Final Fantasy XVI eschews traditional RPG systems and tropes and goes full on Devil May Cry stylish action game. As a primarily action game fan this is a dream come true… or was it a monkey’s paw kind of situation. On one hand the battle system in FF16 is fast, fun, exciting. It rewards quick reflexes in its perfect dodges and parries. Using your ever growing skill set in correct situations result in massive damage on groups of enemies. Managing abilities that do stagger damage is key on larger enemies and can create openings when the boss is staggered , allowing you to unleash many high level damage skills before the stagger bar is depleted for max damage. There are long distance attacks, quick grabs, air juggles, jump stepping, shields with counters and all kinds of weird powers that can be combined to great effect. It’s a deep and robust combat system that any hardcore action game would be proud to have, I am actually kind of shocked at how precise and empowering it feels to fight in this game.
A few things hold it back from reaching the highs of its action game brethren, for one the enemies themselves are usually push overs. Almost everything outside of a boss fight can be killed using very basic strategies, I felt like I was sleep walking through most of the fights. The moment I got my chocobo I stopped bothering fighting random junk mobs but those mobs weren’t done with me. Every side quest and a lot of the main quests have you fight hordes of basic enemies that offer almost no semblance of a challenge. Other action games supplement the combat with a scoring system so that even if the enemies aren’t providing a challenge your own performance is the challenge. There is a scoring system in the games optional arcade mode but that’s hidden away, more on that later. So while it’s fun messing around with Clive’s move set, WAY BETTER than pressing X X X on standard attacks on the thousandth junk random enemy you fight in old FF games, it doesn’t reach the highs of the genre it’s now trying to be.
The other issue is the move set; there are basic core attacks which are the foundation of Clive’s attacks. This includes FF16s version of the stinger from DMC, basic dodging, charging up magic and sword attacks, being able to jump step on airborne enemies and so on. It’s a nice move set that allows you to do many basic combos on enemies but the real fun comes from the Eikon abilities which are all on cool down timers. You can have three Eikon sets (two moves each) equipped at a time and can quickly cycle through them during a fight. These moves are taken from the many bosses you fight and they have the element of the Eikon they are attached to BUT there are no elemental status effects of bonuses which is extremely weird for a FF game. So there are no enemies more weak to ice, or lightning, all those moves have are different properties in how much normal damage or stagger damage they do to an enemy. Some abilities damage groups with a wide AoE attack. Some are straight one enemy heavy damage dealing attacks. You start seeing patterns in some of the earlier move sets, one move is the heavy combo one, one launches groups of enemies into the air, one sets up a trap, one is an evasive or shield countering ability. It’s not until the end when you get moves that start to really shake up the combat, especially the final move set which feels so different than everything else that it almost breaks the game.
I greatly enjoyed experimenting the various moves you learn. Each Eikon you absorb gives you four new abilities to master and a set circle button skill unique to that Eikon. Skill points earned during combat is used to buy these abilities and level them up, at max level you get the ability to use a move of one Eikon on others so you can really mix and match a move set. It’s all pretty deep with the ability to make some unique builds better at handling say large groups, some better against enemies that like to attack from afar and so on. My issue is that combat sometimes feels like it’s all about managing cool downs and that’s not ideal for an action game. The recent God of War has similar cool down powers but I feel the basic move set of that game is so robust that those moves felt like bonus attacks where in FF16 these cool down moves are you core attacks and your basic moveset is just a thing you use to pass the time until you can really attack again. To me that hurt the overall combat and holds it back from top level status. It’s still a great combat system, I would prefer it to many action adventure games combat systems and it’s kind of unfair I am comparing it to the very best the genre has to offer but clearly that’s the comparison Square was going for when designing this system so I think it’s fair.
This combat system brilliantly shines during the many big boss moments. This is when your load out can have a big impact. This is when your timing with dodges and counters is important. When managing your cool downs allow for the most damage. It all works because the enemy is an actual threat, it’s a damn shame they didn’t allow their new game plus hard mode as an option the first go because this game excels when you fell threatened. There is a bounty side quest which gives you large bosses to kill; this was side content worth playing as they are some of the most fun fights in the game. Of course so are the show stopping massive boss battles which I will talk about later cause they are so much more than just this normal combat system. So ultimately when the game is challenging the player, when you feel you need to concentrate and every move you make in battle matters this combat system sings, flaws and all it’s a blast to play.
Final Fantasy is a departure in many ways than just combat. For one you play as one character, Clive Rothfield, and there is zero party management. You do have other NPCs join and leave your “party” throughout the game but they have almost zero impact on the combat. The only character that does have an impact is your lovable pet wolf dog Torgal which has its own very basic commands which can help in combat. Gear has been simplified to being just three slots, a sword, armor and belt. Seeing that there are no status effects there is basically zero strategy in how to equip Clive, simply buy or craft the best gear and done. There is some customization to be had with accessories of which you can have three and these can affect the damage and cooldown times of specific abilities. EXP is earned an automatically used to level up Clive at which point the game automatically raises all of his stats evenly. The only real choices you get to make is where skill points go and those are freely returned so you can respec as many times as you like. There is very little of any strategy outside how well you do in combat and that sort of stings in what used to be an RPG, also hurts in a game this big to not have more gameplay systems to manage. Honestly the new God of War games feel more RPG like than FF16, that’s saying something.
This games structure is also pretty different in that there are actual action game levels and then the traditional exploring sections. In the action levels there is no map, there is nothing to do but go forward and fight enemies. It feels exactly as a DMC level would feel. They have loads of enemies, sub bosses and end in a unique large boss battle. These happen at key parts of the story and often time take you to one time locations that you will never revisit again.
Most of the game is in exploring mode which is your traditional maps with characters to talk to and quest markers to follow. These maps can be quite large but they aren’t exactly open worlds in the traditional sense. Each region of the world has an interconnected map that has pathways that lead to a town, those in turn lead to a large field which in turn leads to more paths that lead to another town and so on. These fields are filled with trash enemies wandering around waiting to be fought and occasionally some items and chests to find with crap rewards that are all basically meaningless. It’s a shame there isn’t much to do when exploring the world cause the locations are usually beautiful, begging to be explored if not for how empty they actually are. The only thing that could be considered a secret are these monoliths that serve as secret challenge levels that only get unlocked in the final part of the game. I loved these challenges as they make you go through a series of battles using only one specific Eikon’s abilities and scores you based on mastering their use. Bounties make use of the maps as some tell you where to find them and a few actually only describe a location and you must deduce where they are, I liked those as it let me think a bit but it’s also annoying as getting around is kind of slow even with a chocobo and multiple fast travel points.
Most of the time you will be going from main or side quest marker to another. The world is there simply to feel like you are part of a grand globe trotting adventure which I do feel the game excels at feeling like being on a massive journey. Side quests will take up a lot of your time between the action levels, these can be hit and miss at the start and only become great at the end. The actual gameplay part of side quests is almost always go to market kill thing and talk to someone, so there isn’t really anything unique happening in them, it’s all about enhancing the story. Every major NPC you meet along your journey will have their own side quest storyline which culminates in usually a well told story, it won’t reach top video game writing levels but it’s really better than most side quests found in games.
The issue is the first half of the game has so many MMO style boring fetch quests that it conditions the player to not want to do the side quests when later on they left a big impact on my enjoyment of the game. Part of it is how they are presented, the main story has well directed and motion caped cutscenes. The side quests in turn feel like bad stage plays with minimal animations and characters entering and exiting a scene as if they are in a play. This all changes toward the end of the game when these storylines and cutscenes all of a sudden have full animations and big emotional moments. I ended up loving many of these characters and these stories were an essential part of feeling the weight of the world on Clive’s shoulder, to feel like what I was doing was impacting lives. Ultimately I think the side quests are a success.
As for the main quest and overall story in Final Fantasy XVI, it’s an absolute home run. To me this is probably second only to FF7 in the story department and Clive is up there with Cloud as the best main character this franchise has ever had. Clearly taking inspiration from Game of Thrones, this is the first mature rated Final Fantasy game complete with sex scenes and lots of cursing which can feel a bit childish at the start but kind of fits the world as you settle in. All the deranged family dynamics you get in GoT is present here, there is plenty backstabbing, some shocking deaths, and really bad people doing really bad things. Where it differs from GoT is this has clear heroes and villains and by the end settles into the most FF final battle a FF game could have. Part of me would have liked more of the political intrigue and juicy dynamics between rival characters but I can’t say I was disappointed by the traditional group of characters go to save the world from an evil thing in the most epic way possible. It becomes a power fantasy and I am all for that.
Even though Clive doesn’t really have a traditional RPG party he still has plenty of teammates that all serve important roles for the base hub community they have and a few go on missions with him. It’s a great cast full of memorable characters and if you do the side quests you get to know them very well. The standouts are Cid, the gruff manly rebel with a heart of gold. Jill, the childhood friend turn love interest. Gav, scout extraordinaire and second hand man to Clive. Many more populate the hideaway as you lead this group of outcast on a mission to save the world and change the way they view magic users, or bearers in this world. FF16 is full of slavery and bigotry against people born with the ability to use magic like Clive, it makes his mission all the more important. I think the story hits on many levels from family drama, political intrigue, social commentary and classic JRPG conflicts.
The main quest starts off fast with an excellent prologue and goes right into high action moments with many of the linear levels coming at a rapid pace. Many of these levels culminate in best part of this game which are the epic Eikon battles. During major boss battles you take control of Ifirit, the legendary summon from many FF games of old, as he battles other Eikon’s who are also well known FF summons. These battles are cinematic setpieces that put the player in all kinds of gameplay situations. Early on you have a sort of basic Godzilla style fighting match. One boss turns into a panzer dragoon style shooter. But most of the later battles has Ifirit develop his own Clive like move set, just super powered to the point that it feels like some dragon ball Z fighting game.
The gameplay might not be as deep as the Clive controlled boss battles but I appreciated the variety and the insane spectacle of these battles. My jaw agape, eyes wide, just in awe of what I was playing. There was one boss battle that lasted like an hour and it was the most incredible battle I maybe have ever played, it put God of War of old to shame. And that wasn’t the most amazing fight in the same game! Hours later I thought NOW this one can’t be topped!
It’s those incredible setpiece moments that stay with you long after the game is gone. A game that you lose yourself in for many hours and is excellent might be an overall better game but without those big moments you may not remember specific moments like you do these setpieces. Why is MGS so popular, it’s a game series built on big memorable setpieces. MGSV, the one with by far the best gameplay, is considered by many to be the worst MGS game because it lacked in those moments. When a game’s story, music, graphics and gameplay all rise together to a crescendo where you the player are in the zone feeling all that emotion, it feeding your actions, there is nothing like that in entertainment. Those are the 10 out 10 moments in gaming to me and this game had multiple moments at that level. Sadly that is but a fraction of the entire package.
As the game went on the pacing got out of whack. Where the start of the game had many action levels back to back, the second half of the game flips that to where now action levels are spread out between large segments of the open world complete with many side quests. Even if you skip all the side quests the main mission has a bunch of side quest like missions until you reach the next big moment. Without all the RPG character building elements or anything resembling a mini game of any kind, the game feels a bit one note outside the big moments. Again for me personally, since I did all the side quests, bounties, challenge missions I did enjoy even the downtime moments but it’s hard not to feel the momentum swing wildly from most hyped I’ve ever been playing a game to why is this a fetch quest now.
The overall difficulty is too easy, I could only recall one bounty that was too high level for me. Even if you die during a boss you start at a generous point in the fight with all your potions refilled. The major bosses and high end bounties are thrilling to battle though and feel just right. There is an arcade mode that is accessible at your base which allows you to replay every action level, this time with a scoring system and with limited potions. To me this is how the action should have been played, a scoring system would have made even boring fights somewhat interesting. Plus doing a full level on one life with few potions is an actual challenge. The scoring system is kind of strange though, it seems to benefit specific abilities more than others, instead of being about varying your attacks in a great combo.
On your first playthrough arcade mode has no leaderboards, these open up only on Final Fantasy difficulty mode which unlocks after finishing the game. This mode adds tough monsters into early parts of the game and raises the levels of everything, it’s a bigger challenge and I wish this was an option for your first run. To access the final fantasy mode arcade mode complete with leaderboards you have to replay the entire game and only when you beat a level in the story do you get to access the arcade version, why do I have to do it all again… annoying. There is an even harder ultimaniac mode for the arcade mode, this is a crazy hard mode where you get one potion, every enemy takes off half your health and they have a bunch of healers. Bless those who can master this mode, it’s way too much for me. Also the scoring system in this mode is totally broken. I like having these modes, wish they were integrated better though, still at least there is something for those that want to completely master the action.
Graphically the game is absolutely stunning. In many of the battles there is a sea of particle effects that are so impressive I can’t image it being done on older hardware. The worlds are detailed and vibrant with some of the best art design the series has seen. Models are detailed, the faces and animations though aren’t at the level of say Sony studio games but still high end. An extremely impressive collection of voice actors bring all these characters to life, with the core main actors all delivering excellent performances that make their characters believable even in the most fantastic of settings. The music deserves endless praise, if this isn’t the soundtrack of the year I would be shocked. This is one of the best FF soundtracks around, filled with memorable tunes that have been stuck in my head for weeks. All the battle music works on that level to get you primed for the action, during the epic boss battles the score seems to be showing off as much as the graphics are. Here is a classic AAA game, as top of the line as it gets with almost zero glitches or issues, thank you for delivering a well made game from day one. The only negative on the technical side is the performance mode does not maintain close to 60fps and its resolution is not great, shame cause the 60fps helps combat . I stuck to 30fps and high resolution, it was stable and stunning to look at.
Final Fantasy XVI is a resounding success for square after the disappointing FFXV and the divisive FFXIII. This game brings back that feel of FF being an event game, something that you know will push the envelope of graphics, of sound and be memorable and fun. I feel FFVII Remake is still better but that being a remake feels like cheating, how hard is it to mess up the best FF game. For them to make a new Final Fantasy game that is a complete package from day one and this well made, with this interesting take on the action and story, this feels like the franchise is back to the PS2 days. I wish it wasn’t so uneven on the pacing and gameplay front, perhaps abandoning all RPG ties was not the best idea, that holds it back from being a truly excellent game. The highs are so high though that even though this game has some big shortcomings I will remember it far longer than I would many better overall games. I am just happy to see Final Fantasy get its mojo back, with FFVII rebirth up next the future looks bright.
Score: 8.9

It’s been a bumpy road lately with my favorite gaming franchise , both Skyward Sword and Breath of the Wild rank last on my 3D Zelda lists. BOTW drastically changed the series forever and while I enjoyed it tremendously, to the tune of 150 hours of play, I felt it was still an idea that needed more fleshing out. Tears of the Kingdom is everything BOTW wished it was. With breathtaking innovation and mechanics that blow my mind, Tears of the Kingdom is absolute marvel of game design and gave me all the feels I once had for Zelda. I can safely say Zelda is back on top.
In a bold choice, that most any other developer would get endless criticism for, TOTK takes the world map of BOTW and simply uses it again. It uses the same art, the same models, a lot of the same songs, the exact same controls; not even Majora’s Mask felt as direct a sequel as this game does. It should feel redundant, and yet it mostly does not. Nintendo pretty much realized exactly what I was thinking, BOTW was a great first draft, but we can make it better. What they birthed is the most mechanically interesting open world game I have ever played. They did this by giving the players more powers, more freedom than I could have even imagined and overloading the world with great content.
The powers Link gets in this game would basically break nearly any other game. Just ascend alone, being able to go through any ceiling and pop out on the other end no matter how high it is, that would break pretty much every game. That’s the least impressive power you get in this game. You can also rewind basically any moveable item as every movement is recorded. Oops I dropped cart down a mountain, recall it and watch it rewind and come right back to where it started moving. Then there is ultra hand which turns Zelda into a vehicle building game that while not as complex as Minecraft, works perfectly in this world which has a full adventure with puzzles and dungeons, something Minecraft totally lacks. All these systems work perfectly, alone and together. Want to get high up, well you can grab any platform with the hand, hold it over your head for a while, drop it, rewind it so it hovers over your head and then ascend through that platform. Anything you imagine you can do with these powers actually does work; also glitch free. I don’t understand how any one of these systems doesn’t come with a multitude of game breaking bugs, but all of them work together in harmony without any hitch in sight, it’s a miracle of game design.
BOTW to me had a downward curve of player interaction to the amount of time you played. That game starts off very interesting as it’s a part survival game with all these incredible physics and gameplay systems working together. Those beginning hours were compelling while learning the ways to keep Link warm or keep cool. Gaining better armor, getting better meals, getting more health and stamina so you can explore harsher parts of the world. That was all exciting until you reached a decent level where you had all the armors that negate status effects, high enough attack and defense to get through most enemies easily. All of a sudden all those survival elements didn’t matter anymore, the game got easier, more simple and at that point I began to lose interest.
TOTK is the opposite, it’s a game where player interaction grows as the game goes on. You start off with limited powers, you can build some rudimentary devices but most of the best devices are out of reach. As you play Link grows not just in power to defeat enemies but in abilities that grant more and more gameplay freedom. By the end I felt like a god; I could summon an army of laser drones to wipe out enemy bases. I could soar through the sky in my own flying contraption. I had every kind of damage combination fused to my swords and shields. My interaction with the world is limited only by my imagination. That push to keep seeing what else is there? How far can I push this power? That kept me engaged for over 200 hours.
Of course a game should give the player reasons to use these abilities, and this game does so in many different ways. From something as basic as helping deliver a korok to his friend or helping a guy hold up a sign, to navigating the sky islands with nothing but your own engineering to get around, it’s a game full of opportunities to use the tools given to you. The key part of the ultra hand ability are these zonai devices which are found in sort of gum ball machines throughout the world, each of these devices can greatly aid in the creation of wild contraptions. There is the very useful fan which can allow the wing device to fly, or a boat to have a motor. There are rockets which can be attached to anything and send that object soaring in whatever direction wanted. Wheels for cars, springs, auto targeting drones and many devices that have an attack which can make any vehicle into a death mobile. I was still finding new devices many many hours in, the game almost always has a shrine or quest that teaches you the basics for the item before leaving the player to then create anything they desire.
It might be more fun when the plan you had explodes in your face Wile E Coyote style than when it actually works. I cannot tell you how many times I burst out laughing at my beautiful invention catching fire and burning me alive in a death trap. That moment when you put vehicle together and it’s time to see if it actually functions is so exciting, even if the results are usually what not what you would expect. Maybe one side weighed too much, maybe a rocket was facing the wrong direction, maybe it just topples over and spins in endless circles; keep trying, eventually something will work and you will feel like a genius. Or you can look online and see what others are creating and think “yeah I’m no engineer, I’ll just copy their build”, there is no shame in that. I’ve incorporated many vehicles I saw online into my play. Still every once and in a while I get the urge to try something on my own, ultimately it’s a failure and I go back to what was working before. The point is you can spend countless hours being a make believe engineer or just follow a guide online and ignore the creative side all together. Either way they’re so much fun to be had in the near endless ways you can navigate the world and kill enemies.
I remember in BOTW stretching the limits of the gameplay to try to make combat interesting. My main go to was if there was a thunder storm I would get something metal and move it near enemies so lightning would strike, it’s impressive to see a world with that level of interactivity but still a very limited mechanic that wasn’t all that useful. Now anything and everything can be done to enemies. I don’t need a thunderstorm to create a lightning trap, I can save metal cages from around the world to my auto build, summon multiple cages from thin air and trap enemies in them, then take out a lightning device and attach it to the cage and watch them electrocute to death in a cell. But that’s too easy, why not get a bunch of metal sheets, create a sort of giant walled cage out of them, leave a space open so they could enter, lure enemies in with food, close up the open spot, then energize the walls with electricity and drop some bombs into the middle and watch the insanity of them running into electric walls to escape explosions. That’s just me being sadistically mean, I could also be efficient and just drive up in a bike that has 15 homing lasers on it and melt enemies. I can fly from above on a plane with cannons underneath and have an arial bombing run before jumping off the plane and while falling from the sky rain down bomb arrows in slow motion obliterating everything before I even land. I haven’t even talked about mechs, yeah people make entire mechs. Every day I can go online and see something that blows my mind, how can this game do all these things, how is this possible?!
I hardly even want to talk about the basic sword play because it’s mostly the same with one major upgrade, the fuse system which makes the entire breakable inventory system work so much better than BOTW. Now every sword or shield you find can be fused with nearly any item to create a better item. Want a fire sword, take the guts of a fire like like and attach it to your sword. Want a shield that shoots a cannon, attach a cannon to it. Every enemy has materials they drop when killed, these monster parts increase the base damage of your sword by significant amounts. The harder the enemy the better their parts are meaning every single time you kill a high level enemy you get a high level part, which means you get a high level weapon, any base weapon will do. No longer do you need to protect the one good sword you found in that hard to reach area in BOTW, everything you find can become a high level weapon or a situational weapon like an elemental sword, explosive sword, or maybe have one just to break rocks. The way shields work now, allowing them to be offensive as well as defensive is genius. Oh and arrows, what a difference the ability to attach anything to base arrows make. In BOTW I was struggling to find arrows, and even then you had a limited amount of each kind. Here there are arrows everywhere, a sea of arrows and you get to decide what that arrow becomes with fuse. You can make bomb arrows using just plants, or arrows with a plant that confuses enemies so they attack each other, or homing arrows by attaching the eyes of bats to them. This makes the bow and arrow a much more integral part of the combat. Overall the fuse system feels so much more alive with so many more options. At its core it’s still very basic sword play but this system makes the “loot” part feel much more rewarding.
This is Zelda, where are my puzzles and dungeons?! This game has them but it’s the area I still think needs the most work. The shrines are back and I honestly think the puzzle ones were a step back in this game. Here shrines serve as a sort of tutorial for each kind of device you can make. The first puzzle introduces the pieces you can use and how to fit them together to create something useful, like say use a fan to move wheel. The next puzzle takes it a step further and puts you in a room to create this device in such a way to escape. Now the genius part is that players can all come up with different solutions, many times forgoing the actual device and use other abilities to “cheat” their way to the goal. For instance recall can be used in so many ways that it can render building useless, for instance you can create a moving platform from nothing; just move it, the get on it and recall it. That level of freedom which allows everyone to be creative in their own way is very welcome. The problem is this game rarely ever pushes the puzzles past the first layer of complexity. There is so much they could do with any one of these mechanics, never mind the hundreds available to you. Oh and this game keeps introducing new mechanics throughout, total fresh new ideas are introduced and discarded near instantly, “woah I could do that, wait that’s it?!”. I feel Nintendo could make an entire 10 hour puzzle game exploring any one these mechanics to its fullest but instead they decided to go with quantity of various things to do but never make it too complex. Past Zelda games weren’t exactly the most complex puzzle games but at least I felt they used their items to their full potential.
One great choice Nintendo made in regards to the shrines is the removal of test of strength shrines, those extremely repetitive boring one enemy battles. Now there are proving ground shrines which serve like mini eventide challenges where you go in with only your underwear and have to use what you find to get out. I loved these, I wish there were more, especially with the fuse system making finding ways to survive so much fun. One of them was a full on MGS level, complete with alarms going off, amazing stuff. But there is a bad kind of shrine that repeats too much, the reward shrine. Normally these shrines appear after you do a specific quest in the overworld to get to the shrine, the puzzle was what you did to reach it, so inside the shrine there rests a prize. In this game way too many times I would come across a prize shrine while not doing anything interesting to earn a reward. A few times I entered a cave, broke a rock wall, found a shrine and it was just a prize shrine. This means no puzzle, no challenge; it’s such an empty gesture and clearly was there to pad the amount of shrines. If Nintendo wants to do that just get rid of shrines, they work when it’s a complex puzzle or unique combat situation, not when it’s some brain dead reward.
Enter the dungeons, or temples as this game calls them, what an improvement over the basic mundane beasts of BOTW. Themed dungeons are back! Now they don’t have the structure of past Zelda dungeons, they are still too free form and ultimately are a series of puzzles you can do in any order to unlock a boss but at least now they are designed to feel more dungeon like and make use of new powers in each one. My favorite was the fire temple which was like a rollercoaster park where you had to use mine carts to get around and rotate the track to reach where you need to go. The best dungeons of old always made you think of the entire dungeon itself as part of the puzzle and this temple does that (or you can ignore all that and use your abilities to reach each area, I choose to play it traditionally). Not only are the dungeons filled with great puzzles and new mechanics but the entire lead up to them is nearly as good. The way up to the wind temple has link traversing sky islands and bouncing on flying ship sails to launch higher and higher.
These dungeons do have a much better mix of enemies in them, it’s still not like past games but at least they aren’t mostly empty. The best part by far is that at the end you get a unique boss battle, not a stupid form of ganon, it is a brand new creature that makes use of the skills you learned like the best Zelda bosses of old. These battles are tremendous show stoppers, one of them takes place in the air, you are skydiving through the boss and navigating tornadoes while shooting arrows at it. I can’t believe the things I was doing in this game, I’m going to keep saying it.
There still could be more dungeons and they could be better dungeons. I would rather scrap the entire shrine system and have 15 good dungeons instead. At least it scratched that itch I had for more classic dungeon like moments. Hyrule is now filled with more interesting locations that almost feel like a small mini dungeons, mainly due to the sky islands and the new caves that are all over the surface. It’s crazy to think that BOTW had no caves, one of the most basic adventuring cliches of Zelda is exploring the land, finding cave and going in, that’s Zelda. So now there are a bunch of caves and sometimes it’s a basic cave, few enemies and chest, no big deal. Other times I would spend an hour in some sprawling underground tunnel. Rocks blocking so many hidden paths, mini bosses hiding in some rooms, dangerous threats and terrain in others. Here is where you will find many of the armors that Link can collect, I will admit the majority of rewards are shit but there are enough unique rewards to keep my interest going. Where you end up at the end of a cave journey is one of the highlights as it could lead you to a destination, with new points of interest and a million other things to be distracted by in this engrossing world. Every thing is hand crafted, these designers know where one cave starts and ends and where the player will end up specifically to put some point of interest in view when they pop out, it’s so well designed.
If you get bored of the surface take flight into the air and go sky island exploring. Now I wish the skies were populated with more content. As it stands, outside the first tutorial island, they feel like the small islands you would find in wind waker; but in wind waker that was the entire game, here it’s just a small percent of it. Plenty of islands do repeat their design, you will find similar structures around the world but they usually have some specific puzzle tied to it. One of my favorite sky moments was this ring of islands in low gravity and there were rockets and floating platforms which could be used to keep making rocket flights to the next island, and to the next, until I could reach this huge orb that held my prize with some great mirror and light puzzles. The sky houses some tough bosses as well which give specific rewards that can be used to upgrade your companions (oh right you gain companions, I’m not even going to get into them, this game has mechanics for days). There are also maps to find which give you a location to the treasures below… in the depths.
Oh yeah there is an entire underground the size of hyrule, that’s the attitude of this game. Most games would be selling this for all it’s worth; “a second full map!!!!”, here it’s “yeah it’s there” just another cool thing to do. The depths are the anti surface, where on the surface you can explore anywhere you want with complete untethered freedom, the depths take away your light and the ability to see. It has huge rock walls blocking paths and evil red poison everywhere. It’s such a fantastic contrast to the surface and sky and completes a sort of beautifully designed three level map system where each has a role to play which feed into each other. The depths are were you go when you need zonite, the material used to build objects using auto build and what is used to buy the crystals needed to upgrade your battery so that you may run your contraptions longer. In here you must light your way through the dark using light plants and finding these roots which are located under every shrine in the surface. In a way the depths are a sort of mirror dark version of the surface, you will find the two maps connect so well.
Ultimately there isn’t much to see down there. There are no cities, rarely you will find an NPC. It all looks the same and has repeating structures like mines, enemy bases and yiga clan hideouts. The player isn’t meant to explore it in the way you do the surface, the depths are to go in, light a path and have a goal in mind. The best weapons are found down there and special boss battles which yield many crystals are found. The Yiga clan has a great side quest which takes place below ground as you find their bases and learn their schematics to build all kinds of cool vehicles. The depths is where the game wants you to go wild with the vehicle creation because getting around on foot is too dangerous, there are stations of zonai supplies like caches to build freely. Those maps I mentioned that you find in the sky point out the location of unique armor or weapons, usually from past Zelda games. In a stroke of genius they put all the amiibo locked classic Zelda costumes from BOTW into the depths as part of the main game. Instantly I wanted to collect every Link tunic from all his games, and this time they could be upgraded to high levels to be a viable piece of armor. Finally I can play the game looking like Link should. I was absolutely hooked into finding all the classic gear, it’s like a Zelda museum down there.
So after some time in the depths you may upgrade your belt and have some new ideas for vehicles; well it’s time a to try it out on the surface where most of the game will take place. Here is where you will get most of your quests, explore towns, play mini games and ultimately just lose yourself in this massive world. It does suck that most everything is in the same place it was before. There are still three labyrinths and they are exactly in same spot but at least they are way more complex in this game. There are still just four fairy fountains and you upgrade armor in the same way. The towns are still in the same place and serve most of the same functions though there are plenty of great new quests with them. The sense of familiarity takes away from that sense of wonder that BOTW had, I wish they did more to move things around but I can’t complain much when it’s filled with so much better content and enemy variety. There are some new mini bosses, the best by far being the Gleelok which would be the best boss of many games, here it’s just an enemy you fight. A bunch of the world is still filed with the same Talus and Hinox bosses, just goes to show how basic they were compared to the new ones.
Some quest lines feel like something out of Majora’s Mask as you save entire towns from some calamity which is threatening their land. I loved exploring a Goron town that has been brain washed by some addictive poison rock. Link can get involved in a city election for mayor and play both sides to reach the best outcome. The beach town has been over run by pirates requiring Link to exterminate the threat (oh what a playground for destruction that was) and then rebuild the city. Tarry Town has a great monster picture quest with something out of Pokémon snap, as you get pictures of the rarest of monsters which becomes statues you can decorate. I really enjoyed many of the quests, I will say the rewards are usually awful, like a few coins or some item you already have 50 of but the fun is in completing it. There are some wild quests I accidentally stumbled upon that lead to entire sets of armor or even a full heart piece, I wish there were more of those but simply having some around made the exploring all the more satisfying.
Of course no Zelda game is without mini games, so many mini games. Most of these now involve building something and then using it to complete a task in a certain time. Two mini games in particular had the potential to be an entire spin off game, Zelda racers where you make a car and race it. Sadly the mini game is extremely basic and the few courses are a few check point lights you drive through for time and that’s it. They could have done an entire racing circuit, instead it is another example of an idea only explored in the most basic of ways. One clever mini game has you creating a giant contraption to hit a bell as hard as you can like in those carnival test of might games. You have play with the physics and weight of different materials to see if they could be launched or catapulted. I spent over an hour creating different ways to hit this bell, I laughed, I cried, I yelled, and eventually I triumphed. Best part is every player will have a different story to tell. I wish there were more like those, overall it’s a great selection of games but again I feel this is an aspect that can go even further.
The story is still told through flashbacks and out of order. At least the overall plot is more compelling due to an actual speaking villain in Ganondorf and a great mystery surrounding Zelda. It all comes to a head in what is maybe the best final hours of any Zelda game I’ve played. No one aspect of it might be the best but the way all the elements come together with challenging combat, big story moments, incredible music all make for a thrilling finale that had me jumping up and down in excitement. Speaking of music, oh man what a soundtrack. Every dungeon has a song that evolves with each objective you complete, it swells and swells until it hits a crescendo for the epic boss battle. The music most of the time is still understated, there are many returning tracks as well but when the game needs it the music goes hard. Also the main theme is majestic.
I cannot fathom how Nintendo got this game to work on that ancient Switch hardware but it works damn near perfectly and looks good to boot. There are some performance issues, usually when there are many characters in screen and some extra effects like rain. The game tries to stay running at 30fps and does so for most of it. Graphically it looks mostly like BOTW, clearly it’s time for an upgrade but there are moments of breathtaking beauty. I’ve played many games in my life but never have I seen a sunrise above the clouds in a sky island, light beginning to creep across the landscape begging me to leap down and fall and fall and fall not just to the surface but right into a chasm and continue to fall and fall into the underground world completely seamlessly with no loading. I am constant awe of this game despite the hardware, it’s so beautiful in its own way.
I could go on forever, there is a lot more I can talk about but it’s best to discover things on your own. I can also give you a list of hundred things I would do better, but just because something can be better doesn’t mean what I played wasn’t fantastic. This game sold me on open world Zelda, but I still want some more structure. I am a big fan of linear gameplay moments that have purpose and meaningful design, I do feel the freedom of the gameplay and those very handcrafted segments can coexist better than they do here. That’s my dream game but we aren’t there yet. So it doesn’t make it to my top Zelda games but it’s in the top 5, and honestly this makes all those Zelda games I hold dear feel so basic, they are going to feel so limited gameplay wise.
Tears of the Kingdom is a masterpiece in so many ways. I usually do not play games for 100 hours and if I do I’m struggling by the end to just get through it. I am well over 200 hours on this game and for the grand majority of the time I was captivated by what I was playing, what I am still playing. 200 hours and I don’t want to stop, I finished the story, I almost always just throw the game in a drawer and not think about it after I see the credits roll. This game is endlessly playable, its mechanics are genre defining. It reminds me of MGSV, a game mechanically better than anything else I’ve ever played, something I could play forever, and also in that I wish the structure of said game was more to my tastes. This sets a new standard action adventure games. This year we had Horizon 2 and in that game you can fly on a robot bird through the clouds… and you can’t even shoot an arrow, not that impressive. Here I can fly in a aircraft of my making with canons and lasers and battle a three headed dragon in the sky and then jump off and sky dive down after the dragon while firing arrows at it, this game is CRAZY! How is this game possible?! This is why I love this series, this is the feeling of magic and wonder all those Zelda games gave me years ago. Tears of the Kingdom is pure magic.
Overall score: 9.8

The first Jedi game was a fun game with its souls inspired combat and Metroid like level design which felt a little rough around the edges. That’s ok, first games in series usually set up the groundwork and it’s the sequel where the kinks get ironed out and new ideas take the game to a new level. Jedi Survivor is one of those sequels, it is superior to the first game in every way, the aspects that needed work in the first have mostly been fixed. All new powers and a strong emphasis on exploring with great side quests really sets this game apart.
By far what works best is the level design and how expertly created these large worlds are. In the last game traversal would be a pain, one way paths would block any backtracking and no fast travel made exploring a chore. All that is fixed here with almost every path opening a shortcut so that if you did do a platforming section you won’t have to do it again to navigate the world, plus fast travel points are smartly scattered around. Respawn decided to go for larger worlds but not in the big open world sense, there is more space but it’s so DENSE with activities everywhere. You don’t wander these worlds riding a space chicken desperately looking for content, the content is everywhere. Most of the time just getting to a new location is its own level of platforming and puzzles. This is Metroid quality design, it’s brilliant, I could not believe how much fun it was to explore every inch of these worlds.
What you do in these levels is also fantastic. Cal starts the game with all of his powers from the first game, no depowering nonsense, so right off the bat there are plenty of force puzzles and traversal to do. That is just the very tip of a massive amount of new gameplay mechanics that expertly get fed out hour by hour. There is that perfect ebb and flow of going off the beaten path and doing story missions. While exploring one might discover an enemy base where a small mini story and quest kicks off. Something this well designed would be a story level in most games here it’s completely optional.
When the story missions kick in, oh man do they go all out. There are some setpieces that would make God of War jealous. Moments where I was yelling out loud “is this really happening?!”. There are themed gameplay sections that sometimes actually last a little too long but hey I am always a fan of strong linear sections if the scenario keeps the encounters and levels interesting and this game does that. From a ancient Jedi temple filled with some deadly black energy that has to be manipulated to get around, to a sky canyon in the sky where you have to manipulate wind fans to get around; there is always something new to these story missions.
As strong as those story missions are, to me the best stuff in this game was simply living in this world, interacting with the many NPCs and doing some fantastic side quests. It’s not like I went to town and specifically got told “go here and do this for quest”, for sure there is plenty of that but even as you simply open up sections of the map, quests just happen. One of my favorite moments was discovering a cave and falling into a trap, this cave is run by rogue lightsaber wielding bounty hunters. All of a sudden I’m trapped in a pen with a rancor and being taunted and shepherded through a various kill rooms by these guys until I finally overcome their traps and end in a three way battle. No one told me to go there, completely optional but it was so memorable, so well designed. The world is filled with moments like these.
One of the big complaints of the first game was the rewards were not good enough for all the exploration. The cosmetic chests are still in and they are everywhere but properly labeled, they usually are simple to find, more of the “you reached this hard to reach ledge, here is a prize”. All the side quests and major discoveries in the world gives a reward that builds your character, mainly now by giving a full skill point which is needed for its robust skill tree which I still haven’t filled totally and really you aren’t meant to. Skill points, health and force upgrades, health tanks, droid hacks and map upgrades cover the significant upgrades you can find; it helps to feel Cal grow because of all the exploring and side content.
Jedi Survivor has fewer planets than Fallen Order but they are larger worlds, well at least two of them are. There are two “hub” worlds with a central base and a much larger world to explore than the last game. One of my favorite things is the NPC hub that grows as you complete the story. In this game it comes in the form of a cantina, which begins as a dump that Mos eisley would be proud of but as you recruit NPCs from around the galaxy it becomes lively with loads of memorable characters and fun side activities. Far from a hive of scum and villainy, this cantina gets filled with generally good hearted but flawed characters. They not only interact with you, but as the story progresses they interact and learn from each other. This is basically all done with optional dialogue, you can skip all of it but I loved coming back after every story bit and seeing everyone grow. As you speak to them they open up more and more, as a star wars fan I loved hearing story from the regular folk that are usually under represented in this galaxy.
From a famous DJ, to a mysterious smuggler, a bounty hunter, some prospectors and fortune tellers; there is a wide range of professions and aliens that populate this cantina. None are better than one of the best side quest characters ever put in a game, the legendary Skoova Steve. He is a small crustacean creature that you find around the world fishing. You slowly fill in a fish tank with these fishes you find around the world, that is a pointless cosmetic thing and is not really interesting, what is interesting though is the story you get every time you find a new fish. Skoova has a great Scottish accent and he tells a grand tale piece by piece. Seriously I need a Skoova Steve side game, I love hearing every part of his tale. Little things like that scattered all over make this game so memorable.
I’ve been avoiding talking about the combat because it’s the part really holding back this game from all time great status. Yes there are more powers, more lightsaber stances, and it amounts to not really changing the core combat and its issues. This is an animation heavy, slow paced combat system that tries to be souls like but is missing some pretty basic things like invincibility frames with dodge. There is no canceling out of animations leading to many frustrating counters by enemies when I would have loved to dodge. The stagger meter returns and it’s as annoying as ever, making even the smallest of grunts tanky against a Jedi, you can can wail on an enemy blocking and slowly get that stagger bar down, finally getting an opening for a real damage hit but one second later the bar is back up at max. I get that they want a back and forth with parries and it’s fine for bosses but regular guys, so many regular guys take too long for a Jedi Knight to dispatch.
Against the non sword wielding enemies Cal can use his entire arsenal to decimate them rather easily. The new force powers makes most groups pretty fun to fight as long as they aren’t filled with the stagger meter melee guys. Cal can now lift and slam enemies, he has much more powerful pull and push abilities which can be upgraded to even push giant enemies. There is mind tricks which can turn enemies on each other, very useful at times. My favorite is a force pull that lets you float an enemy with a gun and use them to fire on other enemies. When Cal can take down huge groups of enemies with the force and nifty lightsaber moves the combat sings, but almost always it gets bogged down to the melee combat enemies which require skill and is difficult but still not as elegant as any souls game.
Lightsaber stances got a massive overhaul with three new ones, including one with a blaster which is pretty cool. The other two new ones is dual lightsaber stance and crossguard saber which is like a heavy stance. All stances have deep skill trees, so much so that the game expects you to pick a few favorites and focus on that rather than be a jack of all trades. Part of the reason for this is the strange limit on stances the player can have at a time, only two can be chosen at any time, switching them out can only be done at spawn points. This is so limiting, I don’t get why we can’t have a weapon wheel. I did nearly max all of them and found they all have used in different situations. Blasters are great to get stuns and damage through a stagger enemy. Double blade mows through junk mobs. Crossguard is very slow but heavy damage, good against slow 1 on one enemies. They have the right idea but I feel they could have really made more enemy types that make better use of each stance if every stance could be used at all times.
The boss battles is where I don’t mind the stagger bar, it’s a boss, it’s supposed to be difficult to fight. Most of the bosses are of course against other force lightsaber users and they have a variety of patterns to learn and exploit. Most of them I thought were fun to figure out, mix and match different stances to see what works best. I don’t think they got that much better than the last game, it’s mostly more of the same. There is one boss in particular though that is a huge outlier, a massive spike in difficulty. Now story wise it makes sense… still they expect you to “defeat” this boss and it took me well over an hour and countless retries, brutal. I went from loving it to wanting to skip it and that’s a shame. If it was all skill, like a souls boss where I feel I’m the one holding me back I can learn, this just felt like all the worst aspects of locked in animations and bad dodging causing some annoying moments.
It’s a big shame that Jedi Survivor was released in a buggy state that got plenty of attention and lowered scores from many sites, as it should. There are all kinds of odd bugs, and I didn’t get the worst of it which are game breaking bugs and crashes. For me I lost access to building a rooftop garden at the cantina. This is a pointless side quest but still I like to 100% games and now I can’t because the key NPC that manages the garden won’t talk to me. There were times where my blaster in blaster stance stops charging, only getting fixed by resetting the save. It is a janky game, it covers the game like a small film. It’s not really bad jank, but it ain’t polished, I died quite a bit in platforming sections cause of strange physics that done make sense. These things don’t hurt MY enjoyment of a game as long as it’s playable and it’s mostly playable but if glitches and occasional crashes are a no go then it’s best to wait.
Those two aspects really do hold the game back because the design and content within it is so good. There is entire optional bounty quest line, where bounty hunters will hunt you but you can turn the game on them and get bounties on them. Some of these quests are basic go there kill guy. When I got to a head boss bounty an entire level was changed, him and his entire crew set traps for me, all of a sudden I was in a massive battle in a rescued area but it felt totally new because of this side quest. Oh and there are Jedi temples which act like shrines in BOTW do, these are mini dungeons with a few puzzles to solve and these puzzles are really good. I wish there were more but what’s there serves as a great diversion. Also scattered around the world are force challenges, in the last game these were just combat challenges but here there are platforming challenges which shows how much more complex the platforming gets, it almost feels like a ratchet and clank game as you all these gadgets and powers. It’s a game of constant surprises and fun activities to do all over.
Jedi Survivor picks up a few years after Fallen Order, the crew is scattered, Cal is working for a rebel cell and of course events happen that being the group back together. The story is very well done, Cal gets his Empire chapter as he is tested in ways he wasn’t in the last game. The core team all feel like a family and it comes through how much they love each other by the great voice acting. The weakest part is the villain and his backstory, he never is that interesting and his story is kind of disconnected with the state of the current galaxy. By the end there are some twists and turns that will make anyone’s head spin, I don’t know if it was all executed well but at least it kept me engaged. It’s not the greatest SW story told in a game but it’s very good and the presentation is top notch.
Graphically this game is beautiful… and it can be a slide show. On a PS5 there is performance and quality mode, normally performance gives a solid 60fps with less resolution. In this game you get an often well under 60fps with less resolution so uhhh why would I pick that. So I chose quality which was mostly a 30 fps experience at a good resolution. When in the bigger open spaces the frame rate tanks but in inside the levels it’s steady. Still this game is BEAUTIFUL! There are vistas that had my mouth agape, every area is so detailed. The music is absolutely top notch, this is what is expected from AAA gaming and sadly so are glitches and first day patches… so close.
Jedi Survivor is probably my favorite Star Wars game since KOTOR. It’s the action adventure style I adore, the kind level design that makes me giddy with excitement. The variety that keeps me enthralled for hours. If this game had a better combat system, which takes up such a big part of the play time, it would be one of my all time favorites. I want to score this game higher, it has so much of what I love about gaming but I can’t over look some of the technical issues and how much improvement can be done on the combat side. If this game had God of War level combat, it’s a 10, it’s a better designed game than God of War but the combat is like an anchor holding it all back. If you love action adventure games this is one of the best in recent years but it might be best to wait for the patches to clean it up.
Score: 9.4

This expansion delivers in ways the previous expansion did not. Burning Shores feels like an essential part of the Horizon storyline and has loads of character development for Aloy. It builds on the gameplay enhancements the second game brought but doesn’t go far enough to really carve out its own identity.
The main strength of this DLC is the new location and story elements. LA serves as the backdrop which is a lush green tropical paradise with plenty of beaches, forests and even some volcanoes. Having flight unlocked from the start really lets Aloy get around from island to island in a fast way, getting to the actual points of interest faster. There is one major city in the center for all your upgrading needs, I much enjoyed this area of the map feeling like a well developed place more so than the frozen wilds which felt empty by comparison. There are some of the usual side activities like some ruins to explore, plenty of files and collectables to find, as well as a few well designed story based side quests. There isn’t anything new with the overall content here, it’s just more good stuff from Horizon.
The major strength is the main story of Burning Shores which introduces two major characters, both I loved. Seyka becomes Aloy’s companion throughout and for the first time in the series Aloy develops an actual romance. The two are great together, Aloy sees a lot of her in Seyka who embodies the same spirit of selflessness and heroics. I feel Seyka allowed Aloy to revert to her more caring self from the first game rather than the arrogant know it all loner from Forbidden West. I loved Aloy’s interactions with Seyka and the others, it makes the entire story heartfelt.
They need a good villain to play against and this game delivers a great one in Walter, a douchebag billionaire that basically just wants a set of groupies who worship him. It’s a great slimy role, a man with no redeeming qualities being as big an asshole as he can, serves as the perfect foil to Aloy.
The gameplay remains mostly the same with some new focus attacks to unlock in each of the different skill trees. Nothing is game changing but they do add some cool new powers like a hook shot to a downed enemy that leads to a power smash, a power that drops multiple mines, and one that turns everyone around Aloy instantly berserk. There are some new enemies, the biggest one being a giant hoping frog that lays eggs of smaller robot flies. One of the biggest complaints of the sequel is just how much enemies move and hit so hard that Aloy is constantly being rag dolled, they double down here on an enemy that jumps all over and hits very hard. It makes hitting individual components an absolute nightmare. I can’t believe they still haven’t given Aloy proper defense powers, being on your ass all the time ain’t fun. But the combat is deep enough to usually have a plan and execute it well, to me though the best moments were when everything goes to shit and I just have to unleash hell on multiple enemies at once, the chaos is a blast.
There is one new weapon which is a great addition because it has a lock on function. That address some of the enemies never stop moving complaints, though this weapon doesn’t track perfectly all the time. It also allows you to fire it while gliding through the air giving some aerial combat. Still it’s a damn shame you can fire weapons while flying on the robot, you’d think the focus of this DLC would be flying but it’s still an afterthought.
The story culminates in a massive setpiece better than anything in the main game. As an actual boss fight it’s actually pretty traditional, it’s the scale of it that’s impressive. Horizon generally didn’t have great boss battles outside the robot dinos, so this is one of the series best one off bosses.
You should know what to expect from the production values, they are top notch. This remains the best looking game on PS5, now with even more details and breathtaking skies. The voice acting is superb, the music majestic. It was nice to have Horizon quality in such a bite sized way, there is about 15-20 hours of content, the story can be done in 7 hours. It gets right to the point and doesn’t inundate the player with a thousand icons on a huge map, the main game could be shorter.
So I greatly enjoyed this expansion but like the sequel it doesn’t really take the franchise to new heights it just adds small changes. I was hoping for a cool game changing gameplay mechanics but that doesn’t happen here, what does happen is a story focused DLC that plays to all the strengths of this series. For all fans it’s absolutely worth the time and money to jump back in as this feels like an essential part of the horizon story.
Score: 8.5

Marvel Snap may seem like throw away free to play card game designed using a popular licensed to prey on fans with unfair microtransactions, in reality it’s one of the most original, fun and surprisingly deep card games out there. Created by former devs of Hearthstone, the gold standard, they set out to create a fast paced, easy to build game that anyone can quickly play but has incredible depth. I have played Marvel Snap daily on my phone for about 5 months now, never once did I think of stopping. It’s constantly being updated, the meta game with its constantly evolving decks is as addicting as ever, and its quick two minute matches make it ideal for 10 minutes of play when bored.
What separates Snap from basically any other card game is how fast the games are. It’s six rounds, you get a pool of points that slowly increase each round and have a deck of 12 cards. Also unique to Snap are the three location setup, each location is randomized before the match and will have some effect on that lane, like say “no cards can be played here on turn 6”. These location serve as the wildcards to make each match unique. The goal is to have more points to win a lane and win the most lanes, in case of a tie on one lane, the largest margin of victory on another lane determines the winner. Games last about 2-3 minutes, they can have wild twists and turns, strategies can work perfectly or blow up in your face. Redemption is just a quick match away, it’s extremely addicting.
One of the most thrilling aspects is the titular snap, for each match both players basically can gamble how many points are earned or lost to their overall level (this doesn’t impact the score of the card match you are playing, just the reward). Every match starts with both players gambling one point, if it reaches the end of the match and no one snapped the final round raises it to two points, the winner gains to points to their rank, the loser loses two. A player can Snap in any round if they feel they have the winning cards, this increases the pot by double, so if you snap in round 3, in round 4 it goes from 1 to 2, in the final round it will double to 4. If both players snap the final tally will be 8 points, almost enough to raise a rank (10 points). At any point a player can retreat to only lose the base points before the snap takes effect, this creates a sort of poker like bluff meta game on top of the card game. Sometimes if you snap too early you scare a player off in a game you were sure to win, meaning you win a pitiful amount of points. But if you bait them, and the best is if you make them think they are going to win and snap you can earn the big reward. It adds a layer of stakes to every match.
Obviously the main selling point is the Marvel brand, practically everyone is familiar with these characters so it’s fun to build a deck with characters you know and love. I love how everyone’s power is sort of represented in the special abilities of the cards. Mystique can copy the effects of the last card. Spider-Man can web a lane preventing a player from playing there in the next round. Storm can flood a lane making it unplayable after a turn. While the card list is always growing most of everyone’s favorite is already available, getting them is the trick and I’ll get to that later. Each character has multiple card variants which you can use, these are simply cosmetic, as is leveling up each card which adds effects to them like breaking through the frame or 3D effect.
Synergy between cards is huge and there are many deck archetypes which have emerged. For instance one is a destroy deck where destroying your other cards is the goal. This deck can have carnage kills other cards in the lane and gains points for each one. This pairs perfectly with Wolverine, Sabertooth and Bucky who when destroyed come back stronger. There is a Death card with extremely high 14 power that costs less with each card destroyed throughout the game, meaning in the final round you may have her for extremely cheap allowing you to play her and another high cost card in one round.
Other decks can involve card movement after they have been placed with teleporters like nightcrawler or vision. Magneto can move opponent cards to his location. Certain cards move entire lanes over to one side and there are cards that receive bonuses when moved.
One of the most wild decks and a new one for me to use as I just got Thanos, is the Thanos deck which shuffled into your deck the six infinity stones. Each stone has a unique power and if all six are played Thanos gains a huge buff. This deck is extremely flexible and allows for many different strategies where many other decks usually focus on one major way to win.
I can’t stop trying new decks, every time I earn a new card that is useful I try to find a new deck to incorporate them. I’ve done all kinds of decks from easy to use newbie decks like Moon Dino, which has one card that multiplies your hand and has a Dino card who’s power is based on how many cards are currently in your hand. To the more advanced Electro and Sera decks which are dominating the meta game at the moment. There are times I experiment with random cards to see if it’s a viable deck, sometimes it works sometimes it’s a mess, the time investment is so small that it allows anyone to play with so many styles in quick succession. Other card games could take bourse to play a few games to get a feel for a deck, here five matches is like 12 minutes and by then you know if the deck stinks or not.
Progression in free to play games is where things can get ugly, especially in games where the goal is to beat other players. Can you pay to win… yes and no. Yes you can pay ridiculous amounts of money, criminal amounts of money, to buy enough credits ( well you buy gold which you can use to buy credits) to level up enough to open enough loot boxes to unlock a crazy amount of cards. Does that mean you win… not exactly. You might get access to a newer high level card that is causing disruption to the meta game and winning lots of matches but in time counters appear for every kind of deck. Yes there are deck combinations that are clearly winning a higher percentage of matched , it could take a long long time to get the cards needed for those decks, or you may get lucky and unlock them on a whim.
Every month a new season pass starts up and it’s the only time a card is “on sale” as each monthly pass gives a new card (and other bonuses). That one card is usually the new focus of the month as it’s the only time a new card gets spread to a wide base of the community. You could feel left out if you see all kinds of new decks with this new card. I have only paid $10 once for a monthly season pass only cause it was X-Men related and I wanted some wolverine cosmetics, and frankly the devs deserve some money from me for how great this game is. The crappy part is more than once that card people bought gets nerfed a month later, now is necessary for the balance of the game, and many cards get adjusted based on use and effectiveness, it’s just kind of shitty to sell a card and then reduce its effectiveness after it’s done being on sale.
So how does earning cards and spending money work, well it’s all gatcha style loot boxes. There is a player rank which is your overall rank in the game, this is what you gamble with snaps, you start at 1 and can go to 100, there are a few rewards along the way but for the most part this is just around for matchmaking purposes, to pair you with higher skilled players as you try to reach the top of the game, overall it has no effect on what you unlock. Then there is card level, this is a never ending chart of rewards that is climbed by boosting cards you own, a boosted card changes their look as I mentioned before (3D, colored frames and so on). A card can be boosted multiple times, costing more boost points (earned slowly by playing matches ) and credits (earned by completing daily and weekly missions, or paying) to level them up, depending on the level you earn card levels that move you up the chart and this is where you earn your rewards.
At the start of the game nearly every few upgrades would unlock a chest that had a new card. This is done to fill your deck with every tier 1 and 2 card. After that is done the chart starts to spread out some more, it takes two levels to reach a prize and now there are other prizes than a chest, like boost points or credits. Also the chests don’t just give cards any more, it can give random stuff like more credits or even a cosmetic like an avatar.
When you reach level 1000 the earning of cards slows down tremendously, taking 4 levels to get a prize, chests come every third prize and the chests are filled with stupid crap you don’t want and seemingly every sixth chest you open you may get a new card. Even then that card is random and almost always of the tier you are currently filling (tier 3 has like 60 cards so almost every one is stuck on tier 3, through luck you may get some tier 4 or 5 cards). All new cards are highest tier, in time they drop tiers but at launch you probably won’t ever get them.
There is a new way to earn these higher tier cards, they implemented a sort of card shop that uses ANOTHER currency to buy a card you don’t own. Every six hours or so the card will change but you can pin a card you want and hold it until you get enough of these card points to buy them… that can take a long time. Earning these points can come from the chests with normal play or through paid bundles that are constantly coming up each week. This is where you can pay and get a leg up as some offer enough points to buy a high level card but it can cost up to $50… one is $100. Yeah it’s stupid. Now these bundles sometimes take normal money or sometimes it uses GOLD, the fourth currency you can earn. You can buy gold with real money at any time, or just earn it naturally by playing forever, which is what I do. Gold is used to buy cosmetic shit like card variants, so if you never buy that stuff and save and save and save that gold you can use that to buy some of the bundles and earn big credits to maybe get one of those high level cards, which I did with Thanos. I enjoy the shop, they recently increased the amount of shop credits you get from chests so it’s much easier to get coins for the card you want. Still overall the process is slow and but at least now there is a free path to getting that rare card you want, it just might take weeks to get it.
Every day there are up to six new missions and this is where you earn free credits to level up your cards. These are usually easy to compete and generally happen naturally if you play 5-10 matches a day. Missions are stuff like “use 4, 2 power cards” “win a match with a snap” “win a lane with only one card”, some times I have to switch decks to get the missions done which is fine by me, I like some variety. Every day I play a few games, do the missions, hopefully move up in ranking as I win way more than I lose. Every week I tend to try new decks out using a new card I got or looking online for fun suggestions. I have reached level 75 but never 100, it’s fun moving up ranks but if you have a few bad games and that rank drops it gets frustrating. The competition also gets much harder at higher ranks, it seems you need one of the most used decks to compete and win steadily. I wish there was something more to this game than just matchmaking, there is no real way to even test decks against a computer. At lower ranks you play bots but if you are higher ranks you will always be playing other humans. This needs some campaign mode, or some tower of progression outside the basic battle mode, I feel that’s holding this game back.
After many months I have enjoyed the game a ton. Sure there are times I wish I could have that new card but I already have so many ways to build a deck it’s not that needed. The thrill comes from the matches themselves, I have played so many games where I make some ridiculous final comeback move at the end and defeat a confident opponent. Same has happened to me as I watch in horror my expert plan fall apart to an unexpected move. After all those I simply jump right into the next match, it’s so addicting.
Marvel Snap is a brilliant card game that shouldn’t be looked down on by its license or free to play mechanics. The devs are constantly adding new tweaks, making sure the game feels balanced for all and listening to the community. Who knew something that can take a few minutes to learn and play can be so deep and have so many viable strategies. This is easily the game I’ve played most on a phone and I don’t see myself stopping any time soon.
Score: 8.8

This is a devious delightful indie gem of an investigative puzzle game. Taking inspiration from Obra Dinn but in my opinion succeeding where it failed, The Case of the Golden Idol tells a sweeping story of across many years of a supernatural device and how it shaped the lives and politics of a region as some would use its power to gain ultimate influence. Being an investigation game there is of course plenty of murder to solve but it doesn’t stop there, this game covers everything from cults, dinner parties, assassination attempts and a merit based autocracy with ridiculous requirements. The rich made up history and interesting cast of charcters set a great backdrop but for a puzzle game the most important part is how clever the puzzles are and that’s where this game really shines.
The game is pretty simple, each act takes place in 2D hand drawn scenes, some might be one screen in length, some could be 4 or 5 screens. Each act is one event, usually after a murder, it’s like a moment in time is frozen and you get to poke around the suspects pockets and belongings to piece together what occurred in this scene. There is no backstory given to the player, the first few moments are disorienting but filled with excitement as you slowly piece together what is happening.
One early act starts with a man on fire outside a house, one man clearly looks like he caused the incident but how? Other witnesses had curious reactions, one seemed intrigued, another shocked. As you explore you can entire the house and find that inside it was a meeting for the reading of a will. You meet the lawyer in charge of reading the will of a wealthy man who imparts his siblings and relatives with various gifts. The goal of this and any scene is to fill out a sort of information board that is missing all the key words that explain the scene. This board is broken up into sections, each can be completed separately and the game will tell you if that section is correct or even if you are within two or less correct. One section is always the story of what occurred, that is usually the last part you will fill in. In the majority of acts there will be the cast of characters with spaces to fill out everyone’s names. Then comes my favorite section which is the wildcard where it takes an aspect of a scene and asks you to piece together what is happening. For instance in this will scene the board will give you the details of four different gifts bestowed and it’s up to you to piece together who got what.
The words you use to fill the board is discovered by clicking on points of interest in the scenes. Thankfully this game gives an option to turn on highlights on what can be investigated, the game is not about clicking on every object to find something (though you can have that option if you want) it’s about what you do with the information when you find it. Written letters often times have names in them, click on this names and they are added to the list. Key words some people say are added, locations are added and so on. These words are color coded so that verbs, nouns, and names are their own color; the board gives you the color of the word it requires to give some guidance. This is needed because on later levels you are practically piecing together entire sentences on your own, it would be something like “JOHN WICK KILLED HAN SOLO at the CABIN using a KNIFE.” It’s an elegant system that allows for plenty of complexity without ever feeling like I was randomly guessing.
I loved how the game had a steady build in complexity from scene to scene. It might start simple with deducing the date from some newspaper clippings and different letters. By the end one act has your reading the testimonies of seven different suspects to a murder, and needing to piece together where everyone was, at what time, doing what activity and who is lying. I feel this game nailed the difficulty curve, so many puzzle games have these walls where I end up wonder how the hell was I supposed to figure that out. That never happened here , it’s so well done, never asking for something obtuse, always providing just the right amount of information and letting the player feel that excitement when it all clicks. One of the final acts had me pulling out a pen and paper to keep track of a merit system of points based on when sins or virtues each citizen committed, any time I have pen and paper out am usually having a great time solving a puzzle.
There is the added layer of all the acts building this over arching storyline. I loved all the call backs to earlier acts, a secret letter to an assassin in an earlier act didn’t make much sense but in time you learn all about the secret cult that ordered the hit and who leads them. I found the story to be compelling, I just wished it had a stronger ending, to me it sort of just ended, I wanted more to the story. Gameplay wise I do think they ended at a good spot as even though the boards were getting much more complex I was beginning to solve them quicker almost, I kind of knew the deal, how to best approach things where in the earlier hours I was still feeling out the game.
I feel the Curse of the Golden Idol is one of the better murder mystery adventure games. I got disenchanted with Obra Dinn over its annoying traversal system and how easy it was to simply play a guessing game with the puzzles and solve them. Golden idol doesn’t waste your time navigating scenes looking for something, it’s all there. It asks for much more than just a name and how someone died, you have to piece together not just who died and why in a scene but often times figuring out what events were happening and how certain groups function. It took me about eight hours to go through it, they flew by and never felt boring or aimless. Great puzzle game, simple but executed very well, I recommended it to anyone likes any kind of investigative puzzle game.
Overall score: 8.6

Original Resident Evil 2 is one of my favorite games, to me it was the epitome of the survival horror formula with the tightest level design, a great balance of horror and action, and it was one hell of a ride with zero bad moments. I always figured a remake of RE2 would be a fun update; with the changing gameplay styles I didn't know if they would be able to replicate the feel of RE2. Here I am now in complete awe that not only did they make a remake that captures everything that was great about RE2, it is the same leap in quality that RE2 made over RE1 with how much better this game is over what Capcom was starting in RE7. What is even more impressive about this remake is that it doesn't just have to exceed one game, it has to contend with 20 years worth of different styles and the task of updating a dated game to have modern gameplay sensibilities. Resident Evil 2 remake takes elements from nearly every RE game, brings back the core formula that made me fall in love with this formula and blends it together almost perfectly to make the best Resident Evil game since RE4.
Most of the praise has to be levied at the level design which I will hold up against any RE game including the original RE2 and REmake 1. This is not some modern half assed, toned down for the masses emulation of classic Resident Evil, it is maybe the best layout of the series. The RPD slowly opens up piece by piece, there is such a careful balance of pushing the player toward the correct path and then letting them loose at the right moment to create that sense of being lost in a danger filled hell house. There is always a new item around the corner which opens up new paths or is what you have been waiting for to unlock something seen before. Shortcuts open, paths get closed off, the levels stay dynamic and always keep surprising with new enemies or puzzles.
I always thought the hardest element to bring to modern gaming would be the zombie. In a tank control game with limited aiming a zombie can be a threat, with over the shoulder aiming wouldn't the player just head shot every zombie and kill them quickly, how would that work? Well miraculously they made the zombie a viable enemy, the toughest zombies since crimson heads, and because of that the entire game works. If these levels were filled with push over enemies, nothing matters, the whole formula breaks down. These bastards won't go down, some will complain that random damage is a cheap mechanic, I will say this series always had that element and here it works brilliantly. The zombies hit detection is as good as it gets, you can rip them apart limb from limb and they will use whatever body part is left to eat you. Zombies will lunge from a good distance with a split second for the player to react to run away from the attack oe caught in their death grip. Never have I feared the grunt enemy that is the zombie as much as in this game, when I am entering a room which I must cross and I see three or more in my way it made me hesitate. All the aspects of survival horror start to come into play, is this enemy worth the ammo drain, should I clear a hallway I will use many times, do I leave that one legless so he eternally crawls on the floor desperate to bite my foot. Lets bot forget the Licker, which becomes a nightmare to fight with how agile and powerful they are. Nothing is a pushover in this game, each enemy represents a threat that must be respected.
Great level design and good enemies have been done in past RE games, what sets this one apart is the key ingredient of Mr. X, stalker extraordinaire. This game doubles down on the sense of panic of trying to navigate the maze world while clawling your way back to the save room by adding a monster that will block your path or make you use alternate routes you never had the intention of taking. It's the classic formula on overdrive, you can plan all you want but once Mr. X bursts through a door your plan is thrown out the window. survival takes over and that is when the fun really begins. There will be moments of limping around on danger, out of heavy weaponry, needing to reach that save room and BOOM here is Mr. X, now the only path I can take is either through him or back into the room with a zombies and licker; that feeling of despair is why this series worked. Jack in RE7 was a stalker enemy as well but there were still elements of the garbage hide and seek gameplay, there is no hide here. You can't hide from X, you run, you fight or die, and that is brilliant because there is no downtime. He is Nemesis without the weaponry but in a game that far better designed where the stalker elements perfectly align with the level design to heighten the fear of exploring and wasting your ammo.
REmake2 takes those elements I mentioned above and puts them into the over the shoulder style which allows this game to feel as modern as possible. Aiming feels just right, character weight is perfect, movement is smooth and responsive; it is perfectly balanced so that it never tilts too much into action. REmake2 stays on the line between functionality and restriction so that player never feels overpowered and at the same time doesn't feel cheated by restrictive controls. Boss battles benefit the most from the new perspective as now they can have specific targets to aim at, no longer are they just bullet sponges. These battles are well designed and bosses have a good amount of attacks and ways to deal with them. The sense of scale is also much improved with some grandiose boss locations which makes the moment that much more dramatic. The bosses aren't as creative as the action game RE bosses but they can't be because of this game adhering to a past game and trying to keep that balance of restriction and functionality.
There are a whole host of other nice improvements and elements that make this game stand out. The middle sections are totally different for each character including gameplay sections with Ada or Sherry that have new gameplay elements. The sewers are drastically redesigned with an all new enemy. Puzzles are way improved over RE2 which had some of the worst in the series, as a nice bonus they change from one run to the next. The pacing is damn near perfect, I miss the tight well designed action adventure game so much. Yes maybe it's on the short side but with the two campaigns and multiple ways to play them I have plenty of content to keep busy with. Also like past RE games this is a speedrunners dream game and there are nice rewards for doing so. I rarely replay games anymore let alone master them, games are not designed for that in mind anymore. It is so refreshing to have that game that begs to be replayed and mastered once again.
As for negatives there are a few which mostly deal with changes they made that removed enemies or features. RE2 was known for the zapping system and having two story lines directly affect each other, this game has two story lines but no care was put into having them influence one another or even make sense from a story point of view. I am not sure where this went wrong because it seems like all the elements for it to work just like RE2 are there but they just half assed the connecting part. I greatly miss being able to examine objects in the background and having a blurb come up. I assume they felt that would disrupt the flow as this game is far more intense, still this leads to some loss of personality that the original locations had. The loss of the spiders, the moth and even the crows hurts a little, none of them were major enemies and only appeared a hand full of time but they helped flesh out the world to show a better variety of monsters. It's a shame because REmake 1 cut nothing, every single aspect of the original was recreated and built upon. In contrast REmake 2 picks and chooses elements and remixes them, the core of RE2 is absolutely there but this is not a faithful adaptation.
On the technical front the game is a marvel. It's gorgeous to look at, runs incredible on whatever system you are playing on. The RE engine truly is a remarkable engine that can set a mood with lighting like no other. This game should win some award for best sound because not only are the effects great all around but they play a key part in the actual gameplay. The footsteps of Mr. X can be heard on a 7.1 sound system exactly where they are coming from. You will hear the footsteps above you, to the left or under you and to the right, which allows you to pinpoint where he is. I wish the music was as impressive as the sound effects. Sadly everything is subdued, many times there is no music and nothing is as memorable as the original soundtrack. There are a few standout songs like Mr. X's i'm here theme and the boss battles have some excellent battle music. Those with the deluxe version have the option to play the whole game with the original soundtrack and menu sound effects which is a great option to have. The new voice cast does a great job, we are so far removed from the cheesy B movie acting days, now its a proper movie like script with good performances all around.
I have not been this in love with a game in a long time. To think this formula was run into the ground back in the day due to countless clones and many sequels and now that same formula 20 years later is a breath of fresh air in a sea of bloated open world games. This game takes every element that made Resident Evil the gold standard of horror games and ties them all together in a modern package that can stand on it's own as one of the best games this generation. It pulls no punches, when they could have made the formula easier and more accessible they went the hardcore route of making it harder and more about managing your ammo and health than ever before. This feels like the survival horror formula perfected. It has only been out a few days, I still have to play it many more times to form a concrete opinion but this might be my second favorite RE game behind RE4.
Score: 9.7

When Capcom announced they were remaking Resident Evil 4 my first reaction was “why?” To me the original is a perfect game, I still replay it regularly, we just got an amazing VR version of it, why would I want a remake. The truth is more RE4 is always a good thing, the fear was if this remake would cut content like the previous remakes did, would it feel like a shell of its former self. On the flip side there is an entire new generation of players that maybe find the originals controls to be way to ancient and unplayable, a new game with modern controls would fix that. Could the team that somehow made Resident Evil 2 better, do it again with Resident Evil 4? Well they came damn near close, this remake is a faithful adaptation that nails everything that made the original a masterpiece while adding new surprises and a reworked combat system which adds depth and accessibility.
The way the game controls and feels was always going to be the hardest part because tank like controls and no movement while aiming is not acceptable. The remake controls like most modern TPSs, complete with a crouch button and even stealth kills. Immediately any veteran of the original will notice the added weight to Leon’s movement, after playing through the game three times I feel this was a smart compromise so that Leon can now move and shoot but it never loses that feeling of having every shot matter, of needing to use the environment to get around. All of Leon’s movements are tied to an amazing animation set which subtlety reacts to sometimes the most minute details, for instance if an axe flies right past Leon’s head he will flinch. If an enemy grazes his side he will stumble a bit to the other side. Leon will adjust his gun stance when an enemy is up close allowing better aim. So while Leon might not be as snappy as he was in the original every movement he does feels real, feels like it has actual physics and momentum behind it. It takes a little while to get used to but now I can appreciate how the way Leon moves ties to this games combat the same way no moving and shooting was designed into the combat of the original.
By far the biggest change to the combat is the introduction of a knife parry system tied with knife durability. This added layer of skill comes very much in handy against the much more aggressive enemies. Almost every attack can be parried and those that can’t can probably be dodged with a crouch. A successful parry will deflect an incoming attack, but a perfect parry (exact timing on hit) will open the enemy up to an attack. Stealth knife kills and stun stabs are now possible and many times are instant kills but at the expense of the knife’s durability, at first they will break pretty quickly, upgrades can make them last longer. I love the added skill layer this presents, do you go for the instant kill but risk losing your knife meaning no more parries? If you are good enough to parry most attacks that means you can be more aggressive up close. I haven’t done a knife only run yet but I’m sure it’s a complete blast now with all the added uses of the knife.
That said when it came down to the most intense action I almost always reverted to what worked for me in RE4, shooting people in the face! Yes I can sneak around and thin the borders with a few stealth kills, I can parry attacks now, I almost forgot all of that because I instinctually shoot, stun, melee and reposition. That’s all present in this remake but with some noticeable tweaks, mainly your shots aren’t always instant stuns. This will be a point of contention, especially on higher difficulties where enemies are tank like, not having your shots have the reaction you expect is never fun but it’s part of the new balance this combat system has to accommodate all the new elements. On standard it takes about two shots to a head or leg to put in an enemy into a melee stun, on high difficulties it can take 4-6 shots to get to that state. Reactivity is a huge reason why the original works so well, every shot stagger a standard ganado, now it might cause them to pause but it won’t instantly give you a melee opportunity. To be fair the original could get repetitive with the constant flow of shoot, stun, melee; the devs clearly wanted the combat to be much more frantic and rely on weapon selection and smart tactics rather than the no damage frame melee attacks that usually acted like a get out of a bind for free button which worked for the original but once again I think this new change works great for the remake.
For all these new mechanics to work well the enemies had to become more aggressive and that they are. These ganado will charge at you with pitchforks, they will constantly try to grab you from all sides and hold you down while another enemy hits you. They still throw all kinds projectiles which can be shot out of the air or their hands, my favorite thing to do with dynamite. Hordes of enemies can seemingly reach 20 or so enemies on screen at once, all with better pathway tracking and tactics to kill you. Much like how Leon has a bunch of new animations, the ganado were surprising me throughout the game. They will duck when an enemy behind them wants to throw an object, they will bob and weave to avoid being shot, some even do a throw fake out pretending to throw an object only to hold onto it to disrupt the players timing. There are few things more satisfying in gaming than blowing chunks off of a charging enemy. Ganado explode in various ways, torsos can be split in half, arms can be torn off, heads still pop gloriously. The heavy weapon carrying enemies like the chainsaw guy or garradors can dismember other enemies around them making running through a crowd of ganado while being chased a good strategy. Watch as these enemies tear through the crowd, limbs being torn asunder in every direction. If enemies aren’t a real threat and fun to kill, the action doesn’t work and once again RE4 nails both those aspects, I dare say even better than the original.
A common complaint I see from other fans of the original is that the enemies are too aggressive resulting in a lot of unfair stun locking of Leon which results in frustrating moments, especially in higher difficulties. I have played this game in all three difficulty modes, it can get extremely tough, this game is much harder than the original. Depending on the player that’s a good thing, for me it absolutely is, I want a new challenge, I don’t need the same challenge level from nearly 20 years ago. That said if a person’s enjoyment of the original came from the precision and control that game gives over every encounter then I can see how being out of control, having your shots not having much an impact as tanky enemies constantly grab Leon, can ruin the feel of the combat. I personally love that this combat system provides a hearty challenge, and I feel on standard it feels a lot like the original for those that want that game flow.
Part of a remakes charm is how much it plays on expectations, how faithful is it versus being too different. This remake tows the line between being copying what came before and being original, better than any remake since the RE1 remake. The developers knew exactly when to keep a location and combat encounter identical to the original because it’s iconic and perfectly designed in the first place. The opening village is practically 1:1 to the original, of course it should be. But then even in that perfect recreation there are a few tweaks here and there than make such a difference. That bell tower that allowed players to hideout, well now the floor collapses, no more cheesing the encounter. There are new paths to take and now the chainsaw man can tear down a part of the level to block a road. Small changes to recognizable locations happen all over the game, it keeps the essence of that perfect level design from the original and somehow improves on it in many areas. The legendary cabin siege section is more intense than ever before now allowing the player to use wood paneling to barricade multiple windows which is needed because enemies come in from more locations. A new balcony in the second floor makes knocking down one of the ladders a risky move as it puts Leon in a choke point that enemies can easily clog up. The siege culminates with a new brute enemy bursting into the cabin and having to be dispatched. Sometimes a location gets a complete overhaul like the mine cart section which becomes a show stopping setpiece.
I can go on forever detailing section by section how that encounter was either better designed or lost something from the original. On the whole most of the changes to the existing locations from the original are improvements. These are mostly because of smart level tweaks to remove annoying sections (like Leon and Ashley having to stand on two separate buttons in the water hall) or adding new threats at unexpected times. The real debate comes when we talk about the new encounters versus the ones that were removed. This is where the remake lost most of its points for me because every time I expected a certain room or encounter and it wasn’t there, it hurt me. Way too many times I would be upset at a missing room, bummed that one of my favorite combat encounters is missing, wondering if they would replace it with something more creative often time it would not be replaced with anything better. The castle is the biggest offender with many rooms being cut or consolidated into one larger encounter that I feel didn’t have the uniqueness of what came before.
I can say the length of the game is the same if not even bigger than the original. This means that for every cut encounter there was something different to replace it. There are a few areas that have totally new setpieces, by far the standout being the one on the castle walls which was extremely exciting. For every one of those is a remixed room that is still very intense but not as creative as the encounters it replaced. For instance in the OG, the room with red priest who has the key where he runs around and eventually a turret and RPG carrying enemies come out of the center, it’s like 3 minutes long but multilayered in its complexity. That is replaced with room where the red preist, now with new powers that instantly burst plagas out of monks heads, is on a balcony and you have to navigate a tight room filled with enemies and climb your way to the balcony, it’s a lot more straight forward. No sewers, no lava room, the Salazar statue encounter was removed, that’s just a small amount of the removed sections. But again within the new areas are some stand out moments like the much improved Ashley gameplay section. Ultimately I feel this critique comes down to how much you know and love the original, if you don’t remember every encounter you won’t know what you are missing.
Unlike some of the other RE remakes, nearly every single enemy is represented with some cool upgrades. Part of the fun is seeing a classic enemy and then they do something unexpected, usually tied to being more aggressive and dangerous. Bosses got some of these upgrades, I love the collection of RE4 bosses and overall they are better in the remake. A few are practically identical like Del Lago and Verdugo, but my favorites are the ones with better level design and more elaborate fights. The best upgrades come from Salazar which went from one of the easiest most boring fights in the game to a far more menacing (and kind of annoying) boss. Saddler was a let down in the original, it’s much improved here, still not the best boss but at least it’s more involved and a proper threat as a final boss. The biggest omission of the remake is the lack of “It”, one of my favorite bosses from the original. It hurts to lose a boss especially a great one but overall I was very pleased with the bosses and enemy representation in the game.
The merchant upgrade and treasure system got an overhaul as well, empowering the player to have more options. Ammo can be crafted with resources that are now part of the random loot found all over the game. This does lead to some more menu interaction but it allows you to pick and choice which ammo you want to use at what time adding a layer of strategy. Treasures are more involved as most treasures now have ruby slots that can be filled in different ways to increase the money imbursement.
The merchant now has new collection of items sold for special currency that is earned by doing multiple side quests littered through the game. Some of these side quests take queues from the original like break blue medallions. It gives the player reasons to go to previous locations to fight a new super version of an enemy. There are a few too many kill rats missions, but on the whole the missions give the player something more to do which is always a good thing especially when it involved a new enemy. I just wished the went further with more creative missions rather than killing rats. The new currency is used to buy some quality items, some new like the carry case which imbues your suitcase with a perk like get more red herb drops, or more resources. Tied to that system is the new figurines which offer additional perks, up to three can be attached to your suitcase at any timing giving perks like discounts to merchant sales or having more ammo when you craft.
These figures are earned in the much improved shooting gallery mini game which returns in glorious fashion. This mini game is way more involved with better missions and requirements to earn medals which can be used to earn those figures. It was a fun mini game in the original but now it’s like a whole gun shooting puzzle on top of skill based. Some of the missions require figuring out the right weapon to use and the exact place to use them as some missions have shot limits. There are special medallions to hit, these can be in precarious positions where you have to commit to a shot that might slow down the run or waste more ammo. I wasted a good three hours on this mini game the first go, I was hooked. I love how all this new side content all feeds into perks and customizable loadouts to allow the player to focus on the weapons they enjoy best.
Speaking of weapons there are more than ever! Every gun from the original is back in some form and now there are more options. There is a new SMG which is more rifle like and can attach different scopes making it a good alternative to the sniper rifle. On the flip side there is a new auto rifle that takes up sniper ammo but fires as fast as an SMG, this can do massive damage fast but ammo can be harder to find. There is a cross bow which serves as your makeshift mine gun as you can affix mines to the arrows. This weapon seems weak at first but with some clever mine placement you can obliterate major enemies and even bosses before they can even attack. It seems the mantra of this remake was build on what came before and offer more. There are more bonus weapons to unlock as well, and more bonus costumes that alter the way the game can be played like an armor suit for Ashley. The best part is every gun has its use, they feel impactful and it still has the best reload animations.
One of the coolest features that the community has been discovering the more they play is how many parts of the game has skips. In an almost MGS sort of way, when you think “if I use this weapon on that, would that cause a new interaction” and here many times it does. I love when games go the extra step to hide secrets out in the open, when experimentation leads to sort of rewards. Many bosses have secret weaknesses. Certain setpieces have these gated moments that could be quickly skipped with the right fire power. One of the earliest examples of this comes in the village attack where if you have a weapon with enough of a shit distance you can hit the bell to make the enemies stop and go in the church instantly. The game is filled with little shortcuts like that which has made speed running the game an absolute joy, I can’t wait to see the strategies that come about.
I was afraid that this remake would lose a lot of the charm the original story had, never taking itself too seriously and serving as a sort of homage to silly American action movies, best personified by the one liners Leon would deliver. I didn’t think the Leon voice actor from RE2 would be able to portray a wide cracking action star, well thankfully I was wrong. Leon and voice actor Nick Apostolides, have all the confidence and drop quality one liners throughout. On the whole the story has toned down the silly stuff, mainly because the villains don’t have a fake codec to talk to Leon, so they aren’t as present. Salazar sounds and acts like Salazar but so many of the best banter is missing like my favorite “your right hand comes off?”. That said Leon still has a ton of killer lines, I found myself laughing quite a bit.
Ashley gets the biggest improvement of any character, she goes from an annoying helpless damsel to in this game a real person so grows in confidence as the game goes on. She is extremely charming and likeable, Leon and her have great chemistry and by the end it feels like a true partnership rather than one carrying the other to safety. Luis also gets more screen time and some fleshing out on his storyline, his actions are felt more throughout the game as this game provides a narrative that makes a little more sense. Ada has a new voice actress but remains as sassy mysterious as ever. Krauser gets more backstory, on the whole he sounds and acts the same. Do I think the better individual performances make for a better overall story than the original, yes BUT I think the original understood the homage it was going for more and felt like a more cohesive tone from top to bottom.
Graphically this game is gorgeous with incredible lighting and gore effects. I am shocked at the amount of enemies that end up on screen, many times with explosions and more happening and it all stays stable. I know there are some performance issues depending on settings and platform, to me on the PS5 I had a smooth experience from start to finish. I have to praise the music which is a step up from the original. The OG had some catchy tunes but it was sometimes repetitive, the score feels grander in scope. It’s most apparent during boss battles or large setpieces where a full orchestra could be heard giving those moments the gravitas they deserve.
The question remains is the remake better than the original? I think we will find the split to be a lot closer to 50/50 than I would have ever dreamed, and that 50% won’t be because so many utterly hate it and others hate the original, it’s because they are so close in quality that the tipping point will be your personal admiration for the original. If you were not there for it’s release in 2005 there is no way I can describe how mindblowing RE4 was, there was no game like it; nothing this remake could do could ever capture that feeling. To me this remake felt so close to the original that I many times felt I was going through the motions, now these are motions I love to replay, but as much as there was many new things to surprise me it never shocked me the way say RE2 remake did. The Resident Evil 2 remake fundamentally changed the core experience by the introduction of Mr. X stalking you and adjusting the threat level of all enemies, it felt like a true evolution on the old formula. That’s not happening here, this remake is not evolving the third person shooter in any way, it is refining a game that didn’t need much of any refinement but I can appreciate what it did.
To answer my question to me personally it’s not better than the original, mainly because I like the flow of the encounters in that game more. That said if I go category by category which game does action better, does characters better, does enemy AI better… the remake wins the majority of those categories. It is a better action game mechanically, it’s more intense, offers more player choices, it’s a fantastic action game, one of the greatest of all time. I’m just comparing it to THE greatest of all time. I won’t argue with anyone that likes this version better, this remake is so well made, so respectful of the original that I am just overjoyed that a whole new generation of players get to experience it in some form.
Score: 9.7

The lastest game from San Barlow, the creator of Her Story and Telling Lies, comes another FMV game where the game part is less and less important. It took me hours before I felt I understood the purpose of anything I was doing in this game. I get I’m watching clips of a story out of order but a game like Her Story at least had it make sense and gave you a goal from the start. Here it’s aimless watching of three different movies out of order, until you get the twist and then it just becomes a mindless hunt.
The idea is kind of compelling, there was once an actress that received a lot of buzz in the indie scene, she filmed three movies but not one ever got released due to controversy or tragedy. She mysteriously disappeared once for about 15 years and then soon after a final movie disappeared for good. You get footage of the making of these three movies and from that piece together what happened to Marissa Marcel.
Immortality is basically an erotic thriller, well three bad erotic thrillers in one. It’s full of nudity, sex, and purposefully bad acting. The most enjoyment I got out of this game was simply trying to piece together the plot lines of the three movies. There are so many clips that you get more than an hour of each movie and then some, I just wish these movies were better. But that’s the thing, they are supposed to be cheesy erotic thrillers because in the fictional real world of the game Marissa is working for a once great director far past his prime and later a hotshot young director who gets praised for being artistic and avant- grade, he’s just a douche.
The movies are so cheesy that they end up being entertaining. I do have to hand it to the actors because many times they are playing two roles, the role in the movie and then their character the actor when the action stops. The stand out is the actress who plays Marissa, she does most of the heavy lifting. She is beautiful, charismatic, she nails the role of an up and coming star but one that got stuck with bad roles and the mysterious thing that the overall story is about which I won’t spoil. Everyone does a good job, they nail the feel of sort of B level actors and directors hoping to do good work… which in a way is exactly what they are doing with this game. It’s a sort of directing inception where Barlow is making a game about cheesy B movies with artsy fartsy directors believing they are making works of art while being an artsy fartsy game director doing the same thing.
Basically the real story of immortality goes well beyond the three movies and these actors; you discover this by “scrubbing” the film. This means during a scene you can fast forward or rewind in different speeds. There might be an audio clue that something is in the scene so you go backwards and forwards until it’s revealed. Thats basically your entire gameplay goal, just rewinding every clip you watch.
Oh to get new clips you simply zoom into an object and you will randomly get another clip with that object. Zoom in on a face and you get a new clip with that person. Zoom in on an Apple you will get scenes with apples. Some scenes are well hidden and you need to find the one object that ties to it. Zoom in on boobs and you will get every scene with boobs…I did it for the gameplay only! I swear!
Scenes will repeat over and over as you search for new clips, by the end it gets really tedious.
So that’s the entire game, clicking on objects and rewinding and forwarding them to see if you find the hidden stuff. There are some compelling stories in there, some of the actor relationships are interesting, the overall mystery component is compelling. While I can definetly see Barlow’s budget increasing I think this game is more unfocused than Her Story. How much you enjoy it will all come from how much you enjoy the crappy movies they are making and if you care for these characters. I cared for some of them, I was hooked for a while in the middle when all the storylines were being revealed. But after I passed the point of understanding what happened and the fate of everyone it became a slog of tediousness getting enough clips to unlock the true ending. And even then it wasn’t really worth it.
Score: 4.8

Signalis is a top down 2D version of the classic Resident Evil formula I love so much. I appreciate what they were going for but to me Signalis doesn’t hit the highs of the genre, but it’s still a very well done game.
The story is a bit esoteric with lots of flashy direction with quick cuts to random images that are supposed to mean something different. There are plenty of notes and cutscenes that fill in the story but ultimately leaves much to be interpreted by the player. This works great for those that want to really explore the lore but for me that rather have a story enhance the moment to moment gameplay I kind of checked out. It takes place in the future on some isolated planet after a civilization created androids to pair with humans and sent them to work, well something goes wrong and the androids get infected and boom you have a game with monsters to fight.
You play as Elster, an android looking for her human partner and you are lost in this facility that so happens to have a bunch of locked doors and puzzles to unlock them. Most of the game plays out like a standard survival horror game with limited inventory and ammo as you navigate a maze like location looking for items to advance. There is way too limited space in the inventory, only six slots and you never earn more, this means way too many trips back and forth to the item box. Luckily the level design is pretty well throughout so a save room with an item box is usually just a few rooms away. Levels smartly unlock, creating new paths and locking behind others.
It’s more Silent Hill at times as there are so many damn doors to get into and really boring enemies at the start.
Combat is basic aim and shoot, it’s not supposed to be complicated, combat is just a means to stop the aggressive monsters in your path. There are also defensive items like the ones in REmake. Ultimately it’s better to just run around them especially because these enemies just get up again. I can’t stress how poor of a decision this is because it totally disincentivizes killing an enemy to clear a room which is basically the entire point. Many hours into the game you all of a sudden have fire items that allow you to burn the bodies of defeated enemies, exactly like in REmake. In REmake though that mechanic was tied to the crimson zombies, meaning if you wanted to clear a hall of standard zombies you risk them coming back as powerful monsters, burning them became a smart way to deal with it, and that only applies to the zombies. In this game everything gets up again so you have to pick from very few flame items to kill enemies you think will bother you most, the rest what’s the point in killing them. I felt that whole balance was off for most of the game.
This game does a really weird thing where it has a fake ending and credits that dumps you to the main menu and doesn’t tell you at all to keep playing. I thought the game ended on a bad note, two simple sections that had some good puzzles but lacked in survival. Thankfully the actual final area after the takeout is really well done and increased my final score on this game. Finally we get an area filled with danger and really tested all the ammo conserving and navigating skills needed.
Puzzles are one of this games strength, they are way better than most found in Resident Evil games. The game has this radio signal mechanic where like in metal gear you can change the frequency and hear different messages. This plays into certain puzzles and even one enemy that requires an opposite frequency to beat. Sadly that’s severely underused as it’s only done in very specific spots. There is a weird item that lets you take in game screenshots, why I would waste an item spot on something I can do on every modern gaming device is beyond me but it’s there. I also did not like needed a flashlight taking up space, way too many rooms needed it and there was nothing worse than reaching a new area and have to back track just for the light, so I kept it on me at all times lowering my inventory space to five.
Enemies are rather boring and don’t come in too many types, about five total. Again it’s not really till the end until they really start making hard rooms with lots of big enemies. There are only two bosses, not that great but serviceable. I much rather have more as they usually serve as big show stopping moments to break up locations.
Signalis is a well done survival horror indie game. It nails the spirit of the games and the puzzle solving side but I think failed at the item management and survival part of the game. There are games with better level and enemy designs, I would say Tormented Souls is better at the classic survival horror homage. Still clearly Signalis hits home as many people love the story and it’s still well made.
Score: 6.8