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About Saricino

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    ArcheAge guild leadership

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    The Secret World, ArcheAge
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  1. Black The Fall begins quietly with your unnamed protagonist, a humanoid worker with a giant antenna sticking out of his back, stealthily trying to escape some industrial factory. How did our protagonist get here? Is he a slave? Are he and his comrades human, or some combination of man and machine? The opening introduces a lot of questions that Black The Fall never bothers to answer, and that mystery is the high point of this puzzle-platformer. Unfortunately, the intrigue is soon swallowed by frustrating puzzles and a dull world. Black The Fall shares more than a few similarities with Playdead’s titles Inside and Limbo. You’re constantly moving from one side of the screen to the other in 2.5D environments, navigating a surreal smattering of factories and barren landscapes while solving puzzles to guide the main character to salvation. The puzzles are numerous and small, with a quick death and respawn being your punishment if you fail. The environments and the escape from a cold, unfeeling industrial nightmare also take clear inspiration from Inside. However, Black The Fall is a strong example of how imitation on its own does not lead to greatness. Black The Fall tells a wordless story by leading you through a surreal nightmare. It has political overtones, with communist symbols adorning various walls, but lacks a clear message and the surrealism is never engaging for long. While the aesthetic is lovely to look at, it isn’t a balm for the the dullness of this post-apocalyptic world. Many levels have you navigating pipes and sewers, and eventually the first half of the game bleeds together and the pieces become indistinct. Once you’re moving through outside environments, levels have more visual variety, but still not enough to make them exciting places to explore and take in. Thematically and visually, Black The Fall is a muddled experience that wants to say something concrete about its themes while also being annoyingly coy about the whole thing. Not to dive too much into spoilers, but even if I had found myself engaged with the story, the ending is abrupt and hollow and doesn’t pay off. (Please visit the site to view this media) The puzzles are frustrating because they’re more like trial-and-error obstacles. I often came across situations that I immediately knew how to solve, but had to spend several attempts flopping about with my character battling the wonky physics. Some of them are just poorly designed, like one segment that has you navigating a trap-filled environment with only audio clues. Another requires you to contend with the physics of a raft to cross a lake. Even the best puzzles aren’t interesting – they’re just functional. I often felt like I was performing chores just to progress through a story that I had lost interest in hours ago. The word I would best use to describe Black The Fall is perfunctory. It mostly functions, but has no highs outside of the opening. It offers no narrative incentive to deal with its onslaught of boring and outright bad puzzles. I rarely finish games that make me wish I could have the time I spent with them back; Black The Fall is an unfortunate exception. View the full article
  2. With Minecraft's international, multi-generational popularity, Telltale's Minecraft: Story Mode was sure to be a popular addition to the studio's stable of licensed properties. After extending the first season to include additional episodes, Telltale has turned around to create a second season that implements various improvements to the gameplay while delivering the same style of adventure game we've come to expect. As you venture through Hero in Residence, all the Telltale hallmarks show up in short order. Quick-time events, choice-driven dialogue, and on-rails action sequences permeate each chapter. Some of the minor quick-time events even automatically succeed if you leave them idle for a few seconds, making me wonder why they're even present in the first place. Thankfully, Telltale adds new gameplay elements to change things up a bit. Combat has been completely revamped with numerous improvements. In addition to moving toward or away from your enemies, you can also roll to the side to dodge attacks or get a better angle. In addition, you can't just wildly swing your weapon anymore, as a stamina meter keeps you in check. The resulting combat system makes fights feel more like encounters from an action game and less like on-rails scripted sequences. Last season, Minecraft: Story Mode was light on the crafting elements; you could build some items during key story moments based on guided crafting templates, but that was about it. In addition to those moments, this episode features a sequence where you build an entire structure. Using a grid-based system and a top-down camera, you choose how to place your materials. The mechanics of placing the resources is clunky, resulting in a slow build as I attempted to get every detail just right. Though unintuitive at times, the addition of this segment is a nice surprise that makes the adventure feel more faithful to the Minecraft universe. I hope the feature returns in future episodes. As with Telltale's The Walking Dead series, season two of Minecraft: Story Mode reads your save file (or allows you to recreate your choices) prior to the start of this episode. Though it's cool to hear nods to the choices you made in episodes from last season, few of the choices have much impact. Even though this is an old trick for Telltale at this point, it's still a delight to hear references to decisions you helped craft. (Please visit the site to view this media) Season two sees the original characters and the all-star voice cast return... briefly. Most of the familiar faces disappear after the first few minutes (save for Jesse and one of his friends). The characters who replace them (at least in this first episode) don't have the charm of the original cast, which makes me less compelled to interact with them outside of the required dialogue. Unfortunately, the humor from season one is also greatly toned down, and the pacing drags too much in the middle of the episode as unnecessary exploration and puzzles slow the momentum the first half gains. The excitement I had plotting my choices both through dialogue and the action scenes varied greatly. During one sequence, the game obviously wanted to steer me to create conflict between Jesse and one of his friends. However, I didn't want to be angry with the person for the decision she made. The first few dialogue options in the conversation only allowed me to have varying degrees of anger for a seemingly benign decision. This particular sequence took me out of the choice-driven storytelling fantasy pretty rapidly. Some of the decisions I made during episode one feel like they could carry significant weight in the story to come. However, we've seen this illusion shatter in later episodes of Telltale's previous series, so I'm not ready to praise this season for following through on the company's perpetual promise of allowing us to shape our own story. One of my biggest criticisms from the tail-end of last season was how the conflicts and arcs failed to live up to that of the Wither Storm story presented in the first four episodes of season one. Thankfully, the end of the episode one looks like it's heading toward a more epic conflict between Jesse's group and a massive adversary. That's something this series has been lacking recently, so I'm looking forward to seeing this storyline mature. Despite its problems, Hero in Residence presents situations I want to see progress over the next four episodes. Though the pacing is inconsistent and the decision points are questionable in their weight, the new mechanics and revamped combat make me wonder what else Telltale has in store this season. Though I have my problems with this episode, I'm interested to see the direction the tale takes from here. View the full article
  3. Developer Nihon Falcom has earned a niche fanbase thanks to its Ys and The Legend of Heroes franchises. Tokyo Xanadu combines elements of those two into a new property, with action-focused combat in the vein of Ys and a social system and story structure reminiscent of the recent Trails of Cold Steel games. While this amalgamation sounds promising, the mashup fails to provide the refinement of those series, and struggles to carve out its own identity. This doesn't mean Tokyo Xanadu is awful, but it's not remarkable either. Tokyo Xanadu takes place in a fictional area in modern Tokyo. You play as Kou, a young man whose life takes an interesting turn when he discovers an interdimensional portal to a world called The Eclipse. The portal feeds off negative emotions (like jealousy, greed, and anger) and pulls victims into this alternate dimension overflowing with monsters. Kou, alongside other classmates who have been affected by The Eclipse, set out to discover the source. Outside of a few twists, the plot is mostly lackluster and predictable. The exposition is a slow burn, requiring a lot of patience to get to the reveals, which even then aren't worth the wait. The real highlights are the characters and the relationships you build with them. Tokyo Xanadu's social system lets you choose which characters you want to get to know better in your allotted free time - a process that is almost identical to the one Trails of Cold Steel. Tokyo Xanadu relies on many anime stereotypes, such as the childhood best friend and the otaku, but some characters have intriguing story arcs. Even the tropey characters aren't as one-dimensional as they first appear. For instance, the otaku has a complicated family life, and I enjoyed watching him mature as he worked through it. Additionally, building friendships also benefits you on the battlefield by enhancing your special moves' power, adding incentive to focus on your relationships. (Please visit the site to view this media) Hanging out with friends and exploring Tokyo's sprawling cityscape is fun, but you also spend a lot of time dungeon crawling. The Eclipse has numerous portals locked away, each with its own big bosses to take down. Tokyo Xanadu is an action/RPG, focused on exploiting enemies' elemental weaknesses. You enter dungeons with your three-member party, but only control one character at a given time. Thankfully, you can swap between them on the fly to take advantage of their unique elemental strengths and fighting styles. I appreciate the varied characters who fence with finesse and snipe from afar. You're also never beholden to one attack type, since every character has charged, ranged, and aerial strikes in addition to dodging and jumping to avoid incoming attacks. The fast-paced combat provides a wide variety of strategies to take down enemies. However, the precision for dodging and jumping is frustrating, especially considering the awkward camera. The dungeons are pretty standard and generic, focusing mostly on finding switches to access new areas. The structure rarely changes, so you always know what to expect, which gets old quick. At the very least, dungeons are short affairs and don't overstay their welcome. My biggest frustration is the platforming, which allows little-to-no room for error. If you stumble, you're often punished by falling into a pit of poison or forced to backtrack. The platforming sequences get more demanding later, and they're not fun challenges; they're just plain aggravating and made we want to walk away from the game. I enjoyed the challenge of boss battles much more, since they force players to pay attention to patterns and strike at opportune moments. While Tokyo Xanadu has some enjoyable elements, it suffers from its monotonous dungeons and predictable story structure. I look back fondly on some of the characters, and Nihon Falcom still has wonderful skill at constructing a believable and welcoming world. In the end, though, Tokyo Xanadu's flaws hold it back from standing out and being memorable. View the full article
  4. Every numbered entry in the Final Fantasy series starts fresh with new characters and mechanics. That’s standard, but when Final Fantasy XII released in 2006, it went even further to establish an identity separate from its predecessors. Its real-time combat system and MMO-style world are unique, and Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age highlights what makes this game special. With major improvements to progression and combat, Square Enix’s remaster reinvigorates the best parts of Final Fantasy XII while leaving the basic experience intact. Everything that was good about Final Fantasy XII is still good in The Zodiac Age. The cast remains one of the best ensembles in the entire series, and I enjoy fiddling with the Gambit system, which allows you to automate your party members’ behavior using a variety of conditions and commands. The foundation is the same, but the whole package has received a nice performance overhaul, with crisp visuals and a smooth framerate that makes everything look great. Despite the improved visuals, a revamped job system is The Zodiac Age’s crown jewel. The sprawling license board of the original version frustrated me; it offered many possible ways to build your characters’ skills, but obscured that potential and made it difficult to plan your progression. That uncertainty is wiped away in The Zodiac Age; the intimidating license board is replaced by 12 smaller and more specialized job boards, and each character eventually gets to choose two of them. For example, you can have a samurai/knight, or a white mage/machinist. I love how this produces distinct roles in combat and encourages you to use different characters, but also prevents any character from being railroaded into one path. Even though your party’s progression is more directed, you still have a lot of room for optimization. For instance, I agonized over picking my black mage’s second class; going with time mage would pair well on the magic stats, but archer would allow me to deal damage consistently without casting spells. You can even get deep in the weeds and assess bonuses you eventually earn for unlocking specific Espers on certain job boards, but that level of obsession is far from necessary. Unlike the original version of Final Fantasy XII, I was always able to spend my license points with confidence in The Zodiac Age, and was generally pleased with the results. (Please visit the site to view this media) These improvements ripple out into combat, making battle even more satisfying. Though the basic gameplay is the same, the job system forces you to devise more interesting strategies. You can’t just buy an ice shield for everyone to use in a fight with a fire-breathing monster. Some classes don’t have that license available, so you need to take a closer look at the abilities on your boards, tinker with your Gambit combinations, and find more interesting paths to victory. Maybe you lean on inflicting debuffs, sticking to ranged combat, or using the trusty tank/healer/DPS setup. Not every combination works for every scenario, so you need to switch characters and experiment, making fights feel more dynamic than before. Apart from the original license grid, my biggest complaint about Final Fantasy XII when it first released was the structure of the world. Unfortunately, that has only become a bigger problem with time. The large, barren zones feel pulled from an ancient MMORPG in which square footage is more important than content. Plus, the guidance you have is often vague, making it easy to wander through areas trying to reach an unclear objective. The world may feel a bit bloated, but I appreciate how the new fast-forward button can make long journeys go quicker, since it runs all of the exploration and combat at high speed. Plus, I wasn’t spending as much time grinding in certain areas, since the overall challenge of the game feels more forgiving. Some battles that frustrated me on the PS2 were much less troublesome here, due mainly to tweaks to the job system, spell areas, and MP/Quickening decoupling. That isn’t to say The Zodiac Age is easy; you still need to be smart with Gambits (especially when it comes to status effects), and even more so if you plan to tackle difficult hunt quests. However, the new autosave feature prevents you from losing too much progress if a battle goes south. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is a remaster done right. The core content remains the same, but the changes in various systems add a new layer of discovery. This means old fans can still relive the journey, while new players (or those who had issues with old mechanics) don’t feel trapped in an outdated adventure. Not every facet of the game has aged well, but the clever combat and fantastic cast earns this entry its status as classic RPG, and The Zodiac Age is the best way to play it. View the full article
  5. Master Trials is the first of two planned DLC packs for Breath Of The Wild, and it can best be summed up as a bag of goodies. No new story content is here, and there are no new dungeons to navigate. Instead, Master Trials adds a smattering of content including costumes, a new difficulty setting for hardcore players, and a mode called Trial of the Sword that challenges you with combat-based puzzle rooms. Trial of the Sword is far and away the largest offering. The trial is a series of 45 rooms, each filled with enemies for Link to defeat. You start naked and itemless, with only the hearts and stamina bars you’ve earned during the base game to aid you and your runes. As you kill enemies and go from room to room, however, you’re allowed to keep the equipment and food you scavenge. Trial of the Sword is a pleasantly surprising combination of combat and puzzles. Instead of having room after room filled with waves of enemies that surge toward you, each one is presented as a puzzle that feels akin to Portal’s test chambers or Metal Gear Solid’s VR missions. You often start unnoticed on the outskirts of a level, and have time to survey the surroundings and see what you can use to your advantage. For example, one of the first levels begins with three bokoblins dancing around a fire and explosive barrels. You could surge toward them with a club and attack them one by one, but heaving a bomb toward them is a better option since it doesn’t waste any resources. Later levels have you fighting opponents while gliding through wind tunnels, forcing you to master the slow-motion archery mechanic to take down airborne foes. The rooms double as both fun puzzles and training modules. During my time with the trial, I learned new strategies for taking on old foes, despite pouring over 100 hours of playtime into the main game – like how you can mount the giant stone Talus monsters once you’ve stunned them and attack their weak points with melee weapons instead of just peppering them with precious arrows. The trial doesn’t add any new story content but it offers an enticing reward: For every checkpoint throughout the 45 rooms you complete, you can upgrade your Master Sword’s attack power by 10 points. Three checkpoints exist in total, so completing the whole trial means you can double the sword’s power. Master Trials’ other additions are smaller, but not paltry. A number of armor sets from the likes of Majora’s Mask and Phantom Hourglass are scattered across Hyrule Field and are easy to find. These sets have minor stat boosts and effects, like increasing your attack, but those stats are dwarfed by the majority of late-game armor from the main experience, so these costumes are mostly fan service. Along with the costumes is a medallion that lets you place a marker anywhere on the map and fast-travel to it, which is a nice way to reach places that aren’t close to shrines or towers. You can only have one active marker, which is disappointing since you must move it whenever you have a new spot you want to travel to regularly. (Please visit the site to view this media) Two features of the DLC aren’t straightforward content drops. Hero’s Path is a nifty feature added on to your map that lets you retrace all of your steps from the past 200 hours of gameplay via a green line, letting you see everywhere you’ve traveled and all the places you’ve died. This is a surprisingly useful tool that lets you see all the areas you haven’t been to, so you can go check them out for loot or shrines. A new difficulty mode called Master Mode lives up to its name by creating a much harder version of the main game. Beyond adding mode-exclusive enemies, modifiers are in play that make things more challenging, like enemies regenerating health, and archers on new platforms capable of killing you quickly with elemental arrows. I played through some of Master Mode, and despite knowing strategies for defeating most of the enemies, even basic foes killed me quickly. This diversion is definitely a hardcore-only experience meant for those seeking a challenge. Taken as a whole, Master Trials ends up feeling like a fun mess of goodies, but the lack of a thematic unifier for all this content draws attention to how sparse the content here is outside of the meaty Trial of the Sword. This DLC isn’t enough of a reason to head back to Hyrule if your adventure has already come to an end, but it’s nice for those still slowly making their way to Ganon. View the full article
  6. The Golf Club 2 tutorial uses a popular golf saying: "Drive for show, putt for dough." This refers to the belief that monster tees shots look good, but it's your performance on the green that really matters. While I can attest to the fact that I would be a much better golfer if I had more control over my putts, this axiom can also be interpreted another way. The Golf Club 2 is remarkable for what it adds that was noticeably lacking in the first title – more structure. The new career mode and online societies motivate you to keep playing beyond just to see a new course. But the real factor that demonstrates the title's merit is gameplay, which delivers that satisfying feeling of a shot well taken and anchors the game in a more lasting way that the new structure can't. The new tempo swing doesn't just add complexity for the sake of difficulty; it suffuses the analog swing gameplay with a nice rhythm and includes different ideal swing speeds for different clubs (there are also pro and tour club sets with their own perimeters to master). It's useful to step away before a shot – particularly when you're trying a new technique with a club like a wedge that has a particular swing animation – and take a few practice swings to get the feel down and see how fast your backswing and downswing actually are. The mechanic plays on that sense you have when you hit a good shot and can feel it as soon as you make contact. The same applies to when it all feels wrong from the word "go." The backswing animation occasionally stutters, fouling up your swing, but you can always let go of the stick and start over. The more I played, the more variables I naturally accounted for with every stroke, like anticipating danger spots on the green, knowing the downswing cadences of the various clubs and shot types, and factoring in ground slope. But instead of simply being a game of checking off boxes, The Golf Club 2's swing gameplay came more into its own, revealing how deftly something relatively intuitive like the analog swing could work hand-in-hand with seemingly rigid constructs like accounting for a 10mph wind. It says a lot about the gameplay that it inhabits an ether between predictability and the unknown that satisfies but still leaves you hungrily searching to do better – much like your own real-life golf game. In perhaps the ultimate zen moment, there was a stretch where I stopped caring about my score from hole to hole, and was simply enjoying a game run to form while learning how to shave strokes off my previously abysmal short game. I also became more confident in hitting that gray area between clubs where you can't come up short, but you don't want to blow the ball out the backside of the green. (Please visit the site to view this media) When you're not trying to lower your handicap out on the course, you can relax in your career or online society clubhouse. You purchase bigger and more impressive clubhouses as you earn enough currency through meeting course challenges and raking in tour winnings. It's better than the non-existent career structure of the first game, but it doesn't have the long hooks to keep you up nights. Being able to change the color of the furniture is nice, but it's a far cry from NFL 2K's customizable Crib that's already over 10 years old. Apart from earning the right to host a major tournament, leveling up your society up to level 10 via the currency lets you play more events per season and go up against harder A.I., which are not big enough carrots. In general, the game does a good job giving you enough currency to buy new clubhouses, level up your societies and outfit your golfer even if you're not the star of the tour. What the societies lack in depth, however, is partly made up by the fun amount of customization that gives your society and tour events some individuality. You can move the tees and pins per round, set entry fees and bigger purses, and change the color of your equipment. You can even set which clothes you want to wear for each round. The ultimate customization feature of the game is the course creator, which has a new interface. Whether you use a template or place every yacht, kangaroo, and sand trap rake yourself, there are plenty of tools to create a unique course quickly. I expected The Golf Club 2 to be better than the first in every way given the new career setup and golf societies, but I was surprised the addition of the swing tempo gameplay is what gives this title a lasting structure. This, combined with the course creator, make the game indispensable for any golf fan. You'll be seeing those missed putts in your dreams and savoring every chip-in birdie. View the full article
  7. In a forgotten courtyard on the unfortunate estate, the rich and powerful once wined and dined with deranged abandon. Barons and other individuals of status enjoyed countless depravities and frivolities here, until one day a countess arrived carrying with her a dark, bloody secret. In the first Darkest Dungeon expansion, you must battle your way through this crumbling court and end her infectious sway over all. Darkest Dungeon is already an incredibly challenging game, and the Crimson Court makes things significantly harder. As with the core game, if you can handle the crushing weight of serious challenge, you find lots to enjoy as you tinker and create the perfect team. Yes, that team that will probably die, but that’s all part of the game. (Please visit the site to view this media) Crimson Court introduces several new elements that enhance Darkest Dungeon. The new Flagellent class is a great frontline addition to the roster, offering big boosts to builds that specialize in bleeding out opponents, tanking massive damage, and proffering ridiculously powerful heals. Specialized trinkets offer greater customization for your adventurers, allowing you to go all-in with huge damage boosts and big ability numbers, turning your favorite specs like healing Vestal or bleeding Houndmaster into powerhouses. The new district system offers additional growth to your ever-growing Hamlet by giving you things to do with resources long after the base is maxed out. Turning in heirlooms for passive bonuses like free food, blood vials, income growth, and character stats is extremely useful and increases the chances of survival. The court itself, a handcrafted (not procedurally generated) giant dungeon offers deep, fun exploration and interesting boss encounters. The new enemies are inspired, beautiful aberrations of a decadent upper crust turned into bloodsucking insectoid terrors that convey pure dread. In many ways, Crimson Court’s strengths echo those of the core game. These extremely challenging adventures ripple with randomness. The hissing despair as a favorite hero gets double-crit into oblivion, or the rising high of emerging virtuous in the face of crippling distress make this experience. Even when things get rough, you can take solace in the fact that your decrepit hamlet is always growing. Despite all these enjoyable strides forward, Crimson Court goes too far with its curse mechanic, an easy-to-acquire and semi-permanent affliction that threatens to bury your heroes even as they rest in town. Stockpiling vials of blood to keep your crew from wasting away becomes a chore, and having to get invitations by running old dungeons in order to enter the new area each time feels like an unwelcome grind, something just to keep you busy and extend the life of the DLC. This setup forces players to head into the Court, because the only way to lift the curse from your stable of adventurers is to beat dungeon bosses. The curse is not a gentle nudge in this direction, however. Over time it becomes an oppressive imperative that grinds away at your sanity. I enjoy difficult, challenging, even masochistic game experiences, but the Crimson Court might be the first where I thought it went too far. I recommend dipping into Crimson Court in a save file on the recently added “Radiant” mode. While it’s as close as Darkest Dungeon flirts with an easy mode, it’s anything but. All in all, the Crimson Court is a welcome addition to Darkest Dungeon, a neat sidecar to be enjoyed alongside the core experience. The aesthetic of the infiltration and destruction of a hedonistic high-society is handled perfectly, and only the extreme dedication toward ensuring you have a stressful, ride-the-razor experience detracts from the Lovecraftian journey. View the full article
  8. Time is often harsh to the games of yesteryear. The innovations made by developers in each hardware generation are significant, so much so that games from just a decade or two ago end up feeling like relics from another age. Crash Bandicoot's origins stretch back to the early days of PlayStation in 1996 – a time when developers were just getting their feet wet with three-dimensional character movement and polygonal graphics. Crash made a splash in both of these fields, and fans latched onto him as the face of PlayStation. He stood alongside Mario and Sonic as a platforming star for the generation. When I went into this review, I expected all three of these Crash Bandicoot games to have a museum-like quality to them. Given their age, I thought they would serve as a reminder of the PlayStation era and how far games have come. As it turns out, time has not affected these games at all; they remain legitimately fun and charming. Crash's fur should have some grey streaks in it now, but he still has his platforming chops. All three of his games hold up incredibly well, thanks in part to the original craftsmanship of Naughty Dog and the new touches made by Vicarious Visions. The orange marsupial that helped establish Naughty Dog as a premiere development house is back in all of his original box-breaking glory, but something is amiss. Naughty Dog’s name is noticeably absent when the game boots up, and is only mentioned in the “special thanks” section of the credits. Although this trilogy is a faithful remaster of the PlayStation games, not one line of Naughty Dog’s code is in this new version. Rather than port the preexisting games to PlayStation 4, Vicarious Visions rebuilt them from the ground up, replicating the original vision right down to box placement being pixel perfect. The developer’s ambition paid off handsomely, as this collection is a shiny example of how to restore a series. In modernizing the content, some of the subtle innovations Naughty Dog introduced into each subsequent release are lost. While players won’t get an idea of how this series evolved, Vicarious Visions did a fantastic job of unifying the three titles into a cohesive whole. The inaugural Crash Bandicoot showed Naughty Dog out of its depth, experimenting on a new type of platforming game, succeeding in some areas, and failing in others. Difficulty balancing was one of the big problems, but you won’t run into too many of those issues in Vicarious Visions’ remake. Crash’s movements are a little smoother, checkpoints now keep track of boxes broken, and the little touch of Crash having a silhouette shadow opposed to a circular one help in tracking movement and making the game easier to play. The first game can also be played with an analog stick now, showing just how old Crash is. Some levels are still brutally difficult, such as The High Road, but the game is far more forgiving as a whole. The sequels offer a more even challenge, pushing players to succeed through variations in play style, not just harder platforming. All three titles are still exceptional, and highlight a style of play that is mostly absent in games today. They offer levels that can be completed in seconds, and a pace that only slows when the player needs to retreat from a TNT box or backtrack to an alternate path to break a box. The typical Crash level pushes for precise timing in jumping to leap over a chasm, or narrowly avoid landing on an explosive box or spiked critter. Players are also tasked to spin through crates to collect wumpa fruits (100 earns you an extra life), and to knock enemies out of the way. In a few stages you'll see Crash riding in vehicles or on animals, and running toward the screen to avoid a rolling boulder just like Indiana Jones. He even has a jet pack and airplane for flight sections. Vicarious Visions didn’t add much new content to this collection. All of the touches are small but meaningful, such as being able to play as Coco, Crash’s sister, on any stage. She controls just like her brother and is just as capable of flying through levels, but her animations convey a more even-tempered personality. Other bonuses include time trial challenges in Crash 1, improved bonus zones, and a unified save system across all three games, which thankfully includes auto saves after each level is completed. (Please visit the site to view this media) Not all games from yesteryear hold up well. The original Crash Bandicoot likely would drive people nuts if it returned in its original form. Vicarious Visions made it fun again, without altering its DNA – a feat that deserves recognition. Although Crash spins and jumps his way through most levels, variety was the key to this series' success. Naughty Dog always included a different wrinkle or evolution of a concept in each stage, and that continues here. For all three games, the feeling of repetition never sinks in, a factor that goes a long way in making this trilogy a blast to play. It's good to have Crash back in the limelight. I hope this isn't the last we see of him. How Crash Scored Back in the Day This will date me a bit, but I reviewed all three of these games when they originally released in the '90s. Below are scores and excerpts from each review. Just keep in mind I was a young writer who was far dumber than I am today. Crash Bandicoot 9 out of 10 [Crash Bandicoot] is a game that all action/platform players must experience. It’s not completely original, but the overall feeling after playing is truly unique.” Crash Bandicoot 2 9.25 out of 10 “Crash 2’s levels are much longer and offer up greater gameplay variety than the original. The much needed new moves add more depth to the wickedly entertaining gameplay. Crash 1’s gameplay was somewhat generic, but now in the sequel, the gameplay is loaded with unexpected challenges, better enemies, and more hidden stuff. Crash 2 is clearly the king of all PlayStation platformers, and I can’t see anything in the near future that will topple its unbelievable graphics and solid play mechanics.” Crash Bandicoot: Warped 9.5 out of 10 “Crash 3 is the one that you’ll remember and want to hold on to. The diversity between levels keeps you off balance and eager to see what’s next. The secrets and coveted 100 percent rating are also much harder to obtain. Most platformers have given up on constant action and fast-paced play. Crash 3 keeps these qualities fresh with unique ideas and amazing graphics.” View the full article
  9. Like the mech suits it has you put together, Cryptark is built of various parts. Its dual-joystick combat involves darting around waves of enemies to avoid damage, and makes me want to mete out as much pain as possible. But with long-term budget to worry about, I need to consider the weight of every shot I fire. Because death can have huge repercussions, I spent the opening moments of every level contemplating my approach, as if I were planning a heist. While Cryptark’s hodgepodge of components don’t always mesh well, it’s a worthwhile shooter that provides the thrill of getting through a tough challenge by the skin of your teeth. Cryptark casts you as a gun-for-hire tasked by a mysterious group to find the titular Cryptark, a spacefaring vessel that houses a valuable treasure. To find it, you choose one of seven mech suits, then make your way through five procedurally generated ships. You can choose one of four ships to explore after each level, and your options have different difficulties and optional objectives to accomplish. These objectives and difficulties tie into Cryptark’s budgetary system, which allows you to load your mech up with different weapons and useful tools. But with only $500,000 in the bank to start with, you must make a cost-benefit analysis for each of your mechs, weapons, items, and even the amount of health you take on each mission. Do you head in with four powerful weapons, only one healing item and six points of health, and rely on your chosen mech’s ability to cloak? This would let you sneak through chokepoints and destroy objectives quickly, but wouldn’t leave much room for error. You can also play local co-op with a friend, though the risk of splitting health and ammo between two people is only worth it if both players know what they’re doing. Once you’re inside a ship, combat encounters can escalate quickly, as tripping alarms or making a beeline for your objective leads to being swarmed by enemies. Though many weapons have a decent enough spread, aiming with the right stick or mouse didn’t always feel well-tuned. Additionally, having up to four different weapon slots you can swap out meant I frequently pressed the wrong fire button, or forgot I had a given weapon at my disposal. Thankfully, most opponents don’t require too much precision or finesse to fight, so these issues didn’t frustrate me as much as they would have otherwise. The ships you’re assaulting allow for a several avenues of approach. Every one has a central core to destroy, but also contains several other systems that make your job more difficult. Shield generators make it impossible to damage the other systems they guard until they’re destroyed, while shuffle systems move the location of every other system on the map every minute or so. Each of these provide a minor challenge on their own, but each ship overlaps several of these systems to create several kinds of challenges. Despite these varying challenges, I eventually developed a consistent priority list when it came to different systems, which dampened the initial fun I had playing around with different strategies. Because of the budget constraints of the campaign, finding the “best” solution to every level is more lucrative than forming your own approach; the more I played, the more I realized the best plan is to simply destroy the shield or alarm system guarding the central core and head straight there every time. Though the main campaign forces you to start over completely if your run out of funds, Cryptark also has a roguelike mode, which offers a change of pace by removing the budgetary aspect entirely and forcing you to pick up additional weapons onsite. This means the mech you choose matters more, since you can’t swap weapons before missions or spend more cash to increase your health points. This mode is undoubtedly harder than the campaign, but is easier to dive into repeatedly since it has less set up before missions. With its repeatable structure and myriad options for customization and approaches, Cryptark begs you to play run after run at its intricate levels, but I didn’t feel compelled to dive back in after I’d finished the final level. Mapping out your plan of attack and then successfully executing is a thrill, but with only a few key obstacles between you and your prey, this strategic layer never takes off the way it deserves to. Cryptark’s surprising depth of options might hook you at the outset, but they aren’t enough to make you return time and again. (Please visit the site to view this media) View the full article
  10. Housemarque is regularly lauded for its arcade sensibilities. The developer achieves a level of exactitude and seamless flow that comes only through constant design iteration, careful balance, and edge-of-your-seat gameplay that demands palm-sweating precision. The studio’s most impressive implementation of that strategy until now had been its last game, Resogun. But by borrowing many of the elements that made Resogun so rewarding and evolving the twin-stick experience, Nex Machina becomes a modern arcade masterpiece. Like Resogun, Nex Machina has players navigating increasingly crowded bullet-hell arenas, blasting robotic enemies while simultaneously rescuing humans from destruction. Unlike the previous game, Nex Machina plays from a top-down perspective in rapid-fire, ground-based levels. Sometimes these levels feel like they’re over in mere seconds before blasting you off to the next on a long line of stage layouts and enemy configurations. With complex level geometries, and enemies moving along multiple contrapuntal lines, players must constantly be aware of both where they’re shooting and where they’re moving. Success on higher difficulties only comes through splitting your focus and entering a mental zone where you stop thinking and let muscle memory and instinct take over. Everything is built around maximizing your score and competing against yourself and your friends on various challenges. Levels have secret elements to identify and memorize, including hidden humans to rescue, concealed exits that launch off into new stages, and blocks to blast for extra lives and power-ups. The constant learning process is great fun. Above it all hangs a multiplier tied to your own ability to stay alive; pursue that secret exit or hard-to-reach human, and you risk shattering your carefully built multiplier. Risk/reward gameplay decisions unfold at warp speed. (Please visit the site to view this media) Several different game modes offer distinct opportunities for advancement. Most players should begin with a start-to-finish playthrough, and return to confront the multiple difficulties. After a while, move on to the arena-based mode on individual worlds, with multiple medal tiers for distinct challenges, such as everything moving faster on screen, or only gaining points while on a human rescue combo. These challenges are entertaining, but Nex Machina has too few of them. I also would have liked to see a more unified progression system across all modes, rather than one that only offers concrete rewards for arena play. Local co-op play is a welcome addition, demanding adjusted strategies for each level to account for enemies that are pursuing two players. The shared challenge can be a fun distraction, but unless both players are roughly matched in experience and skill, it can be hard to find a game mode and difficulty that feels right. In unmatched pairs, it’s common for one player to die early in a stage and be left to sit out the fun while their partner finishes out the level. Immaculate level design, devilish enemy placement, and a steady but always punishing difficulty curve help Nex Machina stand head and shoulders above most competing shooters, not to mention the early arcade titles that inspired it, like Robotron: 2084. That’s meaningful, as Nex Machina was created in cooperation with Eugene Jarvis, one of the designers of that early classic game. Nex Machina is far deeper than first impressions might suggest, and can offer many hours of searing challenge, presuming you’re willing to face a little eye strain. Blinking is not encouraged. View the full article
  11. Get Even wastes little time throwing you headfirst into the deep end. You awake in an asylum with only a cellphone on you. Your name is Cole Black but you remember nothing else. Red, a shadowy figure on a nearby television, informs you you’re here for some sort of treatment that will help you regain your lost memories. However, events aren’t quite as simple as they seem. Get Even looks like a first-person shooter, but this is deceptive – appropriate for a story with constant plot twists and winding paths. Yes, you spend a fair amount of time shooting bad guys with silenced pistols, assault rifles, and shotguns. However, you spend just as much time solving mysteries and puzzles with your handy touchscreen phone, like tracking a target’s heat signature with an Infrared monitor. You also walk around observing notes and objects in the environment, tagging them as clues. This aids you in solving not just the mystery of your missing memory, but also a larger mystery at the heart of Black’s journey that becomes apparent as events unfold. All of these elements should feel like disparate pieces from different games, but Get Even’s strongest quality is how well it melds them in context. Early on in the story, in an Assassin’s Creed-like twist, Black starts using virtual reality headset simulations to relive memories that take place outside of the asylum – usually covert ops involving stealing technology or meeting with key targets for intel. During these segments, you can sneak past enemies or gun them down; both paths are viable and have interesting narrative consequences. Red tells Black that causing violence in memories could lead to an inaccurate recreation of the memory, ultimately affecting the accuracy of Black’s investigation of his past. During my playthrough, I was intrigued by the clues I came across, wondering what effect they would have on Black’s fate, which made the experience a gripping one. (Please visit the site to view this media) Get Even’s story is a wild, entertaining, nine-hour ride through a plot featuring kidnapping, betrayal, and sci-fi gizmos. But it also features a number of heavy-hitting emotional moments I wasn’t expecting, exploring concepts of human identity, love, and your responsibility to your fellow human beings. The cast of characters is well-rounded and everyone is given time to shine so that their respective motives for what they do, both good and ill, make sense. And the choices that Get Even forces you to make feel important in how they ultimately shape your character. Is Black the man he was before he lost his memories or is he a new man? Your actions determine the answer to this question but also prod at the fragile and uncertain elements that make a person who they are. All of your critical choices come into play by the game’s climax in a way that’s satisfactory. The variety at the heart of Get Even and how well the different modes of gameplay mix is also enticing. Both shooting and stealth are fun on their own, with meaty gunplay and a variety of stealth kill animations making them stand out. My entertainment was compounded thanks to Get Even’s introduction of a “cornergun,” which allows you to peek around any corner with your weapon and take potshots at enemies. This is a useful and amusing weapon in firefights and infiltration, and later levels use it as a great device for solving puzzles. During the investigative sequences, you’re using your phone’s various apps to discover clues and progress. In one early segment, you come across a door locked with a key code. To retrieve the code for the pad, you have to examine nearby patient rooms, shining your phone’s UV light on the walls in search of scrawled math problems with solutions that give you the correct combination. These sequences are well-placed and consistently inventive, making Get Even a fantastic time where I was looking forward to whatever the game was going to throw at me next. The biggest strike against Get Even is that it trades refinement for ambition. The visuals are noticeably dated, with stiff character animations and repetitive environments (though every level is fun to explore thanks to all the narrative tidbits and plot clues littered about). While all the various gameplay segments – the shooting and stealth mechanics, the puzzle-solving detective bits, and the first-person exploration sequences – all work competently, the odd quirks are hard to ignore. There are several levels where your way forward is blocked by something that any able-bodied person could simply jump over, like a log or some crates. However, no jump functionality exists. Instead, you have to search around Black’s memory in order to find a missing clue which allows you to alter the memory, essentially zapping that obstacle from existence. I also encountered a few bugs during my playthrough, including one where Black would stop moving entirely and I’d have to reload a checkpoint. This happened twice but luckily the checkpoints are generous so I only lost a few seconds of progress. These were ultimately minor issues that didn’t hinder my enjoyment of Get Even’s mind-bending tricks. When credits rolled on Get Even after a powerful ending, I found myself wanting to revisit the world and collect all the clues I missed to see how it would affect Black’s story. Farm 51’s latest is a well-paced action-adventure title that juggles a lot of elements to create an experience that is both thrilling and unexpectedly moving. View the full article
  12. Valkyria Revolution is not the game Valkyria Chronicles fans have been waiting for. It may share some similar themes and terminology with previous titles in the series, but this spin-off veers into distinctly different territory – usually with bad results. Though I love Valkyria Chronicles, I’m not disappointed with Valkyria Revolution because it strays from its predecessors; I’m disappointed because it’s a bland action/RPG that makes serious mistakes with its storytelling and gameplay. Set in a fantasy facsimile of Europe during the industrial revolution, the plot follows an elite military squad through a war that pits the small-but-noble Jutland against the sinister Ruzi empire. But behind the scenes, five friends in positions of power are fueling the conflict and putting lives at risk solely to get revenge. Are they traitors, even if the war ultimately makes life better for the people of Jutland? Valkyria Revolution wants you to ponder that question, but the narrative is so clumsy and predictable that it can’t bear any thematic weight. The characters are the biggest problem. The quiet-but-competent hero, the idealistic princess, the hard-drinking veteran – this store-brand squad is composed of generic personalities that fail to pull players into the tale. A story about revenge and the cost of war won’t resonate with players if they don’t connect to the people involved, and the bland cast of Valkyria Revolution fails to forge that connection. They have obvious epiphanies, undergo predictable changes, and are usually far more surprised than you are when the plot twists. Another way the characters overstay their welcome is though the extended amount of time you spend watching them instead of controlling them. I love narrative-focused games, but having a lot of story to tell isn’t the same as doing it well, and that distinction is where Valkyria Revolution stumbles. It strings long cutscenes together (with a wealth of loading screens between them), but the animations and interactions are so mechanical and dull that it feels like you’re watching animatronic characters from bad angles. You can skip cutscenes, but at that point you’re opting out of the story completely – which leaves only the combat system to entice you to keep playing, and it’s not much of an incentive. (Please visit the site to view this media) On the battlefield, Valkyria Revolution is a passable soldier, but isn’t winning any medals. You and your squad fight through various maps in real time, completing objectives like capturing bases and eliminating enemy captains. Combat is melee-focused, so you’re swinging magically charged swords and axes while dramatically outnumbered by the Ruzi forces. Battles have more in common with the Dynasty Warriors games than any Valkyria title, but that isn’t necessarily bad – it offers the basic kind of fun that comes from mowing down legions of bad guys. On the other hand, the missions feel shallow and don’t leave much room for strategy. You have some tactical abilities (like magic and ranged weapons), but the core combat is too simple, and doesn’t change enough as you progress. I had less fun the further I got, because enemies soak up more damage (especially bosses), but don’t give you rewarding opportunities to flex your abilities. You’re throttled by a recharging action bar that limits your actions, and while that isn't enough to make battles truly challenging, it consistently puts the brakes on any momentum you may have built up. Though its main gameplay and narrative pillars are crumbling, some parts of Valkyria Revolution are worthy of appreciation. I like how your squad members split off into groups and hang out; it’s a clever way to establish their lives and interests off the battlefield, even if I didn’t find the conversations that interesting. I also love the overall atmosphere – the grand alternate vision for 19th century Europe is conveyed well through the art direction and an excellent soundtrack from composer Yasunori Mitsuda. Unfortunately, the unique setting and mood are shackled to the rest of Valkyria Revolution, which makes them feel wasted. If you dig deep, you can find charming parts of Valkyria Revolution – the thrill of taking down a group of foes with a well-placed grenade, or the rousing music and majestic scenery combining for a memorable moment. But these bright spots are far too rare in an experience that deals primarily in drudgery, from repetitive missions to overlong expository scenes. Even if you find and appreciate the good parts, the prize is too small for the price you pay on the battlefield. View the full article
  13. In Ever Oasis, you are a seedling. Not quite human, not quite animal, but capable of establishing and growing an oasis in the middle of a desert. The world surrounding your oasis home is under attack by an ambiguous evil called chaos that infects the nearby land and the creatures that inhabit it. Your job is to create a sanctuary that the scared people of the world can call home. You do this by alternating between growing and managing your oasis and the people who live in it, and venturing outside to combat the creatures infected by chaos. The game finds a smart balance of simulation and action RPG mechanics, but struggles somewhat in its attempts to craft a believable world that feels alive. In some ways, you are the hands-on king of your oasis. You lend assistance where it is needed, help the stores stay in business, and collect a small tax for your hard work. To make your town grow and keep your residents happy, you venture out with two A.I. partners to find inventory for the shops, fight the monsters, and track down those without a home. Many aspects of your character and town can be expanded and leveled up. You grow stronger and become a better fighter, the individual residents level up, the shops level up, and even the oasis itself levels up. Everything grows in Ever Oasis at a steady pace, and the rewards for hitting each level are worthwhile. I liked seeing my oasis and individual stores grow and change as I built up a small army of powerful residents to take with me into the wild. In town, I mostly check in on stores and residents to see what is needed, but beyond the oasis is a fun action game with periodic puzzle solving. Merely pressing the attack button repeatedly leads to an early death; using your few combos well is important, and roll-dodging is crucial. I died often early on in my playthrough, and it made me appreciate the calculated combat. This is not a mindless action/RPG, and I enjoyed carefully identifying attack and dodge windows. Puzzle solving in the assorted caves and dungeons of Ever Oasis mostly involves making sure you have the right partners with you. This has the potential to be frustrating, making a long trip only to learn you needed a different A.I. partner, but Ever Oasis is generous with fast travel, making it easy to swap out for a different partner without a lot of backtracking or loading. Only a few puzzles demand more than a simple partner change, but it made these locations feel like more than just enemy rooms and I appreciate the variety, even if it is ultimately simple. A lot of small quality-of-life mechanics help the game avoid frustration throughout. Once you have more stores than would be reasonably fun to individually manage, an upgrade lets you restock all your stores with a few button presses. Even collecting your taxes is an active experience, as you perform a special attack on the stores ready to pay up. The game also dabbles in farming, letting you plant seeds to grow plants in your town, but you can task a resident to take care of it for you if you want. Touches like this keep the game moving at a steady pace, allowing you to focus on the rewards instead of the work. The one thing that holds Ever Oasis back is its lack of identity both in terms of its characters and mechanics. Despite the steady flow of visually distinct seedlings coming to live in your town, I didn’t get a sense of any of their personalities. With the exception of a few, everyone feels the same. The bland visual direction doesn’t help; character designs sometimes look like bundles of clothing just mashed together. I like the variety of activities, as I was never doing the same thing for too long, but it made the game feel more like a checklist (an enjoyable one, admittedly) than a real place I was eager to visit and explore. It constantly hops around giving you different short-terms goals, but not giving you a chance to admire your progress. Ever Oasis marks the first fully original title from developer Grezzo in some time, and it is exciting to see what the studio is capable of when given the opportunity to create something totally new. The final product is a unique RPG experience that doesn’t have a lot of character, but is able to deliver a consistently compelling adventure. I never got the sense that the world was alive, but I enjoyed exploring, fighting monsters, watching my town grow, and making sure my residents were happy. (Please visit the site to view this media) View the full article
  14. Optical illusions have fascinated our logical human minds for millennia, but video games offer a rare opportunity to experience these impossible creations in new ways. One of the best explorations of optical illusions from the past several years was ustwogames’ mobile hit Monument Valley, which blended simple mechanics with mind-bending visuals to create an atmospheric delight. Like that first game, Monument Valley 2 is over far too quickly, but it’s also beautifully clever and tells a subtle and heartwarming story about the evolving relationship between a parent and her child. If you missed the first game, the premise of Monument Valley 2 remains the same as the first. Each level is broken down into a series of single-screen puzzles that look like the lost works of M.C. Escher. I marveled at these impossibly constructed castles and their winding paths that looped together in complex knots. Each level is a stunning exhibit of artistic design. Monument Valley 2’s color palette is even more vibrant than the first game, and I often stopped playing to just admire the unique design of each level. As you navigate Monument Valley 2’s illogical geography, you can manipulate its impossible architecture with a series of sliders and cranks that turn pieces of the environment to create new paths, allowing your characters to reach the other side of the level. On the whole, Monument Valley 2 features very little fluff. Each level has its own unique twist on these mechanics. For example, one level has your character moving through a level upside-down, while another lets you manipulate sunlight to grow plants that double as walkable platforms. Impressively, ustwogames never reuses the same idea. While these navigation challenges are often fairly easy, navigating to each exit remained compelling, thanks to the constant reveal of new mechanics. (Please visit the site to view this media) It’s a good thing that every minute of Monument Valley 2 feels fresh and exciting, because there aren’t many minutes to experience. You can work your way to the closing credits in a couple of hours, and there are no challenge modes or other unlockables that make it worth revisiting this surreal adventure. While the first Monument Valley featured an obtuse narrative, Monument Valley 2 tells the story of a mother and her child as they embark on a journey of discovery. The story is mostly wordless, but the powerful themes of growth and change are much easier to understand this time around. I was genuinely moved by these characters’ mesmerizing adventure through a series of environments that challenge our own understanding of how the world works. Monument Valley 2 might be a short adventure, but it’s a fresh change of pace from the sprawling open-world giants that have dominated the rest of the year. View the full article
  15. Conflict is central to good storytelling, and that’s a message Telltale seems to have taken to heart for the second episode of its Guardians of the Galaxy interactive adventure. Jumping in mid-word from the conclusion of the first game, Episode 2 wastes no time in setting up interpersonal tension between its cast members, and follows through with those clashes to fuel a couple hours of narrative. Under Pressure sometimes feels like there’s almost too much bickering, but at least your choices have emotional weight. After a surprise resurrection for one of the crew, the Guardians are coming to terms with the power of the artifact in their possession, and those competing desires dredge up some powerful elements of their individual pasts. Whether it’s Rocket’s origin story and the losses he has faced, or Gamora’s tortured relationship with her sister, everyone is bearing the weight of their life before joining the team. In contrast to the first episode, this second outing feels less like it’s going for laughs, and instead opts for some heavier themes, including grief and regret. Much to my surprise, those weightier topics work here, lending these sci-fi alien characters a little more humanity and sympathetic resonance. The pacing also picks up steam, sending the team blasting off to various worlds on a mission with a clear purpose – uncovering the mystery of the artifact. The plot has Star-Lord making tough calls about which of his teammates’ desires to prioritize. While these decisions still don’t diverge as much as I might like, this second episode gives a marginally increased sense of agency in the unfolding plot, which comes as a welcome signal that the season may offer some genuinely disparate conclusions after a more episodes. (Please visit the site to view this media) Action scenes still feel a bit stunted and abrupt, but I got a kick out of the attempt to tie the licensed music together with a couple battles in amusing ways. Standard movement animations remain stiff in the way common to so many Telltale games, and character faces consistently walk a line between genuine emotive qualities and an uncanny weirdness that is hard to ignore. Even with a solid art direction, the game continues to be held back by a technical framework that doesn’t match up to its cinematic aspirations. Under Pressure is moving Telltale’s Guardians series in a positive direction. The central conflict is more defined at this point, and the character setup work attempted in the first episode is already paying off. A few technical problems, including a couple of non-repeatable hard crashes during my playthroughs, dampened my enjoyment of this outing. However, this second installment left me interested to see where the writers go next, and in episodic video game storytelling, that’s what it’s all about. View the full article