Stardew Valley Review

On the surface, Stardew Valley is a game about farming, but there are more adventures awaiting curious players beyond cultivating a rich and bountiful garden. From mining and fishing to making friends and falling in love, Stardew Valley’s Pelican Town is stuffed with rewarding opportunities. As modern day woes give way to pressing matters on the farm and within your newfound community, Stardew Valley’s meditative activities often lead to personal reflection in the real world. It’s a game that tugs at your curiousity as often as it does your heart.

Your journey begins in the field, cleaning up a neglected and rundown farm. Plotting and planning your garden requires care and attention to detail. What fruits and vegetables do you grow? How much room does each plant need? How do you protect your crops from nature’s troublemakers? You learn through practice, and while the basics are easy to grasp, you quickly need to figure out the best way to outfit your budding farm with new tools and equipment.

Upgrades help speed up essential tasks like tilling the earth and watering your plants, but advanced equipment becomes a necessity when the time comes to break down large rocks and stumps that stick out in your garden. The crafting menu also entices you with optional time-saving tools; automated sprinklers that water the crops every morning, artisan equipment to make preserves or beer out of your harvest, and refineries, such as a furnace for turning ore into metal bars. If you want something, you can make it, you just have to scour your environment for the necessary components.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

As your farm improves, you gain the ability to raise livestock. Animals are expensive to buy and maintain, and the barn they live in isn’t cheap either. You start small, with a barn just big enough for a few chickens and ducks. But if you run an efficient and bountiful garden, you can eventually afford to upgrade to a bigger barn and keep hearty livestock like pigs, cows and sheep.

You have to feed your stock every day, which can get expensive, but they will eventually begin to produce eggs, milk and other rewards for all your hard work. Beyond their monetary value, animals are simply endearing to be around. Give them a name and work a little petting time into your routine; before you know it, your commodities have become your friends. Like your crops, the goodies livestock produce give you a sense of accomplishment, but their companionship is a different yet equally valuable reward.

The goodies livestock produce give you a sense of accomplishment, but their companionship is a different yet equally valuable reward.

When your farm is healthy and your equipment set, Stardew Valley opens up and your routine expands: after you water your plants, feed your animals and tidy up in the morning, you get to head out in search of adventure and friendship. There’s a mine north of Pelican Town with a seemingly endless bounty of buried treasure, but also danger. Combat is simple–a plain swipe of a sword will brush back most common monsters–but the dangers you face grow as you delve deeper into the mine, pushing your basic tactics to the limit.

There’s a risk/reward relationship to seeking out valuable treasure, as it becomes increasingly more difficult to defend yourself from procedurally generated creatures the deeper you go. You hit checkpoints–in the form of elevator stops–every few floors, which both encourages you to keep going and to return in the future in search of grander rewards as checkpoints allow you to skip past the mine’s early levels. The precious gems you find can be sold for profit, donated to a museum that will conduct and share research, or simply hoarded in a chest to be fawned over down the road.

When you grow weary of toiling underground, you can also spend time fishing on lakes, streams and coastal beaches. Fishing in Stardew Valley is straightforward–you use one button to reel in a fish and let go when the line is tense–but it gives you a chance to soak in your surroundings and experience the joys of catching a wide array of fish unique to specific seasons and locations. It’s a calming experience at sunset after a long day that gives you a chance to reflect on your progress and daydream about adventures to come.

Stardew Valley constantly encourages you to explore, be it mining, foraging for fruit in the woods, or collecting seashells, and your curiosity is amply rewarded. Every hidden area you find, every train track you follow, leads to new sights and discoveries that add detail and color to the world around you. Yet as fulfilling as farming and exploring are, visiting Pelican Town’s community center pulls you ever deeper into your new life. Like your farm at the beginning of the game, the community center needs a little attention at first: you’re sent out on fetch quests to gather the necessary materials to fuel its reconstruction.

Outside of the community center, the rest of Pelican Town’s inhabitants also need your help. In working together to achieve small goals, you grow to understand your neighbors’ personalities and identify what makes them tick. Some are pursuing their hopes and dreams, while others fight day to day to overcome personal obstacles; others are quirky creatures of habit that round out the community’s overall identity.

Relationships are gauged by a heart meter, and getting to a certain number of hearts results in a cutscene that offer a closer look into your new friends’ lives. Offering gifts and completing tasks from a board in the center of town are easy ways to increase your connections, and slowly but surely you’re allowed in the inner circle of people’s otherwise private lives. You may befriend a father named Kent who’s dealing trauma after years at war. He’s working on his temper and trying to bond with his child after being away from home. The child, whom you meet in hiding in his parent’s basement, is quiet and introverted. But when you put the time in to get to know him, he reveals that he actually doesn’t mind being alone, even though he believes that he’s at odds with his parents. These personal moments are touching, and encourage you to spend more time getting to know the people around you.

And if you decide to enter Pelican Town’s dating scene, don’t be surprised if you end up with butterflies in your stomach. Giving your crush the right gift and seeing the joy on their face makes you genuinely happy, but you have to put yourself out there first. Sure, working with townsfolk in general is a good way to understand the ins and outs of potential suitors, but no amount of preparation diminishes the impact of anxiously delivering a heartfelt gesture. Because you’ve invested so much time and energy into forging relationships, you get nervous when you expose your feelings, regardless of the fact that you’re courting a pixelated crush. Through strong writing and characterization, Stardew Valley stirs up surprising feelings: when your date shares his umbrella in the rain, you know he’s the one.

Through strong writing and characterization, Stardew Valley stirs up surprising feelings

Romance often buds during community events that take place each season. In spring you’ll attend a dance and try to get someone to be your partner. At the summer luau you’ll have to bring something delicious from your harvest for the community potluck. At each of these events you’ll have time to get to know the people within the community and see them in a different light than usual. Although it’s lovely to see them outside of their usual activities, it’s a shame year after year the comments and actions of the villagers remain the same. Still, you can learn from previous years, adding better food to the potluck and finally earning the affection of your favorite dance partner.

Mastering farming and earning the affection of your special someone in Stardew Valley are fulfilling journeys filled with surprising and rewarding challenges. But when you have those accomplishments under your belt, it’s hard to know where you go from there. Divorce is an option, but if you put a lot of yourself into finding a spouse, dumping them merely to extend your game doesn’t seem like an attractive path. Besides, with your money-making farm, cash isn’t a concern either.

No Caption Provided

Ultimately, Stardew Valley’s eventful world is so inviting that you may opt to simply start from scratch and forge a new life. For anyone who played Stardew Valley earlier this year when it launched on PC, the new console ports capture the same magic that made the game special all those months ago, and allows you to play from the comfort of your couch. Controls on console are essentially identical to what you get from the PC version’s controller support. Console versions also get the fully updated version of Stardew Valley, which includes the aforementioned divorce option, new farm maps that focus on different skills, and a handful of new mechanics that add appreciable wrinkles to life on the farm and about town.

The sheer number of things to accomplish in Stardew Valley can keep you interested beyond the original three in-game years you need to reach the end of your story–you may just want to start over rather than continue on. You’ll work quite hard to gather enough money for your first horse, so that you can quickly move to the mines to get a mineral to complete a bundle at the community center. It’s all centered around whatever it is you want to accomplish that day. And that’s truly what makes Stardew Valley such a lovely experience, it encourages you to go out and be the best you can be, in whichever task that brings you the most joy. Stardew Valley motivates naturally, with blissful optimism.

Editor’s note: After further testing, GameSpot has updated the score to reflect the Nintendo Switch version of Stardew Valley. – Oct. 6, 2017, 2:17 PM PT

Knack 2 Review

PlayStation 4 launch game Knack was most memorable for its impressive use of particles; it used lots of tiny floating cubes, spheres, and pyramids to make up its main character. But beyond that, it was a throwback to PlayStation 2-era of linear 3D action games. As it turns out, not a lot has changed in the sequel, but as far as cooperative-centric action games go, Knack 2 ends up being a more enjoyable romp than the original.

Several years have passed since the events of the previous game, where the titular Knack and his friends stopped a rampaging goblin army from overtaking civilization. Knack 2 starts right in the midst of a fresh attack on the city of Newhaven, and over the course of 15 multi-stage chapters, the story takes some odd twists and turns for a game that is clearly aimed at a younger audience. There are bigger enemies than goblins afoot and the solid if cartoonish at times story includes some surprisingly not subtle parallels to real-world dictators and extremists.

Admittedly, things start off pretty slow, and for the first several chapters Knack 2 is a linear experience with basic combat and straightforward puzzles. As the game moves along, however, Knack’s moveset opens up thanks to an expansive upgrade tree and regular new move updates acquired during cinematic sequences.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

Once you’ve gotten past the initial stages, Knack 2 throws a good variety of different-sized foes at its hero, from human-sized soldiers to giant robotic menaces. As Knack grows in power, he can string together powerful combos, and you begin to feel the heft and power behind his attacks. The upgrade system is such that he’ll essentially earn new moves right up until the end, so there’s always something new to try, which adds appreciable variety to the game’s numerous battles.

Where things get really interesting is when Knack’s ability to shrink and grow is called upon with greater frequency. Knack can grown from an adorable pint-sized doll to a 30-foot-tall hulk–the more artifact parts he finds during a level, the bigger he becomes, although the truly giant-sized Knack is sadly reserved for only a few spots.

One sequence in particular has giant Knack rampaging through a goblin city, for instance, and the sense of power and scale is exceptional. Knack can run over enemies that were previously challenging foes like they were speed bumps and it’s a thoroughly entertaining power trip. The way Knack changes his stance and demeanor as he grows–from adorable to athletically lean to outright massive–also adds a lot of personality to his character.

Even more intriguing is how the game uses little Knack. Every level contains at least a few secret areas only accessible while he’s in his tiny form, but many of the puzzles and platforming sections require switching from big Knack to little Knack regularly. Since you can easily drop (and attract) his built-up parts with the press of a button, this size shifting mechanic gets a lot of mileage.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

So, while giant Knack feels nearly invulnerable, tiny Knack’s ability to deftly flip from one small platform to the next gives the game an almost side-scrolling platformer appeal. He’s deadly fragile when small, so avoiding enemies is frequently necessary, often by finding side routes (such as small ledges and air ducts) that would be impossible for larger-sized creatures to pass. It’s a refreshing interchange of gaming styles within the levels that gives Knack 2 a surprising extra layer of depth. There are even vehicle segments, where you take control of a goblin tank, and, in one of the most entertaining sequences in the game, rampage through a city in a giant robot capable of crushing enemy tanks under foot.

All this action is aided greatly by terrific graphics and notably wonderful character animation. Knack looks amazing, the giant robots seem to have stepped straight out of an epic anime, and many of the locations are gorgeous, ranging from rocking deserts and snow-covered mountains to beautiful gardens and ancient temples and urban sprawls. Unfortunately, Knack 2 uses a set camera, and it can be terrible at times. It sometimes presents issues with enemies attacking from positions you can’t see or reach, and during some platforming sequences, the camera can be more dangerous than any physical obstacle. Knack 2 is also really meant for cooperative play. It’s fully playable for one, but some of the puzzles and fights are much more frustrating without a partner.

At around seven to ten hours, Knack 2 is longer than you might expect. The issue with this is that there’s obvious artificial padding afoot. One glaring example is how the game starts off in the story’s present day, then flashes back. When you actually get back to the starting point again, it actually makes you replay that exact same level. Other times, platforming and combat sections dragged on a bit too long, but at least in those case you’re still earning more treasure and skill points for upgrading.

Knack 2 is definitely a holdover from the past, but it manages to surprise with varied combat and the pleasing back and forth between big and little Knack. Where the original game felt, frankly, like a launch title meant to show off the power of a new system, Knack 2 is a more realized version of Knack as a character, and the wonderfully weird world he inhabits.

Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 Review

The first Mega Man Legacy Collection was a fine if somewhat threadbare greatest hits set, assembling the first six NES Mega Man titles together in a tidy package. If that first collection was side A, showcasing the series’ early, rough-and-tumble work (the original Mega Man, specifically) Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 is the weird, obscure side B full of deep cuts: Mega Man 7, 8, 9, and 10. None of these manage to hit the soaring heights of the series at its best, but years after their original releases and unshackled from initial expectations, all four games are capable of a few pleasant surprises.

Mega Man 7 in particular is a strange case, as the first numbered Mega Man game to hit after the X series took off. What it does, to be specific, is make 8-bit Mega Man game of our dreams in 16-bit fashion; a delightful fusion of old and new. The boss concepts aren’t the strongest–not really this specific game’s fault, as those standards started to slip somewhere around Mega Man 5–but they get the job done and keep you on your toes, especially when they fire alternative attacks after you’ve exploited their primary weaknesses. By and large, however, it’s the most accessible of the four titles in the Collection–a softer and playfully inviting game full of big, bright characters, and a far more forgiving set of levels than the rest of the series.

The same cannot be said for the Collection’s one sour note, the port of the PlayStation version of Mega Man 8. The series’ uptick to 32-bit consoles shows through in the game’s bright colors and expressive animations, which at least compare favorably to more modern examples of the “playable cartoon.” Of course, Mega Man 8 is also notorious for its actual cartoon cutscenes, which feature some of the worst voice acting this side of “Jill sandwich”. As exciting as the prospect of a Mega Man game with full voice acting and anime interstitials sounds, Mega Man 8 doesn’t do that idea justice.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

By and large, Mega Man 8 is serviceable when it sticks to the series’ run-n-gun basics, but the game tries (and fails) to push the envelope on a few stages, introducing Battletoads-like hoverboard challenges, and a Moebius strip labyrinth puzzle, both of which create profound aggravation. Equally annoying is the fact that items you can purchase to augment Mega Man’s abilities–which cost a lot of the rare Bolt currency–aren’t properly described, leading experimental and ultimately regrettable purchases. Mega Man 8 proves to be frustrating in ways that are unique for the typically straightforward series.

Mega Man 9 and 10 are, of course, the nostalgia tour, bringing the series back to its 8-bit roots. Capcom leaned into the retro wave hard back in 2008 and 2010, going as far to lampoon their own terrible NES game covers, but mostly dragging players kicking and screaming back to series’ hard-as-nails roots. Gone are the Mega Buster (charge shot) and slide maneuver.

Mega Man 9 is often brutally unforgiving, with a perplexing over-reliance on spike obstacles and cramped corners full of constantly respawning enemies. It’s a game of “gotcha!” traps, a style of level design that doesn’t necessarily ask for expert platforming or aiming so much as it presents multiple ongoing trial and error scenarios. Forcing yourself into harm’s way to discover what will kill you and how to avoid it isn’t as rewarding as simply using the tools you have to overcome clearly presented challenges.

Mega Man 10 is somewhat better in that sense. There’s an easy mode, which provides safety nets for many of the game’s greatest hazards. There’s also added variety, in the form of being able to play as Proto Man–Mega Man’s older brother–right from the start, which at least makes the second time around in a stage feel fresh. However, Mega Man 10 is the first and loudest example of the bottom of the barrel being scraped, creatively. While some ideas are being repeated, there are others that are unusually odd, even for Mega Man. There’s no greater example than Sheep Man, a sheep robot who fights by building up static electricity that he fires through his wool in a stage set in cyberspace.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

Compared to their immediate predecessor, however, there are far more stretches of Mega Man 9 and 10 that flow with the old familiar magic, beckoning you to mind your surroundings, hone your reflexes, and hold your breath while taking the risks. The two deliver on their back-to-basics promises, just with the occasional off-kilter moment.

Beyond these four games, Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 is left with a slew of mini challenges, remixed stages, artwork, and the ability to practice against bosses anytime you wish. These are valuable additions, but like the first Legacy Collection, these extras fall short of previous Mega Man compilations. It’s hard not to look rather wistfully back on the abundance of riches Capcom bestowed on players with the Anniversary Collection on PS2 and Gamecube, which included Mega Man 1-8, in-game hints for the first six, a remixed soundtrack for the NES titles in the PS2 version, plus the two obscure Mega Man arcade titles and interviews with developers.

What is present in this collection ends up feeling like a disjointed ride through the latter half of Mega Man’s history, an area with plenty of lessons to learn, but not always ones you’re meant to enjoy. Seen as half of a whole, with the first Mega Man Legacy Collection, however, and you do have something resembling a fascinating compendium of games, albeit with a lot more to skip out on in its second half.

Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood Review

While Final Fantasy 14’s expansion Heavensward brought a tide of questions about the MMORPG’s longevity, there was far less community concern with Stormblood. In fact, Early Access was so popular that the servers couldn’t handle everyone who had shelled out to catch a glimpse of Ala Mhigo, and some fans were locked out of touching any of the new content until a few days into the release. However, any discontent there hasn’t damaged the expansion’s reputation all that much–servers have never been this full, and the reason is pretty simple: Final Fantasy XIV has never been this good.

There was a long slog between A Realm Reborn and Heavensward that was the bane of every player who joined late in the game. Notably, there was a lot of grumbling about the fact that Heavensward’s new classes were locked behind a wall of Main Story Quests. Thankfully, this restriction does not exist in Stormblood. New players have the option of purchasing a single-use leveling boost with expedited access to new content, as well as scenario boosts which allow players to skip both A Realm Reborn’s and Heavensward’s storyline, enabling you to jump into current content without a care in the world. While those boosts capitalise on convenience in terms of leveling, you miss out on entire swathes of narrative and early-game combat experience. Mastering your class is central to playing effectively at higher levels, and you won’t get that experience without doing the hard yards.

Stormblood is captivating and dramatic from the get-go, with a somber narrative that retains the dramatism that has been a hallmark of the franchise. There are some incredibly harrowing moments in the story, and it is adept at positioning players to ask uncomfortable questions about war. A conflict with the Garleans has been brewing for decades, and it plays out in dramatic fashion in Ala Mhigo; a symbol of resistance and a brutally colonised city-state. A Realm Reborn introduced you to the plight of the Ala Mighans, and their abuse at the hands of the Garleans reaches an exciting boiling point at the very start of Stormblood. The threats in Stormblood are readily apparent and eager for blood, and the series finally introduces villains that don’t exist solely to be hated. The narrative very quickly notes the realities of life under colonialism, and blurs the lines between righteousness and cruelty.

Hot goddess? Check. Murderous snakewomen? Check. Bad idea? Check.
Hot goddess? Check. Murderous snakewomen? Check. Bad idea? Check.

But don’t fret, it’s not all doom and gloom. One of the main attractions of Stormblood is the ability for you to swim and dive in the beautiful blue seas dotting Eorzea, Final Fantasy XIV’s setting. There’s a whole new world under the sea that players have never been able to experience until now, along with a variety of fishing quests and swimsuit glamours for the occasion. Flying mounts will be able to swim underwater, and you have the option of using Striped Rays to travel between certain hubs thanks to some creative side quests. Swimming has been worked seamlessly into the existing landscapes, allowing you to enjoy everything from floating in well-loved haunts like Costa del Sol to discovering a cursed palace at the bottom of the ocean.

The new zones have a distinctly Asian flavour, and are well-integrated with their accompanying main story quests and side quests. As was the case with Heavensward, unlocking the ability to fly in each region is dependent on finding the right aether currents. However, you do get mount speed increases much earlier on, so seeing everything at ground-level isn’t as tedious as it used to be. There have been a host of other improvements to the game, notably in the form of incentivising players to take part in optional content such as Fates, which offer rewards ranging from adorable minions to limited edition furniture and glamours–perfect for when the new housing district opens. Not to be outdone, there’s been a proliferation of bigger, badder beasts to hunt as well as chains of Fates with their own isolated narratives to enjoy.

Singing the song of the sea.
Singing the song of the sea.

Out of all the changes, though, the most jarring is the way that classes were altered in the lead-up to Stormblood. There has been a huge overhaul of jobs, which sees cross-class skills being done away with in favour of skills specific to roles. This, in turn, means you don’t need to invest in a number of off-classes to acquire these skills. It has taken some time for people to become familiar with the changes, and this can lead to a number of unfortunate early encounters because as a returning player, it can be difficult to get abreast of everything new. Trials are already known for being mechanically demanding at the recommended level, and the fact that they make up a decent chunk of Main Story Quest content leads to some overly frustrating queues and wipes if the party isn’t completely acclimatised. However, bosses and their respective lore colour their encounters even more strongly in Stormblood than previous expansions, and the introduction of an unconventional duty that requires puzzle-solving instead of combat injects great variety into the proceedings.

In terms of how the classes fare now, the new Samurai and Red Mage feel like they have yet to be balanced. Red Mages are the cream of the crop when it comes to damage, and their high-mobility style of combat allows for an exhilarating mix of melee and ranged skills. Samurai is an incredibly strong class, and their abilities involve balancing and converting between multiple resources to sustain consistent DPS and to stick doggedly to a target. Notable skill additions to glam up the other roles include Rescue for healers, a Leap of Faith-type skill that lets you save a stubborn party member when they’re in over their head; Shirk for tanks, allowing you to divert your aggro to someone else; Peloton for ranged DPS, letting you breeze through low-level duties that much faster, and Mana Shift for casters, allowing you to give 20% of your precious MP to a struggling party member.

The face that launched a thousand party wipes on Ex.
The face that launched a thousand party wipes on Ex.

Stormblood is a hefty expansion, and while getting from Level 60 to 70 isn’t a complete slog, the entire campaign from start to finish will likely take about 50 hours if you’re filling in the storyline with side quests and exploring the beautiful landscapes. You’ll probably want to get more than one class to Level 70 as you wait for the first raids to drop, and there’ll be ample time to do so. If the final fight of Stormblood’s story was anything to go by, expectations for the new Savage difficulties on the horizon are also high. There are some annoying post-launch issues regarding instanced areas, as well as a new policy of kicking players in high-population worlds at peak times. However, Stormblood has already gone above and beyond the experience delivered in Heavensward, and there’s no doubt that Final Fantasy XIV now has the content and longevity it needs to keep players engaged.

Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days Review

Quentin Tarantino made a name for himself back in the early 1990s with the release of Reservoir Dogs, but the recently released Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days doesn’t come close to reaching the same heights. It amounts to nothing more than a predictable twin-stick shooter that fails to live up to its own potential, let alone the film’s, in any appreciable way.

There’s no narrative to Bloody Days–no character development to create emotional resonance. The game at large isn’t concerned with variety, either, sticking to the same rigid format from start to finish. You take control of reimagined versions of the film’s six leads–Mr. Blonde, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, Mr. Pink, Mr. Orange, and Mr. White–and head out on 18 heists. Each mission starts the same: There’s some banter between the two primary characters (you have the option of selecting a third), they walk to a marked position, guns are pulled, and bullets fly as you attempt to shoot your way to a bounty of cash. Aside from differing locations, such as a bank, laundromat, or warehouse, all 18 levels follow this very strict, predictable formula. It doesn’t take long for Bloody Days to fall into repetition, which is made worse when you’re forced to replay sections of levels and rewatch unskippable cutscenes.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

Just like the film, death will eventually come to the colorful criminals, but Bloody Days makes it too often of an occurrence in part due to frustrating controls. While keyboard-and-mouse controls offer greater accuracy than a controller, latency between keystrokes and character actions can cause baffling, unexpected deaths. The gamepad fares far worse: The button layout is awkward, with the shoot and sprint actions placed on the bumpers instead of the shoulders, which will trip you up on more than one occasion. While each method of play allows you to choose between preset control schemes, they don’t save, meaning that if you select option B instead of option A and exit back to the game, you default back to option A. This illusion of choice is frustrating, especially considering the other gamepad layouts are more accessible than the default.

Bloody Days does offer an initially compelling mechanic: At the press of a button, you can rewind time and switch to one of your two partners in crime. The actions you performed before switching will occur in real time as you head back into battle, allowing you to set up thrilling shootouts and increase your combo count to earn more points at the end of the heist. While this is exhilarating at first, especially when you’re blasting through waves of enemies with twice the firepower, there are times when enemies you encountered as the first character inexplicably change their path, essentially nullifying any amount of strategy you put into setting up your initial run.

Lamentably, enemy AI is shallow: It’s all too easy to corner foes and either fill them with lead or bash their heads in with a melee weapon. Exploiting the enemy’s predictability like this also overshadows the time-rewind mechanic, which ultimately proves to be more of a risky tool than a necessity. While it’s necessary for the two primary characters you take into battle to reach a mission’s end point, you can rely on just a single character to handle the dirty work. The one exception is when the game puts enemies offscreen who nonetheless send bullets flying your way. This creates a challenge, but it also elicits frustration, since you’re left floundering to avoid getting hit while returning fire to targets you can’t actually see.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10
No Caption Provided

Bloody Days’ aesthetic is enticing, with bright colors and generous amounts of blood–an otherwise gruesome picture that works to emphasize the comedic carnage on display. It’s a shame, then, that the game’s performance will kill you more often than the bullets will. During the later levels, Bloody Days chugs along and, in most situations, freezes for a few moments. This inconsistency will get you killed, get one of your partners killed, or occasionally allow you to kill every enemy in your way.

Aside from the Reservoir Dogs name in the title and the colorfully named characters, Bloody Days shares almost nothing in common with its namesake. With its rewind mechanic, you can see the potential for an exhilarating top-down, twin-stick shooter, but this never comes to pass. The game is easily exploitable and produces frustration far too often to become even the slightest bit interesting. Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days devolves to a banal experience that’s all bark and no bite.

Strafe Review

At first glance, Strafe looks as if it’s resting on the laurels of the old-school, hyper-fast, and gory first-person shooters from the ’90s. Oftentimes, it actually does lean heavily on the likes of Doom and Quake, but working within those confines and introducing a roguelike structure, Strafe emerges as a uniquely thrilling shooter with plenty of charm in its own right. It teeters between being mindlessly fun and cautiously strategic to the backdrop of a perfectly executed electronic soundtrack, teaching you something new with each run.

You play as a space scrapper whose job is to go to the derelict ship Icarus and, well, collect scrap, as told through the game’s purposely cheesy FMV tutorial. Nothing else is said as you jump into the main quest; you’re simply sent off only to find out things went awfully wrong and hordes of deformed humanoids are now out for blood. But as you drop into the first level, it’s clear that you’re the one spilling blood, carefully measured in gallons by the game itself, as you shred enemies with your shotgun, railgun, or machine gun.

The game nails its core gameplay loop: blast foes and scavenge to survive the next fight. The pace at which you dash, jump, and strafe makes you nimble, and each fight is a violent dance that ends once the last enemy is downed. It’s also possible to sprint past enemies to reach a level’s end or hop over a mob to avoid getting cornered and create space to fire back.

You’re given the choice of a primary weapon at the start of a run, and kiosks are scattered through the game which provide free randomized upgrades, some more effective than others. Depending on your play-style, the changes to your main weapon’s primary and secondary fire can either be advantageous or a burden. The powerful grenade launcher upgrade for the shotgun, could be replaced by an inaccurate flak cannon. Barrels and explosive bugs can be used to your benefit, and additional weapons scatter the world, which are single-use and vary in effectiveness. While a rocket launcher or plasma rifle work well for hardened foes, a short range needle gun and sonic blaster aren’t particularly useful in most situations. It’s also disappointing that for a game that revolves around shooting, most of the guns lack impact; the machine gun and railgun feel downright piddly.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

Mutated humans, turrets, spiders, and acid-tossing foes populate the world and require you to think fast and adapt to their respective, unique threats. The game isn’t just about withstanding sheer numbers or fending off waves of enemies. In Strafe, one misstep could spell disaster for your run, since damage comes swiftly and in large chunks. Forgetting to check your flanks and watch your back, or being too close to explosive projectiles can be your undoing. This makes critical mistakes deep into a run incredibly dejecting, but by the same token, it’s what creates the ever-increasing tension as you go further along. Like all rogue-style games, the threat of punishment is part of the enjoyment, but it induces a level of repetition that isn’t always inviting.

The scarcity of the game’s two currencies compels you to scan your environment closely, where you’ll find scrap for armor and ammo, and money for items at shops. You’re never given too much of either, so part of the tension in survival is spending these two currencies wisely. While the onus is on you to figure out the best use-case for items and upgrades, as it isn’t immediately clear what things do, such as the four primary weapon attribute pick-ups. However, experimentation and working with what you have is part of the fun.

As you mow down new enemies, a sense of wonder, excitement, and desperation is instilled by the infectious electronic rock track that you can’t stop humming or get out of your head.

The more you experiment with Strafe, the more Easter eggs and secrets begin to reveal themselves. Jump into the first level without choosing a gun, and a wrench will be your primary weapon. Play the Wolfenstein 3D clone arcade machine or the imitation Game Boy and upgrades are spit out. One particular highlight was finding the Superhot shotgun; the game itself turns into Superhot where time only advances when you move, up until the weapon runs out of ammo. Easter eggs like this instill the desire to find more secrets and go beyond simply finishing the final level. Even after 12 hours, there’s still more to discover.

Though the start and tail end of each level remains the same, large portions are procedurally generated, drawing from a handful of preset rooms rearranged in sequence and orientation. While this keeps you guessing to an extent with each run, familiarity eventually creeps in. A few later levels feature branching rooms as you search for power cells to open a door to advance, but you’re more or less funneled in a certain direction through familiar layouts. If there’s a fault here, it’s that Strafe fails to introduce truly unexpected challenges. Thankfully, the game’s redeeming qualities are enough to keep you hooked.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

And one of the strongest hooks is the soundtrack. Sometimes, the urge to hop into the game just to listen to these songs hits, as if you ordered music with a side of gameplay. Level 3-2 is a dark and haunting place with music to match. The blaring synth melody over a catchy bassline coalesce with the up-tempo beat and industrial percussion that makes for a song that’s grimy, horrifying, and inspiring all at the same time. Level 2-1 is your first encounter with open air to relieve the claustrophobia of the first levels. As you mow down new enemies, a sense of wonder, excitement, and desperation is instilled by the infectious electronic rock track that you can’t stop humming or get out of your head. Moments of chaos are bookended with the tranquil, ethereal tracks in each exit room and shop. The music never loses its grip and never disappoints, and it becomes part of Strafe’s personality, adding a significant layer of enjoyment.

While the first levels of Icarus feel pulled straight from the original Doom with its tight corridors and dim lighting, you begin to see subsequent levels open up and tie together. The lo-fi retro aesthetic is colorful and clean, which makes for both silly and terrifying enemies that splatter excessive gore and literally paint the town red. Any semblance of story is told from environment alone, and it’s one of the aspects that make the game alluring. From the shop owners and scientists to the posters and laboratory vats, a typical story of experimentation gone wrong emerges, but only if you pay close attention to your surroundings. It results in quirky and varied set pieces for frantic shooting, and it’s enough to lead you along to the satisfying conclusion.

The lo-fi retro aesthetic is colorful and clean, which makes for both silly and terrifying enemies that splatter excessive gore and literally paint the town red.

However, the game isn’t without its technical issues. Enemies occasionally shoot at you through walls, most apparent in level 3-1, where those with projectile weapons gathered behind a locked door. Occasionally, an actual enemy character model would glitch out and zip across a room and disappear entirely or sneak up behind you to cause unfair damage. Later levels had a few inexplicable frame drops, given the modest system requirements. Thankfully, these issues are rare enough as to not entirely ruin an otherwise refined experience.

As unforgiving, repetitive, and frustrating as it can be, the urge to jump back into the game and take out that frustration on hordes of enemies to the tune of the most-proper soundtrack with a toy box of guns is hard to resist. Strafe wears its influences on its sleeve but stands on its own as a fun, intense, and fast-paced shooter with distinguishable charm.

Momodora: Reverie Under The Moonlight Review

Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight belongs to the club of games designed to look and feel like console classics from the ’90s, and it makes a great first impression. It’s a charming 2D action-platformer with a Castlevania vibe; there’s a haunted town and castle, a sprawling map with secret passages hidden behind false walls, and a powerful curse that needs to be eradicated. The only aspect that betrays its retro stylings is the orchestrated soundtrack, though it suits the foreboding atmosphere wonderfully.

In many ways, Reverie Under the Moonlight’s also bears similarities to Dark Souls. Dodging attacks and pummelling an enemy at the right moment is often the key to success. Healing, when you fail to precisely time your moves, comes from an item that you replenish by ringing bells placed around the map, which also serve as checkpoints. And when you encounter NPCs that utter ambiguous lines alluding to a mysterious past or future event, building up your curiosity–and confusion–over the state of world and who, if any one person, is responsible for its blight.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

For all of the familiar elements the game appears to ape, it never feels like a mere reflection of trends. It’s not the first Momodora game–it’s the fourth–and the action feels appropriately refined compared to previous entries. Your movements and attacks feel great in practice. The presentation, too, strikes a wonderful balance between simple and expressive, with great use of color and effective character sprites.

The main character, enemies, and bosses are no doubt cute, balancing out the otherwise dark tone, and the juxtaposition of darling and somber is refreshing when so many games opt for one or the other. But no matter how adorable an enemy looks, it almost always packs a punch. You will acquire new skills and increase your stats by scouring the map for items, but–save for a couple of encounters with oversized, slow bosses at the start–you rarely feel overpowered until late in the game.

Even then, however, you may find that you die on a regular basis. This is a product of Reverie Under the Moonlight’s overabundant spike pits. Too often, you find yourself in a position where one small misstep will result in an instant death. At the start of the game these moments feel reasonable, almost as if they exist to teach you how to be a cautious and self-aware player. But the trend persists, and as you subconsciously tally the number of times you died due to a minor platforming mistake, it ultimately feels like a cheap way to drum up difficulty, rather than clever or necessary bit of level design. This cheap quality is made even more apparent when you consider the difficult-but-fair combat system. Though you may struggle in a fight, you can come out on top through smart play. If you struggle while platforming, there’s a good chance you will have no choice but to reload your last save.

If Reverie Under the Moonlight regularly introduced new enemies, it’s not hard to imagine how evolving combat encounters might distract you from focusing too much on the prevalent spike pits. But the game seems to run out of gas far too soon, especially given that the adventure only lasts for about 5 hours. It is a short game, yet it also ends up feeling longer than it needs to be.

For a while, as long as you are good about looking at the map and searching for unexplored pathways, you’ll uncover the next step in your quest without much trouble. At a point, however, that tactic fails. The trick, then, is to speak to and follow orders from NPCs that hang out at various places within and without the game’s decrepit castle. The issue is that the game fails to emphasize the importance of NPCs. This can lead to undue exploration as you poke at walls in search of a missing path in vain. Once you realize that, seemingly apropos of nothing, an NPC suddenly offers new dialogue after previously repeating themselves for hours, Reverie Under the Moonlight stops being a game you enjoy, and becomes a chore you merely want to finish.

For most of its tenure, Reverie Under the Moonlight is a satisfying game. It sounds unlikely, but the inviting presentation melds wonderfully with its uninviting atmosphere. The initial search and discovery process recalls the familiar comfort of games like Super Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, with fun and challenging combat sprinkled throughout. But short of not finishing the game, there’s no way to avoid the less-impressive closing hours when it runs out of new ideas, and at worse, halts your progress with increasing instant deaths and obtuse progress requirements.

Loot Rascals Review

The opening cutscene of Loot Rascals, largely narrated by a teapot-headed British spaceman, establishes the game’s strange tone well. Instead of arriving at a holiday-resort planet to restore a medical unit’s antenna as intended, you crash on an alien moon and find yourself battling against the game’s eponymous “rascals” that have stolen the medical unit. To get it back, you’ll need to trek through five randomly generated levels, battling or avoiding the moon’s many aggressors.

Loot Rascals is wacky in a way that feels genuine; the art style and creature design in particular feel like the work of artists who watched a lot of The Ren & Stimpy Show as kids and soaked up its playful grotesquery.

The action in Loot Rascals unfolds in a turn-based fashion. You move between hexagonal spaces, uncovering each area as you go, and either fight or circumvent enemies you encounter. Your goal is to find the warp spaces in each zone and make it to the fifth level to escape. Your attack and defense ratings are determined by the cards you’ve collected from defeated enemies. Meanwhile, enemies toggle between attack and defense modes on a day-night cycle that sees the sun or moon rise every five turns. Battles are automatically triggered when you and an enemy are on the same space. You want to attack foes while they’re defending because you’ll score the first hit–and, if your attack rating is high enough, you’ll be able to take them out before they get their chance to counterattack.

It’s a solid core system, especially if you manage to get your hands on some strong cards early on. Several have different mutations that can strengthen your stats or grant new abilities. You can equip eight cards at once and hold six others, and where you place them in your “hand” matters–a card may power up all others to its right, for example, or lose all power if placed in the top row. Balancing your cards and figuring out the best combinations based on what you have is one of the game’s more rewarding elements.

Loot Rascals’ core problem is repetition. This is, admittedly, a core part of the roguelike experience, where if you’re ever defeated in battle, you lose all of you progress and must start a new playthrough. But the best games in the genre find ways to keep the early stages interesting during repeated plays. While the levels themselves are randomly generated, each stage’s main enemies and features are largely the same each time. While being fastidious, checking your map as it reveals itself, and picking your battles are all important, there’s a strong element of luck to Loot Rascals that becomes grating after a while. A handful of truly powerful, useful cards can greatly increase your chances of progress, so if you don’t encounter any of them early on, the uphill battle you’re fighting can start to feel insurmountable.

Over hours of play, your success starts to feel arbitrary, and fighting your way through the first area over and over again feels rote and dull.

If you’re not loaded up with cards augmented with abilities–which allow you to hit enemies from a distance with attacks and distractions–progress can stagnate. Enemies have different movement patterns and abilities, but none of them truly shake up the gameplay. It’s rare that you’ll be in a position to use your environment to your advantage or employ tactics beyond attacking or running away. The lack of a story outside of the opening and closing cutscenes means that runs never feel like narrative adventures the way they do in some stronger roguelikes. You never die with a sense that something exciting just happened, or that tragedy struck–only a sense of annoyance at needing to start over.

The game does provide some help, at least: if you find a certain card in each area and return it to a character at your starting point you’ll unlock extra abilities, including a super helpful “reveal the full map” ability in the second area. However, if you don’t happen across the good cards while venturing around each map, it becomes very difficult to progress. Over hours of play, your success starts to feel arbitrary, and fighting your way through the first area over and over again feels rote and dull.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10
No Caption Provided

Loot Rascal’s simplicity ends up weakening its prospects as a long-term time investment and it’s not the kind of game that leaves you feeling like you’ve learned much from your losses. The only progress that carries over between playthroughs depends on the kindness of other players: when you die, the enemy that kills you can snatch one of your cards, and if another player encounters that enemy in their game and vanquishes the foe, they can choose to return that card to you, lest their game be haunted by your vengeful ghost.

Loot Rascals card and deck systems are enticing, and its singular aesthetic and strange sense of humor make the game fundamentally likable early on. After a few hours, however, it feels like there isn’t a lot to gain for all the effort you’re asked to put in. There are fleeting moments of joy when a strategic card collection lets you steamroll through the enemy forces, but the monotony of getting to those moments wears you down in the end.

Linelight Review

In a period when so many games vie for our attention with bombastic action scenes and deeply involving stories, finding a game like Linelight feels like a blessing. There’s no excess, nothing to distract you from the mechanics and obstacles at play. As intended, its presentation is minimalistic, bordering on stark, with merely a few lines and colorful highlights against a lightly blushed backdrop. And as you ponder and test possible solutions to Linelight’s puzzles, featherlight musical accents dance in your head. Come to it with a troubled mind and Linelight will sort you out in no time.

While its atmosphere is no doubt tranquil, Linelight’s puzzles vacillate between straightforward and perplexing. The goal is simple: guide a beam of light on a path from one end of a puzzle to the other. At the start, you may only need to guide your light down a branching path to activate a gate that triggers another piece of the path to reconfigure itself. This becomes far more difficult over time, however, when other beams of light–enemies–patrol paths and trap you into inescapable corners. This is to say nothing of puzzles that incorporate multiple moving paths, treadmills, and magnet-like controls over enemies, to name a few of the challenges that await.

Despite how complex its puzzles become, Linelight’s simple controls should allow the average player to dive right in. The game also does a great job of teaching you how to play and manage the ever-expanding ruleset through measured escalation. For each new world and mechanic that’s introduced, a series of simple puzzles show you, step by step, what to watch out for and how to manage your options moving forward. You never feel like you’re thrust into a tutorial, and yet your options are always clear.

Prodigies aside, you’ll likely tread water at times to monitor all of the elements at play before cracking your knuckles and getting down to business on a particular puzzle. Red herrings in sprawling sections can occasionally trip you up, but the puzzles that inspire true consternation are those that look deceptively simple, but have no tolerance for mistaken movements or nervous hesitations. Of course, you can always charge ahead and try to brute-force your way into a solution–when you execute the correct series of actions, puzzles are resolved in a few seconds–but this rarely works in practice. Thankfully, should you fail, you’re only one button press away from restarting the puzzle.

Within Linelight’s six worlds of interconnected puzzles are collectible gems, some that you find organically as you move from one puzzle to the next and others that live along hidden paths. You can find these secret trails by pushing past perceived boundaries, which can sometimes occur due to blind luck as you rush to move your light around a given puzzle. Rather than coming to a stop at the end of a line, you’ll unexpectedly continue onward and meet a new, far more challenging test. Successfully complete these trials, and you’ll gain a different-colored gem and maybe even a newfound level of pride.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10
No Caption Provided

Linelight can be a short game, but with dozens of optional puzzles and gems, it doesn’t have to be. Ultimately, if you neglect to search for hidden avenues, you could theoretically complete Linelight in a couple of sittings. But even if it only lasts a few hours, its presentation and crafty puzzles will make those hours feel well spent. Just don’t be surprised when your desire for more pulls you back into the game, and you subsequently realize that old puzzles aren’t as captivating the second time around.

Linelight is easy to recommend, but perhaps more as a deviation than a destination. It’s a game worth savoring, and one so effective at instilling you with both curiosity and relaxation that it ought not to be spoiled by binge playing. To be sure, some of its potency is lost during repeat playthroughs–another reasons to consider it a salve for a stressful day. Linelight’s aims and scope could be considered modest, but it manages to do more with what little it wields compared to many games that mask their inadequacies with blaring effects and overambitious promises.

Wild Guns Reloaded Review

There’s a particular genre of arcade action game that has truly fallen off the radar in recent times–games where you control a character from a third-person view on a 2D plane, shooting objects and enemies in the background with a reticle while dodging shots and obstacles in the foreground.

I’ve heard this odd genre called many names: “shooting gallery,” “Cabal-like” (after the game that popularized it), but perhaps most commonly “crosshair shooter.” But while traditional platformers, run-and-guns, and even scrolling shooters have experienced something of a recent resurgence in popularity, the crosshair shooter has all but vanished from modern gaming–which is why the release of Wild Guns Reloaded is so exciting to retro-minded players.

Wild Guns Reloaded welcomes back Clint and Annie, the dynamic shooting duo from the 1994 original game, as they prepare to blast their way through several levels of gangsters and big, bad biomechanical bosses while collecting loot and dodging gunshots and the occasional creeper with an old-fashioned knife. This time around, they’re joined by a pair of surprising new heroes: Bullet, an adorable long-haired dachshund who fights foes with a special robot drone, and Doris, a large gal whose expertise with explosives ensures that she isn’t going to be taking any crap from anyone.

No Caption Provided

Similarly to many games of its ilk, Wild Guns Reloaded has a control scheme built around aiming when you’re shooting and dodging when you’re not. Pressing the fire button once also lets you melee attack close-range enemies and pick up sticks of dynamite thrown at your feet (which you can then lob back for a sweet, sweet payback explosion). By shooting objects and power-ups that appear, you can change your weapon briefly and collect bonuses. You can move and jump (and double-jump) when you’re not shooting, but when you’re in the middle of firing, you can only roll. Knowing when to roll–and when to just put the gun away to get the hell out of enemy firing range–is crucial to survival, because in Wild Guns, a single hit means a life lost.

You’ll be using all your skills to battle a rogues’ gallery of weird and wacky enemies: lanky gunslinging robots, divers with rocket launchers, jetpack jockeys, and creepy-crawly monsters. The humorous atmosphere of the game gives Wild Guns Reloaded a distinct personality quite unlike anything else, and the new characters, Bullet and Doris, also add a lot both in terms of style and gameplay, since they control very differently from Clint and Annie.

New stages, like the Underground area, fit in perfectly with the rest of the game and even add interesting visual quirks like pixel “fog” that obscures visibility.

Bullet has the unique ability to move freely (rather than being limited to dodging) when attacking, though his range when holding down the fire button is extremely limited. He can also hover using his robot drone, which makes him the most maneuverable of the bunch. Doris lacks traditional rapid-fire shots; Instead, she charges up a grenade attack when the fire button is held down, with the attack’s power (and the score multiplier) increasing the longer the button is pressed. While she’s slower in normal movements, she has a very fast, multi-part dodge attack, as well as a special jumping melee strike. Both characters offer new, distinct, fun ways to play through the game.

Visually, Wild Guns Reloaded is every bit as beautiful as it was in 1994. There’s a tremendous amount of artistry and care poured into these hand-drawn pixel visuals, and little touches–like the fact that many objects in the background take visible damage from all the gunplay going on around them–give the game’s world an exciting, lively feel. Compared to the original SNES version, many of the game’s backgrounds and objects have been retouched while keeping true to the visual style and limitations of the 16-bit era. In some cases, this was done to accommodate the widescreen HD format, while in other cases, it feels like it was done just because the developers wanted to go the extra mile to really make things shine. New stages, like the Underground area, fit in perfectly with the rest of the game and even add interesting visual quirks like pixel “fog” that obscures visibility.

Being an old-school styled arcade game, Wild Guns doesn’t offer much in the way of tutorials or even warmups: You’re thrust straight into the action and expected to learn the ropes as you play more and more. Increasing difficulty levels offer new and different stage arrays, as well as limit your amount of lives and emergency smart bombs. Make no mistake: Even on Easy difficulty, Wild Guns Reloaded is one tough game. True to the genre’s arcade roots, if you’re going to try and clear the game in a single credit or go for high scores, you’re going to have to put in a lot of practice learning enemy patterns, movement timing, and locations of hidden goodies.

And that’s where the fun in this game lies: growing from a bumbling would-be marksman to an expert gunslinger as you invest the time and effort to learn the game’s intricacies. Given the amount of hidden secrets scattered in every environment, as well as the differences in play styles between the characters, there’s a lot to learn and uncover. Many of the unlockable rewards are behind skill walls, tool: For example, you can’t access the original SNES soundtrack unless you manage to beat the game without continues, which is no small feat.

Wild Guns is a fantastic representative of an underappreciated genre with an adorable pup riding a robot. What’s not to love?

But if you feel like you need a helping hand–or paw, as the case may be–you can bring along three friends for some four-player action. Things get awfully chaotic in this mode with four characters zipping around the screen, but working together with friends to take down waves of enemies is a rollicking good time. Unfortunately, there’s no online multiplayer option, so you’ll need to have your partners all on the same couch to enjoy the frenetic fun.

Between the fine-tuned gameplay, the enhanced visuals and sound, the four-player fun, and the new gameplay-changing character additions, Wild Guns Reloaded is one of the best retro reissues we’ve yet seen on the PS4. It’s also fantastic representative of an underappreciated genre with an adorable pup riding a robot. What’s not to love?