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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

Orwell Review

George Orwell, the author of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, is the sort of writer whose work is unlikely to ever feel irrelevant or unimportant. Although his writing is only explicitly mentioned a few times in Orwell, the game questions modern surveillance techniques and the security of online communication in a way you’d imagine the author would were he still alive.

You play as an “investigator” with access to Orwell, the ironically named surveillance system used to accumulate data on suspicious individuals. Your first day on the job opens with a bomb detonating in a public park, and the next five days, spread between five chapters, are dedicated to working out who was behind this attack and preventing further incidents. This is all done by collecting information about suspects from their digital presence, both public (blogs, comments, social media) and private (bank account, phone calls, email, their home desktops).

The Watergate name is a bit on the nose.
The Watergate name is a bit on the nose.

The Orwell program has an “Ethical Codex” that requires each piece of intelligence found to go through a two-step process. Data you find can be sent on to an “adviser” who does not have access to the same systems you do, cannot have a conversation with you, and must judge evidence impartially. This system means that you need to really pay attention to what data you’re sending through and what you’re choosing to ignore.

As you peruse the evidence available to you, certain pieces of text will be highlighted in either blue or yellow, corresponding to suspects in the case. The blue-highlighted text can immediately be uploaded to Orwell, but it can be misconstrued. Send through an innocent joke between friends about one torturing the other, and without the proper context, the adviser is likely to think the person is unhinged. Yellow-highlighted text denotes a contradiction with another piece of text, and it’s up to you to study these contradictions and figure out which piece of information to send through. Not being able to go back on your poor choices feels like a gameplay constraint rather than something that makes sense in the narrative, but being forced to commit to your questionable choices ramps up the game’s tension as you search for details.

Some characters are harder to dig up information about than others.
Some characters are harder to dig up information about than others.

Orwell simulates the busywork of an office job to tell a larger story about surveillance. You soon find yourself investigating “Thought,” a mysterious collective made up mostly of young activists with awkward Internet histories. As a game focused on searching through in-game websites for dirt and details, Orwell lives or dies on the strength of its plot and characterization. Thankfully, the writing is consistently lively and intriguing. The depiction of a surveillance state feels extremely relevant; it’s made clear that the obvious advantages of being able to easily track terror suspects online come with a disquieting loss of privacy for innocent civilians. In an age where so much personal information is willingly released by so many, Orwell brilliantly explores the implications of this data being misinterpreted.

The characters feel real and familiar, without ever drifting into cliche. Investigating their lives and relationships means getting to know them and figuring out which characters are actually committed to the ideals they claim to hold. You never meet any of these people, but the characterization runs deep. Suspects like Harrison, an angry idealist with an attitude problem, an inflated sense of self-worth, and a clear willingness to sell-out on his ideals, feel genuine. The game’s writers have a strong grasp of how people communicate online and how rhetoric shifts between personal and public conversations. It’s also interesting how personal bias can seep into the gameplay–I often found that whether I wanted to hide or release certain information depended on how much I liked the person I was investigating.

Hey, it’s that guy the game is named after!Hey, it’s that guy the game is named after!
Hey, it’s that guy the game is named after!

The changes brought about by your decisions and discoveries are significant, and while they won’t upend the entire plot, there were noticeable differences in my second playthrough. Subsequent runs are unlikely to be as satisfying as the first, though, if only because solving the central “mysteries” of Orwell signposts which decisions are likely to be “good” or “bad” on a second attempt. I found myself needing to purposely reach conclusions that I knew were incorrect, role-playing as a bad investigator just to see what would happen. But even knowing the “right” answers isn’t always enough–I tried hard to change an outcome at the end of Chapter 3 on my second playthrough, but the thing I’d been trying to avoid still happened, albeit for completely different reasons than I’d experienced on my first playthrough. Orwell’s twists and turns are surprising and exciting, even when you have some idea of what’s coming. There are a few minor issues with Orwell’s current build–the game hard crashed on me a few times, or refused to load images–but each issue I had was fixed with a reload, and because the game saves constantly, I never lost progress.

Orwell is a hard experience to pull back from, even as the dirtiness of your job sinks in. It uses simple mechanics to tell a complex and engaging story, one that feels particularly relevant right now. This is a game where your choices matter and resonate, and which will leave you with plenty to think about once it’s over.

Oceanhorn Review

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas is developer Cornfox & Bros building a candlelit shrine to The Legend of Zelda series. A more appropriate subtitle for it would be, “The names have been changed to protect the innocent.” It’d be one thing if Oceanhorn achieved a similar level of greatness as its inspirations or riffed on Zelda’s core concepts in a meaningful way. But mostly, Oceanhorn’s greatest achievement lies in accentuating the brilliance of those inspirations, rather than taking them to exciting, uncharted territory.

Oceanhorn begins strongly enough. Our protagonist’s father writes a final letter to his sleeping son before he goes off to face an eldritch beast of the deep, the titular Oceanhorn. When our hero awakes, he meets up with the local hermit for a quick lore lesson, then sets out on a top-down-perspective adventure across a series of scattered tropical islands to find his father–and maybe take down big bad Oceanhorn himself.

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Right from the start, Oceanhorn is simple and intuitive. It’s nostalgic and refreshing to set out on a hero’s journey, and the only two things you need to know for a stretch are that the analog stick moves you, one button attacks, and one button allows you to move objects. Targeting happens automatically, and you rarely deal with more than one enemy at a time–and 90 percent of that time, flailing wildly with the basic sword is enough. This feels like a blessed side effect of Oceanhorn being ported from mobile–the original having released on iOS in 2013.

Such accessibility is appreciated, but modest aims elsewhere prove to be an issue. Most of Oceanhorn’s puzzles are either of the rudimentary, block-moving sort or involve walking around long enough to find the key to the next room. Strangely, when a puzzle deviates from the norm, it often requires an illogical solution, like pushing a box through another physical object. The simple dungeons you explore are padded out by leading you to a certain point only to learn that you must look for an item elsewhere–which just so happens to be located on a whole other island, requiring a frustrating amount of backtracking.

Disappointment sets in once you realize that all of this effort leads to little payoff. The story doesn’t take any major twists and turns, and NPC characters are stock townsfolk who exist purely for the sake of exposition. Journeys between towns and islands are taken by sailboat, a nod to The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. But Oceanhorn’s seafaring is even more sparse and uneventful than exploring a village. Voyages transpire automatically once you point your ship toward an island, but sailing on rails robs you of completing the trip by your own efforts, diminishing the world’s sense of scale in the process.

It’s still a fundamentally unimaginative example of the genre it’s aping, and completely fades out of memory the second you remember there are other fish in the sea.

There’s also the issue with voice acting, which is sporadically used in a way that does not mesh well with Oceanhorn’s storytelling. A conversation will start in text, then, suddenly switch to voice-over. Tone and expression also fall flat in the face of dramatic moments: while the exposition from the hermit inhabiting the main island is okay, a bunch other NPCs fail to match the tone set by the script. When you save the leader of a race of owl-men, he expresses his appreciation zero inflection. Not-Link saves a girl later in the game, and they watch the town festival from a hilltop, and her “I want to go off and see the world” speech is hilariously Ben Stein-level deadpan. That tends to be the case across the board, and the more Oceanhorn tries and fails to raise ay emotion whatsoever, the more embarrassing it becomes.

The journey’s ease is sometimes appreciated, but it defines the entire experience. The only ace in Oceanhorn’s pocket is that it’s a type of game that typically doesn’t see much play outside Nintendo’s platforms, and it does stand out in that way. It’s still a fundamentally unimaginative example of the genre it’s aping, and completely fades out of memory the second you remember there are other fish in the sea.

Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice Review

Although formulaic and somewhat one-note, Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice is a fast-paced platformer in a similar vein to classic side-scrolling Sonic the Hedgehog games. It combines the same enjoyable spin-dashing, looping courses, and ring collecting of old with some new–albeit vapid–ideas. The story comes down to the classic struggle of Sonic and friends trying to clean up the mess left in the wake of Dr. Robotnik’s shenanigans. The only difference, however, is the fact that mysterious rifts in the world have integrated with the tech worn by Sonic and his buddies, temporarily granting them their newfound fire and ice powers.

With a button tap, you can charge Sonic with fire or ice powers, allowing him to burn away or melt obstacles and freeze solid water for easier traversal across hazardous environments. These features are useful in more challenging sections with many obstacles that call for quick reflexes, including moments where moving pillars have to be avoided by quickly switching between fire and ice to enter safe zones beneath the hazards, but the feature is not so great when it brings fast-paced sequences to a jarring, unnecessary halt by sending characters crashing headfirst into an icy brick wall or through water into a pit of spikes.

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You have the ability throughout the game to rapidly switch between different characters from the Sonicverse, including Knuckles, Tails, and Amy. Each character has their own unique special ability that can occasionally be used to access otherwise gated sections or each stage. For example, Amy’s hammer can bash walls or floors to move certain obstacles and Knuckles’ burrowing ability allows him to dig underground.

Some abilities can occasionally be used for mundane tasks like collecting items, but they rarely have any meaningful application aside from accessing hard-to-reach areas. And really, searching for hidden items is largely inconsequential, more of a temptation for completionists than a beneficial pursuit in practical terms. Like the fire-and-ice mechanic, special abilities and collectibles are ultimately underutilized.

The flow of Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice is also unabashedly formulaic. Every island Sonic visits has a handful of standard 2D levels set in seemingly arbitrary environments, like a prehistoric beach or a pirate bay. Accompanying these core areas are a few others with different formats that break up the flow of typical side-scrolling levels. These include a runner-like minigame in which Sonic auto-runs while dodging obstacles using his fire and ice powers; a side-scrolling, time-limited submarine-diving minigame used to acquire trading-card collectibles; and one-on-one races with one of Robotnik’s super-fast robots.

Minigames are fairly basic and straightforward, and only loosely related to the rest of the adventure. The attempt to fit a submarine minigame in an otherwise standard 3D platformer especially felt somewhat out of place, but ultimately these diversions serve as a nice palate cleanser in between 2D levels and make for easily replayable challenges.

Although formulaic, when it makes great use of its new mechanics and evokes classic Sonic gameplay, Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice is a competent and enjoyable adventure. The ability to replay levels and minigames to improve scores or use a character’s unique ability to explore more of a map offers enough incentive to dive back in, and the mix of classic Sonic platforming elements with newfound twists gives the game a more novel identity unto itself. Compared to the many missteps in Sonic’s history, it’s a decent example of what the series could be in a modern context. But when measured solely on its merits as a platformer, Fire and Ice is a repetitive yet competent game that’s slightly above average.

Valley Review

Video games that nail the act of movement often allow you to flow freely and come down from a sprint naturally. Blue Isle Studios’ Valley lets you build up exhilarating momentum while you sprint and leap through forests and fields, but your pace is too often interrupted, and trying to get back to that high level of speed takes longer than it should. Thankfully, Valley has more going for it, including fascinating lore pertaining to experimental technology, secret organizations, and unusual mythology. It’s a brief experience with a few unwelcome pit stops, but you leave hungry for more regardless of the issues you experience along the way.

This first-person platformer puts you in the shoes of an archaeologist in search of the mythological Life Seed; an object with extraordinary power. Following a canoe crash, you surface in a valley that feels ripped out of a fairytale, sparkly sprites and all. As you make your way through it, you come across an exoskeleton–the L.E.A.F. Suit–that grants you incredible speed and grappling abilities.

The L.E.A.F. suit was originally used for excavation and research purposes during the first half of the twentieth century, which is revealed via audio tapes and written notes throughout the game. It’s through these that you learn more about the valley’s unusual past. The notes and tapes often correlate with specific areas in the world. For example, you might come across a message referring to a L.E.A.F. suit sports league right before you come across an area suited for the fictional competition, providing evidence that the valley was populated prior to a cataclysmic event.

Valley's environments make a striking first impression.
Valley’s environments make a striking first impression.

The titular valley is home to friendly, pint-sized sprites, but it also houses two types of hostile entities: swarms of insects and a wizard-like creature. When you’re engaged in combat with these foes, it feels more like you’re casting magic as opposed to firing a gun, because you shoot out balls of energy to kill enemies. It’s initially satisfying when you take several shots in rapid succession and hit your intended targets, but repetitive enemy behavior and animations lead to diminishing returns over time.

There are times when you’re able to move at top speed and revel in the thrill of flying through the air while the environment around you whips by in a blur. However, the L.E.A.F. suit is too easily slowed by basic obstacles and hills. The suit’s Magnetic Core ability also forces you to slow down to traverse metallic surfaces on occasion, an unfortunate shift in a game that’s built for speed. Valley shines when you’re charging forward, but it too often holds you back from going as fast as you’d like.

If you happen to die during combat or from a poorly planned leap, you respawn, but life in the valley takes a toll as nature–once verdant–fades and shrivels around you. Once it’s drained, your game is over. However, it’s not something you need to worry about; a few rejuvenating blasts from your suit is all it takes to revive dead plants and animals to keep your journey going. And as long as you don’t fall off any cliffs or into significant bodies of water, it’s unlikely that you’ll die in the first place. Your life and ammunition both come from the same pool, and you regularly find orbs and power generators scattered across the environment. There’s little at stake, and it’s rare that you’ll find cause for concern to begin with.

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Valley’s multiple environments are generally good-looking and varied, with wide open spaces, claustrophobic underground caves, and industrial areas. With the wind at your back, it can be a fun world to play around in that’s occasionally captivating to behold, and certain sections, particularly when you get the ability to run on water, feel momentous and exciting. Sadly, Valley occasionally suffers from framerate drops on consoles during hectic scenes, where the PC version proves far more stable. It never drops low enough to the point where it renders the game unplayable, but it’s still disappointing when it happens.

Valley feels like a good first act. Despite obstacles that tend to abruptly kill your momentum, running and bounding through wilderness remained exciting. The world’s history is so intriguing that I left wanting to know more. I didn’t want the adventure to end, and like a jogger who’s forced to slow down in the middle of a run, I was frustrated that Valley had to end so soon after it began.