Anniversary Announcement

As we approach the one year anniversary of this blog, I have failed to review many of the games I had hoped to this year. Due to time constraints, juggling a full-time job while going to college full-time, I simply could not post as regularly as I would have liked and even found that picking up a controller was impossible at times. Ideally I would have crushed many of the games in my backlog, slowly chipping away at the titles I hoped to feature on this blog. Realistically this was not an achievable goal. I literally have over 200 games in my backlog, and I had hoped to give each one a little bit of my time to publish a review consisting of my thoughts and opinions. And that number only consists of my Xbox library, which has so far been exclusively reviewed. I picked up a New 2DS earlier last year for the sole purpose of reviewing Nintendo exclusives, but I never got around to it, and for that I am gravely disappointed. My hope going forward is to be more consistent with my blog posts although I am not certain if this is possible.

While complaining about the lack of time I have to review the games I already own, I will be a little hypocritical in my next announcement. Yes, I have over 200 games to review. No I will not be able to cover all of them. This daunting task grows ever more so, as I am expanding my game library yet again. It is with great pleasure that I announce I will be adding Nintendo Switch games to my library. That may literally double the reviews I hope to write, while diminishing the time I actually have to write them. I am excited to get my hands on some of Nintendo’s greatest first-party releases and will do my best to write as much as my time allows. Although the mountain before me seems that much taller, I am overjoyed to be able to feature more of the games I love on this blog. I knew I would be investing in more Nintendo hardware, I just didn’t know when, and now seems as good a time as any (especially with Animal Crossing on the horizon).

I would love for all of you to join me on this new adventure, and here’s to hoping none of my consoles become covered in dust as my work, school, and social life persists. I would like to thank everyone so much for taking the time to read some of my posts. I really appreciate the support, no matter how little. Thank you all!

My Top 5 Most Anticipated Games of 2020

With 2020 around the corner it’s time to get hyped about new games scheduled to release within the year. With games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Ori and the Will of the Wisps marked in my calendar, it’s shaping up to be a very good year for video games. I’m tackling a very difficult question today. What should I spend my money on in 2020? If your answer is food and utilities, you’re wrong. Games, games, and more games are on my wishlist. So while I’m huddled around a garbage can fire with some of my besties, eating cold beans out of a can, you can bet I’ll be dreaming of the games in this list, trying to stay warm through happy thoughts alone. This is my top 5 most anticipated games of 2020! In order to make the cut, the game must have a definitive release date. So while I’m hopeful for a Metroid Prime 4 release this upcoming year, I’m reserving games like that for another topic. Here it is folks, coming to you live from the toaster I found while dumpster diving the other day, my top 5 most anticipated games of 2020.

5. Marvel’s Avengers. Release date: May 15, 2020

I am a huge superhero fan, largely inspired by the efforts of Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe. I’m actually a bigger fan of DC so you can throw tomatoes at my head throughout the rest of these ramblings. Regardless, I love Marvel superheroes so I was ecstatic when I heard there was going to be a full length game incorporating a killer line-up of Avengers characters. Sure, we had Ultimate Alliance, and while that was some mindless fun, a large scale superhero story is what I craved. Developed by Crystal Dynamics, the people behind those incredible Tomb Raider games, Marvel’s Avengers could conceivably be a contender for next year’s GoTY. It’s being published by Square Enix who are often involved in some quality projects, so I’m holding my breath for this one. If for no other reason than the possible ability to fly around as Iron Man. Bring it on Crystal Dynamics!

4. Ori and the Will of the Wisps. Release date: February 11, 2020

Ori and the Blind Forest was an amazing game with an excellent art direction. There were moments where my eyes watered to the point that I had to stand in the rain to hide my emotions from my girlfriend’s judging gaze. From the opening moments, that game tugged at the heartstrings of many who were fortunate enough to experience it. There is no doubt that the sequel will be just as powerful. With what is sure to be some quality of life improvements to gameplay that we’ve already seen, Ori will once again venture out into the world, traversing beautiful landscapes and fighting enemies using new abilities. From the trailer that was shown at E3 2019, we can see that this time around we will be facing huge enemies that cover a large portion of the screen. It appears that this new iteration will put weapons in Ori’s hands, like a bow, sword, and hammer among other things. With these new improvements to combat and movement, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is sure to be as fun (if not more so) as it’s predecessor. I’m waiting on this one with the excitement of a child waiting for Christmas in December.

3. Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Release date: March 20, 2020

I don’t know what it is about this franchise that makes me so giddy. Animal Crossing is essentially a town simulation and collectathon, and while those two things sound really boring, Nintendo makes it work somehow. This time around you’re on a deserted island as a certain sketchy raccoon convinces you (no doubt for monetary reasons) that this is the place to be. His goal is for you to be forever indebted to Nook inc. and should you not make payments in a timely manner, he will likely break your legs. From what we saw in the latest Nintendo Direct, it seems there are a plethora of new features to make life on the island much more bearable. One thing I’m excited about is the ability to make paths without having to lay down patterns. There’s a tool for that now! Another feature is the pole vaulting over rivers that probably warrants a gold medal at the Animolympics. I am super excited for this title; I played a lot of Animal Crossing (Gamecube) when I was a kid and have continued to play New Leaf into adulthood. There is no way I’m missing out on this one.

2. Cyberpunk 2077. Release date: April 16, 2020

I honestly don’t know much about Cyberpunk 2077 aside from what was shown in the cinematic trailer. It’s futuristic, cyborg sword arms and self-driving cars (we’re so close Elon!) make this game look soooo badass. Not to mention THE Keanu Reeves has a starring role in the game. That’s right, the nicest man on earth is involved with Cyberpunk, and it’s breathtaking. He is sure to add some star power and great acting to the project, which already looks to be something to talk about. All this coming from CD Projekt Red, the developers of one of the greatest games of the decade, the Witcher 3. With developers like this, it’s sure to be a high quality release. Obviously I’m jumping to conclusions, but can you blame me? The hype surrounding this title is the most I’ve seen in many years, so let’s hope the game lives up to it.

1. Resident Evil 3. Release date: April 3, 2020

The top spot on this list comes as no surprise to those of you who saw the number one game on My Top 5 Games of 2019. Resident Evil 3 will use many of the same assets as its predecessor, and if the Resident Evil 2 remake is any indication of the quality of this newer release, we’re in for a treat. I never had the chance to play Nemesis when it released way back in the day, but that only fuels my desire to play this remake. I thought Mr. X was the scariest thing on this planet, but move over big guy, because the Nemesis is busting through ceilings in search of S.T.A.R.S. members, who you unfortunately play as. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Resident Evil narrative, as laughable as some voice acting makes it out to be. The mansion incident, followed by a larger scale outbreak and the fears that accompany it just feels so (and forgive me for using this horrible, terrible, garbage word) EPIC! I just can’t wait for RE3 and April can’t come soon enough.

And that wraps up my list of games I absolutely need in my library this upcoming year. 2020 is bound to be a banger in the video game world. All the games listed above are coming out in just the first half of the year, which says a lot about how incredible 2020 is shaping up to be. There are many great titles that haven’t been mentioned, and such is the case when narrowing the lineup down to only 5 games. I’m curious though. What games are you most looking forward to? Let me know in the comments!

Spyro the Dragon (Reignited Trilogy) Review

In the late 90’s the video game market was flooded with 3D platformers, such as Gex: Enter the Gecko, and Super Mario 64, as video games made the transition from two-dimensional side scrolling adventures to fully fleshed out 3D environments. One platformer that stood out from the rest for me was Spyro the Dragon. While I never played the original extensively, I dipped my toes in the water whenever I would visit my friend. He had a Playstation 1 while I did not. Therefore, for me, the Reignited Trilogy is a throwback to a more innocent time; nostalgia, accompanying the game through every charging dash into druids and every toasted sheep.

Spyro the Dragon in this new trilogy is the same Spyro I knew and loved in 1998. The game revolves around Spyro, a young dragon who must free his fellow dragons from Gnasty Gnorc’s magic. Following a televised broadcast wherein the dragons insulted Gnorc as being no threat to their lives, he proves this to be untrue as he petrifies every dragon in the land except for Spyro. He also turns all the dragons’ treasure into minions that Spyro must defeat throughout his journey. There really isn’t much depth to the story, but I don’t believe this to be negative. Of the 8 hours it took me to get to 120% completion, I can conclude that it is simply more gameplay oriented than story driven.

In the Reignited Trilogy, Spyro the Dragon got a much-needed aesthetic upgrade that is one of the prettiest remasters I have ever seen. The many worlds within this game are beautifully colorful and vibrant and it made exploring every nook and cranny a pleasure. From the shadows cast by Spyro, to the level of cartoonish detail in wall, grass and sky assets, there is no doubt that Toys For Bob put a lot of time into making the original Spyro game thrive in 2018.

The upgrade in graphics and console capabilities also allowed the developers to bring characters to life, making each dragon you rescue unique while also reflecting the world in which they are found. For example, in the Artisans world there are artistic dragons whereas the Dream Weavers world hosts sleepy dragons. This is a huge improvement to the original as the old dragons seemed to be the same models consistently recycled. Sound has been upgraded as well. While the same melodies bridge the gap between new and old, the depth of the music has been adjusted. The music sounds more clear, crisper and just all around more enjoyable. There is always the option to revert to the original’s musical score while playing Spyro Reignited which is a nice addition, however I never felt the need to change this in the options. The new music is far superior, albeit the choice is nice for nostalgia’s sake.

The beauty of the game does not stop at its visuals and sound. The tight controls have been perfected in this iteration. Each movement of the left thumbstick feels like it is directly connected to the movement on screen, making for an immersive experience. Newly added to the game is the ability to move the camera using the right thumbstick. While as common sense as this might be today, the original was designed to be played without thumbsticks and camera controls were mapped to the L2 and R2 buttons on the original PS1 controller. While now being able to move the camera easily and fluently, including up and down, platforming sequences have lost the difficulty of the original.

On that topic, the game is much easier than I remember all those years ago, however this may be due to my juvenile fine motor skills and reaction times that undoubtedly affected my ability to play video games. This game will not pose a significant challenge to any veteran gamer. The game was designed with children in mind, however that does not mean that others cannot enjoy what it has to offer. Even putting nostalgia aside, the game is genuinely fun. Some of the more difficult (which isn’t saying much) moments I had with Spyro were trying to figure out ways to get to platforms that appeared to be out of reach and not easily accessed. Never was I too stumped to figure things out eventually, but some sequences took much more time than others. I believe this to be a good thing. The challenge was not in facing minions, but the platforming itself which illustrated a focus point in the game’s level design. And that design is nothing short of stellar. Insomniac’s attention to platforming should be commended, as they are the ones who originally designed the worlds.

The greatest part about Spyro’s level design is that it is well structured with clear direction. I was never overwhelmed with too many options of where I had to go to progress through the levels, which cannot be said for many other games in this genre. This is not to say that the game was linear though. Insomniac used the 3rd dimension to their advantage by designing levels with elevated platforms that often stretched over lower platforms that had already been traversed. The home worlds were open-ended with various worlds to choose from which could be completed in the order the player chooses. The home worlds, while acting as a hub for other levels, were their own levels as well, offering a plethora of treasure to collect and dragons to free. There was never a shortage of things to do, and while collecting things may be a turn off for some gamers, I assure you that Spyro is not like other platformers in that way. There are only three things to collect: Gems, Eggs, and Dragons. While most platformers overwhelm gamers with too much to do and no direction of where to start, Spyro approaches the genre differently, and is a gem worth playing.

Now it seems like I’ve been ranting on about how great Spyro the Dragon is, but the flaws in the game must not be dismissed. Although the camera control has been greatly improved in this remaster, there were still moments I fell to my death in a cheap, unforgiving battle with the camera. When I did die, I was never too frustrated though because extra lives are given out too generously. I fell a lot, only to be put into a “reigniting” loading screen which was more of a minor annoyance than frustrating. I looked up at the top right of the screen and there it was, 34 lives remaining. There is no sense of pressure to play well as even a mediocre gamer can accumulate free lives without much sweat. The levels, while having impeccable design, were so small that even if you do die, there is more than likely a recent checkpoint not far. Contrasting the ease at which I completed regular worlds, the flight worlds were quite challenging, which was jarring and certainly took me out of the experience. There is nothing worse than a cake walk that is abruptly interrupted by a time constraint, turning it into a cake run. That was what the flight missions did. You are given a set amount of time to destroy/fly through objects which would give back time, but not nearly enough. Fly through that ring to get back one second, but it will take you three seconds to get there. I know I just complained about the game being both too easy and too hard, but it is this contrast that detracts from the experience.

It must also be mentioned that there have been reports online saying that the game is unplayable for a select few gamers. While it did not bother me, people have been reporting that motion blur has been giving them headaches and nausea. If you are not susceptible to motion sickness, more than likely you will be able to handle the camera movement in this game, but for those of you who tend to get sick playing video games, you may want to stay away. In the end, there is obviously more positives than negatives to be said about Spyro the Dragon.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 4/5

Story: 1/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 3/5

Total: 18/25 or 72/100

My Top 5 Games of 2019

The year 2020 is just around the corner and we get that much closer to Skynet’s inevitable rise to power. Before that happens though, we can all be actively entertained by its precursor. 2019 was a good year for gaming, no matter what the naysayers preach. Some of my new favorite games were released this year and I am waiting in anticipation for 2020 to knock it out of the park. That being said, it’s good to sometimes take a look back, ignoring what’s ahead, in celebration of all that has transpired in this short year. The following is a list of MY top 5 games of 2019. I have only included the games that I have actually played and am intentionally ignoring many of the great games that I know are contenders for game of the year. It is only because I have not played them and thus cannot speak to their worth, but that does not mean they do not belong on a top 5 list. They just don’t belong on (again) MY top 5 list.

5. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

This is one of the two games featured on this list that I have yet to publish a review on. The colorful, anime-style graphics were enticing, and after playing Curse of the Moon I couldn’t turn this one down. The sheer scale of the boss fights alone make it feel larger than life. The controls were very responsive as well, providing ample maneuvers to slay enemies in style. This Metroidvania is far from my favorite of all time, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a great time with it. While it may not be game of the year worthy, Bloodstained excels in more than one area of interest and I would love to see more games within this franchise. It holds the final slot in my top 5 if for no other reason than the steep challenge it presented. The difficulty common of games from the early 90’s has been lost in more modern titles, but if you’re searching for a 2D sidescroller in the style of old Castlevania games, look no further than Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.

4. Control

I was going back and forth on whether this game belongs at the number 4 position, wrestling with Bloodstained. Both games are incredible, but this one ends up winning out by a fraction. The gameplay was engaging, the story was fantastically weird, and the game was littered with atmospheric tension throughout. It was fun going back and completing all the sidequests long after the main story was completed, and the gameplay never became stale. This is in part due to the abilities you acquire in the game. You can levitate, create shields out of rubble, and just throw your enemies around like you’re on the dark side of the force. This may be controversial and will probably not make a lot of people’s top 5 lists, but it made mine. It would have scored better on the list if it wasn’t plagued with slow-down bugs every time you closed the menu and made for a blurry mess sometimes. For more information about the game and why I liked it so much, you can read my full review HERE.

3. Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair

I bought this game with the full intention of writing a review for it to be featured on this blog, however I simply never got around to it as life consumed my free time. The Impossible Lair took the characters from the first adventure and reworked the entire gameplay style. No longer is it a 3D collectathon, but a 2D platformer not unlike the Donkey Kong Country games. It plays out very much like those Super Nintendo titles while adding a fun and engaging hub world to tie all the levels together in a top-down adventure. It has quickly become one of my favorite platformers to grace the Xbox One in many years. If you haven’t already picked this game up, do it. You will not regret this purchase.

2. Monster Hunter: World (Iceborne)

While I acknowledge the newest iteration of Monster Hunter released in 2018, I still consider that Iceborne could very well be a game on its own. To view my full review of this expansion you can click HERE. This new DLC takes Monster Hunter: World and really ups the ante on what’s to be expected from Capcom and this franchise. With a whole new area to explore and many new monsters to hunt, this game resides at the very top of the iceberg. The added difficulty provides a greater experience for veteran hunters, and the prerequisite of having to beat the base game before jumping in assures that the player will be ready for it. While I understand it is not technically a game that was released this year, Iceborne adds enough new stuff to maintain a spot on this list. It is truly an incredible experience.

1. Resident Evil 2

I played the hell out of this game and my full review can be found HERE. This is one of the few games of 2019 that I actually got around to reviewing. The reason it holds the number 1 spot on my list is because of one key video game component. Atmosphere. Resident Evil 2 was spine-chilling, from it’s updated, realistic visuals, to its soundtrack, to Mr. X busting down doors; this is probably the most scared I have been while playing a video game. As I mentioned in my review, the constant pursuit from the Titan is incredibly scary, giving me a gut-wrenching feeling of terror whenever I heard his footsteps in the distance. This feeling never left me, only becoming tolerable as the game progressed. The gameplay is fantastic, the puzzles are fun, and the characters come to life (quite literally, after death) throughout this 8 hour battle with the undead. A nominee for Game of the Year, in my experience it’s deserving of that title.

So, that was my top 5 games of 2019. What do you guys think? I know there are a lot of great games omitted due to not having played every release this year, but from what I have played, I think the quality of each game is reflected above. What is your top 5 games of 2019? Agree with something on this list? Disagree with my horrible opinions? Let me know in the comment section below.

Sonic Forces Review

Probably the biggest disappointment to mascots across the globe is the trajectory Sonic the Hedgehog’s career has followed. Being one of the most iconic characters in video game history, to dishing out disappointment after disappointment in 3D games, Sonic has great potential that goes unrealized time and time again. The kicker is, I actually like the latest installment, appropriately titled Sonic Forces, as this one comes out in full force. While I experienced moments of unmitigated enjoyment, the game falls a little flat in some very important ways. I wanted so desperately to love this game, to see Sonic make a comeback in the video game world; however, it should not be approached with high hopes that will more than likely be dashed; rather, to go in with low expectations and be pleasantly surprised.

The game starts off in a predictable manner, Eggman hatches a plan, Sonic and friends oppose him, blah blah blah. The truth is, Sonic has never carried a strong story in almost all his games across the last 28 years. It’s been Sonic vs Robotnik in nearly all these games. Sure, new characters are often introduced, like Chaos, Shadow, etcetera; but they have always been allied with Eggman, and Sonic Forces continues this tradition. A new character, Infinite, is introduced and may very well be the strongest foe to fight the blue blur yet. Again, this new character is under the direct orders of Dr. Eggman. Nothing new here. The introduction shows Sonic being defeated by this new enemy. Jump several months later and there’s an all-out war between Eggman’s army and a resistance force led by Knuckles. Shortly after, you are recruited as the new rookie on the team. That’s right, YOU. Sonic Forces has, for the first time, allowed the player to customize his own character to be dropped into the game. Your custom character, along with the rest of the gang, attempt to take the world back from Eggman’s control. All in all, it’s a cookie cutter story that really doesn’t do much to enhance the gaming experience. In fact, most of the story is dealt outside of cutscenes, in little dialogue bubbles between characters. These conversations would have served the narrative way better if they had been part of cutscenes and it all seems lazily put together. There is something left to be desired in terms of narrative here. What it lacks in story is made up for in gameplay. After only 4 hours this is probably Sonic’s fastest adventure yet.

There are three different game variants that you are thrown into in separate stages. You can play as modern Sonic, boosting through enemies on what seems like a race track, flipping from 3D to 2D, reminiscent of the day stages in Sonic Unleashed. These levels are fast, most often allowing the player to boost through most of the action, with a few hazards sprinkled here and there. You can also play as your custom character in stages similar to the aforementioned gameplay. In this mode, you are given a weapon and wisp abilities you can use to navigate the stage, and depending on your weapon you are granted different passive and active effects. These were my least favorite segments of Sonic Forces as I found they were so similar to modern Sonic, without the insane speed. Lastly, classic Sonic has been shoehorned into the game with very little rhyme or reason. The only explanation that is given is that somehow, Infinite is messing with different dimensions. It very loosely fits together. However, I actually enjoyed these stages where I imagine most gamers will be turned off. The glaring issue is the game’s physics when controlling classic Sonic. Jumping seems a little floaty, and momentum works differently here than in previous Sonic games. I personally enjoyed these new changes; I felt the controls were fresh and unlike the mechanics I have seen before. It takes some getting used to, certainly, but if you give it a chance these physics may grow on you too.

I’ve always been a strong believer in the importance of level design, especially regarding Sonic games where the whole point is to get to the end in one fast and fluid motion. It can’t be easy to develop these stages knowing that it has to be long enough to appease players all while the character is travelling at the speed of sound. I actually think the devs did a good job here. The levels weren’t too long to bore me, and they were just short enough to leave me wanting more. While it is a common complaint that these levels may be too short, I don’t see how they could have done it any other way. What’s most important here is that fun is distributed in short bursts over a decent period of time. There are over 30 different stages (albeit some within the same locale) that keep the fast and furious playstyle from growing stale. And if that’s not enough, there is the added challenge of getting S rank and collecting all red rings in each stage. There is plenty here to enjoy and even go back to should you so wish.

I have never really been disappointed by music in Sonic games, in fact, Sonic Adventure 2 holds so much musical nostalgia for me that it is a contender for one of my favorite video game soundtracks. Somehow though, I don’t believe Sonic Forces appeals to me that much. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the music and sound effects immensely, but nothing has left a lasting impression on me. I can’t recall a single song that sticks in my head. Ultimately, an okay soundtrack is just that: okay.

Graphically, Sonic Forces does nothing wrong, with a colorful pallet that is visually pleasing, but it doesn’t do anything exceptional either. It’s very average compared to most other cartoony triple A titles. This is saying a lot considering I always felt Sonic pushed the envelope when it came to its graphical style. Even from the early Genesis years, the colors popped so much that it was one of the best looking games on that console. When I saw Sonic Unleashed for the first time my mind was blown. I wasn’t quite as shocked this time around, but that might be the fault of the graphical style itself. It’s hard to imagine the visuals being improved upon, and it may be the case that cartoony graphics such as these have plateaued. In comparison to other graphical styles, this cartoony aesthetic doesn’t bring anything that we haven’t seen before to the table. That being said, the colorful aesthetic is easy on the eyes at the very least.

While there may be no bigger disappointment than Sonic’s evolution, this title is solid enough as a standalone game to provide some enjoyment. While the idea is new, creating your own character to be thrown into the story is not as great as it sounds conceptually. In the end, it’s the fast-paced action within short snippets of levels that make this game hold up as a solid Sonic game. It does some things better than its predecessors but is far from recapturing the essence that made Sonic so fun when I was young. This game is very much average.

Sound: 3/5

Gameplay: 4/5

Story: 2/5

Graphics: 4/5

Replay Value: 4/5

Total: 17/25 or 68/100

Borderlands (GOTY Edition) Review

It’s been nearly 10 years since the first Borderlands stormed onto retail shelves everywhere and defined the video game genre in which it resides. The game blended FPS and RPG elements seamlessly into one cohesive product that we have come to know as “looter-shooter”. By offering bazillions of guns, each with unique stats, rarities and effects, BL had a high drop-rate in the hearts of many gamers from all walks of life. I however, was not one of those gamers. At first. It was only with the recent remastered version of Borderlands that I have come to appreciate what the game does. And whatever it does, it does right.

The story is driven by the Vault Hunters, a gang of misfits who have made it their goal to find the mythic vault and plunder its riches for their own. This rag-tag team include a Soldier, Hunter, Siren, and Brick the… brick. As they are kicked off the bus in the middle of Pandora’s wasteland, a “guardian angel” of sorts reveals herself to them. She is actually some sort of fancy pants AI that helps the protagonists throughout their adventure. The game’s story isn’t laid out to you in cutscenes, but rather spoon-fed to you through quest summaries. The main questline will take a little over 20 hours to beat, however it will more than likely take about twice that due to the structure of quests. There is a certain player level that is recommended for each quest, and if you want to complete the story with the least amount of trouble, the side-quests are more or less forced on you. Indeed, the game can prove to be way too difficult should you tackle quests while under-leveled. Therefore, it is best to look at the story as the totality of all quests, main and side. And there is a lot here to applaud Gearbox for. Witty jokes and puns are ever-present, and they are so well structured that they can get even the most buzzkill people to snicker here and there. While well structured, the story does not encroach on gameplay which is something that I would have wanted. It puts narrative on the back burner. While the gameplay is stellar, I would have liked an occasional cutscene that highlights the incredible world Gearbox has created. Instead, I bust out my reading glasses and prepare for one hell of a ride.

The gameplay loop is simple, you complete quests that reward you with guns and enemies drop a bountiful amount of guns. You sell these guns or swap them into your arsenal so you can complete harder quests that will reward you with better guns. All this happens while you level up and gain skill points to spend within one skill tree of your choice among three. You’re always working toward the next level, collecting guns along the way. It is not uncommon however, for you to discover one overpowered weapon that will be used for a long time before being replaced. It’s in these discoveries that really gets the blood pumping when you see statistics that are off the charts. It’s enough to make the hardest of seasoned criminals giddy. In addition to the astronomical number of guns to experiment with, the gun-play itself is really quite spectacular. Shooting psychos and marauders has never been so much fun, as headshots land critical hits that are presented to you in big red letters and numbers bouncing off the point of impact. It’s strangely addictive to say the least.

This gameplay is wrapped up in a neat packaging of graphic novel style visuals. It looks a lot like cel shading, no matter how much this notion is contested. It’s an approach that award the game a certain graphical longevity, as it will look just as good 10 years from now as it did 10 years ago. The improvements in textures that ship with this GOTY version of the game are almost unnecessary, albeit a slight facelift is never unwelcome. It looks and plays just as I remember it looking and playing back in 2009. While it doesn’t excel as a realistic shooter, the graphics pair well with the over-the-top gameplay. It is not going for realism, and that’s ok. In a world full of triple A graphics pushing the envelope, Borderlands offers a refreshing aesthetic that deviates from the norm.

The game’s music seems to fit nicely with this aesthetic. It’s everything I imagine a wasteland sounds like, from screaming psychos to background acoustics. The weapons however, don’t sound like they have much weight to them. They sound weaker than a cap gun, like a children’s toy that somehow crits big burly raiders in the face. Perhaps these soft weapon sounds play into the lively and ambitious visuals; colorful sounds for a colorful game. Either way, there is something left to be desired here. That being said, the opening theme song and cinematic is probably my favorite opening of any game.

Borderland’s is highly replayable, allowing the player to carry over a character’s progress in a new game with harder, higher leveled enemies. While quests do not change from one new game to the next, it is admittedly quite convenient how progress can transfer over. The bigger the baddies, the better the battle.

Sound: 3/5

Gameplay: 4/5

Story: 2/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 4/5

Total: 18/25, or 72/100

Monster Hunter: World – Iceborne Review

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that Monster Hunter: World is one of my favorite games of all time. Be it the graphics, sound, gameplay, or a combination of all that good stuff, there are very few games that have caught, and held, my attention the way Monster Hunter has. Iceborne carries much of the same spirit as the base game, but now it’s kicked up a notch with cool new monsters and a ramped up difficulty.

On that note, this game is no joke. By the second monster hunt it became very apparent that I was way out of my depth. I had barely scraped by in High Rank, and Master Rank exacerbates that difficulty. I would be lying if I didn’t say I shed a tear after chugging my last Mega Potion only to be crushed by a tree that Banbaro uprooted and rolled over my crippled body. And he’s an easy one in comparison. If you’re used to the difficulty level of base MHW, it’s time to pull up your britches because you’re in for a fight. That’s not to say Iceborne isn’t a blast. There is a huge catharsis after finally beating a monster you’ve been stuck on for too long, and if you stick to it you will win eventually. If you’re not very good at the game, there is still a chance to get through the story as the SOS flare feature is functional. When in doubt though, have a friend tag along. The game really shines when you team up with some of your closest mates to best the largest of beasts.

This is still the same game we’ve been sinking hundreds of hours into, albeit with a ton of new features added. The Hoarfrost reach is a brand new locale developed specifically for this expansion, and it is a winter wonderland. Seliana acts as the new hub accompanying the island that has just been discovered. The devs have added the Surveyor Set which, when boiled down, is a free roam camera mode for the budding photographers deep within us all. And if you wanted to ride a Jagras, you can ride a Jagras; something that nobody asked for, but is welcomed with open arms. As mentioned above, there is a whole new ranking of monsters served to us as “Master Rank” that proves how hard (and rewarding) monster hunting can truly be. Along with this new rank comes a whole new plateau to upgrade weapons and armor, increasing the statistical ceiling. Last, but definitely not least, there is now a “Clutch Claw” new function for your slinger that allows you to climb up on monsters and rain down a flurry of attacks. All of these new features increase the longevity of Monster Hunter: World and culminates in a ton of fun to be had. For the full Monster Hunter: World review, click the link HERE.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 5/5 (+1)

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 4/5

Total: 24/25, or 96/100

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon Review

The result of a crowdfunding promise, Curse of the Moon is a love affair between retro-style gameplay and modern capabilities that is sure to whet the appetite. An accompaniment to the modern Ritual of the Night, CotM fulfills its purpose as a throwback to the fond memories of the late 80s and early 90s. I must confess, my only experience with Castlevania (the source material in which Bloodstained draws inspiration) is as a toddler who lacked the knowledge, experience, and fine motor skills required to navigate Dracula’s castle. I remember looking at the cover art and being blown away by the giant castle and a vampire’s apparition looming overhead. It was one of my first experiences with a NES cartridge and I had wholeheartedly hoped I could progress past the first screen. To no avail as I aimlessly wandered back and forth, not knowing how to climb stairs. Much like my poor, stair-climbing abilities, Curse of the Moon is a game that never really comes off the ground floor. Set atop the foundations laid by Castlevania; from a gameplay standpoint, CotM doesn’t do anything new to help it stand above the NES games and countless clones that have come before.

The game revolves around Zangetsu, a warrior with the moon’s curse cast upon him by demons. This is what fuels his vengeful crusade against any and all demons he may come across in the hour and a half it takes to play through. Zangetsu will encounter a few friends or foes along the way, the likes of which is determined by the player’s choice to interact, attack, or ignore these encounters. There is a total of 6 different possible endings that are contingent on the combinations of choices that can be made. Miriam, Alfred, and Gebel are all playable characters should the player choose to let them tag along and they can be switched in and out on a whim. However, should the player choose to slay these three protagonists, Zangetsu will be the only playable character as the troop’s powers are added to his arsenal. Should you choose to ignore the three of them completely you will be forced to navigate the game alone, while also only having the basic skills Zangetsu starts with. The multiple endings depend on the varied choices that the player can make regarding the main characters.

Each character has their own unique set of skills and methods of attack that keep the game fresh over time. The variation in move-sets allow for a wide array of ways to approach the obstacles that stand between you and the demon Gremory. Different characters’ skills can help the player traverse various sections of the map, which is riddled with alternative passages and shortcuts to discover. The dead guide the way as the skeletal remains of previous adventurers always help point you toward the fastest, and often easiest way around. In order to access these areas, you will likely need the aid of one of the three other protagonists, so it is not recommended to slay them or ignore them on your journey. Like many things in life, it is much harder to go it alone. In this respect, the player is accountable for some level of difficulty through his actions, even after the difficulty has been set at the beginning of the run. This creates a much more interesting, tactical approach to how the player wants to complete the game. As mentioned before, choice does matter, and it goes beyond the parameters of story endings. It is for this reason that I found myself replaying the game a lot. And I mean A LOT. It takes about an hour and a half to complete the game under the easiest of circumstances; now times that by five and adjust according to difficulty and that is how much time I have sunk into the game. And I still feel there is more to be done. Add the varying unlockable difficulties and a completely separate boss mode and this game becomes highly replayable, which is something I find rare in the games I usually invest in.

Graphically, the game does what it intends. It’s a fantastic tribute to an 8-bit era, while pulling several punches to keep the game playable in this century. Scrolling backgrounds are lovely and some boss fights, while oddly out of place, seem to really serve to modernize these visuals. It does not look like the 8-bit games of old, rather updating that nostalgic art to how we remember them. It masterfully finds a balance between a traditional style while using modern capabilities to raise it to the next level. It is both nostalgic and beautiful, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. As far as sound goes, it follows much in line with the visuals. Reminiscent 8-bit melodies really transport the player to a dimension where video games never evolved further than the NES and Master System. It didn’t seem out of place at all, in fact it all came together rather nicely. Auditory and visual senses complimenting each other to recreate gaming in the early 90s.

All around, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon succeeds in what it sets out to be. A warmly welcomed compliment to a much larger, sophisticated game, and a nod to our dust-covered older hardware. Anybody looking to pluck some nostalgic heartstrings will love this addition to their gaming library, as it does everything its inspiration did, but looks way better.

Sound: 4/5

Gameplay: 4/5

Story: 3/5

Graphics: 4/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 20/25 or 80/100

Control Review

On occasion, a video game comes along and turns logic on its head. Control does exactly that through the supernatural and incomprehensible themes littered throughout Remedy’s latest action game. It is a journey best experienced at a slow pace, leaving no stone unturned as the multitude of collectibles are discovered. Patience is key as you stumble your way through narrow corridors with the hope that you’re on the right track; and if you are, this game will inevitably derail you.

You are Jesse Faden, a woman on a mission to find her missing brother Dylan, leading her to the Federal Bureau of Control’s doorstep. The entire game takes place within the walls of the FBC, but these walls are not always static. As you progress through the game, some walls will take shape to open passages for further exploration. This happens by cleansing control points. The FBC has been overrun by the Hiss, interdimensional beings with no sense of physical boundaries. They invade the minds of Bureau agents, turning them into scary, alien-zombies all while distorting the building itself. By cleansing certain Hiss-infested areas, order is restored to the world around you. Gaining this power to fight the Hiss through her promotion as Director of the Bureau, Jesse wields an otherworldly weapon that is crucial toward her survival against all manner of enemies she may face. While the main story unfolds in a manner that is sure to confuse even the most out-of-the-box thinkers, the true narrative is revealed through hidden files that remain scattered throughout the building. It is in reading these files that clarity is shed on the issue at hand, so skipping these details is not recommended.

Control rewards exploration, sharing elements with what some may call a Metroidvania. Meaning you will be traversing some areas multiple times with new abilities to help you progress in a different direction. While it may prove to be tedious to some, the controls and movement make traversing these landscapes a pleasure. I am always elated whenever a game is so responsive as to completely immerse me. And Control truly controls like a charm. There is fluidity to the movement, and it feels so responsive that it emulates a one to one response from the button input to the on-screen character’s reaction. Add the character’s supernatural abilities to the fray and you have yourself one bad ass, immersive experience. The game truly makes the player feel like a superhero. The glaring issue that I combated during my playthrough of this game was the consistent drops in framerate whenever a menu was closed. And here is where I say there is no game without its flaws. The immersion created by a precise control scheme was counteracted by these framerate drops, reminding me that I was in fact playing a video game, and not actually throwing concrete with my mind. With some minor graphical issues compounding this, it was hard not to notice these flaws.

Don’t get me wrong, this game is pretty. It’s impressive how the facial expressions and all-around graphical mastery of emotive responses elevate this game. It is for this reason it actually seems to be a pleasure to interact with the Bureau’s occupants. That is, if they are in focus. And that is my biggest complaint about Control’s visuals. It was too often that I ran ahead of the game’s ability to speedily render the world around me, making things out of focus, and in fact leaving some characters looking like someone trying to create a snow angel in midair. This occurred multiple times in the same area, and I found myself purposely triggering it because it was just that ridiculous. This game takes itself very seriously, so when there’s something as laughable as this, it really changes the mood and atmosphere the developers have tried to create.

Speaking of atmosphere, the FBC is an incredibly ominous and creepy place. From the floating bodies, to the creepy orientation videos, to the musical ambiance, I was deeply unsettled. And the music plays well into this unsettling feeling. Not only was I terrified when I first heard the ambient tunes around me, but the use of silence is just as terrifying. I’m in a cafeteria, there’s no noise but my footsteps. Suddenly I come across a radio and I turn it on. The music spewing from the radio’s speakers catches me off guard and I immediately want it to stop, in fear that the Hiss may hear it too and come to devour me. These moments truly make Control shine and there are enough of them throughout the progression of the main missions to satisfy. Most creepy of all however, definitely goes to the mumbles and “hissing” in the distance as incantations are being recited with no real discernable sense to them. It is within this lack of comprehension of what is being uttered that is profoundly disturbing. That unsettling feeling is what separates Control from other games, and it persists long after the final mission is completed. It is rare to witness such an incredible use of sound in a video game, and for that, my hat’s off.

While not giving me much of an urge to replay this game from the beginning, the experience I had with Control was very enjoyable. The game is not without its flaws, but they can mostly be looked passed when judging the game as a whole. From the sound and convoluted story, to the incredible voice acting, this game should not be passed up.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 4/5

Graphics: 4/5

Replay Value: 3/5

Total: 21/25 or 84/100

Unravel Two Review

The cute and lovable Yarny returns in a sequel that far exceeds the first adventure. This time he has brought a friend along to help solve puzzles that are tailored to a co-op experience. The addition of a second player adds a new dynamic to the game that was unexplored by its predecessor. Cozy up under a knitted blanket with a friend and dive into this one head first; you will not regret the investment.

The game follows a knotted yarn creature tethered to another as they traverse beautiful locales that can only be described as eye candy. The story is not entirely about the controlled characters, but a pair of children that appear and disappear in the background as they try to escape from adults and end up landing in hot water. This culminates in two stories that are not entirely disconnected. The first being the immediate player-controlled balls of yarn in the foreground and the second being the background escape scenes. The Yarnies inadvertently help the children, who recurrently find themselves in tricky situations, by piecing together a spark that both acts as a guide, and gets the adults off the children’s tails. Looking at the big picture, the story is not particularly strong in this installment. However, what the game lacks in storytelling is made up for in visual coherence and captivating gameplay.

The platforming and puzzles in Unravel Two are very satisfying throughout the entire game. This time around, the second player is crucial in advancing as you are forced to swing off each other and sometimes separate to solve puzzles. In an era where couch co-op is seemingly a thing of the past, it’s a breath of fresh air, and a blast to play with a partner. I played through the adventure with my girlfriend who is not at all familiar with video games, but the controls were simple enough to be serviceable to both of us. Although she doesn’t like most games, she had just as much fun as I did. It’s important to also note that this game can be played entirely in single player as well, although the experience is far more fun with a friend. In single player there are still two Yarnies, but the player has control over both, switching characters to solve puzzles and platforming sequences in the same manner as two-players. Regardless of how you play, one Yarny can carry the other on his back, allowing for a single player to navigate the level just once, or a more experienced player to carry the other through the more difficult areas in co-op. This can alleviate some frustration in the co-op mode if one player seems to be having trouble or falling behind.

As I mentioned before, the scenery in this game is breathtaking, setting adorably imagined characters in realistic environments. There is a contrast between the landscapes and the player-controlled characters which serves to bring the Yarnies to life. The jagged, sometimes treacherous terrain feels like they exist in the real world and we see it all through the eyes of a tiny creature. The world seems huge to the protagonists as they trek through puddles that seem like ponds, over fallen branches that are trees, and rocks as boulders. Everything is relative to the Yarnies’ size. Simply put, it’s like living vicariously through the eyes of a mouse, and it’s beautiful.

At times, my girlfriend could not stand the music that played through some of the levels, and I’m inclined to agree with her. Some songs in the soundtrack are just terribly annoying. While I must admit there were some really great melodies, the vast majority of them are not particularly euphonious. They didn’t detract too much from the core experience though. I sometimes wouldn’t even notice the sound when I was having a blast jumping and swinging away.

There are 7 chapters in Unravel Two, all connected by a light-house inspired hub-world. When the story concluded, I wanted more. The ingenious level design made each chapter unique and the game didn’t outstay it’s welcome. Beyond the main chapters, there is more. 20 challenges await you as every hub opens by the end of the game. These challenges can range from a simple object displacement and climb, to a more brain teasing sequence of making knots and swinging around obstacles. It’s apparent that a lot of thought was put into making puzzles that challenge even the most experienced puzzle platformer veteran. I was actually really sad when everything was done because I knew then that it would be difficult to find another game that does co-op so simplistic and fun. It will take some coercion to get my girlfriend to play a different game with me, and the replay value for Unravel Two is very low. There are some collectibles to go back and find, but there really is no incentive to do so. I just wish there was more to the game, but that isn’t a negative point. It just proves how fun the game really is. It could have been 50 chapters long and I would still want more.

It’s games like Unravel Two that give me hope for the future of couch co-op. I would really like to see that trend make a comeback and this game is a step in the right direction. Unravel Two culminates in an immensely enjoyable experience that can be shared with friends and family and I won’t soon forget the fun I had swinging and pulling my partner up onto platforms. In my modest opinion, Unravel Two easily deserves an above average score, with a strong recommendation for any couple to give this one a shot. There is a lot of fun to be had.

Sound: 3/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 2/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 1/5

Total: 16/25, or 64/100