Ori and the Will of the Wisps Review

I would give Ori and the Will of the Wisps a glowing recommendation; it hits all the right notes in terms of gameplay and controls, wrapped in a beautiful musical score and an art-style that would give Bob Ross a run for his money; but I can’t. As much as I would love to recommend this game, it needs a lot of work on the performance front. It stands on the precipice of greatness but falls short in the most important aspect of all. This game is incredible, but also very disappointing.

A sequel to the 2015 “Ori and the Blind Forest”, it surpasses its predecessor in so many ways while staying true to what made the first game so great. You follow the adventures of Ori, a guardian spirit who finds herself on an adventure in a strange land outside of her home of Nibel. She, along with her owlette companion Ku, fly far across the sea only to be stricken down by inclement weather and trapped in this foreign land. Ori and Ku struggle to go back home after being separated and Ori becomes entangled in an adventure to restore the land from the corruption that had long since consumed it. The story is very emotional, and I even shed a tear when I reached its gripping conclusion. Moon Studios just knows how to tug at the heartstrings of anyone who is fortunate enough to play through the game in its entirety.

The combat has been refined and smoothed out with a fine-toothed comb. No longer are you limited to the Spirit Flames that served as the primary attack in the Blind Forest. Now, Ori has access to a versatile assortment of weapons giving the player freedom of choice in a variety of play-styles. These weapons include, but are not limited to, a sword that slashes away at enemies quickly, a bow that provides range, and a cumbersome hammer that can destroy enemies’ armor and shields. Combat is much more pleasant in this sequel and empowers the player where the Spirit Flames did not.

The platforming should also be praised. Movement is buttery smooth, and each platforming sequence feels perfect in every sense of the word. If you are competent with the controls (and after playing some of the more challenging sequences in the Blind Forest, you should be) you can achieve these incredible platforming feats with such grace and fluidity. It is a masterpiece to behold. There were moments where I would initiate a sequence of jumps and launches and just be amazed by the mobility of the character, almost in disbelief that I input what I was witnessing on screen. It wouldn’t be unfair to say this may be one of the best platformers on offer in 2020.

The art is breathtaking to say the least. Each individual frame of the game can be screenshotted and would make the perfect desktop background. This is the perfect example of games as an artform. Side scrolling backgrounds are masterfully hand drawn and are bursting with color. Landscapes are jaw-dropping and awe inspiring, creating environments that are so full of life. This game, along with its predecessor, are two of the best-looking games I have ever laid my eyes on. It’s pure perfection.

The musical score contributes to the flavorful landscapes in the best way. It is all orchestral tunes that elevates the gameplay to a whole other level. The music howls at you as chase sequences pick up the pace and lulls you to sweet serenity when leisurely exploring the beautiful environment. The art alone is beautiful. The music alone is beautiful. The combination of the two is like Reese’s chocolate and peanut butter, and I honestly could not imagine one without the other. Not only is this one of the best-looking games I’ve seen, but the music stimulates the senses in ways I never thought possible. Expertly orchestrated, from a visual and auditory standpoint the execution is flawless.

And that brings me to my one and only complaint about the game, and boy is it a doozy. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is plagued with performance issues at nearly every turn. It stutters often, especially when transitioning into a new area. This is almost game breaking, and heartbreaking for an otherwise perfect title. At about the 8-hour mark I was frustrated by the constant slowdown and stutters. In one instance the game even crashed on me and I had to load into it from my last checkpoint. I was overwhelmed with anger and frustration that I thought about hanging my hat with this one and finishing my playthrough there, but I persevered and made it to the end, and I am glad that I did. This game desperately needs a patch. I would give it a perfect score were it not for these persistent performance issues. As it stands, this game is incredible but these issues in a 2020 release, and published by Microsoft at that, is unforgivable.

While Ori and the Will of the Wisps exudes perfection in almost every objective angle, where it faults is in one of the most important areas of a video game. I would not be surprised if many people put this game down out of sheer frustration, but I implore anyone giving this title a go to persevere through it, because the ending really needs to be experienced. If you can look past its flaws, there is so much more here than can be described. I believe that an almost perfect score is appropriate for an almost perfect game.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 4/5

Story: 5/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 4/5

Total: 23/25 or 92/100

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA AGES) Review

After reviewing the first Sonic game right around the same time the second was to be released on Switch, I thought it might be worth my time to take a magnifying lens to the latter as well. And what I have drawn from this is that M2 has done some fantastic things with the Sega Ages titles. Not only does it present the already beguiling speedy gameplay faithfully, it adds upon the game’s foundation through features new and old. You are essentially given two games in this Sega Ages package with the return of Knuckles in Sonic 2, the game mode that used lock on technology that was only possible with the two Sega Genesis cartridges. I dare to say that this may be the definitive version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2.

While Sonic 1 introduced us to the titular hero, Sonic 2 tightened the previous game’s performance, physics, and level design. Where the first game was plagued with slowdown in some levels, its sequel used the Genesis’ completely made-up, phony “blast processing” to its fullest potential. I never once experienced so much as a hiccup in gameplay during my time with the game. And Sega Ages is quite faithful in this respect. It’s emulated to near perfection, and that, with this iteration’s additions, rockets the game to a “must own” status for any Switch user. Momentum also seems like it works better here than in its predecessor, making the controls tight and responsive, and overall bolstering the way the game feels from a physics standpoint.

But most notable still is the game’s incredible level design. This is by far the best showing of what Sega is truly capable of when it comes to world-building. Multiple pathways branch out, providing the player with options as to how they want to get from start to finish. Not to mention it seems fast. I know, by today’s standards, Sonic’s 2D excursions don’t seem nearly as speedy as they did back when they released, but Sonic 2 somehow captures what it really means to be fast. Levels are designed to be just long enough to rationalize the purchase, but also short enough to make it feel like you are zipping through the game. While I am a veteran at these games, I was hard-pressed to break more than 3 minutes on any one act, making it great for pick up and play while also keeping the game fresh if you choose to finish it in one sitting as it was intended so many years ago. You will spend less than 6 minutes in an environment, and then be ushered into the next just as quickly as you entered the first. This is great level design at its very core. There are a couple cheap hits that the player is almost assuredly bound to encounter, but that is where replaying the game can impart the player with a way to attain better times and smoother runs.

The 16bit graphics are just as smooth as a veteran’s playthrough. With the Sega Ages copy, like the first, you can adjust screen size, scan lines, and smoothing to suit your fancy. There is something here for anyone to enjoy, catering to both purists and newbies alike. Even to this day the game looks great. Everything is so colorful and the foreground pops from the background nicely, never confusing the player like so many games of that era did. Overall, the game’s graphics are what is to be expected from a title from the early 90s, but even surpasses its cohorts in some ways. And the games visuals, paired with its killer soundtrack, provides quite the experience. The 16bit sounds are captivating from the moment they reach the player’s ears. My favorite of all the music featured in the game’s many levels are Hill Top and Sky Chase’s upbeat melodies. The way everything ties together somehow makes the game feel greater than the sum of its parts. It’s almost ineffable, and results in an experience that has blown me away since the age of five.

Sure, I may be talking from a nostalgic standpoint, but I also believe the game is objectively incredible, and it holds up to this day as one of the best Sonic experiences out there. If you’ve never played Sonic 2, the Sega Ages version is a great place to start, and if you are a longtime fan there is a lot here for you to enjoy as well. Overall this is a fantastic addition to my game library, and the extremities of the many features included in the Sega Ages rendition (counting the ring chase mode and drop dash ability) are just a bonus; but in all honesty, the game holds up even without those inclusions. Altogether, there is a little something for everyone here, and this game remains at the pinnacle of 2D platformers.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 3/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 23/25 or 92/100

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

Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle (SEGA Genesis Classics) Review

When it comes to mascots, Alex Kidd may not be the most memorable. This anthropomorphic monkey-man was SEGA’s frontrunning character before Sonic the Hedgehog was a thing. He was in direct competition with Nintendo’s Mario, and it is quite evident why SEGA ended up dropping him after his SEGA Genesis debut. Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle is a real stinker.

The game follows the adventures of Alex Kidd, the son of an absent king. When he is tipped off that his father is still alive somewhere on the planet Paperock, Alex sets out to find him and bring him home. In order to do so, he must best the planet’s inhabitants at the game of rock, paper, scissors. There is no further explanation as to why this luck-based game is so important and how any of this makes sense. The story is laughable and holds no real significance to the gameplay, other than explaining why the protagonist engages in dull games of chance throughout each level. Acknowledging that the game is very old, I can look past how awful it all is, but then I remember the imaginative plot to Super Mario Bros (for its time) and I find Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle has no excuse to be as terrible as it is.

Alex Kidd claims to be a 2D platformer, but there is a clear deviation from what is to be expected in the genre. Most platformers involve jumping from one platform to another while avoiding enemies and obstacles. In that respect, this game is nothing like the games it competes with. Sure, there are enemies you must jump over, punch, or kick out of the way, but these are not central elements of the game. Instead, gameplay revolves around a series of rock, paper, scissors matches where Alex competes for a special item that will aid him in his adventure. The items you receive for winning seem to break the game and do not make things any more fun. After winning a motorcycle, you can choose to continue through the level normally, or you can activate it and fly through the whole stage with not much thought or skill. And skill does not seem to be a requirement here at all. Not only does it not take skill to zoom through the level with a game-breaking item, but the rock, paper, scissors matches themselves are games of chance. The game seemingly allows you to skip these matches and carry on in the level using the abilities you were given at the onset. That is, until you get to the first boss which is nothing more than a match of rock, paper, scissors. The “boss fights”, if you can call them that, raise the stakes of these games of chance by forcing the player to forfeit a life should you fail. It all culminates in a miserable experience that left me regretting having played it to begin with.

The game controls atrociously as well. It seems that Alex is constantly running on a sheet of ice, sliding any which way with every sharp turn on the directional pad. The whole feel of the game is just off, and it pulled me out of the experience. Alex floats through the air with every jump, creating some very frustrating mishaps when attacking enemies. This is a huge problem since the player is only afforded one hit and then it’s back to the beginning of the level or last checkpoint. With the consequences of getting hit so high, it is imperative that controls are tight and responsive. That is simply not the case with Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle. This game operates under a two-button system that typically works for games like this. For some reason it just does not work here unfortunately. The jump button doubles as an attack as soon as the button is released, which I find only works under perfect conditions. The punch button is just as infuriating. Alex needs to be at the perfect distance to reach the enemy. When timed poorly, it means certain death. The game relies heavily on repeat attempts to get to the end while struggling with the controls.

Ultimately, this game isn’t very good at all. The whole time I was playing it I was longing to be in control of a speedy, little blue hedgehog. It is apparent why this mascot died with the Genesis. On the bright side, in Alex Kidd’s death, Sonic was born. This game just sucks in comparison.

Sound: 2/5

Gameplay: 1/5

Story: 1/5

Graphics: 2/5

Replay Value: 1/5

Total: 7/25, or 28/100

Miles and Kilo Review

Nothing is stronger than the bond of a boy and his dog. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but that’s exactly what I did when I picked up Miles & Kilo. An 8-bit 2D platformer featuring a boy and an adorable puppy, what’s not to love? I had so much fun with every well-timed jump, slide, and thrown fruit during my time with this game. Miles and Kilo prove that this genre is far from dead.

Miles & Kilo follows the story of a young man and a lovable dog as they become stranded on a mysterious archipelago. Due to the nefarious meddling of a ghastly specter, Miles’ plane crashes and a group of misfit monsters steal the parts to keep the duo landlocked. The protagonists are forced to give chase to these monsters so they can rebuild their plane and escape the dreaded island. With a plot that is easy to follow and a few quick-witted jokes, Miles & Kilo makes for an enjoyable experience that is fun for any age. It appeals to older gamers who like to reminisce about platformers of the late 80’s and 90’s, and younger gamers who will fall in love with the protagonists and fast paced action that is on display here.

The gameplay is a throwback to a simpler time. There are two buttons, jump and action. Jumping can be done at a variety of heights depending on how long the button is held for and is the key to getting through some of the trickier platforming sequences. The action button does anything from sliding under blocks, to throwing fruit or somersaulting into enemies. Although the control scheme is simple, mastering these techniques is essential for the later levels and can prove to be difficult. The protagonists will travel across beaches, over mountains, and even through a volcano, jumping on enemies and landing just right onto certain platforms.

There are a variety of enemies as every bird, frog, and spider on this island is after you. There are enough enemies to keep the game fresh throughout the entirety of the playthrough. The game strikes a great balance between levels chalked full of obstacles while not being too long or overcrowded. The levels are all about 30 seconds long and can be completed in a constant forward motion. Be warned though, there are no checkpoints, so if you die, you’re back to square one at the beginning of each level. I personally did not miss a checkpoint system, and with the levels being so brief, I think the game benefits from their exclusion. You are forced to memorize how to navigate the world and learn from your mistakes. While this does not exempt you from frustration, there is a great sense of relief when you finally complete a section you have been stuck on for a long time. It is that relief that makes each minute of this 2-hour long adventure worth it.

The music and graphics are what is expected from a late 80’s inspired platformer. The game features 8-bit sprites that look surprisingly good from afar. It is hard to objectively critique these aesthetic choices in 2019, because graphically this game can’t hold a candle to contemporary releases, but the developers were never aiming to compete in that respect, and that’s okay. Instead, this game has a very retro look and feel that plays at the nostalgic heart strings of any 80’s or 90’s kid. Even the music is reminiscent of old 8-bit adventures. While no melody is particularly memorable, they do evoke deeply buried memories of the somewhat catchy, somewhat annoying video game tunes of old. From both visual and audio standpoints, Miles & Kilo accomplishes what it sets out to do by throwing the gamer back in time. Why do I get the sudden urge to blow in a cartridge and hang video game cover art pin-ups along my bedroom walls?

Miles & Kilo, while only filling a couple of hours, has a shocking amount of replay value. There is a feature that ramps up the difficulty by constantly motioning the player forward which is perfect to enable on a second run. In addition to this, there are ranks dished out at the end of every level, encouraging gamers to go back and perfect the run. These perfectionist motivators are never over-imposing, and the consistent replays are actually a blast to engage in. Upon completion of the game for the first time, a time-attack mode is unlocked, exploring further ways to engage gamers to put in some overtime hours.

Ultimately, what this game boils down to is a lof of fun in an old-school package. I highly recommend it for every fan of 2D platformers or any gamer reminiscent of an age gone by. With a cute protagonist like Kilo, your local SPCA is praying you adopt this one, if for nothing else than to give this game a good home.

Sound: 3/5

Gameplay: 4/5

Story: 3/5

Graphics: 3/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 18/25, or 72/100