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

Dead Cells Review

It is rare to find a gem, so masterfully crafted as Motion Twin’s Dead Cells. It is the epitome of an amazing game. More so if you own a Switch and want a game that you can jump in and out of on a whim, anywhere, any time. It is of the highest pedigree and should not be passed up no matter what platform you own. Metroidvania and Roguelike elements blend so delightfully to create one seamless whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts. In short, Dead Cells will have me chasing the proverbial dragon for many months to come. It is my introduction into the Roguelike subgenre, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The game revolves around the central, headless character, whose shtick is that he cannot die. Whether he likes it or not, he is constantly revived at the end of every run. A funny reminder of this is the stacks of dead bodies in the mutations room, presumably those of the fallen hero. This sets the stage for the narrative to intertwine with the fundamentals of the genre, making perfect sense to an otherwise nonsensical plot-hole that I can only assume most of its predecessors have fallen through. Again, this is the first Roguelike I have played, but I thought the gimmick was handled quite well while being a little tongue-in cheek.

The prisoner is on a mission to slay the king, who is likely to blame for his incarceration. As you roam the winding passages of the underground holding cells, it becomes clear that you are not alone down here. An outbreak, called the Malaise has made many sick; and worse, has turned some into horrible mutations that you must slay your way through to get to the next area. Along the way you will find little tidbits of story scattered here and there within holding cells and chambers that are stumbled upon seemingly at random. These mostly serve to emphasize the hardships that those residing underground have faced. It is not uncommon to randomly spot hanging corpses and putrid carcasses. It is all handled with a dark sense of humor however, often rewarding these finds with a drumstick or kebab to replenish a bit of health.

The game mechanics are also air-tight. Responsiveness in controls and abilities make the player feel powerful, allowing a skilled player to never miss a beat, and a rookie to feel like he could become a skilled player. A mishmash of rolls, double jumps, and a plethora of pick-up abilities all culminate in a delightful experience that remains unmatched. No other game has made me feel the way Dead Cells makes me feel. Like I can accomplish anything within this world, and if I can’t, I’ll have another go at it with little to no consequence. Sure, the Roguelike elements mean that many of the items and powerups will die with you, but the abilities that do carry over are enough to give a nice sense of progression. The cells as a currency was fine tuned to make you feel that no run is a wasted effort.

The games graphics and sound also add something indescribable to the experience. It is done in a pseudo-16bit art-style that is really nice to look at, with a wide range of color pallets that keep the game looking fresh, be it for a five-minute run or a 30 minute one. The music made me feel like I was in a dystopic world, often ramping up whenever a more difficult enemy or boss was standing before me. The sound effects too did not disappoint. Every swing of the sword that landed, or every twang of the bowstring felt satisfying and rewarding. Ultimately, the sound and art-style were handled perfectly and with fine craftsmanship.

This game is highly replayable on top of all that has been mentioned above. The whole point is to repeat playthroughs, progressing slowly at first, and faster when you get the hang of the game and can put in longer runs. The cells can be spent on a variety of abilities and weapons, and there is almost always something to strive for. The more desirable abilities will cost more cells, encouraging further playtime. This is one of those games that is just so hard to put down, and when it is put down, it is not too long before it is picked back up again. I cannot emphasize enough how fun this game is. A must own in any video game library. It’s a perfect game in my book.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 5/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 25/25 or 100/100

Two Point Hospital Review

Running a profitable hospital is no joke and Two Point Hospital makes this quite clear. Well, maybe it is kind of a joke; honestly, after playing this game I don’t know what to think. The sheer depth of the institution-building simulation is concealed by a humorous coat of paint and it is rather brilliant. This game was hard to put down, driven mostly by its incredible, cheeky dad-jokes. My only significant gripe with the game is how overwhelming it can all be at times. Luckily, thanks to full control over time like many sims before it, you can take it all in at your own pace. Two Point Studios has really outdone themselves on this one.

From a developer I have never heard of before (I never played Theme hospital, the game’s forerunner), I was pleasantly surprised with the level of content on offer. The depth of the game comes from the workers for hire. Many of them have their own dispositions and expertise, all while demanding different pays and pay raises, and it all actually matters in the conception of your hospital. Did I mention there are ghosts? Patients who have passed may linger in disembodied forms, and it requires a janitor with the Ghost Capture ability to rein in these abominations. This is just an example of one of many skills that are required to tackle the tasks presented to you. And this is a rather basic one at that. The key is to hire the right men for the job, or to train your staff to perform competently. Personalities play a huge role in the game as well, and too often did I find my workers not carrying out their duties as expected, lounging in the staff room for a bit too long, or simply taking my hard-earned money for doing a sub-par job. The mastery of the management of employees goes a long way in running an efficient business.

This depth is pleasantly concealed by a cloud of great humor. I found myself chuckling at the occasional puns or satirical comments on the sad state of health care. Looking back on it, in totality, the cleverness of it all had me laughing for a good portion of my play time. This created a light atmosphere for otherwise serious conditions. Feeling light-headed? Let me unscrew the lightbulb head you are afflicted with and provide you with a brand spanking new head with my high-tech machine. There’s a pandemic? We must pull the pans off these patients’ heads at once! I was simply engulfed in the wacky humor to alleviate the stress that would present itself with the influx of patients and the lack of accommodations. Of course, this is the only way to keep a heavy simulation light and fun.

The art style lent a lot to the fun atmosphere of the game also, which played well into the quirky humor. Everyone looked like they were ripped right out of Wallace and Gromit and they moved about, flailing their arms at every step. The characters’ mannerisms were hilarious on their own, but paired with the game’s comedic sense, it was all very fun to watch and added to the overall enjoyment. The objects were nicely detailed in a cartoonish art direction that is akin to what you would see in the Sims. It was all easy on the eyes and unrealistic in the most beautiful way.

The sound was something that left me wanting. I got a kick out of the Radio host attempting to hypnotize himself and the listener, but the music was very similar to something you may hear in an elevator. It got repetitive very fast and for the most part I would tune it out as I focused on building a nice bathroom for my patients and staff to enjoy. This is by far the weakest part of this game and were it to have a greater variety in tunes and dialogue, this may have been avoided. As it stands, I had quite the aversion to the repetitive music which I’m sure many people will feel the same way about.

This game draws you in, and while there is no real lure to play it over, retrying levels in order to get the three-star rating that is so highly sought after was a blast. It was so easy to get carried away and spend too much, but multiple tries allowed for me to rein it in and really focus on what I can do to beat each level. In this respect, the game is very replayable, but to start from scratch on a new save is madness. Who would put themselves through all that stress, really?

Two Point Hospital was a pleasure to say the least, and its quick wit drove this game home. For those seeking depth in the way to approach different scenarios must look no further, as the simulation is quite heavy when you get in the thick of it. I had a blast with this one and it’s easily recommended to anyone looking for a quick chuckle and heady gameplay. My hat is off to Two Point Studios and their incredible take on hospital management.

Sound: 2/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 5/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 22/25 or 88/100

198X Review

As I get older time seems to become more and more precious. There’s just not enough of it in a day. Therefore my appreciation for short games has grown as I have; where I would have been furious as a child to get home and pop a game into my console only for the experience to be over as quickly as it had begun, I bask in enjoyment when I can complete a game within an hour or two of sitting down with it, as long as it’s fun and impactful. 198X is one of those games. It can be beaten in an hour, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. The story is meaningful, the gameplay is fun and engaging, and it acts as a nice throwback to a simpler time.

198X is essentially an hour-long story that finds a warm home as interactive entertainment. The protagonist’s name is Kid, and we accompany him in the outskirts of a city, appropriately called Suburbia. In the opening moments, he finds an arcade nestled down an alley in what looks to be an old abandoned building. He marvels at the glowing lights permeating the otherwise dark and dreary room. The game’s gimmick is that the player is experiencing old arcade games along with the protagonist as he inserts a coin and escapes into the virtual world, if not only but for a fleeting moment. The story, intertwined with the gameplay, is a neat and inventive idea that I would love to see more of. It’s a real coming of age story that implements gaming and nostalgia in a creative way. It’s relatable, and I was never an 80s kid, which says a lot about the masterfully written narrative.

The gameplay revolves around a variety of different arcade-style games that all fall within a different gaming genre. The first game you experience acts as an introduction, easing the player into the story. It’s a beat ‘em up that resembles the old Streets of Rage games. It controls as well as I expected from a game that has a lot of source material to draw inspiration from. In fact, all the games featured in the story control very nicely and I have no complaints in that regard. You move on to play games inspired by Outrun, Phantasy Star, and other 16-bit gaming staples, all of which are fun in their own right.

One of my favorite parts about this game is its soundtrack. It is comprised of some great 16bit-style tracks that are sort of smoothed out to appeal to a modern audience. Flying through space and blowing up giant starships becomes even more exhilarating when the music is ramping up in the background. Outside of the arcade games, the soundtrack that plays over the narration is just as stellar. It sets the tone for the whole game, evoking emotions that only a masterful soundtrack can draw out of the player. Paired with the incredibly atmospheric narration that Ms. Tuttle brings to the table, the sound in this game is definitely something to keep an eye (or ear) on.

The graphics are what’s to be expected from a 16bit video game, but it somehow looks better than what I am accustomed to in games from the 90s. I’m a sucker for the visuals in pseudo-retro games. The art directors are able to capture the essence of the times, but also upgrade it and make it pop in the world of the 2000’s. It is quite impressive, considering the game’s story, outside of the playable arcade games, is dished out in the same 16bit art style. The entire game, from head to toe, is pixelated heaven. I received pure enjoyment from the game’s art, and I hope we see more games like this one.

While the game is all about quick, pseudo-arcade games that can be finished within a matter of minutes, it allows for a certain level of replay value. When the story is completed, the player can choose to jump in at any point in the story, giving the freedom to play any featured game on a whim. However, these arcade games fall short of their source material. It’s simply more fun to jump into Outrun, or Streets of Rage than to play 198X’s take on these games. All in all, the replay value is there should it be something that interests you, but I would rather invest my time in the actual games rather than their depictions within this title.

198X is a short burst of fun that any fan of old arcades can pick up and find some enjoyment in. On one hand I would love for it to be longer, on the other it is the perfect sized experience that demands my attention for the little free time I have. At the end we are promised that the game is “to be continued” and I hope 198X reaches the level of success that is required for the developers to consider a sequel. If you haven’t checked this one out yet, I urge you to do so.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 3/5

Story: 4/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 2/5

Total: 19/25 or 76/100

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!