Ninjala Review

In the last few years we have seen an influx of free-to-play games, for better or worse, seemingly stemming from the business models of popular MOBAs, retooled for the much more recent Battle Royales. Fortnite seemed to pave the way for an entirely new and viable money-making scheme, and damn do I love it! The free to play and NOT pay to win business model satiates many of my video game desires. I can play a game entirely free of charge, or I can choose to buy cosmetics (that don’t affect gameplay in the slightest) and support the developers, it’s a win-win all around. The latest of these games is Ninjala, an entirely free-to-play, online experience for the Nintendo Switch that has won my heart since it launched. Ninjala is both simple and complex in an oxymoron that can only be made sense of through experience, and it is incredible.

The basic premise is that you are a ninja enveloped in constant battles hosted by the WNA, World Ninja Association. They have developed a gum that imbues special ninja powers upon the consumer. A lot of the game revolves around these powers, so you will see a lot of bubbles being blown and gum weapons being wielded. You’re essentially a bad ass ninja with all the perks that come with such a title. The game really shines through its many intricacies, while maintaining a simplistic coat of paint that is very inviting to newcomers.

The game, while being geared toward online multiplayer battles, be it team or battle royale style, also includes a story mode for purchase. While this may be intriguing to some players, single player is clearly an afterthought here and the story is rather uninteresting. Coming in at a total of $10 USD, it is practically highway robbery. The story is dished out through comic book panels that are barely animated and laughably so. You follow the story of Van, a young boy learning the ropes of what it means to be a ninja while practicing his newfound powers.

It’s essentially a tutorial that doesn’t really help you succeed on the online battlefield whatsoever. There is a lot of unmet potential here, as the premise of the game could have been expanded on and really interesting story arches could have been made, but again, the single player is clearly an afterthought here and is a cheap jedi mind trick to get newcomers to dish out an undeserving $10. Steer clear of this purchase, unless you really want to practice your ninja skills when you don’t have internet to play with friends and foes alike. It is worth noting that each episode in the chapter will net you some gold coins if you perfect it, which can then be spent on various upgrades to your ninja, like passive abilities. The amount you can accrue through the story is inconsequential though, maintaining the game’s status as definitely NOT pay-to-win. This game mode does introduce unique enemy types though, and they are rather charming and well designed. That is literally its only redeeming feature.

There are other in-game purchases that can be made aside from the lackluster story mode. There is, like many other Battle Royales before it, a battle pass of sorts that will allow you to unlock cosmetics. Of course there is a standard pass for free that will permit you access to a variety of goodies, but the payed pass will reward you with many more goodies at a much greater rate as you rank up. If you’re not into cosmetics then this can also be avoided, as it is perfectly viable to stick with the free pass. Gameplay is unaffected regardless of the money you choose to spend. This is the best case scenario for free-to-play games in my opinion, where it is very consumer friendly, void of predatory charges.

Now we get down to the most important aspect of the game, gameplay. You wield one of three varieties of weapons, the katana, hammer, or yo-yo. All have very distinct gameplay features that allow you to adjust your playstyle accordingly. Within these three varieties are four different options of weapons that have different passive and active abilities. I am most acquainted with the drill katana because it allows me to burrow into the ground and pounce on unsuspecting enemies, often allowing me to steal kills or surprise attack the oblivious ninja. You swing your weapon by pressing ZR, and you blow a gum-bubble with ZL also acting as a guard. When you clash with another ninja you are given four choices: up, down, left, or right. This amounts to a game of rock paper scissors, where up beats down, down beats side, and side beats up. When you perform a basic attack with ZR and there is no input from the stick, the default attack is up, allowing veterans to exploit noobs by opting for the side attacks.

You can also shoot your bubbles by holding ZL and shooting with ZR. You are given a power meter allowing you to dash. This meter is increased whenever you defeat a drone and will allow you to upgrade your weapon to a bigger form of itself when you accumulate enough power. There are many more intricacies that I will not mention here for fear of my readers figuring out my playstyle and trouncing me when we inevitably meet on the battlefield. I’ll leave the rest up to trial and error. I am hoping now you understand why I have been saying this game is both simplistic and complex at the same time.

The graphics err on the side of simplicity to be more appealing to the uninitiated. It essentially tricks you into playing an overly complex game. I love it. It is very cartoony and colorful and looks like it was made for children. That could very well be the case, but I really don’t see children being able to figure out how to “git gud”. It can be somewhat of a shock to see this giant Pixar animation beat you down if you’re not ready for it. I thought the childish aesthetic to be quite charming in the grand scheme of things, and it definitely motivates me to keep playing. At the very least it’s a nice break from the much more gritty and bleak Skyrim port on the Switch.

The sound is great as well, as I jump for joy when the announcer yells Ippon! or Ninjala! when a combo lands in all the right ways to leave your opponent flying to the other end of the arena. Sound effects are straight out of a cartoon as well, and the music featured in the game has all been originally crafted. You can assign your ninja with a theme song in the avatar customizer, and I’m constantly jamming to the theme song I handpicked for myself. It’s all great fun and appropriate for all ages.

Finally, the game has been designed to be played over and over, ad infinitum. Each game feels different from the last as you can choose to Ippon your way to victory, or steal all the drones, or even just work toward your many missions that will lead you to rank up your battle pass faster. I’ve been playing it rather consistently since its launch and the gameplay has yet to feel dry to me. However, I do believe that many players may fall out of the game if they aren’t winning enough, or the gameplay just doesn’t appeal to them. There are only two maps to choose from so the locations may become stale after a while. I feel like it’s a “love it or hate it” kind of game with very little room in between. If you don’t like the game after giving it a good chance, it will likely never grow on you. However, admittedly I wasn’t a big fan after my first few battles, but after learning the ins and outs, I grew to love it for all of its intricacies. It may very well be a contender for my favorite free to play games of all time.

I would recommend any Switch owner to give this one a go, if for no other reason than that it’s free. You don’t even need a Nintendo Online subscription to battle against other players online, making it one of the only truly free games out there. If you don’t like it after giving it a fair chance, that’s okay, because you literally haven’t lost anything. Well, except for your precious time. Regardless, I think it’s a worthy pick-up for any Switch owner. There’s nothing to lose.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 2/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 22/25 or 88/100

Burnout Paradise: Remastered Review

At its core, Burnout Paradise is filled to the brim with fun, fast-paced action wrapped in a myriad of things to do. While EA is extremely criticized for almost every move they make, I have no bone in that fight as I remain a bystander and lover of all things video game related. Without getting too much into the politics of this titan of a company, I can definitively say that Burnout Paradise Remastered for the Nintendo Switch is an amazing game, albeit with a questionable price of entry.

The premise is simple. Here’s an open world full of discoveries to be made and events to take part in, and it is traversed exclusively behind the wheel of some pretty cool cars. Paradise City is appropriately titled, boasting one of the coolest open worlds I have ever experienced. Each detail can become marred in the blur of break-neck speeds however, effectively making each detail put into every turn almost superfluous. Yet it is very much appreciated whenever I choose to simply explore the nooks and crannies at a more reasonable velocity. There is a lot of detail put into this game, yes, but it can also look very grainy at times. Be it the blur in the distance, or somewhat jagged lines detailing the game, this isn’t the best looking game on the system; but it is serviceable and it’s important to note that this was a last-gen game, up-resed to look and perform better by today’s standards. The car destruction is rather visually pleasing, but again, it is nowhere near what the capabilities of today’s technology can achieve. The pieces that fly off the car have about as much detail as low-quality voxels from a bygone era in video games. Burnout doesn’t look completely terrible by any means, but it only attains a caliber that is acceptable to the average gamer.

The fun to be had here mostly comes from the high-octane action that is found throughout. While I, and many other gamers of my generation will agree; Burnout 3: Takedown was the franchise’s climax that has yet to be replicated or achieved by any of the newer entries. In this fashion, I am sure the open world will turn off some purists; however, I found it to be enjoyable and events are still as bountiful, regardless of how they are accessed. In fact, it adds value to the game by allowing discoveries to be made that a traditional Burnout lacks. You will be flying through billboards, mowing down fences, and jumping over impossible ramps in an attempt to discover everything this game has to offer. In this sense, the gameplay has been amped up to 11, with so much content available to whoever chooses to experience its intricacies.

As far as events go, there are six, or arguably seven varieties to participate in. There are standard races, stunt runs, and marked man missions to name a few. Burnout Paradise provides a lot of different gameplay options to really test your skills in many different forms. My least favorite was the point accumulating stunt runs which tasks you with scoring enough points in a set amount of time. The game shines brightest in its standard races that offer incredible arcade racing action, filled with near-misses and takedowns that veterans of the series are accustomed to. There is something here for everyone, except for those expecting simulation. This is nowhere near a simulation, but it does contain a set of mechanics and physics that are geared more toward fast fun rather than simulated racing, and it may be the pinnacle of arcade racing, especially since they are few and far between on the Switch.

There’s no real story present in this game, with the objective being simply to win enough races to upgrade your license and expand your roster of cars so that you have access to even more events. Honestly, the story is not missed in this title. There is enough action to drive this game forward that the addition of a story is grossly unnecessary. I realize that it, as a parameter I include to gauge the overall score and quality of any game, creates somewhat of an injustice to my approximation of the quality of Burnout Paradise Remastered. I nonetheless have to include it in this review as it is a standard I have, and will continue to uphold in the conception of my video game reviews. I apologize if this hurts the score of the game, but it will make up for it in other criteria.

From the onset, as Paradise City by Guns N’ Roses queues up on the title screen, it was clear that this game would have a phenomenal soundtrack, and it didn’t disappoint. Everything about the music in this game screams high-velocity gameplay. I enjoyed the music thoroughly, but its sound effects also shine through here. The crunching of the car crashes, the revving of the engines, it all amounts to peak racing quality. There is no other way to describe it other than simply incredible. Jamming out to a song while going 200 km/h and crashing in slow-motion as the song gets muffled a bit is sound mastery at its finest. I absolutely loved it.

Burnout Paradise Remastered is highly replayable, and I found myself going back and completing races I have already won just to experience the same routes that have been perfected through shortcuts I discovered along the way. It is a masterpiece in many ways, even though I think enjoyment may vary depending on the players’ own inclinations and expectations. I loved my time with Burnout Paradise Remastered for the Nintendo Switch, and it has locked in a permanent spot on my micro SD card. I’m sure I will be coming back to this one regularly. I also forgot to mention that this version of the game is the definitive one as it includes all the DLC previously released for it, including Big Surf Island being accessible at the very beginning. While it is rather expensive upon release, it will likely be marked down in the near future, and I would recommend everyone to wait for a discount. I mean, the game can already be found for under $20 on other platforms. If the Switch is the only thing you have though, and you really want an arcade racing experience, this title will not disappoint.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 1/5

Graphics: 3/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 19/25 or 76/100

Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling Review

I am often presented with a dilemma about how I should operate this review site. For the most part, I am a firm believer that a game should be played in its entirety before I review it, or at least played for a large amount of time in the case of longer titles. Herein lies my problem. Bug Fables is an incredible game, and I want to commend it for everything it does right. That said, I have only played through about half of it because my fat thumbs are not capable of seeing it to its conclusion. I believe this game should be played by a large audience. It’s rather niche, but I feel like a ton of RPG fans that would not normally consider it would have a ton of fun. This is what is driving me to write this review, if you could call it that. Perhaps it is better suited as an impression piece, I don’t know. Suffice it to say, Bug Fables is a must play for any fan of the old school Paper Mario games, and would be thoroughly enjoyed by anyone looking for an RPG-Lite experience.

The primary thing that stands out with this game is the art style. It draws heavy inspiration from Paper Mario, and that is not a bad thing. It ensures the game will still be looking great 10 years from now. Most things are paper, from the two dimensional characters, to the buildings that are seen throughout your journey. It is a three dimensional world however, and there is actually a little bit of a contrast between everything that is paper, and the lands you traverse. At its best, when you enter a building, paper is folded back so that you can get a view of what the interior looks like. At its worst, you are trekking across a world you do not quite look a part of. Overall, there is more good than bad to be said about this art direction.

The gameplay is also a nod to Paper Mario on the N64, from the occasional, albeit weird platforming segments, to the straight rip-off of the combat system. I’m not saying it’s a rip-off in any bad sense of the term. It takes everything that was great about combat in Paper Mario, and fine tunes it for a more mainstream feel. Timed button presses, unique character abilities, it’s all on display here. Where it strays from the source material is in the combatants themselves. You are given three characters to play with throughout the entire game. There are no characters that pop in and out of the story. What you get a little ways into the game is what you get for the duration. Basic attacks remain the same between these three characters, but special moves are unique and require different button presses to perform.

To my pleasant surprise, combat differs through the ability to swap characters on a whim and to give each character the opportunity to give their turn away to someone better suited for the task at hand. For example, Vi can hit flying enemies, Kabbu can hit enemies out of their shell, and Leif can unearth burrowed enemies. When you are facing an enemy that suddenly flies in the air, and Vi has already taken a turn, Kabbu or Leif can give their turn to Vi so she can work her magic. The stipulation being that upon every additional turn any one character takes, their power is reduced. All in all the combat system is enjoyable, and never got old in my 10 hours of playing.

The music once again, you guessed it, is inspired by Paper Mario, with some tunes sounding eerily similar to the source material. Again, not a bad thing. Paper Mario was an incredible game with incredible music, and that is not lacking in this spiritual successor. I found myself enjoying the music so much that I went back and played the soundtrack a couple times. It is incredible, seriously, go listen to it. Sound effects are spot on too, with every boomerang knock to an enemy’s head inspiring cheers within my soul. This game was, simply put, very pleasing to both eyes and ears. Bug Fables does have one issue that I need to point out. The story is uninteresting to me, but I do see how some could come to love it. Again, I never finished the game, so I don’t know how it all plays out, but it seems like they played it very safe with many of the story elements. What it lacks in overarching story it makes up for in sheer talented writing. The writing in this game is incredibly charming. I never felt the need to button mash A through any of the dialogue, and it was very enjoyable. Each character gets developed through what they say and how they react to different situations, and it all just seems very believable. Like, if there actually was a rag-tag team of a bee, beetle, and moth thrown into a power struggle, this is exactly how they would speak and act. I’m just going to leave it at that.

As far as replay value goes, I feel I would be hard-pressed in finding people who desire to play it through multiple times. Heck, I couldn’t even get through it the first time. This was in large part due to a certain gameplay sequence that had me creeping around enemies, trying not to alert them to my presence so they don’t throw me back in jail. It was THE WORST. I typically hate gameplay segments that use a terrible stealth gimmick, where you have to stay out of enemies’ fields of view. It’s terrible. It sucked in Ocarina of Time, was worse in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on the original Xbox (look it up), and is terrible here. I would need some divine intervention to play through that again. No thank you.

Overall, Bug Fables is amazing. It hits all the right notes in most of the important aspects that make a good video game, but fell short for me in a very specific sequence. I still wanted to get the word out there that this game exists and is, for the most part, enjoyable. I loved it, until I hated it. End rant, end review.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 3/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 1/5

Total: 19/25 or 76/100

Thunder Force AC (SEGA AGES) Review

M2 seems to be a game porting monster and that is no exception when talking about the recent Thunder Force AC port to the Switch. As with many SEGA Ages titles before it, this version of Thunder Force may actually be the definitive version, albeit with much less intrigue than an arcade cabinet. Thunder Force AC is a horizontal shoot ‘em up that was born from the ashes of Thunder Force III on the Sega Genesis. While admittedly I haven’t played many games in this genre on the Switch, it has quickly become one of my favorite, short-burst experiences on the console. I use it as a buffer between games when I am not quite sure what I want to play, instead of endlessly scrolling through the eShop that I’m sure many of us are guilty of. It doesn’t just act as a quick in-and-out experience though. This game is great whether you have mere minutes, or a couple hours to play.

The SEGA Ages series is notorious for squeezing great content into retro experiences. You are provided with not only the arcade mode that emulates the original perfectly, but are also given the option of a “kids mode”. While I may have felt a little degraded with the choice of words they used here, it was a welcome addition to the game. I have never been all that good at shoot ‘em ups, but this mode allowed me to see it to its conclusion with very little difficulty. It allowed me to experience all 8 levels that I would have never seen were I to stick with the arcade mode. On top of this new mode, you are given the choice of the difficulty level in each playthrough, the number of lives you are awarded with each credit, and the score necessary to earn an extra life. All of these options offer customized gameplay, tailored to the skill level of the player. Arcades were designed to eat quarters, making it necessary to be difficult within the fundamental design. These options circumvent that and make the game much more user-friendly.

As mentioned above, there are 8 unique levels, each with their own enemies, backgrounds, and bosses. The game does not lack variety, as my thirst for novelty was well quenched with every new screen. One thing I feel is worth mentioning is the nausea evoked from the second level. The background is wavy and there are instances where you speed up. It made the world around me spin uncontrollably, figuratively speaking. It was almost unplayable, which is incredibly disappointing because if I wasn’t driven to review the game, I would have likely stopped my playthrough there. Fortunately, in later levels this is not a problem, so if you can get over this hump your stomach should settle down.

There’s not much more I can say about this game. The music is stellar in typical SEGA fashion. It is full of energy and the funky melodies really compliment the fast-paced gameplay effectively. It is a port of an arcade game, which is the very definition of replay value. It’s just as fun the initial run as the third or fourth time through it, and perhaps even more so as you come to master the game, anticipating every enemy and bullet that is thrown your way. Beyond that I feel I’ve said more than enough about this bite-sized experience. I’m a huge fan of SEGA and love to support these SEGA Ages titles as much as I can because they are significant markers in the annals of video game history. On top of that, M2 does a fantastic job at porting these games to perfection while also giving a suitable amount of added content to remain relevant in this day and age.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 1/5

Graphics: 4/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 20/25 or 80/100

Minecraft Dungeons Review

Minecraft has always been a playground for the imagination, allowing the user to create almost anything they can think of. While there may be some fun to be had in such an experience, Minecraft Dungeons takes a different approach. A unique story was tailor made for this entry, which is experienced from an isometric, top-down view that resembles Diablo. I am not a particularly imaginative person, so the original Minecraft, while admittedly fun, does not keep me engaged. The progression that I experienced in Dungeons however, has had me coming back for more almost on a daily basis. It is a bold opinion, and not a very popular one at that, but Minecraft dungeons surpasses the original Minecraft in the level of enjoyment I have had with either game.

The story is a little cut and dry; the Arch Illager (this world’s big baddy) is attempting to conquer the world, laying waste to the villagers’ homes in the process. He does this with the help of his newly found powers channeled through the Orb of Dominance. Those who do not bow before him are considered his enemies as he commands a large army of Illager followers. Your mission is to dethrone this tyrant and bring peace back to the villages affected by his rule. You can take on the appearance of a variety of different Minecraft humans (yes, including Steve) when you start on your journey as the hero of the game. The story is rather basic in terms of creativity. Bad guy does bad things, good guy stops bad guy. There’s no real moral ambiguity. Honestly, with the creative nature of the original game, it is alarming to see a very unoriginal plot. However, what the game lacks in creativity, it gains in sheer fun.

It is an action RPG dungeon crawler that has captivated me since its release. The goal is to accrue loot to gradually increase your power level with every new item. Your power equals the average level of all your gear combined, and it can be open season for anyone looking to become overpowered. With the main gear consisting of a sword, armor, and a bow, each piece can be enchanted to make it more powerful. To enchant your gear, enchantment points are required which are only given to you every time you level up. The points are refundable however, if you’re willing to salvage the item, effectively destroying it to retain enchantment points and a small amount of emeralds. The combination of different enchantments on each piece of gear, and the base stats of each weapon culminates in a very dynamic level of control with how you progress your character. Pair that with the different artifacts you can equip and it makes for some rather overpowered builds. And that is where the fun resides. The potential to create characters with incredible powers to take on the ever-increasing difficulty of the game creates a challenge and motivation to continue the core gameplay loop.

And then we get to level design. It is important to note that unlike the original Minecraft, there are no destructible environments in this game. Levels do seem to be procedurally generated however, at least to a certain extent. If you’re jumping into Dungeons looking for more of that original Minecraft gameplay, you will be sorely disappointed. I approached it from an informed standpoint, knowing full well that this was not going to be a conventional Minecraft experience, and I believe I was better off for it. So be warned, if you’re looking for more traditional Minecraft, you would be better suited toward Lego Worlds, or Dragon Quest Builders. If you want a Diablo-like game with a charming aesthetic and a fun loot system, you’ve come to the right place.

Multiplayer is a little weird to me though. There is no way to share items between players, and while this didn’t affect me much because I had played almost entirely in single player, this may turn some players off. The only thing you can do with gear you are not using is to salvage it for emeralds. This ensures that players don’t get too powerful too quickly as there is no way to “boost” your friends. Loot is dished out to you and you just have to roll with the punches and use what you get. Not a huge deal for me, but I can see it being a point of frustration for some other players.

The music is also rather uninspiring. There is not a single tune that I can even remember, and I was listening for it. I found the sound effects to be pleasing, however. There was no better sound than to rip open a chest and find emeralds that made a satisfying “cling” as they jumped into my wallet. Enemies have their typical sound effects when you hit or kill them that somewhat bridges the gap between regular old Minecraft and this new game. A little thing I found to be a funny addition was an oinking sound any enemy would make (not just pigs) when you got a pork chop drop. Overall, it was charming and enjoyable to listen to, but I just wish the music had some hits that I could actually remember.

For those unacquainted to Minecraft, the visuals may be off-putting. If you do not like blocky graphics that gave the original some character, you won’t like the blocky graphics here. It is literally the same graphical style, block for block, except now seen from a zoomed-out aerial view. I thought it to be charming, and just as it had done for the original Minecraft, it gives Dungeons character and sets it apart from other dungeon crawlers.

The game really encourages multiple playthroughs. It’s not simply a one and done kind of game, although you can play it as such if you so choose. No, this game hits a full stride after you beat it, opening up a whole new difficulty level. There seems to be a ramping difficulty that continuously beats you down if you’re not ready for it. It is important to get better loot, and the specific loot drops for any given level are highlighted at the level selection screen. You must rinse and repeat the gameplay to acquire the best loot in the game, and the more elusive the loot is, the more likely it is to be game breaking and awesome. It’s interesting to see this kind of depth in an otherwise simplistic and user-friendly game.

Minecraft Dungeons is a unique spin on what made the original Minecraft so great, however it lacks the freedom to destroy the blocks around you, and is abysmal in the musical department. It has taken both Mine and Craft out of the meaning of the title. There is no mining, there is no crafting. Despite these flaws, I think there is a lot to enjoy with this new entry into the Minecraft universe. I think this will be a big hit with the younger adventurers out there. Minecraft is really popular with that young audience and I think many of those same kids would love to play this game. That is not to say there isn’t anything here for an older audience. It is approachable to anyone, and I think that is what makes this experience incredible.

Sound: 3/5

Gameplay: 4/5

Story: 2/5

Graphics: 4/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 18/25 or 72/100

Panzer Dragoon: Remake Review

Panzer Dragoon is an on-rails 3D shooter that was originally released in 1995 for the Sega Saturn. Since then, there have been many advancements in the look and feel of video games, and the most recent release of Panzer Dragoon Remake takes full advantage of these improvements. Admittedly, I never played the original back in 1995, but I have seen it being played and there are noticeable differences prominently in the visual department. This game looks much better than its source material, yet the game doesn’t deviate too far from what made the original so good.

The story is rather weird and after playing it all the way through, I can’t say that I understand what it’s all about. The focal point of my confusion is in the presence of a giant tower that you, for some reason, must stop a dark dragon from reaching? I don’t really know and I don’t really care. This game is awesome despite its shortcomings in its narrative. I was incredibly confused right from the onset, and I don’t even have much desire to delve deeper into the lore of the game; primarily because the game doesn’t even really need a story.

This remake totes incredible, fast-paced action that is bound to captivate anyone. Those new to the series, like I was, will find a great amount of enjoyment in shooting down robots and dragons. This game serves to fill a hole that was left in my heart after the last entry of Star Fox. The gameplay is very similar, mostly reminiscent of the refined mechanics on display in Star Fox 64. There is one key difference that I believe elevates it to an even greater status than the fox’s adventure. I’m talking about the feature that allows you to pivot in your seat to view not just ahead of you, but to your left and right flanks, as well as behind you. This allows for more control on the otherwise straight and narrow path that is all too common for on-rail shooters. It is paired with a radar system that will indicate at what angle the enemies are flying in at.

While for the most part the gameplay is quite intuitive if you are familiar with the genre, I never even realized this feature existed until the third episode, and a tutorial section would have been a welcome addition. That being said, for veterans of the game, there is no slow-down. You can jump right into the action without having to bear through any unnecessary guidance that could otherwise poison the quick, pick-up and play atmosphere the game emits. It’s an absolute blast to jump in and out of as you wish, but also holds up as an experience if you want to beat it in one sitting. And it assuredly can be beaten in one sitting. With only 6 episodes under its belt, the game is very short. Of course, this is a reflection of the times in which it was developed in, but a little more content for this remake would have been amazing, and definitely would have set it apart from the original Saturn release.

And yet again I must confess something; I am no good at these kinds of shooters, so I chose to play through it on the easiest difficulty, still managing to die every once in a while. Therefore, I have not beaten it on harder difficulties, and upon doing so perhaps there is extra hidden content. I just don’t have the skills to achieve such feats and may never know if there are extras. The remake is still rather new and all the information about it has yet to surface, so until then, I will be practicing and honing my skills gradually as I replay it.

And this is where the game truly shines. There is so much replay value for this game. Much like with Star Fox 64, I feel compelled to jump back to the start of the game, always trying to achieve better and better scores. I managed to score an 95% hit rating in one episode and it made me feel like a king. As you get better, you will begin to learn the flight patterns of many of the enemies and be able to take them down quickly with little to no effort. These feelings of great accomplishment after beating your previous score is so rewarding that it is entices the player to keep replaying the game over and over for the sake of perfection. I can see myself jumping in and out of this game for a long time after publishing this review, that is how immensely captivating the core gameplay is.

This may be my favorite stealth drop Nintendo has ever put on the eShop and is well worth the price of admission at a mere $30 Canadian. I still have a lot of gaming ahead of me with this title and you will too. Can’t recommend this enough, not just for veterans of the original, but for anyone looking for a solid on-rails shooter.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 2/5

Graphics: 3/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 20/25 or 80/100

Animal Crossing: New Horizons Review

I wasn’t going to write a review of this game; I mean, how could I? Is it even possible to review a game that has no end? That is experiential and follows real-time? It’s impossible, but I did want talk about Animal Crossing: New Horizons in some form. So, consider this more of a “first impressions” rather than a full-fledged, extensive review. I am currently in day 5 since the conception of my island, appropriately named Hilo after a town in Hawaii I was fortunate enough to vacation at. There has been a lot of progression even now, looking back on all I have accomplished in these very short days. And that is something I would like to highlight. This new entry in the Animal Crossing franchise has a steady stream of progression at every turn, and you will rarely find naught to be done.

If you have played an Animal Crossing before, you already know how inexplicably fun and addictive these games are. Where else are you given what are essentially chores, that deliver a lot of fun and relaxation. There was no perfect time to release New Horizons than in this age of uncertainty, where many people are in lockdown or self-isolation. Instead of going about your daily routines, the hustle and bustle of everyday capitalist life, and striving for financial comfort; you are now tasked with staying home, which is for the betterment of all humanity. You are literally saving lives by hunkering down in a warm-knit blanket, sipping a morning coffee as you escape to this fairytale island. And oh, what an escape this is. You will develop new routines, as in-game tasks open up to you and must be completed. It is the perfect distraction to what may otherwise have serious ramifications on the mental health of many individuals. Timing could not be any better.

The game revolves around a character whom you create at the onset. You are offered an Island Getaway Package that entails moving to a secluded island with two other anthropomorphic strangers. In your time here you will create relationships with your brand-new villager companions, newcomers, and in-real-life friends who have also chosen to purchase the game. This game is an experience and can only be described as a life-simulation; however, it is much more than that when you consider all it has to offer. Tom Nook of Resident Services sends you on your way with direction to locate a spot you can see yourself settling down in. Once this is completed you are given the choice of where your villager companions can set up shop. You eventually learn how to craft your own furniture and tools, send letters, and visit other islands in your journey to collect everything and expand your horizons. In all honesty, the game must be experienced for a better idea of what it’s all about.

The graphical fidelity is far beyond anything we have seen in previous entries. Everything looks clean, polished, and all around impressive in its child-friendly, cartoonish style. The new improvements are evident in the items you collect, the wildlife you capture, and the trees. Oh my god, THE TREES. The leaves rustle in the wind and fall from the branches when the trunk is shaken. Minor details, yes, but they go a long way in making an experience that is both immersive and charming at the same time. And this game drips in charm. The music has had an overhaul, sounding more fluent and pleasing to the ears than in previous years. The islanders all speak in their signature language that consists of each individual phoneme interlocking and strung out quickly. It is incredibly charming, albeit seemingly annoying to people on the outside looking in.

When it comes to replay value, the randomly generated worlds and character appearances make this game incredibly enjoyable to start anew. In a game that demands progression, even at your own pace, I don’t see why anyone would want to restart though. Of course the game can be replayed ad infinitum and still be enjoyable, but the real treasure here is in the constant progress that is made in the development of this deserted island and the relationships you build with the various characters. It is compelling to continue to progress, and therefore draws the player back in at the turn of each day. It is not only replayable in the sense that you can restart from scratch and still have a good time, but that the player is compelled to advance in the game, day after day, for the rest of eternity should they so wish.

My first impressions of Animal Crossing: New Horizons is that it is the definitive entry to date, and any longtime fan will find an endless amount of content to enjoy here. Newcomers to the series are also likely to enjoy themselves if they are looking for an escape from the dark times we are living in now. This time will pass, and there is no better way to pass the time than with Animal Crossing.

Sound: 5/5

Gameplay: 5/5

Story: 4/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 5/5

Total: 24/25 or 96/100

Note: I have only completed 5 days of the game (I am no time traveler), so the number score may not reflect the actual quality of the game going forward; however, I have unabashedly sunk around 20 hours into the game so far (that’s the self-isolation life for you) and am an adherent that this is more than enough time to offer my opinion.

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

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