Tag Archives: game reviews

Story Of Seasons: Friends Of Mineral Town Review – When The Seasons Change

Harvest Moon, and now Story of Seasons, have thrived on their personality above all else. With each entry in the series offering fresh story and minimal improvements to gameplay, replaying one of the older titles is asking for disappointment, even if it has a new coat of paint. Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town brings the 2003 Game Boy Advance title into 2020 with enjoyable cutesy graphics and personality, but does little to add depth to the already outdated gameplay..

After choosing from an extremely limited set of character customization options, you set out to take over a farm left to you by your late grandfather, where you once spent the summer 20 years ago. It’s unclear why your character left whatever life they had behind, but you are quickly thrust into the day-to-day work of maintaining a farm, starting with crops.

Growing crops is one of the main methods of making money, but progression is slow. You can’t improve your crop yields in any meaningful way until the option to buy better farm soil becomes available in the second year, which is 25 to 30 hours into the game. Upgrading the watering can allows you to tend to more crops at once, but the increased stamina usage makes for minimal improvement to your crop yield.

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Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing In Disguise Review

Warning: This review contains spoilers for the first Deadly Premonition.

The first Deadly Premonition was an anomaly, a seemingly unintentional oddity that enjoyed cult success by happenstance. It was an oxymoron of character development and unpredictable storytelling accompanied by a clunky, unintuitive gameplay experience. Its sequel, Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing In Disguise, follows suit; however, though the return of the original’s off-kilter writing, outlandish characters, and disturbing twists is an exciting prospect, it all feels diluted this time around, missing many of the flavor notes that defined its predecessor. There are incredible moments worth experiencing, all of which are held together by the game’s protagonist, Francis York Morgan. But inexcusably poor performance issues (even by Deadly Premonition standards) make it hard to recommend to anyone outside the existing fandom. And even then, Deadly Premonition 2 stumbles in some of the places that made the first truly special.

The game flips between the past and the present, first beginning in 2019, which is 10 years after the Greenvale case from the first game. FBI agent Francis York Morgan, now Francis Zach Morgan, has neither fully recovered from the tragic loss of his love, nor the revelation of his dual identity, and is now a retired recluse in his Boston, Massachusetts apartment. Seeing Morgan for the first time is jarring; he looks frail, sick, and alarmingly grey. He doesn’t come off as slick and charming as he once did, but rather deranged and unstable, murmuring and talking to himself in the midst of a hoarder’s dirty apartment–it’s a stark contrast from the agent we know and love. The once illustrious agent, regaled for his inexplicable, and rather supernatural, investigation techniques, is now under scrutiny by the very bureau he once worked for.

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Death Come True – Hotel Hell

The experience of waking up with a foggy mind in a weird, unfamiliar hotel room is already distressing, but there are myriad ways it could be even worse. Let’s say you blacked out so hard that not only do you not remember last night, you don’t remember anything at all. Making things even more upsetting, there’s an unconscious woman with her hands tied up laying in the bathtub. The real kicker, though, would be seeing a news report with your face on it describing you as a wanted serial killer. And now someone’s knocking on your door…

Death Come True is the latest project from Danganronpa creator Kazutaka Kodaka. Much like that beloved adventure series, Death Come True places the protagonist in a horrifying, deadly situation where the only way out is to uncover the mystery of what’s really going on. But the approach here is very different: Where Danganronpa told its twisted sagas of death and despair through visual novel-style presentations, Death Come True is presented as a live-action film with branching paths. While the heavy use of full-motion video (FMV) has seen an interesting comeback in games like Her Story and Control, Death Come True hearkens back to the simpler, experimental FMV adventure games of the mid-’90s–all the while reminding us of what was good and bad about those titles.

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Protagonist Makoto has no idea where he is, how he got here, or even who he is–save for the TV report describing him as a serial killer–but he knows something’s deeply amiss in this hotel. Things quickly go from bad to worse when Makoto, through your choices, makes another unsettling discovery: When he dies, he wakes up again in the same hotel bed to restart and repeat the same sequence of events over again, so not even death can free him from the bizarre reality he’s trapped in.

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Death Come True Review – Hotel Hell

The experience of waking up with a foggy mind in a weird, unfamiliar hotel room is already distressing, but there are myriad ways it could be even worse. Let’s say you blacked out so hard that not only do you not remember last night, you don’t remember anything at all. Making things even more upsetting, there’s an unconscious woman with her hands tied up laying in the bathtub. The real kicker, though, would be seeing a news report with your face on it describing you as a wanted serial killer. And now someone’s knocking on your door…

Death Come True is the latest project from Danganronpa creator Kazutaka Kodaka. Much like that beloved adventure series, Death Come True places the protagonist in a horrifying, deadly situation where the only way out is to uncover the mystery of what’s really going on. But the approach here is very different: Where Danganronpa told its twisted sagas of death and despair through visual novel-style presentations, Death Come True is presented as a live-action film with branching paths. While the heavy use of full-motion video (FMV) has seen an interesting comeback in games like Her Story and Control, Death Come True hearkens back to the simpler, experimental FMV adventure games of the mid-’90s–all the while reminding us of what was good and bad about those titles.

No Caption Provided

Protagonist Makoto has no idea where he is, how he got here, or even who he is–save for the TV report describing him as a serial killer–but he knows something’s deeply amiss in this hotel. Things quickly go from bad to worse when Makoto, through your choices, makes another unsettling discovery: When he dies, he wakes up again in the same hotel bed to restart and repeat the same sequence of events over again, so not even death can free him from the bizarre reality he’s trapped in.

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Marvel’s Iron Man VR Review – I Am Iron Man

Where so many VR games still fall back on restricted controls, the PlayStation VR-exclusive Iron Man VR asks you to learn and master its unique flight controls if you really want to feel like a Marvel superhero. Getting comfortable in Tony Stark’s iron skin makes you feel like you know what it’s like to “be” Iron Man in a way no standard game could. At the same time, the game around that core mechanic feels overly thin. With reused environments, recycled mission objectives, and a predictable story that overstays its welcome, Iron Man VR quickly loses its luster.

For better and for worse, Iron Man VR tells a complete ripped-from-the-page Marvel comic storyline. Tony Stark squares off with a mysterious new villain, the Ghost, who uses an army of old Stark Industries drones to systematically terrorize him and his company. The Ghost invokes Stark’s past of making weapons and selling them indiscriminately, forcing him to reckon with his past self as well.

Like Insomniac’s Spider-Man, Iron Man VR is an original variation of existing Iron Man stories, with vague allusions to moments that comic book and MCU fans will know, which makes it easy for any Marvel fan to jump in and follow along. It’s a bit too familiar, though. Retreading themes and issues you’ve already seen Iron Man work through in both the comics and films, Stark’s struggles, both internal and the threats he faces on the battlefield, feel a bit stale. And though there’s a complicated, long-winded plot, you can identify every twist from a mile away.

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Ninjala Review – Stylish Stealth

In a landscape already oversaturated with live games, differentiation is vital. Ninjala attempts to forge its own path through a combination of bubbly style and unique melee mechanics. And though it’s light on content and heavy on microtransactions at launch, those two qualities are enough to make it stand out, and could give it the necessary staying power to live on long-term.

The mechanical differentiation comes from eschewing the usual shooter tropes of competitive online games. Instead, Ninjala is a multiplayer game focused primarily around melee combat, forcing tight confrontations between kid-ninjas with limited range. That gives it a feeling akin to a game like Devil May Cry, as you may see an opponent from a distance and charge in to do battle and then dash off quickly. The attack button is mapped to the shoulder like a traditional shooter by default, but I found a different control preset that set it to a face button much more natural to the character-action feel.

The weapons are limited to only three types–balanced katana, powerful hammers, and ranged yo-yos–but they produce a surprising amount of variety. The weapon types come with a handful of design variants, each with their own special properties and powerful ultimate ability. Finding your preferred playstyle is a matter of narrowing down the options, first by toying with the weapon classes themselves and then diving into the next layer to find which combination of special abilities suits you. None of the weapons feel obviously overpowered compared to the rest, so it really comes down to personal preference.

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Mr. Driller Drill Land Review – Digging Up A Classic

In the late ’90s and early aughts, a little fellow named Mr. Driller burrowed his way into the hearts of puzzle game fans worldwide. The years that followed saw several Mr. Driller releases across multiple platforms, but after a while, Namco seemed content to entomb the series and focus on other things. Now, a little over a decade later, Bandai-Namco has decided to unearth one of the most beloved Mr. Driller games, the formerly Japan-and-Europe-exclusive Mr. Driller Drill Land, to release on Switch and PC for a new generation of fans to enjoy.

Mr. Driller Drill Land focuses on the titular Mr. Driller, aka Susumu Hori, and his extended gang of excavator friends and family (including his dad Taizo, who you might remember from Dig Dug). They’re off to visit a new underground amusement park called Drill Land, filled with attractions that very coincidentally are based around the colored-block-drilling gameplay that defines the Mr. Driller series–with some notable twists. Challenges, cards, and plenty of collectibles abound in Drill Land, and you’ll have to see if you have the chops to conquer each of the park’s different attractions for high scores and goodies. (And you might just save the world, too.)

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The core Mr. Driller gameplay is a neat twist on the “falling colored blocks” idea. You control Susumu (or one of his companions), using your drill to break up colored blocks and dig deeper and deeper into the earth. As you destroy blocks and work your way into the earth, you’ll free up other blocks, which will fall and join up with (and also break) others of the same color. Your goal is to reach a certain depth, but that’s easier said than done–you have a limited air supply that acts as a timer, and some poor drilling choices could lead to your driller getting smooshed under a landslide. This makes the game a tense, careful balancing act–while air pickups are frequently available, being too hasty with your drilling decisions when oxygen is limited could lead to disaster. It might sound intimidating, but it’s much easier to understand once you play a few sessions and see for yourself how loose blocks fall, combine, and break. After you grasp the basics, you’ll grow into a groove and skillfully obtain pickups, create chains to eliminate lots of blocks at once, and find safe spots among a cascade of falling earth.

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West Of Dead Review – Run And Cover

There are a lot of reasons to take a look at West of Dead. Cowboys and Wild West aesthetics are hot in games right now, in the wake of Red Dead Redemption 2. Run-based games are, likewise, very much a structure du jour. It’s dusted with voiceover narration from Ron Perlman, who you might know from Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy films or the FX TV Show Sons of Anarchy. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that its core mechanical conceit, as a cover-based twin-stick shooter, helps Frankenstein it to original and, dare I say, innovative gameplay. Unfortunately, West of Dead is a textbook case of a half-baked concept: Though its big sweeping ideas work well, the minutiae, from scaling the difficulty of encounters to unrefined enemies and plain old technical issues, threaten to undo the experience at any time.

West of Dead’s conceit builds up a simple but interesting little tale. In Purgatory–which is apparently in Wyoming–the dead have stopped filtering “east” to heaven or “west” to hell. You play an undead cowboy called the Marshall who’s lost his memory, save for his mission to kill the evil preacher holding up the afterlife. Though it’s more narrative glue than captivating storytelling, the Marshall’s inner monologue, in subdued performance from Perlman, keeps the story in mind, evoking a world that you might not see in its generic, monotonous Wild West-themed levels.

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Like so many of today’s Rogue-inspired games, the story naturally falls away at a certain point, as you play and replay the game over and over, attempting to reach your goal. West of Dead retains many of the tropes established by the many, many rogue-lites that have launched in the last few years, and it cribs its structure specifically from 2018’s wildly successful version, Dead Cells. West of Dead procedurally generates long levels, which are punctuated with a store where you must spend Sin points to permanently expand your arsenal of weapons. In each run, you find upgrades to your specs and more powerful gear–two weapons, two accessories, and a passive charm. By defeating optional bosses, you gain access to branching paths with harder levels. You carry an upgradable healing flask, which you refill between levels. There’s even a hall at the start of each run where you can see all the weapons and upgrades you’ve bought. Though it comes dangerously close to getting branded as a “Dead Cells clone,” using familiar structure makes it easy to focus on West of Dead’s combat, where its real innovations lie.

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Pokemon Sword And Shield – The Isle Of Armor DLC Review

One of the best parts of Pokemon Sword and Shield was exploring the Wild Area, an expanse of rolling hills, sand dunes, and lakes that made collecting the games’ 400 Pokemon especially enticing. The first DLC for the games, The Isle of Armor, improves upon the original Wild Area–in fact, the island is all Wild Area, with far more variety and much more interesting locales to explore. While it doesn’t alter the game much, The Isle of Armor recaptures the joy of exploration and catching new Pokemon, and it makes me especially eager to see where the next DLC takes us.

In my original Pokemon Sword and Shield review, I said that “the Wild Area is the show-stopping feature of this generation. Pokemon roam the fields and lakes, changing with the day’s weather. They pop up as you walk by, and you can even identify Pokemon out of your direct line of vision by their cries. It’s all too easy to set out for one destination only to be distracted by a Pokemon you haven’t caught yet, an item glittering on the ground in the distance, or even an evolved form of a Pokemon that you didn’t realize you could catch in the wild. There’s constantly something new to do or discover, and it’s there to engage you right out of the gate.”

Me and Kubfu enjoying the sights.
Me and Kubfu enjoying the sights.
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The Isle of Armor doubles down on this. The island is bigger and better than the regular Wild Area, and its various biomes all feed into each other more naturally. Open fields transition to wetlands, which border a beach and a forest. Rivers flow out to the ocean, and following a river can sometimes lead you to a cave. Changing weather patterns make more sense than they do in the Galar region’s main Wild Area, too, where weather shifts seemingly at random as you bike through similar-looking fields. Instead, because most areas on the Isle of Armor are separated by rivers or caves, the transition from rain to sunshine to fog isn’t so abrupt. It’s overall an even more satisfying place to explore.

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SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated Review – Expired Nostalgia

Nearing the end of SpongeBob’s journey under the sea, you’re tasked with guiding a ball through a giant Rube Goldberg machine in Mermaid Man’s Lair. Once you activate the machine you have to match the ball’s painstakingly slow speed while using SpongeBob’s arsenal of bubble abilities to make sure it doesn’t fall over. It’s a simple task in concept, but trying to execute it is some of the most unfun and Sisyphean gameplay in recent memory. In one section of the puzzle, all you need to do is stand on a button, and that button opens a gate for you to bowl a bubble into so you can progress. The only problem is that during SpongeBob’s wind-up animation for bowling, he walks forward. That means you fall off of the button, which closes the gate and prevents you from bowling the bubble where you intended, when you intended. These kinds of gameplay barricades are common, and force you to restart and face your demons again, and again, and again.

SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated is rarely amusing or challenging, and completing it is an entirely dry experience. It looks nice, and brings back fond memories of a classic cartoon through iconic set pieces and tight voice acting, but its uncomfortable and outdated mechanics make you feel frustratingly trapped and are ultimately outclassed by countless other modern and classic platformers.

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SpongeBob is a show built on rapid-fire humour and good pacing, but this game misses that mark. The game is a remake of the 2003 cult classic 3D collect-a-thon platformer of the same name. There were three versions of the original: a 2D platformer, a 3D platformer, and one full of minigames. This version took me around 20 hours to play through the main story and get a bunch of bonus collectibles, and from the movement to the jokes, the whole thing feels slow, with none of the comedic timing that makes the show so beloved.

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