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Daemon X Machina: The Kotaku Review

Daemon X Machina, out September 13 from Marvelous, is a game about gigantic customizable mechs. Here is another way to describe it: the worst filler episode of your favorite anime series. It is a mess of a game, with a story mode chock full of unintelligible cutscenes, repetitious anime tropes, and a core of mech gameplay that is highly customizable but starts to blend together due to repetitive gameplay and drawn out gunfights.

The Switch exclusive is a third-person action game in which you pilot an Arsenal, a weaponized mech. You spend time customizing your mech’s appearance and loadout, and then you accept missions from an AI called Four on behalf of mercenary supergroup Orbital. The missions are largely repetitive: fight some AI, or protect a building by fighting some AI. As you continue to increase your rank, you might fight some AI and other mercenaries, or protect a transport vehicle by fighting some AI and other mercenaries. Those fights drag on just a little too long for how samey they are. While I enjoyed moments like finding an acid gun that cut right through my enemies’ health, or double fisting bazookas every now and again to be silly, most of the guns felt a little bit too weak and dull even as I completed missions and upgraded them.

The game occasionally shakes things up with a gigantic mech boss that dwarfs you in size, which adds some desperately needed variety and is the real core of the game’s fun. One encounter has you facing a huge spider-like mech that jumps around the battlefield and tries to crush you as you maneuver to aim for its weak underbelly. Another has you fighting a tanker aircraft with lasers that tries to ram you between charged shots. These encounters are far more fun than fighting other pilots, which at a certain point begins to feel like aimlessly firing bullets into an endless morass of enemy health. It doesn’t help that the game’s lock-on system feels a little bit too fast and loose, even after optimizing your build.

The gameplay is fine, with flashes of fun, but isn’t good enough to outweigh Daemon X Machina’s storytelling problems. The game fills the checklist of anime cliches and is dense with forgettable terms and aggravating characters who say things such as: “I’m big bad Gargantua, twerp! I don’t need no details! Let me get to wreckin’ already!” Your created character is a Reclaimer, a very diplomatic way of describing a group of mercenaries who pilot mechs to essentially resolve territory disputes in a resource-rich area called Oval. Complicating this task is a war with rogue AI beings called Immortals, or at least, that’s what the game tells you.

In reality, after a certain point, Daemon X Machina shifts to a formula that is at once comically predictable and frustratingly oblique: You have a standard mission to destroy rogue AI machines. At some point, you and your mercenary allies are shocked—every time!— to find that another group of Orbital mercenaries has a mission that directly opposes yours. Again and again and again.

The game goes so far out of its way to tease its secret sci-fi plot that it never actually gets far enough into what’s actually happening to stay interesting. What are the Immortals really? What is each mercenary group’s aim? Which political consortium is doing what? Instead of getting a sufficient explanation for this, you spend rank after rank of the game getting an agonizing drip feed of troped-up anime quotes and characters who someone desperately tried to make mysterious but just come off corny and poorly written. “I know a thing,” they essentially say, “but I cannot tell you the thing yet. Just watch your back, Rookie.”

The game very badly wants to impart to you, the Rookie (and bafflingly the only pilot who continues unaffiliated for a substantial portion of the game), that each group has their own reasons to fight. And each pilot has their own reasons to fight. And that these pilots all understand that other pilots have their reasons to fight. There are sincerely dozens of cutscenes and chats and mid-mission dialogue options about reasons to fight. For some of them, it’s money, which in this game means several “they better pay more for this” jokes that quickly stop being funny. There are also several pilots who tell you, “Just don’t get in my way,” or some variation thereof.

Supplementing mid-battle chatter are between-mission messages from outside characters and groups, which are intended to worldbuild and provide background but are so poorly written they just come off silly. Each political consortium ends up sounding like an overwrought supervillain stroking a cat, making it difficult to distinguish them. “While this situation has been entrusted to Orbital, we believe it will be difficult for them to address it through the…proper means,” writes consortium Horizon, and I couldn’t help wondering why this message was even being sent to my character in the first place. Is this a mass email? Will I die in seven days if I don’t forward it? There’s a certain level at which the weird, stilted nature of communicating with Four and these consortiums seems intentional, but I just ended up frustrated with the game’s forced sense of mystique.


By the time you finally get the scent of some plot advancement at the end of your C-rank missions (you start at E), the game has tangled itself in confusing situations with characters you don’t have context to care about as they act on motivations and feelings that are hinted at but don’t actually seem to exist in any meaningful way. That confusion continues through to the end of the game, where the exposition dumping continues to ramp up. As the story unfolds, some compelling ideas about artificial intelligence and narrative twists actually emerge, but they’re both sparse and tardy. There could have been a genuinely interesting story here, had it been told with more care.

As a person who loves worldbuilding and lore, it’s hard for me to say that you should just skip the cutscenes and play the missions, but…you should probably just skip the cutscenes and play the missions. Since I’m a longtime player of Japanese RPGs, getting me to throw my hands up in the air and ask for fewer cutscenes is a feat.

The gameplay, unfortunately, is hurt by the same tendency toward excess that wrecks Daemon X Machina’s story. A lot of what I was able to do with my mech felt superfluous. There are different configurations you can use, like an offensive option or a speedier option, each with lowered defense, and you also have the ability to make a “Mirage,” a clone of yourself that draws enemies in and fights alongside you. These options can be helpful, particularly the Mirage, but they feel jammed into a game that already has a lot of stuff you can play with. There are also moments where you have to pilot equipment that’s not your own, including a gigantic Immortal that would be cool if it weren’t slow with limited tools. It sort of feels like a “this is the mech game you could be stuck with” moment, but it lasts for way too long.

Between fights, you can use equipment you’ve looted on missions to customize your Arsenal. You can also buy equipment or trade in parts to have new armor and weapons developed, as well as adding attachment to these parts, like increased ammo power or lowered memory usage. There are a lot of ways to customize both your Arsenal and the parts that make it up, but the gear you collect is unexciting and doesn’t feel worthwhile to min-max. On top of that, I found myself more than once wondering why I couldn’t just have certain abilities I could find or enhance.

Another feat: making a JRPG lover ignore the numbers.

For example, I could deal with the fact that I essentially had to be on top of enemies to aim at them at first, but having to use an equipment slot for a downward boost was irksome. The only other way to descend without it was to just slowly fall from the sky. I started to feel like a hoarder as a bunch of barely distinguishable parts piled up in my Arsenal’s arsenal, scarcely making enough of a difference for the mixing and matching to go as deep as all the in-game stats imply. I didn’t get excited about new decals or paint options, either, though at least there’s a hotdog decal. I’m never in life going to put that shit on my actual mech, but I’m tickled and happy that it exists.

You can also customize your pilot, or Outer, who can actually run around outside of a mech on the battlefield. It’s rarely fun to run around on foot, though you can eventually gain a skill to repair your mech. There are also some missions that require you to run around without your mech, like one where you have to stealthily steal an Arsenal and escape. They’re fine. They don’t feel totally broken and out of place, but they also aren’t a real highlight.

Tulah, my adorable, mostly silent protagonist (she grunts sometimes). I appreciated the black hair options in the game.

These issues are less pronounced in co-op, which has its own set of missions you can play with up to three other players. These missions consist of fighting versions of bosses you encounter in the main campaign, from gigantic mechs to other Arsenals. It was fun and challenging, and I could easily see multiplayer being the real draw of the game, though the limited number of missions could get old fast. I’m not sure the game is complex enough for strategy to figure much into the co-op gameplay, but it could be fun to team with friends to fire bullets and acid and lasers into a big ol’ mechanical monster.

I wanted to like Daemon X Machina, but as I played, I kept wondering how much more fun it might have been if the developers had zeroed in on some of the more enjoyable elements instead of providing so many customization options and wrapping everything in such a convoluted story. There are some genuine bright spots in the gameplay and even some enjoyably ridiculous characters, but there’s honestly just too much of…everything. It should be a good problem to have, but in a world that’s changing for good, Marvelous never truly figured out what they were fighting for.

Source: Kotaku.com

Mountain Dew VooDew Is A Tasty Way To Kick Off The Halloween Season

We are only a few days into September, but it seems the Halloween season is starting. Stores are already starting to sell Halloween decorations. So to celebrate the spooky season, a new flavor of Mountain Dew, VooDew, has recently hit shelves.

Mountain Dew’s latest flavor, VooDew, is actually a mystery flavor. The bottle is filled with a milky white liquid. It reminded me of Mountain Dew White Out when I first spotted it in a local gas station. The drink isn’t the most appetizing looking thing, but it does suit the spooky theme. So does the artwork, which looks really nice and reminds me of something that might have appeared in the late 80s on a Halloween poster.

Mystery flavors always make me nervous. I have had some really bad experiences with weird, mystery flavors. It doesn’t help that the first taste of an unknown flavor is always like a punch to the face. So I opened the bottle of VooDew, nervous but ready.

The smell that came out of the bottle was very fruity and almost reminded me of cotton candy. I took a sip and hated the taste that entered my mouth. Overly sweet and fruity. I reacted by making a strange face that I wish I had captured on film so you folks could laugh at me.

Like I said, mystery flavors punch you in the face. Your brain doesn’t know what to think and in this case, the color doesn’t match the flavor at all. So my initial reaction was to slam the bottle shut and shake my head. However, I took a few more sips and after the initial shock of that first gulp of VooDew, I found myself enjoying the drink. The flavor reminds me of an orange cream soda, with a bit more acidity and sweetness. It certainly has an aftertaste that reminds me of orange soda.

Luckily, I love orange soda, even if I try to avoid drinking soda these days. (Outside of reviews and when I go to the theater to see movies because I can’t resist some soda and popcorn.) So VooDew ending up being a pleasant surprise. I ended up drinking the whole bottle and I might grab a second one as a late-night treat during Halloween.

But if you hate the flavor of cream soda or orange soda or both, I would probably avoid this limited-time flavor. Maybe grab a bottle just to try it? Just make sure you have a friend or family member who likes orange soda who can finish it for you. No reason to waste food!

This isn’t Mountain Dew’s first Halloween themed drink. Years ago they did Pitch Black and Pitch Black II. I loved the first Pitch Black, but didn’t like the sequel. I’d probably put this new VooDew flavor above both of them.

I’m excited for the spooky season to begin and VooDew was a great start. Bring on Halloween candy, costumes, and scary movies. Fall can’t get here soon enough.

Source: Kotaku.com

Every Flavor Of Game Fuel Reviewed And Then Mixed Together

A few weeks ago I bought a can of Mountain Dew Amp Game Fuel and reviewed it. I hated it. It sucked. Evidently, this angered some people on the internet. I guess some folks really love Game Fuel? Between comments calling me names and people yelling at me for not liking an energy drink, some helpful folks suggested I try the other flavors. So I did just that.

To do this right, I decided to throw a gamer themed birthday party, invited some friends and bought a few cans of each flavor of Game Fuel. Then we tasted them, ranked them and then for some reason mixed them all together. It was a strange night.

There are four flavors of Mountain Dew Amp Game Fuel, which I will now only call Game Fuel for the rest of the article. It’s easier. The four flavors are Original Dew, Berry Blast, Cherry Burst, and Tropical Strike. As I’ve already said on this website, I thought the Original Dew flavor was horrendous. But maybe these other flavors could change my opinion of Game Fuel? And now that I understand how to open the can, I won’t make a mess or annoy people on the internet for not getting how the weird cans work right away.

Berry Blast

This was the first flavor we tried. It is, as the name implies, a berry-flavored variant of Game Fuel. After drinking it, one of my friends seemed surprised. She expected it to taste much worse after reading my original Game Fuel review. I took a sip and was shocked. It tasted totally fine! I might even call it good? So far this was going better than expected.

Tropical Strike

The next flavor we tried was the yellow can, Tropical Strike. Here my opinions split from my friend’s feelings on the drink. She likes the pineapple flavor and sweetness. I couldn’t stand it. It was bad. Not as bad as the original flavor I tried a few weeks back, but not much better. My girlfriend was also not a fan of Tropical Strike. “You better like pineapple, or you will hate this flavor.” I agree.

Cherry Burst

Here was the biggest surprise of the night. I didn’t know what to expect from the red can of Game Fuel we had in our fridge. It claimed to be cherry flavored, which worried me. I’ve had some awful cherry-flavored sodas. So I expected the worse and instead, we all agreed this was the best flavor of the bunch. Not too sweet, not too fruity and not too bitter. A really solid drink that I honestly might buy again. (Probably not though as I still prefer Monster for my energy drink needs.)

Original Dew

Of all the flavors, this should be the best one. Mountain Dew tastes good already. So adding some energy drink chemicals to it shouldn’t be too hard. And yet this is still the worst flavor of the bunch. After drinking it, one of my friends asked a simple, but valid question: “How did they fuck up Mountain Dew?” I don’t know. It is truly baffling how bad this tastes and I stand by my original review.

All The Flavors Mixed Together

At some point towards the end of the night, as the party was winding down and people were relaxing, one of my friends decided we should mix all of the Game Fuel flavors together.

This seemed like a bad idea, one which I was somewhat hesitant to partake in. But then she mentioned it was for the internet and I realized this is my life now and I had to do it. So we got two glasses and poured an equal amount of each drink into them. After pouring three flavors into each glass the contents of the glasses was looking totally drinkable. Then we poured in Berry Blast and that was too much. Suddenly, to our horror, the drinks no longer looked like cups of soda. Instead, we now had two glasses of swamp water or sewer runoff.

What happened? What had we created? Should we drink this?

These are all great questions that we didn’t ask. Instead, we grabbed the glasses of dark liquid and took big sips. Surprisingly, the end result tasted a lot like Mountain Dew Pitch Black. (The non-sour version.) I don’t know what that says about Pitch Black, but it was strange how inoffensive the final drink was after mixing them all together. I expected liquid death and instead got something truly unremarkable.

So after a night of Game Fuel and fun, I can confidently say two things. That original flavor I tried is still terrible and that some of the other flavors, like Cherry Burst, are good. I might drink them again.

Not anytime soon though. I drank way too much of this stuff in one night and I think I need to stick to water for a few weeks to let my body recuperate.

Source: Kotaku.com

Weathering With You Is A Good, But Flawed Follow Up To Your Name

Screenshot: All images 東宝

When originally released in 2016, the acclaimed Your Name became the highest-grossing anime in Japan ever. Today, its follow-up, Weathering With You, was released in Japan. The movie shares many thematic and stylistic themes with Your Name. The result is good but flawed.

Warning: This review includes some light spoilers.

Weathering With You tells the story of a Japanese high school student named Hodaka who flees the tiny island he calls home for Tokyo, where it never seems to stop raining. There, he struggles to find work and ultimately ends up getting a gig at an occult magazine, where he’s tasked with tracking down a rumored hare-onna (晴れ女) or “clear-weather woman,” who is said to be able to control the skies. Hodaka befriends a girl named Hina, whom he learns is this rumored hare-onna.

(In Japanese, there is a term called ame-otoko (雨男) or “rain man,” and it means that wherever an ame-otoko goes, rain follows. While the movie doesn’t explicitly state this, Hodaka is an ame-otoko. Thematically, the character serves as a contrast with Hina. This isn’t really explored fully, but makes for a fascinating subtext.)

The Your Name comparisons are inevitable. This movie isn’t shying away from them. Stylistically, Weathering With You is filled with the director Makoto Shinkai’s signature shots of the Tokyo cityscape. The rock group Radwimps return to once again to do the score.

As with the previous film, Weathering With You interweaves Shinto beliefs with contemporary Japanese life. In Shintoism, there is a tradition of praying for good weather, and Weathering with You explains how in the past, those with a direct connection to the weather would perform prayers and rituals for clear weather. Of course, Japan has a long-standing spiritual connection to the sun.

Also as in Your Name, Shinkai once again makes striking contrasts between these elements of traditional Japanese culture and modern life. For example, teru teru bozu, which look like little ghosts, appear throughout the film. Teru teru bozu literally means “shrine shrine Buddhist priest,” and these little talisman are still made today out of tissue paper, typically by children praying for clear skies. Just like in Japanese society, Buddhist and Shinto beliefs exist side by side in Weathering With You.

But unlike Your Name, in which Tokyo was a chic city with fashionable streets and delicious food, the Tokyo of Weathering With You is filled dingy streets, rusted staircases, old love hotels and shady characters. It’s an unforgiving place, wet and cold, where people must do anything to survive.

During an early Tokyo montage, a “Vanilla” truck recruiting women for the sex industry rolls by, playing the recruitment jingle offering “high-paying work” to women. You’re bound to hear that on the actual streets of Tokyo, but this is the first time I’ve heard it in an anime. It was jarring and unexpected, and that was probably the point.

Hodaka starts applies for some part-time work, but the replies he gets are for jobs in fuzoku (the sex industry). He goes to a series of interviews, probably to manage one of those types of places, and gets rebuffed by yakuza types for being too young. With no options for work, he ends up on the street, tired and hungry. It’s a stark view of Tokyo and one that isn’t typically shown in mainstream anime or Japanese movies. This isn’t the Tokyo of Your Name, and in that regard, it makes for a fascinating contrast.

But that’s the problem. When Weathering With You is compared to Your Name, it reveals more of the latest film’s weaknesses. Parts of Your Name are silly and dumb, but the emotional high points are pulled off with deep, emotional meanings on multiple levels. For example, Your Name makes several indirect references to the 2011 Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. For audiences in Japan, the imagery evokes incredibly powerful memories.

However, in Weathering With You, the connection to real-world weather seems muted and like a missed opportunity. Weather in Japan has long been predictable. But in the past few years, Japanese weather, like weather all over the world, has gotten increasingly strange, relentless and dangerous. In the movie, it’s mentioned how the weather has been changing, but it’s in relation to how spring and summer have become less enjoyable for kids in Japan. There’s nothing about how dangerous this weather has become. And even with the movie shows the power of weather, the impact is underplayed.

While the supernatural elements in Your Name feel organic, the supernatural elements in Weathering With You, especially later in the film, do not. Much of Weathering With You’s plot feels like plot, designed to shuffle audiences along to specific scenes, and certain story elements were clumsily executed and seem more at home in your typical Hollywood movie. While the characters are sympathetic, some of the decisions made later in the movie are downright selfish, with little thought given to the larger ramifications of their actions. They’re teenagers, so I guess that makes sense, but once they’re confronted with the results of those decisions, there doesn’t seem to be much reflection or thought given to them.

That doesn’t mean Weathering With You is a bad movie. It’s not. It’s good. Go see it. Parts of the movie are incredibly moving. Shinkai’s ability to contrast traditional Japanese religion and beliefs with modern society continues to be interesting. He’s an exciting filmmaker, and I look forward to seeing what he does in his next film.

But ultimately, the biggest problem that Weathering With You has is this: it’s the follow up to Your Name. Thankfully, the next film won’t have that issue.

Source: Kotaku.com

Godzilla: The King of the Monsters: The Kotaku Review

It’s fitting that the first few minutes of Godzilla: The King of the Monsters are a flashback. The movie, which is a sequel to Legendary Pictures’ 2014 Godzilla, feels like a natural evolution of the previous film. In some ways, it’s a better movie—rather, a better Godzilla movie. In other ways, it’s not.

Gareth Edward’s Godzilla was proof that Hollywood no longer was confusing kaiju with dinosaurs à la Roland Emmerich’s 1998 film. This was a movie steeped in the lore of Godzilla, and perhaps fittingly for a reboot, it appeared to be heavily influenced by Toho’s 1954 original. The new Hollywood take was moody, ponderous, and for many fans, short on monster fights. Its sequel sure ain’t.

Godzilla: The King of Monsters centers around a family still mourning a loss suffered several years earlier when Godzilla and the Muto ravaged San Francisco. Still dealing with grief, research scientist Mark Russel (played by Kyle Chandler) is now estranged from his scientist wife Emma Russel (Vera Farmiga) who is raising their daughter Maddie (Millie Bobby Brown). Monarch, the secret government organization from the 2014 film as well as Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island, is back. The company turns to Mark for help after a group of terrorists that has kidnapped his wife and daughter then makes a move to unleash a truly deadly kaiju foe. Meanwhile, Dr. Serizawa (once again played by Ken Watanabe) urges all to put their faith in Godzilla to handle the situation.

In the original 1954 film, Godzilla was only on screen for around eight minutes. For audiences of the day, seeing the first kaiju film ever made, that must have been mind-blowing. The 2014 film also only featured around eight minutes of Godzilla, largely cloaked in murky darkness. Modern moviegoers who were eager to see more big-time Hollywood special effects in IMAX were left unsatisfied. But for Edwards, who was looking back to the 1954 original, holding back Godzilla as long as possible apparently made sense. It would’ve been nice to see what was going on, though.

The King of the Monsters isn’t about holding back Godzilla, nor any of the other kaiju. It’s about getting them on screen and having them pummel each other. If you want to see giant monsters beat the tar out of each other, this is the movie for you. The King of the Monsters is the most fully realized CG Godzilla film to date, and that’s including the two previous Hollywood movies and Toho’s Godzilla Resurgence, a movie that seems to delight in ditching Godzilla movie conventions in order to make a jab at bureaucratic Japanese politics.

Legendary has packed some brutal fight scenes in here, with stuff I’d never seen in a Godzilla movie. Thankfully, the kaiju battles aren’t in the dark as they sadly were in the 2014 film. The King of the Monsters is lit with oranges and blues, with a clear understanding that what people want to see is giant monsters throwing down. That they most certainly do. With Michael Dougherty, a diehard Godzilla aficionado since childhood, at the helm, these fights are by a fan for fans. But it’s more than just a slugfest; there are a good number of easter eggs, such as a subtle reference to Mothra’s fairies.

Dougherty seems born to direct Godzilla movies. There is a genuine wonder and awesomeness about the kaiju that was absent in Hollywood’s previous films. He truly cares about these monsters and wants to make them as realistic as possible. I just wish I got that same feeling about the human characters, who feel more like chess pieces to move the plot around. They never feel authentic. Their motivations are either unclear, superficial, or unbelievable. The plot does include the interesting idea of flipping a protagonist into an antagonist, but that’s all it is, an interesting idea. That idea’s execution is inconceivable. In the 2014 film, the characters were, for the most part, believable and empathetic. Their motivations made sense, and even if the movie ran out of gas by the end, those motivations alone were what propelled the story.

In King of the Monsters, the actions of characters often didn’t make sense. They were propelled by the plot, instead of the other way around. There is one exception to this: Dr. Serizawa. The movie holds him in the same reverence that it does Godzilla and the other kaiju. Considering the character’s place in the Godzilla universe and Dougherty’s reverence for it, that is not surprising. Ken Watanabe, per usual, shines with grace and dignity. In any case, most people seeing this movie will view the non-kaiju scenes as filler between the monster stuff. Fair enough. In that regard, the movie does deliver. This is King of the Monsters, after all, and not King of the Believable Human Characters.

When I left the movie, I kept imagining what it would’ve been like if the human drama from the previous film had been melded with this movie’s kaiju battles. The result would have been a better movie, but that’s not what The King of the Monsters is, nor where its interests lie. This is a kaiju royal rumble. It’s about iconic monsters squaring off, sizing each other up, and fighting. That is what The King of the Monsters is. And in the end, that’s all it needs to be.

Source: Kotaku.com

Magic: The Gathering Arena: The Kotaku Review

Magic: The Gathering Arena isn’t the same as ripping open Magic packs with your childhood best friend on a sunny park bench, but it is the next best thing. The digital card game, available on PC, smooths down the coarser aspects of paper Magic games, making for an easy landing pad for newbies and a great user experience for Magic veterans.

Released in open beta last September, Magic Arena is the second video game adaptation to recreate the 26-year-old paper-card game. The first was 2002’s Magic: The Gathering Online, which, to gamers outside its dedicated fanbase or spoiled by Hearthstone’s delightful user experience, may now look clunky and unfriendly. Magic Arena is slated for a full release sometime this year, but right now, it’s a fully playable game that’s widely been well-received by newbies, lapsed fans, and hardcore players alike.

Just like its paper-card predecessor, Magic Arena is—on its most basic level—a strategy game that has two players pit their Magic decks against each other. One loses when their health is depleted from 20 to 0 or when they attempt to draw a card after the entire deck has been played or milled. Card types include creatures, which can deal or block damage; sorceries, which cast spells; enchantments, which cast long-term spells; and more. To “cast” a card, players must have the requisite amount and color of mana, Magic’s name for resources.

Last week, three researchers published a paper arguing that Magic is so complex that it could stump a computer. It is; at its highest levels, it’s a game of poker-like odds crunching, cold-reading opponents, research, and big-variable calculations. Deck construction relies on balancing powerful cards against the need for coherent, interlocking mechanics. Luck plays its part, too. There’s a reason that hobby shops are still packed with players excitedly peeling apart packs at new Magic sets’ prerelease tournaments. The game has one of the highest skill ceilings out there with an enticingly low barrier to entry.

Magic Arena is pushing that barrier to entry right into the ground with its clear emphasis on accessibility, riding on the heels of Hearthstone’s success. I’ve played Magic casually since college and, over the last two years, started regularly attending tournaments in hobby shops. Magic Arena’s digital environment has been nurturing enough to help me start taking the game seriously. It offers a thorough gameplay tutorial —perhaps too thorough—complete with five educational games against a computer. Seasoned and intermediate players will find these games tiresome and the voice acting a little cutesy; beginners and lapsed players will find them essential.

Magic Arena streamlines tedious aspects of physical gameplay while lengthening the ones that inspire deeper strategy. For example, it helps to see opponents’ card layouts and create decks using the same card more than once. A more subtle feature is seeing each stage of combat made distinct. Arena separates each phase, making it possible to fathom subtle openings for instant spells or creature casting that even intermediate players may not have otherwise capitalized on. Assembling decks is seamless, too, and people who were intimidated by paper cards now have less to fear. Magic Arena automatically sorts and organizes cards by color, mana cost, card type, whatever, in a way that makes it easy for players to conceptualize potential strategies and combos.

Also in the category of user-friendliness, I love always being able to catch a game of Magic’s booster draft (where players assemble decks by taking one card out of a pack before passing it to the next person) and sealed deck (where players create decks using the contents of several new packs). Magic Arena has been a gateway for me to participate in these games without competing at a hobby shop and—I’ll say it—being the only woman in there. Typically, I played Magic with decks I’d hastily assembled with friends or official pre-constructed decks. Often enough, that’s fun, but if somebody shows up with their asshole goblin deck or their “mill all of my cards” deck, I don’t have a great time. Playing Limited—the name for those modes—whenever I want means constructing decks using the same card pool as my opponents and challenging myself to be as resourceful as possible. I prefer that to the Standard format’s tendency toward opportunistic mean-spiritedness. (Being the best in Standard, where players build decks with whatever recent cards they have in their collection, can mean hemorrhaging money on packs and single cards.)

Deck-building in Magic Arena
Image: Magic Arena

A lot of fans are calling for publisher Wizards of the Coast to add more formats to Magic Arena. Currently, the main modes are standard constructed, sealed deck, and booster draft, ranked or unranked. Wizards will, in time. For now, I’m having a hard time tiring of the formats currently offered, especially since the current Magic set is so much fun. That said, it would be nice to pair up with a teammate for a two-versus-two game, and as it stands, Magic Arena does not currently have a friends list (players must “direct challenge” each other at the same time).

Nothing will ever replace the experience of exchanging part-time job money for a foil Magic card under glass at the hobby shop. That’s a sensory experience above all—well, almost all. Getting free stuff is a close second. Magic Arena, which is playable for free, is generous with its resources (gold and gems), for the most part. Players can use these to buy packs and participate in drafts. A 750-gem bundle for $5 lets you participate in a ranked draft that comes with three packs. That same bundle of gems can be exchanged for three packs (600 gems) or card sleeves (600 gems). Physical Magic packs go for about $4 each. It’s not a bad deal, and Magic Arena offers players packs and cards just for logging in, playing, or winning, but the truth is that playing Magic Arena and spending no money means being either uncompetitive or very, very good.

Is that an issue? Not for people who play a lot of Magic. Cards were the original loot boxes. Microtransactions come with the territory.

I invested $5 in Magic Arena’s Welcome Bundle, which included five packs and had enough gems for a sealed deck with six packs. After winning several draft games, I earned enough gems to play in another draft without investing more money. When I didn’t do as well, I had to buy in again. If you’re somebody who immediately wants the best cards for the strongest decks, and you want to competitively play in the game’s Standard mode, you’re going to have to buy a lot of packs, but it’s still cheaper than paper. The issue, of course, is that players can’t redeem paper cards they’d collected over the last 26 years in the game. In fact, few past sets are available at all—mostly ones from 2017 on. Reached for comment, publisher Wizards of the Coast said, “There is currently no plan to add the ability to transfer cards from paper to Arena, however, some physical Planeswalker Decks from stores have a code to redeem for that same deck in Arena and pre-release ‘Sealed’ play sets have a code for redemption in Arena.”

Outside of the game’s mechanics, Magic Arena has a lot of growing to do as it approaches its “full release.” Arena deserves more background art and better, more listenable music—both currently feel like afterthoughts. For a game that’s historically so loving of aesthetics, Magic’s new digital card game is a little sparse on the bells and whistles.

It’s impossible to predict what Magic Arena will mean for the paper card game’s future. That said, it’s easy to look around and see hype for the game snowballing alongside Arena’s release and the launch of Magic’s new esports league. For my part, Magic Arena’s pitch has finally gotten me hooked on a game I’ve been playing on and off for seven years. Its ease of play makes the average Magic game more of a ballet than a stop-and-start football match. As most of its clunkier aspects game melt away, the heart of a card game that has nearly three decades’ worth of staying power shines through.

Source: Kotaku.com

Detective Pikachu Is A Good Movie

Image: Warner Bros.

Based on the Nintendo 3DS game by the same name, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is the first live-action Pocket Monster adaptation. Hollywood has an abysmal track record with video game movies, but this time, it seems to have pulled off the impossible: Making an enjoyable live-action Pokémon movie that will delight fans and non-fans alike.

This piece was first published on May 3, 2019. We’re bumping it today for the movie’s release.

Set mostly in Ryme City, where Pocket Monsters live alongside humans, the movie follows the game’s basic plot. While trying to find his missing father, a young man named Tim Goodman discovers he can talk to a crime-solving Pikachu. The central mystery isn’t only what happened to Tim’s father, but also, who is making the drug called “R” that makes Pokémon go berserk. Detective Pikachu follows a rather formulaic detective film plot but so does the original game.

Image: Warner Bros.

But Detective Pikachu doesn’t share the same burden that weighs down so many adaptations, whether that’s video game or anime. For example, one thing that continually plagues made-in-Japan anime and manga adaptations is how many fans want the live-action version to simply be that: the anime and manga brought to life, as is, with humans. This means that character costumes and attributes, which might look cool when drawn, get directly translated to live-action, often with awkward or off-putting results that do not look realistic but instead appear downright goofy. The other extreme is something like the Attack on Titan cinematic movies which completely disregard the character’s original designs for a localized version. Detective Pikachu takes a different approach.

Image: Warner Bros.

The smartest thing Legendary Pictures did with Detective Pikachu was to not adapt Red & Blue — or any mainline Pokémon game or the long-running anime. The expectations would be too high and inevitably end in tears. Instead, by starting with a spin-off, the filmmakers were able to adeptly sidestep those expectations for how characters should talk, look and dress, giving room for the actors to bring them to life. (The Resident Evil movies, the most successful video game cinematic franchise, previously took a similar approach: Don’t redo the games, but instead, create a cinematic universe based on the in-game one. Detective Pikachu, however, has a far better understanding of its source material.)

Image: Warner Bros.

The character of Tim Goodman from the game isn’t beloved like Ash from the anime. In both the game and the movie, he’s a former wanna-be trainer turned insurance salesman with a rotten relationship with his father; in the movie, Tim is actually far more interesting and well-drawn than the in-game original. Since the other lead character Lucy Stevens doesn’t appear in the game, there aren’t the same expectations placed on a, say, a live-action version of Misty. Lucy is an intern at a news network, sick of writing listicles and hungry to break a big story.

The makers of Detective Pikachu certainly appear eager to please, but it’s not through cheap visceral thrills. Instead, so much of the movie appears to be set on getting the world of Pokémon as right as a big-budget movie can.

In what must be a cinematic first, the movie adaptation is more fully realized than the game in scope and breadth. The 3DS vision of Ryme City is rather bland, especially compared to the movie’s incarnation, which looks like Neo-Tokyo meets Pokémon. The urban cityscape is filled with layered with Pokémon cameos and layered with Easter Eggs, advertising shops like Charizard’s BBQ and the quite-clever Snap Camera Shop. In comparison, the game’s Ryme City is bland, and interestingly, smacks of the movie’s first ho-hum location, the town of Leaventown.

Image: Warner Bros.

Early in the picture, when Justice Smith as Tim Goodman is riding the train from Leaventown to Ryme City, a Lickitung sticks out its tongue and then proceeds to lick the side of his face, covering it in globs of salvia. It’s gross but played for laughs, which perfectly sums up what meeting Lickitung would actually be like. This also helps establish that these Pocket Monsters are living, breathing creatures. Some are creepy, others are cuddly, and a couple of them are truly menacing, but they’re all real.

Pokémon are well conceived and fascinating creatures, so the fact that the filmmakers have recognized that and are not content to simply rely on appearances, but have a deeper understanding of what the Pokémon can do, is why this adaptation works so well compared to Hollywood’s other superficial attempts. Detective Pikachu understands Pokémon. It’s why the film works.

Image: Warner Bros.

Often with movie adaptations, only the barest superficial elements from the source material are referenced on-screen. Characters kind of look how they do in the games or share the same barebones modus operandi, and that’s it. In Detective Pikachu, joke after joke centers around Pokémon, and major plot points hinge on the abilities of certain Pokémon, instead of only a series of hollow spot-them-if-you-can cameos, showing how much thought has gone into the production. The movie is acutely aware that it has two audiences: Pokémon fans and non-fans. Early on, there’s a quick and painless explanation of how catching Pokémon works. Even this is laced with smart quips that fans can appreciate. It’s clearly evident the filmmakers did their homework and are enjoying themselves. The world of Pokémon is fertile, and instead of simply scratching its surface, Detective Pikachu delights in going deeper.

Once Ryan Reynolds does make his entrance as the titular detective, the joke ratio does spike suddenly, with nearly every other line a zinger. Reynolds has proven himself one of the most enjoyable and likable actors of his generation, thanks to his ability to not only craft excellent jokes but to deliver them. This is a kid’s movie, so he’s not working blue like in Deadpool, fart and pee-pee jokes aside. The Ted for kids comparison is apt.

Image: Warner Bros.

Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures brought in some of the best visual effects artists in the business. Director Rob Letterman cut his teeth on CG animation with films like Shark Tale and Monsters vs. Aliens. The filmmakers had the added plus of The Pokémon Company’s involvement, providing notes on the CG character designs. All of these parts came together in the final film and resulted in Pocket Monsters that didn’t feel like live-action translations, but instead, live-action versions.

The movie does take liberties with the game, introducing several huge set pieces, totally different motivations for the antagonist, a new ability for a truly powerful Pokémon, and a completely different ending. The original game has an unsatisfying, unresolved conclusion, whereas the movie adaptation attempts to wrap everything up. I found it awkward and unbelievable, but the rest of the movie was so much fun that this wasn’t a dealbreaker. The big reveal at the end did make me wonder how they’ll pull off the inevitable sequel. However they do, here’s hoping it packs the same fun.

Image: Warner Bros.

Source: Kotaku.com

Metro Exodus: The Kotaku Review

I take my anxious first steps into a desolate post-winter wasteland. All around me, I hear mutants scratching and snarling. One sights me. Three more follow. I rise to fire my rifle. It jams. I feel frightened, vulnerable, out of sorts. But also, at home, like I’ve stumbled into a lucid dream shared by Far Cry 2, STALKER, and of course, Metro 2033.

I’m on a train—our train—surrounded by friends. Family. I can overhear their conversations as sun glints through lightly fogged windows and the train clacks down the tracks. Laughter. Stories. Boasts. Hopes. I sit down in a cramped cart with our heavy weapons specialist Stepan and a nurse we rescued named Katya. Stepan is playing guitar. I pick up another and join him. Together, we add to the gentle cacophony.

I can hear each stair creak as I ascend the lair of a “gargoyle” mutant. “This is suicide,” I think, but I keep going. A little girl asked me to retrieve her teddy bear. I’m going to do it. I reach the gargoyle’s nest. It’s curled up, asleep beneath a moonless sky. The teddy bear is in its nest. I shuffle toward it and reach out a trembling hand. The creature stirs and lashes out twice. Blood masks my face, clouds my vision. Teddy bear in hand, I bolt. I see a zipline. I latch onto it and soar away from the gargoyle, turning back to make sure it’s not flying after me. I finally start breathing again as I land hundreds of feet away. “Fuck you,” I say to the teddy bear.

I’m surrounded by darkness. If the cramped ventilation system I’m squeezing through stays dark for another few seconds, I’m dead meat. Mutant spiders chitter and screech, out of sight but definitely not out of mind. I furiously pump the charger on my flashlight. I’ve been in this situation many times before, but I never stop internally freaking out, no matter how many times I tell myself I’m finally over it. Mere feet away from me, I hear a spider leap. I turn and hit it with a fresh beam of light. It falls to the ground and exposes its belly. I fire off two bullets. It dies. Others stir. Behind me. In front of me. On all sides. I can’t take it anymore, so I charge forward in hopes of emerging into a more open space. I hit a dead end. I can hear them closing in, but I can’t see them. Then I remember: I have one molotov cocktail in my inventory. I hurl it down the vent and pray. The black answers back with spider screams. It’s finally over. For now. My heart beats in my chest as my character’s pounds in my earphones.

I find myself on the train once more. I’m talking to my character’s wife, a field-hardened special ops sniper named Anna. She’s angry that the she spent so many years in the tunnels of the Moscow Metro—once thought to be the only place safe from a ruinous plague of radiation after the bombs dropped—when she didn’t have to. But, despite it all, she’s hopeful. “It’s not like there’s many of us humans left now,” she says. “So I hope someday we will be able to trust others just because… because they are people, too.”

I prepare to slip into a sewer to infiltrate a raider compound. These raiders have been hounding us the whole time our train has been stopped in the desert. It’s time for them to pay. My companion, a Kazakhstani medic named Damir, asks me to see things differently. Some of these raiders are his people, he says. Many of them are young and desperate, taken in and enslaved by a ruthless and charismatic leader. He asks me not to kill them as I stalk through their lair. He asks me to understand.

Metro Exodus is a series of moments, a blur of sometimes nearly-incoherent events that pass like scenery outside the window of a fast-moving train. You pick out a few, but others fly by so indistinctly that you’ve forgotten them minutes later. It’s a bounteous bouquet of first-person shooter ideas, encompassing everything from modern open-world level design to hyper-linear scripted set pieces to walking simulators, one right after another. But the game struggles to cohere. It’s inconsistent, frustrating, and frequently less than the sum of its parts. The moments I wrote about above, I remember with perfect clarity.

But I’m already struggling to remember many others—strung together, as they were, by a post-apocalyptic cliché-heavy plot, factions that never quite click, and missions that introduce extra characters to an already bloated cast instead of giving the spotlight to crucial ones. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you much about half the characters that traveled with me, even after listening to them talk at me for literal hours.

Exodus is far more structurally ambitious than previous games in the Metro series, both of which were linear adventures confined to post-apocalyptic train tunnels. This time around, main character Artyom and friends are done tussling with Nazis and monsters in tunnels. Now they’re topside in the remains of a world they were certain no longer existed. As a result, you divide your time between exploring areas that are either open or linear, depending on what the story calls for, and hanging out with your pals back on the train.

Many of the moments, environments, and atmospheres Exodus creates shine even as they’re surrounded by a world of despair and decay. The game visits a veritable greatest-hits album of post-apocalyptic settings while managing to maintain a unique feel and atmosphere. No small feat, given how many other shooters have already visited the end of the world. Exodus is at its best when it marries its bleak, no-nonsense vibe with unpredictable landscapes and light survival mechanics. In the game’s excellent first, STALKER-esque open area and less excellent (but still pretty good) Mad Max-inspired second open area, supplies are hard to come by, meaning that you’ve got to strike a balance between using them to craft ammo, medkits, and canisters for your gas mask, as well as putting them toward upkeep on your weapons, which get dirty and become less effective with use.

All the while, bandits, mutants of every conceivable shape and size (humanoid, gargoyle, bear, spider, big crab, almost dog), and freakier things like floating, maybe-sentient electrical “anomalies” roam the wastes. Often, they behave less like enemies and more like hazards: If you don’t get too close, they’ll go on living their lives. Sometimes they even fight each other. Multi-layered, almost Thief-like sound design clues you in to their relative locations, with snarls, cries, and lengthy bandit conversations creating a feeling of constant tension.

At the start of the game, I felt like I was near the bottom of the food chain. It was thrilling—a return to the feeling I’d been missing in the absence of late-2000s shooters like STALKER and Far Cry 2. I had precious few bullets to spare, so I crept through half-dead bushes and underbrush instead of trying to play hot-shit hotshot against packs of mutants who a) wouldn’t give me any supplies and b) were imminently capable of tearing me limb from limb. Brief moments of empowerment—mostly involving stealthing my way through bandit lairs and freeing those they’d captured or enslaved—felt like triumphs. But beyond the reaches of those flimsy, man-made tents and walls, the wasteland was still waiting to pounce.

This was Exodus at its best. However, it repeatedly proved capable of suddenly flipping over and exposing its ugly underbelly, like a screaming spider freak mutant exposed to too much light. As I said in my impressions after 30 hours with the game last week:

Yep, the Metro series’ trademark jank is back, and in many places, it threatens to be the game’s downfall. Exodus is admirably ambitious, blending countless mission types, combat variables, and a series of locales that seriously feel like they could each be from a different game, but AI and other systems struggle to keep up. Enemy AI has improved by leaps and bounds since Last Light, but it still alternates between being eagle-eyed and comically blind to your presence. This became especially apparent to me when I reached the game’s second area: a vast, lonely desert. Open areas lead to wildly inconsistent behavior from AI, and missions became too sprawling for their own good, creating confusion about where I needed to go. I’ve also encountered quite a few bugs, both hilarious (a bandit moonwalking through the sky) and frustrating (the climactic end of an act-concluding main quest broke, forcing me to reload repeatedly until it magically worked again).

Combined, these issues have formed a handy crafting recipe for frustrating tedium. I won’t beat around the glowing green bush: I’ve spent multiple hours of my time with Exodus absolutely infuriated.

Having finished it, I can now say that Exodus is one of the most inconsistent games I’ve played in years. It’s a masterclass of care and craft in places, a post-apocalyptic world in which detail and humanity trump scope for scope’s sake and Fallout-style ironic distance from the subject matter. The story is smarter than it initially seems to be; while factions like an electricity-fearing cult and Mad Max ripoff bandits aren’t inherently clever, the game’s treatment of them is. At almost every turn, your travel companions urge you to understand where these people are coming from, and to avoid bloodshed if you can. In almost every case, it’s possible to do so, too.

Exodus is the video game equivalent of that friend who cares so much about everything all the time, who wears their bleeding heart on their sleeve and outshines the sun with their earnestness. You can’t help but root for it. That makes it all the more depressing, however, when it stumbles with bugs, AI issues, a bloated cast, a story that lags woefully far behind excellent world-building, and bits of needlessly frustrating level design.

Exodus isn’t content to just be one kind of first-person shooter. After an open first half focused on survival and exploration, the latter portion plays much more like its linear predecessors, to mixed results. The final two of Exodus’ four major locations suffer from their own particular issues, as well as more exasperating versions of issues that pop up all throughout the rest of the game. The third, a forested fall setting, starts out on a high note, dropping you into a mysterious village armed with nothing but a crossbow. I loved sneaking through that area and into a more open forest that was bathed in eerie moonlight. Packs of wolves sprinted by as I trudged to rescue a captured companion from two ideologically opposed factions of forest dwellers. The section was ultimately linear, but I could progress in water, on land, or up in the trees.

But then I reached more heavily populated areas, and the enemies suddenly decided they could see me through walls. I saved and reloaded repeatedly in hopes of ghosting my way through these sections, but to no avail. Eventually, I had every inch of the terrain memorized, but people kept spotting me or bodies I’d left behind (which you can’t move) out of nowhere. I couldn’t figure out why, no matter how much I searched for an answer. Finally, I just said “fuck it” and sprinted through these areas, taking damage and hitting checkpoints. It all felt sloppy, like these ambitious level design ideas didn’t quite mesh with the systems created for this game, in particular.

The game’s last main area, more than any other, is as Metro as Metro gets, with oodles of atmosphere oozing from its straightforward tunnels. But it also plays things safe, introduces a superfluous new character instead of honing in on a central relationship that’s crucial to the ending, and generally rushes to a fairly flat conclusion. When I finished the game and watched its bittersweet ending unfold, I didn’t really feel anything. I wanted to, but that’s Exodus’ very peculiar trick: it regularly makes you want to care, but only rarely creates circumstances in which that actually happens.

Throughout the triumphant highs and frustrating lows of these journeys, the train and my compatriots chilling out on it provided a welcome reprieve. Between missions, I’d stagger back to our messy closet of a home, take a load off, and just listen for a while. This has always been one of the Metro series’ great joys: occupying spaces overflowing with the detritus of people’s meager existences and overhearing conversations about their hopes, dreams, concerns, fears, and pasts.

In Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light, those people were mostly randos you’d never see again after progressing to the next area. Exodus’ cast, however, sticks with you through thick and thin, so their conversations build on each other. They react to new locations and your decisions. It feels good to have them acknowledge, for example, that you managed to complete a mission without any bloodshed. The game’s morality system is more streamlined than those of previous Metro games, and is mostly tied to your decisions about whether or not to kill people. But it was the thought of being praised by my friends that motivated me to meticulously play and replay missions in hopes of K.O.-ing or avoiding everyone. These characters start out as a stock cast of soldier archetypes—the risk-taker, the smart one, the foreigner, the gruff general with a heart of gold, etc—but they evolve into more over time.

Well… a little more. For all the heart underlying Exodus’ dialogue, it’s often stilted, awkward, poorly acted (unless you’re playing in Russian), and repetitive. Characters really, really, really like to talk, but they tend to do so in the form of expository info dumps. On one hand, the sheer amount of this stuff that’s in the game is tremendously impressive. When I say I spent hours listening to people talk, I mean it: at least three or four in total, probably more. You pretty much have to if you want to get to know characters, given that their characterizations in the main plot are thin, verging on non-existent. For example, Artyom’s wife Anna—allegedly a hardass sniper and a pillar of the team—spends the story getting kidnapped, falling into a pit and needing to be rescued, getting kidnapped again, etc. If you don’t talk to her between missions, you have no real reason to care about this, or any of the other big beats, in a plot that gets the job done but leans heavily on predictable clichés.

These conversations all kind of run together after a while, especially when characters are “conversing” with you instead of each other. I use quotation marks because Artyom is a silent protagonist, so everybody talks at, over, under, around, and through him. In previous Metro games, this made sense because Artyom wasn’t really part of any of the places he visited. He was transient, more observer than character. In Exodus, however, he’s got a consistent crew of friends, a wife, and a father-in-law. They clearly care about him, but there’s an awkward disconnect every time they address him. That, in turn, makes it hard to care about many of them. I ended up feeling like I was supposed to care, but only on a few occasions did that actually manifest in powerful emotions.

And that’s a shame, because Metro Exodus so badly wants you to love everyone and everything in it as much as its own creators clearly do. It’s one of the most earnest blockbusters I’ve played in ages, a janky mix between a modern open-world game and a too-ambitious-for-its-own-good late-2000s-style shooter that tries with all its heart to do absolutely everything and alternates between succeeding gloriously and failing miserably. It cares. It cares so much. It cares about its detailed environments and mechanics, even when they misfire. It cares about its characters, even though there are too many of them. It cares about its central message of understanding, rather than vilifying, each faction you come into conflict with, even though this message is attached to a ho-hum plot. It sincerely believes that there is hope for humanity even after the end of the world. I love it for what it wants to be more than what it is, but that’s still love of a sort.

I’m back on the train with my ragtag family. A conversation turns toward the future, toward a home free of radiation and mutants, toward dreams and new generations. We toast. We drink. Stepan plays a song about generals and trains and people losing their way and trying to find it again. It is warm. It heartfelt. It is painfully on the nose. It is Metro.

Source: Kotaku.com

Yakuza Kiwami: The Kotaku Review 

The Yakuza series combine deep melodrama with exploration through vibrant city streets. Yakuza Kiwami is a remake that recreates the feeling of the original game, adding new features to streamline the experience. It’s a glorious crime story that benefits from a fresh coat of paint.

This piece was first published on August 28, 2017. We’re bumping it today for Steam’s release of the PC port of this game.

Heather and Luke are big fans of Yakuza and decided to shake up the review format with an in-depth discussion of what they loved and what they’d rather kick to the curb.

Luke Plunkett, Kotaku: Yakuza games have become renowned lately for telling their story from the viewpoint of multiple characters. Yakuza Kiwami, out this month on PS4, doesn’t have this feature, so we thought we’d implement it for the review of the game instead.

Heather Alexandra, Kotaku: Which one of us is Majima? Keep reading to find out!

Plunkett: Joining me for this review will be Heather Alexandra, who is as much a fan of smashing dudes over the head with bicycles as I am.

Alexandra: It’s true. Give me a good old baseball bat and a full heat gauge and I’ll work some wonders. I think to start I want to get a sense of how you felt about Kiwami as a remake. The original Yakuza released in 2005 and when I look at the two games side by side, it’s really neat how much this seems to capture the feeling of the original. What do you make of it as our resident Yakuza fanatic?

Plunkett: I can barely remember the original, a game I played briefly at the time but never got around to finishing. And even then, I was obviously playing the game in its own time. This remake, aside from being technically beautiful (by Yakuza standards, anyway), is now very different, because it’s a 2005 game being experienced in 2017. So in that way it’s really interesting, both as a “historical” game, but also as a yardstick for how much the series has changed since it first began.

Like, you can see here that in some ways the series has barely changed. You run around Kamurocho, you punch a lot of people, there’s a lot of talking. And yet it’s also changed a lot, in that despite the technical makeover, there’s no upscaling the fact that Yakuza 1 is a game that’s lacking in a lot of the things that really appeal to fans who have come into the series through its later games.

Alexandra: Kiwami has a much smaller scope than something like Yakuza 0 but I think that also gives it a lot of focus. While the series is now famous for side quests and random activities, Kiwami has a focus and drive to it that I really enjoyed by the end. But maybe I’m a simple gal; all I really wanted were some dudes to punch and neon-lit Kamurocho streets to wander and Kiwami delivers that in a neat little package with only a few extra gimmicks.

Do you miss those other things? Different perspectives, building friendship with Officer Kikuchi or whoever else?

Plunkett: Yeah, it’s tough. I agree, there’s a vastly reduced scope to this game, which is as much a curse as it is a blessing. It’s a much shorter experience, with a lot less to do around the edges, which as someone very into Yakuza’s diversions was a disappointment. But the scope of later games had its own problems, with story bloat and drag definitely becoming factors, which meant part of me appreciated the fact Kiwami was over in under 30 hours.

Alexandra: I do miss Akiyama; I fell in love with him Yakuza 4. But I agree when you say some of the later games can feel bloated. I don’t remember the through-line of that game too well anymore but I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to tell folks Kiwami’s story years from now without missing a beat. It’s a simple crime tale with very few twists that doesn’t really waste your time. Unless you accidentally bump into Majima while wandering the streets…

Plunkett: Okay, let’s talk about Majima. It was the thing I was most looking forward to, and ended up being the worst thing about the game.

Alexandra: I had fun with it! It was neat to go bowling with him at the very least. Honestly, my biggest issue was with how much time it took to unlock good stuff for the Dragon of Dojima Style. You have to fight Majima a ton of times to fill out that skill tree.

Plunkett: I hated it. It was on some Star Wars special edition type shit. This isn’t Majima’s story, and the way they just stuff him into Kiwami is so lacking in context or elegance that it kinda ruins the flow of whole sections of the game.

It’s not game-breaking or anything, but still, I actually would have preferred they’d left it out. There’s more than enough Majima in later games (or 0!), we didn’t need him here.

Alexandra: My bigger problem is being reminded of how Majima was written in Yakuza 1 after spending so much time with him in 0. There’s some method to his madness and clear respect between him and Kiryu. In Japanese, Kiryu even calls him “onii-san” in casual conversation. There’s the kernel of the more three dimensional Majima here but it’s still pretty jarring to watch how wild he originally was before the series fleshed him out. Majima Everywhere made that more noticeable. I had fun with the mode but I think you might be right to an extent; it sometimes felt a bit too wild.

Plunkett: I mentioned this already, but one thing I really liked was the fact this is still a video game set in 2005. That was 12 years ago now, and it’s funny going back in time to see a game that was once so modern transformed into a flashback, retro thing.

Alexandra: I keep picturing Kiryu coming out of prison and finally getting a crummy little cellphone. That stuck with me for some reason.

Plunkett: Which when the game first came out was probably this really poignant, modern thing! And now it’s like, lol, ok Grandpa, nice dumbphone. It’s also funny to note that this might be the only Yakuza game where Kiryu’s suit and collar are actually fashionable for the time period.

Alexandra: One of the great things about this series is how it manages to leap from year to year and really communicate a difference. Some of that is in the small stuff like fashion or cellphones but it also baked into the setting. Kamurocho always feels familiar but hold tiny little touches depending on the game. In Yakuza 0, it actually feels quants compared to Sotenbori but when I played a little bit of Yakuza 6 at E3, Kamurocho was as modern as ever.

There were roombas, Luke. Roombas!

Plunkett: Plus maybe the best thing about Kiwami is that it’s set only in Kamurocho, which means more than any of the more recent games it really lets you learn the lay of the land. By the end of Kiwami I was playing with the map turned off and was finding my way round pretty easily just by remembering the names of main streets and the landmarks. Considering Kamurocho is maybe the real star of the series—and like you say, it’s always nice seeing it grow up—it was great getting to spend an entire game there without being whisked away somewhere else.

Alexandra: Speaking of stars, can we be real for a minute and agree that this isn’t really Kiyru’s story? In a lot of ways, this game is about Nishikiyama.

Plunkett: It is! And maybe that’s Yakuza 0‘s greatest gift to the series. I just kept imagining playing this game without knowing Nishiki’s story (he’s your best friend throughout the prequel), and how shitty that would have been. Knowing the story of his friendship with Kiryu really made his turn in Kiwami more impactful, and also lent a little more (sorry) bang to his farewell.

Alexandra: They added additional story scenes for Nishiki in Kiwami and that really paid off. We get to see him struggle as he inherits responsibilities that everyone wanted Kiryu to have. For a while, he’s not really good at being yakuza. By the time of the game, he’s a smooth operator but its still really clear that underneath it all, Nishiki never forgot what it was like to feel inferior. It’s so well written. He’s probably the best villain in the series.

Plunkett: Yeah, he really is, that’s one of the things that stands out here. Were he the villain in a later game he’d probably lick a gun barrel before somersaulting out of a helicopter onto an exploding horse, but here, in a humbler time for Yakuza, he’s just a good kid who makes some bad decisions.

How’d you find the combat here? After the baseball bat-infused fury of 0, I had a bit of trouble returning to a more nuanced combat style, especially since I didn’t get far with the game’s advanced styles.

Alexandra: I really liked it. The three styles might even work better here than in 0. I stuck with Brawler for most of that game but here I found myself switching from Rush to Beast or whatever I had to do in order to win. Kiwami finishers had a lot to do with that. Missing those is punishing since bosses will regain a lot of health. I was a lot more aware of my stance and heat gauge here than in other games.

Plunkett: I wonder whether that’s just a relic of the original design or something they tweaked here, because I was the same. For the last 3-4 games I’ve mostly stuck with the one fighting style, but here you just couldn’t, otherwise you’d run into a brick wall where a certain boss or group fight wouldn’t let you progress unless you used the “right” style.

Alexandra: I got my ass kicked in the gambling den fight more times than I’d like to admit until I literally went Beast Mode on them.

If I do have one minor complaint about the combat, it’s that some of the bosses are reusing move-sets from 0. Shimano is basically a re-skin of Mister Shakedown. It’s not a big deal but from time to time Kiwami feels a bit more like a Yakuza 0 mod than a game unto itself.

Plunkett: It definitely feels like the odd Yakuza game out. We’ve had a fairly natural progression in terms of game design, if not the timeline (thanks to 0 being a prequel) over the last few games, but throwing Kiwami into the middle of it all certainly makes for a weird fit. I know this is going to throw out my “which Yakuza game do you try next” timeline, because while Kiwami follows on from 0 in terms of narrative, I assume it’s going to be jarring for many going from the more modern design and tone of the newer games to something shorter and more raw.

Alexandra: I’m going to start up Yakuza 5 soon and I bet that’s going to be strange. I’m super glad that 0 and Kiwami are around though. The former is one of the best games I’ve played this year and while Kiwami is a bit less ambitious, it’s still very good. I played this while on a vacation and enjoyed every moment of it.

Except maybe when Bob Utsunomiya didn’t have any extra items to give me. That greedy clown…

Plunkett: There are four constants in life. Death, taxes, a new Yakuza game every year and Bob Utsunomiya being a creepy piece of shit.

Source: Kotaku.com

Every Fake Game In Kingdom Hearts 3, Reviewed

Inside the Toy Story world in Kingdom Hearts 3, players can find a video game store. This store is filled with games that presumably exist in the Toy Story universe. These games also need to be reviewed.

I watched my girlfriend play Kingdom Hearts 3 and she found this game store. We both had a great time as she walked around the shop and used her gummiphone camera to zoom in on each game case. As she pushed Woody out of her photos, I wondered: How did these games review in their universe?

So I had my GF snap a photo of each game we could find in the store and then using a weird dimension shifting machine Kotaku has lying around, I was able to pull up review excerpts and scores from AllScore, their version of Metacritic.

Twinkle Puzzle

AllScore Rating: 85

“An amazing experience. I finally have a game that justifies my expensive PlayPlusVR headset. But even outside of the VR mode, Twinkle Puzzle is the evolution on Twinkle you’ve been wanting.”

“While I enjoyed Twinkle Puzzle and found the game to be visually stunning, I can’t recommend a Twinkle game that costs $40. Wait for a sale before buying this beautiful puzzle game.”


Space Cats

AllScore Rating: 82

“This is just the start of a trilogy and I can’t wait to see how my decisions change the story of Space Cats. Will Captain Spots finally tell Madame Meow that she loves her? Will the Dogs of Death invade more planets? Who will save the Litter Box Freedom Station? I can’t wait to play more and find out what happens next!”

Space Cats isn’t going to revolutionize the RPG genre, but that’s okay. What we have here is a fun space adventure and a return to form for developer OragnicSoftware.”


Amazing Jam 2

AllScore Rating: 67

“Visually impressive, for sure, but Amazing Jam 2001 feels like a huge step back after last year’s incredible game. The jump to the new consoles means this is the best looking basketball game I’ve ever seen, but sadly the jump also means many great features and modes are missing in action.”

Amazing Jam 2001 feels unfinished. Sadly, some impressive visuals and a great soundtrack can’t save this bare bones sports game. Hopefully 2002 sees the return of a career mode and better net code.”


The Cute Chef: Delicious Theater

AllScore Rating: 77

“The beloved handheld franchise, Cute Chef, mostly survives the leap to home consoles. Some changes to the classic gameplay might anger long time fans, but the game looks amazing and as usual the music is damn near perfect.”

Cute Chef: Delicious Theater isn’t my favorite game in the long-running franchise, but I’m happy that I have such a colorful and fun game on a home console. Plus the Super Pizza Challenges from Cute Chef 3 return, which makes this my game of the year!”


Tick-Tick Party

AllScore Rating: 54

Tick-Tick Party is a wonderful mobile game, but porting it to consoles and charging $40 is a bad move. Maybe if this new port had added more levels or Tick-Ticks I could see the reason for charging so much. But this is just a free mobile game on a console and that ain’t great.”

“While kids might enjoy this simple puzzle adventure, the strange control scheme and lack of new levels makes it hard to recommend Tick-Tick Party. If you really want to play more Tick-Tick, try out the newly released mobile game Tick-Tick SUPER CITY.


Fun Farmer

AllScore Review: 91

“Fun Farmer is a nice retro throwback to farming titles like Lunar Fields, but it never feels like a rehash of those older games. Instead it adds more story lines and gameplay variety, making Fun Farmer feel unique and fresh.”

“While a lack of online co-op is disappointing, that is probably the only major flaw in Fun Farmer. The pixel art is gorgeous, the writing is superb and the gameplay relaxing. Lunar Field fans should definitely give this game a go.”


Yum Yum Cafe

AllScore Rating: 68

“I’m happy that after five years, Yum Yum Cafe has finally made it to US shores. Unfortunately, five years is a long time in gaming and Yum Yum Cafe’s visuals and gameplay feel dated. For fans of the Yum Yum franchise this might be fine, but for most gamers this will be hard to get over.”

Yum Yum Cafe has some of the best music I’ve heard in a video game and the love story between Papa Panda and Queen Sushi might start silly, but ends up becoming really moving. Yum Yum Cafe isn’t a big game or an innovative game, but I don’t care. I’m just happy we have more Yum Yum!


Perfect Smash

AllScore Rating: 72

Perfect Smash is another great entry in the beloved arcade tennis series, but it also feels like the first game in the franchise that isn’t doing anything new or fresh. Perfect Smash plays like Great Smash and Awesome Smash, but now in HD. Which is nice, but I really wanted something more out of the first next-gen Tennis Smash game!”

Perfect Smash is the best tennis game on the PlayPLus, but it is also the only tennis game on the new console. For fans of tennis games, this is your only option. Luckily, Perfect Smash plays great and looks wonderful. Though a limited roster of characters is disappointing.”


Pitapat Party

AllScore Rating: 63

“It’s more Pitapat Party, but now on the PlayPlus console. That sentence is really all you need to know about this port.”

Pitapat Party might just be a port of a two year old party game, but that’s not a bad thing. The last game didn’t find much success on the doomed SeeU and this port is perfect, adding a few new modes and features.”


Herd of Zombies

AllScore Rating: 90

Herd of Zombies is a brilliant and spooky spin off of the popular Herd of Soldiers games. Unlike those yearly shooters, Herd of Zombies feels more playful and scary. Fighting zombies with friends is a blast and the game really shows off the new PlayPlus console!”

“It is hard to enjoy Herd of Zombies after we just heard of the massive layoffs at publisher ActionSight. But if you can ignore hundreds of folks losing their jobs, Herd of Zombies is a solid and fun shooter with some cool ideas and great co-op.”


Speed & Danger

AllScore Rating: 29

Speed & Danger is a bad port of a crappy mobile game. Charging $60 for this feels almost criminal. Making this price even more unbelievable is that the game is barely functional and has terrible performance.”

“Look at the box art for for this game and you can tell two things: Nobody publishing this game cared and you shouldn’t care either.”


Blood Fight

AllScore Rating: 66

Blood Fight will be the game many players use to show off their new PlayPlus console. The sweat looks great. The fighters look like real people and the game is fun to play. But there isn’t much in Blood Fight beyond some fighting and some good looking boxers. Publisher Tee-Aye will have to add more in any future follow-ups.

Blood Fight made me happy I bought a PlayPlus console. It looks great and the VR mode, while stupid, is a great showcase for the console and the accessory. Don’t buy Blood Fight expecting a massive game filled with content. But do buy Blood Fight if you need something to show off your fancy new console.”


Wall Street Ninja

AllScore Rating: 93

Wall Street Ninja is a fantastic game that mixes stealth and romance into a gorgeous adventure. While some fans might find the game’s story “Too political”I loved how much Wall Street Ninja dunked on capitalism and corporations. That ninja really hates Wall Street!”

“Ninjas and finance might seem like a weird pairing, but it works perfectly in Wall Street Ninja. Some will wish the game was longer, I honestly think it is a near perfect game with only some long load times holding it back.”


Wall Street Ninja 2

AllScore Rating: 77

“While the game feels just as fun as the first game, Wall Street Ninja 2 also has a forgettable story and the ending is just bad. The added multiplayer modes feel out of place in this disappointing sequel.”

“Sometimes a great idea only works once. Wall Street Ninja 2 takes the awesome concept and world of the first game and builds on top of it. But the story elements don’t make much sense and the action feels too similar to the previous game. Luckily, that action is still great, but a bit stale a second time around.”

(Thanks to folks in the comments for pointing out I forgot to include this game in my original list. I fixed this!)


Deep Dark Castle

AllScore Rating: 73

“While it might feel too traditional, Deep Dark Castle is still a visually stunning RPG that tells an engaging and exciting story. But buggy quests and glitches ruin the experience far too often. Hopefully future patches can fix these issues.”

“Bugs and glitches are the real enemy in Deep Dark Castle. Though even when my saves were corrupted or I got stuck in an elevator in a castle, I was still happy I was playing Deep Dark Castle. I love Knight Gomer and his merry party of warriors. I just wish I didn’t have to restart the game so much!”


Verum Rex

AllScore Rating: 89

“It took over 6 years for this game to finally get released, but Verum Rex was worth the wait. The game combines fast-paced combat with fun storytelling. Hopefully we won’t have to wait 6 more years for the sequel.”

Verum Rex was first announced as Verum 19 Versus. Six years later and after numerous delays, the final product we received is a great RPG that maybe needed a little more time. But fans of the Verum series will enjoy this new entry in the franchise.”


Source: Kotaku.com