The Surge: A Walk in the Park Review

One of the best things about gaming is that so much work invariably goes into each release that developers sometimes get burned out and start coming up with crazy ideas to switch things up, and setting a Souls-y game like The Surge in a theme park gone horribly awry is definitely a crazy idea. After all, the base game is grim and serious, and the few friendly characters you meet are slowly corrupted as the story progresses to further add to the uncomfortable feeling of being totally alone. Fighting a bunch of theme park mascots who shoot lasers out of their eyes while being directed over the radio by a refreshingly uncorrupted ally, then, is about as far as you can get from the tone of the base game. Granted, you’re still wandering around a lot of vents and dark underground areas while crazy people in exoskeletons jump out, but there’s also a significant portion of the game that takes place in and around outdoor theme park rides and attractions. A Walk in the Park is a slightly hesitant but undeniably enjoyable step in a direction the burgeoning genre has yet to explore, and one that hopefully sends a message that games like this don’t need to be crushingly dark (tonally and visually) to be enjoyable. Read more →

SOMA Review

Frictional Games makes some incredibly well-received games, and yet these have been entirely inaccessible to someone like me because of their focus on helplessness. Not having the option to karate chop or minigun my way through monsters just isn’t an experience I’ve ever been able to appreciate. Even in real life, knowing that going crazy and setting everything on fire is always an available option is a strangely comforting thing (though less so to others). When SOMA originally came out in 2015, then, I had no choice but to weather everyone’s talk about this brilliant game that remained out of my reach because of its genre. That is, until now—SOMA’s Xbox One release includes an optional “Safe Mode” that renders you immune to monster attacks, and this mode has been patched into the PC version and will eventually also find its way to the PS4 version. Safe Mode changes the game in subtle ways, causing many of the game’s monsters to ignore your presence until you go out of your way to antagonize them, though a few enemies toward the middle of the game are strangely aggressive regardless. Of course, SOMA is still a thoroughly creepy experience that retains its general atmosphere of there being something horrible just around the next corner, so it’s worth mentioning that this isn’t a “make the game accessible for those who detest scary games” mode. Instead, it’s more akin to a “speed up gameplay by eliminating the need to slowly creep around monsters” mode. Even for gamers like me who avoid most horror-type games, though, SOMA delves into various consciousness and identity issues that you’re not likely to experience in any other game out there, and is well worth fighting through for that reason. Read more →

Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back Review

The original Bubsy is a mess, but it’s a lovable mess filled with sunglass-wearing giraffes, roller coasters, and egg-throwing enemies who have a yarn ball fetish. It takes a lot of practice to get used to its strange sense of momentum and instant deaths, but despite it being fashionable to see in Bubsy something truly irredeemable, the first game can actually be a lot of fun. I don’t remember a great deal about the second game, but something that’s stuck with me from the few times I rented it as a kid is how the items are really creative, with the black hole that allows you to escape the level really capturing my imagination back then. Point being, whatever your preexisting thoughts are about Bubsy, those first two games at least brought something to the table. Then there’s Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back, a game that breathes fresh life into the series in the same sense that characters being ripped to shreds in a zombie movie before returning as members of the undead technically have fresh life breathed into them. This is an abomination, and that’s coming from someone who could be considered a bit of a Bubsy apologist. Read more →

Battle Chasers: Nightwar Review

The thing about Battle Chasers: Nightwar that initially caught my eye was its turn-based jRPG combat. I’ve played a lot of games over the years, but the gaming period I’m most nostalgic about is the 16-bit era of jRPGs, back when Squaresoft ruled the roost and a million recognizable series were only just getting off the ground. The thing about those games that made them so good is that the basic traits inherent to the genre had already been established, so developers were either spending their time polishing things to a mirror sheen or challenging gamer expectations with their own divergent approaches. The reason I bring this up is that the same thing seems to happen every so often with modern developers, leading to surprising, quality games that are instantly familiar and yet totally unique. That’s Battle Chasers: Nightwar in a nutshell. Read more →

Maize Review

Maize is a weird little game that blends a bunch of genres together while defying their individual norms. It’s an adventure game, but it either hints at or blatantly tells you what items will later be used for. It’s a walking simulator, but you actually do stuff other than walking (including a bizarre dancing minigame at one point). It’s a comedy game, but there’s also an underlying sense of mystery in the early parts of the game. It’s character-driven, but you never actually meet several of the more important characters beyond reading their passive-aggressive post-it exchanges littered throughout levels. Really, it’s all of these things and none of them, and yet explaining exactly what makes Maize such an entertaining game would require getting into details about specific scenes so as to potentially spoil/ruin them for those sensitive to that sort of thing. Maize is one of those consistently surprising types of games, and while I originally missed its PC release, I’m glad the console release finally brought it to my attention. Read more →

Shantae: Pirate Queen’s Quest (DLC) Review

Half-Genie Hero’s DLC is one of those things that I was really looking forward to, but that I came into with reservations. The reasons for this mostly hinged on the gameplay that I’d seen before release involving pirate queen Risky, the DLC’s playable character, fighting off waves of her own Tinkerbats in the game’s first level despite that not making a great deal of sense. On the surface, it appeared to be a lazy way of not having to change things up too much from the base game, but I decided to give the DLC a chance anyway, and it managed to flit back and forth between validating and debunking my initial gut feeling. Pirate Queen’s Quest has redeeming elements, such as a great final boss fight and some Risky hijinks that subtly manage to pull her back a bit from the uncomfortably senseless malice she showed in the base game (which felt wrong after the events of Pirate’s Curse), and the upgrade mechanics really allow you to break the game in an entertaining way, but the chest placement and overall lack of an interesting plot or story resolution hold it back in a big way. If you’re already crazy about the series, this is an obvious “buy” regardless. If you’re not, it’s probably best to wait for a sale. Read more →

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