Lost Sphear Review

I have a slightly passive-aggressive habit of using header images to signal where a review is ultimately headed, but there’s no way of adequately describing in a single image how many problems Lost Sphear—perhaps better thought of as “I Am Not Setsuna,” where all of the good parts of the previous game have been stripped out and replaced with generic jRPG equivalents—ends up being weighed down by. It starts to feel similarly passive-aggressive in the way it does things, too, including a fake ending that plays out countless hours of busywork prior to the real ending. That means we’re dealing with pacing issues in a game that, like its predecessor, still agonizes fruitlessly over how it can best pay homage to Chrono Trigger’s legacy while blatantly ignoring the things that were actually good about that game. Namely: tight pacing, relatable characters who existed as more than tropes and info dumps, varied music and locations, and basic internal consistency. Expect none of that here. Read more →

Wulverblade Review

Wulverblade is a challenging and hyper-violent beat-em-up in the style of Golden Axe that originally released for the Nintendo Switch, but is now making its way to the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC with an improved frame rate and online leaderboards. Of course, I bring up Golden Axe because it’s one of the most prominent examples of a beat-em-up featuring weapons, but Wulverblade doesn’t actually play much like it if we’re being perfectly honest. Given all of the dodging around, valuables lying around on the ground, and midair enemy juggling, it actually feels much more like Dragon’s Crown minus the token RPG elements. That means how well you do is dictated almost entirely by your skill (though a little luck can certainly make things much easier), and while the controls and general mechanics take a little getting used to at first and lend themselves to moments so frustrating that the thought of throwing a controller through a window suddenly doesn’t seem so crazy anymore, it doesn’t take long before your muscle memory adapts. Wulverblade is a gem, then, though one occasionally marred by some questionable design decisions that seem to prioritize style at the expense of the gameplay. Read more →

Shantae: Friends to the End (DLC) Review

Maybe it’s paranoid, but I’m starting to feel as though Half-Genie Hero and its accompanying DLC (Pirate Queen’s Quest and now Friends to the End) has been designed for the sole purpose of testing how far it can push into uncomfortably bad design before my enjoyment of the series is ruined. I’m certainly giving this DLC stuff far more leeway than I’d ordinarily be willing to give thanks to how brilliant I found Risky’s Revenge and Pirate’s Curse, and in a world where I never played through either of those games, it’s not inconceivable that both this review and the one for Pirate Queen’s Quest would be formatted in my three-column “bad review” format. I suppose that’s a circuitous way of saying that I’m not sure whether I love Friends to the End or hate its guts. Honestly, I think it’s a little of both. The story and characters are on the thin side, but nevertheless a step up from Pirate Queen’s Quest. The mechanics, meanwhile, are interesting, but the usual Shantae endgame difficulty spike (this has become a pun over time as each endgame incorporates more and more literal instant-death spikes) pushes them further than they can comfortably go. Which is to say that the last few levels are really bad. 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 →

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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