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 →

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 →

Valkyria Revolution Review

It would be easy to call Valkyria Revolution a bad game when compared to Valkyria Chronicles and hedge my bets to allow any criticism to appear as simple bitterness over the two games’ many differences, but the simple fact is that Revolution is an abysmal game even when taken entirely on its own. It begins with an interesting premise, but squanders it almost immediately in order to instead waste your time with a slog through painfully contrived drama and overlong cutscenes featuring an inexplicably magical princess whose generic saccharine goodness inspires everyone despite her actual words being groan-inducingly trite. This is a game where the Valkyria that the series is named after is a token character whose back story is hinted at, but never actually delved into beyond awkward parallels with outside mythology that don’t really work. This is a game where the mechanics are so comically random and unreliable that even something as basic as attacks hitting the enemy can’t be taken for granted. This is a game where a solid 90% of the stuff that happens is meaningless filler designed to waste your time. Valkyria Revolution is a game lacking any semblance of entertainment value, an abject failure that should have never been allowed to happen. This isn’t just a bad game when compared to the rest of the series, but a game so wholly inept and loathsome that the other games would have simply never been made if it had come out first. Read more →

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