A rhythm game where timing is a fraction of the action.
I’ve been plugging away at rhythm games since I first picked up Dance Dance Revolution in 2006. With a stint as #1 on the leaderboards on Guitar Hero III and regularly playing still to this day, it’s easily my favorite genre and one I’m always looking for new games to explore within. When I came across Klang 2, I figured it had an interesting spin as the player’s performance took place within a battle. With little else to go on and no experience with the previous Klang, I dove right in and immersed myself into the electronic soundscapes the game provides.
Any weathered rhythm gamer will tell you that the background of a song doesn’t matter. With differing input requirements and precision being a factor, Klang 2 demands you zone in to the corresponding visual indicators to max out their score. Players will pay the utmost attention to these indicators to ensure their hitboxes are perfectly mashed, slid across, and held. Upon hitting these, you’ll receive a “Perfect”, “Very Good”, or an idea of if you approached the note too early or late. With the charts incorporating eighth notes, third notes, and other off-beat indicators, precision is needed not only from rhythm, but locational accuracy, as notes will pop up on every side of the screen.
Klang 2‘s aforementioned hit markers are akin to games like Elite Beat Agents, Project Diva, and OSU. Not only will you be hitting notes, you’ll have to swipe in designated directions and hold notes when their shapes appear. You’ll have an understanding of when to hit these notes based on the shapes closing in on the outline of the note. As such, it gets tricky when you have to move to different sides of the screen rapidly. Thankfully, the mapping of the rhythms was meticulous and they always completely make sense within the context of each song. Within the realm of PC, clicking/dragging with the mouse was optimal, but there’s also a keyboard option for the arrow keys if one should wish to play the game that way. Even with frantic visuals, the maxed out graphics never saw my framerate drop and I never missed a note due to game performance, nor did my PC fans ever have to kick in to cool the GPU. As a rhythm game savant, I still found myself challenged, especially in later levels, so Klang 2 gets the seal of approval for difficulty and execution.
There’s a wide variety of artists that contribute to the soundtrack of Klang 2, all with their distinct electronic sound. My haptic-feedback headphones rumbled with the bass and the sound effects tied to hitting notes never overpowered the songs themselves. Even if their default settings are too much, you have the option to turn them down so all you can hear is the song, too. I thoroughly appreciate that the game includes a music offset modifier, so that no matter what monitor/TV is being used to play Klang 2, you’ll have the chance to fix the timing and avoid missing them due to hardware. No word on if the songs are stream-friendly, as DMCA continues to be rhythm gamer’s worst enemy.
So, yes, there’s a plot to Klang 2 – but you have the option to completely bypass it. One may feel as if that’s an indication that it’s completely throwaway and/or low-effort, but that’s not the case here. While a lot of it goes over my head due to not playing the original Klang, I followed along to the game’s story which saw the eponymous protagonist dispatch foes with his trusty soundblade. There’s dialogue between Klang and a devious eye dubbed A-Eye, which provides some lore in-between boss battles. I did like that during hold notes of later boss battles, some exposition took place to give the player some provoking thoughts mid-song. The plot didn’t necessarily serve as a driving force to succeed as it would in another genre’s game, but it wasn’t too rough, all things considered.
So, why should you play it?
You’re a rhythm gamer of any sort looking for a new challenge at a low price.
You’re new to rhythm games and want something accessible yet difficult.
You enjoyed the previous Klang and want more action.
But why shouldn’t you play it?
A plot is essential to you in a game.
You struggle with frenetic, fast-paced video games.
A press copy of Klang 2 was provided courtesy of the publisher.
If I asked you to imagine a game where you play as a bird, chances are you’re probably going to imagine gracefully soaring through the sky. These games give the chance for the player to view the world from another perspective – gazing down upon the land below, feathers ruffling in the wind, soaring at high-speed. I’m of course talking about games like Eagle Flight or even The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword with its iconic Loftwings. Or maybe you think of more inventive avian experiences, like Angry Birds or Untitled Goose Game, both of which took the world by storm.
So when I ask you to name a skateboarding game, is the first game on your mind Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater? The series that truly defined skateboarding games and shot to fame on the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation. THPS defined an entire generation of gamers through its smooth controls, addictive combos, and of course a kick-ass punk rock and alternative licensed soundtrack. With the recent remake of the first two classic games, and fans once again shredding up the skate park, it feels like we’re currently living in some sort of skateboarding renaissance.
But what about combining the two? Surely the flight and freedom of playing as a bird mashed together with the gnarly gameplay of a classic skateboarding game would be a winning combo. Well, SkateBird is here to make those dreams a reality. Adding a cute avian aesthetic and taking clear inspiration from pop culture and the skateboarding games that precede it, is SkateBird a game even a hawk named Tony would dig? Hop on your board and find out.
Life as a human can be boring – an arduous routine of work, chores, and sleep that constantly repeats. But with the help of the SkateBird, along with a team of persistent parrots, they band together to help their “Big Friend” (hoomin) break this monotonous cycle! Over the course of the game you’ll be tasked with numerous missions with the goal of helping your human friend – whether its organising their messy room, or even rescuing them from their work prison. The SkateBird and team of pop culture-inspired birds will shred, grind, and pull off sick tricks to help their hoomin at all costs.
Overall, the story is incredibly light-hearted and silly, matching the tone of the game. Dialogue and exchanges between the birds is packed with ridiculous banter and references to other videogame series, which is a clear attempt at fanservice. After all, it’s a game about skateboarding birds, so try not to take it too seriously.
Any self-respecting skateboarding game really needs to have polished gameplay and tight controls at its very core. This is the foundation of every skating game, and without this to build upon, the rest of the game falls apart. Sadly SkateBird is one of the poorest examples of a skating game I’ve ever encountered, and this is no exaggeration.
From the get-go, players will immediately notice how touchy and poorly-responsive the game’s controls are. Having been spoiled by THPS, I’ve come to expect games in this genre to feel intuitive, fast-paced and satisfying. SkateBird is the complete opposite. Skating gameplay feels slow, clunky, and punishes the player at every opportunity. Controls, while mimicking other skating games, feel unrefined and incredibly touchy, making fine movements and even simple tricks quite difficult. To add to the frustration, the bird is incredibly fragile and any slight collision with an object, wall, or ramp will send the feathery ball rolling and tweeting off the skateboard.
The game consists of several levels, each of which are filled with missions and unlockables akin to other skating games. These are generally satisfying and simple enough to complete, but the added challenge of battling with the game’s controls and camera at the same time adds an element of unfair randomness and difficulty. Many of these missions require the player to make use of an “aerial ollie”, where pressing B in mid-air will cause the bird to flap and give some extra air-time. It’s a clever gameplay concept that adds more flexibility in exploring vertical space on the map, but again is touchy and tricky to get the hang of.
Where SkateBird does redeem itself is in its character creator of all things. Players can build their bird from scratch, right down to the species of bird to play as. There are a heap of options even from the very beginning, with an almost limitless number of combinations. Bird lovers are almost certain to get a kick out of this part of the game, which is equally charming and hilarious. Many of the options for accessories and clothing have drawn inspiration directly from the online “birb” community, such as adorable hats made from tiny bells and leaves. These visual elements add significant charm to the game, and without them would just feel like a generic low-budget skating game.
The rest of the game sadly isn’t quite as charming as its birds. Each environment has a particular aesthetic, such as a cluttered bedroom full of stationery, or the peak of a towering skyscraper surrounded by clouds. Most of the game’s visuals look as if they would suit the PlayStation 2 or GameCube era, and despite this there are still many points where the framerate tanks and becomes unstable, even further breaking up the frustrating attempt at skating.
Taking additional inspiration from Pro Skater, the soundtrack to SkateBird not only features original songs composed for the game, but also several albums worth of licensed music (albeit from musicians you’ve probably never heard before). The OST features mostly chill low-fi beats strangely occasionally adding voiceovers from bird documentaries/interviews – an odd combination, but works surprisingly well and definitely fits with the overall theme. I’d definitely recommend giving these tracks a listen, as they’re quite relaxing and make for decent ambient background music.
On the other wing, the licensed music is primarily punk rock, ska and funk, many of which feel very out of place. Playing a videogame about an adorable skateboarding bird while listening to rebellious punk with lyrics referencing shitty jobs or getting stoned in a basement is the most glaring juxtaposition and seems like the strangest choice of music.
Outside of the main missions and completing each of the levels, there are also a considerable number of hidden unlockables to collect. Each level features hidden clothing and accessories to dress up your bird, tapes that unlock additional music tracks (if you dare), and challenges to complete for players that are persistent enough. I found completing even the main missions to be a tedious task, so it’s unlikely this is a game that many people will aim for 100% completion.
As an avid bird-lover, owner of an adorable (and loud) parrot, an active member of the bird meme community, and even a veterinarian, the concept of SkateBird immediately grabbed my attention. However, as a gamer and a fan of the Pro Skater series, the game has been one of the biggest let-downs this year. An interesting and charming concept is sadly ruined by frustrating gameplay, dodgy controls, and an overall lack of polish. Even if you truly love skateboarding and are obsessed with birds, I’d still be hesitant to recommend playing SkateBird.
So, why should you play it?
Character creator is enjoyable and full of cute birds and accessories.
Decent original soundtrack, with funky lo-fi beats.
But why shouldn’t you play it?
Truly terrible skateboarding gameplay.
Touchy and poorly-responsive controls.
Bland environmental visuals and poor performance.
Ill-fitting licenced soundtrack.
Overall lack of polish.
A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided for the purpose of this review.
Who doesn’t love a good nature documentary? These insightful programs delight the viewer with a combination of gorgeous cinematography, detailed footage, descriptive narration, and the opportunity to enter the intricate lives of animal species that might otherwise be overlooked. I grew up watching nature documentaries, particularly those featuring the iconic voice of Sir David Attenborough, arguably the most renowned and respected natural historian on Planet Earth. I’m sure many of you reading this too have fond memories of the many incredible documentaries featuring his distinct narration.
Likely you’ve heard of some popular videogames where the player is given the opportunity to enter the lives of animals. There are games where the player must protect their vulnerable family, like Shelter for example, experiences that offer the opportunity to see through an animal’s eyes in virtual reality like Eagle Flight, and even the dystopian future of Tokyo Jungle where urban metropolises are overrun by rabid animals.
But have you ever experienced a game that provides a true cinematic nature documentary experience? Well, that’s exactly what AWAY: The Survival Series hopes to achieve. Developed by Breaking Walls Studio, an independent developer from Montreal, AWAY throws the player into a harsh distant future where the earth has been ravaged by natural disasters. In the midst of a world full of danger is a family of Sugar Gliders, fighting against the odds for one goal: survival. Can you help this tiny family survive against all odds?
Ravaged by a cataclysm of natural disasters, Planet Earth in the distant future has become a harsh, inhospitable environment for many species. Devastating storms have made most areas inhabitable, with humans fleeing entirely and allowing animals to reclaim the environment for their own. Though life itself is a challenge for many – predators reign supreme in this new world, scattered throughout the vibrant rainforest laying in ambush for their next victim.
And yet, defying all odds, a family of adorable Sugar Gliders push onward during a torrential downpour. However, the smallest of animals are often the most vulnerable. Torn apart from its mother who in a split second is snatched by the talons of a mighty eagle, the young glider must learn to fend for itself, navigate the harsh environment, and reunite its family in order to survive.
At its core, AWAY is a 3D platformer, with the player navigating each environment by leaping from trees, dashing between cover, or swiftly gliding through the sky. What appears on the surface to be an open world is instead disguised as series of linear locations with platforming obstacles and numerous deadly predators. There are also some elements of other genres thrown into the mix, such as occasional stealth sections, or challenges that focus on combat, but simply navigating to the next location is predominantly the glider’s main goal.
Typically, 3D platformers must have tight, precise controls that allow the player to perform tricky manoeuvres to test their skills. Unfortunately, this is where AWAY falls short. Playing as a glider, the controls are understandably floaty, with gliding being a key component to the platforming. Movement on the ground is simple, controlling like any other game, but once climbing a tree or taking to the skies the controls become problematic. The lock-on jumping scheme feels imprecise, with jumps occasionally launching in wrong directions, and the camera often going haywire at inconvenient moments. This becomes most noticeable during the game’s frustrating combat, where locking-on and pressing the attack button can send the camera spinning around dizzyingly.
There are luckily multiple segments of the game that are satisfying and enjoyable, especially when the controls don’t cause any hinderance. Gliding through the air from tree-to-tree is enjoyable and a creative way to cross otherwise harsh terrain. The use of vertical space too is impressive, with almost every object offering an opportunity to climb and observe the area from above. Exploring each lush environment from the treetops or high up on a cliff face can be a joy when surrounded by the game’s natural life awash with vivid colour.
One of the major appeals of a nature documentary is capturing stunning, detailed footage that allows the viewer to observe incredible scenes of animal life. AWAY manages to replicate some elements of this, creating an intricate world bursting with life. With graphical settings pushed to the maximum (also referred to as “Documentary Mode”), the game has the potential to look spectacular at certain moments.
The rich lighting that washes through trees and peers across the horizon gives many areas a pink/gold glow that look wallpaper-worthy. Here are some screenshots I took during my time with the game:
In contrast, there are many aspects of AWAY that are rough around the edges and detract from the overall visual appeal. Animal models will often appear raised and poorly-positioned when standing on uneven terrain, animations can be rigid and jittery, and some cutscenes that are supposed to be tense or emotive moments become awkward due to poor attention-to-detail. Much improvement is needed before AWAY can capture the incredible atmosphere of a nature documentary, and thankfully the developers have already provided some updates that improve the experience.
Narration is an important component of any gripping nature documentary, with voiceovers like the great Sir David Attenborough becoming synonymous with the genre. This is exactly the experience that AWAY aims to emulate, featuring an unseen narrator who describes many of the glider’s actions. This initially seems quite entertaining, offering insightful comments into the animals and their habitats. Unfortunately, narration quickly becomes tedious, as many lines are repeated constantly in response to certain actions. For example, falling into a body of water harms the glider and drains its health, and in each instance the narrator says the glider must search for food, which feels completely out of context.
However, the game does manage to achieve a true feel of a nature documentary through its soundtrack, composed by Mike Raznick. While you might not recognise him by name, chances are you’ve heard his music at some point, as he is responsible for games like Ratchet and Clank (PS4), OddWorld New ‘n Tasty, and even the incredibly popular nature documentary TV series, Life. The soundtrack created for AWAY evokes a feeling much like the documentaries off which the series is based, with an impressive orchestral score that ranges from soft and emotive to fast-paced and tense. Here’s one of the game’s lovely orchestral tracks:
Outside of the main story, which spans a few hours, the game also includes a completely optional “Exploration Mode” that offers a completely different experience. This mode lets players venture into the entire world of AWAY, with the ability to possess and control almost all animal species in the game. Jumping into tiny lizards and scurrying across the forest floor, and then buzzing through the air as a swift dragonfly is amusing and enjoyable for a brief moment. The main aim is to find rare animal species that are spread across the entire area – aside from this there is really no other objective. Admittedly it’s a great opportunity to take screenshots like those I shared earlier, but otherwise it feels somewhat lacking. The developers have since announced that the Exploration Mode is considered a beta for the time being.
So is AWAY: The Survival Series the definitive nature-based videogame that would impress the likes of even David Attenborough himself? Not quite. There are sadly many details of AWAY that feel unpolished and detract from what could have otherwise been an insightful and engaging adventure. Its lush and detailed world is unfortunately marred by poorly-responsive controls, troublesome platforming, and a camera that spoils the intent of being a cinematic adventure. If these flaws can be overlooked, the detailed world and its myriad creatures offer entertainment that aims to delight players like myself who grew up engrossed by watching nature on the screen.
So, why should you play it?
An interesting gameplay concept.
You’re fond of nature documentaries.
Plenty of animals to encounter/play as.
Visuals can be beautiful at times.
But why shouldn’t you play it?
Frustrating and inaccurate controls that spoil the experience.
Rough visuals detract from stunning environments.
Narration becomes repetitive and tedious.
A review copy on PC was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Ever since the dawn of Pokémon over 25 years ago, there have been numerous other games that sought to capitalise on its popularity. No doubt you’ve heard of series like Digimon, Monster Hunter Stories, and maybe even Dragon Quest Monsters – all popular videogame series that have drawn inspiration from Game Freak’s iconic monster-battling franchise. If you dig deeper, there’s an entire world of what’s called “ROM hacks” – fan made games that build upon existing Pokémon assets to create brand new experiences of their own. These range from simple sprite swaps (Moemon, anyone?) all the way through to incredibly impressive standalone titles like Pokémon Fire Red: Rocket Edition and my personal favourite, Pokémon Uranium.
But what if a game that seemed like a ROM hack managed to become a series of its own? That’s exactly what I expected from Nexomon, the blatant Pokémon rip-off that harkens back to the golden era of Pokémon and makes no attempt at hiding its similarities to the source material. What initially released as a mobile game in 2017 has since gained a cult following and seen enough success to be ported to numerous consoles, now including Nintendo Switch with the release of Nexomon: Extinction and now the original Nexomon. And you know what? This is one of the best Pokémon games I’ve played in years.
Centuries ago, humans and Nexomon waged a mighty war to establish dominance, with the King of all Nexomon, Omnicron, leading the assault on humanity. Lasting thousands of years, the Human-Nexomon war ravaged the lands, claiming thousands of human and Nexomon lives with it. That was until the appearance of a legendary hero known as Ulzar, who ultimately defeated Omnicron and put an end to the war. It was thanks to his efforts that humans and Nexomon now live alongside each other in peace, learning to exist harmoniously at last.
Centuries have since passed, and humans have since forgotten about the incredible power of Omnicron and the terror he once caused. However, rumours are circulating of the return of the ancient Nexomon King, whose power could once again ravage humanity. The most powerful tamer in the land, known simply as the “Nexolord“, is on a mission to resurrect Omnicron and take the entire world hostage. With a team of trained Overseers under his control and scattered across the land, the last hope of humanity rests upon the shoulders of…
…a child. How can a small-town kid hope to conquer all those who stand in his way, and overcome adversities to prevent the resurrection of a god? Well, with the power of Nexomon at their side, of course!
This is a game that is unashamedly Pokémon-esque – almost every single aspect of the gameplay draws inspiration from the classic monster-battling series. Honestly, there are very few differences between Nexomon and earlier Pokémon titles, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As they say, imitation is the highest form of flattery!
Players set off an an adventure not unlike Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire, tasked with investigating a mysterious organisation and pursuing the evil Nexolord. Though there’s no way you’ll be able to achieve this by yourself – you’ll need to recruit a team of powerful Nexomon to fight at your side! Over the course of the game, you’ll travel across the lands, searching far and wide, for Nexomon that hide in rustling bushes. Once an encounter with a Nexomon is triggered, you’ll need to whittle down their health before capturing them in a “Nexotrap” (blatantly an X-shaped Pokeball). With a full team of 6 Nexomon, battles will progressively allow you to level-up and evolve your team until strong enough to defeat the Gym Leader Overseer in each town.
If you’ve played even a single Pokémon game, no doubt you’ll immediately recognise the familiar combat and exploration. However, there are some differences that simplify the gameplay, for better or worse. TMs and HMs do not exist – instead, players can swap back and forth between any 4 moves that their Nexomon have learned. Wild Nexomon feature a rarity rating, ranging from Common to Mega Rare and Legendary, which is a simple touch that allows players to prioritise which ones to catch. There are also only 7 elements of Nexomon, each with their own type advantages/disadvantages, making combat quite simple in comparison to Pokémon.
While I could spend this entire review drawing comparisons between Nexomon and Pokémon, there is one major component of Nexomon that far surpasses any game I’ve played in the Pokémon series: the humour. Dialogue is often very tongue-in-cheek, sometimes a bit risqué or self-deprecating, and often pokes fun at stereotypes and tropes within monster-battling RPGs. The game isn’t afraid to make fun of itself and this makes for an overall light-hearted, enjoyable experience. Enjoy some of the game’s excellent one-liners!
As you’ve already seen from many of the images in the review, there’s nothing particularly impressive about Nexomon’s visuals. Despite having a clean and vibrant visual style, there are still many elements of being a mobile game that remain. The user-interface in particular feels very much like a mobile game and many aspects of the game’s visuals are clearly rip-offs taken from the series on which it is based. Take for example the design of the game’s “Healing Center” – seem familiar?
There are definitely redeeming features to the visuals though. Many of the Nexomon have interesting designs, even those that are clearly inspired by existing Pokémon. Many of the powerful Overseers and their Nexomon are shown off in cutscenes as still-frames, which provide an added level of detail not seen during regular gameplay. The aesthetic definitely feels like Pokémon on a budget, but it works well overall, especially when played in handheld mode on the Switch.
Considering its origins as a low-budget mobile game, it should come as no surprise that the music to Nexomon isn’t quite as impressive as its triple-A counterpart. What seems strange though about the soundtrack to Nexomon is that it’s so inconsistent. There are some tracks like the ones below that are incredibly catchy and a pleasure to listen to, and then many others that feel like generic royalty-free music that are easily-forgettable and occasionally tedious. Here are a couple of the better tracks from the game:
Outside of the main story, there’s not much additional content to keep players invested. If you’re a completionist, you may gain a sense of satisfaction from trying to tame all 300 Nexomon, but there’s not much of a reward for doing so. Unlike Pokémon there aren’t any minigames like Pokémon Contests or Game Corners, it’s pretty much entirely focused on the battles, which honestly isn’t a bad thing.
Though like any self-respecting Pokémon knock-off, there is some post-game content. After completing the main story, players will be given access to a brand new area that was previously off-limits, featuring more powerful Nexomon and an added level of challenge. It’s a nice added bonus, as I wasn’t expecting a reason to come back after finishing the story.
With an engaging story, plenty of clever humour, and typical monster capturing and combat that fans have grown to love, this is a game almost certainly made to appeal to Pokémon fanatics. While it is obvious that many aspects of Nexomon draw heavily from Game Freak’s series, once you look past these similarities, you’re in for an excellent standalone adventure over the course of a 20 hours story. It would be easy to be judgemental and dismissive of Nexomon as a mere rip-off, riding on the coattails of Pokémon, but I guarantee if you’re a fan of monster-battling RPGs, you should be giving Nexomon a chance. I was shocked at how much I enjoyed Nexomon, and will certainly be playing Nexomon: Extinction next.
So, why should you play it?
Are you a fan of Pokémon? This game is made for you!
You enjoy the older Pokémon titles, particularly Ruby & Sapphire.
Simple combat and gameplay that feels immediately familiar.
Legitimately funny humour and dialogue.
But why shouldn’t you play it?
Overly critical of Pokémon similarities? Maybe give Nexomon a pass.
No multiplayer or trading aspect – purely a single player experience.
A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided for the purpose of this review.
If you are a fan of JRPGs then surely you have heard of the Tales series before. If you aren’t a fan, or if you have only recently jumped on the JRPG train, then perhaps you haven’t – and shame on you. If you don’t like JRPGs, then I’m not sure that we can be friends… though I will happily have a lengthy discussion with you in an attempt to change your mind.
The Tales series has for a long time lived in the shadow of the big two JRPG franchises of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. Similar to those series, the majority of Tales games are independent stories set on different worlds with new casts of characters (though there are a couple of exceptions to this rule). Starting way back in 1995 with Tales of Phantasia on the Super Famicom in Japan (though this was not actually released in English until a Gameboy Advance port in 2006), the Tales series has 17 entries across many platforms including the GameCube, Xbox360 and the entire PlayStation family including the PSP and Vita.
The last game in the series was Tales of Berseria, which released back in 2016/2017 (depending on your region) as a cross gen title on PS3 and PS4. Since then, Tales fans have been clamouring for the next entry. The wait of almost 5 years is by far the longest gap between releases over the franchise. The question is of course: was Tales of Arise worth the wait?
The story of Tales of Arise throws us into the conflict between the twin worlds of Dahna and Rena. Over the past 300 years, the people of Rena have used their advanced technology and magical Astral Artes to rule over the non-magical Dahnan people. The Renans use their might to raze the Dahnan world of its natural resources, using the slave labour of the Dahnans to destroy their own world.
The beginning of the game sees us take the role of ‘Iron Mask‘. A young Dahnan slave who seems somehow different from the rest of his people. Maybe it is the fact that he has amnesia and can remember nothing of his past. Maybe it is the fact that he is unable to feel physical pain. Or maybe it is the strange Iron Mask that covers his whole face…
Yes, the early parts of Tales of Arise rely on the ‘lazy’ story element of amnesia. But the way this is entwined with the developing story, even near the very end of the game, does make sense. It allows the team to have some shocking twists and turns, and by the end of the game I no longer felt that the use of amnesia was in any way a ‘lazy’ choice.
Iron Mask makes a decision to fight against his captors by helping the rebel Renan girl Shionne. She openly fights against the ruling Renan class on Dahna, but like other Renans the people of Dahna still seem to mean nothing to her – initially her goal is unclear. Shionne is also afflicted with a curse of ‘thorns’ that cause any person touching her to feel intense pain. Of course, the strange man in the Iron Mask that can feel no pain might be able to help her achieve her goals.
The game intelligently introduces the cast of characters, both good and evil, as the game progresses. Whilst any JRPG or anime fan will be able to foresee some of the early events of the game due to the way that these characters are established into the story (e.g. who is going to die, who is going to turn from bad to good), the second half of the game introduces some elements that are for lack of a better term ‘batshit crazy’…in a good way. There are twists and turns that that smartly discuss topics such as slavery and racism. This is easily the most emotionally mature game in the Tales series and there are very few, if any, story elements that are not neatly wrapped up by the end of the game.
As is typical of a Tales game, the cast of characters don’t always get along and see eye-to-eye on everything. This allows for hilarious interactions between your heroes, and the writers clearly enjoyed creating a vivid backstory and individual motivations for each of the main characters.
At its heart Tales of Arise does boil down to somewhat of a ‘save the world’ story. But this game is not about the destination, but about the journey and the people you meet along the way. It is difficult to go into detail about the plot without spoilers, however I can say with confidence that this is certainly a story worth experiencing for yourself.
So the plot is good, but is it worth the effort of actually playing the game to experience the story?
If there is one thing that the Tales series is best known for, it is the action-oriented Tales RPG battle system. Tales of Arise continues to build on elements from previous games in the series and has created what is hands-down the best battle system I have ever experienced in a JRPG.
Attempting to jump straight into the deep end of the battle system with everything unlocked would confuse even the most experienced gamer – basic attacks, evades, jumping, artes, boost attacks, boost strikes, overdrive mode, mystic artes and flaming edge… there is a lot to take in here. Fortunately, the game intelligently introduces each new skill just as you feel you need something ‘more’ in battles. Battle tutorials are short but effective practical battles that teach you exactly what you need to know to progress.
During battle you will control only your main character for the purposes of basic attacks, jumping evades and artes (skills). Initially you will have the ability to string together up to 3 basic attacks on the ground, 3 more basic attacks in the air, and any number of artes for which you have the available SP (or Soul Gauge points). At the start of the game you have only 3 SP available, but you will have 10 by the end-game battles. SP recharge quite quickly over time in battle, and you will be relying on your artes to deal the majority of your damage (and attack weak points with elemental attacks). A perfectly timed dodge will completely negate an enemy attack and provides you with a window to complete a counter strike for bonus damage.
There are 6 characters in the game, and after recruiting them you can control whomever you want in battle, including changing your controlled character on the fly mid-battle. Four characters can participate in battle at once, but you can switch the two benched characters in if needed – including for a character that has had HP reduced to zero. Each of the six characters controls quite differently in battle and there really is something for every play style here. The main character is a physical close-range character balanced on offense and defence, whilst other characters can be any combination of magical attacks, long distance physical attacks or even the defensively focussed Kisara who has no ‘dodge’ mechanic but instead can absorb attacks into her shield to buff up her next arte attack.
As you battle, each character (even the two not in your active party) will build up ‘Boost gauge’. Once this is filled, the character can be called upon to do a ‘Boost Attack’ against the targeted enemy. Each character’s boost attack can stun a particular enemy type, such as Shionne’s gun being great for knocking flying enemies out of the sky.
By building up the combo meter attacking an enemy and whittling down their HP, you will be able to call on a character to complete a two-person ‘Boost Strike’ which is basically a fancy move that will finish off an enemy (or more than one enemy if they are caught in the blast zone). Each two-character combination across the team of six have a unique boost strike and these are some of the best looking battle animations in the game, complete with a satisfying end screen if you finish the battle with one.
Boost strikes aren’t the best battle animations though. That title is reserved for each characters ‘Mystic Arte‘, the Tales of Arise version of a ‘limit break’. If your character takes enough hits they will enter ‘Overdrive move’ where arte use will not drain SP for a short period of time – and overdrive mode can be ended with a Mystic Arte. These look great and as expected deal out a ton of damage.
One of the biggest changes here, and something that makes Tales of Arise different from many RPGs out there, is that it virtually does away with the idea of ‘MP’ (or magic points) for the purposes of casting spells. Magic is treated the same as the physical skills/artes with the only exception being healing spells which draw from a party-wide pool of ‘CP’ to be cast. Your CP pool starts quite limited, but increases in size over the game as you beat bosses and other major enemies. CP can only be refilled with the use of items, or when ‘resting’ at an Inn or Campfire.
As I said… this is a lot to process. But by the end of the game you’ll be flying around the battlefield comboing off across the various different attack types to absolutely decimate enemies. Battles are fun. Unlike some other RPGs where a player may want to avoid battles entirely, I found myself actively approaching enemies (who are visible on the overworld/in dungeons) to just get more combat time in.
There are four different battle difficulty settings available, and you can change these back and forth at any time. As a Tales series veteran I was able to complete the majority of the game at ‘Hard’ difficulty without the need to stop and grind levels at any point. Losing a normal battle will have your team immediately re-spawn at the same location with no ‘CP’ remaining, meaning you need to retreat to the nearest camp/inn to recover before venturing out again. I did have a few boss battles where ‘Hard’ difficulty was literally that. Fortunately, boss battles allow you to immediately re-try the fight any number of times, including with the ability to change the difficulty level if needed. I felt the need to drop down to Moderate or Normal difficulty a couple of times for my own sanity (to ensure I could continue to progress through the game in a timely manner), but no boss battles felt ‘cheap’ or unwinnable even at the harder difficulties. The easiest setting of ‘Story’ difficulty removes the majority of challenge from battles altogether and allows the player to focus on the plot itself.
Outside of battles there are various other RPG elements, side quests and minigames to enjoy. The vast majority of weapons in the game are crafted from enemy item drops rather than found (though some are received as rewards for completing side quests). There are friendly owls to find and collect throughout the world of Dahna, with the king of owls rewarding you with new costumes for your team once you hit certain milestones in your owl collection. Being a JRPG, of course there is a fishing mini-game, which is a well-executed quick-time-event style minigame that is a good little time sink (even if it is rather simple in nature). There is also the ability to run your own farm to raise animals, and a cooking system where you can provide various buffs to your team for a limited time after cooking.
There are also a number of great ‘quality of life’ elements to Tales of Arise which I feel the need to call out.
Firstly, there is an awesome Fast Travel system. Outside of some select points in the story (where fast travel would not make any sense) you can quickly travel to almost any section of the map at any time with the press of a button (actually it is more like three button presses). This makes it easy to jump around and complete various side-quests, including the normally frustrating ‘fetch’ type quests. You can also save your game anywhere and anytime (other than mid-battle or in the middle of a cut scene).
Any items that can be picked up in the overworld map such as treasures or cooking ingredients are clearly highlighted with an obvious sparkle, so you won’t feel that you missed anything important (if you are keeping your eyes open). The collection owls can be a little more hidden but can be heard for those listening intently.
Keeping track of your main story events and the various side-quests is also super easy. Each point of interest for all quests will be highlighted on your map with an obvious star, and even the start points for quests you haven’t received yet can be easily seen.
Furthermore, if you are the type of person that needs to talk to literally every NPC in the game to see what they say – fear not because each person you can actually speak to has a speech bubble above their head, and this will change colour once you have spoken to them. If they later have something new to say then the colour will change back again until you have spoken to them.
Finally, if you miss an important detail in one of the game’s cut-scenes or one-off skits that played out (including the fully animated ones)? Never fear – you can re-watch these as many times as you like at any Inn or campfire.
I never felt frustrated or annoyed at any point in the game as my path forward was always clear. Battles, overworld travel, minigames, collections… I never felt that my time was being wasted, or that the game was unnecessarily padding itself out. Tales of Arise, put simply, is just pure joy to play from start to finish.
Other than a cracking action battle system, the other thing the Tales series is known for is its presentation. Bandai Namco Entertainment are well known for their presence in the anime/video-game scene, being the developer behind the majority of games released based on worldwide anime hits including Dragonball, One Piece, Naruto, Sailor Moon, Digimon, Gundam and most recently, Scarlet Nexus. Basically – they know what they are doing.
I knew I was in for an audio-visual treat before even booting up Tales of Arise. After the game completed downloading and installing, hovering over the PS5 menu icon for Tales of Arise brought up the beautiful anime style backdrop and blasted what I would later learn is the awesome backing track that plays during non-boss battles. On loading up the game I was then presented with a fully animated introductory video from legends and series veterans Ufotable backed by a bopping JPop tune by Kankaku Piero. This stuff definitely gets your gaming juices flowing.
The graphics within the gameplay itself can be broken up into three distinct styles, though always heavily leaning on the typical Japanese anime style. The overworld map, towns, dungeons and battles present the characters animated in a crisp cel-shaded style over gorgeous backdrops. Some of the dungeon areas, particular those near the end of the game, are simply jaw dropping in both design and beauty. I don’t want to spoil those with pictures here, you really need to experience them for yourself.
The only part of the overworld graphical presentation that was a negative for me was the bad pop-in that occurs in the overworld map. Battles in Tales of Arise are not random, but occasionally the enemy sprite on the overworld map might pop-in so late that it is hard to avoid the fight. It certainly isn’t a game-breaker, but for a game that clearly prides itself on presentation it seems strange that this wasn’t picked up in quality testing and fixed.
In battle I basically have one word for you – particle physics. The high-octane battles are punctuated with insane battle animations, particularly for the ‘Boost Strikes’ and ‘Mystic Artes’. Near the end of the game the relatively small battlefield can occasionally become so crazy it is difficult to see what is going on, but by that stage of the game you should be well versed enough to be able to manage even if you can’t quite see exactly where you character or the enemy is through fireballs, ice shards and tornadoes.
Tales series staple the ‘skit’ is back again. Skits are short interactions between two or more of your team members in response to some in game event. In previous games these were presented only as text boxes with a number of different still pictures of your characters’ faces for various emotions that would show as the text flows by. Tales of Arise completely revamps the skit and these are now presented in a manga-style storyboard with actual character animations. It is obvious that the team put in a lot of effort here as they look great and really add to the anime feel of the game. There are over 300 skits in this game, and some of them can last minutes at a time (though all are skippable if you are in a rush).
Finally, it isn’t just the introduction movie that is fully animated by Ufotable. There are a number of points in the game where additional fully animated scenes will unfold, including a massive one near the end that must have run for at least 10 minutes!
Music in the Tales series has always been great, and Arise continues the trend. Battle fanfares, town music and dungeon soundtracks help build and maintain the right atmosphere without ever becoming old or repetitive to the point of frustration.
Sound quality throughout the game is also excellent. I played various parts of the game with both the Japanese and English audio tracks. Both sets of voice talent are great and fit the characters well. As usual for me, I did personally prefer the Japanese voice team over the English. However, on this occasion I played more of the game in English. There are three main reasons for this choice:
The amount of voicework here is massive. There is more than just the standard interactions between your characters and NPCs. There are the 300+ skits in the game. Plus small talk between characters while simply walking through the overworld map… I just didn’t feel like reading that much.
The visual presentation of this game is so breath-taking that I really didn’t want to miss anything by reading the subtitle text at the bottom of the screen.
Throughout the game characters will say things that are actually relevant to gameplay. Your meal that was giving you a buff in battle just ran out – its time to cook another meal. Even in battles themselves characters can shout things to help you out, like pointing out a particular Boost Attack weakness, or that a character needs urgent healing.
Tales of Arise requires a massive time commitment if you want to see this excellent story through its various twists and turns to its satisfying conclusion. If you want to watch all of the awesome ‘skits’ and complete all available side quests, you are looking at spending a minimum of 60 hours with Tales of Arise. That being said, I never felt bored while playing the game. I always wanted to keep pushing on to complete one more side quest, find one more owl, catch one more fish, or uncover one more secret in this twisting Tale. After finally accepting that it was time to get some sleep and turn off the game I continued to think about the well fleshed-out characters, their individual motivations, and their overall quest. I counted down the hours until I could jump back in and continue from where I left off.
Previous entries in the Tales series have, at times, focused on more juvenile humour. It is clear that the development team have grown along with their franchise and have produced what is surely the most confident and mature entry in the series. Don’t get me wrong, there is still plenty of humour here. But it is smartly implemented in a way that does not detract from the deep story that focuses on weighty topics like slavery, racism, suicide and loss. Sure, the game starts with the old ‘amnesia’ trope and there are some insane twists in the story particularly near the end of the game that might rub some people the wrong way. Overall though this is a well written story presented impeccably that is just a blast to play.
If you enjoy JRPGs, or anime, or games with an easy-to-learn/hard-to-master action battle system then I urge you to give this game a try – even more-so if you have never played a Tales game before. I have no hesitation in making bold statements that this is:
The best game in the Tales series
The best JRPG since Persona 5
My game of the year (so far) for 2021
So, why should you play it?
If you have even a passing appreciation for anime and/or JRPGs this is simply a must-play title
Deep action combat flows effortlessly and provides options for all play styles at all difficulty levels
Enjoy some bang for your buck? This is a long game, but one that respects your time with awesome quality of life mechanics
But, why shouldn’t you play it?
If you are short on time or prefer the type of game you can put down for long periods of time before coming back, this might not be the game for you
Insane anime-style storyline twists and turns annoy you
A review code on PlayStation 5 was provided for the purpose of this review.
Roguelites are a familiar breed here at Qualbert – several of us are big fans of the genre and that was shown in my previous review of Orbital Bullet – a 360-degree spin on this type of game. There’s no shortage of roguelite games to play after a decade+ of popularity, so it takes a lot for one to stand out. Dreamscaper hopes to do that, spending a good year in Early Access before being prepared for a 1.0 release in August. So, how does it fare alongside its roguelite counterparts, with a higher standard set after 2020’s massive hit in Hades?
Relying on contextual clues and flashbacks, regards for plot in Dreamscaper are few and far between. With the majority of the game spent in a dream state, there’s only a few environmental interactions to gleam through to earn some plot details. The main character, Cassidy, is new to Redhaven, and will slowly venture out into it as she unlocks segments within her dreams, where the dungeon-crawling takes place. After bosses are vanquished, a vague flashback plays, revealing bits and pieces of what transpired to bring Cassidy to this point in her life. As the majority of the game is spent in her dreams and it could take hours for players to progress, it’s a struggle to see what you’re fighting for at points.
The environments within Cassidy’s dreams differ based on which section she’s in – from a wintery wilderness, to cityscape streets, to a Redwood forest, it’s fascinating to see a dungeon-crawler where the dungeon emulates real life settings. When you compare that to the dark, dank recesses of Binding of Isaac or Enter the Gungeon’s fantasy surroundings, it’s a novel take on level design in this genre. The lack of face on characters is also a compelling design choice that gives the game a unique flair.
Anyone who’s cut their teeth on the combat of a roguelite will have a headstart in Dreamscaper. With the ever-present threat of losing your life in just a few hits, your moves are calculated and careful – you’re put to the test with scaling baddies between each level and you’re bound to die. This is where my favorite part of roguelite comes in – you can manage some upgrades to make subsequent runs a bit more do-able. Titles like Rogue Legacy and Hades capitalize on this, and I find these titles more accessible thanks to it. One can only get so lucky with pickups/loadouts and once you get into that sweet spot, you’ll ascend the gauntlet significantly further than you could before. While Dreamscaper doesn’t do much to forward the genre, it manages to do everything right and has the replayability factor down pat.
With a soothing accompaniment in the music department, Dreamscaper continues the trend of indie games having triumphant soundtracks. Fitting every occasion with ease, it’s no wonder the 53-track OST, composed by Dale North, is available alongside the game on Steam. As far as sound design within the action, every whomp, wallop, and whack with your weapons feels like it has weight. Snow crumbles on the ground with every step. Monstrous bosses intimidate with massive roars. The care given to this aspect of the game deserves plenty of praise.
So, why should you play it?
You crave a good roguelite that rewards you with every run.
A challenge doesn’t phase you and you don’t mind multiple runs.
Skill-based gameplay gets your adrenaline pumping.
But why shouldn’t you play it?
You dread a plot moving at a snail’s pace.
You’re discouraged by dying easily/at a moment’s notice.
You don’t have time to grind a bit for progression’s sake.
A press copy of Dreamscaper was provided courtesy of the publisher.
The perfect place to visit when you’re dying for a coffee.
What’s your go-to place to meet up with friends, work colleagues, or family? I’m willing to guess that for many of you there’s probably a local café you’ve been a regular of at some point. Maybe it’s the cosy atmosphere, the brilliant beverages, or even the friendly people who run the establishment that keep you coming back every week. Even videogames fantatise the quaint setting of a café as a place to meet fascinating characters – games like Persona 5 with the Phantom Thieves’ hideout Café LeBlanc, a cosy place to relax in Animal Crossing’s The Roost, or even Café Alps in the Yakuza series if Kiryu wants to take a break from busting skulls.
There’s no doubt that cafes play an integral role for many of us, even if it’s just to get a quick caffeine fix, and that couldn’t be more important than in a particular Australian city known for its café culture: Melbourne. So how about a videogame set in a Melbourne café? That’s exactly the concept of Necrobarista, a narrative-driven indie game from Melbourne-based developers Route 59 Games. This relaxing and classy establishment known as The Terminal is tucked away in the back alleys of Melbourne, beckoning visitors with the enticing scent of a fine coffee blend wafting through the air. The only catch? Most of its customers are dead.
So grab a coffee, take a sip, and enjoy our review for this uniquely Australian visual novel.
This is no normal café, and no normal story either. Necrobarista is a wild ride surrounding a humble café that just so happens to be the hub for those passing onto the afterlife: The Terminal. Patrons who visit The Terminal are living (or dying) on borrowed time, with only 24 hours to come to terms with their deaths before passing onto the afterlife permanently. For some, this brief visit to the café allows them to accept their fate, but for others it’s a harrowing and emotional experience full of grief and denial.
The Terminal has recently changed hands – its previous owner, Chay, now hundreds of years old has passed the rights onto a young woman named Maddy Xiao, whose cheeky attitude is as flavoursome and bold as the coffee she brews. She effortlessly bonds with every new customer that walks through the door, exchanging conversation, friendly banter, and even profound life advice over a satisfying drink.
However, Maddy is not all she seems on the surface, as this budding barista just so happens to be a part-time necromancer, making deals with the dead and manipulating the few hours they have left. This proves to be troublesome for the Council, who oversee the cafe and ensure patrons are not overstaying their welcome to keep the balance. And the council worker assigned to the Terminal? Well, that would be none other than infamous bush-ranger, Ned Kelly. As the story unravels throughout 10 gripping chapters, players will discover there is far more to the Terminal and its patrons than meets the eye.
While the story of Necrobarista takes the spotlight, front and centre, the gameplay aspect is far more subtle, requiring very little interaction from the player and seeking instead to emphasise the narrative. Being a visual novel, gameplay consists almost solely through character interactions, dialogue, and internal monologues; it’s basically like reading through an interactive book. Really all you have to do is press A – it’s as simple as that. Each chapter, of which there are 12 in total, last approximately 20 – 40 minutes, which is just enough to deliver an engaging narrative without ever overstaying its welcome.
Between the chapters, players are free to explore every nook and cranny of The Terminal, which contains numerous secrets and hidden flashbacks. These side stories are as valuable to the player as the main narrative, as they provide deeper insight into each character, their motivations and their quirks. Most are quite light-hearted and comedic, but occasionally the game throws in an emotional interaction and does an incredible job of tugging the heartstrings when it needs to.
Where Necrobarista truly shines is through its writing, characters, and dialogue. Every character interaction is an amalgam of raw human emotion, brilliant comedy, and packed to the rafters with Australian mannerisms and references. Despite being full of dead people, The Terminal is not all doom and gloom, as most characters won’t hesitate to launch into some cheeky banter with each other. There’s no doubt that the writing of Necrobarista will be able to make you smile, laugh, and even have you the verge of tears all within the span of a single chapter.
The best cafes are often stylish and comfortable, with filtered light, welcoming interiors, and plenty of clutter. This is exactly what to expect from Necrobarista as you journey through the Terminal and into the afterlife. Despite being developed in Australia, the game adopts an anime-like cel-shaded appearance in its characters and environments, creating a comfy aesthetic to immerse the player. Though it may not be significantly detailed or graphically impressive, the game manages to deliver a visual style that at times is truly gorgeous, particularly through its use of light and dark.
Most of the game plays out as a series of still frames, with the camera slowly panning to create a sense of movement in each scene. Although animations are few and far between, characters are still highly emotive and exaggerated, keeping each scene entertaining and accompanying the equally-entertaining dialogue.
There are, unfortunately, some drawbacks to playing on Switch. Certain areas run very poorly, with significant drops in framerate, which seem especially jarring when playing through emotive segments. Aside from these occasional scenes, the game looks attractive in both handheld mode and on the big screen.
There’s one thing you’ll immediately notice upon booting up Necrobarista: there’s no voiced dialogue! Well, unless you’re playing in Chinese, that is. This initially took some getting used to, having been spoiled by previous VNs with full voice-acting. Though after a few chapters I found myself growing used to the lack of voices as one would reading a regular book, instead hearing the character’s lines as they appeared on the screen. There’s a saving grace though, as the lack of dialogue means you get to focus on one of the best aspects of the game: its music.
Composed by Kevin Penkin (a rising star among videogame musicians responsible for the music to Florence), the soundtrack of Necrobarista is as stylish as its setting. Many of the tracks are relaxed, slow, and perfectly suited to the pace of the gameplay. Soft piano and synthesiser resonate throughout The Terminal as its patrons discuss the fragility of life and contemplate their inevitable end. It’s a beautiful score that I’ve already listened to by itself on numerous occasions and is worth playing Necrobarista even for this alone. Enjoy one of my favourite tracks from the game below:
Outside of the main 10 chapters, there are a few added bonuses that are certainly worth your time. As mentioned earlier, there are memories scattered throughout the terminal, each of which unlocks concept art that can be viewed at any time. Additionally, two optional side-stories explore the origins and relationships of other customers at the Terminal – an awkward and edgy teen romance, and tense moments between an attractive woman and her devious Yakuza associate. Both of these extra stories should not be skipped and have vastly different tones from the main narrative.
The final bonus is the inclusion of a scene creator, where players can build their own settings and interactions between characters of their choice. While it may seem intriguing, this does not seem optimised for the Switch, as the interface runs very slowly and is prone to crashing (as it did several times as I was attempting to use it). Hopefully this is patched in future updates, as I’d avoid it in its current state.
If you’re looking for the perfect game to play while sitting in your favourite café enjoying that signature blend, look no further. Although its gameplay is minimal, Necrobarista offers up a bold story, served with deep emotions, and memorable characters. Alongside an attractive aesthetic and a perfectly-matched soundtrack, this proves to be a visual novel that is likely to impress most fans of the genre. Those who enjoy engaging narratives will be left satisfied upon leaving the Terminal, especially thanks to the uniquely Australian writing and humour of each of its patrons. This hidden gem nestled in a Melbourne alleyway will certainly have players dying to come back for another drink.
So, why should you play it?
A creative, engaging, and emotional narrative.
Entertaining writing and character dialogue.
Many Australian references will appeal to an Aussie audience.
Slick and stylish presentation.
Soundtrack as smooth as its coffee.
But why shouldn’t you play it?
Complete lack of voiced audio – if you’re not fond of reading, this isn’t for you.
Some slight performance issues on Switch.
A review code was kindly provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
When emotions take control of you, take control of your emotions.
It’s weird to have been with a game series from its very start and to experience all of its twists and turns over the course of six years. DONTNOD’s Life is Strange captivated gamers that asked more of TellTale, those that wanted a non-franchise story told in an engaging, choice-driven fashion. I recall the terrifying wait of each chapter releasing with a few months in between with agonizing cliffhangers that kept my mind racing. Then, Deck Nine Games handled a prequel in Before the Storm, crafting exposition and building off the first game’s memorable characters to expand the LiS universe. Now, Deck Nine can deliver a full-sized game in the vein of True Colors, bringing back a fan-favorite from Before the Storm and exploring small-town Colorado in detail.
After a brief cutscene establishing the main character, Alex lands in Haven Springs, Colorado by bus. With several cuts to the scenery and a slow walk speed, the player gets to immerse themselves in the breath-taking sights the town has to offer. A flowing river passes under a bridge adorned with several flower arrangements. You then get the chance to take a gander at the river in the first of the game’s Moments of Zen: a cutscene where the character reflects on their journey and current thoughts as the camera cuts to their surroundings. Some of my own tears flowed along with the river as I felt like I was right there in an idyllic Haven Springs thanks to picture-perfect immersion 5 minutes after starting the game.
Aside from the standout environment, the graphics and visual performance are a big enhancement from previous iterations in the series. My biggest gripe with these entries was the motion-capture being janky and not how a human would naturally move, but this was completely remedied in True Colors. In conversation, characters are more expressive here, as well – eyebrows furl in anger and raise in delight, dimples show after a hearty laugh, and it complements the auditory side quite well in doing so. This is the best Life is Strange has ever looked, so much so that I’d love to lose myself in this small town in a free roam mode.
The audio design in Life is Strange: True Colors is masterful in just about every aspect. When we call it an indie soundtrack, it’s actually bands you’ve never heard of, while still being perfectly in-context with the game’s themes and tone. These accompany the fantastic sights in the Moments of Zen, and while the player has the option to bring them to an early halt, it’s worth hearing the whole song in almost every instance.
Voice acting is on point and makes characters feel like genuine people with a full gamut of emotions. You can hear the rage, the despair, the nervousness of characters whose minds are in disrepair. Wholesome characters have a homely vocal presentation, whereas suspicious individuals sound conniving and serve as a frustration point when they get smug with you. It’s thanks to precise vocal direction meeting talented voice actors/actresses that these characters come to life.
In addition, the sound design of the world is prime. There were a few moments where I confused the game with real life thanks to this attention to detail, such as a frantic knocking on the door sounded seriously realistic. Whether it was creaking floorboards, a purring kitten, or a gas-lit lantern running out of fuel, I was zoned in at every step. The only issue was that Alex’s dialogue trigger whenever she entered a certain area would result in me hearing her say the same thing 2-3 times once I moved to a specific spot – otherwise, the sound in the game is mechanically strong.
Gone are the days of waiting for the next episode of Life is Strange to release – True Colors has its full story available upon launch. Alex’s time in Haven Springs has enough suspense riding on each scene that when the game took a break to become a LARP (Live Action RolePlay) complete with a turn-based system, I felt the needed break somehow kept me even more immersed into the story. Choices really do culminate in the last scene as you’ll truly see who’s with you and who’s against you. With a tentative runtime of 10-12 hours, the game doesn’t overstay its welcome and provides enough of an experience to stick in your head long past the rolling credits.
Like the rest of the titles, Life is Strange is an adventure/point-and-click with the quirk that you can move around freely. Inspecting the environment is a must, as you can unlock interactions and new dialogue if you keep a keen eye out for what’s around you – for example, a birdwatcher struggling to locate an adverse aviary can do so once you find it and coax it in the right direction. These little interactions are summed up at the end of each chapter and compared against other players, so you can see the choices they made, too. I couldn’t imagine playing this game without viewing every possible thing around me – it’s excellent for attention-to-detail gamers that love exhausting their surroundings.
The best Life is Strange yet?
Life is Strange: True Colors gets everything right that the previous games got wrong. The voice acting is superior, the motion-capture is finally spot-on, the length of the title maintains a fast pace from start to finish, and the few bugs are getting squashed with post-launch support (none of which I experienced in my playthough save for the audio). After suffering a loss in the family soon before my playthrough, I knew I’d resonate with the grim moments to come – the cry count hit 5 before all was said and done thanks to gripping voice acting, cathartic payoffs, and a setting that I’d love to retire to. This is indeed the best Life is Strange game to come, and an easy GOTY candidate.
So, why should you play it?
You love a knockout soundtrack, sound design, and voice acting backing edge-of-your-seat climactic moments.
You crave characters that you will effortlessly love/hate with ample opportunity to help/hinder them.
You love a story that rewards going off the beaten path, trying new things to get different outcomes in subsequent playthroughs.
But why shouldn’t you play it?
You can’t be bothered to explore what’s around you in a game, and desire instant gratification instead of a slow burn payoff.
The $60 price tag may feel like too much for a 10-hour experience.
A press copy of Life is Strange: True Colors was provided courtesy of the publisher.
The sole game that proves classic survival horror isn’t dead.
Survival horror is a videogame genre with its origins well and truly founded during the 1990s. Far more than just jump scares and gruesome gore, the primary goal of these games is to terrify the player through their attempt to survive against all odds. With limited resources, players must fend off horrifying and grotesque enemies all while navigating unfamiliar settings littered with puzzles and riddles. Although earlier titles released in the 80s include some gameplay elements that are vital to the genre, it was not until 1996 that gamers across the globe would be treated to the progenitor of survival horror thanks to a single iconic game that defined the genre: Resident Evil.
The decade that followed the original Resident Evil truly was the Golden Age of survival horror, with sequel after sequel released across numerous platforms. Beloved series like Silent Hill, Clock Tower and Fatal Frame flourished, keeping millions on the edge of their seats as they fought for their lives despite the terrors each game contained. However, as consoles and computers became more advanced, horror games too had to match this pace, becoming instead more focused on hectic action and gripping cinematics than slow, methodical horror.
But survival horror isn’t dead; in fact, it may be more alive than ever (unlike its protagonists). Recent years have definitely seen a resurgence in this classic genre. Modern games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Outlast have proven that fear doesn’t always have to be fast. The latest game to join the ranks of the dead is Tormented Souls, an experience that harkens back to the genre’s roots and aims to please those who like their horror slow, dark, and terrifying. So grab your nearest green herb, pick up that discarded piece of a damaged door handle, and let’s dive into survival horror’s latest offering.
After receiving an unlabeled letter containing the image of two apparently deceased twins, our protagonist, Caroline Walker, foolishly puts her own personal safety aside and instead sets out on a mission she’ll very soon regret. Waking up naked in a bathtub of an abandoned hospital, attached to ventilator, and missing an eyeball seems like an awful way to start the day. This is exactly where Caroline finds herself after travelling to the mysterious Wildberger Hospital, a long deserted medical facility located on a remote island.
Though there’s far more to the hospital than just cobwebs and poorly-maintained medical equipment. Pieces of discarded journals and hints of previous inhabitants all point towards a dark past – experiments on patients and children that have rendered them deformed and mindless, now left to wander the hospital hallways. As Caroline delves further, she discovers there is far more terror to Wildberger than she ever could have imagined, and she is the only one who can bring the unimaginable horrors to light.
Immediately players will be able to draw comparisons between Tormented Souls and the original Resident Evil, as the game is not only inspired by, but pays homage to it throughout its entirety. Exploring a dimly-lit mansion with fixed camera angles, assembling makeshift weapons to fight for your life with every single scarce bullet, and piecing together obscure puzzles to access the next area are all throwbacks to classic survival horror. Even the tension of having a finite number of saves! This is truly a game that feels as if it belongs beside the classics thanks to its simple yet gripping gameplay. Like its predecessors, there are two major aspects that divide the game: combat and puzzles.
There’s no denying that the combat in this horror adventure feels just as it would have decades ago: clunky. Being played entirely in third person with fixed camera angles, players must position themselves precisely to aim at enemies as they approach, often whilst completely off-screen. Ammo is limited, so every wasted bullet is one step closer to death. Thankfully the grotesque horrors shamble slowly, giving plenty of time to line up shots or run around the cramped rooms in a panic. There are moments where this can be incredibly tense, especially when precious ammo is almost depleted, though for the most part combat feels tedious, and like my aim, inaccurate.
Where the gunplay seems clunky and even unenjoyable, the puzzles are thankfully the complete opposite. Tormented Souls is a masterclass in brilliant brain-bending, with plenty of perplexing puzzles for the player to unravel across their journey through the haunted hospital. These range from simple item combinations and environmental problems all the way through to complex riddles, clever conundrums, and even some segments that require stories to be pieced together by traveling back in time. The game’s impeccable use of problem-solving will have players constantly scratching their heads and being tempted to consult walkthroughs to progress. Resist the urge to look up solutions online, as the game is at its most satisfying when finally solving its trickiest riddles.
Bringing survival horror to a modern audience means that updating the visuals is a necessity – we’ve been incredibly spoiled by gorgeous horror games like The Last of Us and Resident Evil Village. This is no triple-A title, so don’t expect to be blown away by realism, but there are many aspects of Tormented Souls’ aesthetic that capture the essence of horror effectively.
Darkened environments are awash with filtered light emanating from outside sources, or from the safe, dim glow of Caroline’s lighter. Shadows project beautifully, dancing off the hospital walls and occasionally catching the player off-guard as if in the corner of one’s vision. Details in the hospital’s abandoned rooms help recall the history of the building, which was once busy with patients but now contains mutilated and hideous figures. The attention-to-detail in the hospital and its environments are certainly a highlight, and hold up incredibly well alongside even the best modern horror games.
In contrast, many visuals feel incredibly dated, and sadly not in a nostalgic way. Character models seem awkward and out of place against the detailed environments, animations can be jittery and clumsy, and the interactions during dialogue between yourself and the hospital’s priest seems so unpolished it’s almost as if they were left unfinished. It’s disappointing that these visuals drag down the game’s gorgeous environments, which clearly received far more love and attention.
No horror game is complete without its audio – a vital ingredient in crafting an atmospheric and gripping experience for the player. Distant sounds of enemies groaning or scraping along the ground are helpful in preparing the player for tense situations, as environmental cues like this often give more insight than the game’s visuals where dangers are often hidden off-screen. Music manages to also convey certain situations, as tense chords or shrieking strings mean imminent danger, while the warm and soft sound of a piano represents safety and comfort in the brief respite of recording rooms where Caroline may save her progress onto an audio reel.
Unfortunately, the audio isn’t all quality. Dialogue between Caroline and the occasional remaining souls of the hospital can be described as none other than B-grade. The voice acting, particularly from the Priest, who appears throughout the hospital, is cringeworthy and awkward, which feels more comedic than terrifying and sadly spoils the frightening tones of the game.
Through its clever use of brilliant puzzles and simple explorative gameplay, fans of classic games like early Resident Evil and Silent Hill will no doubt get some serious thrills from exploring the sprawling hospital over the ~10 hour journey. While elements like clunky combat and awkward dialogue feel rough and unpolished, there is still plenty to keep horror veterans satisfied whilst introducing newcomers to this slower and more methodical gameplay format. Survival horror was never even dead to begin with, and Tormented Souls certainly proves that this genre is alive and well today.
So, why should you play it?
This is a must for fans of the earlier Resident Evil games.
Perplexing environmental puzzles and problem-solving.
Gorgeous environments and lighting.
Slow, methodical gameplay appeals to you.
But why shouldn’t you play it?
Prefer fast-paced games? This one’s not for you.
You’re easily frustrated by tricky puzzles.
You’d prefer a horror game with precise gunplay.
Can’t stand B-grade dialogue and voice acting.
A review code on PlayStation 5 was provided for the purpose of this review.
It’s 100% cotton! The classic cute ’em up is back for a new generation of players.
When referring to videogames, the term “cult classic” gets thrown around a lot. This phrase is often used to represent a game that was largely unsuccessful but managed to gain a dedicated and passionate following. Few genres achieve cult status quite as frequently as the humble shoot ’em up, a simple style of game that cemented itself as an arcade and home console staple throughout the 80s and 90s, and continues to remain relevant decades on thanks to committed fans and developers. Within the library of shmups is a sub-genre commonly referred to the “cute-em-up” – these feature the typical bullet-blasting gameplay but instead with adorable characters and enemies, colourful visuals, and often eccentric and unusual designs.
The perfect example of a cult classic cute ’em up is none other than the classic, Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams, released originally in 1991 for Japanese arcades. The game shot to popularity after its port to the X68000, a home computer released by Sharp and sold exclusively in Japan. Since this release it has remained an iconic shoot-em-up and is frequently praised by fans of the genre. Now available on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4, Cotton Reboot! brings this classic game into the modern age. Are updated visuals and new game modes enough to revive Cotton for a new generation of gamers? Grab your broom and let’s find out!
Shmups aren’t particularly known for their deep stories, and Cotton is no exception. The story is paper thin and the game definitely knows it! The player is introduced to a brilliant young witch by the name of Nata de Cotton, who just so happens to have quite a sweet tooth. Every witch needs a familiar, and to accompany her on the adventure is a fairy called Silk, who’s as sassy as she is adorable.
So what’s Cotton’s motivation for heading out on an epic quest? To track down delicious candy of course! She’s on a mission to find “Willows“, delicious sugary spheres to satisfy her cravings. Silk though has other ideas, as collecting them instead of eating them will lead to a legendary confectionary far greater than any others! And so the magical pair set off, with each level rewarding them with a tasty new Willow for their efforts.
You’ve played one shmup, you’ve played them all. Well, almost. Cotton is a pretty typical side-scrolling cute ’em up with simple yet addictive gameplay. The game takes place over several side-scrolling (and occasionally vertical-scrolling) levels, each with a mid-boss and final boss at the end of the levels. Enemies come in waves, launch a plethora of projectiles, and can be easily dispatched by Cotton’s onslaught of magical bullets. It’s very straightforward gameplay and is mostly very forgiving, allowing the game to be enjoyed by players of all skill levels.
Upgrades can be obtained throughout each level in one of three ways: collecting fairies that fight alongside you, destroying enemies to gain experience and level up, or collecting coloured crystals that are occasionally dropped by enemies. Once a crystal appears, the player can choose to continuously attack it, which changes the crystal’s colour and its elemental attack. Those aiming for the top of the scoreboards will need to keep firing at the crystals until they turn black, giving the most points especially when chained together.
Each level is fast-paced and frantic, lasting only 5 – 10 minutes. The same goes for the bosses, as these can be defeated quickly especially when learning their attack patterns. Though the speed at which the game can be completed seems almost to be a perk of Cotton, as it’s the ideal game to pick up and smash out when you’re not in the mood to commit hours to a time-consuming ordeal. I found myself regularly playing this on lunch breaks, taking advantage of the Nintendo Switch’s handheld mode, which suits the game perfectly.
Whether playing in handheld or docked mode, the colourful and detailed updated visuals of Cotton Reboot look excellent against its dynamic backgrounds. Players can choose between faithful X68000 mode, which replicates the visuals from the original game to pixel perfection, or the brand new Arrange mode, with its redesigned graphics, 3D backgrounds, and 16:9 widescreen resolution. So if you’re a series veteran who prefers retro design, or more recently delving into the shmup genre and enjoying the sleek visuals of modern titles, there’s something in the Reboot to please every player.
Admittedly there is a downside to playing with the game’s updated visuals. While the game runs smoothly and undeniably looks excellent, the “bonus multipliers” that regularly appear on-screen are massive and will frequently obscure the player’s view. When faced with a tight situation surrounded by hundreds of projectiles, being able to know your exact position is imperative, which becomes near impossible when the screen is covered in multipliers. It looks neat, but is mostly a hinderance.
No shmup would be complete without a banging soundtrack, often as frantic and fast-paced as the gameplay itself. Having been released almost 30 years ago, the music of Cotton is well and truly rooted in retro synth and early PC music, with the original composer Kenichi Hirata once again returning to oversee the music for the Reboot. Original songs have been rearranged with live instruments, face-melting guitar riffs, and funky bass riffs to create a more modern feel for these retro tracks.
If you’re a fan of the Touhou series, other classic shmups, or just retro game music in general, chances are you’re going to thoroughly enjoy the music in Cotton. The game also includes all the tracks from the original release when playing in X68000 mode, which is quite interesting to hear the songs that the arranged versions have been based off.
Once the main story mode has been finished to completion, players will unlock new main characters and also a “time-attack” mode. Between the Arrange mode, X68000 mode, and time-attack, there’s a decent amount of replayability and reason enough to play through the game a few times. Though the game caters primarily to those who are proficient enough to rack up massive scores, as these are uploaded automatically to a global leaderboard. Let’s just say I’d be scrolling for a couple hours to try find mine…
Aside from these additions, there’s not much extra content to keep you coming back for more Cotton. Optional unlockables or an art gallery would have been a nice touch, but sadly nothing of the sort is available, as it overall feels like it’s lacking incentive for players who aren’t obsessed with high scores.
There’s no doubt that Cotton has truly cemented itself as one of the most beloved cult shmups of the ’90s and is revered by fans of the genre. Thankfully, Cotton Reboot is not only the best way to experience this classic cute ’em up, but also happens to be the most accessible and affordable! With fresh, detailed graphics, easily approachable gameplay, and a stellar arranged soundtrack, this is certainly a good place to start for players wanting to experience a historic piece of the genre. Although extra content is lacking, the game remains true to the original and offers an updated experience that will please both series veterans and newcomers alike.
So, why should you play it?
Consider yourself a shmup fan? This one’s a no brainer.
Vibrant updated visuals with optional classic mode.
Forgiving and easy for newcomers.
Can easily be finished in a single sitting.
But why shouldn’t you play it?
New visuals can be distracting and obscure gameplay.
Short gameplay might not appeal for those wanting a more in-depth shooter.
Don’t like silly? You probably won’t like Cotton.
Story about as deep as a wading pool.
A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.