Mass Effect 2: Legendary Edition (PC) Review

“Choices matter.” This is a big selling point in modern narratives for video games, as the likes of Telltale and DONTNOD had us questioning our decisions in games such as The Walking Dead and Life is Strange. But what if the choices you made decide if several characters you’ve come to care about live or die? What if, during the experience, you begin to feel the weight of what you’ve done in a past game, too?

Mass Effect 2 does just this, following up the sci-fi epic that preceded it with the chance to import your save file helming quite a few big decisions made in the first title. With this and the ever-looming “suicide mission” impending at the end of the game, it’s widely-regarded as the best entry in the franchise thanks to its new combat style, the depth in choices, a bevy of new likeable squadmates, and a serious sense of polish. So, how does the Legendary Edition fare, after following up the essential first game?

Mass Effect Legendary Edition PC PS4 Xbox Jack
Jack packs a punch, and is one of many squadmates to meet across the galaxy.

Plot

Mass Effect 2 takes a narrative turn from Mass Effect 1 – Shepard gets taken down in the intro of the game and is presumed dead by all. That is, until Cerberus, mentioned as a pro-human antagonist in a fleeting side mission in 1, revives the Commander after 2 years of preparation. It is then made apparent that The Collectors, a cell of the Reapers, serve as the immediate threat to the galaxy. To combat them, Shepard must recruit several of the galaxy’s best fighters, minds, and allies for a head-on fight with a devastating enemy. It’s frequently dubbed as a “suicide mission”, and it will be unless you meet certain criteria throughout the game.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition PC PS4 Xbox Collectors
The Collectors are here to add Shepard to their lovely collection.

The meat of Mass Effect 2‘s story is spent preparing for the Omega-4 Relay jump. To do so, Shepard travels to several reaches to recruit everyone from familiar faces in Garrus/Tali to charming newcomers like Mordin and Grunt. I found it annoying how everyone you come in contact with dreads you working for Cerberus, but it reinforces how dubious the organization is as a foreshadowing for the third game. After some time on the ship, each ally will request your help in a personal matter they’d like taken care of before the suicide mission. Successful completion of these loyalty missions betters their chance for survival in the endgame, and gives them worthy character-building within some fun adventures. It’s possible for everyone to survive the suicide mission – and also possible for everyone to die. In my initial playthrough as a teen, I sped through the game and felt awful seeing them perish. I ensured my later playthrough had everyone coming home safe and sound – even Jacob.

Gameplay

The weak point of Mass Effect 1 is the combat – it’s barely functional as a cover shooter with baseline biotic powers and no more than a handful of different weapons. This got an overhaul for the second game, feeling more fleshed-out thanks to refined powers and a solid selection of guns. I have the most fun as a Vanguard, a high-risk/high-reward class with the powers Biotic Charge and Shockwave. The charge lets Shepard fly across the battlefield straight into an enemy, refilling their barrier and knocking enemies back at higher levels; the caveat to this class is only having access to SMGs and shotguns, leaving long-range combat out of the question. If you’re more catered to weapons, then Soldier is for you, letting you use any weapon in the game and punishing enemies with Adrenaline Burst. There’s options for any playstyle you’d prefer.

I enjoy a good cover shooter, but I felt that Mass Effect 2 only just found its footing before reaching a considerable peak in 3. 2 lags behind the third entry due to restricting weapon types per class, having less of a punch to each ability, and forcing you into cover for more than 50% of the duration of your encounters. There was more than one occasion where I was a few feet away from an enemy, saw their marker enabling me to charge, but the charge not going off. This frustration was compounded by Shepard shouting the same two lines whenever charge wouldn’t go off: “Can’t target them!” and “I can’t reach them!” reside in my brain to this point. Nevertheless, comparing 2 to 1, combat is a step in the right direction – enemies are formidable, allies are useful, and it’s a pretty good time.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition PC PS4 Xbox Galaxy Citadel
There’s so much to do in Mass Effect 2 – whether it be planet scanning, revisiting the Citadel, or surprise-meeting up with ME1 characters.

Outside of fighting across the galaxy, exploring and interacting is still a shining feat in Mass Effect 2. Scanning planets for materials is an engaging, satisfying use of time between missions. Paragon and Renegade choices now coincide with quick-time events during conversations that bring about compelling dialog and actions from Shepard at key moments. It’s great checking up on squadmates on the Normandy and figuring out who to romance, with three great (canon) options. There’s a strong amount of extra missions before the Collector fight, too.

Visuals

Much like Mass Effect 1, the visual upgrade is nominal and passable – shadow usage and varying environments make this better eye candy than the first title, but again, it’s only a real game-changer if you’re making the jump to 4K. Cutscenes getting an overhaul is welcome – you’ll see the mass effects being used plenty in your journey across the galaxy, so its animation had better look that good. I did notice a bug left in from the original version of 2 – when running across the Normandy after focusing on something, Shepard’s head would lock into place looking at the ground, creating a disturbing visual that still hasn’t been patched after all this time. Regardless, the game looks plenty fine, and it’s not a point of contention.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition PC PS4 Xbox Visuals Miranda
Once again, character models are prettier than before – that’s what Miranda was intended for!

Audio

Some of the soundtrack from Mass Effect 1 gets re-used in 2 – because it’s so downright perfect. Enter Shep’s cabin and your radio can blast the “Virmire Ride” theme among other tracks. Jack Wall returns to compose the score for 2, and delivers yet another powerful performance. “The Illusive Man” track that accompanies the closure of each mission rewards the player’s efforts in triumphant mystique. “The Lazarus Project” is an inquisitive piece that plays alongside Shepard being brought back to the land of the living. “Suicide Mission” serves as a guiding force in an impossible task, designed to uplift the player to take on the Collector base. It’s another score worthy of praise, comprehensive and a thrill at every turn.

In firefights, guns don’t all sound the same like they did in 1. One-shot sniper rifles carry with them a thunderous crack, whereas rapid-fire SMGs are a flurry of shell casings that hit the floor. Everything cuts out during a devastating Biotic Charge, where a Shockwave sends bass-laden ripples underground. Voice acting gets an upgrade, too – with more characters comes more personalities, and now more than one or two actors are used for each alien race.

The best of the three?

Mass Effect 2 regularly gets regarded as the best part of the franchise – and as much as I love it, I wouldn’t echo this sentiment. I found that BioWare branched out far in this game, and made plenty of quality-of-life improvements over the first game. However, the experimentation didn’t always pan out. Mass Effect 2 adheres to a formula – get a squadmate, let them sit on the ship a while, get their loyalty mission, do it, and either romance them or let them chill until they’re needed at the end. You’ll undoubtedly pick favorites – Grunt is invaluable in combat due to his tankiness, and others have great banter due to colorful personalities that will appeal to players differently. So members like Jacob, Samara, and the DLC characters Zaeed/Kasumi were unnecessary for a long extent. The formulaic nature also applies to combat level design – enter an area with cover, enemies will spawn in seconds, dispatch them, rinse/repeat. If the weapons/abilities weren’t so fun, this would get stale quickly, but at least there’s ample variety between enemy types. As soon as the combat came in 3, I saw immediate improvements – but that’s for next time. No matter which game is best, 2 is addictive, rewarding, and still a blast in the Legendary Edition form.

So, why should you play it?

  • Vast improvements over Mass Effect 1, so good that some skip the first game entirely
  • Side missions and activities are just as, if not more, fun than the required questline
  • Huge replayability thanks to Paragon/Renegade routes and differing combat playstyles

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Some glitches still remain from the original release, but nothing game-breaking
  • Time-consuming: not rewarding for gamers that don’t see merit in completion

King of Seas Review: PlayStation 4

Yo ho, yo ho, is this pirate game for you?
Or, is it scraping the bottom of the pirate game barrel?

King of Seas is a pirate RPG game developed by the team at 3D Clouds and published by Team 17 now available across all platforms (PC, PS4, Xbox and Switch).  Billed as a procedurally generated pirate action role playing game, we are promised a quest-based swashbuckling adventure on the high seas with the ability to partake in ship-based cannon blasting combat.  

I like RPGs and I like pirates, so do I recommend this game?

Plot

The plot here is relatively basic, particularly as far as an RPG goes. At the beginning of the game we are offered the choice of taking on the persona of either Princess Marylou or Prince Luky, heirs to the ‘King of Seas‘ and his kingdom. We are thrown straight into action as the king sends us out on a basic trading mission to learn the ways of the seven seas.

King of Seas PS4 PlayStation 4 Visuals Combat
This guy doesn’t look dodgy at all

Shockingly, or rather – as you were probably expecting under the circumstances – the king is murdered while we are away and furthermore the blame is laid on us…even though we couldn’t possibly have even been there to do the deed. Despite our pleas of innocence, we are sentenced to death by the Royal Navy. They track us down and our ship is destroyed – we are left for dead in the open water. Fortunately, we are found and taken to the hidden refuge of the pirates. We have no choice but to turn our back on our previous royal life and turn to the daring and intrepid way of life as a pirate. YARRR.

King of Seas PS4 PlayStation 4 Visuals Combat

Gameplay

Gameplay is the make or break element of any game. So how does King of Seas fare?

Well, unfortunately not so great.

The game follows a mission-based structure, with your main story events and side missions easily trackable through the menu. Don’t get too excited though, as there are only three types of missions on offer here:

  1. Combat missions (go and sink that ship)
  2. Delivery missions (take this object over there)
  3. Escort missions (follow this ship over there and make sure nobody sinks it)

To start with there is little variation here in the side missions and to make matters worse the game quickly recycles the same named missions.  Because it is ‘procedurally generated’ the same mission will not always be exactly the same – you might even get asked to deliver the package to a different place this time! But that is of little benefit when the sailing itself is just lifeless and boring.

The majority of your time playing this game will be spent sailing on the ocean. Sailing very…very…VERY slowly.

To get from one side of the map to the other, even with the wind blowing your sails in the right direction, will take you at least 5 minutes. I was hoping beyond hope that a ‘fast travel’ option would become available at some stage in the game, but it was not to be. Anyone who has played The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker will know what I am talking about here. The sailing in King of Seas is just not a pleasurable experience. Even with various interludes you will come across in your travels: floating treasure, red ‘X’s hiding on the beach, trader ships you can raid and destroy… it just isn’t fun. It feels like a chore after less than an hour of gameplay and you have a long way to go after that if you want to reach the end of the game.

King of Seas PS4 PlayStation 4 Visuals Combat
Are we there yet???

But wait. It gets worse.

As this is a game based around sailing from point A to point B you will be referring to your map very regularly. But guess what? There is NO MINIMAP. Any time you need to work out where you are or where you are going you need to open up the full map. Which pauses the game. Which makes your travel take EVEN LONGER than it was taking already. It is just a bad development decision and I can’t think of any reason why they would not include a mini-map, or at the very least a general direction marker to help you locate your next port of call.

The combat is not much better. Initial thoughts from the first few battles was that the basic idea here is good. In this ARPG you control your ship as the ‘character’ in battle. You can shoot cannons to the left or right with three types of ammunition, and equip up to 4 different ‘skills’ at the same time. Skills can be either offensive such as blasting fire directly in front of you or RELEASING THE KRAKEN to damage opposing ships, or defensive such as lowering your pirate flag as a stealth/escape manoeuvre. The skills provide a good variety and allow for some different strategies, but the main cannon attacks which are fired perpendicular to your direction of travel are just yet another frustration in this game. Obviously you need to be moving parallel to your enemies to attack them, and they need to be doing the same. It leads to most battles becoming the same type of endless circular dance.

King of Seas PS4 PlayStation 4 Visuals Combat
Fire away…literally

There are multiple different types of ship that you can buy to use with different focuses (trade, speed, attack power), and each ship can be buffed with ‘equipment’ that amounts to the different parts of the ship – figurehead, deck type, cannonball and more. The loot-based equipment, similar to Diablo, does provide a great motivation to keep on playing the game and for me this was one of the better executed game design elements. Glorious pirate booty abounds in King of Seas, you can find it upon sinking enemy ships, simply floating around the sea in lost crates or buried under the classic red ‘X’ on the beach in a hidden cove. Additionally you can receive gifts of loot upon completing any side quest in the game along with gold and experience points. This equipment appears to provide a reasonable level of choice in how you build your ship and plan your combat against the Royal Navy…or innocent passenger ships.

The RPG ‘talent’ progression element of the game, whilst somewhat simple in nature, does give you good control over the style of gameplay you wish to use. Prefer to be a pacifist trader? You can improve your diplomacy and trading skills to take advantage of this. Want to use voodoo skills and magic to trick the Royal Navy on the open seas? Go for it. Don’t have time to muck around and want to just put all of your power into your offensive cannons? Yes please. Each basic talent has multiple stages that you can progress through up to five times with skill points for maximum boost. There are also ‘big’ skills that provide a more significant stat boost but can only be activated once. Nothing ground-breaking here, but the system works well and is easy to understand.

King of Seas PS4 PlayStation 4 Visuals Combat

Presentation

Presentation is another let-down in the King of Seas experience. The introduction to the game is fully voiced, but after that there is no further voice-over work. The initial voice-over has its own problems as well, with what to me felt like a very forced (bad) impression of a pirate accent. The character design looks unique and promising, until you have played for more than 20 minutes and see that other than the main two characters all of the models are highly reused. Graphical assets are decent and some of the islands and structures look very interesting, but again as a procedurally generated game after a while you will start seeing repetition – and a lot of it. There is very little variation in the soundtrack with a couple of good passages that get you excited for the game, until again you have heard these little flourishes too many times. Sound effects are fine with a satisfying ‘bang’ as you fire your cannons, but nothing to write home about. Everything here just feels a bit dry and outdated.

King of Seas PS4 PlayStation 4 Visuals Combat
Ooh, these islands have bridges… like those other ones we just saw.

I can say that one big positive for King of Seas is that there were no bugs that I came across throughout my review gameplay. The game ran smoothly, and there were no issues with any quests, visuals/sound or other gameplay performance.

Conclusion

There is a long history of both good and bad pirate games across a variety of different consoles and genre styles. From the recent Microsoft hit Sea of Thieves going all the way back to 1987 and the original ‘Sid Meyer’s Pirates!’ on Commodore 64, you have probably played a pirate game before and honestly you’ve likely played a better pirate game than this one too.

The game promises an ‘epic adventure’ on the high seas full of treachery and treasure. What it actually gives you is a mish-mash of ideas held back from reaching their full potential with bland presentation, uninspired gameplay choices and frustrating design. King of Seas tries a lot of things that you have probably seen done before in other games, but it executes them poorly and isn’t really trying to do anything new of its own.

Playing King of Seas is a bit like sailing a leaky ship with tattered sails built from the corpses of other games. You need to deal with a bumpy ride over rough seas and spend far too much time digging at that red ‘X’…only to find that what you were hoping would be a treasure chest with the sparkling jewels of a great game is actually an old barrel containing an empty bottle of rum, a rotting peg leg and a stuffed parrot.

King of Seas does have the (skull and cross-) bones of a good game. If you are willing to look past the problems here this isn’t the worst way to spend some time, but it is not the best by a long stretch. The procedurally-generated world, two protagonists and five difficulty levels (two locked until you have beaten the game once) do offer some amount of replayability. But I don’t think anyone other than a masochist would want to play through the game more than once.

My recommendation is to make this one walk the plank, unfortunately that is what it deserves.

So, why should you play it?

  • You have a lot of time to spare and like watching a ship sailing slowly across the ocean.
  • Your Roger is Jolly and your timbers are shivered by anything pirate related.

But, why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Repetitive gameplay gets on your nerves.
  • Fast-paced action/combat with a lot of action is more up your alley.

A review code on PlayStation 4 was provided for the purpose of this review. Review gameplay was completed on PS5 console.

Guilty Gear -Strive- Review: PC

Mankind knew they cannot change society. So, instead of reflecting on themselves, they blamed the Beasts. Heaven OR Hell. Duel 1… Let’s Rock!

Guilty Gear has been one of the staple fighting game franchises in the FGC since 1998, when Daisuke Ishiwatari and his team, Arc System Works, developed the very first Guilty Gear title for Playstation 1. The game was instantly a cult classic among fans, praised for its tight, fluid animation, excellent character design in the form of 2D sprite work, and a unique compressed heavy metal soundtrack that distinguished it from many fighting games of the era. It introduced such characters as Sol Badguy, our quintessential edgy-as-a-knife-face protagonist of the game with his spiky hair wrapped in a bandana, split leather jacket and tank top circa 90s Japanese biker gangs, and his bright red sword with a rectangular blade, Fireseal, nicknamed “Blazer” by Sol himself. Polar opposite to Sol, we have Ky Kisuke, our deuteragonist. A stoic, proud, steadfast religious warrior of the Sacred Order of Holy Knights, and Sol’s eternal rival. Clad in white and wielding a longsword on his hip known as Thunderseal. Ky is the Yin to Sol’s yang, and they and eight other unique, fun characters propelled Guilty Gear into the higher echelons of fighting games and throughout the years have been getting sequel after sequel, the most recent of which being the Xrd series and the last entry being Guilty Gear Xrd REV 2.

Of course, new times call for a new style of Guilty Gear. The FGC is bigger than ever and fighting game fans desire something deeper. A sequel to Xrd which looks stunning, and adds more layers than its predecessors, and that is exactly what Guilty Gear directors Daisuke Ishiwatari and Akira Katano claimed they have accomplished. Guilty Gear has always had many complex systems in place which can at first glance appear imposing to some new players, so, to put it into Katano’s words, “We wanted to change things and tweak the UI and oversimplify the concepts of Guilty Gear, to present an impression of simplicity, while in reality, offering a level of depth previously unseen in early Guilty Gear titles.”

So, that is what they strived (hah) to do. But the question is, did they succeed in making this the quintessential Guilty Gear game for people new to fighting games, while also developing something truly spectacular? Or did they drop the ball and create a game that dumbs down every mechanic and provides nothing old or new fans of the franchise could possibly enjoy? Well, take a ride with me, and I’ll go over and cover every aspect of this entry and we’ll reach the conclusion together. If you are new to fighting games, hopefully I can convince you by the end why you should give them a go and hopefully this will be the perfect place for you to start. Let’s dive right into the smell of the game.

Visuals

Guilty Gear -Strive- has taken a direction its art style that is undoubtedly for the better. Cel-shaded, sharp contrasting tones make it feel borderline comic book-esque, the color scheme has a large emphasis on blood reds and deep blues, clearly a nod to the two most popular characters in the roster. The particle effects and animation lines during fighting are also shaded in a way that they perfectly bleed into the color palettes. But while the color and the cel-shaded visuals are exceptional and enjoyable, the environments and backgrounds of stages are where the art style truly shines.

I do not exaggerate when I say that I have never seen stages in a fighting game look so animated and meld so seamlessly into the foreground with the fighters. I’ll use Original Times Square as my example, the default stage for my main. The random people walking on the street going to their 9 to 5 job or on their phone, the taxis whizzing by the street, the sound and pitter patter of rain drops on the sidewalk and street, and the florescent changing of traffic lights as this whole world goes on in the background of this one stage while two badass fighters beat the hell out of each other on the street. Then I rush down my opponent into the corner and beat them into the glass wall of the current stage; in a flash it shatters, and they fly into a new stage. My opponent lands on their back and I quickly follow. All of a sudden we are fighting in a new location, and I see in the background a woman starring in disbelief at us while tugging on her husband’s shirt to try and get his attention so he can turn around and see our brawl, but he’s too absorbed in the painting he’s staring at. All this attention to detail and effort put into this one stage, and there are many more, with four or so backgrounds to every stage, and ten stages in the game.

Everything oozes style, including the character designs. Sol and Ky’s look remain a sharp take on a great classic, but so many characters get new little takes to their designs. Potemkin gets full face iron and now properly looks a walking human tank, Ramlethal the cute, tan brigadier gets a few new designs to her cape, her massive swords, and a new proper military hat. The new characters like Giovanna, are equally sharp, her blouse and loose-fitting slacks so she can kick faster, the martial arts gloves she wears, and her stance akin to that of Bruce Lee being taken every time while idle. Stylishness is this game’s language and it is extremely fluent in it. Visuals and art design in Guilty Gear -Strive- are excellent and get full marks from me.

Sound Design and Music

Guilty Gear’s sound design has always been top notch but Strive takes it to a new level. Let’s start off with sound. Every impact, whoosh from a projectile, and slow down during a counter hit is punctuated perfectly, I got so used to hearing them while playing, the satisfaction of hearing them was so satisfying. It’s impressive when a fighting game makes you want to play it more and get better at match ups through audio cues alone, isn’t it? Every hit is distinct and defined well enough to be addicting to the ears. Even the menu sounds are gratifying, with little wavey chimes and page turning sounds when you go back to a previous option. But that’s sound design during matches, how does the music hold up?

This is goddamn Guilty Gear, how do you think the music holds up? No other fighting game series is better known for its metal soundtrack than the Guilty Gear games. But I am, let’s just say, beyond ecstatic, to report that Strive has the best soundtrack of any Guilty Gear game. Nary I say to you dear viewer, not even the best Guilty Gear soundtrack, but one of the best fighting game soundtracks I’ve ever heard in my life, right in line with Killer Instinct remake being helmed by the legendary Mick Gordon, and Skullgirls having the wonderfully talented Michiru Yamane. Guilty Gear -Strive- has Daisuke Ishiwatari. How one single man can be so good at melding so many different genres together confounds the hell out of me.

The main theme of the game is of course, the very first track released as promotional material for it, “Smell of the Game”. It plays ala instrumental during the character selection screen, but you can select the actual song during duels too. Sol’s theme is titled “Find Your One Way” – it has an almost early 90s, nasty crunch to it found in most Southern thrash metal, pinch harmonics squealing into the sky while simple chugging riffs in the background break for the verse’s lyrics. The riffs and guitar work itself is a remixed version of Sol’s older themes from previous Guilty Gear titles, as is Ky’s. Ky’s theme is called “The Roar of the Spark”, and I like it considerably more. From right out of the gate, it hits you with two power chords, followed by beautiful synthesizer organ style triplets straight out of a Castlevania game. Gothic power metal would be what I describe it as, and it literally soars through the air as you air dash with Ky into a beautiful combo. Then we look at May’s theme “The Disaster of Passion” and the game suddenly takes a sharp 180 degree turn into bouncy J-pop!? What the fuck, am I even playing the same game? Yet it’s incredible, consistently happy and catchy, making you want to dance, capturing the feeling of the opening of a slice of life anime, matching the bubbly, fish-controlling, anchor-wielding little pirate girl to a T.

That is not even scratching the surface of this game’s soundtrack either. My main and favorite character, Giovanna, her theme “Trigger” is pretty much a Beastie Boys and Faith No More crossover song. Millia Rage’sLove the Subhuman Self” is basically symphonic prog metal. Ramlethal’s theme “Necessary Discrepancy” is phenomenal, it’s like futuristic jazz fusion metal. The rhythms are complex and take off and come back into place, just like her fighting style of throwing massive energy swords she carries at her side. Potemkin’s theme “Society” hits like a tank, just like him, and is so massive, you can almost match up the kick drum to each one of his huge ground-shaking footsteps. I could go on but, basically you got the gist of how truly incredible this game’s music is. I could show this OST to someone as normal music and it’s highly likely it would floor them, especially if they were a musician. Sound design and score in Strive are masterfully done. Hunt for this soundtrack everywhere you can, it’s worth it.

 Gameplay

Now, the most quintessential part of any fighting game. How does it play? The meat of the whole package, how does it feel in the hand, on the pad, through the stick and buttons, and all that good jazz? Well let’s talk about movement first. You have your standard staples of most hyper six button fighters: forward and backward, forward dash and backward dashes. Aerial dashes and double dashes come into play too, every character moves very differently and have definite variations of all these movement staples. Potemkin moves extremely slow and heavily because he is a tank and he also has no dashes or aerial dashes. Instead, being the staple grappler of the game, he has dedicated anti air grabs. Other characters you can hold forward dash and they will run in a solid line across the stage. My girl Giovanna, you can’t hold dash down on ground but you can chain dashes in succession, which is very advantageous to the rushdown character playstyle she has.

Impacts and hits feel tight and heavy, especially when you get counters. Guilty Gear -Strive- has a heavy emphasis on counters and punishment moves, so much so that when you get land one, the screen shakes and slows down and the massive words COUNTER or PUNISH show up on screen with the announcer’s voice yelling them (since we fitegame boys can’t read, evidently). This fighting game more like any other before has the heaviest emphasis on teaching new players to learn how to read their opponent and react with the right move or mix up accordingly, actively encouraging and refining the fighting skills of those newer lads who this may be the first fighting game they’ve really wanted to put the time and effort into. Of course, you also have your supers and special moves for each character, a lot of which are activated through half circle or double quarter circle motions and a single button press.

Roman Cancels of various varieties are here on offer, too. For those not sure what those are, it’s a shockwave using the EX Burst Meter below your character’s health bar to either get out of a stun block chain, slow your opponent’s recovery time, increase your recovery time, and so on. Activated by three simultaneous button presses, each Roman Cancel has dedicated button sets and colors to differentiate it on screen. Also there is the Tension gauge, because what fighting game would be complete without a super meter? It fills as you fight and land hits or take hits, building faster with variety in moves, and has two bars. One bar is burned upon triggering a super, called an Overdrive in Guilty Gear because everything in this beautiful series has to be a reference to a motorcycle gang term.

May’s ridiculous Overdrive attack.

You can also perform a perfect guard and mitigate chip damage while blocking at the cost of burning meter as well, so you have to choose wisely and decide in what situation you want to use the Tension gauge. There’s also a side stage break mechanic I touched on in visuals earlier, allowing you to beat your opponent into the corner against a glass wall, eventually doing enough damage pushing them against it that it shatters, and they (or you) fly off the background and into a new background of the stage while dealing a decent chunk of damage. Nailing it at the end of an Overdrive combo is ridiculously satisfying and makes you want to fist pump in the air.

All in all, this game feels incredible to play. Ishiwatari and Katano have an intense passion for their series, and you can tell in the way the characters move and fight, the amount of polish is unreal, and they absolutely succeeded in their intention to make Strive simple to grasp and jump into for new players, being a deceptively simple, yet incredibly deep and multilayered fighter underneath its surface. If you are new to this series or playing these kind of games, this would be a perfect place to start and I am going to enjoy playing this for years at tourneys and on my own time. A quick addendum as well, I could not get much online time before launch since the servers were down the majority of the time for maintenance, but Strive has excellent, consistent online modes courtesy of a beautifully implemented rollback netcode system, which if you read my previous article about Rollback Netcode and its importance in the scene, which will definitely help Strive retain a consistent player base.

Story and Gameplay Modes

To say Guilty Gear has an over the top and unnecessarily deep amount of lore would be one of the biggest understatements I’ve ever spoken in my life. Thank God this game has a glossary and timeline of all the events of the series and every character and term from it, because if it did not, every new player would be more lost than a blind, mute child in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. I’ll gloss over the details of the series and story mode for you real quick. Basically, back in the 1900s, wars became out of hand to the point where half the world’s population was wiped out, and eventually a single individual among mankind discovered the existence of magic and used it as a limitless supply of energy for all mankind. Science and industry, sources of environmental pollution and weapons of mass destruction, were thus outlawed. But the outlawing of technology did little to soothe mankind’s suffering, bringing about the war to end all wars.

During this war, Gears were developed- ridiculously powerful biological weapons created by fusing human and animal DNA and then magic on top of it. The Gears were used as slaves by each military faction to wage war, destroy, and conquer lands until a single Gear by the name of Justice became self-aware. She gathered all hear Gear brethren and declared war on humanity, and the War of the Gears started, killing countless people. Humans eventually put aside their differences and ended their own wars and formed the Sacred Order of Holy Knights to combat the Gears, and the War of the Gears lasted a further hundred years. That is just the set up for the very first Guilty Gear title. There is a staggeringly large amount of lore during the game series as well, but I implore you to check it out yourself. An entire light novel series or anime could be made from all this shit, and it is ridiculously over the top, edgy, and stupid but in the best, most Japanese of ways. Strive of course has its own story mode as well, among many other game modes it presents. The English voices are also perfectly cast and they do an excellent job.

The Story mode is enjoyable to play and sit back and watch while you digest the insane plot Strive offers. Additionally you have your quintessential single player modes as well, 1v1 via local with CPU battles or other local players, a training mode, and an extremely in-depth Dojo with many, many missions that gradually teach the player the mechanics of the game while helping you get better at fighting games in general while steadily increasing in difficulty. There is also an online lobby with pixelated characters you play as where you can customize your little avatar, fish for new customization items, and duel other people. I can see what they were trying to go for since it is very similar to Dragon Ball FighterZ’s lobby modes, but it’s hit or miss and nowhere near as streamlined, honestly. This game is spectacular when you are in matches, and its just something quick and insignificant you sort of trip through to get into one. I do appreciate the effort to try and implement something different for online lobbies, though. Once you get into a match and enjoy that sweet, sweet Rollback though, its smooth sailing will bring a smile to the face.

Conclusion

I knew to at least expect a decent new entry into the Guilty Gear lineup with Strive, with unique artstyles and pretty solid gameplay. I certainly did not expect it to be one of the most solid 2D fighters I’ve ever played. Every movement and impact in every match feels tight and concise. The art is beyond gorgeous and every stage an immaculate world. The character designs are flooring, with attention to detail. The music is pure serotonin for the nerves and senses. It encapsulates everything a stylish Japanese 2D fighting game should be, and will go down as an incredible fighting game and be played for years to come inside the FGC scene and out. I am elated it turned out so well and will no doubt put it in the upper echelons of fighters, right along Third Strike, Skullgirls, UMVC3, and many more. I recommend wholeheartedly that if you’ve ever been interested in fighting games but just couldn’t find the right one to jump into, you pick up Strive and give it a go. It’s worth it ten times over. And if you don’t believe me… THAT IS BULLSHIT BLAZING, STILL MY HEART IS BLAZING. YOU ALREADY KNOW THE SMELL OF THE GAME~

So why should you play it?

  • You love fighting games.
  • Trying to get into them but don’t know a good place to start.
  • You are a fan of insane batshit crazy anime plots and characters.
  • You adore the feeling of satisfying feedback in a fight.
  • You’re a fan of radical character designs and cel-shaded graphics.
  • You have a pulse.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • You genuinely hate fighting games and have no desire to put the time in to get good at one.
  • Over-the-top Japanese shit doesn’t appeal to you and think it’s too dumb for you to deal with.
  • You can’t handle the tension of a clutch match in a fighting game because it stresses you out.

A review code for PC was provided for the purpose of this review.

Shantae (GameBoy Colour) Review: Nintendo Switch

How does the Half-Genie Hero’s debut hold up after almost 20 years?

WayForward, an independent videogame developer and publisher based in California, have certainly made reputation for themselves over the last decade. Though the company was founded in 1990, it’s not been until the last decade that they’ve become a common household name. Memorable titles like Ducktales: Remastered, Aliens: Infestation, and most recently River City Girls have well and truly proven the studio’s knack for creating modern side-scrolling games and keeping this retro genre alive.

River City Girls Nintendo Switch
Kyoko and Misako fight for their boyfriends in River City Girls (2019)

However, one WayForward series stands hips and shoulders above the rest. I’m of course talking about the entrancing, belly-dancing, eponymous Half-Genie Hero: Shantae. Conceptualised in the mid-’90s during the boom of Nintendo’s killer handheld, the Gameboy, it wasn’t until the end of the console’s life cycle that Shantae made her debut on the videogame stage. In a bold move, the game was developed entirely for the GameBoy Colour and released in 2002 after the launch of the GameBoy Advance, a choice that game director Matt Bozon says contributed to the game’s poor sales.

Shantae Art Nintendo Switch
Shantae’s stylish character design definitely put WayForward on the (treasure) map.

Despite its poor sales performance, the original Shantae is widely-recognised as one of the best games released for the GameBoy, and it pushed the hardware to its limit. Additionally, gaining quite a cult following, it has become one of the most valuable games on the handheld, with original boxed copies occasionally going for upwards of $3000USD. Almost 20 years since its inception, WayForward’s flagship character now boasts five separate entries and over 3 million sales across the entire series. An incredibly impressive figure for a series that initially struggled for financial success!

Shantae Gameboy Color Colour Prices
Screw BitCoin, I’m going back in time to tell myself to invest in Shantae.

Now in collaboration with Limited Run Games and Modern Vintage Gamer, WayForward have revived the original Shantae title, republished, enhanced, and ready to dance on Nintendo Switch. This means that for the first time ever, all 5 games in the series can be played on a single console! So forget about taking out a personal loan to secure a copy of the original Shantae, because for a mere $10 it’s time to step back in time to one of the best GameBoy Colour games ever made.

Shantae Dancing Sprite Gif

Plot

Scuttle Town is a peaceful abode by the sea, bordered by a vast desert and inhabited by a cast of quirky characters. It’s also home to a mystical Half-Genie who lives not in a bottle, but in a lighthouse. However, that peace is soon interrupted by the nefarious lady-pirate, Risky Boots, who catches wind of a ancient technology recently unearthed in Scuttle Town: the Steam Engine. With the ability to produce an immense amount of power, Risky will stop at nothing to make this mystical invention her own, and whisks the dangerous device away for her own selfish plans.

Shantae Ret 2 Go Nintendo Switch
Shantae is always ret2-go!

As the self-appointed “Guardian Genie” of Scuttle Town, it’s up to Shantae to get Scuttle out of trouble! In order to thwart Risky’s plans, Shantae must recover the four Elemental Stones, each of which can be used to harness a unique power that can run the steam engine indefinitely. Spread out across Sequin Land and protected within ancient labyrinths, Shantae will need to uncover her hidden genie powers to obtain the mythical items and put an end to Risky’s escapades once and for all.

Gameplay

This initial entry in the series introduced a style of gameplay that has helped define all the other Shantae games that followed it. A unique blend of side-scrolling adventure, platforming, exploration and RPG elements combine with clever animal transformations making for a GameBoy experience unlike any other. I’d go so far as to say this is some of the most ambitious gameplay you’ll find on the console, and thanks to this it has aged incredibly well. The game takes place over three main areas: the overworld, dungeons, and towns, splitting the game into three distinct styles of gameplay.

Exploration: Spread across a sprawling map, there’s a vast world to explore in Sequin Land, which at times sometimes feels a bit overwhelming due to its impressive size for a GameBoy game. Each location has distinct enemies, platforming challenges, and environmental puzzles that you’ll need to overcome by using abilities that are acquired throughout the game. Using her hair as a weapon, Shantae will also need to fend off enemies spread throughout the overworld.

Shantae Overworld Gameboy color Colour Nintendo Switch

With a day-night cycle, numerous hidden collectibles, and expansive exploration, you’ll spend the majority of your time trekking the overworld in between its dungeons and towns. This can occasionally become bothersome, as the technical limitations of the GameBoy mean the screen is only capable of displaying a small portion of the area, and considering Shantae at times controls like a floating brick, you’ll often fall into obstacles that you have no way of predicting or avoiding.

Dungeons: Four major labyrinths appear during the game, each containing one of the four Elemental Stones. These are comparable to dungeons from early Zelda games, which feature a unique ability that will need to be utilised in order to progress. Through the mystical power of dance, Shantae can transform into one of four creatures: Monkey, Elephant, Spider, and Harpy. By rescuing the dungeon’s genie and unlocking a new transformation, you’ll be able to gain access to new areas and solve puzzles in order to progress. Then, at the end of each dungeon awaits a large boss that often also requires clever use of the transformation. These dungeons are entertaining, satisfying to solve, and in my opinion the overall highlight of the game.

Shantae Transformation Elephant Gif Nintendo Switch
Transforming into an elephant lets Shantae smash through obstacles.

Towns: These laid-back areas are the most entertaining aspect of Shantae, featuring colourful characters and incredibly amusing dialogue. By chatting with NPCs you’ll obtain not only snippets of information to aide Shantae on her quest, but also some legitimately hilarious conversation. Each town also contains a shop to purchase items like potions and weapons, a bath house to restore your health, a Warp Squid (for fast travel), and generally some form of optional minigame that can be played to accumulate currency. It’s a nice change of pace and some of the most unique presentation in a GameBoy game.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Color Colour Zombie Caravan Joke
The Zombie Caravan is my personal favourite and is packed full of hilarious dialogue.

Visuals

When playing Shantae, there’s one key fact to remember: this is a port of a GameBoy game. While the newer Shantae games feature gorgeous, vibrant, detailed graphics, the original somehow manages to achieve this despite the technical limitations of the hardware at the time. Character and enemy sprites and their animations are detailed, environments are colourful and packed full of detail, and the towns offer an impressive over-the-shoulder view unlike anything I’ve encountered in a game of this era.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Pixel Art
The pixel art is particularly eye-catching.

WayForward managed to create a unique visual aesthetic drawing influence from both The Legend of Zelda, Aladdin, and real life Middle-Eastern Culture. This game’s visuals have formed the foundation of the series as a whole through its distinct art style and iconic character design. For players wanting to appreciate this further, there’s the inclusion of a bonus art gallery which features plenty of interesting concept art.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Art Gallery

Audio

At the time of its creation, the music of Shantae was composed by a mostly-unknown video game musician, who had actually dropped out of school to take up game music full-time. Having made soundtracks for only a handful GameBoy games, WayForward recruited the young musician and in doing so unknowingly helped create one of the most prolific VGM composers of all-time: the now legendary Jake Kaufman. Best known for his incredible music to Shovel Knight, Jake’s distinct chiptune style shines through every track of Shantae, which features many songs that have been used throughout the entire series.

Despite being a mixture of blips and bloops coming out of a Gameboy, the soundtrack has a distinct Middle-Eastern sound, as if being played by an 8-bit oud. It’s appropriate for the setting, catchy as heck, and honestly never gets old, which is important considering GameBoy tracks often have very short loops.

So what’s new?

Although the game is mostly unchanged, the Switch port makes several welcome improvements that help this near 20-year old game feel just a bit more modern. Save states are available, meaning that at any time the game can be paused and saved/loaded, which makes some frustrating areas much less tedious. I found myself not using it much, but it’s a welcome addition for those not accustomed to retro games. There are also several added visual options allowing the game to be played at a native resolution, with a sharp filter, or with an LCD screen effect layered on top.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Pixel Visuals Sharp LCD Filter
Sharp filter (left) and LCD filter (right).

The entire game now also includes the “GBA-enhanced” version, which features improved colour palettes and an additional “Tinkerbat” transformation that can be unlocked, allowing Shantae to fly. These all come as welcome additions, but do not add any massive enhancement to the overall gameplay.

Conclusion

Considering this piece of GameBoy history would have previously cost you almost $1000 to own and play legitimately, a mere $10 feels like a bargain to experience the first game in this brilliant series. Though the gameplay at times may feel clunky and frustrating to control, there is a wealth of enjoyable content in Shantae that ensure you forget any of its shortcomings. Not only is this an incredibly charming, amusing adventure introducing an iconic cast of characters, but it’s also a sheer technical marvel when you remember that it was designed solely for the GameBoy Colour. Although it might not be Shantae’s most outstanding performance, fans of the series and retro gaming alike would be foolish not to at least give this excellent Switch port a go.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Pixel Art Dancing Sprite

So, why should you play it?

  • You’re a fan of the Shantae series and want to explore its origins.
  • Retro platformers are up your alley.
  • Gorgeous pixel art and catchy chiptune soundtrack.
  • Satisfying dungeon design akin to older Zelda titles.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Dated gameplay compared to the rest of the series.
  • Controls are at times clunky and frustrating.
  • Won’t appeal to those not fond of retro games.

A review code was provided for the purpose of this review.

Mighty Goose Review: Nintendo Switch

Let loose the Goose of war.

Videogames where the player takes control of an animal are not a new concept. Whether it’s gliding through the sky in games like Eagle Flight, stalking through the streets of Japan in Tokyo Jungle, wreaking ragdoll havoc in Goat Simulator, or sprinting across open fields while leaving a trail of gorgeous flowers behind you in my all-time favourite game, Okami, animal games feature in almost every genre. Even triple-A titles like Sonic the Hedgehog and Crash Bandicoot are widely popular series where the player assumes the role of an animal.

Then, in 2019, a small Australian developer named House House released an animal-themed videogame that absolutely took the world by storm. With a cheeky waddle, a startling honk, and wily waterfowl antics, it was an experience that stole the hearts of gamers much like its feathered protagonist stole a town bell. I’m talking about none other than Untitled Goose Game. The quintessential example of an animal game; this perfectly captured the distinct traits of a goose and allowed players to wreak havoc upon a quaint English village. However, after playing it, this got me thinking: why aren’t there more games where you play as a goose?

Untitled Goose Game Mighty Goose Nintendo Switch

Well, my question has been answered above and beyond all expectations thanks to the other goose game: Mighty Goose (available on PS4/PS5, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch). This brand new indie run n’ gun title developed by Blastmode, is not only a guns-blazing game where you play as a bounty-hunting space goose, but it’s the closest experience to Metal Slug outside of the classic arcade series. Considering Metal Slug has been as good as dead with its last main release now over 10 years old, a massive tank-shaped hole has been left in my heart. But you know what? This game just shoved a goose right into it.

So how exactly is a goose similar to a slug? You’re about to find out.

Mighty Goose Nintendo Switch Xbox One PC PS4 Gif

Story

You are the galaxy’s number one bounty hunter. Samus Aran? Not quite. Defending the universe and thwarting evil is no easy task, and that’s why you play as the only one who can get the job done: the Mighty Goose. In a chubby goose-shaped space craft and a drop pod resembling a goose egg, no mission is too dangerous for this brave hero. The story is delivered through short snippets of dialogue between characters (and the occasional honk from the protagonist), but the main goal is to take down an Interstellar Flying Fortress known as KOLOS and the king who controls it.

Void King Mighty Goose Nintendo Switch PC Xbox One PS4
Void King roasts the goose before enjoying a roast goose.

With the aid of his companion, Regular Duck, this daring goose must explore treacherous landscapes, rescue valuable allies, and form a team capable of taking down the evil Void King and any foe that stands in your way. At times the story is quite amusing, but this is by no means a game you’ll be playing for its deep narrative.

Gameplay

This is where the goose is at its mightiest. This is the ideal example of snappy, responsive, satisfying run n’ gun gameplay. If you’ve ever played a Metal Slug game, you’ll feel right at home with what’s on offer in Mighty Goose. You’ll be blasting hordes of enemies with a barrage of bullets and piloting overpowered armaments through 9 different levels, and fans of the genre are likely to love every single minute.

Mighty Goose Nintendo Switch Xbox One PC PS4 Boss Fight
Now it’s the Goose doing the roasting.

Simple controls and a mild level of difficulty make this gameplay easily approachable even for those completely unfamiliar with the genre. Exploring each level lasts approximately 10 – 15 minutes and features a mixture of platforming combined with hectic onslaughts of enemies. Power-ups are plentiful, which are dispersed throughout each level and provide new weaponry (machine guns, rockets, lasers) or vehicles that can be piloted for extra fire-power. The game also features a Mighty Meter that charges up during combat and can be activated once full. Mighty Mode unleashes the sheer fury of the goose, making the player will become invincible for a short period of time and upgrading the current weapon to quickly decimate all enemies on screen.

Mighty Goose Nintendo Switch Xbox One PC PS4 Metal Slug
Metal Slug Goose

Progressing through the game will unlock optional upgrades that can be equipped in the armory after each mission. These include secondary weapons (reflector honks, chonker bombs etc.), new companions to assist you during missions, and abilities like double jumps or extra ammo. Using these wisely will make combat dramatically easier, and once you become comfortable with these additional skills, you’ll be chewing through enemies quicker than a duck chews through a piece of bread.

Mighty Goose Nintendo Switch Xbox One PC PS4 Combat

The game is certainly at its most thrilling during the massive bosses, which quite literally allow every level to go out with a bang. Seasoned players will be able to beat these with minimal challenge, but they’re each incredibly enjoyable, frantic and fast-paced fights packed with explosions. Activating the Mighty Mode at the perfect time and blasting through the boss’ health bar is incredibly satisfying and leaves every level on a high.

Visuals

Equal parts comical and epic, Mighty Goose features a stylish and detailed pixel art with vibrant colours, exceptional attention-to-detail, smooth animations, and explosions aplenty. It’s an absolute pleasure to look at, and the design of each level and boss is distinct and stands out from the rest. UI and menus also have an aesthetic not unlike an arcade game, and the entire visual feel of the game takes clear inspiration from the likes of Metal Slug while applying its own unique goose-themed aesthetic.

Mighty Goose Nintendo Switch PC PS4 Xbox Graphics Visuals

Slow-motion sequences will randomly trigger during intense battles, and the occasional massive goose head (pictured above) will launch across the screen with an echoing honk. Visual touches like this certainly add an amusing style to the already attractive experience. Having played the game in 50% handheld and 50% docked mode, it performs exceptionally on each and the visuals work incredibly well both on the small and large screen.

Soundtrack

As stylish as its visuals is the game’s pumping synth soundtrack. Composed by Dominic Ninmark, who has created soundtracks for several other indie games, his music is a delicious side dish to accompany this main course of goose. Most of the tracks feel as if they’ve been plucked from an ’80s action movie and then compressed into an arcade machine. They’re high-tempo, catchy, and fit the arcade style gameplay perfectly. At times it even feels like you’re listening to songs that might have been featured in Kung Fury – that’s a massive plus for me.

Conclusion

Albeit short, with 100% completion possible in as little as 3-4 hours, Mighty Goose offers a thrilling experience with joyous gameplay in a succinct, action-packed adventure. You don’t have to be a dedicated run ‘n gun fan to enjoy the game, as difficulty is forgiving and simple enough for anyone to easily pick up and play. However, if you are a run ‘n gun fanatic, this game is a must-play and will likely have you grinning ear-to-ear with subtle (and not so subtle) references to the iconic series that inspired it. My only criticism is that extra content is lacking – multiplayer (which would have been perfect!) is lacking completely, and once you’ve completed all the levels there is little incentive to keep playing.

Mighty Goose Nintendo Switch Xbox One PC PS4 Cool Gif Riding

So, why should you play it?

  • Are you a fan of Metal Slug? Then this is a no-brainer.
  • Wanting to try out a run ‘n gun game? This would be a great place to start.
  • You’re after a short, punchy action game that’s just plain fun.
  • Gorgeous pixel art and design.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • No multiplayer and you’d rather play a game like this with friends.
  • You prefer games that offer endless hours of gameplay.

A review code for Nintendo Switch was provided for the purpose of this review.
Some footage included is from the Xbox One version of the game.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Announced for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch

You’re really gonna dig this game.

Strictly Limited Games brings an awesome and addictive platformer from the 80s – from legendary developer TOZAI – to PS4 and Nintendo Switch! Retro fans need to prepare themselves for a real challenge. Spelunker HD Deluxe will be available as Limited and Collector’s Edition for pre-order from Sunday, June 6th midnight (CEST) at the Strictly Limited Games Shop! The digital version for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 will follow in Q3 2021 by ININ Games. 

Dedicated retro game fans might remember the original game, which was first released for Atari 8bit computers back in 1983. Or also the PS award-winning “Spelunker HD” that was released for PS3. And now Strictly Limited Games proudly presents Spelunker HD Deluxe coming with awesome fresh graphics and a new game mode!

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

A variety of game modes and many different stages will provide players with a lot of challenges on their way to seek out the mystery that lies in the depths. All of the modes can be played as single player, but they are also supporting online multiplayer with up to six people and offline multiplayer with up to four people allowing the players to explore the caves together!

  • Adventure:
    Players can explore 100 stages by fighting and jumping their way through enemies and obstacles
  • Competition:
    The best cave explorer wins! In this mode, players can compete with their friends
  • Championship:
    The name says it all… This mode includes another 100 super-difficult, challenging stages that seek for real cave exploring experts
  • Endless Cave NEO:
    In this mode, players can compete and see how far they get in endless, randomly generated caves

Whilst exploring dark caves and avoiding getting beaten by the dangers that lurk in the depths, players can enjoy a fresh visual appeal with new 3D assets and a realistic cave atmosphere, accompanied by a catchy, memorable soundtrack. But those who prefer to keep it classic, will also get their money’s worth – the well-received “Classic Mode” that was also included in the PS3 version will still be available in Spelunker HD Deluxe. So retro fans can enjoy beautiful nostalgic pixel graphics and 8-bit sound for the original Spelunker experience like back in the early 80s.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

Players that are ready for a real challenge can get themselves an awesome limited Edition at the Strictly Limited Games Shop.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

The Limited Edition Features:

  • Game for Nintendo Switch or PlayStation 4
  • Booklet
  • Individually Numbered

The Limited Edition is available for €29.99 and limited to 2700 copies for Nintendo Switch and 1500 copies for PlayStation 4.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

The Collector’s Edition Features:

  • Game for Nintendo Switch or PlayStation 4
  • Collector’s Edition Box
  • Spelunker Figure
  • Glow-in-the-Dark Sticker
  • Flyer
  • Large Reversible Poster
  • Soundtrack
  • Level Guide
  • Booklet
  • Individually numbered

The Collector’s Edition is available for €59.99 and limited to 1300 copies for Nintendo Switch and 700 copies for PlayStation 4. If you’re wanting to secure a copy, before sure to keep an eye on this link for when the pre-orders go live, as they won’t last long: https://store.strictlylimitedgames.com/collections/spelunker

Mass Effect 1: Legendary Edition (PC) Review

Mass Effect fans have had their patience tested for nearly a decade now. The initial endings of the third entry left a lot of fans dissatisfied, and Mass Effect: Andromeda was polarizing at best to players and critics alike. Across the years, BioWare social media comments sections always seemed to have one comment in every thread: “Remaster the original trilogy!”

That time has finally come, as this collection, dubbed the Legendary Edition, incorporates all of the DLC of the entire trilogy, with upscaled visuals and quality-of-life improvements to shake off the age of the sci-fi series’ initial run. I’ll be reviewing this trilogy in three parts, as each entry warrants its own focus. With that being said, how does the game that started it all fare with a new coat of paint?

Mass Effect Legendary Edition
There’s lots to do before taking on your first Reaper.

Plot

Mass Effect‘s on-the-nose commentary of xenophobia/racism has aged like fine wine – whether you choose to be a virtuous Paragon or delve down the road of Renegade, Shepard tackles conversations with poise and certainty that makes him a master negotiator in every situation. You’ll need it to take on a galactic council, tense hostage situations, and even avoiding a final conflict is possible with the right dialogue dedication. Mass Effect was a pioneer in “choices matter” carrying consequences so severe they carry onto other games, which is as simple as starting Mass Effect 2 from the launcher.

Gameplay

While the second/third Mass Effect entries draw direct comparisons to the Gears of War series due to the tried-and-true formula of “sit in cover, shoot for a few seconds, rinse and repeat”, Mass Effect 1 has less of an emphasis on cover and more on acclimating to powers/weapons necessary for the situation. The guns may be less pronounced and the powers more basic, but the visceral nature of fights and battlefields are switched up a bit more than 2 and 3. When you’re not fighting geth/baddies, you’ll navigate the Citadel, the Galaxy Map, and conversate with crewmates. A big QoL change here is a more pronounced sprint outside of battle and a meter to better gauge it. The Mako also boasts new controls, so it only flies all over the place a fraction of the time it used to.

Visuals

Back in the day, Mass Effect was a pretty sight to see, but a modernization was necessary for the remaster as this title is sitting at 14 years old at this point. I played in 1080p back then and I’m restricted to that resolution now, so it wasn’t a drastic change on my screens. 4K players will get a nice surprise, though. Better yet, the game runs at a buttery-smooth 144fps at all times except theatrical cutscenes. Those got the remaster treatment as well, and are truly gorgeous.

Character models get a nice touch-up, but don’t expect next-gen visuals.

Audio

My personal highlight of the game is the bangin’ soundtrack from the likes of Jack Wall, Richard Jacques, Sam Hulick, and others. Whether it’s the enchanting Galaxy Map backdrop, the daunting Critical Mission Failure theme that greets your deaths, or the inquisitive Presidium jingle, you’ll want to keep the music tab cranked at all times. In addition, the weapons no longer all sound the same – unique gunfire was recorded across each gun type and model, adding an adequate differential for different combat situations.

The Biggest Improvements

Sometimes remasters are just reskins, and problems aren’t solved after several years of lying dormant. Mass Effect: Legendary Edition solves some of the biggest complaints that plagued the otherwise near-perfect initial entry. Countless memes have spawned from the long wait times spent on elevators – these now only last as long as the conversations within the lifts do, and have been shortened to mere seconds when no one talks. The Mako controls are considerably better, but the terrain traversal issues stem from the mountainous obstacles that are still a pain to get across. Enemies no longer only say “I WILL DESTROY YOU!” and Shepard has more lines than “I’VE LOST SHIELDS!”.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition Mako
The Mako: less jank than before, but you still have to deal with mountains.

Nostalgia Goggles Off: The Cons

As nice as the improvements to Mass Effect are in Legendary Edition, it still isn’t the perfect sci-fi game. Combat was restrictive compared to the series’ later games, which found its footing as a cover shooter better thanks to tons more options as to how encounters played out. I spent numerous minutes of game time sifting through inventory deciding what was best and what to scrap – a comparison system would have saved tons of time. Fighting Thresher Maws in a Mako were a time-sink with little reward. Romance felt like an easy decision, and I would have felt challenged to choose between Liara and Tali if the latter had an option in 1. Nitpicks aside, the game is fully-functional and a good time after all these years.

Conclusion

We got what we wanted, and what we deserved, with Mass Effect: Legendary Edition. It’s a familiar experience, but fixes the few things that needed attention. The only reason this review didn’t come out sooner was because I picked up Mass Effect 2 after the rush of this game and haven’t been able to put it down. This serves as a great entry point as much as it is a stroll down my youthful nostalgia of exploring this game back in the day.

So, why should you play it?

  • Excellent dialogue where tough choices really do matter.
  • Soundtrack for the ages, guaranteed to get stuck in your head.
  • Varied combat that keeps you on your toes.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Not a huge visual overhaul over the original product.
  • Too dialogue-heavy for those looking for nothing but action.

void tRrLM();++ //Void Terrarium++ Review: PS5

This is one void you won’t want to avoid.

Mystery Dungeon” is a phrase that most gamers likely associate with the Pokemon series. These highly-emotive spinoffs are critically acclaimed by fans for their combination of entrancing narrative with randomised dungeon-crawling gameplay. Though the term has become synonymous with the Nintendo franchise since popular titles like Red/Blue Rescue Team and Explorers of Darkness/Time/Sky, its origins stem from a genre of games that predates Pokemon by several years.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Explorers of Sky
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky (Nintendo DS, 2009)

Pioneered by Chunsoft, the series was conceptualised as a Dragon Quest IV spinoff known as Torneko’s Great Adventure: Mystery Dungeon, released in 1993 exclusive to the Super Famicom in Japan. Playing as the game’s money-hungry merchant, Torneko (known also as Taloon in Western releases), the player is tasked with exploring randomly-generated dungeons to find valuable items to expand your store and fend off monsters that might hinder your progress. A reliance on randomisation and challenging difficulty created a roguelike genre now widely recognised as the Mystery Dungeon.

Shiren the Wanderer Switch
Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate (Nintendo Switch, 2020)

Series like Final Fantasy, Etrian Odyssey, and most notably Pokemon joined in with popular Mystery Dungeon spin-offs. An original IP known as Shiren the Wanderer was even created from the ground up as a game focused entirely on this style on gameplay and now spans multiple entries from the Gameboy to the Nintendo Switch. Now almost 30 years since its inception, a new Mystery Dungeon title emerges, seeking to fill a void in the dormant subgenre: Void Terrarium.

Originally released on the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, this new title from NIS America (who somehow manage to pump out obscure JRPGs at an alarming rate!) has made its way onto PlayStation 5 in the upgraded ++ version. So is this roguelike worth your time, or should it be avoided at all costs? Read on and find out!

Story

Civilisation has collapsed. Humanity is on the brink of extinction. The world has fallen under the grasp of a highly-contagious toxic fungus that infects every living organism. In a desolate scrapyard nestled deep in the underground ruins, a lone robot awakens. Trudging through the barren wastes now long abandoned by humans, the robot stumbles across a dormant figure, a young girl asleep on a bed of fungi: Toriko.

Void Terrarium PS5 Toriko Robbie
A fungus among us.

In a comatose state with mushrooms protruding from her body, the robot focuses its entire efforts on revitalising the weakened girl and nursing her back to health. A goal that could possibly lead to the restoration of humanity. However, the harsh environment will not make this easy. Even the very air Toriko breathes is a toxic fume, slowly depleting her life. To protect the girl, the Robot must create a safe haven in which she can finally recover: a Terrarium.

With the help of a discarded CRT display known as the FactoryAI who acts as your guide, Robbie ventures into the wasteland to retrieve items to construct the terrarium and allow Toriko to survive. This bleak post-apocalyptic setting conveys a melancholy narrative of despair, tragedy, and against all odds, hope. Playing as the robot, affectionally named Robbie, the fate of humanity rests upon your cold shoulders.

Void Terrarium PS5 FactoryAI
FactoryAI is super cute and helps to motivate you.

Gameplay

Ever played a mystery dungeon game? Well, if you have, you’re going to LOVE the gameplay on offer in Void Terrarium, as it will feel immediately familiar. All the staples of the genre are here: randomised locations consisting of numerous levels, punishing roguelike difficulty, and a massive pool of items, abilities and upgrades to keep every run fresh. The only difference is you play solely as Robbie, so there’s no backup when things get tough; it’s all up to you.

The main task of the game is to obtain items to construct the terrarium, all of which are found deep within isolated locations of the wasteland. You’ll be given a short briefing as to where the desired item is located before you’re dropped into the dungeon on your lonesome. Starting at level 1 at the beginning of each area, you’ll need to defeat enemies in turn-based combat to progress your stats, unlock new skills, and have more of a chance of making it to the end goal.

Void Terrarium PS5 dungeon
Most of your time will be spent exploring the randomised dungeons.

Exploration and combat is simple and takes place on a grid, and enemies can be defeated through various means: normal attacks, skills, weapons, and items (like grenades or bombs). Areas will become increasingly difficult as you progress, requiring you to unlock permanent upgrades to improve your chances to delve deeper. It’s an incredibly satisfying gameplay loop that had me returning time and time again, as I told myself “just one more run!” before I inevitably forced myself to go to bed. Each playthrough will unlock new items that can be constructed to furnish the Terrarium and in turn provide minor permanent stat boosts or skills that can be equipped.

Void Terrarium PS5 abilities
You’ll unlock new abilities and stat boosts as you level up.

That sounds pretty simple so far. Just exploration and combat. Easy, right? Not quite.

Robbie is a robot, and doing as robots will do, they run off electricity. Every movement, attack and skill within the wasteland consumes energy which is displayed on the screen. Run out of energy and you’re pretty much done for. This must be closely monitored and recharged by picking up batteries that are dropped at random by foes, or through use of particular unlockable skills. Batteries can be scarce and will force you to manage your energy wisely.

To complicate things further, Robbie must also look after Toriko at all times. Through the use of the Pet Nanny (a Tamagotchi-like device), Toriko’s hunger, health status, boredom, and even toileting habits must be closely monitored and managed accordingly. If she falls ill while out in the wastes, you’ll need to head back immediately to prevent her imminent demise. This becomes incredibly tense when you’re towards the end of a gruelling dungeon only to hear the tone of the Pet Nanny alert you to return to Toriko’s side. It definitely adds deeper complexity to the game’s exploration as you micromanage not only your own, but also Toriko’s wellbeing.

Void Terrarium PS5 Toriko Petnanny
I recommend not letting the Pet Nanny get to this state.

Visuals

When booting up the game, don’t be lured into a false sense of aesthetic wonderment. The 2D hub world looks absolutely gorgeous, there’s no doubt about that. Beautiful hand drawn art, vibrant, lush greens upon a dark, bleak background all set the mood of the game. Even the attention to detail of the terrarium in which Toriko is contained is impressive and beautiful to observe. Sadly, this is not at all representative of the rest of the game’s visuals.

Void Terrarium PS5 Art
The Terrarium becomes visually captivating once new items are crafted.

Once you’re exploring the dungeons, visuals become basic, bland, and feel mostly uninspired and repetitive. It works for the style of the gameplay, as it helps to visualise where Robbie and other enemies are placed on the grid and the map, but this is not a PlayStation 5 title that you’ll be playing for its graphics by any means. There’s a stark contrast when you return to the hub world to be again greeted by the gorgeous, eerie aesthetic. It would have been brilliant to see some of the art-style somehow incorporated into the dungeon crawling gameplay.

Audio

Where the game’s visuals at times feel bland and repetitive, the soundtrack by Hajime Sugie manages to create a soundscape that feels perfectly crafted for the game’s setting. In a score that is primarily electronic (how appropriate), Sugie utilises ambient tones and robotic noises of beeps and glitches to craft a unique style that is both melancholic and entrancing. I’d happily listen to the Terrarium theme for hours on loop (in fact, I probably did, as I put about 30+ hours into the game, several of which were spent in the Terrarium).

The dungeon music, though repetitive, fits perfectly with the style of each area. A swampy wasteland sounds completely different to infected warehouse sounds completely different to a robotic factory. It’s impressive how music like this can manage to reflect the game’s visuals almost better than the visuals themselves. An impressive accomplishment for the composer!

Extras

Completionists are going to have a ball with this one. As you progress through the dungeons, you’ll unlock various blueprints for items that can be taken back to the Terrarium and crafted. These consist of furniture and decorations for the Terrarium, clothing and accessories for Toriko, and skills and unique modules that can be applied to Robbie. There’s enough unlockables to keep even the most avid collectors occupied for 40 – 50+ hours of gameplay.

Void Terrarium PS5 unlockable furniture
Why craft a Wooden Stool when you can sit on a perfectly good rock?

Outside of the main story, dungeons and collectibles, there’s not much else to keep you coming back for more. Towards the end of the game you’ll be given access to an endless dungeon that will allow easier procurement of items, but it doesn’t quite offer the infinite gameplay of many other roguelikes.

Conclusion

Going into Void Terrarium, I had no idea what to expect of the game, and throughout my 30+ hour journey into the fungal wastelands, I’ve been convinced that this is a sleeper hit. Simple yet addictive gameplay with satisfying micromanagement, numerous upgrades, and a compelling story make this one of the best Mystery Dungeon games I’ve encountered. Fans of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon or roguelikes in general should do themselves a favour and dive into the infected wastes – as gross as that sounds, I guarantee you’re going to enjoy it.

So, why should you play it?

  • You’ve previously played and enjoyed other Mystery Dungeon games.
  • The randomised gameplay of roguelikes appeals to you.
  • Enjoy Tamagotchis? Well this game has one!
  • Plenty of items and abilities mean no two playthroughs are the same.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Can’t stand repetitive gameplay? This game isn’t for you.
  • Retro-style grid-based exploration/combat likely won’t appeal to those wanting a modern game.

A review code for PlayStation 5 was provided for the purpose of this review.

Maid of Sker Review: PS5

Will you answer the Siren’s call?

There is a new survival horror game out on PS5 this month (well, a newish next-gen upgraded version of the game anyway), and I’m not talking about Resident Evil. Maid of Sker was previously released by Wales Interactive for the PC, PS4 and Xbox One in 2020, and has received the next-gen upgrade treatment for PS5 and Xbox Series consoles. Can the small Indie developer known for trying to bring back the ‘FMV’ style of game (baaaaaad idea) find some success with a game in a more mainstream genre? Read on my friends, read on…

Plot

The story of Maid of Sker bears little resemblance to the original Welsh folk song (or the novel of the same name). The game is set in 1898 in Wales and we embody Thomas, a silent protagonist (unless you consider grunts and screams as speaking). He is sent a letter by his lady friend Elisabeth along with her mother’s musical locket. Elisabeth requests that Thomas write a song, indeed a ‘counter song’ to the melody played by the locket (whatever that is), and to bring his music to her in the Sker Hotel managed by her father. Unfortunately, she cannot provide any further detail in her letter…how convenient.

Maid of Sker PS5 PlayStation 5
Welcome to Silent H… I mean the house of Lady Dime… I mean the Sker Hotel.

Thomas of course obliges to Elisabeth’s request and rushes to the hotel via train. On arrival, Thomas is greeted not by a thankful Elisabeth, but by a ringing telephone in the lobby of a dilapidated hotel filled with crazy cult members. Upon answering the phone, Thomas is pleased to hear that Elisabeth is on the other end of the line. She explains that she has barricaded herself in the attic to protect herself from her father, her uncle, and the strange people now inhabiting the hotel. She tasks Thomas with locating four musical cylinders hidden throughout the hotel that if played on the organ/harmonium in the hotel ballroom will turn everything back to normal. What is it that needs to be turned back to normal you ask? The ‘Quiet Ones‘ – staff and guests of the hotel that have been driven insane. They roam the grounds with sacks over their heads, viciously attacking anything that makes a sound.

Maid of Sker PS5 PlayStation 5
Play me a song my darling Elisabeth.

Thomas is generally left to his own devices to complete the game’s quest and other than some brief phone conversations with Elisabeth there are no other verbal interactions of which to speak. However, there are a number of clues scattered around the hotel in journals and on scraps of paper that provide further plot exposition. Elisabeth’s family has been part of a cult for generations, after her ancestors appear to have encountered the mythical Siren out in the open sea when sailing back to Wales. What was it about the Siren’s song that was so alluring?

Gameplay

The main story mode of Maid of Sker can be best described as a survival/stealth horror game. We control Thomas from a 1st person perspective as he skulks around the hotel finding clues, solving puzzles and picking up the musical cylinders without being discovered by the Quiet Ones. Fortunately, the Quiet Ones wear sacks over their heads and are for all intents and purposes blind. They can only locate you when you are silly enough to bump into furniture or try to walk through a dust cloud and cough your lungs out when they are in earshot. Unfortunately, in what may be a frustrating choice for some players, for the majority of the game we are literally defenseless. Even when the game is nice enough to provide a ‘weapon,’ this can only be used to temporarily stun enemies and cannot kill them, and in typical style the ammo for this weapon is extremely limited. More frustratingly, there is a point when this weapon is simply taken away from you for the rest of the game.

Maid of Sker PS5 PlayStation 5
How do you know I’m standing here? Oh, I forgot deodorant this morning you say? It is only 1898 after all.

Whilst I must admit to finding this complete lack of any offensive power incredibly frustrating in the early going, by the later game it does provide you with some tense moments. Thomas does control well enough, and there were never any moments where I felt a death in the game was caused by anything other than my own poor choices.

The puzzles in the game are all intuitive enough to solve without needing to look up a guide, and there are typically ample clues around to help you if you get stuck. In truth I would have liked a bit more variety in the puzzles here, and there is nothing ground-breaking that you haven’t seen done in similar games elsewhere. Find item X to open secret passageway Y that leads you to key Z etc. etc. That being said, the offering here is solid and if you like this style of game, then it is an enjoyable way to pass some time.

I must point out that the main story is relatively short even for survival horror, and can be completed in about 4-6 hours (more if you want to find all of the collectable items and uncover the full backstory). Originally released as an Indie title by Wales Interactive for the PC, PS4 and Xbox One in 2020, the team have gone above and beyond in providing something new for this next-gen upgrade with a collection of completely new game modes.

These 4 modes whilst all somewhat similar in their goal (escape the hotel with a limited number of lives/deaths) and do show that the game developers listened to some of the complaints of the original game. The two main differences in these additional ‘Challenges’ as they are called are:

  1. You now have access to 4 different weapons (Axe, Handgun, Shotgun, Rifle).
  2. There are a number of different enemy types that you need to mow down on your way out of the hotel.

The new experiences do give you that feeling of power that you severely miss in the main story and are worth a bit more of your time. But they probably won’t be something that significantly extends your time with the game as the FPS style controls and gameplay are just not up to par with dedicated FPS games.

Certainly my favourite element of the gameplay is the way that music and sound are utilised throughout the adventure. The crescendoing shrieks of a dissonant string orchestra will warn you of danger nearby. Alternatively, a simple change in the background music to a music box tune will alert you to an important item or save point nearby. What is that you hear? The rattle of a key turning a lock in the distance? You go to investigate… you have now opened the door to the next section of the review.

Presentation

Presentation is both a strength and a weakness of Maid of Sker. On the negative side, and as we might reasonably expect from an indie title with a small development team, the visuals here are rough around the edges. This was a late generation PS4 game, but it really wouldn’t look out of place on a PS3 when you compare it to the big AAA games on that platform (think Last of Us and Uncharted 3). Similarly to the lack of variety in the gameplay, there is also a similar deficiency here. The one main type of enemy is very bland looking and their animation is a bit janky, and the main boss is not much better.

Maid of Sker PS5 PlayStation 5

That being said, there has clearly been a lot of care and attention to detail here in regards to the environmental details here such as the trimmings of the hotel, the art on the walls and the furniture strewn around the rooms. There are a number of brief/small set-pieces that made me stop and say ‘that was sick‘ (in a good way), whereas other moments seem to fall flat, or almost appear comical in nature due to the animation. Despite the game’s clear limitations in terms of visuals, the gritty, dark Sker Hotel and surrounding grounds provide a great atmosphere particularly when combined with the aforementioned best element of the game – the sound design.

Audio

I was blown away by the quality of the sound and music in this game. It is by no means perfect, but clearly sound design is the highlight of the Maid of Sker experience. Given that ‘music’ is a core aspect of the game’s story and gameplay, it is obvious that the developers really put some effort in to this part of the game. The soundtrack is haunting and the perfect fit to this game, particularly in the build up to the game’s finale. Sound effects are also generally good, but can occasionally be a little more miss than hit, for example some of Thomas’ falling/death screams seeming more funny/hilarious than scary. Thomas is silent throughout the game other than his breathing, screaming and yelling. Elisabeth, however, is fully voiced during the numerous phone calls with her, and the Gramophones that are used as this game’s save point (like the Typewriter in Resident Evil) will also play a recorded voice clip of Elisabeth and her family.

Maid of Sker PS5 PlayStation 5
If the screech of this device upsets you, wait until you hear me falling.

Some PS5 features also helped improve the experience such as the fast loading times and the utilisation of the Dual Sense controller’s haptic feedback. Thomas’ heart rate will increase and become stronger depending on the situation he finds himself. It is subtle but again helps build on the game’s strong atmosphere and overall experience.

Conclusion

Maid of Sker was made by a small core team of less than 15 people, and at times it does show. As noted above, the base game is very short for a modern game. Even in this game’s genre, this one feels a little bit short for me. This may be as a result of the repetitiveness in the enemies and the puzzles.

That being said, the atmosphere that is built though the soundscape of this game is excellent. You can feel the pressure and tension of sneaking past groups of enemies, and the relief of snatching the item that you need to progress without being found.

There is nothing here that can be considered broken or otherwise gamebreaking. The game is a solid package and everything works. I played through the full story and multiple attempts at the challenge content and did not come across any bugs or crashes on PS5. Maid of Sker can’t compete at the level of a game like Resident Evil: Village – but we have to accept that a AAA game would have had at least 10 times the number of staff working on the game as Maid of Sker.

For what it is Maid of Sker is an enjoyable, if not short, experience that provides an intriguing story, a creepy atmosphere with some occasional jump scares and a cracking soundtrack.

So, why should you play it?

  • You are a survival/horror buff and want to experience a different and unique story.
  • Zombies, Vampires and other common horror tropes bore you and you want something more.
  • Not much time to play? No worries with this, you can get through it easily without too much of a time sink.

But, why shouldn’t you play it?

  • BOO! (did that scare you?)
  • You prefer a game that you can engage with for a long period of time.

A review code on PlayStation 5 was provided for the purpose of this review.

Essays on Empathy Review: PC

empathy | ˈɛmpəθi | noun “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”

Deconstructeam – maybe you’ve heard the name? Based in Valencia, Spain, this close-knit indie game developer consists of three key members, known for creating intimate, emotive narrative games, now in collaboration with Devolver Digital. Weaving stories with important messages conveyed through experimental formats, the studio has been widely-recognised for their games, “Gods Will Be Watching” (PC) and “The Red Strings Club” (Nintendo Switch, PC). While many of us play indie videogames on a daily basis for enjoyment, challenge, or entertainment, how often do we truly gain the opportunity to delve deeper into the motivations and thoughts behind the creative minds that concoct these experiences?

The Red Strings Club Nintendo Switch
Cyberpunk narrative adventure game, “The Red Strings Club”.

This is where Essays on Empathy fills a void. Through a hybrid format of videogames and short video documentaries, the player is taken on a journey into Deconstructeam’s past and present through 10 unique, individual standalone experiences. From a game as simple as picking the right book for a birthday present, all the way through to heart-wrenching human relationships and painful emotional experiences, there is one concept that flows through each game in this collection: empathy.

Accompanying each experience is a 10 – 15 minute dissection from the developers, who explain their creative processes, motivations, and most importantly, the messages and challenges behind the game’s creation. When consumed by a gripping videogame, it’s too easy to forget that these are all experiences for which real people are responsible, something Essays on Empathy expertly emphasises.

So what exactly are the games on offer in this captivating collection?
Let me break it down into its ten components:

Underground Hangovers (Genre: Metroidvania/Platformer)

If you had to leave a mysterious planet tomorrow would you: a) go to sleep at a reasonable time to ensure you don’t miss the only rocket off the planet, or b) have a massive party, wake up with a throbbing hangover, and miss the only rocket off the planet? Well in this case, the unfortunate party from Underground Hangovers chose the latter.

Underground Hangovers Essays on Empathy PC
The “Dual-Hook” makes for some interesting (and occasionally frustrating) platforming.

In what feels like the odd game out in the collection (as it’s far more focused on gameplay), you’re tasked with collecting enough ore to rebuild a rocket to make your way off this desolate planet. Though a simple game initially made for a Game Jam in 2015, it features some creative platforming puzzles that feel right at home in the genre.

Supercontinent Ltd (Genre: Cyberpunk/Narrative)

Bold, atmospheric, gripping and clever. Supercontinent Ltd is a narrative-heavy cyberpunk experience that will leave you thirsty for more. Playing as Brandeis (a character who also appears in The Red Strings Club), this game revolves around the use of ancient technology: a landline phone. Through use of a voice modulator (VOMOD), Brandeis makes phone calls to unravel the plot behind a mysterious organisation on the evening of their plan to overthrow the police force.

Supercontinent Ltd Essays on Empathy PC
Landlines really are ancient technology now.

With its engaging dialogue, gloomy pixel-art aesthetic, and ambient synth soundtrack, this game oozes style from every pixel. Impressively, Supercontinent somehow manages to achieve more character development and world-building in thirty minutes than games like Cyberpunk 2077 do in their entire narrative. Thirty minutes well spent.

Behind Every Great One (Genre: Drama/Narrative)

Riding on a high from Supercontinent, I jumped straight into the next game. I was not prepared for what I was about to feel. This game is, at times, mentally and emotionally difficult to play. Interestingly, the developers too discuss how difficult this game was to create. If you’re not in a good headspace, I would approach Behind Every Great One with caution. It will make you feel like absolute shit.

Behind Every Great One Essays on Empathy PC
Victorine’s life is a dull, unfulfilling loop.

You play as Victorine, the housewife to Gabriel, who is a renowned and celebrated artist. Living in his shadow, life has become a monotonous repetition of household chores and meaningless attempts at activity devoid of passion, interspersed with frequent anxiety attacks. The story becomes progressively more depressing as you delve deeper into the characters’ broken relationship and expectations of Victorine. It’s a highly emotive and confronting game that is not for the faint of heart.

Eternal Home Floristry (Genre: Narrative/Flower Arrangement)

An injured hitman loses his arm in an attack and is forced to seek refuge in the house of a florist called Sebastian, with whom he builds a relationship during their short time together. Learning the art of flower arrangement and the messages the blooms convey, Gordon is able to delve deeper into his own emotions and relationships. A highly emotive narrative that explores raw human emotion and the fragile elements that reside within even the most harsh exteriors.

Eternal Home Floristry Essays on Empathy PC
A truly beautiful narrative.

My favourite in the collection. Several times it even had me on the verge of tears. An impressive feat for a game that can easily be completed in half an hour. Though the game may be short, choices based on your flower arrangements will dramatically affect the outcome.

The Bookshelf Limbo (Genre: Point-and-Click)

Simplistic and charming; more of a minigame than a proper standalone title. Pick a comic book from the shelf at a bookstore to purchase as a birthday present for your father! This game was created as a birthday gift alongside a friend of the developers and features amusing cover art, genre stereotypes, and mocking of internet trolls.

The Bookshelf Limbo Essays on Empathy PC
The first game I’ve encountered that’s essentially an interactive birthday card.

Zen and the Art of Transhumanism (Genre: Sci-Fi/Narrative)

Pottery meets Cyberpunk in a genre mash-up I never thought I’d encounter. As a new member of a human improvement workshop, you’re tasked with creating body modifications to fulfil your client’s needs. By handcrafting differently-shaped mods, you’ll be able to enhance certain physical traits and oblige the wishes of the often-selfish humans.

Zen and the Art of Transhumanism Essays on Empathy PC
I need this one!

Another incredibly stylish game with an odd concept – this intriguing pottery-crafting gameplay re-appears in The Red Strings Club as a major gameplay mechanic. But does crafting your body into the ideal traits really lead to true fulfilment?

Engolasters January 2021 (Genre: Sci-Fi/Adventure)

In my opinion the least-enjoyable game in the entire collection. Set in the real life small mountain town of Engolasters, the protagonist (whose son has just run away from home) stumbles across extra-terrestrial life which offers to bestow great power. She must make a choice to save her son, herself, or unravel the secrets that lure her into the unknown. Afflicted by a wound and slowly losing blood, players must manage their life, phone battery, and car fuel while exploring the frosty overworld. The overworld is vast, empty, and lacking in direction, which led me to become easily frustrated.

Engolasters January 2021 Essays on Empathy PC

11:45 A Vivid Life (Genre: Point-and-Click)

The most interesting concept out of all the games: what if your skeleton didn’t belong to you? This simple point-and-click game explores the topic of body image and acceptance. By stealing an x-ray machine and fleeing to the country, the protagonist discovers more about herself by looking inside. Literally. X-rays reveal implants, evidence of past trauma, and pieces that seem mismatched and out of place. Once located, any foreign body parts must be forcibly removed through the use of pliers or scalpels. Not for the squeamish! Players can choose dialogue that will vary the consequences of the story, weaving an entertaining, introspective narrative with a stylish visual aesthetic.

11:45 A Vivid Life Essays on Empathy PC
Plenty of amusing dialogue in this one.

Dear Substance of Kin (Genre: Horror/Adventure)

For a moment I could have sworn I was playing something straight out of Bloodborne! This title is melancholy, chilling, and is dripping with disturbing atmosphere like a blood-soaked cloth. Exploring a decrepit and dilapidated town, you are the Coppersmith, an immortal artisan who harvests the organs of townspeople in exchange for fulfilling their requests through blood magic. By interrogating the residents, you can perceive their selfish desires and choose to either fulfil or sabotage them.

Dear Substance of Kin Essays on Empathy PC
The colour palette and pixel art create a morbid style.

Dark and brooding narrative alongside macabre art and music make this one of the most memorable titles in the collection, and leaves me thirsting for more. The inspiration behind this title is particularly interesting, as the creator draws upon a method that you’re unlikely to expect. Watch the documentary to find out!

Des Tres al Cuatro (Genre: Comedy/Narrative)

The main feature of this collection, a game that translates to “Three for a Quarter” (e.g. something of such poor quality that you can buy three of them for a single quarter), also the name of the comedy duo that you play as during this game. Garza and Bonachera are two halves of a failing comedy act, two lovers, and two grown men struggling for success, stumbling over the hurdles of their passions and their relationship. The story here is particularly personal to the developers, as it emphasises the harsh reality of making a living off of a creative pastime. Conversations between the characters are deeply intimate and allow the player to dive beneath the surface by revealing the characters’ inner thoughts on a separate area of the screen.

Des Tres al Cuatro Essays on Empathy PC
Many mature themes are discussed between Garza and Bonachera.

Gameplay is incredibly creative and unlike anything I’ve played, combining aspects of deckbuilding games with comedy dialogue, allowing you to attempt to earn coins to improve your deck. Cards will either build upon a joke, execute a hilarious punchline, or fail miserably and embarrass yourself in front of an entire crowd. Not only is it fun to play, but many of the jokes are legitimately amusing and it’s quite satisfying to be able to slowly improve your confidence with each show.

Des Tres al Cuatro Essays on Empathy PC
Easily some of the most creative gameplay you’ll come across.

Des Tres al Cuatro is, in my opinion, the best game in the entire collection, as it offers the perfect balance of innovative gameplay and insightful dialogue, and is an experience that is enjoyable every minute from start to finish. If you’re interested in Essays on Empathy, it’s worth it just for this alone.

Conclusion

A vast amount of passion has been poured into crafting these short but powerful games, which becomes even more apparent while watching the developers discuss each title in their respective documentaries. Thoughtfully reflective, introspective and emotive, Essays on Empathy is 50% videogame, 50% documentary, and 100% heart. If you’re the kind of person who plays videogames not only for enjoyment, but for deep narratives, important messages, or artistic expression, then this is an essential experience. And really, couldn’t everyone benefit from just a bit of extra empathy?

So, why should you play it?

  • You’re a fan of emotive narratives.
  • Looking for creative indie games? Go no further!
  • Gorgeous pixel art and equally gorgeous music.
  • Strong LGBTQIA representation will likely appeal to those within the community.

So, why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Certain games may be best avoided if you’re not in the right headspace.
  • Not a fan of narrative or text-heavy games? Then these probably aren’t for you.

Essays of Empathy is available now on PC via Steam.
Find out more about the game here: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1586880/Essays_on_Empathy/

A review code was provided for the purpose of this review.