Tormented Souls Review (PlayStation 5)

The sole game that proves classic survival horror isn’t dead.

Survival horror is a videogame genre with its origins well and truly founded during the 1990s. Far more than just jump scares and gruesome gore, the primary goal of these games is to terrify the player through their attempt to survive against all odds. With limited resources, players must fend off horrifying and grotesque enemies all while navigating unfamiliar settings littered with puzzles and riddles. Although earlier titles released in the 80s include some gameplay elements that are vital to the genre, it was not until 1996 that gamers across the globe would be treated to the progenitor of survival horror thanks to a single iconic game that defined the genre: Resident Evil.

classic resident evil ps1
The original Resident Evil truly defined survival horror.

The decade that followed the original Resident Evil truly was the Golden Age of survival horror, with sequel after sequel released across numerous platforms. Beloved series like Silent Hill, Clock Tower and Fatal Frame flourished, keeping millions on the edge of their seats as they fought for their lives despite the terrors each game contained. However, as consoles and computers became more advanced, horror games too had to match this pace, becoming instead more focused on hectic action and gripping cinematics than slow, methodical horror.

But survival horror isn’t dead; in fact, it may be more alive than ever (unlike its protagonists). Recent years have definitely seen a resurgence in this classic genre. Modern games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Outlast have proven that fear doesn’t always have to be fast. The latest game to join the ranks of the dead is Tormented Souls, an experience that harkens back to the genre’s roots and aims to please those who like their horror slow, dark, and terrifying. So grab your nearest green herb, pick up that discarded piece of a damaged door handle, and let’s dive into survival horror’s latest offering.

tormented souls caroline banner

Story

After receiving an unlabeled letter containing the image of two apparently deceased twins, our protagonist, Caroline Walker, foolishly puts her own personal safety aside and instead sets out on a mission she’ll very soon regret. Waking up naked in a bathtub of an abandoned hospital, attached to ventilator, and missing an eyeball seems like an awful way to start the day. This is exactly where Caroline finds herself after travelling to the mysterious Wildberger Hospital, a long deserted medical facility located on a remote island.

tormented souls ps5 nintendo switch graphics wilderberger hospital
This is where you end up when you don’t buy private health insurance.

Though there’s far more to the hospital than just cobwebs and poorly-maintained medical equipment. Pieces of discarded journals and hints of previous inhabitants all point towards a dark past – experiments on patients and children that have rendered them deformed and mindless, now left to wander the hospital hallways. As Caroline delves further, she discovers there is far more terror to Wildberger than she ever could have imagined, and she is the only one who can bring the unimaginable horrors to light.

Gameplay

Immediately players will be able to draw comparisons between Tormented Souls and the original Resident Evil, as the game is not only inspired by, but pays homage to it throughout its entirety. Exploring a dimly-lit mansion with fixed camera angles, assembling makeshift weapons to fight for your life with every single scarce bullet, and piecing together obscure puzzles to access the next area are all throwbacks to classic survival horror. Even the tension of having a finite number of saves! This is truly a game that feels as if it belongs beside the classics thanks to its simple yet gripping gameplay. Like its predecessors, there are two major aspects that divide the game: combat and puzzles.

tormented souls ps5 nintendo switch graphics wheelchair enemy gif
The hospital patients don’t take kindly to outsiders.

There’s no denying that the combat in this horror adventure feels just as it would have decades ago: clunky. Being played entirely in third person with fixed camera angles, players must position themselves precisely to aim at enemies as they approach, often whilst completely off-screen. Ammo is limited, so every wasted bullet is one step closer to death. Thankfully the grotesque horrors shamble slowly, giving plenty of time to line up shots or run around the cramped rooms in a panic. There are moments where this can be incredibly tense, especially when precious ammo is almost depleted, though for the most part combat feels tedious, and like my aim, inaccurate.

tormented souls ps5 nintendo switch graphics heart puzzle
I hope the doctor was singing “My Heart Will Go On”.

Where the gunplay seems clunky and even unenjoyable, the puzzles are thankfully the complete opposite. Tormented Souls is a masterclass in brilliant brain-bending, with plenty of perplexing puzzles for the player to unravel across their journey through the haunted hospital. These range from simple item combinations and environmental problems all the way through to complex riddles, clever conundrums, and even some segments that require stories to be pieced together by traveling back in time. The game’s impeccable use of problem-solving will have players constantly scratching their heads and being tempted to consult walkthroughs to progress. Resist the urge to look up solutions online, as the game is at its most satisfying when finally solving its trickiest riddles.

Visuals

Bringing survival horror to a modern audience means that updating the visuals is a necessity – we’ve been incredibly spoiled by gorgeous horror games like The Last of Us and Resident Evil Village. This is no triple-A title, so don’t expect to be blown away by realism, but there are many aspects of Tormented Souls’ aesthetic that capture the essence of horror effectively.

tormented souls ps5 nintendo switch graphics main hall graphics
The hospital’s main hall is particularly nice when you’re not running for your life.

Darkened environments are awash with filtered light emanating from outside sources, or from the safe, dim glow of Caroline’s lighter. Shadows project beautifully, dancing off the hospital walls and occasionally catching the player off-guard as if in the corner of one’s vision. Details in the hospital’s abandoned rooms help recall the history of the building, which was once busy with patients but now contains mutilated and hideous figures. The attention-to-detail in the hospital and its environments are certainly a highlight, and hold up incredibly well alongside even the best modern horror games.

tormented souls ps5 nintendo switch graphics camera angle gif
Fixed camera angles make everything scarier.

In contrast, many visuals feel incredibly dated, and sadly not in a nostalgic way. Character models seem awkward and out of place against the detailed environments, animations can be jittery and clumsy, and the interactions during dialogue between yourself and the hospital’s priest seems so unpolished it’s almost as if they were left unfinished. It’s disappointing that these visuals drag down the game’s gorgeous environments, which clearly received far more love and attention.

Audio

No horror game is complete without its audio – a vital ingredient in crafting an atmospheric and gripping experience for the player. Distant sounds of enemies groaning or scraping along the ground are helpful in preparing the player for tense situations, as environmental cues like this often give more insight than the game’s visuals where dangers are often hidden off-screen. Music manages to also convey certain situations, as tense chords or shrieking strings mean imminent danger, while the warm and soft sound of a piano represents safety and comfort in the brief respite of recording rooms where Caroline may save her progress onto an audio reel.

Father’s theme, which means safety, is eerie yet comforting.

Unfortunately, the audio isn’t all quality. Dialogue between Caroline and the occasional remaining souls of the hospital can be described as none other than B-grade. The voice acting, particularly from the Priest, who appears throughout the hospital, is cringeworthy and awkward, which feels more comedic than terrifying and sadly spoils the frightening tones of the game.

Conclusion

Through its clever use of brilliant puzzles and simple explorative gameplay, fans of classic games like early Resident Evil and Silent Hill will no doubt get some serious thrills from exploring the sprawling hospital over the ~10 hour journey. While elements like clunky combat and awkward dialogue feel rough and unpolished, there is still plenty to keep horror veterans satisfied whilst introducing newcomers to this slower and more methodical gameplay format. Survival horror was never even dead to begin with, and Tormented Souls certainly proves that this genre is alive and well today.

So, why should you play it?

  • This is a must for fans of the earlier Resident Evil games.
  • Perplexing environmental puzzles and problem-solving.
  • Gorgeous environments and lighting.
  • Slow, methodical gameplay appeals to you.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Prefer fast-paced games? This one’s not for you.
  • You’re easily frustrated by tricky puzzles.
  • You’d prefer a horror game with precise gunplay.
  • Can’t stand B-grade dialogue and voice acting.

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

Cotton Reboot Review (Nintendo Switch)

It’s 100% cotton! The classic cute ’em up is back for a new generation of players.

When referring to videogames, the term “cult classic” gets thrown around a lot. This phrase is often used to represent a game that was largely unsuccessful but managed to gain a dedicated and passionate following. Few genres achieve cult status quite as frequently as the humble shoot ’em up, a simple style of game that cemented itself as an arcade and home console staple throughout the 80s and 90s, and continues to remain relevant decades on thanks to committed fans and developers. Within the library of shmups is a sub-genre commonly referred to the “cute-em-up” – these feature the typical bullet-blasting gameplay but instead with adorable characters and enemies, colourful visuals, and often eccentric and unusual designs.

The perfect example of a cult classic cute ’em up is none other than the classic, Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams, released originally in 1991 for Japanese arcades. The game shot to popularity after its port to the X68000, a home computer released by Sharp and sold exclusively in Japan. Since this release it has remained an iconic shoot-em-up and is frequently praised by fans of the genre. Now available on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4, Cotton Reboot! brings this classic game into the modern age. Are updated visuals and new game modes enough to revive Cotton for a new generation of gamers? Grab your broom and let’s find out!

Story

Shmups aren’t particularly known for their deep stories, and Cotton is no exception. The story is paper thin and the game definitely knows it! The player is introduced to a brilliant young witch by the name of Nata de Cotton, who just so happens to have quite a sweet tooth. Every witch needs a familiar, and to accompany her on the adventure is a fairy called Silk, who’s as sassy as she is adorable.

Cotton has an addiction to sugar and the only cure is more sugar.

So what’s Cotton’s motivation for heading out on an epic quest? To track down delicious candy of course! She’s on a mission to find “Willows“, delicious sugary spheres to satisfy her cravings. Silk though has other ideas, as collecting them instead of eating them will lead to a legendary confectionary far greater than any others! And so the magical pair set off, with each level rewarding them with a tasty new Willow for their efforts.

Gameplay

You’ve played one shmup, you’ve played them all. Well, almost. Cotton is a pretty typical side-scrolling cute ’em up with simple yet addictive gameplay. The game takes place over several side-scrolling (and occasionally vertical-scrolling) levels, each with a mid-boss and final boss at the end of the levels. Enemies come in waves, launch a plethora of projectiles, and can be easily dispatched by Cotton’s onslaught of magical bullets. It’s very straightforward gameplay and is mostly very forgiving, allowing the game to be enjoyed by players of all skill levels.

Fighting Death itself. That’s cute, right?

Upgrades can be obtained throughout each level in one of three ways: collecting fairies that fight alongside you, destroying enemies to gain experience and level up, or collecting coloured crystals that are occasionally dropped by enemies. Once a crystal appears, the player can choose to continuously attack it, which changes the crystal’s colour and its elemental attack. Those aiming for the top of the scoreboards will need to keep firing at the crystals until they turn black, giving the most points especially when chained together.

Once fully upgraded, you’re going to feel ridiculously overpowered. It’s great!

Each level is fast-paced and frantic, lasting only 5 – 10 minutes. The same goes for the bosses, as these can be defeated quickly especially when learning their attack patterns. Though the speed at which the game can be completed seems almost to be a perk of Cotton, as it’s the ideal game to pick up and smash out when you’re not in the mood to commit hours to a time-consuming ordeal. I found myself regularly playing this on lunch breaks, taking advantage of the Nintendo Switch’s handheld mode, which suits the game perfectly.

Visuals

Whether playing in handheld or docked mode, the colourful and detailed updated visuals of Cotton Reboot look excellent against its dynamic backgrounds. Players can choose between faithful X68000 mode, which replicates the visuals from the original game to pixel perfection, or the brand new Arrange mode, with its redesigned graphics, 3D backgrounds, and 16:9 widescreen resolution. So if you’re a series veteran who prefers retro design, or more recently delving into the shmup genre and enjoying the sleek visuals of modern titles, there’s something in the Reboot to please every player.

The retro pixel art feels so ’90s but still looks excellent.

Admittedly there is a downside to playing with the game’s updated visuals. While the game runs smoothly and undeniably looks excellent, the “bonus multipliers” that regularly appear on-screen are massive and will frequently obscure the player’s view. When faced with a tight situation surrounded by hundreds of projectiles, being able to know your exact position is imperative, which becomes near impossible when the screen is covered in multipliers. It looks neat, but is mostly a hinderance.

The screen becomes absurdly crowded when activating the multiplier bonus.

Audio

No shmup would be complete without a banging soundtrack, often as frantic and fast-paced as the gameplay itself. Having been released almost 30 years ago, the music of Cotton is well and truly rooted in retro synth and early PC music, with the original composer Kenichi Hirata once again returning to oversee the music for the Reboot. Original songs have been rearranged with live instruments, face-melting guitar riffs, and funky bass riffs to create a more modern feel for these retro tracks.

Even the main menu theme is a banger.
Many of the game’s songs are super high tempo and have a magical vibe.

If you’re a fan of the Touhou series, other classic shmups, or just retro game music in general, chances are you’re going to thoroughly enjoy the music in Cotton. The game also includes all the tracks from the original release when playing in X68000 mode, which is quite interesting to hear the songs that the arranged versions have been based off.

Extras

Once the main story mode has been finished to completion, players will unlock new main characters and also a “time-attack” mode. Between the Arrange mode, X68000 mode, and time-attack, there’s a decent amount of replayability and reason enough to play through the game a few times. Though the game caters primarily to those who are proficient enough to rack up massive scores, as these are uploaded automatically to a global leaderboard. Let’s just say I’d be scrolling for a couple hours to try find mine…

Aside from these additions, there’s not much extra content to keep you coming back for more Cotton. Optional unlockables or an art gallery would have been a nice touch, but sadly nothing of the sort is available, as it overall feels like it’s lacking incentive for players who aren’t obsessed with high scores.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that Cotton has truly cemented itself as one of the most beloved cult shmups of the ’90s and is revered by fans of the genre. Thankfully, Cotton Reboot is not only the best way to experience this classic cute ’em up, but also happens to be the most accessible and affordable! With fresh, detailed graphics, easily approachable gameplay, and a stellar arranged soundtrack, this is certainly a good place to start for players wanting to experience a historic piece of the genre. Although extra content is lacking, the game remains true to the original and offers an updated experience that will please both series veterans and newcomers alike.

So, why should you play it?

  • Consider yourself a shmup fan? This one’s a no brainer.
  • Vibrant updated visuals with optional classic mode.
  • Forgiving and easy for newcomers.
  • Can easily be finished in a single sitting.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • New visuals can be distracting and obscure gameplay.
  • Short gameplay might not appeal for those wanting a more in-depth shooter.
  • Don’t like silly? You probably won’t like Cotton.
  • Story about as deep as a wading pool.

A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

WarioWare Retrospective: Nintendo’s Microgame Madness

Before our Get It Together! review, we explore Wario’s rise to videogame fame.

Every hero needs a villain, and that was no exception for Nintendo’s eponymous mustachioed plumber, Super Mario. After years defending against princess-thieving giant apes and overgrown turtles with spikey shells, Mario was faced with a new antagonist, an evil version of himself known as Wario. First appearing in the 1992 game Super Mario Land: Six Golden Coins, Wario (from the Japanese word “Warui” 悪い meaning “bad”) was the game’s primary antagonist and final boss, whose motivation was to steal an entire castle from Mario.

Wario’s debut appearance in Super Mario Land 2 – not much has changed!

And for many years Wario was well and truly the bad guy, with selfish motives and much lust for riches. This infamy didn’t stop him from having numerous games of his own! There was Wario’s Woods, where he attempted to take over a forest, Wario Blast! where the flatulent fiend invades the world of Bomberman and decides to loot it, and of course Wario Land, an entire platform game of his own where he finally takes the spotlight. Though it wasn’t until the era of the Nintendo Gamecube and Gameboy Advance that Wario’s rise to fame really began, where a unique 3D platformer titled Wario World was followed by a sleeper hit that took gamers by surprise…

WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames! (2003)

WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames! was the first of its kind, bringing mad-cap insanity, fast-paced gameplay, and ridiculous over-the-top humour to Nintendo’s first party franchise. Where Mario Party had popularised the concept of minigames, WarioWare took this one step further with its inclusion of over 200 “microgames” – short individual experiences that had to be completed within seconds. These often featured absurd designs, silly gameplay, and even the gameplay of iconic Nintendo titles adapted for the frantic gameplay. This was also the first title to introduce Wario’s companions, a colourful cast of characters with exaggerated designs and silly backstories, like my personal favourite Jimmy T. who has difficulty with the ladies but an unstoppable passion for disco.

The typical style of WarioWare’s classic microgames.

WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Party Game$ (2003)

The original game was expanded even further in WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Party Game$ which shared similar elements to the source material while adding in a multitude of competitive game modes. Though it featured the same microgames, there was far more of a focus on party gaming, where up to four players could compete in local split-screen or by passing the controller. Impressively, the game was ported and developed in a mere 6 months – clearly they wanted Wario on a home console as soon as possible! It really is one of the best multiplayer games on the Cube and cemented Wario’s place in multiplayer gameplay.

Balloon Bang is a crowd favourite – one player pumps while the other plays a minigame. If the balloon pops on your turn, you lose!

To capitalise on the popularity of the series and rake in some additional cash, Nintendo didn’t hesitate for a moment and the following year released two brand new WarioWare titles within less than two months of each other! Next up was the black sheep of the series and one that was often overlooked:

WarioWare: Twisted! (2004)

One of the lesser-known WarioWare titles came bundled with a unique GBA cartridge that featured an in-built gyroscopic “tilt sensor” with added rumble, leading to some seriously unconventional gameplay! To set itself apart from the previous games, instead of using the D-pad to control most of the microgames, the player had to move and shift the GBA console with corresponding movements in combination with button presses. This was only one of three GBA games to make use of a gyro functionality, the others being Yoshi Topsy-Turvy and a very Japanese puzzle game called Koro Koro Puzzle.

The cartridge for Twisted, which is bulky due to its added technology.

Many of the minigames featured rotating or spinning items to win, which was obviously a gimmick but tightly integrated into gameplay and surprisingly responsive. It felt very ahead of its time! Interestingly, during proposal for the game, Satoru Iwata jokingly called the game “idiotic” while playfully spinning around in an office chair.

WarioWare: Touched! (2004)

There’s an old slogan from the DS that some of you may remember: touching is good. And let me tell you, this WarioWare game touched you in all the right places. This is hands down my favourite in the entire series, and arguably one of the best games on Nintendo’s dual screen handheld. While there was definitely a focus on using the touchscreen, this was far more than just a gimmick, as the game was designed entirely with this in mind. This launch title expertly showed off the capability of touch-screen gaming as never seen before, and felt like the perfect fit for the microgame format.

Touched was one of the earliest DS titles to use the touch screen functionality to its full potential.

Although the stylus was truly the star of the show, there were many more aspects of Touched that make it one of the best Wario games ever made! Many of the minigames also incorporated clever use of the DS’ microphone, especially in microgames belonging to Mike, the Karaoke Robot. Players were also particularly fond of the new character, Ashley, a young apathetic witch who lives alone in a haunted mansion. Her levels were accompanied by a seriously catchy theme song:

Ashley’s song, arguably the most recognised song in the whole series.

In addition to almost 200 microgames, there was also a huge collection of unlockable extra features, touch screen toys, and minigames, that made up enough content to be considered a separate game in itself. It’s a game that has aged incredibly well and is an essential part of the DS library.

WarioWare: Smooth Moves (2006)

Where Touched was an essential title for the DS, WarioWare: Smooth Moves was the same for the Wii. But there were no touch screens here! This time the entire game was played using the Wiimote in several strange and creative ways, taking full advantage of its motion sensor. At the beginning of a microgame, the player is given a prompt on how to use the Form Baton (Wiimote) in particular “forms“. Holding the Wiimote in a specific manner like a remote control, a waiter, an elephant’s trunk, or even just putting it on the floor, led to some ridiculous and hilarious microgame scenarios. The emphasis on comedy in Smooth Moves was turned up to 11, as it is easily one of the funniest games ever made.

Just a few of the forms featured in Smooth Moves. The Big Cheese feels so empowering.

Where the main campaign can easily be finished in a single sitting, the game keeps giving in its multiplayer modes and extra minigames. Seven unique ways to experience the microgames were included, many of which utilised creative gameplay to add to the challenge. One in particular called “Battle Buddies” required the use of a Nunchuck controller, with one player holding it and one player holding the connected Wiimote while jumping over pits and obstacles. Despite being one of the earliest titles for the Wii, it still holds up as being one of its best examples of clever use of motion controls.

Humour was a big aspect of Smooth Moves.

WarioWare: Snapped! (2008)

Following the brilliance of Touched and Smooth Moves is arguably the least popular of Wario’s videogame library: Snapped. This niche title was available exclusively on the Nintendo DSi as a downloadable title and was controlled entirely using the console’s camera. In a manner similar to old-school PlayStation 2 “Eye Toy“, the console captured the outline of the player as they positioned themselves to complete sets of minigames.

Even Iwata wasn’t particularly impressed with Snapped (as seen here).

This was undeniably the weakpoint of the entire series, as it was poorly responsive and featured only 4 playable characters and 20 microgames, becoming incredibly repetitive and lacking any sort of replay value. Despite being an interesting gimmick, especially for a handheld console, it was missing any sort of depth and the entire game could be experienced in approximately an hour.

WarioWare: D.I.Y (2009)

What’s better than playing someone else’s videogames? Playing your own! The only limitation of WarioWare: D.I.Y was your imagination, where the player was given the power to design microgames from scratch. Think of it as the Mario Maker of WarioWare games. The game’s inspiration was drawn from the drawing and music-creation tools found in the SNES title, Mario Paint, as series director Goro Abe loved creating the series’ microgames and wanted to share this joy with the players. Development began as early as 2003, but was abandoned temporarily due to technical limitations at the time. But the launch of the DS and the Wii eventually led to the completion of the project, particularly due to an online Wii file sharing service called WiiConnect24.

Players could create anything! Which led to some very NSFW microgames…

Players could design their own microgames on the DS, play and troubleshoot them on the handheld, and then upload them to the WarioWare D.I.Y Showcase channel on the Wii to be played on the big screen. It was a creative, community-driven concept that players could enjoy even without making games of their own. There were even special “Big Name Games!” created and uploaded by game developers or television personalities that could be downloaded. And even though the game’s focus was on creation, it still featured an in-built library of 167 pre-made microgames designed entirely using the in-game engine to showcase its potential.

Game & Wario (2013)

After about 10 years of microgames, Nintendo decided that it was time to take the Wario series in a very different direction. And so Game & Wario was conceptualised, created as a means of showing off the technical capabilities of the Wii U Game Pad. Fans were divided, as there was a complete lack of microgames, rather instead a collection of 16 minigames that focused on using the Game Pad in creative ways.

The “Gamer” mode, where players must complete microgames under a blanket while avoiding the watchful eyes of a demonic mother.

While this experience was enjoyable on its own when not compared to the usual microgame madness, it was not the gameplay the series was known for, and this disappointed many dedicated fans. However, the game did have its redeeming features. It felt like a decent title to crack out at a party, with four highly entertaining multiplayer experiences designed for passing around the Game Pad.

WarioWare Gold (2018)

As if the series wasn’t already an absolute gem, the only entry on the 3DS proved that WarioWare was solid Gold. Although being mostly a compilation game, featuring hundreds of games spanning the entire series, Gold returned to the series roots and mashed together all the best gameplay in a huge collection of microgames. With almost 300 returning microgames, 54 brand new ones, boss microgames, and a tonne of added game modes, this is arguably the definitive WarioWare experience. The console managed to incorporate almost every control scheme from previous titles – players had to mash buttons, prod and poke the touch screen, twist the 3DS’ gyro, and blow into the microphone until lightheaded. Understandably, no gameplay from Smooth Moves appeared, as a rogue Wiimote would definitely be fatal to a fragile 3DS.

Nintendo really struck gold with this entry!

Gold also had a comprehensive unlockable library of Nintendo’s history, a showcase of all the items produced by the company, dating back to their original Hanafuda cards. This visual library was a nice touch for fans of the company and gave extra incentive to play the game to 100% completion. However, some fans lamented the lack of unlockable interactive toys, which had become a mainstay of the series but were cut due to limited development times.

It’s time to Get It Together! (2021)

Fans have long awaited a Wario game for Nintendo Switch, and at long last the series makes its way to handheld hybrid in WarioWare: Get It Together! Experience the frantic microgame madness alongside a friend, as you both take control of a character and their unique traits as they’re thrust into the videogame world. The demo is madness and minigames change and become more complex when played alongside a friend. If you enjoyed any of the previous Wario games, be sure to check out WarioWare: Get It Together! when it launches on September 10th.

You can find out more about Get It Together! here:

Quake Enhanced Review (PC)

The iconic FPS that simultaneously holds up for old players and ushers new players into a brutal experience.

There are a handful of household names in the FPS genre from the decade the genre materialized: Duke Nukem, DOOM, Wolfenstein, Half-Life, and Quake. Ever since I entered the world of PC gaming in 2012, I’ve gotten my hands dirty with the first four, but haven’t gotten to tackle Quake – then, at QuakeCon 2021, it was announced that the titular gem would receive a remaster and release the very same day on every platform. Developed by a team I trust in NightDive Studios, who have spearheaded the retro revival with excellent results, I was immediately hyped and I saw this as the perfect time to enter this echelon of ancient FPS lore in the best format available.

NightDive’s approach in preserving old visuals will peak the nostalgia of Quake fans, saddled with smooth-as-silk performance.

Visuals

The approach to NightDive’s Quake, as mentioned, takes the graphics the older gamers grew up with and smooths out the edges while optimizing the performance. While even a potato laptop can breeze through the graphics, there’s support for the optimal resolution: 4K. As the newest consoles on the block, the Series S/X and PS5, have the capability of this demanding viewpoint, the title will simultaneously dazzle the eyes as well as surge the feelings from decades back that may have been felt on some gamers’ first playthroughs.

Audio

Where DOOM had groaning, snarling demons and Duke Nukem had a one-liner every minute, Quake opts for a more grounded, visceral aim with its audio. The music is still heavy in an industrial extreme kind of fashion, and that’s compounded by the recent performance from Code Orange on the Quake theme, which was originally composed by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor. Reznor was also responsible for the sound effects in-game, which sound crisp as could be in this remaster. The pounding of each shotgun blast rippled through my haptic headphones and kept me fully-immersed throughout my run of the game.

Gameplay

As someone who “grew up” with FPS games 2 decades after their heyday, I have a profound appreciation for the genre’s roots. Unfortunately, I never got to experience Quake in its original form during that period, which is a bit of a blessing in disguise with this new revamp. Getting straight into the action after starting the game, it took no time at all to find my bearings and comprehend the power of each new weapon and when to utilize it. Even after all these years, the creative weaponry, including the Nailgun, the Rocket Launcher, and the Thunderbolt, make for some gory gibs and ample variation between fights. With secrets strewn about, replayability is also high for gamers looking to search every nook and cranny of each level.

Plot

Quake is light on plot, but tells its story through the violent scenery within its gameplay. As you traverse through each level, unsightly horrors await you to be blasted to bits. Enemies such as Ogres, Shamblers, and Scrags are abhorrent in appearance and would likely terrify younger gamers back in the day; they pose their own threat in both short and long-distance and are formidable foes in higher difficulties. Health and ammo are plentiful, and you’ll need them to get through the dozens of oppositions in each level.

Secrets are truly well-hidden in Quake, so get your adventure hat on if you want to find them all.

So, why should you buy it?

  • Memorable, engaging action in its best format to date.
  • The price tag hasn’t changed even after the overhaul.
  • A worthy challenge at each difficulty level.

But why shouldn’t you buy it?

  • Virtually no plot, just mind-numbing violence.
  • Currently included in Xbox Game Pass along with Quake II and 3.

A press copy of Quake Enhanced was provided courtesy of the publisher.

NEO: The World Ends With You Review (Nintendo Switch)

It’s time to step back onto the streets of Shibuya in a brand new Reaper’s Game.

Way back in 2007 (it feels weird to say that) was a moment in time where the Nintendo DS was in full swing. Nintendo’s double screen console was truly dominating the handheld market thanks to its impressive library of games featuring the likes of Pokemon Diamond/Pearl, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, and numerous Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest remakes and spin-offs. However, its most impressive game at the time was not a title in a pre-existing series but a brand new IP from Square Enix; an obscure JRPG set in Tokyo that became an overnight cult classic, universally acclaimed by both critics and players alike. That game was called The World Ends With You.

Designed by Tetsuya Nomura, the graphic director responsible for Final Fantasy VI and director of the dearly beloved Kingdom Hearts series, TWEWY (as it’s often referred to), was a stylish DS game like none other. Taking place on the streets of Shibuya, a bustling shopping district in downtown Tokyo, players assumed the role of Neku Sakuraba, an edgy and moody teenager trapped in a game of death known as the Reaper’s Game. By combining a heavy influence of street fashion, intuitive and creative combat, and one of the most impressive soundtracks of the era, TWEWY is still today regarded by many as one of the best JRPGs ever made.

The World Ends With You DS Screenshots Title Screen Neku
The original TWEWY on Nintendo DS, with protagonist, Neku Sakuraba.

Thousands of fans were left eagerly awaiting a sequel which was obviously hinted at the end of the game, but sadly over a decade passed and any hope for a true successor seemed as miniscule as a zeptogram. Remakes and ports of the original appeared on iOS and Nintendo Switch, and a TWEWY-themed level even appeared in Kingdom Hearts, but a true sequel seemed more and more like an urban myth…

…until now! The true sequel to this cult classic is finally available in NEO: The World Ends With You, a direct continuation of the Reaper’s Game available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and planned for a PC release in the near future. After nearly 14 years, we’re finally back on the streets of Shibuya. Does this sequel feel just as fresh and stylish as the original, or have the newest gaming trends left it feeling dated like last season’s clothing? It’s time to start the new Reaper’s Game and find out.

NEO TWEWY The World Ends With You Characters Banner

Story

Once again thrust into the streets of Shibuya without any recollection as to why, the Reaper’s Game begins anew, set three years after the events of the original. For those who are unfamiliar, this is a game of death where teams of players are trapped in the Underground, an alternate reality corrupted by the thoughts and doubts of those on the other side. Each day in the game presents a new task and the opportunity to earn points against the other teams in order to ascend the ladder – those on the lowest rung at the end of the week will face erasure and be removed from existence. Only by defeating the other teams and overcoming the challenges set by the nefarious Reapers will players have the hope of returning to the Realground to regain their lives.

NEO TWEWY The World Ends With You Shibuya 104 Building
The Shibuya Underground, complete with real life Tokyo locations.

However, not all is as it seems in this new version of the Reaper’s Game. Discerning allies from foes proves to be a difficult task for the newest players, Kanade Rindo and “Fret” Furesawa. The pair form a new team known as the Wicked Twisters with the help of a game veteran and ex-Reaper known as Sho Minamimoto, who has been tasked with finding an incredibly powerful player by the name of Neku. The rookie team must face off each day against Noise (evil spirits that create negative emotions), the Reapers, and even their fellow players if they have any hope of survival.

NEO TWEWY The World Ends With You Shiba Miyakaze Reaper villain

Shiba is the Game Master and leader of the Reapers, but still can’t afford to buy a shirt.

What might seem like a simple narrative becomes increasingly gripping and involved thanks to the intricacies of player relationships. Erasure is the ultimate punishment, and players must choose to co-operate, deceive, and even betray in order to survive. The same goes for the powerful Reapers who are pulling the strings, as the original Shibuya Reapers returning from the original game must learn to co-exist with the new Shinjuku Reapers who have invaded their territory. Plot twists are plenty and the story of NEO will keep players hooked from beginning to end.

Gameplay

Each day begins with a new task – fail and face erasure. Shibuya is split into 15 distinct locales, occupied by players, deadly Noise, and the living inhabitants who are completely unaware of their surroundings. The Reapers will determine your mission for the day and each team must rush to complete the assigned task before the others. This can be as simple as finding a certain location or item hidden within the bustling streets, or as difficult as facing off against every other team member in the city.

NEO TWEWY Shibuya Visuals City The World Ends With You
You’ll get to know Shibuya like the back of your hand.

There are also numerous hinderances along the way that make progression difficult for the Wicked Twisters. Reapers will block off certain pathways, Noise will swarm and overwhelm the players, and other teams can backstab and double cross the protagonist at any moment. In these situations, Rindo must be aware of his surroundings, as all players have the abilities to read the minds of those living in the Realground. These can provide valuable hints, help the team achieve their task, and even be influenced to change their surroundings in the UG.

NEO TWEWY Mind Reading Hot Guys The World Ends With You
Sometimes reading minds reveals thoughts that are best kept private.

Thankfully, every player in the Wicked Twisters has a unique ability known as their Psyche. As the team expands, these psyches come in handy to perceive and influence the surrounding environments, unlocking additional ways to solve puzzles and climb the ladder in the Reaper’s Game. The most powerful psyche belongs to Rindo, who possesses the unique ability to travel back in time. This becomes an important gameplay mechanic, as players will frequently travel back to earlier points in the day to change the future and avoid erasure.

NEO TWEWY The World Ends With You Nagi Dive Animation
Nagi has the power to dive into player’s minds to change their actions.

NEO: TWEWY offers an unusual way of upgrading characters’ stats, and is far from conventional methods found in other JRPGs. Players still level up based on experience as per usual and wear outfits that provide added bonuses, however eating regularly is the only way to gain permanent stat boosts. Each area of Shibuya features a different restaurant, and by dining-in and trying out new delicacies, players will be given a permanent stat boost. But just like real life, you can only fit so much in your stomach (unless it’s dessert). The player’s Fullness Meter must be emptied by working up a hunger – and how do you do that? By fighting, of course!

Combat

Controlling six individual characters at once seems like a pretty difficult task, right? It was hard enough during the original game trying to control two during fast-paced combat let alone an entire team. Through its simple mechanics and pin-based action, the battles of NEO: TWEWY will have you doing just that. It’s a combat system with a slow burn, starting off repetitive and simple, and eventually reaching an epic climax when the team is at its full potential. So let me explain.

NEO TWEWY Combat Review The World Ends With You
Combat starts off simple with only a few players on your team.

Each character can equip a pin assigned to a single button (X/Y/L/R/ZL/ZR) – these act as weapons, requiring the button to be tapped or held in order to unleash an attack. Chaining together “Beatdrop combos” of different pins will increase your Groove, which can be used to unleash powerful attacks. The key to success during combat comes down to equipping a combination of pins that complement each other, as some will unleash a barrage of swift attacks, damage all enemies in a certain area, or let loose a heavy hit but take time to recharge. Having a balance of pins as well as covering different elements to exploit enemy weakness makes combat enjoyable and engaging.

NEO TWEWY The World Ends With You Combat GIF Dynamic

Becoming more proficient in combat all comes down to the pins, of which there are 333 to unlock, each giving a completely unique attack. These pins can be levelled up to increase their damage, evolved into more advanced versions, or even “mutated” to unlock secret attacks that are particularly powerful. Obtaining them can be done through simple story progression, purchasing them from shops, or mostly from defeating enemies who have a percentage chance to drop a certain pin. Increasing the difficulty or lowering your level (which can be done on the fly) increases the chance for rare pins to drop, but makes combat far more punishing. It’s a trade-off that can be fine-tuned based on your skill.

NEO TWEWY Pins Menu
You’ll spend lots of time trying out different pin combinations.

Overall, the combat is simple and engaging, feeling like a slightly more advanced beat ’em up. Once the entire team is assembled with literally hundreds of pins to choose, the possibilities are actually endless. It’s a thrilling experience that feels fluid and intuitive despite initial repetition. Playing on hard difficulty for the most part was a breeze, but certain foes and bosses become insane difficulty spikes that will force the player to turn down the challenge in order to progress.

Visuals

Transitioning the aesthetic of a 2D handheld game with detailed pixel sprites and thick line art to a home console with a modern audience isn’t easy. Thankfully, NEO manages to retain all the style of the original while giving the game a much-needed graphical revamp and a fully 3D world. With its use of thick lines, low-poly buildings, vibrant colours, and detailed player models, NEO: TWEWY’s visual style looks excellent both on the big screen and when in handheld mode. Exploring the suburb of Shibuya is visually pleasing and accurately replicates real-life areas of this stylish, bustling hub of Tokyo.

NEO TWEWY Shibuya Animation GIF Streets Scramble Crossing The World Ends With You
Probably the closest you’re going to get to Shibuya for the next year or two.

Combat too looks just as stylish, with colourful enemy designs, numerous animations for the player’s attacks, and a dynamic camera that tracks enemy movements. When the entire team are launching attacks all at once, the screen tends to get incredibly busy and the Switch occasionally struggles to keep up with all the action. There are some framerate drops when this happens, which are obvious, but do not compromise the flow of the combat. Boss fights in particular are when the visuals really come alive, with detailed enemies that can take up the entire screen.

NEO TWEWY Beat VS Minamimoto Boss Fight The World Ends With You
This shady character is one of the game’s bosses. No, not the guy in the hoodie.

When you’re not immersed in the busy ‘Buya streets or fending off nasty Noise, the rest of the game is presented as manga-style panels, with the occasional pre-rendered CGI cutscene thrown in. This style is a direct adaptation from the original and has a very similar feel, which is visually quite basic but works well during character interactions. There is a lot of dialogue throughout the game and you’ll spend hours watching characters converse in this comic book format. It’s just stylish enough to keep you engaged, but personally I would have hoped for more animated cutscenes, as these are far more visually-impressive than the rest of the game.

Audio

Talk to any fan of the original TWEWY and no doubt they will let you know that the music was one of its best aspects. An incredibly impressive soundtrack for a handheld that spanned genres from J-Pop and Hip-Hop all the way through to Funk and Heavy Metal. Well, my tiny mind was blown when I heard the music of NEO: TWEWY, which somehow improves upon a soundtrack that I already thought was completely perfect. Not only are there brand new tracks as catchy as any from the DS version, but there are an entire slew of remixes and re-recordings of classic songs from our first romp through the streets of Shibuya.

Here are a couple of my favourite original tracks from NEO:

“World is Yours”, a fast-paced heavy metal boss track.
“Hustle and Bustle” is one of the best electronic songs in the game.

And here are two of the best remixes of original TWEWY tracks:

Somehow the NEO Mix makes “Three Minutes Clapping” even better.
The NEO Mix of one of my favourite original tracks, “Owari-Hajimari.”

As a huge fan of videogame music and soundtracks in general, I would go so far as to say that the music from NEO: TWEWY is some of the best I’ve ever heard. The sheer variety, production value and quality make it feel as if you’re listening not to a game soundtrack, but to an entire library of music produced specifically for the heart of Tokyo. It’s the exact kind of music I can imagine listening to while exploring the stylish streets of Shibuya. And yes, the “Gimme, gimme chance!” song is still here.

Though in my obsession for the music I can’t forget to mention the voice acting, which is a significant part of NEO’s audio quality. Most lines between characters are now fully-voiced with the option to swap between English and Japanese voiceovers at any point. Having played entirely in Japanese (which seems fitting considering it’s set entirely in Shibuya), each character feels distinct and recognisable, especially those who have quirky delivery, intentionally exaggerated accents, or incorporate heavy use of street slang.

Extras

Just in case a ~50 hour main campaign and a bonus chapter wasn’t enough to keep you satisfied, there’s a tonne of added content in NEO to keep players in the Reaper’s Game for weeks. Completionists will be delighted to know that there are hundreds of unlockables to be found across Shibuya, with exclusive pins, new clothing, and even unique noise to encounter. Hidden “Pig Noise” can be found tucked away in obscure areas each day and once defeated drop special items that are otherwise impossible to obtain. Pins can then be levelled up, mastered and transformed to complete the pin library.

NEO TWEWY The World Ends With You Pin Collection Menu
More pins than a biscuit tin sewing kit!

Players can also complete their Social Network by helping out the citizens of Shibuya with their requests, each of whom will provide unlockable abilities both during combat and exploration. And finally, as an added bonus to encourage you to keep playing, there are also achievements in the form of special graffiti that is unlocked once certain requirements are fulfilled.

Conclusion

With great satisfaction I can say that NEO is a worthy sequel that manages to retain the sense of style of the original while effectively modernising all other elements of the game. Throughout the journey it becomes increasingly obvious that this is a game catered almost entirely towards series fans, who will be truly overjoyed, particularly with its references to the original and familiar characters making appearances. Playing NEO before exploring the events of the original Reaper’s Game would be doing oneself a disservice, though that’s not to say players can’t enjoy this sequel as a newcomer.

With a vibrant and delightful city to explore, intriguing story with a colossal cast of characters both new and old, heavily-stylised visual aesthetic, and a soundtrack like none other, NEO: TWEWY is an essential JRPG that has certainly been worth the wait.

NEO TWEWY The World Ends With You Character Banner

So, why should you play it?

  • Fan of the original game? You’d be mad to pass this up.
  • Stylish JRPGs are your sort of game.
  • Real life Tokyo setting that’s more convenient than visiting.
  • Massive amount of content for completionists.
  • Truly incredible soundtrack spanning numerous genres.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Not played the first game? This isn’t the best place to start.
  • Combat can be repetitive in early stages.
  • Backtracking during time travel can be tedious.

A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Cris Tales Review (Nintendo Switch)

If I could tuuuurn back tiiiiiime…

The best video game of all time, in any genre, on any system, is the classic Super Nintendo Japanese Role Playing Game (JRPG) Chrono Trigger. This is not up for argument, or even civilised discussion – it is just fact. I could talk about the amazing time-travelling adventures of Crono and his friends for hours on end. In fact, if you have never played Chrono Trigger before, just close your browser and go play it right now because it truly is a masterpiece.

This review is not for Chrono Trigger though, this is a review for a new JRPG with time travel elements known as Cris Tales. Well, the style is ‘JRPG’ but the developers Dreams Uncorporated and Syck are both actually based in South America. Can this modern take on one of the oldest genres of video games live up to the legacy of a legendary title like Chrono Trigger?

Plot

The plot of Cris Tales is typical JRPG fare to the point of cliché. The main character, Crisbell, is an innocent teenage girl, and an orphan no less, who is awoken at the start of the game with a strange vision. She sets out on a seemingly innocuous fetch-quest before a strange turn of events thrusts her into the role of world saviour.

Cris Tales Review Nintendo Switch Main Character Crisbell
Rosy cheeks and huge eyes = innocent.

We learn that the evil Time Empress is amassing an army to conquer the world and apparently a young girl is the only person with enough free time to bother doing something about it. Fortunately for Crisbell, she discovers that she has the magical abilities of a ‘time mage‘ after coming across a magical sword that seems destined for her and her alone.

Cris Tales Review Nintendo Switch Main Antagonist Time Empress
Surely her plan can’t be THAT evil…right?

Crisbell makes her way around the world helping the residents of the towns she visits. Only one with the power of a time mage can solve the predicaments that these people find themselves in. Along the way Crisbell is joined by a varied team that matches the typical JRPG crew. It is difficult to go into more detail here without risking some spoilers. I don’t think there was anything mind blowing here – at least nothing particularly new for JRPG or anime fans. The story is solid and wanting to know the secrets of the Time Empress and the mysteries of Crisbell’s past is more than enough to keep you pushing through the game to its satisfying conclusion.

Cris Tales Review Nintendo Switch Main Key Art Style
The crew.

Gameplay

If you have played a JRPG before, then you know what to expect here: visiting towns, completing quests, recruiting party members, solving puzzles, random encounters and crazy boss battles. The standard JRPG package is here with elements of time travel interwoven through almost everything we do.

Cris Tales Review Nintendo Switch Main Quests characters
Let’s go and help some people. Surely the teenage girl can solve the problem the giant armoured knight can’t fix.

A strong and engaging battle system is essential for a JRPG, as typically this is the thing we will spend most of our playtime doing. The basics of classic JRPG turn-based battles are here with some elements borrowed from other games that are welcome quality of life additions. At the top of the screen the turn order is easily seen (similar to Final Fantasy X, Grandia, and other titles) and this order will change in real time if enemies are slowed, or our team is hasted. Furthermore, for almost every physical or magical attack (either dealt by or to our team) if the attack button is pressed at the right time additional damage will be done (or prevented if we are on the receiving end of the attack) – you may remember this from Final Fantasy VIII or Super Mario RPG.

Over the early part of the game one of our crew members, Wilhelm (another time mage), teaches us how we can use our abilities of time manipulation to swing difficult battles in our favour. We can change the scope of time for the enemies on the left side of the screen to the past, or those on the right side to the future. Each enemy type will have a ‘past’, ‘present’ and ‘future’ version with different stats and sometimes different strengths and weaknesses. We can also use the passage of time in tandem with skills for additional effect – like poisoning an enemy in the present and then sending them to the future where the poison damage will be significantly multiplied. This is an interesting mechanic, but its usage is very limited to specific situations and it feels like they really didn’t make the most of this interesting idea.

Outside of battle, a froggy friend shows us the ways that manipulating time in the towns we visit can progress our adventure. Yes, Cris Tales also copies Chrono Trigger’s idea of featuring a talking frog as a main character. Matias is not a fighting party member though. He plays the role of our guide as we learn the ways of a time mage, just like Navi from Ocarina of Time except for the fact he is a green frog, with a cute top hat. Similar to battles, our screen view in towns often switches to a triplicate view, where the left side of the screen is the past, the middle is the present, and the right shows us what will befall the town citizens in the future if we do not intervene. A great example is one town that appears to be completely flooded and underwater.

Cris Tales Review Nintendo Switch Main Environment Time Travel
I hope you brought your swimsuit.

It is not us that jumps across the time barriers though, we only have the power to send Matias forward and back in time to speak to people or access items that don’t actually exist in the present. It is a cute system that throws a curveball at the typical puzzles and fetch quests.

Whilst the above does generally sound positive, there are some frustrations here that I need to mention. There is a ‘quest log’ in the pause menu that keeps track of the tasks we are doing (that’s good). However, there is no labelling of towns throughout the game, and the only way that you know the name of a person is by talking to them – the quest log won’t actually tell you where to find them (that’s bad).

Cris Tales Review Nintendo Switch Main Rojo Character
This is Rojo, I hope you remember where you met him.

Presentation

Where gameplay is somewhat lacking, strong audio-visual presentation is even more important. Fortunately, Cris Tales has excellent and unique presentation that give it a wow factor, particularly when entering new vistas for the first time.

Cris Tales Review Nintendo Switch Main Art style Gorgeous
It looks…magnificent.

The art and graphics are done in a hand drawn style that is like flash animation come anime – I guess anime as seen through the lens of the South American development team. I haven’t seen another game that looks exactly like this before and it is gorgeously striking, particularly during the few ‘cut-scenes’ that play out to expedite the story through our adventure.

Supporting the great visuals is a similarly great quality audio presentation throughout the game. All of the games background music is orchestrated and excellent. I never got bored of the soundtrack, including the battle music which with Cris Tales being a JRPG we hear very often. Cris Tales is also fully voiced, and the voice actors here did an excellent job bringing the traditional and somewhat cliché script to life. The look and sound of the game definitely do a great job in making us want to come back and experience more of the game, even when the gameplay itself starts to drag late into the game.

The main battle theme – you’ll be hearing this one a lot!

One thing that really frustrated me was the god-awful loading times. It is possible that these issues are not present on other versions of the game that are played on more powerful hardware (PC or PS5), however, I found that for the Switch version every screen transition dragged on WAY too long. Given this is a JRPG you will be transitioning screens A LOT. Going into and out of random battles, entering different areas on the world map, and even moving between rooms in buildings and dungeons causes a loading screen wait of 5-10 seconds. Maybe I’ve just been getting too used to the power and insane loading speeds of the PS5, but this was extremely frustrating for me – particularly on return trips to areas I had visited before and entering random encounters that were about as difficult as putting on your underpants in the morning. More than being frustrating, it simply just breaks up the flow of game play.

Another issue that I came across on three occasions over around 30 hours of gameplay was the game actually crashing and forcing a system restart. This happened to me on three separate occasions (completely different areas) through my playthrough, and a cursory read of other journalists work shows that I was not the only person that encountered this issue. For a JRPG that does NOT use an auto-save feature, a bug that can cause the loss of more than 1 hour of gameplay is just not acceptable.

Cris Tales Review Nintendo Switch Main Save Point
Accio savepoint!

Conclusion

Cris Tales is a game that is wonderfully presented. It also brings some new and unique gameplay ideas to the table, but then makes poor decisions in how to flesh these out over a 30+ hour adventure. This is a game that definitely looks and sounds great, but the cracks in the gameplay and functional stability of the game itself create drawbacks that may cause some people to give it up before seeing it through to an exciting, if not somewhat predictable conclusion.

Overall, I did enjoy my time with Cris Tales despite the frustrations that held it back from being considered to be near the top echelon of its JRPG genre. It is definitely no Chrono Trigger, but then again no other game has ever reached those lofty heights.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for the work that these devs release in the future.

So, why should you play it?

  • You want to the ability to fix the mistakes of your past.
  • Looking for some JRPG battles with an interesting new mechanic? It’s right here.
  • Cracking soundtrack and voice acting enjoy while you save the world with your friends.

But, why shouldn’t you play it?

  • JRPGs aren’t your cup of time-travelling tea.
  • The art style in the pictures above rubs you the wrong way for some reason.

A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided for the purpose of this review.

Valve Index Review (PC/Steam/VR)

Valve’s newest headset brings virtual reality one step closer to reality.

Virtual reality, or VR as it is most commonly referred to, is not a new concept by any means. The idea of being completely immersed in a virtual space was conceptualised as far back as the mid 20th century, prior even to the existence of the home computer. With the first commercially available headsets made available in the early 1990s, it seemed like the work of science fiction where simply donning a headset could allow the player to enter another reality. Though it’s true that the applications of VR extend into areas such as training simulations, cinema, and even social virtual worlds, there is one area where VR has remained consistent, pivotal, and constantly advancing: videogames.

Virtual Boy VR Valve Index PC Steam Review
One of the earliest (and most infamous) commercially available VR headsets.

However, technical limitations have long held back VR headsets from achieving a true sense of reality. This is until recent years, where mass produced headsets coupled with the rapidly evolving technology of gaming consoles and powerful personal computers have finally managed to blur the line between reality and the virtual world. To be fully immersed in the world of a videogame is an experience like none other, and something that “flat gaming” (that is, games played on a regular screen) can never hope to achieve.

Having been invested in virtual reality for several years now, I’ve eagerly awaited a piece of technology that could truly take my breath away, or have me convinced I had left my living room entirely. Previous headsets, while incredibly entertaining and providing unmatched gaming experiences, would still regularly remind me of being firmly grounded in reality due to unwieldy controllers and unimpressive visuals. Though my most recent VR experience has begun to change my perception…

The Valve Index, manufactured by none other than Valve (the corporation behind Half-Life and Steam), is the latest virtual reality headset to launch in Australia. Released initially in 2019 for the US market, the headset is finally available for purchase in Australia next month, where the Index VR Kit officially launches available only through EB Games Australia. Alongside a hefty price tag, the need for a powerful PC, and several square metres of space, this impressive piece of technology provides the most definitive VR experience to date. So is the Index worth your hard-earned cash? Read ahead and find out.

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review

What do you get?

The Index VR Starter Kit, which is entirely contained within a single hulking black box, is jam packed full of almost all the equipment that you’ll need to dive into virtual reality. Almost is a very key word here, because there is something absolutely vital that any player wanting an Index will already need at their disposal: a powerful PC. Before you even consider purchasing an Index, be sure to run the SteamVR Performance Test to give you a sense of how well your computer will handle it.

So your PC passed the test? Good! You now have permission to open the box, which contains:

  • Valve Index VR Headset – the most important aspect, of course. This fancy, expensive hat lets you play cool games and houses two 1440 x 1600 LCD screens for your eyeballs’ enjoyment.
  • Valve Index Controllers (x2) – you’re going to want to treat these with respect, because these controllers are an incredible piece of tech and a pair of them will set you back a whopping $499.95AUD. So make sure to secure those handstraps; you don’t want to fling these into your monitor.
  • Valve Index Base Station (x2) – they’re watching your every move. These tracking stations are able to visualise the headset in virtual space and will need to see it at all times. For dedicated VR enthusiasts, an additional two base stations can be added to expand your play area.
  • Power supplies, power adapters, and charging cords – if I had to estimate, I’d probably say you get about 10m of cords with the Index, so try to keep them organised. Each power supply also includes an Australian adapter that slots in.
  • Half-Life: Alyx (digital download code) – this is more than just a tech demo, this is the most impressive VR game ever made. With 12+ hours of immersive gameplay, exceptional use of the VR headset and controllers, and a thrilling adventure set just prior to the events of Half-Life 2, Alyx is an absolute must-play and perfectly demonstrates the capabilities of the Index.
VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Kit Unboxing EB Games Australia
Opening this box definitely makes you feel like a kid on Christmas morning.

The Setup

It’s a considerable amount of gear and can be a bit daunting at first, but thankfully getting ready to use the Index is a smooth experience that requires minimal effort. Here are a few tips to consider when getting set up:

  1. Display port – does your PC have one of these? Well, mine didn’t (it has a display port mini), so be sure to purchase the appropriate adapter prior to setting up your headset to avoid disappointment.
  2. Power points – you’re going to need four of these at a minimum. One for your PC, one for the headset, and then one for each base station.
  3. USB ports – the headset needs to be connected to your PC via one at all times, and spare ports are preferable as well for charging the controllers.
  4. Space – an essential aspect of your setup. You’re going to need an area where you can stand and move freely with about 1 – 2m either side of you unobstructed. Set up in a cramped games room at your own risk, as I found out when I knocked several items off a shelf mid-game.
  5. Downloads & updates – as soon as you’ve got everything plugged in and ready to go, be prepared for a multitude of updates. Literally everything needs to update, including the headset and controllers. It’s also recommended to pre-install SteamVR and even Half-Life: Alyx to avoid needing to wait for these to download (on rubbish Australian internet).
VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Headset Gif EB Games Australia

The Headset

The quintessential piece of virtual reality equipment – wearing this headset will almost certainly convince players they’ve left their living room or office entirely. And the Index Headset is more than just a couple of screens and lenses; there’s an incredible amount of technology incorporated to provide as legitimate a VR experience as is currently possible.

Contained within the headset are two 1440 x 1600 LCD screens with a maximum framerate of 144Hz for silky smooth gameplay. These sit in the main body of the headset behind two lenses, which can be moved horizontally using a slider to adjust the inter-pupillary distance, a nice touch for fine-tuning the image. The combination of these particular screens and lenses allows for an immersive field of view, moreso than other headsets I’ve used previously, meaning that the gameplay fully wraps around you with fewer blindspots. Images on the Index are crisp and able to achieve a significant level of detail (if your PC will allow it).

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Headset Key Visual

Though it’s not all about the visuals – the Index achieves an impressive auditory experience too. Two built-in ear speakers sit raised just beside each ear to create a surreal suspension of disbelief. Easily adjusted into place within seconds, the speaker design creates a proper sense of 3D audio without any physical intrusion of headphones or in-ear earphones. Audio quality is impressive, with a sense of environmental space that allows the player to detect sounds as if they’re coming from any direction, and noise leakage is almost non-existent.

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Ear Speakers Headset
The ear speakers will truly surround you in the audio.

Finally, if you’re going to be wearing this unit on your head for hours on end, it’s got to be comfortable. My melon head stretched the index to its very limits! Thankfully, numerous adjustments allow the headset to adapt to suit players of all sizes. The size of the headset, angle of the screens, distance of the lenses and speakers can all be easily changed within seconds. During our play-testing we got the Gaming News Australia crew together to try out the headset, and adjusting it between each player took a matter of seconds. You’ll easily be able to play for several hours before the headset begins to become restrictive and uncomfortable, but fine-tuning the adjustments takes some trial and error.

The Controllers

With only a few basic buttons and minimalistic design, the simplicity of the Index controllers can be incredibly misleading. Despite how basic they appear, these just so happen to be some of the most technologically-advanced controllers you’ll encounter. However, the impressive aspects of the controller cannot be shown off in a gif, because it’s all under the surface.

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Controller Gif EB Games Australia

Hiding beneath the sleek exterior are numerous features that aim to enhance the VR experience. By sliding the controllers onto your hands and fitting them into the hand grips, each hand is unknowingly mapped by 87 individual motion sensors. This allows accurate tracking of the position of each finger and any minute movements that are made. To deepen the experience, there is actually no need to “hold” the controller, as they comfortably attach to each hand and allow a completely open hand without fear of the controllers dropping. In addition to the motion sensors, the hand grip features a force sensor, which detects squeezing and grabbing inputs.

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Finger Tracking Gif
Demonstrating the finger tracking of the controllers.

Tactile inputs are still utilised to complement the more advanced sensory controls. The analogue stick (though small) is smooth and easy to control, and the trigger and action buttons all have a satisfying clickiness to them. Each controller also has an oval-shaped track pad on its surface, which functions effectively as an input for scrolling and navigating in-game menus. While the ergonomic design can be adjusted for most players, those with bigger hands may have some trouble reaching the lower face buttons, as these can be awkward to reach.

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Controller Key Visual
The sleek design hides a deceiving amount of technology.

Charging the controllers is as simple as plugging in a USB-C cable, no special docks or equipment required. Full battery life will last just over 7 hours of playtime, which is more than enough for the vast majority of VR sessions. They also charge quite quickly – getting to half capacity in around 30 minutes, meaning you won’t be kept waiting too long if they run out.

The Games

Bundled with every Index Headset is a download code for a game by the name of Half-Life: Alyx, the newest entry in the iconic sci-fi shooter series that helped Valve shoot to fame back in 1998. This is a tailored experience that has been designed specifically for virtual reality and a brilliant standalone Half-Life game on its own. Having played through the game in its entirety, I found myself regularly in awe of the clever gameplay mechanics, which showcase every single aspect of the Index to near perfection. Alyx is quite possibly the most polished VR experience to date, and an absolute must-play for fans of the series.

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review City 17 Half-Life Alyx Visuals
It’s a thrill to navigate through the treacherous City 17 in Half-Life: Alyx.

We tried out several other games to put the headset to the test, including rhythm games like the incredibly popular Beat Saber and the recently-released God of Riffs, both of which make excellent use of the controllers in a musical setting. Other notable games in different genres include Moss, Blade & Sorcery, and Vacation Simulator, all of which are unique VR experiences that are worth checking out. And if you’re looking for something more social, VRChat is easily the most popular service available where players can interact with each other using 3D avatars. It’s the future of socialising!

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review VRHome SteamVR Home
Home is where the headset is. Literally.

Strangely enough, one of the most impressive “games” is not a game at all, it’s SteamVR itself, which is more like a dashboard for loading up games. You can customise this to various different environments that are crafted by the Steam community. During my time trying out the headset, I turned my VR Home into “Bag End” from The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit and was able to explore through Bilbo’s iconic hobbit hole. The VR Home is also packed full of interesting Easter eggs, customisation options and virtual tools to keep new players entertained.

Other Thoughts

Before we wrap things up, there are just a few more points about the Valve Index that are worth mentioning. While the technology is evolving rapidly and this is one of the finest examples of virtual reality, there are a few limitations that hold the Index back from being a perfect experience:

  • Cords – be prepared for LOTS of them. While they are mostly unobtrusive and won’t significantly impact your gameplay, cord organisation is a must for any seasoned VR player, otherwise you’re likely to end up with an unsightly rats nest of cords on the ground (like me).
  • Space requirement – you’re going to be moving around during most games, so ensure that the Index is setup in an appropriate area. If you’re lacking in space, then VR may not be a viable gaming option.
  • Game library – while there are several superb VR titles and a growing number of creative uses for the platform, this is still a relatively new platform, so the library is quite small in comparison to regular games.
  • Price – the biggest limitation of the Index. The Index VR kit will set you back nearly $1900AUD, and players still need to have invested in a modern PC with the capacity to run the games. This is by no means an entry level headset and may be a hard purchase to justify for newcomers.
VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Banner

Conclusion

There is no doubt that the Valve Index is one of the most advanced pieces of gaming hardware that money can buy, and an incredibly impressive VR experience for newcomers and seasoned players alike. Clever design elements incorporated into both the headset and controllers provide the player with an unmatched sense of immersion that makes going back to regular games seem almost banal in comparison. The inclusion of Half-Life: Alyx makes the Index a near perfect experience to demonstrate the possibilities of VR and its applications within videogames.

While impressive, the Index is unlikely to be replacing traditional videogames any time soon. The need for a powerful PC in addition to a hefty price tag are both hurdles that will unfortunately limit many gamers from even considering the Index. The headset is clearly aimed at those already invested in the technology and suits this demographic as a worthy investment for those keen to spend the time in virtual reality. For those dedicated players, Index is a gaming experience like none other.

So, why should you buy it?

  • You’re a fan of VR and looking to upgrade from a lesser headset.
  • Accurate hand-tracking controls that allow creative and immersive gameplay.
  • You own a powerful PC and looking to put it to the test in new ways.
  • Fans of Half-Life will likely be blown away by Alyx.
  • Gameplay that blurs the line between reality and videogames.

But why shouldn’t you buy it?

  • Lacking the PC hardware to run games smoothly.
  • Requires adequate space to allow for a large enough play area.
  • Price tag means other cheaper headsets may be more appropriate for VR newcomers.

A Valve Index VR Kit was kindly provided by Valve for the purpose of this review.

World for Two Review (PC)

A beautiful, empty world down to one human and a robot that can create more life.

The pixel aesthetic has shined through in indie games for the better part of a decade – titles like Stardew Valley, Shovel Knight, Celeste, and tons others are fan favorites thanks to their gorgeous presentation accompanying the other elements to make a memorable video game. When all the moving parts are in perfect harmony, it’s a formula for a 10/10 experience. World for Two, the newest offering from developer Seventh Rank, aims for that level with a life-creation game in this style.

World for Two Steam Indie PC Review Environment Graphics Pixel Art
There’s no two ways about it – World for Two is a looker.

Gameplay

The official genre title for World for Two is “life-creation”. If you have experience with titles like Monster Rancher, Spore, and other titles where life/death is at the forefront, you’ll have a vague idea of what’s going on here. Your task is to create new organisms, thanks to the DNA/genealogy of previous organisms. With death, comes life; you will harvest the DNA from your creations, and after three DNA pulls, they disappear. Once you create a new organism, you can experiment with DNA/gene combinations to keep discovering more and more new organisms. An area of opportunity here is showing what the outcome is after an attempt, as some combinations yield nothing – it’s guesswork unless you really want to personally note every combination. There was one moment where I tried four different combinations and got nothing out of it, only creating frustration for me.

World for Two Steam Indie PC Review Environment Graphics Family Tree Gameplay
You’re in charge of the family tree – and it gets pretty complicated.

Another big pain point is the fact that you have a lot of waiting around to do in the early game – to create more genes, you’ll need an item that spawns from the blue flame outside the lab. This item has a spawn rate of one every 30 or so seconds, and upgrades to the machines in the lab require 10 of the same currency you utilize for the genes. As such, World for Two basically becomes an idle game – except you have to be tabbed in for the items to come about. With what little time I have to game, this really hurt my view of the game and I wish there was some way to expedite the tedious process, as I could have spent that time finding new combinations.

World for Two Steam Indie PC Review Environment Graphics Gif Flames
There’s a LOT of standing around waiting for flames in World for Two.

Audio

Worthy of note in World for Two is its prime background music. The stellar compositions are the only sound you’ll hear – there’s absolutely no audio in the game otherwise, whether it be speech, item activation, or anything else, so the music carries the weight of the auditory presentation. Coupled with the visuals, its presentation is nailed and will definitely be what hooks in gamers that are easily swayed by the familiar campy aesthetic.

One of the relaxing piano tracks from the game.

Visuals

As you can already see, what steals the show in World for Two is a killer visual experience. Always adorned with a picture-perfect reflection on the bottom of the screen and painstakingly-crafted environments, any moment of the gameplay could be screenshot and used as a wallpaper. Meshed with a silky-smooth 60fps and a day-night shift, this game gets high marks for mastering the hook of pixel-based shots.

World for Two Steam Indie PC Review Environment Graphics Gif

Plot

There’s not too much exposition given in World for Two – because not much is needed. As far as you can tell as the newly-built android, you’re the errand runner for the last human on Earth, a scientist who has crafted a laboratory perfect for building new life forms. Equipped with a Gene Printer, an Item Printer, and an Incubator, you have the tools for the task, but the ingredients are a different story. You can gather bits and pieces of what may have happened as you traverse each of the four areas which unlock after upgrades. For a title with its plot established within the first few minutes, there’s not much suspense to build after the fact.

So, why should you play it?

  • Unbelievable pixel visuals that will stun even weathered fans of the aesthetic.
  • A novel concept that a lot of people haven’t experienced.
  • Great for fans of experimentation and a stress-free game.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Inevitability of waiting around to progress.
  • Repetitive nature.
  • Likelihood of making the same mistakes in creation with no guidance.

A press copy of World for Two was provided courtesy of the publisher.

God of Riffs Early Access Impressions (PC/VR)

Beat Saber, but make it metal.

Chances are if you’ve played VR, or even heard of it, you’ve probably encountered a game by the name of Beat Saber. This music/rhythm game took the virtual world by storm with its initial release back in 2018 and still has a massive community thanks to its simplistic but engaging gameplay and regular updates. However, one aspect of Beat Saber just didn’t grab me, and that was the genres of music available. There’s plenty of adrenaline-pumping EDM, synth, upbeat pop music, and even some punk rock, but one crucial genre (and my personal favourite) was almost entirely missing from the tracklist: METAL.

Well thanks to a new VR game by the name of God of Riffs, that guitar-shaped void is about to be filled! Developed right here in Australia by Boss Music Games, this rhythmic heavy metal VR experience has the player slaying hordes of demons to thrashing beats and face-melting guitar in several original songs produced specifically for the game. It’s what’s been described by the devs as a “heavy metal album cover brought to life” and it’s definitely the kind of VR game I can imagine Jack Black playing.

At the moment the game is in its early stages, but the team were kind enough to hook me up with an early access copy – so let’s dive through the gates of hell, pick up our mighty axes, and become the God of Riffs!

Gameplay

If you’ve played Beat Saber, you’ll be able to easily dive straight into God of Riffs. With a trusty axe in each hand, these act as your only defense against the onslaught of hellspawn that charge headfirst towards you. By choosing one of the four available tracks, you’ll have to destroy enemies to the beat of the songs, which is a simple gameplay mechanic to pick up and play, but difficult to perfect!

God of Riffs PC Vr combat gameplay gif

Swinging around the controllers feels really natural, and becomes seriously satisfying when you’re able to do so perfectly in time with the music. Bonus points are awarded for hitting chains of enemies in a row, but miss too many and they’ll deplete your health bar leading to the God’s demise. Each song lasts approximately 3 – 4 minutes, which feels like the perfect amount of time to get a hang of the rhythm without becoming too exhausting.

Several gameplay options are also available – modifiers to change the speed/intensity of your axe swings, changes to enemies, and an easy/medium difficulty to ensure that players of all proficiency are catered for (with hard being added shortly). Each song also features a global leaderboard to flaunt your hi-score, and though I didn’t get close, it was enjoyable to challenge myself and constantly work towards a better score.

Visuals

As you’ll notice, the visuals are pretty basic, with cartoon stylised enemies and environments. Though it’s not particularly visually-impressive, it works well in VR and is still successful in immersing you within the game’s world. Gameplay is fluid and looks crisp despite the basic details, though at this stage there aren’t many options to bump up the graphics – something that’s hopefully added in future!

God of Riffs PC Vr Review Environment visuals
This area just LOOKS metal.

One nice touch is the option to change the level environment for each song – several locales can be chosen and each have a distinct aesthetic. I’d recommend trying all of them out and seeing which level suits each song best. Tracks about fire and demons seem fitting in the lava level, whereas pirate-themed song absolutely has to be played on the edge of the sea.

Music

Now the most important part of any rhythm game – what’s the music like? Well I can happily say that even in early access, the music for God of Riffs impresses. At this stage there are four tracks available, each with distinct melodic style, and equally impressive as music that has been specifically composed for this experience. The tempos vary considerably to provide several different challenges; some are fast-paced thrash metal, whereas others are a bit slower almost to the point of hard rock. The title track is easily the most impressive, and even by itself is a catchy song that I’d happily listen to outside of the game! Here are a couple tracks that you’ll get to smash heads to:

So, what’s next?

Considering the game only recently launched as early access, expect regular updates and new content in the coming months. You can pick it up on Steam for $7.49AUD and at this price it’s well worth it for VR metalheads and anyone who enjoys Beat Saber/rhythm games in general. I’ll definitely be keeping eye out for future updates and keen to hear all the new music that will be added up to the game’s official release!

You can pick up God of Riffs here: God Riffs on Steam

An early access code was provided for the purpose of this article.
All gameplay was played and captured on a Valve Index headset.

The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures Review (Nintendo Switch)

No OBJECTIONS here – Ace Attorney is back, and it’s greater than ever!

The Great Ace Attorney Nintendo Switch Review Objection

I’m willing to bet you just heard that in your head. It’s quite impressive that a single word can become so closely associated with a particular videogame series, though that has been the case for almost 20 years. Ever since the very first appearance of the titular spiky-haired rookie lawyer in 2001, the word “OBJECTION!” almost always brings to mind an image of Phoenix Wright with an outstretched arm.

It wasn’t until a remake on the Nintendo DS in 2005 that the series first made its way to Western shores, gaining cult status thanks to its clever courtroom combat, plentiful puns, and colourful cast of characters. Ever since, there has been no denying the important role that Ace Attorney has played as an integral part of videogame subculture.

The Great Ace Attorney Nintendo Switch Review Phoenix Wright DS
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (Nintendo DS, 2005)

However, in 2015, the series took a big step backwards… in time!

A series once set in modern day Japan America (ramen burgers, anyone?) would instead change its setting drastically to 19th century Victorian-era London at the turn of the century. This was an era where modern day law was beginning to come to fruition; political ties between the East and the West were new-founded and unsteady. Of course, a new setting called for a new protagonist, a young man by the name of Ryunosuke Naruhodo, also known as The Great Ace Attorney.

This new direction for the series eluded players in the West for many years, having been available only in Japan since its launch on the 3DS. Thankfully, fans from all over the world finally have the opportunity to experience this new courtroom adventure for the very first time in The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC. This new release is technically a remaster and translation of the 3DS games, including both the original and its sequel in a single package and directed by the legendary Shu Takumi, creator of the original trilogy.

So now the debate: is the game great and worth the wait, or is it riddled with imperfections worthy of your objections? Well, court is now in session, so as a member of the gallery please sit quietly and observe as we begin the trial of The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures.

The Great Ace Attorney Nintendo Switch Review Naruhodo Van Zieks Reaper

Plot

This is Ace Attorney but not as you know it – wind the clock back just over 100 years to the turn of the 19th century in Japan. Recent treaties formed between the Empire of Japan and the powerful force of Great Britain are built on unsteady ground, with the influence of England’s judicial system slowly affecting its allied countries. Slowly finding his feet in an advancing landscape is a young law student by the name of Kazuma Asogi, a valiant samurai of the law who in only his second year of study is widely recognised as a prodigy. Having earned a scholarship to study law abroad in Great Britain, Kazuma’s illustrious career awaits him on distant shores.

The Great Ace Attorney Nintendo Switch Review Kazuma Asogi Ryunosuke Naruhodo
Unfortunately the protagonist is on the right. The phoenix right.

However, his closest friend and fellow student, Ryunosuke Naruhodo, has found himself in a difficult situation. Having been accused of the murder of a British scholar, Naruhodo has no choice but to defend himself in court with the aid of his close friend, Kazuma. The fate of this case will decide Kazuma’s future and even impact the newly-established relationship between these two great nations.

Fast forward two months and Naruhodo now finds himself living in the sprawling industrial metropolis of London, investigating mysteries as they unravel around him. After a chance encounter with a legendary detective by the name of Herlock Sholmes, the Lord Chief Justice of London tasks the young Japanese student with a murder case of his very own. A trial by fire against esteemed prosecutor, Barok van Zieks, known across the city as the Reaper of the Bailey. And so this young attorney’s journey begins.

Gameplay

Those familiar with the objection-flinging gameplay of Ace Attorney will feel right at home on the streets of London and within the great halls of its prestigious courtroom, The Old Bailey. This investigative visual novel is the exact style of game of its predecessors, and even after 20 years manages to deliver an experience as polished as a Londoner’s boot that’s been shined by a street cretin. Newcomers will have no trouble at all diving right into this standalone title, which is divided into three distinct styles of gameplay: Investigation, Deduction and Trials.

Investigation sequences are a key aspect of the game’s storytelling, as the player takes control of Ryunosuke Naruhodo prior to his courtroom appearances. Vital information must be obtained through several different means: closely analysing crime scenes, discussing events with witnesses and other key persons, and obtaining key evidence to be presented in court. This is most similar to a point & click game, where hovering over an area of interest will trigger a sequence of dialogue and further the investigation. Players must converse with a colourful cast of characters, some of whom are tight-lipped and unwilling to part with their valuable information. That is, until, you confront them with logic & reasoning spectacular!

The Great Ace Attorney Nintendo Switch Review Susato
Investigation sequences are served with an accompaniment of interesting dialogue.

Deduction is a new gameplay element introduced in The Great Ace Attorney, all thanks to the legendary detective Herlock Sholmes, who is famous for his series of investigative novels. Sadly, his wit does not match his fame, as he is prone to making numerous mistakes in his deductions. During these short sequences, the player watches Sholmes create theories as they fall apart around him. It is the task of Naruhodo to patch these theories back together to form a logical deduction. This is achieved through key observations, whereby the player must pay close attention to aspects of each character and their environment. These segments are incredibly amusing, and help to cleverly piece together each crime scene.

The Great Ace Attorney Nintendo Switch Review Herlock Sholmes Deduction Gif
Sholmes may be a sham, but Naruhodo can help him get back on track.

Trials, as most of you are aware, are the real meat and potatoes of an Ace Attorney game. These dramatised courtroom sequences are thrilling battles of wit where the player must face off head-to-head against a terrifying prosecutor who is armed to the teeth with evidence. Close attention must be paid to every line of dialogue and each character’s action, as every snippet of information can be used in defence. Five chances are given to Naruhodo as even the finest lawyers make mistakes; once these chances are exhausted, a guilty verdict is reached.

The Great Ace Attorney Nintendo Switch Review Jury
Your client’s fate is in the hands of the jury.

However, unlike most Ace Attorney games, this time the scales of justice may be tipped by members of the jury. This group of six individuals must be persuaded, as it is their verdict that decides the innocence or guilt of the accused. Evidence is carefully presented, witnesses cross-examined to reveal contradictions and unravel lies, and members of the jury even pitted against one-another. This is the most satisfying, nail-biting aspect of any Ace Attorney game, and is certainly still the case in this entry. Nothing can match the thrill of cleverly unravelling a testimony, solving the mystery of a key piece of evidence, and then flinging it in the face of the prosecution as “OBJECTION!” echoes throughout the courtroom.

Visuals

Though its visual style is distinct, Ace Attorney has never been a series known for its ground-breaking or technically-impressive graphics. In fact, most of the visuals of each game focuses on the characters around which each case revolves. While the static backgrounds and courtrooms of London might appear simple and plain, the people you’ll encounter and work alongside are anything but! Each character is distinct, with particular comical attributes that make them easily noticeable and give away details about their underlying interests or background.

Stereotypes are heavily incorporated into the game’s character design. While it is true that racial stereotypes are often controversial, no series portrays them with better visual humour than Ace Attorney. Take for example the characters hailing from Japan, who have a distinct Eastern flare, sporting traditional dress like kimono or hakama and wield katana at their sides. In contrast, characters from the European regions are adorned with dapper suits, well-groomed moustaches, or might go about their daily business while wielding a cone of fish & chips instead.

The Great Ace Attorney Nintendo Switch Review Russian
Don’t go Russian to any conclusions!

There is, however, one important aspect of the Great Ace Attorney where its visuals truly are eye-catching: the animations. Where the series began with sprites and static animations, Great Ace Attorney has fully-animated characters from beginning to end to capture their unique personalities and ridiculous antics. And it’s not just pointing fingers and slamming on desks either! Some of the most amusing and impressive animations are those of the supporting cast, and help to emphasise their absurd character designs all while looping seamlessly.

The Great Ace Attorney Nintendo Switch Review Barok Van Zieks Wine Bottle throw Gif
Scenes like this are normal in Ace Attorney’s courtrooms.

Worth noting too that there are occasional animated cutscenes throughout the Adventure, which either appear in an anime style, or unfold like an animated Sherlock Holmes picture book. Each of these are stylish and a pleasure to watch, but are sadly few and far between.

Audio

Like the game’s visuals, its music too is divided between the East and the West, and at times even blends these vastly different cultures. For court cases that take place in Japan or characters with ties to the country, their themes often utilise traditional instruments like koto and shamisen, accompanied by the iconic rhythms of the taiko drum. Here’s an example of one of the most Japan-influenced songs in the game, the theme for a samurai of the courtroom.

“Kazuma Asogi – Samurai On a Mission”

These cultural differences in music are made even more obvious when Naruhodo is plunged into the midst of London, a bustling city at the forefront of global development. Instead of sounds of his familiar home, songs feature orchestras of emotive strings, twanging harpsichord, and melodic accordion. It’s a phenomenal soundtrack full of variety with style in every single track. I’d happily discuss the entire discography here, but instead here’s the one theme everyone wants to hear in an Ace Attorney game: the Objection theme!

“Ryunosuke Naruhodo – Objection!”

Where the soundtrack truly shines though, the voiceovers are a slight disappointment. Although the player can easily swap between English/Japanese audio at any time, voiced cutscenes are rare. Most of the dialogue is presented as a series of beeps, which has been the case since the very first game in the series. Despite being tradition among Ace Attorney games, I can’t help but think this is outdated and would have loved to hear more voiced dialogue other than an interjection of “OBJECTION!” or “HOLD IT!” every now and then.

Extras

In addition to the five episodes available as part of the first game, players are also rewarded with a vast assortment of extra content which can be accessed at any time. This ranges from character concept art (with notes from the designers), to additional stories and court cases, a full audio library of music with notes on each song (and even songs that were unused in the final game), and even DLC outfits that can be used in the sequel. There are numerous hours of extra content here for fans to explore, which is a welcome addition and feels like perusing an interactive artbook.

The Great Ace Attorney Nintendo Switch Review Bonus Extra gallery
There’s plenty of bonus content to explore in the gallery!

Despite being played on a Nintendo console, there are also an array of achievements that players can unlock throughout progression of the game. These can be as simple as triggering certain optional dialogue scenes, or even completing a court case and coming out unscathed! Completionists out there may use this as motivation to play through each episode multiple times.

Conclusion

In case you haven’t realised already, I’m a bit of an Ace Attorney fan, having followed the series from its inception. That is why I can say with confidence that The Great Ace Attorney is undoubtedly one of the finest entries in this iconic series. Series veterans will be awash with nostalgia through every creative court case, especially thanks to the return of the brilliant mind of Shu Takumi, who is responsible for the creation of Phoenix Wright.

Despite being a new game in a pre-established series, newcomers will not at all feel out of place in the courtroom as this is an entirely standalone experience and can be enjoyed without any need to play previous games. Over the course of this 30+ hour journey, players will piece together a fascinating story, meet many memorable characters, and put their wit to the test in the name of justice. So TAKE THAT Nintendo Switch, HOLD IT, and get The Great Ace Attorney downloading post-haste. The game is afoot!

The Great Ace Attorney Nintendo Switch Review Credits Characters

So, why should you play it?

  • You’re a fan of previous Ace Attorney games.
  • Murder and investigations are up your alley.
  • Looking for a game with a great sense of humour? Look no further.
  • Excellent presentation, setting, and memorable characters.
  • Standalone experience that is welcoming to newcomers.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Very dialogue heavy. If you don’t like reading, you won’t like this.
  • Requires constant thought and attention.

A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided for the purpose of this review.