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.

Samurai Warriors 5 (PC) Review

It’s you vs. the world, and the world doesn’t stand a chance.

In fighting games, you typically fight someone one-on-one. In shooters, you typically fight a team. But in the genre of musou, you’re expected to fight thousands – all at once. Popularized (and trademarked) by the Dynasty Warriors franchise, publisher Koei Tecmo housed this franchise, as well as the Samurai Warriors franchise, for going on its third decade. It’s seen spinoffs incorporating franchises like Zelda and Gundam, proving ultimately most popular in the East, but still having a market in the West. The Samurai Warriors franchise has reached its fifth entry, and is looking to keep the genre relevant after all these years.

Samurai Warriors 5 Review Nobunaga
The presentation of Samurai Warriors 5 is pristine – gorgeous watercolored backdrops accompany in-game cutscenes with emphatic voice acting.

Plot

The storytelling within Samurai Warriors 5 is stellar, and will be a great time for those compelled by the feudal history and warring culture of 15th Century Japan. There are plenty of cutscenes that extend to several minutes to give the player a good idea of each character’s personality – there’s no shortage of characters, as you’ll encounter several named allies and foes on each March. While the main character is presented with plenty of options on how to move forward, though, there’s zero input from the player – a disappointment, as branching paths would make a lot of sense in several situations. Nevertheless, as tedious as the gameplay may be, at least there’s ample story to back it up.

Samurai Warriors 5 Review Nobunaga Combo
In this photo: tons of bodies strewn about, a 326 combo, and a tutorial. Par for the course for a musou!

Gameplay

It’s time to break down how Samurai Warriors 5 and musou’s in general play: it’s you vs. the world, and the world doesn’t stand a chance. One look across the battlefield and you’ll see dozens or even hundreds of enemies at any given point. Consider yourself a god amongst men, as your battle-trained enemies will perish in one or two hits as you carve a path to your next commander. Even then, these baddies will succumb to well-placed combos as you juggle and stun-lock them into submission. It’s an irrefutable fact that no game genre will make you feel more powerful than a musou.

So, having the power to crush everything in your path with little to no resistance – how does that pan out? Well, to some, it’s welcome to feel fully in-control and to let off steam, but with no challenge means a fraction of the reward of falling an enemy in any other game. As such, I had to play Samurai Warriors 5 in bursts, as it almost felt like a chore navigating a large battlefield with nothing standing in my way. It didn’t help that the convoluted menus with tons of systems and no depth felt like more work than it was worth.

Samurai Warriors 5 Review Nobunaga Horse
You’ll be seeing your equine a lot to expedite moving from point A to B.

Visuals

The visuals of Samurai Warriors 5 are a mixed bag. While the gameplay/combat is as smooth as silk, the graphics were sacrificed to make that happen. Cel-shaded/muddy characters aren’t anything to write home about, but I did enjoy seeing a wealth of expression and emotion in their faces during cutscenes. All things considered, I’d prefer the game not experiencing any slowdowns or stutters like it does now than it being too graphically-intensive to run well.

Audio

The sounds of Samurai Warriors 5 fare better than its visuals. Sword slashes are succinct, characters are voice-acted by experts, and the music is appropriate for the time period involved. Whatever weapon you have equipped, you can expect a mighty whack, thomp, thud, etc. to follow after your swing. Characters will laugh, shout, cry, and groan with some oomph to their performance. I usually put my own music over action games, but opted not to with the fitting soundtrack to the battles. This is an area where the game shines.

So, why should you play it?

  • You want to devastate hundreds of enemies on-screen (with little/no fear of failure) after a long day.
  • You’re compelled by feudal Japan and love a good storyline.
  • You’re already familiar with the musou genre and have been waiting seven years for a new Samurai Warriors title.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • You want any semblance of a challenge in your video game.
  • You get bored of always having the upper hand.
  • You don’t have a controller – it’s troublesome on mouse/keyboard.

A press copy of Samurai Warriors 5 was provided courtesy of the publisher.

Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin Review (Nintendo Switch)

Maybe the real friends were the monsties we met along the way.

Every popular videogame series deserves a spin-off, there are almost no exceptions. Take for example platforming games like Super Mario, Donkey Kong, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Crash Bandicoot. What do these four all have in common? They’ve all had spin-offs popular enough to become series of their own. While these are some of the most popular examples, other games end up as quite odd alternatives to their source material. Pokémon has Pokémon Pinball (among hundreds of others), Persona has the Persona Dancing games, Dragon Quest has Dragon Quest: Monsters. The list could go on forever!

So what about Monster Hunter? The series once massively popular only in Japan is now finally finding its footing in the West. Well, there are actually a tonne of Monster Hunter spin-offs, most of which you’ve probably never heard of! There’s the Monster Hunter Diary series for PSP and 3DS which follows Felyne characters on their own journeys, Monster Hunter: Phantom Island Voyage and Monster Hunter Explore for iOS/Android, and even an arcade card game called Monster Hunter Spirits. And the commonality between all of these games? We didn’t get a single one in the West!

However, that all changed in 2016 with the worldwide release of a game by the name of Monster Hunter Stories for Nintendo 3DS and mobile. This cute, approachable spin-off combined many iconic monsters with simple combat mechanics and a monster-collecting/battling style of gameplay that was unashamedly similar to Pokémon. Its emphasis on storytelling and forgiving difficulty allowed it to stand out dramatically from the rest of the Monster Hunter games, and was an enjoyable experience for series veterans and newcomers alike.

Five years later, the next chapter in the story unfolds on Nintendo Switch and PC, with the sequel, Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin. Featuring a multitude of monsters, crisp animated visuals, and a deep story of ruin and redemption surrounding a loveable cast of characters, is this the Monster Hunter spin-off we’ve been patiently waiting for all this time? Well, don’t be quick to judge this story by its cutesy cover, because Wings of Ruin is possibly the most engaging storytelling experience the entire series has to offer.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 Wings of Ruin Nintendo Switch Review Razewing Rathalos Baby

Plot

On the isle of Hakolo, its peaceful inhabitants who live and work alongside monsters all know of the prophecy referring to the Wings of Ruin, an ancient tale that speaks of calamity leading to widespread destruction. The legend tells the story of the Razewing Rathalos, whose incredible power when unlocked has the ability to bring about the destruction of the entire world. Even the beating of its wings is enough to level entire cities – a true weapon of mass destruction in monster form.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 Wings of Ruin Nintendo Switch Review Razewing Rathalos Mural Art
The Razewing Rathalos, as depicted in ancient murals.

Mysteriously, the mass exodus of the Rathalos species across the continent has led to the disappearance of this once powerful king of the skies. For a century not a single Rathalos has been seen, believed to possibly even be extinct. That is until the legend begins to unfold when the grandchild of a legendary rider known across the lands as Red, stumbles across what is believed to be the last Rathalos egg in existence. Word quickly spreads of the egg – hunters and riders from all corners of the continent are in pursuit not to make an epic omelette, but to hatch the egg and use the monster for their own nefarious means.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 Wings of Ruin Nintendo Switch Review Razewing Rathalos Egg
Everybody wants this egg. Maybe it’s a legendary triple-yolker?

Thankfully, the protagonist is not alone in their pursuit for the truth behind the mysterious egg and the Rathalos’ disappearance. Befriended by a Wyverian girl known as Ena, who once worked alongside the legendary Red, she shares her deep knowledge of Rider culture and believes that the grandchild of Red possesses the power to prevent the impending Calamity. Gifting the player with Red’s “Kinship Stone“, this heirloom holds within it the secret to forming bonds with monsties and controlling their incredible power.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 Wings of Ruin Nintendo Switch Review Ena Art
Ena, who has pursued the truth of the Razewing Rathalos her entire life.

On their journey together, Ena and the player alongside comic relief, Navirou, travel to ancient civilisations, remote villages, and vast cities to unravel the secrets behind the Wings of Ruin and mysterious luminous pits appearing across the continent. Each area is home to new companions, who accompany the player and share their own stories and insights into the Calamity and the history that surrounds it. It’s an impressive, engaging story that unfolds and outshines all others in the series.

Gameplay

If you’re going into Monster Hunter Stories 2 expecting a traditional Monster Hunter game, you’re in for quite a shock. Although it incorporates many mechanics from the series like gathering materials, crafting weapons/armour, and of course, fighting monsters, this spin-off is more like Pokémon than its source material. However, the player isn’t throwing balls at monsters to capture them but rather raiding their nests and stealing their eggs instead!

Scattered throughout the overworld are Monster Dens – randomised dungeons that contain a nest, harvesting spots and treasure chests, and are home to as variety of monsters. These dens come in various forms: some appear at random, others with gold or silver designs that house rare monster species, or “Everdens” that remain permanently but change with each visit. Once an egg has been obtained (stolen), it can be taken back to the hatchery and potentially added to your team of 6 monsters that fight alongside the player. The hatchery also has the ability to perform a “Rite of Channeling” which transfers skills across monsters but requires one to be sacrificed in the process. How barbaric.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 Wings of Ruin Nintendo Switch Review Hatching Animation Tigrex

Monsters are divided into three broad categories: power, technical, and speed. These determine the main proficiency of the monster and how they fare not only in combat, but in exploration. Certain monsters who are swift will be able to leap across gaps to access new areas, others with brute strength can smash down boulders that impede progress, and eventually some will learn new skills that allow even further exploration. While these are incredibly similar to the “HMs” that have been a staple of Pokémon, they are rarely necessary in order to progress the story.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 Wings of Ruin Nintendo Switch Review Lagiacrus Rite of Channeling
Make sure to show your Monstiepedia to Professor Oak when you’re done.

Over the course of the game, the gameplay proceeds in somewhat of a loop. Once arrived at a new location, the player will befriend a new “Battle Buddy” to assist in the adventure, complete several quests assigned by the leader of the village, and in doing so discover more about the Razewing Rathalos and the impending calamity. The additional loop of “exploration > den > battle > nest > hatch” repeats throughout each area and is simple but rarely tiresome. Grinding is seldom necessary and the pacing of the game is pleasant and does not at all feel padded or drawn out. It’s satisfying to unlock new monsters to add to your team and become more proficient in combat, which is one of the most important aspects of the game!

Combat

Scissors-paper-rock but with monsters” is likely how many players would label the combat of Monster Hunter Stories, but there’s far more depth to it than that. This is, however, a key element and is the foundation around which the rest build upon. Basic come in three forms: power, technical, and speed. Monsters can also be swapped out once per turn and will generally have a preference for using a particular type of attack unless ordered otherwise. By choosing the right option in each situation, the “Kinship Gauge” fills and can be used to perform skills, assign attacks to your chosen monster. Once completely filled, the gauge allows the player to ride their monster and unleash a devastating Kinship Skill. These special skills are the most satisfying aspect of the game thanks to their detailed and often amusing animations.

Here’s one of the funniest attacks in the game.

Thankfully, the simple combat draws upon many elements (see what I did there?) of combat that Monster Hunter fans will definitely appreciate. Weapon types feature heavily and each have advantages over particular monsters or become more effective when targeting certain parts. Unlike the original games, three weapons can be equipped at once and swapped out once per turn. The play styles of each reflects how the weapons can be utilised in different ways – hammers specialise in smashing monster parts, great swords charge up and hit with incredible force, even hunting horns can be used to buff yourself and the rest of the party.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 Wings of Ruin Nintendo Switch Review Khezu Battle
Power attack always wins.

Items are also cleverly incorporated into the combat of Stories and reward the player when used at opportune moments. Knocking a flying monster out of the sky with a Flash Bomb, restraining a large monster in a Pitfall Trap, or unleashing an explosive barrel bomb are as satisfying as ever and add an extra level of depth to battles. Skilful manipulation of items will be second nature to series veterans, who will likely even be able to predict the types of attack that each monster will use.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 Wings of Ruin Nintendo Switch Review Air Showdown

To make combat even more engaging, monsters may “face off” at any moment, which will trigger a short quick time sequence requiring specific inputs from the player. By mashing buttons or spinning analogue sticks, your monster will compete directly with the opponent and if successful deal extra damage and fill the Kinship Gauge rapidly. These sequences are repetitive and mostly very easy, but the visuals that accompany them are impressive and make the turn-based battles feel more dynamic.

Visuals

There’s no doubt that this is one of the best looking Monster Hunter games in the entire series, even when compared to the mainline games. This is not due to its attention-to-detail or graphical finesse, but mainly as a result of the unique art-style chosen to represent the characters and monsters in the game. Rather than trying to replicate the gritty, realistic style of Monster Hunter World or Rise, Stories instead opts for vibrant, crisp cel-shaded graphics. Although the environments can at times appear jagged and polygonal, character models look excellent in this style, and many of the cutscenes feel as if watching a CGI anime.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 Wings of Ruin Nintendo Switch Review Navirou Expression Graphics
Characters’ exaggerated expressions work particularly well in this style.

Although the design of the Dens can at times be bland and repetitive, the unique village locations are particularly aesthetically pleasing, each with a distinct design appropriate to the locale. Playing both in handheld and docked mode, there were some moments where the framerate seemed inconsistent and jittery, though this did not detract from the overall experience. Additionally, as mentioned above, many impressive Kinship Skill animations feature during combat and keep the combat looking stylish enough to grab your attention.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 Wings of Ruin Nintendo Switch Review Environment Graphics
Many of the villages are detailed and vibrant.

Audio

Monster Hunter is a series widely-respected for its music, as I’m sure many series veterans will agree. Facing off against a fearsome Zinogre, Bazelgeuse, or Elder Dragon wouldn’t be anywhere near as tense without an incredible score to accompany it. Thankfully Monster Hunter Stories is no exception! The soundtrack can be divided into two broad categories: large, epic orchestral pieces with sweeping strings and blaring brass for tense and triumphant moments, or fast-paced, tribal percussion with rhythmic melodies for the heat of battle. While you’ll hear some music that’s recurrent throughout the series, most of the tracks are unique to Wings of Ruin and seem fit with the gameplay perfectly. Here are two examples of these vastly different musical styles:

The game’s orchestral title track.
Tribal vibes – the regular battle theme is a banger.

With far more of a focus on story than most other Monster Hunter games, there’s a considerable amount of fully-voiced dialogue, which can be changed between English and Japanese audio at any time. Being the weeb that I am, Japanese voiceovers were my preference and made the entire experience feel authentically like an anime, particularly when paired with the visuals. Cutscenes are often tense and emotive, and the quality of the voice acting is among some of the best I’ve encountered.

The only criticism with regards to the audio relates to some of the sound effects during combat. When a monster is knocked down, the same audio snippet of a pained cry will play on loop until the monster is back on its feet again. When this grating noise repeats sometimes for even a minute or two, it’s tempting to turn the sound off until your eardrums are no longer being assaulted.

Extras

In addition to the main story, there’s plenty of optional content to keep players invested both during and after the single-player campaign. Postgame content features areas that were previously inaccessible and more powerful monsters to fight and hatch. Numerous side quests are available, most of which revolve around hunting a particular monster or procuring rare items – these will unlock new recipes and skills to reward the player. Monsties can also put their skills to the test in arena battles, where groups of enemies must be defeated within a set number of turns.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 Wings of Ruin Nintendo Switch Review Ena DLC Outfits
The Ena outfits will set you back almost $5 a pop. Just like real clothing!

Two online modes are also available, which include PvP where players can battle head-to-head, and even online co-op if wanting to team up and explore dens together. Though I only briefly touched on these gameplay modes, it’s a nice option for those wanting a more social experience from a game that has an emphasis on single player. Future DLC outlined in a recent roadmap plans to add extra content to the game, including rare monsties and exclusive co-op quests, so this might keep dedicated players coming back. Sadly most of the current DLC is lacklustre and not worth your hard-earned Zenny; it’s disappointing many of the game’s costumes for Ena and Navirou can only be accessed through an additional purchase.

Conclusion

Despite being so dissimilar to the series on which it is based, Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin achieves a unique blend of gameplay and manages to deliver a relaxed, charming, and engaging plot-centric JRPG experience over a ~40 hour adventure. What may seem like a Pokémon game with a Monster Hunter skin on the surface is actually a standout spin-off with more than enough to set itself apart in the monster-battling genre. Long-term series fans will be familiar with many gameplay elements and no doubt enjoy seeing iconic monsters in new settings, where series newcomers will be able to experience this brilliant franchise in an approachable, forgiving way. This story is a page-turner and a fine addition to the already vast Monster Hunter library.

So, why should you play it?

  • Engaging story, loveable characters, and stylish presentation.
  • Plenty of gameplay elements taken from the main series.
  • An approachable way for newcomers to explore the series.
  • Are you a fan of Pokémon? You’re almost certain to enjoy this.
  • Amusing dialogue and dynamic monster animations.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Repetitive gameplay loop may lose some players’ interest.
  • Simple scissors/paper/rock style combat will not appeal to everyone.

A review code for Nintendo Switch was provided for the purpose of this review.
All screenshots and gameplay footage were captured on Nintendo Switch.

Orbital Bullet (PC) Review

I’ve been frequenting roguelite games ever since I first ran Rogue Legacy on my crappy laptop in 2013. The prospect of coming back to a game time and time again and getting something new out of it is the ultimate sign of replayability. With every impending death comes a gameplay tactic or two learned, increasing your chances of success in future runs. The genre is currently in a renaissance as Hades captured the hearts of thousands last year, earning the top spot of many GOTY lists. I have dozens of roguelites wishlisted on Steam that I’ll eventually get to, but for now, I’m keen to take a look at Orbital Bullet – one with a clever gimmick and a heap of polish despite it being in Early Access.

Dubbed “The 360° Roguelite,” it’s easy to grasp and hard to master this circular concept.

Gameplay

Getting into a roguelite is a bit of a challenge. There’s always a learning curve, a necessitation to figure out how the game operates, and how to make the most of a run before you’ll almost certainly perish – typically in the early-goings. Orbital Bullet gives you quite a bit of health to work with, but is home to blistering-fast enemies that are merciless. You’ll have to learn patterns and remind yourself to dodge just as much as shoot/pounce. There’s a welcome variety in enemy types, weapons, and skill trees, in addition to randomized perks, level layouts, and more to sufficiently provide the player with a new experience each time.

Combat entails both shooting your enemies with the option to bounce on them Mario-style. I found myself particularly loving the boomerang/bola gun, fitting in two powerful shots at the cost of one trigger pull. Mixing this in with ample traversal and getting around to dodging enough made for a strong run where I got through several biomes. Getting health refills after floor clears sure didn’t hurt, either! As far as roguelites go, Orbital Bullet is quite forgiving in how much damage you can take; this isn’t a bad thing, as I love feeling strong in video games.

Audio

Orbital Bullet‘s score is absolutely massive – the instant you get past the tutorial, it ramps into high gear. I’d love to have shared it in the video below, but my amateur nature tuned the game audio too low, so enjoy it within the announcement trailer above. As far as weapon sounds go, it’s pretty standard fare of bangs and booms – the music is the highlight here.

Visuals

Opting for a cross between pixel and realistic aesthetic, Orbital Bullet boasts pretty colors and makes great use of them with compelling terrains. There’s a vast difference between biomes as you progress through levels, not just being the same thing nonstop. Bright colors accompany your shots and enemy clears, all moving along quickly with the refresh rate of your monitor (in my case, with 0 slowdowns at 144fps.)

So, why should you play it?

  • You enjoy visceral, tight action-platforming gameplay.
  • A bangin’ soundtrack is your ideal background to slaying doomed enemies.
  • You want a different experience every time you come to a game.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • The prospect of high difficulty/possible motion sickness puts you off.
  • Too much happening on-screen is a regular occurrence.

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

AKIBA’S TRIP: Hellbound & Debriefed Review (PlayStation 4)

The action RPG that’s been stripped completely bare.

There’s no denying that Japan is responsible for some seriously messed up games. Chances are you’ve come across at least a few videogames made in Japan that are questionable at best. There are popular ones that are eccentric and outlandish (Katamari Damacy), trippy experiences that emulate what it’s like to be on hallucinogenic drugs (LSD: Dream Emulator), games featuring scantily clad macho men hurtling through space (Cho Aniki), pinball featuring squealing scantily clad girls atop the table (Senran Kagura: Peach Ball), and a plethora of games that I shouldn’t even talk about unless I want the police at my door.

Aah, Japan…

Then it should come as no surprise that the game based on fighting your foes by stripping their clothes originated in Japan, and is even set in the very heart of Japan’s world-renowned pop culture district: Akihabara. First released in 2011 exclusively in Japan for the PlayStation Portable, AKIBA’S TRIP took the unconventional and risqué concept and managed to turn it into an action RPG. Considering the PSP was on its last legs in the West during this time, the game never made its way to our shores. However, we would later receive the sequel, AKIBA’S TRIP: Undead & Undressed, on PS3, PS4, PS Vita and PC.

Now that it’s been over 10 years since the original release, AKIBA’S TRIP is back and released in English for the very first time. So strip down, take a seat, grab some Pocky, and let’s dive headfirst into Akihabara in our safe-for-work review of this borderline NSFW RPG.

Plot

As the epicentre of pop-culture, Akihabara is truly a paradise for otaku, anime fans, gamers, and cosplayers. It’s a literal heaven on earth for fans of anything nerdy. Having completed my pilgrimage to Akiba three times, I know first-hand how incredible this ward is, like a bustling city in itself, streets lined with fascinating shops and the crowds that flock to them.

Chuo Dori, the main street in Akihabara, is home to everything pop culture.

Sadly, Akihabara is in peril. Rumours are circulating of a group known as the Shadow Souls – dark, vampiric beings who take the form of regular people, and feed upon the blood of otaku. Anyone attacked by a Shadow Soul is afflicted with a curse known as Shut-in Syndrome, a disease that is quickly spreading throughout the inhabitants of the city. Those with Shut-in Syndrome become particularly vulnerable to light, and are forced to live life completely indoors, never again to venture into Akihabara’s busy streets. This plague is not only crippling Akihabara’s citizens, but even the suburb itself is at risk.

Evil has never been so cute.

That’s until one fateful day where the player encounters a particularly unique Shadow Soul, who through a tender kiss, shares her blood with the protagonist. Gaining the powers of a Shadow Soul while retaining their humanity, the player sets off on a mission to avenge his friend who has been afflicted, and in doing so stumbles across an organisation named NIRO. Together with a team of unlikely heroes known as the Freedom Fighters, a ragtag group of otaku, the protagonist and the organisation must work together to unravel the source of the Shadow Souls, and their fearless leader, the Mother Soul.

Generic otaku, ponytail otaku, maid, and… Professor Oak? What have they done to you!?

For a game that seems like it would be almost entirely fanservice, there’s quite an intricate plot to be explored in AKIBA’S TRIP. What starts out as a slow, carefree stripping spree, eventually delves into a plot brimming with deceit, intrigue, and mystery, with writing akin to a teenage fanfiction.

Gameplay

Set entirely in downtown Akihabara, the game unfolds over the course of a series of missions as the player begins to investigate the mysterious beings roaming the streets in broad daylight. Though powerful, the Shadow Souls have one distinct weakness: sunlight. By identifying these foes using a special camera, you’ll have to wail on them until their clothes are fragile enough to be torn off entirely – once completely exposed, the enemy will immediately perish in the sun like a pale otaku.

Remember, folks, a gentleman always leaves a woman’s clothes on.

However, this goes both ways. The main character, having gained the powers of a Shadow Soul, is also susceptible to sunlight, and must remain clothed at all times like a respectable human being. Enemies will have the chance to fight back and tear off your clothes if you’re not careful. This means that having a full set of equipment at all times is vital, and you’ll need to go into battle with appropriate headwear, upper and lower garments. These can also be retrieved from enemies, however the appropriate guide will need to be purchased at a shop, otherwise the clothes are simply torn and destroyed once removed.

Outside of combat, there are several other key elements to the gameplay. Quirky side missions will see the player helping out the residents of Akihabara with their odd requests, and be rewarded handsomely with some hard-earned yen. Players can also learn new skills from the Master of Stripping, who presents various challenges that will let the player earn rare clothing sets and new skills. Several minigames are also available, including an incredibly basic claw machine, quiz game, and strip scissors paper rock. Overall I enjoyed the addition of Pitter the most, which is a social network messenger that is available on the protagonist’s phone. By checking into Pitter occasionally you’ll get snippets into active missions, the goss about Akihabara, and mostly just some incredibly hilarious nerdy conversation. It’s like I’m actually on the internet!

Pitter is actually hilarious. Definitely worth checking in regularly.

Despite all the added extras in the game, there’s one particular activity you’ll likely spend most of your time doing: stripping people. Surely that’s going to be the highlight of the game, right? I mean, it’s basically all about stripping. Well about that…

Combat

To put it lightly, the combat for the most part is unenjoyable, clunky, and unresponsive. If this was a serious fighting game without any of the stupid humour or ridiculous concepts like stripping your enemies, you’d more than likely throw it immediately in the trash.

Is this game even legal?

Playing out like a generic 3-button brawler, the combat is as basic as possible. By tapping triangle you’ll attack the enemy’s headwear, square will damage their shirt, and X will pummel their trousers. An array of weapons are available, including boxing gloves, swords, books, even old computer monitors. There’s also the option to dodge and block, though I progressed throughout the entire game without using either of these. Once you’ve damaged an item of clothing enough, you’ll receive a prompt to hold down the corresponding button and be able to tear off that garment. This can also be chained into a combo, taking off clothing from multiple enemies at once in a row, which helps significantly when surrounded by numerous deadly frogs.

Be sure to watch out for gangs of frog people if you ever visit Akiba.

What initially seemed like an amusing and light-hearted concept quickly became monotonous and tedious. Every fight is exactly the same, and requires almost no tactics or skill. Even the boss fights are unbelievably plain and feel just like fighting another enemy on the street. Towards the end of the game I was dreading any further fights, as the entire ordeal became such a pain that I just wanted to end.

Visuals

I’m going to be brutally honest here. AKIBA’S TRIP is quite possibly the worst looking game of 2021. Considering it’s essentially a “remaster” of a PSP game, I wasn’t expecting too much from the graphics department, though I was expecting more than this. The updated visuals feature new character models, improved textures, and modified lighting, and full 1080 resolution, but still feel as if they belong in another era. For a game that relies heavily on fan-service and eye-candy, there’s surprisingly little to enjoy here.

Left: the original PSP visuals, Right: the updated PS4 visuals.

That being said, the game does somehow manage to replicate Akihabara quite well through its outdated visuals. The streets are based on actual locations and have distinct shopfronts that parody actual buildings in the area. Environments too feature a pleasant filtered light that washes through the skyscrapers from time-to-time, which is an attempt to modernise the PSP-era aesthetic.

Just another day in Akihabara.

Luckily, there are some redeeming features. Character art and short occasional cutscenes are now far more detailed, and have an attractive manga/anime art-style, though I only wish the same effort could have gone into the rest of the game.

Audio

The music of AKIBA’S TRIP is by none other than Toshiko Tasaki, a name you may not be familiar with, but chances are you’ve played a game featuring her music. She’s responsible for the music of the original Persona game, Persona 2: Innocent Sin/Eternal Punishment, and several of the Shin Megami Tensei games. An impressive repertoire of excellent game music! Most of the tracks are inspired by those that you might hear in the real life location – there are upbeat poppy songs, some vocaloid, and others that feel as if they would fit right into an anime series. The game does however feature a proper OP by ClariS – if only the rest of the music was up to this standard!

“Dreamin” by ClariS

On the other hand, the audio of the voice acting is easily one of the best parts of the game, and makes dialogue much more enjoyable. Each character seems to embody a particular otaku stereotype, which is emphasised through their voices and intonations. It’s easy to pick the nerdiest of characters simply by the tone of their voice, or the villains by how sly and mischievous they sound. This can be swapped between Japanese/English at any point, but if you’re playing it in English then why are you even playing this game?

Conclusion

For a game concept as ridiculous and light-hearted as stripping your enemies, AKIBA’S TRIP somehow manages to do so in a bland, boring, and sometimes even unenjoyable manner. Many aspects of the game are already showing their age, particularly the poor visuals and the unintuitive combat – it’s a game that feels like an odd experience to be playing on a modern home console. There are, however, some redeeming factors that may convince you to stick through the entire game: plenty of otaku humour, amusing dialogue, and a reasonably accurate representation of Akihabara (albeit with far more stripping than what I’ve seen when I visited). If you’re a dedicated fan of Japan and its pop culture, this game may amuse you, but if you’re not that way inclined, then you’ll only be stripped of your dignity instead.

So, why should you play it?

  • Amusing dialogue and comedy from a wide cast of characters.
  • Reasonable representation of Akihabara.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Clunky, unintuitive combat.
  • Dated visuals that look out of place on modern consoles.
  • Incredibly repetitive gameplay.
  • Story that reads like a fanfiction.

A review code on PlayStation 4 was provided for the purpose of this review. The game was played and footage captured on a PlayStation 5.

Death’s Door Review (PC/Steam)

The Crow’s fate hinges on Death’s Door. Can you handle it?

Devolver Digital have certainly garnered a reputation for being one of the best indie videogame publishers in the business. With an eccentric approach to advertising incorporating comedy and satire, coupled with handpicked creative and often unusual games, Devolver have captured the attention of gamers from around the globe since their inception in 2009. And, like a fine wine or a delicious block of parmesan shaped into a game controller, they only seem to get better with age.

Death's Door Review PC Steam Xbox Devolver Digital Visuals
Just a few of the excellent games from Devolver.

To add to their already vast library of published titles, launching today on PC/Steam is a brand new game by the name of Death’s Door, an intriguing hack & slash following the tale of a soul-collecting crow set in a stylish yet gloomy world. Created by Acid Nerve, the small indie team responsible for Titan Souls, this immediately grabbed my attention thanks to its unique visual style and its avian cast of characters. Earlier this month I wrote an insight into the preview build (which some of this article will draw upon), but over the last couple days I sat down and completed the game in its entirety.

So what mysteries await behind Death’s Door?
Let me open the door a crack and dive into this full review…

Death's Door Review PC Steam Xbox Devolver Digital Visuals

Story

It’s no surprise that office work is often monotonous, and that’s no exception for the Crow, who lives life by the clock, punching in on a daily basis and delivering the harvested souls of the deceased. Every day is much the same in the bleak and monochrome Department of Souls, where a murder of crows work tirelessly to harvest and transport the deceased souls of the world. This odd office operates under the power of a mysterious being known only as the Lord of Doors, the latest in a lineage of powerful lords who have harnessed the ability to create interdimensional doors and transport the souls of the dead.

Death's Door Review PC Steam Xbox Devolver Digital Visuals Lord of Doors
The Lord of Doors and his luscious lock. No, not his hair.

But a bird has to make a living, and so he sets off on his usual daily task to collect the next assigned soul on the roster. However, this routine task doesn’t quite go according to plan… Upon collecting the next assigned soul, the Crow is ambushed and the soul that required delivery is nowhere to be found. Returning to the office empty-handed (winged?), it’s made apparent that the Crow’s own soul may be in danger unless actions are taken to recover the lost soul. Venturing back into the bleak landscape to seek a solution, he just so happens to stumble upon…

Death's Door Review PC Steam Xbox Devolver Digital Visuals
Bit of WD-40 should get it open.

Though inconveniently, the door is locked, and the key to opening it and retrieving the lost soul lies in the three Colossal Souls belonging to the Tyrants of the kingdom: a cursed witch, a mad king, and a vicious beast. Only by opening Death’s Door may the Crow retrieve his lost soul and solve the mystery that lies beyond. So the Crow’s journey begins…

Gameplay

The game takes place across a sprawling Kingdom that is accessed through doors departing the office-like hub world. By entering these doors, the Crow enters new locations full of souls ripe for the harvest. In design akin to Dark Souls, maps are vast and intertwined in clever ways, with shortcuts aplenty, clever use of vertical space, and secret locations that seamlessly link back to one another. The interconnectedness of each map is thrilling, and on numerous occasions left me wondering how exactly I ended up back where I began. Each of the 5 main areas is further divided into several smaller distinct locales and dungeons; each are fascinating and worth exploring every single corner.

Environmental puzzles will hinder the Crow’s progress throughout these areas, and while most are simple, they are rewarding and offer more of a challenge when simultaneously trying to fend off hordes of enemies. Secrets also litter every location, which are cleverly hidden in plain sight. For example, navigating around a corner will consequently turn the entire world around you, and reveal objects that previously could not be seen. Exploration truly rewards curiosity, and observant players will have the chance to obtain unique collectibles, new weapons, and upgrades to help the Crow along the journey.

Death's Door Review PC Steam Xbox Devolver Digital Visuals Secret Gif

After exploring each main area, the map eventually branches off into smaller, more intricate locations that have the feeling of a “dungeon” reminiscent of earlier Zelda titles. Three main dungeons feature throughout the game, each themed around the overarching tyrants. The gameplay here is quite traditional: collect several keys, solve small puzzles in each room, fight challenging enemies, and collect the souls of four deceased crows to unlock a door and progress further. After unlocking these doors, the Crow will gain a unique ability, allowing access to deeper areas of the dungeon and then to the boss that awaits menacingly at the end. I couldn’t help but be reminded of A Link to the Past or Minish Cap in this design, which is truly a compliment to the gameplay.

Death's Door Review PC Steam Xbox Devolver Digital Visuals Soul
I guess you could say he was the soul survivor here.

Once a new ability has been obtained, previous areas of the world will become accessible, which is a clever way to promote backtracking and replayability without making it seem tedious or forced upon the player. Exploration too is key! By returning and further exploring a location, the Crow may become more powerful, particularly through collecting bundles of souls or health/magic expansions that are hidden in bird-shaped shrines.

Combat

Harvesting souls is not without its dangers, and as such the Crow is equipped with weaponry to help on this treacherous quest. Five melee weapons in total can be unlocked, from swift daggers that suit those who prefer fast combat, to towering greatswords that swing slowly but with considerable range. Several subweapons too can be unlocked, starting with a bow and progressing towards more powerful options – these can eventually be enhanced to further devastate unsuspecting enemies.

Death's Door Review PC Steam Xbox Devolver Digital Visuals Bow
Woah, it’s a crow with a bow!

Once accustomed to the combat, attacks can be chained together in swift movements, and when coupled with ranged attacks and well-timed dodges, become a fluid barrage that at times made me feel as if I was playing Hades again. Enemies are plentiful and pose quite a threat, especially when waves upon waves of foes begin spawning in enclosed spaces. Restoring health during combat is not an option either, as the only way to do so is by planting seeds at particular pots and then consuming the flower that sprouts from them. This means you’re going to need to learn how to dodge; every enemy encounter must be done with caution to avoid losing health unnecessarily.

Death's Door Review PC Steam Xbox Devolver Digital Visuals Flower
Consume the bloom.

While there’s no level system, the Crow may spend souls to upgrade the strength of attacks, the speed at which they can be performed, or other stat boosts that assist the Crow during combat. This is most pertinent when facing off against the formidable bosses that stand between the Crow and Death’s Door. These boss fights are challenging, fast-paced, and will likely result in numerous retries and deaths. However, this is when the combat truly shines! All the techniques previously learned can be added together in these encounters to exploit each enemy’s weakness. The satisfaction of collecting a Colossal Soul after an intense fight is unmatched.

Visuals

Interestingly, the game’s design and visual style seem somehow both charming and unnerving. The isometric view and intricate details create an illusion that allow the environments to appear like miniatures or scale models. The design and animations of the Crow are cute and cartoonish, often juxtaposing with the bleak surroundings. Enemies feature exaggerated grotesque appearances, and the design of some characters are just straight up hilarious, including a cast of characters whose heads have been replaced with pots, or a “human chef” who is basically just a corpse controlled by giant squid on his back.

Death's Door Review PC Steam Xbox Devolver Digital Visuals Frog King
Even the bosses are pretty quirky, like the Frog King here.

It’s a truly gorgeous game; eye-catching environments like detailed dioramas definitely had me pausing to appreciate the Crow’s surroundings on numerous occasions. Every single location has a clever use of vertical space and uses this to its advantage with an emphasis on depth-of-field. There’s a lot of attention to detail, and at times this is even incorporated into some puzzles, which will require you to closely analyse for hidden clues.

Death's Door Review PC Steam Xbox Devolver Digital Visuals
“If only I could fly…”

Audio

I’m a sucker for a good soundtrack. So how does Death’s Door hold up? Well, the world of Death’s Door is bleak, so too should be its music. Most of the early tracks have a certain sadness to them, with the majority featuring piano with light orchestration and ambient background effects. This obviously intensifies during enemy encounters or boss fights, becoming more frantic and fast-paced, but never seems to stray from an overall feeling of melancholy. Here’s a snippet of the music from the Ceramic Manor, the first main dungeon of the game:

Music gains more depth with progression through the game, featuring more detailed tracks, orchestration, and on occasion even some jaunty tunes. Overall, the soundtrack is exceptional from what caressed my eardrums during the journey. I’m very much looking forward to the official release! Here’s an example of my favourite track from the game, which is quietly contemplative through its use of soft flute and cello:

My favourite track, which plays in an isolated encampment.

What else?

What surprised me most about Death’s Door is its inclusion of comedy throughout the journey. For a topic as dark and macabre as death and reaping souls, there’s an impressive amount of legitimately amusing humour. This is portrayed through its cast of colourful characters, most of whom are incredibly quirky and feature hilariously well-written dialogue. Arguably my favourite moments from the game are cameos from the bosses, who pop up during the dungeons to monitor the Crow’s progress and crack some witty one-liners. Here are a few examples of the game’s wonderful humour:

Outside of the main linear story, there are a few additional aspects of the game to keep completionists satisfied. Small trinkets can be collected and require the player to navigate obscure areas, solve optional puzzles, or complete combat trials to obtain these. Amusingly, the trinkets accumulate at the Crow’s desk back in the office and these begin to pile up excessively to the point of becoming clutter. Though they serve no other significant purpose than a neat visual touch, many of the tasks required to collect them are reward enough, as they offer an added element of challenge to the rest of the game.

Death's Door Review PC Steam Xbox Devolver Digital Visuals Collectibles
Everyone knows crows love collecting things.

There is also some post-game content which I won’t go into any detail on, but can be accessed once the main story has been completed fully. This is a nice touch for those wanting more from Death’s Door, especially as many more locations can be explored completely with all items/abilities unlocked.

Conclusion

Few games can achieve world-building and gripping gameplay in an 8 – 10 hour experience quite like Death’s Door. Through its unique story and characters, stunning presentation, clever exploration and thrilling intuitive combat, this is yet another superb indie game to add to Devolver’s arsenal. The sheer quality of game produced by a small team like Acid Nerve is incredibly impressive and has me eager to see what they will create in the future. Fans of action/adventure RPGs would be foolish to pass by Death’s Door, which is quite honestly one of the most polished games I’ve played so far this year. It’s a game to die for.

So, why should you play it?

  • Entrancing world and story with an amusing cast of characters.
  • Fluid, responsive and enjoyable combat that never feels unfair.
  • Gorgeous visual style, particularly the design of environments.
  • Clever interlinking maps and dungeons.
  • Backtracking and exploration never feels forced.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Can be challenging at times, so may not suit all players.
  • Only available on PC and Xbox. Sorry Nintendo and Sony fans!

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

Mini Motorways Review (PC/Steam)

These motorways might be mini, but they’re big on gameplay!

Imagine a brand new portable gaming device with almost no buttons at all. Just a massive touch screen and nothing else, running on its own proprietary operating system and only featuring downloadable games designed specifically for it, no cartridges or discs at all. Sounds absurd, right? Surely nobody would buy something like that. Well, it already exists, and has for over a decade: the Apple iPad.

This iconic touch-screen tablet, while mostly marketed as a device focused on productivity and functionality, has been used for gaming ever since its release in 2010. Like it or not, the iPad is technically an unconventional handheld gaming console, made easily accessible for casual gamers in households and offices across the globe. Early titles like Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Infinity Blade and Plants vs. Zombies HD proved that touch screen mobile devices could produce gaming experiences to rival that of dedicated handhelds. In the following years, many iOS games even achieved critical acclaim: Monument Valley, World of Goo, and Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (pictured below) to name just a few.

Years later, the obsession with mobile gaming still hasn’t stopped thanks to New Zealand developers Dinosaur Polo Club, the minds behind the puzzle strategy games, Mini Metro (2015) and more recently, Mini Motorways (2019). These simplistic, heavily-stylised, minimalist games make the mundane – traffic – into a mesmorising procedure through vast interconnected networks designed from scratch by the player. What starts off as a simple concept soon becomes increasingly complex!

So how does an iOS/Apple Arcade game like Mini Motorways with a casual style of play and heavy use of a touch screen translate into a dedicated PC experience? Far better than you’d think! Read on in our review that’s hopefully a bit more entertaining than sitting in traffic.

Mini Motorways PC Steam Nintendo Switch iOS Apple Arcade Review

Concept

When sitting in gridlock, have you ever wondered how you might be able to get home, to work, or to your destination just a bit quicker? Maybe with a more direct route, some extra roads, or possibly even a high-speed motorway to reduce your commute? Well, Mini Motorways will help make these thoughts a reality! By taking control of metropolitan networks from around the globe, the player has the opportunity to turn this disorderly drive into a highly-organised mesh of roads and motorways at the click of a button.

Mini Motorways PC Steam Nintendo Switch iOS Apple Arcade Review
Is this what it feels like to work for LA city council?

The game is divided into themed maps, each of which are based on a real-life location. You’ll have the option to build networks connecting huge cities like Tokyo, Beijing, Los Angeles, and many more. They also feature distinct geographical landmarks like rivers and coastlines that make the level not only more authentic, but add an additional level of challenge when building your network.

Gameplay

What might seem like a mundane and complex concept is stunningly simple and oddly-satisfying. The game will slowly introduce you to its gameplay mechanics through a short step-by-step tutorial, which clearly explains the key concepts of the game. The goal is simple: the player must connect coloured houses to similarly coloured destinations by adjoining them with roads by which the cars may travel. Cars must collect pins from their destination, and collecting a pin counts for a single point. As time progresses, additional houses and destinations will begin to appear, making the commute more complex.

Mini Motorways PC Steam Nintendo Switch iOS Apple Arcade Review Gif

More cars on the road will require additional means of managing the traffic. After each week of gameplay (which is the equivalent of a couple minutes), the player will be given additional resources: roads, traffic lights, roundabouts, bridges, and most importantly, motorways. By utilising these different structures, the flow of traffic can be made smoother and more efficient, which becomes necessary when the small map begins to expand a sprawling city.

Mini Motorways PC Steam Nintendo Switch iOS Apple Arcade Review
You’ll be able to build a sprawling network within minutes!

Eventually, pins will be popping up rapidly around the map. Failure to collect enough pins in time will set off a timer on a destination, which will slowly build up unless cars navigate to the pins. Once the timer is full, the level is finished, and the score is calculated by how many pins are collected. This is then automatically uploaded to a worldwide leaderboard to challenge thousands of other players.

Visuals

Clean, crisp, simplistic and minimalist – perfect words to describe the unique visual aesthetic of Mini Motorways. Though initially suited to handheld play, this visual style looks incredibly pleasing on PC, with its straight lines, curved highways, and intricate matrixes of roads. What the game lacks in detail it makes up for in style, with each map having a distinct colour palette and design reflective of its geographical location. For example, when playing in Tokyo, a light shade of pink is used to resemble that of cherry blossoms, and building roads through its trees will result in puffs of pink leaves.

Mini Motorways PC Steam Nintendo Switch iOS Apple Arcade Review
At times it’s almost hypnotic to watch.

It most certainly retains all the visual cues of a mobile game despite no longer having any touch screen aspects. Clicking to place and remove roads and other structures both looks and feels intuitive. The game becomes most visually satisfying once a detailed mesh has been created, with hundreds of tiny cars flitting about efficiently.

Audio

One of the most respected composers in the world of ambient videogame music is responsible for the sounds of Mini Motorways: Disasterpeace. Known for creating the music of games like Fez, and Hyper Light Drifter, it should come as no surprise that the tracks featured in this game are relaxing, hypnotic, excellent background music. There are no particular melodies that will grab you, as the music is entirely procedurally created, and reacts based on your own actions in the game! The songs generated are rhythmic and structured, varying with the scale of the traffic and gameplay, and could easily be listened to on loop for hours. Combined with the soft hum of traffic, the sound of Mini Motorways is a satisfying ambience to accompany the overall experience.

A short snippet of procedurally-generated ambient music.

Extras

Several additional features have been added with a focus on accessibility. Players have the option to remove particular animations, adapt controls, and adjust visuals based on their preference or needs. For a game as simple as this, it’s a nice option to include these added elements where many others would omit them.

Mini Motorways PC Steam Nintendo Switch iOS Apple Arcade Review
As if the game wasn’t already challenging enough.

Additionally, to keep you coming back for more, the game also includes daily and weekly challenges. These are changes based on existing maps – for example, the week in which I wrote this review had a Moscow challenge, which allowed unlimited roads but no motorways and a limited number of bridges (making the entire map incredibly challenging). These slight changes surprisingly make a dramatic difference to the gameplay.

Conclusion

Mini Motorways is a simple concept designed for a touch screen but elegantly adapted for PC, and retains every element of its captivating procedurally-generated gameplay with little to no compromise. What may seem simple on the surface has significant depth and will appeal to those who relish in high scores, trying their hardest to make it to the top of a leaderboard. More casual players too will receive plenty of enjoyment from Mini Motorways, though may already have had the option to play it on their handheld devices and there is no advantage to playing it again on PC. This is a game that can easily be enjoyed by anyone, so it’s worthwhile that those without iOS devices can finally try it out.

So, why should you play it?

  • You’re a fan of simple, procedurally generated gameplay.
  • Love trying to get the high score? This game is for you.
  • Crisp clean graphics and relaxing ambient soundtrack.
  • If you never had the chance to play it on iOS.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Have already played it on a handheld device.
  • If you prefer more complex strategy games.

A review code on PC was provided for the purpose of this review.
Mini Motorways is also coming to Nintendo Switch in Q1 2022.

Mass Effect 3: Legendary Edition (PC) Review

To talk about Mass Effect 3 and not mention its ending is a bit of an impossibility, so rest assured that we’ll get to that later on. But, let me start in saying that this is the quintessential sci-fi action experience in spite of what takes place in its conclusion. When I think about playing a hero in a game, I want to control an all-powerful, versatile, masterful warrior that is respected by comrades, feared by foes, and earns their high regard every step of the way – I feel no game franchise creates this fantasy better than Mass Effect, and it comes to a head in its final instalment.

Garrus Vakarian: calibrated for 4k.

GAMEPLAY

Mass Effect 3 sees Commander Shepard face an overwhelming Reaper invasion – so when Shepard takes to the battlefield, they have to be at their best in sync with tons of biotic/tech powers to survive the onslaught. There’s more freedom in choosing what powers Shepard has in 3 instead of being locked to a few in 2 – my go-to Vanguard loadout sees Shepard jump from enemy to enemy with Biotic Charge, unleashing Nova to topple nearby enemies, and busting out Shockwave in tight spots. To manage the recharge time on these powers, I limited the weapons to a light shotgun and the overpowered silenced pistol unlocked in The Citadel DLC.

Outside of combat, Shepard can navigate a few locales within the Citadel, carefully scan Reaper-infested galaxies for points of interest, and converse with squadmates aboard the Normandy. Conversation paths have been simplified to two options in most conversations, but you’ll still have to dedicate to Paragon/Renegade for vital conversation points – especially in the final minutes requiring a perfect score to unlock the final dialogue option, something I still didn’t manage to do in my playthrough.

Familiar faces will return at every corner – rewarding players for choices in previous titles thanks to imported saves.

VISUALS

The most recent of the three titles included in the Legendary Edition, not much had to be done to make an already-pretty game look even better. That being said, it’s still an improvement seeing Mass Effect 3 in an even better light than it previously was in, thanks to more graphics options and the upres to 4K. A silky-smooth unlocked framerate was the cherry on top, with not a single slowdown occurring even in heated battles and flying across the map taking place. Draw distance is excellent, and large vistas make for great photo mode usage.

AUDIO

Mass Effect 3 employed new musicians to handle the game’s score, and, unfortunately, there isn’t much to write home about when it comes to memorability. While the music is never inappropriate, I can’t recall a single standout track like I could for the first two games. The best I can say is that it’s serviceable and gets the job done, but isn’t on the level of what Jack Wall crafted in the past. On the other hand, weapon fire and Reaper invasions sound massive – the bloodcurdling cry of a Banshee overbearing everything else on the battlefield still gives me chills. Plus, the voice acting performances are amazing – your friends are endearing, your foes menacing.

Oh boy. Here’s where it gets interesting.

PLOT

I’ve purposely saved the plot of the game for last – it’s the most contentious aspect of Mass Effect 3 and is still being talked about to this day. To continue and conclude a space epic was no small task, but BioWare provided quite a lot of closure to this saga. Almost every significant (and a ton of not-so-significant) character returns in some form in the events of Mass Effect 3; you’ll see squadmates from 1 and 2 lay their life on the line for you – or loathe you, depending on your past actions. You still have a lot of say over how the game plays out, thanks to plenty of turning-point dialogue options and courses of action. It’s exceptionally hard to save some lives as certain conditions have to be met, but it’s possible with enough effort and know-how.

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING?

And here’s the hot take – I think Mass Effect 3 has an excellent ending. You are given three courses of action, all of which are vastly different, and you see the weight of your actions directly after your choice is made. Everything you’ve accomplished to this point culminates in one last choice that speaks about the kind of Shepard you’re playing. There’s pros and cons to every single choice, and large implications about the future and the past that go into what you decide.

Back in 2012, when Mass Effect 3 was released in its original form, there was a lack of closure to this ending – this was later remedied with free DLC to showcase what Shepard’s sacrifice meant. In the Legendary Edition, with all of the paid DLC attached, I feel like I fully completed Shepard’s story in all of its bravado, so this lasting final choice to destroy the Reapers – a goal since early on in Mass Effect 1 – was a perfect, logical action. Earning the “Shepard Lives” ending made it that much sweeter. Now, if only BioWare embraced the Indoctrination Theory

So, why should you play it?

  • The best combat in the series, and arguably in sci-fi action gaming.
  • Tons of full DLC that you may have missed is included.
  • See your old characters get a fulfilling ending/conclusion.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • You’re still bitter about the ending and your mind can’t be changed.
  • You skipped ME1 – you’ll miss out on a LOT.

Boomerang X Review: Nintendo Switch

But what if YOU were the Boomerang?

It must be extremely difficult to come up with a “new” idea for a video game. In an entertainment sector, and yes an art form, that has been around now for over 50 years and grown to be so huge internationally there is a truly massive catalogue of games dating way back to the glory days of dedicated home ‘Pong‘ consoles and PCs that ran on DOS.

This study estimates that there are about 50,000 different games in existence, while video game industry statistics reports that there are 25 new games released on Steam EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that I have played any meaningful fraction of all of the games that have ever been made. But I have certainly played a lot. And I can’t remember the last time that I played a game with a concept so simple, but so well executed as Boomerang X.

Plot

Boomerang X isn’t here to engage us with a deep story. In fact, there really isn’t a story here at all. Basically the game starts with a cut scene of our seafaring ship crashing on an unknown beach. We wander throughs a deserted village and chance upon a strange weapon… A Boomerang in the shape of an ‘X’.

How do you actually catch it without losing a finger?

From that stage of the game there is very little exposition. There are a few occurrences when some residents of the island appear between levels and provide a very small amount of information. However, by the end of the game I didn’t feel that there was any real benefit to these interactions. Certainly there is no real ‘mystery’ here. No real obvious goal other than to get to the next level and reach the end of the game.

This is a game that relies on its gameplay to keep you interested and pushing forward. Fortunately, the gameplay here is excellent.

Gameplay

What type of game is Boomerang X you ask? The game creators at studio Dang! describe it as a single player ‘first-person arena combat experience’.

The structure of the game is quite simple. We are thrown into an enclosed room where we must fight multiple waves of enemies. A certain number of enemies will appear with each wave, but there will be specific ‘target’ enemies that must be defeated to pass each wave. The other enemies can be ignored in the sense that they don’t need to be killed, but obviously they will try to attack you if you ignore them. Once the last wave has been defeated, the exit door is unlocked and we can move on to the next room. This process repeats until you complete the game.

We start our primary battle with only the eponymous Boomerang that can be used to defend ourselves in the first arena of the game. This first arena, as might be expected, is a very basic flat circular level with no obstacles. After each section of the game we are provided with some kind of upgrade. Either a shield buff that allows us to receive one additional hit before dying (up to a maximum of 7 by the end of the game), or a new skill or ability that will allow us to plow through the increasingly difficult waves of enemies that appear in the game’s weird and wonderful battle arenas.

Welcome to the ‘Grave of the Yoran Legion’, AKA the Lava Pit.

Overall there are 13 main arenas in which to do battle. Each of them is unique both in structure and style. They require use of different skills in particular ways to successfully complete the challenging waves of enemies that will appear.

The developers here have done an absolutely excellent job in regard to the progression in this game. Each new ability is earned in a specific order and we are given a basic ‘test’ in how to effectively use each ability in the next arena after it is received. Simple skills such as calling the boomerang immediately back to our hand become so intuitive that by the later levels of the game I found myself doing it after each throw without even thinking about it.

Where the game really shines is the genius concept of the ‘Slingshot’ ability. If the ‘throw’ button is pressed a second time before the boomerang returns to our hand, we BECOME the boomerang and are flung across the screen in the direction of the boomerang and it is immediately returned to our hand in the process. This ability creates a battle movement and positioning mechanic that is an pure joy to use. It is almost like having a single shot Portal gun that can throw you anywhere in the arena… with some decent aim. I was somewhat hesitant to use this ability early on due to the unpredictable nature of the boomerang when it bounces off walls and obstacles. However, as Boomerang X does so well, one of the next arenas shortly after receiving the Slingshot ability begs us to learn how to use this skill to its full potential. Where battles were previously completed on relatively small and flat coliseums, we are presented with a massive multilevel forest with platforms and bridges between the trees – think Kashyyyk from Star Wars, but less hairy. Soon after mastering this arena, the Slingshot became my main method of transition, dodging and surprise attack.

The other skill that I found myself using very often was the ‘Flux’ technique which temporarily slows down time. Flux can only be used for very short periods while charging up the boomerang for a long distance throw, but it CAN be used in mid-air. The combination of Slingshot and Flux in particular was one of the most fun experiences I have had in a game in a long time.

The remaining skills typically have a requirement to set them up – such as killing two enemies with the same boomerang throw, or killing three enemies while mid-air (without landing). These abilities when charged provide even more alternatives when charging your way through each arena.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzap!

The enemy design here is also excellent. Early in the game we fight simple bugs (spiders and flies) that require only one single hit delivered from any angle. As we progress through there are squid enemies from the Matrix, enemies that can only be hit from behind, the giant storm caller that shrouds the arena in a lightning storm and more. Once again progressing difficulty of enemies and the techniques that are required to defeat them are perfectly paced to provide the learning environment for your new skills early, and the exact level of challenge that you are looking for late in the game.

Is that the thing from Horizon Zero Dawn?

I have no hesitation here is saying that the gameplay here is just great. It is smooth, fast, and just plain fun.

Presentation

As you can see from the screenshots peppered through this review, the presentation of Boomerang X is quite unique. This simple uses a small number of specific colours over a wide and bright palette to bring each area and arena to life. Green forests, blue/white icy caverns and flowing red lava are able to give each region a unique identity. These bright colours are then offset by the jet black enemies that appear with each wave, making them both very easy to identify and quite menacing when up close at the same time.

Hope you aren’t scared of spider…shadow…things

The music in Boomerang X is again minimalistic but does well to match the aesthetic of the game. The combination of soft oriental strings and tribal percussion give an otherworldly or alien feel to the game, which does match the visuals quite well, but do not always give the fast-paced high intensity aerial battles the urgency they deserve. But there is enough here to provide a pleasing backdrop to the action. Sound effects provide good feedback to what is happening on screen

Conclusion

I do need to state that Boomerang X is not a long game. I completed my first playthrough of each area in one (long) sitting of about 4 hours. The game was a good level of challenge and I did die on multiple occasions throughout this first run. Each death did not feel ‘cheap’, and was clearly due to skill error of the player.

This game is clearly built with repeated plays and speed running in mind. In fact, the game comes with an individual arena and overall speed run timer built in. Each wave of each battle starts in the same way (enemies appearing in the same positions), so I can certainly see this game being popular in the speed run community as players try to find the most efficient pattern of mowing down the enemies as quickly as possible.

On completion of the first playthrough, the option of starting a ‘New Game +’ is provided. This allows the game to be started from the beginning with all of the shields and abilities in place at the start of the game. Other gameplay options are provided as well such as a ‘no shields’ mode for extra challenge, and a ‘no gravity’ mode which completely changes the way each arena can be tackled.

Boomerang X also comes with a number of accessibility options such as a ‘high contrast mode’, and an ‘extra-visible required enemies’ mode. I found playing with these options switched on as a completely different visual experience from the base game. Not a ‘better’ experience necessarily, but it does look cool.

Accessibility activated for aesthetic reasons.

I enjoyed my time with Boomerang X immensely. For me the fire burned brightly, but only for a short period of time. Others looking to invest more time into ‘perfecting’ the game, or even speed running it will definitely find something here to get their hands dirty. The art style and the Slingshot mechanic I feel are unique, and definitely worth the investment for gamers looking to experience something new.

So, why should you play it?

  • You want to experience a fresh single player arena ‘shooter’ with tight controls, an interesting art style and a unique mechanic.
  • My last article about speed running tickled your fancy and you want to dive head-first into a new game to get your name on the leaderboard early.

But, why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Fast-paced action isn’t really your cup of tea.
  • Games with no storyline leave you frustrated or uninterested in continuing on.

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

Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX Review (Nintendo Switch)

The cult classic SEGA platformer is back and isn’t kidding around.

It’s the year 1985 and videogame consoles have begun to infiltrate living rooms across the globe, marking the beginning of what many now refer to as the “Console Wars“. Nintendo was at the forefront of the industry and Super Mario was quickly becoming a common household name thanks to its simple yet addictive platforming gameplay. So what was rival SEGA to do? Give up entirely, or create an iconic platforming game of their own as competition? It wasn’t until 1991 when the Blue Blur first raced onto our screens, so who was responsible for keeping SEGA and their Master System relevant during this highly competitive period?

It was just some Kidd.
But not just any Kidd, Alex Kidd.

Whoever did the box art really must have a passion for graphic design.

His debut was in 1986 with Alex Kidd in Miracle World, a side-scrolling 2D platformer featuring an expansive world, brutal difficulty, and neat upgrades like motorbikes and helicopters. Did Mario have a motorbike? No? Didn’t think so. Thanks to the popularity of this initial game, 5 further Alex Kidd games were released for SEGA systems during the following 5 years. However, 1991 marked the birth of Sonic the Hedgehog and thus the death of Alex Kidd. SEGA had essentially killed off their own character by turning their focus to another.

Alex Kidd briefly appeared in a Sonic comic

Alex Kidd had sadly faded into obscurity. And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. Gaming history became legend. Legend became myth. And for 30 years, Alex Kidd passed out of all knowledge…

…until, when chance came, the Kidd ensnared a new developer.

Thanks to Merge Games and JanKenTeam, this classic platformer has been revived, revitalised, and re-released on almost every console currently available! But how does a 35 year old platformer hold up by today’s standards? Is it as thrilling as it was decades ago, or has your fondness for the game been clouded by nostalgia? I’ve never played the original, no kidding, so it’s about time I get stuck into Alex Kidd in Miracle World for the very first time!

Plot

Many centuries ago, on the planet Aries, there lived a boy named Alex Kidd. For seven years he lived on Mt. Eternal studying Shellcore, an ancient art that makes one strong enough to break rocks into pieces. Kidd would even put Mike Tyson to shame with his punches! One day, as he was leaving the mountain for his spiritual homeland, he encountered a dying man who told him that the peaceful city of Radaxian was in grave danger. Before taking his last breath, the man gave Alex a piece of a map and a medallion made of Sun Stone.

What is it about old men in caves sending little kids on quests?

Alex soon learns of an evil villain by the name of Janken the Great who has overthrown the king and captured the king’s son, Egle, and his fiancé, Princess Lora. The task of rescuing the kingdom from the wrath of Janken rests upon Alex’s fists, and so he ventures toward Radaxian to defeat the three Generals and overthrow Janken to end his tirade on the Kingdom.

There are plenty of interesting characters throughout Alex’s journey, and for an 80s platforming game, Alex Kidd has far more plot than I would expect – even more than most modern games in the genre!

Gameplay

You’ve played a platforming game, right? Surely you have by now, it’s been like 40 years. Well, Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is quintessential retro platforming almost unchanged, and those who have played the original game will feel as if they’ve travelled through time.

The game is split into 17 separate levels, each with a distinct theme, environmental hazards, plenty of enemies, and even some puzzles to help keep Alex’s brain as big as his fists. Each level will see Alex running, jumping, and pummelling his way towards a delicious item of food at the end of the level (you can choose between Onigiri, Burger, Fish & Chips, or a Spanish Omelette). Alex is armed with a deadly punch, numerous upgrades, and added abilities which can be purchased along the way. He’s gonna need all the upgrades you can get too, because Alex can only take a single hit!

Scissors paper rock is the only way to settle a score.

Certain levels also feature special vehicles like a helicopter, motorbike, and plane, during which the game briefly turns into a basic side-scrolling shooter. Most levels also feature a traditional boss fight at the end, and others instead end in a best-of-3 match of Jan Ken Pon (that’s scissors paper rock for all you non-weebs out there). It’s simple and fun platforming gameplay for the most part, but with a major criticism…

Alex moves like he’s been coated in detergent.
He’s slippery, floaty, and just all around awkward to control.
Like a well-oiled machine that’s been oiled just a bit too much.

I’ve played many platformers in my time, hundreds even, from the most iconic like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Donkey Kong Country to the difficult and obscure like VVVVVV or Syobon Action. Never before have I encountered a platformer whose controls I loathed quite like Alex Kidd. When trying to make precise jumps over a chasm, or even just walk up to an enemy so you can wail on it, the sheer slipperiness of the controls can make this an unnecessarily frustrating ordeal. It’s just blatantly unenjoyable at times, and I couldn’t help but blame the game for many of my failed attempts.

You’re going to make Alex die. A lot.

But I did persist through the controls, and eventually became slightly accustomed to their awkwardness. Inevitably the game became more enjoyable, and by the very end I found myself overall happy and satisfied with the experience despite these drawbacks. However, many players who do not persist through the first few levels may find themselves quitting entirely out of sheer frustration.

Visuals

While I found myself at war with the gameplay on numerous occasions, it was the visuals that kept me coming back time and time again. Some players might fondly remember the basic 8-bit graphics of the original some 35 years ago. Well guess what? They look like complete trash now. So what have Merge Games done instead? Created a brand new, gorgeous, highly-detailed pixel art style that perfectly captures the charm of every single level, character, and detail throughout the entire game. It’s without a doubt one of the most attractive platformers you’ll ever encounter. This becomes even more apparent when swapping back and forth between the DX and original visuals, which can be done as easily as pressing a single button!

Hmm, I’m not sure I can see the difference…

Having played both in handheld mode and on a big ol’ 4K OLED TV, I can confidently say every single aspect of the game looks brilliant on either. Even the simple, vibrant cartoony design of the characters really pops and seems to suit the rest of the visuals perfectly. Honestly, I would recommend playing this simply based on visuals alone.

Audio

Like 8-bit visuals, chiptunes too are a thing of the past. While Alex Kidd DX has not done away with them entirely, the majority of the iconic tunes have been rearranged, recomposed, and performed acoustically by a freelance composer and sound designer by the name of Bibiki Garcia. His arrangements of the old chiptunes sound refreshing, vibrant, and incredibly upbeat. Using mostly acoustic instruments like guitar, ukelele and mandolin, as well as melodica and simple vocals to convey a pleasant, childish and carefree style, the soundtrack has been completely modernised and is an absolute pleasure to listen to.

The music for the first level, Mt. Eternal.

Interestingly, some parts of the game retain the chiptune audio aesthetic. Most boss fights and intense moments revert to traditional chiptunes with a modern touch of drum and bass added. It’s a nice homage to the original music, and contrasts with the lighter, more upbeat sound of the overworld.

So what’s new?

Of course some quality of life changes are needed for a 35 year old game – we’ve all become accustomed to things like save files, extra options, and accessibility over the last few decades. Thankfully there have been a number of changes in DX to bring Alex Kidd into the modern era.

Firstly, the option of infinite lives is available from the very beginning, a necessary feature for the vast majority of those wanting to complete the game. I tried several times to play without this turned on, but found myself needing to resort to it in order to progress through many difficult areas. It’s a lifeline that makes the game overall much more enjoyable. Each level also has numerous checkpoints and a save system whereby you can easily drop back in to the level where you’d left off, a luxury that was not available in the original for obvious reasons.

As mentioned above, the graphics can be reverted back to the original at any time with the press of a button, and though there’s no real gameplay advantage to this, it’s a nice touch for those who might have grown up playing the original. Once completing the game in full too, you’ll also unlock Classic Mode which is as close to playing the game on a Master System as you’ll get without blowing the dust off an old cartridge. Though strangely I feel like the controls in classic mode are more precise than DX.

Conclusion

There’s no denying that Merge Games have done a truly brilliant job in modernising this classic SEGA game and bringing it into the hands of a new generation of gamers. While those who played it all those years ago are bound to get a nostalgia kick out of DX, the decades I’ve spent playing polished platformers have spoiled me and as such there were many aspects of Alex Kidd’s gameplay that felt imprecise and tedious. Luckily, other aspects of the game such as its beautiful pixel art visuals and upbeat, rearranged soundtrack kept me hooked until the very end. While it’s not a perfect game, it’s a passion project that’s clearly been made with love for a game that is near and dear to those who grew up playing it.

So, why should you play it?

  • You’ve played the original and have nostalgia for it.
  • Gorgeous pixel art makes your eyes happy.
  • You’re always up for a challenge.
  • Need some upbeat music? Kidd’s got you covered.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Slippery, imprecise controls often become frustrating.
  • Feels unfairly difficult at times.
  • Many other better side-scrolling platformers available.

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