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.

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.

Death’s Door Preview (PC)

Reaping souls ain’t much for the Crow, but it’s honest work.

Devolver Digital have certainly garnered a reputation for being one of the best indie videogame publishers in the business. Their madcap approach to advertising and promotion coupled with handpicked creative and often unusual games has caught 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, Devolver only seem to get better with age.

Just a few of the excellent games from Devolver.

To add to their already vast library of published titles, earlier this year the team announced a game by the name of Death’s Door, an intriguing hack & slash following the tale of a soul-collecting crow set in a stylish gloomy world. Created by Acid Nerve, the two-person team responsible for Titan Souls, this immediately grabbed my attention thanks to its unique visual style and its avian protagonist and characters. Thankfully, the kind team at Devolver have provided me with a preview build to explore this entrancing world well before its launch on the 20th of July.

So what awaits behind Death’s Door?
Let me open the door a crack and give you a peek into the preview.

Premise

Office work can oftentimes be monotonous, and that’s no exception the Crow, who lives life by the clock, punching in on a daily basis and delivering the harvested souls of those who have died. Every day is much the same in this bleak and monochrome office, 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.

*Not an actual screenshot from the game.

However, this routine task doesn’t quite go according to plan…
Upon collecting the next assigned soul, the Crow [STORY DETAILS REDACTED] and when returning to the office, it’s made apparent that the Crow’s own soul may be in danger unless actions are taken to fix what has just occurred. Venturing back into the bleak landscape to seek a solution, he just so happens to stumble upon…

Though inconveniently (but convenient to the plot) the door is locked, and the key to opening it lies in collecting 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 complete the mission he has been tasked with. And so the Crow’s journey begins…

Gameplay

The game takes place across a sprawling map that is accessed through doors in the office-like hub world. By entering these doors, the crow is thrust into 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 and secret locations that effortlessly link back to one another. Even though the preview build only showcases 5 of these areas, I was fascinated by each and wanted to explore every single corner to satisfy my own curiosity. Environmental puzzles will hinder the Crow’s progress throughout these area, and while most are simple, they are rewarding and offer more of a challenge when simultaneously trying to fend off hordes of enemies.

After exploring the main area, the map eventually branches off into smaller, more intricate locations that have the feeling of a traditional dungeon and reminiscent of Zelda titles. In the preview build, exploring the Ceramic Manor (the Urn Witch’s Mansion) involved collecting several keys, solving small puzzles in each room, fighting challenging enemies, and collecting the souls of four deceased crows to unlock a door and progress. After unlocking this door, the Crow gains the ability to fling a fireball, allowing access to a deeper area of the dungeon and then to the boss that awaits menacingly at the end. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the dungeons of A Link to the Past or Minish Cap in this design, but this is truly a compliment to the gameplay.

The first dungeon’s puzzles involve lighting fires.

Combat

Harvesting souls is not without its dangers, and as such the Crow is equipped with weaponry to help on this treacherous quest. Three melee weapons were made available in the preview build (sword, daggers, umbrella), and two ranged attacks (bow, fire spell). 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. Collecting souls while progressing can be spent back at the office to upgrade the strength of attacks, the speed at which they can be performed, or other stat boosts that assist the Crow during combat.

Though I only played for just over 2 hours, by the end of the preview build I felt proficient in the combat and was able to take down the final boss without taking any damage. 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 bloom that sprouts from them. This means that every enemy encounter must be done with caution to avoid losing health unnecessarily.

Visuals

Interestingly, the game’s design and visual style seems somehow both charming and unnerving. The isometric view and detailed environments occasionally appear like miniatures or scale models, and the design and animations of the Crow are cute and at times juxtaposes with the bleak surroundings. Enemies feature a cartoonish yet grotesque appearance, and the design of some characters is just straight up hilarious, including a cast of characters whose heads have been replaced with pots by the wretched Urn Witch.

I love this character as much as I love soup.

It’s a lovely looking game and its eye-catching environments like detailed dioramas definitely had me pausing to appreciate the Crow’s surroundings on numerous occasions. 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. Though this has just been a taste, I’m excited to see the entire world in the full release shortly!

Audio

I’m a sucker for a good soundtrack. So how does Death’s Door hold up in only this short example? Well, the world of Death’s Door is bleak, so too should be its music. Each track in the preview build has a certain sadness to it, mostly 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:

What’s next for Death’s Door?

It’s hard for me to pass judgement on a mere preview of the game, but of what I’ve played so far, I’m eager for more. An intriguing world, smooth combat, and attractive visual style definitely make Death’s Door a game you’ll want to keep your eyes on like a hawk (or a crow). It releases shortly on July 20th for PC and Xbox One/Series S/Series X, and I’ll absolutely be playing the full version as soon as I can get my claws on it! Keep an eye out for the full review which I’ll be posting closer to launch.

You can find out more about Death’s Door below:
https://store.steampowered.com/app/894020/Deaths_Door/
https://www.devolverdigital.com/games/deaths-door/
https://playdeathsdoor.com/

Guilty Gear -Strive- Review: PC

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

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

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

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

Visuals

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

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

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

Sound Design and Music

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

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

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

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

 Gameplay

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

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

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

May’s ridiculous Overdrive attack.

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

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

Story and Gameplay Modes

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

So why should you play it?

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

But why shouldn’t you play it?

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

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

Before I Forget Review – Nintendo Switch

In recent years, thanks to the growing popularity of indie games and small teams of developers, videogames have provided a means of discussing impactful topics. Often with only several people working on a game, this allows for unique insight into subject matter that might not otherwise be possible for triple-A titles. Notable titles like the widely-celebrated and brutally-difficult Celeste, which cleverly discusses depression and anxiety while climbing both a literal and figurative mountain, or Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, a dark fantasy in which the player is made to experience psychosis, are both brilliant representations of mental health in video games. Games like these do not stigmatise or portray such difficult topics in a negative light, but rather help to promote understanding and discussion.

Chances are you may know someone, or have friends or family who have a loved one affected by dementia – in Australia alone there are 472,000 people living with dementia, and almost 1.6 million people involved in their care. This complex collection of symptoms can lead to memory loss, confusion, and impairment of thinking, making even simple daily activities into challenging tasks. A condition for which there is no prevention or cure, and of initial signs that can often be subtle or vague. Dementia is chronic and can progress to the point where it can become debilitating or even fatal. So how can a videogame attempt to replicate and provide insight into such a complex set of neurological symptoms?

This has been achieved in Before I Forget, a story-rich experience that is less of a traditional videogame, and more of a succinct interactive, artistic insight into the emotional impact of dementia. Created by 3-Fold Games and conceptualised at a Game Jam in 2016, the game launched as a Humble Original for PC in 2020 and received a BAFTA nomination earlier this year as a “Game Beyond Entertainment” (which has been received by games such as Hellblade and Animal Crossing: New Horizons). Now available on Nintendo Switch, how does such an impactful, thought-provoking game fare on a handheld console?

Story

The player takes control of Sunita Appleby, a Indian Cosmologist and a celebrated scientist – though these accolades have since become remnants of her fragmented past. Once a brilliant mind, Sunita is now affected by symptoms of dementia; her memories of family and friends fade in and out of view from within the window panes of her small home in which the entire game takes place. Finding herself trapped in her own porch, a small post-it note adhered to the wall sparks a memory of her loved one.

Unpaid bills lay scattered that Sunita has no recollection of, voice messages are left on her phone by friends who are now complete strangers, and through empty hallways echo the sound of melancholy piano played by none other than virtuoso pianist, Dylan Appleby, Sunita’s husband. This short story follows several days of Sunita’s life as she seeks to find Dylan and overcome simple challenges at home. Though the story takes place from her current perspective, you’ll be able to piece together her past through recollections, forgotten conversations, treasured mementos, and nostalgic flashbacks of key life moments.

Before I Forget Nintendo Switch Sunita Dylan
Sunita and Dylan are never seen in the game; you’ll find their images throughout the house.

Although short, the story is insightful, emotive, and at times even amusing and heart-warming. Impressively Before I Forget manages to achieve a deep emotional connection between Sunita and Dylan within a timeframe where most other videogame narratives would only be setting the scene.

Gameplay

Some may classify Before I Forget as a “Walking Simulator“, a sub-genre of games in which the primary gameplay involves controlling a character that walks and interacts with objects to unravel a story (think Dear Esther & Gone Home for example). In order to focus on a narrative, aspects of gameplay are minimal, though this does not detract from the overall experience of the game. Sometimes even navigating throughout Sunita’s small house can be a difficult task, as could be the case for those with dementia. Particular parts of the game may fool you into thinking you’ve gone in the wrong direction, or surprise you with hinderances that in reality do not actually exist.

Before I Forget Nintendo Switch Dementia visuals
Even the simple task of walking can sometimes be difficult.

Interacting with certain items in the game will prompt flashbacks of memories, in which you’re given insight into Sunita’s life, her relationship with Dylan, or her childhood. Although these events are mostly quite straightforward, they provide more depth to the narrative. You’ll likely miss a lot of these small details during your first playthrough, as not all of them are necessary for progression, which provides some incentive to play the game an additional time.

Before I Forget Nintendo Switch Flashback Art
This stargazing flashback of Sunita’s childhood is particularly heart-warming.

Visuals

This is one of the most appealing aspects of Before I Forget – I’d compare the visuals to a fusion of real life and an impressionist painting. At the beginning of the game, the surroundings are dull and devoid of colour to represent Sunita’s lack of memory. With further progression and interaction with more elements, her memory breathes life into the game’s visuals and colour begins to once again wash across the house like watercolour paint slowly spreading across a canvas. It’s a beautiful visual effect and is highly satisfying to see a bland room eventually transformed in pastel colours – quite a unique way to gauge the player’s progression through the game.

Rooms will begin to regain their detail and colour as you explore them.

Despite being played on the small, handheld screen of the Nintendo Switch, the simple visuals of the game still look incredibly attractive thanks to this art-style. There were even moments where I found myself pausing to admire the surroundings and snap a few screenshots before moving on.

In juxtaposition to the game’s gorgeous visuals, there are hindering visual elements designed to represent Sunita’s symptoms of dementia. Often the screen will have a hazy visual effect or at key moments will distort to appear chaotic and confusing, making it intentionally tricky to navigate an otherwise simple hallway. I would have liked to have seen more use of these sort of visuals though, as there were only a couple of instances where they had a significant impact.

Before I Forget Nintendo Switch Dementia visuals
At times Sunita feels trapped or lost within her own house.

Audio

Clever audio design is a key aspect in Before I Forget. Heavy footsteps on hardwood floors might prompt you to explore your surroundings, echoing piano notes from the distance call you to walk towards them, and thoughts and conversations from the past regularly play out in Sunita’s head. You’ll also hear quite a bit of dialogue throughout the game from Sunita, her mother, and Dylan. All have excellent performances from their voice actors and become highly emotive toward the end of the game. The simple piano soundtrack too is quite fitting, as music is often played by memories of Dylan who is a talented pianist. Here’s a short snippet in which you can literally watch the world go by while you enjoy the music:

Though I usually find myself fawning over game soundtracks, my favourite aspect of the audio is the inclusion of a full developer commentary. When starting the game you can choose to turn this on, and in doing so you’ll be prompted with hovering speech bubbles throughout your journey through the game. These snippets each a couple minutes long, contain interesting banter from most of the team who worked on the game, and felt as if I was listening to an interactive podcast. I wish more indie games would include commentary like this as an added bonus! It really offered me incentive to play through the game again with the commentary turned on.

Before I Forget Nintendo Switch Developer Commentary
These optional floating speech bubbles can be scattered throughout Sunita’s journey.

Conclusion

At only an hour long, Before I Forget feels like less of a traditional videogame and more of an interactive art piece, designed to offer insight into the topic of dementia and does so by portraying an impactful story with emotional character connections in a single sitting. In consulting with two psychiatrists (Dr Donald Sevant and Dr David Codling) for their medical expertise, 3-Fold Games have managed to create a melancholy but poignant story that highlights the challenges faced by those with dementia. I personally found myself to be quite moved by the experience. Though not all will find the game appealing, players with a fondness for artistic games or those seeking a narrative with an important message will find the experience worthwhile.

So, why should you play it?

  • You enjoy concise games with a focus on an emotional narrative.
  • Artistic games with very basic gameplay usually appeal to you.
  • You’d like to try understand a bit more about dementia.
  • It’s hard to find time for long games – this game can be easily played and completed in a single sitting.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • You’d rather play games to keep yourself occupied for hours at a time.
  • If videogames are more of a way to escape life’s tricky topics rather than to experience them.

To seek help regarding dementia, or if you need to help a family member or a friend that is affected, you can reach out to the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 or via the Dementia Australia website.
If you or someone you care for is in need of support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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

Nintendo Indie World Showcase Summary – 14.4.21

Road 96, OXENFREE II: Lost Signals and OlliOlli World among the highlights of the Indie World Showcase

Autumn is in the air, and the latest indie adventures on Nintendo Switch are here with the cool change. During the latest Indie World video presentation, Nintendo detailed 21 games from independent developers that are coming to Nintendo Switch – with three having launched today.

Indie games featured in the showcase include Road 96, a procedural story-driven game from DigixArt that will change depending on the choices you make; OXENFREE II: Lost Signals, a direct sequel to the original acclaimed supernatural game from Night School Studio; OlliOlli World, Roll7’s new skateboarding action game in the totally gnarly OlliOlli franchise, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, a side scrolling beat ’em up invoking the Turtles’ legendary 1987 design; and The Longing, an experimental real-time adventure from Studio Seufz that launched today for Nintendo Switch.

Additionally, an Indie World sale is starting today in Nintendo eShop, offering discounts on select indie games for Nintendo Switch from now until 25th April.

To view the Indie World video in its entirety, visit Indie World – 15/04/2021 (Nintendo Switch).

The highlights revealed in the video include:

  • Road 96 from DigixArt: In a narrative-focused game with a mix of adventure, exploration and puzzle-solving, Road 96 tells a procedural story with thousands of potential paths to take. Meet characters from all walks of life and learn their intertwining stories. The decisions you make – both big and small – can drastically alter your experience. There are many roads. Which one will you take? Road 96 drives onto Nintendo Switch later this year.
  • OXENFREE II: Lost Signals from Night School Studio: Published by MWM Interactive, OXENFREE II: Lost Signals is a supernatural narrative adventure game about a researcher who stumbles upon ghostly happenings. Five years after the events of OXENFREE, Riley returns to her hometown of Camena to investigate mysterious radio frequency signals causing curious disturbances. OXENFREE II: Lost Signals comes to Nintendo Switch in 2021.
  • OlliOlliWorld from Roll7: The bold new entry in the OlliOlli series is here! In OlliOlli World, tear up the streets of Radland and search for the mystical skate gods in this slick action platformer. With super-tight controls and level design that flows with your combos, you’ll have a blast mastering tricks, meeting colourful characters and discovering the hidden secrets of this vivid and vibrant world. OlliOlli World launches for Nintendo Switch this summer.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge from Tribute Games: With a blend of retro and modern visuals, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge finds the four favourite turtles kicking some serious shell in classic arcade-style beat-’em-up action. Up to four players can play locally* or online in this bodacious game developed by Tribute Games and published by Dotemu, who also published Streets of Rage 4 and Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge launches for Nintendo Switch later this year.
  • The Longing from Studio Seufz: With a beautiful hand-drawn art style and an intriguing story, The Longing is unlike anything you have played before. The big twist: You don’t actually have to play to see how it ends. But that doesn’t mean you should just sit idly by. As main character Shade, you must wait 400 days for your king to awaken. While waiting, you can explore dark caves, complete time-based puzzles and collect items. Start your countdown clock now, as The Longing is out now on Nintendo Switch.
  • Annapurna Interactive: Two new games from Annapurna Interactive, the award-winning publishers of Florence and What Remains of Edith Finch, are coming to Nintendo Switch. These are just the latest artistic gems from the publisher’s already impressive library of games:
  • Hindsight from Annapurna Interactive: Hindsight from developer Joel McDonald is a poignant narrative game about an older woman reminiscing about her family. The objects from her past serve as portals into long-lost memories, revealing a decision that forever changed her life. Learn more when Hindsight launches for Nintendo Switch this year.
  • Last Stop from Annapurna Interactive: Last Stop from developer Variable State is a single-player third-person adventure set in modern-day London, where you play as three separate characters whose worlds collide in the midst of a supernatural crisis. What connects these three strangers? Where will fate lead them? Find out when Last Stop launches for Nintendo Switch in July.
  • Aerial_Knight’sNever Yield from Aerial_Knight: This is not your typical “runner” game! Run, jump, slide and dash through a futuristic Tokyo-styled Detroit to a head-bopping soundtrack as the protagonist Wally to save what’s left of the future. Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield slides onto Nintendo Switch on 19th May. A demo will be available to download now in Nintendo eShop.
  • FEZ from Polytron: Gomez is a 2D creature living in a 2D world. Or is he? When the existence of a mysterious third dimension is revealed to him, Gomez is sent out on a journey that will take him to the very end of time and space. Use your ability to navigate 3D structures from four distinct classic 2D perspectives. The critically acclaimed FEZ is available now on Nintendo Switch.
  • Aztech Forgotten Gods from Lienzo: If you’re looking for a grand adventure inspired by Aztec mythology, look no further than Aztech Forgotten Gods from Mexican studio Lienzo. Gain powerful arm upgrades, traverse different areas within an advanced Mesoamerican metropolis and encounter all sorts of characters to uncover ancient secrets. Aztech Forgotten Gods soars onto Nintendo Switch this spring.
  • There is No Game: Wrong Dimension from Draw Me A Pixel: Despite its title, this really is a game! There is No Game: Wrong Dimension is a point-and-click comedy adventure filled with riddles and puzzles. If you’re looking for something different and experimental that’s full of surprises, look no further. There is No Game: Wrong Dimension is out now on Nintendo Switch.
  • Cris Tales from Dreams Uncorporated and SYCK: Drawing inspiration from classic and modern JRPGs, Cris Tales incorporates time traveling into its storyline and combat with a variety of surprise effects, like making enemies younger and thus easier to defeat. While exploring this handcrafted, dark fairy-tale world, you’ll recruit a diverse cast of allies and discover new realms. Cris Tales lands on Nintendo Switch on 20th July.
  • GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon from Konami Digital Entertainment and GuruGuru: Showcasing a stylized Japanese aesthetic, GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon delivers a dynamic hack-and-slash roguelite experience, filled with perilous dungeons, fierce boss battles and intense, skill-based combat. GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon launches for Nintendo Switch next year.
  • Beasts of Maravilla Island from Banana Bird Studios, LLC: In this 3D adventure game, take on the role of a young wildlife photographer who traverses Maravilla Island’s magical ecosystems to discover extraordinary creatures, learn their behaviours and, most importantly, photograph their majesty. Beasts of Maravilla Island launches for Nintendo Switch in June.
  • Skul: The Hero Slayer from SouthPAW Games: Take on an entire army to rescue your king in this 2D fast-action roguelite. And the best part? To progress in the game, you’ll need to swap abilities, which is done by swapping … heads. With 90 playable character variations, each with their own special abilities, you might think you’re out of your skull in real life. Skul: The Hero Slayer launches for Nintendo Switch this winter.
  • art of rally from Funselektor Labs Inc.: Will you master the art of rally? Drive iconic cars inspired by the golden era of rally racing on challenging stages through stylized environments set around the world. art of rally launches for Nintendo Switch this winter.
  • KeyWe from Stonewheat & Sons: KeyWe is a cute, cooperative postal puzzler starring two small kiwi birds working in a whimsical post office. They must jump, flap and butt-slam across an interactive landscape of levers, bells and buttons to get those messages delivered on time. KeyWe launches for Nintendo Switch in August.
  • ENDER LILIES: Quietus of the Knights from Adglobe: In this dark fantasy 2D action-RPG, encounter horrific enemies against whom a moment of inattention could be fatal. Overcome these hardships and seek the truth with the help of fallen knights. ENDER LILIES: Quietus of the Knights launches for Nintendo Switch on 22nd June.
  • Weaving Tides from Follow the Feathers: Call your Weaver and soar across a stunning woven landscape. Set out on a journey to explore ancient dungeons, solve puzzles, wrap up your foes and unravel the great mysteries of a long-forgotten past. Weaving Tides, a charming single-player adventure set in a world of magic and textile, launches for Nintendo Switch in May.
  • Labyrinth City: Pierre the Maze Detective from Darjeeling: Adapted from the children’s book series, Labyrinth City: Pierre the Maze Detective takes you across incredibly detailed mazes to retrieve a powerful artifact. On your quest, you will interact with more than 500 items or characters, find over 100 hidden objects and wander about in beautiful locations. Labyrinth City: Pierre the Maze Detective launches for Nintendo Switch this autumn.
  • The House of the Dead: Remake from MegaPixel Studio: The classic arcade rail-shooter is back with a new makeover and exciting gameplay changes. In this multiplayer game, you’ll suit up as a pair of government agents sent to investigate disappearances only to find hordes of undead monstrosities. The House of the Dead: Remake launches for Nintendo Switch later this year.

…and that’s a wrap!
Some really awesome titles announced – very excited to play these. Oxenfree is a personal favourite of mine and is one of the best games on the Switch, so I’m most looking forward to the sequel. What’s top of your list from this bunch of indies? Reach on on socials and let me know!

Guilty Gear and the Importance of Rollback Netcode

Guilty Gear has seen many iterations throughout the years, most recently being the Xrd series, with each new title being a refinement of the last entry and a focus on tight, concise gameplay. Xrd and each of its new subreleases (Revelator, REV 2, and Sign) were most definitely great fighting games in their own right, that were a blast to play with a very striking art style. That being said, as much as I could laud over them for how many hours I spent labbing with every character (but mostly just Potemkin), they were missing something crucial that its sister title. Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R received from the outset that would have been vital to Xrd’s lifespan from the very beginning. Funnily enough, this is because XXAC+R started out as a fan project, but Arc System Works actually found out about the work the team behind the game were implementing and then immediately hired them to finish the project and Aksys would release it as an official Guilty Gear game, which is a story that deserves an article of its own. But what is this crucial element that XXAC+R received that Xrd did not? The excellent addition of Rollback Netcode implementation. For the readers who do not know, allow me to give a brief explanation of Rollback Netcode and why it is what I would consider to be a crucial component in the longevity, or one might even say survival, of fighting games in general.

The normal Netcode that most multiplayer and fighting games use that the average consumer is aware of is delay-based. It is the most well-known and widespread, but hang around those who have been in the Fighting Game Community for any length of consistent time and you will hear the hushed whispers of those who wish their favorite games ditched the dinosaur delay-based tyranny for smooth, tight Rollback. You see, fighting games are used to process both player inputs at the same time, however when your online opponent’s inputs are received they need to be sent over the network to be displayed to you on your side of the match, they will inevitably be delayed as a result. Thereby the game needs a method to deal with these late inputs to make it seem as close as possible that said opponent is playing locally right next to you, fitestick or pad in hand. Delay-based is the most common way to deal with this, so what does it do?

What is Delay-Based Netcode?

Simply put, Delay-Based Netcode delays the local player’s (in this case you) inputs by the necessary number of frames to match accordingly with their online opponent. It makes your inputs slower so the fight seems closer to local play. If you input a low punch that takes three animation frames offline, it would make that punch come out in six frames instead of three, that way the three extra frames could be used to process your opponent’s inputs and be sent to you via the network and would match accordingly. As a result of the delay, your input timing and reactions will drastically differ online, making the timing you have gotten so used to during the mix-ups and combos you have practiced near completely irrelevant. No match will feel the way you want it to, and that isn’t even counting internet spikes or connection issues. Consistency is the end all be all word us FGC freaks love. Consistency in how something feels, and how it plays. So, what exactly can we do to make consistent online matches to where you, the local player, aren’t being delayed by near DOUBLE your framedata to match your opponent?

What is Rollback Netcode?

Enter sweet baby Rollback. So what does it do since the frames can never perfectly match up for a local and online player since no matter how good your connection is, they are not right next to you? Simply put, it does not delay you at all. The local player’s inputs aren’t delayed whatsoever, and they are transmitted online as if they were being put in offline. Instead, it simply rolls back (hence the name) time itself ala King Crimson style your online opponent’s inputs to match their frames up consistently with yours. It fixes the mistakes of the frame delay by correcting the past on your screen. Yes, it’s as good as it sounds. When those inputs are missing initially, the player will have gone through time when your player pressed that button or did that action, and the game you are playing would have shown a different result on screen, and the way Rollback fixes this, is it rewinds the simulation how it played out in the netcode’s head and fixes it, applying your opponent’s input and displaying it to you immediately. Your three-frame low punch we were talking about earlier that gets delayed to six frames to match? Instead, now your opponent’s input is being rolled back to reach three frames earlier. Simply put, it’s fucking Godlike consistency in comparison to Delay-Based.

So then the question becomes, why is Delay-Based Netcode still used? Honestly, the main reason is how much more effort it takes to implement proper Rollback for development teams, is not worth the effort and extra money and time publishers are willing to throw at it, and close to half of Japanese publishers do not know the difference between them. For fighting games as a whole, the big heads of the staple franchises like Capcom and SNK, are convinced that the fans will happily accept the worst delay-based they could possibly fit inside the game, and for the most part, they are right. SFV has sold roughly 4.5 million copies as of me writing this, and yet still the Netcode is still notoriously broken. How does all of this information relate to Strive? I’ll inform you of why. Arc System Works announced from day one that they were using Rollback for Strive, and when the beta was dropped, to say that there was hardly any downtime waiting for matches and every match was fantastic with no disconnects nor delay spikes would be an understatement.

The Hype Is Real

Guilty Gear Strive is not only a fantastic fighting game from what I have played of the Beta, but it is vitally important for fighting games and the future of Netcode. There has been an absolutely monumental roar from fans about how smooth it is and how much they want more of this same online experience for different future titles from other developers. So much so that Arc System Works has talked about going back and adding Rollback into previous Guilty Gear titles! Guilty Gear Strive still brings us the many characters fans have come to know and love throughout the years such as Sol Badguy, Ky Kisuke, Chipp, Baiken, Faust, May, and my boy, the armor clad of faith himself Potemkin. It also brings us an absolutely flooring OST released so far including Smell of the Game and Society, but most importantly, it will bring us, the players, the freedom of being uncaged by the prison of horrid online match-ups. I could go on and on about the new and old mechanics introduced to the game such as wall-breaks, Roman Cancels, and Faultless Defense, but there will be another time in the near future when that will happen, and I’ll have plenty to say then around June.

The hype for Strive is real, everyone, for anyone who loves fighting games or this community as much as I do, I can’t recommend you get on this quick enough. Feel the difference in online matchmaking and what it should be for a fighting game made by people who care about the experience of the people who play it and convey that passion for their work through every frame of animation and every pixel and particle effect off each character. As of June 11th, 2021, if you have a stick gathering dust in the peripheral closet, blow it off and break it out, because hundreds of thousands are going to collide, because they already know the Smell of the Game. I’ll catch you all in the lobbies.

Find out more about Guilty Gear Strive at the official website: https://www.guiltygear.com/ggst/en/

Voxel Indie Narrative Adventure ‘7 Years From Now’ Making Way to Nintendo Switch and PC

PQube, Fumi and Room 6 are excited to announce that award winning narrative adventure, 7 Years From Now, will be launching on Steam and Nintendo Switch on 28th May!

  • A mature, emotional and uniquely wrenching single player experience
  • All DLC included, featuring epilogue, side story, glossary and Sound Mode
  • Rated 4.9 / 5 on iOS, 4.6 / 5 on Google Play
  • Winner of 5 awards including Vivo’s Best Indie Game, Huawei Most Exciting
  • Downloaded over 6,000,000 times on mobile
  • Launching on Steam & Nintendo Switch on 28th May, 2021

First launched in 2017 for mobile, the deceptively dark and wonderful ‘7 Years From Now‘ charmed audiences with its deeply engrossing story, minimalist voxel art style and ambient score soundtrack.

Check out the 7 Years From Now Trailer:

Winner of 5 awards since its mobile launch in 2017, 7 Years From Now received international acclaim as it approached serious narrative themes from bullying, to mental health and domestic violence with immersive and masterful storytelling.  Now optimised and adapted for PC and console, containing all content from the main story, to epilogue and more7 Years From Now will be coming to Nintendo Switch and Steam on 28th May, 2021.

7 Years From Now Old Well Screenshot 1

Developed as a labour of love by Mafumi Yoshida, a one-man development team, 7 Years From Now is a uniquely emotive non-combat based narrative experience. Embark on a surreal journey retracing the steps of old memories lost 7 years prior. Take on the role of high school student Haruto Soraki as he returns to his hometown on a quest to recover his memory after being involved in an accident, which he knows nothing about.

7 Years From Now Honoka’s Hospital Room Screenshot

In this wonderfully charming yet sinister slice of life adventure, reacquaint yourself with forgotten friends, discover hidden depths as you expose a horrifying conspiracy and learn the truth of your past once and for all.

7 Years From Now Clinic Check Up Room Screenshot

For more information and the latest news, follow PQube on TwitterFacebookTwitchInstagram and our official website: http://pqube.co.uk/ Join the discussion using hashtags #7YearsFromNow and #PQube

Undertale and Octopath Traveler Coming to Xbox Gamepass

In an announcement overnight, Microsoft has revealed the next set of games arriving on Xbox Gamepass. The list includes popular titles like Nier: Automata, Star Wars: Squadrons, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, indie hit Undertale, and my personal favourite of the bunch, the first game in Square Enix HD-2D series: Octopath Traveler. A brilliant lineup of games with some excellent titles!

The full release schedule is as follows:

Week of March 15: 

·       UndertaleAVAILABLE NOW (Console and PC)
·       Empire of SinMarch 18 (Console and PC)
·       Nier: AutomataMarch 18 (PC)
·       Star Wars: SquadronsMarch 18 (Console)
·       Torchlight IIIMarch 18 (PC)

Week of March 22: 

·       Genesis NoirMarch 25 (Console and PC)
·       Octopath TravelerMarch 25 (Console and PC)
·       Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire – Ultimate EditionMarch 25 (PC)
·       SupralandMarch 25 (PC)
·       Yakuza 6: The Song of LifeMarch 25 (Console and PC)

Week of March 29: 

·       OutridersApril 1 (Console)
·       Narita BoyMarch 30 (Console and PC)

For more information, including news about the latest Xbox Game Pass Quests and DLC, head over to Xbox Wire. The official announcement can be found here: Coming Soon to Xbox Game Pass

“To the Rescue” Unleashes Doggos on Nintendo Switch and Steam

To The Rescue! Finds its Forever Home on Nintendo Switch, Steam in Late 2021

A brand new indie dog shelter simulator game To the Rescue! launches later this year which allows you to run a dog shelter. Purchasing the game will also allow you to help real-life doggos, with 20% of all profits from the game being donated to animal shelters. As a veterinarian myself, I’m honestly pretty excited to try out this game!

To The Rescue Nintendo Switch Dog Breeds
Each dog has their own individual personalities, stats, and health traits. Just like real life!

Build a shelter and help stray pups find good new homes with loving families. Construct an ideal environment to meet the needs of man’s best friend and maximize their chances to be adopted. Caring for dozens of doggos is rewarding, but the mission has its share of challenges as well. 

Every pooch has their own personality. It’s important to get to know each dog and find out what makes them unique. People have their preferences too, so learning what they’re looking for in a pupper is critical when making matches that will last a lifetime.

To the Rescue Nintendo Switch Adoption Centre
Gotta adopt ’em all!

Between visits from potential pet parents, there’s never a dull moment. Shelters have plenty of mouths to feed and treating illnesses like kennel cough is always a concern. Then there’s logistics to worry about. It takes no shortage of supplies to keep the operation up and running.

Meanwhile, someone has to manage the finances and make sure to keep the lights on. Shelters need to be thrifty and make hard decisions. Hiring staff and dealing with investors is as much a part of the job as scritching Rex behind the ears and giving Fido belly rubs. There can be tough times, but at the end of the day helping dogs find their forever homes is always worth it.

To the Rescue Nintendo Switch Stats Finances
Finances of the shelter also need to be managed.

“The challenges dog shelters and their volunteers face every day truly inspire us,” said Olivia Dunlap, co-founder, Little Rock Games. “It’s a setting we felt was ripe for exploration in games and we look forward to bringing this world to Nintendo Switch and Steam later this year.”

To The Rescue! will be available in late 2021 for Nintendo Switch as well as Steam on PC and Mac for $19.99USD. The development team pledges 20 percent of profits to pet shelters. 

Here’s the official trailer for the game:

Fore more info check out the official website: Little Rock Games