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.

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.

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.

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/

Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights Review (PC)

I wanna know, have you ever seen the rain (of death)?

Love it or hate it (and many do hate it!), the word “Metroidvania” is one that has become widely used across the videogame community. An amalgam of Metroid and Castlevania, this portmanteau describes a specific sub-genre of action/adventure videogames that feature 2D platforming, role-playing game elements, and vast interconnected locales that promote exploration and backtracking. Popularised by iconic genre-defining games like Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, this style of gameplay has since become a staple of many modern games within the indie scene.

Though the origins of the genre arose in the ’80/90s, this group of games is now more popular than ever. Indie titles over the last decade have solidified the Metroidvania (sorry, I’ll stop using that word now) as one of the most prominent and admired: games like Hollow Knight, Axiom Verge, Dead Cells, Guacamelee!, and Ori and the Blind Forest just to name a few. Any self-respecting indie studio nowadays seems intent on releasing a game to compete with the ranks of these celebrated titles. And just when I thought I had seen them all, I discovered the most engrossing action/adventure game I’d encountered since I delved into Hallownest

Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights, published by Binary Haze Interactive, a new player in the indie scene, is a dark fantasy 2D action RPG releasing on PC, Nintendo Switch this month, and Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, PS4 and PS5 later this year. At first glance this might just seem like another gloomy, gothic adventure inspired by the likes of those that have preceded it, but assuming that would be grossly underestimating the experience on offer in Ender Lilies. So how does a game so clearly inspired by others hold up against the source material, or sometimes even surpass it? Well, it’s time to dive into End’s Kingdom and the endless deluge that awaits…

Plot

In Land’s End lies a fragile young girl, lost and alone; a White Priestess awakens to discover the entire Kingdom has fallen and its inhabitants now afflicted and corrupted by a fowl Blight that has scoured the entire land. Greeted with the muted, soothing sounds of raindrops, the Priestess ventures further into a ruined cathedral to discover a downpour inundating and infecting all those that it touches: the Rain of Death. Though not truly alone in this ruined world, the Priestess is accompanied by the soul of one who in life strived to protect her, a valiant knight whose spirit joins her on this journey to unravel the mysteries that await.

It is the task of the lone Priestess to explore the source of the Blight, face those who have suffered from the ceaseless rain, and purify their souls so that they may find peace. Through the act of purification, the foes whom she faces may be redeemed and join her side to aide her quest. In the style of the Souls games, snippets of story are pieces together through character dialogue, depictions, and discarded notes that lay amongst the dilapidated ruins. What initially seems like a cliché gothic storybook evolves into an engrossing, entrancing setting that simply begs to be explored.

Gameplay

If you’ve ever played one of the games that belongs to this sub-genre, you’ll feel immediately familiar with the gameplay of Ender Lilies. Exploring an intricate, sprawling map with distinct locales, environmental puzzles and littered with secrets and collectibles feels as thrilling as the first time I ever played Symphony of the Night. Before you awaits a corrupted world divided into regions each featuring unique enemies, bosses, and blighted to purify, and feels as through you’re stepping into a 2D Kingdom of Lordran. In a style of game with such a heavy emphasis on platforming, the controls during running, jumping and dashing feel like second nature, and both the character and enemies have a distinct weight and momentum to their movement.

Google Maps isn’t going to help you here.

Throughout the Kingdom you’ll encounter the discarded corpses of those who have succumbed to the blight – some of whom may take you unaware in ambush, or others that lay menacingly in wait the end of foreboding arenas and hallways. Defeating these foes will allow the Priestess to purify them, and in turn their spirit will fight by your side. Collecting these souls will expand your repertoire of skills, adding elements like a double jump, dash, swimming, ground slam, all elements that will help unlock new areas that were previously inaccessible. It’s typical action/adventure fare that offers a means of player progress, but executed cleverly in a way this does not seem dry or uninspired.

Taking a moment to rest.

With systems that feel akin to Hollow Knight, the player may pause at benches and swap their equipped souls to ones that are more suited to particular area. Treasured trinkets may also be gathered on your adventures and equipped to enhance your abilities, though these will take up equipment slots that may be expanded by discovering necklaces scattered throughout the Kingdom. In another similarity, the player’s health can be restored by pausing in a solemn moment of prayer, which is useful when exploring but leaves the Priestess vulnerable. Prayers can be replenished not through combat, but by discovering white lilies that grow in even the most horrid, desolate environments.

Combat

It is truly difficult to put into words the flowing combat of Ender Lilies, which is some of the most responsive, intuitive, and enjoyable combat available in a game of this genre. What initially feels slow and awkward becomes a fluid combination of attacks, skills, dodges, and special moves that are easy to learn but difficult to master. An almost infinite repository of combat skills and attacks are on offer thanks to the spirits the Priestess purifies throughout the game, each of whom adds a new weapon to the arsenal. Whether you’re a player who prefers a swift onslaught of attacks, keeping your distance through ranged attacks, or a barrage of slow-but-heavy destructive moves, the combat can be customised to suit your liking.

If you want to survive in the blighted Kingdom, you’ll need to be observant, as each enemy has a distinct set of choreographed moves with tells that will alert the keen eye to the next incoming attack. By watching the movements you’ll be able to perform carefully-timed dodges and parries, allowing you to quickly counter and break the enemy. This becomes even more important through the inclusion of a stamina/stagger meter, which can be depleted through steady attacks on an enemy, leaving them wide open. Chaining together a series of uninterrupted attacks to tear down the stagger and then the health bar of a difficult boss is the ultimate feeling of satisfaction.

Wait a sec, I didn’t think this was a bullet hell game?

Although the environments and regular enemies can at times pose quite a challenge (especially when you are locked into arenas where blighted knights must be defeated before progressing), it is the game’s bosses that capture the true essence of Ender Lilies’ combat. The sheer variety of bosses and the skill required will put even seasoned players to the test, especially when the boss you thought you had just defeated transforms into a gargantuan, disgusting Eldritch abomination with twice as much health. There is no doubt that many of the foes you face will require numerous attempts, but the inevitable defeat of a boss is an experience that will have your heart racing by the end of the encounter.

Visuals

Combining the magnificent and the macabre, I do not exaggerate when I say that Ender Lilies is without a doubt one of the most gorgeous games I have encountered thanks to its detailed and distinct environmental art. While obvious nods to the likes of Castlevania and Hollow Knight appear throughout the Priestess’ journey, such as resting and saving at distinct benches scattered throughout the Kingdom, the game manages to create a truly beautiful, gothic-inspired art-style unlike any other game I’ve played. Each new region presents with it a unique visual aesthetic, while maintaining the overall art-style of the game which feels like playing a morbid fairy-tale.

Detailed environments, while bleak, are a pleasure to look at.

The visuals are at their best when elements of beauty can be found within even the darkest, most grotesque settings. While standing upon a mound of skulls, a serene light engulfs the scene and washes over the character. A darkened and lonely bedroom offers a brief respite and moment of comfort in an otherwise violent and dreadful deserted castle. Colossal cathedrals loom in the background and frame the boss fight occurring in the foreground – you’ll often be distracted to admire the sheer detail within all of these environments. Though enough of me trying to explain how beautiful the game can be, here’s some screenshots that speak more than words:

Audio

The music to Ender Lilies has been composed entirely by Japanese indie group, Mili, who have created songs that feature in anime like Goblin Slayer and Ghost in the Shell and rhythm games like Cytus and DEEMO. Few words are more fitting when describing the music of Ender Lilies than melancholy. The game’s sombre sounds of solo piano and haunting ethereal vocals echo throughout its disturbing environments, and sound as though they offer a fleeting glimmer of hope amongst the dark and daunting world. Songs will vary considerably based on your surroundings – heavy rain in open areas will dampen the track and remove its vocals, whereas the same song played indoors will be calming and detailed, adding extra layers of audio that were not previously present.

The theme of The White Parish area.

Overall the soundtrack features 50 tracks and a colossal 144 minutes of music, which is a massive amount for an indie game. There’s a lot to love about the music to Ender Lilies and I’ll likely be listening to it for weeks to months to come.

It’s also worth noting that the person responsible for the game’s sound effects is Keichi Sugiyama, who you might not know by name, but you’ll certainly recognise the games he is responsible, notably Rez, Daytona USA, and Rule of Rose. His experience in sound design is certainly reflected in the quality of the game’s audio, particularly in its frequent use of rain, water, and numerous audio cues that add to the overall experience.

Conclusion

Combining a bleak yet entrancing world with expansive exploration and seriously satisfying combat makes Ender Lilies one of the best in the genre, and in ways surpasses the games that have inspired it. Every moment throughout its 10 – 15 hour journey is captivating to say the least, and the game has taken me completely by surprise in what I can comfortably say has been one of the finest games I’ve played so far this year. If you consider yourself a fan of games like Symphony of the Night and Hollow Knight, you would be doing yourself an absolute disservice by not playing Ender Lilies. This is a game you must play.

So, why should you play it?

  • You’d consider yourself a fan of games in this genre.
  • Challenging and satisfying combat that never feels unfair.
  • Truly gorgeous art style, environments and soundtrack.
  • Interesting world that is intriguing to explore.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • You struggle with challenging combat and swift dodging.
  • Not a fan of platforming games.

A review code on PC was provided for the purpose of this review.
Find out more about Ender Lilies here: https://www.enderlilies.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.

Essays on Empathy Review: PC

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

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

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

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

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

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

Underground Hangovers (Genre: Metroidvania/Platformer)

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

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

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

Supercontinent Ltd (Genre: Cyberpunk/Narrative)

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

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

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

Behind Every Great One (Genre: Drama/Narrative)

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

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

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

Eternal Home Floristry (Genre: Narrative/Flower Arrangement)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Engolasters January 2021 Essays on Empathy PC

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

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

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

Dear Substance of Kin (Genre: Horror/Adventure)

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

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

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

Des Tres al Cuatro (Genre: Comedy/Narrative)

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

So, why should you play it?

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

So, why shouldn’t you play it?

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

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

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

TASOMACHI: Behind the Twilight Review – PC

nocras is a name in the gaming industry you may not know, but one that deserves to be known. This individual is an environmental artist that has worked on the likes of Final Fantasy XIV, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and much more. Notable for grand-scale creations, nocras is an artist that 47k Twitter users follow closely, across language barriers and more.

nocras’ latest venture is TASOMACHI: Behind the Twilight. One look at screenshots and one may be in awe at the vibrant, elaborate environments broadcast straight from nocras’ vision. Thankfully, there’s more to it than just that, as TASOMACHI serves as a platformer/collectathon in the vein of Super Mario Odyssey and the like.

I could have screenshot any moment of the game and it would prove to be a looker.

GAMEPLAY/PLOT

TASOMACHI tasks the player with navigating towns and collecting Sources of Earth to repair their airship. These are hidden in bushes, the ground, and in other hard-to-reach places, demanding the player to platform their way across town. Along the way, they will encounter shrines in the towns with four platforming challenges each. Once completed, the towns’ mysterious fog disappears and the cat-like villagers return.

VISUALS

Some of the gorgeous environments you’ll explore, scattered with Chinese-style architecture.

Likely the most significant aspect of why TASOMACHI is moving copies is thanks to the mind of nocras. Together with developer Orbital Express, the atmosphere, inspired by a Chinese imperial aesthetic, is eye candy. It feels worthwhile to complete the shrines and make the towns look abuzz with no obfuscation from the fog, a true night-and-day difference. While architecture gets a bit redundant, the color scheme between towns sets them apart enough thanks to varying level design.

AUDIO

Another big draw that I didn’t realize until I took a gander at the Steam page was that Ujico/Snail’s House provided the music for the game. This musical artist is near and dear to me, as they provided the backdrop for some hilarious TF2 SFM videos, and can stretch from quirky bops to scenic jams across their discography. They delivered a standup job in TASOMACHI, providing ambient grace in exploration sections and upbeat tracks during platform dungeons.

CASUAL

Those looking for a relaxed time, look no further. There’s no combat in TASOMACHI: Behind the Twilight, and you’ll only lose a few seconds if you fall during a platform challenge. This laid-back pace will make it welcoming for casual players seeking pretty sights and sounds.

Towns are shrouded in fog until you clear platforming challenges within shrines.

CONS

Unfortunately, there are still some pain points within this game. The movement is fairly tight, a necessity for platformers, but requires some getting used to since it’s so floaty. One ability you unlock, “boost”, feels miniscule and nothing like a dash you may see in games within the genre. Text and animation feels similar to some that I’ve seen in early-access/shovelware titles, but not jarring enough to be more than a nitpick. Worse off, I encountered a crash every time I attempted to load the third town. This occurred within a mere 2 hours of gameplay and near to game completion, so it truly hampered the mood. Here’s hoping this gets patched soon.

CONCLUSION

Nevertheless, there’s potential to be had with TASOMACHI: Behind the Twilight. It’s undoubtedly gorgeous, an aural pleasure, and a strong first solo effort for nocras. Perhaps the $20 price tag is a bit steep for the state the game’s in, as it currently sits with a “mixed” rating on Steam, but with updates, this could become something great.

So, why should you play it?

  • Relaxed, casual game to experience at your own pace.
  • Bangin’ soundtrack from Ujico/Snail House.
  • Unreal environments.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Game-breaking bug in my build.
  • Some platform challenges are a bit too tough, and need to be skipped.
One of several moments I had to stop and stare. And screenshot.

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