Mass Effect 2: Legendary Edition (PC) Review

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

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

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

Plot

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

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

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

Gameplay

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

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

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

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

Visuals

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

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

Audio

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

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

The best of the three?

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

So, why should you play it?

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

But why shouldn’t you play it?

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

King of Seas Review: PlayStation 4

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

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

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

Plot

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

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

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

King of Seas PS4 PlayStation 4 Visuals Combat

Gameplay

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

Well, unfortunately not so great.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But wait. It gets worse.

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

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

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

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

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

King of Seas PS4 PlayStation 4 Visuals Combat

Presentation

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

So, why should you play it?

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

But, why shouldn’t you play it?

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

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

Shantae (GameBoy Colour) Review: Nintendo Switch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shantae Dancing Sprite Gif

Plot

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

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

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

Gameplay

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

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

Shantae Overworld Gameboy color Colour Nintendo Switch

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

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

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

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

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

Visuals

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

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

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

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Art Gallery

Audio

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

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

So what’s new?

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Pixel Art Dancing Sprite

So, why should you play it?

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

But why shouldn’t you play it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story

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

Void Terrarium PS5 Toriko Robbie
A fungus among us.

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

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

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

Gameplay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visuals

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

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

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

Audio

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

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

Extras

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

So, why should you play it?

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

But why shouldn’t you play it?

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

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

Rise of the Slime Review: Nintendo Switch

Is it high time for the Slime to shine?

Every hero needs to start somewhere. That’s why ever since the dawn of slime, RPGs begin with the player leaving the comfort of the starting town, collecting trivial items, rescuing a couple of cats, all while smiting hordes of low-level monsters for precious XP. Though mobs sometimes appear in the hundreds, few enemies can hope to achieve the level of fame as that of the simple Slime. Name a popular series and it’s almost certain to have its own iteration of this iconic enemy! But despite becoming an immediately-recognised staple of the genre and even its own trope, the Slime is usually battered, down-trodden and quickly cast aside once the player has levelled-up.

Left to right: Dragon Quest (Slime), Atelier series (Puni), Bravely Default (Slime), The Legend of Zelda (Chu-Chu), Neptunia series (Dogoo).

However, the role of the Slime has since changed, with the creation of games that seek to emphasise the importance of this iconic adversary. Games like Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime, Slime-San, and Slime Rancher portray the character in a completely different image, sometimes even as the main protagonist. Joining the ranks of these sublime Slime games is the roguelike deck-builder: Rise of the Slime. An indie title impressively crafted by a one-man team, Maris Bunovsky (who is the game’s sole creator, artist, and developer), the game launched yesterday on PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, and Xbox Series S | X.

So does Rise of the Slime join the ranks of other prime slime games, or is it a giant steaming pile of goo?

Rise of the Slime Nintendo Switch

What’s a “Roguelite Deckbuilder?”

Games like Slay the Spire and the Hand of Fate have defined this subgenre, which combines randomised RPG elements with turn-based combat, focused on a deck of cards that is improved/expanded during progression. The gameplay of Rise of the Slime is exactly what you would expect from this subgenre: randomly-generated levels, challenging combat, and a sizeable pool of cards/abilities that mean no two playthroughs are exactly the same. In a genre that has become increasingly complex since its conception, Rise of the Slime goes back to basics and offers gameplay that is initially approachable and simple.

Slay the Spire Nintendo Switch
“Slay the Spire” introduced gameplay that helped define the genre.

Gameplay

Starting in the Cemetery of the Ancients (hub area), you’ll have the option to customise your slime with power-ups, bring along a pet to aide your quest, and then choose one of three gameplay modes. Challenge Mode is a continuous map with no checkpoints, Short Run features a plethora of “mutators” to adapt your Slime, and Old Path is a longer, more forgiving experience. I played a few hours of each and noticed a significant difference despite the same base gameplay.

Rise of the Slime Nintendo Switch
How does a slime even use a lever?

Each area is divided into 20+ individual rooms within a distinct locale (Forest/Swamp/Lava etc.), which feature small environmental puzzles, upgrades or items, and of course, lots of enemies to try stop you. A single run will take anywhere between 30 minutes to over 2 hours, depending primarily on a combination of luck and skill. Four different decks are available at the beginning of a run and allow for vastly-different options in combat, focusing on close combat, ranged, ailments, or a combination of each. These decks don’t necessarily dictate how you should play, but provide a foundation of combat on which you build with additional cards as you progress.

Rise of the Slime Nintendo Switch
I took a liking to the fire deck, which can quickly backfire.

Combat is where your slime will spend most of its time. Using the deck provided, you’ll take turns against enemies on a side-scrolling battlefield. A “mana system” limits how many cards can be used in a single turn, and will require you to prioritise moving, attacking, defending, or status cards like fire or acid which can afflict both yourself and the enemy. HP does not automatically regenerate between encounters, so conserving health during combat is of the utmost importance. This becomes difficult as enemies can quickly overwhelm and overpower you, which must give the poor Slime some horrid flashbacks of its RPG days. Unless you gain specific abilities or cards during a run, the combat, especially during boss fights, can become unfairly difficult and will quickly lead to frustration and failure. For a game that appears effortless on the surface, it can descend into brutal difficulty.

Rise of the Slime Nintendo Switch

Additional cards will be unlocked upon completion of each round of combat, and can be chosen to best suit your current deck. Positive and negative “mutators” will also appear randomly in the environment, which can be either a blessing or a hinderance, and will dramatically change your success in each run. Upgrades may also be purchased throughout each run, improving both the Slime itself and the individual cards in the deck. The game also claims to offer permanent power-ups that can be purchased in the hub world prior to a run, though frustratingly I constantly encountered a bug that removed any upgrades immediately after leaving the room (which massively hindered my progress through the game).

Visuals

Without a doubt the most appealing and charming aspect of RotS is its adorable visuals. Somehow managing to be equal parts cute and gloomy, Maris crafts an aesthetic akin to that of a picture book. The heroic Slime and all other characters appear as cut-outs supported on paddlepop sticks (that’s a popsicle stick for all you non-Aussies out there), and move just like a puppet show. This style allows the characters to pop out of the background, which provides an often atmospheric backdrop to the action occurring in the foreground.

Rise of the Slime Nintendo Switch
The game is very cute at times.

I did find myself on multiple occasions stopping to appreciate the game’s illustrations, which are packed full of vibrant colours and extra details. Other aspects of design such as the UI, menus, and cards, are equally attractive, and feel like a more charming version of Hearthstone. Overall, it’s a style that feels right at home on a Nintendo console and is especially suitable when being played in handheld mode.

Audio

The only aspect of the game not created by Maris is its soundtrack, which has been composed by Arletta Supe, a Latvian musician who has made her videogame music debut in Rise of the Slime. Although it’s far from the catchy chiptunes or sweeping orchestral scores one might associate with the slimes of JRPGs past, Arletta offers a relaxed, ambient soundtrack that matches the aesthetic of the game. You’re not likely to find yourself humming these songs or adding them to a game music playlist, but they provide a means of enhancing the atmosphere of each environment. It’s a prime example of background music.

Conclusion

As an introductory title into a niche subgenre of games, Rise of the Slime provides an adorable experience that is initially simple and approachable thanks to its lack of complexity and charming visual aesthetic. It’s an ideal title for younger players wanting to dip their toes into this unusual gameplay. Though one would expect a slime typically to be squishy and smooth, there are many aspects that are still rough around the edges. Combat can often feel unfair, the pool of cards available becomes repetitive after several hours of gameplay, and I encountered significant bugs (and several crashes) which significantly hindered my progression. It’s a fun game for a short period, but not quite enough to commit hundreds of hours of gameplay like I would for other roguelikes.

Rise of the Slime Nintendo Switch

So, why should you play it?

  • Wanting to give the roguelike/deck-builder genre a go.
  • Adorable visual aesthetics appeal to you.
  • After a significant challenge? You may actually enjoy the difficulty.
  • Slime!

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Can be unfairly punishing.
  • May encounter bugs that will hinder gameplay.
  • Becomes repetitive after several hours.

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

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster Review: PS4/PS5

Reawaken your inner demon in this cult classic devilish JRPG, resurrected from the depths of hell.

When speaking about the JRPG genre, few series have gained notoriety in recent years as much as Persona. This massively popular series from Japanese developers, Atlus, has become an easily-recognizable staple of modern gaming thanks to its stylish anime visuals, catchy soundtracks, and colourful casts of characters. Though unbeknownst to many Persona fans, these games themselves are spin-offs of much a larger series, with roots deeply intertwined within the dark, devil-summoning origins of Megami Tensei.

Making its debut in 1987 for PC and NES exclusively in Japan, Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei introduced a role-playing experience full of mature themes and grim undertones. Unlike most other light-hearted RPGs, which were primarily focused on traditional fantasy, this series had the player making deals alongside devils and demons in a hopeless and often depressing setting. Although popular in Japan, the series raised much controversy due to its mature content, distressing themes, and use of religious characters and imagery, making localization challenging.

Megami Tensei NES
The original Megami Tensei on NES.

This was until Nocturne.

The first mainline Shin Megami Tensei game to be released outside of Japan, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne originally launched in 2003 on the PlayStation 2, the following year in the US, and 2005 in Europe as a “director’s cut” version titled Shin Megami Tensei: Lucifer’s Call. Despite remaining very much a niche JRPG, the game managed to receive overwhelmingly-positive reviews and cemented the series within a Western audience. Since then, numerous other Megami Tensei games have seen international releases across multiple console generations.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne PS2
Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne on PlayStation 2.

Now over 15 years since its release, Nocturne, much like the post-apocalyptic Tokyo in which it is set, has been born again and revived in a brand new HD Remaster for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. Though this begs the question: has this cult classic stood the test of time, or has it been outdone by the Persona series for which it is responsible?

Plot

All good JRPGs are set in Tokyo. That’s exactly where Nocturne begins: in the sprawling metropolis that is the heart of Japan. Playing as an unnamed silent protagonist, the story begins as a regular day in the city when tasked to meet up with fellow classmates and visit his school teacher in hospital. The hospital however is eerily quiet and the teacher is nowhere to be found – instead a mysterious figure attempts to take the protagonist’s life. It’s soon revealed that all those within the hospital are to be spared from the impending “Conception”: the destruction and rebirth of the world, which will annihilate all life and rebuild anew.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
If your hospital looks like this, maybe find another hospital.

Having conveniently survived the apocalypse, the player is beckoned by an unholy voice and infused with the power of demons: a Magatama. Undergoing changes even more confronting than those of puberty, the protagonist is forcibly morphed into an accursed “Demi-Fiend“, a forsaken being neither human nor demon. The newfound powers of the Magatama allow the protagonist not only to communicate with demons, but to recruit them to his bidding (a key gameplay element of the series).

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
Sick tatts, Demi-Fiend.

Upon leaving the hospital, Tokyo now lays in complete ruins, having been reconstructed into a spherical “Vortex World” where the majority of the game takes place. Now occupied by two opposing demonic cults, The Mantra Army and The Assembly of Nihilo, these warring factions seek to take control of the Vortex World and rebuild it as their own creation. This can be only be achieved through the manipulation of Magatsuhi (a term you’re going to hear a LOT in Nocturne), the life essence extracted from the suffering of living beings, particularly a race of disturbing artificial humans known as the Mannikins.

Though ultimately it comes down to the Demi-Fiend to decide whose pursuit to rebuild the world may succeed. In discovering new areas of the Vortex World and recruiting demons for your cause, it falls upon you to unravel the motives of each cult and their leaders, and oversee the fate of all who are left within this post-apocalyptic demonic dystopia. It’s a bleak, morbid, and often depressing narrative that is absolutely gripping from start to finish.

Gameplay

Nocturne is very much a traditional JRPG, and features most of the gameplay staples that you would come to expect of the genre, which is divided into several key elements: exploration, dungeons full of clever environmental puzzles, intuitive combat, and character/party customisation.

The Vortex World acts as an overworld hub, which represents Tokyo and is split into areas based on each real-life suburb. Having been to Tokyo multiple times I found it quite amusing to stumble across places that I recognised (though in a dilapidated state). Traversing this overworld as a simple icon allows you to enter more detailed locations, dungeons and labyrinths, where the majority of the game takes place. Most dungeons feature brilliant designs making exploration thoroughly enjoyable, and include puzzles to hinder your progress which will at times require some serious thought.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
I don’t remember seeing this in Tokyo.

Exploration is made even more satisfying with the souls of the deceased and disturbing demons also scattered throughout the new world. These offer hilarious dialogue in between the plot details obtained by conversing with them. Also featured is a quick travel system known as the Amala Network, where you travel via mystical steel drums that are linked together by some sort of satanic internet.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
I guess it’s like a demonic internet modem?

Those who have played Persona will be immediately familiar with many aspects of the combat, as the summoning and fusion of Persona is directly inspired by the demon summoning found within Nocturne. During battle you play solely as the Demi-Fiend but possess the ability to recruit and summon up to three different demons to fight alongside you in combat, each of whom offer a unique skillset. Demons can be recruited during combat by talking to them, offering up items as a sacrifice, or sometimes even seducing them.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
Some demons even run shops, like everyone’s favourite, Jack Frost, ho!

Outside of combat, party customisation comes in the form of swapping demons to/from the player’s stock, which expands with progression through the game. Stopping by the Cathedral of Shadows will also allow the registration and fusion of demons, creating stronger compatriots that cannot be obtained elsewhere. This element of gameplay is akin to the iconic “Velvet Room“, which provides the same service in the Persona series.

However, in a disturbingly un-RPG fashion, there is no equipment in the entire game. No weapons, armour, or even accessories. This is completely replaced by the Magatama: spiritual stones which are acquired throughout the game. By swapping Magatama, the Demi-Fiend’s stats will change and grow differently upon levelling up, providing varying skills that can be chosen and swapped out based on a particular play style. At first it was jarring not to have typical RPG equipment, but eventually I became accustomed to the Magatama which is a simple and satisfying system.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
Magatamas: gotta ingest ’em all.

Visuals

Those spoiled by the incredibly stylish visuals of Persona 5 may have a hard time stepping back into a visual style like Nocturne, which in comparison appears very rough around the edges. Despite being a “HD Remaster,” it’s still immediately obvious that Nocturne is a PlayStation 2 game. The cel-shaded 3D graphics almost seem to scream the early 2000s era. But is this a bad thing? Not quite. Technical limitations of the era meant that graphical fidelity instead had to be enhanced by artistic direction and clever design.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
An abandoned school, one of the more atmospheric areas in the game.

Despite the lack of detail when compared to modern JRPGs, Nocturne manages to create a setting and atmosphere that is equal parts intriguing and disturbing. This is achieved through distinct environments that are often eye-catching and key characters/NPCs that blend modern Japanese society with a hint of the macabre.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
Shibuya Scramble Crossing looking a bit empty.

Soundtrack/Audio

Shoji Meguro – maybe you’ve heard the name? Atlus’ in-house composer has been creating music for the series since the mid ’90s and has since become one of the most praised creators of videogame music. Known for his use of electronic, rock and jazz genres within the SMT/Persona series, Nocturne is a prime example of Meguro’s distinct musical style. Tracks vary from ambient and eerie through to frantic and fast-paced with everything in-between. It’s not quite the peppy J-Pop or acid jazz that has since become synonymous with Meguro, but it’s representative of his earlier creations and features tracks that fit with the melancholy and depressing nature of Nocturne. Check out the track “Tokyo Conception” for one of the more dramatic pieces in the game.

To accompany the soundtrack, a cast of characters ranging from delightfully devilish to downright demonic demonstrate voice acting performances that are some of the best from the PS2 era. The acting can be tense, genuine or convey legitimate emotion, and at times it can be comedic and cheesey (particularly some of the lines delivered by demons). Most importantly, it is at all times entertaining. The HD Remaster also now includes the option to swap between the original Japanese voice acting and the English dub which is a nice touch! My only complaint is that I wish there were more of it – we’ve become spoiled by modern games with full voice acting.

Extras

Nocturne and the Shin Megami Tensei series as a whole have gained a reputation for notorious difficulty. Though at times this can certainly be the case, the HD Remaster now offers a Merciful difficulty which caters to those simply wanting to enjoy the story with minimal challenge. Absolute masochists may even get a kick out of a fiendish hard mode (which I wouldn’t dare touch). This can be changed at any time and helps to make the game far more accessible for a wider audience. Throughout the game I found myself comfortably playing at the standard difficulty, though I did on occasion drop it down to Merciful to avoid frustration or tiresome grinding.

One of the other notable extras in the game is an block puzzle minigame that is thankfully completely optional. It’s reminiscent of early DOS games like Chip’s Challenge and has 20 levels of block-pushing madness that steadily increase in difficulty. After attempting to complete this and failing miserably, I have incredible respect for anyone who manages to finish all levels without the use of a walkthrough. I’d argue it’s tougher than the game itself.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
I’ll be happy to never see this again.

Conclusion

Not only is this one of the finest JRPGs available on the PlayStation 2, but it’s an excellent entry point for exploring more of the Shin Megami Tensei series, especially for fans who have only been exposed to Persona. Now made more accessible thanks to the HD Remaster, anyone with a PlayStation 4/5 or Nintendo Switch has no excuse to try out this cult classic. Once you look past elements of the game that are now quite dated, you’ll experience an enthralling JRPG that is almost singlehandedly responsible for all other Atlus titles in the West that have followed it.

My recommendation? Don’t sleep on Nocturne.

So, why should you play it?

  • You’d call yourself a fan of the Persona games.
  • Never played any of the previous Shin Megami Tensei games? This is the perfect entry point.
  • Looking for a gripping, JRPG full of dark, mature themes? Look no further.
  • Plenty of difficulty options for those who might have previously struggled.
  • Featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry series.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Played the original to completion? You might give the HD Remaster a pass then.
  • Enjoy upbeat, happy games? Stay well away from Nocturne.

A PlayStation 4 review copy was provided for the purpose of this review. The game was played on PlayStation 5.

Judgement Review: PlayStation 5

In the Japanese criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: The detectives who investigate crime, and the lawyers who prosecute the offenders.

Actually, in this case it is just one man.

This is his story _DUN DUN_

The Yakuza series is a mainstay of the PlayStation library. The first title was released in Japan way back in 2005 for the PlayStation 2. Since that time a total of 8 main-line games and 3 spin-off titles made by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio have been released outside of Japan with even more spin-off games available in Japan only. Initially the series could only be found on the PlayStation console family but now all of the titles can be found on Xbox/Windows as well.

There is a lot of convoluted history and backstory in the main Yakuza series, and with even the ‘shortest’ game in the series typically taking 20+ hours for a first playthrough. It can be a bit daunting for new players to just jump in to a Yakuza game. However, the spin-offs and Judgement in particular, are the perfect opportunity to get a feel for the setting, gameplay and storytelling that the made the Yakuza games so popular. 

Yakuza Series PS4 PS5
The main Yakuza series is a story that spans across multiple games.

Judgement does not have any characters returning from the main series and I believe this helps the game come across as fresh and allows it to maintain an individual identity despite the setting itself being very familiar. It also allows newcomers to fully enjoy the game without needing to play through 200+ hours of previous Yakuza games. So, what is Judgement actually about?

PLOT

Judgement is set in the Yakuza series’ staple fictional district of Kamurocho in Tokyo, Japan. Kamurocho doesn’t actually exist, but is based on the real-world red-light district of Kabukicho. Here we take the role of lawyer-come-private-detective Takayuki Yagami, using his full skillset from both occupations to solve a serial murder case involving the warring Yakuza clans that reside in Kamurocho. Early on in Judgement we are presented with Yagami’s tragic backstory that explains his decision to leave the uptight legal profession and become a cool, leather jacket-wearing private detective.

After the prologue we get started with Yagami taking on the investigation of a death in the ranks of Kamurocho’s Yakuza. This is the third Yakuza death with a heinous modus operandi involving removal of the eyes with an ice pick. Initially, Yagami is hired by the Tojo Clan to find evidence to exonerate a clan Captain of the latest murder. Through his investigations, Yagami discovers something much more sinister at play. The plot is well written and involves some twists and turns that do surprise, but without ever feeling forced or ‘unrealistic’ – as was sometimes the case in the mainline Yakuza series. It is difficult to go into much detail without spoiling the story (which I won’t do here), but at times it does feel like you are playing through an episode of Law and Order. Except in Japan…with an ex-yakuza sidekick…and parkour street fights.

Yagami Kaito Judgement PS5
Main character Yagami (left) and ex-Yakuza lieutenant, Kaito (right).

Yagami is assisted by a varied cast of unique characters including his ex-Yakuza sidekick Kaito, a crooked cop and the team from his former Legal firm. All of the main cast are extremely well-written and fleshed out with backstories that are drip fed to the player throughout the game. Yagami and Kaito in particular are very likable characters who have some great quality banter. Despite being a serious game with a serious plot there is plenty of humour here as well.

GAMEPLAY

The Yakuza series is known for its hard-hitting beat ’em up battle systems, and Judgement is no different. Combat is most definitely a strength of this game with Yagami having mastered two different fighting styles – the Crane style that is focussed on crowd control, and the Tiger style which is best suited for combat mano-e-mano. As usual there is no end to the number of environmental objects that can be used to your advantage, from traffic cones and trash cans to shop signs and bicycles – anything you can pick up can be smashed into your opponent’s face. Yagami is much more agile and athletic than Kiryu (the protagonist of the 6 main Yakuza games) and this allows for a fighting move-set that utilises parkour-style actions such as wall running before flinging yourself towards an opponent with a back flipping axe kick. Also returning are the ‘EX‘ finishing moves that cause devastating damage and look absolutely brutal.

Judgement PS5 PlayStation5 Combat

Personally, I played through the game on ‘Normal’ mode and did find throughout the game that the majority of fights were a little on the easy side. With the various support items available and the ability to pause the game and use them anytime it is difficult to get a ‘game over’, and even if you do the game is very generous in allowing you to retry the fight immediately. Still, the combat looks great, feels great, and doesn’t get boring as you keep unlocking new moves and actions as you gain experience.

Judgement continues the trend of what Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has become known for with the Yakuza series: content, side quests, mini games and LOTS of them. Alongside the usual mini-game culprits in the SEGA arcade games, baseball batting cage, darts, casino games, shogi and Mahjong; Judgement provides some a couple of new flavours in 3D Drone Racing and a virtual board game. You can spend many hours getting distracted from Yagami’s quest (just like I got distracted from completing my play-through for this review) because there is so much to do here and it is all well made and fun to play.

The SEGA arcade options this time include the full arcade ports of: Fighting Vipers, Viruta Fighter 5 – Final Showdown, Puyo Puyo, Fantasy Zone, Space Harrier, Motor Raid, and ‘Kamuro of the Dead’ which is a shooting game similar to House of the Dead.

Judgement PS5 PlayStation 5 Arcade

Judgement definitely has that feeling of ‘just one more side-quest’, ‘I need to go out on one more date with Sana-Chan’, or ‘damn it I’m not turning this off until I win that last item out of the crane game’.

There are some elements to Judgement’s gameplay that are new to the series, though to me these are some of the weaker parts of the game. The majority of these are introduced early, but do not really evolve as you play through the game. First up is a ‘search mode’ where you are presented with either a crime scene or a still photo and need to find clues to progress your investigation by zooming in and highlighting the clue – not particularly exciting or engaging. There is an extension of this mode where you need to sneakily photo a suspect in a compromising position but still not really a section of the game you can look forward to.

Judgement PS5 PlayStation 5 Search Mode

Secondly there is a ‘tailing mode’ where Yagami must follow a suspect or person of interest through the streets of Kamurocho without being identified. This fares a little better than the search mode, but often just feels like the game is being slowed down or padded out. That being said, it can get your heart racing if you lose your mark and need to quickly locate them again.

Judgement PS5 PlayStation 5 Tailing Mode

Finally there is the ‘chase mode’ where Yagami must chase a person (or object) though the streets of Kamurocho. This is much more frantic than the other new modes, but really it is only a glorified quick-time-event button-press-a-thon.

Overall, the new modes do strengthen the feel of Yagami being a private detective, but there is no real challenge or even an ability to fail these sections. I do appreciate that the developers tried something a bit different, and there is certainly scope here to build on these for future games.

VISUALS

Anyone familiar with the recent Yakuza games will know what they are in for here. The ‘Dragon’ engine previously used for Yakuza 6 returns here and brings the bustling streets of Kamurocho to life. Kamurocho is designed in gorgeous detail and you can see the effort that has been put in to every aspect of the buildings, streets and neon signs of this red-light district. From the bright lights of the SEGA arcade to the gritty alley-way behind a dodgy bar, Kamurocho looks as good here as it ever has before. It really feels like you are walking the streets of busy Tokyo.

Judgement PS5 PlayStation 5 Kabukicho Kamurocho

The people you meet on your quest are also drawn with extremely life-like qualities. For me, other than Naughty Dog I think the team at Ryu Ga Gotoku had some of the best facial animations that could be found on the PS4, and these have been further enhanced to beautiful 4K60FPS visuals on the PS5.

Combat also puts the PS5 to the test with various objects and particle effects flying around. Despite this I never encountered any observable issues with frame rate dips. Throughout my time with Judgement there were never any obvious issues with the visuals that dragged me out of the experience. My only minor quip was the colour choices for some of the mini-map tracking that I found difficult to see clearly (I am partially colour blind) but it definitely wasn’t a game-breaking issue.

Being an upgraded PS4 game this isn’t going to be the best looking game available for next-gen, but it is certainly no slouch.

AUDIO

One of my favourite parts of Judgement is the original Japanese voice acting. It is stellar. Yes, you can play the game with English voice acting if you wish, and it is serviceable, but it just doesn’t bring the same gravitas. If you are playing a Yakuza game with English voice acting, just like with anime, you are doing it wrong. Personally for me the Japanese is the best option from the perspective of audio-visual engagement – because the character animations are synced up with the Japanese audio and it can look very weird with the English turned on.

Elsewhere, the ambient sounds of Kamurocho help bring the town to life. Traffic, the murmur of people as you walk past and the cacophony of noise emerging from Pachinko parlours really make you feel like you are in Tokyo.  The sound effects in combat work to pass on the severe impact when you strike your opponents (and when you are struck yourself).

The soundtrack and background music are never in your face, but help to build the tension of Yagami’s investigation and the developing story. At other times the subtle melancholic and noir-esque jazz tracks can help you relax and enjoy the city when you are not rushing to complete story based tasks.

CONCLUSION

Judgement is yet another killer entry into the Yakuza series, but it can be enjoyed alone without any prior experience required. The cast of characters are well-written and more importantly the Japanese voice acting is top-notch. The story draws you in with intrigue and never feels predictable or cliché.

Playing only the main story quests will still give you a good 20+ hour experience, but with everything you can do here there is well over 80 hours of gameplay. The amount of side content and mini-games mean there is really about five different games’ worth of entertainment here. I must have spent at least 3 hours alone playing Fantasy Zone in the SEGA arcade. If you are looking for ‘value for money’, this is a game for you.

What started in the west as a very niche Action/Adventure/Beat-em-up PS2 title has grown into a triple A series that is now moving into different genres (the RPG insanity of Like A Dragon). Judgement is not only a great place to start for new people wanting to dip a toe into the franchise, but it is an excellent standalone game that has been upgraded to take advantage of the power of the PS5. It is still worth a play on the PS4 if you aren’t one of the 5 people that own a PS5, and if you are eventually lucky enough to find one you can take advantage of the PS5 upgrade for free.

In the 24 hours before completion of this review, the news broke that the sequel to Judgement is coming VERY soon. ‘Lost Judgement‘ will release internationally on 24 September 2021. I can’t wait.

Lost Judgement PS5 PlayStation 5

So, why should you play it?

  • You are already a fan of the Yakuza series and want to experience more of the dark underworld of Kamurocho.
  • You love anything Japan.
  • As a lawyer/detective you have always wanted to knee a Yakuza in the face.
  • You enjoy procrastinating from the task at hand with darts, Drone racing or classic Sega Arcade games.

But, why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Gratuitous violence isn’t really your thing.
  • You prefer a more linear streamlined experience with no distractions.

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

Resident Evil Village Review: PlayStation 5

There’s no Professor Layton here to help you in this curious village.

It’s no stretch to say that Resident Evil is videogaming’s most iconic and influential horror series. What started with humble beginnings on the PlayStation 1 in 1996 (“Jill sandwich”, anyone?) has evolved and morphed like many of the series’ grotesque enemies into a beast that has become a momentous cultural phenomenon. Boasting an extensive library of 27 separate videogames, eight main titles, numerous films (both live-action and animated), and now an upcoming Netflix TV series, Resident Evil is Capcom’s best-selling franchise and has been hugely influential in popular culture.

Resident Evil Series Compilation PlayStation
A picture I took earlier this year showcases RE games across multiple console generations.

The original game, set in the eerie Spencer Mansion, introduced the enigmatic characters, Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, and almost single-handedly created the genre for which the series is now so well-known: “Survival Horror”. Having been over 25 years since the launch of the inaugural title, it’s no surprise that the gameplay has needed to change and adapt significantly. Fixed camera angles soon became outdated, and as of Resident Evil 4 the player was given complete control over the camera and would play through an over-the-shoulder third person view. This style of gameplay became a series staple for many years.

Resident Evil 4 Gamecube Chainsaw
Resident Evil’s over-the-shoulder camera was used for many of the series’ entries.

Fans were polarised upon the release of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, which saw another dramatic shift in gameplay to a more immersive first-person perspective. This was the first main Resident Evil title to be experienced entirely from the view of the main character, Ethan Winters, which allowed the player to become completely absorbed, especially when playing in virtual reality.

Four years since the launch of RE7, we once again step back into the shoes of our ever unfortunate protagonist, as the franchise slowly shuffles away from its zombified roots and instead takes a bounding leap into the realm of vampires, lycans, and dark, grim fantasy in its newest entry: Resident Evil Village.

Plot

Set three years after the terrifying events of the Baker Mansion in Resident Evil 7, the incredibly-unlucky Ethan Winters is happily settling down to live out a quiet life in his gorgeous house nestled in the mountains of Europe. Having rescued the love of his life, Mia Winters, years prior from the clutches of a deadly mutagen, Ethan can finally enjoy a moment of peace with his infant daughter, Rosemary.

…or so he thought.

Resident Evil Village PS5 PlayStation 5 Mia winters Ethan Winters Home
You’re given a brief glimpse into Ethan’s peaceful life before that dream is shattered.

During a dramatic turn of events, Ethan’s life is ruined in mere moments and he finds himself abandoned on the outskirts of a mysterious village. Much to his dismay, there’s no Professor Layton to help him in this curious village. Despite the occasional puzzle, it is mostly “filled with blood and death” as one of the NPCs so appropriately describes it. In a state of disarray and dilapidation, this once humble hamlet is now overrun by hordes of lycans and horrific creatures thanks to a most mysterious figurehead whose name is whispered by each of the residents: Mother Miranda.

Resident Evil Village PS5 PlayStation 5 Mother Miranda
Ethan’s new family welcome him to the Village.

Ethan’s only hope in recovering that which he lost is to delve deep into the village, confront the terrors within, and unravel the macabre mysteries behind the mysterious Mother Miranda and her subordinates.

Gameplay

Fans of any previous Resident Evil game are likely to be thrilled with the gameplay offered in Village, as it draws inspiration from some of the series’ most popular titles. As a direct continuation, the base gameplay is most similar to that of Resident Evil 7. Through the eyes of Ethan Winters, you’ll once again be thrust into horrific locales and fend for your life in tense situations that will often require you to think on your feet.

The pacing of the game changes dramatically with each hour of gameplay – initial areas are slow-paced and allow exploration, while others will halt you and require you to stop and solve a puzzle in order to advance. In complete juxtaposition there are certain segments that quickly become frantic, involving swarms of enemies, where a split second could be the difference between Ethan’s life and death. Combat in these situations is often quite fast-paced, and the game provides an array of weapons at Ethan’s disposal to defend against the vast horrors he encounters. While the standard enemies are easily dispatched, boss fights become bullet sponges that will require you to use all weapons at your disposal.

Resident Evil Village PS5 PlayStation 5 Blood Pool Puzzle
Simple puzzles can be a nice break from running for your life.

Those who have played Resident Evil 4 (my personal favourite of the series), will be able to make some clear connections to Leon S. Kennedy’s romp through another unwelcoming village. Exploration has a feeling much like RE4, with detailed maps, sprawling village areas, secret passageways, and shortcuts scattered throughout. You’ll also need to obtain and combine key items in order to progress, many of which give off a distinct RE4 vibe and are stored in an inventory not dissimilar to the Attache Case. Enemies regularly drop items which can be collected and sold to The Duke, who is essentially Village’s version of the mysterious Merchant. By visiting The Duke’s establishment, you’ll be able to exchange currency for weapon attachments, ammunition or items that can be used during combat. The game also includes a weapon upgrade system almost identical to that of RE4.

There is plenty to be “enjoyed” with respect to the gameplay of Resident Evil Village, and I found myself most immersed when exploring the game’s narrow hallways, cramped caves, or derelict ruins. Though it does not manage to achieve the same degree of terror as Resident Evil 7 (which was truly frightening, especially when played in VR), these situations create an incredible atmosphere that will not necessarily frighten, but instead immerse the player in the game’s gripping setting.

Visuals

If the devils in the detail, as the old adage goes, then Village is truly demonic. Graphical finesse in Village far surpasses any previous game in the series and is one of the most breath-taking games available for the current console generation. When played on a large 4K screen in a dark setting, your eyes will sometimes deceive you with environmental graphics that appear close to photorealism.

Resident Evil Village PS5 PlayStation 5 Environment Graphics
Simple environments devoid of colour are completely packed with detail.

Gorgeous, intricate, gothic architecture like that of Castle Dimitrescu is a sight to behold, and offers stunning sights that will have most players pausing to appreciate the extensive detail. At times I had to remind myself I was actually playing a Resident Evil game and not something along the lines of Bloodborne, as you’d easily be mistaken from some of the screenshots below.

While you’ll have plenty of time to appreciate the detailed environments, it’s in the games most fast-paced, intense moments that you gain brief glimpses into the horrific, grotesque enemies who reside within the village. In a series that once had such a focus on zombies, enemy designs now instead seem to draw heavily upon fantasy, as if inspired by some sort of R-rated Brothers Grimm adaptation. You’ll encounter unfathomable abominations, swift and relentless lycans, and of course, Vampiresses whose thirst for Ethan’s delicious man-blood is unquenchable.

Resident Evil Village PS5 PlayStation 5 Lady Dimitrescu Claws
Not many characters have received quite as much internet attention as Lady Dimitrescu.

Audio

With sound design as detailed as its graphics, Resident Evil Village manages to replicate realistic 3D audio and attention-to-detail that will truly engross when experienced with a quality headset. At times I found myself having to guess whether a sound had occurred in the game or in real life. Eerie ambience will have you on the edge of your seat, minute audio details like creaking floorboards or a curtain flapping in the distance will alert you to threats that would be otherwise missed by your vision. This helps significantly when trying to avoid combat, as not only will the audio help the player determine the direction of an enemy, but subtle changes to sound will also help gauge distance.

A vital element of the game’s audio is in the form of voice acting, particularly from Todd Soley, who plays the voice of Ethan. Cries of agony and anguish are almost 100% believable and at times had me wincing and needing to avert my eyes during particularly confronting scenes. Ethan’s pleading for mercy or panicked screams are a brilliant and disturbing voice acting performance that undoubtedly deepens the level of horror. This is unfortunately contrasted with some of the game’s villains who have exaggerated or whacky voices, which become more comedic than horrific.

Extras

Now it wouldn’t be a Resident Evil game without some added bonuses, right?
Shooting galleries? Easter eggs? Boulder-punching competitions?

Thankfully Village provides multiple incentives to keep playing both before and after the credits roll. Throughout the game you’ll be tasked with additional optional challenges to complete, some of which will aid Ethan’s plight significantly. Much like past RE games, there are hidden breakable objects scattered throughout the village in the form of wooden “Goats of Warding” (much like the Mr Everywhere bobbleheads or Mr Raccoon toys). Additionally you’ll be able to take advantage of the game’s photo mode, which can be used at any time to pause and take in your surroundings (even if at times you’d rather not).

The strangest addition comes in the form of four “Labyrinths” to complete throughout the game – these are intricate scale-model structures created by an artist that play out like a combination of Monkey Ball and Captain Toad. You’re first tasked with finding a steel ball hidden somewhere in the village, then upon returning to the Labyrinth you can drop the ball in and guide it through the level. In completing each Labyrinth you’re rewarded with highly valuable items which can be exchanged for some serious coin. Though I can’t help but feel this was a very odd inclusion.

Resident Evil Village PS5 PlayStation 5 Labyrinth Steel Ball
Take a moment to forget about your looming death to play Super Monkey Ball.

These extras, however, pale in comparison to the most alluring additional content in Village: Mercenaries Mode, which is unlocked after completion of the main game. Initially introduced in Resident Evil 3, Mercenaries plays out like an action/time-attack in which you’re tasked with fending off a set number of enemies within a limited amount of time. Levels reuse familiar locales from the main story scattered with various enemy types, and you’ll be able to accumulate money in order to upgrade your weapons as well as gain perks that will assist in future levels. It’s fun, frantic, arcade-style gameplay that will appeal to series veterans and newcomers alike.

Resident Evil Village PS5 PlayStation 5 Mercenaries Mode
Even in minigames, poor Ethan still has such a hard time.

Conclusion

Though less terrifying when compared to its predecessor, and by no means a game that will require a change of pants, Village still offers one of the most gripping, immersive and thrilling experiences in the entire franchise. Intricate level design and captivating audio combined with smooth gameplay and gunplay create an unforgettable survival horror experience. As a direct sequel, fans of RE7 will get the most out of the game’s characters and narrative, though newcomers will easily be able to dive into the horror without feeling too lost.

With approximately 10 – 15 hours required for completion of the story, difficulty levels to suit all players, and enough detail and extra content to keep you engrossed, Resident Evil Village is an impressive foray into the newest generation of consoles and should not be dismissed by series fans or those seeking a thrill.

So, why should you play it?

  • You’ve enjoyed the gameplay any of the previous Resident Evil games, particularly 4 and 7.
  • Looking for a horror game to play on the newest generation of consoles? Village is the perfect place to start.
  • You appreciate high levels of detail and realistic graphics in games.
  • Resource management and smooth first-person gunplay appeals to you.
  • Fans of dark fantasy will be thrilled by the game’s enemies and bosses.
  • Big mommy vampire.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Don’t do well with jump scares? Definitely avoid this one.
  • Seeking a game to truly traumatise and terrify? Try RE7 in VR instead.

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

R-Type Final 2 Review – Nintendo Switch

This one’s for you if classic shoot ’em ups R your Type of game.

Originally released in 1987 into arcades across the globe, the original R-Type is widely celebrated and often referred to as one the best shoot ’em up games ever made. This quintessential title featured addictive side-scrolling gameplay, advanced graphics for the time with huge, detailed bosses, and punishingly-difficult gameplay designed to chew through your spare change. In fact, the original game became so popular that it has since been ported to over 15 different platforms!

Left to right: R-Type (arcade), R-Type (Gameboy), R-Type: Dimensions (PC)

It should come as no surprise that such a successful game would spawn a multitude of sequels, spin-offs and compilations. During the ’80s and ’90s the genre was booming, and the R-Type series saw three direct sequels during this time. However, with advances in gameplay and home gaming consoles, focus for shooting games turned from the humble shmup to the now massively-popular FPS. As one last hurrah, the developer Irem decided to release the series’ swansong on PlayStation 2: R-Type Final. Released in 2003, this was intended to be the “final” game in the series and featured a massive roster of 101 unlockable ships.

R-Type Final Playstation 2
The critically-acclaimed R-Type Final on PlayStation 2.

Plot twist: R-Type Final was not the final R-Type (much like Final Fantasy is not the final Final Fantasy).

Almost two decades later, a Twitter post surfaced on April Fool’s Day 2019, showing off a teaser trailer for the ironically-named R-Type Final 2. Much to the surprise of fans across the globe, this was no April Fool’s joke at all! Later that year a Kickstarter was launched touting the return of the iconic shmup, raising over $1,000,000USD thus reviving this beloved series. Now almost 18 years since the last main title, it’s time to once again blast your way through swarms of galactic aliens in R-Type Final 2 for Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, and PlayStation 4.

Premise

As a direct sequel to 2003’s R-Type Final, you take on the role of a lone pilot in an endless war against the Bydo, a mysterious galactic race waging war against humanity. Having struck the source of the Bydo in Final, humanity has been able to develop more advanced anti-Bydo weaponry in order to retaliate. With a vast array of aircraft and artillery now at your disposal, you’re tasked with recovering the remaining war records from the initial conflict and to put an end to the Bydo once and for all.

The story is paper thin, as is the case for most games that focus almost entirely on gameplay. At the beginning of the game you’ll be presented with brief interactions between characters to set the scene, but outside of this any aspects of the story are delivered through simple bonus descriptions that are found in the game’s gallery and manual.

Gameplay

This is where any shoot ’em up truly shines, and R-Type Final 2 is no exception. If you’ve played any other shmup game, you’ll immediately be familiar with the majority of the gameplay, which involves piloting a spacecraft through multiple levels, fending off hordes of enemies, and confronting a large boss at the end. It’s simple gameplay that has been refined over decades, but the basic concept is mostly unchanged. Each level is scattered with power-ups that will enhance your weaponry or provide unique weapons that are more powerful but focused, or weaker with the ability to clear the screen. There are also stereotypical charged attacks, which can be devastating but leave you open and vulnerable while charging.

R-Type Final 2 Nintendo Switch Laser
The laser is slow but powerful, and useful against larger enemies.

R-Type, however, manages to set its gameplay apart from other shmups through its use of the Force (no Star Wars copyright infringement intended), a small independent ship that can be attached/detached which pilots and fires autonomously. Effectively utilising the Force is essential if you want to progress through R-Type, as without it you’ll quickly find yourself overwhelmed by enemies with no hope of clearing the screen. Power-ups to your ship will also transfer to the Force, and produce some unique attacks depending on whether it becomes attached to either the front of the rear of your ship. Some circumstances require quick management of this, as you’ll have enemies approaching from both sides of the screen.

R-Type Final 2 Nintendo Switch Boss Fight
Using the Force to fire backwards is a vital tactic.

Difficulty is undoubtedly punishing, as is the case for most games in this genre, made more challenging in R-Type as your ship can only take a single hit and screens are often littered with bullets and hazards. You’ll most likely find yourself having to play through levels ad nauseum before finally gaining a grasp on patterns of attacks; though it is satisfying to pass through a level unscathed once you’ve had enough practice. There are also several different difficulty levels, which sadly I had to resort to playing on “Kids” difficulty for part of the game (this destroyed my fragile masculinity).

Visuals/Performance

Having played entirely on the Nintendo Switch, I started R-Type Final 2 with the expectation that the game’s visuals would be dumbed down in order to accommodate the handheld. Although this is partly the case, as this version of the game is not quite as visually-detailed, it is barely noticeable. The game’s cheesey sci-fi cutscenes are a pleasure to watch and environments retain an attractive sci-fi aesthetic befitting of the game’s tone.

R-Type Final 2 Nintendo Switch Cutscene Visuals
The CGI cutscene at the beginning of the game looks excellent.

With detailed environments, particle effects aplenty, and a busy screen sometimes packed with projectiles, the game manages to perform incredibly well with very few drops in framerate. My gameplay was 50/50 handheld and docked during which I noticed very little difference in terms of performance. It’s a pleasant surprise to play a game with so much going on while having no compromise to the handheld mode.

Music

Composed by Yuki “Sato” Iwai, the soundtrack to R-Type Final 2 accompanies your journey through space and features the typical electronic beats that tend to be heard in shmup games. Having worked on several previous titles in the series (as well as quite a number of Mega Man games too!), Iwai creates tracks with a soundscape that are fitting for the aesthetic of each level. Although most are immemorable and none are particularly catchy, the songs will at least not get on your nerves after being heard repeatedly after each death.

Extra Features

Are you a completionist? If so, R-Type Final 2 is your dream. There is an absolute plethora of unlockable content for those that chase that elusive 100%. Completing levels will award you with currency that can be spent in the shop: unlocking decals for your ship, modifications to your space suit, or buying resources that can be spent on upgrades. There are 99 (probably even more!) different ships that can be developed in the museum and will likely keep completionists busy for hours on end. I managed to finish the game by unlocking only 17, as you’ll generally be able to find a model of ship that suits your style of gameplay.

R-Type Final 2 Nintendo Switch Museum
You’ll spend quite a bit of time in the Museum upgrading your aircraft.

Strangely there has also been a photo mode added to the game, where you can dress up your pilot in different outfits, purchase silly poses, and stand alongside your spacecraft taking pictures with it. Photo modes are mostly suited to games with vast worlds and gorgeous, detailed environments (like Horizon Zero Dawn or Ghost of Tsushima), so this is an odd addition and feels incredibly out of place. Out of curiosity I briefly decided to give it a go and would likely never touch it again.

R-Type Final 2 Nintendo Switch Photo Mode
Not something I ever imagined I’d do in a shmup game.

Amusingly, you’ll also unlock the option to customise the game’s name from a set of chosen words upon completing the game. It’s simple, but I had far more fun messing around with this than the photo mode.

R-Type final 2 Nintendo Switch Custom Name
That’s the shmup where you play as a cloud, right?

Conclusion

With its classic gameplay, punishing difficulty, and enough content to keep you coming back for more, R-Type Final 2 is a modern shoot ’em up that successfully carries on the legacy of this iconic series. Fans of the genre will be elated to play R-Type Final 2, especially those who supported the Kickstarter and have been eagerly awaiting the release of the game. Though if you’re not a die-hard R-Type fan and instead just looking for an excellent shmup experience to play on the go, this should be at the top of your list. Be warned though, as this game is not for the faint of heart and may instead be a trial by fire for those unfamiliar with the genre.

So, why should you play it?

  • If you’re a fan of shoot ’em ups, you’d be mad to pass up on this.
  • One of the best arcade-style shooters on the Switch.
  • Completionists will be overjoyed at the amount of unlockable content.
  • An excellent challenge to test your gaming skills.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • If you’re completely new to shoot ’em ups, try one that is more forgiving.
  • Poor reaction times? Not the game for you, as your ship only takes a single hit.
  • Those not fond of playing the same stages numerous times should avoid this game.

A review code on Nintendo Switch 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.