Author: John Edelmann

Review: To the Top

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It’s fun to be a frog.  Hopping everywhere on land while your sticky hands cling to surfaces makes for a great mode of locomotion.  While technically To the Top features a limbless body with a floating mask and disembodied hands, looking far cooler than a green amphibian could hope to, about the only non-froggy aspect of the movement is that you can’t swim.  Or catch flies with your tongue, for that matter, but there are crystalline geoms to collect so close enough.  To the Top is a VR game where you hop from one grippable surface to another in a race through a vertiginous obstacle course, using the momentum of chained leaps to pick up speed and reach truly incredible heights.

The basics are pretty simple-  Blue surfaces can be grasped, and you can either pull yourself along hand-over-hand or hold with both hands and let go to fling yourself in the direction you’re looking.  Chain jumps together in quick succession to build up momentum and soon you’ll be reaching handholds that initially seemed like you’d need wings to reach.  To the Top wouldn’t work without the sense of depth and space that comes with VR, but once you’ve got in a little practice and can build up a good head of steam you can chain jumps together effortlessly to race towards the end of the course.  Three of the five medals in each of the thirty levels are for good, better, and best times, and once you’ve got the movement system down it’s hard not to try for each one.  The other medals are for turning up all the geoms scattered through each area and finding the secret one hidden on a more difficult path, making for a nice division between speed running and exploration.  Progression is gated by the number of medals you’ve earned, but even if you don’t like being rushed by the timer the minimum medal-count to beat the game is 75, which is a pretty reasonable quest.

With different goals requiring different approaches, the levels in To the Top are designed with replayability in mind.  Aside from different themes, such as city, child’s room, techno-artistic, etc, each level also has different ways to shave time off the run.  Whether that be gaining enough speed to cut corners in the shorter, earlier areas, or entirely different paths with their own checkpoints in the more complicated ones, there are plenty of ways to experiment.

The first tentative steps into the earliest levels only show one simple path, but once you wrap your head around “stare at thing to move towards it” all sorts of options open up.  In my playtime I found the first run through a level was for sightseeing and collecting as many geoms as possible, taking in the scenery and enjoying the incredible feeling of harmless vertigo when dangling off a crane hook hundreds of feet in the sky.  There’s no fall damage, and the penalty for missing a jump is either landing on a spot with nothing to grab, requiring a manual instant-reset to the last checkpoint, or the game auto-resetting back there by itself.  While intellectually you know there’s no harm from falling, though, it’s still easy to look down from the highest areas and feel a bit wobbly.  And then jump off anyway, because there’s a platform down there you know you can reach.

It’s very important while playing, though, to have a well-defined physical area to do it in.  While your disembodied hands have a good reach it’s not infinite, but leaning or stepping forward is a great way to get that little extra distance needed to prevent a fall into the depths.  The levels extend all around you and you’ll frequently go around corners or turn every which way in the course of navigating them.  There’s no Recenter View button so untangling from the headset wire is a regular occurrence, and this is particularly weird when you need to do it gripping a spot hundreds of feet above the ground.  The game is forgiving of this, and once you’ve latched on your hand won’t let go until you release the trigger, but I still found myself keeping my hands together and spinning underneath them as if they were locked in a death-grip to the wall.  Once you’re in the level the illusion is strong, and the real-world intrusion of a stray cable merely disturbs rather than breaks it.  Accidentally punching my monitor or the ceiling was another matter, though.

While that’s not the fault of To the Top, the bugs in the game definitely are.  Loading a level and being taken to the endless VR plain of Steam VR is pretty weak, but dying because of questionable collision physics broke one of the levels and was deeply annoying on many others.  The Giant Robot level starts off like most, with a series of platforms and pads to get through, but you’re going down instead of up.  This is because there’s an enormous robot at the bottom waiting for you, and once you start climbing its sides it starts walking.  It’s a wonderful moment that lasts right until you don’t quite hit a jump fly into a moving part instead, the screen goes black, and you’ve reset back to the bottom again.  Clipping into a wall and back to the checkpoint isn’t fun when it happens on a regular level, and even less so when each attempt at Giant Robot resulted in the same thing happening again and again in different places.

While To the Top may be a bit short on polish its sense of movement is fantastic.  Once you’ve got the hang of managing your momentum you can practically fly through the levels, springing from point to point like a hypercaffeinated frog.  Every level offers something different, whether that be new scenery, air-vortex jump pads, special surfaces that let you skate over them and even one memorable level that gives you jetpack hands.  (That particular level made me glad to play at night when nobody was watching so they couldn’t see me with arms pointed back, leaning forward to get just the right angle to skim ahead at top speed.)  The multiple routes and hidden challenges make each area highly replayable, and while some levels aren’t quite as good as others, at least they’re different enough so if you don’t like one there’s a complete change of pace coming right up.  To the Top is a fantastically creative first-person VR platformer, filled with great challenges and giving the player the tools to handle them if only they can master the techniques.

Review: Vanquish

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After 7 years, Vanquish has finally come to PC, thus allowing so many people to try out what is supposedly, according to many, one of the best cover shooters ever released up until this day. Following the extreme success of the PC release of Bayonetta on Steam, Vanquish was also met with great success and enthusiasm by most people, even despite the crippling framerate bug which has since then been fixed.

Vanquish is an extremely fast-paced third-person shooter with a heavy focus on a cover system, that’s published by SEGA and developed by both Platinum Games Inc. and Little Stone Software. You play as Sam Gideon, a researcher who works for DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), and who’s currently testing an Augmented Reaction Suit, which provides the framework for the many game mechanics, such as bullet-time and boosting.

In terms of actual story, even though it appears that the game features the usual plot involving modern-day USA and Russia fighting each other, it does provide some interesting twists which spice things up a little bit. In any case, the story is not the game’s strongest suit by any stretch of imagination. The game exhibits what appears to be little tidbits of information regarding the universe of Vanquish and its characters during the loading screens but, at least on my system, the loading screens barely take more than a second so I never manage to read any of that. Making the player have to press a key in order to proceed would’ve been very suitable here, since reading speed tends to differ a lot from person to person.

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The gameplay is where Vanquish really shines. Moving around and shooting handles perfectly with keyboard and mouse, and the game offers the option to rebind keys and individual mouse sensitivity options for looking, aiming and zooming, so that you can configure the controls to make them more suitable for you. While the game is strictly a corridor shooter, the gunplay and movement system are heated enough to always keep you on your toes. In terms of movement, besides the obvious running around, the game relies heavily on boosting and evading in your to remain alive. Amongst other things such as the laser cannon, boosting, which involves you using your suit’s thrusters to slide around at high speeds, overheat your suit. Whenever your suit overheats, you’re more exposed to incoming damage and you have to wait for it to cool down. With that said, when boosting you can trigger your suit’s AR mode, until your suit overheats, which slows down time and allows you to better react to your surroundings, even allowing you to dodge bullets and other projectiles. Likewise, whenever you receive a lot of damage, your suit will automatically trigger its AR mode.

In regards to the actual shooting element, it wouldn’t feel as good as it does if it weren’t for the bullet-time element and the cover system, since both are vital for you to succeed, run and gunning is not going to get you anywhere. As far as weapons go, you can have up to three different weapons on your inventory at any given time, as well two types of grenades. In any case, you’ll be able to switch weapons if you ever come across a new one during missions, and equipping the one you’ve just found will replace the one that you had on your hands. In the same sense, the game also features weapons upgrades that you can pick up, and these will also upgrade the weapon you currently have equipped. As for weapon variety, the game has a wide range of weaponry at your disposal, such as a rocket launcher, a disc launcher, an assault rifle, a heavy machine gun, a shotgun, a sniper rifle, a laser cannon, amongst many others. Unfortunately, while grandes tend to be pretty useful in certain situations, it’s a shame to see that there’s not that much variety to them, since you only have access to fragmentation grenades and EMP emitters, which temporarily disables enemy units. You can also resort to melee if the need arises, which despite being extremely powerful, also overheats your suit.

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Considering this was originally a console title, I was very glad to see that a pretty decent amount of effort was put into the PC version. The options menu offers separate audio sliders for music, sound effects and voices, the ability to use inverted controls, as well as subtitles, which as someone who has English as a second language really appreciates. Overall it’s a pretty good PC version, at least right now, given that the famous bug where you’d take increased damage if your framerate was very high has been fixed. Besides that you have a pretty extensive graphical options menu, with a series of anti-aliasing, texture quality and filtering and shadow quality options to choose from, amongst some others. Last but by no means least, you can also choose one out of four different difficulty settings, plus an unlockable one called God Hard, which you can get once you beat the game in Hard.

While some might argue that the game looks dated, I personally find that this visual style, which is very characteristic to asian developers, tends to age pretty well, and, to that end, Vanquish still looks fairly good in today’s day and age. As far as the overall audio and the soundtrack go, I didn’t find them particularly special nor worth giving praise, they’re decent enough and get the job done. In addition, the voice acting feels extremely corny at times, while, for the most part, it’s just serviceable. On that note, while each character is unique on its own, they fall under the category of cliche type of characters you’d expect to find on an action shooting game, especially one that puts the USA and Russia against each other.

Despite taking into account that this is a run & gun game, with a cover system of course, the missions don’t offer that much variety in terms of objectives. Pretty much all you’re going to do is go from point A to point B while killing everything in your way, which I guess is fine if it’s done in a way that it’s enjoyable, and Vanquish most certainly is. I played the game on the Hard difficulty setting and the difficulty felt just right, I’m pretty sure had I played it on Normal it would’ve been a lot easier. I thought it provided the right amount of challenge in order for it to be enjoyable. Even though the game takes place in this huge space station colony, which you can see in the background in pretty much every single level, and despite the fact that the game is a corridor shooter at its core, the levels offer enough variety for it to feel unique, and it’s easy to remember a level based on your experience with it.

On the other hand, while it might seem that the game also suffers from a lack of enemy variety at first, this is compensated by the use of the various different types in simultaneous encounters. You’ll often find yourself fighting a bunch of weaker enemies who then are reinforced by bigger and better equipped enemies, which can either take a lot of damage, or which can be easily dealt with if you hit them in their weak spots. This is how bosses are also dealt with, they usually have a bunch of weak spots that you have to shoot in order to be able to strike at their energy core, rinse and repeat.

In the end, Vanquish kind of disappointed me, but I’m sure that’s mostly due to my high expectations which were a result of continuous praise from hardcore fans over the years. Still, it’s a good game overall, but one which enjoyment will vary a lot from person to person. If you’re into third-person cover based shooters, or score based games with multiple difficulty options, you’ll most likely find something to enjoy quite a lot here. Sure enough, it took me about 9 hours to beat the game on the hardest difficulty the game offers for a first playthrough, which feels alright considering the game’s price tag.

Review: Blitzkrieg 3 Deluxe Edition

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Blitzkrieg 3 makes a number of bold claims for a game that comes twelve years since the game that preceded it. Firstly, and perhaps most prominently, it claims to have the first neural net AI in a game of this kind. In addition, Blitzkrieg 3 also claims a number of unique game modes and a huge range of missions and units that span the entire geography and timeline of World War II.

Despite these seemingly grand claims, Blitzkrieg 3 clearly does deliver. The campaign begins in Africa and features the conflict between the Commonwealth, Italian and later, German forces. From there, theatres such as Scandinavia and Western Europe begin to emerge, as do more and more of the alternative modes.

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Campaign missions, unsurprisingly, advance the main series of historical battles. Each of these broadly describes and represents a real battle that took place, and I really love the variety of locations and the inclusion of lesser known conflicts. A great deal of love and respect has been applied to Blitzkrieg 3, and it’s nice to see references to Australian, Indian, Polish, Canadian, Free French and many other forces. It’s a slight shame that battles draw units from a general pool, rather than being specific to each battle, but more on that later.

Following the first few missions, players will gain access to various other modes, and that’s when things become even more interesting. First up is the Base Defense mode, which is an online mode that can be played as either PvP or PvAi. Players set up their base in advance using unlocked unit cards that each have a cost, and draw from a maximum resource pool. In the PvAi mode, enemy players then assault your base and face the units and defenses that you’ve positioned, controlled by the games AI. The PvP mode is more traditional, with the normal structure of an attacker and a defender.

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Players are also able to enjoy pseudo online modes against Boris, the neural net AI I mentioned earlier. These battles feel a lot like normal skirmishes to me, but the AI is certainly competent and enjoyable to play against. I enjoyed attacking in the base defense mode, but I also found that I won often – I doubt this is down to my skill alone, so perhaps further balancing is needed. Similarly, on anything less than hard difficulty, Boris seems incapable of defending against multiple attacks from different directions.

Most battles take place at somewhere between the platoon and battalion level, and players usually have free reign to choose the units they take into battle up to a resource limit. Smaller battles provide about 200 points to spend, and a unit of infantry ranges between 25 and 35, with a decent light tank weighing in at about 45. Larger battles might be 600 or more points, so things can get hectic. In any battle, achieving objectives will yield more resources points, and players can call in more units from their pool, or alternatively use powerful effects like paratrooper drops, howitzer salvos and air strikes.

Most of the battles are on the relatively short side, which might be a bad thing, were it not for the fact that there are bloody tons of them. Maps are extremely varied and absolutely beautiful. On the highest settings, Blitzkrieg 3 has some of the best looking and most detailed maps I’ve seen in any similar games. On winter maps, snow settles on the tanks, in forests, trees fall convincing as armored vehicles roll over them. The sand dunes of North Africa have never looked better.

Blitzkrieg 3 is everything it promises and more, if what you’re looking for is a small to medium scale, feature rich and action orientated combat RTS. It isn’t grand strategy and it doesn’t deep dive into too many tactical details that might over complicate the experience. It has a huge selection of missions, maps, modes and units that together form more than the considerable sum of their parts.

Review: ACA NEOGEO GAROU: MARK OF THE WOLVES

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Garou: Mark of the Wolves is the most famous installment in the Fatal Fury series, and it’s easy to see why. Besides having the distinct pleasure of not bearing FATAL FURY across the front (which automatically pigeon-holed it, for most players), Garou was released towards the end of the 4th generation of home consoles and the beginning of the fifth, which allowed it to perform exceptionally on both planes with equal success. Naturally, as SNK is furiously porting as many titles as possible to the Switch, it would have been a crime to not have this amazing 2D fighter make its way into the hands of modern and new apostles at the temple of the brawler

Garou has two wonderful things going for it that are often forgotten in today’s age of fighting games. First and foremost, the form had been polished in Fatal Fury to a sheen without the expectation of any extra bells and/or whistles to make the experience even better. At this point, things like juggling, combo breakers and counters were becoming common, and Garou incorporated those in with a very special and strategic gimmick: T.O.P. The Tactical Offensive Position gave players a chance to decide where they were going to have their most strength in their life meter, the beginning, middle or end. Basically, you get to gamble on yourself and choose a section of your health where you can hit harder, do more attacks and even slowly recover health. It’s something that other fighting games would offer their own variant of (see different Groove styles of the Vs. series) but never really capture in full, mostly due to also offering other techniques that murked up the core mechanic.

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The second thing for Garou was rewarding players a bit of health back and a better chance to counterattack with a successfully timed block. This made matches significantly less one directional; prior to Garou, many of the fighting games (Street Fighter, King of Fighters, even Mortal Kombat) heavily favored whoever got the first punch in as the destined victor. But Garou gave a serious chance for players to turn the tide and re-balance which way a match went, giving the “never give up” style of play a fighting chance. Sadly, you rarely see this even in modern installments of the series, where it’s back to “once you get the pattern going, it’s all over.” Garou allowed for players who were less than proficient to get a lucky break and, miraculously, make potential moves to save the day. Of course, after you get the break, it’s still up to your skill level to actually bring you back from defeat, so it wasn’t wildly unfair

The plot for Garou is about as important as any 2D fighter made in, well, any year. There’s mayhem in the streets, someone decides a fighting tournament is the only solution, let’s see if their right. The big thing for Garou, as far as stories go, is that there is only ONE returning character from other Fatal Fury games, and he doesn’t even look the same. This is another reason that Garou didn’t wear the Fatal Fury patch proudly; Terry Bogard, despite being the perennial hero of the series, looks different, acts different and even has a different signature move, with his original technique going to Rock Howard who, to be fair, was in Fatal Fury 3, albeit not as significantly. The fact remains that, in a time when consistency was key, Garou took such a wild departure in the fighting roster is actually quite refreshing. They took the key fighting idea, a good team of designers and developers and put them onto a silent operation as though this were a totally new game.

Attacks range from melee combos to energy projectiles, with a rechargeable bar that allows for one shot at landing a devastating series of blows that may or may not shift the tide of battle. AI is decent and scales nicely within Garou. Players who feel the first battle went far too easily will quickly see the computer rise to the challenge and completely devastate you if a player has fallen complacent in either sitting on their haunches while throwing fireballs or mashing the kick button repetitively a la Chun-Li (different game, I realize, but still, same approach). The game definitely deserves multiple plays from different characters to discover where your own sweet spot lies. I started with Hotaru and did fairly well with a lot of fast, quick moves, but got murdered to death by Tizoc too many times to want to keep going with her in my corner. Bonne ended up being my key to success, though she was, by no means, overpowered: she just matched my own play style exceedingly well.

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I hope, by this point, that SNK is paying attention to the Switch reviews and doing their best to revamp their NEO GEO wrapper. The caravan and time attack modes are great, don’t need any engineering and definitely make these old games worthwhile to a brand new crowd (and to older players looking to gloat in a classic arcade fashion). But the inability to have two players is simply insufferable. This is one of the most iconic fighting games from the end of the 20th century, ported to over nine different platforms, I can enjoy it on my iPhone…but I can’t fight a friend or loved one. Literally a game that made it’s name through forcing kids to spend quarters to beat each other in public, but I can’t hand a controller to my child and then jump kick them into submission. SNK, please, find a way to make two Joy Cons see the games and allow for simultaneous play. I’m sure it can be done. And, by the way, if I’m doing it wrong and I need two Pro Controllers or something, I apologize, but I simply don’t have a way to get to those peripherals at this time.

This is another potentially great piece of nostalgia history that I have to hesitantly recommend due to the format. It runs better than most of the NEO GEO games I’ve played on the Switch, but, if I’m not punching someone I love, then part of the spark is extinguished before the match even begins. Still, I can’t argue; this game has aged wonderfully, and it’s just as enjoyable now as it was 17 years ago.

Review: Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII: Fame and Strategy Bundle

I’ve never played any of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms games before, which I find surprising since this is apparently the thirteenth of them. It turns out that although Romance has been around since 1985, this is the first iteration to have been released in Europe, so I guess I can forgive myself. Thankfully, much of the content associated with the content depicted in the world of Romance is familiar to me (as it will be to you) due to the fact that it takes place in the same semi-factual setting as the Dynasty Warriors series.

This familiarity with the characters, systems and even terminology of the Dynasty Warriors series actually really helped me get through the first few hours of Romance, because my God, this is some of the slowest and most cumbersome strategy gameplay that I’ve come across. Now, please don’t take that as too much of a knock, because Romance isn’t a bad game, but you should know that you can’t just drop in and expect the kind of knockabout strategy that is featured in say, Command and Conquer. Heck, even the Total War series seems light on options outside battle in comparison to Romance, even if it is vastly, vastly more competent in battle, which is where Romance begins to falter.

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The game begins with the suggestion that players should work through a series of interwoven side stories, each of which features a particular officer or leader within one of the warring factions. These bite sized chunks of gameplay act as tutorials for each of the key game components including diplomacy, battle, recruitment of officers, deployment of troops, giving gifts, starting a family, gaining prestige and lots and lots more. As a fan of the Dynasty Warriors series that has some deep-seated memories of the characters and relationships in the crossover world of both titles, I really enjoyed seeing friendships and rivalries form in this mode. Romance is never light on story beats, even if the dialogue occasionally suffers from overly enthusiastic translation, and even if you don’t care for these characters like I do, I expect you will after several hours of playing Romance.

The bulk of the game is played on a large map of China set during the twilight years of the Han Dynasty, around 200 AD. Players can see cities, towns and characters on the map as fairly clear, three-dimensional objects when zoomed in, but at full zoom the map changes to a much more functional strategic view that provides colour coding and character/faction initials to demonstrate control of the many provinces. The range and volume of key characters and locations did occasionally become daunting, so the ability to zoom out and see the big picture was extremely useful during my first few hours of play.

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When in this strategic view, players have literally tens and tens of options and views to wade through, and without the assistance of the rather excellent tutorials, I would have been completely lost. Thanks to them though, the game slowly begins to unveil its complex and cumbersome logic, and it becomes apparent that so much of what seems strange about Romance is actually in the difference in culture. An early mission teaches us that if we want a neighbouring province to ally with us, we must first spend time with them, gain their trust, learn what ails them and then address it. In return, they will literally become indebted to our clan, enabling us to call upon them when the time comes, unless they wish to face the dishonour of refusal.

Another early mission results in a debate between a ruler and his subordinate lieutenant. During a debate, the intelligence of each character is compared and used to generate a series of dialogue options that compare against each other in the same way as paper, scissors and stone. More intelligent characters generally gain access to upgraded versions of each (that act as trump cards) and that enables them to more or less steamroller over a much less intelligent opponent. The example in the tutorial is more or less rigged in the players favour as you would expect, but when these debates occur later, they can trigger many consequences good and bad, including officers disobeying or even minor coups.

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I make the two examples (and they are not the only two that might seem strange to western gamers) above because it’s important to understand what strategy is in Romance. It’s not really in the real-time combat mode that occurs when two armies meet (which is crap by the way;) it’s more in preparing for it to the extent that you can’t lose, or in avoiding it all together. Using officers to recruit others through their network of contacts, securing supply chains, forming and breaking alliances and winning prestige all plays a part, as do the tens of other mini-processes that you take part in.

As I said before, combat is crap, so I don’t know what more to say about it really, other than to briefly describe it. When armies meet, each officer leads a unit depending on their own personal attributes (some units are bigger, and there is a meagre selection of unit types including cavalry, ranged and melee.) Combat takes place at a level just a little closer to the ground than the strategic map, but on a much smaller map such as across a few fields, or on the outskirts of a small town. There is limited strategic value in the things on the map – your archers can’t fortify a farmhouse and hole up for a desperate last stand, for example. It’s more a case of moving your units in such a way that you gain a numerical advantage over enemy units, then watching the countdown until they rout or are wiped out. On average, it is a numbers game, and wherever I had more than about a disadvantage of say twenty percent or more men, I generally tried to avoid combat because I couldn’t find an effective way of making the odds even. Characters do have special abilities sometimes, but they will not overturn a disadvantage to the tune of several thousand men, no matter how effective they may be.

Before I close, I’d also like to mention the artwork and the music in Romance, both of which are something special, even though the in-game graphics are mostly very functional and ordinary. Romance has a mostly beautiful and varied score that fits the theming of the game perfectly, and the character art is equally fabulous and very endearing. I’m so glad that Koei Tecmo ditched the awful soft rock that accompanies so many of the Warriors games (both Dynasty and Samurai) in favour of a more fitting, classical score.

Overall, I can’t deny that Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII: Fame and Strategy Bundle is incredibly niche and will appeal only to a limited audience. I also suspect that those who it does appeal to will already have bought it, or plan to regardless of anything I might say on the matter either way – and why not if they’ve waited until the thirteenth episode for a UK release? For everyone else, I urge you not to write off Romance without giving it a moments thought. It is a much better game than I thought it would be, and it is entirely different to what I was expecting. It’s as unique and interesting in new and unusual ways as it is flawed and dull in others, so I have to give it an average score. But, with a fair wind and a bit of bias, you could easily find another point or two in the rating.

Review: Injustice 2

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Since NeitherRealm Studios first took charge in the making of Injustice: Gods Among Us in 2013 it changed how we saw and played a fighting game entirely, adding all new mechanics and interactive environments to the battlefield gave players more verity to beat up their opponents in a more stylish/aggressive fashion. Not to mention the fact that you also got to choose from your favorite DC heroes and villains, it gave combat fans a brand new purpose. Following up with Mortal Kombat X in 2015, NeitherRealm completely took what they created out of the first Injustice game and created what was probably one of the most polished Mortal Kombat games we’ve seen in years. With Injustice 2 NeitherRealm once again continues to one up itself.

Like its cast of heroes, Injustice 2 is exceptional. Fight mechanics have been led in the right direction with more smooth and dynamic combat than before. The fun long hours with story and multiverse mode are impressive alone. The heroes and villains look are much more defined than ever, even as they star a grim and joyless “what-if” story-line. Much like its heroes that come with it though, Injustice 2 overcomes adversity and soars, with tons brand new single-player content than I’ve ever seen in a fighting game at launch and an unmatched combo system that is downright enjoyable once you get the hang of it.

Injustice 2 is the fine line of being a well-balanced combat game from Injustice: Gods Among Us and by making smart changes for more improved fighting mechanics. It’s story mode now feels  much more cinematic than ever before compared to how Gods Among Us was which is HUGE step forward for both NeitherRealm and for the Injustice franchise — possibly for the next MK game as well. For starters, it’s much more crisp in detail, facial features of all characters throughout the story really stands out. I just couldn’t help but enjoy at how well Supergirl looked as she cried in the beginning or how realistic Harley looked as she chewed and popped her gum, much like how Margot Robbie would in Suicide Squad. Even The Joker’s new look and laugh is a lot creeper. Every laugh; every smirk; every angered expression of rage or intensified strength makes this game feel that much more satisfying to play because you can actually see and feel how the characters emotions and expressions rather than making them look angry with a mask over their face or just having a blank doll look all around. Another added feature to the story is the option to pick between to fighters to choose from depending on the chapter of those characters. Out of twelve chapters there five totally chapters that give you the options to choose, with the final chapter being a totally different option all together. Have you complete all character options throughout the story you’ll get different alternate cut-scenes to that character; finish the finale chapter and you get 2 totally different endings.

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I can’t recall any fighting game ever giving you this much freedom​ of options in a story so this was quite the thrill (it’s very overwhelming, but that’s a good thing).

After completing it’s satisfying story, head on over to Injustice 2’s new “multiverse” mode for even more endless hours of fun. If you’ve played Towers mode before on Mortal Kombat then this is nothing new. Well it is for Injustice, but not for the fans seeing as it’s a lot like a copy and pasted DC Universe version of Mortal Kombat’s towers, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, in fact it’s actually slightly different from the original version, but still just as enjoyable then you would expect. With your “towers” here being endless parallel universes that change under a timer and all having their own set of difficulties and challenges much like Test Your Luck, you’re​ not stuck just playing the same game in a loop. One disappointment however, is that all those Multiverse Test Your Luck styled challenges aren’t incorporated into multiplayer mode which would’ve more fun if they was an option instead of standard multiplayer. 

Another thing NeitherRealm has always been known for in the Mortal Kombat series is the added endings that go for each character. In Injustice 2, we now get to see endings for our favorite super heroes and villains for the very first time after defeating the finale boss (Brainiac) in the Multiverse battle simulator.

What’s also great about Multiverse is that helps you get some good long practice time in for yourself and allows you build up your favorite particular fighter(s) by playing countless hours of challenges which build up your fighter the more you play as them. You can even complete some of the additional objectives for more points which can help you collect credit to unlock armor to help you upgrade your fighter’s strength, ability, defense, and health which you can retrieve in the brand new Brother Eye Vault menu. Here you can acquire new gear and purchase various styles, shaders, and equipment to use on your characters which are varied by different tiers: bronze, sliver, gold, platinum, and diamond loot crate Mother Boxes, each one  costing you more marks. There’s also a different section to where you’re in the league you can even purchase items in that league. You’re also given a new option to transform and regenerate your gear to fit your desired character play style and appearance.

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Regenerate Gear:

To regenerate Gear you’ll need two things: a piece of gear and a Regen token. once you have both, head over to the Brother Vault, Press R1/RB or right on the d-pad in order to the Regen menu. Choose the character who has the piece you to regenerate then choose the piece of gear you want to try your luck with. You’ll be promoted to spend the one Regen token. You’ll then be presented with two pieces of gear: the original and the new, regenerated version.

The newer piece will now match the level of the character in question. Also, the stats and perks will be changed. You can decide if you want to equip them with the new improvements, or if you want to just stick with the original piece.

Transforming Gear:

There will be certain Gear that will appeal to your eye but the stats, or abilities won’t actually be great for battle. In Injustice 2, you can actually transform the Gear to look like the one you want but give it the ability of a “superior” piece.

Transforming a piece of Gear will change its appearance to that of another piece without affecting its Stats. This too will cost you credits so try to get as much playing time in Multiverse mode as you can, decoding Mother Boxes, and having battles.

Once that’s done, head over to Character Customization mode where you can mix around with all your unlocked and customized armor to better your character for future combat. The possible combinations are endless, from changing how your character wears their gear, to how they wear their padding, or pants, each demonstrating a variety of looks as well as giving you different options of which armor you would prefer to use for battle. You can even add in a 2 extra abilities if unlocked or reached by a certain level. And if you have more than one set of armor that you have for different purposes, you can now save those as loadouts so you never have to constantly change back and forth from the customization screen, or just have multiple color skins that usually comes standard to most fighting games.

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Another interesting factor about the customization feature is that the additional alternative characters that come as character skins when you go to change a characters color scheme. Only a few characters have these such as The Flash to Reverse Flash, so if you were looking for him or other characters that don’t appear in the games official twenty-four character list don’t worry, there’s five additional alternate character skins to choose. Although, even though the additional characters are entirely different from the original skin — even they encounter each other as their own character — they mostly feel like the nothing more than a copy and pasted characters with recycled moves. It would have been interesting to see Reverse Flash (Eobard Thawne) have a completely different super-move of his own, sadly he just runs his opponents into the exact same dinosaur as Barry Allen. Still, the idea of having two opposing speedsters go at it 1-on-1 or just two alternate characters face-off with each other is an exciting site to see.

For the most part Injustice 2 excels over its original by a long shot, though I must say that as enjoyable as it story was, not much goes into detail of the games actual plot. Sure, we were given a back story and prologue of how its plot from Gods Among Us ties to now but that’s kind of the problem, the whole end of the world plot mixing the continuation of the Superman being the evil super…hero…villain just felt confusing. Don’t get me wrong the idea of having Batman and Superman, and all other super heroes and villains team up to defeat Brainiac was exciting to see, but the fact that Superman’s determination to go back to his ways throughout the story was quite frustrating for me. Trying to save humanity while being reminded that “hey, just because I helped you save the world, I’m still going rule the world as leader because I’m Superman” really contradicts itself. And the formation of The Society, take a cheep representation of Planet Of The Apes and bunch that up with super villains to take over the world and then have that faction disperse half way through and try to help save the world makes itself just feel there. And what was supposed to be a threat then suddenly is never brought up again felt like a waste of time and was just added to create tension. Adding on to the confusing story plot is the double-sided alternate endings. It’s refreshing to be able to choose how you want a fighting game to end but since it’s one of the first of it’s kind it’s hard to imagine how that follows moving forward for the next game in the near future.

Despite it minor story flaws, multiplayer/character disappointments, also the fact that the online servers were down for service maintenance every day so often after it’s launch, it’s all around performance still manage to live up to its hype making its flaws a lot easier to forgive. It’s newly redefined combo system make each fight feel amazing and fast paste with it’s all new improved juggle mechanics that fit perfectly well with properly timed combos once you’ve come familiar to them with hours of practice. Plus when the online servers were up I was able to have smooth well-played matches that never felt interrupt as I played, and leveled player skills only work if both players agree to on quick play matches but not on ranked. Player choice, and the ability to customize your favorite characters strengths and weakness mean that skill is no longer the only factor that plays an important role when your fighting and that’s something that’s never been done before — I’m sure we’ve all been wanting to have this for years besides mobile games — which I believe will change the battlefield tremendously. So if you’re not prepared to go toe to toe online, its best you start unlocking some Mother Boxes now, because in Injustice 2 you’re going to need a lot more than just combos to win. Injustice: Gods Among Us changed the game once, Injustice 2 is doing the same, so gear up and hit the lab, because Injustice 2 is here to make its presences known, and I’m sure well going to be talking about it for a while and years to come.

Review: Minecraft – Nintendo Switch

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Minecraft has, arguably, been the grandaddy of the crafting genre as we know it today, and it’s still the gold standard that many imitators strive to emulate as we move forward in the video gaming world. Microsoft took control of Minecraft some time ago, and the game continues to develop and unfold in ways that only further their galactic proportions of popularity and playerbase. Therefore, when the Nintendo Switch version landed in my lap, I knew I would have quite the ordeal ahead of me.

If you haven’t played before, here is a quick rundown of the vanilla of Minecraft: you have no purpose other than to survive. You can create things by breaking other things down into their basic components and then crafting them together into whole new items. You have a stamina and health meter than need to be kept in check through food and rest. You gotta hunt animals or find food lying around to keep from dying. If you fall from too high, you will die. If you stay underwater too long, you will drown. If a zombie or wolf or even an angry horse hits you too much, you’ll die. Then you respawn and try again. There is an end boss: you don’t need to fight him or even look for him. Minecraft is Legos, Kinects and Imagination all rolled into one and that’s seriously underselling the full experience. You can play in a world of your own making or another person’s, and you can simply fly over and marvel at all the effort they put into creating their own chunk of digital real estate.

Let’s get the technical aspects out of the way first: Minecraft looks and feels amazing on the Switch. For those of us who had the short-lived pleasure of Minecraft on the WiiU, the Switch version is leagues ahead in nearly every category. A constant 60fps, significantly larger worlds, incredibly minimal footprint (only 540 MB!) and optimized in a huge way. The load times, which were more than I cared for on the WiiU, were hilariously short for the Switch. I was able to jump into brand new and prefab worlds that were only limited by my card speed and internet connection. And yes, you’ll be heading online with Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition (more on that in a moment).

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The controls of Minecraft port fairly well to the Switch. I was never lost or confused as to which button I should hit in order to keep on moving, so someone in Mojang did their research before bringing on over their game. I wouldn’t say intuitive: double tapping forward still feels like a weird way to initiate a sprint, but I understand that other buttons were mapped and therefore taken. Even still, I spent most of my time walking in order to reach locations. There were a couple of times I opened inventory instead of my crafting table, but that was purely my own slippery fingers. Overall, though, most players will be fine if they can make it through the tutorial.

That is something that I feel is horribly daunting for a player who is coming into Minecraft for the first time: the tutorial. At this point, there is so much for new players to learn and to understand that it can be overwhelming unless you’ve dedicated a few hours to getting the mechanics and ideas of the game down pat. The tutorial tries its best to introduce things in a succinct, calm but direct manner, and it, well, it succeeds. You are inundated with multiple text boxes as you proceed, new items that you encounter are immediately introduced, and you could theoretically try out everything in a small area by just slowly going through the tutorial world. But my God, even as a veteran, it dawned on me how MUCH it is.

For many, you’re going to want to jump right into the Super Mario World edition that exists for the Switch. That alone is worth the price of admission, and it’s thoroughly enjoyable as a Minecraft/Nintendo experience. The entirety of this prepared World is bright, colorful and peppered with Mario soundtrack music from across the generations. It’s satisfying to craft your own fire flowers and mystery blocks, and I appreciate that the basic sprites were touched up a bit to fit into the world (am I crazy, or are the cows from Mario Kart?). Like so many other things involving Minecraft, the chance to see these massive structures built brick-by-brick to resemble Bowser’s Airship or a giant Blooper is just fun. I spent significantly more time playing around here than I did in any of the other mash-up worlds. A note about the other worlds ; only Festive World is available in full. Everything else is a trial that is incredibly limiting and wants you to pay about 4-6 dollars a hit to unlock. They certainly seemed interesting enough, but paying a fifth of the total game price to unlock a megabyte of DLC really did not sit well with me. For most players, though, I wouldn’t worry. If we’re being honest, the Mario content is why you got it from Nintendo, and that’s where your time will go.

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The online servers, as the game is fairly new, are bustling with players for Battle or Tumble, so interacting with others won’t be a problem. Sharing worlds with friends is also pretty painless, and I really appreciate that there’s some consideration for WiiU players to port their worlds over to the Switch. A console release of such a huge PC game is trying, at best, but the Switch has really done a bang-up job in making a well rounded port overall. The integration of touch screen controls makes going through inventory a lot faster when you play portable, but the darkness of being underwater is far too dark for the built in screen. There aren’t any rumble or gyroscope features, but believe when I say that shouldn’t be a factor. At all.

So where does this leave the Nintendo Switch Edition? Many long-time players will argue that nothing can top the PC version, and they’re not wrong. It’s got tons of mods, a much larger playerbase and gets updates constantly. Some of the crazier videos you see on YouTube can only be accomplished with the PC version, and kids might be disappointed to learn the limitations of the Switch.

On the other hand, this is the best console port of Minecraft to date. It runs fantastically, tiny footprint and, best of all, can be taken anywhere. The Switch’s portability makes this the best portable version of Minecraft, though some would say that’s unfair since it has much stronger specs than the average smart phone. Additionally, the Mario content and the overall finesse of the game does make it enticing for Minecraft diehards and new players who are ready to dedicate days if not weeks to fully getting a feel for what they can do and what they can’t.

The Switch is a pretty fantastic “vanilla plus” version of the game, and you will get your money’s worth time and time again if you get hooked/are hooked on the craft. Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition is available as digital only now from the eShop for £19.99/$29.99 US, and a physical release is planned for later this summer.

Review: Polybius (PSVR)

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When you first start Polybius there’s no explanation of what the game’s about or what the controls are. It just tells you to, ‘Do what feels natural’. And since this is a video game, and you’re flying a spaceship, the obvious thing is to find the fire button and shoot anything that comes near you. And by anything we mean weird geometric shapes, drug capsules, Amiga demo balls, and lots and lots of cows. And yet we didn’t find any of this is in the least bit strange, because this is a Jeff Minter game and that’s the kind of thing you expect from him. That and old school shooter action of the highest calibre.

Minter has been working in the video games industry almost since its inception. So you might know him for 8-bit classics such as Gridrunner and Attack Of The Mutant Camels, early shareware game Llamatron, or the peerless Tempest 2000 and its derivatives. Many of his games are variations – some might say clones – of golden age coin-ops such as Defender and Robotron.

There is a lot of Tempest in Polybius but there’s a laundry list of other influences, including the original Atari Star Wars coin-op, S.T.U.N. Runner, and Space Harrier. As a result, Polybius feels like the culmination of all Minter’s work over the last several decades, as he uses everything he’s learnt to create one of the definitive arcade experiences.

The first level of the game takes place on a flat plane, as you zoom towards the horizon in your spaceship that can only move left and right. This is where the Space Harrier comparisons are most obvious, as you zip between towers and mow down enemies as they fly in above you. Your only goal is to reach the end of the stage, and your only aid is a set of shields which you lose whenever you hit something – and which are partially regenerated if you complete the level.

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To be fair, there is a bit more advice in the game’s first stage than we originally implied. You’re told you can pass through gates shaped like a bull’s horns for a speed boost and shoot cows for a bonus. For reasons that are probably best not gone into Minter is obsessed with ungulates, and his games are always filled with cows, goats, giraffes, and other hairy beasts (his company is called Llamasoft).

But combined with all the other, equally weird, enemies Polybius presents a uniquely baffling spectacle to anyone not familiar with his previous work. The sound effects are just as odd, full of semi-appropriate snippets of dialogue and borrowed sound effects from old arcade games. As well as a lot of mooing.

The end result will be just too much for some people, and the repeated warnings before you start the game, about flashing lights and psychedelic imagery, are clearly not a marketing gimmick. Especially not if you’re playing the game with PlayStation VR. It’s already become a cliché to compare VR games to the stargate sequence in 2001, but it’s impossible not to make the comparison with Polybius. Not only because of the equally trippy use of light and colour, but the dazzling speed at which you seem to be travelling.

Polybius can be played without PlayStation VR, and it also has a 3D option, but it’s in VR mode where the game is at its very best. Like Rez Infinite and Thumper before it, not only is the sense of immersion incredible but it genuinely helps to focus your mind and make aiming easier to judge. Because you’re always travelling straight forward there’s also zero problem with nausea, despite that seeming impossible given the speed and bizarre visuals.

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We’re hesitating to describe the later levels in detail because one of the great things about Polybius is how much variation there is between each stage. The basics are always the same, but soon you’re travelling along, or inside, tubes and other more complex shapes that you can move around. The controls don’t change though, and so when you’re rocketing upside down it takes considerable sangfroid to remember exactly what pushing left or right on the analogue stick will actually do.

Concentration is not only the key to success, but one of the main reasons Minter made the game. He wanted to create something that encourages you to get ‘in the zone’. That zen like state of consciousness that only the most intense action games can induce. Although the classic gaming phrase that came most readily to our minds while playing was ‘just one more go’. Polybius’ levels not only put stress on you in terms of your reactions but in working out what you’re actually supposed to do. And yet no matter how many times we failed we always wanted to jump straight back in and try again.

From the level with giant flags indicating a special rule for how to survive, to working out how to use updrafts to fly over deadly obstacles, or getting your speed high enough so you can smash through others, you’re never sure what you’re going to get in any given level. And that’s on top of power-ups like the slow-mo Time Warp effect that’s triggered by perfect accuracy or the invincibility-endowing fried eggs.

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There’s almost 50 levels in total, and the only downside to the way the game’s set-up is that if you get stuck on one there’s nothing else to do but tough it out or go back to an earlier level and earn more shields. Our only other complaint is that while the soundtrack is often excellent it rarely seems to synch with the action, and often ends up inappropriately quiet when the rest of the game is anything but.

If you have PlayStation VR then this is a must-have title, but even if you don’t it’s still one of the best arcade games we’ve ever played. It may seem off-puttingly weird to some but ignore all the florescent cows and 8-bit sound effects and you have one of the purest action experiences of the modern age. Or don’t ignore them, and revel in one of the most gloriously strange, constantly inventive, shooters available on any platform.

Review: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

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Mario Kart has always been the amazing proof that you never know exactly what people will enjoy. The concept, on paper, is ludicrous: take characters from a popular side scrolling platformer and make them drive in go karts. Oh, and they also throw things at each other, so it’s not only driving prowess, but also targeting accuracy. Insane. But through over twenty years, Mario Kart has been a nonstop franchise, and the latest installment, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, is no exception.

First, we need to revisit what makes this deluxe and why it’s on the Switch instead of, say, Mario Kart 9. Nintendo put out an unbelievably great game on the WiiU, gave it love and care, and polished it really well with some DLC that added new courses, cars and drivers. Sadly, the WiiU never got the widespread love it deserved, and millions of people never got a chance to play the newest installment (outside of maybe at an event or your local GameStop). So it makes a lot of sense for Nintendo to take a great game that already exists and put it onto the Switch with some extra bells and whistles.

This isn’t some quick and dirty port, either. The in-house team at Nintendo took a lot of time to make sure their first official Switch port was a good one (I don’t count Breath of the Wild since it was a simultaneous release). The game runs smooth as butter up and down the field, both on the big screen and portable. In fact, I highly recommend the average user take at least one opportunity to play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe in handheld mode to marvel at exactly how nice it looks. While we’ve seen several games experience severe drops in framerate or quality when traveling, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe does a marvelous job of maintaining a fluid look even with a two player mode enacted, either battling or racing. The 1080p on the television really pops, and 720p in handheld is comparable to how the original WiiU version appeared; again, seeing is believing, so take Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the go with you!

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This has optimization written all over it, and there’s been a ton of overhaul under the hood as well. Character weight classes have been re-balanced, the effects of the different new car models has been considered, and there is more versatility in considering how to set up your car, tires and glider.

There is still plenty to unlock, though Mario Kart 8 Deluxe gives you almost all the drivers out the gate (there is one extra character from beating all the circuits at 200cc, good luck). Tires, vehicles and gliders come with the addition of coins, so incentive exists to play and beat everything all over again. The new and old drivers alike are welcome additions: I have a huge fixation with Splatoon, and the Inklings mesh well into the series, arguably better than Link or the Animal Crossing gang. The return of King Boo, Dry Bones and Bowser Jr. adds some much-needed “bad guy” driver balance, something that often gets swept under the rug when the roster gets too big. Not to mention the Amiibo costumes from the previous Mario Kart 8 are available with the addition of Splatoon costumes, which…well, that’s probably important to someone.

The addition of double item box style (a la Double Dash) is hard to really judge one way or another. When you’re in first, it’s kind of moot since you’ll just end up with two items that you don’t really need (though the chance to get Super Horn increases, so that’s nice). When you’re further behind, doubling up on things becomes borderline mayhem, as I got a bullet and a star in the same go. The result was rocketing from 8th to 2nd with minimal effort. But it really makes sense when you get to the new battle modes. Oh, battle mode. If ever there was a massive short coming with MK8, it was the total lack of being able to beat the hell out of your friends in a variety of ways. Balloon Battle is pumped up to five balloons, three old modes return (Shine Thief, Coin Runners and Bob-Omb Blast), and Renegade Roundup, though not my favorite, is still a worthy addition to the set. The revamped battle mode also serves to remind both players and creators that they have a HUGE back catalog of material to choose from when they talk about porting things to the Switch. There are other drivers, modes and ideas that could come in the future, and it might require a bit of elbow grease but people would buy it.

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The two returning items are a big letdown, in my opinion. I can see the appeal of the feather, because it can be invaluable in the arena, and could bring some great shortcuts onto the already existing tracks. However, in 9/10 times, I’m just going to jump in place to use it asap and grab something else. And the Boo never comes to me when I want it to. Never. I use my ghost and steal a green shell, woo. Meanwhile, I’m holding onto the blue shell so no one can fire it when I get into first, and it’s the first thing that gets stolen when I claw my way to the top. Thanks Nintendo! Your AI is a sociopath. I would have loved to see Nintendo grab a couple of items from the Mario Kart GP arcade game and bring them in. Driver virus could have been amazing. There’s probably some IP logistics that I don’t understand that totally prevents this, but whatever, I’m dreaming here.

This game is difficult to review because, not only does it already exist on another platform, you’d be able to find reviews that are only a couple of years old and are basically spot on for everything I want to say about Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. The question remains: should you get it? If you’re a Switch owner and you missed the WiiU generation, the answer is a resounding YES. It’s the fastest selling Mario Kart so far, and that’s not just because of good marketing. This is proof positive of what Nintendo can do with time, effort and proper expectations. Hell, this should make anyone who’s remotely interested in Mario Odyssey salivate with anticipation. If you genuinely don’t like racing games, I highly recommend giving it a try, as Mario Kart continues to stay in a lane all it’s own and defy what a “racing game” is meant to be.

If you, like me, owned both a WiiU and Mario Kart 8 AND bought all the DLC, I would recommend waiting for just a bit. The battle modes are super fun and it does run a lot better (loading time is basically nonexistent). But I firmly believe that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will end up as a greatest hits title, and will be available for much less several months down the line. Also, Nintendo learned a lot from the WiiU, in terms of DLC. I doubt this will be the final incarnation of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and we may see even more added onto this jam-packed game before long. This is a perfect Mario Kart, though, so don’t wait too long!

Review: SHADOW WARRIOR 2

Shadow Warrior 2 takes every opportunity to elevate aimless, crass humor above its acrobatic first person shooting, wildly diverse weapons, hilarious precision gore system, RPG-lite loot hooks, procedurally generated levels, and open ended four-player co-op capable campaign. It’s a shame really, because systemically, Shadow Warrior 2 is one of the most joyful and expressive FPS games of the year. But thematically, I wish I could kick it in the teeth.In a rare moment of silence from Wang, the chatty protagonist, I swing a chainsaw skyward and grind a cybernetic ninja into two long vertical pieces. The halves fly upward from the chainsaw’s momentum, so I swing horizontally, quartering the poor cyborg. For fun, I whip out an automatic shotgun (called the Boner) and shoot the pieces out of the air like meat pigeons. My head swings back and I cackle. This physical comedy, the procedural gore that slices and explodes enemies exactly where they’re hit, is Shadow Warrior 2’s best joke. Shotguns leave gaping holes in enemies, katanas can disarm gun-wielding demons (literally), and nail guns do exactly what they’re designed to. It’s grotesque slapstick shooter comedy better than it’s ever been, undermined by an irritating desire to be clever and edgy.

Luckily, shooting demons isn’t a problem for Shadow Warrior 2. The combat and movement place an emphasis on acrobatics with a double jump and dash moveset that, when used in combination, let me nearly achieve flight. With the ability to equip eight weapons at a time, switching between a chainsaw katana, an acidic grenade launcher, and an LMG shaped like a penis (surprise) midair is a breeze, and makes for plenty of action movie encounters. There’s even a button dedicated to making you fall faster for no other reason than to make you feel like a swift, experienced interdimensional ninja

The 70 available weapons aren’t the same six viewmodels with random stats. They’re all uniquely designed—there are elegant recreations of realistic firearms, weapons made entirely from bones, and varnished brass steampunk contraptions. Some drop at specific story beats, but the rest drop as loot with scaled stats. Each weapon can also slot three gems that modify certain stats like its elemental damage type, how much damage it does to specific enemies, reload speeds, alternate firing modes, and so on. Weapons still offer a ton to poke and prod at halfway into my second playthrough, and used in tandem with magic abilities (healing, force push, AoE shadow spike impalement) the combat is an empty canvas where I’m still finding new methods for painting a demon and robot massacre. A quartered spider here, a smoking flesh wizard husk there—watch out, Rembrant.

As I developed my art, exploding mob after mob in a shower of gems and guns and ammo and collectibles, the loot systems quickly lost their allure and mystery. There’s such a glut of the stuff it becomes a chore to navigate the clumsy menus every time a new gem or gun drops so I can try them out. But it’s pretty easy to ignore the RPG systems for long periods and still skirt by on the normal and hard difficulties, especially with some co-op friends. Environments, as beautiful as they are, also lose their meaning quickly. The level design feels mushier than a purely authored shooter, in large part because the procedural levels are so open and aimless, but as good-looking conduits for combat, they work just fine. Chainsawing the leg off a massive mech against the neon backdrop of a cyberpunk metropolis or blowing holes in bipedal hammerhead shark demons in a craggy mountain village is more than enough set-dressing for me.

No matter how repetitive the environments and loot-tinkering get, Shadow Warrior 2 stays a rewarding slapstick comedy thanks to its thrilling open-ended combat. It’s like the FPS embodiment of a dive bar, a place to kick back and tear up some demonic bad guy fodder with some friends. The drink selection is great, but the jukebox is too damn loud and only plays hair metal one-hit-wonders. If you can tolerate the baseless, dated humor, then Shadow Warrior 2 is an easy recommendation, but it’s a shame the excellent combat and deep customization systems need a caveat at all.