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  1. Pikachu is normally very cute and a little bit sassy, but its Detective variety is unlike any Pikachu you've ever seen. Detective Pikachu plays with your expectations of what Pikachu should be, and the game has a lot of fun reveling in the weirdness of a small, adorable creature talking and acting like a human man. It's campy and self-aware, showing a different side to Pokemon and Pikachu with an infectiously rambunctious attitude. Detective Pikachu--the character and the game--is full of personality, and as a result an otherwise standard mystery-solving game is far more fun and entertaining than you might expect. You play as Tim Goodman, who has arrived in Ryme City in search of his father, Harry, who went missing in an accident. Of course, the real star is Detective Pikachu--you meet him almost immediately, and you're the only human who can understand him. Like a grizzled detective out of a '50s noir, he sounds like a middle-aged man and gestures like a caricature of a New Yorker, and his voice acting and animation captures that character perfectly. He'll occasionally get your attention with a cute jump and a gruff "Hey!"; sometimes he'll give you hints, which are entertaining even if you didn't need them, while other times he'll just chatter away about something random or interact with a nearby Pokemon. His streetwise attitude and campy quips never get old, adding a delightful (if weird) charm to every scene. You soon learn that Pikachu was your father's partner Pokemon and lost his memories after the accident, though he can still lend you his detective skills to solve mysteries. Those mysteries largely involve misbehaving or even violent Pokemon, most of which have been exposed to a chemical called R. The cases start out with simple mischief, but as you investigate, you'll solve bigger ones--including actual white-collar crimes--and find clues about Harry's disappearance. The game follows a basic detective story structure overall, but the pulpy tone can make it feel less derivative, and the conspiracies around R and Harry are intriguing enough to keep the pace up. Cases consist of everything from finding missing Pokemon to whodunnits with dramatic reveals. Your job is to talk to people--Pikachu will translate for Pokemon witnesses--and gather evidence that you can then use to solve each case. You talk to people, get more information, and use that information to unlock follow-up questions until you have everything you need to start the deduction process. Pikachu guides you through most of this, framing the questions you need to answer and later prompting you to pick the evidence that best supports your theories. There's no real way to fail; as long as you talk to everyone and search the environment thoroughly, you'll get everything you need to piece things together. That on its own is disappointing if you're hoping for compelling mysteries and puzzles. Finding all the clues is fun, however, especially with Pikachu wisecracking as you go. Getting one solution will open up a new question or pose another problem to solve, and while they all follow the same gameplay structure, each case is deeper than it seems at first. For the most part, I was never so far ahead of the game's pace that I was still gathering evidence long after I'd figured everything out--while nothing shocked me, there were times when I wasn't entirely sure how a culprit had done it until I was choosing what evidence matched Pikachu's hints. But there were also a few frustrating times when I'd figured out the solution but couldn't find the last piece of evidence to back it up. In one chapter, for example, you have to gather a half dozen or so alibis, then use witness testimony to deduce which alibi is a lie. It involves a lot of talking, and I ended up running around for 15 minutes re-interrogating everyone until I finally found the person I'd missed (despite knowing who was responsible and why the entire time). It's hard to stay annoyed for long, though, because Detective Pikachu is brimming with personality. Pikachu himself is a total goofball, but the other Pokemon are also entertaining in their own right. Each one gets its own special subtitle (Garbodor is the "connoisseur of trash," for example), and they typically have interesting things to say, even if those things aren't useful as evidence. The world of Pokemon is cleverly incorporated into different parts of the New York-inspired city, from flying Yanma that work as news camera operators to the Trubbish that occupy the subway entrances. You don't need to know anything about Pokemon to solve Detective Pikachu's cases, but being familiar with Pokemon and appreciating all those details enriches the simple gameplay and story. And Detective Pikachu is a simple game. There's not much variety to the way you solve cases; the story follows a standard detective formula, and as long as you're thorough, you won't have too much trouble connecting the dots. But it's full of heart, and its silly characters and intentionally campy tone are what make it fun. View the full article
  2. A Way Out is not really the hard-hitting, serious, emotional tale of two convicts escaping prison it appears to be. At times, it successfully strikes those notes, but extreme tonal shifts, gimmicky QTEs, and a terrible finale kill almost any emotion or tension contained in the game. In the end, entertaining environments and some inventive set pieces prove to be its saving grace. Like director Josef Fares' last game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, A Way Out contains two protagonists who experience the game's story together. Unlike Brothers, however, you'll need a friend to play with this time round; A Way Out is only playable in co-op, either locally or online. Whichever you choose, you'll always be playing in a split-screen that dynamically shifts between the respective views of Leo--a reckless, aggressive gangster cliche--and Vincent--a more cool-headed family man. Click image to view in full-screen gallerySometimes the screen will be split vertically, sometimes horizontally; sometimes evenly, sometimes unevenly; and sometimes not at all. This framing device is mostly used in interesting ways, such as giving more screen space to whoever's performing a more important action, or splitting the TV in three to also dedicate real estate to an attacking NPC. However, it can be a source of irritation, such as when I was talking to a friendly character, only for my partner to trigger a cutscene and for the screen to shift entirely to his view, ending my conversation prematurely. This is a problem faced outside of cutscenes, too. A Way Out's small explorable environments often contain multiple characters to chat with, but if you and your co-op buddy both engage in different conversations at the same time, the game has no better answer than to play all the audio in parallel, meaning you struggle to hear either of the conversations happening in front of you. The problem is alleviated slightly if you turn subtitles on, as each side of the screen contains its own set, but the overlapping sound is still distracting. Such issues do irritate, but they are more of a footnote than a major strike against A Way Out's co-op-only nature. Without a partner in crime, some of the game's standout moments wouldn't feel nearly as impactful. In one early scene, Leo and Vincent are attempting to hack away at their respective jail cells using a screwdriver. While your partner stabs the wall behind his toilet, you must keep watch from your adjacent cell for patrolling guards, occupying them when they get too close and warning the other player to look natural when your distraction fails. This is when A Way Out is at its best: communicating with (and relying on) your partner both in-game and in real life makes these moments of tension consistently thrilling. There are a handful of these set pieces throughout the 7-8 hour campaign that feel unique and justify the decision of forcing you to play with another person. The tone veers wildly from a Shawshank-inspired escape tale to a silly semi-parody of '70s crime dramas But while those moments do carry some tension, it's because you're sat next (or talking) to someone you care about and never because you're playing as someone you care for. The protagonists and their motivations are the most generic B-movie fodder--gangsters with escape and revenge on their minds, but with the hackneyed added layer of troubled families. To make matters worse, the dialogue is stilted and unnatural. Conversations often end abruptly (regardless of whether your partner triggers a cutscene), and entire scenes go by without adding anything in terms of plot or characterization. Some lines in particular are cringeworthy--during one sequence in which a couple are interrupted while having sex, a female extra instructs her male partner to shut the door by saying, "I'm gettin' cold in my lady parts." The tone veers wildly from a Shawshank-inspired escape tale to a silly semi-parody of '70s crime dramas, complete with overextended sideburns and an assassination across the border in a villain's remote Mexican lair. In one scene, A Way Out nails the feel of punishing prison life, and in another it lets you act like children on a playground swing. Sometimes those conflicting tones even crop up in parallel. One poignant late-game moment--where my character learned some surprising and emotional news on one side of the screen--was ruined by my partner interacting with a bicycle bell on the other side that caused his character to exclaim, "Ring ring, motherf***er!" If it's not the dialogue dampening moments of tension, it's the game's numerous QTEs. While A Way Out does use timed button-tapping well in some instances, such as when our characters must time their pushes up a vent shaft while standing back-to-back, it also wastes scenes with gimmicky implementations. The final playable section of the game--the crux of this entire plot and hours of journeying and escaping and chasing--boils down to mashing Square / X. A Way Out's third and fourth acts are by far its weakest: save for one inventive story beat, all creativity is lost and the game turns into a mediocre action romp with anemic shooting and little else to do or care about. Luckily, the rest of the game (which is much longer than the mercifully contracted finale) contains more interesting and varied environments. Throughout your journey, you'll travel from the prison to a forest, a farm, a cinema, a trailer park, and more, and each is filled with objects to interact with, puzzles to solve, and people to talk to. These diverse areas are small but dense, and they add color to what could otherwise be a monochrome world of good and bad. The trailer park was a personal favorite, offering a chance to pause and play some baseball or chat to secondary characters. There's even a Trophy / Achievement for exposing the aforementioned couple to the man's jilted wife. That this captivating space comes during what should be a time-sensitive moment, when playing baseball or exposing adulterous men would be the last things on anyone's mind, says everything about A Way Out's story and tone, however. A Way Out has problems. By the time the credits rolled, my partner and I didn't really feel like we'd been on much of a journey with Leo and Vincent. We'd been on a geographical tour, sure--one that was often trite, gimmicky, or cringeworthy--but we didn't feel the pair had learned anything or grown in any meaningful way. I did, however, enjoy the journey I'd been on with my friend sat next to me. We had to look out for each other while escaping prison, work together to solve puzzles, and save each other's life on multiple occasions. Our characters might not have grown closer together, but A Way Out's forced co-op is worth it for the few standout moments it provides. View the full article
  3. A monster from the depths of the ocean, grand and terrible, may just get to enjoy the beauty of the surface world if you help it pluck some colorful balloons from the surface in The Majesty of Colors Remastered, a game of choice and the joys even deep sea horrors may feel. Players will control one of the beast's tentacles, able to reach up into the surface to pluck objects from the sky, people from their ships, or a colorful balloon floating by. Players are free to choose what to interact with using their powerful colossus, and how to treat the people they see on the surface, steadily dictating the monster's personalities and desires through their actions. Depending on how they behave and their fascination with the world, as well as their kindnesses and cruelties, they will lead the story to one of the game's multiple endings. Players who want to see the softer side of colossal creatures from deep beneath the waves may wish to stop on by and explore the gentle side of ancient horrors with The Majesty of Colors Remastered. The Majesty of Colors Remastered is available for $2.99 on Itch.io, Steam, Google Play, and the App Store. For more information on the game and Future Proof Games, You can head to the developer's site or follow them on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. View the full article
  4. Infinite Fall's Night in the Woods took home the $30,000 Seumas McNally Grand Prize for Best Independent Game at the 20th annual Independent Games Festival Awards tonight. The ceremony took place as part of the 2018 Game Developers Conference at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco. In addition to the grand prize, Night in the Woods also received top honors for Excellence in Narrative. Night in the Woods is an adventure game that focuses on exploration, story and character development within a lush, vibrant world. The full presentation of the Independent Games Festival Awards (IGF Awards), can be viewed on Twitch. The night's other multiple award winner was Baba Is You, a puzzle game created by developer Hempuli that allows players to alter the rules and game logic as a part of solving the puzzles. Baba Is You was recognized for Best Student Game and Excellence in Design. The Nuovo Award, for the title that makes jurors 'think differently about games as a medium,' went to developer Bennett Foddy for Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy, a merciless climbing game that rewards players who can reach the top of the mountain. This unconventional game featured an awkward control scheme and frequent failure, causing players both frustration and joy if they could miraculously summit the mountain. Excellence in Visual Art winner Chuchel from Amanita Design is a comedy adventure game about a quest to reclaim a stolen cherry; the game is an artistic showpiece with outlandish creatures and a distinct animation style. Nifflas Games' Uurnog Uurnlimited, a delightfully silly 2D puzzle platformer about stealing animals and exploring a whimsical world, earned the Excellence in Audio award for its dynamic music and rhythmic beats. Finally, the Audience Award, which is chosen from among all of the IGF finalists through a public online voting process, was given to Celeste from creator Matt Makes Games. Celeste is a challenging, visually striking pixel platformer about climbing a mountain, with thoughtful storytelling and a truly unique gameplay experience. All IGF titles, including both finalists and winners, are playable for any GDC pass holder at the IGF Pavilion located on the GDC Expo Floor in San Francisco's Moscone Center through Friday, March 23rd. The winners of the 20th annual IGF Awards are: Excellence in Visual Art ($3,000) Chuchel (Amanita Design) Excellence in Audio ($3,000) Uurnog Uurnlimited (Nifflas Games) Excellence in Design ($3,000) Baba Is You (Hempuli) Excellence in Narrative ($3,000) Night in the Woods (Infinite Fall) Nuovo Award ($3,000) Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy (Bennett Foddy) Best Student Game ($3,000) Baba Is You (Hempuli) Audience Award ($3,000) Celeste (Celeste Team) ID@Xbox Gaming for Everyone Award SpecialEffect alt.ctrl.GDC Award ($3,000) Puppet Pandemonium Seumas McNally Grand Prize ($30,000) Night in the Woods (Infinite Fall) The Independent Games Festival offers finalists worldwide exposure and more than $50,000 in cash prizes to each year's winners. The IGF - which includes the two-day Independent Games Summit as part of GDC - was established in 1998 by the UBM Game Network to recognize the best independent game developers and encourage creativity and excellence in independent games. Organizers would like to thank the generous supporters of this year's IGF, including ID@Xbox (Platinum Sponsor), Steam (Platform Sponsor), and Gamasutra.com (IGF Media Partner). For more information on the Independent Games Festival, please visit the official IGF website at www.igf.com. For information about the 2018 Game Developers Conference, please visit the official website at http://www.gdconf.com. For the latest updates on GDC, follow the official Twitter account @Official_GDC. View the full article
  5. The first thing you'll probably notice about Pato Box is its unusually thick-lined, black-and-white aesthetic, inspired by comic book art. Then you might notice that you play as a man with a duck head. If you're looking for something weird and different, Pato Box's Punch Out-inspired action and quirky story might be for you. Betrayed for your former sponsor Deathflock, your journey in Pato Box is one of revenge, as you explore trap-filled levels to defeat Deathflock's henchmen and learn about the secrets of the mysterious company. Levels are 3D environments, with characters to speak with, hazards to avoid, and secrets to uncover; once you reach your foes, Pato Box drops you into boxing matches influenced by the classic Punch-Out game, where weaving and left-right blows are your keys to victory against each bosses' unique abilities. Interestingly, boss fights aren't always boxing matches, but can also involve other scenarios such as an evil chef looking to cook you in a soup. Of course, punching is your main way of dealing with this situations, whether it's fighting enemies or finding your way through a high tech maze of lasers. Dialogue choices, mini games, collectibles, and exploration round out the gameplay beyond combat, fleshing out the world of Pato Box and the company Deathflock. Pato Box is available on Steam for $14.99, and is expected to also release on Switch and Vita in the future. You can visit the game's site, Twitter, and Facebook page for more information. View the full article
  6. Stegosoft, whose first game Ara Fell was a rather lovely old-school JRPG, just unveiled their next project. Rise of the Third Power will be yet another retro roleplaying game loosely based on the political climate of Europe in the mid 1930's - and it's looking very promising. Rise of the Third Power promises a game similar in style, but larger in scope than Ara Fell, with more playtime, greater ambition, and a deeper narrative which features a cast of 8 playable characters. The combat system in particular warrants some attention. It's the same kind of turn-based combat you know from other games in the genre. However, there are different lines in combat, allowing your full party of eight to participate in each battle: "The Front Line and Back Line can be swapped as a unit on any active character's turn to act. Characters in the Aux Line provide unique passive bonuses to those in the front line. For example, the priestess Reyna provides a constant regenerative healing bonus when placed in an Aux slot, Corrina increases the party's critical strike damage, and so on." This sounds interesting and probably leads to less party micromanagement out of combat. Additionally, the full party will be able to gain experience this way - no more needless grinding sounds like a very good thing indeed! Rise of the Third Power is currently being funded via Kickstarter, with a modest funding goal of $10.000. If all goes well, the game will be released later this year. For more information, visit the website of developer Stegosoft Games or follow them on Twitter. View the full article
  7. In recently released metroidvania Visual Out, an adventure awaits within the files and code of an rotting mainframe. As a rogue program, you descend deep into the operating system of this collapsing cyberspace environment, a CRT glitch-scape where bending the environment to your will is your means of uncovering the secrets of the computer and its creators. With its glitchy flickering aesthetic and reality-tearing abilities, Visual Out cloaks its metroidvania trapping in a uniquely atmospheric vibe. Exploration and platforming all have a part in the gameplay here, with a larger focus on puzzles and using your skills like Jammer and Current to reroute energy to activate technology throughout the world. As you travel deeper into the OS, your journey crosses paths with hidden files and questioning voice that unfolds a larger narrative related to the computer and its broken state. While Visual Out prioritizes puzzles over combat, you'll still need to face powerful bosses as well, each one offering a tricky challenge and deadly projectiles to evade and outmaneuver. Visual Out is available for $9.99 on Steam and Itch.io; for more information on the game's development and creator MadameBerry, you can check out the site here, as well as Twitter. View the full article
  8. Neo Impossible Bosses pits players against colossal, punishing bosses in matches that might feel a little bit like those MMOs often toss players into. Featuring powerful beasts that just suck up damage while doling out complex attacks, players will need to play very carefully as they guide all six playable warriors in a battle against these bosses (or go get five buddies to help). Drawing from MMOs and an RTS/MOBA formula, Neo Impossible Bosses offers ten different challenging creatures, each with its own special attacks, damage spreads, and movement styles for players to observe and slowly overcome. Players will have to know every attack these creatures can do if they stand any chance of winning, and will also have to know where to move each of their six party members in order to get them out of the way. Should things get hairy, players do have an option to pause the game and issue orders (or use multiplayer), since controlling six players can be a bit much for some. Players don't have to suffer without growing in strength, though, as their characters will gain new powers and abilities to use on the next boss as they survive each match.If all that seems a little too easy, though, they can always choose one of the two higher difficulty levels, or play on Ironman mode where a single loss costs them the game. You know, if controlling six characters while dealing with weird fire spreads from an angry dragon isn't hard enough for you. Neo Impossible Bosses is available for $12.99 on Itch.io and Steam. For more information on the game and developer x0to1, you can head to the developer's site or follow them on YouTube and Twitter. View the full article
  9. From Brigador to Tesla vs Lovecraft, rumbling through levels within the heavy armor of a mech never ceases to be satisfying. Maybe it's the sense of weight, or the sheer amount of firepower your mech can carry, or in the case of Armed To The Gears, it's how you compliment your mech's attack options with strategically placed turrets to become a one-machine army. Across several industrial maps, you must defend key points and annihilate enemy waves from the cockpit of your agile mech, wielding multiple weapons and evading attacks with your jet thrusters. But while your mech is powerful, it alone isn't enough to survive the overwhelming foes and much larger enemy mechs encroaching on your position. Thankfully, capturing reactors let you deploy turrets and barricades to slow and damage threats; through crossfires, managing chokepoints, calling in air support for resupplies and shields, you can survive the game's tougher challenges. Armed To The Gears is currently in early access on Steam; the available build offers four maps to complete, eleven deployable turrets and other defensive options, and seven enemy types, with more of all those categories planned to added through its development. While the content is still being worked on, the central gameplay is complete: the weapons, equipment, and core mechanics of combat and upgrading your mech. Armed To The Gates can be purchased on Steam for $3.99, and is expected to remain on early access for around six months. You can learn more about the game and developer Deonn Software through their main site here. View the full article
  10. SYNTHETIK is a roguelite arcade shooter with randomized levels and fast-paced gameplay. These kinds of games feel awfully familiar by now. And yet, this one manages to stand out thanks to a couple of small design changes that have a big impact on how the game feels. First, there's weapon handling. When you empty your clip, you don't just hit a key to reload. You hit another key to toss away your magazine and then you load your weapon again. This feels completely unnecessary at first, but it adds additional tension to the firefights and shakes up the whole feel, the rhythm of confrontations. This small extra step leads to a more deliberate sense of weapon handling, and it makes a huge difference. Accuracy is another element that's handled quite differently. Mousing over your enemies changes the size of your reticle (and thus your chance to hit the target), depending on factors such as distance, weapon range, and movement. Simply firing a few rounds in their general direction doesn't do you much good. Positioning and timing are actually important! Pulling off a well-aimed headshot feels good. Even more so when you're being swarmed by enemies and are forced to constantly move around. There's other neat stuff, such as online co-op, unlocking new equipment when leveling up, gigantic boss fights, and a rather lovely sound design where bullets go CLANK! as they meet their targets or ricochet from walls and containers. What's most impressive about SYNTHETIK is how just a few meaningful design changes can turn what would otherwise be a fairly run-of-the-mill shooter into something quite special. The game just launched in Early Access, but it will be fascinating to see where it goes from here. SYNTHETIK is available as an Early Access title from itch.io and Steam. For more information, visit the game's website and follow developer Flow Fire Games on Facebook and Twitter. View the full article
  11. Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is ambitious. It's a character-driven RPG that doubles as a kingdom simulator and even occasionally becomes a real-time strategy game. Though these components don't always feel like parts of the same whole, Ni No Kuni 2 compels you to care and put your best foot forward. It's the whimsical setting; it's the demanding combat; it's the tangible feeling of growth that comes from being a well-rounded ruler. There's something worthwhile around every corner, and usually something pretty to admire along the way. You can concisely summarize Ni No Kuni 2 as the wholesome story of Evan, a boy prince ousted by traitors on the day of his coronation who wishes to unite warring nations under a banner of peace. Rather than resort to revenge, he admirably believes that cooperation is a more important goal than domination and sets out to build a new, united kingdom. Evan's charge and passion for peace subsequently carries him from one dangerous doorstep to another. Armed with steadfast ideals, he repeatedly dismantles sinister adversaries because they, too, are actually good at heart; they've merely been corrupted by powerful, dark forces. It's familiar fantasy fare and a bit safe at times, but Ni No Kuni 2 bears no shortage of interesting moments. For example, Evan's adult consul Roland is a dimension-tripping president from the modern day, cast into a strange time and place in the aftermath of a catastrophic military assault. While this intriguing origin story is rarely referenced after the fact, the kingdoms he and Evan visit offer up interesting qualities of their own. There's Goldpaw, a society that worships lady luck. Her divine power is channeled through a giant multi-armed statue that rolls a six-sided die to decide everything from criminal prosecution to raising or lowering taxes. You'll also have to navigate a kingdom where love in all forms is considered a criminal offense, and every interaction is monitored by an enormous, all-seeing eye. Ni No Kuni 2 dedicates itself to exploring these unusual societies, elevating the otherwise standard RPG tale to something far more interesting that you'd initially expect. To do this, however, the game is forced to concede that even a king as peaceful as Evan will have to bear arms. And despite his small stature and cuddly kitten ears, Evan is a lion when backed into a corner. Considering his impassioned pleas for a world without war, the game's simple and infrequent RTS skirmishes--large scale, rock-paper-scissor battles that require basic resource management--feel notably contradictory, but standard battles are so flashy and exciting that you'll never think twice about the peace-loving king being in constant battle. Ni No Kuni 2's traditional combat takes place entirely in real time apart from pausing to consume items, and despite the game's childish airs, fights are surprisingly demanding. Your party consists of three allies and four Higgledies--collectable miniature, goofy familiars that randomly offer buffs and attacks during battle. You only control a single person at a time, but that alone gives you three melee weapons to manage, a ranged weapon, magic skills to consider, and interlinked meters to monitor, on top of defensive concerns. You need to be aware of your surroundings at all times in order to block or dodge incoming attacks--a far cry from the first Ni No Kuni's turn-based battles. Needless to say it can take a few hours to grow comfortable managing all of these systems at once, but you're rarely put at a disadvantage. Your AI-controlled allies are good at self-preservation and dishing out damage, and your Higgledy friends regularly offer up a burst of healing magic or a powerful attack to keep things moving. Ni No Kuni 2 also does a great job of simplifying things around combat to let you focus on the action at hand. While you can use gear to influence an individual character's strengths and weaknesses, you also earn a secondary type of experience that gets funneled into the Tactics Tweaker, a tool that lets you adjust team-wide attributes and how the game rewards your victories. You have plenty of opportunities to take on quests under-leveled, and being able to slightly dial up your effectiveness against a particular element or enemy type is a valuable means of punching above your weight. When pushing yourself against an enemy 10 to 20 levels higher than you, eking out a victory through clever preparation and a masterful performance can feel downright incredible. The game also smartly limits your inventory during battle, which means you can't rely on spamming restorative items. Only skill (or a leveled-up party) can carry you through a fight. Given that you can find ways to overcome seemingly impossible odds, you can actually get by without intentionally grinding for experience points. To that end, the game is also designed to keep you from dulling your enthusiasm in unnecessary battles while moving about the world. Enemies appear in plain sight before an encounter with a level marker overhead, and a color denoting their threat level helps you easily discern their relative strength. Red and white labelled enemies will attack you on sight, but low-level enemies will simply ignore you unless you run into them first. Knowing you can bypass trivial fights makes the prospect of exploring the world for elusive treasure and difficult "tainted" enemies more enticing as the story carries on, and ensures that you're only focused on things worthy of your attention. It's easy to imagine how Ni No Kuni 2 could get by on its quirky characters, engaging story, and real-time combat alone, but Evan isn't just trying to unite other nations; he's got a kingdom of his own to build. From a humble castle nestled between mountains and shore, your parcel of land will grow to contain dozens of buildings and facilities. You'll likely have smiths who craft weapons and armor, farmers that harvest meat, dairy, and produce, and institutions that develop techniques for being a more efficient ruler and a more effective fighter. If resource management and cooldown timers aren't your idea of fun, the good news is that there are only a few instances when the game forces you to reach certain architectural and population thresholds. And while not the most complex management sim out there, anyone who wants to push the limits of their kingdom can easily pour a dozen hours into forging new developments and reaping greater financial and practical rewards. Ni No Kuni 2 is a robust game that offers ample ways to spend your time, and even if they aren't all up to the same level of quality, it's easy to appreciate how they collectively contribute to the bigger picture. Everything in your kingdom takes money to fund and time to develop, but more than just investing in these services, you need to staff them with citizens from across the world. This means tackling a lot of sidequests, acquired either by mingling with the populace or by completing tasks for the taskmaster. By and large, sidequests are either a fetch quest or a kill-x-number-of-enemy bounty. These are common fare for RPGs, but nevertheless frustrating to see relied upon so heavily here. On the other hand, Ni No Kuni 2's humorous writing and endearing NPCs shine through, lending something worthwhile to even the most common interactions. They aren't all winners, to be certain, but the distinct accents and colloquialisms spread throughout the world play nicely into the visual variety on display. In fact, many of the people you meet in passing are actually far more interesting than the four human characters that ultimately join Evan and Roland on the road: a sky-pirate father and his daughter, the former advisor to a queen, and an engineer from the one technologically advanced kingdom on the map. For whatever reason, very little time is spent developing their stories after they join your cause, but even if they offer little more than one-liners during most important events, they are at least invaluable allies in battle that introduce a wide range of skills. Then there's the small creature Lofty, who while not a deep character, is the game's comic relief and an endless source of amusement. With yellow skin, a pointy head, and a red torso, he's what you might imagine Lisa Simpson looks like if someone described her but forgot to mention she's human. In almost every scene, be it serious or inconsequential, he often lingers just off-center with a dim-witted stare, mouth agape in blind amusement. And when he speaks, he cuts through scenes with wry wit, and even regularly calls out the team for repeatedly taking on errands and doing strangers favors. He is a massive benefit to the overall experience, even within battle. He primarily wanders aimlessly during a fight, but on rare occasions offers a ball of light that causes a character to enter a temporary state where magic can be used freely. Ni No Kuni 2 wouldn't feel the same without him. Despite the fact that famed Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli isn't directly involved this time around, veteran artists from the studio have injected the sights and sounds of Ni No Kuni 2 with distinctly recognizable whimsy, of which Lofty is but one example. You see it in the characters and environments at large, and you hear it in the soundtrack composed by Joe Hisaishi, a veteran of numerous Ghibli films and the original Ni No Kuni. The feeling is often upheld by a clean and colorful cartoon aesthetic, but there are also plenty of times when Ni No Kuni 2 shifts into a different and far-less appealing style. When exploring the world map, managing your kingdom, and diving into RTS skirmishes, the camera pulls back and everything is given a rough-hewn, super-deformed appearance. Though you can bend over backwards and call it a potentially necessary evil, that doesn't excuse the sinking feeling that there must have been a better way, one that doesn't require the game to hide its lovely, cel-shaded face. Near the end of your journey, this shift rears its head during a battle that's intended to feel epic and intimidating, but is ultimately deflated by the simple presentation and impersonal perspective; one last reminder that Ni No Kuni 2, despite its outstanding qualities, bears obvious flaws. Ni No Kuni 2 is a robust game that offers ample ways to spend your time, and even if they aren't all up to the same level of quality, it's easy to appreciate how they collectively contribute to the bigger picture. It's chock full of excellent battles and surprising moments that make for a far more memorable experience than you initially expect and leaves you impressed by your own accomplishments. If you didn't play the first game, don't let this one pass you by too. View the full article
  12. The Way Of Life highlights moments from childhood, adulthood, and old age, examining moments of existence from perspectives of characters at each of these ages. These times come with happiness and sadness in this emotionally-driven game, and players will be forced to make life-altering decisions that, ultimately, choose each of these three lives will lead. The Way Of Life stars three characters at different points in life: a child, an adult, and an old man. The developers have pushed to make players feel 'their age' by adding certain design mechanics to drive it home. For example, when you're a child you have much greater range of movement and colors are bright. Life is exciting, of course! Compare that to adulthood, where the world seems a bit bleaker and apathetic, and the world doesn't seem as big as it used to. With each moment in life comes choices for these three protagonists, with the end results dictating how your life unravels. These decisions won't be easy, either, exploring subjects from bullying to euthanasia. The Way Of Life doesn't turn its head from these dark tones, but merely contrasts them with the joys of life, like love and growth. Which is kind of what life is all about, right? You can purchase The Way Of Life on Steam here. You can also check out the official website, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube channel! View the full article
  13. Football Game is an adventure game about a strange, discomforting night for Tommy, a high school football star who finds himself at the center of some dark events. Football Game quickly weaves a bleak, unsettling atmosphere with its colors and visions of a dark world, as well as its choice of unsettling music. Tommy's life may seem quite normal at first, but this game works quickly to make the player feel unsafe here long before things start to go awry. Football Game is an experience best gone into blind, but if you have interest in twisted, Lynch-ian narratives and have an hour free, you probably won't regret it. Football Game is available for $2.19 on Itch.io, GameJolt, and Steam. For more information on the game and developer Cloak and Dagger Games, you can head to the developer's site or follow them on YouTube and Twitter. View the full article
  14. Science does a lot of good for humanity. Unfortunately, sometimes experiments can have some hiccups, like, say, having nightmares manifest themselves when you're awake. Adventure game The Long Reach revolves around a protagonist whose dreams and nightmares appear during the day, threatening his sanity with some grotesque imagery and heart-pumping chases. In the town of Baervox, all hell breaks loose - or at least it looks like it. An experiment gone wrong has hallucinations feeling like reality, whether it be a happy dream or blood-curdling nightmare. It seems to be more the latter, and with enough time enduring this disease, the protagonist, Calvin, just may lose his mind. You'll be in charge of solving the puzzles he comes across or running from them, choosing how to safely deal with his unsettling fate. Players can also take a break and chat with other characters to try to gather important information or just appreciate the comradery in the collective nightmare. Inspired by games like Lone Survivor and The Cave, The Long Reach features long, eerie side-scrolling that make you just want to stop short of discovering what lurks in the depths. Pair terror with some witty writing and you'll find yourself nervously laughing, all while wondering what travesty awaits you to balance it all out. You can purchase The Long Reach on Steam here. You can also check out the official website, Facebook, and Twitter page! View the full article
  15. Far from being a mere video game adaptation of the anime, Attack on Titan 2 stands strongly as a character-driven action-RPG in its own right, with rewarding combat that feels fluid and fast and a story that's equal parts charming and shocking. While it shares many similarities with the first game in the series, Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom, the sequel feels like a better package overall with a cleaner visual style and tighter combat. Despite its story taking some time to really dig its anchors in, it gets there and then some, entrancing you all the way until the closing of the final chapter. Based on the second season of the popular anime series, the story puts you at the center of the conflict between humanity and Titans--a race of giant, people-eating humanoids that one day appeared out of thin air, wiping out a large percentage of the population. Forced to seek a new life behind three huge walls built to keep the Titans out, humanity tried to rebuild, but the Titans managed to find a way through. Faced with extinction, it's up to you and the rest of the military to stop them. After creating a character--who, if you choose a woman, will still be weirdly referred to as "our man" by the game's narrator--the game opens with you joining the military cadets and becoming a part of the 104th Cadet Corps. The first few hours cover the same ground as Wings of Freedom, putting you through military training and effectively re-living the events of the first game, albeit in a more condensed setting. Also, each character is voiced in Japanese, so you'll rely on subtitles to keep on top of things. The plot closely follows the anime, so fans are already familiar with what's going on. But it's a story that will pull you in, hard, though not without its fair share of melodrama. While much of the early game feels a little dragged down by some excessive exposition, you come to appreciate those sequences later on, particularly as characters you grow to like face death in shocking ways. Not that the game is overly violent--although the Bloodborne-esque spatter from killing a Titan is pretty messy--it's more that the characters grow on you over time. Watching them struggle through the Titan invasion becomes less of a drudge and more an emotional rollercoaster. The game is made up of numerous large combat areas and some smaller, peaceful hubs where you can go about your daily life: upgrading weapons, buying materials, and maintaining friendships that grant you different equippable skills that can upgrade your stats. While not all that interesting visually, the hub areas serve as a good bookend between each battle, as well as a chance to debrief with the other characters about the last mission and your next moves. The larger, more-open combat zones, which vary from green valleys and large towns to snowy, abandoned villages and giant forests, are far more interesting to move through. A big part of what makes the movement so vital and exciting is your omni-directional mobility gear, or ODM for short. The ODM gear fires anchors into a distant object like a house, a tree or even a Titan, and with the help of two side-loaded gas canisters, thrusts you along the ground and up into the air. It can get a little janky; sometimes you’ll catch the underside of a roof or hit a cliff face that’ll halt your momentum. But more often than not, gliding through buildings or between giant trees feels effortlessly satisfying. Similarly great is the combat, which manages to feel faster and better paced than it did in Wings of Freedom. Titans can only be taken down by slicing out the nape of their necks. You have to fire your anchors into any one of five spots on a Titan you can lock onto, circle around it in mid-air, and then launch at it, swinging your blades wildly. It can feel a little clumsy at first, but within an hour I was dodging attacks in the air and flinging between Titans like it was nothing. The rapid switching of targets and close calls while maneuvering between enemies during a fight never loses its allure, only getting more intense as the story builds. The Titans themselves are the true stars here. With their ridiculous grins, ambling movements and saggy butts, they look amazingly creepy. On higher difficulty levels, the Titans become faster and more aggressive. Their limbs flail impishly as they freely counter your attacks, flick off ODM anchors like they're swatting flies, and pick fellow Scouts out of the air. Moments like this amp up the intensity tenfold, especially when you're caught between responding to an urgent request for help or going to the aid of someone who's been grabbed by a Titan. It's hard not to feel the pressure in the moment, and it's great. Despite its slow start, Attack on Titan 2 offers exciting gameplay along with a deep and intriguing plot that, melodrama aside, tugs on the heart strings. It's well-paced and offers some impressive spaces to move through. The unique combination of the movement and combat mechanics combines with a gripping story to make Attack on Titan 2 one of the more surprising releases of the year. View the full article