Premieres


Secret of Mana port

Secret of Mana’s remaster is an acceptably enjoyable port of the original. While the combat has been tuned, and in many ways improved, it does suffer from some bug issues. But the selectable music, improved dialogue, and addition of inn ‘vignettes’ makes it overall a recommended choice.
Total Story Score: +2
Total Gameplay Score: +5

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Vignettes and what they add to character and story (inn sequences)
  • Voice acting (varies in quality BUT every single NPC is voice acted)
  • World building and storytelling in the video records from the modern era of the past and increased NPC dialogues
  • REMAKE PLUS: Vignettes themselves are a significant addition // Much better translation and smoothed out cutscenes
  • Main character’s portrayed as down to earth (not counting the pointless plot twist)

Story Negatives:

  • Bad usage of amnesia as a plot point and nothing else
  • Majority of characters are one-note and/or not fleshed out
  • Rushing through story points and not actually doing much with them

Gameplay Positives:

  • Options for remade or old music
  • Otherwise good quality of life features in menus
  • Voice acting (everyone is voiced, reasonably good quality, japanese or english and changeable on the fly, AND can just turn it off)
  • No more leashed by party members
  • Screen transition autosave that keeps after shutting down or crashing
  • Shoulder buttons editable shortcuts
  • Significantly improved, funner boss fights
  • REMAKE PLUS: Dash is a significant improvement // Better and more precise combat, especially at diagonals, and regarding hit and hurt boxes // Respawning enemies is per cell not ON screen
    Increased size of terrain in general // Good animation and good usage of art style for gameplay

Gameplay Negatives:

  • No online support (for a modern game, built on co-op, on modern systems)
  • Lack of cursor memory
  • Weird and arguably bad options in the settings menu (notably more keyboard than controller options)
  • Buggy (softlocks, CTDs, and bizarre melee bugs)

Dissidia NT

Dissidia NT is an unusual entry in the series. For the purposes of a competitive, versus fighting game it does many things right and indeed superior to previous entries. For anyone seeking a new Dissidia game, it is lacking in stage design, gameplay, and most critically story. Thus whether it’s for you or not depends on what you’re looking for.
Total Story Score: -4
Total Gameplay Score: -1

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

Story Negatives:

  • Story presentation and acquisition
  • Entirely too little story to gameplay ration
  • Incredibly lackluster and unsatisfactory ending
  • Characters are devolved into basic caricatures of themselves

Gameplay Positives:

  • The graphics are excellent
  • Controls are tight, responsive, and don’t wear out the hands
  • Matches are legitimately fun to keep playing
  • The Bahamut boss fight was amazing and genuinely challenging
  • Music selection, variety, and ability to do an over-ride playlist or set playlists per character

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Lack of any real customization of modes, setup, or characters
  • Lack of a real co-op option, and clear boss design leaning towards co-op gameplay
  • Online AI difficulty is tied to online PvP player ranking to unlock
  • Having to do online ranked matches to increase co-op AI difficulty
  • Alexander and Leviathan fights are complete bullcrap and terrible examples of artificial difficulty
  • Shinryu is a generally terribly designed boss fight

Middle Earth: Shadow of War

While there are concerns regarding its stretching of pre-existing lore, the tone and theme remain strong and the flavor of the characters and orcs are fantastic, and the gameplay was generally fun and engaging throughout.
Total Story Score: +7
Total Gameplay Score: +7

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Celebrimbor; his presentation, voice acting, and character
  • Bruz is just an amazing character throughout
  • Good ambient storytelling with background dialogue
  • Ratbag is consistently amusing and endearing, as well as a nice foil to other characters
  • The Balrog, its inclusion, and its presentation work surprisingly well
  • The entire Bruz story arc is fantastic; from Ratbag, to Ranger, to Bruz breaking in the end
  • The fleshing out of several Nazgul characters, as well as who they were before and during their corruption
  • The cinematic directing is excellent and services the story well
  • The finale in its entirety is just fantastic, and includes both Talion and Celebrimbor separately as part of it

Story Negatives:

  • Talion is a complete idiot, to the point where it gets irritating
  • There are several incidents of railroading in the plot that are blatant and frustrating

Gameplay Positives:

  • Combat is good and varied with good options
  • Mobility is great, with lots of ability to move in, out, and regardless of combat
  • The Nazgul boss fight is just a lot of fun, and appropriately challenging
  • The improved and mores smooth Domination mechanic which makes dominating in-combat more enjoyable and more of a feasible tactical choice
  • Improved army building and pokemon mechanics with the orcs
  • The sound design is phenomenal across the board
  • There is good freedom and options with player progression
  • There are mid-mission checkpoints, and they are well positioned
  • The finale’s bosses as both Talion and Celebrimbor are very fun and challenging fights
  • Though they get old, Sieges are nonetheless very fun both defending and assaulting

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Lack of any proper setting options in the menu
  • Contextual problems in combat, as well as occasional control issues
  • Disappointing, tacked on, and generally disinteresting post-game

South Park: Fractured But Whole

While lacking in some of the more crass and over-the-top humor of the first game and South Park as a whole, the game managed to make me laugh several times and I found the more tactical grid-based combat to be far more interesting, and the boss fights far more varied and enjoyable.
Total Story Score: +4
Total Gameplay Score: +5

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • “CAR!” Periodically the game is interrupted by the mundane reality of the setting despite the fantastical imagination side of things
  • The game is genuinely funny, repeatedly
  • Wendy in general is awesome
  • The entire finale was legitimately awesome

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  • Combat and narrative integration
  • The boss fights are engaging real time / turn based hybrid
  • The combat is fun and legitimately tactical
  • The graphics style retains the best features of the show
  • The music is surprisingly good and adds to the scenes
  • The gameplay varies more than expected, in a good way
  • The UI is nearly universally good

Gameplay Negatives:

  • The difficulty is very lazy
  • Aggregate: The filler puzzle design, the disinteresting last dungeon, the slow crafting, and unskippable cutscenes

Super Mario Odyssey

This game is incredibly amazing. It controls better than any other 3D Mario to date, has a huge variety of content and challenges, as well as differing levels and styles to levels. There’s some background lore and flavor lore spicing things up, and the presentation is endearing and shows a massive amount of polish.
Total Story Score: +2
Total Gameplay Score: +17

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Tourist tidbits with background lore
  • Great ending to the main game

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  • Presence and execution of casual mode
  • Absolutely amazing music
  • Fantastic art style and direction
  • Smooth and intuitive control scheme
  • Proper gameplay settings
  • Waypoint warping within and without worlds
  • Finally getting rid of the lives system and replacing it with another penalty for failure
  • Varied and fun boss battles throughout
  • Stellar level design
  • Continuing excellent level design
  • Good auto-camera as well as camera-control
  • Genuinely challenging and fun last boss
  • Amazing escape sequence from the moon, as Bowser
  • Meaningful and enjoyable post-game with good meaty content
  • Lots and lots and lots of meaningful, manually crafted, meaty post-game content
  • Selectable music while playing
  • The DX bosses are enjoyable additional difficulty
  • Game is consistently fun and encourages replay

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Aggregate: Inconsistency of ledge-grabbing, and Bowser Amiibo functionality not accessible in game

Call of Duty: World War II

While the gameplay and combat itself is acceptable, the level design is significantly lacking. The set pieces and character moments are good, but the overall flow of the plot is disinteresting. CoD WWII does as much right as it does wrong in both story and gameplay, and unless one is exceptionally interested in the multiplayer can only be recommended as a sale buy.
Total Story Score: +2
Total Gameplay Score: +5

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • The Normandy landing is pretty awesome
  • The banter between characters is natural and well done
  • The spy section is suspenseful and enjoyable
  • For one moment the story does not rely on cliche and has a surprisingly well done meaningless death
  • The characterization is good

Story Negatives:

  • Zussman somehow lived through a gut wound, and being dragged through 100 yards of hell, while fighting
  • The dream sequence was generally not well done
  • The entire finale and ending were just bad

Gameplay Positives:

  • The graphics are legitimately stellar
  • The motion capture is top notch
  • Good variety of action and set pieces instead of purely cover based shooting
  • Music touches, ques, and quality
  • The spy section was a lot of fun
  • The tank battle, while short, was awesome
  • The objectives are well distinguished visually

Gameplay Negatives:

  • The level design is just awful, with heavy reliance on invisible walls
  • In addition to bad level design, the types of actions and tactics the player can take are heavily railroaded

Sonic Forces

While not as enjoyable or as polished as some of the stronger Sonic entries, modern or classic, Sonic Forces embrassed the silliness of its own premise and ran with it grinning the entire way. An enjoyable, if ultimately forgettable, romp that’s worth picking up on sale.
Total Story Score: +3
Total Gameplay Score: +7

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Embraced the ridiculousness of a Sonic Original Character fanfic
  • Cheesy and hilarious cutscenes
  • Visual storytelling on display in the background
  • Awesome Flash Gorden Effect that made me laugh and smile

Story Negatives:

  • Short, and effectively no story replay value

Gameplay Positives:

  • Smooth and intuitive controls
  • Proper and well-done character customization
  • Removed the out-dated lives system
  • Mid-way checkpoints for both stages and bosses
  • Awesome boss fight with Infinite
  • Damned good music throughout
  • Visually appealing

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Has only one save file, which is inexcusable in a modern game

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

While moderately fun to play, Wolfenstein II blew me away with its willingness to embrace ridiculous over-the-top super science alongside very down to earth, believable, and powerful character moments. Exceptionally well fleshed out characters and moving, quiet moments accentuate the game’s willingness to showcase its point unabashedly and right in the player’s face. A definite recommended buy.
Total Story Score: +9
Total Gameplay Score: 0

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • No holding back during the intro
  • Amusing and enjoyable background events throughout
  • Mature storytelling rather than juvenile
  • Large amount of good background lore in chatter, logs, etc.
  • Distinct and fantastic characterization
  • The going back home mission is just damned powerful
  • A successful implementation of tonal whiplash
  • The Venus acting scene in its entirety is gold
  • Sigrun’s big scene at the end was so awesome
  • Top notch voice acting

Story Negatives:

  • Very lackluster and distinteresting endings (both of them)

Gameplay Positives:

  • Huge sections of non-combat roaming which are reasonably well paced
  • Fantastic music as well as music direction
  • Armor rewards from killing help maintain gameplay Flow

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Lackluster effect and sound to weapons throughout
  • The level design is almost universally poor, failing to capitalize on concepts (like the mecha wolf tank)
  • Aggregate: Lackluster number and variety of guns. Limited heavy weapons design. Lack of significant tactics throughout game.

Battlefront 2 EA

While the single player campaign had its ups, it also had its share of downs which restrained it from being as powerful as it should have been. The main characters also shift far too quickly from the Empire to the Resistance, which hampers its storytelling style. There is, however, some genuinely great characterization of the main characters, as well as several other nice sequence set between Return of the Jedi and Force Awakens. Sadly the gameplay is merely average at best, and the multiplayer (even ignoring the loot boxes issue) is just not as supported as it should be. A sale buy.
Total Story Score: +4
Total Gameplay Score: +1

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • The ancillary perspective of people in the background helps add to a lot of scenes
  • Several elements of fleshing out Imperial soldiers and officers early on
  • The Lando mission is just awesome throughout
  • The epilogue is playable, and great fun to play through
  • The Battle of Jakku is one of the better moments of the game
  • Excellent characterization of Iden, Del, Shriv, and Lando

Story Negatives:

  • As presented within the game, Operation Cinder is just kind of awful and ham-fisted
  • Aggregate:The narrative construction is far too rushed, everyone except the main characters is one-dimensional, and repeated usage of lazy writing throughout

Gameplay Positives:

  • Space combat is quite fun and well presented
  • The graphics and motion capture are both top notch
  • The Lando mission is just awesome to play through, too
  • The Battle of Jakku is a lot of fun to play through

Gameplay Negatives:

  • The stealth design is just lackluster and not well thought out
  • The sound design and options are actively bad
  • Multiple problems with multiplayer, including but not limited to: Matchmaking is off, almost no proper options, gear relevance is aggravating, the freemium infrastructure (since removed), and no proper co-op mode for the objective based missions

Assassin's Creed Origins

One of the funnest Assassin’s Creed games from a purely gameplay perspective, it was a treat to go through and the polish was self apparent. Combat is fun and varied, there are plenty of interesting and challenging things to do, and exploration feels rewarding. That being said the story is lackluster; the main plot is actively lacking, and it actively makes me disinterested in several aspects of it. The story is, however, salvaged somewhat by Bayek, as well as the side mission story arcs going through each town that are much better written overall. A definite recommended buy.
Total Story Score: +2
Total Gameplay Score: +13

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Proper acknowledgement of alternate quest routing in events and dialogue
  • The simple humanity and general presentation of Bayek
  • The side quests are interesting stories, and have interesting characters
  • The Crocodile Arena cutscene is just fantastic, with good direction, characters, investment, and payoff)
  • The voice acting helps sell many of the characters

Story Negatives:

  • The modern story side of things is just bad, with failed potential, bad presentation, irrelevance to the current modern story, AND irrelevance to the plot of AC:O, as well as actively interrupting the story of ancient Egypt
  • The main plot is weak at best, almost every main plot character is completely immemorable, and Aya shifts perspective in a way that implies multiple writers who disagreed with each other
  • The entirety of the finale was bad, including unnecessary drama, characters acting out of character, unnecessary repetition, and a general feeling of the whole thing being rushed

Gameplay Positives:

  • The UI design is fantastic, with good at-a-glance
  • The autopilot and seek-to-road mechanics of mounting are intuitive and well designed
  • Everything about Senu is great, from the UI, the tracking, the homing in, the movement, and the ability to keep going with him an exceptional distance
  • The attention to detail is just jaw-dropping
  • Amazing visual representation of Egypt
  • The side quests aren’t just better story, they have a variety of activities and are fun to do
  • The boat missions are fun, well designed, and engaging
  • Many weapon styles, which vary in playstyle and are fun to go through
  • Boats will spawn and rush up to you while swimming (and other miscellaneous quality of life choices)
  • Combat is great, combat is good, combat is fun
  • The music is fantastic and atmospheric
  • The menu options are good
  • The Discovery Tour mode is just amazing in every way
  • The Discovery Tour mode also is convenient and well designed

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Aggregate: A few of the usual Assassin’s Creed control issues. Camera had trouble in smaller areas keeping up. The in-game store was shoved into my face (once). The daily quests seem oddly poorly designed considering the high quality of everything else.

Total War Warhammer II

I’m a bit biased towards this one, because this is the first Total War game I really enjoyed. While lacking significantly in the strategic layer, the tactical layer is fun and engaging and allows for player tactics to overcome numbers to a huge degree, as well as encouraging the player to experiment with different strategies. Each side plays differently in feel as well as mechanics, and it’s a nice entry representation of Warhammer lore for someone new to the franchise. A recommended buy for fans of Total War, Warhammer, or RTS’s in general.
Total Story Score: +2
Total Gameplay Score: +7

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Representation of and presence of story is good
  • Good introduction to Warhammer lore

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  • The voice acting is excellent
  • Significant amount of and quality of options in the menus
  • Each faction feels unique in playstyle and flavor
  • The graphics are surprisingly good, with more detail than necessary, and very visually distinct
  • Presentation of the map has good ease of determining information at-a-glance in tactical and strategic layers
  • Many tactical options in tactical mode that put emphasis on player skill and actions
  • The terrain matters significantly to combat
  • The game encourages the player to change up their army composition as well as try new strategies

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Aggregate: Cities aren’t as relevant as they should be. The strategic layer is lacking in engagement. Siege battles are repetitive and lack interesting gameplay. Incredible difficulty in properly managing larger and larger swaths of territory, which function as an irritation.

Yakuza 0

Yakuza 0 astonished me with how high quality it was. Telling an incredible story while simultaneously being ridiculously silly, having consistently varied and fun gameplay, and making me truly care about the characters. The density of content is through the roof, and never gets boring or old. A hugely definitely recommended buy.
Total Story Score: +11
Total Gameplay Score: +6

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Presentation of the three types of cutscene (slideshow, standard, and in-game render) help the flavor and variety of the story
  • A wide variety of interesting, manually generated side quests
  • A continued positive for side quests
  • Majima’s ‘perfect revenge’ was a joy and a treat
  • Amazing and in-depth characters
  • Tons of tensions and drama for most of the main story
  • The end of Chapter 6 was fantastic, with Kiryu, Kuze, Purple, and Bro
  • Excellent, and understated presentation of major plot points and twists (not being too overt, or too subtle)
  • Excellent weaving of many multiple plot threads together into one tapestry
  • Fantastic pacing in main story to maintain a pace of tension, action, information, and then looping

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  • Doodad placement is excellent throughout
  • Combat styles are fun and each significantly alter gameplay
  • Variable fluid and dynamic music for combat and non combat
  • Even more combat styles and variety for Majima, in addition to Kiryu
  • Amazing directing for grabbing the player’s attention in the right places throughout
  • Good gameplay and story integration, as well as segregation
  • New Game +, which is well executed

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Aggregate: Incredibly poorly labeled purchasable territories with no real map help. Hitbox detection issues. Sprinting feels wonky. Too many menu clicks to activate certain actions, like healing in combat. Too many invisible walls. Tedious to have to manually collect real estate money each collection cycle.

Romancing SaGa 2 Remaster

An unfortunately faithful recreation of the original SNES Romancing SaGa 2, with all the good and the bad that that implies. This is, ultimately, a decent port but not much else. If you were a fan of the original, the touched up graphics do help a little, but the content is effectively unchanged. Not recommended, unless you were a fan of the original.
Total Story Score: +2
Total Gameplay Score: -1

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Awesome premise of a generational RPG, with kingdom building, expanding to gain more taxes, etc.
  • Excellent central story around the Seven Heroes
  • Individual story arcs and relevance to the Heroes
  • Choices matter and change the course of the story and events

Story Negatives:

  • Exceptionally bad flow of story in terms of directions, dialogue, etc. (one must talk to a specific NPC to unlock an area, NPCs look almost identical and most repeat irrelevant information, heavily scripted quests and events, etc.)
  • Most of the depth of the story is barely represented on screen

Gameplay Positives:

  • Saving anywhere
  • Good music throughout
  • Surprisingly good New Game + feature
  • Choices matter and change the course of the story and events

Gameplay Negatives:

  • The trash fights are too numerous, too easy, respawn too easily, and are exceptionally boring
  • There are no settings whatsoever to customize the game
  • Ultimately a lazy port from the phone version
  • Lack of proper transparency on many, many game mechanics
  • The difficulty is all over the place, with a very uneven and wonky difficulty curve, a lack of design features to accommodate its non-linear nature, and heavy randomness of player progression

Ni No Kuni 2 Revenant Kingdom

While lacking a lot of the heart, writing chops, and core thematic power of Ni No Kuni 1, this one nevertheless manages to be an enjoyable outing which is a blast to play, with tons of side stuff to occupy many hours, and a weirdly engaging kingdom building mechanic and army skirmish mode which are both primary gameplay features. A recommended buy.
Total Story Score: +1
Total Gameplay Score: +7

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • The entire Goldpaw section is interesting, and humorous
  • The conclusion of the Hydropolis arc was pretty powerful
  • A successful embracing of the simplistic ideal of a child’s fairy tale
  • A successful culmination of unification themes throughout, leading to an awesome finale setup as all the armies and characters you’ve gathered help you against the final bosses

Story Negatives:

  • Sudden and contrived shift from threats of grisly murder to happily joining the party
  • Unnecessary dialogue all over the place, poorly constructed sequences of events, and the story is just too simplistic
  • A sudden and out-of-nowhere time travel explanation for the sole purpose of having a twist, and the utter lack of explanation for why the First World is suddenly fine instead of a hellscape nuked land

Gameplay Positives:

  • Combat is great fun, with good iframes, auto locking without aggravation, customizable skillset, avoidance approach, fast pace, and general enjoyment
  • The skirmish RTS sections are fun, simple but not too boring, with enough options to vary playstyle, different types of maps and victory conditions, and being generally fun
  • Excellent presentation and execution of the puzzle segment early on, with a top-down visual mode, ease of resetting, ease of checking hints on the fly, and good music
  • The general art design is good, but the visual style of each locale is amazing
  • Consistently good and varied visual design throughout, deserving a second plus
  • Excellent and fluid animation across the board, with very little clipping or other normal issues
  • Very fun, despite playing for some time the game continued to be fun
  • The kingdom gameplay is well thought out, well integrated into the rest of the gameplay, and isn’t a minigame so much as a core concept
  • The finale setup and fight is just awesome, and gameplay relevant, with unified troops helping in the last skirmish fight
  • Substantive post game content with tons and tons to do, though lacking in real story relevance, none of it feels tacked on or lazy

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Several UI issues, like bad and cumbersome equipping and optimizing, removal of equipped items from other characters with no prompt or notice, occasional double clicking, and a cumbersome tactic tweaker
  • Music direction is generally inappropriate, with music too short and too looped, and in some cases not matching the tone of the area or events at all
  • Design of the difficulty curve is off, design of the leveling curve is actively bad, heavily excessive trash, and health sponge problems

Celeste

One of the best Punishing Platformers I’ve ever played, this game is properly difficult in almost every stage, with heavy use of checkpoints and quick respawns to get you back into it rapidly, and very clever puzzle design across the entire game. The game also has a hard and a super hard mode, as well as the second best difficulty options I’ve ever seen in a game. And finally the story is strangely down to earth and human while retaining the fantastical, and is both powerful and well presented. A hugely recommended buy.
Total Story Score: +4
Total Gameplay Score: +7

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • The Gondola sequence is great, with a visual representation and gameplay of a panic attack, servicing gameplay and being well written
  • The entire breather section has good dialogue, is obviously written by people who understand mental issues, and the second dream sequence has no penalty for failure to accent moment for main character
  • Endearing ending, and a good overall message about one’s self and finding the balance point
  • Consistent usage of literal metaphor on a magical mountain to examine psyche

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  • Excellent use of graphics and animations that aren’t retro, but use retro concepts in modern ways to good effect
  • Fantastic music direction in emphasizing challenges, areas, and story points, with lots of Yoshi Drums throughout
  • Good design on B levels, with checkpoints per screen, allowing players to look ahead, very contained per-room challenges, and being fully optional
  • Varying themes and mechanics across stages to ensure the gameplay doesn’t get boring or disinteresting
  • The second dream sequence is fantastic story / gameplay integration
  • The strawberries provide excellent optional difficulty
  • Many, many, amazing difficulty options which can be toggled individually, including setting game speed, changing stamina, a selectable number of air dashes, and outright invincibility

Gameplay Negatives:

God of War 4

This is the best God of War game I’ve played by a huge margin, somehow making an amazing, impactful, powerful, and emotionally traumatizing game out of Kratos and his interactions with those around him. While having few characters, almost all of them are well fleshed out and generally awesome. The gameplay isn’t the best, but is still fantastic, with only minor irritants and issues throughout. Eagerly looking forward to a sequel. A massively definitely recommended buy.
Total Story Score: +18
Total Gameplay Score: +9

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Approach to exposition is consistently amazing, lots of showing and not telling
  • Fantastic moment of Atreus having to kill a human for the first time; his reaction to it, Kratos’ reaction to it
  • Continued development of Kratos and Atreus’ dynamic
  • Sindri and Brok are just awesome
  • The game somehow managed to make me genuinely laugh. Many times.
  • The siren light, pseudo death sequence, as Atreus’ rescue of us from within
  • The voice acting and voice directing are just damned incredible
  • The slowly developing and very natural growth of fondness and respect between Kratos and Atreus
  • The signs and ways in which Kratos shows how he really feels about Atreus; all that is, and leading up to him entrusting Atreus to Freya
  • Athena’s return was chilling, and the re-claiming of the Blades of Chaos was one of the most powerful moments of the game
  • The absolutely incredible animation, with astonishing detail in motion capture
  • The side content is meaty, fun, and good
  • Continuous and good usage of a close range, cinematic directing with few cuts in camera style during cutscenes
  • Very human and down to earth story, adding to its relatability
  • Does cliche often, but does it so well it’s amazing
  • Mimir is just damned good
  • The finale in its entirety

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  • Massive number of gameplay options, including for people with issues or disabilities
  • Multiple feasible approaches to combat, tactically
  • Attention to detail and general polish are everywhere and are amazing
  • Usage of both outlines and highlights to draw player’s attention to items, directions, or secrets
  • Incredible art design and presentation of the different realms
  • The Zelda style approach to level design, with no missable content or items, gradually improving ease of backtracking, and relative linearity with optional sections
  • The dragon boss fight was fun and amazing
  • The Magni and Modi boss fight was one of the better designed fights in the game, with both using completely different styles of attacks and coordinating against you and Atreus
  • The Blades of Chaos add a whole new dimension to the combat
  • The final boss fight with Baldur was fantastic, included callbacks to his previous fights, varied up consistently, and was enjoyably challenging
  • Fantastic animation of puzzle sequences and combat
  • When music is played it’s excellent, and music direction in cutscenes is top notch

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Lack of ability to rebind keys properly
  • Controls are just awkward enough to make playing continuously mildly annoying
  • Music direction is just off outside of cutscenes

BATTLETECH"

This scratched a very serious Battletech itch, and while not quite at the level of quality as, say, XCOM 2, it was a very nice turn based tactical game with a good strategic layer. The campaign had some issues but was fun to go through. Biggest issues were pacing and slowdown, both of which are actively being fixed by patches. I would highly recommend this to any fans of the franchise, or of turn based tactical games in general.
Total Story Score: +3
Total Gameplay Score: +6

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Inclusion of a massive, well designed, and easily skippable exposition dump during character creation
  • Skippable but otherwise interesting and fun character chatter while hanging out on the ship
  • Overall well presented and visually interesting vignettes for cutscenes throughout the main campaign
  • Excellent mercenary tone for missions, and work on the periphery in general

Story Negatives:

  • The story is weirdly one-dimensional, with far too many characters being one-note, stating the obvious, and having overtly good and bad guys. The story lacks the depth that it otherwise seems to present.

Gameplay Positives:

  • Good and well presented information on the battle UI
  • Terrain actually matters, a lot, to overall strategy and is enjoyable to work with
  • A significant amount of tactical choice exists in individual skirmishes, helping to engage the player
  • The terrain itself is well designed visually so it not only looks nice, but you can tell at-a-glance what’s what and how it will impact combat
  • Armor functioning as replenishable HP after mission is nice, and actual HP being repairable is nice, and ammo finally ammo and armor both aren’t bogged down with additional bureaucracy or upkeep in gameplay
  • The method of salvaging is the usual Battletech standard of quality, garnering pieces of mechs based on how they’re destroyed ensuring you’re not drowning in mechs, while at the same time increasing priority on salvage and emphasizing different tactics to garner as much salvage as possible
  • The degree of player choice in mission rewards is excellent, varying between reputation, salvage, and cash
  • Mech customization is awesome, with usage of hardpoints as well as soft-space, easy to access buttons for stripping and repairing, and the all important undo button
  • Evasion chevrons are a great idea; their acquisition via abilities or movement, their removal via abilities or just shots, and the benefit it adds to mobility
  • The story missions vary significantly in their level design, making each one unique and with their own gimmicks, and very fun to play

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Aggregate: Consistent camera issues (taking control away for ‘scenes’ during combat, then reverting to whatever it was before last action finishes) // Occasional bugs, such as literally getting mechs ‘stuck’ on terrain or dropships // UI issues here and there, such as unclear LoS indicator during sprinting vs. walking
  • Absolutely massive memory leak issues, leading to hourly restarts
  • Utter lack of difficulty settings makes the game less accessible for those who want a challenge or those who want something easier, which also limits replayability
  • Lack of options for skipping or speeding up animations makes grinding random merc missions for rep, salvage, or money far more of a slog than it should be (note: As of writing this is being patched out)

Kingdom

This game was an absolute treat, with amazing characters, plots, side stories, and world building. The idea of a non-fantasy non-sci fi RPG has fascinated me for years, and this delivers better than any other game has to-date. The many mechanics in the game are fun and interesting, combat is engaging, crafting is surprisingly enjoyable, and there is a good amount of player choice regarding how you proceed through quests. The game isn’t nearly as buggy as its reputation suggests, mostly due to a barrage of patches. I do highly recommend you play with a save mod though.
Total Story Score: +9
Total Gameplay Score: +8

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • Smooth weaving of exposition and political situations into normal chatter and dialogue
  • The perspective of the game is of being an ant skurrying about as the world turns around you, and it’s very well presented
  • The very nature of the story as a historical RPG deserves mention and praise
  • The characters are interesting and memorable, with effort made to make the nobility more than stereotypical bad guys
  • Excellent doodad placement and attention to detail in the enviroment adds to the setting and to general immersion
  • Absolutely ridiculous levels of attention to detail really help to flesh out the areas as you travel from place to place
  • The side quests are just fantastic, with multiple options, fleshed out characters, and interesting plots
  • The entire quest surrounding the monastery is just amazing, including the characters we interact within, as well as how much we learn about everyday life there, the history of the region, the practices of the religion at the time, and more
  • Hans deserves special mention for being an interesting and engaging character, who doesn’t fit any particular mold, and develops very naturally over time as his character arc continues

Story Negatives:

  • The final act of the story was disappointing at best, lacking the polish and nuance a lot of the rest of the game had in spades. In particular Toth was a very one-dimensional and, frankly, disinteresting enemy

Gameplay Positives:

  • Graphics are consistently good, but also consistently varied in style and aesthetics, avoiding everything looking the same
  • Lighting is consistently well done and visually enjoyable, day or night, and also manages to be functional while still being believable
  • The quest design is just fantastic, following the all-paths-leads-to-Rome design theory which allows for tremendous player choice
  • The quests are so well designed they make even ordinary or mundane tasks enjoyable
  • The invisible timer on some quests, which most importantly does not lead to artificial fail states, increases replayability and adds to immersion
  • The game was good enough to want to keep playing despite being very sick, so points for fun factor
  • The UI, despite being heavily stylized, is very informative and good at showing a large amount of information in an efficient area
  • The Assault on Pribyslaviz was a very fun mission and worthy of note. It offered enjoyable squad tactics, made your earlier choices significantly alter the outcome, and culminated in an enjoyable solo duel
  • The usage of minigames to flesh out side activities is great, making pickpocketing, lockpicking, grindstoning, and most importantly alchemy enjoyable
  • The map design is excellent, with multiple tiers to it, good information, and good at-a-glance, while also being stylized like the rest of the UI
  • The entire monastery quest is just awesome, with many different ways to play through it, it being dynamic in adapting to your actions in ways that can also change the outcome, and the fact that you can either breeze through it immediately or take weeks at your discretion

Gameplay Negatives:

  • The music is inconsistent in its presentation, leading to long and awkward stretches of silence
  • The total lack of difficulty options, which as usual limits challenge, ease, and replayability
  • The lack of a save system and how it limits player choice. Note that I spent several hours debating this one negative, and did not give it lightly, but the fact that it discourages player experimentation, or might not gel with a player’s playstyle, takes choice away from the player, and most importantly leaves the player at the mercy of bugs (several of which we encountered during our playthrough)

Kingdom

While mostly a visual novel, with little in the way of branching narrative, the game was nonetheless enjoyable to go through and overall fun. The story itself is its shining quality, obviously, and does a good adaptation of Ken Follett’s story, with a distinct art style and good voice acting adding to the performance.
Total Story Score: +5
Total Gameplay Score: +2

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • The voice acting is solid and appropriately subtle
  • There are several powerful moments, like dolling out the last of the bread amongst the refugees
  • The jumping between protagonists is really well done, and their stories interweave very well
  • The story remained engaging throughout, and the characters and their story arcs were not only interesting but made me significantly invested in their lives
  • The conclusion was enjoyable, very grounded (keeping with the tone of the rest of the work), and satisfying

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  • The sound design is overall good, and varied, and also the musical application is good
  • Small convenience features like double clicking to skip scene transitions help tremendously

Gameplay Negatives:

Kingdom

I’ve admittedly never cared for David Cage games, but this one really caught me. While Markus was, frankly, disinteresting, I found Connor and Kara’s stories extremely engaging and cared, a lot, about what happened in their stories. Further, the sheer amount of branching paths and how much those actually change the story in huge ways is amazing and a breath of fresh air. The music design and visual storytelling also really help sell the work.
Total Story Score: +7
Total Gameplay Score: +5

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • The entire Todd incident was good, well paced, and wonderfully branched
  • The entirety of the interrogation scene was just great across the board
  • Legitimately awesome acting on behalf of most of the voices and most capture artists, most notably Conner who just sells it
  • Multiple characters are well fleshed out, and I genuinely cared what happened to them
  • The music direction is exceptional, and the modular usage of music dependant upon action really adds to the work
  • Hank in his entirety is a fantastic character, who changes significantly based on your actions and is likeable throughout
  • The tone and atmosphere across the entire work remains consistently good

Story Negatives:

  • There are issues with predictability, especially in Markus’ sections, and there are far too many Cageisms

Gameplay Positives:

  • The droid UI is clean, well designed, and very informative
  • The music is excellent and great for the mood of any given scene
  • Generally fantastic sound design, helping to bridge the more tense sections of the narrative
  • Good variety, presentation, and usage of gameplay (via QTEs) which makes it feel closer to actual gameplay instead of just a series of QTEs.
  • Good replay value in the many, many branching paths
  • Chloe and her developing presentation as well as the final decision with her serving as a final nod to the overall theme of the game

Gameplay Negatives:

  • The lack of proper fast forward, skip-to-action, savestate, or other feature makes replaying more irritating than it should be

Bloodstained

While short, this game is good. Really, really good. This is one of the best side scroller Castlevania-style games I’ve ever played, and does so many things right it’s hard to properly list. At a glance it seems to be a typical retro sidescroller, but it has many, many great features which reward skill, encourage players across multiple levels, and removes irritation or aggravation in playing. It’s also relatively cheap. This is a definite must buy.
Total Story Score: 0
Total Gameplay Score: +10

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  • The music is good. Really good. It doesn’t just do an 8 bit theme, but tries to make good music with the old style.
  • The spritework is excellent and distinctive, and has good animation
  • The player agency in party members and how it lets you change which type of playthrough you do is just great, letting you recruit, kill, or ignore them as you go
  • The level design is top notch and clearly had a lot of thought put into it, with branching paths and multiple methods to progress through enemies and challenges
  • The branching options themselves are just great, are based not only on character usage but the interaction between them
  • The ability to swap characters on the fly, instantly, in mid-action, adds a huge amount to what the player can do in this game
  • The game is only $10. I know this is a weird thing to give a plus to, but this means this game has huge value per dollar
  • The different characters aren’t just different in terms of attacks, but their overall playstyle is different
  • Aggregate: Casual mode exists and you are not penalized for using it // Nightmare Mode is a form of New Game + and opens up new options in stages // The bosses are all fun and have interesting and varied mechanics // The Zangetsu final boss is so, so good // Ultimate Mode is a lot of fun, and the new last boss hard mode is fun

Gameplay Negatives:

Subnautica"

This game really impressed me. Amazingly atmospheric, absolutely terrifying, with excellent map design and tons of fun features. Further, the options to change your playstyle help make it accessible to a variety of players, and the graphics and sound design are top notch. The story mode really helped bring the whole thing together, giving the player decisive arcs and purpose, even though it can still function as a freestyle building simulator.
Total Story Score: +3
Total Gameplay Score: +5

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • The atmosphere in the game is incredible, immersive, and absolutely terrifying
  • Good and different approaches to storytelling in what is otherwise a survival oriented game, with audio logs, codecs, visible ‘cutscenes’, and other interactables
  • The sound design is just fantastic and really adds to the atmosphere and presentation

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  • Well done, interesting, and manually-crafted environment
  • A good variety of difficulty options, without penalty
  • The sound design isn’t just atmospheric, it helps you to distinguish animals, locations, and danger
  • Absolutely gorgeous underwater visuals, which are also color coded for good at-a-glance information
  • Base building is good and fun, and integrates nicely into the story
  • Aggregate:100% efficiency in base building and reclaiming is great and encourages the player to experiment // The controls are smooth and intuitive on ‘foot’ and in the sub // The Cyclops as a mobile base is just awesome

Gameplay Negatives:

  • Aggregate: The inability to link inventories, coupled with a fairly limited inventory space, leads to some frustration and runaround when building late game constructs // The controls of the Prawn are, frankly, irritating, and it can get ‘stuck’ on terrain too easily

Mario

I was admittedly looking forward to this one, but expectations aside, this game was just massively disappointing. The story mode is just bad, with nothing fun or interesting story wise, and artificially difficult challenges. The random versus mode is just random matches with no meat to them. And the tournament mode lacks the options to make it funner more than a couple of times. This is not a game I recommend.
Total Story Score: -1
Total Gameplay Score: 0

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

Story Negatives:

  • The story is actively disinteresting. It has a good premise, with the idea of tennis as either magically augmented or an actively cultura cornerstone of the island, and it does nothing with that premise

Gameplay Positives:

  • Lots of options when it comes to setting up free matches
  • The boss fights in story mode are innovative takes on tennis gameplay, and add good variety
  • Aggregate: The controls are responsive and customizable // The flavor of matches is well done, with different audience members and good commentary // Excellent sound and visual design overall, with good audio and visual indicators for gameplay mechanics

Gameplay Negatives:

  • The minigame sections are just aggravating. They have short time limits, heavy penalties for failure, and just take too long or require too many successes to progress
  • There is a lot of general frustration in many of the story campaign modes, especially given the lack of checkpoints in multiple phase encounters
  • Aggregate: Massive difficulty cliff // A total lack of options in Tournament mode makes it mildly fun at best, and irritating at worst // Total lack of difficulty options in story mode

20XX"

Wasn’t sure what to think walking into this one, but it impressed me quite a bit. This might actually be my new favorite Roguelike/lite to-date, as it combines some excellent design choice in levels, extremely precise controls, great settings and options, good progression across runs, and good music and visuals. While there’s effectively no real story (just some flavor lore here and there) it nonetheless was a joy to play and I ended up buying it a second time on the Switch to keep playing after the review was done.
Total Story Score: 0
Total Gameplay Score: +7

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

Story Negatives:

Gameplay Positives:

  • The music is stellar throughout, and the loops aren’t too short that it gets repetitive
  • The graphics are very visually distinct and generally well presented; The colorized trails for dashing help you see where you are in the screen even in the midst of chaos, you can always tell what’s a pass-through platform and what isn’t, and enemy presence and attacks are always clear and noticeable
  • The methods of progression through the ‘roguelite’ parts of the game are good stuff; Nuts to refill health and energy, as well as to buy temporary power ups, gives you progression in a single run. And the Soul Chips you gather give you more permanent account unlocks for future runs, meaning if you get anywhere at all in your first few runs you will get overall stronger (or potentially stronger)
  • The playstyle in each run varies wildly depending on which Augs you pick up, allowing for totally different jumps, dash types, weapon types which hit different areas, et cetera
  • The co-op mode is awesome, and well implemented. Lots of fun features, like being able to rez the other player, teleport when safe, shared resources except health, et cetera
  • The general quality of life options are amazing. These include but are not limited to; Lots of options to have a ‘pure’ run or not, lots of mutators for runs, good settings for sound / screen shake / explosions / debris / etc, rebinding of powers, Energy pickups not spawning in first level, no damage or Energy cost in post-boss recovery, saves in between levels as an option, Soul Chips can’t fall into pits, Shop indicators to show what type of abilities they sell, and many more
  • The segmented-procedural design is just phenomenal, with excellent approach to levels and bosses both and their clearly modular nature leading to the best benefits of randomly generated and manually crafted design. I especially like the use of varying boss rooms to make bosses more challenging in addition to different tactics and stats

Gameplay Negatives:

Dragon

While there are some logical hiccups here and there, with a couple aggravating story points and some bizarre gameplay choices, the overall presentation and polish shine here. Amazing at almost every level, this is a game I’m looking forward to playing through again when it comes out on the Switch. Definitely recommended for any JRPG or RPG fans.
Total Story Score: +8
Total Gameplay Score: +9

Spoiler Pluses and Minuses +

Story Positives:

  • The voice acting ranges from good to absolutely amazing, with a lot of details, subtleties, and nuance in the performances
  • The foreshadowing leading up to, the emotional impact of, and the significance after the big cutscene with Grandpa Chalky
  • Sylvando is an interesting character from the moment he steps on the screen, and remains that way the entire time through, ranking as one of my favorite DQ characters of all time
  • Rab is also one of my favorite characters of all time, and is brilliantly voice acted. His scenes ooze emotion and power, and he really sells the seriousness of his role
  • The entire Lonolulu quest was well written, well acted, allows for choice to vary the quest up, and was emotionally powerful
  • Virtually all the major characters are multi-dimensional and interesting
  • The entire sequence of events and sidequest about Erik, his sister, the cursed necklace, and the Seer
  • Veronica’s death. It had emotional impact, the gameplay UI didn’t spoil, it was built up to, it was a logical explanation of events, and had gameplay impact on Serena’s skill tree
  • Severe and massive consequences of time travel, in lore and in gameplay
  • Significant and substantial post-game story
  • Aggregate: Good variety of dialects and accents across regions // Haiku land was fun // Color coordinated and seamless dialogue for NPCs

Story Negatives:

  • The scenes surrounding the Hero, Mordegon, and the second time loop were unnecessarily and aggravatingly stupid
  • Aggregate: The Snifelheim quest, with too-on-the-nose storytelling, excessive idiot-balling, over-exaggerated foreshadowing, and generally uninteresting developments // The entire Phnom Nom side quest was just filler, padding, and boring
  • Aggregate: Total cop-out on the Erik & Mia situation, with a 5 second sacrifice and everything turning out perfectly // Total lack of consequence or even acknowledgement of the Nautica genocide and sacrifice // What the hell was up with the last Serenica scene? It either violates previously established time travel rules or actively makes no sense

Gameplay Positives:

  • The Horse is a great mechanic. Easily summonable, faster than running, possible to avoid encounters, can still loot while mounted, and can still fight while mounted if chosen
  • The graphics are surprisingly good
  • The graphics aren’t just good, they’re very well designed.. especially when it comes to details! Massive amount of detail in almost every area
  • The map design is one of the best I’ve seen in a while; Icons are toggleable, one can navigate to nearby areas infinitely, it shows the time of day, it has a zoom, it has a nearby quests button, and a nearby loot option
  • The difficulty curve is damned good, with hardly any necessary leveling and no necessary grinding so long as one uses strategy, and tries to loot for crafting
  • The difficulty curve continued to be amazing all the way into the post-game, which is astonishing and awesome
  • The ease by which one can avoid enemy encounters is amazing, plus the fact that it’s totally optional
  • Crafting is interesting and fun, levels up allowing for more options, it’s very rewarding, the multiple special attacks and heat management is interesting, and you can remake looted or purchased gear to improve it
  • The post-game has a lot of fun and interesting things to do
  • Aggregate: The auto battle is pretty good, editable AI, no presses once initiated, and interruptible at will // The ability to Zoom indoors is nice // The ease by which you can fast travel around to towns, campsites, and points of interest is great

Gameplay Negatives:

  • The cutscenes can’t be skipped… sometimes. It’s very inconsistent