Nintendo’s Paper Mario series has always been incredibly gimmicky, its papercraft visuals lending themselves to nearly every aspect of the games’ artsy architecture and corresponding gameplay devices. However, never to be labeled as a one-trick pony, developer Intelligent Systems has consistently found ways to tweak their ingrained formula so that each Paper Mario installment differentiates, at least moderately, from the adventure that preceded it. The last mainline Paper Mario adventure, Super Paper Mario, alienated fans of the franchise because, besides the 2D-3D flipping mechanism, at first glance it seemed to only alter a few minor details from the GameCube’s 2004 release, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Admittedly, the Paper Mario games take quite awhile to reveal their true brilliance; there’s some remarkably inventive RPG, puzzle-solving, and platforming elements buried beneath layers of talkative, self-aware NPC comic-babble and an aesthetic that can easily be described as “overly kiddy.” Paper Mario: Sticker Star takes some big, some would say foolhardy risks (doing away with experience-based leveling, badges, and partner battles), but, somehow, axing these details allows for the left-field sticker concept to flourish wildly, fastening adhesive-coated blinders over even the most curtly fault-finding eyes.
The prologue is as meat-and-potatoes as it gets for a Paper Mario narrative: The game’s hub town of Decalburg is in the middle of its local Sticker Festival, paying tribute to the almighty Sticker Comet, when good ’ol party-wrecking Bowser materializes and mucks everything up. The Sticker Comet is scattered into pieces around the environment, and the various landscapes’ once-pristine papery appearances have been sporadically ripped and misshapen as a result of King Koopa’s bad-mannered antics. Thus initiates an epic fetch quest to retrieve the many fragments of the Sticker Comet and repair the torn areas of Decalburg and its surrounding territories. This, along with the common Paper Mario role-playing aspects, would be fodder enough to fill a whole game, but Sticker Star, the now paper-thin plumber’s inaugural appearance on the 3DS, introduces an all-encompassing manner of play that, while imbued with a strangely scaled learning curve, keeps the proceedings lively, intuitive, and feeling fabulously fresh throughout.
Any and all action in Sticker Star revolves around collecting and implementing stickers into both in and out-of battle decision-making. Peel-able decals of various makes and models are slapped on surfaces high and low, each correlating to a specific type of maneuver on the combat screen. A boot stomps, a hammer hammers, and a Fire Flower launches those familiar flames at opponents. There’s also the occasional throwback, like the long-dormant Frog Suit from Super Mario Bros. 3 that allows players to jump over enemy attacks. Running out of stickers during fights means the end for Mario, as your catalog of stickies is your sole line of offense and defense in the midst of a throwdown. Fret not, as, in addition to the ones plastered on miscellaneous exteriors, myriad shops offer dime-a-dozen adherent tokens for purchase. Moreover, larger 3D objects simplistically dubbed Things are hidden far and wide in Sticker Star, each of which can be used as an extremely powerful, cleverly animated attack in a skirmish or as a solution to an enigma in the outside lands. For example, a pair of scissors cuts a rope to free a boat, a massive electric fan blows and spins a windmill, and a bowling ball crashes through a blockade of pins. It’s amazing how quickly these principles shift from contrived to savvy necessity, so much so that it’s difficult for me to imagine playing future Paper Mario titles without Sticker Star’s slow-burn, versatile methodology.
Not having an XP component to Sticker Star’s battles is perhaps its most off-putting attribute, as there’s no real sense of strengthening your character until the occasional HP-boosting heart item is acquired. Additionally, the absence of any equips, badges, or partners makes Sticker Star a rather lonely battleground experience. A shiny, guide-like crown sticker named Kersti follows you around, offering advice and moving the story along from time to time. Her growing rate of annoyance exists somewhere between The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword’s Fi and Clippy from Microsoft Office. She advises you of all the nifty button-timing tricks required to dominate your foes, as well as any info on a new type of sticker, all in a decidedly tongue-in-cheek tone. But that’s about it for hints in Sticker Star, as many of the game’s secrets are unavoidably Guide Dang It material; even some third-act storyline progression may deem it necessary to take a peek at a walkthrough. The massive amount of stickers and Things oftentimes makes it difficult to pinpoint which sticky goes where, and the playing field-altering Paperization technique, wherein stickers are placed to amend unfixed backgrounds, rarely nudges the player that it’s time to activate a certain emblem in order to move forward. Nevertheless, Sticker Star’s clandestine tendencies become second nature as your familiarity with its syrupy stratagem increases. The benevolent inclusion of a giant Sticker Museum, that houses a portrait gallery of your amassed agglutinative arsenal, rivals in essential education-ability the trophy collection menus from Super Smash Bros. Melee and Brawl.
Sticker Star may not in the running for the all-out best-looking 3DS game to date, but it is, without question, the title that takes the most advantage of the system’s 3D lever. This is fitting, as the entirety of Sticker Star, with its diorama cardboard cutouts, is ideal to be witnessed in a thick coating of 2D-via-3D-overlaying crispness. Complementing these lovely sights is an equally charming musical score that stands alongside the strongest entries in the series.
There’s much that may turn Paper Mario devotees away from Sticker Star, but Intelligent Systems is clearly comfortable with that fact. Repeatedly, the Paper Mario franchise has been their opportunity to experiment with all sorts of design quirks, some of which delight, and some of which fall flat—no pun intended. Sticker Star is unusual in that it takes away some of Paper Mario’s most renowned aspects, yet, because of a central apparatus (the sticker system) that’s the definition of crazy-enough-to-work, the game is at once a source of intermittently clinging vexation and gluey, satisfying handheld wonderment.
Developer: Intelligent Systems Publisher: Nintendo Platform: Nintendo 3DS Release Date: November 11, 2012 ESRB: E ESRB Descriptions: Mild Cartoon Violence Buy: Game
Review: In Watch Dogs: Legion, Revolution Is the Stuff of Brand Aspirations
It’s difficult to escape a sense that the game’s ambition far outstrips the number of unique people it can plausibly render.2.5
True to its name, Watch Dogs: Legion has no one protagonist. Early on, the game presents a list of random, regular Joes, asking you to choose one to restart hacktivist group DedSec. From there, you quite literally recruit characters off the street. Where prior Watch Dogs games let you pull up the personal data of any bystander, like their jobs and interests, Legion also lists what the people you encounter can bring to the table: their vehicles, weapons, and skills, like calling allies or knowing how to take a punch. Once you complete a mission to convince a chosen person to join the ranks of DedSec, they become totally, fully playable throughout the game—one more out of a potential many to join the fight.
It’s a premise that bursts with potential but is immediately poured into the familiar mold of Ubisoft open-world video gaming, right down to its toothless conception of near-future London as a dystopic police state. Like so many video games (and like many other Ubisoft games, for that matter), Legion employs a setting of unrest and political upheaval, selling itself on fashionable, exciting imagery of conflict and revolution. But such settings are often designed less for commentary than simple narrative convenience: as environments within which to take on hordes of designated enemies, and with zero qualms.
Most glaringly, the police state in Legion isn’t run by the regular police. In the aftermath of terrorist bombings falsely attributed to DedSec, the private military corporation Albion has been given free reign over Britain. They set up checkpoints, administer beatings in the streets, accost passersby for random ID checks, and openly carry lethal weapons. This allows the game to trade on what is, at a glance, the sight of people resisting the police and military while giving fascist goons a degree of remove from any recognizable institutions, obfuscating the chain of command to the point where the most visible bad guy is just the head of the PMC. DedSec’s goal is to restore a largely unexamined status quo, as characters do things like deride Albion for plastering holographic propaganda over, horror of horrors, Buckingham Palace.
Though some characters specify how Albion often specifically targets immigrants, Legion broadens the question of oppression to a point that becomes meaningless. You can recruit anyone because everyone is under Albion’s boot, and with the finger pointed so consistently at DedSec, the game’s conception of a repressed class essentially becomes DedSec hackers in particular, as you’re less targeted for your gender, skin color, or immigration status than for your ability to do cool hacker shit like hijack security cameras or make cars move on their own.
And yet, the bald appropriation of struggle and revolutionary iconography is hardly surprising. With so many millions of dollars at stake, how can a corporation afford to co-opt social justice in anything but the most brainless, superficial fashion? After many, many, many hours of playing Legion, the story doesn’t provoke ire so much as a feeling of resignation, given how it settles into a dull hum of mediocrity as it blunders through the obligatory topics of extra-judicial drone strikes and human consciousness beyond bodies.
What softens the blow, at least, is Legion’s undercurrent of absurdity. With so much of its cast at the mercy of character randomization, you spend a lot of time staring at a growing array of unfortunate haircuts, inexplicable ages, and ill-fitting voices. Though there’s a decent amount of diversity in terms of ethnicity, many of the faces (particularly the women) look so similar that they wouldn’t seem out of place in a family portrait, while everyone exhibits little meaningful variation in body type beyond being elderly or not-elderly.
It’s difficult to escape a sense that the game’s ambition far outstrips the number of unique people it can plausibly render. There’s also amusingly little pretense about characters summoning vehicles, drones, and allies out of thin air; if you’re playing as a spy, her car with a cloaking device and missiles is only ever a few button presses away. These weird, messy parts of Legion are far and away its most distinctive, such as the way a middle-aged construction worker with a baffling granny voice to hop aboard the flying cargo drone she can pluck from the ether and ride straight to the upper levels of a restricted area.
But like the initially appalling story, you soon grow accustomed to the same few displays of absurdity because there’s little variety to be had in Legion’s version of London. Each mission is a similar, stealth-viable map of cameras to jump between and vents to infiltrate with a small, discrete spider robot. Though you can commit to engaging with the clumsy, unsatisfying combat system every so often for variety’s sake, the game is so long that it runs out of different approaches long before the locations begin to repeat and the mission design begins to favor hordes of hostile enemies regardless of how stealthy you’ve been.
Worse, the characters have no meaningful sense of progression. Operatives don’t develop skills through repeated use, which may ensure that new recruits are viable from the jump but also prevents people with less immediately applicable skills from bridging the gap. If one guy only has a police contact for reduced arrest times, he’ll never grow to do more damage, carry more gadgets, or hack more quickly; he will always be less useful than, say, the construction worker or spy—good only to keep in reserve if you somehow manage to get every other operative arrested, hospitalized, or (with the permadeath option on) killed. What upgrades you earn are cross-character abilities like jamming enemy guns or more ammo for the nonlethal shotgun.
Sometimes characters have hard-wired flaws like taking more damage or hiccupping to alert guards or even spontaneously (and inexplicably) dying, but the game rarely forces players to deal with such flaws. There’s no calling for help from anyone nearby and being stuck with the drone expert who’s useless in a fight or the clerk who hacks slowly, while missions often have drones and spiderbots on site in case you didn’t bring your own. And while the game simulates what your operatives are doing when you’re not playing them, the fast-travel system and ability to swap out characters with no consequence mean there’s no incentive to just use who you have; even if you want to try and exclusively hop between nearby characters, the cumbersome process to display individual operatives on the map seems to discourage it.
Perhaps there’s some other take on Legion that lives up to its potential, if not for salient commentary then for player-authored mayhem as you juggle random variables. But as is, the game takes care to sand down its roughest edges, ensuring that no future police state can truly hinder the progress of a growing #rebellion. To turn London boroughs defiant against Albion, one of the tasks you must complete is to find a particularly prominent piece of their holographic propaganda and switch it to instead display the ever-marketable DedSec iconograph, firing up onlookers with that most powerful tool of all: a good brand.
The game was reviewed using a review code provided by Ubisoft.
Developer: Ubisoft Toronto Publisher: Ubisoft Platform: PlayStation 4 Release Date: October 29, 2020 ESRB: M ESRB Descriptions: Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol Buy: Game
Review: Star Wars Squadrons Takes Star Wars Fans on a Ride They Deserve
Star Wars Squadrons proves that last year’s excellent Jedi: Fallen Order was no fluke.4
Between Star Wars Squadrons and last year’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, EA has finally understood what kind of ride the Star Wars franchise should be taking us on in video game form. Star Wars Squadrons isn’t as unique a flavor as Jedi: Fallen Order—after all, over a dozen Star Wars dogfighting games already exist—but there’s a satisfying complexity and exhilaration to the game, which rises above and beyond just allowing us to jump in an X-Wing and blow stuff up. Of course, there’s a lot of that to do here, but the player has to work a little harder to make it happen, and the extra effort pays off in spades.
Rather unexpectedly, Star Wars Squadrons actually pushes many of the big iconic touchstones of the films, shows, and books off to the margins, letting its story stand on its own. It starts with a betrayal: After the Death Star destroys Alderaan, Darth Vader himself orders the Imperial Navy to kill any refugees who managed to flee the planet, which is the last straw for one of his high-ranking officers, Lindon Javes. Mid-mission, Javes sabotages other Imperial ships, allowing refugees to escape and himself to defect to the Rebellion. Fast forward a few years, the second Death Star has been destroyed, Emperor Palpatine is dead, and with Javes’s help, the Rebellion has now become the New Republic, looking to mop up what’s left of the Empire with the help of a few good pilots—which is where the player comes in.
Star Wars Squadrons aces the basics with flying colors. Combat is appropriately fast, frantic, and thrilling. Every successful hit and explosive defeat feels enormous, all while John Williams’s score blasts triumphantly on the soundtrack. And all of this is ramped up exponentially by playing in VR, where the game foists you into an immaculate realm of experiential possibility as you sit in the cockpit of Star Wars’s legendary ships. The effect is profoundly engrossing, to say nothing of the fact that the expanded field of view—where you can personally track a target just by turning your head instead of having to turn your entire ship—gives you a leg up over your flat-screen competition.
There’s a fine balance being struck here between the basic excitement of flying a ship into a frantic dogfight in space against some absolutely breathtaking intergalactic vistas and the minute considerations of piloting where every decision matters. Players have full control over how their shields are angled, whether their ship’s power prioritizes engines, lasers, or shields, and even their secondary loadout of weapons and defensive measures. These are things that must be monitored and switched depending on a given situation, which does have a bit of a learning curve at first, meaning early missions are very much trial-and-error death marches.
But it’s surmountable with time, and the game’s in-flight chatter will often tell you exactly what’s needed for the situation at hand. If you want to play hit-and-run with a tricky target, you can boost your engines and get into a wild high-speed chase. And if you decide to play hero and fly headfirst at a Star Destroyer, that’s also an option, provided you’ve accounted for where the laser fire is going to be coming from. The game’s complexity is such that no two pilots will be flying the same way in each mission, which is a unique feeling for a Star Wars game, where “be like the movies” is usually the governing principle. Here, “be yourself” is the law of the land, and there’s a vast number of playstyles with which to do so.
The game’s story mode is a rather gentle guiding hand at the outset, as it gets you acclimated to those playstyles within a range of scenarios. It will make sure that you have all the tools and training you need by the time the plot kicks into high gear. At least, as long as you’re playing the New Republic missions, which actually only comprise half of the campaign.
The other half of Star Wars Squadrons is devoted to playing as the Empire’s newest pilot, under the command of an Imperial officer, Terisa Kerill, out for Javes’s blood, and striking heavy blows at the New Republic along the way. This is the side of the game with the most issues. As far as the gameplay is concerned, TIE fighters are loyal to the films to a fault. The Empire’s crafts are all cramped spaces, with limited fields of view, and fewer ways to regenerate shields outside of waiting and hoping you don’t get hit. TIE Bombers and Reapers can take more damage, but their weaponry is also more specialized for specific situations. Perfect and ambitious flying is really the only defense you have in a TIE fighter, and while that certainly forces you to raise your game, it also makes Empire missions a bit less fun to play.
That feeling is much more prevalent once those missions force you to truly lean into the Empire’s villainy, shooting down heroes left and right, and, in one skin-crawling (albeit optional) objective, shoot down a transport full of escaping civilians. At the very least, the game doesn’t attempt to both-sides that evil. When you return to the capital ships to debrief and talk to your squad, they’re still the worst, either too “law and order” to recognize war crimes when they see it, useful idiots who truly think democracy can come back after the Rebellion is dead, or just pure unfiltered bastards out for revenge. They’re all well fleshed out, and to the point that talking to them is intriguing and a purposeful use of your time in-game, which doesn’t mean that you’ll come out of a conversation wanting to call them friends.
That depth of characterization applies to your allies in the New Republic, an amiable assortment of humans, aliens, and droids fighting the good fight for various reasons, and becoming chosen family over the course of Star Wars Squadrons. For a game that could have easily settled for simply letting you thrill to being behind the stick of an X-Wing, having NPCs worth caring about as comrades in arms is a nice little cherry on top.
More than this, though, it gives players a warm example of what the multiplayer can be with the right companions. The matchmaking isn’t smooth sailing, given that newcomers are likely to be hammered by enemy players dozens of levels above them. But whether it’s dogfighting or full-fledged assault missions against capital ships, there’s still a rapturous joy to flying around in lavishly realized Star Wars space with friends or allies unlike anything we’ve seen from a Star Wars game in years—at least not without a microtransactional albatross hanging around the game’s neck, as it did in 2017’s Star Wars Battlefront II.
Star Wars Squadrons proves that Jedi: Fallen Order was no fluke. Video games have never been more empowered to immerse players in all the coolest parts of the Star Wars universe, and EA is no longer tripping on its own feet making it happen. We used to daydream of being so fully engrossed in a spectacular Star Wars dogfight. Now, after just an hour of Star Wars Squadrons, with the right group, the daydream is when we can get our friends back in the air.
The game was reviewed using a review code provided by fortyseven communications.
Developer: Motive Studios Publisher: Electronic Arts Platform: PlayStation 4 Release Date: October 2, 2020 ESRB: T ESRB Descriptions: Fantasy Violence, Mild Language Buy: Game
Review: Ikenfell Has a Narrative that Considerably Out-Charms Its Combat
In theory, its intricacies should be bracing, but in practice the fixation on spacing and formation further slows down the pace.2.5
Maritte is an Ordinary, incapable of using magic—until, that is, she goes looking for her missing sister, Safina, at Ikenfell, a school for witches. Once in the vicinity, Maritte gains the sort of power she’s never had before, conjuring fire on the strategy grids that serve as the stage for many turn-based battles across Happy Ray Games’s Ikenfell. But that’s not the only thing that’s strange here, as the school is in a state of lockdown, with powerful agents searching for Safina, all while previously reliable forms of magic go haywire.
At first glance, Ikenfell suggests a more inclusive Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, as the game sidesteps the troubling class and race dynamics of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series with a more diverse cast. And while many of those characters remain rather broad, their dynamics are rarely simple, as they forge reluctant alliances with people who have wronged them. It feels as though Maritte has stepped into the midst of a story already happening, the pursuit of her sister complicated by actions that are quite difficult to justify.
Safina, it seems, has been living as though Maritte doesn’t exist, and Safina’s friends are surprised to meet her. In many scenes, Safina comes across as careless, with the destabilized state of the world a logical result of her meddling in fearsome powers. With the exception of some expressive animations, the pixelated graphic design can be bland, defaulting to a lot of nondescript rooms full of monsters that are ordinary objects with eyeballs on them, but the relationships provide a sturdy foundation for a story whose intrigue grows as it moves along.
It does, however, take quite a while to move along. As Maritte pushes deeper into Ikenfell, she slowly acquires spells and allies. The game appears to have internalized the laborious pacing of so many RPG forebears, since the early portions stick you with hours of an extremely limited toolset before finally opening up, providing more characters with more than a few attacks to take full advantage of the grid-based battle system. Your spells demand certain spacing to be used, often at a distance. One character, Rook, can summon a bellowing creature immediately in front of him to affect a square area further ahead, but he needs space to summon the thing so he can’t use the spell if he’s obstructed by an enemy or an ally.
Further complicating the battle system is the potential for friendly fire: Rook’s spell will harm his friends if they’re caught in the blast area, and any of the traps he places on the grid’s limited space will still be triggered by allies, losing them an action should they trample over it. You are, once the game provides the tools to do so, constantly fighting for space, pushing enemies out of range or trying to bait them into a cluster for one very specific spell, while likewise avoiding formations that might allow them to hit your entire party at once.
The result is a deceptively challenging combat system, belied by a cutesy exterior where sleeping cats function as save points. In theory, Ikenfell’s intricacies should be bracing, but in practice the fixation on spacing and formation further slows down the pace. When moving characters, there are no handy indicators of which spaces you can attack because many spells use nonstandard layouts. As a result, a lot of the combat devolves into moving a character, selecting an attack, and then cancelling that move to place them in a different space once you see that they’re not properly positioned to hit the intended target—and given that the grids are small, you’ll constantly tweak your moves by one or two spaces in either direction.
Additionally, defending and attacking requires proper timing, pressing the proper button on the controller when an attack lands. In games like the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi RPGs, these extra steps give the turn-based combat a satisfying immediacy, but in the strategic context of Ikenfell, they tend to further slow down the battles, requiring you to pause again after you’ve already been trying to wrangle a character into the right attack position. Worse, the game is inordinately punishing when players get the timing wrong, wiping out a third of your health when you don’t defend properly or outright causing certain effects like stealing an item, laying a trap, or knocking an enemy backwards to not work at all.
Luckily, you can mitigate some of the timing’s strictness through accessibility options. The most drastic one, which makes every timing challenge succeed, trivializes a lot of the status effects since you can, say, evade poison if you press that proper button with exact timing, whereas partially correct timing lowers damage but still saddles you with a poison effect. The middle ground, where the challenges always partially succeed while leaving you the option to still try for perfect timing, goes some way toward smoothing out the game’s more unforgiving edges. None of these options ever fully correct the sluggish moment-to-moment pacing, but they allow the focus to shift toward the narrative, which is a little basic but charming and not nearly so tedious as the default settings for the game’s main attraction: the combat.
The game was reviewed using a review code provided by fortyseven communications.
Developer: Happy Ray Games Publisher: Humble Games Platform: Switch Release Date: October 8, 2020 ESRB: T ESRB Descriptions: Blood, Violence Buy: Game
Review: Spelunky 2 Spit-Polishes a Familiar Formula to Near-Perfection
Spelunky 2 remains staunchly committed to its immaculate core design.4
Right down to the start menu, Spelunky’s modus operandi has changed little for its long-awaited sequel. Once more, you take your whip, bombs, and ropes for a precarious two-dimensional descent through pits littered with cartoon critters. Again, white text proclaims, “The walls are shifting,” before the start of each completion attempt—that the levels are randomized and re-rerandomized each time you die. And you will die a lot.
The first world’s brown and rocky caveman dwelling, though populated by a few new enemies and obstacles, is reminiscent of the original’s opening mines. Still, you will spot tweaks to the familiar Spelunky formula early on. They seem small at first, like how the end of the first world presents a choice to enter either a jungle or a volcano, letting you pick the next set of obstacles that will probably kill you. Creatures like wild turkeys roam certain levels, able to be ridden and then lost (or abandoned) in times of distress like a Yoshi from Super Mario World.
The design of Spelunky 2 is so tightly wound and meticulously considered, though, that what seem like small tweaks and additions have wide, reverberating effects on the way the game plays. Nothing is immune to the environment and the objects within it, with bombs disastrously bounced away by punching-bag traps or pebbles you’ve tossed in the air coming back down to hit you in the face and stun you if you’re not careful. Trigger the giant drill at your own peril, because in the process of carving out a shortcut it might burrow down through pools of flowing lava, the domain of the volatile shopkeeper, or the bloody altar to a fickle god.
The turkeys, for one, provide a boost to mobility with a double-jump and a glide, though their headbutt differs just enough from your whip to be a liability until you get used to it. The turkeys can be carried up latters, and they can shield you from damage as long as they’re alive, giving out a health item when they’re blown up or otherwise set ablaze at the cost of losing the carcass as a throwable object to hit enemies or trigger traps. You can also give away the birds to a man in exchange for treasure, but take care not to blow up his pen, steal his turkeys, or kill the birds when he’s nearby if you don’t want to run afoul of his itchy trigger finger.
And while these tweaks hugely affect the game on a moment-to-moment basis, the larger structure of Spelunky remains intact here. Secret areas are abundant, and there are still unlockable shortcuts, but Spelunky 2’s similarity to its predecessor now functions as a sort of rebuttal to the various games that have followed the original’s procedurally generated permadeath lead over the last eight years. Where those other games lay breadcrumbs of progress to soften the impact of repeated failure and ensure every attempt feels meaningful, Spelunky 2 still rewards you only with scant knowledge through lessons learned the hard way. You don’t accumulate gold to upgrade your ropes or your whip or your jump height, and though you can unlock new characters, none of them play any differently.
Spelunky 2 remains staunchly committed to its immaculate core design, demanding that we adapt to its rhythms and its secrets. In this way, the game argues for the importance of that finely tuned core over the adornments of incremental progress, the various carrots on various sticks that inundate the entire medium. Such a firm declaration feels appropriate for a game whose very existence began with skepticism, where we questioned the point of more Spelunky when the original, after all, was polished to a mirror shine. Spelunky 2 may only change the size and shape of that mirror in subtle ways, but the things it allows us to glimpse about perseverance and tight, considered design are perhaps more vital than ever before.
The game was reviewed using a review code provided by Mossmouth.
Developer: Mossmouth, Blitworks Publisher: Mossmouth Platform: PlayStation 4 Release Date: September 15, 2020 ESRB: T ESRB Descriptions: Violence, Blood, Crude Humor Buy: Game
Review: Marvel’s Avengers Forces You to Run the Games-As-a-Service Hamster Wheel
Everything truly good in Marvel’s Avengers is compromised by its mercenary feature set.2
With Marvel’s Avengers, Crystal Dynamics has managed to do what many reviews, screeds from established film directors, and anti-mainstream voices couldn’t: They’ve made me question my devotion to the titular superheroes. Namely, whether there really is nothing more to the latter-day iteration of the Avengers than fighting robots in between spouting Whedonesque dialogue. But, then, all it took was an afternoon of revisiting how they’ve been portrayed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, comic books, and beyond across the last decade or so to see that Marvel’s Avengers alone does a disservice to the legacy of its superhero characters by making it seem as if they’re saving the world with empty promise.
While the characters here largely take their visual cues and personalities from their portrayals in the MCU, you won’t know them from their faces, voices, and histories. That isn’t a problem in and of itself, except that Marvel’s Avengers doesn’t do the legwork of endearing them to us. And because they feel like strangers, it’s impossible to buy into the way they’re put at odds with one another after Captain America meets his demise and S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers are blamed for the cosmic explosion that killed him, as well as the mutations that occurred in many of those who were in the blast’s range. Much of the game involves trying to put the band back together to stop the evil A.I.M. corporation from capitalizing on the world’s new state of chaos.
The bones of a good, old-fashioned, linear action game are evident here. Brawling is a straightforward affair, with each Avenger’s special powers mapped to the shoulder buttons. Traversal feels right, with every superhero having their own snazzy method of getting around, from swinging on wires to clinging to and bouncing off walls; characters like Iron Man and Thor can even fly around the battlefield at will. Pity, then, that the battlefields often get too chaotic for their own good, choked with explosions, lasers, and exploding machine parts. The camera is sometimes a source of struggle. Level designs are bland, generic industrial wastelands surrounded by empty wilderness, and many of your objectives for each level have no sense of urgency. Worst of all, the game’s obscenely long load times make retrying a stage feel extra aggravating.
Crafting a sturdy Avengers beat ‘em up, a modern-day spiritual successor to the classic Captain America and the Avengers arcade game from the early ‘90s, is a noble aim. Which is to say, the aforementioned flaws aren’t a deal breaker, except that Marvel’s Avengers doesn’t make its stages feel vital to its story, nor does it deliver truly memorable high-stakes surprises or introduce creative or well-known foes into the mix. Had it delivered on all those fronts, the game wouldn’t have been too far removed from the breezy, top-down action titles in the Marvel Ultimate Alliance series. And if Marvel’s Avengers doesn’t, it’s because it’s too beholden, a la Destiny, to a live-service model—more interested in ensnaring than entertaining the player.
The core gameplay mechanic of Marvel’s Avengers doesn’t hinge on making players feel the exhilaration of saving the world, but on the allure of amassing stuff. The only real way to proceed in the game is by constantly collecting more and better gear for each character, upgrading their stats, and adding to a preposterous list of currencies, resources, and random junk that you need to, yes, keep upgrading. And all of that is worse here than it is in Destiny, because at least the new items that you collect in that game can change the parts of a character’s costume or the way a weapon fires; even a basic mission nets quite a bit in rewards. By contrast, none of the gear you collect in Marvel’s Avengers even changes the way a character looks. The only way to do that is to grind through stages and complete a character’s challenge card, and if you rightfully start to feel the snail’s pace of your progress, you can always just buy the cosmetics with real world money.
When the game, on its normal difficulty, starts to ramp up to the point where three hits from an enemy decimates your lifebar, there are no patterns to learn or strategies to change. What you feel instead of determination is the urgency of having to find another mission to take on and grind for better numbers, and the motivations aren’t strong enough to justify repetitive tasks for paltry rewards. Yes, there’s the base gratification of watching those numbers tick up, but with little else going on between its ears, Marvel’s Avengers feels creatively bankrupt. And while this sort of monotonous grinding typically makes it easy to just loathe and ignore a game, there’s collateral damage involved in completely writing this one off: Kamala Khan.
Kamala is already one of the best things to happen to Marvel Comics just by being who she is: a 16-year-old Pakistani Muslim female superhero whose ethnicity, culture, and religion aren’t played to inspire controversy or feed into easy stereotypes. And even then, those aspects aren’t the whole of who she is. At least, all those things don’t outweigh the fact that she’s also just a dorky superhero stan living out her wildest dreams after she gets super powers. Somehow, despite all the despicable trappings of games as a service, everything special about her in the comics has made it into this game. She’s the star here, the one who decides to bring the Avengers together again, who wrestles with the implications of what to do with her power. She believes, without question, that she has to use it to face down the various injustices around her. As opposed to almost every other major hero in the game, she doesn’t lack for nuance. The game makes room for a moment in which she implements a burkini into her superhero outfit, as well as foregrounds her pride in knowing that she belongs with the Avengers, while also not ignoring that she’s still a kid who makes huge tactical mistakes.
Kamala is this game’s heart and soul, joyfully written and lovingly and enthusiastically performed by Sandra Saad. Much of the story centers on her presence and actions, and even as a playable character, her polymorph powers are by far the most blissfully fun mechanics in the game. As such, it’s easy to imagine what Marvel’s Avengers could’ve been completely about: the focused, straightforward story of a girl coming to grips with who she is, what she’s capable of, and where she fits among Earth’s Mightiest Heroes as she defies an evil corporation who wants people who look and act like her dead. That story is there in Marvel’s Avengers, but unfortunately it’s one that’s swept aside often and awkwardly by wheel-spinning missions that exist only to teach players how to run that import-free, gear-garnering games-as-a-service hamster wheel of missions, never reaching a place where your job is ever done. And the fact that players must suffer that to experience one of the best crafted characters in gaming this year makes Marvel’s Avengers all the more infuriating.
There’s an oft-repeated mantra in Marvel’s Avengers that goes, “Good isn’t a thing you are; it’s a thing you do.” And it’s one that’s recited in a game where doing good largely means “smash more robots” and “open more glowy chests.” Everything truly good in Marvel’s Avengers is compromised by its mercenary feature set. Live-service engagement is ultimately its guiding principle, and that’s a principle that’s never been heroic.
This game was reviewed using a retail copy purchased by the reviewer.
Developer: Crystal Dynamics Publisher: Square Enix Platform: PlayStation 4 Release Date: September 4, 2020 ESRB: T ESRB Descriptions: Language, Mild Blood, Violence Buy: Game
Review: No Straight Roads Is Richly in Tune with Its Personal Themes
You never lose sight of No Straight Roads’s thematic intent during its big show-stopping numbers.3.5
In the world of No Straight Roads, music is the electricity-generating energy that powers Vinyl City. So when the rock duo of Bunk Bed Junction rebels against the EDM-obsessed NSR corporation that runs the city, they’re not just fighting the Man, but also rising up on behalf of those living in the city’s poorer districts, which suffer from rolling blackouts whenever there isn’t enough music to go around. It’s a smart way to keep the game’s six gloriously absurd band battles grounded in political stakes and interpersonal relationships, much as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World used music to illustrate the ups and downs of love.
Despite what its title might suggest, progression through the game is straightforward. Bunk Bed Junction targets the lead NSR performer of the district closest to them, hijacks their performance by fighting and platforming through a series of security checkpoints, and then duels the artist in a multi-phase boss battle. Recalling the way that Psychonauts and Persona 5 built unique worlds around their characters, these showdowns are the game’s highlight, with each (literal) stage serving as a visual metaphor for the type of music or performer involved. These battles are also puzzles as much as fights, as you can’t just randomly swing Mayday’s guitar or thrash about with Zuke’s drumsticks. Rather, players must learn to follow a level’s underlying beat so as to dodge and parry attacks, swapping between the band’s two members as necessary and using the elements of each arena to expose a boss’s weakness.
Put simply, the creativity of the concerts in No Straight Roads are consistently cranked to 11. With the exception of the game’s two optional rap battles against Zuke’s brother, DK West, that have their own separate control scheme, no two performances are the same. In fact, even the phases of each boss fight tend to be radically different. When players first encounter DJ Subatomic Supernova, they’re merely running around his dais, smashing disco balls to gain the musical notes that serve as the band’s ranged ammunition. By the end of the battle, the scope has expanded considerably, as the disco balls are now planets that orbit a massive, sun-like DJ, and players must find a way to pierce the asteroid belt that protects him. The fight against Yinu, a neoclassical nine-year-old piano prodigy, starts out simply enough, with you needing to learn the hard way to differentiate between full- and half-note attacks by the speed at which the projectiles fly in your direction. At the battle’s crescendo, Yinu’s angry mother has gotten involved, doing her best to crush you with piano hammers.
You never lose sight of No Straight Roads’s thematic intent during its big show-stopping numbers. But the brief interludes in between, where players can freely explore the district of the boss they’ve just beaten, also speak to the game’s larger themes. You can see how music influences not only the citizens of Vinyl City, but the architecture: Sayu, a digital mermaid idol modeled to some extent after Hatsune Miku, comes from a Japanese-themed area called Akusuka, whereas the robotic boyband Ten Ten hails from the harsher, steelier Metro District.
No Straight Roads also benefits from not dwelling too much on its rock-versus-EDM premise, by and large using it to compellingly shade its artist characters. Eve, a so-called “psydub” performer, uses her powers to physically split up Mayday and Zuke for most of their battle with her, which is a neat way of reflecting not only her own feelings of rejection—she once worked alongside Zuke—but to demonstrate the teamwork that a successful band needs to master. There’s not a missed beat, so to speak, in the way Eve’s surrealism also tries to make a statement against Mayday’s so-called “pedestrianism,” with the game ultimately declaring that all perspectives, no matter how plain, have their own appeal.
The game’s exuberance helps to smooth over its rough spots, like the awkward parrying mechanics, imprecise hit boxes, and messy camera angles that come as a result of being unable to lock onto enemies. That’s because No Straight Roads stays true, above all, to its themes. Take, for instance, the rap battles between DK West and his brother Zuke: Only the first one is truly catchy and verbally dexterous, but the others get tripped up in all the right way, with the brothers fumbling over words not because of a lack of skill but because of a surfeit of emotion. Even the occasional wrong note in No Straight Roads works, as it’s in service to an earnest and resonant grand design, or as the game might put it: BUNKA, JUNKA, SHAKALAKA BAM.
The game was reviewed using a review code provided by Wonacott Communications.
Developer: Metronomik Publisher: Sold Out Platform: PlayStation 4 Release Date: August 25, 2020 ESRB: E10+ ESRB Descriptions: Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Language Buy: Game
Review: Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time Wields the Dullest of Blades
The game lacks for Samurai Jack’s smooth, stylish animation and deceptively deep characterizations.2
Genndy Tartakovsky’s television series Samurai Jack remains memorable for its smooth, stylish animation and its deceptively deep characterization of its titular samurai, who’s transported into an unrecognizable future that no longer has a place for him, and where his magical foe, Aku, reigns supreme. Evincing little of that style and depth, Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time’s story plays out in a 50-second window to time from Samurai Jack’s series finale that occurred off screen, stretched out here to a five-to-six hour experience in which Jack finds himself unstuck in time and reliving his past. The game’s 3D art style inevitably loses the comic book-like screen framing of Samurai Jack, but worse is that playing Battle Through Time feels like you’re watching a clip-show-like reprisal of the series.
To its credit, Battle Through Time nicely mines Tartakovsky’s source material in its efforts to at least be an entertaining brawler. The enemies—doddering robotic alligators, sleek metal fish demons, agile and leonine bounty hunters—are as comical yet deadly as they are on the show. Jack’s prowess in combat is also neatly summed up by the variety of tools at his disposal. That includes everything from shurikens and bows to machine guns, plus five different classes of melee weapons: trusty swords, fast fists, horde-clearing hammers, distance-closing spears, and powerful clubs. Even the game’s genre-standard skill tree stands out for the way it reflects Jack’s growth on the series, with separate branches for his Combat, Physical, and Spiritual levels, and the in-game shop where he can purchase skill upgrades allows for a good cameo from Da Samurai. None of this is particularly innovative for the genre, but it at least solidifies Battle Through Time as a flattering, form-fitting adaptation of the show.
Nonetheless, the game’s combat is cluttered. Each type of enemy is weak to one of Jack’s weapons, but because he can only equip up to four different items at once, the fluid fights are broken up by constant trips to the pause menu, where players must swap out their gear. Along the same lines, the game introduces a durability meter to all weapons (save for Jack’s Magical Sword and his fists) that requires players to frequently change armaments. Ostensibly, this exists to make players experiment with all the various hammers, spears, and clubs at their disposal, but given that you can just stockpile identical versions of the same weapon, the majority of items that Jack acquires by disarming—or in the case of Beetle Drones, dis-legging—his opponents come to feel as if they exist only for their cosmetic appeal.
Instead of following in the footsteps of a classic like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, which thrusts its familiar animated characters into bizarre new worlds that could hold up on their own, Battle Through Time chooses to instead recreate specific, random episodes from the series, and in contextless ways. There’s a dog who flies around in a spaceship, wears a monocle, and offers you helpful advice, but if you haven’t watched the show, you wouldn’t know this to be Sir Rothchild, a canine archeologist. You’ll encounter a kilted warrior, as well as his warrior daughters, but the game never gets around to explaining that he’s the Scotsman, Jack’s most trusted ally on Samurai Jack. Boon’s Castle was where Jack met the Scotsman’s wife on the series, and the Cave of the Ancients was where he saw his potential fate reflected in that of a long-suffering Viking warrior, but those locals don’t feel purposeful in the game, as they exist here only to provide differing backdrops for otherwise identical fight sequences.
The ability to walk a mile in Samurai Jack’s sandals simply isn’t worth the cost, given Battle Through Time’s clunky 3D rendering of Tartakovsky’s distinctive visuals, its empty retelling of individual episodes from the series, and repetitive boss fights, especially the one against Demongo, one of Aku’s strongest minions. All of which is to say that players would be better off firing up their Hulu apps if they want to get a sense of Samurai Jack’s breadth and wonder.
The game was reviewed using a review code provided by Sandbox Strategies.
Developer: Soleil Ltd. Publisher: Adult Swim Games Platform: PlayStation 4 Release Date: August 21, 2020 ESRB: T ESRB Descriptions: Violence, Blood Buy: Game
Review: To Survive in Windbound Is to Conquer a Grueling Progression System
Windbound is an exploration game whose sense of exploration is painfully rigid.2.5
As a warrior separated from her seafaring tribe in Windbound, you’ll have to scavenge small islands for food and craft materials in order to build a boat. The early hours of other such survival games tend to be the most thrilling because that’s when players are at their most desperate and vulnerable. Not only do you have few materials to fall back on should disaster strike, but you’re often still learning the game’s mechanics, from what to craft to what materials to look out for, and what can kill you in a moment’s notice. Windbound, however, is different insofar as its early and middle hours are an absolute chore, suffering from a mind-numbing lack of variety that’s only rectified once the game is nearly over.
At the start of Windbound, you must build and paddle a small canoe, but as the game progresses, you construct decks and sails to more smoothly and confidently navigate the waters to distant islands with more resources available to you. Unlike the wider worlds of so many other survival games, the procedurally generated space of Windbound is consciously limited, requiring players to find three towers housing nautilus keys before they can proceed to the game’s next chapter, which has a new chain of islands to explore.
The decision to segment Windbound into discrete chapters isn’t ruinous on its own; the game only spirals into tedium through the slow drip feed of new areas, items, and enemies on a per-chapter basis. The first chapter has only one island type, all with the same handful of resources, like sticks and tufts of grass to cobble together a canoe and a flimsy sail. The second chapter, while carrying over the plain landmasses from the first, introduces islands marked by red-leafed trees that house the first hostile animal that you’ll encounter (the wild boar in the first chapter don’t attack unprovoked) as well as bamboo, which is sturdier and offers crafting options for more elaborate vessels. Only after three more keys will you find the next type of island and the crafting recipes that go with their new resources.
Windbound is, in other words, an exploration game whose sense of exploration is painfully rigid, one that sabotages its own sense of discovery by so insistently waiting until you have earned the next mechanic. By the time you reach the fourth and fifth chapters (out of five total), the game’s ocean presents a much wider range of possibilities for fortune and ruin. In many ways this is a clumsy, glitchy game, saddled with an awkward crafting menu and controls for sailing and combat that lack any particular sense of impact or intention. But in those late hours, Windbound finally delivers the sense of wonder and adventure inherent to its seafaring premise, even without the early-game sense of just skirting disaster. Until that point, though, you repeat the same menial tasks among locales that soon grow maddeningly familiar.
Worst of all, the game, on its default difficulty, kicks you back to the first chapter once you die, leaving you with a few of your items but otherwise forcing you to work your way back up again past those same few islands with their same few materials and animals. The ensuing repetition is far more punishing than if the game had simply thrown you into the deep end from the very beginning. In most games that make you start over after you die, you use knowledge of past runs to move forward more quickly. But in Windbound, such experience is useless because the game doesn’t give you the right materials to do so before you’ve jumped through its prescribed number of hoops by gathering keys from islands you’ve seen again and again and again.
Even so, it’s difficult to shake the specter of the better game that Windbound might have been. There’s a real splendor to the game’s open ocean, a joy to navigating its waters with a vessel that you’ve constructed as well as a captivating stress when you realize just how flimsy that vessel can be. In these moments, even issues like the horrid progression melt away. But those moments don’t arrive often enough, and they tend to arrive far too late.
The game was reviewed using a review code provided by Tinsley PR.
Developer: 5 Lives Studios Publisher: Deep Silver Platform: PlayStation 4 Release Date: August 28, 2020 ESRB: E10+ ESRB Descriptions: Fantasy Violence Buy: Game
Review: Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout Is More Like the Ultimate Pain
Even when Fall Guys is working perfectly as intended, its appeal is limited.2
Cuteness isn’t in short supply across Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, from the customizable Minions-like blob you control to the wacky games that will have you dodging giant pieces of falling fruit or running through spinning windmills like a ball on a mini-golf course. This is an unmistakably fast and frenetic battle royale, but one in which actual fighting isn’t really an option: Your tackle has all the force of a pillow, and your grab is effective only at momentarily slowing both yourself and an opponent. Your goal? To outrun or outlast your 59 adorable foes over a series of various elimination stages, and should the opportunity arise to gently push a rival off a ledge, you’ll want to take it.
No amount of cuteness, though, is a proper substitute for competent design. The majority of the game’s 24 challenges are more a matter of luck than skill, with players often forced to fling themselves into plushy and disastrous pile-ups of their peers, hoping that they’ll be able to funnel through an obstacle just fast enough to break away from the pack. As for those unfortunate enough to stay mired in a mob of competitors, good luck catching up with the rest of the field. It’s already hard enough to land a tricky series of jumps given the game’s imprecise physics, let alone to do so when players keep colliding with you in mid-air.
Other minigame-filled titles like Mario Party and WarioWare are memorable for their diversity—how each activity throws something distinct, unpredictable, and truly competitive at players. By contrast, Fall Guys generally just throws other players at you. The contestants are the only variable that really changes. The races themselves feel all too similar, especially once you’ve done them a few times and have learned the fastest routes, and survival challenges are just a series of repetitive actions in which you wait for an often-unseen opponent to mess up first. The game rarely encourages you or gives you the time to appreciate all of the anonymous strangers getting knocked off a course by a foam hammer. You’re too busy ignoring them, after all, trying to avoid the same fate. As a result, courses that are designed to fit 60 players end up feeling under-populated and empty when it’s just you ahead of the pack.
The game also suffers from major balancing issues, and not just in terms of how difficult it is to walk and jump across narrow cylindrical beams in “Slime Climb.” For one, Fall Guys presents itself as a player-versus-player action game, but nearly a third of the challenges it offers are team-based. If you were playing with actual friends, it might be fun to strategize how to best (and most ridiculously) gather eggs from a central area and horde them in your team’s zone, striving to have more eggs than the other teams after two minutes. But you can’t communicate with your randomly assigned partners, so you just have to hope that they’re not actively trying to troll you, as when, in a game of “Team Tail Tag,” your allies keep trying to grab your tail instead of protecting you, or when a game of “Fall Ball” gets nasty, with teammates actively trying to score own goals with the oversized soccer ball. And nothing has been built into the game to discourage such behavior, as there are no leaderboards, no rankings, no low-priority pool, only an endless grind for trivial cosmetic loot. Nothing disincentivizes players from choosing to find their fun at your expense.
Even when Fall Guys is working perfectly as intended—no server issues, quick matchmaking, good teammates, balanced levels—its appeal is limited. If you’re doing well, you’re likely to find yourself racing well ahead of the pack, unimpeded by competitors, in which case you’re essentially just playing the same brief level over and over again, grinding out loot. And when you’re doing poorly, you at least have to contend with others’ unpredictable antics. It’s here that the game feels like it might have a point, however accidental, because losing at Fall Guys feels like democracy in action: You can see exactly where you need to go, but you’re trapped in place by the dozens of obstinate others who maddeningly insist on doing things their own way.
This game was reviewed using a retail copy purchased by the reviewer.
Developer: Mediatonic Publisher: Devolver Digital Platform: PlayStation 4 Release Date: August 3, 2020 ESRB: E ESRB Descriptions: Mild Cartoon Violence Buy: Game
Review: Destroy All Humans! Is Dated and Prescient in Equal Measure
To say that the game feels like a relic from a different age would be an understatement.3.5
To say that Destroy All Humans! feels like a relic from a different age would be an understatement. The original 2005 game, goosed up by Black Forest Games for current-gen consoles, is a snapshot of gaming on the cusp, back when wild ideas and great writing could live in a sort of digital middle class right alongside big-budget blockbuster titles, and feel right at home. From its approach to problem solving and to its unabashed politics, there’s an anarchic streak running through it. That it stood out less in 2005 is somewhat damning given where we are now, but this remaster’s upgraded visuals, controls, and mechanics have made everything special about the original release shine much brighter.
Set in 1959, the game begins with a UFO crash-landing on Earth, leaving its pilot, Cryptosporidium-136—Crypto for short—in the grubby hands of a government agency known as Majestic. Soon after, Crypto’s clone, 137, and their boss, Orthopox-13 (Richard Horvitz, again bringing his uproarious Invader Zim voice out to play), sends their mother ship to Earth for some extraterrestrial vengeance. And by vengeance, they mean anal probes. For everyone.
In a nutshell, Destroy All Humans! suggests a ‘50s-era alien invasion movie where you get to play as the aliens. Just the idea of hopping in a flying saucer and laying waste to the cities of men would carry a game all by itself, and doing it as a period piece even more so, which makes it rather surprising that we haven’t seen another game quite like this one in recent years. Which makes it somewhat of missed opportunity that this new version of the game lacks for a black-and-white filter that could have supplied an extra mood boost.
But we still get the lasers and flying saucers, and, of course, the permission to lay gleeful waste to ‘50s suburbia. Outside of his saucer, Crypto gets to walk around on foot, either disguising himself as a hapless human or wreaking havoc with all the alien rifles, probes, and psychic powers at his disposal, and these are the sections where the game gets to show off much more of its creativity. Crypto can lift and throw all of Earth’s pitiful creatures with his telekinetic powers, and there’s plenty of weaponry allowing you to either shock enemies to death, reduce them to skeletons, or shoot a device that allows Crypto to probe them so hard that their brains pop out. No one ever accused Destroy All Humans! of being a particularly mature game.
Except when, surprisingly, it is. There’s a mean undercurrent to this game, whose human characters are all ‘50s caricatures, many of them suggesting white-bread castoffs from a Norman Rockwell tableau. And with Crypto’s mind-reading powers, you get to hear that which is thinly disguised behind the upright citizen’s façade: the racism, the Nixon and McCarthy worship, the self-hating homophobia. “I wonder if I ought to hit somebody with my nightstick,” thinks one police officer. “Could be fun.” All of that suggested a smirking parody of a not-so-great America back in 2005 when the game was originally released, but today it plays as an unsubtle reminder of how little things have changed in this country since the ‘50s. The game’s political humor simply hits very different now, and it makes all the different ways that Crypto can mess up Main Street, U.S.A. all the more impactful.
The good news is that it’s definitely much easier to do that now than in 2005, with the remake getting a whole host of much welcome and smartly implemented quality-of-life improvements that bring the original game’s clunky controls up to code. What was once a stiff, finger-tangling process of switching between weapons and telekinesis is handled with a modern, elegant weapon wheel, and a separate button for telekinesis. A mid-air dash and, later, a pair of hover skates make on-foot traversal much easier, and more dynamic.
All of that, however, isn’t exactly a panacea for the things that haven’t aged as well. The highly regimented and rote mission structure still makes some missions feel a bit empty, especially now that open-world quest mechanics have evolved so far past how the original version of Destroy All Humans! did things. The difficulty curve swings wildly from mission to mission, which could have been flattened with a dedicated button for lock-on targeting. This is a game before its time in many ways, but there are parts here that were clearly made in 2005.
Still, Destroy All Humans! moves at such a steady clip that you won’t find yourself fixating for too long on the things it does wrong. Even the more annoying missions tend to breeze by, ushering players toward the next nifty weapon or hilarious cutscene without breaking stride for much more than to let players upgrade their arsenal. And there’s a relief to that. Modern open world games are designed in such a way that bad design decisions tend to stew and linger in ways they don’t here. This is the kind of game you don’t realize you missed until you start playing it, one that doesn’t demand much of the player’s time or commitment or discipline but is just trying to find new ways to amuse you from one stage to another.
This game was reviewed using a review code provided by Evolve PR.
Developer: Black Forest Games Publisher: THQ Nordic Platform: PlayStation 4 ESRB: T ESRB Descriptions: Violence, Sexual Themes, Violence Buy: Game
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