2017 was such an incredible year for video games that chances are, most gamers will be playing catch up with all the great titles they didn’t have a chance to play well into 2018. And if you are one of those gamers and you have a large backlog of games, you best get started soon because 2018 looks to be another banner year for the industry.
We here at Goomba Stomp have gone ahead with our yearly tradition of providing you with a list of our most anticipated games. Last year, almost every game we chose wound up somewhere in our list of the best games of the year. Hopefully, the majority of these picks will equally impress us, if not, exceed our expectations.
Microsoft debuted the first gameplay footage of Anthem at E3 2017, showing off BioWare’s brand new title from Drew Karpyshyn, a BioWare veteran who has worked as a designer and writer on multiple projects including Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. The game looks set to be a large scale world shooter in the vein of Destiny (albeit from a third-person perspective) and takes place in a futuristic, hostile alien world where humanity resides in a city guarded by a giant wall to help protect themselves from outside threats. Players take the role of a Freelancer; a heroic group that act as humanity’s guardians and scouts beyond the wall in suits of armour, known as Javelins. In other words, it seems like a cross between Attack on Titan, Destiny and Star Wars rolled into one. A non-RPG is certainly a departure from BioWare’s usual development territory but given Karpyshyn’s track record, I’m assuming the game will still have a decent narrative. It’ll be interesting to see what the developer can bring to this genre given their background in storytelling, but one thing is for sure, Anthem is an important game both for EA and BioWare and an opportunity to restore its faltering reputation after a disappointing 2017. (Ricky D)
Arena of Valor
The Switch already has a library teeming with quality content that spans all sorts of genres. However, they haven’t really experimented with free-to-play games, especially MOBAs. Arena of Valor looks to change all of this, as it arrives on the Switch sometime this year. The game has already exploded in China, becoming one of the most popular games in that region. It’s normally played on a phone or tablet, however, the Switch will mark its console debut. The transitions make sense, as the portable nature of the system makes it seem fairly close to its mobile counterparts.
As far as the game itself goes, it’s a fairly run of the mill MOBA. Players select a hero from a varied roster of archetypes likes ranged carries and tanks. The standard 5v5 mode is bound to be one of the most popular among the list, however, there are also 1v1 and 3v3 game types. It plays very similarly to games like League of Legends and Dota 2, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The game currently uses touch controls on mobile, so it will be interesting to see how the game plays on the Switch. Will it use the physical buttons or only the touchscreen? Will it be playable in TV mode?
If you’re interested in the game, it’s already out on mobile devices in the states. The game has a surprising amount of depth to it, and it’s clear the developers are trying to make this the next big MOBA. Hopefully, Switch players will be just as excited. (Zack Rezak)
A Way Out
A Way Out quickly shot up to my list of most anticipated games for one simple reason: This narrative-driven adventure from the team behind the acclaimed Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, is a co-op-only experience. That is, you can’t play it unless you have a partner for the entire journey and as someone who loves playing video games with other people, it’s a no brainer that I pick it up. Even more, Electronic Arts — which is publishing A Way Out under its EA Originals program — will offer a free “friends pass” trial for the game. In other words, only one of you will have to buy the game. (Ricky D)
Call of Cthulhu
Call of Cthulhu’s release date vanished somewhere below the murky waters of 2017, but the promise of a new Lovecraftian RPG based on the famous pen and paper game by Chaosium makes the wait feel worthwhile. Cyanide Studio’s Call of Cthulhu will be hurling us into the dark and dripping mysteries of Lovecraft’s work as a detective: grappling with investigative mechanics to uncover the truths and horrors that surround us, stealthing past enemies, and wrestling with our own dwindling sanity. As you unravel the circumstances of Sarah Hawkin’s death, your own perception of reality will be tested with mind-bending sequences, intriguing puzzles, and the presence of monsters beyond your comprehension. Images of the game show a world that captures the atmosphere of Lovecraft perfectly, and with a narrative team strong enough to back it up Call of Cthulhu will be competing as one of the best psychological horrors of the year. (Helen Jones)
One of the more pleasant surprises during a disappointing Sony conference at last year’s Paris Games Week was the reveal of Concrete Genie – a puzzler/action-platformer that gently explores themes of bullying and childhood through gorgeous hand-drawn art that stands out in contrast to its depressing urban environment. According to PixelOpus (a Sony-owned studio that works out of San Mateo, California), Concrete Genie follows a bullied teenager named Ash, who escapes his troubles by painting spectacular living landscapes and mischievous creatures throughout his abandoned hometown of Denska. As he masters this magical paint, he discovers it can purify Denska’s polluted walls. Using the DualShock 4’s motion sensor, players can create stunning landscapes and strange creatures on the walls of the city which then turns into living artwork helping Ash overcome the heartaches of adolescence and paint his hometown back to life. (Ricky D)
Crackdown 3 had all but been wiped from my memory until the end of last year. Announced almost three years ago at Microsoft’s E3 press conference, Crackdown 3 came as a welcome surprise given how poorly the second entry in the series was received. However, after this announcement, and a trickle of information out of Gamescom the following year, Crackdown all but dropped off the face of the earth. While this didn’t bode well for the title, developer Reagent Games promised us a 2017 release, now all we have to do is wait with bated breath. From the look of things, Crackdown 3 is bringing the series back to what made it great in the first place. The complicated zombie nonsense of the second game has been done away with, and once again the player is back to a cleaning of the gang-ridden streets of a futuristic, unnamed city. By far the most exciting part about a Crackdown game is its level of destruction. With the use of Microsoft’s new Azure engine, Crackdown 3 will feature fully destructible environments and a wide array of vibrant weapons and devastating powers unleashed by the player’s character. If all goes according to plan, Crackdown 3 will be one game you won’t want to sleep on in 2017. (Carston Carasella)
Dandara has potentially some of the most interesting lore of any upcoming indie. Named after and featuring a character loosely based on the historical Afro-Brazilian warrior, Dandara is said to incorporate numerous references to her life as well as life in Brazil in general. The game’s surrealist art design, fluid animations, and ethereal OST succeed in creating a distinctly foreboding atmosphere that I personally can’t wait to experience. In terms of presentation, there really aren’t too many games that feel like Dandara.
There’ve been a wealth of quality Metroidvanias in recent years, and Dandara looks to continue that trend. Instead of the typical platforming that’s usually built into Metroidvania exploration, however, Dandara has a unique twist: she can only move by jumping from floor to ceiling on surfaces covered in salt. Though the reasoning for the salt has yet to be explained, this gameplay mechanic allows for surprisingly fast traversal and combat in skilled hands. In the brief snippets of gameplay shown so far we’ve already seen electrified platforms, spear-toting enemies, and massive bosses. If you’re a fan of Metroidvanias or want to try something different, you might want to keep an eye out for Dandara in February. (Brent Middleton)
Days Gone appeared as somewhat of an anomaly at Sony’s E3 press conference last year. The open-world action game will be the first I.P. created by Sony Bend since Syphon Filter in 1999 and seemed to come completely out of left field for most of us watching. While little is known about the story of Days Gone, the gameplay seems to be akin to the likes of The Last of Us, with the player utilizing much of the environment to accomplish their objectives. The world of Days Gone appears to be one of deadly tranquility, as nature has taken back much of the world, and humanity struggles to survive. The main enemy of the game appears to be a variety of zombie-like creatures called Freakers. Days Gone will feature a day/night cycle that has a direct effect on these creatures. During the day the Freakers are slow and weak but at night their movement and strength increase. The most intriguing aspect of the game for me is how vehicles will play into the narrative. While a variety of transportation has been confirmed, the most prominent is the use of motorcycles. This looks to play heavily into the story, as the main character Deacon St. John, a one-time bounty hunter, appears to have once been part of a biker gang. While the post-apocalyptic genre is beginning to get a bit overused in almost all forms of media, I’m still excited to see what Sony Bend has up their sleeve, and how consumers will take to a second PlayStation exclusive, post-pandemic based action game. (Carston Carasella)
Detroit: Become Human
From the minds behind two of the most character-driven video games and QTE heavy comes the next video game that will keep you up at night because you’ll be thinking about what could have been, Detroit: Become Human. Detroit is the next great game from Quantic Dreams and it’s been on my radar since the release of the Tech Demo six years ago that would be the origin of one of the main characters. As we get more information and new gameplay of the three protagonists and their radically different storylines that involve androids, humans, and figuring it all out…Quantic Dreams might have another hit on their hands as the missions become more dangerous and real. Another futuristic science fiction noir game never hurt anyone either. Detroit: Become Human not only looks fantastic, hopefully it’s another story and character-driven drama that puts us in impossible scenarios that’ll haunt us once we put the game down and long after. (Terrence Sage)
Dragon Ball FighterZ
Dragon Ball Z is one of, if not the, quintessential shounen anime. It’s a beloved franchise all around the world, and its fans range anywhere from 5 to 75. Video game spin-offs are nothing new for Dragon Ball, but there nothing quite like Dragon Ball FighterZ. Bandai Namco has is joint-developing the game with Arc System Works, the undisputed kings of stylish fighting games. This is the company behind games Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, and FighterZ has shaped up to be on par, if not beyond, those two.
The cast of characters in the Dragon Ball universe is huge, and ASW have boiled their roster down to a select few. Plenty of popular characters obviously made the cut: Goku, Gohan, all the major villains, but plenty of goofy side characters have also made the cut such as Nappa and Captain Ginyu. The more I see about the game, the more I can’t wait to play it. The soundtrack, the visuals, and gameplay are flashy and hectic, and a perfect match for same explosive combat the series has in its manga and anime.
Dragon Ball FighterZ drops at the end of January, and I can’t think of a better way to start off the year than with a solid and fun fighter. (Taylor Smith)
The long-awaited next game from Media Molecule titled Dreams, allows players to customize and control characters that are used to solve puzzles by manipulating items and objects across the game’s segmented levels. It’s somewhat hard to explain but for the unfamiliar, Media Molecule is best known for LittleBigPlanet, and Dreams is likewise, a game about creating. It’s a wildly ambitious project full of imagination and featuring a narrator in a coffin and a bear armed with a hammer. What else could you want? Check out the trailer below to get a better sense of how ingenious this game looks. (Ricky D)
Dynasty Warriors 9
I am an unapologetic fan of the Warriors games. They are what I consider to be the simplest and purest form a game can take. There’s substance and story to them, but their main appeal is the sense of joy coming from mashing buttons and seeing KO and combo counts increase, watching characters use flashy moves, and having an oversized roster of various fighters to choose from. Koei Tecmo has continually found minor ways to change up the series formula with each game, but Dynasty Warriors 9’s large-scale maps have to be one of my favorite changes in a while. There’s depth and height to every stage, with the development team saying its closer to an open-world experience than past titles. Warriors games are experiences where I can turn my brain off for a bit, where I can sit back and just enjoy the escape that a game is supposed to provide without having to dig much past the surface. If Dynasty Warriors 9 is going to give me more to toy with, then I cannot wait till it comes out in February. (Taylor Smith)
The past few years have given a rise to the popularity of dungeon-crawling Roguelikes and Soulslikes, all attempting to capture a sort of atmosphere of death, despair and insurmountable odds, set to tough-as-nails gameplay.
Eneme Entertainment’s Eitr is one such game (with a seemingly long-ish development history, now confirmed to be set for a 2018 release by Devolver Digital). Yet, Eitr set itself apart with its focus on nuanced, yet streamlined, combat and a Norse-inspired fantasy setting that invoke the best of both of its major inspiration: the infernal hellscape of Diablo and the diseased dark medieval fantasy of Demon’s Souls/Dark Souls 1.
Visually, what is striking about Eitr are the satisfyingly evil looking crypts full of both RPG/tabletop gaming tropes and plagues, and the Nordic, cold eeriness to it all is not something we have seen properly explored in this genre, or in gaming in general.
The genre Eitr will find itself in upon release is full of comparisons and not-so-subtle attempts at re-creating elements of existing games. Here’s hoping that Eitr can elevate itself beyond just that. (Maxwell N)
A year ago, Electronic Arts announced: Fe, an action-adventure game in which the player controls Fe, a fox-like creature within a dusky forest that is highly responsive to the songs of the creatures and plants within it. It was presented as the first of “EA Originals”, a new segment of EA’s publishing aimed to help indie developers with financing and publishing and the first trailer made a strong impression, with many critics drawing comparisons to Microsoft’s Ori and the Blind Forest for its story, characters and setting as well as Journey and Shadow of the Colossus for its “hands-off” approach to gameplay. Those comparisons aside, what interests me most about Fe is that the Swedish-based studio, Zoink Games said they tried to capture the exploration mechanics of games in the Metroid and Zelda series, my personal two favorite video game franchise of all time. (Ricky D)
Kingdom Come: Deliverance
Warhorse Studios’ debut open-world, RPG title is not a cookie-cutter fantasy as a first glance might suggest. In fact, it falls neatly into the historical fiction realm. Sans magics, elves, and dragons, Kingdom Come: Deliverance authentically captures early 1400s Bohemia and what it would have been like to live during the Dark Ages—one period of turmoil of the Holy Roman Empire era. The story is set some time after Emperor Charles IV dies. His son, Wenceslas IV, a naive, self-indulgent, and unambitious man (as the developer describe him) inherits the throne and falls into a power struggle with his half-brother and King of Hungary, Sigismund the Red Fox.
Players will assume the role of Henry, the son of a blacksmith. His simple life comes to an end when a raid ordered by Sigismund destroys his entire village. From there, he finds himself fighting against Sigismund’s invasion, hoping to restore power to Wenceslas and peace to Bohemia.
Since this is a game that takes place in a real period of history, Warhorse Studios made a commitment to accuracy. From visiting real locations and buildings still standing from the time period, to their mocap work on cutscenes, the developers took full advantage of their location in Prague and dug deep into all the little details of the Czech Republic’s history. Many of the structures in the game are real, and other things like the armor are period correct. They even worked with experienced swordsmen to capture real, historical European sword fighting.
And if all that isn’t enough, the RPG elements allow players to dig into the game according to their play style, all while building a reputation for themselves that affects how NPCs react to them. Become strong in battle, and word will get around that you are someone to be feared. Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a unique and incredible departure from medieval fantasy into realism—and a much needed one, at that. The game will release on February 13, 2018, for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. (Joanna Nelius)
Kingdom Hearts 3
It’s been a long road to the release of Kingdom Hearts III. With Kingdom Hearts II dropping all the way back in March of 2006, it’s been over a decade since players have been greeted with a full-on game in the series. While there has been no shortage of spin-offs or side stories in the interim, fans could be forgiven for being a little impatient after 12 years.
The good news is that there does seem to have been some sizable work put in on the title, even if Square-Enix’s announcement last year that we will see the game “before 2020” isn’t exactly encouraging.
Still, with a highly enhanced battle system, several confirmed worlds, and the promise of being the final leg of Sora’s story in the KH universe, fans have plenty to be excited for in regard to the latest game in the series. Will 2018 finally be the year? Here’s hoping. (Mike Worby)
Kirby Star Allies
Many of Nintendo’s franchises fade in and out of the limelight, but Kirby is as much a mainstay as Mario or Zelda. Kirby Star Allies is the thirty-first game in the long-running franchise and its ninth release since 2014. While experimental handheld titles of recent years varied in quality, the core side-scrolling entries like Kirby: Triple Deluxe surprised players with their refinement and reinvention of the standard Kirby formula. This bodes well for Kirby Star Allies, the first proper side-scrolling Kirby since 2016’s superb Kirby: Planet Robobot.
Nintendo hasn’t shown much footage of Kirby Star Allies since its announcement at E3 2017, but the trailer from last September’s Nintendo Direct depicts the most traditional console Kirby game in over fifteen years. But that’s not to say the jovial blowhard doesn’t have any tricks up his proverbial sleeve. As the first Kirby game on Switch, Star Allies leverages the platform’s built-in multiplayer capability by resurrecting Kirby Super Star’s AI/co-op ally system. On top of this focus on cooperative play, the power combination system from The Crystal Shards and Squeak Squad hint at an especially malleable play experience that could boost replayability. The new puzzly stages and gym rat King Dedede are further icing on this rosy cake. (Kyle Rentschler)
‘Link’s Awakening’ for Switch Review: A Recurring Dream Nearly Realized
Charming as it still is, going back to the Game Boy’s Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening can produce mixed emotions, as modern convenience has not been kind to its two-button control scheme and other annoying quirks. Yet, the draw of Koholint Island’s bizarre story and oddball atmosphere persists — so much so that Nintendo has decided to give their aging experimentation a very welcome Switch facelift, with pleasant visual updates and added accessibility that should mostly satisfy longtime fans and help initiate newcomers. However, a distracting lack of polish and ambition blurs the vision, and holds this otherwise enjoyable remake (re-imagining?) back from attaining the sublime dreaminess it deserves.
That has little to do with the base game; Link’s Awakening for Switch is essentially the same great experience Zelda veterans will remember, albeit prettier and with some quality-of-life additions along the way, such as dedicated buttons for common actions (like swinging a sword or dashing, thankfully), useful map markers, and bottles for fairies (sorry Crazy Tracy, but you’ve become obsolete). Link also moves in eight directions now, which feels much better (though he can still only dash in four), and the world scrolls by in a more seamless fashion, allowing tantalizing peeks into neighboring areas that weren’t visible before.
Obviously those are great tweaks, and they help Link’s Awakening for Switch flow away from the sometimes stilted pace caused by constant menu-opening that could make the original a bit of a slog at times (especially when a lot of item-swapping was necessary). There’s also a bit of extra content this time around, the most notable being a dungeon editor at the location of the former Camera Shop, and some additional dolls to win at the claw game that can be placed in various houses around the world as decorations. None of these perks contribute in any meaningful way, but hey — if you’re into arranging previously played dungeon rooms into booby-trapped mazes for your Zelda friends to test out like lab rats, then maybe Dampé’s house will get some use.
No, the pitch here is basically that the Switch version is still the same old Link’s Awakening, but better looking — and for many, that will be enough. Koholint’s new plastic sheen projects a more playful, friendly vibe that makes for an agreeable, relaxing journey. Some of the darker aspects may not land quite as hard as they did with those stark, black-and-white pixels (the Game Boy Color version also had a more cheery feel), but there’s something about the rubbery trees, fuzzy grass, and rippling ponds that suggests a less-melancholy island of misfit toys.
And with a collection of some of the strangest characters of the series, as well as a surprisingly poignant story, this small-scale adventure has lost none of its appeal as an engaging Zelda title. Sure, there are a few times where inexperienced players might get stuck at a particularly opaque puzzle, and though the wise owl and phone weirdo Ulrira give plenty of direction, sometimes you just have to set out and explore. Poke around a bit. That’s how games used to be, and it’s actually refreshing when Link isn’t being pushed along; there’s a beautiful (and manageable) world out there, filled with all sorts of secrets to uncover.
Beautiful, that is, when the frame rate isn’t taking a nosedive. The biggest disappointment with Link’s Awakening for Switch is not in the decades-old game design, but in the remake’s current performance. That seamlessly scrolling world tries to hide its loading, but stumbles quite frequently when doing so. Every time Link enters town, transitions to another area, or steps out of a cave or house, the visuals chug to catch up, largely stuttering until they can stabilize again. As someone who usually doesn’t care about such things, I was surprised at how much these short-but-jarring dips took me out of the pleasant atmosphere and affected my enjoyment. A Link Between Worlds set the top-down Zelda standard for buttery smooth gameplay, and it shouldn’t be unreasonable to expect similar polish when remaking one of the franchise’s most revered entries.
Instead, Link’s Awakening for Switch remains rough around the edges in this and other ways as well, niggling though those issues may be. It’s not uncommon for items dropped by enemies to get stuck on geometry (why does it always happen when you really need that heart?), and swinging the sword feels a bit awkward and clunky, occasionally only registering a hit on one enemy despite multiple being struck. Link also waddles a tad on the slow side, and the platforming actions feel loose — nit-picks for sure, but noticeable in their lack of refinement.
None of this twists Link’s Awakening for Switch into some kind of nightmare — far from it — but this remake seems like a wasted opportunity to retune an ancient instrument into a modern marvel capable of hitting the highest notes, and that’s not quite what’s happened here. What we get is a very fine edition of a fantastic game — one that will give longtime fans a great excuse to return to island exile, and hopefully introduce a whole new generation of players to one of the Zelda franchise’s most interesting and off-beat adventures. But though it’s certainly the best version yet of this classic, Link’s Awakening for Switch doesn’t quite reach the definitive summit.
‘Blasphemous’ Review: For God’s Sake
I’m not a religious man, but have often found the gruesome and twisted fiction it can give rise to utterly fascinating. As such, Blasphemous instantly barged its way onto my radar with its gloriously macabre Kickstarter trailer back in 2017. Brooding and grisly, it evoked almost exactly what was eventually delivered in the final product, and — despite a number of technical flaws — the wait was definitely worth it.
Rather than putting it off until later in the review, the Dark Souls comparisons might as well be nipped in the bud at this early juncture. From its visual theme, narrative techniques, and gameplay bullet points, Blasphemous sets out its stall to be a mysterious and challenging affair of swords and monsters. It takes those familiar Souls facets and combines them into a non-linear Metroidvania platformer, and it’s a formula that has rarely been done with as much flair as it is here.
Those familiar with FromSoftware’s narrative leanings will know what to expect from the story in Blasphemous — that being not a whole lot of surface-level understanding. The opening is mainly utter nonsense, comprised of your typical oldey-timey English and dogmatic scripture, and it doesn’t get an awful lot clearer as players fight through the campaign. However, nearly all the collectible items and powerups have readable lore at the press of a button, and piecing together these scraps of information will gradually reveal a greater comprehension of the story.
Players take control of The Penitent One — a masked man who seems to be permanently crying tears of blood — in a quest to reverse the effects of ‘The Great Miracle.’ This cataclysmic event devastated mankind as punishment for ‘The Age of Corruption,’ where everyone was basically really bad at religion and…blasphemed a lot? As a result, everyone in the world is a malevolent, murderous zealot intent on turning The Penitent One into The Pulverized One.
The abhorrent imagery, imposing scenery, and melancholy world of Orthodoxia really is a morbidly fascinating one. Featuring fully hand-painted, pixel-art cutscenes, its visual style is akin to an old Amiga game like Prince of Persia or Another World. Rarely have 16-bit graphics been used to paint such a grotesque scene, and as such, it’s an astounding game to look at. The excellent sprite work comes to life (or perhaps that should be death) with gory combat and executions, while enemies — particularly the bosses — are a thing of depraved, disgusting beauty.
The combat, however, is perhaps a little too simplistic, relying heavily on the executions (usually triggered after performing a perfect parry and counter) to do the heavy lifting for a single basic sword weapon and a handful of extra powers. This is one of the biggest missed opportunities of Blasphemous. Keeping players engaged in labyrinthine, often confusing Metroidvania titles is key, and without an enticing loop of unlocks it can be a little difficult to maintain interest in exploring the world. Not every game has to be Dead Cells, but using the same sword that cannot even be enhanced (yet seems to power up by itself, despite you not leveling up in any way) denies players an important level of tangible progression.
However, simplistic combat doesn’t mean the game is simple — oh no, sir — as it can be extremely punishing — especially the bosses. What Blasphemous has to help players instead of new weapons or stat building is a litany of other sundries. Rosary Beads add various passive buffs like shorter cooldowns, damage and elemental resistance, and higher defense or HP. Relics enable environmental assistance to access new areas through platforms or vines, and Mea Culpa Hearts provide buffs at a price — higher strength at the cost of defense, etc. Prayers, which are essentially magic attacks that use up your expandable Fervor meter, can also be unlocked. They’re largely disappointing, as are the small number of abilities that can be unlocked using Tears of Atonement (souls, basically), which amount to only a handful; those movesets are then upgraded rather than expanded upon.
What was unashamedly billed as a Metroidvania crossed with Dark Souls then feels more like the former than the latter in its gameplay, but a key element Blasphemous takes from Miyazaki’s masterpieces is that enemies only respawn when you rest at a Prie Dieu (which also refills your health flasks). It’s one of the most needed adaptations to the Metroidvania formula; nobody likes accidentally going the wrong way and having to kill all the same enemies again just to get back to where they started.
And go the wrong way players will, as Blasphemous breaks Metroidvania rule 101: don’t get the map wrong. The map isn’t terrible per se, but it is just slightly lacking in certain facets, which can make the journey through Orthodoxia needlessly annoying. By far the most egregious issue is that you can’t exit the map by pressing the map button again. Instead the jump button is used to exit, which will also make your character jump upon returning to the gameplay. It sounds pedantic, but with as many pitfalls and death traps as Blasphemous has, I certainly didn’t appreciate constantly jumping without intention, and died more than once because of it.
When players do die in Blasphemous, a marker will be placed on the map showing where they fell in order to help guide them back to reclaim lost Tears of Atonement and regain the portion of their Fervor bar, which gets gradually reduced with each death. This is helpful until realizing that the map can’t be zoomed in; having markers and a legend is all well and good, but when all you can do is view the map from a very zoomed-out angle, they might as well not be there. It makes finding those potential secrets — or even normal room dividers — much more difficult to pinpoint than they should be.
Unfortunately, Blasphemous is not only sprinkled with little design niggles, but it’s also quite buggy, and at times feels a little unfinished. At one stage I had the game soft lock so that I couldn’t use any of the trigger buttons (to heal or dodge), while another incident saw a boss glitch off the screen, initially attacking nothing before righting itself and appearing from thin air to kill me. Frame drops are also pretty constant — especially when playing in handheld mode — creeping down to single digits in busier areas, and when combined with the buggy camera, can lead to more than a few pitfall deaths.
None of these issues truly spoil the experience, however, and so Blasphemous ends up as an intriguing and challenging title that easily holds a place in the upper echelons of its genre. As cynical as putting Dark Souls mechanics in a Metroidvania seems on paper, the execution here is largely successful, and ensures that the game can be regarded as more than just a pretty thing to look at. Its difficulty may put some people off, as might its vague story or numerous bugs, but the rewards of seeing the gorgeous new areas while brutally executing new enemies will keep hardcore purists going until the immense satisfaction of the final victory.
What’s love got to do with it? Link’s 5 Best Almost Romances in ‘Zelda’
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on February 14th, 2016.
For all the fairy tale aspects and emphasis on collecting hearts, the Legend of Zelda games aren’t exactly known for getting overly lovey-dovey. Despite having two characters who are clearly meant for each other, Link and Zelda have been basically all about business over the last thirty years, putting work before pleasure. Sure, there have been the occasional sideways glances or insinuations in between killing the pig monster that’s trying to take over their world, but otherwise the relationship has mostly stayed strictly platonic, full of the kind of stiff mutual respect that leads to underpopulation.
Zelda, of course, is burdened with the many responsibilities that come with running a kingdom constantly under siege by the forces of darkness, as well as presumably having to consistently fight the urge to give in to Stockholm syndrome during each of her many kidnappings. So basically, she’s pretty busy, really focusing on her career right now. She’s also royalty, so that’s intimidating (and most likely requires a similarly noble suitor). And Link? Don’t mistake his oversleeping for laziness. This guy needs his rest so he can slay monsters and push boxes that should be way too large for him to push. The Chosen One just doesn’t have time to play the Hyrule Field, and frankly, just like with a superhero, it’s probably best he doesn’t get to close to anyone.
Still, there have been hints of love over the last few decades, with Link’s opportunities extending to relationships of tenderness and awkwardness alike that have offered hope of a Happy Ever After for the hero in green. Unfortunately, he’s killed fans’ hopes by blowing every one of them, whether by tragic twist of fate or simply running away in embarrassment. Oh well. Here are the best of the “almosts”:
Throughout all of the Zelda games, one thing has become apparent: Link doesn’t really do guy friends. This trait is on full display in Ocarina of Time, but while Link may never be bros with that jealous jerk Mido, that doesn’t mean he’s all by his lonesome. His companionship with an actual Kokiri is clearly a deep, meaningful one, and so Saria becomes one of the most endearing characters in the game. Sure, Malon is cute in that farmer’s daughter kind of way, but she seems more in love with horses than heroes, and besides, with a dad who can’t take care of himself, you know the honeymoon would be short. But Saria genuinely cares. She gives Link an ocarina, a pretty cool gift if you’re a forest person, and she teaches him a song so that they can always be in contact (hint, hint). Add to that the long, sad, lingering look on Saria’s face as she watches her “friend” cross the bridge to adventure, and you know there was something going on.
So after defeating Phantom Ganon in the Forest Temple and revealing Saria as the Sage of Forest, her resigned acceptance that their carefree days are behind them is a bittersweet acknowledgment (and reminder) that duty will always come before happiness. Mido’s revelation later that she had been waiting all this time for Link’s return doesn’t help with the melancholy, her unfulfilled pining just another casualty in the fight. But hey, at least she gets to hang out with a bunch of other misfits who are similarly trapped by their fated responsibility! Including…
I’m not sure that anyone has thrown themselves at Link more than Princess Ruto. As a spoiled brat being carried around inside a giant fish that ate her, Ruto develops a one-way relationship that culminates in her believing the two to be engaged when she hands over Zora’s Sapphire, all while blushing profusely. These aggressive signals couldn’t be any more obvious, but Link does a great job of playing it cool and clueless. She really doesn’t pull too many punches though, and it’s hard to explain why he doesn’t bite. After all, who wouldn’t want to spend the rest of their lives with someone who’s rude, entitled, and bossy? So what that she’s an entirely different species and any offspring would be freaks of nature?
Even when older Link meets her later, she finds time to bring up their love life amidst all the seriousness of being a very important Sage, scolding Link for making her wait so long, then explaining how she can’t be with him until her duties are over. It’s all hilarious until you think about what would happen if Princess Ruto ever really did get free. Sorry fish lady, but the princess for Link is in another castle.
With its tropical setting, one would think that Link’s Awakening would be one of the best chances for Link to find true love, but alas, even though he meets the girl of his dreams (who even looks like Zelda!), yet again it’s not meant to be. It’s hard not to instantly relate to Marin and her fascination with the young lad who washed up on Koholint’s shore. She has been trapped on an island her whole life, imagining a big exciting world out there beyond the vast ocean’s horizon, and yearning to see it. What kid (and many adults) can’t identify with that feeling? Link represents discovery, adventure, and the enthusiasm and verve she displays because of this is infectious. She definitely likes him, but does she like him like him?
Though quick to chide Link for hitting a cucco or smashing a jar, she’s rather shy about her feelings, but a couple of things slip. Sitting side-by-side on a log at the beach, she reveals her deepest desires and asks to know everything about him (before awkwardly laughing the question off), and later on top of a mountain, nearly confesses something before being interrupted by her father. The game itself even seems to think Link has a shot, asking after the hero “acquires” her and holds her high above his head like a treasure he just found, “Is this your chance?”
Sadly, however, Marin’s story may be the most heartbreaking of all Link’s ladies. She knows that when the Wind Fish wakes up, all of Koholint, herself included, might vanish into memory. She pleads with Link that “some day you will leave this island… I just know it in my heart… …Don’t ever forget me… If you do, I’ll never forgive you!” Marin just wants to exist, to feel, and Link, the person who has awoken that inside her, is destined to be the one that takes that from her. Getting the best ending to the game reveals some hope that maybe these two will meet again one day, in a magical land far away.
Has Link ever had a more fully-formed relationship with anyone than what he shares with the impish former ruler of the Twilight Realm? Following the classic Hollywood arc, the two start out bickering and irritated with each other, Midna constantly hounding her wolfish companion, with Link begrudgingly powering through the pain in order to get to the princess he actually likes. Naturally then, over the course of many trials and monster-shaped obstacles, the two slowly began to develop a mutual respect and liking for each other, as tragic backstories are revealed and codes of honor are put on full display. By the end, when sassy beast turns into great beauty (a nice twist on a classic fairy tale trope), Link is left speechless (big shocker), much to Midna’s delight. “What? Say something! Am I so beautiful that you have no words left?” This is called flirting, people. If I was Link’s wing man he would’ve received a nudge in the ribs right here.
In fact, most of their interactions over the entire game comprise of her playful teasing, the type of schoolyard antagonizing that is akin to pulling someone’s hair and running away. If Link’s the kind of guy I think he is, these insults will only add to the liking. On top of that, her mysterious nature and later trusting openness can only strengthen the interest. Of course, what it could easily boil down to is just that really, they’re the perfect match: she’s funny and talks a lot, while he’s well, Link.
Unfortunately, he stays true to silent form, and after a brief pause at the end where she clearly wants to admit her feelings but (I’m assuming) feels awkward with Zelda around, Midna departs back to her own dimension, never to be seen again, all because a certain green-clad idiot just stands there and lets her destroy the Mirror of Twilight (with a tear nonetheless) having never told her how he actually feels! Stupid Link! Rookie mistake, pal. Live and learn, plenty of fish in the sea, and all that crap.
Ah, but which Zelda? Well, in the entire franchise, there are really only two with whom Link had any real chemistry beyond teaming up to save the kingdom, but the best of those is the one that wasn’t even a princess. In Skyward Sword, Zelda is a happy youth, the kind of spirited person that everyone is drawn to, a force of positivity and happiness. She also has had a crush on Link for years, as the two have been particular friends since they were kids, much to the annoyance of a jealous Biff-type schoolmate of theirs. This really is the boy-next-door meets girl-next-door story that has less of a fantasy feel than the other games, feeling more grounded and accessible.
Much of this realistic feeling is owed to the amount of awkwardness between the two whenever they’re left alone in the beginning and things start to get real. Zelda often fishes for compliments on her choice of clothes or weirdly, her harp, while Link stammers his way through the several “aw, shucks” responses. This is all highly endearing in a puppy love sort of way, but throughout the game we are reminded as well of how deeply these two really care for each other, with Zelda risking her life without a moment’s hesitation to save Link from falling, or the goddess’ plot exploiting the fact that Link would “throw [himself] headfirst into any danger, without even a moment’s doubt” to save her.
Still, though there are many acts of bravery and sacrifice on both sides that outwardly prove love, the beating heart of Link and Zelda’s relationship in Skyward Sword lies in the small moments, glances, and gestures that have players rooting for these two crazy kids to come through in the end. Zelda nervously folding her hands in his presence, Link’s embarrassment at the implication of a kiss, the playful way she is constantly pushing him off the edge of high places and endangering his life, etc. While the end makes no guarantees, as one of only three people living on the surface, this is Link’s best chance to make a life for himself outside of killing things.
Ten bucks says his “be aloof” strategy drove her straight to Groose.
And that’s it! So, while romance has never been a main focus of the Zelda series, that doesn’t mean Hyrule doesn’t have a pulse. Link’s made a life out of collecting hearts, and despite all the misfires with the ladies and fish ladies, Link’s still young. He’s just got to get back on that horse and find someone that’s not his horse. After all, it’s dangerous to go alone.
Though you could always choose the bottle…
Indie Games Spotlight: Apple Arcade (Almost) All the Way
We love indie games here at Goomba Stomp – after all, they can offer some of the most groundbreaking, creative experiences out there. However, with so many coming out every single week, it can be hard to know which of them deserve your attention. That’s why we’ve started our new Indie Games Spotlight series, where we’ll highlight some of our favorite new independent games every other week.
Our inaugural issue is dominated by the recently released Apple Arcade. Apple’s ambitious new service has brought with it plenty of standout titles to discuss, including some from respected creators like Devolver Digital and WayForward.
Devolver Digital Joins the Arcade
Apple Arcade is upon us, coming with a slew of stylish indies from a variety of developers new and old. One of the service’s most immediately prominent supporters is the boutique publisher Devolver Digital, which is supported Apple’s platform with some exclusive new titles, two of which we’ll highlight below.
First is Bleak Sword, a compact brawler that takes place entirely in stylish dioramas. Inflicted with a deadly curse, players must traverse through the isometric black, white, and red environments to right the wrongs of their world. The action has been streamlined to work equally well on both mobile devices and traditional gamepads, although it has also been spiced up with some RPG elements like spells to cast and stats to upgrade. It’s available to play now for Apple Arcade subscribers.
The second release is Cricket Through the Ages, which features “inarguably accurate recollections” of the game of cricket throughout human history. Some of its true-to-life scenarios include one prehistoric match between cavemen and dinosaurs, another taking place during a medieval joust, and of course, one in outer space. Featuring simple one-button controls and support for both single- and multiplayer, this historic romp may not be exactly accurate, but it certainly does look ridiculous and fun. It can be played now on Apple Arcade.
Mosaic Paints a Bleak Picture of the Daily Grind
Mosaic is all about one of the most mundane aspects of existence: the daily grind. It takes place in a seemingly pristine world where there’s little more to life than clocking in and out of work and whiling away the idle hours with mindless mobile games. As reality becomes gripped in a “harrowing technological autocracy,” it tasks the player with becoming the lone rebel to shatter the façade.
With its polygonal 3D visuals and subversive narrative, it easily draws plenty of comparisons to Playdead’s iconic Inside, as well as more recent experiences in the same vein such as the excellent FAR: Lone Sails. For those looking for a more introspective, provocative experience, Mosaic should be well worth checking out. It’s available on Apple Arcade now and will come to consoles and PC later this year.
Get your Zelda Fix with A Knight’s Tale
Between the remake of Link’s Awakening and the upcoming sequel to Breath of the Wild, Zelda fans certainly aren’t starved for content. However, if you want even more Zelda-like action beyond what Nintendo is offering, then A Knight’s Tale looks like it could do the trick.
A Knight’s Tale ticks all the Zelda-like boxes: stylized cartoon graphics, a massive world to explore, puzzle-filled dungeons, and simple action-based combat, to name a few. Powered by Unreal Engine and boasting of more than 30 hours of content, it’s looking like a hefty serving of Triforce-inspired goodness. Unlike most other games on this list, no Apple Arcade subscription will be required to play this adventure when it launches across all consoles (yes, including Switch) and PC this fall.
Spidersaurs: Contra Meets Cartoons
Remember being a kid and waking up every Saturday, eagerly anticipating a morning full of colorful, action-packed cartoons? That’s the feeling that Spidersaurs aims to capture from its very first trailer. It presents a post-apocalyptic world that’s being ravaged by mutant dinosaur-spider hybrid and pairs this with a run-and-gun gameplay style that’s reminiscent of classic Contra games.
Perhaps the most notable thing about Spidersaurs is the pedigree behind it. It’s being developed by WayForward, the creators of all-time indie classics like the Shantae series as well as more recent hits like River City Girls. It’s safe to say that whenever WayForward is involved, a quality product is more than likely to result. It should be well worth a look, especially since it’s available now exclusively on Apple Arcade.
Go on an Emotional Adventure with Mutazione
Mutazione offers a completely different type of cartoon experience than Spidersaurs. This narrative-focused adventure game is a slow, laid-back experience populated by otherworldly characters and presented with a delicate hand-drawn aesthetic.
It tackles the topic of growing up, putting players in the role of 15-year-old Kai as she leaves home to care for her ailing grandfather in a mysterious, forested world. It teases a mixture of relaxing slice-of-life activities – making friends, playing music, going to parties – while also alluding to a broader spiritual journey. Like so many other games on this list, it’s available to play now on Apple Arcade. It’s also available for purchase on PS4 and PC, for those who haven’t dived into Apple’s new service yet.
‘Borderlands 3’ Looks to the Stars While Stuck on the Ground
After a long hiatus, Borderlands returns… pretty much the same as it always was, for better or worse.
Borderlands 3 is one of the most bizarre gaming experiences of this generation, a highly-anticipated, long-awaited sequel clearly feeling the pressure of living in its predecessor’s enormous shadow. Both beholden to its past and searching for its future, Borderlands 3 is a strange amalgamation of abundantly familiar elements and a few new ideas, most of which never truly find harmony with each other during the game’s lengthy campaign.
Borderlands 3 is perfectly content to just be more Borderlands, with all the expected thrills and frustrations one would expect from that philosophy.
In its attempts to look forward and backward at the same time, Borderlands 3 ends up feeling like a series of half-measures, a collection of systems and story beats that, in the few moments they’re able to take evolutionary steps for the franchise, feel like there’s still room for the now decade-old series to grow. Unfortunately, across the 50+ hours I’ve spent traversing, shooting, and constantly marking items for junk in my inventory, Borderlands 3 hasn’t offered those moments nearly enough, too often falling victim to its old habits, using its legacy as a crutch, rather than a device to propel the franchise into its (admittedly uncertain) future.
It doesn’t help Borderlands 3 front loads some of its worst writing; the opening act of the game is gratingly awful, hammering away at the same few punchlines for its characters as players embark on the series of fetch quests that comprise the game’s opening hours. Beginning some unidentified amount of time after Borderlands 2, Borderlands 3 opens on a war-ravaged Pandora enraptured by its inhabitants latest obsession: the Calypso Twins, who have seemingly galvanized the majority of the Crimson Raiders in their quest to… well, we’ll talk more about the Calypso Twins, and their role in the story, a bit later.
Early on, Borderlands 3 is desperately trying to prove to the audience it is still the same ol’ Borderlands, interrupting its genitalia references to break the fourth wall and acknowledges that yes, we’re once again beginning with a series of annoyingly spread-out fetch quests to introduce characters and establish tone. But the delivery of the game’s typical blend of meta humor and pop culture references feels stale on arrival; the lengthy fetch quests just feel like simplistic mission design, and “big dick energy” jokes just don’t hit like they used to in 2019.
(There’s also an entire plot line built around Ice-T as a sentient teddy bear, who calls his in-game wife a bitch constantly, in between dick jokes. It’s as terrible as it sounds.)
Borderlands 3 quickly establishes these abundantly familiar rhythms – and then, surprisingly, doesn’t do much to expand upon them through the rest of the game’s main campaign. Though Gearbox has called this title “the big one” in the past, it doesn’t feel like a major step forward in any sense of the word – and at worst, Borderlands 3 occasionally feels like a regression of what it does best, a slow burn of slight disappointments which add up to a confounding experience.
There’s also Borderlands‘ absolute dismissal of Twitch culture; as the introductory chapters of the game catch players up on the Calypso Twins’ sudden accrual of power, Borderlands 3 has a strangely “old man yells at cloud” feeling to it (to myself borrow an overused meme for a moment), an odd feeling for a game that prides itself on its own (debatable) edginess and camp.
The Calypso Twins are built around the stereotypical cult of personality associated with the biggest streamers of the world – and boy, does Borderlands 3 not spare an ounce of vitriol for the admittedly complicated, often disturbingly regressive world of streamer culture (though they do have a weapon that is a direct Dr. Disrespect reference, and also feature some of the most elaborate Twitch integrations of any modern game). But Borderlands 3 admonishes creator and follower alike with an empty dismissal of the “influencer” – in a rather bleak application of its signature nihilism, it buries any kind of interesting exploration of the Twins- as either characters or societal critique – under a thick layer of cynicism.
It never really even contemplates their place as unifers in a galaxy full of corporations addicted to war profits, under a thin, cynical veneer of disregard for their place in any culture, Pandorian or human – its critique of streamer culture ultimately just feels empty. At times, it even feels hypocritical; unsurprisingly, Borderlands 3’s consistently been one of the most-watched games on Twitch since before its public release last week (plus again; there are multiple streamer-related references sprinkled through the game). It’s contradictory at best – and when considering how thin the public personas of Troy and Tyreen are actually defined outside of “shitty streamer people and their shitty followers”, it just feels weird.
Like the story, the shooting and looting of the game is immediately familiar, though it is a much more welcoming feeling: the single biggest improvement to Borderlands 3 is the shooting, which feels tighter and heavier than it has the previous three entries in the series. If there’s a truly transcendent evolution of the game’s formula, it’s found here: the shooting is simply magnificent from the word go, especially with the new traversal elements of mantling and power sliding, movement options that do wonders to bring life to the game’s many, many, many, many engagements with massive groups of enemies, hidden baddies, and massive (-ly lengthy, though mostly well-varied) boss encounters.
The class selection is also fantastic; there’s a distinct rejection of Borderlands 2‘s semi-linear class system, with each of the game’s four characters featuring multiple unique skill trees players can utilize to create an impressive diversity of builds with. There are hints of old characters in Fl4K, Zane, Amara, and Moze, but those elements are welcomely remixed and expanded upon, in creative ways I just wish the rest of Borderlands 3 would take a hint from; I’ve never had so much fun switching between characters in a previous game, experimenting with the intersections of their diverse ability sets, and seeing how the game’s Legendary and Anointed equipment rarities can further those builds is easily the most satisfying part of the game (though admittedly, all four classes take until about level 30 before they truly unlock their mechanical potential).
It is worth noting the game’s technical performance is as inconsistent as its narrative; for a game that’s been in development for so long, Borderlands 3 feels particularly unpolished for a finished product – hell, between writing and editing this review, I lost a collection of 50 legendary items out of my storage bank because of a widespread bug, kind of an unforgivable mistake for an entire game built around loot hunting.
Outside of the major performance issues widely-reported since the game’s release – including the virtually unplayable “Resolution mode” on Playstation 4 Pro – Borderlands 3 is ripe with the glitches of the past: broken mission objectives, inconsistent AI companion pathing – and, as an added bonus, the expected bevy of Unreal Engine quirks (like falling through the map multiple times). Though it seems like a small complaint, waiting 5-7 seconds for your in-game menu to load in every few minutes in a 2019 video game quickly becomes frustrating, one of many examples of Borderlands 3‘s many rough edges.
(Playing as Moze in multiplayer was a particular low light: from the gravitational physics of my character completely breaking, to glitches that rendered my player utterly unmovable, Borderlands 3‘s co-op modes are frustratingly janky, to the point split-screen co-op is almost unplayable in its current state.)
But the most frustrating part of Borderlands 3 is (outside of the character classes, of course) how risk-averse the entire affair is; in terms of mechanics and systems, it is mostly an integration of Borderlands 2 and the new elements of The Pre-Sequel, with a couple of light improvements around the edges. For example, there are now gear scores attached to every item a player picks up; there’s still no way to effectively manage an inventory, or even a consistency to how the scores are formulated, but hey, at least there’s kind of a way to compare gear (which one will do constantly, since inventory management is a still a hot mess).
For every tiny improvement, there’s a concession attached to it; a great example is the game’s map and mission tracking systems. While the map now shows the topography of each area, a useless mini-map and a thoroughly aggravating menu UI make juggling multiple missions an absolute chore (even though one can switch missions on the fly with a touch of the button, there’s no way to see multiple objectives on the map, or even switch between them while in the map menu).
This persists across the entire Borderlands 3 experience: and as the tale of the Calypso Twins and the Great Vault lurches through its interminably lengthy second and third acts, it begins to wear on the experience. For better or worse, Borderlands 3 further entrenches itself in the habits and rhythms of Borderlands 2 – which, after seven years, begins to feel stale in areas, frustratingly reluctant to change, or even reflect on its well-established sensibilities (or on itself; there are literal jokes made about CEO Randy Pitchford’s many controversies, which are… uncomfortable at best). And while the game certainly demonstrates the effectiveness of carefully refining its (rightfully celebrated) mechanics, its absolute reluctance to take creative risks begs the question of why it took so long to bring this game together (or, at the very least, begs the question of whether Gearbox really wanted to do a Borderlands 3 at all, and only green lit the project after the overwhelming failure of Battleborn).
As the game moves through its middle chapters, it just feels lacking in a way Borderlands 2 never did, even with its predecessors own inconsistent humor and pacing. Though ostensibly a journey spread across the galaxy, featuring a massive cast of familiar and new characters, so much of Borderlands 3 feels small and isolated. Every area of the game is broken up into tiny segments, covering small areas of these seemingly massive planets – an experience itself constantly broken up by lengthy loading screens and regular back tracking, which doesn’t exactly vibe with the game’s epic, world-hopping scope.
The absence of the player-characters in the central narrative is another head-scratching omission; despite the inclusion of unique dialogue for every character throughout the game, the four main personalities of Borderlands 3 feel underdeveloped – a problem that persists considering how little they’re seen during the most important moments of the game. They’re explicitly excluded from so many of the game’s cinematic moments, they almost feel absent from the game’s actual story (despite the inclusion of unique dialogue for every character throughout the game, an experiment that pays off to mixed results).
I think about the ending of Borderlands 2, and how much potential it held for the future of the series: the promise of exploring entire planets with friends, finding Vaults and hidden pop culture references was almost breath-taking in its ambition. With its series of linearly-designed, stunted “zones” and limited planet selection at launch, Borderlands 3 never really harnesses the long-gestating potential for growth; and as the story begins building towards its climactic moments, it only further highlights the creative dissonance that plagues so many aspects of the game.
The clearest distillation of Borderlands 3‘s identity crisis is found in the game’s story, which struggles to justify itself as something more than just “another” Borderlands game. It is torn between its desires to attempt something new (at least, at times), and the emotional attachment it knows the audience has with the characters, rhythms, and memorable moments from the first three games of the series. It leads to a story that often follows a template: travel to new area, meet familiar old character for a mission, fight through a series of gently-guiding corridors while constantly staring at the map, rinse, and repeat for thirty-five hours.
Save for the occasional interlude and amusing side story – though that often finds itself stuck in its own loop, with a collection of ancillary characters who either wants to remind you how funny poop is, or how much people in this world enjoy murder and death – to the point its cynical nihilism is no longer humorous, and eventually becomes exhausting.
Sure, there are a couple new characters introduced, but they’re left to the fringes of the main narrative, which is, for all intents and purposes, a retread of Borderlands 2‘s major beats. Yes, it occasionally attempts to subvert expectations, but mostly by presenting a mirrored version of the series’ previous events – where Borderlands 2 was about an evil father manipulating their disgruntled child and the Vault Hunters, Borderlands 3 is basically about mad children manipulating their father and the Vault Hunters – but it is satisfied to simply just be that story, and not much more (and at times, even becomes wholly illogical… remember The Watcher and their foreboding warnings? Neither does Borderlands 3, apparently).
There is one particularly strong section of story, however, and it comes in an unexpected place: after serving the role of enigmatic mission giver (and named member of the Borderlands 2‘s lamest DLC), Sir Hammerlock’s arc in the middle section of Borderlands 3, while disappointingly divorced from the central events of the game, is emotionally propulsive in ways none of the other story is, a moment where Borderlands 3‘s themes find their voice for a too-brief amount of time.
Part love story, and part exploration of the intersections of family and legacy, Borderlands 3‘s tale of Hammerlock and the Jakobs family is so satisfying,the one time Borderlands 3 stops screaming at the player in its desperation to be funny or surprising. For a few hours,the overwhelming nihilism of Borderlands‘ eternally cynical world view melts away, and the series truly offers something akin to hope and possibility in its world. It represents the beautiful essence of Borderlands expansive set of characters, companies, and legacies, and is the rare moment where Borderlands 3 finds harmonic brilliance between its shooting, looting, joking, and genuine attempts at emotional beats.
But like most of the other familiar faces in Borderlands 3, Hammerlock’s story is contained to his few chapters on his home planet; for a game that ultimately turns on a story of family and shared purpose, there’s so much of Borderlands 3 that just feels like it is missing the mark, or ignoring it altogether. Outside of Lilith and Claptrap (and for a brief time before her quickly-forgotten disposal, Maya) none of the game’s previously playable characters factor into the narrative in any way – hell, most of them, like Axton, Gaige, Salvatore and Krieg, don’t appear or are barely mentioned at all, which kind of takes away from the game’s attempts to be an all-encompassing adventure through the history (and theoretical future) of its surrogate family of bandits, adventurers, scientists, and adventure seekers.
Instead, there’s a lot of focus put on a handful of underwhelming new characters (including Ava, the game’s single biggest missed opportunity relegated to Whiny Teen tropes), only occasionally interjecting those sequences with familiar faces: multiple major characters of the series have precisely one mission dedicated to them through the story, which again feels like Borderlands 3 lacking confidence in its own identity, unable to commit to forging new paths, and instead peppering serotonin-laced doses of nostalgia across the story as a half-measure to cover up that Borderlands 3 really has nothing new to say about its world, its people, or the story it’s been telling now for a decade.
Borderlands 3 is perfectly content to just be more Borderlands, with all the expected thrills and frustrations one would expect from that philosophy. That doesn’t make it an abject failure, of course: it’s still a game I’m going to play for hundreds of hours with my friends, thanks to the sheer diversity of gun play and character builds (it is a sequel to one of my favorite games of all time, after all) – but there’s a distinct feeling Borderlands 3 could’ve been so much more than… well, just more of the same Borderlands. Seven years after its last mainline entry (and five after its forgettable, under cooked “pre-sequel”), just being Borderlands one more time makes it feel like a series stuck in the past, retreating to safe waters by simply remixing the old game… with a strangely newfound (and ultimately, superficial) hatred of streamer culture layered on top to feel relevant in 2019.
That allegiance to the past ultimately comes at a cost; it makes the few moments Borderlands 3 tries to evolve stand out in stark contrast to the rest of the game, complete 180’s in emotional tenor that are never met by equal risks taken in gameplay design, or the construction of the main narrative. When the dick jokes and meme references subside, there is an emotionally satisfying core deep inside Borderlands 3, one that highlights the spaces in between the game’s consistently enjoyable shooting and looting gameplay loop (there’s a particular photo I discovered in the game’s later moments that literally brought me to tears, a quietly poignant and beautiful moment this game desperately needs more of).
But that version of Borderlands 3 only comes out in fits and starts, often hindered by the series’ allegiance to its old identity, one that time, and most of the gaming industry, has passed by (at least, during the main story; I’ll be back next week with thoughts on the post-credits/endgame experience). There is a great version of Borderlands 3 somewhere, a more driven action-RPG with a tighter campaign experience, a more ambitious, fully-formed story, and a true expansion of its celebrated mechanics to marry to the game’s wonderfully diverse class set and enhanced movement options. It’s just not this inflated, safe iteration of the series, one that drowns its few iterative innovations in a sea of repetitive familiarity.
Goomba Stomp is the joint effort of a team of like-minded writers from across the globe. We provide smart readers with sharp, entertaining writing on a wide range of topics in pop culture, offering an escape from the usual hype and gossip. We are currently looking for Indie Game reviewers.
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