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Game Reviews

‘Astral Chain’ Review: A Sci-Fi Epic Worth Investigating

‘Astral Chain’ is a reminder of why Platinum is at the top of the Action genre. But does their new outing have the makings of a true classic?



Though video games have only been around since the 70s, it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’ve hit something of a creative wall in the AAA space. With more games being released that are strikingly iterative, uninspired, or simply sequels and/or remakes, Astral Chain feels like a breath of fresh air in a sea of sameness. It’s not often that we get a sci-fi/action/detective mashup, but Platinum has managed to pull it off with such success that it’s shocking this version of Earth hadn’t been thought up before.

A Tale of Two Twins

The year is 2078 and humanity has all but collapsed. Otherworldly beings known as Chimera have begun hunting people down and dragging them back to their dimension, the Astral Plane. The residual effects of this dimension-hopping has resulted in the spread of a condition known as “red-shifting” where contaminated individuals suffer extreme pain and sluggishness. Those who were lucky enough managed to sequester themselves away from the rest of the world on a manmade ship called the Ark. This last bastion of hope has now begun to undergo countless attacks itself–and things are only getting worse.

Having grown up in this living hell of a future, the player and his/her twin (whichever gender you choose, your twin Akira will be the opposite) have decided to enlist as part of Ark Police’s specialized Neuron Task Force and defend the city from all manner of Chimera activity.

Astral Chain’s initial premise is bursting with potential. Though apocalyptic narratives are nothing new per se, seeing these events from the perspective of a special task force member is a refreshing twist (especially since police work is an integral part of the gameplay). The story itself, however, suffers from some pacing issues in the opening chapters that result in early dramatic moments not quite hitting as hard as they should. Many of the early story beats are also fairly predictable (though well-presented), and it isn’t until the final third of the game that the narrative feels like it’s running on all cylinders.

Where the early pacing issues hit hardest are in character development. Events in the first couple chapters rush forward too quickly for the player to truly care about their fellow Neuron operatives. Standouts like the lovably goofy Officer Marie Wentz ease the disconnect, but it really isn’t until the last few chapters that the player is surrounded by what feels like a really tight-knit, dependable crew. Luckily, the character dialogue and lore are both strong enough to make every moment worth it regardless.

astral chain

The Latest in Sleuthing Technology

Astral Chain boasts three distinct types of gameplay: investigative work, downtime/side quests, and combat. Most chapters (or Files, in this case) are comprised of a bit of each, and it’s astonishing just how well these distinct modes complement each other.

As part of the force, one of the player’s primary duties is analyzing crime scenes and gathering information from civilians. For as much as the combat is the main focus of Astral Chain, these sections are easily just as enjoyable. Walking the beat by questioning locals and scanning a scene for clues feels remarkably intuitive thanks to IRIS, an all-knowing police database packed with advanced scanning technology. It lets players identify literally everyone on the Ark, makes navigation easier in low-visibility conditions, can be used to hack into security cameras and replay footage, and more. Arguably the best investigative moments, though, come from giving the Beast Legion (effectively a large cybernetic dog) a scent sample so they can guide you through the city and help you hunt down missing persons or clues.

Once all the clues are gathered, Astral Chain requires players to mull over each and establish a lead. Threading all of this together is a blast and encourages players to pay attention during the questioning process. Some of the better detective segments even incorporate mini-quests as a way to get clues from witnesses, like reuniting a nearby lost child with his mother or playing a guessing game with a group of local children.

Bite-sized quests like these are laced throughout the game and serve as both delightful breaks from the action and a chance to get to know the residents of the Ark a bit better. None of these take more than five-ten minutes at most, but they’re all varied and well-written enough to be worth pursuing every time one pops up. It’s through these quests that players get to know more about life both at the police station and across the expanse of the city. Players looking to get right back into the action can skip nearly all of these, but they’re easily recommended for those looking for some strong bits of world-building.

Unchained Action

As one would expect from a Platinum game, the main attraction here is the flashy, combo-laden combat. As advertised, players fight every battle alongside a Legion, which is a Chimera that’s been tamed and kept under control via each wielder’s Astral Chain. There are five distinct Legions each boasting their own playstyles and special moves. Some (like the aforementioned Beast Legion) specialize in mobility, while others (like the Arrow Legion) specialize in long-ranged attacks. Similarly to competitive Pokemon play, consistently switching between all of the Legions is a must for optimal effectiveness.

Battles themselves are slightly reminiscent of Bayonetta in that they’re fast-paced, stylish, and have a high skill ceiling. Though controlling two characters might look intimidating at first glance, Director Takahisa Taura (possibly pulling from his experience on Nier: Automata) wisely streamlined everything by having the Legions attack autonomously once directed towards an enemy. A quick lock-on trigger makes this a snap and is a downright necessity for most fights due to Astral Chain’s somewhat unruly camera.

It didn’t take long to get into a good rhythm of going in close to deliver a few blows, quickly rolling out of the way of an attack, changing Legions for a different approach and diving back in. This natural chemistry is enhanced all the more by flashy team attacks where a variety of stunts can be pulled off depending on the Legion and the weapon the player is wielding (be it a light sword, heavy sword, or gun). Deeper combos can be unlocked further down each Legion’s individual skill tree, providing a tempting incentive to try and collect as many Gene Code Points as possible (which are earned by completing missions and side quests, taking down enemies, and recycling around the city when possible).

The drastic differences between Legions lead to a welcome diversity of approaches to combat. For instance: After an extensive gauntlet of tough battles, I was forced to face a major boss at 1/3 of my health without any healing items. Despite this, I was able to use a combination of my gun, my autonomous Arrow Legion, and plenty of evasive maneuvers to take the boss down from a distance. It might not have been the most optimal way to go about the fight, but the fact that it was a viable option made the depth of Astral Chain’s combat system that much more impressive.

A Whole New World

It’s hard to believe something this pretty (and that isn’t a first-party Nintendo game) is running on the Switch. Though the little hybrid lacks the raw horsepower to implement things like anti-aliasing around character models, the technical feats that PlatinumGames has accomplished here are nothing short of stunning.

Not only do Masakazu Katsura’s character designs pop off the screen with surprising clarity, but the art direction in general perfectly conveys the story’s drearily optimistic sci-fi aesthetic. The police station is a trove of technological eye candy that truly seems like it could exist 60-odd years in the future. Sci-fi tones are everywhere, from the customizable holographic HUD, to the endearingly creepy talking vending machines, to the enemy holograms that players can fight in the training room. It’s clear that extra effort was made to detail the remains of this dystopian civilization in a way that comes off as fully realized and believable.

It’s a shame, then, that the Astral Plane is so uninspired by comparison. Whereas the gaudy sheen of neon lights and a healthy amount of location variety help keep the real-world environments feeling fresh, the lack of environmental detail and any distinguishing landmarks results in the Astral Plane always looking the same no matter when it’s visited. The area does at least manage to stand out from a gameplay perspective thanks to environmental puzzles that make use of the Legions’ abilities in (mostly) satisfying ways. In terms of visual design, however, it’s quite disappointing that this vast dimension from which the Chimera hail is only comprised of a single backdrop with some slight variations in terrain. For as much time as the player spends there, it never manages to elevate beyond a simple eerie setting to fight Chimera and solve puzzles. Compared to the rest of the game, the lack of environmental storytelling here is jarring.

While its visual design has its highs and lows, Astral Chain’s score is sonic euphoria. The way mellow exploration themes ramp up once an encounter occurs is not only seamless but a genuine joy to listen to (as an example, listen to the progression from Ark Mall to Ark Mall/Combat Phase). Every electric guitar-infused battle theme elevates the organized chaos on screen into something seriously dire. Naofumi Harada’s use of a choir in some of the game’s most memorable boss themes is equally as masterful. And yet, lead composer Satoshi Igarashi’s electropop-laden background music heard at the police station might just be one of the most loopable tracks from any video game, period. On another audio-related note, there’s a absolute wealth of voiced dialogue here. It ranges from great to poor (the voice of the male Akira is especially grating), but by and large it does nothing but enhance the already cinematic experience.

astral chain

A Planet Worth Saving

Like many of Platinum’s games, Astral Chain doesn’t feel quite like anything else out there. It’s fairly long for an action game (20-25 hours depending on side quests) and dips its toes into several different genres over the course of its runtime. Some are more successful than others (the half-hearted top-down puzzle sections in the Astral Plane don’t quite make sense), but the overall result is an experience that rarely lets the player get tired of doing any one thing for too long. The addition of difficulty settings that can be changed at the start of every chapter and loaded save (including an “Unchained” difficulty option for those purely interested in the story) is also welcome for players who want to get their feet wet with the combat before cranking things up a notch.

What shortcomings Platinum’s latest outing has in poor pacing and predictable story beats is more than made up for by the game’s final chapters. Even so, this isn’t the type of game that necessarily requires a overall stellar story to succeed; it simply needs deep and visually impressive combat, a memorable cast, and a fully realized world that keeps players immersed and eager to keep explore. Astral Chain has all of this in spades and then some.

Brent became infatuated with manga and anime after randomly stumbling upon Vol. 3 of Yu Yu Hakusho on a childhood roadtrip. Today he has a soft spot for colorful JRPGs, cozy anime, and both games and shows that indulge his innate love of adventure. Find him (im)patiently waiting for Animal Crossing: New Horizons and incredibly fulfilled by Fire Emblem: Three Houses @CreamBasics.



  1. Rogerio Andrade

    August 29, 2019 at 12:46 pm

    I do understand that videogames can be used to tell good stories, but I always think about the story in videogames as something that must be just a support of the gameplay, and not the opposite.
    That said, it´s very hard, in any genre or gameplay mechanics, to come with a story that fits well in a game, for the simple fact that, in order to have a product that can be called a “game” it´s necessary to always present challenges for the player. So, I never expect the pace and writing of the story in videogames to be in the same finesse level of what we see on movies/theater or literature. These media are purely contemplative, while in videogames, the story must rely on the player´s skill and intervention to be revealed.
    I´ve seen a lot of criticism towards Astral Chain and Fire Emblem 3 Houses story/writing… Having personally played both games, I must say that these problems don´t annoy me a single bit. I try to see the story in these games just as something to support the gameplay challenges that the game offers me as a player and a consumer. At best, I feel like watching an seinen anime when playing videogames, never expecting something too deep or elaborated.

    • Brent Middleton

      August 29, 2019 at 1:46 pm

      Hey Rogerio, appreciate you taking the time to comment! I actually think your view on story in games is quite similar to that of Patrick Murphy, our Films Editor.

      I think the primary difference between us here is that I’m naturally someone who loves good narrative design in a game. You mentioned Fire Emblem: Three Houses. While some (perhaps like yourself) might like the game primarily for its tactical gameplay, I absolutely love it for its characters. The way they’re written, their support conversations with others, how they grow into their own over time; it’s all really well done. With a case like Three Houses, the battles actually support the character and world building aspects of the game for me (as opposed to story supporting gameplay, like you proposed). It’s really just a matter of what you care about.

      In terms of the pacing issues, take a look at something like Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Its story obviously won’t win any awards for innovation in storytelling or exceptional writing, but it was told well enough and at a good enough pace that key moments usually left an impression when they were supposed to. Because the opening chapters of Astral Chain feel rushed, I wasn’t able to be affected by events in that same way. When they happened it all felt rather hollow and lackluster.

      I get that story/writing quality doesn’t bother you in a game; I’m sure a ton of people feel the same way. It especially makes sense in the context of Astral Chain, since this is an Action game first and foremost. But when Platinum puts so much effort into trying to tell a compelling story full of drama, highly-produced cutscenes and plot twists, I think it’s worth factoring that part of the game into the overall discussion.

      • Patrick Murphy

        August 29, 2019 at 8:36 pm

        You’ve got me pegged when it comes to not caring about story in games, for sure. And yet…in a weird twist, I absolutely love the characters in Three Houses; unlocking supports and paralogues are definitely huge incentives for me playing each house.

        Still, I expect this to be a momentary lapse. No doubt Astral Chain will have me back to my dialogue-skipping ways in no time.

      • Rogerio Andrade

        August 30, 2019 at 6:28 am

        Thanks for taking your time replying me.
        Nice points, Brent. At the end of the day, as consumers, we all have different approaches and expectations towards the same games. I personally think that´s awesome that videogames reached such level of design and production that people may look each production in a different way and enjoy them in different ways. Some play for the storytelling, some play for the skill challenges. Some for both.
        By the way, your review was a pleasant read. I personally think that Astral Chain is a great game and it´s good to se writers giving attention to this game.

        • Brent Middleton

          August 30, 2019 at 7:58 am

          Glad you enjoyed the review Rogerio! I completely agree; it’s great that we can all enjoy games in different ways. Thanks for such a fun discussion about a great game.

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Game Reviews

‘Heave Ho’ Review: Us & Chuck



Couch co-op is a phrase that’s used pretty infrequently these days. In fact, it seems that couch co-op wasn’t even a phrase at all until it wasn’t the norm anymore. With the modern emphasis on online experiences, the delights of a room full of screaming maniacs stumbling through a party game is largely a lost remnant of generations past. This, however, poses a difficult conundrum to any reviewers unfortunate enough to be unable to fulfill the most vital component for a couch co-op game review: a full couch. Treading in the wobbly footsteps of party classic Mount Your Friends (and clasping at the slippery tentacles of Octodad), Heave Ho is a game fundamentally for social people.

Its premise is a very similar task that involves swinging your wacky avatar’s limbs around, desperately trying to grab hold of any nearby surfaces. The game is more concerned with getting your character to the end of an obstacle course than clambering over your opponents like in Mount Your Friends, and there are a distinctly smaller number of limbs to control (and appendages to laugh at).

Couch co-op is a phrase that’s used pretty infrequently these days. In fact, it seems that couch co-op wasn’t even a phrase at all until it wasn’t the norm anymore. With the modern emphasis on online experiences, the delights of a room full of screaming maniacs stumbling through a party game is largely a lost remnant of generations past. This, however, poses a difficult conundrum to any reviewers unfortunate enough to be unable to fulfill the most vital component for a couch co-op game review: a full couch. Treading in the wobbly footsteps of party classic Mount Your Friends (and clasping at the slippery tentacles of Octodad), Heave Ho is a game fundamentally for social people.

Its premise involves the very similar task of swinging your wacky avatar’s limbs around, desperately trying to grab hold of any nearby surfaces. But Heave Ho is more concerned with getting your character to the end of an obstacle course than clambering over your opponents like in Mount Your Friends, and there is a distinctly smaller number of limbs to control (and appendages to laugh at).

Fingertips count in ‘Heave Ho’

There’s really not much to Heave Ho that warrants more explaining, as expressed via the world’s shortest tutorial at the beginning of the first level. Use the left analog stick for moving both of your character’s arms, press L or ZL for grabbing with the left arm, and press R or ZR for the right; that’s it. At least, that would be it, unless — and this is admittedly a somewhat niche bugbear — you’re a user of the neon red/blue launch Joy-Con, because their colors are flipped on the game’s assistance gloves. You can tell yourself you won’t be affected, but if you’re playing handheld and staring at bright blue and red in your own hands, you’re naturally going to associate those colors with the in-game hands.

A lot of the game feels flat solo, but these moments are still great

Upon acknowledgement of the incredibly basic controls, players are promptly (and literally) dropped straight into the level, left to fumble your way around the various objects and pitfalls en route to the goal. Striking a balance between careful, methodical navigation and reckless flinging is the key to success, with the former being more reliable and the latter being a hell of a lot more fun.

Heave Ho does feels a little forced in terms of its attempts at humor; it’s all very noisy, colorful and silly, which is obviously the point, and playing a game where you chuck a gangly anthropomorphic blob around with little-to-no coordination is never going to be the way to get your fill of sophisticated chuckles. I guess goofy wigs and obnoxious voices are funny to some people, but as the game gets harder and the challenges begin to frustrate, the humor is less of a mood lifter and more of an annoyance.

It all looks like fun and games here, but this world is horrific

The strength of a game like this will typically be measured in the number of laughs emanating from a packed living room, but its longevity will always be judged on how it endears as a solo experience. This is even more vital in the absence of online multiplayer, meaning you’re either playing with a house full of mates, or by yourself. I don’t have a house full of mates all that often, so the majority of my time with the game was playing solo, and that really doesn’t feel like the optimum way to get the most out of Heave Ho. The wacky, party-gaming hijinks sharply degenerate into a frustrating, often tedious slog when played alone.

The moments of intense satisfaction when nailing a long swing to a distant platform, or completing a particularly tricky level, shouldn’t be ignored, but they are too often mired by either boredom or anger. Easier levels require very little thought or technique to complete, and late-game ones are rage-inducing. This is exacerbated by the inexplicable decision from the developers to force players to complete all of an area’s levels in one run. There are no checkpoints after individual levels, so if you find yourself at a wall on the final level of a run and need a break from the game, you’re going to have to go back and complete all its preceding levels just to get yourself back.

I ain’t even gotta look!

This is a real mood-killer, and I found myself apathetically averse to trudging back through older levels to merely match the progress of a previous day’s attempts, especially when that previous day ended in frustration anyway. The type of game that Heave Ho is — one that builds itself on rapid-fire, bite-size challenges — just cannot benefit from forcing players into marathon sittings, especially when multiple people are required for optimum enjoyment.

Having online options would help, and it’s baffling as to why couch co-op and online co-op are mutually exclusive in some games. Playing an online game of Worms back on Xbox 360 was one of the most hilarious experiences I’ve had in any multiplayer game, and it’s such a shame to be denied even the potential for this with Heave Ho instead of being left to drag my tired fiancé to the TV for some forced hilarity. It might have been the worst possible litmus test for a party game, but were she writing this review it would have consisted largely of how “stressful,” she found it. I saw a few smiles, but perhaps the game isn’t as inclusive as it tries to present itself.

Two heads are definitely not better than one here

With the fiancé out of the potential player pool, I may bring Heave Ho out at a more receptive social occasion in the future, as the potential for communal hilarity is definitely there, but solo play is definitely not going to be something to engage in again. Perhaps if the necessary quality of life improvements were made — chiefly, being able to swap the colours of the assist gloves around and having a checkpoint after each level — then players might be more inclined to hammer away at it, but unfortunately, it’s likely to be just squirreled away as a potential curiosity rather than a go-to source of fun.

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Game Reviews

‘Creature In The Well’ Review: Dungeon Crawling Pinballing

‘Creature in the Well’ is a unique blend of genres, and an absolute must-try for audiences of both the pinball and puzzle games.



Creature in the Well Review

A top-down, pinball-inspired, hack-and-slash dungeon crawler? That certainly may be a genre combination never done before. But in reflection to the sciences of chemistry, sometimes grouping elements into a mixture can create something that is definitively unique and distinguishable from its initial ingredients. Creature In The Well is a whole new breed of game design — by blending various genres, developer Flight School has created one of the most distinctive and satisfying puzzle games in recent years. The closest comparison you can probably make is if Hyper Light Drifter collided with a classic pinball cabinet and Breakout.

Acquiring a New Beat

Creature in the Well tasks the final remaining BOT-C unit in a mysterious world to venture into the desert mountain that lies in wait next to the imprisoned city of Mirage, a land captured by a deadly sandstorm. Inside the mountain rests an ancient facility in need of power; but there’s also a fearsome creature who stuck in a state of despair. It is the bot’s job to reboot the machine, stop the monster, and save the city of Mirage from the never-ending storm that shrouds the land.

Creature in the Well hub

Although it may sound like a hack-and-slash dungeon crawler, Creature In The Well is not a test of strength against all odds; it’s a quest of knowledge that utilizes timed actions. The BOT-C unit is not on a bloodlust to its goal; it’s in a fight for survival through various puzzles that demonstrate adaptability. The game is a test against the active mind.

After obtaining a sword and learning quicker means of movement through dashing, it would be easy to assume that fighting comes next. However, the reality of the situation is that the BOT-C unit’s sword and secondary weapon are never swung directly at an opponent — not once throughout the entire journey. Instead, weapons are used as flippers in a sort of active pinball game, continuously knocking around orbs of energy at various machines that will grant voltage. This energy must be spent to open hydraulic doors throughout each dungeon that block progress, but it can also be used to upgrade the BOT-C unit’s gear via a blacksmith, or to find upgrades secretly scattered behind different pathways. The more thoroughly a dungeon is explored, the more voltage there is to claim from conquering puzzles of higher difficulty.

The environment then ends up becoming the greatest threat, as there are no true enemies to wield weapons against. A variety of projectiles can cause damage, forcing players to move around. Well-placed shots and timely swings are the keys to progression, and the only way of reaching the endgame. Adapting and using creative ways to solve puzzles is the foundation of Creature In The Well. Mastering Breakout and Pong-like movements for multiple projectiles at the same time is the recipe for success.

Creature In The Well makes magnificent use of the Unreal Engine, showcasing a nightly overcast atmosphere with a bleak, dark color palette, but it also manages to remain bright and colorful thanks to the illuminating projectile lights and flashy animations. This ultimately amounts to a game that is not only satisfying to play, but satisfying to watch. It’s a distinct art style that is welcoming to the eyes rather than a confusingly chaotic bunch of unrecognizable firefights.

Repetition Recognition

Creature in the Well urges players to progressively think smarter as they traverse the eight vastly different dungeons. Each puzzle room slowly improves upon the last, as the game consistently and smartly reuses mechanics while introducing new gimmicks to accommodate the metronome-action movements. These gimmicks can range from the way in which energy orbs damage to adding new obstacles like electrical flooring or spiraling death traps.

Puzzles can progressively become more and more challenging, but most are either not mandatory or don’t need to be completed immediately, as there are branching paths and enough energy to skip some roadblocks. This ultimately comes off as a negative or positive aspect depending on the individual player, as puzzle difficulty drastically changes depending on the order in which dungeons are played. Creature In The Well’s lack of a recommended dungeon order might make you work harder in the early-game, which results in a rather carefree late-game that sees you blasting through puzzles with ease — or vice versa.

On the other hand, this gives the player breathing room, allowing them to experiment with routes and return to previous challenges. Skipping or leaving puzzles unsolved lessens opportunities for rewards, so a handy in-game map system allows players to keep track of exactly where they have not completed rooms on designated paths. An unyielding challenge can become an underwhelming enigma with proper dedication and practice. That said, although the endgame can become less challenging than the beginning, the pinball-inspired mechanics are so entertaining that a decline in difficulty never truly becomes an issue. Creature in the Well is never a slog to play through, even when revisiting old dungeons in the latter half of the game.

All of these dungeons conclude with thrilling matchups with the main power sources, as well as the creature who lives beneath the land. Creature In The Well does not have what many would consider traditional dungeon crawler boss fights, but simply sticks to a its puzzle gameplay and challenges players with a larger and more complex version. These battles involve the creature, who extends its arms from beneath the dark abyss in an attempt to attack you.

Embrace The Storm

Creature In The Well is a captivating case of a fresh experiment gone right. Flight School took risks in attempting to dabble in multiple genres at once that seemingly don’t correlate to each other. Yet, the end result is a fascinating concept built on the gorgeously-used Unreal Engine, with the potential to be further expanded upon. Albeit short, the journey to delve into the deepest parts of the mountain to solve new high-speed kinetic puzzles while avoiding a mysterious, calamitous creature never grows stale over the 5-7 hour journey. It is by far the most distinct ‘break the mold’ type game to be released this year, and an absolute must-try for audiences of both the pinball and puzzle game genres.

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Game Reviews

‘Daemon X Machina’ Review: Beautifully Bombastic Mech Action

With its customization and accessibility, ‘Daemon X Machina’ is a refined action game that should please mech fans of all types.



Daemon X Machina

There’s something beautiful about Daemon X Machina. More than just its striking visual style, however, the game’s mere existence is special in its own right. It’s been some time since a classic mech-based action game in the vein of mainstays like Armored Core has burst onto the market, and given that much of the original staff of that monumental series have moved on to Daemon X Machina, this has long seemed like a noteworthy release for fans of robotic action.

However, it’s no secret that Daemon X Machina has had a bumpy road to release. Between its sub-par initial demo and its severe lack of pre-release hype, it hasn’t been easy for Marvelous’ Switch exclusive to get the spotlight. Thankfully, the result largely overcomes these roadblocks to create a refreshingly polished and much-needed revival of the genre. Daemon X Machina certainly has its share of issues with story and mission structure, but overall it’s a refined action game that should please both new players and genre veterans alike.

For the most part, Daemon X Machina checks off every box for ideal mech action It wastes no time in putting the player in control of a massive, customizable, explosive robot suit called an “Arsenal,” which allows players to zip recklessly around the post-apocalyptic environments to wreak destruction with wild abandon. There’s a delightful simplicity to this; with its easy-to-grasp controls, there’s no excessive complexity, allowing for the visceral joy of blasting enemies out of the sky with extravagant missile launchers to shine through.

Daemon X Machina

But that is not to say that Daemon X Machina is merely a mindless romp. Instead, the plentiful variety of different mission types ensures that you’ll have to think on your feet with every objective. Some missions will have you simply gunning down every foe you see, while others task you with protecting specific units, and still more pit you against massive bosses — which are easily the game’s most memorable missions. With so many different objectives, each mission becomes an enticing prospect.

Unfortunately, this variety gets a bit strained towards the end of the fifteen-hour campaign. Far too often, late game missions merely stick you in an arena with a few other full mech fighters then make you fight to the death — and considering that these are easily the most tedious fights in the game due to how chaotic and difficult it is to attack fast-moving robotic suits, this gets frustrating fast. Likewise, the enemy variety leaves something to be desired, with the vast majority of foes consisting of mere drones or tanks, with the occasional mech thrown in for interest.

Daemon X Machina easily stands out for its polish, style, and accessibility.

However, these negative factors only partially distract from what makes Daemon X Machina so special: its ludicrous action. There’s also plenty of customization available to wreak havoc, allowing you to tweak your Arsenal to your liking. Want to focus on hand-to-hand combat? Install some new legs optimized for speedy ground maneuvering, and some arms for katana-wielding. Taking to the skies? Lighten your load, increase your memory capacity, and pack on the guns. The game presents the options to fight with your mech the way you see fit, allowing for action-packed scenarios straight out of your mechanized fantasies.

Daemon X Machina

But Daemon X Machina doesn’t entangle itself in unnecessary complexity, unlike so many other mech-based RPGs or action games. None of the customization mentioned previously is strictly required to complete the story; instead, the only thing that matters is your ingenuity. In fact, you can likely make do exclusively with the weapons you pick up on the battlefield, and never have to bother with the game’s weapon shops or factories. Daemon X Machina ensures that the most important thing in each of its battles isn’t the weapon you wield, but rather your ingenuity in using it. If one gun isn’t working in the current mission, just head back to the hangar and try a new loadout.

For instance, one point in my playthrough saw me stuck against one boss with a seemingly endless HP bar that was difficult to whittle down, no matter how many shots were fired. However, after numerous frustrating failed attempts, some new types of weapons made short work of this previously daunting adversary, turning the boss into a shattered wreck. Daemon X Machina might be an action game, but by no means is it mindless. This freedom of strategy, combined with the flexible customization and accessibility, is what makes the gameplay loop so addictive.

Daemon X Machina is a balanced, deep, and approachable experience that should please players new and old.

It’s a shame that this excellent action is obscured by the game’s truly dreadful story. Of course, action games aren’t necessarily known for their poignant narratives, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but in Daemon X Machina’s case, the poor storyline distracts from the action. The story begins with a simple premise: a portion of the moon has exploded, and its remnants have corrupted the world’s robots to rise up against humanity. Beyond that beginning, the story devolves into a complex feud between different corporations and mercenary squads, often acting less like a sci-fi adventure and more like a political drama — and not a particularly good one, either. Worse yet, this story is populated by one-note characters who often spend minutes at a time musing upon the nature of warfare and humanity, using dialogue that would fit right in with any generic fantasy novel. At the very least, the voice actors all do a great job, bringing their cardboard characters to some degree of life.

Daemon X Machina

Thankfully, there is respite from the dismal narrative in the form of side content like the ‘free missions’ and multiplayer mode. By forgoing the confusing and uninteresting story, these features focus solely on the strong gameplay loop. That said, it is nonetheless disappointing that one of the game’s most significant modes is tarnished by such shoddy execution.

However, the visuals don’t suffer in this way. Instead, Daemon X Machina features a breathtaking cel-shaded graphical style with a vivid color palette of stark reds, oranges, and greys that makes much of the game look like it flew straight out of a particularly stylish manga. The Japanese rock soundtrack does provide a fitting backdrop, but the tunes generally don’t manage to be quite as memorable as the graphics.

Daemon X Machina easily stands out for its polish, style, and accessibility, giving players the freedom to choose whether they want to focus on the best customization or craft the most creative strategies of their own. There a few rough edges due to its repetitious missions and uninspired story, but when the core content of the game is so enticing, most players should be able to overlook them. All told, Daemon X Machina is a balanced, deep, and approachable experience that should please players new and old.

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Game Reviews

‘River City Girls’ Review: Brawling with the Best

Kyoko and Misako are getting their boyfriends back by any means necessary in one of the best beat ’em up joyrides in recent memory.



River City Girls

In a generation defined by massive open world experiences, there’s something decidedly cozy and cathartic about settling down with a well-made beat ’em up. The prospect of Wayforward (the lauded developers behind the Shantae series, A Boy and His Blob, and Ducktales: Remastered, among others) working on a modern take on the Kunio-kun franchise was a delightful surprise when it was revealed this past spring. Several months later, River City Girls has largely exceeded its lofty expectations.

Revenge Never Tasted so Sweet

Best friends and high school ruffians Kyoko and Misako are lazing about in detention when Kyoko suddenly gets a text showing their boyfriends (series mainstays Kunio and Riki) being kidnapped. Enraged and worried, the girls set out across the expansive River City to track down the kidnappers and get their beloved boyfriends back.

It’s a fun twist on the classic series premise, and River City Girls has an absolute blast playing off of that. Though the personalities of the girls are a bit one-note (the classic “sweet and sour” archetypes are alive and present here), the stellar writing elevates the colorful cast of modern day River City. Just like with Wayforward’s beloved Shantae series, the studio absolutely nails bringing major and minor characters to life in the most endearing of ways. This is only exemplified by top-notch voice acting across the board, especially in the case of Kyoko and Misako. Chatter between the girls is natural and entertaining, and their interactions with the other whacky characters in River City are a treat.

The search for Kunio and Riki spans across six large sections of the city ranging from the high school to the docks to the skeezy streets of downtown. Every location is segmented into roughly 15 screens that can often be explored via branching routes, with some inaccessible until a certain quest or story requirement is met. There’s plenty of creativity in the level design here; though screens never feature drastically different layouts, they’re all visually distinct and flow together to paint a full picture of everything the city has to offer.

No Punches Pulled

Story, characters, and level design are all well and good, but beat ’em ups are nothing without tight, addictive combat. Luckily, River City Girls has this in spades, and demands quite a bit of arcade-smart skill from players even on Normal difficulty. Kyoko and Misako boast the same base movesets with unique animations: light attacks, heavy attacks, and aerial attacks with ground attacks and a basic block thrown in for good measure. The repertoire is concise but offers a variety of ways to string together fluid combos that feel great to execute. A laundry list of unlockable moves can also be learned in the Dojo, providing plenty of depth to those who want to fully customize their fighter.

Be it with the base moveset or more advanced maneuvers, taking the time to master the combat is a must. Though running into enemies and light attacking them to death might work for a bit, it doesn’t take long to learn that River City’s hooligans are no mere punching bags. Bouts require less focus than a 1v1 fighter, but mindlessly spamming moves won’t get anyone anywhere on their first run. This is essentially ensured by brutal boss battles that bookend progress between sections of the city.

As one might expect, it’s these boss encounters that are the real highlights. Some require proficiency of certain mechanics (side-stepping, wall-jumping, etc.), and have patterns complex enough to warrant several attempts before succeeding. Each boss encounter also feels like an event, featuring beautiful introduction cutscenes and Vs. screens before the showdown. The only downside to these is that they have to be manually skipped upon every subsequent attempt; the game doesn’t remember that they’ve already occurred.

Another issue is that anything bought in the game and used during a boss fight completely disappears after losing. While most games would load in the player’s inventory from before the battle, River City Girls punishes item usage when it counts the most. Having to grind enemies for cash isn’t particularly difficult, but that coupled with needing to backtrack to a shop (since there’s never one right before the boss encounter) is unnecessarily tedious and slows momentum down considerably.

A Cloudy Diamond

This string of minor yet gradually grating issues extends beyond boss battles. The menu system is needlessly cumbersome, requiring players to cycle through six screens to find the right options. Story and quest-specific NPCs are easy to miss because they don’t have any kind of outline or indicator making them stand out. Furthermore, items in shops are marked with “???” until after they’re bought and used or looked up in the inventory menu. This makes it easy to waste tons of cash on items only to be disappointed by their luck-of-the-draw effects.

And yet, for all those niggling design flaws, River City Girls is simply a blast to play. It especially excels as a handheld experience. Feeling the impact of every hit with HD rumble made fights more engaging, and the classic beat-em-up structure makes it perfect for whipping out in short bursts. There’s a good amount of content here, with the main game running about six and a half to seven hours before New Game+, which adds additional playable characters with their own unique movesets and animations (albeit with no new dialogue, making character interactions and cutscenes rather awkward).

If you’re looking for tight beat ’em up action with some truly impressive production values and lovable characters, you can’t go wrong with River City Girls.

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Game Reviews

‘Super Kirby Clash’ Review: Star Allies Meets Clash Deluxe



Sub-games: a highlight of the Kirby series. Megaton Punch, Samurai Kirby, Strato Patrol EOS, Snack Tracks, Speedy Teatime, Kirby Quest, and the list goes on. HAL Laboratory has time and time again created memorable mini-games in the Kirby series that have outshined even the core campaigns in fan discussions. These are bite-sized games that every Kirby fan has fond memories of whether it be a master showdown that involves quick reflexes or an eating frenzy that would make any other video game character explode.

Sub-games have always been an integral part of the Kirby franchise ever since Kirby’s Adventure on the Nintendo Entertainment System. In recent years HAL Laboratory has debatably mastered the art of creating more intriguing sub-games than core campaigns for their fired-up super tuff pink puff’s latest entries. Some of Kirby’s side-activities have gone on to spawn their very own entries outside the main series.

Team Kirby Clash is one of the many sub-games that appeared in the Kirby 3DS entries, specifically 2016’s Kirby: Planet Robobot. Team Kirby Clash went on to receive its very own Nintendo Eshop free-to-play exclusive spin-off game on the 3DS alongside Kirby Fighters, King Dedede’s Drum Dash, and Kirby’s Blowout Blast. The sub-game transformed into Team Kirby Clash Deluxe, but now the side series has taken a drastic leap from the Nintendo 3DS to the Switch- and for the better.

Super Kirby Clash Review

It is no surprise why Super Kirby Clash would be HAL Laboratory’s first choice for a Kirby sub-game spinoff that could make a comeback on the current Nintendo hardware after a mainline entry. Clearly, it was the perfect sub-game for the handheld home console hybrid that shares an emphasis on local multiplayer. Just as in the vein of Kirby Star Allies, the game is easy for anyone to pick up and play together; it is simple entertainment where you can easily find yourself a few local or online buddies and bang out a few levels in less than an hour.

The concept of the entire game is to defeat the level enemy and move on to the next, while continuously upgrading your Kirby at Magalor’s shop with an assortment of various weapons, armor, special items, and emotes that resemble different callbacks to Kirby’s history- that is all there is to it. It is your standard Kirby game control-wise, except no copy abilities or repurposable enemies and the hero with an insatiable appetite has been thrown into a boss rush of over 100 enemies to battle it out with.

Microtransactions are typically the major fear when it comes to free-to-play games, but this is certainly one of the very few exceptions of a game from the genre where you will likely never have to think about spending a single dime unless if you are completely impatient with minor grinding or perhaps you just want to show the developers some love. The in-game currencies [gem apples and vigor] are given out after matches, waiting certain periods of time, can be harvested (gem apples only), and collected in batches through various secret passwords inputted through a small statue found on the right side of the hub world.

Super Kirby Clash is, for the most part, more Kirby Star Allies and even more Team Kirby Clash Deluxe with a new coat of paint and that’s great for both casual and hardcore fans who are looking for more Kirby games to play while holding them off for the next core entry. Microtransactions never feel forced, the four-player co-op can be entertaining yet hectic just like previous games in the series, the online works flawlessly, and the amount of content will keep fans of the pink puff locked in for a couple of hours without having them to worry about paying for an entirely new game.

For being a free-to-play game, this is well worth the few minutes it will take to download. It is just right for the fans and for those looking for some quick fun. It is definitely no masterpiece or something to run home about, but once again it is free. Go grab three friends and give it a shot! You can never go wrong with more Kirby!

Super Kirby Clash is a good time!
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