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‘Gears of War 4’ Doesn’t Reinvent the Wheel, But Still Offers A Fantastic Experience

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After a long wait, Xbox One owners can finally get their hands on the much anticipated sequel to one of Microsoft’s biggest franchises, Gears of War. In 2014 Microsoft announced that they had purchased the Gears of War IP from Epic Games and that a new game would be in development for the Xbox One by a Microsoft owned studio called Black Tusk Studios, which would later be renamed “The Coalition”. As part of the deal, Microsoft hired Rod Fergusson of Epic Games, who served as the executive producer of the first three Gears games, to oversee development of this sequel. So in the hands of new a developer, does Gears of War 4 live up to being a worthy successor to the franchise?

Gears of War 4 is set 25 years after the events of the Locust War, which was depicted in the original trilogy. After firing the Imulsion Countermeasure weapon that defeated both the Locust and the Lambent, there are only hundreds of thousands of humans left on the planet Sera. While the weapon was successful, it created a harsher environment full of windflares, which are large electromagnetic storms. The Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) has created wall-offed cities to protect the dwindling populations and declares martial law which states that nobody is allowed to travel outside these cities. The humans who rejected this law and live outside their jurisdiction are called the “Outsiders”, and they conduct raids on COG territories for their resources.

Gears of War 4 features a variety of new faces. The protagonist of the game is J.D. Fenix who is the son of the original trilogy’s protagonist, Marcus Fenix. J.D. used to work for the COG before joining the Outsiders. Together with his friends Delmont “Del” Walker and Kait Diaz, J.D. not only battles the new alien race called the Swarm, he also battles the COG and their robots. These characters aren’t as gritty or as serious as their predecessors since they often make quips and jokes throughout the game, even in the most dire of situations. It makes sense considering they grew up in a different time than their predecessors. These new characters encounter familiar faces that will provide fans of the series with nostalgia while also bridging together the original trilogy with this new saga. This game is basically The Force Awakens of the Gears of War franchise. 

Marcus Fenix returns with a new batch of characters.

Marcus Fenix returns with a new batch of characters.

If players expect this game to completely reinvent the franchise, they are going to be disappointed. Mechanically speaking this game feels just like any other Gears of War title. Instead of reinventing the wheel, the developers decided to use elements of the older games and mix them with new gameplay mechanics and characters that will satisfy older Gears of War fans while introducing newcomers to the franchise.

Gears of War 4 still uses the typical cover and shoot mechanic the series has always used, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing because the gameplay still holds up very well and feels more improved. It’s much easier to cover and move the sticks on the controller to aim and shoot. This makes the combat feel far more fluid. Players can do a variety of things in cover; they can mantle over walls to hit their enemies, they can execute their enemies over cover, they can pop out and shoot at enemies, or they can just wildly shoot without looking. This game still uses the same reload mechanic seen in every Gears of War game where players press the right bumper to play a mini game to get a cursor into the white spot of the bar to reload faster and even get special ammo.

It is important to note that the game’s stop-and-pop style needs to be fun because that’s basically the whole game at its core. In its five acts with multiple chapters, the whole campaign of Gears of War 4 is basically getting from point A to point B while taking cover and shooting enemies. Outside of times where players will use a bike or a mech, the game will lock players into an area and force them to fight the enemies until they are all defeated. The game play is a lot of fun, but at times it can feel a bit redundant.

The cover mechanic.

The cover mechanic.

Gears 4 also features a co-op system that can be played either online or via offline split-screen. Teamwork has been a staple for the franchise since the original game so it’s nice to see the new developers have kept the series close to its roots. Players can come up with different strategies in how to handle a situation, and they rely on each other to be revived when things get dicey. For players who want to play this game alone, even the AI controlled characters do a terrific job quickly getting to the players to revive them. This is very important because so many enemies appear on screen and it is easy for players to get downed, especially on higher difficulty. Split screen co-op is not a feature that is done often anymore, so it’s nice to see it done very well here.

Similar to the previous games, there are survival horror elements of the game that involve players venturing into dark areas filled with monsters. The fork in the road mechanic also returns where players have to decide which path to take. This adds replay value to the game as every play through can be different. The plot is also similar to past games as it focuses on Kait’s search for her mother Reyna Diaz, which is similar to how Dominic Santiago of the original trilogy was searching for his lost wife.

There are a variety of new toys for the players to use to mow down their enemies. The EMBRAR is a charge-shot sniper rifle that must hit a target or it will overheat in the players’ hands. The Buzzkill shoots lethal saws at foes and beautifully rips them to shreds. The appropriately named Overkill is a very strong double-barrel shotgun that fires two shots: one when players press the trigger and one when they let go. There’s also plenty of old weapons in the game that older fans of the series will easily recognize such as the Lancer and the traditional Longshot. It’s a lot of fun picking up weapons and seeing what they can do. Players won’t really have a choice but to try out a bunch of weapons because it’s really easy to run out of ammo and often times players will be picking up their enemies’ weapons during combat.

The Swarm

The Swarm

While many of the Swarm enemies look and play similar to the Locust, the campaign also offers a bunch of new enemies that fight players in a completely different ways. The new DeeBee robot enemies aren’t afraid to get shot at so they will get close and personal with players. The Pouncer is a new enemy that shoots quills from its tail and jumps on players if they get too close. The only way to kill it is to shoot it in its weak spot. Another cool enemy is the Snatcher who can grab players and pull them into its body. This will leave a blurry field of vision on screen until the players’ allies rescue them with gunfire. In order to combat the Pouncers and the Snatchers, players need to stay in cover and shoot, and continue to move to different locations.

The game looks great; It is definitely one of the best looking games on the Xbox One. The environments are a pleasure to behold. If players take a break from the action and simply enjoy the scenery they’ll notice there’s a lot going on, especially when encountering the windflares. Players will battle enemies in these storms with debris flying everywhere on screen, and the game still runs smoothly without a problem. This game is full of hyper-realistic gore that looks far more convincing when compared to the borderline cartoonish gore of the past games. It is a lot of fun to blow an enemy’s head off with a shotgun or chainsaw them in half. The deaths of the players can also be pretty brutal with a lot of dismemberment and chainsaw slices. The game looks even better if fans own an Xbox One S and a good TV since this is one of the first Xbox games to support HDR. And of course it looks even better on the PC.

The campaign doesn’t offer the greatest story and the new hero is relatively generic. That’s not to say J.D. is a bad protagonist or that his story arc is inadequate, but there’s nothing unique about him at all. Despite J.D.’s shortcomings at least he keeps good company, as his companions Del and Kait are likable and easy to care about. The story itself isn’t a grand tale compared to the war of the original trilogy, but more small scale and personal. The campaign’s theme is family as it focuses on J.D.’s family, Kait’s search for her mother, and their relationships. Because the campaign is about 7-10 hours depending on the difficulty, it is pretty well paced. There’s a lot of gun fights of course, but the game also gives players time to breathe so they can relax and enjoy the set pieces and characters of this new world. The story plays it very safe and focuses more on kicking the can down the road for future games, but it is still enjoyable. This game is a lot fun so playing it safe doesn’t hurt the game too bad, but this will displease some people for sure. Overall, the campaign offers entertaining brutal and fun combat, cinematic moments, and character banter. It is a true blockbuster.

Gears of War is known for its brutal gameplay.

Gears of War is known for its brutal gameplay.

Where Gears of War 4 really shines is in its multiplayer. Similar to the campaign, The Coalition chose to evolve the multiplayer rather than reinvent it. One of the most notable and noticeable changes is an adjustment to the frame-rate. While the campaign runs at a steady 30 FPS, the multiplayer actually runs 60 frames per second. Given the fast-paced and hectic style of Gears multiplayer, the boost in frame rate is much appreciated.

Gears of War 4 offers a versus mode and a horde mode. In versus mode, there are 10 multiplayer maps and several modes. Compared to the linear areas of the campaign, the multiplayer maps offer players large areas full of brutal tools to defeat their adversaries. This game has the basic modes one would expect to see in the franchise such as Team Deathmatch and Guardian, but it also has a couple of new really fun modes. One of the new modes (a personal favorite) is the Arms Race where everyone is given the same weapon in a round and races to kill the other team three times with this weapon to advance the round. This puts everyone on equal footing and makes it so skill shines more than the weapon. Especially since players usually love to use shotguns in multiplayer. Another new mode is Dodgeball that plays like Team Deathmatch, but in this mode players can respawn. It plays just like a regular game of dodgeball. In order to revive a teammate, players must kill an enemy and then survive for five seconds. If they do, the player will respawn and the next player who died will wait in death queue.

Players are rewarded for playing multiplayer with experience to level up and with credits that can be used to purchase Gear Packs. These packs are full of cards that provide players with a variety of items to customize their multiplayer experience. Using credits, players can purchase characters, weapon skins, emblems, and bounties that offer additional rewards for competing challenges. Players also have the option to buy card packs using real world currency if they want to build their collection quickly.

Horde Mode

Horde Mode

Perhaps the best aspect of Gears of War 4 is its horde mode 3.0. In this mode, five players survive waves of enemies by building defenses to protect the team. Teams now have access to the Fabricator (the team’s mobile emplacement builder), which allows players to create turrets, sentries, fences, and more as they battle 50 waves of DeeBees and Swarm enemies. Every tenth wave spawns a random boss, such as the Snatcher who steals downed teammates or the Kestrel which is an attack helicopter that attacks the team from the sky. There is also a new class system in horde mode which gives players the option of choosing between the Soldier, the Scout, the Heavy, the Sniper, and the Engineer. Each class of course has a specific strength, for example, the engineer can repair fortifications and the Heavy uses strong weapons. This new class system really emphasizes teamwork since encouraging specialized roles grants specific action bonuses. This makes horde mode is a lot of fun and offers a lot of replay value because there’s so many strategies the team can use to win the mode. Players should expect to play this mode for hours with friends.

Gears of War fans will feel right at home with this new entry. It doesn’t reinvent the franchise and it does play it a bit safe, but The Coalition did a great job mixing in the nostalgia of the original trilogy with a batch of new characters and enemies while improving on its lore and gameplay mechanics. There are very few games that still feel as satisfying to blow an opponent’s head off or chainsaw them in half. But now gamers can enjoy that with even better graphics. The campaign is really enjoyable, but the game really shines in multiplayer and that’s where the majority of the player’s time will be spent. If this is the first step for a new saga in the Gears of War franchise then this series has a very bright future.

Sebastian was born in the Sunshine State. Growing up at the dawn of 3D gaming, he has been playing video games since as long as he can remember. The first game he remembers playing was Super Mario 64 on the Nintendo 64. He has many favorite franchises and loves a wide range of genres. He has owned every console that has come out, but his favorite console of all time is still the PlayStation 2. Sebastian became a Pokemon Master in 1998 when he was 5 years old and has remained one since then. When he’s not being a gamer, he enjoys writing, especially about video games and sports. Sebastian is a huge Miami sports fan and follows his teams very passionately. Graduating from FAU with a Bachelor’s in English, he hopes to become a professional journalist. Preferably in gaming and/or sports journalism. When he’s not being a nerd, he enjoys hanging out with his friends and relaxing at the pool. Wait.. who is he kidding? He’s always a nerd.

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Game Reviews

‘Heave Ho’ Review: Us & Chuck

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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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