Frivolous Waste of Time

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Archive for the tag “action rpg”

Nier: Automata for PS4 and PC

I don’t even know where to start with this one. I never played the original Nier, although I’m aware of its cult following. I approached Nier: Automata more as a fan of Platinum Games than anything, but it’s the storytelling and fascinating themes of the game’s director, Yoko Taro, that ultimately lingers in my mind.

Nier: Automata is a sequel to the original game, but it’s set thousands of years later and the connections are slight. I didn’t feel like my enjoyment was in any way impacted by the fact that I had not played the original. Thousands of years into Earth’s future, the last vestiges of humanity have fled the Earth after an alien invasion, and now live on the moon. The aliens do not fight directly, but instead send machine lifeforms to do their dirty work. Project YorHa is an organisation of androids that fight the Machine menace on behalf of humanity. Androids 2B and 9S are sent to the surface to take down a massive machine, but soon they discover some machines acting strangely, as if they have emotions, thoughts and complex feelings and that the conflict between the androids and the machines may not be as clear cut as first thought.

It’s difficult to talk too much about Nier: Automata’s plot without spoiling what makes it so special. It does all the fundamentals right; likeable characters, clear motivations and satisfying resolution, but it also explores some pretty heady and intense ideas. The machines resemble toys more than anything else, rounded and generally harmless looking, and it is through these that Nier: Automata explores some complex philosophical themes. The nature of humanity is the core theme of this game and Nier: Automata explores this from a lot of different angles. Storylines which would just be too dark to touch with humans become explorable with machines and some of the true horror seen in Nier: Automata isn’t readily apparent. This is a story which sticks around, thought provoking and, at times, desperately moving.

The indie scene is stronger, but AAA games rarely use unique qualities of the medium in interesting storytelling ways. Examples such as BioShock and the Spec Ops: The Line are few and far between, but Nier: Automata is fascinating. I had heard beforehand that the game required multiple playthroughs to get the whole story and I was not really up for it in terms of the time investment. Actually, Nier: Automata’s multiple playthroughs are more like chapters of a larger story and it takes three to see everything. Nier: Automata is very aware of itself as a videogame, but not in an irritating, masturbatory fashion that some post-modern experiences can be. Things get weirder the longer they go on, with the first playthrough is told in a relatively straightforward fashion. It all crescendos into an audacious and hugely moving finale that simply could not have been pulled off in any other medium.

The story was my favourite part of Nier: Automata, but the core mechanics are certainly very solid as well. It’s an action-RPG, but there’s significant gameplay variety. As android 2B you’ll be hacking and slashing your way through a variety of enemies. With two weapons available at a time and a variety of ranged attacks, there are lots of options. You can also heavily customise your character using ‘plug-in chips’, some of which give passive and straightforward buffs to health or attack strength, but some are more interesting, such as introducing a counter attack. You have a limited number of slots, which can be upgraded, with elements of your UI taking up slots. You can uninstall things like the health bar or text pop ups to make room for more interesting things. The game is full of clever little things like this, even if the actual upgrade menu is cumbersome and awkward. The core combat is really fun and never fails to look stylish as hell, but it doesn’t land as one of the better Platinum combat systems. I felt myself missing the heft and variety of Bayonetta, with the combat is Nier: Automata sometimes feeling a big floaty and lacking in impact. I kept waiting for a new layer of complexity to fold into the combat and it never really does. Instead, the game introduces a clever new mechanic, which I won’t spoil, which is a lot of fun but exists almost parallel to the core melee combat rather than as an additional layer. Again, I never had a bad time slicing and dicing hordes of machines, but it would have been nice if there was a bit more to it.

Nier: Automata takes place in an open world, but I’d be hesitant to call it an ‘open world game.’ The world is quite small, and feels more like a series of connected zones rather than a coherent setting. That’s fine! After Zelda and Horizon I can’t claim to have been denied vast worlds to explore, but there is an awful lot of unnecessarily running back and forth. I don’t think a huge amount would have been lost for turning this into a more linear game. There are a range of side quests; some are pretty straightforward, but some are genuinely wonderful and contain some of the most devastating stories in the game.

One area where Nier: Automata really shines is sheer gameplay variety. There are semi-regular shoot-em-up sections in your mech suit, as well as shifts to a 2D platforming perspective. The bullet hell genre, where much of the challenge is focused on simply dodging increasingly dense waves of attacks, is a really interesting influence on Nier: Automata, and pervades all elements of the combat. I haven’t really encountered 3D bullet hell before. I still think it works best from a top down perspective, but it’s still interesting and speaks to Nier: Automata’s ambition to be a genre polymath.

Nier: Automata is a fascinating experience and a testament to the fact that interesting things can be done within AAA game development. It’s a game which waits to reveal its true cleverness and ambition, but the dawning sense of awe at what this game attempts to do was truly special. This is my first Yoko Taro game, but after Nier: Automata I don’t intend it to be my last.

 

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Horizon: Zero Dawn for PS4

I feel bit sorry for Horizon: Zero Dawn. It’s a hell of an achievement for many reason; the first open world game from Guerrilla Games, starring a kickass female protagonist and refining open world tropes into something interesting and new. It was the talk of the gaming town until less than a week later Zelda came out and pretty much obliterated it. I played Zelda first; as hyped as I was for Horizon, Zelda is…well, Zelda. Going back to Horizon after Zelda was interesting; after the freedom of Breath of the Wild, the first few hours of Horizon felt maddeningly restrictive. As I progressed I was able to appreciate better what this game achieves, but it was never quite able to get out of the shadow of Zelda. Others have made this point better than I, but Horizon: Zero Dawn feels like the apotheosis of an old way of making open world games and Breath of the Wild feels like the first of a newer, more genuinely open development philosophy.

Horizon: Zero Dawn takes place in a post-apocalyptic Earth, long after a mysterious calamity plunged the remnants of humanity back to pre-Industrial culture, with the land roamed by increasingly hostile machines. The protagonist is Aloy, a young woman born in the lands of the matriarchal and religious Nora tribe, but branded an outcast since her birth and forced to live away from her community with fellow outcast Rost. At a young age she stumbles upon forbidden secrets of the old world and as a young adult determines to enter the Proving, a test of strength and agility which could grant her membership of the tribe. Events at the Proving catapult Aloy into the wider world as she discovers the range of Tribes and cultures that have sprung up since the apocalypse and a looming threat connected to her own mysterious heritage.

It’s a good story and well told, with some interesting twists and reveals and a successful marrying together of the modern day politics and rivalries of the present with the gradual reveal of the secrets of the past, communicated through holograms and audio tapes. It’s all anchored by Aloy, a wonderful protagonist. Hardened by a tough upbringing, she’s singularly unimpressed with those with puffed up notions of themselves and can indulge in some withering put downs. I particularly enjoyed how several male characters express their affection to Aloy throughout the game, with her brushing them off because she has far more important shit to do. The supporting cast are a bit more mixed, with standouts being Lance Reddick’s Sylens, a mysterious expert in the technology of the old world and some intriguing characters in the side quests, such as Vanasha who seeks to rescue a boy-King puppet of a ruthless Priesthood. Some dodgy voice acting for some supporting characters make some moments a bit silly and a few characters verge on bland, but in general Horizon: Zero Dawn tells a good tale with plenty of strong characters to keep me engaged.

Horizon: Zero Dawn is an action-RPG, as basically all open world games are now. You’ll spend a lot of your time exploring the vast world. It’s a beautiful setting, but the actual exploration feels hampered in some regards. First of all, the waypointing is a bit aggressive and there’s a strong feeling that Guerrilla Games would rather you stick to the path please. There’s little reason to wander off the beaten track. Of course, you could always turn the way pointing off, but where Zelda’s Hyrule was filled with clear landmarks to orient yourself and navigate, trying to work your way through Horizon’s world without way points, or constantly pausing to look at your map, would be pretty much impossible. It just isn’t designed that way. This means that Horizon lacks the sense of adventure open world games, at their best, can have. The other issue is gathering materials for crafting ammo and potions, as well as medicinal herbs for healing. Constantly stopping to pick up every plant on your way, which shows up with a big symbol on your UI, upsets the momentum and pace of your journey. It means that you’re always looking at the next plant, rather than your destination. This isn’t a problem unique to Horizon; the Far Cry games are the worst for it I’ve played, but it’s a shame to see such a beautiful setting bogged down with all these superfluous mechanics. It may be an action RPG, but most of the best moments fit into the ‘action’ category and less into the ‘RPG.’

Where Horizon comes to life is the combat, and this is the main arena where I think Horizon could be said to have bested Zelda. There are fights against human foes, which some have criticised but I found fun enough. The core combat mechanics are very strong, unlike in the similarly bow and arrow focused Tomb Raider reboot series, so popping off bow and arrow headshots didn’t really get boring for me. Still, the main fun to be had are with the machines. There are a good range of machines to fight and you do, genuinely, have to adapt your strategies for each one. Horizon can be punishing if you’re unprepared, you have to think smart and lay traps and plans for taking down the most dangerous foes. Taking down some of the larger machines involved some of the most satisfying gaming experiences I’ve ever had. There’s something tactile about the machines which is wonderful. Different components can be shot off to weaken them in particular ways. It can be tempting to brute force your way through some of these guys, but it’s always more rewarding to give it some actual thought. The highlight for me was taking down my first Thunderjaw, which is essentially a robot T-rex. This involved shooting off its back mounted cannons, removing laser guns from its jaws, pinning it to the ground with ropes, before picking up its own cannon and blasting it to bits. This was my preferred strategy, but I’m sure there are other methods, such as using elemental trip wires or slingshotting bombs. One element which is a little bit underdeveloped is the ability to override machines. The side quests you do to progress this ability are brilliant, but ultimately it’s not as impactful as it may seem. One machine cab be hacked to ride, but all the others just assist you in combat. It’s an interesting idea and one I hope the inevitable sequel does more interesting things with.

The main quest is pretty lengthy and involved, with some fantastic set piece moments. Horizon is a big game with lots to do and in all fairness most of it is worth doing. Many of the side quests are fascinating, with their own stories and unique scenarios, which makes some feel essential and unmissable. We’re not quite at Witcher 3 side quest quality, but it’s the closest I’ve seen any other modern Western RPG reach. Alongside the more substantial quests are a lot of standard open world fare, but even these are made more engaging than usual. You still need to climb towers to reveal the map, but in Horizon the towers are mobile robot diplodocuses which you can hack. There are bandit camps to raid, but there aren’t too many to every get boring and they’re attached to Nils, one of the more interesting supporting characters. There are optional dungeons, known as Cauldrons, which allow you to override more machines. Hunting missions are always more than ‘kill x amount of y’, and usually offer interesting gameplay challenges, such as knocking the cannon of one creature, picking it up, and using it to kill another. Horizon doesn’t waste the player’s time with busywork. It may lack the sense of gentle wonder seen in Zelda, but it also avoids the open world game curse of feeling like a list of boxes to tick.

Horizon’s world is simply gorgeous, taking in several different biomes such as desert, jungle and snowy wilderness. This is a seriously good looking game and relatively free of open world technical snafus, with the few I encountered leaning more towards funny than annoying or immersion breaking. It has a decent soundtrack too, with a soaring main theme and some intense battle music. It’s nothing particularly memorable, but it serves its purpose well. The weaker area lies in the characters, both in the animations and the voice acting. I watched a great Extras Credits video about animation recently which made me appreciate how difficult animating an open world game like this can be, but the reality is that Horizon’s characters often fail to truly come alive due to the stiffness and awkwardness of their animations. It’s difficult not to compare it to The Witcher 3, similarly open world but with much more expressive and nuanced animations. Still, the overall quality of the writing elevates these encounters and the animations were never a serious impediment to my enjoyment.

Horizon: Zero Dawn is a very good game and a pretty massive achievement for Guerrilla. I truly hope this is the start of a franchise, a nice replacement for Uncharted in Sony’s line up of AAA single player blockbusters. It does feel constrained by some unnecessarily baggage in the mechanics and could do with some feature trimming, but these issues are never significant enough to ruin such a solid experience. Sony’s had a hell of a Q1 in 2017 and Horizon: Zero Dawn may be the cream of the crop.

 

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Nioh for PS4

I’ve been playing Nioh in fits and starts snce it came out and are finally done. Not quite finished; there’s some side stuff and a post credits final mission I got half way through and quit, but I’m definitely done with this game. I played for a long time and there are many elements that I sort of loved, but it’s also a bit bloated and lacking in some key areas.

Nioh takes place in the early 17th century and follows…er, wait, let me just google his name….William Adams, an Irish sailor and pirate. He has been protected by a strange spirit for most of his adult life. Queen Elizabeth is fighting the Spanish Armada and seeks a secret weapon; the mysterious force known as Amrita. William is imprisoned in the Tower of London when the hilariously evil Edward Kelley arrives and kidnaps William’s guardian spirit and uses her to locate the source of Amrita; Japan. William goes in pursuit of Kelley to rescue his spirit and put an end to his nefarious plans and finds himself plunged into the conflicts of a demon infested feudal Japan. Tokugawa Ieysu, along with his servant ninja Hattori Hanzo, seek to unify Japan and William teams up with them to put down the demons awoken by the arrival of Kelley and in the process become the first Western samurai.

Nioh’s characters are all based on figures from real history, but with the obvious twist of demons, spirits and magic. This is interesting in theory but the reality is that it is so divorced from reality that this separation becomes meaningless. The plot is, simply, incoherent. It’s a load of mad old bollocks which goes on way too long and doesn’t have a single engaging character to shake a stick at. I quite enjoyed the first few hours; it had a bit of goofy, Platinum-esque charm, but that fades away with a story I think we may be expected to take seriously but devolves into madness. There are far too many characters, all real world figures. If you are already familiar with Japanese history then perhaps there might be more of a thrill to this, but aside from the odd reference to Oda Nobunaga I was pretty much lost. The main character looks like Geralt and sounds like Edward Kenway but has neither of their personalities. There was potential here but the story is a pretty massive let down overall.

Thankfully, the actual core mechanics of Nioh are very solid. The key inspiration for Nioh is immediately obvious. I know ‘it’s like Dark Souls but…’ has become a games writing cliché, but Nioh is very clearly inspired by FromSoft’s outings. There are shrines rather than bonfires, elixirs rather than Estus Flasks and Amrita rather than Souls, but if you’ve played a Soulsborne game you’ll know the deal. Nioh mimics so many elements from the Souls games that it becomes impossible not to primarily consider it within that context.

The biggest difference is the combat; both Dark Souls and Bloodborne contain a relatively low number of weapon inputs available at any given time, with combat being more about timing and positioning than using particular moves or combos. In Nioh you can equip two melee weapons, which can be switched freely. Each weapon can be held in one of three stances, a quick and weak low, a slow and powerful high and the average middle. Each stance then has a strong attack and a weak attack. This means that you have potentially 12 different weapon inputs at any one time, and this is before you consider other abilities like ranged weapons, magic and Ninja skills. The sheer number of options for an individual combat encounter adds an enjoyable precision to the combat. It’s very visceral, satisfying and fun. One of the most interesting mechanics is the Ki Pulse; maintaining your stamina, known here as Ki, is as important here as it is in the Soulsborne games. A well timed button press after an attack allows you to regain some of your stamina, allowing you to keep up the offensive. Later, you can also upgrade your abilities to Ki Pulse when you dodge. The interesting thing is that you have to wait a fraction of a second after attacking before you dodge away to achieve the Ki Pulse, meaning that you are encouraged to dodge away in a much more last minute fashion than you may be comfortable with. I love risk/reward mechanics like this. It’s a combination of Bloodborne’s aggressive health regeneration system and Gears of War’s active reload and works brilliantly.

Of course, the combat can only be so good as your foes and they’re generally decent, if a bit limited. You will fight a range of human enemies, some of which are simple victims to slice and dice and some are much trickier and engaging. There are also a range of yokai demons to fight, but not perhaps as many as there should be. The combat is fun, but ultimately most combat encounters are ‘hit hit, dodge behind, hit hit, dodge behind’ and repeat. The core mechanics are so fun that it takes a long time to get old, but ultimately, it does. Some have knocked the boss fights for being less fair than in Souls games, but I’m not sure that’s true. They are punishing, probably worse than in Bloodborne, but seriously fun and clever. They do create massive difficulty spikes, where the Soulsborne games tend to be a bit more gentle in the ramping up of challenge, but I still had a lot of fun taking them out.

The major diversion from the Soulsborne formula is structural. Where the Souls games take place in densely interconnected worlds, not necessarily large but coherently and convincingly put together, Nioh has a more old-school level structure. The levels do contain some Souls style short cuts and doubling back on themselves, but to nowhere near the level of inventiveness and craft seen from FromSoft. This level structure wouldn’t be a problem if the levels were varied and engaging, but they begin to feel very samey towards the end. The first proper level, in a burning Japanese fishing village, is easily the most memorable, but there are only so many caves, temples and mountains you can wander before it gets very familiar. This repetitiveness is only highlighted by how damn long this game is. It’s too long in all honesty, with everything interesting it has to do being thoroughly explored within 20 hours, but Nioh is closer to 50. This includes the side quests, which are pretty much mandatory if you want to avoid grinding. Without a sense of meaningful exploration, Nioh becomes an action RPG much more focused on the action, but there’s a reason action games tend to be shorter than other genres.

Nioh has a good visual design for the characters and monsters, although as I said above the environments certainly begin to wear thin. In a welcome move, you can choose to play Nioh at a higher resolution but capped at 30FPS, or take a resolution hit and play at 60. I chose the latter and recommend you do too; this is a game about maximum precision and the frame rate boost makes all the difference. The music and sound design are solid, but never anywhere near as atmospheric as in the Souls games.

I liked Nioh quite a bit, but it’s not a particularly interesting game. It’s fun and satisfying, but lacks the sense of intrigue and mystery I had hoped for. I imagine that the constant comparison to Dakr Souls might annoy some people, but when a game wears it’s influences so blatantly on their sleeve it’s difficult not to. It’s a very solid and fun action RPG, but it’s no game changer.

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for Switch and Wii U

I don’t even know how to go about reviewing this game. Zelda is my favourite game series, but it’s hard to deny that it’s been stuck in a rut. I think the last genuine classic is almost 15 years old; Wind Waker. The following games have been good, even great, but have not captured me as much as the games that preceded it. There were two major transformative moments in the series prior to this year; 1991’s SNES classic A Link to the Past and the seminal 1997 Ocarina of Time on the N64. Since then, the series has stayed roughly within the established formula. Now, almost 20 years later, the third transformative moment for the series has arrived with Breath of the Wild. It’s not perfect, there are definite roughs around the edges, but Breath of the Wild is a game changer both for the series and open world game design in general.

I think Breath of the Wild has the greatest open world ever made because it is truly open. Even in GTA you can’t enter all the buildings, but if everything you see in Breath of the Wild is attainable, everything is reachable, everything is tangible. There was a moment I headed towards a shrine which had popped up on my sensor. I later realised that the story would have taken me to its location eventually, outside a gate near one of the main villages. Instead, I climbed up a mountain and down again to my destination, seeing a glimpse of strange ruins I would come to later. On my way up the mountain I came to a plateau upon which I had a perfect view of Death Mountain, Hyrule laid out before it. I’m not ashamed to say I got a bit teary; this was the Zelda game I dreamed about as a child, the game I wanted Twilight Princess to be and it never could. The plateau I was on served no real purpose, it wasn’t how you were clearly intended to reach this shine, but it was there and it was gorgeous and I think Nintendo put it there on purpose. The world is massive, but still feels handcrafted. I don’t think Nintendo have even heard the word procedural generation. This is the Nintendo difference, this is why I will always love this company, for all they can be infuriating.

There has been a rigid Zelda formula since A Link to the Past. You explore a bit, you do a dungeon, you get an item, you beat a boss, you explore a bit, you do a dungeon, you get an item, you beat a boss etc. There’s usually a major focus shift a bit of the way through, like A Link to the Past’s Dark World or Ocarina of Time’s 7 year timeline jump, and then you do the same thing. It’s not a bad structure by any stretch, but the spirit of adventure of the original NES game was missing. Breath of the Wild abandons the formula almost entirely. Dungeons don’t really exist anymore and are replaced with Shrines scattered around the map. There are 120 in total and most contain some kind of puzzle. Some a very brief and some are like mini-dungeons and each give you an item which can either put towards giving yourself a Heart Container or expanding your stamina wheel. There are four larger dungeon-like areas, the nature of which I will not spoil, but they never reach the scale of the previous games’ dungeons. The puzzles themselves work very differently; you no longer have a set of equipable items you use to solve a dungeon’s puzzles. That design locks you into a particular path and you can tackle Breath of the Wild’s challenges in any order you like. Instead, you are given almost all of your tools in the first hour and sent out into the world. These powers are linked to your mythical Shiekah Slate and can do things like manipulate metal objects, pause time for a moving object, freeze ice and others. The puzzles are much more physics based and designed differently to traditional Zelda puzzles, often with multiple solutions, reminding me more of something like Portal or The Talos Principle.

Zelda games have long had a clear divide between exploration and puzzling, with the two halves of the games kept distinct through the dungeon structure. Breath of the Wild unifies the two, with a little and often approach to puzzling rather than dense and lengthy challenges. Initially I saw this an entirely positive thing; some of the puzzles are truly brilliant, but as time went on my opinion shifted somewhat. There may be 120 shrines (and the four mini-dungeons), but many of these shrines (too many) are combat focused and for a lot finding the shrine itself is the puzzle. All shrines have the same visual design and music, meaning that by the end I was feeling a bit like I’d seen it all before. A few fewer shrines and more themed and expansive dungeons may have been a better approach and I hope this is what they do with the sequel. The shift to shrines from a few massive dungeons is a good thing, but I think a slightly better balance could have been struck.

Link is the most manoeuvrable and fun to control he’s even been in 3D. Almost any surface is climbable, limited only by your upgradable stamina wheel, and any height can be used as a platform to glide from with your sailcloth. This is the most tangible open world since Metal Gear Solid V. Since I finished Zelda I’ve started playing Horizon: Zero Dawn, and whilst I’m enjoying it, it feels limited after Breath of the Wild. Breath of the Wild is entirely laissez-faire about how you approach its world. If you want to climb over the mountain in front of you rather than following a path wending round it, feel free. Many open world games use mountains and rivers to guide and block your exploration, to provide barriers, but Zelda simply places them as another challenge. Exploration is almost always rewarded, maybe with a shrine or with a Korok seed which you use to expand your inventory. If you see an interesting looking spot and wonder if there’s something cool up there, there almost always is. I love exploring in games, but many open world games are unwilling to remove the leash. Even games I love like The Witcher 3 would be very hard to play without waypoints, with a world designed in such a way that you need a map to get around. Early in the game, you will be sent to go through a valley between two mountains and then get directions. You don’t need a glowing marker to show you where to go, you can just look at the key landmark. There are more HUD options if you want them, but I played very minimalist, navigating by directions from passers-by and environmental clues. The last game I bothered to do this with is Morrowind.

This openness extends to the combat, which is another significant departure from previous games. In previous games you would generally have one sword, two at most, with which to fight. I mean, sure you could whack things with the Biggoron Hammer in Ocarina of Time, but why would you when the Master Sword is better and quicker? Breath of the Wild has an aggressive weapon durability system, which has been controversial. I totally get why people would hate it: I thought I would and sort of did myself at first. Your weapons are ridiculously brittle, with many weapons barely surviving a single protracted encounter before they literally shatter, never to be seen again. Breath of the Wild isn’t a game about acquiring loot and becoming more powerful; the difficulty curve instead fluctuates. There will be moments where you are powerful, fully buffed from food, quiver filled with arrows, powerful weapon at your side when you can take on the world. There will be times when you are low on health, depleted and with no weapon of any value. Breath of the Wild nudges you away from playing one particular way, from simply approaching each encounter by charging in with a sword. You don’t want to waste your finite resource of the weapon for no reason. You are instead encouraged to be clever, using the environment or stealth to clear areas. There’s something of Metal Gear Solid V’s vast toolbox of tricks in Breath of the Wild’s design. Some may find this nudging oppressive; if I want to charge in and just use a sword than why should the game stop me having fun? I see their point, but I don’t think I would have experimented as much as I did if I didn’t have to by necessity. Other games would teach you these mechanics through pop up or tutorials, Breath of the Wild teaches you to play smart by necessity. The actual melee combat itself is pretty basic, and feels like a step backwards from Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, although the game is more about encouraging you to approach enemies in a variety of ways. Using the bow feels better in Breath of the Wild than it ever has before.

The biggest issue with the combat is a lack of enemy variety compared to previous games, with creatures like Re-Deads, Darknuts and Dodongos missing, with the world populated almost entirely with Bokobins, Moblins and Lizfalos.

One element I was very dubious of before release were the crafting and survival mechanics. I generally hate these in most games, but there’s a tactile charm to everything which makes even these irksome mechanics somehow delightful. Rather than collecting hearts from chopping grass, you heal from meals that you cook over a fire, which can also provide other buffs. Most games would just do this through a menu, with the outcome of your cooking clear based on your ingredients. Zelda is cheerfully chaotic, with cooking literally done by holding up to five items, dropping them in a pot and taking what comes out. Experimentation is rewarded and the buffs are considerable. There are areas which are too warm or cold for Link to survive, so these can be alleviated with particular outfits or foods. Zelda did something impossible; it actually made me enjoy crafting and survival. It’s essential that you take these mechanics seriously too because this game can be hard. It’s the hardest Zelda game since…Link’s Awakening maybe? It’s never cruel or capricious however and generous with autosaves.

Breath of the Wild doesn’t have the protracted opening for which most 3D Zelda games are guilty. Link awakens in a strange chamber and emerges into a Hyrule devastated by the arrival of Calamity Ganon. No clear timeline placement is offered, but the implication is that Breath of the Wild may be late in the timeline, as Ganon has abandoned any vestige of humanity or intelligence as Ganondorf, descending instead into as primal force of sheer evil. 100 years before, Hyrule had been overrun when Calamity Ganon turned the kingdom’s own highly advanced defensive Guardians against their masters. Link must piece together what happened 100 years ago and put an end to Calamity Ganon as it lurks in the ruins of Hyrule Castle.

Zelda has never had complex plots, but at their best they tap into a sense of epic destiny. Breath of the Wild is, in many ways, post-apocalyptic, and there’s a sense of melancholy and loss which pervades the whole thing. I had worried before release that Breath of the Wild would be a barren wasteland and would lack the loveable cast of weirdos which help make the series so special. Happily, this is not the case, with a cast as entertaining and eccentric as we’ve come to expect. Standouts include the charmingly positive Zora Prince Sidon and the intimidating Gerudo warrior Urbosa. The minor cast has some real stars too; I’m glad to see that the proud Zelda tradition of ridiculously effeminate carpenters is alive and well. Still, the actual plot is a bit underwhelming. We’re introduced to a key supporting player in each of the game’s four main dungeon locations, with their own subquests attached and I had been expecting, and hoping, that the game would return to them in the conclusion. The open structure and ability to approach the goals in any order make a story which feels more like a series of vignettes than an epic adventure. Nothing much can really change or grow. The lack of a true villain doesn’t help, with the mindless fury of Calamity Ganon never making anywhere near as much as an impact as Ocarina of Time or Wind Waker’s Ganondorf, or the titular Majora’s Mask.

The majesty of the open world would be nothing if it didn’t look incredible, but it really does. This is the best looking Zelda since Wind Waker, with an art style which falls somewhere between Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. I played it on the Switch and it looks amazing both on the TV and on the little screen, with beautiful bright colours and truly stunning art direction. The characters are also brilliantly expressive and funny, with charming animations. The music is minimalistic but wonderful. This isn’t a triumphant soundtrack I’ll listen to over and over again like Wind Waker and I don’t think it’s going to inspire complex tributes like Majora’s Mask, but it’s the perfect soundtrack for the game it is. A booming orchestral score would feel out of place in this Hyrule, but there are some lovely tunes in a lot of the towns and villages. Some are entirely new and some are truly stunning re-workings of songs from previous games. There are some problems; Breath of the Wild introduces voice acting to the series for the first time and the result is…mixed. Some supporting characters, particularly in the Gorons and Gerudo sound perfectly fine, but a few too many major characters are very stilted. I hated Zelda’s voice, which was breathy and a bit pathetic sounding. There are also regular framerate drops, particularly in chaotic scenes and when docked in TV mode. It’s not awful and anyone who tells you it ruins the game is an idiot who doesn’t deserve videogames, but it would undeniably be better if the framerate was more solid.

So, in summary. Breath of the Wild isn’t perfect, because no game is. What it does do is transcend its flaws, offering something which feels truly new whilst respecting the storied past of this great series. It’s a wonderful experience and Nintendo’s best game since Super Mario Galaxy. People may knock the Switch line up for only having one big game, but if you must launch a console with only one game it might as well be one of the greatest of all time.

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Titan Souls for PS4, PS Vita, PC, OS X and Android

Titan Souls originated from a game jam, with the original prototype created in merely two days. Although expanded from these humble beginnings, the purity of vision which shines through Titan Souls demonstrates its origin. With the name Souls in the title you’d be forgiven that this is simply something riding on the coattails of Dark Souls, and whilst it was certainly a clear influence it’s still very much its own thing.

The plotting is very minimalistic, with the player simply taking control of a figure who must travel through a strange, empty land, along the way slaying the deadly ‘titans’ he encounters. These monsters don’t attack, in fact they will only fight after you’ve attacked them first, raising some interesting questions about who the real hero is here. This is a common enough theme, but the closest to a narrative hook the game can be said to have. The overall look is very simple but effective, primarily in the design of the titans themselves. An effective soundtrack also helps elevate the experience beyond its humble beginnings.

The core mechanics are incredibly simple. Played from a top-down Zelda style perspective, the player can dodge, sprint and fire an arrow. It is an arrow since you only have one, after firing it you must hold a button to pull it back to you to be fired again. The game is simply a series of boss fights. They’re deadly, fast and aggressive and a single hit kills you. In the game’s most interesting twist, the same applies to them. It only takes one strike on a boss’ weak spot to take them down, but getting a shot in on that weak spot is a hell of a challenge. This means that winning fights are usually over in seconds, but you’ll die over and over again getting to that point. You can’t move whilst firing or retrieving the arrow, so placement in the environment is key. These boss fights are brilliant, frantic and brutal and often seemingly impossible at first, until you learn their rhythms and how to manipulate them. They feel like a boss fight in Dark Souls or Bloodborne, whilst being mechanically nothing like them at all. The euphoria rush of taking down a boss you’ve been throwing yourself against is amazing. If my entire game time had been spent fighting these bosses, Titan Souls would be a perfect game, but there a couple of drawbacks, one not so serious and one more so.

The first drawback is the environments between fights. Clusters of fights are found in certain areas, but you’ve got to explore a decently sized environment to find them. The problem is that this exploration simply isn’t fun or satisfying. This is a fine looking game, but the environments aren’t interesting from a visual or design standpoint. Removing these sections entirely and reducing the game to exclusively a series of boss fights would have tightened up some of the flab. The bigger issue is the checkpointing. After dying you will wake up at a checkpoint near the boss arena. Sometimes these are right next to the boss room and sometimes it’s further away. The boss rooms are never more than 10 seconds from the checkpoint, but when you die as often as you do in this game it adds up. I think it’s trying to capture the bonfires/lanterns from the Soulsborne games, but those are different games. Titan Souls has a more arcade-y ‘just one more go’ feeling than those games, which is undermined by this delay. It may sound like a petty thing, but no one likes the feeling of their time being wasted and I felt that this really did. Simply respawning the player straight in the boss room would have been so much better.

Titan Souls is a very good game which falls short of greatness due to some frustrating issues. I liked it very much and the core concept is so strong that I hope they make another one, but more cut back and streamlined rather than more expansive as sequels generally are.

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Bloodborne: The Old Hunters for PS4

Bloodborne is one of my favourite games of all time, which is quite odd as most of my other favourites are from my childhood and seeped in nostalgia. Bloodborne got under my skin and affected me in a way that games simply don’t as a 25 year old man. Even recent games which I utterly adored, like The Witcher 3, didn’t affect me as much as Bloodborne. Playing Bloodborne for more than an hour often resulted in strange, unsettling dreams. It’s clear that Yharnam has it’s hooks in me. I actually rationed the DLC, playing it over the space of months, because I couldn’t bare to be done. Please make Bloodborne 2.

The Old Hunters sees the player cast into the Hunter’s Nightmare, where blood drunk hunters are pulled if they seep too far into depravity. This is the final resting place of legendary Healing Church figures such as Lawrence and Ludwig, but it holds a dark secret about an atrocity committed in the early days of the Church, with many figures in the Nightmare are desperate to keep hidden.

I love the lore and story of Bloodborne. I read an entire 107 page e-book analysis of thenplot for crying out loud (The Paleblood Hunt by Redgrave, it’s brilliant). The Old Hunter builds and develops the story in some interesting ways and casts light on some of the most enigmatic and fascinating figures in the game, such as the Plain Doll, Gehrman and Ludwig. Of course, it’s all still very obscure, but the strange power that suffused the main game is absolutely present in The Old Hunters.

Fundamentally, The Old Hunters is more of the same. There are loads of new weapons, although I didn’t really experiment with these much. I’m too stuck in my ways with my +10 Ludwig Holy Blade. It’s a shade more linear than the main game, which is inevitable considering that this is more of a bite sized Bloodborne chunk, but the environments are still complex and fold back on themselves in interesting ways. The boss fights are cool, which vary from slow heavy hitters to the furiously aggressive. The final boss of the DLC is an absolute nightmare, probably the hardest in the game. In fact, the difficulty is higher all round.

The Nightmare is a realm that we didn’t explore much in the main game, only really in the Nightmare Frontier and Mensis and its twisted proportions are fun to explore. I think a Bloodborne sequel built around free travel between the ‘real’ world and the Nightmare could be very interesting and offer a twist on the somewhat familiar ‘Soulsborne’ formula. Everything is very horrible and unsettling, with the final section being somewhere entirely unlike anywhere else in the game. The boss designs are stunning and The Old Hunters’ has some of the best music in the game.

Bloodborne is a masterpiece and The Old Hunter’s simply adds more to it. If you liked Bloodborne this is worth a go and if you love it as much as I do it’s essential.

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Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate for Nintendo 3DS

Monster Hunter is one of those Japanese franchises, like Dark Souls and Persona, which has a rabid fan base made up of people I respect that I’ve never been able to quite ‘get’. I wasn’t particularly interested in this game, but the rapturous critical acclaim paired with a desire to get some more use of my New 3DS after I finished with Majora’s Mask led me to go for it and I’m glad I did.

Monster Hunter 4 isn’t going to win any awards for it’s storytelling, but it gets the job done. You are travelling on a ship when it is attacked by a monster and your heroic actions convince the captain to enlist you as a monster hunter. You begin to earn a name for yourself as a hunter and begin to be drawn into the mystery of the new a deadly creature known as the Gore Malaga. It’s not particularly interesting, but the writing is sharp, funny and endearing. This is a good case of a game going light on storytelling but including just enough to contextualize your actions well.

Monster Hunter 4 does a lot of things, but at it’s core it’s an action-RPG. The player makes their way through a series of environments hunting and killing monsters both big and small. Some are simple herbivores but the game is mostly made up of the epic giant monster fights which are a true test of the player’s skill. These monsters are unpredictable and fast, meaning that this isn’t a game just about leveling up and getting good equipment; you must be genuinely skillful too. There are a wide range of weapons to choose from, both melee and projectile including the obvious choices like swords, axes and bows alongside more strange weapons such as the Insect Glaive. All play very differently but all are effective and the game makes it easy to change weapon types as you make your way through the game. Experimentation is encouraged. The fights are gloriously tense and difficult and I found the whole thing just too clunky in Monster Hunter 3. Monster Hunter 4 adds one big, brilliant change to the combat. The environments in Monster Hunter 4 are much more vertical and you can jump from heights onto monsters backs, which can trigger a brief event where you must stab the creature whilst clinging on for dear life. If you’re not thrown off, the monster is stunned and you can get in a few devastating attacks. This never ceased to be thrilling and added the extra ingredient that I needed to enjoy Monster Hunter’s combat. I was lucky enough to play on a New 3DS, so I had the right analogue nubbin, so I will warn that I imagine that things might be a fair bit trickier without that simple camera control.

Of course, Monster Hunter 4 isn’t just an action game, it’s also an incredibly deep RPG. You don’t level up yourself, instead crafting new weapons and gear from the various monsters that you encounter, as well as from missions where you gather materials or fish. Creating and upgrading new stuff is deeply rewarding, with a constant positive feedback loop that makes the game hard to put down. There’s a lot of grinding involved, but the fights themselves are so fun that it’s never really an issue. This is a tricky, complex game and you have a lot of things to manage, such as health and stamina and you’re encouraged to prepare beforehand. For example, before every mission you can eat a meal cooked by your feline chef which give you certain buffs. Combining ingredients the right way can have a real impact on your success and this is just one example of the micromanagement expected of you. There are a lot of systems at play here, but none feel superfluous, it’s simply about giving the player as much control as possible.

You’re not going to run out of things to do any time soon either. As well as a lengthy single player campaign, there’s a huge amount of multiplayer stuff to do as well and regular free updates with new gear to create and challenges to face. This is a very dense game, which can sometimes be a bad thing, but Monster Hunter 4 runs like complicated clockwork; every part is necessary to build up to the complete experience.

The whole thing looks amazing too; as is often the case with 3DS games, screenshots really don’t do it justice. The whole thing runs very smoothly with top notch character animations and detail. Although the areas aren’t truly open, they still feel really varied and interesting with much more interesting environments than what I had seen in the previous game. The music is swelling and exciting too, making the battles feel epic. The real high point has to be the monsters, which move in believable and intimidating ways which makes it all the more exciting to bring them down.

Monster Hunter 4 is a great game and the entry which has finally sold me on the franchise. Ok, I may not have become as obsessed with it as some have, but I certainly enjoyed my time with it and suspect that there are many people who would like it even more than I did. 

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Monster Hunter 4 is a great game and the entry which has finally sold me on the franchise. Ok, I may not have become as obsessed with it as some have, but I certainly enjoyed my time with it and suspect that there are many people who would like it even more than I did.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D for Nintendo 3DS

So…Majora’s Mask is one of my favourite games of all time. That said, there were all kinds of things I didn’t like. Unlike the pretty much flawless Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask had a lot of things wrong with it. It was always a diamond in the rough. This is the best kind of remake, one which fixes almost all of those niggling flaws to mean that Majora’s Mask can now confidently stand as not just one of the best Zelda games, but as one of the best games ever made.

Majora’s Mask is a direct sequel to Ocarina of Time and picks up with Link searching for a lost friend, strongly implied to be Navi. While riding dejected through the woods, Link is knocked from his horse by an imp known as The Skull Kid in a mysterious mask who steals Epona and the Ocarina of Time. Link pursues through a strange environment before being transformed into a Deku Scrub and emerging into the strange parallel world of Termina, where things are similar to Hyrule in some ways and utterly alien in others. The Skull Kid has summoned Termina’s moon to crash into the central city of Clock Town in three days and it’s up to Link to manipulate time and save this strange new world.

Majora’s Mask has essentially identical core mechanics to Ocarina of Time, but wraps them up in surprising and interesting ways. The most obvious gimmick are the masks; most are simple and used gathered in the impressive number of side missions, but it’s the masks which turn Link into a Deku Scrub, a Goron and a Zora which are the most interesting, with all three offering interesting new traversal mechanics. Switching between masks feels like a natural addition to the Zelda puzzle tool box; I wouldn’t mind them returning to the concept some day. The real star of Majora’s Mask will always be the 72 hour time system, which seems Termina living the same three final days of their lives over and over again. At the end of the 72 hours, you can play the Song of Time and return to the beginning, losing any of your non-core items in the process (including Rupees which must be put in the bank). It may sound high pressure but it’s really not; you can slow down time by playing the Song of Time backwards and there’s more than enough time to complete every dungeon in the time given. The 72 hours isn’t a time limit, it’s essentially giving the player a fourth dimension to work in. You no longer just have to navigate the 3D space, but also time, with each character keeping a schedule which changes throughout the three days. Catching them at the right moment is key to many of the side quests. This Groundhog Day-esque use of time as a mechanic is fascinating to me and not something I’ve ever seen elsewhere.

Since this has always been a more rough around the edges experience than it’s more illustrious predecessor, Majora’s Mask has been tweaked much more than Ocarina of Time 3D was. The boss fights have all been significantly altered, with the addition of a big red eye making the weak spots better. The changes for the first two bosses feel a bit pointless but the second two are massively improved. The Great Bay Temple is still a pain, but like the Water Temple the whole thing has been made a bit clearer. There are a couple of new fishing ponds, which is a neat little addition and gyroscopic aiming makes archery challenges much easier. The Bomber’s Notebook has been tidied up too and it’s now much easier to keep track of side quests, which is pretty much a must in a game like this.

There’s been some online controversy about certain changes ‘dumbing down’ the game. Saving now doesn’t bring you back to the first day which makes this a game much more able to pick up and play and the Song of Double Time can now bring you to any hour rather than just speeding up time. The long waits of the original game are no more. Sure, some will moan and claim that all of these things were what made Majora’s Mask great but…well, they’re just wrong. Those annoying challenges weren’t good, they were annoying and if it did make the game more challenging it’s that irritating kind of challenge that just wasted time. That much waiting was fine if you were a kid or unemployed and I was the former when I first played Majora’s Mask so I wasn’t bothered. As an adult with a job Majora’s Mask would have been borderline unplayable without these changes and they were right to do it.

I’m pretty much as big a Zelda fan boy as you can get, but there aren’t many Zelda games with genuinely good plots. They can be enjoyable in their own way, but I’m not about to claim that Zelda is about to give Dragon Age a run for its money any time soon. Well…apart from Majora’s Mask. This is a truly dark game. I’d wondered before playing the remake if Majora’s Mask is as sad and weird as I remembered and it really is. One particular scene in a house shaped like a music box genuinely terrified me as a kid and gave me a strong case of the jibblies now, although I now find that whole scene rather moving. Majora’s Mask is a game about helping people, but it’s all wrapped up in the sick knowledge that all the good you do is undone whenever you play the Song of Time and return to the Dawn of the First Day. There’s an edge of hysteria to the world of Termina, with the gradually arriving Moon being a textbook perfect method of using the environment to immerse you in the story. Majora’s Mask is a sad but tender experience, one that is fundamentally about emotion. Zelda is usually about arch conflicts between icons of good and evil and that’s ok, but Majora’s Mask was the time Nintendo made a Zelda game about people.

As with Ocarina of Time, Grezzo have done a fantastic job at making Majora’s Mask look beautiful all over again. The character models are very much improved, although admittedly most of them are recycled from Ocarina of Time with the general art direction being left intact with the smoothing over of the rough edges. The music is still fantastic, with the shift of the Clock Town theme from a cheerful ditty on the first day to a madness tinged carnival nightmare on the final still being brilliantly unsettling. Grezzo really are good at this remake stuff; these could be the guys for future Nintendo remakes. Mario 64 3D please!
Nintendo and Grezzo have smoothed off some of the rough edges to Majora’s Mask to leave us with the definitive version of this strange, divisive game. It was a fantastic game before, but now it’s a masterpiece.1423905246-9791-card

Borderlands 2: Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty DLC for Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Mac

Well, this is how to do DLC. The firs t major Borderlands 2 DLC takes a piratical theme, introducing a few large new areas, a fun main story and a good range of side quests. All of the fun of the vanilla game is there, although there are some elements in this release which fall slightly short of the very high bar set by the main game.

Despite the pirate theme of this DLC, it doesn’t take place near an ocean, instead staying in the deserts which are the primary setting of the series. There are a handful of big new hubs, which feel admirably distinct from each other and those in the main game. Some of the most breathtaking geography in Borderlands 2 is to be found in this DLC. I particularly liked a vast lighthouse on a high promontory above the desert; I was often fond of the more vertical environments of the main game, so I was glad to see more here. I’m generally not fond of caves in videogames as a rule, and the cave levels of the main game were generally less impressive than their more open ended counterparts, so it’s gratifying to see that Gearbox have included the most lovely and beautiful cave section of the game in this DLC. A gorgeous underground oasis ironically discovered below a town in which all of the population bar one had died of thirst is a classic example of the wonderfully cruel comedy which made Borderlands 2 so great.

The Vault Hunter (or hunters if you are co-op inclined) arrive in the deserted town of Oasis, and are soon greeted by a message from the titular Captain Scarlett, who is seeking the treasure of the dread pirate Captain Blade. She recruits the player to find four compass pieces, which will reveal the location of the treasure, whilst cheerily confessing that she will almost certainly stab you in the back come the end. Along the journey there player meets plenty of new big personalities to join the roster, encounters some fun new enemies and picks up the requisite hordes of loot. The actual plot isn’t anything special at all, there aren’t any compelling twists and it doesn’t pack the emotional punch which the main game was able to. What makes the DLC so fun to play is, as always, the characters. Captain Scarlett herself is a hoot, affably sadistic, but there are plenty of other fun characters rounding out the bunch. One of the best was Shade, the last survivor in a town riven by drought, who has propped up the corpses of his former friends, pretending that they are still alive. Shade even gives you some missions ‘in character’, which was as amusing as it sounds. It would be so easy for Borderlands 2 to slip into being obnoxious, but it never does; the humour is cleverer than it may first seem.

The basic mechanics of Borderlands 2 are as strong as ever, and the levels are well designed and fun to play. If there’s any area which takes a slight step backwards from the main game, it’s in the prevalence of fetch quests. These were generally still fun, and what you’re fetching is usually amusing, but a little bit more variety would have been nice. One huge improvement is the addition of the ‘sand skiff’, a hovercraft to explore Pirate’s Booty’s locales. The vehicles in Borderlands 2 were one of its weakest points, as they lacked traction and weight, feeling unnaturally floaty. A hovercraft has no traction and is floaty, so the controls feel a lot better here, with a nice extra boost to manoeuvrability. However, if you’re hoping for something fundamentally different to what’s on offer in the main game you may be disappointed, there’s no real innovation here. More of the same isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, when the ‘same’ was so damn fun to begin with!

The voice acting is up to its usual high standard here, with plenty of fun and amusing characters joining the fray. One tragically minor character was Aubrey Callahan III, a wonderful deadpan teenage girl, who I’m utterly convinced is named after Aubrey Plaza of ‘Parks and Recreation’ fame. There are a few technical issues, a cut out of the music during the final boss fight rather sapped the tension from the battle, but Borderlands 2 remains a remarkably glitch free experience. After the mess that was Assassin’s Creed III, this was a relief.

If you enjoyed Borderlands 2, Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty is a worthwhile, but unessential purchase. If you gave this a miss you wouldn’t necessarily be missing out on anything incredibly worthwhile, but there are much worse places you could put your money. borderlands-2-captain-scarlett-her-pirates-booty

Dust: An Elysian Tail for XBLA

Ok, to enjoy this game you’re going to have to get over one thing. The art style of this game is extremely reminiscent of the ‘furry’ style. For those who haven’t been around this funny old internet as much as I have, ‘furries’ are people who have a sexual attraction to anthropomorphic creatures, usually furry humans with pointy ears and tails and improbably huge breasts. ‘Furries’ are one of the most widely mocked and vilified sub-cultures online, although I find it hard to bring myself to care what they do; it doesn’t affect me what people choose to masturbate to. If you can get past the furry aesthetic, there’s a lot to like about this game, which seems somewhat doomed to fly under the radar as an underrated gem. I was particularly interested in this release due to it having been almost entirely the work of one man, Dean Dodrill. With the exception of voice acting, soundtrack and parts of the script, all of the work was done by Dodrill. I was interested to see whether one person could create a full gameplay experience, and am pleased to report that, by and large, they can.

The game opens with the eponymous Dust awakening in a glade, with no memory of his previous life, a talking sword named Ahrah beside him. The sword tells him to move on, but the sword’s guardian, the tiny flying Fidget, insists on joining him. Dust and his band move around the land, righting wrongs and helping the people, whilst the military campaign of the brutal General Gaius builds in intensity in the background, soon moving to the forefront of the tale.

The plot of Dust: An Elysian Tale is probably the most pleasant surprise in the game. An amnesiac hero, a squeaky voiced side kick, a talking sword, all played out in a land of talking animals? A recipe for utter horror. Instead, we get a plot which has clearly been given much thought, and although it’s not necessarily anything special, I was certainly invested in the characters and their fate. Bolstered by surprisingly good voice acting, the script manages to balance comedy and drama well. Some of the characters Dust  encounters on his journey are genuinely hilarious creations, and the more dramatic scenes are handled relatively well. If there is any flaw, it is that the motivations of its villain is rather opaque; I suspect that a sequel is planned, which may shed more light upon this.

Dust: An Elysian Tail is a side scrolling action RPG, with the content split pretty evenly between RPG and action gameplay mechanics. Those expecting serious depth in the mechanics themselves may be somewhat disappointed; the combat is pretty simple and will often devolve into button mashing, but it’s certainly fun enough. There’s a basic crafting system to keep things interesting, although the items you equip have no effect upon Dust’s highly stylised appearance, a gaming pet peeve of mine. The game is quest based, with two main towns acting as hubs. There’s a slight element of Metroidvania to the game, with backtracking and returning to previously visited locations encouraged. However, the rewards rarely match the effort required, so I doubt many players will be scouring the world for every chest as the developer probably hoped. This may read negative, but in reality it’s certainly not bad. It’s very competent,  but with few moments where the gameplay surprises you. There are very few moments which are truly bad however, with the lowest points in the game probably being the uninspired and frustrating boss fights, which are usually simple damage sponges rather than exhibiting interesting attack patterns.

The real high point of this game is in its presentation. The animations for Dust are breathtaking, rivalling those in Rayman Origins. The backgrounds have a wonderful, hand drawn feeling to them, making each location feel an absolute joy to explore. If there is any weakness in the presentation, it would be in the character design, which all feels a bit ‘Deviant Art’, but when the world these characters populate is so gorgeous it’s hard to care. The voice acting is, by and large, excellent. I suspect that many of the voice actors were amateurs, which far from taking away from the game, gives the dialogue a pleasant naturalism. The surprising high point is in the voice of Fidgit, your sidekick, who should be incredibly annoying, but is in fact a genuinely funny and charming companion. Sure, this game is pure style over substance, but when the style is this good it’s hard to care.

Dust: An Elysian Tail isn’t for everyone, but it is an incredibly achievement of singular determination. I certainly don’t regret my time with Dust: An Elysian Tail, but I’m not quite sure if I would necessarily recommend it to many others and its current price. When this pops up in the Microsoft’s XBLA sales, don’t hesitate, buy it. Before then, it’s probably worth holding off a while.

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