For such young actors, the cast of Stranger Things completely blows other performances out of the water. The finale has to be some of the finest television I’ve seen in a long time, shattering all my expectations. I’d recommend leaving breathing time in order to appreciate it fully as a standalone episode. Stranger Things might have risen to fame as a binge-show and a cheap gimmick to experience nostalgia, but its visceral performances, thoughtful screenwriting, and attention to cultural phenomena prove that there’s more to it than initially meets the eye.
Part of Bloodstained’s slightly too convoluted lore is that Miriam has been inexplicably asleep for the past 10 years. She begins her story by getting an earful of exposition, then is attacked by a squid with teeth, starts kicking ass, and basically never stops. It’s easy to interpret as allegorical, maybe even autobiographical — after being missing for a decade, IGA is back and ready to stretch his legs. If this was the intent, he’s being too modest.
The Sinking CityPC
There’s so much wonderful potential in this game that its flaws are all the more maddening. I wished that it had followed Call of Cthulhu in abandoning combat altogether and just used its larger space and considerably more nuanced investigation system to tell a great story. But it seems I’ll have to keep waiting for the perfect Lovecraft game
In calling its new game simply Samurai Shodown, SNK has made an honest declaration rather than a crass attempt to curry favor. This game is not a Samurai Shodown remake, nor is it truly a soft reboot. It is an old warrior returned after years of pilgrimage, its name newly earned and seasoned, its skills acuminated to a point so fine it’s invisible to the naked eye.
Judgment is, like the Yakuza games that came before it and all true cities, intimidatingly permeable. From the outside, it will seem strange and forbidding, something you’ll never truly be a part of. But like city life, all it takes is a willingness to step outside and join the arterial flow of its citizens going back and forth, waiting for their dates outside the beer garden, or waving hello to someone they’re seen before but whose name they don’t even know. I’m from Kamurocho at this point, but even if you’re not, Judgment welcomes you.
Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth3DS
The merits and flaws of Persona Q2 are exactly what you’d expect from the series. It’s delivering the same mechanics which are alternately tedious, punishing and strategically exciting and the chance to have a host of dysfunctional heroes tease, flirt and ultimately fight alongside each other. Like Endgame, Q2 is both a fitting finale but also a look forward.
Playing Rage 2 is infuriating. Despite the exemplary action and fluid controls, the shooter is cluttered with core design flaws that impeded my enjoyment. There is a damn good game buried underneath the low stakes story that’s filled with cutscenes that are interrupted by other cutscenes meant to explain a new character’s contrived backstory, and set in a world that lacks personality. Unfortunately, what we got is Avalanche’s Rage 2. Any game bearing id’s legacy should be all-play and no work, yet Rage 2 is too much work with not enough play.
While Observation is spectacularly stylish, its base mechanics don’t quite have the same level of polish. It’s easy to get stuck on a puzzle when there’s little explanation of how to proceed. I spent far too long cruising around the space station with the instructions to look for damage because I didn’t know exactly what damage the game wanted me to report back on. The game is even more linear than it appears to be.
SteamWorld Quest: Hand of GilgamechSwitch
Add in some surprisingly good plot twists and emotional arcs and SteamWorld Quest is a game that storied RPG developers like Atlus and Square Enix could be proud of. The fact that this is Image & Form’s first outing in the genre begs the question of what exciting adventure the developers will rush headlong into next.
Glitches aside, Days Gone is a remarkable surprise. Open worlds and zombie games are a dime-a-lootbox and have been for years, yet SIE Bend Studios rose to the occasion. In theory, Days Gone’s undead sandbox sounds dated and cliche. In practice, a hybrid of The Sons of Anarchy, The Last of Us, and Red Dead Redemption is a truly captivating experience thanks to Deacon’s sympathetic presence. After all, none of us could do better in Deacon’s situation as he attempts to maintain his humanity in the face of the living death, fighting for the future by remembering love, life, and the days gone.
The fighting, the presentation, all the fighting game bones are that good. Time travel is impossible, though, and this game would have to be weighed in the context of its predecessors even if it didn’t call such explicit attention to that past in its premise. As a result, Mortal Kombat 11 sits in the shadow of its past, beholden to past victories rather than a bright future.
SEKIRO: Shadows Die TwicePS4
I prefer my leisure masochism to be based around exploration and discovery, not challenges of timing and pattern recognition. But I also can’t indict the game for being something it isn’t. I may loathe playing Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, but I also have to acknowledge that it’s wholly committed to its artistic vision and executes it with astonishing care. I may hate that I’m physically incapable of finishing it, but my god do I respect it.
Yoshi's Crafted WorldSwitch
Yoshi’s Crafted World is still a pleasant surprise. I was just expecting a solid little platformer, but I was floored by Yoshi’s Crafted World’s sophisticated imagery, abundant heart, and charmingly fun level design. Whether playing solo or cooperatively, I’m looking forward to exploring more of Yoshi’s Crafted World and diving head first into that colorful trip.
Governance has always been an experiment, and it’s one that’s continuing around the world today as people and their leaders question what they’re capable of, what they’re entitled to, and what the balance between democracy and authoritarianism will be in the modern age. That’s heavy stuff to consider while listening to Tropico 6’s cheery Latin soundtrack and zooming out to appreciate it’s bright detailed landscapes filled with hidden ancient wonders and resources just waiting to be exploited.
The Ballad SingerPC
The Ballad Singer sometimes suffers from crude narrative and leans a little too hard on grimdark sensibilities with regular references to rape and child murder. It’s also annoying that you have to play through the prologue every time even though the decision you make there have no bearing on the rest of the game. But for all its flaws, The Ballad Singer is deeply empowering in its philosophy that no one’s path is predetermined and that you always have the ability to walk away and do something else.
Devil May Cry 5Xbox One
It will be compared to the original or to Itsuno’s beloved Devil May Cry 3, and it will be called a return to form. But couching it in its own internal history is a disservice to how hard Devil May Cry 5 rocks on its own. Turn this game on, witness something as stupid and glorious as a one-armed man revving the combustion engine built into his sword as he backflips off a ghost holding giant scissors, and shout at the devil.
Anthem always left me wanting. There is solid combat, cool wildlife, some awe inspiring visuals, and superb flight, but I was always aware that I desired more than what was here. Nothing in this game felt alive; not the story, the world, the characters, or even my interactions with other players.
Crackdown 3Xbox One
Crackdown 3’s story shortcomings extend to Wrecking Zone, the game’s multiplayer mode. Wrecking Zone may seem ambitious with its crumbling destructible cityscapes rendered by Microsoft’s Azure Cloud, but it currently only features team deathmatch and a mode where you have to hold a piece of territory, the sort of basic distractions that would have been in a launch game on PlayStation 2 decades ago.
Resident Evil 2PS4
This is a remake, a returning to the series’ roots and, presumably, a commitment to a new path forward. Resident Evil 2 soars as a definitive statement of intent after a decade of re-centering. Beholden to the past as this game is, it’s a promising new beginning. Now that Resident Evil has found itself, it will be exciting to see what kind of gross hot-dog dinosaur it mutates into next.
Travis Strikes Again: No More HeroesSwitch
Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes doesn’t invite you in. If you’re unfamiliar with the huge swatch of game history, Grasshopper’s catalog, or even games industry business gossip referenced within, this will come off as a less entertaining surrealist action game overshadowed by Suda51’s old work like Killer7 or even No More Heroes. Anyone that can actually speak the language of this game will be richly rewarded by the promise that there may, in fact, still be heroes out there.
Super Smash Bros. UltimateSwitch
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate speaks clearly and directly to each player who comes to it, regardless of whether they came to it for a competitive fighter, an easy good time, or pristine historical curation. “Generality,” said Russian character actor Konstantin Stanislavski, “is the enemy of all art.” In its specificity, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is video games’ champion and ally, a definitive statement for a series’ 20 year labor.
Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu!Switch
The game does have bugs and flaws. My version repeatedly crashed when I tried to send a Pokemon to daycare. In one fight my Graveler was poisoned while it was underground, which should have made it invulnerable. I also wish that it had modeled the Pokemon Go update that makes it clear when a Pokemon is under the influence of one of the berries you can use to make it easier to catch.
Darksiders III’s sense of economy and character is simple but nuanced, and it makes it easy to forgive other shortcomings. Nothing in this game is as luxurious as contemporaries like God of War or a modern Assassin’s Creed, but it also doesn’t have to be. Whenever I walked into a new place like the neon-tinged underwater Depths or finally reached the next boss and started swinging, the implied guitar riffs of the moment rang loud in my head.
Red Dead Redemption 2PS4
The notoriously press-shy Houser has bared his soul about the trials and tribulations of running one of the world’s most successful video game studios, albeit through analogue and metaphor. That, if nothing else, makes RDR2 a true work of art that deserves every accolade. Given the game’s breadth, and it’s curious analogues, it would not surprise me if Houser never made another game again. But if he does, I sincerely hope someone talks him into making it a shorter one.