Bio
"Abandon all delusions of quality control."

26 y/o Northern Irish fella. I like arcadey stuff and nice soundtracks. My reviews tend to skew positive since I get more fired up about recommending stuff than dissuading.
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Ratings:
5.0/5.0 - Wouldn't change anything about it.
4.5/5.0 - Superb. Likely a favourite in one way or another.
4.0/5.0 - Great. I'm probably pretty fond of it.
3.5/5.0 - Good.
3.0/5.0 - Pretty alright.
2.5/5.0 - Middling.
2.0/5.0 - Not so good.
1.5/5.0 - Huh?
1.0/5.0 - I want off this ride.
0.5/5.0 - Send help.
Personal Ratings
1★
5★

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GOTY '23

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GOTY '22

Participated in the 2022 Game of the Year Event

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Being part of the Backloggd community for 2 years

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Journaled games at least 15 days a month over a year

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Participated in the 2021 Game of the Year Event

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Played 500+ games

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Gamer

Played 250+ games

N00b

Played 100+ games

Favorite Games

Patapon 2
Patapon 2
Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen
Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen
The Wonderful 101
The Wonderful 101
Fallout
Fallout
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

781

Total Games Played

055

Played in 2024

120

Games Backloggd


Recently Played See More

Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario Odyssey

Apr 21

Clash: Artifacts of Chaos
Clash: Artifacts of Chaos

Apr 20

Dragon's Dogma II
Dragon's Dogma II

Apr 19

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

Apr 18

The Wonderful 101
The Wonderful 101

Apr 17

Recently Reviewed See More

Reports of the mid-budget game’s death have been greatly exaggerated. They’re generally now something you have to more actively be on the lookout for, but there are still plenty of them with all the same hallmarks cynics’d have you believe we don’t get anymore – navigation by way of unique geographical landmarks as opposed to UI widgets, obtuse systems you only learn the inner workings of by throwing yourself into the deep end, visual design and mechanics strange enough to ward off the easily disoriented and more. Few games in recent memory exemplify it all better than this.

While that clip works a rough vertical slice of what you can expect from Clash’s combat, its little nuances aren’t immediately obvious at a glance. The way its blocking system works feels especially distinctive from other action games with parries, temporarily slowing down the enemy you block almost like a localised version of Witch Time, but key to the balance it strikes between complexity and accessibility is how it lets you cancel any light punch at any point into one of a special attack, jump or dodge. It’s a narrow but malleable core which enables a bunch of playstyles simultaneously; you can help speed along Zenozoik’s death by manipulating these mechanics to absolutely wombo combo its denizens, be less committal and whittle them down while dodging away and luring them into each other’s attacks, focus on filling Pseudo’s attack gauge to spend as much time in his superpowered first person mode as possible or take any number of other approaches. Chuck in unlockable combat styles you can find through exploration (complementing its revamped, Bloodborne-inspired level design) alongside some light moveset customisation and you’ve got the type of game you’ll be reloading saves before boss encounters just to replay them differently, this all being before you get into modifiers brought about by the Ritual.

This is essentially an in-universe dice game that you can challenge bosses to before the fisticuffs start, during which the pair of you offer up an artifact to either somehow alter the fighting area, debuff one’s opponent or introduce some other advantage to one’s side depending on who has the most dice remaining by the end. The effects can get pretty creative, thick fog rolling in and obscuring your vision in exchange for causing enemies to swing blindly at whatever’s nearby being a suitably chaotic standout, though my favourite has to be the paired Pact and Summon artifacts. Winning the Ritual with the former active lets you store the boss you’ve beaten as an ally which you can then summon to help you by upon winning a second game with the latter equipped – if you stack up enough of both, you can essentially turn an unusual beat ‘em up into an even more unusual version of Pokemon, pitting cannibalistic mushroom men against tripedal bright blue elk with faces growing out of their chests and all manner of other weird and wonderful mercenaries I’ve no idea how these guys’ concept artists dreamt up. It does sometimes feel tedious that there’s no way to forfeit the Ritual once you’ve challenged someone to it, but it’s a worthwhile exchange for the sheer variation it enables in combat encounters. It’s everything I mentioned in the first paragraph dialled up to 11, fostered by an almost totally optional minigame. How cool is that?

I’m already predisposed to love any fictional world conceptually bizarre enough to feature something like this as its sole governing law, but it helps that it’s got the art direction to match. It’s one thing to be able to point your camera anywhere in a game and have a new wallpaper on your hands, another entirely both to craft such a genuinely alien environment and render it consistently readable without anything resembling objective markers. It’s perplexion with a purpose: it’d have been much easier to just let the player’s map or some other immersion breaking visual cue do all the thinking for them, but instead, the environmental artists and modellers gave it their all and went the extra mile to make this nutcase’s fever dream a believable place you’re expected to organically learn the lay of. Their creativity even benefits the enemy design in a way – certain opponents not having a particularly big or varied moveset is offset at least a bit by how you can never really be sure how something as uncanny as a technicolour lion with the face of an elderly man (for example) is going to attack. It easily joins hands with Bayonetta Origins and Inkulinati on the podium of some of 2023’s most unique visual design, none of which received any industry recognition in this regard because why would those with large platforms ever try to raise awareness of anything actually interesting?

How or why any given game flies under the radar varies too much to pin it on a singular cause, it’s just a particular shame that it’s happened in this case because of the extent to which Clash is stuffed with things people commonly claim to want. It might sound like a hodgepodge of disparate ideas when you’re just reading about it, but to me there are clear throughlines connecting all of its esoteric mechanics, outlandish art, intimidatingly loopy level design and litany of music I can’t do justice to with words – a willingness to be different and respect for the player’s intelligence. You can only put so much stock into how a game’s number of plays correlates to its actual popularity on a site where Gravity Rush 2 has more than Starcraft and Minecraft has only about three times as many as a Yakuza game, but only managing double digits even in a place of relative enthusiasts wouldn’t seem to bode well for its prospects (or, at least, as well as something with these traits deserves).

That’s why I challenge you, whoever’s reading this, by the One Law: please take a chance on this game you may have missed. They don’t make them like this anymore, except when they do! And when they do, you’ll be reminded of how much we could still do with more games like it.

In one of its previews, Hideaki Itsuno was deliberately evasive when asked about why Dragon’s Dogma II’s title screen initially lacks the II, saying only “nothing in this game is unintentional.” You can draw whatever conclusion you like from that, but I think I’ve a different interpretation from most – it’s less a signal that this is a reimagining or a remake or whatever else in disguise than a display of confidence in how well he and his team understand what makes it tick.

As much as I’ll never wrap my head around how they got the first Dragon’s Dogma running on 7th gen hardware (albeit just about), I would’ve said it was impossible not to feel how much more II has going on under the hood in even the briefest, most hasty of encounters if it weren’t being so undersold in this respect. While my favourite addition is that enemies’ individual body parts can now be dragged or shoved to throw them off balance, tying into both this new world’s more angular design and how they can be stunned by banging their head off of its geometry, yours might be something else entirely with how many other new toys there are to play with. One particularly big one’s that you and your pawns can retain access to your standard movesets while clinging to larger enemies if you manage to mantle onto them from the appropriate angle, but you’ve gotta watch out for the newly implemented ragdoll physics while doing so, since the damage received from getting bucked off now varies wildly depending on your position at the time and the nearby environment as a result of them. Successive strikes create new avenues of offence akin to Nioh’s grapples, pressuring you to get as much damage in as you can before letting one loose and taking your target out of its disadvantage state, while also enabling you to keep them in a loop if you’re able to manipulate their stun values well enough. Layers of interaction just keep unravelling further as you play – controlling the arc you throw enemies or objects in, tackling smaller enemies by grabbing them mid-air, corpses or unconscious bodies of bosses now being tangible things you can stand on top of instead of ethereal loot pinatas… I would’ve taken any one of these in isolation. To have them all, plus more, every one being wholly complementary and faithful to the scrambly, dynamic, improvisational core of Dragon’s Dogma’s combat? It’s i n s a n e to me that someone can undergo even a confused few minutes of exposure to any of this and reduce it to “more of the first” or what have you.

Your means of approaching enemies or general scenarios which return from the first game’re further changed by II’s more specialised vocations. Having spent most of my time with Warrior in both titles, I love what’s been done with it in particular. They’ve taken the concept of timing certain skills and applied it to almost every move, anything from your standard swings to its final unlockable skill becoming faster and faster as you time successive inputs correctly – this is only the slow, basic version of the latter and I still feel bad for whatever I batter with it – with chargeable skills now also doubling as a parry for attacks they collide with, similar to DMC5’s clashing mechanic. It’s emblematic of the devs’ approach to vocations in general; Archer’s relatively lacking melee options and litany of flippy, full-on Legolas nonsense encourages keepaway where its four predecessors were all slightly differing flavours of “does everything”, Thief trades access to assault rifle-like bows and invites stubbiness for being able to navigate this world’s much rockier terrain like it’s a platformer, Fighter no longer has to waste skill slots to hit anything slightly above your head and has more versatile means of defence in exchange for melee combat being more punishing in general, etc. It’s to the extent that choosing between any two vocations feels like I’m switching genres, man. In a landscape where people are demonstrably content with having no means of interacting with big monsters other than smacking their ankles, how is even a pretty simple interaction like this not supposed to feel like a game from the future?

On simple interactions, much of this would be lessened if it weren’t for the loss gauge in tandem with the camping system and how these accentuate the sense of adventure which the first game built. The persistent thoughts of “how do I get there?” are retained, but only being able to fully recuperate your health via downtime with the lads and/or ladesses fills every step of the way toward the answer with that much more trepidation, bolstered further by the aforementioned verticality and on the more presentational side of things by how your pawns actually talk to each other now. It leads to some very memorable, emergent experiences which are personal purely to you – one I’m especially fond of involved resting after killing a drake, having my camp ambushed in the middle of the night by knackers who were too high up for me to exercise my k-word pass and having to trek all the way back to Bakbattahl with barely a third of my maximum health as my party continually chattered about how freaky the dark is. I take back the suggestion I made regarding potential changes to the healing system in my review of the first game, because even superfans (or, maybe, especially superfans) can, and do, think too small.

I realise in retrospect that even I, on some level, was wanting certain aspects of Dragon’s Dogma to be like other games instead of taking it on its own merits, something II’s seemingly suffered from all the more with how much gaming has grown since the original’s release, the average player’s tolerance for anything deviating from the norm and, presumably, frame of reference growing ever smaller. Look no further than broad reactions to dragonsplague and its effects (which I won’t spoil) being only the second or third most embarrassing instance of misinformed kneejerk hostility disguised as principled scepticism which enveloped this game’s release to the point you’d swear Todd Howard was attached to it – we want consequences that matter, but not like that! Even if you aren’t onboard with this being the coolest, ballsiest thing an RPG has bothered and will bother to do since before I was born, how can you not at least get a kick out of starting up your own homegrown Dragonsplague Removal Service? You thought you could escape the great spring cleaning, Thomyris, you silly billy? I’m oblivious like you wouldn’t believe, had her wearing an ornate sallet by the time she’d first contracted it and still noticed her glowing red eyes every time, so I’m at a loss as to how it could blindside anybody. It vaguely reminds me of modern reactions to various aspects of the original Fallout; a game which you can reasonably beat in the span of an afternoon, designed to be played with a single hand, somehow commonly seen as unintuitive because it just is, okay? Abandon all delusions of levelheadedness: if a Fallout game with a timer were to release now, the world’s collective sharting would result in something similar to that universe’s Great War or, indeed, Dragon’s Dogma II’s own post-game.

For as many hours as I’ve poured into the Everfall and Bitterblack across two copies of the original, they’re not what I think of when I think of Dragon’s Dogma (or particularly interesting, in the former’s case), which is adventuring in its open world. In that regard, I can’t be convinced that II’s post-game isn’t far more substantial, comparatively rife with monsters either unique or which you’re very unlikely to encounter prior to it, changes to the world’s layout beyond a hole in the ground of one city, its own mechanics (one actually a bit reminiscent of Fallout’s timer), questlines and even setpieces. It’s got a kaiju fight between a Ray Harryhausen love letter and a demonic worm thing which, as of the time of writing, roughly 2% of players have discovered, and instead of being praised for the sheer restraint it must’ve taken to keep something like that so out of the way, it’s chastised for it?

I’m not sure any other game’s ever made me realise how divorced what I want out of games seems to be from the wider populace. So much of this is 1:1 aligned with my tastes that the only thing that feels potentially missing’s the relative lack of electric guitars, but even then I’d be a liar if I told you that Misshapen Eye, the dullahan’s theme, the griffin’s new track, the post-game’s somber piano keys or the true ending’s credits song among others haven’t gotten stuck in my head at some stage anyway or didn’t perfectly complement the action through dynamically changing. It manages this despite clearly not caring about what you or I or anyone else thinks or wants from it. It’s developed a will and conviction all of its own. It’s Dragon’s Dogma, too.

Unmatched in the field of causing involuntary bodily responses in the player, the difficulty of F-Zero X itself’s exceeded only by that of trying not to squirm in your chair as you (un)successfully round corners at >1500km/h, bump rival racers off the track while trying to avoid speeding headlong into the abyss yourself or snatch first place out of an increasingly tenuous situation just as a guitar solo kicks in like it’s cheering you on.

The constant multisensory tug of war comprising every race’s brought about in large part thanks to a significant emphasis on tracks’ newfound verticality, enabled by one of the N64’s relatively unsung (though no less impactful) series-first forays into 3D, but it wouldn’t be complete without the mechanics themselves getting a makeover too. What’s probably the most crucial example of this is that boosting’s gone from its own independent resource, as in the first F-Zero, to something you now have to sacrifice your vehicle’s health to use. It’s streamlining at its finest; races rarely play out the same way because there’s no longer a guarantee of either you or your competitors being able to boost upon the completion of each lap, it’s inherently riskier to use but with greater potential reward due to the momentum gained from it carrying over into slopes or airtime, and it paves the way for strategies and decision-making which weren’t really present before. Will you have a comfortable amount of health left for the next lap if you boost partway through the healing zone? Are you gonna do without healing altogether to go for gold and beeline for the boost pad between them instead? Boosting up this hill could rocket you ahead of the crowd, but is your health and the geometry ahead sufficient for a safe landing? With how little time you have to make up your mind, each race leaves your frontal lobe as sweaty as your palms.

All of this in turn has the knock-on effect of enhancing the death race concept at the heart of F-Zero, brought to the forefront by and intertwined with the addition of attacks you and your opponents’ vehicles can perform. At the cost of momentarily decelerating, you can either horizontally ram into other vehicles or spin to win, stalling whoever you hit for the most critical of split seconds and dealing damage proportional to each party’s speed and/or proximity to walls. How smartly this is incentivised becomes increasingly apparent as you ramp up the difficulty and other racers’ AI becomes accordingly aggressive – to come out on top on Expert or above, you pretty much have to kill your designated rival at least once both to broaden your own margin of error and halt their accruement of points, the health it grants you being similarly precious given how often you’ll be boosting. On a less tangible level, there are in general few outlets for gamer malice so cathartic as hearing a series of brrrrrings sound out as you position yourself for a double kill, nevermind doing so by rendering Fox McCloud an orphan in the opening seconds via the world’s least ethically sound game of pinball.

While the actual Death Race mode itself’s a bit anaemic, having only a single track (albeit one unique to it) in which other racers mind their own business instead of trying to bump you off too, it’s nonetheless a useful stomping ground for practicing these mechanics and is balanced out by more substantial post-game unlocks. My favourite racer doesn’t become playable until after the credits roll, for one thing, but the main draw in this regard’s the X Cup and its randomised tracks. Even if it seemingly can’t generate loop-de-loops, cylinders or steep vertical inclines in general, the layouts still manage to become chaotic enough and unlike any of the handcrafted ones to the point that you’ll invariably want to give it at least a few spins. “Ahead of its time” is a phrase I typically don’t like, since the way it’s often used feeds into the idea that new = inherently better and rarely references any actual points of comparison. That said, it feels appropriate in this case when you take into consideration the relative prominence of roguelike side modes and/or DLCs with similar emphasis on procedural generation that’ve crept their way into multiple major releases in the past couple of console gens – the people are crying out for what this game essentially had as a free bonus when I was still being wheeled about in a pram.

As much can be said of F-Zero X in general. Beyond its intentional minimisation of graphics exemplifying the uncanny foresight of Nintendo’s president at the time, it seems as if must have been on the minds of the team behind Mario Kart 8 (currently the second-highest selling first party title ever) to some extent given not just the appearance of both Mute City and Big Blue in it, but also the conceptual overlap between its anti-grav segments and X’s dizzying track designs. Tighten your frame of reference to just its own series and even more recent evidence of how rock solid these mechanics are presents itself in the form of F-Zero 99; while its Skyway and titular battle royale idea help carve out its own more accessible, comparably well-considered spin, it’s also simultaneously a fusion of the first game’s assets with X’s systems. In short, there’s at least a few reverberations of how much this game gets right still being felt, as well as of how timeless its appeal remains, enough so to be more digestible to today’s players than you’d initially assume. If and/or when they decide to prove as much again by taking another crack at the formula, hopefully it won’t be set upon by quite as many people who’ve never played any of them for not being the “proper” franchise revival they were definitely clamouring for.

This is all to say: don’t be intimidated by its steep learning curve and give it a whirl, because the F stands for fun and there are too few games which let you do something like this completely by accident. Like its announcer whose garbled voice gave my brother shellshock says, it’s way out in front.