56 Reviews liked by SNESmapper


I picked this game up on a whim browsing the Steam store, and I'm extremely happy I did. The idea of a "roguelite citybuilder" seemed bizarre, but this game pulls it off perfectly.
You'll find yourself plopping down one city at a time and overseeing its development until you fill up your reputation bar by completing quests (called 'Orders') and making your citizens happy. As time passes you gain 'Cornerstones,' perks for your run ranging from simple supply lines that give you resources over time, to locking you out of functions while buffing others. Additionally, as your reputation increases you will unlock more buildings for your settlement. The two of these randomized options will coalesce into a strategy for your colony, hopefully one that leads it to success. You may choose to focus on simply making your villagers happy, exploring dangerous glades to discover rewards well worth the risk, or fulfilling your orders. This is weighed against a ticking clock in the form of 'Impatience,' which increases for poor performance and decreases as you gain reputation.
After each city you'll be able to level up your abilities on a page of linear skill trees. Each option pairs a unique benefit with a very generic "+% to thing" bonus. While the unique benefits may be hit or miss according to your playstyle, the smaller bonuses will add up over time. After completing a couple of runs, your expedition map will reset and you do it all again.
If you're like me, you often want to restart or reload in city builders to perfect every corner of your settlement. Here, that's the core gameplay loop. Each town offers a chance to improve on your design and planning skills from last time, as well as often offering you new and exciting choices to explore such that you don't find yourself repeating the same steps each time. Along with 5 very unique biomes, there's plenty of variety here too.
All these moving bits hit together near perfectly. Along with an excellent gameplay loop are plenty of tools to help you manage your settlement efficiently and quickly, although the player isn't always told about all of them. Being early access, new options and quality of life features have been added consistently alongside new features. If you like city builders, you can't stop reloading your old saves or you like the idea of having a set of randomized challenges and objectives to conquer every time, this game is a steal. Even without additional content, I'd be content with the money I've spent, not to mention that I know more updates will come consistently to keep me coming back.

"Fear can't kill you. But..."
This may be the most daunting piece I've written to date, for many reasons.
There's Resident Evil's cult status. There's its DOOM-like place in survival horror history. The original and remake are both cornerstones of the genre, having pushed it into the mainstream eye; the 2015 release is heralded as a beloved remaster in its own right. You also can't discuss one version of RE 1 without comparing it to the other two, adding an entirely new layer to reviewing it.
But I think the biggest hurdle for me to overcome is how densely packed an experience this game is. Its mechanics, story, presentation, and atmosphere all have a million tiny details to discuss. As a result, it's difficult to know how to articulate everything. Or where to even begin, for that matter.
So I'll just start with this. RE 2015 is an absolute classic in every sense, one that I began months ago and have slowly waded through. It was a slow process. The puzzles and backtracking put me off at times. But I never once felt like abandoning it for good. There's just something about it that gets under your skin, that demands you return to see the experience through. You must find out exactly what is going on at this eerie mansion you've been trapped in. You must save yourself from the undead.
SHORT REVIEW
Visuals: 5/5
Audio: 4.5/5
Story: 4/5
Gameplay: 4.5/5
Worldbuilding: 5/5
Overal game score: 4.5/5 [4.6/5]
Visuals:
Starting off on a very high note, RE 2015 is a perfect example of how you do both a remaster and a remake.
The 2002 version was already a massive visual improvement over 1996. It showed off how rapidly graphics in video games progess, even in such a short period of time. The mansion went from brightly-lit and empty-feeling to dark, unsettling, and lived-in. While 1996 still holds up for its time, there's no denying that 2002 is visually superior.
Now take the jump from 2002 to 2015. Aside from allowing the game to become playable on modern consoles, this second update allowed for finer details in the visual design (even if it's not as drastic of a change.) Things are generally less blurry-looking. You can see of all the carvings in the woodwork, all of the fabric textures in the clothing. The lighting is adjusted to allow a better view of your surroundings. Proportions are adjusted for the better, as well.
The 2002/2015 versions also add new subsettings to the already fairly wide selection. There are now forests and underground tunnels to explore, on top of the labs and dormitories that were present before. Each one is unsettling in its own right, keeping you on your toes as you constantly adjust to the new surroundings and puzzle your way through them.
Two big factors in making every single setting outstanding are the colors and the lighting. The mansion's dark shades of brown and red make the dimly lit rooms intriguing to the eye; the lighting perfectly highlights the dreary, but thoughtful, palette. Windows bathe the hallways in moonlight, allowing you to even see the dust dancing in the air. Lamps add a cold glow to otherwise dark rooms. These things, coupled with gorgeous pre-rendered backgrounds, add up to some of the best video game locations I've encountered.
A few of these new locations - the tunnels, a little shack hidden in the trees - are governed by a mutated beast named Lisa Trevor. Lisa is easily one of the best additions to 2002/2015. Although she was slated to be passively mentioned in 1996, she was ultimately cut due to story contradictions. Not only was her existence restored the REmake - she was given a much bigger role, becoming an important recurring boss.
Lisa's design is both thoughtful and terrifying. The hunched back, the pillory around her wrists, the tattered gown, and the faces covering her own - everything demands your attention. It's similar to Silent Hill in its portrayal of story aspects, though Lisa's is a more direct depiction of her own backstory and the world around her, rather than symbolism.
The human characters stand out, too, though obviously in very different ways than Lisa. It's hard to believe that a cast comprised entirely of military members would be so diverse in design, but the REmake accomplished it perfectly. Everyone is totally unique in their clothing and silhuoettes. Jill looks like a badass with her short hair, beret, and appropriate military gear. Chris' green vest stands out in the gloom of the mansion. Barry's stocky frame, slicked back hair, and dad face make him very visually interesting to me.
Now, to discuss the elephant in the room. The fixed camera angles. This is something that many REmake players have a problem with - but I very much disagree, from both a gameplay and visual perspective. In fact, they're one of the best and most unique parts of the game in my eyes. These fixed angles allow for some really beautiful, very intentionally chosen shots that would otherwise be impossible. The corridors feel more claustrophic; the inability to see ahead of you adds an entirely new level of tension. This is one of the few games that I think feels truly cinematic - not only in cutscenes, but in regular gameplay - for these exact reasons.
I have only one minor complaint about the REmake's visuals, which is the strange blurriness in many cutscenes. I won't pretend to know why this happens. It could have been an intentional choice, or a side effect of something else. But it occasionally makes cutscenes a bit of an eyesore, unfortunately. They are very enjoyable otherwise, though, if a little goofy. The characters are surprisingly expressive in them (minus the inability to use their mouths correctly.) And little details, such as Barry playfully shoving Jill, add to their character and relationships a lot.
Ultimately, I simply adore the REmake's art design. It's akin to watching a classic 90s horror flick, with the benefit of some modern-day technology sprucing it up. It's not only tense and disturbing, as anything scary should be, but it's just a beautiful game. I could look at it for hours without getting bored.
Overall, 5/5.
Audio:
The REmake is an absolute masterclass in sound design. It uses everything available to its advantage, creating a thick and creepy atmosphere in the process. Distant cerberus howl hauntingly as you explore outside. Zombies moan out of your line of sight, alerting you to danger that you can't yet see. You gunshots crack loudly to break the gloomy silence.
Yet much of that silence is undercut by an eerie, violin-heavy score. The understated nature of the music means it never distracts from the task at hand - it only adds to it. Much of it sounds like whispers in the wind, subtly setting the mood as you travel. And still, it also knows exactly when to bring itself to the forefront, just as much as it knows when to stay in the background.
I'd specifically like to discuss Save Theme for a moment. This is a track that has become one of my absolute favorites of all time, for many reasons. The soft pluck of a classical guitar allows a sense of calm to wash over you - the only calm you will get throughout this entire game. You are safe in these save rooms; the game never breaks that promise. But even then, the siren-like wails that overlap the guitar allude to more danger ahead. You've found a place to hide for now, but you can't stay here forever. You must continue on your journey, and leave this newfound safety behind.
Although I think Save Theme is an especially well-done piece, there are many tracks in the REmake that could warrant just as much analyzing. The specific mood they convey, the way instruments and strange vocals are utilized to unsettle. Vacant Room is another standout. This one plays while you make your way through rooms devoid of enemies. Much in the same way Save Theme does, it alludes to distant danger through its unsettling backing music and unusual tempo; the tension stays high because of it.
All in all, the REmake has a horror soundtrack that will always stand the testament of time, being possibly one of the best ever made. Any movie would be lucky to have half the atmosphere this one does.
But there is still one more important aspect of the audio design to address. The voice acting.
If you've ever heard the original RE's voice acting, then you've been subjected to some of the funniest and cheesiest VA work this medium has to offer. Such iconic lines as "You were almost a Jill Sandwich!" and "What is this? BLOOD." are abundant. Thankfully, the REmake took the opportunity to rewrite and re-record the dialogue. You can now play RE1 without feeling like you're watching a parody of the entire genre.
The original game's VA DOES have its own brand of charm in its overwhelming goofiness, but it simply wouldn't work in a modernized game that's meant to be taken seriously. 2002/2015's is much, much better, if still a bit stilted and silly at times. It's a testament to the quality of these games as remakes; they take what was a flaw in the original and make it something worth praising.
Overall, 4.5/5.
Story:
As you likely already know, there are two playable characters in RE1 - Chris and Jill. Not only do they feature differences in gameplay, but they have their own unique storylines, too. I have currently only played Jill's, so I will only be discussing hers (as well as the ongoing substories of the mansion.) I do look forward to revisiting the game in the future to see Chris', and will likely update this review to reflect my thoughts when I do.
In the first few moments of RE1, we are introduced to our cast of characters and the basic story outline. A police enforcement unit - S.T.A.R.S. - have been sent to investigate a large forest, where they've lost contact with another team of their comrades. That first team was sent to investigate the possible origin of mysterious murders around the city.
But as soon as S.T.A.R.S. begins their search, they find themselves attacked and chased by a pack of savage dogs. Their helicopter pilot flies away to evade the situation; the surviving members run toward a strange mansion situated in the middle of the forest. This is their only hope of safety and survival.
With no way out, S.T.A.R.S. must instead work to uncover the mansion's secrets, and - hopefully - find a way to escape. But they soon discover that this is no ordinary home. This place has been built specifically to keep the average person out. Every other room is a complex puzzle that blocks progression until it's been solved.
I found this tidbit particularly interesting, that there is an actual, in-game reason for why all of these insane puzzles exist. The mansion was built to be near-impossible to navigate, in order to hide its dark secrets. There is a named character we hear about in notes that was specifically contracted for this purpose.
Obviously, this is a very outlandish idea that was specifically thought of to allow for RE1'S puzzle elements to mesh with the story. But every other plot point in this game is just as outlandish, so why not? I find this to be a really creative solution to a plothole that most similar games don't bother to address.
And, ultimately, all of those outlandish plot points add up to something very good. It's all cheesy, and it's often needlessly complex, but who's to say that doesn't make it even more entertaining? A secret laboratory run by evil scientists, a betrayal within your tight-knit group of comrades, a mysterious zombie outbreak. On paper, it sounds too tropey to be worth your time... but it somehow just WORKS. It's a blast from beginning to end.
I think a big part of this is the unique way RE1 relays its narrative. Instead of being a vehicle for the plot, Jill's cutscenes serve more as a way to break up the gameplay and see the characters interact. They're far from the most exciting moments in cinematic history - most of them just consist of Barry doing her a small favor, then leaving. Alternatively, much of the story is told through the environment and the notes scattered around; you spend much of your playthrough simply immersed in the atmosphere and gameplay. The settings you visit, the enemies you fight, the little details that surround you - THIS is what makes it all worthwhile.
As I've mentioned, there are also a few substories going on in the background, which mostly involve the mansion and its former tenants. These serve to add to the history of the world around you. Possibly the biggest and best example of this is Lisa, whose tragic life makes it quite depressing to fight her.
Lisa is arguably the most developed character in RE1 - but the majority of the cast are all quite charming in their own right. Jill is expressively voice acted, and although she's a bit bland, she's studious and makes for a good protagonist. Barry is easily the most interesting out of the human characters; I find him to be very likeable. And while I didn't see much of Chris on the Jill playthrough, I still found him witty and fun.
In the end, there are many better plots out there, with more intriguing characters, and more engaging cutscenes. But the way RE1 utilizes atmosphere and worldbuilding to tell its story - the way you are totally immersed in it through this method - makes it something very special. It's nothing if not endearing and entertaining.
Overall, 4/5.
Gameplay:
The gameplay is by far the most controversial part of RE1. Many people downright loathe every aspect of it. The fixed camera angles, the tank controls (optional now, fortunately), the limited inventory, the finite amount of saves and ammo - there are so many things that one could argue are too aged for the game to be any fun now. In fact, some people will likely think I'm insane for giving it a 4.5. But I implore you guys to hear me out.
Yes, the combat is clunky. The storage system can be annoying as hell, and the backtracking it causes is a serious pain in the ass. The puzzles are infuriatingly convoluted at times. BUT, many of these things are exactly what cause an overwhelming sense of dread and stress while playing. THAT is what makes RE1 genuinely scary to this day.
You can't mow your way through zombies - instead, you must weigh if using the ammo is worth it. Even then, it's possible that they could just come back stronger, so you must weigh burning their body too. You have to plan the safest travel routes, and try to avoid backtracking to dangerous areas. You must strategically choose what items to bring whenever you reach a storage box; you can't have all of your weapons on you, you can only bring so many healing items, and you have to guess which items you'll need for puzzles soon. All of this is what puts the 'survival' in survival horror. You are not a unstoppable hero, or a total powerhouse. You are vulnerable to the brutish undead, as any human would be.
That is why I believe that, despite its obvious flaws, the gameplay of RE1 mostly adds to the experience. What's scarier than feeling helpless, like you're actually at the mercy of the monster(s) chasing you? Or making split-second decisions about whether to use precious resources or tough something out?
That's not to say it's all roses, of course. The backtracking caused by limited inventory space is time-consuming and irritating. Item boxes are few and far between - meaning you likely will have to make ten minute trips to-and-fro more than once.
The puzzles are ridiculous at times, too. Maybe I'm simply not trained for 90s brain busters, but RE1 (and Silent Hill 2) have some of the strangest in history to me. There were multiple times where I would hit a wall, only to find out that I needed to examine something in my inventory to progress - a mechanic I definitely am not in the habit of using often.
That being said, I WAS able to solve the majority of them on my own. And, just as importantly, it was very satisfying to do so. But I do hope that these are dialed in a bit in future entries. I just want them to be more fun to figure out in the moment-to-moment.
I'd be remiss not to briefly mention the tank controls, too. These are totally optional in the 2015 version, so even if I did strongly dislike them, It would feel wrong to count it against the game's score. I made the daring decision to play with them, in the hopes of getting the most 'original' experience possible. I'm sure it's not a surprise to anyone that they are definitely clunky and outdated. There's really no reason to play with them, unless you're like me and simply enjoy the novelty. I did enjoy them, and I found them charming in a way. They fit in with the rest of the game perfectly. You get used to them eventually, anyways.
Overall, 4.5/5.
Worldbuilding:
I love worldbuilding. It's one of my favorite aspects of any fictional medium. It's something I put a lot of weight on.
For me, what merits an exceptional grade in this category is a combination of atmosphere, presentation, and setting history. And while there are a million ways in which RE1 is great, a million different things I could praise, I think it is particularly exceptional in this category.
Its atmosphere alone stands up as one of the best. Your fear while playing is not just because of the protagonist's vulnerability, but the way RE1 hones in on negative emotions through its presentation. You always feel exactly what it wishes you to - fear, sadness, gloom, tension. The environmental details, while making RE1 a wonder to explore, also provide constant reminders of the terrible, dangerous state of the place you're in. Scratch marks, broken glass, cobwebs. The sound design hammers home a sense of dread, too, with the eerie music and unsettling groans of the undead; it tells you that you'll never be safe within this forest. And the fantastic lighting and camera angles allow for a beautiful lense into this dreary world.
The mansion is also built for a perfect sense of progression, prodding both your curiosity and satisfaction. The hallways and rooms wrap in upon themselves perfectly; every corridor feels intentional, and every locked door gates progression in a way that manages to not be irritating. You still have access to plenty of areas before broadening those horizons, after all. And you'll feel great gratification from gaining entry to new ones, as you slowly make traversal easier.
The surrounding settings are just as unique. The forest feels unnaturally still, but those distant howls alert you to the danger that is always there, even when things seem calm. The dormitories are overtaken by dangerous flora and fauna - not something that's very scary on a surface level, but provides such a challenge gameplay-wise that you can't help feeling fearful. The caves are dark and damp, overseen by the monstrous Lisa, feeling smaller and smaller as you try to avoid her.
Of course, a big part of what makes the worldbuilding so fantastic is the history. Notes and environmental details strewn about give insight into what this strange place was like before you ever visited. There are characters who have tragically died and are remembered only by their handwritten letters, many of which were left for loved ones. The mansion is filled with these lives cut short by the manmade virus which now plagues Raccoon City. It gives you a true sense of how treacherous, deadly, and sad this situation is.
All of this adds up to a very intentional experience; nothing is left forgotten about. Each room you enter tells its own story, has its own puzzle, presents its own problem. That's why its worldbuilding is some of the best. You are never forced to look behind the curtain because of obvious flaws, such as empty spaces or nonsensical details. It never gets old to explore, and you are always totally immersed in the world.
Overall, 5/5.
Overall game score: 4.5/5. I've exhausted every possible talking point about RE1, and all to say that it is a damn good game. It's one of the prime examples of a remake + remaster done well, building upon and reworking the original in countless ways to make it a more focused and fun experience.
I hardly come out of writing my reviews excited to revisit a game any time soon, but this one is an exception. I can't wait to see what a Chris playthrough has to offer me.

More than anything, the last couple of months have been about learning to love video games again. As such, I’ve been revisiting some of my old ramblings, particularly that of the obstacle course 2D platformer. While I think the original Donkey Kong Country is a prime example of what I’m looking for, there’s always room for improvement, even if I don’t necessarily know what that improvement would look like. I think I might have finally found what I’ve been looking for though; call me basic or nostalgic, but Rayman Legends might just be the most polished and realized momentum-based crash course 2D platformer I've ever played, with easy to pick up but difficult to master character control potential and some of the most vibrant and engaging obstacle escalation in any platformer to date.
Rayman’s toolkit of a standard attack and jump with an extended hover if jump is held seems pretty simple at first, but there’s plenty to master too. Rayman’s dash attack gives an instant burst of speed, and jumping during the spin allows you to preserve horizontal momentum. Learning to minimize these moments of stagnation with break boosting and chaining well timed spins and jumps with roll-jumping, air-kick cancelling to maintain aerial momentum, and ground-pounds to create hit boxes both above and below you while quickly diving allows for extremely tight platforming, alongside Rayman’s jump control (access to a short hop versus a full jump depending on how quickly jump is tapped) and standard chained attacks. Enemy placement lends well to this need for optimized movement too, since you’ll constantly need to balance throwing out hitboxes to knock out foes/barriers or jumping on enemy heads while finding the right times to maintain speed. The game even handles verticality well, thanks to a simple wall-running mechanic (that doesn’t even require you to build up momentum prior) with quick wall flip jumps as well as standard wall jumping outside of wall runs. Simply put, there is a lot of potential for movement optimization in this game, and it feels absolutely exhilarating pulling it off.
As for the levels themselves, take the design philosophy of the original Donkey Kong Country and turn it up to 11, and you’ve basically got one of the best modern translations of the formula in Rayman Legends while still managing to bring plenty of its own ideas to the table. There’s tons of moving parts and lurking dangers abound in the dreamy levels of the game to force Rayman and pals into action; vines, trampolines, water jets, wind currents, ziplines, swarms of bugs and flaming walls, you name it and they’ve got it. It’s a classic case of slowly introducing new concepts in the form of new movement tech, hazards, and set pieces while slowly interchanging the new with the old and ramping up the danger and tightening the execution until finally, you get to run your victory lap. The difference here between Donkey Kong Country and Rayman Legends is that Rayman Legends extends the obstacle course escalation to an entire world rather than just a single level, allowing the developers to really push their theming and various ideas to their fullest extent while providing more than enough time for players to adapt to the learning curve.
Mark Brown of Game Maker’s Toolkit provides the perfect example of this design philosophy in action, citing the fourth world of the game, 20,000 Lums Under the Sea. Let’s start with the core principle of the world; stealth mechanics in the form of the sentry beams that zap Rayman if he lingers too long in the searchlights. These forced stealth sections are first combined with underwater swimming levels, which I must admit is a such a damn clever combination; what better way to alleviate the painstaking nature of the slower swimming sections and the deliberate and calculated movement of forced stealth sections than to marry the two concepts? That’s just the first level of the world though; the second level is a grounded platforming stage where Rayman has to sneak around sentries with his companion Murphy, using Murphy to press buttons that both create barriers and block sentry searchlights while popping up walls and platforms to create paths forward. Then the third level turns this concept on its head again by starting levels lit-up with electric barriers, and then forcing you to replay the levels backward with the electric barriers replaced with sentry searchlights in stealth mode.
The fourth level, “Infiltration Station,” toys with the ideas of the previously mentioned second level by now replacing the buttons with movable objects; as a result, Rayman must now adapt to Murphy shifting the level by moving cover or even moving the sentries themselves. Then, the fifth level relegates the sentries as the backdrop hazards to a grand ol’ elevator defense, which Rayman must keep track of and avoid while picking off bungee shock gun frogmen straight out of a Mission Impossible movie. Again, it’s important to remember that these levels slowly introduce new level elements aside from the main gimmicks (invincible underwater worms, laser trip detectors, skull-marked naval mines, etc), but ultimately it is the synthesis and variation of the elements (i.e. inserting enemies in sentry-guarded zones, or using the mobile worms and stationary mines as mandatory cover against searchlights) that makes the difficulty so versatile. This all comes together in the sixth level, “There’s Always a Bigger Fish,” where every introduced obstacle in the arsenal is thrown at Rayman as he furiously paddles away from a snapping serpent in a frenzied auto-runner/chase sequence. Finally, after the penultimate level that serves as a boss fight against yet another hostile Frankensteined mechanical beast, you get to reap the rewards in a final musical obstacle course dubbed “Gloo Gloo,” where your platforming and swimming actions in-game are synced to the beats of a whimsical cover of “Woo-Hoo”. It’s such a pleasure mastering these playable music videos and knowing that your survival is the only thing keeping the music at full blast.
As you can probably guess from the musical endnotes of each world, Rayman Legends is absolutely no slouch at atmosphere and presentation. Theming in every world is extremely distinct and yet remains focused to where level elements never really feel out of place or excessively repetitive. You go from navigating these tight, booby trapped castles in Teensies in Trouble to carefully gliding and maneuvering massive beanstalks in Toad Story, to dodging cake eating centipedes and fending off scores of luchadores and mariachi skeletons in Fiesta de los Muertos. Every new world has its own unique focus on gameplay mechanics (swinging axe and ropes courses in Teensies in Trouble, windy, open air plant-infested levels in Toad Story similar to that of the bramble levels in Donkey Kong Country 2, and Murphy quite literally playing with his food to progress past hazards in Fiesta de los Muertos), and the dynamic comic book visuals of the UbiArt framework as well as the extensive orchestral + electronic mixes in the soundtrack really bring it all home. To top it all off, there’s just this joyous and infectious energy embedded in every detail of the game, from the punchy and expressive attacks and sound effects, to the backing “Ooooooh” track that plays every time you stumble upon a secret, to the Teensies themselves cheering and giggling like schoolchildren when you bump into them in the main gallery. I can’t help but grin and chuckle like a madman every time I pick up this game; it’s just dopamine in distilled video game form.
There have been a few complaints here and there that Rayman tends to lean towards the easier side, at least with regards to many of the main story levels. That’s where the invasion and challenge levels come in. The challenge levels are straightforward enough; compete against the world in a daily/weekly generated survival and/or speedrunning contest for glory, and lums/”Awesomeness points” for more cosmetic palette swaps if you want to change up your character model every now and then. More importantly, you’ll get an alert every now and then that goons from previous worlds have come to “invade” the dreams of previous stages, and be invited to partake in a timed invasion stage, where you must rush to the end against a new combination of foes in a different theme. This concept even gets its own twist when after beating the game, Shadow Rayman invasion levels are unlocked, where a dark copy of you follows in close pursuit and both keeps you moving while carefully planning out your route as so you don’t stumble into your duplicate while backtracking. These levels really force you to use every tool at your disposal to optimize your strategy and beat the clock, and it almost becomes that of a puzzle game but with extremely tight execution involved as well.
I love examples, so have another one on me just so I can illustrate how batshit crazy this gets. In the Shadow Rayman invasion variant of “Infiltration Station,” you have to pick off sequential droves of enemies in order to unlock the door to the next room and eventually free your Teensie friends at the end. From the starting position of the second room, you first have to take out the frog goon on the left while then immediately destroying the bones barrier below. Since there’s a Shadow Rayman copy following me, I dash attacked into the goon then immediately wall-jumped and slammed through the barrier, landing on an enemy that spawned directly below me and then bouncing and air kicking the newly spawned enemy to the right on the platform. From there, I hold down the right trigger and jump out to the ring and back on top to the platform previously above me, kicking the buff brawler in the face. Then, I full jump out towards the ring to avoid my shadow and hover for a second so another toad can finish spawning in and land on the ground, allowing me to slam to its side and end its misery. I immediately input a jump upon landing since there’s no enemy to bounce off of this time and air kick the last toad brawler on the platform, land on the platform, and break boost by immediately spin dashing to the left off the platform towards the door once obscured by a vine and make my exit. Here’s a quickly sketched schematic of my “optimized” route that takes about nine seconds when executed well, and if you think this is fast… the world record for the whole four room affair takes less than double the time it took for me to just finish the second room alone. Needless to say, the thrill of improving both my execution and pathing while directly competing against others on the leaderboard is definitely a crucial component that keeps me coming back for more.
If I really had to nitpick, then my only complaint is that some of the Back to Origins content (the forty returning stages from Rayman Origins) feel a bit out of place. While the main platforming stages still feel tightly constructed, with the classic escalation and variation of moving elements and hazards formula for mechanical depth aided by carefully hidden short side corridors for goodies and bonus rooms, there are unfortunately one too many horizontal shoot em up segments (both in the form of full Origins levels and bonus room challenges) thrown into the array that feel like abrupt breaks in the natural flow of things. To be fair, this is at least alleviated by two factors. Firstly, the Back to Origins content is not necessary at all to unlock the main stages of Legends (in fact, you can even just focus on Legends content exclusively and still have enough Teensies to unlock the 8-bit bonus music levels), and are randomly earned from scratching Lucky Tickets that come as their own reward for collecting enough Lums in main stages; thus, I always saw the Origins levels more as bonus content if anything. Secondly, even within the shmup segments themselves, there’s a fair bit of variety thanks to the wrinkles thrown in (namely through the ability to suck certain enemies/obstacles and shoot them back out to deal more damage, as well as the reflective surfaces that let you bounce shots off and levers/switches thrown into stages that present a less “harmful” but just as engaging obstacle to contend with) as well as the expressive theming that the game’s known for to mitigate any staleness. Nevertheless, even if I think this is a minor gripe considering that the final product is definitely more than the sum of its parts, I do acknowledge that the bonus content would have felt even more gratifying if they had cut the number of shmup sections in half and replaced them with the engaging platforming that Rayman Origins & Legends exemplify.
One last disclaimer for the road: a couple of years ago, the servers for Rayman Legends on PC were shut down, effectively closing leaderboards and barring players from accessing any challenge levels on PC copies. If global kudos and constantly generated online challenges are a defining draw for you, then you may want to consider picking up a console copy of Rayman Legends instead, where the servers are still up. That said, PC players can still mod the game offline to create their own challenges, and I have heard that some Rayman community discords have been running custom challenges themselves in spirit of the old system (though I haven’t been able to confirm), so perhaps not all hope is lost.
I suppose they don’t call it Rayman Legends for nothing; even while considering some minor design decisions that could have been improved, the overall game is one of the most cohesive and mechanically deep 2D platformers I’ve experienced to date that never fails to put a smile on my face. This really is one of the most replayable and fundamentally fulfilling platformers that I’ve ever played, and it absolutely deserves to be included in the conversation as one of the greatest 2D platformers of all time. It is a shame that as rich as the series has been (at least, in the two Rayman games I’ve played to date), that Rayman himself has seemingly fallen to the wayside while his creator, Michel Ancel, has been rather busy with the development hell of Beyond Good & Evil 2, until he left the project and Ubisoft altogether two years ago. Ubisoft’s been in a bit of an unsurprising rough patch since, having cancelled three unannounced games and “facing major challenges” in the form of underselling titles, so I’ll just say what’s on everyone’s mind: bring back Rayman, Ubisoft. It’s been eight years since Legends, and the boy deserves so much more. Don’t let these greats go out like this; we may still have the classics, but future generations ought to know that once upon a time, there was once (and perhaps still is) a platforming legend that reached the heights of Mario, Donkey Kong, and so many others while always remaining true to itself.

A bit of context before I start: in the middle of 2022, Pangburn and I had just finished up reviews of Ys: The Oath in Felghana and we were looking for something new to try out on the backlog. Now, as the overambitious planner I tend to be, I suggested that we play Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure, as a Wii game that I had bounced off of a year ago but had wanted to get back to for a while since. He agreed, and we were to get at it and quickly finish this one up because a lot of other impending 2000s era classics were on the docket in the months to come.
Consider this review my comeuppance, because I am directly responsible for Pangburn’s anguish and due to many schedule slips (and existential dread after many conversations before and after that review), I didn’t end up finishing the game until yesterday, playing it in splurts over the course of my holiday break. I always sympathized with his pain, but now, I think I can genuinely empathize with his struggle.
As a preface to discussing the game, we first have to briefly talk about difficulty in video games, particularly difficulty in the point and click adventure game genre. Difficulty in video games can usually be divided into two categories: the knowledge test (i.e. figuring out and knowing what to do) and the execution test (that is, actually performing the actions to progress). While the two categories aren’t mutually exclusive (as there is always some degree of learning on the fly/recognizing context clues and pairing that up with performance), difficulty in plenty of scenarios will tend to lean more towards one category than the other, and that especially tends to ring true in point and clicks; knowledge tests usually reign supreme due to the nature of the genre relying heavily on puzzles, and execution tests boiling down to a few timed environmental interactions or performances in included side minigames.
We can then think of Zack & Wiki as a successor to the classic point and click adventure games of the 1990s, especially those of LucasArts, whose work evolved into the 3D adventure game space with more intricate timing and precision placement puzzles as reflected in titles such as Grim Fandango and its infamous forklift puzzle. I bring up this particular model, because Zack & Wiki is in many ways exemplary of that exact style, for better or for worse. Simply put, Zack & Wiki takes many of the general conventions of the genre, and many of the classic weaknesses too, but its many “innovations” also led to the game becoming much more frustrating than the games it built off of.
There’s a very good video regarding difficulty in point and click adventure games by Yahtzee; while I won’t go into detail regarding all his points, one of his main takeaways is that a certain balance regarding puzzle difficulty has to be reached. You have to create puzzles that are not so simple as to where they can just be solved instantly (simple lock & key puzzles), and not so complicated as to where shaky logic/obscure environmental clues must be relied upon and players are instead incentivized to trial and error their way through the game. Yahtzee highlights the spitting puzzle in Monkey Island 2 as a good example of perfect difficulty, where he mentions that multiple locks (noticing wind direction, thickening your phlegm, and needing a distraction to move the finish line flags) require multiple keys (hearing a conversation regarding the wind as a factor, color mixing drinks, and earlier context clues with blowing your horn). As such, puzzles need to be both intricate and reasonably intuitive to give players that rush of satisfaction.
Zack and Wiki unfortunately tends to fail on both fronts with regards to this. Many of the puzzles are pretty damn simple, to the point where a good chunk of them are quite literally “fit a square peg into a square hole” environmental interactions. It also doesn’t help that many of the tools that you’ll get will be used once or twice and then replaced with another tool that you’ll obtain from solving that scenario; it’s in many ways a stream of classic inventory puzzles (using object A to solve problem B) with one lock and one key at a time. There are exceptions of course, for example needing to occasionally flip held objects to utilize the other side (like for instance, using a spread out umbrella to shield against wind and then using the hook side of the umbrella to snag far away chains) or shaking Wiki to transform animal tools back into animals for those specific interactions, but in general, these exceptions tend to be scant and are very obvious follow-ups when there exist few other approaches as dictated by the environment around you.
However, Zack and Wiki also performs the sin of doing the exact opposite; that is, making puzzles require so many steps from so many different places that the solution cannot be reasonably intuited from context clues, often with somewhat obtuse conclusions. One great example actually came up a couple of days ago when Pangburn and I were talking about the airship level. This is an “infiltrate the enemy base” stage where Zack & Wiki must sneak into Captain Rose’s plane, systematically eliminate or avoid enemy goons, and then escape via Rose’s personal vehicle, with tons of steps involved. One of these steps involves unlocking and then using a turret directly outside the hangar to not only destroy an air vent cover, but also destroy the already open hangar door. Pangburn actually got softlocked because he didn’t destroy the hangar door and some goons later lock the door and block the door controls, and after talking this through, we figured out why; there are no tells given signifying that the elimination of the door is crucial to solving the level. The closest I could think of comes earlier in the level, where after turning off a propeller, some alarm apparently goes of and a goon comes to check on the propeller controls. However, not once does the goon signal to check the hangar door controls from this alarm that they will mess with the controls and block Zack’s exit route, nor do any of the crew throughout the level’s runtime. You can leave the hangar door and air vent cover open (and in fact even leave Rose’s plane on with the engine running) without the goons noticing or taking action until they close the escape routes, at which point it becomes too late. Because this level is quite lengthy and requires so many different actions before the potential soft lock, I can’t fault Pangburn for not destroying the hangar door, and in fact planning so far ahead to secure the getaway gets easily overlooked when so many precise steps are necessary.
That actually leads me to what I think is the second biggest problem with Zack and Wiki: the levels are just too goddamn long. I won’t go too into detail regarding the death and ticketing system, as Pangburn has already described that sufficiently, but needless to say, the takeaway here is that there is a difference between making something difficult, and making something tedious. Performing the incorrect actions (often as part of trial and error, in fact) or running into hazards will result in not just a slight time loss from animations as is common of the genre, but in fact permadeath that requires you to restart the level or use a ticket (which has to be bought with money in the hub, and money grinding in earlier levels is another issue of itself) to respawn. That also doesn’t take into account that softlocking is extremely easy, because crucial environmental objects can be easily fumbled or destroyed and Zack doesn’t signify this softlock with an instant death or failure, but rather just the usual disappointed animation similar to more forgiving failures (such as accidentally inserting the wrong shape into a hole, where he obviously won’t die). However, not all environmental destruction resolves in softlocking either, because sometimes these objects and tools can be replenished… but not always! This inconsistency makes Zack and Wiki’s “checkpointing” system even more frustrating; how are you supposed to know what softlocks and what doesn’t without prior knowledge of events, and thus figure out exactly when or when not to restart?
The level design itself is also an issue with padding out levels, not just the puzzles contained within. Remember when I said that a lot of Zack and Wiki’s difficulty stems from simple inventory puzzles? Zack only has space to carry one item, which means you’re constantly throwing down items on the ground to replace them with something else, and backtracking plenty to recollect old items for follow up interactions. Furthermore, levels tend to be massive, and pathing is not great; players have to keep clicking around the level to specifically guide Zack to not run into obvious level hazards and die, even if this form of interaction is not particularly interesting. Compounding to this problem, levels often change their camera angles gradually as Zack walks around the stage (as opposed to classic point and clicks that lean heavily towards fixed camera angles for each room and immediately snap when absolutely necessary), so you might not even be able to click specifically where you want to go and have to keep clicking on the screen for Zack to keep up. The biggest culprit here is a level dubbed “Icicle of Prosperity,” where Zack has to continually drag up tools (many of which are heavy and slow down his movement speed) from the ground to a giant icicle up top on the same path, over and over. Needless to say, this issue annoys me because it could have just been solved by condensing single levels or allowing Zack to carry more than one item at a time; it’s just not engaging to watch Zack bumble from one part of the stage to the next, especially when failing to do so results in an entire restart of the whole process.
Okay, so if everything inbetween the action is extremely boring, then the action itself as execution tests should save the game right? Wrong. In fact, I would say that the motion control minigames actually contain some of the lowest dips in the game altogether. When the actions work and you can follow the given pose signified by the game (very similar to how WarioWare Smooth Moves expresses its starting states actually), then it’s fine; these are the simple actions like pulling a lever down, shaking a tree, pressing a button, and the usual fare. Conversely, when the motion controls don’t directly convert 1:1 with actions in-game, it is genuinely obnoxious. Again, I find myself agreeing with Pangburn regarding many of the worst culprits, so I’ll just elaborate upon a few of them.
- One level in the volcano section requires you to use a tennis racket to deflect fireballs towards specific targets. There are no context clues or hints given on how to navigate this; you just have to figure out on the fly that the timing of the hits determines if the shot goes left or right (similar to Wii Sports baseball). Pointing the Wiimote in the direction before swinging does nothing. This timing however, apparently has nothing to do with verticality, which becomes important when you have to lob a fireball upwards to hit the treasure chest and I hit multiple fireballs in the correct vicinity but kept undershooting the target before I unceremoniously hit the target while doing the same exact thing.
- The anchor in the final boss fight is extremely stupid. You have to whirl your Wiimote like twirling a lasso, and then flick your Wiimote towards the sensor bar to unleash it when you feel the vibration. Here’s the kicker; these are emulated motion controls (there’s no built-in sensor in the Wiimote) so what is intuited versus what you must actually do is quite different. I learned from GameFAQs that you must instead, gently tilt the Wiimote and hold it in that direction to let go. It’s another classic case of the required action going against intuition and thus feeling like classic 2000s jank instead of a satisfying and tough execution test.
- Bonelich is hidden in a few levels, where he can be woken up to play in some rhythm minigames, shaking the bell in time with the prompts. Again, Zack and Wiki uses tilt sensors (to determine controller positions) over accelerometers, so shaking the bell is really more like slowly tilting the Wiimote towards the screen. Even more frustrating though, is that clearing Bonelich’s optional minigames is required to unlock certain Secret Treasure Maps, and for the life of me, I could never figure out the proper action for a sustained note in the minigame, since shaking vigorously only messed with the tilt sensors.
Thus, I now understand on a deeper level exactly what was so aggravating regarding Zack and Wiki’s motion controls, and it is an absolute shame that one of the supposed selling points of the game (that is, introducing difficulty through minigame execution tests that are supposed to be more intuitive and thus more immersive) is instead one of the most glaring weaknesses of the whole experience. All I’m saying, is that I think this would have gone a whole lot better if the game was released a couple of years later with Wii Motion Plus support so my sword swings and rotating blocks actually came out in-game as reflected by my outside actions, more similarly to that of Wii Sports Resort.
There’s one last particular moment that comes to mind as my least favorite section of the game (yes, even while considering the onslaught of motion control jank combined with exhausting and truly mental puzzling in the last hour of the game). The Frozen Temple world’s level “Keeper of the Ice” is a stage where the treasure chest is already in sight, but there’s a big catch; the level is guarded by a sweeper robot that turns on every 10 seconds to sweep up Zack’s footprints and will prematurely end the level if it collides into Zack at the end of any footprint trail. In other words, this is a forced stealth segment in a point and click adventure game, and is perhaps the worst forced stealth segment that I have ever had to suffer through in any game to date. You can either avoid the robot by hiding on a non-snowy surface (i.e. ice or any covered gazebos) or shaking nearby trees to cover your close footprints. It sounds simple but doesn’t translate well because as mentioned prior, shifting camera angles and questionable pathing make it tougher in practice to get exactly where you need to be within every 10 second interval, and you have to be standing in exactly the correct position in front of the tree (not just anywhere around) to be able to shake it. Couple this with one puzzle where you have to slowly carry a transformed goon totem across the map as well as the fact that halfway through, the sweeper bot will break the ice in the middle of the level and cut off a route, forcing you to take a more circuitous path around the stage, and you have what is perhaps the most drawn-out and absolutely miserable level in the entire game. One misclick or failed pathing interaction here means that you’ll have to spend another attempt slowly inching your way through the snowy garden, ten seconds at a time.
I feel somewhat guilty that I have to be this harsh towards a beloved favorite of many, especially when considering how many interesting ideas were at play. The potential of Zack & Wiki shines through so crystal-clear; the cel-shaded graphics more than hold up, there’s tons of charm in both the main cast and side character interactions, and the difficulty, when presented with cool challenges like the potion puzzle in “Mad Science” or the controllable robots in "Relics of the Past," provides that fun and thrilling rush. Unfortunately, there’s just so much downtime and slogging throughout the whole game with not enough world-building or gripping storytelling to keep me constantly engaged during its weaker moments. Needless to say, I can’t see myself returning to the game to tackle optional end-game content or recommending this to anyone outside of those looking for a prime example of why vanilla Wii motion controls can go too far. Capcom went on record in 2008 as rather doubtful that a sequel would be announced in the near future, and as much as I hate to be pessimistic, that sadly may be for the best.

Super Mario 3D Land is the best Super Mario game that Nintendo could made for the Nintendo 3DS. The game is perfect in what they wanted to do.
It's a super classic 3D Super Mario game. It's really fun to control Mario on those stages. I also have to say this: SUper Mario 3D Land is even better than the sequel Super Mario 3D World for the Nintendo Wii U.
Super Mario 3D Land also has the best 3D effect of the Nintendo 3DS. It's incredible how they made the game thinking the best way to use it.
If you have good memories with Mario franchise, I can say Super Mario 3D Land is a must have for you. I know it's really hard to find 3DS games because Nintendo shuted down the digital store, but if you have the game you have to play it.

New Pokemon Snap was probably one of the most wanted sequels by the Nintendo fans and I was one of them. I played Pokemon Snap on my Nintendo 64 when I was A child and always wanted to live that experience again.
After saying that, I have to say it was good to live the experience of New Pokemon Snap but it wasn't I expected for almost all my life.
There's nothing bad with New Pokemon Snap to be honest but I think this gameplay is not so fun as it was in the past. It's a simple game that you have to take photos of Pokemon in different stages and trying to interect with them.
I always thought they lost a great oportunity to do a sequel on Wii U with the motion control of the gamepad. That could make this game a lot of fun and bring some new mechanics of gameplay for the franchise.
One thing that I have to say: New Pokemon Snap is the most beautiful Pokemon ever made.
To finish my review I can say that it's a good game to revive a moment of your life if you played the original game when you was I child. I don't know if you'll like it if you never played the one realesed the one on the Nintendo 64.
After saying all that I have to say: Nintendo shouldn't ask U$ 60 for this game.

Portal is a classic game that changed the industry forever. I played Portal 2 years ago but the original game was in my backlog since its release. A few weeks ago, I turned on my PS3 after so many years and finally gave it a chance.
When you play this game on the PS3 you see how old it is. The loading screens take forever to finish and the gameplay looks kind of old. Even with all that, you can have a lot of fun and the puzzles are still very good.
Portal 2 improved everything designed in this one but this doesn't make Portal bad.
The game is really short but it's incredible how the story and the gameplay are really good.
If you have the chance to play Portal, play Portal. It's a short game that you'll have a lot of fun and see how the industry used a lot of things designed for it.

Fantastic point and click detective game where you’re left to try and solve various murders, freely gathering evidence through 12 cases and deducing how they connect together to form a compelling overarching mystery
Each case doesn’t take a ton of time on their own, but they were clever in how they gradually ramp up in complexity without feeling too unfair or obtuse to figure out, and it was really satisfying when I reached the end and everything clicked together. Easy favorite

I’m sorry, Spiritfarer. I never really gave you enough of a fighting chance, and you came back right when I needed you again. Consider this review my apology.
After playing through That Dragon, Cancer this summer, I realized that I wasn’t being fair to this genre of “games for impact.” We don’t all play games for the same reason. Sure, plenty of games market themselves as straight entertainment, played for pleasure and excitement. But there are games that aim to not necessarily be fun, but be compelling. Games that seek to provoke a wide range of emotions and questions rather than just provide means to an end.
Spiritfarer was one such title that I admit I originally approached with the wrong mindset. It did not do me any favors to rush through in order to complete the game on my limited PC Game Pass, or to try and move onto the next title on my growing backlog, because this is a game both about taking your time while making the most of every moment possible. I also found myself stymied by the supposedly “shallow” gameplay loop while also complaining about its excessive runtime. That’s why upon my second playthrough of Spiritfarer, finally buying my own copy on Steam, I found myself constantly surprised and overwhelmed that all of these preconceptions turned out to be wrong. It all starts by properly contextualizing Spiritfarer’s appeal and purpose.
Just like That Dragon, Cancer, Spiritfarer grapples with the omnipresence of death differently. Death may be a game mechanic, but it is not a punishment; rather, it is the final destination. Heavily inspired by Spirited Away’s hotel for spirits, Spiritfarer tackles one important question; what if we didn’t fear death as much? As part of the Death Positivity movement, the game encourages its players to think of death as more than just a mechanism or taboo subject, and to have healthy and open conversations as to speak more freely regarding all the consequences and feelings surrounding it. To better handle its subject matter, Thunder Lotus focuses the gameplay loop on preparing you to care for souls at the end of their lives as well as the various processes associated with the cycle of grief.
As the newly dubbed Spiritfarer, the player character as Stella must find lone spirits scattered across the vast seas, and handle their final requests. These requests can range from a variety of fetch quests, to constructing little homes and decorations for them, to feeding them their favorite meals and handling their last regrets and affairs with other characters. As a backbone for this request structure, Stella must construct other various facilities and travel to other locales to gather resources and both upgrade the ship and gain new abilities to access new events. Once these last requests have been fulfilled, the spirit will ask to be taken away to the Everdoor, and pass on to the afterlife.
One particular complaint kept popping up in the back of my mind as I kept fulfilling my duties. A year ago, a close friend and I had a discussion regarding Spiritfarer, where he complained that Spiritfarer didn’t feel cozy at all. If anything, he felt pressured and constantly anxious that there was always something more to do. There were new crops to tend to, or more ore to smelt, or more fish to find and more dishes to cook, and so on so forth. I certainly related to his dilemma; in fact, during quiescent nights where I had the option to go to sleep to start a new day, I often found myself cleaning up my remaining tasks and frantically checking my stockpiles to see if anything else had to be worked on. I simply could not afford to lose time; if daytime was the only acceptable time to travel in order to explore new islands, then even my nighttime had to be optimized to fulfill my obligations and stay “on schedule.”
It was then that I realized, that there was a method to Spiritfarer’s madness. This constant state of scrambling and juggling tasks to keep everyone happy that had made me feel so uncomfortable… was the same exact state taken on by those in palliative care. Moreover, it was the same feeling that my family had experienced when taking care of my grandmother and grandfather on my mother’s side during their last years. They were often fickle with exactly what had to be done; sometimes, I didn’t know if they even knew what they really wanted. We often left my grandma’s apartment with this sense of restlessness that kept us up at night, unsure if there was even anything left we could do to ease their final moments. It was this delicate but never-ending push and pull that we had become so accustomed to, that I had almost forgotten the sensation after my grandma left us in March 2020. I can sincerely say that no other video game I have ever played has forced me to reconfront my feelings and memories from back then… and I can’t help but respect Thunder Lotus for the audacity to not only address it, but also impart those feelings so effectively through gameplay as an compelling example of player perspective.
To Spiritfarer’s credit, I later came to understand that this sense of coziness is not lost at all, because there are plenty of surrounding elements that alleviate this heaviness. The art style, as well as the color palette, is a key factor; the graphics are heavily influenced by the Japanese woodblock painter Hiroshi Yoshida, which the lead artist stated as “bringing [her] serenity.” That tranquility and desire to explore the landscape was a key motivation behind the lush and vibrant environments of Spiritfarer, combined with the use of soft pastels and a lack of the color “black;” darkness is instead communicated through softer alternatives such as dark reds, blues, and greys. It’s not without its use of contrast either (see: Bruce and Mickey’s “McMansion” of clashing red and white), which both allows the game to express more clearly express character personalities while providing the opportunity to allow for the player to experience “negative feelings” such as sadness in a softer environment. Finally, Spiritfarer’s fluid hand-drawn animation also breathes life into its many characters while promoting mobility through Spiritfarer’s expressive gameplay.
Spiritfarer also shows further care in establishing mood and ambience as to gently tuck players into an emotional experience outside of the art style. Firstly, Max LL’s accompanying soundtrack appropriately imparts moods without the need for excessive flair and gusto. Simple piano, string, and flute melodies provide ambient backdrops in tunes such as At Sea or At Night. More exotic instruments play important parts in tracks such as Furogawa to convey curiosity, or more upbeat pieces such as Hummingberg excite players into romping around the island to soak in the sights. Then, you’ve got your frenetic such as Freeing the Dragon and Pulsar Pursuit to spur the player into action and snag as many timed collectibles as possible to assuage the spirits’ wants and fears. Finally, epics such as Last Voyage convey emotional upwellings through volume swells while establishing a sensation of finality to bring journeys to a close. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a more fitting soundtrack to instill a sense of adventure for Spiritfarer while appropriately illustrating more thoughtful moods along the way.
Secondly, while many post-death games are often filled with hostile and frightening creatures, Spiritfarer instead chooses to surround the player with friendly and welcoming personalities. Of course, there’s the spirits themselves; while some spirits can initially come off as aloof or even acerbic and uncompromising at times, you soon get to learn more about their backstories and interests that allow you to warm up and celebrate with them. Around the vast expanses of Spiritfarer are also many sea creatures and island inhabitants that are sincerely interested in you, with many going out of their way to help you in your role of caring for your friends. There’s also a lot of silly “dumb” jokes and melancholy humor across many of these characters to poke light fun at the world they live in and the situations that Stella finds herself in, all while providing a welcome distraction when juxtaposed with the emotional subject matter of the game itself.
Further adding to this coziness is the lack of a permanent “fail-state” within Spiritfarer. There’s no way to reach a “game-over” screen or enter a state where the player is directly punished for errors. For example, mining requires a specific timing of holding down and releasing the X button, but holding for too long doesn’t lead to negative consequences such as losing resources or health. Rather, you receive a cutely animated sequence where Stella accidentally drops her pickaxe and glances back at what happens, before she picks up the pickaxe again with a smile on her face. It’s like the game is gently encouraging you to try again; sure, you didn’t play optimally and messed up your timing, but it’s okay, for you can always give it another go. Vice versa, you’re also rewarded for playing well due to the ability to save time from optional animations and the potential to gain additional resources (i.e. cutting planks strictly by the lines gets you double the amount of planks you would have gained otherwise), but failure in these cases is not so much a permanent setback, but rather a delayed success.
Similarly, this “feeling” of failure translates to the spirits themselves. If the spirits aren’t fed properly, they will complain to Stella and have lowered mood. Again, this isn’t a permanent setback, because this mood can be risen by feeding them their favorite dishes and hugging them. Of course, there are visible consequences here to playing “well;” happy and ecstatic characters will often aid Stella by playing music to make other characters happier as well, or participate in the ship’s tasks by giving you valuable resources (raw ingredients, ingots, dishes, luxury sellables, etc). Most importantly though, these characters feel alive, both because of their written design/stories (often heavily based off the development team’s friends and families, resulting in a lot of personal investment) and because the gameplay loop of performing their last rites and caring for them creates attachment; you get to learn their histories a bit better based off the stories they tell you as they request specific chores that reflect upon their quirks and personalities.
As a result, I found Spiritfarer’s gameplay loop engaging due to its great emotional investment; not only does it give you just enough time to grow attached to spirits before sending them off, it also emulates aspects of grieving extremely well in a video game setting. For example, as characters finally depart for the Everdoor, all other characters on the ship will gather around the departing rowboat to say their farewells, similar to how friends and family surround loved ones on their deathbeds. Another example of this occurs during scripted resource gathering events scattered across the map; you would typically need to speak to a specific spirit to begin the event, but once that character has departed, Stella must instead start the event from the departed spirit’s door. This connection, as well as the inability to remove the deceased spirit’s former house (now analogous to that of a tombstone), constantly reminds the player of the experiences and memories of those who have moved on, and emulates the process of revisiting final resting places or old ramblings of deceased loved ones. Thus, Spiritfarer thoughtfully embeds traces of former spirits to instill both metaphorical meaning and surface meaning that their lives will forever remain with you. By constantly exposing the player to so many different spirits and their transitory stays, Thunder Lotus is able to properly guide players to express these healthy mechanisms that come with loss.
As a related aside, Spiritfarer, similarly to That Dragon, Cancer, utilizes the medium’s ability to capture specific instances to allow players to properly adjust for events in-game. We’ve already talked about the game’s leniency with regards to its fail-states, since every “negative” externality can be quickly superseded with the proper actions; as a result, there are no lasting consequences to playing at your own pace and no real “wrong” choices to be made. However, Spiritfarer also creates opportunities to let the player soak in emotionally-heavy moments without the passage of time interfering, such as the Everdoor scenes. Here, the player can reflect in this frozen moment in ludic space and take all the time they need to absorb the reality of the situation. But as with That Dragon, Cancer, the player must eventually progress and move on, just like real life.
My prior emphasis upon this emotional attachment to characters through the busying gameplay loop might imply that the game itself is mechanically lacking… but I honestly don’t believe that's true. Spiritfarer controls extremely well, especially for a game where the emphasis isn’t necessarily precision platforming. By the end of the game, you’ve got expanded abilities to double jump, mid-air dash, float, and cling to ziplines to quickly zoom up and down and build up momentum. These movement options are further aided by the everchanging landscape of the ship itself, which naturally evolves over time, both from a want to create more aesthetically pleasing or simple to navigate structures, and from a need to construct additional facilities for resource gathering/housing spirits. Furthermore, this structure serves an important purpose, not just as a playground where Stella can bounce and run around, but also as the main stage where resource gather events at sea take place, and Stella must quickly move around the ship to snatch as many collectibles as possible before time runs out. Finally, traversing the expanding ship can be aided by constructing optional devices such as bouncy umbrellas or air-draft machines, should raw jumping on top of houses not suffice enough for clean movement. As such, these movement mechanics and design opportunities provide welcome outlets for creative expression and player agency, which contrasts nicely with the lack of control that often comes attached to games about death.
Finally, there’s a real sense of progression to be found in Spiritfarer, when compared to other “artistic” and emotional indie titles such as Sea of Solitude. As mentioned prior, the ability to unlock new movement options by visiting shrines help keep the player advancing to the next stage, whether it be a signified by an out-of-reach chest or a traversable element such as an air current that you don’t have the movement tech to exploit. Moreover, these upgrades require obols (which are usually given to the player when new spirits come aboard), just as the ship upgrades that allow you to travel to new areas require Spirit Flowers that are left behind from a spirit’s passing. As a result, the personal investment from meeting and saying good-bye to spirits is matched by the extrinsic investment gained from interacting with the spirits, resulting in a powerful marrying of storytelling and gameplay mechanics. By progressing the story, the player is in turn rewarded with new areas, abilities, and accessories to create further opportunities of discovery and novelty.
That said, there are a few other nitpicks regarding certain aspects of Spiritfarer’s design, such as moments of less focused dialogue writing. Spirits will often run out of things to say, and that might limit interaction on the ships outside of jobs to scant bumps where they tell you they’re hungry, especially when you’re super busy micromanaging other tasks. This honestly doesn’t bother me as much as before (since we as humans will inevitably run out of interesting things to say); however, it is a bit more annoying speaking with non-spirit NPCs and either getting “trapped” in several lines where I had to mash X to move on, or being confronted with terse and meaningless scripts where the NPC would continually parrot some variation of “Hello. Leave me alone now.” This wouldn’t be as problematic if I didn’t feel the need to speak with every generic NPC to try and fulfill the requirement, since the “correct” NPC is not marked.
While I did find the gameplay loop much more palatable upon my second playthrough, I do agree that it’s easy to feel as if there’s a bit of padding near the end of the game as well. By this time, most of the spirits have departed your ship, and it’ll probably be down to Stella and a few remaining hardy spirits to pick up the pieces. It can definitely feel a bit lonely and out of place having to finish the remainder of Stella’s backstory with little spirit interaction in the last few hours. To its credit, Spiritfarer remedies this somewhat by finally allowing you to travel at night to quickly sweep up the story if you so desire, and with most bus stations unlocked and most speed upgrades having been fulfilled at this point, it’s not too arduous of a task. I do wish that there was a way to speed up time in Spiritfarer’s endgame though, since the backstory can only really be accomplished at night. As mentioned prior, you can fall asleep to skip nighttime and proceed with daytime events, so it is a little ironic that Spiritfarer’s endgame suffers from the exact opposite problem of running out of things to do in the day and lacking an analogous mechanism to get right back to the story at night.
I’m willing to look past these minor issues and more though, because ultimately those shortcomings end up making the game feel more human somehow. I tend to be a completionist at heart, wanting to 100% every experience and see everything there is to see. But I had to throw away that mentality and go against all my previous instincts, because Spiritfarer is a game about brevity.
While in the video game space, the developers have provided enough opportunities to artificially extent deadlines when so desired, it is Spiritfarer’s impermanence that makes its experiences so fruitful. I didn’t have enough time to learn every single detail about all the spirits, nor am I sure that the spirits were necessarily prepared to spill their entire life story in a single sitting to someone whom they had just met. Similarly, this experience’s meaning would be greatly diminished if you just let it stretch on to infinity and beyond. You most likely won’t have the time to finish every single task or close every loop… and that’s okay too.
Ultimately, while it can feel off-putting to some that characters can seem inscrutable to some degree (which may urge players to seek additional details on a wiki or in the Spiritfarer Artbook), I found myself content with what I knew. The condensed experiences that I had with these characters more than moved me upon my journey, and in fact put me in a headspace where I constantly found myself translating these experiences to my real life. Atul made me wonder if I really got to know my deceased relatives and friends well enough. Gustav left me contemplative regarding humanity’s eternal struggle with meaning. Stanley left my heart broken that innocence, while powerful, was just as fleeting as life itself. And Alice’s story left me speechless and frightened, because I saw signs of my grandmother within her.
That was, until Christmas night, when my dad received the call that my grandma on my father’s side had suffered a stroke. How bitterly ironic that the exact moment as I finished my second playthrough, my grandmother was left in a coma and I’d be forced to recontextualize my experiences once again. I knew that playing Spiritfarer would prepare me for this… but I wasn’t prepared for it to be this soon.
Had these lessons imparted upon me not meant anything? Sure, Spiritfarer is a game about dying… but it is also a game about living with death. Honor those who have moved on, so that you make the most of every moment with those who are still here. I hadn’t gotten the chance to see my grandma since a family vacation right before the 2020 outbreak, and I was hoping that someday, I’d get the chance to make it up to her. Now, I might not even get that chance. What could I even do at this point? Was my best not good enough anymore? Was my time spent all for naught?
I don’t really know. I spent a couple of days agonizing over my inability, my words feeling empty and my actions feeling directionless. I’m still waiting, because at this point, that’s all I have left.
But I’d like to think that my time wasn’t wasted. I don’t wish to make the same mistakes again… even if it might be too late this time. I think a game that’s willing to be as boldly emotionally vulnerable as Spiritfarer, despite all its potential pacing and mechanical issues, is something that has to be shared and treasured regardless of consequences. We can’t let trivial issues stop us from discussing that which is feared to be discussed, because we don’t have all the time in the world to pretend that everything’s okay. We wouldn’t improve if we never erred, and even if some missteps can’t be taken back… at least we can try to stop others from following our paths by connecting and sharing stories, right?
I can’t deny that Spiritfarer might not have hit me as hard the second time had these unfortunate events not occurred almost immediately after finishing. But I also can’t deny that Spiritfarer’s narrative power is the reason why I will always associate this game with everything that’s happened, nor can I think of any game that would have better prepared me for this moment and left such an impact upon me than Spiritfarer. Regardless of any gripes I may have had, this game is now a part of me, and I’m honestly not sure if I would change anything that I had experienced, lest I somehow forget about everything I strove to become moving forward.
So, let me leave you with these final thoughts of what I learned from Spiritfarer.
Grief is not a wave; it is an ocean. Every time you glance at it from a distance, you think you’ll be ready, but then it hits you, and you’re still not ready. As it washes over you, you start to wonder what it’s like to drown. Just to linger in that space a little longer, and try and lose yourself again in that gap in time where there was, before there wasn’t.
But there is nothing deep about drowning. Ultimately, we must carry on, for just as life has no meaning without death, those who pass on have no meaning without those who remain. Your ship will keep getting rocked by tide after tide, storm after storm, and you still might not be ready by the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or however many waves hit you over and over. Nevertheless, you learn to navigate the waters a little better each time. There’s nothing wrong with getting seasick, but that doesn’t mean you have to drown.
Love is watching someone die. But love is so much more than that too. Love is a balancing act between letting others in and watching them leave. Love is living every day like it’s your last, but realizing it’s okay to forget about life too. Love is learning to accept everything about us: the pleasures, the turmoil, the fallacies, all of it. Love is preparing for the inevitable while savoring the ephemeral.

Love… is letting go.
Sources referenced:
Representation of Death in Independent Videogames: Providing a Space for Meaningful Death Reflection
Spiritfarer And Death Positivity
Corporate Intervention In Video Games
(also please see Fudj's separate review of Spiritfarer on this site, as I find that it effectively communicates many of its strengths and provided motivation to write this up)
Spiritfarer Explained: Letting Go Is Everything
Mindful Games: Spiritfarer
Spiritfarer Documentary: A Game About Dying
Healing Together on Discord: The Spiritfarer Community
Zero Punctuation: Spiritfarer
Spiritfarer's Art Book: Can be found here or purchased as part of Farewell Editions or separately on GOG/Steam.

BACKER

on

again

Huge thanks to Pangburn for helping me revise and hash this out, alongside being a great source to bounce ideas off of. This review went through several drafts and was easily one of the most challenging write-ups I've ever attempted, and none of this would be possible without his invaluable assistance.
Donkey Kong Country is a shining example of how to create depth through simple yet cohesive design principles, refusing to lose momentum thanks to its constant movement. Throughout its several hour run-time, Rare engages the player with organic challenge by creating a deep learning curve through obstacle escalation, resulting in a tight gameplay loop that demands increasing execution and climaxes with sheer satisfaction. A lot of people thoroughly discuss the (rightfully) praised graphics and soundtrack, but in this review, I’d like to shine a light upon the often underappreciated mechanical and level design.
Donkey Kong Country’s controls are simple, with the basic movement consisting of a tight jump and a roll/cartwheel serving as an attack and a quick burst of speed. The depth comes from successfully mixing rolls alongside jumps, for jump-cancelling the roll not only allows you to maintain horizontal momentum but also jump out of the roll in mid-air to span larger gaps. That said, there’s a catch: coming to the end of the roll animation at any time results in your character abruptly stagnating for a solid second or two, leaving you vulnerable to attack while destroying any momentum you had. However, the ability to barrel into consecutive enemies and chain speed boosts makes this risk very much worth the reward. Thus, learning when to chain bounces off of enemy clusters versus quickly somersaulting into them to speed up the Kongs requires not only good recognition, but also tight execution, and mastering this toolkit remains key to developing player growth and adapting to Donkey Kong Country’s scaling level challenges.
Picture each individual level as a mini-marathon, with their own set of intensity swells. Levels often start out simple, with important level features or gimmicks slowly introduced fairly early on. Then, the difficulty begins to ramp up, with the prominent level features taking up a more active role while punishing more heavily for missed inputs or slow reactions. As the level progresses, these elements intertwine with previously introduced dangers from past levels; these new combinations force further adaptation. Finally, the level comes to its denouement and throws the final gauntlet of variations at you, ending with a quick cooldown section (sometimes with rewards) and perhaps one final “gotcha” moment to seal the deal. This learning curve of slowly picking up the pace and reacting on the fly to increasingly demanding variations upon variations of different obstacles makes the victory lap that much sweeter when you finally break through the crash course, ready to proceed to the next lesson.
As part of this design philosophy, Donkey Kong Country emphasizes usage of moving parts to force specific execution tests; these parts include barrel cannons, swinging ropes, tire swings, and even steel kegs thrown against walls that the Kongs can ride. Furthermore, these passive elements are aided by potentially hazardous obstacles that constantly push players forward and hold them accountable, for stagnation or sloppy inputs will result in quick deaths. For example, Temple Tempest is filled with oversized beavers in millstones that chase you down like a boulder in an Indiana Jones film, while Misty Mines is filled with infinite enemy spawners that threaten to overwhelm you with a flurry of snakes and armadillos. These traversable interactables and constant sources of danger are a fundamental component of the obstacle escalation; they limit your available options and create situations where you must account for and effectively utilize all present elements.
To illustrate the previous points, let’s consider Oil Drum Alley, the first level of Krem Kroc Industries. Oil Drum Alley starts with a simple flaming oil drum atop a gap that’s easily avoided. Inquisitive players may also notice the single banana beneath the drum, implying that there’s a secret to be found. Furthermore, these players can unearth a TNT barrel nearby by recognizing the tells of a dangling rope over a buried object. It then follows that this TNT barrel has some association with the oil drum, and in fact, you’re encouraged to throw the barrel to destroy the oil drum, exposing the secret area below. As such, this single condensed opening segment in Oil Drum Alley both introduces you to the main hazard of the level while providing a hint on how to deal with it.
As you move further through the level, the level begins to test you more and more. First, it starts throwing in enemies between the flaming oil drums such as these leaping Kritters to force you to react to disposing or avoiding these foes. Then, you’re introduced to the first twist of the level after the Continue Barrel: the oil drums can flare on and off. This becomes important because you’re soon forced to use the oil drums as platforms to progress; meanwhile, you also have to now contend with these Lanky Kongs chucking barrels at you. Finally, you reach the climax of the level: platforming on oil drums set on a cycle of two quick burns and an extended burn, over thin air with tire platforms inbetween. As you clear this last segment, you’re met with one final “twist” and reward: the collectible letter “G,” should you choose to unearth it by jumping from the last oil drum.
Admittingly, it would be quite difficult to fit in thirty levels of varied platforming without some degree of repeating elements or compromising in design depth. However, Rare tackles this challenge in two ways. Firstly, Rare is extremely thoughtful at adding subtle wrinkles between similar levels. For example, Forest Frenzy requires players to cling to vertical ropes as an aid to cross vast expanses of abyss while carefully slinking up and down to dodge aerial enemies. However, Slipslide Ride, while also heavily utilizing ropes, plays with this idea by transforming the ropes into the main obstacle. Now, ropes automatically slide the player up or down, and as a result, players must often fight back against the natural flow, jumping to and from various slippery ropes to avoid both falling to their doom and getting spiked at the ceiling. In a similar fashion, Trick Track Trek first introduces the concept of the singular moving platform odyssey, daring the player to survive waves of goons that drop onto the platform from the rafters like a classic elevator defense stage. Conversely, Tanked Up Trouble turns this concept on its head by forcing the player to constantly travel beyond the moving platform, scouring nearby ledges while dodging Zingers to collect fuel cans and keep the platform running, lest it fall out of the sky after exhausting its gas.
Secondly, Rare understands how to cleverly disguise its use of similar elements through theme and interchanging other level assets. A great example here can be found between the second level Ropey Rampage and the Gorilla Glacier stage Ice Age Alley; while both stages heavily rely upon timing jumps between cliffs and swinging ropes, Ice Age Alley innovates upon this by utilizing slippery ice surfaces to punish complacent players while also giving players an opportunity to outright skip the rope swinging if they stumble upon Espresso the Ostrich to flutter over the large gaps. The dynamic set design also plays a huge part in differentiation: weather elements such as rain and snow as well as the changing night/day cycles while progressing through outdoor jungle levels further help sell the varied exotic environments of Kong Island’s wilderness. As such, it’s through these subtle design decisions that each individual level can begin to stand out on its own.
Rare further stratifies its levels by translating these ideas to two different separate settings. The first example comes in the form of two minecart levels. Instead of trekking on the ground, you’re now controlling a constantly moving vehicle in an auto-scroller. At their core, these levels are still classic 2D platforming, just now taking place on rails that require the Kongs to quickly react to hazards in order to precisely time jumps over gaps in the rails as well as various flying foes and overturned minecarts. The second type of variation occurs in the underwater levels, where the players must tap A to doggy paddle (an analog for underwater jumping) while quickly reacting to threats such as pearl spitting clams and whirling Croctopi. Adapting to these levels requires a fundamental understanding that “gravity” and jump limits do not apply in the same manner, and in fact, holding down on the D-pad to quickly descend is just as important as carefully tapping A to maintain your vertical position.
As a final strategy for creating depth within levels, Rare made sure to insert plenty of hidden secrets and surprises as part of the core exploration loop. Scattered around the various levels are tons of bonus areas, often indicated by stray bananas or seemingly out-of-place enemies. They’re usually not too far off the beaten path, as most of these secrets are just a well timed roll-jump or enemy bounce away, or hidden in a nearby breakable wall. These rewards don’t exclusively have to be bonus areas; well-timed execution or careful sleuthing can also result in collecting goodies in the form of animal tokens (for bonus stages to gain even more lives), KONG letters, banana bunches, and extra lives balloons. Even more rarely, this can result in finding shortcuts such as special Warp Barrels to the end of the stage or sequences of automated Barrel Cannons that let you skip difficult cannon timing sections. Having said that, while Rare was able to lay down solid framework for secret discovery, they would greatly improve upon rewards (beyond extra lives and fulfillment) in future iterations.
Despite all my praise, Donkey Kong Country is not perfect; there are aspects that the game fails to imbue with the depth of its standard platforming, such as its boss fights. All of these fights follow the same pattern of attack, dodging while the boss is invincible, attacking again, and repeating (often with a lot of waiting in-between attacks) until the boss is finished. Moreover, two of the bosses (Really Gnawty and Master Necty Snr) are just juiced-up versions of previous bosses (Very Gnawty and Master Necty, respectively) with similar attack patterns. The third boss, Queen B., can be easily dealt with by having Diddy hold the barrel in front of him and waiting for the boss to run into the barrel, and the fifth boss, Dumb Drum, is just a minion rush with plenty of waiting between minion waves. Even the final boss, King K Rool, features plenty of standing around while players wait to dodge the next line of cannonballs. It is a shame that for such an engaging and fine-tuned game, Donkey Kong Country’s bosses unfortunately feel rather un-interactive and one-dimensional.
Regardless, Donkey Kong Country is the epitome of successfully rebooting a beloved franchise and establishing a tough yet fair and fulfilling platforming game loop thanks to its thoughtful obstacle escalation providing an approachable and deep mechanical challenge. While the intimidating learning curve and short run-time may turn off some players, the varied and engaging level designs, distinctive visuals, immersive soundtrack, and high skill ceiling make Donkey Kong Country not just an icon of its era, but also a beloved classic worth revisiting time and time again.

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