After years of drift towards third-person action, survival horror finally returns to its roots: dunking your entire arm into every single trashcan you can find and showing disobedient vending machines and lockers the righteous fury of your boot heel.

Thank God the indie market is so robust these days, because the increasing homogenization of the modern big budget game and shrinking genre space therein means you wouldn't get proper survival horror otherwise. Crow Country and others like Signalis have been filling that void, but despite clearly playing to the charm of PlayStation era horror with its visuals - especially with its character models, which look as though they've been unearthed from an old Net Yaroze kit - Crow Country is no tired pastiche. It's safe rooms, puzzles, and resource management might harken to a design ethos that was at one point more commonplace, but these elements feel authentic and borne from a place of appreciation and understanding.

Nowhere is this more strongly felt than in the park's layout and the way in which the player navigates it. The amusement park theme allows for neatly defined areas with their own theming and unique attractions, with hidden passages, back rooms, cast tunnels, and a subterranean network serving as the connective tissue between each "land" in a way that feels appropriate for the setting while serving to make the park feel highly interconnected. Crow Country is great at providing a sense of space while conveying where the player should go and what to do next. I never felt lost or completely stumped by a puzzle and was consistently engaged and encouraged to revisit old locations to explore - the part of my brain that starts processing how I want to route my way through a game activated pretty early, and as far as I'm concerned, that's a sign that a survival horror game is living up to the promise of its genre.

The setting is also small. Crow Country is less Disneyland, more Santa's Village, so one way developer SFB Games succeeds in making repeated loops through the park threatening is by gradually introducing more enemies and traps to familiar locations. As the time of day progresses, rain and darkness further obscure the player's vision, and boobytrapped pick-ups begin to litter the map to prey on the sense of trust they've developed with their environment. I sprinted my way through the opening two hours, juked most enemies and picked up any crap I saw laying on the ground. By hour five, I was walking everywhere, stopping frequently, side-eyeing boxes of ammo, and finding that I actually had to conserve what I had due to the increased expectation that I shoot some damn "guests."

I also appreciate Crow Country for telling a complete and coherent story, something I think a lot of horror games have pushed away from. I think the Five Nights series has poisoned the genre and led a lot of other indie horror creators to believe a complex and intentionally vague narrative is the best way to ensure franchise longevity. Keep posing questions, provide no answers. I get it, sometimes it's best to let the audience fill in gaps, you don't want over-explain horror, but in the hands of a weak writer, the "unknown" can just be a euphemism for "nothing."

That's not to say Crow Country fails to raise any questions of its own, rather that in true PSX survival horror fashion, you're given all the clues you need to form the big picture through memos, context, and dialog. How well you do that is entirely dependent on how much you're paying attention, and whether you view Crow Country as being so cliched that its horror can be explained by way of Resident Evil and Silent Hill. I was extremely satisfied by the ending, which leaves just enough unanswered that you'll still have something to think of without feeling like you'll need to consult a YouTube series or read like, seven fucking books and play a dozen more games. An indie horror game with a conclusion that is both cogent and earned, thank christ.

So make the most of your Memorial Day weekend and bring the whole family down to Crow Country. Come ride our newest attraction: The Seven Seas, and discover new types of bacteria. Remember, vets and children under 6 get in free!

Rapidly hit the point where the thought of booting up Marvel's Midnight Suns felt like punching in to work, and that's a damn shame considering how much of an X-Com mark I am. I signed up for tactical card-based RPG gameplay and base management, not a social sim with uncarbonated, room temp Joss Wheadon writing.

Every character here is reduced to one or two notable elements that are constantly harped on. Tony Stark, played by Josh Keaton under explicit instructions to do his best Robert Downey Jr. impression, is constantly making cracks about having to operate out of a scary magical castle. Dr. Strange's magical prowess is constantly under scrutiny, a dotard in a room of quippy millennials - "Dr. Spooky," they call him. Sister Grimm rearranged one of the clubs' acronyms so it spelled out "EMO KIDS" because she's so clever and quirky. Peter Parker LOVES pizza, can SOMEBODY please get Peter Parker a slice of pie!? No deep dish, it's gotta be New Yawk style, wooo, love da big apple!

Another way to put it would be if the beach scene in Persona 5 kicked off a running gag where characters had to constantly bring up Yusuke buying lobsters and equate some part of every conversation involving Yusuke to lobsters for the rest of the game. Just... close your eyes and imagine that. Lean back, get comfortable, absorb yourself in how "good" that would be. Congratulations, I just saved you $20.

I remembered Deadpool was in this game and that was the point I decided I needed to get out. It's not that it's overly snarky or self-depreciating in the same obnoxious, overbearing way the MCU is, Midnight Suns is to its credit more confident in its setting, but it's just so lame. Unfortunately, socializing with your team is a major component of the game - so much so that it's disproportionate to the actual tactical RPG elements - and unless you're willing to mash through all the tiresome character dialog to get to the conversation options that let you scream "do you ever shut up" and tank your friendship rating, you'll just have to put up with it.

Every day you have to run around this castle talking to heroes to raise their bonds, break down materials, craft new cards, fuse duplicates together, train with heroes to get daily stat buffs, send heroes you aren't using on away missions... Navigation around the castle grounds feels cumbersome, and you have so many tasks to do before you're ready to head out that combat starts to feel secondary against the lethargic pace of base management.

The tactical card-combat? It's fine. There's not really a whole lot I have to say about it. The early missions are decently challenging, and each character comes with their own attributes and pool of cards that helps give them defined utility in battle, like Sister Grimm, who is essentially your defacto buff/debuffer in the early game. Combat encounters still feel somewhat samey, but I was only about five hours in when I bailed, I'd have to imagine they get more diverse over time.

The most I got out of Midnight Sun was when I went on a nighttime walk with Blade and he mentioned not being able to see something, to which the protagonist quipped "that's because you wear your sunglasses at night."

"Hey, it's a fashion choice."

Blade was not wearing his sunglasses. I gifted him a skull I found on the ground. He seemed to like it.

2017

Well, mathematically speaking, it's just as good as McDonald's Treasure Land Adventure.

I didn't give Prey a fair shot back when it released. 2017 feels much further away than it actually is, so I can't explain exactly what had me so distracted that I couldn't invest myself in "the best immersive sim of all time," but those opening few hours didn't hold me. I found myself meandering around and bounced off right around the point where you do your first spacewalk.

But here's the thing, if you're friends with Larry Davis, you can't just be like "oh I didn't enjoy Prey." That doesn't fly. You'll start getting texts while you're out that are just pictures taken from inside your apartment, some of which show you sleeping. He lives halfway across the country, how did he get in there? When was he there? The only way to stop the threats is to acquiesce to his demands. Play Prey or else. I always negotiate with terrorists, I'm a huge coward.

And I'm glad I did, because Larry's right, this is (probably) the best immersive sim ever made. I do, however, have to dock points for not having any Art Bell, something Human Head's Prey has over Arkane's. I'm aware that these games are not related at all outside of a very ill-advised, corporate decision to cash in on Prey's red hot brand name, but the least they could've done is throw in a few Midnight in the Deserts as audio logs. Not a problem, I just played a few in the background while making my way through the wreckage of Talos 1, bashing Typhons with a gnarly looking wrench while listening to Art's guest drone on about collecting and selling Big Foot scat.

Art: When I was in high school I ate erasers. No erasers on my pencils. I guess you could call that a strange addiction. When I went to erase something, I'd just scratch through the paper. Mmm... Erasers. That flavor has faded as an adult.

Ah, the true Prey experience.

That omission aside, Prey checks all the right boxes for me. Talos 1 is a great setting populated by interesting characters and engaging side quests that command your attention from the mission at hand not because they supply you with a list of things to do, but because Arkane has crafted a world so interesting and so fun to occupy that you want to delve into every nook and cranny. I see a locked door and I find myself compelled to know what's inside, even though the last three rooms I busted into had like, a corpse with a single discarded lemon peel in their pocket. Why did they have that? Every body tells a story...

Some of those side quests are going to stick with me for a while, which is both a sign of solid character writing and good mission structure. The fake chef booby-trapping fabrication machines and entry ways after you let him go adds a fun twist to revisiting old locations and makes your revenge that much sweeter when you finally catch up to him, and it's hard to imagine what shape the end game would take if you ejected Professor Igwe from his derelict storage container and skipped his multi-part quest. Which, you know, I initially did because I wasn't patient enough to hear him out. It's fine, I had an autosave, Igwe is totally okay!

That's just the way I play these games, with a dozen backup saves so I can test the boundaries of every moral crisis my character finds themselves in. I'm the kind of dude who will release a Typhon halfway into an inmate's cell just to see what kind of reaction I can get while turning over the long-term consequences of pushing the big red button. Not enough mirror neurons in my head, that's my problem.

Early in the game, you're presented with a personality test, an ink blot, and several variations of the Trolley Problem. An excellent way to establish what Prey hopes to accomplish with the player long-term, as so much of the game is affected by the choices you make both on a macro and micro level. The ending you get is clearly delineated between one of two set paths, but how those play out on a more precise level is affected by the small choices you made along the way. Take that chef, for example. You did get your revenge, but what of his other victims? Did you help them? Did you even try to find them? And what of your brother, Alex? So much of what happens aboard Talos 1 is his fault, but does your love for him win out in the end? Can you condemn him to his fate, or will you spend 30 minutes trying to wrangle his limp body in zero-gravity because the game won't trip one of the god damn objectives, which are clearly bugged-- oh wait, shit... I put him in a grav lift and it snapped his neck. Problem solved.

One area where I deviated from my typical immersive sim habits was combat. I often build my characters around stealth and avoid direct confrontation, but the Typhon abilities you're given work so well in concert with your weapons that turning Morgan into a violent powerhouse felt much more satisfying. There are also a few "survival" modifiers you can toggle at the start of the game, and I went with allowing injuries and suit damage, but not weapon degradation, because weapon degradation always sucks and is not as fun as getting concussed and needing to take "brained pills."

These modifiers add an extra layer of tension to resource management, something you'll be doing a lot of as you lug around literal garbage in the hopes that you might be able to squeeze a few extra shotgun shells out of whatever hard drives and bananas you have on your person. Fabricators are far between in the early parts of the game, often requiring you to loop back to your office for resupplies, which is a smart way of teaching the player the ins-and-outs of the game's resource economy while drilling in how Talos 1 is interconnected.

Is Prey the best immersive sim ever? Look, it takes a very boring man to admit when he's wrong, but it may very well be. Everything from the setting and story, to combat and the larger ways in which the game questions the player's morality is fantastic. My only complaint outside of some technical issues like the aforementioned problem with tripping objectives and a few crashes/freezes on the Xbox version is that there's no Art Bell. A whole .5 off the top of the score, I'm afraid. What's that? Art Bell was dead at the time? Nonsense. If Arkane only opened up a time-traveler's line, they could've booked him. Not an excuse.

Man, I'm in a real rough spot. Family members are getting older and sicker, I'm overworked, not getting enough sleep... I need a real pick-me-up, something that's easy to play and has a lot of charm. Help me, Hello Kitty!

Gets cracked in the nose by a disc travelling at 95MPH, completely caving in my facial bones.

hello kitty ,why. ..........?

Like Tetris Battle Gaiden and Windjammers, Sanrio World Smash Ball! is a game I was first exposed to through Giant Bomb, where it ended up in their rotation of competitive multiplayer games on more than one occasion. And I can see why. Even sticking to the single-player mode, Smash Ball's head-to-head Breakout-inspired gameplay is addictive, and in its later stages, weirdly demanding.

You have precisely two moves: hit disc and hit disc harder, and while the early game is such a breeze it can be played on autopilot, the later stages will see you smacking that disc around an inch from your opponent's faces - which the stage itself is designed to resemble, as if Keroppi's smug visage was there to mock you - all in a frantic bid to keep it from your side of the court, which has progressively been designed to put you at a disadvantage. This is still a kid's game at its core, so the difficulty never excels to the point of brutality, but there's a curve here that keeps Smash Ball surprisingly engaging.

I hope one day I can find someone willing to sit down and actually play Sanrio World Smash Ball! with me, I think that'd be cool, I wish I had friends like Hello Kit-

Gets hit in the mouth by a charged shot that ricochets off of and back into my teeth several times

uuugh i thinki n eed to go to the hompsital

Woke up this morning and decided to play Darkstalkers really fuckin' hard. Cheap piece of crap, can't even quarter-circle!

I played through about 7 character's stories, though I couldn't tell you what actually happens in any of them since I'm playing off a burned Japanese copy. The ending cutscenes are all very cute, though. I'd let Q-bee move in anytime she wants, and she bring her whole carnivorous family with her. Some of the best character designs in the genre, if you ask me. I'm a BB Hood main only because I can't get enough of her beatboxing.

Like with most fighting games, I'm neither smart nor seasoned enough to really dig into the technical aspects. This plays good, the animations are great, and there's some really solid hit feedback, so I had a fantastic time with it. Just a shame someone decided to design the Sega Saturn D-pad such that it connects to a thin piece of brittle plastic fed through the mold of the face plate. I think BB Hood should beatbox over their graves (BB Hood is not real so this statement is not legally actionable, according to my lawyer, Larry Davis.)

This review coming to you from inside the fucking wall of Blue Mountain Zone, which I clipped through several days ago. Please send help! There's something in here with me!!

If there's two things I love in this world, it's kart racers and complaining about Sonic the Hedgehog. You might view that as a problem, but I don't have a friend group that tells me things like "George, you're loved, you don't need to play Dr. Robotnik's Ring Racers." Nope, it's just me and my brain, so with the help of my instructor, Jim Beam, I finally buckled down and spent an hour getting my class Robotnik operating license in Ring Racers' infamously long tutorial.

While the experience of jumping into Ring Racers has been streamlined after the game's first major patch, I would still encourage anyone who wants to pick it up to go through each lesson in the tutorial. Ring Racers is the most technical kart racer I've played in my life, and that might strike you as being a bit funny considering it's essentially Sonic Kart, but keep in mind this was made by Sonic fans, and those people are psychopaths. You'll want to know the ins and outs of your vehicle and what it's capable of before hitting up the Grand Prix, and though I've seen a number of people complain about it, I see the wisdom of blocking off the online mode until you clear the first cup. I can't imagine what it would look like if players skipped the tutorial and jumped headfirst into multiplayer, but I'm gonna guess it'd be a disaster for everyone involved.

I'm confident in that considering half of the single player experience could also be characterized as "a disaster." Managing ring consumption, learning where sneakers spawn to break shortcut barriers, understanding how to maximize your 3rd-tier drift burst, anticipating when you should "hold" your cart rather than drift, figuring out where and when to use your spindash... it's a lot to manage even without all the stage hazards and player-laid traps that are out to straight up kill you. Pico Park is my god damn storming of Normandy, I've seen people lose limbs on the straightaway, and good men stretched to the width of an atom after colliding directly with a Drop Target that bounced them back into the path of a Gardentop careening around the corner at maximum velocity.

Even the pre-race is a nightmare. You don't just line up all nice and neat like in Super Mario Kart, patiently waiting for the green light. You can roam freely so long as you don't cross the starting line, which means you can also bump into other players and force them over the line to penalize them. I said Pico Park was a nightmare, but I didn't even survive the first three seconds of Carnival Night Zone, because everyone kept bumping me into hazards in the pre-race, and when I was sucked into the magnetized tunnel that serves as the track's opening straight, I was flung directly into several hazards that caused my kart to explode. I died and I barely made a single input.

For the last week you could find me hunched over my laptop, drenched with sweat because it's 80 degrees here at night and my computer is overheating, gripping my controller and hissing "fuck you, FUCK YOU," and you might assume I'm not having a good time... but I am. Despite how chaotic and complex and downright vicious this game can be, I'm into it.

Maybe I'm just in the market for the kind of depth and sadism Ring Racers offers, or maybe I've played so many kart racers that the problem I'm having is that they don't have enough esoteric bullshit in them. Mastering Ring Racers' mechanics is satisfying, but understanding how they play off one another achieves an even greater high... I've graduated to a stronger drug. Naturally, courses are constructed around these systems in a way that's both mindful of low- and high-level play, and the loop of replaying tracks and developing better strategies to maximize your ring consumption and attain better clear times feels good, with few exceptions (Balloon Park and Blue Mountain can eat me.)

I really like the visual design of the game, too. The stylized menus, expressive character art, and detailed tracks all lend a high level of production to the game that's genuinely impressive for a fan game born out of a fan game born out of a fan game using the Doom engine. It can be difficult to parse the action sometimes, especially in levels with more unconventional color pallets, but I think the game has a look to it that really makes it stand out while feeling like an authentic progression from Sonic Robo Blast 2's aesthetic. I will add that this is one case where IGDB fucked up by allowing a cleaner thumbnail, though. I prefer the original, which looked like a magazine scan of a grainy off-screen photo taken at a CES. Much more fitting, if you ask me.

Of course, like everyone else, I still have issues with Ring Racers that I think really sour the experience. The pandemonium of the aforementioned pre-race wears out very quickly, with stage outs and starting line penalties becoming more annoying than humorous, especially given how long it can take to recover. There's also a lives system which feels wholly unnecessary when you consider that the capsule minigames that appear every two races could otherwise be used as checkpoints if you don't place high enough in a circuit to advance. The trick system is also interesting in concept but utilized so rarely that I often forgot it was a thing until I needed to exploit it, and I typically found myself fumbling it as a result.

I've said before that Sonic fan games are in something of a golden age, with hobbyist-led projects being of a caliber that genuinely blows me away. Credit where it's due, Sega appears quite comfortable with letting fans create games like this without interference, something I think has helped give the scene space to mature and which has helped to keep Sonic so relevant. Dr. Robotnik's Ring Racers' kinetic gameplay and strong art direction impressed me the moment I saw it, and I think there's a lot of potential in introducing a higher level of technicality to a kart racer, but it does need some adjusting in places and falls a bit short of its promise.

Addendum: Apparently the game also controlled worse pre-patch so I may be benefitting by having waited just a bit to really dive into it. Seems worth mentioning.

Has it ever happened to you that you're working on a sequel to your 2D handheld platformer for a beloved and iconic IP, and everything is going great because you're fixing a bunch of problems the first game had and designing really cool movement tech and levels that are fun to play, but this guy you don't know keeps sneaking in at night and programming the most dogshit bosses imaginable and adding bottomless pits to ruin all of your levels? What do you mean you gotta collect seven rings in a zone to unlock the special stage AND it's the worst one in the whole entire series!? Somebody needs to stop this guy!!

"I don't think you'll like this." Jokes on you, I'm very boring.

"Curiosity killed the uncool cat, ya dig?" - Chad Ghostal

Stop me if you've heard this one before: a first-person horror game where your character wakes up in an abandoned building and has to solve paint-by-numbers puzzles while armed with a flashlight that has limited battery power.

In Sound Mind makes a poor first impression, its opening oddly lifeless for a game touting the collaboration of The Living Tombstone and presenting itself with psychedelic cover art. However, as I got my bearings in its first hour, hunting down a cassette tape that would whisk me away to its first proper level, I remained hopeful that the game would make good on its promise. I pet my cat before I left and got a trophy, "GOTY 10/10." Bad sign.

Protagonist Desmond Wales is as poor a therapist as he is a pet owner, inviting poisonous plants into his home and staring out the window while his patients doom spiral. Now you have to repair their broken psyches and give them closure while unraveling a conspiracy involving the highly psychoactive drug Agent Rainbow, which led to their deaths. What this means from a gameplay perspective is that each level centers around a specific patient in a location pertinent to them, such as... an abandoned grocery store. An abandoned lighthouse. An abandoned factory. An abandoned military base. This may all be the doing of Agent Rainbow, but each of these locations are drab, downright colorless both in aesthetic and flavor, occupied only by cookie-cutter enemies (of which there are three variants through the whole game) and uninspired puzzles.

Desmond's patients also haunt their respective levels, having mutated after succumbing to their inner-demons. You can't just shoot them like your typical fodder-type enemies and will need to employ more inventive methods to counteract them, with most of these encounters doubling as a means to solve environmental puzzles, like luring Max Nygaard - now a disembodied mechanical bull head - into breakable walls.

The problem is that much like all the other puzzles you run into, once the solution has been presented to you, you're expected to repeat it ad infinitum. Shining a light to scare away Allen Shore (nice Alan Wake reference) loses all its tension when you find yourself doing it a dozen different times, never once iterating on the mechanic after its introduction. The third level has you ferrying three CPUs between power panels to unlock doors, and by that point I became conditioned enough to know that would be my main method of progression through the next two hours of game. Everything you're tasked with feels like it was written out for you on a torn piece of notebook paper and stuck to the fridge, just a list of chores no more engaging than taking out the trash.

Speaking of trash: this game's performance. Something about open environments is incredibly disagreeable with the framerate, and unfortunately most of In Sound Mind takes place outdoors, so the game is constantly choking to death. It also has a tendency to checkpoint you in the middle of hazards, nearly locking me in a death loop once as I was stuck respawning on top of a toxic puddle while getting hit by an enemy with 30% of my HP remaining. I managed to wriggle my way out of that after multiple attempts, despawn the mob, and then ate a candy bar which made Desmond go "Nom~" in a cutesy voice. Almost shut the game off there.

And I wish I had, because In Sound Mind's technical problems ultimately resulted in the game becoming unbeatable. During the last leg of the final boss, all objects became non-interactive, something that permeated through several earlier saves and which could not be resolved by restarting the app or the console. Just locking me minutes from rolling credits, something it could've had the decency to do hours earlier. I don't normally rate games I abandon, but considering the conditions under which I did and how close I was at the end, I'm comfortable giving this a 1/5. Would've clocked it at a 2/5 before that.

We Create Stuff is an aptly named studio, because "stuff" is such a vague, "whatever" term for an end product that there's no promise of it being worthwhile. In Sound Mind is just that, a cobbled together collection of rote design elements scraped off the bottom of the first-person horror barrel, served up with no imagination, neither invested in saying anything or being fun, it's just stuff. Great job, guys.

A couple months ago, I decided to breathe some new life into my old, beat up Sega Dreamcast, and transferred its internals into a new shell. While I was up in them guts, I figured I'd go the extra mile and put in a PicoPSU, Noctua fan, and (most importantly) a GDEMU clone. I own three Dreamcast games on disc, they're all Sonic and they're all scratched to hell, and considering the longevity of Dreamcast disc drives, it did not pain me to rip that sucker out of there. Besides, an SD card opens me up to games I'd never dream of affording...

Anyway, I 100%'d Sonic Adventure 2 again. God damnit, why do I keep ending up here?

I explicitly told myself I would not, but looking at my childhood save file, I was maybe eight to ten hours of actual work shy of running through Green Hill, which I've previously unlocked twice on two different versions of the game (the Dreamcast original via emulation, and Battle for the GameCube.) It's not like I had something to prove so much as I hated the idea of leaving something undone, even if it meant feeding a Chao the same skeleton dog over and over again for three hours while alone in a dark room. Oh well, my time could not be less valuable.

I bring all this up because I'm going to say some fairly disparaging things about Sonic Adventure 2 - which for a lot of people sits in this exalted "sacred cow" position - and I just need everyone to accept that I've done my time with this game and feel pretty strongly about it.

Sonic Adventure 2 condenses Sonic Adventure's six distinct gameplay styles into three, and makes each of them more robust, which on paper sounds great. Sounds like something you'd do with a sequel, cut all the filler and build out from what worked... Only, I think adding more to the mech and emerald hunting stages makes them a total drag to play. What was once arcadey and enjoyable is now bloated and boring, sometimes outright frustrating. Sonic and Shadow get the best levels of the bunch, but given how often these brief bursts of fun are interrupted, does it even really matter?

Even setting aside my grievances with the way these modes are designed, I feel like Sonic Adventure 2 is just... sloppy. It has the collision detection of a cheap D-tier licensed platformer, with characters constantly juttering and clipping when making slight contact with uneven surfaces. Even flat surfaces are temperamental given how often Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles will catch on some 1 pixel tall seam. The camera is uncooperative, characters move inconsistently, and every part of the geometry feels like it's held together by Elmer's glue and tongue depressors. So much as brush a corner wrong and the game will shut off whatever complex calculation it needs to run to determine momentum. Having done this three times now, I can confidently say the worst part of the 180 emblem experience is fighting with the parts of the game that are unpredictable, like, you know, landing on a solid stationary platform and just falling through it.

This is all coming from the guy who frequently writes Labyrinth Zone apologia on Backloggd Dot Com, so I can't stress enough that my opinion on this shouldn't be taken as some condemnation of those who enjoy Sonic Adventure 2, or a statement that I'm more right for having a dissenting opinion. There's thousands of you and uh... I don't think there's even a dozen people that like Labyrinth. And hey, Sonic Adventure 2 isn't without its charm. I've previously praised the excellent soundtrack, which I remember owning once on CD (which also got scratched to hell), and though I hated the tonal shift SA2 made at the time, I think it's probably the best part of the game now. The voice clips cutting off, Grandpa Robotnik being put in front of a firing squad... it's not good, but it's good.

Unfortunately, it's not enough to bring me around on the game as a whole package, and I feel like the amount of hours I've logged both qualifies my dislike while calling into question my sanity. Sometimes you go for 180 emblems in Sonic Adventure 2 while playing Mario Party 6 while playing In Sound Mind while playing Shining in the Darkness. Sometimes you're just that kind of depressed, where you're glad you don't live with someone who could walk by your room and see you running through Mad Space and think "oh god he's spiraling." But it doesn't matter now. I'm finished. I never have to do this ever again.

Oh hey, Sonic Adventure 2 Battle is on sale on Xbox...!

Watching in abject horror as the Professor - who is a college educated man - climbs several tetrominoes to wedge his greasy little body between an L piece and a descending ceiling of spikes. He's dead! The Professor is dead and I couldn't stop it!!

Those who know me outside of this site understand how much I love Tetris, because I've subjected all of them to an absolute throttling in Tetris Battle Gaiden at least once. We simply can't be friends until I've copied a well full of blown apart junk, faxed it to you, and established Total Tetris Domination. Recounting my ill-deeds may not be enough to convince anyone passing by this review of my qualifications, but those of you who've been placed under the heel of Ninja Kid will hopefully trust me when I say Tetris Plus is kind of a crummy game.

Tetris Plus' main attraction is its puzzle mode, which presents the player with partially filled well that must be cleared so the Professor can escape. The Professor is under constant threat of a collapsing ceiling that progressively restricts the play space, and seeing as he has a tendency to climb blocks in front of him, the player needs to be mindful of how high up they're building their tetromino to ensure he doesn't get crushed while factoring what pieces are needed to open a path to the bottom of the well.

Despite being billed as a puzzle mode, the random nature of tetromino drops makes it more of a scramble to do the best with what you have, which I could deal with if not for the fact that Tetris Plus leans towards the GameBoy end of the spectrum and frequently puts the player into block droughts. You can't hold pieces either, so you might find yourself stuck stacking tetrominoes straight up to burn pieces and hoping to hell the Professor doesn't shimmy up them towards oblivion. Basic tetromino movement and spinning also feels clunky, and feedback when connecting pieces and clearing lines is just a little too limp to be satisfying.

Sure, the basic Tetris mode is perfectly serviceable, but there's so many better Tetris games out there that I see little reason to pick up Tetris Plus unless you want to dive into its more unique features, which I feel are poorly executed. If someone tells you that you should play Tetris Plus, watch out, it's probably the Professor and he wants to die.

Final Fantasy Origins is an impressive little collection that bundles the Wonderswan remakes of Final Fantasy I & II for the PlayStation, with a slew of quality-of-life improvements that make Final Fantasy's earliest entries more accessible to new audiences without cheapening their "old school" difficulty. About the only impressive thing Final Fantasy Chronicles does is introduce intrusive load times and slowdown to Super Nintendo games in the year 2001 and with the full space of dedicated CDs at Square's disposal. Astonishing.

I'm sure there's worse ways to play these games. I know my ears wouldn't be able to tolerate a full playthrough of Final Fantasy IV for the Game Boy Advance, at least, but Chronicles is still less than ideal. I didn't tear into the technical aspects of the game in my review of FFIV, but the amount of slowdown here is agonizing. Scroll through your inventory mid-battle and watch it tick by like molasses slowly pouring from the tap. I also encountered a somewhat frequent bug where Rydia's summons would appear for a couple of frames and then vanish, taking any ensuing effects or damage along with them. Granted, I have no (contemporary) frame of reference to say whether these problems are unique to Chronicles or simply part of the FFIV experience, but it definitely hampers the experience of playing this release regardless.

Chrono Trigger is a game I don't currently have the motivation to sit down and fully replay, but I did mess around in it for a while just to get a sense of what the Chronicles edition was like. Bad, it turns out! The load times are so disruptive to the pace of the game that I can't see myself bearing it for a full play in the same way I can FFIV. You do at least get a nicely animated FMV intro, but hear me out: you can just watch that on YouTube before starting an ill-gotten SNES ROM up in your emulator of choice.

Final Fantasy IV also gets an FMV intro, but uhh... uhhhhhh.... Square was respected for the quality of their CGI cutscenes during the PlayStation era, so what happened here? Was all their money tied up with Spirits Within?

There are simply better ways to play these games, and the only real value I see in Chronicles today is if you're trying to fill out a PlayStation 1 collection and are still in the "I don't want to spend a lot on old games" phase of what is sure to be a mounting problem that will ultimately lead you to financial ruin, like it has me. It starts with this and then the next thing you know you're eyeballing copies of Ehrgeiz and Xenogears and contemplating taking out a loan. I'm writing this review on a Chromebook from the back of my 2003 Toyota Avalon, which I live out of now because i bought too many video games, please donate to my patreon i need to eat i promise i won't spend it on Suikoden II thats not who i am anymore i've changed!!

After sinking more than a hundred hours into Rebirth, I know the last thing I should do is try to bite off more Final Fantasy. I've already had too much, I'm bloated on chocobos and moogles and nearly ready to burst, and yet I've been eyeballing Final Fantasy IV and thinking "I can handle it." Comparatively speaking, 23 hours of gameplay is light, downright brisk. Rebirth's after dinner mint... Why shouldn't I indulge?

Well, back-to-back negative reviews from mutuals - both of which abandoned the game - should be reason enough for me to pass, at least for the time being.

It's so over.

Or is it? I'm Weatherby, when have I ever listened to anyone about how bad a game might be? Especially for a game I already paid my money for. The cellophane on this unopened Final Fantasy Chronicles is coming off, baby!

We're so back!

It's probably worth pointing out up front that by going with the Chronicles version of the game, I am effectively playing the real Final Fantasy IV, which originally released stateside on the SNES as a port of Japan's easy mode. For babies. I'm not a baby, how hard can this version of the game be?

Turns out very, at least in fits and bursts. Final Fantasy IV is a very inconsistent game in a lot of ways, and I think a lot of this inconsistency is born from the unique space it occupies in the overarching trajectory of the franchise. The SNES allowed Square to do so much more than what they previously accomplished with the NES trilogy, especially in regard to story, but a lot of FFIV's mechanical features feel as though the game has one foot firmly rooted a generation behind. Things like a highly restrictive inventory is just unnecessary thanks to the SNES' expanded memory space, and the encounter rate is just as bonkers as it was on the NES, sometimes sending you from one daunting battle to the next with only a mere tile separating them.

Guest characters, something Final Fantasy II leaned on with its rotating fourth party slot, are commonplace in the early half of FFIV, and a some of them feel more like a hindrance, resulting in a lot of stretches where you need to nanny idiots like Edward, who has no useful abilities, low health, and straight up runs off screen when you try to heal him up. Likewise, you'll occasionally be gifted with guest characters that are too good, creating this pendulum swing of the game being "too annoying" and "too easy."

This combination of antiquated design elements and inconsistent party composition makes the early game a drag, and it's no wonder I ditched the GBA version around Mt. Ordeals back when I originally played it in 2005.

It's so over.

Final Fantasy IV's story also struggles in the early half of the game and spends a bit too long meandering around. It is interesting to play this right off the heels of Final Fantasy III as both games feature numerous character sacrifices, though the greater scope of FFIV means you'll get to spend more time with them rather than coming upon each character briefly before they like, chuck themselves into a furnace or whatever. Each death feels meaningful, which is why it's a bit upsetting that FFIV walks back most of them, sheepishly shrugging and going "I don't know, they lived I guess."

Thankfully, both the story and gameplay eventually find their focus, and once FFIV dials things in, I found that I was starting to have a really good time with the game. Turns out a stable party of well-rounded characters who share a clear and common goal is just what you need to get me invested, even if it may not address every single problem I had with the game up to that point.

By the time the party awakens the Lunar Whale and takes a trip up to the god damned moon, I was fully in it, and I loved the way the game handles the reveal of its true antagonist, Zeromus, who is less a singular consciousness driven by focused malice and more representative of the game's greater themes concerning good and evil, its presence in all men, and the cyclical nature of war and peace. I am a noted Necron defender, so the idea that the party has to do battle with something more representative of a thought or manifestation of man's own nature is my kind of thing.

Also, he's got a sick battle theme.

We're so back

Unfortunately, actually fighting Zeromus is another matter entirely. I thought the Cloud of Darkness was a motherfucker, but this might be the most I've struggled with a final boss in any Final Fantasy game. Apparently this guy can cast Meteo, Holy, Bio, AND Flare, but you'd never know it because he spends 90% of the fight spamming Big Bang over and over again. The solution here is to let Rydia stay dead as all of her spells will result in an immediate counterattack that operates separately from the fixed timer that dictates Big Bang. This also buys you better healing as Rosa only has to split Curaja between four characters instead of five. At the 11th hour, Final Fantasy IV deigned it necessary to saddle me with more dead weight, and the constant run back through several floors with high encounter rates and ~ten minutes of mashing through mandatory dialog is a steep price for failure, which unfortunately sucked a lot of the wind out from Final Fantasy IV's ending.

it's so over. literally, i am done playing this video game

Rating games in a series can be a little tricky, but I think I've more or less settled on a curve when it comes to Final Fantasy. I gave the original game a 3.5/5, which seems a bit high when you consider how approachable, engaging, and bombastic later titles are. All qualities I would assign to FFIV even if I think it spends a little too much time playing around in the protoplasmic puddle left behind by the previous three entries. That's why it's simultaneously the easiest of these four for me to sit down with, yet it's also a 3/5.

Maybe one day I'll check out the SNES version. I am genuinely curious if the easier difficulty curve results in a more evenly paced game, or if it simply makes combat dull and predictable.

Anyway, the next game has a protagonist name Butz. We're so back.

Fruitless back-and-forths over Tomb Raider often put me in the same headspace: thinkin' about Oddworld. Now there's a solid cinematic platformer for the PlayStation 1, one with expressive characters, imaginative environments, a great sense of humor and actual messaging to compliment it's fun and often challenging puzzles. Lara can't like, mind control a bear and make it explode. I rest my case.

But opening up my copy of Abe's Oddysee immediately presents something bleakly funny: the definition of a quintology. Oh Lorne. Poor Lorne. They screwed the man at every turn. From pressing the first run of discs with a repeatable, game breaking bug (in Lorne's words, the person who made this call was not "a Gamer"), to Gamestop publishing a guide that immediately funneled new players into the most difficult hidden screens of the game, to his regrets over Exoddus and Sony throwing Soulstorm up on PS+ to die... Like Xenosaga and Shenmue, it doesn't matter if you have a story to tell or the creativity and temerity to do it, the games industry will chew you up and spit you out like some form of tangy meat popsicle. New n' tasty indeed.

Listen to Lorne Lanning talk about Oddworld for any length of time, and it becomes quickly apparent just how passionate and creatively driven he is. Ars Technica's extended War Stories interview is something I throw on at least once a year because I find his background to be fascinating, and his recollections on navigating creative and industrial fields leading to the formation of his studio, Oddworld Inhabitants, provides a considerable amount of insight as to how his worldview - and consequentially, the themes of Oddworld - formed.

Abe's Oddysee was always intended to have a message, and so gameplay was appropriately designed around the particular anxieties and beliefs Lorne wished to express. As funny as it would be to find Abe strapped, you don't shoot guns, something that was a point of contention with staff at Oddworld Inhabitants. Instead, you "shoot words" (and farts) through gamespeak, a mechanic that allows the player to interface on a more personal level with the game than simply pulling a trigger... Though through mind control, you do still do that. Sometimes the creative process demands compromise.

One complaint I would have about this system is that much of your time rescuing Modokons is front and backloaded, with an extremely lengthy middle game chronicling Abe's trials outside of Rupture Farms tucking most Modokon rescues behind hidden screens and portals. To a certain extent, loading the game so full of secrets is good and provides replayability, but I found the puzzles in which you're trying to disarm a hazardous area and lead as many Modokons to safety as possible to be more engaging than the segmented puzzle rooms of Paramonia and Scrabania. Elum, Abe's mount, does fill this role somewhat, but I twice had him despawn requiring me to reload a save and lose progress, so I'm a little upset with him right now.

The end game also gets absolutely brutal, placing checkpoints far and between sequences that require precise timing and manipulation of enemies. Controls are rarely the issue so much as understanding the order of operations to get through the multiple levels of Rupture Farms, but when everything clicks and you execute on a perfect run, it feels good. The end of Abe's Oddysee has some of the most genuinely tense moment-to-moment gameplay on the system, it is agonizing as it is great. Wait, what do you mean I didn't save enough Modokons? Hold on, why am I being teleported back to the start of Rupture Farms, wait--

While the experience of playing Oddysee can at times be a bit uneven and even frustrating, I do think it comes together into something really special. The texture of the pre-rendered environments, the clay-like quality of the character sprites, the ways in which Rupture's oppressive and hostile factory gives way to barren wastelands drained of resources and life all for the sake of capital, and how that is conveyed humorously both through the game's writing and the player's own machinations... it's great. I really like Abe's Oddysee. 3.5 out of 5 smooches on the cheek for Mr. Lanning, but not 5 because Lorne is apparently never allowed to have a quintology of anything. I don't make the rules.

Zero support for Sonic Shuffle. Garbage. Parsec wins again.