This review contains spoilers

kojima mad with power. a total fucking mess but a fascinating one. cant with good conscience say its better than snake eater but i will say this: the first two acts are very easy for me to defend and showcase how mechanically mgs4 pretty handily surpasses its predecessor. it fixes almost every major issue with snake eater’s core gameplay - octocamo and the stress meter particularly are strokes of genius that somehow both deepen the survival mechanics while also massively streamlining them, and a wealth of new ways to express yourself have been added on top of that. i particularly love how much you can do when crawling now, especially since you spend so much of both mgs3 and 4 doing exactly that. rolling across the battlefield from cover to cover, dodging gunfire and explosions, feels incredible. i suppose i can understand those who feel that the active warzone setting feels gimmicky and i do think it could’ve been fleshed out better (i’d have liked it if there was more incentive to side with the armed forces, especially since you start out on the side of the rebels), and i think people would’ve looked at it more favorably if there was more of snake eater’s predator gameplay to balance it out, but on the whole i think it’s a novel and fun idea that is certainly executed with a lot more depth than, say, the wildlife system in mgs3. the gun selling mechanic, coupled with the narrative information that these conflicts are meaningless proxy battles free from ideology, does also incentivize you to play both sides in a fun little way – i often found myself picking off rebels with anesthetic rounds when no one would notice, and not even feeling any narrative dissonance from it since usually these were rebels who were about to run into gunfire and senselessly die anyway; the way i saw it, snake was doing them a favor. it’s always special when a game’s mechanics can spontaneously generate personal narratives like this. cqc is another thing carried over from mgs3 that is massively improved – not only is it much easier to get to grips with and more useful, but it’s also a lot more robust. aiming also feels good for the first time in this series which i think is a blessing but also a bit of a curse insofar as aiming is more emphasized in gameplay (parts of this game undeniably feel a little too military shooter-y; though to play devil’s advocate i’ll say that it does feel like part of a deliberate point that kojima’s making). lastly i’ll just mention that this is the first time in the series i went with the hardest difficulty available on my first playthrough, and that it was a choice that paid off in dividends – it’s expertly balanced and feels very fitting, what with snake’s more fragile body.
narratively the game is a mixed bag. i think thematically its pretty interesting, an early entry into the “metamodern” trend of sequels about series iconography collapsing in on itself as metaphor for the cultural decay of postmodernism (see also: dark souls 3, rebuild of evangelion). that said as willing as i am to interpret something like metal gear on a primarily subtextual level i can’t say i’m ready to push plot and character to the wayside entirely; ideas are worth little without proper execution to back it up, and this is definitely where mgs4 becomes a tough game to appreciate. it’s an unfortunate paradox – the game is clearly a for-the-fans affair but it also can’t help but spit in their faces with how much it retcons the previous titles. the reveal of who the patriots are is definitely the choice that stings the most – both for fans of mgs2 like myself (who will likely not appreciate the demystification of the patriots, no longer an undead, ageless and formless digital consciousness embodying the hegemony of american empire and the immutable ubiquity of capitalism) and also for fans of mgs3 (who will be surprised to learn that naked snake’s wacky codec team actually turned out to be a gang of hitlers – plot twist!). the bb corps are also… just not good. like, uncharacteristically bad. i appreciate the fact that them being a mix of all the previous bosses in the series is clearly feeding into the main theme but the hamfisted “beauty” aspect of it – and its accompanying utterly shameless leering shots – woof, it’s bad. it’s not good. honestly even kind of passes into heinous territory with the stupid torture porn backstories. at least the sound design in their second phases, as they walk towards you increasingly faster, is genuinely kind of unnerving. for what its worth, there are also moment where the main theme of decay is well elaborated on, with little accompanying baggage – returning to a run-down shadow moses, devoid of non-artificial life, after being told the archipelago is slowly sinking into the sea, is simple and effective. most of the game’s callbacks are not this elegant, though, however well-meaning they might be.
another issue is that the game kind of looks like shit; graphically it’s impressive for an early ps3 title but it’s infected with the malignant 7th gen disease that made every game look like brown sludge. again, there’s the question of whether by pointing this out we’re actually stumbling upon The Point – it’s always a little hard to tell with kojima but it’s a notion that at least has to be entertained. we could also dismiss the auteur angle entirely and simply accept that it’s a part of the game whether intentional or not and should be discussed on those terms alone. on that note i’ll say that there is a nice thematic ring to the game having the look of a generic military shooter, but i’d still prefer if it, y’know, actually looked good. it’s a shame too because the designs in this game rule. gekkos and scarabs? raiden’s new cyborg body? the mk ii? the solid eye? all very cool. i’ve still yet to discuss the elephant in the room which is how fucking long these cutscenes are and yeeeeahhh it gets grating. i expect long cutscenes between gameplay by now with kojima and it’s not really the length i mind so much as the excruciating levels of exposition and superfluous information, this stuff really could’ve been trimmed down. but things like raiden vs vamp and the gekkos, or ocelot going sicko mode on a boat i have no beef with.
this is the most I’ve fluctuated between feeling that kojima’s a genius and feeling that he’s the biggest hack of all time. there is dreadful stuff here, often side by side with some of the biggest kino in the series (right before that amazing split screen sequence leading into an even better final boss, we get johnny and meryl proposing to each other). i’m teetering on giving this 3 stars to be totally honest but you do pilot metal gear rex and duel ray and then the game ends on a fight with shirtless ocelot where one of his moves is tenderly - erotically even - kissing you on the cheek so i think i’m duty-bound to give this at least four stars if only for that alone

This review contains spoilers

let’s get the obvious out of the way first: whenever the snake eater theme is playing, this is the greatest game of all time. whenever it’s not, though - well…
it’s a bit of a mess. with mgs2, these games touched the sky, but having played the series chronologically up to that point, it was clear as day to me that it was in dire need of reinvention. mgs2 represented not just the apex of the classic top-down stealth gameplay, but also the point of exhaustion for the narrative formula that had seen reuse with each entry up until that point. mgs2’s narrative sleight of hand – its utilizing of familiar, repeating motifs throughout the series to deliver an earth-shattering twist in its final hours – was a brilliant one, but it’s not a trick that can be played more than once. if metal gear as a series was to go anywhere from there, kojima had to make the next entry feel like an authentic departure from its norms. mgs3 is certainly a respectable attempt at that, but it’s not without growing pains.
to be sure, when this game is at its mechanical peak, i feel pretty comfortable saying it eclipses all previous entries. slithering unseen like the animal you take your name from, picking off enemies before crawling back into bushes or tight spaces where you lie in wait for your next prey – it’s not just the freedom offered to you as a player or the depth of the interactions that’s satisfying – there’s a thematic wholeness to it. for my money, the game is, perhaps surprisingly, not actually at its best in the jungle or military base(s), but in the mountaintop region, with its mixture of flat, wide-open arenas, vertical environments filled with hidden nooks and crannies and cramped, snake-like winding trenches. helicopters also routinely survey levels, adding an extra consideration to traversal. it all adds up to one of the more challenging parts of the game that nonetheless allows you to really flex your mechanical mastery of it, overcoming the odds in all sorts of interesting ways. this area also happens to follow what is probably the best boss fight in the series up to this point with the end, where you’re asked to cautiously keep track of a sniper’s movements as he travels from nest to nest across a large jungle area in an attempt to weed you out. during this middle stretch of the game, i really grasped why it is that so many seem to hold this game as the pinnacle of the series.
however! however. most of the time the game is not this good. in fact, it’s the most uneven game in the solid series so far. but why is that?
gameplay wise, it’s a death of a thousand cuts. aiming gets an emphasized role in this game which is unfortunate because it feels as bad as ever; i really wish i was playing these games with gyro enabled. at least this issue is not unique to this game, unlike movement which feels frankly unbearably stiff a lot of the time. mgs3 sought to shed its 2d roots for good and embrace the spaciousness of 3d, which was the correct choice, and as outlined above pays off in various ways. the version of this game i played graciously bestows you a different camera system to accommodate this fundamental change in gameplay, but snake still controls like he’s been ripped out of one of the previous cramped top-down entries and thrown into a context which he’s unequipped to deal with. crawling (which you do A LOT OF in this game) will force you into a 1st person view when you enter foliage (which most of the time is where you wanna be when crawling) and it controls so unbearably that it could probably be classified as a torture method. cqc, though it contains cool options, is overly complicated and contextual and kind of conditions you to either just sneak up on enemies and choke them out or beat them up with the boring (and awkward looking) three hit combo. that is, if you ever actually manage to get in range for cqc, because a lot of the time enemies will simply turn around before you get to them and once they spot you every single enemy in a 5000 yard radius knows your precise location. this is not like mgs2 where you can get out of a hairy situation when spotted by a single enemy if you think and act quickly. this game faces a bit of a weird issue where you can camp out in front of a bunch of enemies, a couple of centimeters away, headshot them all and they wont even know what hit them, but also get spotted while on the move by an enemy lightyears away and have the entire army descending upon you in a couple of seconds. this is not helped by the stiff movement and camera control – it can often feel like there’s little you could have realistically done to avoid detection. the issue is not that the game is difficult, though; naked snake acts as an absolute bullet sponge and basically every encounter can be trivialized by mowing down enemies and running off, either into hiding (where you need to wait like 5 minutes for things to calm down because unlike previous games it’s not really advisable to go out during evasion/caution phases) or just the next area. i found myself chomping down the death pills with high frequency, not because my attempt was doomed once spotted, but because i knew there was little fun to be had at that point.
the question of enemy detection leads naturally to talking about the camo system, which, on the face of it, does not seem like a bad idea. in theory, it promotes situational awareness and immerses you in the role of a stalking predator. in practice, the game basically plays itself with you as the medium. there’s no real decision to be made – there’s always a clear optimal camo to put on for each situation. so prepare for a lot of menu usage for just this alone, because staying hidden is very important when up against the eagle-eyed soldiers of this game. this is not the only mechanic that pads the game out with an excess of menu usage – the survival mechanics are the other side of that coin and this is the part where i’d discuss them if i had anything to say about them. the most i can muster is that they’re wide as an ocean and deep as a puddle, and that it's impressive – and a little depressing – how much effort was clearly put into them when they add so little substance to the game.
in my reviews of the other metal gear games i usually discuss the narrative before the gameplay, and it’s not a coincidence that it’s the other way around this time; i think it’s a downgrade from the previous two entries, mgs2 especially. it’s not bad, to be clear. kojima ultimately won me over with the thesis but it was a hard fought battle – what’s being dealt with just isn’t as immediately relatable or relevant as the thematic fixations of mgs1 and 2. most of us are not in fact soldiers, and our allegiances do not waver like the weather in accordance with changing political climates. in fact, as mgs2 points out, for most of us in the 21st century our worldview is incredibly entrenched and herd-like in both function and appearance. so, okay, it’s a bit more distanced in subject matter than previous games but the boss’s dilemma and vision of a world free from ideological strife is still plenty interesting. her adversarial student-mentor relationship with snake, probably the best iteration of this archetypal series staple, is quite well handled. so what’s the issue?
for one – it’s not what the bulk of the narrative time is spent on. now, every metal gear game meanders and goes on tangents and doesn't really come into focus until the final hours, but i found it especially hard to care about most of the plot here. beyond getting bogged down in prequelisms and lacking the speculative sci-fi edge of the present day titles, the real issue is that most of the supporting cast is just boring and shallow. kojima’s never been especially great at handling female characters or anything, but eva is honestly a pretty atrocious character and i found myself decidedly un-charmed by kojima’s neurotically fetishistic treatment of her. a little bit of perviness i can handle just fine (eva’s boob gag is funny enough the first time), and i have no qualms with eroticism when warranted (the campfire scene is not that bad!) but for most of her scenes i was wincing. it’s not like meryl was anything to write home about really, but at least there was some chemistry that was built up throughout the game between her and snake. eva’s entire character can be summed up as “sexy femme fatale with big boobs” - her and snake’s dynamic just isn’t interesting. the best thing that comes from her is the characterization of naked snake as kind of an awkward, walled-off, romantically inexperienced guy (he just like me frfr), which is a fun contrast to solid snake’s womanizing. impressively, volgin might be an even more shallow character than eva which is pretty disappointing in a series that prides itself on great villains. of course, there’s the boss, but her presence in the game is more reminiscent of the elusive ally characters of the previous games like grey fox and olga, leaving this third-rate villain to take up the spotlight. the cobra squad also disappoints – with the exception of the end and the sorrow, they’re barely elaborated on and not especially interesting in comparison to other villain lineups the series has seen.
when the time does come for mgs3 to make a big impact with its ending (which follows an incredibly bloated sequence where you confront volgin and the shagohod before escaping into the jungle), i also think some missteps are made. for once i feel like kojima actually could’ve benefitted from more exposition dumps here – i think the twist of what the boss’s real mission is should’ve been revealed before her fight for more pathos (as it is, it's kind of like if in mgs2 you fought solidus before his motivations were fully unveiled and the patriots revealed your lack of choice in the matter). and i also must admit to being a bit confused by how hard the game hammers home that the boss was a patriot who loved her nation – is the tragedy here not that she was used and discarded for the sake of state interests? is that not the entire reason why big boss ends up doing what he does? in any case, i’m sorry to say it folks but kojima? still not a super effective dramatist. believe me, i wanna cry over the boss, but the emotion just isn't hitting me. kojima makes a valiant attempt to have his characters grapple with things like “human emotions”, but his characters seem fated to speak in clichés. part of the issue might also be the english dub, which for the first time in the series i find myself decidedly unimpressed with, and wishing there was an option to switch over to japanese. of the many questionable casting choices – volgin and sokolov among them – david hayter returning to the lead role might be the worst one. his suave-to-the-point-of-parody performance just does not work as the gruffer, less assured “naked snake”. nor was it necessary to bring him back at all, given that each iteration of snake up to this point had been voiced by a different actor.
so where do i land on snake eater, ultimately? well, it’s not the best game in the series imo, but it may just have the highest highs. kojima’s reinvention of the series feels like a rough draft of something that could be refined into something very special, which is why i look forward to playing future titles, mgsv especially. and even though i don’t have much faith in konami to do it justice, i also find myself looking forward to the upcoming remake, if only because of potential qol improvements that might help draw out the game’s strengths.


This review was written before the game released

fuck it, five stars. not because it's perfect (it certainly isn't), but because in its final hours it totally transcends itself, reaching some towering heights and retroactively improving everything that came before. this is one of the most idiosyncratic, visionary works i've experienced in all my time playing games, absolutely overflowing with ideas (about ideas), the result of someone who evidently did not give a shit about restraint or good sense - an attitude i might as well try to embody in my little review here. this is an impassioned, rousing defense of this medium's artistic worth, inspired, resonant, prophetic, stupid, smart, batshit insane all at once, itself the culmination of its own central thesis; to claw your way through the mud, to overcome yourself, to leave behind a beacon, to engrave in fire "i was here", to affirm yourself and in doing so elevate all others with you. my language is cloudy and more than a little histrionic, no doubt, but how else to discuss this thing but with the shock and awe and breathless grandiosity with which it climaxes with! when faced with that raw impact, it suddenly seems oh so trivial that it's a little uneven, that not all its mechanics are perfectly elaborated on, that some parts lag in comparison to others, that kojima's still not a great dramatist. ultimately, i'd take something this distinctly expressed any day over something that gets closer to whatever my ideal of perfection is. actually, on second thought - imperfection is precisely my ideal of perfection. would you not take a diamond with all its harsh edges over the smoothest, roundest rock?

from metal gear 2, kojima really had two paths he could take: either he reins in his ambitions a little and goes for something more minimal, or he loosens all fetters and tries to take his storytelling further with more dialogue, more twists, more cutscenes, etc. kojima evidently goes for the latter and thats why we love him i suppose. this is still an insane, no-holds-barred experience in 2023 and it‘s both admirable and a little exhausting; there are very large stretches of this devoted solely to cutscenes and dialogue – frankly by the end it feels like the split between that and gameplay is 50/50 – and how much that works for you is gonna depend on how much tolerance you have for narrative in this medium. this certainly is not a game for hardline “ludologists”. however, speaking personally anyway, i can’t say that kojima’s intense emphasis on narrative doesn‘t pay off in many ways. kojima‘s character work is much improved, and the plot and themes which are largely recycled (for the second time now) are also executed considerably better than before. it‘s obviously not perfect – the dialogue can get a little dire at times and kojima still hasn‘t completely gotten a handle on convincingly weaving drama into his narrative – but there‘s still campy fun to be had and, yes, some big brain moments as well. for better or worse there is simply no one else doing it like kojima, certainly not at the time but not really these days either. and while the drama and ultimate narrative thrust is pretty simple and even juvenile, there’s a lot of granular, nerdy detail that you could dismiss as fluff but i find pretty charming and enriching. i appreciate kojima’s hyper-skeptical and conspiratorial approach to geopolitics as well, it's absolutely the right approach to take, both for a twisty espionage thriller like this but also probably just in general. the localization is pretty decent (albeit with some notable lows like „japanese animes“ or „horry“, but again ymmv with how charming or not you find these perceived failures) and the dub performances impressively manage to wring some emotion and chemistry out of kojima‘s dialogue, which is easier said than done. the presentation here is also arguably the best it’s ever been – mg2 is one of the best looking 8-bit games ever, but the early 3d aesthetic with its simple, blurry, ambiguous models is very charming here and a great fit for the suspenseful, conspiratorial narrative, the fmv documentary footage interjections feel like you’re being shown stuff you're not meant to be seeing, and shadow moses island provides some incredibly atmospheric scenery, with snow falling as the gloomy night hangs above. sound design and music here is also just on another level – practically every track and alert is instantly memorable and iconic.
stealth combat is interesting in this game because it‘s both better and worse than in 2. enemy ai is fairly impressive for its time and will react dynamically to things like footsteps in snow or noises you make which helps ground them as real entities you‘re interacting with. you also have more moves at your disposal and taking enemies down is slower and more involved - on the whole it‘s a more white knuckle affair which is definitely a positive for this "tactical espionage action" series, and i‘d be lying if i said i didn‘t enjoy the simple act of play here more than in 2. however, the solodon radar - the strongest innovation of mg2 which returns in this game - is a mixed bag. you now get a clear sense for the enemy‘s field of view, which is a very good addition, but in pretty much every other respect it is a less brilliant mechanic here. this is because of changes that the move from 2d to 3d brought with it - no longer are you exploring square tiles on a map, but instead a cohesive 3d space from a top down camera angle. and simply put, your view is a lot more restricted as the camera is quite zoomed in – you don´t see very far ahead which greatly limits how far you can plan ahead traversal through the level. this is where the radar comes in; no longer is it a tool for viewing the level at large, but is instead essentially a crutch to help short-term navigation by presenting you with a viewpoint of a similar scale to the one you were granted in the previous titles by default. the consequence of this is not ideal – you spend much of the time staring at an abstracted representation of the space you‘re exploring rather than the actual environments themselves. and, of course, you lose the main innovation that mg2 brought to the table, that is level-wide coordination of enemy movement patterns as you traverse. the game attempts to counterbalance this with some changes to the level design – there are far fewer enemies in this game overall than in either of the previous games, and encounters with enemies are back to being a more moment-to-moment affair like in the first.
this game is structured pretty weirdly, at least in comparison to previous games. it’s still set in a large military base that you explore and progressively gain more access to with keycards, but it’s also mostly shed any ambition of being military zelda, with progression even more linear than before and almost entirely consisting of following strict directions. i actually didn’t really mind this at all, as “exploration” in the previous games was mostly a veil for obtuse game design and intense padding. progression in this game feels more like going through a linear set of levels and i like that more than being given a large sprawling space that you then have to navigate in an extremely specific and repetitive way – in this one it feels like you’re getting into interesting situations with much higher frequency. the game world here is very small and contained, so backtracking doesn’t feel as much like a pain in the ass either. that said, because of how much this game does away with anything that could be conflated with exploration, it exposes just how much it’s wasting your time when it pointlessly forces you to backtrack across the entire map (this gets really egregious near the end). another interesting thing about the game’s structure – for a stealth game, there really aren’t a lot of stealth sections here. if anything, the bulk of the gameplay consists of boss fights. most of them are pretty fun, so honestly, fine by me. still, i think the game really could’ve used some more elaborate and difficult stealth sections instead of the mandatory backtracking bits or spectacle sequences like the stairway chase – most of the stealth is in the first half so what you end up with is a game where the core mechanics are barely elaborated on or put to the test. that's definitely unfortunate, but there's also a surprising amount of little details, secrets to find and cool strategies to work out, most of which you're not gonna see on a first playthrough, so there's still replayability (especially since skipping cutscenes cuts the game's length by like half).

there are few games i can think of that are riper for a remake in my eyes than the original mother, a truly wonderful and underappreciated 8-bit rpg whose idiosyncratic spirit shines through its technological constraints and outmoded design conventions. that said, as easy as it is to look at an nes rpg and identify frustrations and timesinks, when remaking a beloved title it's no simple task to seperate what constitutes the game's unique character from what should be changed to better fit modern sensibilities. for this reason i've been anticipating this up-and-coming fan-remake with both excitement and trepidation, because i do think the original mother is a unique game that does some things better than any other title in the series, things i'd like to see preserved in any project attempting to revise it.
below are my stray thoughts on its newly released demo.
- the dialogue feels blessedly faithful to itoi’s style, with weird non-sequiters, casual fourth wall breaking and lots of simple but charming punchlines, and is not overly influenced by memey zoomer humor.
- the animation and art direction is freakishly polished and feels like a very natural aesthetic evolution of mother 3.
- the music does a good job of updating one of the best soundtracks on the nes.
- the new ability of being able to use weapons in the overworld is great. the benefit when it comes to puzzle-solving in dungeon areas is obvious but it also allows for more player expression in combat, as battles can be significantly shortened and resources thus preserved if good positioning and timing is exercised. of course it's not like there's a lot of skill involved but it still feels very satisfying, and there's little reason to complain about battle time against grunts being shortened given that there's usually very little thought required in those battles anyway, with most important decisions being made outside the battle screen (what resources to use and preserve, which enemies to avoid, etc). as it stands overworld attacks are a nice way to wring out just a little additional depth from the barebones-by-nature combat of the original. difficulty isn't affected too much either, since you won't be able to attack the hardest enemies, the bosses, from the overworld. additional note: idk if you get a crit for hitting an enemy unnoticed (from behind, that is) but you should (otherwise there's basically no benefit to successfully sneaking up on enemies – why would you ever do that after unlocking the ability to attack from the overworld?)
- speaking of combat, the rolling health mechanic of mother 2 is, needless to say, much appreciated, though it's a little sad not to see the sound combos of mother 3 return.
- there are lots of bugs in the demo, which is understandable enough given that it's an unfinished, untested product that was probably rushed a little. that said, the issues they cause do have quite a significant effect on the game design - after speaking with some of the devs for a bit, it became clear that one of my biggest issues with the demo, namely that it was far too easy and rewarded careless play through an abundance of consumable items, was unintended. it's a testiment to the demo that it's still very fun to go through despite these pretty far-reaching issues.
- initially hearing pollyanna as you step into the overworld i think should have more oomph. doesn't have to be on the level of onett's intro track, but c'mon, this is one of the best tracks on the nes and is extremely iconic in the series, it shouldn't just casually fade in from another song.
- quite disappointed that bein' friends no longer kicks in after rescuing pippi from the cemetery. one of the most memorable moments in the original, imo.
- i don’t really see any reason why pippi has to tag along for the canary quest, since it's such a short detour and does not involve any powerful enemies (besides wally now, I guess). I feel like it should be completable before or after saving pippi, like in the original game. if they want to expand pippi's part (an understandable choice with how much personality this new incarnation has), i feel like the zoo is a much more reasonable area to have her tag along to (you could make the enemies there super powerful which would dissuade early players from going there and also justify pippi’s accompaniment)
- wally is kind of a weird boss. comes out of nowhere, feels like he’s mostly there to justify the canary quest only being completable after getting pippi. though he should definitely be included and i like that his part is expanded since he's already a weird and memorable enemy in the original.
- the overhaul of dungeon areas to be more like zelda's will no doubt massively decrease tedium and engage players more, given that the dungeons are such slogs in the original. that said, i hope not all of them will be entirely linear affairs and that something will remain of the maze-y, open-ended quality of the original ones later down the road
- in general, quite afraid that the progression will be made much more linear to conform to the structure of mother 2 and 3. speaking just for myself here (though i know i'm not the only one that feels this way), but the original mother's non-linearity is among its best aspects and a massive part of what makes it feel different in character to the otherwise very similar mother 2. searching for the melodies in that game feels the most like an organic scavenger hunt instead of a railroaded sequence of events, and i'd hate to see that quality disappear. i understand that the game is often rather abstruse and easy to get lost or stuck in - i have nothing against more explicit guiding, but the player should still be given the freedom to do stuff in whatever order they want. similarly, i hope that the optional parts of the original mother are not made mandatory - sometimes, areas being optional makes visiting them all the more meaningful, and it's not a bad thing for the player to have more options at their disposal.
- the jump ability you get in the zoo is a little questionable. it’s not that big of a deal or anything but i’m not sure if going full metroidvania does much for the game, at least in the case of this particular ability which does not meaningfully alter gameplay at all (compare this to, say, being able to hit stuff from the overworld, which is a total game changer). i hope if there’s more of this sort of stuff in the full game it won’t just be limited to contextual prompts because frankly it’ll feel like little more than padding
overall, my feelings on the demo are very positive, and i'm really looking forward to being able to play the full game. i wish the encore team all the best and my only hope is that they'll give a little more thought to preserving some of the interesting and unique thorniness of the original.

on the level of presentation, this is an enormous improvement on the first game - the visuals are incredibly stylish and charming and there are numerous opulent flourishes that make the experience all the more endearing (like rondo of blood, this game has a lovely opening credits sequence that is pure pulp Vibes). in general the narrative is a lot more ambitious and memorable this time around.
gameplay is also improved, with stealth combat receiving the biggest overhaul through the addition of the radar which completely transforms enemy interaction. no longer is combat a series of room-to-room engagements but rather a broad, level-spanning obstacle where enemy movement has to be carefully observed and traversal throughout the map planned in accordance with it, which leads to deeper, more satisfying and perhaps most importantly, more convincingly stealthy gameplay. being detected is also no longer either a source of minor inconvenience or an instant game over; rather, being detected is now always a big hindrance but it is also always a recoverable situation thanks to numerous hiding spots throughout each level. granted, i think detection is often a little overzealous and hard to judge - but overall it's a big step-up from the previous system.
these micro level improvements add a lot to the experience, but take a more cohesive look and you'll start to notice some big macro level flaws as well. this game shares a near identical structure to the first game and thus carries over many of its flaws. progression is still too linear and contextual, there's still a relentless level of boring backtracking that serves as little more than busywork and padding, and direct combat still feels too clunky for how often you're thrown into situations where you fight waves of enemies (the bosses are mostly not too bad though).
the much more elaborate narrative is also a double-edged sword; kojima certainly has many intriguing ideas that make their way into the writing (it can only be described as special when a game starts dropping NATO war crime lore on you like 30m in) but the execution frequently leaves something to be desired. characters will get big, dramatic moments that feel so unearned that it's impossible to take seriously, and some of the dialogue is frankly terrible, especially during the sappier, melodramatic moments. i get that kojima is limited, both by the hardware but also by the writing being in service to a silly little military/espionage pastiche game, but maybe that's precisely the argument for a more minimalist approach.

heaps of atmosphere, innovative stealth mechanics and a respectable early attempt for the medium to tell a somewhat complicated narrative all fall a bit short of making up for the stiflingly linear and contextual progression, endless tedious backtracking, and mediocre-at-best combat (not that satisfying combat should be the goal of a game about avoiding it, but you're forced to fight your way through enemies enough times for it to hamper the experience)

kind of insane that i wasnt turned off from video games forever at an early age when shovelware garbage like this made up a large part of my gaming diet as a kid

insane how right they got this on the first try. somehow everyone (including nintendo) took the wrong lessons from this game, sanded down all the most interesting edges in a misguided attempt to streamline. not incidentally, the successors (direct or spiritual) that didn't are like unilaterally some of the best games ever. sometimes it feels like the only games im actually interested in are just variations on zelda 1.

breath of the wild but more. which is to say that its more good but also more bad. i'm happy nintendo felt compelled to build on botw's foundation and expand on the systems established in that game, i think both of these games are some of the most invigorating and delightful current day AAA releases, but i do hope that for the next game the team won't be afraid to apply that same "ruthless critique of everything existing" mentality that botw approached the series at large with to the structure of these newer games. let's maybe rein things in a bit - make the world smaller, ditch hyrule and ganon (because my god some parts of the overarching narrative here are a total misfire and symptomatic of a series in narrative stagnation), and maybe restrict the player's freedom a little so there's some room for progression (though non-linearity should be kept by any means necessary - i am certainly not one of the advocates for a return to a more linear "old school" 3d zelda). restricting the player's freedom a little could also go a long way towards fixing some issues with the game's difficulty - tying special effects to clothing is fine, but being able to switch them on the fly is something that not only becomes a tiring exercise for the player but also undermines the survivalist aspects. similarly, combat mechanics that are really quite good are undermined by the ability to heal in the menu, something that not only allows for sloppy play and makes the game needlessly easy but also feels like a chore to even do. there's just too many interruptions, and that's a big buzzkill in a game that is otherwise so dynamic and immediate. this is another reason why i've become intensely skeptical of fast travel - it's just too optimal to zip all over the place from the menu, which alienates you from the world you're exploring. certainly it's hard to imagine a game of this scale without fast travel, but that's just one more reason to advocate for a smaller world. there's a reason why the tutorial levels of these games feel great to play - because you're really immersed in the space, really engaging with the environment and the immaculately constructed systems, and steadily gaining new abilities that upend the nature of that engagement. people have called these tutorial levels "the games in miniature" but i'm not sure that's true - i think they're defined in opposition to the rest of the game which is much less restricted. after all, it feels pretty liberating to gain the paraglider. so in short, what i'd like to see in the next game is something that actually replicates how the great plateau or great sky island play on a large scale. i respect how committed these games have been to freedom and player empowerment, but the way to stay true to breath of the wild's maverick spirit is actually to confidently question even the core pillars of its game design - not to uncritically follow its formula.
my pie in the sky wish is that they yet again look to zelda 1 and this time try to replicate that game's sense of organic player discovery. obviously there's some of that in these games but what i'd like is less contextual story events, less handholding and signposting, more mystery, more trust in the player to be engaged and immersed in the world without a yellow brick road to follow. i think this is one of the few areas in which elden ring has these games beat and i'd like to see this series retake that particular throne. i'm not expecting it to, because this game runs counter to that direction with its main quests, but it's what would excite me the most. would also like to see stuff like shrines integrated more seamlessly into the world - the caves in this game are a good half step in that direction (venturing into the royal hidden passage was an early highlight of the game), it just needs a bit of depth and variation. hopefully the smaller world would prevent things from feeling like rote repetition, as it sometimes does in this game with the copy pasted rooms and blue frogs you find in every single one.
anyway i still love this game and link is really hot god bless

had a blast with this. what it perhaps lacks in presentational polish, it more than makes up for with rough-hewn charm and what i think might just be the deepest, most satisfying combat i've ever encountered in a 2d platformer. sincerely implore people to try this one out, the demo is free so there's no excuse to sleep on it. really looking forward to the full release!

could've been an actually good time-waster (as opposed to something like vampire survivors) if it didn't tyrannically shackle you to the developer's own notions of tidiness. where's the fun in organizing according to a prescribed pattern?

To say that I was skeptical about Downpour going in would be an understatement. The original Rain World is, as of the time of writing, my favorite game of all time. One of the most important things about it to me is that it feels incredibly holistically designed, with every individual component thoughtfully considered in how it relates to the larger whole. Everything in Rain World is interconnected, reflecting the Buddhist existential themes explored within it.
With that, I think you can understand the trepidation I felt when I heard about this expansion. New content of any kind was enough reason to worry about the sanctity of the original experience being trampled over – an entire expansion developed by fans, with new characters, creatures, and regions, along with ““quality of life changes”” (a subtly threatening term when it comes to something as idiosyncratically designed as Rain World)? Let’s just say that I feared the worst. The new slugcats that had been revealed didn’t exactly fill me with optimism, either. Rain World cannot claim to be a realistic game, but it is grounded - and those new slugcats did not look grounded.
Well, Downpour has now been released. Were my fears unfounded after all? Well…
Something that I really respect about this expansion, and give endless kudos to the team for, is how humbly it presents itself. Make no mistake, this is an absolutely massive DLC with heaps of new content, and yet the first thing you do after downloading it is navigate a new mod manager setting where all the new stuff is listed. This manager does not distinguish between workshop mods you can download for free and this new expansion you pay actual money for – Downpour essentially declares with pride instead of shame that it is little more than an officially supported collection of fan mods. I really, really appreciate that, because as we’ll see, Downpour is extremely ambitious; a layer of separation between what is and isn’t Videocult’s original work was an absolute necessity in my opinion, and I respect the hell out of the team for refusing to muddy the waters in this regard. More pragmatically, this is also a boon to Downpour’s reception – if you don’t like a creative decision, you can simply remind yourself that this is just one (very talented) team’s take on the original work. Nothing is sullied, but a lot can be gained.
Moving on now to discussing what has actually been added in this expansion: there’s no way around it, Downpour is a very different experience to classic Rain World in almost every regard. It turns the dial considerably towards “gaminess”, and makes for something that is a lot messier design-wise, which I just about expected. What I didn’t really expect was how high the narrative ambitions here were. This is something that would’ve troubled me immensely had I heard about it before release. Surprisingly, though, this came to be probably the part of the experience that I enjoyed the most; thanks to, again, that level of separation between the base game and Downpour, and also because the new narrative stuff is honestly nothing to scoff at quality-wise and came a lot closer to replicating the thematic and atmospheric flavor of the original than I was expecting. Mind you, that does not mean there isn’t any tension between what the original Rain World was going for and what Downpour is. The outlandish abilities of the new slugcats definitely do undermine the grounded ethos a bit, for one (though I appreciate that they’re all given reasonable explanations in-universe). More importantly, though, the narrative priorities have completely shifted.
In the original game, the story of the setting (the "lore") was told in the background and was totally subservient to the player's own personal journey of surviving an enigmatic world. You'd stumble upon Moon, or Five Pebbles, and you'd react with awe and wonder, but lacking context and familiarity, file those experiences away as simply another discovery in a pile of them. In Downpour, what was previously the background narrative takes center stage. You always know where to go – to Pebbles and Moon, probably in that order. That doesn't mean that there are no surprises along the way, but on a whole the design philosophy of Downpour is totally juxtaposed with the original’s. In simpler terms: the original was centered firmly around the journey, whereas Downpour is all about the destination.
The slugcats aren't the protagonists any more - they're side characters in a narrative that centers on the iterators, with our dual protagonists being the two we can visit in-game, Five Pebbles and Looks to the Moon. Now, to be completely accurate, this shift was technically already present in the original game. Fundamentally, every new slugcat campaign in Downpour is building on the groundwork laid by the Hunter’s campaign, which served as the original game’s hard mode. What makes Downpour feel like such a change, however, is the sheer totality of what is added. Hunter felt like a side mode, a way to capitalize on the game’s many brilliant mechanics in a more gamey way while still grounding it narratively. But when you add twice the amount of campaigns the original game had (and counting the Monk separately is honestly generous), it's hard not to look at these "side modes" as having become the main dish. The campaigns are thus reframed as small vignettes that serve as the building blocks of a larger narrative that is far more epic in scale – a real opus, one that presumably spans centuries and centuries. And quality-wise, I found myself rather enjoying the story being told. Though I am a little ambivalent on some particularities, on a whole the arcs of Pebbles and Moon are compelling to follow, and full of evocative moments.
The Saint’s campaign was a particular highlight; seeing the world in an even more ruinous state, collapsing in on itself, with cycles fading out as the periodic torrential rain gives way to never-ending snowstorms, was incredibly affecting and felt like a very fitting note to leave this setting on; though I am a tad conflicted on how bombastically that campaign ends – I almost feel like it totally undermines the quiet poignancy of what came before, but I’d also be lying if I said that I didn’t find it to be a fascinating development that, in many ways, pulls a lot of the threads of the narrative together pretty well.
The rest of the campaigns range narratively from decent to great. Gourmand I don’t have much to say about, but I quite like the addition of the Outer Expanse – venturing outside the grounds of the iterators and back on to your (aesthetically inspired) native turf was very exciting (if a tad fanservice-y). Spearmaster allows for the experience of exploring Moon’s facility and seeing her fully operating, which is nice, but I’m not that fond of how the bulk of the narrative is told through chatlogs. Artificer’s story was like a self-contained filler episode in the context of the larger narrative, but it really won me over as it went on and somehow managed to not make me too troubled over the addition of a boss fight to Rain World of all games – it felt grounded in the narrative and avoided the most egregious pitfalls like Dark Souls style titles and healthbars. And Rivulet operates beautifully as a brief moment of optimism, with Pebbles’ redemption and the restoration of Moon preceding the melancholy of the Saint’s conclusive campaign.
With these narrative additions, a question has arisen in the community on whether Downpour is or isn’t officially canon, and ultimately, I think that question is missing the forest for the trees. It feels to me like Videocult, in officially sanctioning this fan effort, is going beyond basic notions of ‘canonicity’, essentially renouncing total ownership of the setting they’ve created and handing it over to their audience. This is further supported by Downpour separating itself firmly from the original work, and not distinguishing itself from other fan mods anyone can make. The question of canonicity then becomes functionally meaningless and a hindrance to productive discourse. It’s a different work, made by different people, with different priorities. It comments on the original ‘text’ (if you will) extensively, but is ultimately firmly separate. The only question that really matters to me is whether Downpour is engaging, interesting and worth experiencing. My personal answer to that question is that it is.