Cute but clunky, with a rather poor local multiplayer implementation. It's a shame because I feel the game would excel in a couch setting, but is most entirely geared towards online play.

Cocoon is a visually engrossing and mentally stimulating puzzle game. The setting stood out to me first. It is acutely alien, with fantastical flora, critters that are both cute and creepy, and environments that feel different from the classic video game biomes. The whole package is sold by a plethora of bespoke and fluid animations, in addition to sound design that is more atmospheric rather than melodical. Each "world" is contained within an orb, and the player can move in and out of these orbs, while also manipulating them inside each other, which forms the core of the puzzle gameplay. The pacing of the game felt unique too, as there isn't much of a clear structure to when you find new orbs or fight bosses, adding to the wonder and mystery of the world. Although there's not a clear story or narrative, I did find myself attached to each of my orbs in a very organic and funny way, much like the companion cube in Portal.
As the player you can only move and do a few actions: grab or release an object (you can also long press the button to activate some elements). Everything happens with one button, and with an accessibility option in the menu, any combination of joysticks and face/trigger buttons on a controller can be used for the game. (Sidenote: I love playing lazily with one hand and having the option to switch my grip whenever a hand gets tired. So few games are playable like this.) There aren't many actions, but each orb (and each world within) has unique mechanics so there ends up being a decent variety in gameplay. There are also boss fights which have you dodging in various ways and damaging a weak spot using a key object unique to that fight.
A single word I would use to describe the gameplay is "smooth". The puzzles slowly escalate, and never focus on one mechanic too long before moving on to the next thing. Some of the more mind-bendy twists of the world-within-world concept are only used once and then never again. The game is very strict about keeping the player on-track, and fail states are impossible (natural gates automatically appear at various stages to lock the player into an area, preventing needless backtracking when stuck). Once realizing this, it's easy to deduce solutions as every element in the area was necessary and nothing superfluous was kept. Because of this, and the fact that the possible actions are always quite limited, I never found any puzzle difficult and there's always exactly one solution for each one. This rigid approach to puzzle design eliminates a lot of frustration that can be present in other puzzle games, but also reduces the creativity and "eureka" moments. There are plenty of clever puzzles here, but I attributed that cleverness mostly to the designers for creating them, rather than myself for finding the solutions. This could have been a game with zero frustration, except for one late-game boss fight which tested my patience by requiring several sequences of precise timing and aim.
I loved this game mostly because of its atmosphere, fluid controls, and concise playtime. The puzzles were clever, and despite never truly testing me, it was a pleasure simply discovering all the twists the designers devised. The fluidity of the movement and animations made the game fun to interact with as well. I highly recommend this one, and due to it's friendly level design, it could be great for novices of the genre as well.

Chants of Sennaar hooked me with its stunning visuals and addicting language-learning gameplay loop. I began in an unknown world with mysterious symbols and people all around, and I had a strong intrinsic motivation to uncover the meaning of the symbols and the story behind the people. After learning the basics of the language, I felt more comfortable with the setting and was excited to complete the definitions for the last few glyphs. And when I finally had everything defined, there was only a brief moment of complete understanding with everything before entering the next area. I was presented with a new language and environment to explore, but could use my knowledge of the old language to more quickly learn the new one. This repeated cycle of naive curiosity to complete understanding (and back) was satisfying every step of the way, and it held my attention completely for the 9-10 hour story.
The game has a very natural way of easing the player into the systems for deciphering the language, and you learn to pick up on a variety of clues including environmental puzzles, NPCs pointing and speaking, and sculpted murals. It allows you to type in a personal guess for each symbol at any time, and these guesses are only validated in sets of 3-4 once the game decides you've seen enough clues to deduce the meaning. The UI is minimal but functional, and the only thing I wish it had was a world map. The environment design is stunning, with bold colors and line-work that excels at highlighting the architecture of the world in such a way that every screenshot could be a wallpaper. But this atmospheric design philosophy sometimes comes at the cost of practicality, most notably in the placement of fast travel spots which are often inconvenient and require some tedious backtracking to traverse between.
There are five distinct sections of the world, each with inhabitants that have their own culture and speak their own language. The languages have their fair share of unique words depending on the culture, and each look visually distinct, but grammatically they never differ more than how plurals are formed or where the object is placed. They also all have the commonality of logograms, where each word is one glyph. While easier to translate and gamify, it meant that all the languages felt the same linguistically which was kind of a disappointment. I got the sense that the languages were more of a set-dressing on top of a cryptographical puzzle game rather than a deep and informative linguistic exploration. It's still fun, just somewhat of a letdown from my expectations.
The game has a lot to say about communication, which it conveys through the gameplay itself rather than directly in the narrative or cutscenes. For example: the act of guessing a glyph's meaning, then verifying it to be quite different from the original guess, shows a lot about how multiple words can fit the same context but maybe their textbook differences aren't that important. It shows how different cultures can view the same thing in different ways, leading to misunderstanding or artificial barriers. I found this environmental storytelling truly absorbing, and the fantastic art direction and music only added to this.
Despite feeling like Chants of Sennaar could have done more with the languages themselves, and that it lacked some quality of life features, I loved the game and thought it created a unique and engrossing experience. It stands as one of the best in multiple genres: puzzle, adventure, and deduction.

This game gets a lot of credit for having lush, beautiful pixel art with many bespoke animations overlaid with modern lighting effects. It manages to invoke old JRPGs while also clearly being a huge technical leap forward. It does this with the character movement too; traversing the world isn't just walking in 4 or 8 directions, it also involves jumping over gaps, shimmying over ledges, climbing walls, and generally interacting with the world in much more fluid way. The soundtrack is also wonderful, catchy, and fits the world well.
Sea of Stars more than deserves all the praise it gets for these things, and I think that carries the experience for many people. For me though, it wasn't enough to finish the game after about 5 hours of play time. I found the rest of it pretty lackluster. The story and characters didn't grip me at all, the puzzles were never complex enough to be engaging, and the combat seemed really shallow and not very customizable. I like that it borrows the interactive turn-based approach from the Mario RPGs, but I found the animations were poorly choreographed and the timings too hard to hit. There is also very little customization for stats or items, leaving characters with a small and static pool of abilities.
Despite the beauty and polish of the overall package, I needed either the combat or story to be compelling enough for me to be motivated to finish the game. There's a chance I could return to it later, but there are other RPGs I'd rather play first.

Pikmin 4 managed to capture me in a way few other games have, becoming easily one of my favorite gaming experiences of 2023. Something about the process of exploring levels and caves to completion is so addicting. I'm not usually much of a completionist, but the structure of this game rewards those tendencies so well. It shows satisfying percentage increases at the end of every level, it has a detailed encyclopedia of objects and creatures packed to the brim with funny flavor text and detailed lore, and constantly cycles through a large variety of challenge so the experience doesn't have time to get stale. Although I usually dislike time pressure in games, the timed dandori challenges were surprisingly fun. And learning to master the efficiency puzzle, especially late game as difficulty ramped up, was so rewarding. Oatchi also provides a huge quality of life boost to the series, acting both as a super-sized Pikmin and a controllable captain, so he becomes an excellent multi-tasking tool. The way all the Pikmin jump on his back never ceases to be cute but is also extremely functional for deftly navigating hazards.
Speaking of cuteness, the animations and sound design for all the Pikmin are polished to a level of charming perfection. The balance between cozy cuteness and ruthless death is something the Pikmin series strikes so well. It's accessible for anyone to pick up and play, and the difficulty is never a problem until the end and post game. Despite that, I find the game's excessive tutorialization incredibly annoying and demeaning. The other captains frequently remind you of basic functions even 20 hours into the story. Nintendo games often struggle with this, but it seems worse here. The game could have been just as accessible with fewer tutorial prompts and repetitive, obtrusive cutscenes. My only other negative are the horrendous loading times. You get a 30-60 second loading screen every time you enter and exit a cave or other level, and while understandable considering the detail of the levels, is disappointing and disrupts the flow.
I think Pikmin 4 is a game everyone should play regardless of familiarity with the series. There's a ton of gameplay variety for all the possible Pikmin playstyles. It's easy to get into for new players, but also has many optional challenges in the post-game. It captures the sense of exploration well, and revealed my inner desire to collect everything that I didn't know I had.

The movement is really fun and the music is good, but that's about all that carries the game for me. I found the world design boring and monotonous. Although there are rewards for exploration, the game's lack of explanation for many of the mechanics gave me little reason to care about those rewards. It seemed like the main unlockable ability was extra jumps while gliding, which wasn't exciting nor was the progression fast enough to be satisfying. The corrupted storms, stealth sections, and boss fights felt like crude interruptions during the rest of peaceful, movement-based gameplay that I enjoyed. That sort of intense experience is not what I'm looking for nor what I expected for a game like this, but I may return to it later if in the right mood.

This is a charming and creative game, where the overarching narrative and characters standout above all else. Compared to the first game, the moment-to-moment dialogue wasn't as humorous in my opinion, but the representation of each of the characters and their backgrounds were more fleshed out. The story comes together mostly near the end with a lot of exposition, but still managed to leave me with a small desire to replay the game and see how many early hints there are for the game's ultimate conclusion. Much like its predecessor, a good part of the story is revealed through optional vault collectibles, which is rewarding while not being too punishing if you miss them. There is also a ton of extra dialogue you can discover both throughout the main story and after its completion; the latter serves as a nice epilogue for everything that I wish more games had.
The platforming is also vastly improved, both in terms of controls and movement options, but the rough edges of the first game may have been rounded off too much which makes this one easy by comparison. Despite an uncrowded playing field of 3D platformers, it's still not up there with games like Mario or A Hat in Time gameplay-wise. But it does excel at having plenty of collectibles that are both useful and fun to collect, with the hundreds of unique figment designs that are surprisingly satisfying to scoop up.
The best parts of Psychonauts have always been the level design, graphical and artistic variety, and how the narrative intertwines with gameplay. None of this core is missing here. The boosted fidelity of modern platforms allows the levels to really pop, with my favorites being the Psi King and Cassie's Collection. There are many noticeable visual glitches when transitioning to and from cutscenes, but it doesn't detract from the experience that much. What's worse for my tastes is the audio design: it feels a little underbaked. Sometimes the sound effects are not mixed properly, or are completely lacking for some animations or events. Characters often repeat one-liners dozens of times when performing certain activities, with bosses and Raz being the worst offenders of this. Often, there are characters talking over each other when multiple triggers happen at once, and only one set of lines is ever subbed at a time. This level of unpolished audio existed in the first game too, and I'm surprised it still stands out to me as much as it does. That said, I do love the music in this game and it's a vast improvement from the often repetitive and static tracks in the original.
This is a game I may actually want to replay in the future, or at least watch someone replay it to experience the story again. I had a great time throughout. It's lacking a little bit of polish in places that is noticeable to me but may not be an issue for others, and the gameplay/difficulty wasn't engaging enough to put it in the top-tier of platformers. But I still loved it for what it is, and can tell a ton of heart and care went into this title.

Took me three tries to finally beat this game, not because it was hard but because I got bored. Once when it originally came out on Wii U (didn't get far), a second time for the Switch re-release (this time played in entirely in co-op which gave me the motivation to keep going), and the final time three years later right before Pikmin 4, when I realized we had stopped right before the final boss in the second time so we might as well finish the game.
Although I frequently got bored, it was a good time and has one of the best 2P couch co-op options in a first party Nintendo game. Each player can explore with their own squads independently in split-screen, but can still interact by throwing Pikmin to each other or working in the same part of the map. The only downside is the lack of mini-map and smaller screen space. For the co-op alone I'd recommend it, and the rest of the game is just a good, lightweight, exploratory affair. Often the tension was so low I would get tired or bored, but I was helped by a second player who really knew what she was doing. The tension drastically increases right before the final boss, which was a surprise and also the only truly challenging part of the game. This could definitely be unwelcoming to some expecting a relaxing experience all the way through, but if I understand it is more in line with previous Pikmin games and I kind of liked the added difficulty.
The Piklopedia is fun to read, the music and sounds are superb, and the environments are fun to explore (in spite of the graphics that feel dated already). Overall it leaves me interested in playing more Pikmin games (this was my first), but not overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the franchise.

More fun and polished than expected, definitely an underrated gem. The later levels get too tough for me but I respect the innovative gameplay a lot. It has an excellent soundtrack and great 2D animations as well.

I loved this game. It almost has it all: beautiful animations, unforgettable characters, catchy music that never gets old, and a mysterious story full of twists that keeps surprising until the end. The only lackluster part is the gameplay. Its mechanics are novel and mostly fun: you manipulate the environment as a ghost to solve physics-based puzzles. The problem is that the puzzles only have one solution and it's not always clear how things will interact until you try them. This leads to a lot of trial, error, and restarts on each level, which can get old especially since some dialogue and cutscenes can't be skipped (many things are time-based and there can be a lot of idle waiting too). Sometimes I felt as clever as the game's writing, and other times I felt betrayed by a plethora of red-herrings.
The rest of the package is so good that it's fairly easy to overlook the minor gameplay frustrations I had. The standout element is definitely the characters and narrative which are quite cleverly written; it begins with a ton of unique characters being introduced, but by the end their stories are so perfectly interwoven that it's a miracle it works as well as it does. Although new questions always pop up each time one is answered, the conclusion manages to perfectly tie everything together in one of the most satisfying and heartwarming endings I've seen in a video game. Highly recommend this game as long as you don't mind a lot of reading and some occasionally obtuse puzzles!

I absolutely love Mario and find it a shame I don't think the original holds up that well. It's unforgiving and I just don't have the patience these days. The controls and music are still good and I respect it for kickstarting one of my favorite franchises.

FFXVI is like candy: addicting, fun, looks appealing, but ultimately not very substantial. It can also overstay its welcome at times. It's too shallow for a good RPG and has too much filler for a character-action game. That said, I still liked the game enough to complete it. The production quality, music, acting, and combat still offer a high quality package that's worth playing if you can get through occasional tedium and dated design.
I feel as if the game's problems all come down to a lack of gameplay variety. The only tasks you can do in this game are fight or talk to people. There's very little exploration, no party/stat management, a gear system that is hardly worth engaging with, no mini-games, no puzzle solving, and the list goes on. This isn't a problem for other character action games because they aren't also trying to be RPGs. Most are 15 hours or less with very little filler. FF on the other hand has mindless tasks in the main quest between every epic story beat, and 76 side quests with only 10-20 that are worth doing. Removing the surface-level RPG systems or trimming the fat on quests really could have made this a more enjoyable game the entire time. As it stands, there were several parts in the mid-game when I was nearly falling asleep.
Spread throughout the story are linear combat sections which would always wake me up during an otherwise slow section. It's flashy and addicting (although not particularly deep). It's fun to try out new Eikon abilities which is the main aspect of Clive's fighting style you can customize. The difficulty is on the easy side (and a harder option only unlocks in NG+), which creates some dissonance for the Eikon fights especially. They pose little threat of death but each look like world-ending events that are full of spectacle anyway. This all said, I didn't mind the linear nature of the levels and the breezy combat because after Tears of the Kingdom I was ready for something more mindless and guided.
The spectacular Eikon fights are each amazing moments sprinkled throughout the game, but I liked the story in its own right even without those set pieces. I resonated with the end and had no problem with the shift in tone in the final third of the game. I can see why some people disagree, but I thought it was a nice change of pace from all the politicking. The characters are likeable but ultimately pretty shallow (except for Clive). The late game side quests that unlock right before the final mission do help flesh out the supporting cast, but they come at the last moment and don't change the one-dimensionality of the characters. This isn't helped by the fact that the humans in this game are incredibly homogenous. Almost everyone is white even though there is plenty of variety in the cultures of the world, and unfortunately a lot of the women are simply plot devices for the men (Jill included).
What keeps this game afloat is the production value, story, and combat. The music is unforgettable, the cutscenes have excellent cinematography, and the combat is pure fun. If those things matter less for you, there is nothing else here. It would be easy to write a much more negative review if I focused more on what the game lacked, but in the end I did enjoy my time and it was an engaging experience. It's miraculous that the highs are high enough to outweigh the boring fetch quests and half-baked RPG systems, and I'm glad I stuck it through to the end.

This game has been on my backlog for years and it was satisfying to finally finish it. I'm giving it a "liked" on my scale because of the theme and story, but I value polish and a lack of that polish in a few critical areas prevents it from being a game I truly love.
As an adventure/story game, Psychonauts deserves all the praise it gets. The story is easy to follow, funny, and engaging enough to pull you along. All the main characters have backstories that are interesting and fleshed out further via optional collectables. The levels are each visually distinct and present interesting new gameplay mechanics. The process of finding new items or psychic power and "using" those tools on people to find new interactions or dialogue is fun and there's a lot of attention to detail in this regard.
As a 3D platformer, Psychonauts is overhyped. It is not a good 3D platformer. It's maybe better than average, but there also isn't a lot of competition in this space. The player and camera controls have a lot of that old-game clunkiness to it, especially with the pole spinning or double jumps. The majority of levels don't have interesting platforming challenges, and this is a good thing; when more precise or fast platforming is required (like in the Meat Circus level), the clunkiness becomes super apparent and frustrating. The game's levels shine most when they focus on puzzle solving or exploration, rather than platforming.
This game has a summer-camp themed hub world that isn't too big or too small, and has plenty to do even if that's just talking to all the other campers. Their dialogue is funny and changes over the course of the game, since they each have micro-stories and elements of character progression to discover. There are also many quality of life features that I didn't expect to see in an older title: including a simple quest log, the option to ask Ford for help on what to do any time (or tips on beating a tough boss), and the ability to pause and replay any cutscene or view a memory at any time. On the downside, the audio design is quite poor even for a game of its time. I suspect this mostly due to a lack of polishing time or budget. Many scenes feel like they are missing sound effects, the audio mixing is different between pre-rendered cutscenes and real-time ones, and the music is kind of boring and not as dynamic as I'd like it to be especially during boss fights.
In short, this is a theme and story-first adventure game. Don't expect rock-solid gameplay mechanics; what's there is serviceable and only occasionally frustrating later in the game. Fortunately everything else is strong enough to sell the game and make it worth completing, but not enough to make my want to replay or find every last collectable.

There's so much I love about this game and at the same time so many little things that I'm frustrated weren't done better. I'm a huge fan of this franchise and this game in particular, which makes the negative parts sting much more. That said, I'm writing this review merely a week after I finished playing, and with time I expect to forget the bad parts and remember all my fun experiences vividly for years to come.
Even more than its predecessor, Tears of the Kingdom excels at world design and giving the player a desire to explore. I believe the game sits above other open world games due to the drive to explore mostly coming from the player and the intrigue of the world rather than objective markers (but there are still plenty of those). I keep coming back to the Minecraft comparison, not because of the sandboxy building mechanics, but because the world is truly free and often the geography is interesting by itself. For not being randomly generated, the world is impressively huge and varied, and unlike Minecraft it's packed with things to do and full of NPC's with unique dialogue and quests. The developers definitely re-used templated design elements all over the place (especially in the sky), and although many elements are the same type of puzzle or challenge, it's still a different solution each time.
Complementing the natural drive to explore are hundreds of NPCs and quests and treasure maps and more directed exploration experiences. These are some of the best side quests I've seen in any game, and many of them are reminiscent of the excellent interpersonal stories told in Majora's Mask. Sometimes the rewards are poor (seriously, all that work for one opal?), but usually the journey is compelling enough on its own. The storytelling through characters and side quests is often better than the main story itself, and it's certainly worth taking the time to do all the side adventures. I also want to highlight the sheer amount of dialogue and attention to detail for the NPCs: they all have different behaviors at night or day, rain or shine, and many will even comment on Link's outfit (or lack thereof). Several of them also move around Hyrule, and will remember you if you helped them with a quest. Because of this, the whole world feels more alive and dynamic this time.
The overall plot of the game revolves around uncovering a mystery relating to Zelda's disappearance and the "upheaval" of Hyrule. I don't have a problem with the story itself, and I actually thought it has a nice mix of beautiful, heartwarming, and epic moments. The developers weren't afraid to try something new with the entire lore of the Zelda universe, and I applaud them for keeping things fresh and interesting. My issue is that the bulk of the story was told through memories like the first game, and these memories can be found and viewed out-of-order. It's surprisingly easy to find the later memories or cutscenes relatively early in the game, which can spoil the rest of the them. In addition, the main quest itself doesn't explicitly direct you towards the master sword until right before the final boss, which is strange for a series where getting the sword is usually an awesome mid-point climax. The master sword sequence itself is probably the most emotional and beautiful it's ever been, I simply wish it was delivered in a more prescriptive and linear way, and came earlier in the main story. These pacing issues are especially frustrating to me because I think they easily could have been remedied with a slight refactor to how memories worked or the order in which main quests unlock (for example, the quest for finding memories could only unlock after the four disturbances are complete, or the memories could always play the next in chronological order regardless of where on the map you found them).
Otherwise, I liked the story and think it will be remembered as one of the better Zelda stories. There was some annoying handwaving at times, and a weird lack of continuity with Breath of the Wild (no explanation is offered for the disappearance of the Divine Beasts or other Sheikah technology for example). For new players, I would highly recommend following the correct memory order (as seen on the walls of the Forgotten Temple), and maybe even only doing the memories after the four disturbances are complete.
I need to spend some time in this review talking about my new favorite Zelda ability, ever: ascend. If the next Zelda game doesn't have ascend, I will be seriously disappointed. Each of Link's four new abilities are robust enough to build an entire Zelda game around, but ascend is easily my favorite and is both a great puzzle solving tool and quality of life feature. It changes the way you think about the world, makes cave exploration fun because you often only need to make a one-way trip, and combos well with Ultrahand when you need to figure out a way to create a ledge you can ascend through. It's fun and easy to understand, and hopefully it doesn't ruin other open world games for me too much (kind of like climbing/paragliding did in Breath of the Wild).
There's so much more I could talk about here but to keep this shorter I simply want to shout-out the following things:
1. There's about double the new enemy variety (I love horriblins), and several new mini-bosses to fight.
2. There are so many fun fusion options with monster parts and new materials
3. Control sticks being able to steer almost any ungodly contraption is a marvel of game and physics programming.
4. I love what they did with Master Kohga and the Yiga clan in this game
5. I like that you get companions to fight alongside you (it feels much more like you are building a team in this game), but I wish their abilities had a better, less-accident prone activation method.
6. There's not as many new musical tracks as I would have liked in a brand-new Zelda game, but the new tracks we did get are excellent. No game has more dynamism in its soundtrack and audio design than this game, and it's something I really miss when going back to older titles.
Despite my criticisms of the story and some missing quality of life features, I put 185 hours into this game. I completed all the quests, all the caves, all the shrines/lightroots, and the compendium. As soon as I finished the story, I immediately wanted to start a new save file and play again but had to stop myself so I could move on to other things. There's so much good and the bad is not bad enough to be off-putting. I can't wait to play again when master mode inevitably comes out.

Finished this for the first time in 2023 and wow, this game was so ahead of its time. I was consistently impressed by what I discovered through my play-through, and the variety of things Link would end up doing. It has several quality of life problems that old games tend to do but was a worthwhile experience. I can't imagine what it would have felt like playing this when it came out. The graphics alone would have been mind-blowing.
The world is incredibly fleshed out and interesting to explore. It truly captures the spirit of exploration that Zelda games were designed for from the beginning. You are rewarded for spotting oddities and the in-game map detail is limited so the world is expertly designed to be easily navigated from memory. ALTTP was great at having things to explore for exploring's sake, not because of some quest or NPC direction. Most games today still don't get this right.
Speaking of exploration, it has dungeons that truly feel like dungeons. I think this is because they have more of focus on combat and navigational challenges than puzzle solving, but they are still fun. You can quickly get lost even with the compass and map, and the dungeons with dark room elements enhance that feeling even further. Descending some 6 floors and getting stuck for an hour in the depths of the Ice Palace was an experience that nearly drove me insane, but I can't deny it captured the feeling of exploring a dungeon incredibly well.
Link has an abundance of tools and items in this game, although many of them are only used once or twice and then never again. I found this annoying mostly because they each have to be selected before use, as you only have one button for all your items. And somehow the L/R buttons go completely unused unless you are playing the Redux romhack which lets you cycle items with them. The Zelda team certainly learned to refine the item kit in later games, and the reason why really shows here.
Some other small complaints: combat knock-back is so high that it easily gets annoying, and the dungeon and boss fight songs are incredibly repetitive and become grating fast. I suspect the short musical loops are due to the cartridge memory limitations, but I'd rather have no music than annoying music, and the dungeon theme is by far the song you will listen to the longest in your time playing.
Aside from that, this game has great musical elements, excellent animation and sprite-work, a weirdly-dark story, memorable characters, and a truly epic feel. I hope one day it gets remade to bring in modern quality of life features. Even just a remaster with new UI and mapping more of a modern controller's buttons would be a god-send.