CrossCode Review – A Lot Of Ambition

It’s been a long, long road for CrossCode to finally hit consoles. The 16-bit throwback RPG started life as a widely praised 2012 tech demo, enjoyed a super-funded 2015 Indiegogo campaign, and then arrived on Steam in 2018. Two years later, it’s hard not to feel that all this runway has caused CrossCode to be overly ambitious and complicated–even for veteran genre players. As I was sailing into my 20th hour and still trying to not second-guess my shaky strategy for the vast amount of stats that can be customized and stacked, the game was still unspooling tutorials and rolling out new wrinkles. CrossCode is a lot of game to wrap your head around, and one whose expansive menu screens and tutorials double as a mechanically overbearing strategy guide that cannot be skimmed to even start to get your bearings. Playing CrossCode can be a bit like going on a road trip without GPS: Every few miles, you have to pull over and unfold an unwieldy road atlas.

CrossCode, at its heart, is not a retro-styled hollow homage to Super Nintendo titles like 1993’s Secret of Mana and 1995’s Chrono Trigger. Instead, it’s something more like a full-throated continuation of their tradition of exploring massive worlds full of side quests, puzzles, colorful characters, and gear to collect–while also building on their thornier, more tactical contemporaries. CrossCode’s fondness for this era of action role-playing games is clear out of the gate: Both the opening menu screen and introductory sequences set the tone with plaintive piano, chiming bells, and an oozing chiptune soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place on one of those “lofi beats to relax/study to” YouTube playlists that lean more heavily into nostalgia. The pixel art style doubles down on all this.

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The above is in sharp contrast to the game taking place in a fictional, modern MMORPG called CrossWorlds. That is, CrossCode is a single-player game taking place in an in-game MMO where other characters speak and behave either as other players or NPCs. It’s a world filled with guilds, griefers, and other player characters running through, too busy questing and level-grinding to hold still and talk with you. And just like in a real MMO, the other players you make your way on with will chat and open up about their lives–and give you due notice when they feel they’ve been playing way too long and need to log out and take a break.

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Slay The Spire Review – Trend Setter

Deck-building can prove intimidating. Trying to determine synergies and strategies when starting out is a tall task, and pairing that with a roguelike–where failure in battle will send you back to the start of another randomized dungeon–might seem downright overwhelming. Yet thanks to a setup that encourages experimentation and is rewarding to play even when you’re failing, Slay the Spire marries roguelikes and deckbuilders beautifully–and it’s easy to see why it’s helped to popularize this burgeoning mix of genres.

Slay the Spire sees you take part in a series of battles, amassing a collection of cards that dictate your every action in combat: There are cards that launch attacks, allow you to defend yourself, buff you, or nerf enemies. Most cards in and of themselves are relatively simple, consisting of a straightforward action and an associated cost. Battles see you ascend the titular spire and acquire new cards, relics, and single-use potions, and you’ll need to weigh the various routes as you go, opting in or out of mini-bosses that promise great rewards but threaten to bring your run to a halt. Whether you make it to the end or not, you’ll then start all over again, only to face another randomized set of encounters with a fresh loadout.

Slay the Spire on Nintendo Switch
Slay the Spire on Nintendo Switch
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The structure is familiar, and it’s easy to assume that your early runs (which can last up to two hours or so) show you all that Slay the Spire has to offer. Making progress permanently unlocks additional, more complex cards that you can encounter and integrate into your deck during future runs, which expands your range of choices, but it’s in the relics system that the game reveals its true depth.

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Story Of Seasons: Friends Of Mineral Town Review – When The Seasons Change

Harvest Moon, and now Story of Seasons, have thrived on their personality above all else. With each entry in the series offering fresh story and minimal improvements to gameplay, replaying one of the older titles is asking for disappointment, even if it has a new coat of paint. Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town brings the 2003 Game Boy Advance title into 2020 with enjoyable cutesy graphics and personality, but does little to add depth to the already outdated gameplay..

After choosing from an extremely limited set of character customization options, you set out to take over a farm left to you by your late grandfather, where you once spent the summer 20 years ago. It’s unclear why your character left whatever life they had behind, but you are quickly thrust into the day-to-day work of maintaining a farm, starting with crops.

Growing crops is one of the main methods of making money, but progression is slow. You can’t improve your crop yields in any meaningful way until the option to buy better farm soil becomes available in the second year, which is 25 to 30 hours into the game. Upgrading the watering can allows you to tend to more crops at once, but the increased stamina usage makes for minimal improvement to your crop yield.

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Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing In Disguise Review

Warning: This review contains spoilers for the first Deadly Premonition.

The first Deadly Premonition was an anomaly, a seemingly unintentional oddity that enjoyed cult success by happenstance. It was an oxymoron of character development and unpredictable storytelling accompanied by a clunky, unintuitive gameplay experience. Its sequel, Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing In Disguise, follows suit; however, though the return of the original’s off-kilter writing, outlandish characters, and disturbing twists is an exciting prospect, it all feels diluted this time around, missing many of the flavor notes that defined its predecessor. There are incredible moments worth experiencing, all of which are held together by the game’s protagonist, Francis York Morgan. But inexcusably poor performance issues (even by Deadly Premonition standards) make it hard to recommend to anyone outside the existing fandom. And even then, Deadly Premonition 2 stumbles in some of the places that made the first truly special.

The game flips between the past and the present, first beginning in 2019, which is 10 years after the Greenvale case from the first game. FBI agent Francis York Morgan, now Francis Zach Morgan, has neither fully recovered from the tragic loss of his love, nor the revelation of his dual identity, and is now a retired recluse in his Boston, Massachusetts apartment. Seeing Morgan for the first time is jarring; he looks frail, sick, and alarmingly grey. He doesn’t come off as slick and charming as he once did, but rather deranged and unstable, murmuring and talking to himself in the midst of a hoarder’s dirty apartment–it’s a stark contrast from the agent we know and love. The once illustrious agent, regaled for his inexplicable, and rather supernatural, investigation techniques, is now under scrutiny by the very bureau he once worked for.

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Death Come True Review – Hotel Hell

The experience of waking up with a foggy mind in a weird, unfamiliar hotel room is already distressing, but there are myriad ways it could be even worse. Let’s say you blacked out so hard that not only do you not remember last night, you don’t remember anything at all. Making things even more upsetting, there’s an unconscious woman with her hands tied up laying in the bathtub. The real kicker, though, would be seeing a news report with your face on it describing you as a wanted serial killer. And now someone’s knocking on your door…

Death Come True is the latest project from Danganronpa creator Kazutaka Kodaka. Much like that beloved adventure series, Death Come True places the protagonist in a horrifying, deadly situation where the only way out is to uncover the mystery of what’s really going on. But the approach here is very different: Where Danganronpa told its twisted sagas of death and despair through visual novel-style presentations, Death Come True is presented as a live-action film with branching paths. While the heavy use of full-motion video (FMV) has seen an interesting comeback in games like Her Story and Control, Death Come True hearkens back to the simpler, experimental FMV adventure games of the mid-’90s–all the while reminding us of what was good and bad about those titles.

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Protagonist Makoto has no idea where he is, how he got here, or even who he is–save for the TV report describing him as a serial killer–but he knows something’s deeply amiss in this hotel. Things quickly go from bad to worse when Makoto, through your choices, makes another unsettling discovery: When he dies, he wakes up again in the same hotel bed to restart and repeat the same sequence of events over again, so not even death can free him from the bizarre reality he’s trapped in.

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