The locations you explore in Monster Hunter Rise have already felt the delicate touch of humanity’s hand. Traditional Japanese torii can be found weaving through mountainside paths, leading to sacred shrines, while decaying temples have been reclaimed by nature as local plant life envelops the aging architecture. Signs of human life can even be found at the base of a raging volcano and in the midst of a flooded forest, where a Mesoamerican-style pyramid dominates the landscape.
If 2018’s Monster Hunter World was all about unearthing a new continent as an intrepid frontiersman, then Rise is a triumphant return to the Old World with valuable lessons learned. An enhanced port of the 3DS title Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate may have already graced the Nintendo Switch, but Rise is the first game in the series built from the ground up for Nintendo’s latest console. As such, Rise closely follows in the footsteps of World while reneging on some of its changes and introducing plenty of new impactful ideas that excellently shift the focus towards the series’ heart-pumping action.
The core Monster Hunter gameplay loop has remained relatively unchanged as you hunt down gargantuan monsters, harvest their materials to craft new weapons and armor, and tackle increasingly tougher foes. World coalesced both the single and multiplayer parts of the experience into one cohesive whole, but Rise reverts back to the old ways by splitting them into disparate Village and Hub quests. Village quests can only be played alone, while Hub quests can still be tackled solo but are designed with multiple players in mind. This isn’t the most welcome setup for newcomers since it isn’t immediately clear which quests progress the story, nor is there any indication of whether or not you should be alternating between both paths. The impact this structure has on the game isn’t as substantial as it initially seems, though. Hunting the same monster multiple times has always been a part of Monster Hunter’s DNA, so repeating the same mission as both a Village and Hub quest is something you would typically seek out anyway.
Building a criminal empire isn’t all fun and games, you know. In Evil Genius 2, the sequel/reboot of the 2004 , running a casino and super-secret volcano lair with a doomsday device takes vision… and the ability to manage an army of minions. It’s a management sim that requires careful planning and timing; you need to build a base that runs like a well-oiled machine that can mint the resources you’ll need to conquer the globe. To succeed where every Bond villain has failed, the base needs to double as a labyrinth of wild traps like shark pits and laser walls that can keep nosy secret agents from bringing too much heat down on you. Though aspects of the game can feel like they’re at cross-purposes from time to time, Evil Genius 2’s goofy, lighthearted vision perfectly captures a cartoony retro spy vibe that lets you revel in pretending you’re the ultimate evil boss.
Taking advantage of nearly 20 years of technological advances since the original, Evil Genius 2 makes good on the promise of making a Bond Villain simulator. The art, music, and style channel the cartoon camp of ‘60s and ‘70s spy movies and TV. In cutscenes, the Genius banters with rival villains and super spies or berates his minions, who maintain a sheepish, aww-shucks attitude. All of this paints the Genius’ rise to power as a fun, free-wheeling romp. The swanky lounge soundtrack, punctuated by dramatic musical cues likewise feels like it’s pulled out of the early-era Bond that permeates every pore of the game.
You can feel it most acutely in the characters. Though you are the mastermind, there are actually many Evil Geniuses. At the start of the game you can choose one of four to be your avatar. From the gold-obsessed Maximilian to the metal-armed Russian General Red Ivan, the geniuses all have the larger-than-life international crime syndicate boss look and feel. You can also recruit “henchmen,” unique lieutenants with similar powers and Bond villain personas. Lastly, each region of the world has a singular Super Agent who can disrupt your base pretty handily and deliver some of that crucial hero-villain banter.
For all its automated systems, Loop Hero can be incredibly stressful. Battles play out without any input from you, navigation loops over a predetermined path, and resources are collected for you, but that doesn’t mean you can take your eyes off the battlefield for even a second. This captivating mix of familiar genres demands constant attention, testing your ability to think well into the future when making your moves. It’s a riveting balance of risk and reward wrapped in a deviously challenging roguelite that will tempt you into pushing forward for just one more round.
Loop Hero is a distinct mish-mash of multiple genre ideas, none of which influence gameplay enough to easily classify the overall gameplay experience. Loop Hero is primarily a run-based role-playing game in which you indirectly control a hero through procedurally generated loops. Instead of controlling the hero’s movements, you mainly control what they encounter by placing objects on the loop that create the world–things like cemeteries that can spawn skeletons, villages that can heal you, or swamps that generate nasty mosquitos. These are provided by cards that you draw from a limited deck which you can edit between runs, letting you curate each one to a degree. And while your hero automatically navigates in circles and resolves fights with enemies without any inputs, you also manage their inventory carefully to deal with the increasing challenges that each new round trip brings.
Ultimately, Loop Hero challenges you to balance risk and reward by keenly considering all the options your current cards give you to make your next loop challenging, but not deadly. Each run is an opportunity to gather resources you use to expand your camp in the hub world, unlocking new cards, classes, and abilities to use on subsequent runs. Enemies drop specific resources that you’ll need to further progress outside of each expedition, giving you incentives to place multiple groves for wild, mutated dogs or dimly lit houses that can spawn bloodthirsty vampires on tiles around them. With each new addition to the loop, you’re also extending the time it takes to make a trip around it, which directly affects spawn rates of enemies that are tied to a persistent day-night cycle. While a tile might seem harmless when it’s only adding one enemy to the loop every day, it can become dangerous when the route is stuffed to the point where an entire group might be waiting the next time you make it around again.
In It Takes Two, you fight the kind of common, red toolbox that might be sitting in your garage, or your parents’ garage. It’s one of the best boss battles I’ve ever played.
In the level leading up to this, co-op protagonists Cody and May learn to chuck nails and wield a hammer head, respectively. Cody can shoot nails into wooden surfaces; May can use the hammer to swing on those nails. Cody can nail moving platforms in place; May can hop onto those platforms, or wall jump between vertical surfaces that Cody can position via strategic nail shots. Eventually, he gets three nails to throw instead of one, leading to some excitingly frantic platforming.
The boss fight that closes this level uses those abilities in concert. Cody and May stand on a plywood platform, facing off against the toolbox. It can swing at them with bolted on plywood arms, which the duo needs to dodge. To deal any damage, Cody has to pin its long, wooden limb to a wall with his three nails, allowing May to swing over and smack its tinny body. As the fight proceeds, the toolbox shoots nails into the air which hurtle down at the plywood platform, a platform which gradually shrinks as the toolbox uses a handsaw to whittle it down to a nub with strategic cuts.
We don’t see enough Chinese legends and folklore explored in Western games, which is what makes the pitch for Immortals Fenyx Rising‘s second expansion, Myths of the Eastern Realm, so exciting. Developed by Ubisoft Chengdu, the DLC moves Immortals’ open-world structure from Greek to Chinese mythology. But while its open-world fundamentals are still solid, the Chinese mythology that defines its aesthetic is more of a coat of paint than an imaginative look at a new realm.
Myths of the Eastern Realm wastes no time getting you up to speed. After a brief explanation of how chaos threatens to upset the balance of Heaven and Earth and how a mysterious force has wiped out most of the world’s gods, new hero Ku wakes up inside a cave filled with his compatriots, who’ve been turned to stone. The legendary Bu Zhou mountain has erupted and caused the emergence of the Scar, a powerful primordial force reverting the world back into chaos. The premise is almost identical to the base game’s, and that ends up being true of the rest of the expansion: The two new islands that make up the DLC’s Mortal Lands are hard to distinguish from the Golden Isles from the original game, even if the buildings and foliage are pulled from Chinese history.
Immortals’ main loop, in which you search for a nearby mountaintop, tag a bunch of icons so they appear on your map, then hunt them down until you decide to progress the story, is identical. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since it was a good loop the first time around. But solving a new round of puzzles and checking icons off on a map lost its allure much more quickly in this DLC–Myths of the Eastern Realm just doesn’t have much to keep that loop interesting. Unlocking my glide ability, clearing out vaults (now called gateways), and grappling enemies isn’t as fun because Ku plays exactly like Fenyx, and I’m disappointed he doesn’t have any new abilities that change how you explore or interact with the world a second time through. The fact that your skills are now called the Blades of Huang Di and Pangu’s Strength instead of Ares’ Wrath and Herakles’ Strength does little to hide that.