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Solar Ash Review – Ash Wins-day

Solar Ash is built like a skatepark in a lucid dream. The ground you skate across looks and acts like an ocean-sized mattress pad–blue and bumpy and bouncing as you pass. Floating islands are connected by grind pipes, which only emerge after you transport glowing spores from one mushroom to another. Red, bulging eyeballs act as the locks on gates made of black ooze, which you slash to gain passage. Much of what you see in Solar Ash makes little sense, but you move through it so quickly, the boss battles you fight are so exhilarating, and the puzzles you solve to reach them are so satisfying, that the dream logic of this world’s construction feels like the necessarily slight distance to keep the good times rolling as you move from Point A to Point B.

The second game from Heart Machine, the developer of 2016 indie gem Hyper Light Drifter, retains that game’s color palette–expect plenty of pastel blues, pinks, and purples, with the occasional threatening red–but changes just about everything else. Hyper Light Drifter was a blisteringly difficult Zelda-like which presented its glitching neon overworld from a top-down 2D perspective. Solar Ash, meanwhile, is a 3D action-platformer in which you traverse its world on some futuristic version of inline skates, cutting up enemies with ease. Solar Ash presents its dreamlike world and asks you to explore it by jumping, skating, and grinding along pipes. What the two games share is a structure that, while fairly open, is constantly funneling you toward show-stopping boss battles. In Hyper Light Drifter, that open-ended structure applied to the entire map, with four sections that could be tackled in any order. Solar Ash adopts a more traditional linear structure, unveiling six increasingly wide levels one at a time. In each, you must hunt down multiple puzzles that, upon completion, let loose a massive boss. In each, there are plenty of audio logs and armor pieces waiting to be found if you take some time to explore.

As you set out on this quest, you take control of Rei, a “Voidrunner” who has traveled into the “Ultravoid”–a massive, world-destroying black hole–in an attempt to activate the “Starseed,” a device the Voidrunners have created in an attempt to destroy the Ultravoid. When she arrives, her home planet is in the Ultravoid’s grasp, but Rei hopes that if she can restore power to the Starseed, she can save her home planet. The game sets up too many Proper Nouns early on–all those terms are hurled at you by way of an introductory slide–and it struggles to communicate what exactly the stakes are and why we should care. But the basics are simple enough and will be familiar to the denizens of an Earth currently staring down the barrel of climate emergency: The planet is in imminent danger, the people in charge have squandered every opportunity to fix the problem, and, though it may be futile, our hopeful character is trying to do what she can to undo the damage the ruling classes have done. Where Rei’s path diverges from climate change efforts in our world is that her quest involves fighting screen-filling boss monsters called “Anomalies.”

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Big Brain Academy: Brain Vs. Brain Review

In the heyday of the DS and 3DS, Nintendo dedicated itself to a “blue ocean” strategy of attracting a wider audience than traditional gamers. Headlining this effort were games like Brain Age and Big Brain Academy, puzzle games targeted toward non-gamers that promised regular mental exercises to stay sharp and enhance your focus. More than a decade later, Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain recenters itself around Nintendo’s new strategic priority: social features and competition. And while the puzzles in Brain vs. Brain work just as well as ever, the competition aspect is an awkward fit that runs counter to a game series that has always been friendly and non-judgmental.

The main appeal of these brain-training games has always been to run your own race. Chipping away at daily exercises with Big Brain Academy’s fictional Dr. Lobe lets you see the progression of slow, steady improvement as you sharpen your mental acuity. In previous games, over the course of a week or a month or even several months, the improvement would get more consistent and you could see yourself getting smarter, or at least better at these particular gamified skills. Brain vs. Brain is centered around competition, and feels a little less approachable for it.

That’s not to say the game itself shames you. Dr. Lobe is as positive and encouraging as ever, always couching weak spots in gentle terms and nudging you to spend some more time practicing any fields where you didn’t excel. But when you create a puzzle game ostensibly about measuring intelligence, and then pit a player against both friends and a worldwide gaming audience, it’s going to be fertile ground for planting self-doubt.

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Halo Infinite Multiplayer Review In Progress – I Need A Weapon

I could spend all day talking about what makes Halo Infinite great but not necessarily superb, but, when you’re in the thick of it, the faults that create that distinction are hard to notice because it’s just really fun. While playing, I found myself giggling with murderous glee after successfully wiping an enemy team all on my own; laughing as I nonchalantly chucked a fusion coil and accidentally splattered an unseen player; and roaring support for an ally as they successfully held the line long enough for our team to secure an objective and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The experience of playing Halo Infinite is joyful, and what more can you ask for when it comes to a free-to-play online multiplayer shooter?

But, to reiterate, Halo Infinite isn’t without its flaws. Most notably, its challenge-based progression system feels unrewarding and keeps the game’s coolest-looking cosmetics locked behind dozens of hours of an unfulfilling grind. But 343 Industries has stuck the landing on what matters the most, as Halo Infinite feels good. Firearms shoot with a nice punch, and your Spartan’s movements are smooth. And although not every map at launch feels like they’re going down in Halo’s hall of fame as all-time favorites, there’s a welcome variety to them, allowing the seven currently available game types to play out in wildly different ways depending on which map you’re playing on.

Similar to Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians, the narrative basis for Halo Infinite’s multiplayer is a Spartan training program. With both Master Chief and the UNSC Infinity marked as missing in action, and the threat of Cortana still at large, Spartan Commander Agryna leaves you behind at a secure facility that’s tasked with training the next generation of Spartan IVs. It’s up to you to work hard and grow stronger in preparation for the coming fight.

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Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One Review – Murder In The Mediterranean

The cobblestone streets of Victorian London are as synonymous with Sherlock Holmes as his trusty sidekick Dr. Watson, particularly as they pertain to developer Frogwares’ long-running game series. The Ukrainian studio’s latest entry, Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One, ditches both the dreary, smog-filled setting, and the good doctor, by presenting an origin story for the titular sleuth. It’s a bold move that unshackles Chapter One from many of the familiar conventions of Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels, allowing for some surprising and frankly absurd moments as you try to uncover the truth behind Sherlock’s troubled childhood.

The fictional Mediterranean island of Cordona provides the new sun-swept backdrop for Sherlock’s not-so-humble beginnings as a near-superpowered detective. The Londoner has returned to his idyllic childhood home to visit his mother’s grave, but he soon learns that there may have been more to her death than he was initially told. This sets in motion a sprawling mystery that covers the breadth of the picturesque island, albeit one that struggles to latch on and retain your investment. The plethora of cases you’re asked to investigate along the way are oftentimes fantastic and suitably intriguing–from solving a murder involving a rampaging elephant, to infiltrating a high society sex cult–but the central focus of uncovering what exactly happened to Sherlock’s mother lacks the same captivation.

This is mostly due to the fact you’re only privy to brief glimpses of Mrs. Holmes, resulting in her feeling less like a character and more like a contrived plot device. This makes it difficult to care about the details of her tragic fate either way, especially when there are more interesting story threads surrounding it. As a way to inform Sherlock’s character development, the central mystery also falters in this regard, too. The young 20-something Sherlock is presented as a novice, yet his supernatural powers of deduction are still in full force from the very outset. He can surmise a character’s entire backstory by glancing at the threads on their clothes or the bags under their eyes, so you never get the feeling that he’s coming into his own and finding what works when he already begins the game as a fully formed super detective. He might not always be as aloof or refined as older incarnations of the character, but Chapter One never gives the impression that Sherlock was significantly different in his younger years, or that the events of the game informed his future self in any way–aside from what occurs in the final few scenes.

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Grand Theft Auto The Trilogy: Definitive Edition Review – Wasted

There is a strong argument to be made that Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City, and San Andreas are the three most influential games of the 21st century. You can see their DNA floating around just about every open-world title made since and pretty much anyone making in-engine cutscenes owes a debt to Rockstar going fully Hollywood early on. There is an entire generation whose only exposure to various genres of music come from the soundtracks of these three games. Naturally, parts of them have aged better than others, but in the context of the early-to-mid 2000s, these games broke serious ground.

These are all facts set in stone by this point, of course. But it’s worth seeing it all written down one more time so it’s abundantly clear just how utterly bewildering it is that Rockstar let GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas get as absolutely mangled as they have been with these so-called Definitive Editions. Somehow, the studio that was so meticulous about making sure the poop leaving the back end of a horse was as lovingly rendered as a cowboy’s sickly, grizzled face has approved a remaster bearing its name that turns its most iconic games into app store shovelware.

That isn’t hyperbole, either. Having played virtually every major version of these games in some form over the years, it’s glaringly obvious these remasters were built on the bones of the already-disfigured mobile ports of each game. As weak as those were, there were certain things you can forgive just by nature of the platform. Rampant bugs, stripped-down animations, frame rate instability? These are the prices you pay for portability. Those excuses vanish into thin air with the Definitive Editions having all the horsepower of current-gen consoles and PCs to utilize. Now, all the problems of the mobile ports have been blown up to 4K resolution. Now, the neglect feels less like a bug and more like a feature.

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