Salt And Sacrifice Review – Mage Hunter

After the success of 2016’s Salt and Sanctuary, indie developer Ska Studios could’ve rested on its laurels when designing a sequel to the 2D Souls-like. Instead, the two-person studio has done the opposite, pulling from an amalgamation of influences to create a game that differs vastly from its predecessor. Salt and Sacrifice isn’t just another 2D Souls-like; it still retains many of the genre’s fundamentals, yet its allusions to Metroidvania and, crucially, Monster Hunter, are much more pronounced. While it does feature satisfying combat and progression, many of its risks don’t always pay off and this curious concoction falls just short of realizing its full potential.

Salt and Sacrifice casts you as a condemned prisoner in a kingdom corrupted by malignant magic. Monstrous creatures now roam the lands, with the source of all this defilement tracing back to the nefarious Mages who now stalk each region. Given the option of either execution or a life of Mage-hunting, you choose the latter, becoming a Marked Inquisitor sent to track down these dangerous Mages and devour their hearts to ensure the kingdom survives. After creating a character and getting routinely demolished by an overpowered boss in true Souls-like fashion, you awaken in Pardoner’s Vale, a hub area where you can converse with various NPCs, level up your character class, craft and upgrade new weapons and armor, and pet an adorable cat with antlers.

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It’s also here where you’ll find the Mirrorgate–an enchanted portal that allows you to teleport to different regions across the kingdom. Each one is home to numerous Mages that must be hunted down and killed, serving as Salt and Sacrifice’s core gameplay loop. By exploring a region, you’ll discover evidence that will kick off a Mage Hunt, creating a particle trail for you to follow directly to your prey. Much like Monster Hunter’s beasties, Mages aren’t confined to a single boss arena. You need to fight them a handful of times as they roam across the region, summoning themed mobs to slow you down as they go. After dealing enough damage, you’ll eventually trigger a final showdown and transition into a traditional boss battle where you can finally finish the Mage off for good.

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Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising Review – Humble Beginnings

A while back, the minds behind the beloved Suikoden RPG series set up a Kickstarter to fund Eiyuden Chronicle, a classically styled JRPG currently set for a 2023 release. However, one of the stretch goals was for a “companion game,” meant to help introduce players to the world and its characters while the flagship title was being developed. Enter Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising, a 2.5D, side-scrolling, exploration-action game with light RPG and town-building elements. While it might not be the big game that fans and Kickstarter backers are eagerly anticipating, there’s enough to Rising to make it worth a look.

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As the game begins, we’re introduced to CJ, a sprightly, eager-to-help young girl who’s the central character of this little saga. Her clan’s rite of passage involves finding an impressive treasure, and in her search, she stumbles across New Nevaeh, a mining town that’s been ravaged by a massive earthquake and bandit attacks. CJ suspects that the town’s quarry leads to the kind of treasure she seeks, but the local bureaucracy’s none too keen on letting random strangers go exploring on their land–especially when they’re so focused on rebuilding. But CJ sees an opportunity: by helping the town rebuild, she’ll win the populace over and be able to treasure hunt to her heart’s content… and maybe make some new friends and uncover an ancient secret in the process.

Progression in Rising is heavily mission-based, with copious amounts of main and side quests to rebuild New Nevaeh, help the citizens, and advance the story. Many of the quests require you to visit the dangerous, monster- and bandit-filled lands surrounding the town, which open up gradually as you explore more and gain additional skills. While CJ starts out adventuring alone, she is eventually joined by two partners: Garoo, a kangaroo mercenary with a magic pouch he uses to store his hulking broadsword, and Isha, a clever young lass with the unusual innate ability to wield magic. All three characters have unique movement and attack abilities–CJ is agile and quick to strike; Garoo is slower but hits hard; Isha has ranged attacks and floaty jumps–and can be instantly swapped out with the press of a button. This allows you to perform some tricky play forming maneuvers, as well as chain characters’ attacks together for massive damage.

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RiffTrax: The Game Review – Dumb Jokes Reign Supreme

RiffTrax is the successful version of your favorite pastime: hanging out with your friends and making fun of bad movies. Combining that with the party-game genre, which has largely been dominated primarily by Jackbox Games, makes sense. RiffTrax: The Game allows players to write their own comedic lines to accompany clips from bad movies. Are you and your friends witty or do you rely primarily on the fallback of making a robot voice say “f***” and “shit” to get your laughs?

RiffTrax: The Game is essentially a spiritual successor to developer Wide Right Interactive’s What The Dub but with the added voiceover work and witty writing of the RiffTrax crew: Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett. You may also know these voices from the ’90s TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000 as Mike Nelson, the second Tom Servo, and the second Crow, respectively. The multiplayer party game features over 250 movie clips, many of which come from RiffTrax classics fans will be familiar with like Plan 9 From Outer Space, and allows for 1-6 players to participate, in addition to audience members who can watch and vote for their favorite jokes.

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Much like RiffTrax and MST3K, the goal of this game is to make jokes while clips from bad movies play. Much like the various Jackbox games, this is a game to play at parties, and participating only requires a phone, tablet, or even a desktop, so it’s available to everyone with an internet browser. While the overall goal of getting the biggest laughs remains the same, there are two modes of play for RiffTrax: The Game: Pick a Riff, where you choose from a small list of pre-written lines, read by the RiffTrax team, and Write A Riff, where you create your own funny lines. Points are tabulated throughout the game, and the winner at the end is the person with the highest score. If you’ve ever played one of the many Jackbox games, you’re familiar with this format.

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Trek To Yomi Review – One Samurai

The one thing that immediately stands out about Trek to Yomi is its striking visual style. Set during Japan’s Edo Period, Trek to Yomi captures feudal Japan with a grainy black and white filter reminiscent of classic samurai cinema–particularly the movies of legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. Almost every single frame in Trek to Yomi could be a painting; such is the beauty of its immaculate composition. For all of its gravitas, however, the side-scrolling action game underneath it all continually underwhelms. When two heavy, steel katanas clash against each other with a subdued and weightless whimper, it becomes clear that Trek to Yomi lacks the substance to match its fantastic style.

Most of your time in Trek to Yomi is spent cutting down enemies with protagonist Hiroki’s deadly katana. Combat adopts a familiar structure as you utilize light and heavy attacks, parries, dodge-rolls, and ammo-limited ranged weapons like a bow and shurikens to carve through each enemy encounter. Stamina governs how often you can block and attack before becoming winded and leaving yourself open to attack, but both health and stamina can be upgraded by exploring and finding pickups off the beaten path. You’ll also unlock new combos as you progress, including one that lets you swing backwards–useful for dealing with enemies who emerge from behind–and another that leads with a heavy attack before transitioning into a combination of lightning-fast strikes.

You feel appropriately deadly, able to cut through most enemies with a couple of sword swings, but this does mean combat is a cakewalk for the most part. Armored enemies aren’t quite as easy to kill, since they’re able to sustain more damage and generally have more elaborate combos, and enemy types like those wielding spears force you to close the distance before you can strike a killing blow. The problem with Trek to Yomi’s combat is that dispatching these foes rarely ever feels satisfying. There’s a lack of fluidity when transitioning between different actions, and the animations are stuttery and stilted, lending everything a sense of weightlessness that’s at odds with the game’s cinematography. Parries are decidedly underwhelming, too, and enemies tend to attack one at a time–even when they have you surrounded–eliminating much need in even using the mechanic. It all results in combat taking on a formulaic rhythm as you simply parry, attack, and then repeat, regardless of which enemy type you’re confronted with.

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Gotta Protectors: Cart of Darkness – Let’s Protectorize, Guys!

Retro-throwback is a popular aesthetic these days. Turns out, detailed 2D pixel art, jammin’ chiptune soundtracks, and pick-up-and-playability are timeless. One under-the-radar series that’s been rocking the retro aesthetic is Gotta Protectors, a multiplayer overhead action/tower defense/real-time strategy fusion that’s earned fervent fans. Gotta Protectors: Cart of Darkness is the series’ latest entry, and it’s a frenetically fun and strategic adventure alone or with up to three companions.

The world of Gotta Protectors is one of those video game fantasy universes where hordes of monsters are always attacking, placing the kingdom in peril. Fortunately, the kingdom has Princess Lola and her magical banner that can heal and protect all of her subjects… except for herself. That’s a pretty fatal flaw, but fortunately, she’s got a guardian army: the Gotta Protectors, a motley gang of warriors and weirdos whose purpose is to keep Lola from harm (and quench her thirst for monster blood by proxy). And Lola needs to be kept safe from all harm, because there’s one other power she wields: a shriek of frustration that can destroy everything.

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From the outset, it’s clear that Gotta Protectors does not take itself very seriously. Your gang of Protectors consists of a variety fantasy classes, each with something a little off about them. This includes an obnoxiously smug archer, an old paladin trying to relive his glory days by riding a toy horse, a ninja whose quest for unencumbered speed has left him practically naked, a mystic whose anti-social nature leaves you wondering whose side she’s really on, and an amazon who is what the kids these days call “thicc,” among others. Adding to their humor is the fact that they’re all aware that they’re in a video game, breaking the fourth wall and making deliberately-cringey 90’s pop culture and game references. Princess Lola, despite being so helpless that she can’t even move by herself, gives them somewhat backhanded encouragement while gleefully reveling in their monster murder. The bizzare, humorous atmosphere and charming visual Easter eggs scattered throughout (try pressing X on the pause screen) are a delight, and help make Cart of Darkness stand out among similar retro-styled games.

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