Animal Well Review – Going Deeper

It’s usually pretty easy to predict how a 2D Metroidvania is going to play out. At some point, you’ll probably unlock a double or even triple jump to reach previously inaccessible areas, obtain an air dash that helps you traverse large gaps and pass through specific blockades, and acquire a weapon upgrade that functions as both a killing tool and a way to progress past certain obstacles. Animal Well contains most of these things, but never in ways that are expected. Created by solo developer Billy Basso and published by Bigmode, Animal Well is a surrealist puzzle platformer that’s delightfully surprising. Even if its pixelated art style and genre trappings make it seem familiar on the surface, it is a game that often eschews conventional wisdom and stands out because of it.

You play as a nondescript blob who emerges from a blossoming flower into a strange vibrant world filled with creatures big and small. You can move and jump, but that’s about the extent of your physical prowess. Upon awakening, you’re free to explore in any direction you choose. Animal Well doesn’t hold your hand and is exceedingly non-linear, letting you unlock items and abilities in whichever order you find them. There is an end goal that’s revealed once you discover a map and get a lay of the land, as each corner of the map contains a flame you need to fetch in order to light the four beacons at its center. Why, you might ask? There isn’t an explicit explanation for anything you do, but that sense of mystery is part of what drives the adventure forward.

The other part is the world of Animal Well itself. At first glance, its pixelated art style looks simple, yet each screen holds a deceptive layer of detail beyond its neon-drenched exterior. Whether it’s the cascading background elements, reflections on the water’s surface, the sway of bushes and vines as you move past them, or the realistic smoke that billows into the air after igniting a firecracker, there’s more to the visuals that it may seem on first blush. There are also physics, lighting, and particle systems at play that modernize the game’s Commodore 64-inspired visuals, creating a world that feels very much alive, and that’s without mentioning the abundance of wildlife.

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Top Spin 2K25 Review – Painting The Lines

Tennis, at its core, is a game about legacy. Names like Billie Jean King, Pete Sampras, and the Williams sisters are immortalized through legendary matches, on-court triumphs, and tournament dominance that have shaped the history of the sport. It seems appropriate, then, that the Top Spin series has lived on in similar reverence since Top Spin 4, which was released over a decade ago to critical acclaim. Now, with developer Hanger 13 at the helm, Top Spin makes its long-awaited return. It serves up an ace in the all-important gameplay aspects, but double faults on content and troubling microstransaction focus mean it’s still far from a grand slam.

Gameplay takes center court in the newest entry and it’s excellent. Moving around the court feels great thanks to a strong sense of momentum and weight. That’s especially true on different surfaces, as the firm footing of a hard court gives way to sliding around on clay. It looks authentic, and factoring in the different starts and stops on the numerous types of surfaces is an important consideration when playing a match.

Different shots are mapped to various buttons and do an excellent job conveying just how sophisticated volleys are. Whether you are hitting a hard straight shot, curving slices, or smashing a ball right up the line with hard-to-handle top spin, the various options are meaningfully different. A simple timing system lets you tap for controlled returns, or hold to generate power, with both options depending on releasing at the right moment to determine accuracy. It’s straightforward, and rewarding to execute . There’s a place and application for each, like intentionally hitting a slow rolling shot to give yourself an opportunity to reposition yourself on the court, or sending a lob high over the head of an opponent who has creeped too close to the net.

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Indika Review – The Devil Makes Three

Indika is a hard game to define. It looks like a horror game, but it’s not scary–at least not in the conventional sense. It plays like a third-person puzzle game, but most of the puzzles don’t require much thought. What Indika definitely is, however, is a fascinating psychological examination of faith and doubt that’s supported by remarkable visuals and mature writing. Occasionally, its ambitions get a little unwieldy, but developer Odd Meter’s decision to take on these heady themes and confidently explore nearly all of them is an impressive feat.

You play as Indika, a nun tormented by a demonic voice in her head, as she travels across a nightmarish interpretation of 19th-century Russia to deliver a letter. Most of the game consists of traveling from point A to B, solving a few puzzles, and watching cutscenes, but within these tasks are moments of introspection and self-discovery. Along the way, she meets an escaped convict named Ilya who claims God speaks to him. What ensues is a nuanced exploration of faith and doubt, love and hate, and pleasure and suffering. Both characters believe in the same God; rather than pitting a believer against a nonbeliever, Indika explores the space that exists between two interpretations of the same faith. This specificity allows Odd Meter to delve into different shades of Christianity and examine how the same texts, rituals, and prayers can be bent to ascertain different meanings.

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These frequent philosophical exchanges could have easily come off as overwrought or self-indulgent, but all these musings are in service of the characters and their development over the course of the story. For example, Indika tells Ilya she joined the convent of her own volition, but because her decision was fueled by emotions and experiences that were out of her control, can she really say she became a nun through her own free will? Ilya challenges this notion, and declares that free will is how we rise above our biological dispositions. Reflective conversations like these are key to Indika’s character as she grapples with her faith and attempts to make sense of her life.

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Endless Ocean: Luminous Review – Hope You Really Like Fish

Between the advent of cozy games, farm sims, rhythm games, narrative adventures, and more, we’re in something of a golden age of non-violent games. If you want to take a break from shooting and punching and instead just relax with some chill vibes, you have myriad options available to you. Endless Ocean: Luminous is an aquatic take, letting you freely explore the ocean with no danger or violence to speak of whatsoever. It sometimes straddles the line between game and edutainment in ways that could be engaging, but achingly slow progression and a lack of realism leave it feeling washed up.

Scientists say only 5% of the ocean has been explored. The name Endless Ocean, and the unexplored nature of the ocean itself, suggests an incredible degree of possibility and adventure. In practice, though, there actually isn’t all that much to do in Endless Ocean: Luminous. You can take part in a Solo Dive, in which you explore a seemingly randomized map; a Shared Dive, which is just a Solo Dive with friends exploring the same map together online using Nintendo’s Switch Online service (complete with its usual shortcomings); and Story Mode, which gives you short missions consisting of objectives accompanied by a little dialogue.

With this dearth of options, its approach to progression gating further compounds the lack of variety. After the first handful of story missions, the others are locked behind scanning ocean creatures in Shared or Solo dives. To scan you just hold the L button in the direction of sea life until the meter fills, which then gives a detailed look at the creatures in your scan. But the progress gates are set so absurdly high that the novelty wears off quickly. One of the earliest gates is set at 500 scans, which felt high but reasonable. The next was at 1,000, so I had to get another 500. That rubbed me the wrong way. By the time I reached the next gate, set at 2,000–meaning I needed another 1,000 scans–the chill vibes were gone. I was just annoyed. It’s hard to overstate how frustrating it is to spend almost an hour roaming around a randomized map scanning fish, only to exit the map and find I’ve only gained another 200 pips toward my next story goal. Plus, judging by the creature log, there are just under 600 species of sea life total in the game. Why would you need to scan 2,000 times to see a mid-game story mission?

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Final Fantasy 16: The Rising Tide Review – Riding The Wave

It’s always a bit weird to go back to a game you finished for story-centric DLC, especially when the base game had a pretty definitive ending. However, those that have just a little bit more left in the tank can take the opportunity to give a game you really loved one more high note to end on. I often think of the Mass Effect 3 Citadel DLC as the best example–an oddly placed, yet near-perfect send-off. Final Fantasy XVI: The Rising Tide evokes similar feelings in that I was just happy to have an excuse to revisit that world and spend a bit more time with characters I cherished. While it does largely play out like more Final Fantasy XVI content, The Rising Tide fills in a few blanks left behind and lets you wield two new Eikons in a questline that reaches similar heights of the original game.

The Rising Tide questline is slotted into FFXVI right before the main game’s point of no return, making it feel like an impromptu diversion at a critical point in the story. That said, it is necessary, as many of the events leading up to the DLC provide the context around its story. As Clive, you and the crew are invited to visit a region called Mysidia–a quiet area tucked away in the north and cloaked under the veil of powerful magic to both conceal itself from the rest of the world and maintain a facade of bright blue skies. It’s a new area for the game that has its own interesting, isolated society and lets you explore a relatively small but vibrant region, and its stunning views remind you of how FFXVI uses its technical strengths to paint an expansive and enticing world.

Much of FFXVI was visually dour given its grim nature, so Mysidia’s tropical tinge is a refreshing contrast. But this isn’t a vacation for Clive–The Rising Tide revolves around the history of Leviathan as an Eikon that, like every other Eikon, was wielded in bad faith. Through the main scenario quests and sidequests, you learn about the people of Mysidia, their way of life, and their particular relationship with Leviathan. The people are self-sustaining and treat magic quite differently from the rest of Valisthea, and their leader, Shula, embodies their ethos as she accompanies you throughout the DLC. She’s not exactly a standout character in the grand scheme of things, but she is a solid anchor for The Rising Tide and provides a good enough excuse for dragging Clive off the beaten path. It’s a twist to the typical FFXVI plot beat and comes around to be a rather sweet story about breaking generational curses in a way that lends itself more to FFXVI’s softer side.

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