Pokemon Brilliant Diamond / Shining Pearl Review-In-Progress

Even in the context of a series that regularly receives criticism for feeling formulaic, Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are particularly familiar. As remakes of the fourth-gen titles Diamond and Pearl, these are homages to an era of Pokemon when the series was just starting to settle into a comfortable niche. Not only that, but these are extremely faithful remakes, right down to the visual style and classic combat mechanics. That makes the experience feel downright homey, if not a little deja vu-inducing.

Diamond and Pearl, and therefore Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, are from a simpler era of Pokemon, before full 3D became the norm. Instead, they harkened back to the series’ roots as an overhead, sprite-based RPG. There would be clear delineation between a grass “tile” and a town “tile” and you would move from one to another as if on a checkerboard. You can see some of those roots at work in the remakes too. While your character has a full range of movement in the world and the geometry isn’t terribly blocky, there are some obvious anachronisms–how NPCs always move at right angles, for example, or how floor tiles are sized to fit your character perfectly. It’s only mildly distracting and, for the most part, is just charming.

Equally charming is the art style itself, especially in the overworld. While the more recent Sword and Shield have adopted a more lithe, elongated style that looks similar to the various Pokemon animated series, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl have translated the squat pixel art of the originals into an equally squat and adorable animated chibi style. Your character looks appropriately retro while simply exploring in the tall grass or walking around town, but the style looks especially great when the camera zooms in closer during dialogue sequences. At those points, the artwork really shines because you get to see the depth and vibrancy of the characters. They look almost like living vinyl dolls.

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Inscryption Review – House of Cards

Inscryption is an outstanding deck-building card game–until it isn’t. At around the halfway mark, the compelling, run-based structure of its core card battles and the intriguingly sinister atmosphere both transform into less interesting versions of themselves. In a sense, Inscryption falls victim to its own hype. So strong are its opening moves that you can’t shake the disappointment that much of what follows is merely quite good.

The basics don’t change. Throughout, Inscryption pits you against AI opponents in a series of card battles. Individual cards have attack and defense ratings and, often, a special ability. You play them, one at a time, into a slot on your row of the arena. Each turn, your played cards will either attack the opponent’s played cards or, if the slot opposite is empty, land a direct hit on the opponent themselves, scoring for each point of damage inflicted. Battles are resolved when you or your opponent gain a five-point advantage in damage over the other, a state typically met within a handful of minutes.

The core card combat is solid. But what sets it apart from countless other similar deck-builders is how those basic card mechanics are recontextualized across three formats. As you progress through the three distinct acts of its story, Inscryption stops each time to overhaul its card battle system. In doing so, it’s able to thoroughly explore different aspects and possible permutations of those basic mechanics. Such tweaks to the rules deliver new challenges that remain interesting, even if they’re not an improvement. While the reconfigurations of Acts 2 and 3 over the back half of the game carry plenty of merit, the first iteration you encounter in Act 1 is ultimately the best.

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Bright Memory: Infinite Review – Finite Would Be More Appropriate

Beginning a review with a history lesson is usually a bit of a faux pas, but in this case it’s integral to understanding what exactly Bright Memory: Infinite is. The original game–simply titled Bright Memory–gained some traction when it launched on Steam Early Access in 2019 for having flashy visuals that rivaled triple-A games in graphical fidelity, despite the fact that it was the work of a single developer. Zeng Xiancheng created Bright Memory in their spare time, and considering what a huge undertaking that is, it wasn’t too surprising when the game clocked in at around 40 minutes in length. A sequel was due to follow, but these plans were scrapped when Xiancheng opted instead to remake the original game and expand on both its gameplay and story.

That’s where Bright Memory: Infinite comes in, and it’s a vastly different game from the 2019 original. Only tangential elements like character and organization names remain; the rest may as well be an entirely new project–which can only be a good thing. Gone are the Devil May Cry-esque style ratings and blatant allusions to Dark Souls. Instead, Bright Memory: Infinite feels less like a derivative fan game and more like something entirely its own; a frenetic FPS with satisfyingly punchy combat that mixes both gunplay and melee abilities into one audacious whole. It’s still a fairly short experience with some glaring caveats, but the journey to its conclusion is more enjoyable than the original game.

The reworked story revolves around a strange phenomenon occurring in the skies around the world that has scientists baffled. You play as Shelia, an agent for the Supernatural Science Research Organisation, who’s sent in to investigate. It doesn’t take long for Shelia to discover that this strange phenomenon is also connected to some mysterious history between two interconnected worlds. If this sounds like complete nonsense, it’s worth noting that the only way I know all of this is because I looked up the game’s synopsis. Trying to glean any of this information from the opaque narrative is an impossible task. Whether this is intentional or due to something being lost in translation is unclear, but it’s difficult to care about anything that’s happening either way. Thankfully, keeping track of all this sci-fi gibberish isn’t entirely necessary.

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Battlefield 2042 Review-In-Progress — Character Development

Sometimes, everything in Battlefield 2042 just clicks. Playing the new Hazard Zone mode, my squad entered the frightfully dangerous shipping yard on Manifest, a map defined by a big port. The stacks of shipping containers lining the sides of the area can create a lethal bottleneck, and as we approached the objective ahead, we spotted another squad converging on the location as well.

As the recon fighter Mackay, I pulled out my Batman-like grapple gun and zipped up to the top of the container stack–which suddenly turned the cover-less kill zone of an alley into a perfect ambush location. One of my teammates threw down deployable cover for the group below, giving them a good spot to avoid incoming fire where none previously existed. While my squad on the ground distracted the enemies, I crawled to the edge of the container above them and started picking the enemy squad off. Another teammate deployed a scanner that let them see nearby enemies through walls, putting a stop to the last opponent before they could flank our team. Working in concert, we wiped the enemy squad in seconds, before they even knew what they were dealing with.

Battlefield 2042 is at its most fun when it brings new ideas together with the franchise’s traditional feel. And although many of its elements work well together– there’s not always harmony between the old and the new. Battlefield 2042 distinguishes itself from past games in the franchise by offering you the opportunity to play specific “specialists”–each with their own unique abilities and gadgets–rather than choosing from broader, more generic character classes. Not all of those specialists feel like they work in every match, though. Mackay is essential on Manifest, where he can take advantage of the map’s verticality in a way other specialists can’t, but he feels close to useless on Hourglass, where half the map is flat, open desert, and the other half is a cityscape littered with massive skyscrapers. Similarly, with high takeoff points, wingsuit-sporting Sundance is highly effective on Hourglass, but not especially helpful on Renewal, where there are far fewer places to take to the air.

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Age Of Empires IV Review – Resistance Is Feudal

There’s a unique feeling of satisfaction that Age of Empires games have excelled at delivering over the years. That wonderfully fulfilling moment of seeing your strategy succeed at littering the battlefield with an entire army of deceased knights and peasants, all your hard work, micro-management, and scheming paying off as your forces march off to burn down the nearest town center. Age of Empires II mastered that triumphant moment of careful planning and unleashing a well-balanced army on your opponent, and it’s that timeless feeling that Age of Empires IV seeks to capture while paying homage to its past.

While it does succeed at evoking nostalgic memories of unloading a heavily-armored Persian pachyderm war machine deep in the heart of enemy territory, Age of Empires IV doesn’t make much of an effort to venture out of its comfort zone either. It’s confident but familiar, relying on what works without blazing a new trail in the strategy genre.

Relic Entertainment and World’s Edge’s sequel to the long-running real-time strategy series thankfully skips some of the unnecessary complexity of Age of Empires III. Instead, they bring the game back to a successfully proven formula of managing limited resources, tactical scouting, and slowly transforming your hamlet from scrappy upstart into a world-conquering feudal superpower across several ages.

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