Unpacking Review – The Things We Carry

Unpacking gave me the key to remembrance, unlocking corners of my mind where small memories that have subconsciously shaped me are tucked away.

One Christmas I gave both my grandmothers tiny ceramic angel bells with “Grandma” etched in blue ink. They probably cost five bucks each, purchased with my hard-earned allowance. These fell firmly into the category of sentimental and arguably tacky gifts that kids often give to parents and grandparents. They were nothing special then, but they are right above me on my desk shelf as I write this. When each of my grandmothers died–a decade apart–we found those insignificant angel bells prominently displayed in their homes. They went back to me as a keepsake, a reminder that even the smallest gestures of love can mean something big in time. Those angel bells, with progressively fading lettering, have been gently wrapped and kept safe throughout five moves. And no matter where I call home, the angels are next to each other, just a glance away.

Unpacking, a puzzle game of your own memories and psyche, taps into a wide range of emotions. It accomplishes this feat while managing to remain fun and relaxing, with soothing background music and a satisfying loop that gets more detail-oriented as life moves forward (or drags on).

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Mario Party Superstars Review – The Fault In Our Stars

My kids had a litany of questions during our first game of Mario Party Superstars. Where, my 12-year-old son asked, was Monty Mole, his favorite character from the last game? Why are there no minigames where you have to waggle the controllers around, my seven-year-old daughter asked? Why are there so few characters to choose from anyway? And why does everyone have the same dice block?

My kids have had a lot of experience with Super Mario Party (the previous game in the series, which was released on the Nintendo Switch in 2018), so these comparisons were inevitable. The newest entry, Mario Party Superstars, is a deliberate embrace of the Mario Party series’ early days before motion control gimmicks and twists on its classic game mode became the norm. This is a game that delivers on the core Mario Party experience and is high on nostalgia, but my kids’ questions highlighted the trade-off that comes with that approach. In embracing the old, Superstar loses a lot of tweaks and additions that have livened up recent Mario Party games, making Superstars as much of a step back as it is a throwback.

That step back doesn’t necessarily mean Mario Party Superstars is a bad game, but it does feel like a dated one. If you’ve ever played a Mario Party game before, then Superstars will feel instantly familiar thanks to its stripped-back focus on the series’ staples: dynamic, shifting boards, a huge selection of fun minigames, and more than a hint of tear-your-hair-out randomness that gives (almost) every game an anything-can-happen feel. Depending on your age, that familiarity may also extend to Superstars’ selection of boards and minigames, many of which were taken from the very start of the Mario Party franchise back in the Nintendo 64 and GameCube days.

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Unsighted Review – Counting The Seconds

Borrowing ideas liberally from numerous inspirations can often lead to games that lack either an identity or a clear focus, and in the worst cases a bit of both. This isn’t at all true for Unsighted, a pixelated, top-down metroidvania that combines its many familiar gameplay mechanics into a cohesive adventure that is regularly more than the sum of its parts. It’s a remix that also blends gracefully with Unsighted’s original ideas, adding the necessary tension to a time-sensitive mission that works both thematically and mechanically. Although it can falter in some areas, especially with its persistence to hold your hand in some regards, it’s a tightly paced action game with sharp combat and inventive puzzles that are a delight to enjoy.

Unsighted puts you at the center of a civil war between humans and automatons, a sentient race of robots that gained their self-awareness via magical dust dispersed by a meteor that crashed into earth decades before. This meteor has since been closed off by the humans in a last-ditch effort to rob the automatons of their lives, eventually reducing them to base killing machines without emotion. This process, known as “going Unsighted,” is something none of the automatons want and a fate you, playing as freedom-fighter automaton Alma, seek to stop for good.

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This sets off a familiar hunt for a series of MacGuffins–in this case, powerful crystals–across an expansive map, each of which takes place in a distinctive biome with its own inventive dungeon. As you travel through the map, you’ll encounter paths locked off by obstacles your current loadout can’t overcome, encouraging you to find the tools you need to progress. It’s a standard metroidvania trope that will feel immediately familiar, but combined with intricate dungeons, Unsighted breaks up the standard progression with entertaining pit stops and doesn’t let you linger on any frustrating backtracking that is required.

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The Good Life Review – Country House

The Good Life is exceptionally silly in all the right ways. It’s not just the absurd premise: Naomi Hayward is a young photojournalist from New York who has inexplicably run up a personal debt of £30,000,000 and is somehow trying to work it off by uncovering the secret of the sleepy English village of Rainy Woods, where the inhabitants transform into cats and dogs with the full moon.

Of course, that is part of it, but it’s also more that The Good Life–part life sim and part detective RPG–takes a gleefully frivolous approach to its every aspect. From the oddball delights of its cast of characters to the increasingly preposterous demands of its relentless fetch quests, there’s surprisingly little here that merits being taken seriously–even the central mystery. Naomi may constantly refer to Rainy Woods as a “goddamn hellhole,” but she’s quick to settle in and soon finds herself caught up in the nonsense, whether she’s smashing through barrels on a cross-country pig ride or helping the local butcher perfect his meat pie recipe. With the stakes pitched low, The Good Life carries itself with a breezy, knockabout charm befitting its title.

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Yet despite the abundance of infectious whimsy, there are significant caveats. The quaintly playful tone belies a quest structure that leans heavily into grind, as you scour the countryside for crafting materials and, at times, painfully rare drops. Unassuming tasks, like buying new shoes or making a salad, can require serious up-front investment. Fully exploring The Good Life’s myriad systems is a lot of work and the rewards for doing so aren’t always as satisfying as you might hope.

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New World Review In Progress: (Faction) War Never Changes

It’s not everyday a new, big-budget MMORPG arrives, much less one developed by Amazon. In recent years, the MMO genre has largely been forgotten, with only new expansions for the biggest names in the genre to satisfy fans. But back in the mid-to-late 2000s, new MMOs felt like they were a dime a dozen, with game publishers all looking for a piece of the massive pie that Blizzard had carved out for itself starting with vanilla World of Warcraft in 2004.

It’s fitting then that New World in many ways feels like it originated from that particular period of gaming history. Old-school in many of its sensibilities, New World is a social, player-versus-player-focused MMO the likes of which largely hasn’t been seen since 2001’s Dark Age of Camelot. Based on the more than 100 hours I’ve played so far, there is definitely some enjoyment to be had, particularly for those interested in PvP. Unfortunately, New World is also held back by a largely boring leveling experience and a few particularly annoying design choices that may turn off even the most dedicated MMORPG fans.

The setup of New World is simple: After creating a character, you wash up on the shores of a mysterious uncharted island somewhere in the Atlantic ocean called Aeternum. Turns out, people have been washing up there for thousands of years and are unable to return to their homelands thanks to a mysterious storm surrounding the island. People don’t really die, or even age, in Aeternum, but that doesn’t mean life is easy. Those who have lived on the island for ages run the risk of becoming soulless husks known as the Lost, or even worse, are in jeopardy of being brainwashed by an ancient evil spreading across the land known as the Corruption. It’s up to players to rebuild and lead an order of guardians known as the Soulwardens if Aeternum is to stand a chance against the encroaching darkness. As you embark on your adventure to level 60, you’ll gather crafting materials, fight monsters, equip new weapons and armor, complete quests, and level up your character.

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