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Review

The joyless heroics of Star Fox Zero

As I sit at my keyboard, trying to figure out what in the world I could possibly say about Star Fox Zero, I find myself forced to concede that there’s not that much wrong with the game as a game. As an engine built to allow players to fly around in a high resolution version of a spaceship apparently built out of triangles, Star Fox Zero is entirely functional. There are things to blow up, which will also seek to blow the player up. There are big spaceships, and big imposing robots with hidden vulnerabilities (which are signaled to the…

dark souls iii promotional image
Review

Dark Souls III: Super Dark Souls World

Spoilers for a few Dark Souls III bosses below. /// The hardest Souls game, people say, is the one you played first. That’s where you learned the language, starting with the common nouns: the grunting Hollows who bust through wooden barricades, the poison swamp, the dragon who toasts the same spot forever like a puzzle in an adventure game, the giant whose feet must be pummeled until he loses his balance, the soul-lovin’ lady who has suggestive level-up conversations with you, and so on. But internalizing the games’ finicky grammar is the difficulty. A fluent Souls player follows dozens of…

1979 revolution
Review

1979 Revolution is a history lesson for the Netflix generation

As a school-aged kid in the 1990s, I didn’t spend a lot of class time talking about Iran. The name Ayatollah Khomeini meant more to me as a reference to a joke from The Simpsons than as an actual historical figure. As an adult, I became marginally more aware of Iran’s contemporary position within Middle East quagmires and U.S. international tensions, but my understanding of its recent history grew no more sophisticated. So when I sat down to play 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, I felt both curious and ignorant of the world I was entering. And, to developer iNK Stories’ significant…

Quantum Break
Review

Quantum Break is better TV than videogame

In Remedy Entertainment’s Max Payne (2001) and Alan Wake (2010), the player can approach television sets and watch short, surprisingly detailed videos. In Max Payne, these include soapy melodrama Lords and Ladies and the paranoiac, Lynch-riffing Address Unknown. Alan Wake sticks to a Twilight Zone-inspired anthology series called Night Springs. These TV shows are worth mentioning as a reminder that Remedy has never been shy about recognizing its influences. As such, Max Payne is a blend of Hong Kong cinema gunplay and conspiracy-laden noir. While Alan Wake is a Stephen King thriller filtered through the lens of Twin Peaks and…

Hyper Light Drifter
Review

Hyper Light Drifter cuts through the noise

Silence is difficult for most of us. It’s not just screens that prevent it, the ubiquity of entertainment and distraction, or the pace of modern life—though, that and more contributes to the difficulty of easing through the din. The chaff of life is a billowy recliner, keeping us cozy against the chaos in our minds. But there is something to gain in sitting in silence on a bare floor and using the low-cycle hum around you to pluck the signal from among scattered thoughts. Hyper Light Drifter merges a sense of silence with what eventually becomes instinctive action. It’s a…

salt4
Review

Salt and Sanctuary has soul

Salt is an essential part of our biology. It helps regulate fluid balance between cells. Our entire system of nerves and muscles is designed around the special electrochemical properties of salt. Too much salt and we die. Too little salt and we die. It’s the perfect metaphor for the kind of complex equilibrium Salt and Sanctuary likes to brutally enforce. Get too aggressive and you die. Give into cautious hesitation and you die. Learn to navigate the invisible rhythms in-between these two extremes, though, and something beautiful happens. It’s a construct familiar to anyone who’s subjected themselves to the punishing…

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Review

Fire Emblem Fates isn’t afraid of big, bold choices

Videogames operate on a timescale that we don’t expect from any other medium. Poetry and music often take minutes; novels and films hours. The day is not an uncommon unit of measure for the time we spend with games, and for games like Destiny (2014) or World of Warcraft (2005), weeks can be the operative unit. To me, “play” seems like a reductive way of describing a relationship of that length. You watch a movie, read a book, play a game; those verbs seem to describe fairly casual relationships. “Rewatch” and “reread” suggest a higher degree of focus or devotion,…

Samorost3_termites
Review

Samorost 3 is the best adventure game in years

In a cabin near Walker’s Lake, in Mississippi, there’s a piece of driftwood that looks almost like a wolf’s head. From another angle, it appears as some bizarre sailing vessel, and from another still, it has the look of an alien weapon—perhaps a hybrid of a gun and a club. I remember turning it over in my hands as a child, curious as to why anyone would place an oddly-shaped piece of wood on a table as a decorative object. I hadn’t thought of that bit of ornamental flotsam for years, but it suddenly appeared in my mind when I…

Pokken-Tournament-Commercial
Review

Pokkén Tournament is killing my Pokémon vibe

“Kids play inside their homes now, and a lot had forgotten about catching insects. So had I. When I was making games, something clicked and I decided to make a game with that concept. Everything I did as a kid is kind of rolled into one—that’s what Pokémon is. Playing video games, watching TV, Ultraman with his capsule monsters—they all became ingredients for the game.” – Satoshi Tajiri in an interview with TIME Magazine, 1999 It’s a fun bit of trivia now, but Pokémon originally grew out of its creator’s simple, childlike sense of awe toward the bugs in his backyard. At…