An amazingly woven web!
Spider-Man is my favourite super hero, and my affinity to Insomniac Games is similar to the nostalgic attachment many have with Nintendo. I grew up with these two major entities, both of them shaping my sense of identity and fostering this current passion of mine – Spider-Man: The Animated series and Spyro the Dragon were the definition of my childhood. The collaboration between Sony, Marvel, and Insomniac Games is nothing short of a match made in heaven; this amalgamated passion project is a conspicuous labor of love and is one of the best representations of everyone’s favourite webslinger. Marvel’s Spider-Man is a testament to Insomniac’s pristine quality and unparalleled level of passion, for their “underdog” pedigree is a perfect match for the thematic nature of Spider-Man. Insomniac Games has not only crafted one of the most satisfying gameplay experiences in recent memory, but they also created one of the most empathetic and emotional Spidey stories in the character’s on-screen history. While its narrative may fall onto familiar territory every now and then, it’s constantly filled with surprising twists and turns that range from the notably delightful to the undeniably heartbreaking, drastically flipping any preconceived notions of the established universe. It’s a fantastically well-told story that soars meteorically due to the excellent cast of characters and the strong performances behind them. Insomniac’s notable level of care and polish is also heavily reflected in Spider-Man’s gameplay, with each element striking a resounding, yet harmonious balance. Web-swinging and traversal is unabashedly invigorating, but also bears certain therapeutic tendencies. Combat is accessibly simple, yet has a profound layer of depth and complexity, which results in a brilliant system that oozes an unparalleled sense of style and fluidity. Each element is seamlessly weaved into a wonderful web that provided endless entertainment while providing an emotionally rich story that rarely pulled its punches. While a few derivative design choices and repetitive elements slightly hinder the core experience, nothing fully detracts from what is one of the most captivating and addicting experiences of the year. Marvel’s Spider-Man is without a doubt the best Spider-Man game ever created; its Insomniac Games’ best work to date, and one of the best superhero games of all-time. It’s remarkably spectacular and undeniably amazing.
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A path worth traveling…
Square Enix’s inaugural foray onto the Nintendo Switch immediately captured everyone’s attention during its reveal early last year; with its pristinely crafted art-style, ode to traditional RPG design, and blissfully whimsical musical score, there was simply no shortage of interesting components to anticipate. Octopath Traveler is a gorgeous amalgamation of the RPG fundamentals of yesteryear and a conscious effort of modern polish and refinement. From a gameplay standpoint, Octopath Traveler is an excellent ensemble of the finely tuned elements you’d expect from a Square game – the addictive “break” mechanic alleviates the monotony of rudimentary battles, while the job system adds a significant layer of versatility and player flexibility that’s seldom found in the genre. With Octopath Traveler, you will undeniably come for the exuberant pixel art and the emotional musical composition but will ultimately stay for its addictive gameplay and simplistically complex battle system. To describe Octopath Traveler’s characters and narrative as disappointing would be a disservice to the emotional dissonance experienced throughout the 60 hour journey; there is a strong disconnect and lack of empathetic value as each character’s story is purely isolated, with characters having little no interaction with one another, resulting in the worst display of character development I have experienced in a video game. While some stories bear more emotional weight than others, they are still disjointed and uninspired, and pale in comparison to the simplistic standards of storytelling for any medium. Its narrative structure also struggles to find a sense of cohesion and focus, constantly fumbling on its isolated and disjointed nature. Octopath Traveler’s encompassing narrative is its biggest failure, and while its gorgeous ambience and finely tuned gameplay alleviate its shortcomings and carry the overall experience, its disjointed and apathetic structure leave a bad taste that simply never goes away. Negative qualms set aside, Square’s latest may not be their greatest, but it’s still an experience worth traveling.
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*This review originally appeared at wizarddojo.com*
Appeasing the gods…
God of War will stand as one of greatest reinventions in gaming history, breathing distilled life into a dormant franchise and reconstructing the preconceived notions of an established anti-hero. God of War is a brilliant thought piece that blissfully ripens with each passing moment, embodying the very foundation of the snowball effect. Its true brilliance lies within the sum of its parts and how each element is seamlessly weaved to craft an impeccably paced experience that rivals the meteoric heights of literature’s finest. Each exceptional element stands audaciously on its own but are beautifully accentuated as an ensemble, personifying a melodic orchestra of sorts. From its profound deconstruction of the familiar, redefinition of established characters, and completely revamped combat system, God of War is a blissful experience that constantly evolves and is exquisitely surprising. Its effortless transition from tranquil exposition to impeccably constructed gameplay is a pristine work of art, encompassing its creative theme of seamless harmony. Whether if you bask in the glory of its exceptionally gorgeous world, delve into the tantalizing water of its Norse mythology, deviate the beaten path in a rewarding sense of exploration and discovery, or partake in one of the most brutally satisfying combat systems to ever grace the medium, no single piece of the puzzle ever outshines God of War’s greatest triumph: its poignant story of paternal love, acceptance, discovery, and redemption. God of War is indicative to the strength of the single-player experience and their importance to this growing infrastructure, a bold proclamation to their sense of hopeful permanence. Its enriching sense and scale of world building, level design, and creative direction is an exceptional achievement that rightfully surpasses the likes of anything that came before it. God of War is a masterpiece in every meaning of the word, as it impeccably redefines the conventions of this established series, crafting a new powerful identity that is quintessentially more resonant and accessible, all of which is captured in one continuous camera shot of glory.
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*This review originally appeared at wizarddojo.com*
An inspirational climb to greater heights.
January has never been a heavy hitting month for video game releases – it functions as a relative calm before the storm. However contemporary showcases have proven to be a delightful exception to the rule, transcending January into a mainstay of quality. January 2013 saw the release of one of the best modern JRPGs in recent memory, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and January 2017 introduced the franchise resurrecting Resident Evil 7: biohazard, a franchise reviver and one of the best games of 2017. This past January also had a masterpiece simmering under the radar, the independent platformer with tremendous heart, Celeste. While its sense of scale is rather diminutive compared to the previously mentioned January entries, its level of quality never faltered, making it an undeniable front-runner for game of the year. Plated with its impeccable level design, brilliantly simple mechanics, and slew of deviating paths and hidden goodies, Celeste transcends into a remarkably defined staple of the modern 2D platformer. Its pitch perfect gameplay and refined mechanics are enhanced by its impeccably crafted pace and gameplay implementation, introducing new twists and turns at every corner, significantly upping the ante with each new chapter. Aside from its mechanical prowess, Celeste boasts one of the most beautifully crafted narratives to ever grace the gaming sphere, a creative element typically undermined or absent in mainstays of the genre. Celeste’s inspiring coming of age story is a breath of fresh air to the expanding portfolio of 2D platformers. While these two fundamental structures of Celeste are inherently separate, both exude an unparalleled level of quality, becoming prime examples of their craft and are seamlessly harmonized as a result. Celeste is not only a remarkable start to the new year, it is arguably the best modern 2D platformer, standing tall amongst the meteoric heights of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Ori and the Blind Forest.
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*This review originally appeared at wizarddojo.com*
Reach for the moon…
The Super Mario series requires no introduction; to say that it is synonymous with the video game medium would be an immense understatement. Its cadence to this unanimous praise is heavily warranted as the Super Mario series is game development at its finest. One staple and undisputed fact that has remained a constant of sorts for the legendary series is its profound sense of unadulterated fun; no other series is able to emit an equivalent sense of elation or wonder. However, Mario’s strongest backbone and alluring element is its ability to adapt and evolve. The core ingenious structure has remained intact for over three decades, with innovative ideas and constructs implemented into each new iteration of Mario. It’s a successful formula that rightfully acknowledges and respects the past, but also leaves way for innovation and improvement, encompassing a disposition for unpredictability and audacity. Super Mario Odyssey is a prime example of Nintendo’s pristine ability to take the familiar and beautifully mold it into something brilliantly exotic. In a lot of ways, Super Mario Odyssey is a renascence of the 3D sandbox platformer, however this magical adventure is far more than the sum of its parts. It redefines the structure of the series in terms of its gameplay variance, level design, and progression structure, while paying homage to its roots and acting as a celebration of sorts for the beloved franchise. It’s a delicious adventure that is equally parts exploration and platforming, and is chockful of enticing secrets and goodies to discover. Super Mario Odyssey is an amalgamation of each minute element that validates the series’ perfect standing; this foundation is enhanced considerably through Nintendo’s ingenious use of inventive concepts and implementations, crafting an experience that is constantly evolving in surprisingly brilliant ways. It’s an unabashed masterpiece that surpasses the insurmountable standards set by the Mario franchise. Super Mario Odyssey is the definition of perfection and is a glorified testament to Nintendo’s unparalleled sense of creativity and innovation.
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Kept you waiting, huh?
Metal Gear Online will not be weighed into this review as I primarily focused on the single-player aspect of The Phantom Pain.
The Metal Gear Solid series is a renowned work of video game art that is equally daunting as it is inventive. For many, this beloved franchise paved the way for video game story-telling, perfected the calm yet addictive nature of stealth gameplay, and fostered one of gaming’s greatest heroes, Solid Snake. As someone with an inept ability for the stealth genre of video games, the Metal Gear series never once appealed to my preferences, despite its popularity and unanimous praise. Funnily enough, I completed the entire core Metal Gear Solid series this year and I honestly regret not rectifying my juvenile boycott sooner as the Metal Gear Solid series is an astounding achievement. Kojima’s fifth main and final entry to the Metal Gear series, The Phantom Pain, is a rather obtuse experience as it transcends so many inherent fundamentals of the series while diminishing certain attributes that’ve become synonymous with the idiosyncratic series. Kojima’s first foray into the vast depths of the open world is not only a success but it surpasses the modern status quo for the genre. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a near-perfect gameplay experience that both encourages and compliments your play style, expecting a required level of intelligence and interpretation. This is simply stealth gameplay perfection as The Phantom Pain offers a minutia of different tactical approaches for any foreseeable state of affairs, thus the experience is fluctuated accordingly, never emitting feelings of stagnancy or frustration. Complemented with an excellent and engaging open world to utilize as your own playground of sorts, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a gameplay rich experience that is admittedly addictive and is honestly one of the best open world games I have ever played. Unfortunately, The Phantom Pain’s narrative is unable to match, let alone surpass, the ingenious nature of its gameplay counterpart. What has become an expected component of the Metal Gear Solid series is practically non-existent in The Phantom Pain. Its sense of narrative is sparse – proving to be disappointing at best, deficiently pathetic at worst – its obstructively disjointed by a bizarre and questionable episodic structure and while its gameplay counterpart is filled to the brim with meaningful and engaging content, its core narrative simply feels underdeveloped. However, despite its discrepancies, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain still manages to transcend as a near-perfect experience that is profoundly addicting from start to finish, simply never letting up. Although it may not be my favourite entry in the profound series, that honor belongs to Snake Eater, it is still an absolute favourite of mine and as I previously mentioned, it’s also one of the best open world games to date. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is an excellent entry into an already excellent established franchise and is undoubtedly the best game of 2015 that I never played.
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An absolute dream or nightmare?
Pretension is a fickle element that has slowly seeped its way into the contemporary gaming community, whether if it’s an added spice that caters to your flavour or an intolerable trend that’ll shortly meet its demise. With the rising popularity of the smaller, independent development, video games have reached a level of obscurity and experimentalism that was seldom found in the fostering years of gaming. During the indie development scene’s infancy, Copenhagen based developer Playdead arguably kick-started, at the very least contributed to, the popular indie movement with their atmospherically eerie experience, Limbo. To some, Limbo was an inaugural experience that was equally brilliant as it was obtuse; to others it was a hollow vessel with a high cadence for pretension and a shallow excuse for gameplay. I reside somewhere in between the high praise and the intolerable distain; it was an interesting gaming experience that ultimately forgot to be fun. Playdead’s second effort has been taken by storm, receiving unanimous praise from copious gaming outlets, with critics dishing out perfect scores left, right, and center. After my first brief playthrough, my emotions were rather conflicted as I couldn’t differentiate astonishment from confusion, enjoyment from disappointment. It’s been a little over a week since I concluded the three-hour experience, and after marinating my conflicted thoughts properly, I can safely say that Inside is an excellent game that will definitely not resonate with everyone. Some of you will absolutely adore this abstract gem, some of you will loathe it with a fiery passion, I cannot stress its polarizing nature enough! It’s definitely not the masterpiece that critics are claiming it to be, but it’s most certainly an experience that I immensely enjoyed. Just understand that you’ll be left with more questions than answers once the credits drop, and its rather obtuse ambiguity can be perceived as intriguing at best and pretentious at worst. Lastly, if you didn’t enjoy Limbo in any capacity, then chances are that Inside won’t have the required finesse to sweep your heart. Inside is a haunting experience, that simply dug its claws deep within me and ceased to ever let go.
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Now that E3 2016 is over, we can all take a deep breath and take the time to analyze the enthralling goodness that enraptured our captivation for the past week. While I felt the overall showcase was rather underwhelming in comparison to last year’s E3, there were specific highlights that acted as this year’s saving grace and Sony in particular definitely brought the momentum back as they undoubtedly knocked it out of the park with their press conference. Aside from the excellent re-imagining of the Resident Evil series with Resident Evil VII, the invigorating multiplayer showcase of Battlefield 1, the intriguing permutations of Detroit: Become Human, the melancholic tranquility of The Last Guardian, and the visceral, albeit familiar, gameplay of Gears of War 4, these next five games were my personal favourite showcases at this year’s E3.
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Greatness from small beginnings…
Very few experiences are capable of capturing the essence of adventure, let alone doing so with a resounding sense of polish; this honorable achievement in production and execution is conspicuously present in Naughty Dog’s flagship series. The fourth, and arguably final, entry in the series, entitled “A Thief’s End”, is an immaculate culmination of the blood, sweat, and tears that have been poured into this journey for the past nine years. Both the player and Naughty Dog have grown with these characters for nearly a decade and Naughty Dog appropriately honed in on that premise to create possibly the most personal and melancholic Uncharted experience to date. To close things off, Naughty Dog decided to slowly dig into Drake’s past, providing much needed context, and ultimately closure, for this character who has essentially become an icon to the PlayStation community. While I’d normally advocate the traditional “gameplay over story” mentality, Naughty Dog’s repertoire would be an obvious exception to the rule. Naughty Dog has always excelled in their ability to construct well written characters and the impeccable development present in their latest triumph is further proof of the fact. Their attention to detail, excellent writing, intriguing character development, and production quality are second to none and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is yet another successful notch on Naughty Dog’s impressive belt. While Uncharted 4’s gameplay is unable to match its sheer presentational brilliance, every minute element is pooled together to create a masterful experience that is equally thrilling as it is emotional. With a heavier emphasis on exploration, new implementation of storytelling, one of the greatest Easter eggs in gaming history, and an exceptional ending that mirrors the poignancy of Persona 4, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End may be the slowest entry in the series, but it’s arguably the best and undoubtedly my favourite. Nathan Drake’s final adventure is a worthy end indeed.
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Obvious spoiler warning for Uncharted 2 and the series as a whole. You have been warned…
In honor of the successful reception and recent admiration of Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, it felt appropriate to relay my thoughts on, what is easily, one of the greatest and my own personal favourite video game series of all time. More accurately, however, I’d like to dissect the unanimous favourite of the trilogy, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, which also happens to be my preferred entry and unsurprisingly, one of my favourite games of all time. Originally released back in 2009, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves arguably set a golden standard for action-adventure as its impeccable pacing, jaw-dropping set pieces, and exquisite character development were second to none, mirroring that pristine joy of a thrilling, quality summer blockbuster. The original’s under-performances and limitations are largely responsible for its sequel’s success as expectations regarding Uncharted 2 were manifested with the original being the standard. Naughty Dog desecrated its initial standard and unfathomably exceeded expectations, improving on every minute detail that the original Uncharted crafted, outclassing it in every way imaginable. Uncharted 2 is the renowned example of how to make a proper sequel; improving and expanding on the initial formula, catering to what exactly made the original so beloved, and never giving into the fear of working with the safe and familiar, upping the ante ten fold if needed. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves exceeded its brethren in terms of sheer scope, fantastic writing along with the exceptional development of their beloved characters, impeccable pacing that’s second to none, its gorgeously cinematic world that raised the bar for graphical possibilities, its bombastically iconic soundtrack, and riveting expedition that boasts a mirroring quality to some of Indiana Jones’ finest work. Even though Uncharted 2 is a masterpiece, it is by no means a perfect game; there are actually several inconsistencies that are notable to say the least, and although they never detract from the masterful experience that is Uncharted 2, they’re still prominent factors that ultimately make Uncharted 2 a flawed masterpiece.
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