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Concerning Continuations: Disappointing Game Sequels

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Most Disappointing Video Game Sequels

In film, it’s a cliche that a sequel is almost never as good as the original. In the game industry, it’s almost the opposite. Sequels routinely build upon the paths laid by developers in their original entries, making modifications to the engine, the game’s design, or its story that usually fix issues that the first entry had. However, as with every rule, there are exceptions. Just like some film sequels equal or surpass their predecessors, some game sequels — while occasionally succeeding as standalone entries — fail utterly to capture what made their predecessors so great,

We recently invited our writers to talk about some of their most personally disappointing sequels, and we received what are certainly some interesting answers.

Red Dead Redemption II

Red Dead Redemption II is by no means a bad game. Both visually and mechanically, there is exquisite attention of detail that I have only ever seen once before (in The Witcher 3). The amount of polish placed on simple things — like how the game’s protagonist, Arthur, gets off his horse — led me, as a novice developer, to feel daunted because the entire world is treated with similar attention to detail. The dialogue is well written, and there is an abundance of activities and missions to explore. Why then is this game disappointing?

The original Red Dead Redemption is still, to this day, my favorite game of all time. It’s a complete package, blessed with one of the best stories in gaming, some of the best visuals of the time, and gameplay that I couldn’t force myself to tire of. Every aspect feels perfect and well balanced. In many ways, Red Dead Redemption II is the sequel you would expect.

However, it feels like there’s too much of it.

While the first game took around thirty or forty-five hours to see everything, its sequel can range from seventy to one hundred fifty hours. Compared to the first game, where there was always enough to discover (but not enough to feel overwhelmed), Red Dead Redemption II feels overfull, and Rockstar’s choice of game design sometimes evidences this fact.

In Red Dead Redemption II, I’ve died in gunfights because when I tried to aim my pistol, I opened the dialogue tree by mistake. Similarly, I’ve spent hours collecting pelts, just to find out they were of poor quality or had them stolen mere meters from the nearest town. I’ve desperately tried to lose myself in the story, only for Rockstar to drag me away from it time and time again with a world so real and beautiful
that it dilutes the quality of the experience.

I’m enjoying my time with Red Dead Redemption II, but the magic of the original has not been replicated. Indeed, it reminds me of many Oscar nominees — a remarkable achievement and detail
within the industry, but not that enjoyable to experience as a game. (Chris Bowring)

Mass Effect: Andromeda

When BioWare announced the fourth installment in their acclaimed Mass Effect series, fans of the game were excited to venture back into the world that we had grown to love over the course of five years. Although the ending of Mass Effect 3 faced its own share of criticism, the trilogy was widely praised, and a new game was highly anticipated.

Unfortunately for BioWare and Mass Effect fans, Mass Effect: Andromeda was a disappointing entry in the franchise which failed to live up to its predecessors’ legacies.

You can’t discuss Mass Effect: Andromeda without mentioning the controversy around the
animations and various other technical issues upon release. The painfully bad and often laughable
glitches and facial animations were noticeable almost immediately, and it didn’t take long before the
worst offenses were posted all over YouTube and social media. Characters would emote woodenly on their robotic faces, and game breaking bugs would force you to load a previous save. For a AAA game from a well-known company and developer, these sorts of mistakes were unforgivable.

Inevitably, comparisons were made between Andromeda and Mass Effect 3, and before long, many fans began to think that the third game had better animations despite being released five years earlier — and on vastly inferior hardware. BioWare later released patches to fix some of the worst cases, but it was too little, too late, and fans couldn’t forgive that we were given a broken and unfinished mess.

Mass Effect: Andromeda was not an entirely bad game. For instance, the combat had some updated
features that made for fun gameplay, and it was enjoyable to venture back into the Mass Effect universe once again. However, there are far too many issues to ignore. I loved the missions in the original trilogy, but I found them not half as engaging in Andromeda, as a fair amount were boring fetch quests across empty worlds. This, along with the multiple technical issues and lackluster narrative, made for a game that was just plain disappointing. (Toni Haynes)

Super Mario Sunshine

The 3D Super Mario games are some of the most acclaimed, yet surprisingly divisive, titles in Nintendo’s history. While some are considered masterpieces (the groundbreaking Super Mario 64, Galaxy 1 and 2, and some would argue the recent Super Mario Odyssey), others aren’t so unanimously loved.

Coming off of the incredible Super Mario 64, I was thrilled when the second-ever 3D Mario game was announced for the GameCube. Unfortunately, that excitement rapidly turned to disappointment as I quickly realized just how painfully samey and unintuitive Super Mario Sunshine is.

Super Mario 64‘s core platforming mechanics are some of the most naturally designed and rock solid platforming mechanics I’ve ever experienced. Those are largely still intact in Sunshine, but with one major wrinkle that was tied to Sunshine’s gameplay hook: F.L.U.D.D. While it’s fun to mess around with at first (particularly its ability to make Mario hover), controlling it and switching between its different modes feels significantly clunkier than the Super Mario series’ core gameplay. F.L.U.D.D.’s forced utilization throughout (save for only a few areas) makes it wear out its welcome that much more quickly.

Sunshine also suffers from a distinct lack of varied environments. Super Mario 64 quite literally transports players to different worlds with every painting they enter. Years later, Galaxy allows the player to visit a stunningly diverse array of planets and galaxies. Sunshine, on the other hand, is very firmly rooted in its tropical aesthetic. Whereas other 3D Super Mario games had blown my mind and pleasantly surprised me with new and interesting locales, Sunshine just felt lackluster and visually uninteresting. At its release, it was a decent game, but I can’t help but feel disappointed whenever I play it. (Brent Middleton)

Silent Hill 4: The Room

The initial trilogy of Silent Hill games is rightfully looked upon as the holy trinity of survival horror. The original Silent Hill utilizes its limitations as strengths, focusing on ambiance and atmosphere to make players feel tense, rather than employing cheap jump scares. Silent Hill 2 furthers this approach by diving deep into the psyche of the characters and the players, forcing both to take a long, hard look at the horrors of the real world through a funhouse mirror. Silent Hill 3 returns to the themes of the first game, but focuses them through a maternal lens rather than a paternal one. It also re-structures the gameplay to put some of the power back into the hands of the player.

Then came Silent Hill 4: The Room. Saddled with the legacy of being a Silent Hill game, The Room loses much of its original charm when players leave the sinister apartment they are trapped in to visit random parts of the titular town, with the switch from first to third-person making these exchanges all the more jarring.

Meanwhile, The Room continuously pulls you in and out of the nightmarish world of the preceding games, destroying the creeping sense of fear and dread that pervaded each of them. In essence, Silent Hill 4: The Room is the worst of both worlds. Teeming with indestructible enemies, frustrating puzzles, and a disastrous clash of artistic visions, this game is rightfully looked upon as the beginning of Silent Hill’s downfall as a franchise. (Mike Worby)

 Resident Evil 5

“How do you fuck this up!? How!?!?”

These are the words of William Hurt in A History of Violence, and they have become a constant reference point when I see slam dunks like this that someone, somehow, managed to bungle up. Case in point: Resident Evil 5.

Capcom had just saved this meandering franchise from falling into oblivion with its previous entry; Resident Evil 4 is one of the best-designed, most utterly fun survival horror games of all time. It masterfully re-balances the gameplay of Resident Evil so that the player can deliver the carnage unto their enemies, rather than just fearing the eventual onslaught. Yes, Leon occasionally gets violently dispatched with a chainsaw or pitchfork, but he also gets to blow up hordes of enemies with TNT, and crush them to bits with boulders and catapults.

Resident Evil 5 squanders this reinvention by making hasty, needless changes to the new formula. First, Capcom forced in a campaign-long co-op angle, making the game anti-fun unless you could find a friend to play with. Next, they threw the dark Gothic atmosphere and encroaching darkness of the previous game out the window. Finally, and perhaps most egregiously, RE5 returns players to the out-dated inventory system they had been straddled with for the five games that preceded the fantastic, empowering advent of the attache case system. Suddenly, one game later, we could only carry 6 to 8 items at a time, and had to stumble our way through pointless item exchanges with another character who we were probably controlling ourselves.

Finally,  Resident Evil 4 at least had the good graces to imitate Metal Gear Solid with tongue firmly planted in cheek. By doubling down on the worst elements in the most ridiculous game in the entire series, Resident Evil 5 boulder-punched itself into the volcano of the worst sequels ever put to plastic.

7 minutes. 7 minutes is all the time I have to deal with this game. (Mike Worby)

Xenoblade Chronicles X

There are few Nintendo games that I actively do not like. Xenoblade Chronicles X is one of those.

Flashback to 2015. It had been three years since Nintendo had released Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii in North America, and for the past two years, they had been marketing its sequel. Revealed first at a Nintendo Direct in 2013 — and further introduced in marquee appearances at E3 in 2014 and 2015 — Xenoblade Chronicles X seemed poised for the same sort of greatness that its predecessor had found in America.

In great anticipation for what I thought would be, without a doubt, my game of the year, I went on media blackout for X, refusing to look at the details of scores or read many impressions of any sort. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been so naive. However, the hype has a way of numbing one’s logical capabilities, and as a result, I went into the game almost completely blind.

I knew (from what I couldn’t blackout) that the game had a lesser story than its predecessor, but I figured “Hey, I loved the combat in Xenoblade, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Needless to say, I was completely wrong.

Xenoblade Chronicles X completely obliterated the original Xenoblade’s most valuable asset — it’s incredible story — and replaced it with one of the most snooze-worthy, poor excuses of a story that I’ve ever played in a game. Whereas from its initiation, Xenoblade Chronicles’ story hits the player fast and hard, pushing them rapidly through a tale whose scale rapidly accelerated, X’s is a slog — a poorly-localized, poorly written, ham-fisted tale that takes the worst parts of the last two decades of JRPGs, sews them together, and calls it a day.

Whereas Xenoblade compliments its story with characters that, while embodying the typical cliches found in JRPGs, nonetheless represents some of the best examples of Japanese storytelling this side of Chrono Trigger, X assembles a cast whose pure blandness is nearly overwhelming. From the player-created protagonist to the main cast, the entire game is filled with the worst elements of Japanese anime cliches. With too-young girls, macho guys, and other anime cliches for which the medium and its fans are routinely lampooned in the West, X feels like it got lost on the way to the darker side of CrunchyRoll. Atrociously wooden voice acting that called to remembrance the oaken tones of early 2000s shows like Transformers Armada was the final straw. I sold it within a week of release and haven’t looked back.

But, hey, that’s just my opinion. (Izsak Barnette)

***

So what are some of your most disappointing game sequels? Tell us in the comments section below!

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‘Oracle of Seasons’: A Game Boy Color Classic

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Oracle of Seasons

“It is an endless cycle of life… the changing seasons!”

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages & Oracle of Seasons are very much two halves of the same grand adventure, but they’re both worth examining on their own merits. Seasons in particular brings with it quite an interesting history. The game that would eventually become Oracle of Seasons began life as a remake of the original Legend of Zelda. This remake would be accompanied by five other games– a remake of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and four original titles– all developed for the Game Boy Color. These games would not be developed by Nintendo themselves, but by Flagship– a subsidiary of Capcom that was also funded in part by Nintendo and Sega.

These six games would eventually be trimmed into a trilogy slated to release in the summer, autumn, & winter of 2000, before settling as a duology that would launch simultaneously in 2001. Where Oracle of Ages was the sole survivor of the four original games, Oracle of Seasons was a brand new game morphed out of the Zelda 1 remake. Considering director Hidemaro Fujibayashi’s own reflection on Flagship’s Zelda proposal, much of what would define Seasons was always present;

 “The core of the game was pretty much decided. That is to say, the fact that it would be on the Game Boy Color, the use of the four seasons, and the decision to retain the feel of the 2D Zelda games. It was also decided that it would be a series.”

Not only was this remake never intended to be a standalone entry, it would kick start its own sub-series while featuring seasons at the forefront of the gameplay. Series creator Shigeru Miyamoto likewise asked Fujibayashi to pen a new story for the original Legend of Zelda, suggesting a fairly comprehensive remake as the end goal. With so many inherent changes, however, The Hyrule Fantasy ended up leaving the region altogether. 

“I believe the Zelda series really only started to have scenarios after the hardware specifications improved. The original Zelda was a pure action-RPG and didn’t have much of a story to begin with. I wanted to combine both those aspects (action-RPG and an actual scenario) this time around. At first, we’d only planned on creating a game one-tenth the size of the final version. But it just kept growing as development progressed and gradually turned into an original game.” 
– Hidemaro Fujibayashi, Director/Planner/Scenario Writer

Oracle of Seasons takes after Link’s Awakening and Majora’s Mask by setting itself away from Hyrule– the kingdom only ever shown during the opening cinematic. Holodrum has one of the densest worlds in a 2D Zelda game, if not the densest after A Link to the Past & A Link Between Worlds. A kingdom geographically similar to Hyrule as seen in the original Legend of Zelda, Holodrum has its own northern mountainside, a final dungeon in the northwest corner, and dozens of old men hidden amongst the land. This all makes sense since Seasons is rooted in a remake of the first game, but it isn’t as if Holodrum is without its novelties. 

Holodrum is distinct from Hyrule where it counts. The kingdom itself is quite large, sprawling when compared directly to Koholint Island. Progression often feels like a puzzle, especially when working around roadblocks early on. Holodrum’s four seasons are out of order, with the weather changing on the fly between regions. Link has to work around snow banks, overgrown trees, flooded fields, and petrified flora to overcome Holodrum’s chaos. As easy as it is to get side tracked in the vast kingdom, it’s only because there always tends to be something around the corner. Getting lost isn’t a problem when the overworld is so secret heavy. 

Old men are frequently found hiding under trees, actually giving players a reason to burn them on sight now, but new systems are in place to make exploration even more rewarding. Link will come across patches of soft soil throughout Holodrum where he can plant Gasha Seeds. Owing their name to gashapon– Japanese capsule toys not too dissimilar to blind bag toys– Gasha Seeds grow into Gasha Trees which bear Gasha Nuts after Link has defeated 40 enemies. Gasha Nut contents are randomized, but they incentivize players to return to previously explored areas. 

Not everything a Gasha Nut drops is worth the effort of chopping down 40 enemies– the worst being five regular hearts and a sole fairy– but the best rewards make it all worthwhile. While the Heart Piece tied to the Nut is probably the best overall get, Gasha Seeds naturally feed into the Ring system. Rings add an inherent RPG layer to the Oracle duology’s gameplay, offering the earliest instance of genuine player customization in the Zelda franchise. Rings, like Gasha Nuts, are completely random. Link will find many in his travels, but he needs to appraise them at Vasu’s ring shop in Horon Village before they can be used. Except in a few rare instances, Vasu’s appraisals are randomized.

There are 64 rings altogether between Seasons and Ages, all with varying effects. Which rings Link obtains can influence how players go about their game. RNG also ensures that each new playthrough is unique from the last. While this poses an obvious frustration for any completionists, it’s a fantastic way of adding another layer of replay value to an already fairly replayable experience. The Expert’s Ring allows Link to punch enemies if he unequips his weapons, the Charge Ring speeds up the Spin Attack, and the Protection Ring makes it so Link always takes one Heart of damage when attacked.

With so many rings to choose from, the gameplay is kept in balance by Link’s Ring Box. Once appraised, Link can equip his rings into his box. While he can only equip one initially, players can find a Box upgrade on Goron Mountain. With RNG already influencing which rings Link has access to, it’s unlikely two players will have the exact same experience in Oracle of Seasons– rings offering more personalization than is still usual for Zelda. Besides Gasha Nuts, Rings can be found in the overworld and dropped by Maple, a young witch who makes further use of RNG. 

Maple is Syrup’s apprentice, the recurring witch who runs the potion shop in A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening. Riding in on her broomstick, Maple will appear after Link has killed 30 enemies. Should players bump into her, both Link & Maple will drop their treasures, prompting Maple to race the player for them. It’s almost always worthwhile to focus on what Maple’s dropped rather than what Link lost. Not only does Maple drop her own unique set of rings, she’s a convenient way of getting potions early on and will eventually drop a Heart Piece. Maple also gets progressively faster, upgrading her flying broomstick to a vacuum after enough altercations.

So much RNG can be off-putting, but Holodrum is such an extensive overworld that randomness isn’t much of an issue. Gasha Seeds drive exploration and Maple’s appearances reward it. These systems also encourage players to fight enemies head-on rather than avoid them when it’s convenient. If gameplay ever feels more involved in Oracle of Seasons than the average Zelda game, that’s because it is. This goes double when taking the very seasons into account. 

The four seasons influence overworld progression significantly and most non-dungeon puzzles center on Link using the Rod of Seasons to restore seasonal order to whatever region he’s in. Most of these puzzles solve themselves since seasons can only be changed on stumps, but concessions need to be made when an overworld features four unique versions of every region. Incredible use of the Game Boy Color’s hardware helps in this regard as well. The handheld was designed with making in-game colors pop and Oracle of Seasons– as an extremely late-life GBC game– stands out as one of the most vibrant titles in the system’s library. 

Each season has its own defining color palette– blue for winter, red for summer, green for spring, yellow for autumn– but there is always a wide range of colors on-screen. Winter matches its light blue with shades of white & gray; spring features an almost pastel color tone where gold & pink flowers bloom against soft shades of green; summer deepens most colors for a bolder effect; and autumn offsets its yellow with orange, red, and in some instances purple. Oracle of Seasons might very well have the best atmosphere on the Game Boy Color, each season stylized & recognizable with their own distinct tones. It’s a phenomenal presentation that outdoes OoS’ contemporaries. Seasons outright has better art direction than most early GBA games. 

The fact Oracle of Seasons commits to its premise in such a large overworld as strictly as it does is praiseworthy, but it’s even more impressive that there’s another world lurking underneath Holodrum. Subrosia is a bizarre underworld, easily the most eclectic setting in the franchise other than Termina (and in many respects more so.) Subrosians are culturally impolite, bathe in lava, and deal in Ore instead of Rupees. The Subrosian Market undersells a Heart Piece, volcanic eruptions are a welcome norm, and Link will be moving between Holodrum & Subrosia multiple times over the course of his journey. Players can even go on a date with a Subrosian girl, Rosa, that’s a clear play on his date with Marin from Link’s Awakening. Subrosia is so alien that it’s hard not to love every moment beneath Holodrum.

Beyond the four seasons and the dichotomy between Holodrum & Subrosia, what differentiates Oracle of Seasons most from Oracle of Ages is its focus on action. Seasons is a puzzle heavy game, but it lets combat drive the gameplay more often than not with a very action-centric tool kit. The Slingshot makes its 2D debut, replacing the Bow in the process, but its 250 seed capacity outdoes any of Link’s quivers. Its upgraded version, the Hyper Slingshot, even fires in three directions at once. The Roc’s Feather returns from Link’s Awakening to once again make jumping an important part of Link’s mobility. Not only is platforming far more frequent this time around– with the Ancient Ruins featuring quite a bit of jumping for a 2D dungeon– it upgrades into the Roc’s Cape which allows Link to glide.

The Boomerang now upgrades into a guided Magical Boomerang which players can control themselves; the Magnetic Gloves are ostensibly a better version of the Hookshot which can pull Link to & from magnetic sources, along with magnetizing certain baddies; and most enemies are designed with a combination of the sword & shield in mind. Oracle of Ages has its fair share of action as well, but not with quite the same focus as Oracle of Seasons.

In general, Seasons is a focused video game in the best ways possible. OoS always gives players a general direction to go in, but otherwise leaves Link to his own devices. There are little to no interruptions, and the gameplay loop emphasizes freedom in spite of the game’s linearity. There’s always something to do and you’re always making progress, whether that be narratively or checking in on some Gasha Nuts. The pace is perfectly suited for handheld gaming and quick burst play sessions. Only have a few minutes to play? Kill some enemies to trigger Maple. Got some time? Scope out the next dungeon and work towards saving Holodrum. 

There are also a number of side quests to round off gameplay. The main trading sequence ends with Link finding the Noble Sword in Holodrum’s Lost Woods; players can forge an Iron Shield in Subrosia by smelting red and blue ore together & bringing the refined ore to the Subrosian smithy; and Golden Beasts roam Holodrum, each appearing during a different season & in a set region. Once all four are defeated, Link can find an old man north of Horon Village who will give him the Red Ring– a ring which doubles the Sword’s attack at no expense to the player. 

All these side quests are worthwhile, especially since Oracle of Seasons is a bit on the tougher side when it comes to difficulty. Dungeons are very fast-paced, full of puzzles that are often deceptively simple. Dungeon items are used in increasingly clever ways, from traversing over bottomless pits with strategic use of the Magnetic Gloves to using the Hyper Slingshot to activate three statues at once. Notably, most bosses in Seasons are actually remixes of boss fights from the first Legend of Zelda

Aquamentus, Dodongo, Gohma, Digdogger, Manhandla, and Gleeok all return with a vengeance. Gleeok in particular puts up a serious fight, forcing Link on the offensive. Not only do players need to be quick enough to slice off Gleeok’s two heads before they can attack themselves back on, the dragon will persist as a skeleton for round 2. Explorer’s Crypt is a difficult enough dungeon where getting to the boss room with full health isn’t a guarantee, so Gleeok offers a surprising but welcome challenge as a result. 

Oracle of Seasons deserves a bit of credit for having one of the harder final bosses in the series, as well. Onox doesn’t have much in the way of personality, but he’s a tough boss to put down. His second form requires Link to use the Spin Attack to deal damage while making sure he doesn’t hit Din in the process, and Onox’s dragon form is a gauntlet of dodging, jumping, & surviving long enough to finally kill the General of Darkness. Players are bound to die once or twice, but the final dungeon is short enough where getting back to Onox takes no time at all. 

If Oracle of Seasons has one glaring flaw, however, it’s the story. The script reads like a massive step back coming off the heels of Link’s Awakening, Ocarina of Time, and especially Majora’s Mask. Link is summoned to aid the Oracle Din, already a seasoned hero and implied to be the same Link from A Link to the Past, but very little time is spent fleshing out Din as a character & giving players a reason to care about her. Her role is more akin to Zelda in A Link to the Past than Marin in Link’s Awakening. Similarly, Onox is an undercooked villain who shows up to kidnap Din and does nothing for the rest of the story. Of course, this light story stems from Seasons’ origin as a remake of The Legend of Zelda

Early press of the game– when it was still going by the name Acorn of the Tree of Mystery– indicates that the story was originally set in Hyrule and the seasons went out of order when Ganon kidnapped Princess Zelda, the guardian of both the Triforce of Power & the four seasons. Hyrule was changed to Holodrum, Ganon became Onox, Zelda turned to Din, and the eight fragments of the Triforce presumably became the eight Essences of Nature. While underwhelming, the plot’s structure if nothing else makes sense. 

It’s worth pointing out that Oracle of Seasons seems to recognize that story is its weakness and lets the gameplay drive the experience. Unlike Oracle of Ages which takes its plot seriously and has a clear thematic arc, Seasons really is just a remix of Zelda 1’s plot. Which is perfect for the kind of game OoS ultimately is: a fast-paced, action-packed adventure through an ever-changing world. When played as a precursor to Ages instead of its ending, Seasons’ story comes off comparatively better. The stakes aren’t that high or defined, but that’s more than okay for the first half of an adventure that spans two full-length games. 

In a departure for the franchise, Oracle of Seasons actually features a proper post-game, marking the first time any Zelda acknowledges that the main threat is over. NPCs will comment on how they haven’t seen Link in a while, the weather has stabilized as spring has set in Holodrum, and you’re free to wrap up any side quests left unfinished. This is especially noteworthy because players can link their progress from Seasons over into Ages and transfer any rings they have on hand. 

An epilogue makes for a charming send-off to one of the most charming games on the Game Boy Color. Oracle of Seasons underwent a strange development, intended to be little more than a suped-up remake of the original Legend of Zelda. Instead, Flagship ended up developing one of the finest games on the GBC– a vibrant adventure filled with personality and some of the best action on the handheld. Oracle of Seasons isn’t just one half of a greater game; it’s a classic Zelda in its own right.

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PAX Online: ’30XX’ and ‘Cris Tales’

Our coverage of PAX Online continues with a Mega Man-inspired roguelike and a charming, time-hopping RPG adventure.

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30XX and Cris Tales

Our coverage of PAX Online continues with a Mega Man-inspired roguelike and a charming, time-hopping RPG adventure.

30XX

30XX

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and Steam
Release: TBA

I’ve already given some of my thoughts on 30XX back when I took it for a spin at PAX East. To catch those who didn’t see that report up to speed, 30XX is a 2D side-scrolling roguelike with a hi-bit art style and gameplay reminiscent of many Mega Man games. It’s generally more forgiving than Mega Man in the sense that there’s a distinct lack of instant-death spikes and pits, but the tradeoff is that when you do die that’s the end and you have to start the whole game over from the start. Classic roguelike rules for ya.

This PAX Online demo was very similar to the one I played at East. I chose between the blaster Nina or swordsman Ace then I went on my merry way throughout the two levels. One key difference is that I did not start out with any specials this time around and my maximum health was much lower. This is probably in-line with what it would be like to start a new game completely fresh as opposed to some upgrades as the East demo had. As a result, I actually failed my first attempt at this demo.

That’s where the first additional aspect of this build came into play, though, in the form of global character progression. Beating bosses in 30XX not only grants you a new weapon ability but also a currency called Memoria. Memoria can be spent at a shop in-between playthroughs to obtain permanent upgrades for Nina and Ace for every subsequent attempt. The pickings were rather slim for the demo, such as increased health and energy, but a wider variety is promised for the full release, and if anything it’s exceptionally clear how useful they’ll be to fully clear the game’s ten planned stages in one go. I also await the inevitable “no upgrade” runs that will assuredly come out of this, though.

30XX

The other neat addition to this demo is Entropy conditions, which are essentially modifiers. You can make it to where shop items cost more Nut currency to purchase per run, impose a time limit, and/or increase the amount of HP enemies have. Enabling these options also increases rewards gained from runs, adding a nice risk vs. reward factor that will probably keep things engaging even after you master the game’s earlier stages. More Entropy conditions are promised to be added into the full game that will allow you to fine-tune your experience even further.

The one concern I have for 30XX at this point is the number of dead ends I encountered with no reward to show for it. This is probably a result of the procedurally generated nature of the game, but the number of times I thought I was so clever for platforming up to a hard-to-reach area only to be greeted by a wall was more than I cared for. This is the “30XX Very Pre-Alpha Demo”, though, so it’s a flaw that can still be fixed in future development and with everything else that is being done right so far — the tight platforming, varied progression, and delightful aesthetics — it’s not hard to be hopeful for 30XX‘s future.

Cris Tales

Cris Tales

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Steam, and Stadia
Release: Nov 17th, 2020

I went into the Cris Tales demo after hearing nothing but its name in passing here and there. After finishing the demo, I’d recommend you do the same. If you’re a fan of turn-based RPG’s just download the demo and see it for yourself.

Cris Tales managed to constantly surprise and delight me throughout the entirety of its 45-minute long demo, firstly being the visuals. Playing through the game is like watching stained-glass art come to life with its hyper-stylized character designs that emphasize general shapes rather than specific details and environments chock-full of geometrical sharp edges. I was in awe from the word “Go”.

The story follows Crisbell, a chipper young orphan girl who spends her time happily doing chores for the orphanage and her dearest Mother Superior. After chasing a dapper young frog to a church, Crisbell inadvertently awakens the powers of Time Crystals hosed there and gains the power to see both the past and future at the same time. This manifests as the screen fractures into thirds with the left side showing the past, the middle the present, and the right the future at all times.

It was a trick that took a minute or two to register with me, but once it did I immediately set about traipsing all about the town I had just chased the frog through in order to see how it has and will change. It was a positively fascinating experience that put a big stupid grin on my face the entire time.

Crisbell can use this knowledge of that past and future to make decisions in the present such as locating a missing potion label or creating a concoction that will prevent wood from rotting and leading to dilapidated houses. Choosing which house to restore is also an irreversible choice that will lead to different outcomes depending.

Cris Tales

Time manipulation also plays a major part in Cris Tales‘ turn-based combat in extremely novel and creative ways. Enemies attack Crisbell and co from both the left and the right, and you can attack them with your standard RPG basic attacks and skills. Enemies on the left side, however, can be forcibly sent to the past while enemies on the right to the future by expending Crystal Points. This means reverting a big brawny goblin into a harmless little child or aging it into an elder that can barely move.

That’s not all, though. Douse an armored enemy in water then send them to the future to cause it to rust and shatter their defense. Poison an enemy that has already been sent to the past then brings them back to the present to force them to take all that poison damage at once. Plant a damaging mandragora that would normally take a few turns to sprout then send it to the future to cause it to sprout instantly. These are the examples demonstrated in the demo but it’s abundantly clear that this is only the tip of the creative iceberg. It’s genuinely thrilling to imagine all the possibilities such a system is capable of. The best part is that we won’t have to wait long to find out as Cris Tales launches on all major platforms in just two months.

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Game Reviews

‘AVICII Invector Encore Edition’ Review: Rhythm and Melancholy

‘AVICII Invector: Encore Edition’ is a music and rhythm game perfect for newcomers and fans of the genre.

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AVICII Invector Encore Edition Review

Developer: Hello There Games | Publisher: Wired Productions | Genre:  Rhythm | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch


In terms of a pure adrenaline rush, nothing tops a well-designed rhythm game. Good rhythm games let players feel a euphoric sense of flow and even excitement. But the best the genre has to offer taps into the heart of music itself. AVICII Invector Encore Edition is a rhythm game perfect for newcomers to the genre but also works as a moving tribute.

I can’t tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start

Whether it’s tapping buttons in time with the beat, smashing feet on a dance pad, or moving an entire body in front of an IR camera, rhythm and music games have always been popular. AVICII Invector Encore Edition takes inspiration from music games that came before it but stands firmly on its own. It’s wonderfully accessible, truly a music game for anyone. From diehard fans of the rhythm game genre to people who are simply AVICII fans who also have a console, Invector checks a lot of boxes.

Levels across AVICII Invector play largely the same. The player picks a track and a difficulty level, and is off to the races. They control a slick spaceship moving forward along a track, and must tap or hold buttons as the ship passes over them. This “falling jewel” style has been popular from the Guitar Hero franchise and beyond, but Invector finds ways to make it feel unique. The art direction is breathtakingly stellar, taking players on far-out trips through cyberpunk-esque cities and crumbling pathways. There are even portions of each level where the player can steer their spaceship Star Fox-style through rings and around pillars to keep their point multiplier up.

Invector feels like it’s trying to affect as many sensory inputs as it can. Though Encore Edition is fully playable on handheld mode on Switch, Invector shines brightest on a big screen with a thumping sound system. The neighbors might get annoyed, but who would hear them complaining?

Tracks are divided up by worlds, with four to five tracks each. Worlds must be cleared sequentially, by scoring at least seventy-five percent on each level in that world. While this may sound initially restrictive, Encore Edition gives players access to two extra worlds with five tracks each right out of the gate, so players have plenty to play with at the start.

There are three difficulties available, and each mode offers a different experience. For players who just want to experience AVICII’s music in a low-stress way while enjoying amazing visuals and ambiance, Easy mode is the way to play. Anything above that amps the difficulty up significantly, with Hard mode escalating the required precision to an unbelievable degree. Building up a competitive high score can only be achieved by hitting multipliers and keeping a streak going. At higher difficulties, Invector feels challenging but exhilarating. Scoring above ninety percent on any difficulty mode above Easy feels extremely good, and the online leaderboards are the perfect place to boast about that achievement. During high level play, earning a high score feels transcendent.

Worlds and levels are strung together with brief, lightly-animated cutscenes. It’s a slim justification for a rhythm game, but they’re better than nothing and provide just enough context to keep things interesting. AVICII Invector is both visually and aurally pleasing, but even if the player isn’t a diehard fan of EDM or House music, there is plenty to love.

This world can seem cold and grey
But you and I are here today
And we won’t fade into darkness

AVICII Invector is a truly fantastic rhythm game. But it’s also more than that. It is impossible to play Invector and not feel a twinge of melancholy. The game is a tribute to a hard-working perfectionist, but the man behind the music had his demons. Though the visuals are enticing and the gameplay electric, it is difficult not to feel sad from the opening credits. It is to Invector‘s credit that all throughout, the game feels like a joyful celebration of Tim Bergling’s music. It is a worthy tribute to a man who revitalized and reinvigorated the EDM and House music scene.

At the end of the day, almost every aspect of AVICII Invector reflects a desire to connect. For players connected to the internet, global leaderboards are a great opportunity to share high scores. Invector is much more forgiving than Thumper or Rez or even anything in the Hatsune Miku catalog. Players can cruise through this game on Easy mode if they want, and they won’t be punished. The Encore Edition even includes a split-screen multiplayer, which is fantastically fun.

In his music, Bergling worked across genres to expand what pop music could look like. With Invector, music lovers and players of nearly any skill level can have a pleasing experience. In video games, that’s rare, and it should be celebrated.

According to publisher Wired Productions’ website, all music royalties from AVICII Invector Encore Edition will support suicide awareness through the Tim Bergling Foundation.

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