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Jennifer Hale’s Top 5 voice acting performances

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When talking about video game voice actors there are two prominent names that come up these days: Troy Baker & Nolan North, and rightfully so, as their names seem to be in the credits of nearly every big game released over the past couple years. However, there’s a voice actor who has not only been around much longer than both of them, but also arguably has a more impressive resume, and her name is Jennifer Hale.

Hale’s career as a performer began in 1988 when she was cast in the TV Movie A Father’s Homecoming. Since then she’s continued to do live-action roles, including appearances on popular television shows like The Big Bang Theory and Shameless, but she really found her niche in the early 90’s when she lent her voice to The Pink Panther animated series. Since then Hale has gone on to voice hundreds of characters across dozens and dozens of animated TV shows and films and still does so this day. But she didn’t limit herself to just television and movies; in 1994 Hale voiced a character in Sierra’s RPG Quest for Glory: Shadows of Darkness, which started her on the path to becoming one of gaming’s most prolific voice actors.

The amount of voice actors who have been involved in the gaming industry as long as Hale and have been cast in as many major roles as her can be counted on one hand. From voicing the SPARTAN soldier Sarah Palmer in the Halo series, to Leah in Diablo III, Hale’s name is attached to many of gaming’s biggest and well known franchises. Hale’s voice has appeared in over 150 games since 1994,  and out of all her great performances, these are the most memorable:

 

matt_samusHonorable mention: Samus Aran (Metroid Prime trilogy)

Samus Aran is easily one of Nintendo’s most iconic characters and one of gaming’s most recognizable heroines, but anyone who’s played the Metroid Prime games may be scratching their head at this mention since Samus doesn’t have any in-game dialog during the trilogy. Most of Hale’s time in the audio booth was spent recording the many grunts and screams Samus would emit when taking damage, but she also recorded some dialog, even if it didn’t make the final game. Nintendo’s fascination with silent protagonists ultimately got this dialog cut, but data miners would eventually find it and upload it to YouTube. Though just two minutes long, the video contains some incredibly strong voice acting, leading one to wonder why Nintendo would later choose different actresses to voice Samus in both the Super Smash Bros series and Metroid: Other M.

 

matt_roivas5. Alexandra Roivas (Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem)

Eternal Darkness is easily one of the GameCube’s most haunting experiences, and one of the 6th generation’s most criminally underrated titles. Jennifer Hale voices the game’s main character, Alexandra Roivas, as she tries to unravel the mystery of her grandfather’s murder. Alexandra doesn’t have an overabundant amount of dialog, but Hale delivers all of her lines well, especially those that Alexandra mutters when she starts losing her grip on reality. Eternal Darkness  features a Sanity Meter, and as the meter depletes the environments around the player begin to lean further and further into the paranormal. As Alexandra’s sanity begins to seep away she’ll speak to herself, often attempting to calm herself down, but the sheer horror in her voice, in combination with the supernatural effects happening all around her, are more than enough to instill a sense of dread into the player. Many would argue that Eternal Darkness tops the Resident Evil remake as the best survival horror game available on the GameCube, and Hale’s performance is one of the reasons why.

 

matt_rosiland4. Rosalind Lutece (BioShock Infinite)

The Lutece twins are quite the enigma. They’re the very first thing the player sees, as the game opens with them on a boat ferrying Booker off to his destination, and they appear sporadically throughout the campaign to assist (and confuse) Booker as he makes his way through the floating dystopia that is Columbia. Hale voices the female twin named Rosalind; without getting into spoiler territory, Rosalind plays a key role in the game’s plot, and in a game filled to the brim with mystery and intrigue, Rosalind herself is one of the most interesting aspects of the journey. Hale provides a great performance, giving Rosalind the perfect amount of grace and wit needed to make her a credible yet confounding genius.

 

matt_hunter3. Naomi Hunter (Metal Gear Solid series)

Cunning and calculated, Naomi Hunter is one of the Metal Gear saga’s most memorable and tragic characters. The player is first introduced to Naomi as a member of Snake’s support staff during the Shadow Moses Incident, but as the plot progresses, it’s revealed that she plays a far more pivotal role than initially thought. Much like Rosalind Lutece, Naomi is an incredibly intelligent scientist, but unlike Rosalind, Naomi is fueled by hatred and vengeance, and Hale feeds off those emotions in both Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 4, resulting in two powerful performances. Impressed by Hale’s work in the original MGS, Hideo Kojima had her voice Emma Emmerich in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty; Emma is a far cry from Naomi in every way, which is a testament to Hale’s range as an actor.

 

matt_shan2.Bastila Shan (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series)

The Star Wars extended universe contains dozens of memorable characters, and the KOTOR games house many of them, including the unforgettable Bastila Shan. A headstrong and arrogant individual, Bastila is a far from perfect Jedi. During her journey throughout the game, she goes through a great amount of ordeal,  resulting in a realistic and emotional character arc. Hale plays the role flawlessly, from flirting with the player character, to her pride-fueled rants and eventually her humbled choices later in the game, Hale successfully pulls off every emotion and creates a fully realized and relatable character.

 

matt_femshep1. Commander Shepard (Mass Effect Series)

According to Hale’s IMDB profile, she’s most known for her role as Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect series, and rightfully so. Voicing the N7 Spectre earned Hale multiple VGA nominations as well as a BTVA Video Game Voice Acting Award. While the Male Shepard isn’t terrible, he’s just too generic. FemShep on the other hand is the strong female protagonist gamers had been waiting ages for. Fearless, intelligent, and powerful, all while being distinctly feminine. She’s not over sexualized like Bayonetta and Lara Croft, and unlike Samus, FemShep actually has a personality. Hale kills it as the Commanding Officer of the Normandy, creating a strong female leader that demands the respect of her crew. Whether you choose the Paragon or Renegade route you’ll be treated to tons of funny, sometimes intimidating, and often memorable dialog. During the original Mass Effect’s marketing campaign BioWare exclusively used a Male Shepard in their advertising, but as the series went on, the love for FemShep could not be denied, and in Commander Shepard’s final send off, it’s the voice of Jennifer Hale that says goodbye.

 

 

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Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019

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Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019

Awesome Mixtape Vol. 5

It’s that time once again in which I bring to you my awesome mixtape featuring the best tracks from the best video game soundtracks of the year. Last year, my mixtape featured tracks from Triple-A titles such as Red Dead Redemption 2 and indie darlings like Celeste. In 2017, my picks for best soundtracks included tracks from some of my favorite games including Cuphead, Breath of the Wild and Into the Woods, to name just a few. Well, 2019 has been another banner year for the industry and as always, the games were blessed with an astounding selection of musical scores— some would argue the soundtracks were even better than the actual games at times. As always, it wasn’t easy deciding which songs to include and what to leave out— and as always, I’ve also mixed in some audio clips from various cut scenes while trying to keep it spoiler-free. Feel free to share this link and let me know if you think I’ve missed any great soundtracks in the comments below.

Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019 Playlist

Death Stranding clip
Death Stranding
: Low Roar – “I’ll Keep Coming”
Life Is Strange 2 clip
Life is Strange 2: Seyr – “Colour To Colour”
Life is Strange 2: Jonathan Morali – “Into the Woods”
Life Is Strange 2 clip
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Sayonara Wild Heart”
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Wild Hearts Never Die”
Death Stranding: CHVRCHES – “Death Stranding”
Afterparty clip
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “Title and Credits”
Afterparty: scntfc – “Hades Gonna Hate”
Afterparty: scntfc – “Schoolyard Strangler”
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “The Garden”
Octopath Traveler: Yasunori Nishiki – Main Theme
Octopath Traveler: Yasunori Nishiki – Cyrus the Scholar
Kingdom Hearts 3 clip
Fire Emblem Three Houses clip
Fire Emblem Three Houses: Yuka Tsujiyoko, Hirokazu Tanaka – “Main Theme”
Fire Emblem Three Houses: Yuka Tsujiyoko, Hirokazu Tanaka – “Blue Skies and a Battle”
Devil May Cry 5 clip
Devil May Cry 5: Kota Suzuki – “Urizen Boss Battle Music”
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “The Garden”
FAR: Lone Sails: Joel Schoch – “Colored Engine”
Days Gone: Nathan Whitehead— “Soldier’s Eye”
Death Stranding: Low Roar – “Easy Way Out”
Death Stranding clip
Death Stranding: Low Roar – “Easy Way Out”
Metro Exodus: Alexey Omelchuk – “Main Theme”
Resident Evil 2 Remake clip
Resident Evil 2 Remake: Masami Ueda, Shusaku Uchiyama, Shun Nishigaki – “Mr.X Theme Music (T-103)”
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Begin Again”
Life is Strange 2: Lincoln Grounds, Pat Reyford – “Morning Good Morning”
Life is Strange 2: Sufjan Stevens – “Death With Dignity”
Luigi’s Mansion 3 clip
Luigi’s Mansion 3: Koji Kondo – “Main Theme”
Ape Out: Matt Boch – “Intro”
Deltarune: Toby Fox – “Field of Hopes and Dreams”
Return of the Obra Dinn: Lucas Pope – “Loose Cargo”
“Star Wars: Imperial March” Hip Hop Remix
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order: John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra
Death Stranding: Silent Poets – “Asylum for The Feeling”
Catherine: Full Body: Shoji Meguro – “Tomorrow”
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening: Koji Kondo – “Marin’s Ballad of the Windfish”
Metro Exodus – Alexey Omelchuk: “Teardrops”
Sekiro: Yuka Kitamura – “Ashina Reservoir”
Return of the Obra Dinn: Lucas Pope – “The Doom”
Medley: Eye of Death / Wild Hearts Never Die / Dragon Heart / Clair De Lune

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‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming

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Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.

New Super Lucky's Tale carnival

In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.

It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.

New Super Lucky's Tale factory

Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.

And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.

New Super Lucky's Tale farm

It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.

No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more. 

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How Do ‘Pokemon Sword and Shield’s’ Max Raid Battles Measure Up?

Max Raid Battles are one of Pokemon Sword and Shield’s premier new features. Do they live up to their full potential? Let’s find out.

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max raid battles

One of the most heavily promoted new features of Pokémon Sword and Shield have been their Max Raid Battles. These gargantuan fights are both a key part of the online experience and likely the first taste most players will get of Dynamaxed Pokémon in-game. So, how’d this take on Pokémon Go’s raid system pan out in the series’ first mainline entry on console?

Well, on the plus side, getting into the thick of a raid is super straightforward. After the opening hour or two, players are introduced to the Wild Area and can access Max Raid Battles straight away by walking up to a pillar of red light on the field. From there you can invite others, challenge the raid with NPCs, and choose which Pokémon you want to use.

Real Friends Raid Together

Playing with friends online, though, is a bit more convoluted. There’s no “Invite Friends” option to be seen. Instead, all social features are handled through the Y-comm (literally accessed by pressing the Y button). It’s here that players can Link Trade, Link Battle, exchange player cards, and more.

After actively connecting to the internet–which has to be done each play session and each time the Switch is put into sleep mode–it’s up to the host of the match to find a portal and send an invitation to everyone. A notification will pop for friends on the side of the screen, and then it’s up to everyone to join the match directly through the Y-comm interface.

If players want real people to fill in any remaining slots (all raids are four-person affairs), they’ll need to join before the room fills up. Setting a Link Code avoids this hassle by creating a room but, unlike Salmon Run in Splatoon 2, only computer players can fill remaining spots after friends finish joining this way.

After some experimenting and fudding about, my buddy and I were able to hop into matches fairly quickly without much issue. Nonetheless, it’s hard to shake the feeling that creating friend lobbies is only such a headache because it had to be tied to the Y-comm. Pair this with the fact that battling while waiting for a friend to create a room can cause the notification not to pop, and getting a group together is a bit more painful than it should be.

Max Raid Battle Rundown

The raids themselves are a surprisingly engaging twist on the classic Pokémon battle formula. Groups of four challengers work together to take on a Dynamaxed raid boss. Each raid boss has a different star rating, and even the 1-star battles are no joke the first few times around. These boss Pokémon are merciless, and regularly one-shot lower leveled ‘mons with ease.

To combat these monstrous foes, one random trainer in every group is granted the ability to Dynamax their chosen Pokémon and lead the charge. The Dynamaxed Pokémon gets the benefit of having extra-powerful moves and increased HP, though it’s rather disappointing that there only seems to be one Max Move per move type (one Grass move, one Dark move, and so on). Each of these has a secondary effect on the battlefield; some trigger sandstorms, others trigger a health regeneration field that heals everyone a bit each turn. Regular moves with type advantages deal a significant chunk of damage, but it’s Max Moves that can truly turn the tide of battle.

If one of the group’s Pokémon faints, that trainer has to sit out for a turn before it automatically gets revived (a smart design choice to keep all trainers actively involved). However, the fainting of each Pokémon triggers the storm above to become more and more vicious. After four faints or ten turns, everyone is booted out of the raid sans rewards.

max raid battles

The Fruits of Victory

Two of the easiest ways to better your odds are 1) Choose a Pokémon with a type advantage going into battle, and 2) Manage who Dynamaxes when. Each trainer’s Dynamax meter grows periodically and, though only one trainer can use it at a time, multiple players can activate it over the course of a raid. It also seems like each raid’s star rating is tied directly to the raid boss’ level, so bringing a generally powerful Pokémon to a lower-level raid is another viable strategy for success.

Aside from the chance to capture the raid boss itself (and some Pokémon are Max Raid Battle-exclusive), winning a raid nets players some very worthwhile rewards. These include everything from EXP candies and berries to nuggets and TMs. It’s not so much of a haul that it hurts the overall balance of the game, but there’s enough to make getting a few friends together and grinding raids for a couple of hours worth it.

max raid battles

Though Max Raid Battles are just a small part of the overall Sword and Shield package, they’ve ended up being a rather fun take on Pokémon’s traditional multiplayer offerings. For as unnecessarily complicated as playing with friends is, there are also a few cool ideas here, like being able to join a raid from anywhere on the map as long as the host is at the raid pillar. There’s some good fun to be had here if you prefer to battle alongside your friends instead of against them.

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