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The Best Games of the 2000s

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It’s safe to say that video games have come a long way since the last millennium. The 2000s saw the emergence of multiple generations of consoles, which meant more games were produced than the decade before. From the expanse of phenomenal MMO games to the experimental platformers and party games by Nintendo, the 2000s pushed graphics and power like never before. We waded through hundreds of titles and produced a list of the best video games released from 2000 to 2010.

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2000) The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

The Best Games of the 2000s

Specifically designed with the notion of using Ocarina of Time as a base, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. Despite lifting most of its assets from its immediate predecessor, Nintendo opted not to proceed with the sequel as more of the same. Rather, in light of the fire Ocarina of Time sparked, Nintendo opted to go in a much different direction. 

Majora’s Mask is a far more introspective game than Ocarina of Time, one that allows the player a greater degree of freedom than previous entries in the series. It’s a more mature adventure, often focusing on themes of death, love, abandonment, and identity. With its three day time limit and Groundhog Day-esque loop, Majora’s Mask remains one of the most eclectic entries in the Zelda franchise; and the only game to give Ocarina of Time a run for its money.  (Renan Fontes)

Runners-Up: Counter-Strike, Deus Ex, Diablo II, Final Fantasy IX, The Sims

2001) Halo: Combat Evolved

The Best Games of the 2000s

Halo: Combat Evolved stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as one of the greatest launch titles ever released. It single-handedly put the Xbox name on the map and jump-started a series still considered part and parcel of that brand, long after developer Bungie jumped ship to create Destiny. Without the original Halo, the modern gaming landscape would change incalculably, from first-person shooter design, to online matchmaking systems, to Microsoft’s centrality in the industry.

But even more impressive is just how well Halo holds up over fifteen years later. Outside of some weapon imbalance and repetitious levels in the back half of its campaign, Halo still plays like butter despite totally upending how first-person shooters played at the time of its release. For many fans of the series, getting to play the original Halo through The Master Chief Collection was a more appealing reason to buy an Xbox One than Halo 5. But that’s not just nostalgia talking — the series has tried to add numerous layers atop Halo‘s cake, but its base layer was always the most satisfying. It doesn’t really matter how much time passes or how many sequels 343 churns out; names like “Blood Gulch,” “Hang ‘Em High,” and “The Silent Cartographer” will always inspire singular and unimpeachable memories for an entire generation of gamers, especially those who LAN partied. (Kyle Rentschler)

Runners-Up: Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy X, Grand Theft Auto III, Super Smash Bros Melee

2002) Metroid Prime

The Best Games of the 2000s

The Gamecube is fondly remembered by many of its adopters. Part of the reason lies in the wild new gambles Nintendo was willing to take with it after being trounced by Sony in the previous generation. Mario became a graffiti clean-up crew, Link turned into a cartoon, and Samus entered the realm of first-person shooters. The most well-known Nintendo franchises were suddenly unrecognizable, and all the better for it,

The best of them was Metroid Prime, a wild gamble of a game that saw Samus travelling from her side-scrolling roots to a fully-3D, first-person ground-breaker of a perspective. Somehow the game managed to maintain the feeling of its predecessors while transporting the experience to a whole new realm of possibilities. Old ideas were reinvented with stellar and surprising success, while new ways of building a first-person game were established as a result.

To this day, Metroid Prime is the only title in the series that can challenge the genre-defining Super Metroid for its title of best game in the series, and it’s likely to be a debate that will never be settled. After all, how do you decide which piece of art is the finest? One might have the better brush strokes, while the other has the better style and vantage point. While similar, they remain as incomparable as they are inextricably intertwined. (Mike Worby)

Runners-Up: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Neverwinter Nights, Ratchet and Clank, Splinter Cell

2003) The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker

The Best Games of the 2000s

With Nintendo’s first 3D Zelda titles, it seems their goal was to offer as unique an experience as possible with each effort. Ocarina of Time brought the franchise’s traditional concepts into 3D; Majora’s Mask experimented with what the series could accomplish in 3D; and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker chose to overhaul the series’ visual identity to better take advantage of 3D. 

The Wind Waker is one of the best looking games of all time, even in its original GameCube incarnation. Nintendo’s use of cel-shading lends itself well to The Wind Waker’s vibrant, nautical aesthetic. With a greater emphasis placed on exploration than either of its predecessors, it’s The Wind Waker that ultimately best exemplifies that feeling of exploration found in the original Legend of Zelda. It’s a love letter to its franchise, but one that never forgets to carve out an identity of its own. (Renan Fontes)

Runners-Up: Beyond Good and Evil, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Silent Hill 3, Soul Calibur II, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 

2004) Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

The Best Games of the 2000s
When it comes to Grand Theft Auto games, one of the most memorable titles from the long-lasting franchise has to be San Andreas. Releasing in 2004 for the PlayStation 2, Xbox and PC, San Andreas is a game that has managed to stay culturally relevant despite the massive rise of video games since its release. The game focuses on ex-gang member Carl Johnson, known as CJ, who returns home after the death of his mother and reunites with his friends and fellow gang members. He delves further into his old criminal lifestyle as he starts rebuilding his old gang all while dealing with dirty cops and colorful characters along the way.

The sprawling map, open-world interactivity, personal characters choices (such as dating options, choosing to work out in the gym or making CJ an obese burger addict), action-packed, memorable missions –breaking into a highly restricted government base called Area 69 seems all the more relevant at the moment — and a genuinely engaging storyline are all incorporated into one hugely fun and compelling game. Rockstar Games would continue to raise the bar when it came to open-world action games but San Andreas was the first to firmly solidify itself within gaming culture and remain there to this day. If a game can continue to spawn multiple memes after 15 years, you know you’ve done something right. (Antonia Haynes)

Runners-Up: The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, Half-Life 2, Halo 2, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, World of Warcraft 

2005) Resident Evil 4

The Best Games of the 2000s

On paper, Resident Evil 4 is a mental mix of ideas that shouldn’t work (see Resident Evil 6), but in actuality, it works so well it’s one of the greatest games of all time. It revitalizes the horror franchise with an innovative over the shoulder camera (later becoming the genre and industry standard) for protagonist Leon, punctuates its setpieces with balls to the wall action and gleefully silly B movie storytelling, whilst keeping the franchise’s signature fear factor intact. (Harry Morris)

Runners-Up: Civilization IV, Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening, God of War, Guitar Hero, Shadow of the Colossus

2006) Wii Sports

The Best Games of the 2000s

Nintendo needed a hit to ensure that their new console wouldn’t perform as poorly (compared to its competitors) as the GameCube. Not only was the resulting decision to bundle a copy of Wii Sports with every console a brilliant business move, but the title itself was so genuinely fun and unique that tens of millions of people bought a Wii just for that game.

The brilliance of Wii Sports is in its accessibility. The compilation is comprised of five light sports games: baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, and boxing. Each is specifically optimized for short play sessions; three innings in a game of baseball, three rounds in a boxing match, and so on. Never played a game before in your life? No problem! The Wii’s unique use of motion controls meant that all anyone had to do was pick up a Wiimote and mimic the motions of throwing, swinging, and punching to play.

Though there wasn’t much progression beyond a literal line on a graph that went up or down based on your performance, the sheer joy of seeing your custom Mii on-screen playing little sports games with your friends and family resulted in some of the most fun local multiplayer in gaming history (until Wii Sports Resort, that is). (Brent Middleton)

Runners-Up: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Gears of War, Hitman: Blood Money, Kingdom Hearts II, Okami

2007) Super Mario Galaxy

Best Games of 2000s

2007 was a landmark year for the gaming industry, seeing the launch of franchises — Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed, Bioshock, The Witcher and Uncharted — that went on to dominate the market in the years to come. With the overwhelming success of the Wii, Nintendo was also revolutionizing the video game industry of 2007 and had a console in over 20 million living rooms worldwide, although the Japanese giant had to release a large-scale Mario title for its new hardware. Series creator Shigeru Miyamoto and game director Yoshiaki Koizumi had a grandiose vision for the paunchy plumber’s future, imagining platforming gameplay in space where players would fight the effects of gravity and maneuver through spherical worlds to save the princess. Ultimately, those ideas manifested themselves in the form of the landmark Super Mario Galaxy, a title that reinvigorated the Mario formula with modern Miyamoto magic and set the gold standard for all future Nintendo releases.

There is nothing incredibly awe-inspiring about Super Mario Galaxy’s story- Bowser kidnapped the princess… again- but it is the title’s thoughtful and careful approach to keeping the Mario formula both classically nostalgic and awe-inspiringly fresh that make the game so special. Its controls and physics — lifted almost directly from Super Mario 64 — feel as intuitive and smooth as they did two generations previous, even though they are translated into the waggle controls of a Wiimote and nunchuck combo. Galaxy’s spherical worlds feel as comfortable as the Mushroom Kingdom and Isle Delfino, but its next-gen graphics and incredible scope convey a grandiose environment that feels untouched and begs to be explored. Although not a huge leap forward, the addition of Mario’s first spin attack also adds new depth to the title and changes the combat approach ever so slightly. Even Rosalina, the most recent addition to the Mario lineup, feels like an interconnected part of the Nintendo universe and has gone on to overshadow the popularity of other princesses.

Since its release, Super Mario Galaxy has been dubbed to be the must-play title for the Wii and is widely considered one of the greatest video games of all time. Dominating in 2007, Galaxy won countless game-of-the-year awards and eventually spawned a just as successful sequel, Super Mario Galaxy 2. All honors aside, the title’s effects can truly be seen on subsequent Nintendo releases, as its success and advancements veered the development, art style, and scope of the franchise in more artistic, sophisticated, and focused directions. With its beauty and enjoyable gameplay, it’s safe to assess that Super Mario Galaxy made its mark on the industry and led to the Nintendo renaissance that the Switch enjoys today. (Ty Davidson)

Runners-Up: Bioshock, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Halo 3, Mass Effect, Portal

2008) Grand Theft Auto IV

The Best Games of the 2000s

While San Andreas set the precedent for the Grand Theft Auto franchise, GTA IV stepped up the open-world title significantly and brought about a gritty realism that elevated the series even more so. GTA IV was released in 2008 and centers on Niko Bellic, an Eastern European war veteran who begins the game straight off the boat to start a new life in Liberty City. The three islands of the city act as the setting for the game and the player has free roam of them. As is the case with most of the protagonists in the Grand Theft Auto series, circumstances end up pulling Niko back into a life of crime and his morals are brought into question in the process. Niko seems reluctant in his violence though, seeming to regret his past actions and wanting to start his life afresh without having to shoot his way through it. Despite this, his violent tendencies are apparent and it becomes evident that he doesn’t quite detest embarking in his criminal behavior as much as he claims.

He is a complex character with a great deal of ambiguity surrounding him. It could be argued that this kind of interesting character depth was a much-needed addition to the franchise. The game is not without its faults (the driving mechanics are incredibly difficult to master and the color scheme of Liberty City is mostly made up of dull greys and beiges) GTA IV made its mark by introducing a somber tone and some well-developed character arcs to the franchise as well as improving on the elements that already worked well such as the combat, mission structure, shooting mechanics and the vast open world. GTA IV is another title from Rockstar Games that will go down as one of its finest. (Antonia Haynes)

Runners-Up: Braid, Dead Space, Fallout 3, LittleBigPlanet, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

2009) Batman: Arkham Asylum

The Best Games of the 2000s

I won’t go so far as to coin the tired notion of this game really making you feel like Batman, but it certainly made me have the most fun manipulating a digital Dark Knight with a video game controller in my hand – which is significantly higher praise than Batman’s previous efforts in this medium make it seem. Arkham Asylum has recently gone through a retrospective renaissance, and the first game in Rocksteady’s video game trilogy – much like Batman Begins in Christopher Nolan’s cinematic trifecta – is now typically regarded as the series’ best.

At the time of writing, the game is almost ten years old, and surely stakes a sizeable claim to be the best game ever released during the annual “game industry summer drought.” Superhero games, in general, were much of a muchness back in 2009, but it’s easy to forget just how much of an innovative trendsetter Arkham Asylum was. It nailed everything a Batman game needed to nail – hell, it even nailed the bits we didn’t even know it needed to.

The game’s combat system has since been mimicked almost to the point of oversaturation, but that takes nothing away from just how fantastic it still is. Insane combos were effortlessly pulled off, gadgets were expertly woven into the action in as user-friendly a way as possible, and the simple counter system allowed fights to flow in a zen-like motion that ensured each encounter became a test of skill and personal one-upmanship. Next time you’d get that flawless combo, for sure.

Arkham is more than just a series of quality punch-ups, though. Hiring the Animated Series duo of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill to voice Batman and Joker respectively was absolutely vital, and they knocked it out of the park. The story was gripping and paid more than adequate respect to not only Batman’s rogues gallery (particularly Scarecrow) but to fans and players. The sheer number of Easter eggs, lore and extras the game stuffed in was exemplary, and became mandatory for the rest of the trilogy — a trilogy that truly struggled to top the near-perfection of this superb introduction. (Alex Aldridge)

Runners-Up: Assassin’s Creed 2, Borderlands, League of Legends, Persona 4, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

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Best Games of the 1990s | Best Games of the 2000s | Best Games of the 2010s

Humans by birth. Gamers by choice. Goomba Stomp is a Canadian web publication that has been independently owned and operated since its inception in 2016.

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PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Ghostrunner,’ ‘Everspace 2,’ and ‘Wrath: Aeon of Ruin’

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‘Ghostrunner,’ ‘Everspace 2,’ and ‘Wrath: Aeon of Ruin’

We’ve already covered a wide variety of the games on display at PAX South this year, from retro revivals to unorthodox romances to everything in between – and we’re not done yet! In this next roundup article, we cover three more ambitious, action-packed games: Ghostrunner, Everspace 2, and Wrath: Aeon of Ruin.

Ghostrunner

Ghostrunner

Ghostrunner was one of the most in-demand games at PAX, and after playing it, it’s easy to see why. This first-person action slasher, developed by One More Level and produced by 3D Realms, lets players dash through the air, run across walls, and slash through enemies at blistering speed all while exploring a dystopian cyberpunk world. It’s gorgeous, lightning fast, and feels amazing to play.

Ghostrunner begins in a broken future, where the remnants of humanity have hidden away in a single condensed tower. Naturally enough, you’re put in the role of the one rebel who dares to rise up against the forces oppressing humanity. As you begin your uprising, you’ll also encounter a grand mystery – why is humanity the way it is now? Just what happened to the rest of the world? And what’s that voice you hear in your head?

Ghostrunner

My demo didn’t offer much illumination to these mysteries, but the 3D Realms team assured me that the story plays a significant role in the main campaign. What my demo did offer, however, was a look into the fast-paced, brutal gameplay that defines the game. Combat is so dynamic in Ghostrunner. Your arsenal of moves is massive and varied – of course you can run, jump, and slash with your katana, but you can also run along walls, dash over chasms, slow down time to dodge bullets, and more.

When all the moving pieces flow together, Ghostrunner achieves a visceral, almost hypnotic flow of battle. There are a few obstacles to this feeling. The controls took a bit of getting used to on my end, but that would be because, console peasant that I am, I’m not used to playing 3D games on a keyboard instead of a controller. Also, this may be an action game, but at many times it feels more like a puzzle game. With bloodthirsty enemies scattered around each environment, you’ll often need to take a step back and methodically evaluate which abilities to use in each situation. This can take some trial and error – it might have taken me more than a few tries to clear out the final wave of enemies. But when the solution works out, it’s a beautifully exhilarating feeling, and that’s what sets Ghostrunner apart.

Wrath: Aeon of Ruin

PAX featured plenty of retro-styled games, but not many quite like Wrath: Aeon of Ruin. This retro-style FPS is a throwback to the simpler, faster days of shooters, built entirely in the same engine as the original Quake. It was even based off the work of Quake community modders. If you’ve played any classic FPS like the original DOOM or Wolfenstein, then you should have a good idea of how Wrath plays: it’s brutal, lightning fast, and action packed.

My demo got straight to the point. After teleporting me to a distant hellscape, I was faced with a horde of demons, ranging from simple skeletons to more aggressive ogre-like enemies and flying laser monsters. Thankfully, I was also given an assortment of weapons to take these creatures down with, including a simple handgun, a powerful blade arm, and my personal favorite, a shotgun. Each one of these felt good to control, and like any good old-fashioned shooter, they gave me a great feeling of power.

PAX South

Like any good, brutal FPS in the vein of Quake, Wrath features an insane amount of mobility. Movement is extremely fast and fluid, allowing you to zip across and above stages with reckless abandon. This extra speed will be necessary, especially considering that enemies can slaughter on with reckless, overwhelming abandon.

Of course, being built in the original Quake engine, Wrath is a delightfully retro treat to behold. It features all the signature hard polygonal edges of PC shooters from that bygone era, but with the added smoothness and fluidity of modern hardware. The game feels great to play and is a unique treat to behold. Wrath is currently available on Steam Early Access, and there’s plenty of new content that can be expected throughout the year, including new levels, enemies, and even a full online multiplayer mode. Stuffed with violent retro action, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin is absolutely worth watching out for.

PAX South

Everspace 2

Space is the final frontier, offering limitless exploration This’s the exact feeling that Everspace 2 captures. This sandbox open world space shooter dumps you in outer space and leaves you to figure out the rest, allowing you to fight, scavenge, and explore as you will, all with an incredible amount of freedom.

It’s a remarkably beautiful game too, boasting of extremely detailed 3D graphics that wouldn’t look out of place in a full 3D AAA experience. It’s extremely ambitious, offering a wealth of customization options through parts that can be scavenged from fallen space craft or space debris. There’s alien life to discover and a wealth of locations to explore, with the full game apparently featuring more than 80 unique environments.

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These environments will always be interesting to explore thanks to a mix between handcrafted worlds and randomization. The original Everspace was a pure roguelike, and as developer Rockfish Games told me, this constantly changing design has often been fundamental to previous great space shooters. Although Rockfish opted for an intentionally designed open world for the sequel, they want to maintain some of those same roguelike elements. That’s why whenever you venture through the many galaxies of Everspace 2, the galaxies and planets will be the same, but the items you find or enemies you encounter within them may change each time.

It took me some time to get used to Everspace. It immediately offers a great amount of freedom, with the demo simply dumping me in space and only requiring that I take down some enemy units and pick up some loot. Yet once I got the hang of the controls and the environment, it became extremely fluid and natural to zip through space, upgrade different components, and experience all the free-flowing action that it has to offer. Space is the ultimate freedom, and Everspace 2 is set to represent that.

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PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Windjammers 2,’ ‘KUNAI,’ and ‘Young Souls’

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PAX South

PAX South 2020 attracted tons of exciting publishers to San Antonio, and even with such a crowded lineup, the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth easily stood out as some of the show’s very best exhibitors. Streets of Rage 4 might have been their standout demo, but the French boutique publisher and developers brought a fantastic selection of games to the show, including their signature retro revivals and some promising original indie games of their own.

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Windjammers 2

Sequel to the much-beloved arcade classic, Windjammers 2 takes all the hectic frisbee-throwing action of the original and updates it for the modern generation. For those unfamiliar with the art of windjamming, it’s effectively pong, but instead of balls, you toss discs back and forth across the court. It pits two players against each other on opposite sides of the court, tasking you with mercilessly hurling your disc back and forth until it gets into your opponent’s goal.

You can just throw the disc directly at your opponent, but Windjammers 2 gives you many more options besides that. To really excel at the game, you’ll have to make use of the most extravagant moves you can, dashing across the court, leaping into the air, tossing the disc above you before slamming it down into your opponent, to list only a few of the uber-athletic abilities at your disposal. The game can move extremely quickly when both players take advantage of these capabilities, yet things never feel overwhelming. I always felt in control of the action, even when my quickest reflexes were put to the test. It’s fast-paced disc throwing insanity, and I couldn’t get enough of it.

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Just like the rest of DotEmu’s catalogue, Windjammers 2 combines classic gameplay with gorgeous modern aesthetics. It has the same hand-drawn style that makes other DotEmu titles stand out, like Wonderboy: The Dragon’s Trap. The original Windjammers was a time capsule of garish 90s style, and that design is retained for the new release, with characters looking even more colorful and absurd than ever thanks to the revitalized art and animations. Hectic to play and beautiful to behold, Windjammers 2 is already set to be a multiplayer hit.

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Young Souls

Streets of Rage 4 was certainly the premier beat ‘em up on display at DotEmu’s booth, but it wasn’t the only one. Alongside this retro revival was an all-new take on the genre: Young Souls, an extremely stylish action game that blends fast-paced fighting with deep RPG customization and a charming, emotional narrative.

Beat ‘em ups might not be known for deep storylines, but Young Souls aspires to something more. Along with its satisfying combat mechanics and plentiful flexibility for character builds, it also boasts of having “a profound story with unforgettable characters.” While my demo didn’t give me much of a look at this deep narrative, it’s reasonable to assume that the story will at least be quality, since it’s penned by none other than the author of the Walking Dead games, Matthew Ritter.

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However, I did get a substantial feel for combat. Young Souls features more than 70 monster-filled dungeons, and I got to venture into two of them in my demo. The action feels weighty and solid when going up against enemies, yet precise at the same time. Like any classic beat ‘em up, there’s a mixture of light and heavy attacks, along with blocks and powerful special moves, along with items and spells to exploit during combat as well. In between battles, you’re able to deck your character out in equipment and items, allowing for an element of roleplaying depth that isn’t typically associated with action games like this. In my short time with the game, it was fun to experiment with different character builds, which could determine the speed and abilities of my fighter, promising combat for the final game.

I played the demo both solo and co-op; in single-player, you’re able to switch between the two twins at will, while two players can each take control of a sibling. In both playstyles, the gameplay was just as visceral and satisfying as one would expect from a classic-style beat ‘em up like this, but the addition of a deep story and RPG mechanics put a unique spin on this entry. That’s not to mention that, like every other game at the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth, it’s visually beautiful, featuring stylish 2D characters in 3D environments that are all rendered in gentle, washed-out colors. Young Souls might not have a release date or even any confirmed platforms as of now, but it’s absolutely worth keeping an eye on in the meantime.

KUNAI

KUNAI takes the typical metroidvania formula and boosts it to hyperspeed. It has all the hidden secrets and massively interconnected world exploration that you’d expect from the genre, and it gives you the ability to speed through that faster and more dynamically than ever. Its main gimmick is right in the name – by giving you two kunai hookshots, you’re able to traverse up and down your environments with speed and freedom, making for a uniquely vertical method to explore.

KUNAI starts out with the end of the world. In a dystopian future where technology has taken over, you control Tabby, a sentient and heroic tablet that’s dead set on liberating the planet. This serious plot is filled with plenty of personality, however, from the silly faces that Tabby makes in action to the charming dialogue and quirky character designs. This personality is rendered in appealing detail thanks to the game’s simple yet effective pixel art.

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It’s in the gameplay where KUNAI truly shines. With the eponymous kunai, you’re able to latch onto vertical surfaces. Combine this with the additional abilities to dash, bounce off enemies, or wall jump, and it provides for a uniquely dynamic method of exploring the world. Using the kunai feels easy and intuitive, fast enough to gain speed but never too floaty. It’s a balanced approach to speed and movement that never gets out of control, resulting in what it is perhaps the best-feeling movement of any metroidvania I’ve played recently. My demo was brief, and ended very soon after first getting the kunai, but the gameplay felt so smooth and natural that I can’t wait to experience more of it. Thankfully, it’s not long to wait, since KUNAI hits Switch and PC on February 6.

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PAX South Hands-On: ‘Streets of Rage 4’ Balances Legacy and Innovation

Streets of Rage 4 embodies the original series’ elegant, action-packed design and revives it for a new generation.

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Streets of Rage 4

From the moment I began my demo with Streets of Rage 4 at PAX South, it felt like coming home. It might have been more than two decades since the first three games in the Streets of Rage series perfected the beat ‘em up formula on the Sega Genesis, but courtesy of developers Lizardcube, DotEmu, and Guard Crush, this legendary series is back and in good hands. This brand new entry aims to recapture all the style and balance of the originals, while introducing innovations of its own. If my demo is any indication, the game is set to achieve that.

Streets of Rage 4 uses the same elegant level design that set the original trilogy apart back on the Genesis. The gameplay is simple: keep walking to the right, taking out every enemy in front of you with all the jabs, kicks, jumps, and special moves at your disposal. If anything, the controls feel better than ever before, with an added level of precision and fluidity that simply wasn’t possible on older hardware.

Streets of Rage 4

That’s not to mention the new move sets. Beat ’em ups might not be the most complex genre around, but Streets of Rage 4 adds the perfect level of depth to the combat. It has the same simple jabs and kicks found in the original games, but spiced up with the potential for new combos and even a handful of extravagant new special moves. With new and old fighting mechanics, this new entry features plenty of room to experiment with combat but never loses the simple, arcade-like charm of the originals.

Streets of Rage 4 revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed style for the twenty-first century

The demo included series staple characters like Axel and Blaze, yet I opted to play as an all-new character: Cherry Hunter, a guitar-wielding fighter whose move set felt very distinct from classic characters. Her movement is speedy, certainly faster than Axel but slower than Blaze, and her guitar provided for some unique melee moves. Like the new mechanics, her addition to the character roster helps shake up the Streets of Rage formula just enough, while maintaining the core beat ’em up simplicity that made the series special in the first place.

Streets of Rage 4

Streets of Rage 4 might innovate in a few areas, but one thing that’s clearly remained true to form is the difficulty. It boasts of the same old school difficulty that characterized the original games. The classic and brand new enemies are just as ruthless as ever, mercilessly crowding in around you and can easily overwhelm you if you’re not careful. However, just like the originals, the fighting feels so satisfying that it’s easy to keep coming back for more action.

Amid all these changes and additions, perhaps the most obvious (and controversial) change is the visual style. While the original series used detailed pixel art, Streets of Rage 4 instead boasts of an extremely detailed handcrafted art style, in which every frame of character animation is painstakingly drawn by hand and environments are colorful and painterly. Thousands of frames of animation go into each character, and the effort certainly shows, making every punch, kick, and other acts of violence a breathtaking sight to behold.

Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences.

Some fans have complained that the game loses the series’ spirit without pixel art, but DotEmu marketing director Arnaud De Sousa insisted to me that this simply isn’t the case. Pixel art wasn’t an artistic choice back then – it was a matter of necessity. If the developers could have designed the game to look exactly as they wanted, regardless of technical limitations, then it likely would have looked just like the luscious hand-drawn visuals of the current Streets of Rage 4.

That’s not to mention that, as De Sousa emphasized, the Streets of Rage games are defined by looking different from one another. The third game looks different from the second, which looked different from the first – and now this new entry has twenty years of change to catch up on. Thus, it only makes sense for this new entry to adopt a radically new graphical style after all this time.

Streets of Rage 4

Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences. The difference between De Sousa and myself is perfect evidence of that. He grew up playing the games in the 90s, whereas I wasn’t even born when the original trilogy became such a phenomenon and only played them years later in subsequent re-releases. Yet here we were, standing in the middle of a crowded convention and gushing about decades-old games. We might have had extremely different experiences with the series, but that didn’t stop us from appreciating the joys of stylish beat ’em up action.

“A good game is a good game,” De Sousa told me, “no matter how old.” That’s the attitude that Streets of Rage 4 exemplifies. It revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed design for the twenty-first century. And with a release on all modern platforms, more players than ever will be able to rediscover the simple pleasure of wielding your bare knuckles against thugs of all types. Between the new art style and the solid gameplay, Streets of Rage 4 is looking like an incredibly welcome return for this iconic franchise.

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