- Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
- Final Fantasy VII Remake
- Resident Evil 3 Remake
- Shadow of the Colossus
- Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
I usually don't think to capture a screenshot when deeply immersed in a game. From time to time, however, something strikes me enough and I hit that capture button. Here's just a few of my favorites.
The Last of Us 2 is an incredible narrative masterpiece. It’s difficult to put into words the range of emotions that this experience whipped me through, and how it left me feeling scene after scene. I gasped, jumped, smiled, and cried. I found myself hating then empathizing with characters, and likewise, completely siding with others to later question their motives. By the time I came out the other end, the deeply complex character motivation was grounded to my core, and I took on the burden of their affliction. I felt battered and scarred, identifying with characters for the deep pain of their experiences. It’s easily one of the absolute best narrative experiences I have come across.
The writing was extremely clever. They inserted parallels in a way that only enhanced the story, never cheapened. They artfully employed “show, don’t tell” in a way that unveiled information in the most engaging rhythm. And while I was a little hesitant at first to be playing as Abby in the second half, I came to realize this wasn’t just to tell the other side of the story, but to have you feel how complex the situation and people are in this series of painful events. It allowed me to go from initially hating Abby to just feeling hollow and sad for everyone.
As for the gameplay, I found the enhancements and additions to the original title to be sufficient. Yes, it was similar. That’s ok. The prone position added a new dynamic to stealth that I enjoyed, some new weapons kept combat feeling fresh, and hand to hand fighting (and dodging) felt gritty and real.
The environments were truly magnificent. The Naughty Dog artists and designers continue to blow my mind. The joy of gazing on the environments, by itself, is enough reason for a second play through.
And then there is the polish. I always felt immersed into this world. Sure, you can tell it’s linear and “level based” when you run up against the edges of the environments, but there isn’t not much to be done about that.
In the days that followed my completion of this experience I continue to ponder the story. A true sign of a great work of art is when you have a lasting impression. It’s that feeling of when you walk out of the movie theatre and you spend hours rehashing what you just witnessed, and consider the deeper messages. When it comes to The Last of Us 2, there’s a ton of narrative elements one could parse out and overanalyze until the (real) world ends. Here are a few stand outs that really struck me:
Do you enjoy video game reviews but hate to read? I have you covered with these quick snippets. Enjoy.
Want more? Check out the previous sets of rapid reviews:
Rapid reviews is where I write quick snippets on games I've recently played, and use the word "rapid" as an excuse to justify bad writing. Also check out parts 1-5.
Check out parts I-IV for more rapid reviews.
Quick reviews of games. Short and sweet.
TL;DR: It's essentially a 2.5D Symphony of the Night lacking a level of polish that holds it back from greatness.
Since I’m playing on PS4 I can’t speak to the frame rate, performance, and resolution issues reported on the Switch. I can say that on PS4 there are many instances in which the frame rate will drop when enemies drop loot, as if the game itself struggles to calculate what the drop will be.
There’s a boss battle deep in the game with an inexcusable performance hit that occurs each time he issues his dozen or so projectiles. The frame rate would drop to about 1 FPS.
Sadly, the game has crashed about 4 times for me. It being rooted in classic game design, this means losing progress since my last save point. What a horrible night to have a game without autosave.
Some of the environment layouts are rather bland, and that includes many of the first areas of the castle. Entry into the castle is a moment to wow the player, and was a missed opportunity.
There’s an inconsistency to the level of quality in the art, ranging from environments to characters. On one hand you have some incredibly detailed areas, and then you have these low quality tattoo textures on Miriam that are cringe worthy when viewed from the pause menu.
The distinction between art and intractable can be muddy at times. My eyes would need that moment to adjust to many of the environments, taking time to make the distinction between enemy, platform, and background elements. There’s just a level of crispness that gets lost in 2.5D games like this. In contrast, Mega Man 11 was able to pull off this style because of the pops of color.
I wish it was 2D.
There were multiple occasions where I felt lost, and I would back track through areas until finally discovering that there was an obscure action I had to perform or item I had to equip. A few more subtle yet helpful nudges would have made me feel less frustrated, and this is coming from someone that has ample experience with metroidvanias.
Making contact with enemies and other targets, especially with small monsters and lanterns, is an incredible chore. I felt as if I was swinging through small enemies and candles. The weapon collision could be a little more forgiving. This is an area that, design wise, would benefit from a higher level of generosity and refinement. As it stands, swinging at a toad or torch is laborious.
The farther I got in the game the more enjoyable the game became. The combination of the various shards, weapons, and attribute upgrades made me progressively feel more and more like a true badass.
The music, while good, left me with no lasting impression. That is, no desire to revisit it, as I will from time to time with the Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse soundtrack or Bloody tears from Castlevania II: Simon's Quest.
The real pain, in terms of audio, comes from the townspeople that repeat the same lines at noisome. “Kill those murderers dead!”. OK, I said I will, take it easy.
It’s a good game that is rough around the edges. And it’s faithful to Symphony of the Night, seemingly giving what fans want in the process. I’d love to see a sequel that feels less bound to the classics this title is so strongly tied to, adding more depth to the story and mechanics, and growing beyond its Castlevania origins. This is a great start, so please carry the torch forward.
Too many games, not enough time. Let’s be brief.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
The best of Zelda with a unique, new mechanic, and all within the revamped familiar world of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Pure joy.
RE 2 DLC (PS4)
The remake to Resident Evil 2 proved how a remake should be done. Everything about it just felt right; It’s a near perfect game. The first DLC, on the other hand, is sloppy and unnecessarily difficult.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PS4)
Spells, morphing, gothic music, library cards, and a game after a game. It’s glorious.
Just Breed (Famicom)
When I discovered that a game like Shining Force had existed in Japan for the Famicom I jumped on the opportunity to play. What has the bones to be a great tactical RPG is ruined by exhausting battles that are drawn out by two primary factors: 1) enemy respawn hubs and 2) a movement limitation on your army to always stay in a nearby cluster.
Rolling Thunder (Micro Player)
Rolling Thunder has a special, nostalgic place in my heart. While the micro version isn’t quite the arcade experience, both in terms of physical size and graphical quality, it’s close enough to pull me back to that place in time. This mini machine delivers on one of Namco’s best.
Beautifully designed, smooth animations, enjoyable story arch, and enthralling music. The extreme difficulty feels right since each section is so short. A died a lot on my way to the top and loved every minute of it.
Hollow Knight (PS4)
Brutally difficult to the point of massive frustration at times. The pleasure derived from a successfully slain boss mostly stems from knowing that the moment is finally done, rather than a delight one normally feels in a moment of accomplishment from a more moderate level of difficulty.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (GBA)
A short yet enjoyable addition to the Castlevania series.
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (DS)
Dawn picks up where Aria left off, adding additional depth to the story, characters, and mechanics.
Final Fantasy Tactics: Advance (GBA)
There’s so much to dislike about FFTA: a new judgement system that slows the pace of battle and travel with a layer of complexity that never should have made it beyond a brainstorm meeting, a laborious equipment UX, and a “game within a game” story that cheapens the experience.
Metroid: Fusion (GBA)
It's mostly great. There’s an Alien like atmospheres complete with an enemy to run away from. There’s environments that change over time. And tons of secret areas to discover. The ability to jump as a ball and easily jump upright and grab into a tunnel is a nice touch. Save points feel appropriately spread out, the music and animations are great, and there’s some solid music throughout.
On the negative side, it feels rather linear and you are constantly told what to do. That plus the combination of the DS Lite hardware and the shooting mechanics makes for frustrating boss battles. For example, my giant hands struggled to hold R for missiles + L to aim at an angle + down to aim downward + press B to shoot.
Metroid: Zero Mission (GBA)
Metroid: Zero Mission exceeded and blew away my expectations. I came into this anticipating a simple remake with a few minor improvements and was so pleasantly surprised to discover a completely reimagined experience. ZM is drenched in polish, intrigue, and joy.
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (GBA)
It fits the typical mold of the games that followed LttP, in a good way, with just enough differences and fresh elements to keep it fun. The only real negative is that my hat friend is rather irritating, playing the part of the tutorial I never needed and never seems to end.
I particularly enjoyed the fusing of stones as a way to get you to return to previously explored areas (both to do more fusing and to collect rewards). Simple yet pleasurable.
I was a little shocked that there wasn’t that moment near the end where you realize Ganon was involved all along. Nope, no Ganon. And that’s perfectly OK.
My favorite “dungeon” was actually Hyrule Town. From the moment you step foot in the town you are teased with hints of secrets at every turn.
Chrono Trigger (DS)
Back in the mid-90s I had rented Chrono Trigger from a local video store, and never had the chance to complete it. With the DS version finally in my hands I was not only able to complete it a few different ways, I was also able to jump into the new content which added some extra depth.
Mother 3 (GBA)
I’m really torn on this one. The story is interesting at times, with curious oddities and strange conversations, and then other times the story just seem so predictable, the mood is juvenile, and the gameplay can be so utterly banal. On the gameplay front, there is an annoying, repeating formula: go to a location, grind in boring “dungeon”, listen to a boss ramble, fight, read a wall of text, and hope you grinded just enough so that you don’t have to grind some more. There’s some cute animations and characters, however, overall, I’m simply not a fan of the art style.
Ninja Cop (GBA)
A ninja that is also a cop...that’s also a ninja. It just works. The only downside is the game ends just as it gets going.
The Messenger (PS4)
A subpar action-adventure platformer that borders on tiresome. If you want to play a far superior throw-back Ninja Gaiden then check out Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (and as a bonus enjoy its Castlevania goodness).
I love the way you kick me in bed.
And stretch out, forcing me to the edge.
I love the gentle coo sounds you make in your sleep. The deep inhale followed by a pronounced exhale. A sigh.
And all the unique sounds you make.
Your rumbling snore.
Your escalating yips for food that manifest into a bark.
Your cries for help when even a single leaf brushes into you.
And your growl. Never threatening. Unless it’s at a crow.
I love the way you smell.
Wet or dry.
No matter how much your breath carries the odor of fish.
I love your playful behavior.
How you gently nibble at the face of the stuffed bear.
And the game we play where you run from me to your mom.
You light up a room. A walk. A store.
Everyone loves you.
Food is never far behind.
And you always find it.
You instinctually know who to beg and where.
I love how you stretch out your chicken leg when I scratch your thigh.
And the purrs you make when we rub your back.
I love your yawns. Constant and pure.
Your downward facing dog, far better than mine.
And the way you lick our hands. How we fight for your attention. I relish after every kiss on the face.
I love your mind. And your curiosity.
You are an explorer. A city girl yet a lover of nature. Keen to learn new tricks and discover a new world.
I love finding you in your favorite places.
The suitcase that was just packed.
The hamper, if it has enough padding.
And I love that you let it be known if it isn’t just right.
And the crunch sounds you make when eating apples.
The scraping of corn from the cob.
The hollow comps of watermelon.
Even the drool you drop in anticipation for ice cream.
I love carrying you, belly up, like the little baby you have always been.
I never grow tired of the attention you bring.
You know you are loved when you are given so many names.
I love sharing various meats with you.
And the remains of peanut butter from the spoon.
Home made treats.
Sweets from the pet bakery.
And the Susiecakes treats that you pull us to from a mile away.
I love watching your eyebrows dart up and down as you lay coolly in the prone position, observing all activities in the kitchen.
I love that you stole my Cliff bars.
You always enjoyed them more than me.
I love the memories of all of the places the three of us discovered together.
Hikes, hotels, beaches, and car rides.
I love witnessing your energy following a bath.
A puppy breaks forth from the water.
Life is reborn.
It warms my heart to hear the subtle clicks of your nails on the hardwood.
I follow every step as I listen from afar.
I love the feeling of your fur.
Everyone agrees you are the softest dog they have ever felt.
I feel pride every time someone asks about you.
Your fan club is a vast.
I love carrying you when you’re tired.
Sometimes even when you aren’t.
Just so I can hold you close to my heart.
I love the game we play where you expose your belly, I rub, and you nibble at my fingers. All the while making adorable piggy snorts.
I recall the memory where I was first left alone with you. I sat at my computer. Suddenly I felt you standing beside me, on your hind legs, informing me of dinner time.
I envy the infinite bond that you have with your mother. How you upgrade from my lap to to hers when she joins us on the couch. It makes me so happy to see how special the connection is that you have with each other.
I love how you politely knock at the bathroom door, wanting to join me. And wait before knocking again. Trying not to be too rude.
I love the way your ears fluff up and your already wide eyes widen at the sight of treats. You achieve ‘maximum cuteness’, which is difficult to resist.
I love your open mouth smile.
And how you scoop my hand with your head for pets.
How you fly onto the couch like a rocket.
The way you channel your inner cow to graze on fresh grass.
You even manage to make sneezing look adorable.
And how you magically appear from the backseat of the car as soon as we breach 40 mph, in search of a lap.
I love your inverted ears.
My favorite part of every day is the moment it is time for bed. Our routine is never broken. You roll onto your back and I scoop you into my arms.
Every single night.
It's hard to find time these days to play all the great games that are out there. It's equally challenging to find time to write about them. So like in part 1, I'll keep this to the point.
Mega Man 11 - PS4
The first hour was frustrating: I'd die getting close to a boss, yet not quite reaching one, and then would try another level, not sure which was the best one to tackle first, and die some more. At that point I collected enough currency to buy a few essential upgrades, and instantly the difficultly swung in the opposite direction as I conquered level after level with little to no problem. The challenge was still there, it just started to feel more fair.
All in all, it was a top tier Mega Man game, with an aesthetic that really appealed to me, fun weapons, and solid level design.
Castlevania: Rondo of Blood - PS4
This is classic Castlevania done properly. Levels are challenging but not to the point of frustration. The playable characters are unique. The music is stellar. The secrets are rewarding when discovered. My only critique of this game is that the dialogue and English voice acting in cutscenes are extremely cringe worthy.
This is a must play for any Castlevania fan.
Dead Cells - PS4
I've never been a big fan of roguelike games. While I appreciate that there are some elements of persistence in Dead Cells, I personally gravitate to those games that are have more continuous forward motion. I played for a few hours and then moved on.
Resident Evil 2 Remake - PS4
Capcom is continuing to head in the right direction with the Biohazard franchise, focusing on what made these games popular in the first place. So much attention to detail went into this game, and great improvements were made when compared back to the original. The environments are richer and more expansive. The story is more refined. It's enhanced in every way.
What stands out the most is the impressive pacing. There is a rhythm to the encounters you face v downtime, the feeling of safety v insecurity, the placement of items that you find v being completely devoid of ammunition. You actually have to be careful when firing at a zombie, as they sways in a way that can be challenging to hit and move at you with extreme aggression. You have to be on your toes when you enter a room, and likewise, ready to search a room quickly when an enemy rattles at the wooden door that is between you, keeping it at bay. Fleeing is a tackle option, and is actually essential in some instances.
The gameplay is utterly satisfying in so many ways. It just feels good to watch as a zombie recoils from a gunshot, followed by the shock of it continuing to push forward quickly after. Zombies lunge at you from around corners, making it so that walking is often not just more immersive but a safer option. You also can never trust a zombie on the ground, keeping you constantly on edge.
I'm currently doing a second play through as Claire, having originally played as Leon (I elected to do the 2nd option that you unlock after the first play through). There are differences between Leon and Claire's runs, though I would say not quite as different as I had hoped. Needless to say I'm obsessed with this game.
Shovel Knight - PS4
This is classic platforming done to perfection. It's a little on the easy side, although I really didn't mind that. I also highly recommend playing the Spector of Torment campaign, which could have been its own standalone game in my opinion.
Red Dead Redemption 2 - PS4
What stands out the most to me with RDR2 is the amount of polish that went into it. It's incredibly detailed in terms of the mechanics, missions, and just the general interactions you have with NPCs and the world. The story and voice acting is topnotch, although I'm in the camp that feels that Dutch did get a little repetitive at times. There's also something that is so satisfying about the freedom you have to explore and decide how you want to interact with the people and places you discover. And the landscapes are drop-dead gorgeous.
Owlboy - PS4
Playing this game made me feel like I was transported back to the days of the SNES. Owlboy succeeds at marrying crisp platforming, beautiful 2D graphics, and a story that perfectly unfolds.
Axiom Verge - PS4
Some say it's the best Castlevania game ever. It's definitely one of the best Metroidvania games of all times. And it's insanely impressive what one human was able to create. There are so many secret areas to discover, incredible music, and tons of fun weapons. Although, I actually feel the amount of weapons was a determent to the game, as it was overwhelming and many felt useless simply due to the overabundance. Overall I really enjoyed this game and would love to see a sequel.
Crystalis - NES
This, as well as the next 3 games, are all classic NES games I never had the opportunity to play during their original days. Crystalis is a solid action-RPG from beginning to end, and I can see why it is regarded so highly. The battle mechanics, namely coming from the unique swords that carry their own special abilities, made for simple yet effective battle strategies, as well as being the means to progressing through locked pathways.
Battle of Olympus - NES
You may remember this game as the knockoff to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. It looks, plays, and feels very much like it. The big differences being that it doesn't have the power of the stories and characters from Zelda, and it lacks the overworld element as well. I played this one for a few hours and gave up.
Metal Gear - NES
As with Crystalis, I played this one end to end. I will admit I did have to look up one part online in order to progress, which was a hidden wall that you had to punch through. Having played some of the more modern Metal Gear games it was fun to go back and discover that so much of the themes were established from the very start.
Brian Riggsbee is a program manager and designer, living in San Francisco CA. He enjoys practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, creating art, gaming, chasing adorable dogs, and spending time with his wife.