Wednesday, June 20, 2018

"Pub Encounter" Review


As a young lady seeking to blow off some steam after a rough day at work, you slip into an upscale pub, where you turn the heads of a cadre of middle-aged men on the prowl for a girl like you.

Welcome to "Pub Encounter," a Dogenzaka Lab visual novel that lets you explore romantic possibilities, as well as act as a friend and counselor of sorts. Navigating the minefield ahead of you, your conversations spark jealousy among the men, unlock deep thoughts about lives well wasted, past loves squandered and opportunities seized.

The writing has much to say about the nature of romance and its function in both salving and wounding the human heart. The lonely characters, who ranged from meek to self-absorbed and predatorial, are all nursing severe damage and hoisting up fronts that mask their true yearnings and deficiencies.

While sometimes a bit too personal for comfort -- the writing has no qualms with venturing into overshare territory -- there is grace, subtle humor and quiet beauty amid the maelstrom of posturing and superficial banter. "Pub Encounter" is a rush of flabbergasting emotions in a small, unassuming package.
Publisher provided review code.

Monday, June 18, 2018

"Ink" Review


"Ink" makes a splash buy letting you romp your character through invisible levels, splattering paint everywhere to clear your path.

Taking cues from "De Blob," "The Unfinished Swan" and "Splatoon," "Ink" sets you loose on an invisible obstacle course, using trial and error to splash paint on your surroundings, allowing you to see what course you need to take after you respawn.

A game that will drive perfectionists and speedrunners crazy, "Ink" forces you to accept continuous failure and incremental improvement. The methodical pacing works to its advantage, allowing you to appreciate the intricacies of the levels as you make your way through them.

Complex puzzles prevail across each new challenge, tasking you to dispatch enemies, use double jumps and wall jumps to wend your way around and below choke points and cull your momentum in time to make it through the goal door to move onto the next stage.

Designed to be played in short bursts, "Ink" justifies its challenge with reward. Making a mess of a blank slate and overcoming stubborn obstacles with newfound savvy and strategy never loses its draw.
Publisher provided review code.

Monday, June 11, 2018

"Omega Strike" Review


Part Metroidvania, part Mega Man and part Contra, "Omega Strike" is a side-scrolling, exploration-based action game with loads of charm along with a satisfying challenge-reward loop.

You hot-swap among a squadron of teammates with varied talents, in the vein of the old "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" titles. A strongman can shove heavy objects, an athletic gunman can double-jump, and a quick, shifty figure can scamper from outmatched battles, avoiding conflict altogether.

The writing, which references gaming culture and action flick tropes through the ages, is one of the high points, providing welcome comic relief from the often brutal challenges that await you.

An archaic save system -- you have to check into a portal to record your progress -- both dampens the fun and imbues the combat with a sense of urgency. Robbed of the typical auto-save handholding, you find yourself heading into choke points with a fevered drive to succeed rather than a lackadaisical outlook, because failure could set you back several minutes.

Level design is compact and efficient, with devs cramming 12 bosses and 45 enemy types into the circuitous catacombs.

The lighthearted tone keeps things from getting too tense, with the story segments easing in welcome breaks from the do-or-die moments. "Omega Strike" plays just like your favorite game from when you were 12 that didn't happen to actually exist back then.
Publisher provided review code.

Friday, June 08, 2018

"West of Loathing" Review


If Buster Keaton made a stick-figure Western game for the Switch, it would have turned out a lot like "West of Loathing," an old-timey comedy with a look and playstyle that is barely echoed by anything else in gaming.

With a touch of the adventure RPG-stylings of the recent "South Park" games, "West of Loathing" sets your 2D cowboy off on a side-scrolling, branching-path journey that plays a little like a pre-rebellion "Westworld" story paid handsomely for by one of the patrons.

Traipsing through the dusty, rolling-tumbleweed-lined paths, you match wits with gunslingers, ladies of ill repute and real and supernatural creatures of the day and night.

A "Maverick"-style self-awareness fuels your renegade protagonist through his misadventures. Slick dialogue, scores of hidden items to track down and plenty of winking pop culture nods await you.

While not overly challenging and sometimes paced with a lolligagging sense of non-urgency, "West of Loathing" packs enough chuckles, facepalms and delirious non sequiturs to keep you longing for the next tip of the 10-gallon hat. Overall, the game sets out to remind you of the old Olsen Twins aphorism -- how the west was fun.
Publisher provided review code.

PHIL ON FILM: "Ocean's Eight"


For my written review, click here.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

"Onrush" Review


"Onrush" sets out to scratch the itch that serious racers of the "Gran Turismo" and "Forza" ilk can't reach.

Those who look back fondly at the days of "Motorstorm," and before that, the pioneering "Burnout" franchise, will find plenty to love in the arcade combat racer. Style and destruction are more important than sheer speed.

You're tasked to bowl through crowds of fodder competitors, leaving wreckage in your wake, hit improvised ramps for colossal air, and rip through sharp turns with paint-scraping skids that bowl over the competition.

Conjured in a team effort from Codemasters and Deep Silver -- which cobbled together former "Motorstorm" team members -- "Onrush" is a turbo-charged blast of nitro-fueled mayhem. You won't find much use for the brake button.

The gameplay emphasizes forward momentum at all costs, which makes it all the more jarring when you make a mistake and wipe out in a cacophony of obliteration. With appropriate savvy, the dev team keeps the punishments for failure at a minimum, snapping you back on course with quick resets that allow you to motor back into the fray to exact revenge on the field.

With four game modes and 12 courses to vie for your attention, the game slams on the gas in both single-player and multiplayer setups. "Onrush" is just the sort of over-the-top racing bonanza to keep you circling around for pit stops.
Publisher provided review code.

"Quad Fighter K" Review


The Switch has seen a flood of retro-minded titles, and the standby 1980s/1990s bullet hell genre has gotten its share of love. Aksys Games' budget-priced "Quad Fighter K" proves to be one of the heavier hitters in this category, heaping on the nostalgia for such titles as "Galaga," "Defender" and "Life Force."

Boasting four-player co-op, the space shooter allows you to team up with buddies or go it alone against a relentless drubbing from marauding, pattern-formation-attacking foes. You can link up with friendly ships to form Voltron-like squadrons, acquiring power-ups that let you spray shots in all directions.

You'll need that sort of fire coverage to stay in action.

Enemies attack from all sides, making for a brain-melting barrage of pitiless assaults. When you take hits, you have no time to stand by idly. It's all about scavenging the rubble and keeping up your counterassaults.

If you play with teammates, expect plenty of the sort of agitating bickering and friendly badgering that comes with the territory.

With unlocks aplenty encouraging you to delve into the fray, "Quad Fighter K" bowls you over with content. As joyous as it is maddening, it's a game that recalls the quarter-munching arcade games of yore.
Publisher provided review code.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

"Earth Atlantis" PS4 Review


The most eye-catching quality of "Earth Atlantis" is its art style, which is meant to resemble a living sketchbook influenced by "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" fever dreams.

Giving you control of a weapon-equipped submarine, the game tasks you to navigate through hidden depths teeming with sharp, destructive obstacles and hostile seal creatures.

Newly released on PS4 after coming out last year on the Switch, the side-scrolling action is an ample fit for the handheld mode, with mission design geared toward on-the-go play.

With deceptively simplistic gameplay that echoes the level design in that it reveals hidden depths and nuances the longer you play,  "Earth Atlantis" proves to be a welcome palate cleanser in between meatier first-party offerings such as "God of War" and "Detroit: Become Human."
Publisher provided review code.

"Sega Genesis Classics" Review


Loaded with more than 50 of the best Sega Genesis games, "Sega Genesis Classics" is a giddy playhouse of nostalgic glee. Crammed with entries from the console's top franchises, including Sonic, Streets of Rage and Phantasy Star, the collection lets you relive the early-1990s glory days of "Blast Processing."

The addition of achievements and online multiplayer, as well as rewind and flash save features makes the games far more palatable than they were in their heyday.

The games also look and play better than they did in their original form, with widescreen format and HD renderings making the 16-bit pixel creations pop in a way they couldn't in the days of fuzzy CRT screens.

While the collection is missing some of the stronger third-party titles of the era -- licensed classics, especially, have no chance in popping up in anthologies like this -- this roundup of Sega-produced landmarks is more than you could hope for in a retro package.
Publisher provided review code.