So that was a hectic month or two, huh? I imagine most of us still aren't out of the wild yet, in fact. I myself still have a ways to go in Horizon: Zero Dawn (I still can't get a clear answer on whether a colon belongs in that title or not), Yooka-Laylee just came out a couple of days ago, and my GameFly copy of Nier: Automata is still sitting next to my TV, untouched. It's a good thing I'm not into Persona or this would still be full-on busy season.
But the release schedule is about to cool down considerably, which gives me time not only to catch up on the games I haven't had the chance to release yet, but to do some short write-ups on all of the releases I've played but haven't been able to discuss in detail. So, it's time for another round of Review Shots, a set of rapid-fire takes on whatever I haven't reviewed elsewhere. And since my shiny new Switch has dominated my attention over the last month, this installment will be largely devoted to what I've been up to on that thing.
P.S. I wrote this intro a while ago, so as of the time I've posted this, I've finished Horizon, Yooka-Laylee has been out for a couple of weeks, and I've dipped into Nier: Automata and determined that it's not my thing.
The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone (PC)
January was when I finally mustered up the courage to return to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and sure enough, as soon as I'd gotten back into the game's rhythm, I couldn't get enough. I'm still working my way through the game's second DLC, but Hearts of Stone ranks as perhaps the best self-contained story in a game full of great self-contained stories. This thing is a cavalcade of good characterization - Shani is a great romantic match for Geralt (and his, erm, "other side"), the often-despicable Olgierd's dip into immortality makes him bizarrely humble and sympathetic, and Gaunter O'Dimm is easily the series' greatest villain yet, a fearsome and mysterious force. Two of the dungeons late in this quest (one set in a painting, the other in a riddle) are a bit of a chore and an obvious attempt to get players more involved in what is largely a hand-off piece of storytelling, but this is a worthwhile addition to a base game that wasn't exactly skimpy on great content to begin with. 8/10
This is several months old now, and although I never formally reviewed it, Dan and I did rave about it for an hour and a half on my first and likely only stab at hosting the GameCritics podcast. Still, since this'll get serious consideration on my best-of-2017 list far down the line, I want to put it into writing that Resident Evil 7 acknowledges the ill-fatedness of Capcom's attempts to recreate RE4's magic, and therefore turns Resident Evil into a horror franchise once again, disempowering the player and scaling the setting almost entirely to a single estate. It's almost a return to form, except it's smarter, scarier, and more fluid than the originals ever were, and it tells perhaps the first story in series history that can actually be taken somewhat seriously (though the protagonist is admittedly a bit of an emotional vacuum). After Resident Evil 6, I would've been ready to call it a day on this franchise, but Capcom really turned this thing all the way around. Buy it if you've got the stomach for it. 9/10
There is absolutely no circumstance in which a new Bomberman game, in 2017, should cost $50, no matter how long it's been since we've played a proper Bomberman title, no matter how eager we are to wash the taste of Act Zero out of our mouths, no matter how much we're itching to make use of our pricey new Switch consoles. At its absolute best, Super Bomberman R is a repackaging of the same formula that's seen, what, 33 iterations? The trouble is that it's often not at its absolute best - the single-player campaign is pointless (despite the cute animated cutscenes), and at least half of the online matches I've played have been so laggy as to make the game nearly unplayable. (Both Splatoon 2 and Fast RMX have had perfectly adequate online functionality, so the problem is with the game, not the service.) Were this a bargain-price eShop download, I'd still be hesitant to recommend it. At $50, well... I can't say I expect better from Konami. 3/10
As a fan of the original Blaster Master (though not enough of one to have known that there were several other follow-ups before this one), I expected to like this more than I did. It's certainly faithful to the series formula, which mixes side-scrolling, exploration-based action-platforming in a tank with top-down linear bits on foot. Weirdly, my biggest issue with Blaster Master Zero has more to do with the Switch hardware - specifically, the left Joycon's lack of a true d-pad, which makes retro-style 2D games such as this one rather awkward to control. Maybe this is something I'll grow used to as I spend more time with my Switch in handheld mode and Zero was unfortunate enough to be the first guinea pig. Also, while the tank segments are fun, the top-down sections feel way less inspired, and that's unfortunately where the bosses tend to be set. It captures the look and feel of the NES classic, but I guess I wasn't as hungry for this as I'd imagined, and it's probably the Switch release I've spent the least time with. 6/10
Even amongst Switch's thin launch period lineup, VOEZ is already shaping up to be one of the console's most overlooked titles. I only picked it up (a) out of desire to get more use out of my Switch now that Zelda's been shelved and (b) because my embarrassing attachment to the Hatsune Miku titles means Japanese rhythm games may actually be my thing. VOEZ was a good investment - its presentation is both attractive and minimalistic, and its song selection exceeds a hundred, all of them available right from the start. Mechanically, it's nothing terribly unique, but I like that it forces you to play with two hands at once, mimicking the sort of multitasking required to, say, play the piano (something I've always been in awe of). Plenty of variety in the music, as well - it's not just J-pop, but also violent rave electro and some delicate symphonic tracks. It's a mobile port, but don't let that scare you away - VOEZ is worth buying if you're into this sort of thing. 8/10
A year ago, I was still fully on board the Souls train, confident that From Software could keep it running forever, yet these final two DLCs, purportedly the last Souls-related content we'll be getting for the foreseeable future, have done a lot to sour my good will toward the franchise. This one is marginally better than Ashes of Ariandel, mainly for its visual appeal, but way too much of its challenge is derived from having players jump from cover to cover while invincible enemies fire projectiles on a strict timer. It reminds me of the bits in Demon's Souls where you had to dodge dragon breath, and I hated those sections. The bosses are decent on paper but have way too much health, a lazy method of inflating the game's difficulty, and it's a twist of the blade that this DLC's story ultimately links back to Ariandel when I'd rather have just forgotten about that whole affair. A huge disappointment as the swan song of Dark Souls, and if Miyazaki and crew are really this out of good ideas, maybe it's time for a break after all. 5/10
This is one of the most unique 3D platformers I've ever played, and has stolen an awful lot of Yooka-Laylee's thunder, if you ask me. Since you control a snake, the objective is to navigate levels not by jumping, but by contorting your body, looping around objects and creating a tight enough grip that you don't fall. The controls are a major adjustment but super consistent once you grasp when to raise or lower the snake's head, or when to tighten or loosen your grip. Some of the acrobatic stunts the later levels ask you to complete are pretty grueling, but only a handful of Snake Pass's collectibles are mandatory; the rest are there if you're looking for an extra challenge, as I was, enamored with the game's charm and originality. The camera is an occasional nuisance, especially since your right thumb won't always been free to move it around, but otherwise, this is one of my surprise favorites of the year. 9/10
And now, for some actual reviews:
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Mass Effect: Andromeda
Torment: Tides of Numenera
And hey! I was on the latest GameCritics podcast, in which we discussed the Switch and Zelda.