Tag Archive: action


When Knack II was announced at PSX 2016, I admit that I was probably one of the loudest groans in the auditorium. Knack had left a bad taste in many people’s mouths, coming across more as a tech demo for the newly-launched PS4 than an action game any of us wanted to play—and definitely didn’t feel worthy of a sequel. Yet here I am, ready to eat my words, because Knack II has made me a believer. It’s not without issues, but for the most part, it’s a fun romp for gamers of all ages.

Knack II takes place three years after the original game. It kicks off in medias res, with the capital city of New Haven being attacked by giant killer robots, and our plucky protagonist Knack needing to again save the day. Just before Knack takes on the biggest of all the robots, we flashback to six months prior to find out how we got to that point, facing off against foes old and new as we start an adventure that will take us across a variety of locales in Knack’s world.

It needs to be said that the self-contained plot here is an improvement over the first game’s story. It’s twists, turns, and bombastic moments—although somewhat predictable—elicited a Saturday morning cartoon vibe at times that I enjoyed. If there should ever be a third Knack game, this is a direction the series might want to lean into more, considering our colorful hero and his perceived target audience. Even with help from God of War writer Marianne Krawczyk, however, a lot of the characters in Knack’s universe still feel very one note, especially the titular hero.

In the first Knack, the goblin boss, Gundahar, called Knack a tool—and in many ways, that single line of dialogue was telling of many of the problems Knack still has now as a hero. Previously, Knack was always being bossed around by Dr. Vargas (his creator), and although the good doctor has thankfully taken more of a backseat this go around, his assistant, Lucas, has taken up the role of barking orders, telling our hero exactly what to do and when to do it. This depicts a feeling of subservience that isn’t fun to play. I understand that Knack isn’t exactly Kratos when it comes to backstory, but him having a bit more say in the adventure—and feeling like he’s on the same level as the characters around him (it is his game after all)—would go a long way to making our protagonist a more likeable hero that people would want to play as.

Of course, I also understand that Knack II is first and foremost an action-platformer and is primarily gameplay driven. In that regard, Knack II is light years ahead of its predecessor, and would stand on its own as an impressive action game even without the first Knack to compare it to. One of the biggest—and most important—changes comes in the form of Knack’s original gimmick: the ability to change his size.

In the first game, Knack would constantly be forced down into “small Knack” size, typically around the size of a child with a diminutive health bar to match. Almost every level started with Knack at this size, and it was often frustrating to go through all the work of building him up only to be broken down again at every story beat. In Knack II, Knack usually starts around “normal Knack” size, somewhere in the five to six foot range, and many new gameplay mechanics branch out from this single decision. As a side note, we can tell exactly how big he is with the new size counter next to Knack’s health bar, which initially seems like a minor addition but really adds a nice sense of scope to things.

This starting size allows Knack to control like most action game heroes. Knack now has elaborate punching and kicking combos that weren’t present in the first game; he can parry projectile attacks, or just block in general; he has new moves like block-breaking strong punches, stunning boomerang attacks, a gap-closing hookshot, and even a “secret technique” that looks a whole lot like a short-range hadouken. We’ll forgive Knack for borrowing some of these moves from other franchises, because it adds so much in terms of both how you attack enemies and the variety of said enemies the game can throw at you. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery after all.

There is still a use for “small Knack,” though, and with a tap of the R1 button, Knack can shrink almost instantaneously. There are many obstacles and hidden paths in Knack’s world that only a smaller-sized Knack can navigate. With another tap of R1, Knack can use the magical abilities that allow him to control relics (the particles that make up his body) to call those pieces back, so he can return to whatever size he was before. Even when Knack grows to his giant sizes—he maxes out at 32 feet tall—he can still instantly shrink to just under three feet when he needs to. This was a critical gameplay component the original Knack lacked, and it offers chances to explore an otherwise linear world while still showing off the game’s powerful particle effects.

Even with all this, there’s still a lot more gameplay variety to Knack II. There’s a new experience meter, which you can spend your accumulated experience on four different branches of a RPG-inspired skill tree where Knack can upgrade his speed, power, and other stats. There are tank-driving levels, plane-piloting segments, platforming puzzles, puzzles based on Knack’s weight, and quicktime events. All of those except for the last one were a ton of fun. The QTEs were used too heavily, especially when Knack would learn new moves and they would weirdly happen before tutorials. They were also too frequently used as level transitions, but understandably tried to give a more cinematic flair to some of the action that Knack wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.

And if you’re looking for replayability, Knack II has it in spades. Sure, there are 100 new secret chests to find, much like the first game, but there are also 143 different secondary challenges across the campaign—like beating a level in a certain amount of time or smashing all of a particular kind of crate to earn bonus points (those bonus points are great for trying to get the best online high score for each level). There is also a time trial mode with online leaderboards for speed runs, and an arena mode where you can fight wave after wave of enemies. Knack II even added drop-in, drop-out co-op where a second player can take control of a blue-tinted clone of Knack, and the difficulty scales appropriately when there are two players versus only one.

It may seem like I just rattled off a bunch of stuff there—and I sort of did—but the point is that in the four years between Knack and Knack II, Sony’s Japan Studio obviously took a lot of time to look at what people wanted from an action game, and what many of their contemporaries were doing, and tried to accommodate that. I believe they not only succeeded, but also far exceeded expectations, not only putting their own entertaining twist on familiar things, but actually turning Knack into a viable action franchise that could be fun for the whole family.

Knack II doesn’t re-invent the wheel, but it is a very solid, very sturdy wheel if you’re looking for an action fix—while with its predecessor, many of us were tempted to throw out the entire cart. Whereas the first Knack often had me asking myself “when will it ever end,” Knack II held my attention throughout, and I was happy to play it all the way through. The story and universe of Knack could still use some work (and some much-needed fleshing out), but the gameplay has come so far from its predecessor that I won’t be groaning the next time I hear that Knack is back.

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment • Developer: SIE Japan Studio • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 09.05.17
8.0
Knack II fixes many of the problems of its predecessor, delivering a fun action-platformer worthy of giving this series a second chance. The story is still a bit bare-boned, but the gameplay alone will be enough to keep you going until you see the end credits.
The Good A large variety of gameplay and Knack’s expanded moveset allows you to tackle bad guys in a plethora of ways.
The Bad Too many QTEs; all of the characters in terms of their personalities, especially Knack, still feel very one-dimensional.
The Ugly I feel like there’s been some retconning between Knack games that none of us were made aware of.
Knack II is a PS4 exclusive. A retail copy was provided by Sony for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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Developer Housemarque has cultivated some of the best action-packed arcade-inspired experiences of this console generation. Fans of old-school bullet hells and chasing high scores have been exposed to treat after treat in this genre by the team, so when I found out at E3 that they were making a side-scrolling platform shooter called Matterfall, I was on board before I even tried it out. And—after actually dashing, jumping, and blasting my way through the game at this point—I can say that this is another solid experience dying for you to try reaching the top of its leaderboards.

In Matterfall, players assume control of Avalon Darrow, a soldier-for-hire type that is dropped into the worst situations mankind can cook up and asked to fix them for the right price. In this case, Avalon finds herself on a human colony on the outer reaches of space, where a sprawling megalopolis has cropped up around the red matter mines. Red matter is a highly volatile substance that has become a source of energy in this space sector, not to mention a key driving factor of the area’s economy. Once red matter starts being used to power war machines to protect the colony, however, things take a drastic turn. The machines powered by the substance begin to gain a semblance of sentience, and soon start trying to eradicate all of the humans living there. So, while the colony is in the midst of the largest evacuation in history, Avalon is running into the fray with her trusty hand cannon, looking for the source of the epic disaster so that she can put an end to it.

Like many of Housemarque’s games, Matterfall is simple enough on the surface: Run and gun with Avalon through the game’s 12 different stages, with an end boss waiting in every fourth stage. One of the negatives of Matterfall is 12 stages is definitely not a lot, and you can probably get through the entire experience on normal difficulty in less than five hours. How you get through those 12 stages will be entirely up to you, though, as Avalon will unlock a variety of weapons that change how you may approach a situation. Of course, your score will also be important, so along the way you’ll constantly be trying to keep your multiplier at max, gain bonuses based on how fast you complete a stage and whether you died or not, and find the three or four humans who have been trapped in every non-boss stage.

In that regard, Matterfall offers up a ton of replayability if you’re as fanatical about high scores as I am. With none of the stages really needing more than 20 minutes to complete, you can quickly jump in, customize your loadout beforehand, and really try to plot out the best run possible in order to maximize your score. Upping the difficulty also increases multiplyer potential, meaning mastering harder difficulties will be crucial to maintaining a top spot on the leaderboards. Everything might start to feel a bit repetitive due to the overall lack of stages and enemy types, but finding the best path is usually enough of a distraction to both keep you on your toes and take your mind off that 50th wave of missiles that have appeared overhead, raining down in an attempt to destroy your multiplyer.

Where Matterfall really tries to differentiate itself is in its gameplay. The controls are locked in to try to optimize moving and shooting at the same time; thus, shooting is done with the right stick, and jumping and dashing are done with the shoulder buttons. Admittedly, it took a little while to get used to not having to press “X” to jump on a PlayStation controller, but the risk paid off. The second stick allows you to keep firing Avalon’s hand cannon with pinpoint accuracy as you use the left stick and triggers to move through enemy-infested hallways, duck behind cover, dash over enemies, or even float around in the game’s unique zero-gravity sections. In those areas, you’ll drift around in a full 360-degree radius, giving the game brief moments of feeling like some of the space shooters Housemarque has done in the past while still serving that fast and frantic arcade feel that is critical in games like this.

Matterfall’s dashing mechanic is also vital to completing the game. Not only does it let you pass through certain walls, but you’ll also let off a shockwave upon completion that can stun nearby enemies with blue matter (in this world, blue matter beats red matter). Destroying stunned enemies leads to score bonuses, while the shockwave can negate bullets that are heading for Avalon—a lifesaver in the midst of firefights that you simply can’t shoot your way out of. Matterfall offers up a bevy of gameplay styles that appeal to both risk/reward players or those who play more cautiously that want to destroy every single enemy on screen (like yours truly) before moving on.

There’s also a cornucopia of secondary weapons and abilities for you to choose from in Matterfall. While you can unlock four secondary weapons and eight passive powers, you can only choose three from the entire list to be active at any given time. Grenade launchers and homing missiles can be great when dealing with singular foes with a lot of health, but a bigger health bar, faster weapon recharge rates, and more passive abilities could mean the difference between life and death in the long run.

Between the weapon choices and the dashing mechanic, Avalon gives off the sense of a homogenized Samus Aran (the hand cannon-wielding bounty hunter) crossed with Beck from Mighty No. 9 (the hero with a dash maneuver critical to defeating enemies big and small). It’s an interesting take on the genre, but it works. I only wish that we could get to know Avalon a lot more than what we get in the game’s opening and ending cutscenes (the only ones in the entire game), but we know that’s not necessarily Housemarque’s forte.

Matterfall’s action and gameplay is a throwback in many senses. It’s focus on speed and scoring will have you coming back to it again and again as you try to climb higher on the global leaderboards, yet I wish that the levels offered more variety (as well as there being more of them period). If you’re looking to see if your twitch reflexes are still up to snuff, or simply need a quick experience that doesn’t require a major time commitment, Matterfall is more than deserving of a look.

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment • Developer: Housemarque • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 08.15.17
8.0
Although a bit short and repetitive at times, the fast and frantic action of Matterfall is a delight if you prefer your gameplay more arcade-y and your goals to be focused on high scores and conquering leaderboards rather than saving the world.
The Good Fast-paced, side-scrolling shooter action that will test your reflexes and force you to break from gaming conventions (or die).
The Bad Not a lot of content, and levels outside of boss battles can feel repetitive.
The Ugly I’m sure there’s a message about natural resource wastefulness in here somewhere.
Matterfall is a PS4 exclusive. Review code was provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Last week I had a chance to see the beginnings of Far Cry 5. Set in the fictional Hope County, Montana, players will be dropped into the middle of this rural slice of Americana that is under the hypnotic control of a cult leader named Joseph. This enigmatic figure believes he hears voices telling him that a reaping is coming, and that souls aren’t going to harvest themselves. If you’re not with him, you are most definitely against him—which Joseph is fine with, because he also believes that he and his people must prepare to be tested.

Of course, taking over a town isn’t the easiest of endeavors, and Joseph’s closest kin serve as the lieutenants that help keep everyone in line. Jacob, the eldest brother, is an ex-military specialist who has become disenchanted with the government and the world. John, the youngest brother, is a smooth-talking lawyer who knows how to keep the government from coming down too hard on his dear brother Joseph, and how to snatch up more property to bring under the cult’s control. Finally, half-sister Faith knows how to keep Joseph’s followers in line, a pacifying pacifist that keeps the cult’s rage from boiling over until Joseph is ready to let them loose on the world.

The odds are stacked against you, as they always are in Far Cry. However, you’ll have allies in your war to reclaim the hearts and minds of Hope. Barkeep and lifelong resident Mary May remembers what the town was like before Joseph, and she places sole blame on him for her family falling apart; her personal vendetta against the cult leader will make her a fiery addition to your team. God and guns preacher Jerome is infuriated that life has come to this, and that so much of his flock has been led astray; he hesitantly will resort to force in order to save the souls of his lost people. And finally, there’s Nick Rye, a crop duster who comes from a long line of airplane pilots. His father and grandfather both fought in wars, and Nick reckons it’s time to fight in one of his own.

Far Cry 5 will give you a bevy of tools to use as well. Everything from flamethrowers to pitchforks, guns and dogs for hire, and almost anything else you can think might be willing to risk getting hit with a few bullets for the sake of a few bucks. And, as always, how you go about tackling situations will be up to you. To get a lot more insight into the inspirations behind what seems on the surface like a radical departure for the series, I sat down and talked with Far Cry 5’s executive producer and creative director, Dan Hay.

EGM: I think the easiest and most obvious question is, why Montana? Although it might appear foreign to a city slicker like myself, I imagine it’s not very foreign to a large portion of the game playing public.

Dan Hay: There are two things that I’ll say about that. It would’ve been easy for us to pick a location somewhere around the world and given people something that would be classically referred to as “exotic”. But I think we had those conversations and we said to ourselves that sometimes it’s the thing in your own backyard that is the weirdest, that is the strangest, and when you scratch it there’s a lot of stuff underneath. That’s the first part.

The second thing is that the cult is something that’s really unique for us. I think people are going to realize that we picked the place because this is a place where it’s believable that some people want to be left alone and they don’t want to be bothered and that if you were going to build a cult, you could probably put it in there. So, we met with cult experts and they talked to us about it.

Whenever I watch a show or movie, part of me wants to watch because they’re offering me an experience that I will likely never have in my life and they allow me for two hours, or however long the show is, to dip my toe in the economy of the world that they’re building. And so when I think about some of the stuff that I watch on TV, I’m never going to be a gangster. Probably. But I get to visit that for a time.

And so I don’t think that a lot of people are going to be most likely in a cult and I think that it’s pretty cool for them to be able to go “Wait a minute, let’s look at this. Let’s meet the Father. Let’s understand what his family is doing. Let’s hear some of the things they are espousing, some of the things they’re saying. Let’s look at the people in Far Cry’s Montana”—and it is Far Cry’s Montana because we built Hope County and it doesn’t exist in the real world—”and see how they are going against the cult and pushing back.” And so it creates a unique experience that I don’t think anyone was expecting and it’s ours.

EGM: When you mention a cult, I think a lot of us jump to the idea of folks in white robes and ponchos drinking Kool-Aid. How are you going to get people past this idea in the game?

DH: I think you keep it simple. Absolutely, when you think of cult you think of a cliché sort of answer to that. I think when you see our characters they aren’t that. We kept it simple. There’s a guy who believes he’s heard this voice and he believes that a collapse is imminent. He believes it. And he’s managed to bring together followers who trust him in that. And when he talks about it, he doesn’t talk about it in ridiculously crazy terms. He says, “Look, there’s going to be a collapse. It’s going to happen. And we need to protect ourselves.” And then what he’s going to say is something to the effect of “You’re not going to believe me. There’s nothing that I can say that will bring you around to this idea. So, I’m just going to take you, and when it happens, you’re going to say thank you.” That’s an idea people can understand. And when an actor with gravitas gives it, when it’s given with great writing, you understand what these people stand for. You understand what’s happening. And you understand why the regular people in this world, the citizens, don’t want to have anything to do with this guy.

EGM: You mentioned an actor with gravitas. Can you give us any hints as to the cast that is playing your principal roles?

DH: I can’t say whom we cast. Casting on Far Cry is really tricky because it’s alchemy. I’ve implied it’s a process before, but the more I do it the less process it is. You get a great writer. Great writers, right? And the other thing that we’re doing is changing some things a little bit, trying to make like a writers’ room where people are pitching ideas and kicking stuff around and riffing off of each other. Then, we go out and cast the net wide and look for people who are going to be able to hold your gaze, people who can make your skin crawl, people who can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. And then, also, letting those people run a little with the material. Because it’s not perfect, we’re not going to nail it 100% perfect the first time. And then making sure it feels believable and that what comes out of their mouths, especially when you’re working with a first-person camera, they have some room to play.

I think that’s how we found some of our characters in Far Cry 3, 4, and Primal. And we know people want that from us. We know that people are looking at this and knowing if the characters are important and whom you’re going up against and who you are. I think that on this one, it’s super-interesting to see that we’re now dealing with a family and you get to meet each one of those people. They’re a chorus and they each have their own jobs. They each have their own micro-agenda. And I think people are going to dig it.

EGM: What can you tell us about the gameplay this time around? Are we going to be putting Bessie the cow out to pasture in order to craft supplies? What can we expect different in terms of gameplay?

DH: Well, you’re trapped behind enemy lines being in the cult territory and you got to use the resources that are available to you. If you’re played the Far Cry games, then you’re going to like what you’re getting and we’re going to give you more opportunity. We found a unique recipe when we built outposts where you got up to an outpost and you could attack it from 360-degrees. And you can see the anecdote factory opportunities and the question was why couldn’t we just do that with the whole game. Why couldn’t we drop you in the middle of the game, give you a little information, and then let you go in any direction and author the experience your way? That’s what we’re building here.

EGM: So are there no more outposts at all?

DH: I won’t go into specifics like that. What I can tell you is that—assuming you enjoyed the gameplay in Far Cry 3, 4, and Primal—when you see that we’re putting in guns for hire that can come with you, and the new inputs we’re putting into the anecdote factory for when you go up to a location that’s owned by the cult and you attack it, you’ll still have that 360-degree approach and that opportunity. But now you have new tools. Maybe you want to fly in and strafe it. Maybe you want to do a bombing run. Maybe you want to call Nick and have him come in and blow it up. Maybe you want to take your dog and send it in and have it tag everything. Those are the things we’re bringing to the game.

EGM: From what I’ve seen, this feels like it channels the temperature of the US as a whole right now. Like we’re all in a pressure cooker. How much of the game came about before a lot of recent events started to take place and how much did the game maybe be influenced by real world drama?

DH: It’s a chicken or the egg kind of question, right? I get asked, “do we have a specific agenda in this story?” No. We don’t. We’re not saying this is good and this is bad. What we’re saying is that the temperature right now is kind of in the red. The temperature is that people are running hot. They’re nervous and there’s a global consciousness of tension. It’s a pang I had as a kid [during the Cold War] and it’s familiar and I don’t know the answer to your question of what came first. It’s wholly believable that some of the things that had been going on in the world three years ago when we started to kick this idea around somehow influenced us. We can’t say that didn’t happen. But the world has changed so much in three years. Just the fact that we talk about things in the game and the characters in our world are affected by a lot of the things that are happening in the real world in terms of when they talk about stuff, they’re going to be aware and they’re going to be alive. And so yeah, I don’t know if its serendipity or what it is, but we landed on a sweet spot.

EGM: We talked a little bit before about the exotic, and Far Cry tends to always walk right up to the line in terms of believability. Far Cry 5 feels like it is walking more parallel to a familiar, current state of our world. How do you think fans of the franchise will react?

DH: Everybody that we show the game to is like, “Wow. I want to play that.” There’s no question that when you build a world, what you try and do is you try and make it so that that player can go in any direction and you allow them to go and do their thing. Far Cry is known as an experience where you go out and you can just blow stuff up and go crazy and have a great time. Or you can go in and have an earnest moment in the story and have something. All we wanted to do here is make it so this story felt grounded and felt real and be something you would understand and know right away and I think we did it. I think we have the framework for that. I think the older you get, you start to see cycles of things and so there’s going to be people experiencing this for the first time. And it’s going to be new and fresh and they can go out into the world and they can blow stuff up or they can have an experience with the story and it feels very present. And I think it’s going to be great.

Far Cry 5 will release on February 27, 2018, on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

People are always trying to combine things to make better and more interesting things: Peanut butter and chocolate; Batman with Superman—in comics, not in the movies; pineapple on pizza. Okay, the jury’s still out on that last one. In the case of Agents of Mayhem, though, all the best action of the 80s is being slammed together with the over-the-top humor and situations the Saints Row series was known for in a spin-off that takes place in the same universe. I recently got to go hands-on with Volition’s latest open-world foray, and it’s shaping up to be a love letter to everything great from GI Joe to Knight Rider.

In our demo, we got to play as nine of the 12 members of an elite super fighting force called Mayhem who, simply put, could care less about being heroes—the fact they’re saving the world from people even worse than them is a side bonus. They’re in it to win it for sure, but mostly just for themselves. It’s sort of like the enemy of enemy is my friend; they’re our friends just because they hate the really evil guys from a group called Legion a lot more than all of us. Each character fills a role on the team, offering up weapons and powers that make them great for different situations.

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Hollywood, for example, is the team’s pretty boy who loves nothing more than, well, himself. He wields an assault rifle for great medium range damage, and can fire a grenade from his groin—don’t ask. Then there’s Hardtack, who immediately comes across as a more narcissistic Shipwreck from GI Joe. Hardtack is a shotgunner who can take a licking and keep on…errr…shotgunning. What’s great about Agents of Mayhem is that before most missions you take on, you can choose three of the 12 characters on the roster, then switching between them on the fly. Finding a balance is often the best strategy, but depending on your style, you can specialize and go heavy offense, defense, or the like.

The game takes place primarily in Seoul, South Korea. Exploring the open world to find collectibles and side missions is critical to leveling your characters, which leads to better skills and stronger survivability stats like higher defense or health. Even moving about the world provides options, as you can utilize your powers, every character’s built-in triple jump, commandeer a car from the world, or call in one of your nitrous-outfitted Mayhem cruisers (including some with Kitt-like robot voice) should you so choose to.

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During our demo, we were able to check out five different missions. Two helped forward the story of the game as we took down high-ranking lieutenants inside Legion by blowing up basically everything in sight. Two other missions, meanwhile, were solo objectives that introduced us to new characters like Daisy, the roller derby girl with a Gatling gun and an alcohol problem (who ended up my favorite). Beating those solo missions unlocked new characters and gave us some critical backstory beats about the world and the team itself.

The last mission might’ve been the most interesting, because it was easily the most open-ended and tasked us with capturing a tower in the middle of Seoul. Capturing towers is great for experience, while also freeing areas of Seoul from Legion control. It’s a common video game activity at this point, but it definitely gave us a lot more reasons to explore the world. The mission also showed off some of the verticality of the game, as we had to climb several buildings to get to the capture point. It also highlighted the fast & frantic pace of combat, especially when swapping teammates as swarms of Legion soldiers attacked our position.

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My time with Agents of Mayhem might’ve only been a small cross section of the variety of scenarios the game promises to throw players into, but it was enough to pique my interest for sure. Its cutscenes and interstitials look like they could’ve aired as part of a Saturday morning cartoon block—with more adult themes, mind you—while the action felt like a cross between what we’ve seen before in Saints Row and something like Crackdown. There’s not as much customization as some would expect from Volition, with each character having a limited number of skins for themselves, cars, and their weapons—but that’s because the cast fits more carefully into a story that pays homage in its own weird way to a bygone era. If you ever wanted to see what might happen if GI Joe took a turn for the adult, then maybe got spliced with Archer or something along those lines, Agents of Mayhem looks like it’s ready to deliver just that in the package of a fun, open-world action game.

Agents of Mayhem is dropping on August 15 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

There had been a Bomberman game on every Nintendo system ever until that streak finally broke with the Wii U. Looking to make sure that mistake wasn’t repeated, Konami surprised everyone when they announced that their first Bomberman game and the first game we’ve seen from the series in seven years—Konami acquired original Bomberman creators Hudson Soft in 2012 and then never used the IP—would be a Switch launch title. As someone who played more than a few entries in the series on several different Nintendo consoles, this was an exciting surprise, made all the better by a game that actually delivers a decent-quality maze-busting experience.

Super Bomberman R opens up on Planet Bomber, where the original white Bomberman is admonishing his seven siblings for ignoring their demolition training duties. As they all go around the room making their excuses, a man named Buggler announces himself to the world and challenges team Bomberman outright with his own team of five Dastardly Bombers—who promptly begin wreaking havoc at different outposts all over the galaxy. The Bombermen must now fight their way through the Dastardly Bombers to get to Buggler and end his reign of terror.

Even when Bomberman moved away from his arcade roots and started trying to add real story elements with Mega Bomberman in the Sega Genesis days, it was never really a game driven by its plot—it was more like we now had an excuse as to why we would go around willy-nilly blowing up every brick wall and balloon enemy we found. Similarly, Super Bomberman R’s story isn’t its strong suit. It tries to go for a Saturday-morning cartoon vibe, with each cutscene touting over-the-top comedic dialogue, but it’s clearly just there to loosely tie the entire adventure together. For old-school fans, you’ll appreciate how it pays homage to the Bomberman games of the past, at least in terms of modernizing the stories of characters like Buggler (Bagular in the old games) and the Dastardly Bombers. If you’re not a die-hard Bomberman fan, you’ll still be able to follow along, although you likely won’t care nearly as much as those of us who have some history with these characters.

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Where Super Bomberman R shines is in its gameplay, which again blends the earliest adventures of Bomberman with some of his later 3D escapades. Most of the campaign is spread out across five worlds with 10 stages each. The first eight of these stages are your classic Bomberman fare, as a cavalcade of breakable and non-breakable blocks create mazes of varying complexity that are littered with enemies that can one-hit kill our hero. Each world has its own theme, but after just a couple stages on each planet, the aesthetics become a tad dull. Every world is also designed in 3D, but the locked isometric camera gives off those old-school puzzler vibes fans of the series likely first fell in love with.

Most of these stages require you to eliminate all your enemies—the most common task for Bomberman over the years. Adding a new wrinkle, however, are stages that feature survival objectives, escort missions, finding hidden keys, or stepping on a series of hidden switches. This variety helps keep gameplay that can become repetitive fresh, especially when you’re still relatively underpowered and need to find all the classic bomb, blast, and movement power-ups the series has always featured.

The last two stages of each world are where the game gets really fun, harkening back to more recent titles in the series. First, you have to take on a Dastardly Bomber in single combat, trying to trick them into blowing themselves up if you can’t find the perfect way to do it with your own bombs, or maybe a combination of the two (several times I would use an enemy’s bomb against them to pin them in a corner and secure victory). If you can defeat them in single combat, then the Dastardly Bomber transforms into a massive map-filling mechanical monstrosity. For example, Golem Bomber becomes Fort Walker, a giant robotic turtle where you have to blow up each of its four legs before blasting away at its head. Meanwhile, Plasma Bomber becomes Judge Gwinbee, a flying mech with machine guns that you have to blow up as it flies by. These moments made whatever grind the rest of the campaign might dish out more than worth it, and truly put your skills to the test.

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And trust me, your skills will be tested, because you will die. A lot. It’s still surprising how often you might lose track of how big your bomb blast is, forget about an enemy around the corner, or just accidentally barricade yourself between two bombs and watch as your life counter drops by one. The chaos only increases if playing the campaign in 2-player co-op due to friendly fire. Easier difficulties offer more lives, but no matter what setting you play on, the system by which you receive more continues is more mind-boggling than any maze the game throws at you.

Super Bomberman R features an in-game currency (no microtransactions) that rewards you with coins for beating Dastardly Bombers in the campaign or by winning multiplayer matches. This currency system can be used to purchase cosmetic items for your Bombermen, new maps, and unfortunately, also campaign continues. This weird interchanging of the currency means that if I ran out of lives and didn’t have enough coins saved up because I bought Black Bomberman this sweet top hat, I’d lose my entire progress on a level and have to start at stage one again, no matter my position. Lower difficulties see the price of continues drop, but it’s a weird way to have to game the system, often forcing you to choose between multiplayer goodies and beating the main game and creating an unfortunate grind.

Even with this odd currency situation, the greatest strength of Super Bomberman R—like many Bomberman games—remains the multiplayer component, and it’s only been enhanced further with the Switch. Up to eight Joy-Cons can be connected to a Switch for some truly frantic local action, or four Switches can link with two Joy-Cons each, again resulting in the same scenario. Even if you don’t have a full complement of local players, you can always play online. While there have been reports of connectivity issues at launch, I can attest that at least during my personal time online over the past few days, I had no problem connecting with other players. Either way, the multiplayer action that the series is known for remains, and there is no more fulfilling feeling than trapping your buddy in a corner with explosives—and no more harrowing feeling than when the same thing is done to you in turn.

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If you can’t get the full complement of eight players either way, you can also add bots to the multiplayer fun. However, I’d advise against it. The bot AI can’t be adjusted, and they are almost always set to master level it seems, knowing just how far away they need to stand from your bombs or the perfect way to trap you almost every time. The best multiplayer fun in Bomberman is against friends anyway, and that remains true here in Super Bomberman R.

Super Bomberman R might not pack the punch of one of Bomberman’s bombs when you think of console launch titles, but it’s still a quality experience. The campaign can be a bit of a grind, but has enough surprises and enjoyable moments to keep pulling you through—especially if playing co-op with a friend. And, like many Bomberman titles of the past, the local multiplayer experience with friends is almost second-to-none—that is if the game doesn’t blow up your friendships as much as you do brick walls. A few questionable choices like the in-game currency definitely add an unwanted grinding element to everything, but any fan of old-school Bomberman should be more than pleased with this long-awaited return.

Publisher: Konami • Developer: Hexadrive • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 03.03.17
7.5
The in-game currency decision was a head scratcher, as it adds an unwelcome grinding element to much of the gameplay. If you can look past that, then there’s a decent campaign and the same addictive multiplayer Bomberman is known for sitting at this launch title’s explosive core.
The Good A surprising amount of content, with 8-player multiplayer and a campaign that lasts for more than 50 levels.
The Bad Level design and gameplay can get repetitive after a while; in-game currency system.
The Ugly Accidentally trapping yourself between two bombs and then there are those few seconds where you’re just waiting for your inevitable end.
Super Bomberman R is a Switch exclusive. Review code was provided by Konami for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Great ideas are born all the time in the video game industry, but not all of them reach fruition—and fewer still achieve their fullest potential. It seems Ubisoft’s For Honor, at least at this moment in time, falls into the latter category of a game that just isn’t where it needs to be. After conquering the campaign and playing well over 100 multiplayer matches over the past week since it’s launch, I’m sorry to say that For Honor just seems to be another in what is becoming Ubisoft’s calling card of the past several years: a tremendous idea that falls short due to lackluster or questionable technical execution.

For Honor puts players in a fantasy world that mashes up regions and time periods, placing three of the world’s greatest factions of warriors together on one limited landmass. Samurai, Knights, and Vikings fight in perpetual war over scarce resources in this fictitious world, unwittingly serving as pawns in the plans of Apollyon, a particularly ruthless black knight who feels that only in war can people maximize their abilities.

The campaign takes you through each of the three faction camps as you begin to piece together Apollyon’s plot. There are 18 chapters (six for each group), and all told the campaign shouldn’t take more than 4-6 hours to finish. There’s some replayability here, with collectibles and multiple difficulty levels (including the hardest “Realistic” difficulty that completely removes your HUD), but not much else. It’s also a bit on the repetitive side, with occasional surprises to keep you pushing forward, but what serves as the brightest spot for the campaign is that it is an excellent teaching tool. As a de facto proving ground, it gives you plenty of opportunities to test strategies and learn more advanced combos with particular classes against the computer before you take those skills into the online world.

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One glaring flaw with the campaign, though, is the fact that if one of its major purposes is as a way to familiarize yourself with the game’s 12 distinct characters and it’s unique combat system in a safer offline setting, then it should give you an opportunity to play as all of the character choices. Only eight of the 12 are featured in the campaign, with the Berseker (Vikings), Conqueror (Knights), Shugoki (Samurai), and Nobushi (Samurai) being exempt.

Though, it could argue that some of these class styles are covered in other chapters. For example, the Vikings’ Warlord—who does get his own chapter—is classed as a heavy, which Shugoki and Conqueror also both fall under. However, there are enough differences between each choice and their playstyles that not being able to figure out how to fit playable sections for all 12 characters into 18 chapters—especially when many campaign chapters have all the characters in them already as NPCs—is bothersome. For example, the Nobushi has probably the most range of any character in the game (plus some attacks that can poison an enemy), while the Shugoki is the only character that can actually absorb a hit without flinching—but you need to experiment in multiplayer to find all that out. You can play the online modes against AI to get some experience with characters, and I admit that For Honor’s bots are some of the most intelligent you’re likely to find in any online game, but I believe that wrapping your training around a story and a tutorial increases your retention of learned skills, as opposed to just button mashing against a bot that falls into predictable patterns.

A big reason why it’s particularly frustrating having to learn characters in multiplayer, instead of more ideally just honing and mastering your skills against humans, is For Honor’s aforementioned combat system. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic system, but it has a steep learning curve and can be incredibly complex at times. The core of For Honor is three-way directional blocking/attacking. If you are swinging from the left, and your foe blocks in that direction, nothing happens; if they leave themselves open, you do damage. It looks like a simple third-person hack ‘n’ slash mechanic, but once you get past this, you’ll find there’s more to this game—and, again, each character’s specific nuances only diversify and add wonderful depth to the gameplay. Throws, stuns, parries, specials, and unblockable attacks all must be learned if you’re to have any success in campaign or online. The beauty of it, though, is how all of this plays off that initial mechanic, which requires you to lock onto an opponent in one-on-one “honorable” combat while trying to predict their movements.

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Combat is like a miniature chess game, with strategies forming and coming undone in an instant as your strikes hit, miss, or are blocked by your mark. Even positioning on the field, with one-hit kill obstacles like spikes or ledges, play into the combat, requiring you take in far more information than just which direction your opponent is blocking. I honestly couldn’t get enough of it all, and found my adrenaline pumping during the thrill of combat, screaming into my headset as cowards ran away from my Raider’s axe. (Of course, it also makes it frustrating to learn on the fly when your K/D may be on the line.)

There are some flaws to combat, though. While the game is surprisingly well balanced—with a smart player able to overcome most any other character’s strengths and exploit their weaknesses—there are those infuriating moments when it looks like the game’s physics or hit detection isn’t where it needs to be. A perfect example is when trying to throw someone off a ledge; a great way to overcome situations where you are outnumbered. Sometimes, a character will barely clip the edge of a rock or wall, and slam up against it as if a full support was there, saving the person from going over the edge and potentially falling to their doom. Or, you’ll get situations where a thrown body lands with half of it not on solid ground. You’d expect the body to slide off the edge—since that’d be the natural result—but instead the character just stands up as if their body had been fully supported. It reminds me of the original Super Mario Bros. way back in the day; as long as you had just one pixel of edge, Mario would never fall off. It’s not nearly as charming here, and definitely breaks immersion and draws my ire.

The crux of For Honor, though, is of course the multiplayer, which I’ve touched on briefly already a couple of times. The first thing everyone has to take part in is the War of the Factions. Similar to what was seen in Mortal Kombat X’s Faction War, as soon as you start the game, you choose one of the three factions to align yourself with for the entirety of a season (this doesn’t limit what characters you can play as, to be clear). By playing online you’ll earn war assets, and the better you perform, the more assets you’ll receive. Unlike MKX, you’ll get to personally assign where your assets go as you try to move the front lines of a never-ending assault against the other two factions on a satellite view of the game’s map. The faction that has procured the most land at the end of the season will receive special in-game bonuses. You can also change your faction mid-season, but at the penalty of lost rewards at the end of the season. Surprisingly, it’s one of the more addictive features of For Honor, as it gives players a sense of actually taking part in a living, breathing conflict.

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Then there are five different game modes under three different umbrellas. In Deathmatch, you’ll find the 4v4 single-life-to-live Elimination mode and the point-based Skirmish mode, where you can respawn until the opposing team reaches 1000 points (where points are awarded on a variety of factors, but killing human opponents always racks up the biggest points). Then there are the Duels, offering up 1v1 matchups and 2v2 Brawls, and which I personally recommend you start off with since they’re a great way to hone you skills. Finally, there is the 4v4 Dominion mode, which combines the point scoring of Skirmish with capturing zones like you’d see in a Domination mode for other games.

Although there are only a few maps, sections of each one are cordoned off depending on the mode you’re playing, and each map has multiple times of day available to offer some visual variety. The game is also graphically stunning as a whole; the detail of each character and the world around you is absolutely breathtaking, and makes you feel at times like you’re in a real medieval fantasy. For Honor’s customization is also something that should be lauded. While each character’s face is a given, you can change the sex of most characters (some are permanent female or male), earn ornaments, victory poses, and executions, and each character’s weapons and armor, piece by piece, can be changed out or given new paint and pattern schemes. It’s just enough personalization to make you stand out on the battlefield while making sure you still come across as your character class. Of course, it needs to be mentioned that a lot of items are locked away behind certain achievements or the game’s “steel” currency, but many of these can be bypassed by buying resources through microtransactions. This isn’t necessary, since you can easily grind for a lot of items, and most of them are cosmetic anyway, but that’s entirely up to you.

Despite the issues I’ve already laid out, when For Honor works, it works supremely well. When For Honor doesn’t work, though, it’s one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had to date with an Ubisoft game. While the campaign was mostly issue-free, there have been tremendous connectability issues with the game since launch. In fact, part of the reason I’m so late with this review is that I tried to see if these issues would work themselves out or if we’d get a patch of some kind. Even as recent as last night, however, I was still seeing matches drop and disconnect on a regular basis—if I could even connect in the first place. As I stated at the start of the review, over the past week I’ve played and finished well over 100 matches—there was probably another 200 times, though, where the match would never connect or drop midway through.

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If this weren’t bad enough, because For Honor doesn’t have dedicated servers, not only does the game suffer frequently from lag, but every time someone else drops, the entire game freezes up, as it often has to re-instance. Half the time, it is unable to, and boots the remaining players back to the multiplayer lobby. I don’t understand how, after launching so many games in a row with shoddy or broken netcode before this, Ubisoft has yet another game—one that is so multiplayer heavy in particular and has had so many betas—come out in this condition. It’s absolutely unforgivable to launch in such a sorry state, and Ubisoft should be embarrassed.

For Honor could’ve been one of the best games of this young calendar year; instead, it’s riddled with issues, particularly on the technical side, which hold it back. It might still bounce back and become the game it has the potential to be thanks to its solid gameplay core—but if you were looking for something to play right now, I’d tell you to take a wait-and-see approach with For Honor in hopes the bugs, in particular the connectivity ones, end up getting worked out.

Publisher: Ubisoft • Developer: Ubisoft Montreal • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 02.14.17
7.0
An inventive premise and surprisingly deep combat system sits at the core of what could’ve been a great game—if so many technical issues didn’t surround it and detract so much from the whole of the experience.
The Good The inventive new combat system takes some getting used to, but rewards players who put the time in with it.
The Bad A litany of technical issues and questionable decisions keeps it from reaching its fullest potential.
The Ugly This is now a thing and I can’t stop watching it: For Honor—Call on Me
For Honor is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

As I walked around the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center during PAX East this year, I saw a great many games. From small titles made by developers I had never heard of, to the bombastic fanfare and excitement surrounding projects by the usual powerhouse publishers, there was something for everyone. One of my surprises of the show was called Livelock, with publisher Perfect World taking a crack at their first non-free-to-play game. My demo back then was enough to pique my interest, compelling me to give the final product a look when it finally released last week. Unfortunately, Livelock fell far short of the excitement it instilled in me back in April.

Livelock takes place in a post-apocalyptic future. When a global extinction event became imminent, humanity found a way to upload people’s consciousness into robot bodies in the hopes of protecting what makes them human. With not enough time to upload every person into their own personal chassis, humanity’s population was transferred into three cores in New York, Tokyo, and Moscow. When the event hit Earth, however, it was far stronger than anticipated, decimating the failsafes that were put in place and causing many minds that had already been uploaded into robots to go mad. However, one failsafe not on Earth—an AI-driven satellite orbiting the planet—is still intact, and has taken it upon itself to find the Capital Intellects, three long-dormant prototype robots that served as the blueprints for the transference process. With players assuming the role of one of these Intellects, they must now travel to the remnants of each core city and collect pieces of a key to a last bastion called Eden in order to salvage what’s left of humanity.

Honestly, folks, these are the reviews I dread the most. Livelock isn’t necessarily a bad game or a broken one—it’s just boring. Bland beyond belief, Livelock doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before, and never really became fun as I grinded my way across its two dozen stages. It’s a top-down shooter with RPG elements, and what’s most painful to see is the potential it held before ending up as something so vanilla.

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A prime example of this was the story. Sure, the post-apocalyptic scene isn’t terribly original, but it can be entertaining when done well. The problem here is that the game focuses so hard on throwing more and more robots at you—filling the screen to the point the game painfully lags in some instances—that it never properly fleshes out the details on how the world came to be as it is (or as it was). The only glimmer of character development we get in-game is the occasional quip from each of the three Capital Intellects, and audio logs scattered around the world that simply don’t provide enough background or go into enough detail.

Speaking of the world, levels also fail to capture the imagination. Considering the three cities the game takes place in, the game could’ve done so much more to make it feel like we were actually traipsing through their ruins, instead of just generic streets, fields, tunnels, or tundra. Yes, Russia has snow—but how about the Kremlin? Show us the Empire State Building in New York. Give us something to connect us to these places.

At least there are glimmers of creativity on display with the enemy types. Each has built new homes in the ruins of humanity that have unique themes to them, ones which are based around the enemies themselves. In Russia, the humanoid-like robots have built a village; in Tokyo, an insect hive houses bug-looking bots; and vermin-esque foes have carved out a rat’s nest in what remains of New York. A particular bright spot comes from many of the end level bosses, as they all aren’t just beefed-up versions of lesser enemies. Instead, they show some personality and attack with unique tactics, providing a welcome level of satisfaction upon defeating them.

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The only time it feels like the developers behind Livelock were truly inspired, though, were in the Capital Intellects themselves. There’s the tank in Vanguard, the damage-per-second specialist in Hex, and the support in Catalyst. The trio have distinct personalities that you catch glimpses of in beautifully animated cutscenes that, again, had me wanting to see more of this world. Combat-wise, each one has a half-dozen weapons to choose from (you can take any three into battle at once) along with special powers that grow stronger as you level up (until you hit the level-30 cap). There are even some modest customization options, including colors, robot heads, and capes that you can mix and match.

Livelock also falls short in the challenge department. A single playthrough on normal difficulty clocks in at about four hours, and will put you right up against the edge of the level cap. There’s no penalty for dying beyond resetting your multiplier, which only really affects you if you’re going for high scores in each level’s online leaderboards. The high score feature does at least offer a nice arcade-like touch, giving Livelock some much-needed replayability beyond three-player campaign co-op with friends. Finally, there’s an endless mode where you take on wave after wave of enemies, but it’s as generic as every other Horde clone we’ve seen over the years.

Livelock works as a top-down shooter—you fire away at enemies and they blow up and you can do this endlessly to your heart’s content. The three Capital Intellects you play with feel satisfying to use, and carry enough personality to make you grow ever so slightly attached to them. With such a lackluster world, uninspired story, and severe lack of challenge, however, you’d have to be an absolute top-down shooter fanatic—or desperate for something cheap to play—to add this to your collection.

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Publisher: Perfect World Entertainment • Developer: Tuque Games • ESRB Date: T – Teen • Release Date: 08.30.16
5.0
Livelock is as generic a top-down shooter as you can get. The locations you find yourself fighting through, the enemies you take on, and the story itself come together in a package that works, but one which fails to inspire any semblance of fun.
The Good Single-player leaderboards and three-player co-op offer a modicum of replayability.
The Bad The story, gameplay, and challenge never quite reached their potential. Lots of lag.
The Ugly You can figure out who the “surprise” bad guy is just from the voice acting in the opening scene.
Livelock is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Perfect World Entertainment for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Bending over backwards for Fru

It’s hard to argue the fact that the Kinect is the latest in a long line of failed gaming peripherals. We could be here all day talking about why, but one of the main reasons is that in the nearly six years since it released, I can barely name a handful of good games for it. Most were too gimmicky, too unresponsive, or just simply weren’t fun. Although the Xbox One’s second generation Kinect was better equipped to deal with these shortcomings, it couldn’t do enough to warrant the system’s higher price tag, helping to turn away many would-be early adopters. Even those of us who took the plunge with Kinect 2.0 have either packed it away or simply use it as a quick way to sign-in and enter download codes. So, I was downright flabbergasted to find one developer still working on a Kinect game (even though we hadn’t seen it since E3 2014), and even more so when that game turned out to be pretty damn enjoyable.

Fru is a puzzle-platformer that tasks players with guiding a small, masked girl through a mysterious world. Over the course of the game’s 110 stages, you’ll come to learn what happened to this world, what the girl is trying to reach, and why you, the player, have the ability to help her through this adventure.

There’s really not a lot to Fru’s story, which is definitely one of its drawbacks as it tries to differentiate itself from the failed, gimmick-driven games of the Kinect’s past. All told, there are only eight sentences of narrative in the entire game, and a few short scenes that string together the simple story. But for what the story lacks in depth, the gameplay makes up for in spades.

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There are only two controls in Fru: running and jumping. You can run with either joystick on the Xbox One controller, and jump with either trigger. The reason for this is it allows you to play the game one handed, which is not only a great test of coordination (since many of us will have to fight hard against our gaming muscle memory), but also a necessity, as in all of Fru’s stages, your body will act as the catalyst that allows the little girl to advance.

You see, your silhouette—as detected by the Kinect—will activate switches, reveal hidden platforms and collectibles, block hazards, and even at times serve as a pool of water the girl can swim through. Each of the game’s four chapters adds more complexity to your responsibilities as the girl’s shadowy guardian, which also adds to the fun. In many instances, I found myself contorting in ways I didn’t know I could to help the girl advance. Whether literally rolling on the floor to adjust my position, arching my back to cut a wall in half and create makeshift stairs, doing squats to hit multiple switches at once, or even (almost) doing splits to fill up most of the bottom of the screen, I was ready to do whatever it took to create the perfect position for each puzzle. And as gimmicky as it may seem on the surface, I was hooked, not to mention impressed by the amount of depth Through Games was able to concoct to never make any of the game’s 110 stages feel cookie cutter or boring.

Unfortunately, what might be Fru’s fatal flaw is that it won’t last longer than a few hours for most players, even with all those aforementioned stages. Once you get past the ingenious interaction with the Kinect and solve all the puzzles, there’s really little reason to come back to Fru—a problem that hurts puzzle-platformers that already aren’t fighting the Kinect stigma.

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There are 24 collectibles scattered in the game, which do up the difficulty a tad, but I was able to collect them all on my first run through. There’s also a bonus mode that was spawned out of Fru’s tech demo, which offers a two-player option. Giving a friend a chance to play side-by-side with you is nice, but the mode is really only a short offering due to the tech demo nature, and not nearly as deep or as polished as the main game.

I did find some replayability in the game when showing it to friends at least. If it was fun rolling around trying to solve the puzzles by myself, it was just as entertaining to watch someone else do it. We even passed the control around to others, offering up some unintentional multiplayer and impromptu teamwork as one player would pose while the other would use the controller to guide the girl across the screen. It still remained a short affair, however, thus torpedoing its party-game possibilities as well.

Even with its lack of depth, Fru succeeds in showing us that the Kinect may have never reached its full potential. The puzzle-platform genre adapted for the device worked well, adding a pleasant surprise to the lineup of dance, music, and workout games that seemed to work the best with the peripheral. The sad fact of the matter is that Fru still has a couple of issues, and as fun as it is, it’s not something that can lift the Kinect back up to a state of relevancy. If you have a Kinect, Fru is a good way to get a couple more hours out of it. Otherwise, we all can just lament over what could’ve been.

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Developer: Through Games • Publisher: Through Games • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 07.13.16
7.0
It’s sad that Fru came out so long after the Kinect was a viable gaming peripheral. Had it released closer to the Xbox One’s launch, we might’ve been able to laud it as a reason to own a Kinect. As is, it’s a solid little puzzle-platformer that might be worth a look if you haven’t packed your Kinect away—assuming you ever got one in the first place.
The Good Inventive take on the puzzle-platformer that keeps finding new ways to test you.
The Bad A little on the short side, and not much really in terms of story or replayability.
The Ugly This is the game the Kinect needed all along. It’s a shame it’s probably about two years too late.
Fru is a Xbox One exclusive (Kinect required). Review code was provided by Through Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Bullet hell meets Bushido

The concept of a gauntlet against boss characters, or “boss rush,” has been around for almost as long as modern games. Franchises like Mega Man had you face all the game’s bosses again in quick succession before fighting Dr. Wily; Shadow of the Colossus was set exclusively against mammoth monstrosities; classics like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time added the mode in later re-releases; the idea has even permeated the Indie scene with games like last year’s Titan Souls. So, when I first heard about the latest boss rush Indie darling, Furi, I was curious to see if it could do anything that would differentiate itself from that crowd. And, after playing it, I can attest that it falls in line with other great boss rushes of the past—but also offers enough distinctions that allows it to stand on its own.

In Furi, you play as a man simply known as “The Stranger.” Imprisoned for crimes unrevealed, you spend your days in isolation and constant torment from a three-faced being called “The Chain.” After regaining consciousness one day, an odd man with a rabbit mask named “The Voice” loosens your restraints. Finally free, The Stranger reclaims his sword and must fight his way through each layer of the prison (each protected by a powerful jailor) if he, and in turn The Voice who follows closely behind, are to escape and reclaim their freedom.

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The story isn’t the main draw for Furi. You’ll learn more about the world in-between each epic bout—and even the jailors themselves—from The Voice who seems to have a personal connection with everything around you, but these are easily the slowest moments of the game. The Voice’s dialogue is intriguing, but it comes during the only time players are given control of The Stranger outside of combat. There’s nothing to explore here—you simply walk along the world’s narrow path, from one battle to the next. You can even forgo the small amount of interaction you have during these scenes by pressing a button to make The Stranger walk on his own, saving you from having to control his progress with the analog stick. I can’t help but question why proper cinematics weren’t used to bridge the gap between fights, as it could’ve provided more artistic and focused moments for driving home the game’s few narrative points. A very weird decision for a game stylized in almost every other way. At the very least, this time gives you just enough backstory to hook you early on—revealing enough about why you were captive and The Stranger himself by the end to have made the experience worthwhile—but there are clearly more effective ways to tell a story.

Luckily, the star of the show makes up for this lackluster downtime: Furi’s aesthetic design. Furi is quite simply dripping with style. If boss names like The Chain, The Line, or The Beat weren’t enough, its neon-infused visuals and an original electronica soundtrack—provided by artists like Carpenter Brut and Waveshaper among others—should get the point across.

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And that’s just the opening. When the action truly starts, boss fights up the ante, constantly trying to find new ways for color to explode off the screen as every confrontation blends the high-pressure feel of a one-on-one showdown with the fast and frantic movements of an arcade shooter. Each successive boss not only brings new patterns for you to learn and attempt to overcome, but a new theme to the fight as well. The Stranger will go from fighting a battle akin to ancient samurai clashing swords on the beach, to taking on a medieval knight in a lush forest—all sharing in the purpose of trying to lock you away again.

As slick as Furi looks, all the amazing character and world designs would be for naught if the gameplay wasn’t there to back them up. Although not as powerful as the visual motif, Furi impressively blends hack ‘n’ slash melee with the projectiles and speed of a bullet hell shooter—but unfortunately fails to provide as much depth as one would hope.

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Each boss has its own unique tricks in how they try to put The Stranger back in his cage, but gameplay all boils down to two phases. The first phase of each boss’ lifebar revolves around them flying around the screen, firing all manner of energy projectiles and waves at The Stranger, creating scenes reminiscent of busier shoot ’em ups. You can deflect some of these projectiles, but since your own lifebar is limited, dodging through or around them is a far more effective course. You counter with your own laser pistol, often having to chip away from far off distances as you flit around the screen like a dragonfly on a placid pond.

Once the boss has taken enough damage, the camera will shift from overhead to a more intimate third-person side view, with both The Stranger and the respective boss constrained to a small circle they must battle in. Here, besides continuing to dodge, parrying and attacking with your sword are your two primary moves, with a heavy emphasis on the former. Parrying is critical to not only opening up the bosses for short flurries of offense, but also is often one of the few ways to regain health regularly in these fights. A rare (at least for me) perfectly-timed parry not only gives health, but rewards you with a special animation and guaranteed hit from The Stranger.

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I found combat overall to be very simple, considering the complex moves I was asked to constantly deflect or find ways to work around. There were some other options—like charged blaster shots, charged melee swipes, and charged dashes—but the time it took to actually charge them up often left The Stranger far too open, and provided too small a reward for using them. I ended up abandoning those techniques after the second boss, leaving me often wishing I could do more with the tools the game gave me.

This isn’t to say Furi wasn’t still fun, though. Learning the punishing patterns of each boss on the path to my eventual freedom became an obsession that I couldn’t walk away from. Each fight made The Stranger feel more like a legendary Ronin, sword in hand and looking to reclaim lost honor on the field of battle. With each defeat, I was only galvanized to push my thumbs faster on the next attempt. No fight ever felt the same, and what amazed me even more was the intensity each battle provided, as I whittled away each subsequent lifebar of the bosses. Some fights would feel like they lasted hours, and I’d be shocked when I would look at the clock and realize only a few minutes had passed.

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Furi will initially grab you with its visual style and original soundtrack, but it’s solid gameplay and decent narrative will be what keeps you coming back from every death in each punishing boss battle. It may need a little more depth in these areas, but if you’re a fan of action games, then Furi serves as a great summertime fix.

Developer: The Game Bakers • Publisher: The Game Bakers • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 07.05.16
8.0
Furi excels in some areas, serving as an audio/visual treat as you work your way through the game’s world. Its narrative and gameplay could use more depth, but both provide more than enough value to make this a worthwhile experience if you love action or boss rush games.
The Good Intense boss rush gameplay that pushes your reflexes and pattern recognition to its limits.
The Bad The long, boring path between boss fights.
The Ugly The agony from the narrow defeats is greater than the joy felt from the narrow victories.
Furi is available on PS4 and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by The Game Bakers for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Mighty isn’t the word I’d use…

You will be hard-pressed to find a more rabid Mega Man fan than me. For years now, my cries to Capcom for a new game in the series have fallen on deaf ears. When Mega Man co-creator Keiji Inafune decided to leave Capcom several years ago to start his own company, and it was announced that one of his first major projects was going to be a spiritual successor to the Blue Bomber, you can imagine the joy I felt. I clearly wasn’t alone, as the Kickstarter to back the project raked in just over four million dollars. Flash-forward nearly three years later, and after countless delays, finally, Mighty No. 9 is here. And—for both better and worse—I can tell you this isn’t your daddy’s Mega Man game.

Mighty No. 9 takes place in a future that could be a result of people watching too much Battlebots. Robots do their fair share for humanity in this time, but many have the primary purpose of simply fighting in the local arena for entertainment. The most powerful of these, known as Mighty Numbers, are the brainchild of one William White. When a mysterious virus causes all the robots—including the Mighty ones—to go haywire, humanity looks ready to succumb to their new metal masters. Dr. White has one trick up his sleeve, however: Beck, his newest Mighty Number. Beck’s power allows him to assimilate other robots, and has seemingly left him immune to the virus. It’s now up to Beck—with a little help from his robot sister Call—to save the other Mighty Numbers and find a cure for this virus.

I admit, when I first started playing Mighty No. 9, I fell into the easy trap of looking for reasons why this game either could or couldn’t suffice as an entry in a series that dominated my childhood. The truth of the matter is that while there are some striking similarities—from the aforementioned story to many of the gameplay elements I’m going to speak on—Mighty No. 9 is different from Mega Man, but that alone does not lift up or condemn this title.

As a throwback to a bygone era of pinpoint platforming accuracy being a necessity, Mighty No. 9 does an admirable job of trying to scratch that nostalgic itch. Once I got over expectations and accepted the game’s mechanics for what they were—using my blaster to weaken enemies and then assimilating them by dashing through them—I found the level and enemy design to be familiar, and a bit on the bland side, but still enjoyable.

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Several new features also give the tried-and-true Mega Man formula a bit of a tune-up. All the characters in the game have voice acting, and while some are better than others (sometimes due to the writing falling flat), at the very least, Mighty No. 9 tries to offer more depth to the characters and world than Mega Man ever did. Some levels, like Call’s single stage and the lair of Mighty No. 8 (a robot named Countershade—think Search Man from Mega Man 8), try to branch out from the standard formula, giving you objectives to complete before proceeding deeper into the level.  There’s also a meta-strategy with assimilating certain enemies to give you boosts to attack, defense, and speed, and assimilating multiple enemies at once will give you score multipliers—offering surprising depth to what robots you destroy and when.

Speaking of scores, setting high scores at the end of each stage gives Mighty No. 9 a greater arcade feel than its inspiration. I used to challenge myself to speed runs of the old Mega Man games all the time, even completing Mega Man 6 in less than two hours once. Mighty No. 9 already promotes that with not needing to destroy every enemy outside of bosses, and offering up many shortcuts that take advantage of the dash mechanic. I am happy to report that my first playthrough of Mighty No. 9 only took three hours and thirteen minutes.

Unfortunately, Mighty No. 9 then begins to falter. Beating the game for the first time on Normal will then unlock harder difficulties, but it still felt easy, and Hard isn’t much better; only the Hyper and Maniac (one hit and you’re dead) difficulties really start to give your thumbs a workout. Sure, there are those insta-kill spike traps that will make every Mega Man fan grind their teeth, but Mighty No. 9 falls into a very modern trap of holding players’ hands at times when not playing those higher difficulties.

Abundant one-ups litter each level, special powers recharge on their own without items, and when you defeat a boss, the game even goes as far as to tell you what other boss is weak against that newly acquired weapon. I wouldn’t have guessed that Battalion (think Mega Man 10’s Commando Man) was weak against Cryosphere’s (Ice Man, Blizzard Man, or any other cold combatant from over the years) powers until the game offered that up to me, and once that cat is out of the bag, it’s really hard to forget. The only thing worse about the special powers is not assigning the trigger buttons to easily switch between them all on the fly like in later Mega Man games.

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Mighty No. 9 also has a couple technical issues, the worst of which is the horrendous load times. Whether waiting for a reload after dying, switching in-between levels, going into or out of cutscenes, or even just opening the menu, Mighty No. 9 spends as much time loading as it does allowing you to play. Considering how long this game has been in development, and how much it actually should need to load, the amount of time players will spend waiting for something to happen is atrocious. We’re not talking Skyrim size worlds here, folks.

There are also challenge, co-op, and versus modes in the game, most of which are blamed for the game’s countless delays. Unsurprisingly, these modes feel mailed-in at best. Challenge mode offers up a variety of single-player time trials and target quotas that will test your skills in no way close to the way the main game does. Co-op allows a second player to join in and play as Call in a similar set of lackluster objectives and levels. And finally, there is Race Mode, where players can compete directly against a friend in the game’s levels for the same objectives. Not a bad idea, but I’d rather just be put in an arena against a buddy at that point along with a roster of the Mighty Numbers, and duke it out the old fashioned way. Besides, you’ve already got leaderboards for scores and times in the other modes, so Race Mode seems redundant.

Mighty No. 9 had some big metal shoes to fill, and nothing short of the hopes of an older gaming generation on its shoulders. Beck and company may still be in the shadow of the Blue Bomber after this first adventure, but although not perfect, this isn’t a bad start. Mighty No. 9 might be a little easy, a little short, and have side modes that are absolute wastes of time, but the core is solid, and there’s definite room for growth and improvement that will at least keep me from calling Capcom so often anymore.

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Developer:  Comcept, Inti Creates • Publisher: Deep Silver • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 06.21.16
7.5
Mighty No. 9 has a strong gameplay core that isn’t better or worse than Mega Man—it’s just different. The further the game deviates from that core, however, the worse it becomes.
The Good It takes time to get used to the dash mechanic to defeat enemies, but once you do, you realize the game is really well designed around it.
The Bad Challenge, co-op, and versus modes are wastes of time; surprisingly long load times.
The Ugly All that mighty number family drama.
Mighty No. 9 is available on Xbox One, PS4, PC, Wii U, Xbox 360, and PS3, with 3DS and PS Vita versions coming later. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review copy was provided by Deep Silver for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.