Tag Archive: video games


I know it’s passé to say this, but 2020 will be a year none of us will soon forget. I don’t need to explain why, but on the gaming front it saw countless remakes and remasters, triple-A delays, and the last generation of consoles sort of limp across the finish line before welcoming in the new—which had really no major exclusive titles at launch. It was a changing of the guard with little to no fanfare on that front, but through it all a handful of games rose to the top. Here are my top five games for an unforgettable year outside of gaming.

#5Paper Mario: The Origami King
Publisher: Nintendo ▪︎ Developer: Intelligent Systems ▪︎ Platforms: Switch

Simply put, The Origami King is the best Paper Mario game since Thousand Year Door. Although not a true RPG like those early games, it makes up for this by providing one of the most intriguing battle systems we’ve seen to date. Transitioning to a ring-based arena to battle, and moving your enemies around to line up attacks based on Mario’s iconic hammer swings and jumps, harks back to grid-based action-RPG hybrids like Mega Man Battle Network. Throw in origami-based powers that you acquire as you progress, and few battles ever play out the same. And I can’t forget it features the best and most humorous writing yet in a Paper Mario game. The Origami King was one of the more refreshing titles I played this year.

#4Watch Dogs: Legion
Publisher: Ubisoft ▪︎ Developer: Ubisoft Toronto ▪︎ Platforms: PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, Xbox One, PC

Watch Dogs: Legion rolled the dice in a fascinating way: having an open-world game without a true central protagonist. And Ubisoft pulled it off. Able to recruit a roster of up to 45 NPCs from the thousands that populate Ubisoft’s digital London, I collected them like Pokémon, playing different ones in different scenarios to get the job done. Sure, favorites would arise, but being able to switch to a doctor to sneak into a hospital or a cop for a police station, and then a getaway driver to escape the scene in style, made for fun and inventive ways to tackle each scenario and objective. Plus, flying across London on the construction worker’s drone is the only way to travel in the future.

#3Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios ▪︎ Developer: Moon Studios ▪︎ Platforms: Xbox One, Switch, PC

This was one of my most anticipated titles for 2020, and it delivered in spades. After Ori and the Blind Forest took home my personal 2015 Game of the Year, I was ready to explore and bring life back to a world plagued by decay and corruption as our favorite guardian spirit. Will of the Wisps again delivers tight platforming in a sprawling map that will have you exploring for hours. Streamlined systems like an autosave and easier upgrading keeps the pace fast, and new enemies and massive bosses keep the action frantic. And the art, music, and story all come together with these other elements to make a top-notch sequel.

#2Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment ▪︎ Developer: Insomniac Games ▪︎ Platforms: PS5, PS4

I’m a sucker for a good superhero game, and Insomniac’s Spider-Man on PS4 was one of the best. So, being able to take on even a brief adventure back in that world this holiday season was a welcome way to warm up my PS5. Yes, the world is the same with just a winter wonderland skin, but Miles Morales brings a whole new set of abilities and villains to the story, and a special flair all his own,  while Peter Parker is galavanting around Europe. Sometimes you just want more of a good thing, and that’s exactly what Spider-Man: Miles Morales is—making everyone who played it feel like we made Santa’s nice list this year.

#1Ghost of Tsushima
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment ▪︎ Developer: Sucker Punch Productions ▪︎ Platforms: PS4

As I danced around the field, avoiding my opponent’s sword, and chrysanthemum petals twirled around us, I knew this was my game of the year. This, and other duels on sandy inlets as water splashed the shore, or as fog enveloped us near a monument to fallen warriors, left an unforgettable impression on me like no other game in 2020. Ghost of Tsushima is a Kurosawa film come to life in the best ways possible, and a terrific story all its own. Jin’s struggle as he willingly casts himself out from the only family he knows in order to stop an outside invader was amazingly told, and made you feel the weight of every decision. There was no world I loved exploring, and no adventure I enjoyed more, than Ghost of Tsushima. It strikes a perfect blend of gameplay, graphics, sound, and story, like a samurai delivering the final blow to a rival.

The “Best Replacement for Real Sports in a Pandemic” Award
MLB The Show 20

While most gamers got through the early days of the pandemic with Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I dove deep into another game released around the same time: MLB The Show 20. I always loved the series, but hadn’t picked up an entry in the franchise in a couple years, and there was no better time as it served the dual purpose of being entertaining and the only sports I really had for four months. It prompted me to start my own Twitch channel and dust off my play-by-play skills, and it was easily my saving grace during a tough time for everyone.

The “Best Wind Through My Hair Simulation” Award
Iron Man VR

I look back at where VR was even just two or three years ago to where we are now, and its growth is promising. One of the better games to come out this year showing that growth is Iron Man VR. The PSVR really made it feel like I was playing as ol’ Shellhead when I put the headset on. Being able to use my two gauntlets independently of each other to fire rockets, repulsors, or control my flight, gave a sense of control I’ve felt in few other VR games. And it only got better when I turned my living room A/C towards me so it really felt like I was flying through the skies while fighting great reimaginings of supervillains Ghost and Living Laser.

The “What’s Old is New Again” Award
Resident Evil 3

I gave this award last year to Resident Evil 2, but in a year defined by remakes and remasters more than anything else (Tony Hawk Pro SkaterCrysisMafiaDemon’s SoulsFFVIIDestroy All Humans, etc.)it felt fitting to bring it back and give it to my favorite of the bunch. Resident Evil 3 takes a lot from the original, but the redesign of Nemesis and how he stalks you, some new sections that play terrifically, and a graphical and control overhaul made me thrilled to revisit Raccoon City once again. And, if you splurged for the $60 version, Resident Evil: Resistance was a fun multiplayer add-on, too.

As we near the end of this console generation, it’s understandable that we’re starting to see, in my opinion, more very good games and less great games. Publishers are saving their best games to help launch new boxes, and developers are focusing on the new toys they have to make the best games possible with their dev kits for this new hardware. Developers are also extremely proficient at this generation of hardware now, creating a more level playing field overall. But, even so, there remain a few titles that will always rise to the top of any given year, and I feel these five deserve to be played more than any others from 2019. 

#5Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Publisher: EA ▪︎ Developer: Respawn Entertainment ▪︎ Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC

I admit that part of why I may be ranking this on my list is the fact it has been so long since we’ve had a good Star Wars game. But Fallen Order is a good game even if it didn’t have the Star Wars brand, and that deserves recognition. It gives us a more in-depth look at how Order 66 decimated the Jedi, especially those not around the central action of the films. It introduces us to new worlds and lets us explore them in fun and inventive ways. And its combat is satisfying in how you balance your saber techniques along with your force powers. Combine this with great performances from everyone involved and you have an extremely solid adventure that shows story-driven Star Wars content can still be done and done well.

#4Indivisible
Publisher: 505 Games ▪︎ Developer: Lab Zero Games ▪︎ Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC

Indivisible’s story about bucking destiny and finding redemption is one of the more original, and enjoyable, tales you’re likely to encounter this year. It has an absolutely massive roster for a modern RPG, and each character has a story to tell and their own unique advantages in combat, affording each player the chance to build a roster that best suits their playstyle.The timing element for attacks adds a unique challenge to your traditional turn-based RPG combat, and when you combine all this with a gorgeous hand-drawn art style, it’s hard not to see why Indivisible is a must-play indie darling.

#3Mortal Kombat 11
Publisher: Warner Bros. ▪︎ Developer: NetherRealm Studios ▪︎ Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC

So often fighting games don’t get as much love as they deserve on these lists, but Mortal Kombat 11 is the genre’s best game in years. An expansive Krypt, engaging story mode, and a roster of all your favorite fighters from the series all culminates in a pinnacle for the iconic fighting franchise. It’s expertly balanced, the tower system provides endless replayability, and the new fighters added to the roster this go around perfectly complement the return of many long-time favorites. So whether you like to zone, get up close and personal, or just spam those damn sweep kicks, Mortal Kombat 11 is a fighting game that should not be soon forgotten.

#2Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Publisher: Nintendo ▪︎ Developer: Intelligent Systems, Koei Tecmo ▪︎ Platforms: Switch

I’ve been a Fire Emblem fan for decades now, and it’s a series known for its hard decisions and brutal tactical gameplay. No other entry, though, requires you to make so many hard choices as frequently as this one does. From the near-impossible decision of what house you’ll become a teacher in, to what allies will join you on your crusade to save the world, Three Houses tests your mettle (and how well you keep track of your save files before branching paths) like no other game in the series before it. For fans of strategy games, none greater were released this year.

#1Control
Publisher: 505 Games ▪︎ Developer: Remedy Entertainment ▪︎ Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC

For a game that came onto my radar so late (literally just a couple weeks before its release), I was blown away by what it was able to do.I’ve always been a fan of Remedy (yes, even Quantum Break), but this is easily its best effort yet. It’s all the studio’s strengths cranked up to maximum. It’s just the right amount of weird, with good gunplay, wacky characters, amazing performances, and some cool superpowers that make Jesse the most badass new game heroine we’ve seen in a long time. And when the Alan Wake Expansion drops next year I’ll be first up to return to the Federal Bureau of Control.

The “Not All Russians Are Terrible” Award
Metro Exodus

For a long time this year Metro Exodus was in my top five, so I figured it deserved at least some recognition as the best entry yet in a trilogy that made leaps and bounds between chapters. The struggle of Artyom and his comrades sucks me in each time I start a new Metro game. The scope of this one is unmatched, culminating in one of the most satisfying endings you could expect from a series centered on the nuclear apocalypse. It still gives players the welcome option of being able to stealth through dynamic environments, or go in guns blazing if you think your ammo will hold out. It’s a shooter-survival game not for the faint of heart—and an adventure that will stick with me for a long while.

The “Best Metroidvania” Award
Blasphemous

If you’re making an indie game nowadays, there’s a good chance you’re making a Metroidvania. Heck, even the original creator of Castlevania threw his hat back into the ring with Bloodstained. As good as that game was, though, I found one even better in Blasphemous. Steeped in ancient Christian ideology, the sprawling world you play through is a twisted nightmare of holy relics and torture. For example, you slaughter cherubs for collectibles, and get health increase bonuses from a woman impaled on six swords (each time you find her, she gives you a sword and thus more health). It’s gruesome, gory, and the most glorious Metroidvania of the year. If you love the genre, go serve your penance and play this game.

The “What’s Old Is New Again” Award
Resident Evil 2

Normally I remove remakes from being eligible in my game of the year awards, but Resident Evil 2 being rebuilt from the ground-up in the way that it was means I’d be remiss to at least not shine a light on it. And yes, it’s not just a remake, it’s really a reimagining. Sure, there are weird puzzles still being solved in a police station of all places as Leon and Claire uncover what Umbrella was really up to in Raccoon City, but it’s never looked so good or been so fun. Between this and the launch of Resident Evil VII a couple years ago (my personal 2017 GOTY), it really feels like Capcom knows what to do with its landmark survival horror series after years of floundering. And it’s only made me all the more excited for next year’s Resident Evil 3 remake.

Gen 5 Pokemon have just started rolling out in Pokemon GO and already three of the new Pokemon have shiny versions ready for players to catch.

More than three-dozen Pokemon originally seen in the Unova region of the game were just added to Pokemon GO if one counts evolutionary chains. If one counts the evolutions for these new shinies, then a total of eight new shiny Pokemon have also been added.

The first of Pokemon GO‘s new shinies is Patrat, a Normal-type Pokemon that evolves into Watchog with 50 candies. Shiny Patrat’s have different color eyes than their normal counterparts and can be found in eggs, commonly in the wild, or in raids.

Next up is Lillipup, another Normal-type, that evolves into Herdier with 25 candy, and then Stoutland with another 100 candy. Shiny Lillipups have slightly different fur coloring than normal, and, like Patrat, can be found in eggs, commonly in the wild, or in raids.

Finally, there is Klink, a Steel-type Pokemon, that evolves into Klang with 25 candy, and Klinklang with 100 more candy. Typically, Klink is silver in color, but the shiny variety has a more golden sheen to it. Klink is also the hardest of the three to find, as it is available in Pokemon GO raids only.

Pokemon GO remains one of the most popular mobile and free-to-play games in the world, and the addition of Generation 5 will only keep players around for even longer. After all, gotta catch ‘em all.

The addition of all these new Pokemon to the game has also added other features, including new moves for battles and raids. Although the three Pokemon mentioned above only require candy to evolve, there are seven Pokemon released with this generation who require the brand new Unova Stone evolutionary item.

The Unova Stone is only available via Research Breakthroughs, which at maximum can only be earned once per week. So trainers out there will need to keep completing tasks as well while hunting for all the new Pokemon out there.

Pokemon GO is available now for mobile devices.

A new trailer for NHL 20 has released, and it dissects one of the game’s cornerstone game modes: Franchise Mode.

The NHL 20 team has been touting a bevy of revamped features, including a new presentation package and another round of new game modes such as Squad Battles in Hockey Ultimate Team. This is the first real look at the changes coming to one of the series’ most popular modes, though.

Hosted by Producer Gurn Sumal, the trailer breaks down five distinct changes coming to Franchise Mode in this year’s game, and walks players through how each could impact every game played. These five major changes include a coaching system overhaul, line management improvements, a better trade finder, new scouting reports system, and better “depth and breadth” when it comes to controlling one’s personal hockey franchise.

All these changes seem to come from the idea of giving players the option to truly micromanage their NHL franchise if they so choose. Gamers can hire and fire coaches now based on the schemes they run, get bonuses based on the chemistry between coaches and management, and get player bonuses based on line chemistry. One can’t just acquire a bunch of 90-plus rating players anymore and expect them to play to their full potential if they don’t gel with their linemates. And one more fun aspect is that when a player retires in the game now, they are added to the coaching pool.

The new trading system is also something this series has needed for a long time. The trailer promises players will get faster­–and fairer­–responses from the CPU when upgrading their trading blocks. This looks to give that kind of instant gratification that was long absent from the trading aspects of Franchise Mode. Player values also increase and decrease during the season based on their performances, making trading a more dynamic, season-long process. Like if Mitch Marner were to approach another 100-point season, his value would go through the roof.

If one is into the metagame that Franchise Mode offers, these changes should be a welcome sight. Team building adds an entirely new layer to playing the game and becomes almost as important as how well a player dekes or shoots the puck. It appears NHL 20 has gotten the NHL series closer to representing real-life hockey than it has been in a while.

NHL 20 drops on September 13th, 2019, for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

A new 4K trailer for the upcoming Blair Witch game gives potential players a brief, but haunting tour of the woods the game is set in.

Blair Witch was one of the big surprises shown off at Microsoft’s E3 press conference this year. It is a first-person psychological horror game that will play on the “found-footage” aspects the movie made famous.

Set in the same universe as the films, Blair Witch takes place two years after the first movie, in 1996. The game follows a police officer named Ellis as he searches for a missing person in the Black Hills Forest. The trailer shows developer Bloober Team has expertly recreated those woods in 4K, perfect for Xbox One X players. Ellis will carry with him a torch, and an era-accurate camcorder, similar to the three protagonists from the film.

The camcorder will likely play a significant role in the game, as it did in the original film. The Blair Witch Project is famous for starting the “found-footage” genre of movies, in this case following three film students as they looked to make a documentary on what they believed to be a local urban legend. Things did not end well for them. How much the game refers back to the movie, besides the titular witch, is yet to be seen.

The trailer doesn’t offer up any new gameplay, but instead focuses on the location the game will take place. So much of psychological horror deals in atmosphere, and the trailer subtly promises that it will deliver on this. It shows the scenic woods of Maryland both in the day and at night, with a sinister difference becoming evident as the sun goes down, and iconography that will be familiar to fans of the films begins to appear where it wasn’t before.

For fans of psychological horror, Blair Witch was a pleasant surprise at E3, and nothing we’ve seen thus far should discourage fans of the genre or the film franchise from giving this game a shot. And considering the game is being both published and developed by Bloober Team­–the team behind Layers of Fear and Observer­–the game couldn’t be in better hands.

Blair Witch is set to release on PC and Xbox One on August 30th, 2019, just after the original film’s 20th anniversary.

Mega Man X was one of my favorite games growing up, and because of the SNES Classic, I was able to revisit this all-time classic for the first time in 11 years. I try to get through the game as quickly as possible, and despite a couple of hiccups, do so in a relatively fast manner.

I had a chance recently to finally play some Cuphead for the first time in quite a while. In this video, I take on the second boss, a giant slime named Goopy Le Grande. I also show off the tutorial and a little bit of the character upgrades.

As an Indie developer, it’s hard sometimes to advance through the stages of game development, especially when compared to the pace of the AAA and AA powerhouses on the gaming scene. So, even though the alpha version of Outer Wilds was able to take home the 2015 Seumas McNally Grand Prize at the Independent Games Festival at GDC 2015, it’s not really surprising that its developers decided to go quiet for a while in order to focus on building towards an inevitable release. Well, just about three years after that landmark win for Team Outer Wilds—now a part of developer Mobius Digital—and on the heels of a publishing deal with another relatively fresh face on the scene in Annapurna Interactive (What Remains of Edith Finch, Gorogoa), Outer Wilds was ready to be shown off again. Thus, I happily headed down to Mobius Digital’s LA-based studio to go hands-on with Outer Wilds and see first hand just how far it had come.

Outer Wilds is a stellar space mystery with a Majora’s Mask time-repetition mechanic that will have you racing against the clock as you try to piece together various conundrums around your solar system before the day resets. You start off as a humanoid creature on your home planet, the latest brave astronaut in the early days of your species’ space program. Everything has a fitting cobbled together feel—like a cross between the Wright Brothers and NASA—but it’s more than enough to get your little one-man ship hopping around the solar system in pursuits of knowledge. As you visit each new planet, you’ll uncover relics from a lost civilization, as well as converse with the handful of other astronauts in your program as you try to better understand your little slice of the universe and what caused the extinction of those that came before you.

All this happens while also trying to figure out what triggered a time loop that only you and a couple other astronauts are remotely even aware of. Fortunately, because of this, every clue you find is recorded on your ship’s computer, and you can begin connecting the dots in the galaxy’s biggest mysteries in hopes of finding a way out of this Groundhog Day in space.

Although it sounds simple enough on the surface, Outer Wilds has so many moving pieces that it might be hard to wrap your head around where to start at first. Abandoned space stations and moons orbit around the system’s several planets, which themselves are explorable right from the get go and filled full of secrets to uncover. They’re also extremely diverse, ranging from your Earth-like home to sandy desert worlds, barren rocky landscapes, and even a gas giant with a liquid core that you can splash around in. (Oh, and pro-tip: be sure not to forget your spacesuit before you try any of those moonwalks—atmosphere is important, kids.) Playing the role of part-astronaut, part-detective allows you to approach everything with a patient methodology as you take on each new challenge, testing your analytical skills as you uncover more clues and begin to realize how small you really are even in this fictitious slice of cosmos.

Though I only got to play through a couple of “days” in Outer Wilds, it already started to suck me in. After fiddling with the controls and getting a grasp for how my one-man ship maneuvered in space, each new discovery filled me with a childlike wonderment I haven’t felt in puzzle games since maybe the original Myst way back when. Adding in the ticking clock before the galaxy reset also instituted a sense of urgency at first, but I learned quickly how to use it to my advantage (along with how not to panic). After all, everything would end up just where I originally found it—and the knowledge I had accrued would stay with me.

My brief time with Outer Wilds only reaffirmed why this game was an award winner back in its alpha phase. If you love mysteries, exploration, and have an affinity for time loops, this is looking like it might be a game for you. I can’t wait to hop back in my spaceship again when Outer Wilds finally launches onto our PCs sometime later this year.

It’s hard to go wrong with a Kirby game. Everyone’s favorite little pink puffball is as consistent as any of the other major Nintendo characters, and just like Mario or Link, Kirby keeps finding new ways to breathe life into old tricks. This holds true once more in his first adventure on the Switch, Kirby Star Allies, which puts a new spin on some classic gimmicks that make this latest adventure one of Kirby’s best.

Kirby Star Allies kicks off like many of Kirby’s adventures, with him lazily sleeping under a tree in Dream Land. Unbeknownst to him, there are dark forces at work as a black, heart-shaped rock is destroyed, sending fragments of itself across the land. When these pebbles become embedded in familiar Kirby foes, their malice grows. Luckily for Kirby, a pure pink heart from the same rock has found its way to him, giving him not only the ability to battle the black hearts but also a few new tricks as well.

The biggest mechanic that Kirby Star Allies revolves around is using this pink heart power to convert enemies old and new to our hero’s cause. While Kirby turning enemies into friends has been around since the Kirby Super Star days, the fact that he can now have up to three friends in tow—and control any of them directly by riding piggyback on them—gives Kirby a bevy of new options at any given moment. It’s a rotation of abilities that he’s never really had before, and this opens up a variety of new gameplay elements and puzzles that help keep Star Allies feeling fresh across the entire experience.

Having all these frenemies alongside Kirby also allows Star Allies to introduce 4-player local co-op to the series. It’s not quite as hectic or as competitive as, say, when it was introduced back in New Super Mario Bros. Wii for that franchise, but it can still cause some fun chaos on screen as four characters bounce around in different directions. However, Kirby is still top banana, so whenever he starts moving, the other players will warp to him. Kirby can also change his friends at any time with a fickle flick of another pink heart for whatever may suit his puzzle-solving needs at the moment.

The other advantage to having a variety of friends in your entourage is that the Mix ability also returns in Star Allies. This allows Kirby—or even some of the other friends—to have new elemental abilities added to their weapons, unlocking special moves that can open up new areas of stages. For example, if Kirby has a Chilly or Burning Leo in his party after absorbing the ability of a Sir Kibble, he can get the apropos abilities of Ice or Fire Cutter respectively. If Kirby also has a Rocky in his group with that Chilly, though, he can have them work together to create a Curling ability that smashes through weak walls and flattens lesser enemies. And, with brand new powers added to the Kirby-verse like Staff and Spider on top of all the classics you’d expect, the possibilities are near endless.

If regular enemies aren’t doing it for you in Star Allies, Kirby can also unlock something called a Dream Palace in each world by finding branching paths in select levels. In each Dream Palace, Kirby can spin a wheel, and wherever it lands, Kirby will get a special ally. There are plans for some very special characters to come via free DLC post-launch, but I was able to mess around with the three Kirby icons included in the game at launch to receive Bandana Dee, King Dedede, and Meta Knight, who of course wield spear, hammer, and sword abilities respectively. While filling your party with these characters could limit your elemental options, having one or two fighting alongside Kirby at a time is a nice little nod to Kirby’s past—and it’s just fun seeing them in action here.

What might be the most impressive thing about your friendly characters in Star Allies is how easy it is to control the entire party even when just playing single player. Calling on allies to mix their powers is a cinch, and the AI-controlled characters will take it upon themselves to attack enemies or assist Kirby with puzzles that require all four characters to be working in unison in a way that feels natural and never frustrating. I was afraid that I might have to end up babysitting Kirby’s AI allies when I wasn’t playing with friends, but that was never the case. My teammates always more than held their own while never overstepping their bounds to where it felt like the game was solving puzzles or beating enemies for me. It’s a precarious balance to get right, and Star Allies does it well.

Having three friends alongside Kirby also unlocks a brand new mechanic in Star Allies when you come across special Friend Action pads. These pads provide a fun change of pace in the action, allowing your party to transform into a variety of shapes that can be used to solve puzzles. For example, maybe you’ll become a Friend Bridge to help guide Key Dees across gaps to open doors, or instead utilize the Friend Train, where Kirby throws on a conductor’s hat and you run roughshod over everything in your path.

All of these mechanics come together to really deliver one of the more complete Kirby packages. Sure, there’s not much to the story, but there rarely is. Star Allies even liberally borrows a lot of elements from past Kirby games in terms of stages and enemies, making it feel like a walk down memory lane as much as a brand new adventure at times. It’s also a bit shorter than we’re used to, not to mention a bit simple—I finished the game with more than 100 lives in the bank. Still, Star Allies excels in its gameplay, which doesn’t let up for a second and continues to deliver new mechanics right on up until the final credits roll.

The only real knock against Kirby Star Allies I have is that if you should turn the game off, whatever friends you have with you will be lost. You won’t lose your lives or anything like that, but if you’re like me, it’ll break you out of the habit of completely powering down your Switch when you’re done playing, and instead leave everything in sleep mode. So, it’s really not that big a deal in the end anyway.

And even when the credits do roll, the adventure is far from over. Like a lot of other Kirby games over the years, there are smaller game modes outside the main story that add a little extra pop to this platformer which are just as fun in 4-player co-op. Chop Champs is a wood-chopping mini-game that can be played with motion controls if you so choose to, you guessed it, chop wood faster than the other Kirbys while avoiding enemies hanging in the trees. Star Slam Heroes is a home run derby-style timing mini-game, while Ultimate Choice is a boss rush that you can choose the difficulty for before tackling it. And, finally, there’s Guest Star, where you play the main game over with different power-ups, racing against the clock, and without Kirby, putting one of the many enemies you absorb over the course of the story into the leading role.

Kirby Star Allies delivers exactly what you expect from a new Kirby game. There’s some fun puzzle solving and platforming, a collection of cute new characters to push the story along, and a new twist on some old mechanics to make everything feel fresh. It’s probably one of the more complete Kirby games I’ve played in a long time, and the addition of 4-player local co-op adds a whole new layer of fun with friends. If you’ve been a fan of the pink puffball for as long as I have, then it should be an easy decision to add this to your Switch library.

Publisher: Nintendo • Developer: HAL Laboratory • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 03.16.18
9.0
Kirby Star Allies hits all the perfect nostalgia notes you expect from a full-blown Kirby adventure, and adds just enough new twists to make something so familiar at this point feel fresh and fun again. The pink puffball has never played so well (particularly with others) before.
The Good Gameplay stays fresh, as there always seems to be a surprise for Kirby and friends around every corner.
The Bad A little short, a little simple, and you lose all your buddies if you shut the game off.
The Ugly King Dedede ‘roided out on that dark-heart magic.
Kirby Star Allies is a Nintendo Switch exclusive. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

I’m sure I’ve said this before in some other reviews, but side-scrolling beat ‘em ups were my bread and butter growing up in Jersey. Whether it was X-Men or Turtles in Time, I would spend the majority of my quarters at the Electric Circuit arcade on those machines (and still fall into the trap at some of LA’s finer barcades that feature those cabinets now). So, it was with a childlike fervor that I jumped into Way of the Passive Fist, a love letter to those old-school brawlers that also offers a few unique twists that help solve the problems those classic beat ‘em ups faced.

Players take on the role of The Wanderer, a product of the volatile but mineral-rich planet of Zircon V who stalks its nearly uninhabitable wastes. Those minerals have lured in many from across the galaxy looking to get rich quick off the planet’s resources, but few are prepared for what the wastes hold quite like our protagonist. You see, The Wanderer has mastered the Art of the Passive Fist—a defensive fighting style that allows him to absorb and channel the energy expelled towards him to wear his opponents down. However, the balance is shifted when foes stronger than any he has seen before arrive on Zircon V—foes which wield enhancements similar to The Wanderer’s own mechanical gauntlet.

Way of the Passive Fist gets right to the point when it comes to what it’s about. Like the cartoons a lot of those late ‘80s/early ‘90s beat ‘em ups were based on, there isn’t a lot of story in this game—beyond telling you right away that you’re an anti-hero of sorts who is forced to save his hellish world because it’s all he’s got. Of course, older games had cartoons and comic books to help flesh out the story for potential players, so filling in narrative gaps wasn’t always a necessary task for the game. We don’t have that here with The Wanderer, and it’s sad, because it feels like a terrific world that would be ripe for further development if it wasn’t so focused on tapping into nostalgia. I could easily see the Wanderer as the star of a Saturday morning cartoon with his own action figure line, or even teaming up with other popular heroes in weird crossovers. As is—and without all the benefit of transmedia—I would’ve loved if Way of the Passive Fist could’ve given me just a tad more than it does in terms of The Wanderer’s tale.

The main reason why I want to know more about The Wanderer and Zircon V is because the rest of Way of the Passive Fist is so good. The bright, bold colors, variety of locations across the game’s 10 stages, zany henchmen that cross The Wanderer’s path, and surprising amount of enemy variety (even with the prerequisite palette swaps to signify a harder variation on each) gave Way of the Passive Fist an authentic cartoon vibe that was a feast for these older eyes. It emulates that early 90s aesthetic perfectly, as does the music, which features a tubular tempo that will get your foot tapping while the Wanderer dispatches the brightly-colored foes in his path.

What’s most impressive, though, is beyond these surface aesthetics. As hinted at in the game’s title, The Wanderer is a passive hero—instead of throwing a flurry of punches, kicks, or offensive special moves at his opponents, he lets the fight come to him. Every time an enemy tries to punch you, your job is to parry it. A successful parry will drain the stamina of the enemy, and if they run out of stamina, they will hunch over exhausted, meaning The Wanderer only has to tap them to knock them out. Some enemies will try to grab you, requiring you to dodge; others will throw things at you, which you can either parry or dodge (though a successful dodge on most of these items will let you throw them back for massive damage). Every enemy (and palette swap) has a different pattern to their attacks, so learning these patterns and how to react accordingly is necessary for success. This idea provides a fresh challenge on what is otherwise an always-straightforward genre.

While you parry your way through the adventure, you’ll also build up a combo counter. Longer combo chains will power up The Wanderer’s power gauntlet, allowing him to unleash rare offensive moves to expedite your fights. For example, a Power Punch is great for taking out a single enemy, whereas the harder-to-charge Super Slam is effective at crowd control. And, later in the game, you can unlock the Gravity Well, a screen-clearing super move that requires a combo of 25 or higher which is best reserved for dire straits. Of course, if you miss even a single parry or dodge, the counter resets, and so does the power meter—making that pattern recognition all the more important and raising the stakes for when exactly to use your special abilities.

What might be the most impressive thing about this parry-only system, however, is that it solves long-time issues found in those old-school beat ‘em ups. There is nothing more frustrating in these types of games than to think you have an opponent lined up for an attack, only to whiff because your character is slightly out of alignment with your opponent, with poor hit detection meaning your attack was for naught. Instead, enemies always having to attack you means the AI takes care of this as the enemy is always going to be aimed right at you, and all you have to do is time your button presses properly. And, even if you break that line, most times the enemy will reset, or a different, closer enemy will move in to attack. It’s a simple solution to a problem that has plagued beat ‘em ups for as far back as I can remember, and it was welcome because it really allowed me to focus on my timing more than anything.

There were a couple of hiccups with the system, however. When looking to go on the attack myself with a super move that wasn’t Gravity Well, I’d still occasionally miss if I didn’t wait for the enemy to come to me. Also, when you get later in the game and start dealing with enemies with more complex patterns, you might be tempted to position yourself so that weaker enemies with easier patterns can be used to build that combo meter again. Sometimes multiple enemies would activate, however, and two enemies would attack me simultaneously. While The Wanderer is very adept with Passive Fist, it does have the drawback that you have to always be facing your opponent to properly parry, and can only parry one move at a time. It’s a small glitch, and it didn’t happen often—but when it did, it was frustrating.

Way of the Passive Fist also solves another problem those old-school quarter munchers have had in recent years: replayability. When ­X-Men and Turtles in Time were recently re-released on home consoles with unlimited continues as an option, the charm and replayability that came about due to a lack of lives went by the wayside, leaving their lack of depth to become startling apparent. There’s already a lot more depth of gameplay in Way of the Passive Fist to start with, but it goes so far as to also offer four special sliders that can change the way you play each and every time.

I beat the game on “Way of the Warrior”, which is basically as “Medium” as you can get in Way of the Passive Fist. But, if I wanted, I could’ve cranked the Enemy Strength and Enemy Encounters number way up and turned it into “Way of the Bold Eternal Warrior” where each chapter would have extra scenes (each chapter’s smaller sections) and enemies with stronger stamina bars. I could also have made achieving combos easier by turning down Combo Mastery, so that even late parries add to my combo meter, or turned down Resourcefulness, which would have given me more health items and checkpoints. There’s any number of combinations between these four meters that make each time you play Way of the Passive Fist different than the last. And, once you beat the 10 chapters in Story (including the somewhat disappointing final boss fight), you also unlock Arcade Mode, which channels those quarter-munching days of old by giving you only a certain number of lives to try to complete the game, adding more challenge and replayability to the experience for us arcade veterans.

Way of the Passive Fist is a beautiful ode to a genre whose glory days are behind it. It’s inventive solutions to problems that have been around for generations should be appreciated, and it’s a terrific opportunity for those of us who grew up in arcades to experience something new that would’ve fit right in three decades ago. I’m not sure if the new generation of gamers will be as into it, but it made me crave a slice of greasy pizza and a soda while basking in a sense of nostalgia like few games have been able to give me recently. So, if you love beat ‘em ups like I do, Way of the Passive Fist is a unique challenge that you should definitely check out.

Publisher: Household Games • Developer: Household Games • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 03.06.18
9.0
Way of the Passive Fist is a game out of time (in a good way). It feels like it would’ve fit right in alongside arcade cabinets from 30-years ago, with its cartoon color scheme and over-the-top soundtrack. But it’s got a modern twist that solves a lot of old-school beat ‘em ups’ biggest problems and delivers a terrific overall experience with a cornucopia of options to keep you coming back for more.
The Good Interesting twist on the classic beat ‘em ups of the early ‘90s with some surprising replayability.
The Bad Some technical hiccups, especially in later stages when the enemies really start to ramp up in difficulty.
The Ugly How easily this would have gotten a 13-episode order from DiC Entertainment—if only they were still around.
Way of the Passive Fist is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Household Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.