Video Game Reviews

Kena: Bridge of Spirits — Ghost of a Tale

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Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a third-person action-adventure game (with some light platforming) developed and published by Ember Lab

The game follows Kena (pronounced Kay-nuh), a young spirit guide who’s traveled to a long-forgotten valley where a great energy calls to all who are attuned to the spiritual world. In order to find the source of the call, she will have to use her spiritual abilities and empathy to quell a spreading corruption and save the spirits of the valley.

This game went on my list of games to play for one very specific reason: It looked like a playable Pixar movie. 

No. Not that one.

Seriously, the cutscene graphics looked like a fully-fledged animated film, and the in-game graphics didn’t look far behind.

Well, I finally got a chance to play it, and it did not disappoint… graphically. I would, however, like to let you know about some of the other great—and not so great—things about this game.

Blast from the Past

Kena is a bit of a weird game to play in 2021 for one specific reason: It evokes a feeling of the platforming adventure games from the era of the original Playstation and the Nintendo 64. 

You know what I’m talking about: the mascot games like Super Mario 64, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Croc, and Gex. Those games were a major advancement for the time (because of the third dimension) but were a little stunted in other ways. 

Basically, they didn’t have much by way of backstory.

Usually, those games start with a short cutscene that introduces the characters and whatever their whole deal was. You know… someone was kidnapped, or an evil guy was going to do something evil.

Or both

Kena is very similar to these games in a lot of ways. You start the game with a single cutscene, and honestly, there is very little by way of any sort of explanation as to why you are doing what you are doing. 

Trying to… stop an evil ghost… maybe?

While your mission does become clearer as you go on, it unfortunately never really takes off in any meaningful way. The stakes are pretty low throughout, and honestly, Kena’s personal story is a little underdeveloped and in no way tied to the events of the game. 

That being said, it is still a fun adventure marked with interesting characters and beautiful environments.

Mediocre Story but Great Stories

While Kena’s personal story is lackluster in many ways, the stories of the spirits you help are actually the highlight of the game.

As you bring these spirits back together so that they can finally move on, you learn more about them and begin to experience their memories. This is where the true heart of Kena lies. These are the inspiring, heart-wrenching, gut-punching tales that live up to the game’s Pixar style and cause something to get caught in your eyes.

Tears. They’re called tears.

So, while Kena herself may get left by the wayside as far as the main story goes, these interludes with the spirits she’s trying to help really bring both the world of the game to life and give you a reason to keep playing.

A Lot of Rot

The most endearing part of Kena is the Rot, which is an impressive feat because everything in this game is some level of adorable… including some of the enemies.

The Rot (which me and my wife referred to as “Meeples”) are tiny spirits that are so adorable that they basically defy any other descriptors. 

Adorbable?

Other than being extremely huggable, and essentially a collectible item you find around the map, the Rot are an integral part of Kena’s gameplay experience. They serve precisely four purposes.

  1. Experience: The more Rot you collect, the higher your “Rot Level” goes, and as your rot level increases you unlock more abilities and can use those abilities more often.
  2. Power Boost: You can perform empowered attacks that unleash the Rot and deal devastating damage or augment the way your spirit Bomb works.
  3. Exploration: Some obstacles require you to perform a special action that coalesces the rot into a single entity, and then you use that entity to clear paths.
  4. Combat: The Rot can pin down enemies for a period of time, making them easier to deal with and, when coalesced, can attack enemies for significant damage.

Unfortunately, the Rot was probably the buggiest part of the whole gameplay experience. They would appear and disappear for no reason. They would float in the air and walk around. And they would fall through certain platforms, only to bounce back up, only to fall again.

Spiritual Conflict

While Kena is a peaceful game, and it does put a great amount of effort into creating a sense of serenity throughout, it’s also a game that has some pretty solid combat. 

While you don’t start off with much by way of weapons (you pretty much just use your staff to hit things), you eventually gather a handful of abilities that build well with one another, until you are a finely tuned spiritual warrior… 

…or a glorified babysitter

Your arsenal includes:

  • Staff: used to whack bad guys in the face with traditional light and heavy attacks
  • Spirit Bow: used to activate switches, grapple to distant platforms, and pinpoint enemy weak spots
  • Shield: used to block incoming attacks (or parry them), and activate switches and other interactable objects
  • Spirit Bomb: used to move platforms, destroy obstacles, or damage enemies. 

While this doesn’t seem like a huge list of abilities, each one gets several upgrades that increase its overall effectiveness or provide additional effects.

So, by the end of the game, the combat is more dynamic, especially if you add in all the enemy combinations and the hazards upon the battlefield. 

Inner Peace

Overall, Kena: Bridge of Spirits was an enjoyable experience. It had the flash of a great game, but the substance of an alright one, which equaled out to something in the middle. I really wish that Kena herself had been a little more fleshed out (especially since I really enjoyed her character design), but the stories of the supporting cast made up for that particular misstep. Luckily, the combat was fluid and challenging enough to keep me engaged throughout. 

I’m giving Kena: Bridge of Spirits a somewhat serene 7/10. It was beautiful, evocative (in certain areas), and played really well despite some bugs that fell through the cracks.

My biggest complaint with the game is actually the Rot—or, more specifically, their name. What kind of name is “the Rot” for the adorable little guys that follow you around. They’re not even rot… I mean they have mushrooms on their head and stuff, but they’re not actual rot… They get rid of corruption and stuff… So, that would make them Rot Eaters at most…

I don’t know where I was going with this…

Bye!

Video Game Reviews

Vampyr: Exsanguinated

Please Note: This site uses affiliate marketing. This means that if you click one of the links on our site and make a purchase, we may—at no additional cost to you—receive a portion of the proceeds. Thank you for supporting MediaVore. 

Vampyr is an action RPG developed by Dontnod Entertainment (creators of the Life is Strange franchise) and published by Focus Home Interactive.

The story follows Dr. Jonathan E. Reid, a renowned surgeon from turn-of-the-century London, who wakes in a mass grave and discovers that he has been transformed into a vampire. Determined to see the light of day, and get revenge on the creature that turned him, he begins to study his affliction. During his quest for knowledge, he is pulled into the shadowy world of the supernatural, where vampire castes vie for power and zealotus hunters prowl the night in search of fledgling vampires to kill. In addition to his more corporeal foes, he must also battle the growing hunger within and decide if blood is more important than his Hippocratic Oath.

An amazing naming opportunity was clearly missed.

Honestly, I got this game for free on the Playstation Network, and still never really felt the compulsion to play it. The only time I looked up reviews they were mediocre, skewing toward slightly good. 

Well, I recently found myself with some free time. So, I decided to give this game a shot.

The results were… mixed, to say the least.

Vampyr is definitely an interesting game, but, like its protagonist, it seems to be torn between two worlds. And, not unlike Johnathan, the game suffers by being pulled so roughly in two separate directions. 

Now, I will admit that part of the issues I was having in the game were, in fact, my own damn fault. I made a decision early on, and stuck with it even to the detriment of my playthrough. This is mostly because I’m a stubborn bastard, but also because I’m an incredibly stubborn bastard.

Anyway, in order to best understand the dichotomy between the two aspects of Vampyr, you must first understand those aspects. So, let’s just dive right in. 

Tooth And Claw

The combat in Vampyr is… passable at best. 

It works, for the most part, but never really does anything to set itself apart in any meaningful way. Basically, it commits a cardinal sin of gaming: it’s boring. It’s just so relentlessly standard that it’s hard to even get excited about writing about it.

…because writing is so thrilling otherwise

You get melee weapons with which you can do basic combos and attacks. You have ranged weapons, so you can slightly damage anyone outside of melee range. And you get some vampire powers—like claws or invisibility—that give you a little more flexibility in the way you approach combat.

Unfortunately, none of that matters. Most combat is so straightforward that you really don’t really need to get too tricky. Sure, it’s nice to be able to do more damage, or turn invisible, but most of the fights I experienced were a lot of mashing the attack button and dodging at the appropriate moments. 

There were a couple of cool things added to combat that spiced things up. For instance, there were priests carrying crosses that stun you with blinding light, and other enemies who could see you even when you turn invisible, but these didn’t seem to change combat in any meaningful way.

A second layer of complexity added to fights was that certain enemies were resistant to specific types of damage, but again… that wasn’t that important. It was, however, nice to be able to kill something slightly easier. 

For the most part, though, these resistances didn’t factor into my attack strategies.

It felt like combat might have been the last thing added to the game, and no one really cared if it was great or not, as long as the game shipped on time. I can’t confirm if that’s true, but you’d be hard-pressed to convince me otherwise.

Interview With a Vampire 

My favorite part of Vampyr is basically everything that happens outside of combat.

You see, a good portion of the game is spent actually being a doctor/investigator/busybody (or, at least, as much as you can be those things in a video game about vampires). 

Despite your character having an MD and serving in the war as a doctor, you spend most of your time acting like a private investigator. 

Basically, you do a lot of talking. 

This is a tedious process, especially in the beginning. However, it’s totally worth it because everyone has a secret, or set of secrets, to discover, and to uncover those secrets, you need to talk to everyone all the time. This means that the majority of your time outside of combat is spent making small talk.

In spite of the repetitive nature of this investigation aspect, it all becomes worth it when you finally get the scrap of info you were looking for and bring it back to someone who’s been stonewalling you for several hours.

What really kept me engaged with this particular aspect of the game was how much more alive the world felt while I was running around chatting with people. Sure, it was tedious, but it was also informative. Each conversation was a brush stroke in a much larger picture, and trying to see the bigger picture is what held my attention long after other aspects of the game had proven less-than-entertaining. 

Unfortunately, once you’ve depleted your dialog option in a specific location, you have to brave the tepid combat to make it to your next batch of interviewees.

Wheel of Morality

The morality of Vampyr is a little childish when compared to the complexity of it’s investigation aspect.

Basically, anyone you can talk to or investigate, you can also eat… 

And the game really, really, really wants you to eat people. 

It’s constantly like, “Dude… see that guy over there that you just spent three hours talking to and getting to know? Well, you should probably eat him because he’s full of delicious, delicious, experience.”

Knowing them makes it harder

It does this constantly, and with good reason. That reason being that Vampyr is at least three orders of magnitude harder if you don’t eat anyone. Sure, you get experience from killing enemies, but you’d have to kill about a hundred enemies to give you the experience you receive from eating one hobo.

Unfortunately, that “hobo” was an NPC you could have gotten information from, and killing him not only removes him from your investigations, but it also contributes to the decay of the area in which he lived. 

Basically, the more people you eat, the stronger you are for combat purposes. But if you take it too far, you could really ruin the other aspects of your game. So, you really need to get every piece of info you can from someone before drinking their blood. 

The worst part about the whole system is that you can’t just drink a little blood from someone to slake your thirst. Nope, any time you choose to feed on someone you murder the shit out of them.

This is where I may have been too stubborn for my own good: I chose not to kill anyone on my playthrough. 

Of course, at the time, I didn’t know exactly how much this would hamstring me. I only started to realize it once I was around level fifteen, and all of the enemies were several levels higher, making each fight into a laborious chore instead of a welcome obstacle.

Daybreak

Overall, Vampyr is a perfectly serviceable game. It’s milquetoast combat is offset by an investigation system that has a surprising amount of depth. The characters manage to breathe some life into the game, even if a few on the periphery border on being completely two-dimensional (probably so you’ll eat them). And the environment conveys a  sense of oppression that you could probably only otherwise get in real turn-of-the-century London.

Unfortunately for Vampyr,  none of these elements meshed enough to matter. So, I’m giving it an unenthusiastic 5/10. It was good enough not to be bad, and bad enough not to be good. 

Vampyr just kind of exists at this point…which is fine, I guess.

I had a joke here… something about the game telling me to murder people all the time… but it sort of fell flat when I realized that most games are encouraging me to murder people all the time. So, I just left this explanation here instead. 

Video Game Reviews

Psychonauts 2: A Mind-blowing Sequel

Please Note: This site uses affiliate marketing. This means that if you click one of the links on our site and make a purchase, we may—at no additional cost to you—receive a portion of the proceeds. Thank you for supporting MediaVore. 

Psychonauts 2 is an adventure / platformer game developed by Double Fine and published by Xbox Game Studios. It is the sequel to the original Psychonauts and direct sequel to Psychonauts: in the Rhombus of Ruin

The game follows Razputen (Raz) Aquato as he officially joins the Psychonauts after two death-defying adventures (and roughly sixteen actual years between game releases). Unfortunately, in spite of his growing resume of heroics, he is only qualified to become a lowly intern… you know, because it’s been, like, four days in-game and he’s all of ten years old. 

Everyone knows you have to be at least twelve to save the world.

To make matters worse, there is a mole operating within The Mother-Lobe, the main headquarters of the Psychonauts. So, since everyone else is a little useless, it’s up to Raz to save the Psychonauts from this mysterious threat. 

The original Psychonauts was one of the first games I played on the original XBOX. It was quirky and hilarious, the story was great, and its levels boggled my mind. Unfortunately, this gem was overlooked at the time of its release and only gained notoriety after the fact, effectively hamstringing any potential for a sequel.

Then, miraculously, in 2017, the VR game Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin released. I was literally flabbergasted… which is a weird thing to literally be, if I’m being honest. I had never expected to see another Psychonauts game… 

Ever. 

So when I heard that there was a Psychonauts 2 coming down the pipeline, I was ecstatic… which is a much more manageable emotional state than flabbergasted.

Now that I’ve finally had a chance to play this long-awaited game, I’ll let you know if it was worth the sixteen-year wait.

Spoiler: It kinda was. 

All Aboard the Nostalgia Train

As I mentioned earlier, the original Psychonauts was one of my favorite games as a kid. So, it’s no surprise that this second game would evoke a pretty powerful sense of nostalgia without even trying.

I mean, the game starts off mere days after the end of the first game, and with almost every memorable character from the original installment making an appearance. 

What I did not expect was for Double Fine to not milk that nostalgia for all it was worth.

Psychonauts 2 is almost effortless with its introduction of characters and ideas without hitting you in the face with a sign that says “YOU LOVE THIS STUFF, RIGHT?”. Sure, there is a little pandering, but it was oddly subtle. 

What surprised me most was how this second game tricked my brain into thinking that no time had passed between the two. The voice actors are the same, the character designs remained largely unchanged, and the environments maintained the aesthetics of the first game… though the latter two had some pretty severe graphical upgrades.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that this game is unobtrusive in its execution. 

A lot of games, shows, or movies that get another shot after a decade of collecting cobwebs (not mental ones) turn out to be heartless cash grabs.

Thank you for your 30-second cameo

Psychonauts 2 is anything but.

A Cavalcade of Kooky Characters

The first Psychonauts took place at Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp with a delightfully deranged assortment of campers, counselors, and escaped asylum patients to interact with. Unfortunately, most of the campers received little screen time, and served only to fill out the world a bit and add some personality to the game.

Psychonauts 2 decided to take this idea and expand upon it. This time there are several groups of people to interact with:

  • The Interns: A group of up-and-coming psychic teens who are working toward becoming junior Psychonauts. They are the most diverse of the groups, and have some of the more interesting character designs. 
  • The Agents: A handful of seasoned field agents including fan favorites Sasha Nein, Milla Vodello, and Coach Morceau Oleander, with a couple of new additions thrown in.
  • The Psychic Six: The original founders of the Psychonauts. I’m not going to spoil anything here. 
  • The Flying Aquatos: Raz’s family and acrobatics troupe. Also, not spoiling this.

While I feel like I would have liked to get to know each of the characters better, there is a fair amount of time spent with each group. I especially liked the conversations you can have with your fellow interns.

So, while talking to each and every character isn’t mandatory, I highly recommend that you take the time to seek out—and talk with—everyone to maximize your experience and get some of the better laughs in the game.

Head-space

The level design of the original Psychonauts was one of its most outstanding features. This was mostly due to the fact that the levels took place inside the heads of different characters. So, you could see what they loved, hated, feared, and (mostly) how they thought about themselves.

Psychonauts 2 takes that idea of exploring someone’s mind and expands on it in a number of different ways. From trying to understand what consciousness really is, to wondering what happens if you were to force a change in someone’s mind, the levels in the second game seem more inquisitive and considerate in nature. 

There are, of course, some pretty straightforward levels, but, overall, the designs are more abstract… and I use that word loosely, and also pretty solidly… 

It’s a pretty trippy game

Mental Gymnastics 

What has improved, by leaps and bounds, are the basic controls of the game. Two of my only issues with the original Psychonauts were the somewhat clunky controls and bizarrely-chosen camera angles. While there are still some weird camera choices, the controls (or their responsiveness) have improved immensely. 

I will, however, say that the way you map your controls is pretty crap. You can only have four abilities equipped at any given time, and you have far more than four abilities, so you are constantly having to pause the game to switch them out. This can turn regular platforming segments into a tedious trek. 

Another improvement over the original game was the expansion of enemy types. The original game had Censors (things inside your brain that stamp out thoughts that don’t belong) as the main enemy type, along with a couple of others. This second installment has added some new enemies, and I loved each and every one of them. They include:

  • Bad Ideas: which tend to blow up in your face
  • Doubts: which slow you down
  • Regrets: which weigh you down
  • Judges: which try to hammer you down
  • Enablers: which make other mental enemies invulnerable

There was, however, one holdover from the original game that I was not a huge fan of:

The Figments. 

These are basically the coins you collect for this particular platformer. The only problem is that they all look different and are completely two dimensional. This makes them almost impossible to see if you are looking at them from the wrong angle.

To add insult to insult the developers also decided that sometimes, if the figment was blue, they would put it up against a blue background, making them almost impossible to find. 

I digress. 

Mind the Gap

Despite over a decade between the first game and The Rhombus of Ruin (which was a short VR game), and then another four years until the release of Psychonauts 2, all three games are part of the same direct story.

Me on the Psychonauts 2 release day

Basically, the story in the first game is important to the second and third games, and the story for the third game informs the events of the first two. 

Not only did this work extremely well, but it actually made me look at the events of the first game in a different light. 

So, if you haven’t already, you should play the original Psychonauts before diving into the sequel. I would also recommend playing The Rhombus of Ruin, but, again, it’s a VR title, so maybe just google what happened or watch a YouTube video or something if you’re not planning to invest in a VR

Peace of Mind

Overall, Psychonauts 2 is a pretty amazing game, all things considered. It managed to bring me back into that particular universe in a completely unobtrusive way. It expanded upon the gameplay mechanics that made the original game great in all the right ways. And it managed to keep the heart that made the original so special.

While there were some things that still frustrated me (FIGMENTS!!!), and by inextricably linking the story with the previous two games, Double Fine sort of ensured that you can never judge one without the other, it is still a solid game.

Since I am, however, of two minds about this game, I’ll have to give it two separate scores. 

My nostalgic inner child gives this game a 9.5/10. It gets 9 points for simply existing, and the subsequent  0.5 is for actually being good. 

The critic in me says it gets a 8.5/10 because it’s still a really good game, but is almost completely dependent on the first game for half of its score.

So, now that I know that Double Fine is making amazing sequels to games that are over a decade old, it’s probably safe to start waiting for a sequel to Brutal Legend 

…Right?

Recommendations

6 Webcomics To Read If You’ve Never Read a Webcomic 

Please note: this post uses affiliate links. This means that if you click on certain links and make a purchase then we will—at no additional cost to you—receive a small portion of the funds you spend. Thank you for supporting our blog!

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not really a comic book person. There are some graphic novels that I really enjoy, but for the most part I usually stick to video games, television, and movies. However, I have found that I do enjoy webcomics to an almost absurd degree.

This wasn’t always the case. I used to think they were these chintzy things that were, for the most part, not well done. In fact, I would probably still be avoiding them if a friend of mine hadn’t made some recommendations.

Turns out the joke’s on me. Some of them are pretty awesome. So if you’ve ever wondered about webcomics and are looking for somewhere to start, let me introduce you—in no particular order—to some of my favorites.

The Last Halloween by Abby Howard

This comic is a bit of a weird one, but it’s all the better for it. 

The story revolves around Mona, a ten-year-old girl, who finds herself alone on Halloween night. When a giant monster breaks into her house and attacks her, she flees into the night, only to find a monster apocalypse in full swing. Can she survive the night or will it be… her Last Halloween? 

There are a couple of things about this comic that I really like. 

  • The Lore: What starts out as a relatively simple premise eventually gains an amount of breadth and width that gives the story a solid foundation to stand on.
  • The Aesthetic/Atmosphere: The comic is done completely in black and white, and the style uses negative space in interesting ways. The artwork is somehow simple, and yet it is also complex in its execution, and sometimes I don’t know if I love it or hate it. 

I mean, it’s also funny, and at times actually kinda terrifying, which is a combination that always piques my interest.

The only downside to The Last Halloween is that it is updated very infrequently, so you might have to wait long chunks of time between new pages.

Broodhollow by Kristofer “Kris” Straub

This is probably one of the best iterations of cosmic horror I’ve ever seen. It takes place back when door-to-door salesmen walked the earth. The story focuses on Wadsworth Zane, a down-on-his-luck encyclopedia salesman who receives an inheritance from a distant relative. In order to claim that inheritance, Wadsworth travels to the town of Broodhollow, where all is not as it seems.

What really makes Broodhollow stand out is how the horror is presented. Most of the art in the comic is pretty simplistic and straightforward. However, when an otherworldly horror or misbegotten creature appears, the art style changes completely. The creatures are usually very dark and drawn with a level of detail several orders of magnitude over the normal characters. This juxtaposition of art styles really helps to sell the horror of Broodhollow.

My personal favorite part of Broodhollow is the mystery. You never really get the big picture, nor is a ton of explaining done. So you are left to piece the puzzle together alongside Wadsworth (and a few others who seem to know that something isn’t right). 

This is another comic that, unfortunately, sees infrequent updates, but it’s totally worth the wait. So if you’re down for an intriguing mystery with a heap of cosmic horror thrown in for good measure, I recommend you give Broodhollow a shot.

Guilded Age by T Campbell, Erica Henderson, & Phil Kahn 

Guilded Age is an amazing webcomic that is hard to describe without ruining certain aspects of it.

It is, ostensibly, about a group of adventurers that form a guild for the financial and social benefits that it provides. Unfortunately for them, their guild quickly rises to infamy and becomes embroiled in the affairs of ancient kingdoms, diabolical wizards, and endless wars. 

While this premise sounds like every other high fantasy show/comic/game, I guarantee that Guilded Age will surprise you. I really can’t get into why, because honestly it’s the kind of thing you really need to read for yourself. I will say that the characters are very well written, the overall story is good, and the art is solid throughout (even if it changed artists part way through its run). 

Fortunately, Guilded Age is completed, so you’ll never have to wait for additional pages to be available. Unfortunately, once you’ve finished it, you might wish that there was more on the way. 

Paranatural by Zack Morrison

Paranatural starts off pretty rough. Not story or character-wise, but art-wise. The beginning is all in black and white with some of the sketchiest artwork I’ve seen in a webcomic. (Sketchy like a sketch… not dubious in any way.) It does, however, get leaps and bounds better, to the point that you would never guess that the current work is from the same comic. 

The story follows Max, a kid who has just moved to the town of Mayview. He quickly realizes that something isn’t right in the small town when he starts to see spirits and ghosts. He eventually joins his school’s “Activity” club, which is, of course, full of other kids who can see and interact with the supernatural world. 

What I really like about Paranatural, aside from its story, is how it grows as it goes along. I mean, most webcomics grow over time, but Paranatural grows by leaps and bounds as it progresses. Not only does the art improve, as I mentioned earlier, but the way it handles its characters and themes grows as well.

Paranatural has six complete “chapters” and is currently on its seventh. It is generally updated every Tuesday and Friday. 

Atomic Robo by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener

Atomic Robo is near and dear to my heart. I love pretty much everything about this comic. So just be aware of my bias while reading this. 

The comic is about the adventures of Atomic Robo, a sentient robot with an “Automatic Intelligence,” created by Nikola Tesla in 1923. As such, he has been alive for over a century and had many adventures and experiences.

What makes Atomic Robo stand out, to me, is the way in which the story is told: in individual installments, and not necessarily in chronological order. 

The first time you meet Robo he is fighting against Nazi Scientist, Dr. Helsingrad, in 1938. The second, he’s fighting giant ants outside of Reno Nevada. From there it just gets nuttier. He fights a time traveling dinosaur with a dubious PhD. He fights a Lovecraftian horror through the better part of a century. And he saves the only human to survive vampire dimension.

While all of that might sound insane, I assure you that it is. It’s crazy, hilarious and will often have me literally laughing out loud. However, it will also sometimes punch you in the gut with  subtle, thoughtful, moments that you aren’t expecting. Atomic Robo manages to walk the line between the two extremes beautifully,

Atomic Robo updates at least a couple of times a week, but can have long hiatuses between chapters. 

GunnerKrigg Court by Tom Siddell

GunnerKrigg Court has been around since 2005. Back then, it was a quaint little comic that had a decent aesthetic, a serviceable story, and the ability to make me smile. Much like Paranatural, GunnerKrigg grew over the years and has turned into one of the finest webcomics available. 

The story follows Antimony “Annie” Carver, a young girl who lives at GunnerKrigg Court (a large industrial complex that also functions as a school). There, she encounters increasingly bizarre and strange phenomena including, but not limited to, ghosts, living shadows, sentient robots, the Minotaur, and a giant crab monster.

To make matters worse… or more interesting… Gillitie Woods, a magical forest where sprites, pixies, and gods dwell, sits across a large chasm from the court. 

What’s really striking about Gunnerkrigg Court is how the little details matter. Things that you thought were throwaway jokes or stupid sight gags will almost certainly become very important later on in the story. This means that later chapters are full of references to things that happened previously, but it’s all done in such a way as to be completely unobtrusive.

Gunnerkrigg Court updates Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, so you’ll never be lacking for content. There are also talks of a TV show in the works for this one, which, I have to say, is probably the best news I got in 2020. 

Though, we’ll just have to wait and see if that pans out. 

Video Game Reviews

Divinity: Original Sin II: Roll for Initiative

Divinity: Original Sin II is a tactical turn-based RPG which, if you hadn’t guessed, is the second game in the Divinity series. It was developed by Larian Studios and published by Larian Studios and BANDAI NAMCO.

The story revolves around your character, who is a sourcerer (a person who can manipulate source: the wellspring of all life). Unfortunately, the use of source has been outlawed, as it tends to attract horrible otherworldly monstrosities known as the Voidwoken.

In order to save the masses from these bloodthirsty creatures, an organization known as the Divine Order has rounded up every known sourcerer, collared them with anti-source collars, and dumped them on a prison island… which means that you’ve been dumped on a prison island. So, it’s up to you to escape the island and claim your destiny.

Divinity Original Sin II (henceforth referred to as DOS2 because I’m not typing that every single time) was on my radar for quite some time. I really enjoyed what I played of the original game, and tactical turn-based games are some of my favorites. It’s also one of Vii’s favorite game types, and it’s been nice to be able to play something together.

Now, having played over one-hundred and sixty hours of DOS2, I can definitively say that it should be on everyone’s radar. It’s been a long time since a game was able to hold my interest for that long…

It’s also been a long time since I’ve played a game that required that kind of time commitment. So, if you’re going to play this one, first and foremost, make sure that you have the time.

I did not do this.

 So, if you were wondering where we were for the month-long hiatus we recently took, the answer was “Playing Divinity”…

Actually, the answer is probably still “Playing Divinity”.

It’s a long-ass game.

Anyway, there is probably too much to cover when doing a review of this game. So, I’m just going to skip a major swath of this review by saying this: The story is amazing, the characters are great, the voice acting is well done, and the writing is hilarious.

For the rest of this review I’ll do my best to be concise and give you, what I think, are the best/most interesting parts of this massive and amazing game.

Have It Your Way

DOS2 is a very open ended game, at least as far as how you wish to accomplish your quest objectives and mission goals. This is because DOS2 is about as close to actual Dungeons and Dragons as is possible within the confines of a video game. So, the creators wanted you to have a fair amount of agency as far as how you completed objectives.

As an example, there is a small labyrinth near the beginning of the game that serves as an obstacle to an abandoned wizard’s tower. Now, you could go straight through the front door and go full escape room on the labyrinth, making sure to solve every puzzle so that you can come out proud on the other side. Or, you could find a ring that the guardian of the labyrinth recognizes and he’ll just let you through…

Or you could do what my wife and I did. 

We went around to the backside of the tower and used a teleportation spell to jump across the water to a nearby section of beach. From there, you can climb some vines, and then it’s just a matter of walking around to the tower’s entrance.

Basically, there is more than one way to untie a knot.

I will add, however, that it is not a perfect system.

Sometimes, you get tired of completing a quest, only to walk around and find the seven other ways you could have approached it… and more often than not the other methods would have been easier and given you more loot.

I mean, it’s nice to know that there were other options available, but when you’ve slain a beast in an epic battle, it’s a little weird to walk around and find a guy handing out beast-killing swords.

Divide and Conquer 

The freedom of choice that is offered in your approach to any given mission also applies to combat. 

DOS2 uses a pretty standard AP (action point) system for combat. Each character starts off with four action points, and can use those points to move or perform spells and abilities. While none of that is earth-shattering, it’s the way that all of this is implemented that makes it so special.

First of all, you can have up to four characters in your party at any given time. Again, nothing too special there. What sets DOS2 apart is the fact that you don’t have to have all of your characters engaged in combat at the same time. This means that you can have two people fighting in the town square while the other two are shopping, or investigating a murder.

I’d play CSI: Rivellon

It also means that you can engage in combat in any way you choose. If you happen to start combat with one character and the rest of your team is considered out of combat, you can move them around to ambush the enemy from all sides. Or you could go and find a bunch of exploding barrels and bring them with you into combat. 

The ability for each of your characters to be doing something different allows for some pretty crazy situations. This is especially true with local and online co-op. You can play with up to three friends to really take advantage of the game’s systems.

A Classier Class of Class

Piggybacking on all this freedom are character classes.

So, very succinctly, there are a number of character “classes” in DOS2. I say “classes” with quotes like that because there are really no classes in the game, just combat abilities. 

You can put points into Warfare, a skill set that allows you to do warrior stuff, but that doesn’t mean you need to specialize in this by any means. You could, though, and you would be a really good warrior, but you would lack the utility of someone who diversifies their build.

I wonder what he put HIS points into…

The reason diversity of character is so important is because of the innumerable ways in which combat can unfold. Which leads us to…

The Cacophony of Combat

You see, combat in DOS2 has a number of things that make encounters both endearingly intricate and incomprehensibly complicated. These can be boiled down into three-ish categories: 

  • Surfaces
  • Clouds
  • Status Effects & Armor

I will do my best not to bore you to death with the minutiae of each, but I’ll try and provide some context. 

Surfaces are basically elements that have been applied to any given floor space. This means the floor can be covered in fire; oil; blood; water; electrified oil, blood, or water; poison; or ice. Each of these surface types has a different effect, and has different interactions with other types of surfaces. As a quick example, fire surfaces will ignite oil and poison surfaces, but will be put out by water and blood surfaces. 

Clouds are the result of different spells or the effects of different surfaces interacting with one another. They have the same relative properties of surfaces, but will also block line of sight, adding an extra layer of complexity to any given fight.

The final category is twofold.  Armors and status effects are important because they can affect, and be affected by, clouds and surfaces. 

Basically, there are two types of armor: physical and magical. Every status effect can be blocked by one of the two types. So, in order to apply any status effects to enemies, or for them to apply status effects to you, the requisite armor type needs to be broken. 

Like so.

This means that you should always size up your opponents and decide which type of armor you want to break first, so that you can get the most out of your status effects.

OOC or Original Origin Character

Just because I really enjoyed them, I wanted to touch quickly on the game’s Origin characters, which are basically premade characters you can choose during character creation. These Origin characters have their own voice lines and dialog options, and their story lines are inextricably linked to the game’s main storyline.

You can, of course, make your own character(s) to play with, which is nice. But you can still have the Origin characters on your team, and as long as you let them, they can still play out their storyline while you are on your grand adventure. 

While it’s not necessary to use an Origin character, or have them on your team, having them with you adds a bit of punch to story points that might have felt a little impersonal, or otherwise fallen flat.

From Whence It Came 

Overall, Divinity Original Sin II is an astonishingly good game. I may have already mentioned that “the story is amazing, the characters are great, the voice acting is well done, and the writing is hilarious,” but the level of freedom you have to create your character and engage both combat and exploration in almost any way you could want elevates an already good game to one of the greatest RPG’s of all time. 

Of course, I’m not saying it’s perfect. There are some issues with bugs. It can be hard to target things properly. Sometimes things lag for an unacceptable amount of time, and occasionally the audio is either off or missing.

All that being said, I’m still giving DOS2 a Divine 9.5/10. Larian Studios went above and beyond in creating this beautiful unicorn of an RPG, and I hope they will continue to do so for many years to come.

Hopefully, by the time they come out with their next game, I’ll finally be finished with this one.

Late to the Game Reviews, Video Game Reviews

Late to the Game: Little Nightmares – Big Presence

Little Nightmares is a side-scrolling horror puzzle game that was released in April of 2017 to critical acclaim. 

I originally passed as I was a little burned out on side scrolling games at the time (I know it’s like 2.5D, but that did not sway me any), and I wanted something a little more lighthearted. 

Also, you know, money. 

I recently picked up a copy so that I could start Little Nightmares II properly, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Though it’s not the longest game (I think It took me about three hours to beat) It managed to pull off a lot. 

So, I know I’m late to the game, but let me fill you in on why you might want to pick up a copy if you haven’t done so within the last three years. 

Enter the Maw

Little Nightmares follows Six, a nine year old girl trapped aboard a large submersible called “The Maw.” Now, the story of Little Nightmares is almost completely implicit, meaning that you’re never specifically told anything. Which can lead to confusion…

However, as you journey through “The Maw” you’ll be able to infer what’s going on. I don’t want to get into specifics, but when looked at as a whole, the game’s story, and world are one of the most terrifying I’ve ever experienced, at least on an existential level. 

What really sets “The Maw” apart from other game settings is the way in which it was stylized. Little Nightmares looks like a Tim Burton stop-motion picture that you control. The characters, the backgrounds, and even the toilets in the bowels of the ship give off the vibe that they might be set pieces from the Nightmare Before Christmas… only actually scary.

I appreciate the fact that even though there is nothing photorealistic about any aspect of the game’s design, I still felt like I ought to be able to reach through my screen and interact with the environment like It was some kind of diorama. Of course, I never would, because honestly this game was unsettling in a way I find hard to describe… but in a good way. 

A Puzzling Adventure

As I said in the intro, this is a puzzle game, so it would follow that the majority of your time is spent solving puzzles. Despite this, the puzzles in Little Nightmares are never obtrusive, as they can often be in similar games. Each one feels necessary to continue not only the individual levels, but the story as a whole. Not once did I stop and wonder why I was doing something; I only know that it had to be done. 

How I get through life

While none of the puzzles, or obstacles, were especially hard, the terrifying antagonists, atmospheric setting, and general diversity of locations kept me engaged throughout. There were a couple of encounters with “The Janitor” (the game’s first real antagonist) that left me stumped, until I finally had an “aha!” moment (which was usually preceded by my wife telling me to stop sucking so hard). 

What really made all the puzzles worthwhile—to me, at least—was how deftly the controls were crafted and how the physics of the game worked. I loved the layout of the controls, the way in which any given action was executed, and how every object in the world had presence and weight. This was all elevated by the way the character motions and controls correlated into actions. I wish every game felt as good to play as Little Nightmares.

Big Dreams

Little Nightmares is an amazing combination of form and function. It manages to tell a horrific, yet intriguing, story without a single word, and it does it well enough that I plan on buying, and playing, every single DLC before playing the second game.

I’m giving Little Nightmares an overwhelming 9/10, but I’m going to do it as far away from “The Maw” as possible. 

It was exactly what it should have been and then some. So, if you’re late to the game, like me, and looking for a short but sweet morsel of gaming, I cannot recommend Little Nightmares enough. 

Video Game Reviews

Unto The End: A Short, Somber Journey

Unto the End is a solemn adventure game handcrafted by developer 2 Ton Studios and published by Big Sugar.

It follows a man who falls into a chasm while on a hunting expedition. Alone, and with limited resources, he must journey through an unforgiving world filled with deadly traps, warring clans, and terrible beasts to make it home to his family once more. 

Before I bought this game, I thought you’d basically be playing as any Harrison Ford character from the late 90’s to early 2000’s.

…he wants his family back.

I mean, the trailer that I watched was non-stop swordfights and monster beheadings. So, I thought it was going to be an action-packed fantasy adventure where I was going to kill an entire kingdom to be reunited with my family.

So imagine my surprise when I booted up the game and it offered me a warning:

Unto The End is a defense-first combat experience. You play an average warrior trying to get back home to your family.

You’re less powerful than every creature you meet. You can drop your sword, run out of supplies, and bleed to death.

Fighting is demanding and deliberate, but not your only option. Success is about being observant and staying calm.

My initial reaction was “What the hell? Where is my action-packed thrill ride?”

But I decided to take their advice, setting aside my expectations to see what they had to offer.

I’m really glad that I listened to the warning. Sure, Unto The End wasn’t what I thought I was getting, but it turned out to be just as good, if not better.

The Better Part of Valor

One of the interesting things about Unto The End is that you don’t have to stab everything that moves. In fact, most of the time it’s better to avoid fighting if possible. The warning at the beginning says that “success is about being observant and staying calm” This is absolutely true.

Basically, you need to read the situation before deciding what to do. Unfortunately, you don’t always get a lot of time to make your decision before it’s made for you. So, you really do need to quickly and calmly assess the situation and decide if you’re going to sheath your sword or not.

I’ll give one example: I happened upon a humanoid creature kneeling on a snowy plane. As soon as I approached, it fled and hid behind a much larger humanoid creature. The larger creature eyed me warily but stayed between me and the smaller creature. 

This one was pretty simple. It was a parent protecting its child. I put away my sword and offered one of my healing leaves to show that I wasn’t a threat, and they gave me some sticks and let me pass. 

Great. Combat avoided. 

However, there were other ways to approach this. 

I could have chopped them up without remorse, and taken the stick by force. Or I could have tried to run past them, but that probably would have provoked an attack from the parent.

What makes this game so interesting is that any of the above options are viable. 

What makes this game a little frustrating is that it’s hard to know what you can and cannot do. Very little hand-holding is done, so you basically have to figure out everything for yourself. The first time I accidentally offered an Item from my inventory to an NPC I just started screaming at the screen because…

Unto Battle

Avoiding combat when possible is good, but not always achievable. Sometimes monsters just want your organs, and the only way to stop them is with your sword. Which is why it’s good that the combat in Unto The End is some of the best (read: rewarding/frustrating) I’ve encountered in a 2D side-scrolling game.

The best part about combat is that it’s simple. There are only a handful of moves, and you have all of them from the very start of the game, so don’t count on any stronger attacks to save you down the line. 

Your moves are:

  • High attack
  • Low attack
  • High block
  • Low block
  • Dodge roll
  • Knife throw / Close stab
  • Shoulder check 

When you realize that your moveset is so limited, you might feel discouraged.

But there is an abundance of nuance crammed into this combat system, and it can be quite powerful.

The worst part about combat is how brutally hard it can be. 

The warning at the beginning of the game called combat “deliberate” which is the absolute truth. Despite only getting a fraction of a second to see if the enemy is attacking high or low, you need to make sure you block accordingly, or you’re likely to die. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you attack with reckless abandon, your swings start to get sluggish. And if you dodge roll at the wrong moment, you might drop your sword, both of which can lead to a swift death.

Unto Adventure

 While a point-and-click adventure game this is not, it actually functions a lot like one in execution.

When you’re not deep in the throes of mortal combat with a troll, or fighting a tribe of C.H.U.D, the majority of the game is actually spent exploring desolate caverns and crossing snow covered plains. However, every once and a while you will need to get an item to continue forward.

There are usually two ways to get the item.

Fortunately the destination is the same either way.

The first option is to chop-chop the guy who’s holding it.

The second is to embrace the game’s other, more subtle elements. You might find a place off the beaten path where you can use an Item you’ve been carrying around for a while. In using that item, you might discover another item that can be used to garner safe passage through an area that might have otherwise been hostile.

The only hard thing about finding and using these additional items and tactics is that there is no dialog in the game (or at least none that you can understand), so most of the point-and-click elements boil down to trying every Item everywhere…

… which, now that I think about it, is how point-and-click games work anyway. 

Unto The End of the Unto The End Review

Overall, Unto The End was a breath of fresh air. It didn’t have any explosions or overly complicated themes. It was the story of a man (with an excellent beard) trying to make his way home to his family. While its combat was both simple and incredibly hard, I think I’ll remember it more for the lonely atmosphere and the decision to put an emphasis on mindfulness. 

Oh, I’ll also remember it for being real short. It’s only like four hours long, if that, so it certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome. It was also like twenty-five dollars for those four hours, so the price-to-gameplay ratio was not great.

I’m giving Unto The End a contemplative 8/10. It may not have been a 40 hour experience, and it eschewed things like leveling systems, dialog trees, and overly complicated menu systems, but it still managed to be an amazing contained experience, and I think a lot of AAA developers could take a page from the 2 Ton Studios book. 

Late to the Game Reviews, Video Game Reviews

Late to the Game: Children of Morta – A Family Driven Rogue-Lite

Children of Morta is an action-adventure dungeon crawler with some roguelike elements that was developed by Dead Mage and published by 11 Bit Studios. It was released at the tail end of 2019, making me only a little late to the game, but late nonetheless. 

It follows the trials and tribulations of the Bergson family as they try to contain the corruption that has spewed forth from Mount Morta. Unfortunately for them, the corruption is killing or converting everything around them, making their home more dangerous with each passing day. In order to stem the tide and cleanse the land, they will need to work together and free three spirits.

This was a game that I looked at for a long time, but never actually bought until recently. I kept making excuses as to why I was putting it off, even though I really wanted to give it a try. It’s what I like to refer to as…

There were two factors that eventually pushed me to purchase this title. The first was that it has couch co-op, which is always a plus in my book. The second was that it was story driven and rogue-lite, not unlike Hades, which I enjoyed a great deal.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into this game and see if it is worth your time, even if it did come out, like, three years ago.

The Family that Slays together

The main focus of the game is the Bergson family. They are led by Margaret, the family’s matriarch. She is the first to know of the corruption, and also the only one who seems to know what must be done about it. 

The other family members include:

  • John: A loving and level-headed father. He wields a sword and shield to protect his family
  • Linda: John’s eldest daughter and a violinist. She wields a bow and arrow with ease
  • Kevin: The youngest son of the Bergson family. He is swift and cunning with his two daggers
  • Mark: John’s eldest son. He studied the martial ways with an order of monks, making his hands lethal weapons
  • Lucy: The youngest of the Bergsons. Her carefree attitude belies the ferocity of her fire magics
  • Joey: The estranged son of John’s brother Ben. He carries a mighty hammer into the frey
So, basically, you have a whole family that’s a pre-made D&D party.

Unfortunately, when you start the game, you can only use two characters: John and Linda. They are the first chosen to seek out the gods and bring harmony back to the land. However, it soon becomes apparent that in order to defeat the corruption, the whole family will have to work together. 

For example: Kevin starts off pumped to fight the corruption, especially after his uncle forges a pair of daggers for him. Unfortunately, John and his wife Mary ultimately decide that he is too young to help. It’s only after Kevin ventures out into the corrupted lands on his own and returns unscathed that they agree to let him help. This eventually leads to Lucy—who’s like seven years old—being allowed to help as well. 

I know most families probably don’t let their children fight to the death with unholy abominations, but most of these decisions are predicated on the fact that the world is ending anyway, so it’s all hands on deck.

Gather Round and Hear the Tale

The story of Children of Morta walks a very fine line.

You see, the events of the game are actually being told by a narrator. So, instead of a character saying or thinking “that’s a bad Idea” the narrator, in his classically British voice, says “John thought it was a bad idea, but he was going to do it anyway.”

This can be an effective storytelling device, but it can backfire hard (looking at you Biomutant). Fortunately, the tale of the Bergsons is well told. In fact, the narrator brings a sense of calm and reflection to the story that lends it an air of dignity and heart, which it might have otherwise lacked.

This method of storytelling can also put a damper on climactic moments. Not too much of a damper, but it can certainly slow things down when they should be ramping up. It also makes certain parts of the story a little impersonal. 

My main example of this is anything the narrator has to say in a dungeon. Basically, once your character sets foot outside of the house, the narrator starts to forget the names of characters he’s talking about. 

So, it doesn’t matter if you were playing Lucy when you felled the giant monster boss, you don’t get to hear some commentary on how this pint sized sorceress incinerated her foe. What you get is “And so, the Bergson slew their foe, ensuring yada yada yada.” 

So, it’s always either “The Bergson” or “The Hero,” and it’s always as non-descript as possible. This takes a lot away from the actual dungeon crawling bits of the game. Thankfully, the actual story beats are much more personal and well crafted. 

A Level Playing Field

Where most Rogue-like and Rogue-lite games tend to have obtuse systems for increasing your characters stats, Children of Morta eschews this in favor of an actual leveling system… and an obtuse system for increasing their stats.

Each character that you can play as has abilities that they can learn at different levels, giving you a small skill tree to work with. These abilities can range from minor attacks to major passive bonuses. If these weren’t enough, you can also get some global passives that impact every family member, no matter who you’re playing as. This gives you incentive to play as every character, because if you do, you can stack those passives on top of each other, making even the smallest Bergson into a monstrous fighter.

A visual approximation

What’s interesting about the levels that you earn is that they do not impact overall damage or health. They are simply there to convey abilities. You improve your character’s stats by spending money in Uncle Ben’s shop. With the money you bring him, he can upgrade the family’s gear, and thus increase their overall effectiveness.

This multi-tiered approach is helpful when you get a new character halfway through the game. Sure, they don’t yet have any abilities to speak of, but they do reap the benefits of the upgraded gear.

Deja Vu All Over Again

My absolute least favorite part of Children of Morta is the level design.

Its sameness is pretty oppressive. 

The first level is broken up into three sections. Each section is between two to three areas long, and all of them are basically the exact same cave. There is very little variation, and going to a new area is never interesting in any way, shape, or form. 

When I finished the cave area and it opened up a whole new set of three levels, I was pretty excited to look at something that wasn’t a bluish-gray cave. What I got instead was a lifeless beige desert. 

The design was different… but it felt like more of the same

I know this is exactly what this type of game is like. You endlessly go down similar corridors until you find the entrance to the next area, and so on and so forth. But, for some reason, this felt extra daunting in Children of Morta. 

To add insult to boring dungeon design was the fact that I had to grind levels in a rogue-lite game. Usually, in rogue-lite games, playing the game is the grind. So, just by playing, you either get incrementally stronger, or you get incrementally better. This is where Morta gets it wrong on multiple levels. 

Upon reaching the beige desert, I was met with enemies that were much stronger than the ones I left behind. I probably didn’t have to go back and get money fighting through places I’d already been, but when the first group of enemies in the desert almost killed me instantly, I felt the need to beef up a bit. 

To sum up, I’ve seen a lot more of the starting area then I ever would have wanted. 

Family Meeting

Overall, Children of Morta was an alright game. It was fun to play—even more so with co-op—it had an engaging storyline, and the characters were relatable on a couple of different levels. There were some moments where some pretty dark, depressing things happened, but those moments were handled well, and never kept the tone of the game on a downswing. Sure, the level design could use some work, but game’s amazing and dynamic sprites picked up some of that slack.

I’m giving Children of Morta a relative 7/10. It was not an amazing game, but it had its moments. I loved the Bergson family and I hope to see more of them, or something of equal quality from Dead Mage. 

Of course, I’ll probably buy that one several years after the fact as well. 

Video Game Reviews

Wizard of Legend: A Mighty Magical Melee

Wizard of Legend is a rogue-like hack-and-slash dungeon crawler developed by Contingent 99 and published by Humble Bundle. 

The game focuses on a nameless wizard (or wizards, if you’re playing co-op) who is transported back in time to participate in the Chaos Trials. These trials pit a wizarding team against three members of the magical council. If the wizards are victorious, they can claim the title of Wizard of Legend, and are granted a Chaos Arcana which gives them access to primordial chaos spells.

It’s like the Triwizard Tournament, but with less angst

I bought this game for three reasons. 

Fortunately for me, it was also a pretty solid game.

There are a lot of games out there that claim that they redefine the mage class in video games. I’m not sure about the claims of other games (looking at you Litchdom: Battlemage), but Wizard of Legend manages this feat, and it does it with it’s own unique flair.

So, let’s take a look at what this game did absolutely right, and shine some light on which aspects might have needed a little more work.

Heart of the Cards

The magic system in Wizard of Legend is driven by Arcana, which are basically cards that allow your character to cast spells.

Arcana come in six different elements, and each element conveys a different boon depending on the form that the element is taking:

  • Earth: hits hard as rock, but also poisons or roots if the arcana is plant-based
  • Water: moves enemies as water, or freezes them as Ice
  • Fire: does significant upfront damage, but also adds a damage over time effect
  • Air: moves enemies and can slow enemies
  • Lighting: bounces between enemies and offers a stun that does a little damage over time
  • Chaos: incredibly rare and powerful, dealing huge amounts of damage

What’s so great about the Arcana system is that you aren’t limited to a single element. You can mix and match your arcana to fit your playstyle.

…This can be a lot of trial and error

You are, however, limited to four Arcana that you can carry with you into the trials, and each one fulfills a different function. 

The four Arcana types are:

  • Basic Arcana: This fulfills the role of your standard attack. These do not have a cooldown and can be used about as often as you can push the corresponding button.
  • Dash Arcana: This augments your standard dash, allowing you to leave behind damaging trails or shoot spells forward.
  • Standard Arcana: These are basically your run of the mill spells like Fireball or Ball Lightning. 
  • Signature Arcana: These essentially function like better versions of standard spells, but can also receive a huge boost if you cast them while at full signature energy charge.

I will admit that, while I could equip different elemental Arcana to maximize my effectiveness, once I’d unlocked enough lightning Arcana, I basically stayed a lightning mage throughout my entire playthrough. 

Shoot Magic into the Darkness

Once you’ve chosen your Arcana, you can enter the Chaos Trials and start blasting anything that moves—and some stuff that doesn’t.

What’s great about the combat in Wizard of Legend is that it feels amazing. You can dash around like a madman, leaving behind a trail of fire while you shoot out a rock dragon and then hurl a bolt of lightning that bounces between foes. You can swing an axe made of obsidian with reckless abandon while your foes’ faces fill with horror because you froze them in place with a fan of frost. The ability to have several moves combined with the relatively short cooldowns on most Arcana mean that you are very rarely doing nothing, and if you are doing nothing, then…

You’re doing it wrong.

If you do happen to take standard and signature spells that have relatively high cooldowns, you can supplement your build with Arcana that you can find, or buy, inside the trials. Basically you start each run with two empty spots, and can fill those with whatever you happen to find. This gives you more moves, which means that you can continue to do damage while you wait for your other cooldowns to end.

Basically, once you have a full six Arcana, you are ready to wreak complete havoc upon anything foolish enough to get in your way.

I also like that the spells and abilities feel substantial. There is a good amount of screenshake and some instances where things will slow down ever so slightly to really show the impact of the spell you’re casting. This ensures that you always feel like you’re doing real damage instead of just producing a bunch of numbers from the tops of enemy heads.

A Balancing Act

One of my least favorite things about Wizard of Legend is how well balanced the whole damn thing is.

Most of the moves do a relative same amount of damage no matter what they are. This means that you do the same amount of damage with a ten ton rock hammer that you do when you summon several dragons made of water.

I understand this decision in practice, but sometimes it makes certain moves a little underwhelming. Granted, some moves have more utility than others, so those might do less damage because they offer greater benefits elsewhere, but overall I thought that the Arcana that summons a thunder dragon should probably do a little more damage than a single ball of lightning. 

There is, however, a bit of a fix for this. Each Arcana has the potential to be enhanced, which means that you can improve upon them if you get the opportunity. 

Take, for example, the volt disk. It’s a basic attack that shoots a disk of lightning at a medium distance and briefly stuns foes. But if you enhance volt disk, it will hit it’s target and then bounce to a nearby enemy. Not only does that deal twice as much damage, but it also stuns two enemies instead of one. So, the enhancements are really where it’s at as far as increasing the amount of damage or utility that a spell offers. 

Unfortunately, without the enhancements offered by enhanced Arcana cards, or relics (items that offer benefits like increased fire damage), damage feels so even keeled that it can be a bit of a downer to get a really amazing-looking Arcana only to find that it does just as much damage as the one you were already using. 

The Final Trial

Overall, Wizard of Legend is a fast, frenetic, and fun experience. It might not have the depth and attention to detail of something like Enter the Gungeon,  the story of Hades, or the beautiful pixel work of Children of Morta, but it stands alone as something that has amazing controls and a combat system that is just plain exhilarating. While I feel that its spells were a little too balanced, I understand why it was created this way, and appreciate the dedication it must have taken to make that happen. 

I’m giving Wizard of Legend a magical 8.5/10 for making mages cool again.

Also, I just wanted to add that this game is very clearly a Kickstarter game. There are Arcana created by people with names that are clearly online handles, and some of the pictures that line the trial halls are just backers who paid enough money. I won’t say that it adds or takes away anything from the game… I just get a tickle out of a relic crafted by a “Virtuoso” named Tacobowls.

Recommendations, Video Game Reviews

5 Games That Should Have Had Sequels By Now

Some games have stories that just can’t be told in one installment. Others are so complete that all we want to do is spend more time in their world. This usually leads to a sequel or two for most games. However, there are occasions when an amazing game comes out and we spend years waiting for the announcement of a sequel, only for none to appear. 

I submit to you a list going backward in time of five games that desperately deserve a sequel.

Bulletstorm (2011)

Bulletstorm was an amazing first-person shooter during the PS3 era. The graphics were on point, the voice acting was top notch, and the story was better than it had any right to be.

It was about Grayson Hunt, a disgraced former soldier who wants revenge on the general that used him, and his team, to assassinate innocent civilians. So during a random encounter with the general after years on the run Grayson attacks the general’s ship and they both crash onto a nearby planet brimming with deadly creatures and insane psychopaths.

There were two things, however, that helped this game stand above its peers. 

The first of which was the Skillshot system. This allowed you to receive experience points for killing enemies. Shoot a guy in the head, you get 25 points. Shoot them in the groin and then kick their head off? Well, that’s worth 100 points. You see, the point of the Skillshot system was to encourage you to kill your enemies in the most insane ways possible, and with the game’s many guns—with multiple firing modes— there were a lot of insane ways to kill your enemies. 

The second thing that helped Bulletstorm to shine was its humor. There is barely a moment in this game where your character isn’t yelling about dicks or asses, or dicks in asses. While juvenile, and a little abrasive at times, most of the jokes actually do a pretty good job of landing properly. I will still, to this day, quote many of my favorite lines from this game simply because they bored directly into my mind with how funny they were.

Sure, the game hasn’t aged perfectly, but it was such an interesting title that it really deserves to have a follow up. This is especially true because it was clearly setting up a sequel, and I want to know what happens, damn it!!

Brutal Legend (2009)

There are few games that dare to do something different. So, when one takes the leap, it can really stand out. 

Brutal Legend is just such a game.

It’s about a roadie named Eddie Riggs who’s transported backward in time when a stage prop crushes him during a concert. In this version of the past, demons rule the world and humans are merely slaves.

At first, Eddie is unsure of his place in this primordial era, but when he discovers that his favorite music (METAL) is the source of all power, he steps forward to lead a revolution and defeat Doviculus, the demon that has subjugated mankind. 

What made this game so special was the way it smashed two completely different game genres together. It was part hack and slash RPG adventure with a large helping of real-time strategy on the side. 

You spent most of the game driving around in your sweet ride—The Duce—trashing enemies and finding new songs for “The Mouth of METAL” which was the name of the radio in your car. Then, every once and a while, you would be thrown into an RTS battle where you still played as your character, but you used them to command troops against an enemy army. While this was a little cumbersome at times, it was an amazing way to marry the two genres.

My personal favorite aspect of the game (beyond the fact that Jack Black, Tim Curry, and Jennifer Hale were the voices for the main characters) was the mythology that the developers created for the game. They have an entire creation myth that you could piece together, and not only is it amazing, it ties directly into the story and completely incorporates the game’s musical motif.

I don’t know where a second game would go, but I’d love to find out.   

Bully (2006)

Bully was developed by Rockstar games, the team that continues to bring more Grand Theft Auto into the world. And by all accounts, it was an amazing game. 

You play as Jimmy Hopkins, a kid who is being forced to attend Bullworth Academy after being kicked out of seven other schools. The game takes place over the course of one year at the academy and chronicles the rise of Jimmy from new kid to king of the schoolyard. 

While similar to previous Rockstar games, Bully stood out for a number of reasons.

For one, it had much more structure than its predecessors. Sure, you could run around and cause all sorts of mayhem, but you also needed to attend classes, and engage in other activities to boost your social standing. These were key mechanics to not only keep your character from being expelled, but also to assert your dominance over the other cliques and their leaders. The game also changed aesthetics from season to season, which was something you rarely saw in games of the time. 

While it had its fair share of bugs, Bully is fondly remembered by those who played it, and most can’t stop thinking about the amazing things that a follow up game in this day and age could bring. 

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (2002)

There are few games that I remember as fondly as Eternal Darkness

Wait, did I say fondly? I meant, there are few games that I remember as terrifyingly. 

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem is a survival horror game that was published by Nintendo… That sentence really says it all. It was the first time Nintendo, a family friendly company, decided to try their hand with something a little more mature.

Boy, did it pay off. 

In Eternal Darkness, you play as Alexandra Roivas, who returns to her family home in Rhode Island after the brutal murder of her grandfather. Upon arriving, she finds a book bound in human skin titled “The Tome of Eternal Darkness.” Within its pages, she finds disturbing accounts of people dealing with eldritch horrors dating back thousands of years. So, she begins investigating the book to see if it had anything to do with her grandfather’s death. 

There were a couple very innovative things this game did to stand apart from the Resident Evil’s and Silent Hill’s of the time. 

The first was how the stories were told. Since Alexandra was reading a book, she didn’t necessarily read it in order. This made the narrative a little more dynamic and added to the mystery surrounding the book and her grandfather’s murder. 

The second, and the one everyone knows about, was the sanity system. Throughout the course of the game Alexandra, would lose her sanity for various, usually terrifying, reasons. While this mechanic has been used in a lot of games since, Eternal Darkness really went the extra mile. You see, as Alexandra lost her sanity weird things would start to happen, and not just to her. 

I remember once seeing a fly crawling across my screen… well, it turns out it was the game screwing with me. That was just the tip of the iceberg. The screen would go to “Video” mode, because that was a believable thing to have happened back then.

There were a ton of these little mindfreaks, and the game was made slightly better by each one. 

I shudder to think what could be accomplished with the amazing features of today’s console systems.  

Secret of Evermore (1995)

Secret of Evermore is one of my most beloved childhood games. In fact, I still play it every couple of years just because I can. 

This SNES game was developed by Squaresoft, and was one of the only games that they released exclusively outside of Japan. It follows the adventures of a young man who is transported to the land of Evermore. There, he battles across prehistoric jungles, ancient cities, and medieval castles to find his way home once more. 

While the story is simple, and more than a little campy in places, it had some really interesting features for a game that came out in 1995. 

The first of those features is that you have an AI companion with you (the main character’s dog) throughout 90% of the game. He helps you in combat, helps you solve puzzles, and even searches for items that you would spend way too much time looking for without him. You can even take control of the dog if you want…

I mean, it really didn’t help most of the time. But you could do it, by gum!

The other standout feature that anyone who played the game will remember was the alchemy. This was basically your magic system. You could combine two types of ingredients, as long as you had the recipe, and create a myriad of effects. You could combine water and ash to create acid rain, or wrap some clay around a crystal to create a homing rock lovingly dubbed “Hardball.” This system made it so that you had to, sometimes, manage your magic usage, because you could run out of crystals at an inopportune moment. 

I don’t know what I would want to see more, a sequel to Secret of Evermore or a remake. I think either has an amazing amount of potential, but the likelihood of seeing either after twenty-six years seems unlikely. 

 I know it’s wishful thinking, but hopefully, one day, this list will have fewer entries.