Late to the Game Reviews, Video Game Reviews

Late-to-the-Game Code Vein Review: Blood Souls The JRPG

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Code Vein is an action RPG developed and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment

The game takes place sometime after an event known as The Great Collapse, where monstrous horrors began to appear around the world.

To combat these horrors, humanity began creating super-soldiers known as Revenants: corpses reanimated by a genetically-engineered parasite.

The only downside to being a revenant is that they require human blood to stay alive… un-alive?… undead?… whichever.  

You play as an unnamed Revenant that awakens in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where revenants fight over blood beads (an artificial blood source). Before too long, your character joins a group of well-meaning Revenants set on discovering a way to create more blood beads, so everyone can stop going all Mad Max on one another.

Shiny & Chrome

I sort of avoided this title for a while, mostly because when it came out I was unacquainted with Soulsborne games, and — indeed — was intimidated by the genre as a whole. After finally playing some of the From Software games,  Hollow Knight, and Ashen, I decided that it was probably time to start giving some of the other games in the genre a shot. 

So, I bought Code Vein, and It wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

You see, it’s basically a Soulsborne game on the inside, but it wears the skin of a traditional JRPG. While these two elements are not necessarily diametrically opposed, it was certainly interesting to see how they worked together. 

Story Mode Activate

While most Soulsborne games opt to follow in From Software’s footsteps and have their story be mired in mystery and lore, Code Vein instead decided to put the story front and center.

You don’t have to wonder where you are or what your goal is, because the game tells you outright. There are even characters who don’t talk in riddles and cutscenes that don’t herald the arrival of a boss.

This is because everything on the story/graphical end of the game is handled like a typical JRPG. From the environments (which can be a labyrinthian pain in the ass) to the way you gather a party of fairly-archetypal characters, to the overt fanservice, it’s all reminiscent of games like Persona or any of the thousand Ys games.

This actually worked pretty well, except that I kept thinking that every time I touched an enemy I would get pulled into a battle screen.

So it was, and so it shall be

Unfortunately, while I enjoyed this focus on JRPG elements, I felt that the gameplay wasn’t as polished as I would have liked. It felt a little clunky, and at times I found myself wondering if the game wouldn’t have been better as a classic JRPG.

The other downside to having a JRPG story in a Soulsborne game was that I would get frustrated when a boss held me up.

Usually, within this genre, the story takes a backseat. So, getting crushed by a boss a couple hundred times doesn’t really matter, because the fight is the point.

In Code Vein, if I get trounced by a boss, I’m being held back from the rest of the story.

The Buddy System

One of the big ways that Code Vein differs from the usual Soulsborne fare, is that — much like Ashen — you can choose to have an AI helper throughout pretty much the whole game. I really liked this, because I didn’t have to worry about finding an ally to summon, or hoping that a particular boss had an NPC available to help me. 

This feature was basically a difficulty setting. If you want to play on hard, you tell your buddy to…

If you want easy, you keep them with you… though, depending on the boss, it was more like having a medium difficulty. 

The only issue I had with this mechanic was the constant prattling of your companion. After an hour of hearing “I really don’t like tight spaces” or “enemy ahead” or “you’re low on healing,” it started to get grating.

I did, eventually,  find a setting in the options menu that turned off their dialog, which made traversing the environments far less annoying.

A Cornucopia of Customization

I tend to spend an inordinate amount of time creating my character in any game with a character creation menu, and Code Vein was no exception. In fact, I may have spent more time in this character creation menu than I ever have in a game. 

Usually, most of my time spent creating a character is within the sliders and options that affect the way the character’s face looks. This was not the case with Code Vein, where your face shapes were relatively limited, and there were virtually no sliders to play with. 

No, I spent a ridiculous amount of time playing with accessories.

The accessories were small items like hats, glasses, hair extensions, and about five other categories of bric-a-brac.

The reason I spent so much time with these is that you can put the accessories literally anywhere on your character, resize them, change their color, and change their orientation.

This led to my first character being decked out in so much glowing crap that they were hard to look at during the first few cutscenes.

This is apparently what I thought the ideal monster hunter looked like

I had to go back and create a much less shiny character so I could stand to look at them for more than a few seconds.

While, in my case, this was pretty ridiculous, it was also pretty amazing that I could customize my character to that extent.

Cracking the Code on Classes

One of my least/most favorite parts of this game were the Blood Codes. These are essentially the character classes that are available to you. When you start the game, you have three available that boil down to fighter, mage, and rogue-ish. 

What’s neat about these “codes” is that you can change them at any time, and personalize the passive and active abilities of each, so that when you switch codes, you switch movesets along with them.

When you get further into the game and start meeting new characters, you will start to acquire different and varied Blood Codes. Each comes with a different set of active and passive abilities that you can learn simply by buying and equipping them. Once you’ve used them long enough, they will become permanent, and you will be able to equip them regardless of the Blood Code you’re using. 

Basically, if you’re using a caster Blood Code, but want some abilities from a more martial class, you can work toward making those abilities usable by your caster class. This allows a fair amount of customization as far as your class goes.

The worst/best part about this whole game mechanic is that it inextricably links the story and gameplay mechanics.

You see, some Codes are not complete when you get them. To unlock the restricted abilities, you need to find Vestiges, which house the memories and skills of the Revenant that lost them. 

In theory, this is a neat way to give you story and access to abilities. However, when you unlock a Vestige, you have to go into a segment that forces you to walk really slowly as a bunch of dioramas give you fragments of a character’s story.

There was seemingly no way to get the dialog to move faster and — when the segment is over — you have to walk slowly toward a nearby door…

This led to me skipping these segments entirely and just relying on people’s reactions to the memories to give me the gist of everyone’s backstories. 


If they’d just let me jog at a normal place, or made them little cutscenes or something, I would have been fine with it.

A Sanguine Soiree

Overall, Code Vein is a fair Soulsborne game, elevated slightly by the way it was approached. I really enjoyed getting an actual story with plot points, and characters, even a couple of twists and turns.

While it was bizarre to see a JRPG gutted and stuffed with all of the things From Software is known for, it was also heartening.

Unfortunately the gameplay, while fun, wasn’t given as much love as I would have liked, the ending was lackluster, and the overall level design left me wanting.

I’m giving Code Vein a bloody 6.5/10. While I don’t think it is a perfect marriage of the two genres it endeavors to emulate, I found this game had a charm that was hard to ignore, especially for anyone who loves From Software and JRPG’s.

My only real gripe with this game is the outrageous designs of the weapons. Seriously, in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, who’s going to take the time to make a sword out of thirty -ix pieces of metal and weld them together into something so damn cool that it actually goes around and becomes lame again.

The exact definition of style over substance
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. 

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. 

Late to the Game Reviews, Video Game Reviews

Late To The Game: Enter The Gungeon – So Many Bullets

Enter the Gungeon is a roguelike bullet-hell developed by Dodge Roll and published by Devolver Digital. It came out way back in 2016 so, as usual, I am incredibly late to the game on this one.

A gungeon, if you were wondering, is a dungeon that is filled with nothing but guns, bullets, and gun-related puns. 

The intro of the game states that the Gungeon was created when a great bullet fell from the sky and destroyed a grim fortress. Over time, this fortress was rebuilt, and at the bottom of it is the most coveted item in the universe: “The gun that can kill the past.”  Basically, it lets you travel back in time and change an event from the past., giving you a mulligan—or a second shot, if you will.

In the game, you play as one of four characters—eight if you unlock all the extras—each trying to kill their pasts for various reasons. You don’t really know what those reasons are until you actually beat the game with each character, because it’s not that kind of game.

It’s a bullet-hell. So, most of the game is spent shooting and dodging an inordinate number of bullets.

It’s always that last one that gets you

Now, bullet-hell isn’t exactly the type of game I play on the regular. I find them stressful and, honestly, really, really hard. There is a lot of information to process all at once, and a single slip-up could cost you dearly. 

That being said, I have played a lot of Enter the Gungeon lately, and because I’m sure there are plenty of others who are late to the game, I’d like to impart the things I’ve learned in case anyone else was interested in this bullet-riddled game.

Have a Blast

First and foremost. I’d like to talk about what, I think, is this game’s true strength. 

That’s right: I’m talking about puns

Not exclusively puns, but the attention to detail that revolvers around this game and its gun based theme is a barrel of amaze-bombs. 

Let’s start simple.

  • The inhabitants of the gungeon are called “gundead” and they look like bullets. 
  • There are Gunjurors who conjure bullets and guns. 
  • Instead of Iron Maidens they have Lead Maidens
  • There are zombie bullets called “the Spent”
  • The bosses include the Gorgun, the Beholster, and the Cannonbalrog
  • There is a sword in the game called “Blastphamy” and we’ll get into why in a second
  • There is a barrel weapon that shoots fish—and if you don’t get that, I can’t help you.

These are just the tip of a gunpowder-laden iceberg. The whole game is like this, and it is literally one of the best things I’ve ever seen. However, what makes this even better is the extent to which this gun theme is taken seriously. 

For example, in the Gungeon, any kind of knife or bladed weapon is considered heretical and picking one up will literally curse you, making the game harder. This is why that one sword was called “Blastphamy”—because it is and does. 

Without this insane level of dedication to the overall gun theme, Enter the Gungeon would probably be a good game, but it would definitely fall short of greatness.

Gunz & Ammo

One of the things you probably guessed from the previous section is that there are a lot of guns in this game. Like, so many it borders on the ridiculous. What I like about this, combined with the roguelike elements, is that it means that no two playthroughs will be the same.

I also like that they left the guns unbalanced. You might find a gun that can wipe out any enemy in one hit, or one that is so pathetic that you might as well throw it at the enemy, because it would certainly do more damage.

This is something you can literally do in the game

I mean, they do balance this a little with the amount of ammo each gun has, or having to charge the heavy hitting  weapons up for several seconds, but for the most part it’s chaos. 

I also like that most of the guns in the game are references to popular culture, or an homage of sorts. Just to list off a few that I’ve seen recently:

  •  The Alien Sidearm is the plasma pistol from Halo
  • The Judge is Judge Dredd’s pistol
  • The Grasschopper is the Noisy Cricket from Men in Black
  • The Zorgun is from the Fifth Element

There are probably too many of these to actually list accurately, but I can’t help but smile every time I pick up one of these guns and immediately get the reference.

Other than the guns, there are active and passive items which can help you in your quest to claim the gun that can kill the past. I’m not going to bother with the active items. 

They’re fine. I guess.

The passive item is where it’s at. They can do everything from increasing your damage and movement speed to charming enemies and doing damage over time to anyone nearby. 

My favorite passive items, however, are the bullets. These little darlings influence how your ammunition acts once it leaves your gun.

You can get bouncy bullets, irradiated bullets, bullets that fire in a helix pattern, bullets that move slower but cause more knockback, and bullets that pierce through enemies.

What I really like about these, is that they stack in the most glorious of ways. If you get enough of them your standard pistol might be firing three bullets at once. These bullets will then poison, ignite, and charm an enemy, and then pass through them to do it to even more enemies before bouncing off a wall to start the cycle all over again.

Mysteries Wrapped in Enigmas

Another noteworthy aspect of Enter the Gungeon is how much is crammed into it, and how hard some of that stuff is to find. 

It’s harder than finding ACTUAL Waldo at a Waldo look-alike convention

I’m not sure how to get into this section without spoiling anything for a five year old game, but I’ll do my best. 

I’ll start with the killing of the past, since that’s the ultimate goal of the game. Well, in order to do this, you need to beat all five floors of the Gungeon to claim the gun that can do the thing I just said. Unfortunately, the first time you get to the gun you’ll realize something. The gun is next to useless without “the bullet that can kill the past.” So, when you shoot the GTCKTP (that’s a mouthful) it will only take you back to the beginning of the Gungeon. 

So where do you get the bullet? Well, you have to build it yourself.

You assemble it from four pieces. These pieces can be found on each floor of the gungeon leading up to the final floor. The thing is, just getting one piece to the fifth floor can be daunting, because just getting to the fifth floor can be a challenge all on its own. 

At least you only have to collect each item once, because once the bullet is assembled, you can just pick up another during your next run.

This is just a taste of what the gungeon has to offer, because it’s also hiding:

  • 5 secret levels, each with their own boss
  • 4 secret characters
  • A ton of NPC’s to rescue
  • Five different ways to augment your experience, and you can stack them.
  • Synergies that make your guns and items act differently depending on your loadout
  • A punch out game

I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more secrets I’m unaware of, but for the moment, those are the things I can remember.

Farewell to Arms

Overall, Enter the Gungeon is a fantastic game. Its simple design belies the wealth of content and diversity that lies within. The controls are responsive, and if you die, it’s because you done fucked up. I also enjoy that it’s an easy game to pick up and put down, since you start at square one with every run.

I’m giving Enter the Gungeon a ballistic 9/10 because It manages to be a near-perfect iteration of what a bullet hell is supposed to be, and it does so while slinging puns and references at you at about a thousand rounds per minute.

Now, we’ll need to put a pin in this conversation so that I can reload my game and blast through another run, all so that I can shoot on over and do all this again when I shell out some cash for Exit the Gungeon… 

Too bad the Gungeon didn’t have a revolver door.

Additional gun pun.  

Late to the Game Reviews, Video Game Reviews

Late to the game – Cuphead: A Frustrating Faustian Fight

Cuphead is a 2-D run-and-gun platformer developed and published by Studio MDHR. Since its release in the Fall of 2017, it gained notoriety for its old-school animation style and soul-crushing difficulty.

The game follows the titular Cuphead, and his brother Mugman, who lose their souls in a bet with The Devil. Realizing what they’ve done, the brothers plead with The Devil and he strikes a deal with them. If they can get all of the soul contracts that his other debtors owe, he will consider letting them keep their souls. 

Seems trustworthy.

So, Cuphead and Mugman set off to claim the contracts and wipe away their debt. 

I really wanted to play Cuphead when it first came out. Unfortunately, I’m a Playstation guy and Cuphead was originally only available on PC or XBox. So, I bided my time, as most titles are eventually ported to other systems. 

This prediction finally came true in July of 2020. However,  I somehow missed its release. I eventually found it, and I’m glad/mad that I did—and not necessarily in that order. 


Cuphead’s gameplay is, on its face, pretty simple. You run, jump, dash, and shoot anything that moves. That’s basically it as far as controls are concerned. Sure, you can switch weapons, and there is a parry mechanic which is vital to several later levels, but for the most part, it’s pretty standard platforming fare. 

Each area of the game has two run-and-gun levels (where you acquire currency so that you can purchase different weapons and abilities) and several bosses. This means that roughly 75% of the game is made up of boss battles.

Unfortunately, this is a game that is easy to learn and hard to master. That’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, but Cuphead is one of the most pure examples of this. 

Near the start of the game, you get a little tutorial section on how to move and jump. The simplicity of the controls gives you a false sense of security. “Maybe this game isn’t really that hard,” you think to yourself. Then the game throws you out into the world, where you wander around for a little bit before deciding which boss to tackle first. 

Upon entering the first arena, you feel pretty confident. The boss appears and things are going pretty well, but you die anyway. No problem—you’ll do better next time.

And you do.

You do so well that you make it to the second stage of the fight. The boss’s eyes narrow and an evil smirk slides across its face. Suddenly, the screen fills with hazards, and you die almost instantly. You dive back in and die again, and again, and again.

Finally, you get through the second stage of the fight. You feel a thrill of exhilaration; you’ve made it further than you ever have before. Then the third phase of the boss begins, and you realize that everything that came before was mere child’s play. 

You are destroyed over and over and over.

Until that one try. That one attempt where you jump in guns blazing… and immediately die to the boss’s first form. To which there is only one correct reaction.

That is the exact moment that the difficulty of Cuphead will really sink in.

You will eventually defeat that boss, but boy howdy will you be pissed when the second boss is just as bad… if not worse.


In Cuphead, your offensive abilities come from potions. Each potion conveys a different attack. You start off with a pretty standard attack that fires at a good pace and does a moderate amount of damage. Once you’ve acquired enough gold coins from the run-and-gun levels, you can begin to purchase more potions.. 

For example, the Roundabout shoots out a short distance and then flies backward across the entire screen. This can give you some coverage behind you. There is also Spread, a short distance attack that fires several projectiles in a cone shape. This can be devastating, but requires that you stay close to your foe.

Dangerously close

Luckily, Cuphead allows you to have two of these attacks equipped at any given time, and you can switch between them freely. 

You can also purchase Items that have different effects on Cuphead’s moveset. There is the smoke-bomb, which turns your dash into more of a teleport move, allowing you to avoid damage whenever you use it. There is also P-sugar, which automatically activates your parry maneuver whenever you jump, so you don’t have to concern yourself with getting the timing right.

Now, you might feel inclined to pick attacks and abilities you’re comfortable with and use them for every boss. While this could work, you’d be doing yourself a disservice. So, if you’re having trouble with a boss or a run-and-gun level, try switching things up. You might find that you really don’t need the smoke bomb so much as the P-sugar for a specific boss, or that there is no good opportunity to use the Spread attack even though you really like it. 

Art Of Darkness

My favorite thing about Cuphead is its art style. Actually, it’s not just its art style, it’s how complete it is. The film grain, double bounce animation, muted colors, and muffled sounds make you feel like you are somehow playing a cartoon from the early 1900’s.

I also like how they incorporated the trappings of that particular art style into how the bosses operate. There are frogs that turn into desk fans and then into slot-machines… Why? Because that’s how old-school cartoons used to work.

They also leaned into the whole “everything is alive” aspect of older animation, so it’s not too unusual if one of your enemies is a living stack of poker chips.

Beautiful, but terrible to behold

I think that the developers did an excellent job executing the vision of this game. Sure, it’s weird and bizarre, but it also works perfectly.

Devil’s Due

Overall, Cuphead is a pretty good game. I don’t think that I liked it as much as others did, but from a technical standpoint, the mechanics were solid, the controls were responsive, and the gameplay was… well it was hellacious (see what I did there?).

Anyway, I’m giving Cuphead a respectful 7/10.

There were times when I was ready to throw in the towel (mostly at Dr. Kahl’s Robot) and move on to something that didn’t cause the veins in my head to start throbbing. And while Cuphead was almost never “fun” to play, it did convey a sense of accomplishment and that’s just as good… right?

Please tell me it’s just as good. Tell me I didn’t suffer for nothing…


Late to the Game Reviews, Video Game Reviews

Late To The Game: Bloodborne—Fear The Old Blood…Borne

Bloodborne is the From Software game that put the “borne” in Soulsborne. It was released in 2015 to massive critical acclaim (and the sound of every gamer in the world screaming obscenities at their televisions).

I did not play Bloodborne when it was first released… 

Actually, until recently I’d never played any From Software game. Everyone was always going on and on and on about how hard they were and how many controllers had been laid to rest as a result. So, naturally I avoided them like the plague.

Then, in early 2018, Bloodborne was one of the free Playstation games of the month, so I thought I’d give it a try.

I barely played it for a couple of hours before turning it off. I can only die to regular mobs so many times before I understand my limitations. Also, I’m not that much of a glutton for punishment…

…or I wasn’t, until I played a little game called Hollow Knight. It wasn’t From Software, but that little gem taught me what it was to hone your skills through many deaths and the feel of victory over what seemed insurmountable odds. 

Cut to a couple of weeks ago, and my dad called me and says “Hey, have you played Bloodborne.” To which I said “Yeah, for like an hour and then I shut it off.” 

Well, he’d been playing it recently and he convinced me to give it a try. 

Now that I’ve finally managed to beat it, let me give some perspective to some others who might have been a little gun shy simply because of its reputation or it’s pedigree. 

Not For Everyone

I’m going to start my review with a big old truth-bomb. This game is not for everyone. There are multiple reasons for this. 

The first would be, surprisingly, the genre and setting. You see Bloodborne is… well it’s gross, scary, unsettling, and did I say gross? Well it’s gross. I could use words like atmospheric and whatnot—which it is—but overall it’s a very stressful game because of how tension-inducing it is. People averse to body horror or jump scares should probably stay away. 

Then there is, unsurprisingly, the game’s crippling difficulty. It’s a hard game. There is no getting around that. The first mandatory boss you run into will eviscerate you more times than you can count, especially if you’ve never played a Soulsborne game before. 

This can be more than discouraging. It’s where the term “git good” comes from. While a bit derogatory, it sums up the series pretty well. You will either come to understand the game’s mechanics and acclimate accordingly, or you won’t. 

There is no shame in turning it off & walking away before THIS happens.

I, myself, was defeated by pretty much every boss several times. Every time a new boss would stomp me into the ground before I could even blink, I would immediately get melodramatic and think to myself “I’ll never beat this boss” or “I’m going to be stuck here forever,” but a few tries later I would start to understand what it took to survive. 

Finally, I will cite the game’s lack of hand-holding as a barrier for entry. 

Did I say lack of hand-holding? I meant to cite the Spartan way it kicks you out into the shit and smiles and waves as a werewolf rips out your intestines. 

Sure, there are notes you can read in the Hunter’s Dream, but there are things I’m still learning about this game after having beaten it that would have made my playthrough easier.

The Unseen Story

The story of Bloodborne is largely unimportant to the gameplay. So much so that you could play through the entire game and realize that you have no clue what the hell just happened. I’m still trying to piece it together, though thanks to some well-made Youtube videos, I’ve gotten the gist of it. 

Basically what I’m saying is that if you are looking for a narrative-driven game, look elsewhere. However, if you like to earn your story, this is definitely the game for you.

To fully understand the scope of Bloodborne’s story, you’ll need to read every item description, find every message, fight every boss, and fully explore every area (including the completely optional chalice dungeons). Even then, you may find yourself turning to the internet to fill in the blanks. 

TMW you don’t understand the first YouTube video you find…

I will say that locating the story is totally worth it. Bloodborne is basically one of the most epic Lovecraftian stories ever told. 

Unfortunately, it’s hard to know that if all you did was hack your way through the game without taking a look around. Then, the game feels like a bunch of unrelated cutscenes held together by little more than monster guts. 

Weapon of Choice

One of my favorite features of the game is the way they handled weapons. 

You can use any weapon you want, and it’s a legitimate choice. Did you like one of the starting weapons? Well then, keep it. 

Every weapon is upgradable to the same degree. Your +5 Hunter’s Axe that you’ve had since the beginning is just as viable as a +5 Blade of Mercy. It all depends on how you want to play. 

I, myself, was a Blade of Mercy wielder. I liked how fast they struck, and how their damage scaled with the skill stat. Sure, they didn’t hit nearly as hard as other weapons, but once you started a combo, most enemies were dead by the end and had little opportunity to defend themselves from the chainsaw I had become.

The other nice thing about the weapons in Bloodborne is that each and every one has two distinct modes. Simply press L1 and your saw could become an ax, or your short sword could be pulled into two smaller daggers. This gives you a ton of flexibility in a fight, especially since you can carry two melee weapons at a time (giving you four styles to choose from).

Me, with my chosen weapons in hand

If that wasn’t enough for you, then you can also use L1 in the middle of an attack to change the weapon’s form and attack in the same motion. This allows for some interesting combos, and makes it so that you can deal damage without having to slow down your assault.

Obtuse By Orders of Magnitude

One of my least favorite things about Bloodborne was how hard it was to figure anything out. There are a lot of things that the players of this game just take for granted these days, since basically everything can be found online pretty easily. 

I’ll be honest and say that this was the first game in a long time that had me looking up things almost constantly. 

Of course, I’d see a video of someone with an amazing looking weapon and go “How do I get that?”

Well it turns out you had to talk to someone that you didn’t know you could talk to, then get an item that’s so hidden that you have to basically break the game to get to it, then you have to talk to another person at a very specific time, and finally you have to have already done something you didn’t do, so you can’t get it this playthrough. 

I made some of that up… but it’s not far from the mark. Most things in this game felt willfully obtuse, and I applaud the original gamers who found these things out and then shared them with the world. 

I mean, there’s something wrong with those guys, but I thank them anyway.

Tips For New Hunters

I’m just going to list some things I wish I’d known starting out.

  • The more insight you have the harder the game becomes
  • If you do a charged R2 attack directly behind an enemy, you can stagger them and use a visceral attack 
  • If you shoot someone as they are attacking, you can stagger them and do a visceral attack
  • Fire works exceptionally well against beast type enemies 
  • Your weapons degrade over time, but are very cheap to repair
  • Dodging away from an enemy is likely to get you killed. Dodge to the side or forward past them 
  • You can fall quite far without taking fatal amounts of damage
  • Guns do more damage to dogs

There are plenty of other things, but these were the ones that really would have helped. 

The Beckoning Bell

Overall, Bloodborne is a very solid game, albeit hidden behind an exclusionary difficulty wall that many may not be able to overcome. The combat is fluid, once you understand how it works, and is insanely hard but actually pretty fair most of the time… 

…Some of the time. 

The story is amazing, if you can find it, and the atmosphere is relentless to the point that ir starts to get into your head. In other words, it’s a From Software game.

I’m giving Bloodborne a belated 8.5/10. While it’s not my favorite Soulsborne game, it was an experience that will be hard to forget. So if you were on the fence about it, I recommend giving it a try if you have the time and don’t mind dying to the first boss an inordinate number of times. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to go play something bright and colorful to get the sound of squelching blood out of my brain.  

Late to the Game Reviews, Video Game Reviews

Late to the Game: Far Cry 5 – Keeping the Faith

Far Cry 5 is an open-world first-person-shooter from developer Ubisoft. It follows the franchise’s long and storied history of dropping a protagonist into a remote—and usually inescapable—region of the world where roughly 95% of the population wants them dead.

Except the main villain, who needs you alive for monologue purposes

The series has seen great success over the years, but really took off after the third installment, when it began introducing its insane, yet oddly compelling, villains. I, myself, thoroughly enjoyed both 3 and 4, as well as their sister games, Blood Dragon and Primal.

5, however, I did not buy right away. At the time, I couldn’t justify the expenditure, and just when I was contemplating the purchase, the announcement for Far Cry: New Dawn came out, in which I learned the ending of 5. This put me off the idea of playing the fifth installment altogether. 

Well, now, a little over three years later, I’ve taken the leap and given this title a try. So, if anyone else passed on Far Cry 5 for the same reason I did, or if they were just not feeling a Ubisoft open-world —because, let’s face it, those can be overwhelming at times— I’ll let you know if it was worth it or not. 

All That Remained Was Hope

Far Cry 2 took place in darkest Africa, 3 on the Rook Islands—which were somewhat comparable to Indonesia—and 4 in Kyrat, a fictional country nestled in the Himalayas.

Far Cry 5 hits a little closer to home (for some of us) than the previous installments. Instead of dense jungles, tropical islands, or arid mountains, 5 offers you a glimpse of the Big Sky State and takes place in the fictional Hope County, Montana.

At first, I was a little skeptical of the location, given that the locals of Far Cry are usually completely cut off from the rest of the world. 

Well, worry not. 5 continued the tradition. 

You see, Hope County is completely surrounded by mountains, and the main antagonists of the game have cut off all roads and communications out of the county, making this little slice of Americana one of the more interesting locations in which to Far Cry.

We’re not counting the in-between games.

I do have to admit that this was bizarre compared with… well, most other open worlds.

Most open-worlds take place in a fantastical location, or at least a place very far removed from anywhere I’ve ever been. So, being dropped into Montana and told to go on what can only be described as a killing spree of biblical proportions was off-putting, to say the least.

That being said, it was a magnificently crafted world, and if we were judging by that alone, this game would take top billing. 

Do Not Drink the Punch

The main villain of Far Cry 5 is Joseph Seed. He‘s the fanatical leader of The Project at Eden’s Gate, which is a cult that believes that the end of days is approaching. 

You know, THESE guys.

While not as mental as Vaas or as charismatic as Pagan Min, Joseph’s brand of evangelical zealotry is intense. When you add in his “Family”—Jacob, John, and Faith—they round out to be a pretty great rogue’s gallery.

Each of Joseph’s “children” offers a different dime-store version of a religious cult. Jacob is basically a militia leader (and not like an actual militia, but the kind that builds compounds and often threatens to kill elected officials). John is the kind of cult leader that believes in self-actualization and “the power of yes”. And Faith is more of the hippy-dippy “love, acceptance, and copious amounts of drugs” cult leader.

You play as a deputy tasked with arresting Joseph and bringing him to justice. The only problem is that he has a seemingly-endless amount of followers who are completely devoted to him. So, when you do try and arrest him, he takes it as a sign that the end is nigh — because, let’s face it, it was for him — and begins enacting his vision for the future. 

This “vision” is basically to steal every resource in the whole of Hope County and then kidnap and convert everyone in their way. Of course, if being forced into a religion isn’t your thing, they are more than happy to send you away in a pine box. 

This, for me, was one of the best versions of Far Cry I’ve seen. Usually, the villain is already in power and you are trying to depose them. In this one, Joseph is trying to take over the county, and you and your ragtag resistance (mainly composed of doomsday preppers and good ‘ol townsfolk) are trying to make sure he doesn’t succeed.

A Wingsuit and a Prayer

The gameplay in Far Cry 5 is phenomenal, but gameplay for Far Cry has always kind of been phenomenal. So does it mean that it’s still good if it’s always good? 

Yes. The answer is yes.

Everything feels right in this game. The movements are smooth, even when driving or operating the wingsuit. The gunplay is great and somehow feels closer to reality than I would have liked at times. The only real problem I encountered with the actual play-action is that after playing so much Apex Legends, where the slide is so vitally important, the slow and stubby slide in Far Cry 5 felt like a joke.

I would also like to take a moment to point out how many great characters are in this game. It seems like almost everyone you run into is somehow a main character. Whether it’s Pastor Jerome tending to his flock with a pump action shotgun, or Skylar Kohrs—a woman so into fishing she’s willing to fist fight an armed cult just to catch a fish—no one is lacking in personality. 

Did I mention that one of your teammates is a bear named Cheeseburger?

My only real gripe with the game (other than being kidnapped every 5 seconds) is that I never really felt like I was exploring Hope County. There were places to go, but they were mostly places to receive missions or places to complete missions. Even when I got to those locations, I never really felt the impetus to take a look around.

I never even had to walk anywhere, because I took the parachute, wingsuit, and airdrop perks early.

The airdrop lets you do just that: choose a location and drop down. In conjunction with the wingsuit and parachute, this essentially means you never have to walk or drive anywhere. You simply airdrop to a nearby location and glide to your mission objective. If you can’t make it in one drop, you can do it in two or three.

I know I didn’t have to airdrop everywhere, but I could,  and it seriously hampered my ability to appreciate the beauty of Hope County. 

The Collapse

Overall, Far Cry 5 is a pretty great game. It has a ton of personality, the gameplay is amazing, and the characters are interesting. While the overall plot is a little stunted, it’s still beautifully realized. There are some weird narrative choices — again, you get kidnapped way too often for an action hero protagonist — and sometimes the A.I. pathing would kill my allies at inopportune moments, but these things never stopped me from enjoying my playthrough. 

What did that was knowing how the game ended before it began.

I’m giving Far Cry 5 an objective 8.5/10, but a very subjective 7/10, so, do with that what you will. 

I’m also currently playing through Far Cry: New Dawn, so…

…aaaaaand I’m being abducted again. I’ll be back with that review after an intense villain monologue where the bad guy totally could kill me, but arbitrarily will not.

Late to the Game Reviews, Video Game Reviews

Late to the Game – Ashen: A Light in the Darkness

Ashen is an action-RPG / Soulsborne game from New Zealand developer A44, and published by Annapurna Interactive. It was released back in 2018 to what I would consider a moderate amount of critical acclaim.

I’ll be honest, I’m not really the biggest fan of the Soulsborne genre.

I wonder why?

Though I do play Soulsborne games occasionally, I’ve never played Demon’s Soul, or any of the Dark Souls games (I know, them’s fighting words).

The crushing difficulty of most Soulsborne games can be somewhat— read: insanely — exclusionary. I like a good challenge, but at the end of the day, fighting the same boss seventy-five times is just not something I find inherently entertaining.

Don’t get me wrong, Hollow Knight is one of my all time favorite games, but I love it because I love the art and the story, not because I had to fight Hornet 85,000 times.

Ashen was enough like Hollow Knight to pique my interest.

I know I’m late to the game by about… two years; give or take a few months… but I decided to buy Ashen after I recently stumbled upon the trailer. It had such an intriguing atmosphere about it that I felt compelled to give it a try. 

Now that I’ve finally managed to finish it — without breaking my controller — I can give you a rundown on the best, and worst, parts of this charmingly infuriating game. 

Let There Be Light

The story of Ashen is subtle and yet it permeates every aspect of the game. 

It starts with a creation myth. An Ashen (a bird) brought light into the world and perched upon Yggdrasil (the world tree) for a millennia. When its end drew near, it released its final breaths and its light began to fade. In this dying light the three great ages began.

Gives the term “bird breath” a whole new meaning!

You take control of your character just as a new Ashen is born and light has once more returned to the world. You are then charged with finding and protecting the new Ashen from the Elder Dark, beings who would destroy the fledgling beast and have darkness reign for eternity.

Not only do I love creation myths, but I also enjoy the fact that the whole game feels true to this mythology. The further you get from the place of the ashen’s birth, the less light there is, and the closer, the brighter and more alive things feel.

I also liked that your quest is to save this new light. I feel like other games would have had you groping through the dark to find the Ashen’s egg and start the new age, but Ashen chose to have your journey begin along with the new age. 

It’s a little thing, but it made me smile from time to time. 

An Ashen Darkley

My absolute favorite part of Ashen was it’s aesthetic. The characters look like moving Willow Tree figurines.

So, both terrifying and beautiful

The same can be said for the environment. The style is simplistic, but there is enough added detail that it never feels devoid of personality. It’s actually the exact opposite. Even the bleakest areas of the game are rife with atmosphere.

This is most true in the dark, twisting corridors of the game’s many caves and caverns, where the only light source is your trusty lantern.  While it can be incredibly unnerving to traverse these areas, I also found myself in awe of how the lighting and design worked so well together. It didn’t matter that I jumped out of my skin every time a shadow shrieked from the abyss and clawed my eyes out; I wanted to explore more.

In fact, one of my biggest complaints about Ashen is that it was too short. I wanted to see more of it’s world, and I was sad when it was over.

A Friend In Need

One of Ashen’s best/worst features is the AI companion who accompanies you on all your quests. This is especially nice given the game’s crushing difficulty. 

Basically, whenever you get a quest from an NPC, they will accompany you on said quest. This is fantastic in a lot of ways. It gives you some extra damage and a person to hold your enemies’ attention so you can mete out attacks with impunity. Your companion will even carry a lantern in dark areas, giving you the opportunity to use a two handed weapon or a shield if you want to.

Now, the AI companion is decidedly not the greatest in all situations. When you fall in battle, they have the option to try and revive you. It is an exquisite kind of hell to watch your AI buddy try and figure out what they should do. Sometimes, they try to revive you while a horde of enemies is right on top of them, and other times they refuse to save you even if they have all the time in the world. 

It’s like this.

Sometimes, they do get their shit together and manage to pick you back up, but this rarely seemed to happen, especially later in the game. 

The AI in my game also had a terrible habit that left me screaming obscenities into the void more often than I care to remember. On more than one occasion, they would simply jump to their deaths for seemingly no reason. I would make a simple jump to a nearby platform, and my companion would gear up to make the jump… and simply fall off the map, leaving me stranded at the bottom of a dungeon with no backup.

A Friend Indeed

There is another option for companionship, in case you’re not into the whole AI-buddy system. You can leave your game open, and another player will drop into your game in place of the AI. 

I, however, did not have the best experience with this system, to say the least. 

I only tried it twice. My first buddy was amazing. They signaled their intent and direction, they stayed nearby, and we fought everything together, making light work of some tough enemies, or enemy encounters.

Immediately after they logged off, I was saddled with someone who had no respect for cooperation. They immediately bolted through swathes of enemies, fighting exactly none of them. Before I even realized what was going on, I suddenly had a gang of creatures who were on their way back to their previous positions chasing me all at once. 

It did not end well.

I immediately locked the multiplayer feature and decided that the somewhat suicidal AI was better than randomly grouping with someone who had no intention of working together. 

It Takes a Village

There were a couple of things in Ashen that were a pleasant surprise simply based on what I had seen in the trailer. 

The first surprise is that the game is fully voiced. Given its minimalistic appearance and overall austerity, I was expecting a silent game — something along the lines of Journey or Abzu. Instead, everyone has a voice, even the random traders you meet in the depths of the world.

At first I didn’t know what to make of the voices. I felt a little like Ashen had betrayed my expectations. But about an hour in, I realized how crazy that was and found an appreciation for the voice acting. 

The second surprise was how the starting area changes over the course of the game. What starts as a vagrant camp that you clear of enemies so that you can save for the first time slowly turns into a village as you progress. I barely noticed at first, but eventually the ragtag assortment of tents becomes a thriving little community.

Seriously. It came out of nowhere.

I’m not sure why, but seeing the town’s progress every time I returned to upgrade my equipment quickly became one of the highlights of my playthrough. 

The End of The Tunnel 

Overall, Ashen is an engaging game that often made me want to smash my controller. It was hauntingly beautiful and bleak in the best possible ways. Could the companion AI use some work? Yes. But having them with me throughout the game gave me a small amount of comfort when I was lost in the bowels of darkness.

Though it could have been longer, it did well not to overstay its welcome.

I’m giving Ashen a glimmering 8.5/10 for both being exactly what it needed to be, and for being more than I expected. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to what I was doing before: shouting obscenities into the pit that my AI companion fell into. I know it won’t bring them back, but it makes me feel better. 

Late to the Game Reviews, Video Game Reviews

Late to the Game: Katana Zero–Fast Frenetic Fun

Katana Zero is a 2D action platformer game that came out in April of 2019. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I missed this title when it first dropped. I did see something about it near the beginning of 2020, but I figured I would get to it eventually.

I said “eventually.”

Sometimes, when I get to a game that has been out for a number of years, I can find it underwhelming. This is especially true if someone has taken the formula of the original game and improved upon it, or created something entirely new with the same premise. While I will say that it is unfortunate that I waited so long to play Katana Zero, I will also say that it has in no way diminished this game in my eyes.

So, for the gamers who sometimes don’t have the cash to buy a game when it first comes out, who are inundated with other games to play, or have too many responsibilities, I’ve taken the time to see if this game is worth your time and money two years later. 

Live / Die / Repeat

Katana Zero takes place in a Cyberpunk Neo-Noir future. You play as Subject Zero, a katana-wielding amnesiac who works as an assassin for a mysterious organization. 

Zero has two abilities that make him uniquely suited to be an assassin. 

The first is time dilation. He can slow down time, allowing him a level of speed and accuracy that far exceeds that of a normal human. This is used to slow down the frenetic action sequences and give yourself some time to breathe as you figure out how to deal with the onslaught of bullets.

Just call me Neo

While this ability is helpful, it runs out quickly and takes some time to replenish. I often found myself opting not to use it until it became absolutely necessary to do so. 

The second ability is precognition. You see, death comes swiftly in Katana Zero. One hit, and you die. That’s it. Precognition allows Zero to see the results of any action he takes before he takes it. This essentially means that he can see all possible outcomes to any given situation. When you are playing the game, you are simply playing out those possibilities until you find one that allows you to succeed.

When you do finally complete an area without dying, you are shown security footage of your perfect run. The best part about this is that it does the run at full speed, leaving out any time dilation and making you look like a complete badass. 

A Marriage of Form and Function

What is, hands down, my favorite aspect of Katana Zero is how the gameplay mechanics affect the story, and vice versa. 

Zero’s time dilation and precognition are used to facilitate the storytelling. Sometimes you’ll be in the middle of a mission and it might cut back to an earlier point in the game to show you that Zero essentially lives in a reality unstuck from time itself. You can never truly tell where or when he is in the story because of this. 

How Zero must feel, like, ALL the time

The precognition also lends itself to some very well-done scenes. These include scenes where you play with dialog and death, and others where your security footage playbacks are used to interesting effect. If I went into any more detail it would likely spoil the fun, but needless to say I was very impressed with the way the story used Zero’s abilities. 

The cherry on the top of everything is that Katana Zero is an absolute joy to play. The controls are responsive and tight, and the gameplay is fluid and easy to learn. There is a level of skill involved, as later sections of the game require pinpoint accuracy and impeccable timing, so that’s something to be aware of before purchasing the game.

Though sometimes dying is half the fun.

I will say that there are a couple of levels where you need to use a stealth mechanic that is, unfortunately, not as fun as bandying about cutting people down with your sword. These sections weren’t exactly bad, but I felt that they broke up the action in a weird way. 

What’s There to Talk About? 

Another aspect of the game that I found truly interesting was the way dialog was presented.

You don’t just get one or two dialog options per interaction. Instead, you start off with one off-the-cuff answer that usually derails whatever the other person was going to say.

Baba Booey Baba Booey Baba Booey

If you wait long enough, however, you’ll open up some other options that might yield more information… and they probably won’t piss off the person who’s talking quite as much.

While most of the dialog options never really lead to any big changes within the game, it was a nice way to spice things up when you weren’t running around killing everything that moves. 


While I have already mentioned a couple of times that I really like how the story is told, I also enjoyed the story itself. It may not be the greatest story ever, but it hits some highs–and lows–that I found pretty impactful.

It reminds me of films like The Man From Nowhere or Safe. Basically, a guy with an unknown, yet violent, past kills his ways through an army of faceless bad guys.

Like So.

The only real difference between those movies and this game is that in the movies, the guy is protecting a small child, whereas the game merely has Zero hanging out with one from time to time. 

I also enjoyed that the game wasn’t told in a strictly linear way. There are dream sequences that might be flashbacks, flashbacks that might be inaccurate, and even some future flashes. While it can be confusing, I never found these aspects to be unwelcome. In fact, sometimes the best parts were me staring blankly at the screen trying to figure out what, exactly, was going on. 

Final Cut

Overall, Katana Zero is a game you should not miss out on. The story, while short, is told in a unique and interesting way, and holds a surprising amount of emotional weight. The gameplay is phenomenal, with fast-paced action and pixel-perfect controls. And the game itself is a near perfect combination of the two.

I’m giving Katana Zero a stylish 9/10 for being unapologetically cool with its retro aesthetic and neo-noir setting, and for not only attempting some risky design elements, but for pulling them off without a hitch. 

Overall, Katana Zero is a game you should not miss out on. The story, while short… is fantastic…and… and told in a… unique… have we done this before?

Late to the Game Reviews, Video Game Reviews

Hollow Knight: Filling the Void

Listen. I already know what you’re going to say. “Hollow Knight came out back in 2017 so why are you doing a review of it now?” 

Well, to you– fictitious person I just made up–I would say, “I wasn’t doing game reviews in 2017, and Hollow Knight is one of my favorite games of all time.” 

At this point you would probably try and get a word in edgewise. 

But nay, I was not finished.

 I would continue, “Also, Silksong has to come out at some point. So let’s just say that this review is for people to stumble upon as the sequel draws ever nearer… Also, my heart needs this.”

At this point you would nod with admiration for my candor and begin a slow clap.

(It’s so easy to win a debate with myself). 

Anyway, I am basically doing this for myself, but if someone who’s never played Hollow Knight decides to give it a try because of this, well, I’ve done my duty.

Enter: the Knight 

Hollow Knight  is a side-scrolling metroidvania game that follows the adventure of a nameless–and adorable– bug knight as he explores the ruined kingdom of Hallownest. 

Made more beautiful by the hand-drawn art

Although this sounds like a simple enough premise, Team Cherry executed it so beautifully that it makes my soul hurt a little inside. 

We’ll get into the details below, but if you’re in a hurry, here are a few highlights about what makes this game so amazing that I needed to review it 3 years after its release. 

  • The art is hauntingly beautiful 
  • The progression of gameplay is deftly handled
  • The story, though well-hidden, is worthy of several epic poems
  • The combat is tough but deeply rewarding 
  • The music direction is amazing

There are probably a few more bullet points I could shoehorn in here, but these laid the foundation for a game that sits upon the throne of its genre. 

The Knight is Dark and Full of Shadows

One of the most immediately striking aspects of this game is its art, and that’s because Hollow Knight is completely hand drawn. From the town of Dirtmouth  to the claustrophobic tunnels of Deepnest to the The Knight himself, every facet was lovingly, and precisely, crafted.

Including… whatever the hell this thing is

Each area is brimming with little details that bring the world to life. Whether that’s the spores that drift listlessly through the Fungal Wastes, the ever-present rain in the City of Tears, or the encroaching darkness of The Abyss, you’ll get the sense that this is a place that has existed long before The Knight and will stand long after he’s gone. 

The dark, somewhat gothic, art direction lends itself to the overall tone of the game and lets you feel the weight of Hallownest’s history. Every broken statue, every abandoned building, and every lifeless carapace tells the story of what happened to the once proud kingdom. 

I remember the first time I entered The Forgotten Crossroads. At the time, I wondered why everything was so dark and creepy, but the more I played the more I understood. It wasn’t “dark and creepy,” it was forgotten and lonely. The sense of loss and abandonment can be felt even in the farthest reaches of the game, and makes a cohesive world that is not often accomplished in AAA games, let alone an indy release. 

Hone Thy Nail

One part of the game that I did not appreciate on my first playthrough, which became much more evident on subsequent playthroughs, was the level design and how it progresses.

Hollow Knight is basically a master class on how to build a game from the ground up. The first few moments teach you how to play the game without a single word being said, or text to prompt your actions. Every enemy you encounter or obstacle you must overcome is foreshadowed by everything that came before it. 

When encountering enemies, you are left to discover for yourself the best way to deal with them. By the time you encounter any given boss, you will have the skills (or at least an understanding) of how to defeat them because you learned from previous encounters with similar enemies. Even the platforming segments build upon themselves, teaching you what you can and cannot do so that when you find yourself standing before the Path of Pain, you should be ready for whatever comes next. 

Even a seemingly-never-ending obstacle-course of buzz saws

The progression of movement throughout the game is one of my favorite aspects of Hollow Knight. I know that most metroidvanias have this–it’s one of the defining characteristics of the genre–but somehow each new ability feels like regaining a lost piece of yourself, instead of a new ability you’ve never had before. When you gain the ability to dash, double jump, or perform wall jumps, it feels more like becoming who The Knight was all along instead of becoming a better version of himself.

All of this combined makes for a game that never beats you over the head with tutorials but allows you to learn simply by playing, and that is an accomplishment that few games can claim. 

Echos of Civilization

My first playthrough, I was able to get the gist of the story. I vaguely understood what was going on and what my character was trying to accomplish. 

Very vaguely

Once it was over, I was satisfied with a job well done. However, when I started my second playthrough, I began to notice the little things that went over my head the first time. I began to see the whole picture, instead of just the part involving The Knight. The story of Hollow Knight is largely hidden, but If you take the time to investigate every nook and cranny, you will find a story that is both epic and heartbreaking.

It is the story of the rise and fall of Hallownest. 

It begins with the arrival of the Pale King, and ends with a kingdom driven mad. However, the story is not told in any specific way. You might find some statues built by a defender to honor his comrades. It could be an incomplete tramway that lies abandoned along with the corpses of those who attempted its construction. It could be a lone statue atop a crystalline peak, the last vestige of a dead religion. 

The pieces might not mean much on their own, but together they weave a massive tale. 

Unfortunately, finding the story is an arduous process. I’ve played through Hollow Knight several times and still made new discoveries on my most recent playthrough. I’ve even watched YouTube videos on the Lore of Hallownest, and even the people who search for this kind of stuff for a living don’t have the whole story. 

What I’m trying to say is that the story is there if you want to find it, and it’s amazing. But, if you don’t want to scour a game for hours on end, you should at least give the videos a try. 

 The Path of Pain

The Combat of Hollow Knight is one of its greatest–and most exclusionary–features. 

It is tough, unforgiving, and can make you want to shatter your controller from time to time, but it is ultimately fair. It might seem too hard at times, but all you need to do is “Get Good.” 

…or go home

In all seriousness, the combat in Hollow Knight is not for everyone. It can be brutal, especially with some of the later bosses (looking at you, Traitor Lord). I literally had to repeat some fights upward of 20 times before I was eventually able to push through. While that seemed like a good investment of my time, others might not feel the same, and that’s ok.

If you are not having fun, don’t bash your head against the wall. Hollow Knight is an amazing game, but if you’re ready to pack it in because the first boss is hard, it doesn’t get any easier. 

All that said, if you’re looking for a challenge, this is the game for you. There are a total of 47 bosses in Hollow Knight, each with their own moves, which could eviscerate you for making a single mistake. There is even a DLC that allows you to fight them all again at higher levels of difficulty–just in case you found the original too easy.

 Filling the Silence

I chose the music of Hollow Knight as the last section because it, like, really tied everything together man.

While most of the game is soft orchestral fair, it does do some work during the boss segments with epic scores that get your adrenaline pumping. There are also times where the music fades, letting you traverse Hallownest in foreboding silence. It’s these choices, and a million more, that make the music of Hollow Knight one of it’s more enthralling features.

It’s true that without the music, the game would still be beautiful and serve its function. However, it’s what really makes you feel the emptiness of the Forgotten Crossroads, the life bristling anew in Greenpath, and the regret in the City of Tears. It conveys the game’s emotion from the title screen to the moment the credits stop rolling. 

It’s the soul of the Hollow Knight.

Late to the Game

I know that I’m late to the game as far as a review is concerned, but Hollow Knight is a game worthy of the 9.5/10 that I’m giving it.

For a little indy title, it has set the standard that I personally have for all metroidvania games moving forward. Its story was well written, the art is beautiful, and the combat is en pointe. It’s one of the few games that I’ve played through more than twice, and there is a reason for that.

So, if you missed Hollow Knight the first time, I urge you to take a look at this amazing game as the sequel  draws nearer. In fact, I might do this more often: make game reviews for older games that deserve more attention. 

I could call them Late to the Game reviews… and apparently this is the first one.