Video Game Reviews

Young Souls Review: A Heartfelt Beat-Em-Up

Young Souls is an action RPG with the heart and soul of the old school beat ‘em up. It was developed by 1P2P and DotEmu, and published by The Arcade Crew and DotEmu. 

In the game, you play as troublemaking twins Jenn and Tristan, who spend most of their time skipping school, using salty language, and generally being disaffected youths.

Rob Lowe gets it

However, when their adoptive guardian (The Professor) goes missing, they search his lab and discover that he has been taken by Dwarvengobben: the despotic ruler of an underground civilization who seeks to wage war upon the surface world.

So, the twins arm up and go to save the professor the only way they know how: by causing as much trouble as possible.

This was on my wishlist for a couple of months before I broke down and bought it. It was a couple more months before I could play it because the Wife was playing through Hollow Knight, and there was no way I was going to miss that (she kicked its ass by the way).

Once I was able to sit down and actually play this game, I was pleasantly surprised. I expected it to be good, but it went above and beyond my expectations.

Harkening to a Bygone Era

Like I said near the beginning of this post, Young Souls is an action RPG with the heart and soul of a beat ‘em up. So, you can do all the standard RPG stuff: level up, get new equipment, and upgrade that equipment using resources you find while playing. However, all of this is within the framework of the beat ‘em up games of the late 80s to early 90s.

Truly gaming’s golden age

This was great in a number of ways.

The first of which was, of course, nostalgia. It had been a long time since I’d played a game that prompted me to continue to the next area with a big arrow pointing right and the word “GO!” screaming at me from the side of the screen. Needless to say, it was a sight for sore eyes. 

The second way in which Young Souls is great is that it has couch co-op. This means I got to enjoy this title with my lovely wife. I played as Jenn, fully clad in heavy armor and wielding a two-handed weapon, and she played as Tristan in light armor, wielding daggers.

It was awesome. 

Ready to Rumble

The combat in Young Souls follows standard beat ‘em up rules. You can move left, right, up, and down. But, you can only attack left and right, making some fights harder than others. There is also a bit of Darksouls DNA sprinkled into the combat, since you require stamina to attack and perform any evasive maneuvers. This makes the combat more weighty than most contemporary beat ‘em up or hack and slash games. 


Your starting move set consists of: 

  • Block: Negates a certain amount of damage based on the weapon or shield you have equipped
  • Parry: Completely negates damage, and can reflect projectiles, if you block just before being struck
  • Dodge Roll: Moves you out of the way of attacks, and provides a brief window of invulnerability
  • Dash: Sprint left or right at the expense of stamina
  • Slide Kick: if you press dodge while dashing, you will perform a slide kick that can interrupt enemy attacks and possibly send them flying
  • Special Attack: A powerful attack that uses mana. The type of attack is dependent on weapon, and some weapons have different special attacks based on the direction you press before executing the attack 
  • Grab: It would not be a beat ‘em up without the ability to grab and throw your enemy into other enemies

The game is pretty hard at first, especially if you play on the recommended difficulty. However, once you learn to use every move at your disposal, it becomes a fair amount easier.

You should also be aware that the directional inputs for attacks (meaning pressing up while swinging your weapon) can produce different types of attacks. With two-handed weapons, you can perform an upward slice, sending enemies flying into the air, or a leaping downward smash, both of which can be used to great effect. 

Objects of Power

Adding another layer of complexity to the combat of Young Souls are the accessories. These are weapons and items that you can use to complement whatever fighting style you have chosen. They are as follows:

  • Bow:  shoot arrows from a distance
  • Grappling Hook: pull enemies toward you, or pull yourself toward enemies
  • Bombs: Throws an explosive (has friendly fire)
  • Warp Medallion: teleports the player forward a moderate distance
  • Vampire totem: Creates an area of effect that drains enemies of their health and gives it to you
  • Mine: Set a mine that detonates when enemies get near (has friendly fire)

These items are invaluable to any build, especially because they require no resources to use — only a cooldown period. You can even upgrade them using Guardian Tears, an item dropped by almost every boss in the game (also the only item that forces you to read a “You just picked up a new item” description every time you pick up the first one after fighting a boss).

…you don’t say.

Heart and Soul

To complement the game’s solid combat is a very well-done story about love, loss, and discovering one’s self. This is exemplified in the twins who, while crass and surly, are loveable in a roguish way and have a certain believability that is sometimes lacking in video game protagonists.

What I found most interesting about the way the story is told, was how the twins interacted with the game’s antagonists. Their relationship starts off with pretty standard Saturday morning cartoon stuff. Dwarvengobben starts by sending his generals out one at a time to defeat the twins, and saying and doing some pretty cliche things.

Bring me He-Man!! Nyahahahahaha!

However, by the game’s conclusion, everything is awash with the grays of morality.

This tonal shift happens gradually as the twins deal with the repercussions of their actions and the actions of those around them. It was a welcome surprise from a game with such a disarming art style. 

Rough and Tumble

While there was a lot to love about this game, there were some not-so-great things about it as well. These mostly boiled down to technical issues, bugs, and the occasional bad decision on the developer’s part. I’m going to do this in list format to save time.

  • Sometimes one of the twins would phase through the floor, or start off an area in the floor
  • Wearing a hat would sometimes cause your character to turn invisible
  • Level-up screens would show up late.
  • If you picked up an item just as a cutscene was starting, you would get the item, but its model would remain on screen anyway
  • The screen focuses predominantly on Tristan, meaning that if you play as Jenn, you might end up doing a lot of fighting offscreen if you get —even remotely— separated
  • Some clear hits on an enemy would not register
  • The “you just got a guardian tear” description showing up EVERY TIME you pick up the first one a boss drops

Other than the guardian tear thing, these were only minor annoyances, but they were frequent enough to be immersion breaking.

I Stand With the Stone

Overall, Young Souls was an awesome game. It was a bold mashup of genres that ended up working incredibly well together, especially when combined with its amazing artwork. The combat was fun, if a little hectic at times (especially if you play as Jenn during co-op), and had enough weight that you could feel each attack and the impact it would have on any particular battle. Even the story, which starts off with a cartoony monster-of-the-week feel to it, evolves into something more mature and heartfelt and asks some more mature questions of its young protagonists.

I’m giving Young Souls a steadfast 8.5/10. It could have been a standard beat ‘em up, but it was so much more than that, and it deserves to be recognized for the accomplishment that it is. 

Honestly, I probably would have given this game a slightly higher score, but after reading the unskippable “You just picked up a Guardian Tear” message for the thousandth time, I may have lost my cool and started screaming at the screen. 

 I may —in fact— still be screaming, because I KNOW I PICKED IT UP! YOU DON’T HAVE TO TELL ME EVERY SINGLE TIME!

I swear, I’d rather take robo-calls trying to tell me about my car’s extended warranty. 

Video Game Reviews

Spiritfarer Review: Navigating Waves of Tedium

Spiritfarer is a 2D side-scrolling indie management sim developed and published by Thunder Lotus Games.

In it, you play Stella, a ferry master who takes over when Charon retires. She is tasked with helping spirits make their way to the underworld. 

Throughout the game, you pick up spirits, get to know their stories, and manage an ever-expanding ferry. Along the way, you explore numerous islands, collect supplies, and play mini-games. 

This was a game Vuk and I both really wanted to love. The previews made it look like a casual but heartwarming game about death and letting go. We went into it expecting it to combine the sweetness of casual gaming with bittersweet stories that would really make our hearts ache. 

Too much heartache! Too much heartache!

We thought we were getting into something along the lines of Lost Words: Beyond the Page.

Unfortunately, Spiritfarer failed to deliver those heart-tugging moments we were hoping for.

A Charming Facade

Vuk and I were initially attracted to Spiritfarer because of its gorgeous, hand-drawn 2D art style. And during our playthrough, the aesthetic appeal of the game continued to hold our attention. 


I loved the fact that the artist chose to use soft pastel hues against the backdrop of death that came with this game. And when we would sail through storms and darkness would encroach, the contrast was stark, giving those moments a real gravitas. Effects, like lightning bolts striking the deck, were simple but effective, and added to the allure.

The music of Spiritfarer was equally appealing and served to highlight the overall ambiance of the game. 

Characters Lacking… Character

Spiritfarer supposedly boasts 11 different characters that you can find, bring onto your ship, and help out. The goal is to uncover each character’s story, help them come to terms with their life, and eventually help them move on. 

Candidly, Vuk and I never made it that far in the game. We discovered the first four or five characters — each of whom inexplicably knew Stella from when they were alive — but, for us, their personalities felt flat, and uncovering bits of their story never seemed to make them more interesting. 

This was one of the most disappointing aspects of the game. 

The goal, of course, was for you to become friends with each side character, and then for it to be difficult to say goodbye to them at the end of the game. This would have allowed you to feel sorrow alongside your character. 

Unfortunately, the stories just never… mattered… that much. The characters were — at best — mediocre, and at worse, actively annoying (looking at you, Gwen). As a result, I never felt the impetus to finish their stories, and would have been more than content to let a few of them off at the entrance to the Spirit world…

…or directly into the ocean…

…if only so I didn’t have to keep managing their needs. 

Which brings us to… 

Tamagotchi Redux… or Maybe More Like Neopets

The majority of the time we spent playing Spiritfarer, we were tasked with feeding our friends, giving them hugs, and building their houses.

There is no real consequence to not keeping your friends happy, but doing so occasionally leads them to provide you with supplies, like thread. 

Unfortunately, the repetitiveness of these tasks was unrelenting… and a bit stupid. I can’t count the number of times Vuk groused, “Why are we feeding them? They’re supposed to be dead!” 

It reminded me a bit of the days of Tamagotchi, when you would use tiny, mundane tasks to keep your tiny pets happy. But at least Tamagotchis would die if you neglected them for too long. 

There was a certain level of tension there. 

There’s no tension with Spiritfarer. Which, I guess, makes it more like Neopets. 

But, like. Less fun. 

Ho-Hum Mini Games

Before you accuse me of hating on casual games entirely, let’s be clear: I’m an avid Simmer, and I’ve played through my share of relaxing, casual games. I’m currently wending my way through Kynseed (amazing!) and I played the crap out of Stardew Valley when it came out. 

The thing that really makes these types of games stand out is engaging mini-games and tasks that you really want to complete. Unfortunately, this is the area where Spiritfarer was most lacking. Most of its minigames were ho-hum at best

The best games involved catching jellyfish as they shot by or catching lightning as it hit the ship. But both of these games just gave a ton of opportunities to collect what you needed, and made it impossible to collect all of the items, so they didn’t feel like games of skill so much as opportunities to swipe a handful of items out of an overflowing bucket. There was no challenge to them, and there was no sense of accomplishment, because you couldn’t really get better at it. There wasn’t even a high score list or anything to allow you to compete with yourself. 

Most of the other minigames, including fishing and making cloth, involved pressing a button within a small window of opportunity.

With less entertaining results.

There were a lot of things they could have done. They had a rhythm game built in, and could have done something cool with that, but instead they had just one song that you played on repeat. 

So, we flitted from monotonous mini-game to monotonous mini-game, feeling neither an impetus to complete the games nor a sense of accomplishment when they were done. 

Saying Goodbye Was Far Too Easy

In the end, Vuk and I chose not to finish Spiritfarer. Once it stopped being pretty, it was just… boring. Even the couch co-op experience, which often saves games for us, was just… meh. 

I’m giving this game a lackluster 4/10. I know it’s gotten a lot of rave reviews for being a good casual game, and maybe we’re just missing something, but I genuinely didn’t enjoy this title. 

It was pretty. There was nothing wrong with it on a technical level. 

But it wasn’t fun. And, at the end of the day, games are supposed to be fun. 

Video Game Reviews

Death’s Door Review: Beyond the Threshold

Death’s Door is an isometric action-adventure hack-n-slash game developed by Acid Nerve and published by Devolver Digital.

In the game, you play as an anthropomorphized crow who acts as a “Reaper” for Reaping Commission headquarters. 

Just working that nine-to-five

His job is to collect the souls of those unwilling to pass on, and he’s just been given a commission to collect the Giant Soul of someone who has clung onto life for far too long.

The crow’s job is made more difficult when the Giant Soul is stolen and sent beyond Death’s Door.

So, to retrieve his commission, the crow will have to collect three more Giant Souls in an effort to open Death’s Door. Unfortunately, the three Giant Souls in question belong to a terrifying witch, a self-styled king, and a raging beast.

This is a game I’d heard about periodically through 2021, but never really gave much thought until I saw it on several “Best of 2021” lists from some sources that I consider reputable (for whatever that’s worth). 

Well, I bought Death’s Door, and while I don’t quite think It lived up to the hype (but like, very few things ever do,) I do think that it was a very worthwhile game in many ways.

So, if you were on the fence about this particular title, hopefully, I can provide you with whatever piece of evidence you need to justify the purchase or ignore it completely.

Concise Combat

One of the things that Death’s Door has going for it is combat. The animations are smooth, the controls are responsive, and it feels great to play — which is fortunate, as this makes up the brunt of the game’s actual gameplay.

You start off with four simple moves:

  • Attack
  • Charged Attack
  • Ranged Attack
  • Dodge roll

That’s it.

What’s amazing is how well those four moves are used. Sure, at some point you get some new weapons, and a couple of pretty useful spells, but the basic moves were implemented so perfectly that you don’t need anything else to defeat your enemies. 

To help this combat system stand out is the way health is handled. You start off with four pieces of health, and every time you’re hit, you lose one of them. This means you really have to master the four basic moves to stay alive. 

To add to this need for mastery, you can only heal your character by going through a door back to the reaping commission (basically your checkpoints) or by planting life seeds in pots scattered around the world. This makes conserving health paramount in combat-heavy sections since the only way to heal any damage is to either go back to a door or previous flowerpot (which can only be used once per life), or to continue onward and hope that there is a flowerpot in your not-so-distant future.

The only thing that stands between you and oblivion.

My only gripe with combat was the dearth of enemy types. There are only a handful of unique enemy types, and while most get slightly more complex the further you get into the game, they are still the same basic enemies.

Labyrinthian Levels

Some games are so on the rails that you move forward and never look back. Others offer sprawling open worlds to explore at your leisure. Others still, allow you to go through certain tougher segments of the game, only to offer you a shortcut on the other side, so that you never have to experience the hell of going back through the same area again. 

Death’s Door uses this last style of level design, but not in a fun way… or even in an “Oh, thank god, a shortcut” way like the majority of the From Software games. No, Death’s Door opted for levels that look like they were designed using an old Snake game. The levels twist and turn, constantly running alongside, over, under, or indeed sometimes through themselves in confusing and frustrating ways.

Now, I’ve played games for a long time, so making an internal map of a game, even if none is offered, is second nature to me. However, Death’s Door had me questioning my every move.

This is partially because of the almost inane number of shortcuts you can open. Seriously, it felt like every other moment I was pulling a lever to open a closed gate, or blowing up a wall to a previous section. 

While this did allow me to get around segments I’d already played through — which let me hold onto precious health — the majority of the time I found myself sort of muddling through and hoping that I was heading in the right direction.

This looks right… probably.

Also, this whole style of level design started to feel tedious at the halfway mark and then became mind-numbing near the end.

Noteworthy Narrative  

The story in Death’s Door is an interesting one. It involves death and its place in the natural order of things, as well as the will to live. 

So, not the cheeriest of topics

However, Acid Nerve managed to handle it with enough humor to offset its heavy nature, but not so much as to be distracting or undercut the main theme.

In fact, without the humor, you would basically have an isometric From Software game. So, it was good that they kept the humor front and center throughout the game. 

Now, this being a combat-centric game, the story did end up being relatively simple, even with such heavy and complex themes. However, the developers did a fair job of balancing the story and combat all the same. They used impromptu encounters with bosses preceding the actual fights to give you small pieces of story. They even had a couple of locations and NPCs that provided exposition on the back end of the game to even things out. 

Would I have liked to see more of the story? Sure. But what I got was enough for a short hack-n-slash-style game.

Artful Aesthetics

The art style of Death’s Door is what…

like, tied the whole thing together, man.

Basically, the art style worked synergistically with the story, humor, and gameplay, to create an experience that felt whole in a way that most games aim for, but few achieve. 

It’s not often that it happens, but this time the art was one of the main reasons I decided to purchase this title. It was clean, stylized, adorable, and worked very well with the isometric camera style. There was even some use of colors and negative space that I really appreciated, especially during a couple of the ending boss fights.

One aspect of the overall look that I hadn’t anticipated was the way the developers would use perspective and focus to give the game an incredibly unique feel.

For example, when you’re up on top of something higher up, things under you begin to lose focus pretty quickly, making a good portion of the game feel like you’re looking in on a miniature world… which is, I guess, what all video games kind of are.

Opportune Outro

Overall, Death’s Door is a solidly good game. The combat is simple, smooth, and feels good even when fighting through the same segment for the twentieth time. The story, while a little stunted, was interesting, funny, and handled the heavy subject matter with a deft hand. And, the art tied everything up in a neat little bow. 

Unfortunately, there was something about this game that I cannot put into words. Everything was pretty on point, so I have no excuse as to why I’m giving it a 7.5/10…

Oh wait, now I remember. After you beat the game, you can get an item that opens up the ability to acquire more items, which are required to unlock the game’s true ending.

Usually, I’m all for secrets and extra content. The issue is that one of the items requires you to acquire and plant every life seed in the game, and if I hadn’t made it clear, I had a hard time finding my way around 

…I also saved about 15 of the seeds thinking I might need them later, and I had no idea which pots I’d planted in and which ones I had not. Meaning I had to go through the entirety of the game’s map a second time looking for any stupid pots I hadn’t planted in.

So, if you care about finding all of a game’s secrets, you might enjoy this game more if you go through the first time and PLANT EVERY SEED YOU FIND!! 

I guess if you don’t care about getting the true ending, then it’s probably more of an 8.5 to 9/10.

Video Game Reviews

Growing Up: Your Choices Matter (Until You Turn 18) 

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” 

It’s a question that many children are asked ad nauseam throughout their childhood, as if a four-year-old’s passing interest in rocks should lock her into a life-long career as a geologist. But the game Growing Up takes this concept to the next level, with every choice you make from infancy onward compiled to determine your future career. 

Growing Up is an indie role-playing sim developed by Vile Monarch and published by Vile Monarch and Littoral Games. It was recommended to me by a close friend, and I downloaded it on Steam and played through my first pass at the game on the same day. I’ve since played through it five or six more times, and will probably give it another go the next time I get bored. 

The premise of the game is simple. You start off as a baby, and make choices throughout your childhood until you turn eighteen. The choices you make and the people you meet impact your future career and the futures of the people you meet.

Time is of the Essence

The whole point of Growing Up is that you start as a baby and literally grow up throughout the game until you turn eighteen. 

Each round of the game, you have four things to do: 

  1. You choose which new skills you want to learn
  2. You connect your brain neurons together to improve your character stats
  3. You take actions, from practicing skills to interacting with people, that impact your happiness, your parents’ happiness, your wealth, and your stats
  4. You finish the round by practicing learned skills or activities

Once you finish a round, time passes, and you start the next round. It’s not quite one round per year of your life — it’s more like 3-5 rounds per year of your life — but time moving forward is a continual aspect of the game that you have to pay attention to. 

It’s not quite Sifu-levels of aging, but it still matters.

Within your character’s 18 years of life, you also have certain milestones at which you test your development. The game gives you “exams.” There’s one at the end of preschool, one at the end of elementary school, one at the end of middle school, and one at the end of high school. 

I’ll get into the exams themselves later, but essentially, the first three exams give you an idea of how you’re doing, and the final exam ends the game and helps determine your character’s life path from then on. 

What I loved about this system is that you have a finite amount of time to develop your character into the person you want them to be. In an otherwise laid-back game, it gave you clear markers of success and goal posts along the way. 

Speaking of having a finite amount of time, let’s talk about…

Managing Your Spoons

The spoon theory was developed to help people with mental health problems or disabilities discuss low energy levels and productivity with friends and family. The idea is that each task takes up a certain amount of energy – or spoons – and people with mental health or disabilities may have fewer spoons than their contemporaries or may use more spoons per task. 

Playing Growing Up was like watching the Spoon Theory in action. Each round of the game, you had a certain number of energy points, and you had to decide what actions to spend those points on. Would you learn a new skill, boosting your intelligence and your parents’ view of you? Or would you play a game and boost your morale? 

Managing your spoons was important because you had different stats to keep track of throughout the game. Specifically, you had to pay attention to:

  • Your happiness: This is the first stat you manage starting in preschool. You gain happiness when you do “fun” things, such as watching TV or playing hopscotch, and lose happiness when you work or study. 
  • Your parents’ happiness: Your parents are happiest when you’re studying hard, and become less happy when you are having fun. (Is it problematic that your parents only like you if you’re stereotypically successful? Probably. But that’s a discussion for another day). 
  • Your money: Money is introduced once you hit middle school. You can use money to buy food that boosts your happiness, items that boost your parents’ opinions of you, or items that boost your brain power in different ways. You can also buy aesthetic updates for your character (like haircuts or new clothes). 

If your happiness or your parents’ happiness drops all the way to zero, you get a strike. If you get three strikes, you lose the game and have to start over from scratch. 

I’m not exactly sure what happens to your character when you lose, but I imagine it’s something like this:

This was the aspect of the game that gave it a little bit of a challenge, especially because the things that made you happiest made your parents least happy — and vice versa. 

There were things you could do to help your energy levels go further. For example, there were items you could purchase with in-game currency to add a boost to either your happiness or your parents’ happiness.

You could also choose to take a round to go on vacation, which would give you certain skill points and increase your happiness without decreasing your parents’ happiness. And every couple of rounds, your parents would come up with a unique challenge for you — like raising your empathy — that would improve their happiness without impacting your happiness. 

Though I never got all the way to three strikes in my playthroughs, I have gotten one or two strikes before, and managing my character’s happiness against my parents’ happiness definitely fueled some of the decisions I made each round. 

Connecting Those Neurons

One of the coolest aspects of Growing Up was how you developed your character. 

Instead of a traditional skill tree, like you’d expect in most RPGs, this game puts you into a randomly-generated brain map each round. Within that brain map, you decide which neurons to connect, which puts points into one of five stats:

  • Intelligence
  • Empathy
  • Physique
  • Memory
  • Imagination

Different stats were used for different skills. For example, if you want to learn history, you need to develop your memory stats. But if you want to play football, you need to boost your physique. 

Each round, you had a certain number of “brain points” you could use to build a path through your brain and connect those neurons. You could also find neurons that would give you more brain points for the round, or special neurons that would reveal more of the brain map (so you could chart a more strategic path). 

This part of the game was simple and repetitive, but also quickly became one of my favorite parts.

I will say that when I first started playing the game, I focused on trying to keep everything even. In later playthroughs, I found I had more fun if I tried to envision an actual personality for my character and focus on specific strengths. 

I will also say that it’s a good idea to connect the little graduation caps when you can. I ignored them at first, but they give you more brain points, and those carry forward to subsequent rounds. So they’re almost more important than any individual stat. 

Either way, the points you collect when building your brain pathway impact your character for life. They steadily gain more points into different personality traits. This lowers the amount it costs to learn new skills, and also opens new skills up for you to learn. 

Test Prep

Each round (starting in elementary school), you’ll see a marker on your screen that says “Exam Readiness” and gives a percentage. 

You can bolster your exam readiness by learning academic skills and by mastering those skills. The more ready you are for your exam, the more moves you have to complete the exam. 

The exams themselves act as a sort of color-matching minigame. Match the right colors, and you can answer one of the test questions. Answer enough questions, and you boost your grade on the test. You start with an F, and the more questions you answer, the closer you get to a high grade. 

Grades of B or higher improve your parents’ happiness, while also giving you slight benefits to your overall character stats. On the other hand, if you get below a C…

Well… it’s less good.

In the final round of the game, your exam score “greatly impacts” the ending you receive. 

The Friends You Meet

Although the concept behind Growing Up was fun, and the minigames engaging in a relaxing way, the place where this game really shone was with its characters. 

Starting in elementary school, you have the ability to meet different characters. Some characters, like the short-order cook at the local cafe, are always available to you. But the friends you meet at school are randomly generated each round. 

There are nine of these characters in all. Each one has the potential to be romanced (though they have built-in sexual orientations, so your gender will matter), and you can either build your relationship with them up and help them achieve their personal “good ending,” or you can neglect your relationship with them and push them toward their “bad ending.” 


Although none of their stories were amazing, they were each unique enough that I wanted to see them through to their ends. 

And because the characters you meet are randomized each round, it’s impossible to get all their endings in one go. In fact, I’ve played this game a number of times, and there’s still one character (Kato) whom I’ve never met. 

Additionally, the choices you make when interacting with these characters aren’t always straightforward. Sometimes, you make the wrong judgment and say the wrong thing, and just like in real-life, it can have long-term consequences.

In fact, some of the characters require you to make questionable (read: immoral) decisions in order to achieve their good ending, meaning you have to decide whether you want to focus on improving those friendships or focus on making your character a “good person.” 

These choices and differences make Growing Up fun even on a replay. If additional DLCs provided more characters, I’d download them in a heartbeat and replay the game as many times as it took to see all the endings.

And Round and Round It Goes

When you complete Growing Up, you get to learn what happened to your character. Specifically, you learn about their future career — which is determined based on their final exam score and the traits and activities you focused on throughout the game — and you learn what happened to each of the NPCs you encountered.

Afterward, your character marries (either someone you met in the game or someone new), and you have a baby of your own… which becomes the protagonist of the next playthrough.

I liked this circular system of gameplay. Unfortunately, it fell a little flat because once your character became an adult, they lost any/all personality they had developed, and spoke and acted just like every other set of parents in the game. 

The parents have limited dialogue options, and even NPCs who had vibrant personalities as kids have the same hum-drum adult personalities as any set of parents. 

I would have loved it if unlocking different NPCs as spouses unlocked different parent dialogue options, or if unlocking different careers passed down different benefits to your kids. That would have made it feel impactful. As it was, the cyclical nature of the game just felt gimmicky. 

They took their inspiration from Lamb Chops

All Grown Up

I’ve finished Growing Up a number of times, and each time I felt a sense of satisfaction with the ending. It’s a pretty short game to play, but the replayability makes it worth every penny. A completely original soundtrack and a selection of interesting characters bring an otherwise solid casual gameplay experience to a whole new level. 

I’m giving Growing Up an impressive 8/10. It’s not the best game in the world on a technical level, and if you don’t like casual indie games, it’s not the title for you. But while I would have loved to have seen more attention paid to the adults of the game, at the end of the day, Growing Up did what it set out to do, was fun to play — and replay — and had interesting gameplay mechanics that I haven’t seen elsewhere. 

I won’t pretend that everyone will like the game as much as I did. You very much have to enjoy casual simming games to like this title. But if you’re looking for a relaxing experience with a little bit of story and a little bit of heart, I highly recommend this indie title. 

Now, I just need to go back and play one more time so I can figure out who the hell Kato is… 

Late to the Game Reviews, Video Game Reviews

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

This article uses affiliate marketing. This means that if you click a link in this article and make a purchase, we may—at no additional cost to you—receive a portion of the profits. Thank you for supporting us as we chew through media so you don’t have to.

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
Video Game Reviews

Vambrace: Cold Soul Review – Good Different

This article uses affiliate marketing. This means that if you click a link in this article and make a purchase, we may—at no additional cost to you—receive a portion of the profits. Thank you for supporting us as we chew through media so you don’t have to.

Vambrace: Cold Soul is a rogue-lite dungeon crawler with light RPG elements developed by Devespresso Games (recently changed to Dvora Studio) and Headup Games, and published by Headup Games, Chorus Worldwide, and Whispergames.

The game follows Evelia Lyric — known to everyone as Lyric — in the wake of her father’s death. Among the things he bequeathed to her were a magical vambrace and a magically encrypted journal. Her study of the journal leads to the city of Icenaire which has been cut off from the rest of the world by a magical —and lethal— wall of ice. And, the only way through this wall is with the Vambrace.

Upon entering the frozen city, Lyric passes out and is found by a scouting party from Dalearch, an underground colony that has been hiding from the King of Shades, the tyrant responsible for cutting the city off from the rest of the world. 

She is quickly pulled into the shifting power dynamic of this subterranean colony and —upon learning of the vambrace’s power— tasked with making expeditions to the surface in order to aid Dalearch in its fight against the ever-encroaching forces of the King of Shades.

Upon first inspection, one would assume that this game is basically a Darkest Dungeon clone. It has a similar aesthetic, it has the rogue elements, and its combat is tough and fairly unforgiving.

You would, however, be wrong about what this game actually is. While clearly an homage to Darkest Dungeon, it manages to set itself apart in a number of interesting ways. The first of which is…

A Narrative Experience

The story in Darkest Dungeon was told mostly incidentally through journals, descriptions, and, occasionally, through the —super badass— narrator. 

Vambrace completely eschewed this style of storytelling with the introduction of Lyric — an actual protagonist. This made every expedition through the streets of Icenaire an integral part of the story.

You aren’t just wandering to get experience so you can send a party into the darkest of dungeons. You are going into each area with a specific goal in mind, and it’s always story-related. 

Now, I don’t want to get into too much detail, because spoilers, but there is a place, about halfway through the game, where the story becomes more important than the gameplay.

This narrative focus makes Vambrace a refreshing departure from the source of its inspiration. What’s more, this sudden shift carries through to the rest of the game, and the whole experience is better for it.

Now, Vambrace’s story isn’t the greatest I’ve ever seen, but it was good enough to hold the game together until the ending — of which there are three.

I won’t give anything away, but I got the neutral ending (or unaligned) and it was arguably one of the better endings to a game I’d seen in a while.

The worst thing that Lyric did to the overall structure of the game was be an RPG protagonist. This is because, if she dies, or faints, the mission is over, and you have to start it all over again from the beginning. 

Though, her presence does elevate the game over its initial premise of “Darkest Dungeon, but with Ice.”

Zero Experience Required

One of the boldest, most interesting choices that Devespresso made was to remove experience and leveling from the game.

Just let that sink in for a moment. No experience is awarded for defeating enemies, and you never level any of your characters. 

Instead of making your characters incrementally stronger with a leveling system, Devespresso went with something a little more… restrictive, but somehow elegant in its simplicity.

Every character in your crew has exactly one slot for an equipable item. This item is the essence of that character’s efficacy in the field.

Basically, each type of character class starts off with the same stats as any other version of that character class. So, a berserker is a berserker is a berserker. It’s only when they’ve equipped an item that their stats change.

For example, if you equip a gauntlet on a berserker, it will increase their combat effectiveness, while lowering one of their other stats, thus making them better than a newly minted hero.

This means that increasing the strength of your party boils down to having, and making, better equipable items.

This is especially true with class-specific items. These items increase a class’s inherently higher attribute while giving them more health and augmenting their “Flourish” or special move to be stronger or more cost-effective (or both).

There were two large impacts that this item-based system had on the overall gameplay. The first was that losing a character in Vambrace was almost worse than losing a high-level character in a different game, because when they died, the item is lost with them, and most of the items you get are either random or incredibly hard to make.

The second impact was that it was sometimes very easy to switch characters. Sometimes, you might find yourself with an empty party slot, and you can fill it with almost anyone because you happen to have a couple of good equipable items.

While this did eliminate grinding for experience, it was just switched with grinding for items…

…but somehow that seemed like a better alternative.

Quality of Life

As much as I liked the story and setting of this game, there was an abysmal lack of attention paid to smaller aspects of the game; aspects that would have been easy to fix, and make things flow better overall.

The most egregious of these oversights happened during combat. You see, when an enemy hits you, you do not see the damage numbers over your character… they only appear at the top of your screen on the character portrait and health bar.

This means that if you’re watching your person, you’re missing how much damage was done. And if you’re watching the portrait, you miss the attack animation (not that the attack animations in this were appealing in any way).

This led to a lot of me going…

There were other annoying things including, but not limited to:

  • No way to scroll through menu lists without pressing the control stick down each individual line item.
  • The directional pad opens the corresponding menu, even if you’re in the middle of something else (such as buying and selling or trying to manage your inventory)
  • Once you’ve hired a party member, there was no way to tell which class they were
  • Item weight is a thing, and only some items have the weight listed, while others you just have to do the math on.
  • The map orientation, while out in the field, is terrible. It’s hard to tell whether you’re coming or going.
  • Putting Lyric in the front of the combat formation after every cutscene
  • Cosmetics as quest rewards

There were others, but these were the worst.

Cold Soul, Warm Heart

Overall, Vambrace: Cold Soul was an enjoyable experience. The gameplay was a little lackluster but holds up well despite not being as intricate as some of its contemporaries. The story and setting were interesting enough to keep me engaged, and there were some narrative moments that had enough impact to leave me with some lasting impressions (especially with the ending that I got.)

I’m giving Vambrace: Cold Soul a chilling 7/10. Despite its many quality of life issues, and insistence on giving me useless cosmetics as quest rewards, it was a fairly solid game that I hope gets a sequel, because I’m interested to see where the story is going. 

I’m serious about those cosmetics, though. They made over four pages of different outfits for the main character, but didn’t bother to put in anything useful like floating combat numbers, or making it so I don’t have to flick the control stick down thirty times to find the item I’m looking for. It’s disgraceful…

But the sailor moon outfit was pretty great. 

 In the name of Dalearch, I’ll punish you!
Video Game Reviews

Horizon: Forbidden West Review – Staying the Path

This article uses affiliate marketing. This means that if you click a link in this article and make a purchase, we may—at no additional cost to you—receive a portion of the profits. Thank you for supporting us as we chew through media so you don’t have to.

Horizon: Forbidden West is an action RPG developed by Guerrilla Games and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. It is a direct sequel to the 2017 game Horizon: Zero Dawn.

If you haven’t played the first game, I suggest you do so before reading this review because it’s an amazing game, but also…

Just a little one

Forbidden West takes place six months after the end of the previous game. It begins with Aloy searching for a way to reverse the degradation of the Earth’s ecosystems in the wake of Gaia’s demise. Her best bet is to find a working copy of Gaia and hope that she is enough to get the subordinate functions of Zero Dawn back to work.

Unfortunately, Aloy has exhausted all of her options within the lands to the east. But, when she receives a message from the infuriatingly pragmatic Sylens, it indicates that a copy of Gaia may yet exist in the Forbidden West. So, Aloy drops everything and sets out on a journey involving rival clans, giant robot dinosaurs, rampant AI’s, and more map icons than you can shake a stick at.

Now, I love Zero Dawn. It’s one of my favorite games. So, I was pretty psyched for Forbidden West. Fortunately — or unfortunately, depending on where you stand — this sequel does not stray too far from the path that Zero Dawn blazed five years ago. 

While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it did keep this sequel from surpassing its predecessor. There were, however, some new mechanics and gameplay elements that shook things up. 

The Better Part of Valor

One of the better additions to Forbidden West was the introduction of Valor Surges. These are abilities that charge as you fight enemies and convey serious benefits to help you through more challenging segments of the game.

They’re also really cinematic

For example, the Valor Surge I used most was Toughened. When activated, Aloy regenerates health every two seconds and takes less damage.  If you upgrade “Toughened” it increases the amount of health regenerated, increases the amount of damage negated, and also adds other types of damage and status effects to the list of things that it protects against. 

What’s great about Valor Surges is that there is at least one for every play style. One makes you practically invisible, one increases your damage with bows (while healing you for a portion of the damage you deal), and one creates an electrical nova, dealing damage to every nearby enemy.

The only real issue I had with the Valor Surges was that the controls to activate them were a little finicky, and about half the time I ended up swinging my spear wildly instead of activating the ability… which sometimes resulted in death.

Traversal Tools

Traversal in Zero Dawn was pretty straightforward. You could run, jump, climb, use ziplines, and override specific machines (mostly Chargers)  to ride around on. Pretty standard, all things considered. 

Forbidden West ups the ante by giving you some new ways to get around, such as:. 

  • The Pullcaster: A mechanized grappling hook that you can use to pull yourself to certain handholds. It can also be used to pull crates and other environmental objects toward you. 
  • The Sheildwing: A mostly-broken hard-light shield that Aloy uses as a makeshift glider. 
  • The Diving Mask: A rebreather, of sorts, that allows Aloy to swim underwater without having to worry about pesky things like oxygen.

What’s nice about these new tools is that they are incorporated into the design of the game’s puzzles, adding some much-needed variety. You can even use the Pullcaster to grapple into or out of fights quickly, and the Shieldwing can be used to literally get the drop on enemies.

Death from above

Along with these new traversal tools are a small assortment of new machines that you can ride. While only one of these machines changes things up in a meaningful way, the fact that you can ride on a robotic velociraptor is still pretty sweet.

A Glut of Content

One of the worst parts of Forbidden West is the sheer amount of crap that this game is filled with. Apparently, Guerrilla Games thought that the hundred junk items in the first game might be too few, so they decided to add about a thousand more.

There is so much junk in this game that it staggers the mind. Every box you open is half-filled with junk, and half-filled with upgrade materials that you will probably never use, but you keep anyway…

They could be useful at some point… probably… maybe…I don’t have a problem, YOU DO!!!

Even the NPC’s hand out junk as quest rewards.

The whole game is just a never-ending tide of garbage items that you get tired of sorting through about two hours into this 80-hour game.

Then there’s the weapons. 

I know that Zero Dawn had its fair share of weapons, but Forbidden West decided that if more is better, then even more must be the best. There are so many different weapon types that it’ll make your head spin. Then, you realize that each weapon type has at least seven different variants, and each shoots different types of ammo. Which means that you’ll have to carry around eight different versions of the same weapon if you want to be able to use all the ammo types.

I will say that some of the new weapons are pretty cool, but at the end of the day I ended up killing 99% of all enemies with the hunter’s bow.

The Power of Friendship

One of the better decisions in this game was to focus more on the secondary characters. 

In Zero Dawn, Aloy tries to keep most of her companions at arm’s length.

Well… she tries to do that in Forbidden West as well, but a little way into the game she comes to the realization that, sometimes, things are easier when you work together. 

So, she sets up a base of operations and tries to get all of “Team Aloy” up to speed on the whole “The world’s ending” situation and have them help in any way they can. This was nice on a character-building level, and on a “not having to travel across the entire map several times just to talk to everyone” level.

Unfortunately, it never felt as cool as I would have liked. It basically boiled down to going back to the base and making sure that you’d gone through every dialog option with every character. 

While these conversations were interesting and helped build attachments with the various people in Aloy’s life, the whole system felt like an underdeveloped version of the Normandy from the Mass Effect series.

And without a Garrus constantly doing calibrations… What’s the point?

If they decide to have something like this in the third game, I hope that it feels more impactful. I’d really like your actions as a player to have more of an effect on the group dynamics or the construction of your base.

Feel the Target

One of the best improvements that this sequel has to offer is tiny in the grand scheme of things, but improves the combat by an entire order of magnitude: The addition of key upgrade resources.

These items are mandatory for upgrading your equipment, and can only be found on specific enemy types.

I know that doesn’t sound that interesting on its face, but hear me out. 

These key upgrade resources add a level of challenge and purpose to each fight. You see, some key items can only be gotten if you break them off of an enemy before you kill it. So, if you screw up and kill the machine before you can remove the part, it’s gone forever.

Other items can only be collected if you manage to kill the machine without breaking the item off, which can be rough if the part you need is also allowing the robot dinosaur to shoot lasers at your face. 

This added layer of complexity, while seemingly small, makes each fight unique, and can completely change your approach to combat… if you need parts for your weapons and armor… which you will.

Over the Horizon

Overall, Horizon: Forbidden West was a pretty great game. The combat is every bit as good as the first game — and better in some respects. The characters are more fleshed out, and the world is even more beautiful than it was before.

While Guerrilla Games played it safe in almost every respect, the game is not diminished in any meaningful way, and Aloy, despite her overly-developed hero complex, is still one of my favorite video game protagonists.

The gripes that I have with this game are small, but multitudinous. They include:

  • Boring bandit camps
  • Too many map icons,
  • Aloy’s inability to stop talking to herself
  • A host of bugs and technical issues

However, none of that could really detract from the enjoyment I received when fighting a giant robot dinosaur with a bow and arrow, and at the end of the day, I think that’s what we’re all looking for from this game…

No? Just me? 

…Anyway, I’m giving Horizon: Forbidden West a robo-tastic 8/10. It wasn’t different enough to set itself apart from the original in any meaningful way, but was still a blast to play, and had some genuinely funny, interesting, and heartfelt moments. 

The only real mistake that was made with this game was releasing it so close to Elden Ring. Seriously, I think Forbidden West would have received a higher score, if I didn’t stop halfway through to play through Elden Ring… twice.

Video Game Reviews

Sifu Review: Finding Balance

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.

Sifu is an action beat-’em-up with light RPG elements developed and published by Sloclap (creators of 2017’s Absolver).

Sifu takes place in modern-day China, where you play as an unnamed martial artist out for revenge against the people who killed your family.

Fortunately, you have a magical medallion that will bring you back to life if you happen to die on your journey. Unfortunately, every time it brings you back, it takes its toll in years of your life.

But at least it gives you a sweet beard

This was a game that I was on board with from the start. The combat looked tight, the idea of death having real consequences for your character was intriguing, and I loved its overall aesthetic.

Well, it turns out that Sifu had a lot more going on than I initially thought, and I’d like to share with you the things that make this game both unique and worthwhile.

That Which Unites Us All

In most games, “death” is merely a bump in the road meant to slow you down and make the game more challenging. There are some games that play with having your death mean something, or impact the way the game plays, but usually these elements are curtailed in a way that will let you continue playing, or a way to reverse the effects while still moving forward. 

In Sifu, death has a myriad of consequences and interactions and will change how you approach the game.

Death Counts

The first time you die, and are subsequently resurrected, the game informs you that… 

This would be bad enough, but each death also increases your death counter. The more you die, the higher the counter goes, and with every increase, it takes away more and more years. So, if you die seven times in a row, you will lose six years of your life upon resurrection.

If you happen to age past seventy, your next death is your last.

There are ways to mitigate this. If you defeat enough enemies—or certain harder enemies—your death counter will go down, thus softening the blow of any future deaths. There are also points throughout each level where you can use experience to buy a death count reduction. 

Thus, a large portion of Sifu comes down to managing how often you die and figuring out ways to keep your age as low as possible.

So, now that you’re worried about managing your age-to-death ratio, let’s get into the other ways that age affects your character. 

Just a Number

The most immediate effect of age can be felt when your character turns thirty.

When you pass this threshold, you receive a notification that when you resurrect, you will have less health, but deal more damage. This continues every decade until you get to seventy and you have about half your life but do so much more damage.

Age also impacts which abilities and skills you can learn. Most skills can be learned at any age. However, there are some abilities and upgrades that are restricted by age. Meaning that if you die more than a couple of times, you could miss out on being able to get some very helpful skills and abilities because… 

This is actually where the game becomes both very interesting and much more complex than its simple premise would lead you to believe.

Wibbly Wobbly Time

If you get through the game’s first level and are unsatisfied with your age (I was 57 the first time I made it through), then you can simply repeat the level to try and complete it with a lower overall age, so you’re going into the second level without having to replace your hip first. 

What makes this so interesting, is that you can do it with every level. As an example: if you complete the first level at, say, 25, but you complete the second level at 50, well, you can replay the second level starting at the 25-year mark. Or you could go back and try and get your original age down.

This extends to all of the game’s five levels. So if you feel like you’re too old heading into a particular level, you can always go back and try and shave a few years off.

This structure of going back and forth between levels to get your age down is not only helpful, but necessary if you want to find everything in the game. There are certain items — mostly keys and the like — that you can find in later levels, that open doors in previous levels.

I feel like, maybe, the developers were just trying to give you an excuse to go back that isn’t just…

Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting

Despite how integral age/death are to the overall gameplay, the combat is what we all came for. You don’t play a brawler unless you’re looking for a fight — or three hundred — and in this respect, Sifu does not disappoint. 

This is definitely a game where combat is easy to learn and hard to master. Your basic starting move-set is:

  • Heavy Attack 
  • Light attack
  • Dodge
  • Guard
  • Deflect
  • Takedown

There are a couple of others, like a palm strike and a throw, but those are the foundation upon which everything else is built.

You can also buy a ton of moves, some of which are offensive, and others that allow you to react to or counter your opponent’s moves.

Once you actually dive into combat, it is somewhat reminiscent of Sekiro—if Sekiro was a brawler.

When you attack, you can damage an enemy’s health, but what you really want is to break their stance so you can land a Takedown. You can absolutely defeat an enemy by depleting their health, but if you use a takedown, you will regain some health—which is essential, since it’s the only way to heal in the middle of a fight.

That’s not to say that takedowns aren’t without their drawbacks. Some enemies will rebuff your takedown by regaining all of their health and becoming twice as powerful.

Basically, every enemy thinks their Obi-wan Kenobi… and some of them kinda are

One of my favorite parts of Sifu’s combat is its use of the Inverse Ninja Law. In essence, the more enemies you face, the weaker they are. Therefore, if you are only fighting one enemy, they are as tough as an entire group of enemies.

So, sometimes you’re taking down a room full of chumps that you can beat in a couple of hits, but then you walk into a room with one guy waiting for you and you can almost feel how tough the fight is going to be.

Fists of Fury

Overall, Sifu is a remarkable game. Despite its short levels and simple story, it manages to be more than the sum of its parts. It could have been a simple beat ‘em up-style game, and that would have been fine. However, the developers managed to create a brawler with an alarming amount of substance, combat that feels amazing, and level design that pendulums between regular action set pieces and reality-bending mazes. 

I’m giving Sifu a masterful 9/10. Honestly, I don’t really have anything bad to say about this game. I had a couple of issues with the camera, and going back through the levels was sometimes tedious, but that’s about it. It was a wonderful, contained, experience that did exactly what it set out to do while simultaneously elevating its genre in a meaningful way.

I usually end with a joke, but this time it’s more of an anecdote and a request.

In Sifu’s first level, there is a table where the enemies were clearly playing mahjong… I have never not flipped that table over — because screw those guys — so, if you happen to buy and play this game, could you just… flip that table over every time you see it.

It would really mean a lot to me.  

Video Game Reviews

Anno: Mutationem Review – A Beautiful Mess

Anno: Mutationem is a 2.5D/3D action platformer with light RPG elements. It was developed by Thinking Stars and published by Lightning Games

The game takes place in the cyberpunk future of an alternate universe where cars fly, a good portion of the population has been turned into machines by a mysterious virus, and man-corn hybrids are trying to sell you their corn juice.

Not unsettling in the least

You play as Ann, a young woman who seems to work for some kind of jack-of-all-trades agency. She is afflicted with the terribly named condition, “Entanglitis,” which causes her to have dissociative episodes where she violently lashes out at anyone nearby.

The bulk of the story follows Ann as she searches for her missing brother, who disappeared while looking for a cure for Ann’s condition. The rest of the story is kind of a bonkers mess that involves shadowy organizations, Evangelion-style locations, and a reality-altering adolescent.

Also, there are dragons.

Now, I went into this game blind, knowing only that it was a cyberpunk platformer with graphics pulled straight from the PS1 era. It turns out, however, that the game was a lot more than that, and I’d like to share with you this bizarre, yet entertaining, little gem.

Dimensional Stability

Anno: Mutationem has two distinct playstyles, and each uses a different dimension.

The first playstyle is in the 3rd dimension. This is where you explore, gather information, interact with most NPC’s, and further the story. In this mode, you cannot jump or attack, and your movement speed is limited to a jog (though you can hit L1 if you would like to casually stroll everywhere). 

A button that all games absolutely MUST have going forward

The second playstyle is the 2D platforming and combat. In these segments, you can run full speed, but your movement is limited to left and right. You are, however, able to jump and use your weapons—which is good, because this is where all the enemies are. 

What really made Anno: Mutationem’s gameplay interesting, was how it would rapidly transition between these two styles.

As an example, you might be exploring a subterranean lab. You wander around in 3D mode, finding Items, and talking to some NPC’s who’ve been trapped there for a while. Then, you’re walking down a hallway, and BAM! the HUD elements pop up and you’re locked into the 2D combat/platforming mode. You mow down some bad guys with your hard-light greatsword, and then, suddenly, your person stops running and you can explore the next section. 

This ability to switch between the two is what made the game’s areas interesting to explore. There were times when you could see more of the level behind a 2D segment, but you’d get to it using a 3D hallway.

Sure, sometimes it was clunky or seemed unnecessary, but the juxtaposition of the two is what kept it fresh throughout.

Just a Bunch of Junk

Anno: Mutationem has a metric ton of items to find… most of which are quite literally junk. The bulk of the items you pick up in-game are just trash items that you can sell for money or break down for crafting materials.

Honestly, this game was too short to include a crafting mechanic, and finding junk items all the time — as hilarious as some of them are — was never fulfilling in any way, shape, or form.

Pretty early on, the game establishes that you can buy weapons or you can craft them. Unfortunately, you can’t really craft anything of value, save for some consumable items, until you get near the end of the game and have acquired enough junk.

Almost…. almost… just a little more and I can make that sword

I appreciate what the developers were trying to do, but the whole crafting system felt pointless, and left me feeling disheartened every time I visited a workbench and couldn’t make any of the weapons I wanted to try. 

Bills to Pay the Skills

Another element of the game that suffers from its short length is the skill tree.

Don’t get me wrong, I love making my character stronger and unlocking new moves, but most of the upgrades to health, damage, armor, and item carrying capacity were restricted to certain points of the game anyway and might as well have been rewards for beating certain bosses or for completing certain tasks.

You see, there are two types of unlockables in the skill tree. Actual skills, which require a blue currency that drops off of regular enemies, and upgrades which require red currency that the bosses drop.

Take that King Pinata! Now give me that sweet upgrade currency

Skills are mostly related to your weapons and give you different attacks, or improve upon attacks that you already have, while the upgrades merely increase your overall stats.

The problem with these two things is that the game is only about twelve hours long, so I felt like I was buying a new skill every few minutes, and even then only a few felt truly worthwhile.

I will say that, as a concept, I did enjoy the two-currency system, and think it could have worked well in a larger, less contained experience.

Disproportionate Proportions

When I finished this game, I came away with a sense that I didn’t get enough combat, and at the same time, I didn’t get to explore as much as I would have liked.

The truth is that both elements were equally important to the overall experience, and breaking them down into two separate things is probably the wrong way to view the game.

Unfortunately, this is exactly how I perceived my gameplay experience. This made getting new weapons and abilities a bit of a letdown sometimes because I would really want to try out my new sword, but I’d have to go through a bunch of 3D segments to get there, and then the combat would literally be one hallway filled with worms… which squish fine under a greatsword, but aren’t all that thrilling to fight.

I feel your pain, Saitama

So, if you’re going to play this game, I recommend viewing the experience as a whole, and maybe don’t get too bogged down if you haven’t fought an enemy in a while. 

Cons and Pros

I just needed a segment for all of the little things that didn’t fall into any particular category, or things that I just wanted to draw attention to. 

And now that I have it…


  • Bad translations, typos, and confusing dialog
  • Too much telling, and not enough showing
  • Most of the combat is simple (yet still fun)
  • Some real bad voice acting
  • Story beats that feel a bit out of place
  • It was kinda buggy


  • A solid, if convoluted and hard to follow, story
  • An amazing array of dynamic and interesting sprites
  • Some really good voice acting
  • A great setting, and good use of various levels of graphics to convey the overall tone
  • An assortment of interesting things to do and see
    • Bartending minigame
    • Fighting tournament
    • The ROM videos

Download Interrupted

Overall, Anno: Mutationem is an alright game. It has a serviceable combat system that is enjoyable throughout, even if it’s a little buggy sometimes. The way they combined 2D and 3D elements was interesting, and somewhat impressive, but fell a little flat due to the game’s short duration. And the story was good enough to keep me entertained, but too confusing to tell what the hell was actually going on… I’m honestly still a little confused about some of it. 

I’m giving Anno: Mutationem a cyber-tastic 7/10. This is, honestly, probably more than it deserves (which is probably closer to 6-6.5). But I really liked the amount of little things that they put in to make things interesting. Could they have spent that extra time making the actual game better? Maybe. But then we wouldn’t have a little horror ROM to watch from time to time. 

Also, if anyone has any idea what a Mutationem is, please let me know. I’m not even sure I know how to pronounce it. 

Video Game Reviews

Elden Ring Review – A New Age

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.

Elden Ring is an open-world action RPG developed by From Software — creators of Dark Souls, Sekiro, and Bloodborne — and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment.

You play as a Tarnished of no renown, who has been tasked with reforging the legendary Elden Ring — which was shattered sometime prior to the start of the game — and becoming the Elden Lord. Unfortunately for you, the shards of the Elden Ring are all held by petty, vindictive — and often insane — demi-gods.

Now, being a From Software game, there are some things you know you’re going to run into. So, let’s just go through that checklist now:

  • Tough-as-nails, high commitment combat
  • Obtuse sidequests and storylines
  • Enemies that one shot you, no matter your build
  • Bonfire equivalents
  • Souls equivalents
Oh… and lots of dying

There. With that out of the way we can move on, and talk about what makes Elden Ring different from its predecessors in a big way. That being…

A Whole New Open World

The open-world is far and away the most outstanding feature of Elden Ring.

In order to convey a lot of information in a succinct way, I’m going to say something that’s a bit reductionist: Elden Ring’s open world is what you would get if Dark Souls and Breath of the Wild had a baby. The combat, movement, and general game elements are ripped almost directly from the Dark Souls franchise, and the design of the world itself is heavily reminiscent of Breath of the Wild

This combination is powerful for a few reasons. 

The first is that the BOTW style of open-world puts you in charge of your adventure. There were very few quest markers, almost no flashing icons, and you didn’t really have to do anything you didn’t want to do in order to beat the game.

This works so well for Elden Ring, because that’s how From Software games have always been. They give you the gameplay up front, but keeping track of the story and quests is up to you. 

Results may vary

The second reason the open world works so well is that it makes Elden Ring more accessible to new players. Usually, in a From Software title, you are given a couple of paths, and you can follow those paths until you run into a boss that is actively stopping you from going any further.

In Elden Ring, if you run into a boss that’s kicking your ass, you can just pack it up and move on to something else and tackle the ass-kicking boss when you’re ready. You can literally explore four of the game’s five main regions without beating any of the mandatory bosses. Sure, it takes a little bit of looking around, and finding the right items, but it can be done. 

The only real shortcoming to this particular design is that the different regions of The Lands Between (where the game takes place) are clearly made for characters of a certain level. While you can muscle your way through almost any enemy with sheer will and a little pluck, it means you can end up in an area where almost any hit will kill you instantly.

Choose Your Character

Now, as with other From Software titles, the only thing that truly defines your character is the stats. 

Unless you’re playing Sekiro, in which case it’s about your sweet-ass prosthetic limb.

If you choose the “Warrior” at the beginning of the game, that’s just picking your starting stats and equipment. What really matters is how you choose to build your character after that initial decision — and boy howdy does Elden Ring offer a veritable cornucopia of choices.

There are five basic stats on which to build your character:

  • Strength
  • Dexterity
  • Intelligence
  • Faith
  • Arcane

Of course, you can mix and match these to make your character whatever you want, but for most character builds, at least one of these is going to be your main stat. 

What I found during my playthroughs is that I had no clue what I really wanted to build until a specific weapon fell into my lap. For my first playthrough, it was “Bloodhounds Fang,” a curved greatsword. I liked the way it felt, I liked its move-set, and I’d already sunk a bunch of points into Dexterity, so all I needed were a couple of points of strength to get me started.

The problem is that there are sooooooo many cool weapons and spells in this game, but most have requirements so specific that building your character to wield one in particular will leave you unable to use eighty percent of the other items in the game. I was on my third full playthrough when I realized that the cycle would never end, because there were just too many cool builds I wanted to try.

I mean, you can re-spec your character with a specific item — after beating a specific boss — but I like to build my characters from the ground up, so re-specing wasn’t really an option in my case.

A Sense of Scale

One aspect of Elden Ring that continued to impress me, even into my second playthrough, was its sense of scale.

Everything in this game is huge and beautiful and terrifying. Just walking into the open world for the first time will have you staring at the grand Stormveil castle — one of the game’s amazing legacy dungeons — and the Erdtree — a world tree so large that you can literally see it from almost anywhere in the game. And that’s just within the first few minutes of gameplay.

There are castles mired in poison swamps, magical schools atop towering plateaus, and shining golden cities.

In any game in the Dark Souls series, it would be impressive just to see these things. What makes Elden Ring so much more impressive is that if you see a cool location, you can go there. Hell, not only can you go there, but you get to explore, basically, the entire thing.

This sense of scale pairs perfectly with the open world.

I spent most of my first playthrough trying to figure out exactly how to get into all the cool places I could see. Some of them were harder to get into than others…

…looking at you, Volcano Manor.

Copy and Paste

One of my big gripes with Elden Ring was the alarming amount of assets that were reused. 

While playing through this game, you’ll see the same shack ad nauseum. You’ll see the same dungeons, with the same walls, and the same clutter over and over and over again. You’ll see the same enemies and bosses – albeit with slight differences to make them harder. Basically…

I know it’s a big game… Insurmountably huge is probably more accurate… but I really hate when developers reuse assets so heavily.

It didn’t really ruin any part of my playthroughs, but it did start to get a little stale from time to time. 

The only upside to this is that it made the legacy dungeons and unique bosses all the more memorable when put up against the relentless sameness of some of the minor crypts and caverns. 

Not-So-Jolly Cooperation

The absolute worst part of Elden Ring is its obtuse-ass multiplayer.

It is literally garbage. 

I understand that From Software has always had very restrictive multiplayer, but for fuck’s sake, couldn’t they have made it even a little bit easier?

You see, in order to play this game with a friend, first, you both have to have online play activated. Then, the person you want to play with has to put a symbol on the ground in their game (or send the symbol to a summoning pool)…

Oh, you also have to activate the multiplayer statues for the area where you’ll be playing.

Then, once the symbol is on the ground, you have to use a specific item so that you can see your friend’s summoning symbol. Then you can summon them into the game. 

But wait!

If you didn’t set up your multiplayer password in the multiplayer menu, you can see every summoning symbol placed in the area, and anyone else can summon your friend inadvertently. So, make sure you both put on your multiplayer passwords. 

Then you can play together… until you beat an area boss. After, your friend will be de-summoned, and you’ll have to summon them again using this whole insane process.

Oh, did I mention that you can’t rest while your friend is summoned? So no restocking your healing items.

You also can’t ride your horse, so you and your buddy will be on foot the whole way.

Hope you brought your coconuts

 Also, your friend can only accompany you near where you summoned them. So if you want to explore somewhere else together, you have to de-summon them, and then summon them again in the next area. 

To add insult to injury, anyone who is summoned to another player’s game only gets half of their healing items rounded down. So if you have three healing flasks, that means you only get one when you’re helping a friend.

I would like to say, however, that the only reason I’m throwing this much shade at Elden Ring’s multiplayer is that they marketed the game as being “Multiplayer.”

I don’t know how many ads I saw before the game came out, and some that came out after, that implied that I could play co-op with two of my buddies throughout the entire game.

Getting started, and finding out that the multiplayer was this unwieldy mess of items and restrictions, was a huge disappointment.

A Horse of a Different Color

This is just a quick shout-out to my new favorite horse in video games: Torrent. 

He is, hands-down, the best horse in video games.

I’ve heard a lot of people hating on this magnificent beast, and I’m not sure why. Especially since he has so many great qualities. 

  • He can sprint
  • He can double jump
  • You can summon him damn near anywhere with a single button press
  • You can de-summon him just as easily
  • He can tank hits for you (it’s best not to rely on this, but when it happens, it’s great.)
Let’s see Epona do that

Rise Ye Tarnished

Overall, Elden Ring is a truly magnificent game. It combines the endless wonder of Breath of the Wild with the crushingly difficult, yet rewarding, gameplay that From Software is known for. Sure, the multiplayer is the usual mess, the PVP is constantly being rebalanced (at least currently), and the game was so big that most of the assets were reused to the point of frustration, but none of that could take away from how genuinely fun it is to play. I mean, I’ve played through two full times, and could seriously go for a third or fourth if I didn’t have other games to play (and, you know, a job, a wife, and a kid). 

The bottom line is that this game is great for the old guard of souls fanatics, and the open-world gives some leeway for anyone who’s looking for a way into the world of From Software’s games, but doesn’t want to be forced to “git gud” by bashing their head against the same boss for several hours at a time. 

I’m giving Elden Ring a shattering 9.5/10… I know it has its issues, but it still manages to be worthy of this rating despite those shortcomings.

I’ll tell you what though, almost the entire .5 comes off of the score for the literal hours I wasted trying to figure out how the multiplayer works. In fact, I think my summon symbol is still down somewhere. 

[You are being summoned to another world]

Well Fuc….