When my friends and I jumped in to Elder Scrolls Online at launch, there was a unanimous sense of disappointment in the air. As we created our characters and ended up questing on opposite sides of the world, we realized something: for being an MMO, they certainly made it difficult to play with other people.
Growing up in the NES generation, I played my fair share of Double Dragon. Whether alone or with friends, it was a series of games that I gravitated towards whenever I wanted a break from the labyrinthine map of Metroid, the open world of Zelda, or whatever cheap garbage Mike Tyson was pulling in Punch-Out. I’ve never put Double Dragon in the upper echelon of classic gaming, but for what it was it was just fine.
For better or worse, Double Dragon IV is essentially more of the same.
Resident Evil VII: Biohazard
Developed by: Capcom
Available on: PS4 (reviewed), PSVR, Xbox One, PC
Release date: January 24, 2017
Price: $59.99 MSRP
While Resident Evil 4 is often lauded as the best in the series, it’s hard to argue that it’s the game that sent the franchise in to a more action-focused direction. And while the fifth and sixth entries built upon that less-horror-more-action focus, at least we received stellar remakes of the GameCube’s Resident Evil and Resident Evil 0, along with the Revelations side-stories.
At first glance, Resident Evil VII is a far, far departure from what made the series a household name. It’s presented in first-person, supports VR, and tends to draw its inspiration from the likes of P.T. and Outlast. However, after spending nearly 11 hours trapped within the terrifying Baker plantation, I completely disagree with that notion. This entry truly embraces what made Resident Evil Resident Evil, doing so in such an effective manor that it not only dethroned Resident Evil 4 as my new series favorite, but ranks among the greatest horror gaming experiences of all time.
In short, Resident Evil VII: Biohazard is fucking incredible.
Fire Emblem: Awakening
Developer: Intelligent Systems, Nintendo SPD
Release Date: February 4, 2013 (NA)
Genre: Turn-based strategy RPG
I’ve never had a commute to work where I wasn’t driving myself, and if I’m at home I’m typically playing games on my TV rather than squinting at a handheld screen. However, I’ve found myself playing more on these little portable devices over the last year or so and I have a lot of catching up to do with my 3DS backlog.
The game that sat atop my towering must-play list since its release was Fire Emblem: Awakening, which I finally completed over the weekend.
Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey was one of the first mobile games to successfully hold my attention, with its neat gameplay hook, cute characters, crisp graphics, and steady stream of rewarding upgrades. I’m a firm believer that just because a game exists on a mobile device doesn’t necessarily make it bad, and I looked forward to checking out Letter Quest’s PS4 and Vita port when it was included in this month’s batch of free Playstation Plus titles.
Whenever I travel, I like to bring along my Vita to pass time during bouts of insomnia. I’m a terrible sleeper, so it’s not uncommon to be wide awake at odd hours while every normal human is sound asleep. I recently found myself in this exact situation while out of town for the holidays, but thankfully found solace in one of this month’s Playstation Plus freebies, VVVVVV.
This fun little 2D puzzle platformer by Terry Cavanagh (Super Hexagon) initially released more than 6 years ago, but more recently found a home on PS4 and Vita during the summer of 2015. Unfortunately it doesn’t support Playstation’s cross-buy feature, but its bite-sized adventure certainly feels right at home on Vita.
When six crew members (whose names all start with the letter ‘V’, hence the name of the game) are tossed in to a dimensional rift, you take control of Captain Viridian in hopes of locating your now-missing friends. It’s mostly a traditional platformer, navigating a labyrinthine map in search of checkpoints and teleporters, while avoiding death at the hands of various hazards.
Each of the missing crewmen are tucked away in specific locations that remain hidden to the player, but the map is far more expansive than it leads on. And since there’s no additional power-ups or abilities to unlock, every inch of the grounds is open to explore at your own pace.
It’s a short and sweet adventure with a really catchy soundtrack by Magnus Palsson, but the core of the game lies in its clever platforming. Rather than utilizing traditional jumping mechanics, pressing the X button instead sends Viridian soaring from the floor to the ceiling, or vice versa. One simple puzzle tasks you with traversing the ceiling to avoid the spikes below, while a more intricate one may have you rapidly shifting positions between disappearing platforms or patrolling enemies.
Without the ability to simply jump over gaps or onto platforms, Cavanagh has taken a genre we’ve seen beaten to death over the last 34 years and makes it feel new again. There’s a gradual increase in difficulty that’s well paced, so I never once felt overwhelmed; just challenged. VVVVVV can definitely be a bit of a demanding game where death is a constant, but its design is entirely accessible thanks to a generous checkpoint and fast travel system.
Even as someone whose skill in platformers has steadily declined over the years, I managed to make my way through VVVVVV in just under two hours. There were a few sections that had me clinching my Vita tighter than I should have, but I was never frustrated or on the verge of rage quitting. Trial by dying has never been my favorite learning exercise, yet I felt compelled to push on while humming along with Palsson’s magnificent bleeps and bloops pulsing in the background.
While the Vita has a comprehensive library of meaty role-playing games and visual novels, many of which I enjoy immensely, my ideal to-go experiences are these bite-sized adventures that I can pick up and play in short bursts. Whether it’s just an impeccable case of “right place, right time” I’m glad I gave VVVVVV the shot it deserved. I don’t have much of a reason to revisit it any time soon, but it definitely ranks high on my list of ideal travel games, alongside the likes of Spelunky, Super Meat Boy, Rogue Legacy, and Risk of Rain.
Final Fantasy XV
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Available on: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
After a well documented development cycle where Final Fantasy Versus XIII was trapped in the ninth circle of hell for a decade and managed to emerge as Final Fantasy XV, imagine my surprise when Square Enix’s latest installment in their long-running RPG franchise managed to exceed my expectations. Dare I say, I haven’t been this invested in one of these games since Final Fantasy X released in 2001.
Hell, it may even tie for my favorite numbered entry ever–because, let’s be honest, nothing will top Final Fantasy Tactics.