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Review: Assassin's Creed Chronicles: Russia

Feb 08 // Chris Carter
Assassin's Creed Chronicles: Russia (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed]) Developer: Climax StudiosPublisher: UbisoftReleased: February 9, 2016MSRP: $9.99 I was never really a fan of the modern settings in Assassin's Creed -- at least, the action sequences, because the walking simulator IT department bits from Black Flag on were cool -- but that doesn't mean they can't be done. As such, I was keen on seeing what Climax Studios could do with a tale set in 1918, this time shadowing assassin Nikolai Oreov and the quest for a Bolshevik artifact. The pulp animation cinematics are stunning, but the showstopping elements end there. The cast is simply not memorable, including Nikolai, who is doing "one last job" before he abandons the Assassins and finds a new life for his family elsewhere. It's a good hook but Russia never fully sells it, particularly given the underplayed performances. I don't need a charismatic, wisecracking Nolan North per se, just something to connect with. Russia also desperately wants you to know that "he's old," which should be meaningful, but we got a better angle on that storyline with Ezio in later core games anyway. That feeling of familiarity permeates throughout some of the other elements of the game. The Schlinder's List-esque monochrome and red aesthetics looked dope at first, but started to wear after a few levels. Outside of the blazing red and orange sky, a lot of the areas look too similar, even if it serves to differentiate all of the interaction zones (all those hidden little hovels). Though it does have the added benefit of cordoning off secret areas by purposefully not brightening them, which is rad. [embed]339981:62172:0[/embed] Beyond that, you can expect more of the same compared to the past entries in the trilogy, which is to say great things. The 2D switch-off works wonderfully. The controls are so responsive, and the tools available are not only effective, but succeed in not overwhelming the player. I love that you can approach levels with either a gung-ho or pacifist style, or anything in between, and the running slide assassination ability is still just as satisfying. Unique to Russia, yanking off grates Arkham style with a winch and using phones to distract guards is silly, but it works when juxtaposed to the serious art style. I'm a bit torn on the gunplay however, because while the art of sniping does technically fit the quiet nature of the universe, it wasn't done in such a way that elevates it beyond an arcadey shooting gallery. There are a few sequences where distraction is key, like a mini-puzzle of sorts, but in most cases you're just blasting away at folks until no one is left standing. With six challenges to do (just like India) and a New Game+ option, Assassin's Creed Chronicles: Russia has plenty to offer for a bite-sized package, but it fails to live up to the bar set by its predecessors. The loud and powerful styles of China and India simply trump the final piece of the pie, which goes out with a muted rebel yell. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Assassin's Creed review photo
Once more, with guns
Assassin's Creed Chronicles had a nice thing going on with China and India, delivering some of the classic stealth action the series is known for with a striking new art style and a shift to 2D action. Now Ubisoft i...

Tribute Games photo
Tribute Games

Ninja Senki DX looks mega good, man


Releasing February 23
Feb 04
// Jordan Devore
Tribute Games is bringing Ninja Senki DX to PC, PS4, and PS Vita on February 23. This is an expanded version of a rather good freeware action game from 2010, which, from our prior coverage, it sounds like a number of us have ...

Not a Hero nearly broke me

Feb 02 // Jordan Devore
I wasn't sure how I'd like cover-based shooting in a 2D game, going in, but in the case of Not a Hero, I'm quite fond. This isn't so much standing still, popping out to take a few shots, and retreating back into hiding as it is shuffling between safe spots to close the gap, sliding right next to (or into!) enemies, and racking up split-second kills. Think Vanquish more than Gears of War. Cover is plentiful, but you won't stick to it for long unless you're nervously waiting on your few precious health points to restock or your gun to reload. Death comes quickly and repeatedly, both for you and for the hundreds of criminals you're meant to wipe out across three city districts. A single hit can be enough, especially in the later Yakuza-ish levels with samurai chasing you down. That's where I started to lose my cool over the lack of checkpoints. It's also where Not a Hero almost broke me with two overly long, overly demanding levels. (The exact same ones Steven struggled with.) By the time I hit the credits, I felt exhausted, not accomplished or elated. Getting up to that point was great fun, though. Still an experience I'd recommend. The story isn't as successful. Basically, you're helping an anthropomorphic rabbit claim his rightful spot as mayor by, uh, killing loads of people. The tone is Internet Silly to the point of going way overboard, at times, and the humor didn't consistently land for me. But on the whole, I admire the effort that went into the presentation -- particularly the funny graphics in the interludes. Great tunes, too. The story is there, if you want it, but otherwise you're only a few button presses away from getting into that next level. As far as this specific port goes, I don't have much to say. Despite being a PC/Mac exclusive until now, Not a Hero has always struck me as something of a console-style, couch-sitting experience meant to be played with a gamepad. Aside from a couple instances of glitches (my character going invisible once; the occasional floating dead body), there wasn't anything out of the ordinary. Existing fans won't find meaningful extras in this version to warrant double dipping, but it is a solid port of a surprisingly fresh little game. I'm glad I found my way to it. Shame about the canceled PlayStation Vita port, though. Not a Hero would've fared well there. [This impressions piece is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Not a Hero PS4 photo
Impressions of the PS4 port
Thank you, Roll7, for reminding me what an utter joy it can be to slide around in video games. I'm not sure what I was so wrapped up playing last May, but it wasn't Not a Hero, the studio's cheeky side-scrolling take on cover...

Review: The Bug Butcher

Jan 18 // Jordan Devore
The Bug Butcher (Mac, Linux, Windows [reviewed])Developer: Awfully Nice StudiosPublisher: Awfully Nice StudiosRelease: January 19, 2016MSRP: $7.99 When I close my eyes, I now see aliens splitting apart into smaller aliens, again and again, until there is nothing left. I can picture exactly how they will move; when they'll strike. Clearly, this game has seeped into my mind. It only took a few short hours. As the titular exterminator, you're called into a research facility to clean up an infestation of creepy crawlers. Each of the 30 levels has the same basic premise -- "the only good bug is a dead bug!" -- but varying stage hazards, gimmicks, and enemy types keep the action engaging. Even after going back through most of the levels several times now, I'm yearning for more. It's all so very satisfying, and the scoring system and character upgrades further incentivize repeated playthroughs. I'll happily oblige. Every alien has a distinct look and movement pattern, but there are constants. They always enter the screen from above, telegraphing their descent so you aren't caught off guard. This is a game that rarely, if ever, feels "cheap." The majority of the bugs bounce around, touching down for a split second before going airborne again. Others hover from side to side, or stick to the ceiling. One pest crawls on the ground, waiting to pounce like a Facehugger. After taking enough damage, most will split into smaller beings that can quickly fill the room if left unchecked. This is important because, crucially, you can only shoot straight up. Positioning is everything. [embed]334931:61897:0[/embed] You'll have to keep an eye out for items that temporarily boost your damage or speed, and weapons like a laser beam, lightning gun, or rocket launcher. None of these last long, but they all pack a hefty punch and are enjoyable to wield. By keeping your combo up, you can also earn one-time-use abilities to, say, become invincible or freeze every alien in place if you're in a bind. Vanquished bugs litter the floor with coins, and there's a score-based, end-of-level payout. In the main Arcade mode, you can buy passive perks and permanent upgrades to make any weapons or abilities you might encounter mid-battle more useful. (To be clear: you always begin levels with your standard machine gun. Which is fine! It's quite good.) You're only able to equip a single perk at a time and, between the three choices, I prefer the one that lets you take a hit without dropping your combo. There's also Panic mode, playable alone or with a friend in split-screen, in which you try to survive for as long as possible. You can keep fighting until you're either out of health or out of time. For me, it's invariably the former. I have no problem scrambling to grab time extensions, but in doing so, I become too reckless. At any point, it's possible to pause the action to buy upgrades for your current run. Unlike in Arcade mode, these purchases aren't persistent across levels. The Bug Butcher gets chaotic, but rarely is it frustrating. Even when the screen is packed with enemies, you still have this overall awareness of where you should be standing, and when. The difficulty curve is spot on. It does a stellar job of making you feel mostly in control -- and, at times, over-powered -- without letting you sleepwalk to victory. You'll have to work for those high scores. I loved the responsive controls, and that's a big factor when examining an action-heavy game like this, but the presentation is also commendable. The art and sound design play pivotal roles. Bugs are squishy, just as you'd expect, while power-ups serve as a visual and auditory jolt of energy. The thumping electronic soundtrack is unrelenting, further helping to keep you in The Zone. If there's a major complaint to be made about The Bug Butcher, it's that there simply isn't more of it. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
The Bug Butcher review photo
Do your part!
When I first heard about The Bug Butcher last year, I thought it looked like a nice modern take on the bubble-popping shooter Super Pang. But I held off. I have a regrettable history of playing games in Steam Early Access onl...


One Dog Story photo
One Dog Story

Serious Cave Story vibes come off One Dog Story


Woof
Jan 14
// Darren Nakamura
Cave Story is so revered among indie game enthusiasts, it's little surprise it would be cited as an influence for others making a game. One Dog Story lists it up there with others like Battletoads and Shovel Knight. One Dog S...

Review: Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India

Jan 12 // Chris Carter
Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed]) Developer: Climax StudiosPublisher: UbisoftReleased: January 12, 2016MSRP: $9.99 In this tale players will assume the role of Arbaaz Mir -- a cocksure assassin who has just stolen the Koh-i-Noor diamond, a Piece of Eden. The year is 1841, and Arbaaz is caught up in your typical Assassin vs. Templar antics in the brand new setting of India. The narrative mostly takes a backseat, with various puzzles and combat (or rather, the option to avoid combat) challenges to face along the way, and little in the form of exposition or world building. It's...serviceable, much like China, in that the story doesn't really leap out of the screen, but it also doesn't get in the way. India keeps inline with China's unique visual style that looks like it could be housed in an art gallery, but with more vibrant hues and beautiful pastels than the last iteration. Often times I'd stop and ogle at the landscape, which is something I rarely do in recent 2D titles -- but then again, Ubisoft usually nails it in that department (Rayman, Child of Light). In case you're wondering, it's still following the same stealth platformer format from China, so don't expect a whole lot. Levels are very linear in nature, even if specific sections do have a number of different solutions (like whistling to distract guards, going around them entirely with the grappling hook, and so on). Once again the actual platforming mechanics are sound, and the "stealth button/run button" format translates unusually well to the 2D plane. That smoothness starts to grate though once you've made your way through similar looking labyrinthine halls, fighting the same types of enemies over and over. [embed]333470:61826:0[/embed] India still discourages combat and proclaims stealth king, which will probably polarize a few of you out there looking for constant fights. The game punishes you with a low health pool and a limited amount of combat tools, so if you are adverse to stealth you may want to sit out for this series. Personally I revel in the ability to not go in guns (or blades) blazing, so the style suit me quite well, especially with the increased emphasis on the grappling hook. Once the story is all said and done there's a New Game Plus, and a "New Game Plus Hard" option to storm through. Thankfully though Ubisoft added in another element to India in the form of challenge rooms, which are basically in the same surrealistic "VR" style as past entries, with time-based objectives to complete. Sure it's the same old song and dance for Assassin's Creed, but it's nice to have something extra to do, even if there's only six of them. Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India isn't a whole lot different compared to China, which is either a good or a bad thing depending on your prior experience. It sports a slightly less interesting character and setting, but the core experience is replicated, and the addition of a few gameplay tweaks as well as the aforementioned challenge mode ensures that it's on the level. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Assassin's Creed review photo
Hide and Sikh
When the Chronicles series was announced, my response was mixed. I mean, it's cool that we're getting to see new settings outside of the usual suspect after all, but by that same token, I'd rather see those new areas in a fully-fledged 3D game. These Prince of Persia inspired 2.5D gaidens (including last year's China) are the next best thing though, albeit with some provisos.

Deadbolt photo
Deadbolt

The Risk of Rain team's new game is Deadbolt


Stealthy action with the grim reaper
Jan 08
// Jordan Devore
Two years ago, I professed my love for Risk of Rain on this site. It ended up becoming one of my favorite roguelikes, right up there with my all-time bestie, Spelunky, and just thinking about it now makes me want to go back f...
Terraria: Otherworld photo
Terraria: Otherworld

Terraria: Otherworld is coming along


Now releasing in 2016
Dec 29
// Jordan Devore
Re-Logic is keeping itself plenty busy with work on Terraria (content updates, mobile/console fixes, launching next year's Wii U version) and its new spin-off game, Terraria: Otherworld, which has shades of tower defense. It'...
Monster Boy photo
Monster Boy

Monster Boy captures that classic platformer spirit


PC, PS4, and Xbox One next year
Dec 22
// Jordan Devore
I haven't actively followed Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom since its announcement in January, but that has worked out fine. It's back on my radar today with a debut gameplay trailer. Monster Boy is a side-scrolling action...
Katana Zero photo
Katana Zero

Katana Zero has the right stuff


Another one to watch in 2016
Dec 17
// Jordan Devore
Hot damn, Katana Zero. I'm only now hearing about the snappy neo-noir action-platformer from Aski (Tower of Heaven, Pause Ahead) despite an apparent showing at PAX Prime in September. Whoops! This more recent teaser made its way to our tips line today, and I am glad that it did.
TowerFall Vita photo
TowerFall Vita

TowerFall Ascension hits Vita next week


Yep, there's Cross-Buy
Dec 12
// Jordan Devore
TowerFall Ascension is such a treat for local arena game fans. It's even better with the Dark World expansion, which is worth getting for the fantastic new co-op levels alone. Both are about to arrive on PlayStation Vita and ...
Starbound combat photo
Starbound combat

Starbound's combat update should make fighting more interesting


Secondary abilities, new weapon types
Dec 08
// Darren Nakamura
I'll admit: my hype for Starbound is nowhere near the level where it was two years ago. Being in beta for that long can do that. After my group exhausted the quest lines for the first iteration, we never really went back, des...
metroidvania photo
metroidvania

Heart Forth, Alicia is really coming along


Get outta my dreams
Nov 30
// Jordan Devore
The latest Kickstarter update for Heart Forth, Alicia is a lot to get through. There's been a delay -- from Q1 2016 to the second half of the year -- but rather than just give a basic explanation for the change of plans, the ...
Indivisible photo
Indivisible

Indivisible crowdfunding campaign extended


About $500K left to go
Nov 13
// Jordan Devore
It's not over yet. Lab Zero Games has secured a 20-day extension on its Indiegogo campaign for Indivisible, a stylish side-scrolling RPG with shades of Valkyrie Profile and Super Metroid. As it now stands, Lab Zero has raised...
Super Mario Maker photo
Super Mario Maker

Mario Maker has new costumes and checkpoints


Totem Link!
Nov 04
// Jordan Devore
It's a great time to get back into Super Mario Maker. As of tonight's update, we can now place mid-level checkpoints. Finally! They're going to have such a big impact on my willingness to clear people's levels. To add a check...
Penarium photo
Penarium

Release date confirmed for 'sadistic' circus game Penarium


Leave 'em begging for more!
Sep 17
// Vikki Blake
"Sadistic" 2D arena arcade Penarium is coming to PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on September 22, 2015. Willy (snigger) is trapped in a "sinister circus," and the only hope of seeing his family again is to "run and jump his wa...

Review: Castle Crashers Remastered

Sep 11 // Jordan Devore
Castle Crashers Remastered (PC, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: The BehemothPublisher: The BehemothReleased: September 9, 2015 (Xbox One)MSRP: $14.99 It didn't help that I was alone for most of the journey. Not only does the pacing plod as you methodically take out enemies by yourself, but certain fights aren't balanced well for solo play. When everyone's out to get you -- just you -- and they can collectively launch a volley of projectiles that stun, over and over again, it's hard to retaliate. My way around this was and still is to juggle foes in the air, but it's not fun feeling like you have to resort to such tactics. Of course, Castle Crashers is best played with companions -- even if it's just one other player. But I have a lone Xbox One gamepad and despite The Behemoth's promised matchmaking and network improvements for Remastered, my attempts at online co-op were sluggish. Even when slowdown wasn't an issue, it was hard to find other players around my character's level. While I opted to start fresh, you don't have to. If you played Castle Crashers on Xbox 360 and upload that save data via Xbox Live Gold, you can bring over your progress to Xbox One including weapons, animal orbs, and characters (but not including things like gold and consumables). That's terrific. So is the initial pricing for Castle Crashers Remastered. It's free if you're a Gold subscriber who owned the original game on Xbox 360. You have through September 20, 2015 to claim your copy, after which point the game will cost $5 with the loyalty discount. [embed]310233:60324:0[/embed] To be clear, Remastered is not a remake. It's more of a touch-up than anything -- a way to keep Castle Crashers easily accessible and relevant as the industry moves away from last-generation consoles. It's smoother (with a frame rate doubled to 60FPS) and better-looking (with five times larger textures). But this is a game from 2008 at its core. While the character designs remain charming as ever, certain backgrounds and other elements don't hold up as consistently. Bonus characters and animal orbs that were previously obtainable as DLC are now integrated, and the shallow, button-mashing mini-game All You Can Quaff is gone. In its place is a far superior time-waster called Back Off Barbarian. I didn't get it at first, but now I really dig it. You hop around a tile-based world and try not to get squished by other characters. The twist is that movement isn't as straightfoward as pressing up to move up. Instead, adjacent tiles are color-coded to match the Xbox controller's A/B/X/Y buttons. So depending on where you are at on the board, you may have to hit Y to move up. Or maybe X! You have to think fast to survive for as long as possible. Once Back Off Barbarian gets going, it's nerve-wracking in all the right ways. As much as I enjoyed the new mini-game, it's hardly enough of an incentive to justify paying full price for Remastered. It's a similar situation with the visual upgrades and behind-the-scenes tweaks. If you can snag the loyalty discount, by all means, go for it. An eventual Steam version is also planned, but release date and pricing details haven't been announced yet. I maintain that Castle Crashers is a good game. Great, even, if you're playing cooperatively. But seven years later, I'm not nearly as smitten. I just can't endlessly grind battles like I used to. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Castle Crashers review photo
Bring friends (or lots of potions)
In 2008, Castle Crashers rekindled my dormant love of beat-'em-ups. It had imaginative characters, strange and varied locales, and the four-player co-op was great at encouraging friendly competition. There wasn't much else li...

N++ photo
N++

N++ is even bigger and more difficult than we thought


For wizards only
Sep 10
// Darren Nakamura
N++ released back in July with a bold claim: "No way anyone 100%s it." Given its enormous level select screen featuring more than a thousand levels and the brutal difficulty the series is known for, it seemed fair enough to m...
Suge Knight? photo
Suge Knight?

Free Shovel Knight expansion out September 17


To all platforms and regions
Sep 09
// Steven Hansen
Yacht Club Games just announced Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows is coming to, "all existing platforms and regions on September 17, 2015." The free expansion is a completely remixed story mode starring Plague Knight and featu...
Shovel Knight photo
Shovel Knight

Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows looks wonderful


Free expansion coming soon
Aug 25
// Jordan Devore
Plague of Shadows looks like the perfect excuse to get back into Shovel Knight. It's a free expansion that remixes the game to tell an alternate story about the Plague Knight. Between his customizable bomb-based moveset and s...
Mario Maker shmup photo
Mario Maker shmup

Now there's a shoot-'em-up in Mario Maker


Super Shmup Bros.
Aug 21
// Jordan Devore
Super Mario Maker isn't out until September 11 and I'm already feeling inadequate. At this rate, any level I dream up will pale in comparison to what we're seeing on YouTube. I'll give it my best anyway. The folks at GameXplain have crafted a shoot-'em-up level called Super Shmup Bros. and it's another neat example of how powerful the creation tools are in the right hands. Wings for everyone!
Terraria photo
Terraria

Terraria hits Mac and Linux at long last


PC save files are compatible
Aug 12
// Jordan Devore
Several years later, Terraria is still going strong. After a round of open beta testing, the Mac and Linux versions of the popular sandbox game have launched. If you're a Windows player, you won't need to pay for these new po...
Terraria photo
Terraria

More frequent updates are planned for Terraria


Also Terraria 2 and mod support?
Aug 03
// Joe Parlock
In an interview with PC Gamer, Terraria’s lead developer Andrew “Redigit” Spinks announced that going forward, there will be more frequent but smaller updates to the game. Talking about the recent 1.3 update...
Iconoclasts photo
Iconoclasts

Iconoclasts finally gets a release announcement: Steam and Sony systems in 2016


Also drops the 'the' from its name
Jul 29
// Darren Nakamura
We have had our eyes on The Iconoclasts for a while now. It started development in 2010, and we have covered whispers of updates sporadically since then, including a rad mecha-worm boss fight using rail transport last year. G...
N++ photo
N++

N++ has one hell of a stylish launch trailer


Out now on PS4
Jul 29
// Jordan Devore
I'm thrilled and terrified to dig into N++. Darren and I have been reminiscing about the cooperative levels in its predecessor, N+, so pain is fresh on my mind. These games are brutal but fair and so satisfying. If you're new...
Tembo the Badass Elephant photo
Tembo the Badass Elephant

Game Freak's Tembo the Badass Elephant drops on July 21


Draws first blood on PC, PS4, Xbox One
Jul 10
// Jordan Devore
I've covered Tembo the Badass Elephant only once -- back when it was unveiled in March -- and the side-scrolling action game is nearly ready for us with a July 21 launch on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Nice to not drown in promotio...
Shovel Knight retail photo
Shovel Knight retail

Shovel Knight headed to retail with a proper instruction manual


'No two-page inserts here!'
Jun 30
// Jordan Devore
Shovel Knight is one of those games that's so good, you want as many people as possible to hear about it, play it, and hopefully dig it as much as you do. To that end, some good news: Yacht Club Games is pushing for a retail ...
Dad Beat Dads photo
Dad Beat Dads

Belated Father's Day: Throw babies in Dad Beat Dads


My dad could beat up your dad
Jun 26
// Darren Nakamura
True story: my dad used to be quite the brawler. At a stocky 5'5" (165 cm), he was often underestimated. What he lacks in height and reach he makes up for in tenacity. What I'm trying to say is that I'm pretty sure my dad co...
Hollowpoint photo
Hollowpoint

Hollowpoint gives co-op shooting a fresh perspective


Cover shooting from all angles
Jun 17
// Alessandro Fillari
Update: Cross-play for PS4 and PC will not be a feature for Hollowpoint.It feels like you can't go anywhere without seeing another co-op shooter set for release or being announced for the first time. Since the success of titl...
Bloodstained Kickstarter photo
Bloodstained Kickstarter

Bloodstained Kickstarter ends with over $5.7 million pledged


Hit all stretch goals, set records
Jun 12
// Darren Nakamura
It doesn't feel like it has been a month since we were first asked "sword or whip?" or we first heard the term "Igavania," but here we are. Koji Igarashi and company launched the Kickstarter campaign for Bloodstained: Ritual ...

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