Hi-Fi Rush Review – A March to the Beat of Someone Else’s Drum

Rhythm ties everything in Hi-Fi Rush together: you, the enemies, and even the environment. It sounds novel on paper — a combat-heavy action game that requires rhythm to play? What a crazy idea! Saying that ignores a secret that these types of games share, though: almost all of them already work like this. Sure it’s possible to button mash your way through plenty of them and reach the end, but there’s a lot of options hiding beyond that base exterior. Complicated combos require precise timing akin to following a beat. Enemies often attack in rhythmic patterns that you can recognize and “recite” through dodges or parries.

The gimmick of Hi-Fi Rush revolves less around innovating and more about making the nuance of its mechanics obvious. Everything in the game attunes itself to a “master beat” that can be observed both in the world itself and heard in the music. Hi-Fi Rush’s omnipresent beat leads the march into battle rather than the player. That may seem like a subtle change, but it greatly affects how the game feels to play. Many action games emphasize freedom and style; Hi-Fi Rush instead emphasizes restriction.

Although a game restricting you may sound like a negative, in this case it’s what makes Hi-Fi Rush fun. Synchronizing your attacks with the beats forms the challenge and the appeal of the game. What might be a relatively simple action game increases in depth and execution by having to plan your actions around the beat. It’s a satisfying mechanic to execute on a basic level as well as a metagame level. Since the game rewards you for timing your attacks with both extra damage and points, you constantly want to aim for perfection no matter where your priorities may lie.

The beating heart of the gameplay remains fun throughout, it’s the attempts to spice things up that clog up the rest of Hi-Fi Rush’s body. As you progress in the game, you unlock two main blockages: the party members and the parry.

I like the idea of calling in your buddies for assist attacks. This concept blends some flair from tag fighters like Marvel Vs. Capcom into a genre that hasn’t really gone down this route before, at least not in a way that seamlessly flows into combat like this. If the assist attacks only supplemented the beat-based gameplay, I’d say they are a big success. They add a fun variety of options both in handling enemies and landing intricate combos.

Unfortunately, Hi-Fi Rush insists on these assist attacks playing a greater role than simple support or combo extenders. A handful of enemies will negate damage entirely until you use the correct assist on them (sometimes more than once) to break their shield. Only once you break an enemy’s defense can you proceed to combo them into oblivion. This process results in a lot of time waiting around. I’m not a fan.

If the assists only brought in a little inconvenience, that would be one thing. A lot of action games do similar things and I could live with some color-coded shielding. Where things get a little less tolerable are the occasions where the game mixes in a variety of enemies that require you to use different assists.

At this point, things get messy. When the game bunches up these enemies and you keep needing to call in assists, the game becomes very difficult to parse visually and even audibly. The events on-screen get drowned out by the constant things popping on and off the screen. Combat begins to feel like noise. More importantly, it doesn’t feel strategic.

Part of the issue is that Hi-Fi Rush lacks any kind of lock-on. This means that at best you can only ever be reasonably confident as to where your attacks will land. That goes double for your assists. If your character happens to hit the wrong enemy, you can at least correct yourself shortly after. If you call an assist and they hit the wrong enemy, you need to wait for the animation to play out and the assist to recharge before trying again.

If you’re going to require the assists to fight certain kinds of enemies without a lock on, it would have made sense for the game to have some kind of system that lets you at least momentarily freeze time and pick out the enemy you want to hit. As is, it can be a bit of a frustrating free for all.

I can see the argument for why the developers would not want to let you freeze time. After all, you’d constantly be pausing the action to make these tactical decisions. If you make that argument, however, then you need to start asking some questions that might make Hi-Fi Rush uncomfortable, chief among them being “why is alright for the game to stop you dead in your tracks for these parry moves but not something that would greatly improve its playability?”

Yeah, the parry happens to be the other thorn in my side. Not the parry itself, exactly, but more the mini game that happened to sneak in via the door that parrying left open. Some of the stronger enemies can suck you into what I would describe as a “parry dimension,” which stops the game in its tracks. Here, the enemy forces you to play a game of Simon Says, performing a sequence of attacks that you must respond to with the corresponding parry timing. I hate how they sections were implemented.

Although they technically involve the parry mechanic, they aren’t an exact replica of it. When you parry in the normal game, enemies will still utilize a lot of common video game animation tropes and wind ups to allow you to gauge when to hit the button. It’s intuitive and makes sense. You could reasonably parry most normal attacks on your first try as long as you’re familiar with the game. These parry sections work differently.

An enemy will clue you in on roughly what the timing of your parries should be in each sequence, but they don’t always match it exactly. Sometimes parts of the chain will hit sooner than you expected, at other times there’s more of a delay to things like dodging (that gets thrown into these parts sometimes too) than are immediately clear. Basically, you will likely fail each sequence a few times before getting it. At least I think so — I would be very interested to see how many people got each sequence on their first or even second try.

These parry dimension sequences feel off to play and getting trapped into doing them feels even worse. Once you know the timing they aren’t that big of a deal, they were just a constant source of dread as I encountered new enemies and bosses. I never want to take a trip to the parry dimension again.

The good news is that once the game fully equips you with all of its mechanics, neither of these main flaws matter that much. Rather than engage with any of these mechanics as they are explicitly designed, the best approach ends up being doing whatever you can to avoid engaging with them. If you constantly cycle between your assists, build up your super move meter, and unleash special attacks with good timing, you can break enemy guards and annihilate them before they even get the chance to lock you into some inane parry sequence. Everything moves in such a quick flurry that it doesn’t matter that you can barely tell what’s going. Problem solved, huh?

I suppose that’s more of mixed news. It’s not ideal for the game’s overload of nonsense to shift the player between extreme annoyance and disengagement. Sadly, that’s more or less how my experience went. I enjoy the core mechanics behind the combat a lot, the game just drowns those fundamentals out with a lot of noise that I’d rather not hear. That noise bogs down the pureness of the combat and gives it an uneven pace.

Pacing summarizes my issues with Hi-Fi Rush as a whole. I focus a lot on the combat here because that’s I came into the game looking for, but the where the game focuses its playtime gives a different impression. Rather than recycling robots with your guitar, you instead will spend a lot of time roaming around levels bashing boxes and hopping across platforms. The game fills the gaps between its combat encounters with a lot of dead air.

That might sound a little harsh. The platforming never drags the game down too much, it just exists. Unlike the combat, the platforming takes little advantage of the omnipresent beat. It seems odd to me that almost none of the movement seems to be enhanced by proper timing. At best you can chain a few extra dashes together, but you still stop dead in your tracks after a third.

Nothing during the platforming sections excited me or challenged me. All these sections really do to up the difficulty is throw in some parts where it’s mandatory to use your partners to break a wall or something to progress. This game doesn’t really need more things to slow down the pacing. I would have preferred something that went in the opposite direction, like proper timing of jumps and dashes could lead to smoother and faster movement. Rather than limit you to three dashes during the platforming, you could dash indefinitely, and the platforming sections could challenge your ability to do that. Faster, more skillful platforming design like that would complement the combat well and elevate the game as a whole. As is, the platforming sections simply keep the experience stable.

The exploration clearly had a lot of effort put into it, which I can appreciate. I like the visual style of the game quite a bit and I admire how much fun worldbuilding stuff made its way into each environment. It’s fun to be able to walk around, read the jokey text logs and talk to all of the robots. Visually, the game absolutely feels alive. That only goes so far, however, when the narrative as a whole does not.

Sad to say, I never thought the game’s characters or dialogue rose above the level of cute. Hi-Fi Rush tells a tale of some very two-dimensional protagonists that undergo just enough change by the end to be satisfying if a little empty. It’s the kind of writing that will occasionally make you smile but will never make you laugh out loud or care too much. The story wraps its themes in a veneer of sarcasm and smugness that makes it hard to connect with — it doesn’t feel like it’s coming from somewhere genuine.

The platforming and exploration segments are fine for what they are, they are just unremarkable. That becomes a problem when the ratio between sections like these and the meat of the game feels skewed. Usually in action games like Hi-Fi Rush, I want to go through the game a second time to further develop my skills. I hesitate to do so here because so much of the game dedicates itself to the non-combat sections.

Most chapters take about an hour to complete, and at least half of that time involves doing things other than combat. Even if you rush to each enemy encounter, you still need to navigate through some significant downtime. The way this game is designed, I just don’t have much desire to do runs through levels because I know it won’t be quick and it won’t be focused on the parts of the game that I care about.

I suppose these are the caveats that comes with marching to the beat of someone else’s drum. The developers clearly had a vision for what they wanted to do with this game (in fact they pretty transparently complain about the few things they couldn’t fit into it) and I can appreciate that. Hi-Fi Rush is ambitious, it’s quirky, and it’s cool. It just also feels a little too convoluted for its own good. My main takeaway is that if you’re going to build a game around restricting the player, you should probably show some restraint yourself and focus on the parts of the game that work best.

Game of the Year 2022

Another year has come and gone, and I don’t know about you, but this one went by pretty quickly. Between my blog posts, GoNintendo, GamingTrend, and other misadventures, I wrote nearly 40 articles this past year. Plus, I have a pretty demanding actual job that I need to live!

There’s no time to rest, though. As always, I have a list of games that I must share in order to continue my writing licensure. I should mention, however, that things this year aren’t quite that simple.

Last year I put forth the idea that it was fine to have thirteen games on a Game of the Year list instead of ten. I was wrong. Apparently if you list more than ten games, the rest are supposed to be “honorable mentions.” I don’t see how that makes a difference, you’re still adding more than ten games to a top ten list, but I’ve been told this distinction matters. The authorities informed me shortly afterwards that I was violation of the unspoken agreement between video game listers and, long story short, my video game writing license is currently on probation. As a result, I have to compensate for my overreach by only listing 7 games this year so that things are even. I apologize to everyone for my past transgression.

7. Air Twister

Space Harrier and touch controls may be a match made in hell, or at least hell for your thumbs. Air Twister itself, however, works surprisingly well despite the finger gymnastics – you could argue they’re even part of the fun. Speaking of the afterlife, though, the game’s amazing soundtrack by Valensia allows it to transcend to an almost ethereal experience. Much like the fantasy zone of Space Harrier, Air Twister follows its own logic rather anything the human mind can fully comprehend (although there is a strangely large amount of lore to read if you want to try). That abstractness allows Air Twister to haunt your consciousness long after reaching the end.

6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge

Side-scrolling beat em ups and the TMNT share an iconic relationship because the genre fits so well with the TMNT as a concept. Unfortunately, these once close partners became estranged over the years. Shredder’s Revenge finally brings them back together with a modern reincarnation of Konami’s TMNT and stretches that concept about as far as it can go.

This isn’t exactly a Streets of Rage 4 situation, where the game goes above and beyond my expectations. Instead, I’d say Shredder’s Revenge meets them exactly. It looks great, feels great, and has more than enough content to make up for the time it took for something like this to exist. Shredder’s Revenge is a worthy follow-up to Konami’s time with the series and I’m glad something like this can be still be made today.

5. Sonic Frontiers

I always worry about Sonic. Not for the stereotypical reasons, I usually find things I enjoy about every game, but because he’s very impressionable. Everyone wants to give Sonic advice and his tendency to take it has stifled his games for the past decade. Sonic Frontiers breaks free from many of his recent self-imposed restrictions and delivers on satisfying new take on the series. It doesn’t kick every bad habit and I would have preferred for Frontiers to wipe the slate completely clean from what past titles established, but it marks an important first step towards the future.

That a Sonic game can release and actually feel like Sonic, rather than an idealized throwback version of Sonic, means a lot to me. It’s nice to see Sonic running in the right direction again.

4. Pocky & Rocky Reshrined

In a world where remakes run rampant, no one does a better job than developer Tengo Project. Their previous work with Wild Guns and The Ninja Warriors specialized in recreating the core games while also elevating them with tasteful new content. Pocky & Rocky Reshrined continues their excellent streak: part remake and part sequel, this game delivers the definitive take on the series. It represents the perfect middle ground that few remakes attempt by prioritizing the original experience first, and then faithfully building off of it in compelling ways.

3. Freedom Planet 2

Freedom Planet 2 took a shockingly long time to release, but the end result was worth the wait. The original game showed little restraint; level after level it raised the stakes with crazier levels and bosses. It was a very full game. Freedom Planet 2 pushes things even further with a staggering amount of levels and new ideas. The characters have been thoughtfully reworked, the levels constantly throw in new curveballs to the core experience, and the hub areas flesh out the world well.

While there’s certainly room for another sequel, this is one of the few games this year that I felt completely satisfied with what I got. I genuinely find it hard to imagine what the third game can do to top this one.

2. Azure Striker Gunvolt 3

Although Gunvolt resembles Mega Man, they differ in many ways, and perhaps the most prominent way is Gunvolt’s consistent willingness to reinvent itself. Gunvolt 3 marks the most dramatic shake-up yet and I think the gamble paid off. Gunvolt 3 recontextualizes the core idea of tagging enemies from a relatively passive mechanic into something much more in your face and action-packed. This take feels fresh yet retains the principles that make Gunvolt unique from its peers. It’s cool and satisfying to play, which is everything you could hope for from a new direction.

Everything from the game design to the art to the soundtrack oozes quality – this is easily the most premium-feeling Inti Creates game. My only complaint about the initial release was that the ending felt a little undercooked, but even that has been addressed in post-launch updates and DLC, culminating with an entire epilogue featuring a new playable character. Gunvolt 3 consistently kept me playing since its release, and it has since swiftly risen to the top of the series as my favorite Gunvolt game.

1. Neon White

Neon White shows no fear. It blends an interesting puzzle-solving s card system with blisteringly fast first person speed running in a way that never feels clumsy or awkward. It uses relatively simple visuals elegantly to keep the game easily readable while stylishly distinct. The narrative tells an endearingly sweet story but doesn’t shy away from being crude, dumb, and goofy when a fun opportunity arises.

Neon White feels like it was made by someone who knew exactly what they wanted and they weren’t afraid to put everything about themselves into it. That’s my favorite kind of game. When I do these game of the year things, I try to give the top spot to the game that connects with me the most, the kind of game I’m most likely to keep in the back of my mind going forward. This year, Neon White fit that bill perfectly. It’s an incredibly clever game that I enjoyed on every level.

Review Scores Ruin Writing About Games and I Can Mostly Live With That

This past week, I gave my first real review score for a video game. Scoring games marks a big shift for me: from Siliconera to my blog to GoNintendo, I have managed to avoid scoring games for most of my “career,” or whatever you would like to call it. To clarify, I’ve given review scores before; I scored games during my early writing years as a teenager on GameFAQs and even as recently as giving a Deadly Premonition 2 a 10 on some Dutch website a while back. By a “real review score,” I mean a score that technically impacts the game: it’s visible on aggregate sites like Metacritic and OpenCritic and ever-so-slightly influences their amorphous blob numbers. I struggle with review scores. The concept runs contrary to my philosophy on writing about games. When it comes to writing about games, however, review scores are undeniably important. Review scores sustain video game writing while in some ways also killing what makes it interesting.

One of the biggest things I want to convey in my writing is that there’s so many more interesting things to say about games beyond them being “good” or “bad.” This is a medium where your experience is uniquely shaped by your interactions with it. You influence how the game proceeds, and the game in turn influences how you perceive it. Games are goldmines of thoughts, feelings, and ideas that only they can convey. Everyone learns from experience, and games are that concept distilled to its essence. As a result, I work hard to incorporate some kind of thesis or idea stemmed from the game I played in everything I write.

I understand why it happens, but it genuinely frustrates me to see so much of games writing boil down to black and white product evaluations. Art, and by extension human expression, is not meant to be objectively churned out through a meat grinder to produce a number at the end. You can do that, yes. Most people writing about games seem to do that. Like putting anything into a meat grinder, though, it’s a little gross and the end product barely resembles whatever you threw into it used to be.

However, I should clarify that I’m not trying to downplay or dissuade people from writing their opinions. It’s absolutely fine to evaluate and explain why you may or may not like something. What I’m saying is simply that this concept should not be the endpoint or final goal of writing about games, as it so often becomes. That cheapens the games and it cheapens yourself. We’re more than our initial instincts and preferences – we can express complex thoughts and abstractions on a level beyond other species. That’s what makes humanity interesting.

Scores add a sense of finality to the conversation about a game. That’s why I dislike them. Scores get treated as some objective measure of a game’s worth, and that measurement becomes a collectively-viewed-through lens for viewing game with a widely believed, difficult to rebut presumption.

Yes, a review aggregate score is technically an objective measure, but it is one comprised of some of the most subjective elements ever. Publications do not use consistent interpretations of a review scale between themselves or even between their writers. An 8 to one publication might fall more in line with a 6 at another place. One site might have someone who really loves the genre a game is in do the review while another may use someone who hates that type of game. Some writers attempt to objectively evaluate a game based on specific criteria while others do not. Cramming all of these different interpretations and views on scores into one number and pretending like it actually means something is a bad joke.

An aspect of writing for GoNintendo that I really enjoy is that I can basically treat it as an extension of my blog. I have virtually no filter to my voice, ideas, or overall writing philosophy. I never feel pressure to treat my review subjects like they are just products. When that becomes a threat, like it has for recent collection reviews, I treat it as a challenge and find something creative to say about the collection in my own way. This philosophy carries over into review scores – I don’t do them, and my editor doesn’t require them.

To be completely honest, however, he probably should require scores. Not because it’s the right thing to do in terms of improving the articles, scores would likely do the opposite, but because review scores play a huge part in making your website “relevant.” Unless someone religiously follows your website or you happen to be king of the SEO algorithm, the best chance for your review to get traffic will be during the initial stampede of review scores that flood out after a review embargo lifts. Many reviews will be plucked and aggregated not just by the scoring sites like Metacritic, but also on various different forums and forms of social media.

Aggregates like these will always prioritize places with clear evaluations. On a surface level, you can’t get much clearer than a number. This becomes especially relevant if your score happens to diverge from what the “critical consensus” ends up being. If you scored unusually high, you may become the rallying cry for the stalwart fans that won’t let the mainstream opinion persuade them. If you scored unusually low, you’ll catch a lot of flack from the hardcore fans who will visit your review out of spite. Either way, even if you’re not specifically aiming to be controversial, it makes sense to include a score because it becomes an opportunity for potential free marketing.

I recently took a position at Gaming Trend, who do review scores, partly because they do review scores. The other part was simply that I wanted to cover more than just Nintendo, and their standards don’t otherwise conflict with how I want to write. I wanted to experience how much, if at all, providing a score would change my writing. I also wanted an opportunity to try reaching that wider “score aggregate” audience. After my initial experience, I found that scoring really didn’t change anything at all. In fact, I wrote my entire Digimon Survive review without even thinking about a score. That being the case, the experience opened me up to an alternative view on scoring.

Ultimately, I can live with doing scores in my reviews as long as I can accomplish my primary goal in my writing. I don’t mind throwing in my own personal evaluation number. I think of it as a supplement to my review, rather than the culmination of it. The concern, of course, is that whether I want them to or not, my preferences may eventually contribute an incredibly small part in shaping the future of how the game’s publisher treats the developers. Well, if anyone should have the opportunity play the world’s lamest god, I guess it might as well be me! My hope is just that my primary goal can eventually outshine whatever scores I happen to give.

I’m under no delusions about what I can reasonably accomplish with writing about games. I’m not writing this, or anything else I write, for fame or wealth. I know that there is little to no money to be made here, particularly in the way I’m choosing to go about things. I also know how unlikely it is to suddenly revolutionize how people write and think about games. In my mind, that just frees me up to make everything I write a true passion project. My goal, ultimately, is to just warm people up to the kind of writing I want to see. Maybe in my own little way, I can influence at least some people to bypass the conventions of the “product review” and truly think about what makes games interesting.

Book Thoughts, Inevitable Death Edition – 7/16/2022 (The Trial and And Then There Were None)

The Trial by Franz Kafka

The biggest misconception people often have about the law is that it is logical. Some people (reasonably) believe that proper application of the law naturally results in clear and consistent results, like a well-oiled machine. If the arguments are sound enough, the correct result will be guaranteed, right? If you study enough law, you’ll understand everything right?

No, unfortunately, you can spend your whole life studying and practicing the law and still fail to grasp the full extent of the laws governing society, or the verdicts that result from those laws.

Ultimately we are putting our lives, at least to some extent, in the hands of an amorphous system that is compromised of imperfect individuals judging other imperfect individuals. Despite the law being maintained and made for individuals, it is not beholden to the individual. A judge may hand down verdicts, but those verdicts result from thousands of micro factors. This mass of factors is impossible to comprehend the full extent of: common wisdom, opinions, interpretations, political factors, social policy, personality relationships and so on are intermixed.

The Trial lays that reality bare. Being charged for a crime that no one will give you any details about may seem extreme, yet it’s exceedingly common for people to have no real understanding of the laws at play in their lives or, if they do become involved in the legal system, what the seemingly basic concepts they are fighting for actually mean. Sometimes even the lawyer doesn’t have a clear understanding of what’s going on, and not for lack of trying. The Court staff probably doesn’t know what’s going on. It’s entirely possible that even the Judge may not know entirely what’s going on.

At some point you’d think someone would have to understand everything, that there was some amount of quality control going on. Such systems may exist, but only at the very top of the chain. Those systems are far off, expensive, and impossible for the common person to interact with. Sometimes even that top level of people can make mistakes. There’s no guarantee that at the end of your legal journey, you will find the answers you want and understand what happened completely.

On the back of my edition of the book, it describes The Trial as a “terrifying tale.” I suppose the idea of the legal system being like this can be scary, but I think for anyone who works in it, this depiction isn’t that far off from the essence of what’s really going on. If anything, the exaggerations make The Trial more amusing than terrifying. There’s a nonchalant attitude to the excessive and exasperating banality here that can’t escape the humor laying beneath the dread.

You almost get the sense while reading that the burden of this mysterious trial could not have been placed on a better protagonist than Josef K. He’s stubborn and overly self-conscious in ways that escalate and make the situation more entertaining. His strong-headed nature trips him into unintentionally falling upwards, deeper and deeper into the layers of the legal system taking over his life. Everyone in the story says entirely too much at virtually every time possible, and you can’t help but reflect on the ridiculousness of it all. K.’s annoyance with everyone around him only highlights how silly it is when he willingly ensnares himself in their verbose monologues anyway.

Franz Kafka writes in a way that perfectly conveys the plight of the story. His style suffocates you with long paragraphs and sentences that seemingly have no end. This may boil down to the unfinished nature of the novel, yet most of it feels intentional. The occasional breaks in paragraphs often line up perfectly with relief from whatever convoluted conversation Josef K. finds himself to be engaged in. Reading this book is like dunking yourself in an ocean and only coming up for air when you absolutely have to. Sometimes this style can be difficult to read, but it draws you in regardless.

An excessive amount of value often gets placed on the idea of a work being “finished.” The Trial, at least in the state it was released in, highlights why maybe rather than focusing so much on a work being complete, it may make more sense to think about the essence of what a work is trying to convey. Kafka clearly had more ideas he would have liked to flesh out, more characters and scenarios to include in this story. Would that matter, however? He wrote what he wrote, and the ideas he conveyed are out there regardless. If Kafka decided to finish his book, it is possible that he may not have gone with the ending we have, or at least an ending executed in the same way. That could have changed the core of his book, but would that have made the current ending less valid?

The only difference between what we have and what we could have had is that one version exists. There could have been more, things could have been different, things could have been better. At the end of it all, however, what we have is what is what we put out there, and that’s worth appreciating regardless of any what-ifs.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

The real killer in a murder mystery is the author. Sorry for the spoilers. No novel makes that truth clearer than And Then There Were None, where Agatha Christie essentially draws parallels between herself and the murderer of the story.

What is a mystery writer if not someone playing God with (fictional) people’s lives? The author kills their cast of characters by providing the situation in which a killer authors who dies and how. There’s an art to building a compelling murder mystery story, and it’s on full display here. Stories like these sometimes feel more like intellectual exercises than a “real” story, or as the murderer puts it, a way for others to see how clever they are.

That can be fun, but it’s also a little morbid to think about. After all, technically the taking of another person’s life is about as serious of a subject matter as it gets. That’s certainly what the killer in this story, perhaps Agatha, seems to believe, as the entire concept of the murder island the story takes place on is to enact the “eye for an eye” principle on various victims who are guilty of murder in some fashion.

You could describe And Then There Were None as a story about death and justice, yet there’s an arbitrariness to it all that makes me hesitate to do so. The story is told by jumping between the perspectives of a wide cast of characters, giving glimpses into each of their stories, personalities, and thoughts on the situation, which might imply some depth to be had here. As the corpses begin piling up, however, that illusion of depth soon fades away and begins to feel superficial.

The characters begin to feel less like characters and more like bullet points. They are their occupation, their general demeanor, and most importantly, their crime. Beyond that, it’s hard to grow attached to anyone, and I suppose that’s kind of a point. This is a story where everyone dies, and you’re supposed to come away thinking that they deserved it. You’re also supposed to think that deep down, most of them believe that they deserve it too.

Mystery stories like this inherently involve some craft to them and that inevitably leads to some artificiality. The sequence of events has to unfold in a way that efficiently kills off the ensemble while keeping you guessing as to who the culprit could be. That everyone on the island truly does happen to be guilty of their crimes, regardless of the ambiguity of their actions, is yet another one of those aspects that feel unnaturally crafted. There’s a fakeness to the scenario that maximizes fun while minimizing drama.

In a sense, the craft takes away from the drama and the humanity. It turns it all into a game. Maybe that’s fine, however. It’s a lot easier to read the story as a game, rather than taking the subject matter for what it is at face value. As long as you’re a God of fictional murders, you can afford to be all fun and games.

Book Thoughts – 7/03/2022 (The Anomaly and Based on a True Story)

The Anomaly by Hervé Le Tellier

The Anomaly pulled me in more with the way it was written than with what the writing was conveying. It skillfully utilizes an ensemble cast to slowly hook you into its overall premise. I also enjoyed the unconventional ways the author weaves personality into the text. A lot can be gleaned from how the author casually conveys tone. It is an enjoyable read for the sake of reading.

As a narrative, The Anomaly explores the nature of existence; what things would be like doing things differently. I’m sure everyone wonders what life would be like if things went just a little differently, if they are really in control of their lives. As characters in the narrative allude to, however, exactly what difference does it make? I’m not too concerned about questions like that, and so the many twists and turns of the narrative and the characters did not grip me.

The ending in particular leaves little impact. “Oh well,” I thought. I couldn’t tell if the author thought that it was clever or if that’s exactly what he thinks too. Either way, not something that touched me personally.

Based on a True Story by Norm Macdonald

There exists a myth that there are naturally funny people – it’s misleading. Developing the aptitude for it might be easier for some than others, but it’s hard work all the same. Everyone can be funny sometimes and to some extent. The true “funny” people are the ones who can appear to be funny all the time. That does not come naturally. Being “funny” requires experience and insight into humanity. No one demonstrates that better than Norm Macdonald.

Norm, perhaps more than anyone, knew what was funny. That’s tough because funny is an aimless, amorphous concept that changes depending on the situation. That’s where the work comes in. Norm could read the room. He prepared for the reactions he could elicit. Most importantly, he wrote a lot and perfected his delivery of what he wrote. Everyone who heard what Norm was really putting out into the world in his standup, talkshow appearances, and even his own shows knows he was not spouting random bits of nonsense he “naturally” stumbled into on the fly. They were perfectly crafted bits of humor that he could twist into being funny even if no one was laughing. A bombed joke can be just as funny as one that kills. That’s Norm. He was the art of comedy incarnate.

Based on a True Story condenses that craft into a roughly 200 page narrative. As the title suggests, what Norm wrote in this book is not in itself a true story, but rather based on true life events. Most of it ends up being implausible. Often they are absurd extensions of jokes he’s told a million times. Occasionally he just throws in his classic jokes verbatim. He almost treats his bits as special guest appearances, from actual people like Adam Eget to his moth joke. It ends up feeling like a full culmination of Norm.

While the book emphasizes the jokes, it utilizes its absurd fictitious elements to scrape at the truths hiding beneath them. Norm rarely tells you exactly what to think, you can just read between the lines a little to identify what he’s actually getting at. A lot like his usual standup routine. That makes it especially obvious how much work he put into his jokes. Everything here works just as well written as it does if Norm were reading it himself. Maybe that’s just because it’s so easy to imagine him reading it. I’m pretty sure an audio book version of exactly that exists, I just don’t think it’s necessary.

Based on a True Story is a funny, breezy, and even intriguing read that brings in some unusual narrative tricks. Perhaps the greatest lie in the book is that Norm claims to not be a writer. He was a writer, an amazing one, and that is obvious not only in the book, but all the years of comedy he performed.

What U Want vs What U Need – Sonic and the Fallen Star Review + Selfish Sonic Rant

Sonic shares an odd relationship with fangames. Fangames are basically the ultimate proof of his impact, his ability to inspire others to create and follow their passions. In turn, however, they also get used a lot to drag the official efforts. A double-edged hedgehog.

In some respect it’s justified; fan efforts became official efforts with the mobile Sonic ports, Sonic Mania, and now Sonic Origins, so with Sonic in particular the Pandora’s Box has been opened. It is in fact, more or less fair game to talk about fan efforts in relation to main titles, because the people who make them could very well be working on the series in an official capacity in some day.

Comparisons to fangames aren’t usually done with that mindset, however. It’s usually done in an almost idealized way, like the person wants something very specific out of Sonic that they are not getting, so they are comparing the two even if it doesn’t make much sense. I often see posts along the lines of “lol Sega can’t even do physics like this while one random person could!!” with a video attached showing a glitchy physics demo of Sonic jumping through a totally empty field or something. The assumption that Sega can’t compete with fans often fails out of the gate because it assumes that Sega is attempting to design the game that you specifically want. Unfortunately, this is often not the case.

Is that a problem with Sonic? Maybe. It feels like it. I want it to be a problem because I want Sonic to be a certain way and he is note! Why aren’t they making what I want?

I think it speaks to an important truth: what people want from Sonic likely differs from what Sega needs. I generally disagree with the notion that the recent Sonic games are bad, but I will also readily admit that they are not what I want.

The Sonic I want appears to have died sometime in the late 2000s. Sonic should be cool, all I see lately is a Sonic that used to be cool. He is either retreading his old adventures or imitating something more popular, whether it’s Mario or Zelda. Not saying these efforts make for bad games, they just don’t capture the full essence of Sonic to me.

That’s right – now it is my turn to selfishly rant about what I want and compare fangames to official games as a window into my idealized version of Sonic.

Enter Sonic and the Fallen Star. This new fangame just released at the time of writing, and I’ve already played through it twice in the day it has been out. It’s a fun classic style Sonic game. More importantly, it does not settle for merely being a classic style Sonic game. It pushes more boundaries than I expected, making it a distinct experience that jumps over the nostalgia pit that 2D Sonic games have been getting stuck in since Sonic 4. All of this is to say, I really enjoyed it.

I particularly enjoy Sonic’s portrayal. He’s very cool and lively, like the animations in Sonic CD fully realized into a game. This likely goal becomes especially obvious in the cutscenes, which often depict Sonic doing extended parkour sessions around the environment. It’s like he jumped straight out of the Sonic CD intro!

Aesthetically the game bends toward Sonic CD with some distinct stylings. The music especially feels different from Sonic while still totally fitting with the Sonic vibe. Defining what exactly the Sonic vibe is may be difficult, but I assure you I know it when I see it, because I am the ultimate arbiter of Sonic. At least in this essay.

While playing, I found it hard to shake the feeling of “wow, this is like if CD was designed like a real Sonic game!” Not totally fair to CD, of course, because there was only one game to go off of at the time, but anyone who has played all of the classics probably knows what I mean. You can charitably say CD emphasizes exploration, as the levels are often big spaces that you can usually backtrack through to find secrets. There is a little exploration in Fallen Star for secrets, it just pushes you more towards traditional platforming and speed rushes that Sonic typically excels at.

That actually creates problems sometimes. The level design can occasionally blend together; there’s a few too many repeated ideas and empty stretches that are common through nearly ever stage. The moment-to-moment level design works well enough, it just occasionally becomes obvious that these levels were not professionally made and succumb to repetitive design tropes that may not have been in an official product.

The special stages also quickly become unusually tough. The special stage concept makes sense to me and twists pre-existing special stage tropes in a cool way; it just leaves little room for error and often throws new concepts at you in unfair ways. You can succeed after multiple attempts, so it does not pose an insurmountable challenge, it just feels like they could use some tweaking. Although I guess I can’t speak for the last stage – I only had one emerald to go before accidentally erasing my save somehow. Oops.

I’m always looking for games to make Sonic cool and exciting in new ways, and this game accomplishes that. Between the modern games, Boom, and throwbacks like Mania, Sega recently plays things too safe with how Sonic looks and feels to play. He comes across as sanitized. Uncool. Something desperately trying to stay relevant by sticking to what people know and love. This is wrong!

Sonic is the absolute last series I want to be “safe.” How totally antithetical to the character. People can prefer the older games, you don’t have to throw that style of game out entirely, but please push it forward! Please do anything but a straight up imitation! I don’t know who exactly I’m begging to. If you happen to being a corporate suit at Sega and are reading this, it’s time to make the games I want and only the games I want! Thanks in advance! Sonic Advance, am I right?

You can make a classic style game that isn’t “just” a classic style game, Sonic and the Fallen Star serves as proof. If Sega wants to make the games they need, it’s nice to know that someone out there still wants to make the Sonic that I want.

Fortnite – The Spider-Man Review

WARNING: This review was originally written in January 2022 but fell through a time warp and ended up here. It no longer reflects the current state of Fortnite! Or society!

The easiest way to drag me into an unknowably endless abyss is to promise that Spider-Man lies at the bottom of it. You probably know him, he was in a movie or something recently. But what you may not know about is Fortnite.

Just kidding, you probably know about Fortnite too. Just between you and me, though, what do you think Fortnite actually is? A popular video game? Where you build stuff? That features battles that are apparently royalty of some kind? While technically you may be correct, you are also completely wrong.

Fortnite is a void. It contains everything you can think of as well as nothing at all. Multitudes of intellectual property converge in this space-time anomaly in order to wage battle against each other after leaping from a mysterious vehicle known as “The Battle Bus.” Everyone is on The Battle Bus, but no one knows why. 

You are in Fortnite. I am in Fortnite. Spider-Man is in Fortnite. That is why we have gathered here today. 

Spider-Man joins Fortnite in order to kickstart what the game refers to as “Chapter 3.” I assume this means something but the game makes little effort to explain it. The game opens with a slow walking segment followed by a cutscene that implies there is an ongoing narrative. People sit around talk but the dialogue is incomprehensible. Oh well, Spider-Man shows up at the end so I guess it’s all good. 

After that, you gain access to menus that all essentially form a minefield, except the mines are ways the game attempts to convince you to give it money. For its first major gameplay challenge, Fortnite requires you to navigate these menus carefully to find Spider-Man. 

There are two ways to obtain Spider-Man: you can spend money to get him, or you can spend money to buy a battle pass and play the game a lot to eventually get him. You can also spend money to buy a battle pass then spend even more money to get him without playing the game at all, so technically you have three choices. I went with the first option. 

I note that while intellectual property-wise all roads lead to Spider-Man, the Spider-Man I purchased was the one from the hit film, Spider-Man: No Way Home. Now in theaters at the time of writing, likely not at the time of reading. I suppose it is up for debate as to whether or not this actually counts as “Spider-Man.” 

My reasoning for that distinction mostly boils down to the character’s sense of relatability. A core aspect of the Spider-Man character was that he was a kid thrusted into adulthood responsibilities through tragedy, so while he went on fun superhero adventures he also had to deal with real stuff like bills and alienating everyone in his life without exception. The MCU Peter’s concerns range between odd extremes of petty tantrums over school trips to wildly unrelatable events like inheriting a billionaire’s legacy or multiversal shenanigans. Yeah that stuff comes up in the comics, but it differs beca- look, the point is I’m kind of picky about how my favorite superhero gets portrayed. Let’s talk about Fortnite.

Well, usually Spider-Man doesn’t shoot people in the face with a gun. I understand the need to take some creative liberties, however, so I will give this pass. This Spider-Man also excels at dancing, clearly drawing inspiration from the Sam Raimi films. I do find it odd that he never really says anything; it’s rare for Spider-Man to be mute. Silent protagonists are relatable in their own way, so this decision may technically be in the spirit of Spider-Man. 

Honestly, he almost feels like some kind of blank avatar that merely wears the skin of Spider-Man rather than actually being Spider-Man. I’m probably just imagining things.

What I’m not imagining is how well they nailed Spider-Man on an aesthetic level. Spider-Man translates smoothly to the cartoony style of Fortnite and he looks great in every costume he wears. He has a nice selection of costumes, too. Not to throw shade at a game I won’t name starring Marvel’s Avengers, but this is how you gouge your playerbase. Black suit? Accounted for. Future Foundation suit? Looks sick. Product placement movie suits? Yeah they’re fine. I want all of these costumes, and I’m almost willing to play a bunch of Fortnite to get them.  

This brings us to the topic I’ve been avoiding: actually playing Fortnite. Historically, I haven’t been much of a fan. The typical round of Fortnite’s battle royale mode consists of running around a giant map for about 20 minutes without meeting a single other human being before the game ends and apparently you won. Occasionally you’ll encounter a minigame where someone snipes you from way off in the distance and you die, but this occurs infrequently. While exploring the map you can find treasure chests, drive vehicles, or fish for some reason. These activities theoretically add to the enjoyment of the video game, but overall I think it’s safe to say I don’t really get Fortnite. 

Spider-Man improves everything, though, right? That’s my life philosophy and it rings true even in the depths of this abyss. What surprised me more than anything else regarding Spider-Man’s Fortnite debut is that he legitimately changes the game. You see, Spider-Man didn’t just bring himself; he also brought his web shooters. Then he forgot them somewhere, I guess, because his web shooters can just be found unattended at a bunch of different places on the map. Whether you are the Spider-Man himself or not, picking them up imbues you with the proportionate strength and speed of a spider, allowing you to awkwardly swing around the map.

Spider-Man 2 web swinging or PS4 Spider-Man web swinging this is not. What Fortnite’s web swinging is, however, is mostly functional and interesting. The actual act of swinging feels a little off – you target what you want to swing off of just like how you’d aim a gun. In a way this offers more freedom than actual Spider-Man games tend to have. This freedom also tends to make things unpredictable – sometimes you’ll fly up with no problems, other times you’ll find yourself stuck in geometry or swinging oddly low to the ground. The momentum changes erratically and even after dozens of matches I never felt 100% confident in putting my life in the hands of the web gods.

The parts of the swinging mechanic I find compelling have more to do with its tertiary aspects. For example, most of the web shooter pickups only provide you with a limited amount of ammo. The idea of Spider-Man running out of web fluid regularly comes up in the comics and other adaptations, but it was more or less phased out from the games once they started going the open world route. I get it, when the games are all about traversal, having to worry about losing the ability to engage with the main mechanic of the game probably wouldn’t go over well. I love the idea of implementing it anyway though – it’s one of those mechanical reminders that Spider-Man really is just some guy with limits, especially economical limits.

What does this limit mean for Fortnite in particular? Not a whole lot really – your web ammo is limited, but you still get plenty. Your ability to quickly traverse the map depends on consistently identifying the next target to swing off of; failing to keep your momentum with an unbroken chain of swings forces you to wait on a cooldown timer before your next swing, so in a sense you’re actually encouraged to use them often and continuously. 

Once I found out that these web shooters existed, my experience with Fortnite dramatically changed. No longer was I wandering aimlessly for signs of life. I was now swinging aimlessly around the map in record time. You can actually move through the map so quickly that your chances of encountering other players increases dramatically. I began efficiently conquering other players in firefights and pillaging the map for resources and guns. I could easily dip into fights and dip out when things looked bad since the web shooters offered such a huge mobility advantage compared to what the average player can do. 

It was at this point I discovered that Fortnite may actually be a real video game. More importantly, it was at this point that I discovered how to consistently win. Face front, True Believers, here’s how to become an MLG 1337 Fortnite Pwner circa Fortnite Chapter 3 Season 1!

First, you’ll want to drop off of The Battle Bus around the Daily Bugle. Any self-respecting Webhead should know why; Spider-Man frequents the place so often that it just makes sense that he’d be dropping web shooters out of his pockets all the time there. As you fall, scope out the location of any bags webbed to the wall, that’s where Spidey keeps the goods. From there, shout “Excelsior!” while soaring across the map and pillaging the land for strong guns. Now, it’s Clobbering Time! Keep swinging around until the map has shrunken down to the point where everyone clusters together. With your Amazing arsenal and Spectacular speed, you will easily show everyone who the Superior Spider-Man really is. 

For whatever reason, game after game it felt like I was the only person finding and taking advantage of this clearly powerful strategy. I genuinely cannot tell if I was missing something about these web shooters that makes people avoid them or if the game is just so full of 12 year olds who don’t know what they’re doing that I am basically just bullying little children. Either way, great game! I think!

I admit that despite winning so much, I felt rather empty about it. Something seems off, like maybe this isn’t all real. Is Fortnite tricking me into playing more by pitting me against literal children and robots? Is this all a ploy to keep me trapped in the void forever?

I want to leave the void, but I can’t. I should disclose that over the period I was playing, they eventually put Venom up on the Fortnite shop and I ended up buying him too. This was after I had decided I was basically done with the game, so I definitely have a problem and need to get out of here as soon as I can. But how? Where do I go? It’s basically endless, there’s no escape. I can’t do this anymore; I just read something about how they might put Mega Man in the game! You can’t do this to me! Please let me leave!!!

(By the way, in case you were hoping for my Fortnite – The Venom Review, here goes: he’s cool.)

300 Words About Mega Man 2

When I was looking at different freelancing opportunities recently, one of them asked me to talk about my favorite game in 100-300 words. I don’t usually do small posts, but I I thought that was an interesting limitation and I might as well post something mercifully short for once:

I love Mega Man 2 because everything about it inspires me. A small, passionate team put everything they had into following up an idea they really believed in but had previously failed. The sequel perfects the ideas of its predecessor while introducing so many clever ideas and platforming staples of its own that this game’s legacy in particular continues to inspire new games today. Despite only being made in about three months, the game features so many memorable stages you can hardly tell. Quick Man’s laser gauntlet, Heat Man’s invisible blocks, getting chased by a giant Dragon; there is an overabundance of cool (albeit tough to conquer) ideas in one place.

Although Mega Man is a robot, his games focus on forming an empathetic connection with the player through their designs, music, story, and gameplay. Mega Man 2 carefully balances its stages with a unique blend of cautious play and creative problem-solving through strategic weapon use. To succeed, you must insert yourself into the situation. Mega Man 2 features a wonderfully moody soundtrack and simple but appealing visuals that work together to form an approachable, melancholic vibe. Forming a connection with the player was important for the team, and this mission was made most clear by directly involving fans in the design process of the bosses. On every level, the developers hoped to transcend simply providing a great experience to enjoy and opted instead for something truly special.

While other Mega Mans may be overall smoother experiences or introduce new staple gameplay elements, Mega Man 2 towers over them with its strong ambition and the clear personality of its development team, which didn’t fully carry over into the sequels. The oddly emotional ending to 2 will stick with me forever. That ending wordlessly defines the true power of video games.

Game of the Year 2021

Somehow an entire year has passed since I wrote my game of the year list for 2020, which means that I have to write a new one or else I will lose my writing-about-video-games license. As always, if you disagree with me I implore you to cut that out.

You may notice that there are thirteen games sitting on this list. Why thirteen instead of ten? I ask instead, why ten instead of thirteen? Go into the mountains and meditate on this for ten days and thirteen nights. Return here when you are done and share your answer in the comments section. Only then will we be able to reach true enlightenment.

13. Elec Head

Players often hold the concept of “immersion” in high regard, essentially putting forth the idea that the games should strive to avoid making you think about the fact that they are games while playing them. Personally I’ve never found this idea to be that important. If anything, pursuing immersion too heavily results in missing out on key advantages that only the awareness of the fact you’re playing a game can provide.

Elec Head serves as an extreme example. You can’t ignore that Elec Head is a game; if you do, you simply won’t be able to progress. Elec Head forces the player to rethink the more abstract components of game design by turning them into essential pieces of puzzles. Over its short duration, the game packs in so many clever ideas and scenarios that it could stand out for how tightly designed it is alone.

12. Resident Evil Village

Both the biggest blessing and curse of the Resident Evil series lies in its nature to be consistently inconsistent. The balancing act between action and horror ebbs back and forth in nearly every game, and I believe that’s largely by design – when you’re a mainstream series like Resident Evil, you can’t survive this long by being just one thing forever.

Resident Evil VII surprised me with its reinvention of the series’ horror roots that had decayed over the decade prior to its release, but it was inevitable that the pendulum would swing back to action eventually. Village doesn’t fully abandon horror, though, it instead injects small doses of it in between more action-packed firefights with werewolves, vampires, and all kinds of creatures of the night. Village offers such an over-the-top sampling of scenarios and creatures that I can’t help but be enthralled by how far it goes in executing every outlandish idea it has.

I had a lot of fun with Village, but it may be the series at its most eclectic. Similar to any a-little-bit-of-everything blockbuster, I’m not sure I can appreciate it as much as something more focused like Resident Evil VII. As far as AAA blockbusters go, however, no one does it better than Capcom and Village offers up just about everything you could want from a horror-themed rollercoaster ride.

11. Steel Assault

William Shakespeare once wrote that “brevity is the soul of wit,” and although this quote is often cited from his work on Hamlet, it’s a little known fact that he originally wrote it when talking about how cool video games will be in around 400 years.

Arcade design endures to this day because although it often crams in a lot of mechanics and scenarios to master, the breezy game lengths ease the chances of a player growing too overwhelmed as well as their pain in making mistakes. The end goal of playing these games may be perfection, but until then, each playthrough builds upon the next by adding just a little more experience to your arsenal. As long as you keep trying, the rapid accumulation of experience gradually imbues your soul with enough wit to get the coveted 1CC. Shakespeare truly was ahead of his time.

Steel Assault executes on this concept flawlessly. The game echoes the formula of run and gun classics like Contra, but offers mechanical depth with its grapple line mechanic which allows for tactics that may not be immediately obvious without the experimentation multiple playthroughs allow for. I completed Steel Assault about five times in a row the first day I tried it, and while that might seem like a lot, it only clocks in to be a little over two hours. That’s the power of witty brevity. Steel Assault shines as a brilliant beacon for the merits of arcade action and design.

10. Splitgate

Splitgate emerged from the shadows (possibly via portal) as a surprise last-minute entry into the the running. These days I don’t expect to get into multiplayer shooters too much. Despite that, Splitgate has managed to pull me in for the past month. This year Splitgate left early access to enter, uh, indefinite beta, but frankly it holds up in a shockingly less Early Access state than its most direct inspiration.

Yeah Halo might be back, but just between you and me, I don’t know if Halo Infinite’s multiplayer does much of anything I didn’t like more in Halo 3 over a decade ago. It actually does a lot of things worse; I’m pretty sure I could just play any mode I wanted to play in Halo 3 for starters. Splitgate on the other hand competently carries over a lot of what I enjoy in Halo while adding in the strategic portal element. The portals don’t fundamentally alter the game, but they introduce a fresh consideration that consistently captures my imagination for coming up with new approaches and strategies. Halo fans have been beaten down by 343’s previous efforts and may be desperate to latch onto Infinite, but as it stands Splitgate may be more worth their time and attention.

AMBUSHED! Video Game Premonitions for 2022

Watch out, your arbitrary video game ranking list has been arbitrarily invaded by a random encounter! Can you defeat this trash mob of premonitions and emerge from 2022 unscathed?

  • Square Enix announces their intent to implement NFTs into Marvel’s Avengers somehow.
  • At least one iconic Nintendo character farts on screen in the Super Mario movie.
  • Microsoft neither implements nor outlines a coherent plan to expand upon Halo Infinite’s campaign mode in 2022.
  • Konami announces a new Castlevania that basically looks like a budget Dark Souls game.
  • The Pokemon Company announces their intent to implement NFTs into an upcoming generation of Pokemon somehow. By the way, there’s a new generation of Pokemon and it’s coming out at the end of this year. What, a new game is supposed to release this month? Whatever, that’s old news!
  • Gex returns and in a bid to make him more relevant to modern audiences, this time he is being voiced by Youtuber Videogamedunkey.
  • Capcom announces more Resident Evil projects than Mega Man or Ace Attorney combined.
  • Sony prevents the Apes from Escaping once again.
  • The new Zelda game (Obelisk of Shadow) is just ok.

That was pretty scary, huh? Anyway, you know what else is scary:

9. Tormented Souls

No genre of game suffers more from discourse about “evolution” than horror games. So many people talk about old school survival horror games as if the developers had absolutely no idea what they were doing. Why didn’t all of those legendary game developers realize they were making their massively budgeted and successful games “wrong” when they implemented fixed camera angles and tank controls?

Of course in reality, many of these so-called outdated techniques are perfect for horror while many modern conventions are almost antithetical to it. Fixed cameras lock you into perspectives that give each room a distinct feeling or personality, while the free moving perspective of over-the-shoulder or first person games often make things easy to ignore or blend areas together indistinctly. Tank controls might have a small learning curve, but they make perfect sense in a world where you don’t know what exactly to expect when you head off-screen.

I worry people aren’t ready for the truth – technical limitations or not, early horror games had an amazingly strong grasp on horror techniques and how they should work in a game, often a better grasp than most modern horror games do. Perspective and player control are indescribably important when it comes to horror. The more control you have over your actions and what you see, the more difficult it becomes to build up moods or tension. I’m not saying that horror is impossible in other perspectives, simply that this old style is hardly outdated and it’s an enormous shame that games made this way died off in the post-Resident Evil 4 world.

In this bleak world, Tormented Souls highlights this genre’s long-forgotten strengths. Everything you could hope for shows up – a grueling atmosphere, bizarre enemies and camera angles, puzzles you actually have to think about for more than a second, and item management that keeps you on your toes. The game borrows more than a few ideas from older survival horror games, but not at the cost of its own identity. In many ways, Tormented Souls pushes boundaries that its more mainstream inspirations would never have dared. Tormented Souls admirably reignites the torch of survival horror and I can only hope more games follow in its stead to keep the fire alive.

8. Balan Wonderworld

Balan Wonderworld presents a message about how our lives require a balance of both positivity and negativity to find meaning, and that regardless of what we struggle with at any given moment, kindness and imagination can push you through; so I suppose it is only appropriate that the game was relentlessly mocked to the point it unceremoniously tanked, dragging down the developers who worked on it in the process.

I get it, despite a lot of the clamor for these kinds of games to come back, collectathon-focused platformers aren’t actually that popular. At best, most will just ask why the game doesn’t play like Mario. Personally, I appreciate the laid-back lock-and-key style exploration Balan offers and playing the game to full completion remains a big highlight of this year. The excellent design work from Naoto Ohshima elevates the game further, making each level, creature, and costume powerup endearing with a style that I sorely miss seeing in a post-Dreamcast world. It’s a shame how Balan was received, but it was also easy to see coming. My guess: the world will grow much kinder to Balan in the long run.

7. Metroid Dread

Metroid and I have settled our differences and come to an agreement. She can keep the action focus and flashy cinematics, while I get a competently made map that’s fun to navigate and a story that doesn’t make me want to die.

A decade ago, I may have been more excited about Dread, but in retrospect I can only think “man I’m glad they’re finally on the right track.” Don’t misunderstand, I enjoyed the game a lot, but I can’t say it tops my list of favorite Metroid games or fully brought me back to pre-2010 levels of Metroid fandom. I’m just glad Metroid is safe and doing well and it’s not like I like her or anything b-baka.

6. Psychonauts 2

Only Psychonauts 2 gave Metroid Dread a run for its money in how concerned I was about how it would end up. I love Psychonauts, but I have not loved a Double Fine game since, well, Psychonauts. Okay, I liked Brutal Legend more than most, but I don’t know if I love it. The point being, as far as decade+-late sequels go, I felt all bets were off with this one. I didn’t even back it on their weird Kickstarter investing Ponzi-scheme setup because I had so little faith in the project. A truly great Psychonauts 2 would require Tim Schafer and company to somehow channel themselves from 2005 to make it work.

Well, call me a psychic but that appears to be what happened. Barring a few aspects, Psychonauts 2 follows up on the original like no time passed at all, in-game or otherwise. Every character arc and plot reveal logically and amusingly follows from the original and the game answers just about every question you could have about the world of Psychonauts. Game-wise the controls and level design have been streamlined, but the game remains fun and varied throughout. It’s just a nice, pleasant experience that I couldn’t have imagined coming from this company 16 years after the fact.

The only thing I can really complain about is the complete erosion of trust between Double Fine and their audience. Whereas the original may have left some things unsaid or hidden particularly dark parts of character backstories as secrets, this time around the writing doesn’t want you to miss a thing. There’s almost no reason to break open those memory vault slideshows because the game will just tell you exactly what happened anyway. You’re going to have everything about this character, their life, and their psychological hang-ups spelled out for you, sometimes from multiple perspectives, and you’re going to like it, you idiot.

Overall, though, I’m impressed. Double Fine put together a worthwhile sequel to one of my favorite games and it only required them to tank the whole company and get bought out by Microsoft to do it.

5. Fantasian

Final Fantasy marches on without creator Hironobu Sakaguchi’s involvement, but the games labeled Final Fantasy today exist as undeniably different beasts from the initial run of games he worked on. Even the throwback-style RPGs that attempt to capture the spirit of those original games never really do, and I believe it’s exactly because they are deliberate imitations that they end up missing some of the appeal.

Fantasian doesn’t feel like it’s trying to recapture anything, it just effortlessly embodies the spirit of Final Fantasy. The handmade environments suck you into a world crafted with just as much charming simplicity as the game’s aesthetic. Fantasian does not revolutionize any RPG mechanics, but it doesn’t need or want to – it has enough smaller ideas to keep the battles engaging and the exploration interesting regardless. There will always be new Final Fantasy games on the horizon, but in many ways Mistwalker’s RPGs are the real Final Fantasy continuations to me, and Fantasian is perhaps the greatest testament to that so far.

4. Ys IX: Monstrum Nox

One of my favorite things about the Ys series is the variety it presents to the player in terms of the adventures themselves and varying game styles. At a time where the party member system of recent games may be wearing thin, the developers at Falcom found interesting and economical ways to do something different.

Despite the many shared elements, Ys IX stands as an almost polar opposite to Ys VIII. VIII pushed the boundaries of the series to its most expansive point yet, while IX quietly introspects about Adol and the nature of his adventures. That’s not to say it’s unambitious, as it aims to be the most consistent and strongly themed game in the series. Every element of the game builds on the concepts it explores and it results in a very different experience from what came before. While I’m sure Ys IX can be enjoyed by newcomers, it culminates the series up to this point in such a smart and meaningful way that I can’t help but feel being a long-time fan is a prerequisite to truly connecting with and loving this game.

BONUS STAGE – Miscellaneous 2021 Thoughts

Wow, you managed to enter the secret bonus stage! How did you even do that, you’re just sitting and reading a web page!? Anyway, here are some brief 2021-specific thoughts:


As you may know, in the year 2021 a game releasing doesn’t mean it ever has to stop releasing. I spent a good amount of time on add-ons and expansions this year, so I thought I would highlight a few that stuck with me in particular:

Streets of Rage 4 – Mr. X Nightmare

I know what you’re thinking: I, too, was hoping for a way that Streets of Rage 4 could win Game of the Year two years in a row. This will have to do.

Mr. X Nightmare perfects Streets of Rage 4. I mean it was already pretty perfect but I guess it is more perfect now. They sure showed me. Not only does the expansion add more characters to enjoy and experiment with, it also adds new moves to every existing character. The survival mode, while perhaps more limited in what it offers than you might expect, allows the game to go as wild as possible in often zany, overwhelming ways. It serves as a nice diversion to replaying the main game, at any rate.

Streets of Rage 4 already existed as one of the most comprehensive packages in the genre, but Mr X Nightmare adds so many reasons to continue to replay the game that it’s hard to wrap your head around it. I know game design isn’t about content alone, but I just can’t see any game topping Streets of Rage 4 on its own terms now. It’s over. Perfect game.

Streets Fighter V – Final Season

I realize you’re not supposed to say this out loud, but Street Fighter V has been my favorite fighting game this past console generation by far. I’ve enjoyed the game for pretty much its entire run, and I couldn’t ask for a better send off than this final season of characters. Oro in particular sat on my list of dream characters for a long time, and I’m exceedingly happy to see him finally show up in a new game. While I’m interested to see where Street Fighter 6 goes from here, until it materializes I am more than satisfied with Street Fighter V.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Fighters Pass 2

Around the same time as Street Fighter V, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate also came to an end this year. While I generally enjoyed the characters in the second fighters pass, I can’t say any of the picks got me overly excited. They are well made and interesting to play as, but the first pass did a lot more for me until the Byleth reveal set our reality onto the alternate timeline. I’m happy to see Sora managed to cut past all the legal red tape at any rate.

I’m a little surprised Nintendo chose to end things here to be honest. I understand that working on the game requires a lot of time and money, but the ever looming Smash reveals offered so many benefits outside of simply collecting DLC money that it seems insane to end the potential for more without some kind of follow-up on the immediate horizon. That’s the other problem – Smash Ultimate undoubtedly poses one of the toughest acts to follow of all time. It makes no sense to completely reboot the series with different mechanics as that would no longer be Super Smash Bros., but the disappointment of a roster downgrade will also be difficult to swallow.

As things stand, I only see two ways forward: (1) they re-release the game on the next Nintendo console with more characters then restart the DLC cycle all over again, or (2) they give Smash a long break and return with some kind of weird service game that lives on the unstated promise that eventually the roster may grow back to Ultimate’s size. Either way, Smash will eventually need to face up to the existential crisis created by Ultimate, and it may not be pretty.

Skullgirls Returns from the Dead (Again)

Perhaps appropriately, Skullgirls fades in and out of undeath. It seems like just yesterday that Squiggly miraculously joined the roster, only for that to open the door for even more characters, only for future updates to be unceremoniously shelved in favor of Indivisible. Now the tables have turned and Indivisible has been unceremoniously shelved while Skullgirls reigns supreme. As it should, if you ask me.

It does seem strange to me that two of the most key people involved with the inception of Skullgirls are now off the project for various reasons, but I’m not dissatisfied with the work Future Club has done without them. I can only hope to one day see Minette and Panzerfaust to complete this unlikely Skullgirls fever-dream purgatory extravaganza.

Fan Games

Just as the indie side of the game development grows in power, so too does the unofficial fangame scene. I briefly considered putting two particular efforts onto the official game of the year list, but since both projects are technically ongoing, I opted instead to highlight them here:

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles X Justice League Turbo

I know I said I’m enjoying the new updates to Street Fighter V and Skullgirls a lot, but TMNT X Justice League Turbo might be the actual coolest thing going on in fighting games right now. This game aims to be the unofficial sequel to both TMNT Tournament Fighters and Justice League Task Force on the Super Nintendo, but in reality it far surpasses both. Not only did News Team 6 faithfully transfer both games into a more universal and fun fighting system, but they executed it with a polish on the level of an official product.

The number of professionals working on the game far surpasses what you might expect – former SNK staff contributed art and music, a former Konami developer who worked on the original Tournament Fighters returned to make additions to the characters he worked on, April’s original voice actor from the SNES game reprised her role, and more. The core team working on the game have done such a great job with the fighting mechanics and story content that even if they lack the professional background, they might as well be pros in their own right.

Version 1.0 released this past December, but apparently development will continue into 2022. Frankly, I’m amazed with how much is already in the game. TMNT X Justice League presents a staggering picture of just far fan efforts can go.

Sonic P-06

If there’s one thing that virtually everyone can agree on when it comes to Sonic, it’s that the 2006 entry needed more time in the oven. Project 06 not only ports the 2006 game to PC, but it goes the extra mile and actively seeks to improve it. Developer ChaosX adds a layer of polish that the team at Sega lacked the opportunity to apply while also implementing unused ideas and dialogue. As of the time of writing, both Sonic and Shadow’s campaigns have been completed with Silver actively in development.

Contrary to its reputation, Sonic 06 had merits, but they were buried under an avalanche of problems stemming from the condition of the company and development team implosion happening at the time. As things stand, we’re lucky when Sega officially acknowledges Sonic 06; I don’t expect them to ever rerelease it or properly fix it. They want it buried. Project 06 digs the game out from the rubble while carefully recreating it with a love that only someone who truly appreciates what the game should have been could provide.

The Metaverse and NFTs

If ham-fisted corporate messaging is any indication, the big trend for the upcoming decade appears to be detaching humanity from reality as much as possible. Why attend a meeting for your job when you can attend a meeting for your job where everyone looks like an early CG cartoon? Why actually own things when you can own this license to a thing or something? Monkeys? Hello?

I can’t say if these concepts will actually catch on or not, my guess would be not for a while and probably not in the form they are currently being marketed as. In any case, however, I expect these to be AAA video game buzzwords for the foreseeable future, becoming the new GAAS, lootboxes, online passes or whatever your contentiously dirty business practice of choice may be. Ubisoft and Square Enix CEO messaging definitely implies they won’t be going away without a fight, so get used to seeing these terms pop up. Rest assured, if it wasn’t this they would be pushing something equally as stupid in an attempt to gouge you. That’s just how this works. In the meantime, get your NFT apes primed for the next generation of Ape Fighting.

That was fun, right? I tried to ease you into it with that last paragraph, so let’s head back to harsh reality:

3. The Good Life

Swery’s work in games strives to be atypical, but in a way that has almost typecast him into delivering certain things that people expect. The Good Life delivers on his tropes on some level, but it also doesn’t execute them in the usual ways. The Good Life promises mystery, animal transformation action, and compelling characters, but overall its strengths lie more in its life sim elements to convey a vibe, a feeling of appreciating life in any circumstances.

The protagonist, Naomi, thrives in cynicism and the town she visits for a big scoop sometimes feels as if it exists purely to annoy her. You, as the player, have to be willing to play along or else you’re likely to become just as frustrated as Naomi. Many people in town are clearly manipulating you for their own gain, but there’s fun and charm to be found in between the lines of the over-the-top cynicism. Finding joy in the tedious and absurd situations summarizes what the game is truly about. In that way, The Good Life may be the most accurate life simulator to ever exist.

2. No More Heroes III

In 2019, Travis Strikes Again proposed a new hypothesis for Travis Touchdown and No More Heroes, one that could only emerge from time away to reflect, and No More Heroes III finishes that thought. Like Travis Strikes Again, No More Heroes III may not fit neatly in line with what people were expecting from a new entry, but it smartly builds upon the prior games all the same with a revamped combat system and deftly mixing elements that worked from each prior installment.

It seems unlikely to me that Travis Touchdown fades away never to be seen again after this, but No More Heroes III absolutely marks the end of No More Heroes. Travis and Suda have left the bleak and cynical attitudes of the originals behind and matured to greater heights.

What, there are no heroes in this world? Oh, but there totally are!

1. Blaster Master Zero 3

Blaster Master Zero 3 concludes a love story not only about the game’s protagonists, but about each generation of video game developers and players connecting to the next. From the very beginning Blaster Master Zero has been about linking a classic game to a new generation while satisfying fans of the old. Zero 3 finally brings that theme full circle in surprising ways, leading to a truly epic finale that punches far above the weight level the game’s looks may imply. Much like your battle tank’s cannon, everything in this game fires on all cylinders: the difficulty has been raised, the stakes are at their highest, and the emotions are at their strongest.

When I sat down to think about which game satisfied me the most this year, the choice was actually pretty easy. There were many great games this year, but by the time I completed Zero 3, it had left a remarkably powerful impression on me. This game, and this series, encapsulate everything I love about games and wraps it all up in the nicest, most endearing package possible.

Marvel’s Avengers – The Spider-Man Review

It may be silly with how frequently he shows up in things, but adding Spider-Man into a game will always pique my interest at least a little bit. In a way, he’s kind of the ultimate touchstone for creative interpretation – so many different artists, writers, and all manners of other occupations have worked on the character that I always find it interesting to see how the next version ends up.

Interpreting comic book characters can be tricky business, however. Many of these characters have built up such long histories and been in the hands of so many people that it muddles what exactly the character is supposed to be and make it difficult to pin down their key characteristics. This muddling leads to one person’s impressions of a character being wildly different from another’s depending on what material they have been exposed to.

Bearing that in mind, I don’t claim to be some ultimate authority on how Peter Parker and Spider-Man should be portrayed. I would much rather the people in charge at Marvel send me some kind of official certification before I do that. I do know what I like about the character though – the stories and and details that I treasure, the aspects that influence me. It’s from that perspective that I present to you this Ultimate Authoritative Review on Spider-Man as depicted in Square Enix’s Crystal Dynamics’s Marvel’s Sony’s Spider-Man’s Avengers.

I suppose the best place to start would be how Spider-Man feels to play in the video game. It really depends on perspective; I can’t sugarcoat it, this is a game made by people who work on AAA cinematic adventure games. If you compare controlling any character in Marvel’s Avengers to something more slick and responsive like, say, most other types of video games, the results are not favorable for Marvel’s Avengers. Within the limited genre of cinematic AAA games, however, Avengers emerges on the higher end of the spectrum.

Spider-Man in particular feels like the most fun character to control on the roster so far. His combat moves can be flashy in their choreography, he flies through most areas with relative ease with his webswinging, and his ability to tag and web-zip to enemies makes fights dynamic and snappy.

Most people will likely be tempted to compare this version of Spider-Man to the 2018 Spider-Man game by Insomniac. While understandable, I don’t find that to be a particularly fair comparison. Insomniac developed a totally different kind of game both in terms of genre and character focus – it’s a very different ordeal from what Avengers aims to be. That said, Avengers Spider-Man doesn’t feel totally foreign from Insomniac Spider-Man, they are similar in terms of basic combat moves and dodging. Avengers Spider-Man ends up resembling Insomniac Spider-Man to a surprising degree, albeit a slower and weightier version.

The most noticeable difference lies in the webswinging, in which Avengers Spider-Man returns to the automated “sky swinging” featured in most Spider-Man games prior to 2004. I hate to break it to anyone who thinks this is a genuine complaint, but attempting “realistic” swinging in this kind of game would almost certainly be a nightmare. None of the maps in the game would accommodate it and dumping him into them with that kind of system would remove Spider-Man’s main highlight – the easy and efficient traversal. In this game, the webswinging has been acceptably compromised.

That said, realism does seep into this Spider-Man too much anyway. Put simply, this Spider-Man lacks memorable poses and it sucks. In my mind, Spider-Man’s default mannerisms should aim to look creepy or stylish. Spider-Man creator Steve Ditko often put Spider-Man into strange, almost frail poses while later artists like Todd McFarlane would use bombastic and over-the-top poses; both these approaches sold the surreal-ness of the character. Outside of some select combat animations, Spider-Man in Marvel’s Avengers doesn’t come across as surreal. He comes across like some guy in a cosplay suit that looks mildly uncomfortable wearing it. It just feels off.

Speaking off feeling off, I should mention that the idea of Spider-Man joining the Avengers is kind of an “off” idea in and of itself.

For the majority of his existence, the various creative forces behind Spider-Man characterized him as an eternal loner. Sure, he regularly guest-starred in other comics and starred in team-up books with new partners every issue, but Spider-Man never actually joined teams. He made superhero friends, but actual alliances were always fleeting. At the end of the adventure, any chance of Spider-Man joining a team was typically outright rejected, either by that team or Spider-Man himself.

That loner aspect of Spider-Man formed a large part of his appeal. He helped out the Avengers or the Fantastic Four with bigger threats when needed, but at the end of the day he would have to go back to his normal life and fight his own battles. It kept the character grounded in his own problems and made him easier to relate to. At the end of the day, Spider-Man stories were about doing the good you can while persevering through the unglamorous problems the world throws at you, whether it was overdue rent, relationship troubles, bad press, or octopus-themed supervillains.

It wasn’t until the mid-2000s, 40 years after the character was created, that he officially became an Avenger. It was a big moment for the character, and more importantly, by that point it felt earned. During this time period, the mainline Amazing Spider-Man series was being written by J. Michael Straczynski (JMS for short), and he portrayed a noticeably matured Peter Parker over the course of his run on the title. His Spider-Man acted like someone who had truly experienced the decades of stories under his belt and had grown significantly.

JMS and John Romita Jr.’s work on Spider-Man ranks among my favorite runs of comics. It showcases a Spider-Man who has learned from his past and finally establishes his place in the world as a hero, with his family, and even with the inner workings of the universe itself.

To be clear, very little of this run actually depicts Spider-Man’s time with the Avengers, that was in the Avengers book itself, but JMS’s run established the perfect time for him to join. It brought Peter to a point where it made sense that he would now be willing to move to the same level as the “big” superheroes.

Clearly the JMS run was a big reference point for the Marvel’s Avengers team too, because the in-game comics and profile customization items borrow heavily from it. Despite this, I can’t say they translated anything that was cool or interesting about this development in the comics into their game. With how Crystal Dynamics chose to portray Peter, such a thing would have been impossible from the start.

In Marvel’s Avengers, Spider-Man appears to be a much younger and more inexperienced take on the character. He fanboys over the heroes, lacks confidence, and generally seems preoccupied with making really terrible jokes. I gotta be honest – I hate it. This versions borrows much more heavily from the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe movies than it takes from the comic books, both in the general cadence of Spider-Man’s personality and even with some nonsensical movie references like Captain America referring to Spider-Man as “Queens” even though they have no actual in-game conversations. It comes across as phony and insufferable.

Nothing Spider-Man says sounds right, in his voice or his dialogue. It seems totally bizarre to me that you could read early Spider-Man comics or JMS’s run and come away with this kind of character in your head. Interesting to note, the MCU head honcho Kevin Feige has similarly cited JMS’s run as a major inspiration for the recent Spider-Man movies, to the point of poorly adapting a major scene from the run with none of the weight or consequence it had, which is equally baffling.

Here’s the heart of the problem: Spider-Man may be a nerdy guy. Spider-Man may make lame jokes. Spider-Man may mess things up. However, Spider-Man is not some incompetent, geeky goofball. I assure you there is a distinction.

Too many writers are dead-set on portraying Spider-Man like some nervous, inept child that inherently respects authority figures and meekly avoids conflict, usually preferring to whine instead. In many portrayals, Marvel’s Avengers included, he comes across like some stuttering wimp that is very gosh-darned excited to meet the Avengers but lacks any real backbone.

The excuse, I assume, is that many of these writers believe that since their Spider-Man is a high schooler he must be a naive, starry-eyed wuss. This was not the case in Ditko’s original run of the character, it was actually the exact opposite. Young Peter started out angry and vengeful – he stood his ground against bullies but lacked the power to do it competently. Once he obtained the power, he realized that using it for petty revenge wasn’t worth it. He saw the reality of his situation and tried to rise above it.

Peter never lacked confidence, he lacked maturity. Often he was too confident, which extended his social issues to the superhero world at large. He expressed interest in joining groups like the Fantastic Four or the Avengers simply because he needed the money. He was never so star-struck that he’d blindly accept their orders or start idolizing them. I suppose you can chalk some of this up to the crowd-pleasing nature of early Marvel comics where fans constantly wanted to see the heroes fight, but Spider-Man often threw down with these superhero groups over minor disagreements just moments after trying to join their teams.

Early Spider-Man was an immature jerk. That trait added a rawness to the character that made him feel real. As Spider-Man, Peter escaped from his social woes at school only to discover that the superhero world wasn’t so different. These early stories worked in tandem with the much later ones written by JMS in showing Peter had grown up and moved past some of his hang-ups. It was, for once, an example of the longform storytelling comics are known for displaying compelling character development.

In Marvel’s Avengers, there is no conflict or growth. Spider-Man briefly talks about how he isn’t used to working with others but how nice and great it is to do so, followed by friendship montages showing him instantly fitting in with everyone. There’s nothing interesting going on here, just endless fawning from Spider-Man and unconditional acceptance from the Avengers.

Now I’m not saying they needed to portray Spider-Man exactly how they did in the comics – maybe some might chalk young Peter being a jerk up to outdated writing or something. I don’t know if that’s true, as they also had an excellent blueprint to follow with the Ultimate Spider-Man series by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley where Peter acts largely in line with his original universe counterpart.

This alternate universe reboot featured government agent Nick Fury monitoring and recruiting a high-school age Peter with the intent for him to eventually join The Ultimates, the in-universe equivalent to the Avengers. Naturally, this wasn’t a smooth relationship. Peter struggled with the idea that he had to grow up and be a tool for the superhero government. He lashed out, he rebelled, he stood up for himself and seriously considered what he wanted in life.

There was real conflict here, a different kind from what the original Peter faced, but born from the same kind of personality. Ultimate Peter often made quips but at the end of the day he was the same kind of headstrong character that persevered through endless tragedy and forces outside his control. If you ask me, this is the run the people at Crystal Dynamics (and MCU Spider-Man) should have been studying more closely than the JMS run. This more contemporary Peter also felt like a real character, instead of whatever this is supposed to be:

I never subscribed to the idea that Spider-Man used humor as a lame coping mechanism, but this Avengers Spider-Man goes all in on that interpretation. That certainly wasn’t the original intention behind his jokes – Stan Lee just defaulted to writing most of his characters’ dialogue that way because that was his personality. On that level, I think you can actually extrapolate Spider-Man’s quips to being simply him being a sarcastic New Yorker with a chip on his shoulder. He’s rude and doesn’t mind playing a little dirty. The idea that he’s constantly scared runs almost counterintuitive to his headstrong nature and makes little sense.

At the end of the day, my real issue with this version of Spider-Man joining the Avengers simply lies in the fact that they’ve created a really boring version of the character; it’s not the kind of writing I enjoy for Spider-Man here or anywhere. This isn’t just a Crystal Dynamics problem to be clear, I’m not thrilled with how Spider-Man gets written in the new movies or in a lot of comics where Peter is now an adult but regressed to act more like a child than when he was actually a child. It’s an ongoing problem with Spider-Man these days.

But whatever, he’s on the team regardless of how they did it, right? And despite everything I have previously said, the developers on Avengers faithfully adapted how Spider-Man functions in team scenarios.

In Marvel’s Avengers, Spider-Man more or less plays the role of a “support character.” Spider-Man can’t inflict big damage on enemies, so instead he relies on his ability to hinder them. Multiple tools in his arsenal allow him to tag enemies with a unique webbing status effect that binds smaller enemies and slows down the bigger ones. This makes things easier for him and the team as a whole by opening up longer opportunities to do damage or regroup. On top of that, Spider-Man can specialize into a pseudo-healer role with his summon-able spider drones that fly around and restore health to the group.

This implementation feels like appropriate adaptation of how the character tends to function on big teams – Spider-Man typically isn’t the person who fights the ultra-powerful, universe-ending threats that the Avengers tend to face head-on. Some writers imply that he could be strong enough to eventually fight at that level, but he never really does. In most “big” Marvel storylines, Spider-Man just happens to be around and doesn’t do much of anything, so I guess this is perfect casting.

The developers even went one step further in faithfully capturing this aspect of the character. Spider-Man fights admirably against the various trash-mobs of enemies that Marvel’s Avengers tends to throw at you, but against the bosses that cap off most endgame activities, he’s basically worthless. For whatever reason, reading between the lines in this Reddit reply from the developers implies it is a technical issue that they decided to call a deliberate decision, Spider-Man’s web status doesn’t affect bosses. This decision effectively cripples the character, because afflicting enemies with webbing is the only real contribution Spider-Man can make. He can’t tank much damage or dish it out effectively. He’s just kind of there. So obviously they perfectly executed the ideal version of Spider-Man in a group scenario. Job well done, guys!

Yeah, I am being facetious with that paragraph. It actually comes across like a major oversight to design the character this way, and this core design problem represents the overlying theme of Spider-Man’s implementation into Marvel’s Avengers: this character simply didn’t receive the care or thought he needed to be executed as well as he should have been.

This impression especially extends to the content Spider-Man brings to Marvel’s Avengers outside of well…himself. Unlike the other new additions to the game’s roster like the Hawkeyes or Black Panther, Spider-Man has no dedicated story missions to complete. Well, that’s not entirely true. Spider-Man has a series of tasks to finish, and going through this checklist gradually tells something resembling a story.

In between objectives like throwing around webbed enemies or smashing them with webbed wrecking balls, Spider-Man periodically needs to check in with comic book regular Liz Allan in a hub world for something similar to a story. There’s an underlying plot here about corporate conspiracy and bad guys doing bad things, but the actual events occur almost entirely off-screen and have virtually nothing to do with the missions you complete. The story’s content and execution could best be described as aggressively uninteresting.

The real draw to completing these tasks lies in unlocking Spider-Man’s “Iconic Suit.” You might think that means his regular suit, you know, the iconic one, but no. Incorrect. The “Iconic Suit” actually refers to the brand new suit the people at Crystal Dynamics designed exclusively for this game. That may be putting the cart before the horse a little, but sure, why not.

That’s right, we have reached the most important part of the review: the suit analysis and breakdown. How does the Crystal Dynamics suit fare against the pantheon of other iconic Spider-Man suits? Read below to find out, True Believers!

It’s fine. Nothing special. This suit mostly futzes around with the original design without making any dramatic departures, and from that perspective I wonder why they bothered. I don’t love the Insomniac Spider-Man suit with the giant white spider, but I can at least appreciate that they tried something odd and unexpected. In Marvel’s Avengers, I am mainly picking the Iconic Suit because I prefer the shade of red they used for it over the shade they used for the normal, actually iconic suit.

Of course, there’s a wide variety of suits to choose from in Marvel’s Avengers beyond just these two costumes. As long as you’re willing to pay up anyway…or play up to ten hours a week over the course of a few months. The game locks everything else in the wardrobe up behind two methods: (1) a marketplace requiring real money or (2) as rewards in a character progress card that asks you to completely daily and weekly missions in order to crawl through a handful of unlocks at the proportionate speed and strength of a very lethargic spider. That might sound bad, but the good news is that the selection of costumes available happens to be very underwhelming so it’s not a big deal.

I assume there must be something with the engines these AAA games are built in that pushes the developers into focusing on robotic armors and normal people clothes over anything actually cool. Don’t get me wrong, Spider armors are okay, but they rank on the lower end of interesting costumes Spider-Man has worn. They certainly aren’t the ones I want to see. The black suit should be the starting point, not totally absent. Where’s the Scarlett Spider hoodie? No sick Spider-Man Unlimited costume with the web cape? Not even the Spider-Man 2099 suit? That’s basically a Spider Armor guys!

Some day….

To make matters worse, while there’s technically dozens of costumes available, in reality there’s more like a small handful. Most “costumes” are actually recolors of the small handful of unique costumes to simulate others without much attention paid to the details that made those costumes distinct. While I understand this places less of a burden on the developers, my question would be why would anyone want these costumes? I like the Future Foundation suit in the comics, but what they have on the Avengers marketplace is not the Future Foundation suit despite that clearly being what it’s meant to resemble.

If you’re going to charge money for this stuff is it truly a big ask to put more effort into making them accurate to the source material? As is, I think the developers are being a little too transparent about these costumes being disposable cash-grabs.

I’m not even going to get into the fact that the Insomniac game offers way more distinct costumes that are far more faithful without charging a cent for them. Other than this paragraph, anyway. In fact, they can’t stop giving them away. Wait I said I wouldn’t get into it. Alright, I’m stopping now.

I get it. Marvel’s Avengers did not make the quadrillions of dollars that Square Enix was hoping for and they need to make money back somehow. But I shouldn’t be looking at this giant selection of costumes meant to make me want to pay money and think “nah, I’m good.” It’s amateur hour stuff and this should have been the bare minimum of things to get right.

The elephant in the room here is that the scope of this character has likely been limited by its nature as a console-exclusive character. Many of the flaws in Spider-Man’s portrayal and gameplay philosophy could likely be chalked up to it being determined that it simply isn’t worth it to put a lot of resources into content exclusive to one platform.

They may have been in a bit of a hurry when making Spider-Man’s cutscenes.

Honestly, though, I completely disagree with that assessment if that really was their thought process. It seems downright foolish to me.

Despite the exclusivity, Spider-Man is by far the most popular character that will ever be added to this game. The movies skyrocketed the overall Marvel brand and elevated the Avengers into the mainstream, but Spider-Man remains Marvel’s biggest source of revenue. No one else they add to Avengers will top Spider-Man in terms of interest. Beyond that, the Playstation userbase likely makes up the majority of players for the game – it’s the more popular console by far and a good chunk of people likely bought this version specifically on the promise of Spider-Man down the line. It makes no sense to me why they wouldn’t bring out the big guns and make sure they got this character right – if there was ever a character to get right it needed to be him.

I guess if the people making the high-level decisions for Marvel’s Avengers were good at what they do, the game as a whole would be in a better spot right now.

As is, Spider-Man provides an okay addition to the game, just a disappointing one. The designers wrapped him in many layers I find off-putting, but I still had some fun playing around with him. It’s really the details they screwed up on – I think the team’s heart was in the right place but their muddled understanding of Spider-Man on a philosophical and business level led to some poor decisions. I guess that just speaks to the basic nature of Spider-Man not really gelling with groups like the Avengers.

Oh well. See you in the next game with Spider-Man it. Excelsior!!!!!!