Neon White Review – Heavenly Sprint

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Neon White is a curious amalgamation of Counter-Strike's thrilling surf maps, the time-trial-centric joy of Trackmania, and the anime-infused narrative of a visual novel--all sprinkled with a light dusting of Persona for good measure. It's also a first-person shooter/puzzle-platformer and one of the best games of the year. I've never played anything quite like it, despite being familiar with each of its influences. Not everything coalesces as one might hope, with the story's slow build interrupting the gameplay's rapid pace, but this does little to dampen the sheer, unadulterated glee that comes from traversing each of its 97 immaculately constructed levels.

At its most basic, Neon White is essentially a speedrunning first-person shooter. You play as the eponymous Neon White, a sinner from Hell who's given the chance to enter Heaven if he can rid it of a demon infestation. You'll glide, jump, and shoot your way through numerous celestial arenas, all with the end goal of reaching the finish line as quickly as possible--with the caveat that you also have to kill every demon along the way. Most of the levels are over in less than 30 seconds, but it's this confined sprint that proves so tantalizing. Reaching the end of a level is rarely ever difficult but the crux of Neon White lies in figuring out the best route through each one in order to shave off precious seconds and earn better medals and rewards.

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To aid you in this endeavor is an inspired mechanic called Soul Cards. These finite pickups give you access to a range of weapons that can also be discarded to activate one-off abilities. The Fireball card, for example, functions like a shotgun, letting you shoot a powerful blast that's most effective at close range. If you discard it, however--losing the shotgun in the process--you can perform a directional air dash that obliterates any enemies you phase through. Other Soul Cards include long-range rifles, SMGs, and more, with their abilities giving you additional traversal and offensive options, including a double jump, ground pound, and grappling hook. You can only hold two unique Soul Cards at a time so you're never overpowered, but you can stack up to three of the same type, giving you more ammunition and multiple chances to use these secondary abilities.

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Capcom Fighting Collection Review: Family Feud

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Capcom Fighting Collection feels like a family reunion. Ten games reside in this digital banquet, ranging from all-time fighting game favorites to a few relics of the past. They all play exceptionally well, particularly online, and each one is an arcade-perfect port. The main issue with the collection is balance, as half of the offerings are centered around a single series: Darkstalkers. While those games are good--the previously Japan-only titles are particularly appreciated--a little more variety in this collection would have pushed it up a tier or two. As it stands, it's a little too much of a monster mash.

This isn't to say there aren't a few well-known, non-Darkstalkers games in the collection as well, as it showcases the breadth of Capcom's arcade 2D fighting game history. Both Hyper Street Fighter II--the 2003 port of 1994's Super Street Fighter II Turbo--and 1996's Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo are included in Capcom Fighting Collection. While each title has been ported multiple times since its original release--SFII is available pretty much everywhere, and although not as ubiquitous, Puzzle Fighter II Turbo has also appeared on more console generations than you'd think--this collection marks the first time the games have been sold together. Both play exactly as you remember them here: Hyper SFII is the classic one-on-one fighting game starring Ryu, Chun-Li, and more, while Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo replaces fighting with gem-matching in a format similar to Columns from Sega.

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Sonic Origins – Going Fast, Again

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There's no denying the appeal of classic Sonic--the 16-bit Sonic games are some of the most memorable and influential platformers around. No matter what happens with modern-day Sonic, the old games remain as wondrous and as exciting as ever; a sort of gaming comfort food you can keep coming back to for years on end. It's no surprise then that Sega has re-released the classic Sonic games many, many times over in various compiled and standalone forms. Sonic Origins is the latest such compilation, with its main selling point being that the games have been completely rebuilt by many of the staff behind the beloved Sonic Mania. And while the games remain as delightful as ever, the package as a whole feels a little disappointing.

Sonic Origins contains four (technically, five, since Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles were sold separately) classic Sonic games from the 16-bit era: the original Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic CD, Sonic 2, and the combined Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Rather than the emulation most re-releases utilize, each of the games has been rebuilt in a new engine (the Retro Engine) to play almost exactly like their original versions--though with various quality-of-life improvements added. Sonic 1, for example, has a spin dash and fixes the infamous instant-kill spike bug, while Sonic 2 adds a new level (the mythical Hidden Palace Zone), and Sonic 3 & Knuckles has touched-up sprite animation for its cinematics and the Super Sonic transformation, and so on. In addition, characters who might not have been playable in the original releases also are made available, such as Tails in Sonic CD and Knuckles in Sonic 1. (Knuckles still isn't in Sonic CD, likely because his play style really doesn't match the way that game's levels flow.) Most of the original visuals and music remain intact, though some of Sonic 3's music (long theorized to have the involvement of Michael Jackson) has been changed, likely for legal reasons.

All of the games have a new "anniversary mode" that increases the viewing area to 16:9 (as opposed to the original 4:3 aspect ratio) and removes the lives counter. You can still die, of course, but you'll just respawn at the last checkpoint, making the threat of a looming Game Over moot. The lives counter is instead replaced by a coin counter. Coins can be collected within the games from power-up monitors, getting lots of rings, and clearing Special Stages. You can then spend these coins to unlock extras in Sonic Origins' museum, or retry when you fail to get the Chaos Emerald in a Special Stage. It's a great feature for Sonic 1 and Sonic CD, where opportunities to enter and clear a Special Stage are quite limited--less so for Sonic 2 and S3&K where opportunities are more plentiful early on and you can then blaze through the rest of the game as Super Sonic after getting a full emerald set.

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Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes Review – Wars With Friends

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With each new release from Dynasty Warriors developer Omega Force, the word "Warriors" gets further away from the word "Dynasty". The Musou action genre it created, where you play as an ultra powerful soldier against an army of hundreds, is borrowing more and more from the franchises it licenses story and characters from. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity looked and even sometimes felt like Breath of the Wild. Persona 5 Strikers (which lacks "Warriors" in the title, but is a Musou game) played like an extension of Persona 5, but with a different combat style. This trend among Omega Force’s games is a positive one, as you can only press the Y button so many times before you want to do something different. Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes offers perhaps the most opportunity to entertain yourself outside of comboing through thousands of enemies that the studio has released yet thanks to its Fire Emblem: Three Houses-inspired content between missions. The result is a better-paced, more interesting experience than previous Omega Force games, but one that is still very much a Musou game.

Where the original Fire Emblem Warriors presented an ultimately unfulfilled opportunity to meet and play with the larger history of Fire Emblem characters, Three Hopes reigns in the focus and is essentially a pseudo-sequel/alternate telling of Three Houses that is an action game instead of a tactics RPG. You won’t run into characters like Roy or Marth, but you do have the choice to join Edelgard’s Black Eagles, Prince Dimitri’s Blue Lions, or--the correct choice--Claude’s Golden Deers. If you’ve played Three Houses, seeing these characters and agonizing over the choice again is nice, but this time you’re playing as a new character named Shez, whose appearance throws the timeline out of sync and forces former Three Houses protagonist Byleth into the antagonist role. The departure gives an illuminating new look at that story, allowing you to interact with familiar characters under new circumstances. This change also made me admire Byleth in a new way, as she destroyed me the first time I met her, and proved to be a worthy challenge on nearly every subsequent rematch.

Before and after combat encounters is where Three Hopes is the closest to Three Houses and doesn’t feel like a typical Musou game. Between pressing Y arguably too much, you visit base camp, where you can upgrade facilities, train, speak with your soldiers, make a meal, or even take care of horses. I enjoyed the reprieve from the repetitive combat and though I didn’t want to hear from every character between battles (and often elected not to), the opportunity to get to know the cast of characters, improve all the interpersonal relationships, and make them stronger during combat, made me eager to return to base camp. I even enjoyed the strangeness of going on the occasional date between slaughtering opposing troops. Base camp doesn’t change visually as a result of upgrades, which is disappointing, but leveling up and improving the facilities is rewarding for the bonuses they provide, like faster training or stores being able to carry more supplies.

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Diablo Immortal Review - Evil On The Go

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There is little to question that Diablo Immortal is a big and richly produced Diablo entry. It looks great, it evolves the formula of action role-playing introduced in Diablo III and matches it acutely to the hardware it was originally designed for, and it strikes a good balance of making you feel powerful while also enticing you to continue hunting down better loot. In that sense, Diablo Immortal is just another good Diablo game, but it's also one that can't always be played with the same obsessive cadence as prior titles given the number of barriers that can routinely force some time away from it.

The story takes place between Diablo II and III, with familiar faces popping up to provide some thin context for events that have transpired by the time you arrive in Tristram at the start of the last core title. Deckard Cain is back (why wouldn't he be?) and so is a new evil that is threatening to use shards of the same Worldstone to wreak havoc across the lands. Story conversations are fully voiced, which makes Immortal feel as premium as previous Diablo titles on PC. There's really nothing here that suggests it's anything less than that either, with large open spaces for you to explore and numerous side quests to undertake as you progress the story.

What is different is obviously where you'll be playing. Diablo Immortal was designed for smartphones, and it's unsurprising then that it plays best on them, too. The touch controls employ the familiar digital analog stick on the left side of the screen, while the right features a cluster of buttons for your various abilities. You have a single main attack along with four equippable skills to choose from, with a fifth ultimate ability button appearing once you have access to it. It's simple and well-spaced out, and I never found myself accidentally pressing any skills I didn't want to. You can move and have attacks target enemies automatically, which simplifies your focus further, but also helps you accurately aim certain skills that require it. With my Necromancer, I often need to choose the area in which I want to explode a bunch of corpses, which is easily done by just holding down the skill in question and rotating my finger to position it. In a chaotic fight where I needed to pull this off fast, the accuracy could be a little wonky, but these moments were mostly fleeting.

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