Bayonetta Origins: Cereza And The Lost Demon - Malice In Wonderland

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The difference in direction between the Bayonetta trilogy and the newest entry in the series, Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and The Lost Demon, is impossible to ignore. In place of the self-assured dominatrix we know and love is a timid young girl who is far more comfortable clutching a stuffed animal than she is a pistol. Instead of large-scale, action-packed set pieces and the mainline series' unapologetically over-the-top style, we are treated to enchanted forests, well-worn book pages adorned with soft illustrations, and gentle, childlike curiosity. As such, the first few hours I spent with Bayonetta Origins were filled with complete and utter confusion. I couldn't find the connection between Bayonetta Origins and the Bayonetta trilogy, or the threads that connected the two experiences to one another. But thankfully, the team behind Bayonetta Origins could.

Bayonetta Origins is an achievement, both within the Bayonetta series and games as a whole. It is proof the rules and limitations placed on certain, big budget series are made to be broken--especially when you can do it with this much creativity and tact. The charming adventure-puzzler is also just delightful to play, and is far more than what it appears on the surface. As its story unfolds, it slowly builds into a recognizably Bayonetta game--one filled with excitement, darkness, subversions, and feminine liberation--all while maintaining an identity all its own. All this combined with a touching tale of companionship and maternal love--that may or may not have made me cry a lot--makes for a game I urge you not to overlook whether or not you're a fan of the Bayonetta games.

Set long before Cereza steps into the souped-up shoes of Bayonetta, Origins is best described as a "coming-of-half-lumen-sage" story. After witnessing her mother's imprisonment due to a forbidden romance with Cereza's father, the young girl is forced to seek refuge under the tutelage of a powerful witch who lives on the outskirts of the forbidden Avalon forest. Her teacher is firm-yet-kind--clearly intended to show in part where Bayonetta's cool demeanor comes from--but is often frustrated by Cereza's cowardice. As such, when a spirit visits Cereza and tells her that the courage she needs to become a proper witch and rescue her mother lies deep in Avalon, the young witch quickly sets off in search of it.

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Destiny 2: Lightfall Review - Deft Stranding

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With Destiny 2: The Witch Queen and its assorted seasons in the rearview mirror, 2023's Lightfall expansion has some big shoes to fill. Improved storytelling, new gameplay modes, and the ensuing seasonal content made The Witch Queen expansion a standout experience, and Lightfall doesn't manage to reach the high bar it set. Destiny 2's latest add-on introduces major gameplay tweaks, an exciting new subclass to play around with, and plenty of fresh Exotic gear for your arsenal, but this is overshadowed by a disappointing campaign and a lifeless Neptunian destination that make for an underwhelming combination.

Lightfall doesn't waste any time setting the stage, taking place shortly after the devastating events of Season of the Seraph. After a quick slideshow narrated by the silky-smooth voice of Lance Reddick's Commander Zavala brings everyone up to speed, it's all hands on deck as the Witness finally makes its long-awaited arrival in the Solar system to battle the Traveler. From the opening mission, the action unfolds at a breakneck pace, as a new Shadow Legion of Cabal led by a reborn Calus set a course for Neptune, and you're hitching a ride alongside them in an effort to prevent a doomsday scenario from occurring.

Bungie has spoken several times about adopting an '80s action movie vibe for Lightfall, and that influence is felt everywhere on Neptune's primary location, Neomuna. From a city bathed in neon lights and a training montage as you master your new powers, to the introduction of a cast of characters that include analogs of loose cannon space-cops, maverick rookies, and grizzled veterans just one week away from retirement, Lightfall wears its not-so-subtle inspirations proudly.

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Dead Cells: Return To Castlevania Review - Pay ME Tribute

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I loved Dead Cells, but it never struck me as particularly Castlevania-like. The acclaimed action roguelike from Motion Twin certainly had some passing resemblance in some of its combat mechanics, but not so much that I ever made any association to Konami's vampire-hunting franchise. So when the studio announced it was making an expansion modeled after Castlevania, I was certainly intrigued, but also surprised. How would that work, exactly? Pretty well, it turns out, as Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania is a clever fusion of Castlevania homages and Dead Cells' structure, and helps to illustrate how Castlevania DNA has been a part of Dead Cells all along.

The similarities between the two are cut into stark relief by their differences. Castlevania, and especially the Symphony of the Night sub-genre that serves as the basis for most of this expansion, is an exploration-based action game, with a castle full of tightly-knit secrets and clockwork-like precision to its progression gating. Dead Cells very much isn't that, as its roguelike biomes mix and match different pieces like Lego bricks. You'll recognize certain pieces after you've played it enough, but it will always be impossible to draw a consistent map or to tell a friend exactly where to find a secret key. In this regard, they couldn't be more different.

So the blending in Return to Castlevania can best be described as Dead Cells doing its best Castlevania impression. The Castlevania biomes are still randomized in the roguelike style, but the pieces do feel more oriented around puzzle-solving and secrets than in the main Dead Cells game. In fact, that's one of Return to Castlevania's most impressive tricks--it's still built around interlocking pieces, but the more secret-solving components don't feel contained to small, individual parts. It's almost as if the game is building a fresh, albeit relatively small, Castlevania map every time you respawn.

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Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty - Before You Buy

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Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty - Before You BuyWo Long: Fallen Dynasty (PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S/One) is a souls-like RPG with some great twists on the formula. Let's talk about it! Subscribe for more: ▼ Video by Jake Baldino Buy Wo Long: Watch more 'Before You Buy': #wolongfallendynasty

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Review - Souls-Like Of The Three Kingdoms

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The first boss fight in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is right up there with the toughest first bosses in video game history. This opening battle pits you against Zhang Liang of the Yellow Turbans, as you clash in a kinetic two-phase fight to the death. It's an intense skill check that challenges your prowess of Wo Long's mechanics almost immediately. In many ways, it feels like a rite of passage for the rest of the game and a bold statement of intent from developer Team Ninja. I initially loved how it forced me to adapt to the demands of the game's particular brand of Souls-like combat, yet the further I progressed, the more this feeling dissipated as I realized that this introductory struggle was little more than an unbalanced outlier, providing a much sterner test than the bosses following it.

For many, this sudden difficulty spike will be a barrier to entry, halting progress a mere 10 minutes into the game. It's a shame Wo Long begins with such a sturdy roadblock, not least because this initial undertaking isn't indicative of the rest of the game moving forward. In fact, outside of this first boss, Team Ninja has crafted one of the more approachable Souls-likes in what is a traditionally challenging genre.

I didn't encounter another boss fight on par with Zhang Liang's difficulty until roughly 15 hours into Wo Long's campaign. Most of the bosses in between were a relative cakewalk, to the point where I was able to cut down each one on my first attempt--usually in under a minute. I still had fun dispatching every single one, but the ease with which I was able to do so makes them lose some of their luster and reinforces the notion that the first boss is at odds with the rest of the game. The battle with Zhang Liang sets up expectations that never come to fruition, particularly when other fights allow you to summon help from either AI or human teammates.

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