Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals Review - Unnerving Static

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Oxenfree II: Lost Signals is quite creepy at times, using time loops, crackling radio static, and the occasional vengeful interdimensional ghost to keep you on your toes. Sure, there are moments of levity when the game's characters crack jokes or dabble in a little fun but, like its 2016 predecessor, this dialogue-driven graphic adventure game delights in its unsettling atmosphere. The best parts of the experience are drowned out in the dreadful static of Oxenfree II's unmemorable companion and irritating secondary antagonist, but navigating the game's growing sense of unease as you slowly uncover clues to a greater mystery is an engaging and chilling thrill.

Taking place five years after the original game, Oxenfree II has you play as a new protagonist: Riley Poverly. Returning to her hometown of Camena--the part of the mainland closest to the first Oxenfree's Edwards Island--Riley is partnered with the town's resident handyman, Jacob Summers, and tasked to set up transmission radio towers around the coastal town. The seemingly simple job devolves into a much stranger and more dangerous situation, however, as electromagnetic waves take a toll on reality, opening portals to other timelines. As Riley and Jacob struggle to understand what's happening and fix things, they find their efforts repeatedly thwarted by a trio of teenagers who are a part of Parentage, a church-like cult in the area, and lingering supernatural specters.

Sometimes choosing to say nothing can also affect how the story plays out.
Sometimes choosing to say nothing can also affect how the story plays out.

Like its previous games, developer Night School Studio utilizes both a choice- and timing-driven dialogue system, taking note of not only what you say but when you say it. Conversations don't pause to give you a chance to figure out what to say next--like an actual conversation in real life, Riley will have to regularly respond to express interest. During conversations, small thought bubbles will appear above Riley's head as people talk to her, giving you a chance to choose how you speak your mind. Wait too long and these dialogue branches eventually fade away, but speak up too soon and you may interrupt someone just before they absent-mindedly say something that creates a more compelling path in the conversation. In this way, saying nothing at all is just as valid a choice as saying something.

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Master Detective Archives: Rain Code Review - Blame It On The Rain

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I have to hand it to the development staff of Rain Code: They are very skilled at completely upending your expectations from the get-go. I certainly expected to be shocked and surprised, given that these are the minds behind the beloved Danganronpa series--they know a thing or two about throwing players narrative curveballs out of nowhere--but even I wasn't expecting what happened after about 30 minutes of introduction. I wanted to put the Switch down and give a little "Well done!" clap. It's a bit of a shame, though, because after that, none of the other cases ever reach the same high, despite some great moments. That's Rain Code in a nutshell: It can't quite reach the greatness of what came before it.

Rain Code begins with a young man waking up in some sort of storage room. All he can remember is that his name is Yuma Kokohead and he's got to catch a train that's headed to Kanai Ward--a corporate city cut off to most of the outside world, shrouded in perpetual, neon-lit darkness and rain, run by the Amaterasu megacorp, and controlled by the militarized Peacekeeper force. It's not long after he boards the train that he finds out why he's going there: He's part of the World Detective Organization, which is sending several agents in to investigate Kanai Ward's ugly secrets. He also soon discovers why he has amnesia: It turns out he made a deal with a death god for special powers and offered up his memories in exchange.

That death god, Shinigami, mostly hangs around in the form of a tiny ghost that only Yuma can see. It reads his thoughts and makes sarcastic comments until there's a mystery to be solved, which is when Shinigami stops time and transforms into a buxom demon maiden to whisk him away to mind-palace Mystery Labyrinths where things get buck-wild. Here, he must battle logic monsters, evade dastardly false-solution traps, and unlock doors with Evidence Keys that Shinigami barfs up in a shower of rainbows. And also maybe crush thought barriers riding Shinigami as a giant kaiju. And play Pop-up Pirate with her in a barrel on the beach. Yeah, it's all just a little weird.

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Aliens: Dark Descent Review - They're In The Walls

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There haven't been many games that have adapted the Aliens name that have managed to capture the essence of what makes many of its early films so captivating. The survival-horror game Alien: Isolation comes closest, eschewing the typical direction of action for horror, making its single Xenomorph a terrifying entity that demands the fearful respect so many other adaptations fail to offer it. While there are many, many more Xenomorphs in Aliens: Dark Descent, this hybrid of action and real-time strategy mostly works because it conveys the same sense of fear you feel when engaging them, which makes it easier to gloss over the times its other systems don't quite work as well.

Aliens: Dark Descent predominantly takes place on the planet Lethe, after a familiar scene of a Xenomorph outbreak takes place on a Weyland-Yutani space station and forces the entire area into a deadly lockdown. As survivors scramble for a way to get off-planet while also investigating the root of the outbreak, you'll travel to numerous locations across the planet to uncover clues, scavenge for supplies, and shoot down anything that gets in your way. Aliens: Dark Descent has the inklings of a captivating tale that never delivers on any of its initial promises, boiling down an interesting premise in the opening hours to a standard story without much to say beyond its straightforward mystery.

The story is mostly delivered through dialogue between the game's two leads, a surviving administrator from the opening space station and a grizzled space marine with a strange link to the Xenomorphs. Their chemistry is lacking and their relationship swings wildly from one extreme to the next in very short spaces of time, making it difficult to feel engaged in their plight or personal motivations. Secondary characters rarely get any moments to shine, so it's easy to start tuning the entire thing out in lieu of Dark Descent's far more interesting pieces.

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Story Of Seasons: A Wonderful Life Review - Putting The Past In "Pastoral"

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Much like an axe, sickle, or hoe, nostalgia is a powerful tool. In Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life, it's what leads your farmer to return to Forgotten Valley in hopes of creating a life similar to the idyllic one led by their parents. It's also what led me--clad in my finest, rose-tinted glasses--to revisit A Wonderful Life with its recent remake. As I downloaded this new version of a game I once sunk several hours into for my Nintendo Switch, I reminisced about the first time I played the game two decades ago--the feel of my grandparents' itchy carpet, the satisfying "click" of my purple GameCube closing before it kicked into a soft whir... It was never my favorite Harvest Moon game--that spot was reserved for Back to Nature--but it was one that I found unique and enjoyable.

In some ways, I also feel that way about its 2023 remake. Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life is a very different type of farming simulator in that it's one that focuses more on relationships, family, and legacy than farm work. It's a concept I can get behind, and A Wonderful Life's emphasis on streamlining gameplay and eliminating tedium is a breath of fresh air. However, despite social-sim dynamics being at the forefront of A Wonderful Life, player interactions and the community itself feel shallow. Although the character creation process might be more involved than ever, few NPCs are memorable, dialogue is scarce, and the game's idyllic setting turns eerie quickly due to the town's vacant atmosphere. Yet if I factor out this less-than-wonderful content, not all that much is left, making A Wonderful Life feel dated and empty--especially when compared to other games in the now-highly saturated farming game genre.

The farmer and Takakura find two dogs.
The farmer and Takakura find two dogs.

Like most farming sims, A Wonderful Life begins with a letter--only this time it's sent from your character rather than to you. After growing tired of life in the city, your character pens a letter to your parents' former friend, Takakura, informing him of your intention to come to Forgotten Valley and take over your parents' old farm. Upon your arrival, Takakura offers your farmer a cow, a decent sum of money, and a tutorial that beautifully walks the fine line between overbearing and uninformative, before giving you total control over your character and farm.

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Crash Team Rumble Review - A Fresh Spin

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There are few games that serve as better examples of the industry's changing landscape than Crash Team Rumble (CTR). Once a single-player mascot platformer at the height of the genre's popularity, CTR takes the heroes and villains of Naughty Dog's, and later Activision's, series and reimagines it as a 4v4 multiplayer game with live-service elements. To some, that might sound like a myopic deathblow to a once-proud series. On the contrary, Crash Team Rumble is a fun and surprisingly tactical PvP game, albeit sometimes held back by oft-seen growing pains of games-as-a-service.

In Crash Team Rumble, two teams of four square off in platforming arenas that, at first glance, each look a bit like wide levels from a typical Crash game. Enjoyably, the controls and feel of the game perfectly capture those of traditional Crash games, too, making it an instantly recognizable experience in one's hands.

Though the game has just one mode at launch, it's designed very well. The goal is to score 2,000 wumpa fruit before the rival team does. To do this, players will spin over, slam onto, and slide into crates and loose wumpas all around the arena to collect them. Moving them to a goal area will, after a moment, score them for the team permanently. But the exciting chaos of CTR exists in this in-between space, and often even on the goals themselves.

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