Forza Horizon 5: Hot Wheels Review - Paradise City

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The Forza Horizon series has already crossed over with numerous franchises, from the building blocks of Lego to the family in Fast and The Furious, but it's the one with Hot Wheels and Forza Horizon 3 that sticks out the most when looking back. The combination of Horizon's blisteringly fast cars and the creativity of Hot Wheels twisty tracks was an unsurprising hit, making its return in Forza Horizon 5 an anticipated one. It's an expansion that manages to deliver the same thrill as before, with new track types and a much larger map, but also a structure to progression hampers the pacing.

The orange highways of this new expansion are strewn across the sky over Mexico, creating a racing paradise nestled in the clouds just waiting to be torn through. The map is larger than the one previously offered in Forza Horizon 3, featuring three biomes that introduce different weather conditions depending on where you are. They're also a big reason why this new playground is immediately engrossing--the introduction into the map has you speeding through each part of it while taking in its best sights, from dropping down almost vertically into an active volcano inside a snowy mountain, to sliding down water-laden chutes in a thick jungle. The recognizable Hot Wheels track pieces that let you navigate these areas are beautifully contrasted against the natural beauty around them, making the entire space feel like a daydream come to life.

The plastic pieces of the raceway are also more varied this time around, which does accentuate the playful nature of the entire expansion. Magnetic strips suck you down onto the track, letting you complete parts of a race upside-down or creating intricate loops where maintaining speed is paramount. Others are laden with thick layers of ice, making navigating even some of the widest corners a satisfying challenge as you struggle to maintain grip. The most exhilarating are stretches of road with giant overhead fans, each of which boost your speed to new heights not possible to reach in the main portion of Forza Horizon 5. It's a thrill to be flung around corners at these ridiculous speeds, feeling like you're barely hanging on when braving them with some of the fastest cars in the game.

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Live A Live Review - Live, Laugh, Love Live A Live

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One of the most recognizable characteristics of a JRPG is the party: a ragtag group of adventurers from different walks of life who unite their strengths for a common cause, almost always under the leadership of a designated main character. While the rest of the cast may wind up getting sidequests and story arcs, the majority of the game revolves around a specific character. It's a trope that's as common as they come. But all the way back in 1994, Square (now Square-Enix) released Live A Live in Japan, turning the genre on its head by asking "What if a JRPG had several main characters? And they all had a fully realized plotline, different worlds, and distinct gameplay gimmicks?"

Live A Live was a unique game, well ahead of its time, but sadly one confined to Japan for decades, with no official English release. That changes with this modern remake and, amazingly, Live A Live not only holds up well, but manages to feel unique, compelling, and excitingly original even when compared to its modern contemporaries.

Live A Live's protagonists come from many different places across space and time, ranging from the cartoony prehistoric world of caveman Pogo, to the modern-day championship struggles of mixed martial arts fighter Masaru, all the way to a far-flung future where tiny robot Cube awakens on a mysterious cargo transport ship. These seven divergent chapters can be completed in any order, and you can stop one chapter to pick up another as you please. Finishing these chapters unlocks an eighth story, which leads into a final chapter where all the paths converge into one last epic struggle.

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Air Twister Review - Repetitious Fantasy

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Yu Suzuki has been making games longer than most of us have been playing them. Today he is best known as the creator of Shenmue, but he has a long history of innovating in arcades with titles like 1985's Space Harrier and the Virtua Fighter series. Air Twister on Apple Arcade represents a return to his arcade origins while also taking some lore and story lessons learned from Shenmue. But overall, the experience ends up feeling repetitive without being particularly rewarding.

Air Twister begins strong with playable protagonist Princess Arch responding to an alien invasion threat on her home planet. She soars through the air alongside gigantic swans flying past massive mushrooms to a soundtrack from dutch composer Valensia that truly sounds like nothing I've heard in a video game. The visuals and music are a joy to take in, but the repetition stagnates the experience quickly as every playthrough (and there are a lot of playthroughs) is identical.

Combating the alien invasion takes the form of an on-rails shooter that feels like a cross between Panzer Dragoon and Star Fox. As you fly forward you tap the screen to fire at enemies, or swipe across them to lock on to a handful and launch a collection of homing attacks. I found using a controller to be much more manageable, as it made moving Princess Arch out of the way of attacks while still locking onto enemies easier. I never found this style of play to be particularly compelling and during the last few levels I found success by just tapping the fire button repeatedly and moving Princess Arch constantly in random directions to dodge attacks, which wasn't strategic or interesting.

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Stray - Before You Buy

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Stray - Before You BuyStray (PC, PS5, PS4) is a third person cat adventure game. How is it? Let's talk.Subscribe for more: ▼▼ Jake's other channel: Watch more 'Before You Buy': #stray

Stray Review - Nine Lives

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It's rare for a game to offer a new perspective to experience a familiar setting, and rarer still for one to so confidently have all of its mechanics designed around this. Stray, an adventure puzzle game where you play as a cat, manages not only to delight in its presentation but also in the many ways it eschews common puzzle mechanics to focus on the abilities and limitations of its protagonist. It's a consistently satisfying adventure with a charming story about companionship that rarely misses a beat across its well-paced runtime.

You play as a stray cat that is quickly thrust into an entirely new world underneath your own after a mishap that occurs in the opening minutes of the story. Alone in a new, neon-soaked city underneath a giant, unmoving dome, you quickly befriend a small drone that becomes a trusted companion throughout your adventure, and vital translator for all the other sentient robots that inhabit the handful of regions you'll visit. This drone, called B-12, also gives you more options to interact with the world around you, such as being able to hack doors to open them, kill dangerous flesh-eating aliens with a beam of purple light, or illuminate dark and dreary avenues as you explore them.

Outside of the assistance from B-12, however, Stray fully embodies the abilities that being a cat would afford you in this situation. You've got a lot of mobility to get around, with contextual button presses on reachable surfaces letting you effortlessly jump up, down, and around pretty much anywhere you'd like. This approach allows each leap to look incredibly good, too, with detailed animation work making your movements look as natural and ballet-like as most cats do when navigating their environment.

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