Valiant Hearts: Coming Home Review - In The Trenches

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In 2014, Ubisoft released Valiant Hearts: The Great War, a game that stood out by virtue of it being a smaller, more intimate tale amidst its many more action-oriented brethren. Instead of explosive set pieces and main characters that doubled as killing machines, the game focuses on the people who find themselves forever marked by war. Nine years later, Valiant Hearts: Coming Home continues the tale on mobile devices exclusively through Netflix, and it picks up right where the previous story left off. While a lack of challenging gameplay and a short lifespan could sink other games, brevity is used to its advantage to ensure the story hits just as hard as its predecessor..

Coming Home begins in 1917, just as American troops are entering the war for the first time. Familiar faces Freddie and Anna return, along with three new main characters: James, Freddie's younger brother; George, a fighter pilot; and Ernst, a German sailor who, through no fault of his own, finds himself an unwitting participant in the war effort.

The story is told across 19 scenes split into three chapters, which translates into about 2.5 hours of gameplay. On paper it sounds very short, but the story is efficiently told. None of the beats feel like they drag on; from the opening scene Coming Home does a remarkable job of being clear-cut with its narrative--even those designed to make the player feel uncomfortable. For example, the very first scene shows James's enlistment experience, which has him forced into racially segregated lines with one line receiving weapons and the other, James's line, being given brooms for custodial work. In another scene, the medic Ana frantically runs around a hospital healing wounded, putting the player in control as she removes shrapnel from limbs and administers bandages.

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Persona 4 Golden Review - Stay Golden

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A top-tier role-playing game is generally a finely crafted concoction of several ingredients: an interesting setting, an engaging story, enjoyable characters and interactions, and gameplay that makes your interaction with all of the aforementioned elements feel meaningful and worthwhile. When all of these individual factors are developed to high standards, the result is an RPG of exceptional quality--and that is exactly what Persona 4 Golden is.

This re-release of 2008's excellent PlayStation 2 game takes place in modern-day Japan. The protagonist is a high school student from a big city whose parents have been sent away on business. They send him to live for a year with his uncle--a police investigator--and his young cousin in a small countryside town. Almost immediately upon the hero's arrival, strange things begin to happen in this otherwise dull little hamlet: a string of people turn up dead, and rumor spreads of a supernatural television broadcast that shows bizarre programming. The hero and a crew of his newfound classmates soon discover a horrible secret: there's a separate world within the televisions that twists human desires and hidden feelings in potentially lethal ways, and it's somehow tied to the serial killings. It's up to the group of friends to harness the supernatural power of personas, put a stop to the sinister killing spree, and decipher the secrets behind the TV world.

The contemporary, real-world-inspired setting of Persona 4 is already an excellent conceit in the heavily fantasy- and sci-fi-driven world of RPGs. But it's far from the only element that sets the game apart from the crop. Unlike most RPGs, Persona 4 operates on something of a time limit. From the day you arrive in the country village of Inaba until the day the school year ends, you advance through the game on a calendar. Dates and deadlines are very important; not only do you have important events in school and in your personal life to deal with, but you also discover that the serial killings follow a specific time pattern. You need to explore and rescue potential victims from the TV world before they are killed--a task that usually takes several days to complete.

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Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable Review

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This review of Persona 3 on PS2 has been updated to include a review of Persona 3 Portable, which was re-released on Xbox platforms and PC. The original review was written by Kevin VanOrd, while the re-release was written by Jessica Howard.

The PlayStation 2 may have reached its twilight years, but there is no shortage of great games being released for it. Enter Persona 3, the latest in the Shin Megami Tensei series to reach American shores. Luckily, you won't need any previous experience with the Persona franchise to appreciate its uniquely dark sensibilities, though series fans will find plenty of familiar references in which to revel. This is a quality role-playing experience that weaves distinctive gameplay elements into a fascinating story that unfolds slowly but keeps you constantly guessing. It's also atypically mature, but then again, any game that features your party members repeatedly shooting themselves in the head isn't for the squeamish. Indeed, the game's signature mechanic is this: To summon your inner self--or persona--you point a pistol at your head and pull the trigger.

At the outset of the game, you name your character, who has just transferred to Gekkoukan high school. But it's clear that not everything is kosher at the seemingly average campus. Mysterious creatures called shadows are threatening the locals, spreading an enigmatic disease called apathy syndrome that leaves their victims as listless as the name implies. However, their activity is generally confined to the dark hour: an hour sandwiched between midnight and 1 a.m. Most people are oblivious to this hour, while others are distinctly aware of the creepy dark hour in which the undulating gloom seals most of humanity in gothic coffins. Those unseemly heroes are in touch with their personas, which can be summoned to fight shadows in the realm of Tartarus, where most of them are restricted. At Gekkoukan, known persona users have created the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad and are determined to wipe the shadows off the face of the earth.

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Hi-Fi Rush Review - Good Vibes Only

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The very first boss fight in Hi-Fi Rush pits you against a giant robot that wants to crush and eat you. In order to defeat this mechanical titan, you need to wail on it with a guitar that's cobbled together from scrap metal, timing each of your attacks to the up-tempo beat of Nine Inch Nails' "1,000,000." Developer Tango Gameworks is obviously known for its whimsy, but it was previously confined to a horror genre that Hi-Fi Rush most definitely does not belong to. Instead, Tango's latest is a surprisingly vibrant Saturday morning cartoon of a game, capturing the spirit and electric energy of a Dreamcast or GameCube title in the best way possible. It's tremendous in almost every respect, meshing its toe-tapping combat with genuine humor and a massive helping of both confidence and style.

At its core, Hi-Fi Rush is an interesting mix between a character-action game like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta and a rhythm game. Its melee action will feel immediately familiar to anyone who's well versed in the former, as you use your Flying V guitar to pummel enemies with combos consisting of both light and heavy attacks, juggle foes in the air, and dodge out of the way of incoming danger. The best character-action games are able to lure you into a trance-like state as you gradually become more proficient at dispatching large groups of enemies, yet Hi-Fi Rush takes it a step further by baking this rhythmic flow into its very design. You can still succeed by button-mashing your way to victory, but timing your attacks to the beat of the game's soundtrack lets you dish out increased damage and clear areas in a much more efficient manner. Enemies also attack and move on the beat, making each fight feel like an improvised dance where you're the main attraction.

In order to help you find your rhythm, the whole world of Hi-Fi Rush pulsates with the beat of whatever music is currently playing, providing you with both visual and audio cues for nailing its timing. Elevators jerk up and down on the beat, computer lights blink with each snare hit, and the barriers that lock you inside combat arenas are made from equalizers that undulate along with the music. The sound of mechanical gears, steam pipes, and the thud of your own footsteps even coalesce with the soundtrack to create a harmonious noise. There are other optional visual cues you can add for extra assistance--like a metronome--but the basic timing concept remains the same throughout, even outside of its slick and satisfying combat.

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SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake Review - F.U.N.

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In 2003, SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom was released and became a touchstone for a generation of children already obsessed with the cartoon. While nostalgia plays a large factor, I, like many people around my age, hold that game in high regard, even if the experience doesn't quite hold up all these years later. Now, two decades later, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake has been made as a spiritual successor and, for better and for worse, it plays the way I remember Battle for Bikini Bottom.

In The Cosmic Shake, SpongeBob and Patrick stumble upon a Mermaid named Kassandra, who sells antique and mysterious items. SpongeBob purchases bubble soap that supposedly grants wishes, running around town and asking everyone he knows for their wishes. Unfortunately, all of the wishes kick in at once, tearing holes in reality and sending the citizens of Bikini Bottom off into the multiverse, with SpongeBob and Patrick left to pick up the pieces.

This opening sets up the seven levels players will explore throughout the game, each one with a different theme and environment. The aesthetic design of these levels is one of the places The Cosmic Shake shines, pulling together references to iconic episodes of the show, while adding new elements that fit within the game's story. A movie-set-themed episode combines SpongBob's obsession with karate with an action movie, and a pirate level has an enemy ship constantly firing pie bombs at you.

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