Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope Review - This Sparks Joy

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Against all odds, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was a charmingly weird success, fusing Nintendo mega-star mascot Mario with Ubisoft's less-than-inspiring little rabbit oddballs and throwing them into a turn-based strategy game, of all things. It was an open question then whether Ubisoft, which took the lead on the project, would be able to capture the ineffable Nintendo magic while borrowing some of the company's most iconic characters. With that question now answered, Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope sets its sights higher, managing to not only be a surprisingly good Mario spin-off, but legitimately be better than some of Nintendo's own recent games starring the plucky plumber.

Like the original, Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is very strange. It occupies a parallel version of the Mushroom Kingdom where Mario and his friends casually socialize with their Rabbid doppelgangers, and where many of them are packing heat--albeit in an abstract, bubblegum package. The Rabbids are a little obnoxious and off-putting, but Mario and his friends seem too polite to say anything. When they discover a Spark, a new life form that is obviously a Rabbid fused with one of Rosalina's Lumas, they immediately know something must be wrong because Rosalina would never allow that to happen to her babies. The implicit acknowledgement that being a Rabbid mutant is a terrible fate got a good chuckle out of me right from the jump.

This is indicative of how Ubisoft approaches the overall tone: reverent and respectful of Mario lore, such as it is, while cheeky and self-aware about its own Rabbids creations. Mario and his friends are video game royalty, and its cast includes a literal space goddess. The Rabbids were always made to be annoying; that was sort of the joke. These are not the same, and the game knows it, juxtaposing the two against one another to surprising comedic effect.

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Gotham Knights Review - Knightfall

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Batman is dead. With so few words, Gotham Knights is instantly intriguing. What does Gotham look like without its Dark Knight perched over the rotten city? What do his nemeses--many of whom exist in some way because Batman did--do without him? Most importantly, what impact does his death have on Robin, Batgirl, Nightwing, and Red Hood, the so-called Bat-family? Their leader's sudden demise leaves a massive hole in the heart of Gotham, and Gotham Knights is the story of sidekicks stepping out from his shadow. Although the new guard fares well from a narrative standpoint, the gameplay systems built to serve their 30-hour campaign to reclaim Gotham let the team down.

This isn't an Arkham game, though Gotham Knights does use the beloved series as a jumping-off point. In a totally open-world version of Gotham City, the Bat-family will still spend much of their time swooping down on enemies from gargoyles overhead and chain attacks with stylish combat moves as they dispatch packs of gangsters. They'll still crawl through vents to get the drop on baddies who are feeling empowered by Batman's sudden departure. The open world is also structurally familiar in the way it carries the player through the game. It is full of icons ranging from main story beats to one-off time trials and challenges, so at first glance this version of Gotham doesn't seem all that different from other versions of it, or other open-world games for that matter.

Though it looks the part, with its stark class divide, constant crime sprees, and neo-noirish intentions, patrolling the urban sprawl is sadly a chore. Because Gotham Knights trades the tried-and-true action-adventure roots of recent Batman games for a loot-focused brawler, the cadence of action foregoes compelling storylines that complement the main campaign for rote and repetitive street brawls that reward you with crafting resources. The game starts really strong, with several authored story missions that feel nearly as big and bold as you'd expect, given the last 15 years of Gotham-set games. After that intro, however, the game settles into unremarkable and unfilling gameplay loops driven by awkward games-as-a-service design principles.

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New Tales From The Borderlands Review - Good Stories

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New Tales from the Borderlands is a fun pit stop in the space Western of the Borderlands series. Much like its predecessor, Telltale Games' Tales from the Borderlands, this new adventure focuses on an ensemble cast of everyday people, not the superhero-like Vault Hunters of the main series. And in a very similar vein to the first game, New Tales from the Borderlands makes a solid case that the series needs more stories like this one. It's just more interesting to see normal people navigating Borderlands' capitalist hellscape of corporate wars as they approach the ludicrous antics and dystopian lawlessness from a more relatable perspective.

The normal people in question are altruistic scientist Anu, her younger adopted brother Octavio, and frozen yogurt shop owner Fran. Anu wants to build a device that can end conflicts nonviolently, much to the chagrin of the weapons manufacturer she works for. Octavio desires respect and fame, seeking an idea for a get-rich start-up business. And Fran desires vengeance upon weapons manufacturer Tediore, whose invasion of the planet of Promethea results in the destruction of her shop. Upon learning the invasion is to acquire a Vault Key and open the Promethean Vault, the trio finds themselves working together to acquire the Vault's treasure before Tediore can claim it, hoping it will be something valuable enough to secure funding for Anu's research and Octavio's dreams, while also depriving Tediore of their goal and netting Fran her revenge.

Most of New Tales from the Borderlands has you making dialogue choices for Anu, Octavio, or Fran, or performing some feat via a quick-time event. Your choices can have a range of consequences--strengthening the relationship between two characters, for example--but their primary effect is repercussions on the story. You can't outright avoid the major narrative beats of each chapter, but you can influence how events transpire to color in your own take on the adventure. Fran is always going to be visited by the insurance agent overseeing her claim of the damage to her shop, for instance, but it's entirely up to the choices you made leading up to and during that encounter that determine whether she gets that payout, and shapes how the agent perceives her going forward. This structure does mean that New Tales from the Borderlands can occasionally feel too scripted--especially near the end of episodes when the story has to guide you towards an unavoidable outcome to set up the next story beat--but it works for the most part, injecting enough player agency into the story to create tangible change in pretty much every event.

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Uncharted: Legacy Of Thieves Review - Charted, Again

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Naughty Dog is one of the most recognizable names on PlayStation hardware, and the roaring success of its Uncharted franchise across two generations of the console plays a large part in that legacy. It makes sense then that the studio's first full release for the PlayStation 5 celebrates that storied history, bringing two of the series' best entries to new hardware with a suite of improvements that make experiencing the treasure-hunting adventures a pleasure again. Although some of the underlying design choices are showing some age, the Legacy of Thieves Collection is the best way to play Uncharted 4: A Thief's End and Uncharted: Lost Legacy.

Across both games, the most significant changes are clear to see in the game's three modes of play. Fidelity mode targets a native 4K presentation, with the frame rate aiming for a locked 30fps(and sticking there for pretty much every scene). The new performance mode, which is likely the best way to play, reduces the resolution to 1440p but doubles the frame rate to 60fps, which it easily maintains for much more responsive gameplay. A third mode, Performance+, cuts the resolution even more, with a native 1080p presentation and a frame rate that aims for 120fps. You'll need a display that supports that in the first place, and even then, it's a tough concession to make visually for added fluidity that's not really required for the narrative-focused adventures that this collection contains.

What the additional horsepower of the PS5 offers, then, is choice, which wasn't present with the original releases on both the PS4 and PS4 Pro. Both Uncharted 4 and Lost Legacy have been playable on PS5 through backwards compatibility, but have been frustratingly locked to the same 30fps cap as the PS4 versions in both respective campaigns. The higher frame rates for both were reserved for their respective multiplayer modes, which aren't included in this Legacy of Thieves Collection anyway.

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