Mario Strikers: Battle League Review

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Mario Strikers: Battle League may be the most mechanically dense Mario sports game I've played. The latest Mushroom Kingdom spin on soccer looks to take the sport seriously, allowing you to juggle passes, tackle, dodge, and cancel moves as the situation demands, even before factoring in its uniquely silly Mario twists. That makes for a high skill ceiling that could conceivably give the game a long lifespan, but its potential is held back by the fact that there just isn't all that much to do.

The mechanical complexity of the game is explained back-to-back-to-back in a dizzying set of tutorials. Rather than ease you in with a few basic lessons and then teach you some field skills and then progressively ramp up throughout practical games, Mario Strikers: Battle League asks if you'd like to do the tutorial, and then delivers you all of them in a row. Just as you're getting a handle on tackling and Hyper Shots, you start getting Expert-level lessons that teach advanced techniques like canceling a charged shot or the subtle differences between a free pass and a more powerful free pass. The mechanics themselves are complex so the hefty tutorials are understandable, but it can feel a little overwhelming when it's all dropped in your lap at once.

Once you enter into the game menu, single-player opportunities to test out your newfound soccer skills are sparse. You can take part in a Quick Match, the most basic of all sports game options, or you can play in a series of four-team, double-elimination tournaments called Cup Battles. That's it. There's no distinct career mode, progression ramp, or even alternate rule sets to mix things up. It's a remarkably anemic level of options, which makes the whole affair feel slightly unfinished. Mario Strikers has a great foundation, but there isn't much to do or see inside of it.

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Roller Champions Review - Keep Rollin', Rollin', Rollin'

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Roller Champions is an intriguing mixture of sports, strengthening the already-compelling baseline of roller derby by adding in elements of basketball and Mesoamerican ball game, ulama. This unique blend is a whole lot of fun, so it's a bit of a shame that it starts to feel so samey as quickly as it does.

In Roller Champions, players compete as teams of three, skating in a circular rink. Both teams fight over possession of a ball and then make as many consecutive laps as possible with it in hand, before then tossing it through a hoop to score points. If your team manages a full lap before scoring, you earn a single point, while two or three laps net you three or five points, respectively. If at any point the other team manages to get the ball away from you, it breaks the streak and you'll have to fight to get the ball back in order to break your opponent's streak and begin scoring again. The first team to reach five points (or have the most points after seven minutes) wins.

The first roller pass--Roller Champions' version of a battle pass--isn't all that enticing. There are a few entertainingly unique offerings but it's a largely drab first outing.
The first roller pass--Roller Champions' version of a battle pass--isn't all that enticing. There are a few entertainingly unique offerings but it's a largely drab first outing.

It's a straightforward premise, made more engaging and complex with the variety of moves at each player's disposal on both offense and defense, including multiple ways of tackling your opponents to the ground or passing the ball to a waiting teammate. Plus, there are the in-game physics to master, which dictate how a ball might roll or bounce depending on where and how hard you throw it.

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Sniper Elite 5 Review - Longer-Range

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Five games in and sniping Nazis still hasn't gotten old. Whether it's a well-placed bullet in the back of the skull, a shot right through the iris of an unaware enemy, or a 200-yard peach that collides with a pair of testicles, Sniper Elite's schlocky long-range action remains gloriously fun. It's in the moments outside of the sniper's scope where the series has previously struggled to compel, but that all changed when Sniper Elite 4 arrived with refined stealth mechanics and massive, open-ended maps. In picking up where that game left off, Sniper Elite 5 doesn't feel quite as revolutionary in comparison, but with some smart new additions and a more ambitious emphasis on player agency and experimentation, this is another thrilling Nazi-hunting adventure where sniping is king.

Once again, you're thrust into the mud-caked boots of American marksman Karl Fairburne, this time deep behind enemy lines in occupied France. Sniper Elite 5 is set in the weeks and days just before, during, and after D-Day, when Allied forces launched a joint sea-based and airborne invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Your initial mission is to covertly disrupt enemy operations in preparation for the French theatre of war, destroying AA guns, disabling communications, blowing up fortified coastal positions, and so on. It doesn't take long, however, before you unearth yet another dastardly Nazi plot that could turn the tide of war, so it's up to Fairburne to put a stop to their plans and save the world from catastrophe.

You'll do this by sniping, blasting, and stabbing your way across various locales in northern France, from a picturesque chateau in the middle of the verdant countryside to the obliterated coastal town of Saint-Nazaire, where the Loire river heads inland. These environments are often gorgeous, especially early on, with the colorful scenery providing a stark contrast to the violent bloodshed happening all around it--bloodshed that most frequently bursts forth from the barrel of a sniper rifle.

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Vampire The Masquerade: Swansong Review - That Sinking Feeling

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Swansong is a role-playing game that delivers the entirety of its drama through dialogue–there is no combat to speak of. Critical scenes between characters are resolved within conversational set-pieces called "confrontations." RPGs can exist without traditional battles--just look at Disco Elysium, for example--but the dialogue now thrust center-stage needs to sing, or at least harmonize with a deep skill system. Swansong, sadly, delivers neither. Its writing is pedestrian, often incoherent, and its supporting systems are underutilized, adding little flavor to distinguish the three playable characters.

You play as three vampires--Emem, Galeb, and Leysha--summoned to a crisis meeting at Boston's vampire HQ, after a party to mark an alliance with the Hartford Chantry (a sect of blood sorcerers) ends in a bloodbath, and not the good kind. The local vampire prince instructs the trio to uncover what happened and eventually sends them on a series of overlapping missions of revenge. Missions are tailored to each vampire's specific abilities, and you'll play as each character in turn. For the first half of the game, you'll decide the order in which to tackle the missions, giving you some choice to pursue the storyline that's of most interest. But over the second half, a more linear approach takes over, and you find yourself shunted from one character's mission to the next, each ending on something of a cliffhanger.

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