Jetpack Joyride 2 Review – Running Up That Hall

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The original Jetpack Joyride released during an early apex of the mobile market. Small but quality games were successful, and the platform was not yet overrun with free-to-play gacha games. Jetpack Joyride represented a nice middle-ground, offering a fun core mechanic great for high score competition without overbearing microtransactions. In the 10 years since it was released, the market has changed. Premium games now struggle on mobile and while the most successful titles may ask for less money, they do it more often. Jetpack Joyride 2 could have pivoted to fit this new, profit-focused model, but instead developer Halfbrick opted to bring the game to Apple's Arcade subscription service. This means it won't ask you for a dime and it is also, surprisingly, no longer an endless runner. The new structure, with the familiar jetpack gameplay, is a fantastic choice that absolutely makes a better game, but it unfortunately is not yet complete, leading to a sudden and disappointing non-ending.

The core mechanic of Jetpack Joyride 2 is the same as the first. You, as Barry Steakfries (or the alternate reality female version, Betty Beefpies), sprint down a long hallway using a jetpack to move up and down and avoid obstacles. All these years later, narrowly dodging electric traps and missiles while the spray from your jetpack knocks over the scientists with the bad luck to get in your way is still an immediate blast. The change, however, is the sequel has levels, bosses, some light RPG mechanics, and even a shallow story. An endless mode is promised at some point in the future, but right now Jetpack Joyride 2 is a game with a campaign. The change is surprising considering the success of the first game (which still receives updates), but I like it. Beating levels is more frequently rewarding than having a series of bad runs before you finally have a good one, and the bosses are a fun additional challenge to cap off every few stages. Different levels also means stages look different as you progress, so you no longer have to stare at the same background while jetpacking.

Bosses, and levels to a degree, are overcome with Jetpack Joyride 2's other surprising new mechanic: Guns. About half your time is spent dodging obstacles, while the other half is spent shooting. This new mechanic fits in well and feels natural. This is partially because Barry and Betty shoot automatically, meaning you just have to line up your shot. It makes the shooting a basic extension of what you're already doing, and blowing up a robot with bullets as you drop below a passing missile feels great. The shooting action is even more fun against bosses as you both speed down the hallway exchanging fire.

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Madden NFL 23 Review - High Upside

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Every August, a new Madden launches with some major marketing buzzword attached. It makes for easy back-of-the-box material and quickly answers the question, What's new in Madden this year? These named features often fail to live up to their proper noun naming conventions, but in Madden NFL 23, that's not the case. This year's buzzword-y feature, Fieldsense, emcompasses several other features under its wide umbrella, with all of them relating to how it feels to actually play and move around on the field. In that regard, Madden 23 is a clear step up. But several other aspects of the game, including both returning issues and new problems, keep the game from achieving its full potential at launch.

Fieldsense is not one feature but the name for a collection of on-field improvements. Among them, the biggest and most enjoyable leap forward is the new Skill-Based Passing system. This is meant to remove some of Madden's attribute-driven outcomes and transfer decisiveness to the player. On the field, this is done by giving players a new throwing meter and shadowed target area that appears as the ball is being thrown. It allows players to pinpoint directly where they want the ball to go like never before--a bit like fielding in MLB The Show. Excitingly, this feature lives up to its promise, allowing skilled players to skewer defenses and hit gaps in coverage like never before in Madden history.

A wonky tutorial does this feature no good, making practice best done in a live setting. After a few quarters or games with Skill-Based Passing enabled, it becomes blatantly obvious that going back to the old system, while an option in Madden 23, is never a good idea. It allows the QB to keep a pass in front of the cornerback on a crossing route, hit back-shoulder fades in the end zone, and sneak into the space between two defenders' zones in ways that, in years past, almost always resulted in turnovers. I'd go so far as to say Madden 23 is worth playing for this feature alone, because throwing the football, something you'll do 15-40 times per game, has never felt so good.

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Saints Row Review - Open-World Nostalgia

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It's been nine years since Saints Row IV was released, pitting the 3rd Street Saints against an alien invasion that featured superpowers, time-travel, Matrix-style simulations, and the complete destruction of Earth. Where do you go after a game so ridiculous and outlandish? After a period of absence, rebooting the series sounds like a logical next step, and that's exactly what developer Deep Silver Volition has done with this new, stripped-back Saints Row.

It's still not "realistic" by any stretch of the imagination, but it is slightly more grounded. However, you still shouldn't envisage finding many of the modern trappings of open-world games. For as much as Saints Row differentiates itself from the bombast of its past few entries, it still closely resembles a game from the same era, leading to an experience that often feels stale and dated.

For the most part, this isn't something you could level at Saints Row IV's approach to freedom around character identity and gender, and this has carried over into the rebooted Saints Row. The character creator lets you design pretty much any person you want. There's a broad range of prosthetic options, various types of vitiligo, a number of sliders for body options that do away with binary gender selection, a choice of six distinct voices, and the ability to make an asymmetrical face, to name just a few of the available options. You can also hop back into the character creator at any point and change your entire look. This sounds like an insignificant feature, but it isn't always a given and speaks to Saints Row's focus on inclusivity.

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Midnight Fight Express Review - Streets of Rage

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Two of the characters in Midnight Fight Express are called Kyler Turden, a riff on the antagonist of Fight Club, and Chef Favreau, a nod to Iron Man and Chef director Jon Favreau. Its first act opens with a quote directly from the 1865 novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. If you're wondering why a game that's supposedly influenced by '80s action cinema includes references to things that are definitely not that, you're not alone. This does provide a good barometer for the game's tone, though--which is all over the place and never takes itself too seriously.

Midnight Fight Express's period-specific action roots are only really reflected in some fantastically violent gameplay, pitting a one-man army against a neverending slew of bozos, cronies, and crooked cops. There's very little to the game beyond its combat; Midnight Fight Express is essentially a modern beat-'em-up, ditching the usual side-scrolling 2D sprites for 3D fisticuffs and an isometric perspective. Its action is fast-paced and kinetic, only letting up when the story gets in the way, and the sheer breadth of motion-captured animations is both impressive and surprising for a game developed by a studio as small as Humble Games.

In fact, Midnight Fight Express was mostly created by one man: Jacob Dzwinel. Yet it's his collaboration with renowned stuntmen Eric Jacobus (God of War, The Last of Us: Part II) and Fernando Jay Huerto (Destiny 2) that really brings the game's wince-inducing combat to life.

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Soul Hackers 2 Review - Amateurs Hack Systems, Professionals Hack People

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From the very beginning, Soul Hackers 2 makes it clear that it's not interested in wasting time. Within the first two hours of starting up Atlus's latest JRPG, you'll have all of your main party members, know the focal points of the story, and have a grasp on almost all of the primary gameplay mechanics. It's a refreshing and stark contrast to the "slow-burn" kind of gameplay JRPGs are known for, and a very different approach than fans of the larger Shin Megami Tensei series might be used to. It's clear, then, that the goal of Soul Hackers 2 is to forge a new SMT subseries with a distinct approach to gameplay--a goal which it largely succeeds at.

In the future, mankind is stuck in a rut: Technological and social progress has stalled, and the human race faces a sort of global ennui. Beneath the outer fabric of society, however, groups of gifted humans who can communicate with the supernatural world work underground as "Devil Summoners." Some, like the Yatagarasu organization, aim to use their powers to protect humanity, while the nefarious Phantom Society aims for global destruction. In the middle of this conflict, Aion--a sentient AI born from the collective of networked digital knowledge--gives form to two physical "agents," Ringo and Fugue, sending them on a mission to rescue the world from certain destruction.

Soul Hackers 2, despite its name and numbering, bears only a few elements in common with the original Shin Megami Tensei: Soul Hackers, namely a cyberpunk-influenced worldview, a villainous group called the Phantom Society, a character belonging to the Kuzunoha family, and the concept of interacting with the souls of the dead through "hacking." Ringo and Fugue are dismayed to immediately discover that most of the folks Aion has tasked them with protecting are recently deceased, and so Ringo re-imbues them with life through the "Soul Hack." This intertwines their souls with her digital lifeforce and bonds her to them for the course of the game, both story- and gameplay-wise.

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