Gestalt: Steam And Cinder Review - Steamed Ma'ams

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More than almost any other genre, the metroidvania is reaching a saturation point. We have beloved modernizations like Hollow Knight and Axiom Verge and big-budget takes like Batman: Arkham Asylum or this year's Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, alongside a steady, constant drumbeat of indie releases. It's hard to throw a rock at Steam without hitting at least a couple of metroidvanias, and with that much choice, it's hard for any one to stand out. Gestalt: Steam and Cinder is the latest indie take on the genre, but it manages to do what many others don't: pay homage to the two most prominent originators of the genre with smart, deliberate design choices that help it stand out in a crowded field.

In some sense, all metroidvanias combine aspects of Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Gestalt does so as well, but it also wisely leans on some of their best attributes, which feels like a conscious choice. For Super Metroid, that means a vast, interconnected world that is broken into a handful of distinct zones that play like their own stages. And like Symphony of the Night, it sports gorgeous pixel art with an emphasis on slick combat with light RPG hooks.

In Gestalt, you play as Aletheia, a no-nonsense bounty hunter who is on semi-friendly terms with the governing body of Canaan, a post-apocalyptic steampunk city. The world has recovered from the devastation of a war involving clockwork soldiers and cursed armor, but the stability is tense and everyone senses it's coming to an end. You get the impression throughout that Canaan's peacekeepers have tried to recruit Aletheia at various points, but she's always preferred to go her own way because she is, above all else, a cool, independent protagonist. Taking bounties ultimately leads to trouble as she investigates the areas around Canaan for clues about what's really going on.

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Flintlock: The Siege Of Dawn Review - Gunpowder and Deicide

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Flintlock: The Siege of Dawn has been marketed as a souls-lite rather than the more common souls-like, which I assumed meant it would be more approachable while still retaining many of the genre's core tenets. This is partly true in that it's nowhere near as punishing as From Software's games, and features familiar elements like bonfire-esque checkpoints and an Estus Flask-style healing system. Yet the game's style is more akin to something like Star Wars: Jedi Survivor than any Dark Souls game. Flintlock feels like a mashup of sensibilities between a souls-like and a more traditional action game, bridging the gap between the two with its own delightful approach to fast-paced combat and high-flying traversal.

One area in which Flintlock immediately stands out amongst its contemporaries is its unique setting. Mixing magical high fantasy with elements from the 17th to 19th century and the advent of gunpowder, Flintlock's world is immediately intriguing. For your part, you're strapped into the boots of protagonist Nor Vanek, a sapper in the Coalition army who unwittingly breaks a seal to the Great Below, unleashing malevolent Gods and their armies of the dead upon the lands of Kian. This act sets in motion a fairly straightforward story as Nor--wracked with guilt over condemning her home to near-annihilation--sets out on a path of vengeance to kill the Gods and retake the world. She's joined by a mysterious fox-like companion called Enki, who's keen to share his knowledge of the Gods while aiding Nor's efforts with a host of magical abilities.

The narrative's simple, laser-focused approach works in the game's favor, giving you a clear end goal to pursue that aligns with the snappy pacing of its action and movement. There are moments of interpersonal conflict, but the story never deviates from its deicidal path, lending the narrative a purposeful sense of forward momentum that carries it through to the end. The trade-off, however, is that you're unlikely to feel any attachment to its small cast of one-dimensional characters, despite enjoyable performances from Olive Gray (Halo), Alistar Petrie (Sex Education), and Elias Toufexis (Deus Ex: Mankind Divided).

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Nintendo World Championships: NES Edition Review - Go Go Mario

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Nintendo deserves and often rightly gets a lot of credit for the proliferation of esports and speedrunning, two competitive video game subcultures that have exploded in recent years. The Nintendo World Championships events were among the first high-profile, publisher-led efforts at esports, and many of the best-known speedrunning records are based on classic NES games. It makes sense, then, that Nintendo would capitalize on its place in history with Nintendo World Championships: NES Edition, a hybrid speedrunning tutorial and ongoing online competition for Nintendo Switch. While the tools are a bit barebones for true speedrun enthusiasts, the presentation nicely preserves and illuminates the joy of racing to shave milliseconds off your best time.

Nintendo World Championships kicks off on a self-congratulatory tone, having you peruse icons, favorite NES games, and "Hype Tags"--slogans from throughout Nintendo history--to build your profile. The icons are all from Nintendo-published NES games, but the "favorite games" include lots of third-party games and even Famicom listings. Similarly, the slogans run the gamut from nostalgic ("Plays With Power") to more contemporary ("Retro Game Collector"). It's a nice little touch of personalization to welcome you into Nintendo's long history.

Once you've created your profile, you can choose One Player or Party Mode. The One Player menu greets you with three gameplay options: Speedrun Mode, World Championships, and Survival Mode. Speedrun Mode makes for the bulk of single-player, and is composed of a large collection of challenges from across 13 classic Nintendo games. Those challenges are then reused for the solo online play and Party Mode challenges. The challenges include each NES Super Mario Bros. game (including the so-called Lost Levels), Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong, Kirby, Excitebike, and Balloon Fight, among others.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Splintered Fate Review - Turtle Loop

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As strange as the idea sounds--teenagers who are mutant turtles, who also happen to be ninjas--Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been a wildly successful franchise going back to its origins as a comic book in the '80s--so successful, in fact, that it spawned a legion of copycats, copy mice, frogs, sharks, and more. With that history of imitators in mind it’s funny to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Splinted Fates act as such a direct clone of Hades, just with a TMNT coat of paint. Unlike Street Sharks or Biker Mice from Mars, though, this does an admirable job of capturing most of what makes its inspiration great.

As is tradition, Master Splinter has been kidnapped, and it’s up to the four turtles to battle through four levels of roguelite action to get him back. Each run starts in the sewers, moving room to room as you clear enemies and collect power-ups along the way. When you die, you are transported back to the turtle’s lair to regroup, buy a few upgrades, and start again.

Splintered Fates was originally a mobile game, but it was built with modern high-spec devices and access to controllers in mind. As a result, its solid core gameplay loop feels right at home on the Nintendo Switch. Delivering attacks before quickly dashing away to avoid damage generally feels fast and fluid. Intense fights near the end of a run can be a dizzying whirlwind as you prioritize targets and deliver blows in the small gaps in which enemies are vulnerable. Attacks quickly charge up a powerful special attack and a tool with a unique power, like Michelangelo’s taunt, which stuns and damages enemies in a small area of effect.

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Flock Review - Creature Comforts

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The creature-collector genre is dominated by Pokemon and filled out from there with many games heavily inspired by it. Through a certain lens, Flock is a creature collector, too, but if you go into it looking for a game very much like Pokemon, you won't find it. The task of filling out your Pokedex-like Field Guide by discovering a world of (mostly) fantastical creatures, each with their own physical and behavioral traits, is very much like the genre's titan, but beyond that, Flock is much more lax, not to mention charming and delicate. It's better described as a creature observer, and that novel approach winds up being very enjoyable.

Flock takes place in a gorgeously colorful wilderness called The Uplands. As the customizable player character and bird-rider, you and an optional co-op partner head into a small camp where your aunt and some pals need your help cataloging the many critters roaming the land. The entire game takes place on the back of your feathered friend, and the game's way of automatically adjusting your flight path vertically, while you do so horizontally, makes it all very easy to control. It feels light and fun in your hands, like going down a slide at the playground.

This child-like spirit is present throughout the game, from its candy-colored trees and plains to its small cast of characters who speak mostly in terms players of all ages can understand, but who occasionally pack a hint of something more grown-up in their musings. I found it similar to how characters on many Cartoon Network shows speak. It isn't trying to be subversive, like a Dreamworks movie sneaking in an adult joke; rather, it treats its audience with some maturity, expressed in the words characters choose. It's immediately inviting, and the game's soft music makes for a perpetually calming soundtrack that keep game feeling meditative and decompressing.

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