Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 Review - More Than A Rerun

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Two years ago, Fair Play Labs and Ludosity entered the platform fighting game ring with Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl. The game was decent enough, but it was clear that the core "Smash Bros. with Nickelodeon characters" idea had more to offer than what was delivered. Now, with Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2, the two studios are attempting to realize that potential.. However, while some welcome adjustments have been made, there are a few important flaws--and some mind-boggling subtractions--that once again keep the full potential of this idea out of reach.

The most notable improvement Nick Brawl 2 makes over other platform fighters is its control scheme, which carries over from the previous game and yet still feels genuinely innovative. Character movement, shields, and throws are all standard fare: You move your character with the stick, press a shoulder button to grab for a throw, and press a different shoulder button to bring up shields or dodge opponents' moves.

Attacking, on the other hand, uses a control scheme quite different from what you might expect from a platform fighter. Each character has three main attack buttons--light attack, charge attack, and special attack--and each button uses a different move if the joystick is held in a certain direction. Charge attacks in most other platform fighters have shared a button with light attacks, but Nick Brawl 2 separates them. This is a smart improvement, as it makes for easier combo execution in the heat of battle and allows for a few extra moves for each character. This game also made me appreciate jumping with a button instead of tilting the joystick up--by dedicating a button to jumping, using a upward charge attack becomes easier, as I don't accidentally jump instead of attacking. I never used the button option in Smash, but Nick Brawl 2 has made me come around to the idea.

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You Will Die Here Tonight Review - Empty Residence

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In the opening of You Will Die Here Tonight (YWDHT), my Resident Evil-inspired super-cop solved a confusing book-based puzzle and ventured into a secret underground lab, where she was then met with a monologue from her ally-turned-enemy. To my surprise, this Albert Wesker-like big bad then shot my character dead--all in the first 15 minutes. It was like starting a Resident Evil game in the final scene and then getting a dark ending where the villains prevail. With a touch of meta commentary on the genre, this unconventional introduction was an intriguing start, but also the last part of the game I truly enjoyed, as the game thereafter ran through too-common horror tropes without cleverly subverting or enhancing them ever again.

In the aptly titled You Will Die Here Tonight, Resident Evil is the blueprint for a two- to four-hour-long isometric, survival-horror game with a touch of roguelite progression. That fun intro I detailed would've been a neat story track to stay on, as the big bad who seems to prevail quickly discovers there's another unseen hand, more powerful than her own, that is pulling the strings. But the game oddly drops this pretense in favor of a roguelite system whereby, when a character dies, you assume the role of another member of A.R.I.E.S. (the legally distinct and totally-not-S.T.A.R.S. division of police officers) keeping all story items with the opportunity to recover other scraps if you can find the body of your predecessor.

The dissonance between that story-heavy opening scene and what follows winds up feeling like two different games that somehow both made it into the final version. Each character plays the same but offers different text lines, with a few seeming quite serious and others offering bothersome jokes that wouldn't land at some middle school lunch tables. The mansion-like setting with secret labs, a torture dungeon, and some high-end offices and libraries is very much akin to a setting from Capcom's seminal series, and the roundabout way you navigate this space--solving convoluted puzzles and gathering various items to open doors and collect new weapons--is all meant to take you back to the late '90s, when games like this were most prevalent.

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Like A Dragon Gaiden Review - The Man Who Can't Escape The Yakuza

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Perhaps I was naive to think that the legend of Kazuma Kiryu actually wrapped up with Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, and that his appearance in Yakuza: Like A Dragon was simply a nod to longtime fans such as myself. Having played through Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name, I'm now convinced that leaving Kiryu to grow old in the shadows wouldn't have been the right move. Although Gaiden is a bite-sized story--noticeably shorter than previous entries--it proves that there's still so much more to Kiryu's legacy.

From the wild new Agent fighting style to the wealth of captivating side activities and tried-and-true Yakuza story drama, Gaiden is a tight package that's akin to a 'greatest hits' for the franchise. While it may feel like a retread of previous games at times, the formula is no worse for wear and continues to finds ways to surprise me with its straight-faced delivery of absurdist humor. Gaiden acts as a middle chapter that flows into the events of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the 2020 RPG starring Kasuga Ichiban as the protagonist, and it leads directly into the upcoming Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth, which has Ichiban and Kiryu teaming up. It's tough to talk about this game in a vacuum, but because it so heavily targets those who've been on the Yakuza journey all this time, it hit me hard in my feelings--especially as I barreled toward its heart-rending conclusion. In that respect, it is both a typical and exceptional entry in the Yakuzaverse.

With Kiryu as the leading man, the real-time brawler combat returns, but Gaiden doesn't simply rehash the old system. The new Agent fighting style adds enough to freshen up fights by giving Kiryu some James Bond-esque gadgets to complement the melee finesse of this fighting style. As you progress in the main story, you'll gradually unlock abilities like the drones that swarm and chip away at enemies, rocket boosters on his shoes that let Kiryu jet around combat encounters and plow through bad dudes, and explosive cigarettes that act as a grenade to blast away mobs. Kiryu also channels some real Spider-Man energy with the aptly named Spider ability, where he shoots out a wire from his watch to lasso enemies, launch them across the arena, or pull in weapons from afar. And it's oh-so-satisfying to weave it in mid-combo to start juggling enemies as if you're a god-tier Tekken player. He even uses it in web-slinging fashion to swing around in action-packed cutscenes--it's absolute Yakuza nonsense, and I love it.

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Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Campaign Review - Return Of The Makarov

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3's campaign picks up where last year's Modern Warfare 2 left off. Captain Price's iconic Task Force 141 is back in action and, as teased in the final cutscenes of Modern Warfare 2, the new threat is Vladimir Makarov, a major antagonist of the original Modern Warfare franchise. Modern Warfare 3 sparks a hot opening with an early reveal of Makarov, but the introduction of the new Open Combat missions disrupts the story's pace for a fizzled-out ending.

Modern Warfare 3 reunites Price's team with several familiar faces from the rebooted series, including Kate Laswell, Farah Karim, and Alex Keller. General Shepherd and Commander Phillip Graves of Shadow Company also return, despite their treacherous actions against Soap, Ghost, and Los Vaqueros in Modern Warfare 2. It's an all-hands-on-deck situation with Makarov in the picture.

The campaign opens with Operation 627, a mission in which you stealthily break into a gulag. This linear level sees you rappelling down into the Gulag with night vision goggles on, clearing guards level by level as you descend. Visually, this level looks cool and the gameplay is one of the more enjoyable and traditional missions you'll play in Modern Warfare 3. The gameplay and cinematics are of the bombastic quality you'd expect from Call of Duty, and right away the threat of Makarov is apparent. He gets an exciting jailbreak moment and emerges from confinement ready to cause some chaos. However, after this hyped opening mission, Modern Warfare 3 immediately stumbles as you're forced to play two of the game's new Open Combat missions back-to-back.

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Ghostrunner 2 Review - Delicate Balance

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When it launched in 2020, Ghostrunner was quickly recognized for its slick blend of satisfying first-person parkour platforming and tough-as-nails, one-hit-kill combat. Perhaps most impressive was just how well it practiced restraint, never overstaying its welcome while also keeping the focus keenly on its engaging traversal and action. Ghostrunner II is a sequel that hasn't entirely lost the captivating nature of its core gameplay loop, but in expanding the world that you're playing in and trying to find new elements to introduce into the mix, it loses itself along the way at times before finding its feet once again.

Ghostrunner II takes place a year after the events of the first game, with cyborg assassin Jack now comfortable in his role as enforcer for the Climbers, one of many gangs trapped in the cyberpunk tower of Dharma. While the original Ghostrunner had a story, it wasn't a core focus, instead simply providing some context to keep you moving forward. In the sequel, the narrative is far more prevalent, which can make many of its opening moments confusing if you haven't brushed up on the events of the first game or the encapsulating lore of the world the game takes place in.

You'll have numerous radio conversations with a variety of characters, many of which are exposition-heavy explanations to get you up to speed as quickly as possible. It makes the opening hours feel overwhelming and disjointed, before the story eventually settles into a predictable revenge plot that leaves little room for nuanced characterization. There are some entertaining exchanges between Jack--whose blunt but self-aware responses are surprisingly hilarious for a single-purpose killing machine--and some of his handlers, but Ghostrunner 2 doesn't feature a fleshed-out cast of characters or captivating story beats that you'll likely remember by the time credits roll, and certainly not long afterwards.

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