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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Cursed To Golf Review - An Ace In The Hole

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I'm standing on the tee of a familiar hole. A booming drive will fly over ponds, bunkers, and spikes before colliding with a golden idol to add four shots to par. But now that I have a variety of Ace Cards, I can follow a wildly different path. There's a column of TNT directly behind me that I blow up with a card before equipping another one that lets me change the direction of the shot in mid-air. I take out my wedge and pitch the ball into the newly created opening behind me. Before it drops into the water below, I redirect the ball through a narrow passage and into a small nook filled with spikes and a handy ricochet bumper. Then, I fling it backwards at the bumper, which allows me to redirect the ball for a third time. The ball soars through the small opening, bounces twice on the island green, and falls into the cup with the help of a bit of spin I added. A hole-in-one--my first in Cursed to Golf. The first two times I played this hole, it took me around five minutes and more than a dozen shots.

The magic of Cursed to Golf comes from the moments when you figure out entirely new ways to finish levels more efficiently and in mechanically interesting ways. Even though Cursed to Golf allows you to send your golf ball through portals, turn it into ice and thunder, or even transform it into a rocket, it captures the beauty of actual golf in a way that very few golf games have in the past--even "realistic" ones. Like real golf, each and every shot feels different, and, most importantly, the only limitation you have is your creativity and ingenuity. The freedom you're given to experiment throughout each level makes subsequent runs through the very same layout feel entirely fresh.

During the final round of a tournament, you're killed by a lightning strike and sent to Golf Purgatory, an underworld with a diabolical golf course operated by the Greenskeeper. To escape, you have to finish all of the 18 side-scrolling holes in a row without running out of shots. A roguelike structure sends you back to the beginning of the course if you fail during any of the levels. Gameplay is the focus here, but Cursed to Golf has witty dialogue, a rather heartwarming story, and a lighthearted tone despite the fact you're essentially trapped in hell.

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We Are OFK Review - Acoustic Resonance

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Episodic visual novel We Are OFK has a really cool premise. This five-part adventure mixes in notes of a biopic to detail the origin of a real band known as OFK, a group entirely composed of virtual members. It's a fictional story about a real band made of fictional people who make real music because they're tired of working for fictional companies. It's like if there was a game about Hatsune Miku or K/DA that detailed their lives prior to their rise to fame. All told, it's a great story, and though I do wish that the dialogue choices had been more impactful, We Are OFK is an emotionally rewarding tale that explores the fraught and oftentimes cutthroat nature of Los Angeles' music industry through the lens of easily digestible themes and relatable characters.

We Are OFK follows pianist Itsumi Saitō, singer/songwriter Luca Le Fae, audiovisual artist Carter Flores, and producer Jey Zhang, and depicts how their lives come to intersect. The point A to point B throughline of the story culminates in Itsumi, Luca, Carter, and Jey forming a band. You know going in that this is the outcome you'll see. But on the way to that destination, the story takes regular detours into Itsumi's love life, Luca's writer's block, Carter's existential crisis, and Jey's familial pressures. It's in these other storylines that We Are OFK adopts a more slice-of-life style of storytelling, concluding with most of these issues left partially unresolved.

You'll do a lot of texting in We Are OFK.

You'll do a lot of texting in We Are OFK.

If anything, that only makes the conclusion to We Are OFK all the more satisfyingly believable and wonderful to reach. There are no typical bad guys here for the group to overcome and get their happily-ever-after ending. This is a story of what it means to grow, both as a person and as a group, and how that can come in many different forms and also occur at a different pace person-to-person. Carter's arc is notably exceptional in its execution and probably my favorite storyline of the four. The arc sees them grappling with grief and coming to terms with what it means to leave a mark on the world while working within an industry where your work can be quickly forgotten. Itsumi has a similarly strong narrative path from the first episode to the last, which largely digs into her feelings of inadequacy and fear of being alone. Both characters resonated with me in a way that Luca and Jey did not--both do have strong storylines, but they don't feel as compelling as Itsumi or Carter.

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Rollerdrome Review: Skate Or Die

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When I was losing hours to Roll7's latest side-scrolling skateboard platformer, OlliOlli World, I never said to myself, I wonder what this would be like if my skater had a gun. Roll7 obviously did, though, and the result is Rollerdrome. Though it makes departures from the skating games that Roll7 is known for, Rollerdrome nails what's most important about them: it's an easy game to play that makes you feel awesome while you're playing it.

Rollerdrome is similar to Roll7's other titles in that it's a single-player skating game that emphasizes performing tricks, but this isn't just an OlliOlli game with guns. Rollerdrome eschews the side-scrolling nature of Roll7's famous platformer series for fully 3D skate park-like arenas; as you skate through a single area, you must utilize walls and ramps to loop yourself around and to perform tricks. Populating this arena are enemies that spawn in various locations, meaning that while you're doing manuals and flips, you also have to take down the bat-wielding melee fighters and distant snipers who want you dead.

Also differentiating Rollerdrome from OlliOlli is the fact that the former is not a skateboarding game, but rather, a rollerskating game, set in the future as imagined through the lens of the 1970s. Rollerdrome draws heavily from the sport of roller derby, while also taking inspiration from the 1975 James Caan movie Roller Ball, which was about a near-future bloodsport run by a corporation with nefarious intentions. That's pretty much what's going on in Rollerdrome, too.

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