Super Mario Bros. Wonder Review - A Badge Of Honor

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Whether Nintendo intended it or not, conventional wisdom tends to sort modern Mario games into something of a mental tier list. The 3D Mario games like Galaxy and Odyssey are the flagship mascot platformers, and 2D Mario games like the New Super Mario Bros. series are somewhat lesser retro throwbacks. Still good, dependable, but less prestigious. It's after years of 2D games languishing in understudy status that Super Mario Bros. Wonder takes center stage--and it delivers such a knockout performance that it makes the argument, implicit or otherwise, that 2D Mario games can be just as vital to the medium as their 3D siblings.

In essence, the Wonder effects that lend Mario Wonder its title can be likened to the planetoids of Super Mario Galaxy--a simple, easily understood hook that gave stage designers carte blanche to be as inventive and strange as they'd like, constantly reinventing the mechanics and subverting expectations. The result once again is a game filled to the brim with delightful little surprises, like unwrapping a series of gifts made just for you, the discerning fan of Mario platforming.

Those Wonder effects extend from the story, which is loose and unobtrusive. Mario and his pals are visiting Prince Florian of the neighboring Flower Kingdom, who's keen to show off his kingdom's greatest treasure, the Wonder Flower. But Bowser crashes the diplomatic event, naturally, and steals the Wonder Flower, transforming himself into a living, floating castle that towers over the kingdom and corrupts everything inside. Premise secured, Mario and company rush to the rescue. The exact scientific effects of Wonder Flowers are never properly explained, but we get the gist well enough: It changes reality in huge, often unexpected ways.

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Marvel's Spider-Man 2 Review - Web Warriors

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There's quite a bit of Marvel's Spider-Man 2 that can be summed up as "more of the same." Granted, that's a good thing--both the original game and the Miles Morales-focused follow-up feature fantastic reimaginings of their respective Spider-Men, exhilarating web-swinging, and superb combat mechanics. Who wouldn't just want more of that? And sure, more of what came before does mean that Spider-Man 2 retreads less successful ground, like the first game's buzz-killing science puzzles. However, the good far outweighs the bad, and a few new gameplay mechanics freshen up aspects of both traversal and combat. Altogether, it's a great game and one well worth seeing all the way through from its bombastic beginning to its emotional end.

Like the first two games, the true star of Spider-Man 2 is its story. It finally gives us the chance to jump between playing as either Peter or Miles as the two work together to protect New York City from Kraven, a fierce warrior looking to transform the city into his hunting ground. Their personal lives don't fare any less stressful--Peter and Miles are both stuck, struggling to figure out what's next for them. Peter desperately yearns to find a steady job and Miles can't quite find his place in the world while still contending with the trauma of losing both his dad and a close friend within the same year.

The crux of Spider-Man 2 is the cold isolation of loneliness and how Peter, Miles, and all those around them handle it. Both Spider-Men feel adrift at the start of the game, each lost and desperately seeking some form of respite and companionship in hopes of filling that void, but Peter can't quite convince Mary Jane to move in with him, and Miles can only watch from afar as his friends get into college and pursue their dreams while he busies himself with Spider-Man responsibilities. It's an effective draw to pull you into caring about both protagonists as the game flips between them and curates a throughline that connects all of Spider-Man 2's characters--both heroic and villainous--through an assortment of main story and side missions.

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Lords Of The Fallen Review - Dark Slog

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There are a lot of elements that might be said to define Souls-like games, but high on the list has to be the genre’s particular approach to pacing. As a group of action-RPGs, they’re defined first by periods of growing, ratcheting tension. You fight through long areas filled with tough enemies, with each one dropping "souls" that you can spend to level up your character, which you risk losing if you die before you reach a safe place where you're able to spend them.

Following the build of tension is the release, when you finally make it to the safety of a checkpoint, stopping to refill your health, enhance your character, and catch your breath before setting out into danger again. You're constantly making the same difficult decision: Do you risk going forward for greater rewards, or return to safety and grow your strength, knowing you'll have to fight through all the dangers you just faced once again?

Though Lords of the Fallen ticks off many items from the list of things that Souls-like games are known for, it's the ebb-and-flow pacing, or rather the lack of it, that vexes the most. There's a combination of elements at play--the game's meandering level design, the spongy enemies you face as you progress, the uneven checkpoint and death systems--that creates a series of long and frustrating slogs. Lords of the Fallen is a game that has all the right Souls-like elements on-hand, but never quite gets the proportions right.

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Baldur's Gate 3 Review - Let Freedom Reign

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Baldur's Gate 3 pushes player freedom to the absolute limit. That unparalleled level of freedom can be found in nearly every aspect of the game, from its character creation to combat, and after two full playthroughs and a dozen ongoing campaigns, I've still barely scratched the surface. No two experiences are alike, and every character I've created feels unique. While the game can't always keep up with the spontaneity of a real-life Dungeon Master, it manages to offer plenty of agency while also ensuring that its vast, web-like narrative is compelling from start to finish.

Baldur's Gate 3 begins in the belly of a Nautiloid, a Lovecraftian spaceship piloted by a squid-like race known as illithids. After you create your avatar and pick a class, you are infected with a parasite that slowly (and painfully) turns its host into a tentacle-adorned mind flayer. You and the other affected members of your party must find a way to remove the parasites before the transformation is complete. It's a wonderfully dark setup that allows Larian Studios to pull together an eclectic batch of characters with a wide array of beliefs, dispositions, and backgrounds and give them a common goal. These characters aren't adventuring together out of friendship (for the most part), but necessity. In many cases it's an uneasy allyship rife with internal drama and conflict.

Baldur's Gate 3 regularly puts its characters first, and it's better for it. While the narrative isn't all that interesting on its own and basically amounts to "purge the parasite and save the world," the diverse cast of characters makes it so much more memorable by creating an extra layer of nuance that grounds the entire experience with more personal stakes. Karlach is a hot-headed tiefling barbarian with a heart of gold, Astarion is a pompous and flamboyant rogue with just enough charm to win you over, and Lae'zel is a battle-hardened warrior that puts an interesting spin on the fish-out-of-water archetype. There are 10 potential party members in total, and each one is backed by sharp writing, impeccable acting, and spirited animations.

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Wild Card Football Review - Undrafted

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In the US, autumn belongs to football. The sport takes over pop culture in a way no other can match, and after decades of growth, it seems to still be getting more popular. So surely there's room for a second licensed football game on the market, especially when the industry leader is itself so polarizing. That's where Wild Card Football hopes to exist: in the abundant space devoted to football fandom that could host either a Madden alternative, or more likely, a side attraction. Unfortunately, this much more cartoonish take on the sport doesn't quite make the roster, though it's not without a few highlights.

Wild Card Football is an arcade-style football game in the vein of NBA Playgrounds and WWE 2K Battlegrounds. In fact, it comes from the same studio, Saber Interactive, and is billed as part of the broader Playground Sports brand. Somewhere between the enjoyable basketball game and the severely lacking pro wrestling game sits this third take on the format.

Wild Card Football is played in teams of seven, and though it doesn't have a licensing deal with the NFL, it does have one with the NFLPA, meaning current players from every team make up the game's complete roster. Jerseys and team names are legally distinct, but a football fan can easily deduce that Team Mahomes is the Chiefs, Team Hurts is the Eagles, and so on.

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