Desta: The Memories Between Review – Dodging Confrontation

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In Desta: The Memories Between, you play as Desta, who takes on the unenviable, but relatable task of overthinking future conversations that you don't want to have. This anxiety manifests itself as a tactical dodgeball game in your dreams where you think through the worst possible conversation scenarios with old friends and family while visiting home for the first time in years. To turn that familiar human experience into a grid-based dodgeball game sounds strange on paper, but in practice, it works and delivers alongside it a solid tactics game that uses the mobile platform well.

Interpreting this rehearsal of future conversations as tactical dream dodgeball works well because it feels about as normal as the average anxiety dream. It only really makes sense while it's happening and only falls apart when you try and explain it later. In this way, Desta nails the feeling of a dream, which is difficult to do in any entertainment medium.

As a video game, it also works well as a fun tactics game. Every person in your life that you're dreading a confrontation with appears to you in your dreams (alongside some nobodies to serve as cannon fodder) on a layout of squares with randomized barriers. Old friends introduce themselves by berating you for the thing you're anxious about, manifesting your worst-case scenario. You take turns moving positions, picking up dodgeballs, and tossing the ball at them to inflict damage and whittle down their health while making sure you're in a position to not receive the same punishment. The core idea is familiar to anyone who has played a comparable strategy game, but the dodgeball adds an element of action and finesse that works well on a touchscreen.

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Grounded Review - Mountains Out Of Molehills

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The survival-crafting genre is famous for a few things: steep learning curves, a bit of jank in its systems, and a sense of seriousness that, to be fair, is to be expected in an experience that starts you off hungry, thirsty, cold, and defenseless. Obsidian's Grounded, launching into its 1.0 state after two years in Xbox Game Preview, delightfully rejects these tropes, by and large. Instead, it takes the best bits of these games, polishes them, and offers a childlike spin, giving it all a charming sense of place and a unique point of view.

The premise of the game's setup is simple: You take on the role of one of four kids inexplicably shrunken down to the size of an ant and must fend for yourself (and up to three co-op partners) in The Backyard, a typical residential space that would be less than notable if not for your sudden change in stature.

In The Backyard, dinner is a tadpole cooked over campfire, or perhaps some gooey "gnatchos," and your biggest concerns are no longer homework and bedtimes, but wolf spiders and bees. It's the sort of thought experiment no one leaves childhood without having dwelled on--what if I was really small?--and as such, the game filters every weapon, potion, safe haven, and more through the eyes of its kids.

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Hyper Demon Review - Slayer

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Doom might be the most renowned shooter that launched in 2016, but the year also played host to another exceptional one: Devil Daggers. With a focus on the most basic attributes of a shooter, Devil Daggers shone with its extreme difficulty and exceptionally high skill ceiling, inviting run after run for hours on end. In many ways, Hyper Demon, the next game from developer Sorath, is the logical next step of that formula. It's every bit as grueling and engrossing, with even more mechanics to wrap your head around during its intense but short runs. It's also far more approachable than Devil Daggers ever was, making its compelling action more inviting.

While Devil Daggers was focused solely on survival, Hyper Demon is all about aggression. Each round starts with a timer at 10 seconds, which immediately begins to tick down. Each enemy kill increases the timer by three seconds, encouraging you to string together kills in an elegant way to keep the action flowing. The game doesn't end when the timer reaches zero; instead, your score is determined by the amount of time on the clock when you die (or manage to reach the game's ending). Passive play, though technically a lot safer, won't improve your standings on the leaderboard, so much so that some of your shorter, more unhinged runs might yield better scores than ones that lasted twice as long.

An expanded repertoire of mechanics, when compared to Devil Daggers, helps increase the pace of the action to match the new objective, too. Each round still plays out across limited floor space that you can easily fall off of, but you're able to move around it much faster thanks to air dashes and chained bunny hops, the latter of which can be done indefinitely if timed right. Being able to get close to enemies to blow them away is half of the challenge, while the other is determining how best to take them out quickly. Like Devil Daggers, you can hold down the shoot button for a steady barrage of bullets or tap it for a deadlier, close-range shotgun blast. These are enhanced with a laser attack that you can fire off if you stop shooting long enough to manually absorb crystals that enemies drop on death, offering a precise, long-range option for your trouble.

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Shovel Knight Dig Review - Ace Of Spades

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Shovel Knight Dig is very unlike the retro action game that catapulted the character into indie royalty. But in a strange way, it feels like a natural extension of that game's mechanics and concepts. If the original Shovel Knight evoked the feeling of a lost platformer from the NES era, Shovel Knight Dig feels like a disruptive follow-up that boldly charts new ground for the series, instead of hewing closely to the source material. This isn't actually Shovel Knight 2, but it could have been.

The distinction is interesting because this game is another developer riffing on the Shovel Knight concept, but under the watchful eye of the original studio, Yacht Club Games. Nitrome has liberally borrowed some key elements from Shovel Knight, but this isn't a spin-off in the same way that last year's Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon was. It doesn't feel like the character is being transplanted into an entirely new genre; instead, it's reimagining what can be done within a similar framework and with the same level of mechanical precision.

Put simply, Shovel Knight Dig is a vertical roguelike, having you dig your way down into the depths of the underground to confront the nefarious Drill Knight, who has stolen something valuable from our hero. The story is slight and simple, and although Drill Knight's gang of "Hexcavators" is no match for the sheer wordplay bliss of The Order of No Quarter in terms of naming conventions, it works well enough.

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The Diofield Chronicle Review - Forever War

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Essentially a protracted series of tactical battles, Diofield Chronicle's design falls into an early routine from which it is reluctant to deviate, while its fantasy world apes the war-room politicking of Game of Thrones with a focus on moving the chess pieces at the expense of credible character development. Flashes of progress are seen in its combat, and the occasional voice dares to question a realm ruled by divine authority, but both efforts are ultimately futile, crushed by an exhausting and relentless war machine.

As the name suggests, Diofield itself is a holy land--God's country--where the hereditary monarchy is assured by each new ruler sporting the Mark of the Blessed, a birthmark of sorts that appears to resemble a vein of precious gems. Yet a frail king and the murder of his heir has caused a succession crisis, with factions forming around several candidates while neighboring empires eye an opportunity to expand their borders. Armies march across a map straight out of the Game of Thrones opening credits while those in command conduct sober debate about their next power play. These are serious people making serious decisions, it seems to imply. Everyone involved speaks as if through clenched-jaw, and with curiously little emotion, a vocal performance that is perhaps meant to indicate the gravity of the situation but instead tends to suggest everyone is a bit bored.

Your perspective on events is through the eyes of Andrias Rhondarson, who is the boyhood friend and servant of the murdered heir, now grown-up and leading a band of mercenaries in the employ of the crown. Andrias makes for a dull lead, as he's disinclined to divulge his inner thoughts, while the ponderous, often humorless conversations he has with the rest of the cast do little to warm you to his plight, or anyone elses for that matter. In fairly typical JPRG style, few of the core cast look a day older than 18 yet carry themselves, whether debating strategy around the table or reflecting on the last mission, with the world-weariness of a pragmatic veteran general. It's laborious stuff and serves mostly to highlight the need for a quicker method of skipping through each scene.

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