SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake Review - F.U.N.

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In 2003, SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom was released and became a touchstone for a generation of children already obsessed with the cartoon. While nostalgia plays a large factor, I, like many people around my age, hold that game in high regard, even if the experience doesn't quite hold up all these years later. Now, two decades later, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake has been made as a spiritual successor and, for better and for worse, it plays the way I remember Battle for Bikini Bottom.

In The Cosmic Shake, SpongeBob and Patrick stumble upon a Mermaid named Kassandra, who sells antique and mysterious items. SpongeBob purchases bubble soap that supposedly grants wishes, running around town and asking everyone he knows for their wishes. Unfortunately, all of the wishes kick in at once, tearing holes in reality and sending the citizens of Bikini Bottom off into the multiverse, with SpongeBob and Patrick left to pick up the pieces.

This opening sets up the seven levels players will explore throughout the game, each one with a different theme and environment. The aesthetic design of these levels is one of the places The Cosmic Shake shines, pulling together references to iconic episodes of the show, while adding new elements that fit within the game's story. A movie-set-themed episode combines SpongBob's obsession with karate with an action movie, and a pirate level has an enemy ship constantly firing pie bombs at you.

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Dead Space Remake Review - Hits The Marker

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14 years is a long time in the video games industry, yet it still doesn't feel like quite long enough for EA’s Dead Space. The original 2008 game is a modern classic that holds up exceedingly well by today's standards. There's very little that feels dated about its design, and the strategic dismemberment that forms the basis of its combat still offers a unique and gory thrill that's yet to be replicated. The remake's leap in graphical fidelity breathes new life into its stifling horror, but public discourse has centered on whether it really needs to exist in the first place. That might be a cynical viewpoint, but it's no less valid. And after reaching the end credits myself, I'm still not entirely convinced it needs to either, yet I'm extremely happy it does. Remaking Dead Space in 2023 may not feel especially necessary, but EA Motive has crafted a game that manages to improve upon its excellent progenitor in a variety of ways--even if only marginally so.

These improvements begin with its story, which has been expanded via a number of alterations to both its characters and storytelling. The basic beats that make up the original game's narrative remain intact, starting with your fateful arrival on the USG Ishimura. After responding to a distress signal, you find the hulking planet cracker-class ship floating lifelessly above the planet of Aegis VII. Once on board, things take a familiar sharp turn downhill, but now once-silent protagonist Isaac Clarke has been given a voice to react appropriately. I'm generally not a fan of silent protagonists, although there's always a danger of vocal characters being overly chatty, especially in a horror game where atmosphere and tension are so delicate. Thankfully, that's not the case here, and Isaac's newfound agency makes him feel less like a simple tool to be ordered around. Actor Gunner Wright reprises the role after bringing Isaac to life in Dead Space's sequels, so there's a level of continuity here that's also reflected in other aspects of the remake's design.

Much of the script has been rewritten to accommodate Isaac's speech, and the tale it weaves is still engaging. The church of Unitology--a cultish religious sect that plays a significant role in the Dead Space universe--is much more prominent this time around, especially early on. Characters mention the infamous church in a way that feels natural, discussing the sect before they're aware of just how substantial its impact will be on future events. Kendra Daniels--one of Isaac's colleagues and your main point of contact throughout the game--has also been rewritten in a manner that elevates the remake. Previously she was prickly and leaned into some needlessly antagonistic behavior, but she's now been transformed into an empathetic character, which pays off down the line in a more effective way than before.

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Season: A Letter To The Future Review - The Meditation Game

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Some games demand a specific kind of real-life setting to really be absorbed. Horror games beg for the lights off and headphones on, while co-op games are often more enjoyable when played together on a couch rather than online. Season: A letter to the future requires its own special circumstances--a calm, peaceful environment--and if you can provide that, you'll find in it a special stillness, a pensive story, and a memoir from a fantasy land worth experiencing.

Sometimes the language of open-world games is obvious, especially if you've played a few of them. Excitingly, Season doesn't feel like such a game, as its approach to gameplay and story are fresh and largely disinterested in giving you boxes to check. You play as Estelle, a young woman who sets off to observe and record a part of her world on the precipice of a new season. In this unnamed world, which is like ours but also definitely is not ours, a new season doesn't mean just a change in temperature; it means a total rebirth of the state of things. The game is deliberately unclear regarding exactly why, when, or how seasons emerge, and it seems at least sometimes they are influenced by people rather than natural things that happen to those people. Seasons seem to be more defined by the particular circumstances of a society--the breakout of war or widespread sleep, for example--more than they are snow days or fallen foliage.

For Estelle, it's important to document the outgoing season as all will be lost when the new season begins, even as no one seems sure what that season will usher in itself. For the people of Tieng Valley, a lush farming village that's largely been evacuated due to an imminent dam collapse, the beginning of the season may even be a matter of life and death. Equipped with a camera, audio recorder, scrapbook, and bicycle, Estelle treks into the valley to interview the last remaining locals, capture the state of the vista in its final days, and reflect on things like memory, community, and grief. These, and other themes, are delivered through thoughtful monologues and conversations that allow for players to insert themselves in the story.

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Forspoken Review - Forsaken

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Though it takes inspiration from isekai--stories in which people from Earth are transported to and become trapped in a fantastical world (think Alice in Wonderland but Japanese)--Forspoken ultimately doesn't understand what makes that genre so popular. Instead, it tells a largely forgettable story that sets up major stakes but fails to offer a compelling reason for why the player should care. Luminous Productions' action-RPG feels great when it allows you to really stretch your legs and magically parkour across its fantasy landscape, but combat is clunky and regular exposition too often stalls the action.

In Forspoken, protagonist Frey finds herself trapped in the magic-filled world of Athia after stumbling through a portal. There, she bonds with a sentient brace she nicknames Cuff and then encounters a group of survivors living in the last city that's free from the effects of a dangerous miasma. This blight, which Frey calls the Break, covers the land and transforms living creatures into mutated monsters. Frey is the only exception, making her an ideal candidate for exploring the Break, finding its source, and destroying it. The whole situation is an intriguing narrative setup but boring or unlikable characters let it down. It's difficult to like the standoffish and stubborn Frey, the incessantly sarcastic Cuff (who regularly quips in Frey's ear like a discount JARVIS), or any of the survivors who are all too eager to completely rely on Frey's protection from the Break while also asking her to complete boring optional tasks like going on a tour of a lifeless hub or petting a bunch of sheep.

Forspoken's story is one about belonging--finding a place you want to stay and a people you wish to protect. Like any isekai protagonist worth their salt, Frey is initially resistant to her new surroundings before discovering that she's actually ideally suited to the world she's found herself trapped in. However, it's not a world that the game is able to adequately convince the player of wanting to stay in and protect. The emotional connection Forspoken tries to establish to incentivize the player to take action--to help the people that need Frey's help--is deeply uninteresting and oftentimes head-scratching and odd. The characters don't take the threat of Athia's imminent destruction very seriously and any tension that comes from their perilous existence is repeatedly undermined by meaningless busywork they want you to do. The characters themselves are also incredibly plain with two-dimensional personalities. They have no real convictions or anything interesting to say.

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One Piece Odyssey Review - Filler Arc

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For decades, the adventures of Monkey D. Luffy and the Straw Hat Pirates have thrilled and enchanted readers and viewers across the globe. Turning such a beloved and long-running action-adventure series into game form has proven to be quite a challenge, with many developers stepping up over the years to try and gamify the magic that's made the One Piece anime and manga such a success, often to mixed results. One Piece Odyssey is the latest such attempt, and it takes the approach of transforming One Piece's dramatic battles into a turn-based RPG. While it does a solid job of getting the look and mood of the series down, One Piece Odyssey unfortunately offers little more than a very basic RPG adventure.

The game opens with the Straw Hat gang stranded on the mysterious island of Waford. Their ship, Thousand Sunny, lies in a wreck nearby and with no obvious way to repair it, the gang sets out exploring this wild new world. A strange young girl named Lim emerges and, fearful of the pirates, she removes all of the crew's strength and special powers. With the help of Adio, a rather suspicious adventurer who calls the island his home, the Straw Hats set out to recover their powers, learn the secrets of Waford Island, and escape to journey another day. Along the way, they'll also be able to relive the great adventures of the past.

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