What do you think of when you hear the name Cloudberry Kingdom? Whimsical Victorian-era JRPG? Cutesy browser-based tower defense game? Well surprise! It’s actually an old-school 2D side-scrolling platformer that runs you through a merciless gauntlet of procedurally generated levels. Not only can its various blocks and hazards be arranged in potentially infinite combinations, the difficulty can be ramped up all the way to “Masochistic.” It’s a brave approach, if nothing else. When our only means of avoiding doom consists of running and jumping, the entire experience lives and dies by the level design.
Seeing as how PixelJunk Monsters: Ultimate HD is a high-def version of the amazing 2009 PSP game PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe, all developer Double Eleven had to do was not screw up the port of this excellent tower defense. Luckily, it didn’t, and PixelJunk Monsters: Ultimate HD is as fun, addictive, and challenging as ever.
The Jak and Daxter series stands as a testament to the awesome games of the PlayStation 2 generation, and also serves as the turning point when we really started to recognize Naughty Dog as a top-tier developer. Last year the original trilogy got a rather excellent HD upgrade and port to the PlayStation 3 with the Jak and Daxter HD Collection. This year the same trilogy comes to the PlayStation Vita, and while it's a thrill to have some of the best platformers ever on my portable system, I have to say that the Vita is the worst way to play these games.
Shadowrun Returns is the name of this classic-style isometric role-playing game, but it's really just a venue for telling stories in its long-dormant sci-fi/fantasy universe. What you're really getting when you buy it is a short but well-written tale of murder and conspiracy called The Dead Man's Switch, access to what will probably become a fertile ground for community-created content in the future, and just enough of an isometric roleplaying game and turn-based tactical combat to get by.
Attack of the Friday Monsters: A Tokyo Tale plays on nostalgia for a time and a place that probably none of its Western players will have experienced. It’s set around the early ‘70s, before Japan’s urban sprawl replaced the entire countryside between Kansai and Tokyo with grey buildings, and it recreates that period lovingly. A stream runs through its little Tokyo suburb, Fuji no Hana, and cicadas buzz and shriek in the air; little shops and ramen bars boast hand-painted signs and radio chatter emanates from within. As a video game it’s limited and extremely short, but as a fondly-recreated artefact of that time and place, Attack of the Friday Monsters is more than a throwaway curiosity. It feels like a love letter to a lost Japanese childhood.
There’s an adage that the Dota 2 community often quotes when someone identifies themselves as a new player. “Welcome to Dota 2!” They say, with open arms, before concluding with, “You suck.” They're not wrong: for the first dozen hours or so, you'll be bombarded with too much information and an often unforgiving community of extremely competitive players. But if you persevere, Dota 2 becomes one of the most rewarding and tense team-based multiplayer experiences anywhere in gaming. It's an achievement owed to uncompromising depth, a ridiculously generous free-to-play model, and the great features developer Valve has built up around it.
During an introspective moment,EarthBound reminds us that, "There are many difficult times ahead, but you must keep your sense of humor." That quote represents this seminal role-playing game's tone and pacing – it skillfully juggles a noticeable juxtaposition between moments of almost punishingly difficult battle against a dark Lovecraftian apocalypse and silly lightheartedness, and never makes you wait too long between them. Main character Ness and his compatriots combat sentient piles of barf, help two monkeys fall in love, stumble upon a planning meeting for EarthBound 2 (such a tease!), and so much more. It all comes together incredibly well. The true definition of a classic, EarthBound is as amazing and challenging a role-playing game today as it was in 1995.
Dynasty Warriors 8 once again folds the territorial conflicts of Three Kingdoms-era China into a histrionic hack and slash: it’s a formula that’s served Koei well since the turn of the century, and you’d be foolish to expect anything drastically different here. Yet while the publisher fair churns out the Warriors spin-offs and add-ons, the mainline entries always feel like they’ve had a bit of extra love lavished on them, and that’s certainly evident this time. The recipe may be familiar, but Dynasty Warriors 8 skillfully addresses fan criticisms in the most engaging, well-rounded entry in the series to date.
Monster Manor feels like a more fleshed-out version of Find Mii. Where Find Mii lacks exploration and interesting combat, two hallmarks of the RPG shell it wore, Monster Manor delivers both in spades and feels like a much fuller game for it.
Amass an army and engage in rock, paper, scissors warfare – that’s Warrior’s Way at its core. While not as immediately gratifying as Mii Force or Monster Manor, Warrior’s Way still manages to be a fun, simple strategy game.