CrossCode: Secret of Mana and 2D Zelda on Steroids

If there’s one variant of RPG I haven’t done much of, it’s the types like Secret of Mana, where you actually have to move and physically strike enemies to deal damage. Paper Mario: Sticker Star gave me PTSD with any RPG that has only one party member throughout the whole game. But, you know what, Sticker Star sucked. So today, I’m going to cover a retro RPG that gives a lot of bang for its buck: CrossCode for Nintendo Switch (I started playing this game before I got Steam)!

After a confusing opening sequence where you play as some angsty chick, CrossCode starts out when a girl named Lea logs into the high-tech MMO, CrossWorlds, in hopes of recovering her lost memories. CrossWorlds is set on an actual alien planet called Shadoon, and players have to travel the Track of the Ancients, in order to discover its secrets. If you’ve seen SAO, you know things are gonna get ugly.

This game sure knows how to hook players! They throw the intrigue right at you when some weird spaceman, who claims to know Lea, attacks during a tutorial. After that, however, it’s chill city as a lot of the early game is just getting acclimated to CrossWorlds itself. While I don’t normally care much for story in games, I must say that CrossCode nonetheless has a great story. It’s pretty straightforward, but is consistent at throwing you curveballs.

The story in CrossCode wouldn’t mean anything without its phenomenal writing. There’s your usual witty banter, but an indie game wouldn’t be an indie game if it didn’t break the fourth wall! As you can expect, CrossCode makes fun of RPG and videogame tropes. In fact, it even comes up with an actual justification for Lea being a silent protagonist! Since it’s an MMO setting, the meta humor feels much more natural in the context of the story than most indie games I know.

If you’re familiar with me, then you would know that I don’t care if there’s realism, especially when it comes to characters. However, CrossCode actually makes me proud to say that the characters are great because they’re realistic. Due to the setting, all the characters are, well, gamers. From the main cast, to random NPCs, the dialogue feels like how actual videogame nerds would discuss videogame stuff amongst one another, and it creates an intimacy with the player unlike any game I’ve played.

As mentioned before, Lea is a silent protagonist, and is one of the best I have ever seen. I’d dare say she’s the best next to Link himself. Over the course of the game, her friend who basically plays the role of Navi gradually unlocks more words for Lea. Despite her limited vocabulary, the writers give her tons of personality and emotion with what little they have to work with. Speaking of that Navi—i.e. Sergey—he’s also awesome. He’s smart and rational, but also has no shortage of quips.

The others are great as well. Her friend Emilie is a raucous tomboy who is just adorable when she’s dealing with her phobia of bugs, and her love for laser bridges. Along with her is C’tron, a nice, introverted boy who likes making fun of the game’s tropes. There’s also the egomaniac Apollo (who you’ll come to hate for gameplay-related reasons), and his down-to-earth partner, Joern. Even the Navi wannabe, Sergey, is a very likeable character. Unfortunately, a lot of characters don’t have enough eggs in their baskets. Most NPCs have their own stock designs, and even then, some named ones—specifically those involved in side quests—have no personality. It’s a real shame, but hey, nobody’s perfect.

Before getting to gameplay, I must praise the graphics. The game is beautiful and vibrant, as expected of a lot of pixel art games. The spritework is so good, some characters—like a giant whale you fight at one point—look three dimensional. CrossWorlds itself brims with life as you observe other players running around and doing parkour alongside you. It really helps the game feel like it’s set in a real MMO, but without the toxic fandoms and newbie PK’ing of actual MMOs. Somehow, this thing was made using HTML 5, and apparently, this made it very difficult to port to the Switch. It works fine, but can lag a bit during weather effects or if there are a lot of large AOE attacks going off at once.

The gameplay is, of course, the most important part, and CrossCode gets it right. The game has your typical skill tree, with several branches, each containing different abilities that you unlock by spending CP, which you earn on level up. It’s the usual stuff. However, you’re only able to outfit Lea in this game, and that’s because your party members aren’t always going to be there. While you can use them all you want when exploring, things like Dungeons and PvP are done solo. More on those mechanics later.

CrossCode handles Quests really well. There’s tons of them, but they make it really easy to cycle through them. You can favorite a Quest by pressing Y on them, which will display the tasks for it on the HUD. But the best part is that you can favorite multiple Quests at once, and cycle through each one by pressing the Left Analog Stick. It’s a phenomenal way to manage tons of Quests that most RPGs don’t do. The only real issue is that you can’t favorite them at the initial prompt when receiving it.

Quests are nice, but it wouldn’t be a true RPG if there weren’t a million things to do. The other monstrosity is the Encyclopedia, which fills up by talking to NPCs, playing the main story, and learning about the world. This is basically Character Notes in a Falcom game… with additional notes regarding in-universe terminology. I didn’t bother getting 100% on this because of Trails of Cold Steel PTSD, but like in that game, I assume that entries are permanently missable in CrossCode. Additionally, plants of all kinds populate CrossWorlds, and there is a whole section in your Encyclopedia called “Botanics” that records data. Getting an item drop from a given plant is what moves analyzation along, so don’t be afraid to spend hours and hours violating the ecosystem.

Before covering combat, I must praise CrossCode for having an amazing overworld. It’s not just beautiful, but it’s chock full of stuff. You will have to really study the land to figure out “Just how am I supposed to reach that?”, and it’s really fun to do. Every area is full of puzzles, some of which extend to adjacent rooms. Other than some specific instances, it’s pretty easy to get a grasp of planes of the z-axis despite the 2D graphics. But when you can’t, you can always use your projectile attack to get a feel for the depth. Also keep in mind that Lea’s jump is NOT to be underestimated; it puts Link to shame!

Speaking of Legend of Zelda comparisons, the dungeons in CrossCode are among the best I’ve seen in any RPG. CrossCode utilizes its mechanics to create an explicitly Zelda-like experience when going through them. They have seriously tricky puzzles that make use of all of the game’s mechanics, as well as the dungeon-specific mechanics that are taught to you organically with no intrusive textboxes. 

There are a couple of issues I have with them, however. While the puzzles are really great, a lot of them are extremely fickle, requiring pixel-precise setup. This leads into the other issue, which is Emilie’s addiction to racing you through the dungeon. Although it doesn’t seem apparent, you can actually try to win somehow. Unfortunately, if you’re going through the dungeon for the first time, as well as trying to get all the treasure before the boss, you’re NOT going to win a single dungeon race. Even if you were to speedrun it on a repeat playthrough, I imagine every single puzzle is a run-killer; it wouldn’t be an indie game if there was no “Hey do this thing with constant frame-perfect timing, please” BS. Since I’m a filthy casual, I have to accept being an absolute loser at everything.

Combat is a whole different story. When playing, you have your usual melee attacks, but Lea also has projectiles. To use projectiles, you have to move the right analog stick to aim while ALSO moving. Plus, there’s a dodge, but ALSO a guard. The latter won’t make you invincible from damage, but—naturally—there is a perfect guard that allows you to counterattack. Things can get ugly fast if you aren’t adept at all this. 

There’s also Combat Arts that are used with ZR. However, they work very strangely in CrossCode. Your arts aren’t mapped to ZR + a face button, but to ZR + a specific action. They come in four types: Melee Arts, Ranged Arts, Dash Arts, and Guard Arts. Pretty self-explanatory which is which. Note that you can only have one Art set to each action at a time. But fortunately, the skill tree allows you to freely switch between different branches with no CP loss, so there’s no consequence in learning an Art that you’re not sure about. As you find MacGuffins, you unlock further branches of the skill tree, which allow you to learn stronger Combat Arts that cost more SP.

As if things couldn’t get any crazier, there’s Elements. In CrossWorlds, players gradually acquire mastery of the Four Elements. As you unlock them, you can freely switch between them to give your attacks that property. This is great when fighting enemies with different resistances, so you’re not “Oh great, I’m fighting something weak to this and I can’t go into my inventory to equip my weapon with this attribute!” However, there’s Element Overload to watch out for. Basically, too much attacking with an element active can force you back into neutral for a while. It’s also important to know that attacking with no Element active will make your Elements cool down much faster. Each Element found opens up a new section of the skill tree, with their own Combat Arts (which means you’ll be able to have up to FORTY of them active once you gain all four Elements). The thing to notice is that each upgrade is only applied in that particular Element mode. For example, if you give yourself a bunch of base defense ups in Neutral, you will lose it when you switch to another Element. This needs to be kept in mind as you fight.

One mechanic that makes the game extra fun is Combat Rank. This is basically a combo system; defeat enemies in quick succession to increase your rank, which makes them drop better items. I only recommend it if you’re specifically grinding for rare drops, since the adrenaline rush can make you ignore loot your first time through an area. Fortunately, you can press minus after defeating all nearby enemies to end combat immediately if you don’t want to get that combo going. However, whenever you decide to go on a killing spree, Combat Ranks make it feel really good. It gets even better once you acquire equipment with the Botanist property, which causes plant item drops to be affected by Combat Rank. Thanks to this mechanic, I had more fun grinding for materials in CrossCode than in most other games I’ve played in my life.

There are also a lot of nuances that take much learning to figure out. The NPCs are very helpful in that regard, but there’s still some stuff you gotta figure out on your own. For example, when an enemy is glowing red, that means they’re charging up an attack that you can break them out of with a charged projectile attack. There’s also the dash cancel, where you use your dodge in order to prevent yourself from using a melee combo that has recovery lag in favor of continually dishing out damage, and more importantly, hit-stunning enemies repeatedly. Also, parrying with your guard ability becomes crucial if you want to be really good at the game.

You will need to learn these skills quickly; like most indie games, CrossCode wants to be on par with Dark Souls in terms of difficulty. Fortunately, unlike other hard-ass indie games, CrossCode actually considers EVERY POSSIBLE PERSON playing it. In the settings, you are able to freely tweak the amount of damage you take, as well as the frequency of enemy attacks and the leniency of puzzles. That last modifier is really good because you can mitigate the ridiculousness of the puzzles; you’ll still have to figure it out, but execution won’t be as much of a chore. Of course, these are at max by default. I had each setting one tick lower than max and it still gave me a consistently rough but fair time (maybe I just suck).

Despite how rough it was, I rarely felt truly frustrated. The game’s tough, but somehow, it makes the challenge feel fun. However, nothing’s perfect, and there are some specific points that can get VERY frustrating. One example is the case of Elite Quests. Most of them are harder versions of earlier quests. MUCH harder. For instance, the hard versions of these sadistic platforming gauntlets require the kind of frame-perfect perfection that most indie games have come to expect from gamers. There’s also some quests that have interesting ideas, but next-to-no leeway and require memorization of enemy formations. It’s also very easy to be walled by any of the game’s PvP battles. You can’t use items, and even if you could, your opponent is very capable of overwhelming you instantly, and tries various strategies built around stun-locking you until you go from full health to dead. It’s meant to teach you these strategies, but doesn’t mean they’re easy to implement yourself!

If that wasn’t scary enough, don’t get me started on the Arena. Late-ish into the game, you unlock the ability to challenge a preset of mobs from each region, as well as every single fixed encounter, miniboss, and major boss battle that you’ve been through. Beating the challenges is doable enough, but it’s getting the best scores that are insane. You need serious reflexes and ability to pay attention to multiple onscreen entities at once. And assuming you get platinum on each challenge? Well, guess what; you’re also going to have to do it again, but this time in Rush Mode. This is—you guessed it—every challenge within its given bracket in a row with limited healing. Yes, you’ll have to worry about getting platinum on this, and it’ll naturally be even worse to screw up.

I would’ve had this review out faster if it weren’t for the game’s long-awaited DLC: A New Home. It took until early 2021 to drop, and the wait for console users was even longer. However, it’s a bit complicated. The DLC, A New Home, is CrossCode’s post-game (I am unsure what happens if you beat the game before buying the DLC). To unlock it, you need to get the Good Ending. Now, before you assume that they pulled a Falcom by having a Good Ending in a long RPG, lemme reassure you: the sole condition that needs to be met is close to the end of the game. They’re very upfront once it comes up, so it’s not hard to miss. The problem is doing it right. I, thankfully, had managed to get the Good Ending in one try without even knowing that it was such an important thing. Fortunately, if you get the Bad Ending, you can warp right back to the start of the final chapter, retry the event, and then warp straight to the final boss at the point-of-no-return spot.

A New Home unlocks new quests, a new region, the true final dungeon, and resolves many unanswered plot twists. The new region, while beautiful, is kind of a disappointment considering how long I waited for it. It’s easily the smallest area in the game, and is very linear. On the plus side, you unlock special “ascended” equipment, whose base stats grow with Lea’s level, making them objectively better than anything else you can wear. A lot of these are upgrades from stuff you already have, so it’s easy for you to prioritize certain kits based on your playstyle. Also, the superboss at the end of the dungeon was probably the hardest fight I’ve experienced in my life, and taught me that my heart isn’t physically capable of handling that level of difficulty.

Unfortunately, there are some issues with A New Home. For completionists, you will need an excessive amount of materials found in the final dungeon in order to get all of the equipment. However, due to how dungeons work versus the overworld, you can’t take advantage of combat rank, making it one of the worst grinding spots in the game. Also, if you consider reaching level cap part of completion, grinding XP will be hard toward the end. The plus side is that the least amount you can earn is 1 per enemy, so finding a spot with a lot of enemies is the best strategy… but even spots with many enemies don’t exactly expedite this process. Also, the game doesn’t resolve EVERY plot twist, possibly intentionally so; it definitely baits a sequel, and there just so happens to be a very CrossCode-looking game, currently known as Project Terra, under development right now (that I hope has customizable difficulty and only one ending). Also, the final-FINAL segment is a bit anticlimactic. It doesn’t even take half an hour to get through despite the big buildup. Maybe it would’ve been better to have the final dungeon after it, since it’s a much better end to your journey. The cherry on top is that the game does the thing where it resets to right before the cutoff point after beating it, which is really arbitrary since not enough changes after finishing the DLC to warrant this.

How have I gone this long without talking about CrossCode’s soundtrack?! It is one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a videogame, and perhaps the best I’ve heard in an indie game. There is so much variety when it comes to atmospheres and moods. I could rock out to any of the awesome battle themes, or chillax to the serene tunes of Autumn’s Rise.

Final Verdict: 9.95/10

CrossCode is awesome. I’d give it a perfect ten, but some of the puzzles really do feel excessively savage. Ah screw it!

Actual Final Verdict: 10/10

CrossCode has become my favorite indie game of all time, and is sure as heck up there with my favorite games of all time. I recommend it to anyone who loves JRPGs, puzzles, pixel art, great story, and phenomenal gameplay.

No. 5: Spectacularly Weird

If you’re an anime nerd, you’ve probably heard of Taiyo Matsumoto’s classic manga Tekkonkinkreet; it was made into a critically acclaimed movie after all. Of course, me being me, I instead gained an interest in No. 5, a sci-fi manga of Matsumoto’s that I doubt any Westerner would’ve even heard of if it weren’t for Viz’s recent omnibus publication; it didn’t get adapted, so it might as well not exist over here. I don’t even know what it’s about, except that I should expect it to be weird because Matsumoto is famous for weirdness. Well, when it comes to Japanese literature, I shouldn’t expect anything less, should I?

No. 5 is set in the distant future, where the peace is protected by the Rainbow Peace Brigade, an elite squadron of genetically modified soldiers. The best of the best are designated under the numbers one through nine, and they all answer to an old man in a pair of bunny pajamas. Things aren’t so peaceful, however, when the titular No. 5 kidnaps and flees with a strange woman for no apparent reason. He travels with her as the rest of the Rainbow Brigade hunts him down.

Lemme tell you, this manga is as weird as it looks, if not weirder. Matsumoto’s art is strange and extraordinary, operating under no rules whatsoever; sometimes it’s detailed, sometimes it’s cartoony, and sometimes you don’t even know what you’re looking at. What’s even better is that panel changes tend to jump from POV-to-POV several times per page, all to maximize your confusion.

To add to that confusion, No. 5 doesn’t exactly give you exposition dumps. All the characters talk as if you—the reader—already understand how the world works, and you have to adapt fast. Everything is context-sensitive, and I’m sure as hell I missed a lot of important nuances during my read-through of the manga. There was probably some allegory to the true meaning of being human in there somewhere, and it flew right over my head.

Fortunately, this is a case where you don’t really need to know what’s going on. I was pretty damn engaged with the story despite being confused the whole time. The reason is all in the aforementioned art. Matsumoto really knows how to keep an audience on their toes no matter what’s happening, and there’s always something happening. The plot is followable on the most basic level, but good luck figuring out the purpose of any of it.

Because of how confusing the manga is, I don’t exactly know what to think of the characters in No. 5. The titular character is a very hard-boiled ex-cop-type, who doesn’t seem capable of any emotion except hard-boiled-ness. Unfortunately, we don’t exactly get the full details on why he wants to protecc the woman, Matryoshka, like an anime nerd’s favorite waifu; when we get the full backstory, it actually skips(?) the time between No. 5 first meeting her and ultimately kidnapping her. 

It’s also not easy to tell why he loves Matryoshka so much, or rather, why everyone in-universe seems to loves her. You could argue that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, since she’s not the stereotypical ideal woman in terms of physical features. However… she’s kind of awful? She acts like the perfect picture of innocence, exclaiming everything she sees like a child, but it seems like she just follows whoever gives her food, as evidenced by a part where this one guy grabs her and she doesn’t resist at all. 

The rest of the Rainbow Brigade are even more confusing. We get into the heads of every one of the numbered people. It’s natural to assume that the ones who die earlier are less impactful, but it doesn’t really matter. I don’t get No. 9, who dies first, any better than any of the others. I feel like the most impactful ones are the No. 4s, two twins who create hallucinations, and No. 1, who is… well, I probably shouldn’t spoil him. 

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Final Verdict: 8.75/10

No. 5 is really something. It’s surreal and intense, and always leaves more questions than answers. If you want to experience a weird, old manga, then No. 5 will serve that purpose well. 

Monument Valleys 1 & 2: What If Fez and Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker had Kids?

I had an inkling to play the Monument Valley games, but I didn’t go through with it because they were mobile games. One hour on them would mean one hour of iPad life, period. I recently regained interest in them when they were ported to PC, with new, upscaled editions that include all the DLC. So, yeah, here’s my review of Monument Valleys 1 & 2, assuming that they play similarly enough to justify a single review of both.

In Monument Valley, you are a girl named Ida on a quest for forgiveness. In Monument Valley 2, a young mom named Ro takes her kid to the valley so she can be a better mom or something.

So… these games are gorgeous. Each level has a unique look, with the only consistency being in the minimalistic, abstract, isometric style. The music is really calm and ambient, perfect for puzzle-solving. The music is also very dynamic, adding little bits of flair as feedback when you solve a part of the puzzles, and when you interact with the environment. The Panoramic Editions, naturally, have a lot of negative space, since they were originally designed for portrait oriented screens, but it feels like that this enhances the artstyle they were going for; the levels feel like parts of their own little universes, cut off from everything else. Sometimes, I sat back and soaked in the game’s whimsical atmosphere.

You might as well, since they are both quite short. Even with the added DLC, each game is easily doable in under three hours. Fortunately, unlike other big indie games of similar length such as What Remains of Edith Finch, the Monument Valley games are much cheaper when it comes purely to the proportion of content versus dollar. The Panoramic Collection Bundle is less than 15USD as it is.

In any case, the basic gameplay boils down to optical illusion-based puzzles. Some components in each level can be manipulated, as indicated by some little nubs or by having a faucet thingy attached to them. By arranging them just right, you can build bridges and open pathways straight out of an M.C. Escher painting. The mechanic starts off simple, but gets more involved as you go on. 

It sounds like the perfect game that requires inducing a migraine to beat, but it’s not. The experience with these games is really to be impressed by how well thought-out the levels are. Every single one of them feels iconic and memorable in some way, and boy, it must’ve been a real pain to program them. Most of the difficulty comes in just processing what you can interact with and going from there. The DLC chapters in the first game are probably the hardest, but even then, they aren’t too bad.

Overall, I feel like Monument Valley 2 is the better game. It has more of a story, and they really push the games’ artstyle in an even wilder direction. Things get much more abstract and weird. However, I almost feel like it’s the easier of the two. It might be because the game cared more about its story? I dunno, maybe I just got mad gamer skills (*sarcasm*).

Speaking of story, I might as well discuss the games’ narratives, or lack thereof. Similar to the aforementioned indie titles I’ve compared this series to, it doesn’t exactly take rocket science to understand what’s going on in either game. While light in dialogue, there are plenty of context clues that telegraph what the takeaway is, especially in the second game. Neither are groundbreaking, but you’ll probably cry if you’re the emotional type… especially in the second game. Gee, I wonder how much more ham-fisted I can be with the notion that the second game has a better story.

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Final Verdict for Both Games: 9/10

There’s pretty much nothing wrong with the Monument Valley games (he says as he gives them an imperfect score). They’re short, but are a better value than a lot of other games on the market. While they aren’t as puzzle-y as Baba Is You, they manage to be very novel in their own right. There’s no harm in giving them a try.

Dr. Stone: Sid Meier’s Civilization Just Got a Lot More Anime

Dr. Stone is one of those manga that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It became exorbitantly popular (deservedly so) during its initial 2017 debut, even winning itself the 2018 Shougakukan Manga Award under the Shounen category. That same year, I got into the hype months before its anime adaptation was even announced, and it quickly became one of my favorite manga of all time. The anime was also very good for a TV anime, and I—along with many other people—watched it while it aired. However, it aired alongside Kimetsu no Yaiba. And as anyone who saw that nineteenth episode go viral and single-handedly put both the anime and its source material on the mainstream overnight, Dr. Stone—while still running for a perfectly respectable period of time afterwards—practically vanished off the face of the earth as a result. As the contrarian I am, I nonetheless committed to Dr. Stone, and—you know what—it’s still one of my favorite manga of all time. Let’s find out why.

In Dr. Stone, a boy named Taiju is about to confess his love to a cute girl named Yuzuriha. However, right at that moment, a bright light covers the earth, turning all humans to stone. Thousands of years later, thanks to his testosterone-fueled drive for the girl, he manages to break out of the stone shell, awakening in a world that has been reclaimed by nature. There, he sees his classmate, Senku, who promises to use his incredible wealth of knowledge to restart all of human civilization.

Dr. Stone is a science-themed adventure manga, which is a very unusual style for the shounen genre. But hey, the manga makes science fun. There’s a lot of cool and interesting things that happen throughout the story, and it’s all very engaging. The humor is ridiculously on point as well. However, Dr. Stone is a science FICTION manga, and thus, you can’t not have creative liberties taken. As many, MANY critics on the message boards pointed out back when the anime aired, the science isn’t 100% accurate. Sure, maybe some chemical or whatever took a bit faster than what it’s supposed to in order to finish cooking, but for the sake of pacing, would you want five chapters of waiting for a thing to be done brewing? There’s also the fact that Senku is literally reinventing the wheel when it comes to all this civilization stuff, so he won’t need to waste time making the mistakes that were made a million years ago because those people already made said mistakes.

Another criticism I’ve seen ad nauseum was the fact that it doesn’t go for any darker tones when the opportunities were present, and that “Dr. Stone would’ve been better if it was seinen”. Granted, Dr. Stone would be a GREAT seinen manga, but I think it’s perfectly fine as a shounen manga because of how hard it commits to being lighthearted. When presented with one of the potential dark questions regarding if it’s actually better to NOT bring back civilization, lest the world return to its old state of corruption and war, Senku literally says that he wants to bring back civilization because he thinks it’d be fun. Fun, that’s what Dr. Stone is at its core. THINGS DON’T NEED TO BE DARK TO BE GOOD *huff* *huff*…

Anyways, the characters are what makes Dr. Stone come to life. My boy, Senku, is insanely narcissistic and I love him. His cunning, as well as his tendency to count in increments of ten billion, make him one of Jump’s best heroes (or anti-heroes) ever. “BUT HE’S WAY TOO SMART FOR A HIGHSCHOOLER! THAT’S UUUUUUUNREEEEEEEEEEEAAAAALIIIIIIISTTIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIC!” you exclaim VERY loudly. I’m not going to get into the endless debate of the limits of suspended disbelief, but if you don’t like what you’ve read about Dr. Stone in this review, then it’s clearly not for you.

But hey, there’s still your fair share of idiots. After all, Taiju maintained consciousness for thousands of years on sheer force of will (“FORCE OF WILL?! ALSO UNREALISTIC!”). He’s always hilariously dumb, and his chemistry with Senku is great. Yuzuriha comes into the mix, but I’ll admit that she’s not too interesting outside of being super cute.

Fortunately, they aren’t the only ones who survive the apocalypse. There’s the super swole Tsukasa, who serves as the first major antagonist, and the charismatic pig-Latin-speaker, Gen. But in addition, there’s a whole tribe of primitive humans (whose existence gets explained). Among the villagers are Chrome, who is literally Taiju, but with a better knack for science. There’s also Best Girl Kohaku, a cute tomboy that you do NOT want to mess with, and the cute Suika, who literally wears a fruit on her head and rolls around in it. Later on is the rich boy Ryusui, whose talent as a navigator, coupled with his all-encompassing desires, make him a refreshing take on the greedy noble trope.

Of course, with Dr. Stone being a shounen manga, I have to put out the usual warning about the ending not being what you might want it to be. I have no idea what the manga’s state was at its end (I wouldn’t be surprised if it got axed), but… I would be lying if I said they didn’t jump the shark, even by Dr. Stone‘s own standards. At the same time, they almost make fun of critics who use the “realism” card, because you’d essentially have to know all the secrets in the cosmos to be able to declare if something is realistic or not. In any case, this manga is more about the journey than the destination. 

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Final Verdict: 9.85/10

The few hiccups in Dr. Stone don’t stop it from being one of my favorite manga of all time (although I’m probably the only human on Earth who gives it this rating). It’s a cute, non-cynical celebration of humankind and its evolution that actually shows some semblance of hope for once. I can’t really recommend Dr. Stone easily because of the kinds of buttons it pushes; you’ll have to decide if this is the kind of thing you’ll like.

Slime Rancher: A Wholesome Management Game Draws Near!

I had known about Slime Rancher for a while thanks to StephenPlays’ First20 video he made years ago. I never watched the video, but it at least got me to acknowledge the game’s existence. And when I finally looked at its Steam page, I kind of wanted to try it. So, here we are. I just love making time management increasingly difficult.

Slime Rancher throws you in like cold turkey as you assume the role of Beatrix LeBeau, who runs a slime ranch in the Far, Far Range. Raise slimes and profit, basically. That’s it.

Like many games of its kind, Slime Rancher is complicated. The basic idea is to corral slimes, and feed them food to earn plorts, which are sold for money. However, you have to account for the many different slime types, as well as their behaviors and diets. Also, slimes can eat plorts, and eating a different type than their own turns them into a largo slime. These poop out plorts of both source types when fed, but eating a third type turns them into dangerous tarr slimes that can cause SERIOUS trouble.

The game doesn’t hold your hand, but in a good way. You get all the knowledge you need in your Slimepedia, and it’s up to you to figure out how to make all these different systems mesh. If you jump the gun trying to raise multiple types of slimes too soon, it’ll get ugly and high-maintenance. Also, if you place too many slimes without the higher wall and ceiling upgrade for their corral, they can pile up enough to escape pretty easily and eat your stuff (and each other’s plorts, creating more tarr). 

Fortunately, things really get going once you get cash. Spend it on various facility upgrades, as well as expansions of the ranch to allow more variety (and room) for slimes to be raised in. Essential upgrades include the jetpack, for exploring, and the ability to store and use water, ideally against tarr slimes. However, new upgrades seem to unlock completely at random. There are likely hidden prerequisites, but it’s not all clear what those are.

Exploration is the key here. There’s a LOT to the Far, Far Range. It’s full of presents, which are pretty useless as they only contain cosmetic items. The important stuff are the map stations and gordo slimes. The former is self-explanatory, but gordo slimes are large, stationary slimes that come in every type. Feeding them a lot of the favorite food of that slime type will give you important rewards, from keys to unlock new regions, to your source of fast travel from one region back to the ranch. While the world ends up being pretty small, there is a lot to it. The best aspect about it is that its design allows for sequence breaking in a lot of spots. With enough jetpack upgrades, you can fly up to the highest point in the level!

The lab opens up a massive portion of the game. With it, you can craft gadgets with Slime Science. These gadgets can place automated devices to find resources, and more importantly, the ability to create your own fast travel points for yourself and for items found while exploring. Simply deposit plorts and the various resources found with the automated devices into the refinery, and consume them in the fabricator to create your gadgets. Buy blueprints to get more rewards.

However, despite the “family friendly” tag on Steam, Slime Rancher can be tough. Not only will it be overwhelming at the beginning, but those tarr slimes are very scary early on. You can easily avoid them spawning on your ranch, but they can naturally spawn in the overworld (and I wasn’t willing to test if they can spread to your ranch from there). They can’t even be dealt with until you get the ability to store water, but once you do, they aren’t so bad.

You can disable them by playing the game in Casual Mode, but that doesn’t remove feral slimes. These guys will very aggressively hunt you down until you feed them something. Unfortunately, slimes are weird with acknowledging food. While not a problem on the ranch, since you can just vomit it into their corral and they’ll eat it eventually, but obviously feral slimes are a different situation. There were way too many times that I fired their preferred food directly at them, and had that food completely ignored, while I got bodied. Also, the Slime Sea is an instant death trap, and there are areas where you will have to platform over it. If you want a real challenge, play the game in Rush Mode, where you’ll need to be the best dang rancher you can be to make money fast.

In addition to a large world, there are side distractions, one of which is The Wilds. Here, you’re thrown into an area filled with feral slimes, and the entrance as well as the exit is in a random location. Collect as much of the special fruit found only in this area and redeem them for rewards to aid you in your ranch.

There’s also a fun challenge from this narcissist named Mochi. With her, you do a timed minigame where you collect lightning projectiles to shoot at an area-exclusive slime for their plorts. These plorts are automatically collected, and you turn them in for a lot of money as well as other perks.

The third and final side activity is the Slimulation. This is a virtual replica of the overworld. Vacuum up glitch slimes, which disguise themselves as regular slimes (but with Ditto faces), and as geometry that isn’t present in the real version of the world. After a while, glitch tarrs will appear to cause chaos. Once the exit portal appears, follow the guides to escape before you become a virtual snack. All glitch slimes are converted to bug reports, which are redeemed for an exclusive resource as well as other rewards.

The biggest problem with Slime Rancher is that completion, as is with most games like this, can be a hassle. While the map is good for your bearings, it’s not easy to find stuff in the world. Gordo slimes are marked off after you feed them once, and gadgets that you place get added to the map as well. But that’s it. Treasure pods—both unopen and otherwise—cannot be marked on here. In addition to a number of strange achievements, you must also earn a highscore in Rush Mode, which is a money-focused speedrun mode with a time limit.

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Final Verdict: 9/10

Slime Rancher is an addictive and wholesome management game that puts a smile on my face. I already have the sequel wishlisted, and hopefully it’ll expand on the established mechanics to make something even better than this. I recommend it if you like management games like Stardew Valley.

My Dearest Self With Malice Aforethought: A Short and Sweet Identity Crisis

A lot of writers create slice-of-life dramas about identity, where a young’un has to fight the labels provided by society. But in my opinion, the theme of “identity” would be more urgently called into question if someone’s brain just decided to assume an entirely different personality within the same body. That’s what happens in My Dearest Self with Malice Aforethought, a royally messed up suspense manga.

In My Dearest Self with Malice Aforethought, the main protagonist, Eiji Urashima, is haunted by a dark past that’s about to bite him in the butt: he’s the son of LL, a serial killer. Eiji has been able to live a normal life, but he suddenly starts experiencing time-skips. The reason for this is B1, a split personality that seems to be more-or-less following in his father’s footsteps. Eiji now must find the truth behind, well, himself.

One thing to say about this manga is that it’s really suspenseful. Normally, a lot of these—such as Monster—revolve around finding the established main antagonist. That’s pretty difficult when the protagonist and antagonist share the same body. Eiji finds himself in various situations thanks to B1, and it’s engaging to see how he could possibly get out of them. 

The characters are, sadly, not too spectacular. Eiji is your typical thriller protagonist, where he starts off as super timid, but ends up becoming more and more like B1 as he’s forced to do uncouth things in order to find the truth. A more interesting case is his girlfriend, Kyoka. She seems like the super-perfect waifu, but that quickly stops being the case. The most likeable (read as: “marketable”) character is this one loli named Rei Shimyoji. She’s that weird girl who’s super big-brain and knows how to do a lot of unconventional stuff that just so happens to be helpful in plot progression.

After the halfway point, Dearest Self takes the cynical route, where B1 is on center stage for the remainder of the series. At this point, it becomes a pretty typical cat-and-mouse chase as he tries to find the true culprit of the LL murders. It feels very Western because of the whole thing where he’s “just as evil as the murderer he’s trying to catch” and it’s supposed to be an allegory to how all humans are awful. The mystery element is still good, but for those suffering from cynicism like I am, it’s not the best route for a manga to take.

At the very least, it all wraps up nice and smoothly. Sadly, the true villain’s motive ends up being the typical thing where killing is the only thing that makes them happy; the perfect “I couldn’t come up with a motive by the publication deadline” motive. I mean, how much more can you ask for?

The art, for the most part, is what you’d expect from a modern thriller manga. The eyes are very detailed, and there are a lot of instances of crosshatching and distortion effects. The faces are very exaggerated, and lips are given a lot of emphasis.

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Final Verdict: 8.85/10

My Dearest Self With Malice Aforethought ended up being a much better experience than I initially thought. It was short and engaging, without getting too convoluted (relatively speaking). I recommend it to suspense fans.

The Girl from the Other Side: Wait, How is Dark AND Wholesome at the Same Time?!

There are times when a manga is so unique and otherwordly that you can’t even come up with an intro to segue into a review about it. This is the case for The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún. It’s no surprise a weirdo like myself would find this among his favorite manga of all time.

In The Girl from the Other Side, a curse has ravaged the world, turning people into undying beasts (which is also contagious, by the way). A young girl named Shiva is sheltered from it all, in the care of one of these creatures, simply named Teacher. She seems to be immune to the curse, but that only paints a “Kidnap Me!” target on her back.

The Girl from the Other Side is straight up whimsical. The plot is simple to follow, yet it constantly asks new and intriguing questions about what’s going on. I found myself sucked into the narrative, and always wanting more. It felt relaxing, yet suspenseful. It gets confusing fast, but everything is tied together shockingly well towards the end. There really isn’t anything wrong with the story as far as cohesion goes.

Given the fact that it stars a girl and a monster who live together, The Girl from the Other Side is incredibly easy to compare to The Ancient Magus’ Bride (also, both manga are published in the same magazine to boot). In comparison, The Girl from the Other Side is much darker in tone, and has a lot more focus on its overarching narrative. There’s also no hints of romance, unlike The Ancient Magus’ Bride, which has romance to spare. Due to the fact that Magus’ Bride has sort of devolved into a Harry Potter clone in recent volumes, I’m willing to declare that The Girl from the Other Side is the better of the two.

The characters are its only flaw, though. While Shiva and Teacher’s interactions are one of the manga’s greatest strengths, everyone else is kind of just there. Fortunately, the bulk of the story is centered around Shiva and Teacher anyway, so it’s not as consequential as something like Overlord

Something else you may consider a flaw is that it intentionally leaves some plot threads unresolved, namely, closure when it comes to the curse itself. While we learn of the reason behind it, there is no effort to lift it once and for all; the story is strictly about the relationship between Teacher and Shiva. Call it a cynical social commentary or a liberty taken to help the story flow, but that’s just how it is.

Everything comes together with the manga’s downright enchanting and mysterious artstyle. While the cover art is both dreary and quaint, using simple desaturated colors, the actual manga itself is where the art shines, or rather, where it darkens. The artstyle in this manga uses the Gestalt theory of art, and creates shapes by filling negative space with black in just the right way. It makes an otherwise generic fantasy world stand out really well. I want every page as a desktop wallpaper, please.

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

The Girl from the Other Side is a short and practically perfect manga. It might not have waifus or pulse-pounding action, but it’s something that is very unlike most series of its kind. Hopefully the movie adaptation will be just as good!

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles: I MISS THIS SERIES SO MUCH

PREFACE: I originally split this review into two parts, the first of which I recently deleted. The reason was that I wanted to jump in on the hype of Great Ace Attorney, but I couldn’t possibly beat both games in time. I’m sorry for not keeping my usual standards to heart. My second part of the review was so awful, I decided to shift gears to a full, proper review. I hope you enjoy it!


Time for a long story. While this is the first Ace Attorney game I’m covering on my blog, this is definitely NOT the first Ace Attorney game I’ve played. In fact, I’ve played through these games with my sister for years. Thing is, that was way before I had this blog. We played up through Spirit of Justice (with the exception of the Edgeworth games, but thankfully NintendoCaprisun had his videos of them for us), but that was five years ago. Now, we both have jobs. However, that didn’t stop us from squeezing what little time we had for a massive and unexpected adventure: an official U.S. release of The Great Ace Attorney spinoff series, with HD remasters for the Switch. 

In The Great Ace Attorney, we turn back the clock to the early 1900s, to Phoenix Wright’s ancestor, Ryunosuke Naruhodo. His lawyering career begins when he has to defend himself after a man is shot to death while he happens to be holding a gun found at the scene. Thus starts a saga that continues for generations.

The story structure will seem pretty familiar; episodic cases that build up to a bigger plot. And similar to the Edgeworth spinoffs, this one plays with your expectations. In fact, despite the lack of returning characters, The Great Ace Attorney felt very emotionally tense, considering its entirely new setting and cast. Some cases feature a jury (who actually exist this time, unlike Apollo’s game), and they change their minds a lot, making trials even more nerve-wracking when the scale leans toward guilt. While there are no straight-up bad cases, the third case is definitely where the game starts in earnest.

The writing in The Great Ace Attorney is great as always. From wry humor, to raw emotion, and spine-tingling suspense, Capcom once again demonstrates their writing prowess (if only that carried over to other games (*cough* Monster Hunter Stories 2 *cough*)). However, there are some big changes in the overall feel, more so due to this localization. And if I may write one more sentence, I’ll have an excuse to elaborate in a nice and organized new paragraph.

First off, the localization retcons the Ace Attorney universe. The main games have been set in an ambiguous country that could pass as just about anywhere, with the U.S. localization being set somewhere in California. However, The Great Ace Attorney universe doesn’t just scream Japan, but other countries as well. Fortunately, you aren’t required to know anything about old-timey world culture in order to solve a case, but Japanese honorifics are used without explanation.

Furthermore, the humor is very… hm, at times. It’s the 1900s, which means… racism. Ace Attorney has never held back on stereotypes, but it’s really nasty here. Foreigners act like Japan is a massive sh**hole, like an anime fan who hates ecchi. Their culture is even insulted right in the middle of their most supreme courtroom. You’re meant to chalk it up to English people being hotiy-toity, but I actually own a Japanese mythology research book, written at around that time, by an Englishman who fell in love with Japan, even shaming his own culture in one chapter. But when the story shifts to the U.K. itself, even our Japanese intrepid heroes act as if their own nation is a sh**hole. The U.K. definitely has the more advanced technology, but they even imply that the country has a richer history, which is a very subjective thing that’s neither right nor wrong (and is probably just meant to hype up London in the context of the story and I shouldn’t be reading into it this hard). 

ANYWAY, the characters, despite being all newcomers, stand within Ace Attorney’s cast as my favorite in any visual novel franchise. Ryunosuke is another new face, and I mean NEW. The first case isn’t just his first case as a lawyer, but he’s also had no experience in law whatsoever. He has a really unique arc where he gradually acquires the confident Ace Attorney animations we know and love over the course of the first case, and it’s wonderful to see. The Maya Fey of this game is a waifu named Susato, who is a bit of a kuudere; she’s condescending in a deadpan way, but some Maya-like qualities shine through at times (and she often proves herself a better lawyer than Ryunosuke). The Gumshoe is none other than Sherlock Holmes. Yes, I know the text says “Herlock Sholmes”, but if you play with Japanese audio, he is referred to as Sherlock Holmes. Based on this, I assume the reason for a lack of localization was a copyright thing, similar to the Stands in Jojo. In any case, he’s as confident as he is wrong about his deductions, i.e. he’s wrong a LOT but loves himself nonetheless. As much as I love Gumshoe, this guy grew on me very quickly. Screw it; he’s my favorite detective in the series, second only to Gumshoe (sorry Ema). Our prosecutor is Barok van Zieks. As one of the hunkiest antagonists thus far, he behaves like a scarier, more aggressive Klavier Gavin, where he’s sometimes willing to help the defense if things happen to go a certain way in the trial.

While the first game is great, the second game—Resolve—is truly a work of art. It’s the first linear sequel in the series, being a direct continuation from the first game, Great Ace Attorney Adventures. Resolve is easily as intense as Edgeworth 2 and Spirit of Justice. Resolve introduces the designated “case from a long time ago that started everything”, and this latest—or rather, first—incident is of a serial killer called The Professor.

Whenever I think they have run out of ways to play Ace Attorney, Capcom manages to surprise me. The Great Ace Attorney tries (no pun intended) fun new ideas both in and out of court. For instance, multiple witnesses can take the stand at once, and have their own testimonies. As a result, one person can have a reaction to what the other person says, and naturally, it’s a good idea to pursue that nervous tick. Unfortunately, this mechanic might be one of my least favorite gimmicks in the series. With one exception, each instance has a big “!” pop up, so it’s not even a case of having to know their poses enough. Also, it requires suspension of disbelief because the court itself proves to be the most braindead it has ever been. One example is when a witness is seen practically strangling another witness right on the stand. I know that Ryunosuke is supposed to have powers of observation, but you don’t need that power to notice these tells.

In trials with a jury present, you also have the power of the Summation Exam. Basically, when the jury unanimously votes guilty (which, in series tradition, will happen often), you get to hear their reasoning. At this juncture, you take a pair of statements from the jurors’ that contradict one another, and reveal said contradiction. Ryunosuke paces like a badass when tearing their reasoning apart, and it feels really good. The one dumb thing about it is that you’re warned not to press anyone during the tutorial, but you actually will need to press jurors for every solution after the first examination.

What’s extra super fun is the Deductions. Sherlock has a ridiculously over-the-top routine where he makes a wildly incorrect series of statements about an NPC, and it’s up to you to correct them by examining the NPC, the location, or by presenting evidence. These sequences kind of take a while, since you basically have to go through them twice, one to hear the initial take and two to correct it, but they’re awesome.

As a spinoff, Great Ace Attorney proves to be very difficult because it plays with your expectations of the series’ tropes. If there’s any pro-tip I feel like I should give, it’s to REALLY examine any new evidence as soon as you receive it. There aren’t many times where they’re like “If you didn’t examine any evidence you should do it now”, either. Also, dialogue in a specific case is actually affected by whether or not you examined a piece of evidence at the earliest opportunity. 

For a port made from the ground up during a thing-I-should-probably-not-bring-up-because-you’re-probably-sick-of-seeing-it-attributed-to-things-that-shouldn’t-have-anything-to-do-with-it, The Great Ace Attorney looks beautiful. The models are as on-point as always, but the environments are lovelier than ever, thanks to the Switch. They even have light sources flickering just like they would be in that time period. 

Unfortunately, this game probably has the weakest soundtrack I’ve heard in the whole series. Some of the character themes are good, but by keeping true to the time, I feel like they might’ve trapped themselves. And worst of all, the “Pursuit” theme shows up the least often in this game. Maybe that’s because of Ryunosuke’s character arc, but it still stinks.

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Final Verdict: 9.75/10

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles was a better duology than I could have ever imagined. And the worst part about it is that it’s over; no more Susato Takedown, and no more Holmes. And until the mysterious seventh core Ace Attorney game comes out, there’s no more of the series as a whole right now. But as much as I loved these games, finishing lifts a weight off me because of how much harder it is to schedule play sessions. Regardless, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is a must for series veterans. That’s just elementary, my dear fellows.

TOEM: The Actual Cutest Game of 2021

I’ve had to rearrange my lifestyle in order to make room for more videogames, and also, to be in a better financial position. As I’ve stated, numerous times, light novels and manga (with the exception of Viz) have no subscription service. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on those things, and that’s with prices almost halved by getting digital versions. By filtering out the stuff I can live without, as hard as that is sometimes, I can spare the cash on little games like TOEM on Steam.

In TOEM, you are a little bird cartoon fellow who wants to take a picture of the titular TOEM, whatever that is. He sets off on a journey to find it, and that’s literally it for the plot. 

The story is simple and pure; perfect Escapism. The writing is pretty grounded for the most part, but there’s still enough humor for it to be charming without coming off as try-hard. 

What drives TOEM home is the presentation. The grayscale style gives it a cozy feel, and the areas are very ambient, provided you don’t pay any mind to the empty void that surrounds you outside the boundaries of the game world. The soundtrack is beautifully relaxing and atmospheric. Plus, a really nice detail is that the main character is actually listening to it through headphones, and you can freely manipulate what music is playing in the pause menu.

The gameplay of TOEM is very simple. You use your camera to take pictures. The game makes it clear when it’s acknowledging a subject of the photo by showing brackets around it. Of course, there are many different things you need photos of. The biggest thing is the Compendium, which is basically an encyclopedia of different animals. Anything for the Compendium is given a snail symbol, which also has a check mark to indicate that you got it already. Every area also has a landmark that can have a picture taken, so get snapping!

To advance through the game, you must collect stamps in each area. To do this, you solve light puzzles by either finding stuff or presenting a certain photo. It’s pretty simple to figure out, but the annoying thing is that some tasks need stuff from all four areas. There are some surprisingly clever puzzles, but if you’ve played Baba Is You, then there isn’t much to worry about.

Getting full completion can be a bit tricky, but don’t get too hung up on getting it before the credits roll; in fact, you can’t, since you need to bring a photo from the endgame area to an older area for an achievement. The hardest one is probably the Cosplayer Achievement, which requires you to wear every clothing item. There’s no real way to track if you have all the clothing items in an area, plus some are in gift boxes, while others are earned from NPCs. You also have to take some photos of specific NPCs, who are indicated by shojou-style sparkles. If you did it, the photo will pop up with a glittering frame and artwork that looks nothing like the picture you took.

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Final Verdict: 8.5/10

TOEM is a short, sweet little game that you can play when you don’t feel in the mood to play the latest iteration of The Dark Souls of Dark Souls. I recommend it to pretty much anyone.

Metroid Dread: SA-X Chase Sequences, the Game

Have you ever heard of the videogame protagonist Samus Aran? I spent the last decade thinking of her as only a Smash Bros. character. It wasn’t until this year’s E3 that I remembered: “Oh right, she has a franchise, and an important one at that!” You’ve seen tons of metroidvania games, right? Well, her game series—Metroid—is where the genre all started. You’d think that such a monumentally important Nintendo I.P. would have a consistent track record of new releases. But after the lukewarm reception of Metroid: Other M, there hasn’t been a single tried-and-true Metroid game… until now, with Metroid Dread for Nintendo Switch (and for the record I was being sarcastic at the beginning).

Metroid Dread picks up where Fusion left off. After dealing with the X, the Federation gets sent a little TikTok of an X Parasite alive on planet ZDR. They investigate, and of course, lose contact with mission control. Time for Samus to take care of business AGAIN. Of course, it doesn’t take long for some Power Rangers villain to show up and kick Samus’ ass, making her lose her power-ups AGAIN.

Metroid Dread has a pretty standard plot for the most part. They revisit the X, which is cool, and have what I think to be the first living Chozo in the entire series, which is even cooler. But other than that, it’s your typical “run around maze-like world and do stuff” Metroid experience. It goes from zero to a hundred at the end, though. Plus, Samus is the most bad-ass she has ever been in the series.

People wanted classic 2D Metroid gameplay to return, and that’s what they got. The controls should immediately be familiar to anyone who has knowledge of the series. They even brought back hidden blocks! However, there are plenty of new toys to play with as well; it would suck if we waited this long for “just” another 2D Metroid. In addition to new power-ups, Samus can parry enemy attacks by smacking them with her arm cannon.

As a follow-up to Fusion, Metroid Dread is very scary, and very difficult. While regular combat is pretty easy, things get spicy in the E.M.M.I. Zones. Each zone has an E.M.M.I. unit within, and they REALLY wanna give Samus a shot of that COVID vaccine. But apparently, the side effects include instant death! Unless you can master the ludicrously difficult parry timing to escape, getting caught is GG. Luckily, the game has plenty of checkpoints, so it’s not a time-waster, but that fact is kind of like putting a free 1-Up at the beginning of a tough Mario level; Nintendo knew they made something that was complete BS.

Death counts will easily go into the double digits if you’re a first-timer, and aren’t good at stealth. Pretty early on, you get an item that temporarily makes you invisible, which made me think, “Well that makes things much easier.” However, there were a ton of times where I would cloak up and wait for the robot to sneak by, just for it to casually stroll right where I was. Your computer friend tells you to study their pathing carefully, but sometimes you have to think fast, and if you’re not fast enough, it’s GG. Also, there is some sort of randomness. What I think is happening is that the robot is patrolling constantly even when you’re not in the room. I think this because there were times where I came in and found the robot there, and other times where it’s wasn’t.

Fortunately, you don’t have to deal with them forever. Finding the Central Unit in each E.M.M.I. Zone and defeating the miniboss there gives you a use of the Omega Blaster. A fully charged shot from these defeats the stupid vaccine-o-trons. However, the next battle becomes finding a proper space to charge it up from, and this gets straight-up tedious.

At the very least, the boss battles are fun. They’re more complicated than past games’ strategy of spamming missiles, and they also have parry-able attacks that allow you to earn a LOT of free hits. And for the sake of nostalgia, some old friends show up once again. Just keep in mind that you take a LOT of damage in this game. Expect some tougher enemies to take up to three Energy Tanks in one hit.

Of course, nothing is more universally hated in a metroidvania than a lack of nonlinear exploration. And… *sigh* Metroid Dread is a very linear Metroid game. Not only is it linear, but it very often gates you from backtracking when you get a new upgrade. At the very least, it doesn’t straight-up hold your hand when it comes to where to go. However, they have a tendency of sneakily hiding required paths in hidden blocks. If you’re knowledgeable of the series, you should have no problem spotting them. Oh, and here’s another caveat. As you know, metroidvanias are influenced by both Metroid, and the non-linear Castlevania games (ex. Symphony of the Night). The latter had fast travel points, while Metroid never had it… and still doesn’t have it in Dread. So yeah, if you do want to get everything, prepare to do a TON of walking.

Another standout feature is that, for the first time in the entire series, the map is useful. It marks everything, from items, to types of doors, to discovered blocks, and even gives vague hints as to where an item is hidden. As nice as this is, you could argue that the charm of metroidvanias is having to decipher an intentionally unhelpful map. However, as accurate as this map is, it doesn’t give you the intrinsic skills needed to collect the items. This game has a number of obnoxious puzzles with the Shinespark, requiring mechanics new to the series that you have to figure out yourself, as well as killer reflexes.

Unfortunately, the audio and visuals leave much to be desired. While the characters look good enough, the environments are a bit bland. Nintendo’s always been better at cartoony styles, and Metroid isn’t like that. Also ,the music—other than remixes of classic tracks—is pretty forgettable. 

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Final Verdict: 8.5/10

I don’t quite know what to think of Metroid Dread. For all intents and purposes, it’s a great Metroid game, albeit with some annoying insta-death scenarios. I think the circumstances around its release have colored my impressions of it, as I initially feared it would. For being the first 2D Metroid in almost twenty years, the fact that it feels like “just another Metroid game” feels kind of like a disappointment. Plus, the $60 for a game that can easily be beaten in under fifteen hours 100% is kind of yikes. The biggest caveat is that the metroidvania subgenre has exploded in the indie scene, and considerably raised the bar (while lowering the price per product). Mechanics like fast travel are pretty much expected, plus we have Hollow Knight, which is objectively one of the most non-linear games of its kind, even moreso than Super Metroid. And as fun as this game was, it’s not one I can see myself playing again, due to its linearity and obnoxious Shinespark puzzles (even if there is probably a bonus ending if you beat it faster or something, but I’m going to play the ignorance is bliss card here (also I’m not gamer enough to beat it faster)). I can’t recommend Dread for newcomers, since it expects a lot of knowledge of the series to understand its game design. Thus, I recommend it only to devout Metroid fans.