The Video Game Critic's

Halloween Review Spectacular

Part 6 of 6

The Final Chapter

Updated 2022/9/24

Each game is rated for Halloween spirit:

pumpkin Tame "Trick or Treat?"
pumpkin pumpkin Spooky "Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble!"
pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin Ghoulish "Serpents and spiders, tail of a rat; call in the spirits, wherever they're at!"
pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin Ghastly "Grim Grinning Ghosts about to socialiiiiize"
pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin Macabre "Now don't close your eyes, and don't try to hide; or a silly spook may sit by your side."

And also rated for "fright factor":

tombstone Child's play "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."
tombstone tombstone Creepy "I see dead people."
tombstone tombstone tombstone Unnerving "That cold ain't the weather. That's death approaching."
tombstone tombstone tombstone tombstone Intense "I know you're there Tina. Because I can smell your brains."
tombstone tombstone tombstone tombstone tombstone Terrifying "It’s Alive! It’s Alive!"

Nintendo Wii U

Ghostbusters: The Video Game

Atari (2009)
System: Playstation 3
Grade: B+


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Leveraging the actors from the original films and boasting sky-high production values, Ghostbusters: The Video Game perfectly embodies the humor and tone of the films. The voices and likenesses of the original actors are used effectively, as is the playful musical score and distinctive sound effects. Hell, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis even wrote the damn story! I'm not normally a big proponent of elaborate storylines and cut-scenes in video games, but these held my attention. The stiff, animated characters can't deliver lines with perfect comedic timing, but some of the dialogue will make you smile.

In many ways, this feels like a sequel to the films. All the memorable locations have been recreated including the converted firehouse, the Sedgewick hotel, and public library. There's a new graveyard stage that looks utterly spectacular. The characters resemble the original actors but are rendered in a stylized manner so they don't look too freaky. The detail in the environments is amazing, and nearly everything is destructible. Destroying furniture and leveling tombstones with your proton pack is a joy. You can upgrade your arsenal with new weapons as you progress, including one that sprays green slime.

Each ghost has its own backstory, and they are so intricately rendered that there were times when I wished I could pause the action and examine them up close. When scouting a new location, you're prompted to equip your Ecto-goggles which provide infrared vision and highlight supernatural activity. Once you've rooted the spooks out, the battle begins as you unleash your proto stream. After wearing the ghosts down, you must wrangle them over an open trap as they slowly get sucked in. It's especially fun and satisfying to see them desperately try to claw their way out. Less fun is hosing down the endless, swarming minions in the form of flying books, floating skulls, and spiders.

You'll fight alongside all the original Ghostbusters including everyone's favorite "the black guy", but in this game you are the "go-to" guy. I like how the characters can revive each other - it adds a nice teamwork element. Ghostbusters is a very linear game that clocks in at around 5-7 hours. That may sound short, but there's a lot less filler than most adventures, and it's one heck of a ride!

What's not to like? Well, the installation process takes so long (a few days I think), I feared that Ghostbuster logo would be permanently burned into my plasma TV. Whenever you fire the game up, prepare to sift through an unprecedented number of animated logos (enough already!). While fighting ghosts, you're often blindsided because the ghouls tend to reappear all over the place. The game is not glitch free, and I actually had to restart it at one point. The game saves frequently, but I never spotted an indicator, which made me extremely nervous about quitting a partway through a level. How hard is it to display "saving" on the screen anyway??

The game has a multi-player mode, but it's on-line only (boo!). I can nitpick, but at its core the game succeeds in fleshing out the Ghostbusters world and immersing you in it. Movie-licensed games don't have the best track record, but Ghostbusters: The Video Game is consistently enjoyable.
Rating: Teen (comic mischief, fantasy violence, mild language)

Originally posted 2009/6/27


Zombi U

Ubisoft (2012)
System: Wii U
Grade: B


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I've learned to be skeptical of third-party launch titles, but Zombi U is high in quality and genuinely scary. You view the action from a first-person perspective and the slow, deliberate pace allows suspense to properly build (Capcom should take note). I'm tempted to say Zombi U puts the "horror" back into "survival horror", but come to think of it, it puts the survival back in too!

The game creates a sense of isolation and desperation, and you'll need to be resourceful to stay alive. You begin in a "safe house" in a London subway, gradually exploring your surrounding areas before eventually winding up in Buckingham Palace. The dark, post-apocalyptic streets and underground passages will make you paranoid. You never know what's lurking in the shadows, and the sound of knocks, screeches, and moans are downright alarming.

The zombies amble around in a slow, old-school way, but they can lunge quickly. The game has a flair for the dramatic, so that lifeless body you walk past might spring to life, making you jump out of your seat. The combat is gory and intense as you bash a zombie's head with a cricket bat until there's nothing left. Zombi U is heavy on exploration and looting is just as fun as it is in real life (very!). You can close doors behind you and even barricade them shut. The idea of continuity between lives is brilliant, but the frequent reloading and retracing of steps can be time consuming.

The GamePad is utilized in a number of ways. It's your map by default and a radar button indicates locations of nearby zombies. Your guide talks through the controller's speaker, offering guidance and some funny one-liners. The pad also functions as a scanner that you hold up and move around with your arms. Zombi U does an admirable job of leveraging the pad, but occasionally it's hard to tell what you're supposed to be looking at - the TV or the pad.

The multiplayer mode is pretty worthless but the single-player campaign is riveting. Zombi U is so intense that I could almost forgive a nasty lock-up incident and the fact that the game asks for your consent to having Ubisoft collecting your play data. [Expletive] no, but thanks for asking. Nice game, by the way.
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)

Originally posted 2013/1/5


Resident Evil: Revelations

Capcom (2013)
System: Wii U
Grade: B


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Resident Evil: Revelations provided superb survival horror fare for the Nintendo 3DS and it looks even better on the big screen. In many ways it's a throwback to the original Resident Evil trilogy that appeared on the Playstation in the late 90's. The story is cheesy, the dialogue is ridiculous, the puzzles are familiar, and the controls are stiff. The game also happens to be a heck of a lot of fun, with a slow, deliberate pace that allows suspense to properly build.

Despite having previously played the portable version, Revelations still scared the living [expletive] out of me. The story takes place at sea on a luxurious abandoned ocean liner with a lot of narrow hallways, lush cabins, and dark service areas. The story makes no sense but it doesn't even matter. Freaky white zombies come out of the woodwork and you'll reduce them to goo with knives, shotguns, and decoy bombs.

The main heroine Jill Valentine is a knockout in high definition (and low for that matter), but these graphics aren't exactly state of the art. The audio has problems with lip-syncing, and certain sound effects are just plain wrong. In one "flashback" mission you trudge through snowy mountains yet it sounds like you're stepping on clanking metal.

This Wii U version feels rushed. There's no manual and the control pad isn't integrated very well. It's nice to have a map at your fingertips, but when you hit "menu" you're directed to the television to do the rest. In addition, the overly sensitive analog stick controls have an annoying all-or-nothing quality. The act of aiming a gun or adjusting the camera feels clumsy, and you can't even tweak the sensitivity via the options menu.

Even so, this game is too good to be ruined by some wonky controls. It feels like classic Resident Evil except with all the modern bells and whistles like high definition graphics and the ability to save at any time. I have a soft spot for the 3DS edition, but once you begin playing Revelations on the Wii U, it's hard to stop!
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, language)

Originally posted 2013/8/8


Xbox One Games

Dead Rising 3

Capcom (2013)
System: Xbox One
Grade: B


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In the spirit of the classic George Romero "Living Dead" zombie films, Dead Rising 3 conveys that same sense of desperation you experience when a zombie epidemic strikes your town. In its unnerving opening sequence you find yourself in a pitch-dark containment facility surrounded by cages bursting at the seams with growling, hissing, screeching undead about to break loose. Eventually your team up with a band of survivors and seek cover in a garage. From there you'll embark on a series of frantic missions with the goal of getting an airplane into working condition.

As with previous Dead Rising games, you can use any object as a weapon, from a chainsaw to a guitar to a freakin' watermelon. Blueprints let you combine items into super weapons like an electrified hammer or a rake of swords. Dismembering and bludgeoning zombies is easy and fun. Yes, as progressive as our society purports to be, zombie bashing remains quite acceptable. Slow and easy to shake off, you can charge into a mob and often emerge no worse for wear.

One awesome aspect of the game is the vehicles. Whether you're driving an SUV, motorcycle, or steamroller (!), plowing through the undead hordes is crazy fun. I also like the game's sense of progression. The storyline may be linear but events unfold in an organic way and there are oodles of optional side quests. Dead Rising 3 lacks the suspense like a zombie film but I did jump out of my seat a few times. The town is an interesting place to explore, and I appreciate the diversity of zombies in various states of decay.

My main beef is with the controls. When multiple items are close together, it's hard to pick up the right one, and sometimes the buttons feel unresponsive. The mechanism for switching weapons is clumsy, and since it doesn't pause the action you'll take damage while fumbling through your inventory. The camera behaves itself when driving forward, but once you put the gear in reverse, it's all over the place. In addition to occasional autosaves, you can save your progress at latrines.

Dead Rising 3 doesn't take itself too seriously, sometimes to its detriment. When I accidentally put on that giant Lego head, I couldn't get it off, and it took me forever to find something a little less ridiculous to replace it with. As you can imagine, that really took the edge off the cut-scenes! I wouldn't regard Dead Rising 3 a must-have game, but it's one of the stronger titles for the Xbox One.
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, sexual content, strong language, use of alcohol)

Originally posted 2014/10/26


Dead Rising 4

Capcom (2016)
System: Xbox One
Grade: B-


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How does Dead Rising 4 distinguish itself in a sea of zombie games? It's a Christmas title! If you don't believe me just listen to that holiday music and look at the decorated tree on the title screen. This is every bit as Christmas as Die Hard!

Dead Rising 4 puts you in the role of a wisecracking photographer who finds himself in the throes of a zombie apocalypse in the small town of Willamette. There's a lot to see and do. The mall is a fun place to hang out, especially in the area that looks like Medieval Times. In downtown you can have a blast plowing through mobs with a snow-plow. When exploring on foot the scenery is loaded with items, most of which can be used as weapons. Sure there are traditional weapons like swords and machine guns, but you can also swing a lamp or vacuum cleaner. My personal favorite is the high-powered leaf blower!

Capcom has dumbed down the weapon crafting, but not dumb enough for this critic! When I had to combine a handgun and computer I couldn't figure out why the laptop wouldn't work. Usually the two items you need are in close vicinity to the weapon blueprint. You can also outfit yourself with outrageous costumes, and somehow I ended up looking like the guy from Ghouls 'N Ghosts (Genesis, 1989). This made the ensuing cut-scenes look ridiculous.

A helpful yellow arrow on your map guides you to your next objective and there are always multiple routes and side quests. Occasionally the game enters a Batman-style "investigation mode" where you need to mess around with various cameras and vision modes to obtain clues. Dead Rising 4 is at its best when you need to scrounge for items to overcome adversity. Need to defeat that woman with the flaming sword? Maybe this rocket-propelled grenade launcher will help!

My main complaint has to do with unnecessarily overcomplicated controls. The Xbox One controller has plenty of buttons; why must we hold in certain buttons to perform for basic functions? There were times when I was holding a bomb but for the life of me could not figure out how to throw the damn thing. So I beat somebody over the head with it instead! Inventory management is a nightmare as well. When did Capcom forget how to make games? Despite its horrible controls Dead Rising 4 serves up a captivating blend of gratuitous gore and Christmas cheer. If you're up for some holiday-themed zombie action, you will appreciate Dead Rising 4's brand of seasonally-correct violence.
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)

Originally posted 2018/12/30


Resident Evil: Revelations 2

Capcom (2015)
System: Xbox One
Grade: B


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The original Resident Evil: Revelations (3DS, 2012) was a fun spin-off so I figured I'd give its sequel a whirl. During the obligatory install process the game informed me a big fat update was needed, so I immediately went offline to avoid that junk.

Revelations 2 begins with a lengthy intro explaining how a company called TerraSave was formed to save the world from the horrors of biological warfare. During a TerraSave office party Claire Redfield exchanges smalltalk with the newest member of the company - some potty-mouthed teenage girl named Moira! After both are kidnapped the real action finally begins... or so I thought. What is the deal with this choppy framerate? Why can't I control my character? Guess I needed that "patch" after all. The Xbox One is super high-maintenance!

Fortunately Revelations 2 eventually managed to redeem itself with some choice survival horror gameplay. It doesn't exactly ease you in as Claire and Moira find themselves in a prison crawling with monsters and whirling-blade traps. The tension runs high as you dash through a maze of doors with shambling creeps on your tail. Moira may not seem very useful at first but her flashlight locates shiny items and her crowbar weapon never runs out of ammo.

Expect all the typical Resident Evil tropes including dark corridors, corrugated metal, and doors locked from the other side. The puzzles are typical too. You need a cog to open the door but you have to activate a machine to get the cog and you have to turn on the power to activate the machine (you can stop rolling your eyes now).

The game is designed for coop play with different stages taking you through the same locations with different pairs of characters. It may seem lame at first but different characters can access different areas. There's a local split-screen option that actually works pretty well if you can set it up. Passing items between characters is a bit awkward but otherwise the controls are practically effortless. I hate to advocate a game that was essentially broken out of the box, but Resident Evil Revelations 2 is the most fun I've had with my Xbox One in quite some time.
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)

Originally posted 2017/11/7


Playstation 4 Games

Outlast

Red Barrels (2014)
System: Playstation 4
Grade: A-


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Amnesia may have kicked off the run-and-hide horror game trend, but Outlast perfected it. You play a reporter investigating rumors of inhumane experiments at an asylum, only to discover the inmates have taken over the place. Trapped inside with only your video camera, you must survive long enough to uncover the truth and hopefully live to tell the tale.

Outlast plays almost identically to Amnesia, except your camera substitutes for the lantern. As you venture deep into the facility your camera's night vision mode comes to your aid when the lights are out, which they almost always are. With no means to defend yourself, encountering a disfigured psycho means your only choice is to get the hell out.

Inmates give chase but if you're able to break their line of sight by hiding in a locker or under a bed, they will give up and leave. I will admit the game became less scary when I realized I could sometimes lose them by running circles around a table like a Scooby Doo cartoon.

As with Amnesia, light is a valuable resource that you'll want to conserve. I'm not a fan of games where your screen goes completely black, but fortunately there are enough batteries lying around that this is a rare occurrance.

You'll have the pleasure of getting close and personal with several of the hospital’s residents, including a hulking brute with no nose, a doctor with a penchant for dismemberment, and a pair of naked, smooth-talking finger slashers. The sight of these two freaks approaching is the stuff of nightmares.

There isn't much depth to the story but it's more than sufficient enough for a thrill ride like this - at least until it goes completely bonkers near the end. Outlast is the kind of game horror buffs should seek out, especially around Halloween. It improves upon the Amnesia formula so well that you'll find yourself sleeping with the lights on - if at all.
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, sexual content, strong language)

Originally posted 2021/10/19


Amnesia Collection, The

Frictional Games (2014)
System: Playstation 4
Grade: B


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This collection features the original trilogy of Amnesia download titles, including The Dark Descent, Justine, and A Machine for Pigs. What makes this survival horror series unique is that you are completely defenseless. With no means to attack the gruesome monstrosities you face, your only means of survival is to flee in terror.

Dark Descent has you waking up in a seemingly abandoned castle with no recollection of how you got there. Your one clue is a note ordering you to kill the castle's master -- written by you! This slow-burn adventure. The sense of helplessness you feel when hiding in a wardrobe as a monster roots around just outside instills a level of dread few games can match.

Your only source of light is your lantern, but leave it on for too long and you'll run out of oil. While this concept looks good on paper, in practice it becomes an annoyance. When your lantern goes out you'll find yourself staring at a pitch black screen, and it's a fate worse that death.

There's a sanity meter you'll need ot maintain to stay alive. Being in the dark will drain your sanity, as will staring at monsters. Sanity can be restored by standing in the light or taking medicine (which also works in real life). Should you drift too far into madness, the game will play tricks on you via distorted vision, disorienting sounds, and hallucinations.

Amnesia: Justine is a very short sequel, running a mere half hour. Featuring the same mechanics as the first game, you wake up to find yourself in a dungeon with other prisoners trapped in horrifying death machines. Each room is a puzzle to figure out how to escape without activating the traps. There's a monster lurking as well but it feels like an afterthought.

Completing the trilogy is A Machine for Pigs, which feels like a proper sequel to the original game. You awaken in a Victorian mansion where a telephone call informs you that your children are trapped in a machine beneath your house. This labyrinthine monstrosity of steam pipes and gears is patrolled by hideous pig monsters. There are less meters to worry about, but Machine lacks the sense of constant danger that made the first game so horrifying.

It's easy to see why the Amnesia games were such a hit, as they conjure fear on a primordial level. If these didn't invent the run-and-hide genre, they at least popularized it. The Amnesia Collection is challenge reserved only for the bravest thrill-seekers.
Rating: Mature (violence, blood and gore, nudity, strong language)

Originally posted 2021/10/19


Resident Evil: Village

Capcom (2021)
System: Playstation 4
Grade: A-


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Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (Capcom, 2017) was hard to stomach but Resident Evil: Village calls to mind the thrill of being a kid walking through a haunted house. Tension runs high as you creep through each room, only to be startled by an onslaught of grabby ghouls. Occasionally a dramatic interlude kicks in, allowing you to catch your breath.

Village starts like Resident Evil 4 (GameCube, 2005) as you stumble upon a decimated old village with few survivors. It's supposed to be an old European town so why do the inhabitants sound American? The scope of this game is sprawling. Beyond the village is a castle, old mansion, mineshaft, docks, and factory.

You play as Ethan Winters who is out to save his daughter but this dude really gets put through the ringer. He gets half of his hand cut off, is impaled through the chest, gets hung on a wall by meat hooks, and has his head bashed through the floor. And you thought you had a bad day.

The game offers a nice variety of combat, exploration, puzzle-solving, and good old-fashioned running for your life. As you scour rooms for keys, fuses, and cranks, the sound of growling ghouls had me jumping at the sight of my own shadow. That giant vampire-witch-lady really scared the living [expletive] out of me. What a great character. When she ducks into your room it's time to get moving.

The photorealistic visuals are stunning, with everything looking convincingly aged, weathered, and decrepit. Interior areas tend to be claustrophobic but the outdoors areas project a certain beauty with snow on the ground, overcast skies, and torches casting an eerie yellow glow. The soundtrack is understated but when those quick violin notes kick in your blood will run cold.

Complaints? Well remember what a pain those old Resident Evil inventory systems were? I didn't think Capcom could come up with anything worse but I underestimated them. I also dislike how when you "press X to examine", your inventory screen pops up before you even know what you're looking at. The village layout has an annoying maze configuration. You save progress via typewriters, but they are well-placed and frequent checkpoints ensure you won't have to repeat much.

My main issue with Village is its overwrought, overly-long ending. Or should I say endings. This game has more endings than Lord of the Rings for crying out loud. They just go on and on, and I can only roll my eyes for so long. By the time the unnecessary post-credit scene appeared I had completely lost interest.

Overall Resident Evil Village is a great Halloween game and a terrific value. If you're afraid of something it's probably in this game: witches, vampires, graveyards, werewolves, zombies, windmills, dolls, demonic babies - you name it. Village borrows from so much from previous Resident Evil games it kind of feels like Resident Evil Greatest Hits.
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)

Originally posted 2021/9/20


Blair Witch

Bloober Team (2020)
System: Playstation 4
Grade: C


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I have to give this first-person adventure credit for embodying the Blair Witch mythos better than I ever thought possible. It captures every single element from the films, from getting lost in the woods to mysterious symbols to cryptic video tape footage. I was instantly taken in by the game's lifelike graphics, simple controls, and intriguing storyline. You play a cop named Ellis who has joined the search for a lost boy in the woods of western Maryland.

The gray, twisted forest looks creepy as hell, and although your path is often linear it rarely feels that way. Blair Witch conveys that feeling of being desperately lost with only fleeting communication with the outside world. Giving you a dog was a brilliant move, as he not only keeps you headed in the right direction but also locates subtle clues in the scenery. The further you progress the more you feel as if you're losing your grip on reality.

Eventually you'll encounter freaky creatures, some of which can be warded off with your flashlight a la Alan Wake (Xbox 360, 2010). The atmosphere is intense thanks to alarming "music" and unsettling sound effects. Pausing video tapes on camcorders to alter reality is a neat trick, but that grainy video makes it hard to tell what you're watching. There are some fun puzzles, including one that lets you ride a train car in complete darkness between camps and a sawmill.

Unfortunately the game goes off the rails in its second half, as you find yourself needlessly moving in circles or feeling your way through perpetual darkness and fog. Blurry vision will have you wrestling with the camera trying to figure out which way is up. Blair Witch may be the biggest mind-[expletive] since Eternal Darkness (GameCube, 2002). The designers clearly overextended each scene, which is especially evident when the house turns out to be an endless maze. The fact that Ellis has PTSD would have been fine had they just hinted at it. Instead the designers beat you over the head with it like a French baguette, constantly flashing back to war scenes which really takes you out of the moment. If this was a film, it would need an editor in the worst way.

Dragging things out tends to dissipate the terror and replace it with boredom. By the time I reached the end I was exhausted. I can't imagine going through this ordeal again just to see a different ending. That said, die-hard Blair Witch fans can bump up the grade by a letter because for all its faults this game truly does capture the spirit of the film.
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)

Originally posted 2020/11/21


Resident Evil

Capcom (2015)
System: Playstation 4
Grade: B+


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The original Resident Evil (PS1, 1996) effectively merged the worlds of the horror movies and video games, spawning a brand new genre: survival horror! The first Resident Evil (GameCube, 2002) remake was a substantial visual overhaul and this latest high-definition edition further elevates the sense of realism.

The premise has a team of soldiers descending upon a sprawling old mansion loaded with traps, puzzles, and shambling zombies. This game just oozes with atmosphere. The antiquated furniture looks properly deteriorated. Shadows dance across walls. Overgrown outdoor areas are shrouded in fog. Even the knotty wooden doors look creepy.

You can play as Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, and I regretted choosing Chris as he can only carry a paltry six items. Heck, two of those slots are taken by ink ribbons (to save) and a weapon. In fairness, this adds more strategy as you must carefully weigh what's worth carrying at a given time.

Despite its impressive HD makeover Resident Evil plays essentially the same. Camera angles are fixed, abruptly changing as you run through each room. This heightens the sense of claustrophobia and suspense, but can also be disconcerting and wreak havoc with the controls. It's too easy to accidentally head back the way you just came, especially during high-pressure situations. Unlike the slow-moving zombies of the original game, these guys will lunge at you before you can even react.

The excellent audio effects are subtle, like the sound of boots walking over a marble floor or damp carpet. It's easy to get stuck in the early-going but once things open up this game is absolutely gripping. Rooms on the map are color-coded to indicate if they still contain points of interest, which is extremely helpful. I love how defensive items (like the dagger) are used automatically when needed. Resident Evil may be the great-grandaddy of survival horror but it still stands as one of the very best. Note: Reviewed from the Resident Evil Origins collection.
Rating: Mature

Originally posted 2020/10/20


Friday the 13th: The Game

Gun Media (2017)
System: Playstation 4
Grade: D-


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I didn't exactly get off on the right foot with Friday the 13th: The Game. I normally keep my PS4 offline, which is fine because Friday the 13th has an offline mode. The problem is, you need to go online to download the offline mode. And oh yeah - in order to play the offline mode you still need to log in! Has there ever been a more fully-connected "offline" mode?

You play the role of Jason Voorheers, the masked serial killer with a penchant for butchering teenagers at lakeside campgrounds. You view the action from a behind-the-back perspective while methodically trudging through wooded, rain-soaked environments. Camp counselors flee in terror but sometimes fight back with weapons like firecrackers (which freak Jason out). These people are hard to catch, always ducking out of windows and sometimes repeatedly walking in and out of doors (the AI could be better).

There's no run button but you do possess special powers like the ability to stalk unseen, teleport between locations, and even zip across the ground like a ghost - a ghost that gets caught up on every damn log and rock in his path! The concept holds great promise but it becomes tiresome to methodically search each bed, closet, and tent for kids. Find one hiding and you're treated to a gory fatality which is fun to watch the first time. The combat is clumsy. The camera makes it hard to tell what's going on and your wild swings are always clanking off a nearby railing or door frame.

One thing Friday the 13th does have going for it is atmosphere. The eerie campgrounds have an ominous vibe, especially during a thunderstorm. The house interiors on the other hand look a bit too clean and cookie-cutter. Suspense builds as the two-minute warning kicks in and the dramatic orchestrated score reaches new heights. Judging from my skittish cats I can say with confidence that the audio is the strongest aspect of the game, especially when the ghostly voice of Jason's mother kicks in. "That's my boy! They deserved to die!"

While fun to toy around with, it doesn't take long before Friday the 13th: The Game starts to feel like a chore. You may have better luck playing real people online, but please don't fall for this joke of an "offline" mode.
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, suggestive themes)

Originally posted 2020/10/25


MediEvil

Sony (2019)
System: Playstation 4
Grade: C-


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Has Sony ever gotten more mileage out of a single game than MediEvil (Playstation, 1998)? After a sequel appeared on the PS1, the PSP got a remake in 2005. Now we get another remix, this time for the PS4. To be fair, most younger gamers wouldn't know what the [expletive] a MediEvil is. It's kind of like a 3D Ghouls 'N Ghosts (Genesis, 1989) with a skeletal hero hacking his way through graveyards and mausoleums.

Besides sharp high definition graphics this MediEvil has a few other tricks up its sleeve. For starters the game is much easier than previous installments. Your weapons don't disintegrate when you use them and a lot of the puzzles that used to be mandatory are now bonus quests. For example, finding new music for the ghostly organist in the mausoleum is not necessary to complete the stage. The problem is, if you don't seek out enough of the extra stuff you won't be able to progress.

The controls feel responsive enough and the hack-and-slash action is okay. The spooky graveyard has a nice Halloween vibe even if it's just arranged like a maze. One thing that hasn't improved much at all is that camera. You'd think by now the game could provide optimal angles but nope. The developers just threw up their hands and said "here - you do it!" The right thumbstick lets you swing it around but the angle is always so tight it's hard to get your bearings. Still, MediEvil is a decent, family-friendly Halloween romp if you haven't experienced it already. If you have, you're in for a serious case of deja-vu.
Rating: Teen

Originally posted 2020/10/12


Little Nightmares

Bandai Namco (2017)
System: Playstation 4
Grade: D


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Little Nightmares places you in the role of a helpless, scrawny kid trapped in a series of harrowing dungeons where you sneak around, solve puzzles, and navigate platforms. The dank scenery is strewn with chains, boilers, old furniture, scurrying rats, and... hanging bodies? Whoa - this is not a kid's game. You'll contend with tilting floors, trap doors, electrified bars, and scurrying gremlins. Shadowy images and jarring noises add to the unsettling atmosphere. The controls feel soft and smooth as you effortlessly climb chains and metal grates. You can also run, hop, duck, grab, and light matches to guide the way.

Despite its artistic merit the game is not the most pleasant experience. The puzzles are thoughtfully designed but the dark scenery and limited camera angles are disconcerting. The controls for grabbing tend to let you down at the most inopportune times. Between deaths you're subjected to torturously long load screens. WTF? Is it reloading the entire game?!

Despite the box label claim of "complete edition" I found myself hopelessly stuck (embedded in scenery) after less than five minutes of play. The game has some frightening moments but the stealth and timed sequences are more stressful than fun. I didn't want to play this for more than a few minutes at a time. Little Nightmares tries to tap into something primal but revisiting your darkest childhood fears is pretty much as fun as it sounds. Which is to say not much!
Rating: Teen (blood, violence)

Originally posted 2018/10/15


Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition

Limited Run Games (2017)
System: Playstation 4
Grade: B+


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Night Trap (Sega CD, 1992) remains one of the most controversial video games of all time, but it wasn't intended to be that way. A groundbreaking CD title, it was the first to allow interaction with real characters in actual video footage. The game quickly found itself in hot water during the 1993 congressional hearings on video game violence, where it was falsely accused of advocating violence towards women. Along with Mortal Kombat (Genesis, 1992), Night Trap inadvertently gave birth to the original video game ratings system.

Like most other full-motion video (FMV) titles of its time, Night Trap never garnered much respect as a game. Its story involves a group of girls having a slumber party in a lake house hosted by a family who begin to exhibit vampire-like qualities. Switching on-the-fly between eight security cameras, you can actually follow the characters from room to room as the story unfolds. As shambling black "augers" infiltrate the house, you must activate traps to dispatch them and protect the girls. Switching between cameras and trapping creeps is undeniably fun. It feels good to catapult an auger off the roof or drop him through a trapdoor. And that edgy guitar music really adds to the atmosphere.

When it comes to pure novelty value, Night Trap is off the charts with 80's culture, music, and fashion on full display. One big draw of this 25th anniversary edition is its clear video. The original release was constrained by low resolution and a limited color palette, giving the footage a pixelated, grainy look. This newly remastered version isn't high definition (the original 35mm film was lost) but it is DVD quality. I was able to notice a lot of subtle details for the first time like a boat next to the driveway.

This game offers an extended intro I had never seen before, and there's also a new "enhanced mode". This new mode features animated room icons, allowing you to detect activity without even switching cameras. This makes the game easier but it's still remarkably tough to make progress.

I feel like the developers missed a lot of opportunities. It would be nice if you could play through the entire game without worrying about your squad leader suddenly pulling the plug when you fall behind. Then you could enjoy the whole story and play for points. Like the original, when the game abruptly ends it doesn't even display your score. And how about an option to turn off those annoying trap color codes? There is a new "survival mode" focused on trapping goons in quick rounds for high score, but without a story it's not compelling. It does however give you a chance to check out some previously-unused footage.

I had a few of my younger friends try Night Trap 25th Anniversary Edition and was surprised how much they enjoyed it. Brent called it "the second best game he's played on the PS4" next to Rocket League (Psyonix, 2016). When I showed him the included documentaries with footage of the congressional hearings, he looked on in disbelief ("is this real?!") I would have done a few things differently with this Night Trap 25th Anniversary Edition, but it's still a remarkable trip back in time.
Rating:

Originally posted 2017/10/9


Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

Capcom (2017)
System: Playstation 4
Grade: C+


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The first hour of Resident Evil 7 is hard to stomach. Searching for your long lost girlfriend in a remote Louisiana bayou, you find yourself trapped in a derelict house where you are held prisoner and brutally tortured by a demented family. Upon escaping you find yourself hunted by the individual family members. Sound like fun? More like disturbing. The new first-person perspective puts you right smack in your own personal nightmare.

RE7 is clearly influenced by a laundry list of horror flicks including Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Blair Witch Project, and Evil Dead 2. The fact that everything looks so realistic truly immerses you in a world of decay and squalor, with all sorts of makeshift rooms and passageways. It's like being in a virtual haunted house, with lighting so effective even your own shadow will make you jump. The surround sound audio effects are equally unsettling, and they scared the hell out of my cat.

RE7 oozes with atmosphere, particularly in its dark, marshy outdoor areas. One drawback to its cinematic approach is that the action feels contrived. It's a pretty helpless feeling as you're being swarmed by insects and stalked by family members impervious to attack. They usually come barging in when you least expect it, much like Nemesis in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (PS1, 1999). It was almost a relief when I encountered a slime monster I could actually kill.

The game gradually reverts to more classic Resident Evil conventions, reprising well-worn cliches like turning cranks, locating a lost generator fuse, and collecting keys of various shapes. I like how pressing the touchpad brings up the map. When you feel stuck you're probably just one item away from unlocking a new area.

RE7 falters badly in terms of an inventory system, which somehow manages to be inferior to the one in the original Resident Evil (PS1, 1996)! The items are so tiny you can't make them out, and the interface for manipulating them is clumsy and confusing. During one boss encounter I couldn't grab a chainsaw because my inventory was full (a common occurrence). Why can't I drop my shotgun? Why can't I combine my bullets with the handgun? The action doesn't pause while accessing your inventory, so I was getting slaughtered while juggling items.

Likewise the antiquated save system encourages you to constantly backtrack to the nearest tape recorder. You'd expect fast loading from a game with a mandatory install, yet this has got the longest load times I've ever experienced in my entire life! Resident Evil 7 is not for the faint of heart. It may be the scariest Resident Evil, but it's also the most painful. Bump up the grade by a letter around Halloween.
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)

Originally posted 2017/5/7


Until Dawn

Sony (2015)
System: Playstation 4
Grade: A-


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Not since Night Trap (Sega CD, 1992) has there been a game I'd describe as an interactive horror movie, but Until Dawn certainly qualifies. The premise revolves around a group of teenagers that return to a ski lodge one year after a tragedy took place. Until Dawn borrows liberally from every horror movie and video game including Evil Dead, The Shining, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Alan Wake, Saw, Scream, Heavy Rain, and I Know What you Did Last Summer. The results are spectacular.

The game looks like a million bucks, featuring remarkably lifelike characters with a full range of facial expressions. My friends actually recognized the real actors who were digitized for the game! The atmosphere is moody as all hell thanks to excellent cinematography and clever camerawork. Disturbing sound effects and a brooding musical score keep you on the edge of your seat.

You control each of the characters at some point, typically wandering around to investigate flashing objects. When the action heats up you must respond to rapid button prompts, and it's pretty intense. Periodically you're required to make a decision which might involve deciding a course of action (safe route or shortcut) or determining how to relate to other characters. I love the idea of a branching storyline but it's not always clear your actions are having much impact, especially when your choices are limited to "shut up" or "dismissive".

Until Dawn definitely strings you along but it's refreshing not having to conserve ammo, scrounge for health, or restart from the same spot over and over. I like how the game takes full advantage of the PS4 controller. You'll slide your finger across the touch screen to light a match or browse a smartphone. You'll need to keep the controller perfectly still during certain scenes to avoid detection.

Much like Alan Wake (Xbox 360, 2010) the game is broken into chapters, each beginning with a recap of the story so far. Yes, there are plenty of horror cliches (all of them I think) in the form of cheap scares, raunchy jokes, and people investigating noises when they should be running in the other direction. But I knew the game was something special when I found myself face to face with a psychologist questioning me about my own actions in the game! Whoa. Bonus videos include a Blair Witch-style "documentary". If you're the kind of person who allows themselves to be afraid and enjoys the feeling, Until Dawn will tap into your deepest fears.
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language)

Originally posted 2015/9/25


Amnesia Collection, The

Frictional Games (2014)
System: Playstation 4
Grade: B


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This collection features the original trilogy of Amnesia download titles, including The Dark Descent, Justine, and A Machine for Pigs. What makes this survival horror series unique is that you are completely defenseless. With no means to attack the gruesome monstrosities you face, your only means of survival is to flee in terror.

Dark Descent has you waking up in a seemingly abandoned castle with no recollection of how you got there. Your one clue is a note ordering you to kill the castle's master -- written by you! This slow-burn adventure. The sense of helplessness you feel when hiding in a wardrobe as a monster roots around just outside instills a level of dread few games can match.

Your only source of light is your lantern, but leave it on for too long and you'll run out of oil. While this concept looks good on paper, in practice it becomes an annoyance. When your lantern goes out you'll find yourself staring at a pitch black screen, and it's a fate worse that death.

There's a sanity meter you'll need ot maintain to stay alive. Being in the dark will drain your sanity, as will staring at monsters. Sanity can be restored by standing in the light or taking medicine (which also works in real life). Should you drift too far into madness, the game will play tricks on you via distorted vision, disorienting sounds, and hallucinations.

Amnesia: Justine is a very short sequel, running a mere half hour. Featuring the same mechanics as the first game, you wake up to find yourself in a dungeon with other prisoners trapped in horrifying death machines. Each room is a puzzle to figure out how to escape without activating the traps. There's a monster lurking as well but it feels like an afterthought.

Completing the trilogy is A Machine for Pigs, which feels like a proper sequel to the original game. You awaken in a Victorian mansion where a telephone call informs you that your children are trapped in a machine beneath your house. This labyrinthine monstrosity of steam pipes and gears is patrolled by hideous pig monsters. There are less meters to worry about, but Machine lacks the sense of constant danger that made the first game so horrifying.

It's easy to see why the Amnesia games were such a hit, as they conjure fear on a primordial level. If these didn't invent the run-and-hide genre, they at least popularized it. The Amnesia Collection is challenge reserved only for the bravest thrill-seekers.
Rating: Mature (violence, blood and gore, nudity, strong language)

Originally posted 2021/10/19


Outlast

Red Barrels (2014)
System: Playstation 4
Grade: A-


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Amnesia may have kicked off the run-and-hide horror game trend, but Outlast perfected it. You play a reporter investigating rumors of inhumane experiments at an asylum, only to discover the inmates have taken over the place. Trapped inside with only your video camera, you must survive long enough to uncover the truth and hopefully live to tell the tale.

Outlast plays almost identically to Amnesia, except your camera substitutes for the lantern. As you venture deep into the facility your camera's night vision mode comes to your aid when the lights are out, which they almost always are. With no means to defend yourself, encountering a disfigured psycho means your only choice is to get the hell out.

Inmates give chase but if you're able to break their line of sight by hiding in a locker or under a bed, they will give up and leave. I will admit the game became less scary when I realized I could sometimes lose them by running circles around a table like a Scooby Doo cartoon.

As with Amnesia, light is a valuable resource that you'll want to conserve. I'm not a fan of games where your screen goes completely black, but fortunately there are enough batteries lying around that this is a rare occurrance.

You'll have the pleasure of getting close and personal with several of the hospital’s residents, including a hulking brute with no nose, a doctor with a penchant for dismemberment, and a pair of naked, smooth-talking finger slashers. The sight of these two freaks approaching is the stuff of nightmares.

There isn't much depth to the story but it's more than sufficient enough for a thrill ride like this - at least until it goes completely bonkers near the end. Outlast is the kind of game horror buffs should seek out, especially around Halloween. It improves upon the Amnesia formula so well that you'll find yourself sleeping with the lights on - if at all.
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, sexual content, strong language)

Originally posted 2021/10/19


Bloodborne

Sony (2015)
System: Playstation 4
Grade: D


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Probably the most anticipated Playstation 4 game of its time, Bloodborne looks like a work of art. Its decrepit towns boast amazing gothic architecture with soaring spires and blood red sunsets. Each stone building, horse-drawn carriage, and cast iron gate is meticulously detailed and properly aged. As you explore the wet, misty streets, creeps lurk in shadowy corners, waiting to lunge out. You encounter grotesque lanky figures that often gather to form lynch mobs. There are hooded maniacs with pitchforks, masked men with torches, mangy werewolves, and shotgun-toting goons wearing top hats.

Had its gameplay been half as good as its graphics, Bloodborne would be an instant classic. Instead it's a nightmare. The interface is user-hostile and the complete lack of instructions is mystifying. The control scheme is so counter-intuitive it requires a substantial time investment just to learn basic concepts like equipping a weapon or throwing an object. The upgrade system makes no sense and the "gesture" controls are incomprehensible. Your character's movements are skittish and the controls are touchy. Close camera angles provide plenty of scare opportunities but you never know when someone is about to clock you over the head. There are smashable crates and barrels all over the place, but why are they all empty?!

The combat is clumsy. Unless you're targeting something your shotgun fires directly into the ground. The collision detection is atrocious. You can't shoot through a fence yet the mobs can easily swing their weapons right through it. You attack with wide, sweeping combinations that leave you in a vulnerable state. That's a problem, because unlike your foes which sustain multiple deep gashes, one good hit does you in. Upon death you're treated to a lengthy loading screen, followed by the realization that you need to completely restart that long, treacherous stretch you've been toiling through. I must have attempted Central Yharnam 100 times, employing every tactic imaginable.

Why does it place creatures in your path that you're not nearly powerful enough to handle? There's a difference between hard and flat-out unfair. The lack of a difficulty select or pause feature is an unfortunate side effect of the game's unnecessary online functionality. Bloodborne should have been a game for the ages but it's a disappointment for the ages. It's a shame because I suspect there are some extraordinary sights and sounds here that will largely go unseen.
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, violence)

Originally posted 2015/11/11


Nintendo Switch Games

House of the Dead Remake, The

Forever Entertainment (2022)
System: Nintendo Switch
Grade: C


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Despite its chunky, muddy graphics, I've always had a soft spot for the original House of the Dead (Saturn, 1998). Considering how many times its sequels have been reissued over the years, this remake is long overdue. Sad part is, it's arrived at a time when light guns aren't really a thing anymore.

Remake's graphics are utterly fantastic. Each area conveys an ominous, sometimes claustrophobic atmosphere while retaining the arcade style of the original. With terrifying creeps lurking around every corner, Remake is like a haunted house thrill ride. The shooting action is satisfying. It's fun to blow body parts off advancing ghouls before watching them dissolve into a puddle of bubbling goo.

In many ways Remix fulfills the promise of the original, fleshing out creepy locations like the courtyard, mansion, and underground laboratory. Its high-energy soundtrack contains creepy undertones and the dialog has that vintage B-movie quality ("Help - everyone is getting killed!") Unfortunately the constant calls to "reload! reload!" drove me so batty I was forced to shut off the dialog completely.

You have two control options. You can drag the cursor around the screen with the thumbstick (lame) or use the gyrometer feature to aim by tilting the controller. This option is remarkably precise with very little movement required. Problem is, after a little while your "center" begins to drift, and over time you may find yourself holding the controller sideways just to hit the middle of the screen. Some kind of cursor reset button would have been nice.

Another problem is the whole scoring system. You're given ten continues which is non-configurable, and can purchase additional continues for 5K points each. That's okay I guess, but you can only rank in if you finish the game, which kind of defeats the purpose of keeping score in the first place. And while there's supposed to be a two-player mode, my friends and I could never get it to work.

My copy of the game included a few doo-dads but what I could really use is a proper manual. None of the various play modes, control schemes, or scoring systems are explained anywhere. House of the Dead fans will appreciate Remake, but after a while this starts to feel like a case study in missed opportunities. I'd really like to see somebody remake this remake.
Rating: Mature (17+)

Originally posted 2022/7/8


Wallachia: Reign of Dracula

No Gravity Games (2020)
System: Nintendo Switch
Grade: B+


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Wallachia is the region of Romania which was (is?) home to the real Dracula: Vlad the Impaler. Reign of Dracula may look like a cheap Castlevania knock-off, but playing is believing. This side-scrolling platformer has the gothic charm you'd expect, but with a frantic run-and-gun style reminiscent of Contra (NES, 1988).

Wallachia's menu interface looks a bit clunky and sparse. Upon starting a new game, controls are presented in a rapid-fire manner. Umm - excuse me, can you please repeat that? Nope! During the course of the game large "up" arrows appear over people or chests. These are just prompting you to talk or investigate, but they give the impression something huge is overhead.

Despite modest production values Reign of Dracula excels in terms of raw gameplay. Your bow-wielding warrior princess forges over rainy countrysides, mountain ranges, flowery bridges, and well-fortified castles. It's great fun to take out stiff soldiers and nail icon-carrying birds flying overhead. Your rapid-fire arrows are awesome, especially when loaded with triple-shots or exploding arrows. The left bumper is used to "lock in" your position so you can fire all around.

The controls feel clumsy at times, like when you squat while trying to shoot downward, or vice versa. Large characters provide precious little room to maneuver, especially during boss encounters. Special powers are not easy to use, and there should be more checkpoints. That said, the game's quirks add to the challenge, making it madly additive.

Wallachia: Reign of Dracula is not the poor-man's Castlevania you might expect. It's brimming with beautiful landscapes, exceptional music, and non-stop twitch-shooting goodness. If you have a short attention span, buy this immediately. That's what my buddy Scott M. did after the very first time he played it.
Rating: Teen

Originally posted 2021/10/13


Cotton Reboot!

Beep Games (2021)
System: Nintendo Switch
Grade: B


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For longtime 2D shooter fans, the Cotton shoot-em-up series is the stuff of legend. Originating in Japan back in 1991, this quirky side-scroller is bursting with spooky Halloween imagery and zany anime elements. Its fun rapid-fire shooting action is punctuated by blinding explosions, crazy combos, sexy fairies, and random, bizarre enemies.

The original game is included, starring a cute witch on a broom. The Halloween themes shine through with dilapidated graveyards, haunted houses, and spooky villages. A huge variety of enemies includes flying eyeballs, spear-tossing blue devils, and head-hurling Frankenstein monsters. The intermissions feature giddy Japanese schoolgirl talk that will have you reaching - no lunging - for the skip button.

The new "arrange" mode is everything you'd expect from a modern remake, with dazzling graphics, rich music, and shooting with an intensity cranked up to "11". It reminds me of Deathsmiles (Xbox 360, 2010) - another seasonal favorite.

This reboot plays differently from the original. Instead of crystals blocking your shots, they refract them, allowing you to effectively spray and inflict far more damage. Avoid the urge to snatch the gems up and let them float out there instead. Snagging purple crystals can net big points, but frankly it's hard to discern colors when things get hectic. When the screen is being plastered with point values it's pure sensory overload.

Armed with unlimited continues you could finish these games in one sitting if you wanted. Personally I like to play for the high score, always displayed on the top right. These scores have so many digits they are hard to read! Have the developers ever heard of a comma? There's also a manic two-minute time-attack mode if you just need a quick fix.

The game contains a very funny digital instruction booklet that walks you through all the subtle nuances of its combo system, which I have yet to fully comprehend. Cotton Reboot looks so amazing that the original looks quaint by comparison. Overall this is a pretty sweet package for seasoned shooter fans, and also for younger gamers who want to see what all the fuss is about.
Rating: Everyone 10+

Originally posted 2021/10/13


Luigi's Mansion 3

Nintendo (2019)
System: Nintendo Switch
Grade: B-


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I always enjoyed the innocent brand of "horror" served up by the Luigi's Mansion (GameCube, 2001) series. This third edition takes place in an expansive hotel, opening up the possibilities for all sorts of unlikely paranormal hijinx. Each floor offers a unique location to explore, including a shopping center, plant conservatory, restaurant, concert hall, and even a Medieval Times arena!

Luigi is outfitted with a ghost vacuum that doubles as a flashlight, blower, black light, and plunger shooter. I feel like Luigi's Mansion 3 wasn't so much programmed as crafted. Each room has its own story to tell, chock full of clever puzzles, loot, and hidden secrets. The hotel exudes atmosphere with stereo storm effects and terrific situational music. The music is the arena has a distinctive Game of Thrones vibe, and I love the hilarious "cop show" music that kicks in during the shopping stage. The pictures on the wall are vaguely creepy, typically depicting a dark figure in the woods.

Fighting ghosts requires scaring them with your flashlight before sucking them up with your vacuum. I love how smaller ghosts scream with high-pitched voices, sounding like my cat being restrained. A new teamwork element is facilitated by Luigi's doppelganger "Gooigi" - combination T-1000 shape-changer and green Jello.

What's surprising is the game's destruction quotient. You can wreck everything in sight, causing copious coins, gold bars, and dollar bills to pour forth. Raising havoc in the dining hall reminded me of Ghostbusters. In the conservatory you even get a chainsaw attachment, letting you reduce furniture to splinters.

The fact that a Virtual Boy serves as your radar display provides tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecating humor. The puzzles are devilishly clever from the start but soon progress to the "try anything" variety before becoming so obtuse even YouTube can't help. The controls are problematic as well. I felt as if I needed an extra set of thumbs to pull off certain maneuvers until I learned the shoulder buttons can duplicate the face button functions. So why does the game train you to use the face buttons in the first place? This is why we need manuals. Luigi's Mansion 3 is inventive and charming but may be too clever for its own good.
Rating: Everyone

Originally posted 2019/12/11


Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

Inti Creates (2018)
System: Nintendo Switch
Grade: B-


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Curse of the Moon is one of two recently-released Bloodstained titles, so try not to get them confused. Curse is an NES-style Castlevania throwback with charming pixelated graphics, old-school platform gameplay, and reverberating minor-key music. For those with fond memories of the original Castlevania (NES, 1987), Curse of the Moon fits like an old shoe.

Its graphics are understated but artistic, with layered scenery that's easy on the eyes. The opening scene features a dark forest silhouette over the night sky, with a ghostly blue locomotive chugging in the background. The monochromatic characters and monsters are rendered with thick outlines and frankly it's hard to tell what some of them are supposed to be. The animations are engaging however, with decrepit skeletons pointing the way and the scuttling rats that periodically hunch up to look around.

The controls are so simple you can even navigate stairs with ease. You begin play as a swordsman but new characters soon join your party which you can toggle between on the fly. They include a wizard, a lady with a whip, and a vampire dude that transforms into a bat. I love how each has special attacks perfectly suited to particular enemies. When a character dies you still have the rest of the crew to fall back on. On the downside, there are certain areas that are awkward, if not impossible to complete if you don't have access to the right character.

The bosses are great, including a skeletal giant composed entirely of gold coins. The old-school gameplay does afford a few old-school headaches. The controls feel stiff and taking a hit will often knock you backward into an abyss. If the challenge is too much you can switch to the easy mode at any time. The game offers automatic saving, unlimited continues, and even a score. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is an enjoyable love letter to all the gothic platformers of yore.
Rating: Everyone 10+

Originally posted 2019/10/29


Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

505 Games (2019)
System: Nintendo Switch
Grade: B+


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Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a modern Castlevania-style platformer unlike Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (Switch, 2018) which delivered retro-style Castlevania action. Ritual boasts high-resolution anime characters, lush environments, and excellent 2.5D platform gameplay with heavy RPG elements. I love the look of this game. Its foggy courtyards, exquisite castle architecture, and omnipresent full moon convey a cozy, gothic atmosphere.

Playing as the attractive female warrior Miriam you navigate platforms while slaying squid monsters, werewolves, and towering knights. Some of the weirder enemies include flying pigs, fluttering fairies, demonic bunnies, rolling balls-o-death, and animated portraits (of the programmers, no doubt). Your adventure begins on a rickety pirate ship in stormy seas, and if you think the water running down the hull of the ship looks amazing, wait until you see the colossal mermaid with her tremendous rack.

There's a wide selection of weapons to choose from including guns! Ritual of the Night is also one of the few games where being impaled by a giant glass shard is a good thing. Shards imbue you with magical powers like weilding fire, summoning demons, or materializing a huge boney hand to remove heavy obstacles. There are so many magical attacks in this game it's kind of overwhelming. I prefer to stick with my fully-powered "bone throw".

A "familiar" shard gave me a floating silver knight companion, but boy he is one worthless sack of [expletive]. Beating up enemies is satisfying however and I love the numeric damage displayed for every hit. Inventory management is easy enough and it's satisfying to equip a new item that pumps up your stats. Even the crafting process is relatively painless as the game lets you know what you can create based on your inventory.

The stages are complex mazes but a handy map on the top-right lets you know where you haven't been. Ritual of the Night looks amazing but there are a few technical flaws. It's disconcerting how the screen "blacks out" for varying periods of time while moving between floors. Worse yet, the game actually crashed on me twice ("software was closed due to an error"). Fortunately save rooms are so frequent I didn't lose much progress. I've failed games for less, but Ritual of the Night is just too much fun. This is one I looked forward to playing every night. It was like a ritual!
Rating: Teen (blood, partial nudity, violence)

Originally posted 2019/10/29


Slain: Back From Hell

Digerati Distribution (2017)
System: Nintendo Switch
Grade: B


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True its name, I've never died so much in one game in my entire life! Slain: Back from Hell is a stylish Castlevania-style platformer. Its demonic imagery, unflinching violence, and driving guitars feel like an Iron Maiden album cover come to life! The title screen alone deserves an award is its weathered crypt and twisted trees under an ominous moon. The art direction is fantastic. The medieval scenery calls to mind Lord of the Rings with exquisitely engraved ruins depicting grotesque haunting images. You have to love the subtle details like wispy curtains, ornate chandeliers, and candles dripping wax.

Your sword-wielding heavy metal hero leaps between platforms, hits switches, and battles legions of undead. Creatively-rendered enemies include skeletons, witches, werewolves, and walking bat creatures. Hack-and-slash may get your past the early waves but you'll need to master the block-and-counter move to defeat the big guys. Fortunately it's not hard to do; just press block before the enemy is about to strike. When timed right, the screen zooms in as you unleash a devastating blood-spraying slash. You also have a blue magic bar that lets you unleash fireballs and bombs. The controls are a bit slippery as you're forced to use the analog stick.

The areas between checkpoints aren't long but they are super challenging. I couldn't help but notice a lot of cursing. Not from the game, but from my mouth whenever I met an untimely demise by a converging mob or unseen trap. Is Slain too hard? Maybe, but since the game restarts immediately at your last checkpoint, it has an old-school try, try again quality. And when you finally do reach that checkpoint lamp there's a real sense of accomplishment!

Some things in life are worth the pain. Slain: Back from Hell is the real deal. Jaw-dropping graphics, relentless guitars, and taut action combine to create one of the more underrated titles in recent memory.
Rating: Mature 17+ (violence, blood and gore)

Originally posted 2019/1/3


Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition

Limited Run (2018)
System: Nintendo Switch
Grade: B+


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In 1993 a Nintendo executive went on record stating that Night Trap would never be released on a Nintendo system. I bet he feels pretty silly right now! This early CD game allowed the player to toggle between cameras positioned around a house, viewing live-action video of seven rooms plus the front of the house. The object was to save girls at a slumber party from shambling creeps in black by activating traps at the right times.

Night Trap starred the late Dana Plato of Diff'rent Strokes fame along with a cast of scantily-clad young ladies. While innovative for its time Night Trap's grainy visuals and limited interaction led many to dismiss the game as a cheap gimmick. In retrospect Night Trap is fairly ingenious. Its well-crafted storyline features scenes that unfold in parallel and you can even follow actors from room to room. Each play-through is a unique experience as you catch glimpses of different clips while gradually picking up bits and pieces of the story.

Activating traps is satisfying as you drop goons through trap doors, suck them into walls, and catapult them off the roof. The dialog is campy and the Night Trap theme song is irresistibly cheesy. Edgy guitar riffs kick in when baddies appear, adding tension and excitement.

This Switch edition of the game is pretty much the same as the Playstation 4 version. The video quality is ten times better than the original Sega CD version yet never rises above VCR quality. There's even static in certain scenes. The main advantage to this 25th Anniversary edition is your ability to view what's happening in every room at the same time via the eight small screens on the bottom. It feels like cheating but frankly it may be hard to go back to clicking on each room just to check for activity. The game is still a challenge and will abruptly end if you don't bag a certain percentage of bad guys. The good news is that you can continue once you reach the 14-minute half-way point.

The new survivor mode is a randomized, rewarding quick reflexes and a keen eye. You also get the behind-the-scenes documentary featuring clueless members of Congress claiming Night Trap advocated violence against women. Extra features include a theatre mode and a playable Scene of the Crime prototype game. Unfortunately you need to complete a perfect game (?!) to unlock those.

I would have preferred more customization options, like the ability to turn off the color codes for example. Still, I played the hell out of this game and loved it. I suppose I should feel ashamed for deriving so much enjoyment out of the most egregiously violent video game of all time.
Rating: Teen (blood, suggestive themes, violence)

Originally posted 2018/11/10


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