The Video Game Critic's

Halloween Review Special

Part 6 of 6

The Final Chapter

Updated 2020/9/25

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

tombstone tombstone pumpkin Ghostbusters: The Video Game (Atari 2009) B+

Originally posted 2009/6/27
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 "the black guy" (everyone's favorite), 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)

Zombi U (Ubisoft 2012) B tombstone tombstone tombstone tombstone tombstone pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin

Originally posted 2013/1/5
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 being 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)

Resident Evil: Revelations (Capcom 2013) B tombstone tombstone tombstone tombstone pumpkin

Originally posted 2013/8/8
Resident Evil: Revelations provided superb survival horror 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, and its slow, deliberate pace allows suspense to properly build. Despite having previously played the 3DS 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)

Xbox One

Dead Rising 3 (Capcom 2013) B tombstone tombstone tombstone pumpkin pumpkin

Originally posted 2014/10/26

In the spirit of the classic George Romero zombie films, Dead Rising 3 conveys that sense of desperation you experience when a zombie epidemic strikes your town. In the 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)

Dead Rising 4 (Capcom 2016) B- tombstone tombstone tombstone pumpkin

Originally posted 2018/12/30

How does Dead Rising 4 distinguish itself in a sea of zombie games? It's a Christmas title! And 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 beef with this game has to do with its unnecessarily-complicated controls. The Xbox One controller has plenty of buttons; why we need to hold in certain buttons in for basic functions? There were times when I had a fancy 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, Dead Rising 4 delivers some seasonally-correct violence.
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)

Resident Evil: Revelations 2 (Capcom 2015) B tombstone tombstone tombstone pumpkin pumpkin

Originally posted 2017/11/7

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 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 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 seems lame at first but different characters can access different areas. There's 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)

Playstation 4

Little Nightmares (Bandai Namco 2017) D tombstone tombstone tombstone pumpkin pumpkin

Originally posted 2018/10/15

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?! And despite the box label "Complete Edition" I found myself hopelessly stuck (embedded in scenery) after less than five minutes! 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. Not much!
Rating: Teen (blood, violence)

Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition (Limited Run Games 2017) B+ tombstone pumpkin

Originally posted 2017/10/9

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 trap door. 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 noticed a lot of new details like the boat next to the driveway. The game has an extended intro I had never seen before, and there's also a new "enhanced mode". This 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.

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (Capcom 2017) C+ tombstone tombstone tombstone tombstone tombstone pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin

Originally posted 2017/5/7

The first hour of Resident Evil 7 is extraordinary. 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 Willow. 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 the 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 touch pad 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)

Until Dawn (Sony 2015) A- tombstone tombstone tombstone tombstone tombstone pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin

Originally posted 2015/9/25

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 smart phone. 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)

Bloodborne (Sony 2015) D tombstone tombstone tombstone tombstone pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin

Originally posted 2015/11/11

Probably the most anticipated Playstation 4 game to date, 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. Did anyone test this game? 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)

Nintendo Switch

Luigi's Mansion 3 (Nintendo 2019) B- tombstone tombstone pumpkin pumpkin

Originally posted 2019/12/11

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. They include 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 a lot like my cats 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. Multiplayer modes are available but none maintained my interest. Luigi's Mansion 3 is inventive and charming but it may be too clever for its own good.
Rating: Everyone

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (Inti Creates 2018) B- tombstone pumpkin pumpkin

Originally posted 2019/10/29

Curse of the Moon is one of two Bloodstained titles recently released. Don't 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. The 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. Did I just say yore?! My bad.
Rating: Everyone 10+

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (505 Games 2019) B+ tombstone tombstone pumpkin pumpkin

Originally posted 2019/10/29

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a modern Castlevania-style platformer unlike Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (Switch, 2018) which delivers retro-style Castlevania action on a pixelated scale. Ritual offers high-resolution anime characters, lush environments, and excellent 2.5D platform gameplay with heavy RPG elements. I love the look of this game. The 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 fighting squid monsters, werewolves, and towering knights. Some of the weirder enemies includes 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 decided to stick with my fully-powered "bone throw". A "familiar" shard gave me a floating silver knight companion, and 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 yet. Ritual of the Night looks amazing but its Kickstarter roots are manifest in some technical flaws. It's disconcerting how the game "blacks out" for varying periods of time while moving between floors. Worse yet, it actually crashed on me twice ("the 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 practically a ritual!
Rating: Teen (blood, partial nudity, violence)

Slain: Back From Hell (Digerati Distribution 2017) B tombstone tombstone pumpkin pumpkin

Originally posted 2019/1/3

Well, this game lives up to its name; I've never died so much in my entire life! Slain: Back from Hell is a stylish, artistic 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 noticed a lot of cursing! No, not from the game - coming from out of 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)

Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition (Limited Run 2018) B+ tombstone tombstone pumpkin

Originally posted 2018/11/10

In 1993 a Nintendo executive went on record stating that Night Trap would never be released on a Nintendo system. This "filthy" early CD title allowed the player to toggle between cameras positioned around a mansion, 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 a cast of scantily-clad hotties. While innovative for its time, Night Trap's grainy visuals and limited interaction led many to dismiss the game as a cheap gimmick. In fact, 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 song is irresistably cheesy. Edgy guitar riffs kick in when baddies appear, adding tension and excitement. This newly-released 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 still never rises above VCR quality. There's even static in certain scenes. The biggest advantage of the 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 would be hard to go back to the original version where you had to click on each room to detect activity. The game is still tough 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 mode that rewards 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)

Part 1: Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Intellivision, Odyssey 2, Colecovision, Commodore 64, NES, Atari 7800, Atari XE, Sega Master System
Part 2: Turbografx-16, Genesis, Neo Geo, SNES, Sega CD, Sega 32X, 3DO, Philips CD-i, Atari Jaguar
Part 3: Saturn, Playstation, Nintendo 64, Dreamcast
Part 4: Playstation 2, GameCube, Xbox
Part 5: Xbox 360, Wii, Playstation 3
Part 6: Wii U, Xbox One, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch

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