Not Reviews

I've been thinking about a handful of games lately, but don't have enough to say for a full article. I've got a bad habit of sitting on drafts for ages, so instead of trying to stretch my scattered thoughts into full-blown reviews, I'm just gonna throw them out. Have fun!

NieR: Automata

Favorite game of the year so far. Worst combat balance I have ever seen from Platinum. The oversights in this game's basic systems are fucking baffling. Low-cost instant healing items, a broken and unwieldy customization system, and a ludicrously lenient "perfect" dodge turn even Hard difficulty into a sleepwalk once you realize what's up.

The most powerful pieces of equipment in the game

Despite that, plus a completely broken PC port that's only saved by mods, the game is a wonderful ride. Gorgeous aesthetics and sound design, movement and combat that's a joy to explore, and the only ending in recent memory that actually had me tearing up. It's a weird and quirky game, rough around the edges, but it's still probably worth your time.

Thumper

Who the fuck told you it was okay to ship a rhythm game without a calibration option. What the actual fuck. Didn't you guys work on Rock Band?

Fast, frenzied, rhythmic Space Hell as long as you don't get too serious about it. Thumper eases you into its mechanics with a sort of tribal, trance-inducing call and response. Stick around past the slow start, and it injects adrenaline directly into your fucking eyeballs, for a final act that goes way too fast and ends way too soon.

It's a fantastic experience the first time around—Thumper is one of the only games that's left me winded after a long session. But after the magic wears off, repeat playthroughs can be frustrating. Audio offset, blind corners, and a grindy scoring system burned me out pretty quickly. If you're looking for a rewarding long-term grind, this is not your thing. But hey, something something eyeball adrenaline.

Tekken 7

A PC fighting game that's not just as good as consoles, but better? With a living playerbase, good netcode and actual post-launch support? It could be fucking Blade Arcus and I'd eat it up. I played Elsword for years, my standards for playable quality are not high.

Reminder that Blade Arcus is someone's favorite fighting game.

Tekken 7 is a first-class release in a sea of abandoned or outdated ports. I could gush about its soundtrack or movement or pacing for ages, but that's time I could be using to grind netplay—with the best delay-based netcode in human history. Performance is rock solid, too, with enough options to be surprisingly toaster-friendly.

Every time I start up the game, I've got matches within seconds, and discovering the wonderful world of Deathfist has been a treat. Series veterans probably don't need my purchase advice, but if you're a curious scrub like myself, it's time to go. Tekken is fast and surprisingly fluid, rewarding game knowledge and space control just as much as technical prowess. Just make sure to bring a mentor: somehow, despite the wait, Tekken 7 doesn't include a tutorial, combo trials, or any frame data in-game. Enjoy the drip-feed of unhelpful loadscreen tips.

Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds

An open letter to game designers of the world: before adding RPG elements to a game, consider adding something fun instead.

My boyfriend and I spent a few hours in co-op here (after fighting the outright broken controller support), and it felt like pouring those hours into the void. Early combat is lifeless and clumsy, just a gigantic shitfest of light attacks and awkward launchers. The dual-lane gimmick is cute and usually lends itself well to co-op, but it's impossible to see what's going on in the back lane half the time—not that you need to look at the screen to play. Hit effects are weak, I remember virtually nothing about the music, and the character voices were more grating than endearing.

Characters look good in motion, but backgrounds feel unpolished

The tutorial menus (in broken English) tease a lot of special attack options and combat depth, but all the fun toys are locked behind a slow-moving skill tree—and your upgrades aren't shared between characters. Wanted to explore the cast and find someone that suited your playstyle? Well, even if you could try out their attacks, half the cast is locked behind story progression. But don't worry, if you mindlessly mash for another hour, you'll unlock a double jump you'll never use!

After a few hours of this, we downloaded a 100% save and loaded up the last stage we'd played on the hardest difficulty. Getting around was quicker, and ripping through huge packs to shower the screen in gems was at least enjoyable for the novelty—but it seemed like the endgame was just as mindless and dry as the early game. Whoops.

If you're an anime fan looking for a grindfest, you might consider picking this up on sale. As for me, I spent 3 dollars and still feel cheated. I wonder how many people bought this just for the Steins;Gate DLC.

PAC-MAN 256

Pac-Man 256 is Pac-Man reimagined as an endless runner, and I was surprised to find it on Steam. It's not a new name; Google the title, and your first result is the Android version, a free-to-play mess marred by power-up build times, drip-feed upgrades, and "watch ad to continue". It lasted me through a plane ride or two, and I never touched it again.

Turns out, the Steam version takes the mobile game's solid mechanics and strips out all the free-to-play horseshit. The power-up system still exists, but it's orders of magnitude faster to unlock and upgrade your toys, since currency actually drops at a reasonable rate from normal play. And continues (thank god) are nowhere to be found.

What remains is everything good about the game, with none of the garbage. A Pac-Man game made by the Crossy Road developers might raise a few eyebrows, but the core is solid—though I wasn't blown away at first. Playing an endless runner on a bus ride feels very different than sitting down to play it at your desk. But to my pleasant surprise, the Steam version has an addition that could never have happened on mobile: 4-player local co-op.

It seemed like a weird addition, but on a whim, I brought the roomies over for a few rounds. We were hooked instantly. Knock back a drink, grab a controller, and experience dot-munching Bro Zen for an hour or two. There's some clever emergence on display—while split up, you can chain ghosts in different areas or extend powerups, but when together, you can bait ghosts onto different paths and clear the way for friends. It's not mind-blowing stuff, but it doesn't have to be. What's there just works.


Steam Store links for each game are in the headers, if you want to pick any of them up. Except for Phantom Breaker. You probably shouldn't buy Phantom Breaker.