Total Reviews: 18
Average Overall Score Given: 7.57222 / 10
Total Forum Posts: 3

What The Dub?!

Any fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 growing up has thought about the day where they could show off their dubbing skills in front of their friends and get instant gratification from them with laughter and votes. Well, today is that day! What the Dub?!, developed and published by Wide Right Interactive, is a party game where you and 11 friends (and up to 6 audience members) can watch clips of old movies, TV shows and public service announcements and insert your own funny dialog and then get rewarded with votes and Xbox achievements.

First off, before I get into some of the details of the game, I suggest you head into the options and increase the round timer to the maximum limit. The default is 45 seconds and I just don’t think that is long enough. I think the max is 190 seconds or so, but the round moves on once all your friends have completed their Dub. So, you won’t have to wait the full 190 seconds each time, just the times when your friends have a lot to type which usually results in better Dubs. Nothing kills the momentum of a game and a fun time like someone having a cut off answer or failing to input due to time. Be patient and let your friends input, you will have more fun this way.

What the Dub?! is a party game where you are given a 30 second clip of an old B movie, TV show or public service announcement, and some of the clip has been muted for you to insert your own funny dialog, sound effects or both. Each player must have their own device like a tablet, phone, PC or laptop that can access the internet. Simply enter the room code and you are good to go. The clips will show up on the TV screen and when prompted you will have a timed limit to type out a funny dub on your device to insert into the muted part of the clip. Once all the dubs have been entered the clip is replayed with a text to voice audio clip of each dub for everyone to hear. After all of the dubs have been shown it’s time to vote for your favorite. Dubs with the most votes are the winners of that round and receive the most points, while other dubs receive points for the votes they get. At the end of the game (5-10 rounds depending on settings) the winner is crowned, and the loser is mocked. Typical party game stuff. It all works well and is a blast to play with a group of friends.

Unfortunately, during a global pandemic you cannot always get friends together in one place to play so we are lucky that games like this have options to still be able to socialize with friends who are in other houses miles away. With What the Dub?! you can have up to 6 audience members along with the 12 in the game itself. You can achieve this by loading up Twitch and stream your game to your friends. Once they find your game stream, they will see your room code and they will enter that into their devices. Like all games on Twitch, this will introduce some latency, usually about a 3-6 second delay in the audio and video, but this is not a real big problem with a game like What the Dub?! since you are not relying on timed inputs like other party games such as Scene It or Jackbox. This is another reason that you will need to increase the round timer in the settings before you start. You can also pause the game, so if someone asks for a bit more time to input their dub the host can easily do it. The game does focus a bit on the scoring, but we found it’s just a lot better to ignore the scores and concentrate on good Dubs and making each other laugh.

On the listing, the developer promises over 300 clips from B movies, TV shows and public service announcements, and without playing hundreds of games and keeping close track I am just going to have to take their word for it. We are all feeling the effects of quarantine, but I don’t have that much free time! I can say that over the course of my review we played over 20 games, that is over 100 rounds, and we never saw the same exact clip twice. We saw different clips from the same movie, or the same clip but with the dialog muted for another character, but never the same clip with the same spot for a dub. This is key to a party game where you can sometimes play 3-4 hours if the game is fun enough to keep going. We played for about 3 hours in one sitting and that was enough.

Unfortunately, with only one game type I can see how it could get repetitive after a few games. This was not a problem with my group in the one night we played, as a few mixed drinks kept this game fresh and fun, but I can see my friends wanting to turn to something else after another gaming session or two. I’m not sure how the developer can freshen this up and with DLC or content packs, but that’s for them to figure out!

What the Dub?! is a fun way to spend a night with your friends either in the same house or miles away. It is an easy party game for friends and family to pick up and non-gamers will be able to just jump in with their own devices and play. They really do have a lot of clips to work with and it has us looking forward to playing more with the same friends and introducing new ones. It’s a great addition to our party game rotation which includes Jackbox, Cards Against Humanity and Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. That is good company to be in.

**What The Dub?! was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Falconeer, The

The Falconeer is an open world air combat game made by the developer Tomas Sala. It’s remarkable that a game this pretty and enjoyable was made with one person at the helm. During its 10+ hour campaign you will jump on the back of a huge falcon and engage in dogfights with other falcons, warships from the ocean surface and huge airships that block out the moon at night. There are a lot of secrets to uncover in the world of The Great Ursee, so let's dive in and see what it’s all about.

The story of The Falconeer tells of a conflict between factions of The Great Ursee, which is a vast ocean that connects many different islands and locations to explore. Each chapter of the story is told from the perspective of the faction you have pledged and each of these warring factions have a different class of Warbird and pilot to use. The different islands of The Great Ursee are spread out pretty far, giving you plenty of time to take in the beauty of the world. Rolling waves, beautiful glowing orange sunrises and sunsets, and swirling blue and green skies at night that look a lot like the Aurora Borealis. With such a great distance between locations, it tends to make traversal a tad boring after you have made the trek a few times. Luckily, there is usually a “skip to location” or fast travel option when completing missions, or just exploring the open world. But sometimes after an intense battle, it’s nice to be able to peacefully fly to the final location objective to finish the mission.

You progress through the story by accepting missions while your Warbird is perched at the faction base. There are no cutscenes, and you are given mission directions from the faction leader as they walk you through the objectives. Usually, the mission consists of taking some supplies to an ally, or protecting some sort of ship containing precious cargo as it slowly meanders to an island. In either case, air pirates will always attack, and it’s up to you and your wingmen to protect the objective. Complete the mission and you earn some favor with that faction and some currency to spend on upgrades.

Unfortunately, I found the upgrades to be way too expensive and I barely upgraded my birds because of it. If you fail the mission, you must start over, which is a real bummer because, like I mentioned before, the islands are far apart and a good chunk of each mission is flying from location to location. It’s a real kick to the nuts to spend nearly 10 minutes flying around, escorting a slow-moving ship, only to die or fail during the last encounter and having to start it all over. A few of the many times this happened, I simply just shut off my Xbox and played something else before taking to the skies again later on.

When you are not flying across an open ocean, you’re dogfighting (or is it birdfighting?) with other warbirds and that is where the game really becomes challenging. At first, I really struggled with the controls, but after a few failed attempts and restarts it began to click and I was able to shoot down a few warbirds or destroy a few ships while my AI wingman mopped up everything else. You can use the D-Pad to issue orders to your wingman, either have them focus on enemy warbirds, or focus fire on the slow-moving air and water ships. The ships deal out a lot of damage, so I found success in having my wingman focus fire on those while I took care of the warbirds. Once my wingman was done with the ships, I’d have him shift focus to the rest of the warbirds and give me some support in the air.

Focusing on the nearest warbird can be a bit of a struggle. You can easily cycle through the various targets, but more often than I would like, it mostly would snap the lock on camera to an enemy far away instead of the enemy closest to me. This almost always resulted in me taking a bunch of damage from an enemy before I was able to outmaneuver them and then turn my guns on them. You can hover in place, barrel roll, boost, slow down and dive, and those are pretty easy to pull off one at a time, but in the harder dog fights I struggled to pull off these in combination to successfully evade my enemy’s shots. I failed a lot of missions at first, but practice makes perfect and once I started to get the controls down, I was able to beat those missions and move forward. It is a challenge that I wasn’t expecting but greatly appreciated.

Every move you perform drains a bit of your stamina meter. Your bird gets tired from all of the dogfighting maneuvers I mentioned above, so refilling this meter is essential if you want to succeed in your mission and live to fly another day. To refill this meter is simple; you dive. Even when flying at a constant elevation, your warbirds wings are flapping, but when you dive towards the ocean your bird can finally rest its wings. This adds a whole other element of strategy because you can only go so far down before you hit the ocean surface. This also exposes you to a few more problems you must deal with in combat. If you get closer to the ocean surface you now have to deal with any possible ships that have very heavy firepower, and it also gives the higher ground to any warbirds circling above you. It also creates an additional problem; to ascend back up to dogfighting altitude you are going to have to expel some energy from your stamina meter. It becomes an interesting and challenging seesaw of balance where if you spam maneuvers, you’ll quickly drain stamina and you’ll either get out maneuvered (because your Warbid is tired) or you’ll have to switch to a more defensive tact and head to the ocean to refill the meter which presents its own risks. If you are more conservative with your stamina meter and do not maneuver enough, your health meter will quickly drain from the enemies shooting the easy target. It’s done very well, and I welcomed the additional challenge of piloting a living creature rather than a spaceship with unlimited fuel.

I spoke a bit above about the colorful palette of the world of The Great Ursee and how you can easily be distracted by the visuals that the ocean and sky can bring. But my words, and even videos online will not do this game justice when describing how absolutely beautiful this game is. I played it using a 4K TV with the Xbox Series X and it played at a flawless 60 frames per second, I never once experienced a hitch or a hiccup. I do not have a 120hz television or monitor to test how that runs, but I have looked up other reviews and framerate tests and it seems to perform just as well in that mode if your TV is capable. It really is something you need to experience in order to appreciate. Music changes depending on your actions as well. This isn’t new to gaming, but when the action ramps up, you’ll hear the heavy bass of beating drums and deep chanting, but when you are flying high and peaceful, you’ll hear the beauty of some wind chimes and instruments. All the enemies, vendors, and allies that you encounter are fully voiced. Some of the accents are over the top, and the dialog is a bit standard, but when you consider that this was made by a very small team it is understandable.

The Falconeer has some smaller issues, but those are easily overlooked when you take into account this was made by one person. The story is pretty interesting even though the missions aren’t, and the voice acting can be a little annoying at times. But exploring The Great Ursee for new locations, dogfighting with challenging opponents and discovering that thin line of balance between offense and defense is all very rewarding. I was expecting the game to be beautiful, but I wasn’t expecting the combat to be so challenging and deep. It was a wonderful surprise.

**The Falconeer was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Party Hard 2

When I saw the trailer for Party Hard 2 I have to admit I was expecting a game similar to the Hitman series, where each level is a puzzle that you have to figure out the best path to silently kill the targets and escape without a trace. The Hitman series is one of my favorites and I completely obsess over each level until I can almost walk through them blindfolded. I learned fast that Party Hard 2 is not the Hitman clone I was expecting, and once I learned to accept that, I had a lot of fun with the game.

On the surface Party Hard looks a lot like Hotline Miami. It is a pixelated isometric murder spree set to a techno soundtrack. The characters move on the screen in sometimes random patterns and your job is to take out all the targets (usually bad people like drug dealers and bikers) while trying not to be seen by the crowds of innocent people in the level. This can sometimes be frustrating because there is no on-screen indicator when an innocent can see you. Oftentimes you will think you are in the clear but then a random passerby will spot you through a window and they will immediately call the cops reporting your crime. This results in a very frustrating run from the cops that often ends with you being arrested and failing the level. The cops tend to know exactly where you are, even if you are hiding in a spot across the level from where you committed the murder. The way the cops just automatically hone in onto your character like a heat seeking missile is very frustrating and resulted in a few rage quits on my part. Many times, I committed a murder in one building, then as the cops were called I rushed to a different one, and the cops found me like a dog sniffing out a hidden cheeseburger.

This sort of AI behavior is what turned me off of Party Hard 2, now instead of trying to stealthily kill the targets with my knife, I turned to trying to take out all of the targets by triggering the environmental hazards. There are plenty of hazards that you can trigger to brutally kill your targets and the innocent people around them. No witnesses mean no cop calls, right? But this also kind of breaks the game as well. Now, instead of just slashing the targets you can do things like tip a shelf over onto your target, and the 15 people standing around do not notice you pushing it over. On the second level Bar, there is a taxicab parked on the busy street and you can start the taxi and it will rip down the street mowing over anyone in its path. I got 16 kills with it (one of them being a cop) and I triggered two achievements at once, but the innocent standing bystander two feet away from me while I started the taxi just continued to dance in the street like an idiot. There needs to be some sort of middle point with the AI, they are either entirely too observant or completely oblivious of your actions.

There are plenty of targets that are not standing near a hazard, but a well-placed Molotov cocktail or a frag grenade (which happens to be sitting in an alley for no reason) will take care of those stray targets. Scattered throughout the level are purple boxes that you can open for weapons or items that you can use at your disposal. This is where the game shines, as there is a wide variety of items you can find in the environment and you can use many of them in multiple ways. You can find a bottle of pills that you can either use to lure a target to a secluded spot, or you can drop them in the air vents to poison a whole room of people. All of these boxes and items spawns are completely random and can really change the path you chose on the level. With the items they have a small crafting system where you can combine two of them to create a superior item. For instance, you can combine a gasoline can and a bottle of booze to make a Molotov cocktail, or a frag grenade and a pager to craft a remote bomb. It is not too deep, and there is no list to show you the items you can create, but the useful ones are easy to remember.

You start off each level equipped with only a knife, and you can hold up to three other items. You will use the D-Pad to switch between the items you are holding, and when something can be crafted the two items you are holding will be highlighted on the screen. It is a very easy process that doesn’t take long or distract you from your targets. Another tool at your disposal is your special move, by holding the Right Bumper while in a crowd your character will do a spin move with the knife killing everyone close enough to be hit by the attack. This move is available at the start of the level and then refills as time passes. There is also an instinct button that shows your targets, environmental hazards and items around the level that you should check out. It is very useful when there is a big crowd of people and you cannot tell which character the red triangle is above.

As we have learned from shows like Dexter, serial killers never sleep and are kept awake at night by their demons, and your character is no different. You are the unnamed serial killer who, also like Dexter, preys on the evil scum of the city. After each of the 16 levels you are shown a newscast about your escapades the night before. They always describe them as a bloodbath and the next case of a serial killer, but I found it odd that it was labeled that way after I finished a level by murdering everyone with hazardous accidents. I guess it’s not a far stretch to assume their detectives are world class when they have cops who can see through walls to follow me around a level.

I had a decent enough time with Party Hard, and I look forward to replaying some of the levels to mop up the rest of the 1000 points in achievements. It is a pretty fun game to just pick up and play and have a laugh seeing what sort of ways you can interact with the environment and its characters. If you are looking for a stealth assassin game you might want to check out the Hitman series, or if you are looking for a crazy murder spree then you might be better off playing Hotline Miami. Poor AI of both the police and the innocent people tends to ruin the core gameplay loop, which is to get in, murder, get out and repeat. When the basic premise of a game is ruined by something that is outside of the players control it leads to a frustrating experience.

Overall Score: 6.5 / 10 Double Kick Heroes

Double Kick Heroes is a rhythm game by developer Headbang Club, published on Xbox by Plug-In Digital, and was recently announced to launch into Gamepass on both Xbox One and Windows 10 PC.

It is a rhythm game at its core, but with a bit of wave based defense mixed in to keep things interesting. If you’ve played music games of the past such as Rockband or Guitar Hero, then you’ll feel right at home. The bottom half of the screen is your music line, and like Rockband or Guitar Hero you are tasked with hitting buttons in rhythm with the on screen prompts and beats of the music. As you correctly match these beats on screen, your characters shoot guns and throw grenades at the zombie horde chasing you down a seemingly never ending street.

For the most part you’ll be using the face buttons to keep the zombies at bay. On the normal difficulty you’ll use 'A' button for the lower lane and 'B' for the upper. As the zombies start to creep towards your car, you’ll need to make sure you are hitting the right buttons to keep them back or they will start to deal damage to your vehicle. Focusing too much on the 'A' button means that the zombies chasing you in the top lane will start to gain ground and then you’ll have to start mashing the 'B' button to take them out. Your car is on rails and you do not need to control the speed or direction you are moving, but during some boss battles you have the freedom to switch lanes on the road and that helps you dodge some of the bosses attacks.

There are a few game types that you have the option of playing. Arcade mode lets you choose which song you want to play one at a time. Story mode tells the story of your band Double Kick Heroes and their escape from the city and their search for shelter, gas, food and safety. Fury Road gives you daily challenges and awards cosmetic unlocks for your band. Endless Rage is an almost endless road that the goal is to survive to the end and you play through multiple songs.

The story opens with a wide eyed politician on a broken TV saying “My fellow Americans, people of the world. Everything is fine. The situation is under control...” as fires blaze in the background and people are seen running for their lives. Does that sound familiar? All he has to do is wear a red hat and hold a bible upside down and it will quickly turn this crazy story into non-fiction. You play as a metal band called Double Kick Heroes and while you are playing a gig, the house lights turn on and the whole crowd has turned into zombies. You barely escape the arena, and hop into a convertible that has been outfitted with guns that are tied to your instruments. Now, it’s your destiny to rock out, and escape the zombie horde.

In the 2-3 hours it takes to complete the story you’ll run across some pretty well known rock legend look-alikes such as Marilyn Manson, Metallica and I think Danny Trejo, he’s not a rock legend that I know of but that chest tattoo is pretty hard to miss. You’ll fight off zombies, werewolves, vultures, football player zombies, cheerleader zombies, a giant shark, men in white hoods (maybe working for the president) and many, many more. Unfortunately, you’ll be looking at the music bar too much to really see them all. You can watch the horde from the corner of your eye to see how close they are getting, but you really won’t get a good look at the individual enemies until there is a break in the music. It’s a lot like the band playing on stage in the background of a Rockband song. You know they are doing their stage act, strumming on the guitar, banging the drums and strutting on stage like Axle Rose, but you never fully pay attention to it because you are too focused on the music bar. I noticed a lot more of the details of the characters and enemies when I sat back and watched someone else play.

There's not much to say about the graphics. It is your typical pixel art style with vibrant colors and a very smooth framerate. I did not experience any slow down or stuttering while playing. The soundtrack of the story is an original that was made for this game and it’s a nice mix of Nu Metal, death metal and an even heavier metal with a lot of double bass. If metal isn’t your thing then this might not be as enjoyable for you. A lot of the charm that this game has to offer is centered around the blazing soundtrack. It’s chaotic and crazy, just as a game about shooting zombies from the back of a convertible should be.

Double Kick Heroes a very fun add to the Game Pass library and it’s a blast to play with friends passing the controller back and forth while sipping on a few adult beverages. The soundtrack slaps and the story and dialog don’t get in the way while you’re trying to just chill and have a good time. Double Kick Heroes knows what it is, and it does it pretty well.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Moons of Madness

Moons of Madness is a first person story driven game that has small puzzle elements with a horror theme. It’s like Firewatch but set on Mars, but instead of a very engaging story that leaves you in the dark until the end, you get 3 different storylines that are never really the main focus, and in the end you are left wondering what happened. Let's find out if that mystery is a good or bad thing.

There’s not much to talk about when it comes to gameplay, you have to move your character from point A to point B and can hold the left trigger to get there faster by sprinting. There is no HUD to reference but you do have limited stamina and you’ll hear your character huff and puff when you run too long. Early on you will get a wrist computer that you can use to scan and hack equipment to solve puzzles. Some of the puzzles are pretty easy, one example is rotating solar panels to a certain power percentage to bring a remote base online. Some of the more complicated puzzles involve mixing chemicals by using a centrifuge to create a toxin for an early on enemy. The puzzles are pretty clever and deliver some of the more memorable moments of the game for me.

Developer Rock Pocket has crafted some great environments for Moons of Madness. There’s not much you can do with Mars as a setting. It’s red, it’s cold, it’s dusty and there are mountains everywhere, but they switch up the setting enough that you never feel any of the backdrops outstay their welcome. You’ll spend most of the game on the Mars surface and in the hallways of the space station, but later in the game you will be lurking in the shadows of the secret facility miles below the Mars surface. If you didn’t think that the Orochi Group was hiding a more sinister plan in a secret facility then you haven’t played many games. It’s a tried and true formula that has been redone countless times in movies and games, and its one aspect of the game that I wish was left out. There really is no payout for the storyline, and it seems more like filler to pad a short game.

One area where Moons of Madness shines are the animations of your character Shane. Throughout the six or so hours of the game you will perform countless menial tasks such as, filling a cup of coffee, turning a crank, pulling an energy cell in and out of an empty port, removing your helmet, and attaching a hose to an air tank to refill for a trek on the Mars surface. Most of these animations change slightly when Shane is in a tense situation. After being chased by an enemy my character fumbled with the push button to open the escape hatch, and then as he refilled his air tank, he fumbled with connecting the hoses together. This adds a lot of realism, and I really felt like the character was escaping for his life. I know if I was being chased by a tentacle monster on Mars I wouldn’t be calm, cool, and collected, I’d be swearing up a storm and then trying to connect two hoses together would be similar to fumbling with a USB port in the dark. After about the fifth flip of the cable and it still won’t fit, I would just stand there and accept my fate.

Speaking of air hoses, I did encounter one glitch in the game that almost broke it for me. Immediately after a chase sequence inside one of the space stations I was on the Mars surface trying to hurry to the rover. Before I left the space station, I filled up my oxygen tank and exited the hatch. After some traversal of the Mars surface, I ended up falling off a rather large cliff to my death and loaded at a checkpoint near the halfway point to the rover. Except, my oxygen level was at 9% when it still should have been near 70%. This actually happened to me twice throughout the game, where a checkpoint loaded me with barely enough oxygen to get me to my destination. When I finally reached the rover, my oxygen was at 0% and my character was gasping for air and the screen was completely red. I feel like any longer and I would have died. I wonder if I had died, would it have loaded me at the last checkpoint with the same amount of oxygen making it impossible to make the trek safely. Would that have caused a death loop that broke the game? I was pretty far into the game, I don’t know how I would have felt being forced to start over.

There are multiple storylines going on here and none of them really take center stage, which makes the overall story muddy and confusing. There is the first story you encounter, a woman scientist (who I suspected right away as a villain due to her thick Russian accent) that was doing experiments with plant life on Mars and came across an organism that takes control of the plants and spreads like a virus. Then there is the evil Orochi Group that you work for, and their hidden agenda with the research that is happening across the space stations. THEN, there is the family story line about your mother, and her ties to the Orochi group and how your character Shane seems destined to be at this location at this time as the moons of Mars align. It’s just all too much, and dropping one of these storylines and focusing on flushing out the other two would have been a better choice. There are some cut scenes, but most of the story is told through dialog while you are walking, or through emails and data logs you find as you log into scattered computers around the station. But none of it was very interesting to follow, so after an hour or so I stopped looking at the computers entirely and just concentrated on the objective at hand.

The achievements in Moons of Madness are story related except two that require you to perform a special task at a certain point. There is no chapter select so you’ll have to do a second play through to unlock these if you missed them in the story. The ending has two achievements tied to it for good and bad depending on your choice, but you can pause and revert to the last checkpoint to get them both without playing through a second time. I was able to get all the achievements in the game in one play through and it took me about six hours. If you used a guide to finish it you can probably knock it out a lot faster.

There are moments in Moons of Madness that are fun and interesting, but they are spread pretty far apart by backtracking, menial tasks and simple puzzles. The voice acting, the environments and your characters animations are great, but the story is all over the place and after its six hour campaign it is very easy to forget.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 Sayonara Wild Hearts

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to listen to dream pop, ride on a motorcycle through the woods and dodge flaming skulls, all while shooting a laser gun at a three headed mechanical wolf? No? Me either, but I can now say that I have experienced it, and it was just as fun as it sounds. Through the one hour story you’ll do this and more, and then once you complete the story the game keeps going with a great set of achievements to unlock. Sayonara Wild Hearts is here to chew bubblegum and break hearts, and it’s all out of... wait, no... there’s plenty of bubblegum pop so that saying doesn’t work here. Let’s just get on with it.

Wild Hearts is a music game at heart. Everything that happens on screen and in the quick time events are synced to the beat of the dream pop music soundtrack. You’ll encounter many points of view while playing, but everything you do will be on rails. Whether it’s side scrolling, third person or first person you don’t have much control over where you go, and your job is to maneuver the hero up, down, left or right to collect the hearts and diamonds scattered all over the levels.

Throughout the levels are quick time events that you are prompted to press a button as a visual indicator helps you with the timing, and you’ll be granted “ok”, “good” or “perfect” ratings depending on how accurate your timing is. You’ll need to use both the visual indicators and the soundtrack to nail the “perfect” scores, however, I never failed the quick time events no matter how late I pressed. While this might make the game more accessible to the non-gamer, it will definitely make it less challenging for the more experienced. Collect hearts and hit “perfect” timing on the quick time events and you’ll be rewarded with a score multiplier as you can watch your score increase the further you progress in the level.

Sayonora Wild Hearts is not difficult at all to complete, but there are some sections of the game where there is mass chaos on your screen with flashing lights, high speed traversal and enemies shooting projectiles in your direction. The difficulty spikes in those areas making it harder to keep your multiplier going for a strong score, and at the end of each level you are given a bronze, silver or gold rating. Again, completing the levels isn’t difficult, but scoring gold can be, and you’re going to have to memorize the heart paths and get the bonus diamonds in each level to get gold. If you die or fail a level you will be able to continue, but your multiplier will be reset to zero and you will definitely not get a score high enough for gold.

The great thing about Wild Hearts is that the game play changes up multiple times per level. Once you start to get the hang of swerving in and out of trees in third person, the game switches things up and now you are driving the motorcycle in first person. Then, after 20 seconds of driving the motorcycle you are bumped off of it and are now surfing on a tarot card in third person scooping up hearts and dodging flaming skulls zooming at you. Then after that you are given a bow and arrow and you are able to lock onto the skulls Panzer Dragoon style, shooting them with arrows. It’s seamless and fun, and during your first play through you will never know what is coming next.

My favorite level is Parallel Universes where you are matched up against a pair of opponents that at a snap of each of their fingers the scenery changes, moving the obstacles to the location in that universe. This of course is done to the beat of the music but it’s mind bending trying to keep the path straight. With each snap, snap, clap, the obstacles in front of you are moved to the beat of the music and you will fail multiple times until you really start to see the pattern. Then, like I mentioned above, the game will change it up just a bit and throw another mechanic at you.

The music and graphics are where Sayonara Wild Hearts shines. The bubble gum dream pop music with female lead vocals will have you tapping your feet to help with the timing of your jumps and quick time events. Everything in the game is tied to the soundtrack, and you’re going to have to really feel the music and get into the rhythm to get the high scores. Along with the poppy soundtrack you are presented with a cartoonish graphic style that runs at a super solid smooth frame rate and I never once experienced a slow down. In the platforming areas you are tasked with hitting a button not only with the beat, but at the perfect moment on screen to keep your momentum going. This is represented on screen as a circle that begins to fill and at the perfect time you hit the button to keep going. If timed right, the circle will explode and the word “Perfect!” will appear and you’ll know you timed things right.

Wild Hearts is a story about heartbreak. The hero, a young woman that just had her heart broken, is near her low point and some astral beings begin their plot to destroy her universe. It’s a story that any person can relate to and she has the choice to either sit and mope, or move on and save herself and the universe. The story is told by narrator Queen Latifa, and is shown through small cut scenes that are seamlessly weaved in and out of the game play sections. It’s a great technique that really makes it feel like one experience rather than a bunch of tied together levels. In fact, once you finish the game you unlock Album Arcade mode that plays the entire game beginning to end without any score or stat interruptions.

I usually like to talk about achievements a bit in my reviews because they are a big part of my gaming style. I like doing extra things that the developer sets aside for achievements because a lot of the time they are things I normally wouldn’t try unless there was some sort of reward attached. Wild Hearts has maybe the best use of achievements that I’ve ever encountered in a game. You won’t unlock a single achievement playing through the story. No achievement is tied to level completion or beating the game and there is no multiplayer to battle for achievements. Instead, there are 24 Zodiac Riddles to solve.

The Xbox description of the achievements simply states the name of the Zodiac symbol and offers no clue how to unlock it. In the game menu there is a spot for Zodiac Riddles, and in there you will see 24 riddles to solve, each of which hints at a task to do in the game. Some of them are your normal tasks like completing all levels with a gold rank or collecting all the diamonds in the game, but others are more complex and these are my favorites. One riddle states “There is no place for me on the podium of a starway”, and this hints at not scoring above bronze on a certain level. Another riddle has you score 0 points in a level, and that might sound easy, but in fact it’s one of the hardest that I have tried so far. Avoiding all small hearts is no easy task especially since you have just spent hours following them. I suggest avoiding guides and tutorials on these achievements and trying some out for yourself.

Sayonara Wild Hearts is more of a hyperactive dream pop music video than it is a video game, and that’s a great thing when a lot of what is released these days is gritty post apocalyptic shooters. Sayonara Wild Hearts is a breath of fresh air, an absolute joy to play and has some of the most interesting achievements this achievement hunter has ever unlocked.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Full disclosure, this review is based on the pre-launch patches that were available for me to update two days before the game launched. I played a little bit of the game prior to the updates and experienced the frame rate, loading and map bugs that were reported to be in the review version of the game. I made the decision to stop playing the game at that point so I can wait for the patches and review the game in its best state. After the patches I experienced no save bugs, loading bugs or game breaking glitches. I experienced very few frame rate drops after the patches and I am confident that Moon Studios will continue these updates making it even better.

Some games just hook you in. You’re the little fish nibbling on a tasty worm and the developer yanks that line at the perfect moment and you’re done for. Ori and the Blind Forest was one of those games for me, and if you listened to our podcast, then you’ll know that it is in my top 3 games this generation. I’ve beaten it 4 times, and I am currently playing through it on the harder difficulty on the Switch. It’s been a bit of a wait for Moon Studios to deliver us Ori and the Will of the Wisps, as it has seen a few delays, but it’s finally here! Does it hold up? Does it do what sequels are expected to do and expand on the key elements of the game? If you scrolled down and took a peak at the score then you already know, but let’s dive in little fishy!!

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a 2D platformer on the surface but a Metroidvania at heart. If you are unfamiliar with the term, Metroidvania is a sub-genre of action-adventure games where there is an expanding map to explore that has smaller portions of the map locked off, and as you progress through the game you gain abilities that allow you to access these locked off areas. For example, there may be a ledge just out of your reach with a standard jump, so you progress in the game and unlock the double jump and then can go back to use your new ability to reach the ledge. Ori nails this better than any other Metroidvania that I have played.

When you first open the map it is covered in darkness, and as you explore, the caves that you traverse will be filled in on the map. I found myself opening the map every minute or so to look for dark areas to explore, as it is super addicting to fill in the map and find all the collectibles. When I found a collectible, and there were a TON, I’d abandon the main story and went off to explore the area to see what I can find. There is a constant carrot on a stick of collectibles, power and health upgrades that I just can’t get enough of. I absolutely will not stop playing this game until I am at 100% completion, and then I will probably do it all over again on a harder difficulty.

One thing that is different with Ori 2 is the rate at which you get these abilities. The first game had you wait a bit and progress in the game to unlock the double jump and dash maneuvers. I remember there being a lot of locked off areas at the start, teasing me with unknown treasures. Ori 2 throws a lot of the necessary moves at you within the first two hours. You’ll be double jumping, running up walls and dashing across long crevasses in no time. At first I thought this might have been to dumb down the game a bit for the players that thought Ori and the Blind Forest was too hard. I was able to clear out 90% or more of the collectibles in the first two areas of the map in no time. I was starting to worry that I wouldn’t have to come back to these beautiful areas later to explore more because I was finding everything so quickly, and that is just not how I wanted to play this game. I want the backtracking, I want the closed off area at the end of a long dangerous cave, because I know I’ll have to travel that cave again, and it’s just so much fun to do. After a while it became pretty clear that they gave you those abilities so early by design because they built a more complex and bigger map, and added a bunch of new abilities that you get later in the game. So I was able to explore until my little fish heart was content and they very much kept the spirit of the genre intact.

Combat in Ori 2 has seen a complete overhaul. You are able to assign 12 different abilities to the X, B and Y face buttons and swap them out at any time to match your playstyle and the task at hand. The Spirit Edge sword that you get as soon as the opening cutscene and prologue are finished gives you the ability to slash forward and backwards, slash up launching enemies into the air, and slash down if you are jumping over enemies. It’s a light and quick attack that you can use to combat the faster enemies as you dodge their quick attacks. There is a hammer like weapon called Spirit Smash, and as expected, is better suited for slower or more protected enemies. There is a beetle that you constantly fight throughout the game that has an impenetrable shell and is only vulnerable when its back end is exposed. It’s a very satisfying feeling to land a revenge fueled heavy blow with that hammer to that beetle that has shrugged off your light attacks for the past few hours. There are ranged attacks as well; Spirit Arc is a bow and Spirit Star is a boomerang, both of which can be used to combat the flying enemies and ones that strategically keep their distance from you. I found a very effective combination of using the ranged attack to stun them for long enough to get closer where I can either dice them up with quick attacks from Spirit Edge, or a bash or two from Spirit Smash.

Along with the combat improvements Moon Studios has added Spirit Shards where you can add modifiers to your combat and traversal abilities. This is very similar to the game Hollow Knight as you can equip only a certain amount of these shards at a time, but the amount of slots you have can be upgraded as you complete Combat Shrines. You can swap out these shards at any time on the fly and you do not need to visit an NPC or pay any type of currency to change shards. This comes in handy during the many boss battles and groups of enemies that you encounter. To give you a few examples, the shards that I used most often are Overcharge, Resilience, Quick Shot and Sticky. Over charge is where you deal a lot more damage but your defense is lowered taking more damage in the process. Resilience is where you simply take 10% less damage from attacks. Quick Shot lets you launch arrows at a faster rate making you feel like Hawkeye from the Marvel movies. Sticky lets you automatically stick to the wall you are facing and this helps when traversing some of the deadlier caves that are outlined with spikes. Again, you can swap these shards at any time to focus more or combat or traversal, or a nice combination of both.

Throughout the game you’ll come across gold orbs called Spirit Light. Spirit Light in Ori and the Blind Forest used to work like XP and you’d eventually fill a meter and that would unlock a point to spend in the skill tree. Ori 2 does not work like that, there is no XP and no skill tree to unlock abilities. Instead they’ve decided to streamline the process a bit. Instead of XP, the Spirit Light is now a form of currency you can spend to have a NPC vendor train you in new abilities or upgrade abilities you have already purchased. You can also use Spirit Light to purchase maps that show you the Energy Cell and Life Cell locations on the map.

The story of Ori and the Will of the Wisps takes place a bit after the events that happened in Blind Forest. You play as Ori, a small bright white Spirit of the forest and you are with your family teaching a baby owlet how to fly. Bad things happen and you are separated from the owlet and your priority is to find it and bring it home safe. During this main story quest you learn that the new forest you are in has been corrupted by another evil and it is up to you to not only save your owlet friend, but also the forest and its creatures.

During your exploration of the Niwen forest, you’ll run into quite a few peaceful critters and animals that need your help. Simply talk to these critters and you’ll be given a side quest along with a handy marker on your map showing you where you should explore next. These quests aren’t in-depth and are usually no more than fetch quests, but they do offer some nice rewards. You can earn some Spirit Shards this way and usually some Spirit Light as well. There is one quest that will take you from one end of the map to the other trading trinkets from one stranded NPC to another, but the reward is very satisfying.

Along with the main story and side quests, Moon Studios has also added a few more things to do. First you can test your combat skills in 7 different Combat Shrines hidden throughout the game. Here you will fight wave after wave of enemies, and if you are successful, you’ll be rewarded with an extra Spirit Shard slot. They’ve also added Spirit Trials which are races through each of the different areas of the game. These races usually take 30 seconds to a minute to complete and they remove the enemies from the area to ensure a clean race. Your times will be put up on a leaderboard of both your friends and the global Xbox community. In order to complete the Spirit Trial, you’ll have to beat the preset par time. Neither of these activities are too difficult but they offer a fun challenge that kept me coming back until I completed them all.

The hand drawn animations and the beautiful score are truly the heart and soul of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and they go hand in hand throughout the game. In the deep dark caves of Mouldwood Depths, where only the light from small torches and glowing plants light your way, there is a creepy and eerie tone to the wind instruments that bring a feeling of death and despair to the area. As the darkness closes in around Ori, the music shifts to a more panicked score that really enforces the feeling of being surrounded by darkness. Then as you find a light source to force away the dark, the music returns to the unnerving sounds of Mouldwood. The Luma Pools are the polar opposite and show off the most bright and beautiful colors I have ever seen in an area of a game before. This glowing pink and purple forest is so full of life and the music follows suit with an upbeat flow of wind instruments. I played this area after Mouldwood Depths and the contrast is so staggering going from one extreme to another. It’s almost hard to believe that these two areas exist in the same forest.

When you think of a 2D platformer/adventure you tend to think of the classics like Mario or Castlevania where there is a distinct foreground and background. Mario runs on the foreground and the castles and clouds occupy the background. Ori and the Will of the Wisps adds so much depth to the landscape of the forest you forget that you are actually playing a 2D game. There is not just one layer of trees and bushes to walk past, there are layers and layers of moving plants, scattering critters and trees swaying in the breeze that you can tell that the forest goes on for miles in all directions. Then to top it all off, as you move through the forest you will have trees, critters and bushes that pass between Ori and the camera that is an incredible technique that really makes this game come to life.

These incredible details come at a cost though. Ori 2 suffers from framerate drops when loading an area and they can be really distracting. I was falling from a very high spot at The Wellspring and mid-fall the game paused for nearly 5 seconds before it resumed. You can tell it was loading the area below, but a hiccup like that can really take you out of the experience. Collecting orbs, spirit and shards also result in a 2-5 second freeze at times. Not every time, but enough to make you shake your head when it happens. All of these issues can easily be addressed with more post launch patches, and Moon Studios is being pretty vocal about them coming sooner rather than later. Other than that I did not experience the widely reported map, loading or save bugs after my game was patched pre-release. Like I said in the first paragraph, I made a decision to wait for the patches to improve my experience and give our readers a better representation of what they’ll actually be playing, and I believe that was the best choice.

No game is perfect and I don’t believe giving a game a 10/10 means that it is perfect. However, I believe that Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a masterpiece that deserves the highest praise that I can give it. Moon Studios is a shining example that a small team working with a lot of heart and passion can create something beautiful, fun and challenging. It expands on the original in every way and you will not find a better game in the Metroidvania genre. I personally can’t wait to dive back into the game on a harder difficulty.

Overall Score: 10.0 / 10 Close to the Sun

Close to the Sun is a first person adventure by developers Storm in a Teacup, that leans heavily on atmosphere and story, while also providing some light puzzles and collectible hunting. From the second you board the Helios you’ll notice that things aren’t what they seem, and after around 10 hours exploring every nook and cranny of the 10 levels for collectibles, you’ll finish the game with more questions than answers. That’s not a bad thing.

“Come aboard the Helios, we’ll get together, have a few laughs.”.

The Helios is a massive ship in the ocean that is home to Nikola Tesla and his large research team. You are Rose, having received a message from your sister, Ada, a researcher aboard the Helios, that asks you to come as quick as possible. Not much information is given, but as a loyal sibling you are, you listen to her words and hop on the first boat to meet up with her on the Helios. Right off the bat, Close to the Sun gives off a Bioshock vibe. Not only in looks, but the backstory of the Helios is a lot like Rapture. A crazy genius builds a remote research facility away from people telling him that he is breaking rules, or crossing the lines of morality. What could go wrong when you are confined to a ship in the middle of the ocean and you start messing with the fabric of time? In the words of one of the people you will meet aboard the Helios, “We’re harvesting energy from time, this shit is complicated.”. So of course things have gone wrong, this would be a short game if it didn’t.

First, you are on a small auto boat that is approaching the Helios,and as you circle the massive ship and enter one of the access docks, you begin to realize how large this ship really is. With the fog and the dark sky you only see glimpses of the ship, never see the whole thing, but I think that really helps set the tone for the game. Right off the auto boat, you never have a good feeling about what you are getting into, and there is always more you don’t know about your situation than there is that you do. Having the Helios shrouded in mystery of fog and darkness is a great way to start the game with this tone.

The story unfolds with dialog as you are exploring and small cutscenes where you lose control of your character, but the viewpoint never leaves from Rose herself. Another tool they use to provide story is the many items littered about the Helios. There are magazines, newspaper articles, office memos and photos all over the place for you to pick up and read for more backstory. Apparently, they are so far advanced that they can manipulate time, but cannot figure out how to send voice recordings instead of wasting TONS of paper on department memos. One easily missable set of documents were in a regular room not far from the main path of the story. They had the notes and memos from Albert Einstein and his time aboard the Helios, and is a very cool detail about the importance of the research facility if you aren’t looking around closely. There are so many small details that can be missed if you are just playing through the game and hitting the main story beats. To truly get the most out of Close to the Sun, you need to search for every item and read them closely.

There is no combat, but there are enemies that you will need to run from during a handful of chase sequences. These chase sequences are incredibly intense and scary since you are limited to first person view you never get a good look at how close the enemy is behind you, leaving you to always assume they are right on your ass. You’ll navigate unfamiliar hallways and turn into dead ends bringing a brutal death scene at the hands of your pursuing enemy. This is where these sequences start to cross the line from intense to frustrating.

After five or six attempts of taking wrong turns, fumbling over obstacles or getting caught on objects on the floor, you will begin to notice that your pursuer isn’t as close as the hair on the back of your neck was telling you. It becomes more trial and error at this point just trying to find the right path to the end of the sequence. If you take a wrong turn you are forced to watch an incredibly long and graphic death scene that is not skippable. Fail multiple times in a sequence and that death scene starts to get frustrating when all you want to do is quick reset the checkpoint and make a left turn instead of right.

There aren’t many puzzles in the game, but the ones that do appear are pretty fun. Most of them involve unlocking a door to advance the story, but some go a few steps further and have you searching for a clue in a room that will unlock your next objective. One puzzle that sticks out was a safe that had symbols on the dials, and in that room was a poem written in a book, so you had to use that poem to solve the order of the dials. It was a very clever mechanic that I wish showed up more often in the game.

The story isn’t the only thing that lifts heavy inspiration from Bioshock, the graphics also reminded me of my days in Rapture. Abandoned hallways made of the most expensive wood, brass and gold are covered in blood streaks and littered with bodies and garbage that tell a tale of chaos and destruction that you are here to sort out. Lights flicker, sounds and shadows come and go in the distance and you are all alone not knowing what is around the corner. You can tell that a lot of thought and care went into the environmental design of the Helios as it is the true star of the game, much like I thought Rapture was the true star of Bioshock.

Throughout the story you will come across yellow glowing silhouettes that offer some details of the events that happened before you boarded. You’ll see people running from... something, and at times they will lead you where to go in your journey. They also offer some back story, as some of the yellow silhouettes are story related and can offer a hint to your objective. These glimpses of the past, and the fact that you never get up close and personal with another character (other than Ludwig... but you’ll need to meet him for yourself) hide the fact that they didn’t spend any time detailing character models or faces. I think this was a great decision, as all that time was better spent on the Helios and making sure the environment and atmosphere are at their best.

Bioshock is my favorite game of all time, and the Helios drew me into its environment and story very similar to how I was drawn into Rapture 12 years ago. The story telling and voice acting are all top notch and are backed up by an atmosphere that many Bioshock copies have tried to mimic, but I felt never got quite right. Close to the Sun is a joy to play through if you don’t get too frustrated at the chase sequences and as long as you like hunting for collectibles to fill out some backstory.

Overall Score: 8.8 / 10 Jackbox Party Pack 6, The

If you aren’t familiar with the Jackbox Party packs of the past, they are collections of 5 party games that you can play with your friends that involve trivia, drawing or using that creative part of your brain to create raps, jokes or stories to make your friends laugh. Gone are the days of having to give every one of your friends a controller to play, because with the Jackbox games you can use smartphones, tablets and computers as the controllers. At the start of each game you are given a code to punch into and this connects you to the session that is on your Xbox. Most games in this pack can be played with up to 8 people, but there is another option for audience members that can join at any time for some fun. These audience members can be in the same room, or playing along by watching you stream on Mixer or Twitch.

I’ve played trivia games before on console, and setting everyone up with controllers can be tough. First, you might not have 8 $60 controllers laying around your house, and second, controllers can be a little intimidating for people not used to them. I remember the look on my mother-in-laws face when I handed her a controller to play Scene-It back on the Xbox 360. She looked like I handed her a bomb to defuse. Everyone has a smartphone and everyone knows how to use them, so it’s easy to get that Debbie-Downer friend to join in when all she ever wants to do is just sit and watch. You’re going to need her, chances are she’s pretty dumb and she’ll be an easy target to steal points from. There are 5 new games in The Jackbox Party Pack 6; let’s get into them.

Trivia Murder Party 2 is exactly like it sounds, you and up to 7 friends are on a gameshow being hosted by the owner of a Murder Hotel. Answer the questions right and you get some points, but when you answer the host’s trivia questions wrong, you are sent to the killing floor where you compete against your opponents in mini-games of various kinds. Win the trivia, spin-the-wheel or press your luck style mini-game, and you escape the Killing Floor by the skin of your teeth and live to answer more questions for points. Fail the mini game and you are dead, not able to collect any points for future questions. Don’t fret! There is redemption. If another opponent fails a question and you are able to win the mini-game on the Killing Floor, you are able to bring yourself back to life and rack up points from future questions.

Make it through a few rounds of questions alive and you are given a chance to escape the Murder Hotel that you have been trapped in. You are positioned in order of points with the highest scorer being the closest to the exit. The final round is a quick fire of multiple choice questions that if you get right, you move one spot closer to the your escape. Get the answer wrong and you don’t move at all, giving the opponent behind you a chance to catch up or even pass you on the way to the exit. It’s everyone for themselves at this point and you have to be fast and accurate to survive. Trivia Murder Party 1 was my favorite of the games packed into The Jackbox Party Pack 3 and this one is no different. It is the most fun game to play in this pack.

Role Models is a personality test you play with your friends. While playing this game your friends will learn what you think about them, and more importantly, you will find out what your friends think about you. This game is playable with 3-6 players, and we quickly realized that this game would be a lot more fun with more players, we played with 3 and that just wasn’t enough. You are given a handful of categories to choose from, and from there you are to pick out which friend is the best of the choices given. For example, we were given the category of Friends characters. From the list provided, we were instructed to pick which of the players is the best example of each Friends character; Joey, Rachel, Monica and so on. You get points for each player that has the same answer as you, and there are bonus points that you can go for by putting the 100% sticker on the one choice you feel the most strong about. The more people that also chose the same answer as you, the more bonus points you get. It a really fun game to play with some good friends. Good and bad choices result in funny explanations from your friends, as we thought for sure that my wife would be mad that we picked her to be Monica because of her obsessive cleaning, but she accepted it with pride. When I chose her to be Chewbacca from Star Wars because that’s how she sounds when she snores... well that didn’t go over too well.

Joke Boat puts you on a boat cruise that you have to come up with some stand-up comedy on the spot after some word topics are chosen. It’s a lot like the rap battle game that was in Jackbox 5 in that you are given some choice of words to plug in, and from there you have to finish off the joke. The problem is that once you have chosen this plug in word, you are committed to finishing off the joke on that topic. I get that this is the point, and there is a challenge associated with having to write a joke that is based on an avocado, but to me a dud joke that nobody can build off of really kills the mood and flow of the game. You are forced to finish the joke about the avocado and then apologize to your friends for the lame joke that made no sense. Meanwhile, your opponent in the joke contest was given an easy topic of french kissing and his punchline of sucking up the extra spit off the other persons tongues get both laughs and cringes from your friends as he crushes you in the votes. If you had a bit more control of the topic of the joke, I think there would be a lot more fun for the whole group. It’s also better with a bigger group of people. We played with 3 players and the game filled up the extra spot with an opponent with computer written jokes that were incredibly lame. The game can be played with up to 8 players and, like the others, there is interaction with the audience members.

Dictionarium is pretty much Urban Dictionary the game. In it you are tasked to craft definitions for words or phrases given to the group. Everyone has the same words, and after you are done making up the definition, you vote on the best or funniest one. In the second round you are challenged to take the word or words given to you in round 1 and make up a synonym for it and repeat the voting process. The third and final round is the toughest. You are tasked with taking the same words used in rounds 1 and 2 and use them in a sentence. It’s a really fun game that feels like it’s over too quickly. We only had 3 people playing and it supports up to 8, so with more people it will go by slower and will probably feel like a better length. As we played it, it seemed like it was just getting fun when the game would be over. This was the game we played the most during our gaming night, and I would rank it right up there with Trivia Murder Party in terms of fun for the group.

Push the Button is a lot like the board game Secret Hitler, or even a murder mystery party, where there is one person that knows they are the enemy and the others are left to try and figure out who that is. In Push the Button you are on a spaceship, and on board with you and your crew is an alien in disguise that is trying to sabotage your ship. Each bay of the space ship presents you with a different mini-game to play that is supposed to provide a hint at the aliens identity, or if played right by the alien, could cause more confusion between the humans on who the alien really is. We played this the same game night that I played the other games so we only had 3 players (it plays up to 10), and after a few rounds it was super simple to pick out the alien. Mostly that was because one of the mini-games resulted in my friend (who was the alien) have his character admit they loved 80’s clothes, and he is not the type to be into 80’s fashion. So it was easy to pick him out as the alien. The mini games are all fun mixes of word puzzles and sequence games that are a lot of fun with friends. When you think you know who the alien is, you work with your group to get them on your side. Once the decision is unanimous, you press the button and that person is sucked out into space via the airlock and you are forced to live with your decision.

At this point my only complaint with the series is that we are 6 packs in (almost 30 different games) and they are all separate packs on the Xbox. It would be great if there was a way we could download a Jackbox app and have every game from each pack you own in one spot available to launch from there. When my friends get together for a game night we usually have a few adult drinks and play for 5+ hours. Not having to swap packs back and forth to try different games would really help keep the fun moving, and having 30 games to quickly pick and choose from would be a huge improvement. I realize that this probably isn’t possible, and if it was they would have done it by now, but I have to mention it as a drawback of the series. Playing Monday morning quarterback, I wish they would have released one Jackbox game, and then added 5 DLC packs to keep them all in the same launcher.

I think this year’s addition to the Jackbox series is a good one and it comes with a great variety of games. It’s not overloaded with trivia or drawing games and I think it’s a great overall balance that all of your friends will enjoy playing even if they aren’t gamers. Most of these games are best when played with a larger group that know each other pretty well, as games like Push the Button and Role Models are really dependent on how well you know your friends. The things that make us come back to the Jackbox games are the humor and accessibility. Every game will make you laugh and they are super easy to get your group playing with their phones.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Monster Jam Steel Titans

What’s the first thing that you think of when you hear Monster Jam? Chances are you have a vision in your mind of a huge monster truck soaring through the air before landing on some cars with thousands of flashing cameras going off in the background. Perhaps you have been to one of these events live and have fond memories of your parents buying you tons of snacks as you watched these behemoth machines do their thing in the mud. For me, the first thing I think of is my son and his first event. He was so excited and Monster Jam definitely delivered. He had trucks on the brain for weeks after, and we even set up trick events in the basement with the trucks he has. When I heard that Monster Jam: Steel Titans was coming out, I jumped at the opportunity to review it with my son. Who better than to offer up their opinion on a monster truck game than a 7 year old boy obsessed with their product? For the purpose of this review I will call him Booger Eater. That sounds like a Monster Jam truck name, right? After hours with the game and the racing series complete, I am left wondering who this game is really for, because Booger Eater wants nothing to do with it, and I had my fill of it.

You start off with a quick tutorial mode that runs you through the basics, which Booger Eater completed before I got home from work. I told you he was excited for this. After you complete the acceleration, braking, steering, jumping and the other basic mechanics of the game, you are put into the open world freeride mode. This is the area that Booger Eater liked the most. It’s a pretty large desert map that has plenty of ramps and dirt mounds to jump off of and trails to explore to find higher ground to gain speed for those jumps. As you progress in the career mode you unlock other big areas to explore. One of those areas is an airplane graveyard that has a lot of jumps and planes to drive through, which was a huge hit with Booger Eater. Scattered throughout the freeride area are 50 Monster Jam logos to collect by having to jump super high, or super long gaps. Once the logo is collected, the count is displayed at the bottom of the screen so you know how many you have found, but the logo eventually reappears in the same location making it real hard to keep track of the logos you’ve already collected. This is going to really frustrate achievement hunters.

Booger Eater: “I like the dirt area the best because I get to do jumps and flips and I don’t get reset all the time”

The career mode starts off with a racing series made up of short routes through the open freeride area that you’ve already been exploring. You progress by placing 3rd place or better overall, and let me tell you, it will be a fight to place 3rd. At the start of the first race I found my first negative mark with the game; there is no timing indicator with the fast start. Your truck is parked at the starting line with the other trucks revving their engines, and a small street light appears on the screen with two lit red lights and a green light that is off. I was expecting the red lights to shut off and give an audio cue to help with the timing of the green light, but nope! The red lights just shines until the green light flashes and you’re expected to react immediately to start the race. Roughly fifty percent of the time I was hit with a “Late Start” which made my truck chug off the starting line with the same speed that I get out of bed in the morning. About forty eight percent of the time I hit the gas too fast and I was hit with “Early Start” penalty as I got to watch the other trucks shoot off the starting line while I slowly took off. The final two percent, the TWO TIMES in my hours of playing that I actually timed the start right, (by luck I’m sure) I was able to beat the pack out of the starting zone and grab a quick lead.

Grabbing a quick lead is key to the races in this game. The trucks are so big, that when they are side by side they tend to take up most of the track, and getting held behind slower trucks boxing you out of the race makes the first place racer pull that much farther out ahead of you. You’ll eventually be able to muscle past the three or four slower trucks, but that first place racer will have such a commanding lead that you will never catch up and you will be fighting for second or third place at best.

The second negative mark came when I was doing some of the trail racing events. You are racing on a narrow path with trees, rocks, dirt mounds and jumps galore. Sounds fun right? Well, it can be. If you’re in first and have a commanding lead you can lay off the gas a bit and take your turns a bit more careful, but if you make one mistake, you are doomed. The race resets your truck if you veer off course for too long. I believe it's 5 seconds. They don’t want you taking shortcuts, and they want to help you if you drive too far off by resetting you to the track. Fair enough, but the timing is way off. Multiple times, I was back on the track and the 5 second warning went away, only to be reset onto the track about fifty feet back in fifth place, or worse. I was back on track, the warning went away and I was still penalized and reset even though I had adjusted course and resumed the race. This is infuriating. One time Booger Eater veered off the small track and his truck was reset into a cluster of trees. No problem, he’s in a monster truck, he can just drive over the... nope, because running into the trees makes his truck flip over and he had to reset again. Where did it put him? Back in the trees. We had to exit out of the race and start the series over.

Now, I am a racing veteran. I’ve been playing racing games since Gran Turismo on the Playstation, so I’ve seen all the nasty tricks developers have used over the years to maintain difficulty or stretch the gameplay to provide a longer experience. Imagine how Booger Eater felt during the multiple times he was reset. He even questioned the reason he was reset at all. This is a monster truck game right? Isn’t the point of racing a huge monster truck that you can just drive through and over anything? Why are we being constrained to a small path being forced to make tight turns? Another nasty trick they pulled with this game happened to me twice at the same point of the same race, but on two different attempts.

On the final lap of the first series, my tire broke, which puts you into a tire changing mini game where you smash 'A' repeatedly. It’s pretty fun and a neat mechanic to deal with a broken tire that happens pretty often at Monster Jam events. This time the broken tire cost me the race, and losing this race pushed me below the third place requirement. I had to start all over. To be fair, I blew a few early races, so my point total was low, and tires breaking are a part of racing. So I dusted myself off, got behind the wheel of the massive truck and started over. Then again on the final lap of the final race I broke another tire. This time I had enough points built up that I did not fall below third overall, but it seemed pretty fishy that my tire broke on the same lap of the same race, twice. It just felt like a dirty trick to even the playing field. I’d be curious to see the percentage of people that had their tire break during that same lap.

Booger Eater during one of the races: “I just want to do flips and tricks, why do I have to race?”

After you complete the early races you start to do checkpoint ones that take you through the open freeride area. These races don’t have the restraints that the previous ones did. You are free to ride off the track and go as you please, but you need to hit the checkpoints in order to advance the race. These are a lot more fun, and my only complaint here is a small one with the checkpoints themselves. They are a glowing yellow making them easy to spot out in the green and brown environment, but the arrow inside the checkpoint pointing to the direction of the next one is almost impossible to distinguish from the glowing aura of checkpoint itself. You’re busy enough trying to stay on course, fighting off other trucks, dodging trees and trying not to flip, that by the time you see the arrow it’s too late. Your AI truck opponents of course, know right where to go and are already adjusting their direction to the next checkpoint. There is also no minimap that has become a staple of racing games. If there was a minimap that showed the checkpoint locations then it would make this a lot better.

Booger Eater: “I like the end when you can smash into the other trucks”. His favorite part of the race is the end. That tells you something.

If you managed to place third or better in the first series you unlock the stadium series which can be a lot more fun. I don’t know why they didn’t open with this, or even better leave the first one with the trails and small routes out. You travel across the United States visiting different cities and compete in races, freestyle and two wheel competitions. These can be super fun, it’s just too bad we are already 2 hours into the game and have had to deal with the frustrations of the first series. Don’t get me wrong, there are still frustrations with this series, but the fun of performing trick combos during freestyle outweighs the major complaints that I have.

Booger Eater (laughing): “Daddy, look Monster Mutts tail fell off!”. After that he made it a point to always flip enough to land on the roof and break the tail off of Monster Mutt. He laughed every time.

I feel after 8 paragraphs I need to write about something positive with Monster Jam, and easily the best part about this game are the trucks. They are the stars of the show, and the artists do not disappoint. The trucks themselves are gorgeous and you can see every small detail that went into the models. From the small messages on the bottom of the trucks you see when they flip over, to all of the sponsor logos featured on them, they spared no expense on the details. Lights shine off the bodies when you are in the arenas and they look clean and shiny as they are supposed to. Then as you work the track they get dirty and banged up showing great body damage specific to the location of the hit. Mud flies up from the tires as they grip into the dirt and as you drive over flowers and grass you’ll see those kick up too.

There are 26 trucks in the game that are locked behind a grind for currency that puts some pay to win phone games to shame. Oh dear, there I go being negative again, but come on guys. I played for nearly 2 hours before I saved up enough currency to buy my first truck. TWO HOURS. Do you know how long the attention span of the average kid is? I just Googled it and it’s 20 minutes for a 7 year old. I was barely able to keep Booger Eater focused long enough to give a few one sentence quotes for this review. The starter truck, Northern Exposure, is cool and all, but once Booger Eater found out that his favorite truck Monster Mutt wasn’t available to use it was hard to get him to play more.

This is a huge problem in a game where the trucks are the stars, and kids will always have their favorites. It’s not good to lock them all behind such a ridiculous grind. I just feel bad for the artists that put so much time into trucks that will never be seen. Once I got enough currency to unlock Monster Mutt, all of my money went into upgrading it. After another 3 hours or so of racing the next series, I almost had it fully upgraded. If you are keeping track of my hours I am close to 7 hours in, and I have earned enough to unlock one truck and almost max out the upgrades. There are 24 more trucks in the game that I will never drive.

Booger Eater: “Daddy look they have Megalodon, can we get it?”
Me: “no, I’m not going to do the work to unlock it”
Booger Eater: “why not?”
Me: “Do you want to do the races to unlock it?”
Booger Eater: “no”

The upgrade system is pretty bare bones and I can’t decide if that’s a good or bad thing. On one hand it’s nice to be able to spend your limited currency and be able to notice progress, but on the other hand, some added depth would be a welcome feature for some of us veteran racing players. Booger Eater isn’t going to spend any time messing with suspension settings, but I’m sure someone else out there would. The upgrades focus on tires, suspension, acceleration and top speed. The good thing is that you can upgrade between events without having to exit out or hit a garage. You just choose the upgrade you want to spend your money on and it’s applied to the next race. It’s very simple and clean and Booger Eater was eager to use all his money to upgrade the speed, as a seven year old would.

As he was upgrading the speed on Monster Mutt: “I’m going to make this the fastest Mutt ever. He’s going to go so fast he will jump over Mars.” He’s also kind of obsessed with space and planets right now.

I ran into some frame rate issues when racing with more than one truck on screen. I’m playing on an Xbox One X, and when there were 3-4 trucks on the screen you will see a pretty noticeable stutter and slow down until you are by yourself again. The audio is pretty standard for a racing game. While in third person view you can hear and feel the rumble of the trucks and it’s pretty impressive, but the real shining point for the audio is the first person cockpit view. If you have been to a Monster Jam event live then you know these beasts are loud. Playing the game in first person might not be the best visually, as the hood takes up 70% of the screen, but while playing I would suggest at least giving it a go for the audio. I can’t imagine how loud these things are when you are sitting 2 feet from the massive engine, but playing it in first person might give you a bit of an idea. The soundtrack features a generic rock score that fits this game well. I’ve heard that past games have had more of a hip hop theme to it, so this is a welcome change.

In 2019, online multiplayer is a standard, especially with racing games. A game like Monster Jam is BEGGING for online multiplayer where you can race some friends, trade some paint and break some tires on the same lap together. Unfortunately, it is missing from Monster Jam: Steel Titans and I just don’t understand it. Two other features that would make a huge difference are create a truck and create a course. Imagine the fun of creating your own massive monster truck and being able to take it out on a freestyle course that you made. Sharing it with your friends so you can compete online together would be a lot of fun and a huge missed opportunity to get more life out of this bare bones game. These missing features are a big miss in my opinion and drastically lower the value of the game.

There are a few things I really liked about Monster Jam: Steel Titans; the trucks themselves and the handling of the trucks are top notch and the stars of the show. It’s really fun to drive around and see what these beasts are capable of. You can run full speed into a ramp and see how many flips you can pull off before you slam into the ground. This is fun for about a half hour before you start to look into other modes to keep you busy. Unfortunately that is where the game falls extremely short.

No online multiplayer, the fun events being locked behind a hard single player race series and the slowest grind of in game currency that I can recall makes it really hard for me to recommend to even the veterans of the racing genre. What’s worse, is that I can’t recommend it to the REAL FANS of Monster Jam, the kids that drag their parents out on a work night to spend $100 on popcorn, a hot dog and a two pack toy truck set of Megalodon and Monster Mutt.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 Darkwood

Ever have that feeling when you were a kid going up the basement steps that something was following you? You just shut off the light and you couldn’t get up the steps fast enough because something was hot on your heels ready to grab your legs. Well, that is a constant feeling in Darkwood, a top down survival horror game developed by the Polish crew of 3 at Acid Wizard Studios. The tag line for the studio on their website is “We make trippy games” and my time with Darkwood has proven this motto to be true.

“All roads lead deeper into the woods.”

I don’t want to spoil the story so I will talk mostly about the first set of woods you encounter in Darkwood. First you’ll play through a brief prologue showing the madness that consumes you in these woods, and that the decisions that you make can affect others. For example, when leaving your house you come across your dog laying on the ground whimpering. You are presented with a choice to leave it, or put it out of its misery. Me being an animal lover, I felt sorry for the pup, so I ended its suffering. If you chose to leave it however, then when you come back to the house the dog has gone mad and will try to attack you. After the prologue you take control of an unnamed character and set out on a trek to escape the woods. Travelers, traders and madmen tell you over and over that there is no escape, that “all roads lead deeper into the woods”. It’s a recurring theme throughout the game. You may progress into the next area, but you are told over and over that there is truly no way out.

As you set off away from your camp to explore, you will come across various locations scattered across your starter area, Dry Meadow. As you visit these locations they will be sketched into your journal on a crude map. This map doesn’t show your current location like typical modern games, but is only there to serve as a reference point to where key points are located. This adds a lot of tension to the game. If it had a true map that showed your current location and orientation it would be very easy to find your way to these key locations. I think that would take away from the chaos and panic that hits you when you realize you are far from your camp and night time is approaching. At night, your field of view shrinks around you, more deadly creatures spawn and a mysterious red cloud follows you around, draining your health. You need to be in your camp at night to be safe, and if you find yourself on the other side of the woods as night falls, it will mean certain death.

During your travels you will be followed by wild dogs that attack if you get too close, and some wild elk that will mess you up if you go near them. This is only in the starter area and only during the day. More threats are out there at night and in the later areas. Dead bodies, houses and random crates are waiting around for you to loot, clearing them out of any materials you can fit in your backpack. Cloth, wire, batteries, wood, nails and gasoline cans are must grabs. You can use those items to craft your survival tools to make it another day, or sell them to vendors for other needed items. As the sky gets darker and darker, you’ll start getting hints that you should be making your way back to the safety of your camp. Here is where you will need to put those newly acquired supplies to good use.

Barricade windows, set bear traps and make some bandages, because when the sun goes down all the crazies come out. Topping off the generator should be your number one priority because you will need to run it all night to keep the lights on inside the house. Please, please, if you remember one thing from this, you need to remember to shut off the generator in the morning. I wasted so much gas because I left it running all day because I was too eager to get out exploring and trading with the NPCs. Light keeps MOST of the night creatures at bay. If you happen to make it through the first night you’ve done well.

This is where you’ll meet a key NPC that will be an invaluable asset to survive. Every morning, you will have a visitor in your camp waiting for you to emerge from your barricaded room. He’s a trader that you can sell unwanted items, shiny rocks or gems in exchange for reputation that you can spend on items that you actually need. He sells building supplies and healing items while the Wolfman, another NPC that you meet, tends to sell more weapon related items. Each vendor has his own reputation currency, so make sure you are selling the right items to the right NPC for maximum profits. After your first day or so you will begin a quest line with Wolfman that will progress the story and take you to new locations.

“Respect the woods. Be Patient. Focus.”

Now that you have made it through the night and understand the basic principles of the game let’s talk a bit about the actual gameplay. As stated above, this is a top down view of the woods you are exploring. Your character control and field of view are two separate sticks, allowing you to run in one direction while facing another. This is very helpful when running from wild dogs or some of the bigger and nastier creatures you’ll encounter at night and later in the game. During the day you are able to see the trees and other objects in the woods around you, but your top down view is limited to seeing only the enemies and pathways in your field of vision. In other words, you actually have to be facing something in order to see it on your screen. This mechanic really intensifies the “thing chasing you up the stairs” feeling that I described earlier. It’s a mechanic that works really well at night, and lulls you into a false state of security during the day. But, the truth is, both can be extremely dangerous. You’ll have a hotbar on the upper left of the screen that can hold up to 3 items, and it can be upgraded to hold more. You can move items from your backpack to the hotbar for quick use, and I’d recommend equipping a weapon, some bandages and a light source in your first 3 slots. Those will serve you well in the early forest.

Your backpack and workbench at the house are also upgradeable, offering more storage slots and higher rated items to craft. While most crafting is done at the workbench, there is some crafting you can do in the field, such as bandages, lock picks and some weapons; a wood board and some nails makes a decent emergency weapon. As you upgrade your workbench further you can upgrade these lower end weapons into more efficient ones. Crafting on the fly takes a bit of time and strategy, and since it’s not instant, you are better off crafting all of your emergency items around the safety of your house before you set off exploring. If you are hunched over your bag crafting a set of bandages, a nearby dog WILL take this as an open invitation to attack you.

Healing works the same way, you have to pick your spots to heal so you can fill up your bar. If you’re interrupted mid-heal, the bandage you are using is wasted and the healing will stop. Combat is just as deliberate as the movement and crafting. Running, climbing over objects and weapon swings are tied to a stamina meter that drains while performing these actions. If you don’t monitor this meter while in combat or while running from a tougher enemy you will start to huff and puff as you are beaten to death. Only swing if you know you can make contact, and only run if you know what direction you want to go. As you progress, better weapons will become available to purchase or by finding the parts and pieces in the woods. You can then take those pieces and assemble them at the workbench at your camp.

“Better forget about the road home, Meat.”

The bumps, creaks, and footsteps will scare you as you throughout the game, but it’s the moments of silence that really start to creep you out. Because you KNOW that something was just right there... or was it? I played through this game with headphones and I can’t tell you how many times the hair on the back of my neck perked up as the sound of snapping twigs or footsteps filled my ears indicating that something was very close. Howling winds, dogs barking in the distance and just when the sounds get close enough that it feels like something is going to pop up on your screen... it doesn’t. Your heart is racing, you’re looking in every direction to catch a glimpse of something in the shadows to focus your field of vision on, but the house and woods around you have gone silent. Has morning come? Are you safe? Then the dresser you had propping the door closed starts to move and the door swings open. At this point it’s too late and you hope that the bear traps you laid down at least slows down whatever is coming in.

There are no cut scenes or voice acting in Darkwood. Just a barely animated image of the character you are talking to. Wolfman for instance is, well, a wolf-man trader that offers advice, will purchase and sell items and will present you with a pretty big quest line that has a few branching paths that you can choose from. His character model has great detail, even down to the bullet hole in his jacket. Was it from when someone shot him, or was it from when he shot the previous owner? This old school approach to storytelling really reminded me of some of the classic PC adventure games I’ve played in the past, like Lands of Lore and Kings Quest, where they don’t hold your hand on what to do next, but there are tips and tricks hidden in some of the dialog that can point you in the right direction.

Darkwood is a purposefully deliberate survival game that forces you to explore, but at the same time punishes you for spending too much time and effort searching one area. You don’t want to spend too many resources building up your camps, but you need to gather enough to be able to survive your stay there. It’s a delicate balance that is really well executed but not overly explained. The survival mechanics can be learned very quickly, and once you are two or three game days in you will start to find a groove. Just remember to turn the generator off in the morning.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Gang Beasts

Gang Beasts is a beat ‘em up party game by developer Bone Loaf and published by Double Fine. Like drunken toddlers in a bounce house, your objective is to knock your opponent to the ground and push or throw them out of the arena to be the last one standing. You can punch, kick and head butt your way to victory, but do you ever really have full control of your character? Let’s find out!

What you see is what you get as far as graphics are concerned. Gang Beasts has a texture-less yet colorful look to it and I think it works well with the simple game design. The character models look and move like the Pillsbury Dough Boy and there are many customizable items (hair, hats, glasses, clothes) you can use to make a character you like, and more importantly, stand out from the others, because with up to 8 players on screen it can be confusing. The arenas are colorful and texture-less just like the characters, but there’s no mistaking what they are. In total, there are 19 arenas in Beef City to choose from, and most of them have some sort of interactive mechanic to it.

Containers is a fun one. You are standing on shipping containers being held up by 4 metal wires. Head butt or kick the wires enough and they break, and the shipping containers, along with any of your opponents on them, fall to their doom. Trucks is another favorite of mine that can be super hectic and fun. You are on two moving trucks speeding down a highway. You must jump back and forth between the trucks to avoid the road signs, all while trying to throw, punch and kick your opponents off the trucks. There are a lot of achievements tied to the interactive parts of the arenas, so make sure to take a look at those. Most of them can be completed while you are battling your buddies and don’t take too much extra work to complete. Some of them however, might take some cooperation and a truce from your opponents so you can complete the environment action for those coveted gamerscore increases.

Audio was something of a mixed bag, as I found that some of the sound effects worked, but at times it was hard to tell if my attacks landed based on sound cues. This gives you a sense of confusion as you are playing because you never get the feeling that you are doing any damage. Climbing on objects has the same problem; I heard no audio cue that my character was gripping a wall or cable, and since the camera is pulled back a bit to show all the action of the arena, it was hard to tell if my character was gripping the wall or if his hand was just hovering inches from it. The score is a fun mixture of pop beats that will have you humming along as you are dive kicking your opponents off of a buoy into the water in the Arctic arena. The title song refrain G-A-N-G BEA-S—T—S will get stuck in your head. I guarantee it.

There is no story or campaign and no rich history of Beef City to explore, just a pure brawler to play with your friends or online with people that have had relations with your mother or are blindly disapproving of your gender or ethnicity. There are four game types to play: “Melee”, which is a free for all where the last person standing is the winner, “Waves” is a co-op waved based mode that gets increasingly difficult as you progress, “Gang” is a team based melee mode and finally there is “Football”, or Soccer for us more dignified Americans.

Gang Beasts has a simple design and a premise. I would have thought that would carry over into a simple control scheme but that is not the case. As of this review, the controller layout screen did not show how to grip walls or hold and pick up opponents. It only shows the face buttons for kick, head butt and jump. I had to Google how to complete some of the most important actions of the game. The loading screen tells you that you should grip walls and pull yourself up, but it does not say how to do so. The game tells you to hold on to your opponent, knock them out, pick them up and throw them, but it does not tell you which buttons to push to complete these actions.

After some Googling and a YouTube video, I finally found out that the bumpers act as your hands and you can hold them independently or together to grip things. This works for walls and opponents. You can grab an opponent with your left hand and then punch or head butt them. With walls you can grip them with one or two hands and then hold 'A' to pull yourself up. This all sounds great, but it never feels right. As I said above, there is no audio cue to show that you are gripping, and with the simple character design, you have spheres for hands, so you're unable to see individual fingers gripping an opponent or wall. So most of the time you really have no clue if you are gripping or not unless you try to walk away from the object or person and your hand sticks to it. By then, the opponent you are trying to grab has punched you several times and is now trying to hold on to you and failing the same way you were. It becomes a back and forth of failures until one person gets lucky and is able to pick up the other and throw them off the arena, and at this point it is more of a game of luck than skill.

Adding to the tactile frustration, there no health bar showing how many hits you can take before you become concussed. With no health bar and random audio cues for hits, it becomes a spamfest of attacks until you see someone collapse seemingly randomly. From there it’s a frantic series of button presses to try and pick up or push that collapsed opponent off the arena floor.

Don’t get me wrong, Gang Beasts is frantic and fun, and there is enjoyment to be had. With 19 different arenas you won’t feel like you are having the same fight over and over, and the environmental hazards that most levels have add a unique spin that creates some memorable moments. Triggering a catwalk collapse on one of the tower levels and seeing my buddy panic and jump his way up the stairs and still fall to his death was one of the best moments I had with this game. Unfortunately, the combat and controls really hold back what would be a fun party game with your friends.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 Hyper Jam

Hyper Jam is an arena brawler with quick snappy gameplay, crisp graphics with neon highlights and a fresh synthwave soundtrack that will have your head bobbing as you kill your friends, online opponents and AI bots. However, as you put some time into the game, you realize there’s not all that much content or much to keep you coming back for more. There’s no story, no tournament mode, and the progression system that unlocks taunts and cosmetics is nothing to write home about. It does have easy achievements, and that goes a long way for this reviewer.

The premise of Hyper Jam is pretty simple; kill the other characters on the screen before they kill you. They very much deliver on this premise, and the core gameplay is fun and rewarding. I played multiple games online, vs AI opponents and on the couch with a friend, and every match I had was intense and fun. But after a few rounds I found it very easy to want to move on. There was no hook to draw me in and keep me wanting to continue playing.

The combat is about as straightforward as you can get from a brawler. There are no combos to learn, so once you learn how each specific weapon works and how to parry attacks, you’ll be looking for more ways that the game can challenge you. Unfortunately it’s not there. Button mashers and casual gamers can find victory, and that’s not a bad thing when you’re looking to get some couch co-op in with some friends that may not be as into gaming as you are. I can see this being a lot of fun with some buddies and beers.

You use the Left Stick to move about the arena floor and the Right Stick to aim, so it operates a lot like a twin stick shooter. Left Trigger is dash (which leaves an awesome neon trail in your wake) and Right Trigger is attack, which you can hold for more charged damage. Use the Left Bumper to parry attacks, rockets and thrown weapons, and you use Right Bumper to unexpectedly throw your weapon at your opponent. This works great when you and your opponent each have next to no health and they are expecting you to rush with your hammer, but instead you throw it at them from a distance to deal the final blow.

The rounds operate a lot like a battle royale game. You appear in a random spot in the arena and the weapons spawn at random spots at random times. As the round progresses and time starts to wind down, a red circle will appear and close in on you and your opponents, bringing you closer together. Stay outside of the circle and you will take damage. You get points for every kill and the amount of damage you deal to your opponents. The first person to fill up their points bars (you chose the round limits) goes into survival mode where you have to live to win the match. These last minute “all or nothing” stakes at the end of each round make for real tense battles for victory, and every match that ends real close is a nail biter because anybody can win.

After the round is complete, the person in last place gets first choice of their perk that is applied for the rest of the match. The perks are a neat mechanic and can turn the tides of a match. There are perks for additional health, higher damage, faster movement, freeze attacks, fire attacks and a vampire perk that the damage you deal is added to your health meter. The perks stack, so selecting the right perks are vital to your success in the rest of the rounds. For instance, having an extra damage perk and the vampire perk means the additional damage you are dealing is sent right to your health meter. It’s a neat combo of perks that I found some great success with.

After each match you are awarded XP based on wins and damage dealt, and you are given skins and taunts for every time you level up. Unfortunately the taunts and skins are very forgettable and don’t scratch that loot box itch that other games are so successful at. There is no carrot on a stick here, as I didn’t care about the taunts or the skins, so leveling up was more of a hassle because it increased the time between rounds.

There aren’t many weapons in the game, and I think this is an area where the developer can definitely improve. I found that my “go-to” weapon was the katana and its quick slices with medium damage. The rocket launcher was fun as well, as the homing missiles it shoots are both easy and fun to watch as they circle around walls to hit your opponent. The hammer is fun to knock back opponents, and if timed right, you can knock them off a building, or onto some train tracks that triggers an instant kill. The grenade launcher is fun once you get the timing and bouncing down pat. Having a grenade bounce off a wall at an opponent that is behind cover is a great way to deal some damage.

Each weapon has a health or ammo meter that once depleted you'll be back to throwing punches until another weapon appears. It’s a great way to balance the game so the one friend (probably the one that would sweep in Mortal Kombat non-stop when you were younger) that is really good with the grenade launcher can’t just sit in the corner unstoppable. Another weapon at your disposal is the laser strike, if you are eliminated, you gain control of a red targeting system that shoots a high powered laser from up above, and if timed right, you can take out multiple opponents at once. It’s a very neat way to get some extra points after a death. The delay on the laser and the limited time make it tough to score hits on a regular basis, but I think that adds to the balance of the game. Any easier and it would be worse than the blue turtle shell in Mario Kart.

Whether it’s the neon lights of a rainy city rooftop or the sunny palm tree paradise straight from Miami Vice, Hyper Jam’s graphics and performance are outstanding. The frame rate is butter smooth and I did not experience any slowdown no matter how hectic the action got. The graphics are crisp and clean and the various arenas you compete in offer a wide variety of color pallets, so you’re not just fighting in dark dingy alleys or subways round after round. The synthwave soundtrack fits the glowing neon features of the menu and effects used throughout the rounds. I would really like to see some additional arenas added in the future with some more interactive environments like the subway train.

I enjoyed my time with Hyper Jam but I don’t see myself going back to it unless they add some new modes and weapons. The shallow unlock system and lack of weapons in particular really hurt the replay value. Once you clear out all of the achievements, which you can knock out in less than 3 hours, there’s little to return to unless you and your buddies are bored one night and want to punch each other until someone falls in front of a train.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Donut County

Donut County started off as a tweet by a parody Peter Molyneux account that pitched crazy and eccentric ideas for video games. The 2012 tweet said “You play as a hole, you must move around an environment making certain elements fall into correct targets at the right time.” From this tweet, developer Ben Esposito (The Unfinished Swan) work-shopped this idea with other developers, and Donut County was born. It’s a charming and fun puzzle game with a surprisingly good story.

The story of Donut County is delivered mostly through text message conversations and flashbacks of characters that are trapped underground after they fell victim to the hole that swallowed their city. BK, a raccoon, and his human pal, Mira, are the main characters, and they both work at a donut shop in, you guessed it, Donut County. Like most teenagers, BK is addicted to a phone game and is focused on leveling up to 10 where he unlocks a shiny new quad-copter drone. He’s completely focused on this and ignores Mira’s warnings that the game he is playing is actually real life, and the donuts he thinks he’s delivering in game are actual holes popping up around their city swallowing up buildings and people.

The objective of Donut County’s levels is a lot like Katamari Damacy, where you start off as a small hole and you are able to swallow small items like flowers, bricks and cups. Then, the more you drop into the hole the bigger you get, eventually getting big enough to swallow buildings and sending them deep deep underground. Moving the hole around the level is simple, and its super satisfying to get big enough to drop the larger items into the hole. You can also use the hole to your advantage and place it under parts of bigger objects to make them tilt and flip, sending the smaller objects on top to the ground.

For example, there is a picnic table in one level, and on top of it there are cups, plates and some snacks. Place the hole underneath one of the pairs of legs, the table tilts and the objects on top of the table fall to the ground for easy pickings with the hole. It’s a very simple game mechanic that my 6 year old picked right up on. He actually played through the game himself and only needed help on the last scene. One scene in particular that my son loves is the bunnies. You drop multiple bunnies into the hole and hearts float above it for a few seconds, then more and more bunnies shoot out of the hole. Hey, rabbits do what rabbits do, but my son LOVES this part. He obviously doesn’t know what’s happening, he’s 6 and we haven’t had the talk. Maybe when he’s old enough I’ll boot up Donut County for an example.

Some of the levels have multiple areas, and clearing out the starting point will trigger a larger area and so on. It’s not all just dropping things into a hole though, as you progress you will unlock a catapult that attaches to the hole and you can shoot certain items back up into the air. You can use the catapult to launch these items to flip switches, break items high off the ground, or disturb the local wildlife. Once the level is clear of all the items on screen, you are brought back underground to hear the next tale of a citizen of Donut County and their encounter with the dreaded hole.

While Donut County is super fun to play, I didn’t find it challenging at all. I’ve played through the game twice and I have never failed a level, or got stuck on a puzzle longer than a few minutes. So it was disappointing when I reached the end in just under two hours each time. There is no scoring, no replaying the levels for time or leaderboard bragging rights to pull you back in for more. The only real reason to play through the game multiple times is to clean up achievements that you may have missed during the story.

The achievements are fun and tied to the story beats of the game, but some of them require you to do some odd things in the levels that you normally wouldn’t have tried. I like it when games use the achievements to get you to try oddball things, like let 35 eggs break when you should be catching them with the hole, or feed a bird a special recipe of soup. One thing that I can recommend is to take a peek at the achievement list beforehand. There are a few missable achievements, but you can easily go back to those levels after you completed the game via level select. It’s nice to have a game that doesn’t have all of the achievements tied to main story points and to me that adds a reason to replay some of the levels.

Donut County has a very distinct low polygon look to it and it works. It’s colorful, cute and an obvious nod to PS1 and N64 graphics that we all remember growing up. It looks and feels indy, and that’s where a lot of its charm comes from. The old school visual style mixed with the super smooth gameplay really makes for a fun experience as you swallow up everything on screen. The sounds of Donut County has your typical beeps and boops of puzzle games, and the characters have no voiced dialog, but one thing that stands out is the music. It’s a great mixture of soft guitar riffs with heavy beats of synthesized music. I often found myself nodding my head to the beat as I swallow up the city.

Donut County is a pretty simple puzzle game that has a lot of charming and fun puzzles, but won’t strain your brain to complete. While I had a great time with the under two hour story, I feel like there are a lot more places this game could have gone before it felt repetitive and tired. I find myself wanting more levels and characters to swallow. With a great visuals and sound, it’s pretty impressive that this was made by one person, I just wish he made more.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Subnautica

Subnautica is a diving exploration game that’s heavy on atmosphere and survival, and as you dive deeper, you’ll find a story filled with mystery and suspense. I have to admit one thing right off the bat here, this game scared me so bad I nearly punched my 6 year old son. I don’t have many fears. I’m not saying things don’t scare me, but I don’t have any of your typical fears like heights, clowns, the dark or spiders. Now that I’ve spent some serious time with Subnautica, I can say that deep dark oceans, and the huge creatures that inhabit them, are a serious issue for me... I looked it up, it’s real, and it’s called Thalassophobia. I just wish it was easier to pronounce. Don’t worry, I’ll explain the story about my 6 year old below, and please discard the email to child services, I did not hit him. Let's dive in!

Subnautica starts as most games and movies based survival do; You are traveling along, minding your own business, and your FedEx plane (yes, that’s a Cast Away reference) is going down and your character is forced to escape to a strange and unknown place. From there you are mostly on your own to survive. What sets Subnautica apart from other survival games is that it actually has a story to follow, where others are more focused on the gathering of materials and crafting upgrades and tools. While those systems are featured heavily in the game, it’s nice to have a story that ties it all together and progresses while you are focusing on upgrading your tools, suits, base and vehicles. The story beats come in data logs found among other crash sites, radio transmissions from other emergency pods and potential rescue ships that are nearby. I won’t go into the story at all passed 'the crash', because even the smallest of details could spoil where it is going, and with a game like this that is so heavily focused on exploring, I don’t want to take any of those surprises away from you. Just know it is very much worth playing through the story.

I played though Subnautica on an Xbox One X and a 4K TV and using 7.1 headphones for sound. states that it is “X Enhanced”, but under 4K graphics and HDR it has the dreaded N/A. My TV did not receive a HDR signal, and while it did show 2160p displaying on my screen, that was most likely upconverting, so I don’t think this is a true 4K game either. That said, some of the visuals are absolutely stunning. As you emerge from your escape pod, you are greeted immediately with an intense scene of destruction as the Aurora (your FedEx ship) has crashed onto an ocean planet. Flames are high as parts of the ship fall into the water, and creaks and groans from the ship really drive home the reality that the Aurora isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The visuals underwater are not as pretty, and since this game takes place 99% underwater, you start to see where this falls apart. The rocks and plants all lack detail, and as you get close, they never tighten up, showing muddy colors and textures that should be a lot crisper given the hardware they are running on.

Subnautica also suffers from serious pop-in and framerate drops. These issues show immediately, but in the beginning it’s just a small nuisance. Swimming around your starter area, you’ll notice some pop-in here and there. Some plants or fish will appear late, within 10 feet of your virtual self, and it’s a tad frustrating, especially when you are looking for the small limestone deposits that house the valuable materials you need to craft. You really need to get up close and personal with the floor and cave walls in order to see the possible materials scattered about. I spent a good hour just diving around the immediate vicinity of the pod, and I thought I cleared out a lot of the salvage, only to find more on the ocean floor that had not popped onto my screen the last time I passed.

Also, you will notice a huge framerate drop when emerging from a dive. As the sound swooshes and water trickles down your mask, the game literally stops for a second or two. It’s very noticeable and takes you out of the atmosphere that the game does so well to hold under the water surface. As you progress in the game and start to discover bigger plants, bigger fish and bigger caves, the pop-in and framerate troubles start to really become a game breaking issue rather than a small nuisance. There were times when I was deep into a cave only to have another cave entrance pop off of my screen, and then back in about 20 feet down the reef in a completely different location. When deep in a cave like that, it is hard enough to keep your bearings and know where your air source is, and you’ll soon find yourself lost and out of air.

Sound on the other hand is top notch in Subnautica. The “clack clack” sounds of the predator fish, and the deep groans that some of the bigger fish and predators make in the deep open waters, really increase that fear I was talking about before. It’s terrifying that one minute you think you are alone swimming in a dark open ocean looking for limestone deposits, hoping one of them breaks open and that last piece of silver pops out, and then the deepest groan ever fills your ears. You swing around with your flashlight expecting to see something right in your face, but you see nothing, just a black open ocean, and then the groan continues. Then, you see something a bit darker in the distance kind of move.

Oh sh** is that... is that a Reaper Leviathan? Or is that a... *TAP TAP* “DADDY I CAN’T SLEEP”, then you realize that your 6 year old son snuck downstairs at midnight like a goddamned cat and is right up in your face wanting a glass of water. He’s screaming because you have your headphones on and you couldn’t hear him when he was coming down the stairs. But knowing that doesn’t help the tension built up inside you, so you instinctively swing your arms up, and for the first time ever, you call your son a swear word. Moments like that are what makes this game so enjoyable. It does such a great job of setting a tense atmosphere that you almost forget that you are playing a game, that is until the framerate or pop-in issues hit. Another highlight of the sound is the voice acting on the audio logs that you find scattered about. They do a great job of advancing the story, but what really stood out to me was the quality of the voice acting itself. Their stories and emotions are very easy to believe, and this really helps set the atmosphere of the game.

The gameplay loop in Subnautica is very similar to other survival games. At the start you have nothing except some emergency rations and water that is stored in your escape pod. This forces you to jump into the water to begin your journey by collecting materials that will help you survive. The starter escape pod has some sort of Star Trek replicator in it, and once you get that up and running, you can craft anything that you find recipes for. After some time, the rations that your escape pod launched with will run out and you will be on your own for food, water and air as well. So your best bet is to get your scanner and just spend some time exploring the starter area, scanning everything that you can. This gets you an idea of what materials can be harvested from the close plants, rocks and fish, but also adds the recipes that you need to survive.

For instance, after scanning some coral you learn that if you put both seabed salt and coral into the fabricator, you will make bleach. With bleach you can make yourself two bottles of fresh filtered water. Sure it’s not the brand that all the celebrities drink, but it hits the spot and will keep you from dying. Food is another resource that you need to worry about, and that’s not as easy to get as picking up some coral and salt. You need to physically catch the fish, which using the standard Xbox controls can be maddening. To pick things up from the sea floor or catch fish you have to use the 'A' button, the problem is, your right thumb needs to be on the Right Thumbstick to control where your diver is going. Having to chase a fast moving fish and then quickly take your thumb off the stick to hit 'A' will be frustrating at first, but after the 50th time, that the little f'ing fish gets away, you’re going to want a better solution. Luckily I have an elite controller and I mapped the 'A' button to one of the paddles, and suddenly I was Bear Grylls catching fish with my bare hands LIKE A MAN. Standard Xbox controllers also have the ability to map the buttons as you see fit, so I highly suggest mapping the 'A' button to one of the triggers. Another suggestion I have is to jot down notes as you go, specifically of the items you’ll need at first to make water and some of the other survival items.

Opening up the PDA is easy, and you can spend a ton of time flipping through the pages reading the data logs and learning recipes. But the problem is, opening the PDA doesn’t pause the game, and if you’re dumb like me and opened it up on the sea floor, then you’ll run out of air because you spent too much time looking up that one mushroom that looks like a bright pink butthole. Having a quick reference list right next to you really helps out when looking for materials. As you gather more materials, scan more objects and upgrade your suits, you’ll be able to dive deeper and explore more of the secrets that this game has to offer. I was able to make a fully functioning base at the bottom of the sea, complete with fabricator, storage lockers, material scanners, camera drones and planters where I could grow my own food. It’s pretty neat how much you can build, and it’s essential to exploring the deeper areas. The pressure of the deep water is too much for your regular suit and prawn suit, so you’ll have to make some watercraft like the Seamoth and Cyclops. Once you build a cyclops (single man sub) and upgrade it, then the real deep areas start to open up and you can explore the areas that I am too afraid to go.

Subnautica is a fantastic exploring and survival game that I cannot wait to dive deeper into, but it is in desperate need of a patch that fixes the pop-in and framerate. I’ve completed a lot of what the game has to offer, but I know there is so much more of this ocean planet to explore. I learned of a fear I have that I didn’t know existed, and learning about that fear makes me respect guys like Jacques Cousteau and the guy in search of the blue diamond in Titanic so much more.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a party game where you work together with others to defuse bombs before the timer runs out. It sounds pretty simple right? Well the idea is, but the difficulty ramps up pretty quickly, and I can see only the most dedicated groups defusing the advanced bombs. It will test your patience and intelligence, and if you can’t multitask worth a damn (I’m looking at you David) then you’re in for a long night of finger pointing and name calling.

Keep Talking is designed to play with one person looking at the screen with the bomb on it, and a team of nerds with the 23 page defusal manual split up between them. The nerds should not be able to see the screen, and the defuser doesn’t have access to the manual.

The defuser is looking at the bomb in first person and can rotate it completely, seeing every side with ease. The bomb will have two sides of modules to defuse and the difficulty will determine the amount and challenge of modules on each side. The bomb itself has a timer on it and you will detonate it if the timer runs out, or if you surpass the maximum amount of strikes allowed by making mistakes on a module.

Each bomb will include up to 11 modules that must be defused in any order before the timer runs out. Once the module you are working on has been defused, the indicator light will turn green and it’s time to work on the next. I don’t want to run through each of the modules, because I think a lot of the fun in this game is working out the modules yourself to find the best method that works for your group. One module that I will mention is wires, because what is a bomb without wires? There are 3, 4, 5, and 6 wire modules, each of which has its own set of rules on which wire to cut. Yellow, red, black, white and blue wires add to the confusion but overall this is the easiest module to complete.

Another fun one to play is called “Who’s on First?”. It’s named after the old Abbott and Costello bit and has you and a partner calling out words back and forth that are very similar, and can be very confusing. Some of the modules have instructions to get information from the bomb itself. For example, you may have to cut a yellow wire ONLY if the bomb has two batteries, or press and hold the button if the serial number on the bomb ends in a vowel. These are all things you need to remember when defusing. Hey, if bomb defusing was easy then kids would be doing it.

As you progress through the difficulty levels the bomb starts throwing more and more things at you. At first you may have 3 minutes to work through 3 modules, but in later levels you’ll have 5 minutes to work through 11 modules, and this is where it gets hectic. Along with the difficulty of the modules going up, the game introduces “needy” modules that need to be tended to as the timer counts down. Gas that needs to be vented, knobs to turn and capacitors that need to be discharged before their own timers run out or you’ll get a strike. It all adds to the tension.

As the name suggests, you are going to need to work together in order to make it through this game. I lucked out and was able to play this while out of town visiting some of my best friends who are also heavy into gaming. We were all in the same room and we all took it pretty serious, so we were able to get pretty far. I’m not saying your group has to be super serious to enjoy this game, but if you’ve got friends that just want to have fun and not play a serious puzzle game, then they may not have the best time. Also, while we played this game at the same location, we looked up some twitch streams of people playing over skype which looked fun as well. I think it works well in both cases, but it’s always nice to have your friends in the same room so they can see the look of disappointment on your face after they fail Morse Code for the fifth time (I’m looking at you Matt).

I had a BLAST (get it? A...blast...? I’ll see myself out) playing this with my gaming buddies and look forward to getting into some of the hardcore ones.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Guts and Glory

Ever wonder what it would be like if Goat Simulator and Trials had a very ugly baby? Well, you can give Guts and Glory a try and see for yourself you sick freak...but you may want to read this before you spend your hard earned $15 on it.

I’ll start it off by saying Guts and Glory is stupid fun; it’s the type of game that you can turn your brain off and just goof around in. I LOVE games like this, a little more than I should. As we grow older our lives can be full of serious issues and stress, so it’s sometimes nice to jump into our favorite hobby and not have those same feelings.

You’re not going to be getting a serious experience here. There’s no multiplayer, no story, no leaderboard (that I could find), no collectibles and no reason to replay each level other than to show someone else how you can make this old man on a makeshift jet chair fly across the level and explode into a bloody mess on the ground. You simply do one challenge and move on to the next.

The main objective is to get from point A to point B, all the while pretty much everything on the course is trying to kill you. These hazards include spinning logs, glitches, arrows, cannon balls (both fired and rolling), glitches, the physics, saw blades (both on the end of sticks and shot as projectiles), glitches, mines... and did I mention glitches? It’s important that I explain here how the glitches are part of the experience and I honestly believe they do not hurt the game at all, in fact, in most cases they are pretty hilarious. Stay with me here.

I know as hardcore gamers we expect a level of polish when it comes to our games. We are spending our hard earned dollars on something and we expect it to be perfect. But when you’re screaming downhill on a bicycle dodging people, trees, arrows, saw blades and then a very large wrecking ball hits you so hard that your game freezes and you get booted to the xbox home page, you really have no other choice but to laugh it off. That’s an extreme example and it only happened once, but when stuff like that happens, you just treat it as a death or a failed attempt, because let’s face it, you were probably going to get hit by a saw blade 10 feet later if that wrecking ball missed you. There were many, many smaller glitches that happened during my play time and only a few actually resulted in a death, so really, no harm no foul.

There are 9 different challenge groups, and each one has about a dozen or so tracks within, and each track should take you a few minutes to complete if you make it through without dying (you won’t). There are so many things that can go wrong that YOU WILL DIE numerous times before completing it. Luckily the load times are only 5-8 seconds, so dying isn’t much of a hassle at all. Just hit up on the D-Pad at any time and you’ll start at the last checkpoint. In the easier more simple levels you can just blast full speed hoping to make it through to the end in one piece, but some of the harder levels, labeled meat grinder, take a bit of strategy to complete. You’ll have to brake, lean, or even adjust your angle mid-air to make it through some obstacles, and this is where the game admittedly starts to fall apart.

The controls just aren’t tight enough to be that precise with your movements. Small movements are almost impossible to perform because the controls are so loose, and that frustrated me more than any glitch. There’s one level I couldn’t complete and I blame it 100% on the controls. You are an older woman on a motorbike colored like Evil Knievel (USA! USA!) and you have a very narrow path to navigate. It’s a straight shot track and you’d think that would be simple, but there are boost spots on the ground like Mario Kart, causing you to accelerate to speeds above 200 mph. Oh, did I mention there are cacti all over the place? Sometimes there are 3-4 standing next to each other and you have a gap no bigger than your bike to fit through. I attempted it easily 50 times before I threw in the towel. It was fun at first to watch the old lady splatter against the wall, or lose an arm to a cactus, but when it’s the game that’s causing the death and not your skill, it starts to get old pretty fast.

I’m not going to focus much time on talking about graphics or sound because I don’t think the developers did either (ba-dum-tish!). Graphics are very simple and so is the audio. It looks and sounds like the early days of Goat Simulator. What I would rather focus on is the character models and physics when it comes to interacting with the obstacles.

I keep a gaming journal near me while I game most nights. I use it to jot down notes, keep a list of objectives, or I use it to remind myself of places to avoid or see in the games I play. On my list of notes for this game I had a lot about the deaths, some glitches and some of the humorous things that happened, but I had one line that simply read “Physics?”, and that pretty much sums it up for this game.

The physics in Guts and Glory are so hilariously inconsistent that it has to be intentional. You can bounce off a wall going 40 mph without a scratch, but fall from a ramp 5ft off the ground as you explode into a puddle of blood on the ground. There’s times when you’re just riding in an open grassy area and you’ll hit a small bump and fall off the bike having to reset the track. Then, in the next run, you’ll be pedaling along dodging arrows and a cannonball that hits you dead on, and you just shift over about 5 feet and keep going as if nothing happened. Physics are real hit or miss, but I think that’s part of what gives this game character.

Now, picture this; you are an adult male and you want to take your special girl on a bike ride in the city. Problem is, she doesn’t have her own bike. What do you do? Well the obvious answer is to get a small baby seat and strap it above the back wheel and have her sit in it right? Oh, there’s more. How about an old man pulling his special lady behind him in a wagon? A young man on a hoverboard? A redneck on an ATV with bottles of beer and a rifle in the back? A Spanish gentleman (his name is Pedro, don’t @ me) and his two associates riding in the bed of a pick-up filled with cocaine? Wait what? At first maybe I thought they were delivery men but then I saw the license plate “YEYO” and, now I’m no NARC, but they aren’t delivering for Amazon.

The point is, there are a ton of hilarious characters to choose from. They all have their own grunts, growls and howls as they get pelted with arrows and bump off objects in the game. The best part by far is when those characters get hit by saw blades. Limbs fly, blood shoots out like a sprinkler and... sometimes you keep going! I’m serious, I finished one track with one leg and one arm left. How do you peddle a bike uphill with one leg? I don’t f****** care, I made it to the end and nobody can take that away from me. That’s the best part of this game hands down, watching how the characters bounce and flop about as their arm gets chopped off by a saw and they just keep pedaling along to victory.

Guts and Glory is glitchy, it's ugly, the sound is bad, and the gameplay is pretty awful, but it’s fun to play and that was enough for me. If you can snag this game on sale, or as part of Gamepass, I fully recommend giving this game a try one night when you’re in the mood to sip a tasty beverage and show off a silly game to your friends. At its current price of $15 though, I just don’t think there’s enough reason to purchase it, unless you are Pedro with a pickup truck full of nose candy and money to burn.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Long Reach, The

“The Long Reach is an adventure game filled with colorful characters, puzzles, and a shock of discovery”. That’s the official description on at least, and it’s pretty accurate, but they also have it listed as a role playing game, and something tells me that’s a mistake. The Long Reach is developer Painted Black Games’ first game that I could find, and you can tell they draw inspiration from classic adventure games like Monkey Island and Kings Quest with its pixel art, clever sarcastic characters and item based puzzles. Let’s get into it!!

For the most part, your time with The Long Reach will be spent playing as Stewart as he navigates the halls of his research facility on the day of the big Christmas party. The research facility’s motives are kept a secret, but the project Stewart is a part of has something to do with teaching its subjects new abilities subliminally. As the main story opens, you move Stewart to a piano where he begins to play. Later you find out that Stewart has never taken a piano lesson in his life. Surprise! The scientists are also the test subjects!

As any good horror/thriller movie or game has taught us, things tend to go wrong when manipulating the human brain. Stewart passes out playing the piano and awakens some time later to the research facility in shambles, and the story unfolds from there. Stewart is hilariously naive at this point, and as he passes by a broken vending machine covered in blood, he remarks “someone must have really wanted chocolate”. This is an example of the humor throughout this game and it lays it on thick to the end credits.

The story from here on out is moved forward by interacting with other members of the research team, and you are presented with small dialog options that have no influence on the story itself, aside from the final decision the game gives you. This doesn’t mean you should avoid talking to the other scientists during your play through, as all of them have been affected by the research in their own scary, and sometimes hilarious way. One of your colleagues thinks he’s a dog, and another, named Maxwell, thinks he’s his D&D character and leads you on a small quest to recover a very well know artifact in order for you to pass through his area.

As you pass through this area you notice that it’s more of a sacrifice room, and maybe Maxwell isn’t as playful and harmless as you once thought. Unfortunately, that’s where your interaction with Maxwell ends, and that formula is repeated for the rest of your interactions with the other scientists. They are few and far between, and I would have liked more interaction with Maxwell and some of the other test subjects, that way we could experience their side effects. There just isn’t enough character interaction, and one piece of advice I can give you to enjoy this game a bit more would be to read the emails, post-it notes and to interact with anything that the environment lets you. All of that not only provides you with hints at puzzles, but gives you some background information on the characters and events leading up to the accident.

At its core, The Long Reach is an adventure/puzzle game, and most of its puzzles are to retrieve a set of keys to gain access to a room or to use an item from your inventory to fix a problem. You can combine items in your inventory, and can also pick up items that aren’t involved with any puzzles, but I never reached a limit to what I could hold, so horde all of those small items! Chances are you will use them in a later puzzle, and this will prevent any unnecessary backtracking.

Most of the puzzles you encounter consist of 1-2 steps, or 1-2 items to solve, but there was one that took 4-5 steps, and that was easily the hardest of the puzzles in the game. Feel free to experiment with items you know will not work on certain objects, as Stewart will often chime in with his brand of sarcasm, often leading to a funny one liner. One item I tried by accident resulted in Stewart saying “that worked in the Youtube tutorial I saw” making fun of the walkthroughs that happen with these games.

There are a few enemies lurking the halls and they will kill you on contact, so there is some stealth needed when you know they are nearby. Since there is no combat in the game, you are forced to run and hide until the enemy has moved on. You can hide in shadows, crates and air ducts (there’s even a Die Hard reference) so you’ve got enough tools at your disposal to avoid the enemies.

The term Pixel Art Thriller is also used to describe this game, and I think that’s where this game shines. The pixel art is used in a way that there’s enough detail to understand that something bad happened (blood on the walls, Christmas decorations torn, dark abandoned hallways) but it still holds true to the Monkey Island and Kings Quest graphics that clearly inspired it.

The sound effects continue the trend and match the graphics with a familiar set of beeps, swishes, taps and clunks that were in adventure games of the past. The music is a little more modern and relies on eerie tones and synthesizers that almost always hint at a pop scare, but that scare never happens. There were a lot of times I was reading a note or some dialog and the music was pumping like I was being chased by one of the enemies. I’d quickly exit the menu back to the game only to find nothing happening.

A big part of my gaming style revolves around achievements. I find that they add a lot to the game and sometimes force you to play in a different manner that you normally would. The 15 achievements are tied to story events and collectibles. Fortunately, one of the collectible achievements is for reading all the emails on 8 computers. Like I mentioned above, this is a good way to get a bit of backstory on the characters and events leading up to the start of the game. There is one missable achievement that I got by accident when I selected a dead body to hear one of Stewart's sarcastic comments. Other than that, you can easily mop up all 1000 points in one play through. I was able to clear the game and its achievements in 3 hours.

I enjoyed my short time with The Long Reach, but I feel that there were some missed opportunities when it comes to the puzzles and character development. The story focuses on a failed experiment, and there are countless patient/scientist side effects that could have been explored, ranging from violent to funny. With more characters, comes more possibilities of puzzles that could focus on the hallucinations that Stewart experiences, and the hallucinations that the other subjects are having. Particularly, more interaction with Maxwell would have been great. He was the only character that really got some attention and it wasn’t nearly enough.

With the short story, limited characters, limited puzzles and no branching storylines designed for multiple playthroughs, I cannot fully recommend this game for the $15 USD that it is priced at. There’s just too many better options for your money at this price point, and this is a game best saved for a sale or if it gets added to Game Pass.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10

Site Statistics

Registered Members: 50,835
Forum Posts: 725,924
Xbox One Titles: 3,199
Xbox 360 Titles: 1,086
Xbox 360 Kinect Titles: 95
Xbox 360 Arcade Titles: 586
Original Xbox Titles: 987
Staff Reviews: 2,101
Member Reviews: 10,339
News Articles: 15,796
Screenshots: 34,582
Xbox 360 Achievements: 45,112
Xbox 360 Faceplates: 2,016
Cheat Codes: 1,706

Latest News

See News Archives

Community Forum Activity

2021: XBA is still here
Post by shrew king
1 Replies, 4230 Views

Watch Dogs: Legion
Post by Nato King
0 Replies, 20224 Views

Xbox Series X or S
Post by Nato King
5 Replies, 23949 Views

Spellbreak Grand Magus Pack (3) and Starter Pack (7) Giveaway!
Post by Variation-XBA
0 Replies, 18885 Views

I pay $ 1000! I search the Element 54 Canadian launch Team signaturen Faceplate
Post by Smill
0 Replies, 16621 Views

Xbox one no signal
Post by debrartin
0 Replies, 43100 Views

do you remember?
Post by SnoochyBoochy
3 Replies, 44974 Views

i haz xbox
Post by SnoochyBoochy
0 Replies, 39939 Views

Claiming the first thread of 2020
Post by Kraft
7 Replies, 67605 Views

Important! I pay $ 1000! I search the Sweden launch and the Element 54 Faceplate
Post by Smill
3 Replies, 26935 Views

Squad Up
Post by samslophead
0 Replies, 66532 Views

TERA Skinned Xbox One X Giveaway!
Post by Variation-XBA
0 Replies, 55805 Views

Starfield Release expectations?
Post by DJ tx
4 Replies, 106108 Views

Issue with Xbox live on Xbox home
Post by rcmpayne
0 Replies, 76160 Views

Happy Birthday, Me.
Post by SnoochyBoochy
4 Replies, 92330 Views

© 2000-2021 - All rights reserved. All trademarks are properties of their respective owners.
Xbox is a registered trademark of Microsoft. is not affiliated with Microsoft.

Made in Canada
Site Design by Cameron Graphics