After years of waiting, Samurai Jack finally got the ending that many thought would never come. Now that the story has concluded, let’s look back at how the final season pulled off such a strong finish despite a some pacing issues towards the end.
Warning: full spoilers ahead!
Moving to Adult Swim gave Genndy Tartakovsky and his gifted team the license to take Samurai Jack in a more mature direction, and aging up the content to better align with the tastes of its now-adult audience proved to be a master stroke. Adult themes were explored in a way that broke new ground for the show. Jack took his first human life in the season’s biggest gut-punch moment, making him confront the morality of killing in battle. Instead of hacking away at lifeless robots, Jack now spilt the blood of his enemies and suffered nasty, grievous injuries himself. Wandering the land, immortal and unable to defeat Aku, Jack suffered intense PTSD that haunted him in the form of his younger self given a demonic makeover. And the introduction of Ashi gave Jack his first true romance, and for as complicated as it was with her being the daughter-assassin of Aku, their love became the crux of the show’s emotionally devastating finale.
All throughout Season 2, My Hero Academia has done an excellent job of delivering a seamless blend of action and character development. “Bakugo vs. Uraraka” is no different, serving up a thrilling battle that provides new insight into Bakugo and establishes Uraraka as a strong character who will fight tooth and nail to achieve her dreams.
Despite what others seem to think, Bakugo isn’t an evil, bloodthirsty villain. While he uses extreme words like “die,” it’s clear that deep down his ruthless, competitive spirit stems entirely from his desire to be number one. This is made perfectly evident in his battle with Uraraka. Instead of writing her off as an easy win, he sees Uraraka as a formidable opponent who shouldn’t be underestimated. I really appreciate how Bakugo’s attitude in this battle reinforces the fact thatUraraka isn’t just some frail girl he should go easy on, despite the booing audience who clearly believes otherwise.
The second part of Season 10’s loose trilogy that started with Extremis last week, The Pyramid at the End of the World feels a little saggy even as it tells a tale of world-spanning danger. And yet, the terrific trio of Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie and Matt Lucas keep the hour entertaining and intriguing all the same.
Turtle Beach’s Elite Pro hardware is the company’s ultimate setup for eSports, combining a high-end headset with an external 7.1 soundcard/controller for fine-tuning everything and greatly expanding its connectivity. At $200 MSRP the Elite Pro are the company’s most expensive wired headphones, and you can add another $150 for the external soundcard (both can currently be purchased as a bundle – (See it on Amazon) (See it on Amazon UK).
Treyarch’s Zombies is the one that started it all, and the beloved mode has evolved a lot over the years and with different Call of Duty developers. For Black Ops 3, Zombies Chronicles offers eight remastered maps from World at War through Black Ops 2 with improved graphics, audio, and Black Ops 3’s Zombies features. It’s a greatest hits collection with enough variety to bring in new and veteran Zombies players alike, and it makes it worth revisiting Zombies at its roots.
Chronicles has a strong foundation in its map selection–it includes smaller, more manageable maps like World at War’s Nacht der Untoten alongside more complex, story-centric maps like Black Ops’ Ascension. If you’re new to Zombies, you can hone strategies on the simpler maps, and if you’ve been a fan of Treyarch’s Zombies for a while, at least one of your favorites is here. There’s also good variety in map structure and the strategies they each call for, from the more open Shi no Numa to the small, easily-overrun rooms of Verruckt.
These maps are now better than ever thanks to the fantastic technical improvements. Atmospheric enhancements, from eerie screeches to subtle lighting changes, supplement the more straightforward graphics upgrade, and they make the same gripping, stay-up-all-night zombies rounds you remember feel fresh and modern. The most noticeable change, especially in the heat of the moment, is the enhanced audio–the horrible death rattle of a gunned-down zombie and the unearthly howling of the Hellhounds are grating in the best way. The guttural snarls behind you feel more urgent, and that translates to greater tension even on maps you played to death the first time around.
Years-old strategies need a bit of tweaking thanks to the introduction of Black Ops 3’s Zombies features, and which further help in keeping the classic maps from feeling stale. Gobblegum and its various perks, for example, are optional, but depending on what you get, you might play a map differently compared to the way you remember. The change-up works well for groups that have a mix of new and returning players, too, since it gives newcomers an opportunity to be a bit more involved in the plan instead of just following someone who’s already routed the map.
The Black Ops 3 features also work for newer players on their own, particularly those who started with Treyarch’s most recent game. If you don’t have the nostalgia going into Chronicles, small things like Gobblegum help to modernize the older, less-involved maps without overshadowing what made them favorites to begin with.
Atmospheric enhancements make the same gripping, stay-up-all-night zombies rounds you remember feel fresh and modern.
Chronicles also includes Black Ops 3 weapons, but they make very little difference in how you strategize–they’re really just there to keep the collection in line with Treyarch’s latest. It is nice to pick up the Kuda early on if you spent any time at all with Black Ops 3’s multiplayer and want something a bit more familiar until you can get to the Mystery Box, but you’ll still end up crossing your fingers and hoping for the Ray Gun anyway. Of course, that Ray Gun is as satisfying to fire as ever–it’s just disappointing that the weapon additions are mostly fluff.
Zombies Chronicles takes a good combination of maps and upgrades them with great attention to detail. Newer Zombies features keep the collection modern, but its greatest strength is in the lighting and audio upgrades, which make the Zombies experience that many fans obsessed over before feel creepier, more tense, and more exhilarating than ever.
NBA Playgrounds attempts to fill the void left by beloved series like NBA Jam and NBA Street. And while it can be a fun, flashy arcade game, it quickly succumbs to its own repetitive gameplay and presentation–with frustrating results.
Playgrounds has only one game mode in both single-player and online multiplayer: two-on-two. Aside from an Exhibition mode used for practice, the bulk of your time in Playgrounds is spent competing in tournaments around the world on one of six courts, styled after real-world cities such as New York and Shanghai. You have to play through three-minute games before your team is able to compete in the five-minute championship, which unlocks new courts and player-card packs that grant you a new selection of the game’s 150-plus real players from the NBA’s 30 teams.
Playgrounds is quick and fun–in the short term. A lot of the game’s offense and defense comes down to timing. Once you get that down, it adds a fun sense of rhythm to the game–knowing when to release a shot, the best time to try for a steal, or when to attempt an alley-oop. But a lack of AI responsiveness disrupts that rhythm. Computer-controlled teammates won’t always react when you direct them to set a pick or initiate an alley-oop, which can lead to the shot clock expiring or an easy steal for your opponent. You eventually learn that you can only consistently rely on your AI teammate to shepherd the ball while you look for open space on the court.
Despite the fact that your partner is often unreliable, the moments when the AI behaves according to plan can lead to impressive displays of teamwork. You’re rewarded for flashy play during games by pulling off alley-oops, fancy dunks, and stealing the ball from opponents. These moves fill up your team’s special meter, which, when full, pays out a random “lottery pick.” One such lottery pick guarantees a player’s shot will go in from any distance after passing the half-court line, or even if it’s being blocked by the opposing team. Another one awards two extra points for dunks, helping to transform a close game into a four-point lead at the drop of a hat.
The hope of getting a lottery pick, as well as the fear of having one used against you, keeps games tense. You may find yourself pumping your fists in excitement one moment, then throwing your controller when an opponent gets a lucky opportunity the next. The give and take of this system’s rewards and punishments are immediately apparent and encourage improvement in your overall strategy.
There’s a definite feeling of accomplishment in the process of getting better at Playgrounds. Finding a break to make a three-pointer, disregarding traditional rules to shove an opponent away from the ball when they’re most vulnerable, or capitalizing on a fleeting opportunity for a flashy dunk all feel great, and smart plays are often rewarded with expressive, hype-inducing animations.
Despite the fact that each character has his own stats, they rarely feel distinct from each other during a game.
Special mention has to be given to Playgrounds’ dunks. They’re impressively choreographed–your player may do flips, spins, or even knock opponents down in midair, all before nearly ripping the rim from the backboard. Conversely, it’s maddening to watch your opponent do the same when your defensive lapses lead to a creative display of dominance on the court, but in a way that inspires you to consistently do better, rather than to quit.
One of Playgrounds’ main draws is no doubt its goofy aesthetic, which is a direct homage to NBA Jam. Unlocking new characters is enjoyable in that you’re treated to detailed-yet-stylized takes on real-world players. But despite the fact that each character has his own stats, they rarely feel distinct from each other during a game. You can easily get by using the initial roster, and once you settle on a pair of go-to players, subsequent recruits ultimately feel like trophies on a shelf–awarded for playing well, rather than new tools.
Variety ends with the game’s visuals, though. There isn’t much else to do other than playing through a tournament. In Exhibition, you have some added options, like the color of the ball or how long a game lasts, but in tournaments, you play the same four rounds over and over across the game’s six levels. Getting stuck on a particularly hard final round can be immensely frustrating, given the lack of an alternative mode or palate cleanser. This monotony is exacerbated by the game’s two announcers–Ian Eagle and EJ Johnson–who repeat the same corny jokes each game.
Playgrounds’ online offering is also plagued by this lack of content, also launching with only one game mode. But playing against an actual person does help alleviate some of the game’s repetition. Online games tend to be far goofier and more sporadic, with two players competing not just to win, but to do so in style. Reckless performances in the name of fun gives Playgrounds’ multiplayer games a level of slapstick enjoyment not found in single-player.
Even if Playgrounds’ single-player mode lacks the unbridled merriment that makes multiplayer so enjoyable, finally getting the upper hand in a tournament is rewarding and exciting in its own way. But even at its best, Playgrounds doesn’t offer enough variety to keep you engaged for long. Playing the same game type over and over, with only levels and opponent names changing, quickly gets old, no matter how good they feel in the moment. Even one additional game type at launch might’ve made the overall package more enjoyable, but as of right now, it might be best to wait for Saber to patch in some variety.
Super Rude Bear Resurrection is one of the hardest games I’ve ever played–but only at times. Certain games, Resident Evil 4 being a famous example, use a dynamic difficulty system, invisibly adjusting to keep the action challenging but not frustrating. Super Rude Bear Resurrection does something similar, only in a much more obvious, tangible way.
It’s a hardcore platformer in the mold of Super Meat Boy, but with a novel twist that gives meaning to the countless deaths you’ll suffer throughout. Corpses persist after death and can be used to create a safer path through levels (where one false step will send you back to the last checkpoint). In essence, almost every death serves to make the game slightly easier–though you can also clear levels without ever dying. It’s a delightful concept that further enhances a game that’s already strong thanks to its wealth of ideas and fantastic soundtrack.
At its most basic, Super Rude Bear Resurrection is a fairly straightforward platformer, tasking you with navigating stages filled with all manner of deadly spikes, arrows, swinging axes, more spikes, and creatures that toss snowballs at you harmlessly–until those snowballs just nudge you to your doom. You’ll maneuver through levels using simple jumps and wall jumps. You have no offensive capabilities, and the game doesn’t offer any special abilities to unlock or power-ups to find. You could, in theory, complete any level right from the get-go, although it’ll likely take dozens–or, more likely, hundreds–of deaths before you’re able to consistently overcome the trickiest obstacles.
The level design shows a tremendous amount of care on the part of developer Alex Rose Games. Stages are meticulously crafted to maximize difficulty without feeling unfair, but they’re also created in a way that allows for corpses to ease your path. A carcass might block incoming arrows or give you a safe spot in a row of spikes to jump on, and it can destroy certain traps when it comes into contact with them.
It’s easy for the corpses to pile up, particularly due to the way Super Rude Bear Resurrection’s levels toy with you. The game plays with your expectations and sets up hazards to punish you for relying on anticipation, rather than your reactions. Many deaths stem from hazards located immediately after checkpoints–these are seemingly placed for the explicit purpose of punishing your eagerness to immediately get back into the action after respawning. You can practically hear Alex Rose chuckling to himself every time you rush into an easily avoidable death. That might explain the mocking remarks of your floating companion, who also delivers the story (and jokes), allows you to destroy corpses in your path, and lets you scout out the areas ahead.
Super Rude Bear Resurrection isn’t an especially long game, although seeking out no-death runs, better leaderboard rankings, secret worlds, and dialogue (easy to miss the first time around) provides ample incentive for multiple playthroughs. The primary upside to not being long is also what’s most impressive about Super Rude Bear: it never runs out of steam. It feels fresh from beginning to end thanks to the way it consistently sprinkles in new types of challenges over the course of the entire game. Falling spikes, NPCs with hammers, arrow launchers, homing missiles, spinning lasers–you won’t play for long without encountering a new idea.
Some of these new ideas introduce interesting ways of interacting with corpses. Deaths caused by missiles and lasers freeze your body into an ice block. In the case of the missiles, ice blocks can provide stepping stones over a gap or block further missiles from being fired, while lasers pull the ice in, thereby preventing the lasers from reaching you on your next life.
“On the strength of its pacing and basic mechanics alone, Super Rude Bear Resurrection would make for an extremely engaging platformer. The addition of its corpse mechanic elevates it to something greater.”
Further adding to the variety are the boss fights littered throughout, each with its own unique gimmick that doesn’t feel at odds with the platforming framework of the game. One tasks you with avoiding spikes and the attacks of a breakdancing robot while standing on a rising platform. Another requires you to ride a moving platform through an otherwise standard level while avoiding a flying enemy that attempts to knock you off or crush you. The latter was particularly memorable, as being knocked down doesn’t guarantee death; provided you’re skilled enough, you can jump off of the boss itself and potentially recover. Whereas the bosses in Super Meat Boy have always felt to me more like obstacles that stand in the way of returning to the regular action, Super Rude Bear’s boss stages were among my favorites in the game.
Later levels ask a lot, requiring an almost-superhuman level of precision to complete without a death–an accomplishment I couldn’t even begin to sniff over the last quarter of the game. Yet, because of instant respawns and an excuse to continue listening to the stellar soundtrack, I never found myself frustrated, even when a particular section would cause me to die dozens of times. In fact, it was often hard not to laugh as I amassed an abundance of corpses (every one of which is dumped into a pile from the top of the screen at the conclusion of a level, just as a reminder). These attempts where I clearly wasn’t going to set a new time on the leaderboards often became fun experiments to see just how much I could screw with the design of the level.
In certain cases, the game actually becomes far too easy with even just a few deaths. Thankfully, if you find that to be the case, higher difficulty settings restrict the ability to destroy traps, leave behind corpses, and even use checkpoints. These options give you the flexibility to make the game as difficult as you want, which is great, since it’s most satisfying when played at the highest difficulty you can tolerate. The thrill of making it through a tough level with little help is matched by few other platformers I’ve ever played.
Not everything is quite so well executed, however. Visually, the game isn’t always clear about where you can safely stand or whether a corpse will protect you–spikes or blades sometimes extend beyond a body but won’t hurt you. The lack of an overworld is disappointing, if inessential, but the inability to access leaderboards anytime other than at the end of a level feels like an unfortunate oversight. A glitch when changing difficulties would cause the sound to drop out until I paused and unpaused the action. And certain level elements, such as falling icicles, are occasionally triggered before they should be after a respawn, which requires a quick death to reset. Because this only happened after a death, it never cost me a flawless run, but it was nonetheless a small source of frustration.
For all of these minor gripes, none of them stand in the way of enjoying nearly every second of playtime. On the strength of its pacing and basic mechanics alone, Super Rude Bear Resurrection would make for an extremely engaging platformer. The addition of its corpse mechanic elevates it to something greater, allowing it to simultaneously serve as an extreme challenge for the most diehard platforming fans as well as a game that can be enjoyed by the novice crowd. Super Rude Bear Resurrection demands a lot from you, but the satisfaction of success is immense in the end.
Capcom is big on cashing in on its extensive gaming history, so yet another blast-from-the-past package of 8-bit games from the company is no surprise. In this case, the theme is Disney–and a good reminder that, when Disney put its name on a game back in the day, it was a pretty sure bet you’d be in for a good time. Disney and Capcom had a great track record of solid NES titles based on beloved late-’80s/early-’90s cartoons, and now those 8-bit classics are available in one affordable package.
If you’re the kind of person who even just sees the word DuckTales and instantly hears “woo-ooo!” in your mind, Capcom’s gifting you a retro treat here. Six games are included in the Disney Afternoon Collection, and they are the kind of side-scrolling platformers so prevalent in the NES’ heyday.
You’ll find DuckTales and DuckTales 2, both Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers titles, Darkwing Duck, and the aerial shooter TaleSpin in the collection. These are largely straightforward ports of the original games made to fit your HDTV, but they’re otherwise untouched replications of the original NES versions. You can turn filtering on and off on the fly to smooth out the pixelated graphics and stretch the game to fit your screen (or leave the bordered version true to the original aspect ratio), but none of the graphics have been explicitly retouched.
Given the nature of this collection, the entire pack feels like an historical artifact. In their day, Capcom’s Disney-themed games had impressively high production values, solid level design, and otherwise stood out thanks to their recognizable cartoon cast. They also shared another defining feature–they were almost universally, uncompromisingly difficult (a trend that would continue well into the Super Nintendo years).
The Chip ‘n Dale games were cooperative platformers, which was distinctive for the time. DuckTales offered players the ability to take the large worlds in whatever order they wanted and offered replay value with the ability to revisit previously explored worlds, since the levels were full of secret gems. Darkwing Duck focused on side-scrolling shooting and a humorously noirish atmosphere that was countered by a controller-throwing level of potential frustration due to game mechanics and difficulty level. The odd duck out (so to speak), TaleSpin, starts off almost like a side-scrolling arcade shooter, where you can only shoot one slow bullet at a time, which can be upgraded over time. The pacing is such that every shot must be timed perfectly, or you’re doomed.
The games themselves are only part of the appeal here, though. Capcom has included a plethora of additional content as well. The Disney Museum lets you stroll down memory lane and provides some interesting perspective on each game and their characters. The goodies offered in the Museum include ads, concept art, and soundtracks. Given the historical nature of the games, this is a particularly nice touch that adds more weight to the idea that once, long ago, these were premium-priced, triple-A titles.
Each game also comes with two new modes: Boss Rush and Time Attack. Boss Rush distills the game down into a gauntlet run made up entirely of bosses, as the name suggests. Time Attack adds an interesting layer of social gaming to the mix–this mode lets you race through the levels against the clock but also links to online leaderboards to let you compete against the world for the fastest times.
The final addition to the Disney Afternoon Collection is the rewind button, which boosts the enjoyment of these challenging diversions. Pressing the left shoulder button instantly backs the action up so you can try again. It works throughout every game, and you can even use the feature to go back to the very beginning of a level. To say it’s a sanity saver for those not used to punishment of this magnitude is an understatement.
The Disney Afternoon Collection is a refined time capsule that covers a very specific chapter in gaming history. While these games might not be anything to get overly excited about individually, in a package that includes plenty of history and extras, this collection is a nostalgic curiosity with heart.
Shovel Knight is defined by its likeness to games from the era of 8-bit consoles. It takes inspiration from games like Mega Man and Ducktales not only in its pixel- and pitch-perfect audiovisual aesthetic, but also in its mechanics–Shovel Knight is a resolutely unforgiving 2D platformer. Peril is almost always present on screen–be it a bottomless pit or a tough enemy that can quickly whittle down your health–making this a game that demands your undivided attention as much as it does your quick reflexes. Specter of Torment is the latest expansion to Shovel Knight, a prequel that’s available as a standalone campaign on Nintendo Switch or a free update to those who already own the main game, and it follows the titular Specter Knight as he sets out to gather an army for the series’ primary antagonist, The Enchantress.
Specter Knight’s default skillset is dramatically more varied than that of Shovel Knight, with a focus on the lightness and dexterity of his character, as opposed to Shovel Knight’s heavier, brute-force feel. Specter Knight has an innate ability to wall jump, mount ledges, and vertically scale walls for a short time. Most significantly, Specter has the ability to perform a mid-air scythe dash on enemies and certain environmental objects, an attack which sends him flying at an angle and is used for traversal as much as it is for offence.
The execution of these moves is simple, requiring nothing more than a timely press of the attack or jump buttons, and together they make Specter feel like a powerfully agile character who is a joy to control. But with these abilities come more difficult challenges in Specter of Torment’s new platforming levels. Unlike Shovel Knight, whose stages gradually grew in difficulty and were gated in an overworld map style reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 3, Specter of Torment presents you with the full selection of what I personally found to be equally-challenging stages and their accompanying boss fights, available to be tackled in any order in a structure more reminiscent of the Mega Man series.
Bottomless pits and other instant-death hazards feel more abundant in Specter of Torment, and proceeding forward almost always involves more than just careful jumping. Stages often require you to chain a series of movements together in order to keep Specter Knight airborne for extended periods of time over treacherous ground, and one fumbled execution could mean a complete do-over. You might climb the side of a wall to get you just enough height to wall-jump towards a series of swinging chandeliers, letting you scythe-dash into each one and eventually fling yourself across the room to mantle an opposing wall. Managing to reach a checkpoint after perfectly overcoming a series of obstacles without fumbles or fatalities is always a thrilling relief. The dexterous demands of performing these moves means that progress always feels satisfying and well-earned, even when it feels second-nature.
Each themed stage adds its own unique mechanical twists to the game’s platforming which need to be internalised too. There are some incredibly memorable ones such as scythe surfing, which sees Specter Knight ride his scythe like a skateboard and grind rails to move through stages at speed–but otherwise the majority will be familiar to those who have played the main Shovel Knight game, albeit with minor twists to better accommodate Specter’s abilities. This is unsurprising, given the game’s prequel nature and the appearance of many of the same characters and worlds, but the new level designs still feel more demanding.
Specter of Torment also features many of the same formidable level bosses as the original Shovel Knight, and although many of the battles with them seem a bit too similar to their previous appearances, some are altered significantly to make the most of Specter’s mobility, and can come as an enjoyable surprise to those familiar. The fight with Propeller Knight, for example, no longer takes place on a static platform, but in the midst of many tiny, cascading airships, requiring you to continually scramble upwards while dodging attacks.
The completion of each level allows you to purchase additional Curios, Specter of Torment’s unique version of Shovel Knight’s Relics, which allow for the use of special abilities at the cost of a consumable meter. Each Curio has its own distinct use to aid in the dispatching of enemies or to ease the burden of traversal. For example, the Hover Plume gives Specter Knight the ability to float in mid-air for a short duration, and Judgement Rush allows Specter to ignore pits and walls and teleport directly to an enemy. Each tool adds an interesting new facet to the way you can approach Specter of Torment’s levels, but the entirety of the game can be completed without using them. I found that relying on Curios diminished the sense of satisfaction that came from overcoming difficult obstacles using only Specter Knight’s base skillset, and tended to avoid them.
Much of what made the original Shovel Knight a success can also be found in Specter Knight. Level designs also cleverly act as intuitive tutorials, demonstrating the possibilities and limits of what you can and can’t do in particular stages without explicit explanation. Shovel Knight’s penchant for rewarding exploration is also still present. Secret paths and areas are strewn throughout the game’s stages and hub world. Some are obvious, but some can come as a small surprise to those who are willing to push the limits of the traversal abilities. The game’s checkpoint system–which allows you to actually destroy a checkpoint for monetary reward at the risk of having to re-traverse more of the level upon death–is still a clever mechanic. And Shovel Knight’s sense of humor and charm still manage to shine through, despite Specter of Torment’s more melancholic tone. Small moments like watching a reunited skeleton couple perform a waltz, playing with a cat, or simply enjoying the lighthearted dialog of NPCs provide nice moments of levity.
While it only took us a few hours in total to complete the game’s story mode, Specter of Torment felt well-paced and never unnecessarily short. The density of challenge contained within its individual stages meant that I was always entirely concentrated on the next obstacle, but Specter of Torment attempts to pace its demands on your mental state every few levels with short, interactive narrative interludes that serve as an enjoyable prequel to this prequel campaign. Specter of Torment also offers a new game plus option upon completion with a slightly more demanding health mechanic, and also offers a challenge mode which presents a variety of platforming and boss fight trials under strict restraints.
Specter of Torment is a finely-crafted 2D platformer that is satisfying in all respects. Simply controlling Specter Knight–flying through the air and slicing through enemies–is a joy in itself, and being able to push your ability to control these skills in overcoming the game’s cleverly-designed and challenging levels is always an exhilarating feeling. Specter of Torment is a focussed, polished, and satisfyingly challenging game that’s well worth experiencing whether or not you’ve had the pleasure of playing Shovel Knight.