The whole idea of remaking a murder mystery, especially one of the most popular murder mysteries ever made, is inherently fraught with peril. After all, a lot of people in the audience already know âwhodunnitâ, either because they’ve read it, seen it, or heard about it through good old-fashioned cultural osmosis.
So it was exceptionally smart to get Kenneth Branagh to remake Murder on the Orient Express. The director of Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet has built his whole reputation on re-staging classic tales that had already been re-staged thousands of times. He knows that the trick to making another Murder on the Orient Express isn’t to keep us guessing. Agatha Christie’s impeccable story does all of that heavy lifting for him. The trick is to film the hell out of an ensemble cast of incredible actors, each of them putting their own spin on a timeless classic, and to have a grand old time doing it.
It’s unfortunate that the capstone episode to Telltale’s overall great Guardians adaptation ended up being one of the most inconsistent. It feels like half of an epic finale in too big of a box, surrounded by those foam packing peanuts that you’re just going to throw away. The emotional high notes in Episode 5: Don’t Stop Believin’ ring loud and clear, but between them are valleys of underwhelming and sometimes confusing character writing.
It’s very difficult to talk about this episode without giving any kind of spoilers, though I’ll do my best to be cagey. My biggest criticism is how the inevitable âgetting the band back togetherâ was handled. At the end of Episode 4, the Guardians were on the skids, having all gone their separate ways due to seemingly irreconcilable differences. Episode 5 opens with two of the deserters walking immediately back into the room they had just left, deciding not to quit after all. They were gone for probably all of 30 seconds in the continuity of the series, making their departure feel largely meaningless.
4K monitors have gone through a bit of a slow burn in terms of wide acceptance. Sure, no one can deny the jaw-dropping beauty of an image presented in a resolution four-times larger than 1080p, but high prices and a dearth of media content had previously kept many from taking the 4K plunge.
Thankfully, prices have come down significantly in the last year and 4K gaming is very much a mainstream reality in the era of consoles like PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X and cheaper-than-ever PC GPUs. TheÂ ViewSonicÂ XG2700-4K (See it on Amazon) is still going to take a hefty chunk from the old wallet at almost $600, but this gorgeous 3840 x 2160 screen is a solid, near future-proof investment-particularly if you’re using an AMD graphics card and can takeÂ advantage of its FreeSyncÂ compatibility.
Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg are back and they brought the devil with them in Daddy’s Home 2, a simplistic and mean-spirited sequel to a simplistic and mean-spirited original.
The Daddy’s Home movies take place in a cruel universe where the basic concept of men having feelings is considered inherently ridiculous, and bullying men into behaving like bullies is considered family-friendly entertainment. In the first film, Brad, played by Will Ferrell, was the sensitive stepfather to children whose birth father, Dusty, played by Mark Wahlberg, was more conventionally macho. You could set an analogue watch to the plot of the first Daddy’s Home, which ended as it had to, with everybody learning a valuable lesson about why being a jerk is a bad thingâ¦ a lesson completely undermined by the rest of these films, which – again – are based on the fundamental premise that reveling in meanness is both funny and appropriate for kids.
When you bring up “difficult games,” the first thing that comes to mind for many Japanese players isn’t Dark Souls, but the NES game Spelunker, thanks to the many ridiculous ways that the game’s hero can die very, very easily. This notoriety has given Spelunker a cult following big enough for developer Tozai Games and publisher Square-Enix to reimagine it on modern platforms–while implementing all the little idiosyncrasies that made Spelunker so infamous in the first place.
The game follows Spelunker, Spelunkette, and companions as they travel to the depths of the earth in search of a mysterious energy source that’s causing strange events across the globe. You and up to four friends, either on- or offline, go exploring in stages filled with hazards large and small (though size doesn’t really matter when everything kills you). These stages are divided up into several smaller sections, and everyone playing needs to reach the end of one section before they can move on to the next. Oftentimes, this involves collecting multiple colored keys to open doors blocking the way to the section gates. Other collectibles are scattered around the stages as well: Bombs and flares add to your ammo supply, gold lets you use various in-game features like excavating for items, and Litho-stones contain pieces of new gear that can boost the heroes’ stats and level up with use.
One thing Spelunker Party does particularly well: It recreates the myriad absurd ways that Spelunker can die an ignoble death. If you’re used to platforming heroes who can survive a fall of more than a foot, it’s going to take quite some time to get used to Spelunker dying after attempting jumps that any other action game protagonist would easily survive (and that’s not even taking into the account the absurd one-hit deaths from things like self-inflicted explosions and bat poop, either). But that’s the way Spelunker was, and that’s how Spelunker party is: true to its source in a way that some players will find charming, and others will find aggravating.
Thankfully, Spelunker Party’s level design takes these weakness into account. Yes, the stages are challenging–owed mostly to the limitations of the old-school mechanics– but they rarely cross the border into downright unfair territory, instead rewarding you for cautious play. They also have a fair bit of variety to them, and introduce new gameplay mechanics over time–some of which turn out far better than others (I really don’t think Spelunker needed expanded water physics or boss fights). Stages also tend to go quite long, which can be a terrifying prospect as a solo Spelunker: If you run out of the five lives you’re given on each stage attempt, you lose everything that you collected since you started the stage, and you must start the level over from scratch. This can get very frustrating once you reach the even-more-difficult later and optional levels.
Thankfully, there’s a way to offset this difficulty significantly, and that’s by playing with others either on- or offline. The addition of more people to play with transforms Spelunker Party into a cooperative platforming experience that’s far more fun than the solo mode. Local multiplayer allows for you to play split-screen with up to three other people in the same room. Communication is a big thing here, as you can coordinate exploration duties, help guide folks through difficult areas, and–most importantly–have a mutual laugh at the dumb deaths you all take.
Online play is similar, though lack of voice communication in the Switch version of the game hinders it. Perhaps the biggest benefit of the multiplayer is that you’re not automatically toast when you run out of lives; one your lives counter hits zero, you respawn at your last checkpoint with 30 seconds on a timer. If another player comes back to save you, you’re back in commission â but if time runs out, you’re out of the stage for good. The back-and-forth revival mechanics make the stages a lot easier to tackle, lead to tense situations, and even present moral quandaries–is it worth trying to backtrack through a space littered with hazards in 30 seconds to save another player, or do you simply mourn for the fallen and make haste to the exit with your loot? Is it worth constantly reviving a weak link in the group? That’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself.
But while Spelunker Party is far more fun with others, finding friends who can put up with the rigid, old-fashioned game mechanics and grind might prove challenging. Much of Spelunker Party’s free-to-play lineage is still evident: While microtransactions are absent, the game pushes you to replay levels in order to earn money, boost scores and experience points (both for your player, companion animals, and individual pieces of gear), and collect Litho-stones. Perhaps most frustratingly, collected Litho-stones don’t grant loot immediately–they only represent pieces of items that are assembled over the course of playing and replaying levels. Even the game’s quest system seems purposely designed to waste as much of your time as possible; they function like achievements (collect X number of items, defeat ghosts, and so on), but you must manually select each one, and you can only take on a single such quest at a time when, ideally, the game should be automatically tracking this stuff from the outset and rewarding you as you go.
Spelunker Party is a bit of a hard sell. If you can get a bunch of old-school-minded players together as a group and are prepared to laugh at yourself (and others) over a bunch of stupid deaths, it’s a pretty great time. As a solo experience, however, it leaves a lot to be desired. Even if you like the absurdly strict mechanics, the grindy nature of the game and the overly long stages simply don’t lend themselves well to solo play. Spelunker Party, much like the original game it’s based on, can be a hard game to love, but if you’re prepared to dig deep with some friends, it can be a gem.
The Steven Universe cartoon is a conceptual gold mine, and an RPG may be the perfect kind of game to showcase its bubbly and feisty superhero personalities. Following its 2015 mobile RPG (Steven Universe: Attack The Light), developer Grumpyface successfully captures much of what makes the show special in Steven Universe: Save the Light. Though somewhat tragically, the otherwise lovable adventure is regularly disrupted by underlying technical issues.
For most of the game, it’s just Steven and up to three of his besties getting into some relatively standard RPG shenanigans. You explore the environment, pick up loot where you find it, run into wandering enemies, and take them on in active-time turn-based combat. Like its predecessor, Save the Light is an RPG from the Paper Mario school of game design. Combat emphasizes contextual button presses, where hitting your mark does extra damage, defends against attacks, or adds effects. This comes with the minor-but-nifty twist that characters don’t necessarily have to act when their turn comes around, but can instead bank Star Points for more expensive abilities in future turns. Strategy comes down to determining how best to dismantle an enemy, not necessarily whose turn it is.
The vibrant cardboard cutout art style manages to admirably convey the spirit of the show without being an exact copy. One area, the Strawberry Battlefield, is particularly stunning, with warm green natural beauty and plump fruit engulfing the still-discernible remains of deadly weaponry and wartime detritus. The game’s fixed camera angles give you a good look at the expansive environments; however, the camera often has trouble adjusting as your party moves around the map, and sometimes the camera doesn’t follow you at all.
The character animations are also a source of joy, with every little action conveying a ton of personality. Peridot doing a fiddly Super Mario Bros. 2-esque Luigi jump is one of those little treats that constantly makes you smile. The music follows suit: While the number of tracks is limited, the tunes themselves are pretty well in line with the show’s 8-bit sounds, with gentle synth pop. Even here, the glitches rear their ugly head, with music from the overworld frequently continuing to play when you open the menu screen, leading to a dissonant overlap between tracks.
Traversing the environment presents the most debilitating problem of the game, which lies with the AI. All four of your party members are onscreen at once, and it’s all too easy for characters to get stuck behind objects, seemingly forgetting that they have the ability to jump and could use it to regain freedom. To make the situation worse, the game doesn’t auto-teleport lost characters to your location when a battle starts, so getting into an encounter with a glitched-out party means that the battle starts with only one character, or sometimes not at all (which can only be fixed by quitting and restarting the area). Latter portions of the game are extremely puzzle- and platforming-heavy, which exacerbates the problem.
Still, the game almost makes up for it by staying staunchly true to its source material, as far as the fine details go. Fry bits and donuts restore health; Together Breakfasts heal the entire party; you can use Bismuth’s forge to upgrade weapons; Onion sells goods in hidden areas of every stage, like the shady little criminal that he is.
But where the show’s personality really shines through is in the character progression: While leveling up gives characters a number of upgrade points to pour into different stats, the most powerful attacks and abilities are predicated off of the characters looking out for each other. A few of the basic attacks utilize that philosophy by themselves; Steven can play his ukulele for his allies to boost their attacks, and Greg can do the same and heal them (it’s worth noting that these instruments add guitar/ukulele tracks to the background soundtrack). When the relationship meter between two characters is full, they can either perform a team-up attack… or if it’s two Gems, they can perform a special dance that allows them to meld together and become a Fusion (an ultimate version of each Gem from the show that can deal out major damage).
After a particularly tough battle, Steven will often stop the journey in its tracks to tell one of his traveling companions how great they are, which not only increases their relationship, but grants additional XP. Yes, every character can just hammer away at enemies and still do well–but true success in Save the Light is nothing without a little help from your friends. Save the Light plays like your typical RPG, but the notion that you’re off on an adventure with your best friends is tied to the game’s systems in an extraordinary way. If this was all Save the Light was, we’d be talking about a simple-but-enjoyable RPG, and a pitch-perfect way to hang around in Steven’s universe between seasons of the show. Unfortunately, it’s still brought down by the fact the game being broken in some major ways.
Warning: The following review contains spoilers for the episode.
The Saiyan battle continues this week as Caulifla and Kale continue to pressure Goku in the Tournament of Power. The battle between the 3 is quite the spectacle, but where Episode 114 excels is in it’s ability to make Caulifla and Kale convincing heroes that are worth rooting for even when fighting against Goku. For all its positives, a poor narrative choice does bring the ending down, even if it does mean interesting possibilities for the future.
Once again, Super does a great job with its fight sequences. The movements were fast and sharp, the ki blasts were unique and colorful, and, most of all, the action was easy to track. With so many bright colors and crazy attacks blasting off, it’s not uncommon for Dragon Ball to be overwhelming visually, but thanks to color-coded attacks for each character, Super made it simple to know who was doing what at all times.
âEach one of us is greater than the worst thing we’ve ever doneâ is the sort of line that reads great on paper, and sounds even better coming from Denzel Washington, but demands a heck of a lot of scrutiny. And a heck of a lot of scrutiny it gets in Dan Gilroy’s anxious and captivating new legal drama Roman J. Israel, Esq., one of the richest examinations of catastrophic ethical collapse you’re likely to see.
Denzel Washington stars as Roman J. Israel, Esq., who has spent decades of his life in a small room at a law firm, doing complex paperwork while his partner makes all the appearances in court and – as Roman J. Israel, Esq. learns too late, after his partner has a heart attack – all of the difficult decisions. Roman J. Israel, Esq. is suddenly thrust into the real world of criminal law, where principles are considered a luxury and practicality reigns supreme, and where there’s no place for an introvert who refuses to compromise his integrity.
When a game series runs as long as Etrian Odyssey has, you usually start to see some sweeping changes and reinventions to its formula. But Etrian Odyssey has never really been about keeping with the latest gaming trends–after all, its core conceit of exploring a 3D labyrinth that you must carefully map out harkens back to the very earliest days of PC role-playing games. Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth continues in that tradition: It offers a big, challenging old-school-style adventure that has been carefully iterated on and improved over the past decade, with various enhancements and refinements bolstering a formula that doesn’t need any dramatic changes to stay relevant.
Beyond the Myth plops you down in the continent of Arcania, which is home to a Yggdrasil tree whose mighty branches grow all the way up into the heavens. Surrounding (and within) this great tree is a sprawling labyrinth, with many a myth spun about what lies at the top. Adventurers from across the land come to the kingdom of Iorys, which has just recently permitted exploration of the great tree for the first time. You construct and take control of a guild of adventurers. But many hazards await you on your climb–twisting mazes, unexpected surprises, and myriad monsters, including especially bloodthirsty beasts known as FOEs.
Like previous Etrian Odyssey games, Beyond the Myth focuses on exploration and atmosphere over storytelling. It lets you create a team of adventurers to your liking before setting you free to explore the gigantic labyrinth, with little in the way of extraneous banter (beyond some expository text and events every so often). Your characters don’t have much in the way of personality besides what you imagine, and the handful of non-player characters that you encounter outside of town aren’t terribly chatty.
In a lot of ways, it feels like a tabletop RPG campaign, with a game master chiming in every so often to describe a character or elaborate on lore, while leaving much to your own interpretation. But Beyond the Myth has a fair bit of voice acting for NPCs and the narrator, as well as battle cries for your created characters. While this sounds like a potentially good thing, the voice acting at large ranges from forgettable to aggravating, ultimately doing more harm than good. Sometimes things are better left to the imagination.
Before you begin your long, treacherous climb, you must assemble a guild from several different classes of characters, ranging from variations on standard RPG classes like Fencer, Pugilist, and Warlock to more esoteric classes like the Necromancer (who can conjure up wraiths as additional party members on a whim) and the Shaman (who wields dual buffing/healing abilities). As you level up, you can put points into character skills as you see fit, to create a truly customized party. Once you get some ways into the game, you’ll be able to hyper-specialize characters using Legendary Titles–a new system that effectively replaces the dual-classing system of previous games by allowing you to hyper-focus characters into a particular role (for example, your Dragoons can be unmovable, party-protecting tanks or hard-to-kill damage dealers). The option to hyper-specialize and micromanage your party to your heart’s content has always been a strong point of the series, and Beyond the Myth continues that tradition.
A brand-new element added to the character management mix is the choice of races. There are four races of characters, each with distinct stat growth patterns and unique skills: the humanoid Earthlians, rabbit-eared Therians, elf-like Celestrians, and cute-and-tiny Brouni. Each race has unique skills (also powered with skill points), such as elemental resistance debuffs, and passive restoration skills. While this opens up some neat possibilities for additional min-maxing of stats to create superpowered adventurers, it’s also kind of a pain to manage at times; not only do you want a nice, balanced mix of party members that work well together, you also want to make sure you have the correct race skills to make your crew run like a well-oiled machine in combat. Sometimes remembering who has which race skills available can get messy.
Once you’ve made a party, it’s time to start the long, arduous hike up that big tree. A common element across Etrian Odyssey games are the grid-based, first-person 3D dungeons that you need to thoroughly explore and manually map out using the 3DS’s bottom screen. This isn’t an optional thing; you will need to make maps, or else find yourself terribly lost in a sprawling labyrinth of flora and fauna. Fortunately, you have a lot of mapping tools and markers available to you and a new automap feature that will save you from having to manually draw walls (a tremendous time-saver that I recommend turning on immediately). Don’t expect automap to do everything for you, though; you’ll still want to mark points of interest, hidden passages, and other potential hazards.
Speaking of hazards, the labyrinth houses plenty of them, mostly in the form of monsters that inhabit each successively more demanding floor. From the moment a member of your fledgling party gets one-shotted by a rabid flying squirrel on the first floor in your starting expedition, you know you’re in for some grueling fights.
The combination of careful, quiet exploration punctuated by fierce combat is what makes Beyond the Myth so much fun.
Fortunately, a variety of improvements makes combat a lot more enjoyable. For starters, the “enemy radar” in the dungeons is more accurate, allowing you to know almost exactly when you can expect an encounter to pop up (and prepare if you need to). It’s also possible to check enemy data mid-fight, meaning that you don’t have to memorize a bunch of weaknesses and details over the course of the game. Finally, a “Basic” difficulty setting makes the game slightly more merciful, altering stats and damage by a small amount in your favor and increasing experience gains. Thankfully, you can turn it on and off at a whim.
The combination of careful, quiet exploration punctuated by fierce combat is what makes Beyond the Myth so much fun. Seeing your meticulously planned party finally take down a fearsome FOE that’s been giving you trouble for hours is immensely satisfying, while little text-based side events that litter the dungeons as you explore are enjoyable in a different but no-less-engaging way. By focusing instead on small improvements to systems and ideas that already worked well, Etrian Odyssey 5 is a long and challenging RPG that sucks you in and leaves you determined to see what lies above.
The unthinkable has happened: Sonic has been defeated, and Doctor Eggman is conquering the planet. The only one who can put things right is your custom-made character, with some help from some old-school Sonics. The premise behind Sonic Forces sounds like an amazing mix for a Sonic game, but its inconsistent level design and overall inability to capitalize on its potential leaves it just a few steps short.
The character creation is a huge selling point and one of Sonic Forces’ best features, and it feels great to be able to live out a childhood Sega fan dream of making your own Sonic character. You pick their species, customize their look, and dress them up in all kinds of fashion, from stylish (swanky Sega-themed gear, slick shades, and sporty shoes) to downright odd (clown wigs, shutter shades, and wrestling belts), unlocking more as you play. Seeing your creation do wild stunts alongside Sonic, doing fistbumps and taking down some rampaging robots, is a whole heap of fun.