Wario: Master Of Disguise

Wario: Master of Disguise has a lot going for it. Putting Wario in the shoes of a thief is an ideal premise, and the game uses that starting point to resurrect the signature transformation mechanics of the Wario Land franchise while turning the series’ famously intricate stages into puzzling mazes so branching that they can only be navigated with the help of a map. And as it fills these areas with treasures, locked doors, keys, and backtracking to previously visited locations with new skills, it pushes its levels to the very alluring edge that separates platforming stages from full-blown mazes. It is an utter shame, therefore, that its greatness in design is severely damaged by forced touch controls that affect its gameplay in numerous ways and by frequent mini-games that are sadly too dull to live up to the saga’s traditions. Wario: Master of Disguise, then, is best approached carefully and with the knowledge that frustrations need to be overcome for one to glimpse the quality that lies behind the problems. And if that is achieved, what players will see is a very unique platforming quest, one that interestingly pushes the Wario Land framework to a refreshing point, even if it does so with a lot of bumps and bruises.

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Chicory: A Colorful Tale

Chicory: A Colorful Tale has got it all. Simple yet memorable visuals that allow gamers to play the role of artistic directors and add colors as well as other visual details to the mixture; a nice soundtrack that captures the quest’s relaxed nature while rising to the occasion during its dramatic moments; creative puzzles that make great use of the brush; a co-op mode that lets an extra player join in to do some painting; and a powerful message. Its most important asset, however, is certainly the nigh miraculous synergy it creates between theme and gameplay, since the discussion on mental health that carries its story and involves its two main characters is beautifully materialized in many of its mechanics, which balance challenge and relaxation to show that with the right sort of support and kind words of encouragement troubles can be overcome.

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Castlevania: Portrait Of Ruin

As a game that desperately needed to find elements to separate it from its predecessors, Portrait of Ruin does a great job when it comes to uncovering these ideas. The fact the two big shifts it executes are not perfect, however, should not cloud the title’s greatness. Unquestionably, the mechanics involving its two protagonists could have been explored with more consistency; besides that, the standalone locations of its overworld, which are accessed through the paintings found in the castle, could have been more thematically varied and slightly bolder in terms of design. Still, not only is this an excellent Castlevania game with great visuals, a spectacular soundtrack, and a solid story, but it would not be absurd to look at it as a product that topples – or at least matches – Aria of Sorrow, which had set the standard for portable entries of the saga a couple of years earlier.

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Return Of The Obra Dinn

Return of the Obra Dinn manages to be simultaneously daunting and enticing from the get go thanks to how it drops players aboard an abandoned ship with nothing but a magical stop watch, a book containing some helpful information, and the task of figuring out the individual fates of every one of the vessel’s sixty missing passengers. From there, the title uses a smartly designed combination of storytelling, gameplay features, and visual clues to let gamers – at their own chosen pace – slowly unravel the mystery at hand. Like most good indie efforts, Return of the Obra Dinn uses its tight limitations in its favor, doing a lot with the little it has available. And like the very best of those games, it takes full advantage of a completely original premise that would have no place outside the independent scene, creating – in the process – an investigative quest that propels the format to new heights.

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Death’s Door

The verdict is that the best word to describe Death’s Door is competent. It absolutely thrives in graphics, music, and theme; in fact, as far as those fronts are concerned, the game is up there with the best efforts the indie scene has ever produced. Elsewhere, however, it is solid but never truly brilliant or remarkable. Its dungeons have a clever nonlinear structure, but the puzzles that they house never go beyond decent. The rogue-like framework of its open environments has thrill, challenge, and even a couple of clever twists of its own, but it does not break expectations in any way. And its story, which gets off to a great start thanks to the setting it sits on, crumbles under its weight as the finish line approaches. Yet, it is undeniable that in that mixture, Death’s Door builds a strong identity. After all, it is not every day that players get to experience a quest that throws dungeons filled with puzzles and rogue-like combat segments into a Gothic world that seems to have been built to contain a standard adventure game. The result may not always be awe-inspiring, but it certainly has enough muscle to entertain while it lasts.

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Advance Wars: Days Of Ruin

By giving the franchise a somber visual overhaul, Advance Wars: Days of Ruin could have easily been accused of not only diminishing the property’s cartoonish charm, but also of falling into a thematic pit where hundreds of games containing a grim and serious portrayal of war can be found. Yet, even if those accusations do hold some value, they are ultimately undone because here, for the first time ever, the excellent battles of the saga are met with a storyline that is much more than an excuse for conflict. Given such seriousness in tone happens to overflow into gameplay, which is far more stripped down than that of its predecessor, Dual Strike, Advance Wars: Days of Ruin might be seen by some as excessively dry. But in the end, this characteristic is more of a feature than a flaw: the game does not sink because of it; quite on the contrary, it emerges as an installment that is unique because it is consistently solemn. And it is exactly in this manner that the title does what seemed to be impossible or at least very unlikely: producing yet another Advance Wars game that operates in restrict strategic traditions, but that finds a niche to call its own.

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Disco Elysium

As a role-playing game that completely shuns combat to focus exclusively on dialogue trees, Disco Elysium is certainly not for everyone, especially considering its philosophical inclinations and literary pretensions. Yet, anybody with a love for story-based titles is likely not just to fall in love with the game, but also perceive it as the full maturation of a trend that has been prevalent for quite a while; one in which gamers are given a high level of control over what characters will do, how they will act, and how they will solve the problems that are thrown their way. Disco Elysium can be dark, depressing, disgusting, political, psychological, and also surprisingly hilarious due to some of its more extravagant dialogue choices. Besides, more than any of the games that came before it and also aimed to change players’ experience according to the choices they make, it brilliantly succeeds in radically altering the flow of its textual core between playthroughs thanks to a smart, simple, and effective system of stat checks. Because of that, Disco Elysium takes that type of gameplay to an unforeseen level, and after its arrival, any title that tries to let gamers influence the environment that surrounds them will have to be measured against the rather elevated bar that it has set.

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The Outer Worlds

The Outer Worlds could have been better. Given the size of its action role-playing peers, its quest and world could be a little bigger. Moreover, wishing for improvements in enemy variety and punctual technical details would not be too much. Nevertheless, with it, Obsidian successfully birthed an alluring universe for some thrilling sci-fi adventures. It is a realm that has room for moral ambiguity, dark humor, social commentary, enticing drama, colorful alien worlds, as well as various factions fighting for power. And in it, gamers will not only engage in some fun shootouts, but also be forced to make choices that can be surprisingly hard. For those reasons, The Outer Worlds is a must-play for anyone who has a love for grand adventures that take place in a rich world full of dialogues, stories, and missions. After all, even if it jumps on the bandwagon of a genre that is home to some of the most epic adventures the gaming industry has ever produced, the title successfully squeezes in to find a place for itself, using its mixture of action-packed gameplay and solid world-building to pull players into the grip of its complex and dynamic corporate future.

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Metroid Dread

There are points that could have been improved, but Metroid Dread is a rare combination of Nintendo’s usual nearly untouchable level of polish and design cleverness with old-school gaming staples like brutally challenging bosses and the absence of any sort of handholding. In other words, it is precisely what devoted fans of the property had been waiting for. Meanwhile, to those outside that tight circle, the quest works to prove that even if the genre the franchise originated is now overpopulated by efforts that used its basics as a trampoline to various creative ideas, the presence of this pioneering saga remains essential. After all, although its offspring have done quite well in carrying the torch, the truth is no other game delivers the type of experience found in Metroid. And for that reason, it is absolutely delightful to have it return in such a spectacular shape. All players can do now is hope that, this time around, Samus has come back with the intention of sticking around for good.

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Eastward

In the end, it is this meticulous nature that drives Eastward over the top. The game is not perfect. Truthfully, it could actually be a lot better if it were clearer in its plot and if it found better pacing in a few specific segments, be it by cutting down on the talking, by focusing more on answering some of its biggest mysteries, or by achieving a better overall balance between gameplay and script. However, the careful way in which most aspects of its world were put together makes falling victim to its charm nearly inevitable, because it is simply hard to find an adventure – whether it is indie or not – with as much care oozing out of its visuals, music, and characters, and with as much ambition to develop all of that into such a large scope. Because of that, even if Eastward does not quite qualify as the best independent game ever, it certainly goes beyond many of the usual limitations of the scene, daring future indie efforts to look past those boundaries so that more than matching big companies in terms of the quality of their output, like they already do, the best independent studios can start competing in production values and scope as well.

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