Cuphead

Cuphead is absolutely magnificent. It is old-school not only in visual and musical presentation, but also in gameplay; however, it uses its blatant and ancient influences not as a way to coast towards success, but as a source of inspiration to build character. In the old gritty cartoons from which it borrows its animation, its calculated artistic imperfections, and its vicious tone, it finds cues that are sufficient to allow it to exist inside a realm that is absolutely its own. Meanwhile, in the action run and gun games that were so dearly beloved by its creators, the title locates basic premises in pacing, challenge, and controls that it employs in the assembling of a sidescroller whose focus lies on struggling to take down mighty multi-phased bosses that are as inventive as they are capable of filling up the screen with an obscene amount of hazards. And in the combination of those two veins, Cuphead builds an experience that, more importantly than being unique, manages to be fun in spite of its unbridled brutality; inspiring, through the sheer joy that is playing it, gamers to come back for more even after they have been shot down for the hundredth time.

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Yoshi’s Crafted World

Yoshi’s Crafted World, then, poses a bit of a dilemma to players, because while its generally low level of difficulty makes simply getting to the end of the quest a task that does not reveal the full extent of its wonderful design, aiming for full completion unearths some frustrations of its own. The bottom line, though, is that regardless of how one chooses to approach the quest, there is a lot of fun to be had, whether the player in question is a child who is taking their first steps into the gaming world or a veteran with a fondness for the platforming genre. And that quality stems from how Yoshi’s Crafted World is constantly changing not just the gameplay quirks around which its stages are built, but also the nature of its stunningly detailed environments. These two elements, which never repeat themselves through the course of forty levels, form an adventure that is entertaining and inventive all the way through, mixing situations that fall perfectly among the character’s traditional exploits with unexpected gameplay detours and mechanics that creatively take advantage of the depth of the title’s tridimensional scenarios. It is thanks to such prowess that Yoshi’s Crafted World rises above its obvious flaws to qualify as an experience that cannot be missed and a product worthy of the Nintendo stamp.

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Transistor

Transistor does hold some flaws. It has a short length; it possesses a linearity that may be perceived as exaggerated; and its constant alternation between walking and battling can feel too predictable. Its impeccable and overflowing style, however, overpowers it all, and allows the game to deliver an experience that although certainly not as refreshing or great as that of its precursor, Bastion, is still immensely enjoyable. Its battles are dynamic and offer an uncanny amount of possibilities via simple building blocks; its plot is compelling due to its initial vagueness and the boldness found in its presentation; its highly artistic inclinations generate visuals and music of incredible quality; and its omnipresent narration, inherited straight from its predecessor, lends it a lot of identity. Due to that, even if it shares notable similarities to Bastion, Transistor is clearly not simply resting on past laurels; it is, quite stylishly, repackaging a gameplay and narrative format that achieved huge success while adding a few clever flourishes of its own. And it does so quite well.

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Bastion

Ultimately, the features that make Bastion remarkable are intimately connected to its presentation, be it in the unique manner it chooses to broadcast its plot or in its visual and musical splendor. And those are, in the end, the traits that are bound to deeply mark those who play it. Still, below that shiny surface, lies a quest supported by very strong mechanics. In injecting the options and customization usually available in role-playing quests into a combat system and progression style commonly found in hack and slash titles, Bastion strikes an engaging balance between action and strategy. And although its core does carry a high degree of simplicity, it succeeds in dodging the traps of repetition thanks to how it is always building levels around different scenarios that slightly affect gameplay. For those reasons, even if its graphics and narration will be the strongest memories players will have regarding the game, these two elements are likely to work as hooks that will bring to the surface delightful recollections of adventure and combats.

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The Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Boosted by so many achievements in so many different areas, it is no surprise – then – that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess ranks among the best games Nintendo has ever produced. Although one may rightfully say the longer segments where players take control of Wolf Link are, albeit good, not as compelling as those starring the human hero himself, they end up working as appealing personal touches on a title that, everywhere else, delivers exactly what fans had been expecting of the franchise since the release of the GameCube. It is an effort that blatantly drinks from the classic Ocarina of Time while, thanks to new hardware, greatly amplifying all aspects that made that episode so remarkable, offering a world, a cast of characters, a story, a combat system, and a pile of content whose depth was – up to that point – completely unparalleled. And under all those layers, it boasts a beating heart that anchors its massive scope on true and moving emotions.

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The Legend Of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures

Therefore, it is unfortunate that The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures is so frequently overlooked. Unquestionably, the reasons behind that obscure character are perfectly understandable. After all, it is a relatively straightforward and low-key 2-D adventure released on the same console, and right in between, two excellent tridimensional giants of the franchise; and it is a game whose very best state – that is, its multiplayer action – can only be experienced through very complicated means, which involve finding four Gameboy Advance systems and the cables that connect them to the Gamecube. However, below that simplicity and those marginal complications lies a quest that is still a lot of fun even if tackled as a single-player campaign. It is true some of its production values are a bit lackluster when put under a comparative light alongside other The Legend of Zelda installments; and it is equally clear its gameplay stumbles in a couple of areas. Yet, its surprisingly varied stages and, especially, the way it uses the availability of four different Links to uncover unique cooperative puzzles and frantic battles make The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures very enjoyable.

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Castlevania: Aria Of Sorrow

Thanks to localized improvements that work towards reducing both frustration and excessive backtracking, and due to a team of developers that knew how to look at the past in order to learn from mistakes that had been previously made, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow guarantees its place as the finest entry of the franchise for the Game Boy Advance. In addition, by implementing a very creative system of spells and magic that turn the soul of its many enemies into collectible and usable assets, the game carves out not only a personality of its own, but also a very noble place inside the long-running franchise of vampire hunters. Through those means, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is recommendable without reservation, for even though it does hold a few points that could have been smoothed out, it is a haunting quest that is fun and engaging through the entirety of its run, and a culmination of a three-year cycle that produced a trio of appealing Castlevania games.

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Castlevania: Harmony Of Dissonance

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance does have a couple of issues that make the size and complexity of its scope, which are undeniably its biggest qualities, not be as thoroughly delightful as they could have been. Still, by implementing punctual improvements in areas where Circle of the Moon was lackluster, and by embracing the intimidating value of its twin castles and turning the navigation of its map into its biggest source of challenge, the game succeeds in presenting a very satisfying and somewhat original take on the non-linear facet of the Castlevania franchise. Due to that trait, Harmony of Dissonance is bound to enchant anyone with a love for meticulously exploring a large map and using their wits to figure out a world that is itself one massive puzzle. To anyone else, though, its abundant intricacy, its frequent backtracking, and the long distances it sometimes forces players to traverse may be a bit too much.

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Castlevania: Circle Of The Moon

The punctual flaws that it displays in the main components of its fabric turn Circle of the Moon into a Castlevania installment that is good, but not great. The transplant of the Symphony of the Night formula into a portable is, in a way, a success, because the marriage of non-linear exploration and RPG elements makes traversing Dracula’s fiend-infested castle an appealing experience filled with discoveries, secrets, challenge, and unguided progression. However, the game could have certainly been more careful with the way it handled its elevated level of difficulty, its visual presentation, and the implementation of the central gameplay mechanic that it builds to call its own. With those problems in mind, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon cannot be universally recommended, as the Game Boy Advance itself holds a couple of entries of the franchise that are easily superior to it. Nevertheless, there is great enjoyment to be found in its imperfect Gothic quest if one has fondness for lack of linearity, is able to ignore its shortcomings, and can deal with some moments of grinding.

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Rayman 2: The Great Escape

As such, Rayman 2: The Great Escape is a flooring oddity of the Nintendo 64 days. During a time when most platformers and adventure games had their sights so deeply set on taking advantage of the grand environments supported by cutting-edge hardware that they ended up, positively, straying away from the genres’ origins, Ubisoft went the other way. With The Great Escape, the company opted to build, in the recently discovered 3-D realm, a quest that was open to the new opportunities unearthed by the latest technological developments, but whose main concern lay in being simple and old-school. In that regard, Rayman’s second adventure was certainly not alone, for many were the games and studios that tried to explore that interesting middle ground; however, arguably, none of them did so as well as the limbless hero, because the variety, quality, level of polish, and production values contained here are nothing but extremely rare. And propelled by those attributes, The Great Escape feels gigantic, blasting into the pantheon of the best games of its era and standing out among them for using the full extent of its energy towards being straightforward and fun rather than employing its ambitions in matters of size and scope.

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