Dark Souls

Sure, Dark Souls is quite hard, but it keeps players coming back for more regardless of how much it drives them to the edge of breaking, and such a balance is only possible because the game thrives with such intensity in so many areas: its combat is simple, but stunningly clever in how it turns even the most basic battles into affairs that require calculation; the design of its labyrinthine world is unparalleled; its lore is mysterious and alluring; its atmosphere is heavy and gripping; its lack of linearity is daunting; and even its smallest details hold originality, as matters such as death, punishment, as well as saving are approached from unique angles. The conclusion is that Dark Souls is not yet another great game that only happens to be extra famous because it is very tough. Dark Souls is a game that sets high standards of its own in various fields, and although difficulty and learning curve are among them, they are far from being the only ones; in fact, they might be the least important of the bunch.

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Ori And The Will Of The Wisps

Many of the shortcomings displayed by Ori and the Will of the Wisps can be traced back to its predecessor. Much like its successes, the game’s little failures come from the fact it has naturally inherited a good slice of the soul of its progenitor. However, given that connection is, especially in the storyline department, a little too close to comfort, this second effort by Moon Studios does not generate the same level of impact delivered by its prequel. It is not that Ori and the Will of the Wisps is devoid of improvements. In fact, the additional degree of freedom given to players thanks to its looser structure goes a long way towards making its adventure more enjoyable, and other marginal tweaks also make it display solid evolution. But the bottom line is that extreme familiarity ends up slightly clouding those advances, and even if the game is still firmly in the upper echelon of its genre due to its beauty, heart, cleverness, and smoothness, its force is somewhat diminished.

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CrossCode

For that reason, CrossCode is more of a charming and notably inventive homage to 16-bit RPGs – especially those with a knack for action – than a game that walks the same halls as other giants of the genre. Even though its gameplay is a magical combination of fast-paced and flashy combats with audacious puzzle-design, the innovative value of its setting ends up doing it more harm than good, as the title punctually struggles to make Lea’s journey in the fictional MMO of CrossWorlds feel as special and meaningful as it actually is. As such, even if easy to applaud, CrossCode does not carry enough of the elusive magical luster that takes the best tales of the gaming medium to the hard-to-reach level of greatness.

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Paper Mario: The Origami King

There are blatant improvements to the story, but the development of the script feels undercooked at several points; there is a lot of great design to be found in the exploration of the overworld, but there is an unnecessary simplicity restricting what Mario can do; and there may even be value to be extracted out of its puzzle-based battle system, but combats are so straightforward, easy, and pointless that it feels like they are there more as an obligation than as an actual creative decision. The result is an enjoyable, charming, and funny adventure game whose remaining RPG gameplay comes off as empty and unnecessary, and stuck in this uncomfortable position of not fully committing to any of the facets that it tries to embrace, The Origami King could have never matched the golden days of the franchise. However, for what it is worth, the game is the saga’s best entry to be released ever since it began to move away from its glorious and distant start.

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Civilization VI

It is such cyclical nature that leads to the popular one-more-turn syndrome, a famous condition that makes entries of the franchise frequently impossible to put down. There is always something about to happen, and behind one achievement there is sure to be yet another moment of glorious human progress to be unlocked; in victory and in defeat, then, Civilization VI is incredibly fulfilling. Given the enormous concept it sets out to turn into a game, the saga is probably eternally destined to punctually be too large for its own good and to feature a fabric of mechanics too vast to be entirely balanced. However, Civilization VI is so engaging that it is hard to think the evolution of society throughout thousands of years could be represented in a way that is as alluring, complete, and fun.

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Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling

By looking closely at Bug Fables, one can notice that there are punctual cracks on its surface that reveal its nature as an independent effort that is tackling a rather large scope. But other than being justified, given it is actively trying to emulate a gameplay experience of a rather large caliber, its ambition is also greatly fruitful, because it undeniably yields a product whose quality matches – and in some areas even surpasses – that of the material that inspired it: the first two Paper Mario games. In some ways, Bug Fables does not feel like a copy that is too close for comfort or even a homage. The end result is far closer, instead, to a continuation of what was left behind fifteen years before its release, because although it obviously exhibits neither the firepower nor the creative wildness a direct sequel to The Thousand-Year Door would have, it dares to build on what was standing nevertheless. And what fans get is not a mere nod of recognition to a past that is lost, but a picking up of the torch that proves the fire still burns and that it can become even stronger.

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Shantae And The Seven Sirens

Saying Shantae and the Seven Sirens is very flawed would be a mistake, because no component of the game comes off as lackluster or problematic. What it truly lacks is a bright spark of creativity to elevate it further. However, in spite of that absence, the quest it contains remains enjoyable throughout the way, and the whole package is recommended to anyone looking for a lighter – but still very big in scope – take on the Metroidvania genre, one that sprinkles a maze-like world with drops of straightforward action-platforming and adventure. Shantae and the Seven Sirens is a very welcome return to form by one of the independent scene’s most beloved franchises. And even if it has some catching up to do to match the best efforts of its genre, there is no denying that the change it brings to the table is as pleasant to experience as the knowledge that the half-genie is back to doing what she knows best; that is, unlocking the secrets of a big labyrinth while talking to characters, executing trading sequences, going through dungeons, and bringing down foes with her signature hair whip.

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Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Animal Crossing: New Horizons walks on a tightrope whose existence is utterly unlikely. One will have a hard time finding, in the entirety of the Nintendo canon that existed prior to its release, a title that can extract as many hours out of players that go into it. Simultaneously, even though a time-consuming nature is often reserved to games that appeal to few, Animal Crossing: New Horizons carries an allure that is universal. The usual premise of living and taking care of a little virtual village filled with lovely characters has been expanded to the concept of developing a barren deserted island into a charming little town floating in the middle of the ocean. It is a process that takes weeks, progresses slowly, requires patience, and features a great deal of grinding. But it is also a journey that lets players perform tasks at their own pace and, thanks to the marvelous customization powers included in New Horizons, exercise their creativity freely and without any pressure, carefully building a personal virtual paradise that has the potential to keep producing joy for a good number of years. Such is the magic of Animal Crossing.

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Monster Boy And The Cursed Kingdom

Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is, ultimately, a phenomenal revival that went through one crooked path in order to become reality, making its existence as much of a victory as its stunning quality. Materializing as a product that balances indie trends with respect for the tradition and spirit of the franchise to which it belongs, the game is a marvel that is difficult to qualify, as it uses the full extent of its long quest to explore a surprising myriad of mechanics and gameplay styles, succeeding in all of them with the same level of competence. As such, whether it is in action, in platforming, in shooting, in exploring, or in puzzle-solving, the game will please all sorts of audiences, conquering the hearts of those who were around to see the saga peak and then disappear, as well as drawing in a group of gamers who were never aware of the Wonder Boy property. Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom achieves that status because it is relentlessly inventive and impossibly charming. And surrounded by numerous contemporaries who have explored the same genre, it is able to qualify as one of the very best.

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Pokémon Sword and Shield

In spite of the massive pile of disappointments that they are bound to bring to those who are familiar with the saga, it is simply impossible not to recommend Pokémon Sword and Shield. The features they present, whether new or old, are flawed in multiple ways, and numerous of those problems are considerably aggravated by how – as the first versions built from scratch over the power of a home console – the games simply do not take advantage of the jump to either expand their ambitions or get rid of old vices that should have been eliminated a while ago. Notwithstanding those sometimes infuriating stumbles, Pokémon Sword and Shield stand both thanks to a formula whose capacity to hook has not been even slightly eroded and nice punctual evolutions that enhance the overall experience; yet, with so much retreading and standing still, one cannot help but worry which way the franchise is going if the trend is not reverted.

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