Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is by no means a perfect effort, as issues of different sizes and intensities can be found in many of its numerous modes. Even with that in mind, though, there is simply no stopping the game from feeling like the gigantic culmination its title indicates it intends to be. Installments of the saga have always been stunningly ambitious, and without ever faltering they have invariably succeeded in living up to the lofty expectations both its developers and the entire gaming world hold whenever a new entry in the series is planned. Ultimate is, naturally, not different, as it follows the norm perfectly. However, the fact it does exactly what is expected of it does not diminish the magnitude of the achievement that is putting out such an extremely polished, balanced, and enjoyable game that involves so many distinct and popular pieces. It is a Herculean task that can only possibly be topped through endless hours of labor and love, and it plays so delightfully it more than honors the accumulated greatness of the franchises it borrows from.

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Guacamelee

Featuring brilliant platforming, thrilling combats, and the option for up to four players to join forces, Guacamelee is a very refreshing take on the Metroidvania niche. As it turns down the complexity of its map, letting it peacefully rest on a level of simplicity far below the one seen in other giants of the genre, it allows its unique traits to take over the show. Due that, although it does have a good amount of secrets and plenty of backtracking to those who are willing to tackle it, the game ends up coming off as a fast-paced platformer that is punctuated by beat ’em up portions and takes place in a fully connected sidescrolling world. And the impressive synergy between the wrestling motifs of its battles and the Mexican-inspired tones of its art, dialogues, characters, music, and cultural references adds a layer of charm to the final product that makes it nearly irresistible; so much, in fact, that its colors, theme, and overall frantic rhythm may even convert – or at least temporarily please – gamers who are not big fans of the genre.

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South Park: The Stick Of Truth

Through a lot of good ideas, sharp writing, and a few minor shortcomings, The Stick of Truth succeeds, then, in translating to the gaming universe the greatness and politically incorrect ways of the South Park franchise. It is a game that never loses sight of the elements that make the property on which it is inspired shine, and charmingly – not even for a second – does it forget that, ultimately, these are imaginative kids using what is at their disposal to role-play as the standard high-fantasy characters they have grown to admire. It is, therefore, an adventure that mixes equal doses of the innocent and the disturbing to form a hilariously absurd plot and set the basis for gameplay that is simple and enjoyable. The Stick of Truth is a very well-written and certainly offensive South Park movie in playable form, and under the guise of an accessible and entertaining RPG it marks the first time ever the confronting television show gained a gaming installment whose quality matches that of the original material.

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Undertale

Undertale is so outlandish that it is sometimes a bit hard to explain what it does; and it is able to pack loveliness, dread, and oddity together so neatly that it is occasionally tough to understand how it makes it. Nevertheless, if one were forced to point out what it is exactly that causes it to be so fantastic and original, it would be reasonable to single out its unrestrained wackiness and how it leaks into every area of the title; its incredible battle system, which doubles as a text-based puzzle and an action-packed mini-game of avoiding projectiles; the extent and quality of its script; and the way it takes advantages of players’ choices to build three adventures that are very distinct and that beg for multiple playthroughs. Undertale is a one-man achievement, and although its visuals do show that it was built under restricted circumstances, nothing else about it indicates that was the case, especially the density of its textual content and the abundance of ideas it sports. However, the game’s status a sole endeavor ends up making a lot of sense, because it takes a special kind of liberty – one only found in lonely journeys – for a product to be so authorial, artistically free, and consistent in its beautiful absence of consistency.

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Owlboy

Thanks to that emotional synergy between visuals, music, and writing, Owlboy tells its tale in a way that leaves robust marks. In spite of how it knows very well how to balance story and gameplay, with the latter being punctuated by the former rather than being squeezed by it, it is impossible not to walk away from the adventure of Otus and his friends without feeling that its plot overpowers everything else about it. To a point, it is true that such an impression is related to how its level design and mechanics are solid but never truly amazing. However, the fact is that the writing and character development of Owlboy are so spectacularly done, and its story of overcoming failure, ostracism, and one’s own limitations is so moving, that it is only natural all other components that make up the game’s fabric end up playing second fiddle to Otus and his arch. Certainly, it is not the first time the tale of an outcast that is looked down on by almost everyone else is told; however, in Owlboy, the learning through defeat and alongside friends is so vivid, the feelings experienced by its starring character are so visible, and the telling of that journey through gameplay is so nicely implemented, that the magnitude of its impact seems to exist in a scale of its own.

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Iconoclasts

In spite of how those issues are not numerous, it is easy to see why they hold Iconoclasts back from sheer excellence; after all, they act against two central aspects of its fabric: the exploration and the storytelling. Even with those problems in mind, though, the game stands out as one of the best indie efforts on the Nintendo Switch, as it succeeds in balancing a look, vibe, and controls that pay homage to classic action-centered sidescrollers of the 16-bit era with non-linear level design and smart puzzles. More importantly, it does so while developing a thick plot that, although not entirely clear, leaves behind not only an unforgettable cast of characters made up of flawed heroes and plausible villains, but also resounding proof that heavy topics and powerful scenes can be just as finely reproduced via colorful pixel art as they are by more realistic shades. In the end, Iconoclasts may not be a victory that comes without any caveats, but it is an achievement whose scratches, bruises, bloody wounds, and heart speak a whole lot about the tortuous process of its creation and the messy beautiful world it portrays.

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Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy

Born during a generation when linear progression among tridimensional platformers was rare, Crash N. Sane Trilogy arrives to discover a market where its gameplay style is now in vogue. And, as a consequence of its irregularity, if gamers want to experience adventures that have an old-school obstacle-clearing nature inside 3-D scenarios, there are certainly a good number of far better options than the three games included in the package. That, however, does not mean this remastered trilogy amounts to a bad purchase. Whether one has nostalgic memories tied to the character’s Playstation titles or has only heard of the energetic marsupial and the mark he left in the gaming lives of those who grew up with the system, there is – to different degrees, obviously – enjoyment to be found here. The original Crash Bandicoot reveals itself to be a rather problematic effort, one that is more anger-inducing than it is fun, but Cortex Strikes Back and Warped are solid platformers with a lot of charm and content. Their age may occasionally jump forward, but classic platforming, when done right, has a gripping nature that is hard to erode, and in Crash N. Sane Trilogy it is still pretty vivid, even if it is at times clouded by a few issues.

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Mario Tennis Aces

With a good deal of extra care, Mario Tennis Aces could have easily been the best entry in the franchise’s history. Unfortunately, it is considerably held back by the fact many of its offline modes suffer from issues that are so primary one has to wonder how it was possible for a company as big and quality-focused as Nintendo to overlook them. Therefore, while the gameplay itself is stellar, presenting a perfect mixture of solid basics of the sport that are implemented in simple ways and absurd quirks that add a whole lot of excitement, splendor, and strategy to this world of rackets and courts, the content that surrounds it is, at best, problematic. As such, the recommendation of Mario Tennis Aces comes with massive caveats. If one is willing to jump into the game’s online mode and soak in all of the thrill and brutality of those courts, or if one wants to enjoy a great – though limited – multiplayer sessions beside great friends, the game has quite a bit to offer despite its hard-to-ignore faults. If one, on the other hand, is looking for a meaty single-player experience that brings equal levels of challenge, value, and enjoyment, Mario Tennis Aces will not satisfy.

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Hollow Knight

Balanced against so much outstanding quality, though, it is easy to see how minimal – not to say completely negligible – those problems are. Hollow Knight blasts by them, and it constructs an adventure of all-time greatness. By giving its starring knight a set of skills that is absolutely common and presenting a progression that is not too different from that of other classic Metroidvania titles, it muscles its way towards excellence by achieving unforeseen performance in other areas. The size of its world is stunning; the level of freedom players have at any point in the game is mesmerizing; the tsunami of content, both mandatory and extra, it carries is flooring; the design of its levels – which have a fine-tuned balance between platforming, environmental puzzles, and exploration – is masterful; the optional challenges that protect its most valuable collectibles are as brutal as they are fun; and the way it completely puts all elements of its exploration into the hands of players (including figuring out where to go, opening shortcuts, and putting effort into mapping the terrain) is daring. All of those pieces come together to form, in the depths of the gorgeous haunting Hallownest, a quest that gloriously walks through the halls of gaming history that are reserved for the industry’s finest productions ever.

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Little Nightmares

Little Nightmares, then, manages to be, simultaneously, absolutely engaging and infuriating. If, on one hand, it succeeds, like few games have, in constructing a grotesque world that is as irresistible as it is repulsive; on the other, it tends to fill it up with gameplay that is either merely decent or downright frustrating. The Maw is an absolutely stunning setting in which horror, immersion, and disturbing imagery are always present. And amidst that darkness the journey of Six, a character who – like the game she stars – speaks a lot without saying anything at all, is an incredibly compelling act to follow. It is, however, a disappointing shame that a masterful achievement on silent storytelling and atmospheric architecture is hampered by irregular game design. Nonetheless, the lack of a truly great gameplay facet is, in the end, overcome by artistic excellence. Little Nightmares may not be thoroughly enjoyable, but it is certainly a remarkable game.

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