Mario + Rabbids: Sparks Of Hope

Still, even if it falters in tone, suffers in plot, and punctually loses itself in putting quantity above quality in battles, Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is a worthy sequel to one of the Nintendo Switch’s most unexpectedly engaging titles. And it would not be exaggerated to claim it surpasses the original in pretty much every regard. The exploration that felt tacked on is now complete as well as fulfilling; the world is a sight to behold; the music is lushly enchanting; the scope of the quest feels absolutely huge, with a meaty critical path of epic proportions and optional content that occasionally falters but that ultimately delivers more often than it does not; the role-playing elements power an incredible degree of customization; and its battle system remains an interesting mixture of strategic thinking and movement-based antics that are extremely satisfying to pull off. Given all of that, this crazy pet project of Davide Soliani once again proves again that courage and absurd ideas have a place in mainstream gaming; and though projects of the kind may be doubted or mocked at first, if love and competence join forces to make them materialize in style, audiences are sure to give in and happily flock to these games.

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No Man’s Sky

Some may say that compared to the incomprehensible scale of the game, its problems are as insignificant as humans are when standing in front of the universe’s nigh infinity. It is a fair statement, but enjoying No Man’s Sky is ultimately not a matter of overcoming punctual issues; it is actually dependent on whether or not one will embrace a kind of gameplay that depends on emergent goals. Because, sure, there is a relatively meaty main quest in the package, but mostly it will be up to players to choose their path in the cosmos and engage with the dozens of mechanics at their own pace. Therefore, if the concept of virtually inhabiting and wandering through an immensity filled with procedurally generated beauty sounds appealing, then No Man’s Sky, in its updated state, is an excellent realization of that concept. If, however, one sees excessive freedom as a synonym for aimlessness, then the game will be a technical achievement that will not hold much interest.

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Nier: Automata

Nier: Automata, then, is a bold project that does not completely land the tricks it tries to pull off. Its premise is nigh irresistible: a game that joins the flashy action of PlatinumGames, the underlying role-playing elements of a Square Enix classic, and a unique philosophical tale told through a daring structure coming from the mind of a director who is known to push the envelope. Augmented by a refreshing visual style and a historically excellent soundtrack, these variables amount to the type of package that gives fuel to the argument of videogames as art. Nier: Automata is one of the most prominent examples of that notion, because while entertaining in gameplay, it also forces its audience to engage with its layers of meaning in very intriguing ways, being a tale whose home had to be in an interactive medium. Sadly, when aiming for those heights, the title achieves its thematic ambitions at the cost of sheer fun. Therefore, it does not hit the mark entirely; but to those who will be dragged by its grasp, moved by its questions, and interested in its structural oddity, it will sure feel like the experience of a lifetime.

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Tunic

Due to its bold cryptic nature, it is possible that Tunic will cause some players to occasionally wish the game were a bit clearer in one or two points. But overall, this is a masterclass of design. In a context where a few franchises and developers are smartly recognizing that their audiences want to be left alone to engage in quests of exploration and discovery, Tunic takes that concept to its extreme by having players figure out nearly everything, from where they must go next to the intricacies of basic mechanics. On its own, that idea should already be thoroughly enticing to many, but Tunic amplifies the thrill of it all by turning that process into clever puzzle-solving seamlessly integrated into a journey that matches a The Legend of Zelda overworld with progression, exploration, and combat that carry a firm Dark Souls stamp. The result is one of the finest efforts ever produced by the indie scene, and an adventure with the capacity to trigger a nearly unparalleled joy of discovery.

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Xenoblade Chronicles 3

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is quite simply one of the most ambitious projects to ever come out of Nintendo’s pipeline. With it, Monolith Soft further solidifies its property as one of the biggest representatives of the genre, taking almost everything that made its two predecessors feel magnificent to new heights. The world is not just the biggest one yet, but it is also intricately designed; the art style is vivid yet sober, achieving an immaculate level of quality; the plot’s tone is alluringly bleak; the customization options are unbelievably deep; the cutscenes are abundant, brilliantly directed, and greatly dramatic; the protagonists are the best in the saga by a very large margin; and the full-fledged nature of the more than one hundred sidequests threatens to set a new very high standard for the industry as a whole. As such, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 safely qualifies as one of the best RPGs of all time, and its mixture of exploration, battling, and questing goes straight to the history books to serve as a blueprint for the future of the genre.

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Astral Chain

Astral Chain has the PlatinumGames signature all over it: barring a few exceptions, many of which are also products of the company, it is hard to find a Switch title that pulls off action gameplay with so much style, smoothness, and confidence. Yet, this is also a project that clearly attempts to push past the studio’s usual scope, not only betting on a more expansive and serious story, but also widening the framework of its missions to pair up abundant combat with investigations, platforming, and puzzle solving. Not everything that it tries clicks immaculately: the plot leaves hanging threads, its equivalents to dungeons can be visually confusing, and the platforming has a few rough spots. Nevertheless, Astral Chain is a flashy, nicely produced, and thrilling package of explosive action in a bleak but glossy cyberpunk future. And even if PlatinumGames has done better, at times it can be easy to perceive the title as a culmination of what they had done up to its release.

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Part Time UFO

Unlike a few of the creations of HAL Laboratory have done during the studios’ history, Part Time UFO is certainly not the kind of project that will send shock waves across the gaming landscape. However, it is a type of title that should, ideally, come out more frequently from the production lines of the industry’s larger players. It is a game so small and simple that it was built with the intention of breaking into the mobile market, but it is at the same time filled with the unusual creativity often observed in the indie scene and with all the polish, charm, and value that Nintendo as well as its partners tend to pack into what they make. Therefore, even if it stumbles punctually, what it does more often is amuse. And it does that so naturally that it might lead one to wonder why nobody had ever thought of creating a physics-based puzzle starring a sentient flying saucer that stacks stuff to help humans.

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No More Heroes 3

No More Heroes 3 is a title that invests hard in cutscenes, voice acting, script, character development, and art just for the sake of being as flashy as possible. To some, it will all come off as utterly ridiculous: there is too much cursing, the jokes are juvenile, the writing is heavy-handed, the plot is excessively goofy, and nothing really makes a lot of sense. This is a game that matches 8-bit icons with 3-D graphics, that introduces and concludes every iteration of its gameplay loop with animated credits respectively belonging to an American action cartoon and to an epic Japanese anime, that features casual heart-to-hearts between murderous aliens, and that brings characters into and out of the plot without any sort of reasonable explanation. Moreover, it portrays people who are nonchalant towards very graphic violence, who are unmoved by fountains of blood pouring out of decapitated heads or limbs, and who act like a deadly competition between assassins could be a normal daily activity one partakes in before going out for lunch. If these sound like positive traits, then No More Heroes 3 should be an enjoyable ride; if not, it is best left alone, because without its style to cover its flaws, the experience will be easily perceived as being very irregular.

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Mario Strikers: Battle League

Mario Strikers: Battle League achieves an undesirable special feat: it is simultaneously easy to love and to dislike. The stylish nature of its presentation, the lovable brutality of its gameplay, the impressive prowess of its technical aspects, the accessibility of its basics, and the unparalleled depth of its mechanics are all high points in the history of the Mushroom Kingdom’s foray into sports. However, the bare-bones state of its content upon release, a series of questionable design choices, and a few frustrating aspects of its formula make the package come off as a wasted opportunity. Because, sure, in spite of a few bumps on the road, many will understandably be able get a lot of value from what Next Level Games constructed here. But it is safe to say an equally great number of players will either not join the club altogether or regret they did so due to an abundance of problems.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is not without possible points of improvement, as extra work could have been done to make its characters feel more distinctive and for its difficulty settings to be more balanced. But ultimately, what the title provides is an experience seldom seen in the contemporary gaming landscape: a genuine arcade beat ‘em up. And better yet, it is a package that succeeds in being true to genre’s traditions, accessible to anyone who is willing to try it, and thematically irresistible on account of the excellent use of a charming property that had already given birth to a few classics of the format. With these qualities in place, the game is easy to recommend, and whether one chooses to tackle it alone, alongside friends, or by joining unknown players in online sessions, having fun is pretty much inevitable.

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