Triangle Strategy

Triangle Strategy is an amazing gift to fans of the strategy genre. It is a take on the format that smartly brings, to plot development, the role-playing that is usually exclusively present in the battlefield. By doing so, it paves the way to a journey that can unfold in multiple ways according to how players interact with its morality framework. Throw into the mix a great battle system where position and strategy rule the day, a quest that is highly replayable thanks to its various branches and multiple outcomes, a fantastic plot filled with moral grayness and tough choices, as well as spectacular production values, and the result is a classic that will be loved by anyone who does not mind wordy games. Part interactive visual novel and part strategic delight, Triangle Strategy is Square Enix firing on all cylinders; and tactical RPGs should henceforth look at it as an example of the genre working at its best.

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OlliOlli World

OlliOlli World is a rare treasure. On one hand, it feels like an excellent large scale project due to its extremely high production values and its staggering amount of content. On the other, it is a game that boasts clear indie sensibilities in terms of simplicity and creativity. Its mixture of sidecrolling platforming with skating is unique, and the game smartly grounds it on the good-old addictive chase for high scores that has always accompanied efforts of the kind. The focus on that aspect could have been detrimental to a crowd of youngsters and even older beginners who are likely to be drawn by the game’s colorfully charming art style, but OlliOlli World circumvents that pitfall with mastery, offering a joyful adventure that can be cleared by anyone whilst reserving plenty of challenge and competition to extreme thrill-seekers. With so much success on such distinct fronts, it is not absurd to claim the gaming industry has not produced many scoring-based games that are this deep, accessible, and fun.

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Pokémon Legends: Arceus

Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a game that implements much needed changes to a property that was stale in some areas and regressing in others. It carries a plot that, despite hitting on a few Pokémon cliches, is refreshing thanks to the unique setting that surrounds it. It has a surprisingly satisfying degree of challenge, which was a trait that the series’ latest entries sadly lacked. It exhibits astounding synergy between story, gameplay, and design, as the research-based setup of the quest works as a perfect companion to the pleasant but not overwhelming vastness of Hisui. And more than bringing the joy of exploration back to the franchise, it assembles an open world unlike anything the property had before it. Not everything in it is excellent. Yet, compared to what it does right, its stumbles are minimal, because the level of life it breathes into one of gaming’s most beloved franchises has immeasurable value. If before it the franchise was a progressively stagnant product that showed no wish to advance, after it the possibility that the series will abandon inertia to fulfill its wonderful potential needs to be considered, because Pokémon Legends: Arceus feels a whole lot like the first step in that direction.

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Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars has got it all. It contains violence, humor, action, crime, suspense, good music, excellent stylized visuals, and enough content to turn Liberty City into a secondary home for players who go into it. Although grim in theme, this is a game that does not lose sight of fun, and it displays that wisdom in a wild assortment of varied missions that go from thrilling to ridiculously absurd and in a myriad of extra activities with enough range to pack the perils of drug dealing, the absurdity of stealing an ambulance to save patients, and the arcade mindless fun of going on a destructive rampage to accumulate a high score. Partially true to the franchise’s modern grandeur and partially loyal to its wild top-down origins, Chinatown Wars is not just a technological achievement; it is also the perfectly balanced Grand Theft Auto effort given it has a foot on outlandish antics and another on serious ambition.

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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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