Category Archives: Reviews

Webcomic Review: Powerpuff Girls Doujinshi

Warning: The reviewed webcomic is disturbing.

When you hear of a mashup webcomic with licensed characters, you might expect a fan-work produced by someone too young to have a web presence. You might not expect a professional artist in his forties who outsources his writing and coloring. The internet has all kinds.

Rather than leave the Powerpuff Girls to Cartoon Network’s slow process of seasonal rot, artist Bleedman (Vinson Ngo) has made them the main characters in a mashup webcomic featuring others CN IPs such as Dexter and Samurai Jack in the setting of a town called Megaville. Bleedman inserts some of his own OCs as well, and if you aren’t familiar with the many CN characters depicted, you might have a hard time telling which is which.

One pleasant surprise that is noticed right away is that the art is actually mostly quality. Noteworthy is that some of the characters, such as Dexter and the girls themselves, were stylized to make them conflict less with the style of the comic. This means that the characters were effectively redesigned, so some amount of creative work was involved in what is otherwise an appropriation of characters not Vinson’s own. Yet, this contributes all the more to a strange suspicion that the artist could probably benefit from directing more of his talents elsewhere.

Compelling internal monologues, revealing the motivations of highly-developed and complex characters.

Considering that Bleedman is competent at designing characters, it’s kinda wasted potential that he didn’t go all the way by developing a cast of his own original characters to tell a story of his own, and in so doing allowing himself the possibility of going professional with this comic by not tying it firmly to intellectual properties that he doesn’t have rights to. I hear he has other comics, but still, he put a disproportionate amount of effort into what is basically a mashup. To what end? I dunno, maybe the ad revenue from his page has been kind to him.

But when we get into the story itself, it starts to become apparent why the comic benefits so well from the familiarity of its characters. The story isn’t that great.

The comic sees the Powerpuff Girls, slightly older, attending a new school. It’s there that they meet other CN characters, such as Dexter, whom Blossom has a budding relationship with (whatever dude, it’s your fantasy). They end up in a revenge-driven conflict with Mandark who’s still obsessed with Deedee whom he had accidentally slain. It actually got pretty dark at times, but the comic would later tone it down. Still, the emotional ante is brought up by the fact that these characters could be killed off, regardless of anyone’s fond memories of them in their respective shows. Kinda messed-up.

After the Mandark story arc concludes, the comic starts to grow dull, and with panel after panel laboring to describe Blossom’s emotional state in light of Dexter’s guilt, it takes a while for the momentum to build up again.

There is a jump-the-shark moment, and that happens when a character is spared being killed off because the grim reaper (yes, it’s Grim) decides not to take her, so a fatal wound is reversed. While a compelling explanation for this decision could play out in a future page, when you know that the heroes have an angel, a grim reaper, and the servant of a celestial dragon working to prevent the heroes from dying, it tends to eliminate much of the tension.

The best armor in all of fictional media is plot armor.

At times, it seems like it’s all Bleedman could do to ensure that the CN assets stay in character, which occurs to various degrees of success. At least with the PPG, he largely gets it, with the exception of Blossom. Considering that she had a leadership role in the original show, her relative lack of confidence makes her seem much less like the same character. While a similar complaint can be made about other (borrowed) characters, it stands out more when it’s what’s arguably the main character.

Another problem with this comic is the psyche-out pages, which are gag pages that make it appear that the story is taking a bizarre direction, but the next page makes it clear that they weren’t really a part of the story. I get the idea that Bleedman is the kind of guy who can drop some disturbing news with a straight face, then say that he’s only kidding. There are also special pages for holidays, which adds little to the comic. They can pretty-much be skipped.

I get the idea that PPGD can be better appreciated in the frame of mind that one would have when they discover anime and manga for the first time, when one might observe that “they’re like those other cartoons, but edgier!” The point is driven home by the fact that “doujinshi” is in the title, but how many people outside of Japan even know what a “doujinshi” is?

If you’re sincere in your belief that blood, angst, fatalities, and pantyshots make for a more entertaining comic, here you go. But much of that was toned down after the Mandark arc, after which other aspects of the comic got dull. Maybe Bleedman’s mom discovered these comics, so he decided to tone them down.

Now for the score. Powerpuff Girls Doujinshi gets a score of 6 out of 10.

The art quality plays a huge part in that score. There are problems with this comic, but the redeeming qualities are there. But personally, I suspect that the artist’s efforts would be better spent on something he has a chance of going professional with.

Webcomic Review: Momlife Comics

At first, I wasn’t going to comment on these. One-panel comics aren’t usually worth talking about, and these seemed little more than the meanderings of a woman who is bitter about one thing or another. Then these comics blew up, so I was like, “fine, I’ll acknowledge their existence and write up a review.”

For the setting, try to imagine a curious land in which most people don’t have to grow their own food, but meals are already fully prepared and delivered to peoples homes. Not only is rape illegal, there are no roving rape gangs on the prowl in rusty pickup trucks. What’s more, the homes are crisp and cool inside in the summer, and when there’s snow on the ground in the winter, the homes are warm inside, and glowing display screens deliver limitless free entertainment on demand.

But, there’s a catch: human nature remains mostly the same. The human adaptation to conflict that has been cultivated over the course of aeons still remains. Therefore, the people started questioning their idyllic peace and halcyon luxury. Then, grumblings came, acknowledging first world problems as though a prize awaited the cynics: “My coffee is too hot”, “thirty seconds is too long for an initial boot up”, “my delivery was delayed until tomorrow”.

At the center of this maelstrom of abject ingratitude is one housewife and her adversarial relationship with her husband. That’s right, we’re reviewing Momlife Comics.

Momlife Comics was written by Mary Catherine Starr, who gives us the first hint of her politics by listing her pronouns in her bio. Because her pronouns apparently weren’t already evident from the fact that she’s a mom. She also made a BLM statement, so you know that she’s not racist.

Wow, how stunning and brave, considering the current political zeitgeist!

Mary’s IRL husband is aware of the comics, and is okay with them, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he did a Jack Murphy and wrote up an article touting the benefits of cuckolding.

Let’s start this review off with the most famous cartoon in the series so far:

Both are valid uses of the peach, and the one who gets to it first decides what happens to it. But notice that the build-up is the woman thinking about someone other than herself. How dare that man want to eat something that he paid for, from a table he paid for, in a house he also paid for!

Wow! Look how much more work that woman is doing! Patriarchy and such mushuggunah!

The missing context: the woman took all the bags, leaving the man to bring back just one. Was she aware that she could take multiple trips to the car? She’s likely to smoosh something if she tries carrying in that much at once.

Pattern established: Woman imagines some rule, but doesn’t tell man about it. Woman then gets angry at man for breaking the rule he didn’t know about.

Another pattern established: Woman gathers everything to herself, leaving nothing for the man to do. Woman then complains that she does everything.

Mary also does comics where she reverses the gender roles, which is supposed to be clever because she leaves us to determine the irony without beating us over the head with the obviousness of the point that she’s trying to make.

Get it? Because men are generally more career-focused, and women tend to be more family focused? Though it’s hard to say definitively whether Mary intended to throw shade on the fact that men and women are different, and that because of these differences they tend towards different life choices. It might be that she’d prefer a world where they made similar choices, even if that meant less excuse to hear the sound of her own voice, complaining.

I wouldn’t put it past her to complain about the rain as though she’s blaming someone for it.

Mary is such a victim in her own mind that she even sees herself at fault for bringing her own children fast food. Or are her children the only ones in the universe who would complain about fast food? Sure, it’s garbage, but kids don’t know that.

It was my intention to review this webcomic, but I instead feel tempted to psychoanalyze the author, as her comics have given a window into the soul of a troubled woman. It’s obvious that from an impressionable age, someone was able to sell her a victimhood narrative, and this resonated with her life in the hard streets of sheltered suburbia.

Since her webcomic got noticed, she produced this comic in an answer to the trolls:

Along with a notice that she’ll block trolls. Which is a mistake, because it’s a reaction that trolls look for, and they’ll take any that is any indication that they’re getting to someone. And the above comic accomplishes this masterfully.

As far as art quality goes, Mary is evidently of the opinion that if you only do one thing right, you’ve got a comic. In Mary’s case, that one thing is body proportions. Aside from that, everything is wrong. The thick, inconsistent line art, the lack of facial features, everything is just wrong. Maybe Mary can draw better than a toddler. But bring elementary school students into it, and she’s out of her league.

Okay then, let’s grade this pile. Momlife Comics gets a score of 2.6 out of 10.

Gentlemen, I know that the dating game is flawed. But tread carefully. Getting hitched to the wrong woman can be quite taxing.

One of the classic signs of an abusive relationship is joking at the expense of one’s spouse in public. These comics give ample cause for concern.

Review: Girls’ Last Tour

Genre: Slice-of-life, science fiction
Studio: White Fox
Original Author: Tsukumizu
Status: 12 episodes as of 2017
Rating:
TV14
Platform: Amazon Prime

Sometimes, it comes out of nowhere: an anime that you’ve never heard of catches your attention. You give it a watch, and it surprises you because what you just saw was effectful for how understated it was, and for how little attention it gets. And it’s thoughtful enough that one can ponder its themes days after watching the finale.

Girls’ Last Tour (GLT) features Chito and Yuuri, a couple girls journeying through a desolate futuristic cityscape aboard a kettenkrad (a small, WWII-era utility vehicle). As they journey, they converse with each other, make discoveries, and learn more about their world through these discoveries.

Here’s the official trailer:

While one might imagine a post-apocalyptic setting to be grim, dark, and edgy, GLT is lighthearted in tone. While the girls do sometimes make difficult choices concerning their own survival, the survival aspect is eclipsed by the philosophical undertones.

The Girls’ Last Tour anime is based on the manga of the same name, authored by Tsukumizu. Those already familiar with the manga will see that the anime follows the manga closely. But while the manga has a messy but emotive look (comparable to Ueda Hajime of FLCL fame), the art in the anime has a more basic, clear look. In either case, it’s clear that both manga and anime are made with a whole lot of heart.

As is typically the case for slice-of-life programs, there is a particularly strong emphasis on the personalities and interactions between the characters. In GLT, the stakes are a lot higher due to the fact that there are only two main characters.

The main characters are Chito, a diminutive and reserved character who is often quite meditative, and Yuuri, an impulsive, free-spirited person who wears her heart on her sleeve. The two are nothing alike, resulting in the two frequently expressing difference of opinion as they find themselves in different scenarios. Which is one of the joys of this show.

The differences between the two characters makes their positive attributes more evident. Chito is a bookworm, but Yuuri doesn’t know how to read, so she’s slow to see the value of books, or keeping a journal. Yuuri is more physically inclined, being a better aim and being better at swimming. Neither one of the two can do everything on their own, a point that their experiences prove well.

The two sometimes beat each other up.

Perhaps I’m imagining it, but it seems to me as though GLT does more to portray Chito in a sympathetic light. Which is perhaps to be expected concerning an introspective character in a light-hearted, philosophical slice-of-life anime. But there are times when Yuuri’s relatively care-free approach wins out, and makes Chito’s concerns seem perhaps unnecessary. One of the two is more prone to worry, and while the case can be made for that being beneficial for one’s survival, sometimes the case can be made for worrying very little.

Over the course of their journey, the girls find joy in the little things: food that they find, fuel to top off the kettenkrad, enough water to bathe in, and sometimes the odd artifact. In rare cases, they might even find another human being. And there is a lot to find in the huge, multi-level city that is GLT’s setting.

Sometimes? Often.

As one watches GLT, they may take an interest in the show’s lore. What is the girl’s mission, if they have one? Where did they come from? What is their destination? How did the city get to be in the condition it’s in? How far ahead in the future is the setting?

The show doesn’t do much to answer these questions, aside from the occasional clue. But it seems as though answering these questions isn’t the point. For all the worldbuilding that’s there, it serves the purpose of providing the characters with a setting. Having established the setting, the focus of GLT is the interactions between the protagonists. And Chito and Yuuri are two characters that reflect off of each other so well that to dedicate an episode just to expanding lore would seem like a distraction.

No one will card you after the world ends.

And when we get into the brain-fuel that GLT provides, I almost don’t care how the world ended. Besides, there are many, many anime out there that’ll happily tell you the many creative ways that the world could end. And personally, I think there’s more new ground to be covered when the purpose of life is pondered by two girls who can easily find joy in what they find, rather than be miserable that they don’t have what someone else has.

Having watched the first season, I wondered whether there would be more. The 12 episodes we have now account for most of the manga’s story. However, the few chapters that are left would only fill a few episodes. Thus, a second season seems unlikely to happen unless it involves a lot of filler. And it’s been a few years since season one concluded. Thus, it’s unlikely that Girls’ Last Tour will be picked up for a second season.

Thus, if you’re interested in how the story concludes, the fifth volume of the manga picks up where the anime leaves off, while volume six closes out the series.

Girls’ Last Tour season one gets a score of 8.5 out of 10.

Girls’ Last Tour is a lovingly-crafted, intelligent show. I recommend giving it a watch. Then, go out there and live the best life you can live.

Webcomic Review: The Adventures of Lil’ Chad

With all the bullshit that we’ve been hearing out of the likes of Disney, I’m for making alternative outlets of entertainment. But there is a challenge faced by those willing to make wholesome entertainment, and that’s making something that anyone is going to give a care about.

If something goes too far in being wholesome and family-friendly, they risk losing the interest of the intended younger viewers. It’s no secret that much of the entertainment that children consume today has a bit of an edge to it. This especially holds true as children discover anime. Even anime geared towards children, such as Yu-Gi-Oh, can have a dark element. It’s not counterproductive when you consider the fact that the world is a dark and dangerous place, a fact that the fairy tales of old did well to prepare children for.

Considering how saccharine The Adventures of Lil’ Chad is, it’s easy to see that it’s not going to do well in holding the interest of children. If given the choice between reading this webcomic and going outside, they’d take their magnifying glass with them and go fry some ants.

This webcomic is boring.

The Adventures of Lil’ Chad stars a little boy named Chad (of course) as he interacts with various characters in his family and neighborhood, and learns about the world around him. Which makes it sound like Yotsubato, except Lil’ Chad would be the empty, hollow, desiccated husk left over if Yotsubato had all entertainment value sucked out of it.

This comic’s right-wing politics become apparent in the very first installment:

That woman in the boots with the blue hair and with the “resistance fist” is the source of much of this comic’s conflict. She’s Chad’s aunt, and she just moved in because Chad’s parents help family out. She’s a left-wing feminist, whose preferred pronouns are “they/them”. And her name is Karen.

I hope you’re not making a drinking game out of this.

Chad’s Mom is Ariel from The Little Mermaid. Okay, not really. But tell me whether you see the resemblance:

Her personality is that she has none. That’s why her bio is about other characters:

Not that she’s at all alone, as none of the other characters have personality either. She’s just notable for having a deeper personality deficit than the rest.

Then there’s Chad’s Dad, Chad Sr.. Check out this beast of a man:

No, that is not Johnny Bravo. This comic wants you to believe that Chad Sr. got that way by lifting and consuming plenty of protein. I call bullshit. There is a limit to how far a person can get as a natty lifter.

Other characters include the male feminist Todd Soyer (yes, “soy” is in his name), Chad’s friend Ray and his father Curtis (both black, because this webcomic is not racist), and Chrissie, a 10-year-old girl who dresses like a trad wife.

Did a substitute teacher get chibified? Nope, that’s supposed to pass for a 10-year-old.

Look, we’ve got to talk about the panel layout. Here’s a full comic, presented in entirety:

The 4-panel comic layout has been criticized by popular cartoonists such as Bill Watterson for being restrictive, while some more optimistically view it as a challenge to work within. But I think we all know that most daily cartoonists aspire to see their cartoons become greeting-card sellers in the same sense as Maxine (who is funny), or Garfield (who is not). And they’re willing to cope with the limitations if that’s what it takes to turn their cartoons into goldmines of merchandise.

Webcomic artists are under no pressure from newspaper syndication to use a particular format. Meaning, these artists are free to use the boundless potential of webcomics with any panel layout of their choosing, or, as is sometimes the case, to abandon panels in favor of sequential drawings (such as Classes).

So, why? Why would a webcomic writer and artist agree together to accept a format that is universally seen as restrictive? Could it be that the writer and artist pair actually aspire to be under the thumb of newspaper syndication?

Speaking of, the writer had this to say about the process of producing The Adventures of Lil’ Chad in his blog:

I have never had more sympathy for George Lucas in my life before I actually had to revise and approve my creation for public consumption.

I was honestly taken aback by the sheer audacity it took for the author to make this statement. For all the problems that Star Wars has, it’s still a feat of worldbuilding, storytelling, and character development, and to top it all off, the production values are state-of-the-art. The Adventures of Lil’ Chad is dull and half-hearted, every step of the way, and can in no way be compared to the rich, chocolatey escapism dreamed up by George Lucas. I do not buy that the same kind of effort was put into this webcomic.

But maybe you can if you can look at this and call it “quality art”:

There’s no shading. Most of what’s geometric is viewed head-on, I suppose because drawing anything besides a right-angle is hard. I know that the rules of anatomy and proportion can be relaxed by saying that you’re going for something stylistic. But the colors are so garish that I suspect that this comic would be better if it were greyscaled.

Because I was curious, I opened the above panel with paint.net, then went to Effects > Color > Quantize, then turned the color all the way down. This was the result:

Sure, it still looks like crap. But it has a certain charm, like a cheap-o cartoon in a print college newspaper. And it’s much easier on the eyes.

Oh, and if you’re up for lulz, disgraced internet celebrity Jack Murphy actually makes a couple cameos. Which makes me suspicious that the author might be a member of Jack’s cult, The Liminal Order.

The above panel gains a new dimension in light of Jack’s cuckolding controversy.

Most of the comics follow the formula to either building up to a right-wing zinger or to a heartwarming moment. None of which I actually found funny, except the second issue, and none of them seemed more insightful than issue 14, which pointed out that steak is a whole food.

As a bit of an aside, I can point out that Chad’s family seems to have something against carbs. As in, they don’t have any, except on rare occasions. What I’m getting at is, don’t take dietary advice from comics.

As the token left-winger, Karen is the frequent butt of the jokes, assuming that Todd isn’t having aspects of his masculinity questioned. But there’s an actual point of character development after Todd is shrugged off by Karen, but rather than call her the next day, Todd takes a level in badass and benefited pretty hard from newbie gains.

Though it could be argued that he had more of a personality before, as the author seems to think that developing in character means becoming more like Chad Sr., Curtis, or Jack Murphy (pick one, all three are nearly identical).

There are also a few holiday specials. If the comic artist aspires to turn syndicated and eventually get their shit printed on overpriced greeting cards, it’s to be expected.

At the point where I left off, Karen leveraged her position as teacher to get an appearance on Chrissie’s live podcast.

Which is creepy on it’s own, but gets even creepier considering that the podcast studio appears to be in Chrissie’s home. Of course, Chrissie’s show would run afoul of the COPPA by reason of the fact that she’s 10 years old. Chrissie’s parents need a talking-to for allowing their elementary-school-age daughter to have such an online presence, assuming they’re the ones who bought her all that expensive shit pictured above.

But you know what? Maybe I’m overanalyzing things, again. Maybe it’s just a shit webcomic, and it’s another comic where the suspension of disbelief favors children being precocious, as was the case with Assigned Male, and other webcomics whose authors have long since forgotten what it’s like to be a child.

For those of you who decided to skip ahead to the score rather than read my review, here’s an arbitrary number that describes how I feel about this comic:

2 out of 10

This is one of those instances where a duo of artist and writer is involved in the production of the webcomic. Between the two, I think the art has the highest potential for improvement. After all, art is something that usually improves well beyond the kind of thing we see here, with a little practice. Improving shading, giving more attention to anatomy, proportions, and backgrounds, can each go a long way. From what I’ve seen so far, the potential is there.

But as for the writing, it’s just stupid. People usually grow up consuming entertainment media, and usually as a result they develop an idea of what makes a decent story and what makes characters interesting. If a person doesn’t learn these lessons after two decades of consuming media, it’s hard to tell just how much more it would take.

Review: Z.H.P.: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman

Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Genre: SRPG, Dungeon Crawler
Rating: Teen
Platforms:
PlayStation Portable, Nintendo Switch (bundle), Steam

(Spoiler-free review)

Nippon Ichi Software (NIS) has just dropped another one of their classics, this time a dungeon-crawler that made its debut on PSP: Z.H.P.: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman (ZHP).

The original release on PSP didn’t get the attention that it deserved, which had to do with the fact that it didn’t get a lot of marketing behind it. That and that NIS was still a relatively-obscure game company. There’s also that SRPGs aren’t very popular outside of Japan. Also, it was originally released within days of a major sports game. And there’s the fact that the American localizer, NISA, only shipped one copy to each retailer.

The original release had a lot to go up against. However, the game itself has a lot of heart, and it’s now available on multiple platforms. By the looks of it, what NIS was thinking for this game was “straight port”. Which is fine, as the original game holds up well since its original release. But those who prefer crisp graphics in their anime-style games might by taken out of the action by the aliasing.

ZHP begins with a hero, the Absolute Victory Unlosing Ranger, on the way to save the Super Baby from Darkdeath Evilman, to save the world in so doing.

Except, the Unlosing Ranger gets struck by a car on the way to the final battle, and dies. But in his final act, he hands his morphing belt to a random passerby, passing on the torch of the Unlosing Ranger to someone who will fight on his behalf!

But to the shock and dismay of the onlooking world, the new Unlosing Ranger loses the battle, and is ejected far away! When he comes to, he finds himself in a strange world, where a girl begins coaching him for a rematch!

Over the course of the game, the main character (whom you can name) makes repeated attempts at the final boss, but as he repeatedly fails, he takes on progressively more difficult dungeons to train. As he does so, he ends up solving problems for people on earth, as the bizarro earth that he finds himself on is connected to his own earth.

Many of the game’s so-called “final battles” are actually mostly scripted. The main action in ZHP takes place in the stages, which function as dungeons would in classic dungeon crawler RPGs, with each dungeon having their own bosses.

When the main character leaves a dungeon for any reason (win or lose), he reverts back to level one. Which may seem like lost progress, but as this occurs, he gains stored levels, which increases his stats when he’s at level one. As he levels up in dungeons, his stat increases are based on his level one stats, so the game encourages the player to become “king of level one”. For this and other reasons, a failed dungeon run isn’t always a total loss, and the game encourages stuck players to keep trying, even if things don’t seem so well for the poor main character.

Be warned, as this is one of those dungeon crawlers that features the concept of “perma-death”, where your game saves as you enter dungeons, so if you turn the game off because your current run isn’t going well, you lose equipment that you brought with you! What’s more, if a dungeon run ends in failure, you lose what you find! There’s a facility that can be obtained and upgraded that can reduce the penalties, however.

It’s because of this that I find it hard to recommend the PSP version. At one point, I got discouraged from continuing when the battery cut out for a brief instant, which was enough to cost me some powerful equipment. Now that this game is available on some more dependable hardware, I think it may be worth giving another shot!

Speaking of, the Steam version might be the better of the versions available, by reason of the fact that you can buy it as a standalone game. The Switch version is available as part of a pricey bundle. It’s a sweet deal if you’re interested in the classic RPG Makai Kingdom. But if you’re not, then you’re probably better off going with the Steam version.

Like many other NIS games, you’re capable of getting your character to level 9999, with stats in the millions! But because the boost lasts until you clear a dungeon, you’d mainly want to go for it if the dungeon would otherwise give you trouble.

While there is only one playable character, there are many, many customization options that make that one character seem like plenty. For one thing, there are numerous equips that change the hero’s appearance and grant him new abilities. There are also unlockable costumes which can effect his resistances. There’s even a body modification facility, which plays a huge role in stat optimization.

In dungeons, you progress floor-by-floor by finding the stairs on each floor, which leads to the next floor. You’ll find pick-ups about, but there are also enemies to watch out for. Shocker, right? When you engage them, you can go blow-for-blow against them, or use special attacks.

This sounds like simple fare, but there are things to watch out for. For one thing, the main character steadily expends energy, which occurs at an increased rate depending on his actions. Items can replenish this energy, and it’s not a bad idea to take such items with you into dungeons, because you cannot count on reliably finding more, due to how the dungeon floors are randomized. Also, equipped items can wear out with use, with wear represented as a percentage on the HUD. Their effectiveness can decline as they wear down, but there is a facility that can repair them. One valuable item is headwear that passively conserves energy.

At this point, you probably got the idea that this game is for the nerds. That sounds about right.

Another of the game’s highlights is the story, which is packed with humor. It can also get a bit preachy at times, in a way that it “hits different”, and may even hit a bit close to home for some players. I could say more about it, but spoilers. I’ll point out that much of the humor and dramatic elements are at the main character’s expense. The guy fights an uphill battle to get some respect.

For the NIS fans out there, yes, Asagi Asagiri is in this game. But that’s not much of a surprise, now is it? If you get the Switch bundle, you can also see Asagi’s NIS debut in Makai Kingdom, so you can see just how hard the poor girl fell from her starting point. By the point ZHP was originally released, she wasn’t taking things very well.

My opinion is that if you’re into JRPGs, SRPGs, or are just into Disgaea, ZHP is worth giving a chance. It’s definitely one of the finer RPGs from NIS’s catalog of classics.

For those who like skipping ahead to the score, here you go: Z.H.P.: Unlosing Ranger Vs. Darkdeath Evilman gets a score of 8 out of 10.

There are multiple endings that can be accessed by playing through the game at least once. Replaying through story stages many times doesn’t appeal to me, so I didn’t much bother with that. However, there is a lot of content outside the main story, and there are extra dungeons for players who might appreciate a challenge. This adds replay value to this game, and does a lot to make it worth the price of admission.

That’s the great thing about this style of game for those who would find it interesting: they’re usually packed with value. And ZHP certainly is.

Review: Made In Abyss (Volume 10)

Author: Akihito Tsukushi
Status: Ongoing
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Horror
Localization: Seven Seas Entertainment
Rating: Older Teen
Available to read online on BookWalker, fees may apply.

(This review contains commentary, and therefore contains spoilers. You’ve been warned.)

Volume 10 of the translated version of Made In Abyss has dropped, as of last week. For those who have been waiting to read this installment of Akihito Tsukushi’s opus in the English language, here you go. This installment picks up where the last one left off, wherein Reg and Faputa were fighting over the fate of the village of Ilblu, but things weren’t looking great for Reg. And with no more line of defense for the village, Faputa became free to engage in unmitigated mayhem.

If you’re new to Made In Abyss, you might expect a light-hearted romp from these cute, endearing characters.

But anyone who expects anything as light-hearted from Made In Abyss hasn’t been following along. While the rest of the series used imaginative concepts for its horror elements, Volume 10 is notable for its heavy gore. At times, I even found it hard to look at. But hey, I’ll still take it over the cheap jump-scares of American horror films.

Tsukushi is great with expansive, beautiful landscapes. However, those take an aside this time around, as much of the action takes place within the crumbling walls of the village of Ilblu. I found myself appreciating the use of perspective when communicating the enormity of the Turbinid Dragons, which tower over the protagonists like skyscrapers.

Much of this volume centers around the strangely-endearing character of Faputa, who initially engages in her genocidal rampage with a singular focus. However, when Belaf imparts his memories to her, she begins to change. But rather than cease from the aforementioned rampage, she becomes less motivated by hatred and more by duty. But even then, she develops the desire to seek her own value and live for herself.

It’s great to see Nanachi back in the action, but it’s mainly Belaf who intervenes between the two of them, and the bunny doesn’t seem to contribute much. Which lends to the fan theory that Ilblu was originally intended to be Nanachi’s point of departure, but Tsukushi changed his mind when he saw how popular the character became.

But then, Ilblu ends up destroyed, so where would he have ended up? It might be interesting to see what role Nanachi plays in future chapters.

But there’s another problem, and that’s that what was created in the village cannot survive outside it. And with the village being destroyed, Riko’s new friends are about to say goodbye. What’s more, the village’s ability to protect from the strains of ascension are dissipating, and we get to see a particularly grotesque transformation as a result.

When all is said and done, Reg extends the offer for Faputa to join the party. While many fans would crane their necks to hear the answer (especially if it’s “yes”), Faputa instead leaves us in suspense as she decides that she’ll consider it, before wandering off on her own.

Sure, she just engaged in mass-murder, but she’s so adorable, right?

So, what’s my opinion? Is Made In Abyss Volume 10 worth 1000yen (about $8) on BookWalker?

(This image was censored for this review. This scene was not censored in the English publication.)

I give Made In Abyss Volume 10 a score of 9 out of 10.

If you’ve enjoyed the series up until now, Volume 10 is a safe purchase. And I think series loyalists would appreciate the conclusion of the Ilblu arc. What’s more, the excellent artwork and storytelling of Akihito Tsukushi are also there. It’s a welcome addition to a fantastic series, and I’m not disappointed with it, at all.

Sosu.

Review: Pokémon Legends: Arceus

On the timeline that we are currently on, GameFreak outsourced development on a Pokémon game to another developer, and then released a different Pokémon project just months later, in the cold of winter. And what’s more, this new Pokémon project blows everything that they have ever done clear out of the water.

No one expected this. This is the franchise that’s almost as famous as Madden for playing it safe. Since it’s inception, the Pokémon franchise has stuck to typical formulae for their releases, which have come to the point of being yearly installments where the most recent would be considered the definitive edition, and remaining current on the franchise required purchasing a new installment every year.

As Pokémon Legends: Arceus shows, GameFreak is willing to give a fresh take on a franchise that’s been regarded as among the most conservative. In fact, so much has apparently been poured into this one, that it’s more than a willingness, it’s a passionate desire.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus (hereafter Legends) takes place in Hisui, which is the Pokémon world’s region of Sinnoh as it would have been in centuries past (Sinnoh being inspired by the real-life location of Hokkaido). In this period of time, the people of Hisui are relatively few in number, and largely view the Pokémon creatures themselves as dangerous, and with some amount of suspicion. But then the main character comes along, and joins the Galaxy Team, a group of outliers that capture Pokémon and study them in their habitats.

As for how the main character got there, that could probably be called a spoiler, even though it happens at the game’s outset. However, it carries potentially huge implications for the Pokémon franchise’s branching timelines. In fact, the Pokémon community is already buzzing with speculation as to the impact that events in Legends would have in the continuity of Pokémon’s multiverse. So no, it’s not just some banal story about a kid from a small town collecting badges from gyms.

In Legends, the main character sets out on expeditions, where he (or she) catalogs data on a proto-Pokédex for Galaxy team. As you control him, he wanders freely about in one of the game’s immense open areas. I admit that I was a little concerned about this, as Pokémon Sword and Shield’s wild areas seemed like they’d be sprawling in early materials, but turned out somewhat small in the final game. Legends’ many areas may not be interconnected in the same way as in Breath of the Wild, but Legends’ wild areas are so huge in size that you’ll hardly feel confined. Not quite BotW, but the feel is almost the same. Better still, the Pokemon characters and other interactables such as trees and pick-ups are drawn from a considerable distance, which is another huge improvement over Sword and Shield.

Legends may not be the hyper-edgy game that some fans might be making it out to be, but it does have a bit of edge to it. Noticeably, there’s a connotation of danger from the Pokémon themselves. Pokémon can actually attack the main character, and if he takes too much damage at a time, he’ll be rescued, but lose a few items in his inventory. Players can capture Pokémon by throwing Pokéballs at them, though if they notice you first, that might not work. Even then, it’s still an option to send out a Pokémon, and battle the wild Pokémon one-on-one.

Except, it’s not always one-on-one. If there are other Pokémon nearby that notice you, they might join in and gang up on you. Interestingly, during battles, you can use the left control stick to reposition your character. Considering that it’s possible to take damage from being in an attack’s area of effect, it’s not a bad idea to stay out of the way. Adding to this is that the battle takes place on-location, rather than in some generic battle environment.

Over the course of your adventure, you’ll come across some Alpha Pokémon which, if you were to attempt to battle them, might give you a hard time. But if you can catch one, it might be a great asset, as they tend to come at a high level, with high stats and great moves. But, they might not obey until you progress in a certain way. My first one was a Golduck, but it disobeyed orders when I tried using it in battle.

Certain Pokémon are encountered as part of the story as “Lords”, which act as boss battles in this game. The battles with them involves avoiding their attacks while attempting to calm them with satchels, but only infrequently do you have the opportunity to use your own Pokémon during the battle. Other Pokémon still are the kind that you befriend, and they increase your mobility when called upon, which is handled in a way that is super-convenient. These can help you do things like cross water and climb cliffs.

One of the best mechanics that I’ve seen involves crafting your own items, which you get the capacity to do on-the-go early on. In most Pokémon games, stocking up involved buying lots of items at PokéMarts, which still remains in a certain way in Legends. However, you can obtain recipes so you can craft items like Potions and Pokéballs from items that you gather while on expeditions, which does a lot to make the expeditions feel really worthwhile.

Legends also brings some welcome changes to battles and Pokémon customization. One is that the Speed stat works differently, giving faster Pokémon opportunity to attack more often, rather than going first in strictly turn-based battles. Pokémon can also “master” moves, giving them the option of use “agile” or “strong” moves, which can offer more or less power and have an effect on turn order. This adds a lot more finesse to battles that was missing from many of the older games, not to mention a new element of strategy. Also, Pokemon no longer forget moves. While Pokemon still select from four moves during a battle, players can customize these moves from learned moves while outside of battle.

I can also point out that Legends is certainly harder than the core titles that Pokémon players would be used to. For a short while after getting started, I was surprised at how durable opposing Pokémon were, and their ability to consistently deal about 50% of my Pokémon’s HP in damage. Even level-grinding didn’t seem to result in as huge an advantage as it would in other RPGs in the franchise. Perhaps there was a change in the formula for damage calculation. Whatever the reason may be, I suspect that players wanting a higher level of challenge from the Pokémon franchise may appreciate Legends.

While many are comparing Legends to Breath of the Wild, I’ve heard others say that it’s more comparable to Monster Hunter. I haven’t played Monster Hunter, but if it’s anything like Legends, I’ve been missing out. But hey, has everyone already forgotten about Skyrim, all of a sudden? Skyrim did a lot to popularize this style of game, too.

In any case, it seems like more games are tending towards the freedom of an open-world adventure. While the story in Legends is linear, the gameplay has a sweet sense of freedom, and is certainly a blast of fresh air, which is something that this franchise has needed for a long time.

For those of you wanting to skip ahead to the score, here you go: Pokémon Legends: Arceus gets a score of 9.5 out of 10.

If you wrote Pokémon off as some nineties fad, then day trading might not be your thing.

Review: Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl

Developer: ILCA
Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokémon Company
Genre: Turn-based RPG
Rating: Everyone
Platform:
 Nintendo Switch

“Old fans would not want us to mess with their good memories… but there is no point in just redoing the same thing, right?”

GameFreak President, Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver

It’s plain to see what approach was taken this time around. Because as it is, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl (hereafter BDSP) may be the most predictable game I’ve ever played. At this point, the Pokémon franchise has pretty much cornered the market on those who like their games completely non-surprising.

Let’s go, Brandon!

This review almost saddens me to write, because I had some fond memories of the original Diamond and Pearl. It seems I’m far from the only one, as gamers have been calling for Sinnoh remakes since the well-received Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. While nostalgia is a selling point for Pokémon remakes, the previous remakes cultivated an expectation of an upgraded experience, not simply a retread. Up until the Let’s Go games, the remakes were usually done in a style similar to the most recent core Pokémon games at that point, and they usually included tweaks to the gameplay, and elements that weren’t in the originals. Considering this, it should be understandable that the Sinnoh remakes would have the same approach. But it wasn’t the case for BDSP.

Pokémon Diamond and Pearl were really early to the whole smart watch dealie.

I often start reviews with a brief, non-spoilery synopsis of the game’s plot, but in this case, it’s easy enough to guess the story direction for BDSP. A trainer starts out in a small town, and after picking from among three starter pokémon, the trainer embarks on a quest to obtain 8 gym badges, with intermittent interruptions from a team of bad guys, culminating in a showdown with the Elite Four, then the Champion. The story is the same as it was for the originals, so if you’ve played Diamond or Pearl before, then BDSP will have pretty much no surprises for you.

When it comes down to it, BDSP are almost straight ports of Diamond and Pearl, with some elements from Pokémon Platinum, but some upgrades to the production values.

But not by much.

For some reason, ILCA decided to go with a chibi graphical style for the overworld models that are reminiscent of Nendoroids.

Believe it or not, this was already a thing.

I was initially skeptical but open-minded about this, but in execution, these chibi Nendoroid models leave much to be desired, especially when the games do a dramatic zoom-in, which happens often.

Watch out, here comes Team Galactic to teach you some respect!

When these extreme close-ups happen, the jaggies and aliasing on these character models becomes really apparent, and the result is so cringy that I’ve found myself wishing that ILCA didn’t bother with them.

Interestingly, ILCA is short for ”I Love Computer Art”.

She’s not the only one.

The music tracks are on point, and while that’s normally a great thing, that brings up the question of why two different aspects of production so starkly differ in quality. This dissonance becomes more apparent when you see that the in-battle scenes look current-gen, complete with proportionate anime-style character models. Why couldn’t they have done the whole game with these models?

This is not Sword or Shield.

I’m going to come right out and say it: BDSP seem incomplete. To the point that I actually closed the game to check to see that I was playing with the day one update, which I was (1.1.1). It’s hard to believe that this was a full-price professional product, let alone the latest core installment to the single highest-grossing intellectual property of all time.

Smol Gyarados.

Yes, that following Gyarados is undersize, and that seems intentional. But for some reason, it spawned on that thin log. Who else is looking forward to what the glitch hunters are going to find?

As far as gameplay goes, BDSP is pretty much a classic-style turn-based RPG. There was less call for that to be messed with than anything else, so maybe it’s not bad that ILCA didn’t do much to tamper with it. Each turn, attacks are selected, then the pokémon take turns executing their attacks, with the ones with higher speed getting priority. There are many complex gameplay elements that can alter the flow of battle, and many players formulate their strategies based on these. Usually, a player that can exploit an opponents type weaknesses will have a significant advantage, but different offensive and defensive stats introduce an element of complexity that sometimes makes the best play unclear. As is the case in most installments in this series, the flow of battle can change drastically due to a variety of buffs and debuffs.

But hey, you may have already known how to play Pokémon already, especially if you’re in this game’s target audience. Even if you don’t, getting though most of the game will be pretty simple, especially now that the EXP system rewards all pokémon in the party, not just the one that did the battling. Yes, like just about any other RPG.

If you’re great at competitive Pokemon, college may not present you with much of a challenge.

I know that I’m not being greedy when I say that I wish that ILCA did more to mess with the experience that I remember. The Hoenn remakes did include soaring, which wasn’t in the original, and the Let’s Go games had mega evolution. Would the addition of a similar mechanic to a Sinnoh remake have been too much to ask?

I enjoyed the Sinnoh Underground in the originals, and I’m happy with the experience this time around. I’m okay with how relatively little they’ve messed with the experience of digging up treasures. What’s more, there are mini-biomes in the underground which, upon their discovery, increases the variety of pokémon available to the player. If players find, catch, and use pokémon that weren’t part of the typical walkthrough of the originals, that counts as a somewhat changed experience, right?

I suspect that the nurse was the one that polished the floor.

It’s really hard to imagine who I’d recommend this game to. If someone is already a Pokémon fan, then they’ll likely have already played Diamond, Pearl, or their original remake, Platinum. If someone is one of the people left who haven’t, BDSP isn’t likely to impress them. If someone is such a Pokémon fanatic that they’re determined to buy them anyway, they’re not likely to change their minds based on anyone’s recommendations.

So, who is this game for? It’s really hard to say, which factors well into Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl’s score of 6 out of 10.

Remastered music, updated graphics, and some gimmicks that don’t do much to the core experience. There’s your TL;DR.

Review: Touhou Hyouibana: Antinomy of Common Flowers

Developer: Twilight Frontier
Publisher: Phoenix
Genre: Fighting
Rating: Teen
Platform:
 PC, Steam, Sony PS4, Nintendo Switch

The characters in Touhou are just about everywhere nowadays, to the point that it’s getting to be impossible to escape from them. Now, an official installment of the Touhou franchise has come to Nintendo Switch, this one in particular from among the fighting games in the series.

Touhou Hyouibana: Antinomy of Common Flowers follows the adventures of Reimu Hakurei and a handful from among her many, many acquaintances as they investigate a strange phenomenon known as “perfect possession”, which allows a pair to swap places with each other at will, even in the middle of a fight. It’s basically an in-universe explanation for the tag battle mechanic. It can be really hard to be the fourth wall in Touhou, sometimes.

As you might imagine, some more ambitious characters are using perfect possession to gain more power, using it to their advantage in matches. But the story mainly revolves around a pair of tricksters who have found a way to misuse perfect possession as a way to amass wealth for themselves, and effectively become an unbeatable tag match. Complicating matters is that the very use of perfect possession has unintended consequences for a parallel universe known as the “Dream World”.

Sorry, I didn’t find Cirno in this one.

The story mode has you selecting a duo and following their quest over the course of a few relatively-simple battles (difficulty may be adjusted, depending on whether you’re a super-soldier or drunk). At first, there is only one story, but as the story progresses, more stories become available, perhaps even a few at a time. The game calls its overarching story “bittersweet”, which is fitting, as even completing a duo’s story segment may result in setbacks that are a part of the narrative.

If you’re not already familiar with Touhou, you may be taken aback by the sheer amount of lore surrounding each of the characters. It’s not necessary to know what motivates the game’s handful of characters, as you can just half-pay-attention to the story and focus on winning matches. However, some in-game bios would have been nice to provide some background on these characters, which may have helped to better appreciate the story. An example in which this might have helped involved a cameo of Kaguya. If the player knew that Reisen was Kaguya’s pet rabbit, that may have helped the player to better understand the interaction between the two.

What are you looking at?

But it’s the gameplay mechanics that make it a game, and for AoCF, they mostly hold up.

In concept, I think the idea of anime waifus throwing bright, colorful attacks at each other sounds brutally awesome. In execution, however, most in-game matches come down to finding out how to cheese the opponent to take their health bar down, at which point they’ll move on to the next phase, which usually takes a different strategy to defeat. While that may make matches against story opponents highly predictable, it seems as though the game intends for players to find the right cheese strat for each phase, and the match usually ends before the process gets too old. Which is clever, in an odd sense.

While this is a tag team game, I found myself going through most battles with just the Master of the pair, just fine. One in-game opponent switches things up by using a special bullet that doesn’t affect the Slave of the combo, which is one way the game encourages the use of the perfect possession mechanic.

Jyoon and Shion may be the bad guys, but they are enviably cunning.

The characters in Touhou fly. What this means in this game is that the battles don’t take place on the ground, but in the air. Instead of jumping, when the player presses up, the character floats up, but then returns to the same horizontal point she originated from. Pressing down works in the same general principle, but with a downward movement, instead. Avoiding projectiles in this manner can be tricky, though a mid-air hang can be achieved through the use of certain attacks. In many cases, it’s better to use a barrier to block attacks.

The controls are pretty simple, with a basic principle that carries over for each character. There’s a button for basic attacks, which can be expressed differently based on the direction held. The same goes for a special attack button, but characters also have super-strong attacks which are usually pretty broken, but is limited in use depending on whether a meter has filled to a certain point. There is also a defensive shield, which may be the best choice against attacks that seem nearly impossible to avoid.

In non-story matches, players are free to choose their own combination of characters, rather than what the story calls for. It’s probably best to pick the character duo that would most effectively complement each other’s abilities, but I can imagine that many players would just pick their favorite characters and team them up, regardless of how well they’d perform. Which is something I could identify with.

It’s quite a shame that the fighting mechanics weren’t polished to a higher degree, because this game is great in just about all other areas. For one thing, the sprite art and portraits are crisp and clean anime-style art, and as far as that goes, it’s just right. The music is… well, it’s Touhou music. Of course the music is great. I’ve had at least a couple of these songs on YouTube playlists before even playing this game, they’re that charming.

Yukari just found a place to crash.

One potential gripe is that the English translations have numerous errors. But hey, if you like campy anime-style games, you were forgiving of that kind of thing to begin with.

Did I feel like I got my money’s worth with Antinomy of Common Flowers? In a word, yes. The game is flawed in ways that I’m aware of, but it’s still a satisfying game to play which, for many players, may be welcome as a guilty pleasure. Or, more than that, something to bust out at parties which might amuse the guests.

Touhou Hyouibana: Antinomy of Common Flowers gets a score of 6.5 out of 10.

Don’t worry about it if you still don’t know what the name means.

Review: Metroid Dread

Developer: Mercury Steam
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Platformer, Exploration
Rating: Teen
Platform:
 Nintendo Switch

After having spent years as an urban legend, Metroid Dread has finally dropped, which goes to show that it’s going to take a lot more than being cancelled to stop a true warrior.

In the long-awaited sequel to Metroid Fusion, and what is currently the last in the series in order of the current timeline, the Galactic Federation has dispatched a group of E.M.M.I. robots to the planet ZDR to investigate a strange transmission. However, when contact with the E.M.M.I. has been lost, Samus goes to ZDR to investigate, fearing the possible return of the dreaded X parasites.

During the investigation, Samus encounters a Chozo warrior, and is quickly overcome in battle. Mysteriously, the battle has resulted in Samus being without most of her abilities. In a reversal compared to the rest of the series, rather than starting the game from Samus’ ship and descending into the caverns of an alien world, Samus instead starts at the bottom of the remnants of a civilization, and must ascend to the top in order to escape alive.

Matters become far more complicated with the fact that the borderline-indestructible E.M.M.I. have gone rogue, and will hunt Samus down if she goes anywhere within their coverage areas.

If you’re in this spot, you don’t wanna miss.

So, that’s the story, but how does the game actually play? That’s where it gets even better.

Like most Metroid games outside of the Prime series, Metroid Dread is a 2D platformer set in huge, interconnected areas that main character Samus Aran explores autonomously. Most areas have multiple branching paths, with very subtle (if any) clues as to which path would take Samus to either a major confrontation or an upgrade to her mobility. Even dead ends may provide opportunity to discover power-ups such as permanent expansions to her missile-carrying capacity, so players have incentive to explore ZDR’s huge caverns, for the treasures that await them. Even getting lost may have its rewards.

Initially, Samus’ techniques are limited. But as she picks up major upgrades to her mobility (such as improved jumps and the series-staple Morph Ball), more functions are mapped to the control scheme. While the controls get complex by late game, the gradual implementation of Samus’ abilities helps to keep players from being overwhelmed by the amount of techniques.

Samus does start the game with some useful abilities that remain helpful throughout. One of these is a slide that allows her to go under narrow openings, which acts as a convenient alternative to the Morph Ball when in a hurry. Another helpful ability is when Samus aims with a laser pointer, allowing her to fire in any direction. Samus has to be standing still to do this, which makes sense, considering that in real life it’s usually easier to aim with precision when standing still. During boss fights, this usually means taking the risk of standing still if it means possibly getting in more accurate attacks.

Ride that slide!

I’ve noticed early on that Missiles are usually better to use during boss fights than charged beam attacks. I remember that in some previous Metroid games, the opposite was true, and I liked spamming charged attacks. It’s a change I welcome, considering that it’s sensible from a game mechanics perspective for the resource that has the potential to be limited by quantity has higher damage potential. But unless you’ve been missing a significant amount of ammo upgrades and play carelessly, you should have plenty of missiles for most boss fights.

Metroid Dread may provide a lot of abilities, but that doesn’t mean it holds the player’s hand. It’s expected of players to pick up on acquired abilities quickly, and if players can recall them late in the game, that might make some difficult boss battles go a lot smoother.

That brings us to the next point: Metroid Dread is not an easy game. Even on the normal difficulty, players of average skill level can expect to take multiple attempts on bosses before finally emerging victorious. I remember that there was at least a couple times in which I had taken a few attempts on a boss, so I decided to make attempts where I mostly just performed evasive maneuvers, with minimal attacking, in order to practice at avoiding the boss’s attacks. That helped, as subsequent attempts mostly went a lot smoother.

Comparisons have been made with Dark Souls in terms of the difficulty of the boss battles, so victory against most bosses aren’t something that’s just handed to you. Beating the bosses in Metroid Dread is a matter of skill, and when a boss is overcome, it feels like an accomplishment.

Run, girl!

But the bosses aren’t the only things in this game that bring the tension. In Metroid Dread, there’s a total of seven E.M.M.I. running about. Each of the E.M.M.I. has an assigned area which it doesn’t leave, but because you’ll have to run through these immense areas to proceed, Samus will have to confront them.

When you come across an E.M.M.I., there’s usually nothing you can do except try to avoid being noticed, and when you are noticed, you pretty much have to run and hide. What’s more, these things are scary intelligent, and usually come along to investigate where they hear sounds.

If an E.M.M.I. catches Samus, it’s usually Game Over. Yeah, there’s a brief quick-time opportunity to escape it’s clutches, but because it’s so hard to time, just touching an E.M.M.I. usually means having to retry. But thankfully, Metroid Dread is generous with restarting the player just outside E.M.M.I. areas and boss doors, so the player can make another attempt right away if they so choose.

In exploration platform games, colloquially known as Metroidvania games, a significant part of the experience is the sensation of movement. And thankfully for the chief genre-namer, movement in Metroid Dread is a joy. Samus responds with just the right combination of realism, momentum, and lack of hesitation to controller input. And what’s more, there’s a sense of power to her many mobility upgrades, to the point that by the end of the game, it really feels as though nothing is missing from Samus’ arsenal.

It’s not polite to point.

What’s more, none of the upgrades unbalance the game. There’s no one upgrade that’s perfect for every occasion, but they usually come with a sense of freedom that comes with knowing just how it can be used to overcome an obstacle that rendered previously encountered passageways and power-ups off-limits. And when you find out that an upgrade that you might not have been thinking much about at the time might make a boss battle much easier, that’s really satisfying in its own sense.

It usually goes that when someone buys a new game, there comes a risk that a game with current-gen visuals compromises with mechanical soundness. However, in Metroid Dread’s case, there is no such compromise, as the game offers tight, rewarding gameplay with excellent production values, all wrapped in the same package. While the platforming is in two dimensions, the environments are rendered in polygonal models. Metroid Dread is far from the first game to do this, but what Dread accomplishes is so rich and atmospheric that it’s a strong argument in favor of upgrading to a Switch OLED if you intend to spend a lot of time playing in handheld mode. There are many little touches here and there which goes to show just how much thought that Mercury Steam put into it. For example, there’s a thin, barely-noticeable haze of display static when Samus is in areas where there is an E.M.M.I. active, which conveys an eerie, unsettling technological sense that something is off.

What the E.M.M.I. can’t see, can’t hurt it.

As much as I’d like to discuss the events in the game, and what they mean for the overarching Metroid narrative, I think the best way to discover them is to play the game for yourself. This is one game that’s a blast to play, so that discovery isn’t likely to feel like a chore to a gamer without a crippling case of ennui.

Now, onto the score. It’s my great pleasure to give Metroid Dread top honors:
10 out of 10.

In times past, Metroid games have been something that one might consider to hold themselves over while waiting for some other big release. With Metroid Dread, the Metroid series demonstrates that it’s deserving of more respect.