Category Archives: archived articles

The Master of Disaster: Wanderlust – 21

I’ve often heard from other creative-minded folks that one of their biggest problems is actually following through on an idea or a concept. I know I’ve encountered that a whole lot on this very website what with all the “grand plans” that never come to fruition, but instead of examining every aspect of my life that’s been a letdown, I want to look at this problem through the lens of running campaigns in Dungeons & Dragons. I’m always thinking of the next grand adventure I can take my players on even if it’s at the expense of what we’re actively doing, and that’s not great.

At the moment, my group is one month into what’s looking to be a two month hiatus from our Eberron campaign that we’ve been playing for what feels like an eternity. At first I considered this to be a boon considering I had been feeling pretty worn out from the constant creative output needed to sustain our weekly play schedule. I thought that this time away would allow me to essentially get the creative juices flowing once more, which they did… just in a different way.

I had a lot of grand plans ranging from content to mechanics that for our Eberron campaign that for the most part were included. I wanted to make sure that the story wasn’t exclusively told by me, which ultimately led to player decisions (and consequences) being the catalyst for most of the storytelling. I managed this by making sure that character creation was a more in-depth process, where I’d learn not only about their characters, but the NPCs that are important to said characters. Having all this lore and backstory come from the players themselves allowed me to craft a story that’s uniquely tailored to them. Sure, Dungeon’s & Dragons is all about reactive storytelling, but that usually takes some time to really be a factor in any campaign. Ultimately what I’m trying to say is that most of what I prepared for took place before the campaign actually started, which led to me having players that were engaged with the world and its events from the jump.

But even though I’d prepped and planned and put all this time and effort into our campaign, over the weeks and months that we’ve been playing, I’ve started to see the pieces of the experience that aren’t coalescing as well I’d have liked it to. From the setting to the lore, I’m seeing all of these things that I could have improved upon if only I had known how they’d eventually turn out, or if I could have seen how much of a pain in the ass a particular plot point or magic item would have been. Sure I can consider this a learning experience whose lessons I can utilize in our next campaign, but instead of waiting for that transition to come naturally, all I can think about is what could be next instead of what I can do right now.

Whether it be a D&D module, some home brewed setting or even an entirely different game altogether, the waterfall of ideas just keeps flowing. I’ve had ideas for classic fantasy bullshit themed games, space themed games, alternate history, wild west, modern day and so on and so forth, all of which I daydream about way more than our current campaign.

Eberron: Rising from the Last War – Wizards of the Coast

I’d consider this to be a pattern of behavior, where I get really excited about a thing and throw myself headfirst into it, only to burn out on it before I can finish. The amount of maps, music, and artwork I’ve made and sourced for this specific campaign is kind of staggering when I try to take stock of it all. From tons and tons of adventures I can plug into the game, to NPCs who might never see the light of day, to entire game systems that will never be played, to just pure story and lore I’ve written that’s just never going to be utilized, I have a lot of things I could do with our campaign but just never seem to have the energy to follow through on.

But I recognized this as a problem a few weeks ago when I found myself prioritizing literally anything else above actually working on the campaign. But now we’re in the middle of a hiatus, and all I want to do is just play D&D again, something I won’t be able to do for another few weeks. In that time I’ve looked into plenty of settings, modules and games that we could utilize for whatever is next, but with so many options and the inability to meet with all of my players to consider them, all I can do right now is really just work on our current campaign.

But just because our current campaign is the only D&D thing I can confidently work on right now doesn’t mean that I haven’t regained some excitement for it. Being away from that world has given a lot of time to reflect on what I can do to revitalize the experience for myself. While I’ve generated some cool new ideas I’m excited to implement, I’ve also had time to reconsider parts of the campaign that I had planned. It feels weird to say that I’ve been cutting content from our adventure, but I think removing those things is going to help the adventure feel more cohesive and understandable. It also means I can focus on the ending of our story and how I’m possibly going to put a neat little bow on this whole experience.

The moral of this story is that you shouldn’t be afraid to take a break from any creative endeavor if you need it. I personally was feeling drained for so long, and just needed time away from the entire concept of rolling dice and adding numbers. Now I feel refreshed and energized, eagerly waiting for the next session to finally come along, but there’s still more waiting and planning to be done before that happens. I should also consider writing down some of these ideas and expanding upon them rather than just having a list with meandering phrases on them like “dragon(s?)” or “A mountain with legs.”

Review: Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance isn’t a very good video game. Some might even go as far as to say that it’s a bad video game, a take that I don’t know that I fully disagree with if we’re being honest, but it does paint the game in an absolute and irredeemable light, which I don’t believe is the case here. Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is a rough, buggy, clunky game that should have been better, but it misses the mark in so many ways, ranging from combat to its core structure that it will surely require some hefty patches to get it to a recommendable state.

Full transparency here: I was really looking forward to Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance, the spiritual successor the two very good Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance games from the PS2 era. This modernization is such a different product than its predecessors, that it ultimately feels like a massive injustice to the legacy of those previous titles. Whereas the originals were top-down, action-RPG games that walked the line between the dense RPG mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons proper, and some genuinely fun brawler combat. I’m sure plenty of folks out there would disagree with that statement but as a young man with no interest in the source material at the time, these games were able to keep me invested and engaged in a way that fantasy properties across all forms of media had failed to do. I was hoping that this new Dark Alliance would illicit some of those same feelings, but the D&D DNA on display in Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance seem like little more than set dressing thrown over a pretty bland cooperative action game.

One of the more puzzling aspects of Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance has to be the lack of a dedicated caster class. It’s kind of buck-wild to me that in a Dungeons & Dragons themed product, the use of magic is relegated to special abilities to be used in conjunction with martial fighting rather than have its own dedicated class. With so many different classes available to choose from in D&D proper, it’s a severe letdown to only be able to pick between two fighters, a ranger and a barbarian, all of which are martial combat focused. There’s an actual reason for this limited selection of classes however, because Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is an adaption of the R.A. Salvatore novel The Crystal Shard which explains why the characters and classes are what they are.

Even if you’re able to look past the limited character options, the game itself does a pretty poor job of capturing the essence of Dungeon’s & Dragons. Not having the ability to create your own character regardless of story justifications, is just a big bummer in my eyes. Not being able to access your inventory mid-game also is a big misstep especially when you look at the original Dark Alliance games where you were always able to equip the stuff you found on the fly. Even weirder is that the loot you pick up inside levels are generic placeholders that get “identified” and usable when you return to the hub area. It reminds me a lot of early Destiny where you had to get the engrams you’d find identified before they turned into real and usable loot.

But Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance actually does attempt to incorporate some more D&D and RPG elements into the experience, by putting a pretty big focus on exploration and puzzle solving while you’re in levels. None of it is particularly hard or interesting, but about half of your time spent within the levels allow for some significant loot and resource hunting, which basically just means breaking everything you can see to reveal hidden paths, mining (smashing) crystal ore (upgrade currency), platforming challenges and what I’m very generously calling “puzzle solving.” These mostly come in the form of timing your movement to avoid spike and fire traps, finding an item to help unlock a door or elevator, or just running in the opposite direction of the horribly unclear objective markers on your map to find treasure chests and optional enemies.

There are also some optional objectives to tackle within levels, all of which seem to involve collecting things, killing bosses, or destroying things. There are also several different difficulty levels to choose from when selecting missions if that’s something you’d like to do, but I don’t know if it does anything aside from just giving enemies bigger health bars or letting them hit you harder.

One of the things I am mildly enjoying in the game is its upgrade system, which is admittedly very overwhelming at first. It’s nothing crazy or revolutionary, but you can essentially upgrade every piece of gear a couple of times by utilizing both the crystal ore you find throughout levels, as well as the gold you pick up along the way. There are 5 or so different rarities of crystals that allow you to upgrade rarer gear. So legendary crystals will allow you to upgrade legendary equipment, whereas common crystals wouldn’t allow for that. You can also transform common crystals into their more rare counterparts by using gold, which helps curb the reliance on random crystal drops.

Aside from upgrading your gear you can also pick from different color options for just about every piece of gear for the paltry price of just 50 gold pieces, which for context is basically nothing. You can upgrade your core stats via attribute points which can be earned through exploring levels, but are primarily earned through leveling up where you can also unlock feats, new moves, and inventory upgrades. Unfortunately, nothing you can unlock is capable of washing away the myriad of gameplay specific issues within Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance.

Playing Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance can feel like an exercise in futility, because all manner of issues can hamper your experience at any time. One of the more notable issues I noticed was that the enemy AI just doesn’t work. I could stand right outside of an area where enemies are hanging out and just kill them from a distance without them ever reacting to being peppered with arrows. It was ridiculously easy to cheese my way through parts of this game because the enemies never really put up a fight or acknowledged my presence if I stood far enough away from them. I’m sure the game gets hard enough to the point that cheesing it or playing solo won’t be viable, but in the early goings I never felt overwhelmed or outgunned.

Even when I decided to leap into the fray and not just annoy my enemies from afar, I found that the combat was mushy and unresponsive, which led to a lot of moments where I was trying to charge up an attack but the game just straight up ignored my inputs. It was as if I was trying to play faster than the game would allow for, which seemed like a weird additional way of keeping me from spamming attacks considering there’s a stamina meter in the game that still doesn’t fully make sense to me. Some attacks I did would just lower the maximum amount of stamina I could have at any given time, without ever really providing a clear way to fix that issue. You’d think that taking a short rest would remove that cap from the stamina meter, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. In fact, sometimes it will just randomly fix itself without any explanation, which is infinitely more maddening to me.

By default both light and heavy attacks are assigned to the right bumper and trigger respectively both of which are supposed to combo together seamlessly, but the controls are just so muddy and unresponsive that combos happen more by accident than anything else. There are also some special abilities that are on a cool-down, as well as an ultimate move I could activate whenever the ultimate meter finally decided to fill up. Aside from that, the game has fairly standard brawling mechanics that include blocks, parries, launchers and so on.

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is a painfully buggy experience, of which my favorite bug has to be when I killed something and its lifeless body is launched into the stratosphere, never to be seen again. I hope this is never “fixed,” because there’s nothing to fix in my eyes, so we can just go ahead and hand-wave the issue away by saying that goblins naturally fly away when they die. But not all of the bugs are as funny as that one, because a lot of revolve around performance and online desynchronization issues. It’s never fun to hit an enemy and have them vanish only to appear behind me and pummel me to death, and that happens with alarming regularity when playing online. Online connectivity is a prevalent problem too, because after every chapter in a mission when my group would try to return to the hub world together we’d all be disconnected without fail.

To put it kindly, Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is a flawed game that’s in dire need of some patches to not just address bugs, but to smooth out some of the rougher edges of the non-gameplay experience. From connectivity issues and desynchronization issues to loot management, these things need to get sorted out before any sort of community can really develop around the game. I’m hopeful that the bigger issues like bugs and combat functionality will be fixed and adjusted as time goes on, but those little nuisances are the pain points that will eventually kill an online game if unaddressed for too long.

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance didn’t turn out the way I had hoped it would but I have to believe that it can only get better from here. Like most games, it’s an infinitely more enjoyable experience with friends, but that isn’t a phenomenon that’s exclusive to Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance. In its current state it’s not a good game to play, but it is a great thing to laugh at with your buddies thanks to its shoddy B-movie qualities. I’d love to be able to both enjoy the campy aspects of the game in addition to a great gameplay experience, but it just isn’t there yet.

The Master of Disaster: Tone – 20

When I first started running games my gut instinct was to try and make my sessions all be well rounded, providing drama, comedy, excitement and so on and so forth, all at once. The idea was that one person would have a funny quest for players while another would have a more dour objective for them. That’s how it kind of works in video games, so why wouldn’t it work here? Well it wasn’t that it couldn’t work here, it was more that it sometimes led to a sense of emotional whiplash. The party would go from joking with a bartender while breaking the fourth wall, to talking to a grieving widow who is desperate to uncover the culprit for her partner’s murder. It was tonally inconsistent in a way that was very noticeable. More to the point, it made keeping my players engaged and role-playing, incredibly difficult.

Going from joking about a funny looking cow or whatever, to talking about the vast political corruption in the city might work in the real world because we’re all emotionally broken, but in game I’ve found that tonal consistency is valued more than it is in our world. Now, that isn’t to say that I’m forbidding jokes when we’re having a serious conversation, but the way you address that kind of thing is important.

Everyone in every adventuring party wants to crack a joke that’s going to make everyone at the table erupt into laughter, which is fine, but if they’re talking to that poor widow from the example earlier, that widow is gonna call them out. It isn’t about whether I, the DM am calling them out or not, it’s about if the NPC they’re practicing their standup routine on is willing to put up with their shit. There’s no use in me as the DM breaking the flow of the game to tell my players to get serious about our game where dragons and goblins are kicking it with raptors and dwarves or whatever, cause that would be a fun new take on ludo-narrative dissonance.

I guess my point ultimately is that while you as the DM have the power to do whatever you want, wielding that power and using it is a bit trickier. Aside from lambasting my players as the NPCs they interact with, I’ve found that splitting my sessions into arcs has been really helpful for establishing tones. For instance, we’ve had sessions that were very mission focused and others that were just nebulous, allowing the players to go off and do what they want and suffer the consequences in classic D&D fashion. I treat the tone in our games like a pendulum, where some of them are gonna be goof-fests, while others are going to have the characters make tough choices. Trying to keep the pendulum stuck in one direction for too long will almost certainly lead to a harsh swing in the other direction, so it’s a good idea to make sure that you’re not sticking with one theme or tone for too long.

Ironically, that very reason was why we all ultimately decided to stop playing through the Rime of the Frostmaiden module that came out late last year. It was so overly drab and depressing, with an insistence on being dour and bleak throughout the vast majority of the adventure. It sucked and was a colossal downer, so we pivoted. Consider that a lesson learned on my end though, because from here on out, I’m making sure that any game I run has both highs and lows without lingering too much on either.

I recognize that this entire concept of a malleable and shifting tone might be something I value more than a lot of other game masters and players, but I’ve found a lot of success in using this mentality. I allow my players to joke and goof till their heart’s content, but I also know that in a few sessions I’m going to hit one of them with a tough choice that’s going to make their character grow. In a long term campaign, I think these situations and encounters are absolutely necessary to keep both the story interesting and your players engaged. While this post is about adjusting the tone to match the content of the session, all of this stuff is, in my opinion, extremely important to another very instrumental part of campaigns, which is allowing the characters to grow.

Every campaign I’ve run starts with at least one person trying to make a joke character, which is fine. But I always tell them that making a joke character and giving them a goofy name is really going to bite them in the ass further down the line. When the king of the land comes to you, hat in hand, and begs your party for help in finding his missing wife, it’s really going to undercut the whole mood of the campaign when he has to say, “I come to seek the aid of the noble knight, Fart Garfunkel. I shall pay a king’s bounty for the retrieval of my missing beloved wife.” Like, that whole scene is going to suck on so many levels. Maybe the first time it happens, it’ll be hilarious. The second, third, hell, maybe even the tenth time it happens it’ll still be a gut-buster. But doing that puts this artificial ceiling on how much your character can grow because they’ll never be taken seriously by anyone in your party, let alone the actual human beings at the table.

Every party, campaign, player, and character are so different, so maybe my advice doesn’t apply to your current situation. But I truly believe through extensive trial and error, that being able to set a tone from session to session is extremely important to allowing the players to experience a great story. While they might not remember the name of the big bad guy or whatever, they’ll remember the ebbs and flow of a campaign that tonally mimics the real life experience. Some days are good, some days are sad, and it’s okay to have your player-characters experience that too. Otherwise, they’re nothing more than a series of stats on a page with a name like Fart Garfunkel.

Gut Check: Core

No one is quite sure how video games are actually made, with many scientists believing them to be the result of some sort of dark magic or inter-planar phenomenon, but I’m here to present my latest findings on the matter. All of my evidence suggests that people make video games on their computers, utilizing software like Unity or the Unreal Engine to accomplish the laborious task of crafting a game from nothing but bits and bytes. Then there are the people who are using Core to make bad versions of much better and more popular games, except these versions are loaded with micro-transactions and terrible controls. Sounds fun, right?

If you’ve never heard of Core, rest assured you’re not alone. It popped up in the new releases section on the Epic storefront, billing itself as a game creation and playing platform akin to something like Dreams on the PlayStation 4. So I took the plunge and tried out this new content creation platform, and boy howdy is it rough. Now I will say that Core is technically in early access and is actively being worked on, but within ten seconds of playing it you pretty much get what’s going on here and what kind of games are being made.

Core is less Dreams and more Roblox in the sense that, as far as I could tell, every game is made with the conceit of being online multiplayer enabled, although further research revealed that single player content can also be generated. You’re dropped into a lobby with other real people running around and riding on hoverboards, moving between platforms that highlight popular games, active games, and another one which seems to be where the developers will highlight the winners of creation contests and stuff. So I perused some of the community’s offerings and boy-howdy, all I can say is that it’s extremely dangerous to give people the ability to infused micro-transactions into their games, because they will go buck-wild.

Out of the five games I played, almost all of them had some sort of mobile game, money sucking mechanics in it. The first game I played was a Marble Madness styled experience where you and the other people in the lobby race through an obstacle course towards the finish line. The game itself was fine, but the physics, and this is going to be a running theme, were pretty wonky. Jumps weren’t reliable and you’d hit a piece of geometry in the wrong way and send your marble flying into space. But hey, there was a daily check-in station in case I wanted to come back tomorrow and play this super cool game, earning some extra marble-bucks or whatever.

The next thing I tried was a survival game where you and a bunch of players are in a plane, crash on an island, and try to survive. Once again, controlling the game wasn’t my favorite part of the experience, and every game I played was deeply flawed on that level. Everything just felt a little too inaccurate, which is a problem when you’re trying to bash a rock with a pick ax for a full minute, only to realize that half of your hits have been missing. Also, the fact that it was a bunch of people playing on the same server didn’t make for the smoothest or most stable online experience, but that seems like a Core issue more than the game creator’s fault.

What is a game creator issue is the inclusion of mobile game styled timers. There was no shortage of opportunities for me to spend diamonds to speed up my timers on growing plants, crafting items and researching recipes. Now follow me on this, cause this might get a bit confusing, but the way you obtain diamonds in this game was by trading in the paid currency you can buy in Core for real actual earth dollars. It was pretty gross to see those mechanics implemented in a user generated game, but I guess everyone’s trying to make a buck somehow.

After way too much of that, I moved onto a bad mini-golf game. You wanna talk about whack physics in a game, look no further than whatever this golf game was called. It was basically a worse version of Golf With your Friends, which is a fun game you should play instead of this. It had all sorts of wacky courses to play through, all of which you were playing through with other people who were also having trouble dialing in the strength of shots, just like I did. Or maybe they were also fighting with the atrocious camera that would rather show you the scenery than where your ball was. But hey, if I come back tomorrow, I’ll get like 800 fun coins or whatever.

Next, I played a game that billed itself as a “true” action-RPG, a claim that was made by a big fat liar. You start in a town with a sword and can walk outside the gates to kill generic NPC dudes with swords, skeletons with swords, or a big rock monster. That basically involves mashing the left mouse button in the general vicinity of an enemy until they die. You do that a bunch of times until you level up, pick up some gold off of the enemies, and return to town to level up and maybe buy new weapons. You can buy a sword, a sword and shield, a crossbow, a hammer or some magic staff along with a bevy of skins. All of these things have price and level requirements, but it all just seemed in service of getting better weapons to run into a higher level field to run that loop all over again. It’s immediately boring and the maker must have realized that because they literally put in places for your character to idle AFK and gain gold or experience. Maybe that’s a thing in MMOs, I don’t know, but it was incredibly wild to see for myself. I suspect this was in an attempt to boost their active player count by inciting people to literally not play their game, while playing their game.

Finally there was this real fucker of a game that was all about messing with you through misdirection and straight up bullshit. It’s one of those trial and error type platforming games that streamers love to play, like Kaizo Mario or I Wanna Be the Guy. But imagine doing it with a bunch of other people and god awful physics, wouldn’t that be fun? Well actually, it kind of was. Not because of the game, no that was weapons grade bullshit right there, but interacting with the other people on the course was kind of nice. We all hated this stupid game and started helping each other by communicating in the text chat. We’d call out secret platforms or lead each other through invisible mazes. It had been so long since I’d engaged any online play because it usual sucks, but these people were genuinely good to each other. We all helped navigate the deluge of invisible platforming challenges and mazes that made the game such a chore, but through our collective stubbornness and spite for the game, we overcame. At the end of it all it just reset me back to the beginning, but it was a really positive interaction nonetheless.

But it’s hard to poke fun at the people who spent time making these games, because they probably put a lot of work into making them and I don’t want to detract from that. Sure a lot of them put in some pretty nasty mobile game mechanics into their games, but they still took the time to make a thing. With that thought, I checked in on the creation stuff and it seemed pretty dense and involved, although Core does let you pick from a list of premade concepts like racing, fighting, king of the hill and more, to give you a better starting point than just a blank screen. So I loaded up a deathmatch prefab and immediately was overwhelmed by the tools available and closed it, which could be interpreted as the tools being fairly robust, or me just not having the patience for that shit.

Everything about Core just screams unfinished which makes sense for a game that’s been in some version of early access for the past few years, but even inside of user created games everything just feels messy. No UI in any game I played actually looked good or was an efficient use of screen real estate, with everything instead looking like a placeholder for a placeholder. Interacting with stuff, moving the characters, all of it just felt muddy and imprecise across every game inside of Core, which speaks to a larger issue with the platform that needs to be resolved. If the platform isn’t giving people the appropriate tools to make a fun game, then every game on that service, regardless of its ambition or craft will feel stunted in some way because the engine behind it is inherently flawed.

I don’t ever want to see a game fail, but I just don’t know if Core will ever catch on in a sustainable way. Maybe if they tighten up the physics and general interaction stuff, integrate some proper controller support and overall just allow people to create more refined and interesting content might make it something worth sticking with, but as it is I just don’t see it lasting. Although it is free, and that does seem like an attractive enough price point for people to engage with for the time being. Maybe it’ll be a quiet success like Roblox is or maybe it’ll fade into obscurity like Project Spark did, but ultimately I bet streamers will enjoy this thing if only to rag on it to their audience, which is basically what I’ve done here in written form, so mission accomplished Core!

Review: Adios

I don’t know if I’ve ever actually experienced anything quite like what I did when I played through Adios. I don’t mean to imply that I was awestruck by it by any means, because I genuinely found it to be an incredibly underwhelming game to play. Yet despite its numerous mechanical shortcomings, this narrative-focused, first-person adventure game delivered a really impactful story that left me feeling pretty raw emotionally.

It’s hard to talk about Adios without wandering directly into spoiler territory because the game is only about an hour or so long, so I’m just going to talk about the first 5 minutes of the game to avoid anything too spoilery. The store page for Adios reads, “A pig farmer decides he no longer wants to dispose of bodies for the mob. What follows is a discussion between him and his would-be killer,” which was a pretty interesting concept that was the catalyst for me playing it at all.

The first thing you do in Adios is check your journal while sitting on your porch. Inside, the lone entry essentially says to “tell him that you’re done.” A white van pulls up and you’re thrust into the next scene where you’re taking wrapped bloody packages out of the back of said van, and chucking them into the pig pen alongside your would-be killer. What follows is a series of conversations and interactive vignettes with you and your would-be killer about their lives and experiences. It turns out that both of these characters have been doing this for so long that they’ve become close friends, a fact that looms over every conversation you have together throughout the day.

Your would-be killer is trying to convince your character to not stop doing what they’ve been doing for so long because the consequences are admittedly pretty bad. He spends the entire day with you trying to remind you of all of these reasons to stay and stick it out without explicitly ever saying that it’s the worst and final decision that you’ll ever make. Throughout the game you’ll learn more about both characters and their personal lives, while they both try to walk a delicate line between work and pleasure. It’s one of the few games that’s really emotionally impacted me, with the last one being The Bonus World’s very first Game of the Year back in 2017, Night in the Woods.

What made Night in the Woods great was a multitude of elements coming together in a well-rounded experience that had an incredible narrative woven throughout it. Adios on the other hand, is done a gigantic disservice by even being a video game. For how good the story, writing and acting can feel at times, they’re all unfortunately wrapped up in something that can barely be called a game, let alone a fun one. The structure of Adios is that you have a few locations of interest on your farm that trigger a scene for you to experience. In that scene you might need to do a mindless and mechanically uninteresting task like give a horse an apple while the two characters reminisce about the past. You finish listening to the conversation and move to the next scene. Most of these conversations are really well done, providing insight into the characters while uncovering their motivations, desires and general outlook on life. These are really the star of the show, so if listening to people talk isn’t your thing, then Adios has very little else to offer.

But these little vignettes you experience might not have anything for you to do in them at all. Sometimes you can just put the controller down as dialogue happens, only to occasionally pick a “dialogue choice,” all of which either don’t change anything about the story, or are grayed out for some reason. My guess is that there isn’t actually a way to pick those dialogue options, because they usually are things you’d rather say but your character can’t bring themselves to actually do. In this case, I thought that was very effective, but it doesn’t change the fact that most of these vignettes have you do a lot of sitting and listening.

When I bought Adios I thought it would be this little life-simulation kind of game with a heavy emphasis on the story. I wasn’t expecting anything revolutionary mechanically, but it cannot be overstated just how bad playing the game itself is at times. The first issue has to do with the presentation of Adios in general. From far away, the sweeping vistas of houses and farms in the distance have this painterly quality to them that I can appreciate. Up close however, things look a lot muddier. Look, I’m not one of those people who needs great graphics for everything especially if you’re very clearly trying to tell a compelling story over having dazzling visuals, but if that’s truly the case, maybe the character models should animate a touch better, or at the very least have any form of lip-syncing going on. Instead you’ve just got these weird caricatures that flap their gums at you while saying some heavy shit.

I don’t know what resources were available to the development team so I don’t want to sound too harsh, but it was truly disheartening to find this really engaging story completely mired by uninteresting game mechanics and iffy visuals. The worst part was that there were moments where I’d start to zone out while the characters were having these really intense conversations. I think Adios would be infinitely better if it were a short film or animated feature, because being a game doesn’t really enhance the story in any way, and in most cases detracts from an otherwise excellent experience.

But all of these issues with the gameplay were never enough to stop me from seeing Adios through to the end, and I’m happy I pushed forward. The ending of the game and the events directly leading into it were particularly gut-wrenching and left me feeling a bit teary-eyed when it was all over. Of course it wont affect everyone the same way it did me, but that should be a result of the story not resonating with them, not the uninspired and boring gameplay they have to endure.

Despite all of my criticisms, I do think Adios is worth experiencing. I don’t know that I’d suggest you run out and pay $20 bucks for an hour long story, but if you have the desire and ability, I say go for it. Otherwise, I’d say you should wait for a sale to play Adios, but either way, you should play Adios at some point.

The Master of Disaster: Alternative Thinking – 19

One of the best things about tabletop role-playing games is just how much versatility a player has in any given situation. Any good GM should be able to accommodate any reasonable request from their players, but the real fun come in when a player completely sideswipes you with some genuine shenanigans. Having to adjust and improvise on-the-fly is an absolute thrill that really tests my abilities to honor the request of the player while adhering to the rules and story. It’s a tough thing to develop, but it’s a necessary skill to have when running a game.

During one of my first ever games I ran, the first thing that a player of mine did was just say they were doing something, which in this case was taking a pouch of gold off of an NPC. My first reaction was to prompt them for a sleight of hand check which seemed pretty reasonable in my mind, but then they clarified and said “no, I’m just taking it.” They made it clear that there was no intent for being sneaky or surreptitious at all, they just literally wanted to take a thing that belonged to another character without any resistance. Knowing what I know now, I shouldn’t have relented and instead made them roll a contested strength check or just tell them that wasn’t going to fly without a check, but when you’re starting out you just want to please everyone and let them run free.

Don’t do that. While it may seem counterintuitive to tell your players they can’t do something, sometimes you need to remind them that TTRPGs, while a great forum for wild improvisation, are by and large very rules-heavy games. It isn’t about just saying “no” to your players, rather you need to refocus their energy so they can work within the guard rails of whatever system you’re playing. Saying “no” repeatedly to a player might result in them just checking out entirely or feeling as if they’re being picked on, so usually I try to encourage my players to try a different tactic or work with them to accomplish whatever ridiculous thing they’re trying to do.

Because I play with my friends, there’s a built in level of respect between all of us. They know that I’m trying to give them as much flexibility as I can without completely throwing out the rule book, and I know that they’re going to respect me when I tell them that there’s going to be a couple of extra steps required in the insane shit they’re trying to pull off. I ultimately want their characters to succeed in whatever they’re doing, but that doesn’t mean I have to make it easy on them and let them dictate what rules are and aren’t enforced.

There are plenty of ways that you can help work with your players to accomplish their goals, but for my money I’ve found that just asking my players if they have any abilities that would aid them in their wild requests is something I’ve found not only reinforces the rules of the game, but makes sure they’re paying attention to their character’s unique abilities. But lets say you wanted to be fun for once in your life and just let the players have a good time, well that’s when luck checks, high dice checks and even some deus ex machina can help you loosen up.

Honestly, that’s kind of the secret. If the players want to do a near impossible thing, let them try it and set the DC at 30 and give them disadvantage if you have to. They’ll probably fail miserably if they actually try which could lead to even more hilarious situations. Or maybe they’ll succeed, which might ruin an encounter, but it’ll be a moment they talk about forever. In my experience, I’ve never been so happy to get fucked over by the dice thanks to a rogue natural 20, because the players eat that shit up.

Allowing your players to try something rather than just shutting them down is something that I truly believe you have to do in order to foster a positive gaming environment. If you don’t let your players have fun, they’ll eventually stop caring and stop playing, but if you let them get away with anything then you’ll probably want to stop playing. Having been on both sides of that divide I can attest to how difficult striking that balance can be, but I assure you that striving for that balance is well worth the effort.

Gut Check: Outriders Demo

Recently a demo for the upcoming Square Enix game, Outriders, was released to the public in what I can only assume was to get people like myself to finally stop asking, “what the hell is Outriders?” Seriously, I had no idea what this game was or when it was announced or who was making it, but ads for started cropping up everywhere so I figured I’d just try the demo and seek out the answer for myself.

Outriders is a cooperative third person shooter with different classes, skill trees and a heavy focus on getting loot. The immediate comparison one could draw from that description would be to liken it to Destiny, but that would be unfair to Destiny. Sure they’re both loot focused shooters that have big skill trees within various classes, and yes, Outriders also uses that stupid cursor-based menu system that’s infuriating for anyone using a controller, but a lot of games share at least some of those elements these days. My understanding as someone who doesn’t play it is that people enjoy Destiny for a multitude of reasons, chief among them being that it feels really good to shoot stuff in that game. Outriders however, isn’t particularly fun to play. It isn’t bad, but mechanically it’s completely unremarkable.

The biggest issue with the Outriders demo is that its intro and tutorial sequence are so abysmal that it’s quite honestly amazing that I managed to get through it at all. The demo starts off with an incredibly generic and tired story that’s repelling in almost every way. Earth is dead so they launched a bunch of military types and scientists into space in order to colonize what they initially believe to be a vacant planet, but in a shocking twist, it isn’t.

You get down there and are forced to interact with the blandest and most uninteresting characters in existence, like no nonsense space cowboy guy who is a father figure to your character, or the science lady who is so smart she doesn’t get obvious (yet bad) jokes, and you’ve even got an evil British (I think?) guy who is at odds with the mission for some reason. And you have to talk to each of them for way too long in order to progress to the next bad story beat, with the game even having the guts to offer you additional dialogue options so you can get to know more about them, something I wholeheartedly suggest you do not engage with.

In my eyes, Outriders commits the cardinal sin of making you watch an extended cut-scene, then dumping you into a “gameplay” section where you walk to another point where another cut-scene will start, over and over again. It’s like 30 straight minutes of you walking from cut-scene to cut-scene and it’s absolutely miserable.

But then the game tries to be interesting by changing everything up on you.

Within that first 30 minutes of tutorial hell, the game basically plays out an entire bad video game story from start to finish. Spoliers for a demo, I guess? Basically the British guy is in charge of making sure colonists can land on the planet safely, something your character and their team are there to confirm. Some wild magic murder storm comes through and starts icing everyone on your team, something which space cowboy uses as a justifiable reason for these colonists to not land here. British guy says no and that it’s too late to halt the landing procedure, the two of them get into a shouting match which ends with space cowboy dad getting shot by the British guy. A firefight ensues in which you end up getting mortally wounded, something which science lady responds to by putting you back into the cryogenic sleep pod you initially emerged from to buy time for the medics to come and help you. That never happens, but you’re apparently cured anyway when you emerge from the pod 31 years later.

That’s right, Outriders does a big fucking time skip that honestly turned me around on the game a little bit. You’re then introduced to the world as it is now where the colonists landed and had to carve out a meager existence similar to what they had on Earth. Now it’s all this dystopian, post-apocalyptic looking world with different factions all vying for control of the little resources that are available. You get immediately captured by a bad group of nasty boys and are sentenced to death in “No Man’s Land.” Oh by the way, all this time, I’ve maybe played the game for about 5 of the 30 minutes of intro that led up to this point. This all ends with your character dying out in “No Man’s Land.” The lights start to fade and your character drops to their knees, desperately trying to grasp at another life-sustaining breath that will never come.

And then a menu pops up and asks you which class you want to choose.

That’s right, nearly 40 minutes since starting this demo I finally got the option to pick a class. Classes seem fairly basic with you basically choosing between a sniper class, a balanced class, a shotgun class, and I guess some sort of glass cannon styled close up class that’s all about getting in and out quickly, all of which have magic powers associated with them. I went with the balanced class and the fire magic that came with it. That particular magic power allowed me to cast a wall of fire emanating from me in a line igniting enemies, with the added bonus of regaining some health for killing any enemy that was actively impacted by my magic.

I played through a lengthy shooter sequence where I learned that the cover mechanics both aren’t necessary for success, nor do they work reliably at all. Sometimes I would be mashing the “get into cover” button only for me to just stand in front of a stack of boxes while getting lit up by gunfire like an idiot. That sequence ended with me arriving at what I’m assuming is the first hub area where I’m sure vendors and stuff will all be hanging out eventually, and that’s where I called it.

It took so damn long for anything remotely interesting to happen in Outriders that I’m certain this demo is ultimately going to do a disservice to what might be a decent game. Something I learned later on through reading and watching some coverage about Outriders, was that it isn’t a live service game like Destiny or The Division. Apparently Outriders has a full story that eventually ends, which considering I don’t really want a live service game in my life right now, actually sounds appealing. It’s also a cooperative game that ostensibly, if I enjoyed Outriders a little more, I might trick my friends into buying and suffering through it with me.

Just from the little bit of this demo that I’ve played, I really don’t think I enjoy what Outriders is doing. I might put some more time into the demo just to see what the game is like after the bloated tutorial nightmare, but I don’t know if that’ll actually happen. All I can say for certain is that if you are going to play the demo, you can skip cut-scenes and dialogue pretty easily which will save you a lot of grief.

Gut Check: Tastemaker

I recently spent some time playing a little restaurant management game that I found thanks to a post on Reddit by the creator themselves. Normally I don’t take game recommendations from the infinite void that is Reddit, but it was interesting and cheap enough for me to take the chance on this early access title. It’s called Tastemaker and it needs a lot of work, but there’s definitely something there that’s got me hopeful enough to keep an eye on its progress.

Tastemaker is this low-poly, very simplistic looking management simulation game that has you trying to build out your restaurant. The basic loop involves ordering ingredients and buying equipment that allows your employees to prepare different meals for customers. You have a couple of options for menu items that all have ingredient or equipment prerequisites that need to be fulfilled before you can actually serve more interesting meals. People come in, your employees serve them autonomously, and with your profits you continue to expand your restaurant, both in terms of menu offerings and actual geography. There is a clicker-like quality to Tastemaker that I really enjoy, specifically when you strike the perfect balance of customers, ingredients, prices and employees, ultimately letting you just kick back and relax while some cash rolls in. Unsurprisingly, you’ll need a lot of cash in order to address the concerns of your customers and staff while growing your little restaurant.

A big part of Tastemaker revolves around outgrowing your current capacity. Employees might complain about their heavy workload or customers might complain about slow service, both of which are issues that hiring another employee can easily fix. There might not be enough plates, ingredients or seats in the restaurant, all of which are easily fixed by spending more money just like in real life. At the moment, Tastemaker is very much a game about making the biggest and most efficient restaurant you can rather than being able to make niche restaurants that have certain specialties, meaning that every restaurant you make will eventually serve the same things because there’s no reason not to fill out your menu with all of the options available.

There were a ton of minor grievances that kept popping up throughout my play time with Tastemaker, but none of them were able to completely dissuade me from wanting to play more. Little things like not having a camera option that removes the walls or not being able to designate employees to certain jobs, to even the monotonous sound of cars passing by outside of your restaurant are just a couple of examples of these minor issues, but Tastemaker has some serious issues that need to be resolved before a complete release that I’m sure are going to be worked on as more people play during this early access period.

One thing that really bugged me was the inability to actually close my restaurant, which really became an issue whenever I wanted to redesign the whole store. You might think that isn’t that big of a deal, but every so often you’ll decide to expand your building to offer more seating or build some bathrooms or even just to expand the kitchen, but you have to do it one piece at a time because you have to wait until a chair is uninhabited before you can move it. Closing the store would make it so much easier for me to redesign my restaurant, instead of having to do it one piece at a time between customers.

There also isn’t an easy way to expand your store even when you do get the opportunity to do so. You have to destroy walls and move furniture piece by piece, which becomes extremely tedious considering how often you’ll be doing it. But even when you do build out your restaurant, there really isn’t too much you can do with the place. Now, I want to preface once again that this is an early access title, but there isn’t a ton of decorative flair for you to play with to customize your restaurant. I’m sure that will be expanded on as development progresses though.

Yet for as much bellyaching as I’ve done, there’s still something about Tastemaker that I’m still very much onboard with. It’s simplistic, maybe to a fault, but it has a lot of potential. I really do enjoy how it isn’t overly complex, opting for something way more approachable, but I’m sure that more systems will be layered on in due time. I really would like to see some more variance from Tastemaker, specifically I’d like to be able to make a burger joint where customers don’t complain about how we don’t serve pizza, or make a steakhouse where people don’t whine about the lack of chicken nuggets, but time will tell if I’ll ever have that ability. Tastemaker is a neat little experience that isn’t doing anything special at the moment, but I feel like it has the potential to be something great, and I look forward to tracking its progress.

Valentine’s Play

Even though our 2020 Game of the Year coverage is dead and buried with the rest of 2020, there’s still one list that I felt needed to be published in regards to the games I played last year. See, my partner and I started dating towards the end of 2019 and like most people, were put into a really challenging position when it came to maintaining our relationship while we were both quarantined. Luckily we both had Nintendo Switches and were able to have “date nights” where we’d just play games and talk for hours, something we still do only now in person thanks to them moving closer to my place. So in celebration of Valentine’s Day, here are some of the games we played and continue to play together that they have specifically called out as their most memorable games that we’ve played together in no particular order.

Trine 1&2

I don’t recall exactly when it happened, but at some point there was a really good deal on all 4 of the Trine games that were bundled into one package that we took advantage of. Both Trine 1 and 2 were big hits around these parts as we’d both been craving some sort of cooperative game with some light progression elements (my words, not theirs). I’d dabbled in the Trine games before, but never really dove into one like we did last year.

The amount of laughter and joy that would come out of our Trine gaming sessions is something that I’ll always treasure. Despite the game being overtly cooperative, my partner found a way to make it competitive by having to be the first one across any gaps or even just the first one to collect the various pickups and collectibles scattered around the levels. It was a really fun pair of games that we were quite simply hooked on for a few months last year.

While we both had a chaotically good time with the wacky physics-based mayhem and puzzle solving of the first two games, we only made it a few levels into the third entry of the series before we hit a wall. Trine 3 ditches the solely side-scrolling nature of the first two games in the series in favor of this 2.5D kind of approach where characters have to travel along the Z-axis to progress through the levels. While I was used to games that either dabbled in or lived completely in the third dimension, they weren’t as comfortable with it and bounced off of the game pretty quickly. It also didn’t help that Trine 3 is buggy as hell and that third dimension makes a lot of the mechanics they had come to know and understand be a lot more fiddly and unresponsive. But none of that can take away from the fact that the first two titles were great fun for the both of us.


I have this terrible habit of accidentally introducing my partner to games that I kind of like, only to have them turn around and demand they be the only games we end up playing. Overcooked might just be the epitome of this unwelcome trend, but it’s something my partner truly enjoys to the point where it’s the only thing they want to play lately. I wasn’t exactly sure what specific things they enjoy about the game itself, so I just went ahead and asked them.

“I like that we have to work as a team for a common goal. And it is fast paced so we really have to focus on communicating (well) and figuring out a strategy to complete the objective.” While they enjoy the fast-paced, communication heavy gameplay loop that Overcooked is all about, I just find myself unable to work that fast while focusing on several different objectives at once. Luckily, their brain seems to be significantly more capable of keeping track of multiple concurrent objectives without entering a fugue state, which is basically what happens to me whenever we play.

But the point is that Overcooked is a game that’s been wildly popular among the two of us, and while it might not be my favorite game, they sure do enjoy the hell out of it. One thing we can both agree on however, is that the game itself is overwhelmingly charming, from the character designs to the music, Overcooked is a delightful game to experience with another person.

Dr. Mario

I did not anticipate launching the NES or SNES virtual console thing that’s on the Switch as often as I had last year, but we both did because that’s where Dr. Mario lives. The classic puzzle game not only boasts two of the best music tracks in video games ever, but it was fun enough to become a long time favorite for my partner and I. Now, I really liked Dr. Mario as a kid, but I don’t know that I’d consider it one of my absolute favorite games of all time. But my partner, well they were and still are pretty obsessed with the good doctor’s particular brand of hurling pills at their patients until a cure happens.

It was seriously the only game that we’d play for a while, offering a good distraction as we made conversation. However, there’s only so much Dr. Mario I can personally endure before the siren song of the “Fever” track becomes an unwelcome ear-worm that won’t leave no matter what I do. Like I said, I enjoy Dr. Mario, but my partner fucking loves it.

Heave Ho

Heave Ho is the kind of game that is so absolutely hilarious to play that a person might have to sprint to the bathroom mid-game in order to avoid pissing their pants. That to me is the surest sign of a game being great fun. Both my partner and I absolutely loved Heave Ho so much that even now we still boot it up and bash our heads against some of the super challenging levels that you unlock after beating the game. There’s just something so delightfully stupid about what you’re doing at any given moment in the game, whether it’s locking arms with one another and trying to swing across the level or just plummeting to our death and watching the blood splatter fly up and coat the other person.

If you haven’t played Heave Ho with at least one other person, you’re truly missing out. It’s easily been one of our favorite games to play together and is probably my favorite game on this entire list.

Nidhogg II

Nidhogg II is a lot like Overcooked for me in the sense that I like it well enough, but not nearly in the same way that my partner does. I don’t know what it is about Nidhogg II that they enjoy so much, but whatever it is has led to me playing way more Nidhogg II than I ever intended to. They’re crazy about this game in a way that I personally didn’t expect, although it’s pretty hilarious to both of us whenever I unsuccessfully try to outrun a sword that’s spiraling through the air in my direction. Or maybe it’s when I accidentally roll off the side of the stage like a goober. Or maybe it’s when I slam my head into a doorway. Or maybe it’s when I hit the jump button too many times and just bounce around waiting for something pointy to pierce my flesh.

When asked, my partner said, “I like how competitive it gets, and that it is just us against each other. One slip up an you can gain a lot of ground, so you have to be focused and make sure you keep pushing in your direction.” While I agree with that sentiment, I think my ever growing ambivalence towards competitive games keeps me from enjoying it as much as they do. But hey, it’s still a good time when we do end up playing Nidhogg II.

NES Pro Wrestling

Image credit: u/mastablasta26 on reddit

Let me be clear when I say that neither of us have any sort of affinity for wrestling at all, but something about this game makes us lose our minds and breakdown into fits of laughter. I personally love the ridiculous characters like Star Man and King Corn Karn, but I’m pretty sure my partner is more into how their button-mashing ability out performs my haphazard attempts at learning the controls. I think I’ve only managed to land one spinning back kick on my partner, whereas they’ll transform their character into a whirling dervish of limbs that has a natural ability to connect with my face.

Whatever it might be, all I know is that against all odds we found great joy in a game that neither of us would have gone out of our way to try had we not been bored during our distanced quarantine. There’s also one on the SNES virtual console analog that’s also very good, but nothing beats the classics I suppose.

There were plenty of other games that we played together that I really enjoyed that I wanted to call out specifically. Things like Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Castle Crashers jump out to me as games that defined our time in quarantine. But this is just a slice of the games that we’ve tried together. I’m still trying to get them to try out Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game with me, as it’s easily one of my favorite beat-em-ups of all time with a crazy good soundtrack to boot, but we’ll see how that goes.

But just today, February 12th, the Nintendo Switch port of one of the greatest Mario games of all time is being released. Of course I’m talking about the incredible and easily overlooked Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury, a title that just rolls off the tongue. That ranks incredibly high up on my list of Mario games and I can’t wait to share with my partner how delightfully chaotic that game can be in multiplayer. I predict many instances of getting hurled off of the side of a level that will be immediately followed by a barely stifled giggle on their end and a sigh of resignation on mine, a constant theme that exists throughout most of the games we play together.

And that’s kind of it really. Video games are a big part of our relationship, and I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting experiences for us to try out. I’m still trying to figure out what games will be a hit and which ones won’t, but I’ll get there. One day I’m going to get them into something more dense and complex, but I have no idea when or what that will be. Anyway, enjoy your Valentine’s Day if you’re celebrating it, and for the love of God, don’t go out to eat at a restaurant. Just stay home, hang out with your partner, and play some dang video games.

Review: Cyber Shadow

There’s a moment when playing an action game where you fall into a rhythm and everything just clicks, making your deft dodging and precision platforming feel less like conscious choices and more like you’re just acting off of pure instinct. When a game manages to get you into that zone, it can be the difference between enjoying said game and loving it. Cyber Shadow is a game that’s filled with these moments of pure 2D action and platforming bliss, but it’s also filled with a lot of bullshit that can rip you right out of that rhythm. Yet none of the lows of Cyber Shadow are enough to outweigh its highs.

Cyber Shadow is a very good video game that hearkens back to the “tough as nails” platformers of my youth like Ninja Gaiden and Mega Man, but it’s never nearly as punishing as those games solely because there isn’t really a way to lose. When you die, the worst thing that happens is your robot-ninja protagonist is sent back to a previous checkpoint which admittedly are spaced out pretty poorly, especially in later levels. It becomes pretty annoying when you have to trudge through these previously cleared sections just to attempt to decode what new enemy or level mechanic is going to kick your ass on the next screen. To be fair though, it is very satisfying when you finally do manage to make your way through these nightmarish gauntlets and onto the next checkpoint, I just wish that these sections weren’t as punishing as some of them are. But that’s certainly a “me” complaint, whereas I’m sure other people though Cyber Shadow was fairly easy and just breezed through every section that gave me trouble.

Yet despite these spikes in difficulty and the several times where I had to quit the game out of pure frustration, I always ended up coming back the next day to tackle a challenge with a clear head. Eventually I’d find myself in that fugue state where I wasn’t even thinking about my next moves because I was just leaping and slashing my way through the levels like some sort of murderous, sword-wielding gazelle. Those are the moments where Cyber Shadow stops feeling like a good game and truly feels like a great one, and there’s plenty more of these moments than the ones that make you want to uninstall it all together.

What I really enjoyed about Cyber Shadow is how it doles out abilities and new items as you progress. At the end of each level or so, a boss you defeat will drop some sort of new ability for you, whether it’s throwing shurikens or shooting fireballs into the air, each ability isn’t only viable for combat but also helps you traverse levels. For instance, you unlock a ground pound early on that allows you to smash through certain floors and boxes, but it also allows you to bounce on the heads of enemies and avoid falling into death-pits. All of these abilities can utilize your energy meter, which you can refill by breaking stuff in levels or just slicing up some robots. But even without energy, these abilities are still usable albeit without the extra damage boost or special effect.

One of the more interesting mechanics in Cyber Shadow however, is how they handle checkpoints. Aside from them being scarce and in some cases, poorly spaced apart, they have this interesting mechanic where you have to activate the unique properties of a checkpoint by buying it with in-game currency. This currency is also found by breaking shit in the environment and dispatching enemies, and is expressly for usage at the checkpoints. Every checkpoint has at least one of three purchasable upgrades that can either refill health, refill energy, or spawn an item. Most checkpoints have the health regeneration ability unlocked already, allowing you to just step onto the checkpoint and refill your health, but some will charge you for that feature. These purchases don’t carry from checkpoint to checkpoint, making you have to choose if it’s worth it to unlock that cool item at this checkpoint.

As someone who has beaten the game already though, I can say that you shouldn’t spend your money on refilling your energy because those things drop like crazy throughout the levels. Instead, you should buy the item at the checkpoint if you can afford it. The items are all pretty great with the exception of the first one which just makes your sword slashes a little bit longer, while the cooler ones are like auto-firing guns that hover around you, a shield that you can propel forward, and a saw blade on a chain that you can swing around and hit to gain more murderous momentum. I don’t think the items are randomized, meaning that if the game is giving the opportunity to buy the gun, it’s probably because it’ll make the next section a lot more manageable. My only real issue with the items is that you never really get to spend too much time with any of them, as early level items are nowhere to be found in later levels. I would love to use that dope saw blade again, but I never had the opportunity to buy it.

There’s also a story in Cyber Shadow that you can pay attention to if you want. I however didn’t find it that interesting or engaging, as it mostly served as a way to stop the action so I could see a cut-scene of some people being very dramatic and talking about robots. I think there’s a Dr. Wily figure that’s making all the robots do bad stuff, but once again, I kind of checked out of the story pretty early on. Your mileage may vary, but I didn’t play Cyber Shadow for it’s narrative and don’t feel like I missed out on much. However, if you find yourself uninterested by the story, Cyber Shadow has one hell of a good soundtrack that you should most certainly pay attention to.

The things I like about Cyber Shadow far outweigh the things I dislike about it, but I do feel like I should mention that there are a few levels that are real momentum killers. Whether it’s checkpoints making these levels more laborious than they actually are or the level itself is just filled with nonsense garbage that can only be tackled through trial and error, Cyber Shadow isn’t without flaws. Yet despite those rage inducing moments, I still made my through the entirety of Cyber Shadow because the action is that good. There are also some later levels that break from the structure of what you’ve been doing for most of the game that are really enjoyable. Cyber Shadow isn’t my favorite action-platformer by a long shot, but it’s still a very good one that’s deserving of your time if you find that there’s a robot-ninja sized hole in your heart.