Metroid Dread Review

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11 years. That’s how long it took Nintendo to release a new 2D instalment in the Metroid franchise. It took them a long time to find someone else to pick up the mantle after the disappointing Metroid: Other M. The Dread project was given to MercurySteam after they proved themselves with the awesome Metroid: Samus Returns.

Metroid Dread played like a very refined Metroid: Samus Returns. Samus’ parry ability and 360 free aim returned, but she also developed the ability to slide under openings that were previously only accessible with the Morph ball. Additions like that and the wall climbing made her feel more versatile and nimble while staying with the confines of the game’s structure. She still required the staple of abilities like the Morph Ball, Space Jump, and Power Bombs to unlock the map.

The flow of the game did not deviate much from the Metroid games before it. There were little wrinkles like teleporters that brought Samus from one area to another to cut down on back tracking, but progress was still gated by abilities. 

The big “disruption” to progress were the E.M.M.I. encounters that offered a change of pace. I liked the idea of being hunted by an indestructible robot foe, but I didn’t like the punishment for getting caught. I might as well just skip to the Game Over screen because having to guess the right window to parry and escape the killer robots’ attacks was not fun. Samus would eventually obtain the ability to cloak and hide, but that would just delay the inevitable if she took the wrong turn somewhere. I found myself focusing on running away or kiting the E.M.M.I. through long winded paths just to buy Samus time to make her way to her destination. I would have preferred if the E.M.M.I. just sapped large chunks of her life away when Samus got caught.

Taking away health would have forced me to a bit more careful with platforming. The bosses kicked Samus’ ass, but the fodder enemies were easily dispatched thanks to the heavy reliance on the parrying mechanic. It’s not a slight against that mechanic, but perhaps one shot killing every enemy after a successful parry was a bit much.

I played Dread entirely in handheld mode which is made me consider picking up an OLED model. I found the game to look very nice on the original Switch’s LCD, but I know all those colors would have popped even more on an OLED. I only wish the game didn’t struggle to maintain its silky smooth framerate; there were a handful of areas where there were just a few too many X parasite thingies to render.

It’s been a long time since I thought about the X parasites and Metroids squaring off. Their introduction in Fusion brought a substantial change to Samus that I found functionally interesting, but aesthetically cringy. Making Samus more biomechnical was an interesting idea in Fusion, but I didn’t enjoy the path they went down in Dread. By the end, Samus became stupidly powerful and wouldn’t look out of place hanging out in the Kingdom of Atlantis as some kind of crustacean themed dark knight. It didn’t resonate with me at all. 

Weird suit transformations and other tiny misgivings aside, I really enjoyed my time Metroid Dread. It nearly convinced me to pick up a Switch OLED. I had such a good time playing through the game, and unraveling the map like a good one of these games should do. It took Nintendo a long, long time to add to the Metroid franchise, but they finally did and it was worth the wait.

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Yakuza Kiwami 2

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Yakuza 2 on the PlayStation 2 was an eye opening experience for me. It was my first Yakuza title and it was also my first time experiencing a smidgen of life in Japan. The neon of Japanese nightlife, the small cramped alleyways, the hostess clubs, and the art of punching tigers in the face. Yakuza Kiwami 2 allowed me to revisit all those wonderful memories through its faithful remake of that 2006 cult classic.

When I think back at Yakuza 2, I see Kiwami 2. The character models, the cutscenes, the cities; all the years of playing Yakuza games slowly evolved that image of Yakuza 2 to what Kiwami 2 actually looks like. The reality is anything but. I took a look at some screenshots and footage from that old PS2 game to remind myself how far the series progressed in the last 15 years.

While it plays and looks a whole lot better than the old PlayStation 2 version, I’ve grown accustomed to playing this game at 60 FPS and I really wish that was an option on the Xbox Series X. It runs fine on the console, but the sluggish response makes navigating in the cluttered and crowded streets of Osaka awkward. It’s hilariously awkward, but not ideal if I were trying to evoke the calm and cool Kiryu Kazuma demeanor.

 The story beats were as I remembered which only reminds me of the disappointment of not seeing Kaoru Sayama play a role in subsequent Yakuza game. I recognize that other prominent characters introduced in one game would fade away in the future games, but she was Kiryu’s love interest and the lame way that she just disappeared in Yakuza 3 and to never return was a bummer.

While the core story remained intact and relatively untouched, the peripheral activities and side missions received more significant reworks. The hostess management game from Yakuza 0 made its way here along with a brand new real time strategy game involving Majima’s construction crew fending off gangsters guest starred by Japanese wrestlers. I’m not familiar with any of those names, but they gave off strong wrestling vibes. 

I didn’t spend much time with either of those activities. I spent more time playing Riichi Mahjong which I actually learned how to play for the first time. It was similar to Hong Kong Mahjong which I learned earlier this year so I wasn’t going in blind. 

I also spent a fair bit of time completing all the side missions and trying to impress Haruka by taking her places around Osaka and Kamurocho. The latter I gave up on after her demands became increasingly ridiculous. Taking a little girl to various eateries around the Osaka was one thing, but her request for me to dominate a poker game in a seedy underground casino was just too much. This little girl needs to stop hanging out with Kiryu.

I declared Yakuza 2 as the best of the series for the longest time only to have it be dethroned by the excellent Yakuza 0. I wondered how well Yakuza 2 would hold up many years later and I’m glad to see that it has. It’s still the second best Yakuza title. I have yet to play Yakuza 5 and Like a Dragon, but I doubt they would do much to sway my opinion on this.

Framerate preferences aside, revisiting Yakuza Kiwami 2 was a pleasure. An engaging story set between two iconic Japanese locations filled with drama and over-the-top action? What’s not to love? With the remasters, remakes, and the availability of a majority of these games on Xbox Game Pass, it’s never been a better time to check out this weird and wonderful franchise.

Verdict:
I liked it

LTTP: Psychonauts [Xbox]

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I played Double Fine Production’s classic adventure platformer way back in 2005 on the PC, but I never actually finished it. I enjoyed what little I played, but I never took the opportunity to return to it until Psychonauts 2 — a game that I helped crowdfund — finally launched. I’m so glad I went back to finish it because it was a pleasant and wholesome game that stood the test of time. 

I played Psychonauts on the Xbox Series X and thanks to the amazing work by Microsoft’s backward’s compatibility team, the game looks like a legitimate remaster. A much higher resolution (1920p) and a mostly smooth 30 FPS framerate yielded a game that was more than playable in 2021. The 4:3 aspect ratio and untouched pre-rendered videos were reminders of the game’s age, but they weren’t enough to complete rob the game of its timeless charm. I wouldn’t describe the art style as my cup of tea, but the exaggerated nature of it allowed the visuals to age gracefully.

The voice work shining through from 2005 was another astonishing feat from Double Fine. Each and every character was on point with fitting voice performances infused with memorable personalities.

Psychonauts’ claim to fame was never its platforming and in the end, I found it to be completely inoffensive and functional. There were a handful of tricky spots, but it wasn’t anything a bit of perseverance and a review of Raz’s psychic capabilities couldn’t address. I enjoyed the fact that they didn’t make it glaringly obvious which powers I had to lean on to overcome an obstacle. It gave the game familiar classic adventure game inventory vibe that Tim Schafer and his ilk were known for. There were a boss fight or two where I had to cycle through my arsenal of powers like a key ring full of keys, but it was still very satisfying when I finally “unlocked” the boss. If all else fails though, I could always ring up Agent Cruller like Solid Snake to the Colonel from Metal Gear Solid.

This classic game’s claim to fame was its distinctive and imaginative worlds. Creating worlds out of the minds of individuals and broaching the topic of mental health and how inner turmoil affects people was very unique in 2005. Mental health in the early 2000s garnered images of straitjackets and asylums which was incredibly cliché and created an unwarranted stigma around the topic. And while Psychonauts leveraged that trope in this game, it handled it with a bit more care than most. They gave the inmates relatable stories and reasons as to why they were caught up in their own minds. 

Each world was unique with their own vibes and game mechanics. They weren’t that divergent from the staple of smashing enemies and collecting stuff, but their respective conceits were novel. I was a big fan of the boardgame and conspiracy worlds. 

Raz ran away from home and his father to attend a psychic camp believing he was meant to become a psychic secret agent and join the Psychonauts. Raz helped his campmates, helped long forgotten people solve their issues, and eventually took down a rogue instructor’s plans for world domination. He eventually became the Psychonaut he wanted. The pleasant surprise was the little twist in the end where we discovered Raz had his own personal demons. A misunderstanding with his father lead Raz to conjure up unnecessary hardship for himself which he solved through communication with him. The takeaway for us all is that if we cannot read each other’s minds, the best way to overcome our own hangups is to talk to one another; a very useful life lesson.

Psychonauts was a gem of a game and I was so pleased to see it hold up as well as it did. A significant portion of the kudos goes to Microsoft for their incredible backwards compatibility work, but the heaviest of lifting came from Double Fine who made so many smart decisions during development all those years ago. They created something that was so enduring and beloved by its fans that a sequel was backed into existence. I cannot wait to play the sequel!

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Doom Eternal [Xbox]

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2016’s Doom was a very pleasant surprise to many including myself. I loved it; it was easily one of the best games of 2016 with only Overwatch beating it to the number one spot. I was looking forward to Doom Eternal until I heard the impressions from other Doom (2016) fans. As a result of the less than glowing impressions, I held off Doom Eternal until it made its way to Xbox Game Pass and received its ray tracing update for Xbox Series X. With a fresh coat of paint, enough time for the post launch dust to settle, I was ready to find out if Doom Eternal was a worthy sequel to one of my favorite games from the last generation.

First impressions started very positively, but was quickly complicated by the nonsense of a story and over-complication of ideas. I was not a fan of the story, lore, or any of the Doom Slayer, Khan Maykr gibberish they were putting forth. I missed the singular foe for whom the Doom Slayer to focus his energy on. Instead I was subjected to lore that I didn’t want any part of.

Following the footsteps of the original Doom II, Doom: Eternal starts off on Earth. The demons landed on Earth, overran the humans, and it’s up to silent space marine to clear them out. Unfortunately, just like Doom II, I missed the cohesion and sense of progress from place to place. Hopping around the Earth looking for some demon priests was underwhelming in comparison. This was especially true considering how they stitched everything together via the “Fortress of Doom” ship which felt like a giant time waster.

I understand the desire to give the Doom Slayer a place to hang out and display his collectible Funko Pop knockoffs and other useless records that he picked up, but it dampened any momentum the game tried to muster. I wish I could ignore the ship, but they decided to stuff that place full of upgrades.

There were too many upgrades and too many currencies to collect to unlock said upgrades — it was ridiculous and excessive. Weapon points, batteries, two different coins, and crystals? Are you serious? Add the unlockable cheat codes, soundtracks, and the Funko Pop knockoffs mentioned earlier and I’m finding myself checking the map screen every time I step into a new room.

The idea behind shooting off armaments off demons to alter their behaviour and reduce their threat profile sounds like a good idea in theory. It adds a layer of depth that Doom (2016) didn’t have, but at the same time, it made certain weapons indispensable. The Heavy Cannon was always in Precision shot mode and the Shotgun’s secondary was always lobbing grenades; it didn’t make any sense to move off those weapon modes. The added depth came at a cost which was all, but requiring me to play a Doom  game with a scoped weapon. That was blasphemous and I wish I could play Doom Eternal without engaging with that mechanic, but it was somewhat necessary on Ultra-Violence difficulty.

The higher difficulty forced me to come to grips with the full gamut of gameplay mechanics quite quickly. Two types of grenades, super punches, flamethrowers, and dashes were required to tame the demons. Staying on top of ability cooldowns to dispense a steady stream of damage and regularly harvesting resources resource reclamation would eventually yield success. Extra lives found throughout the levels can bail me out of a jam, but they were not absolutely necessary once I was fully kitted.

I think the inclusion of the Marauder; a demon that can block the BFG9000 was the antithesis of fun and was the summation of everything I disliked about Doom Eternal. It swatted the most powerful abilities in the game away and reduced me to playing Simon with it. It’s one of the lamest looking enemies to come out of id Software with the most jarring stagger sound and animation. It wasn’t impossible to deal with a Maurader; it was annoying. Topping it all off, I took a peek at the backstory and it was whole lot of nonsense about betrayals and nothing particularly rad.

It’s funny how my feelings for Doom (2016) to Doom Eternal resembled those from Doom I to Doom II; I liked both original outings more than their respective sequels. Doom II and Doom Eternal felt like games that were made to challenge fans of the original and not necessarily make it more fun. Unlike Doom II, Doom Eternal went too far in a number of areas that detracted from what made the original so good. I realized that the further I got into the game, the shorter my play sessions became and by the end, I was yearning for credits and end my time with this game. Eternal? No, thanks.

Verdict:
I don’t like it

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