Review: Oxenfree

Oxenfree
Cost
$19.99
Format
Digital
Size
2.92 GB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed], PS4, Ninendo Switch
Release Date
01/14/2016
Developer
Night School Studio
Publisher
Night School Studio
Modes
Single Player

Of all the genres that have been reborn thanks to the rise of Indies, adventure (and specifically the walking simulator) games perhaps have it better than any. Specifically, story-based adventure games have been resurrected, and I’m personally thrilled about that. There’s something special about being sucked into the world of a game with great storytelling and atmospheric design. Gameplay usually takes a back seat, but that’s okay, it’s nice to play a game where I can sit back a little bit and focus more on the narrative. However, the gameplay still needs to hold up. Pacing is still important. Maneuvering throughout the world and exploring needs to be fun. There’s a delicate balance between a game working as an adventure game and wondering if it should have just been a book. Oxenfree walks this line dangerously at some points. However, the mysterious story and solid writing carries the game, and it’s an experience I won’t soon forget.

Oxenfree follows a group of teens on a rebellious night gone terribly wrong. The story is ambiguous, clever, and intriguing. I won’t get into any details because, in a game like this, any small element can be a bit spoilery. Every line spoken by the characters, every plot twist should be experienced personally be each player. So I won’t mention a single specific story element. What I will say is that the scary cryptic story is written well when compared to most video games.

And that’s the point here. I’m a pretty big critic when it comes to video game writing. There are a few games out there, like the Uncharted series for example, with phenomenal writing no matter what it is compared to. But for the most part, I’m afraid my beloved video game industry is kind of behind. I believe that most of the games that have reputations of fantastic writing really only have average writing compared to books, tv, and movies. And a video game with average writing when compared to its counterparts has below average writing compared to the other entertainment mediums. There are exceptions of course. I loved what CD Project RED did with The Witcher 3. Firewatch had a phenomenal script between Henry and Delilah. I’m only harsh on video game writing because I’m passionate about the industry and I want it to improve and grow.

The scripting, writing, and voice-acting in Oxenfree aren’t perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction. There are moments where the characters lines are pretty cringe-worthy, but other instances where the fantastic storytelling swept me away. That sort of sums up the game in general. Some moments wowed me and others bored me. The pacing is off. The game often ramped up to what seemed like an enormous moment, only to slow down seconds later as my adrenaline was still pumping. I won’t spoil anything here, but there are multiple heart-pounding, spine-tingling moments.

All the characters have their own personality and feel. Alex is rebellious. Clarissa is a jerk. Ren is a bit kooky. Etc. Everyone feels very real and relatable. And there is an intertwining backstory for the gang that I learned about as the game progressed. The most positive attributes of the game are in the character development and storytelling.
The island that the game takes place on is a character itself. It is fascinating, dark, shadowy. It’s just not fun to walk around in. I couldn’t help thinking that I wished this game was a short animated feature or that the walking around was replaced with cutscenes. Many “walking simulators” or adventure games struggle to find gameplay that is genuinely fun. Sadly, Oxenfree is one of those titles. There is an overwhelming sense of uncertainty that carries the game’s gameplay and story. Probably for a bit too long, however, at about 5 hours I would have preferred the game ended an hour before it actually did.

As soon as I finished the game I jumped online to see the various multiple endings. Based on how I interacted with the characters and the decisions I made, some pretty big changes can occur. This aspect of storytelling is something that only games can do, and I loved how Oxenfree handled it.
The sound design and music in Oxenfree are top notch, helping to push the game forward with a truly eerie atmosphere. Visually it has a unique art style that I don’t personally love, but I can see the appeal.

Oxenfree’s characters and storytelling are wonderful. I was genuinely on the edge of my seat at moments throughout the game. However, there is an inconsistency with the writing that is a bit disappointing, with some eye-rolling one-liners and a heavy reliance on “cliché” character types. That being said, when Oxenfree is at its best, it has an 80’s Spielberg feel to it that I really dig.

PROS:
1) Atmospheric and eerie
2) Solid Storytelling
3) Great character development

CONS:
1) Pacing issues
2) Inconsistant writing
3) Gameplay is not fun

7.3
Good

 

Review: Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

Cost
$59.99
Format
Retail and Digital
Size
2.3 GB
Available On
Nintendo Switch
Release Date
08/29/2017
Developer
Ubisoft Paris
Publisher
Ubisoft
Modes
Single Player and Co-op mode

The story of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle has been an interesting one to say the least. When leaks and rumors of leaks started about a half year ago, many Nintendo fans, myself included, were very skeptical. Ubisoft is making a Mario game? And it’s a Rabbids crossover? Even with the cynicism, I wanted to give the game a chance. Ubisoft has been one of my favorite developers over the past half-decade or so and I am always ready for a fun Mario spinoff if done right. However, as soon as the first images were released some of my initial pessimistic feelings on the project crept back into my mind. Rabid Peach taking a selfie in a Nintendo game just felt wrong. (Little would I know, Luigi would also be dabbing on the final release). But, once E3 2017 rolled around, my roller coaster feelings for Mario + Rabbids spiked up yet again when Miyamoto walked on that Ubisoft stage, Ubisoft man (Davide Soliani) started crying, and I first got a real look at the gameplay and world. I was sold from just a few moments of E3 gameplay; I believed the game would be good after all. Ubisoft and Nintendo seemed to collaborate on a cute, cool little game here—I was still underestimating it. During the worst years of the Wii U era, if you told me Nintendo and Ubisoft made a Mario Rabbids crossover, I absolutely would have expected it to be a failure. Now that this weird, goofy game is finally out; now that this crazy crossover that doesn’t seem like it should even exist is in my hands, I can undeniably say that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is one of the most delightful surprises in recent gaming memory—it’s fantastic.

Mario + Rabbids is a turn-based tactical strategy game. The easiest thing to compare the gameplay too is the XCOM series. However, Mario + Rabbids is my first experience with this style of gameplay. At a glance, it looks complicating and a bit overwhelming, but after just a match or two, I was able to understand the concept and instantly fell in love. Mario and the gang take turns maneuvering through the map to tackle enemies, bounce off teammates, get to high grounds (which gives an advantage), and move behind cover to shoot enemies and hide from oncoming attacks. There is a beautiful strategy that takes place with complimenting the characters movements and schemes to take down the opponents perfectly. I found it incredibly satisfying when a plan came together. Each character plays a little differently, with different movement and jumping distances, unique weapons, and special abilities. For example, Mario can stomp on bad guys (as he’s been doing for 30+ years) and Rabid Peach has the talent of healing her teammates. Overall there is a deep complexity built into the DNA of the gameplay, yet it plays with brilliant simplicity.

The game also has RPG-esque elements with over 200 weapons to unlock and a skill tree for each character to develop. The new abilities and enhancements deepen the strategy of the game. For example, after unlocking the ability, Rabbid Luigi’s tackle can steal health from enemies (vamp) to give back to himself. The progression helps keep the game fresh. There are eight playable characters in the game. Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Yoshi; along with Rabid Mario, Rabid Luigi, Rabid Peach, and Rabid Yoshi. My one complaint would be that Mario always has to be in the crew. For the purpose of the story, I guess it makes sense that Mario always needs to be there. But I would have liked to play with an all Rabbid team or let Luigi take charge. P.S. Rabid Mario is one of my favorite designed characters in a long time; I can’t get enough of his smug self.

The morphed Rabbid enemy design is hilarious. The animation and expressions on these bad guys are priceless, and it’s just plain fun to take them down. There are many different types of Rabbids, all with different abilities. Hoppers can bounce around the map and use a helpful shield. Smashers don’t have guns. Instead, they bash with a huge melee attack. Supporters throw grenades and heal teammates. Peek-a-Boos can transport themselves long distances and have sniper-like abilities, etc.

While the majority of the missions are a blast, but the enjoyment comes screeching to a halt with escort missions that asked me to safely deliver Toad, Toadette, or Spawny across treacherous paths. Surprise! Escort missions aren’t fun. How would have thought? In the history of video games, I cannot recall a fun escort mission. The highlights of the game are the mid-bosses and final bosses of each world. They bring a unique challenge, and the character design again is top notch. I won’t spoil them, but Rabbid Kong from the trailers and promotional materials is just the tip of the iceberg.

There are four worlds to explore in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. As an expert Mushroom Kingdom explorer, that number is a bit disappointing. And traveling throughout these four worlds is not that fun. It’s a shame because the visual design is fantastic. It’s amusing to see the mushroom kingdom in crazy peril with insane Rabbid humor running amuck. But the exploration is bogged down with tedious time-consuming puzzles and a bit too much backtracking. There are secrets everywhere (which is a must for a Mario game) but finding those secrets isn’t that enjoyable. And with the exception of new weapons, the light at the end of those secret tunnels don’t seem worth the hassle.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle isn’t the most beautiful Mario game ever, but it’s still pleasurable to look at. Animations are fluid. Colors pop. The worlds are pretty. Mario and the normal Mushroom Kingdom crew look a little outdated like the models are from the GameCube era or from spin-offs like the Party series or Mario sports games. It feels like more time and effort went into the Rabbids design; they steal the show when they are on screen. The music, which is orchestrated by Grant Kirkhope, is marvelous. The tunes are catchy and fit the mood with perfection. Some songs are soft and sweet, humming in the background of the game and are not intrusive. Meanwhile, other pieces are boisterous, energetic and gave me an adrenaline rush as I shot crazy Rabbids into oblivion.

Mario + Rabbids is one of my favorite games on the Switch thus far. It’s encouraging that Nintendo allowed Ubisoft to play with its most important franchise and create such a great game. It might be missing out on that perfect polish that Nintendo is known for, but it does have a lot of that Nintendo magic.

PROS:
1) Simplistic gameplay with deep dna
2) Rabbids aren’t annoying
3) Loads of fun
4) Great soundtrack
5) The Mario mashup actually works

CONS:
1) Lacking some of that Nintendo polish
2) Walking around in the world isn’t enjoyable

8.6
Excellent

 

Review: Madden NFL 18

Madden NFL 2018
Cost
$59.99
Format
Retail and Digital
Size
36.52 GB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed], PS4
Release Date
Aug, 25, 2017
Developer
EA Tiburon
Publisher
EA
Modes
Single and Multi-Player

My new series is here!
I absolutely love reviewing games. So in an effort to switch it up and be able to cover more games than ever, I’ll be doing reviews in a short sweet 60 second fashion. I hope you all enjoy them! Give me feedback along the way! Thanks!

PROS:
1) Beautiful graphics
2) Smooth solid gameplay
3) Longshot Story Mode, solid start
4) MUT is addictive as ever

CONS:
1) Incredibly long load times
2) Longshot Story Mode, could be better

8.5
Excellent