Iconoclasts Review

Iconoclasts‘ Metroidvania-inspired style and structure is deceptively simple at first. The vibrant 2D-pixelated world you inhabit is evocative and the action is quick and snappy. But if you’ve played games like this before, it’d be easy to dismiss Iconoclasts as trite and rudimentary considering the number of similar experiences available nowadays. Yet as you push through the game’s myriad twists and turns, it matures before your very eyes, unfurling to reveal complex puzzles and a heart wrenching narrative.

Iconoclasts is a fantastic looking game with an impressive level of detail on display, a prime example being the unique animations and sounds each character exhibits. The presentation and catchy retro music elevates the personality of the world, making the game more captivating as a whole. However, judging Iconoclasts simply on its appearance undersells what’s buried under the surface. There’s much to love about this adventure: it’s brimming with nuanced characters, riveting drama, sharp wit, and a host of well-crafted action set-pieces. Iconoclasts leverages its storytelling and presentation to pull you in. These elements distinguish it from the old-school adventures it recalls, making it worth checking out even if you’re not traditionally a fan of retro games.

The adventure begins with little fanfare, putting you in control of mute protagonist Robin, an unlicensed mechanic in a world where technology is considered sacred due to its link to a dwindling magical resource that powers all things. This effectively renders her chosen profession illegal in the eyes of One Concern, a corrupt theocracy that rules the world with an iron fist. When Robin’s actions inevitably provoke One Concern to hunt down everyone she loves, she becomes embroiled in a conflict that threatens not only the safety of her family but the entire world.

The strength of Iconoclasts’ narrative isn’t in the broader story beats, but the smaller emotional arcs of its characters. While the people you meet in your journey are inherently charming and likable, they’re also broken individuals, consumed by their own inadequacies and traumatized by the crimes One Concern has inflicted upon them. Iconoclasts’ depiction of grief is realistic and powerful; it doesn’t hesitate to explore the emotional issues of its cast, often resulting in moments that fundamentally alter their identities in unexpected ways. There’s a real sense of growth, with each character transcending their wit-laced dialogue and evolving into people with affecting, relatable plights.

Iconoclasts doesn't hesitate to explore the emotional issues of its cast, often resulting in moments that fundamentally alter their identities in unexpected ways.
Iconoclasts doesn’t hesitate to explore the emotional issues of its cast, often resulting in moments that fundamentally alter their identities in unexpected ways.
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Unsettling events occur throughout, so it helps that Robin is such an uplifting presence. Her unspoken optimism and willingness to help those in need makes her an incredibly endearing hero. Robin’s endless strength and kindness in the face of a world permeated with religious and political corruption–not to mention her own emotional issues–serve as rays of hope in an otherwise dark journey. In the multitude of disasters that befall your allies, you’re always compelled to keep pushing further, if only to see how Robin may hope to fix the world’s atrocities.

As Robin, it’s a joy to move and engage in combat. With her trusty stun gun and wrench, you’ll navigate various biomes and industrial complexes where all manner of foes await, from rampaging deer and purple slimes to One Concern guards and deformed mutants. Combat is primarily focused on running ‘n gunning, but there’s some added nuance thanks to an upgrade system driven by collecting materials to craft Tweaks, which are special items that alter Robin’s abilities. The effect of Tweaks are subtle, mostly altering physical characteristics such as running speed, the strength of your wrench attack, or how long you can hold your breath underwater.

Areas are packed with puzzles where you're often pushed to think critically about how you can use your arsenal to clear a path.
Areas are packed with puzzles where you’re often pushed to think critically about how you can use your arsenal to clear a path.

While tweaks are handy, they feel underutilized as there’s rarely any urgency to rely on them to succeed. Their effects aren’t all that noticeable, so they do little to change combat and exploration, which is disappointing. This can be somewhat remedied by crafting three of the same tweak to maximize their effects as opposed to diversifying the types you have equipped. Still, combat remains gratifying even with the less-than-impactful tweaks as it relies on skill and precision over an overly complicated upgrade system.

Rather than emulate Metroidvania games that favor open-ended exploration, Iconoclasts puts its focus on environmental puzzle solving. Areas are packed with brain-teaser-like trials where you’re often pushed to think critically about how you can use your arsenal to clear a path towards the objective. For example, there are puzzles that involve moving platforms using a concussive bomb launcher. This sounds simple in theory, but it’s far more involved when you have to consider how a bomb can only move a platform when it hits it from a specific direction. This is further complicated by the fact that when you charge up the launcher, it fires a missile that can only push platforms once it has picked up enough speed. Iconoclasts’ puzzle design encourages you to consider its smallest details, which can occasionally be overwhelming during its most painstaking conundrums. But when you put in the time to work out a difficult solution, it’s incredibly satisfying.

Boss fights often challenge you to completely revise your strategy at a moment's notice.
Boss fights often challenge you to completely revise your strategy at a moment’s notice.

The emphasis on puzzle-solving even bleeds into boss fights, which are intense screen-filling battles that test your intellect as much as your reflexes. One boss has you switching between Robin and another playable character in order to work through a series of specific steps to reveal its weak point. While the game is quick to surprise you (and even make you laugh) with its bombastic boss fights, it also offers more tactical complexity than simply shooting at a foe until it’s dead. As a result, you’re often challenged to completely revise your strategy at a moment’s notice in case a boss becomes invulnerable to your attacks.

Iconoclasts is a sincere and compelling adventure that anyone with respect for fantastic storytelling and 2D-action can enjoy.

When Iconoclasts’ end credits begin to roll, it’s bittersweet to see it all come to a close. After solving all of its puzzles and witnessing the finale of its poignant narrative, you can’t help but reflect on the growth of its characters and your impact onto the world. The game will shock and surprise you with how gripping its story is, and it’s likely to do so again in subsequent playthroughs of New Game+ with your expanded knowledge of character histories and events. Iconoclasts may be a callback to the style and mechanics of old-school games, but it’s also a sincere and compelling adventure that anyone with respect for fantastic storytelling and 2D-action can enjoy.

AO Tennis Review

Without a major new tennis game since the last console generation, there is a lot riding on AO Tennis, an officially licensed game themed around the Australian tournament of the same name. Unfortunately, the final product feels half-baked and rushed, because AO Tennis is a game brought down by a frustrating lack of polish and poor presentation.

The game’s controls and subpar shotmaking mechanics leave much to be desired, especially for a title that shares its name with such a prestigious tournament. In addition to the typical face-button setup for the various types of shots that can be played (such as slices and spins), AO Tennis adds an option where players can use the right joystick to serve and play shots. While a good idea in theory, the result is far too simplistic and feels clunky. The game automatically selects one type of shot for you every time with this method, which, although suitable for newcomers, will make you want to revert to the face buttons anyway due to its lack of depth.

Even with such basic shotmaking controls, AO Tennis does a poor job implementing them. The game aims for a tried-and-true system of holding an appropriate shot button in order to increase power before letting the shot fly. But the system is inconsistent, and far too often you will miss, use the wrong shot, use too much power for no discernable reason, or simply not react to the oncoming ball at all. And that’s if you’ve managed to arrive at the shot in the first place.

Movement in AO Tennis is unresponsive and clumsy. Sprinting from side to side to chase down shots feels like an impossibly vain attempt every time, and to make things even more futile, there’s no diving mechanic either. There are also random occasions where you might find yourself automatically pulled towards the ball, regardless of what buttons you may or may not be pushing. This troublesome movement system makes AO Tennis a frustrating game of wild guessing; it’s a gamble between actual responsiveness, or losing a rally because your player does nothing at all.

Should you anticipate correctly and time a shot properly, don’t expect it to land where you want it to either. Each shot type is wildly unpredictable in regards to where it will land and how much power is behind it, regardless of how perfectly you timed the power gauge. This throws normal tennis strategies out the window in favour of unrealistic ways to win points, such as hitting drop shots off 200km/h serves. Past the novelty factor of hitting error-free drop shots at will, the rallies in AO Tennis are simply jarring and unsatisfying to play.

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All the aforementioned mechanical problems are amplified even further in AO Tennis’ lackluster doubles mode. The expanded court margins and the near-lifelessness of players on screen exasperates the game’s shotmaking problems and render doubles to a barely playable feature.

Each match is also noticeably lacking in atmosphere and gloss, which can be attributed to AO Tennis’ bare-bones presentation. There are no commentaries, no crowd interactions, no entrance music, no pre-match greetings or handshakes, no post-match congratulations, and no trophy presentations, even if you’ve won the whole Australian Open tournament. The venues themselves are also rendered in a mediocre fashion; there is practically no detail to the different kinds of court surfaces, and you wouldn’t know the difference between Rod Laver Arena or Wimbledon’s famous Centre Court if it weren’t for the change in colour scheme.

There are also some glaring omissions and extremely odd decisions that feel like straight-up mistakes at best and corner-cutting at worst. There are no in-game tutorials to properly explain how everything works; Rafael Nadal’s distinctive on-court grunts are weirdly reused for random computer opponents; every single player (including iconic, real-life pros) has almost the exact same shotmaking motions; and the in-game referees occasionally get line calls incorrect, such as calling “let” in the middle of a rally.

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Unfortunately, AO Tennis’ poor presentation extends beyond the match court. There are a number of game modes available from the onset, but each one is sorely lacking in polish or even mildly interesting features. Career mode allows you to create your own player and take them on a journey from rookie to Grand Slam champion. But aside from playing tournaments and earning money in order to improve your player’s skills, there is absolutely nothing to do besides match play. There are no training mini-games, practice courts, or even a rudimentary simulation of a tennis career off the court, such as press conferences or building up an entourage of coaches and physiotherapists. There is a special Australian Open tournament mode, but it’s as bland as the matches in Career mode. You simply slog through the 128 male or female player draw and then do it all over again once the finals are played.

Should you not want to create your own character, AO Tennis has a roster of real-life pros for you to choose. A total of 18 pro players are currently available to play, including Rafael Nadal, Angelique Kerber, and a contingent of Australian players such as Sam Stosur and Ash Barty. But the lack of more recognisable superstars such as Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, or Serena Williams does diminish the star wattage of AO Tennis a bit, especially for casual players.

AO Tennis’ custom player creation tool does have enough features to let you create other real-life pros, and these creations can be shared online with other players. Having said that, the number of available individual options are quite limited, so crafting some of tennis’ most unique looks (such as a long-haired Andre Agassi) won’t be possible.

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But the small roster of licensed pros available are given an unfortunate spotlight in AO Tennis because of terrible visuals and facial animations. Each real-life pro looks wooden, and they barely meet the standard set by the Top Spin and Virtua Tennis franchises years ago.

The developer, Big Ant Studios, has promised to continually improve AO Tennis throughout the year, promising an ambitious slate of content that includes new players, events, and game modes. But with its poor presentation, lack of content, and frustrating controls, AO Tennis in its current state is subpar at best, and requires much more refinement to even meet the standard of last generation’s tennis titles. Rather than a Roger Federer-esque ace, AO Tennis is more akin to a double fault whose shots don’t even make the net.

The Red Strings Club Review

Truly charismatic characters are a rare thing to encounter in games. A distinct feeling of connection to fictional people depends on key elements like good writing, laser-sharp timing, and unique perspectives. With all these concepts in place, you’re more likely to be drawn into a story or relate to a character’s motives, and subsequently, remember those characters for a long time to come. This is the main reason The Red Strings Club is so strong.

With an animation style that recalls classic LucasArts adventure games, The Red Strings Club begins in the titular basement bar owned and operated by information broker Donovan. Along with his partner, the street-smart hacker Brandeis, Donovan values secrets more than money and as such, he is well-known throughout his community as the man who can get answers. Late one night, the pair get a visit from a malfunctioning android who is desperate for help. When Brandeis is able to access the android’s memory banks, an extraordinary journey begins, where you play as all three characters in a tale filled with unexpected emotional depth and individuality.

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While the majority of the game involves speaking to different people, the tense and poignant dialogue choices give even the smallest exchanges a surprising amount of weight. Trust and deduction play big roles in your choices when learning who these people are and what they want from you. Each question or answer seemingly branches off into an enticingly different part of the story, and it’s exciting to consistently wonder if you’ve made the right choice.

You quickly learn that Donovan is famous for matching drinks to customer’s specific needs and desires. Throughout certain conversations, the game shifts to a cocktail-mixing mini-game where you must pour the exact amount of certain alcohol types to gain access to different parts of a person’s emotions. Setting off a character’s depression, pride, fear, lust, and so on can expand dialogue choices and give you additional clues on how to solve the greater mystery involving corporate greed, the ethics of technology, and a violent conspiracy.

Another large share of your involvement also features the aforementioned android, Akara-184. Akara is skilled at creating internal modules which can artificially manipulate the emotions of human customers upon request. These can potentially reduce anxiety, boost confidence, or dull fears. In creating the modules, a pottery lathe (along with a choice of soothing music) is presented, and it’s up to you to not only carefully shape the module to suit the customer but decide which components to install. For example, someone wants to boost their ego for an upcoming meeting, but it’s up to you to judge what is best for them based on the limited information provided to you. Would they be better off suppressing their selfish desires? You can experiment and witness the outcomes, although things might not go as you planned.

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This is where the heart of The Red Strings Club lies: exploring the limits and depths of human emotion. Donovan, Brandeis, and Akara-184 all begin to question their motivations and their purposes as they inhabit the dreary end of this rainy, atmospheric metropolis. Their internal dilemmas are where some of the game’s best moments are born. Do our emotions, especially the most horrible ones, make us who we are? If possible, would we keep our sadness but remove our depression? Are we shaped by our suffering?

More than a few times, you are faced with decisions based on ideas that you might not usually consider. Uncomfortable concepts laid out in front of you present a can of worms that, when opened, can either be fascinating or downright terrifying. Weighty decisions are heightened by the game’s exceptional writing. Whether it’s friendly conversations at the bar, a dangerous argument on a rooftop, or a compelling series of investigative phone calls, you find yourself hanging on every word, becoming sympathetic to conflicting opinions and building a strong connection to characters. Every piece of narrative is more fascinating than the last and before you know it, all that matters is discovering what happens next. From managing a hostile but vulnerable whistleblower to exploiting the affection of a friend to get vital information, paying attention to every action is key to uncovering these fascinating plot threads.

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As the layers of mystery peel back, you’ll begin to realize the ramifications your decisions have in this world. While you might regret some answers and be confident in others, the delayed cause and effect of some of the game’s choices can have you questioning how you could have possibly formed those opinions in the first place, which makes this adventure an extremely personal one. The cast of characters that populate the story each have their own history, motives, and personality conveyed in a direct and intelligent way. Gost the mysterious smuggler, Larissa the extroverted marketing director, and self-obsessed rock star scientist Edgar lead you through an exploration in relationship manipulation. Can you trust this person? Do you want them to trust you? These fantastic, varied characters make you want to settle in and chat, rather than rush through the dialog.

Supporting these moments is the detailed environments; The bar itself is a major location and thanks to the gorgeous 2D art design, it is a space that’s enjoyable to spend time in. Subtle details like Brandeis lighting his cigarette, the lonely ceiling fan, the hint of the city when a customer enters, and the sparkling, electronic soundtrack is a haunting combination which forms a tangible sense of atmosphere.

From the far-reaching implications of ethics and artificial intelligence to the heart-wrenching relationship between Donovan and Brandeis, the moment-to-moment storytelling in The Red Strings Club is the kind that can have a strong, personally resonant impact. It puts you in circumstances that make you pause for thought, beyond simply contemplating the motives of the character. There is inventive design in its locations and scenarios which makes you not only want to revel in them, but revisit them with a different purpose once the credits roll.

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From the game’s opening piano chords, The Red String Club’s futuristic exploration of themes regarding human emotion, strong writing, and exciting situations create an experience that is deeply gratifying. The cast of relatable, three-dimensional characters elevate the stakes of every bullet fired, secret divulged and cocktail poured. They are flawed and dangerous, but also convey admirable human characteristics that feel inspirational. The Red Strings Club is a tense adventure about a cast of characters that endanger themselves for goals that aren’t necessarily guaranteed, a rewarding journey into the human soul, and a game that pushes the limits of what a point-and-click adventure can do.

Dragon Ball FighterZ Review In Progress

Despite the countless Dragon Ball games that have appeared since the manga debuted in the mid-’80s, the series has never needed them to sustain its popularity. Most are forgettable, some are good, and even fewer are truly great. Thanks to developer Arc System Works’ particular talents, Dragon Ball FighterZ is one of the great ones, if not the best yet. Even if you think Dragon Ball is old hat, and even if you’re intimidated by fighting games, there’s a good chance you’ll be drawn into the explosive action and personalities that expertly evoke the anime’s infectious spirit.

Arc’s prowess for making 3D assets look like 2D cel animation is as strong as ever, and its artists display a clear understanding of Dragon Ball’s characteristic details. The screen is constantly filled with saturated colors and special effects, and super attacks are framed in a way that pull you out of the fight and into a momentary state of awe. Whether still or in motion, FighterZ’s art looks like Dragon Ball at its very best, adhering closely to the standards set by the series creator, Akira Toriyama. And no matter how you may have watched the show, the option to choose between Japanese and English voice acting makes it easy to feel connected to the events on-screen.

Within the convincing Dragon Ball shell lives a fast-paced 3v3 tag-team fighting game that will feel familiar to Marvel vs. Capcom 3 veterans. But despite a few familiar parallels, FighterZ is distinctly Dragon Ball. Characters can jet through the air in a flash at any time, toss energy blasts like it’s nothing, and unleash a flurry of smaller punches and kicks to stagger a hesitant opponent. Every fighter emphatically shouts at the top of their lungs (in a good way) every few seconds while attacking, and you understand why: these super beings are incredibly powerful, and FighterZ translates that energy to the screen perfectly. It also makes it easy for anyone to tap into that power, with relatively short special attack lists and one-button or two-button activations for universal mechanics. Not that it’s recommended, but you can theoretically play with one hand and capably close the distance to your opponent to kick their ass in style regardless of the character you choose–all without any directional inputs.

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Like any great fighting game, FighterZ doesn’t lose depth just because it’s accessible. Super attacks and teleports are easy to pull off, but they come with timing and combo conditions that allow for expert-level analysis and strategic play. It’s also important to properly manage the lone meter that fuels most of your special abilities, a setup that makes a fighter’s next move more unpredictable than usual, compared to some games with multiple, ability-specific meters. With seven levels of charge that feed into both offensive and defensive moves, it’s never exactly clear what someone will do next, but you know a full meter means trouble, and a potentially chaotic back and forth between two crack fighters.

It also means fun is just seconds away. Being that it’s so simple to cover ground, participate in mechanical mind games, and look impressive while doing it, there’s practically no barrier to enjoyment provided you are fighting with opponents of a similar skill level. When the balance of skill in your opponent’s favor, with no means of escaping a combo once you’re trapped, there are times when you have to accept fate and wait for them to finish their onslaught–or until your current character dies–again, not unlike MvC3. Thankfully, online matchmaking is set up to auto-match you with players of similar experience, and lopsided fights are (so far, based on the open beta) few and far between.

You also don’t need to be an aspiring online competitor to enjoy FighterZ, as it includes a significant story mode that can last a dozen hours or more if you seek out every possible cutscene. While a bit drawn out in places and relatively easy until the conclusion, it’s still a treat for Dragon Ball fans with plenty of new vignettes staring classic characters. Though the plot is split into three arcs, you are technically seeing one arc from different perspectives, with a few alternate events to keep things interesting.

The gist is that a bunch of clones of the planet’s strongest fighters are running amok, Dragon Ball heroes and villains (some who have been resurrected from death) must work together to stop them, and a new character, Android 21, is somehow at the center of it all. Because there’s practically zero time spent introducing you to characters or their world, it’s difficult to imagine how a newcomer to Dragon Ball would understand things like the Ginyu Force’s proclivity to pose dramatically or the reason why Krillin doesn’t have a nose, let alone the broad concepts of Super Saiyans and Dragon Balls. Then again, the mix of oddball antics and hyper-serious face-offs is inherently appealing for the confident cartoon expression on display.

As in combat, Arc’s capable design skills make the 3D models and environments in cutscenes look stunningly close to actual 2D animation. There are moments when it feels like you’re watching a new episode of Dragon Ball Z. But there’s a catch: you’re forced to press a button to advance dialogue, rather than allowed to kick back and watch the show. When FighterZ gets achingly close to recreating the look of the anime, the forced interaction feels like a step in the wrong direction, albeit a minor one in the grand scheme of things. Generally speaking, story sequences often elicit a smile or a laugh, only occasionally feeling like filler made to advance the story. One of the most strange yet likable qualities is the way the game contextualizes you, the player: a spirit that has randomly inhabited Goku (or another character depending on the arc in question) and can be passed to other fighters. It’s unexpected and weird, but you have to give Arc System Works credit for pulling you into the room as opposed to simply breaking the fourth wall.

FighterZ is complex and distinct enough to be enjoyed by fighting game competitors, but there’s no question that it’s been designed to tap into the hearts of Dragon Ball’s most dedicated fans…

Story mode’s only real downfall is how repetitive it becomes–you fight clones of only a portion of the game’s overall roster ad nauseam. Each chapter is presented like a map with locations connected by a branching path. In order to get to the chapter boss, you have to navigate the board and pick and choose your fights along the way. Given that there are optional pathways in each chapter and that you can concoct your own team, it’s not surprising to learn that there are optional cutscenes to unlock depending on these conditions. Despite the rewards being largely enjoyable, after a handful of hours fighting lackluster opponents, the idea of replaying story chapters to see a quirky character interaction is unfortunately one that’s easy to sideline.

Similarly, the game’s basic, small overworld feels unnecessary even though it attempts to add value. Modes are divided among spokes around a circular hub, and you can run around as small versions of the game’s characters, sometimes in alternate outfits. While cute at first, you soon learn to just hit the quick menu button and avoid running around at all as there’s no benefit other than visualizing visiting a different venue for each mode.

The game tries to incentivize you through unlockable avatars for the overworld, but even if this sounds good, you can only earn them through randomized loot boxes. You earn money as you fight and complete story mode milestones and these can be cashed in for a capsule which turns into a random cosmetic item, be it graphics for your fighter profile, the aforementioned avatars, or alternate color palettes for in-combat outfits. The premium currency in the game can be earned when you open a capsule to find a duplicate item. Spending premium currency will simply net you an item that you don’t already own–not one of your choosing. Rather than harm the game, the system feels a bit unnecessary as none of the rewards are critical to enjoying what matters most: participating in explosive battles and enjoying interactions between Dragon Ball’s lovably bizarre characters.

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Though merely a small piece of the overall puzzle, the rare Dramatic Finishes are perhaps the most respectable and impressive nod to fans in FighterZ. Anyone who’s spent years watching Dragon Ball Z unfold over nearly 300 episodes will gasp the first time they trigger one, which will only happen with certain matchups under particular conditions. They have nothing to do with FighterZ’s story, but they have everything to do with the revered history of the series at large.

FighterZ is complex and distinct enough to be enjoyed by fighting game competitors, but there’s no question that it’s been designed to tap into the hearts of Dragon Ball’s most dedicated fans, and no doubt those same qualities will win people over who’ve never given the series a chance. Where past games attempted to get there through huge character rosters and deliberately predictable trips down memory lane, FighterZ has bottled the essence of what makes the series’ characters, animation, and sense of humor so beloved and reconfigured it into something new: a Dragon Ball fighting game that can go toe-to-toe with the best of the genre.

Editor’s note: This will remain a review in progress until we’ve had ample opportunity to test multiplayer on retail servers after launch.

Batman: The Enemy Within – Episode 4: What Ails You Review

There’s a line in Episode 4 of Telltale’s Batman: The Enemy Within that serves as an evocative metaphor for the dynamic between Batman and Joker–or more aptly for the Telltale series, Bruce Wayne and John Doe: “We’re two threads in the same stitch, bound together…even under strain.” Across the previous three episodes, events have transpired to pull at the fabric of their relationship, and in Episode 4, the two threads begin to fray.

What Ails You is a standout episode with strong writing, compelling performances, and decision-making moments that feel like they have significant consequences. The star is John, the would be Joker, who finally unravels, going from the well-meaning if a bit unhinged friend to something much closer to the Clown Prince of Crime we’re used to seeing terrorize Gotham City and Batman. However, since developer Telltale has been building towards this from the very start, the shift is the culmination of a slow descent into madness instead of a leap, and it’s fascinating to watch.

It’s not as simple as something within him snapping. Instead, this Joker has been forged by a maelstrom of emotions wearing him down. John has suffered internal conflicts between what he’s destined to become and his desire to find true friendship; a destructive love for Harley Quinn and his reverence of Batman. And all of that comes through in the way he’s written and performed in the episode. We get to see a vulnerable, misguided, lonely figure desperately trying to find something to anchor himself to–and whether Bruce and Batman are positive influences in that process is called into question.

As Harley, Bane, and Freeze make a play for a deadly virus that could have devastating implications, Bruce realizes that the key to stopping them is John. In fact, many of the series’ most high-stakes events have involved Bruce relying on John for help, and the realities of this give-and-take relationship are laid bare. While many Batman stories have tried, very few have succeeded in making the audience feel sympathy for Joker, but Telltale actually pulls it off, and it’s a testament to how well it has humanized this larger-than-life supervillain that he feels relateable. There are moments that make you think about the way you’ve used John in the past, and whether you’ve been genuinely treating him as a friend or as just a tool to achieve objectives.

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In the midst of the self-reflection the episode inspires, the game asks you to choose whether to put your faith in John once more. However, it does this after presenting the most damning evidence that he may have finally flipped, with just John’s word luring you into thinking that things may not be as clear cut as they seem. It’s a powerful moment that offers fans of Batman something few other mediums can: the opportunity to give Joker a chance. Given that the series’ decision-making moments ultimately always reconnect to a predetermined narrative, the overall outcome is set. However, the type of person John emerges as is one that your actions–past and present–have helped define.

Episode 4 also muddies the relationship between Batman and Amanda Waller, whose unclear motives start to come into focus. As is typical of Waller, her actions become more dubious, and the consequences of them have fallout on those around her. While her cards aren’t completely laid out on the table, her tells and bluffs start to become more transparent. By presenting her as someone who is both somewhat sketchy and under pressure to handle a situation spiraling out of control Telltale maintains an enigmatic air about her.

What Ails You also lays the groundwork for future drama, revealing how recent happenings have impacted Alfred, and the responsibility Bruce now has to face for his decision to take Tiffany Fox, the daughter of his close ally Lucius Fox, under his wing. And it breaks up all these with sequences where Bruce investigates clues to push the narrative forward, or the odd set-piece in which Batman trades blows with villains. Like previous episodes, there’s a dearth of moments that challenge the mind or offer engaging gameplay, but in a narrative and characterisation-heavy episode, these sequences provide some respite from the high-pressure interactions with other characters.

Episode 4 of Telltale’s Batman: The Enemy Within has top-notch writing, thoughtful depictions, and impactful decision-making moments. It leaves Bruce, Batman, and you to grapple with questions and uncertainty. Between the future of Joker, the nature of Amanda Waller, and the potential fallout of Bruce’s mission on his allies, Telltale has set the stage for what could (better) be an explosive finale.

Batman: The Enemy Within – Episode 4: What Ails You Review

There’s a line in Episode 4 of Telltale’s Batman: The Enemy Within that serves as an evocative metaphor for the dynamic between Batman and Joker–or more aptly for the Telltale series, Bruce Wayne and John Doe: “We’re two threads in the same stitch, bound together…even under strain.” Across the previous three episodes, events have transpired to pull at the fabric of their relationship, and in Episode 4, the two threads begin to fray.

What Ails You is a standout episode with strong writing, compelling performances, and decision-making moments that feel like they have significant consequences. The star is John, the would be Joker, who finally unravels, going from the well-meaning if a bit unhinged friend to something much closer to the Clown Prince of Crime we’re used to seeing terrorize Gotham City and Batman. However, since developer Telltale has been building towards this from the very start, the shift is the culmination of a slow descent into madness instead of a leap, and it’s fascinating to watch.

It’s not as simple as something within him snapping. Instead, this Joker has been forged by a maelstrom of emotions wearing him down. John has suffered internal conflicts between what he’s destined to become and his desire to find true friendship; a destructive love for Harley Quinn and his reverence of Batman. And all of that comes through in the way he’s written and performed in the episode. We get to see a vulnerable, misguided, lonely figure desperately trying to find something to anchor himself to–and whether Bruce and Batman are positive influences in that process is called into question.

As Harley, Bane, and Freeze make a play for a deadly virus that could have devastating implications, Bruce realizes that the key to stopping them is John. In fact, many of the series’ most high-stakes events have involved Bruce relying on John for help, and the realities of this give-and-take relationship are laid bare. While many Batman stories have tried, very few have succeeded in making the audience feel sympathy for Joker, but Telltale actually pulls it off, and it’s a testament to how well it has humanized this larger-than-life supervillain that he feels relateable. There are moments that make you think about the way you’ve used John in the past, and whether you’ve been genuinely treating him as a friend or as just a tool to achieve objectives.

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In the midst of the self-reflection the episode inspires, the game asks you to choose whether to put your faith in John once more. However, it does this after presenting the most damning evidence that he may have finally flipped, with just John’s word luring you into thinking that things may not be as clear cut as they seem. It’s a powerful moment that offers fans of Batman something few other mediums can: the opportunity to give Joker a chance. Given that the series’ decision-making moments ultimately always reconnect to a predetermined narrative, the overall outcome is set. However, the type of person John emerges as is one that your actions–past and present–have helped define.

Episode 4 also muddies the relationship between Batman and Amanda Waller, whose unclear motives start to come into focus. As is typical of Waller, her actions become more dubious, and the consequences of them have fallout on those around her. While her cards aren’t completely laid out on the table, her tells and bluffs start to become more transparent. By presenting her as someone who is both somewhat sketchy and under pressure to handle a situation spiraling out of control Telltale maintains an enigmatic air about her.

What Ails You also lays the groundwork for future drama, revealing how recent happenings have impacted Alfred, and the responsibility Bruce now has to face for his decision to take Tiffany Fox, the daughter of his close ally Lucius Fox, under his wing. And it breaks up all these with sequences where Bruce investigates clues to push the narrative forward, or the odd set-piece in which Batman trades blows with villains. Like previous episodes, there’s a dearth of moments that challenge the mind or offer engaging gameplay, but in a narrative and characterisation-heavy episode, these sequences provide some respite from the high-pressure interactions with other characters.

Episode 4 of Telltale’s Batman: The Enemy Within has top-notch writing, thoughtful depictions, and impactful decision-making moments. It leaves Bruce, Batman, and you to grapple with questions and uncertainty. Between the future of Joker, the nature of Amanda Waller, and the potential fallout of Bruce’s mission on his allies, Telltale has set the stage for what could (better) be an explosive finale.

Street Fighter 5: Arcade Edition Review

The first rule of fighting games is to make sure your fundamentals are rock solid. If the foundation of your play isn’t on point, you’ll never be considered a viable competitor. The whiffed launch of Street Fighter V showed that this mantra is as applicable to the game as it is to the people playing it. When it launched in 2016 Street Fighter V had a strong gameplay core, but the emaciated frame containing it couldn’t stand up to its contemporaries.

A lack of modes that are considered staples for the series and the absence of tools to teach newcomers how to play left all but the most experienced fighting game aficionados out in the cold. This, unfortunately, came to define the discussion surrounding Street Fighter V, and although Capcom introduced offline modes and a suite of training options in the following months, that grey cloud has continued to linger over it.

Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition, however, represents a new beginning. Arriving two years after the game’s initial launch, it is a content-rich, well-rounded experience that pays homage to the series’ legacy while also revitalising its finely tuned gameplay. For newcomers or those put off by the paltry offerings of the original game, it’s the ideal entry point, and for those that have stuck with it since day one, it’s a free update that brings the fresh injection of ideas needed to reignite their fighting spirit.

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The most significant new addition is a single-player Arcade mode, which leverages nostalgia to great effect. It’s made up of six paths, each corresponding to a different entry in the franchise: Street Fighter, Street Fighter II, Street Fighter III, Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter IV, and Street Fighter V. While the progression through these is straightforward, with the player picking a character and battling through a series of opponents to face an end boss and receive an ending, thoughtful presentation elevates it.

The choice of characters for each path is limited to just the fighters who were available in those games when they first launched, with Street Fighter V equivalents thrown in to fill out the numbers. Costumes can be picked to reflect their classic design, so if you select Ryu in the first Street Fighter campaign you can opt for the floppy-haired version of the series’ iconic mascot. A new selection of musical themes and stings also evoke sentimentality; jump into the Street Fighter III campaign, for example, and the character select theme is a saxophone-infused jazzy number that’ll spark memories of playing it on a Dreamcast back in 2000. Go for Street Fighter Alpha and an energetic versus screen jingle channels the youthful motif of that spin-off series. As opponents are lined up, a little airplane moves across the screen to the location of your next bout as the announcer shouts the name of the country, harkening back to Street Fighter II. There are Bonus Stages, too, such as Street Fighter II’s barrel-busting mini-game and even a special brawl with the fighter formerly known as Shen Long.

It’s all really small, novel touches that land just that little bit harder in the year Street Fighter celebrates its 30th anniversary. The gameplay and character models are still the ones created for Street Fighter V, but this doesn’t dilute the nostalgia and, in fact, gives everything a charming high school reunion vibe.

Each character’s ending is a comic book-like page of art that summarizes their story for that incarnation, and if you meet certain conditions during a playthrough, more unique pieces of artwork can be unlocked. This might seem like an insignificant reward, but Capcom has brought in well-known artists with close relationships to the Street Fighter franchise such as Bengus, Akiman, and Ikeno to create these. Not only does this provide longevity to those that aren’t up for fighting online, but it also gives fans of Street Fighter’s art something to chase. These unlocks can be viewed in the new gallery, which also houses a sound-select mode that lets you listen to music from the game whenever you please. Again, another simple addition that reminds you of Street Fighters from yesteryear.

[Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition] is a content-rich, well-rounded experience that pays homage to the series’ legacy while also revitalising its finely tuned gameplay

The other big addition is Team Battle mode, which can be used to set up offline skirmishes between multiple combatants, human or AI. It’s very versatile, offering the options to tweak the number of participants, match format, and whether health is recovered in between battles and if Critical Gauge carries over, among other parameters. This is sure be a hit for tournament organizers, both professional and casual. It’s a quick and easy way to settle rivalries or just have some fun in a party environment.

For the solitary Street Fighter V player, these marquee new features provide plenty to do. However, there are also things like the Extra Battle Mode and Special Challenges, which are time-exclusive fights that dangle the promise of in-game currency or exclusive rewards such as titles and costumes to those who best them. The first of these is a series of fights across a prolonged period that unlocks a Viewtiful Joe outfit for Rashid. This is also where Street Fighter V’s ruthless Fight Money economy rears its head.

Fight Money, in addition to real money, can be used to purchase stages and costumes, but everything still feels unreasonably expensive. Although completing challenges and grinding out online battles are consistent ways of adding to your balance, you earn tiny amounts and not everyone wants to venture into the cutthroat world of online Street Fighter. As a result, the economy feels geared towards pushing players into spending real money, which is a shame. For anyone buying the game for the first time Arcade Edition is a way to get up to date on content. It is intended encapsulate everything released in Season 1 and 2 of Street Fighter V, and as far as characters go this is true. However, it would have been nice to also get the extra stages, if not the costumes. Admittedly, this is a greater concern for those that want everything; if you’re just after a specific item here and there, the Fight Money mountain isn’t as daunting.

Anyone who does feel inclined to purchase costumes with real money should take note of the new model viewer, which lets you preview how an outfit will look before you drop the cold hard cash on it. This is a quality-of-life improvement in Arcade Edition that at least provides the opportunity to make informed purchasing decisions from within the game, instead of being forced to resort to YouTube videos.

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Outside of gameplay modes, Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition’s big gameplay shakeup comes in the form of a second V-Trigger for every character. For those that need a refresher, V-Trigger is a unique move that can completely change a character’s capabilities. It becomes accessible when a meter is filled by taking damage, landing well-timed crush counters, or using V-Skills. Arcade Edition’s selection of new V-Triggers are an antidote to stagnation felt by veteran players of Street Fighter V. Two years into the game’s life, characters have largely reached the point where they’re played in a specific, optimised way, and for the most part this means everyone employs the same styles, strategies, and combos. Alternative V-Triggers open up each fighter in the roster to re-examination, and also creates just enough room for creativity and expression without sacrificing what originally made them distinct.

Ken is still a quick-footed powerhouse but now has the option to use his new Shinryuken to stand his ground and up his damage output. M. Bison players can swap the extra mobility of his original V-Trigger to gain access to a command grab and a Psycho Crusher with V-Trigger II. Laura’s Matsuda Sway, meanwhile, helps her get out of high-pressure situations or make reads that lead to further damage. V-Trigger II is an additional wrinkle on a fighting framework that has already proven itself to be deep and rewarding. Street Fighter V emphasized clean play, measured strategy, and consistent execution, and with these new moves, each character feels fresh and unpredictable again.

The final notable improvement in Arcade Edition is in Training mode, which now displays detailed frame data, so students of the game can be fully informed on the technicalities of moves, the knowledge of which can be employed in high-level competitive play. If that’s a bit too far down the rabbit hole, there’s also a toggle that will just show you when you’re safe and unsafe after executing an attack, which is something that’s easy to understand and factor into play.

With a slick new interface, fully featured online and offline modes, and every character released thus far–plus Sakura, the first fighter from Season 3 of its DLC–Street Fighter V feels like a complete package. It has always been a strong fighting game that continues to get better over time, but it remained a game for genre enthusiasts. Arcade Edition, however, is a game that you can confidently recommend to anyone. Two years after its launch, Street Fighter V is finally fighting fit.

Spellforce 3 Review

Some cross-genre games are blended like ingredients in a mixing bowl, while others let their two halves live side-by-side. SpellForce III fits into the latter category, pairing role-playing and real-time-strategy elements. Though the end result is anything but unified, such a contrasting design keeps you from falling into a consistent routine. It also broadens the outlook of the stereotypical fantasy RPG, expanding the limited worldview of a handful of adventurers into the more expansive perspective of a general controlling an army.

Opening missions serve as an extended tutorial, first giving you the basics on how role-playing works, then moving into base-building strategizing where you take the fight to foes on a larger scale. You may start off exploring a map as part of a small party of heroes, slaying the odd gang of goblins or undead or giant spiders and cracking open chests stuffed with weapons, armor, and the usual assortment of magical goodies. You may finish off by taking all that you learned about the landscape while exploring, and build a base, constructing facilities to gather resources, and then whip up an army to hurl at foes who have been doing the same thing.

The baroque plot carrying you through it all assumes some familiarity with the SpellForce franchise, as you are dropped right into the aftermath of the Mage Wars on the Dungeons & Dragons-ish world of Eo. Events here serve as a prequel to the earlier SpellForce games, so it is tough to get up to speed initially. Main plot points feel like typical fantasy fare, though, as they revolve around your semi-chosen one status as the child of a treasonous mage. But there is a lot of depth and background information to absorb. Thankfully, everything eventually rounds into a compelling story. You just need some time to figure out your place amidst all the initially bewildering references if this is your first visit to Eo.

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Plot is further developed through dialogue that includes quiet, character-building moments alongside stereotypically epic conversations about gods and magic. But as far as your involvement is concerned, there aren’t a lot of meaningful choices to make. There are also strange shifts in tone, like some of the dialogue was written and recorded before any decision was made on what sort of age rating the game would aim for. So you get lengthy stretches where characters clearly go out of their way to avoid swearing, using awkward words like “heck” and “crap,” and others where characters let loose with incessant f-bombs.

Impressive presentation gives the game real visual impact whether you are playing adventurer or general. Maps are extremely detailed, with lots of little touches and great variety in background scenery. There is a very good balance here between trudging through murky caverns and wandering through forests and plains. The one drawback is that the settings can be too detailed at times, and things like chests and other points of interest are not all that easy to notice. You need to swivel the camera a lot to ensure that you don’t miss anything. And all of this fidelity comes with the price of lengthy loading times, too. Venturing into any new locale drops you to a screen that gives you percentages on loading things like “Initializing Creature Resources,” which pulls you right out of the moment.

Character progression involves few surprises compared to other D&D-inspired games, and each character has access to just a few main skill classes and branching abilities. And since you gain experience fairly quickly, you can ultimately sample a lot of what’s on offer. There are various schools of magic, combat skills like brutality and archery, and all-around categories such as leadership, with branching talents that include the usual range of attacks, buffs, and spells.

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Combat is equally forthright. It’s all real-time and rather chaotic, without a tremendous amount of thinking required in a given moment. Consider it a blend between the tactical battles of traditional RPGs and the more frenetic hack-and-slash of action-first RPGs. Combat is never so incessant as to grow tedious, and individual battles seem to fly by. The pacing of these sections is spot-on, with one distinct map after another pulling you into ever-more exciting bouts.

A similar story can be told when it comes to the RTS side of SpellForce III. Whenever a mission gets to the point where more is required than a party of adventurers, the game switches to an RTS mode and unlocks a construction menu where those adventurers lead the way as heroes in the army. From there, you build a town center and begin gathering the wood, stone, and food that form the game’s staples. There are three building tiers, which means you start with expected basics such as the logging cabin, hunting cabin, stone works, and barracks, move on to a second level of iron smelters, forges, and farms, and then into a third that lets you exploit magical Arya water, train elite units, and build stone watchtowers.

Population caps regularly get in the way of fully manning facilities. This forces you to quickly expand territory and earn more population by setting up new outposts (peasants are locked to their regions, too, which also makes it imperative to keep pressing forward), but manpower always seems to lag behind. Needing to wait for carriages to ship resources to new outposts causes further delays, and you can’t wait around to let stockpiles grow because enemy AI is on the attack almost immediately. Resources are also extremely limited, which also keeps you pushing onward so that you can keep the goods flowing to keep cranking out troops.

While both the RPG and RTS elements presented here stay true to form, the overall game is more than the sum of its parts because of how it makes such disparate concepts serve the goal of creating a militaristic role-playing epic. Incorporating base- and army-building into a traditional role-playing formula adds a scope and weight that would not be present if the game never went beyond three or four guys swinging swords and slinging spells. The end result may not be innovative, but it is an interesting and entertaining tweak of RPG conventions offering a lot to anyone looking for something offbeat and engaging.

Tiny Metal Review

With no sign of Nintendo’s Advance Wars strategy series returning any time soon, a game that attempts to fill the void like Tiny Metal is easy to get excited about. Thankfully, developer Area 35 has delivered a game that captures the spirit of the works that inspired it, and one that feels right at home on PC and on the go with Switch.

By and large, this is simply a game where adorably rendered soldiers with little armored vehicles take turns moving across a gridded map to fight their enemies one turn at a time. A unit represents a small squad, and when two units meet, the squads exchange blows while you pray some of your soldiers and vehicles survive the shootout.

Though Tiny Metal props up dire circumstances as the backbone of its campaign, it’s also a game with a shady arms dealer dressed as a circus clown, so you know it doesn’t take itself too seriously at all times. Average soldiers are expressively animated, and every unit type has their own personality, accent, and enthusiasm for destruction. This silliness is at odds with the dialogue-heavy and po-faced cutscenes, yes, but it also grows into the defining attitude of the game as you become more entrenched in combat. That said, don’t feel too bad for turning off the in-battle emotes, which quickly grow repetitive.

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You’re given plenty of options to consider during combat, with a range of ground troops and military vehicles that grows steadily from the start, each offering distinct capabilities. Average, run-of-the-mill riflemen can only survive encounters with similar troops, but they’re also the best at capturing city buildings and military facilities in pursuit of resources. A squad of rocket-launcher-equipped Lancers can’t travel very far per turn, or capture as quickly as infantry soldiers, but they’re the only units on foot that can put a dent in armored machines, known as Metals. Metals are probably the most all-around useful unit to place on the board, but they’re not as mobile as some of the recon vehicles that help unveil the fog of war, like Scouts, Radar units, or Fighter jets.

Most of this should be familiar to anyone who’s put more than a few rounds into an Advance Wars game, but Tiny Metal also has some new tricks up its sleeve to keep battles interesting for veterans. Focus Fire is a maneuver that allows multiple units to combo attack a single target. The benefits are twofold: the enemy can only retaliate against one unit per attack, and your combined attack gives you a better chance of wiping the target out before they get the chance to fire back at all. The riskier move, Assault, allows you push enemies off of a specific square, but at the cost of the enemy being able to fire first. Tiny Metal also has a Hero unit system where a super-powerful version of a specific unit type can be summoned to wreak havoc, but only once per match. These tactical considerations keep matches lively and unpredictable, and help distinguish Tiny Metal from being a mere Advance Wars copycat.

Following the tutorial battles at the start, the difficulty gradually increases as tactical options grow more diverse, with new units and commands appearing at a steady rate throughout the six-hour campaign. With multiplayer on hold until next year, one-off skirmishes are the current best way to keep playing after the credits roll, though they take some getting used to. Skirmish mode offers over 50 challenging battles, often in either inordinately small playing fields, groupings of rough terrain, or situations where you are grossly outnumbered and outgunned by the enemy. These fights will definitely keep you busy, but the jump in difficulty from the last mission of the campaign to even just the first few skirmishes is a big one that’s initially off-putting.

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The PC version of Tiny Metal is notably better looking and allows you to use a mouse, but fans of Advance Wars will find that playing on the go with Switch completes the nostalgic experience. The only major flaws in portable mode are the tiny fonts used in some menus, and a marked decrease in resolution when the camera zooms in to watch two units attack each other. The PC version gets more graphical options, and an unlocked framerate, but Tiny Metal’s throwback action feels at home on Nintendo’s portable.

Newcomers to the turn-based strategy genre are likely to have a blast with Tiny Metal all the way through its campaign, though the endgame is no doubt a little restrictive. Old hands to this type of strategy game will find a campaign that wears its influences on its sleeve, but still admirably and respectfully fits right in with them. It’s the kind of game where you jump in just to take two or three more turns and suddenly an hour has passed, and you can’t rest until that pesky enemy gunship or tank fleet is down for good. Hopefully that can continue next year if the multiplayer patch comes as promised.

Brawlout Review

The Switch has had a fantastic first year, but one of the big Nintendo franchises the console is still missing is the much-beloved Super Smash Bros.. While rumors are swirling about some sort Super Smash Bros. 4 port to Switch, a few enterprising indie developers are looking to fill the void with Smash-inspired fighters of their own. One such effort is Angry Mob Games’ Brawlout. While it makes a valiant attempt to put its own spin on the Smash style of platform fighting gameplay, Brawlout has some notable issues that aren’t easily overlooked.

It’s worth noting from the outset that the game is designed for competitive Smash fans. If you’re looking for a goofy free-for-all with zany items and copious stage hazards, this isn’t the game you want. What’s here is a very basic selection of fighting arenas with restrained gimmickry, no items, and a handful of game modes that are focused specifically on pure fighting.

If you’re familiar with Smash, the controls in Brawlout will feel like second nature. You have a regular attack button and a special attack button, and pressing these in combination with a directional input will change your attacks. Jumping and running also change your attack properties, and you can charge certain attacks for more power. The goal is to damage your opponent, then hit them hard enough to send them flying off the field. Sounds exactly like Smash so far, right? The big difference is that Brawlout doesn’t offer shielding or grab maneuvers. Instead, the buttons you would normally associate with these moves are re-assigned to a dodge move with an invincibility window that can be executed on the ground or in the air.

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While dodging is a mechanic that veteran Smash players will no doubt feel familiar with, the removal of shielding and grabs is quite puzzling. The lack of guard and throw mechanics, which are are nearly universal across all kinds of fighting games, limits your options in frustrating ways. The loss of shielding, for example, makes certain attacks a lot safer than they would be in other games of this sort, and puts a lot of power in the hands of someone going all-in on aggression. It doesn’t necessarily result in a more aggressive game; it just gives someone on the defending side fewer options and leads to more frustration.

Brawlout attempts to cover for the loss of these options with an upgraded Rage mechanic. Rage was something of a hidden mechanic in Smash 4 that would increase a character’s damage output when they had taken a lot of damage. In Brawlout, Rage is very clearly visible through a meter shown underneath a character’s damage readout. As a character takes damage, their meter increases. They can use the meter to power up their special attacks, utilize a combo-escaping burst when the meter’s at least half full, or enter full-on Rage Mode (indicated by a large burning flame graphic on the character’s damage indicator) when it’s at max. Special moves have different properties when used with and without Rage meter to fuel them, so keeping tabs on your meter becomes a big part of the game at higher levels of play.

Brawlout presents its comic combatants and arenas with confidence and style, but even the game’s relatively bland-looking characters prove useful during battle. Joining the cast of original fighters are two guests from other indie games: Juan from Guacamelee and the Drifter from Hyper Light Drifter. They both feel at home in the game, but as of this writing, Drifter is somewhat overpowered compared to the rest of the cast.

However, in order to access the full selection of characters and stages, you have to unlock them. And there is a lot of unlocking to do. Fighting on- and offline, completing the tutorials and arcade modes, leveling up characters, and fulfilling daily objectives will all earn you currency you can spend on “pinatas” (read: loot boxes) to earn characters, skins, and other goodies. To unlock more than three initial stages, you have to level up specific characters across numerous fights. No, you can’t just find one fighter you really click with and play with them; you need to play each character until you reach a specific level for them to unlock one stage apiece. And that’s a separate grind from the two different in-game currencies.

With the game being so slanted towards competitive play, Brawlout does its best to push you towards playing online. The problem is that, in its current state, online play is a mess. I had a handful of good sessions in my attempts to play online. By and large, my online bouts were defined by stuttering, clunky-feeling movement and laggy slideshows–issues echoed online by other players. It’s hard to recommend a competition-focused game like this when part of its foundation is so flawed.

Brawlout is clearly trying its best to create a unique identity from the game that inspired it. However, the ways in which it’s trying to do this–by removing key mechanics and putting an emphasis on grindy unlocks–don’t work in its favor. Combine this with an online mode that just doesn’t seem to function correctly most of the time and you’ve got a game that’s disappointing in its current form. Keep the Wii U or GameCube hooked up to get your Smash fix for now.