Tales from the Borderlands: Episode Three — Catch a Ride Review

Tales from the Borderlands‘ third episode, Catch a Ride, is its best yet. Its cold open–a frantic action sequence that kicks off seconds after the previous episode’s ending–sets the bar for drama high and never falls from it during its two-hour run.

The best thing about Episode Three is that it is essentially two vastly different games. The final choice you made in Episode Two, Atlas Mugged, has a profound effect on what happens throughout the entirety of Episode Three. Your narrative path is determined by a decision made in desperation as all enemies closed in on Fiona and Rhys in Atlas Mugged’s last minute, and that choice will set you on a path that follows either Fiona or Rhys more closely. Other characters caught in the crossfire will undergo significantly different changes as well–it’s hard to discuss this without spoilers, so pardon the vague terms–which in turn also affect just how screwed you are as you go about your mission.

After making your last decision in Episode Two, you can play through the entirety of Episode Three without seeing half of what the episode has to offer. So if you want to see both narrative paths and experience every possible outcome, you’ll have to play the episode twice following two distinctly different decisions. It’s a little confusing, and a lot of time to invest, but it’s time well spent; Catch a Ride’s two versions offer their own memorable moments and bits of hilarity, so it’s worth the second playthrough.

An unlikely pairing.

Catch a Ride calls back to previous episodes in meaningful ways, deepening the story and giving players headspace for some serious theory crafting. Remember Felix, Fiona and Sasha’s wheeling and dealing adopted father? His story comes into play in a big way in Episode Three, turning everything the two girls thought they knew upside down and making their trials in Vault hunting more emotional than physical. As the sisters struggle to come to terms with this new information and babysit the boys (because let’s be honest, they are in charge here), Rhys is grappling with his own ever-growing problem–the literal voice is his head.

Again, depending on your choices, the ghost of Handsome Jack is either chomping at the bit for more control of Rhys’ body or has completely convinced the guy to trust his guidance. Both of these tracks present some incredibly tense scenes between the two, and the growing idea of Jack’s ghost as a legit threat adds more anxiety to an already thrilling narrative.

This isn’t the first time Telltale’s versatility in presenting varied narrative options has really shone through in Tales from the Borderlands, but it is perhaps the ultimate example of what they can do. Tales’ branching story fully handed you the reigns for Episode One, and the challenge back then was maintaining that surrender to players for four more episodes. Episode Three is a strong example of how much control you actually have on this story, which is a lot; it’s surprising and delightful to navigate certain social situations and be reminded that this is, at the end of the day, your story. Fiona and Rhys may misremember or exaggerate what happened, but it’s you who gets to decide what is truth. And when the credits roll, going back to try the episode again with different choices results is such a different entertaining experience, it’s hard not to want things both ways.

He’s definitely the beta.

Narrative variety aside, notable elements of Episode Three include the addition of new characters and expanding roles of existing ones. Vault Hunter Athena steps into a much larger role, and her presence feels completely natural among Telltale’s new heroes. My favorite moment in the episode is a conversation between her and Fiona about what it means to be a Vault Hunter, with Fiona doubting her own abilities and Athena insisting it’s not about power–it’s about being able to think on your feet. This brief moment of real talk is a humanizing moment for Athena and a wake-up call for Fiona. It’s the sweetest moment in the series so far, and one that reaches out to not just Fiona, but you as the player and consumer of the Borderlands universe.

Ashley Johnson’s character also makes her debut in Catch a Ride as what is perhaps the world’s cutest robot. Her performance is astounding, adding another layer to the headache Rhys and Fiona are dealing with and another mouth to spout hilarious dialogue. Johnson’s character has the best one-liners of the episode, and I definitely snort-laughed a few times during her scenes.

Tales of the Borderlands shines in the little things, its moment-to-moment drama and humor consistently on point. Every exploration sequence is populated with curiosities to examine and conversations that shape the world in big ways. Action sequences move quickly and keep your heart pounding; like in the original Borderlands games, you need to catch up and run with the big boys or die gruesomely. Each second spent in its world teaches you something about the characters you’re shepherding and the Borderlands universe at large. Episode Three is definitely the best we’ve seen of this series so far.

Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition Review

Devil May Cry 4 is excessive by design, from the mammoth swords to the boss battles rooted in elegant mayhem. The action can feel like a firework show that spurns a nuanced routine for a non-stop, thirty-minute finale, and there’s a certain charm to this bravado. But the excessiveness takes away just as much as it gives. The structure of the extended campaign works against its own momentum, forcing you to retread recently explored locations and battle all-too-familiar enemies over and over again. While this Special Edition provides slight combat tweaks and additional characters to toy with, there’s just not enough mechanical or architectural variation to justify the fluff. As a result, the endless combat rooms and recycled scenarios can be exhausting.

The re-progression is thematically justified by a character swap, giving you at least some reason to remain engaged during this slog. You spend the majority of Devil May Cry 4 with Nero, a silver-haired, sardonic punk whose emotions swing from caustic rage to lovesick sweetness at the drop of a sword. He’s a suitable protagonist for the series, with enough emotional intrigue to carry the early portions of the story, but the eventual shift to Dante is welcomed. Collecting new weapons and experimenting with his unique combat stances spices up the action, and his comically blasé attitude toward towering demons hurling fire, ice, and everything in between adds an additional layer of absurdity to this ballet of angels and demons. It’s just a shame that Dante is left with so little meat to pick off the bone, being relegated to retracing Nero’s steps.

The Devil Bringer can transform even the toughest of foes into pretty blue explosions of light.

The most significant change introduced by the Special Edition is the inclusion of three additional characters: Lady, Trish, and Vergil. The fresh cast is playable from the start, and thankfully, each member provides a much-needed layer of combat variation absent from the original release. Lady’s proclivity for projectiles punches up your offense at range, allowing you to more easily dust airborne foes and wipe out large groups with a single, charged missile. Trish and Vergil aren’t as unorthodox in their play styles, but both benefit from swift hypersonic attacks that help you smoothly transition from demon to demon. Vergil, especially, can quickly jump from place to place and easily build upon a string of combos without having to waste time walking to a new target.

Devil May Cry 4 is deeply flawed, but the new 1080p, 60 frames-per-second wrapping provided by the Special Edition does well to modernize the aesthetic while maintaining the series’ blistering speed. The action rarely skips a beat–even when a sea of enemies floods the screen–and while you might not mistake it for a brand-new 2015 release, the characters and environments just look cleaner. The uproariously extravagant cutscenes, where you’ll find Dante and Nero elegantly sliding under deadly projectiles or bouncing away from massive demons with aplomb, benefit the most from the improved visual fidelity.

Nero is like a younger, moodier version of Dante.

But like a stubborn wine stain, the repetition so deeply rooted in Devil May Cry 4’s fabric can’t be easily washed out. The additional characters replace Nero and Dante in the same scenarios, so you’re still playing through identical missions you’re likely already tired of. Starting the game over with a different character only highlights the lack of unique locations, so once the initial wonder of Vergil’s lightning-quick technique and Lady’s devastating grenade launcher wears off, there’s not much left to enjoy. You can avoid replaying the main missions by instead testing out each character’s abilities in the Bloody Palace, which is a series of combat challenges where the deeper you descend, the more difficult the enemies become. However, Devil May Cry 4 can already feel like a combat gauntlet, so stripping out the story, puzzles, and exploration doesn’t do it any favors. It’s nice to have more options, but the Special Edition’s prevailing new features are hampered by the nature of its main adventure.

The series of events is both interesting and challenging the first time around, at least–even if they’re weighed down by too many back-to-back combat sequences. Nero’s combo-driven sword-play is bolstered by his pistols and wonderfully versatile Devil Bringer–a demonic arm that acts as both a quick means of transportation and a powerful melee option. Beyond its practical use, the Devil Bringer gives you greater opportunity to increase your style gauge and extend combos to great lengths. By diversifying your attacks, you can earn more points and, most importantly, complete a combat scenario in the most surgical, exciting ways possible.

Like a stubborn wine stain, the repetition so deeply rooted in Devil May Cry 4’s fabric can’t be easily washed out.

You can grab, pull, and pound enemies into the dirt through Nero’s glowing grip, but the manner by which this arm translates to platforming and puzzle solving is more frustrating than fun. Devil May Cry 4 provides very limited camera control, and shifting perspectives often obfuscate your view as you use your arm to grapple from point to point. It can be difficult to determine your position, let alone time a jump or push certain objects to unlock doors with such a restrictive, jarring point of view.

If you’re a seasoned demon hunter, the Special Edition does provide a new, punishing difficulty called Legendary Dark Knight Mode. Here, a greater number and variety of enemies spawn at any given time–creating more opportunities to string together stylish combos, but a higher probability of becoming overwhelmed. Thankfully, the points and skills accrued over time carry over, so some of the difficulty’s edge can be dulled by tackling this hellish challenge on a second playthrough. However, no matter how skilled you become, the boss battles here can be ruthless, so even fully decked-out characters can fall after a few mistimed dodges.

The boss battles are beautiful, but sadly, you’ll have to see each of them three times.

The visual improvements and additional characters layered atop the Devil May Cry 4 Special Edition can’t conceal its bloated structure. This is, without a doubt, the best this stylish action romp has looked and felt, but just because you can gussy up an old game, doesn’t always mean that you should. If you’re dying to see how Vergil fares against the Order of the Sword or feel the need to test the extreme difficulty, take the leap. Just be warned that some aspects of the game would have been better left in the past.

Wander Review

Unlike other massively multiplayer games, Wander does not begin with you tuning sliders and picking palettes to create a character or accepting a fetch quest from a non-player character, because neither of those options exist. Nor do you have to kill ten of X, because combat or creatures are nowhere to be found. The only to-do list is the list of achievements, most of which read like chores. Wander focuses on exploration and wants to be a refreshing new contender, yet it’s nothing more than a glitchy, boring mess.

Instead of embracing the aforementioned genre standbys, Wander starts you off playing as a humanoid tree creature known as an Oren. This Tolkien-inspired being moves around the island at a grueling pace trying to find a transformation stone as soon as possible. The forest floor only has a few paths at the beginning, yet you can still find a dead end, requiring you to backtrack at the speed of a turtle. The game, whose sole purpose is exploration, penalizes you for doing just that in the first five minutes.

Exploring as an Oren can be difficult when the form takes up a third of the screen.

Once finding the stone in a nearby cave, the Oren shrinks and becomes a Hira: a nimble figure with fins that act as a wingsuit. Once you transform, there’s no reason to even think about returning to your prior ineffective form. However, shortly after freeing myself from the Oren’s fetters, the game crashed, and I knew this would be an unpleasant walkabout.

As a Hira, you can glide like an ice skater, walk under water, stop time, and burrow through earth. Oh wait–those are movement glitches, bugs, not features. The graphics are another imperfection. Although it was made with CryEngine, Wander looks like an extension of Playstation Home. Textures are flat and dull, if they even load at all. Trees and vegetation flicker in and out of existence as they sway in the coastal breeze. Ponds vanish, and you swim through the air and on dry beds of rock. The plants farther down the road are identical to the ones that came before, and my eyes glazed over scanning the thick brush for something unique or captivating. Each summited outcropping teases a view of a breathtaking landscape, but disappointment sinks in every time. The Hira is a marooned sailor destined to die from monotony on an island prison.

Here is the Hira sporting a trendy skirt made from stone.

Wander’s narrative is supplied via lore stones, which are similar to the audio logs found in games like Bioshock. These rocks provide meaningless blurbs discussing flora and fauna rather than any actual story or plot. After finding the first lore stone, the map room is unlocked. In this cave, you can also switch between four different forms, such as an aquatic lizard or a flying griffin, at will. However, the relief map itself is useless without a “You Are Here” marker.

In addition to the lore and transformation stones, pillars give the gift of speech. Each found stone lets players speak necessary words, like “hello,” and extremely specific terms that you will never need to utter, like “thermal.” You say sentences by drawing the corresponding glyph on the DualShock’s touchpad and hoping the gods accept your handwriting. Chances are they won’t. Thankfully, there’s an alternative method, but it requires cycling through each individual gleaned word on the D-pad. Then, when the controller is idling on the coffee table, random words will sound without any input–not to mention, the same tutorial for the Rozhda language system plays, even if it’s your tenth time finding a glyph. The touchpad is also used to summon fireflies, but they never heeded my call, so I can only guess at their function. Luckily, I didn’t find any chatty players, so I was never forced to piece together a fragmented phrase from an obtuse mechanic.

The Azertash makes aquatic navigation easier, yet without a dedicated dive button I wouldn’t recommend heading to the ocean floor.

The only respite provided in Wander is the lovely soundtrack composed by Benjamin Woodgates. The soothing vocals contrast with the grating gameplay and give life to the vacant land. However, the music rarely plays, and most sounds that graced my ears were the chirping of invisible wildlife. Otherwise, Wander is a sandbox constructed from rotted wood that lacks toys. Without character customization or any semblance of proper communication, the game has nothing to offer in place of its sacrifices. Like Sisyphus on a treadmill, I fruitlessly walked around in hopes of discovering something worthwhile. Unless this game can find its way, discovery will remain a lost cause.

Dirty Bomb Review

In Dirty Bomb, ruined London streets and abandoned train stations play host to multiplayer skirmishes where teams fight to complete objectives amid a hail of white-hot gunfire. It’s a twitch shooter at its most extreme: an arena of quick kills, high energy, and tired pinky fingers mashing down the sprint key. This fire-from-the-hip shooter arms you with shotguns, sniper rifles, knives, and, fittingly enough given the ongoing motifs, a cricket bat. Unfortunately, a lack of fresh ideas keeps the game from being memorable, while some bothersome glitches and lag stifle your enjoyment.

The formula is a recognizable one. In fact, if you’re well-versed in shooters, you can spot where Dirty Bomb derives its influence. There are ingredients from Counter-Strike, Team Fortress 2, Call of Duty, and, of course, developer Splash Damage’s own shooter Brink; it’s a melting pot of good ideas from the past. These all too familiar elements, however, prevent Dirty Bomb from defining its own identity and standing out among the crowd of its brethren. Even its name sounds like the last to survive a whiteboard list of slashed, rejected titles. But it’s not as if the game isn’t fun to play. It’s fast and frantic, it looks great, and the running, jumping, and shooting elements have an excellent tactile fluidity that makes the high-speed combat instantly accessible and able to entertain for hours. Beyond that, however, it just doesn’t do anything special.

Watch for snipers at every corner and angle!

There is a shred of Brink’s spirit still alive within Dirty Bomb: a freedom of movement, heavily toned down. Though made by the same creator, the two games aren’t really siblings–more like cousins that used to jump over chest-high walls in their youth. The free running, however, has diminished to hopping off walls, either to adjust your movement angle or to reach higher ledges. And that’s actually just about it. The maps do a fine job of supporting wall bouncing, though. Stairs descending at a sharp angle can be bypassed with speed by jumping and giving the elbow a swift kick, propelling you forward. Small ledges in many games have to be circumvented by foot, but Dirty Bomb encourages you to embrace speed, allowing you to bounce from a wall to a new plateau while still moving at a vigorous pace.

Dirty Bomb is all about completing objectives. As the advancing team, your job is to plant C4 on targets, open doors and gates, or protect and transport an EV–an armored tank-like vehicle–to a specific location, all within a given time limit. On the other side, your enemies do everything they can to keep you from advancing. After the first round, the match enters a short intermission where the teams swap sides, switching from defense to offense and vice versa. You can also play stopwatch, which is objective mode except that the team that accomplishes its goals faster is declared the winner.

A separate competitive stopwatch mode adds party options and assigns a rank. It also takes the word “competitive” seriously. Before you join, you must agree that you will not leave or you will receive a punishment. Yes, a punishment. You are locked into a match, and simply quitting isn’t quite so simple. Returning to the main menu, you are asked to resume the match in play. If you choose not to, the game automatically quits to desktop so you can think about what you’ve done. Booting the game back up, you are asked once more to rejoin the match. Choosing no again closes the game. If you are persistent, you face getting dealt with a short, temporary ban from playing the competitive mode.

The cricket bat shows no mercy.

Having players locked into the match does create other issues. From my experience, those who quit (and mean it) leave the match unbalanced. At times, they return to finish the fight, but that was uncommon in my many hours of competitive matchmaking. This left me in an awkward four-on-five, or worse, five-on-two, player match, as my remaining team received a punishment of a different kind: the one where you spend the remainder of the game getting pathetically slaughtered by overwhelming odds. Choosing to not accept a match invite will also result in a short ban–for me, only around two minutes.

Twelve distinct mercenaries make up Dirty Bomb’s cast, many of which fall into the typical shooter roles. You have the run-of-the-mill soldier and support classes, as well as a hooded sniper, a swift-footed engineer, and medics. Only a smattering of mercenaries is available at the start, while a few others are temporarily unlocked in a weekly rotation. If you find a mercenary you like, you can unlock it for upwards of 50,000 in-game credits or, as this is a free-to-play game, for a fee of $9.99.

Both options, however, are a tad steep. Each finished match usually awards you with several hundred credits, so it will take many hours to earn enough to buy a single mercenary. The system is slow, and over time it can make the real-world cash option seem more reasonable. Occasional weekend events that award double experience points and credits do help, but you’re still looking at a serious time investment. Another option is to drop some cash on a temporary credit booster that doubles your earned credits following each match, but that won’t help if you don’t plan on forking over any of the green.

Stay close to that EV!

Mercenaries are paired with loadout cards that, depending on rarity, offer divergent sets of primary and secondary weapons. They also come with up to three mercenary-specific augmentations–the amount changes with card rarity–that offer status boosts such as decreased reload speed or healing cooldown. New loadouts for your mercenaries are unlocked via cases, awarded randomly as you play. There are six forms of rarity with the cards, starting at the most common form of lead, then iron, bronze, silver, gold, and the ultra-rare cobalt. In my experience, most of the time you will unlock lead cards, but every so often, as luck ordains, you can walk away with silver card or even higher.

Dirty Bomb, however, does allow you to transmute lead into gold without it costing an arm or a leg. You stock up a hefty supply of lead cards the longer you play, but they’re far from completely worthless. For several cards and a small fee of credits, you can trade the garbage cards for ones with a little more glimmer, and you can do so for a specific mercenary. The entire system, trade-ups included, is based on chance, so even if you trade for a rarer card, you still may not get the loadout you desire–so expect to spend a lot of time collecting cards. You can trade credits and cash for specific loadout cards, but, much like the pricey mercenaries, they do not come cheap.

Succeeding in a Dirty Bomb match requires strong team cohesion. The maps are designed to support bottlenecks and choke points, all of which can be exploited by the defense. Experience will tell you where on the maps the best placements for healing stations, mines, or turrets are, as well as the best class for the job. Having a team comprising mostly soldiers will help rack up the kills, but without medics things go awry fast. If you do find yourself in such a situation, never fret. Before the match begins and during the death screen, you can choose to jump in as a different mercenary from a squad of three that you build in the main menu. Keeping up communication, such as asking for someone to switch classes in order to create a stronger fortification or offensive push, helps maintain a stronger team as the match advances. Your best bet for consistent enjoyment is to run with a team. If that isn’t an option, then you can help move the team in the right direction using the in-game microphone.

Strike your enemies hard from the air.

Dirty Bomb moves at a brisk stride, but can’t help making a few awkward stumbles. Expect the game to occasionally freeze, crash, and kick you from matches–all three could cause you to earn a punishment if you don’t return to a competitive match quickly enough. These problems, while annoying, are thankfully rare, especially compared to the far more frequent problem regarding lag. And I don’t just mean the slight, second-long delays in the menu–which is also irritating. While playing, some shots that clearly miss can somehow strike a target, while bullets from your enemies can still find your fleshy posterior even as you round a corner into safety. More than once, while in the death screen, I saw the stationary ghostly figure of my attacker, and his or her shot going through a wall and striking my opaque mercenary in the back–leaving me to scratch my chin and sigh as I waited to respawn. It isn’t necessarily abysmal or game-breaking, but if you’re a competitive-shooting stickler like me, you will become increasingly aggravated as the game’s lag-charged issues become more obvious the longer you play.

These are not new problems, either. Skimming through the game’s forums, it appears that lag and other server woes have defined the Dirty Bomb’s development for some time. From what I gather, the game does perform better now than it has in the past, but the road to stability continues to stretch onward. The game would also benefit from more varied maps and game modes. In its current version, there are only a handful of stages to play on, and with modes that range from objective or, well, faster objective, the game does eventually stray into tedium. There is a team deathmatch on its way, which might curb the monotony.

Defined by its predecessors, Dirty Bomb straddles the divide between old and new, never quite able to step out of the shadows of the games that came before. Still, if you’re looking for a decent multiplayer shooter on the very cheap, Dirty Bomb is a fast-paced possibility. However, I’m not confident that the core will improve enough for the game to reach beyond merely ordinary. While Brink sits in history as a game that tripped on its path to fame, Dirty Bomb will be fortunate to be remembered at all.

Yoshi’s Woolly World Review

Ever since Nintendo concealed a magic vine in World 2-1 on Super Mario Bros, the company has been obsessed with splicing secrets and wondrous little diversions in its platform games. Yoshi’s Woolly World honours this tradition, but also subverts it. Here, finding hidden items is technically an optional side-quest, but paradoxically, it’s also the game’s only real challenge.

Should you decide against hunting down Woolly World’s hundreds of secluded items, opting instead to dash across its 48 levels as though you were playing any other Mario platformer, then you’re likely to come away slightly disappointed. Played straight, Woolly World does not inspire enough quick thinking or daring leaps of faith. There’s no time limit, and no lives to lose, which gives the proceedings a measured, pedestrian pace. The boss fights, meanwhile, can be conquered on first attempts.

As expected from a Nintendo platformer, the controls are immeasurably perfect and dependable. Along with the usual high-jumps, tongue-whips and ground-pounds, Yoshi can also carry balls of yarn with him, which can be tossed at the press of a button. This manoeuvre requires timing, as once you hold down the throw button, a reticule will run up and down the screen, which will determine the projectile’s trajectory upon the button’s release. Care and attention is necessary, as Yoshi only has a max capacity of five yarns, and they are handy in many scenarios, such as activating secret platforms and wrapping piranhas in cotton muzzles. Since the vast majority of foes are made of wool, Yoshi can pull them in with his tongue, and instantly digest them into new balls of yarn. It’s probably not worth mentioning where the balls sprout from.

The excellent controls only makes Woolly World easier to finish without many issues. In fact, if you have experience playing the likes of Super Mario World or Yoshi’s Island, it’s likely you’ll be able to breeze through the game’s first half on autopilot: Run right, line your jumps along the craniums of Shy Guys and Koopas, eat foes with a whip of Yoshi’s tongue, and reach the exit on the furthermost-right point of the level. No real peril or heroics; just violent tourism.

“Played straight, Woolly World does not inspire enough quick thinking or daring leaps of faith.”

Fear not; You can still find that inimitable Nintendo sparkle, that magical je ne sais quoi which enlivens your inner-child who is absolutely over the moon that you still play video games. It’s just that, while Woolly World can be wonderfully fun, it’s only so if you choose to make the most of it. Specifically, when each level is finished, a list of collectable items shows all the hidden little treasures you missed along the way, and to unlock Woolly World’s bonus content (such as the rock-hard S-levels, as well as some imaginative Yoshi skins), you gotta catch ’em all.

Each of the 48 levels contain five hidden rolls of yarn, which if collected, gives you a custom Yoshi skin.

So while it’s undemanding to complete almost any stage in less than five minutes, doing so with the full set of collectables in tow requires scrupulous scavenging and sleuthing, and some of the most fiendishly concealed secrets will evade your best search efforts for upwards of half an hour. This is Woolly World at its best; Moments where you scan the landscape to spot architectural anomalies that could be hiding something, or running into a wall you suspect is a secret tunnel, or leaping into the great unknown outside the screen’s field of view like a cartoon Columbus.

The eye-catching art style, which is an ambitious attempt to portray everything as though it’s knitted in wool, naturally offers some excellent hiding places. Tiny loose threads occasionally protrude from giant plinths of cushion, and if pinched by Yoshi’s tongue, unravel soft little bunkers containing various treasures. Other collectables are tucked away behind some of the spongier stacks of pillow, which Yoshi can compress by pushing his whole weight against. It’s the video game equivalent of finding money down the back of the sofa, and it never fails to satisfy.

The local co-op adds a welcome wild-card element; Nearly everything is easier, but also much clumsier as players constantly bump into one another.

Whether the plush visuals win your eyes over is another matter entirely. With everything rendered as though it was knitted together, some of the smaller details are sacrificed, which is perhaps why Woolly World sometimes comes off as a little characterless. The charm and razzamatazz you’d expect from a Nintendo game seems to have been diminished, to an extent, in the transition to wool and cotton. That goes for Yoshi too; Some of his animation flourishes seem like excellent ideas on paper, such as how his legs can spin into cotton wheels when he sprints, or when they morph into small propellers as he leaps. In practice, however, they are unexplained and seem out of place. It’s as if fast legs were too complex to animate with virtual wool.

“Your suspicious nature is constantly rewarded.”

But perhaps that’s a tad unfair on something that attempts–and succeeds–to visually distinguish itself from most other Nintendo games, especially since the level design is built upon the Mario Bros template. It’s also pleasantly surprising that a game fixated on treasure-hunting works so well in the narrow horizontal strip of a side-scrolling platformer. Exceedingly well, in fact; better than any other Nintendo game before it.

How can so many secrets be tucked into such a flat space? The game’s answer, more often than not, is to conceal its collectable sunflowers (stars and shines were on vacation) inside small question-mark clouds that remain invisible unless touched by Yoshi or his projectiles. Many of these are placed in obvious locations, such as the crest of a jump between platforms, while others require a developer’s intuition (“where would I hide this?”) to know where to look. When you probe a suspected hiding place by flinging one of Yoshi’s yarns at it, and when your inquisitiveness is rewarded with a secret item, a wave of pride passes through you.

Additional Yoshi skins can be accessed by placing an Amiibo on the GamePad, creating bizarre cross-pollinations such as Mario-Yoshi.

But on occasion, you need some luck to find every secret, due to the seemingly random placement of some the invisible clouds. Sometimes it seems unreasonable that 99 items were discovered by following the game’s logic, while the elusive hundredth was tucked away in some arbitrary spot in the sky.

Fortunately, this is where Poochy comes in, your painfully adorable dog sidekick who–later in the game–can be summoned for 5000 gems (don’t worry, you always have enough). This wonderful little fella sniffs out secrets and bounces around like you’re the postman at his front door when he’s found something. He can also collect items for you from hard-to-reach places, as well as handle nearby enemies for you. Most important of all; when he helps you, he does a little gleeful jig. Hearts will melt.

Later on, other major perks can be bought for gems, such as the game-changing ability to make all hidden items visible. This is an invaluable tool for those who want to find absolutely everything, but not to the extent that it feels like you’re playing in God Mode. Between this and Poochy, you’ll have enough perks to make it entirely feasible to collect all sunflowers in every level, and should you put in that effort, your reward is six S-rank courses, which undoubtedly offer Woolly World’s smartest, trickiest, and most creative challenges.

Click on the thumbnails below to view in full-screen

But this memorable bonus content, much like everything worth your time in Woolly World, is only available if you choose to hunt it down. You don’t need to collect a single hidden item on your journey from 1-1 to the final boss. Some would say that gives Woolly World its inherent accessibility, in that players aren’t forced to take the hard road. But if you want to be fully entertained, the hard road is the only real option. It is your own degree of curiosity, and your compulsive nature, that will determine which route you’ll take.

“There’s No Pay to Win Option” in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Dev Says

Konami has released a 40 minute Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain gameplay video with developer commentary during E3 2015, and it starts by addressing the issue of microtransactions, a new addition to the series that’s been worrying fans.

“While it is true that a few microtransactions option due exists, the entire game has been carefully balanced to be fair and enjoyable with or without using these options,” Konami said. “There’s no pay to win option. Rest assured that every single item, weapon, and mission in the game is available to all players without paying a single cent.”

“However, due to the sheer scale of the game and the time required to explore it all, microtransactions were added as a completely optional feature for players who might not be able to spend as much time with the game, nothing more, nothing less.”

Commentary about microtransactions aside, the video is well worth watching if you’re curious about The Phantom Pain. It give us a comprehensive look at the game’s buddy system, side missions, dynamic weather, and many other system new to the series.

Konami added that more information on how all this will work will be announced in the future.

GameSpot recently got its hands on a portion of The Phantom Pain; you can read our impressions here.

The Phantom Pain launches worldwide on September 1 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. According to sources, Kojima will leave Konami when the game ships.

Remember Me and Life Is Strange Dev Announces Vampyr

Dontnod, the French developer which previously released Remember Me and Life Is Strange has announced its next game at E3 2015, Vampyr, a role-playing game for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC that will use Unreal Engine 4.

Vampyr is set in set in an early 20th century Britain, which is thrown into chaos by a lethal Spanish Flu, and vampires that haunt the streets at night. Player will take on the role of Jonathan E. Reid, a military surgeon that becomes a vampire when he returns home from the war.

During the game, players will explore London, accept missions, and eventually have to decide who they’ll feed on.

“Absolutely all characters in the game are potential victims of your vampiric lust,” the developer said in a release. “Carefully study the habits of your next victim, his or her relationships with other characters, and set up your strategy to feed, unnoticed: seduce them, change their daily habits, or make sure they end up alone in a dark street.”

Vampyr’s combat includes, melee, shooting mechanics, and supernatural vampire abilities that’ll help you take on different species of vampire creatures as well as vampire hunters. Player will also be able to create their own weapons using a deep crafting system and materials looted from defeated enemies.

Vampyr will be published by Focus Home Interactive in 2017.

GameSpot -- 7/10

"Arkham Knight is constantly trying to justify the Batmobile's presence, forcing it upon you at nearly every opportunity." - Kevin VanOrd [Full review]

IGN -- 9.2/10

"The addition of tank combat thematically clashes with everything Batman stands for, but it is fun, and having access to the Batmobile for the first time gives us a new world of possibilities for interacting with Gotham City. Arkham Knight is an outstanding game on almost every level" - Dan Stapleton [Full review]

Polygon -- 10/10

"After Arkham Knight, Batman has been perfected — and the end result is the best game of this console generation." - Justin McElroy [Full review]

Batman: Arkham Knight -- 9.5/10

"Rocksteady built a special experience that dazzles with its cleverness, intelligence, and ability to shift from kick-ass Batman moments to emotional gut punches to scenes stripped straight from some of Batman's greatest comic book stories. Lock yourself away, avoid social media and friends, and finish this game. You won't want this one spoiled for you." - Andrew Reiner [Full review]

USGamer -- 4/5

"Rocksteady absolutely nailed the feeling of being Batman and Arkham Knight only increases the scope of the original games. Yes, I got annoyed, but the moment-to-moment play of Batman: Arkham Knight is still amazing. If you've saved the Asylum and cleaned up the City, it's worth finishing the Knight off." - Mike Williams [Full review]

GamesRadar+ -- 4/5

"An ambitious and successful end to Rocksteady’s trilogy, with a standard-setting open world you must experience. A superior main story and less Batmobile combat would’ve made a huge difference." - Sam Roberts [Full review]

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Batman: Arkham Knight Review Roundup

After two delays, developer Rocksteady and publisher Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment are finally ready to release Batman: Arkham Knight on June 23.

Critics already got a chance to play the game before release and publish their reviews, and so far the general consensus is that Batman: Arkham Knight is an excellent game.

The most criticized part of the game is the sections requiring players to use the Batmobile, which is a new addition to the series.

Check out a sampling of review scores and editor opinions below. And be sure to visit GameSpot sister site Metacritic for even more on the game’s critical reception.

  • Game: Batman: Arkham Knight
  • Developer: Rocksteady Studios
  • Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC
  • Release Date: June 23
  • Price: $60

GameSpot — 7/10

“Arkham Knight is constantly trying to justify the Batmobile’s presence, forcing it upon you at nearly every opportunity.” – Kevin VanOrd [Full review]

IGN — 9.2/10

“The addition of tank combat thematically clashes with everything Batman stands for, but it is fun, and having access to the Batmobile for the first time gives us a new world of possibilities for interacting with Gotham City. Arkham Knight is an outstanding game on almost every level” – Dan Stapleton [Full review]

Polygon — 10/10

“After Arkham Knight, Batman has been perfected — and the end result is the best game of this console generation.” – Justin McElroy [Full review]

Batman: Arkham Knight — 9.5/10

“Rocksteady built a special experience that dazzles with its cleverness, intelligence, and ability to shift from kick-ass Batman moments to emotional gut punches to scenes stripped straight from some of Batman’s greatest comic book stories. Lock yourself away, avoid social media and friends, and finish this game. You won’t want this one spoiled for you.” – Andrew Reiner [Full review]

USGamer — 4/5

“Rocksteady absolutely nailed the feeling of being Batman and Arkham Knight only increases the scope of the original games. Yes, I got annoyed, but the moment-to-moment play of Batman: Arkham Knight is still amazing. If you’ve saved the Asylum and cleaned up the City, it’s worth finishing the Knight off.” – Mike Williams [Full review]

GamesRadar+ — 4/5

“An ambitious and successful end to Rocksteady’s trilogy, with a standard-setting open world you must experience. A superior main story and less Batmobile combat would’ve made a huge difference.” – Sam Roberts [Full review]

How to Get All Batman: Arkham Knight Retailer Exclusive DLC

As with many big releases these days, Batman: Arkham Knight is available to preorder at several retailers, each offering their own exclusive preorder bonuses.

If you’re a completionist, however, publisher Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment recently clarified that there’s a way to get all this retailer-specific content in one big purchase.

“Throughout the 6 months of additional Batman: Arkham Knight content, Premium and Season Pass owners will also receive the in-game content that is offered through various retail pre-order incentives,” Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment community admin Yorick said on the game’s official forums. “This includes the Harley Quinn and Red Hood Story Packs, and the Prototype Batmobile. For those who did not receive the content with their game, these items will become available when their respective exclusivity windows expire in August/September.”

In short, Premium Edition and Season Pass owners will receive all retail exclusive DLC after their respective early access periods expire.

In case you missed the news during E3 2015, developer Rocksteady recently announced that the the $200 Batmobile edition of the game has been canceled due to unforeseen circumstances that greatly compromised the quality of the product, presumably the transforming Batmobile statue.

For more on Batman: Arkham Knight, check out GameSpot’s review.

Steam’s Summer Sale Is Almost Over, Huge Encore Deals Up Now

Steam’s Summer Sale is almost over, but you still have a chance to buy some of the online storefront’s top sellers in its closing Encore Sale.

The Encore Sale, which started this morning and will run until Monday, 10:00 AM Pacific Time, collects all the top sellers from the past 10 days and offers them again at a deep discount.

The Encore Sale includes some of our previous picks of the day, including Transistor for $5, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel for $20, This War of Mine for $8, and many more. Overall, the Encore Sale includes almost 100 deals.

Some other standout offers include Wolfenstein: The Old Blood for $10, Project Cars for $30, and Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes for $5.

You can find the full list of deals included in the Summer Encore Sale here.