Final Fantasy V is all about the grind. The story, world, and characters all blur together as I watch the numbers go up. Each job becomes a new progress bar to fill. Each ability becomes a new goal. The combat and bosses become my proof of mastery over its systems. But after the grind, what is left? Where is the drama? Where is the personality? Final Fantasy V revels in its freedom through its combat and exploration, but it all focuses on the same thing, gaining power. That search for power is enthralling but feels hollow when it is over.
Maridia is the best part of Super Metroid. Its confusing caves and hidden passageways allowed me to actually get lost in Super Metroid’s world. The rest of the world caters to the player with its linear paths and easy to access map terminals. Like the rest of Super Metroid, its inhabitants rarely push back against the armored behemoth that is Samus. While Metroid allowed you to get lost and disoriented in its alien corridors, Super Metroid guides you through its world with only a few moments where it lets go. Super Metroid is less frustrating, but is also less exciting.
The world of Metroid is uncompromising. It is openly obtuse, hostile, and completely alien. Yet exploring this uninviting world is captivating. Getting lost within the repeated hallways and false dead ends pushed me to find Metroid’s secrets. A lack of a map forced me to search and wander on my own. Barely surviving as I stumbled through caverns filled with acid and vicious creatures was exciting. That excitement was hampered when I died and was left with a fraction of my power, but I still had a choice of what to do. Metroid is not friendly but it is enthralling.
Mega Man Xtreme feels like a condensed handheld version of Mega Man X and X2. Almost all of the levels, bosses, and weapons are ripped from these two games and squeezed into the Gameboy Color. It is a relatively admirable job, with the faux 16-bit art-style and simplified music being an enjoyable treat. However, the zoomed-in focus and limited buttons make the game awkward. Its biggest weakness is that it is obsolete. When you can play X and X2 on the go through the Mega Man X Legacy Collection, there is no need for an inferior handheld “greatest hits” compilation.
Come one, come all and see The Outer Worlds. Hear the company slogans. See the corporate propaganda. Walk through the slums one day and party in manors the next. Become whatever you want as we wink and say “Corporations, am I right?” But what about the struggle? What about any bite behind the satire? Outer Worlds creates a playground with its themes, turning the corporatist setting into window dressing. It does not force you to address the exceptionalism that fuels both its RPG design and capitalist arguments. Outer Worlds is fun, but does so at the expense of meaningful critique.
For a game that focuses on murder, Hitman 2’s best moments are nonviolent. The thrill of discovering a new location or the tension of someone seeing through a disguise completely overshadows the excitement of firing a gun. Its social stealth and open level-design turn navigation and exploration into engaging challenges, especially if you limit the hint system. There is a sense of silliness that permeates through the more extravagant assassinations, with the violence becoming a punchline to a dark comedy sketch. Hitman 2’s larger, more complex levels fulfill and expand upon the appeal of Hitman (2016). Sometimes, bigger is better.
Mega Man 11 is safe, which makes it feel old. While its predecessors are contextualized by their age, the same archaic choices feel tired in the series’s return. Why does it have instant-kill traps and a lives system when its modern additions neuter their effects? Why develop a character’s backstory when it does not meaningfully affect the narrative? Its levels may be larger and more complex, but its base mechanics have remained stagnate. Mega Man 11 is still enjoyable but is overshadowed by titles not trapped by their own legacy. It is a return to form but does nothing more.
Pokémon Sword feels like an introduction to Pokémon rather than a continuation of an over 20-year-old series. Its greater focus on the gym challenge creates realistically high stakes that encourage strong and consistent character development. However, there are a few high stakes moments that feel out of place in a more down-to-earth adventure. The gym challenge is also too easy, with the automatic EXP share mechanic over leveling Pokémon. Sword is still enjoyable but does not have the challenge or side stories that have fleshed out previous titles. Pokémon Sword is fantastic for newcomers but may feel underwhelming for veterans.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is an amalgamation of elements from better games. Exploration is disappointing due to a clunky map and a lack of meaningful rewards. The world feels fragile, with stuttering and visual glitches breaking the beautiful environment. Platforming and puzzle-solving are better, but are only mildly enjoyable. However, Fallen Order’s source material saves the game. Lightsaber duels turn decent combat into flashy spectacles. There are even moments of excitement when force powers are used to create interesting platforming challenges and puzzles. Fallen Order’s source material makes the journey worthwhile, but without it, Fallen Order is only competent.