Thursday, February 20, 2020

Animal Crossing: New Horizons (NSW) "Your Island Escape, Your Way" Trailer

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is but a month away, and today, Nintendo shared a brand-new Direct centered solely on the game. Along the bevy of information presented in the Direct, Nintendo also has this new commercial for the game. Plan your deserted island getaway when Animal Crossing: New Horizons arrives on Nintendo Switch on March 20th.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Darksiders Genesis (PS4, XB1, NSW) Review

We march through February with another new review. It's for the latest in the Darksiders franchise, Darksiders Genesis, taking on a whole new perspective while retaining much of what fans of the series love. Let's check it out with the SPC review.

The beginning of the end

Available on Google Stadia and PC late last year, Darksiders Genesis now hacks and slashes its way onto home consoles with a PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch release. Does this new take on the Darksiders franchise deliver a gift from the heavens, or is it best left to linger and languish in Hell?

Darksiders Genesis is at its heart a cross between the isometric combat and dungeon-crawling of Diablo and the puzzle-solving and dungeon-exploring of The Legend of Zelda. Of course, the game pushes forth its own identity through the foundation, as Darksiders Genesis still plays like a traditional game in the series; it just puts a different perspective on things--literally.

War and Strife, a pair that starts out together as smoothly as oil and water.
Genesis has up to two players either locally or through online co-operative play, running, gunning (in the case of Strife) or slashing (in the case of War), jumping, and exploring through multiple disconnected levels as they take out enemies and perform small platforming challenges and solve relatively simple puzzles. While co-op is a main focus of Darksiders Genesis, it's important to note that the game can be played entirely solo, offering the ability to switch on the fly between characters instead of having both on the same screen at once like one would have it in co-op (or split screen in the case of local co-op).

There are 17 unique chapters in Darksiders Genesis, and the majority of them feature full-fledged levels to explore. These feature an abundance of collectibles in the form of character upgrades, Trickster keys to unlock specially marked doors, and new abilities for Strife and War respectively. Levels have a ton of secret areas and optional paths to them. One can get lost quite easily, but this is remedied somewhat by an in-game map. I say "somewhat" because the map does not tell you where your character is in relation to it. There's no "you are here" icon to speak of. All that you are told when looking at the map is the general area you're in, which is signified by a flashing highlighted section. Essentially, you have to use your eyes to approximate where you are on the map by noticing the scenery and nearby collectibles that appear on the map. This will most likely frustrate the more directionally-challenged players, especially early on in the game.

Levels also feature a multitude of optional quests to take on, and these hand out rewards for completing them, such as coins and souls--used to purchase goods and new moves and abilities in Genesis's hub world--and creature cores, which are the main means to upgrade both playable Horsemen.

Darksiders Genesis has plenty of similarities to Diablo, save for an important one--it's not a loot-based game. You don't pick up weapons, armor, or equipment from felled foes. Instead, occasionally, enemies drop creature cores, which can then be equipped to a skill tree to sorts. The more cores you earn of a particular creature, the more the core levels up, up to three times, and the stronger both Strife and War become when those cores are equipped to them. Each creature core has a unique ability and bonus when equipped. Some boost War and Strife's maximum health, while others have enemies drop more health when defeated. There's a whole slew of bonuses, and putting the best suited creature cores to your play style will make all the difference in making the more challenging difficulties all the more bearable. (But, in the case of the unlockable Apocalyptic difficulty, it'll still a bear in general to beat!)

Bosses come at the end of most levels, but the major foes
of Darksiders Genesis have their own dedicated levels.
Genesis features a mix of combat, exploration, platforming, and puzzle-solving, and that's listed in the order of what you do most to what you do the least in the game. Still, there's a generous mix of all four in the game. Starting off with combat, both characters have a mix of modest combos they can unleash with a range of light and strong attacks. These can be chained together to inflict significant damage, or at least wear down the more tank-like enemies. While War is more accustomed to up close and personal melee strikes with his sword, Strife generally is better at long-range attacks through various ammunition used from his twin guns. He has standard ammunition that comes in unlimited form, and other ammo types that he can discover throughout the adventure that aren't as generous with the ammo supply.

Go in guns blazing as Strife. Just be sure to keep your distance.
When a foe is weakened enough, an indicator appears over their head, allowing players to unleash a finishing move on them. This grants valuable invincibility frames to the player, perfect for getting a quick breather in on harder difficulties. Unfortunately, many times I'd end the animation of a finisher and wind up being vulnerable just as a surrounding enemy went in for an attack, thus my character getting rocked.

In addition to standard attacks, War and Strife can incorporate special attacks that consume Wrath energy, best used for crowd control and taking down sizable portions of the health meters of bosses. There's also Synergy attacks that serve as devastating team attacks, and ultra powerful Anarchy abilities that temporarily turns either War or Strife into a gigantic, invincible killing machine.

Didn't you hear? Anarchy reigns.
Outside of combat, there is plenty of platforming and puzzle-solving to be found in Darksiders Genesis. The latter uses unique items, mapped to the D-Pad, two of which are unique to both War and Strife. One such item, the Vorpal Blade acts like the boomerang from The Legend of Zelda franchise, allowing War to chuck it to hit multiple targets at once. Then there's Strife's Void Portal, which behaves much like a portal found in Valve's titular puzzle game.

While the puzzles are top-notch, and work well either in solo or co-op form, platforming is more difficult than it needs to be. This is due to the camera angles used. Being at a fixed angle, it can be quite challenging to gauge jump distance and height. Sometimes I'd misjudge jumps and fall into the abyss below. Other times--not any fault of the camera, to be fair--I'd get caught on scenery and geometry way too easily to the point that I'd have to switch characters just to "glitch out" and escape.

And that's a big thing to note with Darksiders Genesis: it's a glitchy game. From moments where finishing moves wouldn't register probably, having a Horseman defeat a foe with a melee attack from across the room, to falling through the floor on multiple occasions, to specific puzzle-related portals not operating correctly, Genesis has more than its fair share of tech issues. The camera in general can make it difficult to see things, and it can also obscure enemies behind walls and foes just out of its field of vision. On the positive side, I do appreciate all of the accessibility options available in the game, such as being able to increase the text size, a godsend for portable Switch players.

Depending on the platform, Darksiders Genesis can look fabulous at times.
Even with its tremendous lack of polish (and this will only improve as more patches are added to the game), Darksiders Genesis managed to hook me in from beginning to end and long after seeing the credits roll for the first time after my initial 15 hour play-through. I found myself routinely returning to levels to retrieve collectibles I had missed or couldn't yet acquire because I didn't have a needed ability from a later level. The combat is simple enough to learn, but the ins and outs will take plenty of time to get proficient enough to tackle the game's toughest challenges, such as the arena and ultra-hard Apocalyptic difficulty. What Darksiders Genesis lacks in polish and an overly capable camera, it more than makes up for in enjoyable exploration, rewarding combat, clever puzzles, and smartly placed secrets.

[SPC Says: B]