Game Corner [Bat-Month]: Batman: Arkham Knight (Xbox Series X)


In the decades since his first dramatic appearance in the pages of Detective Comics, Bruce Wayne/Batman has become a mainstream, worldwide, pop culture icon. The brainchild of writer Bob Kane, Batman was brought to life by artist Bill Finger and has been a popular staple of DC Comics and countless movies, videogames, and cartoons over the years. Accordingly, September celebrates “Batman Day” and is just another perfect excuse to celebrate comic’s grim and broody vigilante and, this year, I’ve been dedicating every Wednesday to Gotham’s Dark Knight Detective.


Released: 23 June 2015
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S

The Background:
After a rocky relationship with videogame adaptations, Eidos Interactive and Rocksteady Studios turned the Dark Knight’s fortunes around with the critically and commercially successful Batman: Arkham Asylum (ibid, 2009) and the bigger and better sequel, Batman: Arkham City (ibid, 2011). Eager to capitalise on this success, and to allow Rocksteady Studios the time to craft a suitable third entry, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment turned to WB Games Montréal to develop a prequel set during Batman’s early days that, while criticised as somewhat derivative, still sold incredibly well and helped keep the franchise alive while Rocksteady worked on their next game.

Arkham Knight was the culmination of the largely-lauded Arkham series of Batman games.

Development of Batman: Arkham Knight began shortly after the completion of Arkham City and took four years to complete; utilising the greater graphical and processing power of then-current consoles, this new game would allow of five times the number of enemies to be present onscreen at any time, cutscenes to be rendered in real time, and have items like cloth react realistically to movement and wind. The game’s story was designed to be the concluding chapter in Rocksteady’s Arkham saga and the developers chose to expand upon the game world by implementing Batman’s famous Batmobile and redesigned the city to incorporate the car’s unique gameplay mechanics. Arkham Knight was met with generally favourable reviews; reviews praised the game’s puzzles and expansion of Batman’s gameplay and repertoire but also criticised the game’s big narrative twist and the over-reliance on Batmobile sections. Still, Arkham Knight was the fastest-selling game of 2015 and, as with its predecessors, was expanded upon through the release of downloadable content (DLC) that served as both pre- and post-game content that was met with mixed to negative reviews.

The Plot:
On Halloween, Doctor Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow forces everyone but the very worst of Gotham City’s inhabitants to leave the city when he threatens to swamp the streets with his fear toxin. With the city under lockdown and some of his worst rogues at large, Batman is faced with his greatest challenge yet when he encounters the mysterious “Arkham Knight”, who not only commands a well-armed militia but also has a personal vendetta against the Dark Knight.

Gameplay:
For Batman: Arkham Knight, the game developers once again returned to the formula that worked so well in Arkham City and, by expanding upon them exponentially and even infusing a few mechanics inspired by Arkham Origins, sought to create the biggest and most definitive Batman videogame to date. Consequently, the stakes are much higher, the city is larger than ever, and Batman’s repertoire has been refined, improved, and expanded upon but, most crucially, the game’s central control scheme remains as fluid and familiar as ever. The basic control mechanics remain largely unchanged from the previous games: you hold A to run and glide when running from a ledge or tap it to perform a dodge, press B to perform a stun with a swoosh of Batman’s iconic cape, and tap X to attack and counter incoming attacks (indicated by a helpful Bat symbol over their heads) with Y and string these moves together to build up a combo attack that increases your multiplier, speed, and damage output. Pressing the Right Trigger allows you to crouch to soften your steps and sneak up on enemies, and you can select a gadget by pressing down on the directional pad (D-Pad), aim it with the Left Trigger, and fire off Batman’s patented grapple with the Right Bumper.

Batman’s stealth options are bolstered by the new Fear Takedown mechanic.

Rocksteady’s trademark “freeflow combat” system remains as fluid and intuitive as ever; you can make use of any of Batman’s gadgets by holding LT and pressing buttons like X and Y to add to his combo multiplayer and must stun, evade, and utilise split-second timing to avoid, counter, and counterattack the game’s various distinct, yet familiar, enemies. You can, as before, also utilise Batman’s gliding mechanics to take out enemies by performing a dive bomb or even by firing off certain gadgets mid-flight and, as is also the standard by this point, stealth is just as important as Batman’s combat prowess. Consequently, you’ll still be grappling up to higher levels to scope out large groups of armed and unarmed enemies in order to pick them off undetected. Vents, smoke pellets, and various parts of the environment can also be used to disorientate or take out enemies and to allow you to get the drop on unsuspecting thugs, which allows you to silently choke them out or perform an instant “Knockout Smash” but at the cost of alerting other enemies. Arkham Knight introduces a new “Fear Takedown” mechanic that allows Batman to subdue up to five enemies in one move as long as he remains undetected, with time slowling down to allow you to easily focus on your next target.

Batman’s Detective Vision allows him to recreate crime scenes and navigation is as intuitive as ever.

Batman’s ever-useful “Detective Vision” is now mapped to the D-Pad; pressing up bathes the world in an x-ray-like filter that highlights nearby enemies, secrets, and points of interest. Similar to how this was a crucial part of progressing the story in Arkham Origins, Batman’s Detective Vision can be utilised to reconstruct crime scenes and review evidence from various angles by use of his Evidence Scanner. This allows you to hold X to scan in any evidence and then cycle through a holographic reconstruction of the incident to find clues, progress the story, and solve crimes. You’ll also once again find yourself using your Detective Vision to isolate Edward Nashton/Edward Nygma/The Riddler’s informants in order to get clues to track down the Riddler’s trophies and challenges; these tugs are highlighted in green and should be left until last so you can press Y to squeeze information out of them. The game map is noticeably larger than ever before, with many new and familiar areas of the city to explore, but thankfully Rocksteady’s ever-useful map and compass system remain intact to help you to navigate; you can place waymarkers on the main map to guide you to your destination and a Batsignal will shine into the sky to direct you towards your next objective, whether mandatory or otherwise.

Though a bit clunky, the Batmobile allows for fast, explosive travel and hard-hitting combat.

Unfortunately, there is no fast travel system like in Arkham Origins and still no way to fast exit interiors; Batman still has his gadgets (particularly his cape and grapnel gun) to help him traverse the city but, if you really want to get somewhere fast, you’re heavily encouraged to press the Left Bumper to summon the Batmobile! This armoured vehicle is very similar to the Tumbler and allows you to rocket through the grimy city streets, through destructible parts of the environments, and across rooftops by holding down RT. You can boost with Y, brake and reverse with X, dodge and slide with A and the control stick, and will conveniently and non-fatally automatically repel any nearby enemies with the car’s electrified defences. The Batmobile can even be remote piloted but, while its “Pursuit Mode” is extremely responsive (unless you’re attempting sharp turns or driving up tunnels without enough speed) and helpful arrows guide you towards your intended destination, the controls get a bit clunky when you hold down LT and enter “Battle Mode”. This transforms the Batmobile it into a mini tank and allows you to fire a missile barrage, send out a sonar signal to detect nearby enemies, and blast at the Arkham Knight’s automated tanks using a high-impact cannon or a rapid-fire gun. The Batmobile is absolutely essential to clearing the game’s main story and side missions, with many puzzles specifically tailored to have you flying over ramps, utilising a winch, or blasting at weakened walls in order to progress and complete side quests. The most notable of these sees you forced to take on the Riddler’s many hazard-filled race tracks hidden all over the city, which will test your skill as much as your patience, and the numerous instances where you must either pursue a foe at high speed or engage with wave upon wave of conveniently unmanned tanks.

You’ll get to tag in, or briefly play as, other supporting characters throughout the main campaign.

Gameplay in Arkham City is further mixed up through the return of similar puzzles from previous games that see you hacking or locating radio signals, activating machinery or crossing gaps with your various Bat-gadgets, making extensive use of the Batmobile’s versatile winch, and utilising the new (if brief) team-based mechanics. While you won’t get to switch to Selina Kyle/Catwoman this time around, you can control her during various Riddler challenges and there are instances where you’ll get to either tag in or briefly play as either Tim Drake/Robin, Dick Grayson/Nightwing, and even Commissioner Jim Gordon in a short flashback. Unfortunately, just like in Arkham City, there is no option to play as either of these characters on the main story outside of these instances, which I continue to find both confusing and disappointing. Similarly, there’s a section right at the end of the main story where you’ll take control of the Joker, who not only gets to wield a shotgun in a first-person sequence that sees him desperately trying to take control of Batman’s mind but also has his own “Jokermobile”. Despite being unequivocally dead, the Joker continues to play a pivotal role in the story; thanks to being infected with the Joker’s blood, Batman is continually haunted and tormented by visions of the Joker throughout the main campaign, which include a recreation of his crippling of Barbara Gordon and Joker’s torture of Jason Todd, and eventually leads to Robin questioning Batman’s sanity and stability.

You’ll need all of Batman’s upgrades to lock his villains up in the G.C.P.D. cells.

Although you can no longer travel to the Batcave, Batman has set up a makeshift laboratory in the city and you can enter the Gotham City Police Department to converse with non-playable characters (NPCs) and the cells will fill up with his various rogues as you defeat and capture them in the main story. As always, defeating enemies, scanning objects of interest, finding Riddler Trophies, and completing missions earns you experience points (XP) that allow you to not only level-up to upgrade Batman’s suit and gadgets but also augment the Batmobile’s capabilities. As the game gets progressively harder as you complete story objectives, with more and more varied enemies appearing all over the city and in larger numbers than ever before, you’ll definitely need to make the most of these upgrades if you want to increase your chances at succeeding. The game has different difficulty settings that can be changed at any time if you’re struggling but you’ll be forced to utilise all of Batman’s skills and gadgets as the story progresses; this means chaining combos using the Batmobile, taking on small encampments of enemies, and (as is also the standard) tackling the game’s “New Game +” mode that starts you off with all of your upgrades and XP but removes counter indicators and increases enemy aggressiveness.

Graphics and Sound:
You probably won’t be surprised to hear that Arkham Knight is the most graphically impressive of all the Batman: Arkham videogames; bathed in the perpetual blanket of a dark and ominous night, Gotham City has never looked better and is awash with filthy streets, high-rise industrial areas, and abandoned docks and dingy alleyways. Rain will occasionally wash over the city, giving everything a sleek and suitably menacing look, and it’s genuinely impressive how the game utilises these effects, lighting, and shadows to craft one of the most gorgeous looking titles I’ve ever played. Batman, in particular, looks spectacular; now sporting a far more futuristic suit that emphasis the “Knight” of the game’s title, he again accumulates battle damage as the game progresses and remains a fearsome and impressive character model. Unfortunately, while I have many positives to say about Rocksteady’s interpretation of Robin, I can’t say I care too much for Nightwing’s new suit, which includes an odd and uncomfortable looking headpiece.

Gotham is huge and full of large, detailed locations both old and new.

Gotham City is nothing short of spectacular; as I mentioned before, it’s super fun to see Batman’s enemies end up populating the cells at the G.C.P.D. and you can also revisit notable areas from the previous games and even Barbara Gordon/Oracle’s church tower. While it’s disappointing to find the city is once again abandoned and largely devoid of life except for criminal scum, Gotham City is almost too big this time around and it does baffle me a little bit that the developers didn’t include the Batwing fast travel system but there’s a great deal of fun to be had gliding or grappling through the air or blasting through the streets in the Batmobile. One of the game’s most prominent missions sees you infiltrating the blimp-like airship of industrialist Simon Stagg, which introduces a bit of an aggravating tilting mechanic to the game that can be a bit tricky to get past. Another mission that is a personal favourite of mine sees Batman willing to give his life when the ACE Chemicals reactor goes critical. This has you very carefully placing big tubes into slots to contain the reaction, which can be a bit finnicky but the section is made all the more poignant thanks to the dialogue between Batman and his butler and father-figure, Alfred Pennyworth, and the touching orchestral score.

Not only is the city bigger than ever, but the locations are large, detailed, and more dangerous and garish.

It’s actually pretty amazing how the developers tweaked the city to be both believable in its construction and also conveniently tailored to suit the new features offered by the Batmobile. All too often, this means forcing you to use the Batmobile to solve a puzzle to open up a new area or speed through a tunnel or race track but, while these can be aggravating moments, there’s an exhilaration to be had in using the Batmobile and there’s nothing stopping you not using it outside of mandatory sections. Gotham City is comprised of three large islands (Miagami, Founders’, and Bleake), each with their own distinctive areas that include Wayne Tower, a dilapidated sewer system, and large bridges connecting them to each other. The Riddler’s challenges are more elaborate than ever; bathed in a garish neon glow, you’ll race through massively impractical sewer tunnels avoiding his many hazards or use Batman and Catwoman’s various skills to solve the Riddler’s death traps. Many of the interiors you visit are pretty much the same fair from previous games an are comprised of industrial facilities, rundown buildings, and an abandoned movie theatre repurposed for the villain’s purposes but all of them are perfectly in keeping with this world and they’re so much bigger, more detailed, and more impressively realised than before; you rally feel it when buildings explode or you bomb around the city in the Batmobile.

There’s a lot to see in the city, including jump scares from Man-Bat and a flood of fear gas!

As in the other Batman: Arkham games, a number of Batman’s other rogues are at large in the city and must be taken down in side missions. One of the most prominent is Doctor Kurt Langstrom/Man-Bat, who will randomly pop up to give you the fright of your life when you’re casually traversing around the city. Thanks to the Scarecrow’s fear toxin, you can expect things to get a bit twisted here and there as well; indeed, the game begins with you controlling a Gotham cop using a first-person perspective and forced to watch as the city descends into chaos. Thanks to the Joker’s influence, Batman will see various hallucinations of his foe across the city, a PlayStation-exclusive piece of DLC sees you racing through a nightmarish version of Gotham City transformed by the Scarecrow’s fear gas, and the city is shrouded in this same gas thanks to the release of Cloudburst. This bathes the game world in a thick, copper-tinted fog, drives enemies intro a manic frenzy, and you’ll even find the city being torn to shreds when Pamela Isley/Poison Ivy helps you out in this section.

Arkham Knight features some powerful, poignant performances from series staples Hamill and Conroy.

Even now, Batman: Arkham Knight is one of the most impressive videogames I’ve ever played; the game runs so smoothly, with quick loading times and a consistent frame rate. Textures, assets, and parts of the environment are just there onscreen, with no pop-up or distortion, and the sheer amount and variety of enemies onscreen at any one time really helps to add to the stakes and pressure Batman feels in this final outing. While it is a bit disappointing that the developers felt the need to include the Joker again, even after he has been killed, I’ll never complain about hearing Mark Hamill in his iconic role and matching wits with the immortal Kevin Conroy one last time. As always, Gotham’s thugs are extremely chatty and full of amusing sound bites and exclamations; Batman stays in constant contact with Oracle, Alfred, Lucius Fox, and Gordon throughout the story (with Alfred basically telling you “Go do some side missions” when the main story takes an awkward break) and, as if the Scarecrow’s constant taunting threats aren’t bad enough, Batman also finds his communications hacked by the Arkham Knight.

Enemies and Bosses:
If you’ve played any of the previous Batman: Arkham games, you’ll know what to except from Arkham Knight’s goons; a slew of vagrants and scumbags can be found all over the city in various groups and they’ll rush at you with knives, baseball bats, and even grab car doors to use as rudimentary shields or wield stun batons. Gun-toting enemies remain an obvious threat since Batman won’t last long against sustained gunfire or sniper shots so you should either disable, disarm or take down these enemies first or as quickly as possible. Thanks to the Arkham Knight’s technology and knowledge of Batman’s methods, thugs will also place booby traps, destroy vantage points, and even jam Batman’s Detective Vision to make things more difficult. As you might expect, there are a number of different enemies on offer in Arkham Knight: Combat Experts resemble Arkham City’s ninjas and can teleport away from your attacks and attack with swords, medics revive their fallen comrades, and Brutes must be stunned and subjected to a beatdown or lured to environmental takedown points to dispatch (or, in the case of the minigun variants, snuck up on and taken down with a quick-time event ). You’ll also have to contend with the Arkham Knight’s more heavily armed and capable forces; in “Predator” sections, this means picking armed thugs off one at a time but, out in the city, you’ll battle against unmanned Drone Tanks that can either be quickly destroyed in one hit or with a well-timed shot to their turret. When battling the Drone Tanks, you must be careful not to leave the designated area and make use of the Batmobile’s turning circle and dodge mechanic to avoid damage, which can be a bit clunky thanks to the way the controls are implemented.

Though dead, the Joker continues to haunt Batman and must be fought in his mind and by proxy.

Although the Joker is not an actual, tangible threat in this game, he does have a consistent presence; notably, when Batman is exposed to the Scarecrow’s fear gas, he sees enemies as the Joker and even becomes briefly possessed by him, skewing his perception of reality at certain key points in the story. The Joker also infected five Gotham citizens with his blood (with one of them being Batman) and, as part of the story, you’ll have to try and find and rescue these victims in a bid to save them. Two of them, however, serve as boss battles; the first of these, Albert King, you’ll battle alongside Robin. It’s best to stay out of King’s reach, take out the goons that accompany him, and utilise team attacks and beatdowns to defeat the Jokerised boxer. When you track down Johnny Charisma, Batman hallucinates him as the Joker, who sings a mocking song while strapped to a bomb. Rather than fighting Charisma, you must take control of Robin and sneak around to disarm the bombs as Batman stares down his adversary on a rotating stage. Other Joker infected are also encountered, though they’re generally hidden behind standard combat and stealth sections; you’ll also encounter Doctor Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn during these sections of the game, but defeating her simply amounts to performing a Team Takedown with Batman and Robin and then fending off her goons.

The Batmobile is instrumental in dispatching the Arkham Knight’s militia.

The Arkham Knight’s forces extend to a number of Armoured Personnel Carrier (A.P.C.) vehicles that pose a significant threat; when these appear on the map, you’ll need to chase them down in the Batmobile, side-swiping their support vehicles as you desperately try to hack them with Batman’s tech. The Arkham Knight will battle you four times during the course of the story, with the first seeing him take the controls of an attack helicopter. The Arkham Knight will bombard you with missiles while his forces try to distract you, so be sure to take out his Drone Tanks first before blasting at it his helicopter with the Batmobile’s cannon. In the second encounter, the Arkham Knight roams the fear gas-covered city in the heavily-armed Cloudburst Tank while being flanked by a number of Cobra Tanks. Rather than tackling these tank-like vehicles head-on, you’ll need to utilise stealth (while in the Batmobile) to sneak around behind the tanks to damage their weak spot on the back until only the Cloudburst remains. You must then scan it to identity its weak spots and then creep up on the Cloudburst Tank to land a hit on one of its four cooling systems before blasting away as fast as possible to avoid being blasted to smithereens by the tank’s high-powered weaponry. Once its central core is exposed, position yourself into a wide open space so that you can avoid his missiles and finally put an end to this absolute bitch of a boss fight that dragged on way too long and was far too finnicky to be enjoyable.

While Deathstroke is reduced to a tank battle, Pyg and Firefly prove formidable, if repetitive, villains.

However, don’t think it’s over yet as, after clearing the main story, Slade Wilson/Deathstroke takes control of the remnants of the Arkham Knight’s militia and you basically get to do a variation of this tedious battle all over again! As many have mentioned, it’s a shame that Deathstroke is reduced to such an insignificant and tiresome boss fight; the battle against him in Arkham Origins was brutally tough, yes, but it was a far better representation of the mercenary’s skills and actually put your combat prowess to the test. Another notable boss encounter in the game is a side mission that sees you investigating mutilated corpses that culminates in a battle against the ruthless butcher Lazlo Valentin/Professor Pyg. This sees Pyg’s zombie-like patients attack you relentlessly and these can only be put down for good with a ground takedown. Pyg himself spends most of his time tossing meat cleavers at you, which you can send back at him with a well-timed press of Y; once his minions are finally disposed of, stun him by smacking a cleaver at him and perform a takedown to end his threat but be warned as I found it oddly difficult to get the game to trigger the takedown in this fight. Other notable Batman enemies also crop up in side missions; as mentioned, Man-Bat will randomly appear flying through the city skies. When you spot him, you must try and get to high ground in order to land on his back and retrieve a blood sample in order to synthesise a cure at Langstrom’s lab using a simple mini game. Afterwards, you’ll need to wait for Man-Bat to appear a couple more times in order to administer this cure. Similarly, you’ll often get notified of fire stations that have been set ablaze; when you reach one of these, you’ll need to use the Batmobile to extinguish the flames and then chase the man responsible, Garfield Lynns/Firefly, across the city until the fuel in his jetpack runs out, allowing you to blast out of the Batmobile and bring him down. Like many of the side missions in the game, these occur randomly and the main campaign often grinds to a halt as you’re left trying to seek one of them out in order to reach 100% completion.

After taking out his drill machine, Batman goes head-to-head with his former protégé.

Later in the story, you’ll encounter the Arkham Knight one last time in the city tunnels; this time, he’s in a massive drilling machine that cannot be damaged by any of the Batmobile’s arsenal. Instead, you must flee from it to avoid being chewed up into scrap, boosting through a tunnel to avoid various unbreakable obstacles and luring the drill to a series of explosives in order to damage it. Afterwards, you’ll confront the Arkham Knight (who, by this point, has obviously been revealed to be Jason Todd) using Batman’s more familiar skills; you must avoid being spotted by the Arkham Knight’s red targeting sight, stay out of sight of his drone while taking out his goons, and escape from a room filled with poison gas within thirty seconds in repeated phases in order to grapple up to his vantage point and damage, and ultimately defeat, him. Rather than actually get to fight against the Scarecrow, the finale of the game sees Batman overcoming the Joker’s influence and finally putting the Clown Prince of Crime to rest and, thanks to surprising assistance from Jason, defeating the Scarecrow once and for all (but at the cost of his true identity being revealed to the world).

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Just like the previous games, you’ll be able to use XP to upgrade Batman’s armour to improve his resistance to melee attacks and gunfire, add additional takedowns to his arsenal, and upgrade his many gadgets to improve their range and efficiency. If you’ve played the previous games then you’ll be immediately familiar with the vast majority of Batman’s gadgets: he’s got his patented Batarangs his Batclaws, explosive gel, smoke pellets, a tightrope-creating Line Launcher, a Remote Hacking Device to hack control panels, the Disruptor to render weapons inert, and the Remote Electrical Charge to activate certain electronic puzzles.

In addition to his many returning gadgets, Batman has some new toys and, of course, his tank car!

One of the most useful new gadgets is the Voice Synthesizer, which allows Batman to mimic the voices of his enemies and other NPCs to gain access to new areas and lure goons into a takedown. The Freeze Blast also makes a return, though it can be easily missed as it’s not necessary to finish the main campaign, but the most useful gadget in Batman’s arsenal is easily his Batmobile, whose weaponry can also be upgraded to increase your accuracy, reload speed, and weapon energy and efficiency as well as giving you the ability to hack the Drone Tanks to turn them against each other.

Additional Features:
Batman: Arkham Knight has sixty-nine Achievements for you to earn, many of which pop simply for playing through the main campaign and taking down Batman’s rogues. You’ll also get Achievements for using a hundred Quick Gadgets in combat, gliding four-hundred meters while less than twenty meters from the ground, landing fifty critical shots on Drone Tanks, for performing twenty Fear Takedowns. Some are a little more tricky, requiring you to glide under three bridges, completing a series of jumps in the Batmobile, and avoiding damage against Drone Tanks, all for a measly 5G each.

Riddler, Two-Face, Azrael, and other Batman villains offer various side quests of varying quality.

As is to be expected, there are a number of side missions to occupy your time away from the main campaign and net you additional Achievements; these include completing Augmented Reality trials, destroying militia watchtowers, disarming a series of mines using the Batmobile, and (of course) collecting Riddler Trophies. This time around, the Riddler forces Batman and Catwoman to work together to both save a number of hostages from his death traps and overcome his deadly racetracks and puzzles. This culminates in a battle that pits the two against the Riddler, who first sends a swarm of robots after you (which are colour-coded so that only Batman can destroy the blue ones and Catwoman the red) before attacking you in a massive, steampunk-like mech! Batman will also have to team up with Nightwing to locate and destroy Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin’s weapon caches, which culminates in Batman having to rescue Nightwing from the Penguin’s goons and subdue the mobster with a Team Takedown. Batman will also have to foil a series of robberies perpetrated by Harvey Dent/Two-Face, rescue firemen held hostage all over the city, and finally close the book on the case of Doctor Thomas Elliot/Hush and Michael Lane/Azrael. Both of these are quite anti-climatic considering that Arkham City seemed to be indicating that they would play a pivotal role in this game, though the Azrael side mission does result in some fun combat situations rather than simply culminating in a glorified quick-time event like the disappointing Hush side mission.

The DLC, while short, at least offers multiple different characters to play as.

Fans of the Arkham Challenge Mode will be glad to hear that it returns once more, again pitting you against a series of combat, stealth, and mini campaigns (many of which you can customise with different buffs and debuffs) to earn Medals, Achievements, and actually have an opportunity to play as other characters besides Batman. Arkham Knight was expanded upon with a decent amount of DLC, which added additional skins for Batman, his allies, and even his vehicles and brought the total Achievement count up to 113. While a lot of the DLC was comprised of yet more race tracks (with some based on the 1960s show and Tim Burton’s film), there were a few additional mini campaigns on offer. These included additional villains to encounter in the main campaign, a prelude in which you get to play as Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl, and post-game stories where you play as Nightwing, Catwoman, Harley Quinn and Jason Todd (now in the guise of the Red Hood). While none of these were as long as some of the additional DLC missions seen in Arkham City or Arkham Origins, they featured additional Achievements, new areas and villains, and it was nice to actually get to play as someone other than Batman if only for a short period of time and in an isolated narrative bubble.

The Summary:
I can totally understand why people would have been left a bit disappointed by Batman: Arkham Knight: the big twist regarding the titular character was incredibly predictable (especially for long-time Batman fans), the villains utilised in the story were a bit bland and uninspired (the game’s really missing those nightmarish Scarecrow sections from the first game), there was a certain amount of dismay inherent to the game since it was the last in the series, and the forced emphasis on the Batmobile definitely bogged down the usual combat and stealth-based mechanics of the previous games. Being as it was the third (well, fourth, technically) game in the series, a certain amount of predictability was to be expected; by this point, the series had done so much and included so many stories and side stories that it’s arguable that Rocksteady would have struggled to please everyone no matter how they told their finale.

Despite some clunky elements, Arkham Knight is a fantastic and impressive finale for the series.

For me, the primary glaring flaw in the game is how the main campaign literally stops dead in its tracks on multiple occasions and you’re told to do some side quests, which can be difficult to accomplish as many of them are only playable when the game randomly loads them in. This noticeably interrupted the flow and the lack of checkpoints in some of the harder Batmobile sections (particularly against the Cloudburst Tank) and the sheer abundance of annoying Riddler racetracks and death traps, relying too much on Batmobile combat for certain scenarios (especially battling Deathstroke), offering lacklustre conclusions to Arkham City’s loose threads, and a disappointing assortment of DLC do weigh heavily on the overall experience. Yet, despite all of this, it cannot be denied that Batman: Arkham Knight is an abolsutely phenomenal experience. While Batman: Arkham City may be my favourite in the series, with Arkham Origins close behind, I have to make room in the ranking for Arkham Knight for its sheer scale alone. This is a Batman at the absolute top of his game and, accordingly, Arkham Knight may very well be the quintessential Batman experience. With a host of new combat mechanics, detective skills, and gadgets at you disposal, never has a game encapsulated what it means to be Batman better than Arkham Knight; there’s still loads to see and do, the story is intense and engaging and feels very raw, personal, and like a true finale for this version of the character.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Were you a fan of Batman: Arkham Knight? How do you feel it holds up compared to the previous games in the series? What did you think to the larger, more open and varied game world? Were you a fan of the tag team mechanics and, like me, would you have liked to see these other characters actually playable in the open world this time around? Did you ever find all of the Riddler’s Trophies and what did you think to his racetracks? Were you a fan of the Batmobile? What did you think to the game’s DLC? How did you celebrate Batman Day this year and what is your favourite Batman videogame? Whatever you think about Batman: Arkham Knight, or Batman in general, drop a comment below!

Game Corner: Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove (Xbox One)

Released: December 2019
Originally Released: 26 June 2014
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Also Available For: Amazon Fire TV, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii U, OS X Linux, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PlayStation Vita, Xbox Series X/S

The Background:
Shovel Knight began life as a lunch time joke between the development team that soon grew into a serious videogame concept. Inspired by the bright, colourful 8-bit platformers from the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) days, the game sought to combine ludicrous concepts with backtracking, exploration, and simple pick-up-and-play mechanics to make it as accessible as possible. Following a wealth of interest and support, the game easily surpassed and exceeded its Kickstarter goals and released to widespread critical acclaim and sold over 700,000 copies. Shovel Knight quickly became an influential indie title; the character cameoed in a number of other titles and the game was accompanied by a bunch of equally-lauded downloadable content (DLC) that was eventually collected in this Treasure Trove edition of the game.

The Plot:
During a fateful adventure up the Tower of Fate, Shovel Knight’s partner and lover, Shield Knight, is cursed by a mysterious amulet. Grief stricken, Shovel Knight goes into exile but takes up arms once more to rescue his beloved when the malevolent Enchantress rises to power and unseals the Tower of Fate, though he’ll have to travel far and combat the Enchantress’s “Order of No Quarter” in order to triumph.

Gameplay:
Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove is a collection of 8-bit-style platformers that are heavily inspired by the platforming titles that populated the NES back in the day, and these are comprised of four sidescrolling, story-based campaigns and a multiplayer battle mode. I’ll cover these other modes later in the review but the main story, Shovel of Hope, puts players in control of the titular armoured knight, a cute little figure who travels across a fantasy land smacking enemies with his trusty shovel, collecting gems and gold, defeating the Order of No Quarter, and acquiring powerful relics to aid his righteous quest. Shovel Knight’s controls and options are fully customisable; players are given ten save slots and can name, copy, and delete each one, can adjust the volume and sound effects, the screen shake and flash, and can customise the game’s controls to their liking. I was happy with the standard setup, though, which sees Shovel Knight jumping with A, attacking with X or B, and switching relics with the Left- and Right Bumper but I did map the relics to the Y button for faster use. Shovel Knight moves at a brisk pace and has a generous jump; he’s never too slippery or unwieldy and can reach most platforms with no problem, though carelessness will see you tumble into a bottomless pits or a bed (or ceiling) of instant-death spikes and lava.

Use Shovel Knight’s pogo attack to traverse levels and be sure to recover your lost gold!

While Shovel Knight can dispatch most enemies with a few swipes of his trusty shovel, one of his most useful attacks is a pogo stick-like manoeuvre that allows him to bounce off enemies, break blocks, and hop around to reach higher areas by holding down as you jump in the air. This quickly becomes the most versatile move in your arsenal and absolutely essential to traversing the game’s levels even right from the off as you use it to bounce off bubbles to cross chasms. Bottomless pits and instant death spikes and lava are peppered all throughout Shovel Knight, alongside a variety of enemies who will respawn when you leave the screen or fall from an upper area. Shovel Knight begins the game with four hearts, and can take eight hits before dying, though these (and your maximum item total) can be increased at the village hub world. Although you are blessed with infinite lives, and a number of generous checkpoints are littered throughout the game’s levels (though be wary as these can be destroyed, which can set you back a bit), you’ll lose some of your accumulated gold upon death. After respawning, you can try to reclaim your lost gold, but often this can simply result in another death as they float around near hazardous areas and, if you die before reclaiming your loot, it’ll disappear and be replaced with your next set of lost gold. Thankfully, enemies will drop gold and gems upon defeat, you can dig up mounds of dirt and fish in sparkling areas to grab more coins and ammo, and you’ll find apples and roast chickens sporadically spawning after defeating certain enemies or opening certain chests (though again, be wary as these often contain bombs, too!)

Each DLC character is similar but has unique differences, like King Knight being hampered by a card game.

The other characters in the DLC modes control similarly, but also very differently: Plague Knight tosses bombs with X, and holding X will charge up his “bomb burst” to allow him to reach higher, further areas. He has no equivalent to the pogo attack but has a double jump and can stay airborne by rapidly tossing bombs while in mid-air, and can alter his bombs and his burst to attack in more diverse ways. Specter Knight can run up walls and attacks with his deadly scythe; he also breaks blocks just by jumping on them and absorbs magic (or “Darkness”) from enemies, but lacks a double jump. Of the four playable characters, King Knight provides the most startlingly different gameplay; his platforming levels are much shorter and occasionally have secret exits, bosses are fought in special areas on the overworld, and he must barge into enemies and walls to progress with a little tornado twirl, but the main focus of his story is on Joustus. This is an aggravating card game that you must play to complete his story and sees you placing cards to fill a small grid (usually 2×2), shoving your opponent’s cards away and claiming gems at the same time. Sadly, I absolutely suck at card games and had no patience for this; your opponents use better, more powerful cards as you progress, meaning you need to shuffle your deck accordingly but risk losing your better cards as a result. Personally, I found it easier to limp my way through and use the “Card Thief” cheat to steal a victory when needed.

Levels are soon peppered with a variety of tricky sections and hazards to keep you on your toes.

Shovel Knight starts off pretty simply but you’ll soon find your platforming skills tested by bigger chasms and more elaborate onscreen hazards and enemy placements. Very soon, you’ll have to contend with temporary platforms, explosive enemies, burning lava falling from above, and tricky bouncing trips across floating enemies to reach higher paths and find bigger and better gems and loot out of the way. It’s also worth swiping at walls here and there as they often contain treasure chests and can help provide an extra platform for you to get your bearings, and you can occasionally reflect enemy’s fireballs back at them with your shovel, which is a nice touch. Soon, you have to cross chasms on moving or temporary platforms, use your shovel to bounce along on small and large cannonballs or enemies, and jump from ladder to ladder across smaller and smaller platforms. In Pridemoor Keep, you’ll have to hit a magical book to spawn platforms for a short time, while you’ll have to cross deadly waters in the Lich Yard using carefully weighting red skeletal platforms. Both enemies and platforms will explode in the aptly-named Explodatorium and flames will burst from the ground to knock you to your death, and you’ll need to make carefully-timed jumps in the Iron Whale’s underwater sections, where the water makes you extra floaty.

Levels are accessed from an overworld map and feature a number of mechanics to test your skills.

Stages are accessed via an overworld map that’s clearly inspired by Super Mario Bros. 3 (Nintendo R&D4, 1988), with paths and areas unlocking as you progress; from here, you can also enter the village and other safe areas where you can interact with non-playable characters (NPCs) very much like in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (ibid, 1987) to learn hints and flesh out the game’s story and upgrade Shovel Knight’s abilities. NPCs are full of life and character and will often ask for payment of some sort, or have you watch a little dance or indulge their whims before they’ll help you. You can also access shortcuts to literally catapult you across the map and challenge a number of additional bosses on the overworld; between stages you’ll be occasionally be asked to catch Shield Knight as she falls from the sky (often after fending off a hoard of enemies) and you can even uncover smaller bonus areas where you can farm a few extra gems and gold for your troubles. Levels eventually get much more difficult and feature staples such as vertical and horizontally autoscroller sections, slippery ice platforms, winds that will propel you over gaps or up towards a dreaded spike ceiling, and a weird floating platform you have to hit to spawn temporary rainbow platforms that allow you to cross a dangerous chasm. All of your skills will be tested when you reach the three-stage final area, the Tower of Fate, which brings back some of the trickiest stage hazards from the levels prior and remixes them with tougher enemies, intangible platforms, and light tricks to really test your mettle.

Graphics and Sound:
Shovel Knight is presented exactly like an 8-bit title from the glory days of the NES, and looks absolutely fantastic as a result; everything from the levels to the sprite work not only looks exactly akin to the likes of DuckTales (Capcom, 1989) and Castlevania (Konami, 1986) but also sounds just like those old school titles, as well. Levels are punctuated by some incredibly catchy, 8-bit-style chip tunes that, like Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (Inti Creates, 2018), perfectly captures the look and feel of the bygone area of videogaming while bringing in modern gameplay tweaks and quality of life improvements, especially when it comes to the controls and presentation. While Shovel Knight doesn’t have much in the way of an idle animation (his armour simply glints when he stands still), levels are packed full of colour and detail, including background elements and all kinds of different objects to interact with or explore; the drapes in Pridemoor Keep, for example, hide gems and the chandeliers will fall from the ceiling and there’s even a beautiful aurora borealis in the background of the Stranded Ship stage.

The game’s environments are full of life and colour and perfectly capture the 8-bit aesthetic.

Speaking of which, this level, like many in the game, features a variety of areas to keep each level visual interesting; it starts off as an ice and snow world before you venture on to a Viking ship. Similarly, the Iron Whale features underwater sections but also sees you fighting through a submerged submarine. Areas are generally as cliché as you might expect from a platformer of this kind (forest-like plains, a castle, the aforementioned ice and water stages, and a lava stage) but are made all the more visually appealing and interesting thanks to this variety. The Lich Yard is both a haunted town and a spooky graveyard, for example; Mole City is an underground cavern filled with different types of dirt and rock and lava, and the Tower of Fate is a suitably ominous, gothic castle. In some stages, you’ll encounter a near-total absence of light as the environments and sprites are cast in silhouettes, or lit only by brief flashes of lighting; rain will beat down, revealing tangible platforms, and you’ll be hard pressed to stay on safe, solid ground as you desperately hop around on the Flying Machine. The entire game as a charming, fantasy aesthetic that is perfectly evoked in every area, from the overworld map to the safe areas, to the varied stages and it was genuinely impressive to see how much detail was crammed into the game considering the 8-bit graphical aesthetic.

NES style graphics, sprites, and text do a wonderfully charming job of telling the story.

The game’s story is told through the use of classic NES-style text and larger sprite work for certain cutscenes; there’s no voice acting here at all beyond a few chuckles and such, but text scrolls by at a decent speed to keep you invested. Encounters with bosses and rivals is proceeded by using text boxes over the in-game graphics, and you can freely skip any of the game’s cutscenes whenever you like. After clearing the game, you’ll view a nice little coda that shows you how the kingdom repaired following the Enchantress’s defeat, and the additional story missions take this all one step further since each of these takes place either before or before and during the main story to flesh out some of the game’s bosses. This allows you to see the tragic backstory and downfall of the Specter Knight and the events that led to him serving the Enchantress, King Knight’s lust for power and riches causing him to sell out his friends and family, and Plague Knight’s unsuccessful attempt to usurp the Enchantress’s power for himself. All of this presents the game’s levels in different ways, with layouts switched up, music remixed, NPCs presented differently (enemies will act as NPCs in many of these stories, which is fun), and even an altered overworld map and presentation of levels (taking place at night or at dusk, for example), which really helps to add extra variety to the game and expand the story even though you are, essentially, replaying the same levels.

Enemies and Bosses:
There are a variety of enemies populating Shovel Knight’s world, ranging from little bugs and rats (which either explode or float around on propellers), to sword-wielding skeletons, a number of wizards (who throw out fireballs, gears, bombs, or snowflakes), to ghosts who either turn intangible or fly towards you to take a bite out of you and charging lance-wielding horses! As you progress, more elaborate enemies will appear, such as a range of knights (who can both shield against your attacks and toss projectiles in an arch, alongside their sword attacks), the liquid samurai (who rushes at you with a sword or fires arrows at you), pharaoh-like skeletons who try to submerge you in water, electrified frogs, and a barrage of needle-like enemies, erratic birds, and electric eels and jellyfish who try to knock you into pits or spikes. You’ll also have to be mindful of crushing hazards, bombs dropping from overhead, and other onscreen dangers that can send you to your death, though you can also turn these against your enemies if you attack them just right.

In addition to recurring mini bosses like Black Knight, you’ll also fight Shovel Knight in the DLC!

Some larger enemies will also appear in levels and act as mini bosses, of sorts. The first these you’ll encounter is a large, bubble-spitting dragon who can only be attacked by bouncing on his bubbles and his head; next, you’ll comes across a stationary griffin who tries to swipe at you when you’re up close and spits wavy fireballs at you (and, again, is vulnerable only on its head). A massive skeleton haunts the Lich Yard and will bounce around trying to crush you or drop you to the deadly waters below, and collapses into a pile of bones when attacked; a giant angler fish chases you through the watery caverns of the Iron Whale stage and can only be damaged by hitting the treasure chest dangling from its head; and a giant, spear-wielding, armoured grunt dogs your progress in Mole City. There’s a mad scientist in the Explodetorium who frantically tosses vials at you and transforms into a rampaging beast, spear-throwing Vikings in the Stranded Ship whose helmets protect them from aerial attacks, gear-tossing brutes in the Clockwork Tower, and a bomb-throwing airship in the Flying Machine stage, and remixed versions of these mini bosses are peppered throughout the Tower of Fate and the other stories (the dragon spits snowflakes, for example, and the angler fish attacks from above as well as from the side). Before you can even battle the Order of No Quarter, you’ll have to contend with the Black Knight, Shovel Knight’s rival who acts as the first boss and a recurring boss throughout the game. In the first battle, the Black Knight attacks very similar to Shovel Knight (shovel swings and a pogo-like attack) while also tossing out purple fireballs that you can reflect back, but he later gets a big power-up and sprouts swings! Flying around the entrance to the Tower of Fate, he dashes around faster than you can see and launches numerous fireballs at you, and conjures meteors and rocks to rain down on you. He’s also noticeably more challenging when playing Specter of Torment as he hops onto a rhino-like creature to charge at you, and you’ll also battle against Shovel Knight himself in this mode, in the Explodatorium, who attacks very similar to the Black Knight (only using Shovel Knight’s relics).

You’ll encounter altered versions of bosses depending on which character you choose.

At the end of Pridemoor Keep, you’ll battle King Knight, who hops around his throne room occasionally dropping down for a stunning attack and dashes towards you for a quick attack, and causes confetti to rain down in the arena while posing. When battling him as Specter Knight, King Knight will cause holes to appear in the floor and also floats overheard dropping blocks and cards. In the King of Cards story, when playing as King Knight, you’ll battle his father, King Pridemoor, instead: King Pridemoor hops into a mech-like armour and wields a mace, a devastating charge attack, and even calls on a griffin to fly overhead and spit fireballs at you. Specter Knight awaits you in the Lich Yard; this Grim Reaper-like figure hovers around, tossing his scythe like a buzzsaw and rushing at you, conjuring skeletons and causing lightning flashes to limit your visibility, forcing you to hop around on the platforms and toss projectiles or swing at him as he passes. This is actually a bit easier as Plague Knight thanks to his different bomb casings, and is entirely absent in Specter of Torment, where it’s supplanted by the otherwise optional bout against the Phantom Striker. Plague Knight himself guards the end of the Explodatorium, bouncing and teleporting all over the arena, tossing bombs, and conjuring jars of chemicals and doubles of himself. While Plague Knight battles Shovel Knight in this area, he does have to battle a dark mirror of himself later in Plague of Shadows, while King Knight must first battle Plague Knight’s underling, Percy, and then Plague Knight and Percy at the same time in King of Cards, both of whom feature similar bomb/projectile-based attacks and destructible blocks beneath your feet.

Later bosses will use their environment to attack, defend, and endanger you.

Treasure Knight, who greatly resembles one of Mega Man’s (Capcom, 1987) Robot Masters, waits at the end of the Iron Whale and attacks using a retractable, claw-like anchor on a chain; he also floats overhead, grappling down at you or landing with a shockwave that kips up sand or causes mines to float around the arena in bubbles. When facing him as Specter Knight and King Knight, you’ll find the arena slightly changed up and that Treasure Knight also drains the water and attacks by kicking up gold. Mole Knight opts to charge at you through the dirt walls of his boss arena, sending sparks flying at you as he skids along the floor, and also burrows into the ground, causes lava to form a protective shield over himself while also spitting embers out at you, and drops blocks into the arena to damage or entrap you. In the DLC stories, he spawns in bouncy green gel that actually helps you to fight him since the new characters have different moves and abilities. Similarly, Polar Knight drops in extra pillars to aid your progress in the DLC stories, while still sending giant snowballs towards you with his snow shovel, dropping down from above, and digging up snow to uncover deadly spikes in the arena. You can also pay 5000 gold to enter the Hall of Champions, where a massive ghost awaits; you can actually damage him, however, thanks to the lanterns in the area that you can hit to spit off light blasts to damage him or dispel his little minions. This boss also reappears in the Eerie Manor in King of Cards, and you can do the reverse of the Hall of Champions in Plague of Shadows (i.e.: slaughtering a bunch of knights and turning the hall dark rather than brightening it up by defeating ghosts).

Bosses become much trickier and you’ll need to conquer a boss rush before taking on the Enchantress.

After besting the spiral pillars and turning gears of Clockwork Tower, you’ll face off with Tinker Knight, a tiny little welder guy who frantically runs around tossing spanners at you. Once you defeat him, he hops into a giant mech, which fires small missiles and larger ones that you can use to hop up to his head and land some good hits. In the DLC stories, this latter stage is repurposed as an autoscrolling chase, with Tinker Knight hovering just overhead to the right and the mech endlessly pursuing you while churning up the ground. Propeller Knight was probably the trickiest boss in my first run; this guy darts at you with a rapier, blows you towards the gaps in the arena, and tries to skewer you before destroying parts of the platform with cannonballs from his airship. In the DLC stories, a new, much easier second phase is added to this where you’re in freefall, jumping from debris and platforms and avoiding the bombs he drops across the screen. As if battling these knights wasn’t enough, you’ll have to fight them all again in a boss rush in the Tower of Fate; each one attacks you in turn, though you are given health and magic power-ups between each fight to tip the odds in your favour, and you’ll even have to fight Shovel Knight again when playing the Plague of Shadow story. Once you get past this, though, you’ll reach the final area; after avoiding and crossing some floating blocks intent on killing you, you’ll battle the Enchantress, who rapidly fires energy blasts at you that you can reflect back at her, floats around, dashes at you diagonally, and conjures flames to destroy the blocks of the arena. You’ll also have to be careful of using your pogo attack as that’ll destroy the blocks beneath you, which makes this quite tricky but it’s even harder as Plague Knight as your bombs (your primary attack) frequently destroy these same blocks (though I found the battle easier as Specter Knight and King Knight since the blocks disappeared less frequently and there were more opportunities to attack her, and she spawns temporary blocks that you can use to your advantage).

Each story ends with a massive, increasingly difficult and frustrating boss battle.

Once she’s defeated, she transforms into her ultimate form and begins showering the arena with energy balls and wrecking the ground; luckily, you’re joined by Shield Knight, who shields you from these attacks and creates a platform you can pogo off to hit the Enchantress’s head (which can be tough to pull off until you get the timing down) and, even better, you won’t have to battle the Enchantress’s first phase if you die on her second phase. When playing Plague of Shadow, Specter of Torment, and King of Cards, you’ll be treated to a unique second phase to this boss battle. Plague Knight battles a gigantic, corrupted version of himself that spits orbs from its mouth, fires dual laser beams, and jumps all over the arena and will need a very specific weapon combination (the lob casing, cluster powder, and big bomb arcane) to actually attack the weak spot in its mouth, which took me a while to figure out. Specter Knight battles an empowered version of Reize, one of the wandering travellers you’ll encounter on the overworld, which sees you dashing along and attacking from a series of rails while avoiding Reize’s fireballs and attacks (though I actually found this far easier than the last two final bosses). King Knight has to battle a giant mechanical king, which proved to be the most annoying final boss by far. This mech fires homing orbs at you, lasers that ricochet all over the arena, and tries to crush you and destroy the ground with its hands. You need to hop onto its hands (carefully, as touching them can hurt you) to shoulder barge into the jewels on the side of its head until the outer casing is destroyed. Then, you have to stay on its hands in a vast void, avoiding homing shots and spiralling into its exposed brain, which can be very frustrating even though it spits out hearts after a few hits.

Some familiar faces, allies, and NPCS show up as optional and surprise bosses!

In addition to this, as mentioned, you’ll encounter a few additional bosses on the overworld; these wandering travellers appear on the map (or in certain stages for some DLC stories) and challenge you to a fight, and include the would-be-swordsman Reize, the lighting-conjuring Phantom Striker, and a beefy version of Simon Belmont, Baz, complete with Vampire Killer whip. After being fleeced by the customers in the armor outpost shop, you’ll have a fight against the proprietor, Mister Hat, and you’ll even face off against the Battletoads at one point in a three-stage boss battle that sees you descending down a shaft, challenging the damnable Turbo Tunnel, and fighting all three at once to prove your worth. The DLC stories not only include the chance to battle Shovel Knight, but also Shield Knight in Specter of Torment and a handful of entirely new bosses in King of Cards, such as the Troupple King (who surrounds himself with Troupple Fish while you battle on a precarious little boat being careful not to fall in the deadly water) and the King Birder (who floats around a steadily claustrophobic arena shooting lasers as you desperately bash and twirl off the blocks that circle the walls). King Knight also has the added headache of having to challenge the Joustus Judges to Joustus, a card game that saps Shovel Knight of all its action and fun.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you battle through the game’s stages, you’ll pick-up health and pots to refill your item count (similar to the Hearts in Castlevania), and gold and jewels to add to your currency. The bigger the gem, the more money you’ll get, so it literally pays to explore all around, attacking walls to uncover jewels or treasure chests as you’ll find caches of sparkly gems or even a hidden musical scroll that you can sell to the bard in the village. You can buy (and find) meal tickets to increase your health, and also pay more money to increase the amount of ammo you have and purchase additional relics, such as the chalices that the Troupple King and his allies will fill with one-use power-ups to grant you invincibility or full health.

Shovel Knight can gain new abilities from relics, which Plague Knight can trade for better gear.

You can also acquire relics in the levels, usually by defeating mini bosses but also by buying them from Chester, who’s hidden in special treasure chests; these increase your versatility and allow you to access new areas in stages, encouraging replayability. At the cost of some ammo, you can fish in sparkly areas for bonus items, fire a projectile with the Flame Torch, render yourself briefly intangible to all harm (except lava) with the Phase Locket, attack airborne enemies with the Throwing Anchor, bash through dirt blocks with the Dust Knuckles, destroy all onscreen enemies with the War Horn, ride the Mobile Gear to reach higher areas, and dash through the air with the Propeller Dagger. In the armor outpost, you can also upgrade Shovel Knight’s shovel to make digging instantaneous, charge a more powerful swing, or send out a spark when at full health, and your armour to reduce the gold you lose, sacrifice ammo for more durability, or just look cool. All of these relics reappear in Plague of Shadows, but Plague Knight must trade them with Chester for his own weapons; Plague Knight has a magic meter that depletes as he uses stuff like the big bomb, smoke bomb, and the Staff of Surging but it will automatically refill over time. You can also increase his maximum health and magic meter, upgrade his outfit in the same way as Shovel Knight’s armour, and also acquire additional casings and powders for his bombs, and elements to his bomb burst jump. This allows you to toss bombs that leave a trail of fire or swirl around in a protective circle, toss them in an arch, or float through the air after a charged jump or even spin through enemies in a blaze, and you can also find (and buy) tonics to increase your health even further. While Plague Knight can also find his own set of musical scrolls, you’ll also need to find green Cipher Coins hidden in new areas of levels to fully upgrade Plague Knight’s repertoire.

Both Specter and King Knight have to earn their upgrades but only the king has to worry about Joustus.

Similarly, Specter Knight needs to find Red Skulls to access all of his “Curios”; after trading in for these, though, Specter Knight has to complete a short stage where he can only use the Curio to get past the enemies and obstacles (something that is repeated in King of Cards). These Curios allow him to throw a small scythe projectile, attack enemies up close with a swipe, regain health, or even target the nearest onscreen enemy regardless of hazards or the environment. Specter Knight can also find (or buy) “wilful wisps” to increase his health and Darkness meter, and can pay to upgrade his cloak to reduce the gold he loses from death, grind across all surfaces, or charge up his scythe attack, amongst other bonuses. Much of this is the same for King Knight, though he is somewhat handicapped as his upgrades and “Heirlooms” are at a much higher cost; you’ll need to spend both gold and Merit Medals to fully upgrade his health, magic, and armour, and these are earned not just from defeating enemies and finding chests but also winning games of Joustus. Chests, Chester, and victory in these card games will also net you additional Joustus cards (ranging from weak level one cards to more powerful, rarer level four cards) and I’d heavily advise buying Chester’s cheat cards to make the game easier on yourself. For an absolutely extortionate amount (30,0000 in total), you can also pay for some aesthetic paintjobs on the game’s presentation and environments in this mode, too.

Additional Features:
There are forty-five Achievements (known in-game as “Feats”) on offer in the main Shovel of Hope game, which range from finishing levels without taking damage, eating food, or collecting gold, defeating certain bosses without taking a hit or in certain ways, or full upgrading Shovel Knight and acquiring all of his relics and musical scrolls. An additional sixty Achievements are included in the three DLC packs, bringing the total up to 105, with many of these being repeats of those in Shovel of Hope (don’t take damage, finish the game, get all upgrades and such). Disappointingly, there are a great deal of 0G and 5G Achievements in the game, which is frustrating as things like beating all of the wandering travellers or uncovering hidden rooms should really net you more than nothing. Some of the hardest Achievements are best acquired in the New Game+ modes that you unlock for each story after completing the main game as you are charged with finishing the game without spending any money or acquiring any upgrades, but by far the hardest will ask you to finish the game without falling into bottomless pits or by destroying every checkpoint.

In addition to New Game+, you can battle head-to-head in Showdown or tackle extra challenges.

Shovel Knight also has a “body swap” feature that I think is to further customise the game for male and female players, and also comes with a co-op mode, though there are no Achievements and few benefits to playing with a friend; although you both share gold and have your own health bar, if one of you dies, it’ll cost health from the remaining player to respawn your partner. The game does warp the player who is lagging behind to the next area, which is good, but, similar to Contra (Konami, 1986), Shovel Knight is much harder with two players. After clearing each story, you unlock the aforementioned New Game+ (which lets you keep all the health, magic, gold, and upgrades you’ve acquired but delivers a tougher overall gaming experience), additional challenges for the Challenge Mode (where you must survive waves of enemies, perform tricky platforming tasks, collect gold, and many other varied tasks though, again, there are no Achievements linked to this mode), and extra music for the game’s sound test. Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove includes the Plague of Shadows, Specter of Torment, and King of Cards DLC packs, all of which remix and repurpose the existing game’s levels to accommodate the new character’s abilities. The story, cutscenes, and dialogue are all changed as well, with many of the stories being prequels to the main game, and new areas, collectibles, and gameplay modes are accessible. Specter Knight, for example, doesn’t get an overworld map and must warp to each level from the Tower of Fate; King Knight gains a completely different overworld map, and an airship to ride around in. Beyond all the various story modes, there’s also a battle mode, Shovel Knight Showdown, a competitive fighting mode very much like Super Smash Bros. (HAL Laboratory, 1999) that sees you battle through a series of story-based fights on one of three difficulties (Easy, Medium, and Hard), with the story and opponents differing depending on which character you pick. You can also fight up to three computer-controlled opponents (or friends) in battles that range from stock, time, and gem-based fights in a variety of arenas with intractable hazards, elements, and items. Shovel Knight’s basic three-button gameplay doesn’t really translate that well into a 2D fighter but it’s a fun little distraction; though there aren’t any Achievements tied to this mode either, it’s probably quite fun with a few friends. There are also a huge number of cheat codes available for the game that will change it in bizarre ways, though they also disable Achievements, and numerous little side quests to keep you busy. For example, you need to hunt down all the collectibles, defeat every Joustus player (which includes a super tough final, final boss), and purchase every item to get full, 100% completion so there’s definitely a lot to keep you coming back for more.

The Summary:
I didn’t grow up playing the NES titles that Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove owes its existence to; I was playing the MSX, Spectrum, and Master System around that time instead, so I’m much more a fan of the 16-bit era of gaming, but I do enjoy a good retro throwback and Shovel Knight may very well be the best retro throwback out there. I went into it concerned that it would be “NES Hard” like games like the aforementioned Mega Man and Contra but, thankfully, it was much more in the same style as DuckTales and Castlevania in terms of difficulty, challenge, and presentation. Shovel Knight was a really good time, with loads to see, do, and collect across its many worlds and different gameplay modes; the titular knight is a fantastic modern icon and his 8-bit world is both familiar and incredibly unique in its presentation. His gameplay is tight as a drum; there are some frustrating moments and deaths but they’re all down to poor luck or skill on your part rather than dodgy mechanics or unfair difficulty spikes, and it’s extremely gratifying mastering his pogo skill to conquer tricky areas. The additional story modes are a fantastic addition as well; remixing and redressing the music, levels, and mechanics was a novel idea and each character plays in similar, but different, ways so you can easily get to grips with them and adapt to the new layouts and gameplay styles. They expand upon both the gameplay and the story by fleshing out the lore and characters of this world, repurposing enemies into NPCs and presenting levels in ways that challenge your familiarity with the game. The only blight against the game are the numerous 0G Achievements, which just seem like a complete waste of time to me; why even bother programming them in if you get nothing for your efforts? Also, I could have done without the Joustus gameplay of King of Cards; I dislike card-based games at the best of times and it was easily the least fun part of the game. These issues are minor, though, and the package is more than worth it for the other characters and the sheer amount of gameplay, content, and variety on offer in the remainder of Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove. Fans of the NES-era of gaming should be well at home with this little package and I was extremely pleased with the overall game, and all of the replayability on offer here, so I would definitely recommend it, especially to fans of retrogames.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Were you a fan of Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove? Did you enjoy Shovel Knight’s NES-style mechanics and abilities or did you struggle to get to grips with his pogo-like attack? Which of the Order of No Quarter was your favourite and why, and which boss did you struggle against? Did you enjoy the DLC story modes? Which of the three was your favourite? Were you a fan of Joustus or, like me, did you struggle to adapt to the card-based gameplay? Did you ever get all of the Achievements in the game and were you also annoyed at the amount of 0G Achievements on offer here? What are your favourite games from the 8-bit era, or your favourite retro throwback titles, and would you like to see another Shovel Knight game in the future? Whatever your thoughts on Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove, sign up to leave your thoughts below or drop a comment on my social media post.

Game Corner: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge (Xbox Series X)

GameCorner

Released: 16 June 2022
Developer: Tribute Games
Also Available For: Linux, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series S

The Background:
Like many kids back in the eighties or nineties, I was super into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT, known as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles here in the United Kingdom), which dominated playgrounds years before Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (1993 to 1996) and Pokémon (1997 to present) with the popular cartoon, toys, and, of course, videogames. Although a toned down version of the original Mirage Comics characters, the TMNT were unbelievably popular at the time and this was reflected in their videogames; Konami’s original arcade title was one of the defining titles of the beat-‘em-up genre (despite being a bit limited in terms of its content and combat), the first TMNT title on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was one of the quintessential games that defined what it meant to be “NES Hard”, and the Heroes in a Half-Shell have seen quite a bit of success in a variety of genres, though beat-‘em-ups like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (Konami, 1991) were regarded as some of the team’s best. Considering their track record with beat-‘em-up, it’s fitting that Tribute Games and Dotemu were behind this loving throwback to the TMNT’s heyday; inspired by these titles and the popular cartoon, the game saw the return of many of the original voice cast to the franchise, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge was met with universal critical acclaim upon launch as reviews gushed over the visual presentation, the references to the TMNT’s rich history, and the arcade-style beat-‘em-up gameplay.

The Plot:
With Bebop and Rocksteady assaulting Channel 6 and stealing pieces of Krang’s robotic body as part of Oroku Saki/The Shredder’s latest twisted plan, the TMNT and their allies must take on some of their most memorable enemies in a journey that will take them from the streets of Manhattan to the dank sewers and all the way to Dimension X!

Gameplay:
Like the classic TMNT videogames from the arcade era, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is a 2D, sidescrolling beat-‘em-up in which you and up to five other plays take control of one of the four titular mutant turtles or one of their allies and battle through wave upon wave of Foot Soldiers and other enemies across sixteen stages. If you’ve ever played the original arcade release of Turtles in Time (or even more modern releases, like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game (Ubisoft Montreal, 2010) and Streets of Rage 4 (Dotemu, Lizardcube, and Guard Crush Games, 2020)) then you’ll be more than familiar with the criteria and the controls: simply move from the left side of the screen to the right, tapping the control stick or directional pad to run and using A to jump and X to attack, repeatedly tapping the button to string together simple combos. The controls are fully customisable so you can set them to whatever works best for you, but I found the default settings to be more than adequate, and the game includes an optional ‘How to Play’ mode that runs you through what the characters are capable of. I mentioned Scott Pilgrim just now and that’s an appropriate comparison as the characters in Shredder’s Revenge will level up to a maximum level of ten the more you fight and play, increasing their gauges and unlocking additional moves to use.

Bust some shell with the TMNT and their allies’ versatile combat options.

Streets of Rage 4 is also an appropriate comparison considering Dotemu developed both that and Shredder’s Revenge, and there are some similar mechanics here: B allows you to perform a backflip (or a hop with some characters) to avoid attacks or launch into a reverse attack with X, you’ll grab enemies automatically when standing close to them and can toss them, fling them at the screen, or slam them, pressing A when running performs a sliding attack, and you can press A or B to do a quick wakeup roll or get up faster when knocking down. You can also hold X to charge up a heavy attack and smack enemies upwards for a juggle and, as you pummel enemies, you’ll build up your “Ninja Power” gauge; when full, you can press Y to pull off a special attack that drains this meter rather than your health and sees your character explode in a whirlwind of sais, swords, or nunchakus to take out groups of enemies. When you level-up, this gauge will increase up to three levels, allowing you to perform subsequent special attacks and, eventually, enter “Radical Mode” with the Right Bumper to temporarily increase your speed and attack power at the cost of being able to perform a special attack. Eventually, you’ll be able to press Y in mid-air or out of a backflip to perform different special attacks, and you can also press RB to perform a taunt that leaves you vulnerable but will instantly fill your Ninja Power gauge. When playing with friends, you can perform team attacks simply by attacking the same enemies at the same time; the Left Bumper allows you to high five them to grant them two hit points from your own health meter, and you’ll have ten seconds to revive them when they’re defeated by holding LB (and a slice of pizza) before their downed form.

Speed along on rocket boards and watch for stage hazards!

While all the controls and even the special moves aren’t that different between characters, they do have different attributes; you’ll need to consider their range, speed, and power when selecting a character as guys like Raphael have a short reach, Casey Jones is quite slow and lumbering, and April O’Neil is fast but not particularly powerful. You’ll also want to consider the game’s difficulty settings, with “Chill” offering a very casual experience but “Gnarly” increasing the number and aggression of your enemies, and the additional challenge offered by the “Arcade” mode, which limits your lives and continues and features no save progression for a more authentic arcade experience. The main story mode sees you travelling to and from stages (referred to as “Episodes”) using a world map, which is easy to navigate and allows you to replay previous missions to level-up further or find any collectibles you missed. In stages, you’ll find plenty of things to smash to uncover power-ups and collectibles, but these can also help fend off enemies, such as fire hydrants to blast them back, explosive barrels, and smacking cameras, shopping trolleys, or traffic cones. Enemies can also toss things at you, though, and will often burst up from manholes or behind billboards and such, which then act as pits for you to fall down and other stage hazards, like electrical wires, spikes, freeze blasts, and subway trains are also present. The enjoyable mindless beat-‘em-up action is somewhat broken up by a handful of Episodes that see you rocketing along the streets or through the skies on a skate/hoverboard, taking out similarly-equipped and flying enemies with the full range of your attacks still available to you. Jump-kicking flying enemies can be a little tricky to judge, however, even with their shadows being on screen and, in the event that you do exhaust all your lives, you’ll need to restart the Episode from the very beginning.

Graphics and Sound:  
Shredder’s Revenge opts for absolutely gorgeous sprite work for its in-game graphics to make it seem like a modern version or update of the classic TMNT arcade titles. All of the sprites are big, colourful, and packed full of character; all of the playable characters have different idle and movement animations, so Splinter hobbles along on his cane, Michelangelo flails about when running, and characters swing about their weapons and comment when left standing still. Many of the voices from the original cartoon return to voice their respective characters, though this is limited to in-game outbursts and comments rather than full-on voice acting. Even the enemies have a great deal of personality; you’ll see Foot Soldiers chilling out, blending in in the background, playing Game Boys, eating ice cream, and many other amusing sight gags that encourage multiple playthroughs and all the moves, combos, and controls are so slick thanks to how well done the sprite work and animation is. There’s loads of Easter Eggs packed into Shredder’s Revenge, from enemies using some of the toy vehicles to graffiti or recognisable elements dotted all over the place, and references to the original arcade release, Turtles in Time, the live-action movies, and, of course, the original cartoon frequently cropping up so you’ll probably spot something new each time you play.

The whole game is a visual homage to the TMNT cartoons and videogames of old.

If you’ve played the original arcade game or Turtles in Time, many of Shredder’s Revenge’s locations will be immediately familiar; you’ve got the streets of New York, the rat-infested sewers and subway tunnels, the Channel 6 building (including the kitchen, a cooking show, and the office where you’ll find the likes of Irma, Burne Thompson, and Vernon Fenwick), the dingy alleys and high-speed skies of the city (where you’ll see the TMNT blimp in the background and the Foot attacking the Statue of Liberty), and eventually the jungles, wilds, and technological nightmares of Dimension X. There are also more colourful locations, like the fairground and attractions of Coney Island (where you’ll briefly battle across a beach and find the Punk Frogs), the cages and animals of the Central Park Zoo (where monkeys toss bananas at you and rhinos and warthogs stampede across the stage), and the creature comforts of the Crystal Palace Mall (where you’ll smash through barriers, ride escalators, and destroy arcade machines). There are, of course, a couple of instances where you’re trapped on an elevator and must fend off waves of goons and, while there’s not much focus on vertical traversal, stages often have multiple areas to help keep things visually interesting. The music is pretty much standard TMNT fare but there’s some fun inclusions from the likes of Lee Topes and (surprisingly) Raekwon and Ghostface Killah; even Mike Patton of Faith No More does a rocking cover version of the classic TMNT theme song. Speaking of which, this iconic intro is lovingly recreated and expanded upon through a slick animated sequence, while the remainder of the game’s cutscenes are rendered using either the in-game graphics or larger sprite work with text boxes just like in the old games.

Enemies and Bosses:
As is pretty much always the case for a TMNT videogame, you’ll primarily be battling through the seemingly endless hordes of the robotic Foot Clan; these multi-coloured ninjas come in a variety of forms, from the standard purple variant to blue, yellow, pink, and black, with each one wielding a different weapon. Some fire arrows or plungers, others can tangle you up in their whips, while others have katanas, axes, lances, or shields and can block your attacks. Some will be able to disappear in a puff of ninja smoke and toss daggers at you, while others drive motorcycles or the Foot Cruiser or pilot a spider-like mech that can only be damaged when the pilot is dizzy from missing a big axe handle smash. You’ll also encounter smaller robotic enemies, such as Roadkill Rodneys they grab you with their tentacles or spit out bombs, and Mousers, which can clamp onto you and be spawned by their larger variants. Hulking Triceratons and Stone Warriors can take quite a beating, charge at you, and even protect themselves with forcefields to take pot shots at you. Easily one of the most annoying enemies in the game, however, are the mud-like beasts that resemble the Pizza Monsters; these bastards leap up from the ground, clamping themselves to your face, and can be difficult to get a hit on since they pop up so quickly.

Some of the TMNT’s most memorable foes return as action-packed boss battles.

Naturally, you’ll also have to contend with some bigger, tougher bosses; many of these will appear mid-way through the Episode to take hostages, cause havoc, or head off with a piece of Krang’s robotic body, forcing you to pursue them across the stage. Two bosses you’ll encounter on numerous occasions are series staples Bebop and Rocksteady; both are fought alone in the first two episodes, with Bebop blasting laser bolts from his pistol and stunning himself when you avoid his shoulder barge and Rocksteady stomping around while hurling grenades at you. You’ll chase the two down through tunnels and across a bridge in Episode 3, where they attack from the Turtle Tenderiser, a large armoured jeep that erratically veers across the stage while they shoot and toss grenades at you. Later on, after clearing the rooftop stage, you’ll battle both on the ground and at the same time. This is definitely much tougher than the previous fights as their projectiles and physical attacks become much more erratic and aggressive, but it’s not too difficult to isolate one of them or even pummel them both when they’re on the same side of the screen. I was happy to see a number of familiar faces return as bosses throughout the game as well; the Rat King awaits in the sewers, charming a stampede of rats from atop a wrecked Footski with this flute and tossing you about with a whirling-like throw, and Leatherhead is fought at the end of the Coney Island episode, where he randomly hops out from grates to snap at you with his powerful jaws while the Punk Frogs toss barrels and pizzas to help you.

Some familiar, and obscure, TMNT enemies also show up for some fun boss encounters.

Baxter Stockman attacks (in his human fly form) at the end of the Secret Laboratory episode, hovering just out of reach and blasting at you, firing a gooey fist from his gun, and retreating to the background to blast massive laser cannons across the arena. Recognisable enemies like Tokka and Rahzar also make an appearance courtesy of Tempestra, a villain I’m not actually familiar with but who spawns them in to burp debilitating gas and roll around in a spiked shell and to distract you from attacking her when she’s not protecting herself with a burst of electricity. Shredder reprograms Metalhead to fight you in an electronics shop in the Silicon Alley episode, where he attacks with extendable arms and is accompanied by a bunch of Mousers, General Traag awaits in Balamphon after a descending elevator sequence, shielding himself with a piece of wall panel and blasting at you with a huge bazooka, and one of my favourite TMNT enemies, Slash, stalks you from the jungles of Dimension X and attacks you outside the ruins of the Technodrome, flying in a bladed whirlwind, causing boulders to rain down (and even throwing one at you), and spinning about in a shell attack. There are also a few other somewhat more obscure (at least they were to me) bosses to battle: Groundchuck and Dirtbag attack together, shooting spiked projectiles and digging under the ground to attack with a shovel, respectively; Wingnut battles you in the skies above New York, dashing about at high speeds and firing missiles at you while Foot Soldiers come hovering in (though you can just focus on him for a relatively easy win); Captain Zorax of the Triceratons fights you in the Natural History Museum, blasting at you and ordering a herd of Triceratons to try and flatten you like a pancake; and Chrome Dome confronts you in Balamphon, proving completely invulnerable to conventional attacks and requiring you to fling Foot Soldiers at him when the screen shifts to his first-person perspective in a call-back to the final battle against the Shredder from the original arcade game.

Besting Krang leads to you clashing swords with the Shredder and a true test of your skills.

Speaking of the Shredder, he crops up here and there in cutscenes and to sic enemies and bosses after you but won’t actually be fought until the final Episodes of the game. Each time, you must get through Krang first, who also appears (in pieces, in his little walker, or as a floating brain) throughout the story mode as Shredder’s henchmen try and reassemble his disparate parts. After fighting through pretty much every single previous enemy in the Outworld Hideout episode, you’ll fight against Krang in his robotic body. This isn’t too bad as long as you avoid his kick when up close and it’s pretty easy to dodge his mace-like punch from across the screen, but it gets a bit tricky when Krang splits into two parts; his feet stomping and kicking and his torso hovering around and firing lasers. You’ll have to face the Shredder immediately afterwards as well, with the armoured ninja slashing at you up close, flinging you away with a burst of electricity, and duplicating himself for three times the danger and with only one of his doubles being the right one. Once they’re defeated, Krang takes control of the Statue of Liberty and you face his gargantuan form atop a ruined rooftop, not unlike similar massive battles from other beat-‘em-ups and fighting games; your attack range is limited here as Krang smashes his fists and sends you flying with a shockwave, fires a devastating mouth laser, and turns Lady Liberty’s head into a cannon that targets you with an explosive bolt. Foot Soldiers will also swarm into the small platform you’re on, but it’s not massively difficult to pummel Krang up close and avoid his shots to take him out once and for all. Back on the city streets, the Shredder will once again transform into his ultimate form, the hulking Super Shredder, for the final battle of the game; Super Shredder is completely invulnerable and dashes about leaving a trail of flames in his wake. He can also teleport, grab and slam you, and send out waves of flames that you can somewhat easily avoid by staying in the corner furthest from him. He then unleashes an electrical sphere attack that also shields him as his shadowy doubles fire projectiles from the four corners of the screen, but he will eventually succumb to the mutagen’s debilitating effects and be rendered vulnerable for a very short period of time, allowing you to land a quick combo (but be sure to backflip away before he slashes you with a shadowy duplicate).

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Each character comes equipped with their own signature weapons, from Leonardo’s double katana to Casey’s array of sporting paraphernalia, all of which can be utilised with your combos and other attacks, though this does mean that there are no opportunities to pick up and throw weapons so you’ll have to settle for attacking parts of the environment to help you out in a pinch. Onscreen hazards like spikes, electrical bolts, falling lights, and laser turrets can often damage enemies as well, so it’s worth manoeuvring them to be damaged by these, but there are a couple of pick-ups you can find throughout the game, too. Pizza will replenish your health (and you won’t pick it up if you’re at full health, meaning it’s harder to screw over your friends) so be sure to grab that but there are two other pizzas you can get, too; one will grant you an endless Ninja Power gauge for about ten seconds and another sends you into a frenzy, devastating all onscreen enemies with a super special attack. It’s worth playing through as each character as well as they’ll level-up and gain better meters and additional moves, increasing your chances of success on other modes and difficulties.

Additional Features:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge has thirty Achievements on offer, with six awarded simply for playing through the story mode. You’ll get Achievements for playing with friends, too, including reviving and high fiving them, and for performing a number of combo attacks. Achievements can also be earned for clearing the “Arcade” mode on higher difficulties and without continues, for defeating the Rat King as Splinter, and for clearing the game as every character, as well as powering each character up to the max and flinging enemies at the screen. Each Episode also comes with three challenges for players to aim for; these range from finishing the stage without taking damage, performing certain moves, or not doing certain things and will add to the points you earn upon completion to aid with your levelling-up. Once complete, you don’t need to worry about redoing these challenges on each playthrough, but it would’ve been nice to see new challenges loaded in each time to help level-up other characters on subsequent playthroughs. Once you clear the game’s story mode, you’ll unlock Casey Jones as a playable character, and you can replay your completed file at any time. Most of the game’s Episodes are also hiding a recognisable TMNT side character, such as the four Punk Frogs or the Neutinos, who’ll then appear on the world map and task you with finding certain items in each Episode (newspapers, bugs, VHS tapes, and crystals); finding all of these will award you extra points to level-up and some Achievements, though they’re pretty easy to find on a casual playthrough. The game allows for local and online co-operative play and is at its most challenging on “Arcade” mode, but sadly doesn’t have too much in the way of unlockables; there are no extra skins or colour palettes (which is a shame as I would’ve liked to see a black and white mode akin to the Mirage Comics or Slash included as a playable character), no versus mode, no boss rush, no gallery or concept art, and the only way you can currently get a physical copy of the game is to get one of the extremely limited and expensive copies offered by Limited Run.

The Summary:
I’ve always been a massive fan of sidescrolling beat-‘em-ups and have long lamented how so many of the classic titles are denied to us on modern consoles due to being discontinued or licensing right and such, and this is true of a great many of the TMNT videogames (at least, for now…) so to see the Heroes in a Half-Shell make such a spectacular, unexpected, and welcome return to form is truly a delight to see and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge was a no-brainer purchase for me. Everything about the game is a love letter not just to the beat-‘em-up titles of the past but to the cartoon and the franchise as a whole; there are enemies, vehicles, bosses, and references to the movies, the comics, and the vast toy line all over the game, but the decision to bring back the cartoon’s voice cast and stick closely to the aesthetic and lore of the popular animated show just adds to the charm and nostalgia of this title. Even better, the added combat options and variety offered by the characters and stages really helps to keep things from getting repetitive; the sheer personality, allure, and cartoony humour etched into Shredder’s Revenge helps to keep the game fast-paced and action-packed from start to finish. The added extras like finding items for some of the TMNT’s supporting characters and offering an extra level of challenge in the “Arcade” mode are welcome additions to help keep you coming back for more, though it’s a shame that more of the additional modes and features from Streets of Rage 4 weren’t included (though I wouldn’t rule out some downloadable content in the future). Ultimately, Shredder’s Revenge proved to be a wonderfully enjoyable throwback to the bygone era of beat-‘em-up TMNT videogames; the presentation, combat, and gameplay was all top notch, offering a fun-filled, action-packed experience that lovingly pays homage to one of the greatest cartoon and toy franchises of the eighties.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Did you enjoy Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge? Which of the playable characters was your go-to and what did you think to the original voice cast returning? Did you enjoy the many references and homages to the cartoons and videogames? Which of the stages or bosses was your favourite? Would you like to see more characters and modes added to the game in the future? What are some beat-‘em-ups you’d like to see make a comeback? Whatever your thoughts on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, feel free to sign up to leave them below or drop a comment on my social media.

Game Corner [Sonic Month]: Sonic Colours: Ultimate (Xbox Series X)


Sonic the Hedgehog was first introduced to gamers worldwide on 23 June 1991 and, since then, has become not only SEGA’s most enduring and popular character but also a beloved videogame icon and, in keeping with tradition, I have been dedicating an entire month’s worth of content to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.


GameCorner

Released: 7 September 2021
Originally Released: 11 November 2010
Developer: Blind Squirrel Games
Original Developer: Sonic Team
Also Available For: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S (Remaster); Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS (Original Release)

The Background:
Despite what people would have you to believe, Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 2006) was an absolute travesty and one of the lowest points in the franchise. Sonic Team pulled out all the stops to make up for that dismal failure with Sonic Unleashed (ibid, 2008), which was a commercial success thanks to the speed and exhilaration offered by Sonic’s gameplay despite the inclusion of the lengthy and maligned “Werehog” stages. Development of a follow-up title began soon after the release of Sonic Unleashed, and producer Takashi Iizuka aimed to not only create an equal balance between speed and platforming but to appeal to a wider, more casual audience by making Sonic the sole playable character. In lieu of Sonic’s extended cast, the developers introduced the “Wisps” to act as temporary power-ups that expanded on Sonic’s moveset, and took inspiration from Disneyland for the game’s amusement park setting. Originally released for the Nintendo Wii and DS, Sonic Colours was well-received for its gorgeous graphics, exciting gameplay, and was considered to be one of the best entries in the franchise despite some criticisms of the game’s difficulty. After years of being exclusive to Nintendo’s machines, Blind Squirrel Games were drafted to produce a remaster of the title for modern consoles to coincide with Sonic’s 30th anniversary, which included a number of graphical and gameplay updates to the original title. Unfortunately, Sonic Colours: Ultimate was mired by numerous reports of bugs and glitches, especially on the Nintendo Switch version, though the charm and fun of the original was still noted to be present.

The Plot:
After Doctor Eggman builds a gigantic interstellar amusement park in orbit seemingly as penance for his evil deeds, Sonic and Miles “Tails” Prower investigate and quickly discover that the evil genius has enslaved several worlds and an alien species known as Wisps in order to harness their energy for a mind-control laser that will allow him to take over the world.

Gameplay:
If you’ve played Sonic Unleashed, or most of the main console Sonic games that came after that title, you’ll be instantly familiar with how Sonic Colours: Ultimate looks, feels, and plays. Like its predecessor, the game is a 3D action/platformer that also switches to a 2.5D perspective and has a heavy emphasis on speed, some extremely minor puzzles (mostly just sliding under walls, hopping over pits and steps, activating switches, and kicking away blocks) and a bit of exploration as you’ll need to search about to find optional items for additional unlocks. Unlike Sonic Unleashed, Sonic is the sole playable character here; there aren’t even sections where you get to control the Tornado, and hub worlds have been excised entirely and replaced with a world map, of sorts, where you can select the planets you visit and which level (referred to as “Act”) you want to play on the world. Sonic’s controls remain largely unchanged from before, however; you can still boost ahead by pressing and holding B, though your boost is limited to a meter than can only be filled by collecting Wisps and can no longer be extended or upgraded using experience points. A allows you to jump and holding it will let you jump higher while pressing it in mid-air gives you a very limited double jump. You can also press A during a jump to fire Sonic at enemies, objects, and springs with his iconic Homing Attack, or press X while jumping to perform a stomp to destroy enemies or break through certain blocks.

While you can blast through 3D sections and hop around in 2.5D, control is often taken away from you.

Quite often, Sonic will be placed in an auto-running segment where he has to quick-step to the left and right to dodge walls, hazards, or smack away Motobugs; sadly, this function is limited to the left analogue stick rather than being mapped to the shoulder buttons, which can make avoiding laser beams or obstacles a little tricky. Sonic can also perform a wall jump to reach higher areas, grind on rails, bounce off springs and balloons and other objects to progress, and players can repeatedly tap A after jumping or passing through a rainbow ring to perform tricks and reach new areas. While the 3D sections emphasise boosting and high-speed action, and often take control out of your hands and require you to do little more than quick-step or jump out of the way of hazards, the 2.5D sections focus on platforming; you’ll jump across gaps, to platforms (both stationary and moving), and use wind tunnels to reach higher paths, which typically hold more rewards and are a faster route to the Goal Ring. As in pretty much every Sonic videogame, Gold Rings are your life support; Sonic will be able to take a hit from enemies and obstacles as long as he’s carrying at least one Ring, and he can reacquire them when hit and suck them towards him while boosting. Sonic can pass through checkpoints to respawn if he falls into a death pit or gets hit without any Rings; however, while the life system has technically been done away with, this isn’t strictly true as you can be saved from a fall by grabbing a Tails pick-up, which will see Tails airlift you back to solid ground without having to go back to a checkpoint.

Sonic can grab Wisps to gain temporary power-ups and new forms that allow him to reach new areas.

As mentioned, Sonic is the only character you get to play as; Tails is relegated to a supporting role and only appears in cutscenes or as a new power-up, and you don’t even get to experience a different style of gameplay with a brawling transformation as in the last game. What you get instead are the Wisps, a series of alien lifeforms that you progressively gain access to as you play through the story. When you pick up a Wisp power-up, you can activate it with the Right Bumper and transform Sonic for a brief period of time, which will greatly expand your moveset and options for exploration and attack. The Cyan Wisp allows you to dart through enemies or bounce off surfaces and between jewels as a laser burst, the Orange Wisp turns you into a rocket and blasts you vertically upwards and allows you to float across distances, and the Yellow Wisp turns you into a drill so you can burrow through the dirt or swim through water (though you have to keep topping up the power meter or you’ll risk getting trapped in the dirt and dying). The Green Wisp allows you to hover by holding A and perform a Light Speed Dash across rows of Rings by pressing B, the Blue Wisp briefly turns you into a cube and changes blue rings into solid cubes so you can progress further, the Purple Wisp turns you into a voracious, frenzied monster that eats anything in its path, and the Pink Wisp lets you cling to any surface using spikes and perform Sonic’s signature Spin Dash to blast along at high speeds. New to the game is the Jade Wisp, which turns you into a floating ghost and allows you to teleport across distances, but the Wisp powers are incredibly limited because your power meter is so small and they essentially act as very brief power-ups to mix things up and let you blast through enemies or reach new areas and, for me, are a poor substitute for playing as Tails or Knuckles the Echidna.

Stages are nice and varied, if a bit short, and there’s a slight difficulty curve in the final area.

I played the original Wii release of Sonic Colours, and still own the Nintendo DS version of the game, but it’s been a while since I sat down with it. I don’t remember it being too difficult to play through, though, and the game is littered with hint orbs, tutorials, and warning signs to help hold your hand if you’re struggling. Luckily, you can turn these off at the main menu, which I’d highly recommend, but the game is mainly just a high-speed action adventure that forces you to get through a bit of platforming here and there to get to the next exciting sequence. Gameplay is pretty standard across the board but there are notable things to mix up each of the game’s worlds; there’s pulleys and switches and temporary stairs in Tropical Resort, popcorn to blast through and huge missiles to dodge in Sweet Mountain, and neon pathways to race across in Starlight Carnival. You’ll be quick-stepping across girders on Planet Wisp, punching your way through the gloopy water maze of Aquarium Park by rapidly tapping A and swallowing air bubbles to stay alive, and hopping between high-speed rollercoasters and Homing Attacking asteroids and springs in Asteroid Coaster. You’ll also encounter sections where gravity is reversed or skewed, parts where you need to continuously bounce on a moving spring to cross a death pit, and watch for huge blocks that will force you off the screen and to your death if you stay in their path. Overall, though, the difficulty is noticeably toned down from Sonic Unleashed; Acts are far shorter and designed to be played in fun, short bursts and there are copious checkpoints and Tails power-ups to keep you going.

Graphics and Sound:
Sonic Colours was always a very vivid and graphically impressive title, especially for a Wii game, and Sonic Colours: Ultimate is no different. Everything really pops here; the colours, the textures, and the environments are all really vibrant and there’s lots to see in the background and foreground. If anything, the game’s environments are a little too busy at times and it can be a bit disorientating and distracting trying to focus on what you’re doing, where Sonic is, and what can or can’t hurt you in each of the game’s unique areas. Sonic, however, continues to look fantastic; as ever, he comes with some amusing idle animations and it’s fun seeing him transform into his different forms. The switch between 3D and 2.5D continues to be a little clunky when you’re blasting through Acts and I can’t help but feel like things might have been easier if certain Acts were dedicated to each perspective rather than switching between them, but the camera is never an obstacle and platforming sections are never too tricky beyond getting your jump high and timed well enough.

The worlds are varied, vibrant, and full of life but sometimes a little too busy and colourful.

The entire game takes place in Dr. Eggman’s Interstellar Amusement Park, and there’s a definite feeling of being strapped in for a high-speed, high-excitement rollercoaster of an experience. This is literally the case in areas like Asteroid Coaster, where you ride a dragon-themed rollercoaster hopping between seats over the vast cosmic void, and Skylight Carnival, where you race along cyber pathways as huge neon spaceships loom nearby. Tropical Resort is probably the least interesting area of the game, which is somewhat fitting as it’s basically the entrance to the amusement park, and even that is made visually interesting with all the bright signs and rails and little details like potted plants and benches. Planet Wisp is the closest you get to actually having your feet on natural, solid ground and is a fantastic mixture of nature, foliage, and a huge construction site. Sweet Mountain is easily the game’s most bizarre area and is comprised of cakes, sweets, and desserts amidst a missile factory; blasting through popcorn and using rotating sweets to fly above doughnut plants makes this a very surreal but memorable level. There’s also a real scope added to the environments in Aquarium Park, which essentially takes place within a gigantic aquarium and sees you exploring a vast underwater area and locations heavily borrowing from Japanese temples and aesthetics.

While the lack of hub worlds is disappointing, the graphics and presentation are top-notch.

The game’s final area, Terminal Velocity, is simply a race down the huge connecting tube that keeps Dr. Eggman’s amusement part anchored to the planet, and conjures up memories of the final areas in Sonic and Shadow the Hedgehog’s stories in Sonic Adventure 2 (Sonic Team USA, 2001), and you’ll find a number of pretty basic, almost textureless obstacles courses waiting for you in Game Land. Unfortunately, the game does take a bit of a step backwards as hub worlds are gone entirely, replaced by a world map where you select which planet/location to visit and then pick an Act to play, meaning that the game’s focus is far less on story and exploration outside of the in-Act collectibles. Cutscenes are really well done, however, maintaining the same charming cartoony aesthetic from Sonic Unleashed and featuring some fun, if cringy, jokes and one-liners from Sonic and banter between him and Tails, and Dr. Eggman. Sonic Colours saw Roger Craig Smith take over the role of Sonic, and he’s a far better and more enjoyable voice than Jason Griffith, who I could never stand in the role. Mike Pollock continues to shine as the blustering Dr. Eggman, who’s now joined by Orbot and Cubot for some bungling shenanigans, and the game’s soundtrack is catchy and enjoyable enough. Sonic Colours: Ultimate allows players to select different language options for the dialogue and subtitles, and even switch between the original and the remixed soundtrack, but there’s some jaunty tunes on offer here from Cash Cash and composer Tomoya Ohtani to keep the energy levels high when blasting through enemies.

Enemies and Bosses:
In his quest to free the Wisps from Dr. Eggman, Sonic comes up against many familiar robotic enemies courtesy of the rotund mad scientist; these include Badniks like Motobug, Spiny, Jawz, and Buzzer, and Dr. Eggman’s more military focused creations, like the Egg Pawns and Spinners. Destroying these robots will free the Wisps trapped within, powering up your boost meter and allowing you to plough through them without worry, and you can easily cross chasms and progress further by chaining Homing Attacks of groups of enemies. Probably the most persistent and annoying enemies are Dr. Eggman’s chaser robots, the Aero-Chaser and the Big Chaser. These flying robots will hover in front or behind you, firing lasers and taking swipes at you as you desperately side-step out of the way, and can be a real hassle where you’re also fending off Motobugs or racing towards the camera at high speed with limited visibility. You’ll also face a sub-boss in Asteroid Coaster in the form of a gigantic robotic eye within a shifting gravitational field and protected by some spiked balls; you’ll need to hop between the spiked balls when the gravity field expands outwards to ram into it three times and put Dr. Eggman’s production facility out of commission.

Although the six bosses are fun, it’s a bit disappointing that they’re recycled and reskinned.

Dr. Eggman has ensnared six worlds to build his amusement park; six worlds means six bosses to face as you play through the story but don’t get too excited as it’s really three bosses that you simply battle twice, with the difficulty increased for the second bout. The first boss you’ll battle is Rotatatron, a massive Ferris wheel-type robot that has you dodging its huge claws, hopping between platforms, and ramming its big ol’ face while avoiding its buzz saws. This boss returns again on Planet Wisp, albeit reskinned as the Refreshinator and now protected by spinning circles and laser beams, but you can make these bosses (and all the game’s bosses) even easier to bring down by grabbing the Wisps found in the boss arena and dealing additional damage with their power-ups. Captain Jelly awaits you in Sweet Mountain, requiring you to Homing Attack across some cannonballs on the deck of his airship and hit a switch to force him out into the open. You then need to watch for his little minions and attack him when he stops to taunt you after hopping about, and Admiral Jelly is very much the same scenario except this battle takes place underwater and sees you luring homing missiles to the switch and chasing after the boss using the Drill Wisp. You’ll also have to contend with Frigate Orcan and Frigate Skullian, which are boss battles that take place on an endless running path and see you dodging bullets, spiked balls, asteroids, and lasers to chase each ship down and rapidly Homing Attack different parts of it to deal damage.

Go head-to-head in tough races against Metal Sonic and end Dr. Eggman’s plot by using the Wisp’s full power.

Collect enough Red Star Rings and you’ll unlock a new feature to this version of the game as Metal Sonic challenges you to a “Rival Rush”, which is basically a race through one Act of each area; while this sounds exhilarating and fun, it’s actually one of the hardest parts of the game as Metal Sonic is ridiculously quick, easily catches up and overtakes you, and you have to finish the race in one perfect run to succeed. Once you’ve destroyed all of Dr. Eggman’s bosses, however, you’ll finally face the egg-shaped madman himself in his Nega-Wisp Armour. This battle is also on an endless running path and sees you dodging various attacks themed after the game’s Wisp power-ups; you’ll need to side-step past cubes, jump over spikes, and avoid ricocheting lasers, amongst other attacks, while desperately grabbing Rings, then deliver a series of Homing Attacks to damage Dr. Eggman’s craft. You can also hit him with a boost attack and, after dealing enough damage, Wisps will be released and Dr. Eggman’s attacks will become more aggressive, faster, harder to dodge, and he’ll even combine Wisp attacks to really make things frantic and frustrating. Once you’ve freed all the Wisps, though, you can press RB and perform a Homing Attack to finish Dr. Eggman off with with the “Final Colour Blaster”; then it’s simply a case of racing to safety as the umbilical cord breaks away around you and you’ll have saved the Wisps and defeated Dr. Eggman once more.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Unlike the vast majority of Sonic videogames, there are none of the traditional power-ups on offer here; you can collect Rings either one at a time or in increments of ten, but there are no shields, speed-ups, or invincibility power-ups to find during the game. Instead, you need to collect Wisps to fill your boost meter or provide a temporary power-up that lets you burrow through the ground, blast across surfaces, or zip through enemies in a blast of vivid colour. Each of these is timed and lasts only as long as your meter and, often, you’ll need to collect subsequent Wisp capsules to solve puzzles, reveal collectibles, or progress further but, other times, the Wisps will not respawn and you’ll be left with only one shot to bounce between jewels. Although you don’t earn or collect extra lives, you can collect the new Tails power-up to save yourself from a fall, which is essentially the same thing, but this is merely to save you a bit of time as it avoids you having to restart from a checkpoint.

Additional Features:
There are forty-six Achievements to earn in Sonic Colours: Ultimate, with the majority of them being awarded for completing each of the game’s worlds. You’ll also pop some G for defeating a certain number of enemies in certain ways, achieving an S-rank, destroying the score tally at the end of each Act, and playing/waiting through the game’s obnoxiously long end credits. Achievements can also be earned for defeating bosses in two hits instead of three using the Wisps or getting an S-rank against them, collecting every Red Star Ring, and for getting S-ranks on every single Act in the game for 100% completion.

Take on additional challenges, find the Red Star Rings, become Super Sonic, and customise Sonic’s gear!

Five Red Star Rings are hidden in each Act; the game helpfully keeps track of how many you’ve collected and in which order, which makes searching them out a little easier, and collecting them unlocks additional challenges in Game Land. Game Land sees you take control of a recoloured Sonic robot and completing short tasks that basically amount to platforming and gameplay challenges; there are no lives or time limits here, so it’s a good way to kill some time, and you can even play against a friend in this mode. You’ll need all 180 Red Star Rings to unlock every Act in this mode, however, and to collect the seven Chaos Emeralds to play as Super Sonic. You can challenge yourself further by taking on the Egg Shuttle, which forces you to play every single Act of the game on a handful of lives, and you can also collect Park Tokens in each Act or from besting Metal Sonic to purchase skins that change Sonic’s gloves, shoes, aura, boost effect, and your gamer icon. Unfortunately, this is an extremely limited mode and doesn’t allow you to apply other skins to Sonic, but you can acquire components to have him resemble his Hollywood counterpart, so that’s something.

The Summary:
I remember really enjoying Sonic Colours when I first played it on the Wii; sure, I haven’t revisited it since finishing it years ago, but that’s more due to my dislike of the Wii than of the game. When it was announced to be coming to modern consoles at last, I was more than happy to get my hands on it again, bad press and bugs be damned. Personally, I consider Sonic Colours to be one of the most fun entries in Sonic’s modern era for its focus on action and it’s a blast to play in short bursts, with a difficulty curve that’s perfectly manageable until you hit Terminal Velocity (and that’s just because I struggled with timing my quick-steps). I never encountered any graphical or gameplay glitches on my playthrough, and the only negative I had about the presentation was some lag in the menus and the lack of any kind of additional cutscenes when encountering Metal Sonic. As enjoyable as the game is, though, it is a bit of a step back; using world maps and menus in place of hub worlds is a bit of a disappointment and, while the Wisp power-ups are great, it annoys me how prominent they are here and have become since as an excuse to not include a playable Tails or Knuckles. It also can’t be denied that the game is a bit too easy at times; I enjoy how every other Act is basically like a little challenge for you, but it’s laborious having to collect every single Red Star Ring, the lack of skins or in-depth customisation is a missed opportunity, and the recycling of the game’s few bosses is really disappointing. Still, it’s a super fun time for the few hours it’ll take you to blast through it and absolutely gorgeous to look at and listen to; Sonic Colours: Ultimate shows the potential a big, triple-A Sonic game has but could have benefitted from just a few more tweaks and additional modes and such to make the package all the sweeter.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What do you think to Sonic Colours: Ultimate? How do you think it compares to the original Wii version and what did you think to the new features included? Did you enjoy the focus on short, action-packed gameplay or did you feel the game was a bit too simplified? What did you think to the Wisps and which of these power-ups was your favourite? Would you have liked to see other characters included to play or race against? Which of the game’s stages or bosses was your favourite and why? Sign up to leave your thoughts on Sonic Colours: Ultimate down below, or leave a comment on my social media, and be sure to check back in for more Sonic content later in the year!

Game Corner [Bite-Size]: Streets of Rage 4: Mr. X Nightmare (Xbox One)

Released: 14 July 2021
Developer: Dotemu/Lizardcube/Guard Crush Games
Also Available For: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4

A Brief Background:
After an absence of almost twenty-five years, the Streets of Rage series (SEGA, 1991 to 1994) finally made a long-awaited comeback in 2020. As a massive fan of the series, and sidescrolling beat-‘em-ups in general, I was very surprised, and excited, to see Streets of Rage make a reappearance; Streets of Rage 4 sold extremely well and was received generally positively but even I could never had guessed that it would do well enough to gain any kind of downloadable content (DLC). Yet, surprisingly, that’s exactly what we got as some additional character, gameplay modes, and difficulty settings were made available for the game and a physical Anniversary Edition was even released (for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch only but still…)

The Review
Streets of Rage 4: Mr. X Nightmare adds some additional features to the original game, which was a sidescrolling beat-‘em-up that saw you attacking enemies with X, busting out a life-draining special attack with Y, jumping with A, and clearing out large groups of enemies with a screen-clearing special move if you have enough Stars in your quest to clean up the streets of Wood Oak City. The first thing you’ll notice when playing Mr. X Nightmare is the addition of three playable boss characters: Estel Aguirre, Max Thunder, and Shiva. Two of these (Max and Shiva) were previously playable but only in their 16-bit variants and all three are ripped straight from their boss battles in the base game. When playing as each of them through the story mode, however, none of these characters have any real impact on the narrative; the cutscenes don’t change or acknowledge them and the only thing that’s different is that when you fight the character’ boss variants, the boss’s taken on a neon, shadowy colour scheme.

Mr. X Nightmare adds Estel, Max, and Shiva as playable characters.

Like the game’s other playable characters, each of these new characters plays slightly different. Of the three, only Shiva can dash towards enemies, for example, but unlike the other two, Shiva cannot pick up weapons (instead, he dramatically flips them up and kicks them at enemies). Estel and Shiva also attack much faster than Max, utilising kicks and fast combos where Max uses slower, more powerful wrestling moves and grapples. Each of them also has Y-based special attacks that will slightly drain their health unless they attack enemies soon after; these seen Estel toss grenades and pounce on opponents with a beatdown, Max charge or slam down on enemies, and Shiva teleport across the screen or out of the air. Each of them also has their own special moves that are executed by pressing Y and B when you have at least one Star. Estel’s is very similar to her boss’s special and sees her call in a bombardment of rockets; Max unleashes a big axe-handle smash and also sees enemies by struck by lightning, and Shiva blasts enemies away with a purple, wing-like aura. The best thing about playing as these new characters is how over-powered a lot of their attacks are; Max, for example, has a super useful Power Slide attack that is easily spammed while Shiva can perform a nifty mid-air kicking combo for decent damage.

Play as Roo and/or test your skills in the new ‘Survival’ mode!

It’s been a while since I played Streets of Rage 4 so I may be forgetting some things but Mr. X Nightmare appears to add a few new weapons into the game’s stages (such as a golf club, an umbrella, and a branch) and the ability to select different colour palettes for every character. The DLC also adds a new difficulty to the game, Mania+, if you fancy taking on an additional challenge and, best of all, the inclusion of a hidden fighter. By highlighting ‘Story on the main menu screen and  pressing up and X and then pressing Start, you’ll get to play as a 16-bit version of Roo the boxing kangaroo, which is pretty cool but it’s a bit of a shame that Roo doesn’t have an alternative skin to match his cameo from the base game. Another addition appears to be that whenever you fight on the hidden, or new, 16-bit stages, every character, even the new ones and altered ones, is rendered as a classic 16-bit sprite. While there isn’t any new story-based content to the game, Mr. X Nightmare does add a new ‘Survival’ mode. Here, you pick a character and play through a series of simulations in a variety of brand new arenas, including new 16-bit levels, and fighting increasingly-difficult waves of enemies. Enemies and destructible boxes will spawn into each area, giving you access to health-restoring good, Stars, and weapons, which you’ll need as you only get one life to play through this mode; when you clear each level, you can pick from one of two perks that stack up and carry over to each level. These can up your attack or defence, add an additional jump, add elemental effects to your strikes or weapon attacks, spawn in Stars, award you more powerful weapons, spawn in an ally, or dramatically increase your attack power and the cost of your durability, among other effects.

The addition of more 16-bit stages, random buffs, and a Training mode add replayability to the game.

The levels and enemies get tougher and tougher as you go but you can make use of environmental hazards to damage enemies; meteors will fall from the sky, lasers and flames will spew up in some levels, wind will blow you about, electrified walls and crushers can harm you and your enemies, and you’ll be able to toss them over edges and such. While you’ll earn Stars instead of lives in this mode, it also includes a whole bunch of new weapons to use and, as you clear levels, you’ll unlock enemies to battle in the new Training mode (essentially a traditional one-on-one fighter), concept art and artwork, and also additional alternative modes for each playable character to customise them to your specifications. Even better, the DLC adds not only some new music tracks but also eight new Achievements to earn that are specifically tied to you completing the story mode as the three new characters, performing Roo’s special move and spawning in clowns, and mastering the new Survival mode, all of which is a great incentive to return to the game.

The Summary:
I was super happy with how Streets of Rage 4 turned out; it was everything I could have asked for from a sidescrolling beat-‘em-up and had a decent amount of features and replayability to it. it could be a little unforgiving at times but it was a blast to play through and I was very surprised and excited to hear that the game would be expanded upon with some DLC. The addition of new characters was very welcome, though it is a little disappointing that they don’t factor into the story more; like, maybe they could have played through slightly altered versions of the stages and fought against the existing protagonists rather than shadow versions of themselves. The addition of new Achievements was very much appreciated and the ‘Survival’ mode is pretty great, though, and sees you battling against every character and boss from not only this game but also the others in the series. Again, it can be tough but playing alongside a friend should make it quite the entertaining time and, overall, I’d say it’s well worth picking this DLC up to add a few more hours onto an already enjoyable title.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Did you pick up the Mr. X Nightmare DLC? If so, what did you think to it? Which of the new playable characters was your favourite? Did you manage to unlock Roo? How far did you get in ‘Survival’ mode? What is your favourite piece of DLC for a videogame? Whatever you think about Streets of Rage 4 drop a comment below.

Game Corner [Sonic 2sday]: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2007; Xbox One)


After the release of Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 1991), Sonic had firmly established himself as the hot new icon on the block and catapulted SEGA to the forefront of the Console Wars. Anticipation was high for a sequel and, in keeping with their aggressive marketing strategies, SEGA dubbed November 24, 1992 as “Sonic 2sday”, a marketing stunt that not only heralded the worldwide release of the bigger, better sequel but changed the way the videogame industry went about releasing games for years to come.


GameCorner

Released: September 2007
Originally Released: November 1992
Developer: Sonic Team
Original Developer: SEGA Technical Institute
Also Available For: Gamecube, iPod, Mega Drive, Mobile, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Portable, SEGA Saturn, Xbox, Xbox 360

The Background:
Sonic the Hedgehog was a massive success for SEGA; thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign and packing the game with their all-power 16-bit Mega Drive, SEGA saw sales of over 15 million copies upon its release. And yet all was not right at SEGA; Yuji Naka, the mastermind behind Sonic the Hedgehog, quit the company and was convinced to join the California-based SEGA Technical Institute. After bringing in many of his own Japanese staff, Naka began spearheading the creation of a sequel while an entirely separate, Japan-based team worked on Sonic the Hedgehog CD (SEGA, 1993). Debates could rage on for years about which of these two games would be the “true” follow-up to the original title, and many ideas and concepts were reused and reworked for each title but, as if the massive “2” in Sonic 2’s title wasn’t enough, it’s clear to me based on graphics alone that Sonic CD was always meant to take place shortly after the first game.

While Sonic was joined by a new friend, not every idea made it to the final game.

Yet Sonic 2’s development was mired by an influx of ideas and concepts; another internal contest was held to design Sonic’s new sidekick, Miles “Tails” Prower, and many Zones were scrapped from the final game despite being relatively close to complete. The pressure was on to top their efforts with Sonic the Hedgehog but, thanks to improved graphics and gameplay and the efforts of SEGA’s aggressive marketing machine, Sonic 2 proved incredibly successful; 400,000 copies were sold in its first week alone and over 6 million units were sold during the Mega Drive’s lifespan. SEGA’s control of the home console market shot up by 40% as a result of Sonic 2 and the game was widely praised upon its release and is still held in high regard, with many claiming that it is the best in the series. For me, I first played Sonic on the Master System but, upon acquiring a Mega Drive, played Sonic 2 before the first game and, as a result, I do prefer it over the original because of its faster, tighter, far more accessible gameplay.

The Plot:
Doctor Eggman is back! This time, he’s set his sights on Westside Island, home of the fabled seven Chaos Emeralds. Eggman unleashes his robotic Badniks upon the island, polluting and destroying the environment to find the gems and power his ultimate weapon: the Death Egg! However, Sonic the Hedgehog is hot on his heels and this time he’s not alone…

Gameplay:
Like its predecessor, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a 2D, sidescrolling action platformer in which you travel eleven stages (known as “Zones”). Unlike the previous game, the majority of Sonic 2’s Zones are split into two “Acts” rather than three (though there is, oddly, one three-Act Zone and two one-Act Zones just to confuse things) and, this time, you’ll battle Eggman in one of his diabolical contraptions at the end of each second Act before facing him once and for all on the Death Egg. Essentially, everything that worked so well in the original game returns here, bigger, shinier, and much more refined; Sonic is faster than ever, now able to zip through every single Zone of the game at breakneck speed thanks not only to his new “Spin Dash” attack but also vastly improved level design that ditches the slower, more tedious elements on the first game and focuses on speed and split-second reactions. Improved obstacles and enemy placement also help speed up the game, as does the implementation of more loop-de-loop, slopes, the introduction of Möbius strips, and very little instances where the game grinds to a halt.

Help or hinder Sonic as Tails or simply choose to play solo with either character.

As before, you can still roll into a ball when you jump or press down while running to break monitors and smash apart Badniks. This time, though, you won’t do it alone; by default, the game has you take control of Sonic with the computer-controlled by his side but, by entering the “Options” menu, you can switch to playing alone as either character. When Tails is onscreen, though, a second player can join in at any time; Tails has all of Sonic’s abilities and essentially plays as a reskin as, though he is seen flying with his unique two tails, this isn’t a feature you can utilise in the game. When playing as Sonic and/with Tails, Tails can collect Golden Rings, destroy Badniks, and dish out damage to Eggman all while being functionally immortal and largely invulnerable. Attacks won’t damage Tails and the only way to lose him is to run so fast that he cannot keep up; unfortunately, second players can also screw you over by jumping onto temporary or crumbling platforms ahead of time, essentially sending you to your death.

Some Zones and mechanics are slower than others but, overall, Sonic 2 is much faster than the original.

Thankfully, Sonic is much faster this time around. Zones are bigger than ever, with more branching paths to take and areas to explore and, best of all, there’s no tedious pushing of switches or blocks to slow things down. Perhaps the slowest Zone is Mystic Cave Zone (which also features a notorious pit that you cannot escape from), which features far more platforming elements and instant-death traps compared to the game’s other Zones; Sonic will have to grab levers and pulleys to create bridges and avoid floating blocks in this Zone but it’s got nothing on the seriously gruelling platforming and obstacles in the increasingly maze-like Metropolis Zone but, for the most part, Sonic 2 hits the ground running and doesn’t stop.

It’s easy to get distacted by Casino Night Zone’s pinball-based mechanics and gimmicks.

Sonic 2 introduces many firsts for the series; gone are the checkpoint-creating Lamposts of the first game, replaced with Starposts that perform exactly the same function but also double as the gateway to the game’s Special Stages (replacing the Giant Rings from the last game) when you pass them with fifty Rings or more. Be warned, though, after finishing or failing a Special Stage, you’ll be deposited back in the Zone with no Golden Rings to protect you (though the Zone’s Rings (and Badniks) will have respawned).  The pinball-like mechanics of Spring Yard Zone are expanded upon in Casino Night Zone, a giant, pinball-themed Zone filled with so many little score-increasing mini games and distractions that it’s easy to run out the ten minute time limit in this Zone alone.

Many of Sonic 2‘s elements became recurring themes in the franchise.

Another first is the inclusion of Sonic’s biplane, the Tornado, which mixes up the speed-based gameplay by having you ride atop the plane’s wings in Sky Chase Zone and, of course, the final showdown with Eggman on his space station. This latter element, clearly evoking imagery from the Star Wars trilogy (Various, 1977 to 1983), would become a recurring element in the franchise from this game onwards as subsequent games sought to either recreate the success of, or cash in on the nostalgia for, Sonic’s bigger, better sequel. As before, Sonic can collect Golden Rings to keep himself alive but, when submerged under water in Aquatic Ruins Zone or in toxic gunk in Chemical Plant Zone, will find himself under threat of drowning if he doesn’t escape to fresh air or find an air bubble before the all-too-familiar sinister countdown reaches its end. You’ll still gain points for collecting Rings, bashing Badniks, and clearing Acts and Zones as fast as possible but you no longer gain bonus points by jumping dramatically at the end of an Act.

While some Zones can be tricky to navigate, gameplay is much tighter and more reliable this time around.

Thankfully, all the little niggling issues that slowed down and counted against the first game have been largely addressed and eliminated; there’s no real danger here of being unfairly squashed or glitching the game (unless you perform some very specific actions) and the only real issue the game has in this regard is that it’s sometimes very easier to run or fly so fast off the screen that the game struggles to catch up. there some instances where you’re forced to use a little more thought than just speeding ahead, though; Oil Ocean Zone, for example, requires you to think a bit before making jumps as you can easily end up trapped in the quicksand-like oil or getting turned around. Like the first game, Sonic 2 isn’t especially difficult game; there are no difficulty settings to choose from as, again, the game’s difficulty gradually increases as you progress from Zone to Zone. This time, there are seven Chaos Emeralds to collect; the now-iconic half-pipe Special Stages are arguably much easier (or, at least, more interesting) than those in the first game, and you get an actual, in-game reward for collecting these gems.

Graphics and Sound:
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 improves on its predecessor in every way: Sonic’s sprite is larger and now a vivid, eye-catching blue and Tails is visually very appealing thanks to his unique twin tails and cute appearance. Zones are as visually interesting and unique as ever; Emerald Hill Zone, while functionally similar to Green Hill Zone, has enough in it to separate it from its predecessor, such as coconut trees, Möbius strips, waterfalls, and underground areas. The game’s later Zones are some of the most iconic in the series; moving away from cliché element-themed platforming levels, you’ll roll around an industrial nightmare full of toxic waste in Chemical Plant Zone, frantically jump to escape from rising lava in Hill Top Zone (which improves upon Marble Zone’s lava gimmick in every way), and explore dark, dank caves in Mystic Cave Zone. Each Zone has different gimmicks to separate them not only from each other but those of the last game; Casino Night Zone is far less random than Spring Yard Zone, for example, with no bottomless spits to worry about and Metropolis Zone is nothing like Scrap Brain Zone beyond being the game’s toughest area to get through.

Each Zone has a variety of unique gimmicks to mix keep things interesting and exciting.

This is largely due to the Zone having three Acts, which means it soon outstays its welcome. Add to that and some annoying enemies and the Zones maze-like layout and you would have a fitting final Zone for the game if it wasn’t for Wing Fortress Zone. Taking place aboard Eggman’s vast airship, this Zone is your last chance to get any remaining Chaos Emeralds before the game’s final Zone and features a whole host of dangerous taps; for one thing, you can fall to your death at any moment, never mind precariously jumping from platforms and hooks and riding gusts of wind to progress further. Once again, there are no transitions or cutscenes or story included in the game until you clear Wing Fortress Zone, then a little cutscene plays showing how the player gets aboard the Death Egg and another shows how he escapes. Generally, though, the same obvious environmental message of the first game is repeated, but dialled up a notch as you end up in space! Both Sonic and Tails have idle animations this time around, giving them each their own distinct personalities, and the game’s soundtrack is, arguably, the best of the series. It’s everything the soundtrack was in the first game but far more bombastic and triumphant, far more foreboding and sinister, far more catchy and memorable.

Enemies and Bosses:
Once again, Sonic and Tails must do battle with Eggman’s Badniks; these cute-looking mechanical monsters are just as deadly as before but their danger increases as you progress further in the game. To start off with, it’s no bother at all to bounce off of Mashers and Buzzers just like in the first game but, soon, you’ll encounter Spinys and Flashers, both of which can throw up defences to sap your precious Rings. While their placement is generally much fairer in this game, you’ll still have to contend with Badniks like Grounder and Crawlton popping out to surprise you but the absolutely worst enemies in the game are found in Metropolis Zone. The mantis-like Slicer will toss its boomerang-like pincers at you and they’re a pain in the ass to dodge, to say nothing of Shellcracker’s massive spiked claw that will almost always catch you unawares or the self-destructive Asterons which always shoot out their damn spikes when you’re halfway up one of those corkscrews!

Dr. Eggman slowly steps up his game after a disappointing first few encounters.

As before, you’ll face Doctor Eggman numerous times throughout the game; this time, he attacks at the end of every second Act and each time he has a deadlier contraption to try and end your adventure with. If you thought the wrecking ball from the last game was easy, you’ll be begging for a challenge even half of that when you encounter Eggman for the first time at the end of Emerald Hill Zone. Rather than trying to squash or zap Sonic, Eggman instead casually drives towards him back and forth, leaving himself wide open for the attack and only being a problem when he detaches his drill appendage at the last second. This mockery of a boss battle is quickly forgotten when you take on Eggman in Chemical Plant Zone, however. Here, Eggman tries to drop sludge on your head, which isn’t as much of a problem as the temporary ground that borders the arena and it’s very easy to fall to your death after landing the killing blow or while trying to escape Eggman’s attacks. Thankfully, most of the game’s boss battles aren’t as tough; Aquatic Ruin Zone’s boss can be a chore because of the jumping involved and Casino Night Zone’s is quite tough if you struggle with Sonic’s perfectly-attuned momentum-based physics but you shouldn’t really encounter an issue until you reach the Oil Ocean and Metropolis Zone bosses; thanks to Eggman’s shielding and strategy, it can be tough to land hits on his Egg-O-Matic in these bosses but, if you have a second player alongside you as Tails, they’re a breeze.

After besting your robotic double, the gloves come off for the final showdown with Dr. Eggman!

Things really ramp up once you reach Death Egg Zone, though; no matter how you play the game, you’ll have to tackle this final Zone alone and with no Rings to help you. Unlike the first game, where the final boss was pathetically easy, Sonic 2 has you run a gauntlet as you must first take on the armour-plated Mecha Sonic (or “Silver Sonic” depending on your preference, and not to be confused with the far more recognisable Metal Sonic). Mecha Sonic is a dangerous foe thanks to its buzzsaw-like spikes and fast-paced attacks but, luckily, its attack pattern is easily memorised; it’ll stand there posing, allowing you to hit it, then charge across the screen before either rolling at you or jumping over you. it can also shoot out its spines in a spread but, if you’re quick and smart enough, you can trash this dubious doppelgänger in no time. Once you do, though, you’ll find Eggman leaping into a massive robotic suit, the lazily named “Death Egg Robot”, which takes a whopping twelve hits to put down. Thankfully, again, this boss battle is very predictable; Eggman stomps towards you, allowing you to get a few hits in (as long as you’re careful to avoid his spike arms), then flies off-screen. A targeting reticule will appear and follow you around; simply wait in one of the far corners charging your Spin Dash and blast away when Eggman comes crashing down. Stay at the far end of where you end up to avoid his rocket-powered arms and repeat until he goes down. I wouldn’t recommend getting trapped behind him as he drops egg bombs that are difficult to avoid and you can also land a hit when he comes crash down from the ceiling if you’re fast enough. All in all, though, it’s a far more dramatic, taxing, and entertaining last boss than the one from the first game with some kick-ass music to boot.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As before, numerous computer monitors are scattered throughout the game’s Zones to help tip the odds in your favour. Breaking these open will award you with exactly the same rewards as the first game (ten extra Rings, a shield, an extra life, a speed up, or an invincibility) with the only difference being their appearance, sound effects, and the music that plays when you acquire them. Sadly, the only new power-up to be found is exclusive to the game’s two-player mode, which is a bit disappointing considering every other aspect of the first game was expanded and improved upon.

Additional Features:
As you might expect, this version of Sonic 2 comes with a handful of Achievements for you to earn. If you’ve played Sonic 2, or any Sonic game, before, these aren’t exactly difficult to get and include standard fare such as reaching certain Zones, collecting all the Chaos Emeralds, and completing the game though the online and time limit-specific Achievements may be trickier to accomplish depending on your skill level (finishing Chemical Plant Zone, Act 1, in under forty-five seconds is no joke!)

Collect all seven Chaos Emeralds to transform into Super Sonic and get the game’s best ending.

As in the first game, players can access Special Stages to try and earn one of the Chaos Emeralds. This time, you must pass by a Starpost with at least fifty Rings to challenge for an Emerald, making the process a hell of a lot faster and easier. Additionally, the God-awful, head-trippy rotating mazes of the first game are gone as you now race down a half-pipe, collecting Rings and avoiding bombs. While these Special Stages are much better, they can be more difficult as it’s hard to know what is coming up without a lot of trial and error, you must collect a certain amount of Rings to qualify for an Emerald, and the delay between your jumps and Tails’ can cost you precious Rings if you’re not careful. Special Stages start off deceptively easy but, by the time you go for that damn fourth Chaos Emerald, you’ll start to notice how fast and unrelenting they can be; the seventh and final Emerald is, fittingly, the most difficult to get because it barely has enough Rings to hit the target. Luckily, you can cheese save states to make this so much easier than it was on the original hardware. Collect all seven Chaos Emeralds, though, and rather than jus earning a slightly different ending, you’ll be awarded with the ability to turn into the Super Saiyan-like Super Sonic. “Simply” collect all seven Chaos Emeralds, collect fifty Rings, and jump and you’ll transform into this super-fast golden upgrade of Sonic that has a constant speed up and invincibility. Don’t get too cocky, though, as you can still drown and be crushed and your Rings will slowly be lost over time; once they run out, the transformation ends so be sure to collect all the Rings you can to keep the form up as long as possible.

Race against a friend in the game’s janky two-player mode, or buy Sonic & Knuckles to play as Knuckles in Sonic 2!

The addition of Tails also means that Sonic 2 has a multiplayer component; not only can a second player play alongside you in the main game but you can also race against a friend in a woefully-realised split screen mode. While the screen is awfully crushed and you can only pick from four Zones, this mode was decent enough back in the day; it’s fun to blast ahead and leave your friend in the dirt only for them to smash a monitor and have you both switch places. Sadly, while this version of Sonic 2 won’t allow you to enter the iconic cheat codes and doesn’t feature any of the tweaks, upgrades, and additions for the far superior mobile port, a save state system and online leaderboards are included and, best of all, if you also purchase Sonic & Knuckles (SEGA Technical Institute, 1994), you’ll gain the ability to play as Knuckles the Echidna. Be warned, though; while Knuckles’ abilities mean there’s much more room for exploration, his rubbish jump makes battling certain bosses (particularly the Death Egg Robot) far more challenging.

The Summary:
As great as Sonic the Hedgehog was, it’s nothing compared to Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Bigger, bolder, faster, and better in every way, Sonic 2 is the quintessential example of how not only to do a sequel title right but how to do a Sonic title right. While the first game laid the foundation, Sonic 2 set the standard that subsequent games in the franchise tried to hold themselves up against (or surpass, with mixed results). Sonic 2 introduced numerous elements than immediately became staples of the series; add to that the fascination with all the content that was cut from the game and you have a title that continues to be relevant and influential even now, nearly thirty years after its release. While I, personally, prefer the next game in the series, Sonic 2 is still a highly regarded entry in the franchise for me and I’d always pick to play it over the first game if given a choice.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What did you think about Sonic the Hedgehog 2? Where does it rate against the other games in the franchise for you? Which Zone is your favourite? Were you the younger sibling always being forced to play as Tails or were you the older sibling who got the privilege of playing as Sonic? Would you like to see a spruced up version of the game released one day, with all the cut content restored as originally conceived? Perhaps you think Sonic 2 doesn’t live up to the hype and prefer a different game in the series; if so why, and what is it? How are you celebrating “Sonic 2sday” this year? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic 2, and Sonic in general, drop a comment below.

Game Corner: The Evil Within 2 (Xbox One)

Released: 13 October 2017
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Also Available For: PC and PlayStation 4

The Background:
After a long and illustrious career at Capcom in which he created and spearheaded the Resident Evil franchise (Capcom/Various, 1996 to present), Shinji Mikami left to help found Tango Gameworks in a bid to develop new properties and titles, such as The Evil Within (Tango Gameworks, 2014). Although critical reception of the game was somewhat mixed, The Evil Within sold well enough to justify a sequel, which began development shortly after Mikami’s team had finished up working on the first game’s downloadable content (DLC). In response to some of the criticisms regarding the first game’s convoluted plot, the team sought to make The Evil Within 2 more comprehensible while also placing greater emphasis on psychological horror elements. Despite a much shorter production period and some notable technical hiccups, The Evil Within 2 fared much better with critics than its predecessor and was generally regarded to be an improvement over the original.

The Plot.
Three years after the events of the first game, Sebastian Castellanos has left the Krimson City Police Department and continues to be haunted by his experiences. Driving to alcoholism by the death of his child, Lily, and the break-up of his marriage, he reluctantly agrees to re-enter the nightmarish world that plagues his dreams when it is revealed that Lily was actually being used as the Core for a new STEM system.

Gameplay:
The Evil Within 2 is, fundamentally, extremely similar to the first game but also noticeably different in many ways. Where the first game really emphasised a twisted, nightmarish world where anything was possible and that was populated by a variety of gruesome creatures and restricted your resources to keep you constantly fighting for survival, The Evil Within 2 is much more linear and action-orientated title. The difficulty setting you pick for your playthrough will determine how much ammo and damage you can take, which is pretty standard, but even on the “Normal” difficulty, “Survival”, there’s quite a bit of ammo, crafting items, and opportunities to replenish your health through the game, certainly more than in the first game.

The game’s controls are largely the same as before but tweaked for the better.

Control wise, however, the game is basically exactly the same; you can aim your weapon with LT, shoot with RT, and reload with X, and interact with your environment with A but, this time around, your melee attack is also mapped to RT and Y brings out your Communicator, which allows you to lock on to signals and help lead you towards objectives and objects of interest. Thankfully, you no longer need to worry about burning bodies so, rather than tossing matches with B, B activates your flashlight (Sebastian is no longer hampered by a large lantern this time around), though you can still sprint by pressing in the left analogue stick.

Stay low and sneak around to avoid detection and perform an instant kill move.

Like before, stealth and taking cover is a big part of the gameplay; you can snap to nearby cover by pressing the Right Bumper and shift from cover to cover by pressing up on the left stick. Pressing in the right analogue stick will see you crouch down and sneak around and, when enemies are nearby, you’ll again see the return of the eye-themed “Enemy Alertness” icon that will help you to know when you’ve been spotted. This time around, though, it is much easier to spring away from enemies and out of sight to keep them from pursuing you and there are far ore opportunities for you to sneak up behind enemies and perform a one-hit Sneak Kill, and you’re also given the option to enable or disable an “aim assist” that is super helpful in targeting enemies but combat is much more fluid and far less awkward this time around even without this.

Save areas have now been expanded into two locations to allow you to heal up and upgrade you attributes.

Interestingly, the game also offers the option to enable a first-person perspective; I didn’t play with this as first-person games aren’t really my thing but there was a point in the story that forced you into this perspective and it’s unusual to see this feature included in a game, so it’s interesting, if nothing else. There are far opportunities available to you to heal and craft resources; by exploring your environments, you’ll find Weapons Parts, gunpowder, fuses, and other items that can all be used in workbenches in “Safe Houses” to craft ammo and upgrade your weapons. In these Safe Houses, you’ll usually find similar resources to top up your inventory and will always find a coffee maker, which will fully refill your health with one soothing sip. You can’t abuse this mechanic, however, as it takes time for the machine to refill but you can warp through a cracked mirror like in the last game. This takes you to Sebastian’s office, where you can view documents, slides, access another workbench, and upgrade Sebastian’s other abilities (such as health and stealth) using the torture chair from the last game. In both Safe Houses and Sebastian’s office, you’ll find a terminal for you to insert your Communicator and save but, like before, the game is pretty generous with autosave points.

The addition of a Communicator, map, and waypoints makes navigation a breeze this time around.

The Communicator is a pretty big addition to the game and, yet, paradoxically not that integral at the same time. At a number of key moments in the story, you’ll have to hold X to tune into a frequency that will lead you to your next story-based objective and Sebastian will often stop (or continue walking) to chat with the game’s various non-playable characters (NPCs) and expand the story. Perhaps the best addition to the game is the inclusion of a map, which is accessed from the inventory menu; from here, you can see a simple to understand layout of the immediate area, key locations like Safe Houses, and set up a waypoint marker that allows you to easily navigate towards any location. It’s amazing how much of a difference this makes, though it is slightly unnecessary as the game is far more linear than the first game despite the fact that you’re often exploring much larger and more open areas this time around.

Access your weapons on the fly without fear of attack and chat with NPCs for side quests and exposition.

The heads-up display (HUD) remains very similar to the last game and is noticeably sparse to help with your immersion in the game but, this time, you can completely disable it (and all onscreen indicators) from the game’s settings. When you access the “Arsenal Menu” with the Left Bumper, the game actually pauses to allow you to time to select weapons or map them to the directional pad for quick access, which is super helpful. Later on, you can also craft ammo on the go from this menu as well, though it costs you more Weapon Parts to do this on the go as opposed to at a workbench. When talking to NPCs, you’ll often be given a number of different dialogue options that allow you to learn a bit more about these characters, the world around them, and activate side missions. Thankfully, you can skip through or ignore these entirely if you want and the game’s plot and ending don’t really change based on your choices.

Puzzles are few and far between and extremely simple, even when compared to the first game.

The first game was often littered with traps, many of which would kill you in a heartbeat, but the same isn’t true for The Evil Within 2. There are only a handful of moments where explosive trap wires will dog your progress (this time around, you can’t disable them and must simply duck under them or trick enemies into tripping them on your behalf) and absolutely no instant death traps, which is nice but also removes a lot of the tension and trial and error. The most consistent trap you’ll have to navigate is a series of electrified wires that require you to duck under and inch around to reach your target but one area that did slightly stand out was when you were forced to don a gas mask and forgo the use of your firearms to avoid causing a fatal explosion. There are also a few more instances where you’ll be asked to mask buttons (usually just A) to open doors, pull levers, or turn cranks or rotate the analogue sticks to line up frequency waves to open doors but puzzles are generally extremely simple (even more so than the last game) and boil down to maybe finding a key, flicking switches in the correct order, using a door’s markings to decode a cipher, or shooting a Shock Bolt at a fuse box to open a door.

The game is much more linear but there are still opportunities for exploration..

Gameplay is broken up a little bit but has far less variety than in the first game; alongside the aforementioned brief first-person sequence, there is one moment where you and Esmeralda Torres have to hold out against waves of enemies but you’re never asked to take the controls of a mounted machine gun or battle enemies on a moving vehicle or distract larger enemies with bodies this time around. Instead, the emphasis is largely more on exploration; there are numerous instances where you must access a computer and travel through “The Marrow” (which is a sparse, poor attempt at masking a loading screen) to access an underground bunker and different areas of the town of Unity and you’re generally given free reign to explore, which can lead to you partially completing side quests without realising it. As you explore, you’ll get notified whenever your Communicator picks up a signal, which can lead you to viewing “Residual Memories” to understand a bit more about STEM, Mobius, and Unity and the usual documents, newspaper clippings, and diaries will also help flesh things out but it can’t be denied that the story is much less complex this time around.

Graphics and Sound:
Honestly, The Evil Within 2 doesn’t look that much different to its predecessor; character models are really well done and lifelike (though Sebastian remains a visually uninspiring character) but, despite areas being much bigger, the game’s environments lack much of the foreboding atmosphere and horrific imagery of the first game.

While surreal imagery is still prominent, it’s not as visually interesting or macabre as before.

Unity is quite an uninspiring town; though the influence of the game’s first antagonist, Stefano Valentini, is often felt through the presence of disturbing pictures, a giant camera eye lens in the sky, and murdered Mobius agents frozen in time and staged as “art”, the more bizarre aspects of STEM (twisted hallways, crumbling cities and landscapes, and macabre, nightmarish locations) are downplayed in favour of more sterile locations. The game progressively gets more warped and strange as you progress, though, and by the time you reach the final chapter you’ll be wandering around Unity as it collapses around or and through a desolate limbo trying to rescue Sebastian’s wife but I have to say that I miss the emphasis on gore and disgusting, disconcerting imagery over The Evil Within 2’s more subdued and cerebral presentation.

Graphically, the game doesn’t seem much better than its predecessor and is arguably worse in a lot of ways.

The enemies also suffer a bit because of this; before, they were twisted, terrifying creatures that drew inspiration from a wide variety of media and came in all different variants but here they’re mainly just moaning zombies or flaming brutes. That’s not to say that there aren’t some disturbing enemies and locations in the game (the Obscura and Anima are two of the more horrific enemies and the stronghold of the game’s true antagonist, Father Theodore Wallace, is like a Lovecraftian cathedral) but the problem is that they’re just not as prevalent or as immediately creepy as in the last game. It’s telling, to me, that the finale sees Sebastian forced to relive a few key encounters from the first game and seeing the return of the Keeper enemy only served to reinforce how the sequel’s creature designs are somewhat lacking compared to the original. Add to that the fact that I glitched through some steps once, that there was occasionally a delay in textures loading and graphics popping up around me, and the fact that the game flat out soft locked on me once right before I was about he save and The Evil Within 2 seems like a bit of a step back in terms of its presentation despite appearing to be bigger and the gameplay largely being much more fluid and enjoyable.

Enemies and Bosses:
The enemies in The Evil Within 2 are known as “The Lost” and, as mentioned previously, are far less visually interesting than in the last game, where the looked like weird Cenobite/zombie hybrids that had crawled out of some nightmarish fever dream. Shambling, zombie-like creatures, the Lost shuffle about and are generally found tearing into corpses, wandering around, or rising from apparent death. They were charge at you if they spot you, throw you to the ground, attack with knifes or axes, and like to try and take a bite out of your neck but, as also mentioned, it’s pretty easy to outrun them, stealth kill them, and take out large numbers using explosive barrels, setting fire to oil pools, or electrocuting them by shooting Shock Bolts into pools of water.

Enemies, while still horrific at times, seem much more generic and predictable compared to their predecessors.

While many of the game’s creatures leave a lot to be desire, there are some interesting and disturbing enemies on offer here: Spawn are gruesome, scuttling corpses that leap at you with their huge jaws full of sharp fangs; Hysterics attack you with knives; the bulbous Glutton creatures will explode when they reach you or are attacked; and the Disciples cause additional damage thanks to their flaming bodies. You’ll also occasionally be tormented by the onryō-like Anima who, similar to Ruvik in the last game, appears every now and then and is completely immune to your attacks; she also drains your health if she gets close to you and forces you to crouch and dash through an ever-shifting maze and you’ll also have to sneak around the glob-like Watcher at one point (or risk trying to kill it by shooting it in the face).

The monstrous Guardian is a nightmareish mish-mash of linbs and giggling heads with a buzz saw for a hand!

Similar to the last game, the game only really features a handful of bosses, many of which function more like sub bosses and return as regular enemies after being defeated. The first of these you’ll encounter is the abominable Guardian, a gruesome miss-match or bodies and limbs that wields a buzz saw for a hand and pursues you relentlessly at the beginning of the game. Later, you’ll be forced to battle one outside of Cit Hall but, while there’s lots of ammo, health, and places to get a reprieve nearby, you can also dart down an alley way and cause it to be damage by trap wire traps as you escape into the building through a side door. Similarly, you’ll battle the flamethrower-wielding Harbinger first as a boss (where you can shoot at the fuel tank on its back to disable its weapon and set it alight and use nearby levers to douse its flames with the sprinklers overheard) and then as regular enemies out in the streets.

It’s a shame more of the game’s enemies aren’t as disturbing as these bosses…

The aforementioned Obscura also appears more than once; this demonic creature is one of the game’s most striking and memorable monsters in the game and resembles a weird, mangled corpse with an old style camera for a head! It scuttles about on the ceiling in the first encounter and you’re forced to hold it off and survive while waiting for an emitter machine to activate and, if you’re caught in its camera flash, time will slow to a crawl, allowing it to grab at you and attack you. Later, you’ll also encounter the monstrous Effigy, which merges with a nearby telephone pole and tries to smash you with both the pole and its claw-like hands.

After getting past Stefano, you’ll be tasked with fending off some familiar faces from the first game.

When you finally confront Stefano, the battle is one of the more subdued in the game in its first phase, which sees him teleport around his gallery in a puff of smoke and slashing at you with his knife. Once enough damage has been done to him, though, he’ll distort the area into a hellscape and get backup from his gigantic camera eye. Later, during your pursuit of Theodore, you’ll be forced to battle the chainsaw-wielding berserker (more of an interactive cutscene where you simple press A to slice him in two), three of the Keepers (easily dispatched with your more powerful weapons), and even Laura from the first game. This latter battle takes place in the furnace as before but, by that point, you’ll have access to a flamethrower than can make short work of her, too.

Myra’s horrific final form is a much more difficult finale compared to the simplistic battle against Ruvik.

Battling the Effigy is basically a taster of the game’s final battle against Sebastian’s corrupted with, Myra, who transforms into a similar gigantic creature for the finale. Unlike the final fight against Ruvik, this actually requires you to use your own weapons and ammo and a far greater degree of skill as you have to dodge her massive arms and shoot at her stomach to expose her first weak spot. Destroy this and you’ll have to stomp a load of spiders (which will drop ammo and resources) before blasting her arm fro her torso. When this severed limb grabs you, you’ll have to shoot its glowing stump in slow motion before blasting the glowing weak spot in her head. Compared to Ruvik, it’s a much tougher and more involved boss battle but, even then, the game drags out its ending to an uncomfortable degree, featuring a number of long-winded cutscenes and even a brief sequence where you take control of Juli Kidman to shoot down some Mobius agents.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Like before, The Evil Within 2’s locations contain a great deal of resources for you to find by interacting with the environment and smashing wooden crates. Syringes and medical kits will restore your health and you can also find ammo, new weapons in special cases, and both the returning Green Gel and the brand new Red Gel. These can also be earned when, soon into the game, a shooting gallery becomes accessible from Sebastian’s office that places you in a simplisic recreation of areas from the first game and tasks you with hitting high scores to earn Green Gel, Weapon Parts, and other resources. Sebastian’s office also allows you to sit in the familiar torture chair and use your Green Gel to upgrade his abilities; this will increase your maximum health and stamina, your ability to recover both of these, and a number of new abilities. For example, you can upgrade to break free of an enemy’s grip with a bottle if you have one in your inventory, dodge out of the way of enemy attacks, perform Sneak Kills under cover of your Smoke Bolts, or Ambush Kills by stealthily approaching from cover. The Red Gel is used in this skill tree to unlock additional skill levels, which seems a little pointless but it gives you something else to look out for, I guess.

Weapons can be upgraded at workbenches at the cost of Weapon Parts.

From the chair, you can also use the keys you find by smashing special statues to once again open up lockers for additional resources. Many of the weapons Sebastian has access to return, or are very similar, to those from the previous game; he carries a knife for melee combat but can instantly kill enemies if he grabs a one-use axe or distract them by throwing bottles, which can now be stacked in your inventory. Very soon, you’ll get hold of a handgun and, in time, acquire such familiar weapons as a shotgun, sniper rifle (which I had very little use for), assault rifle, and the returning crossbow (now called the Warden Crossbow and capable of firing only explosive, smoke, shock, freeze, or harpoon rounds). Later, you’ll also grab a flamethrower and, after completing the game, gain access to the magnum but you can also find better versions of the handgun and shotgun by exploring your environments. Each weapon can be upgraded from a workbench using Weapon Parts; this allows you to increase their ammo capacity, firepower, and reloaded rate, among others, and this skill tree is similarly expanded with High Grade Weapon Parts. You can also find ammo pouches of certain corpses to increase your ammo capacity and, while pipebombs are missing, the Warden Crossbow is much more accurate and wieldy this time around.

Additional Features:
There are fifty-one Achievements available in The Evil Within 2, the majority of which are earned by simply playing through and completing chapters of the story mode. You’ll also earn Achievements for defeating a certain number of enemies (both in general and in certain ways, like with Stealth Kills and your crossbow bolts), upgrading weapons, and finding collectibles. There are a number of special items you can find that will appear in Sebastian’s office, which are tied to Achievements, and you’ll also earn them for clearing certain sections in certain ways, which will require you to reload a previous save point to pop them in one go.

A few unlockables and bonus content add a little replay value but there’s no additional story DLC this time.

Right off the bat, there are free difficulty levels to choose from; when you clear the game, you’ll unlock another, access to the magnum, 40,000 Green Gel points, and a number of skins for Sebastian (which, while nothing too groundbreaking, help to mix up subsequent playthroughs). By signing up for a Bethesda account, and depending on how you purchase the game, you can also access additional perks, such as the “Last Chance Pack” code, which adds a bunch of bonus items to your inventory but, most usefully, the ability to toggle on one-hit kills, infinite stamina, and infinite health. As you’re not penalised for using these “cheats”, the game is made a complete cakewalk with these activated and means you can stack Achievements by just ploughing through on the hardest difficulty without fear of being killed. Also accessible after clearing the game is “New Game Plus”, which carries over all of your upgrades and unlocks and skins and such to a new save file. Unfortunately, you can’t upscale the difficulty when playing New Game Plus and must, instead, start a new file to play on a harder difficulty. There is also no other downloadable content to expand the game’s story or add in new modes like in the last game, no unlockable rocket launcher, and, worst of all, you can no longer freely jump to the game’s chapters, which means that you’ll have to play through the game from the start to mop up any missing Achievements.

The Summary:
In many ways, I preferred The Evil Within 2 over the original; just the inclusion of a map and waypoint system makes it a much more user-friendly experience and the combat has been tweaked just enough so that you’re not hesitating to engage with enemies. The story, which focuses much more on Sebastian and makes him a far more proactive figure, is also far less convoluted (at least until the ending) and the options available for combat make it much more interesting to play. However, it’s undeniably a much more linear game despite how big the locations are and lacks a lot of the features that make The Evil Within interesting and horrific; enemies and environments are rather drab and uninspired, the puzzles are simple and barely a factor, gameplay variety leaves a lot to be desired, and it’s just far less disturbing than the original. Interestingly, while I found the first game frustrating at times, I didn’t consider it to be so hard that it needed cheats for infinite health and stamina and, while I appreciated these inclusions, making it so that you can finish the game and get all the Achievements with these activated really renders any tension redundant and I simply ran around melee attacking enemies and killing them in one hit to complete alleviate the survival aspects of the game as much as the developers eliminated the horror elements by toning down the macabre, disturbing visuals.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think to The Evil Within 2? Do you think it was better, worse, or just as good as the original? What did you think to the change in presentation, mechanics, and tone? Were you disappointed with the enemy designs and presentation like I was or did you find it just as disturbing as before? What did you think to the story and the new antagonists? Did you play the game with the cheats activated; if not, what did you think to the game’s difficulty? Would you like to see another entry in this franchise or do you think it’s best left alone now? Whatever your thoughts on The Evil Within games, feel free to drop a comment below.

Game Corner [Back to the Future Day]: Back to the Future: The Game: 30th Anniversary Edition (Xbox One)


In the classic science-fiction film Back to the Future: Part II (Zemeckis, 1989), series protagonist Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travels from 1985 to the hyper-realistic future of 2015. October 21, 2015, to be specific which, despite the numerous iconic dates and times visited in the Back to the Future trilogy (ibid, 1985 to 1990), gains additional significance as screenwriter Bob Gale chose this date as the most absurd prediction for when the Chicago Cubs would win the World Series and for being named as “Back to the Future Day”, a day to both celebrate all things Back to the Future and all things science.


GameCorner

Released: 13 October 2015
Originally Released: 29 September 2011
Developer: Telltale Games
Also Available For: Mobile, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360

The Background:
The Back to the Future trilogy is one of the most beloved, iconic, successful, and influential film trilogies, and science-fiction movies, of all time. Sitting in a rare category where each film is as good, if not better, than the last, the trilogy made over $960 million in worldwide gross and has seen numerous adaptations in comic books, cartoons, and other media. For years, talk and rumours of a sequel and reboot have, thankfully, been shot down by both co-writer Bob Gale and co-writer and director Robert Zemeckis; despite this, a pretty decent animated series and a series of comic books could have been seen as the official continuation of the films until Telltale Games secured the license to create videogames based on some of Universal Pictures’ most successful film franchises.

The Back to the Future story has been continued in a variety of media.

With Gale brought onboard as a story consultant and reworking several of Zemeckis’ original concepts for Part II, the game has been stated to being the closest to a fourth film fans can expect but also taking place in an alternative timeline in the Back to the Future multiverse. With Christopher Lloyd returning to voice his iconic character Doctor Emmet “Doc” Brown and even Michael J. Fox popping up in a cameo appearance, Back to the Future: The Game featured music ripped straight from the films and an extremely faithful recreation of the trilogy’s distinct visual aesthetic despite its cartoonish graphical style. The game was originally released in five individual, downloadable episodes before being collected in a physical edition and, a little later, re-released for the next generation of consoles with Thomas F. Wilson returning to lend his voice to this updated release. Though the game was eventually delisted after the closure of Telltale Games, it received generally positive reviews upon release and, despite some reservations about certain aspects and mechanics of the game, it was Telltale’s most successful title prior to the release of The Walking Dead: The Game (Telltale Games, 2012).

The Plot:
Six months after the events of Back to the Future: Part III (Zemeckis, 1990), Doc Brown has gone missing and is presumed dead. However, when his DeLorean time machine randomly reappears in 1986, Marty McFly travels back to 1931 to find his old friend and bring him home only to run into Doc’s younger self, his own father as a youth, and inadvertently create a dystopian alternative timeline that the two must work together to repair to finally return back…to the future.

Gameplay:
Back to the Future: The Game places you firmly in the role of Marty McFly, the young protégé of crackpot scientist “Doc” Emmet Brown. As Marty, you’ll explore various locations and time periods in the fictional town of Hill Valley, interacting with both new and familiar Back to the Future characters, solving rudimentary puzzles, and obtaining and using items to progress the plot further.

Player interactions seems more of an emphasis than in other Telltale Games.

Telltale Games were famous for creating digital adventures games, essentially interactive movies, rather than traditional action-orientated videogames. My experience with their titles has, so far, been limited to playing free episodes of some of their other titles and Back to the Future: The Game is the first time I’ve sat down and played one of their games from start to finish. Interestingly, Back to the Future: The Game plays very differently from the Telltale Titles I’ve played before; unlike titles like Batman: The Telltale Series (Telltale Games, 2016), Back to the Future features much more emphasis on exploration and player movement over quick-time events or altering the story through a variety of responses.

The game’s camera and controls can be a bit janky and clunky at times.

Sadly, though, the game’s controls are quite stiff and clunky; Marty plods around like wading through thick sludge and, while you can hold B to “run”, you’ll never move much faster than a sluggish pace. Considering the game is a glorified point-and-click adventure rather than an action-packed game, this isn’t a massive issue except that the game’s dodgy camera and some awkward map layouts can make it more of a chore to control Marty than it needs to be and I found myself getting unnecessarily turned around or confused thanks to the camera’s positioning or stuck on parts of the environment.

Sadly, you can’t skip cutscenes, which can make repeated playthroughs tedious.

As the game was originally released in five separate chapters, this collected edition is similarly divided in such a way; from the main menu, you can select any chapter at any time and begin a new game as you wish but you’ll need to make liberal use of the game’s save function if you want to earn all of the game’s Achievements with a minimum of fuss as there’s no way to jump to different parts of each chapter. This also affects the game’s replayability as there’s no way of skipping cutscenes or quickly advancing through story elements, which can make subsequent playthroughs far more tedious than they need to be and make gameplay frustrating when you’ve made a mistake and have to sit through entire cutscenes or lines of dialogue with no way of skipping them.

It can be amusing to try out different dialogue options and items just for the hell of it.

As far as I can tell,  unlike other Telltale Games, there’s no way to really “lose” when playing Back to the Future: The Game; even if you fail to figure out some puzzles or events, you won’t get a traditional game over screen and can simply continue until you get the right sequence or choose the right dialogue option. It can be amusing to select the wrong option and see how characters react or to try and use various items on other characters or parts of the map as Marty, or other characters, will generally have something funny to say or will chew you out for being stupid.

It’s not always very clear exactly what you need to do to progress.

The bulk of Back to the Future: The Game’s “action” is made up of character interactions and interacting with the various detailed environments you find yourself in. You can talk to and interact with pretty much everything, learning more about these familiar and new characters and the various timelines Marty ends up in, which can be fun and interesting. Generally, you’ll pick up subtle hints and tips by talking to certain characters but you can also enable or disable in-game hints and mission objects to give you a vague idea of where you need to go and what you need to do. Because of this, it can sometimes be a little difficult to figure out exactly what it is you need to do; you can take your time and explore multiple options at your leisure but, if you’re chasing Achievements, you might want to use a guide as there are a lot of missable Achievements in this game and it can be tiresome having to play through the majority of one of the game’s five chapters just to get to the part you need.

It can be awkward to target people and items with the game’s clunky controls.

Compounding the issue is that the game’s interface is quite clunky at times; you can access your inventory at any time with X. From here, you can examine items and place them into your hands to use on other characters or your environment but, oddly, items will automatically remove themselves from your hands after a few seconds, which gets very annoying as you might find an item you need to use has randomly vanished from your hands right as you need to use it. Similarly, it can be difficult to interact with characters and other elements thanks to the game’s clunky “targeting” system; as you wander around, points of interest will be automatically highlight so you can interact with them but your point of interest might suddenly switch as you get closer, meaning you talk to the wrong person at the wrong time. By holding down the R trigger, you can see every element in the immediate area highlighted and use the right analogue stick to select the one you want but I found this to be equally awkward and clunky and that it was generally easier to just position myself near where I needed to be and edge myself closer to my intended target.

Some of the game’s puzzles are needlessly obtuse and annoying.

Even without these issues, some of the game’s puzzles can be needlessly frustrating; most are a simple case of talking to the right people to learn what you need or where to go but others involve pressing panic switches at the right time, selecting items around your environment to distract other characters, or finding certain items to convince a character to help you. While most of them boil down to a simple case of trail and error, and some are quite fun (like getting into a play-off against Marty’s rival and recreating his iconic and elaborate guitar performance from the first film), others are extremely complex or annoying. In particular, you’ll be required to listen out for certain code words from Doc’s younger self to correctly make rocket fuel (which must be done flawlessly to earn an Achievement), tediously manipulate your environment to create an incriminating Mind Map, or rescue your younger father with as little disruption as possible.

Graphics and Sound:
Like all Telltale Games, Back to the Future: The Game utilises a distinctly cartoony visual aesthetic that takes the general likeness of the franchise’s iconic characters and transforms them into amusing and charming caricatures of themselves. It’s a unique aesthetic, to be, sure and, while it does work for this style of game, characters can tend to look a little…off, at times, plodding and jerking around like marionettes and looking quite basic. I also noticed a few oddities and graphical glitches at times, such as items not breaking like you might realistically expect, background elements glitching out, or items and graphics randomly vanishing from cutscenes.

The graphics and aesthetic are decent if a bit bland at times.

The game’s environments can be quite bland, at times, but all the iconic locations you remember from the films are here: Marty’s house, Doc’s lab, and, of course, the iconic clock tower and town square. While the maps and environments aren’t especially large, they are varied in that you can enter different buildings in different chapters to learn more about different characters, and there’s generally a lot to do, see, and interact with despite how empty and lifeless some of the locations can be. It’s simple but largely very effective and, thanks to the game visiting new time periods (mainly 1931 and another alternative timeline), adds new wrinkles to the lore of the franchise.

The game’s soundtrack and voice acting elevate it and add to its appeal.

Honestly, my only real complaint with the game’s visual style is that Marty takes his appearance largely from the first movie; I don’t know why it is that so much Back to the Future merchandise only ever seems to recreate his attire from the first film rather than giving him a new look but it’s a little disappointing so I was glad to see him dress in period-appropriate clothing as the story progressed. Of course, what really makes Back to the Future: The Game an attractive prospect is the top-notch voice acting (A.J. Locascio does a great Michael J. Fox impression, Lloyd is fantastic as always as Doc (if noticeably aged in his gravelly delivery), and Fox himself even crops up in the game’s final chapter for a voice cameo) and the soundtrack, which is largely comprised of Alan Silvestri’s iconic score from the movies. It’s just a shame, then, that a lot of the game’s dialogue is muted or drowned out by the music or sound effects, meaning you may need to adjust the audio settings from the main menu.

Enemies and Bosses:
Given the nature of the game, there aren’t traditional enemies or bosses as in other videogames; instead, as per the plot, you will be stopped or obstructed by numerous characters who require you to say the right thing, bring them certain items, or you to perform a certain action before they will help you or let you pass.

As always, you’re hounded by Tannens throughout your journey through time.

As you might expect, you’ll run into Biff Tannen and his various ancestors and incarnations throughout the game’s story. His father, mobster Irving “Kid” Tannen is one of the game’s primary antagonists while you’re back in 1931. You’ll need to work with Marty’s father to get Kid arrested, lie to him about your credentials as a mobster, and set up an elaborate series of events to burn him out of a high-rise window as he shoots at you with a Thompson machine gun. After Marty and Doc inadvertently alter their future, you’ll also have a confrontation with Biff and his newly-acquired brothers, dodging swings from their baseball bats until you can get them all in position to be electrocuted.

Citizen Brown is an antagonistic version of Doc who plots to keep his timeline intact.

After altering the past in 1931, Marty crash-lands in an alternative version of his present in which Hill Valley is a veritable utopia thanks to a stringent police state lorded over by none of than a heavily altered version of Doc, known as “Citizen Brown”. While Marty is able to win Doc over and make him see that his dreams have been perverted by his new wife, Edna Strickland, this version of Doc later grows directly antagonistic when he has second thoughts about restoring Marty’s timeline. This leads Marty into directly opposing his friend and mentor to ensure that Doc’s younger self stays on the path towards science rather and societal correction.

Edna comes in many forms and is the game’s primary antagonist and all-around pain in the ass.

As a result, the game’s primary antagonist turns out to be Edna Strickland, a seemingly harmless character in the game’s first chapter who ends up manipulating Doc’s brilliance into brainwashing the “hooligans” of Hill Valley into being more law-abiding and docile civilians. So committed against sin and vice is Edna that it leads her to not only burn down the local speakeasy, setting in motion the events of the game’s plot, but also stealing the time machine and accidentally erasing Hill Valley from existence. When Doc and Marty travel back to 1876 to confront her, they must manipulate her fragile state of mind to learn the date and time of her arson to set things right, which ultimately leads to the player having to set up an elaborate trap involving sand bags and a chandelier to end her misguided plot.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As an interactive movie, there aren’t really any power-ups in the traditional sense of the word to be found. Instead, as you interact with others and further the plot, you’ll acquire a variety of items to be used in specific situations. Some of these will need to be handed to Doc’s faithful dog, Einstein, to progress the story or set up distractions and events you need to move the plot along, others will need to be brought to specific characters to convince them to help you or otherwise alter their destinies.

Additional Features:
There isn’t really much else to Back to the Future: The Game; as mentioned, there are a number of Achievements to acquire, with a lot of them being easily missed without a guide, which is probably where the bulk of your next playthrough will be concentrated. Don’t get me wrong, the game’s story (essentially a new take on the familiar story beats of the original trilogy) and the voice acting is entertaining enough to warrant another playthrough but, as you can’t really affect characters in the same way as in other Telltale Games, there isn’t as much incentive to try different dialogue options as in the studio’s other releases. The 30th Anniversary Edition of the game also comes with a behind the scenes video…that can no longer be viewed as the servers and Telltale’s website have long been shut down. I would have expected this edition of the game to come with, at least, a gallery of concept and development art but apparently this was too much to ask for and you simply get a questionably improved version of the base game.

The Summary:
Your enjoyment of Back to the Future: The Game will most likely depend on how enjoyable you find glorified point-and-click adventures and your level of patience. It’s not an especially hard or lengthy title (each chapter takes maybe an hour or so, depending on how you get on with the game’s vague hints and fetch-quests), nor or is an especially attractive or complex game, but it’s a fun enough distraction for what it is, with far more required of the player than other Telltale Games I’ve played.

It’s a decent game and a good addition to the lore despite being a bit bland and uninspiring at times.

What elevates the game is, of course, the voice acting and the level of fidelity it has to its source material. As a continuation of the trilogy’s storyline, the game works incredibly well, advancing each character’s story while still exploring new, unseen avenues into their pasts and characterisation. Like Ghostbusters: The Video Game (Terminal Reality/Red Fly Studio, 2009), Back to the Future: The Game is a worthy continuation of a beloved franchise that is let down only by some graphical and gameplay hiccups and, perhaps, the genre of game the films have been adapted into. Had the game, perhaps, mixed up some of its methodical pace and adventure aspects with a few more action-orientated sections (like actually driving the DeLorean or taking part in one of the iconic chase scenes) and had some actual branching pathways, it might have been even better but, as is, it’s an inoffensive and decent enough little game.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Did you ever play Back to the Future: The Game? Is so, what did you think of it? Did you find any oddities or get scuppered by the odd camera and control scheme? What did you think of its plot and attempts to continue the Back to the Future trilogy? Which Telltale Game, or Back to the Future film, is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating Back to the Future Day today? Whatever you think about Back to the Future, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Game Corner: The Evil Within (Xbox One)

Released: 14 October 2014
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360

The Background:
Shinji Mikami joined Capcom in 1990 and worked on a number of successful handheld, 8- and 16-bit titles during his first six years with the company. In 1996, though, Mikami developed the first Resident Evil (Capcom, 1996) videogame, which not only popularised the “survival-horror” subgenre but was an incredible success upon release. Since then, Mikami spearheaded or was heavily involved in Resident Evil’s sequels and spin-offs, including taking over as director of Resident Evil 4 (Capcom Production Studio 4, 2005) and changing the direction of the franchise. However, by 2010, Mikami had left Capcom to develop new properties and titles under Tango Gameworks; the first of these was The Evil Within (known as Psycho Break in Japan), a title which Mikami aimed to return to the roots of the survival-horror genre, which had become increasingly actionorientated over the years. Despite some criticism regarding technical issues, The Evil Within was received rather favourably; while some struggled with the game’s difficulty and convoluted plot, the atmosphere and horror elements were notably praised. The game was also the second-best selling game in the United Kingdom upon release and earned an even more highly regarded sequel in 2017.

The Plot:
After arriving at a brutal massacre, Detective Sebastian Castellanos is pulled into a distorted world full of nightmarish locations and horrid creatures after pursuing a mysterious, seemingly supernatural hooded figure known as Ruvik. Trapped with limited resources and relentlessly hunted, Sebastian is left to fight for his survival and uncover the mystery of Ruvik and the horrific world Sebastian’s found himself trapped in.

Gameplay:
The Evil Within is a survival-horror videogame very much in the style of Resident Evil 4 in many ways; my experience with the Silent Hill franchise (Konami/Various, 1999 to 2014) is sadly limited but, from the bit I’ve played of the first game, The Evil Within is clearly heavily borrowing from the more nightmarish and twisted reality of Silent Hill than the virus-heavy narrative of the Resident Evil franchise. Like in Resident Evil 4, you have full 3600 control of your character and the camera rather than being restricted by tank controls and set camera angles, and you’re also given much more options in terms of combat. You can melee attack with Y using your fists or bottles, interact with the environment with A, burn bodies and pools of gasoline with your limited supply of matches with B, aim with LT and shoot your weapons with RT, reload with X, and spring with LB. you can’t hold the sprint trigger down for too long, though, as you’re hampered by a stamina meter and Sebastian will be left vulnerable and out of breath if you run for too long.

Sneak past enemies or creep up behind them to pull off an instant kill move.

One of the big mechanics of The Evil Within is the sneaking and stealth-based gameplay that is pushed as a big thing in the first few chapters of the game’s story and then all but vanishes for the bulk of the gameplay as you’re given more ammo and weapons, before rearing up again near the finale of the game. You can use RB to sneak around when enemies are nearby and a helpful eye-themed “Enemy Alertness” icon will let you know when enemies are unaware of you or actively searching for you. When the eye widens, you should sprint out of site or hide inside a nearby locker or wardrobe until the danger has passed but be careful as enemies will pull you out of your hiding place if they see you try to hide. Still, if you manage to sneak up behind enemies, you’ll be able to pull off an instant kill move with a press of the A button but I found enemies become very aware of your presence even when you’re being super stealthy so this was often quite tricky to pull off. As much of the game is seeped in an unsettling darkness, you can also use your lantern by pressing in the left analogue stick to light the way but this will also attract nearby enemies (though, again, this becomes less of an issue hen you gain more resources).

Set your weapons and healing items to the D-pad for quick use and take advantage of any NPC backup you get.

Like all great survival-horror titles, The Evil Within excels in building a horrific, foreboding atmosphere thanks to its unsettling, often gruesome visuals and twisted, reality-bending narrative. To help with this, the heads-up display (HUD) is extremely sparse to increase your immersion in the game’s horrifying locations and narrative. You’ll see your health, stamina, and currently-equipped weapon and ammo and that’s about it unless you’re joined by one of Sebastian’s partners, like Joseph Oda, who often help you out with some additional firepower. If they’re attacked, you can fend off their attackers and heal them by holding down A (which helpfully doesn’t waste your own healing resources). You can set your weapons and healing items to the directional pad (D-pad), which helps you to quickly switch weapons or replenish your health without going into the inventory wheel, which slows the in-game action to a crawl but doesn’t pause it completely and can thus leave you vulnerable.

Puzzles are few and far between in The Evil Within but are suitably macabre (and a bit unfair, at times).

Interestingly, The Evil Within is surprisingly light on puzzles, labyrinthine environments, and the use of keys and other items to progress. Occasionally, you’ll have to acquire a key to open a door or work your way through a grim and grimy location avoiding instant death traps, fending off enemies, and running from Ruvik as you try to open a central door, but these moments are few and far between. Instead, The Evil Within is a much more linear game than its forefathers, meaning that you’re not afforded a map this time around. For the most part, this isn’t an issue but it wouldn’t have hurt to have a map available since a lot of the environments are a bit grey, dark, and look alike so it can be easy to get turned around sometimes. As a result, though, you never really have to worry about pushing statues or getting a bunch of extraneous items or combining them together and, instead, will be more focused on blasting enemies or bashing their heads in than worrying about jewels. However, when puzzles do crop up, they’re fittingly gruesome: you’ll have to insert probes into brains while looking at nearby diagrams and listening to audio tapes, press the right buttons on surgery tables to avoid being skewered and reveal a hidden exit, sneak past wire traps and rush through spiked traps, and shut off valves of steam or activate flames to get past certain areas, and turn a few dials here and there in order to progress, take out enemies, or free your comrades.

You’ll need to constantly be on your guard for traps and hazrads that threaten to skewer or explode you.

During Chapter 11, though. you’ll also have to shoot down corpses hanging above the flooded streets in order to distract and swim past a monstrous creature, which can get pretty tense as your window of opportunity is very small, and you’ll also be chased by chainsaw-wielding berserker’s and suddenly ensnared in traps that you must shoot or run out of or face a grisly end. Indeed, traps and hazards such as these are one of the most recurring dangers in the game; these are dotted around every location, springing up on you when you least expect it and often skewing you or blowing you into bloody chunks with little warning. Many of these will result in instant death, requiring you to retry from your last save point, but others can be disarmed by holding A, sneaking up on them, or pressing A at the right time in a small mini game. Disarming traps such as these will net you additional junk (which you can also acquire by smashing crates and such), which is used in the game’s (thankfully) extremely limited crafting system to create ammo for your “Agony Bolt” crossbow. You’ll also find Green Gel in jars and bubbling on the floor after you defeat enemies; be sure to grab this whenever you see it as you’ll need it to upgrade Sebastian’s abilities and weapons in the game’s haunting save areas.

Graphics and Sound:
Honestly, The Evil Within is quite a bland game in many ways; much of the environments take place in such uninspired locations as a hospital, sewer, grimy caverns, and gothic laboratories, meaning that a lot of the colours are subdued and feature a lot of black, grey, and brown. However, the game excels in the use of lighting and a perverse, macabre atmosphere that really adds to the sense of dread and tension in every area. Things may look perfectly normal one minute and then, very quickly, become warped either by Ruvik, Sebastian’s apparently fragmenting mental state, or the presence of certain enemies.

Environments are forboding and ominous, if a bit drab and interchangeable at times.

Bodies, bloodstains, and gore are in abundance in almost every area you visit; you’ll find dismembered corpses, flickering lights, smashed up areas and some truly disturbing labs and operating theatres that more closely resemble torture chambers or slaughter houses. Sebastian’s journey takes him through a variety of locations, all of which are generally seeped in a thick, ominous darkness or carry an menacing sense of dread thanks to the carnage that surrounds him or the use of screams and ambient sounds (mostly haunting, almost taunting voices). There’s also some cool weather effects on display; rain splatters on the screen, wind blows through trees and grass, and environments twist and change as Ruvik bends them to his will with often devastating effects.

Much of the game draws visual inspiration from Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and other horror franchises.

When The Evil Within breaks free from restrictive corridors filled with barbed wire, wreckage, and corpses, it really starts to feel much more unique amongst other survival-horror videogames; you’ll wander through the castle-like ruins of weird mish-mash of cultures, venture through a city that is constantly shifting and changing and collapsing around you like something out of Inception (Nolan, 2010), but you’ll also recognise a number of the tropes and references to Resident Evil along the way. The hospital and laboratories of the game, for example, are very reminiscent of Umbrella’s facilities, as is the mansion you eventually explore; you’ll also spot a few familiar typewriters but the game also evokes imagery from Silent Hill through its narrative and horror franchises like The Ring (Various, 1991 to 2019) and Hellraiser (Various, 1987 to present) in its enemy designs.

Sebestian might not be the most compelling character but he’s thrust into some horrific situations.

While the game’s use of music and ambient sounds is pretty good, if uninspiring at times, it’s the lapses in sound and use of ominous groaning or wails of some unspeakable eldritch abomination that really add to the game’s unsettlingly atmosphere. The voice acting is okay, for the most part, but kind of reminds me of the B-movie delivery of games like The House of the Dead (SEGA AM1, 1996) and even the original Resident Evil while still treating the events of the game with a grim seriousness that further emphasises that its meant to be unsettling and disturbing rather than thrilling or cheesy. Sadly, thanks to the nature of the game’s narrative, the plot is all over the place; much of the narrative is focused on Sebastian trying to figure out the mystery of Ruvik while the world literally falls apart around him and questioning his sanity but it turns out to be this weird, pseudo-virtual reality environment of sorts that really isn’t elaborate don all that much in the game’s cutscenes or dialogue. Instead, you’ll have to root through the many mysterious and ominous documents and the comments of non-playable characters (NPCs) around you to get a better idea of what the hell is actually going on which, while creating a bit of a disconnect between me and Sebastian’s plight, I found did lend to the nightmarish appeal of the game as it was literally like playing through some ghastly nightmare where nothing makes sense and the world is full of shrieking, gabbling zombie-like creatures and unspeakable horrors and gore.

Enemies and Bosses:
As you desperately plough your way through the game and try to figure out just what the hell is going on, you’ll find yourself besieged by a number of grisly creatures that literally come to life before your eyes as corpses stagger upwards, seemingly innocent blood stains burst free with screaming ghouls, and enemies burst apart into freakish abominations. The most common types of enemy you’ll encounter are known as “The Haunted”; these dishevelled reanimated corpses are like a cross between zombies, Cenobites, and the Las Plagas enemies of Resident Evil 4 and will stagger and rush at you in a blind fury looking to take a bite out of your neck. They’re also capable of attacking as a group and with weapons such as knives, crossbows, and even guns, and will eventually don body armour and wield machine guns, shotguns, Molotov cocktails, and can even activate traps by pulling levers. Thankfully, they go down relatively easily, especially after a few shots to the head, but you’re also encouraged to burn their bodies upon defeat to avoid them springing to life once more.

Ghastly, zombie-like enemies will rush at you and attack using edged weapons, explosives, and even firearms!

The haunted come in all shapes and sizes, including much bigger and more rotund enemies who can tank your shots, ones who rush at you in a suicide run, and even ones that appear invisible until the moment before they strike. You’ll also have to contend with some disturbing little baby versions of the Haunted that seep out through walls and drop from the ceilings, but these are easily dispatched with your melee attacks. You’ll also encounter far larger versions (who are best avoided rather than tackling directly unless you have some heavier weaponry on hand) and the disgusting AlterEgo variants who shamble about the place, take far more damage to defeat, and puke up viscera onto you when they got close to you!

The game’s bigger, more dangerous sub bosses will require your more powerful weapons to put down.

Such larger, more grotesque enemies serve as The Evil Within’s mini bosses; the first enemy you encounter, for example, is the chainsaw-wielding Sadist who cannot be harmed. Instead, you have to frantically run from him and sneak around him to avoid being sliced in two but, later in the game, you’ll encounter these brutes as mini bosses in increasingly confined areas; thankfully, by then you’ll be packing a shotgun and some explosive weaponry so they’re not too difficult to put down as long as you keep away from the wild swing of their chainsaws. Similarly, while exploring Cedar Hill Church, you’ll have to fight past the misshapen, monstrous formally conjoined twins Neun and Zehn, who rush at you and try to smash you into a bloody puddle in a confined area. Luckily, Joseph is on hand to offer support with a sniper rifle and you can use your more powerful weapons to slow them and finish them off one at a time.

The Keepers are similar to Pyramid Head but are much easier to put down…with the right weapons…

Another prominent sub boss, of sorts, is the Keeper; these hulking creatures wield meat cleavers and pursue you with a screen-distorting effect and dropping barbed wire mine traps on the floor. Because their heads are protected by a metal safe, the only way to kill these bastards is to aim for the ample chests but, quite often, killing one will simply cause another to spawn out of nearby safes, which can also spring to life and attempt to attach to your face. As a result, a mixture of stealth and tactics are advised when facing the Keepers, which can often be avoided altogether and mainly serve as a formidable distraction while you try to shut off steam valves and progress further.

The Amalgam Alpha was a horrendous boss figh, especially when it enters its second phase and eats you!

As you might expect from the man behind Resident Evil, you’ll also have to battle a number of bizarre and monstrous creatures to progress; one, the Sentinel, is a giant wolf-like creature transformed into a hideous monstrosity and which likes to hide in nearby bushes before pouncing on you and trying to bite your face off. Another is Quell, a massive octopus-like creature that attacks you in the sewers and likes to hide in pipes and grab you with its tentacles; when it does, you have a small window to shoot its face to damage it and save yourself from a gruesome end. Easily the most prevalent and annoying, however, is the Amalgam Alpha creature, which appears to be an eldritch, nightmarish spider/scorpion hybrid that rampages through an underground car park and was, easily, the toughest and most annoying boss fight of the game. This thing is really big and its weak point (an eye on either its tail or within its gaping mouth) can be really tricky to hit; luckily, the car park is full of ammo and other resources but you’ll have to be quick on your feet to avoid its super frustrating instant kill move.

Laura is a shrieking, persistent threat best staved off with fire and avoided lest she pummel you to death!

As Ruvik remains elusive for most of the game, the most prominent antagonist you’ll face for most of the game is Laura, an onryō-like girl who emerges, shrieking and wailing, from bubbling bloodstains in certain parts of specific chapters and scuttles after you like a spider, instantly smashing your head in if she gets a hold of you. You’ll encounter Laura three times over the course of the game and she gets more aggressive and difficult to face each time: in the first encounter, you simply have to run around a corner and set alight a pool of gasoline to scare her off but you’re then forced to battle her in an incinerator room. Here, she demonstrates her ability to teleport and emerge from nearby corpses so you’ll have to make sure that you burn these and arm yourself with nearby torches to stave her off but the only way you’ll defeat her is to trick her into spawning inside of one of the incinerators and pulling the lever. The last battle against her is even worse as it has multiple stages that see you fending her off by shoot levers on pipes to spew fire at her and desperately making your way towards an elevator before she can grab you. While it is possible to do her in using nearby flame traps and your conventional weapons, it’s worth coming back after you’ve unlocked the rocket launcher to make these fights easier as she’s basically indestructible otherwise.

You’ll battle Ruvik’s monstrous final form without fear of exhausting your precious resources.

Finally, there’s the primary antagonist himself, the mysterious Ruvik, who is apparently the mastermind behind all of the game’s events. Occasionally, Ruvik will spawn into a location and begin to chase you; if this happens, my advice is to run as fast as you can and hide in a wardrobe or under a bed until he disappears as he’ll explode you into bloody chunks otherwise. Later, you’ll encounter Haunted who assume his guise, who can be easily put down without much trouble, and the entire final chapter of the game is dedicated towards making your way to a final confrontation with Ruvik. Here, he merges with the Amalgam Alpha to become the Amalgam, a Lovecraftian beast that you must run from as it chases you up the side of a building before commandeering a machine gun and a rocket launcher to finish him off for good. In this final boss fight, you don’t need to worry about expending your ammo or running around in a panic; you simply have to move to the left or right to avoid his claws, aim for his head, and try not to miss withy our rockets. Eventually, you’re given a split second to shoot the final bullet at Ruvik’s exposed head but it’s okay if you miss as the autosave point is right before this section so take your time and put an end to him for good by stomping on his exposed brain.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you explore the many nightmarish environments of The Evil Within, you’ll find a lot of junk and helpful items to pick up, especially if you smash open crates and open up any drawers or cupboards. You’ll acquire syringes and medical kits to restore your health (these latter will also briefly extend your health at the cost of a few seconds of disorientation), ammo for your weapons, matches, and Green Gel. You’ll want to grab as much of these as you can (be sure to reload your weapons and cycle through your Agony Bolt variants to stockpile as much ammo as possible) in order to have the best chance of success in combat.

In addition to the usual firearms, your Agony Bolt can fire a number of different arrows.

Sebastian is afforded all the usual weapons you should expect from a survival-horror videogame; begins with a simple pistol but soon acquires a shotgun, the aforementioned Agony Bolt, a sniper rifle, and even a magnum as the game progresses. These can usually be found in attaché briefcases so be sure to explore your environments fully to get your hands on more weapons and ammo, and Sebastian can also make use of nearby bottles to throw at and bash enemies with, pipebombs, and explosive barrels (which he can also awkwardly kick around to best destroy enemies). In addition, the Agony Bolt can shoot multiple different types of arrows, from explosives to freezing blasts to stun shots, all of which can be either found in the environment or crafted with a simple press of a button from the inventory menu.

Find Green Gel to upgrade Sebastian’s abilities, ammo, and weapons.

At numerous points throughout each chapter, you’ll find mysterious cracked mirrors that transport you to the save room. Here, you can use any keys you find from breaking special statues to open up lockers and access some extra ammo and also use your Green Gel in a very ominous looking chair. This allows you to upgrade Sebastian’s abilities, such as his maximum health and stamina and melee damage output, and weapons, allowing you to increase your maximum ammo capacity, reload time, accuracy, and overall effectiveness for each weapon. It’s worth stockpiling Green Gel and spreading it wisely to increase Sebastian’s health and the amount of matches he can carry while also focusing on each weapon at a time; I favoured upgraded the shotgun and saved that for the more troublesome enemies but you may prefer to upgrade the Agony Bolt or sniper rifle.

Additional Features:
There are forty-one Achievements on offer in The Evil Within, many of which require a bit more strategy to unlock than simply clearing every chapter. Indeed, almost every chapter of the game has a specific requirement to unlock an Achievement, such as defeating a Sadist with a stealth kill, surviving an onslaught of enemies without Joseph being hurt, or killing Laura rather than simply outrunning her. You’ll also get Achievements for more mundane things, such as stealth killing five enemies in a row without being discovered, upgrading weapons and skills, or killing a certain number of enemies in specific ways, as well as finishing the game on higher difficulties or without any Green Gel upgrades.

Clear the game to unlock bonus weapons, new difficulty levels, or purchase the DLC for extra story content.

The game has four difficulty settings, with two available right from the start; while you can lower the difficulty at any time, you can’t raise it and, after finishing the game, you’ll unlock additional weapons to use in the ‘New Game+’ mode, which allows you to replay any chapter on the difficulty you cleared it on. You’re also given 50,000 Green Gel points to spend and unlock a model viewer but, annoyingly, your rocket launcher and machine gun have limited ammo, meaning you can’t just plough through the game’s chapters willy-nilly. Still, it does give you the edge in tracking down any statue key, map pieces, and documents you missed the first time through and working toward 100% completion. There are also a couple of expansion packs available to download that add an extra thirty Achievements to the game in addition to expanding upon the story with new playable characters and enemies to battle. I haven’t actually bought this, however, so it’s not my place to comment upon it but the game was appealing enough that I may explore this extra content later down the line (or if there’s a sale on).

The Summary:
The Evil Within certainly was a disturbing head-trip of a videogame; very little about it makes sense as you play it, with the events appearing to be the result of Sebastian slowly going insane but eventually being revealed to be the results of some bizarre experiment that, even now, I’m a bit unclear on. The result is a very unpredictable and gameplay experience full of unsettling imagery and enemies, gore, and ghastly creatures of all shapes and sizes that pull from a variety of other media and horror elements and mash them together in a truly nightmarish and ominous videogame that maintains a constant sense of dread and anticipation as you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next as Sebastian is battered and tossed all over the place through a constantly shifting nightmare world.

While it can be annoying and tedious, the game does a great job of conveying a macabre and ominous dread.

Having said that, though, there were a few flaws in the game. It’s not always immediately clear where you need to go as environments tend to look the same (especially in chapters set within the hospital or similar locations), some of the boss battles and enemies were ridiculously unfair thanks to them having one-hit kill moves in their arsenal (something I’m always frustrated by), and expanding Resident Evil’s save rooms out to a whole area was a bit laborious at times when I just wanted to quickly save without having to trudge about in the slowly-dilapidating hospital foyer. Still, it was a harrowing experience, one that really conveyed a tangible sense of dread and horror; Sebastian might not be the most compelling or dynamic character but his “Everyman” persona worked well with the increasingly insane and macabre things he was faced with and it was nice to feel that sense of foreboding menace once again, even if the game does veer more towards action than survival-horror thanks to you have just enough ammo and resources to get through each chapter rather than having to constantly worry about inventory management.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of The Evil Within? Did you enjoy the game’s ominous atmosphere and mind trip of a story or was it too derivative for you? What did you think of Sebastian as a protagonist, his supporting cast, and Ruvik as the main antagonist? Did you enjoy all the allusions and references to other survival-horror videogames and horror media or do you feel like that got in the way of the game’s more unique qualities? Would you like to see more from the Evil Within franchise? Which survival-horror videogame or franchise is your favourite and why? Whatever your thoughts on The Evil Within, or survival-horror in general, drop a comment down below.

Game Corner [MK Month]: Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate (Xbox One)


To celebrate the simultaneous worldwide release of Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992) on home consoles, 13 September 1993 was dubbed “Mortal Monday”. Mortal Kombat’s move to home consoles impacted not only the ongoing “Console War” between SEGA and Nintendo but also videogames forever thanks to its controversial violence. Fittingly, to commemorate this game-changing event, I’ve been dedicating every Monday of September to celebrating the Mortal Kombat franchise.


Released: 17 November 2020
Originally Released: 23 April 2019
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Also Available For: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Stadia, Xbox Series X

The Background:
Mortal Kombat was a phenomenal success for Midway; thanks to its controversial violence and unique digitised graphics, the game stood out from the likes of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991). While the franchise went from strength to strength during the 2D era of gaming, Mortal Kombat struggled to really stand out amidst a slew of revolutionary 3D fighters and, following the lacklustre release of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (Midway Games, 2008), the series looked to be in serious trouble after Midway went bankrupt in 2010. Thankfully, Warner Bros. Interactive stepped in and the Mortal Kombat team was rebranded as NetherRealm Studios. Their first order of business was to get their violent franchise back on track, which they did with Mortal Kombat (NetherRealm Studios, 2009), a particularly well-received reboot of the surprisingly convoluted lore. This gritty, violent reboot again stirred controversy but sales of the game alone were enough to cover the costs of Midway’s acquisition and work on a follow-up soon began.

After the disappointing Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, Mortal Kombat made an impressive comeback.

Mortal Kombat X (ibid, 2015) instantly impressed and out-did its predecessor in every way, being both the most violent entry and having the biggest launch in the franchise’s long history at the time. Mortal Kombat X also scored very well and the success of the game earned it not just a host of additional downloadable content (DLC) but also an expanded version, Mortal Kombat XL, in 2016. Keen to capitalise on the good will they had earned back with these releases, NetherRealm announced the development of Mortal Kombat 11 at the Games Awards 2018, a game that saw the triumphant return of actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa to the role of Shang Tsung and sold over eight million copies by October 2020. Like its predecessors, Mortal Kombat 11 received an expanded addition that included all of its DLC fighters and even additional story mode content and was met with favourable reviews, though some criticised the randomisation of the game’s unlockables and the overreliance on grinding, mechanics that, for me, affected the appeal of Injustice 2 (ibid, 2017).

The Plot:
After the defeat of Shinnok at the conclusion of Mortal Kombat X, Raiden has become corrupted by the Elder God’s amulet and, angered at the Thunder God’s repeatedly meddling in the fabric of space and time, the keeper of time (and Shinnok’s mother), Kronika, plots to rewrite history to erase Raiden from existence. With past versions of classic Mortal Kombat characters showing up all over the place, and Earthrealm’s most dangerous and long-dead enemies forging an alliance to usher in Kronika’s “New Era”, Earthrealm’s Special Forces and allies face a battle against time itself to keep the realms from being torn asunder.

Gameplay:
As you might expect by now, Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is a 2.5D fighting game in which players can pick from one of thirty-seven characters and battle through the game’s single-player story mode, fight one-on-one against another player or computer-controlled opponent, battle their way though a variety of arcade-style towers, or challenge other players to a variety on online battles. Battles take place in a best-of-three format and against a time limit, though you can alter these settings (and many others, including the difficulty of computer-controlled opponents) from the game’s comprehensive menu to speed up gameplay or make it more accessible.

One of the things I love about Mortal Kombat is that gameplay and combos are generally easy to pick up.

As in the other 3D Mortal Kombat fighters, fights in Mortal Kombat 11 are extremely accessible and easy to master. You can attack your opponent with punches with either X or Y, kicks with A or B, block with RT, throw (again, this is more like a grapple) with LB or X and Y and a directional input, and interact with the game’s environments when indicated with RB. You can also dash towards and away from your opponent, jump in or crouch down to attack or avoid projectiles, and string together combos by pressing the attack buttons and using directional inputs quickly. The game features a comprehensive tutorial mode that teaches you all of the basics and intricacies of the game’s combat, which gets deeper and more complex depending on your skill level and who you play as but is still extremely easy for even novice players to pick up and pull off a few simple combos.

In addition to trademark special moves, characters can also pull off gruesome Fatal Blows.

Each character also boasts a number of special moves, also pulled off by a few simple button and directional inputs (back, forward, X, for example, or forward, down, B); these can be stringed together with combos and augmented with a well-timed press of RB (this will, however, drain a meter at the bottom of the screen but this will quickly refill in time). Unlike in the last two games, though, you can no longer build your meter towards a gruesome X-Ray move; instead, when your health is sufficiently depleted, you’ll have the option of pulling off a “Fatal Blow” once per fight (not per round) to mash your opponent into mush. While these are suitably impressive, violent, and gory, I have to say that I miss being able to build up to and pull off a momentum-changing special move whenever I want rather than when I’m near death. While special moves are pretty easy to perform, you can review them at any time from the pause menu and even “tag” team so they appear onscreen for easy reference, but I would have liked the option to pick and choose which ones are displayed for quick reference.

Fatalities are more visceral and gory than ever and see you dismembering and eviscerating your opponent.

As horrific as the Fatal Blows can be, though, the real star of the show is, once again, the game’s Fatalities, the trademark of the franchise. At the end of the deciding round (usually round two), you’ll be told to “Finish Him!!” (or her…) and given a short period of time to stand in a specific spot and enter another button combination to tear your opponent to pieces, usually resulting in their guts, brains, and eyes bursting from their body or them being shredded and blown apart. Every character has three Fatalities available to them: one that is readily available, one that is locked and must be unlocked in the Krypt (or looked up online…), and one that is assigned to pulling off special Fatalities in certain stages (“Stage Fatalities”, like the classic uppercut into an acid pit) and you can also find (or purchase) “Easy Fatality Tokens” to pull them off more easily and practice them in the Fatality Tutorial.

There’s more than one way to finish your opponent, including a couple of non-lethal options.

Fatalities aren’t the only way to finish your opponent, though; by following a specific set of instructions during a fight (such as not blocking or hitting a certain number of moves and ending the decisive round with a specific attack), you can once again end your foe with a “Brutality” (although, as Factions are no longer included, Faction Kills are also not present this time). You can also pull off a non-lethal “Friendship” if you don’t wish to eviscerate your opponent and even replenish a small portion of their health by showing “Mercy” to allow the fight to continue a little longer. There are benefits to finishing off your opponent, though, as this will award you Hearts, one of four different forms of in-game currency, additional Koins (the primary form on in-game currency), and contribute to your player level and allow you to unlock additional bonuses.

Once again, it’s going to take a lot of grinding to earn enough to unlock everything in the game.

One of the biggest complaints I had about Injustice 2 was the sheer abundance of different in-game currencies and the unfortunate emphasis on grinding for levels and unlockables and the randomness of the game’s loot crates. Sadly, Mortal Kombat 11 carries a lot of this forward; there are numerous customisation options available to you, from backgrounds and icons for your gamer card to individual gear and skins for each character but pretty much all of them are locked behind the game’s time-consuming grinding system. You earn Koins, Soul Fragments, Hearts, and Time Crystals by playing every single one of the game’s modes; while each of these can be spent in the Krypt to unlock chests and release souls (which will net you additional currency, skins, gear, augments, and Konsumables), Time Crystals can be spent in the in-game shop but, as items in the shop at so expensive, you’re encouraged to spend real world money to unlock additional stuff.

Battle through Klassic and online towers to earn rewards, see character endings, and unlock gear.

Unfortunately, while each character has a whole load of gear and skins and customisation options available to them, these are locked behind grinding; you can find many of these in the Krypt but others are unlocked by playing story mode, completing the character tutorials, or besting the game’s many towers. As in the classic 2D games, you can once again pick between three different towers (Novice, Warrior, and Champion); which tower you pick determines the amount of fighters you’ll face and the degree of the rewards you’ll earn from completion. You can also take on the Endless tower to face and endless number of opponents until you quit or are defeated and the Survival tower in which the damage you receive from each fight carries over to the next. Similar to Mortal Kombat X and Injustice 2, you can also challenge a number of different online towers, the “Towers of Time”; these provide you with a variety of challenges but are only available for a set amount of time before they’re replaced with a fresh challenge. However, you even access this mode you first need to clear a number of tutorials first, which seemed a bit redundant, and you will need to pay and also perform certain tasks (such as a certain amount of attacks or specials) to complete each character’s specific tower and unlock more gear and skins for them.

Timelines collide in the story mode, which occassionally asks you to pick between two fighters.

A big part of the game is its story mode; once again, the story is broken down into twelve chapters, with each chapter assigned to at least one character but, every now and then, you’ll be given the option of picking between two characters. It doesn’t really matter which character you pick, though, as you don’t even need to tick off all of these options to 100% the story mode and it hardly affects the narrative at all. Despite the fact that you can’t finish off and kill your opponents, the story mode is a great way to earn Koins and gear and get to grips with each character; the story sees characters from the past return to life as Kronika attempts to rewrite history, which effectively undoes a lot of the development done to the series in Mortal Kombat X but it’s a good excuse to have classic characters return to the series. You can set the difficulty setting for the story mode whenever you like but there are no Achievements tied to beating it or any of the other mode son higher difficulties but you do generally earn better rewards for taking on more difficult challenges.

Graphics and Sound:
Mortal Kombat 11 looks fantastic; character faces still look a bit shiny and odd at times (particularly the females) but there’s even less distinction between the in-game graphics and the many cutscenes you’ll see as you play through the story. Every character is full of life and little quirks, such as Liu Kang constantly hopping from foot to foot in true Bruce Lee style, Kano nonchalantly spitting on the floor, and Skarlet cutting herself open. If the winning fighter is too close to their fallen foe when a round ends, they’ll back away with their own unique animation and voice clips and taunts can be heard throughout each fight as you pull of special moves, combos, and gain victories. Unfortunately, as always, the developers continue to render the character’s different endings using a motion comic aesthetic and voice over rather than utilise the full motion CGI cutscenes used to great effect in the game’s story, which continues to be a disappoint for me and I’ve never really understood this choice.

While environmental interactions seem limited, they’re still a great way to deal some damage.

Where Mortal Kombat 11 fails a little bit is in the stages; stages are a big part of any fighting game but especially Mortal Kombat and NetherRealm Studios’ recent efforts since they introduced the concept of interacting with various parts of the environment. This returns again, allowing you to skewer opponents with spears, throw bodies at them, wall run out of harms way, or toss or wield a variety of weapons (such as a chainsaw and a sledgehammer) to deal additional damage. These will often finally utilise the gruesome x-ray feature that was a big part of the last two games (which can also be triggered with certain special moves and augmented specials) but it feels as though there are a lot less opportunities to interact with the background and pull off Stage Fatalities than normal, making environments look and feel very alive but being disappointingly light on interactive elements despite all of the cameos and interesting elements at work in the background.

The game goes to great lengths to recreate iconic environments and locations from the first two games.

One thing I did like, though, was the return of some classic stages from past Mortal Kombat games, such as the courtyard and the dead pool; the best stage for this is, easily, the Retrocade stage, which randomly generates pixel-perfect recreations of classic Mortal Kombat stages complete with music. The game also goes above and beyond to recreate Shang Tsung’s island in immaculate detail in the Krypt; not only does it feature every stage from the first Mortal Kombat but it also recreates scenes and locations from the brilliant Mortal Kombat (Anderson, 1995) and cameos and references to numerous Mortal Kombat characters, which makes it a fantastic area to explore that is sadly let down by how confusing the Krypt’s map system is. Not only that but Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa lends his voice and likeness to Tsung once again, adding his unmatched gravitas to the character, and you can even buy a skin pack that adds skins for Sonya Blade, Johnny Blaze, and Raiden that adds three more likenesses and voices from the film.

As gruesome and visceral as the Fatalities are, the Fatal Blows are gloriously rendered in macabre detail.

While the game does excel in its many cutscenes and does a great job of telling its story with just the right level of cheese and seriousness, the main draw of the game is in its violence and gore and Mortal Kombat 11 certainly delivers in that respect. Skin is literally peeled from the bones, eyeballs fly in geysers of blood, bodies are dismembered, split into pieces, dissolved, and shredded, and limbs are torn apart in a variety of ghastly ways and it’s always a joy to see the horrifying ways characters are going to mutilate their opponents. The Fatal Blows are sometimes just as good, if not better, as any of the game’s Fatalities, with characters being stabbed, shot, and blasted in ways that would surely kill them only for the characters to hop right back up afterwards. While character’s clothes and accessories don’t rip or tear during the fights, they do seem to get stained by blood at times and skin can be seen baring wounds and scars from battle.

Enemies and Bosses:
As a fighting game, every single character in Mortal Kombat 11 is your enemy and you’ll be forced to do battle with all of them at least once, at some point, as you play through the story mode and arcade towers. Because every character controls and fights a little differently, with some focusing on ranged attacks or brawling while others emphasis slow but hard-hitting attacks, it’s best to sample each for yourself and to get an idea of your favourite character’s different abilities and variations in order to achieve success. Also crucial is mastering a handful of the game’s combos; many are as simple as X, X, Y or X, Y, X but others require directional inputs, longer button presses, and the co-ordinated stringing together of frame-perfect attacks and special moves. Luckily, though, every character usually has one or two simple combos for you to master so it’s simple enough for players of any skill level to pick up and play.

Your attack strategy may have to change depending on who you are fighting or playing as.

Some characters, though, play a little differently to others and this affects not only how you play but also how you fight them. Shang Tsung, for example, can not only steal the soul of his opponent, which not only drains their health but also has him assume their form and moveset for a short period, but can also morph into various masked ninjas from the franchise; Shao Kahn primarily attacks with his massive hammer, which can make his attacks slower; Jax Briggs can charge up his metal arms with punches and other attacks, which allows him to pull off his projectile attacks; and Erron Black can whip out a shotgun, which allows him to fire at and melee attack his opponent but also needs reloading and to be manually put away. Other opponents can be a lot cheaper than others; Noob Saibot, for example, is always a bit of a pain because of his vast array of teleporting attacks and the same applies to Mileena, who’s capable of quickly teleporting about the place and launching sais at you. There are also some returning favourites you’ll have to watch out for, such as Sub-Zero’s ice ball, Scorpion’s kunai spear, and Liu Kang’s lightning quick kicks and fireballs but the new characters have their own tricks to watch out for, too. Geras, for example, loves to spam his little sand pit trap and Certrion will spawn elemental hazards out of thin air to trap and hurt you.

Cyrax and Sektor can only be fought in the story and you’ll face tough boss battles in the Towers.

When playing through the game’s story mode, you’ll also have to fight a couple of familiar faces in the form of Cyrax and Sektor. These cybernetic ninjas sadly don’t make the cut this time around so they essentially fill the role of mini bosses, in a way, despite appearing quite early on in the story mode. In addition, there will also be time sin the story (and in certain towers) where you have to face two opponents in a handicap match very similar to the “Endurance” matches from the first game, which see your opponents automatically tag into battle once their comrade has fallen while you’re forced to continue with whatever health you have left. When taking on the Towers of Time, you’ll get to battle against a character that has been augmented to “boss” status; this means that you can’t use Konsumables and that your opponent will be super tough, requiring multiple players to take on the challenge while its active to help bring them down and earn rewards.

After Kronika is defeated you must choose between facing Fire God Liu Kang or Shang Tsung.

When you play the story mode or battle through one of the other towers, your final opponent will be Kronika, an unplayable boss character who presents a unique challenge compared to the likes of Shinnok and Shao Kahn. The battle against Kronika takes place in one round but is split between three fights against her and three different locations and time periods, with each phase seeing you having to battle a randomly generated opponent. Unlike other characters, Kronika cannot be thrown, staggered, or hit with a Fatal Blow; when you try any of these attacks and certain combos, she’ll take damage but you won’t see the usual animations play out, which can leave you open to one of her devastating attacks. Kronika likes to teleport around the arena and summon energy balls and projectiles but her most lethal attack is a time warp that renders you helpless and drains a massive chunk of your health bar, which basically means that it’s best to reach her final phase with as much health as possible or else you have to replay the entire fight from the beginning. At the conclusion of the Aftermath story mode, you have the choice of facing either Shang Tsung (who has usurped Kronika’s powers) or “Fire God” Liu Kang (a merged form of Liu Kang and Raiden) as your final opponent. Unlike Kronika, though, these are standard battles and subject to all the normal gameplay mechanics, meaning you’re free to hit your Fatal Blows and augmented special moves and combos without fear of being left vulnerable. Indeed, as long as you’re proficient enough with a few combos and special moves, these fights should be noticeably easier than the one against Kronika though be wary as Shang Tsung and Liu Kang are also much more versatile in their attacks than Kronika, who favours bursts of temporal energy over combo strings.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Like in Injustice 2, each character has a number of gear that can be equipped but, thankfully, unlike in that game, these do not affect the character’s stats or abilities and are merely cosmetic. As you battle with your character, their gear will level up and unlock up to three augment slots and you can then equip augments to their gear to increase their special attacks, defence, and other attributes to make them more efficient. Similar to Mortal Kombat X, each character has a number of variations available to them but, this time, it’s up to you to equip and assign these variations to each character; these are limited to three slots, which allow you to assign different special moves and abilities to each character to differentiate them (you can have Scorpion, for example, focus on flame or kunai attacks, or mix and match them). You can also assign different intros and outros for each variation (once you unlock these) and tweak their artificial intelligence (A.I.) stats to make them more focused on reversals or brawling, for example, or a more balanced fighter when taking part in A.I. Battles.

Equip Konsumables and augments to give you buffs and power-ups and make Towers a little easier.

To help you clear these modes, you can choose to have the computer battle through each tower on your behalf and also use up to four Konsumables to tip the odds in your favour. These allow you to flick the right analogue stick and call upon assistance from other characters or effects (such as a brief acid rain, missiles, or similar projectiles) and/or earn additional rewards from battle or performing finishers. Other times, especially in the Towers of Time, your opponents will have access to similar Konsumables and augments, which essentially recreates the Test Your Luck feature from Mortal Kombat (2009), and you’ll again have the option of teaming up with others to take on super tough boss battles.Each time you take on a tower, you’ll be asked to take on a number of “Dragon Challenges”; these appear at the bottom of the screen and ask you to do such tasks as switching stance, ducking, jumping, or performing (or not performing) a certain number of actions throughout the fight and the more you complete, the more additional Koins you can earn so I recommend drawing the fight out so that you can pull off as many as possible.

Additional Features:
There are fifty-eight Achievements on offer in Mortal Kombat 11 and, unlike most games, most of these are tied to repetitive actions rather than playing though the story mode. You’ll earn an Achievement for pulling off a certain number of Fatalities and Brutalities, one for performing two Fatalities with every character who isn’t a DLC fighter (which is a good way to test out each fighter), using a certain number of Konsumables, and opening a certain number of chests in the Krypt, for example. You’ll also earn Achievements for clearing the Klassic Tower with first one and then ten characters (why not all of them is beyond me), running five miles in the Krypt, and for taking part in A.I. and online battles and clearing half of (and all) of the main story mode.

All of the DLC is included as standard but, sadly, there are no additional Achievements tied to these.

Sadly, however, the Achievements do not extend to any of the DLC fighters or story content; there are no Achievements to be earned from clearing Aftermath or specifically tied to any of the DLC fighters, which is a real shame when you’ve got RoboCop and the Terminator in your game and when you consider that Mortal Kombat XL had sixty Achievements to earn, with an extra thirteen added with its DLC fighters. On the one hand, this does mean that it’s a lot easier to get Achievements in Mortal Kombat 11 since there are far less devoted to online play but, on the other, I was disappointed that the Achievements didn’t encourage more replayability and variety; instead, it’s all repetitive actions and nonstop grinding and I’d be pretty pissed off to have paid £40-odd for the Aftermath DLC and all those fighter packs only to find that they don’t come with any extra Achievements.

Some familiar faces and movie icons feature as guest fighters…and also the Joker, who I could live without.

Speaking of which, Aftermath and all of the DLC fighter packs and skins are included in Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate (…except for those released after the game) but you should be aware that your previous save data from the base Mortal Kombat 11 is not compatible with Ultimate. This means that you can play Aftermath right away, if you want, and thus complete the actual story since the main story just kind of ends unresolved. The additional fighters include the likes of Spawn, RoboCop, the Terminator, and even John Rambo (with Keith David, Peter Weller, and Sylvester Stallone all lending their voice talents (and likeness, in Rambo’s case) to the game. You can also play as returning characters such as Sindel, Fujin, and one of my favourites, Rain though I question the inclusion of the Joker as I really think Pennywise the Dancing Clown would have fit a lot better. There are also a number of cheeky DC Comics skins and gear to equip that turn Cassie Cage into Harley Quinn, Geras into Darkseid, Kitana into Catwoman, and Baraka into Killer Croc and you can even dress Jacqui Briggs up in Spawn’s costume.

The Krypt is full of Easter Eggs and references to both the 1995 movie and the franchise’s long histor.y

Aside from fighting, much your time is also spent exploring the Krypt and spending all of your hard-earned currency on skins, gear, augments, and the like. The Krypt is the biggest it has ever been, encompassing the entirety of Shang Tsung’s island and is full of treasure chests, death traps, and references to the videogames and movies. Unfortunately, though, as great as the Krypt is for Easter Eggs and such, it’s a bitch to navigate; you can create shortcuts by smashing through walls and pulling levers and such but the map is dreadful and it can be extremely difficult to get to where you need to be as it relies on an awkward coordinate system. It’s also ridiculously expensive to open the chests, which can lead to you spending over 10,000 Koins just for some useless icons and concept art and it’ll cost you 100 Soul Fragments and 250 Hearts every time you want to open one of those chests. There’s a lot to see and do, though, with new areas to stumble across and fun little Easter Eggs to find but, again, no Achievements really tied to this; when I find the statue of Reptile’s reptilian form from the movie or examine Drahmin’s mask or find Goro’s corpse, I’d expect at least a fun little 5G Achievement but…nope.

The Summary:
I knew that we would eventually be getting Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate and specifically held off from purchasing the base game or Aftermath while waiting for this release, which bundles 99% of the game’s content all onto one disc (well…technically it’s two…) for you to play at your leisure (after the lengthy download and installation process, of course). In many ways, I wasn’t disappointed; Mortal Kombat has never looked better, with blood and guts and gore being rendered in exquisitely visceral detail and the recreation of Shang Tsung’s island for the Krypt is stunning, full of little details and references that really reward my many years of fandom. Equally, the story mode and fights are brought to life fantastically and the scaled back approach to gear and customisation is appreciated since it means I don’t have to worry about my character being underpowered if they look how I want.

Mortal Kombat has arguably never looked better but the emphasis on grinding lets the game down.

Unfortunately, though, there are a few things that let it down. The Fatal Blow system is great but seems catered more to new players and a defensive playstyle; tying so much of the game to online servers results in a lot of dodgy slowdown and loading on the menus at times; locking everything behind the towers and such is fine but forcing players to grind for in-game currency to spend on even challenging those towers is not; the handful of Achievements might be pretty simple to get but there’s not a lot of variety or fun to them; and I question some of the choices made for the roster. First of all…why thirty-seven fighters? Why not go all-in and bring it up to a nice, even forty? Where are Takeda Takahasi and Kung Jin, the actual descendant of the Great Kung Lao? They weren’t exactly my favourite characters from Mortal Kombat X but they were just as important to the “new generation” of fighters as Cassie and Jacqui but they’re missing yet that lumbering oaf Kotal Kahn is still there. In the end, there’s a lot of fun to be had in Mortal Kombat 11 but it’s notably more finite and time-consuming than in the last two Mortal Kombat games; it’s not as bad with the randomness and loot boxes as Injustice 2 but some of the better skins and gear and such is still annoying locked away and will take a lot of time and effort to unlock, which is especially aggravating when the game uses four different types of in-game currency and yet your options for actually purchasing new stuff in-game are severely limited.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What are your thoughts on Mortal Kombat 11: Ultimate? Did you wait for this version to come out or did you buy the base game and DLC separate? Either way, do you think there was enough value for your money or, like me, were you disappointed to find the DLC didn’t have any new Achievements to earn? Which fighter in the game (or the franchise) is your favourite and why? What did you think to the story mode and the use of competing timelines to bring back classic characters? Were there any characters or features missing from the game for you? What did you think to the online options and the different towers the game had to offer? Which Mortal Kombat game, movie, comic, or other piece of media is your favourite? Whatever your thoughts on Mortal Kombat 11, or Mortal Kombat in general, leave a comment down below.