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Mega Man 11

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The original Mega Man was the first game to almost break us. The year was 1988 (or thereabouts) and your heroic writer was a burgeoning nerd in an era when such people were generally called “unco” and were punched a great deal. Mega Man was the latest game we played on our beloved Nintendo Entertainment System, a deceptively simple platformer starring a robot boy with a shooty arm. As MM you’d make your way through various levels, all with specific themes (fire, scissors, bombs etc.), and fight a boss that was the culmination of said theme. Once you beat the boss you’d flog their power and move onto the next one. It sounds pretty simple in retrospect but at the time that was a staggeringly clever gameplay mechanic. One boss was giving us the roaring shits, however, as time after time we tried and failed to beat them. Eventually we called the helpline on the back of one of the many Nintendo magazines and they told us whose powers us should use to beat the boss. It was a profound relief and a glorious triumph once implemented.

Thirty years later, with three decades of challenging game experience rattling around inside our bonce, we figured the latest iteration of the game, Mega Man 11, would be a negligible challenge. We’ve played through the Dark Souls trilogy, survived Alien: Isolation and platinumed Bloodborne. This would be a piece of piss, right?

Friends, it was not a piece of piss.

Mega Man 11 basically has the same plot as the rest of them. Ubiquitous antagonist Dr. Wily is back with a bunch of brainwashed robots and it’s up to you, blue, to kick their arses and steal their toys and eventually face Wily himself. This time you’ll have the advantage of the Double Gear system that briefly allows you to slow time, boost your damage or use both at once, although you need to be careful not to overload the fiddly tech. The title offers that classic Mega Man-style gaming. Themed levels, loads of secrets, clever bosses and platforming that will on occasion make you want to primal scream at the moon, begging for an end to the horror. See, Mega Man 11 is challenging. To the point where we found ourself notching the difficulty down to [weary sigh] Casual. And hell, even then we didn’t exactly fly through the levels! We try to tell ourselves it’s because we haven’t played an MM game for years, but part of us knows it’s likely that our old man reflexes aren’t what they used to be.

The thing is, Mega Man 11 – despite or perhaps because of the learning curve – is an enormous amount of fun. It’s bright, it’s colourful, the weapons are cool and the feeling of satisfaction you get when besting a beastly boss is as satisfying now as it was way back in 1988. If you don’t like platformers, or prefer your games more forgiving, then you should probably look elsewhere but if old school gameplay with new school presentation is your thing, Mega Man 11 will have you doing the robot.

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Friday the 13th: Ultimate Slasher Edition

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When we first reviewed Friday the 13th: The Game back in 2017 we enjoyed a lot of things about it, but we certainly had issues. Poor online connectivity, bugs galore and no single player content to speak of hampered a wonderful premise and a horror fan’s dream come true. Well, in the later months of 2018, Friday the 13th: Ultimate Slasher Edition is here to hack and slash with renewed vigour, so how’s it go? Pretty good, with a few qualifications.

Friday the 13th: The Game is officially a hit. A hugely passionate online community and strong sales have really helped the title be all it can be. That means these days you can expect to experience better online performance (although still not perfect), a more balanced game and fewer bugs. That’s all well and good but what about the single player content fans have been clamouring for? Happily, you can now play Friday the 13th offline, wherein you take on the role of Jason Voorhees and butcher a bunch of horny teenagers – as is tradition. What’s wonderful about this mode is the ability to customise the look of your Jason and the counsellors, pick your favourite location and then use specific kills from the movies. Basically, you can unleash your inner Tom Savini and splatter those dang kids in suitably graphic and gruesome ways. Upload the results to Youtube and drink in the adoration of your fans, because here’s the somewhat sad news: Friday the 13th – both the game and movie series – are on hold at the moment because of a lengthy legal battle regarding ownership rights of the property.

That means no new movies, and no new DLC for the game. Hell, some of the advertised kills and modes for the game have been put on hold – with no obvious outcome in sight at time of writing. While this is certainly a bummer, it’s good to remember that the game as is ain’t exactly a slouch. A strong multiplayer mode, frequently hilarious single player slash-a-thon and, with the Ultimate Slasher edition, all of the emotes and outfits for your counsellors add up to a decent offering here.

For those who have been playing since day one, Friday the 13th: Ultimate Slasher Edition is probably not a must buy. However, if you’ve yet to experience the gleeful, albeit occasionally slightly shonky, thrills contained within, this is by far the best version of the experience. And if you can rope in a group of horror-loving mates to help you enact your Friday franchise fantasies? Then you’re in for a hell of a gory good time.

Do it, armchair Jasons, do it for mother!

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Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

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Assassin’s Creed Odyssey follows on from 2017’s Assassin’s Creed Origins, a game that represented Ubisoft’s attempt to get the long running series back on track after a grim few entries. Origins was good. Not breathtakingly amazing, mind you, but a solid course correction for a franchise in dire need of some fresh concepts. Rather than reinvent the wheel, Odyssey improves on Origins in most aspects, although there are still a number of issues that need ironing out.

First, let’s talk about the story because unlike many recent AC entries, it’s a pretty good one! You, the player, step into the shapely sandals of either Alexios or Kassandra in ancient Greece, in the year 431 BC. It’s kind of weird that the game takes place four hundred years before the entry titled Origins but at this stage of the game, the series has so much narrative baggage it’s a relief to enter a relatively uncluttered timeline.

The game has you trying to restore your family by tracking down the surviving members. What you do when you find them is up to you, to an extent, because Odyssey has added branching narrative elements, similar to those in the Mass Effect series or Telltale Games titles.

This is a smart move and makes the dialogue sections much more intriguing. In fact, the cutscenes in general are a series best, featuring excellent facial animation and voice acting. The world of Ancient Greece is similarly honed to perfection, offering a staggeringly enormous canvas upon which you can paint your story. Want to become a bad arse warrior who takes no shit? You can. Rather play it sneaky and stealthy? That’s an option too. The skill trees in Odyssey are much more meaningful, offering genuinely different skills for enormously different play styles.

Okay, that’s the good news. Now let’s delve into what doesn’t work.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is massive; like, legitimately enormous, which is fine. But it’s also very repetitive. Particularly after about ten hours or so when for some reason the XP is throttled and the game basically insists you take part in Every-Single-Tedious-Fetch-Quest-Offered. Oh sure, you don’t have to do them all, but if you choose not to you’ll be woefully underleveled for basically every main story mission on offer. This happened to an extent in Origins but it feels even more egregious here.

To make matters worse, the online store offers a permanent XP boost for money, basically enforcing the idea that the game is chockers with bullshit busy work that you’d rather skip and they want you to pay for the privilege. Honestly, this is the kind of shonky crap that was meant to be in Ubisoft’s past and leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Now for some people, the kind of gamers who want to do every single side quest, it’s likely not a problem. But it’s a bit cheeky to claim the game can be “played your way” and then drip feed XP in a slow, grindy trickle.

Other negatives include floaty combat, frequent (though not game breaking) bugs and a general lack of mission variety. Still and all, the game looks stunning and when it’s not pissfarting about with the sort of nonsense described above it can be almost sublime.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey offers a decent story, great voice acting, improved (though imperfect) combat and meaningful, upgradable skills in a title that provides an expansive, entertaining adventure that will appeal to series vets and newcomers alike – although not without some reservations.

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Valkyria Chronicles 4

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In 2008, The Valkyria Chronicles was released to much acclaim and some confusion. A bizarre mix of military turn-based tactics, strategy and anime-style storytelling all wrapped up in a sketchy watercoloured aesthetic, there truly was nothing like this out there. Even people who wouldn’t play a strategy game on a dare couldn’t help but be charmed by this curious offering. Sequels were released, mainly on the PSP and mobile platforms, and a console spin-off Valkyria Revolution, hit market but none of these games could touch the singular charm of the original. Ten years later and it looks like they’re going to have another bash with The Valkyria Chronicles 4, but can lightning be caught in a bottle a second time? Kinda yeah.

The events of Valkyria Chronicles 4 occur in the same timeline as the original, however the story is told from the perspective of new characters. This is a wise move as trying to follow the byzantine competing narrative threads would be an exercise in confusion. Set on Europa, where the second Europan war is being fought, you take control of a squad of youngsters with silly hair and funny voices. The character designs are, like the predecessors, total anime nonsense. That’s part of the charm, really, but if you have a low tolerance for that sort of thing you should know that going in. If you can get past the rather goofy aesthetic, however, there is a surprising amount of story depth with solid journeys for all of the characters and even a couple of genuine emotion moments.

Gameplay-wise things are pretty much unchanged from the original. You move your troops into position, fight the enemy, move forwards and do it all again, experiencing cutscenes and story beats along the way. The mixture of exploration and real time strategy remains an intriguing one, although the mechanics aren’t quite as fresh a decade later. Graphics and animation are also fine, but not exactly spectacular. Still, that’s not really the purpose of Valkyria Chronicles 4. This almost feels like a more modern reboot of the original and for those of you who are fans of that oddball title – this is a pleasing and engaging tank ride down memory lane.

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