June's Mini Reviews

I actually finished some of these as far back as 5/24, but it took a while to get a post's worth of games this time.



Crown Tundra

Pokemon Sword: Crown Tundra (Game Freak, 2020, Switch)


Crown Tundra is the realization of what SwSh should have been, albeit at a size that fits into a DLC. Its open world is free of lag thanks to limited draw distance and has a great variety of terrain, plus it brings back some of the best neglected Pokemon from earlier games. It doesn't have gyms or even many trainer battles, but it takes two big steps towards solving Pokemon's longstanding issue with legendaries feeling too easy to get. First, the box legends all require you to complete quests, and often a small puzzle, in order to get the encounter, and two of them even come in multiple forms to make your game feel more unique. Second, all other legendaries are locked in the Max Raid Den, which makes battling against even minor legendaries like Raikou or Tapu Koko a risky prospect that might end in defeat. This expansion is easily the best part of SwSh, and it's a promising framework for future games to get away from the railroading of the last few titles.


Unbeatable [White label]

Unbeatable {White Label] (D-Cell Games, 2021, PC)


This is "just" a demo for Unbeatable's Kickstarter campaign, but it's already so good that it can more than hold its own when treated as a proper game. White Label shows off a bit of the story mode, seen here, which takes clear aesthetic inspiration from games like Jet Force Gemini and The World Ends With You and adds in player choice and rhythm gaming. That last part is what makes this truly shine. It has its own original rhythm system that works great, but that more importantly feels natural with its amazing soundtrack. Even better, all the songs are relevant to your character's life and motivations, and you get a short introduction from her before playing each track for the first time. This has a tremendous amount of promise when it releases in 2022.


Griftlands

Griftlands (Klei, 2021, PC)


A card battling roguelite that puts the emphasis on story. There are three characters that each have two main routes, and those routes have several points each when you can pick to do one of two quests, so in theory you could finish each character twice without seeing much repeated content at all and a third time that still had some new quests. It's also unique for having two battle systems, one of which is actually negotiation, and allowing you to resolve most encounters either way. I was in love with this game for my two playthroughs of the first character, but unfortunately it goes downhill from there. The second character just isn't as interesting and has an obnoxious huge difficulty spike right at the end. Given the length of a run (up to two hours) and how much of it is story content, retrying from the beginning is far more daunting than in something like Slay the Spire. Worse, the third character is an unlikeable arsehole I have no interest in playing, I'm not really interested in playing more of the first character either, since I've basically seen what I need to there, which means this game is a neat idea that runs out of content in about 10 hours. Unfortunately, that's a pretty terrible return for a roguelite. Maybe check it out on sale.


Drake Hollow

Drake Hollow (The Molasses Flood/Curve Digital, 2020, PC) (also on Xbox One and XSX)


I played this on GamePass with Kat. I don't think I would've gotten through it either solo or having paid for it directly, because while its mix of base building to support cute mandrakes and fighting off evil spike plants is fun, it's also extremely repetitive and you've seen almost everything the game has to offer within about an hour. The remaining 9-ish are going to be carried entirely by how much you enjoy playing with whoever your co-op partners are, because there aren't even new enemies after the second (of four) areas. I think there's a good idea here if they have more time to flesh it out, and obviously I enjoyed it enough to finish in co-op, but I wouldn't suggest anyone go out of their way to play it.


Before Your Eyes

Before Your Eyes (GoodbyeWorld Games/Skybound Games, 2021)


Before Your Eyes is a game you play with your eyes. The gimmick is that you're watching your life one scene at a time, but each time you blink you're jumped forward by an indeterminate amount of time. Blinking also allows you to make choices and interact with the world at different points in the story, and all of this in service of giving a Storyteller material to work with in presenting your life's story to the goddess. I don't want to go to far into detail here, because it's best experienced without really knowing what you're getting into, but suffice to say it's a wonderful story about coming to terms with life as you lived it. It's far too early to speculate about what my overall Game of the Year might be, but I'll be shocked if this isn't at least high up on the list.

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