River City Girls (WayForward/ArcSystem Works, 2019, PC/everything)
RCG is a beat-em-up in the River City Series that stars two female characters who were the girlfriends of the usual protagonists in one Japan-only game from decades ago and had otherwise only appeared in a handful of spinoffs. I assume just about everything about these characters comes from WayForward given how little existing material they had to work with, but I wouldn't know since I've never played anything in this series for very long before.
RCG's main strengths are the humorous character interactions, interesting boss fights, and loads of special attacks that have different animations for each of the two main characters. You'll keep playing to see the next cutscene or unlock your next silly move, but you'll have to fight through a whole lot of identical enemies to get there. Its main weakness is the inexplicable decision to both make items very expensive and to hide their effects until after you've purchased them. Worse, prices don't have much to do with how good accessories are, so sometimes you'll spend loads of hard-earned money on an accessory that's either completely useless for your playstyle or which has only a marginal benefit against a specific kind of enemy.
I came away from it with somewhat mixed feelings because, even though the last two areas are mostly fun and have good bosses, they have a couple of obnoxious rooms that focus on the games awful platforming and the ending seems like an almost intentional letdown. I'd still recommend it and am looking forward to the sequel, but all the unforced errors drag it down to being just a decent game.
MSRP: $30 (I'd wait for 50% off)
Time to beat: 6 hours
KeyWe: The 100th Grand Ol' Telepost Tournament (Stonewheat & Sons/Fireshine Games, 2022, PC)
KeyWe is a co-op optimization game in the vein of Overcooked that made my top 10 games of last year. The first DLC takes its mechanics and turns it into what resembles Mario Party time trials. There are three levels that each have a handful of minigames you need to complete within specific amounts of time to earn gold, silver, or bronze medals. Although most of them are theoretically solid games, they don't generate new settings when you play them a second time, which means all eventually boil down to memorizing the placement of everything to go as quickly as possible. A couple of the games aren't communicated clearly or are, in a trend for today's reviews, lean a bit too heavily on finicky platforming.
This gives me hope that Stonewheat & Sons will take this foundation to make a full Mario Party-type game, but it's a hard recommendation right now. Go for it if you really enjoyed the base game's overtime shifts and want longer versions of that.
Time to beat: Around an hour to get decent times on every course
Pokemon Legends: Arceus (GameFreak/TPC, 2022, Switch)
I had a lot of concerns about this game coming in, but it's become my favorite Pokemon game of all. That's not to say I don't have issues with it - the battle system needs a lot of work to more clearly communicate what's happening, inconsistent use of draw distance makes it hard to know if an area is empty or the Pokemon are just too far away to see, and the customization items are overwhelmingly recolors of the same thing, to name a few. But none of those do too much to hold back the extremely satisfying loop of catching Pokemon in the overworld and then completing research goals to unlock their full entry. There's still more they could do to really flesh out this system, but even now it really does feel like you're actually researching Pokemon instead of just collecting them.
I could say a lot more, but since I'm coming to this late and most people already know their opinion on it, I'll just finish by saying it also has one of the best OSTs in the series.
Time to beat: About 70 hours for 100%
Deep Rock Galactic (Ghost Ship Games/Coffee Stain Publishing, 2020, PC)
DRG is Left 4 Dead by way of Red Factions terrain deformation system. You're a team of 4 dwarves with unique classes, weapons, and abilities on a mission to mine an alien planet populated by hoards of angry bugs. Objectives range from finding and collecting rare ores to constructing pipelines to defeating boss bugs in combat, and many levels have optional secret objectives that you'll learn to recognize as you play. Communication between players is critical, as is having the spatial awareness to dig efficient tunnels through the caves.
It's everything a co-op FPS should be, and it does it all while feeling completely unique. You really can't go wrong here if you've got a couple of friends to play with.
MSRP: $29.99, but free on Gamepass
Time to beat: 28 hours to promote with one of the four characters
Prodigal (Colograve, 2020, PC)
Prodigal made my top 100 games of all time last year and would probably place even higher now that I've played through it a second time. It's Rune Factory with the emphasis on the Zelda part of the combination instead of Harvest Moon. Dungeons, of which there are many, make clever use of three items you get early on instead of giving you a new one each time, and many characters have their own optional dungeons if you get far enough in their quest chains.
As I said back then, all of this is extremely well done, but what really makes it stand out is just how much of it you won't see in a single playthrough. There are around a dozen character quest chains, many of which have mutually exclusive branches, and the achievements are full of secret upgrades and shrines that I have no idea how to unlock. Three major updates added quite a lot of quests and extra content since the last time I've played, which means I'm probably even further from seeing everything than I was after my first time through it. It's a remarkably deep game that's a joy to explore.
MSRP: $9.99, which is crazy low
Time to beat: Both of my runs took 5-6 hours, but some ways of playing will take much longer