The Forgotten Downfall of Mini Reviews

Slay the Spire: Downfall
I'll face myself

Slay the Spire: Downfall (3/25/2022, Table 9 Studio, PC)

Downfall is a free fan expansion for StS that adds one new regular character and, far more interestingly, a new mode in which you play as bosses from the original game and need to defend the Spire against the heroes. Each boss has an entirely new set of cards and mechanics to mirror how it works in the base mode, ranging from the Hexaghost needing to keep track of its burn cycle, to the Autamaton programming new cards mid-fight, and even the Snecko taking randomness to its logical extreme. There are a million ways this could all have gone horribly wrong, but the end result is an absolute masterpiece. I've had more fun with some of these characters than I ever did in the original game, and when that's a title in my top 10 of all time, being even more fun than it is quite an accomplishment.

All that said, these characters are much, much more complicated than anything in the base game and you'll have a terrible time if you try to start playing it without first thoroughly understanding the original mechanics. Once you have, though, this is a must-play.

Kirby and the Forgotten Land
Don't let Kirby teach anyone how to use a bed

Kirby and the Forgotten Land (3/25/2022, HAL/Nintendo, Switch)

This might be my new favorite Kirby game, and it is not an open world game.

More seriously, I love most of what it does but wish they'd paid more attention to co-op and to game performance. Levels rarely feel like they were designed with the possibility of a second player in mind and any section where Kirby is using special abilities often just drags the co-op player along helplessly. Challenge sections are great as a single player addition but don't allow co-op at all, which is just mind boggling. You need to play these if you want to unlock improved abilities, but even if you switch off one player just has to sit and watch while the other plays. And lastly, while the bandana Waddle Dee as co-op is cute and all, there's really no reason at all why player 2 shouldn't have at least some ability to customize their abilities. If HAL wanted to be sure only one copy ability could be brought in, they at least could've let player 2 pick from a few options at the start of each level. None of this ruins co-op, but it was clearly an afterthought and the game's most obvious missed opportunity.

Game performance is a much smaller issue. The framerate drops dramatically (even worse than SwSh) when too much happens on screen and the game has a weird love of trying to show things in the distance even when it can't maintain detail that far, which results in a lot of enemies obviously using reduced quality animation until you get close to them. It feels like this could've used another performance pass.

Obviously I still highly recommend it, but there's quite a bit of room for improvement.


Gunfire: Reborn (11/17/2021, Duoyi Games, PC)

"Roguelite FPS" has been shorthand for "tedious sequence of poorly made computer-generated rooms" for quite a few years now, but Duoyi finally cracked the code of how to make this combination work. Instead of trying to either use procedural generation or manual design for everything, it blends the two approaches by using handmade rooms and procedural spawns and modifiers. You never have to deal with badly designed rooms because those were made by humans, and you never get tired of the enemy patterns because they're new each time.

Even better, the characters and their associated skill trees are wildly different and combine with the games hundreds of guns and skill scrolls to create a game in which you're always trying out an new and interesting build. Some skills and guns are duds, sure, but since the vast majority of them are useful and interesting, you hardly ever feel like the RNG is punishing you as opposed to just providing you with different options than before.

Toss in co-op and you've got a game that very much deserves its amazing success. My only notable criticisms of it are that some how the boss attack patterns can be confusing at first and that it can be hard to tell how much effect some scrolls/modifiers are having. Those minor issues aside, I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good FPS or action RPG.

I know nothing about Tron, but this seems like Tron

Pistol Whip: 2089 and Smoke & Thunder (11/7/2019, Cloudhead Games, VR)

Lastly, we've got the two campaigns from Pistol Whip, which I'm counting as standalone games because HowLongToBeat does. This is a VR rail shooter in which your character constantly moves forward and you need to shoot enemies as they pop up while also dodging loads of bullets and obstacles in your path. It's theoretically a rhythm game because you get more points if you shoot to the beat of the song, but I don't care about score and just played it as an arcade game.

It's an interesting experience and a great leg workout, but the levels reuse enemy spawn patterns a lot and they don't always map well onto the songs. I found that all the neon makes it difficult to see the headset safety boundaries and had a few painful accidents involving walls and furniture on levels that involved punching. Still a good game, but not anything too amazing. I'd get it on sale if at all.

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