Pumpkin Jack - PC Review

Pumpkin Jack by developer Nicolas Meyssonnier and publishers Headup, Beep JapanPC (Steam) review written by Susan N with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Pumpkin Jack is a Halloween inspired 3D platformer that amuses its players with hilarity and simplicity. This is no Spelunky in difficulty so don't expect it to be a rough experience. It also has a unique feature that I enjoyed, so let's jump into it!


At the beginning of the game we learn that the Devil is bored with peace and happiness, so he unleashes a curse on the lands. But the humans find a wizard to thwart the devils' plans. Jack is sent by the devil to get rid of the wizard. In the meantime, we get to cause all types of mayhem by destroying crates and corn husks which also drops healing orbs. In some cases, lanterns will cause a fire that we are not immune to!

We have a special ability that is similar to a magic missile from Dungeons & Dragons. It is useful for bringing down drawbridges and hitting ranged creatures. But the primary weapons are a shovel, a sword, and a scythe!

Players are introduced to characters that make me appreciate the writers of Pumpkin Jack. When you meet one of them, he says to you, "I'm a salesman." Jack retorts, "Well now I just want to kill you anyway." This interaction had me in hysterics because - well - evil!

There are many other brilliant moments throughout the game that contribute to its overall charm. After every death, the game keeps a counter! Twitch streamers can rejoice knowing that they don't have to set up a manual counter. *cackles*

Another unique feature of Pumpkin Jack is the ability to take off your head to participate in a couple of mini-games. I'm not even joking! The pumpkin head has plantlike legs to move around and it's hilarious. It adds a different element to the platforming genre and I can't tell you how entertaining it is. I loved every minute of this. Besides, how could you not love this head? (See below.)


There are two types of collectibles in the game.

Crow Skulls which are used to purchase 'skins'. I put that in quotes is that when players get skins, they are buying literal skins. Talk about keeping a creepy aesthetic!

Gramophones which shows a fun cutscene of Jack dancing! Considering the idea behind this game, it fits and I'm here for it. Trust me, this is worth playing!

Other Points

If there is anything to criticize about Pumpkin Jack, it's that water is continuously seen as bad in video games - especially in platformers - and I'm tired of it. Honestly. Water is not a bad thing and I rarely see them not being pools of death! But the real issue with it is that there were multiple times when I fell off a platform that landed me UNDER the water. Yet for some reason, I was still alive? I then jumped out of it so that I could continue the level but instead, I died because of the surface. Huh? This occurred a couple of times and I think that it needs to be fixed.

Graphics and UI

I have to say that part of the appeal of Pumpkin Jack is graphical aesthetics. I do enjoy the art style of the game which includes the hand-drawn pictures, level design, and atmospheric additions. The cornstalks and the cauldrons are nice touches. I also loved the evil wizard, a conniving witch, and a mummy wrapped skeleton as characters.

That said, I was elated when I discovered a few options included in Pumpkin Jack. For one thing, it has camera sensitivity options that help players like me who are finicky about such things.

Another element that I'm thankful for is the ability to choose which type of gamepad you are playing with! It is very uncommon to find a controller focused game that displays either the PlayStation buttons OR the Xbox buttons without defaulting to one type. As a person that grew up with computers, not consoles, I appreciate this feature.

In terms of the user experience, I found Pumpkin Jack to be quite well optimized. The camera was quite smooth and I didn't find any places where there were graphics glitches, which is good. There didn't appear to be any places to sneak off the map area either, which is a rarity.

Audio and Music

The music in Pumpkin Jack is something I want to focus on because I adore the compositions. During different sections like the horse racing or the trips on railway tracks, the music featured was a neat blend of synthesized sounds and classical music.

The official soundtrack was composed by Yohan Jager who lives in Montreal, Quebec. He combined the distinct sounds of church bells, synthesized drums, and deep tones in a few of the compositions to achieve the evil vibe of the game. In other pieces, he uses something that sounds like a dogs' squeaky toy. And if that doesn't explain it well, I don't know what does.

However, what I love about the music he created is that keen listeners can hear its classical influences. Notable inspirations are the William Tell Overture by Gioachino Rossini and Flight of the Bumblebee by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Listen to the creepy version of Willian Tell Overture here:

Check out Yohan Jagers Social Media here:

Pumpkin Jack Thought

Pumpkin Jack is a fantastic experience for a few hours of gameplay. It's witty and caused me to laugh at multiple points. The game has brilliantly composed music and excellent audio quality. Its graphics are spectacular considering the game was developed by one person. This is especially important because I did not find any graphics glitches or ways to cheat my way into places.

No game is truly perfect, as is the case with Pumpkin Jack. At one point, I was platforming away and ended up missing a jump. I fell into the water and it didn't kill me. Imagine my surprise when I tried to hop up, to instantly die. This might have been a glitch but there were a couple of points where this happened during my playthrough.



Overall, Pumpkin Jack is a hilarious platforming experience that had me smiling from ear to ear. It absorbed a few hours of time and I loved taking my head off for a bit (literally). This is a game that will amuse fans of the genre. As such, I give Pumpkin Jack a 9 out of 10!

Score: 9 / 10


Azur Lane: Crosswave DLC - PC Review

Azur Lane: Crosswave DLC by developer Idea Factory, Compile Heart, Fellistella and publisher Idea Factory InternationalPC (Steam) review written by Richard with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

For those of you who remember the review of Azur Lane: Crosswave, we're back again with the character DLC pack, featuring five new (or old if you come from the original game) characters to add to the vanguard roster, and fifteen new support units, as well as interconnected side stories focusing on each vanguard member.

So what are you looking at with the DLC? Well, the character DLC come in five parts: Taihou, Formidable, Roon, Le Malin, and Sirius. Each of these characters has their own separate DLC item. They come with three support characters and a side story for their characters, as well as some returning cast. Some characters also make appearances despite not being either vanguard or support units. In case you were curious, the characters are: carrier, carrier, cruiser, destroyer, cruiser.

Gameplay doesn't change from the base game. If you're coming here without knowing or owning the base game, I suggest heading over to the main game review. A brief summary of gameplay for those who don't know: anthropomorphic ship girls do battle in a 3D ocean covered world where they shoot at ships and other ship-girls. It also has spooky jellyfish and sharks with timey-wimey shenanigans. The original game does explain this.

Since gameplay, and by extension how units control, remains the same as the base game, I'm going to break down each DLC in order to tell you what characters you get, a brief overview of the mini plot, and a tidbit or two of info that might be interesting to you. As a general overview, each scenario details something to do with a new Siren, Tester. She is trying to promote the use of Siren technology in order to produce conflict and war. This all happens after the events of the Crosswave.

Generally the scenarios are comprised of approximately 6 battles, and a number of events to view, culminating in a mini resolution to that character arc. Each character in the DLC has their own cognitive awakening items and oath ring components. These can be acquired from the battles in their chapter. Usually the final battle is the best place to get these. It was great to see that each of these final battles is different in nature, with different objective being required in each character chapter.

First let's start with Taihou, the aircraft carrier from the Sakura Empire. Taihou gets called up by Akagi to assist with the filming of a movie in the Vichya/Iris Libre domain upon returning home from vacation. With the Taihou DLC, you also get the supporters: St. Louis, Dunkerque, and Jean Bart. In the Taihou chapter final battle, you will face off against a giant bullet sponge that took me seven minutes to beat the first time.

Taihou's story was probably my favourite, as the story there was a fine balance of: serious, funny, relevant, and actually reasonable dialogue (a point that seems obvious but surprisingly isn't). As a unit, Taihou is an aircraft carrier, a backline unit, that can really dish out punishment if she can deploy her planes. Probably not going to be your flagship, but is definitely a handy unit. I have her in a formation in the source game. Chronologically, the Taihou DLC would likely be 2nd, although it should be played first for some background comprehension.

Second up we have Formidable, the definitely-not-clunky aircraft carrier from the Royal Navy. Formidable is tasked with joining a delegation to Sardegna for a conference on anti-Siren measures. She goes along with Queen Elizabeth (the ship), Warspite, Neptune, and the Sardegnan liaison Zara. With the Formidable DLC you also get the supporters: Neptune, Warspite, and Zara (no Queen Elizabeth for you). The Formidable final battle consists of shooting down a number of aerial units that only take damage under certain circumstances.

Formidable's story was pretty decent, but all in all was a little generic, although with enough key points to pass. As a unit, Formidable is similar to Taihou, an aircraft carrier, and is generally more of a backline unit. Incidentally, I also have Formidable in one of my unit formations in the source game. Chronologically, the Formidable scenario is either 3rd or at the same time as Taihou's.

In the middle of the flock we have Roon, the totally-not-a-hidden-psychopath cruiser with a mean looking rigging and a penchant for beat downs given the opportunity. Taking place in an Academy for the Iron Blood, Roon and her squadron (the Z23 squad) go about their academy life, fending off invading Sirens when required for plot progression. With Roon, you also get Deutschland, Graf Spree, and Graf Zeppelin, three characters I rather liked in the source game, AND YET DEUTSCHLAND STILL ELUDES ME. Yes, I didn't win her in the events, and yes, I'm bitter about it.

The Roon final battle is a fairly standard "destroy x boss ships" that pop up around the arena you fight in. Nothing too fancy here, either in story of final battle. Roon's story serves to give some more insight into the Iron Blood, as well as some info on Sirens and world building in general. As a unit, Roon is a cruiser, a frontline fighter that can hold their own in most situations. Chronologically, Roon's episode actually happens both before and after the main story of Crosswave, and would be the 1st of the DLC sets. You should play the DLC in the order the game gives for clarity of characters though.

Fourth up we have Le Malin, the evil-blade that protects the Vichya dominion. Le Malin's story has her joining in a joint exercise with the Royal Navy. There's not much else I can say that isn't spoilers, but she is joined by Centaur, Essex, and Baltimore. The Le Malin final battle is a survival fight, which was interesting to see. While not difficult at the pre-awakening cap, you certainly can't just sit there and hope to survive.

Le Malin's story takes the opportunity to try and expand on what the wisdom cubes seen throughout Crosswave actually are. Unfortunately, the character interactions weren't all that interesting. I also would've have liked to see more about the nature of the wisdom cubes. As a destroyer, Le Malin falls into the same classification as Shimikaze, a torpedo and sustained fire specialist that is speedy but squishy. Chronologically, Le Malin takes up the 4th position in the DLC timetable.

Lastly we have Sirius, the super clumsy cruiser from the Royal Navy. In the Sirius episode, we see the conclusion to the DLC storylines. A final push by the Sirens to reclaim the PT cube, and a multi-nation pushback against the threat that is Tester. In this DLC you get London, Alabama, and Azuma. The Sirius final battle is a more traditional fight against an actual unit instead of a "mass produced ship". You still don't fight Tester, which is a little bit annoying, to be honest.

I found the Sirius story to be the least entertaining, despite being the conclusion to the side story set. Like Roon, Sirius is a cruiser that can both dish out and take a decent amount of damage, and is generally a front-line fighter. This is the last of the DLC both chronologically and available at the moment.


Overall, I have to say that there is a lot more in each DLC than I was expecting. With one vanguard and three support characters each, as well as their own mini interconnected stories. Each story only takes about an hour or so, but are usually pretty entertaining. They also provide a look into some more of the lore of Azur Lane. The cost is significantly more than what I would usually consider paying for this kind of thing though.

I suppose it is rather reasonable, compared to some other DLC out there, but unless you're a really big Azur Lane fan, you may want to hold off until a sale comes around. Is the DLC good? Yes, each DLC set has some solid production value being it. Would I purchase the DLC on my own initiative? Definitely not until it went on sale. The writing is pretty good, you get a few characters per DLC episode, a couple of battles, and some more Azur Lane lore. Cost aside, the DLC was quite a good addition to the base game.

Score: 8 / 10


Onee Chanbara Origin - PS4 Review

Onee Chanbara Origin by developer Tamsoft and publisher D3PublisherSony PlayStation 4 review written by Nick with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Look, Onee Chanbara Origin isn’t going to win any arguments for those in the video games as art camp, but this hack-and-slash adventure remake certainly benefits from the current (soon to be last-gen, which is just weird to think about) console generation. It is a mashup of the first two games in the series, with updated visuals and voice work, allowing the presentation to have a much truer anime quality aesthetic.

Back when the series first released on older PlayStation 2 consoles, things were a lot more barebones. I suspect it was a combination of hardware limitations and budget. Now we have visuals that are notably improved between smoother animations, excellent color and a lot of nice little visual flourishes. We also get all new voice acting that compliments the dialog quite nicely. The story is a pretty over-the-top one. If you’ve ever seen a trailer or played the series, you pretty much know what to expect as our bikini-clad protagonist uses a sword to take out droves of undead. If that sounds like a rather ridiculous premise… well, it is, but it’s all good fun that is ably wrapped up in a fun if often somewhat shallow combat system.

We follow Aya, who in her cowboy hat and bikini makes for a flashy intro as she uses her katana to cleave a zombie in half. From there, Onee Chanbara Origin teaches you the basics of combat, which has just enough nuance to keep things from getting too repetitive through the roughly two dozen levels that make up the game. The stages themselves look decent, if perhaps are a bit linear in how you work through them. What starts as simply mashing a couple of buttons slowly reveals combat that provides enemies that require differing tactics, an ability to unlock a demon-blood form, flashy execution techniques and more. On easier levels of difficulty, you still have to use the provided parry / stun / combo tactics to win, but these systems become far more valuable on more challenging difficulty levels. Little touches like how your weapon needs to be cleaned during combat helps to stave off repetition, as it becomes less useful over time if you don’t.

Once you get past the narrative’s more overt tropes, you find yourself guiding Aya on a path to find and battle her sist, Saki. There’s some interesting notes here about how the once-close sisters are now destined to fight it out as the stories from the first two games are essentially blended into one here. Sure, there’s plenty of plot items never addressed like… why is the world overrun by zombies? In a world that’s gone to pot, how does Aya have working cell service with a pristine cell phone when she herself is perpetually soaked in zombie blood? Things like that which are kinda silly but fall into the notion of ‘because anime’. For an origins story, the focus is on the characters, not actual world-building, which is fine if a slightly missed opportunity given there are more titles in the series (and one would think perhaps more to come given this remake’s arrival).

There are some nice RPG-lite elements that help with game progression. You earn scores at the end of each level for how effectively Aya’s been dicing and slicing the zombie masses, and those become experience points that lend themselves to leveling up. Levels grant you points that can be dumped into a few different categories such as attack and hit points. Given that the enemies scale up in their own stats each level though, it’s mostly a for-show hamster wheel of sorts as it doesn’t really do anything to make Aya seem all that much more badass than she was back in stage two. You can also earn coins that can be used to purchase some one-shot consumable items that help with things like boosting stats or hit points, or rings that be equipped to provide different status improvements. It is not a great deal of depth, but it’s still welcome throughout the roughly dozen hours of campaign. Each stage takes about ten to twenty minutes to beat, giving Onee Chanbara Origin sort of a short burst of gameplay feel.

That playtime feels just about right, frankly. With such a relatively shallow combat system (some sort of level-related unlockable new techniques would have been welcome for the sake of variety), the mission structure and playtime keep Onee Chanbara Origin from overstaying its welcome.


Onee Chanbara Origin is going to appeal to fans of the series or those just looking for a bit of mindless hack-and-slash action where they can kind of leave their brains at the door. That being said? The game is fun, the overall package is a nice merging of the first two games in the series and the product values have seen a worthy improvement. Onee Chanbara Origins is a fun way to kill a lot of undead and about a dozen hours.

Score: 7 / 10


The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV - PS4 Review

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV
by developer Nihon Falcom and publisher NIS America, Inc.Sony PlayStation 4 review written by Pierre-Yves with a copy provided by the publisher.

Note: Due to the nature of the ending of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III and the events of Trails of Cold Steel IV, there will be plenty of spoilers for the two ahead.

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Picking up two weeks after The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III, Trails of Cold Steel IV starts off with a slow burn showing various points of view from across the country of Erobonia on the eve of war with the neighboring Republic of Calvard. With Rean's fate currently left unknown, heroes from Trails in the Sky and Trails from Zero / of Azure take up the torch until everything comes together for this damn near epic conclusion.

Having literally just re-finished Trails of Cold Steel III mere weeks before starting the finale, my emotions were already high after the conclusion of the third. Class VII, both old and new, fought their hardest against those that would see the world end and during the final fight lost friends and family alike. From longtime characters of the series like Prince Olivert to newcomers like Millium, it was heartbreaking to see them die (in a series that no one ever does) all while series protagonist Rean loses in the final moments to both his birth father and his Ogre power that finally, and truly, got out of his control. Having closed the curtain on the unleashing of The Great Twilight, the curtain now rises and things are rather grim for those that call the Erebonian Empire home.

There is so, so, much to say in regards to this final entry in the series. Starting off with perhaps the smallest item of note however, and unlike the jump from Trails of Cold Steel I to Trails of Cold Steel II and then Trails of Cold Steel III, Cold Steel IV has perhaps the least amount of mechanical upgrades from the previous three entries which makes some sense as it's come out the fastest on the back of its predecessors. For the most part, the systems have remained the same except for maybe now having more Bravery Points for orders, Rush and Unity Attacks. Honestly? I was actually rather happy about this fact as it made for a much easier transition instead of needing to re-learn everything from the ground up especially when you know you're going to be at it for at the very least, 60+ hours for a normal ending and maybe half the quests as there a fair amount that you have to uncover yourself.

As a system recap for anyone joining us now though, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel I, II, III and IV are turned based RPGs with some oomph to them adding in various strategic elements into the initiative based order that it uses. In order of whoever is the fastest, every participant will have the chance to use normal attacks, arts (that are like magic), crafts (personal special abilities), items, orders (special commands to change various aspects such as attack or defense power).

Where things can get either interesting or frustrating is that arts can be cancelled by crafts, orders can make your party faster to move ahead of the enemies a few times, or new this time, enemies can also use orders making you slower or making your arts and crafts cost 150-200% more for a few turns. There's strategy involved there as well as the timeline itself which has modifiers allowing for healing, critical hits, deathblows, restoring points for arts and crafts, and loads more.

Trails of Cold Steel IV, as much as I loved it as it wraps up a series, is that it's far from perfect. A lot was tried to be piled on in order to bring everything to a conclusion and because of this, unlike Trails of Cold Steel III that was dungeon crawling heavy, Trails of Cold Steel IV is boss battle heavy. And I mean HEAVY as I felt at times that I spent as much time fighting bosses as I did I'm cut scenes leading up to them. There's nothing wrong with a good boss battle, but, having them back to back to back with no respite and that in each you're not even supposed to win but hold out or at least lower an enemy a certain amount? It gets a bit old especially in a turned based RPG when you were clearly winning it and then get stripped of all of your bonuses just to restart at nothing two seconds later.

Where a lot of effort was put in though was into the storytelling aspects of Trails of Cold Steel IV. Being the end of the saga there are a lot of loose ends to tie up and with how much of an emotional bang Trails of Cold Steel III left on? With how much it hinted at over its own 80+ hours for just getting to the end? It has a lot to explain and tie off if there was going to be any sense of closure which is why for the first twenty hours, New and Old Class VII spend their time in an actual JRPG format and not the quest and task based style that has been carried over from the beginning.

From the slow burn of Erobonia's people to the fast paced dungeon brawl (yes brawl) of Estelle and Joshua from Sky and Lloyd and Elie from Zero / Azure, you're soon set into the hands of new class VII's Juna, Kurt and Altina. Knowing what they want to do, they marshal Old Class VII back into emotional fighting shape after their own loss of Rean and head off to find their instructor, our dear series protagonist. Split into several chapters over the course of the first Act, it was refreshing to have a new style of adventure while also keeping a good familiarity with the peoples and places that are being visited. Quests, like any good RPG are still present, but they aren’t mandatory to move on. Instead, they have that “feel good” feeling that you get for helping someone out even if the world is on the brink of destruction.

Being an overarching long running series of its own having started back in 1989, the world, the characters and their stories have come a long way and Trails of Cold Steel IV is a prime example of this. Again to cite the previous entries, Trails of Cold Steel I and Trails of Cold Steel II were rather self contained only hinting at other nations and characters without going much further into it as they simply didn’t fit into the narratives of school life and then the civil war between the noble factions and the empire itself. Moving into the third though and the stage not only began to become larger but also extended a hand to long time characters who were either outright or massively hinted at which made their appearance into the final chapter a logical approach and not simply a massive curve-ball that you didn’t see coming. Now, Trails of Cold Steel IV has some of those massive curve-balls but those you’ll have to discover for yourself.

Now, promotional trailers aside that do showcase this, before the start of the second of three acts you do get the chance to get Rean back. Handing the lead back to our leading swordsman, Rean takes the lead of the adventure with fellow members of Class VII both new and old in order to prepare for the imminent war that is about to begin which is where Trails of Cold Steel IV takes a turn back into the well known format of requiring to complete various importance before moving onto the main act.

Another aspect that is brought back are the limited amounts of bonding points that you can receive in order to get closer to those that have chosen to fight alongside you. These bonding points are given out at the beginning of each chapter and more can be acquired by meeting certain objectives. You don't HAVE to use them but by doing so would don't you both a lot of addition story as well as stay boosts to characters and some pretty nifty equipment.

While bonding points themselves could lead you to a more emotional connection with someone, Alisa was my choice from the start with Rean going back to Trails of Cold Steel I, there's now a chance to truly have a moment with someone else. There are several factors involved, but it leads our leading man to decide who he truly wants to be with, if anyone, while also not breaking anyone's hearts as the rest are well aware they aren't the only ones vying for his love. It felt a bit odd at first especially since Alisa and Rean were a thing due to imported choices, but it could be a nice distraction between all of the boss fights and explorations while setting up for the main event.

Finally, I also want to give a huge shout out for the continued amazing work of the Falcon Sound Team. From new and amazing high beat entries such as “To the Future” and “Synchronicity” that I’ve literally had on repeat to the softer and more emotional “Lyrical Amber”, there was never a moment that didn’t have an appropriate musical accompaniment. Only making it more perfect was the return of possibly my favorite musical arrangement “The Atrocious Raid” which made me fall in love with this series before even knowing who the original Class VII were.

Compared to the music though, there was one aspect that did fall short at times and it was the voice overs. The voice acting itself is just as on point as it has been with the ever growing cast, but there were some moments that I felt could fall short due to the fact that one character was vocally speaking while another would respond in text only. A good part of me understands this as the sheer amount of dialog within the various styles of cut scenes and exploration is freaking huge which is why we had almost not gotten Trails in the Sky Chapter 2 in the first place. Adding to my understanding is that as good as they are, NIS / NISA aren’t the largest of studios, but I felt like if the voice could all be together and then the text only parts all be together, it could have connected things that much better.


Overall though, and without too many other spoilers, I enjoyed, laughed, cried, and damn near yelled at the TV over the course of sixty plus hours for the normal ending before even starting to head back for the true ending and conclusion to Class VII’s adventures as we await what comes up next in The Legend of Heroes: Hajimari no Kiseki which released this year in Japan.

Score: 8 / 10


G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout - XB1 Review

G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout by developer GameMill Entertainment, IguanaBee and publisher GameMill EntertainmentMicrosoft Xbox One review written by Nick with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

As someone who grew up in the 80’s, watching cartoons and playing with the toy action figures from shows such as Voltron, Transformers and G.I. Joe, I have to imagine that my nostalgia for that era makes me the target audience for G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout. The end result is a perfectly average third-person shooter that managed to make me smile from time to time as I recalled classic characters, but very little that I would consider memorable once I put the controller down.

The story starts off with the rare win for Cobra as you take control of either Storm Shadow or Cobra Commander – two great characters to being with really, as they raid a Joe battleship in an effort to… well, this is video game / Saturday cartoon levels of ‘take over the world’ here, so the details aren’t really all that important. The story is not terribly deep, but neither is the source material that the game is based on, so to that end it all works just fine. The story is told through a comic book style of still images that update here and there to serve as the cutscenes. In most cases this would seem rather budget-friendly, but here it is not all that distracting given the source IP.

Still, these scenes are generally brief – the meat and potatoes are in the combat which is perfectly serviceable. You have a third person shooter sans cover mechanics, the ability to switch between weapons while picking up more throughout the level, some grenades to toss for some splash damage, melee attacks when close to an opponent and a super power that charges up similar to Overwatch that is unique to each character. There is even a Gears of War-like active reload that works nicely within the gameplay. The actual shooting mechanics are a bit loose, and I found myself favoring rapid fire weapons that have a ‘spray and pray’ approach over harder hitting but slower ones that required precision to use well. There is some aim assist that can be turned on, but with the lack of a good cover mechanic, enemies swarming from all around and a somewhat fast gameplay, precision is not really the name of the game here.

There are seventeen different missions to be played, and a dozen characters to work with (with half being Joes and half being Cobra as your stages have you flipflopping roles – probably the coolest narrative choice really as it was fun to see both sides of the story). Masked characters like Cobra Commander, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow tend to look a bit better than the actual blocky facial features found on the other characters, and visually G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout is pretty mediocre overall. There is that bright, cartoon aesthetic at play which works well, but environments are pretty same-y and characters can seem a little weird in movement during up-close and personal combat (this really stood out to me in the first mission when I was using Storm Shadow and trying to use melee attacks on my opponents because… well, ninja with swords). It's undeniably fun with plenty to shoot and slash at - just not the most polished of experiences.

However, each of the characters has their own stats (defense, speed, rate of fire, firepower, etc) that makes them feel different from one another in combat. They are also pretty decently voiced. There wasn’t anyone that I just sort of went: huh – that didn’t sound like I was expecting him / her to. In particular Cobra Commander is pretty spot-on with the shrill-sounding voice of my youth. Music is appropriately fast-paced with plenty of bombastic sound effects to represent guns, lasers and explosions along the way. There is a evident appreciation of the source material, even if this is also clearly not a AAA title either.

Missions can be replayed at varying difficulties, and the stages themselves are generally well laid-out with handy markers that pop up pointing you to specific objectives or telling you where to go next, which is helpful amidst all of the chaotic shooting taking place. This makes for some perfectly solid short bursts of gameplay (each mission can usually be completed in about 15-25 minutes), though I didn’t see any kind of online multiplayer – just local, which feels like something of a missed opportunity. Given that the game was built with two players in mind (each mission has two characters working together – either you and an AI or someone on your couch joining in with you). That really hampers the multiplayer aspects (of which there are a few modes such as Capture the Flash). 


G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout is a perfectly serviceable shooter, even if it is not a complex one. The story, the lack of rpg / progression elements and not having a cover system make this more of an arcade-y shooter while you work through the different missions. The characters themselves are the star of the show, and they did a great job in stirring up my nostalgia for the series, even if the rest of the game is solid while doing very little to stand out.

Score: 6 / 10


Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition - Retro Reflection

Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition by developer Beamdog, Overhaul Games, BioWare Corporation and publisher Atari, Inc.Android OS retro reflection written by David.

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

I’ve always been a bit of a full on geek, but one moment really sticks in my mind as the beginning of it all. Taking me from a passing interest in gaming to diving deep into reading, writing, fantasy as a genre and the way stories are told in general, Baldur’s Gate set the foundation for much of my future. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been giddy when I saw that Beamdog had picked it up and ported it to mobile of all places. Unfortunately, I had a habit of keeping overly out-of-date phones and couldn’t even play it until the full suite of classic Dungeons and Dragons games from my formative years made the trip: Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, Baldur’s Gate 2: Enhanced Edition, Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale, and their own original creation, taking place between Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2, Siege of Dragonspear.

The games are made for a tablet, recommending a 7-inch screen, though the games work well on my Samsung Galaxy S10+ regardless, and the would-be difficulties of navigating dialogue options are negated by numbered buttons ready for a thumb tap. The only real problem I had with this version of the game had nothing at all with the game itself; I can’t seem to pay that much attention to a mobile device for long enough to really get deep into the game. Conveniently for me, the game was also recently ported to Xbox One, and not only includes Baldur’s Gate 2, but also Beamdog’s own Siege of Dragonspear. Three for the price of… Five actually, but $9.99 USD is pretty steep as-is for a mobile game, even one like this, while $49.99 USD is pretty much expected where console markets come in.

Big upside to the console version, aside from screen size and my mobile-distraction being a separate device entirely, is the movement. Before the iconic opener, I howled with glee. I could move my party with my thumbstick! After marvelling at this for a few short seconds (the game was originally point-and-click), checking out the I-skipped-the-tutorial controls and finding them fairly familiar for console CRPGs like Obsidian’s Pillars of Eternity, I entered the tavern outside of Candlekeep Hall and approached the innkeep to buy my starting gear.

“My hotel’s clean as an Elven arse!”

The jolly man exclaims aloud as you pick up what you need. I started as a Dragon Disciple Sorcerer, so I actually didn’t need anything, and couldn’t yet use most of it. There are some ranged options even for a nearly-no-proficiencies sorcerer, but I thought I’d hang onto my coins, despite my Burning Hands being limited to twice per day. My quarterstaff should do it, right? As it turned out, it would absolutely do the trick, after missing a dozen swings at the lowly thug that attacked me, I finally cracked him a couple good ones.

When I was attacked shortly after, I opted instead to use Burning Hands, instantly downing him and making me feel all the first-level-sorcerer might. I had to nap before I finished exploring though, returning to the Inn and passing eight hours in a room to regain my spent spell slot so I would be prepared for the road. While the tutorial is handy and goes a bit deeper into some of the mechanics, there are actually “Tutor” characters sprinkled around Candlekeep Hall to teach you how the game works, and explain the UI, as you explore this initial area. Granted, I’m playing this while familiar with games in general, but returning to this game for the first time in easily fifteen years, I’d say both the official tutorial and the less-direct Tutors tied into this starting zone were pretty effective at their jobs.

Soon thereafter, I met with my father/mentor character and we were off! Only for him to die in the very next scene, lending a much greater sense of danger to the two very-direct attacks from earlier, and a relief as I gained my first party member, Imoen, a rogue I met just before departing Candlekeep Hall. The only instructions we were given before Gorian and I were ambushed on the road were that we were meeting with allies at the Friendly Arm Inn, and Imoen and I set off at once. After some minor baddies, and a mysterious totally-not-a-wizard with an interest in my doings, we made it to the Friendly Arm, and on our way into this fortress of a tavern, we’re attacked again by someone looking for me specifically.

This time though, there’s a guard nearby who jumps to my aid. Dispatching the villain with haste, before I could call my dragon-blooded wrath down. Once inside, we met the friends of Gorian were looking for, and it began to feel like a real party. Sorcerer, Rogue, Fighter, Druid. Not a bad group to start an adventure with. In fact, we mopped the floor with some hobgoblins together! After the first couple of encounters as a party, I forgot how absolutely unforgiving 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons really was though, and my pyromanic urges ended up wiping my whole party, because Burning Hands has just enough of an Area of Effect to catch them all, and one of the three hobgoblins we were fighting. Whoops.

The game progresses in much a similar manner, with as much cheese as late nineties fantasy writers could muster, this is Dungeons and Dragons and BioWare (Editor's Note (PY): BlackIsles at the time) after all, and some entertaining characters on the road. One in particular stood out toward the beginning. Lord Foreshadow is a very subtle easter egg that references both the coming sequel, Shadows of Amn, and Neverwinter Nights, another BioWare not-related-except-the-setting D&D game that itself signified major steps toward digital D&D play that we see so frequently now.

Everybody likes the classic Five Man Band, but Baldur’s Gate opts for a total of six characters in your party, should you choose. Your own player character, and a whole range of new friends of varying alignment, skill, and personality to choose from. From vocally disapproving of your actions to actively attacking you if you do something too far out of their line, the characters’ varied morality and motivation lend an excellent extra layer to the game, and an awareness of who you’re taking where is a good survival strategy.

I signed on with a dwarf looking to hire some mercenary work, and had to choose between him and my bard (since I’d just acquired the bard and had no attachment), and the bard simply stayed put in the Dwarf’s shop. Turned out the man was evil, as pointed out in a background-interaction between him and my Neutral-Good Fighter, Khalid. It also turned out, he was really good at eating hobgoblin axe, and in a fight with six of the beasts, fell almost as soon as combat started. Nobody else, including two very squishy casters, took any damage in the fight, so we sold the loot and picked up our Bard friend once more, with some fresh gear for him. Turns out some problems sort themselves out! Besides, he had a nice helmet.

The game isn’t a walking simulator by any means, but it involves quite a great deal of quiet exploration as you follow what amounts to vague directions most of the time as you explore moderately sized square zones. This is a game that blends the interactivity of gaming with the pacing and storytelling of a novel, or even a series of them. You go from little more than a child who’d grown up in an academic institution fiercely guarded against the outside to a god-who-walks-the-earth being of interplanar power, but it takes much longer than more readily accessible modern games. This is due to what is, in my opinion, both the brightest point and the most glaring flaw in the game.

Baldur’s Gate was originally created to literally be a digital single player game of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. There are certain aspects of the game that just don’t translate without that interaction, but at the same time, there are stories that just couldn’t be told as well neither from a more direct game nor from a non-interactive medium. While this odd mashed up medium of storytelling does wonders for the world and story itself, it’s also a big part of why the game is hard to get into. THAC0, To Hit Armor Class 0, was possibly the worst part of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, and its removal was no small part of how massive Third Edition D&D became in comparison. I’m not going to go into an explanation of this too far, but it was based around lowering your armor class and raising your THAC0, and was calculated in ways that were so not clear that player groups would just use different combat rules.

If you want a single player AD&D experience, it’s fantastic. If you want an entertaining and consistent gaming experience, it’s kinda horrifying. Beamdog got around this with a more modern list of difficulty settings, ranging from Storyteller mode where you’re essentially guaranteed success to Throne of Baal which is essentially for people who are both masochists and really into THAC0 and AD&D.

All in all, this was both a great nostalgia trip and a fun gaming experience for me, though I'm a big D&D fan in general. Maybe I’ve got some rose colouring to my glasses, but getting to see the original content refreshed and expanded upon felt great, and the genuine love for the original that Beamdog has, that made these possible, has me excited to check out Siege of Dragonspear as a connector between Baldur’s Gate and Shadows of Amn.


Baldur’s Gate 3 - PC Preview

Baldur's Gate 3 by developer and publisher Larian Studios—PC (Steam) preview written by Louis with a purchased copy.

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Beautiful, Fun, Epic… Sorta wonky?

Baldur’s Gate 3. That’s right, Baldur’s bloody gate three. Those words were enough to make any gamers in their early thirties giddy with excitement ever since it was announced. Developed by Larian studio, which made the excellent Divinity series, the game has been ripe with hype since the day of the first teaser.

It finally released as a dreaded early access game on October 06 2020, at exactly 13h00 EST, and like thousands of fellow nerds stuck at home, I jumped on the occasion to give it a shot. After playing 13 hours since then already, here are my impressions.

Spoiler free synopsis:

Baldur’s Gate 3 is not, so far, a direct sequel of Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2. It actually takes place in the era in which D&D 5E happens. This means that, not only is the ruleset different, but the majority of the pantheon of gods has died and been replaced. The main character starts off having been abducted by Illithids (AKA mindflayers, AKA Squidfaced braineaters, AKA Squidward’s Revenge). These weird creatures implanted a rather disgusting tadpole thing behind the MC’s eyes that will eventually transform them into an Illithid themself. Cue the mindflayer ship crashing near Baldur’s Gate (because that place is seriously a giant epic adventure magnet), and the MC gathering a party of parasite infested weirdoes. The quest begins to find a way to get the sickening bug out of your brains.

First impressions: Character creation

So far, I’ve tried multiple classes and races as I always do. I haven’t seen a very large difference in the way the people react, other than the occasional flourish in conversation, or extra options to avoid skill checks. That being said, some NPCs will treat you differently if you are certain races (for example, other tieflings will tend to like you more if you’re one – and everyone seems to dislike and distrust Giths). This is nothing that’s particularly new in RPGs, but adds some flair for sure.

So far, the available races are limited to Humans, Elves, Half-Elves, Drow, Dwarves, Halfings, Tieflings and Githyankis. Each of them except Humans and Giths has sub-races from which to choose with their own flair. As far as D&D races go, they got most of the basic ones in at least. As this is early access, we can expect (hopefully) a few more races to be added over time. I’d be disappointed if we didn’t at least see gnomes, half-orcs and aasimars.

As for available classes, I was disappointed in the selection for the early access. You can presently choose from Fighter, Ranger, Rogue, Wizard, Cleric or Warlock. Although the classes have a few choices within them – Fighter, Ranger and Rogue can select one of two subclasses each; the Mage can choose either Evocation or Abjuration; the Warlock can select either the fiend or the great old one; and the cleric can chose from 3 domains. Larian studios has claimed that all classes from the 5e player’s handbook will be available at launch, but it’s still disappointing that they left out fan favourite monks, barbarians and paladins from the first Early Access version.

Skills, stats and origins seem to follow the 5e rules pretty decently, with some slight modifications to make it work better in a game, but it works.

Character looks are a mixed bag for me so far. On one hand, they look amazing, but on the other, I feel like there’s a lack of options so far. The photorealistic graphics on the faces are beautiful, but you can only choose one of a handful of faces, two dozen hairstyles and colours. The game would benefit greatly from something as simple as a body type choice, as right now, everyone has the exact same body (lean, cut, average height for men; decently curvy for women). Like many other players, I like to spend a lot of time making characters, so the more options, the better. I’ll give them props for gender fluidity though. Bearded woman? Man in makeup with female voice? No problem!


Beautiful, but sometimes wonky. That is the best way to sum up the game’s visuals. The early access shows on occasion. The physics engine is mostly what makes things wonky, which seems somehow much weirder with the amazing graphics of the game. For example, in the prologue there’s an Illithid talking to you, and the camera zooms to its face, the tentacles are just rag dolling everywhere going through its face. It’s distracting and beautiful and weird all at the same time. Like a lava lamp.

don't mind them, they have a mind of their own

The scenes are gorgeous, the monsters looks amazing (except maybe for the half-naked ogress I chose to fight – that’s a decision I’d like to take back) and the spells are very interesting. Occasionally a monster will randomly stretch out to cover a square mile after it dies, but the skin textures still look life-like!


So far, I’m enjoying the story, but I can identify its weakness. This version of the game only has the first act, with a maximum level of 4. The story so far feels more like a Divinity sequel set in Forgotten Realms than a real Baldur’s Gate though. I won’t be the first to make the parallel between the stories so far in BG3 and the opening act of Divinity Original Sin 2 – (start on a ship with something you don’t want on/in you. Escape your captors, and then try to leave the area in which your ship crashed… Even the tentacles of the Mind Flayer ship are reminiscent of the kraken that attacks the ship in Divinity 2). In the same way as Divinity 2, it lacks any way to make you attached to your own character, other than the fact that you created them.

In Baldur’s Gate, there’s a full prologue in which you just get to know the protagonist. It builds an emotional bond to the MC, and gives some sort of meaning to the inciting moment of the story. In Baldur’s Gate 2, the assumption is that you, the player, have already been through a full story with your protagonist, therefor it was ok to start already captured. Baldur’s Gate 3, like Divinity 2 before it, suffers from being thrown into the inciting moment without first going through the introduction. It’s not earned. They try to hide it behind a raw epic prologue full of action, dragons, explosions and demons (produced by Michael Bay maybe?), but it didn’t work.

The companions also suffer from this. I think they are all interesting characters, with diverse and sometimes conflicting personalities which shine through within the first hours you adventure with them. You start off not liking them, but they grow on you. However, you get the feeling they know that they skipped the whole introduction part and are suddenly in the action. They seem to be following your lead without knowing why. This is especially apparent for the strong-willed Gith warrior. She is strong, resourceful, and as far as she knows, the only one who can lead the party to a cure. She overtly treats the MC as a subordinate (literally calling them a subordinate at one point). Despite this, she will just calmly follow you around even if you go against everything she wants. This blind obedience is odd. It doesn’t quite fit.


This part will have the biggest disparity in opinion. Some people love it, others hate it. The best way to describe it is this: it’s Divinity 2, with D&D flair. It mostly follows the 5e ruleset, except when it doesn’t. Larian made some modifications in order for the game to work a bit better. As for me, the gameplay is my favourite part.

Overall, this game is the closest things I’ve found to tabletop D&D, the way idiots like me play with their friends. There are so many things you can do, from combining spells, to interacting with the environment, to interacting with other characters. In the prologue, I wanted to see what happened, so I chose the “throw” action, and threw a pair of boots from my inventory on the enemy. It dealt 2 points of damage. It was more comical than effective. A little later, I come up behind an enemy Halfling, standing on a crate near the edge of a small cliff. I shoved him off the cliff, and then threw the crate on him. He was left prone, with a height disadvantage and 2Hp left. Sometimes buffoonery works.

Combining spell effects for great synergy can also be fun. My class of choice is always wizard. The first companion you get outside the prologue is a cleric. I discovered that our cantrips worked very well together – she has an attack with a dexterity saving throw, and I have an attack that creates difficult terrain and can make the enemy prone, thus negating their saving throws. There are also more obvious interactions, like things being flammable, and flames being extinguishable. The game is very dynamic and it’s great fun to find new and interesting strategies.

The encounters can be rather difficult, but not so much as to make it frustrating if you have a basic mastery of the mechanics and the rules. With some creative use of your abilities, you can overcome some otherwise very tough fights.


I already love this game. This might already be one of my favourite releases of 2020. In fact, this might be one of my favourite things of 2020 overall (which is a low bar, let’s admit it). For my recommendation, and my score, I’ll divide it in two.

If you can put up with a few bugs, and don’t mind playing through the content as it’s released. If you’re like me, and will probably play through the game multiple time just to try it with different races, classes, and overall playstyles. If you can accept that this is an Early Access. Then, play this game.

If you don’t have patience for bugs, and would rather play the game from start to finish without waiting a few months. If you don’t trust that companies will fulfill their promises in Early Access, as so many others have failed to do before. Wait. Maybe go play Divinity 2. Or go find Suikoden 2 and play it. It has nothing to do with Baldur’s Gate, but I just always need to find a way to plug that game.

As a game right now: 6/10 – It’s still unfinished and needs work. Classes missing, dialogue missing, physics are wonky. As a potential game presently in the very first version of Early Access: 9/10 – It lost a point for aforementioned lack of story intro and coherence in companion attitude.

Score: N/A


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