Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! Review: Gotta catch ’em all…again!

Twenty years ago in 1998, developer Game Freak and Nintendo released one of the greatest games in the history of the Game Boy: Pokémon Yellow. Based off the hit anime and trading card game, Yellow version was an instant classic, allowing players to truly experience the journey that Ash Ketchum took upon leaving his quiet little home of Pallet Town. You started the game with a wild, uninterested Pikachu, who couldn’t care less if you succeeded or failed. As your journey went on though, Pikachu grew to love and respect you, just as the electric mouse did in the show. Jump back to present day, Game Freak has tugged hard on the strings of nostalgia with the spiritual re-creation of Yellow version with Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu!

The entire concept of Pokémon has always been a simple one: catch ’em all, train them, and battle. Let’s Go, Pikachu continues this simplistic approach, but adds a few wrinkles in an attempt to make the whole experience easier and rewarding. Gone away are those annoying random encounters and now you’re able to fully see the Pokémon wandering in the wild, and thus choose which to interact with in hopes of catching them. This is a tremendous step in the right direction, especially in a time period of shorter attention spans and the desire to complete games at a faster pace. No longer do you have to fear running into a million Zubats on your way through Mt. Moon.

As the name would indicate, Pokémon: Let’s Go is similar to its mobile counterpart Pokémon GO. Players have the ability to transfer Pokémon from their mobile account directly into the Switch game. In addition to that mechanic, Pokémon: Let’s Go also adopted the mobile game’s process of catching the pocket monsters. Instead of battling wild Pokémon (other than certain extreme situations), all you have to do is throw the Poké Ball and hope you catch them. At first I was upset that Game Freak decided to remove the battling part of the catching process, because then how would your Pokémon earn experience points? Thankfully, XP is now rewarded through catching Pokémon, as well as battling other trainers. Not only does this incentivize you to catch anything that moves, but it also opens up the doorway to hunt some Shiny Pokémon.

Shiny Pokémon were first introduced in Generation III. The main difference between a Shiny Pokémon and a normal Pokémon is the color of it; typically, the stats of a Shiny Pokémon are still random, just like a normal one. Meaning, if you had a Shiny Charizard and a normal Charizard, either of them could be stronger than the other. The most common way trainers have encountered Shiny Pokémon are through chaining catch combos of a specific Pokémon. Being able to catch the same Pokémon over and over increases your odds of a Shiny one appearing, plus, you acquire more XP through catch combos. So not only are you working toward catching a Shiny rare Pokémon, but you’re still strengthening your team in the process. Although the concept of Shiny Pokémon has been around for a while, it would have been nice if the game explained what Shiny Pokémon were and how to catch them without having to find that information through third-party sources.

The main theme in Pokémon as a franchise is to catch them all. Throughout the long history of the games, there have always been two separate but similar titles that would release together. Each title would have the mass majority of shared Pokémon, but there would always be a few exclusive critters for each game, and Let’s Go is no different. Nintendo released Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee, and while I understand the need to keep with tradition, I think it’s time to change this. I understand that trading Pokémon is another big theme in the series, especially with the fact that you can acquire “special” Pokémon through numerous NPCs throughout the Kanto region, but being able to acquire all the Pokémon on your own should be an option, albeit a difficult one. Re-introduce the idea of winning tons of games at the Game Center to win a Pokémon, or expand on the requirements of catching a certain number of Pokémon that Professor Oak’s aids ask when you meet them on your journey. Not everyone plays Pokémon and it’s hit-or-miss when you do run into someone that does, if they’ll have the opposite version as you and if there’ll be WiFi to connect and trade. Collecting every single Pokémon should not be indicative on your ability of finding another willing and compatible person in the real world.

Being rewarded XP through catching and battling Pokémon means the game will be easier by default. Not once during my near 30-hour play-through did I feel the need to grind in order to defeat a gym leader, or even the Elite Four. Pokémon: Let’s Go is meant to be a more casual Pokémon experience, and while it accomplishes just that, removing the intensity of battles was a letdown. Game Freak did add interesting endgame content with Master trainers that I haven’t tried battling yet, so hopefully those trainers will pose more of a threat, but the over abundance of XP makes you feel like a god in comparison to other trainers.

Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu brought the joy of Pokémon back into my life. It tugged hard at those nostalgic cords and truly captured the magic of being a Pokémon trainer wandering through the Kanto region with my trusty Pikachu by my side. Building relationships with your Pokémon feel just as sacred and special in 2018 as it did in 1998. Being able to obtain XP by both catching and battling Pokémon is a great innovative step forward toward modernizing the franchise, but the tired idea of having to trade with someone in order to truly catch ’em all must be addressed. Game Freak and Nintendo are on the right track in providing a more complete Pokémon adventure that anyone can enjoy, and I can honestly say that I’m very excited for the future of this storied franchise. Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu is a wonderful spiritual remake of the classic Yellow version that should absolutely be experienced by any Pokémon fanatic.

Final score: 9.5/10

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Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Review: This is Sparta!

Last year, I was finally introduced to Ubisoft’s popular series with Assassin’s Creed Origins. Although it did not connect with me as much as I’d hoped, I got a small taste of what all the fuss was about regarding Assassin’s Creed. This year, I decided to give the series another try with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and I’m so grateful I did.

The first major change in Odyssey compared to any of the Assassin’s Creed games is the ability to choose between two protagonists: Alexios and Kassandra. Both characters share the same campaign so there really isn’t a right or wrong answer here, but for transparency sake, I chose Kassandra (which is absolutely the right answer). Odyssey’s campaign felt perfect in length and offered numerous unique quests that never felt redundant. The only quests that seemed like a chore was when I’d have to retrieve something to bring back to someone and then have them tell me to go get something else, instead of telling me everything right from the start. One other thing that irritated me while playing was that enemies would increase level with you, essentially rendering early grinding useless. I spent a good deal early on doing side quests (I got easily distracted) and I was pretty strong early on, but the game eventually leveled out and my early increased strength didn’t matter. I’m not sure how developers can solve that because you wouldn’t want to go into an area at level 37 and find only level 30 enemies. So, I understand the concept of leveling up alongside the player, but there needs to be some reward for players who choose to do early grinding and/or a lot of side quests in general throughout the game.

Growing up, I found Greek mythology to be very interesting. I loved reading about the stories of Hercules, the Minotaur, Medusa, and the Cyclops. Being able to interact with characters from Greek mythology and hearing NPCs praying to the gods like Apollo and Aphrodite as you walk through the streets felt almost magical. Aside from mythical creatures, it was even more incredible to regularly converse with the likes of Socrates and Pythagoras. Ubisoft’s ability to flawlessly create representations of people who lived ages ago is a testament to the skilled individuals who shaped this game.

Maybe it was the change in era with Ubisoft moving to Ancient Greece, but Odyssey succeeded in many ways that Origins failed for me. Right from the beginning, you’re thrown into action fighting the Persians a la the battle from the movie 300. Ubisoft doesn’t waste any of the player’s time by explaining many of the game’s general mechanics; the hope here is that you’re familiar with the franchise or the basics. The first Spartan-Persian battle is an introduction to a new feature in Odyssey called Conquest Battles. As you traverse through the Greek world, you’ll discover ways to lower the fortitude and defense of leaders in each section of the map, resulting in them becoming vulnerable and enacting a Conquest Battle. Even though you were the main reason why the leaders become vulnerable, you can choose whether to defend or attack the city-state (one option gives more valuable loot than the other).

In addition to adding Conquest Battles, Odyssey added the dynamic of ship battles back into the fold. A popular feature in the 2013 iteration Black Flag, traversing my ship was as annoying for me as it possibly could have been. Controlling anything that deals with water seems pretty frustrating and navigating through the treacherous waters among Athens and Sparta was just that. Fighting against enemy ships was easy enough, but there were many times I wanted to flee instead just to not waste time and it seemed impossible to get away. The realism of sailing is noticeable as going against the current will result in your ship slowing down and taking that much longer to reach your destination. Being able to customize the ship and choose what type of crew to have was fun, but the best part of sailing was the crew bursting into song at a drop of a hat. Hearing the random conversations and songs from members of your crew helped make sailing the high seas bearable.

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey restored my faith in the Ubisoft franchise. I was never big on the series, with Origins being my first entry into the series, but if future Assassin’s Creed games are similar to my experience with Odyssey then I’m here to stay. Ubisoft continued to enhance and expand on the RPG-elements in the franchise, which is a breath of fresh air into what many might’ve considered a dying franchise. However, the amount of customization regarding the skill tree still remains a bit barren, as most skills tend to be vastly superior than others, but it’s trending in the right direction. Being able to choose between two protagonists added another small bit of singularity to my experience, knowing that not everyone was playing as Kassandra. The voice acting was near perfect, the only low point was Alexios; it was like his voice didn’t match his physique and it made it almost funny to hear him speak. Combined with the era’s mythology, the Greek setting was an absolute hit for Ubisoft. If you’ve been burned by Assassin’s Creed before in the past or if Origins was just an alright experience for you, Odyssey is an amazing game that should pull you firmly back into Ubisoft’s grasp. For Sparta!

Final Score: 9.5/10

E3 2018 Recap: Microsoft brings out the big guns, steals the spotlight at E3

The biggest video game convention of the year gave us a glimpse at a bright future for the gaming community. We saw shocking reveals, in-depth analysis on holiday games, the announcement of an upcoming console, and so much more. It might all be a bit overwhelming to process, so let me guide you down the road and break down what happened in Los Angeles for E3 2018.

Microsoft:

Entering E3 this year, Microsoft was treading water. They’d seen one of their big exclusives in Scalebound get canceled, another exclusive in Crackdown 3 get delayed for the umpteenth time, and were in danger of possible losing their fans to Sony and their treasure trove of exclusive titles. Knowing the circumstances of the situation, Microsoft brought out the big guns for their presentation.

  • Halo Infinite — TBD
    •  Microsoft got the conference rolling by showcasing arguably their most recognizable icon: Master Chief. Spartan-117 is back for his sixth iteration, and while there were no hard reveals during the teaser trailer, it showed Master Chief holding his helmet on his side, before putting it back on and loading up what appeared to be an A.I. chip on the back.
  • Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice — 2019
    • If you’re a fan of Dark Souls, this needs your undivided attention. FromSoftware presents their next project, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, which could be categorized as a ninja-Bloodborne. The trailer showed tremendous action, as you play a ninja with a prosthetic arm. Who wouldn’t want to do that?!
  • Crackdown 3 — February 2019
    • Yes, before Microsoft showed Crackdown 3 on stage, there were reports that the game had been delayed to February 2019. It’s interesting that the delay was announced before the conference, maybe as a way to get out in front of the news so people could focus on the new gameplay. Regardless, actor Terry Crews looks to be the protagonist in this over-the-top, highly explosive, run-n-gun shooter coming to Xbox. Let’s hope this is the final delay for Crackdown 3, otherwise we might have to lump it in with the likes of Kingdom Hearts 3 and Final Fantasy VII Remake.
  • Metro Exodus — February 22, 2019
    • By not having much experience with the Metro series, this latest entry doesn’t make much sense to me. However, if you’re a fan of Metro then I’d bet you’ll be a fan of Metro Exodus. The trailer showed more high action gameplay that is comparable to DOOM and Wolfenstein. It’s setting up to be an amazing FPS for Microsoft.
  • Kingdom Hearts 3 (Part 1) — January 29, 2019
    • WE HAVE A RELEASE DATE! After countless delays, multiple vague reports on its status, it seems the light is finally approaching at the end of this very long tunnel. Square Enix presented a new trailer which debuted two new worlds in Frozen and Tangled. It also highlighted some of the previous announced worlds in Toy Story and Monsters Inc. The trailer ended with a mysterious woman telling Mickey that he was too late, so it looks like the Disney mouse might be in some trouble. (If you coherently know the full story of Kingdom Hearts, that’s resume-worthy in my opinion. Pat yourself on the back.)
  • Forza Horizon 4 — October 2, 2018
    • New year, new Forza. One of Microsoft’s best-selling franchises, Forza Horizon 4 is set in Britain, and will have a shared-world online for the first time in the series. In addition, Horizon 4 will have the ability to reach 60 FPS on the Xbox One X, so if you have a 4K TV combo you’re in for a treat.
  • Session — TBD
    • Not Skate 4. GOTTEM!
  • Cuphead in “The Delicious Last Course” — 2019
    • Our favorite cartoon cup is back for more ways to infuriate you. Don’t let the joyful, innocent art style fool you; this game is not for the faint of heart. Cuphead presents daunting challenges that will scare off many, but for those persistent enough to overcome them will be met with a wave of satisfaction that has never been felt before. I can only hope for the same in this expansion.
  • Jump Force — TBD
    • Did you ever wonder if Naruto could take on Goku? What about Frieza? How about Luffy from One Piece? Well let me tell ya, it’s your lucky day. Bandai Namco revealed what looks to me a massive fighting game with all of your favorite anime characters. At the end, we got a quick shot of Light Yagami and Ryuk from Death Note. I wonder if they had something to do with this mega crossover?
  • Gears 5 –TBD
    • Announcing they will be dropping the “of War”, Gears 5 is the next installment in the gory shooter. Gears 5 will star Kait Diaz, as she is struggling with nightmares that could involve the Locust and her mother.
  • Project Scarlet — TBD
    • Executive President of Gaming Phil Spencer announced that Microsoft is indeed working on the next Xbox, code named “Scarlet”. Little is known about this console, but recent reports say it will be released in 2020.
  • Cyberpunk 2077 — TBD
    • Microsoft closed out their conference with quite possibly the biggest reveal of all E3: Cyberpunk 2077. Coming from CD Projkt RED, Cyberpunk 2077 combines everything we loved from The Witcher, Blade Runner, and Mass Effect. Described as a first-person RPG, this game looks to push the boundaries on open-world adventures and truly immerse you in it. There is incredible detail throughout and I can only imagine how the rest of it is going to look. Hopefully we see this on the current generation of consoles, but a safe bet is a launch title for the next wave.

Sony:

While Microsoft needed to capture our attention and surprise us with new and exciting titles, we already knew what Sony had in store. Before their conference, they announced they had four major games to show, with a few things sprinkled in-between. For what it’s worth, Sony played it safe this E3, and even though that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I think people were still itching for “something” that they hadn’t seen before.

  • The Last of Us Part II — TBD
    • Wow. Sony came out with their heaviest of hitters in The Last of Us Part II. We saw a long cinematic trailer that began with Ellie dancing and kissing her girlfriend, then seamlessly transitioned into actual gameplay (!) that I personally did not expect to see. Naughty Dog surely upped the ante in the violence department, as we watched Ellie brutally dispose enemies during an escape through a dark forest. My best bet is this will be a 2019 holiday game at the earliest, but man, does it look gorgeous.
  • Ghost of Tsushima — TBD
    • Set in feudal Japan, Ghost of Tsushima looks magnificent. There wasn’t much gameplay footage to go off of, but the atmosphere of the setting and graphics were breath-taking. The little amount of sword fighting we did see was flawless, and once again, I hope we see Sucker Punch’s creation earlier rather than later.
  • Control — TBD
    • Very similar look, feel, and style to Quantum Break, Control looks to be another crazy game with strange Force-like telekinetic powers and a deep narrative. Count me intrigued.
  • Resident Evil 2 Remake — January 25, 2019
    • Well, we saw a glimpse of one remake title, but it wasn’t the one I wanted. Maybe it was the one I deserved right now? Anyway, Resident Evil 2 Remake looks absolutely terrifying, so give it to me. Having never played any Resident Evil game until the seventh and latest iteration, I’m eager to finally sink my teeth into this beloved classic.
  • Kingdom Hearts 3 (Part 2) — January 29, 2019
    • WE HAVE A…wait a second…didn’t we see this already? If you were paying attention, then yes, you are correct. Appearing for the second time on stage, Square Enix graced our hearts again with the long-awaited conclusion to this series. I’m starting to think that Square Enix is trying to make up for all the delays by force-feeding us Kingdom Hearts 3 content. Not much else was shown compared to Microsoft’s stage, except Pirates of the Caribbean world was revealed. Whether you wanted it or not, you got yourself some more CGI Johnny Depp! Yo ho and a bottle of rum!
  • Death Stranding — TBD
    • Uh, what? What just happened? Norman Reedus is carrying some baby across the world and there’s invisible death demon creatures? And then a lady ate a bug? What is this game?! I never thought I could learn LESS about a title after watching a trailer, but Hideo Kojima made that possible. So hats off to you, sir. Honestly, I have no idea what to make of this new trailer or the game as a whole, so let’s just move on.
  • Nioh 2 — TBD
    • Now here’s a surprise! While many people were hoping for a sequel to Bloodborne, we instead got a sequel to Nioh. The trailer didn’t show much of what’s to be expected from the next installment, but as long as we know it’s being worked on I think that’s good enough.
  • Spider-Man — September 7, 2018
    • Insomniac exceeded expectations with Sunset Overdrive and are now poised to do the exact same with Marvel’s web-slinger. Spider-Man looks incredible, and the trailer showed a bit more at the trouble our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man finds himself in. Electro, with the help of a mysterious main villain and Mister Negative, has freed the other members of the Sinister Six (Rhino, Vulture, Scorpion) from prison. Spider-Man finds himself beaten and broken when he looks up in disbelief and mutters, “You?”. Who could this be? Harry Osborn? His father, Norman? J. Jonah Jameson?! I’m itching to find out…

Nintendo:

Welcome to year two of the Nintendo Switch! In its inaugural year, the Switch found success in Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8, and Mario Odyssey. Other than that, it was a bit hard to find things to play on the company’s hybrid console. But knowing Nintendo, they always have something smashing up their sleeve.

  • Super Smash Bros. Ultimate — December 7, 2018
    • After being teased at the past Nintendo Direct event, E3 was the place to fully unveil the next installment in the Super Smash franchise. Ultimate will bring every single fighter in Smash history together and feature a brand new contender in Metroid Prime’s Ridley. Nintendo’s online service launches in September, so hopefully by the time Super Smash Bros. Ultimate releases there won’t be any lagging problems with their service.
  • Super Mario Party — October 5, 2018
    • The go-to game at parties and hangouts, Super Mario Party has found its way to the Switch. Complete with all the different mini-games and excitement, the trailer also showed how you can place multiple Switch consoles together to effectively extend the game board. You can always count on Nintendo to think of unique ways to enhance our gaming experience.
  • Fie Emblem: Three Houses — Spring 2019
    • Three Houses will be the first mainstream Fire Emblem game on a console since 2007, so people may constitute this as the franchise’s Switch debut, other than the spin-off Fire Emblem: Warriors.
  • Fortnite — Now
    • Epic’s Battle Royale has made its way to the Switch. It’s time to jump off the Battle Bus, pick a landing spot (Tilted Towers you cowards), and get that Victory Royale! The download is free off Nintendo’s eShop, however it should be noted that as of now you cannot log into Fortnite with your PSN information. If you’re a Fortnite player on PS4, you will need to create a new Epic account for Switch. In addition, Switch is cross-platform with the other systems, except PS4.
  • Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion — June 13, 2018
    • I love when companies do this. Nintendo has announced that the next content for Splatoon 2 will be available starting tomorrow, June 13. I’m not a big Splatoon fan, but there are tons of people who love this franchise and I think it’s huge for Nintendo to have avid players for their niche competitive shooter.

Ubisoft:

In what was one of my favorite conferences at E3, Ubisoft did a wonderful job of giving people exactly what they wanted. They truly listened to suggestions and are poised to have a big 2018 and early 2019. Other than Microsoft, I think Ubisoft set themselves up for success and effectively won E3.

  • Beyond Good & Evil 2
    • After showing off Just Dance 2019 with a dancing panda, Ubisoft flexed its muscles with Beyond Good & Evil 2. This will be a prequel to the original title (that I didn’t play), but for those who did might recognize the girl at the end of the trailer: Jade. Other than that reveal, the trailer was mainly cinematic and didn’t show a whole lot of actual gameplay, which I think was expected. But, Ubisoft did unveil a unique partnership with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his company HitRECord. Ubisoft is calling for content creators to submit music, art work, anything that people feel should be in the game, and if your work gets chosen you will be compensated. I absolutely love this idea, and while some people might think that’s lazy for a developer to have the public “make their game for them” this is incredible exposure for people. I would love to see more of this.
  • Trials Rising — February 2019
    • I’m not entirely sure how I’ve never seen a Trials game, but this trailer was hilarious. It started off with motorists doing crazy back flips and landing all sorts of tricks, and then it all came crashing down…literally. The different crashes and accidents that the motor bikes had were hysterical to behold. There are some games you see and immediately think it’ll be perfect for something, well, this game will be perfect for the Switch.
  • The Division 2 — March 15, 2019
    • This might be my most anticipated game from E3. I played a bit of vanilla Division and had a blast. I honestly wish I would’ve stuck with it to reap the benefits of the updates, but clearly Ubisoft learned its lessons for the sequel. Set in Washington D.C., The Division 2 tasks you with saving America from impeding civil war. The big announcement during this presentation was the DLC in Year One of Division 2 will all be free, and the game is introducing eight-player raid missions. I. Can’t. Wait.
  • Mario + Rabbids Donkey Kong DLC — June 26, 2018
    • One of the strangest crossovers is set to get some new content. Donkey Kong is swinging into action in the upcoming Donkey Kong Adventure DLC. Fans of the tactics game should be in for a treat.
  • Skull & Bones — 2018
    • Where one shall fall, another shall rise. Sea of Thieves tried to be the pirate game many wanted, but fell a bit short. That’s where Skull & Bones comes in. This beautiful, stunning pirate adventure looks to be everything you ever wanted in conquering the seven seas. Ubisoft’s pirate adventure is described as a shared online world, with players operating different pirate vessels. The combat looks precise and articulate, but also rewarding. If you ever wanted to see how it feels to be Jack Sparrow, this is it.
  • Transference (VR) — Fall 2018
    • I don’t own a VR machine, but games like this make it harder and harder to resist investing in one. This narrative-driven experience follows the story of a troubled family and is described as a psychological thriller. I’ve always been intrigued by the notion of VR and this might be the game that could force me toward making the plunge.
  • Starlink — October 16, 2018
    • Star Fox is back! Kind of! Ubisoft has joined forces yet again with Nintendo and will feature Star Fox in their toy-to-game title Starlink. Another unique idea, one that I’m a bit sheepish toward, has you buying and constructing real life star ships on your controller and they will appear in-game. I’m not entirely sure who the target audience is for this title, but hopefully it finds a way to succeed.
  • For Honor: Marching Fire — October 16, 2018
    • A new expansion is coming to For Honor, and it’s being pegged as the biggest one yet. The expansion comes with a new mode called Breach, four new fighters, a new faction, and more single-player content. In addition, Ubisoft announced that For Honor will be free through UPlay this week.
  • Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey — October 5, 2018
    • New year, new Assassin’s Creed game. After exploring the pyramids of Ancient Egypt, Ubisoft is taking us on a tour of Ancient Greece. Odyssey is set hundreds of years being Origins, so this title acts as a pseudo-prequel to last year’s title. For the first time in this storied franchise, you’ll have the option of playing either a male or female, have dialogue options which can affect the story, and engage in romantic affairs. I think these are big steps to rejuvenate a rapidly-approaching stagnant franchise. The environments of Odyssey are gorgeous and the combat looks precise. Fans of the series are in for a treat this fall. (No, Mario and/or Cappy are NOT in this game.)

Bethesda:

Similarly to Ubisoft, Bethesda did an amazing job of showing exactly what their fans wanted to see. Other than showcasing Andrew W.K. at the beginning of their conference (the crowd did not humor him one bit), Bethesda showed a handful of highly-anticipated games that’ll have people drooling over themselves.

  • Rage 2 — Spring 2019
    • The reason why we were subjected to an awkward Andrew W.K. set piece, Rage 2 kicked off the conference for Bethesda. What seems like Mad Max, Rage 2 is set in a post-apocalyptic world (Bethesda loooooooves their post-apocalyptic worlds). The gameplay trailer showed small similarities to other Bethesda titles, like DOOM and Wolfenstein in the mechanics, such as a power slide and the overall violent FPS vibe to Rage 2.
  • DOOM Eternal — TBD
    • This will get the blood pumping. After successfully reviving the DOOM franchise in 2016, Bethesda showed a teaser to the sequel. Fans of the older games compared DOOM Eternal to DOOM 2, and predict the game will be Hell on Earth. Yeah, you can count me the hell in on that. (Sidenote: Twitter account PixelBrave set the teaser to Led Zepplin’s Immigrant Song and it’s glorious.)
  • Prey Mooncrash — Now
    • Once again, I love when companies do this. Bethesda announced new modes in Prey with a New Game+ and survival mode, both available immediately for free. In addition, paid DLC titled Mooncrash is also available. Prey was one of those games where you really wanted to play it, but it slipped past you…maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.
  • Wolfenstein: Youngblood — 2019
    • Set 19 years after Wolfenstein: The New Colossus, Youngblood will place you in the shoes of B.J. Blazkowicz’s twin daughters Jess and Soph on their journey to search for their missing father, and of course, killing Nazis. The New Colossus was my first experience with Wolfenstein, and after playing that, I know what all the fuss is about. Youngblood will take place in 1980s Paris, so I’m definitely all for killing Nazis on the Eiffel Tower.
  • Fallout 76 — November 14, 2018
    • Fallout 76 is a prequel to all the other Fallout games. Taking place in West Virginia, you’re one of the first people to emerge from the Vaults and step foot in the post-nuclear world. Said to be roughly four times the size of Fallout 4, Bethesda confirmed that this will be entirely online, but still will be able to play solo. I’m interesting to see how having friends play with you in Fallout 76 will work, but sounds like an interesting spin on the franchise.
  • Starfield — TBD
    • This seems to be a case where this game is nowhere near in being complete, but Bethesda wanted to shut some people up. The short teaser proved that this project exists and that it’ll be some kind of sci-fi game. Bethesda noted that this will be a “next-gen” title, so safe to assume this isn’t coming out for about 3-5 years.
  • The Elder Scrolls VI — TBD
    • Bethesda is two-for-two on showing games that are nowhere close to being ready! Once again, this short teaser trailer proved to the nagging fans that they are indeed working on the next installment of Elder Scrolls. Many fans have tried figuring out where exactly the mountains were in the trailer. At this point, just accept that it’s being worked on and also that you won’t play it for a good while.

EA:

Everyone knows EA from their sports games, but EA is starting to branch out a bit. One of the biggest game reveals of E3 came from EA’s stage, and the spotlight will continue to be on EA until this game releases. We expect great things with EA.

  • Battlefield V — October 2018
    • EA is shifting the Battlefield franchise back to World War II. The trailer showed tons of explosions and destructive environments, but most importantly, revealed that Battlefield V will have a battle royale mode. So, the two big FPS war games in Call of Duty Black Ops 4 and Battlefield V will both feature battle royale game modes. I was actually pretty shocked that Battlefield V was the only BR announcement.
  • Jedi: Fallen Order — Holiday 2019
    • Respawn announced their Star Wars game will be called Jedi: Fallen Order. The game will take place between Episodes 3 and 4, following the Empire and Darth Vader’s hunt for the surviving Jedi. I swear, there better be a scene where Palpatine goes “Execute Order 66” or I riot.
  • Battlefront II Clone Wars — 2018
    • Star Wars Battlefront II has had an uphill battle to say the least since it’s release. Now, EA has announced a new squad system, new heroes and maps adapted directly from the Clone Wars. These heroes include General Grievous, Obi Wan Kenobi, and Anakin Skywalker.
  • Anthem — February 2019
    • What mostly everyone was waiting for, the lid was blown off for Anthem. The extended trailer showed a team of exosuits, called Javelins, on a mission to find the source of a disturbance. The graphics and combat systems look amazing. EA made sure to state that there won’t be any loot boxes in Anthem, but there will still be customization for your mech suits. I’m interested to hear/see more about Anthem, because I feel like this could be the game that everyone wanted Destiny to be.

Square Enix:

For as respectable as Square Enix is, this was a lousy conference for them. They showed games that were seen prior on different stages, while at the same time not showing games or giving updates that many wanted (um, Final Fantasy VII Remake and Avengers anyone??). Looking back, I honestly don’t know why Square Enix had a conference, but let’s take a look at what went down.

  • Kingdom Hearts 3 (Part 3) — January 29, 2018
    • Alright, I’m at the point where I hope it gets delayed again. If you’re counting at home, this is the third time we’ve seen Kingdom Hearts on stage. And each time, I get more and more confused as to what the hell is going on in this story. I feel like Charlie from It’s Always Sunny trying to figure out where all the mail is going.
  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider — September 14, 2018
    • Lara Croft is a gaming legend, so seeing her continue to go on adventures is a sight for sore eyes. Shadow of the Tomb Raider looks to lean heavily on the stealth-aspect of things, and is described as having more tombs than ever before. Based on the positive reactions of the last one, I think fans will enjoy this title very much.
  • The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit — June 26, 2018
    • Announced at the Microsoft conference, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit follows the story of a young boy who escapes from his real life struggles by using his imagination. Developers have stated that Captain Spirit is set in the same universe as Life is Strange, and will in someways connect the two titles.
  • Babylon’s Fall — 2019
    • The newest game from Platinum, virtually nothing was revealed about this title. Platinum is responsible for Bayonetta and Nier: Automata, so I’m fairly confident in whatever Babylon’s Fall ends up being.
  • The Quiet Man — TBD
    • Square Enix showed a strange trailer that started in real life, then morphed into gameplay, and ended back in real life. The trailer portrayed that you play a deaf guy who knows martial arts. It’ll be interesting to see if while playing the game, you’re literally deaf and you can’t hear sounds. That would be pretty weird, but interesting.

And with that, E3 2018 has come and gone! It was an exciting few days filled with promising reveals and overall optimism and excitement for the future. While there were certain games missing from the conferences, the things we did see blew our minds. Everyone had their own ups and downs during E3, but at the end of the day, I was blown away by Microsoft. They truly set the bar this E3 and have a plan laid out for the upcoming future to win fans back. I hope they pull through, because more games only build the industry and gives people more experiences in games.

Ni no Kuni II Review: Heartfelt adventure that struggles to find an identity

Recently, I was properly introduced to the wonderful world of Studio Ghibli (by my dentist, go figure). Movies such as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Howl’s Moving Castle completely blew me away. Hayao Miyazaki’s films are charming, full of deep moving stories, and contain amazing character development. I wanted more from the worlds he created, I wanted to immerse myself in them. That’s when I noticed Ni no Kuni II.

Having not played the first installment, I was pleased to find out that the sequel was an adventure all of its own, but did have some small references from the original game. At first glance, Level-5’s JRPG is exactly what I was looking for: a world that resembled Studio Ghibli. Ni no Kuni II is absolutely beautiful. The colors are vibrant and the art design is gorgeous. Plenty of times during my near 40-hour play-through, I thought this was another one of Miyazaki’s creations and not a video game.  And just like a Studio Ghibli film, Ni no Kuni II presented a fairly interesting story and an extraordinary wide cast of characters that you truly care about. However, looking passed the pretty shine and the lovable characters is a game that struggles to find its identity.

Ni no Kuni II follows the story of young King Evan, or soon-to-be King Evan, as he is about to be crowned the new king of Ding Dong Dell following the sudden passing of his father. A mysterious man named Roland appears in Evan’s private chambers during the start of a coup against Evan by his late father’s adviser Otto Mausinger. Roland helps Evan escape and they journey the world together in hopes of building a new kingdom for the young king and uniting all the other kingdoms of the world together in peace and harmony.

Jumping in, I noticed that the combat controls are surprising simple, yet effective. Now, I’m a big fan of turn-based style combat when it comes to RPGs, so at first, I was a bit hesitant after discovering that Ni no Kuni II would use real-time combat. Seeing game-play footage, the fighting style reminded me a bit of Final Fantasy XV and that was a major turn off for me. Once I got my feet wet with the controls though, the combat was actually quite satisfying. The overall feel of the fighting styles and the process of equipping armor and weapons felt very Kingdom Hearts-esque, with the ability to switch characters as a tiny wrinkle. It was simple enough where you could get away with various button-mashing, but rewarded you heavily if you performed certain special moves properly.

About 70-80% of the game presented a decent challenge regarding enemy difficulty, but near the eighth chapter, Ni no Kuni II takes a spike in difficulty. I found myself battling enemies that were easily 10-15 levels higher than me. You might be thinking, “Well, did you think about grinding for experience?” Good question! The problem with that is the leveling system is a bit wonky. Defeating baddies that were considerably stronger than me did not result in my party gaining levels on a mass scale. Ni no Kuni II does present opportunities for you to fight side monsters known as “Tainted Monsters” that provide more of a challenge and can net you some quality rewards, but again, it goes back to the fact that leveling up felt more slow and tedious to me than any other RPG I’ve experienced.

Other than the real-time combat, Ni no Kuni II offers a more RTS-style combat known as Skirmish. Certain scenarios require Evan to engage in battles that don’t necessarily put you in control of the fighting, but you determine the type of soldiers to deploy. For instance, Evan can have a max of four unit armies to aid him in battle, and there are several different unit types to choose from. Each unit type is strong against certain other types, but weak against others. By controlling Evan, you can rotate which armies are in the forefront of the fight, revive reinforcements, and also perform certain special attacks. However, the cost of the special attacks and bringing reinforcements cost “Might”, and if Evan’s Might reaches zero with all his armies destroyed, you lose the Skirmish. This is an interesting addition to the traditional JRPG formula, although I found it frustrating that Skirmishes were sometimes mandatory. Being taught how to operate Skirmishes at the beginning of the game is understandable, but after that I would’ve liked to have all other possible Skirmish battles be in the form of side quests.

Another intriguing inclusion in Ni no Kuni II is the kingdom building. I mentioned earlier that the game’s plot revolves around Evan building a new kingdom, and boy, do they really mean that. Throughout the majority of the game, I tinkered around with expanding my kingdom and obtaining new citizens. It was cute, being able to assign people to certain areas that they specialize in to help my kingdom flourish. But just like the Skirmishes, I would’ve liked this feature to be more optional than a requirement. A specific point in the game requires Evan’s kingdom of Evermore to be an exact level. In order to increase Evermore’s level, you must have a set number of citizens and facilities. This was an unfortunate speed bump in my play-through that truly hindered the overall pace and progress of the game. Not once was it suggested that Evermore’s status would have any true impact on the game and the whole building mechanics simply felt like a mini-game or a gimmick of sorts.

Ni no Kuni II does a tremendous job in many categories: voice acting, art design, character development, and the creativity of the locations in the world. It flexes its muscles when it comes to the visuals and presentation, but falls short in essentially everything else. The standard real-time combat is surprising gratifying, but I think Level-5 bit off more than they could chew with the RTS-style Skirmishes and poor man’s version of Civilization in the kingdom building. While I applaud the attempt at presenting something new and different, there were too many different features in my mind that caused Ni no Kuni II to be something it wasn’t. The game jumps between normal combat to RTS Skirmishes, all while incorporating a seemingly unimportant building element that hurt me in the end. It all probably seemed like good ideas at the time, but at the end of the day it all feels too crowded. If Ni no Kuni II was a Miyazaki film, it would be a shiny, wonderful adventure about a young cat prince trying to bring peace to the world. Alas, Level-5’s JRPG is a machine with too many malfunctioning parts that keep it from achieving its true potential.

Final Score: 7/10

Ready Player One review: Spielberg’s film hits home behind enjoyment and nostalgia

Imagine a kid in the middle of their room playing with a wide variety of action figures. They’re bashing them together, doesn’t matter what world, universe, or dimension they’re from, it’s an all-out war. Now, imagine Steven Spielberg being that kid and the action figures represent every possible pop culture property ever created. You’re ready to jump into Ready Player One.

Based on the novel by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One follows Wade Watts, an avid gamer in the virtual space known as the OASIS. The OASIS contains virtually every possible game, world, and quite literally *anything* you’re imagination could think of. Set in the year 2045, the majority of humanity spends their time in this virtual paradise. The real world is a bleak, desolate shell of what planet Earth used to be, but no solid explanation is given as to how that happened. It’s a bit unfortunate that the film did not go into more background depth about how the Earth became borderline uninhabitable, and why people spend so much of their time in a virtual space.

After the famous creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, passed away, it’s revealed that he hid the ultimate Easter egg in the virtual world. The player must obtain three keys, all hidden behind complicated puzzles that can only be unlocked as you receive each key, in order to retrieve the egg. The first person to complete each puzzle and possess all the keys will receive Halliday’s majority share of OASIS, and thus, be king of the virtual dimension.

Sounds pretty easy, right? Solve a few puzzles, then make more money than you could possibly imagine? Not so fast. The puzzles that Halliday created are very in-depth and revolve around his own personal life. Not only must you be a skilled gamer, but you must also know your knowledge about Halliday and the creation of OASIS. Ready Player One does a tremendous job of presenting these challenges in ways that make the audience question themselves until they’re actually solved. I found myself thinking that I’d figured out the puzzle, but discovered that I would never have won any of the keys.

Ready Player One has a wonderful cast that work quite well together. I felt true chemistry between Tye Sheridan (Wade Watts) and Olivia Cooke (Samantha Cook) when they were working together in the OASIS to solve the challenges, as well as when the film switches back to reality. Ben Mendelsohn played an interesting villain in Nolan Sorrento; in a movie like this, it can be very easy to have a lackluster antagonist, but Mendelsohn’s Sorrento proves to be every bit of a bad guy in his attempt to obtain all three keys. Lena Waithe (Helen), Phillip Zhao (Sho), and Win Morisaki (Daito) gave quality performances that helped round out the supporting cast and made me truly care for all of the characters.

Since this film was released, it has been showered with praise by some and shrouded in disappointment by others. It seems that the people who had more issues with the film also read the novel, and it didn’t quite meet that bar of expectation. However, if you’re like me who didn’t read the novel, or someone who just enjoys an action-packed science-fiction film with more recognizable characters on screen than you can count, Ready Player One is excellent. The plot was sound, the cast all performed brilliantly, the CGI was well-done and the puzzles weren’t a waste of time. I wish the film did a better job with the overall narrative on the dreary state of the real world, and at times the film moved a bit too fast on screen to genuinely enjoy and appreciate all the amazing cameos. Regardless, Spielberg’s film is a wonderful ride and is a must-watch for fans of virtually anything.

Final Score: 8.5/10

A Quiet Place review: John Krasinski’s directorial debut is a silent killer

Throughout the hour and a half long movie, I couldn’t help but wait for that precious moment when John Krasinski’s character would turn his gaze to the camera and give the audience a classic Jim Halpert smirk n’ shrug. Alas, it didn’t happen…

Now that we’ve gotten the obvious “The Office” joke out of the way (pretty poor one at that), let’s dive into Krasinski’s directorial debut A Quiet Place. The film takes place in a rural, farmland area that looks to have been abandoned by all civilization. Just as the movie title would entail, being silent is imperative for survival. There were moments in the theater that I seriously wondered whether or not the sound had cut out, that’s how quiet they had to be.

Floating between the two genres of thriller and horror, A Quiet Place is a sort of hybrid film that accomplishes quite a few things. For starters, the 90-minute run-time was the perfect length that ensured my full attention and kept me entertained throughout the movie. Krasinski and Emily Blunt were sensational on the big screen as the two leading big names, while the two children, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe, provided extraordinary performances for this type of movie.

The narrative of the film was simple, yet effective: keep quiet or risk getting torn apart by monsters. While Krasinski’s film did an excellent job of providing suspenseful moments that at times reminded me of Jurassic Park, A Quiet Place isn’t without its flaws. The method of how the film distributed background information was a bit unorthodox. The origins of the monsters or why this is happening was never touched on, so I spent some time during and after the movie developing my own theories. Not to say that that is a bad thing, but it might’ve added more to the overall plot if we knew that the monsters were aliens or man-made. Krasinski might’ve gone against that idea, because then it could’ve altered the genre to more of a science-fiction film so I can understand that hole, but it would’ve been nice to have. Although we didn’t get a good sense of what these monsters were, the concept behind them was very original and creative.

Krasinski’s debut as a director was an interesting one. His film wasn’t perfect, but it did enough creatively and in a precise manner that he seems to have a bright future behind the camera as much as in front of it. Blunt does an amazing job as the second lead in A Quiet Place, and the overall pace was very good. While I wished that more background information behind the monsters and the seemingly world-wide crisis would’ve been given, it does leave a bit of intrigue and allows one to fill in the blanks with their own creative theories.

Final Score: 7.5/10

Black Panther review: Wakanda forever

The final film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe before the mad titan Thanos descends on Earth might be one of the best we’ve seen. Throughout the entire development process, the hype surrounding Black Panther grew to astronomical heights. Not only was this movie going to sport a predominately African cast, but also shine light on certain political issues.

Directed by Ryan Coogler, also known for his award-winning film Fruitvale Station, Black Panther’s list of cast members is one to behold. Chadwick Boseman delivered another amazing performance in his second appearance as T’Challa, Lupita Nyong’o was brilliant as Nakia, and Danai Gurira (known more commonly for her role as Michonne in The Walking Dead) played the fierce role of Wakanda’s top general Okoye. But the two shining stars in Black Panther were Michael B. Jordan as the villainous Erik Killmonger and Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s little sister Shuri.

While the Marvel films have become the staple for the superhero genre, they’ve had a recurring problem regarding their villains. Other than Loki, many of the Marvel villains are easily forgotten and lacked any true depth or scope. That’s not the case with Jordan’s Killmonger. Some might’ve been skeptical about Jordan being in another superhero movie given his inclusion in the Fantastic Four reboot, but just as Chris Evans resurrected his Marvel standing with Captain America so does Jordan with Killmonger. Coogler developed an intriguing backstory to the Wakandan villain that will make you think twice about whether Killmonger’s motives are actually evil or if he’s slightly misunderstood. His reasons for what he does in the film are somewhat sound, given how he was brought up in Oakland and what’s happening around the world. The concept of how there are impoverished people around the world and how countries don’t use resources to help them when it’s clearly possible is a main theme throughout Black Panther. Coogler does an excellent job of highlighting these complex issues without forcing the audience toward a conclusion.

Wright’s Shuri steals the spotlight in nearly every scene she’s in. The younger sister of T’Challa, Shuri is the head of the Wakanda science and technology division, and is arguably the smartest character in the MCU (sorry, Tony Stark). She’s responsible for developing the invaluable Vibranium into various weapons and defense systems, while also providing new enhancements for T’Challa’s Black Panther suit. It was also revealed in the Avengers Infinity War Prelude comic #1 that Shuri is the one who cures Bucky Barnes of his brainwash problems that have plagued him since Captain America: Winter Soldier. Given her technological intellect, it would be fascinating to see her and Stark together onscreen.

Black Panther is a tremendous film for Marvel, and has the potential to have an affect on real-world issues. Even if Black Panther and its characters are fictitious, seeing young black people, such as Shuri, have an impact on the world can be inspiring. Many films depict black people as hoodlums, gangsters, drug dealers, slaves or simply uneducated. These depictions tend to generalize how black people are viewed in society by other people, but also how black people generalize themselves. Coogler’s film provides empowerment and a sense of pride for black people. His vision characterizes black people as a demographic that has the ability to blaze their own path and create their own narrative. Black Panther displays an image of self-confidence that not many films have conveyed in the past, and not only do I hope more films follow share Coogler’s vision in the future, but that black people around the world truly embrace his ideals moving forward.

Final Score: 9.5/10