The third quarter (Q3) marks the end of the summer and the beginning of the fall. The heat has left us, the shorts & flip-flops have been put away and for those in the northeast, we’re sitting comfortable and cozy on our couches, windows open, enjoying the crisp cool air while we play our favorite video games. For those in the industry, however, publishers and developers alike have been sweating bullets, gearing-up for their big Q3 releases. For the games industry, it’s arguably the most significant time of the year. With “AAA” games like Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption II having just released, there’s only a few remaining titles to round-out the holiday season (such as Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee, Fallout 76 and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate). Before we know it, it’ll be 2019 and we’ll have to do this all over again!

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Banner design done by Kevin Quigley. Check out his work here at kevinquigleydesign.com

While many people are busy with their favorite new releases or ongoing competitive/cooperative game, the end of Q3 is also the start of what’s arguably the best month of the year. As someone who’s always enjoyed playing certain games during particular seasons, October is the perfect opportunity to play horror games. Whether it’s something new or an old favorite, I always try my best to incorporate as many spooky games as I can during the month, but there’s always one particular game that pulls me away from my seasonal obligations. What’s more horrifying than playing games like Silent Hill, Resident Evil or Castlevania, one may ask? Well, read along, if you dare… muhahaaha!!!

It’s My Destiny… to Play Nothing Else but Destiny 2

Over the past few months, I feel like I’ve been playing nothing but Destiny 2. Between the Solstice of Heroes, joining a new clan and attempting the latest raid lair, most of my free time has been spent grinding away in Bungie’s ongoing sci-fi universe. Although I still enjoy running around, shooting space turtles and chasing loot, my backlog has taken a serious hit. Bungie wasn’t kidding when they said they were “reinforcing the hobby”. With their latest updates, the arrival of Season 4 and the most recent expansion, Forsaken, there’s been an overwhelming sense of obligation to login every day/week to complete activities. I even feel guilty sometimes when I play a different game, which should be a red flag, yet I continue to play.

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When the servers eventually go down, at least I will have something tangible to remember the grind…

The Solstice of Heroes event was both a celebration for veteran Destiny 2 players and a reminder that you’ll never play anything else! The event had Guardians starting with low light-leveled gear and by completing various objectives, the player could upgrade their unique armor to a base light-level of 400. Prior to the release of Forsaken (the game’s most recent expansion), this was the only opportunity to play at a higher light-level than what was previously obtainable. Solstice of Heroes also provided a handful of story missions which were re-engineered to provide additional challenges for seasoned players. Each “Redux” mission showcased new enemy placements and varied encounters. It was fun to revisit these missions even if they were much shorter than their campaign counterparts.

As someone who’s been playing Destiny 2 since launch, the Solstice of Heroes, more than anything, felt like an opportunity to catch-up on all of the game’s vanilla content, including the first two expansions, Curse of Osiris and Warmind. In addition to the special gear objectives, Moments of Triumph were released and Guardians had a single month to complete each objective. Many of the triumphs had the players tasked at completing adventures, strikes, public events and even the two raid lairs. Two of the triumphs also required near full-completion of both the Curse of Osiris and Warmind expansions, by obtaining Sagira’s Ghost Shell and collecting all 45 Latent Memories, respectively. I managed to complete all of the triumphs on my Titan and it was quite the grind-fest, to say the least.

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I’m not looking forward to redoing this Raid Lair anytime soon… *phew*

Speaking of raid lairs, the Spiral of Stars was one of the most hardcore gaming challenges I’ve ever experienced. The final boss encounter demanded such precise movement and coordination between teammates. Our first attempt took us 6 hours to reach  the final boss phase, which ultimately resulted in countless wipes. Fortunately, we re-grouped and completed the lair the night before weekly reset, but it was extremely stressful nonetheless. It blows my mind that people do these raids on a regular basis. I want to be one of those dedicated players, but my devotion isn’t quite there, yet. I know with more practice, exposure and experience, these raids become more manageable, but for now, I’m not in any rush to replay the Spiral of Stars.

At the beginning of September, Bungie released their latest expansion, Forsaken. With the new expansion came Season 4, which introduced many changes, including random rolls on perks for gear, 100s of triumphs (Destiny 2’s in-game achievement system), a new collections tab which keeps track of everything you’ve collected and even a highly requested lore tab that requires players to discover even more collectables scattered throughout the public spaces (which provide context and backstory on the many characters, races and pivotal story moments from the Destiny universe). Needless to say, it’s the most significant and impactful update/season to date for Destiny 2 and even rivals the Taken King expansion from the original game, or so I’m told.

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I can’t not think about Star Wars for whatever reason…

The Forsaken expansion felt like a cross between Mad Max and Star Wars in space. The new campaign took place initially on the Tangled Shore, which is a cluster of meteorites and rock connected by wires and pipes. The atmosphere felt dark, cold and muted, which is befitting of the environment as it’s not the most colorful or vibrant location Bungie has created. Cayde-6, one of the main Guardians from the Destiny universe, was killed and it’s your job to avenge his death. An Awoken prince, a handful of barons and other rogue creatures escape from what’s known as the Prison of Elders. The majority of the expansion has you facing the barons, which provide unique challenges and gimmicks during each encounter (such as an entire adventure on pikes and another where you must disable bombs). It’s the most fun I’ve had with a Destiny campaign to date, so I’m hoping their next major expansion follows suit.

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Bungie still designs the best-looking sky boxes in the business.

After the final mission in Forsaken, players can access the second destination in the expansion, The Dreaming City. Many have said the area evokes Lord of the Rings and it’s true, its elven-like architecture and grandiose vistas do remind you of an elven city from say The Fellowship of the Ring. The most interesting aspect of this new social space, however, is the fact that it evolves/changes every three weeks. New activities, challenges and events pepper the landscape each week. In addition to these ongoing activities, there’s already an abundance of triumphs to complete, secrets to discover and items to collect. I’ve barely scratched the surface in the Awoken city and I can easily see myself spending a good portion of my time here well into 2019. Needless to say, it’s the most ambitious destination to date for the franchise.

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Pour one out for our dead homies.

Finally, the Festival of the Lost began in October and with it came new gear, triumphs and challenges. The event had Guardians exploring the Infinite Forest from the Curse of Osiris expansion on Mercury. Ironically, this seasonal event is what the forest should have been from the start. After an initial quest, players can purchase and equip masks (based on characters from the story that have passed) and then tackle 7 randomly generated branches, all of which culminate in boss battles (or what are known as nightmares for the event). The reward is an item called Fragmented Souls, which can be used to purchase more masks and other goodies, including a special 600 light-leveled weapon. By defeating the nightmares, the masks can also be powered-up and additional perks can be applied to them making the goal of completing all 7 branches of the cursed woods a much simpler task. While it’s yet another grind, it’s a novel take on an existing space that serves as a reminder of what could have been for the Infinite Forest.

Behemoth Hunter: World

Although I’ve put 100+ hours into Monster Hunter: World, its ongoing events and post-game grinds have had me consistently coming back for more. A cross-over event between Final Fantasy XIV and Monster Hunter: World occurred recently, which added new monsters, quests and gear. Among the new beasts to slay, the mighty Behemoth from the Final Fantasy franchise made its way to the new world. The most interesting thing about the Behemoth encounter is that the quest attempted to mirror the raid’s mechanics from Final Fantasy XIV. Although I’m unfamiliar with the raid from the source game, a friend who has played FFXIV informed me that the encounter is shockingly similar. Behemoth hits hard and after many failed attempts, my monster hunting partner and I called it quits.

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Let’s rock, baby!

The Autumn Festival arrived late September and with it came a slew of new quests and gear. Much like the previous festival, none of the new quests were particularly difficult. All previous special quests returned as well, which gave returning players an opportunity to earn anything unique they may have missed from prior events. I had most of what I wanted from the Summer Festival, however, so my time spent among the fall leaves and jack-o-lanterns was short-lived. The end-game grind for decorations and tempered beasts is in-sight, but I’m not sure how many more monsters I’m willing to hunt. I feel like Monster Hunter: World is prime for a significant expansion, too. It’s one of Capcom’s best selling games and I’m hoping they capitalize on their success by releasing something a bit more substantial than their seasonal events.

Trick or Tre… oh, more duplicates?

It’s that time of the year again… time for loot boxes with nothing but duplicates or the occasional costume for someone you don’t normally play as. Junkenstein’s Revenge is Overwatch’s annual Halloween-themed horde mode event. Overwatch’s PVE modes are relatively mindless affairs and provide the player with an opportunity to quickly earn their weekly arcade mode rewards. My routine with Blizzard’s hero-shooter isn’t too different from how I approach every game not named Destiny 2 or Monster Hunter: World; login for the seasonal events and the occasional weekly or ranked match, rinse & repeat. I still generally enjoy playing Overwatch, though. It’s always a nice break from the loot grind/chase found in other games of its ilk.

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All trick and no treat!

Wild & Crazy Kids

I am definitely in the minority, but I’ve always enjoyed Splatoon’s single-player offerings compared to its multi-player musings. I completed the original game at 100% back on the Wii U, but after a few weeks of dedicated online-play, I only ever returned to the competitive modes during Splatfests (which has more or less been my experience with Splatoon 2). It’s been a few months since I’ve played the lastest Octo Expansion (which I’ve yet to complete) and I’ve since subscribed to Nintendo’s online subscription, so I figured the latest Halloween-themed Splatfest was more than enough reason to give the game a whirl. Fortunately, unlike all of the previous Splatfests, the latest event spanned two days instead of one.

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I’m the candy man.

I voted for “Treat” and managed to max out my rank before the event closed. I enjoyed my time returning to the multi-player, but I sort of wish there were more unique rewards for participating in the Splatfests. I really don’t understand why the unique, event-driven t-shirts aren’t given as a reward for participating in the event. Depending on which side wins and a few other factors, players are awarded Super Sea Snails, which are used to re-roll abilities or add new slots to existing gear. It’s an enticing reward for dedicated players, but for someone who doesn’t play consistently, let alone ranked matches, I haven’t felt the need to adjust any of my equipment, especially when I still win matches often with one of the default weapons.

Horror Game Month

Life is Strange, developed by DONTNOD Entertainment, is a narrative-driven adventure game about teenage drama, aspiring youths and small-town conspiracies. When the game first released back in 2015, episodic gaming was in full-swing. What arguably started with Valve’s Half-Life Episode 1 & 2, episodic/seasonal gaming became a new way for developers/publishers to distribute their games. Telltale’s (R.I.P) The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us and Game of Thrones released to varying degrees of success. Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls found an audience among the more casual fan-base on Sony’s platform. Needless to say, there were games for the more hardcore/versed PC-style adventure game fan and newcomers alike.

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Life is Strange gets deliciously spooky in the later half of the story.

Life is Strange first released as a single episode back in 2015, and like many of its contemporaries, the developer took months to complete the story. Fans didn’t seem to mind, however, as the zeitgeist and wait between each episode provided ample time for fans to theorize and reflect. It was also a big departure from the developer’s first game, Remember Me. For those who may be unfamiliar, Remember Me was an action-adventure game with a strong sci-fi/neo-noir setting. The biggest difference between the two games, however, is that Remember Me carried a mediocre combat system, which has since been dropped from most of their subsequent releases (aside from Vampyr). Perhaps DONTNOD realized their strengths and focused on what they do best; storytelling and characters.

Life is Strange is a weird game, though. Its Twin Peak’s-like atmosphere and charming ensemble of townies and lowlifes pull you in, but it’s the decisions you make and the end of episode cliffhangers that have you coming back for more. If there was ever a game where choice mattered and consequences felt significant, Life is Strange has got it in spades. All’s not well in the fictional town of Arcadia Bay, however. The voice-acting is questionable at times and both the character animations and lip-syncing leave a lot to be desired, but it’s nevertheless endearing, similar to why so many people (including myself) are drawn to cult-classics like Access Game’s Deadly Premonition.

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There’s a storm brewing…

I completed the game over the course of 5 weeks by playing an episode to its conclusion on the weekend with my morning coffee. I took all of the optional photos (and found all but one on my own!), obtained the Platinum trophy and read as many of the environmental storytelling pieces that I could. Life is Strange was a cool, quirky, yet (sometimes) campy experience that ultimately won me over with its endearing cast of characters and engrossing story. I’m looking forward to checking out the prequel, Before the Storm, and the upcoming sequel, Life is Strange 2 when I fancy another Netflix-style teenage drama. In the meantime, I think I’ll finally checkout The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit.

Hollow Knight, developed by Team Cherry, is yet another 2D “Metroidvania” by an independent studio. Having released first on PC/Steam, Hollow Knight quickly became a cult-classic among fans. Genre enthusiasts were even bold enough to claim Hollow Knight as the best of its ilk since Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (SotN). Word of mouth spread of its inherent quality and the game finally found its way to the Nintendo Switch. Like many other indie success stories, Team Cherry’s first game found a new audience on Nintendo’s hugely successful platform and has since been ported to the PS4. As someone who consider SotN one of the best games of all time, I figured the game must have been doing something right. The surprise release during Nintendo’s 2018 E3 presentation was enough incentive to download day-one and I’ve been playing it off & on since.

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Respite.

While I’m only a few hours into Hollow Knight, it’s gloomy aesthetic and depressing atmosphere have left a strong impression on me. The game takes place in a ruined kingdom of bugs, beetles and insects. Old ruins and dark caverns comprise the majority of the land below the surface. One of my favorite things to do in the game is to simply sit on the benches (the game’s save-points) and listen to the music. From what I’ve played, the game is also extremely non-linear and in true Metroid-like fashion, areas are gated by abilities that must be discovered in order to progress. Combat is also very deliberate as a lot of the basic abilities (such as preventing knock-back when you’re hit) are locked behind purchasable items. I want to see why so many consider this game a classic, but I keep getting sidetracked, so I’m hoping I find time for it soon.

Darksiders, developed by Vigil Games, was a PS3/Xbox 360-era action-adventure game. When the game first released (alongside Bayonetta), many considered it to be a darker, more “mature”  Legend of Zelda. Heaven and hell were at war with each other until humans were created and a truce was declared between the three clans in order to maintain balance. The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse were to descend upon the earth during the end-times, yet War (the horseman you play as) was preemptively called forth by mistake. An ancient council displeased with his arrival tasked him to find the reason for this premature apocalypse and the game begins.

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When you forget to take good pictures for your post and instead must use a trophy image because you’re strapped for time.

The comparisons to the Legend of Zelda were certainly appropriate as Darksiders is structured similarly to that of a modern/3D Zelda title. There’s an interconnected hub-world, a war horse that can be ridden to traverse the fields, main dungeons with tools to obtain/bosses to defeat, max life upgrades to collect and puzzles to solve. It goes without saying, the game wore its inspiration on its sleeve. I completed the original version at 100% back in the day and even obtained the Platinum trophy. Darksiders: Warmastered Edition is the HD re-mastered edition for all of the current modern platforms. I picked-up the PS4 version last year and decided to start my replay back in September. I’m currently playing on Apocalyptic difficulty and I just cleared the second main dungeon.

With Devil May Cry 5 launching next year, I figured it was time to revisit one of my favorite character-based action game franchises. Although its sequels improved on the formula over the years and games like Ninja Gaiden and Bayonetta took the genre in new directions, the original Devil May Cry (DMC) will always hold  a special place in my heart. With that said, I booted-up the original DMC from the Devil May Cry HD Collection on the PS4 and it’s exactly how I remembered it to be; campy, cool and stylish as hell. The first DMC is considered the grandfather of all character-based action games, but one of my favorite, less-talked about aspects of the original game is the fact that it started as a Resident Evil (RE) title.

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The original DMC was unabashedly an RE game prior to its release.

The RE legacy/heritage  can be seen in nearly every room and hallway found throughout the game, too. Remove the mission results screen between each “level” and the castle from DMC is more or less an interconnected RE-style mansion with puzzles, keys and locked doors. You can even check static objects in the environment and read descriptions that are written in a style that’s eerily similar to the older RE games. I also just love the simplicity of the game. This was a time before style-changing and multiple playable characters found in the later entries. While there are only a handful of weapons and guns, each piece of equipment and upgrade feels meaningful. What else more is there to say other than, “…fill my dark soul with light!!!”.

Summer Games Done Quick

Bomb Chicken, developed and published by Nitrome, is a 2D puzzle-platformer that’s currently exclusive to the Nintendo Switch. Nitrome is a London-based independent studio that creates free-to-play (F2P) games for internet browsers and mobile platforms alike. According to the developers, Bomb Chicken started as an iOS/Android-based project. The game found its way to Steam Greenlight, but ultimately did not see an official release (though, there are still plans to release the game on PC). Considering the success independent developers have found lately on the Switch (see Castle Pixel’s Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King), it’s no surprise that others have followed suit. I wrote a review/think-piece for the game that you can read here. Needless to say, I really enjoyed it!

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Katamari AF.

Donut County, developed by Ben Esposito, is one weird game. Raccoons have moved into a new town and a donut shop, run by a selfish raccoon named “BK”, has been delivering donut holes to customers. These aren’t your ordinary Boston Crèmes or old fashioned glazed donuts, however, they’re quite literally holes, in fact! That’s right, the player controls a hole which allows them to wreck havoc on a community of human and animal citizens alike. In true Katamari Damacy-like fashion, the hole starts small and grows larger as more garbage and environmental-junk falls into the black abyss. There’s minor physics-based puzzles and other silly environmental scenarios, but nothing is ever too difficult to solve. I completed the game with nearly all of the trophies unlocked and while it was an extremely short experience, it’s best played as a palate cleanser between other, more substantial games.

Mega Nostalgia

With the release of Mega Man 11, the return of the Blue Bomber has struck a nostalgic chord in my aging, cynical heart. I grew-up playing Mega Man on the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and while I’ve replayed these games countless times over the years, enough time has passed where particular, less-replayed entries (such as Mega Man 5, 6 and X3) feel new again. The Mega Man and Mega Man X Legacy Collections are great opportunities to revisit these classics, too. Some games have latency issues, but the convenience factor outweighs any minor grievances otherwise present in these collections. Ideally, I wanted to play an entry from each series as a pair, so I decided to start from the beginning with the original Mega Man and Mega Man X.

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Map screens from old games were my favorite things to draw as a kid.

The original Mega Man X is still one of my favorite games of all time. I know most of the boss order and item locations by heart, so it’s always a fun and familiar ride. I completed my replay in two sittings with everything collected and all of the new hunter medals (trophies) unlocked. Every time I play Mega Man X, I always enjoy looking at the world map on the stage-select screen. As a kid, I used to draw maps based on my favorite games and the original Mega Man X (among other classics from that era) were huge inspirations for my adolescent drawings. This new collection also has a gallery/museum which showcases artwork and lore descriptions for each game. Until recently, I had no idea that Sigma (the final boss/Maverick leader) was Mega Man’s original commander! The more you know, I guess.

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I’m good on the original Mega Man for the next decade of my life after my most recent replay…

The first Mega Man is a rough game to revisit. It’s not the most cherished entry in the franchise, but its humble beginnings provided a framework for the series nonetheless. Stages are short, challenging and sometimes cheap. Enemies re-spawn off-screen if you move back & forth. Bosses jump around a lot and spam their moves in chaotic, almost unrecognizable patterns. There’s 6 robot masters instead of the franchise staple of 8. Oh, and you can’t slide! Needless to say, fans of the series don’t look back on the first game in a positive light, but it’s still Mega Man at its core and in retrospective, it acts as an interesting reference-point to see how far the franchise has progressed. I completed the game without abusing save-states and I can’t wait to revisit the rest of the franchise.

Spidey-Man

I’ve always been lukewarm to the Marvel Comic Universe (MCU), even as a kid. I grew-up with a lot of these characters, played with the action figures and even owned some of the licensed games for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) and Sega Genesis. Unlike most of my peers, however, I never became obsessed or infatuated with the extended universe and I’m not exactly sure why. I always gravitated more towards X-Men, but Spider-Man was cool, too, I guess. With that said, Marvel’s Spider-Man, developed by Insomniac Games, is probably the best video game to comic book adaptation since Rocksteady Studio’s Batman: Arkham Asylum.

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A screen capture from the next film…

One reason why I picked-up the new Spider-Man game is because it was developed by the same studio that brought us Spyro the Dragon and Ratchet & Clank; two of my all-time favorite franchises growing-up. I also really enjoyed Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive, which clearly shows its DNA here (specifically with the open-air traversal and web-swinging). At around 40% completion, I’m enjoying my time with the game, but maybe not as much as others appear to be. The open-world aspects (side-quests, collectables, etc.) are relatively familiar by today’s standards. The Arkham-like combat looks and feels good, but it’s an incredibly easy game (web blossom anyone?) even when played on the highest difficult setting. My favorite things about the new Spider-Man game is its swinging mechanics and the photo mode, though.

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Taking pictures and applying overlays and stickers is one of the best parts of the game.

Swinging through the streets of New York City feels perfect, though. Picking-up momentum, launching yourself off of perch-points and stopping mid-air to reposition your swing down a narrow street is immensely satisfying. The photo mode is also a standout as it comes equipped with cool filters, stickers and overlays, which essentially allows you to create your very own custom comic book covers! So far, I’ve spent almost as much time playing the game as I have been taking pictures. Apparently, the game ends on a high-note, too, and Spider-Man aficionados have a lot to look forward to for the inevitable sequel. I’ll get there eventually, perhaps in a New York Minute, but for now, I’ll continue my casual swing through the streets of NYC with camera in-hand.

Tombstone Pizza

Tomb Raider was another franchise I grew-up with and it is one I generally have fond memories of. I haven’t legitimately finished any of the older titles beyond the first game, but I do recall enjoying and completing the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3-era of Lara Croft games, too (Anniversary, Legend and Underworld, specifically). Rise of the Tomb Raider is the second installment in the “new” trilogy developed by Crystal Dynamics. I first bought the game when it was exclusive to the Xbox One, but I never finished it and ultimately double-dipped on the PlayStation 4 port. I’ve since started over as of September of this year. For whatever reason, I’ve been enjoying my return to this game more so than my initial play-through on the Xbox One.

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The new Tomb Raider games sure know how to frame shots, though. Beautiful.

The first Tomb Raider reboot back in 2013 followed in the footsteps of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted; strong narrative, “AAA” blockbuster set-pieces and high production values. As someone who generally enjoys action-adventure games, my favorite aspects of the new Tomb Raider titles is, well, the actual tomb raiding. Much like the previous game, most of the tombs are located off the beaten path, though. Although the Uncharted-like sequences are serviceable, the man-to-man combat isn’t particularly appealing or engaging, yet the tombs and light-puzzle solving is what keeps me moving forward. In a post-Uncharted world, the recent Tomb Raider games are one-step forward, two-steps back, but there’s just something about these games that I still find enjoyable.

Town Ordinance

Remember how satisfying it was to cut the grass in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past? Have you ever wanted an entire game based on that feeling? Well, do I have something for you! The Legend of Kusakari, developed by Librage, is a 2D grass-cutting puzzle game for the Nintendo 3DS. A great calamity has befallen a kingdom and it’s your job to keep the fields neatly trimmed so soldiers and monsters can do battle! It’s a super quirky game with a ridiculous narrative that’s oddly endearing. Although there are 50 stages, each level is extremely short and the goal remains the same throughout. Cut the grass or die trying… from exhaustion!

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Cutting grass like it’s life or death!

As the player cuts grass, their health (or stamina) slowly depletes until they collapse. Some stages present environmental hazards to the player, such as swamps and sandpits, which slow movement speed and reduce the player’s health quicker, respectively. Each stage houses an additional challenge by completing the level without getting hit or never missing a swing, which unlock entries in an almanac. There’s also par times to complete in order to obtain elusive S-ranks and you’ve got to be fast in order to earn those coveted titles. There’s plenty of replay value if cutting grass is your thing, but I don’t think I’ll be mowing any extra lawns anytime soon once I complete the game.

See you next time for my final Q4 thoughts and the inevitable Game of the Year post!

-Matty

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