With each passing year, it’s become increasingly difficult to stay on top of every new game release. Between mainstream, “AAA” blockbusters, indies and all of the in-between, gaming continues to be an embarrassment of riches. While you don’t have to (and realistically can’t) play everything, for someone like myself who has a fairly broad range of interests, it’s nearly impossible to just pick one game and stick to it. Choice paralysis is definitely a thing and the second quarter of 2022 continues to have me paralyzed (mostly in a good way). With that said, despite wrapping-up another stressful busy work season that didn’t know how to end (while dealing with a pinched nerve in my left elbow since March, which has gotten better, I think!), here are the games I managed to roll credits on during the second quarter of 2022. If you missed what I played/finished during Q1 2022, you can read about that here!
Aztech Forgotten Gods, developed by Lienzo, is an open world, Mesoamerican-inspired, action-adventure game that encapsulates PS2 era open world games (think Jak II). Aztech is an interesting hybrid of sorts; it harkens back to the smaller, more condensed open world games from the PS2 era but at its core, it’s sort of a boss rush game with some exploration elements. It also feels like the natural progression from their previous game, Mulaka, which was also an action-adventure game that took place in semi-open spaces. In Aztech, you play as Achtli, a delivery runner who lives alone with her mother in a technologically-advanced city. Early on in the game, the mom, who’s a scientist, finds herself studying ancient artifacts at a nearby dig site when things suddenly go wrong. While helping her mother at the dig site, Achtli is suddenly fashioned with a mechanical-arm that also happens to be possessed by an ancient god that can speak directly to her. There’s some surprising twists and turns along the way, but I found myself enjoying the relationships between Achtli, her mother and their neighborhood friend, Tepo, the most.
The gameplay in Aztech is a mixed bag, unfortunately. Once you get used to how the mechanical arm controls, flying around the environments feels super satisfying. Controlling Achtli is how I would have pictured a proper Superman game to feel/play from say the early-to-mid 2000s. The arm itself does control a bit wildly; punching enemies and performing combos feels mostly satisfying, but you’ll find yourself ping-ponging between groups of monsters in a button-smashing, janky sort of way. There’s also strange quick-time button presses that pop-up on the screen which auto-locks you onto an enemy and I never quite understood how these types of attacks became available. You can even perform one-hit kill execution attacks on enemies when they’re weakened/stunned. While fighting regular enemies isn’t super compelling, the game is at its best when you’re fighting one of the many bosses. These boss encounters are all unique and they make use of the powers/abilities you unlock for your arm over the course of the game. Their designs are quite interesting and their scale, at times, is impressive, especially the final boss fight which is a truly epic moment.
The open world itself contains very little distractions/side objectives you’d come to find in today’s contemporaries, but there are a few things to distract yourself with between the main story missions. There are races and battle arenas scattered around the map that reward you with money and skill points, which can be used to purchase new costumes and skills, respectively. There’s just something cozy about how small and down to business the size of the world is, too. You can fly around the entirety of the map with relative ease and while there are beams of light which act as waypoints, the map isn’t littered with thousands of icons or collectibles you’d come to expect when playing a modern-day open world game. It’s also great to see more games from parts of the world that aren’t always represented so authentically in the indie space. Aztech isn’t a very long game (I completed the game with the Platinum trophy earned after about 6 hours or so), but I felt compelled to keep playing despite its boss rush-like structure and somewhat dated gameplay.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land, developed by HAL Laboratory, is the latest installment in the long-running franchise. I never thought I’d be doing perfect dodges into counterattacks in a Kirby title, like it’s some character-action game, but here we are. Kirby has tiptoed around the third dimension on a few outings; whether it was the 2.5D found in Kirby 64 or the top-down, 3D perspective of Kirby Blowout Blast on the 3DS, the pink puff hasn’t fully committed to a proper 3D adventure until now. With that said, the game is still very much level-based and the stages feel more like something out of Super Mario 3D World than say Super Mario 64 or even Super Mario Odyssey. Outside of the game being fully 3D, the biggest draw in Forgotten Land is Kirby’s new power called “Mouthful Mode”. Similar to how Mario uses his cap to absorb the powers of enemies, objects and things in Odyssey, Kirby can simply inhale special items and take advantage of their properties. Take a traffic cone, for example, when Kirby devours the cone, it grants him the ability to hop along and use the tip of the cone to break cracks in the environment in order to access new areas or solve simple puzzles. There are a ton of unique things to inhale which transforms Kirby into some truly unique shapes, to say the least.
Kirby has often been criticized for its lack of difficulty over the years. It’s true, Kirby games tend to be geared towards a younger audience in general, even compared to the likes of Mario, but that doesn’t mean it’s not without its challenges. Like most Kirby games, the Forgotten Land has some fairly difficult post/end-game content. For one, there’s an arena, which is more or less a boss rush mode that can be found in most Kirby titles. The highest difficulty is truly challenging, but this time, Kirby can power-up his abilities and even equip himself with passive stat boost and restorative items that can be purchased from a shop to curb the difficulty. Speaking of shops, there’s a hub town of sorts that evolves as you collect/save Waddle Dees (Kirby’s cute little friends) that are scattered within the game’s many stages. The town has many services/attractions including mini-game locations for fishing and cooking, the aforementioned arena, a theater where you can watch all of the unlocked cinematics/movies and more. It’s quite enjoyable to watch the town grow over the course of the game as there’s almost always something new to look forward to after you complete a world.
If you’re a true completionist, you can spend A LOT of time in the Forgotten Land. For one, each of Kirby’s copy abilities can be upgraded with a rare material you earn from either completing extra challenge stages or the arena. While you don’t have to max out each copy ability to obtain the in-game 100% completion, the ability to do so is there if you want to make Kirby unstoppable in any form. Then there are the collectible figurines you can earn from the “Gacha” machines in town. These figurines can be purchased with star coins (the game’s standard currency) and if you collect ten of the same figurine (as you will receive duplicates while striving for a complete set), you earn a tiny golden crown on the figurine’s icon; a true completionist’s nightmare. I completed the game at 100% completion and thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. I think Kirby has a renewed life now being in 3D, so hopefully we see an even better sequel soon.
Marvel Spider-Man Miles Morales, developed by Insomniac Games, is the follow-up to the extremely popular and successful 2018 release of Marvel’s Spider-Man. This time around, Peter Parker joins Mary Jane on a trip to cover an urgent international story and essentially hands Miles the keys to the city while he’s away. Unlike the first game, Miles Morales is all killer, no filler. Although the map is smaller than the previous game, it’s just a tighter experience overall. There’s still collectibles, side-missions, challenges and enemy strongholds to overthrow, but it all feels like the greatest hits of Spider-Man 2018 in the best way possible. I felt that Miles himself, his family, friends, their dynamics and struggles were just so much more interesting than Peter Parker’s already well-told past, too. Miles is just a genuinely funny, charismatic character and I hope he takes the lead in the upcoming Spider-Man 2.
I played the PS5 version of Miles Morales so I’m not sure if this feature is exclusive to this version, but being developed to take advantage of PS5’s SSD, load times are almost non-existent. Going inside and outside of most interiors, for example, is seamless. The haptic feedback on the DualSense feels great too and the resistance from pulling down on the triggers when swinging through the city feels more satisfying than it’s ever been; Miles Morales just feels good to play. One of the things I also appreciate about Miles Morales (and it’s a similar sentiment I share about Uncharted: The Lost Legacy – despite having not played it yet) is the fact that it’s a big budget, AAA, first-party release that doesn’t overstay its welcome or feel the need to do so. I completed Miles Morales with a good amount of the side content completed, but I’ll go for 100%/new game+ down the road. I’ve had my fill of Spider-Man as a whole last year when I replayed and completed the 2018 release and all of its DLC at 100%, so I’m good on Spidey until Spider-Man 2 proper.
Ghostwire: Tokyo, developed by Tango Gameworks, is a first-person, action-adventure game that takes place in a post-apocalyptic, modern-day Tokyo. You play as Akito and the game begins with you traveling to the hospital to see your sister when suddenly, a fog envelops the city and the citizens of Tokyo are whisked away to the spirit world. Fortunately, a rogue spirit who’s seemingly an ally possesses you, which allows Akito to exist within this now ghostly world full of yokai, spirits and demons. Ghostwire is quite the departure from Tango’s previous games. While their wheelhouse is certainly horror, The Evil Within was a 3rd-person, RE4-style, chapter-by-chapter, survival horror game. Ghostwire, however, is a modern-day open world game, but with a twist. The entire game is in first-person and instead of guns/melee weapons, you’re equipped with elemental magic spells, charms and an otherworldly bow. The animations in Ghostwire are excellent, too. From the hand-weaving spellcasting animations to the slender men, umbrella-wielding demons slowly patrolling the streets; Ghostwire is super stylish and Tokyo is dripping with atmosphere.
My favorite thing about Ghostwire is the attention to detail, art direction and enemy design. Tango Gameworks might not make the most visually impressive games, but their craftsmanship shines elsewhere. Although I haven’t been to Tokyo, the city in Ghostwire is apparently one of the most authentic recreations of the location to date, even more so than Yakuza’s Kamurocho (which is a fictional location based heavily on real city). Ghostwire is a fairly standard open world game on paper. It’s got the “Ubisoft Towers” you’d find in the Assassin’s Creed series, for example, only they’re shrines here. Once you cleanse a shrine of its demons, more of the map will reveal itself and the dangerous fog that’s surrounding the city will lift. Clearing shrines and unlocking new missions and objectives in other parts of the city propels the story forward. You can complete the story within 10-15 hours if you skip all of the side activities and collectibles, too. Tokyo is densely packed with things to do, but like most open world games, once you see the handful of activities the game has to offer, you’ll start to see ideas repeat. With that said, the side stories are probably one of the more interesting aspects of Ghostwire, perhaps even more so than the main storyline, which leaves a lot to be desired and quite frankly, feels rushed near the end of the game. I completed the game with a handful of the side-quests completed and while I’d like to return to Tokyo and go for 100%, there’s just too many other games to play right now.
Panic Museum (known as Haunted Museum in Japan), developed by Taito and GameWax, is a lightgun game that’s exclusive to the arcades. Arcades in the west seem far and few between these days, although I’m no arcade aficionado. From my few experiences visiting arcades since being an adult, they seem regulated to beach boardwalks or Dave & Busters. I grew-up visiting local arcades in various malls in southeastern Pennsylvania (not far from Philadelphia). Our go-to arcade was called Pocket Change in the Granite Run Mall. As a kid, my brother and I would spend hours in there while my family shopped elsewhere (we would reconvene at Auntie Anne’s Pretzels afterwards). Arcades in the 90s had everything; fighting games, lightgun games, beat ’em ups, pinball machines and more. Today, from my limited experience reentering the arcade scene between the east and west coast, feels more homogenized than it’s ever been. Between the arcade boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware to the Casino Arcade in Santa Cruz, California, I saw the same Raw Thrills cabinets, the Halo: Fireteam Raven machines, Deal or No Deal and many other similar games.
If you’re familiar with the genre, Panic Museum is in the same vein as the House of the Dead or Time Crisis. Like most lightgun games, Panic Museum has you playing through a series of linear stages with multiple paths, hidden items and boss fights. In Panic Museum, you explore multiple branches of a museum, which includes gift shops, a library and other historical exhibits. The story is silly, but it doesn’t matter. The VO is campy and bad too, which only adds to the charm. Panic Museum seemed relatively fair by arcade standards. Your characters have fairy large health bars and powerful weapon pick-ups and med kits are plentiful within the stages (although some are very hard to shoot at as the screen whips around quickly). The enemy variety is great and the boss fights are all unique, despite how you approach defeating them. The weak points on bosses only become visible for short periods of time and like most arcade lightgun games, it’s impossible not to take a hit. I was really enjoying my time with Panic Museum until we got to the final mission. The last boss is complete nonsense and cements the idea that arcade games just want your money. We spent somewhere between $10-20 dollars (it cost $1 per credit), but we got the bad ending which really bummed me out. If there was a home console port of Panic Museum (like the ones we used to see during the PS2 era), I would have played the shit out of this game.
Umurangi Generation Special Edition, developed by Origame Digital, is a first-person photography game where you take photos of people, places and things. It’s a game I’ve been wanting to play since it first released and having just been added to Game Pass this year, I decided to give it a whirl. Umurangi has a lot to say without actually saying anything, as it’s all done through environmental storytelling. From what I could gather, you’re following along a group of teenagers/young adults as they travel from location to location in a city that’s both repressed by police and on high alert from what seems to be an alien invasion? Umurangi paints a dystopian picture set to a Jet Grind Radio aesthetic and a killer soundtrack, it’s both depressing and cool at the same time. Each stage has you completing a list of objectives and collecting film canisters. All of the main objectives must be completed before you move onto the next stage, which can range from taking pictures of police holding guns, a particular word spray-painted on a wall, or all of your friends hanging out in a single shot. The picture-taking aspect of Umurangi is both lenient and strict depending on the objective and stage, however. Sometimes you can put on a wide-angle lens and just auto-fire your camera into the crowd and complete 3 objectives at once, other times you have to put on a zoom lens and get real close to the object, word or thing you’re supposed to capture.
The film canisters that are scattered around the stages both refill your camera and count towards bonus objectives. When you complete all of the objectives in a single stage, you’re rewarded new filters or camera lens’, some of which make completing a lot of the objectives more easily once unlocked. The film canisters are extremely well hidden, too. Good luck finding all of them without a guide, it almost becomes a pixel-hunting game as they often blend into the background. I completed the game with all of the achievements unlocked, including the DLC that was included in the special edition. I was able to do everything on my own, outside of finding a few extremely well hidden film canisters. There are also a ton of additional time trial modes and a photo mode that removes all of the objectives and the time limit, so that you can take pictures at your leisure. I was content after finishing the main story mode and unlocking all of the extra camera lens/filters, however. It’s not necessarily a game I would come back to for its photo mode, but I enjoyed my time spent with Umurangi nonetheless.
Trek to Yomi, developed by Flying Wild Hog and Leonard Menchiari, is a black & white, action-adventure game that tells a classic samurai revenge story with heavy influences from Japanese mythology and Akira Kurosawa films. I haven’t felt as conflicted by a game this year than I have been with Trek to Yomi. On the surface, it nearly has everything that I love about video games; the combat is simple and arcade-like, there are counter-attacks, a parry mechanic, unique bosses and hidden collectibles everywhere. Trek to Yomi also incorporates fixed camera angles (which I have an affinity for) and at times, it feels like you’re playing a PS2 era Capcom survival horror game like Onimusha. While the story/characters weren’t very interesting, it was the environments, camera shots and set-pieces that propelled me forward. The combat has a degree of depth, but the enemy variety wains quickly and stages become a bit too long with little variety. Checkpoints start to become too far apart as well and by the end of the game, it feels more like an enemy gauntlet than the first half of the game, which felt better paced with some exploration elements and simple puzzles.
I completed the game on Hard difficulty and it was extremely challenging, particularly the boss battles, but it was more frustrating than rewarding. There’s also no chapter select/new game+ options and nearly every upgrade/collectable gets cut-off/locked-out once you make too much progress within a chapter. While Trek to Yomi isn’t a terribly long game, completing it at 100% doesn’t respect your time at all. I’ll never understand why some developers choose not to include chapter selects or other features which would make replaying their games more enticing. My only guess is that these types of extras weren’t included due to time/budgetary reasons (although the game does have a degree of production value, so who knows). I wanted to like Trek to Yomi more than I did, but time will tell if I decide to come back for another trek.
Grapple Dog, developed by Medallion Games, is a cute 2D platformer where you play as a dog with a satisfying grappling hook. The story takes Pablo (the cute pup) and his friends on a journey across the sea to find 4 magical objects created by a legendary inventor before they fall into the wrong hands. When I downloaded Grapple Dog, it was the type of game I could only play in short sessions (about a stage or two per sitting). This is partly due to how I typically approach platformers, as I usually like to collect everything in a stage before I move onto the next one. The levels are quite lengthy here, too. Most stages have you platforming and grappling from point A to B while avoiding enemies and hazards along the way, but sometimes the stages can be quite maze-like with some minor puzzles (which mostly boils down to hitting switches and backtracking through open gates). There are a ton of things to collect in each stage as well, one of which is required to progress. There are a ton of hidden levels that are quite challenging, too.
Grapple Dog is a much longer game than you’d expect it to be and while each stage introduces new ideas and mechanics along the way, the whole experience started to wane as I approached the final world. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with Grapple Dog and while I felt compelled to keep playing it until I saw the credits roll, I found myself struggling to convey my thoughts on the game after I finished it. My time spent with Grapple Dog felt like it was sort of in one ear and out the other, unfortunately. It’s a colorful, upbeat platformer that doesn’t stray too far from the 2D platformer formula. I completed the game with nearly everything collected, but there’s a post-game world and time trials left to complete. A part of me wanted to go for 100%, but again, my plate is full, and there are other games I need to finish first.
Disc Room, developed by Terri, Dose, Kitty, and JW, is a 2D, top-down, arcade-like game where you go room by room trying to avoid saw blades. It’s almost like someone made a game based on the 1997 sci-fi horror film, Cube. There’s barely an intro cinematic that sets-up the story and then you’re off to a countless amount of deaths. Despite its brutal difficulty, Disc Room is one of the most addicting games I’ve ever played. The game is structured in a grid-like fashion, each room containing different saw blade types and hazards. To make progress, the player must complete certain challenges in each room, which will unlock adjacent rooms and new sections on the grid. Some of these challenges ask the player to simply die by each of the saw blade types scattered about the rooms. Other challenges may ask the player to survive for a period of time before perishing.
What makes Disc Room so difficult to put down is just how instant the reloads are when you die. There’s just a rewarding sense of progression on display here as you’re almost always looking at the map, slowly filling in the rooms, wondering what new saw blade will kill you next. Disc Room is short but packed with content and getting 100% is simply masochistic. There’s also an extremely challenging Hard mode that’s unlocked once you finish the game. I completed the game at 93% completion before I tapped out. A big part of me wanted to keep playing until I reached 100% completion, but it’s the perfect pick up & play game for whenever I feel like dying over and over again.
Panzer Dragoon: Remake, developed by Forever Entertainment S. A. and MegaPixel Studio, is a decent remake of the Sega Saturn cult-classic rail shooter. Panzer Dragoon is a series that many hardcore fans have wanted to come back for quite some time, but maybe not exactly like this. While this remake appears to be a relatively faithful update to the original release, there’s something off about it that I can’t quite put my finger on. The soundtrack by Saori Kobayashi is still incredible, however, so you’ll at least your ears will have an enjoyable experience at the very least. The game also seems a lot easier, but that could be due to the HD visuals (and perhaps some damage value tinkering). I think it’s just a lot easier to see/spot enemies in this version than it was on a grainy CRTV two decades ago (which still has its charm, of course).
Speaking of replaying this version of the game in particular, there’s a ridiculous trophy for logging 100 in-game hours. While you can certainly replay the game for a better hit ratio/higher score or give Hard difficulty a try, 100 in-game hours is A LOT to ask of anyone, even for the most dedicated fan. I finished a run on Normal difficulty and while the game isn’t very long (you can finish a playthrough in about an hour), it’s meant to be replayed for better hit ratios/higher scores. There’s also a hidden menu called Pandora’s Box (which is an unlock found in some of the other games in the series) and it contains some neat extras like a “God” mode, but there’s nothing too exciting here. I enjoy my one playthrough down memory lane, but I didn’t feel compelled to replay it again anytime soon. If only we could get a port/remake of Panzer Dragoon Saga now…
Tunic, developed by Andrew Shouldice and company, is a top-down, Zelda-like with some cryptic puzzles akin to the type of stuff you’d find in FEZ or The Witness. It’s almost best if I say less about the game as it’s the type of experience that’s better if you go into it mostly blind. While Tunic clearly takes inspiration from a lot of classic and contemporary games, it still manages to carve out its own distinct look and feel. The soundtrack, by Janice Kwan and Lifeformed, is also excellent and the sound design, particularly when you’re activating some sort of mechanism, shrine or the like, is bassy and crunchy. One of the more unique aspects of Tunic is how the game teaches you how to play it. In Tunic, instead of forced tutorial windows popping up to explain things, the game gradually unfolds its mechanics and design language through an in-game manual/booklet that must be collected and pieced together page by page. These pages are in a fictional language, so nothing is deliberately explained. Instead, the player must use the images and iconography to decipher each page’s purpose and meaning.
Unless you have the best intuition or a lot of luck, you have to pour over these pages in order to make progress. Fortunately, the manual is beautifully illustrated and fun to look at. If there was a physical collector’s edition release of Tunic, I’d love to see the in-game manual printed physically in all of its glory (Limited Run Games, hello?). Some minor spoilers: Tunic has a “language” of sorts that needs to be deciphered in order to access the true ending. If I were ten years younger and didn’t have like 100 other games I wanted to play, I would have enjoyed busting out the notepad and banging my head against the wall. I managed to roll the credits on the initial ending without having to resort to a guide, but there’s still plenty of secrets, manual pages and other cryptic puzzles to discover when/if I decide to come back. I’m good for now, though.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, developed by Tribute Games, is a solid follow-up to the arcade/console TMNT beat ’em ups from my childhood. It feels like the natural step/progression from Turtles in Time/The Hyperstone Heist but with some modern sensibilities. Shredder’s Revenge probably has the most robust and “complicated” move-set in the entire franchise, but it’s still easy to pickup & play like most classic beat ’em ups. The more advanced “tech” might not be as interesting as the types of combos, juggles or wall bouncing techniques you’d find in say Streets of Rage 4, but there’s a nice middle ground here that’s approachable for all types of players. With that said, I wish the collectibles were more meaningful or served some greater purpose in Shredder’s Revenge. You collect a variety of items (which aren’t very difficult to find); VHS tapes for Vernon, newspapers for Burne and secret diaries for Irma, for example). The only purpose they serve, however, is that they’re tied to achievements/trophies, but it would have been cool if say the diary entries and newspaper articles were readable, for example. The collectibles/extras could have provided some additional TMNT lore which I think fans would have appreciated, so it feels like a missed opportunity.
As fun as the game is to play, I wish the level design was a bit more interesting across the board. Similar to some of the previous TMNT games, there are “skateboard” stages scattered among the traditional beat ’em up levels. Unfortunately, outside of some stage hazards, these levels feel extremely similar to the traditional on-foot brawler stages and beyond that, there isn’t a whole lot of variety. Needless to say, the soundtrack by Tee Lopes is incredible. I completed the game’s Story mode on Gnarly difficulty and while it was challenging at times, it was fair due to the combat options at your disposal and the character upgrades you earn over the course of the game. I have yet to try the game’s Arcade mode, but I presume that’s where the real challenge is, as I don’t believe your characters can level-up and you have a limited amount of lives/continues. I’ve also yet to party-up with (up to 6!) other players or try the online multiplayer modes, but I’m guessing the game’s more fun locally with friends/family. I’ll definitely be back for another slice or two down the road.
Kao the Kangaroo, developed by Tate Multimedia, is a reboot of sorts to a 3D mascot platformer that started back in 2000 on the Dreamcast. It’s comfort junk food platforming that clearly wears its inspirations on its sleeve. The story isn’t very important here, but Kao is in search of his missing father and sister. Along the way, he comes across a pair of cursed gloves which speak to him for whatever reason. It must be said and I’m in no way trying to disparage the actors/actresses who provided voices to these characters, but the English voice acting (VO) is terrible, particularly Kao himself. There’s a surprising amount of dialogue and cinematics where characters are speaking and none of it is interesting or endearing, unfortunately. With that said, the game itself is colorful, the characters animate fairly well and the environments look gorgeous from afar. Kao feels good to control too, which is one of the most important aspects when it comes to making a fun 3D platformer.
Kao the Kangaroo is a competent 3D platformer and although it may not need one, it sort of lacks its own identity. You could arguably replace Kao with any other anthropomorphic character, give it a new title and the game would likely work as is without changing anything else. I wish the developers leaned more into the fact that Kao is a boxing Kangaroo. The possessed boxing glove narrative is weird and it doesn’t really go anywhere interesting and the gameplay itself, outside of beating up baddies with your gloves, doesn’t play into the fact that Kao is a boxer? You do gain elemental powers over the course of the game, but they don’t make the combat any more engaging and they act more like keys for solving extremely simple environmental “puzzles”. At the end of the day, Kao is clearly meant for kids or the young at heart and I enjoyed it for what it was worth. I completed the game at 100% with the Platinum trophy earned.
Thanks for reading. See you next quarter!