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The Live Gamer Mini is a decent pick for your first capture card due to how easy it makes streaming and recording. Its simplicity makes it a hard sell for anyone looking for more features, as does its requirements for a decent dedicated laptop/computer for streaming or recording.

AverMedia Live Gamer Mini
Price: $130 (Avermedia)
MonsterVine was supplied with a capture card for review

As someone who dabbles in making video content based on video games and gaming in general, the Live Gamer Mini caught my attention because of its promised simplicity and impressively small size. Though it isn’t the best card for more affluent creators who want variety in their features, the Live Gamer Mini is a decent first capture card for those who want to get started on their content-creating careers on a bit of a budget.

The card itself is incredibly sleek and surprisingly small. Other than its HDMI In and Out ports and the USB power supply slot, the card has no extraneous ports or switches. It looks smooth and can fit in the palm of your hand (or maybe my hands are just kind of big, it’s small nonetheless). Having all the ports on one side instead of all around (like with the Live Gamer Pro) is a vast improvement, as it helps to keep the wires untangled and organized.

Captured footage through REcentral looks fantastic, but needs a strong computer to take advantage of the higher quality recording options. Recording with a weaker computer can make your footage stuttery and fragmented, even on lower settings. With the proper hardware though, footage taken by the Live Gamer Mini looks remarkable, and is incredibly easy to set-up.

Specs:  

  • Interface:USB 2.0 (USB Micro)
  • Video Input:HDMI
  • Video Output (Pass-Through):HDMIAudio Input:HDMI
  • Audio Output (Pass-Through):HDMI
  • Max Pass-Through Resolution :1080p60
  • Max Record Resolutions:1080p60
  • Supported Resolutions (Video input):1080p, 1080i, 720p, 576p, 480p, 480i
  • Record Format:MPEG 4 (H.264+AAC) / Supports hardware encoding
  • Dimension (W x D x H):100 x 57 x 18.8 mm (3.93 x 2.24 x 0.74in)
  • Weight:74.5 g (2.63oz)

If you choose to use REcentral 4 (Avermedia’s recording/streaming software), you won’t have much difficulty in getting things up and running. I found previous versions of REcentral to be fairly buggy and difficult to navigate, but version 4 is a vast improvement on the program all around. It’s easy to boot the program up and get straight to recording or streaming, and just as easy to customize how you want to record your footage. People with weaker computers can record anywhere at anything from 60 to 29.97 fps, as well as different bitrates and resolutions.

The Live Gamer Mini also has a “CPU-free” recording mode that doesn’t use REcentral, but instead runs straight through your streaming/recording program of choice. I found the video quality to be quite a bit lower than it was when run through REcentral, even when trying a number of different settings. It’s still an easy way for budding content creators to start recording footage if they don’t have a great computer, though the quality does indeed reflect upon this.

THE GOOD

Recorded footage looks great, and the quality of your recordings is incredibly customizable.

“CPU-free” mode is an easy way to stream or record gameplay with practically no set-up required.

The card looks sleek, takes up very little space, and is designed to be as convenient to use as possible.

THE BAD

Recording with a weaker computer can make your footage stuttery and fragmented, even on lower settings.

Though “CPU-free” mode is a simple and handy feature, the recorded footage is of noticeably lower quality.

The Final Word

The Live Gamer Mini is a decent first capture card for anyone with a budget and content-creating aspirations. It’s well-designed and easy to use, though anyone with a weaker computer will have to settle for lower video quality. Overall, the Live Gamer Mini is a good first step for fledgling streamers or video producers.

The post Avermedia Live Gamer Mini Review – A Good, Small Step appeared first on MonsterVine.

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Taking place in the rich world of the Citte della Ombre, the world of Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is full of a little too much of everything.

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows
Developer: Witching Hour Studios
Price: $20
Platforms: PS4, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, XBOX ONE
MonsterVine was provided with a Switch code for review

Everywhere you turn in Masquerada you’re unlocking paragraphs of lore and history about the religion, wars, factions, tensions, characters, the city, the founding of the city, the founder of the city, the ruler of the city and that just … isn’t the way to go about that.

Take, for instance, our dear friend JRR Tolkien. There is an entire, aeon-spanning history that precedes the events of the Lord of the Rings – but there’s a reason it starts in the sleepy Shire. Because introducing an entire world and its history needs to start small. Special attention must be paid to pacing and the tenets of showing and not telling. Masquerada dumps the player into scenes that we have no context for (or throws that context into journal entries which may or may not ever be relevant) which makes it hard to care or about the events taking place.

It would also help if our protagonist, Cicero Gavar, was more than just a pair of pants for the audience. We’re supposed to like Weakchin McHairdo, our daring hero, because he’s nice to poor people but otherwise shows as much personality as a slightly jaded sockpuppet. Mercer does a fine job of voicing him but he’s not given the best dialogue to work with, and there’s really no risks made to make Cicero stand out from literally every other beige video game protagonist. That said, most of your little squad of ruffians are great characters, and their quips add a much needed levity.

Despite my gripings, Masquerada has a lot of things going for it. The magic venetian aesthetic is truly unique and there were so many environments that I just ran around for the simple joy of exploring. Together with a resounding score and a much overlooked attention to sound design, places like the Hall of Songs come to life.

Jam packing a lot of story into a game is not the same as having a good story.

The gameplay is solid, there’s a lot of big hitters in the tactical, squad-based RPGs right now but Masquerada manages to stand on its own two feet. You operate on the standard ‘pause and issue orders’ routine that should be familiar to any fan of the genre – the switch controls aren’t the best suited for it but the devs have managed to make the best out of it. The elemental sets of abilities feel distinct from one another. I had a great time as an Airblade teleporting enemies around and generally being a whimsical nuisance.

Masquerada is pretty and plays well but I think it’s reasonable that we can expect more from a game’s story than just having one. Storytelling basics like pacing and ‘showing not telling’ are the difference between Masquerada and Journey. Jam packing a lot of story into a game is not the same as having a good story.

The Final Word

A lot people are going to have a wonderful experience because Masquerada looks good and plays well and they’ll be skipping through most of the dialogue scenes. And that’s fine. But we can start expecting more from our favourite medium.

The post Masquerada: Songs and Shadows Review – And Exposition appeared first on MonsterVine.

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Taking place in the rich world of the Citte della Ombre, the world of Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is full of a little too much of everything.

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows
Developer: Witching Hour Studios
Price: $20
Platforms: PS4, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, XBOX ONE
MonsterVine was provided with a Switch code for review

Everywhere you turn in Masquerada you’re unlocking paragraphs of lore and history about the religion, wars, factions, tensions, characters, the city, the founding of the city, the founder of the city, the ruler of the city and that just … isn’t the way to go about that.

Take, for instance, our dear friend JRR Tolkien. There is an entire, aeon-spanning history that precedes the events of the Lord of the Rings – but there’s a reason it starts in the sleepy Shire. Because introducing an entire world and its history needs to start small. Special attention must be paid to pacing and the tenets of showing and not telling. Masquerada dumps the player into scenes that we have no context for (or throws that context into journal entries which may or may not ever be relevant) which makes it hard to care or about the events taking place.

It would also help if our protagonist, Cicero Gavar, was more than just a pair of pants for the audience. We’re supposed to like Weakchin McHairdo, our daring hero, because he’s nice to poor people but otherwise shows as much personality as a slightly jaded sockpuppet. Mercer does a fine job of voicing him but he’s not given the best dialogue to work with, and there’s really no risks made to make Cicero stand out from literally every other beige video game protagonist. That said, most of your little squad of ruffians are great characters, and their quips add a much needed levity.

Despite my gripings, Masquerada has a lot of things going for it. The magic venetian aesthetic is truly unique and there were so many environments that I just ran around for the simple joy of exploring. Together with a resounding score and a much overlooked attention to sound design, places like the Hall of Songs come to life.

Jam packing a lot of story into a game is not the same as having a good story.

The gameplay is solid, there’s a lot of big hitters in the tactical, squad-based RPGs right now but Masquerada manages to stand on its own two feet. You operate on the standard ‘pause and issue orders’ routine that should be familiar to any fan of the genre – the switch controls aren’t the best suited for it but the devs have managed to make the best out of it. The elemental sets of abilities feel distinct from one another. I had a great time as an Airblade teleporting enemies around and generally being a whimsical nuisance.

Masquerada is pretty and plays well but I think it’s reasonable that we can expect more from a game’s story than just having one. Storytelling basics like pacing and ‘showing not telling’ are the difference between Masquerada and Journey. Jam packing a lot of story into a game is not the same as having a good story.

The Final Word

A lot people are going to have a wonderful experience because Masquerada looks good and plays well and they’ll be skipping through most of the dialogue scenes. And that’s fine. But we can start expecting more from our favourite medium.

The post Masquerada: Songs and Shadows and Exposition appeared first on MonsterVine.

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Just because John Wick is excommunicado doesn’t mean you can’t show up to the theater dressed to kill. The big goof John Wick got into some more shenanigans in his latest film, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum and we’ve got a prize pack for one lucky winner. Included in the package is a shirt, hat, coin, and phone charger all themed after the film along with a pass that’s good for 2 to see the film on May 17th! The giveaway starts today (May 8th) and will run for until May 12th at midnight so good luck to all entries.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum Prize Pack Giveaway

The post John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum Giveaway appeared first on MonsterVine.

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Astro’s C40 TR controller is branded as a pro-series, premium modular experience, and the quality and comfort is immediately evident as soon as it’s picked up.

Astro C40 TR Controller
Price: $200
Platforms: PC, PS4
MonsterVine was supplied with a controller for review

Third-party accessories aren’t anything new, but quality devices are, and Astro has been delivering some quality devices for quite some time now, and the C40 TR is no exception.

The device has a satisfying weight to it that is comfortable to hold, and offers a premium experience that is very much lacking from the first-party options.

C40 TR Controller Specs:

  • Micro USB input (for charging or wired play)
  • Weight: 310g
  • Dimensions: 168mm x 108mm x 53mm
  • Lithium Ion Rechargeable: 12h+ charge
  • Wireless: 10m range, 2.4ghz
  • 3.5mm Jack
  • Wireless Latency: 5ms
  • Toggle between 2 stored presets
  • Modular thumbsticks and d-pad

With a lot of controller and input accessories on the market, spending $200 on one might seem a bit daunting, but with Astro’s C40 TR controller you really get what you pay for. One of my biggest complaints with the PS4 has always been the first-party controllers. They have a lightweight, cheap plastic feel, and they are prone to squeaking and stuck shoulder buttons. The C40 feels exponentially better than a DualShock 4 thanks to it being made from higher quality materials, and having a slightly wider base for grips.

The C40 becomes something entirely different when the screws come out and the customization begins. The first thing I did was to swap the placement of the left analog stick and the dpad. I prefer the asymmetrical thumbstick layout, and now, thanks to Astro, I can play my PS4 games how I prefer.

Hidden from first glance the C40 has left and right buttons on the inside of the controller’s grip. Aptly labeled “UL” and “UR” these under buttons are wonderfully positioned, exactly where my middle fingers rest with the controller. What’s most exciting about having these under-buttons is being able to customize a games experience, and improve my performance by no longer having to move my thumbs out of place to revive an ally or reload a weapon.

The C40 stores two different button configurations, and has a manual switch to toggle between them. Unlike some of the programmable controllers on the market, the C40 can be remapped on the fly thanks to a special button well hidden on the underside of the device. This is an awesome feature. I found this particularly useful when I would play a new game, discover a good use for the under buttons, and make a change in moments, without needing to load up the software. While the software isn’t included, but is a quick download away and adds for ultimate control and customization, as well as store more than just the two, local profiles.

THE GOOD

Modular Design to swap stick/dpad layouts

Long battery life

Wired and Wireless options

Feels great to hold

Sturdy carrying case included

THE BAD

Need a screwdriver to swap components

Missing light bar found on DualShock 4

Only works natively on PC and PS4

Custom Button Configuration App not on PS4

The Final Word

The C40 TR is a wonderful controller which will take over as the only controller I use for PS4, even if it is lacking the DS4’s lightbar. The modular design makes easy to swap things around, as long as the screwdriver was put back into the case after use. The more I use the C40 TR the more I wish I could use it on Switch and Xbox as well. Hopefully a future iteration will enable that type of functionality, but in the meantime It will be the only device I use to play games on my PS4.

The post Astro C40 TR Controller Review – Throw Your DualShock 4 Away appeared first on MonsterVine.

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It’s finally here: the long-awaited Nintendo Switch port of the only game that lets you play as a duck that wears a pot on its head to kill your friends with a sniper rifle while they rapidly quack at you. Duck Game is sheer madness in the best way possible, and the Switch is a fantastic home for it.

Duck Game
Developer: Adult Swim Games
Price: $12.99
Platforms: PS4, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC, and Ouya
MonsterVine was provided with a Switch code for review

I don’t know how to start a review of Duck Game, because it’s essentially insanity in video game form. You play as a duck, you pick a weird hat/mask to wear, and you kill your friends (locally or online) with a plethora of varied weapons that range from bazookas and laser guns to bibles and Nerf guns. Duck Game even has some addictive singleplayer content to round the package out, making it an incredible bargain for its low price.

The singleplayer content comes in the form of “The Arcade”; a room full of different trials and missions that sharpen your Duck Game skills asand let you earn new hats and gameplay modifiers. Trying to beat your best scores to earn more items is a lot of fun thanks to how diverse the missions are. This diversity also helps you learn the mechanics and nuances of Duck Game far faster, from the basic controls to tricks like chainsaw-sliding and window-breaking. I wouldn’t say the Arcade alone is worth buying Duck Game for, but it serves as excellent supplementary content for the main package.

The goal of Duck Game is to be the last duck standing by any means necessary. You’re dropped into a stage (which can be enormous or tiny) with all sorts of weapons and obstacles around you. That’s pretty much all there is to it, as there aren’t really any rules or objectives outside of causing chaos and killing your opponents. This simplicity is part of what makes Duck Game so fantastic, as new players don’t have much to learn before they can jump into the anarchic fun. Editor-in-Chief Austin Adamson and I had a blast playing a few rounds earlier this week, as each round we played felt like a whole new game where anybody could come out on top.

“A bunch of pixel-art ducks quacking at each other and making enormous explosions of fire and feathers can be a pretty visceral image, but the charming pixel-art keeps things from being too busy or overwhelming.“

Online runs quite well, though there were one or two matches where my duck lagged a bit, leading to a death or two that I didn’t really deserve, though these situations were few and far between. Rage-quitting seems to have little to no consequence as well, which means you can get cheated out of experience/items that come from completing matches if your opponents were getting a bit too salty.

The art of Duck Game is pretty basic, which works entirely in the game’s favour. A bunch of pixel-art ducks quacking at each other and making enormous explosions of fire and feathers can be a pretty visceral image, but the charming pixel-art keeps things from being too busy or overwhelming.

The Final Word
Duck Game is many things, but I think it’s best described as weird, simple, and anarchic fun. I’m hoping that Adult Swim Games finds a way to deal with ragequitters online, but other than that, I had nonstop fun with Duck Game.

MonsterVine Review Score: 4.5 out of 5 – Great

The post Duck Game (Switch) Review – Ducking Felightful appeared first on MonsterVine.

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A good chair is an essential ally to any desk space. From a 20 minute session checking the daily news, to a 13 hour raid, the quality of the chair is going to impact the session and EwinRacing continues to offer a comfortable, seated experience.

Ewinracing Gaming Chair – Champion Series (v2019)
Price: $310 (Save 10% with code MonsterVine on Ewinracing)
MonsterVine was supplied with Champion Series for review
MonsterVine gets 5% bounty for each use of coupon code

Last year I was tasked with reviewing the early design of the Champion Series from EwinRacing and it has drastically changed my desk comfort and productivity. I have learned that sitting in a quality chair, that has been adjusted and tweaked for my desk environment has a significant impact on my mood, letting me get more done at my desk, while keeping me comfortable throughout.

The latest iteration of the Champion Series has a more ergonomic design, updated instructions, and the same premium build and materials continue to make EwinRacing a strong contender in the gaming chair scene.

Chair Specs:

  • Perforated diamond pattern stitching for comfort and breathability
  • Four Direction Adjustable Armrests
  • High Adjustment via 120mm class-4 gas lift (up to 330lbs)
  • Lever Operated Back Recliner (85-155 degrees of adjustment)
  • Tilt lock and tilt control lever
  • Steel frame seat
  • High Density memory foam padding
  • Aluminum five-star base
  • Variety of color customization options

My weekly time spent in a chair has gone down over the past year, which is why when I do get the time to sit at my desk, and play some games the experience needs to be as comfortable as possible, and the latest model of the Champion Series is exactly what I am looking for. The textured, diamond stitching feels better to sit and lean against, while also delivering a cooler experience, thanks to the additional airflow. Like most other gaming chairs, the Champion Series offers great customization over height, armrests, dual-pillow support and reclining.

After having spent the better part of a year with a similar model, I now have a better understanding of when to angle my armrests in which direction, and how I like to place the back and neck pillows for the best support. The amount of configurations for the “4D” armrests is staggering, and are perfect for switching tasks at my desk. I raise them when I am typing, and rotate the fronts to point in to give my elbows more support while keeping my hands and wrists level to the desk, to reduce strain.

One thing I would change is the leaning functionality. A bit more pressure is required than I would like to have to rock back, and there is no ability to lock the angle in place. There is a tensioner at the base of the chair that is supposed to make things stiffer or looser, but I couldn’t get it loose enough to accommodate my lazy lounge desires.

My desk space doesn’t require much rolling, but the wheels and base of the Champion Series have no issue in my carpeted space, or the hard floors in my other rooms.

THE GOOD

Customizable seating configurations to meet a session’s demands

Easy, 15 min setup time (quicker than before)

Durable, comfortable materials designed for long sessions

Premium feeling components and build which match the price

THE BAD

After prolonged use, support pillows need to be readjusted.

The difference in SKUs and models aren’t clearly delineated online.
High listing price is still intimidating without getting to sit in first.

The Final Word

A quality chair is essential to a comfortable desk experience, and the Champion Series from EwinRacing is indeed great quality. While it is very configurable, it doesn’t fully meet the leaning and rocking capabilities to accommodate every sitting mood I have, it still offers an above satisfactory experience for most situations.

The post Updated Design, Updated Comfort – Ewinracing Champion Series (2019) Review appeared first on MonsterVine.

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Mortal Kombat 11 is the most fun and user-friendly Mortal Kombat game in the entire series. Though the Krypt is a ridiculously needless grind that will hopefully be fixed, the visceral violence and satisfying kombat make MK11 one of the most fun games of the year thus far.

Mortal Kombat 11
Developer: Netherrealms Studios
Price: $69.99
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC
MonsterVine was provided with a PS4 code for review

The Mortal Kombat franchise has been in a pretty good spot lately. Starting with 2011’s Mortal Kombat 9, the series returned to its 2D fighting roots while producing a fun storyline and plenty of fanservice of every kind. Mortal Kombat 11 does a mostly great job at keeping the series fresh and fun for everyone, as I’ve barely been able to pull myself away from it for the last week.

The story picks up right where Mortal Kombat X’s story ends. Raiden is sick of defending Earthrealm, and decides to pre-emptively destroy potential threats to our world, starting with the revenant rulers of the Netherrealm, Liu Kang and Kitana. The Keeper of Time, Kronika, is tired of Raiden’s antics, and decides to restart time, leading to past and present versions of Mortal Kombat characters meeting one another and teaming-up to save the Realms. There are some weird inconsistencies in the story and a questionable death towards the end, but for the most part, the story is incredibly enjoyable and filled with wonderful fanservice that longtime Mortal Kombat fans will certainly appreciate.

Kombat is a bit slower than in previous Mortal Kombats, but once you’re used to this new and more thoughtful pace, it becomes second nature. This new pace suits Mortal Kombat, as it works with the dial-up combos of recent games quite well. This new pace, in addition to a more footsies-focused system, makes Mortal Kombat 11 feel refreshingly different than previous entries, which I found to be a pleasant surprise. Each character feels unique in both gameplay and visual design, with the Kollector and Geras standing out as the two most interesting newcomers. X-Ray attacks have essentially been split-up into Krushing Blows and Fatal Blows; a good move that has helped to diversify kombat overall.

“Like with Injustice 2, I genuinely feel like my versions of each character are unique, as my Johnny Cage may look and play nothing like someone else’s.“

Fatal Blows can only be used once a match when your health is especially low, and are similar to Mortal Kombat X’s’ X-Ray attacks in that they’re sequences of special attacks that do a ton of damage to your opponent. Krushing Blows are more smoothly woven into regular kombat, as holding certain buttons or directions when using certain attacks for each character will show the attack hitting your opponent’s innards, which is far more fun to perform than it should be.

My experience with playing online has been excellent thus far, as I’ve had little to no lag or dropped frames while playing against other players. It’s a smooth experience all-around, which is incredibly important for any modern fighting game.

“I hope Netherrealm Studios really fixes these issues going forward, as I really want to enjoy unlocking things more.“

If you’ve kept up with any Mortal Kombat 11 news, you likely know about the controversial pacing of the Krypt. The Krypt is where you unlock skins, gear, augments, and pretty much everything else that isn’t immediately available in the game (including Brutalities and Fatalities.) Unlocking things requires coins, souls, time fragments, and hearts, which are all acquired through different methods. At the time of writing this review, you get three Hearts per Fatality (and you need 100-250 to unlock one chest) and around 600 coins from a fight (with chests costing anything from 1,500 to 80,000 coins.

Outside of specific Heart chests, the items in each chest are randomized for every player, meaning you can’t wisely use your coins on equipment for your main or favorite characters. The rotating Towers of Time can have ridiculous difficulty spikes that bar you from getting items or coins too, making it difficult to really accomplish much of anything. There’s just a lot of frustration involved with unlocking things, which is a real shame. I hope Netherrealm Studios really fixes these issues going forward, as I really want to enjoy unlocking things more.

The Krypt itself is remarkably designed; filled with references to previous games and even the first Mortal Kombat movie, which everybody should take the time to watch, it’s a super fun watch. There are puzzles to solve, hidden walls and secrets, scaled-down jumpscares to keep you on your toes, and all sorts of different areas to explore in a way that brings Mortal Kombat Deception’s Konquest mode to mind. It’s incredibly fun to explore and, with better pacing for its unlockables, it could be considered one of the most interesting parts of Mortal Kombat 11.

Gear and skins obtained from the Krypt and from Towers of Time can be a lot of fun to set-up. Like with Injustice 2, I genuinely feel like my versions of each character are unique, as my Johnny Cage may look and play nothing like someone else’s. I do think that augments, which are boosts that can be equipped to your gear, are needlessly convoluted, as each augment can only be used on a specific piece of gear for a specific character. You have to pay coins to reroll augment sockets on your equipment as well, which feels greedy and entirely unnecessary.

The visuals of Mortal Kombat 11 are fantastic, with special attacks and ridiculous gore that has never looked better. A couple character faces are a bit disorienting, but the vast majority of Mortal Kombat 11 looks incredibly impressive. The music is fittingly intense, and the remix of the movie’s theme (used on the Tournament stage) is a fantastic touch.

The Final Word
Mortal Kombat 11 isn’t perfect, but it’s close enough for me to easily recommend it to anyone who wants to have a bloody good time with friends or on their own. I hope the progression system gets some major work done, but the story is great and the kombat itself has never been better.

MonsterVine Review Score: 4.5 out of 5 – Great

The post Mortal Kombat 11 Review – Bloody Brilliant (Mostly) appeared first on MonsterVine.

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It’s been a hot minute since FROM Software dropped the stellar Bloodborne, a game that took the Souls formula and slightly tweaked it. This time however, they’ve taken a formula they’ve polished throughout the years, took it apart, and rebuilt it into a game that’s entirely its own with Sekiro.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Developer: FROM Software
Price: $60
Platform: PC, PS4, and Xbox One
MonsterVine was supplied with a PC code for review

In what may come as a surprise to those accustomed to the vague, nonsensical plots of the Souls series, Sekiro actually follows a story that has some pretty (for the most part) straightforward plot threads. Taking place in 1500s Japan, you play as a disgraced shinobi named Wolf who’s tasked with protecting the young Lord Kuro. Obviously things don’t go too well for you and you lose your arm and your lord, so then begins your quest to recover Kuro and discover the mysteries of your immortality. This being a FROM Software game, Sekiro is dripping with lore that’s told visually through the environment or (mostly) in item descriptions that’ll be neatly explained in, I’m sure dozens of YouTube videos soon. FROM has never been the best in telling a tidy plot, but Sekiro actually manages to do so for the most part. There are actual cutscenes were Wolf has genuine (non-vague) conversations with characters and I always knew what my current objective was in terms of moving the plot forward. It’s a refreshing change for their games, whereas before you played purely to explore the world and for the game mechanics, now there’s also a proper story to thread all these elements together.

Unlike the Souls series, that had an emphasis on blocking/dodging attacks and had you playing more defensively, Sekiro instead goes for a more aggressive playstyle in a similar vein to Bloodborne in spirit, but not mechanics. Enemies in Sekiro can attack in four different ways: basic slashes, sweeps, thrusts, and grabs. Each attack type needs to be countered a specific way such as jumping over sweeps or side-stepping from grabs which means you have to become very familiar with the corresponding animation for each incoming attack type.

Successfully parrying an attack will build up an enemy’s posture meter, which when filled completely will allow you to immediately kill that enemy regardless of how much health they have left. This new mechanic drastically changes the way you approach battles compared to FROM’s previous games. Before where you’d sit back and wait for enemies to slowly attack, here you’re incentivized to egg them on because the sooner you can learn their patterns, the more quickly you can fill their posture and go for that insta-kill. That’s not to say you never want to make enemies bleed however. The lower the health of an enemy, the slower their posture recovers which changes up your tactics when facing off against an enemy who recovers pretty quickly. All of this can be performed on you as well which creates this nice back and forth between you and the enemies in this game. There’s nothing quite like perfectly parrying a flurry of blows, jumping over a sweep to then Mario style “double jump” off the enemy’s head and plunging down for the kill. Paying attention to what type of attack is coming your way, and successfully parrying enemies makes for some of the most thrilling fights you’ll experience in a video-game.

As much as Sekiro is about tense sword fights, it also features a surprisingly heavy emphasis on stealth. Jumping into the middle of an area, catching the attention of every enemy in the vicinity is a quick invitation to death so it’s wise to skulk around the edges picking your targets and silently taking them out or avoiding them completely. Getting through an area cleanly feels just as good as finishing an adrenaline fueled battle and you usually have the option of ghosting an area, assuming you take the time to find the right path.

Sekiro is both more, and less of an RPG compared to the Souls series. You’re gaining experience points per kill and “leveling up” but instead of having a defined level number all you gain are additional skill points to use in the various skill trees. You’ll find new skills to acquire from passive effects like causing less noise when crouching, to entirely new moves you can perform. While some of these moves can be unlocked and performed immediately, like a sliding sprint that’s great for sliding into cover, others are more powerful techniques that you’re only allowed to equip one of at a time. Dubbed “combat” and “ninjutsu arts,” these attacks have a variety of special effects like an overhead sword slash that can cause some pretty severe posture damage to an enemy, or a follow-up to your backstab that sprays the area in a cloud of blood allowing you to stealth away after a kill. You’ll find multiple uses for each move so it’s always fun to give one a try if a certain enemy if giving you an especially hard time. You’re also not collecting any sort of loot, which means you’re sticking with the same look for the entirety of the game. Whereas the motivation for continuing forward in the Souls games was the allure of a new armor set or weapon, here it’s all to interact more with a fantastic combat system.

After losing his arm, Wolf is outfitted with a prosthetic arm that can be outfitted with various gadgets to help you along your way. You’ll start with simple shurikens that are especially useful against airborne enemies, but your arsenal quickly expands to include things like an umbrella shield to some firecrackers and even a morbid finger that’s used as a whistle. There’s always a use for all of these tools and it’s honestly a lot of fun experimenting with them; that and just swapping between them quickly to see the slick animation. On top of all this is an additional skill tree for the prosthetic tools where you can acquire new functionalities for each tool by crafting them with materials you find throughout the world. You’re able to turn the simple firecracker into an upgraded version that launches firecrackers in a full circle around you instead of just in front or even acquire a time-delayed explosive set of fire-crackers. The different variations of the tools are fun to play with, it’s just that I wish money wasn’t part of crafting them since you’re usually starved for cash if a boss is giving you a rough time.

Souls fans are no stranger to the concept of death, and the same penalty for dying is here albeit with a twist. Blessed with dragon’s blood, Wolf is given the option to come back to life after being killed and give a fight another go. Die again however and the death is permanent so you have to make your resurrection worth it. Being given what’s basically a second chance in this game is definitely a nice change to the formula, allowing you to finish off a fight you were close to beating. The punishment for dying in Sekiro however is much more severe than it was in previous FROM Software games. Upon dying you lose half your money, half your XP, and you run the risk of an NPC contracting a disease called “dragon’s rot” that puts an immediate halt on their quest progress until you cure them. There’s nothing to pick back up when you die and no way of recovering what you’ve lost; when you die that stuff is gone and there’s nothing you can do about it.

The change is definitely an interesting decision, but I honestly feel it’s a bit too harsh. Especially when it’s a much harder game than the Souls series in that you can’t really cheese it for the most part; you actually have to engage with and master the combat system and the game even sprinkles a plethora of mini-bosses throughout the world as a sort of reminder. The system basically encourages you to always spend whatever money you have and to stop what you’re doing and grind up to the next level when you’re coming up on a boss so as to not lose an entire bar of XP. Considering enemies don’t really give much money to begin with, a few bad fights against a boss can really decimate you if you were saving up for an item in a shop. As a game made by a developer whose games are known for their difficulty, where it’s expected to die many times to the same encounter, these additional penalties to dying just seem like an extra annoyance that adds frustration on top of an already difficult game.

The Final Word
Sekiro is an immensely satisfying game that sees a studio people started to think as a one-trick pony, flex their muscles by taking what they’re good at and doing something wildly different and engaging.

– MonsterVine Review Score: 4.5 out of 5 – Great

The post Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Review – Dreams of a Shinobi appeared first on MonsterVine.

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Cuphead is an outstanding game and it has only improved with its updates, and its release on the Switch.

Cuphead
Developer: Studio MDHR
Price: $19.99
Platforms: Switch, Xbox One, PC

Cuphead, despite its universally appealing art style, isn’t a game that can be played by everyone. It offers a level of challenge, which requires an intense amount of dexterity, patience and repetition. Spencer Legace reviewed the original release back in 2017, and his words still hold true with this Switch release.

Perhaps the strongest aspect of Cuphead, and my main motivation for completing every challenging encounter, is the breathtaking, hand-drawn art.

It’s incredible how well Cuphead’s performance holds up on the Switch. Loading times are slightly longer than on a more powerful system, but it’s not significantly worse and load times are actually faster than when Cuphead first launched thanks to the various work that has been spent on updates and bug fixes. The game is locked to 60 frames a second and I never once experienced a dip in performance.

My biggest gripe with Cuphead on Switch is what it always has been, the controls. The default control scheme is wacky and uncomfortable. Luckily everything can be remapped, but it’s a bit of a slog to try out different button maps to try and find something that is just right. Additionally the controller that is used for the game makes a big difference. In handheld mode the Joycon are great, and almost as comfortable as a proper controller, however my greatest victories always came playing docked with a pro controller, which I normally don’t enjoy but with Cuphead it really works its best.

Developer, Studio MDHR added a few special things with the release of the Switch version, and made them available on PC and XB1 as well. New animation intros for Cuphead and Mugman as they enter a level, fully animated narrative cutscenes (as seen between worlds and major events) and the ability to play as Mugman in single player mode.  These are very subtle details that if I hadn’t have played as much of Cuphead as I did when it first came out, I probably wouldn’t have realized were new to this release.

The Final Word
Cuphead on Switch is enough to hold me over until the DLC finally gets released. It is a beautiful game full of challenge and reward for overcoming the bosses. The details of the music and art are captivating and motivating to rise to the challenge and see it to the end. The Switch is a great platform, as good as any other with the added bonus of being portable. Unfortunately Cuphead isn’t for everyone, but if you meet the requirements the taste of victory is delicious.

Read The Original Release Review Here

The post Cuphead Comes To Switch – Still a high-class bout! appeared first on MonsterVine.

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