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When weaknesses contribute to strengths

Video Game Reviews
Outward Definitive Edition
Sony PlayStation 5

Power Rangers: Battle For The Grid – Super Edition
PS4

Rising Hell
PS4

IT’s interesting to experience a game that’s willing to do so much despite its indie status. An open-world, sandbox role-playing game with survival elements seems difficult to put together, but Outward Definitive Edition’s uniquely ambitious vision helps it find its own place among a sea of more polished titles. While some of its features feel a little undercooked compared to modern sandbox games, it makes up for its shortcomings with the sheer scale of the world it presents. Adventure waits around every corner in Outward, and while starting on it might be a rough, perilous road, it consequently proves to be a satisfying release well worth your time.

In Outward Definitive Edition, you are an adventurer whose latest journey has gone awry. Now penniless and in debt, you are compelled to once again venture out into the world to complete tasks, explore dungeons, and find treasures to sell so you can get square with your creditors. You’ll face bandits and monsters and aim to survive the toughest of challengers as you travel to an array of vastly different locations, all in an effort to earn more coin. Along the way, you need to be constantly aware of your surroundings and keep yourself in healthy shape. It’s not easy to navigate, and such factors as hunger, thirst, and stamina — or, to be more precise, lack thereof — play a key role in the experience, but it’s one that leaves you satisfied once you grasp what it’s asking of you.

Even as Outward Definitive Edition is an ambitious offering with lofty goals, it’s likewise marred by design issues and inconsistent tutorials. While you are taught the basics of how to play, the rest is up to experimentation, and it can be a dreadful experience if you are unprepared. Combat is unforgiving, and new characters with poor gear will have difficulty facing off against even the lowliest of bandits before running out of stamina. Food and water are constant resources you have to watch out for as they keep your stats topped up and let you stay on your feet. In addition, you can only regain stamina consistently by sleeping, but doing that in the open leaves you vulnerable to attack. It is unforgiving, and often seemingly cruel and tedious when strong enemies can chase you down, or inventory management becomes a chore.

Yet, these issues are also why Outward Definitive Edition’s strong parts leave an indelible mark on you. Combat is tough, yes, but uncovering better equipment and finding the right weapon makes it feel much smoother. The adventure elements feel rough until you are really out in the world, immersing yourself in the starlight. The sheer flexibility of how the world works means you’re free to approach any encounter as you wish. Whether head-on as a warrior, or sneakily as an archer, or even with the use of makeshift traps, there are any number of ways to take advantage of whatever skillset you prefer to display, and the variety makes it all the more satisfying once you finally start taking down opponents and raking in the cash.

RPG-wise, Outward Definitive Edition doesn’t really focus on the story so much as the adventures it offers in a sandbox. While it does have a story you can follow, you’re free to pretty much ignore it as you please, and that’s actually where you can find the most enjoyment. Despite being an indie title, it looks really good, and the sense of anticipation that engulfs you as you travel under the starry night sky, or as you duel against some ancient foe in some forgotten ruin, is one that few games have managed to rival. Stringing together spells that combine to produce an even stronger effect, harrying your opponents with tripwires and traps you carefully place in their way, and even fleeing from deadly foes in order to face them another day are made all the better when each action and loss you incur come with high stakes.

The original release of Outward had myriad concerns. Aside from its uneven difficulty, it suffered from quality-of-life issues that actively hindered your experience at times. The combat feeling floaty could be forgiven, but the lack of quick slots in a game where ability use was so important proved hard to overcome. You needed these to easily access your inventory and maneuver important items and spells during combat. The fact they’re in limited supply ultimately left you feeling like you’re entering combat with one hand tied behind your back. So was the actually mundane experience of having to walk everywhere, in an absolutely huge open world. There were no mounts to be had, and so you had to resort to just going on foot everywhere, a prospect made infinitely worse once you realized that the places you travelled to were also places you needed to travel away from to sell your items.

Thankfully, Outward Definitive Edition addresses many of those concerns even as it provides all the available downloadable content to date. There are still rough spots, but the superior one’s shine. There is no lack of content to be had, and there’s so much to explore and understand in its absolutely massive sandbox. And, yes, its weaknesses also help contribute to its strengths. Outward’s highs most certainly compensate for its lowest points.

All told, Outward Definitive Edition is a hearty recommend. The sheer variety of build, quests, and items you can craft and find make it a joy to play through.

THE GOOD:

• Unique style of gameplay that few other games can match

• Interesting emphasis on stamina, the need to travel light, and preparation

• Plenty of ways to approach combat and exploration

• Feels like a true sandbox where build choice dramatically changes depending on how you approach a given scenario

THE BAD:

• Tedious and starts off very slowly

• Tutorials are not very helpful at conveying the “good way” of doing things

• Much of the game time will be spent running around the world map on foot

RATING: 8/10

POSTSCRIPT: Power Rangers: Battle For The Grid – Super Edition is surprisingly disappointing, even for old Power Rangers fans. Billed as a productive trip down memory lane, it possessed the potential to be transcendent. Unfortunately, it suffers from a handful of issues that bring down its fun factor. From lack of content to really sink your teeth into, to its lackluster presentation and visual flair, it is ultimately hampered by its inability to stand out from the competition.

At its core, Power Rangers: Battle For The Grid – Super Edition is a fighting game with tag-in mechanics that allow for a fluid three-versus-three system. Characters battle for dominance over one another in a setup which allows for easy combos to be strung together with little to no issues. Unlike other fighting games like Tekken and Soul Calibur which rely on memorizing often complicated combos, it aims to be much more dynamic. Emphasizing the fundamental elements of attacking and defending, it’s a very easy fighter to get into, and one that still manages proper skill provided you can read your opponent.

To its credit, this is probably Power Rangers: Battle For The Grid – Super Edition’s best strength. Once you get started, it provides a continuous flow of content where you’ll be taking fights even if you don’t know the particular character you’re controlling too well. It doesn’t really matter when combos flow naturally through game time, and the fun is kept up due to each character’s own personal quirks and drawbacks. Special abilities feel satisfying to use, tag-ins and tag-outs are fluid and rewarding, and the fast pace of combat helps it keep its momentum going. It feels like a title you can pick up, learn in minutes, and then do well enough to stay invested. And why wouldn’t you? While its graphics are nothing groundbreaking, it’s still able to look charming and colorful. It properly emphasizes the differences between characters and brings them to life in a way that’s both flashy and entertaining.

Sadly though, while the characters you can pick in Power Rangers: Battle For The Grid – Super Edition are all unique, there’s a distinctive lack of variety holding it back. You only have a small roster to play with, and the ease of learning the game actually proves to hinder its staying power. You begin to face the same characters and enemy combinations over and over again, and while this helps you learn their moves, players used to fighting games with a bigger cast will be disappointed. Most of the playtime you’ll get from the title isn’t from trying new characters, but from mastering old ones, and that gets boring quickly when there’s a lack of challenge found in the single-player artificial intelligence. While it’s challenging enough for a casual playthrough, it in no way substitutes for a human opponent, and the online mode, while sufficient, lacks basic quality-of-life features to keep it entertaining.

To be sure, Power Rangers: Battle For The Grid – Super Edition is actually pretty decent. It has solid fundamental elements, and the visuals it presents should match your memory of the show from which it traces its roots. Moreover, the defined roles of each character mean that you’ll be able to gravitate towards playstyles with which you feel most comfortable. However, while these help cement the game’s identity, the lack of content remains a disappointment. It really just makes Power Rangers: Battle For The Grid – Super Edition feels like it could’ve been much more; while it’s a sufficiently fun game, it’s one that’ll burn through a bit too quickly.

Power Rangers: Battle For The Grid – Super Edition is, in a nutshell, a quaint distraction. If you’re a fan of fighting games and Power Rangers and don’t mind the relatively small scale of the game, it can give you your money’s worth and more. This little budget title does pack far more punch than its weight suggests, and while it might not last you a long time, it’s at least worth a look due to its reasonable price tag.

THE GOOD:

• Well defined mechanics and combat

• Easy to pick up and play

• Nice, fluid graphic style that captures the essence of the show

THE BAD:

• Lacks content to keep you entertained for long

• Its small cast hurts its staying power, as it never feels like there’s much variety to be had

• Very little single-player content on offer

RATING: 7.5/10

From out of the fires of hell comes a neat little roguelite with a lot of personality. Covered in the drapes of its heavy metal motif, Rising Hell is all about escaping the ravenous demons of the underworld by engaging in fast-paced, platforming action. With a heavy emphasis on verticality and speed, this little indie title is a heavyweight in its own right. Basking in its easy-to-learn mechanics, it tests you on how high you climb before you fall, and on how long you can last doing one thing over and over again until you finally escape. It doesn’t really get more complicated than that. Rising Hell doesn’t really feature a deep story, and that’s a-okay when it manages to compensate for its thin narrative by bringing to the forefront its deep gameplay.

In Rising Hell, your aim is to be free of the depths of hell before it drags you back. To do so, you must defeat whatever enemies lie before you, and ascend as high as you can before you die. A lot of it will be built on what is already familiar ground of the genre; you’ll acquire resources, amass upgrades, and slowly but surely climb your way to freedom. When you die, you restart. On the game’s easier Redemption mode, you lose a life instead, and with enough lives lost, you have to start all over again.

Where Rising Hell shines, however, isn’t in how it redefines the genre. It’s all about pacing and presentation. Rising Hell, unlike other titles like, say, Rogue Legacy, encourages you to be fast and mobile. Plenty of dangerous enemies hinder your ascent, but the visceral combat is both fast-paced and punishing. Your attacks, combined with your double jump, enable you to really amp up the speed when dealing with your foes, and you’ll find yourself slicing through them like a veritable whirlwind of blood and viscera. Be careful when you do it, though; while enemies tend to be dispatched easily, their attacks are still devastating, often having you rely on quick movement like dashes and jump attacks to skirt out of their range.

This is where your upgrades come in, not only changing up how you play but also enabling you to take bigger risks in Rising Hell without really dumbing down on the difficulty. Active abilities you find from artifacts and relics are limited in use, but they give you some devastating short power, like summoning projectiles to take down your foes. Your more passive normal upgrades usually give you stat buffs — attack increases based on the number of enemies around you, killed enemies exploding, and so on — but can sometimes also provide drawbacks depending on how powerful the ability can be. Being immune to spikes, for instance, also increases the damage you take from other sources, and so it’s a nice way to really offset disadvantages with the benefits you’re able to hold. You never really overpower your foes, but you never feel helpless or hamstrung by your characters, either. You will still mostly rely on your skill and quick thinking, which strikes the best balance in a roguelite so focused on speed and efficiency.

The stages you’ll go through in Rising Hell are pretty quick, but they end in bosses that can actually be quite tough. The good news is that if you do lose and have to restart, your progress is not wholly in vain, with your losses continually unlocking new rewards for you to discover and use in combat. It’s really a simplistic loop, and games can start and finish in as fast as five to 10 minutes per run. It can be mechanically complicated, especially if you want to push yourself to the limits, but it never feels frustrating or unfair, and while some stages can feel brutal in what they ask of you, the thrill it can give is hard to match.

In sum, Rising Hell is deftly able to combine combat with the upward momentum you need to summon. The times where you unleash combo uppercuts with normal attacks to reach higher ground, all while avoiding stage hazards, are both satisfying and rewarding to go through. With unlockable characters to control, a slew of new power-ups waiting to be used, and even a challenge mode to run through, Rising Hell has a decent amount of content to offer, especially for its price.

THE GOOD:

• Fun, visceral art style and combat

• Fast-paced, with a heavy focus on movement and speed

• Decent amount of extra content on hand, plus a slew of unlockables

THE BAD:

• Might not have as much on offer as a roguelite

• Can get frustrating at times if you’re not willing to adapt to its melee combat

RATING: 8/10

THE LAST WORD: Yomawari: Lost in the Darkwill be coming to the Nintendo Switch. Slated for a late-2022 release, it expands the narrative fans of the atmospheric horror genre have sought and found in Yomawari: The Long Night Collection. In the series’ third offering from Nippon Ichi Software, gamers will be following the exploits of a young girl exploring her hometown in search of her lost memories. Armed with only a torch, she has but a single night to meet her objective even as a plethora of enemy spirits stand in her way.

Physical copies of the game — in standard and deluxe editions — are already available for preorder in the NIS America and Europe site.

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