Ready Player One

rp1covOK, you got me. I’m gonna adress this elephant in the room, right here, right now.

I haven’t read Ready Player One.

I wasn’t even aware of the novel by Ernest Cline (whom my brain stubbornly insist on calling Ernest Borgnine. Why? I don’t know! There isn’t a single black combat helicopter in the damn book!). I only found out about it when El Spielbergo started production on the movie of the book. Then I found out that I should’ve been aware of it, seeing as it’s brimming with pop culture references from things close to my nostalgia-filled core.

And then I forgot about it.

The thing with nostalgia-filled cores is that they tend to have memory problems. Every single bit of free space being filled with nostalgia and all that.
Yeah.
But fret not, dear readers, as I now hold the movie in my hand! And I plan on watching it, right now!

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For those of you who, like me, have been living under a nostalgia-heavy rock (enough with the nostalgia already! –ed.) the plot is fairly straightforward. The year is 2045. The world has gone to crap, but everyone is playing a real cool immersive VR game called OASIS. In it, you can be and do anything you want. The game’s eccentric creator, James Halliday, died years ago and revealed he’d hidden a special easter egg in OASIS. Anyone who finds the egg, gets Halliday’s stock in the company, making the winner the sole owner of OASIS. Enter teen Wade Watts. He happens to find the first clue and in doing so, sets off a massive race to the easter egg. Joined by his friends, he’ll have to do anything to keep the easter egg from falling into the hands of rival company IOI.

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There. Standard plot, set up, characters. In the hands of the right director, this could be an enjoyable actionflick. In the hands of the Spielmeister it becomes so much more. Spielberg manages to add that spielbergian touch to the film that makes it transcend its generic story. The millions of easter eggs, nods, visual references and callbacks to popular franchises from other films are enjoyable on their own, but when they’re added with such a loving touch…  Example: earlier in the film, it is mentioned that Halliday’s favourite music video is Aha’s Take On Me. “Great,” you think, “another reference to a song from the eighties! Nice one.” But is goes so much further than that. When Wade and his love interest have to escape some nasty IOI goons, Spielberg lets them do so in a way that mirrors the bit in the Aha video where the girl and the pencildrawn dude escape some goons. Blink and you’ll miss it, but when you see it…

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So there’s a cool story, with added spielbergian touches and millions of easter eggs. But does the movie deliver beyond these three given things? I think it does. We get decent acting (Ben Mendelsohn is terrific), believeable CGI and a fantastic score made up of original music (with occasional musical cue references of its own) and songs from the eighties. Honestly, I wasn’t bored a single minute of the movie’s lengthy 2 hours and 20 minutes runtime, and I’m ready for a second viewing to catch the hundreds of easter eggs I missed on the first go.

So yeah, I’m convinced. Great movie. Consider my nostalgia-levels replenished. What? Have I read the book yet? What book?

Jan

Guns, Gore And Cannoli (SWITCH)

ggccovGuns, Gore and Cannoli had players assume the role of Vinnie Cannoli, an infamous mobster kneedeep in a zombie outbreak sometime during the thirties. Thanks to Vinnie’s fighting talents and survival instincts they could cut a bloody path straight through the zombie hordes, using a braod variety of bloody weaponry.
I was hooked.
And now there’s part 2! Which promises to be bloodier, gorier, funnier than before. Just what I wanted!

In guns, Gore and Cannolli 2 the main part is once again played by Vinnie Cannoli. The maffioso with a mouth has been taken captive by goons of the Dark Don. This shady character is a new mob boss, who is out for Vinnie’s blood. Literally! When Vinnie learns this Dark Don also has a deal going on with the Nazis, his already simmering blood starts to boil, and he goes berserk. He goes on a bloody rampage, using an updated array of guns, and violences his way through hordes of mobsters, monsters and Nazis, all the way up to the Dark Don.

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I had a great time! Blood is dripping from the screen, enemies run around bleeding, on fire, de-limbed! Explosions! Nazis! Mutants! Crazy weapons! It’s as if developer Crazy Monkey Studio stook every bit of enjoyable pulp literature and combine dit to make this encredibly entertaining shoot-em-up!

Vinnie is controlled with the left stick and aims using the right. Aiming is done in a 360 degree circle around Vinnie. He jumps like magic Johnson and kicks like mr. Miyagi. I’m flying through the levels like crazy, all the while grinning like an idiot. Dark Bavarian castles, bunkers, the landing in Normandy… Vinnie blasts enemy scum everywhere. And the fun only increases in multiplayer. Three extra players can join Vinnie in a co-op battle against the enemy hordes. Fun guaranteed!

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Grapics are also very satisfying. Guns, Gore and Cannoli maintains the same handdrawn visual style of its predecessor. The cartoonesque violence  works well in tandem with the buckets of handdrawn blood. Voiceacting and soundtrack are on the same level of quality, and I’m regularly laughing out loud at the many popculture references.

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Guns, Gore and Cannoli 2 just makes me smile. In a good way. And I bet it’d make you do the same thing. Go now, young padawan, and buy it!

Jan

Escape Room: The Game

ercovI’ve just spent the better part of two hours trying to find the antidote to a deadly poison first, then escaping from a jail cell. It’s been a nerve-wrecking two hours, I can tell you. And all because of a board game. That’s right, a board game.

Those of you thinking I’d let myself be locked into an escape room, which are all the rage these days, are only half wrong. What I (and mrs. NxG alongside me) did, was play two of the four scenarios included in the board game version of Escape Room: The Game. And it plays like an actual escape room. At the start of every scenario, players are handed an envelope. On it, is the plot for said scenario, and upon opening it, an hour-long timer is started. Inside the envelope are a number of things. This ranges from riddles, clues or evidence to floor plans, photos, etc. All these things should help players to find a specific set of four keys, that can be inserted into the special chrono decoder. When correct, the second envelope containing new hints, can be opened and the whole key-searching experience can start over again.

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Each scenario is divided into three parts, each with its own set of envelopes. The hints are divided into visual things and things you actually have to do something with, like fold or write on. Luckily, these can be downloaded and printed from the games website, so that they’re brand new when one has forgotten all about this game and wants to go again. Players that want to add to the atmosphere, can download the free app of the game. All it does, is add scenario-specific music and ambience, but man, it does the trick! The amount of tension it add… Wow!

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At the start of a scenario, before the envelope is handed out, we already get the chrono decoder. This black, battery-operated box serves as the countdown clock. It signals after certain amounts of time, which is when we’re allowed to pick one of eight hint cards. It also acts as decryption device. The four keys we need, have to be inserted into the machine. When correct, a fanfare sounds. When false, the clock drops a whole minute. Upon closer inspection, there are also keys to certain riddles on the device, like the morse code, an alphabet wheel and so on. These can be used in certain adventures, in combination with certain enveloped clues.

 

Defeated, we finished our bowl of snacks, and decided to keep the remaining two adventures for another time. There’ll be no Nuclear Countdown or Temple of the Aztec before we’ve recovered from the heavy emotional blow of having to spend a lifetime in jail.

Which is like…  24 hours?  More or less?

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Escape Room: The Game is a highly addictive and fun, yet nerve-wrecking way of passing time. Each adventure has the hour-long time limit, so it’s perfect for some time-killing with your brainy, nerdy, geeky friends. Or by yourself, when you’re the geeky, brainy, nerdy one without friends.

Jan

Aces of the Luftwaffe – Squadron (PS4)

aotlboxI simply adore bullet hell shooters. I’m not exceptionally good at them, just mediocre, but boy do I like my shooters with a load of bullets. So imagine my joy when I was told I could review Aces of the Luftwaffe – Squadron. A bullet-hell shooter, set in an alternate post WWII universe, one of my most beloved historical times (although not actually historically correct –ed.) I was over the moon!

The first thing that sets Aces of The Luftwaffe aside from other games in the genre, is the ability to play with 3 friends in co-op. Each player picks a character and plane, and the squadron then takes off, ready to battle airborne nazis. No friends? No problem: a single player can play just as well. All four planes are controlled at the same time, following the squadron leader.

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At various points in the game, players are awarded with skill points. These points can be spent in the customization screen, where each member of the squadron has a massive skill tree to unlock. Ranging from special abilities to new skills or health upgrades, players have to pick very wisely where to spend the points if they want a perfect loadout. Skill tress are reset easily though, and by replaying earlier levels, extra skill points can be unlocked, so the possibility of having a fully unlocked skill tree is there.

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Also new to the genre, are the character’s flaws. Each of the four characters has a specific flaw, that serves as a setback, temporarily rendering them more or less useless. There’s the character that can’t control his temper, shooting at everything, including squad mates. Then there’s the poisoned one, reacting slower than usual. There’s also the pilot with fear of heights, occasionally leaving the squad behind while she regains her composure at a lower altitude. And finally the narcoleptic, who falls asleep and needs protecting. While these flaws are fun and new, they seem to come into play only at scripted times, never at random.

The gameplay is just a joy. I’m flying around, dodging bullets, laserblasts, rockets and fireballs, all the while dishing out insane damage with equally insane powered-up weapons. I’m loving every bit of it. The visuals, the sound design, the story, the action, the supercrazy villains. Every zany second of it.

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The only major gripe I more than once shook my head at, is the voiceacting. The actors are clearly doing their best, but all too often, it shines through that English is not their first language. What you get is 4 American pilots, and their all talking with a Germanic accent… It’s a bit bizarre to say the least. But again, that’s just this nit-picking OCD reviewer delving deep to find even a single flaw.

Aces of the Luftwaffe – Squadron is a most enjoyable shooter, which I’d recommend to everyone. Even if you don’t like shooters: this game will make you like them.

Jan

Tomb Raider

trcoGaming-franchises-turned-movie usually have me on edge. Most of the times, I’m super excited about them while at the same time being a bit reluctant, because moviefication sometimes doesn’t work well…
At all.
Remember Street Fighter? Mortal Kombat? And I’m still trying to rinse away that foultasting Mario Bros movie.
So it’s with a trembling hand that I insert the latest Tomb Raider movie into the bluray-player.

I’ve always been a fan of the busty heroine. Ever since the humble beginnings, to the recent reboot. There’s something about tombraiding that’s really alluring. Wether it’s the treasure hunting, the fighting or the nimble gymnastics required to reach deeper parts of tombs and evade traps… I just don’t know. I like Lara, let’s just leave it at that.

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In this new version (forget all about La Jolie tombraidering) we meet Lara Croft (perfectly cast Alicia Vikander) as a London-based bike courier. She’s to be the sole heir of the Croft fortune, but only if she signs the papers declaring her father legally dead. Richard Croft has been missing since Lara was a child while searching for Himiko, queen of the dead and presumed keeper of supernatural secrets. When Lara finally decides to sign, she receives a pivotal clue that could lead her to her father. On a whim, she decides to follow the trail and bring home dad.

The plot is loosely based on that of the first of the rebooted games. In it, the MacGuffin is also Himiko, and her presumed supernatural command over the dead. While most of the similarities end here, there’s enough easter eggs and blink-and-you’ll-miss-them moments that reference the game to keep fans entertained.

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And while I had fun pointing out all those references to my uninterested audience, mrs. NxG and Her Majesty Dame Lemmy Von Motörhead (our cat), I also found myself enjoying the movie. I loved the action, I dug the plot, I laughed at the jokes and I tensed during cliffhangers. This is one thrill-ride of a movie!

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And I’ll go you one further: had this movie been released without any ties to the Tomb Raider franchise, were it stripped of all its Croftiness so to speak, it would still be the same hugely enjoyable movie. The point I’m trying to make here (badly) is that Tomb Raider is not simply riding the coattails of its game-relative. Love and care was put into the movie to make it feel and look great.

Mission accomplished, I’d say.

Jan

Rainbow Skies (PS3, PS4, PSVita)

Rainbow Skies takes everything ‘RPG’ stands for and has fun with it: weird in a good way, enjoyable in an even better way. Does the name of the game ring a bell? This tactical RPG marvel comes from the same makers as the fantasy role-playing game Rainbow Moon!

Rainbow Skies promises a colourful and vibrant world, filled to the brim with friends and foes, murky dungeons, turn-based battles, towns, shops and everything else your role-playing heart desires. And the game sure doesn’t underdeliver: characters can be leveled, equipped and customized as you see fit. With side-quests and achievements for the collectionist and for everyone who wants a lot – and we do mean a lot! – of bang for his buck.

The game starts out as almost every RPG does: a spiky-haired hero wakes up in bed. Enter Damion, recovering from one hell of a hangover. Not quite ready for his final exam as a monster tamer. The town he lives in, all up in the sky, is constantly threatened by monster attacks. Of course all hopes are on a new generation of monster tamers. However, Damion manages to botch his exam by accidentally destroying the compound the monsters are held in. While he tries to cover up his mistake with his examiner and friend Layne, things take a turn for the worse. And it doesn’t get any better as he gets tangled up between two rival super powers. His fault: he shouldn’t have gotten up since he knew that is was going to be ‘one of those days’.

This game won’t take you by the hand but isn’t one to abandon you either, as any info about the gameplay is given to you on a need-to-know basis. Which makes for a gentle learning curve with the freedom to get to know the game at your pace. Wether it’s for long gaming sessions or short gaming bursts.

As with almost all games in the genre, gameplay is divided between exploring safe towns, battling your way throughout enemy-ridden areas and tinkering with your characters. You’re probably not even surprised that battles start as soon as your character collides with a monster. Which is when the turn-based fun starts: you get to make your move, the enemy gets to make his move and once you’re close you’ll get singed by a fireball. Bummer. In retaliation you get a bit closer and make the baddie bleed. Of course, it’s only that simple during the first part of the game. Later on, you’ll need to pummel screenfilling crowds. Luckily, your sword-wielding hero is not alone in his quest. He’ll soon be joined by the archer Layne and later on by the spell slinging Ashly.

As a tactical RPG, Rainbow Skies heavily depends on your thinking cap. Heck, you’ll even see those caps during the short and sweet tutorials (which, by the way, can be consulted again afterwards). After the first few fights you won’t survive by just hacking, slashing and burning your way through hordes of enemies. Especially not during boss fights. You’ll need to plan ahead and make smart use of your skills and magic prowess. Not too much use, mind you, as they’ll drain some sort of magic meter. Which, of course, is much better than having your life meter drained. Once a skilled is learned, it can be leveled up by using it during battle. And, oh, did we say they are rather flashy and nifty to look at?

Battles never bore aseach enemy has its own tactic and you often see them in lots of combinations and formations. Stay on your toes lest the enemy tramples them! Speaking of which… The difficulty curve is rather gentle but can be easily adapted to the likings of the experienced gamer. Don’t feel like level grinding? Then don’t. Really! Just customize the game to your liking, whether you’re rushing through the story mission, getting your kicks out of the many side quests or burning through your health recovery potions on the highest difficulty setting.

Rainbow Skies gets big points on running gags. Especially the one on Damion’s spiky hairdo. But the game shows its true colours during hectic battles and even more so with its many side quests. Collectionists will be happy to know that progress and achievements are easily tracked. Heck, there are even awards depending on how many side quests and achievements you completed. The optional content won’t leave you asking for more. There even is a turn-based fishing game. Yes, you read it: turn-based fishing game! Really!

Thinking of upgrading from a PS3™ to a PS4™? Or would you rather play this game on the go? Your money isn’t wasted as the cross-save support has you playing on all systems. Even on PS Vita.

So, what’s the catch? A game this much fun has to have a catch, right? Not exactly. The game’s aesthetics may not exactly be on par with most games, but they are polished nonetheless. And although the humour is quirky and over the top, some jokes may be a bit farfetched or even get stretched out too much after a while. But none of this distracts from the core gaming experience of Rainbow Skies, which is solid, attractive and just plain fun. No level grinding required. The developers sure listened when gamers complained that Rainbow Moon, the predecessing game, was a bit more demanding in that department.

Rainbow Skies is a nice game to start out with if this is your first tactical RPG. Got some or a lot of experience? Ramp up the difficulty and knock yourself out. Even collectionists get their kicks out of this. This is not a question of to buy or not to buy. Rainbow Skies knows how to cater to a wide range of gamers.

Marco

The Last Ship Season 4

tlcs4cJust when you thought “They can’t possibly force another season out of this,” they do. Case in point: The Last Ship. I’ve actually enjoyed the past three-seasons-worth of exploits from Tom Chandler and his crew, fighting antagonists in a virus-ridden world. The plot was well-written and very precisely planned to have all the different plotlines and stories fall together in the last few episodes. Great action, great acting… Just great overall. Season four: not as much.

Having defeated the virus in season 3, the crew of the USS Nathan James now faces a new threat. The virus has mutated and now attacks all plantlife. Crops succumb to the so-called Red Rust, and worldwide famine comes knocking. The intrepid seamen have to save the world once more, this time by saving a container of jurassic seeds, which should be immune to Red Rust. Problem is: they’re not the only ones after the seeds, and Captain Chandler is AWOL.

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I eagerly popped in disc one of the three disc set, and was thrust in the action almost immediately. The crew is already in talks with a thief about getting the seeds, when they are ambushed. Various new crewmembers pop up and help save the day.
Seeds? What seeds? Why is Chandler in Greece? And why is he posing as a fisherman? I glanced over to mrs. NxG, and was relieved to see her looking almost as bewildered as me.
Clearly, we must have skipped over an episode!
I checked.
Thus was not the case.
The season really starts off this confusing. To be fair, the first episode is called “In Medias Res”, but this seems a bit much. Seems more like shoddy writing, really. I can imagine the head writer going: “Prologue? Don’t feel like writing one. Just start off with the action, call it in medias res and be done with it. No, no need to explain where the newcomers are from either. And put Tom Chandler in Greece. With his kids, yeah. And a new girlfriend. Then have him leave them on a whim somewhere in episode 2.”
Honestly, it all feels a bit rushed.

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Same goes for editing and pacing. I get you’d want some fast-paced editing for action sequences, but don’t overdo it. Action sequences are intercut with non-action sequences from Chandler’s superfluous subplot (He’s a gladiator now. Don’t ask.) It just feels messy.

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I’m still watching, though. I’ve invested some sweet time in the first three seasons and things haven’t gotten to a point where I don’t care about these characters anymore.
Yet.
Plus there’s guest star Peter Weller who makes everything enjoyable. So season 4 gets a pass, even though it’s not as good as the three previous seasons. Not even close.
Let’s just hope season 5 picks up again.
Because yes: they can force yet another season out of this.

Jan

The Adventures of Elena Temple (SWITCH)

etcovIt’s publicly known that in the NerdTimesGeek household there’s an undying love for the Game Boy. The brick-sized system was a staple of our youths and has carved itself a special little place in our hearts. So when news hit that developer GrimTalin was making a game that paid homage to said system, me and the spouse were immediately on edge. We simply had to try to play and review this!

Players assume the role of Elena Temple, archeologist/treasure hunter extraordinaire. The poor lass is stuck in a treasurefilled temple, that’s just crawling with creepy critters and deadly traps. She has to find a way to the exit, and in passing, pick up as much treasure as she can carry whilst evading and avoiding all things nasty for her health. Luckily for her, Elena carries a pistol. Which is pretty useless, considering it only carries two rounds. So blasting a way to the exit is not an option. No, Elena will have to call on her (the player’s) wits to reach that exit.

I’ve mentioned it already: Elena Temple looks and feels like a retro-game. Simple graphics, simple (yet catchy) soundtrack and supersimple controls. It really feels as if I’m back in the eighties, sprawled out on the living room floor with my best friend, taking turns playing. The only thing missing is his mom nagging about being holed up inside while the weather outside is great.
The game is filled with hilarious takes on systems of back in the day. Players can find information on all the failed (fictive) systems Elena was ported onto. An even greater addition is being able to play the game on each of these. Who doesn’t like playing on a Some Toy, or a Maple computer or even NS-Bos? We can switch to any of these versions, at any time in the game, without losing progress. it makes the whole experience that much more fun.

A nice little puzzler/platformer, this The Adventures of Elena Temple. The only minor gripe I have is its length. It only takes a few hours to reach the exit… Luckily, there still are tons of coins and diamonds to be found throughout the huge temple, so replay value is pretty high, especially counting the various versions one can switch between.

I’m a fan! It’s been a while since I’ve had this kind of nostalgic fun, made me feel like a spry young lad again. Not to be missed by retrofans!

Jan

Save The Ninja Clan (SWITCH)

stnclcovI should’ve written this review a while now. But it was so hard to get up from the floor, where I was curled up in fetal position. Crying over my failed trillionth attempt at a level. And when I ded get up, I had to look allover for the Switch, which I’d foolishly thrown away. And when I finally found it, I had to get help to dislodge it from the wall it was embedded in.
Yes. Save The Ninja Clan is that frustratingly difficult.
And no, apparently I can’t handle that.

I’m in control of a cute little ninja, and, in order to have his clan survive, I need to guide him through a plethora of levels, each bursting with deadly enemies and boobytraps. Piece of cake I can hear you think, but nothing is farther from the truth. Save the Ninja Clan is a platformer of the kind where every jump has to be extremely precise, and where every millisecond counts.

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Ninja-ing on one’s own is never fun, so players can switch between three types of cute ninjas. Each of these have their own special abilities, that should help overcome certain obstacles. But frankly, I didn’t see the use of them. Just keep trying over and over with one type of ninja works just as well.

Underneath all that frustratingly difficult leveldesign, there’s a nice layer of humor hidden. Ninja’s tend to venture into places where they shouldn’t come, and when they do, the game tries to dissuade them with a funny error message, warning them away. Should they continue and stumble into the obvious trap, the game is quick in laughing at them via the same error-popup.

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With it’s nice 8-bit look, cool soundtrack and extremely hard difficulty level, the game should be enticing enough forplayers to come back to and give it one more try. If not, there’s always collectibles to be found.

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Save The Ninja Clan is one heck of a nice little platformer. Its difficulty level means it’s not for the easily giving up type of gamer though.

Jan

Shantae Half Genie Hero Deluxe Edition (PS4)

shantae half genie heroShantae, half-genie half-human girl, is having a bad day. The calm coastal town she’s the assigned guardian of, is under attack from a menacing pirate fleet. Assigned guardians are not supposed to sit idly around when danger looms, so she jumps in her best skimpy outfit. Armed only with her hair and her best bellydancing moves, she marches into battle.

I’ve been a fan of Shantae for a while now. Not just because every game guarantees a great platforming experience, but also because developer WayForward always has a way of finding the perfect balance between humour, looks and playvalue. With this installment they’ve once again hit the mark.

‘Cause have a look for yourself: those graphics, that cartoonish drawing style… It’s as if I’m in control of an animated feature! I sometimes catch myself forgetting to play, staring at the wonderful backgrounds.

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And that script! Hilarious and well-written. The fine line between gags and the seriousness (if one can call it that) of platforming is never crossed. Not even when subtle references to other games are made, or when characters gently break the fourth wall.

Fans of platformers are in for a treat with Shantae: Half Genie Hero. The game is pure feast. Shantae fights through 5 levels and one endboss, using only her hair. She’s also a mean bellydancer, with new moves to be discovered throughout the levels.  Each move transforms her into some creature. As that creature, Shantae can explore more of the levels and find more secrets, upgrades and unlockables.

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Tons of unlockables are waiting to be found, by the way. The deluxe edition already has more content and some DLC, but zealous players, wanting to complete Shantae 100 percent will have to put in some effort. Fortunately, the map screen shows where and how many extra’s are still to be found.

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Yep, Shantae is back! And because I’m overly enthousiastic, I’ve already had my hair dyed purple, and I’ve enrolled in a bellydancing class.
Damn my enthousiasm.

Jan