Chernobylite Review - An Enjoyable Horror Shooter RPG Mystery Game

What the hell is a Chernobylite? It sounds like a light radioactive beer. It refers to a new radioactive compound born from the infamous nuclear plant meltdown.
Chernobylite is a survival horror RPG set in the exclusion zone of Chernobyl 30 years after the event of the devastating historical meltdown. Developed by The Farm 51, a Polish-based development team that traveled to Ukraine to scan the real-world site.

*THERE MAY BE SPOILERS*

Chernobylite was released on PC in July 2021, later coming to consoles in September. Now there is a free Next-Gen upgrade for consoles and PC, and I was asked to check the game out and share what dark secrets I found buried deep in the ruins of Chernobyl. I was interested in this game then, as it looked similar to S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Metro. I am also always on board for a good horror experience. As some may know, I am a horror game enthusiast and try to play most of them (Fight me, Maria, for top horror game connoisseur, check out her article on The Nightmare Inside).


When I first read the description for Chernobylite, I scoffed at the “horror” part and thought, “Yeah, let’s see.” To Chernobylite's credit, it actually has some very tense moments and amazing sound design that will leave many stopping dead and spinning around to find what nightmare just made such a horrible noise, but not me, at least not after the first few times. I have also been pleasantly spooked by a few good jump scares and have gotten severe goosebumps from some of the truly eerie visions you see. There is a point where you come across a room with a single TV on with a gaggle of dolls all watching the TV. When you turn the TV off, everything goes black, and you hear giggling, and the dolls have vanished *shudder*.

A Brief Lesson in History

Igor's missing Tatyana

Here is some background, you play as Igor Khymynyuk, a physicist that had previously worked at the Chernobyl plant and is now in search of his fiancée Tatyana, who went missing in the disaster. Straight away, something feels… wrong! You start on a train and Igor is looking for Tatyana, who has disappeared. You follow her image, which turns to ash as you approach, and monsters appear. After learning how to move and shoot, you wake up to learn that it was all a dream. Igor is on a mission to infiltrate the old Chernobyl plant with some companions, and of course, things go very wrong. The plant is now guarded by a military sect called the NAR. You barely manage to escape to a refuge in an old warehouse with Olivier, a STALKER ("STALKER" is a backronym for Scavengers, Trespassers, Adventurers, Loners, Killers, Explorers, and Robbers) you hardly know or trust. It is here that Chernobylite starts to define itself.

An anomaly strikes while looking for resources

To survive in the exclusion zone and find out what happened to Tatyana, you need to face each day tactically, preparing yourself, your allies, and your base for what is to come. Similar to Fallout 4’s building, you are tasked with clearing out your base and building a hospitable living environment. If you like crafting, you are in for a treat as just about everything in the game can be crafted, provided you have the materials and lots and lots of mushrooms! (I don’t know why, but many of the recipes require mushrooms, bleh). In order to get the materials you need for all the furnishings of your beautiful hillside apocalypse camp, you need to forage, salvage, and pick clean bodies you come across or make. I can’t remember another game that made me feel like collecting resources was so critically vital to success except maybe The Last of Us, but even that doesn’t feel as crucial in comparison. Thankfully, each mission gives you a preview of the kind of resources you are likely to find.

Let's Mix It Up

Missions and character progression are refreshingly different. While not as open-ended as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Chernobylite is a more confined experience. You are tasked with various missions, but you can only do one mission per day per character. Not something you typically see in games like this. You can assign missions to your companions to complete while taking on a mission of your choice. After completing your objective, you return to base to see how your companions fared and give out rations. Rations and base upkeep are crucial to keeping yourself and your companions healthy and “happy.” In true RPG fashion, you earn XP for just about everything you do, and when you level up, you earn a skill point. Unlike most RPGs, the way you use the skill point is very clever. Instead of opening a menu screen and looking at a list of skills to unlock, you have to talk to your allies and ask them to train you in areas that they are experts in. Olivier, for example, trains in the use of pistols and stealth. When you ask to receive training, you ACTUALLY do the training! Not just bing! Now you know how to do this. I found this to be a very cool mechanic, which added a lot of realism to an otherwise fantastical supernatural setting. 

The workshop.

That training is necessary as Igor being a scientist, is not the greatest shot. In the early hours, it is better to rely on stealth and sneaky takedowns on the NAR soldiers that patrol the exclusion zone. It also affects your psyche when you kill people adding even more weight to your choices and how you deal with your foes. There are a number of factors that affect Igor’s psyche and health, including radiation poisoning. You can craft various items to address these ailments but it costs a lot of resources. I found myself hesitating to take out guards in my way as I knew it would devastate my psyche, which I had little to no treatment for. Then I found vodka!

Parks And Recreation Vodka GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

I decided to see what happens if you drink the bottles of “alcohol” you find and to my joy, it completely refilled my psyche. Meaning I could continue on my now drunken murder spree. After getting a few lessons in shooting, I was satisfied with how much better I was performing in firefights. I went from narrowly surviving a shootout with my measly pistol to dropping multiple soldiers before reloading. Hard work does pay off!

Fellow Couch Soup writer and player of video games Andrew Lucy, had played Chernobylite when it first launched, so I asked him to share some of his thoughts on the game.

Andrew’s Take
While playing Chernobylite on the Enhanced PC Edition, I found myself comparing the incredible atmosphere and graphics to that of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. with its constant supernatural elements, music style, First Person Shooter, and storytelling. This game is BEAUTIFUL, and with its intuitive game mechanics, you will not have a hard time picking it up and playing for long periods.

After spending a little time playing this game, I found out that the dev team at The Farm 51 had ventured out to the Exclusion Zone in Ukraine to map out locations in and around Pripyat to give you that haunted feeling of an abandoned place. That kind of research for a game should at least give you a little insight into how much love was put into this game! 

Another thing I found out when playing was that there is no Freeplay on the console edition, which was odd to me since it is on the PC version. Freeplay is a mode where you can go to any location in Chernobylite and experiment with the weather, guns, have events happen, and perks! It's more of a sandbox feel, and the mode separates from the storyline, giving you a place to experiment with the game how you see fit.

"KILL IT!"

If you love horror games with shooting mechanics, a dash of intricate game mechanics, and a story to keep you hooked, you will love Chernobylite”.

That’s a Whole Lotta Green

I am glad that Andrew touched on the work that the developer put into creating Chernobylite and that they had 3D scanned the actual environments. Fortunately, they were able to do this before the current conflict between Ukraine and Russia. It is difficult to not be aware of current world events while playing a game set in an already scarred part of human history. The environment looks incredible for a budget-priced game. The look and aesthetics are the first things I noticed about Chernobylite. Its vibrant use of greens contrasts an otherwise desolate world. The Xbox Series X version I played seemed to have a fair amount of motion blur, which can be distracting but not enough to ruin the experience. You can tell where The Farm 51 cut back on some things like facial animations, as most characters have a mask on, but this allowed them to pack so much into the game. There is such an incredible amount of detail in every piece of equipment, computer monitor, and random tools. It is hard to believe this is not a typical $60 or $70 game. Enough to make you wonder why the big publishers and studios are not putting out better quality sometimes.

Creatures like these are rare but challenging.

Geiger Counter Results

Chernobylite is an enjoyable horror shooter RPG mystery packed with science and sci-fi-y to make any nerd, nerd more. The solid gameplay could be akin to a Metal Gear Solid spinoff as you desperately sneak around and evade your foes. Your choices feel impactful and allow for variations in individual playthroughs with some genuinely memorable story beats and hilarious dialogue with some of the not-so-sane characters. A few bugs tend to cause it to crash, and frame rate drops can lead to some jarring moments. If The Farm 51 had a bigger budget and more time, this game would really shine. An otherwise beautiful presentation, fascinating story, and genuine good time make Chernobylite a great game, 8 out of 10 Soups.

When asked for a score Andrew agreed that although not perfect, Chernobylite is a fun game worth your attention. Andrew’s Score: 8 out of 10 Soups

Are you a fan of the begotten wastelands riddled with nuclear waste and radioactive monsters and mutants? Have you played or want to play Chernobylite? Let us know in the comments.

Check out the gameplay trailer
https://youtu.be/IP0BrPe5gok

Boobs, Booze, and Reviews: Death On the Nile

I have the boobs, I bring the booze, and I review shit.

How this new review series works: This will be a series unlike any you’ve read before. At the end of each review, I will be giving my rating of a series or movie in the form of wine bottles. The number of bottles will depend on how many I had to drain to get through the series or movie. Thus, like in golf, the lower the number of bottles, the better the show or movie. A greater number of bottles means I had to suffer through it, chugging my way along. My scale will be 1-5. There will be no spoilers in these reviews, just an opinionated asshole with an unhealthy fascination for wine letting you know if you should dedicate your time to whatever I'm reviewing.

Let's get started!

What I watched: Death on the Nile

Movie or series: Movie

Where to find it: HBO Max, Hulu

Length of movie: 2h 7m

Wine type: White

Wine brand: Yellowtail Pinot Grigio (Mamma’s on a budget, okay?)

Welcome back to Boobs, Booze, and Reviews! Before we dive into this movie, I just want to throw it out there that I have not seen Murder on the Orient Express. I also have not read any of these books. I know they are not sequential storylines, but they are congruent with one another and include similar characters, as well as the main character, Inspector Poirot. So I may be a noob to this type of delectably curated whodunit, but that just makes it more enjoyable for me!

Beginning with the trailer, this movie looks like so much fun. It has the perfect combination of drama, intrigue, beauty, and did I mention, just a touch of drama. There’s champagne, private boats, pyramids, dancing, wedding celebrations, and murder! What more could we ask for in a mystery thriller? The trailer does a perfect job at making you want to figure out who gets murdered, and how!

The run-time for the movie is doable. Pour your glass and prepare to have a seat! It’s a little longer than I would typically prefer to sit down and watch one thing, see my other Boobs, Booze, and Reviews articles for why (hint: I’m a new mom). But it’s perfect for a cozy Saturday night in with, well, cuddles and wine... Getting right to it, I thought the movie was fantastic. It has a killer cast (get it?), but to me, the writing and perfectly executed cheesy acting really delivered an enjoyable ride.

As mentioned above, the only continuing character in the series is Monsieur Poirot. Kenneth Branagh reprises his role as the French inspector with the expert mustache, as well as the directorial duty. Branagh has quite the experience in the director’s chair, with titles such as Oscar-winning film Belfast, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Thor, and Murder on the Orient Express. For me, I will always know him most notably as Professor Gilderoy Lockhart in the Harry Potter movies. (Professor Lockhart turned into an Inspector, yeah right!)

THIS guy is Inspector Poirot?!

Alongside Kenneth Branagh, we have the delicious Armie Hammer (heh) as Simon Doyle. The Wonderful Gal Gadot (I’m on a roll today) plays Linnet Ridgeway, and she and Simon are the two characters the story revolves around. The remaining cast is massive! It includes: 

There are several more in Death on the Nile, but you get the point! It’s a huge cast full of multi-talented actors and actresses to be included in one movie.

Getting back to the movie (and the drinking), the cinematography, and, as I mentioned earlier, the writing is stunning.The views of the yacht cruising the Nile had beautiful symmetry and a sense of calm in the midst of the crime chaos. The interrogative conversations between Inspector Poirot and the potential suspects had remarkable wit hidden behind the mustache. I took a small sip for funsies. It’s hard to get past Kenneth Branagh with such a French accent, but I am pretty well-versed in the French language and culture, so for me, it made it more enjoyable! My mother is a hamster a French teacher who studied abroad, and is fluent in the language. I’ve also been there a few times, so it’s a love for me. With that said, his accent is quirky and I was impressed with the consistency of how correct it was overall. Cheers to a big gulp for accuracy! 

From the very start of the film, you get a semi-back story about the famed mustache that leads into the opening showing of Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, and Emma Mackey. I took a big gulp to celebrate the beauty. Without going into spoilers, Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) and Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) are best friends, with Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) being Jacqueline’s newly betrothed. They all meet up for a night of dancing, and it already had me and my fiancé guessing who was going to die. We took a small sip in anticipation.

The movie travels forward in time a few months to a wedding celebration in Egypt, where we board a boat to escape a newly jealous BFF (I’ll let you watch to figure out who). While aboard the boat–or should I say the fancy AF yacht–we get lavish, Roaring Twenties wealthy folks partying in a ballroom that would make the Titanic ballroom simply unworthy. I took a small sip out of jealousy… for the party! 

Prior to the murdering, the characters go on an excursion that has a momentous near-death scene featuring ancient Egyptian ruins. This results in audience whiplash, as we look from one person to the other and try to determine who the actual murderer will be. And the fun hasn’t even started yet! We see a sand storm that threatens to ruin the celebrations, but it promptly disappears following the Egyptian ruin fiasco. That was a quick little plot miss (or did it get murdered?!). I took a big gulp for the ridiculousness.

We now have a locale established, guests who will soon turn into suspects and victims, and other miscellaneous storylines purposely thrown into the mix just to throw off the scent. For example, Rose Leslie’s character Louise carries a potential grudge because Linnet (Gal Gadot) kept her from marrying the man of her dreams so she could stay in Linnet’s service. I took a small sip for the pettiness.

BFFS Gal Gadot and Emma Mackey in Death on the Nile, sharing a photograph to celebrate Emma’s character's betrothal!

Other mishaps and arguments like the above cause you to think one character or the other will be the murderer or the victim, and I will say, we were wrong at every turn! Amid the crime spree, the writing keeps you guessing and proves to be the perfect blend of confidential and alarming at the same time. Who will be next?! It’s her! It’s him! No, let’s leave it to the professional!

In the end, Inspector Clouseau *ahem* Poirot leads us to the killer in a beautifully cheesy fashion, complete with dark rooms, single table interrogations, and sneaky guns. With that being said, I think it’s obvious that I really enjoyed this film! Unfortunately (for me), it is yet again a:

1 out of 5! 

Small sips win this one! The 2nd review also got my highest mark! Did you watch Death on the Nile? What were your thoughts? Do you have something you’d like me to watch and review? Let’s share a glass in the comments! Salut!

Boobs, Booze, and Reviews: The Woman Across the Street from the Girl in the Window

I have the boobs, I bring the booze, and I review shit.

How this new review series works: This will be a series unlike any you’ve read before. At the end of each review, I will be giving my rating of a series or movie in the form of wine bottles. The number of bottles will depend on how many I had to drain to get through the series or movie. Thus, like in golf, the lower the number of bottles, the better the show.  A larger number of bottles means I had to suffer through it, chugging my way along.  My scale will be 1-5. There will be no spoilers through these, just an opinionated asshole with an unhealthy fascination for wine letting you know if you should dedicate your time to whatever I'm reviewing.

Let's get started!

What I watched: The Woman Across the Street from the Girl in the Window, series

Where to find it: Netflix

Number of episodes: 8

Length of episodes: 22-25 mins

Wine type: Red to fit in with the narrative

Wine brand: Chateau St. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon (to complete the parody narrative.  Get it?  10 points to Gryffindor!)

Wine, casseroles, suburbia, and murder.  The perfect recipe for a story, right? If you're an author of a female-led mystery psychological thriller, the answer is YES.  When I first saw the trailer for this show, I was unsure of its purpose.  I couldn't tell from the preview whether it was a parody, a comedy, or an actual thriller. It wasn't until I was a couple episodes in that I realized what it was ALL OF THE ABOVE!

Let me just say that the episode length already won me over. I really enjoy shorter episodes. I don’t have to dedicate an entire weekend to binge watch only to get through half a series. Come on, people! I'm a new mom, with a ton of other things to do. My days are looking forward to the evening when my little monster goes to sleep for the night and I get a few hours of quiet time to myself. Then the anxiety of what to do happens. Do I play PlayStation? Do I watch something new? Do I start a movie? My time is PRECIOUS! So, when I saw the beautiful Kristen Bell chugging wine out of a glass that held a whole bottle, I first double-checked and made sure there was no camera in my house that this show was getting ideas from, then settled in to get into the series.

It still took me 2 evenings to finish, because ADD, but boy was I happy to sit down and watch it at the end of my day! This series was beautifully done. It absolutely is a parody of all the female-led mystery psychological thriller books that have been made into movies. This one specifically was mirrored after The Girl on the Train, and The Woman in the Window. Now, I've read both books and watched both movies. This series nailed it! It included beautiful homes (and we have no idea what the main characters do to afford them), beautiful people, all the wine, so many casseroles, annoying neighbors, tragic backstories, intriguing handy-men, fun and ridiculous sex, children selling chocolate, and MURDER. What else is needed? Add in some cheesy narration from the main character, and you have a basic-white-girl hit.

The main character of the series is Anna, played by Kristen Bell. Anna has a unique fear that petrifies her and causes her to faint a couple of times throughout the show. (The fainting is pretty ridiculous, but it's brought on by a legitimate reason.) Neil (Tom Riley) is the sexy single dad who moves in across the street and who, of course, has a British accent. It wouldn’t be a successful drama if there weren’t any British accents!  

The show carries more huge names such as Michael Ealy as the ex-husband, Brenda Koo as the nosy, self-righteous neighbor (think Petunia Dursley from Harry Potter), Christina Anthony as the badass detective. Plus, this show is directed by Michael Lehman, who's known for American Horror Story, Californication, True Blood, a couple of episodes of Dexter, and much more. It’s a perfect line-up.

Throughout the episodes, I was curious about what would happen next, the story behind specific characters, and the cliches that brought them all together. Even though it was a parody, there was a cohesive storyline throughout. The ending had a surprise that kept my wine in the bottle a little longer, making it a pleasant reward for watching all of the episodes. The sense of parody vs. an actual story walked the delicate line of being too cliché and boring, and actually enjoyable. It was brilliant! I really hope the crew behind this series dives into more parodies for my enjoyment.

With that being said, I think it’s obvious, but my review rating is: (drum roll please)

1 out of 5! My highest mark! These reviews are off to a heck of a start!

Have you watched The Woman Across the Street from the Girl in the Window?  What were your thoughts? Let's share a glass in the comments!

Spaceflight Simulator Review: The Final Frontier? Not Quite.

When Drew and the Couch Soup Crew (Crewtons? Crewshions?) flicked across the early access code and press kit for Štefo Mai Morojna's space-faring rocket building simulator Spacflight Simulator, it's fair to say I was unsure whether I was going to enjoy this game.

The press kit makes the game seem like something that would interest me at its face value. I enjoyed messing around in Kerbal Space Program and did physics as my "fun" subject in year 12 (mistake), and this game purports to be a realistic simulation of space travel.

However, I'm always hesitant about reviewing or talking about games that are in early access. Not only do you get to be an unofficial QA tester with all the perks (I'll let you know when I think of some) without that pesky issue of being fairly compensated for your work, any criticism of the game could end up being invalid once the game releases.

Before I started playing, I did a bit of a dig around about the mobile versions of the game, and my gut feeling was that the game looks a little light on features and not worth playing.

I've spent a couple hours with the game so far. And you know what? Sometimes you should totally trust your gut feeling.

Screenshot of Spaceflight Simulator game settings
Welcome to all those Independence Day fans.

First thing to address with this game is that a whole bunch of features that are listed on the menu and game options just simply aren't there right now. Career mode? Listed but not there. Sandbox mode? Listed, not there. Different types of solar systems? Absent.

So yeah, there are not a lot of options to play at the moment, but again it's good old early access. Credit where it’s due, the game does have some pretty good tutorials that walk you through orbiting, docking and the moon quite well.

Screenshot of Spaceflight Simulator tutorial menu choices
The only tutorials the game has... and non to help you actually launch off the ground.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing to help you get off the ground. I had to look up a YouTube tutorial on how to turn the engines - never a good sign for any game where the player needs to resort to YouTube to find out how to start playing.

Early access stumbles aside, is the game worth your time and money? Well, let's dive in further.

Visually, it's not too impressive, but the simple graphics and textures create a nice underdog fledgling rocket scientist feel to it. I'm not going to kick the game's teeth in because it's not running 4K, 60 frames per second. I'm more interested in the nuts and bolts of the gameplay mechanics.

The gameplay is split into two distinctive parts: the building of the rocket and the launching of the rocket. If you’re anything like me most of your early launches are going to be an exciting start and ending with a fiery crash resulting in yet another budding astronaut life snuffed out.

Image from meme from the Simpsons showing a distraught crowd pointing with the caption 'He's already dead'
The other astronauts watching one of my launches.

At the building stage for the rocket, the building tools are pretty basic. Don't get me wrong, they’ve got an extensive range of little bits and bobs to stick on your rocket, and it’s relatively easy to cobble something together. The grid and symmetry tool are both welcome and useful to help construct the rocket of your dreams.

However, the components you're using to build this astronaut execution device only have a little text description when you hover over the part. There's no clear explanation for what they do, although some are obvious (fuel tanks, engines, etc.). Some could really benefit from a bit more explanation of when and how these parts are used.

For the launch, once I figured out how to actually launch the thing, the controls are relatively straightforward and easy to use. Press a couple of buttons, toggle a key switches and you are flying a rocket my friend. The map screen is a great tool to plan your journey across the stars using the projected trajectory. In my case it was good to plan where I’d be sending the (hypothetical) salvage crews once the rocket smashed into the Earth.

Screenshot from Spaceflight Simulator showing Mars and the orbits of the rocket and Phobos.

Also, there's something incredibly therapeutic about scrolling out and getting a true sense of the relative size of the planets compared to the vast expansive solar system itself. Brings a bit of perspective to compare the insignificance of the rocket with the grand scope of everything. A little bit of existential dread about our place in the world as well but who hasn’t had that from time to time?

Unfortunately, the game isn't all peaks. There's one undeniable fact that the game can't hide from even, in the depths of deep space: this game just doesn’t make me feel anything when I play it. The menus are bland, the art is basic—the entire presentation for this game just falls flat. Nothing the game did was presented in a way that conveyed the inherent wonder of space travel.

This is space we’re talking about, something our best minds understand very little about. It’s vast and majestic and goddamn terrifying in its scope and none of that comes across when I’m travelling through it in this game.

In Spaceflight Simulator, there's just no outer context to keep me invested in the success or failure of these rockets. No goals like colonising the Moon, or reaching the next solar system or even just not killing your astronauts. We never get to see the engineers or astronauts we're working with, and there are no buildings to upgrade or research to do.

It's pretty much summed up like this: I built this rocket with as much fuel and thrusters as I could and launched it. I reached space, saw on the map all the far flung planets that looked identical that I would maybe reach one day and just couldn't see the point.

Image of two astronauts and their rocket in space in the game Kerbal Space Program.
Kerbal Space Program is Spaceflight Simulator's main competition.

No game is released in a vacuum, and we really have to look at the other competition on the market in order to make an informed recommendation. Obviously, the colossus blotting out the sun on the horizon is Kerbal Space Program. Some of you would say this is an unfair comparison considering the sizes of the development teams. However, Kerbal has pretty much everything Spaceflight is missing and it’s only $30 more.

There's an early access roadmap where the developers could have shown how they plan to build up the game to rival Kerbal. Unfortunately, they should rechristen it in memory of the Talking Heads because it's pretty much a road to nowhere.

It's a little concerning for me because if I had bought this game at early access (regardless the price), I'd want to know the developer has a plan to get the game from early access to a full blooded release. 

Marketing image promoting the release and updates to BioWare's Anthem.
Totally unrelated picture of the ultra successful MMO Anthem that's totally still playable.

Although even the best laid plans can go awry as Bioware has taught us time and time again.

Overall, Spaceflight Simulator is a competently made game, but there was just nothing the game put in front of me that made me want to keep playing. It didn’t hook me in and in the face of such strong offerings from its competitors, mainly Kerbal Space Program, I just can't recommend this game at its current state.

But, again, this is early access, so who knows? By the time the game actually releases it could be about you building a rocket to escape the Mecha-Stalin v. Mothra global war and gathering the best glam rock legends of the galaxy to free the Earth… hold on I'd better write that down. 

What keeps you invested in games like Spaceflight Simulator and Kerbal Space Program? Let's chat in the comments about what makes a truly great rocket-building game.

Quickies on the Couch: Destiny 2, The Witch Queen Expansion

My partner, Hoot, and I practice one religion these days: Destiny 2. After every Tuesday reset, we spend what time we can throughout the week checking off the Seasonal Challenges, completing some daily bounties, running Gambit matches, and more. We're also heavy into the game's story and subscribe to YouTuber My name is Byf who assembles the game's lore into complete, well-produced narratives for characters and storylines. 

As you might expect, we've been hyped for months about the new expansion, Destiny 2: The Witch Queen, which dropped on February 22. After 4 and a half years of this game, was Bungie going to keep upping their game? Or was this expansion going to fall flat compared to its compelling predecessors?

So far, we're enjoying it. Sure, the story isn't as emotionally compelling as Forsaken, but I don't think anything ever will. That said, the opening missions did hit us with a major WTF moment that left Hoot and I both traumatized (What the shit just happened? Did I really just DO that?) and intrigued (Well, that's new. Let's see what's next!). As the story plays out each week and through the 2022 seasons, I have a feeling we're going to be more than ready to see Hive Queen Savathûn join her brother Oryx in oblivion!

The gameplay is mostly what we'd expected, but with some nice additions. As per usual with Destiny, we're seeing variations on the same old familiar enemies around every corner. But some of those enemies now have new abilities, and we've also got some new abilities and weapons to fight them. That's what keeps Destiny 2 just fresh enough for people to keep going. That… and getting a fireteam of friends together to play!

Speaking of which, Hoot and I have enjoyed experiencing this new release on fireteams with my fellow Couch Soup contributors Michelle Holstine and Erika Aundawyn. Let's see what their reactions have been so far.

Screenshot of Michelle Holstine's Warlock character in Destiny 2
Michelle's Warlock.

Michelle is hyped for all the new stuff

It is Friday and I am sitting at my computer wanting nothing more but to go turn on my PlayStation and continue the campaign for Witch Queen that came out on Tuesday, 2/22/22. Hehe, well played, Bungie. I have only been able to dive in a couple of times so far, but let me tell you, they did the damn thing with this campaign! It has been SO FUN! There are new emotes, new weapons, new ways to FORGE weapons, new maps, new menus, new EVERYTHING!

The new "Throne World" itself is stunning and has so much to offer in what to see and do. They upped the difficulty to include a Legendary format in the first playthrough of the story. So, players who want to rage quit every 15 minutes can have that option. (It's me, I'm "players.") Even though it is difficult, it draws you right back in with the beauty, the puzzles, and the captivating story. Suffice it to say, I am so excited to keep playing and get through the entire campaign story to see where it takes us!

Screenshot of Erika Aundawyn's Titan from Destiny 2
Erika's Titan.

Erika takes on the big challenges

I went into the DLC avoiding spoilers about what may be happening, even in regards to quality-of-life updates. That gave me a pleasant surprise that I didn't need to struggle to get to Light Level 1300 (yes, I know it's called Power now). The game bumped me to 1350 on all characters and equipment! 

Going in, I had the option to do Legendary difficulty (with the same recommended level of 1350 as Story mode), and I figured, Why not? I'll try Legendary solo. It took me about 3 hours to get through the first part of the story, but it was worth every death! I left the story missions being nearly 1400 Light and confident in myself and my PvE talent. The story so far has been very intriguing and less linear than before. This is great for my ADHD brain: when I need a change, I can do other side missions that relate to the main mission. Really excited for what the rest of the DLC holds!

Screenshot of Stef Watson's Hunter from Destiny 2 in a pose showing off a building in Savathûn's Throne World.
Stef's Hunter showing off some of Savathûn's Throne World.

Stef keeps the Destiny 2 church service going

Testify! I echo 100% everything Michelle and Erika said. I'm loving the new weapon type, the glaive, though I have to get used to how it changes up my attack patterns. The new class system introduced with Stasis is now implemented for Void, too, which means I should probably stop avoiding it (my beloved Solar classes will be right around the corner). But the thing I think is going to make this expansion stand out is this new weapon-building system, which seems to be an improvement over the Black Armory from 2018. It's going to take a while for me to wrap my head around it, but I know Hoot will pick it up quickly and share what he learns.

Destiny 2 keeps people coming back with a story that develops in small increments, week-to-week challenges, special events, and a plethora of Triumphs to achieve. I think we'll keep powering through the end-game experience as this crazy new story unfolds!

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Have you played the new Witch Queen expansion yet? How's your fireteam adjusting to the new stuff? Let's break it down in the comments!

Early Access: Ready or Not

Picture yourself in a scenario where you and your team are on one side of the door, and on the other lies a suspect with a weapon and one unarmed civilian. You ready your team to use a breaching shotgun and toss in a flashbang. You begin to execute the maneuver, but before you even get a chance to throw your grenade as the door opens, you hear a click...and then BAM! You and your team are now dead. So what went wrong? You failed to check the door for an explosive trap that the suspect had set to go off as soon as you opened it. Had you checked with a mirror, your team would have been able to safely disarm the trap before making entry.

Welcome to Ready or Not! Another early access game where you will have to utilize teamwork, communication, and accuracy to accomplish your mission in securing a scene. In Ready or Not mistakes like the one I mentioned can lead to a failed mission.

If you are like me, who is a sucker for tactical games with realistic elements like the previous early access game I covered in Ground Branch, then you will love this game too! Ready or Not puts you in the boots of a SWAT officer that can go through different types of events and scenes (or levels).

GAMEPLAY

There are a total of five scenarios that you can choose from, each with an increase in difficulty. You have Barricaded Suspects (Normal), Raid (Hard), Active Shooter (Hard), Bomb Threat (Very Hard), and lastly, Hostage Rescue (Insane). With these different types of missions, you will need to change how you play.

For example, in Hostage Rescue, you will need a solid strategy and stealth to secure the scene. The best strategy that I used was attempting to clear a room without using a breaching shotgun and flashbangs or stingers. You want to clear a room as quickly and quietly as possible while searching for the suspects holding the hostages.

Another example is Active Shooter. Trigger warning here: this mode simulates real-world active shooter situations, which could be sensitive or traumatic to some players. In my honest opinion, my feelings about this mode are simple, art imitates life.

So with that said, let's get into it with this mission type. Active Shooter is an excellent example of switching up tactics. Instead of clearing room to room, you and your team will have to quickly search for an active shooter. I found the best strategy is to not worry about securing civilians as this will take up a lot of your search time. Instead, I just try to listen for the direction of the gunshots. 

One of the scenarios that I played was Barricaded Suspects. What that entails is you will need to secure the scene by going room to room to find evidence for an investigation (depending on the situation) and using habits of knowing how to read a room while making entry. Preparation and information are essential when playing, and having the right tools for situations like this is a must.

MECHANICS

The mechanics are something that you will need to get used to. For example, you will need to lower your weapon into a “Low-Ready” stance to walk faster. I noticed more examples of mechanics: ammo retention, magazine check/ammo check, bot commands, and how to use the queue system. You are given only 4 magazines plus your sidearm and a few mags to go with it.

Ammo retention is about what you would think. If you want to swap a partial magazine for a full one, you can do that. Ammo checking can be pretty vital when in certain situations. I try to get into the habit of checking when stacking up to a door just in case. I have often been shot when clearing multiple rooms and not checking how much ammo I have in the mag before entering.

CUSTOMIZATIONS

One thing that I cannot forget is the customization of weapons and loadout! Your loadout can consist of an assault rifle, submachine gun, and shotguns. Each weapon can be fully customized to your liking. My preferred loadout is using the HK416 with speed grips, SRS sights, suppressor, and a flashlight attachment. You can also change what tool you want from using a riot shield, breaching shotgun, mirror gun, etc. I usually use the mirror gun to see what is on the other side of the door, but you can always command your bot teammates to do that so you can explore other tools.

Lastly, I want to talk about the use of bots in single player. I will admit, I have only experienced the single-player portion of Ready or Not. I tried to play multiplayer with other players but could not find many people playing. All the same, it was fun playing the game solo with bots, and I found it very easy to lose track of time by playing just by myself.

SINGLEPLAYER

To start, you get four bots as teammates divided up into two teams. Red team and blue team. The Gold team acts as the commander to direct the whole squad. While having your squad follow you, I found it pretty easy to get my teams into position.  I can look at the door and select from the commands that I want them to do.

I can have them “Stack up with a mirror gun” (have the bot check underneath the door for possible suspects and see if the door has an explosive trap), and a multitude of ways to breach a door. Either with a breaching shotgun, C2 explosive, or my favorite, kicking the shit out of the door like a bad-ass. While selecting what breaching method you want, you can also choose between a flashbang or a stinger grenade after the door has been successfully breached.

Usually, I prefer the flashbangs when going up against suspects with civilians. Sometimes you have to throw in a couple of stingers to try and get the suspects to surrender peacefully.

At the end of each mission, you will get a summary of how many suspects you have either neutralized or arrested. Along with civilians, collection of evidence, disarming traps, etc. It all gets summed up in a point system, and you will be given a letter grade for your performance. Losing civilians and officers can hurt your score.

Overall, Ready or Not is a solid game to play by yourself and with friends! With that said, since this is an early access title that was recently released, you will come across bugs. Still, I never found it to be game-breaking...unlike other titles (COUGH* BATTLEFIELD COUGH*). 

Again, since this game is in early access, expect that the game will have significant updates and changes to future gameplay! Let's hope that Void Interactive stays true to the game's roots because this is straight-up enjoyable to play! 

Also, if you want to learn more in-depth about this game, I suggest watching this early access tutorial from Void Interactive! 

Bugsnax: Cute Adventure for Kids or Soft Entry into Horror Games?

There are so many great horror games out there, across all consoles and generations. If you're new to the genre, it's hard to know where to begin. You want something that will ease you into the genre and show you how amazing horror gaming can be. Well, look no further than Young Horses' latest game, Bugsnax, which is perfect for just that.  

If you're new to the game, I highly recommend you play it with absolutely no knowledge of what's coming. That makes it all the more mind-blowing! Or you can read on for a peek at what to expect. Just, be warned, there are some major spoilers ahead!

In their short life so far, Young Horses have developed a knack for creating funny, memorable, and downright unsettling video games. After all, they are the Octodad creators that, in 2010, had the entire internet asking, "How does an octopus have a family with a human?” They really got me pondering the important questions in life. And, as if Octodad wasn't weird enough, their second game was about to blow it out of the water.

Octodad (2014), an earlier game from Young Horses

The announcement trailer for Bugsnax sent a wave of collective confusion across the video game community. I was absolutely baffled by the trailer but, at the same time, so desperate to play the game! After all, it's not very often that a trailer opens on a strawberry with googly eyes. But the trailer was nothing compared to the full game that followed. On the surface, Bugsnax looked like a cute, colorful, and quirky little game. Not to say that's an incorrect assessment - it's definitely all of those things. But that's just the sweet sugar coating on a much darker and more disturbing video game. 

As an investigative journalist who seemingly specializes in cryptid stories, I was invited to Snaktooth Island by Elizabert "Lizbert" Megafig, who wanted me to share the story of Bugsnax with the world. I arrived to find that Elizabert had gone missing and all of the Grumpuses, the race of colourful characters that make up this game, had left the small town of Snaxburg. It's pretty clear from the get-go that something isn't quite right. But my quest to bring everyone home and unravel the mystery of missing Elizabert began.

The seemingly quiet and quaint town of Snaxburg

From the get-go, the game gave me serious horror vibes. My ship was struck down, and I was dropped onto an unfamiliar island where a storm was raging above me. The ground rumbled, there was movement in the trees around me and I was looking for a way out. Soon, however, I met the new light of my life, Filbo. He took away the fear, made the world seem joyful again, and showed me the ropes. He taught me how to lure, catch and consume the creatures that resemble familiar snack foods (like bananas and cheese puffs) that give the game its name - the bugsnax

I didn't even bat an eyelid when I discovered that the grumpuses ate bugsnax. I mean, why would I? But that was my first mistake. They seem innocent enough. Wildlife to some, pets to others, but food to all. That doesn't seem too dissimilar to our own way of life... until you see what happens when the grumpuses eat them. Once a Bugsnak is consumed, it changes the appearance of a body part of the grumpus that ate it.

The unsettling thing about the game is how easily I accepted this as the norm. Even when I had completely transformed a Snaxburg resident into various different bugsnax, I didn't question it. The only Grumpus that questions this is Gramble, and the game quickly frames him as the only weirdo that doesn't follow the crowd. Even when Floofty gave me a gadget that let me select which body part I wanted to turn into which bugsnak, I just went along with it. Because why wouldn't I? Even when I met Triffany, who is digging up the remains of the previous residents of Snaxburg, I just didn't question the kind of place I had come to investigate. 

Snaktooth Island is bad to the bone

In spite of this, I soldiered on. Transforming grumpuses, catching bugsnax, completing quests and, eventually, as the mystery unfolded, I found myself in the Undersnax, the seedy underbelly of Snaxburg. I traversed along gunk-filled tunnels, occasionally bumping into the elusive Snaksquatch. Which, in case you weren't aware, has been watching you this entire game. You can spot him in various places watching you as you go about your daily life. This added a whole new level of creep to the game when I played it a second time around.

As I fell into the depths of the Undersnax, I met the horror villain to end all horror villains - Elizabert!  Or, if you'd prefer a more horror-esque title - The Queen of Bugsnax! Her creepy cake-hydra appearance very quickly brought me up to speed on the true nature of the seemingly innocent Bugsnak. They were never really wildlife, or pets, or food... they were parasites taking over the body of any grumpus that chose to eat them! A change in a body part after consuming a bugsnak was not a simple little side effect, it was actually the bugsnak starting to take over the grumpus.

The ultimate horror villain

If you've spent this entire game feeding all of your new friends bugsnax and completely transforming them, now would be the time to panic. On Elizabert's orders, while she was able to control the island, she urged me to get everyone off Snaktooth Island. She threw me back to Flavor Falls and the creepy horror opening repeated itself, but now with the knowledge that the horror is very much real and a threat to me and my friends. Arriving back in Snaxburg I met with every Grumpus that I'd helped so far, who were now all trying to escape the island. It was my job to protect them from the bugsnax, which were coming in thick and fast, and they were out for blood! 

I had completely transformed my grumpus friends, which made them more likely to die if the bugsnax reached them. And yes, they can actually die. They literally crumble in front of you, turning back into bugsnax parts with no sign of the original grumpus in sight. You can escape with everyone alive, or you can lose a few grumpuses along the way. Together, we all watched Snaktooth Island burn to the ground, hoping that the looming bugsnax threat was gone forever. But that's not how horror stories end, is it? A sneaky end credits scene suggests that the horror is far from over.

What started out as a cute little catch-em-all style game very quickly became a psychological horror with a strange Last-of-Us-parasite-driven-zombie vibe. Did you really see the teaser trailer and the colorful style of the game and not expect that parasites would consume everyone and the sunny island of Snaktooth would burn to the ground? Or that it was all because of a missing grumpus who is now a hideous cake monster that has power over all the local wildlife? Shame on you. You should give Young Horses more credit for their twisted minds.

Have you played Bugsnax yet? What did you think? A fun romp with cute characters, or a creepy psychological horror? Or both? Let's unpack our "snax" experiences in the comments!

What Effect Did Loki Have on the MCU Timeline? Series Review and Theories

Loki aired its last episode, which means that I can put all my thoughts into an article, review it, and ponder theories about it. Naturally, there will be spoilers from throughout the season. Without further ado, let’s get right into it! 

As a long-time fan of Tom Hiddleston (since Wallander), seeing his career grow was already a privilege, but now it’s just pure happiness. Ever since he was first introduced in Thor (2011) as the mischievous god Loki, I couldn’t wait to see more of what he would do with this role. I think it's completely fair to say that he loves this character dearly and, more than anything else, he understands it. After 6 appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we finally arrived at Loki's glorious return in the form of a Marvel TV series on Disney+.

Loki gives us the version of the character who escaped with the Tesseract during the time heist in Avengers: Endgame. From a character development standpoint, this is the Loki from 2012's The Avengers. This Loki obviously didn’t go through all the same changes as the Loki we lost in Avengers: Infinity War. So people were wondering (and rightfully so) how well the series would work. This version of Loki still has a very rocky relationship with his family. He still believes in his "glorious purpose" and can't see the bigger picture. Marvel didn’t disappoint, though. After his escape from New York, Loki was immediately arrested by the TVA (Time Variance Authority) and recruited to help by Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson). 

The first episode served two very important purposes: 

  1. Getting to know what the TVA was about. 
  2. Confronting Loki with the events he would have gone through if the time heist hadn’t given him an opportunity to escape. 

That second purpose was the answer fans were looking for after Endgame. By showing Loki what happened to him, his family brought out the side of him who was always there, the one Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Frigga (Rene Russo) saw and we all grew to love. Tom Hiddleston’s performance through those moments was incredible. It sure brought out some tears. 

After learning about the variants (people who disrupted the Sacred Timeline) and why it was important to keep them under control, the series revealed that the variant Mobius was after was, in fact, another Loki. They didn’t beat around the bush, and by the end of episode two, we met Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), aka "Lady Loki."

The endeavor of the two Lokis was both mesmerizing and exciting to watch through the rest of the season. I, however, want to share my only two criticisms towards the whole show. 

From the moment they hinted at it in Episode 3 through to the season finale, I just hated the idea of making Loki and Sylvie’s relationship romantic. It would have made much more sense to give them a sibling kind of relationship since Thor wasn’t around to fill that role for them. Even better, I would have loved to see Loki discovering self-love by seeing things through Sylvie’s eyes. I honestly thought that’s where all of it was headed, but they just had to make it weird. Like, disturbingly weird. 

That kiss in Episode 6一even if I do agree with others that Sylvie used it as manipulation to achieve what she wanted一almost made me turn off the whole thing. I know many people don’t like it and a few who do, but people, please, it is just utterly weird and creepy. Some bring up the argument that something like this would be very Loki-like, but I have to disagree on that point. 

The other thing I didn’t really like is how it started as a Loki-based show and then it turned into a Sylvie show. I do think Sophia Di Martino was the perfect casting, and she did an amazing job with the character. BUT the Loki we came here to see basically got reduced to a secondary character. At points, he was nothing more than a helpless love interest and a stepping stone to Sylvie’s goal. They made him seem like he was a bit dumb and definitely way too naive. By Episode 3, I started seeing the signs of this, but it got progressively more true by the end of the season. In the last episode specifically, Loki was basically just tagging along. 

That said, this didn’t stop Tom Hiddleston from being the absolute highlight of every scene he was in. He is Loki; he understands this character like no one else can, and it shows in everything he does. I think it is one of the main reasons why many love both Tom and Loki so dearly. 

I am still trying to digest everything we saw and all the information we got from the show, but these two things definitely bug me in this near-perfect entry to the MCU. 

 

Looking ahead, what effects will the events in Loki have on the MCU timeline?

It seems that WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier served more as character developments while also setting up these characters’ places in the future while the true start to MCU's Phase 4 is in the last episode of Loki. 

First and foremost, we were introduced to the next main villain of the MCU in the form of He Who Remains played by the amazing Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft Country). The show doesn’t reveal much at first, but people following MCU news closely know that Majors was cast as Kang, the villain in the next Ant-Man film. Kang the Conqueror is a time-traveling supervillain in the Marvel comics. He had several versions of him appear throughout the stories mostly fighting the Avengers and Fantastic Four. To quote He Who Remains himself from the last Episode: 

"If you think I'm evil, well, just wait 'til you meet my variants."

He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors) waits at the end of time

It's in this scene that He Who Remains revealed to Loki and Sylvie that they had two options. Option 1 was to kill him and, with that, break the Sacred Timeline, pushing it into war with his other variants wreaking havoc. Option 2 was to take over control of the TVA from him and preserve the Sacred Timeline indefinitely. With Sylvie being dead set on revenge, combined with not believing a thing that He Who Remains is telling them, she chooses Option 1.

With that one moment, the MCU changed at its core. 

I had a theory on why we haven't had a Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer yet. With the rumors already surrounding the movie, I said that the reason we didn’t get a trailer is because the events in Loki will have a serious effect on it. I now whole-heartedly believe that I was right. We already know that there are two confirmed returns in Spider-Man with Alfred Molina reprising his role as Doctor Otto Octavius from Spider-Man 2 and Jamie Foxx as Max Dillon from The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Rumors have been going around ever since, that previous Spider-Man actors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield will be in the film. With the events of Loki in mind, there's now a logical way that both Tobey and Andrew could return, each one as a Spider-Man variant. 

Also keep in mind that the big boss himself, Kevin Feige, hinted that you need to see the MCU TV shows to fully understand the upcoming movies. 

Spider-Man is just one of the stories that could be highly affected by the events of Loki. We don’t yet know much about this year's upcoming films Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals, but I definitely wouldn’t be surprised if they also acknowledge the events from Loki. For certain, though, there are three other upcoming films that will have strong ties to the show: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Thor: Love and Thunder, and Ant-man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is already very revealing just by its title. Jokes are flying around that poor Doctor Strange will have to clean up all the mess Loki and Wanda caused. Elizabeth Olsen has been confirmed to reprise her role as Wanda in the film, and rumors are that Tom Hiddleston will appear as Loki. Given the events in Loki, there are endless possibilities of where Doctor Strange’s story can go, and it would be impossible to even guess which way Marvel will take it. But, with Benedict Cumberbatch also returning in Spider-Man as Doctor Strange the chances of… well… madness… in his upcoming solo film literally multiplied. One thing is for sure, we are definitely not ready for what’s to come in this new era of the MCU. 

Natalie Portman from San Diego Comic-Con (2019) (photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez)

Thor: Love and Thunder will be affected, not just because Thor is Loki’s brother and is rumored to return in this movie, but also as part of answering the big questions about Jane (Natalie Portman). We haven’t seen her since Thor: The Dark World, and Thor: Ragnarok revealed that Thor and Jane broke up. So it definitely came as a surprise when Marvel announced the Phase 4 movies and TV shows that Kevin Feige happily announced that Natalie Portman will make her return. During the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con where this was announced, Natalie herself even held up Thor's hammer, Mjölnir. This suggests we may see Mighty Thor from the comics in which Jane Foster becomes worthy to wield Mjölnir the same way Captain America did in Endgame. BUT, with Loki in mind and Jane Foster being MIA from the MCU for so long, one can’t help but wonder if this version of Jane is gonna be a variant.

Here's my logic: We know that Mjölnir got destroyed by Hela (Cate Blanchett) in Thor: Ragnarok. Thor brought it back from the past during the time heist event in Endgame but it was returned to its original place by Captain America in the end. So at the moment, Mjölnir is in little pieces in the current MCU timeline, right? But then why would Portman have held up Mjölnir at SDCC? Given all that, I believe that the Jane Foster we are getting in Thor: Love and Thunder will be a variant. I might be completely wrong, but as the title of this article says I am giving you all my theories. 

Ant-man and the Wasp: Quantumania is likely going to be the film most affected by Loki. I believe that the TVA and the Citadel are both places existing in the Quantum Realm. In Ant-man and the Wasp, you can see a subatomic city structure for only just a second. Although it wasn’t confirmed by the end of Loki Season 1, I still stand by this theory. I think that what we see there is the TVA headquarters. Also, as I previously mentioned, we’re gonna see a version of He Who Remains in the next Ant-man movie in the form of Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors). 

The suspicious quantum realm city from Ant-Man

I won’t speculate about the upcoming shows like Hawkeye, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, or Marvel's What If...? because while I do believe Loki could have an effect on them, I also think that the major multiverse events will happen in the movies more so than in the shows. But, at this point, it is all a waiting game. 

Our favorite God of Mischief made sure that we are not without excitement, entertainment, and fun. Loki managed to add even more layers for us to love in Loki while also giving us many things to look forward to. We don’t know yet when Season 2 will arrive, but one thing is for sure: Loki still has a lot of things to do, and I can’t wait to see it! I won’t try and speculate which way the story will go because I strongly believe it will be affected by the previously mentioned films. I'm confident saying that the future is bright for the MCU. Maybe, even brighter than ever before, and I honestly can’t wait to see what else they will come up with. 

What's your take on the Loki series so far and how it's going to impact other MCU films and shows? Let's speculate in the comments!

 

Friendship Enders: Mario Party

There are three universal truths in life: light travels at one astronomical unit, gravity exerts a force onto the Earth equal to 9.8 m/s, and Yoshi is the best character to play in Mario Party (fight me).

Speaking of Mario Party, we’ve got the second installment of Friendship Enders after a long hiatus, and we’re focusing on part two of the relationship-ending trifecta – Mario Party. Now because there are quite a few games in the franchise, I’ll be grouping them into my own personalized categories. The following stories are based on real events… the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

For all of you that have never experienced the true rollercoaster of emotions that is Mario Party, you roll dice and move around a set of boards each with interesting themes and play minigames to earn coins which you use to buy stars. This goes on until the set number of turns ends and bonus stars are awarded to players or someone gets frustrated and hits the power button. It’s like a family game night except you can’t flip the table unless you want to replace your gaming console.

Mario Party 1 – 3: A Rocky Start

With any great work of art, you’ve always got the first few rough drafts, and even the juggernaut franchise that is Mario Party is no exception.

So, we’ve got the first three Mario Party games on the Nintendo 64, which is in and of itself a bit of a rough draft console, especially with the early polygonal 3D graphics employed that could take someone’s eye out if they looked too closely.

Apart from feeling like I’ve had my retinas sanded down after playing these games, these do feel like the first floundering steps of the developers. The maps are pretty simple and lifeless compared to later games, the minigames are a little rudimentary and underdeveloped, and there seems to be a bizarre prevalence of 3 v 1 minigames as opposed to the 4 v 4.

All this being said, Bowser really feels more like an agent of chaos and embodies the random chance of these Mario Party games that I have come to miss with later games in the series.

Still, these games gave me some great times and some lifelong memories, specifically ruining the palm of my hand playing Tug of War ten times in a single 50 turn game.

Worse for your palms than masturbation

Jumping from the early cave paintings to the renaissance Tintoretto styling of 3D graphics, we’re ditching the N64 and jumping aboard the good ship SS GameCube for our next three games. These games, much like the graphics of the GameCube compared to the N64, were a more refined experience.

Mario Party 4 got the ball rolling in a big way. It really felt like the developers broke down the first three games to their fundamental elements and reworked them to squeeze every last drop of enjoyment out of it. First of all, they gave us chances to team up with our mates and gave us a couple of new characters to play. The minigames were similar to the first three but with the rough edges sanded down.

The fourth game in the franchise may have gotten the ball rolling, but Mario Party 5 was the real game-changer with the introduction of their capsule/orb system. These little capsules had all sorts of items crammed into them, from extra dice blocks to chance time events. It lends each and every game that extra helping of randomness that has become the basis of the famous Mario Party idiom “the only turn that matters is the final turn.”

The best part is that Mario Party 6 pretty much perfected the formula, smoothed out the last of the rough edges, and kept the party going.

All the memories I have of these three games are always either crazy chance times that ruined my perfect strategy or stupid bonus stars handing me a second-place loss out of nowhere.

Little did Daisy know that with three small button presses she’d end up putting first place to fourth, seizing the means of production and topple the Roman Empire

Mario Party 7 – 9: The Downward Spiral

With every peak comes the trough, and for every winter comes the spring, bringing with it the stench of decay that the winter snow mercifully covered. In the case of Mario Party, that stench of decay emanates from these next three games.

So, imagine this; it’s 2006, and you’ve been waiting for ages to play the latest Mario Party after the US has had it for months. You finally get the game, start playing, and something just doesn’t feel right, kinda like the heart and soul of the franchise has started to leak out of it, and there’s a bit of a weird smell coming from it.

You keep playing but you can’t shake the sense of Deja Vu with its copy-paste gameplay and art style. Some of the boards have a couple of unique gimmicks like Neon Heights, but it doesn’t have the same spark from previous games. Still, the series has been going from strength to strength, so you write it off as a small stumble.

Then Mario Party 8 and Mario Party 9 come out to put your fears to rest *switch to an ominous tone of voice* or so it seems. Admittedly, some of the minigames have a uniqueness lent to them by the power of the Wii mote waggle.

All of this doesn’t hide the very simple fact that you’ve played all of this seven times before. Looking at these games in a vacuum they’re good enough, but comparing them to the wider franchise, they’re always going to come up short.

With exciting games like hide and seek, how could this one have been anything but a surefire hit?.

Mario Party 10 & Super Mario Party: Rock Bottom and A New Hope

Here we are, the bottom of the barrel and the remake that was needed with Mario Party 10 and Super Mario Party respectively. It seems that with Mario Party 8 & 9 not exactly setting the world on fire, the developers decided to scrap the competitive focus and make Mario Party 10 a more cooperative game. Unfortunately, no sane person was there to tell them that you don’t make Mario Party cooperative. Just like you don’t combine ranch dressing and fish sauce with the sterling logic that both flavors work well together because you like them (spoiler: it won’t).

For me, the scales had fallen from my eyes back in Mario Party 8 & 9, but it seems like everyone else has reached that point with the tenth entry because absolutely no one ever mentions this game when people discuss great games in the series. The fact it was on the Wii U also didn’t help with that console being the red-headed stepchild of the Nintendo family.

I’ve only played this game a couple of times and there’s nothing memorable in this game that hasn’t happened to me in previous games. Let’s move onto a better game – namely Super Mario Party.

Oh man, so I got my switch and was so excited to play all the new Mario Party maps… all four of them. Well, then maybe they put a bunch of effort into the boards, right? Well… kinda. The board gimmicks are pretty much the same as previous entries in the franchise but each of the four boards are different enough so they don’t feel samey, but with only four, they lose their novelty pretty quick.

While the boards and number of maps are a bit on the lean side, the minigames are where it feels the majority of the development time went and they have got to be some of the best Mario Party games I’ve ever played (Sizzling Steaks!). It’s the first time since Mario Party 4 I’ve had to check the instructions and it was a great feeling.

Yes, Super Mario Party is a little lackluster in the quantity department, but the quality of the minigames is a real breath of fresh air and personally, I’ve had more fun with this game than any other in the series.

Mario at its finest

Here’s looking forward to the next Mario Party.

Have you played Mario Party? Which game’s your favorite? Let me know in the comments below.

Early Access: Ground Branch

To begin this article I have to ask you all something first. Have you ever wanted to play a game that had realism, tactics, and with a pinch of unique shooting mechanics? Welcome to Ground Branch, a realistic tactical shooter where you actually have to think like a Tier 1 Operator in order to play this game.

 

WHAT IS SO UNIQUE ABOUT GROUND BRANCH?

 

Ground Branch is not your every day “First Person Shooter”. The game puts legitimate elements together for you where you have to actually think about and how to overcome certain objectives.

Let me give you an example: think of a plane taken over by terrorists and the surrounding buildings. What would your approach be? Do you go in with stealth to take over the buildings before going to the plane? How would you get to the plane without being noticed or getting shot in a wide-open area? What weapon will you take with you? Do you take an M416D CQB or an M16 rifle? Do you want to go long-range and back up your team, or do you want to clear the plane in a close-quarters battle?

These are just some of the questions that you ask yourself when playing this game. Preparation is vital in this, and believe it or not, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to playing Ground Branch.

 

CO-OP/SINGLEPLAYER AND GEARING UP

 

If you want to squad up with your buddies and play some good ol’ fashion co-op mode, Ground Branch has you covered! When you start in a lobby, you will be placed in an Operations Center. This is where you can customize your loadout (Will talk more about customization further down!), test your equipment at the shooting range, vote on what map to play/match settings, or customize your character.

I’m gonna be honest here. When it comes to the customization in Ground Branch, I was completely blown away by how much attention to detail there is. When I put together my gun, I used the M416D CQB option(A carbine used for Close Quarters Battle) with a basic holographic sight, foregrip, suppressor, and laser sight.

Customizing my rifle was fun. You can place the foregrip anywhere on the under-barrel. You want it closer to where your magazine is? No problem! You want the sight a little bit further down on the rifle? You can do that!

If you wanna do some sniping but are concerned about getting up close with the enemy, you can put a sight on top of the scope! Just make sure the scope has a flat mount first, then you can put a mini red dot sight with the flat mount.

Let's move on to the character. You will have an encumbrance meter (Weight of gear that you are carrying)for your loadout, so be aware of that when customizing your operator. With every operator, you will have a chest rig or platform that holds your ammo. Now with this, you can put which type of ammo you want in your pouches. It usually defaults to your primary ammo, so I would keep it to that.

The same can be said for the grenades. If you want flashbangs or smoke grenades instead of the frag, you can change that out! I can go on and on about the customization, but I feel like I should leave some of it out so you can experience this for yourself!

Once you have everything you feel is the right fit for your loadout, you will find a briefing room where you can get a strategy going with your team and pick where to insert yourself on the map. The map will only give you two points of entry, so decide where you feel it is best suited for your loadout! When playing with bots, there are only two game modes to choose from. You will have the traditional Terrorist Hunt game mode and Intel Retrieval. You will also have mission settings where you set the difficulty, expected resistance, search time, etc.

 

IS THE GAMEPLAY ANY FUN?

 

The gameplay and gunplay in this game are extensive, so I will do my best to describe how fun it was while keeping it relatively short.

Again I want to reiterate the realism in this game. While going up against bots/other players, a single bullet can and will kill you (Insert Murphy's Laws Of Combat).

While I was playing, I noticed that arm strength is a real mechanic in this game, and if you keep your rifle up at the ready, you will sway a lot more than usual. In this case, I will introduce another mechanic to the gunplay. You can raise, lower, or ready your rifle from the hip before doing a breach and clear. You can even lean left and right out of cover to get a better shot without exposing most of your body.

If you want to go in with some stealth, you can find a panel and turn off the power to a building while your team readies at the door. While at the door, you can choose to open the door slowly and quietly while entering, keeping the element of surprise!

I will be honest, I had a lot of fun playing this game solo but wanted to try it out with a group of random people in co-op. Now I did have fun, but with all games, you will get a lot of people griefing you, but overall I had fun in the end.

Now I know I didn’t cover everything. I did that on purpose because I want you to try it out for yourself and discover what other mechanics are out there in Ground Branch.

So to finish off this article, if you are into tactical shooters where you need to think while playing, I would highly recommend this game. I do need to remind everyone that this game is in early access so everything is still subject to change! Have fun!!