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John Wick on steroids

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RICO
Nintendo Switch

JUST TO be clear from the outset: RICO stands on solid ground. As the acronym for “Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations,” it speaks to the procedurally generated action it offers, requiring the disposal of armed enemies with literal do-or-die persuasions. Gamers take on the role of a member of a special operations force charged with dismantling extremely entrenched criminal groups. Random missions need to be completed in the process, but the overriding objective in invariably involves getting any and all lowlife scums to meet their maker one room at a time.

If RICO sounds like John Wick on steroids, that’s because it is. The pace is frantic, giving gamers the impression that barreling through is best. No small measure of strategy is required, however. Even as weapons abound, for instance, the right choice at a given time determines the degree by which the body count keeps rising. The triggering of bullet time for a handful of seconds after gamers kick in a door provides the ideal opportunity to take down enemies, but accuracy, range, and frequency of fire are dependent on the type of munitions used. Needless to say, fire is taken as well. Death renders the rest of the mission unplayable, thus resulting in a veritable forfeit of the opportunity to earn more valuable Merits.

RICO provides an alternative: Turning back to the door first opened effectively ends the level. Parenthetically, the prospect of more rewards and unlocks via the elimination of more enemies needs to be weighed against the potential depletion of the health meter; sometimes, taking a step back now is better, if only to later on move two steps ahead. Be forewarned, though: The game is very, very hard, even on the lowest difficulty setting. And, akin to rogue-like offerings, dying means starting over. Which makes help crucial, if not critical — leading to an important point on how it is best appreciated.

RICO touts itself as a game for “up to two players.” Because it’s extremely difficult to beat alone, however, an extra pair of hands isn’t just recommended, but necessary. And here’s the good news: It thrives on cooperative play. When the Switch is docked, the screen is split by a horizontal bar to show the partners’ progress separately. When undocked and online, gameplay takes the entire visual real estate. Unfortunately, it hits a couple of snags in this regard. First, finding a fellow player out in the wild isn’t easy due to evident region restrictions. Second, the absence of a voice chat option makes the coordination of actions, crucial to proper planning and implementation, a chore at best.

RICO is far from perfect technically; load times to generate levels border on irritating. Even the so-called randomness they’re supposed to produce reaches a limit; after a while, gamers would be lucky not to get a “been there, done that” vibe. Frame rates are all over the place, and can be jarring to the senses; they’re especially bothersome to the point of affecting the interface when there’s a lot going on. The same goes for the inconsistent distance rendering, which makes the search for objects unfairly difficult. And, yes, it could have benefited from ambient music.




All the same, RICO manages to earn its keep by compelling gamers to strike the right balance between going all in and proceeding with caution. Because each mission has a 24-hour limit, there is a temptation to barrel through rooms with guns blazing in an effort to save time. The flipside, however, comes by way of increased susceptibility to injury and proximity to death. In other words, they’re given the power of choice, and, ideally, with backup from start to finish.

THE GOOD:

• Frenetic action

• Strategy required

• Outstanding implementation of bullet time

• Cooperative gameplay raises replay value

THE BAD:

• Just about impossible to beat in single-player mode

• Technical issues, including frame drops and long load times

• Online play a chore to set up

RATING: 7.5/10

A SCREENCAP from Lust for Darkness

POSTSCRIPT: Nintendo isn’t normally predisposed to allowing content that serves to titillate, so Lust for Darkness is, if nothing else, among the few titles on the eShop that limit their appeal to mature audiences. No doubt its status as an exception to the rule stems from the necessity of the explicit displays of intimacy in moving the narrative forward. Gamers take on the perspective of principal protagonist Jonathan Moon, who strives to save his wife, missing for a year, from the clutches of a cult bent on creating pathways to the underworld Lusst’ghaa and summoning an eldritch being through a ceremony in which they succumb to pleasures of the flesh.

Lust for Darkness promises to keep gamers on the edge of their seats with its unique take on psychological horror, but provides for no subtlety in pushing the boundaries of its medium. The setup is fairly engrossing, if straightforward. Moon heads to an appropriately sinister mansion on the strength of a letter he receives from his missing wife. As he ventures to save her, he finds himself going up against members of the cult and inhabitants of Lusst’ghaa as it begins to meld with the Victorian abode.

In this regard, developer Movie Games Lunarium strives to amp up the scares and keep gamers on their toes through varied gameplay. Its roots as a walking simulator are evident in its linear progression, with Moon having to do significant exploration work — examining his surroundings, opening lockers, poring through items, and so on and so forth — while going through passageways and corridors. On the flipside, it offers enough doses of stealth movement, running, and puzzle solving for the interest of the more impatient lot to be retained.

Unfortunately, Lust for Darkness seems an update or two away from becoming a solid port on the Nintendo Switch. As good as its personal computer version may be, it gets bogged down on the hybrid console by hardware and programming limitations. Frame drops are evident even with all the graphical sacrifices, and the Lovecraft-inspired imagery Movie Games Lunarium wants to bring to the fore sometimes gets lost in the literal absence of light. The ambient music does help convey the right atmosphere, but the voice acting, while getting the job done, could be better.

In the end, Lust for Darkness winds up being betrayed by its own hype. It begins with great promise; even the hefty 12.9-gigabyte eShop download seems to pledge results. Meanwhile, it’s a five-hour run-through at best, signifying that it would have fared better with tempered expectations. That said, investing in it does yield not inconsequential benefits; the more gamers collect in-game items (tomes, artifacts, and the like), the more they get to delve into the game’s underlying mythology — culminating in an unlocked cutscene that ties a ribbon around the narrative. It’s good on the whole, but sets a low bar for the upcoming sequel to hurdle. (6.5/10)

As the title of developer Crazy Panda’s entry to the tower-defense genre suggests, Evil Defenders tries to distinguish itself from its teeming competition by placing gamers on the side of the industry’s usual enemies. The aim to be different manifests itself in the narrative, which — as told through cutscenes featuring still images — begins with a bar fight among humans and sets up their quest for riches by invading a neighboring kingdom inhabited by forces of darkness. The mobile roots are obvious, as there is little by way of exposition. On the flipside, the Nintendo Switch port requires no microtransactions typical of small-screen offerings; all the content is available from the get-go.

In this regard, Evil Defenders succeeds in delivering the goods. There are 90 levels all told spread across 15 mission maps, and gamers will be spending not inconsiderable time going for and implementing countless upgrades on up to 60 towers on tap. For the purpose, currencies in the form of souls are collected from vanquished humans and upon completion of stages. And, make no mistake, upping stats and acquiring special attacks are a requisite to keep the hordes of attackers at bay. The skill trees are complex, if rewarding, and imbue a sense of accomplishment that engender continued playing.

The action can be frenetic, with the pace of proceedings underscored further by commanding music. Thankfully, Evil Defenders implements touchscreen controls well. As a matter of preference, gamers can instead opt for Joy-Cons or the Pro Controller, and with equal efficiency; there is a learning curve, through, as the analog sticks can prove too sensitive for comfort. In any case, the bottom line is the same: hours upon hours of intense, edge-of-seat gaming, where the historically wrong side is portrayed as the right side — and, with the right moves, the winning side. (8/10)

THE FINAL WORD: Considering that highly regarded MSX title La-Mulana was previously remade from scratch for Nintendo’s WiiWare library, the announcement of its upcoming release for the Switch platform comes as no surprise. And here’s even more good news: Nippon Ichi Software America isn’t just packaging it both physically and on the eShop with its sequel: it’s going multi-platform, targeting PlayStation 4 and Xbox One gamers as well. Needless to say, the inclusion of Kickstarter-backed La-Mulana 2, already available in Japan, figures to provide ample bang for the buck to the set slated to be out in the West next year.

To contend that NISA is going all in on the twin puzzle platformers would be an understatement. In its PAX West panel at the Seattle Convention Center over the weekend, game designer Takumi Naramura expounded on the process of bringing the adventures of archaeologist Lemeza Kosugi and daughter Lumisa to life on eighth-generation systems. Meanwhile, a Hidden Treasures Edition — which will include copies of the title, an art book, a two-CD collection of the original and arranged soundtracks, and a jigsaw puzzle — is already up for preorder on the NISA Online Store.

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