Stop me if you’ve heard this before: young woman is talented (or super-powered) but annoyingly neurotic and passive, spending a lot of time pining over two different men in her life (at least one of whom is a childhood friend) within an oppressive sci-fi or fantasy setting.
Shadow and Bone proudly wears the clothing of a typical youthful heroine YA novel, but ultimately won me over with its intriguing fantasy world. Ravka is more war-torn than authoritatively dystopian, featuring a realm of pure magical blackness filled with nightmare creatures that divides the kingdom.
This is a world of 18th century technology (rifles!) mixed with X-Men mutants who can essentially cast unlimited spells within certain masteries, like fire, wind, or darkness. These Grisha are powerful, but carefully trained and managed by the kingdom – not hunted and down and captured like most YA novels would devolve into.
Alina is still a bit of a whip with little agency of her own most of the time, but she has a solid character arc in the first novel as she awakens to her powers, discovers the truth about the Unsea, and rediscovers her true love. It’s a quick, easy read, and ends on a high note that makes me interested in reading the rest of the series and learning more about this world.
Uprooted is a twisted fairy tale. It’s a romance-fantasy novel. It’s a horror story. It’s a swords-and-sorcery fantasy epic. Uprooted is somehow all of these things, telling a wonderfully intriguing fantasy story that builds and builds, and more importantly, satisfyingly concludes, within 350 pages.
The story starts off a bit slow, and first-person narration always takes a bit for me to get used to. Agnieskha isn’t a typical fantasy hero; reluctant may even be too strong a word, but once we get over her awkward pragmatism and she begins learning how to cast spells her own way, we can’t help but root for her (pun intended). The way Novik describes spellcasting in this world is sublime, evoking a beautiful symphony of poetry, music, and emotion.
The book effortlessly bounds between genres in relatively short time, giving us breathtaking romance, character-driven political intrigue, exciting chase sequences, dramatic battles, and exhilarating moments of action-horror that reminded me of Aliens in all the right ways.
And then there’s The Wood. Never have I felt such fear and terror of this world’s uniquely antagonistic location. The Wood is a malevolent force with its own agenda, minions, and abilities, and discovering all its reasoning and intentions as the plot unfurls is incredibly rewarding. If you can get past the admittedly slow, fairytale-like start, you’ll find a worthy fantasy story that refreshingly doesn’t take thousands of pages to unfurl.
Immortals Fenyx Rising may be a smaller version of Breath of the Wild, but it’s still an incredibly dense game. Even if you’re an open-world expert, we’ve compiled some tips as you take your first baby steps into this colorful, mythological world.
The Earth is lost (no shocker there). Our only chance for survival is aboard a massive colony ship called the Drakar. As a member of NORSE (the Nordic Office for Research into Space Exploration), your job is to help the ship, and the remnants of humanity, survive whatever problems may arise as you make your way to the promised planet of Valhalla in this micro-RPG that uses a set of dominoes instead of dice.
If you’re going to shamelessly copy gameplay, style, and art from a single game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a pretty darn good specimen to draw from. Immortals Fenyx Rising may be Ubsioft’s answer to Nintendo’s grand adventure, but also trims much of the fat of open world games, along with a humorous style that’s surprisingly charming.
Taking a cue from the much-loved co-op series Overcooked,Unrailed is a zany co-op survival adventure in which a team of players hurry to mine resources and lay tracks to keep their unstoppable train from crashing.
Unrailed lacks the visual charm of Overcooked but adds more dire stakes as the tracks stretch farther and farther.
As far as classic 80s franchises go, none may be as sacred and universally beloved as the Back to the Future trilogy. The adventurous time-traveling series remains mercifully untouched by modern adaptations, but that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve a proper modern board game – or two!
Back to the Future: Dice Through Time (not to be confused with Back to the Future: Back in Time, another cooperative BTTF board game that released this year), continues Ravensburger’s trend of turning popular film franchises into satisfying, family-friendly tabletop experiences.
What is the difference between a new game and a remake? Despite being labeled as an all-new game in the tower-defense series, Dungeon Defenders: Awakened is clearly a remake of the original 2010 game.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the original Dungeon Defenders effectively combined tower defense gameplay with co-op action. The formula remains as fun as it was a decade ago, though it’s disappointing to see so little improvement or changes.
Beat ‘Em Ups were all the rage in the 90s. The simple, fun co-op action games fit well in arcade machines, then on home consoles. Sega’s Streets of Rage series was one of the best, with smooth gameplay, varied levels and enemies, and killer soundtracks. But as the attitude era of arcade machines and street punks in leather jackets and colorful mohawks faded, so too did the side-scrolling genre.
Fast-forward over 25 years since Streets of Rage 3. Video games have advanced at an incredible rate, and the once popular genre has been regulated to old-school nostalgia. Streets of Rage 4 suddenly crashes into a smokey alley in a Delorian, as punks and ninjas run in from both sides. The genre never died; it’s been waiting just off screen for the developers at Dotemu and Lizardcube to create an amazing modernized sequel.