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.
Poor Iratus was struck down on the eve of world conquest, his undead horde scattered to the earth. But a good villain never stays dead, least of all a master of necromancy. Starting from the deepest bowels, Iratus must raise a new army of undead monsters to scour dungeons in this compelling tactical-strategy roguelike RPG, Iratus: Lord of the Dead.
Iratus plays like a reverse Darkest Dungeon. Instead of grim heroes delving into dungeons and braving increasing horrors, Iratus is hell-bent on bringing those horrors to the surface.
Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Expanse made it to Book 5 before they finally had their Empire Strikes Back, both in tone and excellence.
Unlike the previous novels, Nemesis Games takes our heroic space-faring foursome and splits them up, with everyone getting their own PoV chapters. It’s like in a tabletop RPG campaign where we focus on individual characters and their own personal stories – except here the book deftly weaves these stories into the main plot as everyone becomes entwined in an apocalyptic event that sets up all new stakes, alliances, and warfare within the inner systems. And we witness it unfold from four different angles! It also finally brings fan-favorite past supporting characters like Bobbie Draper and Clarissa Mao in really cool ways.
My only complaint is that it doesn’t really conclude, instead serving up an intriguing springboard into a new main plot.
Nemesis Games is easily the best book of the entire series up to this point. I only hope the rest of the novels can keep up the momentum.
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Moon Rising by Tui T. Sutherland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I respect the hell out of a fantasy series that’s as much about the world as the individual characters. The first five books in Wings of Fire told its own complete story of the Sandwing Succession. Moon Rising represents the first in the next series of books starring new characters, though most of our old favorites make frequent appearances.
Instead of fleeing the tyranny of dragon queens and fighting for their lives, this new group of dragonets must survive the drama of the new Jade Mountain Academy, a school opened by our original heroes to help bring the formerly warring dragon tribes together.
Moon is a unique Nightwing who actually does possess the legendary mind-reading powers of her tribe. The story is less action-packed and much more introspective, with Moon as a young-adult mutant or inhuman (from Marvel comics) viewing her powers as an ostracizing curse, and her mentor may or may not be a legendary dragon supervillain from ages past.
As much as I enjoyed her character and her supporting cast, including exuberant Kinkajou (first introduced in the third book) and likable friend Qibli (from the fifth book), the plot moves agonizing slow due to all the internal dialogue. A murder mystery helps shake things up, though the final revelation isn’t terribly shocking, and the end serves as more of a springboard to the next series than a satisfying conclusion to the story.
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I’m a latecomer to the Dragon Quest series, having played through and enjoyed Dragon Quest 9 and 11, and bits of 7 and 8 via the semi-recent 3DS remasters. But I’m completely unfamiliar with Dragon Quest 5: Hand of the Heavenly Bride (1992), from which the new feature-length animated film Dragon Quest Your Story is based on.
Turning a 40+ hour RPG into a 100 minute film is a daunting task, beginning with the well-known stigma of adapting any video game onto the big (or small) screen, yet Dragon Quest Your Story distills all the game’s major events and fun characters into a film that should please fans and newcomers alike.
Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made by Jason Schreier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I don’t usually read nonfiction, preferring to escape into genre stories amidst all the news and feature articles I read on a daily basis, but Blood, Sweat, and Pixels is an absolute gem. Jason Schreier is one of the best gaming journalists in the business and provides an excellent compilation of ten feature-length, source-based articles, each focusing on a different game around the 2012-2015 era.
Video game development is incredibly complicated and challenging, with big-budget titles zooming into the tens of millions with hundreds of employees and years of labor, some of which is grueling overtime. Challenges include company mismanagement, corporate takeovers, and technology woes, all in the vein of triumphing over adversity.
Even as a freelance writer who covers much of the gaming industry and has interviewed many developers, the stories and quotes in here are sobering. Yet Schreier always maintains an aura of positivity and hopefulness about game development, including how initially mediocre games (like Diablo 3 and Destiny) can be vastly improved years later.
Blood, Sweat, and Pixels is easily accessible even for complete gaming neophytes, and highly recommend for anyone interested in the enriching stories of modern game development.
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Shovel Knight was one of the most popular and well-received indie games of the last several years, lovingly ripping off NES-era pixels and gameplay.
With fun abilities, excellent level designs, and a charming art style, I’m declaring Kunai the Shovel Knight of 2020, though Kunai shoulders the much more expansive (and oft-overused) genre of metroidvania, and not without some significant growing pains.
Cooperative dungeon crawling is one of my favorite digital past-times, and the same is true for tabletop gaming. In Petersen Games’ 8 Bit Attack, the pixelated dungeon has been distilled into a series of boss battles against aliens and demons, culminating in a gigantic showdown with Cthulhu himself.
The character and monster variety create lots of different situations, though the dice-chucking gameplay wears out its welcome long before it’s over.