Corpse Party: Book of Shadows (Computer) Review

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As much as I’d like to review this as a standalone title, I can’t in any good mind recommend playing it without previously experiencing the first game. With Book of Shadows acting as a prequel, sequel, and midquel, it aims to supplement the events of Heavenly Host Elementary School and the characters trapped within. Considering this, the following review will include minor spoilers to the first game, mentioning the events in general, as well as a few of the game’s endings. If you’re interested in the series, you can find the first game on PSP (or Vita via PSN), iOS, 3DS, and PC, so give it a go and check this out later.

Anthology of Agony

Where the Corpse Party told a fluid story in five chapters, Book of Shadows takes an entirely different approach. Set before, during, after, and in alternate endings of the first game, it fleshes out the world and its characters in a way that simply wasn’t previously possible. From a gameplay perspective, a lot has changed. Discarding the previous game’s RPG aesthetic and style, Book of Shadows relies on the player’s perceptive eyes and puzzling prowess to move through maps and interact with the world in a point and click environment. On top of this, it introduces several changes to the formula, two of the more notable ones being darkening, and the ability to save anywhere.

As an idea, darkening also existed in the first game. The process of losing yourself to the school’s ever-present ambience of dread and sorrow, it could cause a character to act on emotion, leaving them vulnerable to possession from vengeful spirits. While the lore remains consistent, Book of Shadows introduces this idea as a gameplay mechanic. Comparable to a sanity meter in other games, it increases with certain in-game events, or by interacting with things such as dead bodies. Outside of these, it also serves to penalise you for making wild guesses or not having the right equipment in specific scenarios. With some events locked behind a certain darkening percentage, you get a real sense of the school changing and warping, especially for those looking to examine each dead body for its nametag. If you let the meter reach its limit, the chapter will end in either a wrong end or a game over.

With the series known for its branching paths and list of unfortunate ends, saving frequently has always been important. Where the Corpse Party’s RPG gameplay lent itself to specified save points within the confines of the world, I feel this would have been much more difficult to implement in a point and click environment. Saving would move from finding notable landmarks as you explore, to being frustrating points to look out for in each scene. With this in mind, you are able to save through the menu as and when you please, as well as the game making automatic saves at key decision points. While you could technically save wherever you wanted in the 3DS version of Repeated Fear through what is most likely an oversight, Book of Shadows appreciates this design choice far more, largely because of the contrasting gameplay styles. Repeating an event by navigating through an environment with potentially missed hazards and interactions, paired with the ability to remove the already-limited option of saving during tense scenes versus simply holding a button to skip a wall of text, before methodically clicking in the correct places—while I would have appreciated free saving in the previous title, it’s here where it’s needed.

The final change worth mentioning isn’t one from the first game to this, but the result of porting the game from PSP to PC. The biggest part of this is of course the updated graphics. Everything looks cleaner, the CG graphics in particular standing out along with the menus and text boxes. I was quite surprised to see the inclusion of the first game’s CG assets if the game detects its save data as well. Though also included in the PSP version, it feels far more significant here. With the PC version of Corpse Party not including the CG assets of Repeated Fear on the PSP and 3DS, this is the first time fans of the series will be able to see them in such high quality. Where I shrugged them off in the PSP version, I found myself actively looking through and appreciating their inclusion. Add to this a far more natural point and click experience with, put bluntly, the ability to actually point and click, and you have what is likely to be the best way to play this game. Where you lose portability, you gain easier accessibility, better graphics, and a more natural feeling control style. Which version is for you will come down to what you value more, but with no additional content added to the PC release outside of high quality CG assets, there isn’t much incentive to double dip outside of wanting an easy way to replay the game.

As a more general note, I’m happy to see how well the game runs on low-powered machines. Though the introduction cutscene for some reason runs at an atrocious framerate on a low-spec system, the rest of the game is fluid and a joy to experience. To be clear, this was a very low spec laptop. Pushing the boat out a little further, I also wanted to try the game with a graphics tablet, taking the point and click gameplay as far as I can imagine. All in all, it worked great. Though I had to do a small swipe for it to register as a click, it’s something fun I’d recommend trying if you have a tablet lying around. If you’re a more traditional player, the game can be controlled solely with a mouse, a keyboard, or a combination of both, as well as with a gamepad like the PSP version before it, so there should be something for everybody.

Considering the game’s anthological nature, I’ll discuss each chapter briefly as a separate entity, looking at where they fit in the series chronology, what they bring to the table, and how I rate them. To be clear, while I won’t be spoiling plot elements outside of what you’d learn from five minutes of playing the chapter, there will be details of the original game used to give them context. Most of this should be relatively minor in nature, but you should stop reading here if you haven’t played the first game and ignored the warning at the start of the review.


Continuing from Wrong End 6 of Chapter 5, Seal follows Naomi as she repeats the events of the first game with a feeling she knows of the events to come. What makes this chapter particularly interesting is in its highlighting of how Book of Shadows is different to its predecessor. By starting the game in the same area with the same series of events, you’re brought into the world again gently, giving you time to adjust to the changes before the prior knowledge of events becomes more prominent.

There isn’t much in the way of branching paths or additional endings, but the wrong ends are easily recognisable and again serve to provide an idea of familiarity with the events. Where this chapter really shines is in giving the same areas you recognise a new feel in the ways you can experience them. It also does well in setting the tone for the rest of the game. No longer able to rely on Corpse Party’s graphical disconnection to warp twisted scenes to the darkest thought in your mind, Book of Shadows presents it in all its gruesomeness as a sight to behold. Whether this is something you appreciate or not, I see it as a largely unavoidable design choice given the genre shift. There are of course still some things a little too dark to be shown, often the depiction of torture, relying on the series’ ever-sickeningly brilliant audio design to force you into visualising them for yourself. Though not overly present in Seal, it does well in teasing you into the quality of gameplay to come.


Also following Wrong End 6, Demise looks at Mayu as she arrives in Heavenly Host. Similarly to Naomi in Seal, Mayu has a premonition of the events of Corpse Party. With this lingering in her mind, she explores the halls hoping to be reunited with her friends.

Where Seal thrived in an alternate look on familiar events, Demise is interesting for its look at Mayu in general. For obvious reasons, she never had a lot of time to be developed in the first game, and seeing how she reacts to the environment and its woes is far more a fresh experience than I was expecting. It feels like it could have also been the first chapter were it not for Seal’s parallels with the first chapter of Corpse Party. Also featuring a reasonable array of wrong ends, one in particular lingering in my mind for its haunting screams and sound effects, there’s a fair bit of exploration and discovery to be had. It’s a good chapter all in all, but finds itself riding on the strengths of the series without really doing much in the way of anything new.


Though being by far the most linear of the chapters, with no exploration or nametags to be found, Encounter stands out to me. A prequel to the events of Corpse Party, it primarily features Yui Shishido as she feverishly recalls a rainy night of her school days. 

Being one of the shortest chapters, it’s hard to say much without spoiling the experience. Out of all of them, it was this one that truly instilled dread in me. The writing and sound design really stood out in building a tense and gripping scene—add to this the single most horrific piece of artwork in the series and you may too find yourself feverishly recalling this nightmare fuel. Because of its length and linearity, it might not be a favourite for all, but I felt it a nice change of pace after Demise. With a good number of wrong ends from poor decision making, it also goes a long way in making you appreciate the automatic saves.


Where Encounter may be my favourite for the degree of tension and fear it provided, Purgatory stands out for another reason. A prequel to the events of the first game, you get the chance to learn about paranormal enthusiast Naho Saenoki and the events that lead to her arrival in Heavenly Host.

Shining a light on the minor characters of Corpse Party is a large part of what makes Book of Shadows so interesting. Furthering the idea of this being more a supplement than a sequel to the first game, it expands the world in ways I never knew I wanted. Here we see Kibiki and Taguchi in a human environment, we see a character previously only mentioned as a nametag and a note, we see Naho’s enthusiasm and her drive. With the first game’s presentation of a fluid and largely linear story, it didn’t really have much of a chance to go into such detail for character backgrounds without an express reason to reminisce. Book of Shadows being free to tell individual and detached stories, Purgatory thrives in feeding you the information previously left unsaid, and gives you a feel for the larger picture.


Back in the chronology of Wrong End 6, the spotlight turns to Morishige, a character previously only touched upon as he gave into anguish and madness. The chapter opening with a monologue of his familiar love for the dead and a recap of relevant events from the first game, the focus soon shifts to some familiar faces from Byakudan as they explore the school’s second wing.

While I find myself fonder of other chapters, Shangri-La doesn’t necessarily do anything wrong. It’s one of the longer chapters, featuring a significant amount of small puzzles and quirks, as well as the most wrong ends in the game. I enjoy seeing more of Morishige, but aside from Kizami, I never found myself growing particularly attached to those from Byakudan. It’s as though a lot of them are just ‘another character’, and while that might have been true for the first game, their establishment here as something more ultimately doesn’t sit well with me. It’s quite contrary to my love of learning more about the world, but it feels as though this chapter could have been better spent on something more significant. All of this being said, even not being fond of the main cast, the familiar girl in red weaving herself into the tale is enough to keep me invested, the wrong ends being some of the best on offer. If you enjoy the Byakudan characters, this will be an enjoyable chapter from start to end.

A small quirk I noticed when playing this chapter was how some of the CG artwork was uncensored when compared to the PSP release, or at least less censored. The image above is a good example, taken from Morishige’s opening dialogue. If you look up footage for the PSP version, you’ll see far more of her body covered in black. I can assume this is because the PC version is unrated, and I can also assume there are more images like this I haven’t noticed having not played the PSP version in so long. If you’re one for the purist experience, there could be some entertainment to be found in comparing the graphics used. It’s strange none of the promotional material advertised this, but the difference in image is far too great to put down to a difference in resolution. 


Mire is an odd chapter. Set during the events of Wrong End 2, it details Yuka’s capture and eventual escape from Kizami. This being Corpse Party, this of course means getting an awkward panty shot from Yuka as Kizami is ready to cut her, but once you’re past that and into the bulk of it, it does a good amount to redeem itself.

Yuka is my least favourite character of the series, and I can say that unashamedly. With her entire character being that she needs the toilet and wants her brother, she irritates me to the point of being annoyed at the mere memory of her. Even considering this, I thoroughly came to enjoy Mire. Unsurprisingly, it isn’t Yuka that redeemed this chapter, but her interactions with others that simply wouldn’t have been possible with the rest of the cast. Again it’s not among my favourite chapters, but it’s hard to hold it against the game for featuring a character I dislike. If anything, it should be commended for crafting an enjoyable experience using her.


If the PC version of Corpse Party is how you experienced the first game, you’ll recognise this chapter from the offset. Telling the same tale as the game’s fourth extra chapter, you learn why Tohko was missing a tooth when Mochida first found her.

I’d like to be consistent in my thoughts and say I didn’t enjoy this, not being fond of the Byakudan cast, but Kizami really is enough to keep me hooked. It’s a neat story with little that can go wrong. I can’t say whether I preferred it as a point and click, or in the PC version of Corpse Party, but if you’ve come from any other version of the first game, this should be an enjoyable, albeit short, tale.

Blood Drive

The only chapter to continue from Corpse Party’s true end, Blood Drive serves as the bridge between the first game and the aptly named third game Corpse Party: Blood Drive. Of all the content in Book of Shadows, this chapter felt the closest to traditional Corpse Party. Whether this is because it’s the story’s intended route, or because of the nature of the events, it had me completely terrified and engaged, despite its lack of bad ends.

Following Naomi and Ayumi after their escape from Heavenly Host, they venture to the Shinozaki Estate in hopes of bringing back the memories of all the friends who had died. With the stakes high, but not necessarily tied to whether the characters survive, Blood Drive has a different vibe about it. It’s as though the characters are fighting for a shred of hope, in oppose to a desperate struggle for survival. It’s refreshing, and sets up for the third game in as good a way as I could have hoped.


All in all, Book of Shadows is a game that does not have mass appeal, and I mean that to no demerit of its quality. This is an experience for fans of Corpse Party to bring themselves closer to the characters and the world they’ve already come to love. Putting a particular light on Sachiko’s sadistic nature, you have an experience of fear and dread, paired with haunting writing and audio design, all crafted in such a way as to answer questions you never thought to ask. A game of horror and surprise, and of Sachiko Ever After, it’s a must-have for any lover of the series.

Fire Pro Wrestling World (PlayStation 4) Review

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The world of wrestling is one I haven’t touched since the GameCube-era WWE games, but one I found undeniable joy in. From their flamboyant and dramatic moves, to their customisable wrestlers, and their frantic multiplayer action, these games found a firm place in my library. As time went on, they went unplayed and forgotten—a sad fate for such tales of power and grandeur. Roll on 2018, a year of highs and lows, and the year I once again delve into the genre.

First Impressions

With my last experience quite possibly over a decade ago, I was somewhat unknowing as to what I was getting myself into. Loading into the game for the first time to see a small menu populated with a seemingly infinite number of customisations and settings, I found myself simultaneously under and overwhelmed. Momentarily questioning whether this was really a game for me, I jumped into the core single player mode Fighting Road hoping for things to be explained in a way as to get me started. This was a mistake.

After what I can’t deny to be a fun and engaging introduction to the New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) sport, I made a rather basic character and jumped into the ring. 20 minutes. 20 minutes of mashing buttons each time the fighters grappled, of pressing every direction and combination to try to break free of holds, of pinning and praying. My wrists cried out in pain and I really thought that was it, that this game would leave me in the dark. Don’t get me wrong, I can understand how hand-holding in games is becoming more and more of an issue to some, but to give me nothing but a button layout to work with; I was in awe.

It was only when looking into its original PC release I came to realise how the game was structured. The Fighting Road mode that makes up the majority of the game’s single player content wasn’t a part of the base game, in fact releasing around the same time as the complete PS4 version I’ve been playing. With it technically being additional content, I can understand the lack of tutorial, with a PC player picking up this DLC assumed to know the ins and outs of the game. Further exploration of the menus lead me to the game’s Mission Mode, and in it, the game’s six tutorial missions, outlining standard procedure and timing for basic gameplay events such as grapples and pinning.

Continuing past the tutorials in this mode, the game puts you through challenges of increasing difficulty and complexity to really get you acquainted with how to play, and how to use the full abilities of your fighter. To be quite honest, they’re fantastic at what they’re trying to do, and acted as a great supplement to the knowledge I had elsewhere acquired. It might be a little strange for me to have included these first impressions, especially considering much of them stem from my misunderstanding of the game’s modes as a whole—but if I could so easily make this mistake, what would stop others? Quite amusingly in retrospect, the game does tell you to start with Mission Mode in its menu flavour text, but I’d have appreciated some kind of pointer to it when starting the game, instead of having to come across it after the fact.

This isn’t something to hold against the game too harshly, with you only having to learn how to play once, but I can see the frustration of a 20 minute button mashing slug fest being enough to put some off and paint a picture of the game far worse than it realistically should have been.

Into the Ring

With a firm understanding of the ins and outs, I once again jumped into the ring, and what an experience it was. The best place to start when talking about the core action is the regular exhibition match. Using what I assume to be standard pro wrestling rules, your aim is to put on a show for the audience, and end with your opponent pinned to the count of three. You have the purist experience here, and it shines a brilliant light on the options and technicality on offer.

The game’s use of 2D sprites in an isometric 3D environment at first feels awkward and poorly thought out, but the more you play, the more you use this environment to your advantage. Both landing and dodging attacks requires precision and thought, and gives you a real sense of intricacy in the footwork and movement. While the fighting can be simplified down to weak, medium, and strong attacks, as well as running and grappling, in each of these you have an expansive set of choices. You want to wear down your opponent’s stamina, but you also want to stay in control of the game, you want to retain your own stamina, but you want to take some hits to put on a show. There are options, satisfying blows, and a real sense of back and forth until one person triumphs over the over; it is engaging and some of the most fun I’ve had playing with a friend in a good while.

From this standard match, the game branches out. Still following the same rules, you have barbed wire and landmine deathmatches. While the win conditions and structure of the matches are the same, what differs in these lies outside of the ring. Instead of a simple timer starting when your opponent is thrown out, they are greeted with explosive barbed wire and landmines respectively, each dealing huge damage. It also puts an emphasis on getting your opponent out of the ring, often causing me to switch my strategy from the standard match.

Contrary to the previous two, cage deathmatches put a large cage around the ring, and task you with breaking out as a unique win condition. You can also switch this to a more normal three count, or your opponent being unable to continue fighting if you want the confines of the cage without the match changing too drastically in objective. Beyond this, you have the match types that really start to alter the gameplay. You have gruesome fighting, and SWA rules. Both of these use a mixed martial arts (MMA) ruleset of rounds, knockdowns, and TKO wins, but are setup slightly differently. SWA rules try to blend MMA with wrestling, the fight happening in a normal ring and each round lasting ten minutes and victory being possible by pinning. Gruesome fighting however takes place in the 12-sided dodecagon cage. With five rounds of three minutes as standard, and the only victory coming from your opponent being unable to continue, it truly earns its gruesome title.

The final match type, S-1 rules, presents a playstyle closer to boxing. Limiting you to just striking attacks, you fight in rounds of three minutes with victory by TKO and knockout available. While each of these modes are varied and incredibly fun in and of themselves, the level to which they can be customised stands out. Win conditions, round length, round amount, weapon types; if you don’t like a mode, you can make a mode you like. This flexibility extends far beyond settings for matches, and into the majority of the game.

Custom Everything

Edit Mode takes the third spot on the main menu, and there’s a good reason for that. You can create your own wrestlers, you can create your own referees, teams, even a hot pink and neon green ring should you so desire. There is so much on offer to the point of it easily overwhelming you if you want to make everything your own from the offset. Among my favourite things about the customisations is the ability to take your favourite fighter from the game and edit them to your liking. Bobby Bobby has taken my heart in this game, and being able to make him look like a tomato is something I never thought I’d have. And yet here I am, fighting with Tommy Tommy. With more than 700 parts to be layered in any which way you want, your wrestling squad is limited only by your creativity.

If you’re so inclined, you can also share and download creations via FPW Net. While I can appreciate the inclusion of this, its implementation is somewhat awkward. Instead of it being integrated into the game’s menus, for some reason it sees you go through the PS4 browser to subscribe to the items you want. It’s fine. I’ve never been fond of the PS4 browser, but it gives plenty of options to filter and sort through the ocean of user-submitted content. I wish they could have made something a little more intuitive, but it does the job well enough.

Want to be the Very Best?

As the game’s core single player content, Fighting Road tasks you with creating your own character, and building them from match to match to become the best in your own way. There’s a lot I can praise here. Between giving the game a sense of progression, fun dialogue, and a genuinely recognisable cast of characters for fans of Japanese wrestling thanks to a collaboration with NJPW, this mode goes from strength to strength. A highlight for me is the introduction of each new character, telling you who they are, what they’ve done, and why you should care, all with photos of them in action. It almost comes across as an advert for NJPW at times, but in as good a way as can possibly be. It had me looking up these fighters as they appeared, giving this mode a layer of depth that would be impossible without this collaboration.

Leading on from this, it surprised me how much I enjoyed seeing the characters throughout the story. Though I can’t quite put it into words, there was something gripping about seeing and interacting with photos of the fighters, in oppose to drawn counterparts or something similar. From their expressions to their attire, everything felt natural, well-written, and as a whole just incredibly fun. Leading my character Ippo Makunouchi from wrestling amateur to champion was a joy, and one I’d be happy to repeat. Putting a focus on strength and endurance with this character, I could see myself coming back to try a different style of fighter, or even try playing without investing any training points at all for an additional challenge. Aside from the lack of signposting for how to play the game before starting as mentioned earlier, I really struggle to find fault. I can certainly understand why players of the PC version would spend £14.99 on this as additional content.

I came into this game with no expectations beyond wanting a good time, and a good time I did get. Though a somewhat rocky start, largely due to my own ineptitude, Fire Pro Wrestling World is a game I can recommend wholeheartedly. Whether played with friends or alone, there is content aplenty to keep you gripped and grappled for hours at a time.

Super Mario Party (Nintendo Switch) Review

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Turning on the game for the first time, Super Mario Party feels different from the offset. Before so much as greeting the title screen, you’re asked to commit how many players and systems are participating in your party, the maximum here being four players spread across either one or two systems. After locking in your choice, you get your standard Mario Party setup: Mario and friends are arguing over who the superstar is, and it can naturally only be settled by board game. Added to the mix for the first time is Bowser and his cohort of minions, the Koopa King himself convinced one of his crew has what it takes to prove themselves the superstar. The setup here isn’t much, but it does everything it needs to for the game to kick off straight away. After this, you pick your party entourage and off you head to the plaza!

The Party Plaza is a small area you can explore with the other members of your party following behind you. Though it serves as little more than a means of choosing your game mode, I appreciate how it brings the world together and gives your characters a genuine sense of togetherness and comradery to be later destroyed as you betray one another in traditional fashion. Before jumping into each game mode, there are a few smaller things worth noting. First, there’s no touch control for menus or wandering the plaza. With the focus on multiplayer aspects, it makes sense for these not to be here, since it’d mean one player has the system to themselves, but it’s something I like to see regardless. Second, not everything is unlocked from the start. The Party Plaza starts out feeling somewhat limited, though it soon grows. Finally, the miscellaneous speech from characters as you choose who to play with is just perfect. The game keeps the last three characters you played with as a recommended group, with them asking for you to pick them again for the party. It’s adorable, and it’s these small touches throughout the game that make it into the experience it truly is.

Mario Party

This is probably the mode you’re here to learn about; are there cars? Is it too gimmicky? Do Joy Cons ruin the experience? Won’t somebody think of the HD Rumble! Perhaps more thorough than my usual review style, I can hopefully answer all of your questions and more as I break everything down.

Going through this chronologically, the first option you’ll have is your choice of board—Whomp’s Domino Ruins, King Bob-omb’s Powderkeg Mine, or Megafruit Paradise. Just three boards. Though there’s a fourth gated behind beating these, it’s easy to think you aren’t really getting much for your money here. Looking past the number, I find reasonable conflict in the board designs. While each one looks graphically impressive and alive, they feel flawed in their boxy and squarish layouts. Gone are the curved and wacky paths of games gone by, everything now feels cleaner and more clear-cut, for better or worse—whether you get on with will really come down to personal preference. The major positive in aesthetic is how much more it feels like a board game; it’s as though each one could be folded away nicely. On the other hand, it makes it more of a challenge to look at the boards as unique and individual, this furthered by the distinct lack of boards numerically speaking. While Megafruit Paradise sets itself apart with its bright and vibrant fruity colours, Domino Ruins and Powderkeg Mine come across as too visually similar to me, despite their clearly different board hazards and themes.

My other main point of conflict with the board layouts is just how small they feel, and there’s a good reason for this; they are a fair bit smaller than usual. Looking at Domino Ruins as an example, the outer ring of the course consists of 35 spaces—that’s 35 spaces from the starting space to go around the board and be back at the start. To draw a few comparisons to previous entries, Toad’s Midway Madness of Mario Party 4 had a huge 55 spaces on its outside path, every one of the dreams in Mario Party 5 felt vast in scale, with a variety of paths and shortcuts; even Yoshi’s Tropical Island in the first game had 43 spaces on its outside path. I understand it’s not a perfect metric to use to measure board length, but it at least offers a reasonable comparison. The biggest difference between Super Mario Party and previous entries would be the dice. Ranging from 1-6 on the normal die, and character-specific ones coming with a variety of benefits and downfalls, you’re moving through the boards at a slower pace than you would with the previous games’ 1-10 dice. It all balances out to some extent, but it’s a little jarring when you first jump in.

Overall, I think the dice are a fantastic idea to bring to the traditional board. Essentially the same as they were in Star Rush on the 3DS, the dice give your character choice meaning. Sure, every character has your standard 1-6 dice, but when Bowser’s dice can roll a ten, you’re obviously going to try for it. Each character has a good balance and an associated sense of risk and reward; in my first game I played as Rosalina and didn’t move a space for three turns because I refused to give up on using her dice. These dice also are interesting in providing the idea of a best character for each map. The easiest example I can think of would be Hammer Bro’s 50% chance of rolling a five on Powderkeg Mine, the fifth space being an ally space, granting you an ally for the rest of the game (more on these later).

Making their return for the first time since Mario Party DS, hidden blocks also lurk beneath blue spaces. I love these. They’re completely random, completely disgusting, and can completely ruin your game, but that’s what makes them so perfect. Mario Party as a series thrives in these moments of random unfairness, and I couldn’t be happier to see these again. After landing on a space with a hidden block, a nice new feature is a small spinner with a highlighted area; if the spinner stops within this area, you get a star, otherwise you get some coins. This visualisation of luck is a brilliant fit for the random nature of these blocks, giving everybody playing a moment of suspense to find how just how bad this might be for everybody else.

At the end of each turn, as you might expect, waits a minigame to be played. I’ll discuss the quality and variety of minigames later in the review, but for now, I want to focus on their relevance to the party. The most immediate thing I noticed is how games are selected; Super Mario Party will always choose a game you haven’t unlocked yet. Though a minor design choice, it’s one I appreciate above most. By forcing the spinner onto locked games, you simultaneously ensure the player is always engaging with new content, as well as putting them closer to unlocking a game mode that requires every minigame. Without this design choice, you might find the game dragging on as you repeat maps you didn’t necessarily want to in order to unlock an additional part of the game; it feels like natural progression as it is now, and the pacing is perfect as to unlock the final mode after experiencing the others.

One of the more notable changes to minigames comes in how players are rewarded for their participation. Gone are the days of winner takes all, in its place standing tiered rewards; first place taking eight coins, second taking four, and third taking two. In 3v1 and 2v2 games, the losing side always gets two coins. While this might be a small change, it has a significant impact on how longer games play out. With second and third place still rewarded for efforts, and first place having their prize reduced by two coins, it’s much more difficult to dominate a map as it would have been in previous games. Where you could have kept winning minigames to deprive your opponents of coins, and by extension stars, you’ll now find them creeping behind you. This is furthered by the cost of stars being only ten coins, making them a world more accessible to your opponents.

Touched on earlier, allies make a return from Star Rush, something I am overjoyed to see. While Star Rush was by no means a perfect Mario Party game, I feel it did a lot of things right, and it’s great to see these ideas being brought into a more traditional setting. As in Star Rush, gaining an ally grants reasonable benefits; you can use their special dice block, and you also get an extra 1-2 dice rolled each turn for each of your followers. Ally spaces aren’t exactly common on boards, there generally only being a few on each, so it’s not uncommon to go full games without getting any yourself. This shines a light on the importance of their balancing, and it’s here I feel the game does well. With its small boards and risky dice, the addition of one or two to your roll never feels particularly game-breaking, instead being a pleasant bonus or safety if you really want to try your luck. Though I can imagine it getting out of hand if you had a full party of three allies, with how uncommon the spaces are, the effort required to gather them would be a skill in itself.

Aside from ally spaces, each board also has an array of fun things to land on. First, you have your standard blue and red spaces, giving and taking three coins respectively. It’s interesting to see how few red spaces there are on each board, clearly putting a focus on high star count and frantic games, in oppose to the constant losses you might have experienced in previous games. A versus space acts as the game’s alternative to battle minigames, each player throwing coins into a pool, with the winner of a not-minigame taking the biggest portion of it home. This not-minigames pleasantly surprised me, presenting a challenge limit-pushing, instead of the usual luck-based activities. Quite simply, it involved each person blowing up a balloon, with the largest one winning. Sadly, computer opponents don’t seem to put up much competition here, you being able to edge them easily, but I can imagine a room full of friends would play differently.

You then have good and bad luck spaces, each providing a spinner of good and bad things that could happen for your character; item spaces to give you a random item; and event spaces, the effect of which varies from space to space. While there may not be many types of space, spread across the smaller boards, they’re ample in keeping the game from becoming stale. As well as spaces, you also have characters you interact with by walking past them: your item shop, and friendship destroyer. Though I’m most used to seeing Boo in this role, Lakitu steps in as the game’s star and coin thief while Boo parties on. As usual, when you pass Lakitu, you can steal coins for free, or a star for 30 coins. A nice addition to what would be the cause of many arguments, Super Mario Party is kind enough to include the option to randomly select your victim. While this option is designed to save friendships, it’s also nice to see CPU opponents using it on occasion instead of all simply ganging up on 1st place (usually me). I’m not sure how the higher difficulty CPUs would use such power, but I can at least get along with my crew on normal difficulty.

Coming towards the end of each game, you have your last push; this time it being three turns before the end, in oppose to the usual five. The game seems to have a theme of making things smaller, contrary to its Super title. I’m really fond of the changes made here, Toad calling a stage-specific character to the floor to ask who they think will win. Instead of simply rewarding who is falling behind, they can root for anybody, including first place on rare occasions. While I understand it somewhat defeats the purpose of this last push, I found it refreshing to see the middle ranks get a renewed chance at victory. Aside from this reward, the blue and red spaces have their values doubled as usual, and Kamek turns bad luck spaces into extra bad luck spaces. With stars being so cheap and coins flying everywhere, the last turns are exactly as frantic as the game desires, perhaps more so than previous entries with the reduced cost of stars.

When all is said and done, the game wraps up with the love or hate king of the game: bonus stars. You thought your poxy two star lead was enough to win? Think again! Selecting randomly from a list of possible bonuses, you may be rewarded for collecting allies, landing on unlucky spaces, or using the most items, amongst other things. With no way to tell how these will turn out, you feel a genuine pressure to take a significant lead while you still have the chance, strategically stealing stars and manipulating the flow of the game as best you can.

While I definitely enjoyed my time with the first three stages, it’s in the unlockable fourth where the game really shines. If you want this stage to remain a surprise to you, feel free to skip over this paragraph. Kamek’s Tantalizing Tower differs from the other stages in a number of ways. Red and blue spaces have their values doubled from the start, the star is always in the same place, the price of stars changes after one is taken, and you can buy more than one star at a time. This stage puts a huge emphasis on gathering coins and keeping up with your opponents, assuring you either maintain pace to match their rapidly increasing star count, or find a way to stop them being able to buy them. This is the board where I feel its small size does it justice, keeping the game constantly moving at a fast pace and first place changing turn by turn. With Lakitu’s services locked behind landing on a single event space, the focus is on grabbing what you can and moving quickly. It is by far the most fun stage of the Mario Party mode, with turns disappearing before you notice you’ve started.

Partner Party

Moving on from traditional play, it surprised me to see the inclusion of not just Star Rush’s allies and dice, but its most unique gameplay aspect in its entirety. Featuring free movement across boards, gathering allies as you go, you have everything you remember from the 3DS version. While I enjoyed Star Rush, there was a lot holding it back from really shining as a prolonged experience; the changes made by Super Mario Party elevate it from obscurity.

Serving to splice this modern game style with the tried and tested formula, these changes ultimately create something I genuinely believe to surpass both. This comes down to three major factors—the mode played as 2v2, minigames being at the end of each turn, and the objective being changed to start collecting. On top of these, you also have smaller things like more board events and a few different items to encourage exploration, but these are minor design choices in comparison.

Where Star Rush had you competing for allies to dash across the board and score the most points against a boss, Partner Party feels what a 2v2 Mario Party should’ve been years ago. By using a combined dice roll of both team members, it creates a sense of union and strategy in choosing the risks you’ll take together, without an arbitrary link binding the players together, such as two people driving in the same car or something similar. It feels like a natural evolution of team-based Mario Party, and is probably my favourite mode of the game. It also goes a long way in explaining a few of the lacklustre elements of the Mario Party mode.

Partner Party using the same maps as the Mario Party mode comes with several limitations; boards can’t be too big, boards can’t be too crazy, and boards must have some means of accommodating free movement. That both modes use the same boards is the reason why they feel so uninspired by comparison to previous games—fitting the requirements of Partner Party whilst maintaining the interesting sense of escalation, progression, and variation required for Mario Party leaves us with something that doesn’t quite reach the desired heights of either. I have no issue saying the boards are fun, but if they were completely different whilst remaining thematically similar, I feel they’d have excelled far beyond what they currently are.

One final thing to mention about Partner Party is that while the boss battles of Star Rush are no longer present, the idea of frantic ally-filled minigames have been repurposed into team minigames. Unlike the boss battles of Star Rush, team minigames are simply additions to the end of turn minigame pool, and allow you to play a 2v2 game with your human teammate, as well as any allies picked up on the board. These are all fantastic fun, if not a little unbalanced if one team has a lot more allies than the other, but that in itself puts an emphasis on gathering them as soon as possible. With allies visible on the board, they’re not a just a nice addition as they are in Mario Party, they’re an integral part of the mode, where you can plan who you want and how you’ll move to get them. Partner Party is your standard gameplay mode with more freedom; a fantastic addition to the series that excites me for what can be done further. It’s as if the development team knew players wanted traditional play, and added to it in a meaningful way, in oppose to going in completely different directions seen in other recent releases.

One Trick Pony Modes

After your main two modes, Super Mario Party includes a few other things to keep itself fresh, the big two here being Sound Stage and River Survival. With each of these modes adding ten uniquely-styled minigames, they’re fine additions to the game, but they aren’t much good beyond one playthrough with a group of friends.

Sound Stage is one of the more interesting modes of the game in the fact that it doesn’t really feel like Mario Party at all. Featuring ten rhythm minigames, with three used per play session, you’re thrown into one after another with a constant faint beat coming through the Joy Con’s HD Rumble. These games are each incredibly easy to pick up, but with a reasonable degree of difficulty to master and score perfectly on. Much akin to Rhythm Paradise (or Rhythm Heaven for American readers) in its premise, it’s reasonable fun and does well in not being tiresome to complete, despite its limited minigame quantity. Where it falls somewhat flat is in its replayability and rewarding of mastery, or thereby lack of both. The replayability is an easy matter to discuss; there aren’t enough games to keep you coming back. It’s a fun mode while it lasts, and I’m glad to say it lasts long enough to keep you entertained until you get its mark of completion, but the only reason you’d come back to this mode would be to score perfectly on the games, another issue I have. Where Rhythm Paradise has gold medals to strive for, giving you a trophy of sorts for your efforts, Super Mario Party has… Nothing. You’re rewarded for beating each difficulty of the mode, but never for sticking with it to the end, and I feel that a shame. Any replayability this mode could have had feels squandered because there’s nothing left to be had. You can go back to both party modes thanks to their random elements. With each game being different, each experience with them brings unique memories and events. Sound Stage’s fixed and samey nature means it needs a different approach, and this just wasn’t thought out enough.

River Survival sees you in a raft with three friends as you paddle with the Joy Cons down the fast-moving river rapids. Your aim is to traverse the rapids without running out of time, getting more by manoeuvring into minigame balloons and playing well. With everybody working together, you get a different amount of time as a reward based on how well the team performs, ranging from S rank to C. I love most of these games, working together in a Mario Party game being a relative rarity, and one I did find myself enjoying a lot. The issue here is that there are only ten minigames in the pool. Where Partner Party can get away with its ten unique games being part of a larger pool, and Sound Stage can lean on the fact it only uses three per session, along with remixes, River Survival soon grows drab when each playthrough has 15 minigame balloons. It’s one thing to be repeating levels each time you play, but to always get multiple of the same minigame in one session is just bad. It puts you in a frame of mind to be dodging the minigame balloons and cutting it as close to the clock as possible, which is fun and entertaining in itself, but leaves you with what is only half of the mode. It’s a shame other minigames couldn’t be remixed with a team spin; a lot of free for all minigames have a scoring system that could’ve been retooled with this in mind. All things considered, it’s fun, but I can’t see myself playing it more than once with the same group of friends. With you needing to beat it at least five times for the mode to be marked as complete, this might become a drag for completionists.

Both of these modes do a lot right and there is definitely a lot of fun to be had, especially if you have a large group of friends. What they both seem to lack is a reason to keep playing. They’re interesting ideas that do well in padding out the overall experience, but once you’ve played them once, you’ve played them a thousand times. On top of these modes, you also have Toad’s Rec Room—a collection of four smaller games, each supporting the ability to use two systems in unique and interesting ways. There are some really interesting ideas in action, but again very little to keep you coming back. With these hidden off to the side, this feels more acceptable, generally feeling more like extras than something the game wants you to focus on.


Finally, the big kahuna itself—how do the minigames hold up? Perhaps the most integral part of any Mario Party game, it is no understatement to say the experience can be made or ruined by the standard set, so allow me to break it down for you. Super Mario Party features a total of 80 minigames, these divided into 30 free-for-all, ten 1v3, ten 2v2, ten team, ten co-op, and ten rhythm. Mario Party selects its games from the free-for-all, 1v3, and 2v2 pools depending on how players did on the preceding turn, giving you 50 games in the pool. Partner Party also sports 50 minigames, selecting again from free-for-all and 2v2, as well as its exclusive team minigames. And finally the other modes as mentioned earlier use their exclusive games; River Survival having co-op games, and Sound Stage having you play rhythm games.

Comparing Super Mario Party’s minigame total to previous games in the series is an interesting task. For the sake of comparison, we’ll only look at minigames in the Mario Party pool, a total of 50 from the categories mentioned earlier. Looking at the same sample in other games, we have 34 in Mario Party 4, 47 in Mario Party 5, 52 in Mario Party 6, 43 in Mario Party 7, and 37 in Mario Party 8. Be aware these numbers exclude non-standard minigames such as duel and battle games. As the series goes, Super Mario Party much to my surprise is amongst the top in minigame quantity. Contrary to its lesser modes, this gives Mario Party and Partner Party a great sense of replayability and variance, but numbers are only part of the story. On the whole, the quality is again surprisingly high. The game makes great use of the Joy Cons’ features; enough so to warrant the exclusion of the Pro Controller as a play scheme. If you’re interested in a brief word on each minigame, I’ve included a summary and personal rating for each in the spoiler below. Be aware that even a brief word for 80 games is quite the wall of text.

⁠—You can find this summary on the GBAtemp review⁠—

Along with your standard Free Play option for minigames, you also Mariothon and Square Off as means of keeping the play experience fresh. Mariothon is a relatively standard mode for Mario Party minigames, seeing you play five consecutive games and competing competing for the highest score. Square Off on the other hand has you capturing territory for each minigame you win, with the player with the most territory at the end taking the victory. Essentially being the classic game Othello with the addition of a free-for-all minigame to see who can pick the next tile. I enjoyed both of these modes for what I played of them, but neither really have a factor to keep me coming back. If I want random minigames, I’d really just go to a party mode; if I wanted a specific minigame, I could easily find it in Free Play.

The final mode worth mentioning is the game’s primary single player content—Challenge Road. Featuring each of the game’s 80 minigames, it tasks you with completing a challenge on each to progress. While you don’t necessarily have to win each game, the challenges presented were definitely enough to keep me hooked. It should be kept in mind however that this mode is ultimately just a minigame gauntlet. Aside from the challenges, the games aren’t remixed in any way, and there’s nothing particularly special done to make you want to play it after having already played most of the minigames to unlock the mode in the first place. If you are willing to brave it, you can expect to unlock a few additional characters for your troubles, but don’t be expecting much more than that.

The Small Things

Super Mario Party does a lot of clear-cut things right. Returning to the traditional formula of its predecessors, it puts forward an evolution of the series with meaningful additions. Looking past the obvious however, you begin to see the extent of care and thought put into the end experience. If playing as Bowser or Bowser Jr, you’ll see Kamek apologising for carrying out his duties on bad luck spaces. You’ll see Shy Guy jumping asking for you to play with him again as you return to the plaza. It’s easy to love the amazing content, and be put off by the lacklustre additional modes, but to experience the care and attention put into this entry to the series is an experience unto itself. Super Mario Party is a game I’ll be coming back to for weeks, months, and perhaps even years to come, and I hope its sequel can build on its successors and learn from its downfalls.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider (PlayStation 4) Review

You can find this review in full at

This being my first look at a Tomb Raider game since playing the original more than ten years ago, everything feels strange from the outset. With a large cinematic scene to bring me into the world, followed by the first piece of gameplay in freeing Lara’s leg from a large rock, the game already felt detached from the series I once knew. Even seeing our protagonist swear so freely just felt wrong; I understand games move with the times, but it took me a good moment to adjust to everything before me. It’s not to say any of these factors are to the demerit of the game in any way, the introduction did a great job of bringing me into the world and really getting me excited to learn more about this adventure.

Before getting into the bulk of the gameplay, I found the game’s offering of difficulty settings particularly interesting. Instead of providing a standardised experience for each player, or dynamically changing the difficulty to the player’s skill, the game chose to approach this issue with three separate settings; one for combat, one for exploration, and one for puzzles. Offering the choice of easy, normal, or hard for each, you’re given a little explanation of how the game will play after making your decision. As difficulty goes, I think this is a brilliant implementation. Where I usually find myself disliking direct combat in games, I was able to enjoy the other aspects without them being overly simplified to be brought in line with my lack of shooting expertise. Playing on the overall difficulty Rite of Passage (combat easy, exploration normal, puzzles normal), I thoroughly enjoyed the game at my own pace, and as an added bonus have reason to return to it later to attempt it on a higher difficulty. With knowledge of the game’s level design and puzzles already behind me, as well as a New Game+ mode available, the jump between difficulties feels lessened on subsequent playthroughs, further incentivising coming back and stepping it up.

Getting back to the game itself, I have to say it took me by surprise just how pretty everything was. This may be an opinion formed by Shadow of the Tomb Raider being my first PS4 game, my eyes largely used to the less graphically impressive Switch library, but it really caught me off guard. From the rocks to the water, the game had a way of feeling alive and interesting in its environmental design. There were moments I found myself having to take a step back to simply admire what was before me.

Gaining control for the first time was an interesting experience. The game felt responsive and satisfying, but I ultimately had no idea what I was doing. The presentation of tutorial information helped in this respect. By making it move with the camera and blend into the foliage in the scene, it did a good job of maintaining a level of immersion whilst not compromising the information provided, as well as being non-intrusive as to allow those who already know what to do to go on with no holdup.

While the game finds strength in its visuals and sense of exploration within deceptively confined spaces, many of my standout moments came from its stealth segments. In these, Lara must hide herself in grass, moss, or just out of sight, avoiding or picking off enemies as she goes. What’s interesting about these sections is how much they differ depending on your difficulty setting. With easy combat, and normal difficulty set for everything else, I could use Lara’s survival instincts to highlight enemies, and see when one is isolated to be taken out without alerting others. On the higher difficulties where survival instinct is disabled, you begin to find yourself becoming far more vigilant and are forced to rely on other strategies. This more vigilant and skilful approach isn’t exactly the kind of thing I personally enjoy, but its inclusion to cater to a much broader range of player is something I really appreciate seeing.

Maps are often crafted in such a way as to feel open despite being largely confined and linear in nature. Again in relation to the difficulty setting, the areas you explore and how you interact with them change entirely, the linearity standing out in easier settings and lessening as paths are marked less clearly and you aren’t able to see directly where to go. Where you know where to go and choose to explore on an easier setting, exploring becomes an integral aspect of the game when Lara is without her survival instincts; where crafting and resource gathering are a secondary concern on an easier setting, they become a focus when you can’t save the game without materials. Though I keep talking about the game’s difficulty settings here, it’s honestly baffling just how different the game can become with such small changes.

Talking more specifically about map design, I was happy to see how little of the game felt alike, especially considering how almost all of it is set in one of a cave, a forest, or a tomb. It does a good job in creating small landmarks to recognise as you progress through the story, making the world really feel complete and unique, instead of the same things thrown into the same environments in a different order.

Outside of your traditional exploring and tomb raiding, the game is broken up by more obscure gameplay, the unexpected standout of these being the runner sections. Whether escaping disaster or a myriad of enemies throwing themselves and arrows at you, these moments put an emphasis on urgency and scene building. Despite Lara respawning each time I messed up, I felt genuine tension and thrill as I moved through each scripted turn and landed each specified jump. With this tension and urgency, you’re pushed to make jumps you find yourself thinking “can I really reach the other side?”, and while these jumps thrive in this fast-paced context, they’re also used throughout the game to great effect. Constantly satisfying to make, their inclusion outside of these make-or-break sections also serves to reinforce the idea that they are possible, the knowledge you’ve done it before being what pushes you to hit the button each time after.

This kind of reinforcement also works against the game in some respects. Where you’ve made a jump once, you know you can make it again. While it’s still satisfying to see Lara cross large chasms like this, the same can’t be said for her narrowly escaping death in water. The issue in these cases are that there was never really any satisfaction to begin with, instead the payoff being how you narrowly escaped. The knowledge that this escape isn’t as narrow as you were first lead to believe is what’s reinforced as you continue to experience the same section, ultimately growing overused to the point of losing all impact. Thankfully, it’s not so frequent as to be a real concern, but you see it enough to question whether they couldn’t come up with another interesting way to end a water section.

Puzzles in Shadow of the Tomb Raider are an odd thing to discuss, because a lot of the time they didn’t feel like puzzles; rather defined actions as means of progression. While this may largely be because of my puzzling prowess, it more likely comes down to my use of the survival instincts. With this ability highlighting objects of interest and things to be interacted with, I always knew where I needed to be and generally what I needed to be doing. Though you could call the missing part a puzzle, it’d be more apt to describe it as connecting the dots. With the feedback and payoff for completing these sections, it’s still satisfying to get through them, but as I’ve found myself saying a number of times, the game would be entirely different on a higher difficulty. Puzzle difficulty changes how Lara gives the player hints when they activate their survival instincts, with the highest difficulty disabling survival instincts altogether as previously mentioned. On normal difficulty, she’d give vague comments, but these were more often than not things that were easy to figure out by looking at the objects of interest on-screen. If you find yourself wanting to be challenged more in these sections but chose an easier difficulty at the start of the game, you do however have to option to simply forgo using the survival instincts, though you obviously won’t get any kind of achievement or benefit as you would have by choosing a harder difficulty in the first place.

Though I don’t want to say too much about it so as to spoil it, I did rather enjoy the game’s plot. With this being my first look into the modern Tomb Raider trilogy, I was surprised to see how easy it was to pick up. The only part I felt somewhat confused about was the game’s antagonist, but the events of the game felt enough to flesh out his character and group without relying too heavily on your knowledge of previous games, something I really came to appreciate.

All in all, Shadow of the Tomb Raider surprised me. I can’t say I know what I expected going into it, but I can say the journey was a fantastic one. What I played was enough to get me excited about the series once more and explore the previous two titles of the trilogy; and maybe even enough to go back for a second run through without survival instincts to truly experience the game again.