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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (461)

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Greak: Memories of Azur 3.5/5
Yaga 2.5/5
Riverbond 3/5
Bug Fables: The Everlas... 4.5/5
Front Mission 1st Remake 1.5/5
Middle-earth: Shadow of... 3.5/5
Bladed Fury 3.5/5
Ruzar - The Life Stone 3.5/5
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin 3.5/5
Mighty Switch Force! Co... 2.5/5
Aegis of Earth: Protono... 3/5
Torchlight III 2.5/5
Cyberpunk 2077 3.5/5
Mario + Rabbids: Sparks... 4.5/5
Eiyuden Chronicle: Risi... 3/5
Psychonauts 2 4.5/5
Castle in the Clouds DX 4/5
Ocean's Heart 4/5
Just Die Already 2/5
Sable 2.5/5
Midnight Castle Succubus 4.5/5
Tower and Sword of Succ... 4/5
Thronebreaker: The Witc... 3/5
Battletoads (2020) 1.5/5
Door Kickers: Action Sq... 4.5/5

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ReCore   PC (Steam) 

Sicks Tee Fore    3/5 stars

“ReCore” was originally released in 2016, as a Microsoft Exclusive, on the Xbox One and the Windows Store. Two years later, a ‘Definitive Edition’ of the game, including bugfixes and a DLC expansion, appeared on Steam. “ReCore” was developed through the tag-team effort of a Japanese dev team known as Comcept (formerly known as Level-5, a developer of mediocre-to-poor RPGs) and a Texas-based dev team known as Armature. The main Japanese influence on the game came from auteur developer, Keiji Inafune, who became well-known for his previous work on the long-running ‘Mega Man’ franchise under Capcom.

I first became interested in “ReCore” during its preview period, when it looked like a mould-breaking Microsoft (published) first-party game that wasn’t some sort of banal shooter, featuring lots of burly, growly men. Instead, “ReCore” looked to pull influence from a lot of different Console Golden Age Action games, ranging from the obvious ‘Mega Man’ to ‘Metroid’ to ‘Zelda.’ Unfortunately, upon actually playing it, it becomes evident that “ReCore” and the Japanese gameplay paradigms at its heart are woefully stuck in the past. There’s a reason we don’t see games like this anymore.

“ReCore” is a Unity Engine game, which means that it tends to look rather cheap and basic. The setting and enemy designs are, likewise, low-hanging fruit, with a mostly-empty desert world, and roughly 5 different types of enemies, who vary in size and color, but not much else. The small number of human characters in the game have decent-looking models, with really nice textures, but the canned animations tend to cause more than a few dead-eyed moments.

Audio is… nothing to get excited about. The game’s soundtrack is completely bland and forgettable, without even a signature main theme that says, ‘Oh, this is obviously “ReCore!”’ The game is fully voiced, however, the method is questionable and has mixed results. Human characters, specifically our heroine and a handful of recorded audiologs scattered through the world, sound fine. They’re adequate performances by unrecognizable no-names. On the other hand, the significantly larger number of robot characters in the game speak a dialect of gibberish instead of a real language. Our heroine can apparently understand this gobbledegook, as the subtitles translate it into English. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles for the long-winded audiologs left by robots, leaving the player with the option of reading the transcript from a specific menu, and not getting anything out of the logs as they’re discovered.

Technically, “ReCore” is alright, but not spectacular, especially for a Microsoft-published title. There are still occasional visual glitches that cause massive distortion to environments – though fortunately, these are rare and the distortion is really only visible from specific angles. Sequence breaking can happen, since the world design avoids using invisible walls/blocking volumes whenever possible, which can be seen as good or bad, subjectively. A lot of people on the game’s Steam forum also seem to have difficulty with long (minute+) load times, but I always had snappy performance and load screens that only lasted a few seconds. Naturally, as an XBONE game, “ReCore” supports Xinput out of the box, and the controls are quite tight, outside of a handful of situations where the camera absolutely refuses to cooperate.

In the not-so-distant future, a horrible bacterial plague known as Dust Devil is ravaging the population of Earth. In order to escape this doomsday scenario, the world government, known as The Mandate, sends a series of disease-free colony ships to a distant planet known as Far Eden. The first wave of ships contains a handful of technical engineers and an absolute butt-ton of core-bots, special AIs that inhabit crystalline cores, which can be slotted – or re-cored – into various different frames to grant them case-specific capabilities.

Our heroine is Joule (pronounced ‘jewel’) Adams, a teenage engineer who also happens to be the only daughter of the inventor of core-bots. We join Joule on her first day outside the cryostatis pod in which she traveled to Far Eden, accompanied by her K9 core-bot, Mack. Instead of finding an actual ‘Eden,’ though, Joule and Mack find a desert planet littered with mechanical debris, and the few other core-bots they encounter – which should have been hard at work setting up the terraforming process – are malfunctioning rogues.

While investigating the rogue core-bots, Joule encounters another engineer, a young man named Kai, whose legs were amputated when his vehicle crashed to the surface. Unable to explore on his own, Kai allows Joule to take custody of his own core-bot, and takes up a more logistical role.

As Joule and her cadre of friendly core-bots explore the surface, they discover a number of audiologs which build up the game world’s backstory and lore, while also providing hints to the underlying plot. Unfortunately, the underlying plot is pretty basic and predictable.

“ReCore” is a very short game. Even the Definitive Edition with its additional content only lasts about 20 hours. Sure, you could beat your head against some of the optional challenges in order to chase ‘Cheevos, but… that would take a special type of person.

“ReCore” is a mess of different genre concepts all stirred-together into something that looks novel at first, but is actually fairly banal. First impressions of the game give an overwhelmingly-strong ‘Metroid Prime’ vibe, only in third-person, with an agile character and a lock-on button for ranged attacks. Soon after, “ReCore” attempts to channel ‘The Legend of Zelda,’ with dungeons entered from specific points in the desert overworld. Unfortunately, the biggest influence on “ReCore” is actually the Nintendo 64-era ‘collect-a-thon’ 3D Platformer.

The rather large desert overworld is littered with materials, represented by floating, white cubes. These materials can be collected and taken back to Joule’s base to craft new core-bot components to upgrade her allies’ chasses with better stats and other bonuses. There are also a number of chests scattered about, which contain schematics for crafting said upgrades. Exploring the overworld is, by and large, inoffensively enjoyable. Tracking down all the collectables is mildly cathartic, especially since Joule is extremely mobile – gifted with a dash and a double-jump out of the gate. This allows her to reach out of the way ledges in ways that the dev teams probably didn’t have in mind.

Unfortunately, while the idea of delving into dungeons has historically been done very well, in “ReCore” it simply isn’t. Dungeons are bland and linear at best, with an irritating focus on replaying them over and over due to the fact that each dungeon has 3 bonus doors at the end, one for beating a specific speedrun time, one for finding a hidden yellow key orb, and one for finding and shooting 8 hidden switches inside the dungeon. This would be a reasonable way to encourage replaying, except that the speedrunning portion is absolutely insane – it barely provides enough time to make it to the end while ignoring the key and switches… but there’s a 4th prize in each dungeon that only unlocks if the player speedruns it AND finds all the hidden crap in the same run.

Combat starts off reasonable, but quickly becomes tiring, as some of the so-called ‘dungeons’ are just a single room with a ton of core-bot enemies that pop out of the floor, walls, and ceiling. One might think that these combat arenas would be more reasonable to clear with all the optional objectives… but they aren’t, since enemy spawns have too much dead time between them. Perhaps the worst part of combat, though, is the simple fact that Joule is an engineer, and thus a squishy wimp. Her core-bot companions, of which she can have two with her, but only one active at a time, are meant to take the brunt of the beatings in combat, but sometimes an enemy will just decide it wants to eat Joule, and there’s nothing she can do about it. Her dash maneuver doesn’t take her far enough away, fast enough, as enemies will typically just take a couple of steps and biff her anyway after a dodge. There’s a significant amount of hit-stun, which prevents Joule from moving for a moment after getting hit, plus a slew of annoying status ailments that each require a specific controller manipulation (waggle the stick, mash the button, etc.) to break free. Thus, it’s really easy for Joule to just end up dead in any given battle. Fortunately, there’s no penalty for dying.

Perhaps the worst callback to the past, though, comes roughly halfway through the game’s runtime. After collecting enough Prismatic Cores – the game’s main McGuffin, which are scattered all around the overworld and dungeons – the player will confront the final boss in a 5-storey tower in the center of the world map. This tower, however, isn’t like the game’s normal dungeons, or even the half-assed arena ‘dungeons,’ but is 100% 5th Generation-style 3D platforming, where the player must navigate Joule across a series of obstacles floating in an empty void. It almost feels like a bait-and-switch scenario it’s so different – and so much less enjoyable – than the rest of the game. And it’s not like the platforming is super-duper impossible to the point of being frustrating… it’s just incredibly bland.

Outside of the Action-centric gameplay, “ReCore” has some RPG-style mechanics, such as the afore-mentioned chassis crafting for core-bots. These ‘bots come in four flavors, but Joule only gets 3 companions throughout the game, meaning that she’ll have to swap cores between chasses to gain access to each ‘bot’s skills. The starting K9 bot quickly becomes useless, since its special ability is finding and digging up treasures, which is of highly limited utility. The next bot to join up is a Spider, which grants Joule the ability to grapple onto certain rails. The next bot to join is a Gorilla, who can smash through fragile bits of rock. Lastly, there’s a Hoverbot chassis that allows Joule to glide for long distances. Each chassis consists of 4 parts, each with different attack, defense, and energy stats, among others, which affect their capabilities in combat. Each of the three cores also gains access to a different special attack for each chassis. Furthermore, equipping chassis parts from the same model will grant the ‘bot wearing the chassis with a set bonus, all of which vary greatly.

The Definitive Edition expansion adds a small amount of novel content… but it’s not exactly great. There’s a new region in the overworld, with three new dungeons and a new final-final boss battle. There’s also a new core chassis for Joule to use – a Tank, which she can actually ride in order to cross over quicksand… and race the annoying key-bots that unlock the new dungeons.

“ReCore” combines a whole lot of old ideas from the 5th Generation of console gaming into an overwrought soup of mediocre execution. If the combat was a little more refined, if the dungeons were a little more interesting, if the speedrunning was excised: There are a lot of ‘ifs’ that could have made “ReCore” a better game. As it is, that deluded fanbase who wishes the N64 had never gone out of style would LOVE “ReCore,” provided they could debase themselves by playing an Xbox game. For everyone else, it’s easy to say, “Pass” on this one.

Presentation: 4/5
Story: 3/5
Gameplay: 2.5/5
Overall (not an average): 3/5



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