Reviewing the top video games of the summer

Despite summer supposedly being a break, it can be quite a busy time. Summer projects, traveling, camps, work, and the like can leave someone without the time to enjoy hobbies like video games. In case you missed out on new releases this summer, here’s a few highlights to help you catch up on some of the summer’s biggest hits.

Super Mario Maker 2

Platforms: Nintendo Switch

ESRB Rating: Everyone

Metascore: 88 (based on 95 critics)

The sequel to many people’s single reason to buy a Wii U dropped for Switch on June 28, managing to sell 2.42 million copies in just two days according to Nintendo’s latest earnings release. Like its predecessor, Super Mario Maker 2 lets players create and share any Mario courses they can imagine with a variety of assets across different “styles” based off of prior Mario titles, with the ability to upload those courses for others to play available to those with a Nintendo Switch Online subscription. 

Super Mario Maker 2’s course builder is both expansive and simple, with many options for course creation that never feel out of the player’s reach thanks to a well-designed user interface. The many included course elements and environmental themes, some of which have never been in a Mario game in the past, are all capable of reacting with each other in interesting ways. This gives the game nearly boundless potential for interesting course design, as the player can combine any number of elements in unexpected or interesting ways.

As far as playing these courses goes, the controls are precise and responsive while still allowing for momentum to factor into your jump distance and traction. Every style also gives Mario slightly different control options which players and makers can use to great effect, like a midair spin which slows Mario’s fall momentarily or the Super Mario World Style-exclusive ability to throw held items upwards. Online multiplayer allows you to play through the user-made courses with other players around the world, but the mode unfortunately suffers from connection errors which hinder the experience. The only other drawback to the gameplay lies in the unavoidable fact that the quality of a player’s experience is dependent on the quality of the levels others make, which can be hit or miss.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC

ESRB Rating: Teen

Metascore: 83 (PS4, based on 53 critics)

The Castlevania series of ’80s and ’90s fame has been making a comeback recently, with an acclaimed Netflix series, two new collections of fan-favorite titles from previous consoles brought to modern platforms, and series protagonists Simon and Richter Belmont’s appearance in the popular platform fighter Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Without a new Castlevania game in years, however, fans haven’t been able to scratch their itch for more of what they love. That’s where Bloodstained comes in. 

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night offers the player, as Miriam the Shardbinder, an expansive castle to explore, along with a plentitude of weapons to explore it with. The demonic roster of enemies may also drop their Shards, granting Miriam new abilities ranging from stat boosts, movement options, familiar companions which aid in combat, and MP-limited spells and techniques. As the player explores the castle, they’ll be sure to find new Shards and items which can grant access to previously unreachable areas. Exciting boss fights punctuate every area of the castle and put the player’s skills to the test. Unique side characters also help keep things interesting as you encounter them throughout your journey.

The game’s controls are responsive and intuitive, with every button having a single purpose that makes each of Miriam’s techniques instantly accessible. Upgrades found around the castle and experience gained from defeating enemies raise your stats, allowing players the ability to come back to challenging sections and bosses with the aid of a stronger Miriam. Areas to save are placed at reasonable intervals throughout the castle, preserving the risk of traveling into new areas without making it easy to lose hard-earned progress. While it’s not a game for everyone, fans of platformers and retro-game-design sensibilities are sure to enjoy Bloodstained.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Platforms: Nintendo Switch

ESRB Rating: Teen

Metascore: 88 (based on 85 critics)

The Fire Emblem franchise of tactical Japanese Role-Playing Games (JRPGs) has a history of struggling to succeed, but Three Houses stands as an example of the franchise’s present-day popularity. After a nearly five-year wait for a new home console Fire Emblem title, Three Houses released on July 26 to instant acclaim. The game consists of traditional strategic gameplay across varied maps, along with an added unit management element rationalized by its school setting.

You play as a mercenary-turned-teacher at the Garreg Mach Monastery, where the noble children of Fódlan’s three nations go to learn combat amongst other skills. Every nation of Fódlan has a corresponding house; your choice of house not only affects which characters you have access to, but also the course of the story in the present and after the five-year time skip which occurs about midway through the game. You have full control over your characters’ unit types, called “classes.” Every character has their own set of talents that determine their proficiency in certain classes, adding an additional layer to class choice. Relationships between students can also be developed throughout the game, as you can invite students to tea, fish with them, and return items they may have lost around the monastery, to name a few ways to pass the time.

With engaging, customizable gameplay systems and plenty of avenues for character interactions, Three Houses has an abundance of anything RPG fans could need. It takes ideas from the whole Fire Emblem series and refines them, making for an experience that can suit any fan of the series.

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