Carole & Tuesday: Part 2 Review

Certificate: 15
Production: Bones, FlyingDog
Distributor: Netflix
Platform: Streaming – Netflix
Release Date: Out Now


In my review for Part 1 of Carole & Tuesday, I talked about how I really liked the partnership of the two leads (Carole and Tuesday, if that isn’t clear) but it lost its way during the Mars’ Brightest competition that dominates Episodes 7-12. My hopes going into Part 2 were that the series would keep the focus on that central dynamic of Carole, Tuesday, and the people directly around them, and stop with the shallow and unnecessary scenes. Whilst slightly formulaic in places, Part 2 delivered on this and is an improvement as a result! This review half-accidentally turned into me recapping a lot of what happens, but I am going with it, so, spoiler warning, and strap in! Also, and I don’t know if this is a controversial opinion, but to me the music in Part 2 is overall wayyyyy better. Someone please tell me if that is controversial?! Don’t be angry… (I’m right though).

-SPOILERS FOR CAROLE & TUESDAY AHEAD-


Take Two

We rejoin Carole Stanley (Miyuri Shimabukuro/Jeannie Tirado) and Tuesday Simmons (Kara Ichinose/Brianna Knickerbocker) straight after the end of Mars’ Brightest, having been disqualified but also being offered a recording contract. Whilst the winner Angela Carpenter (Sumire Uesaka/Ryan Bartley) is wowing the world with her new song Breathe Again, Carole and Tuesday – along with manager Gus Goldman (Akio Ôtsuka/Jason Marnocha) and the helpful Roddy (Miyu Irino/Zach Aguilar) – refuse the offered deal and prioritise their creative freedom. So, essentially, they’re not far away from where they were before the Mars’ Brightest competition, especially financially – the main difference is that they are recognised more. Which is nice in a way, but also not so nice when people are hassling them at the launderettes. Just let them do their washing, you creeps.

Alright, I’ll listen to your music

Okay, so their new mission is to create a song and an album with which to debut, and the early episodes follow them trying to do so through several avenues. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s a similar structure to the early episodes of Part 1, when the group was attempting numerous methods of getting the initial word out. Now, I really enjoyed those episodes in Part 1, as it made the characters and the interactions the focal point, so revisiting that vibe is welcome to a degree; however, it did feel to me that we were repeating some of the same territory. Take Gus and Roddy – they continue their general support for Carole and Tuesday, but other than that they don’t get much new development in Part 2. Roddy especially – he gets noticeably less focus, and I was hoping for more from his obvious crush on Tuesday… that sorta falls away. I’m a romantic, okay?

Still, there are a lot of sweet moments here. After finding the hard taskmasker producer Tobe (Hiroshi Iwasaki/Joe DiMucci), Carole and Tuesday produce their first song, initially reaching a respectable 53rd in the charts. I really appreciated being able to see more of the actual process of Carole and Tuesday making their songs, as often times before we didn’t know about a song until they were about to play it. Seeing the struggle of playing over and over to get it just right shows the effort it takes to make the music, which is also important as a contrast to the proliferation of AI music on Mars. We get more of this in later episodes too, such as when Carole and Tuesday are under pressure to create an inspiring song and are working together to get through their writing block (including putting keywords up all over Carole’s apartment).

In these episodes they meet up with a diverse selection of other characters: there is the respected, distinctive Desmond (Kôichi Yamadera/Patrick Seitz), teaching Carole and Tuesday crucial life lessons (perhaps including how to pull off purple) in Episode 15 God Only Knows; and the insightful story of Flora in E16 A Natural Woman, who Gus used to manage before she signed a contract elsewhere and her career went downhill (Give You The World is such an amazing song). This brings back Gus saying to Carole and Tuesday in E13 Walk This Way, upon the decision of whether to take the recording deal: “What’s more important? Money or freedom?”. On the other hand, there is the episode with a focus on DJ Ertegun (Mamoru Miyano/Ray Chase), E17 Head Over Heels, which is the closest Part 2 gets to repeating the mistakes of Mars’ Brightest. Ertegun losing his money and having to rediscover his inner confidence is a solid episode idea, but I reckon there was more potential to be had. It being mostly sorted in one episode seemed really quick, and I was expecting more of a redemption over his rude rejection of Carole and Tuesday in E3 Fire and Rain.

What do you mean, eyeliner on BOTH eyes? Preposterous idea

I am also glad to say that Angela gets much more of a comprehensive arc in Part 2. After a bold start, very much getting the early edge over Carole and Tuesday by performing her new song at a press conference (the *audacity* of it, can you believe), there starts to be more nuances to her relationship with Tao (Hiroshi Kamiya/Kyle McCarley) that only become more evident as the episodes progress. Her path connects to that of DJ Ertegun, and subsequently drastically improves that rushed plot thread. Instead of the vague intentions of Angela and those around her in Part 1 that seemed intended to be a mystery but instead were tough to be invested in, they’re a much more developed set of characters here, giving us more insight into who they are and being easier to get behind as a result. When a threatening stalker invades Angela’s privacy, it unsettles her and throws up a whole other set of complications – by giving Angela enough screen time that she essentially becomes a third main character, it makes this threat more keenly felt. Furthermore, her musical performances have this incredible ability to richly portray the feelings of that moment (props to Alisa, who voices her songs). To name just one for now; The Tower, which plays at the end of E23 Don’t Sop Believin’, is hauntingly beautiful.


Suspicious Activity

Meanwhile, other individual plotlines are proceeding too. Carole is finding out about her father Dann (Atsuki Tani), and Tuesday is in contact with journalist Kyle (Jun’ichi Suwabe/Ben Lepley). In Part 1 there were mentions of Carole – as a refugee from Earth – not knowing of her family, but there is more info uncovered here in well-executed sequences that helped me empathise with her position more. As for Tuesday, Kyle is doing a piece on her mother, election candidate Valerie (Tomoko Miyadera/Rachel Robinson), and the suspicious activity of Jerry (Yutaka Aoyama/Kirk Thornton), one of her backers. Jerry is engaging in some very shady, underhanded, and downright horrific tactics to push onto her his agenda of stopping immigration from Earth (draw real-world parallels as you see fit). In Part 1 we got some seeds sown about the political stance of Valerie and how it had affected her relationship with her children, and this pays off in Part 2 as Tuesday proactively chooses to talk with Kyle. Valerie’s stance on immigration is potentially going to directly affect Carole, so there is clear reason why Tuesday would be motivated to speak out.

What I really liked was the show mixing these deep topics with moments where you are reminded that Carole and Tuesday are 17, and dealing with the emotions that come with that age of your life. Tuesday is talking to Kyle because of the political situation first and foremost, but through having multiple personal conversations she understandably starts to fall for him a bit. This is built up subtly with her blushing at certain remarks from Kyle, to the point where she goes to give him a thank you gift – dressing up to do so – in E18 Only Love Can Break Your Heart (guess where this is going…). Upon getting to him, she discovers he is with a woman already, and there is this heartbreaking moment of slow-motion as she, and we, realise the situation. She turns around with Kyle seemingly not even knowing she was there… this reminds me a lot of my favourite moment of Part 1, when her brother Spencer (Takahiro Sakurai/Lucien Dodge) arrives at Mars Lounge and just turns around to leave. They’re both moments of emotional show, don’t tell, and there is even an extra gut-punch here as Carole finds Tuesday, forlorn, on a bridge in the rain. In the first episode, these two connect over their loneliness on a bridge, and now they’re finding, and comforting, each other again. Agh, my heart!

Kyle, HOW COULD YOU

Another note from my review of Part 1 was that the animation style was inconsistent in places, and this is another area which Part 2 refines. It commits to the traditional yet expressive approach, and is much better at maintaining the same level of quality across the episodes. There are less uses of exaggerated expressions, though this actually made them stand out more – mostly, these are from Tuesday, often adorable in her shy but confident approach to situations; while she may be initially taken aback, she responds with resolve, determined to overcome any obstacle. Also her beret game is awesome. Carole is more steadfast, with a poised composure that anchors the pair together. However, this doesn’t prevent her getting to show a range of emotions; for example, when she says farewell to her father – she is initially facing in another direction, determined to not give away any indication, but as Dann leaves to return to prison, she resolves to break through that and sends him off in optimistic fashion.


Music As The Message

Episode 19 People Get Ready is where many of the characters and their individual stories converge in a climactic fashion. Returning to the Cydonia Festival where they filled in during E6 Life is a Carnival, Carole & Tuesday are now a main act, along with the new combo of Angela and DJ Ertegun. The stalker is targeting Angela when she arrives on stage, but here we see some of Tao’s personal feelings finally burst through his calculated front as he goes to extraordinary means to save her. When he realises that they haven’t caught the right person, he uncharacteristically runs towards the stage to prevent Angela from being harmed. Tao has been cold and ruthlessly composed for much of the series until now, but we start to see him in a different light here that hints at revelations to come.

After Angela and DJ Ertegun wow the audience with the production of their joint performance, Carole and Tuesday take a low-fi approach to their act and get a similarly positive reaction. It’s a lovely combination of musical scenes showing how competition and contrast can be healthy, and going from the rapturous LIGHTS GO OUT to the tender Message in the Wind is just joyous. This is part of why I say I prefer the music in Part 2 – there is both quality and variety to the soundtrack, with less of those one-note performances that negatively affected Part 1. Even for the opening and closing credits, they’re more cohesively separate and confident in their music choice and art direction. Oh, and if it were somehow in any doubt, Nai Br.XX and Celeina Ann are once again tremendous as the vocals for the Carole & Tuesday tracks. Beautiful Breakdown from E20 Immigrant Song is the best song and well, that’s final, so I hope you are on board.

Remember the image in my review for Part 1? See how far they’ve come… Though, that civilian hasn’t moved far since then

From here on out, the episodes keep up a high standard. I would say that from the latter stages of E18 Only Love Can Break Your Heart through to the end of the finale E24 A Change is Gonna Come is the best run of the series. Whilst Part 1 went off the rails a bit in the later stages, Part 2 goes the opposite way and gets better! After all the set-up so far, the closing episodes pay off character arcs and take these people to new places of growth. The previously-mentioned E20 Immigrant Song continues this in style, with Carole reuniting with an old friend she encountered at the Cydonia Festival. Carole and Amer knew each other when they were younger, but he now goes by Ezekiel and makes hard-hitting rap music to call out the injustice of how immigrants are being treated. It’s a surprise for Carole, seeing how much Amer has changed, and this serves to provide us knowledge of Ezekiel’s past when he – and others – are imprisoned because of their views.

Following the Festival, it feels as though the characters are in closer proximity, and the music is not only reflecting their feelings, but the situations they are in. During Part 1 it was as if Carole and Tuesday were on their path over here, Angela was over there, and the political element was pushed into a background that rarely connected much to either. In Part 2, the ways the characters act more directly influence each other and the music they are making. Immigrant Song is my favourite episode of the entire series – with the range from Carole and Tuesday’s Beautiful Breakdown to Ezekiel’s Crash the Server, and the themes they represent, it’s incredible musically, and there is intense drama as relationships reach a breaking point – one case being Angela and her mother figure Dahlia (Kenyû Horiuchi/Brook Chalmers), leading to devastating consequences.


We’re In This Together

The fallout of Episode 20 is felt just as two major events are about to happen in Argo City: the Mars Grammys, and then one final, grandiose gesture of solidarity when the singers all unite at the Mars Immigration Memorial Hall. Unlike Mars’ Brightest in the later episodes of Part 1, there isn’t a misjudged scene in sight, and no unnecessary extra acts. First up, we get Carole, Tuesday, and Crystal (Maaya Sakamoto/Cristina Valenzuela) singing After the Fire together, literally putting the two girls on stage with their idol to show how far they have come. This builds to a emotional crescendo when Angela follows them, despite having just lost Dahlia – there is such shock and grief in the vocals for Endless… those lyrics are so raw, they struck me in the soul. Angela has won Mars’ Brightest, topped the charts, and won the Best New Artist Grammy, but that human connection being lost? That’s more valuable than all of them.

Angela goes through a lot in Carole & Tuesday: Part 2

For Carole and Tuesday, the final flourish for their series arcs is in finding the theme of the song everyone is going to sing at the Mars Immigration Memorial Hall, a setting that circles back to Roddy recording them there in E2 Born to Run. Tying into Tuesday’s brother Spencer pleading to their mother to break connection with Jerry, even if that means not being President, the pair hit on a mutual similarity that all of us can connect over – and hence the anthem Mother is created. After losing her own mother figure, the final episodes see Angela really altering her perspective, in her relationship with Tao and her rivalry with Carole and Tuesday. I am so pleased that Angela was incorporated more into Part 2. Without her, the rest of the show would work nowhere near as well. It’s significant, too (at least to me), that Angela is the focal point of the ending credits for Part 2, in a departure from the previous credits with Carole and Tuesday. It further signifies her more prominent role. Y’know, I guess Carole & Tuesday & Angela isn’t as catchy, but it may be a more accurate name for this anime.

I shall say, in the final episode, the series doesn’t hold back on callbacks and fan service. The closing joint performance of Mother is such an unabashedly hey-isn’t-this-so-emotional ending, but it JUST about earns it. JUST. I am slightly disappointed that the series doesn’t really fully resolve some of the plotlines, particularly those of the political goings-on… it’s more of a message of an ending, which does feel a bit of a cop-out. I’ll add that whilst I’m all for leaving some aspects to the imagination, there is a lot of Part 2 dedicated to Carole and Tuesday making their album; one plot point is them trying to find the closing song for it, and when they do nail it in the form of the breathtaking Lay It All On Me, it made me excited to see how the album was received – and we don’t get that. It’s almost as if there is a 25th episode missing that wraps up the aftermath. However, the ending is undeniably a tear-jerker to watch, and I can only complain so much about an anime that makes me cry (these were positive tears, to clarify).


Final Thoughts on Part 2

When I hope that a show improves in certain areas, and that is exactly what it does, it’s only right to heap praise upon it. Additionally, it’s a sign that the people behind the anime understood what worked and what didn’t in the first batch of episodes. My main complaint is that there is some repeated episode and season structure from before, but even then it is from the better segment of Part 1. I also felt as though some characters were left on the sidelines for a lot of the time, as with Gus and Roddy. On the whole, though, these 12 episodes take the story and the characters to new levels, are visually striking, and have fantastic music that I shall be playing on Spotify for the foreseeable future!

9/10

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Wait, is there more?

Final Thoughts on the Series

Having now reviewed both Part 1 and Part 2 of Carole & Tuesday, I thought I would add a final section wrapping up my two reviews. Despite being officially split into two I sort of have the series in four separate parts in my mind of about six episodes each. When analysing the series divided in this way, Carole & Tuesday starts off by getting you invested in the charming character dynamic of these two girls from utterly different backgrounds. Then there are some serious misjudgments of tone in Mars’ Brightest before the show returns to the formula that works so well at the beginning. It crucially does not repeat mistakes; conversely, it goes into complex territory that pays off multiple character arcs in a poignant way. It can’t be ignored that the series does have that rough patch, but it also doesn’t severely damage the rest of Carole & Tuesday as it is quite self-contained. This is an anime that draws you in with wonderful characters, and then casts a spell of musical expression. If I was taking lessons from this anime, they are that our pasts don’t define us and shouldn’t prevent us from meeting new people from other places, and that art – be it musical or otherwise – has a powerful ability to put across the way we feel. It’s hard not to be inspired by these two genuine, talented, and kind souls – with vastly different life experiences – as they form a powerful bond through music that extends out and influences other people for the better.

8.5/10

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Let’s Chat: Xbox Games Showcase Reaction!

Following on from our prediction article for the Xbox Games Showcase – which you can read here – this Let’s Chat is going to be Ashley Harrison and I reacting to the event. There is a lot to talk about here, and also scores from our predictions to tally up! The Ascent was in the pre-show, so I am immediately 1-0 up. Just saying.


William Robinson: Hey Ash! As we recently did predictions, it makes sense that this Let’s Chat is going to be all about reacting to the Showcase. Microsoft revealed a lot of new games, so as with the Ubisoft Forward, let’s go through it chronologically. First, though; I was impressed at the variety of different games shown, and the dedication to fixing the area of weakness that has been their first-party line-up compared to their rivals. Before we go into it, just recap your general expectations for the Showcase as a whole and whether as an initial reaction, it satisfied those? I mean, there wasn’t Minecraft 2… Haha!

Ashley Harrison: Hey again Will! Honestly, I have to say, I wasn’t really expecting much from this Xbox Games Showcase because, like I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I’ve just never been that much of an Xbox player. However, saying that, I was extremely impressed by Microsoft’s recent showing, and it’s genuinely starting to sway me towards buying an Xbox Series X as my next-generation console rather than a PlayStation 5. Although I do wish Minecraft 2 was a thing as well.

WR: Wow, that’s a significant swing and goes to show that they did a great job here. Microsoft has clearly put a lot of effort into addressing the first-party weakness that the Xbox One has suffered relative to other consoles; their flagship exclusive is Halo, and they kicked off the Showcase with a decent chunk of gameplay from Halo Infinite. That now makes it 1-1 for predictions! It was great to see it in action beyond cinematics, but whilst it ran smoothly, it didn’t blow me away as a next-generation preview. It doesn’t stand out as particularly beyond the capabilities of current consoles to me – it seemed to be Halo but with larger areas.

AH: They’ve stepped up both their first party support, and their third-party indie support for this generation so much already compared to the Xbox One, and I’m more than here for it. I’m with you on that about Halo, as I said when we were watching live, it looked impressive from a framerate standpoint (that lovely 60FPS action looks soooooo smooth) but visually I expected more. I get that it’s the very beginning of the console generation, and developers are going to take a couple of years to get to know the hardware, but for a first-party game (especially one as synonymous with Xbox as Halo is) it’s a bit of a letdown in my opinion.

WR: Especially after building up anticipation for it for around two years now; it seems as though it is going to be a bit of a reboot for the series, but aside from those larger spaces I haven’t yet seen much innovation… I’m not sure solid Halo gameplay is enough, when both Sony and Nintendo have found acclaim for taking flagship series in new directions – I was hoping for more of that here. Put it this way; as someone without a particular investment in the franchise, I didn’t see why this is an essential purchase.

Halo Infinite was fluid, if unspectacular

AH: I’m with you there again 100%. Compared to many of Sony and Nintendo’s first-party exclusives, this Halo demo didn’t scream “God damn, this is the game to sell me on a system!” to me whatsoever. You look at the recent PS5 reveal event, and games like Ratchet & Clank and Horizon Forbidden West (even though I personally won’t be picking the latter up as I wasn’t a fan of the first game) definitely had that feeling for me.

WR: There appears to be some criticism for the Halo Infinite showing around; do you reckon there is real concern to be had? 343 has never garnered the same level of praise for their Halo games (Halo 4 onwards) that Bungie did back in the day. They’re the equivalent of the leading first-party studio at Sony, Naughty Dog (you may have heard of it?), but they just don’t have that reputation yet.

There’s a clear difference in quality between Bungie and 343’s Halo offerings in the view of fans of the series

Ashley Harrison

AH: Naughty Dog? Who are they? Never heard of them. I wouldn’t say there’s real cause for concern after a single 8-minute gameplay segment for what’s surely a much longer game, but at the same time though I wouldn’t hold out much hope. Like you’ve said, there’s a clear difference in quality between Bungie and 343’s Halo offerings in the view of fans of the series, and I don’t expect this one to be anything different.

WR: The Studio Head Chris Lee then segwayed into a CGI trailer, which is where the predictions become 2-1 to me after I successfully called the reveal of State of Decay 3! There was not any gameplay here, so it seems a way off, but I thought the tone of the trailer was great. My hopes for State of Decay perhaps going in a more mature direction may actually be happening… it’d be great to see the franchise evolve in that way. I will say, though, that this marked a return to a lot of CGI trailers in this Showcase, with not that much gameplay…

The tone of the State of Decay 3 reveal is a departure for the series

AH: Xbox and not showing gameplay, name a more iconic duo! It definitely sucks to see them going back to CGI trailers instead of just showing gameplay, and honestly, it does get my suspicion levels going a bit. I assume that State of Decay 3 probably isn’t all that far into development and they likely don’t have much (if any) gameplay to show. When games are so different to the CGI trailers being shown (remember the original Watch_Dogs unveiling compared to the final product?),, then I’d rather wait until developers are able to show gameplay to reveal their games.

WR: Yeah, especially with this cinematic being so different in tone to the more B-movie-style marketing for State of Decay 2, it raises suspicions. This then led into us finally seeing the one and only Head of Xbox Phil Spencer with his usual T-shirt game on show. My real question here is… is he in the future? Those pristine grey walls, a lack of exits… is he being held hostage? Perhaps being sent back in time to fix Microsoft mistakes?!

AH: I’m like 90% Phil Spencer is a robot anyway. I don’t think I’ve ever seen “him” have any life behind the eyes, this one being shown is probably straight off the factory line, hence why the area looks so strange, top secret facility ain’t it?

Yes, I just spent time taking screenshots of Phil Spencer. What did you do with YOUR day?

WR: Oh… what if those T-shirt swaps from previous E3s are actually just different Phil Spencers rotated through the conference?! OK, so, in all seriousness, he says important stuff here. We get a glimpse of the 15 Xbox first-party studios, with Spencer noting about 9 being present, with 5 new reveals. This is where we saw Mojang and started half-predicting Minecraft 2 was actually happening haha! Crucially, though, he then informs us that EVERY game is going to be available to those with Xbox Game Pass, which is amazing. This isn’t getting as much discussion as it should; for the up-to-£10.99 a month, you get access to ALL first-party games. Halo Infinite, State of Decay, Forza, Gears of War, Fable, etc. – that value is incredible, even if my personal favour for purchasing games physically goes against it. To clarify: for £7.99 you get the base Game Pass, including access to all the games in this Showcase! For £10.99 you get the Ultimate version, which is all of that plus Xbox Live Gold, which is usually £6.99 a month separately. Oh, and your first month of Ultimate is £1 – and if you already have any remaining time on your Live subscription, it turns all of that into Ultimate for just £1 extra. Again: that is *incredible* value.

AH: Honestly, I thought we’d gone on some weird tangents in previous Let’s Chat articles, but that was definitely the weirdest one we’ve been on. Game Pass is staggering value for what you get, and it’s another of the reasons that I’m genuinely considering going to Series X for next generation. It’s ridiculous just how good value it actually is – for the price of 2 games a year at launch, you get access to all those games (assuming you’re going the base Game Pass, Ultimate works out a bit more) and those already on the service. I’m genuinely so surprised that Sony haven’t copied it already, rather than just pushing the massively inferior PlayStation Now service. I really do wonder if that will change for PS5.

WR: They may have to if Microsoft is supporting it with better games; really, the main aspect holding it back before is that whilst you got first-party games through the service, there wasn’t all that many actually available. If there is now an increased range and quality, which there appears to be, then suddenly it’s a much better proposition. Sony may be forced into adopting a similar functionality with PS Now, depending on how it plays out, and that’s great for gamers. If you only usually have money for one or two game purchases now and then, suddenly for around the same price you have this vast library available to you. Or for younger gamers with less money, too, it means they can try out more games. It’s an exciting prospect!

All the games from these studios are included in Game Pass. Wow.

AH: The only fear I have with it isn’t even one that is guaranteed to happen. With the rise of streaming services like Netflix and Disney+, and with more games sales happening digitally than ever before, it looks like we could be set to go into an all-digital future, so if that does happen soon and buying games physically isn’t a thing any longer, it leaves the price of Game Pass up to be changed at any time, and as such it could become less value for money than it currently is.

WR: As I mentioned, I’m very much on the side of physical media, so that isn’t a future I would like to see! With all-digital consoles and the evolution of Game Pass, we’re getting more options which is great; as long as one doesn’t get a monopoly, as you say. However if PlayStation had a similar service, that would mean price competition and may keep that at bay. Right, next up is another correct prediction for me in the new Forza Motorsport (3 to 1 at this point), with Phil Spencer introducing in-engine footage of the Turn 10 game. Forza has often been a great graphical powerhouse for Xbox and it seems to be continuing in that vein.

AH: Whilst the Forza showcase was only in-engine footage, rather than actual gameplay, I have to say, it’s looking absolutely incredible. The lighting and reflections on the cars especially are insane to look at, this is definitely the graphical prowess showcase if you ask me, not Halo. In my opinion, this is what the conference should’ve opened with, and have that big “yeah, this is what we can do with Series X” moment instead of Halo.

WR: Yeah, I agree with you, Halo may actually have been more impressive if we were already convinced by Forza of the power of the Series X, and then Halo could have been more of a gameplay and framerate demonstration. It is intriguing that there is no number after Motorsport (the last one was 7). Maybe this is more of a platform game that is added to over time? That would synergise well with the subscription service being offered through Game Pass.

Those are some nice-looking cars. So shiny…

AH: Honestly, I can’t say I’m a fan of the “games as a service” model many developers have taken up over the past half-decade or so, so I’m really hoping that it’s not going to go along that route, especially if they sell a new “Year X Pass” every year. If it’s free updates throughout the life-span then I wouldn’t mind too much, though, having said that.

WR: Yeah, and if they’re getting funding through Game Pass, maybe they can make them free? We shall have to wait and see. OK, next up is a game that was a highlight for both of us: Everwild, the stunning new Rare game. This trailer enchanted me – it has the aesthetic of an amazing animated film. I can see this being a console-seller, and it was great to see the clear enthusiasm Executive Producer Louise O’Connor has for the project.

This trailer enchanted me – it has the aesthetic of an amazing animated film.

William Robinson

AH: This game is genuinely a highlight of the whole Showcase; it just looks so good! The art style for it is just absolutely gorgeous, I’d much rather developers adopt styles like this rather than try and push to make their games look hyper realistic because, in my opinion, it looks a million times better, and also means that the game won’t age anywhere near as badly visually. I love the nature theme that seems to be the core of the trailer, it definitely seems like it’s going to be one of those games where the world is just so much fun to mess around in and see what you find.

WR: See, to me, it has actually been games such as this and Kena: Bridge of the Spirits in the PS5 reveal presentation that have been the clearest graphical step forward for me. The games with this sort of art direction now seem to be visually at the level of animated films, but now we can play them! The vibe of this trailer was so my style, and the character designs are awesome. Excited to see more of this… At this stage of the Showcase I was wondering how they could keep the momentum up, as there had been major first-party reveal after first-party reveal.

Everwild is a standout exclusive

AH: I definitely see where you’re coming from with the animated movie comment. I know they worked on Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch & the sequel Revenant Kingdom, so I’d LOVE to see what Studio Ghibli could do on these next generation consoles, I bet whatever they came up with would look beyond gorgeous. And yeah, as you say, this conference was just reveal after reveal after reveal of fairly big first-party games up until this point, it definitely made you question just how much they had up their sleeves to reveal if that was how the first 20 minutes or so went.

WR: Oh wow imagine a Ghibli game on next-gen… yes please. The conference started to lose a bit of momentum from here on out, but it still kept my interest. Tell Me Why from DONTNOD is one I’m not sure on; I am of course a superfan of Life is Strange, but after being affected by the glitch that deleted all my save data at the end of Life is Strange 2: Episode 2 I haven’t gone back and that sequel has been a bit of a soured experience for me as a result. Tell Me Why has got the DONTNOD traits; emotional family themes, and that art style – an art style that does at first glance appear to have been pushed on visually.

AH: Straight away it just screams “yup, this is a DONTNOD game” from the visuals and character design and there’s part of me that doesn’t think that’s all that good of a thing; it feels like they haven’t really moved on from Life is Strange. When the characters in the trailer saw the ghost things in the trailer, I was genuinely expecting it to end with a logo for Life is Strange 3. I wouldn’t want DONTNOD to go the same way as Telltale Games, making basically the same game over and over until they go under.

Guess the developer! Oh, we already told you.

WR: The story did admittedly capture my attention though, so I am probably going to try it out when the first episode releases on August 27th. You? Did you ever start Life is Strange 2, for that matter?

AH: The story definitely captured my attention and it’s definitely on my list of games to play, it just depends on when. If it’s episodic, I’ll just play when all the episodes have released, but if it’s a full game, then I’ll wait for a sale honestly. To answer about Life is Strange 2, nope, still haven’t played it, and honestly I don’t ever really see it happening unless the full season drops to below a fiver or something. It’s not something I’ve ever really felt that I actually need to pick up and play through, I’m quite happy for my Life is Strange experience to be the original season and Before the Storm.

WR: Following this we saw some news about additions being made to games we know about. Gennadiy Korol, Co-founder and Director of Technology at Moon Studios, gave us details on a new version of Ori and the Will of the Wisps for Series X, giving us detailed explanation of the new 120 FPS (!) and full 4K HDR, plus new audio development options. This game was already known for visuals; that new 120 FPS is very impressive. It’s a game that is already out though, so not as much of a headline as, say, Everwild.

AH: It’s always nice to see improvements for older games, especially when it’s the fastest we’ve ever seen a game running on a console, but like you say it’s dampened a bit by the fact that it is an already released game, rather than a big-budget upcoming one. However, it’s 100% something I’d pick up if I do decide to get a Series X because of the fact that it’s running at 4K/120 FPS, that’s insane to me because you’d only ever really hear of framerates that high on PC until now.

After the Ori segment was Obsidian Entertainment, who showed off Grounded (above) and more

WR: This directly led into another already-release game, The Outer Worlds by Obsidian Entertainment (now a Microsoft first-party studio). Peril of Gorgon (releasing September 9th) is the new DLC, and seems fun enough if not particularly surprising in the features we saw. Of more note to me was the rest of this Obsidian section of the Showcase, with two new games on show: Grounded, a retro, nostalgic garden RPG (July 28th) and a brand new sprawling RPG Avowed. This was, again, a CGI reveal, but the tone of Avowed is very much to my tastes – epic fantasy adventuring, yes please! How did you find the Obsidian segment?

AH: I was actually a big fan of the Grounded reveal trailer, I love the fact that it wasn’t serious whatsoever, and just poked fun at itself all the way through. Hopefully that humour carries through into the game itself as well, because it’s definitely got me interested. Also, it has a Battletoad in it, so that automatically wins points if you ask me, GOTY material right there. Honestly I wasn’t too interested in the Avowed reveal, it just didn’t capture me as much as it has done for you. And besides, if you ask me, it wasn’t even the best fantasy RPG shown during the showcase (this is where Ash put a winking emoji, the millennial).

WR: Ooh, masterful foreshadowing there Ash. Haha! I’m already noticing the amount of games you’re mentioning very positively – exclusive games, and it’s such a change from the start of last generation when that just was not the conversation around the console (there were other issues with the Xbox One, too). This is why this Showcase was very optimism-fueling for me – it is the company learning from their errors. Returning to the dystopian future, Head of Xbox Game Studios Matt Booty then told us about independent studio Interior/Night and their new game set in Southwest USA, As Dusk Falls. I’m not convinced by the static approach to the art style, but I shall wait and see.

The reveal of As Dusk Falls had a unique art style

AH: Honestly, I don’t mind the static art style whatsoever, it reminds me of the old choose-your-own-adventure style games and I’m okay with that; though I know that it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It reminded me of an episode of Retro Replay where Nolan North gets stuck on the same style of game thanks to Quick Time Events (none of those please) and any game that reminds me of when that show was actually good is great in my opinion. I don’t know why it also reminded me of the game Space Age exactly, because flicking back through the episode it’s not similar at all, but whatever.

WR: “when that show was actually good”, woah, shots fired! Yeah, I am okay with a stylistic approach; let’s hope the story is of a quality where it works. See, this upcoming part of the Showcase was quite odd to me; we go to Ninja Theory, where Studio Head Dom Matthews reveals… Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is set in Iceland and you can now watch a development diary about it. Huh? There was no new footage… It still technically counts for your prediction, I guess. 3-2…

AH: It was there, I get to count it. I’ll agree though, it’s odd that there’s no new footage, but I have to admit that I quite like behind-the-scenes documentaries that explain development choices, so I definitely need to go watch this one at some point. Guess it hasn’t progressed all that much since seven months ago with the world going to shit? Which is understandable, I guess.

Nevertheless, the setting of Iceland is a stunning one (image above is from the CGI trailer)

WR: Maybe… when we got the “Xbox Game Studios Presents” screen afterwards I thought it was going to be a new trailer for it, but instead it was Double Fine! VERY different tone, with Jack Black singing over a trailer for Psychonauts 2. I don’t have the investment of playing the original but I know there is a fanbase with nostalgia for the series, and this is an example of the new first-party variety of Xbox.

AH: Imagine if either of us had put “Jack Black to appear” on our pre-Showcase predictions, we’d be calling each other crazy for it, and yet, there he was. I also never played the original (though I’m fairly sure I own it on Steam) so I’m not too interested in this to be straight up honest, but again, I love the art style for it. With how synonymous Xbox has been in the past with being a console for shooters and sports games, and nothing else, I’m so glad to see such a variety and most of all, actual colours! If this is the future of Microsoft, I’m more than happy.

With how synonymous Xbox has been in the past with being a console for shooters and sports games, and nothing else, I’m so glad to see such a variety

Ashley Harrison

WR: It actually seems to suit your tastes for 3D platformers, no? Yeah, variety is the spice of life, and from Halo to Everwild to State of Decay to this, you can see the range of genres and art styles. I’m gonna blast past Destiny as it is a game we know about – the new info was about being able to play updated content on Series X and on Game Pass – and into the next WORLD PREMIERRRRRREEEE for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 and then again for Warhammer 40,000 Darktide, both more gritty reveals in the vein of those less colourful shooters you just mentioned. Tetris Effect Connected, a new version with multiplayer, was then after that to return the vibrancy… this section was where I felt the Showcase lost some of that front-loaded momentum. The reveals were okay, but blended into one a bit…

AH: Yeah, honestly, I can’t really say much about this section either. Nice to see Tetris slowly catching up to DOOM as the game able to run on the most devices though.

It’s pleasing to see the variety of games; Psychonauts 2, above

WR: Though Skyrim may have an argument about that too, haha! A game much more in our wheelhouse was the shock exclusive from Image & Form Games, The Gunk. I say shock because usually their priority has been Nintendo platforms, so to see them have such a presence in the Xbox Games Showcase was a surprise to me. They haven’t got much experience with 3D games, but they’re a fantastic, talented development team so I am confident this will be great. I really find the environment design brilliantly eccentric – it has mechanical elements so it could still be in the SteamWorld universe…

AH: Image & Form might genuinely be the best indie company around right now for my money, so I’m really hoping this serves as their big break into the mainstream that they thoroughly deserve. Whilst they might not have any experience in the 3D design world, they haven’t made a single bad game yet if you ask me, and this looks set to continue that trend. The Gunk is very heavily Super Mario Sunshine inspired from the looks of things, an under-rated Mario game if you ask me, so I’m very much looking forward to this being released. Hopefully down the line it’ll be released on other systems instead of just Series X and One, but if not, this is without a doubt the game that will get me to buy Series X more than any other. I’m that confident in Image & Form’s previous development quality that I’ll say that right now.

WR: Even more than Everwild? Yeah, Image & Form have proven their qualities time and again – I was hoping that they would be allowed to do a steampunk version of Metroid at some point – and I hope this is a success. In the trailer the movement seemed a bit clunky and unrefined, but I imagine that shall improve a lot.

I am anticipating fun interviews with Brjann Sigurgeirsson (who runs Image & Form) about The Gunk

AH: Even more than Everwild, yeah. This is without a doubt the highlight of the Showcase for me, I just love Image & Form’s games that much. I don’t think this is a permanent move from Nintendo (speaking of which, we still need the other console ports of SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech…) so they might well yet get the opportunity to do their own take on Metroid, and I’ll be there to buy it Day 1.

WR: With the Metroidvania elements of the two SteamWorld Dig games, it would be such a great collaboration! OK, so we’re getting to the final reveals of the show now, and after picking up with The Gunk we again switch genre into horror with The Medium. This has really stylish visuals but without really seeing the gameplay it’s hard to place where it is going to be quality-wise. Rendering two worlds at once is mighty remarkable though!

AH: Now this is a game that interests me greatly, and because of the gameplay, as impressive as rendering dual worlds is. What intrigues me is that whilst watching the reveal trailer for it, I can’t help but feel like I’m watching a trailer for Stranger Things: The Game. And since calling the official game for the show god awful is still being kind, I’m more than happy to have this as a replacement. There’s so many similarities between The Medium and Stranger Things, with the worlds being the same layout wise but the “other side” being a dangerous place, to the monster you see in the game sharing more than a passing resemblance to the Demogorgon from the show.

Well, that’s just showing off

WR: This is where you tell me, again, to watch the show, right? Haha, it’s on the list… there is some really creepy imagery, and having the Akira Yamaoka (of Silent Hill) on music duties is awesome. Again, this fills a genre gap for Xbox – even if it is only a launch exclusive. So, er, for the next reveal, are you a Phantasy Star Online player? I feel as though New Genesis: Phantasy Star Online 2 is a really significant reveal as a launch exclusive (especially considering the track record of Xbox in Japan) but I just don’t have that investment in the series.

AH: For fuck’s sake Will, go watch Stranger Things, it’s so good. Plus, that way, you’ll see what I mean when I compare the two. I can’t believe that you haven’t already seen it. As for PSO, nah, I’m not a player. Like you said, it’s a cool get for the console in Japan especially, it’s just not for me.

WR: It has a very Xenoblade Chronicles style with the open world and real-time combat, especially Xenoblade Chronicles X considering the tech and guns. That’s a complimentary comparison, so if I get a Series X this is a huge adventure I shall have my eye on. The penultimate reveal was a single-player campaign for CrossfireX, but again it sorta blended into the gritty-shooter genre for me without really standing out?

I’m sure Phantasy Star Online makes sense. Somehow.

AH: It’s definitely just another shooter in my view, does nothing to separate itself from the crowd and as such, nothing to honestly make me remember it. It’s definitely a skip for me honestly, should I choose to buy Series X. I know people will probably say that the first trailer for a game is way too early to write a game off, but when you can tell a game isn’t made for you, it doesn’t matter how far into development it is for me.

WR: It did seem a strangely generic reveal to have so close to the end of the show. We return to the future where we reunite with Matt Booty, and he reminds us about how all these games are included in Game Pass, before sending us off with one final reveal – a reveal a lot of people were predicting, Fable! Playground Games (of Forza) are switching genres and bringing back this well-know RPG IP. It was a CGI trailer, yes, but it had a great, whimsical tone and, y’know, announced Fable! It was a brilliant one-more-thing to close the show in my opinion, even if it may far away.

AH: And, from what I’m reading today, it’s going back to the single-player RPG roots rather than the online MMO style of the cancelled Fable Legends, I’m genuinely so happy. This was one of my “hopeful” predictions for the Showcase, and I’m extremely glad to see it there. A good RPG is something I’m always up for, and when it’s something the calibre of classic Fable, it’s a day one game for me. Even with it being a CGI trailer, the rendering on the frog is ridiculous, you can see how bumpy the texture of its skin for crying out loud! It’ll be interesting to see what Playground Games are able to do with the series, especially considering their only previously released games are the Forza Horizon series…

There it is! Now, er, wait

WR: Oh really? That’s great to hear, and with this and also the Obsidian games, RPGs could be an area where Microsoft really has an advantage over Sony in the coming years. We have seen Guerrilla Games go from FPS of Killzone to Action RPG of Horizon Zero Dawn successfully, so I hope there is another similarly successful story here. This was a real crowd-pleaser of an announcement, and has got me considering educating myself on Fable by getting the 360 games! Also, yeah, this makes it 3/6 predictions each, not bad!

AH: I knew I recognised the name of Playground Games but I couldn’t place where, so I had to Google it and yeah, Wikipedia says their only previous games are Forza Horizon 14. Also they’re a British developer, based in Leamington Spa, so always nice to see our little island get repped in such a huge conference. I like to think it’s 3/4 predictions each because, let’s be honest, we both knew beforehand that the ridiculous predictions were never going to happen, and if they did, whoever got even one right would’ve automatically taken the W between us haha! Overall, this is absolutely the strongest showing from Microsoft in a long while if you ask me, and like I said earlier, so strong that it’s genuinely making me consider picking up an Xbox Series X as my next generation console, so fair play to Microsoft for that, never thought that’d happen.

There is a reinvigorated, energetic feeling about Microsoft at the moment

William Robinson

WR: There were quite a few British developers in this actually! Yeah so if we judge the whole Showcase now, how do you compare it to the Sony PS5 event? Both had a particular focus on games which is great to see. I reckon they’re quite close; they both had exciting exclusive reveals, and also considerable third-party presence. There is a reinvigorated, energetic feeling about Microsoft at the moment with all these new studios that is really drawing me towards that Series X. If you add the value of Game Pass, it’s a really attractive proposition.

AH: It’s crazy how comparing the Microsoft that started this generation by, let’s be honest, completely flopping the Xbox One reveal, and today’s Microsoft who’s done everything right with this Series X game reveal, it’s like looking at two completely different companies. Microsoft has definitely been forced to learn from its mistakes with the launch of Xbox One and in my opinion has done so. I’d have to rewatch the PS5 reveal to be able to give a definitive answer as to which is better, but I’m fairly sure this would edge it in terms of content I’m interested in that would make me buy the system, and thus be the better showcase in my opinion. Now it comes down to price as to which console I pick up.

The internals of the Xbox Series X

WR: My personal feeling is to edge slightly towards the PS5 event in terms of games I am excited for – Horizon Forbidden West, Resident Evil VIII – but the Xbox Showcase was a better presentation, with more variety and an even snappier pace than Sony. The best praise we can give it is saying that we are much more inclined to get a Series X now, which we both seem to be. Price is going to be crucial, and they can’t both wait forever! One of them is going to go first, it’s going to be fascinating to see it play out. If you’re being critical, where would you say this could have been better? From our discussion, maybe moving Halo to a different point so it isn’t the graphics focus and then not having so many of those less-impressive reveals around two-thirds in?

AH: Yeah, if we’re being critical, you’ve hit the nail on the head there with how I’d improve it. Get rid of the less impressive reveals that could be a Twitter announcement or something, and have a game like Everwild showcase the Series X graphical capabilities rather than Halo Infinite. Although I do get why it opened with Halo and closed with Fable, as those were the two biggest games shown and by placing them first and last, the consumer is way more likely to remember them.

WR: Yeah, I mean, Halo was always realistically going to either start or end the show. That’s their most well-known first-party franchise. You staying with The Gunk for your favourite game of the Showcase? Everwild is mine, closely followed by Avowed and Fable.

The impact of Halo Infinite may have been more keenly felt elsewhere in the Showcase

AH: My top 3, in this order, are: 1. The Gunk; 2. Everwild; 3. Fable. Nice to see for once that we pretty much basically agree on it all, haha!

WR: Yeah, so positive! Going back to the start of our talk, then… how likely do you reckon it is you are going to get the Series X at launch, in comparison to the PS5?

AH: Honestly, if I were being forced to put a numerical percentage on it, probably at a strong 75/25 split currently, Sony really do have work to do if they’re to convince me now.

WR: I’m more around the 50/50 mark myself, price is going to be a factor. Game Pass is, as aforementioned, such an incredible offer too and a considerable advantage over PS5. When ya reckon we get price reveals?

AH: Well, considering both consoles are set to be released before the end of the year, hopefully within the next couple of weeks. It’d be stupid to leave it too much later now if you ask me.

Isn’t Everwild beautiful?

WR: I genuinely am not sure who is going to end up on top of the two! Microsoft has delivered a fine counter-blow. Is there any final remark from you before we close out? We’ve been quite thorough already.

AH: Nah, I can’t think of anything else to say, other than I genuinely can’t wait to get my hands on a lot of the games shown. November-ish time is going to be crazy!

WR: This is certainly a unique year… Now, Nintendo, where are you at?! Thanks for joining me again, Ash!

AH: Nintendo please show up properly soon. But yeah, in a bit Will! See ya next time!


The Showcase impressed us, and the prediction scores ended up even at 3 all – what a wonderfully satisfying conclusion. If you would like to read more of our Let’s Chat articles, click here!

Resident Evil: Revelations Review

Developed and Published by: Capcom
Platforms: 3DS, Wii U, Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: Out Now


There have been gaming series that have been a noticeable hole in my gaming knowledge over the years. Resident Evil had long been one such gap, and so, especially with COVID-19 leading to more time spent at home, this has been a series I have dedicated a lot of time to playing through in 2020. Just, y’know, without trying to see too many parallels with recent events… I am going to write up reviews for multiple games I have played in the series, starting with the one I began with: Resident Evil: Revelations!


All Aboard

This may seem an odd place for me to start the series, considering it is set after Resident Evil 4 and before Resident Evil 5. Hear me out, though! The digital versions of Revelations and the sequel Revelations 2 are often discounted on the Nintendo eShop, and they were very appealing impulse purchases for me; purchases that led to me playing many other games in the series too, as Revelations got me hook, line, and sinker (yes, ship puns are very much going to be present in this review). This is a game that was originally released on the Nintendo 3DS back in 2012. I still have clear memories of Official Nintendo Magazine having the exclusive reveal… as if this game was EIGHT years ago?! Time flies. There were then HD versions released in 2013, and next-gen versions in 2017; the 2017 Switch release is the one I am reviewing here.

Revelations is mostly set on board the Queen Zenobia, a cruise ship in the Mediterranean Sea. BSAA (Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance) agents Chris Redfield (Hiroki Touchi/Roger Craig Smith) and Jessica Sherawat (Nana Mizuki/Ali Hillis) have gone quiet after going there on a lead about bioterrorist organisation Veltro, so Jill Valentine (Atsuko Yuya/Michelle Ruff) – who you play as for most of the game – and Parker Luciani (Mitsuru Miyamoto/Kirk Thornton) are sent after them. Veltro are attempting to infect 1/5th of the water of the planet by contaminating it with the T-Abyss virus, which, well, isn’t ideal. The Queen Zenobia is a brilliant location for the survival horror qualities of Resident Evil, having plenty of cramped spaces and narrow corridors to keep you in a constant feeling of suspense. It’s an ingenious setting; the idea of being stuck on an enclosed ship full of monstrosities in the middle of an ocean works so well at escalating the stakes of every encounter. The creepy, mostly empty spaces of a luxurious cruise ship supply that classic horror vibe that the series went away from – for better or worse – in Resident Evil 5.

Jill Valentine and Parker Luciani, the pairing at the beginning of the game

A focus on series regulars Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield really anchors the story and provides a solid base from which to then learn about the new characters that accompany them. There are plenty of Resident Evil-style twists and reveals in the game that keep the story cruising along nicely. This game has a really cool narrative approach, splitting the story into 12 parts that are presented as TV-style episodes, with a recap of previous events at the start of each. Not only does this add a neat cinematic edge to proceedings and an opportunity for exciting cliffhangers, but it really suits the handheld nature of the original game and, subsequently, the Switch version. Being able to play an episode or two at a time – perhaps even in bed with the lights off – in the way you might view a TV show has a satisfying pace to it.


Ship-shape

Speaking of which, the visual upgrades this game has had since the 3DS original are impressive, to the point where it would be hard to tell it was a 3DS game without knowing. On that console there was understandable constraints on the visuals that could be achieved, but the updates bring the game to a comparable level with the latest version of Resident Evil 5, the game next in the timeline of the series – though, note that the 3D visuals of the original are lost. The character models are impressively detailed and have engaging voice acting, a key element in the genuinely dramatic moments in the game. On the point of audio, there is a noticeable effort at spooking you out with ambient sounds as the stranded ship creaks and shudders whilst you explore it. Then there are the noises made by the enemies infected by the T-Abyss virus…

Revelations isn’t all on the Queen Zenobia; for example here with Jessica Sherawat and Chris Redfield

Said enemies have a different appearance in Revelations. Instead of the more traditional zombies of earlier Resident Evil games or the much more human opposition of Resident Evil 4 and 5, here you are facing pale, shambling creatures that appear as though they are melting away after being infected. You face off against several different types of these gloopy attackers – some are dangerous at close range, some can fire at you from afar… oh, and of course, one has developed a chainsaw-like aspect, because, of course. It is a nice touch to be able to hear enemies before you see them – the sound of that chainsaw one still sorta haunts me.

When analysing the presentation, though, the game isn’t without rough edges, and some parts of the cruise ship can get samey in terms of the murky, damp colour palette; even if arguably that also contributes to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the game. To be fair, there are sections of the game where we cut away from the cruise ship and get some different environments, such as a flashback to Jessica and Parker in Terragrigia when Veltro attacked it, or when fellow BSAA agents Quint Cetcham (Naoki Bando) and Keith Lumley (Daisuke Ono) follow in the footsteps of Jessica and Chris to a snowy, mountainous area. That latter environment in particular is a nice contrast to the cruise ship, a much more open space that gives you a short moment to breathe before being plunged back into the tension of the Queen Zenobia. In terms of the story I found the sections playing as Jill the most engaging, but those cutaways help add a bit of variety to Revelations.


Swimming? In Resident Evil?

In terms of actually surviving these locations and the horrors they throw at you, the gameplay is in the vein of Resident Evil 4 and 5 – which makes sense – with a third-person over-the-shoulder perspective. Maneuvering around in the tight spaces can be – intentionally, it seems – quite clunky, and contributes to the threat of enemies around you. Conversely, though, you can move and shoot at the same time (not always the case in this series!) and there are some other neat tricks available to you, too. You can quick-turn on the spot, run, and use melee attacks when enemies are compromised by your gunfire (Jill has a particularly awesome spin-kick). You can even swim! For a series that often restricts your options, it is pleasing that Revelations removes some of those barriers whilst maintaining an air of threat.

You can play as a variety of different characters in the Raid Mode

A vast range of weapons are available, from pistols and submachine guns to a selection of grenade types, and this gives a fun amount of options to try. Furthermore, you can modify the traits of weapons to suit your own playstyle. There is also a scanner, named the Genesis, which allows you to seek out hidden items in the environment. This is actually really helpful, as Revelations severely limits the amount of ammo and health you have at any one point. Giving you more movement options but limiting the amount of supplies is balanced well; it makes me feel as though you can really make a difference through player skill and utilising those supplies efficiently.

Your repertoire can also be put to the test in the separate Raid Mode, where you can play sections of the game in different ways and go for high scores. This is also a way to get access to different weapons and unlock new outfits for the characters. It’s a comprehensive offering, and the progression system encourages you to keep playing – it adds a lot of longevity to the game beyond the main story, and also provides the option of playing with a friend over local or online co-op. There is a distinct sense of attention to detail, with a lot of customisation choices for the player – other examples of that are the retro-style game that can be played when loading up the game, and the functionality that allows you to scan amiibo to get more BP to spend in the Raid mode. So… Jill Valentine amiibo? Jill Valentine in Smash? Okay, William, I am sensing it is time to wrap up now…


Final Thoughts

Resident Evil: Revelations has been my entry point into the franchise, and my thorough enjoyment of the game paved my way to playing others in the series. The way the game has been adapted to newer consoles is impressive, and the episodic story holds up well with a welcome emphasis on survival horror. Some of the scenes away from playing as Jill Valentine lack a bit of identity, especially when with only new characters, but these aren’t the focus and there is admittedly merit to be found in how they help break up the game. With intense gameplay and a rich, atmospheric vibe, Resident Evil: Revelations, is, well, a revelation.

8.5/10

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

My Top Ten Films of 2019: #10-#6

Right; to get my annual top ten films lists up to date, it’s time to go through my choices for 2019! This list shall operate in a similar way to those of 2017 and 2018 – two articles, each going through 5 films. Furthermore, as before, I am going by UK release date, so a film such as The Favourite counts for 2019. Here’s #10-#6!


#10: Stan & Ollie

There have been a lot of musical biopic films released in recent times, which can make it hard for them to stand out from one another; however, through taking a quieter, character-driven approach to the twilight years of Laurel & Hardy, director Jon S. Baird manages to create a distinctively touching and emotional story about their final performances in 1950s Britain. Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly thoroughly embody the lead parts of Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy respectively, without pushing their personas into exaggerated territory – that’s saved for their iconic double acts! At the same time, they make evident the professional and personal relationship between the two and the challenges they face to maintain it in a world of rapidly changing entertainment. Their partners at the time, Ida (Shirley Henderson) and Lucille (Nina Arianda) act as great foils to them, supporting the pair even if that isn’t always through making their act a priority – the dynamics are hilarious too, especially the blunt remarks of Ida. As a film about a comedic double act, you would expect a sense of humour from Stan & Ollie, and it’s very much there in a traditional, innocent way that matches their performances. Speaking of which, those scenes are marvelously entertaining, and conclude in a breathtaking final display that celebrates Laurel & Hardy and their unique friendship.


#9: Frozen II

After Frozen – back in 2013 – wonderfully broke the conventions of the traditional Princess story, a follow-up was a real test for Disney. Yet, in my eyes, Frozen II surpasses the first film, carrying on the magic and taking the characters into very mature themes. We rejoin Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) living peacefully in Arendelle, but as a mysterious entity draws Elsa away from home, Anna, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Sven, and Olaf (Josh Gad) follow her on an adventure that explores unexplained mysteries and also has the characters discover essential revelations about themselves. The addition of fall colours to the pristine ice animation gives the film a stunning, contrasting aesthetic that is just irresistible. Music is a key component of Frozen as a series and again Frozen II improves on its predecessor in this area; it’s where some of those aforementioned mature themes come from, especially in The Next Right Thing, a powerful commentary on grief where Kristen Bell tugs on my heartstrings. The catchy energy of Frozen music is maintained, but with new depths of emotion; overall, the entire film has less of the more superficial moments that showed up now and then in the first film. Frozen II is an incredible sequel that raises the bar for the franchise in every department.


#8: Le Mans ’66

I’m a motorsport fan, so it’s surprising to me that I took a while to sit myself down in a Picturehouse and view Le Mans ’66 (Ford v Ferrari in the States) on the silver screen – and oh, oh ho ho, am I glad I did, as this film is a visual thrill ride (pun… intended?). There have been some phenomenal motorsport films over the years, such as Senna (2010) and Rush (2013), but I was initially concerned whether Le Mans ’66 would manage to have the same level of emotion – consider me very much won over! Director James Mangold viscerally puts on screen how Ken Miles (Christian Bale) and Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) worked with Ford to tackle the all-conquering Ferrari at the Le Mans 24 Hours. The competitive narrative keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout, yet it is that central partnership of two friends that drives (ahem) the film. It isn’t just their rivals they have to contend with; the conflict between their ambitions and the politics of Ford creates several flashpoints. Miles and Shelby don’t always see eye-to-eye either, but as shown by a hilarious expression of friendship later in the film, they are ultimately that: friends, motivated with a competitive spirit that is escalated by the budget behind them. There are a few small changes made to true events, but they serve to add emphasis and didn’t damage the messages of the story for me. Spectacular race sequences intersperse the film, culminating in an extensive finale at the 1966 Le Mans that gives the event the attention it deserves; the use of actual cars and racetracks whilst filming is so important for giving an authentic feel to the action. Also, so, the music… Wow, what a soundtrack! Composed by Marco Beltrami and Buck Saunders, the heart-pumping energy produced by the intense tracks for the races is incredible; with the incorporation of the myriad of striking sounds present in motor racing, it results in audio that shakes the soul. Incidentally, Le Mans ’66 and Donald Sylvester won an Oscar for Achievement in sound editing; furthermore, Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland won an Oscar for Achievement in film editing. It all combines to create a momentum propelling the film on to a poignant ending.


#7: Green Book

Similarly to Le Mans ’66 and Stan & Ollie, Green Book (which won the 2019 Best Picture Oscar) is a film about two men and the relationship they have. However, the circumstances of Green Book (based on a real friendship) are very different from either of those films. When pianist Dr. Donald Shirley (Mahershala Ali) decides to go on a tour of Southern USA in the 1960s, this means facing racial inequality and abuse, and he hires Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) to be his driver – Tony is out of a job as a bouncer, and takes the role on despite it meaning he has to leave his family until Christmas. Dr. Shirley is a well-mannered, proud man who takes his art seriously, very different to the blunt, unhygienic Tony. As the film progresses, Tony witnesses the talent of Dr. Shirley but also the mistreatment he faces, having to get involved on multiple occasions. Green Book is exceptionally smart in how it portrays the views of each of the two, and how they both learn from the other. For example, Dr. Shirley helps Tony write better, more affectionate letters back home to his wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini) and in the other direction Tony supports Dr. Shirley in combining his pride with a more social and open attitude to life. It isn’t as simple as one learning from the other; it goes both ways, as relationships and culture should do. Scene to scene there is a range of tones, the film skillfully switching from light-hearted to dramatic and vice-versa multiple times, further showing different sides to the world and how the horror of racism can suddenly intrude on a life. Green Book has had controversy around it that I disagree with, as to me the whole point of this film is that these are two people with vastly different experiences who learn from each other, instead of just saying one culture is entirely right or wrong.


#6: Pain & Glory

Acclaimed Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar reaches a new peak with Pain & Glory, a delicate character study inspired by his own life. Antonio Banderas is exceptional in the lead role as the emotionally raw Salvador Mallo, a writer who is now suffering from less of a passion for his craft and numerous health issues – as showcased by a vivid animated sequence early on. We follow Salvador as he reunites with loved ones; meanwhile, the actor Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia) tries to persuade him to put his writing to stage once again. The film is punctuated by memories of his childhood spent with mother Jacinta (Penélope Cruz), where we witness key moments that made him into who he is now. This film is wonderfully delicate, a retrospective and introspective life story which draws you in and keeps you engrossed until the end. It’s starkly honest in the story told, and as ever, Almodóvar brings his enchanting direction and intelligent dialogue treatment. Pain & Glory is currently my favourite Almodóvar film; a magic spell of a film told with care, love, and a flourish.


The second part of this list, going through my picks for #5-#1, is on the way, so stay tuned to this website!

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy Review

Developed by: Naughty Dog
Published by: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: Out Now


While we may have expected Naughty Dog to release DLC for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, I’m not sure how many of us thought that instead they would release a full game! Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is set not long after the events of Uncharted 4, and stars Chloe Frazer (Claudia Black) and Nadine Ross (Laura Bailey); you play as Chloe throughout the game, but both characters, and their relationship, are very much the focus. So, how does this departure from the Nathan Drake-led games of before turn out? The short answer is very, very well.


It Takes Two

Set in the vibrant country of India; The Lost Legacy starts with Chloe undercover and browsing local markets whilst tracking insurgent leader Asav (Usman Ally). Both are after the legendary tusk of Ganesh – Chloe for personal reasons, as her father died in his hunt for said tusk, and Asav in order to subsequently spark a civil war in India. On the way, we meet up with post-Uncharted 4 Nadine on a rooftop, and it is clear that whilst these two have a professional arrangement, neither is particularly friendly towards the other – their personalities are very much conflicting, with Nadine an efficient planner and Chloe more of the improvisation type. After a tense meeting with Asav in his office where sides are chosen, the pair make an escape in a daring chase sequence. Stealing a map and crucial artifact on the way, they set course for the Western Ghats to continue their search for the tusk.

After her absence in Uncharted 4, it is great to see Chloe again!

That opening sequence does a decent job at re-introducing the gameplay of Uncharted, including some of the newer stealth options brought in by Uncharted 4. However, Chloe is immediately dissimilar in subtle ways from Nathan Drake, in terms of her own unique silky swagger of movement and more of a tendency to use those undercover tactics – take her proficiency at picking locks as evidence of that. Even early on, there are some fun subversion moments thrown in, such as when the obligatory push-this-so-you-can-climb-it Naughty Dog puzzle instead turns into inadvertently and unintentionally taking out the floor! Especially for those who got used to the gameplay cycles of Uncharted 4, this adds a freshness that reminds you this game has ideas all of its own.

Once we get to the Western Ghats, the game really kicks off in earnest. Very soon you find yourself in a mini-open-world, with a vehicle to help get you around; imagine the Madagascar section of Uncharted 4, but larger and with more detail to it (and plenty more secrets to find!). It also reminds me a lot of the modern Tomb Raider games and their connected open areas; I find it fascinating how these two series seem to inspire and learn from each other game by game as comparable action franchises. Exploring this space of The Lost Legacy is a delight – there is a main plot thread, but you can spend as long as you like finding every nook, cranny, and collectible. As well as the Treasures that are a staple of the Uncharted franchise, there are also conversation points and photo opportunities at certain locations to keep you busy.


Capture the Moment

It’s not difficult to see why Chloe would keep photographic evidence of the trip, either. The Lost Legacy is gorgeous, and this initial area is a fantastic example. The lush grass and foliage, the sun-beaten rocks, the structures of Hindu religion… the game is constantly encouraging you to explore it, and it really drew me into the grand Indian adventure. Naughty Dog have become so proficient at creating lively game worlds, and a reason for that is their attention to detail. The way mud trails rupture behind you as you wrestle your jeep up slopes, or the restless way waterfalls cascade down a path, and plenty more authentic touches all work towards engrossing you in the world.

That’s a lot of waterfalls

With competition for obtaining the tusk, though, it isn’t all admiring the view. There are many combat scenarios with the insurgents for Chloe and Nadine to weather, and a range of enemies means you have to switch up your approaches (I mean, come on, when are we gonna be the ones with helicopter support?). The gunplay is – unsurprisingly – very similar to that of Uncharted 4, but there are a few new mechanics and opportunities; many combat areas have crates that, once Chloe picks the lock, give access to grenades, rare weapons, and more. I appreciate the distinct effort to provide options to be stealthy, with lots of tall grass (where is Link when you need him?) and the introduction of silenced weapons. On the other hand, and this could partly just be me, it seemed that the positions of enemies and the routes they take aren’t well-designed to facilitate a quieter approach. I often found it difficult to get through more than one or two people at a time without being spotted and then having to resort to either running away and hiding, or fully engaging in the gunfire.

The actual feel of the combat is rewarding in its smoothness, with transitions between weapons responsive and various cover options. As is my complaint for all the Uncharted games, my main problem with the combat is just how much of it there is, especially when the game is trying to tell me an emotional story about characters and who they are. If the game was designed more around the stealth options this would be slightly less of an issue. The narrative dissonance is very noticeable in the Uncharted series… With the exploration areas being so wonderful to play, I would say that there could be combat scenarios taken out without harming – and possibly instead improving – the overall game.


Frazer & Ross

Which is a nice segway into discussing the narrative of The Lost Legacy and how it develops the main duo of Chloe and Nadine. They may not start out on the best of terms, but from there the game oh-so-gradually has their relationship naturally develop as they spend time together in their pursuit of the tusk. Driving around at the start of the game provides many insightful exchanges of words that give them, and us, more info about them as people and how they got to this point. Chloe is much more knowledgeable about the Hindu Gods and Nadine noticeably learns from her. Conversely, there are also moments of friction; in particular, one revelation threatens to derail it all at around the mid-point of the story (for spoilers, I won’t go into detail on this).

Chloe and Nadine are a formidable combination

Yet, as with many relationships, their bond is stronger for lessons learned. As you play further into the game, they both start to understand and relate to each other and their motivations more; their evolving dynamic results in many different types of moments, some dramatic, some funny, some action-packed, some heartwarming (all I shall say is: elephants). The light-hearted conversations produced from their contrasting personalities are so well-done, with the clash of the quippy, bold Chloe and the matter-of-fact, confident Nadine. These are two awesome, fiercely independent women realising that opening up to each other doesn’t take any of that strength away, and may, on the contrary, empower them more.

None of this would work as well as it does without the superb performances from Claudia Black and Laura Bailey, who seem to effortlessly put this range of emotions on screen. The dynamic they share never seems forced, and the extra time with these characters has endeared them so much to me. The performance capture of Naughty Dog is cutting-edge, but it isn’t just this alone that creates the cinematic feel. Not often mentioned is the use of camerawork and direction in Naughty Dog games – in The Lost Legacy, cutscenes are really well-framed to give the interactions the focus, even during more chaotic scenarios. I already enjoyed the scenes with Chloe in previous games, but I felt Uncharted 4 under-served Nadine. Here, she is given much more of an opportunity to show who she is as a person – including insight into ramifications of the events of Uncharted 4 – and by the end of the story, my perspective on her had changed in a very positive way. Personally, I reckon more games featuring this lead duo would be an awesome idea!


Lend Me a Hand

Towards the later stages, (and again, I won’t go into much detail because of spoilers) there are new obstacles and characters introduced, but the brilliant dynamic of Chloe and Nadine remains the focus, and these new factors only give them more to bounce off of. Asav hasn’t got that many scenes, but he poses a threat and has a sort of upbeat villainous air to him that held my attention when he did appear. There isn’t much depth given to him and his reasons for doing what he is doing, but as a reason for Chloe and Nadine to work together it works well enough.

After that open area at the beginning, The Lost Legacy reverts to the linear level design of much of the Uncharted series, but I wouldn’t say that it is an outright negative change; having some of each type of environment design actually keeps you on your toes as a player. Now, these are very different games overall, but it reminds me of the combination of traditional, linear Routes and the new, open Wild Areas in Pokémon Sword and Shield and how that satisfies both angles of gameplay. With these more direct paths, the puzzle solving becomes more of a focus, and there are some amazing set pieces.

The puzzles get quite intricate (and, y’know, deadly)

I’d go as far as to say this game takes the Crown of Uncharted set pieces from Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. It isn’t just for one set piece, either; whilst the closing sequence of the game may seem the prime candidate, the puzzle-focused discoveries as you go through the capital of Belur are, in a way, one long set piece that I found genuinely fascinating. The way Chloe and Nadine act as expert and student to the Hindu religion creates such a conversational vibe that links up the cutscenes into a cohesive narrative journey. Also, I am really into these ancient discovery adventure games… maybe I should become an archaeologist?!

Of course, it wouldn’t be Uncharted without lots of climbing during this exploration. There isn’t much new to report here… You climb, you leap, you have (un)expected moments when your handhold gives way – it’s Uncharted, all right!. Solid stuff, if not surprising. The rope, introduced in Uncharted 4, is used again here to swing around and adds some variety of movement, but again we have seen it before; another new method or two of getting around would have been nice for a series where traversal is so core to the gameplay. With this being a separate game and not DLC, it’s harder to justify the areas where there is less innovation.


I’ve Been Here Before

In addition to the replay value of the story through different difficulties and the many collectibles, The Lost Legacy also comes packaged with the full multiplayer from Uncharted 4. There is some new content specifically centred around The Lost Legacy, but as a mode from another game you may previously have, it is hard to give too much credit for it reappearing here. Naughty Dog have continuously added to the multiplayer over time, so there is plenty of content there if it is an area you get invested in. The main appeal of the Uncharted games is the story, however, and the relative lack of that in multiplayer makes it feel slightly hollow as a result. If the idea of playing as various characters from the series in a competitive environment is to your tastes, though, then you may find enjoyment here.

This isn’t an example of stealth

Another return is that of Henry Jackman to once again compose a score for an Uncharted game. It is a credit to the acclaimed musician that it is no surprise the audio side of The Lost Legacy is so accomplished. The soundtrack has a crucial role in the exciting, adventurous tone of Uncharted, but it is equally important that this does not override the quieter scenes. Henry Jackman is successful on both fronts, contributing to the thrilling ride to the credits – where a licensed song is incorporated to energetically conclude the game!


Final Thoughts

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy just edges out Uncharted 3 as my favourite entry in the franchise (for reference, I haven’t played Uncharted: Golden Abyss). Much of the reason for this is the pairing of Chloe and Nadine and how their interactions develop over the course of the 10-ish hour narrative. The core Uncharted gameplay, flaws and all, is present, as well as the now-customary Naughty Dog high level of production quality. An emphasis on exploration and historical revelations really appealed to me, and it is also noteworthy that whilst The Lost Legacy is a full game release, it is sold at a lower price, possibly to reflect the aspects informed by Uncharted 4. It is currently unclear where the Uncharted series is going to go in the future, but if the games are of a similar quality to this, then I am very much along for the ride.

9/10

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Carole & Tuesday: Part 1 Review

Certificate: 15
Production: Bones, FlyingDog
Distributor: Netflix
Platform: Streaming – Netflix
Release Date: Out Now


This is an anime someone *cough* you know who you are *cough* had been telling me to watch for a long time, and, well, I have finally got around to it! I tend to enjoy anime with a musical theme, such as Your Lie in April, so an anime about two 17-year-old girls (can you guess their names?!) breaking their way into the music scene seems very much in my wheelhouse. In this review, I shall be reviewing Part 1, which is made up of 12 episodes, with a review for Part 2 at a later date.

-SOME SPOILERS FOR CAROLE & TUESDAY: PART 1 AHEAD-


It Goes Two Ways

Ah, y’know, Part 1 of Carole & Tuesday starts out so well. Then, as it goes on, it really loses its way as you enter the second half… OK, I’m getting ahead of myself! We start out from the perspective of Tuesday Simmons (Kana Ichinose/Brianna Knickerbocker), a quiet and reserved girl from a rich family (her mother is a well-known politician). She has run away from home, with only her futuristic self-driving suitcase and guitar in tow. Oh yeah, did I mention this is set in the future? Oh, and on Mars? Ultimately, it isn’t that different from an Earth setting; there are subtle inclinations here and there, such as a train crossing the red surface of the planet, or talk of past events on Earth. One of the main differences to note is how AI are much more prominent, specifically with all music now being created through AI software. Well, nearly all…

Carole (left) and Tuesday (right) do a lot of running early on…

Tuesday makes her way to Alba City, and isn’t off to a great start when her briefcase is stolen. Wandering to a bridge in the evening, she then hears the music of Carole Stanley (Miyuri Shimabukuro/Jeannie Tirado) as she busks on said bridge. Most people are walking past Carole without much notice, but this music connects to Tuesday; the connotations of loneliness, yet an optimistic loneliness that is open to connection, forms an immediate bond between these two girls. Chased off the bridge by security, they return to Carole’s apartment and continue the formation of their friendship. Tuesday adds her lyrics and guitar to the song Carole was playing, producing the song The Loneliest Girl.

From the outset, the musical performances are fantastic. The voices of Nai Br.XX and Celeina Ann for the songs go fantastically well together, and the music really sells the emotions being put across. Plenty of original music performances punctuate the series, with my personal favourite being Whispering My Love from Episode 8 All the Young Dudes. The colourful credits have energetic tracks playing over them as well; visually, the intro has quite a traditional, rustic appearance to the animation, with the outro having a much more crisp, but static, approach. This variation of animation is carried into the episodes, to a varying level of success. At times there seemed to be an inconsistency to the way characters are portrayed. I don’t mean when you get the exaggerated facial expressions so often seen in anime, but more the scene-to-scene visual style. This is only a small complaint – I really like the slightly more traditional, expressive style which runs through most of the show!


Piano & Guitar

This early section of the series is wonderful, focusing on Carole and Tuesday as they get to know each other. As they talk and learn who each other is at heart, so do we, and I immediately found myself rooting for them. When they break into the Mars Immigration Memorial Hall to play the piano there, programmer and engineer Roddy (Miyu Irino/Zach Aguilar) records it and posts the video online, capturing the attention of previously-successful manager Gus Goldman (Akio Ôtsuka/Jason Marnocha). He is now down-and-out, divorced and spending a lot of time drinking at a bar; however, this music reinvigorates him to search Carole & Tuesday out and become their manager. Following episodes revolve around the various methods they try in order to get more people to be aware of their non-AI music; this includes trying to be featured by the ridiculously over-the-top (in a great way, though) DJ Ertegun (Mamoru Miyano/Ray Chase), and making a music video.

With Gus’ ex-wife Marie (right); also, this is prime caption competition material

A tactic-of-the-week vibe runs through these episodes that could be seen as repetitive, but the interactions between the characters are so endearing that it works. Carole is going through different jobs to get money, whilst Tuesday is getting used to being in a bustling city away from her family, and their positive influence on Roddy and Gus is clear straight away. Despite a general lack of resources, their optimistic efforts are enjoyable to witness. Episode 4 Video Killed the Radio Star is a great example; Gus’s ex-wife Marie (Aya Hisakawa/Allegra Clark) is brought in to help on the aforementioned music video, and through the creative and well-intentioned process, you notice how she sees the positive influence Carole and Tuesday have had on him. At the end of the episode, she tells him how she is getting married to her new partner; he, whilst perhaps disappointed, gives her a heartfelt send-off that shows how he has earnestly changed.

Throughout, we are also being introduced to a contrasting story; teen model Angela Carpenter (Sumire Uesaka/Ryan Bartley) is aspiring to be a singer, and together with her mother and manager Dahlia (Kenyû Horiuchi/Brook Chalmers) seeks out Tao (Hiroshi Kamiya/Kyle McCarley). He is a music producer who makes hit music through AI technology, and his techniques for pushing Angela are frankly disturbing. Tao is cold and efficient in the way he achieves his goals, acting as a juxtaposition to Carole and Tuesday and their approach. A lack of time with Angela means it is much more difficult to connect with her aspiring journey to musical stardom in the same way. In Part 2, I hope this is amended; as far as reviewing Part 1 as a cohesive whole, though, it is noteworthy.

The path Angela (above) takes is in many ways contrary to that of Carole and Tuesday

One of my favourite moments in the series is at the end of Episode 5 Every Breath You Take, where Roddy has managed to get Carole and Tuesday a one-song gig at Mars Lounge, an independent live house. After multiple different attempts to get the word out, their performance of Someday I’ll Find My Way Home gets people to turn their heads – even if there is not many people there. During this, Tuesday’s brother Spencer Simmons (Takahiro Sakurai/Lucien Dodge) walks in. He has been sent to bring Tuesday back home, and has finally found her. Yet, upon seeing her in the middle of her musical act, he simply turns around and walks away, acknowledging that she has found a place more suited to her. It’s a beautiful moment, subtle yet hard-hitting without any direct dialogue from each to the other. This type of scene is where the series is at its best.


Overplaying It

As Carole & Tuesday continues into Episode 7 Show Me the Way and beyond, though, that subtlety starts to get lost. After a rocky experience at the Cydonia Festival, the pair enter the Mars’ Brightest competition – essentially, a talent show along the lines of a Britain’s Got Talent or The X Factor. As an idea for their next route these characters take this is fine, but how it takes over the series and breaks the tone of the episodes prior really jarred me. A low point of the entirety of Part 1 is a montage of contestants in the audition phase, which comes off as a bunch of tone-deaf jokes of different stereotypes. It seems as though it isn’t from the same anime; when we get to Carole & Tuesday and their audition, we see revelations about Carole that make Tuesday develop as a character in an intelligent way. There is so much of a differential in quality within this one sequence!

Mars’ Brightest is the main plot thread of the rest of Part 1, and brings Carole and Tuesday together with Angela as they both participate in the later stages. Several other characters are additionally introduced as competitors, which, similarly to the audition phase, get so much less development than Carole, Tuesday, and Angela. There are a few that are given time for us to be invested in them, such as social media star Pyotr (Shouta Aoi/Erik Scott Kimerer) who – despite first appearing potentially vapid – has much more to him; also Cybelle (Ayane Sakura/Laura Stahl), a contestant with an obsession about Tuesday. But, again, some of them are just made into jokes that I found in bad taste, such as the song of profanities from the Mermaid Sisters… another low point in an anime with many highs. It’s just unnecessary, and a confounding narrative decision.

Crystal (Maaya Sakamoto/Cristina Valenzuela), on screen; Gus, left; er, Civilian, right?

I found myself comparing proceedings to another anime I have recently watched, Yuri!!! On Ice. In that show, there are multiple skating competitions with various new characters being regularly introduced. The focus on the main characters is maintained for all 12 episodes, yet all the skaters we meet are both unique and well-developed, with engaging stories and motivations. With, at times, similar amounts of time dedicated to them, new contestants in Carole & Tuesday: Part 1 have startlingly less depth to them that subsequently makes them much less memorable and affects the whole show negatively as a result.


Getting the Act Back Together

Furthermore, the more time that is spent on these scenes, the less we get on what made the early episodes so fantastic – the relationship between people from very different backgrounds, in particular Carole and Tuesday. They start to get fewer scenes together – to a degree, this is a story point, but simply not showing them together isn’t enough to justify them feeling pushed apart; show me how they are feeling, and why they aren’t connecting in the same way. In the final episodes of Part 1, they return to the fore again as personal matters intervene in Mars’ Brightest, and Carole & Tuesday picks up in quality again – I am hopeful that this is a sign of great things to come in Part 2.

For all these criticisms, the positive momentum and investment in the characters built by the early episodes helps carry Carole & Tuesday through to those much-improved Episodes 11 and 12 that close out Part 1. Whilst the story takes some rough turns to that point, the visuals and music mostly remain at a high quality, especially whenever Carole and Tuesday take the stage together. We also start to see much more of who Angela is as a person as Mars’ Brightest reaches a conclusion, and I am eagerly anticipating seeing how her story further intertwines with that of Carole and Tuesday.

The scenes of Carole and Tuesday performing together are magical

Over the arc of Part 1, Carole are Tuesday are (as you may expect) the core of the show. The way their dynamic evolves to where it is at the end of Episode 12 We’ve Only Just Begun is a satisfying progression, even if there is lost potential for it to have been done better through the Mars’ Brightest episodes. Roddy, Gus, and Tuesday’s brother Spencer are some of those who organically learn important lessons as a result of that arc, too. Considering how quickly the show works through other plotlines, Mars’ Brightest could have been condensed to allow more opportunities to learn about the characters.


Final Thoughts

The 12 episodes that make up Carole & Tuesday: Part 1 vary in quality. If I was just reviewing the first 6 episodes, the score would likely be 9 or above, but the missteps through the Mars’ Brightest episodes really negatively impacted my enjoyment of the show. However, the goodwill built early on by the duo of Carole and Tuesday softened those disappointments, and the reward was the vast improvement in the final episodes. My hopes are that Part 2 keeps the best parts of the show and avoids more of those misjudged scenes. Stay tuned to this website to find out my thoughts!

8/10

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Xbox Games Showcase Hopes and Predictions!

July 23rd, 5PM BST is a crucial, crucial day and time for Microsoft and the Xbox Series X. After Sony recently gave us info on games such as Horizon Forbidden West, Marvel’s Spider Man: Miles Morales, and more, the PS5 has a very exciting line-up of future games. The Xbox Series X, meanwhile, does not have the same sort of line-up yet; however, with the Xbox Games Showcase that is being aired tomorrow (see here for more info), this could all change. A presentation focused on games is just what Xbox needs; exclusives have been an area of weakness for Xbox in recent years, and this is a great opportunity for Microsoft to really, ahem, showcase how that is changing.

With the event very close now, Ashley Harrison (of the Let’s Chat series!) and I have put together some predictions. We have each selected 6: 2 we expect, 2 we hope for, and 2 that are frankly ridiculous, for a combined total of 12. Keep reading for our picks!


EXPECTED

Halo: Infinite

Ashley Harrison: I’m going to start my predictions with an absolute banker in Halo Infinite, mostly because it’s already been confirmed to be shown at the Xbox Games Showcase, although even if it hadn’t then I’d have chosen it as one of my picks. We haven’t had a mainline Halo release since Halo 5: Guardians back in 2015, and since we know that Infinite is set to be a launch title for the upcoming Series X console, I’m expecting a full-blown reveal here including at least 10 minutes of pure gameplay. It’ll give time to show off exactly what Infinite is about and how it benefits from the new generation of consoles, whilst not overstaying its welcome. With it being a first party game, and arguably Xbox’s key franchise, I definitely expect this to get a bigger, longer showing than any other game at the Showcase. Who knows, maybe we’ll even get a November release date reveal, so we at least have some idea of when Microsoft will be launching the Series X console itself too. We’re really not that far away now if the console is releasing this year like stated; we’re almost into August.

Forza Motorsport 8

William Robinson: Whilst Xbox has had a rough time exclusive-wise this generation, especially compared to competitor consoles, Forza has remained a reliable, critically-acclaimed series throughout. The Forza games have maintained popularity through both quality and variety, and this is one of the few software areas where Xbox has overtaken the PlayStation equivalent in Gran Turismo; so, I imagine Microsoft are keen to make sure this is a battle they keep winning. In recent years, Forza has alternated between Motorsport and Horizon, which are branches of the series that lean towards racing and exploration respectively (there has also recently been a Forza Street game, too). If we go by that logic, then with the recent Horizon 4, the next game shall likely be Forza Motorsport 8. Console launches usually mean racing games showing off the visual prowess of the console, and well, Forza is a prime candidate for that. It can be tough to surprise people with a racing game, but I expect Forza to feature strongly in the Showcase, with new modes and features made possible by the power of Xbox Series X – and lots of very, very pretty cars.

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II

Ashley Harrison: I actually didn’t know what to choose for my second expected game because honestly, having never been much of an Xbox player and instead a PlayStation one , I don’t keep huge tabs on what upcoming games are scheduled for release on Xbox. However, I do remember this being announced at The Game Awards alongside the Series X console design, and with it being a first-party release then I think it’s a pretty safe bet to assume it’ll likely be shown off. Developers Ninja Theory have already stated that the game is being developed to take full advantage of the power of the Series X, so since the game hasn’t been seen in about 7 months, it’ll be interesting to see how the game has developed since then and how exactly it is taking advantage of the console. Since it was also revealed using an in-engine cinematic trailer, I’d also like to see some actual gameplay this time around. It looked visually stunning (the lighting especially was on point) during the initial reveal, so I want to see how it looks whilst playing now.

The Ascent

William Robinson: Microsoft received criticism for their First Look Xbox Series X Gameplay video this year, and one reason why is that there was a lack of gameplay for the new reveals. One game that did have gameplay shown, though, was The Ascent, a promising cyberpunk action RPG (no, not that one) on the world of Veles amidst The Ascent Group; they are a mega corporation that shuts down, leaving their towering metropolis compromised. Under threat, you – and up to three other players in optional co-op – defend your district and discover the secrets of this mystery. Customisation and augmentation contribute to the cyberpunk setting and it generally seems to be on course to be an exciting console exclusive (for now it is only confirmed for Xbox and PC). The Swedish developer, Neon Giant, is made up of only 10 people, but they have experience working on game series such as Wolfenstein, Far Cry, and Gears of War. Surprise exclusives that get people talking are going to be important for Xbox, and this may well be one of those, so I expect to see more of it in the Showcase.


HOPEFUL

Fable 4

Ashley Harrison: It’s not exactly a secret that I’m a big RPG fan, so if there’s one thing that I’m hoping to see during the Xbox Showcase, it’s absolutely Fable 4. The last 2 Fable games, Heroes and The Journey, weren’t exactly the most well received of games, scoring Metacritic averages of 55 and 61 respectively. The most recent confirmed project in the series, Fable Legends, even got cancelled following the closure of developers Lionhead Studios. However, following a tease of Fable 4 by Phil Spencer during Xbox’s 2018 E3 showcase, I’m hoping to see a reveal of Fable 4 at this upcoming showcase, and hopefully gameplay for it too rather than just a cinematic trailer. Sony has undoubtedly smashed it out of the park when it comes to RPGs recently between the PS4 and Vita consoles, so Microsoft announcing Fable 4 could be the game reveal that helps sway my decision as to which next-generation console to buy.

Tomb Raider

William Robinson: The modern Tomb Raider trilogy has been a personal highlight of this generation, but with said origin trilogy now completed by Shadow of the Tomb Raider in 2018, the question is: where does Lara Croft go next? More spin-offs such as the brilliant Lara Croft GO are possible, but it is doubtful to me that Square Enix would stop releasing mainline entries in the series. Microsoft revealed Rise of the Tomb Raider through their presentations at E3 and Gamescom in 2014 – it was even a timed exclusive for Xbox One – so there is precedent for this, though I doubt the next game would be an exclusive again. So, which direction could Tomb Raider be going? One option is to continue where the trilogy ends, as there is a tease of future adventures; I would be glad to see Camilla Luddington return in the role, as she is fantastic as the character. In terms of gameplay, my hope would be that they double down on the exploration of environments and the tombs within them, as this is so satisfying in the trilogy. The main plot could actually be less of a factor, with more emphasis on seeking out secrets in the world. Alternatively, they could press the rest button again, but that wouldn’t be my preference. I am greatly anticipating details on where the series is headed in the future!

Banjo-Threeie

Ashley Harrison: The 3D Platformer has seen a bit of a re-emergence recently with original games such as Yooka-Laylee and A Hat in Time, and of course the recent remasters of the classic Crash Bandicoot and Spyro PS1 trilogies. As a result, it wouldn’t surprise me to hear a “guh-huh” during the showcase, and the announcement of a new Banjo-Kazooie game as Microsoft looks to try and capitalise on the action. Fans have been clamouring for a new Banjo-Kazooie game in the same vein as the N64’s Kazooie and Tooie, so what better time than now to release a canonical third game called Banjo-Threeie? With the seemingly friendly partnership between Microsoft and Nintendo currently, they could also announce this as coming to Switch at the same time as Series X.

State of Decay 3

William Robinson: This one is a hopeful prediction in a specific way. Undead Labs, who developed the two previous State of Decay games, are one of the studios that Microsoft has purchased in recent years, and it is now known that they are working on the third State of Decay game. This is a game that seems to have so much potential, with the concept of building up your settlement and surviving the zombie apocalypse with your friends. However, holding it back is a general lack of polish, with glitches and a varying range of visual refinement. So, with two games now out there and the support that comes with being a first-party Microsoft developer, I hope that the third game can be a step up. This, combined with a deep narrative, could really capture the attention of both myself and others – and this upcoming Showcase may be the optimum time for us to see just that.


RIDICULOUS

Rare Replay Switch

Ashley Harrison: I know, I know. This is a game that if it was going to be announced anywhere, it’d be at a Nintendo Direct as that big, final reveal that Nintendo love to do, and not at an Xbox Showcase for Series X games. But hey, come on, let a guy dream. It wouldn’t be the first time that a first-party Xbox game has been released on Switch, following in the footsteps of games such as Ori and the Blind Forest and Cuphead. I genuinely don’t think there’s a partnership more revered in the game industry than that of Nintendo and Rare in the 90’s, and since a good portion of the games featured on Rare Replay originally made their debut appearances on Nintendo consoles, I’d argue it’s time they came home. I’d kill to play Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day on the train. Please, Microsoft, do the right thing.

Minecraft 2

William Robinson: It is easy to forget that the mega-hit Minecraft is a Microsoft property now, considering it is on basically every platform imaginable. If they had suddenly made it an Xbox console exclusive after the acquisition, there would have been outrage from the devoted fanbases on other platforms, so I totally understand why that hasn’t happened. However, if Microsoft really are after an exclusive that would make people buy their new console, then a full-fledged Minecraft sequel could be that game. I am saying this as a ridiculous prediction because I just don’t see it happening; it would still produce some backlash from Minecraft players on other platforms if they were locked out of new content in a sequel. In general, a follow-up could be hard to justify – how would you balance it with updates for the original game? – but Blizzard is attempting to walk that tightrope with Overwatch 2, which may be evidence that it can be done. This would certainly be a bold move that gets people talking!

Sunset Overdrive 2

Ashley Harrison: This definitely is a ridiculous prediction now, sadly, what with Sony having purchased developer Insomniac Studios and all. Sunset Overdrive was legitimately one of my favourite Xbox One games and I was so hoping that we would’ve seen a sequel already by now, but alas, that wasn’t to be. Whilst the story itself might not have been the best, it was such a gorgeous game visually, and so much fun to play. The movement mechanics that allowed you to essentially skate your way throughout the map, combined with the arcade silliness of the gameplay and enemy designs, mesh together perfectly and produce an almost comic-book level of ridiculousness in a good way as you tore through the Overcharge Drinkers with ridiculous attacks. I mean, after all, the very first boss of the game is literally a giant Mascot Blimp for Heaven’s sake. Sometimes for me the best games are ones that don’t take themselves seriously at all, and this is definitely an example of that.

Rocksteady Game Reveal

William Robinson: Okay, this is probably-almost-certainly not gonna happen. If Rocksteady finally show off their next game, it is likely going to be on the terms of publisher Warner Bros. and not at the Xbox Games Showcase… but this is the place for ridiculous predictions, so I’m going with this. Since the renowned developer released Batman: Arkham Knight in 2015, the only other release we have had from them is Batman: Arkham VR in 2016 – so they’ve been working away on a project(s?) for a long time since. There has been so many rumours of different DC properties they could be working on – Suicide Squad, Superman, Justice League, another Batman… yet, the idea of them working on a brand new IP also has enticing potential. We don’t really know much else, we’re just waiting for them to tell us more – and, whilst it is highly unlikely that this game would be an Xbox exclusive, maybe the Xbox Games Showcase is the time. Maybe?


So, there are our thoughts! With the Showcase so close, it is an exciting time for Xbox. If you have any particular thoughts or predictions, let us know in the comments!

Pokémon Café Mix Review

Developed by: Genius Sonority
Published by: Nintendo
Platforms: Switch (Reviewed), Mobile
Release Date: Out Now


One of the many nice surprises out of the first of the two recent Pokémon Presents was the reveal of Pokémon Café Mix, a new mobile and Nintendo Switch puzzle game about running a Pokémon-themed Café where both the customers and the employees are Pokémon! Whilst built on a reasonably simple idea, there is a decent amount of depth and longevity to this game to match up to the charming aesthetic.


A Link to the Café

As I say, the set-up is quite straightforward; together with *the only other human you see* Leah (is this a Poké-apocalyptic world?!), you set up a new Pokémon Café. As you’d expect, at the start of the game, you are running quite a basic operation with limited supplies. The main section of the game is the 150 orders to complete, which took me around 10-15 hours to get through and into the postgame. New facilities are set up as you work your way through the orders, opening up new sections of the Café and enticing more Pokémon to visit and subsequently work with you.

Yeah, that’s great, Leah, but where are all the people?

First, though, you have to get through said orders! The core gameplay of Café Mix is essentially a refreshing Pokémon twist on the icon-matching so often found in puzzle games. Presented with a screen of icons of the different Pokémon currently in your game, you use the touch screen to connect them up in a way that will complete the conditions of your order. Once an icon is selected, you hold your finger on the screen and drag it around to connect it up with matching icons within a period of time; at the end of the timer, or if you release your touch, those icons then satisfyingly disappear (and can affect those surrounding it). You score increases as you link more icons together in one go. Furthermore, once you connect enough icons, the Café Skill of your Leader Pokémon is made available.

These Café Skills act as extra tools for clearing levels, and are essential for progressing through the game. Before tackling an order, you must select a Leader Pokémon, and this decides the Café Skill available, with different Pokémon having different Skills. As an example, if the order requires you to make a high number combo, then Togepi – who can make icons transform into those of the icon appearing the most at that point – is helpful to set you up. Before each order, the game does inform you of the most suitable Pokémon, though it is possible to power through with another if you do not have access to them. At moments such as these, I often used other resources to help me through.


Altaria Motive

As a game for both Switch and mobile, these resources are where the mobile influence is very noticeable. For starters, you have 5 Hearts, and every occasion that you retry an order uses one up. If you run out, you can no longer attempt the order; these refresh over time, or you can pay for another go through Golden Acorns. Whilst you do earn these – and the other seven items that can help you complete orders – through playing the game, you can also purchase them with actual money. As Café Mix is free-to-play, this is the way the game generates revenue; however, when it actively feels as though a pay wall is put up in front of you it leaves a negative vibe.

Look at Snubbull in their hat and apron… and how happy they are… c’mon, that’s adorable.

This was most intrusive to me when I didn’t have the Pokémon with the suggested Café Skill for the next order, and it felt as though I either had to wait, or purchase items that would enable me to push through. I did not pay in my time with the game, and this meant I had to wait at several points – sometimes, until the next day. More side modes where you can work towards getting Pokémon to join your staff would have helped this; there is only the once-daily party that gives you two orders with random Pokémon (you can refresh the two invited Pokémon once for free, and then with Golden Acorns). Pokémon Masters is a great example of how to have plentiful modes that give the player options.

A barrier to gameplay such as this suddenly stops your flow and can be very jarring. It doesn’t help that the game is all over the place in terms of the difficulty curve; through the 150 orders, most of my troubles came with specific orders around the 50 and 90-100 mark. When I finally cleared these problematic orders, I would find that the next 10 or so are a breeze in comparison, whereas you would expect a more gradual overall rise of difficulty from 1 to 150.


A Mixed Bag

Personally, I reckon a reason for this is that the game sort of resets whenever new Café facilities are introduced. For example, the Whipped-cream dispenser causes blobs of cream to appear that take several hits of nearby combos to complete; the Nut tree brings nuts that can only be cleared by Café Skills; and the Honey pot introduces blocks of honey that multiply unless you remove them quickly with nearby combos. With the new type of gameplay mechanic, levels suddenly feel easy before then jarringly returning to being challenging again. Café Mix doesn’t hit the right balance of teaching the player whilst also understanding your rising skill level.

Whipped cream in action! Don’t question the physics.

Pokémon Café Mix is entirely touch-controlled (and on Switch, this means handheld play only), and whilst the touch control is responsive, the occasional moments where you select the wrong Pokémon as a starting point, locking yourself into those icons for that move, are not ideal. With icons so close to each other, it is very easy to select the wrong one. Once you get to the trickier, more complicated orders, every move can be crucial; the general inaccuracy of moving icons around with touch can be counter-intuitive to that.


Waffling On

The highlight of Café Mix is the presentation of the game. The Café itself, and the artwork for the Pokémon, have a colourful and trendy artistic appeal that befits a game about a modern Café. The game has a really warm, welcoming tone, and seeing Pokémon happily spending time in a Café and then wearing adorable outfits as staff is wonderful. The music is not intrusive, yet provides an undercurrent of soothing background tunes. I also recommend spending time going over the details of the orders you serve up; there are some brilliant and creative designs, from the Nutty Buneary Frappé to the Combee Waffles with Honey and beyond. Mmm, this makes me hungry and thirsty!

Those Fluffy Eevee Pancakes look GREAT.

My main complaint would be that there isn’t that many Pokémon currently in the game, with 17 at launch and 19 currently; the additions of Scorbunny and Sobble (and you would guess Grookey) from Sword and Shield suggest that they may be adding more over time, which would be great to see. In addition, as of writing this, tomorrow more orders are being added to bolster the 150 in the game at this point, which is another sign of how there are plans to support this game.


Final Thoughts

I was actually pleasantly surprised by the amount of content within Pokémon Café Mix. A very unrefined difficulty curve and issues with how the game puts up pay walls are my main problems with it; yet, I can see myself loading this game up regularly into the future, especially if they continue to add new content. This is mainly due to the varied levels and the delightful look and feel the game has. The name of the game – Pokémon Café Mix – is suitable considered how mixed it is, but overall I would recommend putting time in and seeing if you enjoy it; especially for Pokémon fans!

7/10

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Blog Update: No, You Haven’t Gone Back in Time!

Hey there! I thought it was time for another one of these update posts just to clear something up…

Lately you may have noticed a lot of posts going up that reference how they were originally published a while ago. The reason for this is that I used to write for the website Tanuki Bridge, and when that site was discontinued I saved a lot of the posts I had published there. I have had these stored for a while now, and now I am writing here regularly again, it seems an ideal place to archive and update them.

There is going to be quite a lot more on the way; whilst they are being made to have published on the day they were originally, they shall still appear as new posts on Reader. So, if you are wondering why there is a new post about a topic that seems outdated in some way, that is why! However, it may still be entertaining to read some of them with new context – for example, the comparison between the Let’s Chat when The Last of Us Part II was revealed and the one after having played the game.

Olivia and Mario from Paper Mario: The Origami King

Be assured, though, that there is plenty of new writing on the way. In the immediate future, there are reviews for Pokémon Café Mix and Paper Mario: The Origami King, to mention just two articles. Furthermore, the Hyrule Weekly articles originally from Tanuki Bridge are going to lead into me continuing that series – especially as the sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has more info released over time (I. Am. Excited!).

That’s it for now, really. Just a quick one! Let me know if there are types of articles from me you prefer over others, or there is, say, a particular game you reckon I should cover.

Sayonara!

Yuri!!! On Ice is a Dazzling Demonstration of All Kinds of Love

Recently, I have been catching up on a lot of my never-ending stack of Blu-rays. One of these is the complete series of Yuri!!! On Ice, and wow: in 12 episodes, it left me spellbound through a combination of diverse characters, wonderful animation, and a brilliant use of music. This isn’t going to be a review, but instead more of a take on the powerful and important themes at play in this series.

-WARNING: SPOILERS FOR YURI!!! ON ICE AHEAD-

A quick summary of the plot, then, for establishing purposes – I shall go into more detail when I do my full series review soon. Yuri!!! On Ice picks up the story of Japanese figure skater Yuri Katsuki (Toshiyuki Toyonaga), aged 23, just after he has placed 6th of 6 in the Grand Prix Final – he is devastated and considering stopping his career in the sport, returning home to his caring family in Hasetsu, Kyushu.. However, then a video of him recreating the routine of his idol, the Russian current Champion Victor Nikiforov (Jun’ichi Suwabe) is posted online without him knowing. Victor views it, and suddenly arrives in Hasetsu to announce that he can coach Katsuki.

Yes, I’m your coach now, got it?

From here on, we follow the evolving dynamic of Katsuki and Victor, which is clearly different to other coach-student relationships. There are sparks there, and the admiration isn’t going only one way. Through the following episodes, as Yuri faces challenge after challenge – whether from himself, other skaters, or Victor himself – we see this complex relationship bloom in a way that compels you to keep watching.

As a story about two men feeling love for each other, it is undoubtedly important in terms of diversity. Crucially, I find, is that whilst this is an essential element of the anime that is Yuri!!! On Ice, it isn’t the defining element. By this, I mean that it is interwoven with the other main plot thread – that is to say, the quest for Katsuki to make his way to another Grand Prix Final and try to win Gold – and both informs and is informed by the other characters and their respective obstacles in love.

For example, straight off the bat, we see Katsuki go back to his hometown and subsequently Ice Castle Hasetsu, the ice rink he uses for training. He reunites with a friend, Yuuko Nishigori (Mariya Ise), and makes an internal offhand remark about how she is “cute”, which is a sign of how this treats people and their opinions in an open way; there aren’t thoughts that are closed off to people because of other aspects about them. This is, actually, when the aforementioned recording of his imitation of Victor happens, in front of Yuuko. We shortly discover that she is both married and has kids, as we become more and more aware of how Katsuki idolises Victor. In a scene that could have, perhaps, been a cliché of returning home and having a relationship with a friend Katsuki hadn’t seen for a while, Yuri!!! On Ice instead shows how people grow and go different ways – and, importantly, that these diverging paths don’t have to mean we can’t still be close to one another.

Katsuki, skating in a costume Victor previously wore

So, we immediately have these themes of love at play, romantic, friendly, and family. It’d be remiss to not mention the love for competition, and more specifically, figure skating, too. Yeah, I know, wow, I discovered a theme of skating in Yuri!!! On Ice, I’m a genius! It’s more than that, though; figure skating as a competitive sport is so expressive, and such a smart method to essentially show character development through competition. Every time Katsuki or one of the many other skaters (more on them in a moment) go onto the ice, they literally and figuratively have all eyes on them, and them alone, for the duration of that performance. These performances are rarely cut off or cut away from, either, except when memories or other crucial experiences are used to show the state of mind they are in.

Furthermore, the nature of figure skating matches up so well with the development of the characters and their emotions because the skaters have two routines they prepare – one for the short program, and one for the free skate, which together make up your score. They adjust them here and there, but the music and the essence of the routines are constant from event to event – so, brilliantly, there are multiple renditions of these routines through the series, allowing them to be clear and absorbing showcases for where the character is emotionally relevant to their last performance. Additionally, if you compare how Katsuki and Victor greet each other after each skate, the progress of their bond is fascinating; at times, slight disappointment, at others, jubilation (such as the end of the seventh episode, where Victor suddenly launches himself at Katsuki). In a similar way to how Your Lie in April shows emotion through music, Yuri!!! On Ice does this through figure skating (which notably also involves music).

The rivalry of Yuri Katsuki and Yuri Plisetsky (above) runs throughout the series

Early on in the series, we are introduced to Yuri – no, another one. The Russian Yuri Plisetksy (Koki Uchiyama) was, before these events, going to have his routine made by Victor, so he – understandably – follows Victor to Hasetsu to confront him about the sudden change of plans. Yuri Plisetsky, at 15, is much younger than Yuri Katsuki; he has essentially the opposite personality too, ruthlessly determined to succeed. Victor decides that they will compete to decide who he shall help, with them both skating to the same track, but with different arrangements. One is On Love – Agape, and one is On Love – Eros, which mean unconditional and sexual love respectively. Predictably, Yuri goes for Agape, and Plisetsky goes for Eros; until Victor then gives them both the other one from the one they chose! They are straight away thrown out of their comfort zone, and faced with baring a new side of themselves in a public skate.

To get into the new mindsets, they both find a way to focus on this new emotion; Katsuki by imagining the pork cutlet bowl his family makes and he – and so many others – enjoy (yes, for sexual love – there are plenty of innuendos here), and Plisetsky through thoughts of his grandfather. This even continues to their choice of costumes (from those that Victor has worn before); Katsuki starts wearing a bold black outfit, and Plisetsky a sparkling white outfit, both showing new sides to the characters. They both perform well, but the connection between Katsuki and Victor during his performance leads to Plisetsky leaving before the results are even announced. He is still determined to win – perhaps even more so – and his love for both his grandfather and competition are unique to him and him alone.

Yet, beyond these characters, Yuri!!! On Ice keeps impressing as you get to the later episodes and the skating events within them. There are many new characters being introduced through these, and amazingly – in 12 episodes of around 20 minutes each – they seem to all get time to make you invested in their own ways of loving. We get focused scenes on them and their performances, which vary greatly both visually and in terms of music. Credit to the animation in particular, and how they brought alive the skating – more on that in the full review. I really cared about where each of them was going, whether they were a skater with a bright future or one that had been on the scene for a while.

There is a diverse range of characters from different countries

There are so many, but to name just a few: Christophe Giacometti (Hiroki Yasumoto), who has often placed behind Victor in previous Finals and is set on taking victory with his vividly sexual skating; Sara and Michele Crispino (Sara: Marika Minase/Eri Ōzaki, Michele: Tomoaki Maeno) a sister and brother who have deep love for one another but also start to see that allowing each other to go on different paths is necessary; and Jean-Jacques Leroy (Mamoru Miyano), an incredible skater and musician who such confidence, and such a loving following which brings unexpected pressures. All of these separate people with their own matters of love they are dealing with are put together by figure skating, providing alternative perspectives as you are viewing.

Ultimately, the centre of Yuri!!! On Ice is the evolving love between Katsuki and Victor and how that affects them both. In my opinion, a reason it works so well, and is so emotionally engaging to watch, is because it isn’t immediately clear what the dynamic is – there are sparks flying on and off the ice, yet just as the characters aren’t certain what it means and how it is going to develop, neither do you. Even at the end of the series, where Katsuki wins Silver and he returns with Victor and Plisetsky (who wins Gold) to Hasetsu to potentially continue skating, it’s never said they are in a relationship. However, if you’re watching closely… the intimacy, the words spoken, and that skate together at the end; well, you can make you own mind up on what type of love that is.