2465: Keijo!!!!!!!!


I watched the first episode of a new anime called Keijo!!!!!!!! today. This is an anime that I became aware of after Kotaku did one of its sadly predictable outraged articles about, dubbing it “deplorable”. (After that, a number of people I know actually watched it, and had good things to say about it.)

“I don’t care that it’s well-animated,” writes the apparent latest “name to avoid” on Kotaku, Cecilia D’Anastasio. “I don’t care that the women have discernible personalities—no cookies for you. It is beside the point that Keijo!!!!!!!! was previously a manga. It could have died in obscurity. Now it’s on Crunchyroll.”

But what has got this angry young woman so infuriated? Well, here’s the premise: Keijo is a fictional sport somewhat akin to sumo wrestling, only on platforms floating on water. The aim of a Keijo match is to be the last one standing; if you fall into the water or touch the platform with anything other than your feet, you lose. It is a contact sport, but you are only allowed to touch other competitors with either your arse or your chest. In other words, it’s Dead or Alive XTreme’s “Butt Battle” taken to the next level.

Keijo!!!!!!!! is a sports anime through and through, focusing on protagonist Nozomi as she strives to realise her dreams and be the best at a sport she has come to love. Like most sports anime, there’s a heavy element of exaggerated action in there, with the Keijo battles themselves incorporating all sorts of physically improbable/impossible stunts, including a girl who is so fast she can smack people in the jaw with her arse and knock them out before they even have time to react to her presence.

I’ve only seen the first episode so far, but it’s already clear that each of the cast members introduced are there for different reasons. Nozomi is there as the typical “underdog” that we’re supposed to root for through the series, and she’s a likeable, spunky character that sits well in the lead role. Besides her, we have the older woman that everyone looks up to, the “rival”, the clumsy idiot, the shy one (who is inevitably going to “snap” at some point, since she was already showing signs of it when Nozomi got a bit too close for comfort in this episode) and plenty of others besides.

There’s a wide variety of different personality types on display — and a wide variety of body types, too, unusually for anime that focuses on female characters. Nozomi is relatively “normal” in stature; her best friend is small but with a formidable butt; her comrade from trials is a tall, muscular young woman and their instructor — dubbed “The Siren” — is a rather portly mature woman who would doubtless be a formidable opponent in a Keijo match; the first episode ends just as Nozomi and her classmates are preparing for their first training session with her.

Inevitably, given the subject matter, there’s a fair amount of fanservice going on, but any lingering boob or booty shots come during the Keijo matches themselves, which kind of makes sense, given that’s where the “action” is, so to speak. Outside of the Keijo matches, we get to know the girls themselves and see that, so far, they all appear to be well-defined, likeable characters that I’d certainly like to know more about.

Keijo!!!!!!!! may not be an entirely original concept — aside from the fictional sport that it’s themed around, the show seems to follow the standard “sports anime” formula fairly closely — but it proceeds with style, charm and so many likeable characters that I find myself wondering quite how joyless you have to be to dub it in any way “deplorable”.

But then, if you read D’Anastasio’s article you’ll see that the sort of person who does think Keijo!!!!!!!! is “deplorable” isn’t exactly the sort of person who seems willing to even attempt to engage with it or see what’s really going on. Much easier to judge it purely on its premise than to actually do some research, after all.

Sigh. One day we’ll have “critics” who actually care about their jobs… maybe.

2464: The Palace of the Dead (Savage)


Final Fantasy XIV’s patch 3.45 is coming in early November, and bringing with it an additional 150 floors to the game’s current Deep Dungeon, The Palace of the Dead. I am excited.

Palace of the Dead is a great piece of content that I’m pleased has remained popular since its launch. It flips most of the conventions of MMOs on their head and provides something different for people to do, with meaningful rewards and a decent shot of experience points for those levelling alt classes.

Palace of the Dead, in case you’re unfamiliar, is a 50-floor dungeon that you tackle in blocks of 10 floors at a time, with a boss on each 10th floor. Each floor consists of a number of rooms arranged in a randomised layout, with an exit portal in one room and a resurrection gizmo in another for if things happen to go south and you don’t have a healer. Both of these things are inactive at the start of a floor, so you have to kill enough enemies to turn them on before they can be used.

Some rooms have treasure chests and occasionally monsters drop them too. These come in three different varieties: bronze chests hold consumable items such as Phoenix Downs to resurrect fallen comrades and potions to heal HP; silver chests have a chance to upgrade either your weapon or armour (with the chance getting smaller as they get more powerful) up to a maximum of +30; gold chests reward you with “Pomanders”, which are items that have immediate beneficial effects such as increasing your damage, turning all enemies in the nearby vicinity into chickens or frogs, temporarily transforming you into a manticore or removing all the hidden traps on the current floor.

In the last major patch, the Accursed Hoard was also added to Palace of the Dead; these are hidden treasures that have a chance of spawning on each floor. Standing on a spot where a Hoard is hidden reveals it, and if you successfully clear the block of 10 floors, you get one sack per Hoard you found, each of which contains a randomly drawn item from what seems like quite a large selection, ranging from the useless (fireworks) to the very useful (grade V materia) via formerly expensive glamour items.

The thing I like about Palace of the Dead is it takes almost everything the rest of Final Fantasy XIV established in terms of gameplay and throws it out of the window. Item level doesn’t matter, stats don’t matter and even conventional party composition (one tank, one healer, two damage-dealers) doesn’t matter. There’s some variation in individual performance according to the upgrade level of your aetherpool gear (which you can only use in Palace of the Dead until it reaches its fully upgraded level of +30, at which point it can be exchanged for a level 60, item level 235 weapon that you can use in the rest of the game) and your character level in Palace of the Dead (which is different to your character level in the rest of the game; you level up at a considerably accelerated rate in the dungeon, but have to reset to 1 every time you restart from floor 1) but otherwise, how well you do in there is entirely down to how well you know how to play your class.

It’s interesting to see people realising this for the first time. You can’t just ignore mechanics in Palace of the Dead because it’s literally impossible to outgear it. You can’t stand in area-effect attacks and soak the damage because, again, you can’t outgear it. And you can’t pull 30 enemies at once and hope to survive because, you guessed it, you can’t outgear them. It’s all about careful use of your abilities, consumable items and the Pomanders; you have to be constantly aware of the situation of both yourself and your party members, as an unfortunate mistake could lead to a wipe — and if you wipe in Palace of the Dead, you fail that set of floors immediately and have to start again from the last “checkpoint” you reached. (This is particularly heartbreaking if you reach the final boss on floor 50 with 5 Accursed Hoards in your pocket and then wipe because you forgot to pay attention to mechanics.)

The reason I’m looking forward to Patch 3.45 is that it promises not just more of Palace of the Dead, but that its last 100 floors in particular will be very difficult. And not “very difficult” in the sense that the current Savage raids are very difficult — i.e. they get quite a bit easier if you take the time to buff up your gear level — straight up difficult in that you’ll have to pay attention, dodge shit and play your class effectively, perhaps in an unconventional party formation.

I’m interested to see quite how they’re going to make it difficult. People have been clamouring for difficult (“Savage”) four-player content for quite some time now, and Yoshi-P and the team specifically said during the last Live Letter that the lower 100 floors of Palace of the Dead were designed to be just that. What I find particularly interesting is that this is (hopefully) super-difficult content that you don’t need to have spent ages preparing to be ready for, because your gear level when you go in doesn’t matter; everyone in the entire game, assuming they have Palace of the Dead unlocked (which they can do as early as level 17 rather than having to reach the current cap of 60), has the potential to be a “world first” clear, which is something that has never happened before. Previous “world firsts” in the game were by raiders who were at the absolute top of their game with the best possible gear available, so in most cases it was fairly predictable who the acclaim would go to. With this, however, the title is anyone’s.

I’m also intrigued by the proposed ranking system and how it works, since that hasn’t been explained in much detail before. We know that there will be rankings for both individuals and parties, and that rankings are stratified by class/job, but we don’t know exactly what causes you to score the “points” that determine your place on the rankings. Progress through the floors is a given — the mockup leaderboards we saw during the Live Letter displayed both the floor the characters had got to and their score — but what else will contribute to it? Clear time? Damage done? Kills? Accursed Hoard finds? Treasure chests looted? All of the above?

If they handle this properly, Palace of the Dead has the potential to become an enormously compelling metagame in its own right within the wider context of Final Fantasy XIV, not to mention a great way to learn and level alt classes that you perhaps haven’t used much before. I’m very much looking forward to challenging the lower floors of this Deep Dungeon, and hope that it provides a suitable alternative to raiding for those who seek a challenge but perhaps don’t have a group, have difficulty getting everyone together at the same time, or simply aren’t geared enough.

I guess we’ll see soon enough! (Also, I really want to see what happens when you sit on that bench…)

2463: You Can’t Win Them All


“You can’t win them all” is one of those platitudes we hear numerous times throughout our lives. In childhood, it’s used as a means of attempting to stop the inevitable crying after we lose a game against a sibling or fail to achieve something we really wanted to achieve. And in adulthood, it’s used in circumstances ranging from the loss of a job to the end of a relationship.

And yet I feel it’s a saying that a lot of people these days seem to have forgotten.

Today I’ve been playing a game called Delicious! Pretty Girls Mahjong Solitaire which, as I said in my writeup on MoeGamer earlier, is exactly what it sounds like. I’ve been having a lot of fun with it; mahjong solitaire is one of those simple-but-challenging things that I find enormously addictive, and Delicious! certainly likes to slap you around a bit with its various tile layouts. But that’s all part of the fun, as is the case with pretty much any non-free-to-play-garbage puzzle game produced since the dawn of computing: the fact that victory always seems attainable, yet is often just beyond your grasp is what makes these experiences so enjoyable, exciting and addictive.

And yet, glancing at the Steam reviews and discussion pages, the most common complaint people seem to have about the game is that “it’s too hard”. The timer’s too quick. The game gives you too many “unwinnable” layouts. In other words, it doesn’t let you win every time. (A similar swathe of criticism was levelled at Frontwing’s excellent ecchi puzzler Purino Party.)

“Victory” is something that people the world over seem to think they have become entitled to, with the fact that whenever you’re doing anything competitive, the possibility of losing is what makes it competitive in the first place. You see it everywhere: in the Delicious! forums, where players complain that they have to keep trying levels until they get it right; in Final Fantasy XIV, where people vote to abandon a duty after the first party wipe rather than helping newcomers or people who aren’t as familiar with the fights; in Overwatch, where someone will rant and rave at their team if they lose, completely ignoring the fact that there’s always the possibility that you are, you know, simply outmatched.

It’s hard to say exactly where this attitude comes from, but it seems firmly ingrained in society now, and repeatedly reinforced by lots of things that we do, particularly online with the growth of “gamification”. “Well done!” everything seems to say, showering you with points, levels and achievements and inevitably begging you to “share” everything on social media. “You used this thing for the thing it was designed to do!”

People often joke about school sports days that don’t have winners any more, but I’ve seen it happen: kids getting “participation trophies” even if they did the bare minimum. I’ve also seen “Celebration Assemblies”, in which children get certificates for everything from getting 100% on a spelling test to — I’m not joking about this — sitting still in their chair for a whole lesson. This continues into adult life, too; at work Christmas parties, there’s the inevitable cringeworthy “awards” ceremony, where whatever “lol, so random” douchebag who organised the whole debacle dishes out a series of completely arbitrary awards to ensure that everyone gets recognised for something, even if that thing is “drinking lots of coffee” or “being able to spell”.

Failure is what makes experiences like games fun and exciting. If you win every time, you devalue the concept of winning until it is completely meaningless, and nothing feels worthwhile any more, which means you start to crave — or expect — more and more positive reinforcement with every passing day, and get annoyed or upset when your every whim isn’t catered to, or things don’t go the way you expect them to.

Me, I’ve had my fair share of failure, but every time I get a TIME’S UP or NO MORE PICK [sic] I just hit the Retry button, give it my best shot and eventually I might actually succeed.

Now, if only it were that easy to pick yourself up and start again after a repeated series of failures in life as well as games.

2462: I Don’t Need Any More Tutorials or Updates


I was out today, making heavy use of my phone to assist with some part-time courier work I’ve picked up recently. At some point during the day, the Google Maps app updated, at which point it felt the need to give me a tutorial.

Nothing, so far as I can tell, has changed in the Google Maps app since its last iteration, so quite why it felt the need to deliver an irritating and persistent tutorial is beyond me.

Google Maps isn’t the only app to do this. Pretty much any “productivity” app on mobile these days feels the need to bore you with a pointless (and often non-skippable) slideshow before you can start using it — even in the most simplistic apps.

I get why these tutorials are put in there — it’s to cater to stupid people and/or the technologically disinclined, who might not be familiar with the conventions of interface design. But they should be skippable. And if the app has clearly been on the device — and used heavily — prior to the latest update, it should automatically skip the tutorial by default.

And while we’re on, I can do without pointless, unnecessary updates, too, even though App Store, Google Play and Steam reviewers seem to think that they’re essential to an app or game remaining useful and/or fun. (These people never lived through an age where your word processor came on a floppy disk, and that was it, no more updates unless you shelled out for a new version.) These people are the reason why we get stupid, idiotic revamps to things that worked perfectly well the way they did before, like Twitter and Google Hangouts.

The latter is one I find particularly irritating, particularly in its Chrome extension incarnation. Previously, the Chrome extension was a discreet little affair that took the pop-up Google Hangouts interface from GMail and rendered it in an “always on top” version that could sit on your desktop — tucked away when you didn’t need it, yet just a mouseover away when you did.

Now, however, it’s in its own separate window for no apparent reason — a window that opens up every time you start Chrome, whether or not you have new messages to read — and, presumably in an attempt to “look like Android”, it has one of those annoying mobile-style “drawer” menus on the left. These are fine on mobile as they’re built to be usable with a touch interface, but on the big screen they’re clumsy and unnecessary. I honestly don’t know why we don’t still use drop-down menus any more; they may look boring, but they work. At least Mac OS still uses drop-down menus for most apps, though Office for Mac still has that horrible “Ribbon” thing at the top instead of the old-school toolbar from early versions of Office.

Updates are fine when they add something meaningful: look at something like Final Fantasy XIV, which adds meaningful new content with every major version number update. But when they’re change for change’s sake — like Hangouts’ new format, and Twitter’s insistence on reordering your timeline even when you have repeatedly asked it not to — they’re just annoying. And, moreover, that inexperienced audience the developers were hoping to capture with their tutorials will likely end up being turned off by having to “re-learn” their favourite app every few weeks.

And don’t even get me started on the three system restarts I did the other day, with a notification that there were new Windows updates available every time. At least I managed to excise the cancer that is the Windows 10 nag prompt, so I should be grateful for small victories, I guess.

2461: Gratuitous Self-Promotion


Hey, you. If you’re reading this, chances are you know me in some capacity or another, either online, offline or perhaps both. You may even follow this blog on a semi-regular basis, in which case thank you very much for enduring my directionless rambling.

Some of you may not be aware that I have another site, however; one with a bit more “structure” to its content, but also with a regular posting schedule. Some of you may already be aware of it, but perhaps haven’t checked it out for a while. And some of you may already be loyal readers, in which case, again, thank you very much.

My other site is called MoeGamer and you can find it at http://moegamer.net.

MoeGamer has a pretty straightforward mission: to provide detailed and in-depth coverage of Japanese and Japanese-inspired games that often don’t get the attention they deserve in the mainstream press — or, in the worst cases, get written off for one reason or another, usually on the grounds that they’re “pervy”.

I started it as a continuation of a regular, weekly column I had when I worked as USgamer; dubbed JPgamer, the column built up an audience of regular readers who appreciated what I did for these games, which was something that many other sites didn’t bother with, particularly in this age of growing and obnoxious political correctness that seems inclined to brand anything with pretty girls in as “problematic”. After I was laid off from USgamer, I decided to start MoeGamer simply to continue what I was doing with JPgamer, but over the course of the last few months I’ve been building it into something bigger.

Back in March of this year, I decided to reboot MoeGamer into something with a bit more structure; prior to this point, I had simply posted content on it whenever I felt like it and about whatever topics I saw fit. This meant that there were often long periods of time when I didn’t post anything, and I wasn’t happy with that.

As such, my reboot of the site sees me posting on a weekly basis, with a specific focus on a “cover game” for a month-long period. Over the course of four articles, I explore these cover games from a variety of perspectives: a look at their historical context; an exploration of their mechanics; a deep-dive into their narrative, themes and characterisation; and a look at their audio-visual aesthetics. This has proven to be a good way for me to talk about each of these games in as much detail as I’d like without overwhelming readers with a single, insanely long article. (Make no mistake, this is still long-form writing, however, because I believe there’s plenty of people out there still hungry for detailed writing even as the collective attention span of Internet denizens has gone right down the toilet in the last few years.)

MoeGamer is primarily intended for existing enthusiasts of Japanese (and Japan-inspired) gaming and entertainment, but I make a conscious effort with each piece to keep things accessible to everyone without any assumed knowledge. The order in which I chose to post the articles about each “cover game” was deliberate, too: talking about a game’s history gives you the opportunity to introduce it in general terms to those who aren’t familiar with it, then a discussion of its mechanics gives most people an idea of whether they’d enjoy playing it. After that, an analysis of its narrative is “taking things to the next level”, as it were, and finally exploring its audio-visual aesthetic provides a good opportunity to provide “further reading” with regard to its art, music and inspirations.

In other words, don’t feel like there’s nothing for you on MoeGamer if you’re not an existing fan of Japanese popular entertainment. I strive to make the site an informative, knowledgeable resource about some of the most interesting and underappreciated games on the market, from both yesterday and today, and hope that over the course of my articles, I can do my part to help dispel some of the unhelpful preconceptions that mainstream media perpetuates with regard to Japanese popular entertainment.

I’m doing this as a passion project at present, but a number of readers have been generous enough to pledge their support to my work via Patreon. At present, it’s a much-appreciated trickle of money each month that perhaps pays for a new game or piece of equipment, but it would be a dream come true to make enough money from MoeGamer to call it an actual job. I’m skeptical as to whether that will ever happen, but in the meantime I’m eternally grateful for each and every person who has shown their support to the site. If you like the sound of what I’m doing, please do consider pledging a small amount per month and help me keep doing what I love doing — you can do so here.

If you can’t spare any cash, that’s fine, too; you can also show your support by paying the site a visit and sharing the articles you particularly enjoy with friends and family on social media. MoeGamer is not ad-supported (any ads which do appear are WordPress’ work, not mine) and so remains clickbait-free, 100% guaranteed — share with confidence!

Thanks for your time and support. I hope you enjoy the content currently on MoeGamer, and which I’ve got planned for the coming months.

Here are some quick links you might be interested in:

October 2016’s Cover Game: Gal*Gun Double Peace

Previous Cover Games

One Way Heroics (September 2016)
RPG Maker MV (August 2016)
Ys (July 2016)
Dungeon Travelers 2 (June 2016)
Megadimension Neptunia V-II (May 2016)
Senran Kagura Estival Versus (April 2016)

All games covered by MoeGamer to date (including one-off articles and content from before the revamp)

More about MoeGamer

Moe 101: the beginner’s guide

2460: The Continuing Adventures of Rosangela Blackwell

I’ve now completed four out of the five Blackwell games from Wadjet Eye Games, and I’m a big fan.

It’s been particularly interesting to come to this series so soon after playing through Life is Strange’s disappointing conclusion, because although they are technically inferior, the Blackwell games’ scripts are light-years ahead of Life is Strange’s relatively mediocre writing. A true case of substance over style if ever there was one, with Blackwell’s simple pixel-art graphics thoroughly winning out over Life is Strange’s beautiful stylised visuals.

The two aren’t directly comparable, of course, dealing with rather different subject matter, so that’s the last comparison I’m going to draw; I simply wanted to make the point that you don’t necessarily need a big budget to showcase some excellent writing.

I’m going to refrain from spoiling the plots of the Blackwell games here because I thoroughly believe that any adventure game enthusiast worth their salt should play through all five of them. I will, however, talk about the series as a whole, and how it is constructed.

Blackwell isn’t marketed as an episodic game, but it effectively is one. However, each of its five installments is completely self-contained in its own right — you simply get more out of the whole thing if you’ve played them in order, particularly in the case of Blackwell Deception, which features numerous callbacks to all the previous installments.

One of the things that is interesting about the series is how it has expanded in scope and ambition as time has gone on. First game The Blackwell Legacy was relatively low-key, with only a few environments to explore, and all of them represented in rather simplistic graphics. Then as the series progressed, the scale of the stories being told expanded to more diverse locations, rendered in greater detail, though still maintaining the old VGA-resolution pixel art look.

Alongside the growing production values for each episode, a real effort has been made to make them feel distinct from one another. Most notably, the passage of time between the episodes is handled extremely well, acknowledging advances in technology over the time period of the setting. In the first game, for example, Rosa only uses her computer for word processing. In the third (the second is set in the ’60s and stars Rosa’s aunt rather than Rosa herself) she can use it to check her email (and other people’s email!), search the Internet and browse her perpetually “under construction” homepage. By the fourth game, she has a smartphone that can do Internet and email without having to return to her apartment.

What’s nice about this is that it has a gameplay impact as well as making the setting feel convincingly “alive”. It’s noticeably more convenient to do everything through Rosa’s smartphone in the fourth game, compared to the combination of her notebook and apartment-bound computer in the previous installments. And in the second episode, set in the past, you have to think about things in terms of how you would have gone about them in the ’60s, without the conveniences of the modern age.

Each of the stories — and the overall “super-narrative” that they contribute to — is excellent, with Rosa and her perpetual ghostly companion Joey growing as characters significantly over the course of the games, and their relationship with one another deepening. Both of them are still masters of spitting acid at one another by the end, of course, but by then it’s done with affection rather than the combination of distrust, curiosity and fear seen in the first episode.

The games also manage to spin convincing supernatural tales without going overboard. They’re believable, well-crafted and clearly have had plenty of thought put into them, with explanations for the strange goings-on trickled tantalisingly through the various stories while still maintaining some mysteries for the grand finale. And a clear effort has been made to ensure the series as a whole has a consistent mythology and setting: characters from previous games show up in subsequent ones — or perhaps their descendants in some cases — and the attentive will notice a lot of the same company names cropping up over time. Not everything is explicitly told to the player, either; many of these connections are left for the player to infer and interpret, making it all the more satisfying.

As you can tell, I’m thoroughly enamoured by the Blackwell series, and very much looking forward to playing through the final installment in the very near future. If you’re a fan of classic adventure games, I can highly recommend picking them all up. They’re well worth your time and money, and Wadjet Eye Games should be commended for keeping the point-and-click adventure flag flying high and proud.

2459: Double Wang


Having finished Shadow Warrior yesterday, I was considering picking up its sequel, which released today. Then someone said some magic words that stopped all consideration and caused me to hit the “buy” button immediately.

But let’s rewind a moment to yesterday evening, while I was playing through the rest of the first game.

Shadow Warrior has a skill system whereby double-tapping a direction and using either the left or right mouse button will perform different special moves. There’s a powerful thrust attack, a “sword beam” type affair, a spin attack, a crowd-controlling stun, a healing spell and a protection spell. Because they’re mapped to controls you’re already using for movement and attacking, weaving them in while you’re avoiding and attacking enemies is pretty straightforward.

Hmm, I thought to myself while I was playing, contemplating the fact that Shadow Warrior had a rudimentary levelling system in place, whereby you could upgrade passive and active skills as well as your weapons by expending various currencies that you acquire through play. I wonder if a first-person Diablo would work?

Some of you may, at this point, wish to raise Borderlands as evidence that yes, a first-person Diablo would indeed work, but I was thinking more focused on the melee angle, since that was a key part of Shadow Warrior’s appeal.

Oh well, I thought. I doubt it’ll ever happen, even if it would probably be really good.

This morning, I Googled Shadow Warrior 2 to see what press and public alike thought of it. One of the first things I saw was “Shadow Warrior 2 is first-person Diablo.”

Magic words. Bought. (And with a nice discount for owning some of developer Flying Wild Hog’s other work!)

It’s not an exaggeration to call Shadow Warrior 2 first-person Diablo, either. It has loot, colour-coded by rarity. It has a variety of different weapons. It has clear ways to “build” your character. It has skill trees that you can beef up as you gain levels. It has quests. It has four-player co-op. It even has a small amount of procedural generation, but it wisely limits this to just parts of levels, so there’s still very much a hand-crafted feel to the whole experience.

So far, I actually think I like it better than Borderlands, for one very simple reason: all your level does is provide you with skill points that you can pump into your various active and passive skills. Enemies don’t level up, and your stats don’t scale with your level, either. This helps prevent the ridiculous situation you sometimes find yourself in in Borderlands where you fire a rocket into someone’s face and it does a miniscule amount of damage. It also prevents “overlevelling”, where you find yourself in a situation where enemies are providing you with so little XP that it’s barely worth killing them.

I’m undecided as to whether I like it more than the first new Shadow Warrior as yet. I’m pretty sure I do. I certainly like it very much indeed — to the degree that if I don’t see it on some Game of the Year lists at year’s end I’ll be very disappointed — but it has quite a different structure that takes a little adjusting to coming from the previous game’s tightly designed “explore, monster arena, repeat” loop, and I can see this being a bit jarring to staunch fans of the original. The levels are sprawling, open affairs more akin to something like a Deus Ex zone, with plenty to explore — and plenty of incentive to wander around even once you’ve completed your mission objective. This means that the pacing is a bit more variable and less controlled by design than in the previous game, though with all that said, there’s still a feeling that you’re moving from encounter to encounter with pressure-free time to explore in between, so that’s good.

There’s also a new hub area with a couple of shops and some questgivers around, giving you a feeling of “coming home” back to base after a successful mission. There are also plenty of sidequests as well as the main story missions, so I get the impression there’s a whole lot to do here.

The game promises 70 weapons, which is more than enough, but each can be further customised by inserting up to three upgrades into them. These have many and varied effects ranging from simply increasing damage to providing elemental affinities to your shots. This is fortunate, as in true Diablo tradition, you’ll often come across Superior and Elite versions of enemies throughout the levels, many of whom have specific strengths and weaknesses with regard to elemental affinities. You can equip up to eight weapons at a time, and there’s nothing stopping you having eight different swords for different purposes if you want to play that way.

Besides the weapons, you can “build” your character through attaching upgrades to your armour and powers, too. These might provide specific buffs to particular types of damage, or increased effectiveness of skills. Pleasingly for the co-op enthusiasts, there’s even a multiplayer-specific equipment slot whose occupants generally buff you and your teammates with an “aura” emanating from your position. These auras can be damage increases, healing over time or defensive in nature, meaning if you really want to get into it, you can build yourself a well-balanced team that minimises its weaknesses — or simply pump as much damage as possible into each other to obliterate enemies in a matter of seconds.

Like the first game, the weapons are solid and satisfying to use, and most of them can be used in dual-wield “akimbo” fashion with the use of an upgrade. They make good noises and they rip through enemies in satisfying fashion; of particular note here are the chainsaws and chainswords, clearly inspired by Warhammer 40,000 — they cut into enemies with such precision it feels like you could carve your name into their guts.

Lo Wang’s wit is present and correct, too, and in the same way as the previous game his jokes occasionally fall flat, and the character he has “riding along with him”, much like in the first game, has some good chemistry with him, making for some amusing bickering. Plus all the usual “wang” jokes are present and correct.

Shadow Warrior 2 is very good indeed. If you’ve been considering picking it up, stop. Buy it. Play it. Love it. Who wanta some Wang?