January is normally a quiet time for new games, but we've had quite a few releases this month across a broad variety of genres, from a side-scrolling beat 'em up through deep RPGs to twin stick shooters. In case you missed any of them, here's the complete list of what we covered. If you're interested in reading the full review of any game here, just click on the headline.
Bob: It's easy to fall in love with The Witness, and even easier to have your heart broken by the callous indifference of Jonathan Blow's beautiful island. A healthy challenge is good for any game, but the puzzles on display here offer few inroads to understanding for those who can't think exactly like their creator.
Xbox One, PC
Jaz: ZHEROS is fun to play for a while. Its combo system is entertaining to use, and its graphics look good. However, flaws in its design include frustrating difficulty spikes, some punishing later levels, and occasionally awkward controls, which results in a game that falls short of its potential.
Kat: For me, Final Fantasy Explorers is in the ideal place of being engaging without being a full-time commitment. It's the kind of game that I can break out and play with my friends without worrying too much about being out of practice or knowing where to find everything. Even better, it's the kind of game that I can hand to a friend and have them up to speed in the space of about five minutes.
So while Final Fantasy Explorers is unlikely to pry dedicated Monster Hunter fans from their game of choice, it does fill a very welcome niche for those looking for something a little lighter. And that, at least, is what will probably keep me playing for the time being.
Jeremy: I love the fact that Gravity Rush exists. How rare is it these days to see a major publisher produce something so wholly original, so defiantly non-commercial? The game has its shortcomings, it's true, but they're the sort of things that sequels are made to iron out. While I'd prefer this remaster have taken a crack at shoring up the game's weaknesses, the technical improvements it brings more than justify its existence. If you've never played Gravity Rush, you need to play this remake... and if you have played it, this version offers an improved enough experience to justify a second visit to Hekseville.
Jaz took a slightly different approach to reviewing this pair of twin stick shooters, and ended up comparing them to one another, rather than scoring them individually.
Jaz: Tachyon Project is fun, but its biggest drawback is its difficulty spikes, which can make the game frustrating at times. However, it's the better game overall – but not by a particularly large margin. It has better feel, and more engaging gameplay thanks to the way it uses its timer – and its storyline also adds a layer of interest.
AIPD has smoother, more progressive gameplay. This works well with its focus on highscores, and it's entertaining enough to keep you coming back for more - for a while at least. However, over the long term, its gameplay does become a little repetitive. Despite being able to configure the game a number of different ways, AIPD's lack of variety over the long term means its appeal wears off sooner than that of Tachyon Project.
Ultimately, I'd separate the two like this: If you're driven by highscores, AIPD is a good choice, while Tachyon Project is for those who like their twin stick shooters tough and challenging.
Bob: By shoving the story aside and doubling down on its great battle system, Paper Jam smartly emphasizes what the series does best. Some of the padding can be a little annoying, but the way paper-thin characters add new angles to enemy encounters makes this crossover more than just a simple gimmick.
Kat: I can't say enough nice things about Darkest Dungeon. Its presentation is brilliant, its systems are smart and well-constructed, and it does a lot to subvert what we should expect from the average dungeon crawler. For a game built around slowly grinding up multiple parties of adventurers, it's remarkable how fresh it can feel even after more than 50 hours. It's only January, but Darkest Dungeon is already one of my favorite games of the year.
PS4, Xbox One, PC
Jaz: Video gaming meets 90's family drama in a finely-crafted piece of interactive fiction whose atmospheric story is intelligently articulated in a very compelling way. While Gone Home's experience is rather short, its characters will stay with you for days after you've finished the game - despite you never meeting them.
Bob: Aviary Attorney might look like nothing more than a silly riff on Ace Attorney, but thankfully, there's a lot more to it than that. The era-appropriate illustrations and music set the perfect atmosphere, while the short cases with multiple endings provide a great incentive to jump back in and shoot for happier resolutions. Aviary Attorney doesn't quite hit the heights of Capcom's own series, but it's still a fine way to kill an afternoon.
Jaz: Looking and playing very similarly to the 2003 original, the new Amplitude packs a thumping good progressive electronica soundtrack which suits its slick and nicely polished gameplay perfectly. Where the game does fall a little flat is in its lasting appeal. It doesn't take long to beat the campaign and unlock almost all of its tracks, and once you've done that, the leaderboards are the only place where a long-term challenge can be found.
PS Vita, PS3
Kat: I think it appeals to a very particular taste, and I'd have a hard time recommending it to someone outside of its established niche. It's a solidly designed RPG with a good pedigree, but 10 hours hasn't been enough for it to get its hooks into me, which is usually the threshold beyond which I move on to something else. For now, though, I plan to stick with it. There are some RPGs that you just learn to love.