Games: Souls' brother has a familiar rhythm
Nioh, (PS4) 4 Stars, Age: 15+
Heard the one about the Irishman who sailed to Japan in the 17th century and became a renowned Samurai, fighting evil wraiths? Me neither, but Nioh anchors its convoluted fiction on the true story of William Adams, an Englishman who gained fame as the first western Samurai.
Pilfering liberally from history, Nioh also lifts freely from the revered Dark Souls template. The genetic framework is clearly visible in the punishingly difficult hack'n'slash combat, allied to a rapidly depleting stamina meter governing the gruelling encounters with enemies. Other familiar elements include frequent deaths and respawns, teeth-grindingly tough bosses and levels that fold around themselves.
Atop this DS-like stew, Nioh layers a deeper complexity of weapon and RPG options, plus - rather cleverly - a stamina recovery system not unlike the Gears of War active reload. Given the development studio's pedigree with the lightning-quick Ninja Gaiden series, it's no surprise Nioh emphasises risky, speedy action even though enemies can cut you down in just a couple of blows.
Being part conscious homage to Dark Souls and part descendant of Gaiden, Nioh never quite feels like its own game. The missions can be repetitive, the levels lacking the overarching design of the DS canon. Yet with a wealth of feudal Japanese landscapes and lore to explore, Nioh justifies the investment if you enjoy the sadomasochistic rhythm of die-learn-survive.
Fire Emblem Heroes
(iOS/Android), 3 Stars, Age 7+
Nintendo signalled its willingness to embrace mobile platforms two years ago, but its new strategy is paying off only now. After the unqualified success of Super Mario Run (let's not talk about Miitomo, shall we?) comes another key franchise, albeit the far less storied Fire Emblem strategy series.
Alas, unlike the mobile distillation of Mario, Fire Emblem Heroes takes a far more reductive approach. The turn-based combat survives on a smaller grid of 8x6 squares, but the ancillary gameplay of character interaction, battle items and romance has been more or less stripped.
Heroes proves temporarily engaging at first - especially at the low price of free and with its truly beautiful looks. But if you persevere long enough with its simplistic strategy, you'll begin to hit the vertiginous paywall of in-app purchases to unlock the vast roster of playable characters.