Dark Souls Remastered review: Medieval menace still to die for
Dark Souls Remastered (PS4/XO/Sw) ★★★★★ Age: 18+
Designed seemingly by a demented draughtsman, the oppressive architecture of Dark Souls is what stands out most for me seven years after it was first released in 2011.
This second instalment in the Souls series refined the punishing gameplay, gigantic bosses and minimalist storytelling of the sword-swinging action RPG. But, to my mind, it's the preposterous, illogical yet ingeniously designed medieval world that makes Dark Souls the compelling game it is.
Most will know Dark Souls and its sequels for its blisteringly tough enemies, brutally spaced checkpoints and penchant for surprise attacks from other players. It's an acquired taste that spawned a whole genre and, truth be told, the difficulty does my head in.
But to play Dark Souls is to be seduced by its marvellous world-building. The impressively fearsome creatures in your way exist only to be slaughtered - even if they take many attempts. But the expansive, labyrinthine levels, with their circuitous designs and interlocking paths, are there to be admired endlessly.
This remaster does the bare minimum in terms of upgrades - improving frame rate and sharpening details a little. It looks off the pace compared to other remakes, frankly. But for those who've never lost their heart to the Souls series, it could be your new favourite worst nightmare.
Yoku's Island Express
(XO/PS4/Sw/PC) ★★★★★ Age: 7+
In an industry frequently bereft of fresh ideas, Yoku comes up with a devilishly clever twist on the platformer. It inserts the grammar of the pinball machine into a traditional side-scrolling quest-em-up, with delightful results.
Yoku - a dung beetle, no less - clumsily pushes and pulls a ball around a bucolic island setting, collecting bits and bobs for other characters. But when he meets the familiar flippers and bumpers dotted around the world, the platforming gets really interesting. Suddenly, he's zipping through chutes, pinging into the air and smashing blocks in his way.
Fed into this box of tricks is a drip of special abilities that unlocks new areas in Metroidvania style, encouraging you to revisit earlier levels and to explore every nook and cranny of this gorgeously realised world. Even the boss fights incorporate the pinball mechanic, with multiball and carefully lined-up shots required to win the day.
Exquisitely tuned physics lend a heft and weight to the platforming while gently forgiving layouts and unthreatening enemies make the adventure more about the journey than the challenge.