The biggest games of April tended to rehash ideas from excellent games that came before them, to varying degrees of success. Check below to see if post-apocalyptic PS4 exclusive Days Gone, multiplatform brawler Mortal Kombat 11, and Switch exclusive puzzle platformer BOXBOY! + BOYGIRL! are worth making the time to play.
Days Gone does enough right to piece together an entertaining ride, but there are a considerable number of bumps in the road, speaking both figuratively and literally.
Metaphorical roadblocks come from the pacing of the game’s character arcs. Without spoiling too much about the origin of the Freaker infection or the resolution to protagonist Deacon St. John’s personal journey, many of the biggest story beats feel forced in a way that seems designed to wrench emotional impact from characters who haven’t been given a chance to earn that kind of clout.
As for the literal bumps in the road, those belong to Days Gone’s open world. Designing an open environment around a personal means of transport like Deacon’s motorcycle is a good idea for a game of this scope, but the execution of that idea doesn’t always live up to its promise. Bike controls can be a little touchy, and the game’s framerate often doesn’t hold up at highway speeds.
One of the game’s other defining features also has a tendency to cause some FPS hiccups. Days Gone’s zombie stand-ins, Freakers, come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the most common is the Swarmer. Swarmers are infected humans that group together into massive Hordes (not swarms, for some reason). Horde fights are large-scale set-pieces that occur throughout the open world and a few times within the main story line. Clearing these Hordes can be exhilarating or frustrating, depending on the number of traps and explosives Deacon has on hand, but rendering 200-plus twitchy Freakers is a little much for the PS4 hardware.
In terms of challenge, Freakers are usually pretty inconsequential if they aren’t bunched together, leaving the most dangerous gunfights to the humans. Battles with these enemies play out as cover-based shootouts intercut with serviceable melee combat.
Despite its flaws, the game is a fun enough time sink. It’s nearly a great game in the sense that nothing is outstandingly wrong with it, but almost every aspect — from technical stability to writing to mechanics and level design — could use another pass of polish. Read our full review. Grade: B —Evan Lewis
Mortal Kombat 11
Mortal Kombat is one of the longest-running and most successful video game franchises ever, thanks largely to its ability to adapt and change with the times. After a series of misguided spin-offs and main-game misfires in the 2000s, developer NetherRealm Studios went back to basics in 2011 with a hard reboot titled simply Mortal Kombat, which revitalized the series thanks to tight, focused fighting mechanics and an innovative cinematic story mode.
NetherRealm has refined this formula to great effect, alternating between DC Comics fighting series Injustice and Mortal Kombat every few years, with both learning and borrowing elements from each other. Mortal Kombat 11 feels like the culmination of the studio’s decade-long resurgence, although to slightly diminishing returns. While it’s a super-solid and enjoyable fighter, it hews so closely to 2015’s Mortal Kombat X and 2017’s Injustice 2 that it’s hard not to get a strong sense of déjà-mutilation.
It’s strange to fault a game for being merely as good as its excellent predecessor, but MK11 does surprisingly little to push the series forward. At its core, Mortal Kombat 11 is a bloody good fighting game, but it’s so familiar that it doesn’t feel quite as exciting or innovative anymore. It’s still one of the best fighters on the market, but it seems like it might be time for NetherRealm to reboot the series all over yet again to keep us playing through the next decade. Read our full review. Grade: B —Aaron Morales
BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL!
BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! doesn’t reinvent the square, but it is a fun, cute and easily approachable puzzler. As the game progresses to later worlds, there’s enough challenge to keep the mechanics interesting, particularly for completionists who want to gather all the collectable crowns, but there are also plenty of options available for players looking for a more casual, play-a-few-minutes-on-the-train kind of experience.
Each level, a series of mini-puzzles solved by creating and placing a certain number of traversable boxes, can generally be completed within a few minutes, and most worlds contain six to eight levels. Throughout the game, Qbby (the boy box) and Qucy (the girl) unlock new abilities by rescuing other box folks from a sort of extraterrestrial invasion. Completing levels with as few boxes as possible and collecting all available crowns grants more of the resources required to unlock music, comics, and challenge levels from the in-game store and to pull random adorable cosmetic upgrades from a gachapon machine.
Clearing levels is only ever as challenging as the player wants it to be, since hints can be called in for any section of any puzzle on the critical path, but the hints don’t apply to the crowns, which offer the game’s real head-scratchers. The addition of levels starring taller, rectangular protagonist Qudy, as well as a two-player mode, in which Qbby and Qucy are controlled individually, enable clever puzzle options that wouldn’t be possible in the standard single-player campaign. Grade: B+ —EL