SLJ Reviews 4 Video Games to Transport Players to Fantasy Worlds

This month’s titles allow patrons to enjoy a staycation to a variety of fantasy locales from the comfort of their own home. And, they're a great way to get kids' brains strategizing for the new school year.

Playing video games is a great way to escape a scorching hot summer day or a washed out vacation. This month’s titles allow patrons to enjoy a staycation to a variety of fantasy locales from the comfort of their own home. And, they're a great way to get kids' brains strategizing for the new school year. All games reviewed from download codes provided by the publishers.


Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp. Apr. 2023. Nintendo Switch. Price $60. Rating E10+.
Advance Wars and its sequel, Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising , were released on the Game Boy Advance in 2001 and 2003 respectively. The “Advance Wars” series has lain dormant since 2008. This remake, by popular developer WayForward, feels like an audition tape for reviving the series. In Advance Wars 1+2, players will assume the role of a commanding officer, like buff Max, tomboy Sami, or the shorts-wearing young teen Andy. These COs control military troops, like infantry, tanks, artillery, and more. They are deployed on a map that mixes trees and rivers with cities and other urban structures. Players take turns against a computer-rival army, moving their units strategically through the environment to defeat enemy units or capture their base. Strategy is deep. Like chess, each unit has its own movement ranges and combat styles. Players must balance offense and defense. They also need to raise funds by capturing cities and use their money wisely to build and deploy appropriate units. Maps start relatively simple but grow increasingly complex as the war heats up. Advance Wars 2 follows the story of its previous iteration, adds a new unit, and increases the complexity. The game encourages users to finish the first installment before playing the second, but players who want to jump right into the action are welcome to. In-game guides help remind players of the many complex tactics they need to succeed. The graphics are enhanced for this remake, featuring crisp updated visuals. A lush animated sequence introduces the main characters and their personalities. They are partially voiced, but players must read through the text to fully understand the gameplay and story. The new music is groovy. Gameplay and maps remain virtually unchanged from the 20-year-old originals. Difficulty levels can be made easier or harder on the fly, and sequences can be sped up if desired. Players can battle each other on the same console or online and even create their own maps. This game was supposed to be released in April 2022, but was delayed in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Even separated from the immediate threat of real-world war, the game still feels somewhat tone deaf as soldiers gleefully charge into battle to be obliterated in bloodless, Technicolor explosions. VERDICT Because it fills a need for thoughtful strategy games on the Switch, this game is still a good fit for large collections.

Bayonetta 3. Oct. 2022. Nintendo Switch. Price $60. Rating M.
Bayonetta is one of the wilder video game characters introduced this century. She is a gun-toting witch who is frequently referred to as a sexy librarian, despite not having an accredited degree. She wields guns in both hands and feet. Her clothing and her magic are somehow both rooted in her hair, meaning she becomes more scantily clad as her hair gets shorter and the more magic she uses. Baynoetta has developed a cult following and even been featured in the popular “Super Smash Bros.” game series. This latest adventure in the series sees Bayonetta traveling through the multiverse, where she meets parallel versions of herself as she tries to save the universe from a world-gobbling entity. Gameplay is focused on kinetic action and combo-heavy combat. Challenge is intense, but the game provides three difficulty settings that can be toggled any time. Bayonetta can summon huge demons and wield different weapons, including razor-tipped fans, a spear shaped like a mic stand, and a hammer of ridiculous proportions. There are also alternate playable characters, each with their own unique play style and abilities. The game throws players right into the action. In between action scenes, players explore more open areas, collecting numerous items that can be used to customize Bayonetta’s appearance and upgrade her skills. Storywise, the lore of the game is exceptionally deep for those who want to immerse themselves in the characters and their complicated histories. Knowledge of the previous two installments is helpful, but not required. The camera is heavy with male gaze, frequently lingering on Bayonetta’s figure. She herself is a strong character who is smart, quick, and never backs down. A mode called “naive angel” reduces the level of violence and gore, slightly censors cigarette smoking, and keeps Bayonetta’s nude body more obscured from view. VERDICT With sophisticated combat for mature audiences, this game is a strong purchase for a well-rounded older teen/adult video game collection.

Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon. Mar. 2023. Nintendo Switch. Price $60. Rating T.
Bayonetta Origins is an unusual spin-off, being the opposite of its main series in almost every possible way. Bayonetta, here called Cereza, is 15 years old in this prequel. No longer presented in an overtly sexual way, she now resembles Marcie from Peanuts going through a Goth phase. Where the adult Bayonetta struts around and crushes her foes, Cereza cuddles a stuffed cat and is unsure of her own abilities. Lightning-fast action combat is replaced with more deliberate, puzzle-heavy gameplay. Even the combat feels like a puzzle to unlock. The main series graphics lean toward the realistic side of the spectrum, but the spin-off’s visuals look like they are dipped in watercolor with art direction inspired by Coraline. The story is told through a series of narrated storybook pages scored by music that wouldn’t be out of place echoing through the halls of Hogwarts. The story depicts Cereza’s journey into a dark forest, where she follows a white wolf to find her true powers. The similarities to Alice in Wonderland don’t end there. Cereza’s stuffed cat is named Cheshire. When Cheshire is possessed by a demon, he develops a huge toothy smile, perfect for eating evil faeries. Cereza concocts potions that might as well be tagged with “Drink me.” Cereza and Cheshire must travel together, using a unique control scheme in which the young witch is controlled with the left stick and shoulder buttons and the demon-cat with the right half. Portals take them into the psychedelic realm of the faeries, the game’s main antagonists, to solve puzzles and fight enemies. Bad guys are named after UK lore: Leipreachán, Spriggan, Pixie. Where the main series is filled with sex and violence catering to the male gaze, this spin-off focuses on a young woman’s coming-of-age story. However, the game does fall into gender stereotypes by making Cereza physically weak, using her powers and brains, while the demon (referred to with male pronouns) uses brute strength. The female narrator has a slight Irish lilt, sounding at times like Mrs. Doubtfire. Her motherly delivery is comforting; however, her male demon voice is less effective. The game unfolds slowly, but reveals rewarding surprises to patient players. Players may want more after indulging in the Nintendo eShop’s free demo. VERDICT A playable Alice in Wonderland, this game has niche appeal but is a worthy addition to most collections.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. May 2023. Nintendo Switch. Price $70. Rating E10+.
Breath of the Wild (BotW), the predecessor to Tears of the Kingdom (TotK), is often called one of the best games of all time. It even snagged the top spot on IGN’s 2023 list of The Top 100 Video Games of All Time. That game reinvented the classic Zelda formula by creating a rich, engrossing, and open world. TotK is even more immersive, layered, and compelling. Set a few years after BotW and taking place in the same world, TotK’s story begins when the kingdom of Hyrule is thrown into chaos once again. This time, our hero Link and Princess Zelda unwittingly unearth a dark villain underneath the castle. The vast landscape is transformed by chasms, fallen stones, and soul-stealing gloom, a dark miasma seeping from beneath the surface. BotW’s familiar landscape is transformed. On top of that (and beneath it) are two new layers of adventure: floating islands in the sky and a vast, pitch-black underground. These additions make the already massive world three times as large to explore. Link’s brand-new powers allow him to battle enemies and traverse the world in exhilarating ways. With his Ultrahand ability, he can construct carts, wagons, aircraft, and more from material he finds lying across the landscape. With Fuse, he can attach items like monster claws to his weapons, increasing his attack power. And Recall grants him the power to move objects backward through time. These abilities enhance exploration and combat and also allow for complex puzzles to solve within the dozens of mystical shrines dotting the countryside. The adventure is nonlinear and sprawling. Link is given general direction, but the world is open for the player to explore, limited only by their imagination and combat skill. Direct combat requires quick reflexes and smart strategy against monsters resembling goblins, slime, centaurs, and dragons. Players must cleverly use their powers to reunite lost friends, put up signs, delve into wells, and more. Horses can be tamed, raised, and ridden, allowing the player to tow wagons filled with supplies or people. Koroks, cute little plant-based creatures familiar to Zelda fans, return by the hundreds to hide under rocks, up trees, and inside dandelion blossoms. The storyline is a typical Zelda tale: find the princess, save the world. Zelda, although non-playable, has more agency in a parallel storyline to return to her own time. Link’s search for her leads to large temples hidden throughout Hyrule, each filled with puzzles and combat against giant bosses at an epic scale. Controls are complex but intuitive, and the game provides numerous tips and tutorials to acclimate new players; however, the learning curve may be steep for newcomers to the series. The website estimates anywhere between 60–200 hours to complete TotK. VERDICT If there is only one video game in your library, make it this one. Larger collections should acquire multiple copies. Sure to be in high demand.

Chance Lee Joyner, Tyngsborough P.L., MA

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