(Square-Enix for PS4)
By Mike Delano
Game designers take inspiration from all sorts of different sources. Shigeru Miyamoto referenced childhood memories and gardening when creating Zelda and Pikmin. Hideo Kojima takes pulls from the visual language of the movies to give his games a cinematic feel. Yoko Taro, the director of 2010 cult classic Nier and this unlikely sequel, takes inspiration from video games. In first hour or so of Nier: Automata — set thousands of years after the first game — you get rapid fire references to a bunch of disparate genres (shmups like Ikaruga, top-down shooters like Cannon Spike and run ‘n’ gunners like Contra to name a few) before you even bump into the first boss. It feels great to play a game that actually finds old school games worth referencing, and they’re all woven into the gameplay flow of Automata, not relegated to a retro curiosity you find by accessing a dusty old arcade cabinet. It’s not often that game designers so nakedly reference the wide spectrum of video game history inside their own game, but Nier has always been beautifully different. This time around the fascinating semi-open world structure of the original has been fleshed out and augmented with the combat know-how of developer Platinum Games, which means it looks and plays great. Engaging battles are just a bonus, though, since what made the original so special was its narrative and gameplay ambition, its gorgeous soundtrack and its endearing overall quirkiness. Platinum understands the heart of this series, so Automata retains all of those elements and improves upon them, creating another obscure gem that doesn’t just capitalize on fond memories, but builds on them.