The versatile, all-encompassing release of Sony's PlayStation 5 is no better exemplified than two of its heaviest-hitting exclusive launch titles: Demon's Souls and Sackboy: A Big Adventure.
One, a gritty next-generation remake of an unforgiving, violent classic that started a trend that turned a niche genre into a globe-spanning hit. The other, a jaw-dropping 3D platformer with broad accessibility that oozes creativity.
Both incredible examples of what the next generation of gaming has to offer right out of the gates. Not just visually, either. Both look amazing, but innovation via the haptic feedback on the DualSense controller and innovation in gameplay and on the technical front thrust both onto must-experience lists.
Sony Interactive Entertainment tasked developer Bluepoint with remaking one of the most beloved, niche games in the PlayStation library.
From Software's original game of the same name released on the PlayStation 3 in 2009 to rave reviews, Demon's Souls had the punishing difficulty and lack of a guiding hand laying the groundwork that eventually led to Dark Souls, Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
Veterans of the series can rest assured the remake here is a faithful recreation that largely preserves everything beloved about the original.
With some truly next-generation presentation, of course. The game is truly a showcase of what the PS5 can accomplish early in its lifecycle, with superb visuals throughout. Candles send flickering light off detailed stone walls, soft steps in puddles send ripples across the surface and monsters come crashing through destructible bits of environment.
Veterans will feel a sense of wonder in that the visuals and sound effects alone make it feel like they're playing the game again for the first time. There are some design shake-ups with some of the monsters, but the biggest bads are toweringly frightening now and a sight to behold. Gross areas are more squeamish-inducing than ever, and even lip-synching and improved facial detail casts some side NPCs in a refreshing new light.
Both the soundtrack and voice acting have been redone and now stand at best-in-class status. The heart and soul of it is still there, but an update was both necessary and provides quite a leap. This is especially the case for combat sound effects, with weapon swings thundering off shields or sinking into armor providing notable feedback.
Something that can fly underrated in the face of upgraded visuals for this remake is perhaps the biggest experience-altering thing for longtime fans of the series—the PlayStation 5's haptic feedback on the new DualSense controller. Each hit of a weapon, rumble of the ground underfoot and roar of a monster seems to come with a different sort of in-hand feedback on the controller, pairing amazingly well with the graphics and sound effects to enable a deeper level of progression than ever.
Players start the game with droves of styles of play to choose from in a way that just screams replayability and experimentation. A typical knight build is available, but so are magical builds, ranged builds, fleet-footed builds and more, never mind an ability to toy with each skill set.
That's part of a rather robust character creator with a surprising amount of depth. Want to make a green bald dude? It's possible, so it should be fun, if not a little immersion-altering, to see what players can come up with for their runs.
True to its past, Demon's Souls doesn't offer much in the way of help or explanation. As such, it'd feel a little spoiler-ish to detail too much. Players can block, parry, dodge and perform light and heavy attacks, plus have the freedom to swap weapons and shields to each hand, dual wield or hold one weapon with two hands.
It's a player's choice in how to approach the combat, though patience is a must. Every little nook and cranny of the distinct different explorable levels has traps and a variety of enemies littered throughout. Rushing through at any point on a first playthrough is a good way to die fast.
And that's the beauty of this monstrosity of a game—seasoned veterans might know every trap and enemy location and every bit of enemy behavior. They know what's coming next at every turn. But they will still largely approach everything with the utmost caution because every little encounter can be fatal.
It adds a weight and tension most games spend entire runtimes trying to establish. And working off that, the sense of reward and accomplishment is also nearly unrivaled in gaming.
The somewhat controversial World Tendency returns and is still an obtuse, not-easy-to-understand mechanic. Player actions frame the world in black or white, which alters the difficulty of each location and how hard enemies hit. The gist of it is still that dying more shifts the tendency blacker, making the game even more difficult.
For all its advances, inventory management can still feel a little clunky. Bringing up the menus (which doesn't pause the action) permits changing around equipable items and a handful of consumables. But it feels like keeping things restrictive in this way was Bluepoint's way of staying true to the nature of the gameplay.
At the least, a weight system to the inventory means a massive emphasis on strategy before setting off to tackle a level—holding too much reduces running and dodging speed.
The story itself somewhat sits on the backburner. Boletaria has been overrun with a deadly mist, and it's up to the player to brave it and set things right. They operate out of The Nexus hub area again, a locale crafted before hub areas were rampant in games of all genres.
The charming multiplayer experience makes a return intact, too. Players can see the ghosts of others tackling the same areas. They can walk to red gashes on the floor and see messages left by other players, which is sometimes helpful, sometimes just hilarious or downright misleading (one early message said "friendlies ahead," yet the "friendly" was a skeleton who shot an explosive barrel and ended the run).
Co-op is also in, though actually recruiting help or going to help someone else tackle challenges is as convoluted as ever. Invasion multiplayer is also back, though we'll have to see how the playerbase develops alongside it over time.
As a next-generation game, Demon's Souls launches with the expected litany of technical options. If players pick Performance Mode, it offers 1440p resolution upscaled to 4K. Cinematic mode at native 4K comes at the cost of dropped frames. Experiencing the game at 60FPS is a thrill, though it's understandable if players want the native 4K.
There are also multiple camera angles to experiment with, as well as graphical filters. And speaking of upgrades on the technical side, loading times are significantly cut down, which is understandably one of the biggest outright upgrades upon what was originally a PS3 release.
While global hits that arrived later in the series like Dark Souls have advanced things in many ways, it's a testament to the foundation of Demon's Souls that Bluepoint saw fit to change so little about the core experience. It's a great showcase of the early next-gen capabilities and simply a superb launch exclusive for players looking for a highly replayable game, too.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure
In something of a sign Sony is more than willing to go bold with the PS5 launch, it's Sackboy from the LittleBigPlanet series—not Crash Bandicoot or another more familiar face—leading the charge as the mascot with a solo game.
Sackboy stands front and center as far as innovative, all-ages titles go for the PS5 with developer Sumo Digital entrusted with bringing a classic platformer to the console's release.
And before anything else, onlookers will notice the breathtaking arts and crafts theme throughout the cute experience. Backed by the power of a brand-new generation of hardware, crafting and scrapbook items and fantastical monsters and friendlies brought to life have never looked better. Want to play a Pixar movie come to life? This is it.
Sackboy is a cute Sackperson made of fabric with a zipper, and that's just the beginning as far as the colorful themes go. He traverses a massive handcrafted world that doesn't mind flexing its versatility early on, taking players from snowy environments to jungles and so much more.
Each area of the game feels unique and memorable, if not a little vague. There aren't wow-worthy landmarks like one might find in a Crash or Mario game per se, but each place is so packed with details that fit the theme that it's hard to complain.
That theme gets some small hints here and there, like a platform made of toilet paper rolls or various large household items serving as part of the land's makeup. Cutesy-crafted animals sometimes operate on a 2D plane on walls and in the background, reacting to Sackboy's actions and the enemies, while harmful, aren't too dastardly looking, either.
The soundtrack is properly splendid and upbeat to match the visual cues. Players who listen closely enough will certainly recognize some of the remixed tunes. It's hard to envision the game without a proper soundtrack like this, never mind the rewarding pop of collecting items and some outstanding voiceover work from surrounding characters.
Rest assured Sackboy takes full advantage of the new haptic feedback too with damage feeling impactful and some smart audio cues from the controller itself helping to keep the good vibes going. Feedback in a snow level with a mini-avalanche, for example, feels markedly different from a more relaxed area.
To be blunt, gameplay is fantastic. Unlike other platformers, there isn't often a sense of "didn't mean to do that" or "didn't go where intended." Errors in input-to-screen just don't happen often. Sackboy is precise, whether it's jumping, rolling around, punching or wiggling for extra distance after a leap by holding down that jump button.
And that's especially impressive because to its credit, Sackboy toys with level design and expectations to keep things fresh. The perspective can go from a sidescrolling to uphill and then downhill, for example, in a hurry. There are Crash-styled chase scenes, too. Some levels aren't straight Point A to Point B, either, as they turn the player loose in rather larger areas with fun puzzles that reward the necessary keys to unlock the big door to wrap things up.
As veterans of this genre can probably imagine, some sections mask big-time difficulty with the cuteness factor. The game gets increasingly more difficult as a player progresses through the world. That's not to say it's impossible for players of all ages, but one can feel when the kiddie gloves come off and it starts to smartly throw all of the prior lessons learned into coherent challenges.
Besides versatile level design, there are tons of goodies packed into each that encourage exploration. There are side rooms of sorts that present entirely different types of challenges of the minigame variety.
Otherwise, it's something of a rewarding-feeling collect-a-thon. Sackboy has to reel in score bubbles and collectabells (a smooth, fitting pun for the game world, by the way), as well as dreamer orbs. The bells are a currency used to purchase customization items, while the other two help unlock new parts of the map and story.
Sackboy's overarching progression will feel familiar. He plops down on a world map and moves between levels with little side activities or shops here and there off to the side of the main path. Progression is tied to collecting the mentioned materials to unlock new parts of the map, so while players shouldn't pull hair out over not finding every little thing, exploration is absolutely encouraged and will make a big difference in the long run.
The lives mechanic isn't nearly as punishing as it can be in other similar games. Players start with five and losing one results in a big score penalty. Losing them all means starting a level entirely over. Extra lives aren't too hard to come by, though, so it's easy to see why this was the chosen direction.
A Big Adventure's story won't win major awards: Sackboy hops around Craftverse trying to save his friends who got kidnapped by the big bad Vex.
The overarching narrative is fun but doesn't seem to take the spotlight a ton. The levels themselves feel like individual stories, and some cute characters Sackboy encounters are expertly written and memorable, completely throwing the bigger narrative on the backburner.
Make no mistake, players will want to see it through regardless, but whether that's to stop Vex or just experience everything the fun ride has to offer is up for debate.
Customization is a bigger part of the experience too. Sackboy can be outfitted with all sorts of costume pieces and gadgets that make for some hilarious cutscenes and moments. Players can buy some from a genuinely funny vendor and other pieces of costumes are hidden throughout levels and/or locked behind collection numbers.
Call it a breath of fresh air in today's gaming environment that merely exploring a gorgeous level or experimenting in a way the game doesn't explicitly tell a player to results in a great-looking cosmetic award.
For players who really want a challenge, there are also unlockable time trials that are not easy, and it's nice to see where a finishing time ranks on the leaderboards. Add in remixed levels and replayability with a skill gap is another strong checklist-type item the game knocks out of the proverbial park.
From a technical standpoint, A Big Adventure is just as impressive as Demon's Souls as far as a next-gen showcase goes, just with a dramatically different flavor. It's a visual treat for players of all ages, plus runs smoothly without a hitch in all instances, which is impressive in its own right given the scale and fidelity of the happenings on screen at times.
Continuing a trend from the last console generation, leave it to Sony to wow with a broad range of must-play releases like these.
Demon's Souls is a marvel of a showcase for the PS5, never mind a tried-and-true fan favorite that stays true to the original in all the right ways. Call it a bar not only for how companies should handle remakes, but a bar for next-generation performance right out of the gates.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure is a by-the-books platformer with unlimited appeal and a bold design that shouldn't have any problems standing right alongside the console's heaviest hitters for quite some time.
While some console launches over the course of many generations now haven't had the most impressive opening-day libraries, the unlikely duo of Demon's Souls and Sackboy: A Big Adventure guarantees PS5 owners a pair of classics right out of the gates.