We review PlayStation’s latest PS5-exclusive, Rise of the Ronan, as well as Balatro, Pentiment and Contra: Operation Galuga.

With Sony’s first-party offering obviously a little quiet this year, there’s significantly more pressure on the PS5’s third-party exclusives, meaning there are plenty of eyes on Rise of the Ronin. And while it might not be able to reach the heights of classic Sony franchises, there’s still plenty for PS5 gamers to enjoy.

Set in 19th-century Japan, it’s an interesting landscape for Rise of the Ronan to focus on, as the nation falls into turmoil amidst the arrival of Western influences. Amongst all the chaos of war and political unrest though, you’ll control a trained assassin as they seek out their ‘Blade Twin’ (and you’ll be able to create and customise both in what is a pretty impressive and beefy character creator), leading to a country-wide adventure rife with danger.

Disappointingly though, while the stage is set for an epic yarn, the narrative quickly loses steam and, when compared to the likes of Sony’s own Ghost of Tsushima (which managed to tell a unique, emotional story) Rise of the Ronan falls a little flat and may fail to motivate some down the main path. That said, it still offers the perfect opportunity for a wealth of open world content, with plenty of side quest and activities to check off, and once you get a glider, is fun to zip around.

The story also acts as a vehicle for the game’s biggest strength – its supremely enjoyable combat, Team Ninja delivering just another example of why they’re some of the best in the business. With a whole range of influences ranging from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice to Ghost of Tsushima and even Team Ninja’s own Nioh series, the name of the game here is parrying.

With both a health bar and a Ki gauge (that acts kind of like a stamina bar that gets depleted with key actions), the simultaneous management of both is critical, and parrying is the best way to deplete an enemy’s Ki, stagger them and deliver the ultimate smackdown. You can do so with a wide range of weapons and each one presents an interesting twist to the gameplay, be that the traditional Katana, paired blades or even a Bayonet. Each weapon can also draw from a number of combat styles that allow for various moves to make use of and stances to try out.

Whether you’re a slow and methodical attacker or a furiously frantic one, there’s a lot of flexibility at play that’ll allow you to choose your lane. With multiple difficulty options to choose from Rise of the Ronan might be a better entry point for some compared to the significantly more daunting Sekiro. You might just want to look at investing in a DualSense Edge controller because some of the button combos you’ll be mashing will have your hands contort into some interesting positions.

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At the end of the day the question remains: is Rise of the Ronin an enjoyable time? Without question. If you’re a lover of open-world checklists and parry-heavy combat there’s plenty to sink your teeth into for many hours. At the same time, Team Ninja isn’t quite able to outdo any of the games it draws inspiration from, but if you’re looking for a nice entry point into the studio’s more intense titles, you still needn’t look any further.

Rise of the Ronan is out now on PS5. You can pick it up on Amazon here.

Also out now…

Pentiment (Switch)

Pentiment might not be the biggest hitter in the Xbox roster, but this quiet achiever took me by surprise when it first launched in 2022 and this Switch iteration should help allow even more people to get their hands on it.

For those who missed it the first time, you fill the old timey shoes of Andreas Maler – a travelling artist in the 16th century who just happens to find himself in the middle of a classic murder mystery. At it’s core, Pentiment is a game filled with fascinating and unique conversations that cover anything from religion to politics – all in the humble quest of deducing the ultimate killer. But where things get interesting is how fluid these conversations can be, all subject to change depending on the background you establish for your version of Andreas.

If you’ve played Pentiment before, this portable version plays absolutely flawlessly, and Obidian’s almost painterly art style looks especially pretty on the Switch OLED display. It’s a game that seems wonderfully suited to game sessions on the couch or in bed, so if you’re willing to try something new this is well worth looking into.

Balatro (PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, XBO, Switch, PC)

Poker might not be your first bit thought for a roguelike deckbuilder, but Balatro doesn’t just embrace the inspiration, it turns it into one of the most engrossing games so far in 2024. Much like some of the best gems, Balatro has a simple elevator pitch: use a standard 52-card deck to construct classic poker hands that will help you build points to surpass an ever-increasing score.

Where things get more spicy is with the inclusion of Joker cards that net you extra bonuses and multipliers if you fulfil their criteria. What that means is that the most powerful poker hand won’t necessarily grant you the most points – thus creating a thoroughly addictive strategic loop as you constantly assess your hand and build your score into, and well past, the millions.

There are countless ways to build your deck and tactics to try out and it’s a blast to find out what will get you over the line. Balatro also has a great presentation that’s simple enough but communicates everything you need to know very effectively very quickly, especially for the Switch which is perfect for burst sessions.

But even if you don’t have a Switch, play this on whatever platform you do have, because this surprise gem is worth betting on and will likely rear its head for GOTY talk.

Contra: Operation Galuga (PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, XBO, Switch, PC)

If you’ve been looking for a nice opportunity to return to the 2D arcade-styled action-heavy shooters, Contra: Operation Galuga is bound to make you smile. Acting as a reimaging of the series’ original outing, Operation Galuga does well to retain much of the series’ classic soul while still looking and feeling like a brand new entry.

There are new characters to add to the roster in the form of Ariana and Lucia (both packing new abilities), and quality of life updates have been smartly implemented to help alleviate some of that classic challenge Contra is known for. And just to make the challenge slightly more palatable there are three difficulty options, a three-point health bar and a new perk system that allows you to earn credits that you can use to purchase helpful buffs like auto-upgrading your weapon or adding extra hit points to your character.

Jump into co-op and you’ll likely have an enjoyable time, even if you speed through things a little faster than you might expect to. If long-time series fans can get past the more modern aesthetic, there’s plenty to enjoy with Operation Galuga and leaves plenty of room for future opportunities.

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