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Parents' Guide to

Returnal

By Chad Sapieha, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 13+

Punishing sci-fi shooter rewards player perseverance.

Game PlayStation 5 , Windows 2023
Returnal box shot: A woman in a spacesuit with a pistol, brow knit in determination.

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this game.

Community Reviews

age 10+

Based on 4 parent reviews

age 9+

A clean, hard, challenging roguelike.

Returnal is a AAA roguelike game, where the protagonist shoots robots and alien-like beasts while collecting items in order to survive the punishing environment. Defeated enemies essentially dissolve and leave behind gold currency. Aside from some occasional scary elements, most of which are very PG, the game is clean end-to-end. The punishing nature of the game requires persistence and adaptation, and the narrative and gameplay elements are excellent throughout. A game for "big kids" and teens, mostly because of the tone and difficulty.
age 11+

"Souls-like" gameplay, undoubtedly a hard game.

I would rate this mostly for the difficulty of the game, since I don't expect many kids to be pleased with the nature of losing again and again, or having to spend an eternity trying to get past a boss enemy. If your kid is a pro gamer, even they will have a hard time with this game. Most of the time, the enemies will be quite scary-looking and fluids will spill out when you shoot them. Infrequent profanity includes "hell" and "bastard". If you can handle some punishments, then this game will certainly give them to you!

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (4 ):
Kids say (1 ):

This fast-paced action adventure isn't for the faint of heart, but it rewards the player's perseverance toward solving what's happening on this mysterious planet. Returnal assumes players understand (or perhaps teaches players the value of) tenacity, and that before you can claim a satisfying victory, you must first fail. A lot. And learn from those failures. The whole premise of the game is to fight to the bitter end, go down with your finger firmly on the trigger, and then wake up and do it all over again -- hopefully a little better. But it's not all doom and gloom. Assuming you make it a little further each time, you'll discover new items and strategies that you'll be able to use going forward, and you'll be rewarded with tantalizing bits of story -- such as alien scripts that must be translated, or a glimpse of Selene's pre-mission life -- that slowly but surely reveal what everything means. These are the dangling carrots that will keep dedicated players going, even after multiple deaths without any progress.

It all hinges on the action, though, which most players will likely either love or hate. The controls are tight and the weapons feel gratifyingly powerful. Developer Housemarque has made admirable use of some of the novel features of Sony's DualSense controller -- which can be used with the PC edition -- including the two-stage trigger for aiming, haptic feedback to quickly convey key information, and the built-in speaker to create a multidimensional soundscape. But the enemies themselves are of the "bullet curtain" variety, which means they emit huge waves of floaty energy balls in complex patterns that players must dodge by running, jumping, and dashing. Judging the depth and distance of these orbs as they approach is challenging at best, frustrating at worst. And since reaction time is vital, maintaining a crisp, high frame rate is key. This isn't a problem when playing on PlayStation 5, but if you try playing on a lower tier gaming PC, the frame rate will likely dip during busy scenes, which makes things even tougher. Even with a steady frame rate, it'll take time and effort to adapt to this style of combat. If you manage to make it through to the other side, though, you'll likely discover the reward to be worth the trouble. Returnal skips the mollycoddling and assumes players can take a bit of punishment, and there are plenty of serious gamers out there bound to take up the challenge.

Game Details

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