Silver Falls: Guardians and Metal Exterminators had a troubled history on the eShop. Due to a clerical error in the eShop filing (it was listed as working on all models of 3DS whereas it actually only works on New 3DS), it got pulled from the eShop very shortly after launch and took a couple months to get restored. Despite that difficulty, though, it was worth the wait because this is a truly excellent 3DS game. I was fortunate enough to snag it before it was initially delisted, so while the version I've spent the most time playing has some glitches and bugs that were fixed in the updated version that was re-listed on the eShop, I still had an absolute blast with the game. All screenshots are courtesy of Sungrand.
Guardians and Metal Exterminators is a bit of an odd duck in that the "main" game modes only make up like 5% of the content in the game. Game A and Game B are designed to emulate the old Tiger Electronics handheld LCD games. They're simple score chasers with shallow but addicting gameplay. Unless you're a serious score chaser, they're unlikely to hold your interest for more than five or ten minutes here or there. That said, that's part of the purpose of Guardians and Metal Exterminators; it's meant to be a game you can pick up and play for a few minutes when you have down time without needing to invest a lot of time in a long story mode or keep up with a lengthy narrative.
That said, Frontier Guardians, the game's ostensibly-extra content, is actually where the vast majority of the gameplay is. It's a mission-based RPG mode where you start off with two playable characters, Oxa and Gold, and play through set missions. Don't let the mission objectives fool you; the way you earn moose tokens to buy items and xp to upgrade your character is through killing enemies, not completing objectives. Completing the objective just gets you 100% of your earned rewards instead of the 50% you get from failing the mission; if you manage to complete the mission's optional objective, you get 125% of the earned rewards. The missions involve your chosen character running around in an overhead view, killing enemies, and completing your objectives. As you progress through the game, you'll unlock a couple other characters, and there are even more characters you can unlock by using the Code Linker functions and connecting with other Silver Falls titles. You can also play as the Metal Exterminators, too, but whereas every Guardian character has at least a few story scenes, none of the enemy characters do. Bummer. The way you see these story scenes is by upgrading your character, and you can see the story completion % on the character select menu, so you'll easily be able to tell what characters are complete and who still has unviewed story scenes.
For me, Frontier Guardians and the story scenes were the draw. I get bored of old LCD games quickly, so that didn't really grasp me as anything more than a novelty, but Frontier Guardians is a lot of fun and provides a lot of Silver Falls lore if you go through the story scenes with every character. The missions don't take long - on average five to ten minutes - and I've completed some in under a minute. The objectives are randomly generated each time, so if you get a super hard one, no worries; you can either switch to a better character or just fail the mission, and the game will roll you a new mission. It's a ton of fun and a great way to kill some time or unwind. I definitely recommend this one highly.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Silver Falls: White Inside Its Umbra is Sungrand's fond farewell to the beloved Wii U console. Although it launched alongside the Wii U port of Silver Falls: Undertakers, White Inside Its Umbra is really Sungrand's true love letter to the Wii U. It was built specifically for the Wii U, and because of how it uses the Wii U's key features, it will probably always stay exclusive to Wii U as it's not really a game that could work on other consoles without totally changing the design and feel of the experience. With three difficulty settings - no enemies, normal enemies, and World 8 Mario enemies - this game has a very approachable story mode for players of all skill and patience levels. All screenshots are courtesy of Sungrand.
The story mode of White Inside Its Umbra is survival horror with a touch of walking sim. You play as Bjorna, a young woman whose cousin, Ken, has been lost in the woods around Silver Falls for two weeks. Together with a search party from town, you search the woods at night for your missing cousin. As is often the case in Silver Falls, mysterious and dangerous creatures stalk the woods, though, so cougars and bears are the least of your worries in the woods this night. As you trek through the woods, you'll have to contend with a multitude of enemies, twisting paths and dead ends, and a depleting smartphone and flashlight battery. Even when you have a charge, your light and the sounds from your smartphone can alert enemies to your presence; hope you've got some ammo. You control the flashlight and your weapon with the Wiimote and move with either the D pad on the Wiimote or with a Nunchuck depending on what you choose. The smartphone is controlled by the gamepad, and it's at the heart of the experience. There are invisible enemies that can only be seen with the camera app, strong enemies that can only be hurt after being weakened with a special phone app, a UV blaster app that can drive off enemies, a metal detector app, a GPS app to help you orient and navigate, and minigames including Pony Petter which featured in Sungrand's first weekly competition (a competition I placed 2nd in, by the way, and won Maverick D. Moose as an exclusive playable character in another game mode).
In addition to the story mode, you've got the "Zero Chapter" and Frontier Hunters. Zero Chapter is straight walking sim and entirely to help you get a feel for the world in the daylight with no enemies as well as to give some lore and character information as you meet folks walking through the woods. In Zero Chapter, you play not as Bjorna but as a random out-of-towner visiting to hike; "you" in Silver Falls, if you will. The super cool thing about Zero Chapter is that it supports the balance board for movement. You can use the same two control scheme options from story mode to move if you want, but if you have a balance board, you can use it to move; leaning forward moves forward, leaning left moves left, etc. This was supposed to be included as a control scheme in story mode, too, so that you could use the balance board, gamepad, and Wiimote all at once, but Sungrand had to remove it from the story mode for safety concerns, apparently feeling it was a risk of folks' getting startled and falling and injuring themselves or something along those lines. Hella lame, I know. Maybe someone will find a way to trick the game into letting you use the balance board in story mode? Unity on 3DS and Wii U are notoriously buggy and unpredictable, after all...
The last game mode, Frontier Hunters, is probably my favorite. It's what gives the game the real value for play hours, and it's also the multiplayer mode. Frontier Hunters is a mission-based rail shooter lightgun-style multiplayer mode. Between one and four players (but trust me, you need more than one) can use Wiimotes to blast monsters as you are moved through a level. Think House of the Dead or Area 51. Each playable character has their own weapon proficiencies and unique Skill Wheels, and thanks to my finishing Sungrand's first competition in the top five, I get to use the eldritch moose god, Maverick D. Moose. He's actually just the town's mascot, but I unilaterally decided in the Silver Falls Discord server that he's actually an ancient eldritch god who protects the town from the worst of the supernatural horrors lurking in the woods. Find some friends, grab some Wiimotes, and get to monster blasting.
White Inside Its Umbra can feel a little pricey for a digital Wii U title at $25.99 if you're just looking at the story mode, but the game is so much more than that. Just like how Guardians and Metal Exterminators's "main" game modes are a tiny fraction of the content and Frontier Guardians is the real draw, Frontier Hunters is the real meat of White Inside Its Umbra. There are nods to other games in the Silver Falls series that longtime fans will notice and appreciate, but if this is your starting point, it's a great one. There's a lot of content here with Frontier Hunters, and there's more coming in a future update. It's unfortunately only available on the North American Wii U eShop, but if you have an NTSC-U Wii U, make sure you pick this up before the eShop closes in a month.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Silver Falls: Undertakers (Wii U)
Also available on 3DS
Silver Falls is a series that I gush about a lot. I'm a huge fan of both the games themselves and of the series' development ethos of providing games with a variety of gameplay styles so that there's something for everyone while developing a rich and interconnected world with deep lore and character backstories. Silver Falls: Undertakers was originally a 3DS exclusive that just got ported to Wii U as one of the two Silver Falls games released on the Wii U eShop to give the console a good send-off. An homage to the Atari 2600 and the 1970s, this is - so far - the earliest point in the Silver Falls universe. Images below are courtesy of Sungrand.
The game follows Bull Brandish as a child in the 1970s on a camping adventure with his friend in woods owned by his grandfather, Bill Brandish, the famous creator of hit television suspense series, The Midnight Realm. When Bull goes to his grandfather's cabin to get more firewood for their campfire, he hears strange noises in the woods. After some investigation, Bull discovers massive black monsters in the woods that have been snatching children. Bull must now survive a monster-infested forest as he investigates the missing children. Will he survive this ordeal? Will the sheriff and other adults in town even believe his tale of monsters and strange encounters?
The original 3DS game had two primary modes - Game A and Game B - but this Wii U port adds a third mode, SurviVS. Game A is the story mode of the game where you play as Bull and explore the forest filled with lurking Undertakers. Game B is a high score game mode where you have to survive as long as possible while taking out as many Undertakers as possible to increase your score. Shoot the Undertakers that make it to the surface on your TV screen while tapping the giant Undertakers on the gamepad touch screen to prevent them from surfacing as these are much harder to kill. Game A and Game B both have blocky pixel graphics that would look right at home on the Atari 2600 while benefiting from the sharpness that HDMI output and 1080p resolution bring. The new mode, SurviVS, is an asymmetrical multiplayer mode using more modern visuals. One player uses the gamepad to place the Undertakers on the map, and between one and four players use Wiimotes and Nunchuks to fight off the monsters that the gamepad player spawns. If you've played the ZombiU multiplayer mode, think of that but up to five players instead of only two.
The story and world-building in Undertakers is really the star of the show in my opinion. I've played at least part of all but one of the Silver Falls games, and this game has the darkest and most intense horror atmosphere in my opinion. The violence depicted in the game is BRUTAL, but because it uses 2600-esque graphics, it's deceptive about it. It looks tame and cute, and even the gore depicted doesn't look exceptionally grotesque because of the simple graphics, but the descriptive text prompts when you interact with things reveals the truly horrific things that young Bull encounters.
I honestly wasn't sure how deep Undertakers was going to be with its 2600 aesthetic, but I absolutely adored the game. It's short enough to be played in a single sitting - it took me about an hour and a half - and that is by design; it was intended to emulate the kind of experience and relationship you'd have with 2600 games back in the day, so there are no save points, and your play time is dictated entirely by how well you know the game and what you're doing. The high score mode in Game B give it a lot of replay value, and the SurviVS mode make it an awesome party game, too. You've only got a few weeks before the eShops shut down on 3DS and Wii U, so make sure you go snag this one. Ideally, get the Wii U version, but at the very least, definitely download the 3DS version.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Xbox One, Switch, and Windows
Dragon Quest Builders 2 answers the question "What if Minecraft had a purpose?" I loved the first Dragon Quest Builders, and the sequel just takes what made the first one great and expands that. It's got the block-based building that folks expect from Minecraft-esque creative games, but it marries that with the typical good-vs-evil Dragon Quest storyline.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 has you start as a prisoner aboard a prison ship run by monsters serving the Children of Hargon, a cult dedicated to destroying anything and everything and the sworn enemies of builders. Eventually, the ship is caught in a storm, and you end up shipwrecked along with two other survivors on the Isle of Awakening, your "hub world" for the game. You meet a hammerhood spirit who gives you ownership of the island and guides you as through your journey to restore building to the island. After a brief stint on the island, you start the first of the four "main" sections of the game. For each of the main sections, you're sent to another storyline island. One is a formerly lush island focused on farming and wood items, one is a desert island focused on mining and metal items, one is a snowy island focused on stone construction, and one is a spoiler. Between each of these island chapters, you have tasks to complete on the Isle of Awakening as you build up your own island.
The main "quest" of the storyline is to travel to these islands and recruit people to come back to your island with you to help build and populate. Wherever you go, however, you're hounded by the Children of Hargon. The cult is determined to prevent the return of building to the islands they rule, and they're consistently attacking you and the settlements you're trying to build back up. That's where the combat comes in; you'll have NPCs helping you in battle, but you'll definitely want to make sure that you're keeping your equipment upgraded when possible and gain as much experience as possible so that you have the HP to survive increasingly powerful enemies' attacks. The combat isn't difficult, but you'll definitely need to get a feel for healing, knowing when to fall back, and knowing the timing of your enemies' attacks so that you can dodge and avoid damage.
As with Minecraft, the most addicting part of the game is building up your own island. I have spent dozens and dozens of hours working on completely non-story related things, just building up my island. You'll end up with three main settlement areas on your island - one green and grassy, one desert, and one snowy and desolate. They pretty clearly mirror the first three story islands. In the grassy area, for example, I meticulously flattened land to build sprawling fields for my farms (gotta keep the peasants busy) and a huge six story wooden apartment building to house my peasants. In the desert, I built individual rooms in a large building and a separate bar building with a restaurant on top of that and a makeshift brothel above the restaurant. Because sex work is real work, and the island dutchy of Ehrenfest is a place of equality, and the ruling Archduchess Rozemyne is a stalwart proponent of feminism. My crowning achievement of my island, in my opinion, is the massive castle I constructed (complete with dungeon where all bards are immediately incarcerated) and the massive rail system connecting the dock, builder's temple, and all three settlements together.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 is addicting to say the least. It's kind of like Civilization except instead of "Just one more turn..." it's "Just one more structure..." Every time you unlock a new recipe, you'll have some idea of "Oh, that would make a cool room..." The only thing I genuinely hate about the game is that you're limited to 100 recognized rooms on your island; I wanted to build sprawling towns with multi-room houses for reach of my residents and a wide variety of recreational buildings. Still, though, 100 rooms was enough for me to do most of what I really wanted to do, and you can always demolish a building to rebuild or remodel a room. It can get a little janky when trying to get exact placement of blocks and items, but all in all, it's a pretty easy to use system. I guarantee that however much time you think you'll spend with this game, you'll end up spending more.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Fire Emblem: Engage (Switch)
Fire Emblem is my absolute favorite Nintendo IP, and as such a huge Fire Emblem fan, I'm pretty easy to please. I even like Fire Emblem Heroes, and I'm notoriously prejudiced against mobile gaming (it's for peasants). As such, I absolutely adored Fire Emblem: Three Houses even though a lot of my friends either outright disliked it or were at least disappointed that leaned so heavily into the social sim aspects and put such an emphasis on the monastery as a hub world. Fire Emblem: Engage, however, I didn't enjoy just because it was Fire Emblem (and had an axe-wielding anti-religion cutie) like I did with Three Houses; unlike the previous mainline entry, Engage brings back a lot of the classic Fire Emblem feel that Three Houses lacked while still also feeling modern and fresh.
The basic premise of the game feels very similar if you've played previously Fire Emblem games (or any JRPG, for that matter). You play as Alear (whom I renamed Rozemyne because my current hyperfixation is Ascendance of a Bookworm and whom the Internet nicknamed Toothpaste-chan since her hair looks like Colgate), the child of the Divine Dragon Lumera and thus a Divine Dragon herself (or himself if you're a loser and play as a male). You awaken a thousand years after a cataclysmic war with the Fell Dragon, but just as you're awakening (with amnesia, as is tradition for everything made in Japan), oh no, the zombie-esque Corrupted soldiers are appearing again! What could this mean? Surely the Fell Dragon hasn't returned (not-really-a-spoiler alert - the Fell Dragon has returned). So the story isn't original, but hardly anything in anime or Japanese RPGs are; what matters is the execution, and the execution is fantastic here.
You still have a hub world called the Somniel where you can interact and bond with characters, shop, use your amiibo for some extra cooking ingredients, etc, but unlike Three Houses, the Somniel is like 95% optional. There are a couple of story segments that require you to interact with something there, but for the vast majority of the game, you can choose to go straight from the post-battle area to the world map and immediately to the next battle. This helps to keep the game's pace moving swiftly if you're not interested in the social sim aspects while also giving a relatively robust social sim element if, like me, you actually enjoy that. As for the core gameplay - the battle maps - it's exactly what you would expect from Fire Emblem. It's a well-designed and robust strategy RPG with balanced battle mechanics that invite - and eventually require - the player to develop strategies that go far beyond "send your single overpowered unit in as a tank." There are the usual mechanics that you're used to - the familiar weapons triangle and the weapons that are better against certain traits like mounted or armored - but there's also a new one, and that's Break. If you have the advantage in a weapon match up - swords against axes, for example - there's a chance that you can break the enemy's weapon, making them unable to counter attack during their next battle that turn. It only works during your turn - you can't keep them from attacking on theirs - and it only works once, so you can't just bum rush them with half a dozen units and have them all safe, but it's a great mechanic that opens up a lot of new strategies.
As Fire Emblem games since the 3DS era have, Engage gives you a variety of difficulty options. First and foremost, you'll choose between Casual and Classic. Casual is how I always play on the first playthrough and removes the permadeath for which Fire Emblem is traditionally known. That way, if your character falls in battle, they're not gone forever; they can be redeployed in the next battle. Classic, on the other hand, keeps permadeath intact; if a stupid mistake leads to a character death in a random grinding battle, that character is dead forever unless you go back and redo it. After you choose which mode to play, you choose your difficulty. These two choices let you craft the game to be as easy or as a infuriatingly difficult as you want it to be.
There is a pseudo-multiplayer aspect with the Relay Battles, but frankly, I have zero interest in those battles, so I did one token battle and then never touched it again. Still, though, it's a nice inclusion that's reminiscent of Awakening on 3DS. Something else that harkens back to the 3DS games (and all of the games before that) is your main gameplay gimmick, the emblems. Each of the 12 emblems represents one of the previous 12 Fire Emblem games (excluding Mystery of the Emblem, Shadow Dragon, New Mystery of the Emblem, and Echoes since they're remakes). There are also two DLC emblems if you bought the season pass. I know better than to pin my hopes on Nintendo's decision making, but I'm hoping against hope that this is an indication that they're preparing to either remaster or re-release some of the older Fire Emblem games because this is bound to get newer players (3DS and later) interested in the protagonists from the older (Wii and earlier) games.
Fire Emblem: Engage definitely feels the much more like a "classic" Fire Emblem game than Three Houses did. I personally loved Three Houses, but Engage surpasses it in pretty much every way except maybe character design; I love Toothpaste-chan, but even my anime standards, her hair is kind of out there. It reminds me a lot of Path of Radiance as well as Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, and I mean that in the best way possible. This is, in my opinion, the best Fire Emblem game since Awakening. If you love Fire Emblem, you need to play this; if you love the Switch, you need to play this; if you love SRPGs, you need to play this. It's not perfect, but it's pretty damn close in my book, and I'm extremely eager to see what story content the upcoming DLC adds.
My Rating - 5 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.