Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)
Holy crap, dude. HOLY CRAP, DUDE. Super Mario Odyssey is the full realization of Nintendo's ambitions with Super Mario 64. Super Mario 64 was an amazing game, but Super Mario Odyssey is in a whole different league. No one should be surprised when Nintendo knocks it out of the park with first party games, especially a flagship 3D Mario title, but even by Nintendo standards, this game is absolutely incredible. I wasn't sure how I felt about the living hat, and I wasn't sure if I'd like the realistic aesthetic of New Donk City, but JESUS CHRIST this game is amazing.
Nintendo has had at least one 3D Mario title every generation since the Nintendo 64 - two on the Wii - but they haven't gone for a real world-based open exploration game since Super Mario 64, at least not with this level of world diversity. Just like the 3DS was the realization of the Virtual Boy's promise of 3D gaming, Super Mario Odyssey is the full realization of Super Mario 64's promise of secret hunting and exploration in over a dozen extremely varied worlds. Even more exciting for me than the different worlds to explore, however, was the plethora of different power ups available. The power ups don't work like your standard Mario power ups; you don't find them in question boxes and touch them to gain the ability. Instead, you throw your living hat companion, Cappy, at any enemy to possess it and gain its abilities in a manner not unlike Kirby's enemy absorption.
The game's story is as unnecessary as usual for a Mario game, but it is fairly interesting for a Mario plot. Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach again, but this time he plans to force her into a marriage, I assume to use the non-existent court systems to force her to stay with him. Or something. He's a giant turtle; I don't really expect much in the way of critical thinking from him. Anyway, he scorches Mario's hat in a fight and sends Mario flying off an airship to what would be certain death for anyone other than Mario. Fortunately for Mario, he lands in the Cap Kingdom, a land populated by talking hats. What luck; now he has a new hat. From there, Mario and Cappy go from world to world chasing Bowser and trying to collect enough Power Moons to upgrade their airship enough to get to the next world, eventually confronting Bowser in a fiery castle battle like always.
Other than the absolutely fabulous controls, the real star of the show here is the worlds. There are a total of fifteen worlds in the game, each one unique and distinct. My favorite world was most definitely New Donk City - surprising given that it was the world I expected to like the least - but the Cascade Kingdom has my absolute all-time favorite Mario power up; YOU GET TO BE A FREAKING T-REX. SERIOUSLY. It made me supremely happy. There really aren't any bad worlds although it is worth noting that a couple of the worlds are just boss battles. There are a TON of secrets to find in these worlds for those who like collectathons and having a lot of optional objectives to complete.
TYRANNOSAURUS FREAKING REX. WITH A MOUSTACHE AND A HAT. My life is officially complete.
One of the most striking traits about the game is its visuals. The Switch isn't exactly a graphical powerhouse compared to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but that didn't stop Nintendo from producing a remarkable looking game. It's no Uncharted 4, but it looks BEAUTIFUL. Either we've all spent eight months severely underestimating the Switch's capabilities, or as they did with the Wii and Wii U, Nintendo has some kind of voodoo witchcraft that allows it to draw more power from its console than it should be able to produce. Either way, this is a breathtaking game. Had I seen screenshots of the game without Mario or any logos and been told that it was a PlayStation 4 platformer, I'd have believed it. It looks remarkable, but after what Nintendo managed with Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Metroid Prime 3 on the Wii, no one should really be surprised that they have a knack for drawing out every scrap of power from their systems.
The overall visual presentation is almost matched by the game's sound design. The soundtrack is absolutely fantastic and every bit worthy of the series' legacy. Between the mysterious music of the Moon Kingdom, the tense tunes of Bowser's Kingdom, or the jovial jingles of the Seaside Kingdom, the game's music is really something. Equally praiseworthy is the attention to detail with the little things. There are a lot of minor things that one might not notice at first but that really help to immerse the player in the experience. When Mario runs by a person or sign, his head and eyes will automatically turn to look at it. When Mario gets out of the water, his clothes drip for a few seconds; when Mario gets burnt, his clothes are charred for a few seconds. With the 2D segments, the 8-bit-esque visuals and mechanics of the original Super Mario Bros are kept almost perfectly intact. It's that kind of attention to detail that set a good game apart from a great game in a lot of cases, and this is no exception.
Super Mario Odyssey is an absolute masterpiece of 3D platforming. The tight controls, the rich diversity in the worlds, the plethora of hidden collectibles, the outstanding soundtrack, and the stunning visuals all put this game in a tier far above any 3D platformer we've seen until now. There are a TON of costumes to unlock both through amiibo scans as well as in-game currency that give a level of visual customization very uncommon for the Mario series. If you own a Switch, this is an ABSOLUTE must-own. If you don't own a Switch, this game alone makes the system an ABSOLUTE must-own.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on Windows
Dedicated to my fellow Nep lovers, Chris and Josh
Anyone who knows me knows that the Hyperdimension Neptunia series is my all-time favorite and that I weeb fangirl HELLA hard for it. Some of the more recent Vita entries in the series haven't quite lived up to my expectations, but Megadimension Neptunia VII on PS4 was fantastic, so I had high hopes for Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online as well. Those high hopes were not in vain.
Although principally a JRPG series, one of the things for which the Neptunia series is known is the variety of genres its games have hit, and Cyberdimension Neptunia is no exception to that, marking the series' first foray into the action RPG genre. The game plays a lot like a cheap knock-off of some of the more recent Tales games, and I don't mean "cheap knock-off" in a derogatory sense. Neptunia games have pretty much always felt a bit like budget games mechanically in my opinion, but for me, that's part of their charm. The combat is simple; you just mash the square button a lot, occasionally hitting the triggers to guard or dodge, and expend SP to use one of eight of your selected skills when the situation calls for it.
The game's plot is appropriately silly for the series, although this one might take the title of second silliest plot so far (Producing Perfection is definitely the silliest). The four nations' CPUs (along with pretty much every other character who's appeared in the series) have all received beta keys for the testing of a new version of the 4 Goddesses Online MMORPG and have decided to venture into the world of Alsgard together, although a hacker quickly threatens the existence of the game's beta test. In terms of playable characters, you get the four CPUs, the four CPU candidates, and the in-game four goddesses (Purple/Black/White/Green Heart). That's my first disappointment - IF, Compa, Plutia, Peashy, and Uzume aren't playable characters. I was really hoping to have a party of Neptune, Nepgear, Plutia, and Uzume to hae the ultimate Planeptune team. They do make appearances, mind you, but at NPCs. Better than nothing, I suppose.
The scope of the game seemed a bit smaller than the previous PS4 title, although whether that's because the game actually has less content or because I went into it gung-ho and determined to get the Platinum trophy (I did, btw), I couldn't say. You've got around a dozen dungeons and a variety of bosses to fight, but it doesn't take long to figure out that the bosses can all be beaten with the exact same strategy. None of them have any elemental weaknesses, so they all boil down to "spam magic attacks to deplete the guard, spam the square button, spam magic attacks to deplete the guard again, use your now-charged special attack and then spam square, use an item to refill your SP, repeat the cycle until boss is dead.
The game isn't difficult in the slightest, but that's par for the course with Neptunia games; none of them (at least none of the post-PS3 games) are difficult in the slightest. You don't play Nep for the difficulty, though; you play Nep for the characters, the humor, and the spiritual experience. My only two real gripes with the game are that Black Heart's face looks wrong, and the quests get repetitive. For the first one, Black Heart's face just looks....off. In some stills, she looks alright, but in most, she looks more like Nepgear than Black Heart. I can't quite put my finger on why, but I think it's the mouth and perhaps the eyes. They just don't quite look right, but I'm not sure if this was intentional or not because Uni and Nepgear make a comment about Black Heart's looking not exactly like Noire's CPU form. As for the quests, they're not awful or anything, but they get really same-y. You get like three or four quests to kill the same boss with the only difference being an increase in HP. The first story-based boss fight could have 35,000 HP, and by the last optional quest boss fight, he'll have 820,000 HP. Otherwise there's no difference; he just takes longer to kill. Other quests are your usual fetch quest or kill-X-number-of-this-monster quests. There's just not a lot of variety for the number of quests there are if you're going for completion or Platinum.
Cyberdimension Neptunia: 4 Goddesses Online is a competent entry in the Neptunia series and a decent action RPG. It's not a landmark game for the genre, and it's not the greatest game in the Neptunia series, but it's a fun game, and for fans of the series, it's a fantastic entry. Your usual heaps of fanservice are present, although Neptune breaks the fourth wall a little bit less than usual which may be a bit disappointing to some. Regardless, though, it's definitely a must-play for fans of the Neptunia series. Those who aren't Nep fans might not find much alluring here, but I'd still recommend giving it a shot if you've got a friend from whom you can borrow it.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Tales of Berseria (PlayStation 4)
Also available on PlayStation 3 and Windows
I started playing Tales of Berseria because Colin said he was going to play it, so I figured I'd play it along with him and swap stories. Then the jerk decides he's too good to play the same game as me or something and just drops it. What a mean guy, right? It's all good, though, because I actually had a pretty good time with Berseria. It wasn't quite as good as Phantasia or the first Symphonia in my opinion, but it was still an extremely good game.
One of the first things that struck me about Berseria was the art style. Bandai Namco made excellent use of cel shaded visuals to create a stunningly beautiful world with a variety of environments and enemy types. Especially gorgeous are the mountains and cliffs, the draw distance working well with the visual style to give a sense of grandiose while maintaining a fantasy disconnect from reality. This is exactly the visual style I want for my fantasy adventures.
The game's soundtrack is good, although only a few tracks really stand out as more than just "good." The voice acting is what really kept me wrapped up in the game; Velvet's, Rokurou's, and Magilou's voice actors especially were fantastic. Bienfu can die in a fire, though. The concept of the game's story is another highlight as it's fairly unique in its details. Yeah, you end up stopping some horrible plot and saving the world like your typical RPG, but the protagonist, Velvet, doesn't care about any of that. All she care about is killing Artorious to avenge her murdered brother. Burn a town in the process? Oh well. Massacre a whole village of innocents? Shit happens. Oh, I saved the world? That's cool, I guess. The whole driving force behind the game is pure revenge; you kind of just accidentally save the world. I'm sure there are other games that focus entirely around revenge, but I've never played one with the length and depth of plot as this one or one that is as well written and presented as this one.
The combat is fairly standard real time combat with different attacks (or artes) set to the four primary buttons and a couple of special attacks that you need a certain gauge filled to use. The combat is definitely the weakest part of the game. It's not bad, per se, but it gets repetitive and didn't really hold my attention too long. It's the combat that made Colin be a turd and bail on me early on. It's enjoyable enough, but there's not an enormous amount of depth to it.
Tales of Berseria is a competent RPG that offers a well presented story told from an unusual perspective with likable characters. The combat may not be terribly exciting, but the variety of optional side quests, the diversity of environments, and the ancillary dialogue between the characters in the field make it a game well worth playing even for those who aren't fans of the Tales series. I wouldn't say that you need to rush out right this second and pick up a copy, but if you game on PC, PS3, or PS4 and enjoy RPGs, definitely keep an eye on this one for a good price. It's a good way to spend 48 hours.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Barbie Dreamhouse Party (Wii U)
Also available on DS, 3DS, Wii, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Windows
This review is dedicated to the BCC TruBros - Anna, Ben, Chris, Dj, Matt, Mike, Rob, Robyn, Sara, Tony, and Womble - the most beautifully horrible people I know.
You ever play a game or do something expecting it to be just awful, and you're only doing it so you can laugh about it later? Yeah, that's kind of how this game was for my friends and me. Over the weekend, I was in Virginia Beach for my dear friend Anna's birthday, and there had been some talk in the group chat about some of the shovelware in my Wii U collection, and some of my friends wanted me to bring my Wii U and Barbie Dreamhouse Party thinking that it would be fun to play a hilarious trainwreck of a game while drinking. Then we ended up actually enjoying it. Then we tried watching the show and loved it. Now we're arguing over which Barbie sister is the best and whether or not Ken should be president. This was a rabbit hole I never expected to find myself in, but DAMN, I like it down here.
The game is basically a collection of minigames with a VERY loose thread tying them together. Barbie, Teresa, Nikki, and Rochelle are all chilling in the dreamhouse and playing video games when Rochelle goes and decides to do something stupid and Rochelle-like and accidentally makes Closet, Barbie's wardrobe-managing AI computer system, put the dreamhouse into lockdown. In classic video game logic, the ladies have to complete some bizarre minigames to open up parts of the dreamhouse. The game's plot exists solely to offer some context to the minigames, but the dialogue is well written enough that it doesn't become as bothersome as such things often do.
The game has a total of nine minigames which are unlocked once you complete them during the "campaign" mode (which only takes about two hours), and while the minigames are all extremely simple in nature, they can get surprisingly competitive if you have the right friends playing. One requires you to catch stacks of falling boxes, one requires you to collect the most cupcakes that are being spewed from some bizarre machine, one requires you to bathe and groom a cat, etc. None of them are complex, and you'll probably get bored of them quickly unless you've got a whole group of silly friends with you, but if you DO have that group of silly friends, it can actually be really funny.
Barbie Dreamhouse Party isn't what I would call a "good" game, but it's definitely an entertaining game with the right group of friends. It's basically a gateway drug for the tie-in Life in the Dreamhouse web series (which is a legitimate drug, I swear), but if you have a group of at least three friends you regularly hang out with and who have goofy personalities, then it's definitely worth checking it. It's bizarrely addicting and leads to an even more bizarre legitimate enjoyment of the web series.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash is the seventh entry in one of my favorite series of what I call "titty anime games." As is IMMEDIATELY apparently from the box art alone, this is not going to be a game for everyone. A lot of folks will likely find this game offensive, and honestly, I can't blame them. There are different ways to look at this game, and I really enjoyed, but your perspective on it is really going to do a lot to determine how you end up feeling about it.
The Senran Kagura series is about different schools of female shinobi-in-training, and while most of the games are side scrolling beat-em-ups, there are a couple that try on different genres, and this is one of those that deviate from the normal genre instead trying a competitive third person shooter that's not unlike Splatoon in its feel and format. It also brings together the various characters and side groups that have been introduced throughout the series' games in an attempt to tie them together into a single canon universe to serve as a launching point for future games in the series, a point that is made pretty clear at the end of the story mode.
The biggest complaint I've seen with this game is the blatant objectification of women, and that's a valid complaint. There are really two ways of looking at this type of game that determines whether or not one is outraged at the sexism. The first way is the way that folks tend to look at porn - that it turns women into sexual objects rather than people and sets up unrealistic expectations for women. The other way to see the game (the way I see it) is as a caricature. Yes, it objectifies the women in the game but in the same way that dime-a-dozen romance novel covers objectify men - in a way that is OBVIOUSLY unrealistic. No one looks like the women in this game; it's unrealistic to the point of absurdity which makes it, in my view, more caricature than serious objectification. I'm absolutely not telling people that they shouldn't feel offended by this game, but I am saying that some folks see this series as stupidly absurd rather than an attempt at legitimately portraying women. As an added side note, too, the characters, while trope-y at times, are genuinely fairly well developed and legitimately strong female character. They just happen to be strong female characters with massive breasts who are shooting each other with water guns in tiny bikinis.
The visuals are about what one familiar with the company would expect from Marvelous - good but not extraordinary. There's not an enormous amount of detail in the water effects, but you're unlikely to pay any real attention to the standing water when the action starts to heat up. The sound is quite well done, though; the music is really enjoyable, and the voice acting (which is only in Japanese) is well done, although a few characters play up the cutesy high pitched voice cliche a bit too much. The story is pretty simple for the most part; the four squads of shinobi girls - Hanzo, Gessen, Hebijo, and Homura Crimson Squad - are transported to this island and forced to compete in a water gun tournament to build up shinobi energy to keep the seal on some ancient demon from breaking. Individual characters get some deeper motivations throughout the single player, but that's the basic plot.
The game plays a lot like Splatoon except either team deathmatch or survival instead of Splatoon's unique "Turf War" game mode. The single player has a story mode consisting of a prologue and five arcs as well as random side missions, a free tournament, and a survival mode. I had a hard time finding folks to play online with, but from what I can tell, that's either team deathmatch or survival as well. You can equip your girls with any of the water guns that you want, and instead of the shinobi arts they had in the previous games, you get ability cards that you can use to customize a small deck that makes up their skill arsenals. The concept is simple, but the wide array of characters, costumes, and skill cards give the game a lot more depth than is immediately apparent for those who feel like diving in.
Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash is definitely a controversial piece of the PlayStation 4's library, but for those not bothered by the fairly sexist nature of the game, it's actually a pretty fun one. The characters have a lot more depth than one would expect from their models and the game's concept, but the gameplay itself is rock solid and addicting. It can get repetitive (as is par for the course for the Senran Kagura series), but that seems to be less of an issue in this game than in most of the entries in the series. I wouldn't say "RUN OUT AND BUY THIS GAME NOW," but if you're into third person arena style shooters and like pervy anime games, check this one out.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, and 3DS
Ladies and gentlemen, I have played a lot of shitty games in my day, and I expect licensed games to be the shittiest of the lot. Having played through this entire game...for some reason...I'm actually surprised to say that this isn't one of the worst games I've ever played. Don't get me wrong - it's FAR from being good - but it's really not as bad as I expected when I started playing it. Speaking of starting this game, that needs a story to explain. I asked some of my BronyCon friends what game I should play next, and a handful said (paraphrasing here) "Play that Monster High game! And make your character a whore!" So I started playing the Monster High game, and I tried (and failed) to make my character a whore. With that said, this review's dedicated to Robyn, or as we call her Party Gypsy.
Okay, so let's start with the premise of the game. You're a new student at Monster High, and in what is probably the most unrealistic thing about this game (including having zombies, skeletons, and plant monsters as classmates), everyone in your new school is super nice and welcoming to you. You're more or less pressed into the joining the Student Council and the Fearleading Team, your first indication that this game is going to be full of puns so bad even my mother would groan. From there, you go through your day to day life, starting every day with a student council meeting, then class, then fearleading practice, then more class, and then you usually have to help one of the clubs of which you're not a member do something. You help the comic book club make a new superhero, you help the robotics club build a robot, you help the enviro club do plant...stuff....you help the fashion club settle the age old question of blue vs green, and you help the cooking club fail miserably at cooking. I guess part of being a zombie is having dead taste buds.
The main "story" objectives all revolve around the student council and the fearleading team and really-not-particularly-mysterious curse that starts to take hold of people in the school. Honestly, that was my biggest frustration; this curse is so damn obvious, and everyone in this school is completely brain dead (even the ones who aren't some kind of undead monster). Like, all of a sudden your friends start having glowing purple eyes and start spewing nonsense about pyramids, a king, and tribute? Yeah, something's not right there, and the proper course of action is not "Ignore it and assume it's a character quirk that somehow never manifested before now." This game could have been cut in half if my actions weren't limited to "Talk" and "Jump." Seriously, give me a "Choke a bitch" action button, please.
Graphically, the game is what you should expect from licensed shovelware based on a kid's show - only slightly better than most 3D indie games. The emphasis is very much on the word "slightly." The voice acting is passable for the most part. The sound effects are obnoxious as shit, but they almost got the music right. While it drove me insane at first, the little theme song they have is actually really catchy. I wouldn't describe it as "good," per se, but it's definitely easy to get it stuck in your head. Unfortunately, that only plays when you're doing the REALLY easy and repetitive fearleading minigame; even more unfortunately, that plays EVERY SINGLE TIME you have to do that minigame (which is pretty much every "day" in the game). The rest of the background music is fine in short bursts, but there are like two or three background tracks that play CONSTANTLY with very little variation. The result is that you quickly get sick of all of it even though it's actually not that bad.
The biggest problem I had with the game, as one might expect, is that it just feels pointless. Why do I care about the student council bake sale to raise money for the "creepeteria" renovations? And what the hell kind of cookies are you selling to be able to afford two 4K televisions mounted to the wall and all new seating after one day? Those cookies better be made from black truffle and topped with gold leaf to be able to raise that kind of cash that quickly. Another thing I kept wondering is why everything's a damn fetch quest? What do I look like? Some errand girl? Bitch, I'm a dragon chick; I can roast you with a sneeze. Why am I the one running all over the school looking for plant food, robot cores, and places to hang posters? That really describes the game - 90% fetch quest and 10% rhythm game so easy that someone paralyzed from the neck down could manage it.
Overall, Monster High: New Ghoul in School truly did impress me. Whether you want to read that as a credit to the game or a testament to just how little I expect from licensed games these days is up to you, but I really expected to hate it a lot more than I do. Don't misunderstand; it's still a bad game, and I definitely don't recommend anyone bother playing unless you just REALLY love Monster High. I expected it to be five or six hours of agony, though. What I got instead of ten or eleven hours of mediocrity. If you've got a kid who likes Monster High, sure, pick it up for the youngun; copies aren't that expensive. If you're going for a full system set like I am with Wii U, you can't really get around it. Other than those two reasons, though I really don't see any reason to bother with this game. It's not HORRIBLE, but it's definitely not good, and it gets pretty boring pretty quickly.
My Rating - 2 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.